The Dameron ranch on Yavin 4 didn’t get many visitors these days, and even fewer still pre-dawn visitors. Yet, Kes watched from his bedroom window as a man stood under the force tree in the yard, staring up into the branches. Kes might normally have walked by the window without second glance, getting the start on his day, except there was an odd sort of light emanating from the man, or maybe surrounding him. Kes wasn’t too sure.
He kept a blaster in the top drawer of the nightstand, just in case. The man didn’t seem to be a threat. He looked rather serene, actually. But still, there was a growing turmoil in the galaxy, and looks could be deceiving. Kes got his blaster out and crept to the back porch.
He’d only met one Jedi in his life, but like a lot kids, Kes had dreamed of being one, so he pegged the man’s robes for Jedi attire right away. Then he considered the way the man carried himself, his height, and, quite simply, his interest in the tree, and realized that Luke Skywalker was standing in his backyard.
It had been years.
Kes hadn’t known Luke well. Shara knew him a little better -- she and Luke clearly had more in common, and more shared experiences. Luke had come by a handful of times in those early years after they mustered out: he’d check on the growth of the tree, sit with Shara over a cup of caf and debate the relative merits of Naboo N-1 starfighters and B-Wings, A-Wings and X-Wings, and then disappear again for long stretches.
Kes had a vague memory of Luke stopping by shortly after Shara passed. He didn’t remember much, just a warm hand squeezing his shoulder and kind words -- everything from around that time, and for a long time after, was a fog. That was last time he’d seen Luke.
Satisfied that Luke wasn’t a threat, Kes relaxed and straightened from where he was crouching. The porch boards creaked, giving him away. Figuring that Luke was the one who showed up unannounced, Kes waited for him to say something first, but Luke just fixed him with a sad sort of smile for a moment before turning his attention back to the tree.
When Luke continued to act like he wasn’t there, Kes said, “You know, if you ignore me, you’re less like an old friend dropping by and more like a trespasser.”
Luke startled. “You can see me?”
“Of course I can see you, I had the best eyes on my strike team.”
“I never realized you were force sensitive, Kes.”
“I’m not.” Then it all clicked into place: the fact that Luke had appeared in his yard on Yavin 4 before the sunrise, unannounced and without any visible means of transportation, a hazy blue glow around him. “You’re not really here, are you?”
“That’s kind of a philosophical question,” Luke said. “But physically? No, I’m not.”
Kes had a lot of questions, the foremost among them if whether condolences were appropriate, but he wasn’t really sure what the etiquette was for force ghosts. “Can we go inside? It’s a little cold out here.”
Luke shrugged his shoulders and nodded, and Kes turned and headed back in the house. “Normally, I’d offer a guest something to drink -- and I know I need some caf before I can start to process all of this -- but since you’re not--” Kes turned and Luke wasn’t there.
“Luke?” he said, to his empty kitchen. “Master Skywalker?” he whispered, to his empty hallway.
Back outside, there was still no sign of Luke. Just when he was ready to give up and resign himself to this all having been just a weird dream, Luke reappeared from nothing, under the force tree. Up close, Kes could see that he was somewhat transparent, the first rays of daylight passing right through him, but somehow doing nothing to dull his own glow.
“You want to explain to me what’s going on?”
“I’m not sure I can,” said Luke. “You shouldn’t be able to see me at all.”
With some investigation, they figured out that Kes could only see him under the branches of the force tree. Once Luke left its orbit, he vanished, as far as Kes was concerned, even though Luke insisted his presence was still there.
“That’s a weird party trick you have there, Commander.”
Luke shrugged. “Guess I’m still figuring it out myself.” He cocked his head in the direction of the tree. “You’ve taken better care of your tree than I did mine.”
It had grown impressively in the last thirty or so years, reaching tall and spreading wide. Shara had fretted over it at first, insistent that they couldn’t let anything happen to a tree -- a force sensitive tree, she had never heard of such a thing -- that Luke Skywalker had given them.
“To be honest, Poe almost killed it once.” Faint scorch marks were still visible on the trunk, if you looked closely enough. “But he did also nurse it back to health -- stronger than ever.”
They stood together a while, in silence, both of them contemplating the tree. The sun was rising higher, though, and Kes had work to do. He wasn’t sure why Luke was there, but he obviously hadn’t come to see Kes.
“It’s good to see you, Luke. Stay as long as you like,” he said, as he headed out for the orchards. When Kes returned after the day’s work, Luke was gone, with no indication that he’d ever been there at all.
Kes tossed and turned that night, thinking about whether Luke being there had been a good sign, a bad one -- or no sign at all, thinking about whether he should have taken the opportunity to ask some questions. Seeing Luke was a reminder not only of Shara, but of Poe, and Kes wondered how he was doing out there, fighting against the First Order. The Empire was gone, Kes had done his part and retired. But galaxy was a big place -- there was always going to be a handful of assholes who thought they deserved to run the whole thing. For a long time, Kes hadn’t wanted to admit that, even to himself.
A few days later, Luke was back.
As Kes came over the rise from the western orchard at the end of the day, Luke was just there, sitting under the force tree.
Kes had expected it would be a one time thing, or, at the very least, if Luke was coming for Jedi related reasons, he’d handle whatever business he had with the tree while Kes was busy working. Instead, though, it seemed like Luke was waiting for him.
“Can I help you, Commander?”
Luke shifted uncomfortably. “No,” he said, unconvincingly.
He didn’t move, didn’t vanish, so Kes sat down next to him, leaning against the tree’s broad trunk. “It’s a shame you’re a ghost. I could always use an extra set of hands around here.”
“I think some force ghosts are able to manipulate physical space,” said Luke. “I haven’t quite figured that out yet.”
“Well, when you do, just remember your first priority is to come and help plow my fields.”
“Of course, nothing more important in the galaxy.”
They fell into easy discussion of Yavin’s time as a rebel base. With L’ulo gone, Kes hadn’t really had many people left around the settlement who had been around back then.
“You’re staring at me.”
Kes had been staring, because he couldn’t get over the fact that Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master, apparently now just hung around his backyard as a force ghost.
“Sorry. Just the last time you were here, I was half asleep and now that I’m fully awake and able to focus on everything you look so old.” Kes reached up, scratched at his own chin and contemplated whether he needed a shave, or at least a trim. “All that gray.”
Luke tried to sigh, but his mouth twisted into a smile instead. He closed his eyes and then there was this shimmer and shift, like he’d gone sideways for a second, and when he was all back in place, it was a younger version of Luke -- sandy hair and bright eyes -- like the first time he came out to the ranch and stuck around all day, helping Kes and Shara plant koyo trees.
“Now you’re just making me feel old.”
Luke kept coming back and they developed a routine. Kes didn’t ask a lot of deep questions, Luke didn’t volunteer a lot of information about where he’d been and how he got to the state he was in. Kes had known, vaguely, that Luke had go missing after Ben Solo had turned to the dark side. He had also heard, from L’ulo -- who would have denied it had anyone asked --that the Resistance and the First Order had been locked in a race to find him. But beyond that, Kes hadn’t given Luke much thought until he had shown up here, already gone.
They did talk about other things, though: reminiscing about old mutual friends, advice on farm machinery, which Kes shouldn’t have been so surprised Luke had strong opinions about, mundane, everyday things. Kes was fully aware that there was a war raging, his son was out there fighting in it, after all, L’ulo had died in it. The growing threat of the First Order laid heavy over the galaxy, even if most people would only whisper about it. He wondered if maybe being here, talking about nothing important, was a kind of therapy for Luke.
And Kes couldn’t say he didn’t enjoy the company.
“You do just do Jedi stuff with the tree when you’re here, right? You don’t follow me around, or snoop in the closets or anything?”
It was a hot, hot day, and Kes had been taking advantage of the late afternoon shade of the force tree when Luke appeared out of nowhere.
“I don’t watch you when you’re sleeping, Kes, if that’s what you’re worried about. You’re not my type.”
“The kriff you say? I’m irresistible.”
“Is, ‘I don’t, because I’m not a creep’ a more satisfactory answer for your ego?”
“Eh, I guess.”
“I need to get going.”
“You have appointments for things in the Jedi afterlife?”
“Something like that,” Luke responded, and Kes thought, not for the first time, that Jedi were way too cryptic.
When Kes rose early the next morning, there was someone standing under the force tree, staring up into the branches.
He practically ran outside, wrapped Poe in a hug; Poe held on longer than Kes would have expected, but he wasn’t going to complain about it. When he pulled back, Kes looked around, half expecting Luke to be watching.
Poe looked around, too, confused. “Something up, Dad?”
Kes wasn’t sure if it would be a breach of Luke’s trust to talk about him, and besides, he wasn’t sure how to explain it to Poe anyway. “No, just glad to see you. Was checking to see if you brought anyone who was going to take half my harvest again.” The Blarina who’d brought Poe back last time, Ohn Gos, had packed his ship full with every Koyo melon that would fit. Had that really only been a few weeks ago? It felt longer, a lifetime ago.
“I can’t stay. I came to get the A-Wing. Hope you don’t mind.”
Bits and pieces of Shara had been leaving Kes for years, as they got worn out or lost or replaced. The A-Wing was one of the last tangible things left, and by far the biggest. It held a lot of memories for Kes, but it had always been meaningful to Poe, too.
“Just once, I’d like to see you when it’s not a crisis.”
“Me too, Dad.”
Poe had a sad seriousness about him, a weight on his shoulders that Kes hadn’t even seen last time, when Poe had looked like he’d faced death head on and barely escaped. “Could you at least stay until tomorrow morning? I’ll make your favorite dinner.”
That earned him a small grin. “You don’t know how to make runyip stew.”
Kes put an arm around Poe’s shoulder and guided him inside. “This is why you should come by more often, I have new depths.”
Poe worked on the A-Wing all day. Dinner was mostly quiet, Poe couldn’t -- or wouldn’t -- talk much about what he was doing, and Kes’s only news lately was Luke, but he still wasn’t sure he should talk about that with Poe. After, when Poe leaned across the table to clear their plates, the chain with Shara’s ring spilled out of Poe’s shirt. Kes was certain he hadn’t been wearing it the last time. He wondered what had changed.
Kes still wore his own wedding ring around his neck -- the makeshift rings were too small to fit either of them, but even after the war, Shara wouldn’t hear of replacing them.
Later that night, much later than Kes was usually awake, a faint, blueish light woke him. He followed it down the hallway, into the living room, where Poe’s face was illuminated by the glow of a datapad. He looked up. “Did I wake you?”
“Nah, I’m an old man. Don’t sleep like I used to. Whatcha doing?”
“Writing letters.” Then, quieter, “to families.” Kes knew those letters; he had one from Leia. It was tucked away and he never looked at it, but he knew it by heart. He worried everyday about getting one about Poe. “I really screwed up.”
It was a raw hurt, Kes could see. “Maybe you did. Wouldn’t be the first time.”
Poe looked up at him sharply. Kes pulled over a chair and sat across from him. “I don’t know what you’ve been through, and I’m not just going to give you empty platitudes--”
“You don’t have to--” Poe started, and looked away.
“But,” Kes said, pointedly, and waited for Poe to look at him again. “All I’m going to say is, learn from it, do what you can to fix it, do better next time. And don’t dwell on it to the point of destruction.”
“What if I can’t do better?”
“You can. Damerons always see things through.”
Kes watched Poe take a deep breath. “I’ll try.”
“Everything takes time.” There were no easy solutions, not to the problems Kes could guess Poe was facing. One short talk wasn’t going make everything better. But hopefully it was a start. “I’ll let you finish your letters.”
The house was empty in the morning, the A-Wing gone from the barn.
Luke didn’t come back again for nearly three weeks, his longest span since he started showing up. Kes had grown used to having a little company -- the hired hands that helped around the ranch didn’t count -- and he found that he had grown used to Luke’s visits, had come to expect them, to look forward to them.
“What happened to the A-Wing?”
Was Luke actually pouting at him? “You do snoop!”
“I was just looking around. I miss flying, A-Wings are fun little ships,” said Luke, a little wistfully.
“Well, Poe commandeered this one for the Resistance cause.”
“Ah,” was all Luke said, but it was laced with understanding. Kes wasn’t sure what to make of that.
“Do you haunt anyone else?”
“It’s not haunting.”
“You’re a ghost. Ghost’s haunt. You’re haunting.” Luke just frowned at him, so Kes barreled on. “I can’t be the only person you haunt, right?”
“Technically, I’m here to see the tree.”
And that may have been true at first, but lately, he only seemed to show up to talk to Kes. He barely even glanced at the tree.
“Sure.” Kes said, and they both knew Luke hadn’t really given an answer.
“I don’t -- fine. I haunt Ben. He tries to me, though. It is kind of fun when I see that I’m getting to him. He throws the most ridiculous fits for a grown man.” Luke smiled wickedly. “I visit Leia. And Rey, but she asks so many questions all the time, it’s exhausting.” Kes had no idea who Rey was, but he certainly wasn’t going to ask now. “Besides I can’t be holding her hand constantly, she needs to learn her own way.”
That was all anyone could do in life: try to learn their own way as best they could, maybe with a little help from time to time along the way.
At some point, Kes came to realize that as much as these visits might be a kind of therapy for Luke, they’d become the same for him, too.
It was raining. Pouring, actually. Monsoon season on Yavin 4 could get intense, and Kes was taking advantage of the bad weather to catch on paperwork: supply lists, budgets, planting schedules. He glanced up from his datapad to see Luke outside, pacing back and forth under the force tree. Sometimes he stepped a little beyond its reach, and he faded out for a second or two before reappearing.
Luke was clearly waiting for him. Kes sighed and put down his datapad.
“It’s really not fair that you’re not getting rained on right now.” Kes was holding his jacket up over his head, but it wasn’t doing much to keep him dry.
Luke didn’t stop pacing. Kes watched as the rain passed right through him. “Something’s happened. I can’t feel Leia anymore. Can’t find her.”
Kes was certain there must have been times that Luke had worried before, but he’d never witnessed it himself.
“Is she--?” He couldn’t finish.
“Dead?” Luke shook his head, and Kes let out the breath he was holding. “I’d feel that. I don’t know what this is.”
“Is there anything I can do? Someone I can contact, maybe?”
Luke shook his head no again. “She’s very capable. I just--. Before--. I left her alone to deal with a mess for way too long. And now--”
“And now you’re feeling guilty.”
“And now I’m feeling guilty.”
Luke’s pacing had slowed, but not completely stopped.
“Like you said, she is very capable.” said Kes. “Maybe this is part of a plan of hers?”
“Maybe. Just wish she had shared it with me the last time I haunted her.” The wry response was much more the Luke that Kes had grown used to than the panicky version that had showed up today.
He left with a promise to share more information when he had it.
Luke and Kes had never talked about, but the news had traveled through the galaxy, and eventually found its way to Yavin 4: how Luke had died, how powerful the First Order had grown. Kes thought about Luke, and L’ulo, and Leia, and Han, and Poe -- and countless others. He remembered how he felt when he joined the Rebellion, of his unwillingness to sit passively back while the galaxy was being destroyed. About how Shara had felt the same way, and how they’d put their lives on hold and joined up together.
He’d done his part, earned his retirement -- they’d won. He’d wanted better things for Poe. He didn’t feel guilty or wrong for having stepped away. But now maybe it was time to step back in.
His bags were packed, not that he needed much -- his blaster, a few changes of socks, a sturdy jacket.
Kes was just waiting on one thing.
It took a few days, but Luke came back again. Kes asked him about Leia first, of course.
“Nothing solid yet, but I have a few ideas.” Luke was calmer now that the initial panic had worn off.
“Well,” said Kes, “that’s good news.”
Woolamanders were calling in the distance. Kes used to hat the sound, had grumbled to Shara that they should have found a quieter moon to live on. Over time, it’d just become one more sign of home.
“I assume you’re still going to come to see the tree, so keep an eye on things for me, would you?” Kes had actual help lined up -- neighbors and hired hands to keep the ranch running while he was gone, contingencies in place in case he never came back -- but it wouldn’t hurt to have a Jedi looking after things, too.
“You’re going somewhere?”
“I heard a story about this Jedi Master, who faced down the whole First Order by himself, when it looked like all hope was lost.”
Luke actually rolled his eyes.
Kes ignored it and continued. “And I thought, if he could do that, if my son is out there putting his life on the line because he believes in the goodness of the universe, that the people in it are worth fighting for, if Leia Organa is out there, being... Leia Organa,” he paused, because, really, what was he thinking? “Then I figured I should be doing more than sitting at home growing koyo melons, listening to woolamanders getting off.”
Damerons saw things through, or they didn’t do them at all.
“I don’t know. They’re really good melons, from what I remember,” said Luke. The look he gave Kes, though, was laden with understanding, and maybe a little bit of pride.
Without the help of the tree, he wouldn’t be able to see Luke anymore, so this might be goodbye.
“Now, could you do me just one favor and tell me where I can find the Resistance?”