A/N: Huge thanks to atagotiak for fielding all my Star Wars questions, because guess who decided to write fic for movies she hasn't seen and a show she hasn't watched.

Warnings: in-depth discussions of slavery, flashbacks to canon MCU events, mentions of (largely unintentional) mind-control, discussions of IRL bigotries, discussions of the ASSUMED intent of Palpatine's grooming of Anakin, vague references to past abuses of non-canon characters (in the context of Tatooine slavery), and politically-motivated violence


Tatooine

It's late afternoon when Shmi feels a tugging in the back of her mind that tells her to go into the desert. It's little more than a hunch, but she had a Jedi child, and knows that such things aren't always without reason. The Force works in mysterious ways, and this is not Shmi's first time as the conduit of choice.

She takes the rifle.

"Ma?" Owen questions, when he sees her pulling on her shoes. "Where're you headed?"

"Something's off," Shmi tells him. "I'm going to find out what."

"I'll come," Owen tells her. She doesn't stop him.

It's not as hot as it could be, but it's still not the best of weather. Shmi hands the rifle off to Owen to carry, because he's the better shot, and they walk for an hour and a half before Shmi spots the disturbance.

This is not the first body Shmi has found among the sands, but it's one of the few that still has a pulse. The woman is dressed like she's from closer to the Core, though Shmi can't say she's seen the style in even holos, or Gardulla's. The fabric is soft and knitted, with a hood and zippers and other things that don't quite fit into the desert lifestyle. There's no sign of a craft, and Shmi doesn't find any hint of broken bones or anything else that would suggest the woman fell from a passing ship.

"Any idea where she came from?" Owen asks.

"No," Shmi says, biting her lip and looking the woman over. "Here, you carry her. I'll take the blaster."

The walk back is longer, but they make it by dusk. The woman doesn't wake up, and for all that she doesn't seem too badly burnt by the suns, they all know the risk of being asleep, or unconscious, in the day. Heat stroke isn't always visible.

"Too pale for a local, even if we ignore the clothes," Beru mutters. "Think she ran from some slavers before they could chip her?"

"It's the likeliest option," Shmi says. "I'll have Threepio keep an eye on her overnight. He can get us if she wakes up."

The woman does not wake by breakfast, nor by the time that they're all to start work. Shmi's staying in the house today, mending clothes and small tools at the table, while the others work on the vaporators. She keeps an ear out for the other room, but it's not until nearly lunch that Threepio calls for her.

Awake, the woman has slightly more color to her, but still not nearly enough for Tatooine. She sits against the corner of the bed, calm but watchful, head tilted ever so slightly.

"Hello, miss," Shmi says, with a smile she'd usually use on the more terrified slaves that pass through her home on the way to freedom. "You gave us quite the fright."

The woman blinks. There is no comprehension on her face.

Shmi wonders if the woman is quite as young as she looks. Tatooine ages everyone too soon, so a Core girl like this is probably closer to Shmi's age than she thinks.

"Can you give us a name?" Shmi prods. "Or tell us where you need to go?"

The woman blinks again, and then quietly says, "Ja nijeznam vaš jezik."

Oh.

Shmi turns to Threepio. "I don't suppose one of your six million languages is that one?"

"I'm terribly sorry Miss Skywalker, but I'm afraid I have no idea what the language is."

Well, that's unfortunate. Still, Shmi hasn't made it this far by quitting easily. She points to herself. "Shmi."

The woman nods, and points to herself. "Wanda."

"Hello, Wanda. It's nice to meet you."

#

Threepio is a blessing, in this situation. For all that he's largely useless for work out on the vaporators, he's a magnificent translator, and having processors built for language usage means that language acquisition education is dead simple for him. Wanda seems at ease with miming when she needs to, and appears to thank the droid whenever he helps her. Shmi decides to take it as a good sign, that Wanda treats a droid as one would a person. The woman is quiet and doesn't smile much, but she slides in to chop some tubers when Shmi sets them aside while prepping for dinner, after the rest of the family has come and gone.

"Oh, you don't—you don't need to do that."

Wanda looks up at her, blinks, and tilts her head. She goes back to chopping the tubers.

Alright, then.

Shmi would rather the woman lie back down, considering how long she was unconscious, but it's not like there's room to argue with a complete language barrier. She settles for naming items for Wanda, who nods and repeats them, and then tells Threepio what they are in her own language. He has a better memory than any human does for this sort of thing, which means that when the two of them forget something, he'll be there to play translator. They get through the dinner prep with a vocabulary built on foods and knives and furniture, and Shmi gestures for Wanda to sit while the actual cooking happens.

More words, while they wait. Body parts, mostly, because those are easy to play charades with, and then some miming of emotions. Wanda's mouth and tongue curl oddly around some of the consonants, but she usually gets it within a few tries.

The others come home, and introduce themselves, and they eat dinner. There are sidelong glances and hesitant questions, but Shmi can't share much beyond what they already guessed.

They don't know what to do with her.

#

Wanda ventures outside only at night, and Shmi hears her singing, low and mournful. The heat is too much, most likely, and Wanda doesn't seem particularly worried about anything that might constitute a danger. Cliegg offers her a blaster once, just in case she wanders, but Wanda just looks at it.

"No," she says, and then hesitates, like she wants to say more, but lets her words end there.

It isn't clear why she has no fear until Beru trips one day, and drops a jar. It's the kilned one Shmi got as a wedding gift, and she feels her stomach twist at the sight. Beru looks horrified at herself, staring at the shards, and Threepio dithers and frets as only he can.

Wanda emerges from the guest room, looks at the tableau before her, and then kneels at the broken jar and waves a hand over it. Red wisps of something trail after her tensed fingers, and the shards fly back together. They meld without so much as a seam to show the break.

She stands and hands it to Beru, who simply stares.

Wanda smiles, brittle as bone, and says, "magija."

"Magic," Shmi says, and leaves it at that.

Wanda looks hesitant, but then Beru puts the jar to the side and rushes off. Wanda's tiny, hopeful baring of teeth closes away, bitter and disappointed, but Beru runs back in. Her hands are clutched around Owen's belt, one that snapped a few months back. They'd held onto in hopes of being able to use the scraps of synth-leather on something else later, because there is no room for waste in their lives.

She holds it out to Wanda and asks, "Can you fix this?"

The gesture is clear, even if the words might not be ones that Wanda remembers.

More red, and the rip in the belt is gone. It's good as new.

"Oh," Beru says, and shares a look with Shmi.

Well. It looks like they don't need to worry about stretching their finances to cover for Wanda. The woman can pull her own weight.

#

Wanda moves about with Owen and Cliegg more after that, riding out to the vaporators. She can't fix anything complex with a wave of her hands, but her magic is faster at moving sand to unearth things than the shovels are. It saves time, enough that a three-day sandstorm only buries the machines for a few hours instead of a few days. They still need to perform repairs, but at least they can start them.

They still don't know what planet Wanda comes from, because "Terra" means nothing to them, nor do any of the other names she suggests. When they mention a few core planets in hopes that she can at least name a sector, Wanda just tilts her head and furrows her brow.

"Wild Space," Owen decides. Nothing else makes sense. Wanda shrugs and lets it slide.

They don't learn much.

One time, Beru asks after Wanda's family.

The response is… well. They teach her the words for death and all such things. They teach her other words, when she asks and mimes.

Bombs. War. Brother. Twin. Children. Husband.

All dead, it seems.

It's a waste of water to cry in the desert, and Shmi knows that Wanda's learned as much by now. She ducks her head and doesn't meet their eyes.

It is not the first hard conversation they have. It is not the last.

#

She goes out to the desert of her own initiative one day, asking Owen to take her to where they first found her. He tells Shmi about it later, how Wanda roamed about and had sand floating about them in a cloud dozens of meters wide, until she found what she wanted.

It's a book, black and heavy and ominous. It's even made of real flimsi, wrapped in what looks like leather. Wanda doesn't much seem to like it, but it's important to her, so Shmi ignores the whisper of danger that creeps through her mind whenever she steps to close.

"It brought me here," Wanda tells her. "I cannot go back, so I will learn what I can."

Shmi doesn't ask.

#

The first time an escaped slave passes through their home, it's in the dead of night. They keep it quiet, in a hidden room, and Wanda doesn't find out.

The second time, it is the same.

The third, something goes wrong during a surgery to remove the explosive, and the screaming wakes her.

"What are you doing?" she demands, the words slipping out more easily with every passing day.

They are holding the man down, his leg open and bleeding, and trying to save his life. It's probably not a good look.

"Removing a slave chip," Shmi bites out. "Please leave."

Wanda mouths the words to herself, brow furrowed in the way it does when she doesn't quite know what's going on.

It processes, though not quickly, and perhaps not even fully. It doesn't matter which, because she steps forward and puts a hand near the man's leg, and Shmi's breath catches in her throat. Wanda pulls away, fingers dripping with red power but no red blood, and the chip comes floating out.

The man still screams, but the worst is over.

"I do not… I can not help the body," Wanda says. "But I can do this. This is what you wanted out, yes?"

It is.

Beru gets to work saving the man's life.

The man needs to recover over the course of several days, and Beru stays with him in that time. She's the closest they have to a proper nurse. There is no schooling for medical purposes on Tatooine, but Beru's family has been doing this for too long to not know how to save a life.

"Shmi," Wanda says, brow puckered. "What was that?"

Shmi explains. She shows her own scar. She watches Wanda's brow furrow harder and harder.

"How many slaves?" she asks. "On this planet?"

Shmi tells her.

"Where?"

"Why?"

"Who has power?"

Shmi answers it all, and not once does her gut tell her to stop talking to the woman in her home.

"I see."

There are more questions, later. Threepio fields them, the languages switching at a rate that makes it clear Wanda's asking him, specifically, because she doesn't know the words, not because of any fault on Shmi's part. It's worrying.

It's worse when Wanda disappears a week later.

#

Coruscant - several months later

Anakin is fourteen years old, which is just old enough that his feet can reach the ground under the chair outside the Council's office. The tips of his boots scuff against the stone flooring. He doesn't kick his feet, because he's supposed to be a good padawan, but he really wants to fidget. Obi-Wan is working on a datapad, and neither of them know why they're here.

Anakin hopes it's not about the flight sim.

He really hopes it's not the flight sim.

Footsteps from up the hallway catch Anakin's attention. He doesn't recognize the man that comes their way.

"Knight Kenobi?"

Obi-Wan looks up, pauses, and then seems to place the man. "Knight Hett. Are you here for the fourteenth-hour meeting?"

The man nods. "Any idea what it might be about?"

Anakin watches Obi-Wan mull it over, and then his master winces. He shakes his head with something that might just be resignation. "Only one."

"Tatooine?" Knight Hett guesses, taking a seat across the hall.

Anakin sits up straighter. "What?"

"Knight Hett is also from Tatooine," Obi-Wan explains. "If from a rather different background from yourself."

"Really?" Anakin asks, unable to keep the fascination out of his voice.

Knight Hett raises a brow. "I may be human, but I'm Tusken-raised. Had a few people tell me about it when you first came to the temple."

Tusken-raised.

Uh.

Huh.

"Cool," Anakin offers, because he's not supposed to judge, even if his childhood nightmares were about Tuskens whenever they weren't about Hutts. Obi-Wan would be disappointed.

The knight snorts and then leans forward enough to offer a hand to Anakin. "A'Sharad Hett, nice to meet you."

"Anakin Skywalker." He has to stretch to actually shake hands, but he can reach. Barely. He's only fourteen. "Why didn't I meet you before? I thought I was the only person from Tatooine here."

A'Sharad shrugs. "I only got knighted a month ago, and my time as a padawan was… abnormal. I wasn't usually in the temple."

Anakin blinks.

"It's complicated," A'Sharad says.

"Okay," Anakin says. He tucks his hands under his thighs to keep from fidgeting, and looks at the floor, and tries very hard not to do anything that draws too much attention. He wants to go back to his rooms and mess around with a droid, not talk about Tatooine.

"You know," Obi-Wan says, sounding a little condescending but mostly hesitant, "Knight Hett didn't come to Coruscant until he was older than you are, Anakin."

Anakin's head snaps up to look at A'Sharad. "Wait, really?"

A'Sharad shrugs. "It's complicated, but yeah."

"But the Council said I was too old," Anakin protests. "And I was nine."

"My father was a retired Jedi," A'Sharad explains. "He left the Order to marry my mother, so even though I was raised outside, I was still raised with the values and tenets of being a Jedi. He died when I was fifteen, and my training got transferred to a Master of the Order."

It's more complicated than that, Anakin can tell, but he doesn't want to press. "Did your dad leave because Jedi can't get married?"

"With very few exceptions, yes," A'Sharad says. "He wasn't the first or the last to leave for a romance."

"What are the exceptions?" Anakin asks.

"Master Mundi, for one," A'Sharad says. "He handled my training for a while, actually. His species is listed as an exception to the rules due to some genetic matters regarding low birth rates. Begetting children for a sentient species that runs the risk of dying out is a matter of duty that the Order allows."

Anakin has lots of questions about that, questions about attachment and duty and rules, but then Obi-Wan shifts and it might just be his leg falling asleep from the chair but it might be that Obi-Wan doesn't like this topic, so Anakin errs on the side of caution and changes the subject.

"Did you ever see a Krayt dragon?"

A'Sharad grins, all teeth, and it pulls his tattoos in a way that looks very intimidating. "I slew one, Skywalker."

That is.

The coolest thing ever.

"Really?!"

"It was part of the ritual to become an adult among the Sand People," A'Sharad laughs. "Much like the Togruta hunt the Akul to be formally recognized, we Tuskens hunt the Krayt."

"I never went far outside Mos Espa," Anakin confesses. "I ran a few errands, but I never went to the dunes unless I was racing."

"The canyons sing, sometimes," A'Sharad offers. "Haunting, at night, but beautiful."

The way he talks about Tatooine is nice. It's almost nostalgic, for all that Anakin hates the memory of the planet. It's a… oh. It's a shared culture, if only barely. Tuskens and slaves don't have much in common, but they had the desert.

"I hope they don't want us to go there," Anakin says. "Unless I can see my mom again."

"Not a lot of good memories, I'm guessing."

Anakin shakes his head. "I don't like sand."

The knight blinks at him, tilts his head, and then quietly says, "No, I suppose most don't."

There's a tenor to his voice that Anakin recognizes but doesn't quite like. "It made fixing droids harder. Got in the way of everything. Slowed us down."

It's enough for the connection to be drawn, and A'Sharad asks, voice somehow lower and not hesitant, but not unkind, "Did they remove it?"

Obi-Wan breathes in sharply, even as Anakin stiffens.

"Knight Hett, I rather think that's—"

"They couldn't," Anakin blurts out. "It's fused to the bone."

"Anakin," Obi-Wan says, putting a hand on his shoulder. "You don't have to talk about this."

He looks up at Obi-Wan. He knows that Obi-Wan's trying to be nice, but it's not—it's not like that. This is Tatooine stuff, not…

"My mother was an escaped slave," A'Sharad says, and Anakin's head whips back around. "She wasn't much older than you, and they adopted her when they found her wandering the wastes. They couldn't remove hers either, because the risk of infection was too high."

"It was deactivated, though?" Anakin asks.

"It was."

"Good."

There's silence for a few moments, and then Obi-Wan says, voice stiff, "Why don't you go back to talking about the dragon? It sounds like the chips might not be the best subject for casual conversation."

Anakin frowns, a bubble of resentment building in his chest. "But he understands."

"I'm not—Anakin," Obi-Wan sighs. It's a familiar noise. Anakin doesn't like it. "We are shortly going to be called in to speak with the Council. You can have this conversation later, but I just don't think it's the best subject to discuss at this point in time. It's a topic that will require time and privacy to discuss, which we don't have at the moment."

Oh.

"I think they're about ready for us anyway," A'Sharad says, getting to his feet. "We can talk later."

"'kay," Anakin says, getting to his feet and trying to figure out what to do with his hands. Obi-Wan puts a hand on his shoulder for a moment and squeezes, and Anakin decides to take that as a sign of comfort and support. It could be a warning to not misbehave in front of the Council, but there's a warmth to their bond, so… so Obi-Wan cares. And that's how Anakin is going to read into it.

They do get called in a scant few moments later, and Anakin stands to Obi-Wan's side, hands together in front of him and hidden in his sleeves, just like his Master. The fabric hides his fingers, and he can keep his eyes on the floor while the adults exchange pleasantries. Knight Hett bumps his shoulder at one point, and offers him a grin, and Anakin thinks that's pretty nice of him.

"As you've most likely guessed, we've called you here in regards to recent activity on Tatooine," Master Windu says. He calls up a hologram of the sector, and the Tatoo twin suns light up in red. "About two and a half Coruscanti months ago, Tatooine entered a communications blackout, starting in Mos Espa and rolling outwards to the rest of the planet over the course of two weeks. We were unaware of this until a month later, when one of our Shadows was unable to reach an on-planet contact. Further investigation revealed that escaped slaves in the sector are now heading to Tatooine for security, which is, as you can imagine, abnormal."

Anakin watches in fascination as several other systems in the sector light up in orange, with arrows drawn from them to the Tatoo system. "Over the past two months, there's been a wave of immigration from these Hutt-controlled regions, and rumors are tightly-controlled. What we've been able to glean from trusted contacts connected to the region's underground spaceway is that Jabba the Hutt has been killed."

Anakin's head snaps over to Master Windu. "What?"

Obi-Wan puts a hand on the small of Anakin's back, but doesn't say anything.

"Yes, that was our response," Master Windu says, voice dry. "His death was not publicized, and in fact may have been the start of the communications blackout. It appears that his sister Gardulla was also on-planet at the time, and died several days later."

Anakin might be vibrating.

"You good, kid?" Knight Hett asks.

"I…" Anakin feels all the eyes on him. "I don't…"

"Do you need a moment?" Obi-Wan asks. His hand is warm on Anakin's back.

"I'm not supposed to be happy when a sentient dies," Anakin whispers.

At least three of the Masters frown at him. A few more look confused and, he suspects, uncomfortable.

Knight Hett just asks, because he gets it, someone gets it, "How long?"

"Until I was three," Anakin says, bracing himself. "Then she gambled us away."

There are the flinches. The disapproving Masters are… well, two of them look away from him. One of them still looks unhappy with Anakin in particular.

"I believe we can excuse your relief in this instance," Master Windu says, slow and careful. Anakin wants to snap that he's not made of glass, but right now he might as well be. "Given her actions and your personal history, it's unsurprising that you wouldn't grieve her loss. Even Jedi are not immune to such immediate reactions. So long as you do not celebrate such deaths, I doubt that any will hold your emotions regarding the death of a slaver against you."

Anakin… doesn't want to untangle that right now.

He lets Obi-Wan take the lead.

"So someone killed the Hutts in control, initiated a communications blackout, and has made the planet safe for current and former slaves looking to escape their bonds," Obi-Wan says, pulling them back on course. "I should think this is a good thing, but given that you haven't yet told us who did such a thing, I'm guessing it's more complicated than that."

"The Knight that gathered the information is on another assignment and unable to go to planet to investigate further," Master Windu explains. "And unfortunately, we really do need to investigate."

"Are you sending any of us?" Knight Hett asks.

"At minimum, we need information from yourself and Padawan Skywalker to build up a briefing for whoever does go," Master Windu explains. "So far, on the surface, the transfer of power does appear to be a good thing. With any luck, this was done for the good of the people."

"I sense you have further reservations," Obi-Wan says. Anakin doesn't scoff that even he can tell that much, but he kind of wants to.

"We don't have much information on her," Master Windu says. "We were holding off on getting involved without further information, but a few smugglers have started spreading rumors now that they've left the planet, and it's concerning."

"What kind of concerning?" Knight Hett asks.

Master Windu hesitates.

The hesitation is enough that someone else shoves the conversation forward.

"A possible darkside user, it is."

"Thank you, Master Yoda," Windu grits out. "That is… an apt summary. It's not quite so simple, of course, but there are signs."

"Why would a darkside user free slaves?" Anakin asks. His heart twists. "Why would—"

"Anakin," Obi-Wan chides, the hand on his back moving to his shoulders. "I'm sure they'll explain if you give them a moment."

"It's not the actions, but rather the abilities we've heard about," Master Plo Koon explains. "At minimum, we can assume she is most likely a Force-user."

"She?" Knight Hett prompts.

"Rumors declare her the 'Queen of Tatooine,' but it doesn't seem she's taken the title for herself. The actual phrasing she's used for herself is… unclear." Master Koon continues. "So far the approximation we have is 'Red Witch,' but there have been other variants. The title, along with the more concerning rumors, suggest that her powers are not only Force-based, but are more likely to have elements in common with Dathomirian traditions than anything of the Light."

"What rumors?" Obi-Wan asks.

"…this is the only visual we have," Master Windu says, changing the hologram over to one of a midsized battleship. "This footage was taken by a long-haul freighter that was set to make planetfall, but unable to due to a Hutt ship that had entered orbit. All transit was blocked until the battle was over."

"How long did it take for the Hutts to find out Jabba and Gardulla were dead?" A'Sharad asks.

"Several weeks, at least," Master Windu tells them. "We think that the blackout was intended to prevent news of their demise from spreading before the Witch gained full control of the planet. As it is now, she's got contacts in every port and is informed of approaching ships. When the Hutt ship here began making threats…"

He trails off, and presses a button on the little remote in his hand. Nothing much changes about the ship, and then it's surrounded by odd, hazy clouds. The nature of the hologram means Anakin can't tell what color the clouds are, but by the queen's preferred title, he guesses they're red.

"About now," Master Windu says quietly, and then the ship is crushed.

It's not an instantaneous thing. It crumples bit by bit, and Anakin can see when the engines explode and the pressure bursts the hull. The ship is utterly destroyed, and there's no chance that any aboard survived.

"That's… certainly indicative of Force use," Obi-Wan says, and Anakin can't help but take a step closer to him. There are too many layers of tunic between them to feel Obi-Wan's warmth, but proximity is enough. "We haven't seen many with power to lift a ship that size, let alone destroy it."

"Precisely," Master Windu says. "It's not a sure sign that she's a darksider, but you can understand our worries."

"The Hutt ship did threaten the planet, yes?" Knight Hett asks.

"We think so," Master Koon says. "We know they made contact, but not what was said. They most likely want to take possession of Gardulla and Jabba's assets, and are trying to remove the Witch from power without destroying more than they have to."

"The slaves," Anakin guesses. "They want to retake the slaves."

"Among many other things, yes," Master Koon confirms.

"So they threaten instead of immediately firing, and then she just… crushes them in retaliation," Knight Hett says. "Or would it be self-defense?"

"Defense of the planet, arguably," Master Windu allows. "She hasn't done anything to the spice smugglers, as far as anyone can tell, and she's not bragging or sending out declarations regarding her intents. Her current modus operandi seems to be handling all threats as quickly and quietly as possible."

"Most likely, she is still trying to consolidate her hold on the ground," Master Billaba says. "All information thus far suggests that she began by freeing slaves en masse through unknown means, but there are enough benefiting from the slavery on Tatooine that we believe there's still backlash rolling through every few days."

"The majority of the populace will most likely be loyal to her, to some degree," A'Sharad points out. "If she's deactivated the chips, that takes a lot of power out of the hands of the slavers."

"Indeed," Master Billaba says, dipping her head to acknowledge the point. "Have you any thoughts on the possible reactions of the Tuskens or Jawas?"

Knight Hett makes a face. "I'd need more information on the situation on the ground to guess. It depends in large part on how she's treating the Sand People, and water taxes. Tuskens have a bad reputation, and only some of it is earned. If she's still focused on taking control instead of leveraging it, there's a good chance they're playing it as a waiting game. The Hutts weren't any kinder to us than to the slaves, and if she's done good by them, then there's a chance she'll do better by the raiders as well."

"Because she's so far focused on the cities?" Master Windu clarifies.

"Mm," Knight Hett hums the affirmative. "I don't know the cities, really. Kid, what do you think?"

"About?" Anakin asks.

"How are the Mos folk going to respond?"

Anakin blinks up at him, and then looks back at the crushed Hutt ship. He considers what he's heard so far.

"The slaves are going to think she's a Jedi," he decides. "Or a god, maybe."

Silence.

"Could you elaborate?" Master Billaba prompts, in a way that sounds very careful and controlled and deliberately neutral.

Anakin shifts his weight a bit, and doesn't look anyone in the eye. "The slaves in Mos Espa used to talk about how the Jedi would come to free us all. There were stories, uh, folktales. A few legends, even. She has powers and she freed the slaves, so they'll assume she's a Jedi, or if they decide she's more powerful than a Jedi, they might say she's a god."

He can feel how uncomfortable everyone is with that.

Serves them right for not actually freeing slaves, the dark little voice in the back of his head says. He wonders if he should try to quash it, but it's not like he's wrong.

"Will they show loyalty to her, even if she begins to enact more draconian policies than the Hutts did?" Master Billaba asks, still with that studied neutrality.

"Jabba's favorite punishment was feeding people to rancors, or the Sarlacc Pit," Anakin says, as matter-of-factly as he can. "Sometimes just for fun. Gardulla blew up slaves because she thought it was funny, even if they didn't do anything wrong. I don't know how much worse it gets than that."

Obi-Wan's arm on his shoulders twitches, like a weird flinch, and he shuffles just slightly closer to Anakin.

Anakin sees one of the Masters he doesn't know put a hand on their face.

"You asked," Anakin mutters, looking at the ground.

"We did," Master Windu says. "We believe you, it's just not very good news."

"Is it really news?" Knight Hett asks. Anakin's pretty sure the question is rhetorical. "The Hutts were horrible and everyone hated them. Most of the population would, upon being freed from slavery, look at almost anything as an improvement and be capable of actually saying so. That's pretty old information."

Thank you, Anakin thinks. It's nice to have someone backing him up on this.

"Is there anyone in the area that would be suited to investigate?" Obi-Wan asks.

"No. We have several people in Hutt space right now, but all are on assignment," Master Tiin says. Right, they said that earlier.

"I want to go," Anakin says.

"You are a Padawan," Master Billaba says, not quite gently. "You are too young to go to this delicate of a situation."

Anakin stares at her.

He looks up at Obi-Wan, and is unsurprised to see that Obi-Wan looks vaguely constipated.

Anakin looks back at Master Billaba. "Because it's too dangerous?"

"Yes."

Anakin stares a little more.

He thinks Knight Hett is stifling a laugh next to him. Obi-Wan isn't making any sounds, but Anakin can feel the strangled groan he wants to make.

"Master Billaba, I lived on Tatooine until I was nine," Anakin says, as respectfully as he can. "There's still a bomb in my spine that we can't get out. It doesn't work anymore, but it's there. Visiting the planet with Ob—Master Obi-Wan and Knight Hett is a lot less dangerous than my life before the Temple."

Obi-Wan gives up and pinches the bridge of his nose.

At least one Master is snickering, but Anakin's not sure which. He keeps his eyes on Master Billaba.

"Be that as it may," Master Koon takes over, "You are still young, and we do not want to put you in more danger just because you've already experienced it. The horrors of your past do not give us reason to send you into yet more now."

That's very kind of him to say.

"But I know Tatooine cities better than anyone," Anakin argues. "And I want to go."

"Anakin—" Obi-Wan tries to caution him.

"If Tatooine is free, then I want to see it," Anakin insists. "It's my home. If—if you came from a planet that was mostly slaves, and heard they were all set free, wouldn't you want to go too?"

"Well said," Knight Hett mutters. He earns himself a sour look from several masters, but doesn't seem perturbed. "With all due respect, honored Council, you're not from Tatooine. Most of you grew up in the safety of the Temple. I grew up in the desert sands of that planet until I was fifteen. I cannot claim to understand everything Padawan Skywalker has been through, but I'm certain that I understand more than most."

Anakin can almost hear the 'you're not helping' that a few people are probably thinking.

"Go to Tatooine, Padawan Skywalker will," Master Yoda declares. "Able to protect him, Knights Kenobi and Hett will be. Come to him, no harm will."

There's no change to Master Windu's expression, but Anakin's pretty sure he's not happy. He seems resigned to Master Yoda's decision, though, because all he says is, "Reconnaissance only."

"And if she seeks us out?" Obi-Wan asks. "Attempts to treatise with the Republic?"

"Then you handle it while Knight Hett keeps an eye on your Padawan," Master Windu says, stiff and unhappy. "We'll send an alert to the nearest Knights in case you need extraction."

Anakin keeps his mouth shut, and doesn't bounce on his toes under Obi-Wan's arm the way he wants to. He's getting too tall for the arm thing, he thinks, train of thought skidding sideways before he wrenches it back onto the tracks. He's going home. He's never wanted to go back to Tatooine, not really, but everyone is free, and Obi-Wan will probably let him see his mom and—

The Hutts are dead. The slaves are free. Tatooine is free.

#

Anakin and A'Sharad bully Obi-Wan into less conspicuous clothing on the trip over.

"You were raised in the Temple from infancy, Kenobi," A'Sharad says, just a little mocking. "You don't know how to wear civilian clothes in Hutt space."

"My robes are perfectly fine, thank you."

"Yeah, if you remove half of them," Anakin mutters. "That's too dark for Tatooine, you'll overheat."

"And the belt's gotta go, too fancy if you want to blend in," A'Sharad adds. "Just strip down to tunics and an overlayer that you can hide your moneybag and saber under."

"Is this really necessary?"

"Yes!"

#

Anakin may hate the sand, but there's something genuinely freeing about stepping out into the warm air of a desert city.

"Oh hey, I'm not cold for the first time in years," A'Sharad says, tone deceptively idle.

"Same," Anakin says, because it's true. A'Sharad is pretty cool, he's decided. He killed a Krayt, after all.

"I'm glad you two are enjoying yourselves," Obi-Wan mutters. He squints into the sunlight, face scrunched up like a dried fruit. "You're certain I couldn't have brought any protective eyewear?"

"Didn't have the right kind of goggles," A'Sharad tells him. "Don't worry, I got the right kind of currency from the quartermaster, we can buy some in a few minutes."

"Not the right kind culturally or practically?" Obi-Wan asks.

"Mostly the first," A'Sharad says. "Part of it is that the shades you find on other planets, including Coruscant, usually aren't suitable for a binary system. They're better than nothing, but not great. Tatooine tends to have a pretty specific style, though, and we don't want to be clocked as off-worlders any faster than necessary."

"This way," Anakin says, after a few moments. "I know where we are."

"I thought you grew up in Mos Espa?"

"Yeah, but everyone says the cities are all set up the same, and I saw enough of it from the sky that I can guess where the market is," Anakin explains. "And once we're there, I can figure out where the bars are."

"We're not going to a bar," Obi-Wan protests. "You're fourteen!"

Anakin and A'Sharad both turn and look at him. It's gratifying, Anakin thinks, not for the first time.

"Obi-Wan, this is Mos Eisley," Anakin says, slow and careful. "Where do you think we're going to get information?"

"Not a bar," Obi-Wan says firmly.

"I won't drink anything," Anakin protests.

"I could go in and ask around while you wait with the kid," A'Sharad suggests.

"Or," Obi-Wan says, "I could go in and—"

A'Sharad laughs in his face.

Anakin keeps a hand over his mouth, but the snort still escapes.

"Master," Anakin says. "The second you open your mouth, everyone will know you're Core."

"We can barely make you look like you're Outer Rim," A'Sharad agrees. "But your voice is unmistakably Coruscanti."

"I can pull off Mandalorian," Obi-Wan argues, sounding more than a little hurt. "I spent a year undercover on Mandalore or as a Mandalorian; I even speak Mando'a better than anyone else on the Temple."

"But you can't pull off Hutt Space," Anakin tells him, and reaches up to pat Obi-Wan's shoulder. "It's okay, you can do other things, like flirt with diplomats."

"I do not flirt!"

"I've seen you negotiate, Kenobi," A'Sharad says. "You absolutely flirt."

Obi-Wan drops his face into his hands and groans. Loudly.

"Let's find shop with goggles so you don't go blind," Anakin says, pulling him along. "You put on the sunscreen, right? Master Che said."

"Yes, Anakin," Obi-Wan says. He's definitely moping, but he'll deny it if Anakin points it out. "I put on the sunscreen."

#

They get plenty of information in the bar. Obi-Wan even lets Anakin come inside with him, so long as Anakin only drinks the blue milk and not any alcohol. Anakin gets to play scrappy young ingenue when A'Sharad talks to people, and Obi-Wan is… well. Obi-Wan gets told by Knight Hett to sit there and look menacing.

He's not terrible at it.

"—coming back after a while off-planet," A'Sharad says to the bartender. "My friend here, his wife was my sister. She died a few years back, and he's taken custody of the son she already had."

"Mighty kind, that," the bartender says. He's a peachy shade of orange, scarred red in places. A Twi'lek.

A'Sharad shrugs. "Eh, well, not the first time someone's taken in the stepkid after the original parent dies, yeah? My work's too dangerous for the kid to tag along, or I'd have taken him myself."

"Smuggler?" the man asks, one lekku twitching. "Or merc?"

A'Sharad smiles and takes a sip of his drink.

"Mos Espa?" he asks.

"Mos Nytram," A'Sharad corrects. "Haven't been home to visit the family in years; this is the only port other than Espa that's letting in off-planet transport. We'll take a smaller ship over when there's a trip available, and then rent a speeder to get the rest of the way."

"Uncle said I can see my gran again," Anakin interrupts, yanking attention to himself before the bartender can examine the story too closely.

"You excited?"

"She always smells like sulfur cactus," Anakin tells him. "But she showed me how to ride a bantha last time."

"And you?" the bartender asks Obi-Wan.

Anakin tenses for a moment.

"Family is family," Obi-Wan says, and he's gone for the Mandalorian accent. He's admittedly better at it than most. "I'm not one to hold a child away from ba'buir."

The bartender pauses. "You Mando? Didn't think I'd see one without armor."

Obi-Wan dips his head. "I am not a warrior. I have no need for beskar'gam, nor have I earned it."

"You look pretty dangerous for someone who ain't a warrior," the bartender says, going back to wiping a glass. "Got that air about you."

"Self-defense does not a warrior make."

The bartender looks at him for a moment, and then says, "The civil war they had?"

Obi-Wan blinks at him, slowly, and says nothing.

"Buir, you're being scary," Anakin stage-whispers.

"Hmph," Obi-Wan says, and turns back to his drink.

"Ignore him, he's a grump," A'Sharad dismisses. "Anyway, before we head out, I wanted to check in on the situation. Weird rumors are circling the major ports, something about the Hutts getting kicked out?"

"Not bothering with subtlety, are you?" the bartender mutters. "Yeah, the Witch got Jabba and Gardulla, and none of the others have managed to set foot on the planet since then. You'd think they'd just sneak someone in to detonate slaves until she handed herself over, since she's claiming to be the compassionate kind, but she managed to destroy all the chips."

"…all of them?" A'Sharad asks. "I'd buy destroying a few, but the entire planet… did she let loose a virus to deactivate them?"

The bartender looks them over a moment, weighing them. "That answer depends on which side of this you fall on."

A'Sharad eyes him, and Anakin feels a flicker of pressure in the Force.

"My mother was a runaway," A'Sharad says. "That what you need to hear?"

The bartender smiles thinly, and then reaches below the bar and pulls something out. "My aunt had one in her leg. She stole the detonator when she ran, but it broke in a speeder accident on her way out, so she couldn't properly deactivate it. Never could get it removed surgically because of the risk of it going off if something pulled it from the flesh. She got it out two months ago, and… take a look."

It's a detonator chip, cracked right down the middle, and when Anakin picks it up and turns it over, there's a dark, unfamiliar symbol on the back, looking almost burned in.

"Did it hurt?" Anakin asks.

"Like hell, but only a moment," the bartender says. "She says it was worth it, though. Everyone has."

"'Everyone' meaning…" A'Sharad prompts.

"Meaning everyone," the bartender says. "The Witch got every chip on the planet in one go, somehow. Nobody knew what she'd done, granted, but nobody died, and the next time someone tried to set off one of the detonators, it didn't work, and… you know how it is. Word started spreading, people talk. A week later and Jabba's dead, then Gardulla. The 'Light' lady started running out to the cities when the Witch couldn't, taking down any slaver that got their hands on a weapon and started causing trouble."

"Light lady?" Anakin asks. "Like a jetii?"

"…no, I don't think so," the bartender decides. "Doesn't dress like one, no swords, moves like a soldier. Got something else going on. We call her that because nobody can agree on what her actual title is. I heard 'Spectrum' at one point, but that sounds a ways too fancy, y'know?"

"She's got power like the Red Witch?" A'Sharad asks.

"Different," the bartender tells him. "Spectrum took five shots to the chest from a blaster and it barely slowed her down. Looked like she was made of gel instead of flesh, you know? No holes or nothin'."

"That's… intimidating," A'Sharad decides. "Any word on the Tuskens and Jawas?"

"The Jawas are doing their business like usual, and the Tuskens are keeping their noses out. Looks like they're waiting to see where the pieces fall once the Hutts gear up for a bigger offense than they have so far. I wouldn't put it past the slugs to try glassing a city once they realize they can't take her down any other way."

"Even if it kills all the 'assets' they've inherited from Jabba and Gardulla?"

"They might see it as a plus, at this point," the bartender says. "But that's Hutts for you."

A'Sharad nods and makes a show of thinking it over. "You said they're in Espa? Should be easy enough to avoid, and you said there's no worry from the Tuskens. We can do a straight shot to Nytram, then."

"Probably. Good luck with the family, hope they made it through," the bartender says. He turns to Obi-Wan. "And, uh… damn, what was it… Ret'urcye mhi, Mando."

Obi-Wan's lips quirk into a surprised smile. "Vor'e,burc'ya."

#

Anakin fidgets on their way in to Mos Espa. They've already gotten more information on the planetside situation than the Shadow had gotten from their contact, but it's still not really enough. They've learned some things about how the Red Witch managed to force slavery to a halt, and they've learned that there's another player who might also use the Force, and is apparently immune to blasters. That's already important information, if not yet confirmed.

The general shape of their cover holds up, that of a kid traveling with his Mandalorian stepdad and Tatoo maternal uncle to visit family after hearing the good news of freedom. Still, something twists in his stomach as they near Mos Espa.

"I think my mom is there," he says quietly. "I can feel her."

"Well, the good news is that if she wasn't already free, she is now," Obi-Wan tells him, and Anakin lets himself enjoy the fact that their cover means Obi-Wan hugs him, just, all the time. Anakin's missed getting hugs, and sure he's fourteen and that's a bit old to be craving parental affection, but still. He hasn't gotten a whole lot of hugs since he was nine, unless Master Vos shows up to kidnap Obi-Wan for a night and makes Aayla babysit him. Aayla's pretty good at hugs.

"We'll pop in," A'Sharad assures him. "If you can feel her from this far away, it shouldn't be too hard to find her. You can show off your saberplay and she'll pinch your cheeks and tell you she's proud of how tall you are or something."

Anakin scrunches up his face.

"Kid, no—"

"Tears are a waste of water in the desert," Anakin manages to say.

"Yeah, no shit," A'Sharad muttered. "Is that seriously all it takes?"

"I haven't seen her in five years, kriff off."

"Language," Obi-Wan muttered.

"Basic," Anakin snaps back.

Obi-Wan sighs and rubs a hand over Anakin's head. "Where did I go wrong with you, Padawan mine?"

"Probably the first day," A'Sharad offers brightly. "He's a tiny thing, probably lost him in the crowds."

"I don't like you."

"Yes, most don't."

"You guys suck," Anakin mutters, even as he presses himself closer to Obi-Wan and revels in the human contact. "Absolutely terrible."

"Worst field trip?" A'Sharad asks.

"No, I've definitely had worse," Anakin says. He cuts the banter there, because there are more important things, like, "I'm gonna see my mom."

"A vital thing to consider," A'Sharad agrees. "Wouldn't you say, Kenobi?"

Obi-Wan makes a small noise. "Yes. Very."

Anakin wonders if Obi-Wan's angry about attachment, but then Obi-Wan presses a kiss to the crown of Anakin's head and mutters, "Aliit ori'shya tal'din."

Knight Hett's challenging smirk softens, and even if Anakin didn't know all the words there, he definitely knows aliit, and he's pretty sure this is Obi-Wan's way of saying he approves.

"She's blood," A'Sharad points out.

"I'm not," Obi-Wan responds, and that ends the conversation.

(Anakin doesn't cry.)

(It's close, though.)

#

They drop out of the transport with ease, and wander for a few hours across Mos Espa. Anakin takes point, despite being the youngest, because he knows this city. It's changed a bit, new construction and changes in ownership, but overall it's still where he grew up. There are a few stop-start moments as he orients himself and leads them down streets that don't have the same people they once did, and then Anakin whips around a corner and into a stall selling decorative shawls.

Obi-Wan and A'Sharad wait behind him, and Anakin takes on the job of pulling all the information they need from the elderly woman that delightedly calls him 'little Ani' and asks all about how his time in the Core has been.

"Not many of us get out," she tuts. "I'm glad you did, dearie."

"Mm-hm," Anakin says, not meeting Obi-Wan's eyes. He's not nine anymore, he can do this. "Um, I haven't been able to contact my mom. Do you know where she is?"

"Shmi? Oh, she traded for her freedom and got married a few years back. Moved out to a moisture farm near Anchorhead," the woman says, tapping her chin. "She's come back a few times, recently. I think she got a place in the court for the new Kwee-Kunee, if you'd believe it."

"She's working for the Red Witch?" Anakin asks, heart twisting. "Um, is that—is that safe? Only, I've heard a lot of rumors, and—"

"That woman," the elder mutters, shaking her head. "Honestly, the rumors are a load of bantha poodoo, little Ani. The Witch mostly just sits in Jabba's Palace and mopes. Heard that from Miss Krilli, remember her? She babysat you back in—"

"I remember," Anakin hurries to say. "So my mom is at Jabba's Palace?"

"Ain't Jabba's anymore, hun, and yeah. Four days out of five she's working there, and then she goes back to her husband in Anchorhead," the elder tells him. "Lovely man, Cliegg. Quiet and a bit rough around the edges, but he adores your ma. He's got a son, a few years older than you. A stepbrother for ya, isn't that nice?"

"Yes'm," Anakin says. "Um, how… how dangerous would it be to visit Jabba's Palace now?"

"You workin' for the Hutts?"

"No! I'm a Jedi now!" Anakin protests.

"Bah! Fat lot the Jedi did for Tatooine," the woman dismisses. "So long as you're not here to mess with her work, I don't think the Witch is going to do anything except talk. Might scare ya off if you try to be all Core on her, but you're one of ours, Ani. She'll listen to you, especially if you tell 'er you're a Skywalker."

"Yeah?"

"Oh yeah. Might want to declare those fancy laser swords at the door, though. The man that took you away, he had one, so you have 'em too, yeah? She's not big on weapons, but if it's just the swords, she'll probably let you keep 'em on you."

"Thank you, honored elder," Anakin manages to say. "I'm going to go get a speeder to visit my mom at the Palace now."

"Tell her I said hello! We miss her face 'round here."

Anakin ducks out, meets Obi-Wan's eyes, and then ducks his head. "She, uh, she and my mom worked together, back when… um, before Watto."

"Had a lot of unofficial aunties?" A'Sharad asks.

"Yeah, something like that," Anakin says, rubbing the back of his neck. "Speeder rental's next."

"I'll handle it," A'Sharad promises, dropping a hand on Anakin's shoulder and squeezing for a moment. It's more comforting than it should be, maybe. "You two find a snack for the road."

He strides off, and then Obi-Wan coughs pointedly.

Anakin side-eyes him. "What?"

"I don't suppose there are more people here that might be able to provide me with youngling stories about you?"

"Don't you dare!"

#

They make their way to used-to-be-Jabba's-Palace.

"Well, that's different."

"Uh… huh."

"Care to share with the class?" Obi-Wan drawls. "You stopped the speeder for this."

"Jabba's Palace was round," Anakin said. "It looked bloated, and the windows were tiny."

"Meant to keep the heat out," A'Sharad agreed. "This is… new."

Obi-Wan looks at the Palace for a few moments. "I see."

"Mm-hm."

They're quiet for a bit, and then Obi-Wan points out the obvious.

"I'll be honest, that looks like the near side of a hexagonal prism to me."

"Yeah, it does."

"And the windows are, forgive me, most of the wall."

"Sure looks like it."

Obi-Wan gives it a few moments, and then asks, "How long would it have taken to change that up?"

"About five minutes, for Wanda."

All three of them whip around, hopping down and onto the sands, already grabbing for their sabers. The woman behind them doesn't do anything beyond raising a brow. Anakin's mostly just glad none of them tripped over their robes while getting off the speeder to fight.

She's glowing.

There are ripples of light under her skin, like stars through water, and then the galactic prism of her soul quiets down and she looks… human. Not glowing anymore, except the eyes. She's dark-skinned, well-muscled, and moderately curvy. Anakin thinks she's probably a little older than Obi-Wan, but not much.

She steps forward, holding out a hand. Her eyes cross all three of them, lingering on each. "Monica Rambeau. Which of you is Skywalker?"

There's something about the question that rings false. He thinks that, maybe, she already knows which one he is. Anakin hesitates a moment, and then steps forward and shakes her hand. He's got manners, and he's got to use them. This is diplomacy. Obi-Wan would be disappointed. "I'm Anakin. Are you, uh, Spectrum?"

"Yes," she says. Her eyes flick to the other two. "And you?"

"Obi-Wan Kenobi. This is A'Sharad Hett. We're Knights of the Jedi Order, and Anakin is my Padawan."

The woman frowns at him for a moment, and then nods. "You teach Anakin, then?"

"That would be the short of it, yes."

"Right," she says. "Go ahead. I'll wait for you at the entrance."

And before they can ask how, she glows, mostly blue, and disappears in a streak of light towards the Palace.

"She… can fly," Anakin says, trying not to sound overwhelmed. He thinks he mostly succeeds. "Okay. Are there any Jedi that can fly?"

"Only the ones that came from species with wings, and there's less than ten Order Members that do," A'Sharad says, voice mild. "Kenobi, are we about to lose our heads for this?"

"I don't think we'll have to worry about such from the Queen and her… guard," Obi-Wan says carefully. "The Council, however…"

"They won't approve."

"Not in the slightest."

"Mm. Good to know."

#

The second they get into the building, Anakin is struck by just how much light there is. It's not oppressively hot—it's even a little cooler than he'd think comfortable—but there's so much light. It's not overwhelming, the way Tatooine usually is, but it's still a lot.

Then his view is immediately blocked by a face more familiar than his own. "Ani!"

"Mom!" He throws himself forward into a hug, and is startled to find that he's actually matching her height now. It's a whim, but he picks her up and spins her, because spinning is good and fun and oh Force, he missed her so much.

He's about ready to cry. He shouldn't. He feels like he has to. Again. It's a lot.

"Oh, Anakin," his mother whispers, pulling away and running her hand across his cheek. "You look so grown up."

"I'm only fourteen," Anakin mutters, blinking hard and scuffing his shoe on the floor and trying not to let his smile break his face. "I'm sorry it took this long to come home."

"I'd have waited forever if I knew it meant you were okay," his mother says, pulling him into another hug. "We'll talk more later; I know you technically came here on some official business. I'll be just outside, okay?"

"But…"

"Dinner," his mom promises. She smiles at him, eyes just a little wet. "I promise."

"Okay," Anakin manages. "I, um, I can meet your husband, right? And—and someone told me I have a stepbrother now?"

She smiles, somehow wider still. "Cliegg and Owen, and Owen's girlfriend Beru. They'll love you, I'm sure."

"Okay," Anakin says again. "I—okay."

Obi-Wan's voice cuts through like a knife. "Anakin."

Anakin turns to look on instinct, faintly aware of how his mother slips out of the room when he does, and finds… well.

It's certainly not Jabba's Palace anymore.

There are no flowing drapes, no fawning slaves, no tables of food or pipes of illicit substances. There are no signs of such wealth.

Just the windows from floor to ceiling, and a blocky stone throne bereft of decoration.

The woman seated on it looks small, in comparison.

She watches them in silence, head tilted. The expression is impossible to decipher. 'Distant' comes close, but that's not quite right, either.

She's clothed in red and black, but it's different from the stark shades of Maul. The colors are subdued. Mournful, maybe. She's too pale for the desert, and her clothes only make the contrast more apparent. She's thin, too, almost unhealthily so. Anakin wonder if she might have been healthy once, but strained herself too far. She's got shadows below her eyes, visible even from meters away, and… and he can't get over the empty expression.

Like someone scooped her hollow, he thinks.

She looks down at something in her lap, a book that he somehow knows he'll never be able to read, and he's struck by the desperate poetry of the image in ways he doesn't think he should be. Obi-Wan would probably have the words for it, or maybe Aayla would. Someone that studies literature more than Anakin does. This woman, this Witch, she's…

A queen, perhaps, but she's alone. No guards. No servants. No assistants. Those windows may be bigger, now, but there are no adornments. It's just a sandstone throne against sandstone walls, empty of gilt and glamour, and a tired, distant woman who sits on it, legs folded, reading a book in a language no one knows.

"Your Majesty," Obi-Wan finally says. "I believe you were expecting us."

"Don't call me that," she says. Her voice has a gravel to it that Anakin didn't expect. "I never called myself a queen."

Her accent is heavy, but the words are smooth.

"Is there a title you would prefer?" Obi-Wan asks, and Anakin steps back and lets him handle it. The others had said that being a Skywalker was enough, but Obi-Wan is the diplomat, the negotiator, and, chiefly, the adult.

"My name is Wanda Maximoff," she says. She closes the book and sets it to the side, where it just… floats, supported by unfamiliar curls of red smoke. She looks up at them again, with those grief-empty eyes, and unfolds her legs to sit normally. "Lady or Madame Maximoff would work, from what I've learned of your titles. They are the closest to what I'd like back home."

"And where is home?" Obi-Wan tries.

She smiles, brittle. "As I've been told by a dear friend, it's in a galaxy far, far away."

What.

Not just Wild Space, but… another galaxy entirely?

"I find that a little difficult to believe," Obi-Wan says. "Do you have reason to think it's another galaxy entirely?"

"Monica said so," Wanda tells them. "I trust her word. I have found no way home, not even with the secrets granted to me by Ch'thon's texts. If it is not another galaxy, then it is another universe entirely. My bet is on the latter."

"I… see," Obi-Wan says.

"You don't believe me. That's fine. Few do." She stands and flicks her hands to the floor, red power bursting from it like ink in water, which propels her up and forward. The arc she crosses is a graceful one, and she lands a scant few steps before them. It's a quiet fall, like she's done this a million times and knows just how to float with full control. It's not simply the hover of a Master in meditation, but true flight.

No Jedi can fly, they'd said.

(There is no darkness in her power, nor any light. It simply is.)

(It's wild, though.)

(Chaotic, but not in the way of the Dark. Just… untamed, like the rivers he saw on a survival mission, once. The power would be so easy to lose control of, but it doesn't corrupt, it just is. It's dangerous in the most impersonal way.)

(The sands are not evil, but they will still take your life if you do not take precautions.)

(That's the power in front of him.)

"You are Jedi," she says, and Anakin can tell the words are unfamiliar in her mouth. "I have never met one."

"But you've heard of us," Obi-Wan prompts.

She smiles, empty again. "You remind me of the people of Kamar-Taj."

That doesn't mean anything to Anakin, and he thinks it doesn't mean much to the others, either. She notices.

"Peace, but power," she explains. "You mean well, yes?"

"As a general rule," Obi-Wan says. "We seek to spread peace where we can."

"And what stopped you on Tatooine?"

There is no judgement in the words. She's still empty.

"Unlike yourself, Jedi are generally not able to singlehandedly take out a ship carrying missiles," Obi-Wan says, his voice not quite dry. "We have power, but a single of Tatooine's cities has a hundred times more people than our entire culture does. We can only do so much, especially in Hutt space."

She tilts her head the other way. Anakin keeps his eyes on her odd crown, the filigree horns that frame her face. It's the same dark shade of red that makes up most of her… outfit? Costume? Uniform? He isn't sure.

"Power, but not enough for all you wish to do," she muses. "Not enough for all those you wish to be responsible for. Power enough that you can only grasp at the help you want to give… what a terrible thing to have."

Obi-Wan… does not have a response to that. Anakin winces as his master stumbles on words to answer the, quite frankly, absurdly ominous statement. Is she trying to be compassionate? Is it a threat? Pity?

Anakin shares a look with A'Sharad. The knight doesn't seem any more at ease with this woman than Anakin does.

This is not comforting.

Lady Maximoff waits, seemingly unbothered by Obi-Wan's inability to answer her banthashit, and then turns to Anakin. She steps closer, but pauses when Obi-Wan tenses up and moves between them.

"Protective," she says, and steps back. "Good. Shmi worries."

Anakin wants to ask how they know each other, but he can probably ask his mom later, when there isn't powerful, possibly-crazy-possibly-dark lady making weird comments about everything.

She turns on her heel, waving one arm across the air at waist height, and a tableau unfurls from nothing. A plush carpet, several cushions, and a low table now sit on the ground. They look terribly alone in the middle of the room, a splash of dark gold and warm brown and deep maroon in the middle of that empty, empty sandstone.

"Come, sit."

Anakin looks at Obi-Wan, who unfortunately seems as lost as Anakin and A'Sharad do. Still, he goes to the table, and sits. He doesn't make any move to stop the younger two from doing the same.

"Would you like a drink?" Lady Maximoff asks. "Tea, caff, that… blue milk that everyone is so fond of here?"

'Fond' isn't the word Anakin would use.

"You've chilled the building enough that tea would not be amiss," Obi-Wan says. Anakin figures he's trying to build a rapport on humor, since the woman herself doesn't seem too interested in standing on formality.

She waves a hand over the table, fingers twisting in a way that looks strained, and then there's a teapot and several cups there. A moment later, sugar and milk join the other porcelain on the table. Anakin wonders how the atoms work.

"I can't even imagine how you did that," Obi-Wan prompts. An opening, not quite a question, easily shut down.

"I couldn't, until I died," she says.

"…I can't say I know how to respond to that," Obi-Wan says. Lady Maximoff smiles at him, and it does not reach her eyes.

"Monica was dead as well. Half our universe was, until the method was reconstructed." Lady Maximoff takes a sip of her tea, eyes distant. "We were all dust for five years, naught but a memory, not even bodies left… and then all at once, right back where we died, like we'd never left."

None of them have a response to that.

She seems to find that funny. "I'm not making much sense, am I? Would you like me to start at the beginning? Or should we simply move forward, and not remark upon the past?"

"I must confess some curiosity," Obi-Wan says. Anakin's pretty sure he's still out of his depth, or at least wildly confused, but he's still impressed by how well his master is bluffing his way into seeming unruffled. "You seem a good woman, but your power is of the kind that we have never seen outside the hands of those who would do ill with it."

Lady Maximoff nods slowly, with a blankly polite smile sat upon her face. "I imagine so. My power is of a rare level even in my own galaxy. Captain Marvel, perhaps, and Strange, those of Asgard… though I do not wish to compare myself to those who are called gods."

Oh good, more questions instead of answers.

"You speak poetically for one who claims to have never encountered the language before," A'Sharad comments. His voice is low, but the only sound to interfere is the clink of porcelain on lacquered wood and windblown sand against the massive windows.

"I did not learn it naturally," she says. "I found the spellbook that sent me here, and it contained a method to absorb such knowledges through alternate means."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning I could already get inside someone's head, but now I could gain a specified knowledge without rummaging about their deepest memories to get it," Wanda says, with a smile that is no longer empty, but sharper than glass. "I do my best to be a good person, Knight Hett. That does not mean my track record is perfect."

Oh, kark it.

"Would you know more?"

Her voice is low and hoarse and terrifying.

"Of your crimes?" A'Sharad asks.

"Of my story," she says. "Someone already told me much of yours, past and future alike. Don't you want to know more of mine?"

"Why?" Anakin asks.

"You worry my powers are Dark, and I wish to show you how I got them. How they grew. They are not dark, but they are other."

"And how would you be showing us this?" Obi-Wan asks.

"Is that a yes?"

"…yes."

She smiles, sharp and not quite there, and tilts her head. The room spins about them, black with smoke, and for a moment, Anakin can feel nothing but vertigo and despair.

A room takes form. They have only a beat to breathe.

"Wanda Maximoff, volunteer."

A stone, glowing with power, set in a staff, touched and red power the Scarlet Witch chaos magic and—

The room spins again, black smoke and red, a city flying above the world it came from, crawling with droids and my heart was ripped out my brother my twin my other half you monster you'll pay you'll pay I'll tear your heart out next you horrible—

Again, black smoke and red. A man half droid, red and green, a smile but betrayal, locked in a prison beneath an ocean, not enough power in these hands to break free and not enough power in politics to be let out, just bitter resentment and—

Black smoke. Red. An army from the skies of a species unfamiliar, the man half droid lain out for a surgery, but there are too many so the bladed disks are destroyed by that now-familiar red energy, then the killing of the man half droid that would be you husband, but he comes back and the villain wins and kills him again, and you are broken down to dust and memory just like half the universe—

Smoke. A return. Battle against the monster who took your love and your life, except your husband will never return, and neither will any of the others you've lost, and you will never get them back, not even when you—

Red. A home. Your husband. Children. Neighbors. Your brother. But it's all a lie and it's all your fault and you didn't know what you were doing but you broke them down and built them back up and when you let them go, because it is cruel to keep this town under your thumb, you lose your husband a third time, and your children are gone, and—

You are in a new universe. You have nothing and no one but the woman who found you in the desert of a world you don't know.

You are alone.

(You find Monica, and you weep.)

SLAM

Anakin clutches at his chest as the smoke disperses into nothing, breathing hard and trying not to cry after whatever the actual kriff that was.

"Well," A'Sharad says. The strain is audible. "That was horrifying."

Lady Maximoff smiles at them. "Isn't it just?"

"Your powers came from that stone, and then grew with grief."

"So it seems."

He leans forward. "You kept an entire town under mind control."

"Until I realized what I'd done and came to terms with having to end it," Lady Maximoff says, with a slight nod. "I was… in a very poor place, mentally, and my denial and powers and grief interacted in a way that was horrible for the people around me."

"An understatement."

"I cannot take it back," she says. "All I can do is endeavor to do better."

"Well, you did end slavery for an entire planet," A'Sharad notes. "That's certainly a positive impact."

"I like to think so," she agrees. "Knight Kenobi? Skywalker?"

"That was very… informative," Obi-Wan manages. "Please don't do it again."

"Ah, was there emotional transference? I didn't intend it, but perhaps the Force you use caused more resonance than the usual images and basic information."

Obi-Wan just stares at her. Anakin can relate.

"Ma'am," Anakin says, and doesn't flinch when she looks at him. "You… you're amazing for ending slavery on Tatooine and all, but I'm a little worried you're going to eat my soul now."

She laughs. It's not very long, just a short giggle, a hand to her mouth. "I'm afraid I'm not one for souls, Anakin. I've actually been thinking of going vegetarian, if that helps."

It does, but probably not as much as she thinks it will.

"How about we reconvene after you've had some time to speak with Shmi?" Lady Maximoff suggests, not unkindly. "I'm sure you've all much to think about."

#

Anakin decides that this is Obi-Wan's problem, actually, and Anakin's main job right now is to hug his mom and talk her ear off about Jedi things. Obi-Wan is the adult, so Obi-Wan gets to figure out how to tell the Council about what they've learned. There's a lot to say, and Anakin doesn't want to be responsible for any of it.

A'Sharad can help. He seems less bothered by the trip down memory lane than Obi-Wan does.

"At least it's not the dark side," he says. "Could be worse, Kenobi."

"This was just supposed to be recon," Obi-Wan groans into his hands. "Her powers grow from negative emotions, that's the definition of the Dark, except she doesn't use the Force, and that makes it something else entirely."

"Yeah," A'Sharad says. He thumps Obi-Wan on the back. "That about sums it up."

Anakin just keeps on talking to his mom, explaining his class on galactic wedding customs, because sometimes Jedi are called on to attend or even officiate such things, and Anakin's admittedly a bit of a romantic, so it's been his favorite cultural class so far.

She listens, and he thinks she's happy for him.

It's good.

"But how do I explain the fifty percent loss of life through finger-snap?" Obi-Wan wails. "A finger-snap."

"There, there," A'Sharad says, patting the older knight on the shoulder.

Anakin ignores them.

#

By the time they're ready to go back to Coruscant, Anakin's met his stepfamily and given Threepio a tune-up, A'Sharad's visited his Tusken relatives, and Obi-Wan's had at least two silent breakdowns during tea in Lady Maximoff's throne room. They've even gotten an explanation on her policy regarding the Tusken Raiders, which starts with "those rumors seem similarly biased to what many said of my own people back home. The Rroma had a terrible reputation, one born of xenophobia and classism and centuries of oppression, and all of us suffered for it. No, I do not believe the rumors regarding the raiders, insofar as I do not believe that they are any worse than the rest of the planet. All peoples have criminals and some wickedness. I haven't seen any evidence that the Tuskens are any worse than the rest, and so I refuse to act until I know for myself," and the turns into a whole discussion with A'Sharad about getting a Tusken representative into the queen's court, which is… honestly, Anakin thinks it's great.

Pretty much everything is fine.

…and then the Hutts show up again.

Lady Maximoff and Agent Rambeau—they've gotten a title for her, too, she's an agent, though she refuses to explain what she's an agent of, so Anakin's decided she's probably an agent for Lady Maximoff—shout back and forth in a language nobody understands, and then Agent Rambeau starts glowing and giving off weird blue rings again. She flies away, and Lady Maximoff gestures impatiently for a nearby assistant to give her an update.

"What are the demands this time?"

"Um, they—they have none, my lady."

"…pička ti materina," Maximoff swears. Nobody quite knows the words she's saying, but they have the energy of a swear. "They're going to attack outright."

"How can we help?" Anakin asks.

"You can stay out of my way," Maximoff snaps, and then closes her eyes, tips her head back, and raises her arms. Red energy fills the air around them, twisting but not yet doing anything. It spreads, a miasma of suspended intent, and it ripples like water.

Anakin moves to do something anyway, but Obi-Wan grabs his arm before he can. He looks back, and finds that his teacher is frowning in confusion, but not worry.

"I think… I think it's going to be fine," Obi-Wan says, in something approaching unabashed wonder. "Somehow."

"A vision?" A'Sharad asks.

"In that vein, I suppose," Obi-Wan mutters. His eyes roam across the sky. "She's crushed their battleships before, hasn't she? I feel this is going to be similar."

Anakin doesn't have time to question that, because the assistant yells "INCOMING," and the Force lurches.

There's a missile. It's not visible to the naked eye yet, but whatever they've set up has tracking locked and it's coming in fast. Anakin wonders frantically if he can stop it with the Force, but the world twists, wrenching, around the Lady Maximoff. He turns in amazed horror to see that her eyes are open, her fingers are curled, and her teeth are bared in a rictus of something that is not quite rage. Power flows out directly from her, and when he looks up… it's a dome.

The missile is visible, and it's large enough to kill hundreds, and it impacts the dome of red smoke instead.

Maximoff snarls. The explosion does nothing but bounce off and away, the fragments of plastoid and metal skittering off the shield she's ripped into being. Real, true gray smoke emanates from the point of contact, but nothing enters the dome.

"Oh, the Council is going to hate this," Obi-Wan whispers.

"We're not dead yet," A'Sharad advises. "They can't hate it that much."

Lady Maximoff whips her arms around and up, pulsing the shield and rejecting the debris, tossing it all away into the uninhabited sands of the podracer tracks.

"You scare me," Anakin tells her.

When she looks at him, he smiles as brightly as he can.

"I'll take that as a compliment," she decides. "They're preparing another one, but I don't know enough about the ship to target it."

"How did you do it last time?" Anakin asks.

"Monica got me a look," Lady Maximoff says, absentminded. "Unfortunately, I'm not quite so ready to accidentally destroy the ships around my target that I'd try to fight blind."

"Good to know," Obi-Wan says faintly.

The assistant runs over, lekku bouncing. "My Lady, we have a visual."

Lady Maximoff looks down at the image, frowning. "From a satellite?"

"Friendly smuggler," the assistant corrects. "He's a few klicks away from the ship, but it's too large to miss."

A moment of silence and staring at the sky, and then Lady Maximoff says, "About where are they, exactly?"

"Ma'am?"

"General direction."

"Um…" the assistant stares down at their datapad for a moment, and then points at an angle not quite where the missile appeared from. "About there."

Maximoff nods, and that's about when Agent Rambeau lands next to them, radiating blue circles, and eyes aglow in the same electric color.

"There's two more."

"Missiles?"

"Ships."

"Have they fired?"

Agent Rambeau shakes her head, and then hesitates. "Well, one did."

"And?"

"I redirected it."

Maximoff considers that, and then asks, "As the Iron Man in the battle for New York, or another manner?"

"No, I… I pulled a Stark."

"Good for you," Maximoff tells her. "Can you knock them dead?"

"Depends on what you mean."

"Kill the systems." Maximoff wiggles her fingers and makes an odd noise indicating… something.

Rambeau looks up at the sky, judging her options, and then says, "Yeah. Yeah, I can give it a shot."

She takes off.

"What, exactly, can Agent Rambeau do?" Obi-Wan asks. He does not sound like he wants an answer.

"That woman can be a living EMP," Maximoff says. "Granted, with ships that large and complex, it might take a while to find the right point to target, but the two of us working together is better than—missile!"

The assistant, name still unknown, calls out a confirmation.

Maximoff demands another look at the projected location, and then takes a stance that looks more ready for a backbend than a battle.

Maybe that's normal for her.

The missile becomes visible, faintly screeching in the force, and the Lady Maximoff twists her hands again, eyes burning red and the air burning with her. She leans away from it, teeth bared again, curving her spine in a way that is absolutely not battle-ready, but doesn't fall.

The missile slows.

It curves.

She screams, raw and wordless, and the missile turns and shoots back off into the atmosphere.

A beat of anticipation.

Another.

The datapad beeps, and the assistant whoops. "You got it, my lady!"

Maximoff grins. "Is it high enough in orbit for the debris to burn up on reentry?"

"No, but I think… um… it's projected to land in an uninhabited portion of the Dune Sea," the assistant says. "I don't think there are any sentients with permanent settlements, but we could send out a runner to move anyone that's passing through."

"I'll do it," A'Sharad says, stepping forward. "What's the area that needs to be cleared?"

"Um, it should—"

"Where are the other two ships?" Maximoff demands. "Missiles first, debris can wait a minute."

A'Sharad glares, but the assistant switches to the Queen's demands without hesitation. Objectively, Anakin gets it. There are many, many more people at risk from the other ships than from the debris.

On the other hand, the Tuskens are the people most likely to get hit by said debris, and it likely feels like a brush-off of their importance, even if A'Sharad probably knows the problem is just a matter of numbers and time. They'll deal with that when there isn't a missile headed for an entire city.

Maximoff hands off the datapad to A'Sharad and runs to the edge of the roof. She flicks her hands at the ground, and takes off in a rocketing flight pointed at the direction of Mos Eisley.

"She can really fly," Anakin mutters.

Obi-Wan buries his face in his hands and moans.

#

Six months later

Anakin keeps an eye on the developments of Tatooine and the systems around it after they come back to the Temple. It's not his job, at all, but nobody bothers to stop him. He's far from the only person keeping track of the Weird Witch in the Wild… uh… well, in Hutt Space. Alliteration isn't his strong suit.

Apparently, enough former slaves with military and engineering backgrounds come to Tatooine that an automatic defense system is set up against the Hutts. Lady Maximoff doesn't have to do everything herself anymore. It's pretty cool, in Anakin's opinion. She does apparently start freeing slaves on other planets, even if she rarely has the time and energy to stick around to handle the aftermath, but enough of those former-military slaves have entered her service by that point that there's someone around to keep the suddenly-bereft slavers to from taking revenge on their former property. Maximoff fries the explosives, and the people take care of the rest.

"Her influence is spreading," the Council mutters.

"By freeing slaves," Anakin points out.

"She can destroy warships with minimal effort," the Council protests.

"To protect former slaves," Anakin insists.

Anakin doesn't get invited to many Council sessions on 'the Scarlet Witch situation,' but A'Sharad gives him a high-five whenever he manages to irritate them by pointing out that, overpowered or not, Maximoff's been doing good. Yes, he's biased, but he's also right, so there.

And then, six Coruscanti months after Anakin watched an immeasurably odd woman from another universe completely no-sell a Hutt missile, Tatooine and the associated systems petition for admission to the Republic.

The Council isn't happy.

Anakin is delighted.

A'Sharad agrees with him.

Obi-Wan, though, Obi-Wan is about to cry, probably. Master Vos comes to bother him about being a stick in the mud. Anakin watches while munching on that dried seaflower thing that Aayla brought.

"This is good," he tells her. "You've got great taste in snacks."

"Thanks," she says, and then they segue into him badgering her with questions about her upcoming knight trials, because Anakin might be fifteen now, but Aayla is twenty-one and a total badass. He's seen her fight, and sometimes she even agrees to spar with Anakin himself. He doesn't win, but he holds his own better than the rest of his age group would.

He wonders if this is what an older sister is like. Cousins, maybe.

"I can't deal with that woman coming here," Obi-Wan insists to Quinlan, entirely sober but perhaps having had a little too much tea. "Have you seen what Lady Maximoff gets up to? She's terrifying."

"She's cool," Anakin tosses over.

Obi-Wan leaves the room to go scream in a pillow.

#

As it turns out, Tatooine and the associated systems under Maximoff's rule have a high enough population and, now that the slave trade has been rerouted into more legitimate pursuits, a high enough collective gross domestic product to qualify for a senator.

The identity of the senator isn't common knowledge. They do know that Tatooine doesn't have the infrastructure yet for an organized vote, so it's probably going to be someone picked by Maximoff herself. Obi-Wan seems to know something, but he just tells Anakin to "come along, Padawan mine," and escorts him to the Senate building.

Anakin listens, and is glad he does.

Holy kriff.

"Mom!"

"Ani!" his mother says, holding her arms out to let Anakin fall into them. He's taller than her now. That's weird, but not a bad kind of weird, because his mom is on Coruscant!

"Knight Kenobi," a somewhat familiar voice greets, and Anakin peeks around his mother's hair to see who spoke.

"Agent Rambeau," Obi-Wan greets. "I wasn't aware you were coming."

The smile he gets in return is resigned, but friendly. "Wanda and I relate on many things, and she trusts me. She said that there are going to be a lot of people looking to bump us out of the galactic Senate, so our representation is going to need the best protection available."

"And that's you?"

"That's me," Rambeau confirms. "Good to see you again."

"Seen any more magic rocks?" Obi-Wan asks, because he still hasn't let go of the fact that the travelers' powers came from semi-sentient all-powerful rocks.

"Only the ones in your magic sword," Rambeau retorts, because she still hasn't let go of the fact that kyber is just as bullshit as the 'infinity gems' or whatever.

Anakin, on his part, still hasn't let go of his mother.

It's fine.

The Council can complain later.

#

"It's called a pantsuit, Hett," Rambeau says, yawning. "You can just call it that. Button-up, pants, blazer, boots. Grey and white. Simple and practical."

"It's not emblematic to Tatooine or any other known planet," A'Sharad points out. "People are asking questions."

"Let them ask. This is my professional wear, and I'm not going to stop."

Anakin watches them, mostly because the last few times he's listened in on his mother and Obi-Wan, he's heard his own name and something about 'not a child-appropriate activity, even for one as precocious as my son.' Anakin's learned, since group dinners started, that whenever those two whisper about him, it's parenting stuff.

Anakin's still pretty convinced that Obi-Wan's the best Jedi ever, but apparently being a great Jedi doesn't mean being great at child-rearing. Who knew?

"What are you doing?"

Anakin's attention snaps back to A'Sharad and Agent Rambeau when he hears the knight's question.

"Trying to work out my powers," Rambeau says. She's holding a hand over a fork, oddly focused. "I've had all this for less than a year."

"What's it focus around?" Anakin asks.

"Electromagnetic waves," Rambeau says. "So I'm trying to figure out if I could angle that to just…"

She pulls her hand away, shakes it out with a grimace, and then picks up the fork and taps it to another.

They cling when she lifts them.

"You magnetized the fork?" Anakin asks, just to clarify.

"This time," Agent Rambeau says. "I'm still figuring out how to make things other than passive sensory abilities and uncontrolled bursts happen."

"Is it all trial and error?" Anakin prods.

"Well, it's not like anyone else forced their way through Wanda's Westview anomaly wall as many times as I did," Rambeau says. She smiles like she knows they didn't get all that.

"And what was the Westview anomaly?" Anakin presses.

"Sitcom thing."

"The… mind control one where everything lost color?" A'Sharad asks.

"That's the one."

"Well, at least you got something out of it, Agent Rambeau," Anakin says, patting her on the arm and offering a smile.

"Call me Monica."

"Um—"

"Seriously, I don't mind," Agent R—Monica. Monica says. "You too, Hett."

"What, you can't call me by my name?"

"Your last name is snappier, and I'm military," Monica says.

"Fair enough."

#

Anakin gets some information on the Tatooine situation filtered through Obi-Wan or A'Sharad, but something he's surprised to hear is that Jedi are being requested on Tatooine… and not him.

"Wait, why?"

His mother gestures for him to come around to the other side of her desk—her senatorial desk, in her senatorial office—and shows him the holoscreen she's been working at.

"What do you see?"

"Um… literacy rates?" Anakin says, his eyes scanning over the other graphs. "Food production, quality of living, medical resour—oh. You want the Corps."

"Exactly," she tells him. "The main problem on Tatooine, now that we've handled the slavery and organized crime, is the quality of life and food access."

"Can't Lady Maximoff just… fix things?" Anakin asks.

"What do you think would happen if it rained on Tatooine?" his mother asks. "Based on what you've learned at the Temple?"

"Um… quicksand?" Anakin guesses. "And I guess a lot of the canyons would flood, if there was enough water, which would mean a lot of the animals would try to run away and head for higher ground, like some of the cities."

"From what I've been told, it would be a lot worse," his mother says. "I'm not an expert, not at all, but I've been listening to people who are. Wanda said that in her own experiences, someone who doesn't know the situation on the ground coming and trying to fix it without asking the right questions is often going to make a bigger mess. The Hutts and slave chips were easy targets, and she still asked for advice from me on that first to make sure she was doing the right thing."

His mother shakes her head. "The agricultural situation? The weather? Education and medical? None of us currently on Tatooine have the knowledge or resources to go about fixing it as fast as we'd like. We could, with access to the right texts, but it's faster to reach out to the people who have made it their life's work to build that kind of infrastructure. The option of petitioning for help from the Jedi Service Corps was the primary reason we chose to have Tatooine join the Republic in the first place."

It's actually a really good reason. "So do you think they'll do it?"

"It's possible," his mother says. "Likely, even. Between you and Knight Hett, we have an in with the Jedi Council, and Tatooine is very much within the realms of what the Republic considers as needing aid, as far as numbers go. At minimum, we're hoping that the Education Corps will be able to start up a few schools in the major cities, and distribution centers for some kind of remote education."

"The sort of thing you would have wanted when I was a kid?" Anakin asks.

"You're still a kid," she says, and pulls him close to press a kiss to his temple. "But yes. Adult education, I think they call it. Medical will be harder, just because I'm sure we're far from the only planet and there just aren't that many Jedi, but if we can even have some help with vaccine distribution to former slaves…"

"It would save a lot of lives," Anakin murmurs. "And AgriCorps?"

At this, she makes a face. "We're less clear on that."

"But nothing grows on Tatooine," Anakin says. "Doesn't that make it the definition of needing AgriCorps interference?"

"Well, yes and no," his mother says. She purses her lips for a moment, and then changes the screen a bit. "This is the theorized geology of Tatooine, how the water table sits and so on. I've spent a lot of the last few weeks learning all of this from the experts Monica found me, and the general rule is that, since Tatooine is a desert planet and has been for long enough that the native species adapted, like the Krayts and womprats, then introducing agriculture, especially in a way that leaks excess water, can lead to more problems than it helps."

"Like?"

"Like the agricultural runoff sinking until it hits the water table, then forming an underground river that washes away sand until…" she presses a button, and a short animation plays, demonstrating a sinkhole formed by loss of sand beneath what looks like a very stylized Mos Espa.

"Oh," Anakin says. "That… that would be bad."

"Exactly," his mother sighs. "Which is why we do need the experts from the AgriCorps, if only to tell us what can be done safely to make sure our people are fed without accidentally causing devastation in the process. They usually handle worlds with recent destruction, not long-term changes like Tatooine's."

"Do you want me to talk to Obi-Wan about it?" Anakin asks. "I think he knows more about this stuff than I do. He could probably tell you more about how to convince the Senate."

"Thank you, but I think we're fine," his mother says. She must see his face fall, because she smiles and reaches up to squeeze his shoulder. "Really, Anakin, if I need you or Obi-Wan, I'll reach out. Until then, however, I have an entire staff handling things. It's… it's a lot, really, more than I ever expected to have, but this is work that I am not only passionate about, but I am good at it. For once, I have the resources I need to help people in as much hurt as us. The fact that I don't need you is a good thing, Anakin. You're my son. My teenage son. This isn't on your shoulders, nor should it be."

"But… but I want to help."

"You already have," she tells him, and pulls him into a hug.

#

"Your mom's back on Tatooine tonight."

Anakin blinks. "Oh."

Monica drums her fingers on the table, and then gestures across it to the other side. "You gonna sit down or not?"

Anakin takes the seat. He does not fidget. "So, why did you want to talk to me?"

"You're not going to ask how your mom got back to Tatooine when she was on Coruscant this morning?"

"I figured it was witch stuff," Anakin says. "Um… we don't usually talk, Monica."

"I know." She passes him the flimsi menu, and opens one for herself. "Pick a food. We're doing breakfast for dinner."

"Why?"

"Because it's comfort food and we're both going to need it."

He picks.

Anakin fiddles with the corner of the menu, even after he orders, and they stay quiet until the caf and tea arrive.

"So," Monica says. "I'm going to start this off by saying that, since you're fifteen, I can respect that you are of an age to make decisions for yourself. You're old enough that I'm coming to you about this before I go to Shmi or Kenobi. If you were younger, I'd go to a parent or guardian, but you're a teenager. The first step to address the problem I'm seeing is talking to you and letting you make the attempt to fix things on your own. You got that?"

It's one of the most straightforward forms of manipulation Anakin's ever been on the receiving end of, so blunt that he's not sure it counts as manipulation at all. It's definitely at least truthful. He thinks he likes that. Probably.

"Yeah," he says, because there's not much else he can say. "I, uh, appreciate that?"

Monica nods. "Drink your tea."

He takes a sip, makes a face, and reaches for the sugar.

"I was talking to Knight Hett the other day, and he mentioned some things that, paired with your other behavior regarding the situation on Tatooine, has me worried," she says. "I don't know how else to put it, so here's the base question: How many of your classes at the Jedi Temple addressed civics?"

Anakin blinks. "Civics?"

"Yeah. Government and bureaucracy and taxation and everything in that vein," Monica says. "Did you take any civics classes?"

"Um… I mean, I had history classes, but I think the kind of thing you're talking about was covered in earlier years, or got skipped because I was playing catch-up somewhere else," Anakin says. "I know how the galactic republic works, if that's what you're asking."

Monica doesn't quite pull a face at that, but she does purse her lips for a moment. "Right. That's about what I thought."

"Why?" Anakin asks. "I thought—I thought me being excited for what's happening on Tatooine was fine. Lady Maximoff is ending slavery on multiple planets. Isn't that a good thing?"

"It is," Monica says. "But it's also not a long-term solution. There's a reason she's been rejecting the whole 'Queen of Tatooine' thing."

Anakin frowns. "I don't understand why not. She's a good person, doing good work. Why shouldn't she be in charge?"

"Because power gained through force is often against the will of the people," Monica explains. "Wanda is doing good work, but she wasn't elected to the position, or assigned by an elected body. To remain in power longer than is necessary to ensure base stability of the new government would set a poor precedent. She doesn't want to be a ruler, just a protector. A hero, though I doubt she'd let herself admit that part."

"Why can't she just pick who replaces her?" Anakin asks. "I trust her judgement."

"Anakin, even Wanda doesn't trust Wanda's judgement," Monica tells him, voice careful and even. "And whoever comes after her probably won't have mind-reading powers to make sure their replacement isn't just putting on a front about caring, and once a bad person ends up in power by lying, they can pick their replacements according to selfish motivations."

"And a vote is better?"

"A vote on something with a fixed term limit? It's not perfect, but there are definitely more checks and balances on people amassing power for ill intent," Monica continues to explain. "A lot of autocratic systems only work if everyone involved has good intentions, and most people who get into politics don't. It's why situations like Tatooine need to be handled carefully, so the system can transition into a more stable long-term form of government."

Anakin stabs at his food.

This is not the kind of conversation he wants to be having.

"Do you want to know why your mother was set up to be Senator, even if Wanda's known me longer and has a better idea of how I think?"

"I guess."

"Because Wanda doesn't know how Tatooine thinks."

Anakin pulls a face and looks up at Monica. "She can read minds."

"But it's not her lived experience," Monica says. Her voice is gentle, but that's more annoying than anything. "There's this thing on our world, a storytelling cliché that people have mostly learned to avoid. It's called 'the white savior complex,' and it's essentially the situation where a person from a privileged situation comes in to save people from a less privileged one, often putting their own heroics before the actual welfare of people. It stems from the idea that people in bad situations can't save themselves, so obviously the kind, powerful, rich individual needs to do it for them."

"Isn't that what Wanda did?"

"Wanda is in the unfortunate position of being one of the most powerful people in existence," Monica says, dry as the desert they're talking about. "With great power comes great responsibility, and all of that. More importantly, though, her first step was to ask people what they wanted. The first person she met in this universe was your mother, a former slave who was still functioning in the lower class, on a rural farm, with experience in the cities. Wanda spoke with her, with the Lars family, and after she left the farm, with other current and former slaves. She took out the primary enforcement of slavery and the autocratic head of state, and then prioritized protecting the planet and the people from those who wanted to reinstate the status quo."

"Okay?"

"And that's all," Monica stresses. "She petitioned to enter the Republic so that a new government could be instated without relying on her, personally. If she dies, even of old age, any progress she's made will collapse unless there's a system that doesn't have her abilities as the lynchpin."

Monica takes a sip of her caf, visibly thinking over her words. "She trusts your mother to have the best interests of the least privileged people in Tatooine in mind, and to know how to address those needs. This is why your mother is the senator, because these are her people. I'm here for a lot of reasons, from protecting your mother to gathering information for Wanda, but I'm not here to play politics myself. I'm not going to represent a population that I've only just met. I'm not qualified to do that, and for all that Wanda has taken her new role seriously, she's not qualified to represent people either."

Anakin frowns. "I guess I understand, but…"

"But?"

"What about when someone's raised with politics, and knows how to do those things? Why can't we just put a good person in charge and have them make all the big decisions?"

"How do you choose who's good?" Monica prompts. "Who chooses who's good?"

Anakin stabs his food again.

"I can't walk you through all of the details right now," Monica tells him. "I know I'm a lot more pro-military than Wanda is, for one thing. I've dealt with racism back home, but she's dealt with stronger governments invading and ruining a country 'for its own good' in ways that I haven't. Ironically, despite her being the white-passing one, she's the one that's actually dealt with the white savior complex."

"Why is it a 'white' savior complex?"

"Because the history of my planet is a complex nightmare of racial and ethnic tensions," Monica dismisses. "Just the basics would take hours and isn't really anything that's going to help you, ever, the way that learning about your own galaxy would. The short version is that people with dark skin are treated poorly, while people with light skin are treated better."

Anakin has no idea how to feel about that. So he ignores it. "You said you don't want to come in and tell people how to live their lives, but you're telling me a lot about how to think."

"You are not an entire community, but a single teenager that I know through a mutual party," Monica says, voice even. "I'm not talking to you as an outsider, but as a concerned adult acquaintance who wants you to expand your horizons, because I know your kind of thinking can be dangerous."

"The Chancellor never said things like that!" Anakin finally bursts out, and part of him is a little gratified to see Monica jerk back in her seat. "He's the elected head of the entire galaxy, and he never told me I was wrong for wishing things were easier!"

Monica takes a moment before leaning forward again. She doesn't take her eyes off of Anakin, but she's stirring her caf and doesn't seem particularly interested in drinking it anymore. Her lips aren't pressed together into a thin line like Anakin sees his mother do when she's stressed, but there's visible tension in her face.

"There's a lot to address there," she says, once she's done with whatever contemplation she decided was necessary. "I don't blame you for wishing things were easier. God only knows that I've wished the same thing a million times. Unfortunately, easy doesn't mean right. It would have been easy to leave Tatooine alone. It would have been easy to leave Jabba in power. It wouldn't have been right."

Anakin drops his gaze to the space waffle he's been brutalizing whenever it's not his turn to talk. "But it should be."

"That's not how the world works," Monica says, and it's not harsh, but he wishes it was. "The people who make their way to the top are usually the people most willing to step on somebody else to do it. Tatooine got lucky with Wanda, and all she stepped on was slavers, but that's not how things usually work out. High-level politicians tend to be selfish, at best."

Anakin's head snaps up, almost against his will. "The Chancellor's at the top, and he's a good man."

"Anakin, you don't know him. He puts a good front on camera, but he's…" she trails off. "No, you mentioned he never told you that you were wrong. You know him personally."

"He's my friend."

Monica's mouth twitches like she wants to pull a face, and then her expression smooths out. "Is that so?"

Something is wrong. "Yeah. I've known him for three years. He wanted to say thank you, 'cause I helped save his planet a few years ago, and he's been mentoring me since then. I see him every few weeks."

"I see," Monica says. "You were, what, eleven? When he started talking to you?"

"Twelve," Anakin says. He bares his teeth in something that isn't quite a smile. "Is that a problem?"

"Well, it's certainly not what I expected," she says. She doesn't touch on it for the rest of the conversation.

#

"You want to take a civics course?"

Anakin doesn't answer aloud, but he does nod.

"What brought this on?" Obi-Wan asks, sitting down next to Anakin on the couch in their shared living quarters.

"Got in an argument with Agent Rambeau," Anakin mumbles. "She thinks I'm wrong about things. I need to learn more facts to argue back."

"She's more than twice your age, Anakin. It's not unexpected for her to have more experience in some matters," Obi-Wan says. "I'm glad you're looking to broaden your horizons, and I'm frankly a little surprised nobody noticed you hadn't taken any classes in the subject yet."

"Agent Rambeau said something like that," Anakin grumbles. "But she's wrong, and I need to win."

"I see," Obi-Wan says, sounding rather a lot like he doesn't actually see, but is willing to humor Anakin. It's better than Obi-Wan arguing him into just letting Agent Rambeau win, though. "Would this conversation have included you discussing your friendship with the Chancellor?"

Anakin looks at him from the corner of his eye. "Are you going to tell me he's not a good person either?"

"I don't know him well enough personally to make that call," Obi-Wan says, voice deceptively light. "He was elected legitimately and appears to have relatively pacifistic ideals, so I have no particularly strong opinions on his politics."

"But?" Anakin asks. "You're doing the 'I don't like this person but I can't say it because it's going to start a war' voice."

Obi-Wan thins his lips. "You know how your mother has been lecturing me on my failures as a replacement parent?"

"You're not a failure!"

"No, no, it's fair, I've been your brother, or a father figure, so to speak, but I haven't been very good at it," Obi-Wan dismisses. Anakin still wants to fight this assertion. He does not. "Your mother is a lovely woman with some very strong opinions on many subjects, including the fact that children apparently need more physical affection than I was led to believe."

"Is that why you've been giving me more hugs?"

"Yes," Obi-Wan says. His brow wrinkles in what Anakin thinks could be described as 'worried consternation.' "Did you know that human infants can die if they aren't held enough? I didn't. That's terrifying. Imagine if you'd come to the Temple at the usual age and I was assigned to creche duty. I could have killed you because people told me not to be attached."

"I forgive you, Master," Anakin tells him. He's not sure what else to say. Obi-Wan's worries seem extreme, in part because nobody ever bothers putting Obi-Wan on creche duty. "You were just doing what you thought was right for me to be a good Jedi."

"Nonetheless, my abilities as a guardian have been lacking," Obi-Wan says. "It was in part because you came to my sole care while too young for a normal padawanship, of course. You should have spent several years with a clan in the creche, really, with someone that actually understood children, but that wasn't happening. My best was admittedly not optimal, and I'm sorry for that."

"What does that have to do with the Chancellor?" Anakin asks, deciding that Obi-Wan's apologies were getting uncomfortable, and since he'd already said that he forgave him, it shouldn't be an issue. Also, Obi-Wan hadn't done anything wrong, so he shouldn't have apologized at all, but Obi-Wan wouldn't listen if he said that.

"I have…" Obi-Wan trails off, grimacing. He shakes his head. "I have never been entirely comfortable with your relationship with the Chancellor. I allowed it, because it seemed to make you happy, and there's not much room for me, as a Jedi Knight, to so much as imply that the Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Senate is behaving inappropriately. I kept an eye out to make sure things weren't going in a bad direction, but recent discussions with your mother have me wondering if I was, perhaps, not paranoid enough."

Anakin feels the anger burn in his stomach. "That's—he's a good man! You're just letting Rambeau put words in your mouth!"

"No, Anakin, I'm not. This has been on my mind since he started asking to speak with you. I just haven't had the awareness to realize that it was something to be concerned about." Obi-Wan runs a hand over his face. "Your mother would be better suited to this conversation, and I know that. Please just… speak with her when you get a chance."

Anakin feels frustrated tears build in his eyes, and he's on Coruscant, so it's even okay to cry. They waste water here. "So, what, you're going to take the word of a woman you barely know over mine? You've known me for six years, Obi-Wan! Can't you trust my judgement?"

Obi-Wan's expression is pained. "This is… this is why I didn't want to have this conversation. This is why I wanted you to talk to your mother about it. I do trust you, Anakin, but you were twelve."

"I don't see what that has to do with anything."

"It's… you're very angry right now, and I don't want to make it worse," Obi-Wan says.

"Tell me."

"Anakin—"

"Tell me!"

Obi-Wan presses his lips together, and blinks hard. "Anakin, it's a lot easier for a seasoned politician to put words in the mouth of a pre-adolescent than for a woman with no public speaking career to put words in the mouth of an adult knight who specializes in rhetoric."

Anakin's heart freezes.

He doesn't say anything.

"I told you," Obi-Wan mutters. "I didn't want to make it worse."

Anakin maybe slams the door when he storms off to his room.

#

The talk with his mother isn't much better, but she gives him a way to prove himself instead.

"All I ask is that you not tell him that we discussed this with you. Talk to him as you normally would, and then tell us what he said, in as much detail as you can. If he makes you doubt your relationship with Obi-Wan, your relationship with me, or your relationship with the Jedi Order, please tell me. You know I care for you, and so does Obi-Wan. We just want to make sure he isn't… well. Do you remember Haney? The girl down the road when you were a child?"

"…yeah?"

"Do you remember how her owner doted on her until…"

"The Chancellor isn't like that!"

"Haney thought the same, Anakin. The Chancellor does not own you, no, but the Order answers to him as a superior, don't they?"

"I can't believe I'm hearing this."

"Ani, any adult in such a position, even if he just wanted to thank you for saving Naboo, would have allowed or even insisted that you be accompanied by an adult from your life. Obi-Wan, most likely, or a trusted friend of his if he wasn't available. To meet with you alone as often as he did is just another warning sign."

"Mom…"

"Please, Anakin. We worry for good reason. At least think about it, for me."

#

Anakin scales back on visiting Palpatine.

He doesn't want to, entirely, but his mom worries less if he doesn't go, and he doesn't really want to lie to her about where he's going. He'd maybe lie to Obi-Wan, but not his mom.

She deserves better.

He's still mad at everyone for telling him that he's wrong about the Chancellor. They're not pressing, so long as he tells them everything that happens, but still. Just once, Palpatine asks that Anakin keep something between the two of them, and it's not even an important something. Anakin just tells Obi-Wan, "oh, and there was another thing, but he said it was a secret so I don't feel comfortable telling you," which… that's what a person is supposed to do, for friends. He even phrases it the mature way! If a friend asks you to keep a secret, you keep it a secret. Anakin says as much.

"Anakin, how many times has the Chancellor asked you to keep an element of your discussions a secret?" Obi-Wan asks, his voice calm and even. His presence in the Force is tightly wound, so close to his core that Anakin almost doesn't feel the spike of emotion in it. "Specifically, how many times has he asked you to keep something from me?"

"Uh, not too often," Anakin says. "It's not big stuff."

"Anakin," Obi-Wan says, voice calm and even. "An example, please."

"Um… one time he bought me a drink?" Anakin offers. It's a pretty small thing, he thinks. "It was just one, and I didn't even like it. Kids on Tatooine were getting drunk way younger than I was."

"When?" Obi-Wan asks, still so damnably calm.

"Is this an interrogation, now?" Anakin snaps.

"Anakin, please."

(He pretends he can't hear how strained Obi-Wan sounds.)

"…fine, I was thirteen. Happy?"

"I need to leave. I'll be back by dinner." Obi-Wan grabs his outer robe and doesn't look at Anakin. "If you need something, comm your mother or Master Vos. I… I need to work some things out, and I refuse to take out any anger on you. This isn't your fault."

His mom takes the news almost as poorly, and her anger about it isn't as hidden.

So.

Anakin scales back.

#

"Kid, I'm just saying, womp rats are too stringy. You want a good stew, it's better to go for bantha."

"Yeah, but bantha are good for other stuff. Womp rats are just a nuisance. Can't ride 'em, can't spin the fur, can't use the milk. All you can use them for is meat."

"Spoken like a city boy who's never tanned a hide."

"Listen, you still need the rat dead for that. Bantha's more use alive."

"Yeah, but it tastes better. I helped herd those things for fifteen years, alright, I know the worth of a live bantha, but the taste is—"

A commissary tray drops onto the table across from them, and they spring apart from the conversation.

"Are you two arguing about Tatooine things again?"

Anakin and A'Sharad share a look, and then turn to Aayla. Anakin's the one that speaks up. "Yeah, why?"

"Because I'm pretty sure that table of younglings is trying to figure out what a womp rat is and whether they can find any on Coruscant," she tells him. "I don't want that. You don't want that. Nobody wants that."

"Someone might."

"Hett, think of the children."

"I was skinning rats at their age."

"You're hopeless." She doesn't seem too bothered by this, if the smile on her face is anything to go by. "I was serious, though, you might want to keep it down. Some of the Initiates are trying to figure out if Tatooine is worth visiting."

"It's not," Anakin says, not a drop of hesitation in his body. "They should absolutely not visit Tatooine."

"Why are they even considering it?" A'Sharad asks, horrified fascination in every line of his face. "I know why I would, but I have family to visit and cultural traditions to keep up."

"Well, you know, there are rumors," Aayla drawls. "A fresh new center for anti-slavery work, a queen that might be Force-sensitive, and a senator that happens to be the mother of one of the highest-profile padawans? The gossips are beside themselves."

"I feel like the Jedi should be above such things," A'Sharad comments.

"Oh, don't you start," Aayla tells him. "We're sentients, not gods. A little sharing of light information is good for a person."

"Not if it sends them to Tatooine," Anakin mutters. "Unless you're into podracing."

"And they can't enter, so that's really just gamblers and obsessives."

"Mom says gambling's one of the worst vices a person can have, and gambling on podraces is part of why Mos Espa was as bad as it was."

A'Sharad snorts. "Says the biggest upset in recent history."

Anakin grins at him. "Hey, if they didn't want me to win, they shouldn't have let me race."

"Give me something," Aayla finally begs, untroubled façade breaking. She leans across the table. "I have friends my own age, and they all know I know you. They won't leave me alone about it. I need gossip, children."

"You can tell them I killed a krayt dragon," A'Sharad offers.

"Nobody knows what that is."

"They can look it up."

Anakin laughs, and it's nice, and then his head splits open and he feels like he's been shot.

It takes him more than a moment to come to himself, and by that point he's being shaken by the shoulders by A'Sharad. Aayla's got her comm out and is calling Obi-Wan. People are staring.

"My mom," he chokes out, and then pushes himself off the commissary table, wobbles as he stands, and grabs onto A'Sharad. "Something's wrong with my mom."

To his credit, the knight only hesitates a moment, and then nods and hauls Anakin up. "I have a pass for the Temple speeders."

"Wait!" Aayla calls out, vaulting over the table to follow them. "Master Kenobi is on his way, I'm sure he—"

"No time!" Anakin shouts back.

"You need medical attention!" she insists, catching up.

"It was a vision, not a faint," A'Sharad snaps at her, and then just picks Anakin up over a shoulder and starts sprinting. Anakin doesn't protest this, because 'taller than most kids his age' still isn't 'as tall as A'Sharad.' Also, his head still feels funny. He's not sure he can run right now. A'Sharad's talking. "Hopefully, we got advance warning and not a post-incident resonance."

Anakin's heart clenches.

"But—"

"A senator's life is in danger," A'Sharad says. "This is our job. Let someone kn—KENOBI!"

Ow. That was right in Anakin's ear.

"What are you doing?" Obi-Wan's voice demands, falling into step with them. "Anakin, are you—"

"Force vision, his mom, seems to involve blaster shots," A'Sharad reports, words clipped. "I'm grabbing us a speeder. Do you have a comm number for her or her guard?"

"I can—yes, I can do that," Obi-Wan says. "Monica's more likely to pick up right now, I'll just—yes."

Anakin slaps at A'Sharad's shoulder until he gets dropped, because he's feeling well enough to do the running himself now, thanks.

"Anakin are you—"

"My mom."

Obi-Wan grimaces. "Nobody's picked up yet. I'm going to try again."

They make it to the speeder lot, A'Sharad punching in numbers to get one out of its stall, when the comm finally picks up.

"Somebody better be dying, Kenobi, I swear to—"

"Anakin just had a vision," Obi-Wan interrupts. "He's worried it's about Shmi, and it seems imminent, so we're on our—"

"I handled it."

They all freeze at that. Even Anakin, who can't quite untangle the feelings in his chest.

"You… handled it," Obi-Wan repeats.

"I got shot, yes, but I handled it."

"You got shot?!" Obi-Wan demands, getting looks from a few knights on the other side of the lot.

"Shmi's fine," Monica says, sounding more than a little exasperated. "I stepped in the way. Tanked the shot. No damage. Come down if you want, but right now I'm main witness for the investigation."

Anakin grabs Obi-Wan's comm and pulls it to himself. "Is my mom okay?!"

"She's fine, I said. Shocked, sure, but I'm here for a reason, Anakin. She'll… probably feel better if you get down here."

"We'll be there as soon as we can," Obi-Wan promises. He turns, hesitates, and then says, "Aayla, please go inform the council of what's happened. The Senate will most likely want a Jedi investigating anyway, but we're all a little close to the subject for it to be us, officially."

"I can do that," Aayla promises, nodding sharply. "Anakin, will you…"

"I just need to see my mom."

#

Anakin jumps off the speeder and sprints to his mother the second it seems feasible. This means Obi-Wan shouts at him for making the jump, because they're not really a reasonable height off the ground for it, but it's fine! It's fine. He has the Force.

"Mom!"

"Ani," she sighs, wrapping her arms around him as he clings to her chest. "I'm fine, dear."

Anakin hugs her harder, presses his face into her neck and lets his fingers dig into the smooth fabric of her outer robe.

"Agent Rambeau," Obi-Wan greets, somewhere off behind him. "I believe we have you to thank for the Senator's continued well-being."

"It's my job, Knight Kenobi."

Anakin peeks over his mother's shoulder and sees Rambeau sitting on the ground. There's a senate medic next to her, insistently doing a check on the location the injuries should have been. She… doesn't look like she needs it.

"Aren't you functionally immune to blasters?" A'Sharad asks, arms crossed and head tilted.

Rambeau shrugs. "I don't argue with medics if I can help it. Getting my temperature taken isn't going to hurt me. I can take a few minutes for protocol."

Anakin lets go of his mother, but doesn't step away more than a few inches. His hands stay fisted in her coat. It might be childish to cling on, but he's going to do it anyway.

"Ani, I'm fine."

"Someone tried to kill you," Anakin says, and he can feel that fire in his chest, that attachment that everyone tells him is bad for a Jedi, but he can't help it. His mom just almost died, and he wasn't fast enough to get here, the only reason she's not dead—

"Anakin," Obi-Wan says, putting a hand on his shoulder. "You need to calm down."

"My mom just al—"

"But she didn't," Obi-Wan reminds him, not a little forcefully. "You're projecting your anger. It could hurt someone, including her. You need to calm down."

Anakin closes his eyes and tries to focus on his breathing. The fact that his mother is standing next to him, perfectly fine, is good. The fact that Obi-Wan is standing next to him, and projecting calm, is also good. Helpful, even.

There are more footsteps milling about, and something familiar heading his way in the Force, but Anakin ignores most of that. He opens his eyes, and sees Rambeau standing up and talking to the medic, who looks annoyed but not disappointed. That means it's probably just nonstandard baselines to do with her weird light powers, and not Rambeau refusing to take care of herself. The agent makes a couple 'what can you do' gestures that make the medic frown harder.

Anakin steps forward, and Rambeau's eyes snap to him. The medic seems to have lost interest by this point, and moves past him to talk to his mother. Rambeau just crosses her arms and waits.

"You saved her."

"It's my job."

"You jumped in front of a blaster shot for her."

"I'm immune to them. She isn't. There's a reason I was assigned to this."

"You—" Anakin cuts himself off, gives up on trying to use words, and just throws himself into hugging her instead. "Thank you."

She's stiff, for the first few moments, but sighs and somewhat relaxes. She pats his back, and Anakin feels a curl of fond exasperation from her. It's a very familiar feeling, if usually from other people. "Again, it's my job, and I'm not in danger doing it. You don't need to thank me."

"Still," Anakin says, but he steps back and shoves his hands into his sleeves before he can do something else stupid.

"This mean you're not mad at me anymore?" Rambeau—no, Monica—asks.

"You saved my mom," Anakin reiterates, not quite minding the way his voice shakes. "That's more important than anything."

"That's not—Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, what a pleasant surprise." Monica's voice is utterly professional, but Anakin misses her expression in his hurry to turn around. "I'd have expected you to stay away from an attempted assassination, given your position and the possible risk to your own life."

Her tone, her words, her Force presence… all are completely neutral.

"Oh, they've already apprehended the bounty hunter," Palpatine dismisses, one hand waving the issue away with a careless flutter. "I'm more worried about yourself and Senator Skywalker!" He turns to face Shmi. "Such a new face in our proceedings, and such a determined one. Madame, I truly don't know what to say for the kind of person who would choose to target you. You've already done so much to help move the Senate forward, and you bring such a fresh perspective on so many issues that, I'm sad to say, my older fellows have long since gotten used to glossing over."

"I'm certain they won't be the last," Shmi says, with a soft, pleasant smile that seems wrong, somehow. Anakin shifts his weight nervously. "For all their good words, many of the senators from more wealthy systems do benefit from those structures I wish to see torn down, even if only indirectly. I would not accuse any of my colleagues of putting a bounty on my head, of course, but I am not unaware of the fact that many of them have… constituents of wealth, shall we say, who would not hesitate to do so behind their backs."

Anakin's never heard his mother talk like this before. It's… uncomfortable.

"The villains of the world will go after activists with tactics that those activists will hesitate to use against the villains," Monica says. She smiles, sharper than glass. "Seen it all before, back home."

"Indeed," the Chancellor says. "Tatooine's recent upheavals… well, I'm sure you know better than me. I must say, Senator, you're taking it very well. I'd be terrified if I'd been the target of such an attack, and you, my dear… a rising star like yourself, I'd hate to see you put out before your time, and I fear they'll send more along. You are very brave."

Anakin watches his mother's smile thin out. "I've spent far too many years with a bomb under my skin to fear death now."

The Chancellor pales, and Anakin winces. He's not the only one. It's probably not such a personal fear for most of the people here, but Anakin had the same history she did. He knows what the feeling is.

A'Sharad snorts, quiet but clear, and just raises a brow when Monica shoots him a look.

"Be that as it may," Palpatine barrels onwards, if a little off-balance now. Anakin feels for him. "Perhaps you would allow for a more comprehensive security team? Senators in less dangerous positions than your own have a dozen guards, and we could certainly assign more people. Miss Rambeau—"

"Agent," Shmi corrects.

"Agent Rambeau," the Chancellor corrects without a pause, "appears to be a very competent young woman, but she's only one person."

"She's more than enough, thank you," Shmi says. "And she's not that much younger than I am."

"She's not?" Anakin asks, blindsided by this information. It's enough to distract him from how weird his mother is asking.

Shmi laughs, this time genuine. "I'm no old lady myself, but I'm thirty-nine by Coruscanti years. Agent Rambeau is…"

"Thirty-six," Rambeau says. "Probably. There's some wiggle room in the time differences, but yes, I'm almost the same age as Senator Skywalker."

Anakin isn't sure what to do with this information, so he ignores it. It's not that relevant.

"I see," Palpatine says slowly, hesitant but moving forward anyway. "I'm sure you're plenty experienced in these things, my dear, but I'd still feel more comfortable if a larger security detail was assigned to the Senator."

Anakin would also feel more comfortable that way.

"I'm afraid that's my own decision to make," Shmi says, that not-so-pleasant smile back in place. Anakin recognizes it, but not in a way he appreciates. It's a smile that says 'you may not be as low on the ladder as I am, and you may be capable of hurting me, and you may want to hurt me, but my master is possessive; if you hurt me, you'll have to deal with them.'

(Gardulla had been a cruel master, but she'd hated the idea of anyone messing with what she saw as hers.)

(Anakin doesn't remember much of their time with her, but he remembers that much.)

(He doesn't like the idea that his mother sees the Chancellor the way she once saw Gardulla's more entitled guests.)

"Did anyone tell Lady Maximoff that you were attacked?" A'Sharad asks. Anakin is sure that he is absolutely going off the exact implication that Anakin had seen in his mother's tight expression.

"I sent a message off about ten minutes ago," Agent Rambeau says. She seems unconcerned. "I'm not sure how long it'll take to get to her, but she'll be finding out soon if she hasn't already. I wouldn't be surprised if she comes to Coruscant about it."

"We'll have a few weeks to prepare," someone mutters. Datapads come up all about the Chancellor's contingent. "Tatooine's not very close to any hyperlanes. A visiting planetary ruler… an angry one, at that, but—"

"A few minutes," Monica corrects.

Anakin closes his eyes. Not this again.

"What?"

"You have a few minutes," Monica repeats, smiling in a pleasant way that isn't nearly as smug as she feels in the Force. "Not weeks."

"She was already on the way here?" the person squeaks. Anakin thinks the man is one of Palpatine's secretaries.

"That's a violation of several codes," Palpatine says, sounding faint. Anakin wonders if he needs a glass of water or something. "Oh dear, we really should—"

"No, she's probably still on Tatooine," Monica says. She's absolutely enjoying herself. "But there's a reason her preferred title is the Scarlet Witch, Chancellor."

Later, Anakin will wonder if the Force arranges for the most dramatic result, or if the Lady Maximoff just knew.

All he sees in the moment, however, is that the sky tears open, and that rip in reality pours out sand and heat and familiar, burning red, like a doorway to hell itself.

(There's no hell in the Jedi doctrine, but Anakin's taken more than a few courses on religions in other systems and species. More than a few hold to the idea of an afterlife that punishes the wicked, and he doesn't object to the idea on principle. He doesn't believe in it either, but he does like the idea.)

At any rate, the sky is aflame, and Anakin doesn't fear it. He tilts his head back and looks at the red smoke that is so much more powerful than anything else he's encountered in this life, the ragged gash that he knows should be impossible. It is, in the weirdest way he can imagine, like greeting an old friend.

His mother is calm, and Monica is calm, and A'Sharad is calm. Obi-Wan isn't calm, but he's not afraid, just frustrated, because he knows this energy as well as anyone who's been on Tatooine in the last year does. Anakin thinks that's fine, because the Force agrees.

Palpatine is afraid, but that's okay, because he's going to properly meet this terrifying, horrifying woman in a moment. The Chancellor is a good man, and Lady Maximoff leaves good men alone. The fear will pass.

She comes through feet first, descending with that emotionless mask on her face. The characteristic red half-skirt flutters in an artificial wind like something out of a holodrama. Scarlet flames twist about her, coming from her hands and her eyes and her every movement, even as the hole in reality seals up and disappears above. It leaves nothing behind but the blue skies of Coruscant, stained faintly yellow by the dust that followed her through.

It's probably horrifying, for everyone else.

"Wanda," Monica greets, something in her voice a touch wry. It's the fond exasperation from before, Anakin thinks, except more. "Everyone's fine, you can turn off the scary."

Lady Maximoff tilts her head, eyes oddly wide and wild as she descends. She lands lightly on the pour-stone of the courtyard, thick heels colliding more audibly than Anakin would expect. "Someone shot you."

"Yeah, they're in custody now," Monica tells her. "Your eyes are glowing. Take it down a few."

The red energy dissipates, but the wild look doesn't. Still, she seems less tense. Anakin waves. She doesn't notice.

"Your Majesty," the Chancellor calls out, after enough time passes that they can assume the queen won't attack anyone. "Allow me to welcome you to Coruscant."

She looks at him, long enough to be confusing and uncomfortable, and then nods shortly. "Thank you."

The queen then brushes past him to approach Shmi, hands coming up to take the shorter woman by the shoulders. She stops before she actually makes contact, and drops her hands to her sides. Her fists open and close with the air of someone who doesn't quite know what to do with herself, but is certain this isn't it. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine, Wanda."

Shmi brushes a hand over Wanda's cheek, a surprisingly familiar move for this public of a space. That's a real smile on his mother's face, too. It's so much stranger after all the looks his mother has given the Chancellor these past minutes.

The Chancellor actually looks a little offended. Anakin wants to tell him that it's not that Lady Maximoff thinks she's better than him, she's just a very strange individual who doesn't necessarily think like most sentients. Then, of course, Anakin realizes that explaining that would really make it seem like Lady Maximoff thinks she's better than everyone.

This is why Obi-Wan does the diplomacy stuff.

"They are trying to kill you," Lady Maximoff says, voice rough and low like it seems to drift whenever she's trying to be scary, or when she's too deep in her magic to quite connect to reality.

"I have Monica," Shmi soothes, her hand coming down from the queen's cheek to her arm, and rubbing comfort the way she used to for Anakin. "She's more than competent."

Lady Maximoff's face pinches. "Come back to Tatooine."

"No."

"Please."

"Thank you, Wanda, but no."

Monica coughs loudly. "Should this conversation be happening in public?"

She receives a look of tired amusement from Shmi, and blank incomprehension from the queen.

"Are you planning to stay?" A'Sharad calls over, after just enough time passes to make it awkward.

Lady Maximoff turns to him. "What?"

"You haven't made the trip to Coruscant for political obligation reasons yet," he points out. He seems to be enjoying himself. Anakin's not sure that's a good thing. "Since you're already here, you can get to the part where you introduce yourself to the galaxy properly."

"I don't want to do that," she says, tone twisted into something less 'darkly ethereal' than she has been the entire time Anakin has known her, and more like… something out of a cheesy, lowbrow holoshow. It's almost grating. "Why would I want to do that? I don't want to do politics. I don't want that."

Monica mutters something in their shared language that Anakin doesn't know, and Lady Maximoff pouts at her.

"It really would be better for your reputation," Obi-Wan says, hesitant. Anakin watches him step forward, gaze darting between the Tatooine contingent and the Chancellor. "You're well past the point that it would be good form, Madame. People want to know more about what you're doing and why you're doing it."

"That's what Shmi is Senator for," Lady Maximoff insists.

"Let's not have this conversation in front of, and I really have to stress this," Monica says, "a number of reporters and the Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Republic."

Lady Maximoff blinks. She tilts her head, and not in the scary way. She opens her mouth to speak, and Monica interrupts her.

"The man who welcomed you to Coruscant. That's the Supreme Chancellor."

Anakin is not the only person staring in mild horror as the queen's mouth snaps shut. His mother doesn't seem surprised, and A'Sharad is laughing, but Obi-Wan is definitely about to cry.

Palpatine might be too surprised to be offended. Anakin really hopes so.

"In my defense," the Lady Maximoff begins.

"Stop while you're ahead," Monica advises. "Let's leave it at 'too worried about a friend to notice details' and not dig the hole deeper."

"I'm bad with faces."

"You're digging."

Lady Maximoff shrugs. "It's a good thing I've delegated the interstellar politics, then."

Monica puts a hand to her face. "We're supposed to work with these people."

"You are. I'm just keeping slavers out of the territories under my protection."

"How about we all go inside?" Obi-Wan suggests, louder than is strictly necessary. He goes to the Tatooine representatives in a way that Anakin can only describe as 'bustling' and 'fussing' and other words suggestive of nervous perfectionism. Really, it's a lot like Threepio. "Chancellor, so sorry about all this, I imagine we're all a little out of sorts from the attack. Perhaps we can set up a meeting to discuss the incident another time?"

"I think that's the best option we have," Shmi says, wrapping an arm around Lady Maximoff and leading her away. "A good day to you, Chancellor. I'm sure we'll—"

Obi-Wan shoves all three women over, all moving so quickly that Anakin doesn't realize what's happened until it's already done. All four of them are on the ground, and there's screaming, and something smells like burning flesh.

There's a smoking hole in the Lady Maximoff's shoulder, the arm hanging uselessly at her side. He can see bone. It's not a clean hole and it doesn't punch all the way through, but it's going to take more than an hour or two in the bacta tank to fix.

"Oh, sithspit," A'Sharad hisses, and then draws himself up to full height. "Everybody move! Evacuate the square now!"

Anakin draws his lightsaber, hears Obi-Wan and A'Sharad do the same, and notes that the Chancellor is getting hustled back into the nearest building by his entourage. Monica is covering Shmi, and there's a medic already trying to get at Lady Maximoff's injury. Anakin's not sure that's a great idea, on account of the fact that the shooter is probably going to try again, but medics and healers are generally very determined.

She brushes them off. She gets to her feet. She reaches a hand out in the direction the shot came from, and twists.

Red power snaps to, and a body comes flying towards them. It stops dead just a few meters away, floating above the ground and utterly frozen.

They're wreathed in the red smoke, eyes wide and terrified. The queen steps closer, expression distant and cold and something beyond the pale. She tilts her head and quirks her fingers, and the weapons on the shooter disintegrate. Grey dust floats down from their form like ashes, and then the armor follows suit.

"You were a fool, to do that," she says, a hitch to the words where there shouldn't be. Anakin already knew her accent was stronger than Monica's, despite her casting whatever translation spell she'd managed to pull from the scary book, but it gets stronger as she talks now. Anakin only wonders why for a moment. There are more important things to focus on. "Should I ask who sent you?"

The sentient can do nothing but breathe and look frantically about the square.

"Set her down," Obi-Wan says, putting a hand on Maximoff's outstretched arm. His voice is too calm. "I'm authorized to perform the arrest, Lady Maximoff."

"Do you have handcuffs?" she asks him, but twists her hand so the bounty hunter's arms jerk around to front, wrists together.

"I will in a moment," Obi-Wan says, and gestures a nearby security officer closer. The officer does have handcuffs, apparently. Still, Obi-Wan doesn't take his eyes off of Wanda, even as he starts addressing other people. "Knight Hett, would you be so kind as to escort this woman to the nearest facility able to handle her?"

"Not sure she'll be causing any trouble after this," A'Sharad says, joining the security officer in handling the bounty hunter. "But sure."

"Much obliged," Obi-Wan says, and as soon as the handcuffs are on, he squeezes the queen's uninjured arm. Gently, Anakin can tell. "Drop her, please."

The red power disperses, and the bounty hunter falls. A'Sharad helps her stumble to her feet, and leads her off, but the look he shoots back is worried.

"There are going to be witness statements," Obi-Wan says. "And you need medical attention, unless your abilities include healing powers."

Lady Maximoff looks down at her shoulder, and says, "Oh."

As it turns out, she does not have healing powers.

At least she doesn't pass out.

#

Maximoff gets treated at the Temple, mostly because she agrees to demonstrate her abilities for study purposes. Anakin's not sure they're going to get anything out of it that Obi-Wan didn't already see back on Tatooine, but nobody's complaining about the compromise except CorSec. The Jedi are authorized to get the witness statement and related information, so that's another problem solved.

She's not a terrible patient, from what he hears. Given all the legal elements to the incident, Anakin isn't even asked to leave the room while the treatments are happening. The injury isn't as bad as it should be, according to Healer Tinsa.

"Magic," Monica scoffs, and Maximoff just smiles and shrugs with her good shoulder.

Anakin does get the delightful experience of seeing the Lady herself do a double-take when Master Windu and Grandmaster Yoda enter the room. Her bafflement is hilariously new and he wants to see more it. He has no idea why she's surprised, but it's a good look.

"Is there a problem, Your Majesty?" Master Windu asks, after the stare lasts a few seconds longer than is strictly necessary. The queen isn't even staring at Yoda, like most people, but at Master Windu himself. It must be awkward, Anakin thinks.

Maximoff's head snaps around to Monica to make a demand in the unknown language they share, and Monica just smirks and shrugs.

"Something funny, you see?" Yoda asks, ambling closer and leveraging himself up onto one of the chairs. It does prompt Maximoff to groan in irritation and relent to giving an answer.

"She could have warned me," she says.

Well. It's not a real answer. Monica is a little more obliging.

"Master Windu looks strikingly similar to a man we both knew back home," Monica explains. "To the point where we both, on first meeting, mistook you for him. I saw you from a distance before, so I knew to expect it. She didn't."

It's a surprisingly normal reason, which Anakin thinks is disappointing. Things about Maximoff are usually much more entertaining or confusing.

"Stop laughing at me, Monica."

"No."

"I'm your boss."

"Still no."

"Ladies," Shmi says, and Maximoff pouts again.

(That's still weird.)

The post-incident interview goes pretty smoothly, or at least Anakin thinks it does. It's pretty similar to a mission debrief, and he's gotten a feel for those by now. It's only because of the number of messes he and Obi-Wan have ended up in on missions that really shouldn't have been that bad, but it's experience nonetheless.

Maximoff couches most of her response in 'you got it all on film, there were already camera crews there,' but describes her experiences of the incident in enough detail that Anakin knows she's done this before. Shmi is a little less used to this sort of thing, but Monica is… well, he already knew she was military. A'Sharad isn't back yet, so the only other statements they need are from Obi-Wan and Anakin himself.

When the two council members finally leave, with promises to follow up on the 'observe your powers' situation, Maximoff falls back in the bed they've given her and groans. It's loud and dramatic and kind of funny.

"I know," Monica says, mockingly pitying.

"I kept expecting him to swear at me," Maximoff grumbles, and then huffs a laugh. "He was so polite. Didn't ask me 'what the hell were you thinking' or refer to the portal as a 'giant-ass hole in the sky' or anything."

Monica laughs. "Let me guess, the Chitauri incident?"

"They'd been talking about the Battle of New York while I was in the room; the phrasing stuck out to me," Lady Maximoff says, which explains almost nothing. Monica seems to get it, though.

"Every time he opens his mouth, I just, in the back of my mind, I hear Director Fury calling one of the Skrulls a 'reckless motherfucker,'" Monica says, switching languages for just a few words. Anakin wonders if they've been sticking to Basic so far for their audience's sake. He thinks that… well, maybe. They seem more interested in causing confusion than solving it, and making sure people understand them is actually bringing up more questions than it answers. "I didn't even work with him that often, it happened once, but I'm never forgetting it."

Maximoff laughs weakly, and then says something in their language. Monica responds in kind, and Anakin finds himself wishing that he understood more of it, even if they're probably just gossiping about this Fury guy.

Then Monica gestures at Obi-Wan, and Maximoff twists to stare at him.

Anakin's unnerved, and he's not even the one being stared at.

"Er, hello," Obi-Wan says. He blinks and hesitates, and only then continues. "Are you quite alright?"

Monica gestures for him to shut up a bit, and then Maximoff squints at him.

"The—the man from the American movie," she says, turning back Monica. "The singing one."

"You'll have to be more specific," Monica practically drawls, but Anakin has a feeling she knows exactly what the queen is talking about.

"With the…" she hums something, bouncing a hand to keep time.

"Moulin Rouge?" Monica asks, voice dry.

"Yes! That one."

"There's a reason for that," Monica says, and then switches languages again.

Anakin turns to his mother, who seems to be at least somewhat following along. "What are they saying?"

"Apparently, Knight Kenobi looks like a holovid actor from their home world," his mother says. She looks like she's putting up only the slightest effort at hiding a fond smile. "Or at least, that's what I'm getting. They're using words I don't know, and referencing media I've never heard of."

There are a few more quick back-and-forth quips, and then Monica makes a whipping motion and sound, does not get the response she was hoping for from Lady Maximoff, and collapses back in her chair. The Lady just looks at her in bemusement.

"Do we get an explanation?" Shmi prompts.

"She hasn't seen a popular set of movies," Monica explains, and then lets her head fall to the side to meet her boss's eyes. "You're killing me, Wanda."

"I like happy things about romance," Lady Maximoff tells her. "Sitcoms and romcoms, that was me. Indiana Jones was adventure and action. I get enough of that in my normal life."

"Yeah, but it was my best chance at getting you to know who Harrison Ford is."

The queen shrugs. "I'm not apologizing."

"At least tell me you know who Natalie Portman is."

"She was in the ballet movie," Maximoff says, with a smile out of an awards show. "And she looks like Dr. Foster."

Monica hums in thought. "The astrophysicist?"

"Yes, Thor introduced us."

"I guess, yeah," Monica says, and then shifts closer to whisper in Maximoff's ear, going so far as to cover her mouth with her hands.

Anakin is aware that his being upset at this is somewhat irrational. He's still not happy about it. He wants to know.

He… thinks he hears Queen Amidala's name, but maybe it's just a coincidence, where a word in their language resembles a name in Basic. It's definitely more likely than them talking about a retired Naboo queen.

"Really?" Maximoff asks, pulling away to stare at Monica in fascination.

"Yeah, I'll show you later," Monica promises.

Obi-Wan coughs to get their attention. "Care to share with the class?"

"No, not really," Monica says. "On a related note, which you're going to hate: can you sing?"

"Why?"

"Call it curiosity."

#

Anakin gets to sit in on the terrible game that is Lady Wanda Maximoff, Queen of Tatooine, demonstrating her powers for the Jedi of the High Council. Her powers are pretty obviously banthashit in the best way possible, and Anakin enjoys watching elderly council members try not to tear out their hair about it. This is not how the Force works, even for Sith, so they can't accuse her of being Dark. They also can't claim she's Light.

She's just… weird.

"You just made a lamp out of nothing," someone stresses, as if she somehow hasn't realized.

"Yes," the queen says, forever pleasant and queerly empty of substance. "The first time I used this ability, I built an entire house and furnishings by accident."

Anakin tries to hide his smile. Everyone technically knows he got used to the oddities on the visit to Tatooine, but he'd rather not make the council angry at him for being amused at their frustration. Obi-Wan is ostensibly here to keep an eye on Anakin.

Anakin's pretty sure he's not the main problem.

He's got a bet going with A'Sharad that Obi-Wan's going to head off at least one argument by suggesting everyone take a break, just before someone starts accusing Lady Maximoff of being a darkside user.

They both know it's going to happen. The bet is just about how soon.

"May I try something?" Lady Maximoff asks.

"Of course," Master Plo Koon says, because at least one of the other councilors is about to have a nervous breakdown and might beg her not to.

Lady Maximoff sits down, legs folded as if meditating. She even starts to float, like the most powerful of force users can when they go real deep in communing with the force. She turns her hands through the air in a way that's by now familiar, and the room is encased in red walls that look more like a glitching holo than an energy shield.

"Can you still feel the Force?" she asks.

They can. The nervous energy ratchets up a bit. At least one Master is just exhausted with the entire exercise, instead of nervous, but they're the exception. Anakin can sense as much. The queen twists her hands, and unfamiliar sigils appear on the walls she raised.

"How about n—"

"Stop that."

"But what is it—"

"Now."

The red walls drop.

"I didn't think that would work," she muses, head tilting.

"What was it?" Master Windu asks. It is very carefully not a demand.

"Runes," she says. "Within the borders of a rune circle, only the witch who placed the runes may cast a spell. I thought it would, at most, dampen your connection to the Force, since it's such a distinct energy compared to my magic. It shouldn't have worked, by all logic. Even when I found myself in a rune circle, all it did was cause my spells to fail as I cast them. There weren't any passive effects dampening me. My opponent could even still fly, when I trapped her."

"That is not what it did," Master Windu says, stiff and clearly unnerved.

Anakin bounces on his toes, wondering what it did do. He turns to Obi-Wan. "Did you feel anything? I didn't."

"No," Obi-Wan says, stroking his beard. "I didn't sense anything."

They never do find out what it did, because the entire room takes a break. Three separate councilors tell Lady Maximoff that if she does that again, someone may very well try to hurt her.

#

"Would you like some advice?"

Anakin watches the conversation out of the corner of his eye, pretending to be engrossed in the comm he's upgrading for his mother. Lady Maximoff approaching Obi-Wan isn't exactly unprecedented, but it always gets a little weird.

"I can't say I've ever taken advice from a witch until I met you," Obi-Wan says, "but I seem to be doing well from heeding your words."

Maximoff smiles at him, almost abashed, and ducks her head just slightly. "Two things, then, and I'd thank you to keep my words out of the ears of politicians."

"Can't say I'm fond of most, so that'll be easy enough," Obi-Wan says, though he darts a grin at Shmi that makes it very clear she's among the few he likes. "Let's hear it."

Dark eyes burn red above that eerie, empty smile.

"When you find the army, bought and paid for in a name that does not know of them, you will take them in and treat them as your own, out of duty if not choice," she says. There's nothing special about her voice, no eerie reverberation or haunting double tones, but the words hang heavy in the air. "They will love you in return, but their minds will not forever be theirs to control. They will be tagged as all others of their ilk, in ways more horrifying than any you have encountered."

Anakin gives up on pretending not to listen in, and instead stares blatantly. He's not the only one, and at least his mom looks equally concerned. Monica seems to approve of whatever this is. She's smirking.

"Will… you be available for reference, once this happens?" Obi-Wan asks, after it becomes clear that Maximoff is waiting on an answer.

"Perhaps."

"Where did you get this information?"

"I'm a witch, Knight Kenobi," she says, with a smile so soft that it crosses to pity. "And I have a resource you don't."

"Do I get a name for that resource?"

"It wouldn't mean anything to you," she tells him, sweet as spun sugar.

"Try me anyway."

"No, I don't think I will," she says, staring past his shoulder for a moment. Her eyes snap back to him. "I'm just the messenger, really. Someone else watched the story, and I took their hints and dug out the truth from pools and mirrors. Scrying is covered in the Darkhold, as all magics are, and a narrative holds power even I strain to reach, Kenobi."

"Which means nothing to me, of course," Obi-Wan sighs. "Fine, you can look into the future. We've had plenty of Jedi that can do the same. What's the second thing?"

"The second…" she tilts her head and stares beyond him again. "You'll have to move fast, for this one. You can't wait for them to come to you."

"I'm listening."

Lady Maximoff lifts a hand, fingers curling. There's red mist, of course, and then an illusion drifts into being around them. Anakin carefully doesn't flinch at it; the last time he saw something from Lady Maximoff's mind, it was much worse. This seems less… encompassing.

"What is this place?" Obi-Wan asks.

"I don't know," Maximoff says, looking around with placid, burning eyes. "But it's important. One of yours is here. He'll be dead, and his student damned, if you don't find them soon."

"A Jedi?" Obi-Wan clarifies.

"Mm, so it would seem." Maximoff gestures, and the illusion twists to show a young woman, a zabrak, sobbing over the corpse of a middle-aged man.

"That's… Master Ky Narec," Obi-Wan says, paling. "He disappeared years ago."

"You know him, then. His death is sprinting towards us." The illusion twists again, showing the young woman holding red sabers atop a spacecraft, screaming defiance at an unknown enemy. "She can still be saved, if you can save him first. She hasn't fallen, not yet. You can ensure she never does."

"Do you know her name?"

"No."

"And you don't know where they are."

"I can tell you the approximate direction from Tatooine and Coruscant," she offers, and the illusion dissolves to mist. "You can triangulate from there, if you'd like."

Obi-Wan rubs at his forehead as the last traces of power disappear. "We'd given him up for dead, so it's certainly more than we had before. I can take a look at our records to see if the vegetation matches up to anything specific."

Maximoff dips her head in a nod, and smiles. "Nadam se da ih nađeš."

"Which means?"

"I hope you find them," she says simply. "I've no more belief for gods or devils, but there's always room for hope."

Monica mutters something in the language that Anakin doesn't know, and all he catches is Obi-Wan's name. It does make Lady Maximoff smile, but they don't get anything more than that. More riddles to ponder. Obi-Wan doesn't comment on it.

"Any other words of wisdom, Your Majesty?"

Maximoff tilts her head, and turns to Monica. "Thoughts?"

The smile that meets the question is a little too amused, in Anakin's opinion. They were talking about something pretty serious, after all.

"A very wise woman once said that, no matter how she died, she wanted it reported that she'd drowned in moonlight, strangled by her own bra," Monica says, with only a token attempt at quashing the smile. "Given that Tatooine has three moons, I'm going to suggest that you make an effort not to let that happen."

"I feel as though getting shot is more likely."

"Yeah, but you're already on the lookout for that one."

Maximoff's smile widens to a grin. "Don't be a stranger, Geraldine."

"Don't be a housewife, Mrs. Vision."

With one last smile, Lady Maximoff rips open red reality once more, and disappears.

(Things come to a head less than four years later, but that's quite another story.)


A/N:And that's a wrap!

To clear up what I imagine is a big question that can't be answered because the POV characters are all SW-side:

Wanda has NOT seen Star Wars at all. Prior to ending up in the universe, she can recognize Darth Vader, Yoda, and the Stormtroopers. That's... about it. Wanda's main entertainment vice is canonically sitcoms, which I imagine can be expanded to romcoms in terms of "I want something light and happy for my brain so I can escape the horrors of existence," which is the justification for her sitcom obsession in WV.

Monica, meanwhile... well, her mom was an Air Force pilot that went on to found SWORD. Her "Aunt" Carol (who can easily be argued to be Maria Rambeau's life partner during Monica's childhood, with a sweet ol' dollop of Don't Ask Don't Tell keeping it at Gal Pal levels since it was the nineties) is a science fiction hero who got superpowers from aliens and then went off to help save the galaxy, and we even see that Monica had interest in Star Wars and similar media as a child.

I imagine that interest persisted throughout her childhood and adolescence, and then shifted to an interest in more Real World alien stuff once she hit college and started looking for a way to do the kind of work her moms did. This fic is written with the perspective that Monica has seen Episodes 1-7, plus Rogue One. During high school, she read a lot of the Legends books and associated media. She watched SOME episodes of TCW '08 while in college, but was focused on her studies, and later on her work with the Air Force and SWORD, to the point where she never really had time to watch the full show, or Episode 8.

This is why she knows enough about Ventress to give Wanda something to go off of in terms of scrying (how Wanda got confirmation that Ventress hasn't gone evil yet, and a visual on Ky Narec), but not enough to get a name for Rattattak.

(Episode 9, as a 2019 film, would have come out after The Snap, and probably doesn't exist.)

Samuel L. Jackson and Natalie Portman exist in the MCU and there are jokes to be had about how Nick Fury and Jane Foster look like celebrities, but they're not suspiciously similar looking, more like... how Elijah Wood and Daniel Radcliffe get mistaken for each other, I guess?


There's some conflicting evidence for which Slavic language Sokovian is supposed to be, but since I'm Serbian, that's what I know and what I use (the canon support on that end was in AoU, where all the signage in Novi Grad was in Serbian).

My interp when writing MCU fic is that the Maximoffs are still Rroma as in the comics, but white-passing.

I have a lot of feelings on the way Sokovia is framed but you can figure out most of it from "The bombing of Novi Grad was blatantly based on the 1999 NATO bombing of Belgrade, Serbia," so if you wondered why Monica talks about Wanda having experience with foreign powers fucking up an already bad situation, the context is that I fully believe Wanda's traumatica backstory starts with NATO meddling where it really shouldn't have.

(Do not get political in the comments, please. I'm giving context that a lot of people don't have, but I don't actually want to argue about the wars that tore up the Balkans in the nineties.)