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wild and free (you can't steal the sky from me)

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1.

 

Shmi is four years old the first time she hears it--or perhaps that’s only the first time she remembers hearing it. There’s a whisper, just on the edge of hearing, telling her to runhideshhhquiethidehidehide and she does just that. Soon after there’s a jolting thump that shakes the whole ship, and after that the high-pitched whine of blasters. The noise is muffled by the walls of the engine compartment she’s curled up in, tears in her eyes and hands covering her mouth to mask her panicked breathing, but she can still hear the screams.

 

When the men with rough hands and unfriendly voices find her and pull her out of her hiding spot and drag her past the bodies of her parents, she listens when the whispers tell her to keep quiet and swallow back the tears. When she’s sold and sold again, she listens to the whispers and keeps her head down and follows instructions. Shmi listens, and the whispers grow and grow, until she can hear a voice as clear as glass and thrice as brilliant, and Shmi is never alone again.





2.

 

As Shmi grows, sold from owner to owner, she learns fast how to keep her head down and ears open. The Voice grows with her, becomes louder and louder, turns from a near-silent whisper to an invisible companion she can almost-but-not-quite see. She can see where and how it moves, the edges of its being, and when it realizes that it seems to get excited, crowding around her and purring a many-throated pulsing purr like a very strange tooka. 

 

It takes to dancing for her, twisting and turning in odd shapes and currents that no one else can see. Shmi swiftly learns how to keep one eye on them and one eye on her surroundings, until she doesn’t need her physical eyes to see at all. She also, after enough time and practice, learns the patterns of how their dance shapes the environment and the environment shapes their dance. Once she puts those pieces together, it’s simple enough for Shmi to use that to make her life as a slave as safe as it can be. (Which isn’t very safe at all but is certainly safer than some.) 

 

Shmi learns how to pass unnoticed, how to fade into the background, how to move with the currents in ways that let the eyes of other beings slide right off her. She learns how to take hold of the smallest threads of the eddies that surround her and guide them gently into new shapes. She also, in one desperate incident when a falling crate of ship parts would have crushed her, learns how to lift and move and slow things she could never move otherwise.

 

But as much as is given to her, so must she give: she forgets, slowly, what the shape of silence was, or what the world looked like without a there-but-not overlay suffused around and in and through everything she sees. She witnesses terrible things in her dreams just as often as the wondrous, but once known she cannot unknow them. Even the things she knows are happening in the same moment as she sees them, or in moments that are soon to come, she most often can’t act upon.

 

Sometimes the knowing lets her help others, though, and when she can she always does. More than once she skates a hand gently over a fellow slave’s body and knows precisely where to cut to find a tracker; more than once she knows exactly the right words to send slave-catchers away from where a runaway hides. This, too, is a tool for her to use, and Shmi has learned and learned well that such gifts should not be disregarded.

 

(More than once when Shmi holds a knife she considers cutting out her own tracker; more than once she almost does. But every time she thinks about how useful her knowing is for helping and freeing other slaves, and every time she puts the knife away for another day. She weighs the balance of her own freedom against the lives of countless others and decides, again and again, that she can wait.

 

The Voice is always silent on the subject, never weighs in on either side of the scales; the choice is always and only in Shmi’s hands, and she appreciates that as much as she wonders about it. But Shmi never asks, and the Voice never tells.)

 

The older she gets, the longer she spends in chains, the more Shmi is determined that what is really wrong with the galaxy is that people don’t help each other; and if no one else will help those like her, then she will do her best to help them herself.





3.

 

Shmi is twenty-one years old when her oldest and closest companion winds like the roots of a desert fig tree around her legs and spreads a canopy of nonexistent branches above her head. It nudges against her hands, more tentative than she’s ever seen them before. They gently float a choir of images to her, of a small star of a child with her smile growing into an adult holding broken chains and a sword of burning light. Shmi’s breath catches in her throat. Ours? It’s many throbbing voices hum, hopeful. Nebula birthing stars, stormprotecting thatwhichisprecious? Ours?

 

Perhaps she should take time to consider, but Shmi knows down to her marrow that her choice was made before the question was even asked. Ours, she agrees, a rising tide of rightness swelling inside of her.

 

When a massive sandstorm rolls in the next day, drowning the suns and larger than any storm in living memory, Shmi wraps a scarf over her head and walks with empty hands out into the open desert. She has nothing to fear: the winds part before her, the sands rise to steady her feet, and she is one with the Desert and the Bedrock beneath.

 

Shmi Skywalker is the Storm, and when she returns to Gardulla’s palace seven days later it is with a spark flickering joyfully beneath her own heart and a crown of stars shining radiantly beyond mortal sight around her unbowed head.

 

(Her lover moves and Shmi moves with it, all the fury of a billion-billion grains of sand-in-storm and the force of a supernova throwing itself relentlessly outwards, encapsulated in her. She feels herself, small and distant, through the vast muchness that is she-and-it-and-we all at once and as one and in that infinite moment that lasts for days and days and an instant, Shmi is eternal.

 

Shmi might have been human once, and maybe she mostly still is, but now she is also something more, and in the coming months as the spark in her chest flickers into a candle flame and then into a bonfire, Shmi finds she feels no regret.)





4.

 

Shmi knows she’s lucky--she will never have to fear being sold on from her lover, or her lover being sold on from her: they are always with her, will always be with her, and as much as Shmi is glad of it, her heart aches for her Siblings who will never be as fortunate in this as she.

 

Her stomach swells, and Shmi is as joyful as she is fearful; she wants this child more than she has words for, but she knows full well that this child will be just as mortal as she. She knows this child could easily, so easily be taken from her with little more than a word or gesture from Gardulla and Shmi is so, so afraid. 

 

Her insubstantial lover curls tenderly around her and croons in a thousand-voiced harmony of green growing things and newborn stars, and Shmi once again sets aside that too-familiar terror in favor of full-to-overflowing affection. There is no place for fear here, when there is nothing to be done; for now, Shmi will let her lover sing to her of things beyond her comprehension, of the warp and weft of time and space and all that once-was-and-will-be. For now, there is only this moment, and the soon-to-be-three of them.

 

Shmi rests a hand on the curve of her belly and follows her lover down into dreaming. Glimpses of small hands and bright smiles dance behind her closed eyelids; winds blow, moons rise, a star sparks into being between her cupped palms, and for a precious, endless moment in time all is good and right.





5.

 

Shmi is tired from a long, exhausting day of work in Gardulla’s hangers, but when she returns to the palace slave barracks she can’t help but smile to hear the murmuring at the edge of hearing of preciousone lovelovelove myChild preciouslittlestar. Anakin’s small hands are reaching for the glowing constellation of little orbs of light bobbing gently above him in his little nest of blankets on their shared pallet, and if she didn’t know that no-one else could see it she might be worried. Her lover is careful about redirecting the attentions of those around them when it plays with their son, and Shmi has picked up the knack of it herself. (Of all the skills she has learned from her lover, it is this one she finds most useful.) 

 

It’s a familiar sight by now, her child interacting with the notquitenothing-notquitesomething that’s been her companion for as long as she can clearly remember. The bright aura of adoration that surrounds their son would be almost overwhelming, if she didn’t feel the same way herself. Heat-shimmer tendrils dance in front of little Anakin’s eyes and play keep-away with his tiny grasping fingers. His feet kick as he squeals with laughter and Shmi swoops down to scoop him up and breathe in his soft baby-scent, letting the intangible snaking limbs curl around the both of them, tender and affectionate. 

 

A touch of wind-on-water blooms against her neck and she shivers, leaning into her lover’s caress. Cool warmth fills her and she relaxes into it, letting it seep in and steal away the tension and stress from her overworked body.

 

Anakin gnaws toothlessly on his fist, wide blue eyes focused on something her own eyes can’t entirely perceive, and with her family around her Shmi is happy.





6.

 

Every so often the Force fills her, and she can sense every grain of sand and every insect and lizard, and the very vibration of the atoms that make it all up, which is a transcendent experience but not one I need right now when I'm trying to cook, you pain!

 

A flash of sun-sparkling-on-water is her gremlin of a lover’s version of laughter as she senses them skitter away from her threatening spoon. She hasn’t yet actually figured out how to smack them when they’re being overly mischievous, but they give her plenty of opportunities to try and find it funny when she does, so Shmi hides the curl of her smile behind a mock-stern face and a final jab in their general direction.

 

(She knows they’re in all things and everywhere, but they like to concentrate into something as close to a physical form as they can get when with her, and she can’t help but love them even more for the effort they exert for her sake even when they don’t need to. She can still feel and hear and see them regardless, after all.)

 

Their young son clatters in the door, finally done with the errands Watto had sent him on, and lights up with a beaming smile at Shmi and his other parent. Also probably the food, the scent of spices is heavy in the air from one of his favorite dishes that Shmi had been interrupted in the middle of making. When he charges over for a hug Shmi presses kisses to his chubby cheeks and sets him to setting the table for latemeal.

 

Her lover might not need to eat but that doesn’t stop it from poking curious tendrils at the food and projecting its own interpretations of what her tongue tastes. Pepper is its favorite, cascading images of popping sparks flashing again and again and tickling against her mind until she reaches for her wooden cooking spoon again mock-threateningly just so it will laughingly retreat to let her eat. Anakin smothers his giggles into his own food and she tries to keep a straight, stern face for a moment before giving up and laughing along. 

 

The taste of joy ripples through the air and seeps into the walls, leaving echoes that build on each other with each snatched moment of happiness, and when Shmi lets herself think on it she feels vicious satisfaction as her family’s positive emotions and memories smother the stale traces of resigned pain and weary fear from the last slaves that lived in their little apartment. Every stolen joy is a triumph and Shmi is not afraid to revel in each small victory.





7.

 

Many times, in the cool dark before first dawn when Shmi crawls out of bed to get ready for the day, her lover coils around her fingers, following her hands as she methodically braids her hair and sews it into a sturdy bun that will survive even the harshest of desert winds or the most backbreaking job. They flutter attentively over her skin, tracing over her curves and the marks left on her body from carrying Anakin, exploring the scars left on her skin over the course of her life. These stolen moments are accompanied by her lover whispering sweet nothings to her, snatches of sounds and scents and images of things Shmi enjoys even as she has never experienced them herself: the hush of deep ocean caverns and the songs of spinning pulsars and sunlight as breathed by plants straining towards the sky.

 

After first dawn, as Shmi leaves the slave quarters to head to Watto’s shop, her lover folds just enough into her to coax her mind into spinning outwards until she can brush over the surfaces of every mind in her vicinity, get a feel for the shape of what the day may bring. It’s simultaneously incredibly intimate and useful; it allows her to avoid hungover thugs in nasty tempers stumbling out of the many cantinas, and the cruelest of Gardulla’s enforcers on their patrols around the city. Striking another being’s property might mean paying fines for damages, but it's best to avoid the possibility when she can.

 

During the day her lover lends her just enough strength for her to avoid hurting herself lifting particularly heavy or unwieldy pieces of scrap; it spins filaments through her hands to steady them as she fixes damaged wiring and solders salvaged microchips; it gives barely-there touches to guide her away from unsteady footing and piles of scrap threatening to fall. They are both careful, always, to avoid the appearance of unusual abilities beyond what a human or near-human of her age and skill might have, but Shmi senses in its every touch the undisguised pulses of carefulcareful protectBeloved protectlovekeepsafelove and feels cherished.

 

Often by the time Shmi stumbles back to the slave quarters it’s already first or even second sunset, except for the days when Watto decides to send her home early with smaller, more delicate fixes she can do at her workstation there. Then, after preparing latemeal for her and Anakin she spends as much time with him as she can until it’s time for him to sleep, usually with a bedtime story and a lullaby from either her or his other parent. They both have very different ideas of what makes a good story and lullaby, but Anakin loves both whether sung with a human voice or a many-throated harmony of unknowable sounds, so Shmi supposes it’s fine either way. 

 

When she collapses into her own bed, exhausted, even with the short snatch of sleep she got during the otherwise-unbearable heat of double-noon, her lover unravels her braids and slips under her skin to loosen her aching muscles like water wearing over rock to cut a river. When she slides down into sleep, her lover is there and waiting to carry her away to dance among stars and whirling nebulas that once-were-and-will-be until dawn comes again to Tatooine.





8.

 

In the weeks leading up to the Jedi’s arrival on Tatooine, Shmi knows something is coming. There is something in the air, a sense of unstable ground that might slip out from under her feet at any moment, of a building storm-that-is-not-a-storm. She walks careful, keeping every sense stretched out for anything out of place, and keeps Anakin as close as she can safely justify.

 

Everything is the same as always, nothing out of place, even as her lover is full of anticipatory tension and a tossed handful of bones reads of life-altering changes soon to come. She can feel glowing specks of her lover dancing in the bones as she throws them, even, so when Anakin complains she purses her lips and shakes her head and firmly repeats to him not to wander off. A careful slave is a slave who yet breathes, she reminds him, and he nods and mostly stops complaining.

 

Then her son brings home strangers. Brings home a Jedi, and there is a storm that is-and-is-not her lover who traps them in together and Shmi--Shmi is not afraid, but something tells her that whatever happens next will not be something she likes.

 

Shmi is right.

 

There is a race in which her son nearly dies and in which her son wins his freedom and the parts the off-worlders need to leave Tatooine and Shmi knows, even as her lover swirls in joyrepentancesorrow ourChild mustgo must walktheskies isNeeded that paints the air around her in invisible colors, that she cannot follow. Not yet.

 

Anakin must take this next step without her, and while it tears her heart in two to watch him walk away, when she tells him don’t look back she means it. He must go, and she must stay, and this she knows even without her son’s other parent telling her of what-must-be.

 

Shmi watches her son walk away towards freedom with dry eyes, and knows in her secret heart-of-hearts that as much as she hates it, as much as it hurts, she is doing the right thing.





9.

 

Life without Anakin is… difficult. Different. Shmi is fiercely glad that he is free, but she misses him all the same. Reconciling those two emotions is also difficult, but Shmi has never turned away in the face of hardship. 

 

Still, their little hut in the slave quarters feels empty without him. Shmi allows herself one day, a day where Watto sends her home from the shop early in some kind of misplaced pity, to sit in Anakin’s small room and mourn as she sorts through his things for things to keep, things to sell, and things to give away to fellow slaves. There’s no sense in keeping everything, much as she might like to leave everything be as if he’d simply stepped out to run a short errand. She performs the simple, secret ritual all Tatooine slaves know for mourning a fellow slave who has died or been sold on.

 

And then Shmi picks herself back up and carries on.

 

Time passes, as it does, and Shmi moves with the river of it, occasionally trailing her hands in different streams through the whisps of not-quite-dreams that follow her even in her waking hours. She walks the same patterns of days she has for years, even if they feel hollow now without Anakin’s darting hands and bright laughter, without him shining like a beacon she can always find, blindfolded and half-asleep.

 

Even on the worst nights, when the ache tears at her, Shmi does not cry. No use wasting water on things that can’t be changed, after all, and even with her son gone beyond her reach (she knew he would be eventually but that doesn’t make it hurt any less) there are still things she hasn’t lost. On the worst of worst nights, there is still her lover, and their soothing chorus of a hundred disparate heartbeats to lull her to sleep.

 

But Shmi is the Storm, and the Desert, and is wind and sand and the bedrock beneath. Even when her world feels torn in half Shmi’s eyes are clear and she stands firm without faltering. The suns rise and set, the planet spins on, and she knows to the very core of her that this is not the end of her story. (Everything is a story, after all; the trick is in knowing what words to use in the telling, and in listening for the many threads that weave it together, and Shmi is nothing if not a good listener.)





10.

 

Shmi is sweeping sand out of Watto’s shop when her lover whirls shrieking in to settle like a furious sandstorm around her shoulders, a susurrus of almost-words hissing like sandsnakes of poison and rot festering near their son and trying to corrupt him. Her hands still. 

 

What of the Jedi? she projects, just enough for them to hear her, not enough for her words to echo out to others who might be around her. (She hasn’t made that mistake since she was in labor with their son.) 

 

They do not see, it hisses, sand-on-stone and grinding fury. A veil, obscuring, donotSEE donotHEAR callandcall but eyesclosed mindsshut CANNOTPROTECT FROMROT FROMEVIL-- 

 

shhhh Shmi soothes, winding the sense of trickling water and cool darkness around them. It subsides, banking its fury, and nudges apologetically against her cheek, fluttering the loose locks of hair that have escaped her braids. It plucks at something in her leg, projecting a sense of wind-under-wings and flashing stars. Gonow Beloved flyfree followstarsfind ourChild?

 

The air stills; the world fades away, falls silent: Shmi doesn’t have to throw the bones to know this moment, this decision is Important. Yes, she breathes into the allandnothing that is her best-beloved. Yes, this time I will go.

 

Shmi turns her feet in the direction of the slave quarters, and the scanner she completed when her son never had the chance, and with firm conviction walks away from the last being she will ever call Master.

 

There is a scanner, and a knife, and this time the knife is for her own self.

 

(When Watto discovers she is gone and tries to detonate her chip, he doesn’t live long enough to regret it-- Shmi had returned to his shop just long enough to slip the chip into the cushion of his favorite seat, and in trying to kill her he doomed himself. As good a master as he might have considered himself, there is no such thing as a good slaveowner, and Shmi feels no remorse.)