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A Constraint That Makes It Possible to Fly

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Shmi Skywalker's wings were white at birth, but by the time she turns twenty-five they are the dun-brown of endless sand—like all sentients who inhabit Tatooine. Tusken Raiders over the ridge rub rough Beggar's Canyon sand into their pleated wings; the darker they become, the more battles they've won. Their wings are tall and pointed, feathers short and sharp like the teeth of Karkarodons.

Shmi's wings look like those of most humanoids on Tattooine, sloped and neat against her sides, dappled with dark iridescence when they're clean enough to catch the sun. Small. Tidy and soft.

Until one day:

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As the Queen of Naboo, Padmé Naberrie hides her wings beneath a heavy golden mantle that weighs down her shoulders like a yoke.

All of her handmaidens' mantles match hers, wings disguised from their shades of cranberry and plum and soft-dove-blue so that no one looking can see which straight-backed girl is truly Amidala. Beneath the golden mantle, Padmé's fine-boned wings beat bright blue. Only Sabé—persimmon-hued—knows this.

(The heavy mantles also hide armories of self-defensive weaponry, the triggers of sleek blaster pistol right at their fingertips. Never let it be said that Naboo does not defend its queens.)

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Qui-Gon is used to stares when he disembarks on new planets, steps into new cities, greets new eyes. His wingspan would be intimidating on anyone else, especially in conjunction with his height and the breadth of his shoulders, and most beings have never seen anyone quite like him. Even on Coruscant, where the Jedi Council traverse freely, the first sight of Qui-Gon's immense wings brushing along the crests of doorways and ceilings causes a ripple of nervous energy to flow through the Force.

No one stares when Qui-Gon and his padawan enter Mos Eisley.

They've seen such a display before.

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Tsabin is a gangly girl, all knobbled knees and long fingers for playing the vibrostring harp. Her wings somehow look gangly, too, the bright orange color of a baby lothcat and just as soft: all afterfeather, hardly any quill.

They drape her skinny back, curling, as she waits to be inspected by Security Captain Panaka. He peruses the class from the Theed Academy of Arts & Politics, seeking accomplished girls who resemble the new Queen.

Tsabin doesn’t know her chances; no one save Panaka yet knows who won the election.

Tsabin looks very like Candidate Padmé Naberrie. Except for her wings.

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Leia's baby is born swaddled so tightly in his own wings that he cannot even cry, tiny face almost blue.

Han's hands slip in blood and afterbirth, clumsy with panic as he tears at slick black feathers, trying to find a mouth, a pulse, a breath. The quills of his son's feathers are too heavy for a newborn. Stiff. Hard to move. They hide the way the cord is wrapped around the baby's neck like they were arranged to hide a crime.

Han cuts the cord, and there is more blood. Broken feathers and black down against red.

Ben screams.

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Stormtroopers do not have wings. Only sentients have wings—easier to forget that these white-shelled beetles scuttling across burning battlefields were once human children if their wings are clipped long before they can aim a blaster. Clones were bred without them. Drugs keep them from growing back. Two neat lines of pale, knotted tissue are the first scars young 'troopers earn.

Stormtroopers do not have wings. Everyone knows this. Both sides of the war depend on it to make the cost of victory feel less steep.

At Tuanul, after the first volley, an explosion of white feathers breaks through plastoid.

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Poe, orange wings weighed down by sweat and fear, has never seen anything like it.

A stormtrooper, white helmet in place, blaster slack in its hand—this is not so new; Poe has seen many stormtroopers' hands relax around their triggers as they fall limp in death—stands, framed by firelight. Its wings, his wings, quiver newborn in the night air.

Poe watches them unfurl, and unfurl, and unfurl. Wings like this exist only in fairytales. Myths of Luke Skywalker. And, of course, on General Organa.

They don't belong on stormtroopers, these white wings the span of an X-wing's foils.

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The variety of beings who cross the sands of Niima Outpost is endless. Tall, fearsome Gigorans. Tiny Anzellans with wrinkled faces. Humanoids of every planet and creed: masked pirates; veiled priestesses; humanoids with lekku, tentacles, extra arms, cybernetic lungs.

There is nothing remarkable about a little girl with crystalline wings.

Rey, just Rey, drags her haul to the scrub station with a starving child's arms. Her wings beat the air behind her to help defray the weight of her scavenge.

Her eyes scan the crowds every day for winged humanoids disembarking a ship.

Surely her parents will look like her.

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"Master."

The temple door bursts open in the dead of night, the swell of a storm crashing above the highest levels of Coruscant, cascades of rain and lightning forcing air-speeders from the lanes for fear of crashing.

"Knight Skywalker, hmm." Yoda had not been asleep. Distressed, the Force was, on this night. "A problem, you have."

"Please." The troubled Jedi's face bore a dark mask of pain and fear. "I have broken the code. Master, I need your help."

"Help her, I shall." Yoda's gnarled cane floated across the chamber and into his arthritic hand. "Lead the way, Anakin Skywalker."

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Padmé Naberrie, secretly Skywalker, formerly Amidala, writhed in troubled sleep, her dreams awash in crackles of light and darkness. Her delicate Pantora-silk nightgown tangled around her like the cocoon of a beast waiting to be birthed new.

Yoda looked up at her where she hovered airborne, her belly just barely beginning to swell. As he watched, she arced painfully backwards, her mouth agape in a silent scream.

Yoda, and Anakin beside him, lifted from the floor, too. Yoda had to duck to avoid the harsh flap of wings grown three times their size, quills still dark and flush with blood.

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"Strong, her children are." Yoda lifted a hand, his own swamp-green wings shaking open featherless and leathery. The pull of his trained power did not even riffle Padmé's curls as the untrained, untapped, raw power of pure Force energy pulsed out from her sleeping, fitful form.

"Children?" Anakin tore his eyes from Padmé's wings. "Children? More than one?"

"Hmm." Yoda closed his eyes. "Unfocused, you are, Anakin Skywalker. Cleanse your fear. Cloud your judgment, it does. Open your mind. The truth, it will tell."

Anakin closed his eyes. The breadth of Padmé's wings filled his closed eyes, blue-and-white feathers twitching.

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Shmi wakes on the same thin, scratchy bedroll as ever; moves to rub the same grains of sand from the corners of her eyes.

When she sits upright, she tips right onto the floor. Suddenly, she is entirely off-balance.

She has no mirrors in her hut—worth far too many credits—but Shmi pours her morning ration of water into a dish, lets it settle flatter than sand could ever be, and looks carefully at her reflection. She feels… different, like she finally slept after a lifetime of poor rest.

Her wings are twice their usual size, fresh down glowing.

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Padmé lies still, eyes closed, surrounded by fallen white feathers like the strewn petals of dying flowers. They soak red in the blood med-droids haven't quite managed to clean. The wings collapsed limp from her shoulders seem to shrink before Obi-Wan's eyes, the white feathers shivering free and fluttering, impossibly delicate, to the floor.

A cry. Then two.

The med-droid places a warm bundle of those white, delicate feathers in Obi-Wan's arms. Padmé's twins had to be cut from her belly, their embrace of tiny arms and too-big wings too large and powerful for a mortal body to birth.

"Ani…"

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Lord Vader, a wraith of metal and rage, has obsidian wings sharp as knives that hang dead from his cybernetic suit. (The wings he'd had when he was Anakin Skywalker, whiter than sunlight, burned away long ago, lost to the lava of Mustafar along with his soul.)

They glint in the dim, flickering fluorosynth of the interrogation chamber. The lighting bulbs broke in a pique of his temper days before.

"Where… are… they?" A ghoul's breaths punctuate each word, as does another clench of the invisible fist around his prisoner's throat.

Padmé Naberrie smiles. "Dead. Drowned in the Gungan lakes."

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Darth Vader thunders away from an interrogation chamber still alight with flames and the silent-falling embers of blue feathers around the broken body of a former queen. (His former queen, whispers the tiniest voice inside of his head, a voice barely clinging to life even before now, and—extinguished with the knowledge that—)

"Lord Vader." Palpatine's voice slithers through the darkness. "Where are our heirs?"

Mine, whispers the same dying voice of Anakin Skywalker. My children. Mine. "The traitor to the empire killed them, Master."

"As I predicted." Palpatine's supercilious tone shows no mourning. "She sought to circumvent... your destiny."

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"Obi," Padmé murmurs later, when the squalling twins finally quiet: Luke, asleep on Obi-Wan's shoulder, Leia slurping wide-awake at Padmé's breast. "I can't keep them safe. Not… from him."

She's still molting white feathers all around them. Her own blue wings remain, the shade deeper and warmer with the glow of motherhood.

Bail Organa slumps in the corner of the room, bags under his shell-shocked eyes. Could the Jedi not see this coming? What was the point of the Force if not to protect innocents?

He would never forget the scene in the crèche, featherdown and tiny slack fingers everywhere.

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Leia's daughter is born screaming.

She is a bundle of golden feathers and babysoft brunette fluff and she is furious when she latches the tiniest fist around one of Ben's fingers.

"She doesn't like the lights," Ben whispers, and his black wings open behind him to shield her newborn eyes. "And she thinks the world smells weird."

"We can dim the lights," Han agrees quietly. He nods to the nurse-droid and the lamps dampen.

The new baby screeching against Leia's ribs still glows, her feathers so shiny and sleek they bend the low light like prisms, casting Light all around.

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Every morning, Han binds his wings down tight with old cloth gone rancid from the sweat and sewage of crawling beneath Corellia, begging and stealing and bartering for the White Worms. They get in the way. Easier to slip into unseen spaces without the big kriffing rust-brown appendages blazing out behind him.

Useless things. Han remembers long ago seeing a gulginaw with wings like his—broad, velvet, drab—take flight from its perch on a durasteel beam. It soared away, past the yellowish clouds.

If Han's wings could carry him away from Coronet City, he wouldn't hate them so much.

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Obi-Wan Kenobi—Ben, now, never Obi-Wan again—clutches his precious cargo closer to his chest beneath the heavy, uncomfortable cloak wholly unsuited for Tatooine heat. The roughspun cloth chafes at the mangled mess that used to be his wings, healing all wrong where they're bound to his back.

Whatever the Chancellor had become—whatever Anakin had become—would be searching out a tired man with proud red wings (too bold by half to be a good Jedi; but he had been good, hadn't he—had he?—if he had, would Qui-Gon still be alive, would Anakin—but he had tried—)

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He's a strange child. Owen doesn't understand him.

Luke wanders the dunes on chubby legs, dreamy and babbling, little fingers trailing lines in the ever-shifting sand like he can spell words in long-forgotten languages that Owen can never know.

He's nothing like his father. Not that Owen ever knew him, not really. The stories of a former slavewoman glowing in praise for a long-gone son, off to better things, like a fairytale. Wings so bright he might well be a bird, she'd said, smiling at her plate. My Ani.

Wings on Tatooine are dullbrown stumps.

Not Luke's.

A strange child.

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Kyberblade scalpels make quick work of skin and hollow bone. Children stand, half-naked and shivering, in straight lines—and learn quickly the risk of stepping out of that line.

Some are not yet old enough to stand. Their first lesson is the danger of daring to cry.

One by one, downsoft childish wings fall to the floor of the sterile chamber. The acrid smell of burned blood weighs down the silent air.

Brendol Hux and his son—both wingless—watch the new stormtroopers' intake with disinterest. Wings are lies: false promises of power that only the First Order can wield.

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Most of the shivering, sniveling new recruits have wings about the length of a human humerus. They droop like the tail of a kicked loth-cat. Armitage Hux is not impressed.

With a sound like a top-line speederbike and a plume of black smoke, another pair of wings drops to the chamber floor. Two angry scars mar the new Stormtrooper's back, visible when the next droid lifts a curtain of braided hair to hack it away into a regulation cut.

"Interesting," murmurs Father. His posture tightens.

Armitage looks through the transparisteel. One of the intake droids is holding a squalling baby.

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It's not an interesting baby. It's just a 'trooper. There are nurseries full of them. Smelly, useless things. Can't even defend themselves. Don't even have teeth.

Armitage squints at the screaming thing. Why is this 'trooper so interesting?

He reels away from the viewing window in surprise when the baby's white wings unfold and it rises, two instinctive flaps into the air bringing it just outside the intake droid's reach.

"What's it doing?"

"Shut up," Brendol Hux snaps. He pushes his son aside, storms into the chaos of the chamber. The scent of fear and charred skin floods the corridor.

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Brendol Hux holds the baby down on the table even as it squirms and screams and its wide white wings flap impotently against the durasteel.

"Give me that." He snatches the kyberblade scalpel from IT-038 and presses the glowing red laser's cutting edge against the baby's scapula. It's a simple procedure, but damaging the muscle and structure beneath would be a waste of resources.

It takes strength to fly. Even Skywalker couldn't manage it.

The cauterized wounds crackle black and pink against the cadet's brown skin. Wings gone, Brendol Hux can read the designation tattooed on a soft arm.

FN-2187.

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Jyn can remember curling into her mother's warm green wings to sleep, cocooned in safety, her cheek pressed into her mother's heartbeat beside the glowing, humming warmth of her kyber crystal. Lyra was the only person on Alpinn with wings large enough to hide behind, and Jyn—

Even now, she can remember how beautiful they were in the iridescent rainbows refracted and reflected by the thousands of ranite stalactites in the Alpinn caves. She always tried to keep her eyes open "one minute longer," just to watch the light dance through the soft forest-green down.

Jyn thought Lyra was magical.

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Trust in the Force.

The kyber crystal weighs heavy around Jyn's neck. She doesn't believe in the Force anymore; she isn't a child. That magical feeling of burrowing into her mother's wings… that was just naïveté, being little—blind to the evil of the Galaxy.

She's all too aware of it now. The gray, thick air on Wobani seethes with hate. Her gray-green wings chafe in the chemical soot. Whatever the prisoners are forced to make here… it's gotta shorten their lifespans.

When the Imps search Jyn, she hides the kyber crystal in her mouth. It tastes like a memory.

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Cassian is nine years old when he's caught bringing a message from his older brother to another guerilla across the city.

He sees it first:

White light.

Then comes the sound like thunder.

The pain comes last.

Later.

When he's being scooped off the transpo-stretcher by someone who is not an Imp, but isn't Festano, either.

"This is a child!" It hurts when Cassian is swept up against a warm chest clothed in muunyak-wool, staining the blue with his blood. His wing hangs on by a thread. "An innocent!"

He's carried away from the Bucketheads.

"Do you have that holochip?"

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It's weird on Alderaan. Not bad. Not—not as bad as home.

But it isn't home.

Bail Organa is nice, Cassian supposes. He saved Cassian from the Imps and got him to a med-droid. They were even able to save his arm and all of his ribs. Wing was gone, though. Now Cassian only had one.

It's not so bad. Mrs. Queen Breha lost her wings, too, when they needed to replace her heart and lungs and all those muscles and skin. Sometimes at night, Cassian watches her pulmonodes glowing like the candledroids mamá had.

But then there's the baby.

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Princess Leia isn't really a baby. She can walk and jabber nonsense and she knows his name is Cassian. She can't quite say it, though. And his name isn't 'Cassie.'

Princess Leia is annoying. She's always copying him, and she pulls on his one remaining wing and laughs. Her own wings are way too big for her baby body. If she flaps them too hard, her sock-feet lift up off the floor and Cassian has to grab her before she hurts herself. She's just a baby.

Sometimes she talks to imaginary people and gets angry when Cassian can't see them.

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Once:

Beru finds little Luke after hours of searching, heart in her throat, positive that she'd lost that beautiful queen's only son to the ever-shifting, uncaring dunes.

"You, you!" Luke giggles and claps, staring into the distant horizon as though it were a friend. Beru blinks, disbelieving, as a small, smooth stone—pure white, Alderaani flagstone if she's ever seen it in a holo--pops out of thin air in front of the boy, hovers a moment, and then drops at Luke's feet. "Goo'job! Me!"

Beru puts her hand to her mouth as Luke lifts the stone without his hands.

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Han holds his daughter close to his chest as he paces around the Falcon. The sound of the engines is the only thing that can lull her to sleep when she gets in this mood, white-gold wings glowing brighter like a warning flare, so he kissed tired Leia's hair and Ben's sleeping cheek and bundled Rey into her sling.

"C'mon, kid, what's wrong?" He smooths his big hand down the lengths of her ruffled wings, smoothing and soothing.

Pure, unfettered terror pokes at his brain as she wails.

"Hey, princess, I can't talk without words," Han apologizes. "But you're safe."

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Darth Vader sees the Princess of Alderaan for the first time unconscious, when she is carried onto the Death Star by stormtroopers.

Those wings—

Rage fills both Darth Vader and the last, dying kernel of Anakin Skywalker. Those wings look like the ones he used to have, before Obi-Wan Kenobi betrayed him. Before that woman betrayed him.

Before the Force itself betrayed him.

There is no way that this—this—this rebel scum could be a Jedi. The Emperor, in his wisdom, would know if any Jedi still lived. And that woman told him—

She had drowned Anakin Skywalker's children.

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What right does the Princess of Alderaan have to bear wings like the Jedi traitors? Like those who could command the Force? The Light is dead. Vader's mechanical hands clench into fists as he begins to shake, watching this prisoner lie still as death in her cell. What right does she have to carry the image of a dead age, of the age of liars and bureaucrats and the false promise of love?

Darth Vader's mechanical wings of black-glass obsidian, sharp as his 'saber blade, unfold from his back with the speed of a guillotine dropping.

He hates this girl.

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The Death Star obliterates Alderaan in a corona of light.

Beneath Vader's gauntlets, the Princess of Alderaan trembles. The Dark luxuriates in the cataclysm, a delicious warmth running over the ghosts of the muscles that held Vader's human wings, once upon a time. A million voices, suddenly crying out in terror, and just as suddenly silenced. The Dark eats it up, a delicacy, and leaves Vader ravenous for more.

The Princess' own rage and terror and grief will do. She is loud in the Force like no one Vader has encountered since Order 66, her pain a never-ending red howl.

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Leia hardly reacts to IT-O. There is no physical pain that can compare to the loss of—

Everyone. Everything. The jagged peak of Appenza, where her mother left her heart. The refugee camps—Leia had promised so many beings they would be safe, that Alderaan was a safe place, she is the reason they are dead, this is her fault—

No.

She opens her eyes.

That wraith Darth Vader looms over her. The sound of his breathing is a taunt; no one on Alderaan will breathe again.

This is his fault.

Even in her shackles, Leia's hands curl into fists.

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Vader leans closer. The torture table shakes as the Princess' wings fruitlessly attempt to spread, as though they could carry her away. As though she will survive.

Still, he can’t help but wonder.

"Did you feel it?" He asks. "The moment they died?"

The Princess spits on his mask.

If he could, Vader would smile.

"I sense the Dark Side in you, little orphan." He circles the torture table and relishes that there is finally a spike of fear in the racing cloud of her anguish. "I didn't realize the late Queen and her Viceroy were strong in the Force."

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Vader swipes IT-O away from the table with a flick of his hand.

This does nothing to quiet the red-fog scream that is the Princess of Alderaan's Force signature. It seems she did not even register the carefully honed actions of the torture droid, too caught up in the whirling, raging storm of emptiness where Alderaan used to be.

Or—someone trained this girl to resist IT-O. That woman could: it is why the Emperor, grant him loyalty, finally agreed to let Vader himself into her cell.

"But they were not," Vader continues. He studies her face. "They were weak."

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"No." Leia speaks in spite of herself. She will not let this vile monster say one word about her parents. "They were strong. Alderaan was strong."

"I remember Bail Organa," It says. Vader's breaths slow his words until this could be a casual statement, some recollection of a one-time friend. "He was dull in the Force. No more alive than a rock or a tree."

Leia snarls, baring her teeth. Liar! she screams inside her head, where Vader cannot hear it and kill her for it, Liar! My father was warm and bright, like the candleflowers—

"I do not lie."

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"You cannot hide anything from me, little orphan. Not even your thoughts." Vader makes—a horrible sound that… it can't be a laugh. No human being ever laughed like that. "Did you think it coincidence that I knew your precious Rebels are not on Dantooine? No." Darth Vader presses one cold metal gauntlet against Leia's temple. "Your traitorous parents might have trained you to resist IT-O, but you cannot resist me. You cannot deny me what I want."

Leia's head is in a vise. "Yes… I… can."

"So much fire. Where did it come from? Show me who trained you."

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The Prisoner does not sit on the hard duracrete bench in her cell.

She stands.

She reigns.

Through the security holofeed, Tarkin (wingless; messy things) watches her eyes. Rebel scum. Probably counting how many stormtroopers march past, how many cells there are in AA-23. She's always been sneaky, too smart by half.

He smirks.

Not smarter than the Emperor. He played her nobility like a grandmaster of crokin.

The holofeed cuts flares white—Tarkin covers his eyes to protect them from the sudden shower of sparks.

Only one thing that could short out his screen from a hundred decks away.

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Padmé had seen images, even holonet streams showing him slicing in deadly motion through unarmed civilians and political prisoners alike—

But nothing prepared her for the sight of Darth Vader.

She swallows.

And again.

Instinct brings her hand to her throat: she can still feel the phantom squeeze, the way her blood pooled cold in her head until—

Darkness.

Darkness: his wings are gone, those beautiful wings, the first thing she noticed about him when he was just a slave on Tatooine. I'm a person. And my name is—

"Anakin."

"No." The bars collapse in his rage. "Skywalker is dead."

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"Peedunkee! Cabo da unko! Sa'koose ur-Apapa dei!"

Padmé kept her face blank, friendly, inquisitive-but-not-too. A handmaiden of Naboo wouldn't know Huttese, so she pretended the words rolled off her like space dust—but your father has come for you?

Was it no coincidence that Qui-Gon and his apprentice landed on Tatooine? She stole a glance at the Jedi's face and was gratified to see that he couldn't school his expressions nearly as well as she could. Ambassador Qui-Gon seemed positively rattled.

So the Jedi learned to speak Huttese. And Padmé thought they were meant to be peacekeepers and scholars.

Na-yokee!

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A ball of bright-white feathers tumbles into Watto's dusty shop, and it seems to bring the sunlight with it.

Padmé has never seen such wings, as long as the child tucked between them is tall, completely obscuring everything except a tuft of blond hair from view. Somehow, even in the midst of all this brown sand and black grease, the wings are untouched. Unsullied.

Padmé nearly reaches out to run her finger along a feather, just to see if they're radiating the warmth they shine.

"Meetassa cho-passa…" Whines a proud voice within the wings.

They part, and there's a boy.

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Rey looks up when BB-8 nudges her ankle, beeping madly, and tilts its head-dome to a tent across the Outpost.

Wings.

And not the slate-gray wings of a steelpecker. Not the dull ochre of a vworkka, not the foreboding old-blood expanse of a ripper-raptor.

No. Human wings, broad and beautiful and a violet so pale it made Rey want to cry. She knew those wings, somewhere inside herself, like she'd seen them in a dream.

They looked like—like—her, like the glimpses of herself she had seen in the reflective hulls of new wrecks.

Carrying those wings, a man.

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«That is DESIGNATION: FRIEND-POE's jacket!» BB-8 beeps at Rey's ankles. «But that is not DESIGNATION: FRIEND-POE!»

Rey couldn't move, even as BB-8 rolled into her shins more insistently. Whoever he was, this not-Poe, he had to be her family. She could feel it in her chest, in the place just beneath her ribcage where an invisible hand tugged at her sometimes when she was weakest, alone in the X'us'Rii'a winds, starving, almost depleted of hope.

This not-stranger was who she had been waiting for all these years.

BB-8 abandoned its ramming of Rey's ankles, brandished its electro-shock arm, and charged.