Last Days

This story has a plot point based on the essay The First Grave is for My Brother by Diana DeRiggs. Many thanks to Rosie and Wraith6 for being the supportive beta-bitches they always are!

Shmi Skywalker was grateful for the little lean-to her master had brought with them. It kept them out of the heat and light of the twin suns blazing overhead. They had traveled to this place in the old speeder her son had built for Watto out of spare parts found in the junkyard that was her master's place of business. She had moved out of the slave's quarters yesterday morning. Watto had apologized, but he could not keep her or her apartment any longer. He had lost a lot of money gambling on the podraces, especially the race where he had lost her son. She was touched that he couldn't bring himself to look at her face when he told her this. It meant that he did care about her, despite his characteristic gruffness.

She missed her boy, but she was overjoyed that he had escaped a life of slavery. Watto had gambled with Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn -- her son's home-built pod racer for his freedom. Anakin Skywalker had caused a sensation by being the only human to not only survive a podrace, but to win one. Master Jinn had helped Anakin sell the pod to Sebulba the Dugg for a small fortune, which was left with her. She still had a large portion of it hidden among her things.

The last time she saw her son, Anakin was walking away from her, following the tall Jedi to his fate. She had not heard anything since, and assumed that he had met with approval by the Council that Master Jinn talked about to her. She fervently hoped the Jedi would contact her, but that was just expecting too much. Shmi was a slave, and she did not expect anything from anyone.

But she knew her son was alive. When he was close by, she could feel his emotions, and knew how his heart lay. Now that he was far away, she missed the contact they shared. Though Coruscant was lightyears away, she felt glimmers of him. He seemed tense and anxious, but she couldn't be sure. That could simply be a reflection of her own feelings. Even so, she felt he was alive, and not in deep pain or distress.

He had promised to return. She would keep vigil for him, no matter where she ended up. He would know how to find her.

She was forced out of her reverie by Watto, who spoke to her in Huttese. He was ordering her to stand up and greet the man who wished to inspect her.

Shmi tried to conceal her age, so put a bounce in her movements as she unfolded her tired legs out from under her. She knew that her master was relying on her sale to save his business. Though a slave's life was hard, and she had no idea to whom or where she would be sold, she felt obligated to fetch Watto the highest price she could. He was not a bad master, kind in his own way, and she felt he liked her and respected her. It could always be worse. She was older, past being called pretty, and might not be worth much. Shmi knew she could never really be called beautiful in any classical sense; when she had grown out of the bloom of "cuteness," she was relegated to field and store labor. No, she had no illustions of her beauty. She had only her hard work and her honesty. So she stood straight, smiled and answered the man's questions simply and plainly.

After he had gone, Watto pat her head and told her she had done well. He told her the man was looking for a farmhand on a private moisture farm. He was not a native of Tatooine, having been here for about a dozen seasons. He had homesteaded a property on the other side of Anchorhead, outside of this town of Mos Eisley. Watto rubbed his hands together, knowing he might be able to charge the outlander more money than a native might pay.

Shmi shivered, despite the scorching heat. Something about that man had jolted her, but not in a bad way. She followed him with her eyes as he walked through the worker market, talking to various brokers as well as free workers. She noticed he didn't talk to other women, either slave or free. Watto laughed at her as he noticed her attention, then mumbled quietly that he hoped this man would make an offer. He seemed kind and hard-working. Like Shmi, Watto hoped for a good price, but he was also concerned that his slave be treated fairly and with kindness. Though he'd never admit it, he was quite fond of her and loathed the idea of losing her.

As a token of his feelings, he told Shmi that if her new master would allow it, she could keep some items, as his parting gift to her. He even provided the small repulsorlift-equipped container, though he'd need to retrieve it after she had settled, or charge the new owner for its cost. She took the tools she'd need to clean and rebuild electronic components. It was a useful skill, and would increase her selling price. She also took some writing materials -- a previous master had taught her to read and write, and she had nice handwriting, which could be sold for certificates and such. But rather than filling the remaining space in the box with her own personal items, she chose to take some things that once belonged to her son.

She powered down C3PO, the protocol 'droid her son had built for her, and bent him this way and that, to get him to fit into the box. She hoped the fussy 'droid wouldn't mind, but she had concealed his presence from Watto all this time, and didn't want him to discover C3PO now. She did remove what surface plating she had scrounged for him, the better to fit the 'droid into the container, and to disguise him as part of the stash of electronics she was taking. She hammered some of the plating flat and lined the bottom of the box, hoping it wouldn't be detected. She could always reshape it later.

She filled in the extra spaces with some of Anakin's toys and carvings he had made for her. She also took the credits from the sale of his podracer, as well as the palm-sized holoprojector left to her by Master Jinn. He had made several holos of Anakin for her and left the device behind. She treasured it above everything else. She had never had a holo made before, it was simply too expensive a thing to do. Shmi was grateful to the Jedi Knight for the gift, for it was the only view she had left of the precocious Anakin.

The man who had talked to Watto and Shmi before was making his way back toward them. Watto observed that he hadn't made any purchases. The worker and slave market was crowded, with many servants and services for sale. Buyers included everyone from job brokers to cantina owners to men like the one who had talked to her.

She noticed Watto had raised her price when people who seemed like resellers or brokers approached. She wondered why he was being so mercurial about selling her, but perhaps her master was manipulating who would ultimately buy her. He did likewise with anyone who seemed to h ave a criminal air or who just wanted a hard labor type of servant. Shmi flushed a bit at his care and caution.

Her supposition was confirmed when the man who had spoken to her so kindly before came back. He made Watto an offer, much lower than what the Toydarian would take for her. To her surprise, Watto countered with a price only a little higher. He did add that the container was extra, but that his slave should be allowed to take her possessions with her.

Unlike other more experienced slave traders, this man did not laugh at Watto's boldness at implying that a slave could own anything; neither did greed fill his countenance thinking of all the extra things he'd acquire. He looked thoughtful and asked Shmi directly what skills and objects she would bring to his household. She explained her the skills that Watto and her previous masters had taught her, in restoring electronic components, and the tools she had acquired to help her. She could read and write Aurebesh, and had brought writing tools. She also told him that she had some memorabilia from her son, who no longer lived with her, and she begged that he understand her sentimental attachment to him.

The man's face changed at mention of her having a son. He asked how old the boy was, and where was he now? Had Watto sold him separately? No, explained Shmi, he was freed and had gone to study with the Jedi on Coruscant. Again, the man's face changed, looking thoughtful and startled at the same time. She wondered what he was thinking.

To her surprise, the man doubled his offer, more than Watto had originally asked for. The Toydarian floated up in surprise, his eyes darting from Shmi to the man. Squinting, he told the man that Shmi was a special slave, and he did not want to part with her lightly. What did he think he was doing, offering more than the asking price?

The man laughed, "It does seem daft, doesn't it? But I don't want any more bidding on her, she's just what I've been looking for in a farmhand. Do you accept my offer?"

Shmi held her breath. It was always exciting -- and terrifying -- being the object of a sale or a gamble. She could not remember when she had been sold into slavery; she would have been too young to understand what was going on. But even now, she felt outraged, being sold once again into a new slavery.

Watto rubbed his stubbly chin in thought. "I'll throw in the container, and a Treadwell 'droid for your moisture farm, you pay ten percent more. Deal?"

Before the man agreed, he held up his hand, "Remove her tracking device, too."

The Toydarian shook his head in wonderment. Another one of those! Humans are so sentimental! He planned to free her, it seemed. The men slapped palms, the deal was sealed.

The man gave Watto a small datapad containing the address where Shmi would be delivered in Anchorhead. He promised to pay for the fuel to get her there, as he paid for half her purchase price now. The remainder would be paid on delivery.

Watto laughed and congratulated Shmi as he removed the "for sale" marking on her. He joked with her that she was now "sold out," and he guffawed at his little joke. This would definitely bail him out of debt, would give him a bit extra to hire a free worker to help him, too. But he turned more sober and gently placed a hand on her shoulder, "He seems like a good man," he told her in Huttese, "farming is hard work, but you will be good at it. Who knows? Wonder what he's thinking, eh? He is taking you without the transmitter, you know!"

She gave Watto a worried smile, relieved the ordeal was over, but apprehensive, too. Shmi didn't want to think too much of the transmitter being removed; she knew the process was going to be painful and not without risk. She had heard stories of the devices detonating when slaves tried to remove the things by themselves. Sometimes it happened even when the removal was being done legally.

Shmi went about helping Watto sell his remaining 'droids, and contented herself that her old master had had a successful day. Today would be last day belonging to Watto, and she wanted him to remember her well. Despite the fears and anxieties she had, she was rather proud that she had been sold for a high price.

* * * * *

Shmi was a little sore from the removal of the tracking device that had been implanted in her when she was a young girl. She and her family had been captured by pirates; she had no idea what had happened to her parents, but she had been sold into slavery. She had not remembered where the device was placed in her body, but Watto had located it embedded in her left achilles tendon. He applied the removal device and wrenched the chip out. They both held their breaths, hoping the transmitter wouldn't blow them up. When the blood-covered thing came out intact, they both suddenly let out their breath. Watto dressed the wound, then gave Shmi an extra bacta patch, telling her that her new master must provide for her now.

She tried not to limp as she entered the building where she was scheduled to meet the man who had bought her. She told herself not to think about why he had ordered the tracking chip be removed as a condition of her sale. Perhaps he wished to fit her with a different transmission device, or place it somewhere he preferred.

Watto had told her his name was Lars, and the gruff-looking man was already there when they arrived. The two men shook hands and Lars paid the remaining credits due on Shmi. Telling Shmi to stay where she stood, seller and buyer left the building together, going over final details, and Shmi could hear the Toydarian laughing at his good fortune. He had even managed to unload the clunky Treakwell 'droid, and the last thing she heard of her old master was his gleeful, "Not bad, not bad!"

She was in a sort of official or government type of office. She felt all alone, guarding the Treadwell repair droid and the small container filled with her worldly possessions. Would she be allowed to keep them? After all, everything she had technically belonged to a new master. Perhaps this man wanted to inventory her things? Perhaps he would sell them? She hoped he wouldn't find the hidden credits, and would at least let her keep the holoprojection device.

Her new master came back into the building, approached her carefully, and introduced himself as Cliegg Lars. He didn't order her -- no, he invited her -- into a small room that was furnished with a table and some chairs. He instructed her to sit down at the table; he did likewise, facing her. She thought the way he was treating her was curious. None of her previous masters treated her this way. He was treating her as if she was a free woman.

Even so, the next part totally startled her. He explained that he wished to offer Shmi her freedom. He asked her if she understood that if she was free, no one would provide for her as she had been previously provisioned. She would be responsible for herself, would have to earn wages like any free person, and pay for things like food, living space, etc. She would be free to make her own decisions, and could refuse to do anything that she didn't want to do, for any reason. She would be answerable to local rules and laws, and could own objects or slaves. If she was killed, no one would need to pay her master for her loss, since she would belong only to herself. He warned her that freedom is not absolute, but if she wished to have it, he would grant it to her.

It took her breath away. Was Cliegg Lars truly going to set her free? Was this a test?

The things he said about her not being taken care of -- they sounded scary. It sounded like he didn't want to provide for her, and so was opting to set her free. So why did he spend so much money to buy her?

Shmi had almost stopped breathing, and was now taking small, quick, shallow breaths. Her hands were twisting the fabric of her homespun skirt; there was fear and surprise in her eyes. Cliegg assured her that if she needed to ask anything, she should ask it. He allowed her that privilege. He promised there would be no reprisal for anything she asked.

She hesitated, understandably. She stared at him in silence for long moments, and Cliegg let her find her voice in her own time. Finally, she decided to take him at his word, and -- so quietly and haltingly that he could barely hear her -- asked why he spent so much to buy her, and is now simply deciding to cast her away. She could feel her head burning as she asked such a question from her master.

He did not wish her to go away, he replied. He admitted when he attended the market, he was simply looking for a farmhand. He was being very selective because he lived far from Mos Eisley, and he needed someone he could live with. The farmhand would have to live with him.

Ideally, he would prefer someone who wasn't there just for hire. He wanted a person with whom he could treat as a family member. Things simply weren't the same since his wife had died, a few seasons ago. In his mourning for her, and had immersed himself in hard work to try and deal with his grief. But he was bone-tired, and he realized he was not healing properly from Aika's death. He had gotten to the stage that he was mourning simply for the sake of mourning.

Shmi was confused. What this all this have to do with setting her free?

It was Cliegg's turn to become tongue-tied. She thought she saw him blush!

He cleared his throat. He didn't want a slave. He had bought her because he wanted a wife. He could not marry a slave, so he would set her free. And then he hoped could marry her. Or rather, that she would accept him as a husband.

* * * * *

Shmi woke up cradled in Cliegg Lars's arms. He was stroking her forehead, patting it with a damp cloth. She had never felt that before. Water was too precious to waste in such a manner on a slave.

He saw that she was awake, and told her that he was sorry to be handling her so familiarly, but she had fainted and hit her head. He was concerned she'd done herself injury. He smiled as he chided her, telling her to make sure she took breaths regularly, rather than holding them all in.

She stuggled to get up. She apologized, she thought he had said something to her, but it must have been a dream. It must be the heat that was making her sick. Shmi assured him that she would be fine, that he would not regret the price he paid for her.

Cliegg's face grew serious. He assured her she had not dreamt his question. He was sorry to do this so abruptly to her, but he needed her answer to the first offer. The paperwork freeing her had to be filed in this office within the next few hours. If she did not answer today, he did not know when he could come back to Mos Eisley to initiate the bureaucratic process again.

And the second offer? Shmi felt her head swimming as she said the words.

Shmi would have to accept the first offer before considering the second. By law, slaves do not marry, since they are technically property.

I don't want a slave, he had told her, I need a wife.

She had never realistically thought about being a wife. It was something forever closed to her. True, she was bitter about being a slave, and complained when she had the chance to do so, but it was just a slave's way of coping with her plight. There was nothing to be done about it.

All those things he told her, about having no one to look after you if you were free -- she had fantasized many times about being free. If Cleigg Lars was fool enough to free an expensive slave, she was a fool to not grab the opportunity and run. After all, how many slave market servants could say they'd been offered their freedom following a sale? Just her, she thought.

But the feeling Shmi had had in the marketplace came back to her. There was something about this man that felt right. Something was telling her that she belonged to him, even though he was offering to let her go. It was something beyond simply being his slave.

I'm handing you the key, Shmi Skywalker, Cliegg sounded to Shmi as if he was pleading, but you have to bring it to the door and activate it.

* * * *

Shmi barely remembered that morning. She recalled the night better. Like in a dream, the way she had risen from Cliegg's arms and told him yes, she would be his wife. That meant she needed to be released from slavery, and they walked down the hall to the magistrate's office to present her ownership files and to apply for her freedom. It needn't have been so formal -- Lars could have simply told her she was free and that was that. But he felt it was important for her to be officially and formally her own person, with the documentation to prove it.

The application had to sit overnight for processing, so Cliegg had rented two rooms for them at a nearby cantina that provided such accommodations. Shmi would normally be expected to sleep on the floor by the door, a gesture to protect her master, but he would have none of that. She was to be freed by morning, and he did not think it proper to treat his future wife as a household slave.

She heard him next door through the thin wall, pacing, then sitting, then shuffling. He had not slept the whole night. Neither could she sleep, replaying the events from the previous day inside her head, wondering how she had come into this situation. She had promised to marry Cliegg Lars, though she knew so little about him. But something felt right about him, even though she still harbored doubts. Was it wrong for her to squander her new-found freedom for another type of slavery? She knew many married women felt trapped by their husbands, with feelings similar to the ones she had as a slave. But, difficult as it may have been for them, they had the right to walk out -- and they had the freedom to choose their mates, no matter the result. That was the difference. Shmi could make a choice to marry this man. The concept made her dizzy, elated and nauseous at the same time, but it also gave her great calm.

That inner peace was similar to the feeling she had when Anakin was close by. She could feel he was safe, and would thus feel safe herself. With Cliegg, she simply felt it was the right choice for her to make.

In the morning, Cliegg came to get her, and they had a brief breakfast at the cantina. He tried to get her to talk, to ask him questions, but she simply wasn't used to it, and she lowered her eyes in response. He politely admonished her, telling her that she would learn to express herself soon enough.

They walked back together silently to the magistrate's office and Shmi underwent a scan to locate and remove any other transmitters that multiple owners might have implanted in her, besides the one Watto removed from her the day before. A small, inactive one was found above her elbow, which she had no recollection of receiving. The 'droid that removed it did so quickly and without apprehension, in contrast to yesterday's removal.

In front of another government official, Cliegg -- with tears in his eyes -- promised to provide and keep his new wife, till death. Shmi heard the offical ask her if she was a free person, belonging to no one but herself, and thus could give herself in marriage to this man? She hesitated, then said the vows. But all the while, she still couldn't believe she was free! This was her first day as a free woman.

Now they rode in Cliegg's old landspeeder, towing her container of belongings and the old multi-armed Treadwell 'droid Watto had included in her purchase price. They stopped often; the rising heat of the day and the unaccustomed load threatened to overcome the aging speeder.

Cliegg told her that shyness would not do. She had to learn to overcome her training as a slave and speak up, make decisions for herself and for the household. He explained that she now owned half of everything he owned, and with that ownership came responsibilities. She simply could no longer afford the luxury of passivity.

She nodded, intellectually agreeing, but not really understanding. Emotionally, she was in turmoil. He would ask her to make a decision when and where to stop. She didn't know the area well, so he'd describe possible rest stops, and demand her choice. When she demurred, he merely kept driving, telling her that her lack of decision might burn out the landspeeder engine; he made it clear that by not deciding, she was making a choice. She had to learn to take that responsibility.

Shmi tried not to feel resentful of him. He was trying to force her to learn to be independent, to think like a free person. She thought it unfair of him to make her do it all at once. She finally got up the nerve to say so, and she tensed up, preparing to be struck for her insolence. Instead, she thought she saw him smile.

Finally, they stopped to refuel at a place Shmi forced herself to choose. Cliegg asked about her son again, what was his name? Anakin -- the boy who was won in a podrace gamble and set free. Shmi was more comfortable talking about him then about herself. She told him about Anakin, and his gifts, apparent from the moment he was born. She explained that she did not know how he came to be, for she had not been with a man for many months before she realized she was carrying a child.

Cliegg looked thoughtful, asking again about his life as a Jedi.

Shmi told him she had not heard from or about Anakin since he had left Tatooine. She knew he was alive and generally well -- for some reason, she could feel him. He had promised to return to free her, and so she kept vigil for him. She smiled at the burly man beside her, but she was freed by a moisture farmer, not a Jedi.

Cliegg's face broke into a smile and he blushed openly as they got back into the speeder. He mumbled, "No, not a Jedi, not quite." Shmi was confused by this statement. Perhaps he didn't like being compared to a Jedi? She hadn't meant to upset him.

At their next stop, they put up the lean-to to shade them and the speeder. They unpacked the food they had bought at the cantina before setting out. As they chewed, Cliegg apologized. Why was he sorry?

"I have not told you everything. I don't live alone."

Shmi started, afraid of what he might tell her. Did he have a harem?

"I have a son who lives with me. He is teenaged, needs a mother to help him with life. I did not tell you this up front, because ... well, I was afraid. I didn't want you to change your mind about being my wife. Forgive my cowardice. However, I was encouraged by the fact that you have a son, even though he no longer lives with you. You must miss him terribly."

That explained his mysterious facial expressions in the marketplace when she told him about Anakin. Shmi assured him that she did miss him, but her heart was glad for him. He had escaped a life of enforced servitude and was following his dream.

Cliegg looked away, "I have another son, who no longer lives with me. He was taken away from Aika and me when he was an infant."

Kidnapped? Shmi feared the worst, that the boy might have been taken by slavers, as she had been.

"No," he turned to look at her, his eyes moist, "the Jedi found him. He was strong with the Force, so they took him. What could we do? We had no choice, we were very poor, could barely find enough to eat. So I understand you, Shmi. I, too, gave up my child to a better life. The Force willing, the galaxy will be a better place for my sacrifice."

They both took bites of their food and chewed slowly.

Cliegg wiped his eyes, "Owen, my second boy, is not as strong with the Force, but I believe he still has more than usual. Aika and I have kept it from him, but he seems to know. We need to help him come to terms with it. You are curious as to why I wanted you as my wife? Part of it is that you are used to having a Force-cursed child, and can help me handle him." He took a swig of water, then offered the canteen to Shmi. "In her last day on this mortal plane, Aika made me promise to help Owen understand his gift. I will keep my promise to her, and I know I will need your help."

Shmi asked his age, and found he was a few years older than Anakin. It would be like having Anakin back, she thought. She remembered the last day she had held him, and her heart cracked. Yes, she would help him, out of love of her own son.

"The other part, well ... I can't explain it. Something about you felt right. I knew I had to have you, whatever it took. I was prepared to pay much more to buy you, even though it might mean losing the farm. It was as if a part of me had always been empty, even when married to Aika and even after the boys were each born. I saw you in the market, and that space was inexplicably filled. I felt it was our destiny to be together, Shmi."

Shmi was very surprised, for he had described her feelings at the market, almost exactly.

From his pocket Cliegg pulled out what looked like a bundle of twine. He shook it out and Shmi saw it was a diamond-shaped macramé weaving, a sculpture of knots and twists. He held it out to her and asked permission to put it around her neck.

Shmi thought of some of the slave yokes and collars she had worn in her past, but this necklace was nothing like any of them. This one had polished, white beads incorporated in the lacy knotwork. He told her he had made the beads himself, from bedrock ledge found on his farm. He had carried the beads on a string, which he would rub in times of stress to soothe his mind. "You accepted my proposal, and now you are my wife. I don't need the beads to comfort me anymore, for now I have you." Shmi's eyes filled with tears at this man's sentiment. She would never forget the day she had met him, as a slave at the Mos Eisley Market. Nor could she forget today, the first day as a free woman, and the first day as Cleigg Lars's wife.

He had made the marriage necklace last night, in the room next door to Shmi's. It had taken him all night. "These big hands are built for farming and labor, not for lace-making." He took her hands in his, "Shmi, my wife ... I have never seen anything or anyone look as beautiful as you, wearing the symbol of our marriage." He leaned down and kissed her tenderly.

Shmi Skywalker Lars smiled, feeling very beautiful for the first time in her life.

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