Disclaimer: Characters and situations property of Disney.
Thanks to: Kathy, wo didn't let a change of computer stop her beta'ing.
Author's note: Originally written for the Unsent Letters 2021 Ficathon.
I. You weren't gone for a day before I saw you left the coat behind, the one I put into your bag myself. I know why you did; it's mine, and it's good to have in a sand storm. But Ani, you have no idea how cold a space ship can get, even if they have working heating. You don't remember, you can't. I do. I wasn't born on this world, after all. Now you won't have a coat and…
This is silly. Stop recording, C-3PO. I'll try again.
II. Dear Ani. Qui-Gon told me it won't be possible for us to communicate for a while. It is against the Jedi rules as long as you are still a child and in training. And besides, Watto does not have access to the off world holonet, so even if he would allow me to – at any rate, I don't want you to look back. I don't. You need to start your new life without constantly longing for the past, I understand that, and it is what I wanted for you. But since your birth, there has not been a day in my life when I haven't heard your voice, crying, laughing, then talking. There is a silence around me now I don't know how to fill. So I thought I would record a message for you. The Droid you built has an incredible amount of voice data storage, since you used the translating devices from the old ships to create his data banks and vocal cords. He can record my voice. Maybe it will be years before we see each other again. Maybe I will have forgotten by then. Maybe there will be so much more to say by then that what I want to tell you right now will get swept away. So I am making this recording.
We will see each other again. You said so, and your dreams tend to come true. I do believe we will. Losing you forever has been what I was afraid of most ever since you were born. I thought we might get sold apart as long as we were with Gardulla the Hutt because women without children make for better servants and are easier to sell. And when Watto won us, I was afraid he would gamble you away, or me. I suppose he did, in the end. But now at least I know you are safe and free and able to live a much, much better life, one you wanted and chose. If Watto had lost you to Sebulba…
I'm sorry. This is not what I meant to say. Stop recording. Let me try again.
III. My dearest son. Whenever you hear this message, wherever it finds you, know that I miss you in every moment of my life, and yet there has not been a single one in which I haven't been sure that letting you go with Qui-Gon Jinn was the right thing to do. No child should grow up believing it is right for one person to have complete power over another. I did not, before I was captured. But you were born into slavery, and though I tried to teach you differently, you saw everyone treating us as property before you had the words to understand what I was telling you. This is why I was so glad when you spoke to me about your dreams. To me, it meant you had found a small way to escape already, and if I could not give you freedom, I could at least encourage you in this.
I try to remember now what it was like, being free. Not having to live with the knowledge that a master can kill me with the push of a button. There are worse masters than Watto, of course; he's not likely to do so out of malice, at least. Gardulla might have. But he still keeps the controlling device with him all the time. I try to remember the absence of fear that I took for granted when I was your age, and sometimes I don't think I can. This worries me, because I want to imagine you with that safety, and how can I, when I cannot remember…
IV. Dear Ani. It has now been a year since we last spoke. Your friend Kitster came to see me at the repair shop the other day. Yes, I work at the repair shop again. Watto was too cheap to hire another assistant, let alone buy one, and he did originally use me as a mechanic before you started to show how gifted you were at fixing things. Kitster asked me whether I had heard from you, and I told him I had not, and did not expect to, not for a long time at least. What I did not tell him was that I had expected to hear from Qui-Gon Jinn. When he explained to me why children raised in the Jedi Temple were not allowed to communicate with their birth family until they had become Jedi Knights, he did promise to get word to me that you were well and safe once you had started to live there. But there was no message, not through any of the traders coming from Coruscant, or anyone else. I started to worry. So many things could have happened. I even worried – this is silly, I know, but I started to wonder. Whether he truly was who he'd claimed he was. I sometimes get dreams, too, Ani, and there was one where a man I couldn't see talked to you, with a voice sounding warm and fatherly, amused and fond at the same time, just as Qui-Gon had done – but the words he said were wrong, all wrong. I could see his shadow covering you, and I knew then, the way one does in dreams, that he wanted to drain you of your heart, of your soul and of your life.
But my dreams are just dreams, I'm sure of it. At any rate, eventually I was able to see some old news in one of the spice bars, about the liberation of Naboo. They mentioned Qui-Gon Jinn had died in it, but I did not have time to decide whether that made me worry more or less, for then they showed you, Ani, with a young Jedi I'd never seen before but who must be Qui-Gon's student. You had your hair cut and were dressed like him. I knew then you were safe, and with the Jedi, even if Qui-Gon had died, and I had no way of reaching you. But then I'd known this would happen, and accepted it. As long as you were free, and happy.
Kitster has grown. He's looking well. But he told me that his mother had died, of exhaustion, more or less, and Gardulla now has moved him to do her old job in the factory. I'm afraid for him now. I was – forgive me, but I wondered whether I could sell C-3PO to buy Kitster from Gardulla, since he is the most precious thing I own. No, C-3PO, I won't. I can't. A slave cannot buy another slave on Tatooine, not even to set him free.
I am so glad you are living far from here, Ani, so very glad. And yet I still wake up so often expecting you to be near, or I enter our hut listening for the sound of your voice, and then I remember you are gone and it breaks my heart anew.
V. My darling son, I wish I could share the news I have with you right now, could tell you in person, but since I can't, I am speaking this message for you to receive on a future date. Ani, I must admit it hasn't been easy these last few years without you. And while the pain of your absence will always be with me, alongside the joy of knowing you are out there somewhere, growing up in freedom, I have found some new friends. A moisture farmer, Cliegg Lars, and his son Owen. They had come to Mos Espa to get some farming equipment repaired when I met them, and Owen reminded me – no, not of you, Ani, but of Kitster, whom I haven't seen again after his mother's death, just as I had feared. Cliegg was born on one of the core worlds, Ator, and he must have thought I was an irritating busybody that first day we met, because I kept asking him about Coruscant and the other core worlds. Not because I thought he might have encountered you – he and his late wife came to Tatooine around the time you were born, after all – but because this way, I can imagine where you live and what you might see so much better. In any case, Cliegg patiently answered my questions, and asked me questions of his own, questions that no one has before, including Qui-Gon. He wanted to know what life as a slave was like for me, and whether I believed that if the settlers on Tatooine allied together and somehow deposed the Hutts, this would end slavery on the planet as well. (Which I do not believe it will. Too many of the human settlers profit from the system.) This is how we became friends.
Ani, Cliegg has bought me out of slavery. He must have paid a fortune to Watto; quite how much, he refuses to say, but I know Watto. Once he had the control codes for me, Cliegg deactivated the device in my body and gave me the controlling instrument to smash. I am free now for the first time since I was a young girl.
I told Cliegg I would work for him in order to repay him for this. He said I would not need to, that it was his gift to me, but I replied: „Then I won't be free, not in my heart. I am in your debt in any case, but if you allow me to repay you, then I will be able to tell myself that my freedom was something I took, not just something that was given to me. I must learn again to be free, Cliegg, and this is the only way I can see how. Please, let me do this."
It took a while for him to agree, but agree he has. So now I am leaving Mos Espa, Ani, to live with Clieggg and Owen Lars on their farm. I shall receive a salary for helping to take care of Owen, of Cliegg's household and of any repair works. I am still a good enough mechanic so Cliegg won't have to come to Mos Espa again for quite a while. I will go to bed and wake up in the morning without wondering whether tomorrow will be the day when Watto gambles me away, too, to a new master who might kill me just because they are bored. When I'm tired in the evening, it will be from work I chose to do, and for which I will be paid. And It will be my freedom, mine. Ani, I haven't been happy like this for a long, long time. When we see each other again, I will be used to it, and so perhaps I won't tell you how much this means. We will both be free people by then, after all, with slavery and fear no more than shadows of our past. We will celebrate and will feel nothing but joy, and this is how it should be, but at the same time, I do want you to know how much this day means to me. Except for your birth, there hasn't been another like it.
Yes, 3P0, that is the end of the message. No, of course I won't leave you to Watto. I want to take you with me. But I won't force you to come if you do not wish to. Not today. Not any day. If you want to go into space, I will find a trader to take you along. If you want to remain in Mos Espa, I will find someone who treats droids well. I would like it, though, if you came with me and… are you still recording? 3P0, end message.
VI. Dear Ani, it is a year now to the day, almost the hour, that I regained my freedom. „You're counting the hours?" Cliegg asked me, and I laughed and said I made it up, but I haven't. Numbers are something I've always been good at, numbers and mechanics, and you've inherited this from me. It has saved our lives more than once. My dearest son, once again, I have news to tell you I want to record now, before time erases what I feel.
Cliegg has asked me to marry him. He says he wanted to ask me for a long while, but that first he didn't want me to believe this was one of the conditions for my freedom, and then he didn't want me to feel uneasy about living with him and Owen at the farm in case I didn't share his feelings. But the other day, Owen asked me to teach him how to dance, and then Cliegg and I ended up dancing as well, and somehow, I couldn't help myself. I wanted to kiss him, and so I did. I haven't felt this way about another person in a long while, too, Ani. Maybe even since I was a girl, still frightened and furious, newly captured and not really believing this captivity could possibly last. But now I do.
I still didn't say yes, not immediately. Sometimes I wondered what it would be like to save enough money to buy a transport for me to Coruscant, so I could see you again. Not now, of course. You are only fifteen now, and thus they wouldn't let me visit you anyway. But perhaps in five years.
Then again: so much can happen in five years. Cliegg is a healthy man, but life is hard on this planet, and death so very easy, even if you are free. It seems silly, remaining apart now that we've admitted to each other that we care just because that might make it easier for me to leave one day, and if anything were to happen to Cliegg, I know I would curse myself for not using what time we had.
I always told you that it's important to treasure every moment, to not waste what happiness we can have now by only looking to the future. It is time I took my own advice.
I wish you could be here with me, on the day I marry Cliegg. I wish I could introduce you to Owen. I wish I could worry about you introducing him to podracing, and smile at him arguing with you about whether a Krayt Dragon could truly eat a Sarlacc. But as this is impossible, I will tell you that falling in love again feels a bit to me the way podracing does to you. It is exhilarating, and you don't care about the danger, and yet you're very aware that it exists. Once when I still worked for Gardulla, one of the kitchen slaves said loving someone is like giving a hostage to fortune in a world that is just waiting to take a bite out of you. There is truth in that, but just a part of the truth. The other, more important part is that if you prevent yourself from loving other people out of fear, you have made yourself a slave more truly than any master can. I don't just mean the love that creates marriages. I mean the love between friends as well, which is what Cliegg and I were and still are, and the love for family. Ani, if I hadn't had you to love, I think I would have – well, if not died physically, then died in my heart. You don't know this, but I was different before you came. I was so angry about what had happened to me, so afraid that things would get even worse. I was in pain nearly all the time, and the only thing that seemed to make it a bit better was to shut myself away from reaching out to anyone, from caring about anyone. It was even worse than that. Sometimes… sometimes I lashed out at others. It made me feel a bit less powerless, this ability to make someone else afraid of me, if only for a moment. You would not have liked the young woman I was, Ani, not one bit.
Then I became pregnant, and through all the months that ensued, the certainty grew in me that I wanted you to have a mother who was different from this woman. I wouldn't be able to protect you from being a slave, I knew that. But I could protect you from being alone, from being only surrounded by anger and fear. I could give you love instead. I could, I had to, find ways to bring you happiness. And so I remade myself into someone who could be a mother you deserved, who could find things to enjoy so she could share this joy with you, who could create peace around her so you would know what peace was. It wasn't easy at first, but it became manageable, and once you were there, in my arms, it became, day by day by day, something I no longer had to consciously think about. And then the most miraculous thing happened, Ani. When you left, and I was in pain, I felt many things, I had many dark moments. But I did not wish to stop feeling altogether. I did not return to who I'd been before you came. Loving you has changed me, and it has helped me to become the woman I am now, free not just by law but in spirit, and sharing love again.
My son, this is what I want to tell you on the day I marry, and it is perhaps the most important message I have for you. I imagine one day, maybe in a year, maybe in five, maybe in ten, but one day, C-3PO will be with you again, and you will work on repairing or updating him, because whatever the future holds, your talent for mechanics will not let you do otherwise. And then, in that quiet hour, he will play this recording for you. No matter how cruel life can be, no matter how it changes us: we are also able to change ourselves, as long as we reach out to others. As long as we love. I hope to tell you so in person, of course, but I wouldn't be surprised if I'm only babbling when we finally see each other again, at least for the first hour or so, and then hopefully I will have the sense to listen to you telling me of your adventures and of the people in your life. But now I have ensured my words will reach you, nonetheless. Goodbye, my darling, till we meet again.