THE APPRENTICE by Linda T.


He was eighteen years old before he finally escaped from Tatooine.

When Vin Tanner arrived on Coruscant, he was terrified and alone. Tatooine had been a place of wide, open desert, wastelands that were devoid of life as far as the eye could see. The Sand People who had for a time given him refuge and taught him their ways moved in scattered nomadic groups, following the trail of water. After he had freed himself of the tracer device Jabba the Hutt had implanted in all his slaves, he had been forced to hide amongst their number. They accepted him because they recognized his spirit was not too dissimilar from theirs. He remained with them for as long as it took to save enough credits to gain passage off world. That endeavor had taken almost two years and finally he boarded a cargo transport with the desire that it take him as far away from Tatooine as possible. He never wanted to come back.

Until he arrived on Coruscant.

Tatooine, despite the ugly memories it held for him was a place known. He could survive in it. Coruscant was life nothing he could possibly imagine; an entire planet incased in urban walls. From the moment he stepped off the transport ship onto the landing platform, he had never been surrounded by billions of people. To actually touch the ground of Coruscant was a damn impossibility. The age of the planetary metropolis was thousand of years old and during that time, building and rebuilding had occurred at a frantic rate until now most citizens lived high above in the skyline made up of platforms, towers, spires and skyscrapers. The sheer volume of people nearly sent him scrambling back to that ship. However, he knew he could take care of himself and so he ventured into the unknown a tried to survive.

He found work easily enough because he was unashamed of doing anything. Being a slave tends to inure one to thinking that any certain vocation was not quite good enough. He had no difficulty being humble and subservient when it served his purposes and he saved his money, having no friends, no woman to spend it on and no real expenses other than the basic necessities made his existence rather frugal. He continued this way for a year, drifting aimlessly unaware of what to do until the advent of the Clone Wars. In truth, he joined the New Republic forces for the lack of anything better to do with himself and admitted the idea of becoming a part of something greater than himself had always held great attraction for him

He never saw a Jedi during his entire tour of duty.

He had heard of them of course. One had to exist in a vacuum to not hear about the Jedi but they seemed too mythical to be real and he often wondered, when he was fighting the enemy wearing identical faces, if the Jedi were just a creation to boost morale. Certainly they seemed unreal to him. When the war ended, he found himself with no wish to remain in the rank and file. Organized killing was not for him, though he suspected that ultimately his fate would be entwined in a vocation that would utilize his superior tracking and combat skills. He bought himself a ship and drifted a little longer before meeting an old bounty hunter named Crawl. He had found the Modrek about to be vaporised by an old mark who had a grudge and his untimely arrival saved Crawl from death. Crawl gave him direction he sorely needed in his life, impressed by his survival of the Clone Wars and the fact that his tracking skills came from the Sand People of Tatooine, one of the most secretive races in the galaxy.

Crawl gave him the contacts he needed and his first job was not as a bounty hunter but rather a bodyguard. Crawl had called him green and had been attempting to ease him into the profession by giving him something simple to start out with. At that time, odd things were happening around the galaxy. Whispers about Jedi exterminations, about the Republic caving under his own weight and a secret agenda that Palpatine supposedly had that would instill him as Emperor. Coruscant shrugged off these rumors as organizations old and set in their ways was often did when they were arrogant enough to do because the notion of weakness was simply too unbelievable.

By the time he arrived in Commenor, one of the worlds that made up the core systems, Palpatine had become Emperor and the new age had begun. He stayed out of these things. Hearing the legendary Jedi were being driven into extinction sent a twinge of sadness through him, though he could not imagine why. The feeling lasted briefly until he arrived on Commenor to protect the wife of the new Imperial Governor from danger. She had gone into hiding from enemies Governor Will Richmond refused to name but was adamant she be protected from at all costs. After arriving on Commenor, he was sent promptly to Bespin where Richmond's wife was presently hiding until the danger had passed.

Her name was Charlotte and she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

In truth, he did not know many women. During his years as a slave, there was not much opportunity to meet any when he spent most of his time on a moisture farm, taking care of vaporators. When he left, the social skills required to interact with the opposite sex confused him and he gave up all together trying to make contact. When he was in the army, he discovered the emptiness of paid encounters and realizing that other than the physical release, the whole experience of intimacy with a woman was rather overrated and certainly not warranting all the literature that seemed to be written in its name.

But Charlotte was different. From the moment he saw her, he understood that he was lost, utterly and irrevocably. She looked at him with laughing green eyes and her smile speared his heart, through all his defenses with little or no difficulty. He had not been able to stop staring from first time he saw her and she understood instinctively that his feelings were deep and passionate, that it was more than just lust or a need to protect her, but also to be with her. He took his responsibility to protect her very seriously although she never told him any more than Richmond did about whom she was being guarded against. Still he had a sense that it was not because of any distrust but her own desire to protect him.

He had tried hard to remain objective during his first few days as her guardian but Richmond had wanted a minimal complement of guardians, so he found himself completely alone in the suite of rooms she occupied on Bespin. However, he was soon drawn to him almost against his will and for a young man having fallen in love for the first time and hard, the lure of her was too much for him to withstand. He did not know how long it was before he arrived in Bespin that he became her lover but it was not long. It was as if she were made for him and as they came together night after night, in a tangled mess of limbs and heated pleasure, he decided that he could never be without her. Charlotte told him that it was foolishness to let himself think that because their relationship was terribly forbidden and she could not leave her husband no matter how much she loved him.

At first he thought it was because he was a nobody in comparison to her rich husband who had money and power but later he came to understand that it was something more, something to do with why he could not know whom he was protecting her against. After a while, she began to fear for him, claiming on numerous occasions that he needed to leave that he should not be here when they found her. He never understood the reasons for her fears, as if somehow the danger to her would spread its ugly tentacles to take him as well. When he asked her to explain, she merely shrugged citing it as foolishness but he could in her eyes it was more than that.

She was afraid, not for herself but for him and he could not for the life of him understand why.

And there was something else too, something that did not make sense to him until later years when he come to learn a few things about himself. She always seemed to know exactly what he was feeling with an almost uncanny insight. He supposed that was why he fell so completely in love with her. The idea of meeting someone who knew you with so much understanding was a once in a life time experience that he refused to let go and discovered that though he loved seldom, he also loved passionately. She seemed to always know what to say to make things better and the months they spent together, lovers enthralled by forbidden passion was the best time he had ever had in his life. He had never thought he could be that happy.

Having already broken the rule of bodyguards becoming too personally involved with those they were meant to protect, he had little difficulty in allowing himself to think that there might be a future for them as well. Charlotte indulged him a little even though he suspected she had a better grasp of reality than he. He convinced himself that he was capable of protecting her from anything even though he had no idea what it was that threatened her so. But their future together was never in doubt. He just refused to believe it. In the end, there was little choice but to accept the truth when news of their love affair reached Richmond who immediately terminated his services. To add insult to extreme injury, his replacements ensured his removal from Charlotte and she was spirited away.

They had left him battered and half dead but he managed to track her. It was at that point, he realised how adept he was at finding the people who did not want to be found. He tracked Charlotte across the galaxy and found her in the Corporate Sector. His intention had been to take her away from Richmond forever because the days leading up to finding her had been torture. He never thought he could burn for anyone the way he burned for Charlotte. However, finding her did not put an end to his suffering for Charlotte was expecting him but she had also been keeping a secret from him.

She had been carrying Richmond's child.

By the time he had found her, she had already delivered her baby, a little girl with reddish blond hair called Lilith. Finally he understood why Charlotte had asked him to leave on so many occasions. She had a child to raise, a child he had almost wished was his if it would make her come away with him. Charlotte perhaps having more sense that he, told him to leave and never look back, to forget her because she would have to forget him. He knew it was not that simple and remembered begging her to come with him. He did not care if the child was not his, just as long as its mother was. Yet Charlotte would not be swayed and she even went so far as to tell him that he would be in danger if he remained with her.

He had translated as that being some kind of a threat from Richmond but later on, after he had left her, his keen insight was not as certain as before. He started to believe that Charlotte had secrets that had to do with more than just her being pregnant but he could not fathom what it was. In the end, he had no choice but to leave her when she told him he could not protect her or her baby if they were together. It had hurt him to hear her say that and walking away from her had left an open wound in his heart that had never really faded entirely. Still before he had left he had promised that if she had ever need of him, he would be there.

After she was gone from his life, he had returned to Coruscant, bitter and angry.

He spent the two months drowning inside of a bottle until Crawl came to his rescue by offering him a real job as a bounty hunter and Vin supposed it was a good way as any to forget about Charlotte. Eventually he did of course and she faded into his memories, even though he dreamed about her at night and could sometimes feel her, though he could not understand how that was possible. He did not know how many bounties he had brought in before he gained his fearsome reputation but did not really mind it that much since his infamy proved to be quite useful during his final years in the business.

During those years he tried not to think of Charlotte or how she might have been, aching still because she had asked him to leave her and decided she probably never thought of him at all, except as someone who once made her forget that she was unhappy. But he was wrong. Charlotte Richmond thought about Vin Tanner a lot and she never forgot his promise to help her if she ever needed him.

Unfortunately, others did not forget either.

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