You're not going to believe this (well, those of you who know my work won't), but this is a complete story

You're not going to believe this (well, those of you who know my work won't), but this is a complete story. That's right, it's finished. The setting is approximately seven years before ANH (I'd have to do math to get it exact, and I don't want to do that). I need to thank my wonderful beta reader and great friend Lilah for always giving me great feedback and actually rewriting a few sentences in this (she wrote the really good parts, in case you were wondering). The idea for this story was given to me by Josee, and it's a really great idea, so thanks! Otherwise, my general disclaimers apply—I don't own any of these characters, and please don't reprint this story without my permission. Thanks!

The Stranger

by Starr (with lots of help from Lilah)

"Uncle Owen! Uncle Owen!" Luke Skywalker practically flew into the courtyard of his home, his face flushed and his chest heaving. His uncle's face appeared from the gloom of the garage.

"What?" he barked, before finally glancing at his nephew. "Luke, you're going to overheat. Don't you have any sense? What is it?"

"I found…" Luke paused to gulp in some air. "I found a ship in the desert! There's someone inside it, but I think he's dead!" Instead of rushing to help, as Luke had thought he surely would, Owen turned back to the garage.

"Luke, I don't have time for this. You're too old to be making up stories. Now get back to the perimeter and keep checking the security fences."

"But I'm serious! He's two miles past the perimeter, and he needs help!" That got his attention.

"What were you doing past the perimeter?"

"I…I was looking around with my macros and I saw it." Well, that wasn't entirely true. He'd been exploring and had been somehow drawn to the ship, but his uncle got upset when he acted on his instincts. Besides, he was supposed to be working, not poking around the desert. Uncle Owen glared at him, his eyebrows bunched up suspiciously. Luke felt himself beginning to wither under the piercing gaze. "I was almost done," he finally muttered.

"Luke, you know you're not supposed to leave the farm without asking!"

"I know, but the ship, Uncle Owen! He needs help!"

Owen left the garage, his face darkened with anger. "Luke, if you're lying—"

"I'm not!"

"Fine. Show me."


Luke felt a thrill as he piloted his uncle's speeder out to the ship he'd found. He was going to be a hero! Uncle Owen would be so proud of him. He'd bet his father would have been proud too.

"See there?" He pointed to the gleam on the horizon. "That's it."

Owen made a noise that could have been a laugh. "So it is. And you just found it?"

Luke shifted in his seat uncomfortably. "Yeah," he lied.

As they got closer, however, Owen sat up straighter in his seat. "That's a TIE fighter," he said, sounding almost shocked.

"Really?" This was exciting! TIE fighters were used in battle. Maybe the man inside was a soldier and could tell him about fighting and piloting and everything he couldn't do on Tatooine.

Luke brought the speaker to a stop and led his uncle to the makeshift shelter he'd constructed for the man inside. "See, he's in here. I tried to cover him some, 'cause he's wearing all black and I didn't want him to overheat."

Owen moved the coverings from around the man and jumped back as if he'd been burned. "Sith-hell!" he swore loudly, then began backing away slowly.

Luke frowned. Uncle Owen was never afraid of anything, but he was acting as if he'd seen the Emperor himself. "Uncle Owen?"

"Get in the speeder, Luke."


"Now!" he barked. Luke didn't need to be told twice. He scrambled to the speeder and climbed into the passenger side. Owen sped away from the ship faster than Luke had thought possible.

"Are you just going to leave him there?" Luke asked.

"It doesn't matter. He's dead."

"How do you know? You didn't even check."

"I just know. And it doesn't matter if he isn't—he deserves to be."

"Do you know him?"

Owen shook his head. "Just forget it, Luke. I don't want you going out there anymore."


"I told you to forget it."

The boy sighed and slumped into his seat. "Yes, sir."

Some hero he'd turned out to be.


The rest of the day was tense, to say the least. Owen didn't speak to Luke, unless it was to berate him. Already he'd been forbidden to leave the house. That night, he tossed and turned, but couldn't find sleep. Finally, he sat straight up in bed. "Something," he said softly, "is not right."

That man, whoever he was, wasn't dead. And while he didn't want to know what his uncle would do if he found Luke sneaking out in the middle of the night, he couldn't in good conscience leave anyone out in the desert.

Luke crept silently to the garage and pushed the speeder until he was sure his uncle wouldn't hear the engines. He shivered in the cold of the night, glad he'd remembered to bring his poncho with him, and started the drive to the ship. When he arrived, he stumbled through the sand towards the man, his glowstick casting a woefully inadequate gleam around him. There was no movement to indicate breathing, but the lights on the computer thing on his chest were still on. Though Luke had received survival training, he had no idea what to do with this…thing that almost resembled a droid more than a man. He reached out and touched the man's hand, hoping to discern a pulse.

There was the sudden rasp of a respirator and the man tilted his masked head in Luke's direction. The movement cast pale shadows that resembled…birds of some sort. Or ships, maybe. The boy pulled his hand back, suddenly afraid. This man was much bigger than he'd originally seemed. "Are you alright?" he whispered, unsure of why he didn't, couldn't, speak louder.

"Where am I?" The voice was deep and resonant, shattering the still night. Luke began wishing he'd stayed in bed.

"Just north of Anchorhead. Your ship crashed."

"So it would seem. How long have I been here?"

"I don't know. I found you today. I tried to rig this shelter from the scrap your ship left, because you're wearing all black and…" his voice faltered. "And…" The man seemed to look at him for the first time. His hand shot out to grip Luke's chin, and Luke felt a curious charge of something like electricity running through him. The man must have felt it too, because he pulled his hand away almost immediately.

"Why, you're nothing more than a child! How old are you?"

Luke jutted his chin out defiantly. "Eleven!"

"Do you have a long range com unit?"

"Yeah, at the farm, but…I can't really take you back there. I'm not even supposed to be here."


"My uncle said so. He didn't want me to help you.

"What an inhospitable attitude. Not surprising, on such a wretched planet as this. And who is your uncle? For that matter, who are you, child?"

Luke frowned. He may have been much younger and smaller, but there was no reason for this man to be so rude! All he'd done was try and help him. It wasn't Luke's fault that his uncle was unreasonable about everything. "His name is Owen Lars," Luke said sullenly. "I'm Luke Skywalker."

The man sat up suddenly, startling Luke, who fell back into the sand. "Luke Skywalker?"

"Yeah," Luke grunted, picking himself back up. "Do I…do I know you?" He was focusing on how unhappy he was with this whole situation when a sudden thought occurred to him, making him forget how unpleasant things were turning out to be. "My father was Anakin Skywalker. He was a pilot. Did you know him?"

The man didn't answer for a long time. Luke held his breath, wishing he could see the man's face, to know if he was all right, if he was going to reveal anything. Finally, he spoke, although it was not any sort of answer. "What happened to him?"

"He died. Before I was born."

"Really…" the man mused. "Yes, child, I knew your father."

"You did?" Luke perked up, excited. "What was he like? Tell me about him!"

"Later. First, we must see about getting a communications module."

Luke's eyes widened in exasperated disbelief. There was absolutely no reason for helping this man. All the man had done so far was scare him and get him into trouble. But, still…the black giant knew his father. If Luke's father had been friends with the man, Luke would help him. "I can start sneaking parts out here at night and make you one," Luke said.

"I would be most grateful," the man replied. "I would like to be able to spend time with you."


"Your father was a close friend of mine. I should like to know his son, as he would have. He often… spoke of wanting a child."

"I wish I'd known him," Luke said softly. His father had wanted him? Maybe this man wasn't so bad after all. He began to trace patterns into the sand with the toe of his boot. The wind blew and he shivered, drawing his poncho closer around him.

"You should return to your farm, Luke," the man said gently. "It's getting late."

"I'm okay," Luke declared defiantly.

"I do not doubt your health, boy, but I'm assuming you do not wish your uncle to discover you've gone… exploring at night."

"Oh. I guess not." Luke stood slowly. "What about you? Will you be alright?"

"I can defend myself, I assure you, and I have little need for food or sleep. If you would be so kind as to bring me water every once in a while…"

Luke frowned, thinking. "Water's a little tight right now, but…maybe I can bring you some of mine."

"I do not want you to inconvenience yourself on my behalf, young one."

"Helping you survive isn't an inconvenience!"

The mask tilted slightly, reminding Luke of a quizzical animal. "Thank you."

"Sure," Luke grunted, a little embarrassed by his emotional display. "I'll come back tomorrow night."

"Thank you. I look forward to speaking to you again."

"Oh! I almost forgot! What's your name?"

The man paused before answering. "You may call me Ani."

"Ani?" Luke wrinkled his nose. "But that's a girl's name!"

"It is a nickname," Ani replied darkly.

"I like it," Luke said quickly, not wanting to offend. "Good night, Ani."

"Good night, Luke."

Luke left feeling a little odd about the whole situation. Maybe it was the darkness, or the noise Ani made when he breathed, but there was something…well, something odd about him. He couldn't wait to find out what this stranger, this 'Ani', knew about his father, but right now, sleep was his most pressing need. Luke arrived back at the farm just before the first dawn and went straight to bed.



He woke up slowly, only gradually registering how late it was. With a short cry, he flew out of bed and began to dress. Uncle Owen came storming into his room like an angry bantha.

"What are you doing? Do you have any idea what time it is?"

"I'm sorry!" Luke exclaimed as he hopped around his room trying to pull his boots on. "I didn't mean to—"

"Honestly, Luke, how can I trust you with anything if you won't show any responsibility? You need to be thinking about what you're doing. Your father never did, and look where it got him."

Luke stopped, stood very still, and looked at the ground. "Yes, sir. I'm sorry."

"Just don't let it happen again. You've already lost a good half-hour of work today. Now get back to the perimeter and keep upgrading the security fences. And I don't want you going anywhere past, do you hear me?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. I want you in before dark."

"Before dark? But—"

"No buts. Do it."

Luke sighed. "Yes, sir."


He went through the motions of checking another sensor, but had trouble keeping his eyes open. It wasn't hard work, unless he found one that was broken and had to jury-rig it until he could get parts out there. The jury-rigging helped gather other types of spare parts, however. He took a transmitter here, a coil of wire there, and soon had enough parts to at least start on a com unit. By that time, he'd reached the point on the perimeter where he could almost see the gleam of the wrecked ship on the horizon. There seemed to be an inexorable pull drawing him out there, but he knew he couldn't leave the farm. Not during the day, at least. But he wanted to talk to Ani about his father. Maybe, if he thought really hard, he could talk to him in his head, the way he often pretended to talk to his father in his head. If he squeezed his eyes tight enough, he could see Ani out there, turning Luke's slipshod shelter into something a little more substantial. He pictured himself out there with the older man, helping him work.

'Hi,' he would say. Ani would be surprised to see him, of course, and would say something to that effect.

'Hello, young one. I didn't expect to speak to you this way.'

Now that shocked Luke just a bit. He didn't expect Ani to say that, and he didn't expect to be able to hear his voice so clearly. Well, he had been up most of the night, and it was harder to keep his mind from wandering when he was tired. Yes, that was it. Exhaustion had sparked his imagination.

At any rate, the mental conversation, real or not, would help keep him awake and so Luke played along, pretending to answer 'Ani.' 'I've been salvaging parts from the transmitters all day. At this rate, I could have the com unit finished in a couple of days.'

'Excellent. You are quite skilled with mechanics, aren't you?'

Luke blushed. He was being foolish, he knew, but…it was so rare that he got praised for anything, that even compliments invented in his head pleased him. 'I guess.'

'Your father was a fair mechanic as well.'

'Really?' That didn't make any sense. Well, the fact that his father had been a mechanic made sense, he supposed, but where had it come from? As far as he could tell, he had no control over the direction of this daydream, and he had no idea why he would invent information like that.

'Yes, and an excellent pilot.'

'I'm a pilot!'

'As I thought. You even look like your father did at your age.' That made even less sense than the mechanic bit! There was absolutely no way for him to know what his father looked like. It was always nice to imagine, though.

Luke bit his lip, afraid to broach the next subject. There was nothing to be afraid of, he knew. This was all in his head anyway. 'How did my father die?'

'Not now, Luke. I will tell you what happened someday, I promise. When I leave, I will tell you. Now, I think you should get back to work before you fall too far behind schedule.'

Of course. That was what he'd expected. He'd been trying to find out how his father had died for years—why should he expect his sun-baked brains to invent anything new? It was time to end this "conversation" anyway. Next, Ani would say…

'Will you come tonight?'

'Sure. I've gotta get started on this com unit.'

'I look forward to seeing you.'

'Really? Why?'

'Because you remind me of your father.'

Luke smiled. 'Thanks.'


He waited as long as he could that night, until he was sure his uncle was asleep, then stole silently out of the house into the chill of the night. He was surprised to find that Ani indeed had turned Luke's pile of scrap into an actual shelter, just as he had imagined earlier.

"Is something wrong?"

Luke looked up, startled. "Huh?"

"You looked perplexed."

"Oh, I…it's nothing." He shrugged, trying to look relaxed, and began unloading the parts he'd hidden in the speeder's storage compartment. "I think I've got enough here to get a pretty good start. Actually, it looks like there's only a few things I'm missing."

"I'm glad to hear it." Ani sat in the sand beside him and watched as he began piecing things together. "Although I enjoy my time with you, Tatooine is not a planet I am fond of."

"You and me both," Luke muttered as he twisted two wires together. "Are you a pilot?"

"Yes, I suppose you could say that," Ani said, sounding surprised at the question.

"But you're in the Imperial Navy, aren't you?" He gestured at the wreck nearby. "I mean, didn't that used to be a TIE Fighter?"

"Yes, it did. I'm not a pilot for the navy, actually. I suppose you could call me a commander of sorts."

"What does that mean?"

"I'm not in the navy, but I command it."

"So, basically, you can give orders, but you don't have to take them from anybody?"


"I wish things worked like that with me. I could tell Uncle Owen I was going to be a pilot and he couldn't stop me."

"Perhaps someday things will be that way for you, young one."

Luke laughed. "Not likely. He probably won't even ever let me leave the farm."

"I doubt he'll have a choice."

"It'd be nice," Luke said. "I hate farming, but I've always wanted to be a pilot. Do you have your own ship?"

"I do."

"What's it like?"

"It's rather large. I prefer my personal fighter, however."

"I wish I could see it."

"Perhaps you will someday."

"Sure. Someday." He worked in silence for a few more minutes, feeling Ani's gaze on him the entire time. Finally, he could stand it no longer. "Tell me something about my father," he said, then quickly added, "please."

"Many years ago," Ani began after a short pause, "your father was good friends with your uncle's brother, Ben. Your father never liked Owen, however, and given the choice, would have given you to me to raise. As a matter of fact, Owen is not even your real uncle."

Luke stopped working and looked up suddenly. "He's not?"


He frowned and returned to his work quickly, hoping Ani wouldn't see the conflict in his eyes. If he wasn't family, wasn't he a burden? And if he was a burden, wasn't he free to leave? Or did he owe his aunt and uncle for raising him? Did that mean he had to stay? "Are you sure?" he finally asked, trying to sound nonchalant.

"Have you ever asked Owen exactly how he's related to you?"

"No. It's never come up."

"If Owen were, in fact, your father's brother, as he claims, wouldn't you be Luke Lars? If they were brothers, they would share a family name."

"I never really thought of that. I guess…he could be my mother's brother, couldn't he?" For some reason, this idea was vaguely distasteful to Luke. He dreamed of his heroic father all the time, but his mother was simply this pure, angelic figure that he could never quite see. The thought of her connected to someone as awful as Uncle Owen just wasn't right.

"Owen, related to your mother? Owen never even met your mother. He wouldn't know how to respond to someone like her."

Luke nodded. "Good," he said softly. "But…if that's true, then I have no family." This changed everything. It made him a completely different person.

"I would hardly put it that way, child." Ani reached a hand for him, but Luke shied away without really knowing why.

"No, it's true. I have no one," he said.

"And are under no obligation to stay here anymore." Luke looked up. Obligation? What was he talking about? "Luke, you know your father wanted to keep you more than anything in the world. It's not too late."

"No," Luke said, suddenly scared. "No, my home is here. I have to stay. I have to—"

"Stay for what? A man who doesn't love you and never will? A man who resents having to provide for you, Luke? You need a father."

"My father died," Luke said softly. It was the only answer he could give. He stood abruptly. "Look, the unit's almost done. If you've got some sort of radio that's salvageable in your fighter, you can probably finish it yourself tonight. I've gotta get back before the suns come up."

Ani stood as well, but didn't approach him. "Thank you, Luke. I apologize for upsetting you."

"You didn't upset me," Luke lied. "Don't worry about it. It's just…I know you're going to leave soon, and I—"

"I will leave tomorrow, if I can."

Luke looked at the ground, willing himself to be strong. "I wish you wouldn't," he whispered.

"I must," Ani said firmly. "My offer still stands."

"Your offer?"

"I think you understand me, Luke."

Luke gulped, wishing, for some strange reason, that he didn't. "I know. I just…"

Ani nodded in acceptance, but Luke got the oddest feeling that he was just a little bit sad. "Perhaps you will at least come to me tomorrow, that I might say goodbye properly?"

"I'll try," Luke said. As he was leaving, he thought he heard Ani's voice in his head. 'I will not lose you again, little one. You will return to me.'

Luke stopped and twisted his head around "Did you…" he frowned. "Did you say something?"


"I thought I heard you..." Luke glanced around the dune, blinking back tears as a sudden gust of wind whipped sand in his eyes. "Never mind."

"It's getting very late, Luke," said the dark behemoth before him. "Perhaps you should get to bed."

"Yeah," Luke said, shivering slightly in the desert night chill. "Goodnight."


Luke worked very slowly the next day, despite Uncle Owen's stern reminder that there'd be hell to pay if he didn't finish the security upgrades. It wasn't just that he was tired—he couldn't shake the feeling that he was making a mistake no matter what he did. He might not have been bound to the farm anymore, but his aunt and uncle raised him. He couldn't just leave them. Still, this was every boy's dream – to go off in a ship and see the stars. It was an adventure. He couldn't expect Ani to actually love him like a father, but maybe he would at least be nicer to him than Uncle Owen was. Around early afternoon, it all finally became too much to think about, and he curled up in the seat of the speeder to rest.

He fell asleep without meaning to, and dreamed of his father, as was usually the case. In his dream, they were walking across the desert. His father had one arm around him and Luke was heart was filled with joy. Soon, they came to a ship, and as the ramp lowered, Ani was there, walking down it. Somehow Luke knew that under that fierce mask, Ani was smiling. He held a hand out to Luke. The boy looked at his father for direction, and his father smiled and nodded at Luke to accept Ani's outstretched hand. When the boy had reached Ani's side, his father was there, taking the man's other hand. The moment his father and Ani touched, there was a strange shimmering in the air and they seemed to merge, becoming one, until only Ani remained. Luke looked up at him, somehow knowing what he was supposed to say.

"It's you, isn't it?"



The boy groaned. Why was he always woken up this way? Before he was even really aware though, hands had gripped his tunic and hauled him out of the speeder and thrown him into the sand. "What—Uncle Owen!"

"What have you been doing to the security terminals?"

"I…I was fixing them." He scrambled back to his feet and brushed the sand from his clothes and hair.

"Then where are all the spare parts? Have you been stealing?"

"What? Uncle Owen, no!"

"Dammit, Luke, do you have any idea what you've done? Honestly, it's a damn good thing you're father's not around to see what sort of child you are."

"Shut up!" Luke cried angrily. "You can't talk about him like that! You're not even my real uncle, are you?"

He was flat on his back before he even knew what had happened, but he could feel the burning imprint of Owen's hand on his face. He blinked away angry, humiliated tears and started to roll away, but Owen advanced on him slowly, his voice low and his face a brilliant shade of red. "Who told you that?"

"No one. I was just—"

"Did you go back out to that wreck?"

"No, I—"

"I should have killed him when I had the chance," Owen swore.

"Uncle Owen, no!"

"Luke, you have no idea of what you've gotten yourself into."

Luke struggled to his feet again and began to back away from the furious man. "I don't care. At least he actually talks to me!"

Uncle Owen's face, if possible, became even more deeply mottled with rage. "He's awake now?"

Luke froze, suddenly aware of what he'd just said. "I…" Owen grabbed his arm and thrust Luke forcibly into the speeder. "What are you doing?"

"We're going out there. And you're going to watch me do what I should have done the first time."

"No! Uncle Owen, please! He's not as bad as you think he is!"

Owen laughed harshly. A deep, cruel sound in the back of his throat. "Luke, you have NO idea what sort of man he is! What lies has he been telling you?"

"Nothing!" His uncle took his arm again and began to squeeze it painfully.

Luke gasped and tried to twist away. "You're hurting me! Stop it!" he cried.

Owen didn't stop, though. "He said he knew my father, all right! So how is that a lie? You won't tell me anything about him, and he will." Owen threw his arm away in disgust and began to speed towards the wreck.

"Uncle Owen—"

"Quiet, Luke," Owen snapped. With one hand still driving, the man drew his blaster and glanced at the power cells, apparently making sure they were changed.

Luke began to panic. There was obviously more to Ani than met the eye, but Luke was certain that it was nothing bad. He couldn't let Uncle Owen do this. And, on top of all that, he wasn't sure what his uncle was capable of when he was angry.

'Ani, I need help!' Luke thought desperately, not knowing where exactly to send the thought, but trusting that it would be heard. Ani's voice came back to him as clearly as if the man was in the speeder.

'What's wrong? Where are you?'

'We're on our way out to you—Uncle Owen and me. I don't know what he's going to do! Is your ship there?'

'Yes, I have a shuttle here.'

'Leave, then! Get out before we get there!'

'No, Luke. I will not leave without you.'

'But he's got a blaster!'

'Blasters do not concern me, young one. Do not fear for me.'


'I will be fine. Trust me, Luke. But whatever I do, you must not fight me.'

'What do you mean? I don't understand!'

'You must trust me.'

Luke felt Uncle Owen's eyes boring into him and he broke the communication off, turning his attention back to his uncle. "What?" Owen just shook his head and returned to driving.

Luke concentrated on lowering his steadily rising level of panic, but they soon saw the glint of a large shuttle in the distance.

"Kreth," Owen cursed. "He's probably got troopers out there."

"He doesn't," Luke said softly. He wasn't sure how he knew, he only knew that Ani was alone, and that he wanted Luke and Owen to come to him.

"How do you know?" Owen snapped.

Luke turned his face away from his uncle's fierce glare. It was best not to tell the truth now. "He just…he told me. He said he didn't keep troopers on his shuttle." Well, that could have been the truth. Obviously, Uncle Owen didn't buy the lie, but they were too close for him to do anything about it. Owen stopped the speeder.

"Come on," he said darkly. Once Luke was out of the vehicle, Owen twisted his hand into Luke's collar, taking it in a firm grip, before practically dragging the boy towards the shuttle. Luke clenched his teeth, determined not to let his uncle know that he was scared and in pain.

When they reached the crash site, the shuttle stood open, but Ani was nowhere to be seen. Luke looked around fearfully, knowing that the man was there somewhere.

"Vader!" Owen shouted, his blaster already drawn. Vader?


"Quiet," his uncle cut him off.

Please, leave, Luke prayed silently. There was no answer.

"I know you're here," Owen said loudly. "And I know what you want." Abruptly, he pulled Luke closer to him and put his blaster to Luke's head. "If you don't come out here now, I'll kill him."

Luke froze, too terrified to move. Something in his uncle had changed. Luke knew he wasn't bluffing. He held his breath, not wanting to do anything to alarm this dangerous man beside him, this sudden stranger. Ani would save him. He must.

Ani appeared at the top of the shuttle ramp. "I wouldn't recommend it, Owen," he said, his voice cold and just as dangerous.

Owen gripped Luke even tighter, digging the blaster painfully into his scalp. Luke shut his eyes and concentrated on holding very, very still. He was breathing too fast, he knew that, but he couldn't seem to stop. Everything was spinning – the ground, his body, Uncle Owen – the only thing that didn't was the strange, cold pressure against his head. It never wavered.

He heard Owen's voice, unnaturally loud in his ear. "Don't come any closer, Vader."

"What are you going to do, Owen? You're not going to kill him."

"I won't let you take him," his former uncle declared.

"You can't stop me."

Luke felt it coming before it actually happened. He squeezed his eyes tighter, as if that would make it hurt less and then he heard it.


Luke exhaled. Opened his eyes. The blaster hadn't gone off. It should have – by all rights, he should be dead now – but it hadn't and he wasn't.

Owen snarled and threw Luke to the sand. Luke hit ground hard, rolled, and began to scramble away blindly, not caring where he went, so long as it was AWAY.

There was a dull thud behind him and, despite himself, he turned to see the man he had considered to be his uncle, his family for elevan years, with his head twisted at an unnatural angle, his eyes staring sightlessly at the desert sky, and with his mouth open in what could have been surprise. And very, very dead.

Luke's stomach lurched and he turned to run, to flee from this awful place. Strong hands caught his shoulders, halting him, and over the gibbering terror in his mind, he heard Ani's voice trying to calm him.

"Luke, it's all right. Calm down, Luke. It's over." With a sob, Luke threw himself into the man's arms. He knew he was too old for it, but he cried anyway, too shaken and scared to stop. Ani held him close until the boy's sobs had subsided. "Come on," he said gently, leading Luke away by the hand. "It's time to go."

Luke sniffed, trying to clear his head. "Where?" he asked, his voice shaky.

"You're coming home with me."

Luke spared another look at Owen's body and shuddered. "But…what about my aunt?"

"She'll be provided for. I promise you. I won't let you be parted from me anymore."

Luke stopped Ani with a tug of the hand. "Wait. I had a dream about you last night. What did it mean?" he asked, trusting that Ani would know what he was talking about.

"I think you know what it meant, Luke."

The boy took a breath, unable to comprehend the implications of what he was hearing. "Then…you are my father…" He grasped at straws of his fragmented thoughts. "But…why didn't you tell me before? Why did you lie to me?"

Ani knelt in front of Luke. "I didn't want to lie, Luke, but I had to. I knew Owen would kill you rather than let me take you and until today I had no way of leaving. You were never in any danger when I was with you. When you were at home, I had less control over your… over him."

Luke nodded. The reasoning made sense, of course, but it couldn't stopper the well of hurt and confusion rising inside of him.

He craned his head around, and could see the edge of his uncle's legs in his peripheral vision. Luke trembled. He didn't want to see any more. "Why did you—" His throat closed and then he couldn't say anything more.

"I did what I had to do," Ani said simply. He rose to his full height and took Luke's hand again. "It's time to leave, Luke."

Luke closed his eyes once, then looked up at his father and nodded, trying to be brave. He allowed himself to be led into the passenger compartment of the shuttle and tucked into a bunk. He was asleep before preflight was over, his energy completely drained. When the shuttle took off, carrying yet another Skywalker away from Tatooine, the only thing that remained of Darth Vader's short visit to his home planet was a single lifeless body in the sand.