Previously published "Shadowstar" 24 1987 - revised and slightly updated 2004.
A warm, gentle Tatooine breeze tugged at his hair and clothing as he sat, still and alone, in the landspeeder. He closed his eyes, tilted his head upwards and let the warmth of the suns brush his face. Even with them shut he could make out the images of the binary stars, twins that were born together and would die together, taking with them the life they had helped create on this arid world.
He opened his eyes to finally gaze upon the real reason he had returned. Anchorhead. The town was just as he remembered; the streets were as empty as before, as silent as before, and run down as before. They were still narrow, still colourless; sand still drifted into piles of yellow against any stationary object, and he still wondered why anyone would want to settle here.
A fly lighted on his nose and, with a smile, he gently brushed it off. It buzzed angrily, fiercely, insistently around his head. Then, abruptly, as though it had made its point to this large invading creature, it gave up the assault to meander, zig-zagging away down the street.
Home. The word sent a thrill of anticipation and dread through his soul. He was home. It conjured images out of the storing crates of his mind; the pictures from the past played a crazy holofilm for his inner eyes, one seeming to lack plot or reason. He saw himself as a boy running helter-skelter along this very road and screaming at the top of his lungs as he chased his friends during a mock battle. Then, older, he was with his dearest friend, talking about matters that concerned them and a whole galaxy. If only then he had had the knowledge he had now, that friendship might never have met with such a violent end.
A dog barked somewhere nearby and he shook himself, trying to pull his thoughts away from the past, tried to re-direct them to the present - but he failed. The past was the present, for now. That was why he was back, for the second time, on a planet to which, five years ago, he had vowed he would never return. A second visit to the planet, but his first to this area. He was back to review his past, to see the way to his future, for he felt in his soul that he had left something unresolved here, something that held him fast to this baked rock, something that had reached out, grabbed hold, and dragged him back.
Slowly, deliberately, he pushed open the speeder's throttle, allowing it to cruise along the street as he watched for the one building he wanted to visit. He saw it as soon as he turned the corner. Tosche Station, the only place where the young of Anchorhead could hang out, the only place where anything of any worth happened. He brought the vehicle to a halt and let the engine-whine die as he surveyed the lines of the structure. It was long and low; power cables and useless bits of twisted wire collected around the swing door, creating a sharp, jagged welcome mat. The walls were as crumbled as any other local building; sand clung here in the same annoying way. A ring - the sound of metal hammering against metal - resounded in the clean empty air, catching his attention. With eager, almost childlike excitement and urgency, he climbed from the speeder, then stood listening to the first sign of human habitation he had heard thus far.
Keeping his emotions in check, he pushed open the door and entered the garage area. The hammering was louder here, and he looked around curiously, searching for the one who was creating the noise. He let the door flap back and stepped further into the room, his boots scraping on familiar concrete. The hammering ceased and a inquiring head popped out from under a stricken farm vehicle. The mechanic squinted at the dark figure, himself looking at home among the crates of parts, broken droids, and general clutter. He pulled himself out from under the vehicle, glad of a short rest from work.
"Can I help you?" he asked as he laid down his tools on the work bench.
"I hope so." The stranger spoke with a diluted local accent. "I'm looking for the Fixer. Is he here?"
"He's left?" Disappointment was heavy in the inquiry.
"Nope. But you won't find him in here. No, sir, not anymore." The mechanic moved for a closer look at the stranger. He noted the plain black pants and tunic, the dark blonde hair and blue eyes. The man was familiar. "What do you want with Fi..." He cut himself short and stared in surprise at his visitor. "Skywalker?" he asked, unnecessarily.
Luke nodded, smiling, asking himself why it had taken so long for him to recognise Windy's younger brother.
"Wow!" the teenager breathed, admiring the cut of Luke's uniform. "Have we heard some tales about you!"
"Not all bad, I hope?" The Jedi smiled, tried to push down his feelings of urgency. He couldn't let this youngster hold him back - maybe later, but not now. He kept his voice light but firm. "What happened to Fixer?" The boy's face fell, and Luke knew, with a little regret, that he had hurt the boy's feelings.
"He got taken up for gamblin' debts by the Hutt," the youth mumbled. "Fix didn't have the money, so Jabba took 'is hands instead."
Luke's right hand flexed in sympathy.
"An' times being what they were for 'im - an' everyone else, come to think of it - he couldn't afford medical bills, so he gave up work an' took me on." He stopped his short narrative and returned to his tasks. "If you really want to see 'im, he'll be in the games room."
Luke smiled gratefully. "Thanks..." He fell short, unable to recall the boy's name. Instead, he said. "Say 'hi' to Windy for me."
The mechanic kept his back to the Jedi as he spoke quietly. "Windy's dead."
Another shock. Another friend lost. "I'm sorry," was all he could offer. With saddened heart, he watched the youth slide under the vehicle and resume hammering. Then, Luke turned to the short corridor that lead to the games room, the place in which he had spent so many stolen hours, and he remembered the last time he had run up this concrete walkway.
"Hey! Hey, you guys!"
Such excitement, such innocence. Innocence that would die a few days later as he became embroiled in a war.
Laughter, muffled by the closed door, floated to his ears and lifted his heart a little from the depths into which it had been sinking. How many were left? Had they changed? Or had they remained unaltered, like the town? His eagerness returned and he pushed open the door. Immediately, there was silence as the two occupants turned to stare.
Luke attempted to break the quiet before it grew embarrassingly heavy. "I'm sure I saw a space battle."
The recognition was instant, but there was no enthusiastic welcome. Instead, Fixer glanced away, leaving only Deak to stare in drop-jawed wonder. Luke now felt awkward, out of place, which was not unusual for him here. The feeling was strong and he suddenly felt like a very young Luke Skywalker who had just said something incredibly stupid.
"Somehow, I expected a better welcome," he admitted. He didn't know whether he was addressing Fixer or Deak."
Fixer responded, turning to him. "A hero's welcome, Skywalker?" he rasped contemptuously. "You disappear for five years, forget about us, and suddenly return expecting us to roll out the carpets? Get lost!"
"Easy, Fix." Deak recovered from his surprise to lay a steadying hand on his friend's arm. He faced Luke. "Ignore him, Sky; he's still feeling sorry for himself."
"What'd you come back for anyway?" Fixer continued, throwing off Deak's hand. "To gloat over our misfortune and your new-found prestige?"
"No," Luke spoke softly, surprised to find that Fixer's comments no longer hurt. He felt sorry for the ex-mechanic. "I came back to see my friends."
"Friends?" Fixer drawled, making a play of looking around the room. "What friends? I don't see no friends."
Deak flushed with embarrassment for him; Fixer was drunk and not in the best of moods. "It's different now," he tried to explain to Luke. "Things have happened here, not just with the Empire."
"I know," Skywalker sat on the games table, the one he'd spilt milk on during a vital game between Fixer and Biggs. "I was told all about the Hutt." Fixer glared at him. "And I understand, Fix. I know what you're feeling."
The older man softened a little; there was something about Skywalker's voice... "How do you know how I feel?"
Both he and Deak watched as Luke rolled up the sleeve of his uniform, as he gently prised "skin" away from his wrist; they watched - Fixer with increasing shame - as he exposed the mechanism of a cybernetic hand.
He smiled, wanting to ease their discomfort. "I lost it during a battle. At first I thought I'd never fly again, thought maybe I couldn't be the Jedi Knight I wanted to be, without it. I was luckier than you, Fix; I got the proper medical treatment. But you never do get used to it. You just learn to accept it." He was quiet for a while, staring at the wires and plastic that attempted to pass as nerves and flesh. Fixer knew from Skywalker's expression that the Jedi was doing as he had done countless times during every day since his injury: remembering the exact moment of pain, remembering the sudden realisation of the loss and trying to picture the appendage lying in the dirt somewhere, festering and rotting prematurely.
Luke drew himself back and closed off his wrist. He glanced back at his friends. "Can we start this over again?" he asked hopefully.
Fixer nodded, feeling for the first time a kinship with the younger man. Luke had changed in more ways than he could imagine. The annoying little nerf who pestered and whined had grown into a better than himself, and Fixer felt admiration replace his earlier contempt. Luke had suffered losses greater than that of his hand; that was clear to anyone, and yet he still stood strong. That required a special courage, one which Fixer could never have and never understand.
"There's a beer in the cooler if you want one, Sky." Deak's voice echoed the mechanic's admiration.
"Thanks," Luke deliberately dropped his role of Jedi Knight in favour of one he hadn't played for five years, the role of farm kid. He collected three cartons and passed them around before dropping into a nearby chair. Fixer lifted his arm, allowing Luke to view his own good fortune. In place of his hand, Fixer had a crudely-fashioned grasping device, which was fastened to his stumped by leather straps. He watched as Deak opened Fixer's drink and placed it into the homemade claw. Luke opened his own carton and took a long draught of the cool bitter liquid. he wiped the froth from his upper lip and set down the container. He was the first with a question. "Where is everyone? It's not usually this quiet here."
Deak downed most of his drink before answering. "Everyone drifted off after Biggs left for wherever and you left for the Rebellion. Tank turned up a little while after that, and announced his assignment to the Star Destroyer Executor..."
Luke was incredulous. Tank on Vader's ship!
"...Windy heard about you on the broadcasts an' figured if you could join the Rebs, then so could he. Imps shot him in Mos Eisley. Biggs little brother and sister went to stay with relatives on the other side of Mos Espa after their parents were killed, and Camie's around here somewhere."
"I'm almost sorry I asked." More deaths, more lost friends. Luke gently squeezed his beer carton. "I've got more bad news. Biggs joined the Alliance just before I did. He was killed above Yavin while protecting me."
"Happy endings," Fixer mumbled into his cup. "Ain't no such thing. Hell, this is some homecoming for you, Luke."
"At least you, Deak and Camie are still here." Luke fought to brighten the conversation. There had been enough talk of death.
"Only some of me." The mechanic swept the empty beer containers to the floor with his arm. "And there's not a lot I can do anymore, except sit back and be fed like a babe." His self-pity had returned.
Luke slumped back into his seat and studied his friend, trying to gauge Fixer's reaction to what he was about to propose. "You could do a lot for the Alliance. We could use men like you." He could see he had caught Fixer's attention. Deak, also interested, listened in.
Luke continued., pleased that he hadn't been met with an argument, so far. "I know you can't afford medical fees, but we can cover that. You can have cybernetics like mine fitted, and you become a mechanic for us."
Fixer's eyes narrowed, suspicious. "What, me join the Alliance?"
"Oh, no, uh-uh, not me!" Fixer shook his head. "I don't want a uniform. I don't like being ordered around. You know that."
"You don't have to be in the military, Fix. You're a great mechanic, and we have lots of civilians working for us now." He grinned. "And the added bonuses are a regular wage, a place to live and no Empire to hassle us, now. What do you say?"
"Well... I don't know." Fixer contemplated the offer, wondering if Luke had acquired new persuasive powers with his maturity. He could almost see himself off-planet somewhere, with Camie. A new life. Luke made it sound too easy. He glanced at Skywalker again. Was there a catch? Luke shook his head, as if answering his silent question. "Give me time, Luke. I'll have to talk it over with Camie."
"Talk what over with Camie?" asked a female voice from the doorway.
Luke turned in his chair and his eyes widened as he beheld Anchorhead's only beauty. Her black hair curled softly, framing a fresh face once hidden with make-up; her skin was lightly tanned. She was wearing a blue cotton dress that matched the colour of her eyes and did little to hide her curves. She rested one hand on her hip as she waited for her question to be answered. Then, she noticed Luke's stare and her curiosity was replaced by surprise.
"Wormie!" she gasped, slowly drawing her eyes up and down his Jedi uniform as he rose from his seat to greet her.
"Hello, Camie." Again he was the clumsy, awkward, easily embarrassed boy.
She crossed the room for a closer look. "I'm wrong," she smiled as she quickly planted a kiss on his cheek. "You're not a worm anymore. It's good to see you again, Luke." She sat beside Fixer, not taking her eyes from the returning hero. "I suppose they've given you all the news."
Luke returned to his chair. "Yes, it's been..."
"Hey, let's not get depressed again," Deak interrupted, going for another beer. "Luke's offered Fix a job with the Rebel... the Alliance." He grinned at Luke, shrugging at his slip.
"A job? What kinda job?" Camie's face lit up. Was Fixer finally going to put the dead Hutt behind him and get on with his life?
"Mechanic," Fixer told her, feeling enthusiasm, but determined not to get carried away. "I told him I need time to think and talk it over with you."
Gratitude shone in Camie's face as she turned to Skywalker. "Thanks, Luke, he'll take it."
"Hey, I never..."
"Shut it, Fix."
They all laughed at his "hen-pecked" expression.
"Are you staying long, Luke?" Camie asked. "Then we can talk it through and give you a definite answer. Make arrangements."
"I don't know," Luke confessed, then hinted. "It depends if I can get someone to put me up for a few days." He was bewildered when they all exchanged glances with one another.
"You ain't been out to your farm?" Deak asked, slowly.
Luke face both softened and saddened. "No, not since the Imperials hit the place."
Camie reached over, touching his arm, trying to comfort him, as though she knew of the pain and guilt he felt. "I think you should go out there, Luke. There's... there's something you should see."
"What?" He was confused. Knowledge he felt he should have in his grasp swam teasingly beyond his reach.
"Just go," she told him firmly. "We'll see you again tomorrow. Perhaps by then, Fix and I'll be able to tell you for sure. And we can swap stories. I'm sure you've got a lot to tell us."
Luke replayed the short reunion through his mind as his landspeeder swept across the open sand plains. For some reason he couldn't understand, he had the throttle fully open. Was he in a hurry to see a burnt derelict or to experience once more the grief, hate, anger and fear he had experienced at the mindless murders of his guardians?
"That would lead them back... home!"
Imagined horror scenes bursting into his mind.
Imagined relief as he arrived to save them.
Despite his racing thoughts during his flight home, despite all his preparations for the worst, nothing could prevent disbelief from crawling over him. He slowed the speeder, bringing it to a quick halt. Almost reluctantly, he pulled himself from the vehicle. He ran a few steps toward the burning dwelling.
No answer apart from crackling flames.
There... He slowed, stunned. Unconsciously, without taking his eyes from the charred, bloodied skeletons lying in grotesque positions by the side of the dome, he took three slow steps forward then stopped, not wanting to view them any closer. He swallowed hard, glancing away to deny the truth, but his eyes were drawn back, unwillingly, to look upon his first loss in a struggle against the Empire...
He been a coward at that moment. He'd been the lost child in the dark crying for some comfort but who never got an answer. He'd buried them where they lay, piling sand and debris over the remains, choking on their stench as his grief wracked him, too afraid to touch their bones, to afraid to touch their deaths. Then he'd ran.
On his way back to Obi-Wan and the droids, he experienced an overwhelming sense of relief. He hadn't been there; he was still alive, he could feel the suns on his back, he wasn't lying twisted among the ruins of his home. Relief. Then guilt. Guilt that still, after all these years, after all that had happened to him, came back at quiet moments to nag at him, accuse him, scorn him.
That should have been you, Skywalker...
Why had they been so insistent he come here? Couldn't they see he didn't want to return to his home? He frowned at his thoughts. If he didn't want to go to the farm, then why was he on his way there now? He shook his head, confused. He wanted, and yet he didn't want.
Familiar territory caused him to slow his speed. Gradually, the farm grew on the horizon. With effort, Luke pushed away the images from the past and steeled himself for what he knew he would soon be seeing.
As on that terrible day, he was not ready for the sight that filled his sight and mind. The farm dome was clean, showing no hint of smoke damage. A landspeeder sparkled in the brilliant sunslight, speaking of its newness. As he drew nearer, he spotted soil boxes positioned near the doorway, in the same place where his aunt and uncle had lain. Flowers of red, orange and blue bloomed in these beds, despite the blistering heat. The entire area was clear; there were no ruins, no scorch marks in the sand, no smell of discarded death.
He parked his speeder a few yards from the dome and climbed out as the engine died. Puzzled, he glanced all around him; then a distant hum caught his attention. He turned on his heel to stare across the sand at the tall white structures that dotted the plains - the vaporators were working again! Anger began to grow, replacing his confusion. Someone had taken over his home, his uncle's farm, had dug up his guardians' bodies and...
Jealousy Luke? Does it really matter to you that someone has taken this place and made it their own?
Cautiously, curiously he stepped over to the rim of the courtyard and looked down. It was as though he had just stepped into his past. It was the same; nothing had changed. It was as neat as his aunt always kept it and more flowers grew in little boxes. The whiteness of his childhood was all too apparent, and an ache built in his chest. Silently, he spoke his baby cry to his aunt. "Aunt Beru, I hurt." Sand, swirling around his ankles, was his only comfort.
He turned to leave, not wanting to reveal his presence to these strangers. He didn't want them to feel threatened by a former tenant. Besides, it wasn't his home, anymore.
Singing, coming from the living area, stopped him; a woman's voice that rose and fell with the familiar tune like the famous Tatooine winds. He waited nervously for someone to appear, but he remained alone in the baking suns with only the song for company. He glanced over at the dome and trod on his caution. He wanted to see the place; after all, he did used to live here, and if these people were anything like typical farmers, they would make him feel welcome.
His boots scrapped on the steps as he descended into the courtyard. Adrenaline rushed to his heart, causing it to pound madly in his chest, and a strange sensation passed over his mind. He brushed it off, not wanting to see the future before it became the present. He crossed the atrium in quick strides. The singing was louder here, and, as Luke neared, he could see a woman in traditional Tatooine farm clothing tidying the small family room. Her back was to him as she bent to pick up a holobook from the floor. He stepped into the doorway casting a shadow over her.
Abruptly, her singing ceased. She swirled about in surprise to face the intruder. She dropped the book she had been clutching as she recognised her visitor and saw her recognition echoed in his blue eyes. "Luke." She whispered the name. "Luke!" She cried his name as she ran across the few steps between them and wrapped her arms around him, crying, laughing, sobbing.
Emotion loosed itself from Luke's control and ran wild in his soul, causing a storm to rage in his mind. But, unlike the hatred, rage and aggression he had experienced on the Death Star, this was but one emotion: love. Love as he folded his arms about this special woman whom he had thought would never hug him again.
"Aunt Beru!" He cried, unashamedly, relishing the sound of the words. He tightened his grip. How had this miracle happened? "I thought you were dead!"
"It wasn't us, Luke. It was a mistake. We weren't here; we'd gone looking for you." She gently broke free and held him at arm's length, appraising the nephew she hadn't seen for five years. He wasn't the gangly youth she remembered. That Luke Skywalker was gone, and in his place stood a proud Jedi Knight, and a handsome one. She smiled at him, so like his father and so unlike him. But his features were marred by years of war: a small scar traced a thin line from his top lip; tiny wrinkles, unusual in a twenty-three year old, creased the skin around his eyes and on his brow. And his eyes, once shallow pools, were many fathoms deep - but depth did not hide the pain, and Beru knew Luke had suffered. She knew because she had been a part of his past. She reached up and brushed a lock of hair from those eyes. It was darker now, no longer sun-bleached blonde.
"Then, who... died?" A mere mistake had caused him to leave, to run from home? A mistake had propelled him across a galaxy? A mistake had given him everything he now had? Or had it been a mistake...?
Beru sat him down, sitting across from him, keeping a hold of his hands. "It was Biggs' parents."
Luke was stunned. "Huff and Laval?" Children were to be left orphaned so that he could follow his destiny.
"When you didn't come back from the south ridge, we were worried," Beru explained. "Owen knew from what you had said the night before that you'd go to Ben Kenobi with those droids. He thought you might leave with him, and so we set out to stop you. Owen wanted to warn you against the knighthood because of what happened to your father, and I went along to soften the blow, to try and keep Owen and Obi-Wan from fighting over you." She paused to look at him again, hardly believing he was home. He smiled back, feeling the same.
She continued. "No one was around at Ben's, and there was no sign that you'd been there. So we came home and found it the way the Imperials had left it." Tears - ones of grief, not joy - came to her eyes. "We'd forgotten that the Darklighters were coming to speak to your uncle about the coming harvest. We went to Anchorhead and were told that the Stormtroopers had been asking for us, apparently trying to find those two droids. When we still couldn't find you, we didn't know if they'd picked you up or if you'd gone away with Ben." She sighed heavily, remembering her worry. "Then a few months later, we heard that you'd been declared an Enemy of the Empire. Your Uncle was furious!" They laughed, and it sounded good to both. "We wanted you to come back so we could explain everything to you, but we didn't know how to contact you and didn't want to risk increasing your danger by trying. I'm so sorry, Luke."
"Don't be," he kept his voice low, wanting to reassure her. "Obi-Wan told me everything about my father." He lied, hoping she wouldn't see through him like she used to.
Her fingers tightened on his right hand. "But not before damage was done." She felt him stiffen and saw his surprise and distress. "Cybernetics will never be completely disguised, Luke, and your aunt's not a fool," she chided him kindly. "Oh, we made many mistakes with you and your sister - especially with you."
"You knew I had a sister? You knew about Leia?"
Despite his words, Beru knew he was really asking, "why wasn't I told?"
She chose to answer his spoken question. "Obi-Wan told us about your birth, and about a twin sister, but not her identity. Said she was safe elsewhere with Padme, your mother. He told us what had happened to Anakin, why we had to protect you."
"You knew he was Vader?"
Beru nodded, sadly. "That's why Owen lied to you about him. He was afraid of his step-brother. Afraid he would come back, afraid he would find you."
"He did, eventually," Luke told her quietly, remembering Bespin, remembering the Death Star. "He died as Anakin, not Vader."
Before Beru could respond, an engine roar sounded from outside. Luke nervousness returned; he glanced apprehensively at his aunt. Beru nodded and smiled.
"Beru!" the rough voice Luke knew so well called out as the farmer approached the living area. "Who's is the speeder? We got company?"
Luke stood as his uncle entered the room. The Jedi felt his respect for the farmer return. Respect, not love. He had always found it hard to acknowledge his love for the man who raised him. Owen Lars had barely changed; perhaps there were more wrinkles on the weathered face, perhaps more gray in his short hair. But Owen was still the same, like many things on Tatooine.
"Hello, Uncle," he said lamely, not knowing what else to say or do.
Owen was not a man to express much emotion - apart from anger - but at that moment, his features were an open book, easy reading for all. A huge smile cracked the usual stony face; delight sparkled in his eyes as they drank in the image of a young and plainly nervous Jedi Knight. Then, suddenly, the mask fell, taking Luke's heart with it.
"You became a wizard, then?" he asked gruffly.
"I was never a farmer."
"That's true. " Owen extended his hand; hesitantly, Luke grasped at the friendly gesture and was immediately pulled into a tight embrace. "You never got that south ridge unit repaired," he scolded affectionately.
Beru wept happily as she gazed upon a sight she had dreamt of witnessing, but had feared she would never see.
Luke stood, alone now, a few metres from the dome, looking back over the last few hours with a warm, contented heart. He smiled; he and Owen had managed to eat an evening meal without an argument - another miracle! He brushed sand grains from his black pants and glanced up at the fiery duel sunset as Tatoo I and II sank slowly behind the distant dunes. He recalled a similar nightfall from five years ago; perhaps that was why he had come out here this night. How different he was now! Then, he had been a child, yearning for something he didn't understand and didn't know he had, frustrated at being kept back on a farm when friends were leaving for bigger and - he thought - better things. But now? Now he was a man. Now, he knew who he was and where he had come from. Now, he knew where he was going, and why. Not many men could make that claim.
"Luke!" his uncle shouted to him from below. "I'm shutting the power down!"
"I'll be right there!" he called back. He smiled. Yes, he was home, and tomorrow, he would go to Mos Eisley, collect Leia, and bring her home, too.