Luke knew three things in life with absolute certainty. The first was that he would never make a good moisture farmer—he loved tinkering with the machinery, but his soul cried out for adventure. The second was that even though his aunt and uncle were uncommonly strict, they both loved him fiercely—enough to do whatever they could to protect him. And the third was that Sandpeople rarely attacked settlements—unless they were desperate. And desperate Sandpeople were far more dangerous than anything else Tatooine could foster.
"Get down," Luke told his companions. He jumped off the workbench and ran to the door, turning off the lights in the garage. "Go hide," he added. "They won't bother with droids unless you get in their way."
"But they're scavengers, aren't they?" Threepio asked worriedly, even as Artoo rolled himself into a corner and shut all his lights off.
"Yeah," Luke agreed, grabbing a drab colored tarp before he left, "but they're probably more after water and food right now." He dashed out of the garage, amazed how late it had gotten—Tatoo I had already dipped below the horizon. That worried him beyond measure; Sandpeople were dangerous during the day, but at night they were downright deadly. At night they could conceal their numbers, and travel in larger parties—and at night there was little hope of anyone coming to rescue their victims.
Filled with a dark disquiet, Luke huddled himself into the tarp; hopefully, in the dwindling visibility of twilight, he would blend in with his surroundings. As quickly as he could, he tried to make it to where he had heard his uncle shout from last but, in the gray shadows of the failing light, it was hard to tell what could be a droid or what could be a Raider. The air was filled with the shrieking howls of the invaders and the growing sounds of struggle, and it sent shivers down Luke's spine. If he couldn't get to Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen—
The thought was abruptly interrupted as something heavy struck Luke over the head.
They had wandered through the wastes for what felt like a small eternity, and Vader used that time to reflect upon how thoroughly he hated sand. As the hours dwindled by, both men refusing to let the intense heat bother them, the suns slowly sank until it was finally evening. The dark coolness of night began to pull at the sky, and already a chill descended upon them.
By all rights, it was a beautiful evening on Tatooine. But something felt wrong—the jubilant wave that had been rippling through the Force had suddenly iced over in fear. Where he had once thought the Force giggled, he know thought it raged—driven to find an outlet for the dread that the Force-sensitive child could not contain.
Kenobi's eyes widened as he felt the urgent pulses eddying around them. And then, just as suddenly, the sensation stopped. "Luke!" he barked, he tone lined with worry.
"Your apprentice?" Vader asked blandly, although it was hard to stay calm when the sense of wrongness began to overwhelm him. He frowned to himself—he'd never met the boy, yet he seemed innately effected by that unique signature in the Force. Perhaps because there were so few Force users left?
"I'm not training anyone," Kenobi snapped, but revealed nothing further about the boy. He stopped for a moment, trying to ascertain where the ethereal cry had come from, but it was clear that even though the child's fears had been quieted, he was moving—or being moved. Motions overshadowed with urgency, the Jedi turned quickly to his left and began to trot away at an ever-increasing rate.
Vader eyed his former master curiously. Obi-Wan had been many things in the past, but never easily panicked. Who was this child to work the old general into such a lather? With a sigh, Vader followed. He had nothing better to do with his time, and this was quickly turning into a riddle—once already this child had caught his attention, and now Kenobi was running off to battle—what child could mean so much, if not an apprentice?
By the time he finally caught up with Kenobi, the older man had reached the edge of a short cliff. Below them, bathed in the flickering light of a fire, was a small encampment of Tusken Raiders. They were beastly creatures—they walked like men, but a heart of savagery beat within every last one of them. No one knew for sure what a Raider looked like, only that from the time of birth they protected every inch of their skin from the Tatooine suns with whatever rags they could lay their hands on.
Vader surveyed the scene before them, trying to swallow down bitter memories. He felt the elusive Luke below them, but saw no one save for the Sandpeople. Surely this child Kenobi was so concerned over wasn't a Tusken Raider!
Luke slowly came to, the base of his skull throbbing where he'd been hit, but his eyes opened only to darkness. For one delirious moment, he thought he'd gone blind, then realized that the Sandpeople must have tied him up in the tarp he'd been using as camouflage. He could hear the creatures grunting and howling around him, and if he strained his eyes, he could almost make out the glow of a fire through the densely woven fabric.
Panic set in on Luke. Where were Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru? Why had the Sandpeople captured him? Because you're young, the horrible thought ran through his head, small enough to eat.
The canvas pressed in on him from all sides, smothering him. He was trapped. Luke's mind began to race; in such a confined space, without his sight or any sort of comfort, the Raiders began to seem more like monsters than they ever had. He had to get out; he had to get free!
With a cry, Luke began to claw at the tarp, his fear and panic rising until he thought he would explode with it.
Obi-Wan dove into the encampment, horror weighing him down. Not like this, he thought desperately, don't let father and son meet like this. He could feel Luke's growing desperation, could feel the fright that was building up in the young boy, building up in the Force. And distantly, through a long forgotten channel, he could feel Vader's growing anger, could feel the memories slowly blinding his former apprentice. It was inevitable now that Luke and Vader would meet, but to do so here, like this… he shivered at the thought.
The Raiders drew back in surprise and fright at first; they were naturally skittish creatures, but being in their own encampment bolstered their elusive bravery. Obi-Wan didn't want to fight them—it seemed cruel somehow to match gaffi sticks against a lightsaber—but Luke's fear was drawing him closer and closer to the Dark Side, and the boy's father was one provocation away from slaughtering anything that moved.
With a battle cry he hadn't uttered in nearly a decade, Obi-Wan Kenobi abandoned Ben and unleashed the warrior that had once raged inside him.
Outwardly, it appeared as though Vader were only taking a passive interest in the ongoing battle, but inwardly he was shaking. The tide of his anger and frustration was slowly rising, kept only in check by the fear he felt swelling around him. Not from the Raiders, though—they were war-like to a fault, and were enjoying the unexpected fight that had broken out. No, the fear he felt was coming from a wriggling sack, not twenty feet away from him. The Force-sensitive was beyond panicked—reaching blind terror—and Vader moved to free him.
He didn't make it more than a few steps before the sack was shredded from the inside out. The Force stormed around the boy, decimating the fabric that had held him prisoner. He seemed understandably disoriented, bruised and shivering, though largely unhurt. But, in that moment, as Vader's masked gaze collided with unseeing, frightened blue eyes, the past finally consumed him. His mother had given him the same look as she'd died, bloody and broken, surrounded by the scum of Tatooine's deserts. It was a look of bewilderment and despair, fear and loneliness, and it hurt him just as keenly now as it had then.
Vader stepped forward, igniting his ruby blade.
Luke gazed around himself dazedly, taking in the bright flashes of blaster rifles and laser swords without really seeing anything. He felt drained somehow, and cold, though he couldn't place his finger on why. His fight out of the tarp had been fierce and futile until, with an explosive suddenness, it had blown itself apart. He began to ponder the mystery of that, his eyes trailing off into the darkness.
The boy's inattention abruptly ended when a Tusken Raider grabbed him by the arm.
Somewhere in the distance, a man shouted, "No!" But the sound hadn't been anywhere near close enough to offer help.
Cursing his luck, Luke screamed long and loud, struggling against his assailant as best he could. But the Raider's grip quickly slackened as a glowing red blade sliced through its arm. The creature fell back with an agonized howl, leaving Luke alone with the dismember appendage. He tore the severed arm off, throwing it away from himself, and screamed again for good measure.
And then another voice rose out of the darkness, as rich and deep as the night itself. "Kindly stop shrieking, child; you sound like a Jawa being shot out of an airlock."
Luke startled as the darkness seemed to shift, revealing a frighteningly tall man, draped in black from his full helmet down to his booted feet, save for the red lightsaber he held in his hands.
The man shifted in from of Luke, placing himself between the boy and the Sandpeople who had realized he was their weakest enemy. "Stay behind me," the man in black commanded, flipping his lightsaber around with expert precision.
Luke obeyed, watching as the man began to slice his way through the oncoming Raiders. Was he dreaming, he wondered surreally? He recognized the man before him from one of his uncle's Holovids; it was Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith, and the second most powerful man in the galaxy. But why was Vader on a planet like Tatooine at all, let alone rescuing someone like Luke? Surely the Dark Lord had better things to do with his time, not that Luke wasn't grateful.
His ponderings were again interrupted as something wet and warm hit his face. Luke swallowed thickly, ignoring the sticky trickles that were now trailing down his cheeks, and pulled the object away from him. He stared at it dumbly for a moment, before realizing he'd been hit by a severed hand. Bile burned the back of his throat as he quickly dropped it and scrambled away. He didn't make it more than a few steps, though, before he was inexplicably dragged back.
"I said, stay behind me," Vader warned, not even sparing a glance at Luke.
He glared at the adult's back. "Then stop tossing body parts in my direction," he snapped.
The other man—the one he had heard shout before—came up behind him, although Luke wasn't sure how he knew it since he never turned around and never heard the man coming. Silently, the new stranger circled around into the boy's view, extinguishing his blue lightsaber as he bent to kneel in front of the younger man.
Luke eyed him warily, but didn't resist when he began to wipe at the boy's face—Luke was too busy trying to ignore the fact that it was blood being wiped away.
"Are you hurt?" the man asked, his voice soothing and lightly accented.
"Just emotionally," Luke answered sourly, fighting his growing nausea.
The man chuckled, flashing a gentle smile. "He can be overwhelming," he nodded toward the black-clad figure.
"Not Vader," Luke shook his head. "It's just that I've never seen so many limbs not attached to their bodies." He paused, then admitted, "I don't think I'm going to sleep tonight."
"It's just as well," the man replied, running his hand over the back of Luke's skull. "You've probably got a concussion."
Luke didn't bother asking what that meant. "I have to get home," he told the man quietly, absently noting that the few remaining Raiders were desperately trying to flee. "My family's probably worried sick." He didn't bother voicing his fear that there would be no Uncle Owen or Aunt Beru to go back to—the thought was too horrible to entertain.
Vader finally extinguished his blade, inwardly sneering as he watched the last few Raiders disappear into the open deserts. His victory left him feeling hollow, just as it had last time—no matter how many times he purged this particular demon, his mother could never be brought back. The boy had survived though, he reminded himself, so that was something. Not that he really had any reason to care.
With a discontented sigh, he turned around, immediately confronted with the sight of Kenobi coddling the child. He frowned—that was disturbing in and of itself; Obi-Wan had never been overly demonstrative. What was so important about this one boy, Vader wondered?
His frown deepened as he studied Luke. The child was dressed in simple homespun, stained now with the gore of battle. He was pale and small, an unlikely match for Tatooine. A shaggy mop of dark blond hair covered his head, partially hiding his icy blue eyes. There was something vulnerable about the boy, despite how intensely the Force seemed to swirl around him—a certain fragility and desperation clung to him, as though he didn't know how he fit into the universe.
It was all frighteningly familiar to Vader's eyes, as if Tatooine had forged a copy of his childhood self, just to spite him. He stepped toward the boy, a suspicious thought clawing at his mind. The child looked to be about eight or nine years old—exactly the amount of time Padmé had been dead. His mind began to whirl with possibilities. Could the baby have survived its mother's death? Was Vader even now standing in the presence of his son? It would explain Kenobi's involvement, if nothing else. But it was a hard thought to swallow—he'd been a father for nine years and he hadn't known it—and there were other possibilities. Had this little clone of Anakin also been conceived by the Force, in a dire attempt to balance out what Vader and Palpatine had wrought? It was unlikely, but not unheard of, he thought as he finally drew even with the pair in front of him.
Kenobi stood the moment Vader drew too close, placing himself between the boy and the black giant. "He needs to be getting home," Obi-Wan said to cover his actions, before pulling Luke close and trotting off into the desert.
"Answer me something," Vader murmured quietly, matching strides with the quickly retreating Jedi. "Who does the boy live with?" Not, 'Who is his family?' He was fairly certain Kenobi would never answer, 'You,' even if it was the truth.
Obi-Wan hesitated, then sighed deeply in resignation. "The Larses," he answered.
"Owen and Beru Lars?" he wondered, frowning.
Luke's head swiveled in Vader's direction, his blue eyes wide and curious. "You know my Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru?" he asked. "Man, first those droids knew my father, and now Darth Vader knows my aunt and uncle. This has been the weirdest day ever!"
Vader's eyes cut to Kenobi. "His aunt and uncle?" he asked acerbically, distantly noting that the Force was playing tricks on them all if the boy had come into possession of the very droids he had been sent to retrieve.
But Obi-Wan didn't rise to his bait; the old man remained silent as they trekked toward the homestead that was just now coming into view.
An uncomfortable silence descended upon the rest of the journey, the only sound being Luke's muffled attempts to make conversation before Kenobi shushed him, lest he say something incriminating. By the time they reached the outer perimeter of the homestead, however, the air came alive with the desperate shouts of panicked adults.
"Luke?" a woman hollered, her voice edged with tears.
"Luke Skywalker, you come out this instant, before you give your poor aunt a heart attack!" a stern-sounding, but obviously worried man called into the still night.
Skywalker. Vader's heart skipped a beat as his suspicions were confirmed. He turned to the boy with new eyes. His son.
Luke felt his relief as keenly as if he'd been hit with a bucket of water. His family was all right! "Uncle Owen, Aunt Beru!" he crowed, dashing forward. "I'm up here!"
Two figures peeked out from the sunken home before they both ran for Luke. Aunt Beru caught him in a tight hug, choking back her tears even as she clucked worriedly over his bloodstained appearance. Uncle Owen stood to the side, laying a trembling hand on Luke's shoulder. His uncle wasn't a man given to fits of emotion, but Luke knew he'd scared him badly.
Someone coughed politely, breaking up the family reunion.
Uncle Owen turned to face the noise, his eyes narrowing. "Kenobi?" he asked with a frown. "You rescued our boy?"
There was an eruption of sound and movement so violent that it was hard to follow. In the exact moment that Luke dashed forward to ask the startled man, "Kenobi? Are you Ben or Obi-Wan?" Vader seemed to bleed out of the darkness, roaring, "Your boy?" Aunt Beru began to scream and Uncle Owen pulled Luke behind him as he started to bicker with the Dark Lord of the Sith.
"Like you have any claim to the boy—"
"You stole him away from his rightful family—"
"Keep him away from us, Owen!"
"—raised him like our own—"
"—kept him hidden on this Force forsaken sandpit of a planet—"
"Seriously, which Kenobi are you?"
"—it's not like he's yours, anyway; Beru had a brother—
"—and don't you dare lie to me, Owen Lars; mother would be ashamed—"
"—and the boy was his. You want to talk shame, Vader?"
"Don't even think about it!"
"Who's the one that turned to the Dark Side, huh? You think Shmi would be proud of that?"
"I'm going to disembowel you, Lars; I never wanted a brother anyway!"
"Enough!" Kenobi bellowed, startling everyone into silence. He breathed deeply for a moment, then turned to the boy. "Luke, why don't you go off to bed—"
Luke frowned. "I thought I wasn't supposed to go to sleep?"
Kenobi ignored him. "—the adults need to talk."
His frown deepened. "Fine," he murmured sulkily. "It's not like I wanted to know what the heck you were all shouting about anyway. I'll just go see if the droids made it through the attack."
Obi-Wan watched as Luke disappeared into a garage, then turned back to the assembled family. He could already feel a headache pressing at his temples—the only consolation that he had received for his troubles so far was that Vader hadn't started slaughtering them all. No, the fallen Jedi had acted in the best way possible: he had acted like a recalcitrant Anakin. Perhaps there was hope that whatever ensued from this moment forward would not be a complete disaster.
"What are you doing here?" Beru broke the silence, pointing at Vader. "We were told that you would never return to Tatooine!"
"I was looking for a pair of droids," the Dark Lord answered, "and instead, I found a son."
Owen threw his hands up into the air. "I already told you, the boy isn't yours."
Vader laughed nastily. "Do you really expect me to believe that I have a nephew who isn't related to me by blood, but looks just like me?" He laughed again, the sound even darker this time. "You called him Skywalker—if you had really wanted to keep my son out of notice, you should have changed his name."
"We raised him," Beru put in bravely.
"You can't hold me accountable for something I never knew about," Vader hissed, then rounded on Obi-Wan. "And why is it that I never knew?" he asked accusingly.
Obi-Wan began to massage his temples. Nine years as a hermit with identity issues had not prepared him for this moment. He had ignored his memories for so long—he'd forgotten what it was like to deal with the Chosen One. Give me strength, Master Qui-Gon, he prayed, assessing the group before him. "The Council thought it best," he answered simply.
Vader growled and began pacing—his hatred of the Council had obviously not been soothed upon its demise.
"I had doubts," Obi-Wan continued, "but I was the only one qualified to look after the boy as he lived with his relatives."
"Qualified?" Vader asked disbelievingly.
"I practically raised you," Kenobi reminded. "There's nothing Luke can do that you haven't done before him; there's nothing he can do to surprise me."
Vader seemed almost a little too vindictively amused when they heard a loud crash coming from the garage.
A/N: After much puttering around and a little soul-searching, I've come back with the next chapter. Right now, I'm working on a large project with a friend though, so I can't say when the next one will be out.
This chapter is pretty heavy on the linebreaks, and I apologize for that. I often find it easier to keep everyone's thoughts in their own separate world, rather than integrate them together.
Disclaimer: I do not own the Star Wars universe.