Youthful Mistakes: Part 4
Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters. The Great Flanneled One does! All hail George Lucas!
This takes place immediately after Youthful Mistakes: Part 3.
When they arrived at the perimeter fence, Luke spotted a lone figure pacing back and forth at the entrance to the house, wringing her hands. Momentarily forgetting all about his companion and his weariness, he raced toward her as fast as his tired legs could carry him.
"Aunt Beru!" he cried as he ran.
The woman spun around and dropped her hands to her sides in surprise. "Luke!"
Luke ran right into her open arms, and she hugged him fiercely before looking him over.
"Luke, honey," she gasped, "are you okay? Oh, your face! What happened?"
"I'm okay, I'm okay," he assured her over and over as her hands and eyes continued to inspect him for further injuries. "It's a long story, but I'm okay."
Satisfied for the moment, she pulled him into a tight embrace once more. "You had us scared to death. After the two of you didn't come back, we didn't know . . .."
Hearing her voice trail off, Luke pulled out of her suddenly limp arms. Her eyes were focused over his shoulder, and he followed her gaze as it rested on Ben Kenobi.
Figuring that he should make the formal introductions, Luke cleared his throat. "Aunt Beru, this is Ben Kenobi. He lives out in the desert. He actually saved us and helped us get home."
"I see," she replied absently. Then she turned sharply toward her nephew. "Saved you? From what?"
Luke swallowed hard. "Well, you see, we were kinda stuck in this canyon, and there was a pack of womp rats."
Beru silenced him with a wave of her hand. "Don't tell me. I don't know if I'm ready to hear all this now."
Luke smiled sheepishly, then turned at the sudden movement he caught out of the corner of his eye.
It was his uncle.
Luke watched as his uncle stood transfixed at the entrance to the house. His arms were crossed in front of his chest and his gaze went from the boy to the old man and back again, his expression a mixture of utter relief, bitter anger, and--strangest of all-- absolute fear. Luke was at a loss to understand the meaning behind the various emotions evident on his uncle's face, but he was frozen to the core by his uncle's countenance none-the-less.
"Uncle Owen, I--" he began to stammer.
"Beru," his uncle spoke, his voice barely above a whisper, "take the boy inside."
Something in his uncle's tone sent chills down Luke's spine. Everything was wrong. His uncle was more upset than he'd ever seen him, and yet his eyes seemed now to be focused on the old man. Had Kenobi done something wrong? Or was Uncle Owen just too angry with Luke to look at him right now? He desperately wanted to mend the situation, but he didn't know how. "Uncle Owen, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to--"
Owen cut him off again. "Luke, get inside. Now."
Before a stunned Luke could reply, Beru had quickly ushered him into the house, away from the two men who now stood facing each other outside. Luke threw his aunt a questioning glance, but, once inside, she made her way toward the kitchen without a word or explanation. Left alone by the entranceway, Luke allowed himself to be drawn by curiosity back to the door. Pressing his back to the wall, he craned his neck around so that he could peer outside without being noticed.
"I told him nothing, Owen," Kenobi was saying softly. He stood facing his uncle, his hands spread, palms outward, in a gesture of peace. "He and the other boy somehow wound up in a canyon in the middle of the Wastes. I tended to their injuries and brought them back. That is all I did."
Owen remained silent for a moment before replying in quiet, harsh tones Luke had never heard him use before, "The boy is home now, so you can go." With his back to Luke, the boy could not see the expression on his uncle's face.
"He told me about the school. You did a good thing in pulling him out, Owen," Kenobi continued, unmoved by the other man's obvious desire for him to leave. "That was a very wise decision."
"Get out of here, Ben," Owen spoke through clenched teeth. "I mean it."
Kenobi took a step forward. "Owen, we need to talk."
Luke watched as Owen shook his head fiercely. "Not here, not now. Go."
"But the boy is starting to--"
"Get off the farm, Ben." Owen bit out each word, cutting him off. "You can't be here."
Kenobi softened his tone in response to the strain in Owen's voice. "Owen, there's no danger in--"
"Like hell there isn't!" his uncle cried, raising his voice above a whisper for the first time. "Take a look around! The Imperial presence is growing everywhere, even here! You are not going to bring that kind of threat to this house!"
Luke was bewildered. What did Old Ben Kenobi have to do with the Imperials? Looking at the old man standing there, Luke watched as the brightness in his eyes dimmed and gave way almost completely to the sadness that he had noted earlier. The strength that Luke had seen before was gone. Kenobi simply remained silent, staring at Owen in what looked like a sense of utter defeat. Remembering the old man's words, Luke swallowed back the anger that had begun to rise in him at his uncle's treatment of the man who had just saved his life. Owen had no right to be talking to him this way. He had no right to order him off the farm. Why, if anything, the man deserved a place to sit, a meal to eat, and maybe some payment in return for what he'd done. Not this.
"I've risked too much already," his uncle continued, his voice back to a whisper. "Now, you've done what you had to do. So get off my farm."
"I'm sorry, Owen," Kenobi said softly.
Luke bristled at the old man's apology. This was shameful!
"Leave, Ben," was Owen's only reply. "Please."
Luke felt his chest tighten. Had he been mistaken, or had that last word been spoken somewhere between a command and a sob? Dumbfounded, he continued to stare at them, as both men stood silent and unmoving in the morning light of the desert.
Kenobi folded his hands beneath his tattered robes and bowed his head. "Then allow me to say that you've done a fine job with him, Owen. Especially considering who he is."
Owen's shoulders seemed to rise slightly at the comment. "I do the best I can," he replied, his tone softening with his voice, speaking so low Luke could barely make out the words.
Kenobi nodded, but did not move.
Owen took a step toward him. "Now go, Ben," he said once more.
At that moment, Kenobi glanced toward the door, and Luke knew that the old man had realized he was there. Ducking back inside, knowing it was already too late, he barely caught the sound of a whispered voice before his uncle's parting words to the old man.
"Leave, you crazy old wizard!" Owen shouted as angrily as Luke had ever heard him. "Now!"
Luke waited a few more seconds before craning his neck out the door once more to see if the old man had left. When he looked back, the old man's cloak was moving off into the distance while his uncle still stood, rooted to the very spot in which he'd been standing a few moments earlier. As he studied his uncle, Luke suddenly noted the weary and sorrowful posture of his uncle's stance. Staring at the scene, he was sure something more had just transpired between the two men than what he'd been able to witness. Sighing, he wished he knew what it was.
He moved back further into the house, and waited for the inevitable punishment that would come when his uncle walked through the door. He wasn't about to take it sitting down, however. Not after the manner in which his uncle had treated the man who had saved his life. Not after his rescuer had been ordered off the farm with insults and accusations. Luke once again fought to control the anger that so desperately wanted to rise within him. Concentrating on this task, he nearly jumped at the sound of the shutting door.
It was several moments before Owen actually walked into the house, and when he did, he got no further than the exact spot in which Luke had been standing to eavesdrop. His downcast face appeared drawn and sorrowful, and his shoulders hung downward as though under a heavy burden. Luke watched silently as his uncle simply stood for a while to collect himself, and he wondered what it was that had shaken Owen so badly. Was Kenobi really connected to the Imperials? Was he really a threat to them? And why did Kenobi keep referring to Luke? There were too many questions racing through Luke's mind, and he knew he'd never get the answers from Owen or Beru. Would he have to find Old Ben and ask him directly? Or would that be too dangerous? Owen was certainly afraid of something, that was for sure.
Noting that his uncle still hadn't moved, Luke gathered up the courage to take the first step. He knew he might later regret it, but he had to do something.
"Uncle Owen," he spoke quietly, cautiously approaching his uncle. When Owen glanced at him with an unreadable expression, he continued. "He saved my life. It was my fault, my mess. But I'd still be out there if it wasn't for him."
Owen remained silent.
Luke plowed on, shaken by both the strength of his own confusing emotions as well as his uncle's silent steady gaze. "I know I deserve to be punished, and I'll accept whatever punishment you give me. But I don't understand why he had to be punished, too. He didn't deserve it, no matter what. He saved my life, Uncle. Don't you understand? He rescued us, Windy and me. And you--"
"Stay away from him, Luke," Owen said abruptly. The intensity with which those quiet words were spoken, and the gaze with which the man now held Luke silenced the boy and riveted him. "I mean it. I don't want you having anything to do with him, understand? I don't want you to try to find him, I don't want you talking to him, and I certainly don't want you letting him into this house."
"No." Owen seemed to want an end to the conversation, and moved from the doorway, away from Luke.
His nephew watched him go, more confused than ever. Staring at his uncle's retreating back, Luke ventured to ask, "Is he dangerous?"
Owen stopped and turned, seeming to take in Luke's bewilderment. "He's just a crazy old man, Luke," he said finally, his expression softening. "A relic from a forgotten age better left undisturbed."
Luke still did not understand, but he nodded. Owen seemed satisfied and headed toward the kitchen to speak with his wife, leaving his nephew just as confused and baffled as he'd been before.
"I want you to go to your room," Owen added as an afterthought just as he was about to enter the kitchen. "And don't come out until we call you. Right now I need to talk to your aunt about . . .about a suitable punishment."
Again, Luke nodded his head mutely. He turned and headed toward his room.
"And get some sleep," he heard his uncle call from behind.
A slight grin crossed Luke's face at his uncle's words. Kenobi had been right about Owen not making him work without a decent night's rest. The grin spread into a smile at the thought of Kenobi knowing more about his uncle than he did. He entered his room and collapsed on the bed without bothering to undress or get under the covers. He was too tired to care anymore. He just wanted sleep. Dimly, his mind wandered toward thoughts of what other things Kenobi could have been right about. With a slight chuckle, he drifted off into sleep, his last thoughts on the great destiny that just might lie in store for him.
Luke awoke to the sound of a clattering dish and a barely muffled, "Oops." Blinking his eyes groggily, he was surprised to see that his room was bathed in the warm orange glow of a Tatooine sunset. Bewildered, he noticed that he was still fully clothed and laying on his stomach, on top of the covers. The events of the past two days were slow in creeping back into his sluggish consciousness. When he was finally able to piece together the circumstances surrounding such a strange awakening, he stirred.
"Oh, did I wake you?" a familiar voice spoke from what seemed like directly above him.
Flopping over onto his back, he stared into his Aunt's gentle gaze. "Not really," he lied, forcing away the last traces of sleepiness with a gentle rub of his eyes. "What time is it?"
"Nearing 1800," she answered. "Your uncle and I just finished supper, and I figured you would be hungry." She indicated the tray of food that sat on the table beside his bed.
Luke suddenly realized that he wasn't just hungry. He was starving. He'd been too exhausted before to care, but he hadn't eaten anything since breakfast the day before. Pushing himself up from the bed, he reached for one of his aunt's homemade bread rolls and took a greedy bite. "Thanks," he managed to articulate around a mouthful of food.
Beru smiled as she watched him, her look conveying to him that she was baffled at how a boy with an appetite like Luke's had managed to go for so long without food in the first place.
"I was too tired to notice," he remarked absently, continuing to eat. He didn't immediately notice the odd expression that came across her face. When he did, he stopped eating and stared at her worriedly. "What? What did I say?"
"Nothing, it's just," she began, shaking her head as though to rid it of unwanted thoughts or memories. "Nothing, Luke."
Staring at his aunt, Luke knew it was far from nothing. But he also knew he was not going to get any other answer from her. The bread suddenly became very difficult to swallow, and he reached for his water glass to help force it down. Appetite inexplicably gone, he gulped his water uneasily and kept his eyes on his aunt. He didn't like to see her worried about anything. Especially when he wasn't sure what it was she was worried about.
He nearly dropped his glass when she rose to leave. "As soon as you're finished, come on out so that your uncle and I can talk to you," she said without turning back toward him. Silently, she left the room and closed the door behind her, leaving a stunned teenager in her wake.
After staring at the shut door for several moments, Luke turned his attention back to his food. It was suddenly very unappealing, and he pushed his plate away from him without taking another bite. Was he that worried about what his aunt and uncle had to say? Or was it something else entirely? Something lingering in the back of his mind like a forgotten dream? Realizing that his appetite was unlikely to come back until he faced his family, he rose from the bed. He noticed for the first time since awakening that he was in the same clothes he'd worn to Windy's the day before. They were dirty, sweaty, and torn in quite a number of places. Glancing down at his hands, he took in the scrapes and bruises, and he gingerly fingered the tender side of his face. He'd been through a lot in the past two days.
But something told him that he was in for a lot more before the day's end.
Slowly, Luke descended the short flight of steps from his room and crossed the courtyard into the main living area. He was not overly thrilled about having to face his uncle about what had happened, but he wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible. He knew that after being lectured by Kenobi and then witnessing how his uncle had treated the hermit, he wasn't up to an emotional ribbing. Poking his head inside, he noticed that his aunt and uncle weren't anywhere to be seen. Figuring that his uncle might still he at the table, he headed toward the dining room. As he approached, the voices of his aunt and uncle drifted toward him, although he couldn't really piece together what they were saying.
"It was as though he was reading my mind," his aunt was saying. "You don't think that it's . . ."
"Beru," Owen interrupted. "Kenobi won't be coming back here. And without him, I seriously doubt . . ."
At that moment, his uncle seemed to notice Luke's appearance in the dining room, and their conversation stopped. Luke was a bit confused, as it appeared they were talking about Kenobi again, and he still felt bad about how the old man had been treated on their farm. He said nothing, however, as he entered the dining room and faced his guardians.
"Have a seat, Luke," his uncle said tonelessly, gesturing toward the chair that Luke normally occupied at mealtimes.
Luke complied without a word, yet he refused to lower his gaze away from Owen. If anything, he wanted to prove to his uncle that he was mature enough to take what punishment was coming to him, even if he didn't agree with his uncle's behavior earlier. Owen had always been a strong proponent of eye contact as a means of showing attentiveness and respect, and Luke wanted to do right by his upbringing as well. Steeling himself for what was to come, he prepared to face his uncle like a man, hoping that he would be able to maintain his composure.
"First things first, Luke," Owen began, taking a seat across from his nephew. "I want you to tell me everything that happened since yesterday."
Luke sighed, but did not look away. "I convinced Windy to take his dewback out for a ride. We ended up out in the Wastes when she threw us into a canyon and took off with all our stuff. We were banged up, lost, and trying to make it out of the canyon so that we could get home when Ben arrived."
"You said something about womp rats?" Beru prompted.
Luke glanced over at her quickly, and nodded. Returning his gaze to his uncle, he amended, "Uh, yeah. There were a few of 'em in the canyon, and I kept throwing rocks at them to scare 'em away. But right around the time Ben arrived, there was a pack of them headed toward us." He paused, grimacing. "I'm not really sure what happened because I kinda' fainted." He lowered his gaze briefly in embarrassment, then continued. "But then Ben arrived and led us home."
"And what did he say to you?" Owen asked sternly.
Luke brought his eyes back up to meet his uncle's, not sure why that information was terribly important. "Nothing really. Windy kept asking him questions about living in the desert, which he told us a lot about. He also sort of lectured us about fighting. Well, me mostly."
"You got in a fight?"
Luke swallowed hard at his uncle's question. Why hadn't he kept his mouth shut? "Yeah," he answered softly. "Kind of."
Owen's face was hard. "Either you did or you didn't."
Luke shifted in his seat, uncomfortable with the idea of having to go through this yet again. "Windy said some stuff while we were in the canyon, and I got mad."
"So you punched him?" Beru asked in disbelief.
The tone of her voice caused Luke to flinch. His emotional control was swiftly crumbling under the assault of both guardians, and he drew a deep breath to hold onto it. He hadn't thought he'd be facing another interrogation when he'd walked in. "Look, it was no big deal. And I already got a lecture from Ben on the way home about how not to lose my temper and to control my anger and all that stuff. And I promise, it won't happen again. I felt guilty enough about it afterwards anyway."
Aunt Beru shook her head ruefully. "But, Luke, I don't understand. What made you angry enough to hit him in the first place?"
There was a question he didn't want to answer. Throwing his gaze back and forth between his two guardians, he muttered, "Nothing important."
"Luke," his uncle pressed, "answer your aunt." There was a tone in his voice that precluded argument.
Luke pursed his lips and stared at his folded hands. Studying the scrapes on them to avoid having to look in his uncle's harsh gaze, he struggled with what to say. He knew his family would be upset with him if he revealed the true motives behind his anger, and he didn't want to risk bringing up the mention of his father before them. After several moments of silence, in which he could practically feel his uncle's penetrating stare on the top of his bowed head, Luke finally whispered, "I can't."
Owen's palm hit the table top with a loud slap, causing Luke to jump. "Luke, I didn't raise you to go around picking fights with the local boys. Now either you tell me what prompted you to--"
"He mouthed off about my father, okay!" Luke cried, suddenly losing that emotional control he was struggling for as he snapped his head up to face his uncle. So much for maturity. "Happy now?"
When his uncle said nothing, Luke plowed on.
"I mean, stars! The man's dead, I never even knew him, and Windy has to throw it in my face! So, yeah, I got mad. And it ate me up afterward that I'd done it." He paused, fighting to swallow down the lump that had formed in his throat and was making his voice quaver. "I know it was stupid, I know it was dumb, and I've already said that it's not going to happen again. Believe me, nothing is worth going through all this guilt for! So just tell me what my punishment is, and let me go back to my room!"
At that, Owen rose from his seat angrily. "Just who do you think you are to talk this way?"
Luke was on his feet in a second. "I haven't a clue because you've never told me!"
He hadn't been prepared for the stinging slap as his uncle's palm made contact with the uninjured side of his face. A stunned silence stretched out for several moments between them. In all of his fifteen years, Luke had never been hit by his uncle. And now, he wasn't sure what to make of it.
"Sit down," Owen said at last with a quiet edge in his voice.
Luke bonelessly dropped back into his chair.
"Now I want you to listen, and listen good." His uncle took a deep breath before continuing. "Whatever your aunt and I have told you or haven't told you is not for you to criticize. We are your family, we've raised you, and we're not about to tolerate any of this defiant attitude from you regarding your parents. You are ours, Luke. Plain and simple. Do you understand that?"
"Then why do I have his name?" Luke bit out in a whisper.
Owen sighed and shook his head, sinking back into his seat. "Because I'm not your biological father. I did not give you life, Luke." When Luke remained sullenly silent, Owen leaned forward and continued. "I know that you feel that you deserve to know about the man who did father you, but what you need to do is forget it."
Luke blurted, "But why can't I--"
Beru stepped in at that moment. Luke had forgotten that she was even there. "Luke, there are things you just aren't ready to hear right now."
"Beru!" Owen exclaimed, but his wife waived him off.
"He was a good man, Luke," she continued. "But he died because of some mistakes that he made. And truthfully, we're not ready to talk about them. Someday, Luke. But not now."
"But I'm fifteen years old," he argued. "I'm old enough."
"No, Luke," Owen replied. "And we're not going to bend on this so don't push the issue."
Luke dropped his gaze and disappointedly stared down at the floor.
"Now," his uncle said with finality, "I'm asking you to respect our wishes and to forget it. Understand?"
Without looking up, Luke nodded his head slowly. He didn't want to agree, but he had no choice. He had to respect his aunt and uncle. After all, they were his family. He owed them that much.
"And steer clear of that wizard," Owen added.
Again, Luke nodded.
A deep silence settled in on the dining room for several moments as the three of them sat around the table and let the events of the past few minutes shift into memory. In the Lars home, the past was the past. Only the future mattered, so long as lessons learned were not forgotten.
When Luke heard his uncle take a deep breath, he knew what was about to come, and looked up at him accordingly.
"Your punishment is that you're grounded for the remainder of the month." It was stated simply, a fact. No questions asked.
Luke nodded respectfully, "Yes, sir."
And with that, the conversation was over. Luke rose from his chair and headed back toward his room.
As he sank down onto his bed, Luke once again studied the cuts and bruises on his hands. He felt just as battered inside at the moment. He was resolved to obey his guardians and to respect their wishes, only he didn't know how he was going to do it. His uncle had told him to forget what he knew he'd be unable to. It was an unfair request, but he'd struggle to meet it. At least for the time being.
Stripping out of his torn and dirtied clothes, he headed for the 'fresher. He needed a shower, and a part of him hoped it would make him feel better. He knew it wouldn't. A rift had opened between himself and his family once more. Only now, he didn't know how to repair it, because the rift was of his own making. Chock another one up to youthful mistakes, he thought dryly as he stepped into the shower. Wishing the shower could cleanse his soul as it did his body, he thought grimly about what the future might hold.
Even though it was the middle of the night, Luke could not sleep. He assumed it was because he'd slept most of the day away, but he had to be up at dawn to work on the vaporators. He knew he was going to be tired and cranky in the morning if he didn't fall asleep soon, but that didn't seem to make his body want to obey his will. So, glumly he lay in his bed, staring at the ceiling and hoping fervently that he didn't fall asleep an hour before he had to get up. That was always the worst.
He flopped over in bed, and tried to steer his mind away from thoughts of the evening's conversation. It did nothing but make him anxious to think about it, which would only make falling asleep more difficult. It took him a few moments to realize that he was biting his lip nervously, and he rolled over once more, trying to get comfortable and to ease himself out of the anxiety he couldn't banish. Shutting his eyes and curling himself up under his blankets, he again tried to make his mind a blank. Maybe if he erased all thoughts, including thoughts about trying to get some sleep, he'd be able to achieve what he so desperately sought. Focusing on his breathing, he started to relax.
Suddenly, his eyes flew open. Something was terribly wrong. He bolted up in bed, and searched the room for the source of the inexplicable fear that was now coursing through his young body. He listened to the sound of his own rapid breathing as he sat in the darkness, unable to gather an answer from the silence around him. Biting his lip once more, he also tried to figure out why this felt so strangely familiar. Reacting to a gut instinct borne from an earlier memory, he jumped out of bed and raced down the stairs. Plodding across the courtyard in utter darkness, he quickly headed toward the front door. The power was down for the night, so he slipped his hand into the manual access panel, and silently opened the door. Shivering in the cool night air, he hugged his arms across his bare chest and peered into the vast desert landscape. He heard before he saw what he desperately hoped he had not come out here to find.
Out of the darkness came the unearthly wail of an approaching Bantha.
Luke spun around swiftly and darted back inside, stumbling on the front steps in his haste. A stab of pain shot up his leg as his ankle rolled awkwardly to one side, but he quickly righted himself and hurried to his aunt and uncle's bedroom. He proceeded to pound on the door.
"Uncle Owen!" he cried. "Uncle Owen, wake up!"
It seemed like an eternity of pounding on the door before it slid open and his uncle's irritated face appeared.
Owen growled sleepily, "Luke, what in blazes?"
"Sandpeople," the boy gasped.
All traces of sleep quickly vanished from his uncle's face. "How many?"
Luke shook his head, "I don't know."
With a nod, Owen placed his hand on Luke's shoulder. "All right. Come with me."
"Owen, what is it?" Beru called from behind them as she emerged from the room.
"Stay there, Beru," Owen commanded as he ushered Luke to one of the storage closets his aunt and uncle always kept locked. "And toss me the manual key," he added, realizing that with the power off, he'd be unable to disengage the lock without it.
Luke's aunt quickly complied, while Luke stood just behind his uncle's shoulder, heart pounding in his chest and his mouth terribly dry. The boy who craved adventure and excitement was suddenly getting more than he could handle as he watched his uncle unlock the door and pull out two blaster rifles and two charger packs. Swiftly charging both weapons, he handed one to Luke.
"Now, remember what I taught you," he told his nephew.
"Oh, sweet stars," Beru gasped.
Owen turned to her. "Beru, just get back in that room and stay there."
Luke watched wordlessly as his aunt retreated to the bedroom, the weight of the rifle feeling strange and uncomfortable in his grasp.
"Come on," his uncle ordered, ushering him toward the front of the house. As if suddenly remembering something, he stopped. "Wait," he said to Luke, snatching the rifle out of the boy's hands. For a split second, Luke thought his uncle didn't trust him with the weapon. "Go run up to your room and grab your macros for me, boy. Or we won't see 'em clearly until it's too late."
Luke nodded in understanding and ran through the dark house to retrieve the macrobinoculars. He smiled as he remembered that they really belonged to his uncle, but Luke had played with them so much as a kid that they eventually came to be considered his. The strangeness of such a thought passing through his mind at this moment was not lost on Luke as he found them and rushed back to his uncle.
As he exchanged the macros for the rifle, his uncle frowned. "You all right, Luke?"
Luke realized he must have been referring to the slight limp he was struggling to hide. "Yeah, fine," he answered. A sore ankle wasn't going to affect his aim any.
"All right," Owen said. "Let's go."
The two of them swiftly mounted the stairs and stepped through the still-open doorway and into the night air.
Just in time to hear a raider's cry. Luke shivered again, and this time it wasn't from the cold.
A single cry from a Tusken Raider seemed to split the cold desert night, and within moments it was joined by several others. Luke's fingers tensed around the blaster, and he looked toward his uncle for guidance. Owen, in turn, put a hand on Luke's shoulder.
"Okay, boy," he said, unearthly calm eyes staring straight into Luke's panicked ones. "I want you to take cover behind the main vaporator, you're small enough. And I'll be right over here behind the power generator." At Luke's understanding nod, he continued. "Shoot to scare them off first. They're usually frightened pretty easily. But if that doesn't work, you know what you need to do."
Luke swallowed hard and mutely nodded before moving into position behind the vaporator. He crouched down low and tested his visibility as he peered around the side of the unit. In the darkness, he couldn't actually see the Sandpeople; but somehow he knew almost exactly where they were. He couldn't explain it, and right now it didn't really matter. So long as it helped him defend the farm, anything was okay by him at this point. His pulse was racing, and he felt his damp palms begin to slip along his grip on the blaster. Quickly drying them off on his sleeping trousers, he took a deep breath and tried to calm down. It wouldn't do for him to be all panicky when he was being counted on by his aunt and his uncle to help them. Biting down hard on his lower lip, he squeezed his eyes shut and concentrated on the task at hand. Now was the time for him to act like a man and make his uncle proud. He glanced over at Owen to see him looking through the macros and quickly taking cover.
At that moment, something whizzed by dangerously close to Luke's ear and struck the domed entrance to the house behind him. Simultaneously, the sound of a rifle shot echoed in the distance. Crouched behind the vaporator, Luke gasped. This was it.
Wiping his sweaty palms on his pant legs once more, he grasped the rifle and threw another glance in his uncle's direction. He watched as his uncle fired several shots into the night in an attempt to scare them off before ducking behind the power generator again as a volley of projectiles were fired in his direction. Luke took a deep breath and aimed at the desert floor. As his uncle had done, he fired several shots to frighten the approaching Raiders.
"Get back, Luke!" Owen cried.
Luke ducked behind the vaporator just in time to hear another volley of projectile shots scream by. Several of them struck the opposite side of the vaporator, and Luke cringed. He knew the machine was too thick and dense to allow anything to pass through, but it was still unnerving. He squeezed his eyes shut until the ricocheting sound of metal on metal ceased, and then looked back at his uncle.
"You hit?" Owen asked, fear evident in his usually stoic voice.
Luke shook his head, throat too dry to speak.
"This bunch isn't playing around," Owen called to his nephew. "This might get ugly."
Luke didn't miss the warning note in his uncle's voice, and he shuddered. Pushing the darker possibilities to the back of his mind, he tightened his grip on the blaster and fired another round of shots toward the band of Raiders that was now becoming slowly visible in the starlight as it approached. The dim light cast an eerie glow upon the robed and bandaged figures, making them seem more monstrous than they usually appeared by daylight. Like ghostly demons, they moved unwaveringly toward them, their facemasks seeming like ghoulish grins as they took sadistic pleasure in terrorizing their prey. Fighting against fear, Luke continued to fire and take cover; and a glance showed his uncle doing the same.
Still, the Tusken Raiders continued their approach.
An unearthly wail resounded in the night, one that made Luke's blood run cold. The wail was then picked up by the rest of the band of Raiders until it rose into a deafening clamor. Luke risked a glance toward the band of approaching Sandpeople and was startled to see them break into a charge. He shot his uncle a terrified look.
Owen swore. "Battle cry!" he yelled. "This is it, Luke! Aim to kill!"
Luke suddenly felt as if all the blood in his body had pooled in his feet. Lightheaded and lead-footed, he struggled to aim the blaster rifle that had unexpectedly grown heavy in his grasp. Biting back the swirling fear that threatened to overpower him, he focused on the charging band. He saw the windswept robes, the goggled eyes, the breath filters, and the gaderffi sticks aimed toward their farm in the dim light of the stars overhead. He saw the cloud of sand as it rose behind them, the Banthas that brought up the rear, and the riders seated on top of them as they urged the beasts forward. He saw his family's death and the destruction of their farm if he didn't act fast. Taking aim at the first Raider in the charge, he held his breath and fired.
The laser bolt Luke fired made contact a split second later, and the Raider went down in a heap. Luke's breath exploded from his lungs, followed by a wave of nausea, but he fought it back and continued to fire into the crowd of charging Sandpeople who had now crossed the farm's perimeter fence. At that moment, he seemed to become an automaton, a droid with only one task to accomplish. No feeling, no emotion. Two more shots were fired from his blaster, and two more Sandpeople fell. A fourth fell under Uncle Owen's aim, and Luke watched as he succeeded in wounding a fifth who continued to charge, the Raider firing his own rifle at the generator and the man taking cover behind it. Luke quickly shifted his aim and brought the charging Raider down before he could succeed in harming his uncle. The Raider collapsed only yards away from the generator, his dark blood staining the bleached desert sand.
Targeting his blaster back on the remainder of the band, Luke saw that they were forming a retreat and collecting their fallen. Only one Bantha with rider seemed to be continuing the forward progress. Luke trained the blaster on the approaching Bantha as it entered the perimeter, preparing to fire. As he wiped away a bead of sweat that had managed to drip into his eye, he felt emotion begin to flood back into him. His blaster rifle started to tremble in his grasp, and he fought to keep it steady. Yet, even as he struggled to keep the Bantha and rider in his sights, something screamed within him not to fire. The strangely instinctive feeling forced him to lower the rifle to the ground and watch the Bantha's steady approach.
Movement out of the corner of his eye alerted him to his uncle's attempt to bring down the rider.
"No, wait!" Luke cried.
Owen spun toward him in shock and anger. "Luke, are you--"
"Please, just don't," he pleaded. He couldn't explain why, but he knew the approaching rider was no threat.
Something in the boy's voice somehow managed to convince Owen to lower his weapon, and the two of them watched as the rider slowed only yards away. Without a sound, the rider reached down and hauled the last fallen Raider onto his mount and turned away. Urging the beast into the desert, he rode away behind the rest of the retreating band, a cloud of sand that obscured their horrific forms and the route their escape was taking.
Luke found himself unable to do anything but stare at the cloud they had stirred, pulse still racing and legs trembling with shock and spent adrenaline. His mouth and throat felt drier than the Dune Sea, and waves of nausea began to hit him as he strove to keep his composure. Already, he could feel it was a losing battle, but pride kept him staring into the desert night as he tried to collect himself. His vision blurred over for a moment and he blinked to clear it, feeling the unfamiliar sensation of tears clinging to his eyelashes. Was he crying? No, it was probably just a reaction to the sand particles. Or fatigue from straining to aim in the night.
Squeezing his eyes shut he tried to block out the images of the falling and dying Sandpeople. He had killed them. They had fallen because of him. This was no womp rat hunt; these were sentient, humanoid beings that had attacked with weapons and removed their dead from the battlefield when it was all over.
Uncle Owen's concerned voice had barely registered in Luke's consciousness when the boy doubled over and was uncontrollably sick. As his body revolted against the images in his mind and the truth behind them, he was vaguely aware of his uncle's large, callused hands gently rubbing his bare back. It seemed an eternity before his heaving subsided and Luke was able to rise shakily back to his feet, guilt ridden and ashamed of losing his struggle for control.
Averting his eyes from his uncle's concerned stare, he stammered, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I don't know--"
To his astonishment, Luke was cut off from saying anything more as he was pulled into a strong and unexpected embrace.
"You did good, Luke," Owen said gently, patting his nephew's shoulder as he held him close. "I'm proud of you."
Luke blinked in confusion. "But I--"
"You did what you had to do, Luke," his uncle spoke softly. "It wasn't easy, but you did it." When Luke seemed about to protest, Owen added, "And if you didn't feel badly or guilty about the consequences of what you had to do, you wouldn't be the young man I've raised for fifteen years."
Luke felt his cheeks warm under his uncle's praise and his use of the term "young man." He could almost feel his uncle's pride radiating from him. "Thank you, sir."
Owen smiled back at his nephew before reaching down to pick up Luke's discarded blaster and steering him toward the house. "Let's get inside before your aunt thinks we've both been killed out here."
Luke nodded. There was a silence between them as they entered the dark and powerless house, until Luke ventured a question. "Are you going to tell her, Uncle Owen?"
"Tell her what, Luke?"
"That I killed four Sandpeople?" He was unable to keep the tremor out of his voice, and he still felt cold in the pit of his stomach at the thought.
Owen studied him for a moment before replying, "We'll wait on it."
It was hard to miss Luke's relieved sigh. He desperately did not want his aunt to know the horrible things he'd done, even if , as his uncle had said, he'd only done what he had to do.
As if sensing Luke's continued distress over the matter, Owen pulled him toward the couch and pulled Luke down beside him as he sat down. "Luke, we've got a lot of work to do tomorrow repairing those two units out there. There's a lot of damage."
Luke nodded in the darkness. "I know."
"Now, we both need to get some sleep," his uncle continued, "but I know that you're not likely to get too much sleep tonight if I send you off to bed. Am I right?"
Again, Luke nodded.
"Now, you're probably not going to believe me when I tell you that I've been through exactly what you're going through right now. But I have, Luke. And I was a bit older than you, come to think of it."
"Did you throw up?" Luke asked in disbelief.
Owen laughed softly. "Did I! I was as sickened as you were, and had nightmares for weeks. And I'll expect you'll probably have them, too."
In response, Owen pulled the boy closer. "But it gets better, Luke. And, unfortunately, you learn to accept that sometimes you just have to do whatever it takes to defend yourself and the people you love. "
"I just wish killing wasn't part of it," Luke whispered.
Owen fell silent, and in the dark, traces of a satisfied smile mixed with the graciousness of an answered prayer could be seen on his face. When he spoke, it was in a husky whisper. "You have no idea how thankful I am to hear you say that, Luke."
Luke stared at his uncle in total bewilderment. In the darkness, it was hard to tell, but it looked like his eyes were somehow glistening in the dim light. But, in an instant, his uncle turned away and headed toward his aunt's bedroom.
"With the generator shot up like that, I won't risk turning the power on," he was saying as he moved. "So let's see if your aunt knows how to make some tea without it."
Luke watched his uncle go with a faint smile upon his face. Once more, fate had intervened to patch things up between himself and his uncle, and he was grateful for it. Growing up was proving to be a more difficult task than he ever thought it would, and he was fearful that the frequent mistakes he always seemed to make would cause permanent damages to his fragile family. So far, however, they hadn't. As he sat in the darkness awaiting his aunt's soothing tea, he hoped that his luck would hold out. After all, he wasn't going to let a few youthful mistakes ruin the bonds that had been formed between Owen, Beru, and himself. Thrown together by circumstances Luke was only beginning to piece together, they'd made themselves into a true family. And one day, when Luke was grown, they'd laugh about all of the silly things he'd done.
Involuntarily, Luke shivered as he watched the silhouettes of his aunt and uncle in the darkness. For reasons unknown, he suddenly felt that fate had stranger plans in store. Feeling a coldness creep into his heart, he felt oddly fearful for their safety, and the discussion between his uncle and Kenobi crept unwillingly into his mind. Silently uttering a prayer, he vowed that he'd never let anything happen to them. They were all he had. All that mattered. Surely, the universe would never take them from him.