A Face From the Past
He held the tattered cloak close to his face in an effort to block the blowing, stinging sand, sighing wearily as he contemplated what the burgeoning winds foretold. Obi-Wan was not fond of any time of year on Tatooine, but he particularly hated the time just after harvest when the slightly changing atmosphere caused devastating winds, bringing with them the dreaded sandstorms.
At last, he reached the door of the worn-down establishment. Exhaling gratefully, he gripped the long handle, worn smooth by the years of blowing sand, and called upon all of his strength to pull the door open just enough to be able squeeze his body through the doorway. The patrons inside the small cantina looked up angrily as the menacing winds began to swirl through the room, rustling packages and blowing tiny, irritating grains of sand into eyes, faces, drinks and plates of food.
Obi-Wan struggled to pull the door closed behind him as quickly as possible. When he turned around, his downcast eyes scanning the scarred tables that filled the room, the patrons cast knowing looks at each other then returned to their drinks and conversations.
To the local residents, Ben Kenobi was just a crazy old man, a harmless hermit, and that was just the way Obi-Wan liked it. Naturally, he missed the camaraderie and friendship he had known in his previous existence, but closeness to another being was no longer a risk he could afford to take. Once a month, he would leave his solitary existence in the Jundland Wastes and come into the settlement of Anchorhead to buy supplies, stopping off for a drink and occasionally a soggy meal, one of the few treats he allowed himself, before beginning his long, lonely journey home.
Kamil Dalea, the owner and bartender, was wiping the smudges from a dirty tumbler with an even dirtier cloth as Obi-Wan made his way to the far corner of the long bar. He could feel Kamil's eyes on him as he sank wearily onto a wobbly stool and placed his load of small parcels on the floor beside him.
When Obi-Wan had first started frequenting the establishment on a monthly basis, Kamil had often tried to engage him in conversation, but whether out of sympathy or curiosity, Obi-Wan was never completely certain. He knew his crisp tones quickly betrayed him as an off-worlder, however, and so Obi-Wan was always guarded and brief with his answers. After awhile Kamil had given up his attempts, most likely assuming the man was in hiding, perhaps from the Empire, old debts or maybe even a woman. After all, why else did anyone come to this Force-forsaken planet except to disappear? Over time, the conversations between them had become restricted to superficial pleasantries and observations regarding the weather, but for Obi-Wan, even such a tentative friendship was a welcome change from his normal solitude.
"What can I get 'cha, Ben?" Kamil asked as he approached the corner of the bar, his grisly voice sounding more like a growl.
"Just the usual." Obi-Wan answered quietly. Then he pulled the hood of his cloak even closer to his face as Kamil moved away to fill his order. When the bartender returned, Obi-Wan gave him a brief smile and took a grateful drink from the tumbler, anxious to relieve his dry, scratchy throat, a common nuisance brought on by the blowing sands.
"I almost forgot. Someone was in here earlier lookin' for you. A woman," Kamil informed him, leaning over and resting his forearms on the bar.
Obi-Wan's hand froze in mid-air, his drink hovering just above the bar's surface.
"Looking for me?" he asked slowly, his first thought being that something had happened to Luke and Beru had been sent in search of him. Considering how Owen Lars felt about him, Obi-Wan knew the situation must be dire if that were the case. He slammed the tumbler onto the bar, some of its contents sloshing over the rim, and hurriedly reached down to collect his parcels.
"Yeah, she was quite a sight. Kinda quiet, slender, with long dark hair and dark eyes," Kamil recalled, an appreciative tone creeping into his voice as he described the mysterious patron.
Realizing the woman could not have been Beru Lars, Obi-Wan turned, regarding the bartender with a confused expression.
Kamil winked conspiratorially at the hermit. "I told her she was in luck, that you'd probably be in here sometime today. She said she'd come back later. She'd best hurry, though, that storm's blowin' in fast," Kamil called back over his shoulder as he moved away to tend to a pair of moisture farmers who had just sat down at the other end of the bar.
Puzzled by the bartender's description of the woman, Obi-Wan sank back down on the stool, letting his packages fall once again to the floor beside him. He felt his heart begin to pound within his chest as he contemplated why anyone would be looking for him, unless...
The soft voice beside him startled Obi-Wan, and he turned slowly to look into her familiar face, his pounding heart now racing even faster.
"You should not have come here," he whispered fiercely, his terror reflected in his eyes.
"What were you thinking by coming here?" Obi-Wan hissed in a fierce whisper.
Padm? Amidala-Skywalker opened her mouth to respond, but Obi-Wan held up his hand, forestalling her answer. "Please allow me to rephrase my question, since you obviously were not thinking or you never would have taken such a blatant risk in the first place."
Obi-Wan's piercing gaze darted around the cantina. Kamil had disappeared into the back room to retrieve supplies, and the other patrons were, as usual, ignoring him. Satisfied that they were not being watched, Obi-Wan threw a few credits on the bar to pay for his drink, grabbed his bundle of supplies and then steered Padm? to the doorway and back outside into the angry gale. The street was eerily deserted, the local residents having obviously taken shelter from the impending sandstorm.
"Why did you come here, Padm??" he asked again in a somewhat calmer voice as he turned her to face him. "You must know that your actions have put us all at risk. What if you were recognized or followed?"
"I wasn't followed. I took a public transport from Tirana, and in case you have forgotten, I have had more than enough experience at concealing my identity," she retorted loudly, struggling to be heard over the howling winds. "I know it was dangerous, Obi-Wan, but I...I had to see him. He's my son." Padm? coughed and tried to turn her face away from the stinging sand that was pummeling her mercilessly. She was carrying a small travel bag, and she clutched it tightly against her chest, as if it could offer her some semblance of protection from both the storm and Obi-Wan's wrath.
Obi-Wan shook his head furiously, oblivious to the empty crates and abandoned cartons tumbling wildly by them down the dusty, deserted street. "No, Padm?. You know that is not possible." At her pained expression, Obi-Wan's voice softened, and he reached out a rough hand to touch her cheek. "I cannot imagine how difficult this must be for you, to be a mother denied her children, worrying if they are healthy or if their father..." Obi-Wan's voice trailed away as he noticed the single tear that was tracing a path along Padm?'s cheek, its journey clearing away a jagged line through the filmy layer of dirt and grime on her face, the same dirt and grime that seemed to cover everything and everyone on Tatooine.
"We should return to the Jundland Wastes, to my home, before the storm grows any worse." Obi-Wan's fingers closed around the handles of her travel bag, removing it gently from her grip and tucking it under his arm along with his parcels. He then took her hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. "We'll be safe there."
Padm? smiled gratefully at her old friend. She followed him as he led her through the settlement, their cloaks pulled tightly around them and their bodies hunched over in protection from the blowing sands as they made their way across the harsh landscape of the desert planet.
Obi-Wan was bustling about his tiny kitchen, humming to himself as he prepared a simple meal of bantha stew, when Padm? entered the room rubbing her damp hair with a threadbare towel and wearing a simple nightdress and robe. Obi-Wan looked up as he heard her approach. Having already tended to his own wounds from the sandstorm, he held out a small tube of bacta cream to Padm?.
"Thank you," Padm? said as she took the tube and began to coat the tiny cuts and abrasions on her hands and face with the healing cream.
Obi-Wan cleared his throat awkwardly. "Again, Padm?, I apologize for the sparse amenities, but - "
"The washbasin was more than adequate, Obi-Wan, and I am most grateful for your hospitality," Padm? assured him warmly.
The sandstorm outside was now in full force, blocking out most of the light from Tatooine's twin suns and bathing the hut in near-darkness. To keep the shadows at bay, Obi-Wan had lit an old, misshapen candle, and the small dining table was filled with a warm, golden glow as the two friends sat down to eat.
Padm? had not eaten properly in several days, but she did not realize how famished she was until she inhaled the comforting aroma of the stew. Obi-Wan watched in dazed amusement as she began to devour her meal at a pace that would have rivaled even Anakin's appetite in his younger days. His eyes clouded over momentarily as he thought about his former Padawan.
A gust of wind slammed against the hut, whistling menacingly as it slipped in through the numerous cracks in the structure. Padm? let her spoon fall to the table, looking around in fear as the hut creaked and the candle's flame flickered rapidly.
Obi-Wan chuckled lightly. "I can assure you, this old hut has survived worse storms than this. Do not worry, we are quite safe, Padm?." He picked up his own spoon, lifting a large bite of bantha meat to his mouth. "Mmmm..." he mumbled softly as he closed his eyes and savored the taste of the stew.
Padm? relaxed against her chair, smiling as she watched the former Jedi. "This is delicious, Obi-Wan. But, you know, Anakin always used to complain that your cooking skills left much to be desired," she teased, stumbling only briefly over her husband's name.
Obi-Wan opened his eyes, swallowing hard as he nodded his head. "Yes," he agreed, his eyes twinkling with amusement as he thought back on his many culinary mishaps. "I was a terrible cook. That's why we spent so many meals at Dex's Diner. But here, I am dependent on myself for survival, and so I was forced to...adapt." He offered Padm? a lopsided smile.
When they had finished eating, Padm? helped clear away their dishes, turning a deaf ear to Obi-Wan's insistence that she go and rest following her long journey. The winds had at last begun to die away when Obi-Wan, carrying the burning candle before him, led Padm? to a modest living area. The room was furnished with only an old, torn settee and a chair, separated by a low table. Padm? sat down on one end of the settee, curling her legs beneath her. As Obi-Wan sank down into the chair across from her, the conversation that had flowed so easily between them earlier now came to an abrupt halt, and tension filled the tiny room as both friends realized they could no longer avoid the matter at hand.
At last, Obi-Wan broke the silence. He took a deep breath, steeling himself for his task. "Well, Milady. It would appear that we have a few matters to discuss."
As Obi-Wan looked at Padm? expectantly, waiting for her to speak, he noticed for the first time how pale and tired she looked, the years of worry having apparently taken their toll. Yet she was still beautiful, and her eyes still radiated with the same light and compassionate warmth that had first captivated Anakin's heart so long ago.
Padm? shifted uncomfortably under the weight of Obi-Wan's gaze, avoiding his eyes as she looked down at her hands, which were clasped together firmly in her lap. Finally, she spoke.
"I know I should not have come, Obi-Wan, but...it's been almost three years since..." Padm? paused awkwardly, "since you came to Tirana. Not knowing...it is unbearable," she told him softly.
It was Obi-Wan's turn to shift uncomfortably in his chair as he thought back to their chance meeting not so long ago in the Malderra Market.
After giving birth to Anakin's twin children, an experience she barely survived, Padm? had been forced to give up her son and daughter in order to protect them from their father. Bail Organa of Alderaan graciously offered to raise the infant girl, Leia, as his own child, and Master Yoda instructed Obi-Wan to take the boy, Luke, to live with his aunt and uncle on Tatooine. The aged Jedi Master then undertook the difficult task of hiding Anakin's wife.
Obi-Wan never knew where Padm? had been taken, and he often wondered about her. Then, three years ago, the former Jedi Master had taken a rare trip away from Tatooine to pay a visit to an old friend and contact living on the planet Tirana. It was while he was in the city of Malderra, browsing through the wares of the local market, that he saw her.
Their brief reunion had been bittersweet.
While Padm? had been overjoyed to hear news of her children at last, seeing her husband's former Master once again had also brought to the surface painful memories. Memories that were impossible to forget, but memories that both Padm? and Obi-Wan had spent years trying to tame. Yet, desperate to escape the pain and loneliness of their respective exiles, if even for just a moment, they had talked and reminisced, sometimes through laughter but more often through tears, until the morning sun streamed through the windows of Padm?'s humble cottage.
Obi-Wan cleared his throat, unsure how to begin. "If answers and reassurance are all that you seek, Padm?, I can provide - "
"No," she interrupted, her face taut with anger. "It is not enough. I need to see him."
Obi-Wan shook his head firmly, his own fury beginning to rise. "No, it is not possible. You of all people should realize what their father is capable of, Padm?. You are risking the lives of your children. And how do you imagine that 10-year-old boy would be able to cope with the fact that the mother he thought was dead is indeed alive and that the truth was kept hidden from him by the people who raised him? Many Jedi gave their lives in order to ensure that your son and daughter were safely hidden from Vader. By coming here, you are also dishonoring their sacrifices." Obi-Wan stared hard at her. "If you truly love your son Padm?, you will leave," he said, his tone of voice indicating that there would be no further discussion of the matter.
The former Jedi Master had forgotten, however, that seated before him was a woman of intense conviction, not to mention one of the most skilled debaters the Galactic Senate had ever known, and for Padm?, the argument was far from settled.
"How dare you insinuate that I would put my own selfish desires above the safety and well-being of my son?" she spat through clenched teeth.
Obi-Wan held out his hands in a placating gesture. "Padm?, I didn't mean - "
"Do not attempt to patronize me, Obi-Wan" she warned him. Then her voice softened. "Please, allow me to finish."
Obi-Wan let his hands fall to his lap, nodding at Padm? to indicate that she should continue.
"I would never attempt to tell Luke the truth concerning my identity," Padm? attempted to reassure him. "He need only believe that I am an old friend of his aunt's, perhaps a former schoolmate."
Obi-Wan looked at her skeptically. "And what lie do you presume to tell your daughter? The resemblance between the two of you is uncanny. Will you have her believe you are merely a long-lost friend of her mother's as well?"
Padm? shook her head sadly. "Leia...I am aware that I cannot risk traveling to Alderaan. Bail holds too prominent a position, and I know that he is watched carefully, especially by Vader. But...Tatooine is different. This planet holds too many painful memories for Anakin, and I know that he would never return here."
"Padm?," Obi-Wan tried to reason with her. "That does not mean that Vader hasn't ordered Owen and Beru to be watched. The galaxy is teeming with Imperial spies, eager to make examples of anyone who dares to defy the Emperor. Not to mention that this planet is home to all manner of unscrupulous beings who wouldn't hesitate to provide useful information to the Empire if it would fatten their credit pouches. I'm sorry, Padm?, I truly am, but the risk is still too great."
Padm? rose and slowly walked to a low doorway leading to a makeshift workshop. The work surfaces were littered with various components and gadgetry used in moisture-gathering sensors and instruments necessary for survival on this harsh world. Padm? leaned against the arched opening. In her mind's eye, she saw a young man hunched over a similar worktable tinkering with the parts to a swoop bike, his handsome features distorted by grief.
If only I had known then, she thought. Could I have saved him?
"Somewhere, deep within me," she began, her back still to Obi-Wan, "I always believed that there would be time. Anakin would find his way back to the Light. The Emperor would be defeated. Somehow, in time, I would see them again. Hold them in my arms. Hear the sound of their voices." Padm? turned to face Obi-Wan, utter defeat evident in her features. "But, now, I am afraid that time is something I no longer have."
Obi-Wan's eyes once again wandered over Padm?'s pale, drawn face. As the enormity of her words became clear to him, Obi-Wan felt the breath leave his body. He shook his head slightly, not wanting to believe her words.
"Padm?...no," he whispered. He rose, closing the distance between them in three long strides. Tenderly, he held her face within his hands, stroking her tear-stained cheek with his thumb.
"Please, Obi-Wan," she said, her voice trembling with emotion, "just once more...let me look upon him with my own eyes."
A Bold Maneuver
Aided by gnarled walking sticks as they trudged through the sands, the two nomadic figures made their way across the barren Tatooine landscape, their heavy cloaks shielding their faces from the harsh suns. To anyone who happened to pay them any notice, they appeared to be nothing more than wandering peddlers making their way from homestead to homestead, the misshapen sacks slung over their shoulders filled with mainly worthless trinkets, spare machine parts and oddities.
As the peddlers neared the perimeter of the Lars homestead, they came to a halt, and the taller figure turned to his companion.
"Are you certain this is what you want, Padm??" Obi-Wan asked, his voice somewhat muffled by the cloak's thick fabric. "This is a decision from which there is no returning."
Padm? pushed the hood of her cloak back slightly so that she could look at Obi-Wan. "Yes," she assured him firmly, determination evident both in her voice and in her eyes.
Inhaling deeply, Obi-Wan sent a quick prayer to the Force then began to trudge purposefully toward the homestead.
It had been almost three weeks since Padm?'s appearance in the cantina in Anchorhead and her subsequent revelations regarding the urgency behind her need to see her son. That particular evening had now become ingrained in Obi-Wan's mind, becoming yet another painful memory that he would forever be forced to bear. After Padm?'s confession to him, Obi-Wan had led her back to the settee, where he held her tightly as she revealed the grim particulars of her situation to him. When she had finished, Obi-Wan held her closely as she wept, not for herself, but for her children. When she finally grew silent, Obi-Wan had suggested that she try to get some sleep. In her familiar stubbornness, Padm? had insisted on sleeping on the settee, not wishing to inconvenience her host, but Obi-Wan would hear nothing of it.
He had remained strong, fighting back his own emotion until he had seen her safely settled in his bedchamber. But as he stretched out on the lumpy settee and pulled a threadbare blanket over his body, he could no longer hold back his anger at the unfairness of it all.
Force, hasn't she been through enough? Haven't we all? Obi-Wan thought to himself as he stared up at the ceiling, watching the dancing shadows cast by the flickering light of the candle.
Sleep was impossible, and after a few hours of tossing and turning, he threw off the blanket and crept to his bedchamber. She looked so peaceful as she slept. Yet Obi-Wan knew it was merely a misconception. Peace was something that neither of them had experienced in many long years - and would likely never experience again. Kneeling beside the bed, Obi-Wan reached out a hand and smoothed away the hair that had fallen across her face. He gently shook her shoulder.
"Padm?," he whispered.
Slowly, Padm? opened her eyes. She stared at the former Jedi Master for several moments as she tried to bring her memory of her surroundings into focus.
"Obi-Wan, is something wrong?"
"No, Padm?. I am sorry to disturb you, it's just that...I have decided that I will help you contact the Lars family."
Padm? sat up, now wide-awake. "Thank you, Obi-Wan," she answered in a humble voice.
"You understand, however, that the final decision as to whether or not you will be allowed to see Luke will be made by Owen and Beru?" Obi-Wan asked her.
"Yes, I understand." Padm? was barely able to contain her joy as she hugged him warmly, murmuring her gratitude against his shoulder.
As he returned to the living area and his makeshift bed, Obi-Wan tried to ignore the nagging doubt that plagued him, but he knew that Tatooine had a better chance of experiencing a snowstorm than he had of convincing Owen Lars to allow this woman to see Luke.
Quickly deciding that the best course of action would be to try to speak to Beru alone, Obi-Wan crafted a risky plan. From his time spent watching the Lars family from afar, Obi-Wan knew that, much like himself, Owen Lars traveled to Anchorhead at regular intervals. When the day finally arrived for Owen's departure into the settlement, and while young Luke was away at school, Obi-Wan and Padm? would set out for the Lars homestead disguised as peddlers.
Padm? felt her heartbeat begin to thunder furiously as they approached the humble structure. Even though she had been here only once, when Anakin brought her here during his search for his mother, she had seen this homestead almost nightly as in her dreams she imagined a blonde-haired boy playing childhood games in its courtyard during the day and gazing longingly at the stars at night.
When they drew closer, a feminine figure emerged cautiously from the homestead. Her gaze wandered over the strangers and their wares. She opened her mouth to tell them to be on their way, but then Padm? lifted her face to look at Beru Lars. For a brief moment, Padm? was certain she saw a flicker of terror in Beru's eyes as she recognized her, but then Owen's wife smiled warmly at her and quickly ushered them both inside.
Once they had descended into the small courtyard, Obi-Wan and Padm? dropped their heavy bags just outside the entrance to the small home and followed Beru into the living area.
"Obi-Wan, it's been far too long. I keep trying to convince Owen that he is being unreasonable in not allowing you to visit us, but, well, you know Owen." Beru's high-pitched laugh sounded strained. "And Padm?, you still look as beautiful as you did the first time I met you. Well, you both must be thirsty," Beru said brightly, almost too brightly, when her guests were both seated. "I'll bring you something to drink."
Padm? was unnerved by Beru's forced cheeriness, sensing that something was amiss. She gave Obi-Wan a confused glance then stood up quickly. "Please, allow me to help you, Beru."
Beru stared at Padm? for a moment. "Of course, thank you," she finally said as she led the way into the kitchen area.
Padm? searched the cupboards for tumblers as Beru busied herself collecting a tray.
"I can't tell you how happy I am to see you, Beru," Padm? said softly as she watched Beru reach into a refrigeration unit and pull out a pitcher filled with a bright pink liquid.
Beru glanced briefly in Padm?'s direction, a tight smile stretched across her face, before moving to the counter to pour the juice into the tumblers Padm? had found.
"Obi-Wan tells me that you and Owen are taking wonderful care of Luke," Padm? once again tried to engage Beru in conversation. "Of course, I knew you would - "
Padm? stopped abruptly as Beru slammed the pitcher hard against the counter, jarring one of the tumblers to the floor. The moisture farmer's wife seemed oblivious to the pink stain that was slowly spreading across the floor as she stood very still, her back to Padm? and her eyes staring vacantly out a small window into the courtyard.
Eyeing Beru nervously, Padm? picked up a towel from the scarred kitchen table. She slowly knelt down and began to dab at the liquid, casting surreptitious glances at Beru as she worked.
"He is my son, too," Beru finally said, her voice suddenly flat. "I have loved him since the moment Obi-Wan placed him in my arms. I think it was...hard...for Owen, at first. It happened so suddenly, and he worried about how he would be able to support us. But, the first time Luke grasped his finger with his tiny fist...He may have an odd way of showing it, but, oh, how he loves that boy. Whenever Luke was sick, he would be so worried that he would sneak into his room at night and sit at the foot of his bed, just watching him. He doesn't think I know about that, but I do." Beru gave a weak laugh.
Padm? ceased her work, and her hands grew still. She stared at the floor, feeling oddly shamed by Beru's words.
"For ten years," Beru continued, "he has been the only bright light in our lives, and now...you come back." When Beru turned around, her face was stained with tears. "I won't let you take him away from us," she said as she eyed Padm? warily.
Stung by Beru's declaration, Padm? stood up slowly, wringing the towel nervously in her hands and causing a stream of liquid to drip onto her cloak. The woman she remembered meeting all those years ago was kind and loving, with a generous heart, and Padm? had not anticipated such a defensive reaction from Beru.
Padm? shook her head slowly. "No, Beru, you don't understand. I am not here to take Luke back with me."
"Then why else would you come here, if not to tell him the truth?" Beru challenged.
"Is everything all right?" Obi-Wan asked tentatively as he stepped into the kitchen. "I thought I heard some sort of commotion a few moments ago."
In the heavy silence that followed, Obi-Wan glanced at the two women. Seeing first the hurt in Padm?'s eyes and then the fear in Beru's, he quickly guessed the source of the tension he had sensed emanating from the kitchen.
Both of these women were mothers in their own right, and at the moment, each believed that motherhood was being threatened.
"I'm sorry. I should not have come here," Padm? cried as she dropped the towel back onto the table and hurried from the tiny kitchen.
Obi-Wan walked over to Beru and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Beru, you must understand that Padm? would never try to deny your role as a mother in Luke's life. Nor is she here to tell Luke who she is or to try to take him away from you and Owen. She only came here to ask if she could see him." He began to knead her shoulder reassuringly.
Beru turned to Obi-Wan, panic filling her voice as she spoke. "You don't understand, Obi-Wan. He is all that we have. What if - "
"Padm? is dying, Beru," Obi-Wan interrupted softly.
A Family Threatened
Beru Lars quickly ascended the steps leading from the courtyard and scanned the Tatooine landscape in search of Padm?. She soon saw her quarry only a short distance away and hurried towards her.
"Padm?, wait," Beru called as she drew closer to her.
Instead of turning around, however, Padm? merely quickened her pace. When Beru finally managed to catch up with Padm?, she reached out to grasp her arm.
"Please, Padm?," Beru said softly as she turned Padm? around to face her. "I'm sorry. I had no right to speak to you that way. I was just frightened. Please come back to the homestead with me."
"No, Beru." Padm? shook her head, her voice trembling as she spoke. "My coming here was a mistake. I have no right to intrude on your lives. I...I gave up my son. I gave birth to him, but I've never been...a mother - to either of my children. You're Luke's mother now, and I shouldn't be here."
"Obi-Wan told me about your condition, Padm?. I cannot imagine how hard this has been for you, to never hold your babies, to have no idea what they look like or if they are happy." Beru placed a gentle hand against Padm?'s cheek. "Owen and I never believed that we would be able to have a family, but you gave us that when you entrusted us with that precious little boy. We can never truly repay you for what you have done, but now, if I can help you, give you some measure of peace, please let me try."
A look of understanding passed between the two women, and when Beru turned around to lead the way back to the homestead, Padm? followed at her side.
"I only want to see him. He needn't know I am his mother," Padm? explained when she, Obi-Wan and Beru were once again in the Lars' kitchen, seated around the table.
"But would that not be even more difficult to bear, Padm?? Being so close to him yet not being able to tell him who you are? Also, Luke has abilities," Beru continued to express her concerns. "He doesn't understand what they are, of course, but Owen and I have both witnessed certain...incidents. What if he senses that you are his birth mother?"
"I do not believe that need be a concern." Obi-Wan shook his head. "Luke is Force-sensitive, like his father, but his abilities have not - "
"What is going on here?" a male voice interrupted.
Obi-Wan, Padm? and Beru turned to see Owen Lars standing in the doorway, his face flush with both fear and anger. Beru rushed to her husband's side.
"Owen, what are you doing home so early?" she asked.
"I had trouble with the speeder. Instead of getting stranded in the middle of nowhere with Tusken Raiders roaming about, I decided it would be best to return home and repair it." Owen eyed their guests warily. "Looks like it's a good thing I did."
"Let me explain, Owen," Beru began as she placed her hands against her husband's chest.
"There is nothing to explain, Beru," Owen boomed as he pushed away from her touch. "You know how I feel about him." He nodded in Obi-Wan's direction then lifted a finger to point accusingly at Padm?. "And she...she..."
Obi-Wan stood up slowly, holding his hands out in a placating gesture. "Owen, let me assure you that Padm? - "
"No, Obi-Wan," Padm? interrupted, placing a hand on the former Jedi Master's arm. "It is kind of you to help me, but this is my burden to face." Slowly, she turned to Owen. "I know my presence here isn't something you expected, and I can understand how it might be upsetting to you. But let me reassure you that I am not here to take Luke away from you. I only came to ask if I could see him, perhaps talk with him - as nothing more than an old friend of the family."
"Family," Owen scoffed. "How dare you speak to me about family. Everyday when I wake up, I wonder if this is the day Luke's family will find us, if Vader will take him and try to turn him into something evil or if he will merely kill us all. Everyday, I must choose my words to Luke carefully for fear of revealing too much, and I wonder if this is the day he will ask the one question I cannot answer."
Padm? clenched her hands together against her chest, her face shining with her desperation. "Owen, I don't know what to say, I'm sor - "
"He senses my lies and half-truths, and he resents me for it," Owen interrupted. "It drives a wedge between us that only grows wider over time, but that is the price I have to pay to keep Luke safe, to keep my family safe. You gave up the right to be a part of Luke's life and his family when you sent him to us. How dare you place us in such danger by coming here?"
"Owen, please." Beru tried to calm her husband.
"I want you to both to leave. Now." Without another word, Owen turned on his heel and stormed from the room.
Beru turned to Obi-Wan and Padm?, tears forming in her eyes. "I'm sorry, but perhaps it would be best if you both go now."
Feeling as if the remaining pieces of her heart had been ripped from her body, Padm? followed Obi-Wan out of the Lars homestead, and together they set off across the barren desert. Standing near the garage, Owen Lars watched them depart. He had feared this day, this moment, for years, and now it had arrived. Hands trembling, he bent over the speeder and began the repairs.
Obi-Wan stood just outside his bedchamber, his heart aching as he listened to the quiet sobbing emanating from within the tiny room. They had returned to the Jundland Wastes several hours earlier after being sent away by Owen Lars. As soon as she stepped into the tiny hut, Padm? had mumbled an excuse about not feeling well and had gone straight to bed. Understanding that she needed to be alone, Obi-Wan had respected her wishes and had not uttered a word as she left him standing alone in the doorway.
Now, however, Obi-Wan was growing concerned for his friend. He stepped tentatively across the threshold, carefully balancing the tray of food he was carrying.
"Padm?," he called softly. "I've brought you something to eat."
The small form hidden beneath the blankets on his bed remained still.
"You have to eat something, Padm?. You cannot afford to grow too weak," Obi-Wan tried again, more forcefully this time.
"I'm not hungry," she at last answered in a weary voice. "Please, just leave me, Obi-Wan."
Obi-Wan placed the tray on a small bedside table then sat down beside her on the edge of the bed.
"I'm sorry, Padm?," he said as he reached out his hand and gently began to stroke her hair. "Unfortunately, Owen is quite a stubborn man, especially where Luke is concerned. I cannot begin to comprehend how difficult this is for you, but we did try, Padm?. There is nothing else we can do."
Padm? turned her face from the pillow to look at her friend. "You're right Obi-Wan," she told him in a defeated voice. "You cannot imagine how difficult this is for me. How could you? You spent your entire life as a Jedi. No attachments, remember? You've probably never let yourself feel anything for anyone for fear that you might grow too close to them. Tell, me, Obi-Wan. When you left Anakin for dead on that river of lava, did you feel anything then, even the slightest hint of sadness or remorse?"
Obi-Wan recoiled from Padm? as if he had been bitten by a sand viper. At the look of hurt on his face, Padm? sat up on the bed.
"I didn't mean that, Obi-Wan. I'm just upset. Please, I am sorry," she said sincerely, desperation in her words.
Padm? reached out to take his hand, but Obi-Wan stood up and began walking towards the doorway. Before he reached the threshold, however, he turned to face her.
"Anakin was my brother, Padm?." Obi-Wan's voice was choked with emotion. "I loved him very much. Despite what you may believe about the Jedi, we do feel. We do hurt and mourn those we have lost."
"I know, Obi-Wan. I know that you loved him. Please forgive me. I was just upset."
Obi-Wan stared at Padm? for several moments. Then he returned to the bed. He stretched out, his back resting against the wall, and held out his arms to her. Padm? settled into his embrace, her face nuzzled against his chest. His steady breathing was calming, and soon Padm?'s eyelids grew heavy.
"He loved you, too, Obi-Wan," she said just as she drifted off to sleep.
Obi-Wan closed his eyes and let his head fall gently against the wall. Padm?'s words had wounded him, but not for the reasons the woman now asleep in his arms believed. He had mourned Anakin - deeply. In the earliest days of his self-imposed exile to this desert wasteland, his every waking moment had been filled by the sounds of Anakin's screams and cries of pain, and his every dreaming moment had been haunted by images of Anakin's face, filled with hurt and betrayal, as he slipped ever closer to the consuming fires below him.
What pained Obi-Wan at this moment was the fear that Padm? blamed him for her husband's death. For although Darth Vader lived, Anakin Skywalker, the man she had loved, had indeed died at his hand that day on Mustafar. Obi-Wan could understand her need to place blame.
In those early days, as he tried to come to terms with his Padawan's fall, Obi-Wan had often cursed the Force for bringing Padm? into Anakin's life, and he cursed Padm? for not rejecting the advances of her amorous suitor. It was much easier to look elsewhere, rather than within himself, to Anakin or the Jedi Order, for explanations and reasons.
Obi-Wan exhaled deeply and shook his head, as if dusting away all thoughts of the past. He knew dwelling on such matters accomplished nothing. All that mattered now was the future - a future that rested squarely on the small shoulders of a little girl with her mother's fiery spirit and a little boy with his father's talents, a little boy now sound asleep not so very far away.
To See His Face
"If you don't mind, I think I would prefer to just wait here for a while," Padm? informed Obi-Wan as she pointed out a small grouping of shaded tables situated outside what appeared to be a ramshackle caf?.
A week had passed since Padm?'s ill-fated encounter with the Lars family. Utterly disheartened, the shunned mother had spent those long days in bed, barely eating or even speaking. Knowing that wallowing in her own despair would only feed Padm?'s illness, Obi-Wan had insisted that she accompany him into Anchorhead for his usual trip to purchase supplies. Padm? had mumbled an excuse, but Obi-Wan had refused to take no for an answer, and the two had set off on their journey shortly before dawn.
Now, after a long morning of traveling through the desert, Padm? was tired, and she was growing increasingly uncomfortable by the amount of curious stares she and Obi-Wan received each time they entered an establishment together. Obviously, seeing the local hermit in the company of a woman was an oddity.
Obi-Wan seemed reluctant to leave his charge alone, but fearing that Padm? might need to rest, he at last acquiesced. "All right, Padm?," he said. "I'll only be a few more moments." He kissed her cheek lightly and gave her hand a quick squeeze.
As Obi-Wan turned and hurried down the market street, Padm? sat down at one of the tables. A woman bearing a surly expression instantly appeared at her side to take Padm?'s order. Soon she returned bearing a large tumbler, and Padm? smiled her thanks before taking a sip. She placed the tumbler back on the small table and looked around her with interest. It was obviously a school holiday of some sort, for the settlement was filled with children playing in groups or trailing miserably behind their indifferent parents as they entered and exited shop after shop.
Just as she did anytime she found herself amidst a crowd of people, Padm? instinctively pulled the hood of her cloak even further over her head to ensure that her face would not be easily noticed or recognized. Tatooine wasn't exactly the cosmopolitan center of the galaxy, but it paid to be cautious under all circumstances.
A commotion behind her caused Padm? to turn around in her seat. A group of boys, who appeared to be around twelve standard years of age, were standing in a loose semicircle around a slightly smaller boy. The blonde-haired boy hung his head in embarrassment as the older boys taunted him.
"He thinks his father was a star pilot," one boy laughed loudly.
"He even thinks he can be a pilot one day," interjected another boy. "Guess he thinks he's too good to be a farmer."
At this, all the others erupted into peals of laughter. Padm?'s heart went out to the little boy who was now trying to surreptitiously wipe away a tear with his sleeve. The boy lifted his face to glance around him, as if wondering how many people had heard the embarrassing taunts. His gaze turned in Padm?'s direction, and her heart seemed to stop.
"It couldn't be," she muttered under her breath as she stared at the little boy with wide eyes. "But, he looks so much like..."
The boy, obviously mistaking Padm?'s stares as mocking ones, looked down at the ground once again, his face turning a deep shade of red.
"Come on, let's leave Loony Luke to his daydreams," said one boy, who seemed to be the leader. "Face it kid, you're stuck here on this dustbowl just like the rest of us," he called back over his shoulder as he and the others walked away, leaving the smaller boy standing alone in the middle of the street.
At the sound of the boy's name, Padm?'s hands flew to her mouth. She stood up, her legs shaking furiously, and took a few tentative steps toward the little boy.
"Are you all right?" she asked kindly as she lowered her hood and knelt down in front of him, calling upon all her resolve to keep from throwing her arms around him and hugging him tightly.
The boy refused to look at Padm? but merely nodded slowly. "I'm used to it," he whispered.
Padm? reached out awkwardly, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder. "You know, they're probably just jealous."
"No," the boy shook his head. "They think I'm weird because I'm an orphan and live with my aunt and uncle instead of a mother and father."
Pangs of guilt stabbed at Padm?'s heart, and she swallowed hard. "My name is Pad- " she broke off as she realized her near-fatal mistake. "Padmela," she amended quickly. "What is your name?"
The little boy tilted his gaze upward slightly, watching her warily from beneath his long, blonde bangs. "Luke. Luke Skywalker."
Tears of joy began to sting Padm?'s eyes. At long last, she was standing face-to-face with her son. Padm? tried to take in every detail of Luke's face without being too obvious in her endeavor. She noted the blue of his eyes, and the lopsided way he smiled. In so many ways, she could see Anakin in his young features. The thought brought her joy but also saddened her as she thought of the future that could have been had her husband not been seduced by the Dark Side.
It was a happy moment, however, and Padm? pushed aside all thoughts of regret as she held out her hand. The boy instinctively grasped it. "I'm pleased to meet you, Luke," Padm? said as a smile filled her face. "You must be thirsty. Would you like to have something to drink, Luke? Perhaps a juice?"
Luke nodded and followed Padm? back to her table. She signaled the surly woman, and soon Luke was gulping down the contents of a large tumbler and wiping the remnants of the yellow fruit juice from his mouth with the sleeve of his tunic.
"So, your father was a pilot?" Padm? asked with great interest.
"That's what my uncle told me once. I don't think he meant to, though."
"I'm sure he was a fine pilot," Padm? assured him, a faraway look settling over her eyes.
"The best one in the whole galaxy!" Luke exclaimed defensively. Then he dropped his head in embarrassment once again.
Padm? reached out across the small table to pat his arm reassuringly. "I believe you, Luke, and I'm sure that one day you'll be a fine pilot, as well."
Luke looked up at Padm?, a genuine smiling filling his face.
"Luke!" A voice boomed throughout the street, causing both Luke and Padm? to give a startled jump.
Standing in the middle of the dusty market street was Owen Lars, his arms laden with packages and his face a mask of fury. Obviously, Luke had accompanied his uncle into the settlement to complete the errands that had been postponed due to the malfunctioning speeder.
"I have to go," Luke mumbled apologetically as he stood up nervously. "Thanks for the juice." He ran to his uncle's side. Padm? could not hear their whispered conversation, but Owen repeatedly looked up to glance angrily in her direction.
Padm? gave a tiny start as a hand came to rest on her shoulder.
"What is going on here?" Obi-Wan asked. Then he saw Owen and Luke. "Oh, Padm?, no. You didn't try to speak to him, did you?"
Realizing the answer to his question was obvious as Owen dropped his packages and began to approach them, Obi-Wan grasped Padm?'s arm and pulled her to her feet. "Let me handle this," he whispered.
"Just what in the stars do you think you are doing?" Owen asked furiously, his angry gaze sharp as vibroblades as he stared at Padm?.
"Owen, I'm sure that - " Obi-Wan began but was promptly interrupted by Padm?.
"I'm sorry, Owen," she began, "other boys were teasing him, and I just offered to buy him a juice to lift his spirits." Padm? tried futilely to explain her actions. "I didn't tell him who I am."
Owen merely scoffed at her. "I know Luke gets teased, and it's all because of you. You and my...stepbrother." Owen said the word as if it left a bad taste in his mouth. "The other children his age think he's different because he's an orphan, and he's always daydreaming or telling wild tales of his heroic father. He has too much of Anak-, of his father in him. He's always dreaming of space travel and piloting a starship."
"Luke is not destined to be a farmer, Owen," Obi-Wan's voice was calm. "His path lies elsewhere. You have always known this."
Owen's eyes narrowed. "You listen to me, you crazy old man. I don't believe in your talk of mythical destinies or paths. I believe in what I can see and touch." Owen stepped closer to Obi-Wan, until their faces were only centimeters apart. "As long as I am alive to stop you, Luke will never go off with you on some damn fool crusade to save his father or the galaxy. He will stay with me, where he will be safe from your wild ideas. Luke will be a farmer, like I am, and like my father before me."
Owen turned on his heel and walked back over to Luke, who was staring at the three adults with confusion. He picked up his packages and took his nephew by the hand and began to lead him away.
"You cannot control his destiny, Owen," Obi-Wan called after them, "no matter how hard you may try."
Owen stopped and turned to look at Padm? and Obi-Wan. "You just stay away from him," he said. Then he stalked down the dusty street, pulling Luke along behind him.
Luke turned to glance back over his shoulder at them, but Owen turned a corner, and soon the boy could no longer see the hermit Ben and the mysterious yet kind woman who had so angered his uncle.
Luke was quiet as he watched his uncle pilot the speeder across the desert sands. He wanted desperately to ask his uncle about the mysterious woman he had met, but the stern set to the man's jaw and the way he gripped the steering apparatus so firmly that his knuckles had whitened frightened Luke into remaining silent. They were nearing home when Luke, sensing that his chance might soon be gone, finally spoke.
"Uncle Owen," he began nervously, "do you know the woman who bought me the juice?"
A muscle in Owen's jaw twitched. "No, Luke," he answered briefly, his tone gruff, hoping to end the conversation.
Unfortunately for Owen Lars, his behavior had only stoked the fires of his nephew's curiosity, and Luke was not about to be deterred so easily.
"Then, why did you get so angry?"
"Because..." Owen shouted. Then he lowered his voice, trying to maintain control of his temper. "Because she was a stranger, Luke, and I've told you that you shouldn't talk to strangers. Besides, she was with Old Ben, and you know he's just a crazy old hermit."
"But Ben's always been nice to me when he sees me. Just because he's...different, it doesn't mean he's crazy."
The speeder had entered the perimeter of the Lars' moisture farm, and Owen brought the speeder to an abrupt halt, jarring Luke forward momentarily.
"Listen to me, Luke," he said, his voice filled with fear. "You stay away from that man. He's dangerous. Do you understand me?"
"Yes, Uncle Owen," Luke whispered, sinking down into his seat.
Owen stared at his nephew for a moment. "It's only because I care about you, Luke. You can understand that, can't you?"
Luke nodded sadly, his eyes trained on his worn shoes. The truth was, he didn't understand his uncle's worry. None of the other boys he knew were warned to stay away from the hermit. There had to be another reason for his uncle's dislike of Ben, but why wouldn't he tell him the truth?
When they reached the homestead, Luke hopped out of the speeder. His shoulders hunched dejectedly, he instinctively made his way to the garage. He loved to tinker with things when he was upset and needed to think. It was just one more thing about him that seemed to always upset his uncle, although Luke did not know why. Out of the corner of his eye, Luke saw his aunt emerge from their home.
"Hello, Luke. Did you enjoy your outing?" she called brightly.
Luke ignored her as he continued on his way. Beru turned to give Owen a questioning glance.
"They were in Anchorhead," Owen informed her as he drew closer.
Beru looked confused for a moment. Then the enormity of her husband's words became clear. "Did Luke see them?" she asked, but she was already certain of the answer, owing to Luke's demeanor.
Luke stood just inside the entrance to the garage, wiping an oily speeder part with a dirty rag as he watched his aunt and uncle. He could not hear them, but he knew they were arguing about him again. Beru was gesturing wildly, and his uncle was speaking rapidly, his face a deep shade of red. The two adults glanced towards the garage, causing Luke to duck further into the shadow of the doorway. Then they hurried down the steps to the courtyard, leaving Luke alone with his thoughts and confusion.
"I cannot believe you engaged him in conversation, Padm?," Obi-Wan bellowed, slamming his fist hard against the table.
Padm?, who had been bustling around Obi-Wan's tiny kitchen preparing their meal, stopped to face him. "I told you, Obi-Wan, I didn't tell him anything about myself. I was merely trying to cheer him." Her tone was one of exasperation. She quickly returned to the task at hand, humming as she chopped a small pile of fresh vegetables Obi-Wan had purchased in Anchorhead.
Obi-Wan watched Padm? through narrowed eyes. He had expected her brief reunion with her son to upset Padm?, but, on the contrary, it seemed to have buoyed her spirits. On their journey home, she had chattered incessantly about how healthy and handsome Luke was and how kind and caring her son had turned out to be. Her only moment of melancholy came when she told him about the way the other children had teased him.
Obi-Wan did not reveal to Padm? that he had long been aware of the suffering Luke endured from other boys his age. Through overheard conversations on the streets of the settlements, he also knew that Luke often resorted to weaving elaborate tales about his star pilot father with the imagination only a young boy longing for his father could possess.
While it was nice to see Padm? smile again, Obi-Wan had to admit that something in her euphoria was more troubling than her previous despair.
Luke pulled the blankets close around his head, listening intently to the argument now taking place between his aunt and uncle in the living area. He could not hear every word, but it was clear to Luke that he was once again the source of their distress.
Suddenly, Luke could hear his uncle's voice booming throughout the tiny homestead.
"If he ever comes near Luke again, it will be his last mistake."
In his bed, Luke flinched, frightened by the depth of his uncle's anger.
"Please, Owen, you'll wake him." Beru pleaded with her husband to lower his voice.
Footsteps grew closer to Luke's tiny bedchamber, and he closed his eyes tightly just as Beru slowly opened the door to check on him. Apparently satisfied that Luke must still be asleep, Beru quietly closed the door. Soon after, Luke heard the sounds of his guardians preparing to go to bed.
Sometime later, when all was at last quiet and he was certain his aunt and uncle were asleep, a fully clothed Luke threw off the blankets and grabbed a worn satchel from underneath his bed. He crept as quietly as possible out of the homestead. When he reached the perimeter of the farm, he disabled the sensors, resetting them once again when he was safely on the other side. Then he set off across the desert.
Luke was in search of answers, and there was only one person who could give them to him.
Something in his subconscious pulled Obi-Wan from his slumber, and he sat up, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. In the corner of the small living area, he saw a figure kneeling on the floor in front of an open storage crate.
"Padm??" he called.
When she turned to him, Obi-Wan could see the metal cylinder cradled in her hands.
"I...I was cold," Padm? explained softly. "I didn't want to bother you. I was just looking for an extra blanket."
Obi-Wan threw back his blankets and crossed the room to her. He knelt by her side, reaching out a hand to rub her back soothingly.
"You kept it?" she asked, and this time Obi-Wan could hear the pain and longing in her voice.
"Padm?, I'm sorry. I didn't mean for you to find it," Obi-Wan apologized.
"Anakin was so proud of this lightsaber," she said, clutching the weapon tightly against her chest. "I cannot count the number of times he told me the story of his journey to find the crystal for its construction."
"Yes, well, if it that is true, Anakin had a strange way of expressing his pride," Obi-Wan chuckled. " He constantly...well...shall we say...'misplaced' his lightsaber."
Padm? joined in his laughter. "I know. He would...well, I shouldn't tell you this."
"What, Padm??" Obi-Wan urged.
She looked at him uncertainly for a moment then continued. "Anakin would often imitate your speech to him. 'This weapon is your life,'" she said in a deep, mocking voice.
Obi-Wan laughed even harder. "I suppose I did become a bit predictable," he said wistfully.
"There is still good in him, Obi-Wan," Padm? said slowly as she looked down at the lightsaber in her hands. "I know it."
"Padm?..." Obi-Wan shook his head.
"You must believe me," she insisted. Padm? reached out, taking Obi-Wan's hand. "My son. Train him well." She placed her husband's lightsaber in his outstretched palm.
"I will," Obi-Wan assured her as he returned the lightsaber to the storage crate and buried it once again beneath the mound of blankets and trinkets to await the moment when it would once again be wielded by a Skywalker.
Obi-Wan watched as Padm? returned to the bedchamber. As he settled back into his makeshift bed, he could hear the wind outside whistling menacingly through the hut's structure, heralding the beginnings of another sandstorm.
Obi-Wan awoke at dawn with an uneasy feeling, as if something was amiss. Outside, sand was pummeling against the walls of his humble home, but above the roar of the sandstorm, Obi-Wan was certain he could hear a faint cry. Dressing hurriedly, he wrapped his cloak firmly around his face for protection and stepped out into the maelstrom.
He was immediately thrown against the door by the force of the blowing sands, but he struggled to take a few tentative steps forward. Squinting against the haze, he could barely see a small, dark figure stumbling blindly in his direction. With a jolt of fear, he realized the identity of the stranded traveler.
"Luke," he called wildly as he tried to reach the boy.
The force of the winds made walking almost impossible, however, and he resorted to crawling across the canyon floor. Just before he reached him, Obi-Wan saw Luke collapse to the ground. When his fingers at last closed around Luke's arm, Obi-Wan turned the boy over to face him. He inhaled sharply as he saw the numerous bloody cuts covering Luke's face and hands where the sand had sliced into his flesh with the same intensity as a vibroknife.
Obi-Wan gathered Luke into his arms and made the painstakingly slow journey back to his hut. When he at last stumbled across the threshold, Obi-Wan called desperately for Padm?.
"What is it, Obi-Wan?" Padm? called from the nether regions of the hut. She at last appeared in the living area, and when she saw her son lying limp in the former Jedi's arms, she hurried to Luke's side. "No," she cried as she tentatively touched her son's lacerated face.
"He must have run away from Owen and Beru. He got caught in the sandstorm. Quickly, Padm?, we need to clean his wounds." Obi-Wan placed Luke gently on the settee, pulling back his tunic to examine him for further injuries.
Padm? gave a brief nod then disappeared from the room only to return a few moments later bearing a bowl filled with water and a clean cloth. Obi-Wan reached out to take the bowl and cloth, but Padm? shook her head firmly.
"No," she said in a strained voice, kneeling at Luke's side.
Obi-Wan understood Padm?'s need to tend to her son, and he moved to Luke's feet to allow her more room to perform her task.
Padm? dipped the cloth in the water and began to gently swab at the cuts and abrasions lining Luke's face and hands. When the wounds were at last clean, she went to fetch a tumbler of clean water, cradling Luke's head as she lifted the tumbler to his cracked and bleeding lips. Most of the water merely trickled down the sides of the unconscious child's face, but Padm? continued her efforts, hoping that at least a portion of the life-giving liquid would make its way into his body. Finally, Luke gave a sputtering cough, turning his head to the side and expelling some of the water. Padm? began to sob with relief.
Obi-Wan joined her at Luke's side, stroking the boy's grit-filled hair. Luke opened his eyes briefly, and he stared at Padm?. He smiled weakly at her. "It's you," he said in a raspy whisper. "You...you must be one of the angels from the star pilots' tales. The beautiful creatures that guard over them and protect them on their journeys."
Padm? gasped as the painful memory of another blonde-haired boy speaking to her of angels gripped her heart. She reached out to cup Luke's chin. "Shhh...you should rest now," she told him, fighting back the lump now constricting her throat.
Luke gazed at her a moment longer, then closed his eyes as fatigue once again overcame him. For a long while, Padm? sat silently by Luke's side, watching his chest rise and fall evenly.
"It's because of me," she finally said. "He came here because of me. You were right, Obi-Wan. By coming here, I placed him in danger."
Obi-Wan stood up and grasped Padm?'s arms, pulling her to her feet. "He will be fine. Perhaps a few scars, but otherwise, he will recover fully. When the storm subsides, I will take him back to his aunt and uncle. They must be sick with worry."
Padm? said nothing in reply but made her way to the kitchen to prepare a simple meal, hoping that Luke would be hungry when he awoke.
Luke was sitting up on the settee, his face and hands covered in both bacta and an additional white salve that Obi-Wan had concocted to help heal his abrasions. He was sipping a warm soup that Padm? had prepared for him. Obi-Wan sat in a chair across from him, watching as Luke finished his meal.
"This is delicious," Luke said as he brought the mug to his lips yet again, draining its contents.
Padm? smiled warmly at him as she took the empty mug from him. "Thank you, Luke. I'm glad you liked it." She took the mug to the kitchen then returned to the living area and sat down on the opposite end of the settee from Luke, curling her legs beneath her.
Obi-Wan cleared his throat awkwardly. "Well, my boy. I think we deserve an explanation," he said gently.
Luke stared down at his hands, guilt and embarrassment causing his face to turn a shade of red beneath the white salve. "I know I shouldn't have run away, but I am just tired of everyone lying to me. I didn't mean to worry Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen, but I didn't know what else to do." Luke lifted his gaze, turning to look at Padm?. "Why does my uncle hate you? Please don't insult me by denying it," Luke added at the shocked expression on Padm?'s face.
Padm? stared at Luke, who in this moment looked so much like his father. She glanced briefly at Obi-Wan, who appeared to be holding his breath as he waited for her explanation. "I suspect your uncle's dislike for me is a matter of guilt by association." Padm? smiled at Luke. "I am a friend of Ben's, although I have not seen him in quite some time. As I am sure you are aware, your uncle does not care for Ben and probably has extended those feelings to anyone who associates with him."
Judging by his expression, Luke did not believe this explanation, but he said nothing. He was accustomed to the lies and half-truths, but he had hoped to find honesty and answers here. He turned to Obi-Wan, his jaw set in determination. "Why does my uncle hate you?"
"I am a hermit, Luke. I am considered to be different, perhaps eccentric. People fear those who are different," Obi-Wan said matter-of-factly.
Luke shook his head sharply. "My aunt and uncle hold prejudices against no one, and none of my friends are forbidden to speak to you. I know there is another reason."
Obi-Wan risked a brief glance at Padm?. She was biting her lower lip, and Obi-Wan could sense her pain and her longing to explain herself to her son. Here in this moment, away from Owen and Beru, she could have told Luke the truth of his parentage, even demanded that he return with her to Tirana. Yet, she remained silent, sacrificing her own happiness, her own desire to be with her son, in order to protect him. Obi-Wan had never felt more pride and compassion for her.
He wondered if Luke would ever truly understand the depth of his mother's love for him. This boy deserved to have memories of his mother, and Obi-Wan knew he owed it to Padm? to ensure that he did. As he looked at the adamant expression on Luke's face, Obi-Wan was reminded of a young queen who had stood firmly against her enemies to protect her planet and her people.
He took a deep breath. "You seem to have inherited your mother's tenacity and quick wit, Luke," he said. Out of the corner of his eye, Obi-Wan could see Padm? staring at him with shock and disbelief.
Luke's jaw went slack for a moment at Obi-Wan's pronouncement. "You knew my mother?" he asked excitedly.
Obi-Wan smiled at the boy. "Oh, yes, I met her when she was very young. She was a beautiful woman, Luke, one of the most beautiful I have ever seen, able to capture a man's heart with merely a glance and a smile. I expect that is why your uncle dislikes me so, Luke. When he sees me, I am a reminder of painful memories for your family."
"I wish I could have known her. Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen said she died when I was born." Luke chewed his lower lip thoughtfully.
Obi-Wan said nothing, knowing that remaining silent was as much a deception as if he had spoken up and affirmed the lies Luke had been told about his mother's fate, but he hoped that Luke would one day be able to forgive him.
"What was she like?" Luke asked eagerly, breaking through Obi-Wan's reverie.
"She was confident and brave," Obi-Wan told him. "She always put the needs of others before her own and had a kind spirit that was both beautiful and rare. Her beauty made your mother appear to be fragile and delicate, but she was a fierce woman who fought passionately for her beliefs."
As he listened to Obi-Wan, Luke's eyes took on a faraway expression, as if he were trying to form a picture in his mind of this extraordinary woman.
Obi-Wan turned his gaze to Padm?. She was smiling at him, and Obi-Wan could sense her overwhelming gratitude to him as well as a sense of utter peace and contentment, as if she could now let go, accepting what the Force held for her.
Thank you, she mouthed silently to him.
Obi-Wan nodded slightly, returning her smile. He stood up, making his way to the small window at the end of the room. "Remember, Luke," he warned. "Your uncle would not appreciate - "
"I know," Luke interrupted. "You don't have to worry. I won't tell him."
Obi-Wan heaved a sigh of relief. Luke was an intelligent child, and Obi-Wan knew that he could trust Luke to keep their discussion private.
Luke's expression turned thoughtful. "If you knew my mother, did you also know my father?"
The smile slipped from Obi-Wan's face as he stared out the grimy window at the swirling sands, now drifting slowly to the ground like snow as the winds began to subside. Behind him, he could sense Padm? grow tense, fearful of his response. Obi-Wan glanced at the storage chest resting along the wall, Anakin's lightsaber buried within its depths...waiting.
Not this day, the Force seemed to whisper to him.
Obi-Wan turned from the window. "I am afraid that will have to be a story for another time, Luke," he told him brightly. "The storm is dying, and I must return you to your aunt and uncle before nightfall. They must be out of their minds with worry."
Luke opened his mouth to protest, but he stopped. He had learned much from the strange hermit, and he didn't want to risk angering him for fear that he would never again confide in him memories about his family.
Wrapped in cloaks, packs filled with water and food slung over their shoulders, Obi-Wan and Luke stood just inside the doorway of the hut, prepared to make the trek across the desert to the Lars homestead. Padm? hugged Obi-Wan warmly, giving him a quick peck on the cheek before kneeling in front of Luke.
"It was a great honor to meet you, Luke," she told him as she gently grasped his shoulders. "You are a special young man. Never forget that."
Luke smiled broadly at her and leaned forward to hug her tightly.
Padm? fought back her tears as she returned his embrace. When Luke broke away from her, she gave him a brave smile. "Be careful on your journey."
Luke followed Obi-Wan out of the hut, and Padm? watched them until they disappeared over the dunes. She had just returned inside when a sharp pain assaulted her temples. She rubbed her forehead, suddenly feeling quite tired. She retreated to the bedchamber to rest.
It was nearing sunset when Padm? finally awoke. Her headache had disappeared but her fatigue had only worsened. She contemplated eating, but it seemed to be too much effort. Through the window, she could see streaks of pinks and blues filling the horizon as the sunset neared. It was such a beautiful sight, and Padm? never tired of witnessing it.
As tired as she was, something within her seemed to call to her to view its splendor once more. Wearily, she made her way out of the hut, slowly walking to the crest of a nearby dune. A chilling gust passed by her, and she pulled her cloak tightly around her body, lifting her face bravely to the setting suns.
Tatooine's twin suns were making their final descent beneath the canyons when Obi-Wan neared home. In the dying light, he could barely see a dark, crumpled mass lying atop a dune just ahead of him. He squinted at the strange sight, trying to see it more clearly. Then he was hit with a cold realization.
"No, please," he begged the Force.
With an impending sense of dread, he hurried his pace, slipping and stumbling on the loose rocks and sand as he scrambled to the crest of the dune. He fell down beside the motionless mass and reached out his hands to turn the cloaked figure towards him.
"Padm?. No," he cried helplessly. He touched the pulse at her throat, but he knew it was in vain.
She was gone. He could no longer sense her presence in the Force. Obi-Wan began to weep, lifting her to him and cradling her head against his body. He gently stroked her cheek, noticing that her expression was not contorted in pain but was one of peace and acceptance.
Obi-Wan tried to find solace in that knowledge.
"Know that I will watch over him and teach him well, Milady," he promised as he pressed his lips to her forehead in a final farewell.
He held her as the hours passed, his tears at last subsiding long after the canyons were bathed in darkness. He left her only a moment, to retrieve a lantern and the necessary tools. Ignoring the calls of the wild nocturnal beasts that roamed the darkened Jundland Wastes, he buried her there, where the view of the setting suns cast bands of brilliant pastels along the canyon walls. It was a hidden gemstone on a planet otherwise devoid of beauty, rivaling the twinkling lights of Coruscant and even the most revered sites of Naboo.
To Obi-Wan, it was a place befitting of a queen, both in title and of spirit and heart.
It was the last time Obi-Wan saw Luke for many years, the day his mother died. There were, of course, the occasional chance meetings in the marketplace or times when he would spy on the boy undetected, but Owen and Beru had been shaken so deeply by Luke's disappearance that they had forbidden Obi-Wan to intentionally cross paths or engage in conversation with their nephew again. It wasn't the first time the Lars family had made such a demand, but this time, Obi-Wan knew the circumstances had changed.
It had been a bitter scene when Obi-Wan arrived at the Lars homestead, returning Luke to his aunt and uncle. Beru had gasped in horror at the cuts and abrasions covering the boy's face and hands and had immediately wrenched him from Obi-Wan's side and ushered him into the homestead to care for his wounds. Obi-Wan had attempted to follow, but Owen had stepped in his path, blocking the entrance to the stairway leading to the subterranean courtyard.
"I will not let him become his father," Owen spat through clenched teeth, convinced now more than ever that Obi-Wan was trying to lure Luke down some fool's path to save the galaxy.
"Owen, I did not - " Obi-Wan tried to explain, but Owen did not allow him the opportunity.
"You brought Luke into our lives," Owen interrupted, his voice now oddly calm, "and for that, I will always be grateful. But Luke ran away to you because he thinks you are exciting, a mystery he can unravel. You are dangerous, Obi-Wan, and I won't have you corrupting Luke with your talk of the Force. Never come near my family again. If you do...it will be the end of you, Kenobi." Owen turned on his heel and started down the stairway. He had only taken a few steps, however, when he turned to face Obi-Wan again. "And tell her...tell her to leave Tatooine immediately. She has no claim to Luke, not anymore."
With that, Owen disappeared into the courtyard, leaving Obi-Wan standing alone in the Tatooine desert.
He had attempted to contact Beru only once. He thought it only appropriate that she know of Padm?'s passing, and so, mere days after finding Padm?'s lifeless body lying on the dunes, Obi-Wan emerged from the recesses of a merchant's stall in Anchorhead just as Beru passed by him. He fell into step beside her and quickly whispered the mournful news to her, his eyes darting around him nervously, hoping that Owen would not finish his business at the parts dealer too soon.
Beru said nothing as he spoke, and her pace only wavered for a moment before she continued briskly on her way, but a few hours later, as Obi-Wan sat alone in the deserted cantina at his usual place at the bar, a woman sat down beside him. Waving the barman away as he approached to take her order, Beru hurriedly placed a small bouquet of flowers on the bar beside Obi-Wan.
"For her grave," she whispered, and then she was gone.
Obi-Wan picked up the bouquet, immediately recognizing the blue flowers as Maldeniums. More commonly known as Mothers' Flowers, they were one of the few flowering plants that managed to grow on the harsh planet and were traditionally given to new mothers upon the birth of a child as a sign of love and respect. Obi-Wan left the cantina, clutching the flowers closely to him as he made the lonely trek home.
He scattered the flowers over the ground where he had buried Padm?, understanding that this was Beru's way of honoring the woman who had sacrificed everything for her children, making the moisture farmer's wife's own dreams of motherhood possible in the painful process.
The encounter in the cantina marked the last time Obi-Wan would speak to a member of the Lars family face-to-face. He continued to abide by Owen's edict, watching only from the shadows as the years passed and Luke grew from a boy into a man.
For his part, Luke became occupied by the normal fascinations of a young male as he grew older, and his long-ago encounter with the kind woman and the mysterious hermit became nothing more than a vague memory as he concentrated on his studies, speeders, dreams of becoming a star pilot and the various ways to attract the attentions of the opposite sex. Sometimes, though, as he stood outside his humble home, watching the twin suns set below the distant horizon, the old hermit's words came back to him from somewhere within the recesses of his consciousness. His imagination conjured visions of the kind and beautiful woman who had claimed his father's heart, and he wondered if perhaps she, too, had enjoyed watching sunsets, wondered if this simple joy was something they shared in common.
Life on Tatooine passed slowly for Obi-Wan. He visited Padm?'s burial site almost daily, looking forward to his "talks" with her. He shared news of the Rebellion, as well as odd happenings that occurred in his otherwise mundane existence. He spoke often of Luke, assuring her that he was well and that he was watching over him, just as he had promised.
Almost ten years had passed since Padm?'s death when, on one of his usual trips to her grave, Obi-Wan heard the cry of a band of Tusken Raiders. Moving along the canyon to investigate, he soon came upon the sandpeople, rummaging through the contents of a landspeeder. Obi-Wan began to wave his arms wildly, and he emitted an eerie howl that sent the Tuskens scurrying away like frightened animals. It was then that Obi-Wan noticed the crumpled heap lying near the landspeeder. He moved closer, immediately recognizing Luke. Obi-Wan's stomach lurched in fear as he knelt beside Luke and reached out his hand to him, but his worries were soon alleviated as he saw the young man's chest rise and fall with his breathing.
Their paths had crossed once again. Obi-Wan felt a strange ripple through the Force, and something tugging at the corner of his mind told him that the time had come at last.
A plaintive beep echoed along the canyon walls, and Obi-Wan lowered the hood of his cloak as he turned sharply towards the origin of the noise. There, hiding beneath an alcove carved into the canyon wall, he saw a blue and white astromech droid. A small smile of recognition began to form at the corners of Obi-Wan's mouth.
"Hello there," he called to the droid in a kind voice. "Come here, my little friend. Don't be afraid."
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