Part I: The Meeting
Obi-Wan paced across the small room and spun on his heel, his cloak swirling around his ankles. He clasped his hands behind his back and counted out the seven steps back across the floor. Pivoting, he scanned the room. The three chairs clustered around a table in one corner looked slightly battered; the table bore the scratches and pockmarks of long use. The wooden floorboards were scuffed. The single window's glass was milky with age.
The Jedi worked his jaw. She belongs back in the palace on Naboo or her apartments on Coruscant. Not in this womp rat's bolt hole. He sighed. It seemed bolt holes were becoming more and more the order of the day, and this one - in a remote settlement on Dakshee - was better than many he had seen. Pain radiated through the Force from the next room. Obi-Wan resumed pacing.
A cry from beyond the door jerked the Jedi to a stop. He lifted a shaky hand to wipe sweat off his face and out of his beard. As the cry - more of a warble, really - grew louder, he gulped in a huge lungful of air. It suddenly felt like he'd been holding his breath for the last six hours.
For long moments, he stood and stared at the door, transfixed. Finally it slid into the wall. He shook himself out of his reverie and watched the Jedi healer step into the room. The healer whose presence had been arranged by Yoda, as his had been. His eyes were immediately drawn to the small bundle in her arms. He swallowed and took a tentative step forward.
The healer crossed the floor briskly and held out the bundle. A white blanket with a tiny red fist waving about like some broken sensor array. Obi-Wan hesitated and looked to the healer's stern face.
"It's a boy," she clipped as she pressed the babe into his arms.
The Jedi looked with momentary wonder into the miniature and very wrinkled face peeking out from the blanket's thick folds. "Hello, little one," he whispered. Deep blue eyes blinked twice, then the face started to scrunch up as it turned an alarming shade of red. As a bellowing cry filled his ears, his worried gaze met the healer's suddenly kind one.
She nodded. "He's perfectly healthy."
"And Pad ..." Obi-Wan stole a glance at the closed door. "I mean, ... how is the senator?"
"She has fared well."
"May I ...?"
"No." The healer was abrupt. "Time is short. You must go." She handed him a backpack.
Jiggling the crying baby in the crook of his left arm, the Jedi slung the pack over his right shoulder. He turned to go, suddenly, inexplicably reluctant. Looking over his shoulder, he asked, "Is the, the decoy prepared?"
The healer nodded. "Stillborn only this morning. That is all they will find, should they discover us."
Closing his eyes briefly, Obi-Wan asked, "And that mother?"
"It's been taken care of."
The Jedi's eyes snapped to her face. She pursed her lips before adding, "Spirited away. We do not deal with beings in the same manner as our enemies."
"Of course not. Forgive me." Obi-Wan paused as the Force brushed his senses. "She is still straining. I should check ..."
"No." The healer stopped him with a touch to his wrist. "She must deliver the afterbirth. Go now." Softly she whispered, "Please."
Obi-Wan stared over the healer's shoulder at the bedroom door. His being pulsated with the desire to go to Padmé's side, to speak with her, just for a moment. A tremor skimmed along his nerves as his gaze was drawn back to the now quiet baby. It seemed to regard him with solemn eyes. He sighed and headed for the door that would lead him out of his friend's life. Possibly forever. Dear Padmé, my friend. I wish ...
"General Kenobi." The healer's voice brought him to a halt as he reached for the touch pad. His hand froze mid-air. She continued, "Hide the child well. He must never discover his son. Everything depends on it."
The Force whispered through his mind. Without looking back, Obi-Wan nodded and slipped into the night.
Part II: Flight
The baby settled into a specially adapted bunk, Obi-Wan slid into the pilot's chair. His hands started to shake and he slumped forward. Wiping at his mouth, his fingers paused on his close-cropped beard. Master, everything has gone so terribly, terribly wrong. The Jedi stared into the night, waves of regret washing over him. A thousand decisions, never to be undone. A thousand paths never taken. Had it all come down to one helpless baby? Oh, Padmé, why did you and Anakin have to fall in love? Why couldn't friendship ... The Jedi cut off his thoughts and shoved them into the far recesses of his mind.
Within minutes, the spacecraft was lifting into the darkness, its landing lights disabled. Nothing but a shadow melting into the sky.
As the ship left atmosphere behind, another jumped into the system. The Jedi double-checked the instrument panel. No mistake. That triangular blip was becoming as familiar as the act of fleeing. He closed his eyes and projected his thoughts outward, downward. Run, Padmé, run. A faint reply echoed back; the healer had sensed his warning. He clenched his jaw. It was all he could do.
Stars elongated into lines as the ship leapt into hyperspace.
Obi-Wan traced a thumb over the baby's downy scalp. "You are very hungry, little one." He chuckled softly. "You are always very hungry." The baby ignored him and sucked greedily on the bottle. "Ah, yes. We all have our own agendas, don't we? Yours is to fill that endless void we call a stomach, and mine ... Mine is to plant a seed of hope for the future."
A beeping sounded from the cockpit. The Jedi glanced up, then back down to the child. "Time for another change of course, little one. Don't worry. There won't be many more."
"This would be much easier if I had an extra hand. Or two."
Obi-Wan gently gripped the baby's ankles in his left hand. He undid each tab and gingerly peeled the diaper back. The aroma assaulted his senses, making his eyes water. The odorless stools of a newborn had given way to this ... this ... The Jedi's nostrils flared in disgust. He should have brought along a nursemaid.
As he reached for a clean cloth, beeping started up. One Jedi eyebrow rose. He glanced down at the baby. "Sometimes I think you time these things deliberately, little one."
Obi-Wan laid the soiled diaper loosely back in place. He stretched a strap across the baby's midsection and secured it. As he headed to the cockpit, he muttered, "Five minutes. Lie still for five minutes."
Short moments later, Obi-Wan returned from the cockpit to the task at hand. "That was the last course adjustment, little one. We're almost home."
He stopped short. The baby had kicked the diaper loose and was cooing, his chubby legs resting in the mess. Obi-Wan groaned.
Bending over the bunk, the Jedi brought himself nose to nose with his tiny charge. The baby focused on Obi-Wan's eyebrows and continued to coo. Obi-Wan's tone was stern. "Little one, this trip would be much more pleasant if you did not have to make every production ... such a production."
Deep wrinkles started to sink into the baby's forehead as red crept up his tiny neck. A wail reverberated around the small cabin, and Obi-Wan leaned back with a sigh. He picked up the baby and held it at arm's length. "A dip in the refresher and you'll feel as good as new."
The baby was perched on the Jedi's right forearm, legs dangling free, back pressed against the man's chest by his left hand. A golden brown orb filled the viewscreen. As he regarded the planet, Obi-Wan felt a great sadness stealing over him. A month of zigzagging and backtracking across the galaxy had brought them to this. The place, it seemed to him, where it had all begun. The Force gleamed around him. Oh, Master, I know it's not his fault. I bear a measure of responsibility, as well. In truth, we have all been pawns. I will not hate him. I will remember him as he was.
His knuckle being latched onto by a searching mouth drew his gaze downwards. The baby sucked his finger hungrily. The Jedi jiggled the child, extracting his finger from the tiny mouth to point out the viewscreen.
"I thought you might want to see your new home from on high, little one." Obi-Wan paused. "It seems much ... kinder from up here."
The baby started to fuss.
"Shhh, little one. It won't be so bad. You'll get used to it."
Part III: The Farewell
The Jedi strode across the hard-packed yard, heat soaking up through his boots. The blanket was wrapped around the baby to protect tender skin from the brutal sunlight. His bundle wiggled, chaffing at the restraint and the suffocating heat. Space travel was very cool. Obi-Wan stepped into the meager shade of the entrance dome and passed the child to the young woman waiting there. A burden lifted at seeing Anakin's gentle sister-in-law, with her broad face and kind eyes. She had always insisted on treating him as if he were part of the family. She unwrapped the baby and smiled warmly at him.
"Where is your ship?" Beru Lars glanced over the Jedi's shoulder to the speeder beyond.
"Mos Espa. I did not wish to draw unnecessary attention by landing here."
He followed her into the entryway, suddenly reluctant to continue down into the underground home. Sitting on a bench, he set the backpack beside him, and leaned against the cool sandstone wall.
Eyes closed, he asked, "Where is Owen?"
"Gone to Tosche Station, I think." She sighed. "He preferred that over another argument."
The Jedi clenched and unclenched his jaw. "He would have us give up without trying."
"No," came the soft reply. "You must understand, he only agreed to this for my sake, because of ... the miscarriage. He argues with you about the futility of resisting the Empire, but I think he's really worrying about what will happen if ..."
"If Anakin finds his son." Leaning forward to dig through the pack, Obi-Wan said, "Be assured, Beru, hiding the baby in the open is quite safe. Anakin refuses to have anything to do with ... his old life, and Tatooine, in particular, holds many painful memories for him. He will never return."
Finding what he was looking for, he passed a hand-written note to Beru. He watched her face as she began to read. Already, this harsh land was etching lines into her youth, around her eyes and mouth.
Beru glanced up. "She wants the child to be called Luke?"
Obi-Wan stood and nodded. He brushed his finger across the baby's fist and smiled sadly as tiny fingers wrapped tightly around his larger one. "Good-bye, little one," he whispered. "I shall miss you."
"You haven't been calling him by his name?"
The Jedi met her knowing gaze. "We've had such a short time together, he and I." Obi-Wan drew a shallow breath. "I thought it best if the first time he heard his name, it would be from the lips of someone he would know ... as a parent."
"You wish it were you." Her voice was soft and sure.
"Wishing doesn't make it so. I would wish for many things, Beru - all of them beyond possible."
Her eyes dropped back to the note. "What's this? She wants him to keep his father's name? Isn't that dangerous?"
Pulling his finger from the baby's grasp, Obi-Wan turned to stare out at the wavering Tatooine landscape. "She gave up her baby for a vague future hope, Beru. I couldn't refuse her this one request. Skywalker is a good name - a name that belongs to this place." He paused. "Most will only refer to him as the Lars boy, at any rate."
The Jedi sensed acceptance in the silence that followed.
"Where will you go?" Concern laced the words.
Pivoting to face her, Obi-Wan unconsciously assumed a martial at-ease stance. "I must return."
Beru started to say something, then stopped. She whispered, "Promise me you'll be careful."
His eyebrow arched slightly. "I cannot. These dark times do not permit caution. There are many battles to be fought." He nodded at the child. "This precaution may yet prove unnecessary."
"You don't believe that."
Squeezing his eyes shut for an instant, Obi-Wan opened them to imprint the image of the young woman and baby in his mind. "I promise you this, Beru. I will return. I will come back and stay as close as I dare. I will watch over the boy until he is ready to fulfill his destiny."
Gripping his lightsaber where it hung on his belt, Obi-Wan grimly added, "You have my promise as a Jedi. A promise that can only be broken in death." Not even then, if there were a way.
With a jerky nod, he turned and left, melting away, a brief mirage in the noonday heat.
Original cover by Lyra Luminara. HTML formatting copyright 2003 TheForce.Net LLC.