It is strange, he thinks. To the untrained eye this is a barren wasteland, miles and miles of sand and rock baked hard under the harsh light of twin suns. And yet… beneath the surface he can feel the movement of an industrious colony of dustbeetles carving out a additional tunnels to accommodate their growing hive. In the next canyon over a herd of banthas is taking shelter from the midday sun, their minds a peaceful balm against the sharp hunger of the krayt dragon that stalks in the shadows. Further out he tracks the passage of a group of Tuskens as they make their way towards a hidden cave system - it looks like they will miss the Jawa sandcrawler, trundling along its trade route to the outer settlements. There is life here, all the more precious for its scarcity, and the man who was once Obi-Wan Kenobi takes comfort in that.
He sighs, stroking his beard in thought, and reaches out to seek one particular lifeform (beloved, innocent, to be protected at all costs) . Luke’s presence is bright -a mess of of sounds and images and burbling curiosity and oh! With cheerful glee the infant mind latches onto his and it takes a moment for Ben to realise that the child is much closer than expected. Gently pulling away he takes note of the combined sense of determination and maternal fondness headed his direction. He turns back to his shelter - it has been some time since he last had guests. He should probably clean up.
By the time the speeder pulls up he has managed to look a little less like he has spent the last couple of days sitting outside in the elements. From Beru’s expression as she looks him over it’s not enough.
“Honestly Ben, one of these days I’m going to come out here and nothing but a pile of clothing and bleached bones.” She says as she hitches Luke one one hip while slinging a pack over her shoulder. “How you’ve managed to survive with so little common sense I don’t know!”
( he asks the same thing every day - how does he live when those he failed are gone? the dunes offer no answer but the wind takes his tears.)
“I have my ways.” He smiles, ushering them inside. “What brings you to my humble abode?”
Beru huffs and offloads a squirming Luke into his arms before digging into her bag. Immediately tiny arms reach up to pull at his beard while the equally fragile mind seeks out his own, poking and prodding in childish delight.
(oh yes. he thinks. here is why. he lives because he loves this one too much to fail him too)
So wrapt is he in Luke’s presence that it takes Beru clearing her throat to bring him back to their conversation. Her smile is gentle and they share a quiet moment of mutual understanding before she draws his attention to the datapad in her hand.
His heart freezes.
(nononononono.he is dead. surely the universe would not be so cruel?)
On the page the dark form of the Empire’s newest enforcer remains unchanged, the headline declaring their triumph over the last remnants of CIS forces blaring overhead.
(it is. vader lives. vader lives and he must never know of the treasure hidden beneath tatooine’s suns)
In his arms Luke begins to fuss as he picks up on his panic and Ben calms himself. (he can break down later. later, when he cannot hurt any more innocents) Something must show on his face though, as Beru looks up, concerned.
“Are you alright?” Another look at the datapad, and her eyes narrow. “Are we in danger?”
He clears his head, puts aside his fear and guilt (anakin, anakin, where did we go wrong?) and thinks it through. This had always been a possibility. Nothing has changed - there is still no reason for the Empire to seek him here at the edges of civilization, even less for them to look for a boy with his father’s blue eyes (blue. not yellow. anakin’s blue) .
“No, no. Not for the moment. Just… Something to keep an eye on.”
She looks at him carefully before nodding.
“Ok. But that’s not what has me worried. Here.” She points to a much smaller article at the bottom of the page, welcoming the continued relationship between the esteemed Hutt conglomerate and Imperial forces and the signing of a new deal facilitating trade in high value goods along the outer rim.
His eyebrows raise in disbelief.
“Is that what I think it is?”
Beru shakes her head ruefully. "High value goods. They’ve all but legalised the slave trade so long as it doesn’t touch their precious core. Didn’t think the Hutts would manage it - they must’ve caught his Majesty on a good day.“ She eyes him carefully. "You’re not from around here, so I don’t know how familiar you are with…”
“No. I understand. More than you might think.” (bandomeer, a heavy collar around his neck. zygeria, the cutting agony of lightwhips and despair. coruscant, a blond boy who flinches at the use of “master”. and still he will never fully comprehend.) He shakes his head and clutches Luke a little tighter. “But not enough. I imagine Jabba is delighted to extend his reach, but I’m guessing his coffers aren’t your immediate concern.”
Again Beru assesses him carefully, and appears satisfied by what she sees. She takes a seat against the wall motioning for Ben to join her.
“You’d be right. Look Ben, I know there’s a lot you can’t say, but I need to know. Who are you? To Luke I mean.”
The question takes him completely by surprise. “I… His parents were good friends of mine. I once taught his father” (it is not a lie, and yet it tastes like one, heavy and cold against his tongue).
Beru scoffs. “Friends. That’s why you look at Luke like he’s the last cask of water before the cool season.”
There is something about her posture that makes him reconsider his words. (and surely now, now his old world was ashes and dust, surely now he could admit it.)
He bows his head, inhaling the scent of Luke’s sun warmed skin.
“I loved them. Anakin, he was my brother, my partner, my other half. I would have done anything for him.” (but he’d never outright told him had he? anakin never knew just how much obi-wan would sacrifice to protect him. he never knew how deep the attachment ran. because it was not the jedi way. now the jedi are dead. and, though his body yet breathes, so too is anakin) .
He clears his throat “Padmé, she was a light in the shadows, a reminder that there are still those who would fight for justice rather than personal gain. I was proud to call her a friend, prouder still that she considered me one too.”
(brave beautiful padmé. strong and courageous with a heart made of kyber. she made anakin so very happy and for that alone he might have loved her. but she was always greater than the sum of her parts, and he mourns her for her own sake.)
“Then you’re his family.”
It feels like a razors in his throat.“Yes.”
“Good.” He looks up in surprise. Beru is still looking at him keenly. “Were you there for his birth? Who named him?”
“I…yes. Padmé lived long enough to name him.”(a nd his sister. just as tiny and just as perfect and so very clearly her parents child. it had hurt to hand her over, to know she would grow up without her brother, without him to watch over her. but she would be loved. bail could keep her safe in ways he cannot. it is for the best. but his heart still aches ). “I brought him to you soon after”
Something in his response makes Beru relax slightly (distantly he recalls a conversation with anakin, children follow the mother.)
“And you love him? You’d protect him?”
“Yes.” His voice is stronger now, full of certainty. “Beru, where are you going with this?”
She takes a deep breath. “You’re still an outsider here, so there are things you don’t quite get yet. Me and Owen? We’re both freehold stock, descendants of slaves who bought their way out. Our families are well established, reputable. We might not be rich but so long as we don’t break any laws or get too far into debt no-one’s gonna try taking us in.”
Ben doesn’t like the sound of this. “But?”
Beru raises one hand to ruffle Luke’s downy hair. He’s begun to drift off, head nestled against Ben’s shoulder and at the movement he lets out a quiet protest.
“But, with the Rep- sorry, Empire, no longer enforcing the ban pretty soon every scum sucking sleemo this side of Ord Mantell is going to want to cash in on the flesh trade. And they’re not going to care where exactly their stock comes from. Luke is freeborn. You just confirmed it. But that doesn’t mean shit if there isn’t something to back it up. Our reputation, that’s something. One day though it might not be. I need you to promise me Ben, something happens to us? You claim him. You’re family, you’ll look after him. And unless I’m very much mistaken, you have the skills to back up your claim.”
His gut roils at the picture Beru paints, but there is no question as to his response. He has already made this oath once, a silent vow to the newborn bundle of hope clutched against his chest. It takes no effort to verbalise it now.“I will. I swear to you, Beru Whitesun-Lars, that as long as I still live and breathe I will do everything within my power to ensure the safety and happiness of Luke Skywalker."
She looks amused by his formality. "I’ll keep you to that.”There is a moment’s silence, broken only by the occasional whine from the sleeping boy. “So, I’ll expect you over for weekly dinner. No excuses. Luke needs to get to know his Uncle Ben if he’s gonna start learning the mystic stuff and you need fattening up”
Once he had been known as the Negotiator. A thousand diplomats had done their best to stump him only to fall prey to his silver tongue. And yet it is the simple self assured statement from a moisture farmer’s mouth that leaves Ben speechless.“What!? Beru, I’m still a wanted man. We agreed - it’s best for everyone if I keep away.”
“Banthashit. Owen agrees with you but you’re both wrong. He thinks the further away you stay the safer it’ll be. That it’s your sort of trouble that’ll put Luke most at risk. Me? I remember Shmi’s stories. I remember the young man I met and the woman who followed him."
She grins, sharp and bright. "I remember it was both of ‘em who made the decision to go running straight into danger. If he’s anything like them, Luke won’t wait for your trouble to find him - he’ll find the local stuff first. And when he does? Now that Jabba’s on the rise? Owen and I aren’t going to be enough to keep him safe.”
“You don’t understand. I am a danger, to Luke and to you.” (failure, pain, too close and they suffer. luke must not suffer)
“It doesn’t matter. I know you’re grieving, that you’re trying to punish yourself for something. But the stakes just got higher. I’ve heard stories about the Jedi. Don’t know how many of them are true, but if those skills could save his life one day Luke needs to learn.”
He tries again.
“Beru, the Empire is actively seeking out Force sensitives. I can hide myself, but it is a skill that takes time to learn. Luke is powerful. You have no idea what they would do to him should he be discovered.”
“All the more reason for him to start soon.” She looks him in the eyes, unflinching. “I swore an oath too Ben. I swore on Shmi’s memory that no grandchild of hers was ever going to live as a slave. I swore it the day I swore my marriage oath, and I will keep both until the day I die. I love that boy. If I could I’d let him grow up never knowing the fear of enslavement. But I know now I can’t. So Hutt or Empire, I want him to be strong enough to break their chains. And for that, I need your help.”
(the force rings with her sincerity and he knows what he must do. he is reminded of the other determined young women he has known. he hopes this time things will end better) .
He closes his eyes.
“It will not be without risk. Even in peacetime the life of a Jedi was not an easy one.”
Beru smiles sadly.
“Nothing worthwhile ever is. If the price of his freedom is die a hero then so be it. At least he will die free.”
And suddenly he can see it, the echoes of the future that awaits, the man this child will become (a stubborn boy with reckless fervour, a smiling youth with fire in his veins, a centred knight burning with resolve. his father’s drive, his mother’s compassion mixed with beru’s will and owen’s practicality, a touch of cunning humour obi-wan recognises as his own. and underneath it all the overwhelming love of a family.)
Ben grins, wide and genuine.
“Let’s try to do without heroic sacrifices for the moment shall we? Unless we are counting changing Luke’s underclothes, in which case I will note that nobody ever accused me of being the hero without fear.”
Beru’s laughter is loud enough to wake the said child from his slumber, and as the wave of grumpy indignation washed over his senses Ben lets go and joins her. As their giggles die down Beru turns to him again.
“Thank you Ben. You have no idea how relieved I feel. Things don’t seem so dark anymore”
(with his nephew cradled close and his new friend by his side he cannot help but agree) .
“My pleasure. What else is family for?”
He thinks for a moment.
“You get to break it to you husband though.”
“Let me sort out Owen. You just focus on not becoming one with the desert. Seriously, how have you survived out here?”
This time Luke joins him in his laughter.
Maul is dead. Truly dead. Fitting, that it should all end here, on the same planet where it all began. Obi-Wan
(and he is obi-wan now, jedi master and guardian of their last hope. tomorrow he will go back to being uncle ben the hermit, herder of banthas and adolescent troublemakers but tonight he is obi-wan)
takes a deep breath and looks back toward the canyon where he lay his old foe to rest. Perhaps now his soul will find peace in the Force. In his pocket lie the cracked remains of a pair of kyber crystals - he doesn’t know why he picked them up. Perhaps it was sentiment, the desire to keep a hold of a long lost past, no matter how painful. It didn’t matter - he will realise their purpose eventually.
He draws near the homestead, the lights from the kitchen casting long shadows against the pale adobe walls. A quick flicker against his shields lets him know that Luke has noticed his presence and he sends back a brief reassurance. He is fine. They are all fine.
Beru greets him at the door, one hand wiping itself against the front of her apron, the other discretely hidden behind her where he knows she carries a spare blaster.
“Finished your business then?”
He gives her a weary smirk. “For now at least.”
She relaxes, waving him inside before hesitating for a moment.
“There’s a storm coming, isn’t there?”
He knows she is not speaking literally.
“Yes. Not immediately, but soon.”
“Just as well then we’ve prepared in advance. Come on, or else Luke will have eaten the rest of the stew. I have no idea where he puts it all!”
Obi-Wan smiles. "His father was much the same at this age. Though I can assure you Luke has far better table manners.”
Her laughter echoes reverberates through the corridor and they are met by an enthusiastic “Uncle Ben!” and a grunted “Kenobi.” at the table.
It turns out Luke has not, in fact, devoured the last of the stew, but he does manage to levitate the rest of the flatbread onto his plate while no-one is looking. Obi-Wan looks at the boy’s gleeful expression, his aunt’s mock outrage and shares an fond look with his fellow uncle.
(this. he thinks. this is what I protect.)
Later he is woken by the piercing call of a flytbat hunting through the night sky. On a whim he ventures outside, settling himself against a broken vaporator and running the broken kyber crystals between his fingers.
He reaches out into the darkness. Beneath the sand the insects rest, and in the canyons bantha huddle against one another in their sleep. Behind him he feels the sleeping minds of his family, Luke shining like a full moon in the Force, his shields relaxed in sleep.
The desert is full of life. All is well.