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That Girl is Trouble

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There was a new student in the schoolhouse, but Luke was not paying any attention to her yet. He, like the rest of his classmates, was staring at the enormous alien who had walked in with her. Textured indigo hide that shimmered with his strange, oily sweat. Tall enough to brush the ceiling of the schoolhouse with his dark red… hair? Crest? Mane? Mane, probably. Whatever it was, it seemed to be composed of a gray area between fur and feathers, and exploded around his face like a sand mine. It sprouted out his scalp and the back of his neck, and between his shoulder blades before it was covered by the baggy beige tunic that was so ubiquitous on Tatooine. The tunic was a comfort, actually. Functionally, it was identical to Luke’s; just tent-sized. It reminded Luke that this creature - no, no, person - was just another settler.

A very large settler with a pointed snout and unsettling red-on-black eyes, but a settler nonetheless.

Ms Thesni, the elderly woman who ran the school, approached the alien and his companion with a genial smile. She didn’t seem at all concerned that he was about twice her height, and had eight talons each the length of her whole hand.

“Mr. T’Nashto-Banix, it’s a pleasure to see you again. And this must be your daughter.” Ms Thesni knelt before the little girl, who was clinging to the alien’s trousers like he was a floatation device out at sea. “Hello, my dear. I’m going to be your new teacher.”

Luke tore his attention away from the alien to see the girl’s reaction. It was to try to hide her face in her father’s trousers. Considering his legs were as big around as her whole body and three times as tall, it wasn’t all that hard.

Ms Thesni took it in stride and stood up to address the room. “Class, this is Elzarynn Banix. She's starting school with us today. I want you to be kind to her while she settles in.”

Elzarynn. Not a particularly alien name. That was a little disappointing, but understandable. A human with an obviously alien name would get ruthlessly picked on, at least around here.

“It’s alright, Elzie,” Mr. T’Nashto-Banix said in a soothing voice. “You were excited about starting school yesterday.”

He had wonderfully alien accent that made Luke perk up to listen. He loved listening to people who hadn’t learned how to speak on Tatooine. It reminded him that there was a universe beyond this sweltering dustball.

The more he thought about it, the more Luke was sure he knew who these people were. He’d heard Uncle Owen mention the odd family that owned Banix Bunker (Repair and Refurbishing at Competitive Rates). He’d grumbled, of course, but Luke didn’t let that color his impression of the family. Uncle Owen grumbled about everyone, especially people he had to pay for something. He’d mentioned then that the only employees there were a human man and an alien, but that there had been a toddler playing on the floor.

“It’s alright,” the alien was saying again. “Ikula, what’s the matter?”

“Tsun kanna-dih forluna, Veyba. Tsun kanna bo shoma.”

Luke sat up straight and stared at the child. He’d never heard that language before. His heart sped up and he fought to keep a delighted grin off his face; he didn’t want to startle the girl or creep her out.

“Baby, we talked about this,” said T’Nashto-Banix in a gentle voice. “We must speak Basic outside the house.”

“I want to go home,” said Elzarynn in a tearful voice.

She had her alien father’s lilting, purring accent. A couple students snickered, but Luke was absolutely thrilled.

“You must go to school now. Those are the rules here,” her father said. “It will be alright, sweetheart. Ms Thesni will show you new books. And you will make friends here.”

The alien glanced around the room, and his eyes landed on Luke. He pointed with what Luke thought might be a smile.

“There, see? That boy is already smiling at you.”

Elzarynn looked over to where her father was pointing, and Luke could see that her eyes were filled with tears. He felt sorry for her. He tried to make his smile more encouraging, and he waved to the little girl. Shyly, she waved back, then hid her face again.

Luke felt a tap on his shoulder, and turned to see Biggs standing up. He gestured to Luke to follow, and the two boys went to the front of the room. Biggs was not too much older than Luke, but he had the confidence of a much older boy, and Luke never had any difficulty in following his lead.

Luke, despite being eight now, was the same height as Elzarynn. That chafed a little. Biggs was head and shoulders above them both. Elzarynn looked a little scared of the dark-haired boy.

“I’m Biggs Darklighter, and this is my buddy Luke Skywalker. Would you like to sit at our desk? We’ll make sure nobody bothers you.”

Elzarynn looked back and forth at them. Luke tried to keep a warm, welcoming expression. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ms Thesni smiling at them.

“Okay,” Elzarynn murmured at at last. She let go of her father.

The alien knelt down and gave Elzarynn what Luke presumed was a kiss. “I will come and get you this afternoon. I want you to wait inside for me, ikula. Don’t stand in the sun too long.”

“Vi yong-dih amek tse, ba?”

“Of course not, you silly,” the alien chuckled. “How would I ever forget you? I love you.” He kissed her again, on the top of her head. “Have a good day, sweetie. Bye-bye.”

“Bye-bye, Papa.”

 

After the alien left, the students all went back to their assigned reading problems or goofing off, according to their natures. Luke had been reluctantly engaged in his report on Empire Day - a lot of regurgitated propaganda that turned his stomach to write, and he knew Ms Thesni would not trouble to read. She was legally required to hand in one of these per student per year over to the Imperial Outpost, but she admitted that no one out here cared all that much. As long as there was no overt resistance, the Empire would likely leave Tatooine alone.

“Just give them the bare minimum you can,” she advised. It was the only assignment that ever carried those instructions. Luke just powered through the distasteful task by gushing about the Imperial piloting academy. Not strictly on-topic, but no one had complained last year. Just as long as he was praising something Imperial.

Luke led Elzarynn - or should call her Elzie? - to the desk he shared with Biggs. It was the smallest one in the room, but with a little maneuvering, they could get it to seat three. The two other desks were actually discarded old dining tables, each seating six human children aged between six and fifteen. They were arranged in a semicircle that faced the front. Ms Thesni sat in a rickety coaster chair, from which she only rose when necessary. (Her mind was laser-bright, but she had a great deal of trouble with her joints.)

Luke and Elzarynn shared a corner of the desk, since Biggs had been going through a growth spurt and his gangly arms needed a bit more elbow room. Luke ignored his half-finished report in favor of his new classmate. Her bright blond hair was split into two braids, one on each side of her rosy face. She was missing a lower center tooth in her shy smile, and her eyes were dark blue, almost gray. When she was up close, Luke noticed that her tunic had been dyed light pink.

Elzarynn seemed to know immediately what he was looking at. She looked down at her top and smiled again. “My dad colored it,” she said.

“You know it’s not going to stay that color,” Luke said, apologetically. It was already fading back to beige at the shoulders. The binary suns bleached nearly everything, and the sand kept anything from looking too clean. The only other colors Luke ever saw out here were brown and grey. Colorful dyes that would stand up to the suns were just not worth the cost to anyone.

“I know,” said Elzarynn, unperturbed. “It’s just so I had something nice to wear on my first day. We’re going to do it again when I gradu-date.”

That missing tooth gave her a lisp along with her fascinating accent.

“How are you dears getting along?” Ms Thesni had hovered her coaster chair over to them.

“Fine, ma’am,” said Luke. “I’m almost done with my report.”

“Let’s have a look-see.” She picked up the sheet of flimsiplast and gave it a cursory scan. “Oh, this will do fine, my dear. You’re only in your third year. They’re not expecting you to be very bright yet.”

Hey!” Luke protested, then he turned red. Aunt Beru would be furious if she caught him being that rude to his teacher.

Ms Thesni winked at him. “It’s alright, son,” she said, too quietly for anybody but the three children to hear. “We know how bright you are. Let them underestimate you.”

Luke grinned at Biggs, who smirked and winked in return. Elzarynn giggled.

“Secrets,” she whispered.

“That’s right, dear,” Ms Thesni said, in her normal volume. She placed a thin flimsiplast book in front of her and Luke. “Now, Luke, I wonder if you’d do me a favor?”

 

The favor turned out to be reading with Elzarynn. Apparently, she read her alien language very well already, but was still struggling with Aurebesh and High Galactic. Luke’s job was to quietly read a page out loud to Elzarynn, and then have her read the next one back to him.

At first, he kept interrupting her. He couldn’t help it. She would take so long to get through even the smallest word. It was easier to just give her the answer. Besides, the story was boring, so boring it should be a crime. If there was a way to weaponize boredom, this book could single-handedly topple the Empire.

A piece of flimsiplast, folded into a square four times until it was the size of Luke’s thumbnail, hit Luke on the side of the head and flopped onto the desk. When he unfolded it, Biggs’s scratchy handwriting stared up at him.

Try a better book, Wormie. (And let the kid read.)

Hmm. Maybe Biggs had a point.

Elzarynn finished her third page, then looked at Luke expectantly.

“Do you care what happens to this bantha cub?” he asked.

She wrinkled her nose and shrugged. “Not really.”

“Me neither.”

Keeping his eyes on Ms Thesni to make sure she didn’t turn suddenly, Luke reached down into the bag at his feet and pulled out The Adventures of Darral Redstar, Volume Five: Escape From Smuggler’s Run. It was the thickness of about ten of the little picture book Ms Thesni had given them, small enough that he could tuck it inside to conceal it. He was about halfway through, but he flipped back to the first page and handed the whole setup to Elzarynn.

“I can read this whole thing in one day,” he told her with a grin. (He left out that it was only true if he had a day with no chores. Which he didn’t. Ever.) “Let's see if you can keep up."

She matched his grin. "Okay."

Chapter Text

Well, she was smart, Luke had to give her that. Elzarynn, who had been straining constantly to get out the word “lost” twenty minutes ago, had now managed to get through a chapter and change, and barely even hesitated with the word “discrepancy.”

Though, she did pause to ask him what it meant.

“I don’t know,” Luke admitted. “But I’m pretty sure you said it right.”

“How’s the reading coming along, my dears?”

Luke jumped in his seat. Elzarynn squashed the picture book against her chest to keep Luke’s clandestine adventure novel hidden.

“Fine,” Luke squeaked nervously. He glanced over to Biggs for support, but the boy was either too absorbed with his own assignment to notice Luke’s dilemma, or he was pretending to be.

This was your idea, traitor, Luke thought fiercely.

Ms Thesni was giving Luke that same smile that Aunt Beru had whenever Luke tried to hide something. She turned to the little pink-clad girl to Luke’s right. “And what happened to the little bantha cub, Elzarynn?”

“He got lost,” said Elzarynn promptly.

“And then?”

“Then he asked a bunch of things how to go home.”

“And then?”

“And then… the Jawa ate him.”

Judging by the choking sound to Luke’s left, Biggs had not been absorbed in his work after all. Luke had to bite his lip to keep from laughing. Elzarynn just met Ms Thesni’s gaze without expression.

The elderly woman pursed her lips to hide a smile. “Is that what happened? How strange, I seem to recall him finding his way home.”

“Oh,” said Elzarynn, unfazed. “I must have misunderstood. I will practice some more reading.”

“Come on, dear,” Ms Thesni chuckled. “Let’s see what you’ve been doing.”

Elzarynn gave Luke an apologetic glance. He shrugged. They were caught and that’s all there was to it. “Just give it to her,” he sighed.

“Hmm,” said Ms Thesni when she saw The Adventures of Darral Redstar . “I wonder whose this could be?”

“It’s mine, Teach’,” Biggs piped up. “I lent it to Luke last week. And it was kind of my idea for them to switch.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” said Luke, wilting. “I thought the other book was boring.”

“Luke’s not in trouble.” Elzarynn’s piping little six-year-old voice carried the authority of an Imperial Senator. “I thought it was boring first. I’m in trouble.”

“No one’s in trouble, dear,” Ms Thesni said soothingly. “I only picked that book so that you could start with something easy.”

“I can read the hard books if I want to,” Elzarynn clarified. “Only I don’t like them. I like Laimev-resh.”

Luke’s heart leapt. “Is that your other language?” he asked eagerly.

Elzarynn nodded. “It makes books sound prettier.”

“Not so loud, young lady,” said Ms Thesni in a low voice. She glanced at the table of older students before continuing. Then she leaned forward in her coaster chair so that she could only be heard by the three children. “You’re right, your language is very beautiful. But the way things are now, it’s very important you learn to read and write in Basic as well.”

Luke felt a slight pain in his stomach. He knew the Empire didn’t like aliens. There were a few alien children in Anchorhead, but they didn’t attend school here. Maybe Elzarynn’s father was one of the aliens that they super-extra didn’t like.

“Is it okay if we keep practicing with the Darral Redstar book, ma’am?” he asked. To be helpful, of course. “I think she really likes it. It would probably help her learn faster.”

“Darral has a beep-boop droid!” Elzarynn added excitedly.

“She means an astromech,” Luke explained. “42-N8. He follows Captain Redstar around and helps out.”

“He is cute,” Elzarynn summarized. “I like beep-boops. They’re so cute.”

“That they are,” Ms Thesni agreed. “You may continue practicing with Captain Redstar tomorrow. Assuming it’s alright with Biggs.”

Biggs shrugged. “I’ve read it eight times.”

“Then it’s settled. But next time, young man,” she fixed Luke an expression hard enough to dent durasteel, “you discuss changes in the curriculum with your instructor.”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Luke, humbly.

“Yes, ma’am,” Elzarynn repeated with a gap-toothed smile.

The old woman who’d just been the embodiment of a stormtrooper’s battle armor for a moment melted back into a soft smile set against her plush white curls.

“Thank you, children. Now, put the books away for now. It’s time for today’s math lessons.”

 

The rest of the school day went by in a blur, which was a rarity for any eight-year-old boy, but especially for Luke. He liked the new girl. It wasn’t just the accent, the chance to listen to the strange shapes of words learned in a world beyond the stars of his own. (Although, that might have been enough to hold his interest.) Nor was it the chance to talk to someone who was being raised by an alien. (Also an exciting prospect.)

If he was to be honest, he mostly liked Elzarynn Banix because she liked him back. After they’d read together, she latched onto him like a porg chick to its mother. She listened to everything he said as if it was fascinating, even when it made Biggs roll his eyes and look bored. At lunch she shared her alien sweets with him without prompting, and at recess she followed him around and played any game he wanted. It was a huge boost to an otherwise undernourished ego.

It was so gratifying, he almost didn’t notice the stares he was getting from the other kids.

Almost.

“Luke, why is that boy mad at me?”

Luke glanced to where Elzie was pointing. “That boy” was Laze Loneozner, a tall, stocky boy of thirteen, with too much tooth for his unpleasant scowl. He always came to school dirty and left dirtier; now that recess was over, he had sand plastered over his sweaty shirt and in his greasy brown hair. He was staring at the two of them with an intense expression that made the hair on the back of Luke’s neck stand on end.

“That’s just Fixer,” said Luke. “I don’t… think he’s mad at you. He doesn’t have a reason to be.”

“He looks scary,” said Elzarynn in a small voice.

“Naw,” said Luke. “He’s alright. Well… okay, he is kind of a jerk sometimes. But he probably just got low marks on his homework or something.”

“Fixer hasn’t done a bit of homework since last year,” Biggs refuted him. “Something’s up.”

“Why would he have a problem with Elzarynn? She’s just a little girl.” Luke tried to forget that they were the same height. He felt very protective all of a sudden, and he had a vague idea that protectors ought to be big.

Biggs looked back and forth between Elzarynn and Fixer, a crease of worry between his brown eyes.

“Switch seats with the kid, Wormie,” he said under his breath.

“Why?”

Biggs gave him a look. “Flanking maneuver.”

When Elzie was positioned between the two boys, Biggs gave Fixer a hard stare. Biggs was only ten, and smaller than Fixer, but he’d already taken the older boy down in two fights. Fixer scowled at the group and turned away.

“What’s his problem?” Luke wondered aloud.

“Where should I start?” Biggs replied.

 

Aunt Beru came to bring Luke home, much to his chagrin. She always insisted on hugging him and calling him “sweetheart” right in front of everybody , no matter how many times he asked her not to. Uncle Owen could be difficult sometimes, but he was never that embarrassing.

The alien from before returned for his daughter, alongside a human male with dark skin and long braided hair. Elzarynn grabbed them both by the hand and dragged them over to Luke, which they seemed to find amusing.

“Dad, Papa, this is my new friend! He was really nice, and the teacher gave us a book to read, only we read a different book that was better and we didn’t get in trouble, and then we played starfighters in the yard and pretended to shoot laser beams, and he has another friend who is nice but I don’t know where he went, and we’re gonna read again tomorrow!”

“Breathe, kiddo,” said Elzarynn’s human parent with an indulgent smile. Elzarynn obediently took a deep breath, but she kept bouncing on her toes in excitement.

Luke cleared his throat awkwardly. “I’m, uh, I’m Luke Skywalker. It’s very nice to meet you both.”

Each of Elzarynn’s parents shook Luke’s hand in turn.

“Ander Banix,” the human said. “A pleasure.”

“He’s my dad,” said Elzarynn helpfully.

“Got it,” Luke said.

“I have two and I’m adopted.”

“Yeah, I figured that out.”

The alien introduced himself as Javu T’Nashto-Banix. Elzarynn explained in another breathless rush that Javu was her Veyba, and that Veyba was the Laimev-resh word for “dad” because it was short for Veybahala which means “father” and she just called him Papa in Basic because it was an almost-rhyme.

Then Aunt Beru got out of the landspeeder to find out what was taking him so long, and that led to the three adults introducing themselves and falling into a round of small-talk. Luke turned to Elzarynn once Aunt Beru got started on dustcrepe recipes and he realized that they were going to be there a while.

“So, how many moms do you have?”

Elzarynn hesitated, a little furrow appearing between her deep gray eyes. “A mom is when your dad is a lady, right?” she asked hesitantly.

Luke had to smother a laugh. She was only a little kid, and he didn’t want to hurt her feelings. “Right.”

“I have zero. How many do you have?”

Sharp pain in his stomach. Just ignore it. “None. My mom and dad both died when I was a baby. I just have my aunt and uncle. No brothers or sisters, either.”

“Cousins?”

Luke shook his head. His eyes were not stinging, and if they were, it was the stupid sand or the stupid stupid suns.

“Just me.”

“I don’t have brothers or sisters, either,” Elzarynn replied. “I have cousins back on Alderaan, though.”

“Alderaan?” Luke repeated, stunned. “Your family comes from Alderaan? ” He knew the family was new to Anchorhead, but he’d been thinking they came from Mos Espa or something.

Elzarynn nodded. “I was born there, but I’ve been here since I was a baby. I’m going to go back when I’m a growed-up. I’m going to see Laimevara, too. That’s where Papa came from before he met Dad. I probably have other cousins there. I have to check.”

Luke was barely able to keep his voice down. “Why the heck would your parents leave Alderaan and come here ?”

Elzarynn sighed with long-suffered exasperation. “I’m not allowed to know that yet. I asked a lot, believe me . I’m a growed-up on my twentieth birthday, and then they’re going to tell me the secret. Ask me again after that happens.”

Luke felt a wave of sympathy. “My uncle keeps secrets from me too.”

“It’s the worst .”

“It really is.”

 

Aunt Beru was strangely quiet on the speeder ride home. Usually, she would be interrogating him on how his day went, what work he had done, what work he still had to do, were the other kids nice to him, did he enjoy his lunch, and so forth. Today, she seemed to have something on her mind. It was odd, having the burden of the conversation falling on him, but he didn’t know how to ask an adult if she was alright. So he just answered all the questions that she would have been asking on a normal day.

When they got back to the farm, Luke hopped out of the landspeeder and got started on his chores without being asked. Aunt Beru went straight to Uncle Owen, and the two of them didn’t stop talking until it was time for Aunt Beru to start making supper. It sounded a little like they were arguing about something, but they kept pitching their voices too quiet for him to make out what they were saying.

That was bad.

Uncle Own followed Aunt Beru into the kitchen, and they kept arguing while she cooked.

That was worse.

If this was one of their a regular, not serious, just-to-kill-time arguments, they wouldn’t worry about whether or not Luke could hear them. Uncle wouldn’t bother Aunt Beru while she was cooking.

Luke set the table as quietly as he possibly could, focusing all of his attention on the corridor to the kitchen. It almost felt that if he put all his energy into it, he could make their voices carry clearer. Aunt Beru’s was easier; Uncle Owen tended more towards muttering when he was truly upset.

“... telling you, missus, it’s gonna be nothing but trouble.”

“Well, what would you suggest? Do you want to just pull Luke from school? Let the poor child founder without an education?”

“Only reason that schoolhouse is standing is so the Empire can churn out little workers and soldiers, anyway. Wouldn’t be nothing wrong with just teaching the boy at home.”

“Oh, no, nothing wrong at all, with keeping an eight-year-old boy isolated in the middle of the desert, never seeing his friends or children his own age. Honestly, Owen. She’s just a sweet little girl, and her parents are two lovely people. We don’t know what really happened six years ago. All we have to go on is the word of a drunk old smuggler. Could be he just made the whole story up for attention.”

Story? Luke thought. What smuggler? What’s that got to do with Elzarynn?

His focus wavered, and he lost his aunt and uncle’s voices for a moment. This time, he concentrated so hard his head throbbed.

“... all we need. Just like his father. I swore I wouldn’t let him be exposed to that, Beru. I made his mother a promise, and I mean to keep it.”

Luke went ice cold all over. The cups and plates he was holding clattered to the floor. His aunt and uncle ran out to see if he was alright, but he was already racing to his room.

Chapter Text

Beru sat alone at the kitchen table, as oblivious to the tepid breakfast in front of her as the two that hadn’t even appeared for it. Owen was already out tinkering with one one of the vaporators that he had finished upgrading yesterday. Luke was in his room, which he refused to leave until they agreed to answer his questions. At least the dinner she’d left at his door was gone.

She didn’t know how much Luke had overheard. She wouldn’t make assumptions either way. He was upset, and that was enough.

And to cap off the mess, a message had gone out to the community early that morning: the Anchorhead schoolhouse was closed for the day. Strangely, the message didn’t give a reason why. There hadn’t been a sandstorm recently, nor was there one on the forecast. No sightings of Sand People or crime syndicate activity to necessitate keeping children indoors. It wasn’t Ms Thesni’s health. Just: closed for the day. School to resume on schedule after the weekend break.

Beru pursed lips, deep in thought. Grandma Tiarei hadn’t raised a fool; this was about that little girl. Well, no, not exactly. It was about a bunch of suspicious, xenophobic, idiotic farmers. The girl was just an excuse. Still, she understood Owen’s fear. If that crusty old smuggler was telling the truth six years ago, then that would create some complications.

She sighed in exasperation. Owen could just open up and talk to the child, this wouldn’t be an issue. Luke had been trying to learn about his birth parents for over two years now. Owen insisted his obstinate silence was for Luke’s protection, but that was nonsense. And that ridiculous line about Anakin working on a spice freighter… honestly . Owen would have to be a fool not to see how he was hurting and alienating their nephew. And Owen Lars was no fool. Foolish, maybe, but that wasn’t the same thing.

She couldn’t be angry, no matter how much she wanted to be. If she thought for a moment that Owen believed that he was lying to Luke for his own good, Beru would be downright furious. But she knew her husband too well.

She knew her nephew, too. And whatever he got from his birth parents - his protective nature, his wild adventurousness, or that peculiar quality that she could not quite put into words - she knew exactly where he’d gotten his stubborn streak.

Beru picked up her glass of Bantha milk and knocked it back it a single swig. This wasn’t what she’d signed up for. She had not followed the love of her life all the way from Coruscant, and then adopted the child of his best friend, only to let them refuse to speak to each other ever again.

It looked like today's housework would just have to wait.

 

The knock on Luke’s bedroom door was different from all this others. Louder, even commanding. Luke’s stomach squirmed inside him; they must be starting to lose patience with him. Well, good. Now they knew how he’d felt his entire life.

“Luke,” called Aunt Beru through the door. “I know you’re awake. Answer me, please.” Her voice was low and serious, but not as angry as Luke had expected. He felt he should obey her, but his mind went blank when he tried.

“Luke, I need to speak to you,” she said in that same voice. “May I please come in.”

She hadn’t said it like a question, but Luke knew she would only open the door if he responded.

“... Okay.”

Aunt Beru entered quietly, her face set with that calm solemnity that it had whenever she faced a serious problem. Luke was surprised to see that she wasn’t wearing one of her usual colorful dresses, the ones she had to keep inside out of the sun, but the beige and brown tunic and sun cloak combo she wore when she needed to go into town for the day.

“Luke, I want you to get dressed and eat your breakfast. We’re leaving in fifteen minutes.”

Luke gaped at his aunt, stunned. “Where are we going?”

“Tosche Power Station.”

Luke scrambled to his feet and yanked on the nearest shirt from his piles of clothes, heedless of whether it was dirty or clean. It wasn't what he'd asked for, but he never missed a chance to visit the station. “Why?”

“You’re not the only one who wants some answers,” Aunt Beru replied. “Fifteen minutes.” And she left.

Luke didn’t see how Tosche Station could have anything to do with his father and mother, but he knew better than to argue with Aunt Beru when she used that voice.

 

They were silent on the speeder ride into town. That suited Beru, even if it pained her to think on how upset Luke must be if he wasn’t talking her ear off. Her mind was just too cluttered for conversation. Especially conversation with Luke. She always needed to be so careful with him. She refused to lie to him, but she also didn’t want to betray Owen’s trust in her. It was like dancing on a razor blade.

She bit back a humorless grin when she remembered the Coruscani politicians her grandmother had used to try and set her up with. This was precisely the kind of verbal dancing she’d hoped to avoid once she got married.

Beru pulled her sun hat a little farther over her face as she turned the speeder towards the midmorning suns. Their light dazzled brilliantly off of the yellow sand and glittering white dome-shaped homes and shops. It was perfectly lovely to look at. Definitely less lovely to drive through. Though it wasn’t the hottest part of the day by far, Beru could feel the air baking her lungs every time she took a breath.

Tosche Power Station perched over the town on one of the few natural-forming hills in the bedrock. The domed roof sat like a great windowed cap on the structure, casting a blueish shadow over the parts garage where the larger repairs were done.

“Are we getting something for the farm?” Luke asked as they climbed the steps.

“I just need to talk to Mr. Tosche,” Beru replied. “You can look around, but don’t break anything.”

Luke gave her an offended look, and she had to choke back a laugh.

Beru bit back a grimace as she entered the station and saw the face she had least wanted to see.

“Good morning, Wes. Merl in today?”

“Nah,” said Wes, with an unpleasant creak in his voice that suggested this was the first he’d used it today. “I got the station for the day.”

Wesmar Loneozner was a bloated sack of a man with greasy black hair that he left to tangle and mat until he noticed it, at which point he would shave it all off and start the whole process over again. He wore an expression of perpetual disdain for everyone he met. As far as Beru was concerned, the feeling was mutual.

“Well,” Beru replied, with her best attempt and geniality, “at least it’s indoors. That’s something.”

Wes didn’t respond verbally. Just made a disgusting snort in the back of his throat.

Beru coughed uncomfortably and glanced down at Luke. He was picking through a bin of spare parts, oblivious to anything else. She wanted to call him back to her side; ever since Wes had started managing Tosche Station, it had accumulated the kind of filth that made her think irrationally of disease. But she didn’t want to give in to overprotectiveness. Besides, Luke almost never got sick, and she wasn’t going to say anything that might annoy Wes. He might look like he ate a Hutt every morning for breakfast, but he was strong, loud, and frightening when provoked. And, historically, he could be provoked by almost anything.

“Well, what’s new, Wes? Anything interesting in this month’s delivery?”

“Don’ know. It’s late.”

“I’m… sorry to hear that.”

Wes shrugged, but at least he didn’t snort again.

“How’s Laze? Was he excited to get the day off?”

“Off from what.”

“From… school.” Beru felt her brow furrow on its own, and she coaxed her face into an expression of concern. She would never have her grandmother’s sabbac face, but she worked with what she had. “You did hear that it was closed today.”

Shrug. “That’s the wife’s business. She don’t stick her nose in my work, I don’t stick mine in hers. That’s how I like it.”

Do not strangle Wes Loneozner , Beru instructed herself firmly. “I see. Then I suppose you haven’t heard why the schoolhouse is closed for the day. The alert didn’t give a reason.”

Wes snorted again, and this time he turned his head to the side and spit on the floor. Beru hoped she didn’t look as green as she felt. “Not my business,” he grunted. “You want to gossip, go to the wife.”

“Right. Well, I have been meaning to pay a call on her. I won’t waste any more of your time.” She turned halfway to the door so that she would not have to look at him any more. “Come on, Luke.”

Luke popped up holding a pair of used macrobinoculars over his head, grinning massively at his find.

“Can I get this?”

“Did you bring your allowance?” Beru countered, knowing the answer.

Luke wilted. “No, because I already spent it on my new multitool.”

Beru flinched inwardly at the disappointed resignation in her nephew’s eyes. She did a quick mental calculation of this season’s budget, but her answer was a foregone conclusion.

“Maybe next time, then.”

Luke returned the macros, not to the bin, but the shelf above where they would be safe from dents and cracks, and trotted to her side. Beru took his hand and gave Wes a nod and farewell, which he did not bother to return.

 

Beru paused just outside the door to the station, at the top of the long stone steps that led down to the street. She closed her eyes, and took a deep, deep breath. She felt the little hand in hers give a gentle squeeze, and she looked down. Luke was gazing at her with a thoughtful expression.

“Did Mr. Loneozner make you mad?”

Beru clenched her teeth and promised herself she was not going to lose her temper in front of her nephew. “Yes, dear,” she said, when she could trust her voice again. “Very mad.”

Luke’s little face pinched in a way that was almost a mirror of Owen’s when he was working through a problem. “Because he didn’t know why school’s closed?”

“Because he didn’t care ,” Beru replied. “Listen, Luke. I want you to try and be nice to Laze whenever you see him, alright?”

Luke wrinkled his nose. “I try, but that’s usually when he’s the meanest.”

“Unfortunately, that makes perfect sense.”

They got back in the landspeeder. Beru began to drive without a real destination in mind. The hum of the engine, the blur of white stone buildings and yellow sand, and the hot wind in her face just helped her think.

She didn’t even realize how silent Luke had been until he spoke.

“Why won’t Uncle Owen talk about mom and dad?”

Beru stopped to let an old woman finish crossing, and looked at Luke. He was having a hard time meeting her eyes, as though he expected the question to make her angry. It didn’t. It just broke her heart.

“Because he misses them,” she said at last. “He hasn’t even told me everything. It just hurts too much right now. It might be that way for a long time.”

The contemplative expression on Luke’s face somehow made him look even younger. Beru reminded herself, as she had to occasionally, that he was not nearly as fragile as his appearance suggested.

“Why does he think Elzarynn is trouble?” he asked at last.

Beru glanced up. The old woman was in the shadow of the far buildings. There was no one else in sight. Still, it didn’t do to take risks. The longest shadow in Anchorhead was cast by the Imperial outpost.

“Not here,” she whispered, driving forward.

Luke understood, and instantly changed the subject. “Where are we going? To see Fixer’s mom?”

Beru hesitated. “I really should,” she admitted. Araana Loneozner was not what Beru would call a friend, but she wasn’t nearly as unpleasant as her husband. And she could probably use a visitor right now. “You going to be alright hanging out with Laze for a while?”

Luke shrugged. “He’s really only bad when Deak and Tank are around. I think he just likes showing off.”

Beru sighed and shook her head.

“What did I say?” Luke asked, confused.

“Nothing, dear,” she replied. “I just feel bad for the boy. He doesn’t seem to have a lot of friends.”

Luke snorted. “Deak and Tank follow him pretty much everywhere. So does Windy, when they’re not teasing him. I’ve seen him hang out with a couple older kids, too.”

“That’s not the same as having friends.”

Luke leaned back in his seat, a ponderous look on his young face, and was silent the rest of the way to the Loneozner homestead.