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everything I have ever learned

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His first clear memory is of light glinting on the rusted husk of a vaporator and Aunt Beru’s voice, rough and warm, humming an old work song. Tena light the fires, she sings. The night is drawing in.

Luke is three years old. He watches the gleam of the twin suns and the way the light dances over Aunt Beru’s hands as she works. When he’s older, she’ll tell him that he came over to help her, that he took the vaporator from her hands and fixed it himself, almost by instinct. It was the first thing he ever fixed.

He doesn’t remember that, though. What he remembers is the light, the strength of her hands, and the song.

*

He’s five years old when he learns, really learns, what his name means. It’s his first day at the dilapidated school in Anchorhead, and he doesn’t know anyone there except Biggs. When the teacher calls their names, the rest of the class points and snickers at Darklighter and Skywalker. During the first break, several of the older boys shove Luke against a wall and call him “slave scum.”

One of them has to go home with a bite wound on his shoulder. They all stay well clear of him after that.

Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen ground him, even though they also say they’re proud of him for sticking up for himself. There’s no shame in being the descendant of slaves, Aunt Beru says. (“Freed slaves,” Luke insists, and it will be a few years yet before he understands why she looks so disappointed at that.) He comes from a long line of survivors, people blessed by Ar-Amu and by Ekkreth whose name they bear.

“Do you know what your name means, Luke?” she asks.

Luke sniffs, wiping the back of his hand across his nose, and mumbles, “It’s Ekkreth’s name.”

Aunt Beru laughs softly. “Yes,” she says. “But I meant your first name. Your parents named you Luke, and that means ‘free.’ You are the Free Skywalker. The first Skywalker ever born free. Don’t ever forget that.”

Luke perks up, wide and beaming, at the mention of his parents. “I won’t forget, Aunt Beru,” he says.

*

Uncle Owen has a slave-owner’s license. Sometimes he jokes it’s the only real difference between the Empire and the Republic that came before it. Used to be, Uncle Owen says, you could own slaves without a license. Now everything’s regulated.

There’s a fee for the license, of course. Every year, they have to renew it. Aunt Beru hates it. She says it’s compounding evil. But every year they pay the fee.

Aunt Beru calls it a bribe. She says the word with a quiet rage, hard as stone and ancient as the desert. “The Masters always want to control language,” she tells Luke. “But you are Free. So you call a thing by its name, no matter what the Masters say.”

The bribe, or the license, gives them just enough cover when the inspectors come. Owen Lars, like many farmers, keeps a few slaves to help with the farm work. He just never seems to keep them for long.

Aunt Beru runs the surgery out of a hidden space in the back of their garage. Luke helps her – has been helping her as long as he can remember. Sometimes a smaller pair of hands is needed, and he’s always been good at fixing things. People aren’t as easy as machines, but Aunt Beru knows what to do, and Luke likes the chance to chatter as much as he wants. Chatter is good, in the surgeries. It keeps people distracted from the operation, and makes everything go smoother.

The people who come to them tell stories, too: stories of lost children and secret families, stories of Tena and Maru and Ebra the prophets, stories of Akar Hinil the pirate, countless stories of a trickster with Luke’s name.

At the end of every story, Ekkreth turns into a bird and flies away, laughing at Depur as they go. Luke hears an echo of that laughter in the voice of every runaway who comes to them to have their chains cut, and he hears it echo again each time their guests leave, like birds flying away.

Skywalker, says the voice of the wind that gusts through his hair. Skywalker, says the voice of skittering sand beneath his feet. Skywalker, the deep hollow voice of the desert says, echoing like a heartbeat in his bones. Do you know what your name means?

*

He learns to fly first in his dreams, long before he sneaks into the garage one afternoon and borrows Uncle Owen’s swoop bike.

He’s still too short to reach the pedals easily, but a few bits of scrap metal and some jerba cord fix that easily enough. Sitting on the bike feels like coming home, home to a place he’s never been. The desert sings in his ears and he guns the engine without a second thought.

Later, when he’s supposed to be sitting in his room reflecting on why what he did was a bad idea, Luke sneaks back toward the common room, just close enough to hear his aunt and uncle talking.

Uncle Owen is worried. What if someone notices? What if the boy draws attention? If the inspectors come, or worse –

But Luke can hear the smile in his aunt’s voice as she says, “He’s a Skywalker, Owen. Nothing you can do will keep him on the ground.”

*

Sometimes, Luke dreams.

Not the pleasant dreams of flying or swimming that his friends talk about, though he has those too. And not the nightmares his friends describe, either, some that seem silly on waking and others that are no less terrifying in the light of the suns. Luke has only ever had one nightmare, as long as he can remember: a dream of fire. It licks over his skin and chars his bones and he wakes gasping for breath that seems to sear his throat and yet provides no relief.

When he’s younger, he goes running to his aunt and uncle every time he has the dream, and they do their best to reassure him. But as he grows older, he can see that it disturbs them. Not the dream itself, but the fact that he still has it, and has it so often.

Once, when he was five, Luke burned his hand on the cooker. It was a minor burn, healed fully in a matter of days. He’s had a few other, similarly minor burns since, but nothing worse. Nothing at all like his dreams of fire.

He’s fourteen years old the first time the dream changes. A woman comes, with wise, sad eyes as brown as the desert and a face carved like the mountains, and lifts him out of the fire and into the sky. The desert wind roars around them. Luke breathes deep and freely, and looks around him to see that in every place where the fire burned, green plants are now growing.

Skywalker, says the woman in a voice like the wind. Lukka. Do you know what your name means?

He wakes to the smell of rain.

*

Luke is eighteen when Biggs goes to the Academy. He doesn’t have any trouble getting accepted, which they both laugh about for longer than they probably should. The Empire obviously knows nothing about Tatooine, if they’d accept someone named Darklighter.

Luke wants to go too. It’s all he’s wanted for years now, though he has no love for the Empire. How could he love a government of slavers? But he and Biggs have a plan. They’ll go to the Academy, receive what everyone agrees is the best training for pilots in the galaxy – and then defect to the Alliance. That’s been their plan since they were nine years old, when Luke sang for a woman named Bentu who told him, even as Aunt Beru’s scalpel danced carefully across her flesh, that she planned to join the Imperial Navy as a spy for the Alliance, because the Rebellion was the Alliance to Restore the Republic, and even if the Empire was overthrown and the Republic restored, nothing on Tatooine would change.

“We need our people on the inside,” Bentu had said as she packed her bag in the secret hours of the night. “Freedom won’t be given, by the Empire or by the Alliance. We have to take it.”

Luke and Biggs have a plan to take it.

Or, well, the beginnings of a plan, anyway. The first step is to graduate from the Academy and then defect. After that…they’ll figure it out.

But only Biggs is going to the Academy. Because Luke’s aunt and uncle won’t let him go.

He argues with them about it, so often that they’re all sick of it, and in the week after Biggs leaves, none of them say much of anything to each other. It’s new and uncomfortable – Luke can’t remember a time he’s ever felt so alone.

The silence stretches, until one night Luke goes out to the garage, planning to tinker with…something, just to distract his thoughts, and he finds Aunt Beru there, humming an old song as she examines a malfunctioning vaporator coil.

Tena light the fires, she sings. The night is drawing in.

It’s one of the oldest and most common work songs, simple and repetitive, with a seemingly simple and repetitive story to match. Night is coming. It’s time to light the candles, and then to continue working.

But Luke and Beru both know the truth of the song. The night is the hope of slaves. The night brings freedom. And Tena is no simple candle-lighter, but the great prophet, she who walked in the desert with Ar-Amu, Tena the Unfettered with the skin of a dragon who went back, time and time again, to free her people from slavery. Until finally the Hutts captured her. But she was not executed. Ar-Amu’s fire fell from heaven and Tena was caught up, blazing like a third sun, and Ar-Amu took her away, free forever.

Tena light the fires. The night is drawing in.

Luke steps fully into the garage, and without a word Aunt Beru hands him the vaporator coil. He’s good with them, naturally so. Like his grandmother, Aunt Beru says. Like his father.

“Tell me why you want to go to the Academy,” she says. “Tell me why you want to join the Imperial fleet.”

Luke winces. He hasn’t yet told them the truth, afraid they’d think it’s too dangerous. He should have realized a lie would be worse.

“I don’t,” he admits, his eyes trained on the vaporator coil. “I want to join the Alliance. Biggs and I, we were planning to defect.”

Aunt Beru is silent for a long moment. She’s moved on to the next coil, this one less damaged than the one Luke is working with, and there’s something soothing and simple in just working quietly together.

But finally she says, again, “Tell me why.”

Lukka, whispers the voice of the desert in the silent spaces. Do you know what your name means?

“Because I want to help people,” Luke says. He offers a hesitantly teasing smile. “You’re always saying that the biggest problem in the galaxy is that nobody helps each other.”

Aunt Beru sighs, and then she reaches out to ruffle his hair like he’s a child again. “Yes,” she says. “And you do help, Luke.” She gestures minutely behind them, in the direction of the hidden surgery. “But…I’ll discuss this with Owen. Not this year, but maybe the next…”

That’s enough for Luke, at least for now. He can wait one season more. But not forever. The voice of the wind sings in his blood. Skywalker, it names him, and no Skywalker can remain on the ground for long.

*

The revelation that his father was a Jedi is both a surprise and, somehow, not a surprise at all.

Luke has always known that his father was a freedman. A navigator on a spice freighter, his aunt and uncle told him. They didn’t say much else about him, but the image in Luke’s mind has always been almost a human version of Akar Hinil, the celebrated Twi’lek pirate who fought the slavers. He’s never seen a holo of his father, so the Anakin Skywalker of his daydreams looks remarkably like the way Luke used to imagine himself looking as an adult. Even as he’s grown older and found that reality doesn’t match his youthful imaginings, the image of his father hasn’t changed.

And now there’s this: Ben Kenobi, not a crazy old wizard but a Jedi Knight. The only home Luke has ever known, burned and desecrated, his aunt and uncle’s bodies consumed by the fire that haunts his dreams. And his father, his freedman father, was a Jedi.

Ben says that the Jedi were the protectors of peace and justice, before the dark times. And Luke’s father was one of them.

His father’s lightsaber is hanging now from Luke’s belt. The ashes of everyone and everything Luke knows and loves are smoldering still, and a deep well of anger opens inside him. His father, the mother he knows almost nothing about, and now his aunt and uncle – the Empire has taken them all.

The biggest problem in the galaxy is that nobody helps each other.

There’s nothing more he can do for Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen. There’s very little he can do for the people who once followed the freedom trail here, except to get word to Imer Moonspinner that the Lars farm can no longer be a safe haven. But there is something he can do, perhaps, for the princess in Artoo-Detoo’s message. And maybe that will serve to avenge all those the Empire has stolen. Maybe it will at least be a beginning. He can only hope.

“I want to learn the ways of the Force and go with you to Alderaan,” he tells Ben. “There’s nothing here for me now.”

And that’s true. The dead are free and he can do nothing for them. And he’s already taken from the homestead the one thing that’s needful. At the bottom of his small bag, beneath a few changes of clothes, there’s a set of surgical tools and a scanner.

*

The princess is named Leia, and when Luke walks into her cell he thinks, for a moment, that she really is a dragon. She’s a prisoner under sentence of death, but she sits there as fierce and furious as the Mighty One herself, and it’s enough to steal the words right from Luke’s mouth.

“Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?” the dragon-princess snaps, and Luke comes back to the present, fumbling with his helmet and his explanation.

Their escape is harrowing and terrifying and, if he’s completely honest, more than a little thrilling. Luke’s dodged the Hutts and their enforcers before, but now he’s in the belly of a massive Imperial war machine, entirely surrounded by people who want him dead, and yet he’s still free and still fighting and it’s even beginning to feel like he’s winning, like this is an Ekkreth story and he and his friends are going to turn into a bird and fly away, laughing in the face of the Empire.

That’s when he sees Darth Vader for the first time.

There’s never a moment when he has to wonder who the huge, droid-like black shape clashing blades with Ben Kenobi is. Later, much later, as he’s sitting listlessly in a medbay testing the sensitivity of his new cybernetic fingers, he’ll remember that moment that wasn’t, and he’ll think that maybe some part of him always knew.

He screams a denial as the red blade falls, and everything that comes after is a blur of laser fire and targeting computers and explosions and one brief, quiet moment when the dragon-princess wraps a blanket around his shoulders and tells him she’s sorry for his loss. It will be hours yet before he’s able to really process that, before he realizes the magnitude of her own loss and the immense and terrible strength of her heart.

He finds Biggs again on the Rebel base. The reunion is unlooked for, and so all the more devastating. Biggs tells Luke what he knows about the Death Star, the Empire’s new superweapon that Luke and his friends have just escaped from. Luke tells Biggs about Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen and the burned farmstead, and they steal a brief moment away from the bustle of the base to make the Vigil for the Lost together.

But there’s no real time to mourn. They’ve been tracked, just as Leia thought they would be.

Luke takes very little with him in the X-Wing the Alliance assigned him less than an hour ago. Of course, he won’t need much going into a space battle, but for all his bravado during the briefing, Luke knows there’s a decent chance he won’t be coming back, and some things are important.

He brings Artoo, of course, because Artoo wants to go, and Luke couldn’t refuse him. He can’t imagine working with another droid at this point, either.

He brings his father’s lightsaber, because it’s the only thing of his father’s he’s ever received, and because he knows three things about his father: he was a freedman, he was a pilot, and he was a Jedi. Luke is fighting for all of those things now, and he hopes his father’s spirit will be with him.

But it’s not his father’s voice he hears, urging him to turn off his targeting computer and trust the Force. It’s not the voice of the desert, either. It’s Ben.

Luke breathes a wordless prayer and shuts off the computer.

The entire universe narrows to a single point of focus. The exhaust port, only two meters wide and fast approaching. There are enemy fighters closing behind him, and an ever-narrowing window of time in which he can act before everything will be over.

Like shooting womp rats in Beggar’s Canyon back home, he thinks, and fires the shot.

*

After the celebrations, there is time to mourn. This time, Luke makes the Vigil for the Lost alone. One of Biggs’ squad mates, a woman named Brin, brings him a small box. She squeezes his shoulder in sympathy before she leaves, and Luke offers condolences of his own.

There’s not much in the box, and most of it probably looks like junk to anyone who doesn’t know Tatooine. A collection of miscellaneous small parts. Several lengths of jerba cord. A chunk of flaky red rock that Luke knows comes from Beggar’s Canyon. A snippet of japor, carved with symbols of protection. And a scanner made of cobbled scraps.

Biggs was freeborn, like Luke, but like Luke, his grandmother was a freedwoman. She still lives on a moisture farm along the freedom trail, but Luke has no way to contact her.

He wraps one of the lengths of jerba around his wrist and hesitates only a moment before tucking the japor into his pocket. The rest goes back into the box, to be given to Biggs’ grandmother if ever he returns to Tatooine. When he left, he’d thought he would never go back. But this changes things.

*

Hoth is a desert too, for all it’s covered in snow. Luke thinks about this sometimes, when he’s out on patrol, or when his fellow pilots grumble about the weather and Wedge complains that he grew up on Alderaan and Luke grew up in a blazing desert, so by all rights Luke ought to have more trouble with the cold and it’s completely ridiculous that Wedge is the one constantly shivering.

Once, Leia overhears this repeated argument. She and Wedge are cousins, though three times removed. At first Luke was surprised by the strikingly informal way Wedge treats the princess, and he’s pretty sure Wedge contrived to keep the mystery going for a while because it amused him. But eventually Hobbie clued Luke in, and now he’s more than used to their banter.

“You grew up in the city,” Leia tells Wedge with teasing disdain. “City people can never handle the cold.”

There’s a forced lightness to her voice that’s always present when she talks about Alderaan, but there’s a genuine spark of humor in her eyes, too. She sees the question in Luke’s and adds, “Yes, technically I grew up in the city too. But my father’s parents were mountain herders, and every time Mom wanted to escape the palace we’d go up there. I remember –” She cuts herself off abruptly, and there’s a terrible moment where the ghost of an entire planet seems to steal all the air from the room and Luke feels like a sacrilegious outsider intruding on a secret and holy grief.

Then Leia shakes herself, and Wedge offers a grimace of a smile. “You see what I have to put up with, Luke?” he says with an exaggerated sigh. “She’s royalty, and she’s tougher than me.”

Luke laughs, too, less because it’s funny and more because Aunt Beru used to say that the surest weapon against evil is laughter. Sometimes, when he’s out on a long and painfully uneventful patrol, he likes to imagine meeting Vader, or even the Emperor himself, and laughing in his face.

“That’s no surprise,” Luke says. “I’m pretty sure Leia is tougher than anyone.”

He still thinks of her as the dragon-princess, though he’s never told her that. It would be difficult to explain to someone who’s never been to Tatooine, and he’s not entirely sure of how she would take it. Her name is Alderaanian, of course, and one of the few pieces of Alderaan she has left. He doesn’t want a coincidence of language to take that from her.

*

Hoth is a desert, and maybe that makes him a little bit cocky. He knows how to survive in a desert, after all.

But the dangers of an ice desert are not the same as the dangers of Tatooine.

“That’s two you owe me, junior,” says Han, easy and teasing. He won’t ever collect, Luke thinks, but that doesn’t make it any less true. It just raises Luke’s estimation of the man he once thought cared only for himself. And Luke is very aware, even as he teases Han in turn, that they survived a storm together. That the law of the desert ties them together now, brothers through the storm.

It’s the law of the desert, too, that makes Luke trust the apparition of Ben Kenobi.

He’s heard Ben’s voice before, of course. Only once, in the trenches above the Death Star, but his guidance had been vital then and Luke has felt his absence keenly since. He wants to be a Jedi like his father, wants it more than anything, but until now he hasn’t known where to turn. How can he learn, with Ben gone?

But now there is another Jedi. And he must be a great Jedi, Luke thinks, if he taught Ben.

He doesn’t tell anyone about what he saw out in the wastes. Luke trusts his vision absolutely, but he’s got no illusions that anyone else will. He saw Ben while he was half-delirious and slowly freezing to death. Those are not optimal conditions for being believed.

So instead he does his part to ensure that the base will be safely evacuated, and then he splits away from the rest of the fleet and makes his way to Dagobah.

*

Yoda is not what Luke expected, though truth be told he couldn’t say what he was expecting really. A great warrior, though that idea is pretty nebulous, too. Someone more like Ben, maybe. Someone old and wise, but with just an edge of danger, too.

Yoda probably is dangerous, though, even if he doesn’t look or sound it. Anyone that perfectly dedicated to a cause or a system of belief must be. Yoda is in hiding from the Empire, his life entirely given to the Force, but Luke recognizes in him something not unlike the fire that drives his rebel friends.

Luke listens eagerly to everything Yoda will tell him, whether about the Force or Jedi philosophy or sometimes even about Ben (Obi-Wan, Yoda always calls him) or, most rarely of all, a brief mention of his father. He was a powerful Jedi, Yoda says. Luke has learned enough by now to know that what Yoda probably means is “strong in the Force,” but that still doesn’t stop him from imagining his powerful father in Tatooine terms: free, unfettered, breaking chains wherever he went. Someday, Luke will be that too. A Jedi like his father before him.

*

What Yoda calls his failure in the cave haunts Luke, though maybe not for the reasons his Jedi teacher might hope. It reminds him of something Aunt Beru used to say years ago, something he’s ashamed to admit he’d mostly forgotten.

“You’re the Free Skywalker,” she’d say. “You call things, and people, by their names, no matter what the Masters say.”

“And what if I don’t know the name, Aunt Beru?” he remembers asking once.

He remembers how she knelt down beside him and looked him in the eye for a long, piercing moment, and how soft but fierce her voice was when she answered, “Then you learn it. You learn it, and the story that goes with it. And you learn why it was hidden, and who benefits from keeping it hidden.”

Luke is still thinking about that as he stirs his soup listlessly that night. Yoda had refused to teach him anything else that day after his failure, and Luke’s pretty sure he’s meant to be meditating on that failure, on what he did wrong. Bringing his lightsaber (his father’s lightsaber) to the cave was wrong, obviously. Yoda emphasized that pretty strongly. Luke just isn’t sure why. Would Vader not have come if he hadn’t brought it?

Or would Vader have worn a different face?

You call things, and people, by their names, Luke, Aunt Beru whispers through his memory. And more distant still there’s the voice of the desert, a voice he hasn’t heard much since he came to Dagobah. Skywalker, the desert sings, do you know what your name means?

Who is Darth Vader? Luke knows both his name and his story; Obi-Wan told him. He’s a Jedi, and he was Ben’s student before he turned to evil. He killed Luke’s father, and many other Jedi too. He killed Ben. Luke saw him do that.

So why can’t he stop thinking about Aunt Beru’s words, or his own face inside that terrible death mask?

*

Oh, he thinks, numbly, both arms but only one hand wrapped around himself and shivering uncontrollably in a makeshift medcot. That’s why.

*

It would be easier, Luke thinks later still, if he could just believe that Vader was lying, and that Ben, that Obi-Wan, had told him the full truth. It would be a good lie, surely. One designed to throw him off kilter, to make him question his allegiance to the Jedi and maybe even to the Alliance. Deceit is the way of the Dark Side, Master Yoda said. So of course Vader was lying.

The problem is that Luke knows that isn’t true.

Ek masa ton ipa, Vader said, in a language Luke hadn’t heard since Biggs died. His voice was as deep and as hollow as the desert.

The desert has never lied to Luke, and he knows that Vader hasn’t, either.

Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru lied to protect him, Luke is certain of that. And, maybe, they lied because they really didn’t know. Aunt Beru especially always spoke fondly of his father. Luke can’t imagine her doing that if she’d known…

But Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan certainly knew, and he just as certainly lied, and Luke just wants to know why. Why didn’t Ben tell him?

But Ben is silent. He won’t answer when Luke calls.

Vader isn’t silent.

His voice in Luke’s mind sounds like an echo out of deep space. He always uses Luke’s name, the name his parents gave him. Lukka, the voice of the desert echoes back. Lukka. Do you know what your name means?

Vader says his name like it’s a prayer.

Most of the time, Luke doesn’t answer. But in the first moments of shock above Bespin, he did. And without even consciously thinking about it, he’d followed Aunt Beru’s advice and named Vader “Father.”

He can’t take that back now. That is, he can’t make himself take it back, though he doesn’t quite know why. He just keeps thinking about that moment in the cave on Dagobah. His failure in the cave, Yoda called it.

His failure. As if all the lies are inconsequential, and Luke alone has failed, because he broke the mask and revealed the truth.