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because I don't know how to love any other way

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Te amo sin saber c ómo, ni cuá ndo, ni de d ó nde, te amo directamente sin problemas ni orgullo: as í te amo p orque no s é amar de otra manera .

I love you without knowing how, or when, or where my love comes from. I love you directly, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I don't know how to love any other way.

-Pablo Neruda

 

Beru Whitesun was the first to admit that she hadn't really realised what she'd married into when she married Owen Lars. Yes, she'd been aware of his holdings and assets, down to the last credit, and she'd tallied every one of his courting gifts and his reaction to her own. Yes, she'd known he was a good man, loyal and steadfast, if occasionally rigid in his thinking, and she'd known that the way he smiled at her and the way he touched her hand in greeting made something spark brightly in her heart. She'd even, as she spent more time with the Lars family, become aware of all the small details and family stories that she hadn't known, living on the other side of the valley. In fairness, she wasn't sure even their neighbours knew that Shmi Skywalker Lars' blood-son was not, in fact, a pilot who never visited, but a Jedi. Shmi did not volunteer that information quickly, though she'd never outright lied about her son's profession. She'd merely said he was a very talented pilot and very busy.

 

Beru met Anakin Skywalker once. She would never have known him as Shmi's son if it hadn't been for the Jedi robes. He was too tall, too blond, and too angry. Shmi carried a sense of great calm with her, and Beru has never met anyone less calm than Anakin Skywalker, despite the attempts his small, dark companion made to soothe him.

 

The companion introduced herself as Padmé and helped Beru clean the knives and strip down the rifles. She was very good with them, too. Beru lent her a dress and told her about the attack, since all of Anakin's burning focus had been on finding Shmi, and he hadn't stopped to think about the attack, how it had happened, when it had happened, how many the Tuskens were - all those little details that might have narrowed down where Shmi was now, the calculations that Beru had been running in her head so she and Owen could gather a group of farmers and go after Shmi, even if all they brought back was a body. Maybe Jedi didn't need to know that sort of thing.

 

Anakin carried Shmi's body home. Beru saw her given to the ground and then went home, with Owen for an escort. Her parents stood in the shadow of the porch and watched her kiss him, and then asked Beru if she was really sure she wanted to marry into a family who lived so far out, where it was so dangerous. Shmi Skywalker didn't have much of a choice, they said, but you do.

 

"Yes," Beru replied. "And I've made it."

 

 

The next Beru heard of Anakin or Padmé was a young man with reddish hair, a haunted face, and a baby who wasn't his, but who he was very good at soothing.

 

"Er," Beru said, when handed the baby. It needed changing.

 

"You're the only family he's got," the stranger announced, and promptly passed out at their feet.

 

Owen caught him, and looked at Beru.

 

"Not a clue," Beru said, correctly identifying the expression on her husband's face.

 

Owen heaved a philosophical sigh. "Anakin always was trouble," he remarked, and dragged the man inside.

 

In the time it took Beru to change the baby and discover that the child was male, wrapped in finer clothes than you could get on Tatooine, and not wearing a single identifying marker, the stranger came round. Owen gave him a drink of water and sat over him, foiling multiple attempts to leave.

 

"You want to let me go," the stranger was saying with exasperation. Then his tone changed and he repeated his words, voice suddenly deep, slow, clear and totally convincing on some level that wrapped around Beru's bones and tugged, even though he didn't know she was there and wasn't speaking to her.

 

Owen's face went blank. "I want to let you go," he agreed dully, and stood.

 

Beru slapped the stranger very hard around the ear, and then, when his head whipped round, pointed a knife at him, so close to his nose that his eyes crossed. "There will be none of that in my house," she snapped. "Sit back down, you idiot."

 

The stranger faltered, then sat back in his chair. Owen's eyes cleared and he shook his head very hard; then he went for the blaster rifle leaning up against a kitchen cupboard.

 

To forestall further bad behaviour, Beru picked up the baby and handed him firmly to the stranger.

 

"I told you, you're his only family," the stranger said weakly.

 

"Which makes him Anakin's son," Beru said, with impeccable logic. "Who are you?"

 

"I can't say." The stranger tried to get up.

 

Owen racked the slide on his rifle.

 

The stranger sat down again.

 

"Your name is now Ben," Beru informed the stranger. "If you don't like it, you can tell us your real one."

 

Ben eyed her and said nothing. The baby started to cry, and Ben rocked him gently and murmured to him, with the air of someone who has had to become expert in childcare very quickly.

 

"What's the baby's name?" Beru asked, thinking that asking questions about the baby might be an easier and more fruitful line of enquiry.

 

"Luke," Ben said. "His mother lived long enough to name him Luke."

 

"And his mother was...?"

 

Ben hesitated.

 

Beru stared at him. "Have I met her?"

 

"She has visited Tatooine," Ben said cautiously. "More than once. I believe."

 

"Is she short and dark-haired with a clear voice? Pretty woman. Very fair. A little older than Anakin?"

 

"You've met her," Ben said, without confirming or denying the description.

 

"We both have," Owen said. "I thought she was far too good for Anakin."

 

Ben flinched, and a look of naked anguish crossed his face. "In the end, yes, she was."

 

Owen and Beru exchanged a marital look of mutual confusion and suspicion.

 

"So," Owen said, at last. "He's dead, then. Anakin."

 

A tiny hesitation, and then, softly: "Yes."

 

"Don't look at me like that," Owen said roughly, "I didn't know him." He paused. "Shmi would have been sad."

 

Beru nodded. There was a long silence; the baby, Luke, smacked his lips and curled his tiny fist into Ben's filthy robe.

 

"And Padmé?" Beru asked, eventually.

 

"Yes, she - she's dead, too. I thought I - yes."

 

"No family, I suppose?"

 

Ben hesitated again. "No. No family."

 

"Liar," Beru said, with quiet certainty.

 

"Madam Lars - "

 

"Whitesun Lars," Owen said. "And she runs the business, I run the farm. You'll learn fast enough, nothing gets past her."

 

"I won't be staying to learn it!" Ben snapped.

 

"Yes," Beru said. "You will. Where else have you got to go?"

 

Ben was red with anger, but his grip on Luke was just as gentle as ever. A good man, Beru thought, and then, suddenly: a man worth keeping.

 

Where did that come from, Beru Whitesun Lars?

 

She dismissed it.

 

"I intend to go into the wastes," Ben said, softly but not kindly. "And meditate on my mistakes."

 

Owen stared at him; Beru didn't let her face flicker. The depth of self-hatred in those simple words had been remarkable.

 

"Well, and we'll see you when you're hungry, then," she informed him.

 

"I think I can manage," Ben replied, with a sudden flicker of ease, a curl at that mobile mouth, that caught Beru's eye.

 

"Off-worlders always do," Owen said dourly. "What are you going to use for a name, then? Besides Ben."

 

"Kenobi," Ben said.

 

Owen snorted, and slung the blaster rifle across his back, going to lock down the shutters and hatches. Night was drawing in, chill fingers creeping over the sand. "That'll stand out."

 

"Well, what do you suggest?" Ben asked, a prissy twist to his voice that made Beru smile.

 

"Skywalker," Owen said, stolid but never stupid, and Beru felt a little starburst of pride around her heart as Ben's jaw dropped. "You were Anakin's brother. That's plain enough. You look more like him than Shmi did anyway, you're both fairer than she was, haven't got her desert eyes. That's Anakin's baby, who'll have Anakin's name, and'll look like him, if I'm any judge. So. Ben and Luke Skywalker."

 

"That's not very safe," Ben said weakly. "I thought you'd want to... choose a name for him yourself."

 

"Neither is Tatooine safe," Beru pointed out, and got to her feet, dusting down her skirts. "And this is Tatooine. Names are important. Call a thing what it really is, because it won't forget if you don't."

 

Ben looked deeply puzzled. The door slammed shut behind Owen.

 

"Where's he going?" Ben looked at her; there was almost a look of appeal in his blue-green eyes, very tired and very much reddened by the sand, and Beru thought, grief. Beru remembered, suddenly, that Anakin had been several years younger than her and Owen, only nineteen, and the knight he had fought alongside had been only ten years or so older than him. Ben Kenobi - Ben Skywalker - was perhaps five years older than her and Owen. And he had plainly cared for Anakin Skywalker very much.

 

"To put your speeder in the workshop," Beru said. "It's getting dark."

 

Ben leaped up. "I should go, if -"

 

"Not tonight," Beru said, and touched his wrist gently. "Sit down. You've come a long way."

 

Luke started to cry, a familiar whining sound that struck Beru to the heart. There were few children this far out, only the Darklighters' boy, much older than Luke, but Beru had always liked children. She'd hoped for some of her own. It hadn't happened yet, but there was time, and Owen, she knew, would be a good father. As good as Ben appeared to be.

 

"That baby is hungry," Beru said. "What have you been giving him?"

 

Ben looked blank, and then produced some packets from a pocket of his robes. "You add it to hot water -"

 

Beru took both packets and baby from him. "The fresher is in the room on the second left," she said. "Owen's clothes will be short on you, but Shmi kept a set of clothes for Anakin. Just in case. You'll find them in the kirilwood chest, the one carved with the two suns."

 

"Anakin's - I can't." He looked almost green.

 

"Yes," Beru said, "you can." She paused. "If it makes you feel better, he never wore them. The one time he came here, she had just been taken. He wore his Jedi robes throughout."

 

Ben went so grey she thought he might pass out, his face taking on the look of a much older man.

 

"Go," she said. "Wash. Change. Dinner will be on the table when you do."

 

Owen came back in before Ben returned, carrying a basket. He set it down on the table, then fetched a blanket, and cushioned the basket; then he laid Luke in it.

 

"He looks like ours," Owen said, very gruffly. "You've got blue eyes. Fair hair. Nobody would have to know, if you wanted him to be ours."

 

Sometimes Beru loved Owen so much she thought her heart might crack like good soil under the sun, but it wasn't necessarily because he was right. "He is ours," she said, and kissed him. "Our nephew. We're keeping him."

 

"Are we keeping Ben, too?" Owen wrapped an arm around her waist, peered over her shoulder into the stewpot.

 

"You can't keep a free man."

 

"You keep me," Owen said, gruff again.

 

Beru laughed, sudden and bright, and kissed his forehead. She'd been tasting the stew, and red beta root had caught on her lip; she left a mark behind on Owen's skin. "That's not the same."

 

"Starlight," Owen said, very soft. "Don't take my word for it, but I think it might be."

 

Luke stirred in his cradle, and Ben immediately reappeared. Anakin Skywalker's clothes were too big for him; Shmi hadn't even been sure how tall her son was as an adult, only that he had been a tall child, sturdily built. The man Beru had met had been tall enough for the clothes, but too slight. Ben was built well enough for them, but a little short.

 

"You look like you belong here," Owen said deliberately.

 

Ben said nothing for a moment, but picked up Luke and held the baby against his shoulder. "I have to leave in the morning. You've been too kind."

 

"Not one of my faults," Owen said.

 

"Have you held Luke the entire way here?" Beru asked.

 

Ben met her eyes, and then looked away, his free hand stroking softly over the vulnerable curve of Luke's skull.

 

"Yes," he whispered.

 

***

 

Ben Skywalker left a week later. Luke cried all day.

 

***

 

Two months after that, Beru decided to pay a visit to the wastes.

 

"This is a bad idea," Owen said, piling spare ammunition into the speeder's saddlebags.

 

"Enjoy Tosche Station," Beru said, looking out into the empty desert. "Say hello to the Darklighters for me."

 

Owen settled Luke more carefully in the sling round his chest, and grunted. "What do I tell them when they ask where you are?"

 

"Tell them I need five minutes' peace," Beru said. "Elly Darklighter has three children, she'll know what I mean."

 

Owen frowned at her. "The Jundland Wastes is a funny place to go looking for peace."

 

"I'm not looking for peace, Owen, that was a lie. I'm looking for an idiot off-worlder hermit."

 

Owen rolled his eyes and Beru hid her smile. I know what you meant. "When you find him, tell him to come home. We can always use another hand on the farm, and he looked like a strong man."

 

Yes, he did, Beru thought, and you noticed.

 

When she found him, he was heatsick and pretending he wasn't. He was also too thin and short on water, though he'd otherwise done a respectable job of carving himself a niche in the treacherous wastes. For an off-worlder. Beru wondered if he'd met his first womp rat yet. Or if he'd figured out that, should one of the rare but vicious storms come, his water-carved home would flood in seconds.

 

But generally he was doing very well, and Beru was pleased.

 

"I thought I was difficult to find," he complained.

 

"You forget, I live here," Beru said, pouring water down his throat and leading him to her speeder.

 

"I live here now," Ben protested.

 

"You're not doing a very good job of it," Beru said. "You'll be dead inside the year."

 

"That wouldn't be the worst thing," Ben said, and fell over her speeder, chiefly because she dropped him out of shock.

 

"Life is precious," she said. "Terrible, sometimes. But precious."

 

Ben struggled up onto his elbows, and squinted up at her. He was beginning to tan instead of burn, which was good, and his hair was lightening to a reddish gold. He would look quite like Luke, if Luke's blue eyes and fine pale hair held true. Like enough to be an uncle, certainly, and probably some would think he was Luke's father, whatever Beru and Owen said about Anakin.

 

"Life is cheap," Ben said gently. "Have you ever seen a battle, Beru?"

 

"No," Beru said, although a terrible chill was creeping over her heart. "Have you ever fought a raid on your home, Ben?"

 

Ben looked away. "In a manner of speaking," he said.

 

"If you won't come because I say you're welcome," Beru said, and hated herself for the note of entreaty in her voice, "if you won't come because Owen says we could use someone like you on the farm, will you come for Luke? There are only two of us to defend the farm. To protect Luke." She took a deep breath. "You know what happened to Shmi. Tuskens like the vulnerable."

 

There was a long pause. The sun beat down on them. Owen would be returning home by now, and he would panic if she wasn't home before him.

 

"I'll come," Ben said.

 

Beru let out a breath; she hadn't realised she was holding it.

 

***

 

Owen kept going hunting.

 

"You realise he's not from Tatooine and doesn't understand what you're doing," Beru said, forcibly reminded of how well her family had eaten when Owen was trying to prove that he could provide for both of them. "And I am not fond of butchery."

 

Owen had the grace to look slightly ashamed as well as defiant. "I'll skin the next one," he said, and raised an eyebrow. "And I'm not so sure he doesn't understand."

 

"What?"

 

Owen gave her a very patient look. "Beru. He negotiated a five percent rise in our cut of the market profits, and the Cersons think he did them a favour."

 

"That's for both of us," Beru said.

 

"Uh-huh," Owen said, and disappeared the way he did when he was trying to avoid having to lie to her about something.

 

In winter, all those skins - tanned and cured expertly - reappeared in the form of a coat and new boots for Beru.

 

"Nobody said I couldn't court my own wife," Owen informed her, under the blankets in the privacy of their own room. "Two krayt dragons with one blaster bolt. And it turns out Ben sews quite well."

 

"Two kra- oh, Owen, you romantic," Beru sighed, and Owen grinned and pulled her soft blonde hair out of its plaits.

 

Down the hall, a baby's wavering cry rose, and both of them froze in place. Then they heard footsteps, and Owen relaxed.

 

"Ben's got it," he murmured. Moments later, they heard Ben's light tenor voice, singing something quiet and rill-like, something that belonged to a planet with waterfalls and jungles and plenty.

 

"Oh, twin suns," Owen groaned, and went face-first into the mattress. "All that and he can sing too."

 

Beru stifled her laughter in a pillow.

 

***

 

Beru was away haggling with Hutts' agents at Mos Espa when Luke took his first steps, and the first thing Ben and Owen did when she got back was sit her down and set a holofilm in front of her. They barely even let her take her boots off before she watched it.

 

Beru had never seen a holofilm of a member of her own family. She nearly cried, watching Luke's tiny, grainy, gap-toothed smile as he wobbled from one end of her vegetable pod to another, trampling the greens as he went.

 

"It was Ben's idea," Owen said, leaning against the cool ceramic of the kitchen worktop and watching both of them, smiling.

 

Beru recognised that smile. She hoped Ben would be as helpless before it as she had been.

 

"Who's my clever boy?" she asked Luke when she picked him up from his nap, and he burbled and tried to grab her nose. "My clever boy. You are." She laid Luke against her shoulder, where he immediately began to chew on her shirt, and looked back into the main courtyard, where Ben and Owen were wrangling with the communications array.

 

"You're all my clever boys," Beru said. "And I'm keeping you."

 

***

 

For a while, Ben kept saying he would leave. Owen ignored him; Beru cornered him and demanded to know why.

 

"I - am forbidden attachment," Ben said weakly, stuck in a dusty enclave in the larder. "J - I mean -"

 

"Ah," Beru said, trapping him behind an unused rack for drying meat. "Jedi are not allowed to love people. Like Anakin."

 

A most peculiar expression passed over Ben's face. "Anakin is, for many reasons I may not go into, a truly terrible example."

 

"Because it was Padmé and Luke who made him a terrible man that you loved to death, but can hardly bear to speak of."

 

Ben winced. "It was the things he did to keep them, Beru." He faltered. "Things - Anakin killed off everything good left in himself, believing he could - could save Padmé, who was pregnant with Luke."

 

It was more than Ben had ever said before about the events that had led him to flee to Tatooine with Luke. Beru stored the information up carefully, like preserves in the hungry season.

 

"Men will do strange things to save their wives from dying in childbirth," Beru said quietly. "The good ones, anyway."

 

It was something Owen had said to her, after two years had been and gone with no sign of a child - at least I won't lose you, Beru.

 

"People don't die in childbirth - not any more."

 

Beru heaved a frustrated sigh. "Maybe not in the Core, Ben. Out here, they do. That would be what Anakin knew."

 

Ben was silent.

 

Beru took both of his hands in hers, smoothed her thumbs gently over his rough, cracked knuckles. He still hadn't learnt to take proper care of his skin.

 

"Would loving us make you a bad person?" She gripped his hands tightly. "Would you kill the good in yourself? Do you not trust us, to protect ourselves - to protect you?"

 

He stared at her hopelessly. "Anakin trusted Padmé, once."

 

"We are not Padmé," Beru said. "You are not Anakin. This is Tatooine, and we know our land and how to save ourselves, far better than you do." She looked up at him and willed him to listen. "Stay a while, Ben. Find out what we can do, all three of us, what we can be."

 

"That would be dangerous," Ben said. "I don't want to risk you."

 

"Life is dangerous," said Beru, who had always taken too many risks. She took one now, and said: "Listen to the Force."

 

Ben stared at her.

 

"I heard you swear when you dropped a spanner on your foot last week." Beru sighed. "I went to school south of here, the best school in this part of Tatooine." Her parents had thought she was throwing away her mind and her prospects, marrying Owen, but Beru hadn't wanted to be a teacher or an accountant for the Hutts, she had no turn for space travel, and she had been sure that she wanted Owen. "I've heard of the Force."

 

She'd had one lesson on it. It counted.

 

"I'll listen," Ben said, slowly. "But - please accept my decision. Whatever it is."

 

"Ben," Beru said. "If we didn't, it wouldn't be love."

 

Later that night Owen found Beru in the fresher, washing her hair. "Did it work?" he asked.

 

Beru shouted that she couldn't hear him and turned off the fresher. Owen repeated his question.

 

"I don't know," Beru said. "Maybe."

 

***

 

Luke was two when the Tuskens came.

 

Beru didn't even have time to do more than grab a blaster rifle and lock Luke safely in his cool, dark room before every raider was dead, and Ben was standing over several dead Tuskens with a terrible look on his face and a gleaming bar of light in his hand.

 

"Owen," Ben grated out. "Are you hurt? Beru. Luke?"

 

"We're fine," Owen said. He was bleeding slightly, but so far as Beru could tell, he'd only cut himself on a vaporator when he slipped and fell, and he'd still accounted quite handily for some of their attackers. The blood on the heavy lead pipe he held was not his own. "At least -" he looked at Beru.

 

Beru nodded, trying to master her breathing. "Ben. What's that you have there?"

 

"A lightsaber," Ben said, and extinguished it. "A weapon for a more civilised age." Some of that terrible look faded from his face; he shook his head, and slid the lightsaber into his belt. "You didn't see it."

 

"Right," Owen said.

 

"Luke must not know I have it."

 

"Of course," Beru said.

 

They locked the house down early and got quite drunk, sitting around the fire with small glasses of firewater, an unnerved Luke crawling from lap to lap until he finally fretted himself to sleep and Owen carried him to bed.

 

Beru kissed Ben goodnight. "Thank you," she said. "For all of us."

 

Ben reared back and looked at Owen, clearly panicked. "You don't need to - you don't owe me thanks; it's my duty -"

 

"Duty," Beru said, and made a face. She'd never liked the word. "It was a gift, Ben, try to take it graciously."

 

"Oh," Ben said, and his eyes caught hers and the way he smiled made something catch light inside her. Then he turned that smile on Owen, and Beru felt the kindled light grow, a fire that would last, and when she looked at Owen he was grinning crookedly back at both of them.

 

Yes, Beru exulted.

 

"You didn't kiss me," Ben said to Owen, deliberately.

 

"I'm not as pretty as Beru," Owen jibed.

 

"I beg to differ," Ben said, lazy and crisp like a Coruscanti lord in a holofilm, and kissed Owen so thoroughly that Owen's hands curled into helpless fists in Ben's clothes.

 

Beru smiled so brightly her face hurt.

 

***

 

"Is this what you had in mind when you dragged me back from my nice cave in the Jundland Wastes?" Ben enquired, head pillowed on Owen's stomach, fingers carding through Beru's hair in a way that made her feel soft and lazy like early moonlight.

 

"It was a horrible cave," Beru reminded him, eyes closed, "and you would have drowned in the first rains."

 

"Supposing they ever arrived."

 

"Due this year," Owen said, "and if I've told you once, I've told you a hundred times. Beru always plays the long game."

 

Beru grinned in the darkness. "This bed is too small," she told both men.

 

"I'll fix it in the morning," Ben and Owen said, simultaneously.

 

***

 

When Luke was ten he told everyone at school Owen, Beru and Ben were married. Ben fielded queries from the other parents with his usual grace and came home looking redder than a beta root.

 

"Don't be stupid, Ben," Owen sighed, ratty after a day spent taking apart a recalcitrant vaporator. "Obviously we're married." He rubbed his hands over his face. "Ugh. We'll go down to Mos Eisley next weekend and get the paperwork done, make it even all round."

 

"I didn't know three people could get married," Ben said weakly, pouring himself a glass of firewater. "I don't think they can, in Coruscant. I certainly - marriage was not an option."

 

"Attachment, yeah, yeah, yeah." Owen rolled his eyes. "You can marry as many people as you like on Tatooine, so long as you can provide for each other." He slapped Ben on the shoulder, none too lightly. "Don't get smashed. I need you to help me with the western vaporator bank tomorrow."

 

Beru caught Ben's eye, and added extra sweetener to Owen's night-time tea. She followed Owen back to their bedroom and left the tea on the nearest small shelf while Owen rattled around crossly in the fresher, then returned to Ben. She nodded at him, and Ben poured her another glass of firewater.

 

"We are married," Beru told him, "by every Tatooine custom." She sipped at her firewater. "Would you like to tell me why that surprised you?"

 

"Yes," Ben said, eyeing her narrowly. "At length."

 

"That's fine," Beru said. "I have half a bottle of firewater and at least an hour."

 

***

 

Only Ben could have stayed polite when boys from Luke's class started leaving for the Imperial Academy. Anyone with his feelings and less iron self-control would have gone mad. Beru didn't think it was so bad herself, given the kinds of trouble Luke could get into; at least he wasn't running spice for the Hutts. Luke had a nose for trouble, a recklessness that came direct from Anakin, her own wanderlust, Owen's stubbornness, and Ben's way with a straight-faced lie; Beru had wondered what he'd taken from Padmé, and then she'd asked Ben, and he'd looked very sad and said a passionate belief in justice.

 

Owen had said "Don't let the boy fool you; I didn't starve him today, he just wants more sweets," in the same deceptively grumpy tone he'd said "The Cerson boy's leaving for the academy; Luke got overexcited and upset Ben," when the three of them got back from Mos Eisley.

 

Beru went to find Ben, and eventually discovered him meditating in the back of the larder. 'Upset' was evidently a prime piece of Owen understatement.

 

Ben opened his eyes when he heard Beru. "Beru," he said.

 

"Ben," she replied.

 

Ben swallowed. "He - he can't. He can't go. Beru, we can't let him. The Empire - he can't."

 

"Is this as important as the lightsaber?"

 

"This is much, much more important than the lightsaber," Ben whispered, and grabbed Beru by the shoulders, pulling her close. She wrapped her arms around him and listened. "This is the reason why I brought Anakin's son to you. Why I tried to hide him. I thought you'd give him a new name, pretend he was yours; I thought I could hide in the wastes and keep an eye on him, and then, when he was old enough -"

 

"What?" Beru said. Her nephew. Their nephew. What did Ben want him to do?

 

Ben ran his hands through her hair; short now, after a small, unfortunate kitchen fire. "The Emperor would have him killed, or - worse. He could bring down the Empire, Beru. Just because of who he is."

 

"That seems unlikely," Beru pointed out. "He's just a boy."

 

"The Force sings in him."

 

"Is that enough?"

 

Ben was silent.

 

"I understand this much," Beru said, sliding into Ben's lap. "The Imperial academy is not safe for Luke. He mustn't go."

 

Ben nodded into her shoulder, and she stroked the back of his neck.

 

"You can explain it to Owen," she told Ben. "He was worried about you. And we'll have to think of something to tell Luke."

 

Luke, though possessed of a temper wholly natural to a teenager, was a sunny boy. He sulked a bit and claimed not to understand and made a fuss occasionally, but there was no real trouble until the Darklighters' boy left. Then there was a screaming row.

 

Ben ended it. "The Clone Wars killed your father!" he howled, red-faced and halfway to tears. "They destroyed him, Luke, from the inside out! I will not let that happen to you!"

 

As Beru understood the truth, it was approximately true. Ben had left out a lot, though.

 

"You told me my father was a pilot!" Luke said, but not as loudly or as angrily as anything else he'd said over the last hour.

 

"Flying was his greatest gift and his greatest freedom," Ben replied, voice quiet and half-cracking. "Greater, even, than his love for your mother. And in the end, it was the only good thing he had left."

 

Luke stared at Ben, looking lost. "His love for...?"

 

"No," Ben said, face crumbling. "Flying."

 

There was a horrible silence.

 

Ben sniffed, and collected himself. "War - it does things to people." He reached out to Luke, and smoothed shaking hands over the boy's golden hair. "It did things to me, and it did worse to your father. And the Empire would send you to war, Luke, make no mistake."

 

"Because they need cannon fodder?" Luke sniped.

 

"No, Luke," Ben said, and suddenly looked far older than the forty-five years he admitted to. "Because you would be very, very good at it. And it would ruin you, the way I watched it ruin your father."

 

They heard no more about the Imperial academy.

 

***

 

The Jawas came round with droids for sale when Luke was eighteen. Beru was arguing with the year-end accounts at the time, and left droid selection to Luke, who had an exceptionally good eye for them.

 

He chose a blue and white R-2 unit, and acquired a translation droid in a remarkably horrible metallic shade that would blind in the sun. Something about both of them caused Ben, on his way back in from kicking the neverendingly useless western vaporators, to turn white and walk into a doorjamb that had been there since Luke was five.

 

"You've caught the sun," Owen said.

 

The R-2 unit issued a series of bleeps that made Luke look at it strangely and say "No, that's my Uncle Ben."

 

"Force preserve me," Ben said, in a voice Beru had last heard eighteen years ago, and sat down very hard on the floor.

 

The droid wheeled up to him and projected a holo of a pretty, slight, dark-haired girl in a white hooded dress.

 

Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi; you're my only hope.

 

Beru looked at Owen, and knew he was thinking the same thing. Kenobi; that had been the name Ben had first given them, before Owen had renamed him Skywalker, though most people these days just said Lars. And hadn't there once been a General Kenobi, in the Clone Wars -

 

"Uncle Ben," Luke said, looking fascinated, "who is that? She needs help!"

 

"Yes, she does," Ben said, as if he was dreaming. "And so do we. We need to leave."

 

"The farm?" Owen said.

 

"For good?" Beru said. Something leapt in her stomach and she didn't know if it was queasiness or excitement.

 

"Yes, and I hope not," Ben said, climbing to his feet. "The lady's name is Princess Leia Organa, Luke, although what Bail and Breha are doing permitting a girl of that age to become involved in the Rebellion I honestly couldn't say."

 

Owen left the room, presumably to pack; Beru knew her husbands.

 

"The Rebellion!" Luke exclaimed. "Biggs was talking about that!"

 

"You're very attached to the Darklighter boy, aren't you," Ben said, giving Luke an extremely fishy look. "Well, maybe he was and maybe he wasn't. But we're leaving, because not even your aunt and uncle and I will be able to defend the farm from what's coming."

 

"What is coming?" Beru asked.

 

Ben looked at her, finally. "The Empire," he said. "Stormtroopers, I think. Possibly someone of... higher rank. I don't know. But they will follow these droids and they will come here."

 

"But you can defend the farm from anything," Luke said, with touching faith.

 

Ben and Beru both smiled. Yes, in his young life, they'd seen off a thing or two.

 

"Not quite, my darling," Beru said gently.

 

***

 

It took them a while to find someone to get them off-planet, and Beru was sure the gossip would be all over the valley, but needs must. She wasn't sure about Captain Solo, though his Wookiee first mate had impeccable manners, and she thought in the end Han Solo was probably just a spoiled boy, no harder to handle than Luke at thirteen.

 

"I am sorry," Ben said quietly, catching Beru and Owen by the sleeve for a quiet moment in a dark corner of the Millennium Falcon. "This is why I was not supposed to stay with you. If I hadn't, you might be safe right now."

 

"Might won't bring the rain," Owen said gruffly, and touched Ben's cheek very gently. Ben's lips twitched, and he looked at them like they were his entire planet. "I don't regret a minute of the last eighteen years."

 

Beru smiled.

 

"And besides." Owen rolled his eyes. "Safe? Have you met the woman we married? She's allergic to 'safe'."

 

Beru rolled her eyes in turn, and Owen and Ben both grinned.

 

***

 

They were too late for Alderaan, but Beru saw no reason why they should be too late for Princess Leia - especially because the more Ben avoided her eye, and the more Beru looked at that holo and thought of Padmé, the more suspicious Beru got. Perhaps there hadn't been just one child to protect; perhaps Ben had entrusted the other to friends or family of Padmé's. It would be easier to hide siblings if they were split up, particularly if there was no extraordinarily close resemblance.

 

Well, given that this was already an extremely dangerous situation, Beru saw no reason not to rescue a princess while they were escaping it. It was practically a sunk cost. So she went with Captain Solo, Chewbacca, and Luke, and Owen went with Ben.

 

Beru stepped into Princess Leia's cell first.

 

"You're not a stormtrooper," Princess Leia said, and now that Beru saw her, she was sure she knew who the girl was. She even sounded like Padmé.

 

"No," Beru said, being well aware that she was too short, too fat, and too old to be a stormtrooper. "But I did know your mother, and she would not be happy to see you in a place like this. Come along, young lady."

 

Princess Leia, looking slightly dazed - natural, in a traumatised young orphan - came comparatively quietly. Not at all like Luke.

 

Back on the ship, Beru found Owen cleaning his blaster rifle, and Ben meditating, looking distressed. She stroked Ben's hair lightly, and kissed Owen's cheek. "Any trouble?" she said.

 

"Well, there was some bastard with a breathing problem and a taste for black hanging around like a bad smell," Owen said, setting the rifle aside and pulling her down onto his lap. He'd been frightened; she could feel his heart beating. "But if you shoot him in the back on the womp rat setting, he goes down just like anyone else."

 

"I should think so," Beru said.

 

The ship punched and jerked forward into hyperspace, and Beru and Owen tumbled off the bench into Ben's lap, whereupon they all slid down to the bottom end of the legal cargo bay.

 

"I was meditating," Ben complained.

 

"Take it up with Captain Solo," Owen growled.

 

"But first," Beru said, sitting up and fixing Ben with her sternest stare, "explain to us how Anakin and Padmé had a daughter as well, and you didn't bring her to us, too."

 

"... Ah," said Ben.