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Title: Don't Look Back
Author: MJ Mink
Rating: G
Genre: AU, drama, adventure, humor.

Disclaimer: as usual, Lucas owns everything, and this fanfic was written purely for fun.

Summary: Vader meets his six year old son in a unique way – they switch bodies. Yahoo Luke/Vader Group Inversion Challenge

Author's Note: Title inspired by the "Don't Look Back" poster showing child Anakin casting Vader's shadow.


"Once upon a time," Aunt Beru began in a singsong voice, "in a galaxy far, far away, there lived a little boy named Luke."

"Like me!"

"Yes, just like you. And one day Luke had a natalday, a very special natalday, his sixth one."

"I'm thixth, too!" This was a great story, the bestest story he'd ever heard. "Where did Luke live?"

"Luke lived on Tatooine, on a moisture farm with his aunt and uncle."

"Oh." Luke pouted. This wasn't a real story at all. Aunt Beru was just being silly again. "Can we have cake for breakfatht?" He barely heard her reply as he dropped to the floor and grabbed the model 'hopper Uncle Owen made for him. He zoomed it around, imagining it was carrying Big M, MynockMan -- the 'toon, not the real one. "Dum-dum-dum, dum-de-DUM, dum-de-DUM!" he hummed the Big M theme song, playing happily until a familiar wheezing sound from the vidset caught his attention and he swiveled around, his eyes huge.

"Wow!" There HE was on the vid, the real MynockMan himself, Darth Vader! "Cool!" Darth Vader on his natalday, it was theeeeeeeeee best! Luke inhaled and exhaled loudly, imitating MynockMan's breathing. Someday he would be as big as Big M and he would fly around in a spaceship, except not in space because space was dark and he didn't like that. He liked Tatooine because everything was sunny.

Then Big M was gone because it was just some boring news story and it was over. Luke went back to playing until Aunt Beru came with the cake on fire and Uncle Owen. They both were singing Happy Natalday, so he put down the 'hopper and listened politely. When they were done, Aunt Beru put the cake on the table. It was blue with six orange candles and a chocolate 'toon Big M spreading his black icing wings across the top. "Wow! MynockMan! Cool!" He grinned up at her. First he got to see Darth Vader on the vid, then MynockMan was on his cake! "Thith ith the bethteth natalday ever!" he declared, air whistling through the space where his front teeth used to be.

Uncle Owen folded his arms, but he was smiling. So was Aunt Beru. "Now, if you close your eyes and wish very, very hard, your wish will come true," she promised.

"If you wish for something practical," Uncle Owen added.

"Wow," Luke repeated. "A real with! Thith ith the happietht day of my whooole life!" He kneeled on the chair, scrunched his eyes shut and balled his fists, thinking as hard as he could. There was only one thing he really truly wanted, his ma and da, but Aunt Beru told him his ma and da were gone and could never come back, so he couldn't waste his wish. So the next best thing was:

I with I could be MynockMan for my natalday!

Using all the air he had inside him, Luke blew out the candles. Grinning, he turned to Aunt Beru and –

"Luke, be careful!" he heard just before the chair tilted sideways and he went flying toward the floor and into darkness.


Darth Vader stood in front of the viewport on the bridge, his hands clasped behind his back, staring at the golden planet hovering in the center of the screen.

Space was dark and Tatooine was light.

The thought came from nowhere, filling his mind with its absurdity. The illogic of it was an indication of how distracted he was today. This was the day he loathed every year - hated it with every fiber of his being. Six years ago had been the disaster on Mustafar and the deaths of his beloved and his son. For six years, he had lived with the memory of his failures and losses; he had lived with constant pain, unable to breathe on his own, unable to see with his own eyes, unable to feel with his own arms or walk with his own legs. His agility, his charm, his good luck – his good looks-- were gone, and his body was left to shrivel inside this perverse mockery of a uniform. This day, more than any other, he hated being alive. If only he'd died in the lava... if only Palpatine hadn't "saved" him and turned him into some kind of... freak.

More absurd thoughts! That day he had wanted desperately to live so he could be with Padme and their child... and so he could lavish revenge on his former friend who had committed an unthinkable betrayal. He had clawed his way out of the river of fire, centimeter by centimeter, and he had lived. Frustrated by his inability to fulfill any of his desperate wishes, he had instead turned his formidable energies into becoming the second most powerful being in the galaxy.

I should be the most powerful! He cleared his mind and closed his eyes, focusing on the Force and the Darkness within it, stoking his internal flame into an oven of vengeance and...

Darth Vader sighed. What I wouldn't give to be someone else, anyone else... even if only for a day.

"My lord, watch out!"

Graceless and uncaring, the Dark Lord tumbled off the walk and into the control pit without even opening his eyes.

He lay motionless for a moment, uncommonly disoriented. A normal man would be embarrassed, even humiliated, but he was not a normal man. He was a Lord of the Sith. No one would dare laugh. He just needed to get up, a task that seemed strangely difficult...

"Are you all right, dear?" It was a woman's voice, soft and worried and –

What was a woman doing on his ship? Vader's eyes flew open and he saw...

... an oddly painted ceiling. Colors. Flesh tones, pastels and primaries. Colors, for the first time in six years. "What? What'th happening?"

Something was wrong with his voice! Or something was right with it. He wasn't wearing his helmet and he was breathing normally. He bolted upright, staring at the man and woman who both wore concerned looks. They were... Owen Lars and his girlfriend Beru! What were they doing on his ship?

Or rather, he realized as he looked around, what was he doing in their home?

"Why am I here? What'th going on? Owen? Beru? How did I get here?"

"Oh, Luke," Beru crooned. "My poor boy! Owen, let's take him to lie down. Should we call the doctor?"

"He's just banged his head, he'll be fine." Somehow Owen was able to pick him up. "He's got a helmet-head, this one."

"Luke? Who'th Luke?" Vader blinked. He had arms and legs! And he was... tiny! He'd shrunk! "Wait! Thtop!" he called out as they passed a mirror in the hallway. "I wanna thee mythelf!"

"There's no mark, sweetheart," Beru said, smoothing back hair (hair!) from his forehead. "See?"

Oh, yes, he saw. Indeed he saw. He simply could not believe what he saw. He saw himself... no, not quite himself, but someone who bore a strong resemblance to his younger self. A tow-headed, blue-eyed Tatooine child. Oh, by the Force! He was Owen and Beru's son!

What I wouldn't give to be someone else, anyone else... even if only for a day.

How could this be? It must be a dream – no, a hallucination brought about by his fall -- because the Force simply didn't work this way. Although... no one truly understood the Force, all the possibilities that rolled along its endless river. Darth Vader took a deep breath of dry desert air and simply accepted.

Whatever the reason, he was a child again, free and whole. If only for a day.

His brow furrowed in concentration. Unless he could discover a way to make this condition permanent. He could start his life over and this time he would make no mistakes.

"You'd better stay in bed for the rest of the day, dear," Beru said, fussing as Owen deposited him on the small cot. "I know it's your natalday, but – "

"My natalday!" he exclaimed. Eager to profit from that revelation, he added, "I can't thtay in bed on my natalday, it'th not fair."

"The galaxy isn't fair," Owen said, sounding tired, as if he'd said it many times. "You'll do what we tell you."

Vader glared at him. "Give me one good reathon not to kill you where you thtand," he snarled. If it turned out that he only had one day to spend as a normal human, no one would make him spend it in bed.

"All right, that's it! Beru, this child is watching too much vid! You're cut off, young man. No vid for a week."

"That'th fine with me," Vader snapped, wanting them to go away so he could explore his new world.

"He seems all right now," Beru told Owen.

"If you're all right, you can do your chores."

"Not on his natalday, Owen."

"Chores don't take a day off, not even a natalday."

"I'll do the choreth," he interjected hastily. Whatever work it was, it would be better than spending his day of freedom in bed.

"Then you can come with me to Anchorhead to pick up parts. We'll leave in ten minutes."

After Owen and Beru departed, he slipped off the bed and padded across the room, standing on tiptoes to reach the top of a small bureau. His fingers curled around the edge of a hand mirror. He studied himself in it for a few seconds, then decided to inspect these quarters. It was uncommonly tidy for a child's room, he noted approvingly. On a low shelf, toy figures stood in a row. One of them looked vaguely familiar and he reached for it. His eyes widened in dismay. MynockMan! He hated that damned holotoon caricature of himself – and it was a not-so-subtle representation of Darth Vader, no matter how vociferously the producers denied it. It irked him no end that Palpatine refused to ban the 'toon and, in fact, seemed amused by it.

However, he thought as he considered the figure and moved its arms and legs, it was a fairly decent replica with good details, and the character itself was somewhat heroic, so he supposed –

"Luuu-uke! Uncle Owen is going to leave without you if you don't get out here now!"

"I'm coming!" he shouted irritably, and in the next second he realized what Beru had said:

Uncle Owen? Then who was Luke?

Correction: Who was he?


Luke stood up and wobbled – all of a sudden he was really tall! He sure grew fast! "Wow!" he squeaked, but it sounded more like this: WHOA! really loud and deep and scary.

"My lord?" someone said, and it didn't sound like Uncle Owen.

Noisy Big M breathing was all around him. He didn't feel very good... in fact, he felt pretty awful. His eyes were funny. Everything looked sort of red. Even the man in front of him was wearing a pink uniform. He brought up his hands to wipe his eyes and hit his face... no, not his face. He hit something hard that made him stagger backward a few steps. "Ow!"

"My lord, are you injured?"

The man in front of him was talking. Behind him there was a big window, black and full of stars and a big man reflected in –

DARTH VADER! MynockMan was here for his natalday? But...

"Oh-oh!" he exclaimed, remembering. "My wish!" His wish had come partly true... but instead of MynockMan, he was the real Big M!

Cool.

"I beg your pardon, my lord? You're what?"

He grinned and put his fists on his waist, standing like Big M did. The man looked scared. Luke knew it was a good thing he'd memorized lots of MynockMan's lines, so he pointed one finger at the man and said one of his favorites: "Give me one good reason not to kill you where you stand."

"My lord, I – What have I done?" The man backed away. "Please... I..."

Luke didn't know what to say next, so he pretended he wasn't paying attention to the man. He walked closer to the big window. The giant cape was swirling around so he stretched his arms out and stared at his reflection. This was even better than dressing in Aunt Beru's clothes.

He paraded in a half-circle, hands clutching the edges of the cape and stretching outward, neck craning to watch himself. The helmet was sort of uncomfortable, but it was bright and shiny. Slightly bending his knees, he stalked around the platform like MynockMan on the prowl. The cape filled with air and whooshed! He looked so cool!

And the boots were great! They were a lot easier to walk in than Aunt Beru's high heels. Dress-up was more fun when he could be Darth Vader instead of a lady. "Dum-dum-dum, dum-de-DUM, dum-de-DUM!" he intoned, and instead of sounding like a weeny little song, it came out all heavy and scary.

"M-my lord?"

He spun around and said (just like MynockMan would): "You dare!"

"I-I'm s-sorry," the man stuttered. "I didn't mean to interrupt you... your..." Bowing, the man backed away. He was wearing a pink uniform, too, just like the first man.

So... uniforms, stars, space... "This looks like a job for MynockMan," he muttered under his breath, because that's what MynockMan always said at the beginning of each episode. "Where should we go?" he wondered. There were so many cool places. There was that planet with the big furry Wookiees... or the planet with the giant flying abbawings... or the one in the story Aunt Beru read to him, the planet made of candy! "Hrshia," he muttered.

"Yes, m'lord?"

The pink man was back. Luke squinted at his nameplate. R-S-E-A-A-H. Oh. Maybe that's how the candy planet was spelled too? He wasn't sure. What would MynockMan say now? "I'll deal with you later!" he blurted, and the man looked scared again, really scared, like he might accidentally pee himself.

So Luke stepped away from him fast, then stopped and folded his arms like MynockMan did when he was thinking. What if they asked him to fly the ship? He didn't know how. He might crash and break it and then Uncle Owen would get really mad. Maybe he should just stand right here and be really, really careful and not move until his natalday was over. Unless he could find the real Big M and give him back his ship.

"What is that planet there?" he demanded of no one in particular.

"Tatooine, m'lord," someone said after a bit of quiet.

"Of course it is." He only nodded, but inside he was really excited! He would go show Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen how big he'd gotten! And that he was Darth Vader and would make everything in the whole galaxy okay! They would be so proud of him!

But how to get down there? He squeezed his eyes tight, trying to remember what MynockMan said in that great episode where the giant blob-creature was eating villages made of trees. It was... it was... hah! "Ready my shuttle!"

"You're going down there, m'lord?"

He looked at the man and said nothing, just breathed loudly.

"Yes, of course, m'lord." That man gestured to other men. "Ready Lord Vader's shuttle."

Great! But where was... hah! "Take me to the shuttle, Hrshia," he ordered, happy that he really was as smart as Aunt Beru said.

"Y-yes, m'lord."

Wow, they did what he said, this was totally cool! Maybe he should stay here and be DarthVaderMan forever. Then he wouldn't have to do his stupid chores and get scolded by Uncle Owen.

But there was no Aunt Beru here, either. He wondered who baked cookies for Darth Vader. And then he wondered if Darth Vader even ate because he was sure having a hard time swallowing right now, and he felt sick and hurting a little all over. And this helmet seemed to be fastened on really, really tight. It wouldn't budge!

Maybe it wouldn't be the best thing in the galaxy to be Darth Vader for longer than a day.

Yeah, he decided, it was a lot better being just Luke.


As Darth Vader, he hadn't spent any time in Anchorhead and remembered it only as a blur of misery in Anakin Skywalker's life. The town, the Lars homestead and this part of Tatooine would forever be associated in his mind with his mother's horrific death and his inability to prevent it. Now that he was recovering from the initial shock of being in a strange child's body, he was more aware of his memories of this damned planet. If the Force was able to grant wishes, why had It brought him here of all places? Why did It grant this wish anyway, when It was quite content to allow his loved ones to be ripped from him, leaving him alone and disfigured?

"Stop dawdling!" Owen Lars said.

"I'm not dawdling, I'm right here."

The man looked down at him with surprise on his face, as though he was used to chasing after the child. "Oh."

Vader craned his neck until he could see from under the brim of the floppy hat. The suns were bright in the sky, turning Owen's face into a hazy blob. He tried to look higher and higher, bending farther until he fell over backward and landed hard on the packed sand.

Owen was bargaining with a merchant and didn't notice, so Vader scrambled to his feet and brushed off his palms. He looked around. There was a lot going on. It was strange how much he could see from this height and how much more intimidating the various speeders and animals were. A ronto was approaching too close, so he used the Force to give it a nudge in another direction and –

It didn't work.

He could feel the Force only vaguely and he couldn't access It at all. It lay within him like a useless lump of energy. It had often felt this way when he was a child and, though he hadn't understood what he was doing at the time, he had sometimes inadvertently used It. But now that he wanted It and understood It, he couldn't reach It. Strange. Evidently switching bodies with the child had hampered his ability to --

"Watch out!"

He flew into the air, which disconcerted him momentarily until he realized those were Owen's big hands under his armpits, lifting him out of the way of the agitated ronto.

"How many times have I told you to watch where you're going? You could have been killed!"

Vader couldn't help smiling and wondered how often Luke had been scolded about this. "Thorry," he apologized. Evidently Luke could get into enough mischief without Vader adding to the tally.

"Stay close to me."

Nodding absently, he followed Owen into a shop where he promptly found a back room and began rummaging through piles of old ship parts. It reminded him of his own childhood and he was struck by the nostalgia of the moment. If only he could stay here indefinitely, live this life --

He sat down suddenly, an engine blade clutched in his hand, shockwaves rattling through him.

If he was here, then...

...who was on his ship?


"Shall I program a specific destination, my lord?" the pilot asked nervously.

Luke didn't answer. He was busy. His head itched and he couldn't scratch it. He hated this helmet! Trying to bob his head up and down didn't work. Twisting it around didn't work. Nothing worked. He wanted to go home and take off this whole stupid black outfit.

"My lord?"

"Coordinates 53-24-6791," he said, and it came out in a snarling tone. Good thing Aunt Beru had made him memorize that. In case you ever get kidnapped by Tusken Raiders you'll know your way home, she said, but Biggs told him that Tuskens would kill him so he didn't have to worry about getting lost.

"Yes, my lord."

Riding in a shuttle wasn't as much fun as he thought it would be. The sky was bumpy. Poor MynockMan! He couldn't scratch his head and all this flying must make him want to throw up. Luke was a little sorry that he'd wished for this for his natalday, but like Aunt Beru said, trying different things was good 'sperience for him, plus he was learning stuff.

Suddenly they were close to the ground and it was so cool! They were flying really fast over sand and then above Beggars Canyon – Luke recognized it because of the Needle, which looked a lot shorter from here. Then he could see 'vaporators and knew they were really close and then –

Home! He was never so glad to see it as he was right now! As soon as they landed, he was going to ask Aunt Beru to help get this stuff off him. He would have to tell her about his natalday wish so she could make it go away.

"Land there," he directed the pilot, and the shuttle came to a gentle stop near the main dome. Impatiently he waited for the ramp to lower, then hurried down it.

The wind made his cape flap and he saw a huge shadow that stretched across the sand and onto the dome. It was him! For a second Luke had forgotten how big he was. He was Darth Vader. He turned, watching the shadow. The cape flew outward like a big bird, then the wind changed and it flew forward and slapped his body. It was fun... but not as much fun as playing with his MynockMan action figure and making his cape flap around.

The steps seemed a lot smaller. His feet hardly fit and he had to turn them sideways to get down the stairs. When he got into the courtyard, he was surprised that everything else was smaller too. There sure had been a lot of changes in one day!

He opened his mouth to call Aunt Beru, but she appeared in the doorway before he could say anything. She gave a little shriek, clapped her hand over her mouth, then took it away and exclaimed, "Anakin!"

Luke turned and looked behind him. "Da?" he mumbled. But there was no one there, so he guessed she didn't mean his da, Anakin Skywalker. "Who's Anakin?" he asked Aunt Beru.

"Oh, no," she moaned. "What are you doing here? Please... you're not... oh..."

Oh, no, she thought he was really MynockMan! "Luke!" he told her frantically. "I'm -- "

"Oh, no! Please don't take him! How did you find out...? No!" She whirled at the sound of Uncle Owen's speeder. "Don't come down here!" she shouted. "Run!"

Aunt Beru was sure confused! Worried, Luke grabbed her arm. She screamed and he let go, scared.

"Beru!" Uncle Owen came running down the stairs and racing into the courtyard. He came to an skidding halt. "You!"

Luke opened his mouth to speak, but then, running behind Uncle Owen, he saw...

...himself. Luke.

Me.

The suns went uncommonly bright and started swirling around each other. A dark fog filled his head and he couldn't see. He felt weak and strange and sick and then all of a sudden he was –

He was himself again. It was a bittersweet moment. The Force reawakened, flowing through him with all its Dark, rich glory. Infinite power was his... in exchange for a whole body, his youth, and all hope of a new future. It was not a fair exchange... but as Owen Lars had said, the galaxy was not fair. A bitter truth of which he was all too well aware.

So, the child had become him. Interesting. Briefly he wondered about the amount and type of damage control he would have to do on his ship when he returned. Whatever it was, it was worth it to have had this experience.

"MynockMan!" Unblinking blue eyes were focused on him. The child showed no fear; indeed, his gaze reflected something uncomfortably like... compassion.

Vader looked away.

"What do you want here?" Lars demanded, grabbing Luke's shoulder and pulling him behind, shielding the child with his own body.

Curious. Why would they assume that he would attack the child rather than the adults? Vader send a tendril of the Force to probe into Luke's mind and found the reason immediately. There, curled like a slumbering kowe cub, lay a familiar power. The child was Force sensitive, strongly so. Could he be -- ?

No. Luke was too young to be the offspring of his mother and Cliegg. How sweet it would have been to have a little half-brother to mold and train. He must be a Jedi child then, perhaps hidden when Vader had sent troopers into the Temple crèche to eliminate the babies, an action he had been too weak to carry out himself.

"Anakin, please," Beru moaned, "please don't take him. He's so little... we've given him a good home."

Take him? Why would they think -- ?

"My da'th name wath Anakin," the boy lisped brightly, smiling at him. "Anakin Thkywalker. Ith your name Anakin, too?"

He felt dizzy, as though his oxygen supply had been cut. Vader stared at... his son? Padme's son, their child? But their child had died along with Padme...

I know it's your natalday....

"How..." His voice was hoarse and nearly unintelligible. He tried again: "How did he get here?" That wasn't all he wanted to know, but he could only manage one question at a time. Is Padme alive? and the soul-shattering realization: I did not kill her!

And the realization: I did not kill my son.

And the realization: He said he was my friend, he saved me from a fiery pyre, gave me new life...and named me the murderer of my beloved. But instead... he stole my wife and son from me.

"Obi-Wan brought him... after Padme died in childbirth," Beru said softly, walking closer, putting herself between him and Owen, who still had a protective grip on the boy.

Padme... Grief welled anew, as if she lay dying in front of him right now. Fiercely, he pushed the image of her aside as he had done so often during the last six years.

So... she was truly gone. But their son was alive. Here. Staring at him with huge, awe-filled eyes.

And the realization: He was my friend, he sent me into a fiery pyre... and he hid my precious son from me.

And the realization: He hid my boy from Palpatine.

"I'm the only mother he's ever known." Beru's voice was a whisper, pitched low so Luke could not hear. "Don't take him from us. We love him like our own. Think! -- what kind of life would he have with you?"

He is MINE! Vader shrieked the proclamation into the Force. Flesh of my flesh. My child, my son, the only family I have -- dead, now alive; lost, now found; he is mine and I will have him!

But...

I'm the only mother he's ever known.

Mother.

Palpatine.

Mother.

"Luke, no!" Owen shouted as the blond boy broke loose and ran up to him, standing in Vader's shadow. Beru caught her breath but did not interfere and clutched Owen's sleeve to stop him when he started forward.

His son strained to look up, squinting into the suns and shielding his eyes with a tiny hand. Vader couldn't help but react. He squatted beside the child, blocking out the brightness, wishing he could smooth the tousled hair. But he did not want to frighten his son. His appearance frightened children.

His appearance frightened him.

The small hand reached out and tentatively touched his helmet. "Doeth your head itch?" Luke asked sympathetically. "Mine did. And I couldn't thcratch it."

"Sometimes it itches," Vader said eventually, though his voice sounded choked even through the vocoder.

"I'm thorry," the boy said. "But thith ith nithe," he offered, stroking Vader's shoulder and wrapping a corner of the cloak around his miniature fingers. "It lookth tho cool!"

"Yes, it does." His stomach quivered with the realization that for the first time someone understood what it was to be Darth Vader. Luke was only a child, of course, so he couldn't appreciate the deeper implications... still, he was obviously a very perceptive youngster, much as Anakin had been. "Tell me, Luke, are you happy here?"

"You know my name!" His son beamed at him and clutched his leg with both hands, swaying back and forth while completely ignoring his question. "I liked your thhip! I liked being tho high! But the clotheth were all itchy and... I didn't like the helmet. Thorry," he added with a shy, half-embarrassed smile. "Do you hafta alwayth wear it?"

"Almost always. I can take it off in places that have special air."

"Oh." The head tilted and Luke scrambled up to perch on Vader's knee, squirming until he was comfortable. "Do I look red?"

He hid his surprise at the little one's willingness to be close to him, though he couldn't disguise, at least from himself, the warmth that rose in his heart. "A bit. But I'm used to the tinted eyepieces and can adjust my perceptions accordingly."

Luke looked confused but reassured. "Okay. 'Cauthe I'm not red. Jutht in cathe you thought I wath."

His son was so intelligent! He wrapped his hands around Luke's back and stood, letting the small form nestle comfortably on his forearm as if he'd carried the boy that way since birth.

"No!" Beru called urgently. "Don't take him – please!"

"Take me?" Luke's eyes widened. "Take me where?"

"Would you like to go with me?" he asked gently.

"To your thip?"

"Yes," Vader answered, amused, "to my ship."

The boy shook his head vigorously. "I don't like thpathe. It'th dark! Tatooine ith light! I like it here. And I like my Aunt Beru -- and Uncle Owen, too," he added in a conspiratorial whisper, "even though he getth kinda cranky thometimeth."

"Oh." He was disappointed, even hurt. He desperately wanted his son with him – he wanted his family.

But how could he hope to keep what was his? Palpatine would either kill Luke or take control of him, the latter being very likely. Luke would be groomed as an apprentice, programmed to one day take his father's place. Inevitably, they would fight to the death and...

No. Luke was his son. A miracle, a gift... perhaps a redemption. A chance to start over.

The boy wriggled, trying to escape the embrace that had inadvertently tightened, and Vader bent to set him gently on his feet. "I understand. I have to leave, though, and I will miss you."

His son looked at him for a moment before ordering: "Thtay right here! I have thomething that will make you feel better!" and ran off into the dwelling.

Vader straightened and addressed the couple who now stood shoulder-to-shoulder in front of him. "I will leave him with you for the time being. But," he said sternly, "I will monitor his status. I will know if you abuse him or try to hide him from me. Do not take him off this planet." He paused, considering the repercussions should Palpatine learn of Luke's existence. "Do not allow him to learn about the Force. Discourage any tendencies to use It that he may develop. I will have credits deposited annually in your account to provide for his care. When he reaches adulthood, I will return and –"

"We don't need anything from you, especially your blood money," Owen interrupted gruffly, with the arrogant pride that Vader vividly remembered from their earlier encounter. "Threats work both ways, Vader. Remember, I can do just as much damage here as you can do there if you drag him into your Sith-forsaken life."

"Owen!" Beru exclaimed. "Stop it! There'll be no hurting and no damage done to the boy! Anakin, tha – "

"That is not my name," he said evenly, controlling his temper only for the sake of the child. Luke might be distressed or confused by the Force disturbance his rage would create. Perhaps it was a weakness, but he accepted that he was not willing to upset his son.

Her head moved in something that was not quite a nod. "Thank you for – "

"Here it ith!" Like a beam of Light, the boy reappeared and ran up to him, clutching something in his hand. "Thee? MynockMan! It'th my favorite but I want you to have it! It lookth jutht like you! I pretend it'th you thometimeth, like for my natalday!" Luke gave him a sweet smile -- Padme's smile -- and when Vader squatted again, the child touched his arm and leaned close. "That wath my cake with. To be MynockMan for the whole day." The smile melted into a frown. "But it wathn't ath much fun ath I thought it would be. I'm thorry that you hurt all over."

With a kind of horror, Vader felt tears welling inside him. He stood abruptly, holding the ridiculous toy in his fist. "Thank you," he said curtly. There were more words he might later regret not saying, but his voice was suddenly unmanageable. Abruptly, he whirled, heading for the stairs and for the shuttle that he knew would be waiting.

"Bye-bye, MynockMan," his son called, and even if it had meant his life, Darth Vader could not have found words to respond. But he paused, overwhelmed by a recollection of playfulness, a feeling he thought long dead. Turning, he held the tiny figurine aloft and waved its left arm. A cascade of childish giggles followed him as he strode to the shuttle.

Don't look back, he chanted over and over, Don't look back.

It was agony enough to know what he was leaving behind without having to watch it grow smaller and smaller, fading from reality into bittersweet memory.

I will return for you, my son, he vowed as the shuttle lifted from the surface, sand swirling beneath it.

Don't look back.

But at the last possible moment, he leaned forward and peered toward the already-distant homestead. Twin suns glared back at him, and all he could see was a dark shadow that his crippled vision could not penetrate.


EPILOGUE

Almost before the Jedi master stopped speaking, Luke knew he had to put Yoda's warning aside and go to his friends' aid. His strong inner voice encouraged him, just as it had for as long as he could remember. It had never steered him wrong, and he trusted it completely. Perhaps it was the Force; perhaps it was something that Uncle Owen or Aunt Beru had taught him, though he had no memory of either of them saying it. Still, this time as every time, he listened when it whispered to him to make a decision, trust himself, and then...

...Don't look back.

END

 


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