Hyperspace was cold and dull in the little ship, and Athara was hard pressed to keep her emotions in check. There was nothing at all to distract her, leaving far too much time to dwell on things she had no desire to think about. However, clearing her mind was far easier said than done, and there was little else to do. She didn’t even want to attempt to sort through her muddled thoughts, and musing about Vader’s recent behaviour didn’t seem anymore appealing.
Instead, she tried to meditate.
That was only marginally more successful, and that was only because the goal was to rest and think of nothing at all but her connection to the Force.
Thankfully, Dagobah was close to Hoth, and even with the painfully slow hyperdrive on her fighter and the multiple micro-jumps to prevent being followed, it was not a long trip. By the time she emerged from her fitful meditation she had essentially arrived.
The scant information she had remembered about the little planet had been entirely correct; there was pretty much nothing there. It was completely covered in forest, and the sensors picked up nothing but life-form readings. There was no sign of civilization, technology or anything of the sort. Athara sighed, trying to push aside her displeasure. If there really was a Jedi down there, he was brave; there was nothing in the galaxy that could convince her to spend the rest of her life on a planet like Dagobah.
After her initial scans were completed, she turned to locating Luke. She was sure he had to be here. When she reached out through the Force, trying to probe the surface of the planet, she was thwarted by the sheer magnitude of life forms and Force anomalies. It was unhelpful to say the least for finding Luke, but she now understood why the mysterious Jedi chose the little planet.
Instead, she began a sensor sweep searching for the beacon built into the systems of Luke’s X-Wing. It was a long shot, especially if Luke hadn’t activated it. She had told him she would meet him on Dagobah, but that was no guarantee that he had remembered the beacon. Thankfully, after several long, tense minutes, she picked up the faint signal coming from his ship.
It was in a swamp. Then again, it looked like the entire planet was one, big swamp.
She was having terrible luck with planets.
First Hoth, then Dagobah…Athara groaned before changing her heading and preparing for a slow decent. There was something odd about the atmosphere that her secondary scans had picked up, so she instructed N3 to keep a close eye on the ship’s systems as they approached the planet’s surface.
There were a few tense moments before they caught sight of the tree canopy through the planet’s thick cloud cover. It was another few minutes until Athara spotted Luke’s ship and several more before she found a suitable spot to land. She suppressed another groan when she noticed where Luke’s fighter had touched down…or crashed, more like, considering the splintered and snapped foliage beyond it.
After her own fighter was settled securely on (relatively) dry land, she took a moment before popping the canopy to regain her bearings. As doubt began to niggle away in the back of her mind, she stood, stretching sore muscles before shucking the orange flight suit she’d donned over her clothes and leaping lightly down from the cockpit.
One nice thing about the lack of civilization and the natural ‘shielding’ effect of so much life was that there was no need to hide her abilities here. Letting out a satisfied sigh, she reached out, touching and exploring her immediate surroundings through the Force before turning and levitating N3 down from on top of the ship. It felt good to use the Force openly again.
Satisfied for the moment, she turned, anxious to find Luke on the murky planet. She turned to N3, grimacing as rain began to seep through the foliage overhead.
“Can you use your sensors? Pick up any electronic signals? Luke likely brought Artoo with him, so you should be able to pick him up if he’s nearby.” The green droid whistled cheerfully before extending his sensor array. After a few moments, he whirred contentedly, letting out a shrill barrage of excited whistles as he began to pick his way through the dense undergrowth.
Several minutes after they began their trek into the forested swamp, Athara heard a faint answering whistle from the depths of the murk ahead. A smile coming to her face, she pushed forward, passing N3 to take the lead. Probing the path she made her way to another small clearing amidst the pale, twisted trees where a small camp had been set up.
No one was there though. A flash of fear shot through Athara as she walked into the camp. Even during her short trek through the forest, she had seen, and felt, a slew of dangers lurking in the gloom. Looking around, she saw evidence that some one had indeed been there, but there was no sign of a struggle. Wherever Luke and Artoo had gone, it had likely been voluntary.
Seeing that portions of the camp were still packed away in their travelling crates, she decided to finish setting up. The rain had eased a little, without completely going away, so it didn’t take long. Plus, much of the Rebellion’s equipment for making temporary shelters was ridiculously easy to manage. Within an hour, she had the camp set to rights, with a tent and cot set up and the rest of the supplies neatly put away. Having little else to, she decided to explore the perimeter of the clearing, thinking she might be able to figure out which direction Luke had gone off in.
Circling the camp, she grimaced as the rain once again grew to a downpour, washing away any evidence she could’ve found with her limited tracking skills. Already sick of the torrential rain, she saw little other recourse but to retreat into the tent she had set up in the middle of the camp.
A little frustrated by the way her arrival had gone so far, she lowered herself onto the cot. Shrugging out of her pale jacket, already sodden and graying thanks to the murk of Dagobah, she hung it from one of the tent supports before pulling off her soaked boots. Then, pulling her legs under her, she settled onto the cot, musing over whether or not to try and meditate. Letting out a long breath, she absently hoped that Luke would be back soon before closing her eyes.
Meditation was a moot point though, as she couldn’t settle enough to sink into the trance necessary for it to work. Her mind was far too muddled at the moment. Worry and concern over Luke’s absence combined with curiosity and anxiety over meeting a true Jedi was enough to make her stomach churn. Add the baffling encounter with Vader to that and stir in the troubling thoughts she had been fighting for years over the presence, the visions, her feelings for Luke and her past… it was enough to give her a throbbing headache.
Vader was after Luke, and Athara had no intention of letting the two of them meet any time soon. Just thinking about it made her shudder. The Emperor would take her Farmboy and either kill him or twist him into a mutilated shadow of the kind-hearted young pilot she cared about. She had been a shadow, and in many ways still was, and it was not a life she could see Luke surviving. Everything in her rebelled against the very thought. Her feelings told her she needed to protect the blue-eyed rebel at all costs.
Even if it meant defying her Master.
Despite the attachment she still felt toward the Sith Lord, his behaviour toward her on Hoth had fractured the trust she had continued to have in him. A part of him was broken; she could see that now. Growing up, she had always had the utmost faith in him. He had always looked after her, and unfailingly saw to it that her best interests were kept. He had been a hard taskmaster, she hadn’t exaggerated to Luke about that, but he had always been fair. He never gave her an exercise or a task that she couldn’t handle. Sure, many of those assignments had pushed her to her limits, but she saw now that they had helped her grow and develop her skills, with and without the Force. She had always sensed the darkness in him; obviously, as he often encouraged her to embrace her own darkness to better harness the power of the Dark Side. She had always known about his volatility, and his propensity to overreact, but she had never considered that his instability would ever be turned on her. It rattled some of the truths she had held close her entire life.
Vader had promised her when she was a child, new to his tutoring, that he would always protect her and keep her safe, and she had trusted him with all her heart. It had never occurred to her then or as she grew up that the vow, uncharacteristic as it may have seemed, had been anything but genuine.
Now she was beginning to doubt, not in his sincerity, but in his control.
He had tried to kill her after all.
But why had he stopped? She couldn’t get the feel of his grief and guilt out of her head. His emotions as he released her had flooded through the link she had tried to create. Had his rage clouded his judgment enough that he had momentarily forgotten how important she was to him, only for common sense and memory to break through as his anger dimmed? That didn’t make sense either. Whenever she had seen him loose it like that in the past, even after the subject of his anger was disposed of, it would take him ages for his temper to cool enough for most rational thought to return. But if not that, then what?
Feeling restless, she emerged from her musings enough to realize that the rain had pretty much stopped for the moment. Suddenly claustrophobic, she pulled on her boots, ducking out of the tent after grabbing her jacket. Waving N3 off, she headed off into the jungle, eager to stretch her legs.
Letting the Force guide her, she meandered through the jungle, allowing her mind to wander once it settled on thoughts about the mysterious Jedi she and Luke had come to see.
Why a Jedi would want to settle on such an uncomfortably damp and grimy planet was beyond her, but she was easily able to recognize the reasoning. In the shadowy crevices and hollows that dotted the swampy terrain there were dozens upon dozens of dense natural Force pockets, Dark and Light alike. She could barely probe more than a few meters ahead thanks to the profusion of life and the bizarre Force pockets, so she could see how a Jedi, even a very powerful one, would be able to disappear on Dagobah. Even someone as powerful as Vader or the Emperor would have trouble sensing another Force-sensitive on the surface of this planet. Which was probably why this Jedi was still alive.
That didn’t make it any more pleasant to trudge through the forest though.
When she was young, Vader would still periodically be called on to hunt down the odd surviving Jedi. When she first questioned him, she remembered being told that the Jedi were traitors, and if they had only accepted the corruption of the Republic and pledged their loyalty to the Empire, he wouldn’t have had to destroy them. Even then, Athara had sensed the falseness of his statement, but he believed it; the Emperor had insisted to his apprentice that it was the truth, and Vader had no reason to doubt it—yet. As she got older, she could remember him leaving her in their shared apartments on Coruscant or on board his current Star Destroyer so that he could go after rumors of a surviving Jedi. Even when she was old enough to accompany him, he always went alone, and he never dispatched her to take care of Force sensitives that came to his, or the Emperor’s, attention. Every time she would ask why, and every time he would refuse to answer beyond the familiar condemnation of the Jedi’s betrayal. However, as time passed, she could faintly sense that his conviction was beginning to waver.
Her thoughts ground to a halt as she climbed over a particularly gnarled tree root.
There was a crude hut built into the base of a large tree up ahead.
And all but crawling out of the small door was Luke.
A smile came to her face as he straightened, but it was a moment before he noticed her. His attention was on a small, gnome-like figure that followed him out into the humid air. It was the little green creature that noticed her first, raising his ancient gaze to meet hers, the wisdom in those brown eyes all but wiping the grin off her face. She didn’t even need to use the Force to confirm that he was the Jedi Master, and that he was very powerful; he was far more powerful than she had anticipated.
A frown came to Luke’s face as his little companion’s attention was drawn elsewhere before he too looked in Athara’s direction.
“Tamara! You made it!” A huge smile spread across his face when he noticed her, an in an instant he was across small lake and clearing and scooping her up into a tight hug. Stunned, Athara tensed as his arms encircled her waist before relaxing, her own arms tightening around him. It felt right, holding him like this. Anxiety bled from her mind as he swung her around, lifting her from the root she had been on so that she stood next to him.
“Of course I did. You didn’t think I’d pass up an opportunity to meet a real life Jedi, did you?” Her gaze shifted to focus on the Jedi. Her buoyant mood dimmed a bit at the frown that had bloomed on the wrinkled face. Luke either didn’t notice or didn’t really pay it any mind. Pulling away, she gave the Farmboy a tense smile as she pulled away before taking a step away from him and turning to face the Jedi Master.
She stood there for a moment, considering the Jedi as she was sure he was surveying her. She didn’t think he was pleased with what he saw, or felt. There was something curious in his large eyes, a conclusion forming that Athara couldn’t quite decode. Stiffly, she made a respectful bow to the small, green figure, not exactly sure where the impulse came from. As she straightened, a peculiar light came to the Jedi’s eyes.
“Master Jedi.” Athara was the first to speak, but her words earned a confused, and rather undignified, sound from Luke.
“You know who he is?” He had come to stand beside her, his confused glance shifting from the Jedi to Athara and back again. Athara’s gaze never left the Jedi.
“No, but it’s rather obvious what he is.” The Jedi pursed his wrinkled lips, his eyes narrowing.
“What you are, as well, obvious it is,” he added quietly, his odd way of speaking throwing her for a moment. Athara couldn’t help but bristle at the tone, though, biting back a snarky comment. Luke frowned, an almost petulant cast to his features as he muttered something about how it was an easy mistake to make. Fighting back a grin, Athara finally looked away from the Jedi.
“You all right, Farmboy? I saw your ship.” Luke blushed deeply.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I didn’t realize the atmosphere would be quite so…” He trailed off, when he saw the exasperated look on Athara’s face.
“Didn’t you bother to check your instruments before heading for the surface.” His answer was little more than an excuse made up of incomprehensible muttering, but she managed to get the gist of it. She sighed, fighting a somewhat indulgent smile that tried to surface. He was far too reckless and eager to get to where he was going, sometimes forgetting steps along the way. She turned back to the Jedi, changing the subject.
“So this is the Jedi Kenobi told you about.” Luke nodded, his flush fading.
“Yeah, this is Master Yoda. He has agreed to train me.” There was something in Luke’s tone that caused Athara to frown. She looked back to Luke.
“Did it really take that much effort to convince him?” she asked lightly. The young rebel’s expression hardened a bit before taking on a rather self-conscious, and even embarrassed, cast. She hadn’t been entirely serious when she said it, but she saw that she had inadvertently stumbled onto something Luke was still smarting from.
“Ben had to help,” the young rebel said quietly. Athara’s frown deepened. The irritation that had begun to simmer since she first noticed the wizened, old Jedi judging her and Luke’s hug grew, threatening to swell to anger.
“I’m astonished that he had to be convinced at all.” There was a hardness in her voice that startled Luke. She realized almost immediately that he had never been around her when she was experiencing decidedly darker mood swings. The idea that the little Jedi had considered turning Luke away at all rubbed her the wrong way, sparking her temper. Luke was too important to remain as untrained as he was; even she knew that. She turned back to Yoda.
She was a little confused at the distanced look in his eyes, his ears twitching slightly as if he was listening to something. A resigned, but decidedly unhappy expression settled on his face as he once again turned his attention to the former sith apprentice and the (hopefully) future Jedi.
“Train the boy, I will. But of your presence, great concerns I have.” Defiance rose up in Athara, fueling her irritation. It took a great deal of effort to restrain the feeling, but whether she liked it or not, she had come for help too. She needed to play nice, but she couldn’t quite manage it at the moment.
“I’m not leaving, if that’s what you’re getting at.” The Jedi frowned again as she spoke, “I am just as invested in his training as you or Kenobi. Beside, there are things I wish to learn as well.” A flicker of surprise flashed in those large brown eyes. A small part of Athara was pleased. The surprise was gone in an instant though, replaced by a deeply troubled look.
“Once embraced, impossible to escape the Dark Side is,” he said quietly, a deep sadness in his voice. Now it was Athara who was startled. Fear crept into her mind, only to be instantly met with a surge of anger.
“You don’t know that.” There was a desperate edge to her voice, something that visibly took the diminutive Jedi by surprise. Luke also looked surprised, but no one was more taken aback than Athara herself.
She hadn’t allowed herself to think on it before, but she was almost desperate to free herself of the Dark Side. Suddenly mortified, she turned and all but ran from the clearing, retreating first to the camp and then to her ship when she couldn’t quite get herself to calm down. For a split second upon reaching her ship, she almost considered getting in and lifting off.
Letting loose a heavy sigh, she settled for working off her anxious energy by unloading her own set of supplies, by hand, from the fighter, and lugging them to Luke’s camp. She couldn’t help but think that the mysterious presence could show up at any time.
She had her own shelter half erected by the time Luke and Artoo returned to the camp themselves. N3 gleefully greeted the other droid and the two of them began to chat quietly in their beeping, whistling language. Luke hesitantly approached the former imperial agent.
She pointedly ignored the concerned look on Luke’s face.
It was a long, uncomfortable silence. Eventually, Luke overcame his reluctance to interfere, and helped Athara finish pitching her own tent. Then, as she put the last finishing touches on her own shelter, Luke retrieved the ration boxes and sat down, holding one out to Athara in a silent offer to join him.
Feeling exhausted, both physically and emotionally, Athara only hesitated for a moment before settling down beside him, taking the food he offered.
They ate in silence for several minutes.
“He’s worried I’m too reckless, too focused on other things instead of on becoming a Jedi,” Luke looked up at Athara, his shaken confidence evident in his voice. Athara leaned against him, trying to give him a reassuring smile. It didn’t work as well as she hoped.
“Well, he is right, Luke. You are reckless. But you weren’t raised to this. Everything about the Force is new to you. I would’ve thought he’d have taken that into account.” Luke shrugged, looking a bit disheartened.
“He did. He thinks I’m too old to train.” Athara made a rather ungracious noise, nearly earning a smile from Luke before he changed the subject.
“What did he mean, about the Dark Side, that is.” Athara stiffened. She really didn’t want to get into that yet. She didn’t answer for a long time, mulling over the words that were eating away at her before answering as honestly as she could.
“I’m not entirely sure.” Luke, sensing the turmoil in his companion, wrapped an arm around her. Athara couldn’t help but appreciate the gesture, pressing closer into the embrace. “But I think it means he’s not really interested in training me either.” She could practically feel Luke get indignant.
“That’s not fair. You’re Force-sensitive too, and you want to see the Emperor defeated as much as anyone.” She sighed, wondering if she should’ve kept her mouth shut.
“It’s alright, Luke,” she stood, pulling away from Luke before turning to face him, hiding her conflicting feelings behind the mask she hadn’t felt truly compelled to wear since her break from the Empire. “Don’t worry about me. He’s going to train you, that’s what’s important.” Luke all but leapt to his feet, disbelief written on his features.
“What’s that supposed to mean? If it hadn’t been for your tutoring, I might not even be here. You’re important too!” He blushed fiercely as his last words escaped his lips. Athara felt her own cheeks heat at the obvious sentiment behind his statement. He didn’t lower his gaze though, pointedly meeting her eyes.
She lowered her gaze first.
“Forget I said anything,” she whispered sullenly before disappearing into her tent. Outside, she heard Luke throw down his ration box in frustration. He was just trying to help and she knew that, but he didn’t understand that he was the key, that it was his destiny to make things right. Compared to him, she wasn’t important; a shadow only, while he was the light. As she paced around her tent, she could hear Luke getting ready to bunk down for the night.
She could feel his frustration at Yoda, at her and at himself coming off of him in waves. He had missed an opportunity; at least, that’s what Athara suspected he thought judging by the particular cast of his emotions. She wrapped her arms around herself, all but squeezing the air out of her lungs, she was hugging herself so tightly. No, he hadn’t missed a chance; she had fiercely denied him the opportunity. She couldn’t afford to let their attachment develop any more. She couldn’t be sure exactly what he felt for her, though she could make a pretty good guess, but she knew just what she felt. In that moment before she ran to her tent, she had felt the weight of her feelings for him descend on her.
She was falling in love with Luke.
Force, she was already in love with him.
The realization had hit her like punch in the gut. Part of her knew it was happening, but another part had been hoping it wouldn’t. She hadn’t been looking to fall in love. Part of her didn’t want to fall in love, ever. That part of her was almost desperately afraid of caring for another person that much, and was inexplicably afraid of the hold that kind of love could wield over her. And she was also afraid of what loving her would do to the other person.
The more she thought about it, though, the easier it became to accept it, and even desire it. She had never been that close to anyone, save her Master, until she was forced to go on the run. With the Jengals, though she loved them dearly as her adoptive family, there had always been a subtle reserve in her feelings for them that she was ashamed to admit. But Vader had become far more important to her than the Jengals had. But even that had been different. Since then, she had discovered just how fulfilling and heartening being able to rely on and care for others really was. She had friends now, and the part of her that feared being loved was beginning to wonder what it would be like to be in love, and wanted to be in love.
She wanted to love Luke, and she wanted him to love her. But she also feared loving Luke, and his feelings for her.
She feared being in love.
She was really starting to get sick of the tumultuous thoughts that were slowly becoming her normal state of being.
Kicking the cot to let out some of her own frustration, she all but threw herself down upon it, covering he face with one arm as she tried to regain at least some sense of calm. The comforting presence chose that moment to make an appearance.
“Finally decided to show up, have you?” she muttered, absently speaking to the presence, her irritation blatantly evident.
“I must apologize. I was speaking with Master Yoda.”
“Wonderful. Wait, wha—” Behind her sleeve her eyes shot open. Someone had answered her—the presence had answered her, and she amused him.
She jolted upright, her arm practically flying away from her face. Sitting at the far end of the cot, at least she presumed he was ‘sitting’, was a man. He just watched her, his piercing eyes twinkling as he fought the faint smile on his lips. He was older, with long hair partially tied back and a short beard accenting his rugged features. He was tall and rather lanky, looking almost comically scrunched up as he sat on the low cot. He was dressed in a light-coloured, practical tunic, a long dark cloak and high utilitarian boots.
And she could see through him.
Instinctively she tried to back away, only to nearly fall off the cot. The tent was dark, as she hadn’t bothered to turn on a lamp, but he gave off a faint blue glow, giving off some light in the little tent. She could feel her mouth trying to work, but she was still too stunned to form a coherent sentence. After a moment, she pulled her thoughts together enough to close her gaping mouth and sit up properly, though she still maintained as much space between them as she could.
“You’re the presence.” It was a statement that was nearly a question. He bowed his head slightly, confirming what she said anyway. A theory sprang to mind almost as soon she had spoken. “You’re a Force-spirit.”
“Yes. I was once a Jedi Knight.”
“You were a Jedi.”
“Yes, indeed I was.”
“Who are you?” The presence smiled for real, exuding a deep and abiding calm. Athara couldn’t help but feel reassured by the genuine kindness she saw in his intelligent gaze.“I am Qui-gon Jinn.”