“Sorry, never heard of you.” It never occurred to Athara to feel suspicious of the mysterious figure that was ‘sitting’ on the end of her cot. As a Force-spirit, she wasn’t even sure if he could actually sit; spirits weren’t really corporeal, were they?
Qui-gon just smiled.
“That isn’t all that surprising. I can’t imagine the Empire being interested in teaching much about the Jedi, or the truth behind the events leading to the formation of the Empire.” Athara nodded absently, not quite following what he was talking about. When he didn’t continue, she hesitated, unsure whether or not to ask her next question.
“Who are you then?” He watched her calmly, not at all perturbed.
“I was Obi-wan Kenobi’s teacher, his mentor.”
“You’re his Master?” He nodded slowly.
“He was my Padawan learner before my death, yes.”
“These past thirty-five years, yes.” Athara forced herself to swallow. This was –different.
“You are the one who keeps showing up with the visions, and visiting me…sort of.”
“Yes. I have watched over you your entire life.”
“But you are a Jedi.”
“In life, yes.”
“Then why were you watching over me?” she blurted out. She instantly wished she hadn’t, or at least said it in a slightly more polite way, but the Jedi just smiled indulgently.
“I was asked to.” Oh. She was incredibly tempted to ask just who would ask him to watch over her, but the expression on his face urged her to move on. So she let his answer stand…for now. Another question began to press on her mind.
“So you know what I am,” she practically whispered. Athara didn’t intend for her tone to sound so sad, dejected, even. She half expected to see pity or even resentment in Qui-gon’s eyes at mention of her past, after all he was a Jedi, and she had essentially been raised as a Sith, the sworn enemy of the Jedi. His eyes betrayed some sadness, but otherwise his face bore nothing save compassion.
“And just what is that, might I ask?” he asked gently in response. Frustration threatened to boil up again, but the earnest way he looked her caused her to push the feeling aside. She got the distinct impression that he had no intention of judging her. She thought for a minute.
“One of the Sith; evil.” He continued to watch her, his expression steady as he leaned back a bit, straightening.
“I’m not convinced of that.” She raised an eyebrow at him. And he said he’d been watching over her for the last twenty or so years? Her frustration began to surface again as her thoughts began to turn dark.
“I suspect Yoda is, though,” she said quietly, her tone as bitter as her thoughts. The Jedi sighed.
“Master Yoda has seen a great deal in his long life, and despite many of his efforts, he harbours a great deal of regret and guilt from the years leading up to your birth.” Athara frowned, not quite sure what to make of the admission. The Jedi leaned forward again, catching Athara’s eye.
“Do not discount Master Yoda just yet. Give him time, he will see that you are far more than a just sith apprentice.” Athara couldn’t hold the Jedi’s steady gaze. She did not have his conviction.
“What am I to do in the meantime? I came to learn, not to sit here and watch Yoda train Luke.”
“There is still much you can learn, young one. Watch, be vigilant, pay attention to the lessons Master Yoda intends to teach young Skywalker. Keep an open mind and be mindful of the living Force. The path towards becoming a true Jedi is long and hard, especially for one who has walked a path such as yours.” Qui-gon smiled kindly. Athara frowned, her gaze not leaving the Jedi as he stood.
“Do not fret, Athara. I will always be close by should you need guidance. While you are here, do not hesitate to call on me.”
“So you will be my teacher, instead of Yoda?” The Jedi thought for a moment.
“In a manner of speaking, yes, I suppose I will.” He crossed his arms, his hands disappearing into his wide sleeves. A faint, mischievous smile came to his face, causing his eyes to twinkle again. “Then, as your first lesson, I charge you to clear your mind. Try to let go of your fear, your frustration. Do not push it aside or bury it; shed it, leave it behind. A Jedi does not dwell on anger or fear, but lets it go.” Then with a final warm smile, he faded from sight, leaving a thoughtful, though still slightly shell-shocked Athara sitting alone in her darkened tent.
She sat for a long time, musing over everything the Jedi had said. She didn’t try to let go of her anger and fear just yet. She had too many other things on her mind. She wondered about Vader, she wondered about Luke and Yoda, even Kenobi. Finally, without even realizing it, she nodded off, succumbing to the exhaustion that she had been fighting since she reached Dagobah.
It was morning when she finally woke, though one could barely tell judging by the light, or lack of it, outside. It was still heavily overcast, but it wasn’t raining. Pulling on her boots, she ducked out of her tent. She was greeted by a chorus of beeps from the two astro droids that sat on one edge of the small camp. She spared them a faint smile and a friendly wave good morning before stretching out her sore muscles.
For once she felt fully rested. The visions that usually filled her dreams had been absent for the first time in a long while, and she had slept deeply as a result. The conversation with Qui-gon was still fresh in her mind, though for a few minutes after she woke, she had absently wondered if the conversation had itself been a dream before forcefully dismissing the thought.
A quick probe of Luke’s tent told her that the young Jedi had already left for his lessons with Yoda. Athara felt a quick stab of disappointment. She had wanted to apologize for her behaviour the night before. She fully realized that he had only been trying to help, and she had all but thrown in back in his face. Her judgment had been clouded by her fear and disappointment, and she had hurt him because of it. As she thought it over, though, she resolved that it was probably a good thing he had already left. She needed to focus on the task Qui-gon had given her before she could even consider listening in on Yoda’s lessons.
After eating a quick, and rather unappetizing, breakfast, she retreated into the forest a little to attempt the lesson the spirit Jedi had recommended.
It was difficult, to say the least.
She had never fully realized just how deeply ingrained her reliance on the Dark Side was. She had always known she was far lighter in her use of the Force than Vader, but she had never fully realized how dark she still was. Letting go of her anger was immensely difficult. Letting go of her fear was even harder.
At least the frustration produced by the exercise provided her with a constant supply of negative feelings to practice on.
It was several hours later when her meditations were eventually interrupted by the growling of her stomach. Pulling herself to her feet, she winced as many of her muscles protested loudly at moving after being stationary for so long.
It didn’t take long to return to the camp, and Athara definitely didn’t feel any better about her conduct the night before. She was anxious to talk to Luke.
She wasn’t sure if she was lucky or not when she caught sight of Luke getting his own lunch at the centre of the camp. Unlike her though, he looked immensely tired…and rather wet. Frowning, she struggled to let go of her reservations instead of just burying them as she usually did. After a moment she succeeded, startling herself as she did so. Throughout the entire morning, she only managed to come close a mere handful of times. Feeling a sudden lightness at her success, she edged forward into the camp.
“What did you do this morning? Why the blazes are you all wet?” There was a decidedly playful tone to her questions as she approached Luke, causing him to nearly jump out of his skin. She struggled to hold back a giggle. Luke looked at her critically for a moment before looking down at his sopping wet clothes.
“Oh, umm, Master Yoda had me run a circuit through the swamp, as part of my training, and, uh, I kind of, umm, fell into the water…” Mortified, he couldn’t quite meet her eye, but began to fiddle with the soaked jacket balled up in his hands. It took a lot of effort not to laugh, but despite her efforts, a small chuckle escaped, causing Luke’s blush to deepen.
“That’s not that bad, Luke. It’s just a little water; swampy water, but still water.”
“I was carrying Yoda on my back.” This time she did burst out laughing. The mental picture of a bedraggled and sopping wet Yoda was simply too funny. After a moment Luke chuckled too, seeing a bit of the humour in it.
It was enough to cut the tension that remained between them from the night before. She could see in the way he looked at her when she approached that he didn’t blame her for what happened, and certainly didn’t hold it against her. He sat on the crate serving as a seat for the little camp and, after picking out some rations for herself, Athara joined him, sitting on a second crate that sat next to him. They sat in silence for a moment before Athara gathered the nerve to speak.
“I’m sorry, Luke, for the way I acted last night. It was unwarranted. You didn’t deserve that.” The sandy-blonde rebel looked up from his lunch looking decidedly startled.
“No, Tamara, no. It’s my fault too. I should’ve let it go when I realized you didn’t want to talk about it, but I pushed.” Athara spared him a faint smile.
“I guess we were both guilty of poor judgment last night.” Luke made an absent sound of agreement, before taking a long drink from his canteen.
“So, what were you up to this morning?” Athara picked at her meal, barely willing to nibble on the tasteless fare. Luke watched her, waiting patiently for her to answer.
“I meditated, tried to clear my mind and let go of—certain things.” Luke’s expression became downcast. Athara mentally kicked herself.
“Oh.” She sighed at his rather dejected response. She hadn’t meant him to interpret that the way he obviously had. She knew it was time for her to start being more open with him, especially about her past.
“Last night, when Yoda spoke of the Dark Side, he was referring to my training. It wasn’t as—well, it wasn’t exactly what Yoda would consider acceptable. It was a little more—varied.” Luke frowned.
“You mean—you’ve used the Dark Side before.” Athara bit back the first response that came to mind: He didn’t know the half of it.
“Yeah,” was all she said instead. Luke nodded absently, thinking over what she had just said before raising his blue eyes to meet her anxious gaze.
“That doesn’t make you bad, Tamara.” He said it with such an earnest conviction that it took Athara by surprise. She found that she couldn’t quite bring herself to hold his gaze. His sincerity got to her, making her feel unusually vulnerable.
“How do you know? You haven’t known me very long, Luke. You don’t know some of the things I’ve done.” She squeezed her eyes shut, feeling a surge of irritation that she had to start getting teary all of a sudden.
Before she could react, she felt Luke’s fingers on her chin, turning her face to his.
“Look at me, Tamara,” she struggled to comply before managing to meet his gaze, “One thing that I learned from Ben was to trust my feelings. You always pushed that too. Well, I’m trusting them now, and I feel the good in you. There is some darkness, but from what I know, everyone has a little darkness in them. Whatever you might have done in the past, you are here now. You are a good person. I don’t doubt that.” Though she couldn’t quite bring herself to believe him wholeheartedly, Athara was warmed by his honesty. But guilt began to gnaw at her again too. There was so much that she was still keeping from him.
But, instead of telling him, she shifted over to the other crate to lean against him, her arm sliding hesitantly around his waist. It was an unspoken plea to hold her, something that Luke didn’t hesitate to do.
It was there that Master Yoda found them, still sitting together and talking quietly. It took them a moment to even realize he was there, but as soon as Athara noticed his disapproving little face, she jerked away from Luke as if burned before snatching up the remnants on their meal with the intention of putting it away.
She tried to ignore the flash of disappointment on Luke’s face when she pulled away. Yoda huffed grumpily.
The rest of the afternoon was spent in the camp, with Yoda lecturing Luke on the ways and values of the Jedi. Athara, remembering Qui-gon’s advice, sat out of the way, but remained close enough to listen and observe the lessons.
“Emotion there is not, but peace. Ignorance there is not, but knowledge. Passion there is not, but serenity. Chaos there is not, but harmony. Death there is not, but the Force. The Jedi Code, this is. Abide by it, all Jedi must.” Athara looked over to the aged Jedi, noting the frown that had bloomed on Luke’s face.
“No emotion, that doesn’t seem to make any sense. Ben said the Jedi were protectors. Shouldn’t the Jedi be able to feel? What about trusting our feelings?” Yoda grunted, pacing in his halting manner as he explained.
“Yes, yes. Feel a Jedi must, but give into emotions, the same it is not.” The Jedi gave Athara a pointed look, causing her temper to unconsciously flare. Taking a deep breath, she struggled to let it go as Qui-gon had instructed, but it was far more difficult under the critical gaze of the wizened Master Jedi. “Allow them not to control you, you must. Cloud your judgment, they can. Especially anger, fear, hate. Belong to the Dark Side, they do.”
“But what about things like joy, grief, concern—love?” Yoda fixed his large brown eyes on his pupil, a stern look on his face. He hadn’t missed the emotion connected with that last feeling, and neither had Athara. She dropped her gaze to her knees, suddenly feigning interest in picking some dried mud from her black pants, determined to avoid Luke’s gaze.
“Dangerous, emotions can be. To the Dark Side many can lead, if not vigilant you are. Sadness, worry, attachment, connected to fear and greed they can be. To the Dark Side those belong.” Luke obviously wasn’t making the connection Yoda was aiming for as the shadow of defiance appeared on his face as he thought about the Jedi’s explanation.
Athara, surprisingly enough, did understand. It lead back to the struggle she had been fighting since she began to wonder about her growing feelings for Luke. Out of love came fear; fear for the subject of that love, fear for their safety, their wellbeing. Still, there were a great many good things that came out of emotion.
“What about compassion.” She raised her gaze to Yoda, almost daring him to ignore her. Instead, he gave her a considering look.
“Compassionate and understanding a Jedi must be. Through peace of mind, achieved these can be without danger.”
“The others though, they cannot be achieved through peace of mind?” The diminutive Jedi nearly scowled at her.
“Not so easy, it is. For some, impossible. No amount of peace can safe anger be made. Or fear, or greed.”
“But in the pursuit of good? Fear for an innocent’s wellbeing can give one the strength and desire to protect. Grief from tragedy can motivate one to work to prevent a similar event from happening again.” Memories of such tragedies suddenly surged to the surface as she spoke. Athara pushed them down, but not before they caught Luke’s attention. A thoughtful look came over his face. Yoda thumped his walking stick firmly on the ground.
“No, achieved through unstable emotions, those actions would be. Through peace of mind, logic, and meditation, such actions must be made. Otherwise, at the mercy of the Dark Side, these actions would be.” He lifted his stick, pointing it at her. “Aggression, it is, that you describe.” Athara frowned, struggling for a moment to follow his unusual way of speaking.
“So not all emotions are bad,” she finished quietly. The Jedi’s pointed ears drooped in resignation for a moment, knowing his pupils weren’t quite understanding what he was explaining. Still, Athara was somewhat right, and he couldn’t quite argue with that.
“Followed, the Jedi Code must be, or else, risk everything, you will,” he finished quietly, a distinct note of sadness in his voice. Without another word, the hunched figure hobbled away, leaving the two rebels to their thoughts.
For a long time, they sat there, not moving, until Athara stood. Luke looked over, though still obviously deep in thought about the whole conversation.
“Where are you going?” Athara paused, turning to give him a quick look.
“To see Master Yoda. I think its time we had a heart to heart.”
The entire way to the Jedi’s hut, Athara mused over what she was going to say, but when she finally reached the tree that housed the Jedi, every word fled. Still, she knew that she needed to talk things out with Yoda.
Before she could decide whether or not she should knock, though, the little door opened, and the diminutive Jedi came outside. Athara nearly rolled her eyes at her own lack of thinking; of course he had sensed her coming.
“You know who I am.” It was a matter-of-fact statement, and Athara was sure the Jedi likely knew where this was going to lead. Yoda considered her for a minute, no hint of what he was thinking on his face.
“You know what I am.”
“What am I?” It was the one question that Athara was anxious, even desperate, to hear the response to. She wasn’t sure anymore. What the diminutive Jedi said next would tell the former Imperial Agent everything she needed to know. Yoda just stood there, considering her.
But he didn’t answer.
“What am I!” Her tone was sharp and cold, but quiet; it was a threatening, dangerous tone that made grown men flinch when she was angry enough to use it. Yoda didn’t flinch. He just sighed heavily, his tiny shoulders drooping as his large brown eyes slid shut.
“An apprentice of evil, you are. In choosing the Dark Side of the Force, a slave to its evil, you have become. Lost to us, you are.” His own quiet response was enough to infuriate her; the sadness in his voice was enough to knock that fury away. It was several long moments before she was able to fight back the heartache the Jedi’s words caused and managed to speak.
“Choose? I never chose. I never had that choice. When I was only five years old I had to accept the Dark Side or die. The only choice I made was to survive. It’s not the choice a child should have to make.” If Yoda’s response was quiet, Athara’s was barely audible. He lifted his gaze to hers, pain and sorrow as evident as the hundreds of years he had seen. She took a cautious step forward, and then another, and another until she stood in front of the wizened figure. Kneeling, she met his assessing gaze straight on. She didn’t even know what she wanted to say, but finally just let the words spill out.
“I want that choice. That’s why I came here. Master Yoda, I have known nothing but the Dark Side my entire life. I crave balance, to know the peace of the Light, but I have no one who will teach me. I want to be a Jedi. The Dark Side holds no promise for me but despair. I have seen where that path leads. I need your help, Master Jedi. Surely my desire to reach for the light means I am not lost.
“I don’t want to be lost anymore.” She practically choked out the last words, startling herself at the depth and potency of emotion the admission dredged up. It hollowed her out, allowing the Jedi to see just how desperate and wounded she was; to see that she not only needed healing, but wanted it with all she was.
Yoda sighed again, a crestfallen yet resigned sound.
“Yes, choice. Balance. Needed these things are.” He straightened, once again giving her an appraising look. “Teach you, I will. Listen, you will, to what I have to say. But, in the end, the choice, yours will be.” She could feel a flicker of hope deep down in her chest, a flutter of promise. She had gotten him to think, to consider that since she hadn’t abandoned the Light in favour of the Dark Side, that she might yet be redeemed. It was enough, apparently, to budge the aged Jedi Master from his unshakeable opinion that the Dark Side never relinquished its servants, even if it was only by a little bit.
She could also tell that, despite his own hope, and his tentative willingness to teach her, he didn’t believe she would be able to turn from the Dark Side. A large part of him didn’t believe what she had said. The Dark Side reveled in lies and deceit; she knew this. She knew that he didn’t fully trust her, and likely never would. The idea that once someone embraced the Dark Side, they were irrevocably changed for the worse with no hope of ever returning to the light was too deeply ingrained for him to let it go.
But still…there was that tiny, delicate but persistent flicker of hope.That was all she needed.