Never was Athara more relieved than when Luke took his failure and resolved to overcome it. She had feared that being confronted by his inability to embrace the Force as he should would hurt his training. Thankfully, it made him even more determined than ever. The following morning he returned to his training with renewed vigor, set on letting go of the doubts that had been holding him back. Once again, his training progressed by leaps and bounds.
But it would seem it was not to last; that the events out in the rest of the Galaxy would invade their secluded training grounds. Luke still had so much to learn, and so she was still hesitant to actually take the next steps she needed to make herself. Athara was coming to realize more frequently that her time on the swampy planet was drawing to a close. There was still a great deal for her to face, but it could not be done on Dagobah. She knew that soon she would have to leave.
That moment came far too quickly.
As usual, Athara’s lessons were far more stationary and internal than Luke’s, so she was once again sitting just outside the clearing where Yoda was working with Luke. The young rebel, meanwhile, was again standing on his hands, using the Force to balance himself while stretching his mental control. Having learned his lesson, though, Yoda was standing a short distance away, thoroughly tired of being flung around when the limits to Luke’s growing control were exceeded.
“Concentrate... feel the Force flow.” Slowly, but steadily, the objects strewn around the clearing were lifting into the air as Yoda spoke gently to Luke, encouraging him as he began to lift one more object, “Yes.” and then another. Artoo warbled with what could only be described as exasperation as he was lifted, while N3 whistled in commiseration as he too began to rise. After all, the little droids were used to being used like this. “Good, calm, yes.” Athara was pulled from her own musings when the Force began to gather around Luke in a very particular way. Yoda obviously recognized it too, amending his quiet comments.
“Through the Force, things you will see. Other places. The future . . . the past. Old friends long gone.” Luke’s eyes abruptly focused, and Athara tensed as anxiety suddenly coursed through him.
“Han? Leia!” The calm was shattered as his hold on the crates failed and both droids squealed in shock and outrage as they too crashed to the ground. His arms collapsing under him, Luke quickly joined them on the soggy ground. Athara was on her feet in an instant, reaching out to glean what she could from the quickly retreating vision, forcing away the stab of jealousy at the way Luke had reacted to Leia’s part in the vision. Unable to get much, her gaze immediately shifted to Luke. Her breath hitched as worry coursed through her at the sight of him, pale and shaking on the ground where he had fallen. He had barely even propped himself up. Yoda just shook his head, sighing heavily while Artoo spluttered in indignation in the background.
“Control, control. You must learn control.” Luke didn’t even seem to hear him. Instead, he still seemed far away.
“I saw... I saw a city in the clouds.” Despite the fear and shock that was still evident on his face, a faint wonder suffused his voice. Athara couldn’t help but inch forward, eager to hear what had shaken him so. Yoda nodded once again, the exasperation not quite gone from his voice though understanding had joined it.
“Mmm. Friends you have there.”
“They were in pain.” The wonder was gone. Dread now began to replace worry in Athara. Beside her, she could feel Qui-gon’s presence materialize, something that, for once, did not give her any comfort.
“It is the future you see.” The aged Jedi was speaking far too gently. Luke was now looking intently at the diminutive master.
“Future?” Yoda nodded. Though the wonder was back, Athara knew it was only a matter of moments before the fear set in again. He abruptly got to his feet, obviously having some difficulty processing the information. In an instant, she was at his side, laying a gentle hand on his arm. He looked up at her. Her expression must have been very bleak, for he blanched again. Taking her hand in his, he swung around to meet Yoda’s gaze again.
“Will they die?” Yoda’s only answer was a tired sigh. Lowering his head, his luminous eyes closed slowly as he began a quick probe into the future. The silence seemed to stretch for an eternity before he spoke.
“Difficult to see.” His large eyes opened slowly, and Athara couldn’t help but notice the regret and sadness that lay within them. “Always in motion is the future.” Luke could only shake his head, not quite believing it. A resolve settled over him, shining out through his eyes as he glanced first at Athara, then back to Yoda.
“I've got to go to them.” Athara was about to protest, but Luke was already beginning to pull away. Yoda, however, spoke first.
“Decide, you must, how to serve them best. If you leave now, help them you could. But you would destroy all for which they have fought and suffered.” Luke turned slowly back to the Jedi Master, looking more torn and helpless than Athara had ever seen him. Defeated, her young rebel could only nod his acknowledgement. It was then that she felt Qui-gon’s spirit reach out to her.
If he had been corporeal, or even visible, he’d have placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. But even though he was neither at the moment, his message was clear.
She was almost as startled by the sound of her own voice as Luke was. She took a shaking breath, willing the bewildered look on her Farmboy’s face not to weaken her sudden resolve. Yoda started to speak, but she shot him a sharp look, daring him to stop her. They both knew that if she didn’t go, Luke would. “I’ll go,” she repeated, her voice a little stronger. “I’ll go to Bespin. You need to stay here, to continue your training.” Luke stepped back toward her, searching her features as if some sort of explanation would spontaneously appear.
“But what about you? Your training?” Almost completely ignored now, Yoda frowned, watching the exchange intently. Athara could only manage a wane smile.
“I’ve learned all I can here. The time has come for me to begin facing my demons.” Without warning, Luke pulled her into a crushing hug, and it took all of Athara’s strength not to bury her face into his shoulder. Instead, she settled for hugging him back only. A few times, she thought he was about to say something, but he always thought the better of it.
But there was nothing more to say, and they both knew it. Eventually, they pulled apart and, with only a few parting words to Yoda, they both started back toward the camp.
As with the set up, breaking Athara’s portion of the camp went very quickly, and a short while after that her gear was safely tucked away in the belly of her X-wing. All too soon she was ready to depart. Pointedly delaying the inevitable goodbye, Athara took her time levitating N3 up to his cubby. It was a testament to his mood that Luke was not watching the process avidly, nor marveling at the ease with which she could do it. Instead he was watching her.
“Are you sure this is what you need to do?” It took all her strength not to betray just how weak her resolve actually was. Behind her, N3 was beginning to fire up the converters and prepare the ship for takeoff.
“Luke, please. My feelings tell me that this is what I have to do. And if you search yours, I know you’ll realize the same.” It was then that she turned around to face him. The concern on his face nearly broke her…as did the love. She fought back the tears that suddenly threatened to spill over. Forcing a smile she began to turn, but a gentle touch on her hand gave her pause.
“I’ll come with you.” Before she could help it, a genuine smile came to Athara’s lips. She turned back to him.
“Oh, Farmboy.” She wanted to say something else, but no words would come. She turned to start climbing into the X-wing, but paused again, needing to do one more thing before she left. This time when she turned, she grabbed Luke and pressed her lips to his.
It was quick, completely impulsive and could not really be considered graceful or romantic by any means. But it was still, somehow, perfect.
They parted after only a moment, and in a flash Athara propelled herself up the ladder toward the cockpit before she could change her mind about leaving. Once she reached the top rung, she turned, giving Luke one last lingering look.
“Be careful, Tamara.” A trace of a smile came to her lips at the feeling in his voice, though a twinge of pain accompanied it; part of her longed to hear him say her real name.
“Don’t worry, Farmboy, you’ll see me again.” Despite his best efforts, a small answering smile made its way across his features. With a small wave, she hopped into the cockpit. As she was settling in, a slight tremor in the Force drew her attention to the edge of the clearing.
Standing on one of the many large roots that ringed the clearing stood Yoda, watching stoically from the cover of the trees. A familiar bluish glow came from his right, and for a moment she thought Qui-gon was standing beside him. But upon a closer look, she realized that the figure was a stranger, though one she vaguely recognized.
For a long moment, she met Obi-wan’s eyes. The familiar feeling that she should know him resurfaced, but she didn’t have time to linger.
As she began lifting off, a voice echoed through her thoughts.
May the Force be with you, Athara Adyé, Kenobi’s quiet voice said, echoing through her mind, laced with an emotion she couldn’t quite place.
And with you, Master Kenobi, she thought quietly, knowing he would hear her, keep him safe. Looking over to him again, the spectral Jedi’s only response was to nod his head once. It was enough. With one last glance at Luke, she began her ascent from Dagobah.
To get to Bespin, Athara was essentially retracing her steps to Hoth, though thankfully the gas planet was ever so slightly closer than the ice one had been. But it still gave her plenty of time alone with her thoughts, and plenty of time to bury and hide them away. Her feelings told her she was about to be reunited with her Master, and though the memory of Luke’s kiss or the realization that he reciprocated her feelings was a beacon of light in her thoughts, it was not something she particularly wanted to risk Vader catching wind of.
She was still terribly uncertain of what his reaction would be when she saw him again. She highly doubted he’d be contrite or apologetic. But she was similarly skeptical that his fury at her would reappear, or at least, she was sure he wouldn’t act on it again the way he had on Hoth. Yet she couldn’t quite see him being happy to see her. Perhaps relieved that she was still alive, but not happy, per se. Really, she didn’t know what to expect, and was wary above all else.
It was a hard thing, realizing that she not longer implicitly trusted Vader.
Thankfully, by the time she reached Bespin, she had wrestled her feelings into the deep, hidden and protected recesses of her mind, and had either shed what anger and fear she could or pushed it strongly out of the way. She was going to need a clear head for what lay before her.
As she descended through the billowing pink clouds of tibanna gas she made no effort to shield her presence. After all, she needed to meet with her Master face to face, and she knew very well that stealth would be far less wise with Vader.
Sure enough, there was an Imperial Presence on the floating city that stood as the hub of Bespin’s mining operation. As she approached Cloud City in the company of a patrolling cloud car, she easily noticed an Imperial Shuttle lifting off from the far side of the Concourse, no doubt intending to rendezvous with a Star Destroyer hiding behind one of Bespin’s Moons. Reaching out, she tried to locate her master, curious if he had arrived yet. After a few minutes without success, she began to wonder if she had arrived first and witnessed a vanguard only.
It was then that she felt Vader. He was already within the city; likely in the initial stages of planning the trap Luke had seen Han and Leia falling into. Within moments of her sensing him, she felt him recognize her presence. Athara let a sigh escape her. There was no turning back now.
Soon enough, her ship was safely settled within one of the few covered landing platforms in the city. She was not alone. Indeed, a company of Stormtroopers was already waiting for her, their blasters drawn and aimed at her. Taking one last bracing breath, she popped the hatch. Slowly climbing down, the instant her feet touched the duracrete of the platform there were shouted orders for her to surrender. Placing her hands up, palms out, she allowed them to take her into custody. Once her lightsabre was discovered, well, protocol dictated one thing.
So it was that she was brought before Vader in binders. It was not a terribly dignified entrance, but it served its purpose. For several long moments, Athara and Vader could only watch each other, each shielding their feelings from the other. Vader was the first to speak, though it wasn’t to her. Without shifting his gaze from her, he addressed the Commander and Troopers that still formed a guard around her.
“Leave us.” The Commander nodded curtly.
“Shall I give the order to begin searching her ship?” Athara didn’t allow herself to tense. She didn’t particularly want any Imperials touching the fighter; despite the memory system wipe she’d had N3 run before they reached Bespin. There were other things she didn’t particularly want them to poke through, like her personal possessions, including Kenobi’s lightsabre. She had swapped the now familiar weapon for the ruby blade she used to wear shortly after leaving Dagobah, and though she was sure the compartment in N3 she had stowed it in was sufficiently hidden, she wasn’t keen on pushing her luck. She also wasn’t keen on them getting her hands on N3. Though her practical reasoning had told her to wipe the droid’s memory, she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She was far too attached to the little droid. Anyway, if the Imperial Investigators tried to download any data, her standing protocols meant that N3’s systems would wipe or corrupt any data in his memory systems regardless.
Vader thought for a moment, his fathomless eyes still locked on her while his mask betrayed nothing. Her own mask was firmly in place.
“No. Leave the ship for the time being. There are other preparations to attend to. It is safely out of sight, and will not compromise our mission. That will be all, Commander.” The Officer looked ready to object, but obviously thought the better of it, quickly turning and gesturing his Troopers out of room before following them out himself.
As soon as the door hissed shut Athara let out a loud breath, breaking the silence. Just as Vader hadn’t broken eye contact, neither had Athara. She could not let him catch even a hint of her nervousness. Now that they were alone, though, she allowed herself to speak.
“Hello, Master.” When Vader didn’t respond, she shifted her hands slightly, reaching out to the binders through the Force. “I am going to assume these are no longer necessary.” To punctuate her words, she loosed the clasps with a mere nudge of the Force, allowing the binders to clatter to the floor. The tension between them was so thick it could be cut with a knife, but it was still several more moments before Vader broke his own silence.
“You should not have sought me out, my young apprentice.” Athara could not help the weariness she felt from escaping her mental shields. “The Emperor is far from forgiving, and still desires that you be brought before him for questioning.”
“And such questioning will result in my eventual and painful death. I am well aware of that, Master. But that is not why I am here.” She hesitated, suddenly unsure how to formulate just what she needed to say. Vader, however, beat her to it.
“You have been associating with the Rebel named Skywalker.” It was a statement, but one that demanded explanation. At Vader’s mention of Luke, Athara managed to keep most of her panic to herself, but her Master did not miss the minute way she tensed. There was no denying it, though she knew that was going to be the case before she ever left Dagobah.
“Yes.” Vader waited, obviously hoping she would elaborate, but he was to be disappointed. Athara didn’t say another word about it, she wouldn’t; she refused to. Eventually he turned, walking to the wide expanse of plexi overlooking the City on the far side of the room. Athara took the opportunity to close her eyes for a moment, checking that her mental shields were still intact and bracing herself for what was to come. She knew this was going to be hard, but she hadn’t realized it was going to feel quite like this. She felt hollow, standing there. She was once again reunited with her Master, but she had never felt a gulf like this between them before. Yet, she could not fight the connection between them, or the feelings of loyalty and affection she still harboured. He was the closest thing to family she had left. Again, he was the one to once again break the silence between them.
“Then undoubtedly you have felt his potential.”
“I will not help you turn him.” No matter her efforts, her voice sounded more tired than firm. Vader turned back to her, but he waited for her to continue. “I can’t. I can’t let you have him.”
“And that is why you have sought me out? To deny me the boy.” They both knew that wasn’t entirely true, but he allowed her to say it anyway.
“Yes—and no. Luke is only a part of this. I’m here for me.”
“So you have chosen a side?”
“You know very well I can’t do that either.”
“Yet you fight for the Rebellion.” Her own shields weren’t the only ones in danger of failing. Despite his calm exterior, tendrils of Vader’s inner turmoil were escaping. The depth of his pain was almost enough to bring Athara’s resolve crashing down.
“I fight against the Emperor, not you. I know you can’t possibly believe in him anymore. You aren’t evil, not like him. Not completely. You’re just—lost…like me…”
“Just as I am your Master, he is mine. I cannot betray him anymore than you claim you can betray me.” Athara was struggling now to hold her feelings in check. The more they traded words, the clearer her path became. She had few options. She needed to protect those she cared about, and there was one clear way to do that. She sighed heavily, knowing that her path was once again growing darker. She knew what she had to do, so she made a choice.
“You are still my Master. I cannot betray you.”
It was at that moment they were interrupted.
“Lord Vader,” an edgy excitement was coming off the Commander in waves,“The Millennium Falcon has just landed on Platform Three-Two-Seven.”