Athara was never going to get used to Tatooine. She couldn’t understand how Luke did it, but then, she supposed being raised here had appropriately acclimatized him. She had spent most of her life in Space, so Tatooine was definitely not agreeing with her. By now it had been several weeks since she had arrived, and beyond the first few stressful days, she and Luke had managed to settle back into the comfortable companionship they’d had on Dagobah.
But it was more than that now, which did create an awkwardness of its own. They both knew there was more between them now, but neither was quite sure how that changed things yet. But they were learning. By the end of the second week, Athara found that they had adapted to the shift in their relationship far easier than she had anticipated. But then, their common goals didn’t hurt.
There was a wealth of knowledge hidden away in Kenobi’s hut, and much of it seemed geared toward learning the ways of the Force. To Athara, it looked like Kenobi had been preparing for the possibility that Luke was going to be on his own for at least some portion of his training.
It made her wonder what else the old Jedi had known was coming.
But he hadn’t been around to ask, and Athara knew that bothered Luke. Apparently the last time Luke had seen his mentor had been on Dagobah. But the texts Kenobi had left were wonderful and between Luke and Athara putting their heads together to muddle through them, they were both making remarkable progress. But the young Jedi missed the contact with his mentor, and boy did Athara know that feeling. Not only did she long for her Master’s guidance (sort of…), but she missed Qui-gon’s wisdom too. Like Kenobi, her own ghostly mentor hadn’t made an appearance since she had arrived on Tatooine.
But there was nothing they could do about that. So they trained, and week after week they both found their powers growing. Luke was quickly becoming more confident in his abilities, and was allowing himself to trust in the Force far more easily than ever before. Even Athara was able to slowly work through her own self-trust issues, allowing her to let go of her negative feelings far more easily as the days passed.
And the weeks did pass, far too easily even, and before long they found there was a need to venture out for supplies. The provisions Athara had brought to the hut hadn’t quite lasted as long as she had hoped, but then, she wasn’t from a desert planet. She also wasn’t keen on venturing into the settlements. Whether they went to the small, isolated towns and hamlets or the large ports, there was a risk of them being discovered. It was a risk Athara was wary to take. But she and Luke needed supplies if they were going to be staying at Kenobi’s old hovel while they trained.
Because of that simple, unavoidable fact, the first time they ventured out, they went as far as Mos Eisley. Athara was rather nervous the entire time, but it was a venture without incident, and one that was immensely successful. Not only did they manage to track down all the supplies they needed, but Luke also managed to get his hands on an old long-range communication device; one they could both use to connect with their contacts off-world. It needed a lot of work—not that that was problem with two very handy astro-droids and Luke’s own tinkering skills—but Athara was especially pleased that he managed to recover it. She’d had very little luck with her contacts on Corellia, Nubia, Coruscant and Ansion, and was already paranoid about the amount of time she had been forced to spend at the public communication stations, especially as it seemed Luke hadn’t had much luck with his Rebel contacts either. However, he had managed to contact Chewie; unfortunately that was the only good news.
Fett had tricked them all. He had made it seem like he was waiting out on Nar Shadda, the assumption being that he was trying to extort more money out of Jabba; they had been wrong. He’d known he was being watched (something that hadn’t really surprised Athara, given her past dealings with him) and was merely biding his time before somehow managing to slip away without being noticed until it was too late. Next they had heard, Fett had delivered Han into Jabba’s hands. That had been nearly a standard month previous.
It was enough to put a damper on the entire trip.
The second time they had ventured out, the two Jedi trainees made their way to Anchorhead. They had considered Bestine, as its size would have lent anonymity, but Luke knew Anchorhead far better, and knew exactly where they could go and needed to go. Plus she knew part of him longed to go back there. Even though he had dreamed of leaving the desert planet for almost as long as he could remember, she had always been able to sense the nostalgia when he spoke of his childhood home. She could sense that he needed the closure.
Just like with the drive to Mos Eisley, the trip into Anchorhead was pleasantly uneventful and unpleasantly hot. Once they reached the town limits, they decided to split up, each managing a section of the list she and Luke had come up with. That way they could be done quicker, and thus have less of a chance of being discovered by someone unfriendly. As it was, Luke admitted to her later that not as many people had recognized him as he’d expected, even those he’d known most of his life. Athara couldn’t say that surprised her, considering how much he had grown into himself in the years she’d known him alone. Though she still saw him as her Farmboy, she knew he was no longer the naïve young pilot she’d first met, appearing now as the powerful, assured Jedi he was becoming.
Determined to keep the outing quick, as Luke went on his own way on his separate errands, Athara looked around for a suitable shop or stand, debating whether to get food, tools or supplies first.
A faint tremor in the Force suddenly drew her gaze to a small fruit stand where an older woman was bustling around, straightening her wares. Curious as to why her attention had been drawn to this particular stand, she made her way over to it, shifting the basket she carried so she could adjust the light wrap she wore to shield her fair skin from the suns. She approached the woman carefully, speaking up so as not to startle her too much.
“Excuse me?” The woman turned around at the sound of Athara’s voice, her care-worn features turning to take in the former sith apprentice. Athara smiled, but before she could speak, the woman’s kind eyes widened in her tanned face.
“Neva?” Athara frowned. There was something about that name…the Force seemed to hum around her. It was a strange sensation.
“I’m sorry, but I think you’ve mistaken me for someone else.” The woman blinked in confusion, an embarrassed look coming to her face a moment later.
“Oh, dear me. Forgive me, miss. The suns play tricks on the eyes sometimes. But, I do have to say, you do look awfully familiar. Like someone I used to know…” she trailed off, her eyes glazing slightly with either thought or memory. But in a blink, the look was gone, and her eyes cleared.
“Is there something I can help you with, dear?” Athara nodded, launching into the list of suggestions Luke had made. It wasn’t long before she had collected everything she could purchase from the woman, Clara’s, stand and had directions to other places where she could pick up the rest of her items.
As she was about to bid Clara a good day, she hesitated. That name wasn’t leaving her alone.
“I’m sorry, but I have to ask…who was it that you thought I was?” Clara looked startled for a minute, a wary look in her eyes.
“She was a young woman, a little older then than you are now, if I could guess, who I knew many years ago. She would come into Anchorhead once a month or so to do her shopping, sometimes more when she was with the Whitesun girl and the baby. She lived out in the middle of nowhere, near to the Jundland Wastes; a bit of a crazy choice, though, as her accent said she wasn’t Tatooine-born and that’s a hard place to live, even for native-borns. I think Bestine would have been closer, but she always said her husband had business near Anchorhead.” Around her the Force seemed to hum expectantly, but Athara ignored it. It wasn’t the most satisfying answer, but then, what had she expected? Clara’s expression turned thoughtful for a moment.
“Just how old are you, dear?” Clara asked kindly. Athara’s frown returned, a nervous laugh escaping her lips.
“I’ve not been on Tatooine long, if that’s what you’re thinking, and before that I’ve only ever been in orbit.” Clara gave her a searching look, waiting patiently for Athara to answer the question. Athara sighed.
“Nearly twenty-one standard years.” The thoughtful expression didn’t fade, but a satisfied glimmer appeared in Clara’s eyes. It made Athara a little uneasy. She was still curious about this mystery woman, though.
“Whatever happened to—Neva was it?” Clara frowned, her expression downcast and even sad.
“I’m not entirely sure. One time, she came into town as she always did, buying supplies. She was positively glowing, she was so happy. I, of course, had my suspicions and was very curious to know if I was right. Whatever it was, though, I couldn’t get it out of her. And believe me, I tried,” the old woman chuckled slightly before she turned somber again, “I never saw her again after that. I saw her husband again, though, just once or twice. Finally I asked him about her, he just got this sad look in his eye, like a part of his world was gone. I knew then that something bad had happened. I didn’t even have to ask. I just knew. After that, I only ever saw him once or maybe twice a year, and he always seemed to deliberately steer clear of me.
“I never saw her again,” she finished sadly. A strange, sinking feeling washed over Athara, followed by a shadow of grief. She shook her head a little, trying to clear the feeling. It left her with the sense like she wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about the story.
Thanking Clara for her time, Athara moved on, not realizing she was fleeing until she passed the next shop she needed to visit. She shook her head again, scolding herself.
Clara’s story must’ve really affected her.
Thankfully, the rest of her list didn’t take long to gather, nor did it prove quite as baffling. Before long she had met Luke back at the speeder and soon after were beginning to make their way back to the hut. But Athara was distracted, barely saying a word.
“What is it?” Athara was so lost in thought that she almost didn’t hear Luke’s question.
“Oh, it’s nothing. Just something this one vendor in Anchorhead was talking about. Clara, I think her name was.” Luke chuckled a little, drawing Athara’s gaze.
“Yeah, Clara’s had her stand in Anchorhead for as long as I can remember. I swear she knows everyone who comes and goes from there, and never seems to forget anyone. She used to call me Beru’s boy, but she always called Aunt Beru the Whitesun girl. She wasn’t telling you stories about me, was she?” he laughed good-naturedly, but Athara was once again lost in thought. Something Luke said sounded familiar
“Whitesun girl,” she murmured distractedly. Luke heard her anyway, though he misinterpreted her tone for confusion.
“Yeah, my Aunt Beru was a Whitesun before she married my Uncle. That didn’t seem to stop Clara, though. She never stopped calling her that.” He was still smiling broadly at the memory, though when he glanced over and saw the look on Athara’s face, he hesitated, concern appearing on his features when he saw how troubled she seemed. Athara didn’t notice the look, focused as she was on trying to place what he’d said. Then it hit her.
“It was your Aunt. She knew her!” Luke frowned, not following where Athara was going.
“Neva,” she responded, her mind whirring. Luke’s frown deepened.
“I feel like I know that name. Why? Who is she?” Athara’s frown mirrored Luke’s.
“I don’t know, but I feel like she’s important, somehow.” She proceeded to relate the story Clara had told her. Luke listened in silence. After she finished, neither of them spoke the rest of the way back to Kenobi’s place.
To say the story had left her unsettled was an understatement. It gnawed at the back of her thoughts, just as many of the other unsolved mysteries and problems she had come across did; how to free Han from Jabba, how to deal with the Princess, her inexplicable curiosity about Kenobi, Vader’s baffling duality, her relationship to Vader, her own past… The list seemed to go on forever, sometimes.
By now, though, she was used to storing away thoughts of the things she couldn’t understand or figure out. So, instead of allowing herself to disappear inside her head to try in vain to find answers she didn’t have, she instead threw herself headfirst into her and Luke’s training, especially as she hoped answers of the problems they faced would present themselves as her training progressed. And part of that work included preparing parts to build herself a new lightsabre.
That was precisely what she was doing when Luke came down to meet her in Kenobi’s workroom several weeks after their trip to Anchorhead. She was sitting at the workbench, working at cleaning up a set of alloy casings she was intending to use for housing her new sabre’s power unit. She was so intent on what she was doing that he was loathe to disturb her, especially as he was sure she didn’t know he was there. But as he began to move away, she spoke.
“Do you think you could bring over the box with the set of micro-spanners?” Behind her, she could hear his faint, almost exasperated laugh. After a moment, a small box was placed beside her.
“Am I ever going to be able to surprise you?” His tone was so light that Athara couldn’t help but chuckle in reply.
“Probably not, but feel free to keep trying,” she threw back, her voice as light as his as she turned her face toward his to smirk playfully.
Almost as soon as she did he had captured her lips in a searing kiss. It caught her so off guard that she could do nothing but grab hold of the bench with one hand and his shirt with the other as her mind went utterly and deliciously blank. After a moment, he pulled away, a mischievous smile playing across his features. Athara was stunned.
“How about now,” he teased, a faint hesitant cast to his features. Athara was admittedly still reeling, her heart hammering, but that didn’t stop her from responding back.
“That worked,” she murmured breathlessly before pulling herself unsteadily to her feet to return the favour, her arms winding around his neck of their own accord as she kissed him feverishly back. She couldn’t help the grin that came to her lips when he gasped in surprise, not expecting her rather vehement response. But he recovered quickly enough, his arms wrapping around her just as tightly as she was clinging to him, her lips parting against his. It was a good thing too, because she was soon melting against him, an involuntary moan escaping her as his hand found its way into her hair as he pressed her back against the workbench. It was a heady, delicious feeling, having his body pressed so completely against hers, her skin warming with exhilaration at her Farmboy’s touch even through the rough-spun tunic she wore. She wanted him closer, and judging by the way he was holding her, so did he.
It was only when a loud crash sounded beside them that the spell was broken. In their enthusiasm, one of them had kicked over a stack of boxes stashed just under the bench. Athara couldn’t stop the heat from flooding to her face as she realized what had just happened, but she couldn’t help but grin at the matching flush that was rising to Luke’s face as well. A rather bashful smile crept across his features he backed away from her, though his hand seemed reluctant to leave her waist.
With an indistinct murmur about the crates, Luke ducked down to start cleaning up the tools and parts now strewn across the floor. Still working on regaining her own breath, she knelt down beside him to help. Only now she was acutely aware of how close he was to her, hypersensitive to every movement and every touch, inadvertent or otherwise. She couldn’t stop glancing over at him, their matching blushes reasserting themselves every time they caught the other’s furtive look.
Then she caught a glimpse of something back behind the overturned boxes that distracted her completely. There was a faint worn spot on the wall that didn’t quite match up with the boxes, some of which had obviously been there a while, judging by the long settled dust and sand. After shifting the boxes that remained in front of the spot, she ran her fingers over the area. She was rewarded with a faint, but distinctive seam hidden among the grimy stucco that covered the wall. Reaching out with the Force she probed further, finally using it to pull the hidden panel from the wall when she found no latches or mechanisms.
She could feel Luke pause beside her at the questioning frown that bloomed across her features as she pulled a very dusty case out from behind the workbench. It was old and not terribly large, just over a foot long at the most and almost as deep with a dull, dark burnished outer surface made even duller by years of grime. It was locked.
Neither of them spoke, their newfound shyness momentarily forgotten as they bent to examine the case.
“I don’t think it’s been touched in years,” Luke said quietly as he examined the locking mechanism, an almost ancient looking touch pad that probably seemed older than it was thanks to the layers of dirt and sand that coated it. A feeling like those that had always accompanied her visions surfaced in Athara as she looked down at the case, only this time it was subtly different. It wasn’t foreboding, but something more like anticipation. It made her wary. Something waited for her inside that case.
“Here,” Athara murmured, her eyes closing in concentration as she placed her hand over the mechanism, reaching out through the Force again. She was in luck. It wasn’t an electronic lock, which she wasn’t as good at manipulating with her thoughts, but rather an older style tumbler lock integrated with a more protective magnetic lock and seal. After a few moments of concentrating on working the tumblers she managed to find the right combination, the mechanism clicking faintly beneath her fingers. Another moment of work managed to disconnect the magnetic portion of the lock from its power source. Around her, it seemed the Force was humming with anticipation. With a glance at Luke, she opened the case.
Inside were a couple of datapads, a small holo-projector, actual paper journals and several other small bits of memorabilia along with an odd shaped package or two. Everything inside was in pristine condition thanks to the tight seal of the case. Luke was the first to reach in, picking up the datapad that lay on top. Unfortunately, though, the powerpack was exhausted. With a like-minded glance passing between the two of them, Luke set it and the others aside until they could be charged.
Athara, meanwhile, had picked up one of the paper journals. It was in better condition than she was anticipating, likely thanks to the dry heat of Tatooine and the seal on the case. The wary feeling intensified as she turned it over in her hands, and as she cautiously opened it, Qui-gon’s long absent presence faintly reappeared. He was urging caution…patience. It was bewildering; no sooner had his presence appeared than it was gone. As she began skimming the first few pages, Luke had pulled out one of the packages, carefully beginning to unwrap it. He was interrupted, though, at a startled gasp from Athara. His bright gaze shot to her in concern. She was now reading the pages intently; she couldn’t tear her eyes from the page.
“Athara? What is it?” It was as if she couldn’t hear him, she was so engrossed. It took him saying her name a second time for her to pull herself away from the neat, precise writing.
“Kenobi. He wrote this—it must have been when he brought you here.” Luke frowned, but Athara didn’t seem to notice, her gaze now caught on some distant thought. “He wrote about delivering your Aunt and Uncle; how Owen was wary at first and Beru didn’t hesitate to take you in.”
“Wait, brought me here? From where?” Again, it was like he wasn’t even there. She didn’t even seem to process that he’d spoken. But then her gaze focused, and she fixed him in her blue-gray gaze.
“Neva was with him.” Now it was Luke who was startled. He obviously hadn’t expected her to bring up the woman Clara had told Athara about.
“Neva. She came here with Obi-wan…and you. She helped him bring you here.” A troubled expression came over Luke’s face.
“Who was she?”
“I don’t know yet,” Athara shrugged, flipping through the pages, pausing every now and them to read a sentence or two “but she was important to him. Really important; she’s everywhere in here. These must be his personal journals. We’ll have to read the rest of this stuff to find out, I suppose.” She flipped back to the beginning, scanning a few more sentences before closing it again, laying it in Luke’s proffered hand. It was only then that she glanced over to the package Luke had sitting in his lap. It was a carefully wrapped bundle of fabric. Athara couldn’t help but think it was beautiful; a luscious, shimmering coppery green material, a glimmer of rich green and copper beaded strands hidden among the folds.
“It’s a dress,” she murmured, reaching out to touch it. But she hesitated, suddenly aware of how grimy her hands were. Beside her, Luke’s brow was furrowed in thought.
“She was living with Obi-wan, and it looks like she became friends with my Aunt because of me; to watch over me…Neva…” something clicked then, she could see it in his face, “I think I remember her. Not clearly, but I think I remember her.” Athara’s eyes went wide at the admission. Luke’s blue eyes were suddenly fixed on her.
“You don’t think she could be—you know—maybe—” but he couldn’t finish the thought. Athara knew what he meant, though. She could only shrug. The Force had gone quiet around her.
“I don’t know. If she is…” but she couldn’t finish the thought either. It didn’t feel right. “What do your feelings say?” Luke closed his eyes, a look of deep concentration coming over his face as he reached for the Force. As he went quiet, his breaths lengthening as he communed with the Force, Athara’s eyes went back to the dress. Her mind was curiously blank, though. Her feelings were not clear, though one thing was certain; this Neva was connected to everything, and everything was connected. That she was certain of.
“No,” he finally breathed, breaking Athara’s mindless focus. There was a hint of disappointment in his voice, but there was also acceptance, “she’s not.” Athara could only reach out to him, laying a sympathetic hand on his arm. After a moment he cleared his throat, laying the journal back into the case.
“But still, this is incredible. I mean, who knows what could be in here. If any of these are Ben’s from before my Father turned—” the anticipation was back in his eyes, and Athara could feel it growing in her as well. Once again, she was able to finish his thought, because she was thinking the same thing as well.“—maybe we can find out why he turned,” Luke met her gaze again, nodding as she spoke, “and how to turn him back.”