Qui-gon had been cautioning patience; why hadn’t she listened to him. If it had felt like her world had been turned upside down before, it was crashing down around her now.
Though their initial excitement and curiosity at the mysterious hidden crate hadn’t dimmed, Luke and Athara had quickly found themselves caught up and distracted by other things, the construction of their lightsabres most of all. Athara soon completed hers, having already done it a couple times before, and Luke was only another week or so behind her in completing his as well.
Plus, Luke, Artoo and N3 had, through a great deal of collaboration, managed to get the long-range communication transmitter up and running; no easy feat. Shortly after, contact with their friends had begun again, Luke spending a great deal of time musing and planning with the Princess, Chewie and Lando about how to rescue Han. It had taken some time, but he had finally managed to get Leia to accept that he was not going to turn Athara over to the Alliance. Also, according to Chewie, it had taken a great deal of work on Leia’s part to get High Command to forget ideas of bringing Luke in or suspending him from his prominent place within the Alliance since he had declared responsibility for her. It was something for which Athara was immensely grateful.
Athara, on the other hand, had managed to establish contact with Bek Reem. That had been a tense conversation the first time they’d made contact.
“I imagine you’ve heard, then, what the Alliance is saying about me; who I really am,” she had said with a great deal of trepidation. It had been ages before he’d responded, the device humming to fill the silence.
“Yeah. I have.” She couldn’t help but cringe at the carefully neutral tone he had used.
“I’m sorry, Reem. I wish I could say I wanted to tell you, but—” she couldn’t manage to finish the thought, not quite sure what she had even wanted to say.
“I get why you never said anything, you know.” She had been stunned into silence, so much so that he’d had to ask if she was still there.
“You have no idea how much that means to me. You’re one of the first real friends I ever had.” It had taken a lot of effort to say, but Athara felt that she’d had to say it. After all, he had accepted the truth of her identity with almost no reaction at all, as though she had told him her natural hair colour was blonde, or some such other trivial revelation.
“You do know mushy doesn’t really suit you, right?” His voice had been even gruffer than usual. Athara knew what that meant; he was moved but, like her, wasn’t used to sharing feelings like that.
“It wasn’t really that much of a surprise, to be honest.” He continued, leaving the sentimental interlude behind. Athara frowned in bewilderment.
“Really?” She heard a faint rustle and figured he was shrugging absently.
“Knew you were something. Just didn’t know exactly what. I think Madal knew all along, though. Just looked at me with a look that said ‘obviously’ when it came out.” Athara withheld a groan, though she couldn’t stop the way her lips curled in chagrin.
“The ship…it had to be because of the ship.” She muttered, still a little flustered that the Duro had seen through her from the beginning.
“And the hood, and the timing, and the credits...your reactions to mention of the Empire. Apparently he figured it out pretty quickly.” This time Athara did groan.
“I should have known. I should have know he knew,” she muttered. Madal was clever, she had to grant him that. It was also impressive that he had kept his knowledge of her identity from her; no easy task for most beings. Her already considerable respect for the Duro went up a notch further. Again, she heard a faint sound that told her Reem had shrugged.
After that, he’d agreed to send her data bursts of any information he managed to scrounge up for current intelligence on the Alliance and the Empire. He also agreed to keep and ear to the ground for any information in particular on Han. He was good on his word, feeding them information on a semi-regular basis, keeping them somewhat informed despite their stay on Tatooine.
Now that they knew Han was imprisoned within Jabba’s palace, they could begin to plan how to get him free. It took several weeks of intense planning and one rather tense meeting with Leia, Lando and Chewie to work out kinks and problems, but a viable plan came together relatively quickly.
It had been hard on Athara, not just because of Leia’s lingering, rather open hostility, but because it had been decided early on that she was to have a painfully minor role in the rescue, despite her widely acknowledged skills and previous experience. She was the only one to know anything about Jabba’s Palace—though she had never been to Tatooine, she had been instructed to familiarize herself with the compound should the need to ‘visit’ ever have arisen—and she was the only one other than Chewie who had actually met Jabba personally, having dealt with him before during her time at Vader’s side. Her intel, no matter that it was a bit outdated, had been invaluable, but had unsurprisingly not helped endear her to the Princess.
“I still say you should let me take care of it. It is what I am trained for,” she muttered bitterly the first evening that the group had gotten together. She and Luke, along with Artoo, had travelled to Mos Eisley to meet with Leia, Lando and Chewie, and were currently holed up in a rather seedy inn not far from the underworld cantina where they had met that afternoon.
“No, Athara. I’m not about to let you take that risk,” Luke countered. Athara frowned, hesitating to sit on the bed for a moment; it was cleaner looking than many she had seen, but there was still the odd questionable stain that made her shudder a little. She couldn’t help but be thankful that Luke had listened when she insisted they bring bedrolls and bedding of their own. She’d been in enough places like this that she knew actually using the supplied bedding was just asking for trouble.
“It’ll be hardly any risk at all. I go in, take care of Jabba, which, I must say, will be a pleasure, get Han and be gone.” Luke could only give her a skeptical look.
“And what would the final body count be.” Athara glared at him.
“It would depend on how many of them get in my way.”
“Athara, please. Bargaining is our best option.”
“You do realize he’s not going to go for your bargain, right? Especially given that you’re a Jedi and a Rebel.” Luke shrugged, but there was something in his face that triggered Athara’s suspicion. The familiar foreboding feeling from her sporadic visions crept over her again. She raised an eyebrow at him. “You’re expecting him to refuse you.” Luke looked faintly apologetic. Athara sighed, absently rubbing her forehead with exasperation.
“This plan is getting far too complicated. You realize that, right? For instance, what happens if Leia can’t wait until you get there and tries to free Han on her own; she’s too impulsive, sometimes, Luke, you know that, especially about those she cares for. Or what if someone recognizes Lando? What if Jabba decides to simply kill Chewie once he has him? What if you can’t get into the palace at all; Jabba doesn’t like Jedi. What if Artoo isn’t around when you need your lightsabre? There are so many places where it can go wrong.” She was starting to sound faintly hysterical, something she scolded herself for. She wasn’t used to worrying like this. After a moment he came to sit beside her, taking her hands in his, his fingers weaving together with hers.
“It won’t,” he sounded so confident. Athara wished she shared his optimism.
“I’d feel better if you’d let me come with you. Jabba knows me, or rather Obscura. I’m good at this kind of thing, it was my job; I can help.” Luke was avoiding her gaze. Athara could easily read between the lines.
“But Leia still doesn’t want me to help, does she,” Athara supplied. Luke sighed heavily.
“No, well, yes, she still doesn’t trust you completely, but no, that’s not all of it,” he said reluctantly. Athara sighed back, pulling her hands from his. His face fell a little, though he hid it quickly.
“I had hoped that she’d realize, once we all got to really talk through this, that I am of way more help with you than left behind,” she muttered bitterly. He leaned over, placing a light kiss on her temple.
“I know. But like you said, it isn’t a straightforward plan. The simpler we keep it, the less likely it will go wrong. Plus, you said so yourself, Jabba does know you, and no doubt he knows you are no longer with the Empire.” Athara had to grant him that. Her flight from Bespin had resulted in her defection from the Empire becoming, if not general knowledge, at least no longer ignorable on the Empire’s part. More than that, it was fairly widely known now that Captain Tamara was an alias of the Dark Lady Obscura, though thankfully Athara’s true name was still unknown for the most part; the Alliance seemed to be keeping that tidbit of information under wraps. There was now an open bounty on her head, though she was still wanted alive, which was something. It also meant that there was a good chance that if she were to walk into Jabba’s Palace that he would do his utmost to take her prisoner and claim the Emperor’s rather substantial bounty just as she feared he was like to do with Luke.
That there were bounties on all their heads had proved a fortuitous circumstance, though; Boushh, the bounty hunter that had once been so persistent in his pursuit of Han, had followed Chewie to Tatooine, and had followed him to the cantina where they had met the night before. It was lucky Athara had felt him watching them. Having excused herself for a moment, she had prodded the bounty hunter, who had been disappointingly susceptible to the most basic of mind tricks, around to the back of the cantina.
Unfortunately—or rather, fortunately as it turned out—he had shaken off the mind probe she’d been attempting and tried to shoot her. Luke had felt the disturbance, and within moments he, Chewie, Leia and Lando had been arrayed around the newly dead bounty hunter with Athara. It was then that Chewie’d had the brilliant idea to strip the Ubese of his armour and gear, which Leia would then use to infiltrate Jabba’s Palace. The problem of how to get Leia inside had been the admittedly sticky issue they had been trying to muddle through when the Bounty Hunter had distracted Athara in the first place. It was perfect, really; Leia and Boushh were of a similar stature; his helmet would hide her face and obscure her voice; Boushh was known but not well known, and thus would be easier to impersonate, plus his name would assure Leia a measure credibility and some esteem within Jabba’s Palace. Leia had of course protested at first, but as Chewie explained his logic she finally came around.
“You do realize you also have a bounty on your head, right? Same as Leia, Lando, anyone in the Alliance?” Athara countered, her bitterness seeping into her voice. He saw through it though. He could feel that the root of her reaction lay in her hurt at being unable to undo what had been done to Han while she’d stood by on Bespin. He laid a hand along her jawline, lifting her gaze to meet his. She couldn’t help but relax at the calmness in his eyes.
“She may yet change her mind. She loves Han, and wants to free him badly enough that she will probably come around,” he said quietly, his sympathetic tone holding more confidence than Athara was willing to spare on this matter. She appreciated his attempt, but they both knew that Leia was going to be irrationally stubborn in her insistence that Athara not be a part of the actual rescue.
She leaned forward then, capturing Luke’s mouth with hers, letting him know just how much she appreciated his assurances. Soon they were both breathless as their kisses intensified, but as they began to lose themselves in each other’s embrace, falling back on the bed, Athara jerked away, startling Luke soundly and drawing a bewildered and hurt look to his face. Athara gave him an apologetic look as she stood, gesturing pointedly toward the rest of the bed with a faint expression of disgust.
“Ah,” was all he said as she went over to where they had stashed their bags, understanding completely. As soon as he had seen the room, he had immediately praised Athara her foresight; Dagobah seemed cleaner… When she straightened holding their bedrolls, she walked back over, placing a small kiss on his cheek before beginning to prepare their sleeping arrangements.
“If it was anywhere but that bed, Farmboy,” she said quietly, a mischievous grin spreading across her face as she caught his eye. Laughing, he rose too, grabbing the second roll to help.
Unfortunately, Leia was just as stubborn as Athara was anticipating she’d be, and when they all went their separate ways the next day, the former sith apprentice was disappointed but not surprised that the princess hadn’t relented. But she was still determined to help in any way she could, especially when her vision-linked feelings of foreboding only intensified when she thought on the rescue plan. Because of that, she had put Lando and Chewie in touch with Reem, in case he was able to help them with their individual preparations. She was also intent on helping Luke as best she could, tutoring him in the best ways to deal with getting into Jabba’s Palace and helping him brush up on any possible Force tricks that might help him, from mind-tricks to Force-controlled manipulation.
Still, even though she and Luke had kept themselves busy with preparations and their training, the mystery of the hidden case and its contents continued to call to them both. Luke was desperate for any information on his family and his past. Athara was desperate for information on, well, anything. It took them a while to access the information on the Datapads. The powerpacks had been so depleted that they were beyond recharging, so reading them required new packs and some tinkering to get them to work; they hadn’t been able to find anything compatible among Kenobi’s spare parts and they weren’t due for another supply trip for a while. They still had the journals, though. But Kenobi, despite the candidness that a private journal implied, hadn’t really put a great deal of detail into the journals. It was more like a simple recording of what had gone on during his day. Trip into Bestine today. Managed to find the parts I needed for the ventilation filter unit. Devoted two hours to meditation this afternoon; mixed success.
Neva, on the other hand, he mentioned frequently.
He had loved her.
He had married her.
It was Luke who had discovered it first. They had essentially been reading the journals simultaneously, alternating between reading entries aloud. But one evening when Athara had been fiddling with one of the holopads, Luke had settled down next to her to peruse through the pages. There were three journals, the first pretty much starting with Kenobi’s arrival on Tatooine, the second entry being the one Athara had read about Luke being delivered to the Lars. Her suspicion was that, perhaps, some of the depleted holopads were earlier journals, and that he’d turned to the physical copies with his exile. They were part way through the second journal in the case when Luke came across the astonishing entry. His bewilderment and shock had surged through the Force when he read the lines. Athara had just finished getting the power back online for the holopad she was working on when his reaction jolted her from the chip she’d been inserting.
They had both come to realize, both from Yoda’s hintings and Kenobi’s notes, that Jedi forsook marriage and romantic attachment upon joining the Order. That Obi-wan had married came as a bit of a shock.
“I never knew…I never even suspected,” Luke had murmured as Athara had all but wrenched the journal from his loose grasp. The Force began pressing against her with such intensity that it nearly felt like a physical weight on her chest. Kenobi had been the husband that Clara, the old woman from Anchorhead, had been talking about, Neva’s husband. Before she had even realized what she was doing, her fingers were flipping through to the end. Then, nearly knocking Luke over in her urgency, she grabbed up the third and final journal and began flipping through it as well. The second half of the journal was empty. A flickering feeling of dread began to settle in her stomach. Immediately she began to backtrack, the pages flying with such force that it was surprising none of them ripped or tore.
She paused when she finally found his precise writing again. Something had changed. There was an eagerness, and excitement to the script that had Athara eagerly diving into the words. By now Luke was emerging from his bewildered thoughtfulness, and had begun watching her with curiosity, the growing frown on his face showing that he felt her growing anxiety. Absently, he reached over to retrieve the Holopad, picking up where she’d left off.
Athara barely comprehended what she was reading, her eyes skimmed the words so quickly. But then she latched onto something, the sentence jumping out at her in a way that felt like she’d been stung.
The baby moved this morning. Athara nearly choked as she read it again, and then a third time. Across from her, Luke’s frown deepened, his gaze shooting to her at the conflicting emotions suddenly surging through her.
“Athara? What is it?”
“They had a baby…” her voice was little more than a dazed gasp. The dread in her belly was growing, pressing against her ribs, making it hard to breathe. She was almost immediately flipping to the last entries, fighting the feeling that something had gone horribly wrong. Weeks earlier, what felt like a lifetime ago, Clara had hinted that something had happened, but Athara had thought little of it at the time. An iron hand clenched around her heart when she found the last entries. There was a datachip nestled between the pages, something Athara took out and handed absently to Luke. Without hesitation, he popped out the chip already in the holopad and put in the new one, retrieving the single entry on the chip.
“They are coming home tomorrow, and I find I can barely contain my excitement.” Athara began reading the entry aloud, her voice wavering and hesitant. Part of her feared what was coming next. “The transport will be arriving in the afternoon, but I will leave first thing in the morning. I cannot stop looking at the Holo Neva sent me, wondering what it will be like to hold our little girl for the first time. I shall turn in soon, though I don’t think I will be able to sleep at all.”
“Where did they go, I wonder? And why,” Luke mused softly, his eyes dropping back to the Holopad in his hand. After a moment he tensed, his brow furrowing in confusion as he read the message on the chip Athara had put in it. He paled, his lips parting with shock as he retrieved the image that accompanied the message.
“Athara, you need to see this,” he murmured, straightening from where he was lounging beside her.
But Athara didn’t notice his reaction or that he was trying to get her attention, her hand shaking as she turned the page to get to the final entry. It was made up of only two words. Athara blanched as she read them, all blood leaving her face. Bile and sorrow rose in her throat as she realized what the shaking script and near-empty page meant. Luke’s attention was once again on her, the holopad momentarily forgotten as his hand came to rest on her shoulder, alarmed at her reaction.
“Athara? What is it? What’s the next Entry?”
“They’re gone. That’s it. Only They’re gone.” Athara was barely able to speak, breathing becoming even more difficult as a massive truth began bearing down on her, the sense of foreboding she was beginning to despise pressing against her thoughts. She could see, in her mind’s eye, Kenobi, younger than he’d been on the Death Star, sitting hunched over the journal, his hand frozen over the page as his fingers trembled, struggling to find words to describe what had happened, only to come up with the simplest entry that managed to say so much more. She could almost feel the heartbroken agony that had consumed him as he stared down at the blank page as the shaking characters were imprinted with harsh finality beneath his hand. She felt on the verge of crying, though not a single tear had risen to her eyes. Luke’s eyes dropped back to the Holopad before he edged it into her line of vision, setting it in her hands on top of the journal.
It was a dark-haired woman holding a small, blanketed bundle, her hazel eyes sparkling as she looked out at Athara. A tiny hand escaped from the blankets. There was something immensely familiar about the woman; Athara felt almost as though she was looking in a mirror. Something deep down in Athara began rebelling violently away from the revelation crashing around her. Then her eyes dropped to the message below the image.
The journal and the holopad dropped from her hands as though they had burned her. “No…it’s impossible,” she choked.
In an instant she was on her feet, stumbling out of the hut into the cooling evening air, gasping as she tried to suck air into her lungs. The weight of understanding pressing on her chest had intensified so much that she couldn’t breathe in the confines of the hut, and a stabbing pain went through her, her bewilderment and betrayal manifesting itself in a physical ache that seeped through every muscle in her body.
Like the first evening she had spent at Kenobi’s hovel with Luke, the sky was stained with vivid pinks and reds that accompanied the setting suns. A gentle breeze wafted over the sand, stirring up glimmering wisps of the fine grit and sending loose strands of honey-brown hair dancing around her face. She didn’t notice any of it though.
She was too busy fighting the anger and betrayal rising through the bewilderment and pain in her chest. At her sides her fists were clenched so tightly that her nails were cutting into her palms, a hot dampness trickling across her fingers as they drew blood. She could feel the Dark Side beginning to swirl hungrily around her as she began losing control, stirring the sand around her, picking up the fine grains until small eddies of sand were whirling around her, plucking and tugging at her clothes and stinging her skin.
Everything in her was rebelling at what this revelation meant. It felt like her entire world had been shattered, slicing and tearing through her as the shards fell around her.
A screaming sob tore out of her as her legs gave way beneath her and she landed heavily on her knees in the midst of the swirling sand, pressing the heels of her hands against her burning eyes as though the pressure could halt the yellow overwhelming the gray-blue and erase the truth she had learned.
And then there were arms around her, pulling her into a warm embrace that chased away the chill that had begun creeping through her veins. As Luke held her close, she could feel her anger and pain begin to subside, his soothing murmur helping her to push the darkness threatening to consume her away. Distantly, she could feel Qui-gon’s presence at their side, supplying comfort with his presence.
Soon it was only grief left in her, and before she could stop herself, she was curling against him, sobbing into his shoulder as her fingers loosened from painful fists to clutch at his jacket. Eventually her sobs quieted and her hitching breaths evened out as she managed to calm herself, drawing from the peace that had grown in Luke as he’d grown stronger in the Force.
“You see the irony, I suppose,” she finally said, her voice little more than a whisper. She could almost feel him frowning a little. “My Master is your father, and now it would seem that your Master was mine,” she said, a soft, sad bitterness colouring her tone. Luke’s frown deepened at the resentment threading her words. He drew back, looking down at her where she still leaned heavily against him, still speaking quietly. “Not only that, but you also believed that Vader killed your Father, and now I learn that he killed mine right in front of me. More than that, he probably murdered my mother too, and stole me away.” She was beginning to ramble, and coming precariously close to tears again.
“Athara,” he broke in gently, his fingers absently stoking her hair as he pulled her out of her spiraling thoughts. She sighed heavily. More pieces in the mystery of her life had clicked into place. She had longed to know more for so long, but right now, in this moment, all she could think of was that she wished she could unlearn it all.