When she finally woke, Athara didn’t recognize her surroundings in the slightest. She was in a little hut, the walls made in part of sticks and branches and part of the hollowed out interior of what looked like a tree. The small room was filled with what looked to her like a mix of a primitive being’s necessary and prized possessions. She was lying on a surprisingly comfortable pallet made up of furs and soft leaves and mosses. On the far side of the room from her was a little door, covered only with a swath of rough-spun fabric.
For a brief, fleeting moment she wondered if she was in Yoda’s little hut. But then logic prevailed and she realized that was highly unlikely. This dwelling was smaller—but still taller, though only marginally so—and was obviously of a different sort of construction. More than that, the air was different. It was nothing like the dank, swampy smell that had permeated Dagobah. There was a thick woody smell to the air, threaded with the pungent scents of wood smoke, cooking food and a faintly musky scent that immediately brought fur to mind.
But then something else caught her attention. From outside the hut came the unmistakable sounds of celebration. She could faintly hear happy calls and shouts, the crackling of large fires, the distant crack of fireworks and the dim rhythmic tones of triumphant music.
Understanding came upon her then, mingled with incredulous disbelief.
The Emperor was dead. The second Death Star was destroyed.
They had done it.
She could hardly believe it. But then grief crashed in around her.
Her Master was gone. Anakin had destroyed Vader just as surely as he had destroyed the Emperor, but he had sacrificed himself to do it. She could almost remember trying to save him, but the memory was fuzzy. But a sinking feeling deep in her stomach and the answering crush of emotion in her chest told her that she had failed. All she could do was curl in on herself, fighting back the sobs that threatened to rip through her chest. She may have found out who her father and mother were on Tatooine, but on the Death Star she had realized that her Master was her family, and the closest thing to a father she had ever known. She didn’t know how long she lay there, curled around herself as she let the first shocking wave of grief pass over her.
Let me go, came the echo in her thoughts. It broke through the grief threatening to drown her as swiftly as a Tatooine sunrise breaks over the desert. A faint smile came to her face. Whether it was memory of his last words to her, or his actual voice speaking in her thoughts, she didn’t know. But she realized then that she hadn’t lost him as completely as she thought.
It took a surprising amount of effort to sit. Her head throbbed at first, though she was soon able to banish it with the help of the Force. Her body was another matter. Every muscle in her body ached and she felt so stiff she could barely move. But she had survived and continued on through worse, so she brushed it aside as best she could, ignoring the way her body protested. At first she staggered as she got to her feet, but her legs had mostly steadied by the time she reached the cloth-draped door.
She nearly gasped as she stepped through the low door, though her lips did part with surprise. The hut was nestled in the branches of a massive tree, and all around her were dozens upon dozens more, all linked by crude but sturdy winding ramps and stairs and rope bridges. The hut she was in looked down over a great platform lined with more huts that spanned the space between a handful of enormous tree trunks. Some of the giant trees themselves had been hollowed as well to create larger communal spaces. It was a primitive tree-bound city. Everywhere fires glowed in the night, from tiny flickering lights off in the distance to a bonfire surrounded by dancing figures immediately below her. Even far below on the forest floor she thought she could see glimpses of fires surrounded by dancing figures. It was a beautiful scene that nearly took her breath away.
It was an eclectic crowd that danced and feasted below Athara. Short, furred creatures wearing handmade hoods and headdresses immediately stood out to her as the native denizens of this tree-dwelling civilization. Among them and celebrating along with them were members of the Alliance; she recognized the uniforms and flightsuits that interspersed and mingled with the diminutive natives. Faintly she thought she could recognize a few faces from where she stood above the celebrating gathering. There was Wedge, she thought, and General Madine, and a woman that was possibly Mon Mothma. An inadvertent smile came to her face when she caught a glimpse of Chewie towering over the natives and Artoo beyond him. Absently she wondered where Luke was, longing to see him, to let him try and comfort her as she knew he would, just as she knew she would do her best to comfort him.
With a sigh she sat on the balcony just outside the hut she had woken up in, stretching her legs out along the ledge in front of her, looking out over the festive scene. She didn’t feel a part of it, though. She rejoiced with them, of course, but she didn’t quite feel like she belonged among them. She had purposefully avoided thinking on her past since she abandoned the Empire, but in that moment, looking down at the victorious faces glowing with excitement, it lingered like a dark shadow in the back of her mind. A flicker from the Force alerted her that someone was approaching.
“Hey,” came a quiet voice from the shadows behind her. Slowly she turned, looking up at Han as he walked slowly toward her. She fought the feeling of guilt that tried to surge through her—it was nearly powerful enough to drown out the immense relief she felt at seeing him again, whole and safe, after fighting the lingering fear in the back of her mind that the rescue had failed—though she wasn’t able to stop the way the blood left her face. She tried to smile in greeting, as her voice refused to work just yet, but it came out as more of a grimace. A ghost of his crooked smile appeared on his face. After a moment of hesitation, he settled himself beside her, dangling his legs over the edge as he too looked down over the festivities. More and more members of the Alliance were trickling onto the platform, joining the party. Athara caught sight of Lando among the newcomers, a wide smile on his friendly face as he greeted those around him.
“It’s hard to believe the Emperor’s really gone, isn’t it.” Han finally said quietly. Absently she nodded, trying to keep her thoughts from lingering as they were wont to on the gulf of her actions that lay between them. Han had quickly become her friend after she had met him, and she had betrayed him on Cloud City. She couldn’t forgive herself for that. It was a feeling that was churning away in her gut and eventually she felt compelled to say something.
“Why did you come up here,” she finally said, unable to hide her dejection from her voice, “you must hate me for what I did, so why would you—” he looked over at her when she was unable to continue, choking as she was on her shame and regret. She risked a quick glance at him before fixing her eyes back on the bonfire below. His eyes were serious but thoughtful as he watched her, but beyond that she couldn’t quite pick out what he was feeling.
“That’s just it,” he responded quietly after a moment, leaning back a little as his own gaze returned to the celebrating group around the fire, “I don’t. Hate you, that is.” Her attention shot back to him, her eyes wide with shock. A flicker of hope kindled at the way he said it, though she tried to ignore it. She didn’t want to get her hopes up. He shrugged in the deliberately casual way she had seen a hundred times before when he was trying to deflect attention from how he really felt. When he didn’t continue she felt compelled to ask.
“Why not?” He shrugged again before meeting her eyes.
“I trusted you, I guess. It didn’t take a lot to figure out you didn’t want to be where you were anymore than we did. I saw the look on your face when Leia pulled off your hood, though it took me a while to realize what it meant.” Athara couldn’t hold his frank gaze any longer, her eyes dropping to her hands where they were clenched, white-knuckled in her lap. She focused instead on forcing her fingers to relax.
“Plus,” his voice had taken on the nonchalant tone he used when trying to lighten the mood. Athara appreciated it, especially as it did work a little. “Luke and Chewie did tell me all about what else you did on Bespin…so did Lando. He told me about how you convinced him to help Leia and Chewie. And Chewie told me how you covered the Falcon’s escape and left the message about the Hyperdrive. Even Leia admitted that you’ve been trying to make up for Bespin ever since.” Athara nearly laughed at that.
“I have to admit I find it hard to believe that Leia advocated for me at all,” Athara couldn’t help but say skeptically. Han shrugged again, a faint smile playing about his lips.
“Well, she still suffers from everything that happened to her on the first Death Star, and now what happened on Bespin too. She hates Vader because of it, and part of her hates you, even though she knows now that you were just as much a prisoner as she was.” It was so matter of fact and ungrudging that it startled her.
“No quite so much,” Athara muttered, her resentment at her own actions resurfacing.
“Hey,” he interrupted her despondent thoughts with a gentle admonishment, “We all saw you when Luke brought you back here from the second Death Star. He told us about what happened. You were nearly dead, Athara. No one doubts that the Emperor had it out for you. Knowing what I know now, about your past? It’s kind of a miracle that you’ve survived this long and that you joined the Alliance. It took guts to do everything you’ve done. To turn your back on everything you’d ever known? On Vader?” His hand came to rest on her shoulder as she fought back tears at the mention of her Master. “I don’t blame you for what happened to me now, though I have to admit, I did a little at first, and I don’t think you should blame yourself either. As for everything else, well,” he shrugged again, “you’ll have to find a way to live with it. I’ve done things too that I’m not proud of, but…” he hesitated, his eyes fixing on something down below, “hey, it brought me to where I am now.” Athara followed his gaze.
He was watching Leia where she stood smiling among the furry natives, dressed in clothes that appeared to have been made by the jovial little creatures. After a moment the Princess seemed to feel Han’s gaze, looking up at him with a luminous smile. When the Princess caught sight of Athara sitting beside her smuggler, Leia’s smile dimmed, but the look of resentment and hatred Athara was used to seeing was absent. Something flickered in Athara then. Perhaps he was right.
With a cheeky grin Han stood, his grip tightening reassuringly on her shoulder for a moment before he turned to descend back down to his princess.
“You’re welcome to join the party, you know,” he called back to her, his tone teasing as he glanced back at her before disappearing down the stairs. Moments later he reappeared below, wending his way through the celebrating crowds to embrace Lando. Athara leaned back against the hut, still watching the festivities below. She couldn’t help but grin when she saw Threepio dancing with one of the furry natives while beyond him Chewie exuberantly embraced Lando himself. Han was standing with Leia now as he watched his co-pilot and friend exchange stories about the recent battle, his fingers entwined with hers as she leaned contentedly against him. But then Athara felt a presence through the Force that she had been absently searching for since she first woke.
It seemed Leia noticed him approaching too, for the instant Athara looked toward her approaching Jedi, Leia was already moving to embrace him. He hugged her back with an affectionate smile, his expression holding a look she hadn’t seen before.
It was her, Athara realized with a start, the Force humming around her as the epiphany broke over her. Leia was the sister Luke had been trying to hide from the Emperor and his father. But somehow Athara found she really wasn’t as shocked as she probably should have been; it felt right. There had always been a connection between them, only Athara had believed it due to the friendship between the princess and the young Jedi. It seemed so obvious now, as she looked down on them, that that connection had run far deeper than mere friendship.
After a moment Leia released him and Han stepped forward to greet his friend as well before gesturing up toward where Athara still sat, frozen as anticipation flooded through her. At Han’s gesture, Luke looked up at her, the relief in his eyes mirroring her own.
Her breath catching in her throat, Athara was on her feet in an instant, dashing down the crude steps to the platform below. In a heartbeat she was in his arms, barely able to breath through her relief that he was all right. Out of the corner of her eye she caught sight of Han’s crooked grin as he watched the reunion, and she was startled by the faint glimmer of acceptance in Leia’s eyes as she leaned into Han’s arms. But then her attention was wholly on Luke as he drew back, looking down at her as his fingers glided over her cheek. Not caring that they were in the middle of a crowd she leaned up, pressing her lips to his. As he kissed her back, pulling her close, Athara sighed, finally feeling the same elation as those around her.
She was free. They were all free. A few teasing jeers sounded faintly around them but Athara paid them no mind. With a wide, pleased smile Luke eventually pulled back, tenderly brushing a strand of her hair back behind her ear. Her arm wound around his waist as she leaned into him, looking out over the celebrating people around her.
“Ata!” Athara jerked around at the sound of the familiar voice and was nearly bowled over as Mona all but threw herself at her. Athara couldn’t stop the smile or the tears that stung her eyes as she hugged her adopted sister back just as tightly as the younger woman held her. Mona was practically vibrating she was so ecstatic.
“It’s done!” she gasped, smiling so widely Athara was briefly afraid her face would split, “Ata, he’s gone!” Athara took Mona’s face in her hands, fighting back the tears of happiness that threatened. Off behind her, Luke was reuniting with Wedge, though she could swear she felt his eyes on her periodically.
“Yes,” she managed to choke out in response, “Palpatine is gone. I saw it with my own eyes.” Mona’s smile widened as she hugged Athara tightly again.
“Come on,” she said after a moment, pulling Athara along behind her as she dove into the crowd, “there’s someone who wants to see you.” They didn’t have to go far.
“Commander Adyé,” Athara said with a start when she realized just whom Mona was taking her to see. The Commander smiled a little when he caught sight of Athara. Before she could react further he had stepped forward, drawing her into a quick, though slightly awkward embrace.
“Athara Adyé,” he said as he pulled back, his eyes scanning over her features. “I am glad you are all right.” Athara couldn’t help but smile at how genuinely he meant that. It still wasn’t something she was used to. A faint, wistful cast came over his features as she did.
“And I you, Commander,” she automatically replied, surprising herself at how much she too meant every word. He made as though to reach out to her, but hesitated, the wistful look growing.
“I don’t know if anyone’s ever told you, but you look an awful lot like your mother. Especially when you smile.” Athara looked up at him with a flicker of surprise.
“I’ve heard it before,” she said lightly, though she failed at masking the anxious tremor in her voice, “How did you know her?” she asked hesitatingly. He smiled sadly.
“She was my older sister, well, half-sister.” Athara’s eyes widened with shock and surprise. After a moment he grinned slightly. “Which makes me your uncle, I suppose. I’ve actually met you before, you know. Neva was hiding on Naboo when you were born, but she wanted our father to meet you, his first grandchild. I actually held you once, when she brought you to visit. That’s how I knew who you were the instant you told the Council your name; Athara, after your father’s mother, Neva said. It was the last time I saw her…” he trailed off, his grief still lingering even after all these years. Athara felt her own sorrow rising to mirror his. This time when he reached out, his hand settled tentatively on her shoulder.
“”You have no idea how happy I am that you lived, Athara, that part of my sister still lives.” Athara’s chest tightened at the earnest way he said it.
But they didn’t dwell on their sorrow long. They simply couldn’t. The joy around them was far too captivating. They soon parted ways, but only after Athara promised to seek out her newfound Uncle, a promise she eagerly made. Soon she was making her way back toward her friends and her Farmboy. She was physically and emotionally exhausted, and wanted nothing more than to find a quiet place to rest for a moment. Luke caught sight of her heading back toward him, Han and Leia, shooting her a quick smile before turning back to Chewie and Wedge. After a few quiet words, he patted the wookiee congenially on the shoulder before making his way through the revelers toward her. Smiling, she ducked off to the side, toward a shadowed walkway that led toward the stairs and the hut Athara had woken in. All she wanted were a few quiet moments with her Farmboy.
But then a tremor in the Force drew her attention away. It was so familiar that she actually gasped. She tried to steady her suddenly anxious heart rate, already knowing what she was going to see when she looked up. As she slowly lifted her head, she felt rather than saw Luke coming up beside her, a gentle, contented smile coming to his face as he saw what she did. Her hand rose to her mouth as Athara bit back her tears, stifling a gasp behind a smile as she did. They were bittersweet tears.
Just over the bridge beyond the main platform were three ghostly figures. Yoda sat on the railing looking satisfied as he looked over at Luke and Athara. To the diminutive Jedi’s right stood Qui-gon, his hands tucked into his sleeves as he looked proudly on at his pupil, his eyes twinkling merrily as he met Athara’s gaze. On Yoda’s other side, a pleased yet wistful smile on his own face, stood Obi-wan. He too smiled proudly at his own pupil before his gaze turned to Athara. Her breath hitched at the expression in his eyes. He loved her; her father loved her and was proud of her. A tiny, elated laugh escaped her. She couldn’t even name the way his expression made her feel.
As they looked on, their ghostly mentors turned to watch as another form materialized, one that nearly caused Athara to loose all control.
Anakin met her blue-gray gaze with a look of such pride and love that Athara felt her tears finally spill down her cheeks. Luke’s hand captured hers, squeezing gently in reassurance. Absently she twined her fingers with his. Her Master smiled widely at the gesture, his gaze shifting to his son. After a moment though, his gaze shifted again, his eyes softening even as a flicker of remorse appeared in his steady gaze.
Athara felt Leia’s approach before she saw the princess, but for once the anxious feeling she’d always gotten in the princess’ presence never materialized. The princess wrapped her arms around her brother’s shoulders, smiling at him. Luke returned the look, and Athara could sense a deep feeling of satisfaction flowing through him. After a moment Leia looked over at Athara. Though there was a lingering hesitation in her eyes, after a moment she gave the former sith apprentice a faint smile.
Then she tugged gently at Luke, urging him to come back and rejoin the celebration. Glancing quickly at Athara and briefly back at the Jedi Masters who looked on, he followed his sister, his fingers still entwined with Athara’s. She hesitated a moment longer, scanning the faces that proudly watched her and Luke one last time before following her Farmboy over to where Han, Chewie and Lando sat. Leia came to a stop behind Han, her hands resting on his shoulders as they exchanged a long look. Luke stopped beside Leia, gathering Athara under his arm as she caught up. With a deep sigh she leaned into him, her head resting on his shoulder as her own arms wound about his waist. Before them the revelers danced on.
“So now what?” Han asked lightly, turning to glance up at Leia. She shook her head slightly before shrugging, leaning in closer to him. Athara sighed, leaning closer to her Farmboy as she thought, allowing herself to wonder at just that. Now what? Luke looked down at her, his mild gaze questioning. After a moment she looked up at him, a faint smile coming to her face. There was only one place she wanted to go right now. She could tell by the way her Farmboy was looking at her that he would willingly follow her anywhere.“I think,” she began quietly, drawing all of their gazes even though the revelry nearly drowned out her words, “I think I want to go…home.”