The humid breezes that greeted Callista the moment Captain Drago unlatched the airlock door on the YT-1300 freighter instantly sent a flood of bittersweet memories rushing back to her. She closed her eyes and breathed deep as the thick jungle perfume drifted towards her, as if the evening air were welcoming her back at the end of a long journey.
Welcoming her back to the place she had once--for a few blessed months--called home.
"Is it anything like you remember?" Drago said just over her shoulder. She heard the muffled sounds of banging and clanking inside the ship--he must have been checking on the cargo as he threw the casual remark towards her.
She nodded without facing him. "It feels like nothing at all has changed," she said softly, in a way, trying to convince herself.
But of course, everything had changed.
Though the sight of the lush green vegetation and the distant sounds of the jungle wildlife were familiar--even comforting--in her heart, she knew that life here had moved on without her in the five years that she had been away.
She heard footsteps shuffle behind her, the sound of heavy-soled boots on metal, and when she turned, she saw Drago come up to the doorway, leaning one shoulder against the jamb. "It sure is gorgeous," he commented with a small sigh, something Callista hadn't quite expected from such a worldly--and undoubtedly jaded--trader. "A little too warm for my tastes," he added, laughing as he shook his head, "But it's nice."
She smiled at him, met by his tired, but kind eyes that showed a hint of concern, though they had only met a mere four days ago when Ugmush had given him her name and told him of her urgent need to leave Chad.
"I can see why you wanted to come back here."
She hadn't given him a reason for her wanting to return to Yavin, not that he had asked. As was customary among traders and, more often, smugglers, few questions--if any--were ever asked. As long as they got their fare, they were happy to remain blissfully ignorant of the true contents of their cargo or the intent of their passengers.
"I just wish I were here under better circumstances," she finally said, not sure if he had heard her.
If he had, he let the comment go and didn't ask her to explain.
For a long time she simply stood there, halfway on the plank of the Alamont, not quite able to bring herself to step off the ship. Half-afraid, half-excited, she could only look out in silence, her heart still startlingly fresh from the wounds that had never quite healed since she left this place. The many years away had not made the pain any easier to endure; they had only taught her how to live in spite of it.
Out in the distance, she saw the imposing vine-covered temples, bathed in the orange light of the setting sun, and at once she remembered the spark of wonder and promise in the eyes of the adepts, how they looked eagerly to her to reveal the long-ago buried secrets of the Old Order.
She had failed them.
Luke tried to convince her that she hadn't. "They have so much to learn from you, Callista," he had told her. "With or without the Force, you can still teach them." But in spite of all that, she knew. She had seen the disappointment on their faces, though they dared not say the words out loud.
And she had carried that with her ever since.
"We're not due on Sullust for another ten days," Drago said. Perhaps he sensed that she needed to hear someone's voice at that moment to break the silence of her thoughts. "I don't think the crew would mind waiting a few more hours before taking off, if... you need more time."
Callista let out a deep breath and turned behind her. "Thank you, that's very kind of you," she said. "But I don't want to keep you any longer. I've already delayed you long enough by making you take that detour to Chad."
He gave her his pirate's grin. "Always glad to help a friend of Ugmush's," he said. "For a nominal fee, of course."
She laughed softly. "Of course."
More shuffling of the feet, then he gestured towards the ship and said, "Last call... You sure you'll be all right here?"
"Yes," she nodded. "It's time I got going. I've waited long enough."
He said nothing and simply held up his hand to her in a gesture of farewell. "Good luck with everything," he said at last. "I hope everything works out for you here." She watched him walk up the ramp and disappear into the freighter a few moments later.
As the Alamont rose into the flame-colored sky, and she looked around herself again, still scarcely believing that she was truly here.
She never thought she would ever be able to bring herself to step foot on Yavin again. It was a place where she had known unspeakable despair; but it was also the place where she had experienced the greatest joys of her life. Her eyes drifted to the jungle hillsides in the distance, and as if tired of resisting, she let the memories of Luke flood her consciousness.
His strong arms around her waist as they lay under the crystalline stars... His head resting in the crook of her shoulder... They had spent countless nights there holding each other in the darkness, watching the nights slowly evolve into the early morning, sharing dreams and hopes and memories that neither had ever spoken to anyone else. Dreams they each thought they carried alone until discovering that the other had dreamed them too.
Stolen moments and giddy plans for the future. Children. Laughter. Love.
The sound of his boyish laughter, as vivid in her mind as the last time she heard it when she drifted off into sleep beside him, rang in her ears.
I never knew love until I knew you...
And yet even as they hoped for a life together, something in the hazy distance always awaited them. Perhaps both of them had known even then, though both had been too terrified to admit it--both wanting to hold on to the tenuous promise of tomorrow for as long as they could.
If I hadn't lost the Force... If I hadn't touched the dark side...
Callista knew it was useless to speculate. What good would it do now to revisit the pain from which she had tried so hard to run away all these years? What good would it do to wonder what could have been?
She wasn't even sure how he would react to seeing her after all these years. It had been so long--far too long. And she had hurt him so deeply.
In the aftermath of the Knight Hammer's fiery blaze, when she had emerged from her escape pod, dazed and numb, she knew what her decision had to be. She would face the pain of having to leave her love--if it meant finding herself once again so she could one day return to him whole.
That possibility had seemed so tantalizingly close back then, just beyond her outstretched hand. For a while she had remained hopeful. Only a matter of time, she had told herself, before she would be back in his arms again.
But the days turned into weeks. The weeks spilled into months. And when she finally found herself on Nam Chorios, alone and so desperately hungry for answers, she knew: this would not be the way back to Luke.
Every time she would brush against the cold, frightening, yet utterly enticing sensation of the dark side--every time she would hear it whisper in its deceiving voice, You have the power within you, why do you deny yourself of it? The dark side can help you, the dark side can save you--she knew she was drifting another step further from her beloved.
And now here she was, back in the very place to which she had vowed she would never return unless she had stepped free from the dark side's shadows... She looked once again at the stone temples, standing majestically on sacred ground, and the students whom she saw emerging from their late afternoon meditations. She knew beyond a doubt had done the right thing by coming to warn him.
All of this, for which Luke had sacrificed, agonized, bled and nearly died--indeed Luke himself--would be in great peril if the Rogue Sith were to awaken.
She had let him down once. But she would not let it happen again.
Then came the voice that she had already felt was coming, though her heart stood still nonetheless at the sound of it.
Part of her had already sensed his presence behind her, even before she heard him speak. It had always been that way with them.
He looked different than she had seen him last. The boyishly handsome face, that she had kissed and caressed all those years ago, was the same; so was the winsome smile that had come to her every night in her dreams. But his eyes--the eyes she had never forgotten--carried a sadness that she didn't recognize, a haunted stillness that made her ache.
I did this to him, she thought, tasting the bitterness of her regret. I'm the one who hurt him this way...
It was Callista who spoke first to break the long silence between them.
She wondered if he had understood the many shades of meaning in the only word she could manage at the moment; if in the single utterance he had heard what she really meant to say: I'm sorry... I've missed you...
I never stopped loving you...
She watched him look at her, his eyes cautiously tracing her form as if wanting to believe she was real--but afraid to trust what his eyes told him. Even in the silence of the Force, she felt his thoughts.
"Yes," she whispered. "I'm here... I'm really here..."
Slowly, as in a dream where time was suspended, he came to her, each step a little surer than the last. He held one trembling hand to her cheek, not quite touching her--was he afraid she would vanish at any moment? She brought her hand to his, feeling his warmth radiate through her in pure rays of light.
For a long time they faced each other, each forgetting to breathe, each searching for the perfect words.
Each wishing that for once, time could stand still.
At last, he said, "I knew you were coming."
She looked back at him in wonder, though in truth, she really wasn't surprised that he knew. She started to ask him how, but stopped--the memory of what brought her here coming back to her with a vengeance, bringing a vicious chill to her bones.
"Luke..." Suddenly the words she had so carefully rehearsed in her mind ran away from her. Now that she actually stood before him--remembering what it had felt to be held by him, to kiss him, to make love to him--the knowledge that he was in danger tore through her flesh, and she lowered her eyes to the ground, knowing she would be unable to bear the look in them when she told him what she had come to tell him.
He lifted her chin to meet his gaze again.
"What is it?" he whispered. "Callista, you can tell me anything, you know that. If you're in trouble-"
She shook her head. "No... You don't understand... Luke, I came here because... Because you're in danger..."
He took a step back, and she saw his eyes darken with shock and disbelief. She felt him squeeze her hands, holding on to them for dear life.
"We don't have much time," she told him. "I came here as soon as I could-"
She stopped mid-sentence, knowing instantly by the look on his face that there was something she wasn't yet aware of. He framed her face with his hands in a lover's gesture, and held her steady--so steady that she held her breath in anticipation of what he was about to say.
"Callista," he said, holding on to her as if he were afraid to let her go, "You're in danger too."
"I don't understand."
Luke was silent by her side, watching her look out the window. Her face was solemn in the light of the moons outside, and in that moment, he wanted more than anything to do what felt like the most natural thing in the world--to slip his arms around her waist and draw her close to him.
As if the mere action could wipe away the threat of impending danger.
But he stopped himself from touching her. Not now, he thought, not yet... It had taken this--whatever this was that frightened her so--to bring her out of hiding and back into his life, and he was not going to risk pushing her away again. He knew she had not come here to forget about the past and embrace a future with him. He knew that, though the knowledge was no easier to swallow.
In her silence, he felt the weight of her thoughts, just as sure as if he had heard them through the stillness in the Force.
At last she turned beside her to face him. "I don't understand what these premonitions could be, Luke. It's the Jedi that are in danger--you, the students, Leia, and her children... That's why I had to come here..."
"I know," Luke said. The visions darted in his mind once again, taunting him as they had for the last few weeks. But though they remained as vague and elusive as the first time they had invaded his dreams, he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt--even without the benefit of concrete details--that she would come to harm.
"I'm not sure I've figured out what all this means yet," he went on, trying in vain to get the images out of his head. "But I just know that I feel better knowing you're here and that... you're safe."
She smiled at him, a small smile that might have gone unnoticed if he hadn't known her so well--known every detail of her face and the million different smiles she possessed. "For now," she said, in the way that only she could.
Even in the most desperate of times she could find a way to bring light.
Luke shook his head and laughed softly along with her. "How did I know you would say that?" he said. He watched her laugh, and he saw the tension and the fear leave her, evaporating into the night air for a few precious seconds.
She looked beautiful. Stars, she looked beautiful.
When her laughter faded at last, she took her eyes from him and folded her arms over her chest, letting out a sigh that seemed to expel all the anxiety with a single breath. Her voice was different when she spoke again--calm and unwavering, without a trace of fear or trepidation. Just as it had been in his dream when she was fading from his sight. "Luke, we can't afford to sit here and try to figure out how I'm in danger." She looked at him again, her gray eyes hard with defiance and steel will. "We don't have the luxury of time on our side."
He had seen her once like this before. When they had finally admitted their love for each other on the Eye, and he told her of his plan to dismantle the dreadnaught without destroying it--without destroying her--her answer was firm and uncompromising. Nothing less than full destruction, she had insisted, even if it meant the end of her life for good. He remembered the conviction in her voice. He remembered the pain of knowing that she was right, and how his heart tore inside at having to choose between her and the mission.
She had been ready to sacrifice herself without a second thought then, all for the promise of saved lives.
And she meant to sacrifice herself again now.
I can't let her do it, he thought, his mind unable to wrap itself around even the faint possibility of losing her again. I won't let her do it.
"I know we don't have all the answers right now, Callista. But I do know this: I am not going to let whatever this is get to you. Please--let me help you..."
"And let me help you, Luke," she whispered. She stepped just a bit closer to him, the distance between them almost nonexistent now, and he felt her urgent breath on his face. "Because I don't know how much longer we have."
"Tell me what this is," he said, suddenly aware that he had given in to instinct and, without realizing it, taken her hands in his. "What is it that's brought you here? Why are the Jedi in danger?"
He saw her draw a shaky breath, as if she were willing herself to stay composed. Her hands turned cold under his touch, icy with the fear he knew she was fighting to keep at bay.
Fear leads to the dark side, Callista...
He started to send a gentle wave of the Force towards her to ease her fear, then remembered--it would do no good.
"Luke," she began, "have you ever heard of the legend of the Rogue Sith?"
The question took him by surprise.
"No, I haven't."
"Yoda never told you this story? Obi-Wan?"
He shook his head, almost out of shame. "I didn't have much time with either of them--there wasn't much of a chance to..." His voice trailed off in apology, though he knew Callista would be the first to tell him that there was nothing to be sorry for. "I really don't know much about the Sith at all..." The truth was, there were still so many things he didn't know; things he had hoped Callista would have shown and taught him--if she had only stayed.
As if feeling the weight of his stare, as if knowing the unspoken words behind the look, she lowered her eyes and pulled away from him.
"It was just another one of the legends that had been passed down by the masters," she went on, her back now to him as she stood once again by the window. "To be honest, I never even gave it much thought at the time. I don't think any of us ever really believed it could be true..."
She paused, as if trying to relive the long ago scene in her mind, as if coaxing the spirit of Djinn himself from the shadows on the walls.
Luke walked up to her and gently laid his hands on her shoulders.
When she turned, he saw a change come over her face--the fear that she had managed to keep under control earlier now slowly returning to her eyes.
"What is it?" he whispered. "What do you remember about this?"
She shook her head, perhaps not ready to trust the memory that seemed to consume her now.
"A thousand years ago, a young padawan named Ved Larkam ran away from his training at the Temple. He thought the Jedi were weak because they used the Force only for knowledge and defense, and he vowed that he would be the one to take full advantage of the power that the Force had to offer."
One of a great many to think so, Luke thought. He cringed inwardly, remembering the raw lust for power that had oozed out of Palpatine's pores, the sheer arrogance that dripped like thick honey from his voice.
"He came across a Sith master who made him his apprentice, but it wasn't long before he began to get restless again. He felt that his master was jealous of him, and it wouldn't be long before he would try to kill him and replace him with someone weaker and less of a threat."
"A little paranoid, I would say," Luke said grimly.
"Exactly," Callista said. "So he ran away again, thinking that he now knew the secrets of the dark side. And he went back to the Temple to lure other impressionable padawans into his brotherhood. Now he called himself Darth Rath, and he promised to teach them the true meaning of the Force."
Luke shut his eyes at the unwelcome memory that flooded into his mind. "Like Vader promised me," he said.
Something in the way she said the word made him look at her again.
"Yes, just like what Vader promised you. And do you remember what he wanted you to do, Luke? Do you remember what needed to happen before you could rule the galaxy as father and son?"
"Palpatine had to be destroyed..." Luke felt his flesh start to tingle as the comprehension began to dawn on him. "Vader wanted me to fulfill my destiny and destroy the Emperor..."
"That's right. Because the Sith have a rule. There can only be two of them at a time--a master, and an apprentice."
Luke's stomach twisted inside. So that's why they had wanted him. Vader and Palpatine had vied for him because they each wanted him for their own use. And they would have succeeded--had he not managed to get through to his father.
As if she could feel the turmoil that stirred within him, she reached out a hand and placed it on his arm, her touch sending shockwaves through his body.
He looked up at her and gave her a grateful smile, and he forcibly shoved the thoughts of the past out of his mind. "But there were more than two of them," he finally said. "They must have known that because of that, they were in danger of being pursued by not only the Jedi, but that Sith master as well."
Callista nodded. "And they vowed no one would get to them, Luke. So they separated and each ran away to various corners of the galaxy, and they promised to rise again someday when their time came."
Luke furrowed his brow. "But they must all be dead by now-"
He stopped himself. As soon as the words left his mouth, every cell in his body screamed, No! And for the first time, he understood why she had been so frightened--why she had come all this way, why she had risked everything--to warn him.
"Callista," he murmured, somehow already knowing the answer within him before he even asked her, "what did you find on Chad?"
answer right away.
And when she did,
her voice was
than a whisper.
"Him, Luke," she
said. "I think...
we found Darth
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