Yoda looked on in the dim light of Luke's lantern as the boy climbed around his ship. It did look as though his mind was made up, but Yoda had to try to change his mind.
"Luke, you must complete the training."
"I can't keep the vision out of my head, they're my friends, I gotta help them," Luke replied. He could not shake the image out of his mind, the terrible picture of his best friends in the galaxy in pain. It was driving him mad. However confident he sounded, though, there was a seed of doubt in his mind. What if he's right? What if this isn't the right thing to do?
"You must not go," Yoda insisted.
"But Han and Leia will die if I don't!"
"You don't know that," said another voice. An image of Obi-wan Kenobi materialized behind Yoda. "Even Yoda cannot see their fate."
"But I can help them," asserted Luke. "I can feel the Force."
"But you cannot control it," Obi-wan reminded him. "This is a dangerous time for you. You will be tempted by the Dark Side of the Force."
"Yes, yes, to Obi-wan, you listen," Yoda said, seeing that his old friend's words were having an effect on Luke. "The cave, remember your failure at the cave."
"But I've learned so much since then," Luke said, though one could hear the slightest note of doubt in his voice, as if he were questioning his own statement. "Master, I promise to return, you have my word, I'll finish what I've begun."
"It is you and your abilities that the Emperor wants, Luke," Obi-wan said. "That is why your friends are made to suffer."
"Then that's why I have to go!"
"Luke, I don't want to lose you to the Emperor, the way I lost Vader."
"You won't," Luke replied.
Yoda spoke up again. "Only a fully-trained Jedi Knight, with the Force as his ally, will conquer Vader and his Emperor. If you end your training now, If you chose the quick and easy path, as Vader did, you will become an agent of evil."
"And sacrifice Han and Leia?" Luke asked, indignant.
"If you honor what they fight for," said Yoda, "then yes."
"If you choose to face Vader, you will do it alone," added Obi-wan. "I cannot help you. I cannot interfere."
Luke did not face either of his teachers. As much as he hated to admit it, they had a point. What would Leia do now? It took him a long minute, while he thought everything over. He could feel Yoda and Obi-wan looking at him, waiting for his answer.
Luke climbed down from the ship, after placing his helmet back in the cockpit. "I understand. I...you're right, Ben. I should stay here...but I don't want to lose them."
"You mustn't be afraid of loss," Obi-wan said gently. "It is something that we all must deal with."
"Teach you, I shall, to control this fear," Yoda said, coming up to Luke. "Part of becoming a Jedi, that is."
Luke nodded. "Yes, Master Yoda."
But he couldn't help a look back at his ship as he and Yoda walked back into the jungle.
What if this isn't the right thing to do?
Han was thrown back into the cell in Cloud City for the third time, shaking and sweating heavily. Leia went quickly back over to him, worse for the wear herself.
"I don't get it," Han said, panting. "What do they want from us? It's not like we can just call up Luke and tell him 'hey, get the hell over here,' where do they get off keepin' us like this?"
"I don't know," she answered quietly. "But I know Luke will come. He has to."
"Yeh, how do you figure? He probably doesn't even care that we're stuck in this hellhole—"
"Don't talk like that, of course he cares."
Their argument was cut off as the door opened again. The tall, dark figure blocked the doorway, so that the only light that came through served only to accentuate his silhouette.
"Lord Vader, please, just give the kid more time, I'm sure he'll—" Lando Calrissian's pleas were instantly dismissed by Vader's tone.
"He is not coming. Not yet. But perhaps torture is not quite enough."
And before anyone could fully comprehend Vader's meaning, he had stretched out his hand and tapped into his power. Han felt his windpipes collapsing under an invisible strain. He began to choke, raising a weary hand to his throat in a vain attempt to stop the pain.
"Han!" Leia yelled, and ran to him, trying to understand what was wrong. She didn't leave his side until she was dragged away by a pair of Stormtroopers. But by then, it was already too late. Han crumpled to the ground, blue in the face.
"HAN!" Leia screamed. Chewbacca's angry shouts echoed around the cell, combining with hers. Vader barely seemed to notice.
"Put the princess and the Wookie in separate cells. And keep working on them. We may yet see young Skywalker, here."
Light-years away, young Skywalker was pulled out of his training mindset for the second time in as many days, this time by a sharp pain somewhere in his chest, and the sound of Leia's screams.
"HAN!" He yelled, falling to the ground where he had been running. Yoda fell off his back, missing a tree on the way. He gave Luke a very disgruntled look.
"Han...he's...he's dead...I felt it, Master Yoda," Luke said, panting from his exertion. He was shaking, staring off into the trees without focus in his eyes. "Han..."
Yoda closed his eyes. "Yes, sense it too, I do," he said dispassionately.
"No..." Luke dropped his head into his hands. "No, it can't be..."
"Stand up," ordered Yoda. The tiny Jedi had a way of commanding attention without any need to raise his voice. But Luke's attention was light-years away.
"I can't believe he's gone."
"Your training must be completed," Yoda said, still without any change of inflection.
"Don't you get it?" Luke yelled, standing abruptly, his hands balled into fists. He was quivering. "Han's dead!"
With a sagely nod, Yoda sighed. "Afraid, I was, that this would happen."
"What do you mean you were afraid?" Luke paced awkwardly, feeling a need to move, to feel like he was doing something. "It's my fault, I should have gone to help!"
"No." Yoda leaned heavily on his walking stick as he tried to stand in front of Luke, to stop his student's restless movement. "Nothing you could have done. Vader's fault, this is."
"But I could have stopped him, he only wanted me, I should have gone to—" he stopped abruptly, his blue eyes wide with pain. "No...No, no, this can't be, no! No, LEIA!"
Lando could barely bring himself to look at the body of the princess on the floor. She lay so still, and yet her pretty face was anything but peaceful. Suffocation is a terrible way to die, he thought, in the part of his mind that wasn't numb from the shock.
"I would have kept her here."
Darth Vader turned from the Stormtrooper he'd been talking to. Lando gulped, wishing once again that he could have some indication of what the Dark Lord of the Sith was thinking.
"The princess was a rebel," said the mechanical voice, in between its slow, labored breathing. "She had to be dealt with."
"But what about—"
"Skywalker will not be coming." Lando wondered how Vader could be so sure. "His priorities are not as I had thought them to be."
"I thought he'd be a good kid," Lando said, looking away. As much as he couldn't bear to look, her pained, still features kept drawing his gaze.
"It seems that my mission will be easier than I thought..." With a swish of his long cloak, Darth Vader walked out of the room, leaving Lando alone with Leia and his thoughts.
"No...Leia...Leia..." Where Luke had been able to stand before, he crumpled to the ground, with his head in his hands. "Leia...oh god, Leia!"
Yoda limped over to his student, leaning heavily on his staff.
"This is all my fault!" wailed Luke, throwing his head to the treetops. Tears were growing in his eyes, but refusing to fall. "I should have saved her! Oh god, Leia, forgive me..." His pleas were lost to even his own ears, choked by the sobs beginning to wrack his frame.
"Enough of this." Yoda's raspy voice was firm, authoritarian. "Lose sight of your training, you do."
"My training?" Luke's voice jumped an octave in his outrage. "My training? Han and Leia are both dead and all you can talk about is my training?"
Yoda closed his eyes, in the serene way that seemed to show he didn't care. "Training must come first. To be distracted by your loss, you must not allow yourself."
"You don't understand!" Like an angry teenager, Luke jumped to his feet. "Leia's—"
"How can you just be like that?" Luke started pacing, only a few steps in either direction before switching, his hands held rigidly in front of him, trying to gesture. "I can't just pretend nothing happened! You don't understand!" He finished, repeating the same juvenile line.
"You know not of what you speak," replied Yoda, still leaning heavily on his staff. "Died, my friends have. All. Obi-wan, you knew. Qui-gon, Mace, Ki-adi, you did not. Aayla, Kit, Yaddle, you knew not. All gone." Yoda lifted his eyes from where they had wandered to the head of his staff, and looked his pupil in the eye. "But mope, did I? Lose my temper, did I? No! Focused, I did. Learned from their deaths, I did."
"The only thing I can learn from...from losing Leia," said Luke, slowly and deliberately, trying to stem the flow of his tears, "is how quick I need to find Vader."
When Yoda said nothing in reply, Luke continued. "I...I still should have gone...I wish I had. God, I wish I had. But I didn't kill her. He did. I've got to find him."
"Careful, you must be," Yoda cautioned. "Incomplete, your training still is. Wait, and calm your mind. You will seek Vader when you are ready."
"No!" Luke's new-found calm disappeared in an instant. "I'm not going to wait anymore, don't you get it! I'm going now! Before he kills anyone else!" Luke spoke through his teeth, sucking in air like an enraged animal. "His men killed my family. He's killed my friends! And my father, I never even knew my father, and it's all because of him!"
"Thinking too shallowly, you are," Yoda tried to cut in. "Not only Vader's fault—"
"And I can stop him!" Luke continued, his voice rising in volume as he grew more and more heated. "He's looking for me, isn't he? So let him find me! I'm gonna make him pay for what he's done!"
"No! Not the way of the Jedi, this is!" Yoda exclaimed, though without yelling as much as Luke. "You must calm yourself. Anger, I sense in you. Hatred."
"Well you're right!" Luke's glassy, tear-filled eyes sparkled with fire. "I'm damn angry! And I hate Vader!"
"Stop this," Yoda commanded. But his student had become as unresponsive as his father had been, nearly a quarter of a century earlier.
"I should have gone before!" he yelled, stomping off toward the swamp, where his X-wing still sat waiting for him. "I should never have listened to you! You just be glad that I'm doing what you want, anyway!"
"I'll come back when I've got Vader's head!" He cried, climbing the ladder two rungs at a time. He breathed heavily for a few moments, appearing to calm down a bit. "I need to do this," he said, looking down at Yoda. "I've gotta stop him."
And without waiting for another word, the young pilot launched himself into the cockpit. R2-D2 barely had enough time to hop on board before Luke took off, leaving Degobah only a bright spot in space.
Left behind on the hot, squirming planet, Yoda sank onto a small boulder and sighed. The translucent blue form of Obi-wan Kenobi materialized next to him, for one of the first times since his youth without words.
"Failed him, I have," said Yoda quietly. "The Dark Side, I sense."
"Not necessarily," Obi-wan countered, trying to stay hopeful. "Perhaps it is easier for him, this way."
Yoda shook his head. "The easier path leads to Darkness. Only hope, I can, that he comes to his senses."
On the planet below, the two old friends sat for a long time in silence.
In the sky above, Luke finally let his tears fall.