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Qui-Gon Needs a Therapist

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Anakin woke up that morning with a pit in his stomach and fog in his brain.

The right side of his face was stuck to the cool metal of the holo-table, and his back was cramped from still being in the chair. He’d fallen asleep while analyzing intel- again. With a pained sigh and grimace, he pushed himself up so that he was seated in the chair properly, and tried to ignore the popping and cracking complaints from his back as he did so. He squeezed his eyes shut, then opened them again, getting to grips with his surroundings. It was maybe 04:00 standard Coruscant time; too early for the days’ work to begin, but too late to go to bed.

Typical.

He stood with some difficulty and stretched properly, before leaving the table to find the rare, elusive working caff machine. It was rumored to exist somewhere aboard The Resolute, but Force knew Anakin was yet to find it.

It took one, maybe two hours for the rest of the Resolute to wake and begin their daily routine. That was fine by him; he needed the time to prepare. Today, another Republic warship, The Miracle, would dock with The Resolute. The Miracle did not get out much- brand new and fresh from the testing grounds, it was shared by three generals, none of whom were front-line-fighters like Anakin.

The one coming in, however, bared Feemor ‘Iron-Gard’ Strahl, who the council had to quite literally order past the Mid-Rim borders. His hesitance might have been mistaken for cowardice, but Anakin knew he had better reason than most to not want to leave the relative safety of secure Republic space.

Qui-Gon Jinn’s miraculous and unprecedented return had stunned the council. The fact that he’d appeared as a Sith, enthusiastically killing Jedi- padawans, even- had left them shocked, speechless and horrified in equal measure. After his disappearance at the end of the battle of Naboo, no-one had expected to hear from him again. And definitely not like this.

Feemor was Qui-Gon Jinn’s first padawan. Anakin hadn’t known this before Qui-Gon’s return, mainly because Qui-Gon had cut the young knight out of his life with surgical precision after the fall of his second padawan; through no fault of Feemor’s own. Qui-Gon, it had come to light, had a special Interest in his old padawans, whom he counted Anakin among. Old informants had come forward to the Jedi, saying the man had wheedled every fact he could out of every old acquaintance of theirs he could find.     

There hadn’t been any attempted kidnappings or even attempts at communication, but sightings of Qui-Gon appeared unnaturally close to wherever Obi-Wan or Anakin were stationed. They were lucky that they moved around a lot.

At about 07:00, Ahsoka wondered up to him with a yawn and a grimace, but also a well-rested aura that left Anakin insanely jealous.

“Good morning, Snips. I hope those boots are extra shiny this morning, because we have an important master coming in today, and first impressions are everything!”

“You,” she said, unamused, “Are way to cheerful. And I shined them with Rex last night, thank you very much.”

Anakin glanced down, and true to her word, Ahsoka’s bright red, leather boots were clean enough to reflect Anakin’s face back at him. He also noted that she’d had a sonic shower, cleaned her robes and polished, tuned and charged her ‘sabers. For the first time that day- maybe that week- he gave a genuine smile.

Ahsoka suddenly grinned wickedly, and couldn’t resist making a remark back to her master.

“And you, Master mine? I think I see some drool stuck to the side of your face. And you know, the smoky eyeshadow is supposed to go on your eyelids, not under your eyes.”

She was right, of course. The last planetary touchdown was a week ago, and Anakin still hadn’t done more than scrape the bigger clots of mud off the bottom of his boots and finger-comb his hair back and out of his bleary eyes.

At the risk of humoring his loud-mouthed padawan, he sniffed at his armpit, and cringed accordingly.

“Well,” he declared, “Since you brought the problem to my attention, you can finish taking inventory of the blasters on board while I take a sonic shower.”

“You need a proper, water shower Master,” she dared a sniff herself, and winced; “Or three.”

He handed her the datapad and stylus with a dry look, before excusing himself to get ready. Upon studying the datapad, Ahsoka wasn’t so pleased to find that he’d forgotten to tick just about everything he’d checked thus far.

She sighed, and got to work.

A half-hour later, The Miracle dropped out of hyperspace, and prepared for docking. Anakin had cleaned himself to the best of his ability, and was surprised by how much better he felt. A good shave, some deodorant, clean robes and shined shoes had completely reformed his personality. 

Anakin had been curious about Feemor Strahl since he’d first heard of the man. A perfectly ordinary Jedi who happened to go through far more banthashit than any other one his age, save for maybe Kenobi and Skywalker themselves.

Obi-Wan had described him- 6’3, with long, golden hair that ended just past the shoulders and piercing blue eyes. However, he didn’t get quite what he’d expected. The man looked amazingly like Qui-Gon himself, not just in face structure or hair, but in bearing and speech as well. His hair had been chopped short, likely with a pair of scissors, and his eyes were paler and clearer than Qui-Gon’s were.

His skin was more tanned, and his body more built. He wore brown leather robes, and similar, thick brown armor; the kind that Aayla Secura and the Tiplar/Tiplee duo would wear in the field.  His beard was short-trimmed but still prominent, and he moved with a careful manner that Qui-Gon never had.

Anakin was even more surprised by the small girl at his side, only reaching maybe his ribcage. She was zyggerian, and wore simple padawan robes in shades of gold. Her big, brown eyes blinked up at Anakin with complete innocence, and he suddenly felt very guilty about the tug of disgust and fear he’d felt upon seeing her.

He had to remember; she was not her people.

“Master Skywalker,” he greeted respectfully, “A pleasure to make your acquaintance at last. And Padawan Tano; you’re keeping up on your studies, I hope?”

“Master Strahl!” Ahsoka greeted, a smile lighting up her face. “No worries. I’m staying on top of it as best as I can- well, science at least.”

she referred to the zyggerian girl, whose own smile nearly cracked her face in half. “Padawan Giova, I assume?”

“You all know each-other?” Anakin asked, perplexed. He assumed he’d be the common denominator between the guests and his own people; now he felt more like the outsider.

“Master Strahl teaches science to the initiates and padawans in the temple!” Ahsoka informed him, delighted, “I’ve been taking his classes for years.”

He smiled, and returned to the master in question.

With a soft smile, Feemor introduced the youngling by his side: “Master Skywalker, this is Giova Nani, my new padawan.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Master Skywalker!”

“Likewise, Padawan Nani.”

Once the introductions were completed, there was work that had to be done. Feemor had brought his entire battalion, so everyone aboard The Resolute had to double up.  No-one minded- the 113th smuggled fresh liquor aboard, so as far as the 501st cared, the ‘Angel’ Battalion could take over the whole ship. As for the jedi, there were important matters that had to be discussed.

“Snips,” Anakin said, “Why don’t you give Padawan Nani a tour of The Resolute?”

Ahsoka gave him a look, knowing exactly what he was doing, but Giova was too excited for her to say no. Once the padawans were out of earshot, Anakin allowed the smile to fall from his face.

“So,” he began unsteadily, “A padawan?”

Feemor sighed deeply. It hadn’t taken long for Anakin to start liking the man; from the way, his clone troopers spoke to him, he could tell that Feemor treated them well. He had been polite and respectful of both Anakin’s space and command, and Ahsoka clearly adored him.

But with Qui-Gon’s return, and his keen interest in Feemor as well as Obi-Wan and himself, he had to question the intelligence of taking on a padawan. Giova could be in grave danger and never even know.

“It wasn’t truly my choice,” Feemor started, “I was debating it for some time; no other master was keen to take her on, but she was far too bright and clever for the Agricorps. In the end, I decided it wasn’t worth the risk; only to discover the next day that she’d been assigned to me, courtesy of Master Yoda. He had already told her I’d chosen her, so…”

“I know that feeling,” Anakin said sympathetically, “It was the same with me and Ahsoka. I honestly didn’t know that was something the Jedi did.

“It wasn’t, before the war. But now masters have stopped taking padawans altogether due to the fighting and risks. So occasionally, the papers get ‘mixed up’ and suddenly, you have a padawan.”

“Who knew Master Yoda could be so devious.”

They shared a rueful smile, before returning to the matter at hand.

“Have there been any… sightings?” Feemor asked.

“None whatsoever; but that doesn’t really mean we’re safe. He was a Jedi Master after all,” Anakin answered.

Feemor stroked his beard, deep in thought, and Anakin wondered if that was something that both he and Obi-Wan had picked up from Qui-Gon.

“Do you have any idea why the Jedi ordered you out here?” Anakin asked. He hadn’t been debriefed on that yet; there hadn’t been time.

“A rescue mission, from what I hear,” he said, “ARC Troopers taken prisoner in the Scarif system, just two parsecs away.”

“The Scarif System? But that’s Republic Space! Who could’ve taken them?”

“From what I’ve gathered, Separatists; but you’re right. It doesn’t make much sense. Fortunately, such missions are my specialty.”

“Well, dropping you and your men off shouldn’t be a problem at all. We’ll stay in orbit around Scarif 1 in case you need reinforcements.”

“Thank you,” Feemor said sincerely, giving Anakin a smile. The man was like walking sunshine; Anakin had a lot of trouble wrapping his head around how a paradox like this man could exist at all. He was lighter and warmer in the Force than anyone Anakin had met over the age of fifteen, yet he also seemed so somber. It was clear that the war weighed on him, and that he was deeply concerned for his young padawan, whom he’d never really asked for or wanted assigned to him.

“Generals?” Captain Rex interrupted, “The briefing has been rescheduled to begin earlier than expected. Master Windu’s business on Florum didn’t last quite as long as he thought it would. If you’ll follow me?”

“No rest for the wicked, it seems,” Anakin remarked drily, and turned to catch Feemor giving him an odd look.

“…Is something wrong?”

“No, not at all,” he replied sheepishly, “I… can see a resemblance between you and Obi-Wan. That is all.”

Anakin had no idea what to make of that, but before he could question him, Feemor had begun walking.

Anakin commed Ahsoka, and told her to cut the tour short, before running to catch up.

 

 

Chapter Text

The ARC troopers all sat in the bomber-proof bunker that had been installed underneath the floor boards of the beach cabin. They were tied and cuffed securely, and even with their notable reputations, they would not be escaping any time soon.

The cavalry would appear, on the hunt for their missing troopers, just as expected. He had chosen them well- two 113th ARC Majors, along with a 212th ARC Colonel. He had bided his time, and been as patient as he could with the dark singing in his ears.

Take what’s yours, it whispered, why wait?

But no. These Jedi were both clever and hesitant. Their ideas of what the sith were had been clouded by the Council. They’d been brainwashed, tricked and lied to. The Council, he thought, were cowards. Too scared to reach their full potential. He would not leave his students in their hands a second longer than he had to.

When he’d finally broken free of Sidious’s dungeons and slipped back into the Galaxy at large, he was shocked at the state it was in.

I’m gone for five minutes, he thinks, and the Republic does this? How have they lasted so long?

His old students had immediately come to his mind. Feemor- dear Feemor, he didn’t deserve to be treated the way he’d been treated, Qui-Gon needed to find him, save him from the Jedi-, Obi-Wan, who had been through so much, so young. He was rebellious and temperamental at times, but then again, that made him just like Qui-Gon himself; so how could he complain?

And Anakin, little Ani, who had been so scared and hopeful and trusting. Qui-Gon had thought that the Jedi would have Ani’s best interests at heart, but no. He was terrified to think about what they’d made of him.

Feemor turned out okay, he discovered. Soft and sweet natured, but still formidable with a blade. He travelled, and researched, and staged the occasional impromptu slave rebellion. He never outright defied the Council, but he did just enough to get under their skin and not be punished.

Qui-Gon couldn’t be prouder.

Obi-Wan’s fate, though, had left him in frothing fits. A High Council member. The GAR’s high general. A perfect negotiator and diplomat. The Jedi had groomed him into the perfect master.

In his darker moments, Qui-Gon wondered if the Council had used his misdeeds to shame Obi-Wan into compliance. If they’d belittled him into the perfect puppet. Just thinking about it made Qui-Gon’s blood boil.

Anakin, however, grew up beautifully. He disobeyed the Council every which way, and clearly held Obi-Wan to a higher standard than anyone else. He was a dashing young knight with real potential. Strength, leadership, resourcefulness, resilience; Anakin had all these attributes in spades.

Now there was a student any teacher would be proud of.

Although he still didn’t like Obi-Wan’s position, he did enjoy the stories. The Dynamic Duo; The Hero with No Fear and The Negotiator, the poster boys of the Jedi Order. They could weather any storm, and they fought like they shared a single brain.     

He had imagined them a few times; All three of his boys, seated at his side; not on a throne overlooking the galaxy, no; he didn’t seek domination. It was too much work, too much planning and plotting; and frankly, too much responsibility.

All he wanted was his own little corner of the galaxy; a place that no-one would dare cross without his permission. Not even the Jedi.

He wanted a palace where he could comfortably live out the rest of his days- he was already seventy, even if he didn’t look it. There would have to be a library for Obi-Wan, one that answered nearly every question; there would have to be gardens and greenhouses for Feemor, for him to study and enjoy; and of course, training grounds and obstacle courses for Anakin.

Yes; they would love it.

He was sure.

Then, a bribed informant came forward, and gave him the last news he expected to hear.

Anakin had taken on a padawan.

That hadn’t fit into his worldview so well at first- was Anakin really that loyal to the Jedi? But word quickly came back to him, and the more he heard, the more pleased he was; Jedi weren’t really built for families, but legacies? Definitely. This little padawan just might fit into the picture after all.

‘It’s a girl,’ one tells him, ‘A feisty little Togruta, with a mouth too big for her body. The kid’ll talk herself into an early grave at the rate she’s going.’

‘Heard Kenobi and Skywalker took her on together,’ Another says, ‘I didn’t know Jedi could do that, but whatever suits ‘em. Also, she ain’t ever without one of ‘em there.’

‘I ‘eard she was on Mandaore a bit ago, and ‘accidently’ overthrew a corrupt government. Inspired rebellion in the cadets, news said. Bloody ‘ell; ‘ow does a kid manage that?’ 

And like that, the stories keep coming; this little padawan made quite a stir in the holonet. The reactions ranged from, ‘a kid? How cute!’ to, ‘Are they out of their minds?’

The general consensus seemed to be, however, that the little lightsaber-wielding youngling was a perfect mix of Skywalker-brand recklessness and Kenobi-like sass.

Slowly, the palace in his mind grew to add facilities for an excitable teenage togruta.

Now, he was so close to his goal. Feemor would come for his men, and Anakin wouldn’t be able to stay out of the fight; and where Anakin went, Obi-Wan followed. And perhaps the padawan would be there to?

One could only hope.

 

Chapter Text

The rescue mission went bad exactly 2.05 seconds before it even started. That had to be new record.

Ahsoka was comfortably tucked inside her Y-Wing, prepped and ready to go, when the bomber-doors were shot out. The protective ray shields blinked out of existence, and anyone not tucked away in a ship or behind a secondary shield was immediately sucked into the cold, unforgiving vacuum of space.

What a lovely way to start out a mission.

From there, everything dissolved into a free-for-all. The docking-bay exploded, and she was ordered into an escape pod with the other men.

She hadn’t caught sight of Giova, so she… well, she didn’t disobey orders, necessarily. Just belayed them. She wanted to ensure that the younger padawan was alright and on her way out before she left herself.

Rex, of course, followed her. It’s what Anakin would’ve told him to do anyway.

She wondered where Giova would be. As a junior padawan on the front lines for the first time, Giova would’ve either been attending to her studies and chores, or right by Feemor’s side. She resolved to check Giova’s room, and if she wasn’t there and there were no signs of a struggle, she’d assume that she was with Feemor, and leave.

She didn’t want to get Rex wrapped up in it; but ordering him back to the escape pods was about as effective as prying a mynock off a starship with your bare hands. And the more time they wasted, the more danger they were in.

Giova’s room was a long way down The Resolute, but Ahsoka and Rex were both quick-footed and fit. They made it there with what they thought was time to spare.

Empty. No signs of a struggle. Nothing more in the room than a bunk, a small bag of equipment, and a robe.

She thought for only a moment before reaching out and grabbing the bag- it was jedi issue. Giova would miss it.

Then the stabilizer crashed, and The Resolute blanched to the side. Ahsoka and Rex fell away from the door, crashing into the wall. A loud, horrible SCREEE echoed through the halls, and for a moment, Ahsoka was certain she’d killed them both.

The echo of tearing metal continued, growing louder and louder. Ahsoka decided, then and there, that she’d do whatever it took to keep them alive. She’d dragged Rex into this- she’d get him out, no matter the cost.

They stumbled back towards the escape pods, but even if there was one left, they’d never make it in time.

The Force screamed a warning, and the ship rocked even further on its axis. They crashed in the wall again- which was now just about the floor- and she heard Rex yell in pain.

She glanced back, and saw that he’d crushed his left wrist under his body.

She needed a plan. A desperate, reckless, insane idea. She looked around, and saw a leftover y-wing. She reached out with the Force, and pulled. It came careening towards them faster than expected, and only by drawing off of her desperation was she able to stop it from crushing them.

The small ship stopped a foot away from them, and Ahsoka grabbed Rex’s good arm to yank him inside. Rex got the idea, and crawled inside the tiny cockpit. He didn’t know what the plan was, but he trusted her.

Ahsoka clambered in after him, landing in his lap, and closed the hatch. When it was locked to her liking, she powered up the display, and he quickly understood what she was trying to do.

“Will this thing hold together?” He asked.

“It will when I’m done with it,” Was her response.

She magnetized the ship’s legs, and so long as there was a floor beneath the ship, it would stay stuck to it. Then came the difficult part of her plan.

She turned and looked out of the transparristeel hatch, and saw three other y-wings within her line of sight. One by one, she reached out with the Force and dragged them closer.

One y-wing landed on top of the ship, leaving it protected from falling shrapnel. The second was pulled right in front of them, to keep away other dangers. The third and final y-wing was tucked into the side of their ship that wasn’t facing a wall, for insurance purposes.

With a swipe of the Force, all three were magnetized.

With the on-the-fly protection she’d put in place, it would be a miracle if they lived. But what was done, was done. There was no changing anything now.

For a moment, she remembered that the hanger doors had been blown out; how could she breathe, again? She noted that this was the hanger on the far side of the one she’d been on previously. That explained that.

As The Resolute began to tumble towards Scarif 1’s Atmosphere, the metal began to heat up- this was easily fixed. Their y-wing was equipped with temperature control, so all they could do was keep an eye on the scanner and pray.

Falling to their deaths was actually less eventful than expected. Ahsoka had enough time to grow uncomfortable sitting on Rex’s lap before a loud BOOM! Shook the entire ship.

Ahsoka was flung forward into the transparristeel hatch, and blacked out completely.

Chapter Text

Things were not going the way Qui-Gon had planned, and that was unacceptable. He would have to find someone to punish for this.

The Separatists were more determined to kill everyone on board The Resolute than he’d initially thought. He watched from one of the white, sandy beaches that Scarif 1 was famous for as the star destroyer came careening into the atmosphere, now no more useful than the cracked seashells beneath the Sith’s feet.

If one of his padawans or grandpadawan was aboard that vessel, he’d do the Republic a favour and kill Dooku himself.

But for now, it was time to step into his bunker with the ARC troopers. The explosion from that thing’s crash would forever alter the planet’s geography, and Qui-Gon did not want to be in the vicinity when it did.

...

Rex awoke to sparks and pain.

His head was leaning against the side of the cockpit, near some exposed wires. The display screen flickered eerily in the dark of the crushed y-wing. Everything sparked dangerously, and cracks had made their way through the durasteel interior. Alarms blared loudly, making his oncoming headache worse.

Blinking the bleariness out of his eyes, he checked for the weight on his lap.

Commander Tano was alive- barely. Her breathing was short, slow and wet. Her body twitched slightly in his grip, and her eyes were half open, staring into nothing.

Rex needed to get her out of the y-wing. From all the damage it might have sustained, it could blow up at any time. But how to get out?

The other fighters that Ahsoka had altered were still attached to the one they were in; but they were giant hunks of trampled, wrecked metal. Now instead of protecting them, they were keeping them from safety.

Rex needed a plan. He needed to get them out first of all, but how-

A light went off in his brain. Of course- he had the galaxy’s most efficient cutting tools right in front of him. How hadn’t he thought of that sooner?

He moved slightly, and pain shot up his left arm. Rex grimaced, and bit his lip. That would not make this any easier.

He used the red lights from the display to find Ahsoka’s belt, and removed one of her sabers- the shorter one, he thought.

He tried to find the top- the part the blade came out of. He didn’t want to accidently stab the commander; for some reason, he didn’t think General Skywalker would appreciate that. Personally, he thought that Commander Tano would appreciate it even less.

Once he had it pointed the right way, he tried to find the switch. He fiddled for a moment, but nothing happened. Crap. He hoped it hadn’t been damaged in the fall. That would leave him back at square-

VROOM!

The lightsaber lit in his hand, shaving at least a year off of his already short lifespan with fright. He made an aborted movement to grab it with both hands for security, but that just sent more pain careening up his left arm.

He didn’t know how he held on to the thing. It buzzed and shook as if it were alive, and knew its holder was the wrong person.

The amount of power contained in the small hilt took him completely off guard. To think of the training and endurance jedi must need to wield this thing- damn.

Once he blinked the searing yellow-green light out of his eyes, he began to cut through the interior. The generals always made such short work of it, but Rex found it difficult to even hold the thing still, let alone use it.

Finally, he broke through the fighters, and managed to open a hole. He didn’t have the Force, so it was down to good old fashioned pushing.

Once he’d figured out how to turn the thing off, he gently lifted the commander (with much difficulty and swearing) and dragged them both out of harm’s way. He trekked across broken metal and twisted, destroyed pieces of ship, before stepping on something that felt far softer than durasteel.

He took a moment to pray that it wasn’t someone’s insides, before glancing down and finding…

Sand.

At least, that’s what he thought it was. General Skywalker had described it to him- ‘rough, course, gets absolutely everywhere, and when you mix it with enough wind, it can skin a man faster than an angry mama bantha.’- but Rex failed to see the threat. It was soft, and a pure, clean white; like the snow on Orto Plutonia. But that had been achingly cold. This was more pleasant.

Deciding that it was as good a place as any, Rex carefully set Ahsoka down on the sand. She’d kept bleeding steadily as he’d walked. He’d tried not to jostle her, he really did, but they couldn’t stay in one place.

Slowly, softly, as gently as possible, he checked her over for damages- one shattered kneecap, a cracked collarbone and deep shrapnel wound (all on the left side).

Her head was bleeding worryingly. She must have hit it on the hatch when The Resolute went down. That added ‘a concussion’ to the list of things he had to worry about.

But Rex made a mistake.

He’d cleared the area, he had, but he’d also had more important matters to attend to.

He should have double checked.

...

Qui-Gon’s day was looking up.

He had resolved himself to doing a sweep of the carnage when night fell, and most of the damage was done. He only wanted to be sure that none of his padawans were caught in the crash.

Although Obi-Wan and Feemor had sealed off their ends of the connection they once shared, Qui-Gon would be able to sense if they lived.

He was nearly done. He’d resolved to check no farther than what had once been the docking bay, then head back to his bunker and revise the plan.

He slipped, rather ungracefully, on something beneath his boot. Looking down in annoyance, he noticed a runny, dark liquid had splashed down there.

Curious, he moved to the side to allow the moonlight to strike the puddle, and it glinted with a faint navy blue color.

He knelt, ran his fingers through the strange liquid, and brought it closer to his face.

Blood. It was someone’s blood.

Not a clone’s, and not one of his padawans’. So, whose could it be?

Something caught the corner of his eye. Another puddle, only a foot away. And another beyond that. Whoever was bleeding had left a trail; one that Qui-Gon intended to follow.

He didn’t have to go far. The first break in the metal he found, where tufts of clean, white sand peaked through, he noticed a figure bent over something.

A sweep with the Force confirmed it was a clone; but the Force sang an angelic lullaby in the direction of whatever the clone was hunched over. He moved with renewed speed, and immediately recognized the body sprawled in the sand.

Ahsoka Tano; the togruta girl.

She was injured badly. He realized now that the blood trail he’d been following belonged to her.

She needed medical attention. Quickly.

The clone seemed to realize he had company. A twitch of his fingers towards his blasters was all Qui-Gon needed as a warning.

With a wave of his hand, the trooper flew to the side, crashing into what had once been a dividing wall, but now resembled some kind of abstract artwork. It would not be enough to keep him down, though- he was an ARC- so Qui-Gon heaved the man up with the Force, and wrapped it tight around his neck.

The clone was lifted a foot off the ground, and immediately went for his throat. Realizing that was pointless, he went for a blaster. Qui-Gon sighed.

He’d end this quickly. Snap the trooper’s neck, and get the girl help.

His attention had rested solely on the ARC trooper- that was his excuse, at least, for not immediately noting the danger he was in. The emitter of a very familiar weapon was suddenly placed to his side.

“Drop him.”

The girl’s voice was weak and wet, but steady. She’d only managed to sit up and lean forward, but it was enough- her saber was only an inch or so above his hips. And only a blink in the Force made him realize that she was completely prepared to make walking very difficult for him.

Qui-Gon allowed the clone to fall to the ground. He immediately began hacking his lungs out, trying to force desperately-needed oxygen into his body.

Qui-Gon turned his eyes- and the full force of his most disappointed and angry glare- in her direction. Her eyes met his steadily.

Their little contest only lasted a moment- suddenly, her eyes glazed over, and she toppled to the side. She was too weak to keep upright any longer.

It hadn’t struck him in the holovids- they were too impersonal- but she was so small. Smaller than a sixteen-year-old girl had any right to be. Her body was heavy, though, with dense bones and muscle; but fortunately, she couldn’t offer any resistance as he lifted her off the ground.

He turned his attention back towards the clone trooper, who’d now managed to stand. His eyes fixed on Qui-Gon’s for a moment, before drifting to Ahsoka. It was Qui-Gon who broke the silence:

“Walk.”

It was not a question, so the clone, like all clones, didn’t question it. He started walking in the direction Qui-Gon gestured. He wouldn’t take any risks with the Commander in her current position- and if the strange man had wanted them dead, he would have killed them when he found them.

Qui-Gon’s mind, however, was buzzing with thoughts, plans and half-fleshed-out ideas. This could be his chance- his chance to win his boys over, to turn that fantasy of his into a reality.

It’s about time, the darkness trilled in his head.

Little Ahsoka Tano seemed to care greatly for the clone trooper, though he couldn’t understand why. They were cannon-fodder at best; becoming attached to them, any of them, only invited further pain.

But he would humor her, for now. If she wished it- and she clearly did- he’d keep the clone alive. That may help him climb into her good books.

Things were finally starting to fall into place.

 

Chapter Text

Ahsoka didn’t want to wake up.

Her body was numb to just about everything, which she knew had to be from painkillers. She was wrapped in a thick blanket of nothingness, and compared to the pain she recalled from earlier, it was a blessing.

Still, she’d have to wake sometime. Whatever was waiting for her on the other side would need to be dealt with sooner rather than later, and maybe then she could go back to sleep.

The Force whispered to her, warning her of danger, but she was too tired to acknowledge it. She just wanted rest.

“Commander?”

A familiar voice broke through the haze of her dream- Rex.

To a human, all clones sounded the same; but togruta heard things differently. Instead of hearing his voice, the tenure or individual sound, she heard the texture, the vibrations, the exact pronunciation. She could pick Rex out of a battalion by voice alone if she truly had to.

She blinked her eyes open with some difficulty, and locked eyes with a durasteel ceiling. She blinked blearily, then turned to her right, where she’d heard Rex’s voice.

She was happy to see he looked okay- a bit bruised and damaged, but alive and fit. Concern creased his eyebrows, and he was frowning as if he was faced with a particularly delicate problem that he didn’t know how to solve.

Still, she smiled.

“Rex. We were rescued?”

It was a stupid question. Of course they’d been rescued. If they hadn’t been, they’d be lying dead on a beach somewhere. She blamed it on the painkillers.

Rex, however, pursed his lips and glanced over her before flicking his eyes back down again. Submissive? She thought, just awake enough to be surprised, Rex doesn’t do submissive.

“In a fashion,” he finally answered.

The voice in the back of her head grew more anxious. Turn around, it whispered, wake up. Run and hide.

Rolling her head to the left took more effort than she would’ve liked to admit, but it was worth it.

Her heart stopped beating in her chest. Her breath halted. She questioned for a moment whether she was hallucinating vividly.

Before her stood a tall, imposing figure, staring down at her with the bright yellow eyes of the sith.

...

 

“No,” Anakin said. It was all he’d been saying for the past half-hour, quietly to himself where few could hear.

“No, no, no.”

The reports from the escape pods came in promptly. They’d all made it down to the planet’s surface with only minor difficulty. Most floated uselessly in the ocean, but some had found land.

All in all, five hundred-and-two men had survived.

And Ahsoka wasn’t one of them.

That was what the traitorous voice in the back of his brain kept telling him, at least. There’s no way she could’ve survived that crash. Congratulations- you just got your first padawan killed.

He shook those thought’s out of his head. No, she was alive. He would’ve felt it in the Force if she’d died. He would’ve.

The morning after the crash, search parties were sent out by the dozen. The 113th had spared every single hand it could. They found the bodies of clones- shredded, ripped-up, frozen from space and burnt by the atmosphere- but no Ahsoka.

To add the cherry to the top of the shit-cake, Rex was missing as well. That only made his panic worse.

“Anakin?” his former master’s voice came through over the comm.

“Anakin, are you there?”

“I’m here,” he answered, “Have the men found anything?”

“Nothing,” Obi-Wan confessed.

Anakin felt himself start to slip back into the downward spiral he’d just shaken himself out of. This couldn’t be happening.

She couldn’t be dead.

He closed his eyes, unable to keep staring at the holoscreen in front of him. Numbers, statistics, probabilities- here, they didn’t help him one bit.

He had to trust his feelings- and they told him that Ahsoka lived. Everything else was semantics.

He spent the next hour-and-a-half combing through reports, sightings, camera footage and droid memory relays. He searched and searched; to no avail.

He couldn’t find a single image of her anywhere.

At some point in time, Feemor entered the tent they’d set up on one of the beaches, bringing with him sympathy and caf. The sympathy Anakin could’ve cared less for, but the caf was accepted gratefully.  

“Anything?”

“Nothing. Not a whisper.”

Silence passed between them for another half-hour or so. At some point, Obi-Wan and Cody joined them. The final eye-witness accounts came in, and by the time the sun began to drift towards the horizon and paint the clouds a bright, golden-orange, there was nothing more anyone else could do.

Anakin was a moment away from marching out of the tent and combing through every piece of scrap-metal he could get his hands on, when Feemor called them over.

“We have transmission incoming,” He informed them, “Private comm. number. No ID. As far as I know, that shouldn’t be able to happen.”

Confused, Anakin looked to Obi-Wan for guidance- a habit from his padawan days he’d never quite broken.

“Cody?” Obi-Wan asked, “Is the room secure?”

“It’s a tent, Sir,” he answered, dryer than dry, “But it’s as secure as we can make it.”

Anakin would have normally been amused, but he was not in the mood.

“It’ll have to do,” he decided.

Feemor tapped the ‘accept’ button on the screen, and the holoprojector in the middle of the ‘room’ lit up.

Feemor stumbled back fast enough to startle Cody. Obi-Wan froze for a moment, going into what might have been shock, before his legs grew unsteady and he sat on one of the supply crates scattered around their workspace.

Anakin was thrown for a moment, but then a deep, hungry rage filled his chest, blotting out any other thought.

From the other side of the holoprojector, Qui-Gon Jinn smiled calmly, as if this were nothing more than a friendly, weekly routine.

For almost a full minute- despite the speeches and accusations both side had planned- there was nothing but silence. Qui-Gon raked his eyes over each of them in turn- taking in Anakin’s disheveled hair, Feemor’s lean, rough figure and Obi-Wan’s neat, prim robes.

His eyes skipped over Cody long enough to notice the scar and rank; but he’d never much cared for clones.

“What,” Anakin began, squeezing the words out through the shaking fury that wracked his body, “Do you want?”

It was as good a question as any to start with, and Qui-Gon seemed to give it a sincere moment of thought.

“I wanted to see you,” he admitted, “All of you. I’ve followed your careers with some interest, but it’s… not the same.”

Anakin’s fingers twitched toward the ‘Terminate Call’ button, but Feemor’s hand caught it before he could. He met Qui-Gon’s gaze through the call.

“Feemor-”

“Qui-Gon,” he interrupted, “You’ve aged poorly.”

It was tremendously petty and bitter, and not at all Jedi-like; but it gave Feemor some joy to say it.

To his surprise and indignation, Qui-Gon smiled, revealing the crow’s feet he now possessed.

“I suppose I had that coming, didn’t I? In any case, Feemor… It’s good to see you alive and well.”

His old master’s sincerity took Feemor by surprise. It wasn’t the answer he’d been expecting; and it certainly wasn’t the one he’d wanted. He wanted proof that Qui-Gon was evil; proof that Feemor could shamelessly burn his past with the man. He wanted… to be honest, an excuse.

It was Obi-Wan who spoke next:

“You know, I might have honestly believed you at some point. But experience tells me you have an ulterior motive for contacting us. Why have you called us now, when you’ve been back for months?”

Qui-Gon smiled again- that soft, caring smile he’d worn whenever one of his padawans had made him proud. Obi-Wan had always looked back on those memories with grief-tinted happiness, but now he felt his old temper burn hot at the sight of it.

“I’ve recently paid a visit to the Scarif System,” he conceded, “And- forgive me if I’m wrong- you seem to have misplaced something…”

Qui-Gon brought his right hand out of his robes. Lying lose over his calloused fingers was a long string of rust-colored braided beads, and clipped off in a red and yellow pair of charms.

It was a set of padawan beads.

Ahsoka’s padawan beads.

“…Something of great importance.”

Anakin couldn’t quite process what he was looking at in the beginning- then his stomach plunged to his feet. He didn’t know whether to throw up, scream, threaten or sob. His body made a convoluted attempt at all four, but he liked to think he held it together.

“You slime-eating, cock-sucki-” Obi-Wan barely managed to clamp his hand over Anakin’s mouth before he continued making the situation worse than it already was.

Anakin sent a hard glare at Obi-Wan, but upon seeing his old master’s scared expression, he forced himself to get a grip. It was Ahsoka’s life on the line if Anakin screwed up- not his. He had to be more careful.

“What is your point, exactly?” Obi-Wan asked, removing his hand and turning to the holo.

Qui-Gon’s eyes were still on Anakin, gleaming with surprise and amusement.

“My, my. Such language. I really hope you didn’t pick that up from Obi-Wan. And to answer your question, my old padawan, I merely wanted you to know that she is alive and safe with me. Just to clear up any confusion, I’m not threatening her or asking for ransom. I would never harm a member of my lineage. Though I am looking forward to getting to know her.”

With that, he ended his end of the holocall, leaving the tent in complete silence.

Safe with me. The words rang in Anakin’s head. ‘Safe’ and ‘with a Sith’ were terms that never belonged in the same sentence. His heart was beating too fast. His fists were shaking. He wasn’t breathing correctly.

Obi-Wan wasn’t doing much better.

Feemor… Feemor was as still as a statue. He wasn’t so much as twitching. Fear rolled off him in waves, so strong that Anakin was surprised he could stay standing.

“Sirs?” Cody asked, concerned.

They all jumped. Honestly, they’d forgotten his existence for a time. This jostled them out of their shock.

“Giova,” Feemor muttered, meeting Obi-Wan’s eyes. A single nod from Obi-Wan and Feemor shot out the door like a rocket, seeking his young padawan. He needed to assure himself of her safety.

Anakin… Anakin needed to sit down. Or break something. Or fly into a steaming rage. He wanted to do all three.   

“Cody,” Obi-Wan said, quieter and more subdued than he’d sounded in decades; he seemed like he’d aged twenty years in two minutes.

“It is time for a very important debriefing that we should’ve had a long time ago. I need you to make immediate contact with the High Jedi Council. Label the transmission as ‘Code four-zero-two.’”

Cody looked as if he wanted to say more; but one look at his General’s face told him all he needed to know. He had never- ever- seen fear on Obi-Wan’s face before; but today, he saw it.

“Sir, yes Sir!” he snapped a salute, then excused himself from the tent.

Obi-Wan turned slowly to Anakin. The younger jedi looked… lost. That was the only word he could use to describe his former padawan’s face. He was quaking with rage, hopelessness and fear; his horror alone was nearly choking Obi-Wan.

“Anakin,” he spoke the name slowly and clearly, but his friend didn’t respond.

“Anakin,” he said loudly. His concern must’ve shown through, because this time, there was a response.

When Anakin met Obi-Wan’s eyes, he wasn’t a war general, or a decorated jedi knight. He hadn’t looked that helpless since he was a nine-year-old slave boy from Tattooine who’d just been told his savior and friend, his only hope to escape the life of a slave, had been killed.

He was absolutely terrified.

Obi-Wan had no words. He could understand Anakin’s fear easily enough; trying to imagine a sixteen-year-old Anakin, probably severely injured, in Dooku’s hands was more stress than he thought his body could handle.

He pulled Anakin in close, and wrapped his arms around the man’s shoulders. Not very jedi-like, but when Anakin gripped him back hard and let the fear pour out of him and into the air around them, he could sense he’d made the right move.

 

Chapter Text

In her short career as a jedi padawan, Ahsoka Tano had been in many tight spots. 

She’d been infected with a lethal, extinct disease on Naboo; she’d been squished under five-hundred tons of rubble, doomed to suffocate, on Geonosis; she’d been held hostage while her master gave up critical information in return for her life by a bounty hunter named Cad Bane; and she’d accidently inspired a group of cadets into committing high treason while on an educational mission to Mandalor.

But coming face to face with the sith- knowing that her masters likely thought she was dead and Rex was sitting right there with her, in the line of fire-

She never thought she could be this scared.

The ship ride to wherever the sith was taking them was shorter than expected. She dozed in and out of a painkiller-induced coma. Every time she awoke, no matter how much time may have passed, Rex was sitting right by her side. She would never be able to word her gratefulness for that.

When she finally, properly woke up, she was lying in an elegant, beautiful bedroom, on top of a king-sized bed big enough to hold a litter of baby gundarks. The room itself was far larger than any room she’d had the pleasure of staying in before. It was decorated in whites, browns, and rust colors.

Her bed was soft and plush and warm, and her painkillers had started to ease away. She wanted nothing more than to tuck herself back under the thick duvet and sleep.

But no; she needed to find out where she was, and how to get out of this situation. Her master would never forgive her for not at least trying to escape.

She slowly pushed herself into a sitting position, and analyzed the room.

Next to her bed on either side were a pair of dark wooden bedside tables. On the one closest to her- the right one- a tall glass of fresh water stood waiting for her.

In the wall to the right of her bed was the main door- large and ornate with a delicate trimming. Before her was a long wall made up entirely of glass planes that showed a breath-taking view of a frozen sea, dotted off here and there with the occasional volcanic spring. On the left and right side of the glass wall, a heavy set of curtains were tied back to allow for the full image of the outside to be seen.

In the wall to her left, two more doors stood. One was open, and led through to an equally gorgeous bathroom decorated in peaches and creams, but the second was closed. Around the room at roughly waist-height, the white-painted walls were cut off with a horizontal bronze trimming, leaving the lower portion of wall a soft mahogany.

The floor was carpeted with a soft, pale fur, and next to her bed in the right corner of the room stood a large wooden desk. On it sat a rust-red robe and a pair of matching slippers.

The walls themselves held antiques- though they looked to be in perfect condition. Traditional togruta hunting weapons, namely spears, and the occasional milakki-silk tapestry depicting togruta fairytales.

In the middle of the room, there was a circular dip in the floor. Several large, plush pillows sat on a short but comfy-looking couch situated all the way around a low burning fire that kept the room toasty.

She was… puzzled. And a little creeped out. A clear amount of care and attention to detail went into the room; if she were some kind of Shilian princess, this was where she would have slept.

The thought unnerved her deeply.

Standing took a lot more effort than she thought it would. Her joints felt frozen and stiff, and they cracked with every other movement. Every twitch sent spasms of pain through her muscles. She must’ve made quite the sight- she was probably a patch work of raw skin, harsh scrapes and deep, discolored bruises.

The carpet, at least, was the softest thing she’d ever stood on. And the loose medical robe she wore was made of some kind of soft, velvety fabric. So even if nothing else was going right, at least she was comfortable.

She tried to stretch out a bit once she was on her feet- Force knew her escape attempt was going to come with a fight- but her body just complained too much. She settled for making sure she walked the length of the room at least once before going back to bed.

She plucked up the robe and placed it around her shoulders- it was exactly in her size. The sandal-like slippers fit perfectly as well, and both were soft enough to make her feel like she could sleep standing up.

She took a long, studious look around the room, doing her best to search for anything out of place. Her master had shown her what to do when she woke up in an unfamiliar location; first off, check to see if you’re alone.

She genuinely thought she was. She reached into the Force, trying to sense an anomaly, and found nothing. That made her frown. Even if there was nothing alive around her, she shouldn’t have come back with just… nothing.

She was startled out of her thoughts by a movement from the couch. With the dip in the floor, she couldn’t see what- or who- lay on the couch closest to her. She reached for her lightsabers, only to grasp air. Obviously, she didn’t have them. What kind of kidnapper leaves his captives their weapons?

She reached for one of the antiques on the wall- and axe with a blade carved from stone and a colorful, sturdy hilt. It was lined with poisonous borri scales, and was normally only carried by the Chief’s personal bodyguard.

She heaved it up behind her- it must’ve been quite the sight given that the axe-blade was the same size as her head- and crept towards the couch with soft steps.

She peeked carefully, slowly over the top of the couch, and saw…

Rex?

Oh, thank the Force.

She dropped the axe and- with as much speed as her broken body would allow- climbed onto the couch and deposited herself next to it. Rex, to his credit, woke almost immediately.

“Commander?!” he sounded surprised.

He sat up and turned to look her over, checking for any damage. He hissed when he looked at her face, though Ahsoka couldn’t guess why. She sat down on the couch next to him heavier than she intended, and let out the breath she’d been holding since she got out of bed. Her situation hadn’t really changed, but now she had Rex; and that made everything a bit better.

“How are you feeling?” He inquired, hoping for the best but fearing the worst.

“I’ve… been better,” she admitted, “What about you? What have I missed? And where are we?”

“Well,” he started, “I’m fine, more or less. I got bumped around a lot less than you did, and so far, our host hasn’t tried anything.”

The mention of their captor brought the last few things she remembered back to her mind. Of course. The sith.

He’d found them, and brought them to…well, wherever they were now.

After a moment, she huffed a small laugh. She couldn’t help it.

“You know,” she said to Rex, “At the beginning of our last deployment, my master asked me to not get into any trouble this time.”

Rex smiled; he could see the irony.

“It’s alright, Commander. They’ll be looking for us. We won’t be stuck in this situation for long.”

“I’m afraid they might not have the time,” she said, letting a mischievous smile slip onto her face.

“C’mon. We’ve got work to do.”

Work, it turns out, was de-bugging the rooms. The closed door off the left from her bed turned out to be a walk-in closet with absolutely nothing in it.

It had a small listening device stuck under the rack for headdresses; what the sith intended to hear was beyond her. There were two in the bathroom, but talking with the showerhead on countered that problem.

She was also surprisingly eager to try the shower at some point. They had water showers in the temple, sure, but this one was fancy. The kind of showers senators had access to.

The bedroom had a total of five; one under the bed, one in the fireplace, two disguised by the antique weapons, and a final one tucked under the collar of Rex’s blacks.

“Hey,” she asked, embarrassed that it had taken her so long to notice, “Where’s your armor?”

“My room,” he answered, “Just next door. I’m allowed to be in here or in there. Nowhere else.”

“Huh,” she said, “What about food?”

“This one droid- a medical droid, I think- comes by every evening to check on you. It gives me a ration bar to keep me going when it does.”

She quietly digested that for a moment as she methodically run the bugs they’d found over her fingers. Then, something he’d said hit her.

“Wait. ‘Every evening’? How long have I been down for?”

“About… two days, I think. It’s hard to tell. This planet’s rotation is a bit strange, and I haven’t had much luck figuring out the difference.”

Two days. She’d been out of it for two days. That gave their captor yet another advantage- the advantage of time. He had had a lot of time to prepare for anything she might try; that would make this harder.

Harder; but not impossible.

“Do you think, now that I’m awake,” she asked, “We’ll be honored with his presence?”

“I haven’t even seen him once this far- not since he picked us up- but if anything’ll get some answers, I think you will.”

She smiled. For a moment, she wondered where she’d be if she didn’t have Rex by her side. Scared shitless most likely.

A chime sounded by the main door.

Ahsoka grabbed her axe, slinging it over her shoulder. Rex stood, fists clenched, and placed himself right behind her- not in her way, but close enough to be decent back-up. She thought for a moment, then handed him the axe. Her hand-to-hand was better than his.

A moment later, the door disappeared into the top of the doorframe, and a sleek droid entered. Rex was right; it was a medical droid. But a far better one than Ahsoka had ever seen. It had hover capabilities, a curved, polished shape and the most advanced optical sensors she’d ever seen. It was pure white, with a pale blue ‘medic’ cross printed onto each ‘arm’.

It paused in the doorway, and analyzed Rex and Ahsoka, before immediately closing the door again. Annoyed that she hadn’t even had the time to try and make a run for it, Ahsoka sat back down on the couch with a huff.

“What now?” she asked.

“Now,” Rex answered, “I suppose we wait.”

 ...

The council debriefing was going splendidly. Swear words were minimal, only two people fainted, and Mace Windu was drinking straight out of a little flask he’d kept hidden in his robes.

Well, no, not really. But it was a close thing.

“This is the last thing we need,” Ki-Adi Mundi complained, “How did this happen? When, where?”

Anakin explained everything with as neutral an expression as he could muster; but he still snarled when he got to Qui-Gon’s call. The entire council seemed to age ten years over the course of Anakin’s story, though they seemed to be taking it far better than any of Qui-Gon’s former padawans were.

Feemor was absent from the meeting; he was with Giova, where he’d been since the message from his old Master came through. Anakin couldn’t blame him; if their positions had been reversed, he would have done the same.

When Anakin finished his story, he waited patiently for orders. The council seemed to think carefully over what to do. Personally, Anakin wished they would hurry up. Every moment Ahsoka was in Qui-Gon’s hands was another moment where her life was in danger.

And there was still Rex, who was yet to turn up.

Anakin was very impressed with himself for not pulling his hair out of his head strand by strand at this point.

“Masters,” He asked after what seemed like an appropriate amount of time, “May I have permission to go after my padawan myself?”

“Absolutely not!” Mace Windu answered far too quickly for Anakin’s liking, “You have a personal connection to this mission. We will assign whatever jedi masters we can spare; but a battle with a sith- especially one who has a padawan hostage- should be reserved for the best of us.”

“In that case, may I volunteer?”

No-one had heard Obi-Wan enter, but here he was; posture perfect and face impassive.

To his credit, Mace hesitated before dismissing a fellow council member.

“I’m sorry Master Kenobi, but I’m not sure sending you after your former master would be the wisest course of action.”

You would not be able to discern any emotion from Obi-Wan at this response, but Anakin knew him a bit better- there was a flash of something rare in his eyes, something that harked back to his own days as a padawan.

Something almost angry.

“That is a pity,” he said evenly, “Because I’m not entirely certain sending anyone else would work. Qui-Gon did this to get our attention. I doubt he will allow himself to be found by anyone but myself, Anakin and Feemor.”

The council took a moment to digest this. Obi-Wan’s logic was sound, and he was likely correct. The chances of Qui-Gon tolerating any jedi but his three protégés was unlikely. 

“Perhaps,” Master Shaak Ti suggested, “We could send Master Feemor?”

“Alone?” Obi-Wan challenged, “He won’t be seen again.”

Quite suddenly, Master Yoda intervened.

“Much sense, Master Kenobi makes,” he said, “But go alone, he should not either. Send Master Kenobi, Master Strahl and another, uninvolved master, we will.”

“A fair and wise ruling, as always,” Obi-Wan remarked, the picture of humbleness.

Master Windu gave him a look, but it went ignored.

“I volunteer myself for the mission,” Master Plo Koon said, startling the rest of the masters.

Master Yoda’s ears twitched in a way that Anakin had come to discern as disapproval, but he had no argument.

“Very well then,” Obi-Wan said, “We’ll wait for you in The Negotiator. May the Force be with you.”

Obi-Wan switched off the holoprojector without any further formalities, and turned to his still-seething brother-in-arms.

“I’ll leave the back door open.”

Anakin’s brain froze. His anger left his mind as easily as it had come, replaced with confusion; was Obi-Wan…?

Before he could be questioned further, Obi-Wan left the tent behind to begin preparations. The times when Obi-Wan showed his preference for Anakin over the council were rare, but Anakin treasured each and every one of them.

With a small smile, Anakin left to make his own preparations.

Chapter Text

They didn’t have to wait long.

Half an hour later, the med droid returned. It dodged into the room so fast, Ahsoka would not have had a chance to escape even if she’d been ready. Rex had jumped onto his feet in half a moment, borri axe in hand; but Ahsoka stood slower, her body complaining all the while.

The med droid hesitated for a moment, before rolling up to the communal area and pausing. She waited for something- some action, some clue- when suddenly, its mid-section cubby hole popped open, and it spouted up a ration bar.

Rex paused for a moment, met her eyes, then took it from the droid. Once that had been seen to, the droid refocused its optics on her.

“Who are you?” she asked suspiciously, narrowing her eyes.

The droid whirred for a moment, then answered:

“I am Advanced Robotic Medical Unit four-five-three-zero-zero-zero-on-”

“Far enough,” she interrupted, “A-R-M-U, huh? I’m calling you ‘Armie’.”

Rex was relaxed enough to smile. Over the few ‘days’ he’d been here, he’d determined that the med droid was not a threat. The thing had a metaphorical stick up its ass, however; he wasn’t sure how well that would play off the commander.

“That is not my designation,” it informed her. Despite the lack of any facial features aside from the optics, it managed to give off a very offended air.

“Do you want to know my designation?” She asked, not unkindly. It was a trick she’d picked up when befriending droids; if you spoke like them, they liked you more.

People had more in common with droids than they liked to admit.

“I already know your designation,” It responded tartly, “Jedi Padawan Ahsoka Tano, age sixteen. One jedi-issue lightsaber, one jedi-issue shoto. Species, togruta, more specifically central togruta; also referred to as ‘burnt’ togruta as of the orange-red skin-tone. Form preference, Djem Sho. Experi-”

“Again,” she muttered, creeped out. “Far enough. Cut it out.”

“Very well,” it conceded, “Please sit down so that I may examine your condition.”

She leaned back on her heels, and rubbed her chin thoughtfully.

“What if I don’t want to?”

“Pardon?”

“What if I don’t want to sit down and be examined?”

The droid hesitated, seemingly thinking.

“Does not compute. Medical examination is in the patient’s best interests. Logic dictates-”

Logic dictates,” she interrupted yet again, “That you are a strange droid I have never met before, and I just woke up in a place I’ve never been to; and now you want to examine me? That doesn’t sound right…”

The droid took even longer to process this; clearly it had never had a patient quite like Ahsoka Tano before. She spent all her conscious hours in the medbay trying to argue her way out of the medbay. Past Kix.

Armie was, to put it simply, outmatched.

“How does one grow to trust a med droid, then?” It asked.

“Well, that’s easy,” she said, smiling in a way Rex had come to fear, “If you told me who your owner is, then I’d know who they were, and whether I was willing to trust their droids or not.”

The droid turned this over in its mechanical brain. Ahsoka’s logic was sound, but there was a chance it had conflicting orders. If so, what would it chose to do?

“Very well,” it admitted, though it didn’t seem so happy about it, “My master is Master Jinn. Do you know him?”

“hmm…” she thought. The name rang a bell, but… no. There was nothing

“I’m sorry, Armie,” she told the droid with false sincerity, “But I don’t know a ‘Master Jinn’. Perhaps if you took me to him, I’d recognize his face; that might help!”

The droid paused yet again, undecided. Either this droid was a ridiculously fancy rip-off, or it really did have conflicting orders, and was trying to work out what its programming was telling it to do.

“No,” it said, “I’m afraid I have strict orders to not allow you to leave the room.”

“That is a pity,” she said, “and, in advance… sorry.”

“Apology accepted,” it said, without hesitation.

“Wait. Sorry about what?”

Ahsoka and Rex shared a look. Plan A- negotiate- had failed. That left Plan B.

Aggressively negotiate.

Ahsoka pulled a dagger she’d plucked from the wall out of her waistband, and Rex lifted the axe. Both their eyes locked on the small, silver disk situated on its main body.

A restraining bolt.

“uh, Sir…”

Before it could signal for any kind of aid, Ahsoka lunged. She swung herself over and around his head with some difficulty, and latched her feet onto its hover port. She wrapped one arm around it, and used the other to stab at the restraining bolt.

Armie initiated emergency maneuvers- it kicked its hover into overdrive, and took off. It flew straight at the ceiling, then suddenly spun and circled towards the bed, all with Ahsoka hanging on for dear life.

Rex had the axe at the ready, but it would do him no good. Not with the Commander in the way. Instead, he calmly made his way over to the door and began fiddling with it. He’d seen General Skywalker trick these things hundreds of times- how hard could it be?

He barely acknowledged the sounds of distress behind him. The loudly complaining droid, the sound of thrusters firing at top speed, the commander’s growling- his job was to open the door. So that’s what he was going to do.

It might have been better to trade rolls- with Ahsoka knowing more about technology and Rex fighting the droid. But they hadn’t had much time to plan, and the commander had been confident in his ability to get the door open, one way or the other.

Plus, once the restraining bolt was gone, Ahsoka would need to reprogram the droid herself- and the sooner, the better.

Rex tinkered only for a moment; he’d checked the door before, and knew it was locked up tight- but he’d also had a while to examine the lock. He pried off the casing and started playing with wires. What was the worst he could do?

The very first wire he pulled out- a red one- activated an emergency rayshield in front of the door as extra security.

He lowered his head bashfully, and went back to tinkering.

Something clanged loudly behind him, but he did his best to ignore it. The sounds of mini-explosions and harsh growling was practically the commander’s theme song.

She’d be fine.

Chapter Text

“So where do we check first?”

The room was mostly silent. Cody had been debriefed, and Obi-Wan had been kind enough to forgive the man any slipped swears. Feemor and one Commander Killshot- also very recently filled in- had few suggestions either.

Qui-Gon could be anywhere in the galaxy, in any system.

“We could contact Mandalor,” Cody suggested, “They’re the head of the neutral systems in the galaxy, and if memory serves, Commander Tano helped re-secure Duchess Satine’s reign. She may be able to help somewhat.”

It was as good a suggestion as any, but it wasn’t a solid lead. Anakin was becoming more and more frustrated the more time passed where he wasn’t off rescuing his padawan.

Feemor moved to speak, but was interrupted by a beep from the comm. unit.

Private communication line. No ID.

None of the jedi dared twitch; not even when the beeping became incessant. Cody nervously toyed with the hilt off his baster- seeing the generals so on edge made him shaky as well.

Finally, Obi-Wan clicked accept.

Qui-Gon’s figure appeared on the holo, image blue and somewhat fritzy. He was smiling serenely, heavy black robe clean and fresh, mustache trimmed and almost unrecognizable as someone capable of murder.

“Qui-Gon,” Obi-Wan greeted coldly, “to what do we owe the… pleasure?”

If Qui-Gon was unimpressed with Obi-Wan’s tone, he didn’t show it.

“Merely giving you some information you may find relieving; Young Padawan Tano is awake and healing well.”

Anakin didn’t trust the information enough to be relieved; in fact, he was only growing angrier and angrier by the minute. He was getting tired of false civility, of walking on eggshells. He wanted his padawan back safe. He wanted her back now.

He wanted a lot of things he wasn’t going to get today.

“What is her condition exactly?” Feemor asked, tactfully leaving the venom out of his voice.

“No fatal wounds; at least, not anymore. She’s fit enough to fight her med droids. I know because this morning, she physically fought her med droid.”

The smile dropped out of his voice near the end of his statement, but Anakin could easily picture it. Despite logic telling him she was still in danger, he felt a little bit better.

“Where are you?” Anakin asked.

Qui-Gon considered the question, then answered as vaguely as he could.

“A neutral system, not too far out of the way, but not in the outer rim.”

“And that’s all? That’s all you called about?” Obi-Wan asked.

Qui-Gon smiled cryptically, before continuing.

“In a short time, I’ll give you a set of galactic co-ordinates that’ll take you to her location. I assure you- she’s being cared for well.”

His image blinked out of existence, leaving the room darker than it was before.

Cody shared a look with Killshot, before turning his attention back to General Kenobi.

“Sir?”

Obi-Wan sighed.

“We’re not going to wait for these co-ordinates, are we?” Anakin asked, irate.

“Of course not.” Feemor said, “We should, for all intents and purposes, assume that Qui-Gon is lying about everything. Even as a jedi, he could be… tricky.”

Cody suspected the man was going to use a much ruder word than ‘tricky’, but left the matter alone.

“Master Plo just came out of hyperspace,” Obi-Wan announced, relief clear in his voice.

“In that case,” Anakin declared, “We’ve done all we can here; it’s time to start the search.”

One week passed faster than Anakin would have liked. Seven days, and not a whisper. Time was running out on both ends of the hourglass; whether they found Ahsoka or not, the four of them would be called back to the front lines soon enough. And Ahsoka…

Anakin figured that the only reason she was still alive was because she was valuable to him and Obi-Wan. But that didn’t explain why Qui-Gon hadn’t called them with a location or tried to use her for ransom. 

If he wanted them, he’d have them. So why wait?

After five days with nothing, Anakin was forced to mark Rex as KIA: Killed In Action. He must’ve been one of the unrecognizable bodies found in the wreckage of The Resolute. Otherwise, he would’ve found a way to get to them.

He missed Rex far more than he thought he would. Throughout the war, Rex had been a constant presence in his life. It was Rex- back then a sergeant- who’d fallen off the gunship with Senator Amidala during the Battle of Geonosis; and it was Rex who’d first guided Anakin through military code and protocol.

Roughly the exact same time Anakin was knighted, Rex was promoted to ARC Captain; and Anakin wouldn’t have wanted anyone else by his side.

He’d had many lows in his life; he had a bad habit of spiraling into a depression when too many things went wrong at once. Normally, Obi-Wan could snap him out of it easily enough; but not this time.

Qui-Gon Jinn, a man Anakin adored, the man who’d saved Anakin from slavery, was a sith. A sith who had kidnapped his padawan, a girl he valued as a younger sister, a best friend. And his right-hand man was dead.

The only thing Anakin had left was Obi-Wan. And he was so busy combing through systems as fast as possible, that Anakin had only spoken to him twice over the last week.

There was always Padmé, he thought. She was a good friend. And she might have been more, once upon a time. But she’d had a duty to her people, and she’d known that Anakin had a duty as well; even if he was willing to work around it. It had been a smart move. Anakin had been upset, of course, but he’d never pushed. And thinking back on it, he couldn’t imagine having to juggle a secret relationship with raising a padawan, being a general, running errands for the council and maintaining his relationship with Obi-Wan.

She had been there when he’d found his mother’s body; she’d insisted on coming with, on the grounds that she could help. Anakin hadn’t had the time to stop her. She’d seen what he did to the sand people, and he’d seen her face when he’d moved to slaughter them all.

He’d pulled back. He had no idea how, but he did. He killed the guards, the men, and anyone who tried to fight. But he didn’t touch the children, or the mothers- who were likely slaves themselves.

Padmé had helped him wrap Shmi Skywalker’s body, and helped him bury her. She had comforted him, and let him cry on her shoulder, even though jedi didn’t cry.

She’d spoken of Naboo. She talked about the blasters hidden in her throne and the decoys she spent all her days as queen beside. She spoke of the blood, deceit and horror that soaked her homeworld’s history as thoroughly as it did on Mandalor.  

‘If they did that to my mother,’ she’d said, ‘my sisters, my handmaidens… I would have done the same. It would have been my duty to do the same.’

Gods of the Desert Sands, he loved that woman. Platonically, of course. If he called, she’d pick up. He knew she would.

A sudden beep from his comm. unit startled him out of his musings. He hadn’t been sleeping well the past week, not with things how they were; so at zero-dark thirty in the karking morning, he was in the docking bay, elbow-deep in engine grease, spare parts and angst.

He fumbled and swore gratuitously in huttese for six more rings, trying to find the thing, then hit Accept Call without checking the ID.

“Skywalker here. If it’s not good news, do yourself a kriffin’ favor and hang up now.”

“Well, at least you’re dealing with this well,” Obi-Wan’s sarcastic voice echoed through the comm.

Anakin sat up so fast, he wacked his head hard enough to see stars. Of course it was Obi-Wan. Nothing for three days, and the moment Anakin is at his lowest, he calls.

“What’s up?” he asked, “New information? A lead? Something to stab, at least?”

He could hear Obi-Wan sigh from the other side of the comm. link. He could easily picture the older man pinching the bridge of his nose and cursing Qui-Gon to all seven sith hells for leaving him stuck with this kid.

In fact, cursing Qui-Gon Jinn turned out to be a relatively common pastime these days. One Anakin enjoyed, at least.

“Listen,” Obi-Wan said, “We just got a set of co-ordinates from an unknown source. Location is one of Mandalor’s moons; Khrono. It’s isolated, but not too far out. It matches Qui-Gon’s description of his current homestead, and it’s exactly the kind of place he’d pick, it I remember him correctly.”

Anakin’s mind took its time processing this; a sure sign of his exhaustion. But then his brain caught up, and his body started moving before he could think twice.

“Anakin… are you there?”

“I’m taking a shuttle over,” he announced. It had gotten hot in the gunship he’d locked himself him. Where was his robe? Speaking of, where was his shirt?

“It’ll take you half an hour,” Obi-Wan reasoned, “And it’s the middle of the night!”

“You’re awake, aren’t you?” he snapped back, yanking one of his inner robes over his bare chest. His outer robe was tied around his waist, and had been for some time. His vest-robe was… forget it. He was decent enough. His hair was a complete mess, no thanks to the goggles he’d unceremoniously shoved on earlier. He tripped over an empty thermos of caf as he raced to grab his comm. link, swearing in no less than four languages at the disruption.

“Look,” he said, “You can open the door for me, yeah? And it will not take me half an hour!”

He pictured Ahsoka alone in a dungeon somewhere; shaking with the cold that she was so vulnerable to, starved thin and terrified; waiting for him to come rescue her.

Wondering why he wasn’t there. Wondering why she’d been left to rot for a week.

“…I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”

 

Chapter Text

Fighting the med droid hadn’t quite gone according to plan.

Rex hadn’t even had time to finish tinkering with the door before things went wrong. Armie got fed up with his unwanted passenger, and promptly flew himself into the ceiling.

Ahsoka screamed. Not a growl of frustration, but an actual, agonizing scream. The droid had bruised two of her fractured ribs, and it was just too much for her.

Rex had spun around, abandoning the door. Assuming she was up to it, the commander could open the door herself while Rex handled the droid. Just as Rex grabbed the thing’s hover, the droid seemed to lose it.

It flew top speed towards the glass windows, which turned out to be real glass. Not transparristeel. What is the difference, you may ask?

Transparristeel is one of the strongest substances known to the galaxy- which is why it is used in starships. It can stand up to rabid creatures of all sizes, heavy artillery fire, the vacuum of space and everything else short of a lightsaber.

Glass, however, breaks.

No. ‘Breaks’ is the wrong word. Glass shatters. Into millions of tiny pieces that bury themselves in every inch of soft, yielding flesh it can find. Rex knew he was going to be spending hours picking shards out of his body.

Commander Tano, who was up front, likely got it even worse.

The cold air outside went straight to his bones. It was like walking through the front door of Kamino, and going from orderly lights and sterile walls to a face full of hail and 20ft tsunami waves to the gut.

Before he could even process the sudden change in temperature, he nosedived into a heap of icy snow. He didn’t know how he managed to claw his way out of it with numb hands and freezing joints, but he did.

By the time his eyes adjusted, Armie and Ahsoka had already crash-landed a few meters away. Although clearly in pain and holding her chest, she was giggling triumphantly. In her right fist, a silver restraining bolt glinted back at him in the dull, cloudy light.

Beyond her, even farther out, Armie burst out of a pile of snow. His pale hull shone the faint light back at Rex painfully.  He cringed, and made a valiant effort to stand.

He was thwarted by the waist-high snow, however, and any progress he made towards the Commander was slow and clumsy. He left behind him a trail of dark red spots melting into the snow, oozing from his wounds. That was the only good thing that came from the cold- he was so numb, his injuries didn’t hurt.

Ahsoka closed the last bit of distance between them haltingly, moving with the upmost care. He quickly wrapped her in his arms; Shili was a desert planet, and her children weren’t built for the cold.

She didn’t seem to care, or perhaps she’d just gone numb like he did. She still held the restraining bolt in her hand like a war trophy.

“YOU!” Armie yelled, his voice box projecting for louder than needed, “HOW DARE YOU! I am an advanced robotic medical unit, not a ROLLERCOASTER! I have half a mind to-”

“Half a mind to what?” A new, deep voice asked, ice in every word.

“S- Sir…”

Rex looked over, and felt a chill go down his spine that had little to do with the icy water seeping into his blacks. Ahsoka looked up as well, getting a good, proper look at their ‘host’ for the very first time.

The first thing she noticed was his height- even by the clones’ standard, he was tall, easily reaching 6’5. His features were made up of calculating yellow eyes, a broken nose and a tight-lipped frown.

His hair went all the way down to his waist, a dark, shimmery grey threadbare with silvery streaks. Velvety, black fabric hang from his large, sturdy form, covering every inch of him. He was dressed for the cold that was slowly turning her fingers to stone, but even without it, she got the sense he wouldn’t’ve allowed the weather to bother him.

“Unit four-five-three, I asked you a question.”

“Who the kriff are you?” Ahsoka asked. She was tired, but jumped at the chance to find out who her kidnapper was.   

He raised an eyebrow at her language, and she got a strong sense of déja vu; that was the exact look Obi-Wan gave her when she was the cause of his most recent migraine.

It was unnerving.

“You don’t know?” His tone was conversational, but something shook in the air around them.

Something dangerous.

She really should’ve worded her next question more carefully.

“Know that I’ve been kidnapped by a sith? Believe it or not, I noticed.”

She wished it had come out strong and detached, like how Obi-Wan spoke to enemy generals; but her teeth chattered so hard, she was surprised she was legible.

His gaze went dangerously blank, and the Force trilled around her in a low warning. She moved her body a bit more in front of Rex, worried for his health. In a moment, his gaze settled again, and the threatening air disappeared.

“And, if I may ask without inciting more vicious language, why are you trying to dismantle you doctor?”    

She glared.

“You know… The Republic won’t pay a ransom for me.”

He sighed deeply. Clearly, she thought his civility was either false, condescending, or both. The news outlets were right about one thing- she was Anakin, Obi-Wan and a pinch of something all her own rolled together.

“Why does everyone assume I want a ransom? I clearly do well enough on my own.”

Ahsoka glanced back at the building she’d just been blown out of. He was right; it was more of a mansion than anything. Two stories worth of angular, marble-like architecture, made in shades of dark blue that blended with the tall trees. The side of the building facing them was entirely glass, and she could see that on the first story, there was something like a living room.

Her own room was on the second floor, still occasionally allowing more glass to fall.

 They were in a forest of some kind, she noticed. The light on this planet was somewhat strange; it likely had a different type of sun than Coruscant or Shili had. It was twilight, and the trees- something like pine, but sweet-smelling- were covered in thick blue bark. The leaves were a pale, yellow color, and some kind of blue sap dripped from the branches, leaving polka dots in the snow that they’d upended in their crash landing.

The view of the stars was absolutely breath taking. She assumed they were somewhere in the mid-rim. She vaguely remembered something like that sky from Mandalor.   

“If you don’t want a ransom,” she asked, pulling her cold arms closer to her chest, “what do you want?”

He smiled at her, and she could’ve sworn the look on his face was fond; as if she were a shivering tooka-kitten experiencing snow for the first time, and not a jedi padawan.

“That is enough, I think,” he said, turning towards the glass wall, towards a door she hadn’t spotted at first; “come this way quietly, and I’ll take you back to your room. Keep asking questions, and I’ll leave you out here.”

There was no real decision to make; if she stayed, she would freeze. Worse yet, even if she did survive, she could lose Rex. Meek as a lamb, she made her way to the small patio, then into the house, trailing after the sith like an obedient puppy.

She hated every second of their walk back to her room.

The next week wasn’t quite a nightmare, but it was no vacation. She only ever had the pleasure of making ‘Master Jinn’s’ acquaintance after an unsuccessful escape attempt.

Unfortunately, there were many unsuccessful escape attempts.

The first with Armie was quickly fixed up- by the next morning, the glass had been replaced and the room cleaned. Her injuries had been tended to by another med droid, after Armie had ‘become involved in one of Master Jinn’s tantrums’. She truly felt sorry for that little droid.

The second escape attempt involved pillows, Rex’s helmet, a stick and an air vent. It ended with Ahsoka and Rex dangling from the roof in a truly embarrassing way. Jinn left them up there for an hour to teach them a lesson, then allowed the cleaning droids to help them down.

This was just before the first assassination attempt towards Rex. A re-programmed separatist assassin droid had slipped into her room during the night. Ahsoka had had no time to grab a weapon, and neither had Rex- their only saving grace had been its orders. It was under no circumstances allowed to hurt Ahsoka.

After that, they decided to share the bed. It wasn’t nearly as weird as she thought it would be; togruta were born in litters, and cuddling next to someone for warmth and comfort was as natural as breathing. Plus, if there was one man alive who she completely trusted to sleep next to, without them trying anything, it was Rex.

They slept one at a time, keeping watch, and the borri axe now had a place of honor right next to the bed. They thought that would help, and at the very least, there were no more assassin droids.

Two more escape attempts had failed by the time their fourth day passed. Impersonating Jinn and trying to trick security was an absolute failure, and trying to fight their way out was even more so.

That was when the second attempt on Rex’s life took place. He and Ahsoka had had a small argument; nothing friendship ending, and mainly just a result of the failed escapes and stress. But Jinn had been there, just down the corridor.

She didn’t know if he’d misread Rex’s body language as threatening- unlikely, given that she’d been doing a lot of the yelling- or if he’d just jumped at the chance to act.

Rex’s throat constricted, and he began to lift off the ground. Ahsoka had screamed and threatened, and Jinn had just rolled his eyes- oh, she’d wanted to murder him for that, how dare he- and dropped Rex.

His trachea had broken, and he wasn’t breathing. It was the scariest moment in her life- she’d seen her men die before, but never Rex. She’d used the Force to reopen his airway, but it wasn’t enough. He needed actual, proper, medical help.

Jinn had refused, more exasperated than anything. She had the sense that this man thought she was being over-dramatic, like she was a petulant child who’d broken her favorite toy.

“If you like it so much, I’ll just get you another. One straight from Kamino. Wouldn’t that be nice?”

He seemed to regret the condescending tone he’d used the moment it was out. But the damage was done; blood rang in her montrals, and her hands were shaking so hard, she was impressed with her ability to keep exerting force into Rex’s trachea.

If he wasn’t relying on her to keep breathing, she would have turned around and ripped out his throat with her sharp, little teeth. Dark side or not, unjedi-like or not, she couldn’t fathom a way that the galaxy could possibly benefit from that man’s continued existence.

But her men came first. Always.

“Get him a med droid,” she hissed, then softened her tone into something marginally softer, “please.”

He considered this for a moment, then went on to make her life even more difficult than it currently was.

“Information has reached me recently,” he started, “that Feemor Strahl has taken on a padawan. I will give you a med droid, if you give me information.”

Giova’s bright, excited face appeared in her mind’s eye, and her chest constricted painfully. He was asking her to betray a fellow padawan; was that something she was capable of?

Giova is safe, a voice in the back of her head whispered, they must have some clue as to what’s happened to you by now. She will be tucked away in Coruscant’s halls, but in the meantime, Rex is dying!

What could she do?

“Her name is Giova,” the words felt like a betrayal, but she said them anyway, “Giova Nani. She’s zyggerian, with a preference for Shii-Cho. She’s genderfluid, but most of the time, female. Please don’t hurt her.”

Rex’s breathing was becoming more desperate, and she could hear wetness seeping into his lungs. His throat was swelling, and soon, no amount of Force would be able to help him.

Jinn whistled sharply, and within a few moments, he a med droid rolled up next to them. The sith left wordlessly, leaving Ahsoka to pray that Rex survived and the droid to do its work.

After that, their stay was one long night terror.

Rex was grateful and understanding, but thought she should have let him die rather than given up information on Giova. That made her feel worse.

What did not help at all was the fact that she was now allowed to wonder about the house at her leisure. Jinn had taken his victory to heart, and she could now walk through the halls and check the place out.

However, she was resolute in that she would stay by Rex’s side the entire time. She trusted Jinn about as far as she could throw him; but as soon as Rex was up and walking again, despite the shades of black and blue that made up his neck, he insisted she used her new-found freedom to get the lay of the land.

She agreed only once he promised to stay on the bed and rest with the axe and dagger right by his side.

The corridor outside her room was relatively plain; tall walls, a sterile white color scheme, and a fluffy carpet rolled out from one end to the other. There were six doors, three per wall, of which hers was farthest down and on the left. The doors all turned out to be unlocked, and she was free to scope out each room as she pleased.

She was just glad she could examine their surroundings without having to drift too far from Rex.

The room right in front of her shared the same glass wall, and was roughly the same size; but that was where the similarities ended. It was decorated in shades of pale blue and turquoise, and in addition to the open wall, another was painted with soft clouds and a sky-like gradient. The bed was mostly the same, but less ornate; and the desk was twice the size of hers, made of some kind of white metal.

Mechanical toolkits of every kind were neatly lined up on the far side of the desk, and stands for droid parts and advanced computer systems lined the walls. An industrial strength training dummy sat off to the side in a corner.

Three guesses as to whom this room was for.

As for the rest of the rooms, the third was decorated with blood reds and sunny oranges. Bookshelves and holobook casings were the main features, along with a soft meditation mat accompanied by scented candles, burning incense and large, soft pillows. Definitely Obi-Wan.

The fourth room was decorated in peaches and creams, with a rose gold trim. Artificial sunlight lamps were planted into the ceiling, to facilitate flowers and blooms of every kind. Everything else fit the standard she’d seen so far, minus the glass wall- but that was made up for with a skylight, showing the dark clouds that blew with the breeze. Master Strahl, most likely.

The fifth looked like a work in progress- a cleaning droid was still paint the walls a pale pink, with hot pink details. There wasn’t even a bed yet.

She didn’t even check the sixth room, for fear of it being Jinn’s. she hurried back to her own room, eager for the familiar, if creepy surroundings.

“What’s the word?” Rex asked the moment she was back.

“I have four for you: He. Is. A. Psychopath.”

“And water is wet,” he deadpanned, but all the attempt at humor did was make her even more upset. She sat down hard on the couch and buried her head in her hands. She was so, so tired.

Rex sat down gingerly next to her, and put a hand on her shoulder.

“Hey, kid,” he ventured, “You do know the general will find us, right? I mean… he’d never leave you to rot, not while he’s alive.”

“Nor you,” she responded, catching his pause. Anakin loved Rex. There’s no way he would leave either of them.

“I’m sorry,” she said after a moment’s silence, “It’s just… I have no idea what to do. This guy is… it’s like he knows every move and every weakness I have before I even do. I don’t understand anything that’s going on, and you’ve nearly died twice now- three times if you count the crash. I just don’t know what I’d do if you weren’t here with me.”

“You know… I’m not defenseless,” he said wryly, shooting her a small smile. She gave him one back; or tried to, at least.

“I know, but not even ARCs are a match for the sith.”

An uneasy silence settled between them. Rex could see that she was still depressed, and…

Damnit, she was too young for this. All this war, danger, bloodshed… regardless of her jedi status, she was only sixteen.

“Look, kid… permission to speak freely?”

She looked at him strangely. All this time, he hadn’t asked. With Anakin, Obi-Wan, of course; but they were friends, and they always spoke frankly with each-other… right?

“Granted.”

“I’m not upset that I’m here with you, even if I’m in danger as a result. I consider watching out for you to be one of my chief responsibilities. Not that you can’t do that yourself-”

He sighed, and ran a hand through his buzz cut.

“This isn’t doing much good, is it? Listen, I grew up with millions of brothers; older, younger, similar, different- all of that I know. All of that, I’m used to. But you’re my first little sister; and I know I shouldn’t hold that to a different standard, but it’s hard not to.”

Ahsoka’s eyes misted over, and she fought to keep her lower lip from trembling. She was not going to cry. Rex was too good for this. He and his brothers deserved so much better than they got; than what the Republic gave them.

She was his commander, and him her subordinate officer; thusly, he was her responsibility. She should be taking care of him, not the other way around.

“Thank you,” she said, “For being here with me.”

She gave a small, but genuine smile.

“I’m really lucky to have a big brother like you.”

 

Chapter Text

Khrono was cold, Anakin decided, too cold to be anything but painful. Despite his hatred of the fact, he was born and raised on Tattooine; and even after over a decade, he was still uncomfortable in any temperatures below 20 degrees Celsius.

He wore the proper jedi-issue parka, along with the others, but he might as well have been down to his underwear for all the good it did. At the very least, Obi-Wan seemed just as uncomfortable as he was.

Plo Koon and Feemor, however, were practically immune. Master Plo had the advantage of biology on his side, whereas Feemor, according to Obi-Wan, had picked up a few tricks on being insufferable from Qui-Gon.

Tall, bluish trees arched up over their heads, and the air smelled sweet. It would’ve been beautiful, had they been there to sight-see.

The debate on whether they should bring clones or not was heated, but in the end, they decided it would make no difference. Qui-Gon clearly didn’t care for clones- they wouldn’t last long.

As their ship set down in the field, they made the necessary arrangements. Anakin scanned for life from the pilot’s seat, and found nothing within a five-kilometer radius; which meant jack squat, of course. Scanners could be tricked, with the right equipment.

Master Plo and Feemor finished prepping the probe droids- they weren’t much better than the scanners, but at least they had cameras. Obi-Wan, in the meanwhile, finished preparing the emergency gear.

Anakin thought all of this was a waste of time. Qui-Gon sent them the coordinates; he wanted them here. Anakin knew it was a trick. They should’ve headed in the opposite direction from wherever Qui-Gon wanted them.

But, as always, he’d been overruled.

“Everything is set,” Feemor announced, keying in the code to open the hatch, “It should be safe enough for us to check things out on our own, now.”

“Finally.”

Anakin couldn’t keep the eagerness or frustration from his voice. Obi-Wan gave him a look, and Master Plo raised a metaphorical eyebrow, but Feemor remained unconcerned.

Anakin chalked that up to one more reason to like Feemor.

After two hours of scanning, short-range searches and frozen probe-droids, Anakin was ready to kill whatever unlucky creature had the misfortune of stepping into his path.

He’d known this was a waste of time from the moment they’d set out. Ahsoka wasn’t here; no-one was. They were being led on a wild goose chase.

They could be called back to the frontlines at any second. In a heartbeat, the council could give them new orders and leave Ahsoka to her fate. And that was something Anakin couldn’t allow.

He’d go off the reservation if he had to. He’d hand over his lightsaber right then and there if he was offered the ultimatum.

He would not abandon her, dammit!

Unfortunately for him, that was exactly what fate had asked him to do. As night fell, it became clear that they were going nowhere fast. Everything on this planet froze, the less light there was. In that way, it reminded him of Illum, the ice planet that provided the Jedi Order with its kyber crystals, which in turn powered their lightsabers.

By the time they had to call it a day, their hyperdrive had frozen, and the ship wouldn’t even start. His blood was pounding in his ears. His hands shook.

One more thing, he dared the universe, one more thing goes wrong, and I’m going to-

A hand landed on his shoulder, startling him. Obi-Wan’s eyes met his, concerned.

Anakin had half a mind to shake him off, but Obi-Wan wouldn’t have it.

“I understand that you’re upset, Anakin; but this was a better lead than any other we had.”

“It was a trick,” he hissed, “I told you from the beginning, and now…”

I know,” he whispered back, letting some of his own frustration slip into his voice, “but do not make the mistake of thinking that you are the only one here worried for Ahsoka’s safety. I remember… what he could be like.”

Anakin turned to him, this time to genuinely examine him. He was surprised to find an anger that matched his own in his old master, who had always seemed so detached.

“We will find her,” he said; quite enough that the other two jedi wouldn’t hear, “No matter the cost.”

With that, he retired to his bunk, exhausted.

There was a lot more work to do; but it would have to wait. Obi-Wan glanced at the viewport, and watched the icy mist slowly obscured the outside. He’d had a talent for premonitions as a child; a talent that had faded with age. But sometimes, when it was silent, and he was desperate, there would be a nudge.

Nothing much, just… a feeling. Like the wind suddenly changing direction, pulling him down another path or guiding his eyes.

That was happening now. He felt, deep in the Force, a shift that he couldn’t articulate. Tomorrow, it promised, tomorrow would bring answers.

He hoped so.

As he watched his old padawan pace up and down the ship’s length, he thought back to the scared little boy Qui-Gon had left in his care- and how that boy had grown. Anakin was anxious and frustrated; any moment now, he could decide that enough was enough, and rip the galaxy to pieces in his quest to find his padawan.

For someone as loyal as he was- as powerful as he was- it wouldn’t be hard to bring worlds to their knees.

Seven days.

For the last seven days, she and Rex had been trapped with Jinn on this backwater some-place, slowly losing their minds.

Ahsoka had never thought they would be there that long. She had started carving nooks into her bedpost to count the days that passed. True, this planet’s cycle was strange, but there was a chrono out in the hallway that revealed standard time, and they were able to put the date together.

Seven days, and no rescue.

She tried not to think about it. Her body was recovering, thanks in part to their new med-droid, who she’d dubbed ‘Junior’. ‘Junior’ was somehow even more uptight than Armie had been, and responded to her complaints and arguments against medical treatment with a taser-prod.

She decided that she really, really missed Armie.

She and Rex sparred with each-other every day, doing their best to keep in shape and be ready for when an opportunity presented itself. She had yet to see any more of Jinn- he’d made himself scarce after his attempt on Rex’s life.

She imagined that he could sense he’d driven her over a line, and was now giving her space and time to cool off- though why he would care was beyond her.

She was his hostage, wasn’t she? Why would he fret over her opinion of him?

That was the other thing pissing her off. He had kidnapped- sorry, ‘rescued’- her and Rex from the wreckage of The Resolute, and was now keeping them locked away in lavish quarters, allowing them relative freedom and giving them each enough food and water to keep a normal person going.

Why would he be so courteous? This went well above decorum, well above common decency. Treating a prisoner of war well was one thing, but this room was built for her. She knew this- could sense it- the same way she knew her lightsabers belonged to her. 

She just knew.

And what about the other rooms? Where do Anakin, Obi-Wan, Feemor and Giova fall into the picture? Why would this man want all of them?

The thought of Yoda had occurred to her. Was the sith trying to get to him through his lineage? But that made no sense- if it was a simple act of manipulating the head of the Jedi Order, then why all the effort?

Besides, if you wanted to hurt Yoda, all you had to do was mention Dooku. And even if it was a ransom thing, kidnapping one sith lord was still easier than trying to capture two jedi masters, a knight, and two padawans.

So, that couldn’t be the answer.

It had also occurred to her to find the links between all of them. She, Obi-Wan and Anakin were obviously tied together, as were Feemor and Giova, through the master-padawan bond. But what tied all five of them together?

She sighed. Not for the first time, she wished she knew more about her lineage. She knew it somehow made its way back to Yoda, but aside from that, there was almost nothing. Anakin was tight-lipped about his own past, and whenever she thought to ask Obi-Wan, he grew incredibly somber, and she would change the subject.

That left her with two things- jack and squat.   

Rolling out of bed on their seventh morning was about as depressing as you’d imagine. Sure, the view was nice, and the bed was soft, and the bathroom was gorgeous; but a cage was a cage, no matter how pretty the bars were.

She glanced around, trying to find Rex. He wasn’t on the couches, and the door to the bathroom was open.

Ah, she thought, realizing where he must be.

He was in his own room- if it could even be called a room.

The thing was stark white, with a cot that could be pulled down from the wall. A button on the far wall would reveal a urinal, and a stand held Rex’s armor. It was there that she found the man himself, using a towel from the bathroom to wipe down each and every piece of jekra plating. 

“Got tired of the view?” She asked, keeping her voice low so as to not startle him.

He spared her a worn smile, and the shadows under his eyes told her enough about the night he’d had. The deep bruising on his neck had turned from blue, purple and black to blue, yellow, and green; but it wasn’t much of an improvement. The ration bars Junior had handed out to him weren’t nearly enough to keep pace with a clone’s accelerated metabolism, and it showed.

“Just… needed to do something with my hands,” he said, rubbing at a particular spot on his helmet with vigor.

It didn’t take a genius to see that he was feeling their time here as well. If anyone deserved a stiff drink and a day off after all this was said and done, it was Rex; and if anyone had the gall to argue otherwise, she would deal with them personally.

“I get it, believe me,” she replied kindly, “Master Skywalker does the same. I can’t tell you the number of times I was woken at some Force-forsaken hour in the morning by something he was playing with going boom!

He laughed a little at that, and she took the victory to heart.

“Try not to worry, Commander. I doubt I can use my armor and a rag to start an explosion.”

She smiled softly.

There peace was interrupted, however, by a ping at the door.

Junior, in for his daily inspection. Great.

She sighed, and sent Rex a pained look. He patted her shoulder sympathetically on his way past, and she followed hesitantly. Junior was quite possibly the most ill-mannered droid she’d come across in her entire lifetime- and the mouse droids in the Jedi Temple were notoriously cheeky.

In the better light of her room, she noticed that Rex’s bruises were actually worse than they’d looked in his own, darker room. So much for optimism.

Junior was even crankier today than he’d been before. He offered no warning or condolences before swiping a blood sample from each of them with a shiny, slim needle.  

When it came to Rex’s neck, he was about as gentle as Jinn had been. She clamped down on the urge to knock the thing sideways; she’d learned the hard way that Junior was not afraid to electrocute her if push came to shove.

When he’d finished with Rex, he made her do some stretches to analyze her physical condition, and even if most movement still ached, she was definitely improving. All the while, the grumpy med droid muttered to itself about whatever it was upset about this time.

After re-dosing them both with pain killers and immune boosters, he threw them both a ration bar and turned to leave. Grateful that that was over, she picked up the bar and started to chew; it was better quality than most, but hardly a gourmet meal. At least it was actually made with carnivores in mind.

All of a sudden, Junior paused by the door. Slowly, he turned back to them.

“It has not been a pleasure serving you. If you survive the next day, I should certainly hope you’re assigned another droid. Good day.”

It wasn’t unlike Junior to throw a mean comment over his (metaphorical) shoulder as he left- normally something about their manners or physiology- but this caught her attention.

“What do you mean ‘if we survive?’ What’s happening today?”

The droid simply huffed and left, leaving Rex and Ahsoka to ponder the rude machine’s cryptic words.

“I think I’ll go sharpen the axe, Sir,” Rex said, after a moment of ominous silence.     

“Good call,” she replied, “I think there may be more to glean from my newfound freedom. Maybe a clue tucked away in one of the other rooms.”

Rex nodded, and didn’t bring up that she’d already scoured the other rooms ten times. Giova’s room was nearly done, stocked with pretty clothes and jewelry befitting both genders. The consideration was, again, wildly disproportionate. Her old frustration returned anew, and she chose to busy herself re-analyzing Master Kenobi’s room.

At least he had books.

Anakin stared at the thing, unabashed.

A small, metallic disk had appeared during the night, stopping right outside their ship. Anakin had been set to warm up the ship and get going the moment the sun came up, but his little discovery gave him pause.

When it was warm enough that stepping outside wouldn’t immediately kill them all, the doors were opened, and the four jedi filed out.

Anakin moved to walk straight up to the thing, but Obi-Wan, always thinking ahead, stopped him. Using rocks and branches flung with the Force, they tested the waist height snow surrounding them for traps and tricks. When nothing jumped out and tried to kill them, it was deemed safe to examine the disk.

It did nothing. It simply lay there, immobile and frozen, while it was picked up and prodded by the curious warriors.

Following a gut instinct, Anakin lifted it high, to catch the sun’s earliest rays. After a moment, steam poured out of the things joints, scalding Anakin’s one good hand.

He dropped it with a cry that was more surprise than pain, and did his best to not swear at the thing in front of two council members, even if neither would have been surprised.

The thing continued to steam, heating itself up, then unfurled into something that looked much more like a droid than a useless hunk of metal. Obi-Wan and Master Plo pulled their lightsabers loose from their belts, and ignited them. Feemor’s hand was at the ready, but he hesitated, not sensing any open hostility from the machine.

A moment of awkward silence passed between them, as the droid finished transforming. It was sleek, shiny and new, but clearly rugged in design. It was meant for the icy cold of this inhospitable planet.

“Greetings,” it said, shaking the last bit of snow from its hull, “I am Outdoor Maintenance Unit five-four-one-one-eight-two-two-two-four. I have been sent by Master Jinn to escort you to the homestead.”

Obi-Wan raised a sarcastic eyebrow, clearly unamused.

“Can he not come and fetch us himself, at the very least? He has put us through quite a… stressful time, after all.”

Anakin’s eyes narrowed. The anxiety and aggravation that had been haunting him since he lost Ahsoka reared its head again.

“I’m afraid,” the droid responded, tone neutral, “That Master Jinn has predicted a rather strained response from his guests. And he is quite busy entertaining those who have already arrived.”

Ahsoka. He meant Ahsoka. Was she here? He couldn’t sense her.

“Take us there.” He demanded, looming threateningly over the droid.

“As you wish,” the droid replied, turning and moving in the same direction he’d come in.

The jedi all shared a loaded look, before turning to follow. What else could they have done?

 

Chapter Text

At noon exactly, they were to join Master Jinn for lunch.

The shiny, sleek mouse droid who’d informed them of this chirped a petrified ‘good luck’, before racing away from their room.

Ahsoka sighed. Her fear would normally have choked her out– and make no mistake, she was apprehensive– but she was ready to get this over with, one way or the other. She was tired of being a pampered hostage.

She realized that she might be leading herself and Rex to their deaths. But they seemed to have come to some kind of silent agreement– or suicide pact, as it were – that they would at least do their best to find some answers beforehand. They’d both been losing their minds.

Rex had the axe prepped and ready. He wore his lower body armor, shined and fitted, and had taken the chance to shave his slowly-growing buzzcut. While he trained with the axe, swinging it to-and-fro, she washed up and climbed into the fresh clothes that sat on the sink.

The past week, it had been nothing but cleaned medical gowns and that same infernal robe; but today, a simple wrap-around black top and a pleated skirt sat in their place. It was closer to traditional togruta clothing than she normally wore outside the temple, and admittedly gorgeous. A pair of black boots and a choker finished it off.

It was something she genuinely might have worn to some senatorial get-together, were she not a jedi.

She hated it.

Still, her other clothes had been removed. So, what choice did she have?

The outfit fit perfectly. That only made her hate it more.

When she left the bathroom, she found a polished silver headdress sitting on the bed, accompanied by – a lightsaber?

She paused and glared at the thing, illogically afraid that it would bite her if she touched it. She looked at Rex, who’d stopped practicing and now sat at the desk, examining the dagger for flaws.

“What is that?” she asked, disgusted and intrigued at the same time.

“Droid came in while you were busy. Dropped that there, along with the crown-thing and a belt. Freaked me the hell out, too-”

He turned to glance at her, then did a double-take, eyes going wide.

“Commander?”

“Not a word, Rex.”

He shut his jaw, and tried to blink the awkward image out of his eyes. She looked good, certainly, but also incredibly uncomfortable. Being her captain, he preferred it when she wore armor; even if she didn’t need it, it made him feel safer.

She plucked up the headdress and the belt – why did it have a skull on it? Force – and eyed the lightsaber with disdain.

“Can you hold onto it?” she asked Rex, “I hate the vibe I’m getting off of that thing.”

“Fair enough,” he answered, glad for the subject change, “You’ll want the dagger, then?”

“Gimme,” she said, allowing herself to smile. The weight of the blade felt right in her hand, and almost let her relax.

At 11:30, a ping came from their door, announcing a guest. To her surprise, whoever it was didn’t just march in like Junior did, but actually waited for her consent. She tried to get a feel through the Force of who was behind that door, but again she came back with absolutely nothing.

Kriff, that was getting old fast.

“Come in,” she called, giving Rex a look. He slinked out from behind the table, and crept to the side of the door, axe in hand.

With a swish, the door rose into the frame and showed two separatist assassin droids, taser-staffs in hand.

Her body moved on instinct, and she reached for the lightsaber on the bed with the Force, calling it to her. It didn’t so much as twitch.

A terrible, sinking feeling settled in her stomach, and eyes wide, she turned to give Rex a warning look. Catching it, he eased back from the door and into the open, to make sure he wasn’t backed into the corner.

However, the droids made no move to engage. Instead, the same mouse droid from earlier creeped out from behind one, and beeped to them in binary.

‘He wants you now.’

Ahsoka and Rex shared a look.

They’d prepared themselves the best they could. It was time to get some answers – preferably, at the tip of a blade.

They allowed the droids to escort them down the halls, to places Ahsoka hadn’t been allowed, and through to a pristine dining room. A long, hand-carved table covered the length of the floor, packed high with meaty, gourmet meals that made her mouth water. Eight matching chairs were set out along its length.

And at the head of the table, sat the sith.

They walked for what felt like hours.

The little droid showed no signs of stopping; only slowing down to make sure they kept pace. Occasionally, it would glance at something far away, almost impatient to get somewhere.

Anakin was about to start complaining – as if he hadn’t been doing that the whole day – when the sheer, claustrophobic denseness of the trees began to thin, and the sounds of the alien forest started to disappear.

Then, all at once, the came across a house. Although, ‘house’ may be understating. It was more of a mansion than anything else. It as sturdy-looking and simplistic on the outside, but modern enough; save for one side of the house made solely of glass.

He didn’t have to guess who the house belonged to; only Qui-Gon would be that needlessly dramatic.

When they broke the tree barrier, fifty feet or so from the front door, they stopped and looked at each-other.

“Well?” Obi-Wan asked, doing a good job of hiding his slowly building fear, “Should we keep the man waiting?”

“We need a plan,” Plo Koon advised, always the voice of reason.

“I have one,” Anakin volunteered, “We go in, we get Ahsoka, and we take Qui-Gon into custody – preferably, the hard way.”

“…No, I don’t think it will work,” Obi-Wan argued, stroking his beard thoughtfully, “He will expect something like that. He invited us here, remember? He knows exactly what he’s up against, and will have prepared accordingly.”

“There’s only one way to find out,” Anakin argued back, “And we didn’t come all this way just to stop here.”

He started walking towards the house and the impatient escort droid, and was surprised when no cautious arm shot out to stop him. A few moments later, he heard footsteps trod after him reluctantly.

It took far too much time to make it through the snow to the house, in his opinion. The droid opened the door the moment they were close enough for it to be acceptable, and quickly hurried inside itself.

Anakin’s bravado had only lasted the first twenty paces. His fear was running away with him now – what condition would she be in? Had he tortured her? Was she even here, or was it another trick? How would he get her back from Qui-Gon if it came to a fight?

Anakin was talented, sure, but he lacked the experience to make him a master. Was he sure he could beat Qui-Gon, if it came to it?

He was so lost in his thoughts, he almost didn’t notice the tingling in the back of his head till it started to ease. He paused, not sure what to make of it. He expanded his senses to gauge what was wrong, only to find that he couldn’t.

He shot a panicked look to Obi-Wan, who met his eyes with the same confusion and anxiety.

Force inhibitor?’ he mouthed.

Anakin nodded. It certainly felt like that to him.

Feemor came up between them, face hard and impassive. He glanced at them both, then nodded forward. He climbed the short steps into the house, and stood there waiting. Anakin and Obi-Wan followed, secretly glad that Qui-Gon’s first had taken the lead.

Plo Koon came up last, shaking the snow from his boots as he joined them. Quite suddenly, the droid stepped in front of him.

“Only Masters Skywalker, Kenobi and Strahl have been invited. You will have to wait outside.”

“That,” Obi-Wan said, “Is not going to happen.”

Plo Koon paused, thinking, then seemed to come to a silent conclusion.

“Go on ahead,” he said determinedly, “I will… wait.”

They shared a look between them. They didn’t have the time to find another plan, and the droid was already hurrying them along. They stayed and watched as the door closed behind them, locking Master Plo outside. From there on, they sensed no more through the Force.

They were led through the dazzling halls and clean rooms, down towards the center of the house. They stepped into a dining room of sorts, set out with a long table. It was stacked high with food, filling the air with a meaty tang that made Anakin’s mouth water. There was another smell too- something burning; but he couldn’t place it.

All three of them stopped dead before taking another step into the room. Despite the Force-inhibitors set out along the house’s boundary, a sick sense of dread crawled down their backs; almost a forewarning.  

Sitting at the head of the table, calmly sipping a cup of tea, was Qui-Gon Jinn.

And at the other end…

“Master?!” Ahsoka called, standing. The look on her face made his heart break -  she looked so relieved.

He suddenly felt light-headed, as if a giant weight had been removed from his shoulders. She stood in front of him – a little banged up, a little bruised, but alive and not critically injured. Thank the Force.

Something to her left moved, and Anakin turned to see if it was a threat. Hazel eyes met his own blue, just as relieved as Ahsoka’s were.

Rex. It was Rex. In much worse condition, but also alive.

Had he not still been in a dangerous situation, he would’ve broken down and sobbed right then and there. 

Then Rex flinched, biting down a moan, and Ahsoka turned her full attention back to him. Anakin only now noticed that something wasn’t right – a glass of wine had fallen to the floor, spilling its contents on the tiles.

Mingling in with the purple juice was blood.

Rex’s hand had been pinned to the table, by a butter knife that had been stabbed straight through his hand. The white tablecloth around it had been soaked a deep, vicious red, and a steady drip, drip, drip of blood trickled to the floor below.

The burning smell came back in full force, and Anakin realized its origin – Ahsoka. An angry, raw burn coated one bare shoulder. Two separatist assassin droids standing almost out of sight, were the most likely culprits. He’d been so busy watching Ahsoka, he hadn’t even noted their presence.

His vision turned red.

This time, a cautious arm did shoot out to stop him from doing something stupid.

He was so angry, so filled with rage, that he was willing to turn all of that savagery on whomever had stopped him from gutting the sith; had it not been Obi-Wan.

He pleaded silently with Anakin, begging him to wait; to think. To not run into this blind. Qui-Gon would be prepared for an attack – they had to think this through.

Anakin took a very, very deep breath.

“Hey, Snips,” he called, not taking his eyes off Qui-Gon, “You and Rex okay?”

“Define, ‘okay’,” she answered, also focused on the sith.

“We have recently discovered latent homicidal tendencies we never knew we had. And Rex needs a medic. But other than that, peachy.”

Despite himself, Anakin cracked a grin. If she was lucid enough to answer his questions with sarcasm, then she’d be fine. Rex, however, deeply worried him.

Qui-Gon finally decided to speak.

“I was starting to worry that my droid had gotten lost; I’m pleased to see you made it. As you can see, your padawan is fine.”

Fine?” Anakin asked, disbelieving, “You call that burn on her shoulder ‘fine’?”

“A flaw in one of my droid’s programming that will be dealt with; I assure you, I was just as surprised.”

’Surprised?’” Anakin echoed, venom dripping from every syllable, “And what would you call Rex’s condition?”

Qui-Gon frowned, confused, before realization seemed to dawn on him.

“Ah, the clone,” he said, then gave Anakin a strange look, “Why do ask? It’s alive, isn’t it?”

This time, it was Obi-Wan who nearly snapped. Anakin was so surprised at having to hold him back, that he almost – almost – forgot his own rage.

“Enough of this,” Feemor said, alarmingly close to murder, “We are taking Padawan Tano and Captain Rex back into our custody; are you going to put up a fight?”

“No,” he said simply, returning to his tea, “You may take both, of course. I hardly have any legal jurisdiction over either of them.”

Anakin’s brain stalled, and Obi-Wan blinked several times. Even Ahsoka turned her attention from Rex back to Qui-Gon quizzically. It seemed that in her short time here, she’d quickly discovered his unpredictability.

“However,” he added after a moment, “I wouldn’t mind having a word with you three first.”

Anakin had to bite his tongue to keep from laughing. He wanted ‘a word’ with them? Like they were misbehaving padawans he meant to correct?

Like hell.

Taking the initiative, Anakin strode up to Ahsoka’s side of the table. The droids’ heads snapped in his direction, but otherwise, they did nothing to stop him. When he came up to her, she stopped examining Rex long enough to wrap an arm around her master, relief clear in her movements.

He paused long enough to hug her back, before turning to Rex.

“You alright there, Captain?”

Rex – in an uncharacteristic display of sass – turned to give him a look. Do I kriffing look alright? Seemed to be the message.

Obi-Wan and Feemor came up behind them; the former took to carefully examining Rex’s hand, while the latter kept a close watch on Qui-Gon. Obi-Wan shot a glance at Rex’s face to gauge the amount of pain he was in (spoiler: if a clone actually showed strong discomfort in an injury, they were likely in agony), and did a double-take.

What,” he asked, voice strained to the point of snapping, “Is this?

Anakin turned to see what it was that had horrified Obi-Wan so much, when he caught sight of Captain Rex’s neck. Purple, green and yellow bruises made his neck look like a canvas splotched with paint – even already a few days old, they must’ve been incredibly painful.

In hindsight, Anakin felt no guilt at throwing the first punch. He was amazed he’d even held it together until that point, knowing him.

There was only a beat in between seeing Rex’s wound and him Force-flipping the table, but it was enough for Qui-Gon to sense the blue blade coming for him.

A long, slim, red counterpart matched Anakin’s stroke, colliding in a violet gleam. Surprise coated Qui-Gon’s face, but it quickly turned to rage. Any padawan of his could’ve told you that despite his own maverick ways, he did not tolerate insolence from those in his care.

Anakin was talented, but talent did not match experience in any field. The blond knight went flying backwards, crashing against the far wall. Ahsoka had shoved Rex down, and ducked herself with barely a moment to spare.

Obi-Wan paused long enough to give Anakin’s groaning form a look, before turning to finish what his padawan had started. This time, Qui-Gon struck first – not to kill, but to debilitate only.

That was his mistake. Obi-Wan was not feeling particularly merciful that day; and neither was Feemor, by the looks of things.

Feemor’s blade, much like Master Mace Windu’s, was unique – a red kyber crystal combined with his own, natural green. The bronze shaft of light never stopped moving once ignited, driving Qui-Gon back step-by-step. Obi-Wan chimed in often, helping to press any advantage Feemor bought them.

Even though they had never fought together before today, their movements were perfect – every parry, thrust and sweep measured and executed in perfect synchronization. The only flaw any master would’ve found was a tinge of rage seeping from their attacks, and reluctance in their defense.

Ahsoka – once certain that her master’s dramatics hadn’t made Rex’s hand worse – ran to Anakin’s side.

He moaned, clearly in pain, but he was alive at least. Seeing that he wasn’t going to get up for a good few minutes, she snatched the lightsaber out of his hand turned to help Obi-Wan and Feemor.

From across the room, Qui-Gon spotted her, and glowered. He let out a sharp whistle.

The assassin droids, who’d been silent watchers until now, suddenly leapt into action, tasered staffs in hand. One ran for her directly, while the other cut around her, seeming to try and come at her from the side.

She barely brought her blade up in time to stop it, but from there on, instinct took over. It only took her a few minutes to overpower the droids, but it was a few minutes too long.

A sharp yell from behind called her attention away from her attackers – Master Strahl. For all he was an incredible dualist, he didn’t get the amount of practice Obi-Wan got. The small break in the attack against him didn’t go to waste – Qui-Gon levelled a kick at Obi-Wan’s midsection that sent him flying a good meter before he crashed hard.

Without the aid, Feemor wouldn’t last much longer.

She cut one droid in half with a well-placed strike, and the other went down courtesy of an unexpected attacker – Rex.

He’d held onto the lightsaber given to her earlier that day, and its red blade erupted out of the droid’s metal chest-casing.

With only a nod of acknowledgement, she ran to aid Master Strahl, who’d quickly had to give ground under Qui-Gon’s barrage.

“Rex?”

Rex turned, watching Anakin stumble to his feet. The general groped around him for his ‘saber, not remembering Ahsoka taking it. Rex gently tossed the saber he held to Anakin, who caught it instinctively.

His confused expression would’ve been funny, had the situation been any less dire.

Rex sat down hard, woozy, and watched with somewhat glazed eyes as his general tore off to help the others. Typical.

For a moment, it looked as if they’d win. Anakin, Ahsoka and Feemor had Qui-Gon surrounded, and were forcing him to block and attack in three separate directions at once.

Then, Qui-Gon aimed a well-placed kick to Feemor’s leg, bringing him down hard. It was the same place he’d been injured before – the cry that had startled Ahsoka – and the eldest among Qui-Gon’s padawans buckled.

Then, it was just Anakin and Ahsoka.

It was going to be a close call, regardless of the odds. Qui-Gon started to regain ground, pushing harder and harder, and it wasn’t long before his assailants started slipping.

Then, just as things seemed to be worsening, a thundering BOOM! Shook the floor. Pausing the fight, everyone still standing fought to regain their balance. The first explosion was followed by another, and then a third, gradually growing louder and louder.

Rex was awake long enough to hear General Strahl say, “Ah; Master Plo has arrived.”

Then the floor gave way beneath them, and the world went dark.

   

Chapter Text

Ahsoka woke up twice over their journey back to Coruscant.

The first time, she’d only blinked her eyes open, wondering what the pain in her head was. The optic sensors of a Republic med droid zoomed in on her, and a bright light from somewhere behind her glinted off its casing. She lay on something hard – an examination table? – and she heard raised voices off to her left.

Before she could do anything, sleep reclaimed her.

The second time, her position hadn’t changed, though her headache had mercifully eased. A weight on her left arm made her look down, and she found Rex’s sleeping form bent over a chair at her bedside.

She was still on the examination table, but someone had tucked something soft beneath her head. Rex snored slightly in his sleep, scrunching up his face, and she smiled. She raised her hand, and set it on his, before drifting off again.

The next time she awoke, she got the sense that a lot of time had passed. Something in the air felt different, but deeply familiar and comforting. She would recognize the feel of the Force anywhere.

‘Welcome home, little one,’ it seemed to sing, ‘you’ve been gone too long’.

She heartily agreed. As Qui-Gon’s captive, all she’d wanted to do was go home, back to the Jedi Temple on Coruscant – to think she’d ever wanted to leave!

She smiled, and opened her eyes. The sterile whiteness of the Halls of Healing was jarring at first, but her eyes adapted quickly. As sleep faded away, other things became apparent – voices, far off, and the buzz of temple med-droids.

The smell of bacta filled her nose, making her cringe. Someone from her right- side chuckled, amused, and she had half a mind to crawl out of her recovery bed and put them in their own one.

She turned to find a familiar set of blue eyes staring down at her. Anakin, of course. Had he stayed with her the whole time?

No, clearly not. Bandages wrapped their way around his head, neatly tucked back – far too neatly for him to have struggled, like he normally did.

“And sleeping beauty awakes!” he announced, grinning. She would’ve kicked his ass for teasing her, if she’d had the energy.

The best she managed was to stick her tongue out at him in the most immature way she could. He laughed loudly, then promptly flinched, clutching his chest.

She grinned at him cheekily, and he scowled.

“I go searching the galaxy for you, high and low, and this is how you repay me? I always thought better of you, Snips.”

She snorted, disbelieving.

“And another thing!” he said, slightly more serious, “the next time I tell you to get into an escape pod, get into the escape pod. Understood?”

She nodded obligingly, and he must’ve thought she meant it, because he backed off a touch. Another laugh from her left called her attention.

“If you two are done,” Master Kenobi asked, sarcasm dripping from every syllable, “Master Che would like a chance to check on Ahsoka’s injuries, now that she’s awake.”

Anakin raised his hands in surrender, and backed up a step. A lively, turquoise twi’lek woman stepped into his place, bright eyes keenly taking in her form. Her white over-robes showed her status as a healer, and the embroidering on the edge of the long tassels were proof of her experience.

She rattled off a long list of questions, most of which made little sense to Ahsoka, and stayed for full half an hour to check her wounds. 

Master Kenobi was called away before long, as was Anakin, but the latter remained right where he was. Not even Master Windu summoning him on his comm. unit got him to move.

Once Master Che had declared Ahsoka’s condition stable and improving, she told her to get some rest, and moved on to the next bed. She glanced at the bed for the first time. She’d thought it was empty, as most of the beds were, but now she saw that it did, indeed, have a person in it.

Probably the first non-jedi to ever lie in that bed.

“Rex?” she called, curious and worried. No response came from the bed.

“It’s alright, youngling,” Master Che reassured, from where she was analyzing her datapad. “he is stable, and will be fine. However, he is sleep-deprived, malnourished and weak. He needs his rest.”

Ahsoka frowned deeply, and turned to her master, who had been silent the whole time. Anakin smiled at her kindly, and she almost smiled back – but something in his eyes stopped her.

Something guilty.

She only just realized that he’d shut down his side of their bond – ‘intentionally closed’ felt different from ‘suppressed’, something she hadn’t noticed at first. And although her master had a knack for blaming himself for everything, something about this was different.

She gave him a considering look, trying to figure out what was wrong. He chose that moment to – at long last – answer his comm.

“Sorry, Snips,” he said, “I really have to get this.”

She watched him leave with a sour taste in her mouth, and the feeling that something was being kept from her.

Her thoughts went back to the mansion, and the rooms. The care, the detail; how wrong and frustrating it had all seemed. And the looks on Anakin, Master Kenobi and Master Strahl’s faces when they’d stepped into the room, and had looked at the Sith. Something there wasn’t right.

She was missing something – and they knew what it was. They probably had the whole time.

A soft chuckle caught her montrals, and she turned to see what it was. Many meters away, Master Strahl and Master Kenobi were deep in a conversation she couldn’t make out. Master Kenobi’s back was to her, and she couldn’t make out what it was, but it must have been sobering.

Master Strahl’s smile faltered, and he stroked his beard thoughtfully. That small movement was all it took – suddenly, a hundred and one other things jumped out at her. The way their obis, their belts, were wrapped; the quirked eyebrows when they disapproved of something you said; their tabards, and gloves, the way they walked, the way they spoke. All at once, they seemed so similar. How hadn’t she noticed it before?

Had Master Strahl been Master Kenobi’s master? It was possible – he was old enough – but if so, then why never mention it? Why was it a subject she’d never been allowed to bring up?

Something didn’t make sense. Something was missing – a piece of information she didn’t have. It felt like the kind of thing she’d kick herself later for not noticing. And it was driving her mad.

“Ahsoka?”

She jumped, and nearly squawked in a very un-jedi-like way.

“Barriss?!”

The mirialin girl smiled, and action that creased her navy-blue eyes in the corners, and Ahsoka couldn’t help but smile back.

“Sorry for startling you,” she said apologetically.

“It’s cool!” Ahsoka said, relaxing somewhat, and trying to make it look like she hadn’t nearly jumped out of her skin. She didn’t think she was successful.  

She noticed that Barriss’s ordinary robes were covered by plain, white ones. Of course – Barriss had a strong talent for healing. It made sense, that she’d be an assistant in the halls.

“How’ve you been managing?” She asked, sitting down on the edge of Ahsoka’s cot.

“Surprisingly well, though it might be too early to speak. I did just wake up.”

Barriss smiled sympathetically.

“Of course… listen, I know what you went through must’ve been tough, and if you need any help… well, I’m here.”

Ahsoka’s heart warmed. A small voice in the back of her head warned of attachment, but she squished it down. Pretty girl now. Jedi code later.

“Thanks, Barriss. That really means a lot,” For a moment, her eyes drifted from Barriss’s, and she caught sight of Masters Kenobi and Strahl parting ways.

An idea popped into her head – a very bad idea. It wasn’t illegal, per se, but it was a dick move. It was brilliant.

“Actually…” she said, meeting her friend’s eyes with a wicked grin, showing off her sharp teeth, “There is something you could do for me…”

It was at 05:00 the next morning when the call came through to Anakin’s comm. unit.

He wished he could say he’d been sleeping, finally calm and relaxed now that Ahsoka was safe; but that would be a lie. He was in Obi-Wan’s room, pacing a tread mark into the rug, anxiety and guilt clawing at his being.

He had to tell her. About Qui-Gon, and why he’d targeted Ahsoka. About how he’d been back for months.

About how they’d kept her in the dark, foolishly thinking she’d be safe.

About how much danger she’d been in the entire time, without her knowledge.

About how it was he and Obi-Wan’s decision to leave her unawares.

Force, she was going to hate him when this was done.

Obi-Wan sat on a mat in front of the window, meditating. Anakin felt guilty about that, too – his master had been through a lot, and he deserved his rest. Yet here Anakin was, filling the room with anxiety and making it impossible for anyone in a quarter-click radius to sleep.

The beeping of his comm. was almost a relief, to be honest. It might be an excuse to put off his conversation with Ahsoka, as cowardly as that was.

“Skywalker, here.”

“Master Skywalker, this is Padawan Barriss Offee calling from the Halls of Healing. You’re Padawan Tano’s master, yes?”

“Yes…” he answered, suddenly worried.

“Is everything okay?”

Obi-Wan stood from the meditation mat, and made his way over.

“I’m afraid… well, Ahsoka’s condition… you may simply have to come see for yourself.”

With that, the padawan hung up.

Anakin paused only a moment before taking off, flying through the temple like he had a sith lord on his tail. Obi-Wan initially tried to move at a calmer pace, but gave up after a moment, and darted after his apprentice.

They made it to the Halls in just under seven minutes, which must have been a new record. The place was nearly deserted, save for a few sleeping forms, and maybe a handful of healers burning the midnight oil.

Anakin only slowed when her bed came into sight, though his anxiety didn’t ease until he tore back the curtain and found her sitting up, perfectly fine.

He let out a deep sigh of relief, and took a seat at her side, while Obi-Wan tried for a bit more decorum.

“Padawan,” he asked, “Are you alright? We heard something had changed?”

Ahsoka smiled at them both serenely as they tried to catch their breaths. She sipped from a glass on her bedside table before answering.

“I’m fine. I just wanted to talk to you two.”

Anakin made a strangled noise.

“Ahsoka, that was extremely inappropriate! We thought you’d slipped into a coma, or… something!”

“Calm down,” she did he best to placate him, “It’s important!”

Anakin shut his jaw with an audible click. Sighing, he sat back, opting to listen to what she had to say.

“You two,” she said, gesturing from Anakin to Obi-Wan, “have been keeping something from me. And I wanna know what.

The two elder jedi shared a glance, trying to judge how much they should tell her. She gave them both a look she could only have learnt from Obi-Wan.

“Listen, Jinn didn’t exactly give a lot of details, but I know this has something to do with you two, and Master Strahl. What’s going on?”

Anakin sighed.

“Listen, Ahsoka… Qui-Gon Jinn… Well…” He glanced back at Obi-Wan, voice strained, “Jump in, anytime.

Obi-Wan looked like a deer caught in the headlights; he decided to remain silent.

Anakin sighed.

“Listen, Ahsoka… We were going to tell you, we were, but… it never seemed to be the right time, and we never would’ve dreamed that he would’ve gone for you first, out of all of us-”

“Master!” she interrupted harshly, “Just spit it out! I’m too tired for a dramatic monologue!”

Anakin was stunned silent for only a moment.

“Qui-Gon Jinn, the sith who kidnapped you, was once a jedi master by the same name. He trained both Obi-Wan and Master Strahl, along with another, deceased, padawan named Xanatos Du Curion. He disappeared, after the Battle of Naboo.” He paused to nervously rub the back of his neck, “He is also the jedi master who found me on Tattooine, and brought me to the temple.”

Ahsoka took her time to quietly digest this, making sure she understood everything he’d just said. It might have been her imagination, but she could’ve sworn the temperature of the room dropped a couple of degrees.

It didn’t help much that she felt like an idiot.

Everything suddenly made so much sense. It was like she’d spent weeks agonizing over a puzzle, only to have someone walk by, take one look at it, and put the final piece in its place with a ‘There, stupid!’ thrown in.

“How long has he been back for?” she asked quietly, not really sure she wanted to know.

Her masters shared another infuriating look, before Master Kenobi finally spoke.

“Three months now, counting the time you were missing for. As far as we know.”

Three months, she thought, That long?

Her face stayed perfectly impassive, even though her hands had tightened around the glass hard enough to turn her knuckles white. Anakin and Obi-Wan waited with baited breath to hear her response, not certain of what they’d do if she turned out to be furious with them.

“Why…” she frowned, “Why didn’t you tell me? He could’ve killed us both many times; and believe me, he tried.”

Anakin resisted the urge to glance at Rex’s cot – barely.

“We believed you would be safe,” Obi-Wan answered, voice soft, “We’d hoped – foolishly, in hindsight – that he would have no interest in you or Giova Nani. That was obviously not the case.”

“So, you kept me in the dark,” she said, with an edge to her voice that reminded him of Padmé, “Because you hoped he wouldn’t be interested in me? There was nothing else to corroborate that?”

Anakin and Obi-Wan had no answer to that question.

Silence passed between them, with no-one having anything to add to either argument. Ahsoka sighed deeply, sounding worn all the way down to her bones, and Anakin couldn’t help but think she sounded like Obi-Wan.

Force, he hoped this wasn’t a sign that he was going to be attacked with logic, reason and sass from both sides now.

“Is Giova at least aware now?”

“Yes,” Obi-Wan answered, relaxing slightly, “Feemor has told her everything.”

“Okay, then,” Ahsoka said, relieved, “I understand. I don’t like what you did, and if you do it again, I’m gonna kick both of your butts; but as long as we’re prepared for him now, we’re good.”

Anakin released a breath, finally able to breathe easily again. He was so proud of her.

“Oh, don’t relax yet,” She said, eyes hard, “You both still have to explain yourselves to Rex. He won’t drag you, mainly for rank reasons, but I really don’t think it’ll be a fun experience.”

Anakin swore to himself, then and there, that he must never allow his young padawan to befriend Padmé Amidala. Force knew the havoc those two would wreak on his sanity if they got along. 

Qui-Gon crawled out of the wreckage of his home on all fours, thankful for the icy snow beneath his body. It had both broken his fall, and numbed the pain of the spiteful, agonizing burns along his back and legs.

Plo Koon. Qui-Gon had sensed the kel-dorian’s presence in his home a moment too late to do anything about it. The bastard had rigged the heating generators in the basement to blow, before taking cover. While Qui-Gon had been burned and bleeding, the jedi master had slipped through the rubble and collected everyone of import – including the clone, strangely enough.

The irony of his position was not lost on him; his pathetic crawl to safety was not too different from four months ago, when he’d scrambled his way out of Sidious’s dungeons.

Now, he was back where he started. Alone, heartbroken and in searing pain.

Great.

At least I got to see them, he thought, even though the darkness he felt within himself laughed at his grasping. Feemor, tall and strong; Obi-Wan, skilled and capable; Anakin, grown and healthy. He’d seen them with his own eyes, and they him.

That, in actuality, was a part of the problem. They had attacked him, enraged at the clone’s condition. He’d never thought they’d care that much; there were so many of them, all bred for one purpose. And that purpose was not to be cherished and cared for. Still, he’d obviously miscalculated the affection they carried for their soldiers. Even if he didn’t personally agree, he had to give some leeway there. He couldn’t make that mistake twice.

‘Twice?’ A small voice in the back of his head whispered, ‘You’re going after them again? Pathetic!’

No, it was not. They were his children; his family. Getting them back was not pathetic!

‘They clearly don’t love you, though,’ the voice continued, unperturbed, ‘They were horrified by you. Repulsed. Disgusted! Did you see the looks on their faces? If you go back to them, they’ll slice you in half!’

No. No, it couldn’t be true. They loved him – they had to! He had raised two of them and rescued the third; how could they not hold at least some affection for him?

The jedi, he thought, realizing who was responsible for this. It was the jedi that held his sons and granddaughters in their care. They had poisoned their minds, and made them believe things about him that weren’t true. Things about the sith that weren’t true.

His strength returned to him as his rage reared up once again, billowing in the dark. He would have his justice. He would have his revenge.

The jedi would pay.

But he couldn’t do it alone. He knew that now; he needed help if he wanted to succeed in his plan. Someone who wanted the jedi gone and dead as much as he did.

It was time to contact his old master; Count Dooku.

 

Rex was lying patiently, in his bed in the hall of healing, when his guest arrived.

He’d been slowly getting used to the strange place he was in; younglings running around, no older than twelve, with adorably small training ‘sabers hanging from their little belts. Soft, clean, white over-robes that were just a tad too big were thrown over their shoulders, marking them as healing students.

Many had come to him, curious; they’d never met a clone before, despite the fact that most of them would be padawans soon enough.

Older healers, with proper lightsabers and longer, more intricate robes, moved around at a much slower pace; they checked on patients, brought good food and dodged the wayward droid or child. Most were smiley, lively and patient.

The place itself looked more like a piece of renaissance artwork than a medward; tall marble archways and elegant statues could be found wherever you looked. Nothing ever got in the way, but it was still a bit much for his tastes. In all the jedi intricacies and artwork, his vod stood out like a sore thumb.

“Cody.”

Cody smiled, crinkling his tired eyes.

“How’ve you been holding up, vod’ika?” He asked, taking a seat at the end of Rex’s cot. He held his bucket in his hands out of respect, but set it aside the moment he sat down.

“Better ‘an I expected, really. I’m surprised I made it out at all. Please tell me the boys haven’t gone soft while I was away?”

Cody laughed, a sound Rex could’ve picked out of a crowd of brothers.

“I could tell you that, sure, but I’m not sure how true it would be. We all thought you were dead. You…” Cody paused, face falling slightly, “You gave us all a scare.”

Rex’s own smile faded, before returning softer.

“Sorry, vod. Next time I get kidnapped, I’ll be sure I get an honorary mention in the ransom video.”

Cody sighed deeply, as if he was questioning his life choices, and Rex chuckled.

A healer standing off to the side – the one who’d escorted Cody in, he thought – coughed pointedly, and sent the clones an apologetic look.

They both sobered slightly, realizing the short visit was at an end already.  

“Get better quick, vod’ika,” Cody ordered, standing up, “I’m not sure how long Jesse can hold your place until someone demotes him.”

“You left Jesse in charge?!” Rex asked, horrified, “Good Gods of the Sea, I’m going back to pure anarchy, aren’t I?”

Cody spared him another, genuine, smile.

“Like I said; heal up quick.

After that, Cody left Rex alone, allowing his escort to guide him out of the temple. The fact that they’d even let him in was something of a miracle; one that Rex intended to keep in mind.

He was just about to doze off again, comfortably curled into his cot, when the hairs on the back of his neck stood up straight. Someone was watching him – he knew it like he knew he had ten fingers and ten toes.

He glanced casually over to his right, and found the largest pair of bright green eyes he’d ever seen staring at him over the edge of the bed. A patch of unruly, dark brown hair accompanied the youngling, along with darkly tanned skin not too much lighter than Rex’s own.

For a moment, neither said anything. Then, the kid stood up a little straighter so that his chin and elbows could rest on the edge of the bed, and begun asking a flurry of questions.

“You’re one of those clones, right? The ones fighting on the front lines? I haven’t met a clone trooper before! What’s your designation number? Do you have a name? Do you get to pick a name yourself, or does someone else pick it for you? Do you…”

The kid trailed off at Rex’s expression. He must’ve seen how wide Rex’s eyes had gone at the kid’s verbal barrage. After a moment of consideration, Rex finally spoke.

“Yes, I’m a clone. Yes, I fight on the front lines, with the Five-hundred-and-first Attack Battalion under General Skywalker. We call our ‘designation numbers’, ‘birth digits’, and mine is CT-7567. My name is Rex, and I got that name because during basic training, I broke three generators, two shelves of blasters, eight forks and a flight simulator. Honestly, our names are mostly picked by ourselves, but sometimes, by others... Anything else?”

The kid stared at him, eyes like saucers, before bursting into giggles.

“That’s so wizard!” he exclaimed between peals of laughter, “No-one’s ever answered my questions like THAT before! I like you!”

Rex smiled back at the kid. How could he not? Even clone troopers were helpless against such cuteness. All of a sudden, Caleb climbed up onto the bed and curled up under Rex’s arm.

“I’m Caleb Dumé! Hey, can I ask you more questions? My teachers say I should try and answer my questions myself, cause I sometimes have a lot of them, and they can’t finish teaching the classes.”

Rex stuttered for a moment, before saying “Sure?” The kid was already there. Might as well. He made the mistake of looking at the edge of his bed, and found two more pairs of eyes staring at him.

“Can we join in too?” One of them, a small, blue twi’lek boy, asked.

“Okay?” Rex answered, not sure what else to say. There were no training manuals on what to do when you were bombarded with baby jedi.

The twi’lek boy, and the other child – a chocolate-skinned human girl with a bush of pitch-black ringlets and big brown eyes – jumped on top of the bed, doing their very best to find a comfy spot.

The twi’lek boy – Sammo, Rex later learns, is his name – claims his other armpit, so the girl – Tai – plops herself on his lap.

Many, many hours later, Master Che walks by and finds the three younglings, who’d gone missing from there field trip to the Halls of Healing, safely coddled up to a clone trooper, fast asleep.

She smiled. They’ve never been in the field before, she thinks to herself, but even the jedi younglings know where they are safest – right next to a clone trooper.

 

The End.