"Padmé… you have to do something for me, and you have to do it now," Anakin said, his hands on her shoulders. The more he considered the conversation at the opera, the more convinced he was of his theory. "Please, promise me."
Padmé blinked in surprise, looking up at her husband's set (resolute, and oh, his ship was named truly) face with sudden concern. Anakin had been so locked into himself, hiding from her when he wasn't raging, ever since the Jedi Council had committed their act of mind-numbing idiocy in asking him to betray a man he considered one of his closest friends. He'd clung to her almost desperately, was doing it now, but he had been a million klicks away emotionally. "What do you need me to do, my husband?"
"I need you to hide. I need you to use every technique I ever taught you about blocking a Sith from your mind… even against me," Anakin told her at his most serious. "I need you to leave here, don't tell me where, and stay gone until things quiet down. I can't tell you why, but I need you to, so I can do what I have to do."
She stared up at him, swallowing against a sudden flare of nausea at his words. The idea of hiding from him, of disappearing now, when things were so bad, when Bail was going to need every vote he could possibly get to even try curtailing the obscenity the Chancellor's newest powers were made everything in her need to protest -- but Anakin asked her for so little.
No, Anakin never asked her for anything but her love. For him to ask it now, when things felt so desperate... She straightened her spine, lifting her jaw, and nodded once. "I'll get Moté to take the Senator's garb. I'm not technically supposed to, but it's also not... illegal. As Naboo was ridiculously generous when I stepped down, anyway.
"How will I know?"
"You will," he answered that firmly. "Because you understand things, and know how power moves." He pulled her in tighter, tucking her head under his chin as he held her, so afraid it would be the last time he saw her. If he was wrong, she might still die like in his visions.
He didn't think he was wrong, though, and was only slightly aware he could be the one who would die. If he failed… but he never failed, not when it really mattered.
Padmé tucked herself against him, wrapping him tight in her arms, and told his chest, "You are not allowed to make me a widow, Anakin Skywalker, or leave our child fatherless. Am I understood?"
He smiled, a huff of air escaping in a dry, almost-laugh. "You keep yourself and our baby safe, Padmé, and I will be there." Somehow, he would reach her, once this was over. Not even death would stop him.
"Execute Order 66."
Bly and his men brought their weapons to bear as one as the order came across. General Secura heard them preparing for action and quickly scanned the entire vista ahead, certain that she'd failed to note a threat they had seen.
It hit Bly in his chest, prompting his loyalty, long since given first to his General, then to the Republic. There was a pain in his head, but she was his; she was their General and could never be a traitor.
"General, evade!" Bly snapped out, holding himself hostage, much as his men were. Aayla Secura, feeling the Force warn her, hearing his strain, just moved with all of her speed to get free of them.
"She's getting away!" one of their newest sergeants barked out… and the man next to him clubbed him hard enough to silence him for now.
"Now we make certain she stays safe," Bly said, picking up the pace of the march as the sergeant's men scooped him up to go, confusion the most common state of being.
It was the fact she was on Coruscant that saved Shaak Ti. They had had warning, were prepping for possible retaliation when she saw them coming. She, and others, rallied to defend the Temple, and her eyes fell on the ranks marching their way with concern.
"This is not you, my sons," she spoke through the speaker to them. "Turn away."
"Good soldiers —"
Fox didn't get the rest of the words out, as fighting broke out in the ranks, before one strong voice yelled above the noise.
Shaak Ti wasted no time, as they had begun moving the younglings and infants on the first warning. Her sons were fighting something within, and she would not sacrifice the strength and bravery of those slowing the ones already lost.
Appo sweated feverishly as he and his men paced and prowled around the prone body of their General. The order said all Jedi were to die as traitors, yet how could that be?. They had found Skywalker like this, unconscious, smoking from some attack, but still breathing. He had summoned them, and they had been ordered to guard the prone body by one of the Chancellor's own guards.
Their General had bled for them. And Appo had seen what Force Lightning did to people, suspected that was the source of the attack.
"Dammit, Rex, where are you?" he begged the Force, or just the air, wishing the man were here to make it logical again.
"The General is not a traitor; he is our vod," Jesse snapped. "If anyone is a traitor, it is the man that did this." He'd survived treachery from a jetii, but he believed in his general, in Kenobi, in his lost Commander.
"Then… that order is unlawful," Appo said. "And we have a duty. Load up the General… we're leaving!"
Captain Jag and his wingmen were shot down in seconds, well before they could do more than lightly damage Plo's ship. The Wolfpack encircled him, even as Plo heard Wolffe having to assert his authority over the rest of them.
"General, not safe, go to ground!" Wolffe growled at his general. "I'm fine, but my brothers… they've been given orders to shoot to kill!"
"I go, but I deeply regret the need!" Plo said, peeling off and executing evasive maneuvers to avoid any other encounters, refusing to make any of his sons turn on him like this.
What had happened?
Ahsoka heard the request at the door of her tiny, low-level apartment with surprise. She cast a look at her -- well, sometimes partner, sometimes irritant -- and watched the older woman slip to the 'fresher. She'd been uneasy, and wondered where the Army was pushing now, what had happened, because it felt like the Force kept dimming in the Galaxy.
She moved to open the door, using the Force while she stood on the other side of it… and then all the tension fled, replaced by honest worry to see the cloaked person on her doorstep. She let her eyes go wide, but gestured for her to enter before saying a word. Even then, she sealed the door and then added an extra level of security.
"You… why are you here? And you're fat!" Ahsoka said, the description slipping out without thinking.
"I am not 'fat'," Padmé protested, glaring at her husband's betrayed and abandoned padawan (not by them, not ever, but by the Council), grateful that Ahsoka had trusted her chief of security enough to give him a way to find her, and more grateful that she hadn't gotten off the planet yet, "I'm pregnant. And I'm here because Anakin begged me to hide."
Ahsoka didn't know which part of that to address first, and just shook her head, her lekku twitching. "If he asked, he's got reason. And okay, a baby. That's cool, even though I swear he gave me a lecture when I was dealing with that boy…." She broke off, moving to embrace the woman gently. Padmé noticed the girl's head definitely came up higher on her now. "Just one thing, though, before we get you settled in."
"Oh? What's that?" Padmé asked, a little disappointed that she hadn't gotten a yelp out of Ahsoka, but then again, she did tend to focus on the immediate priorities. Also, her twitching lekku and the shade of them said that she was very, very concerned.
"Oh, she probably just wanted to warn you I was here, darling," came the throaty tones of one former Sithly assassin. Asajj came out of the 'fresher, a smile playing at her lips for the situation in front of her.
"Asajj, please don't flirt with the Senator," Ahsoka said in a patient tone, rolling her eyes. "Yes, Padmé; Asajj and I have been helping each other work on documents and acquiring a ship. Which is why I haven't left planet yet. But I promise she's got no interest in selling you out," Ahsoka continued, glaring across the room at the older woman.
Asajj merely broadened her smile and shrugged.
Padmé glared at the tall, bald woman balefully, but if Ahsoka, who had nearly been killed by her so many times, could trust her, live with her in these cramped quarters, then... "Alright, Ahsoka. You'd know better than I would -- and you, at least, will tell me if I'm shielding my presence well enough to hide me from... everyone else like you."
Ahsoka focused on her friend, and nodded. "Skyguy's been teaching you Teräs Käsi, I bet," she said, admiring the shieldwork. "Didn't realize he had learned some of it… wonder which master taught him? Anyway, okay, you're hiding, I'm protecting, and …." She looked over to her friend to see what her input was.
"If that gundark of your former master is this concerned over matters, I will continue to pursue that ship we were following leads on," Asajj said. "And protect the Senator when you meet with the slicer to get us ident cards." Her offer was sincere; if Skywalker was having issues, the poodoo had hit the oscillator.
Ahsoka playfully bared teeth at her for the insult aimed at Anakin, before nodding. She then looked at Padmé with a frown. "How much time do we have before you uncork the batch?" she asked cheekily. "Because if you're supposed to be hiding, we need to be off planet if that's any time soon. Med facilities are too hard to trick, if I'm going to get you a good one."
'Uncork the -- ' Padmé was confused for a moment. Then she translated it, opened her mouth to say something about Ahsoka spending too much time with the clones, and choked that back off before she could. "I should have another two months," she said instead of anything she was thinking, and did not snarl at Ventress for the insult to her husband. "And I need to talk to you, Ahsoka."
Ahsoka nodded at that, and Asajj made a noise before gathering up their lightsabers and her cloak.
"I can certainly tell when I am the extra in the room," she said, making the youngest woman present turn and look at her fully.
"Asajj -- "
"Shh, darling. I'll come back once I know more about our ship, little huntress." Asajj made a point of coming by and running her fingertips along the back of Ahsoka's head, causing the Togruta to flush and squirm before the Dathomiri was out of the apartment.
"Sorry about that… she's been struggling to figure things out," Ahsoka told Padmé once she had the door secured again.
Padmé reached out and caught Ahsoka's fingers in hers, gently, shaking her head just a little. "It's alright, Ahsoka. I'm surprised -- more than -- but I trust you.
"Which is why I'm telling you that Anakin's having visions again -- this time of me dying with our child; that Dooku died at his hands and I think something terrible happened during it; and that the Council seems determined to test him far past breaking and I would dearly love to throttle each one of them right now."
"Well, we agree on that." Ahsoka guided her friend to the bed so they could sit; she doubted Padmé could easily get down on the floor pillows she and Asajj used to meditate on. "If he's having visions, and you are in hiding, it's worse than anything I can imagine," she said, her faith in Anakin unwavering. "As to Dooku… that will help her to know.
"But that something happened to my Skyguy to get that osik dead is probably part of why he's got you hiding, from any Force user."
Padmé nodded and settled down on the bed, leaning to wrap an arm around her. "I think so too, Ahsoka. And I certainly don't mind you telling her that part, it's public record anyway."
"She hasn't trusted the holonet," the young woman said, curling into that arm around her, holding onto her too. It didn't take much for Padmé to get that Ahsoka was overjoyed to have a friend close again. "I'll do anything it takes to keep you safe, Padmé. Not just because of Anakin, but because you've always tried to be my friend and watch out for me."
Padmé hugged her closer, tucking her in under an arm, and looked down at her bright blue eyes. "Just like you have for me, Ahsoka. Isn't that what friends are for?"
"Yeah, it is," Ahsoka answered.
All it had taken was for Comet and Boost to both keep trying to bang the side of their head into something hard, to try and make the pain stop, for Wolffe to realize there was a physical component to the fact his brothers were trying to fight his command to finish the fight on Cato Neimoidia, not go chasing the escaped 'traitor'. His head didn't hurt, but he had so much damage, and the cybernetic relay for his eye was housed near where they kept trying to bash their own skulls in at.
He was no medic, but he had no ethics against taking a small clinic hostage and forcing the droid there to render aid, keeping blasters on him the whole while.
"Brilliant work," the med-droid said in a flat voice as he extracted the chip from Boost. "Turning flesh beings into droids like us."
Wolffe had to think fast; he had to save his General and the other Jedi that were worth existing. "Funny thing is, if they do that, who needs droids anymore?" he asked gruffly, easing off his blaster in a calculated show of trust. "Ready to be obsolete?"
The med-droid considered, then took the chip to his analysis station. "I will inspect, dissect, and reverse engineer the signal that triggered it. If I am able to undo the effect, will you take your flesh creatures away from here?"
"Buddy, you reverse that signal and give me back my brothers, I'll personally order every vod off the planet so fast, your head will spin," Wolffe agreed.
The surroundings pressed in with too much life, too much fear, long before Anakin came fully conscious.
No one was touching him, and he was unbound, his lightsaber's crystal singing to him from his hip… and there were Vod'e near.
He stayed still for a little longer, trying to gather his wits past the haze of pain and the press of fear. The next thing was determining who of the Vod'e were around him... Appo. Jesse. Echo, finally back on his feet after that scare they'd had with him.
His men, his own brothers, the 501st. They'd made it to him, then. Made it to him, and gotten him... away. Once he knew that, he could open his eyes, let himself call out. "Situation?"
"Umbara-level tanked," Appo said in his most serious tone. "The Guard moved against the Temple. There's been a few dogfights in that sector that give us hope. All Jedi have been declared traitor, Sir, but given how we found you, and who told us you were to be held as a prisoner, Sir, we disagree."
"Some Jedi may be scum," Jesse snapped, "but a lot of you bleed with us, and grieve with us. Torrent stands behind you, and we're ready to do whatever you say."
"Easy, Jesse," Anakin said, pulling himself up to a sitting position to look at each of them, one by one. Ross's ghost eyes there, Echo there, Vil against the wall, Nax down the line, Appo right at his side. //Rex, vod, where are you?//
"Easy," he soothed, before tackling the trouble of the moment, last statement first. "Have to admit, I'm glad you got my message. ...apparently I shouldn't have run off to confront the Sith Master -- otherwise known as our beloved Chancellor -- alone."
The Guard had moved against the Temple. Against -- oh, kriff, no. The younglings, the crechelings... he yanked his thoughts away from that with a vicious twist of his mind, focusing desperately on what he could do. "Kriff, he's still got legal authority, we've got to rip that out of his hands or the other brothers will keep trying to kill me."
"Thought you were smoking like the way you did that one time Dooku got through your defenses, sir," Appo said. "There… was a bit of a push in our heads, to turn on you, but we're yours. I sent the main legion out into the lower levels, telling them to do peacekeeping, fully expecting us to be too deep for them to run into any actual Jedi."
"There's a contingency, sir," Echo began. "If you can get the Senate to declare him the traitor, we have orders to shoot on sight. Not sure if it will invalidate the order against the Jedi, but would make it difficult for him to move inside Republic space."
It couldn't possibly be that simple, but... "No one knows the regs like you do, Echo. If you say it's there, it's there.
"Problem: the entirety of the Guard is between us and the Senate, us and 500 Republica, and there's not a comm on this planet I'd trust. I could get through, you all know it... but I don't want to kill brothers that are followi -- " Nausea slammed up into his throat, his mouth, and he swallowed against it, his hands fisting into his cloak, as the realization hammered through him.
Appo crouched in front of him, nodding, letting his General have time to process this slavery being pushed on them. "I'm trying to limit contact, sir, but I'm worried about the Legion being recalled and the order enforced. I'd feel safer if we could just get them off this planet and somewhere to have clear comms long enough to see the big picture.
"But Fleet's going to be loyal to that Sith until we can prove otherwise." Appo drew in a deep breath, then looked at Echo and Jesse. "I say you let us run the word, sir. We can mimic our brothers, get through to a senator you trust, with a recording. Will that work?"
None of them were going to make him say it, at least. Which didn't keep Tup's agonized voice 'Good soldiers follow orders' from echoing in the back of his head. He pushed it back, forced it away, and focused on what had to be done. "It just might -- and it's a lot better chance than me trying to get there.
"It can't be Padmé, I sent her out of reach.... but one to Senator Organa, one to Senator Riyo," he paused, thinking, trying to remember who else had challenged the Chancellor -- the Sith, his betrayer, his enemy -- most. "Senator Grebleips, if you can get to him."
"Sir, we'll do it, or else," Appo told him firmly. "You keep the other half of the squad with you. This is our risk now, and you have to stay safe, have to be ready to help our brothers when we get control back."
"General… we've faith in you; have it in us now to get this job done." Jesse's jaw firmed hard; his partner was missing, Echo's was dead, and Appo hadn't really wanted the promotion but knew Torrent needed him. They all had brothers to do this for, reasons they would be nigh-unstoppable and canny about getting where they needed to go.
Captain Rex had acted out of loyalty to his brothers, tipped off by Fives. He hadn't expected the entire galaxy to fall into haran while he was gone. The first unit he managed to integrate into was demoralized and awaiting orders from some outside source.
He never did see the Jedi that should have been with them.
Calculating where to go from there was not something he had ever anticipated needing to do, as his field was not espionage. However, with the oddness of this unit, he decided discretion would serve him best, fearing that the very thing he'd gone to prevent had already begun.
In his fighter (the one that had been Ahsoka's, not that he'd admit he'd taken it for luck), he sent a coded, pulsed message to his General and to Captain Appo, seeking any information they could give him… and he prayed for a sane response.
Bly had finally rounded up every single pulse pack and grenade after corralling the men into a very large cave he had found. His ears and eyes had alerted him to an Aethersprite leaving, and there should only have been one of those on planet currently. With any luck, his General was well on her way to safety.
"Right, ration count," he said. "Water included," he continued, as he began wiring the explosives around the mouth of the cave.
Not a one of his men questioned it; they were all on some strange auto-pilot that had him completely unnerved. He wondered if this was what those troops infected by brain worms had been like.
He still felt this pulse in his head, a painful stabbing, each time he did think of General Secura. He was not supposed to let her get away; she was a traitor.
Like kriff, she is, he snapped, taking a moment to press his hand against that spot in his head, hoping to make it stop.
Soon, it wouldn't matter. The airflow in here was consistent with numerous flues; he'd bring the mouth down and trap them until she came for them.
Regroup, for the Jedi, was held on Ilum. The planet was known to be a Jedi stronghold, but it had certain advantages.
Not all Generals and Commanders made it there. Those who had been on Coruscant had the hardest time reaching them, with only half of the mature Jedi population from the Temple making it to Ilum, the others having remained to buy time. That they expected to die was accepted with heavy hearts.
Obi-Wan was still in a dazed state, his ribs swathed heavily in bacta bandages from where a new sergeant in his unit had defied Cody's attempt to wrest control back from the order that had hit all noncoms and officers alike. That Anakin was nowhere to be found was only adding to his misery.
"Someone turned them against us," Aayla said, her eyes flashing in anger and fear.
"The Chancellor, it was," Yoda told them, looking a little worse for wear after his harrowing escape from the troops on Kashyyyk. His rapport with them had bought him only a moment, but the near-attack had aggravated the Wookiees, leading to a running battle as they turned on the troopers. He feared for Luminara, there with Commander Gree and others, possibly trapped… or worse.
"How do you know that, Master?" Bant Eerin was terrified, trying to dampen it down, but she had been one of the Knights available to help Shaak Ti move the creche and youngling and Initiates. She had tried to remain to fight, but Reeft had begged her to go, as the children loved her. Kit Fisto, likewise, had been bullied by Saesee Tiin into going. His contacts with the Sälãi Käsi might be needed, if they were to find any allies to help.
The clones had a word, after all, that Aayla had taught him. Narudar meant enemy's enemy, a temporary ally. He was fairly certain he'd be able to convince his uncle to see the Sith as a worse enemy than the Jedi.
"Skywalker, he informed us. Too late, and fear for his survival, I do. Faced him, I believe, alone."
Obi-Wan's sound might have just been a moan of pain, but Bant knew better and moved to rest her hand on his shoulder.
"What do we do now?" the youngest Padawan present asked, his voice hollow and worn. Caleb's Master had shoved him into a fighter, and stayed to guard his escape. From his state of shock, they all believed Depa Billaba dead now.
"We wait for Wolffe to contact us, secure our facilities, and prepare to fight the Sith when they come," Plo Koon declared, his faith in his trooper still strong.
"They tried to kill us!" Bant Eerin pointed out. She did not have the deep empathy with the troops that others did, having remained mostly on Temple duty through the War.
"Which is why I place my hope with Wolffe! He was not under control of whatever order his brothers were fighting! If he comes, it will be with information, not murder!" Plo Koon told her firmly.
"Master Koon is correct," Ki-Adi-Mundi said wearily. "There was one among my own who was still very much himself, not conflicted and flickering in the Force as the others were." He shook his own impressive head. "Something inside their minds made them prisoner to the order calling for our deaths."
"I refuse to rule Anakin out of this," Obi-Wan said. "He is not dead. I can tell that much." Others looked his way, then accepted that, as Anakin's Master, Obi-Wan should know.
"Strengthen our bonds, we must; use them to know the galaxy well," Yoda decreed. "And yes, we will do as Plo Koon says. Deep inside, the creche will be made. Begin to make Ilum our home, our fortress, we shall." He did not like being in the dark, but perhaps, with distance and knowing his target, Yoda would find answers inside the Force.
Anakin's wrist comm started pulsing several hours after his men had left him. The press of fear from the people outside this … warehouse? yes... warehouse that Appo had stashed them in was only increasing, telling him that things were getting worse, not better, or news was spreading with terrible rumors attached.
He could barely remain still, but that pulse… he slowly worked out the code, even as he found himself hoping Artoo had gotten to safety, hadn't been destroyed for being in a Jedi ship.
Sitrep needed. Where to report. Jaig Eyes Out.
Oh, thank the Force, Rex was alive and alright. Probably not safe, but then again, neither were they. He started working out the return message, grateful for the comm tech that would get this to Rex almost instantaneously. Once he had it, he started tapping it into the comm. Stuck in the capital. Fives was right. Don't try to reach us; we'll get to you where you got sick.
Then he remembered this was Rex and added, And that's an order, damn it.
Bloody right he was. Got the scar to prove it. Don't like this. Will comply.
The return message came pretty swiftly, but the pulse code had been created by the Vod'e, and even Artoo could use it, which had helped them on several missions. Anakin's only worry was really in the fact that Rex hadn't argued.
"Don't you dare do anything stupid, brother," Anakin growled, only realizing it was actually aloud when Boro's head snapped around.
Anakin lifted his wrist and flashed Boro a smile, reassuring as he could manage. "Rex just checked in. I think he's pissed I told him not to try to get to us; we'd rendezvous later."
Vil snorted, but the change in the men was clear; they would follow Appo as their brother and appointed Captain. But it was Rex they would follow into haran and back because he was their legend.
"I'd be pissed, too, sir," Vil said after a moment. "But that's because we know you'd come for us no matter what."
"Well yeah, but I've got the Force when I do the completely insane," Anakin agreed. "We need him alive to help plan this more than I need him trying to break that blockade up there right now."
Padmé didn't expect the attempt to get off planet to be nearly as dangerous as it wound up being.
Someone had reported sighting a lightsaber, trying to win peace and security from the iron fist slowly tangling around Coruscanti lives.
The running battle that erupted then was a mass of confusion for the Senator, as she heard Ahsoka snap 'no killing' and Asajj's answer of 'to a point!' that sounded like a familiar agreement being reinforced. The confusion increased at the ship's gangplank, as a blaster grazed Ahsoka's shoulder and central headtail, making her stumble with the intensity of the pain to that sensitive appendage.
Padmé was already aiming for the man's hand, much as she had the whole fight, when the Dathomiri bowled the entire small squad off their feet with a Force push powerful enough to make the air itself whip into a gale. There was no denying to potent emotion in the air, one of raging protectiveness, as Padmé had felt Anakin like that so often.
"Move!" Asajj snarled at Togruta and Human alike, making them get on ship.
"Padmé, you're gunner," Ahsoka said, running ahead to take pilot, hissing when her wounded headtail bounced painfully. Asajj followed her, leaving Padmé to hope and pray that Anakin's piloting skills really had rubbed off on his padawan.
Rex figured as long as he got to Naboo eventually, he was not technically disobeying orders. He really shouldn't have known where one smuggler of occasional use actually was, but Hondo Ohnaka was useful.
Malastare was technically even on the way, and not exactly a planet given to lawfulness any day of the week. Rex sent a message out over the DarkNet, trying not to think on the irony of being a lawful member of the Republic using such to find an outlaw.
Fortunately, Hondo reached back immediately, and they rendezvoused on a remote stretch of wilderness.
"Ohnaka, need your ears and lips out. Pretty certain I can get Naboo or Alderaan to meet expenses… if we all pull through this crisis."
"Friend Rex, of course I am at your service, though these planets you mention, they are not so friendly to me," the pirate and smuggler said.
"You think a galaxy that's under Sith rule is going to be profitable to you? When you're running your trade through space controlled by people that enjoy target practice for maximum brutality?" Rex questioned.
"True this is, Friend. Tell me, how will I make my profits work better if I am with you?"
"Because General Kenobi, if he's out there, won't stop until things are back under the Republic's control, not… not whatever this is."
Hondo shifted, violence shimmering in his eyes for a moment, before he nodded. "Many Jedi, dead, yes. But Kenobi will know what to do with those that are left. If he can find them all, find allies." Hondo started turning over the rumors and intelligence he'd found already. "Let us step into my ship, and we will talk."
"Is there any doubt, in any of our minds, that between the Chancellor's recent behavior and the testimony of these brave men, that we have a Sith problem to deal with?"
Bail looked at the cabal of Senators and Representatives he had managed to pull together, seeing fear and resolve mixed in their faces. Jar Jar Binks was standing there with a look Bail actually thought might be murderous, which was shocking despite the fact this was very much a matter of Naboo's pride and honor.
"The question is how we will deal with it, if all the Jedi on Coruscant have abandoned us, or died," the Bothan Senator said fiercely.
"They have not! Those few that were here had to save the children!" Riyo Chuchi immediately defended, her eyes having been startlingly reddened by irritation brought on by crying. Bail wanted to support her so much, to see her still strongly defending the Jedi, despite the official broadcast of their treachery.
"Begging pardon, sirs," Appo said firmly. "Echo has an answer for you, even if it might not make things safe for our Generals and Padawan-Commanders."
Bail heard that distinction, remembered that these men were 501st, and that they had been deprived of their Padawan-Commander… yet he got the impression that was a very unpopular decision. Maybe it was just that it had left a hole in their command structure, but Bail doubted that. The young Tano had been as much a war-hero as her teacher and the unit she served with.
"What is your solution, Trooper Echo?"
"The contingency orders that have most of our brothers hunting the Jedi as traitors have a contingency for the Chancellor being revealed as a traitor," Echo said. "It is, to a degree, what is protecting myself, Captain Appo, and Jesse. We saw the evidence, and it is trying to trigger that contingency order."
"Read it off, Echo," Appo ordered.
"Order 65: In the event of either a majority in the Senate declaring the Supreme Commander (Chancellor) to be unfit to issue orders, or the Security Council declaring him to be unfit to issue orders, and an authenticated order being received by the GAR, commanders shall be authorized to detain the Supreme Commander, with lethal force if necessary, and command of the GAR shall fall to the acting Chancellor until a successor is appointed or alternative authority identified as outlined in Section 6." Echo repeated it one more time at a gesture from Bail Organa, and it slowly sank in.
"When is the last time we, my fellow Senators, were able to sway a majority?" Bail asked, putting his head in his hands to hear that.
"We don't need that majority, Senator Organa," Riyo told him, looking over at the Bothan Senator, who stiffened and then nodded.
"We only need the Security Council," he confirmed.
"Prepared to send the signal now, Commander."
Wolffe looked at the med droid, looked at the metal fingers hovering over the comm board, and considered. Did he, could he, trust this thing to do as told and not make life worse for his brothers, for his General?
"You realize, any betrayal, and you're the first dead? I don't have one in my head."
The med droid did not even hesitate. "I have no wish to see my kind supplanted by flesh-drones," the droid answered. "And, if you succeed, the Republic will be tied up in sorting out the chaos for years, allowing my masters to attain supremacy in their own fashion. This will cancel out the last command given and the nullify the chips. It will take time to relay back to all of your kind, but once it has, the chips are merely waste material."
Palpatine had been angry since he set the end game in motion. Thousands of years in the planning, and then that ungrateful child had turned on him? Putting him down for the moment had been necessary, so that he could eliminate the Jedi, kill off those stumbling blocks in making his reign eternal.
Coming back to find his prize missing and hidden from his ability to see had infuriated him further. An order to go capture the infernal Senator that would be his leverage had resulted in him killing the four troopers sent when he'd learned that there had been no one in the apartment, and only a decoy in the Senatorial offices.
The decoy had known nothing useful. He could not find any troops other than the ones assigned to Coruscant, which meant an entire legion was missing. Skywalker's legion, he realized, and that gave some clue to both the missing Senator and his prize.
"Find the 501st," he commanded Commander Fox. "Do not fail me again! I want them recovered, and Skywalker as well!"
Gree felt his head pounding hard, as the conflicting sense of duties were suddenly eliminated and all of his focus on keeping his General safe snapped in line. There was a slight pain in his skull, one echoed by his men that were sitting with him, if he could go by the raised hands to touch their buckets.
"General Luminara?" he said into his wristband.
"Yes, Commander Gree?"
He did not know where she was. She had disabled him in the half-second he had told her to run, his blaster rising to kill her, but they had managed comms. He and his forward squad had continued to hunt her, driven to find her, even as he was able to insure they could not sneak up on her.
"I think it's broken, whatever happened, General. I don't … I feel like I could see you and not fire."
"May I Force-search your mind, if I choose to trust this change?" she asked, mindful of his autonomy.
"Mine and the rest of the squad's, sir. We'd feel better if you did."
"Hold position, and we shall see what I find, when I reach you."
Gree was pretty certain she would arrive with Wookiees, and if she found anything wrong, it was going to be brutal.
Fox was faced off against three 501st troops, a squad of five men at his own back, when the broadcast came through clear as a bell in his helmet comms.
The Security Council had relieved Palpatine of Supreme Command, by unanimous vote, and declared him as a traitor to the Republic. He heard the men with him start to lower their weapons to ask for orders.
His head was already ringing, a holdover from the previous signal. How could the Chancellor be the traitor?
Flickers of his orders over the last several ten-days came to mind, along with the execution of one man, a brother, all on the Chancellor's command.
His helmet moved to the forward man in the 501st squad, and he nodded just once, relaxing back out of his aggressive pose. That made the wary frontliners accept that they might have a truce, and Fox acted in the next moment, with one single, clean blaster shot.
If his Chancellor had been a traitor, then his own actions had been against his brothers, and he would not live with that.
"Permission to land, Naboo Control? This is Captain Rex of the 501st, serial number CT-7567, detached on General Skywalker's orders," Rex reported to the voice that had requested his designation and business. The problem was, he didn't know how to classify his business, nor how much the Naboo government knew so far. Technically, he was a Commander now. However, he wasn't certain that would have been updated, and he didn't much care for the rank anyhow.
The official on duty was not about to turn away a soldier completely, but there were so many rumors and reports out there, some of which suggested the troopers had turned murderous. Yet, this one was invoking General Skywalker's name, and that was the name of the Captain with Skywalker.
"Naboo Control to Senator Amidala," she finally said, deciding to follow her instincts. The Senator should know best, as this was related to off-world matters.
"Amidala here, Naboo Control, what is it?" Padmé answered the comm wrapped around her wrist, looking at the heavy walls around her. She'd checked in with the Queen, agreed to carry a comm at all times, and promptly taken refuge in the abandoned Separatist base that had nearly killed the lot of them.
"We have a Captain Rex in a single-being ship requesting permission to land, Milady. With the lack of news beyond what you informed the Queen of, I am asking for guidelines," the comptroller told her, her tone apologetic to have to ask.
Rex? Padmé blinked in shock, not at all sure why it would be Rex arriving, but she was willing to take a risk on him. "Let him through the shield and tell him to set down at his 'least favorite place on the planet', Control," she answered, "and thank you."
It was just her and Ahsoka, but with this place's layout, the two of them should be able to get the jump on him if this was some kind of trap.
"Will do, milady." The comm cut out and then Naboo Control was in touch with the orbiting ship. "Captain Rex, are you still there?"
"Yes," he said, trying not to demand to know where else he'd go. He won against the sarcastic impulse, and filed it away as one more bit of corruption from his Commander's stint with them.
"You are to set down at your least favorite place on the planet, sir, per the instructions I was given. Welcome to Naboo."
Rex's eyes narrowed as he filtered those words through his mind, and then he growled. Why would he be ordered to the plague site… unless someone else who had been there then was waiting for him? That made him lighten up; it had to be the Commander, and she would be able to help him make heads or tails out of the information Ohnaka had given him.
Mace knew he needed to take the time to heal, needed to find a new hole to hide in, needed…
… needed to be able to think and stop just reacting. They'd held the Temple until every ship was away, then tried to get out. Mace had felt so many deaths, had seen some of his own men in the middle of the fighting, trying to kill the Jedi.
He'd taken more than one blaster hit, and they were trying to go septic, as he'd been on the run ever since. He didn't know how many had survived the attack on the Temple, and didn't yet know where to try and rendezvous with any survivors.
A powerful Force signature was close, moving with purpose, and Mace prepared to either defend himself or join forces… depending on if this was the Sith monster or a Jedi.
Finally placing that signature as Anakin Skywalker didn't actually ease him away from that question, despite it having been Anakin that warned them of who the Sith was. There were just too many shadows around the man, and Mace kept his mind focused on his lightsaber and survival.
Then he stepped out, braced to run or fight as needed.
"Master Windu," Anakin said softly, looking at the Master of the Order in the light from his lifted 'saber (Mace looked worse than he felt), feeling a wild leap in his chest at actually finding him alive. "It's good to see you, sir, but you don't look well."
"Been difficult to heal when troopers keep trying to kill me every time they see me," Mace said, feeling the man's Force signature as something burning with determination. His eyes flicked out as he noted the troops shadowing Anakin but not attacking. "Something changed a few hours ago, and I was just going to see if I could find a safer hole to recuperate in."
"I think we can do better than that, sir," Anakin replied, his mouth twisting as he thought about all of their dead, about what had happened. "That change was the Security Council relieving Chancellor Palpatine of command and charging him with treason -- it broke the programmed orders making the troops hunt most of us and gave them their own minds back.
"Commander Fox -- Fox killed himself, as soon as the declaration hit his comm, and he... wasn't the only one of the Guard that did."
Mace closed his eyes at that, a moment of pity and compassion for them overriding his own concerns. How many in the 91st had opted for that route? He hadn't had the full legion on planet at least, so maybe they had mostly come through it?
"I'm still a little hesitant to try and reach out to any other survivors, Skywalker, until I can understand what happened to the men to begin with, and if it can happen again." Mace took a deep breath and tried to push the pain into the Force. "We barely got the little ones evacuated, after all."
"I understand that," Anakin agreed, raking his hand through his hair. "And as to what happened -- I know exactly how it was done... and I've never been more amazed at the strength of will and character our men have than I am at that some of them managed to resist it.
"What I don't know is if it could be activated again."
"Then that's the mystery we need to crack, before I try and find out if any others survived," Mace said, choosing to put himself at risk by going with Skywalker and his troops. "Then we can find the Sith and finish this."
Anakin's lips skinned back from his teeth at that thought, his hunger to find Sidious and end the threat to his wife and his men burning under his skin. "I completely agree. I'll fill you in while we get back into the day levels and get those wounds treated, yeah?"
Ahsoka did not want to think Rex could be a danger to her, but the fight to get off Coruscant had been with her brothers. So she moved silently, the huntress in full motion, as Rex entered the base. Padmé was out of sight, but somewhere her voice could reach the man.
Ahsoka would incapacitate and bind Rex before the Senator could come to harm, no matter how much it hurt to think on those terms.
"Sir?" Rex called, still certain it would be his Commander he would find.
He sounded like himself, he felt like himself... "I'm here," she called, and then moved fast and silent to change her position before he could aim at her voice, if that was what he meant to do. "But how'd you know that?"
How could Rex know Ahsoka would be here, Padmé wondered, and kept silent.
"Only made sense, sir, what with how much this place means for us," Rex said, wondering at the hidden games. Then again… "Look, Commander, I'm going to unholster and place the blasters on the ground. Could you not scuff them up too much when you pull them away?"
Of course she'd be cautious; brothers were killing Jedi, and just because she was out of the Order didn't mean she'd be without a lightsaber. She'd had time to build one or two by now, he was sure. And that would have marked her as a target.
"All right," she answered, from another place altogether, still watching him warily. He did as he'd said he would, and she lifted them and yanked them to her hands as fast as she could. That didn't make Rex not dangerous, but it was a good sign.
"You -- it's really you, old boy?" she asked, stowing them away in an alcove before she walked out into the light from his headlamps.
"Yes, sir!" he told her, taking in the sight of her with something approaching joy. She was alive, and … taller, still showing strength in every line. Her face was thinner, and when she had moved, her back headtail had swayed to show it was a little longer. "I tried to report in, and the General warned me off, told me to rendezvous here. Didn't much like that… so I made a side trip to get intel."
Ahsoka took a shaking breath at the feel of him in the Force, of his joy and relief, and she crossed the distance between them to wrap him in her arms. "Oh... oh, I'm so glad, and -- you've got new intel? Thank kriff, that's one thing we surely don't have! Skyguy's okay?! Or was last you heard, at least?"
"Ohnaka was already piecing it together; bad for business and all that, if the Republic falls," Rex managed, even as he returned that wrap of arms, tightening his hold on her as she pressed in for an honest hug. He had missed her, had seen how the lack of her with them had been wearing the General down. "And yes, the General answered a pulse comm pretty quickly. So he wasn't in battle when it hit him."
"Good," Ahsoka murmured, nodding, and let herself lean on him as she breathed in the scent that meant home and safe and clan and everything she needed. "That old pirate," she muttered darkly, but that did make sense. "Okay, come on, let's go get settled so you can fill us in."
"Us?" Rex asked, muscles cording up in the armor protectively. Who thought they could run with his Commander? Were they actually capable of having her six?
"Us, Captain… but I thought Anakin said he was promoting you," Padmé said, remembering that. Rex snorted, shrugging a little at the rank. "Because Appo was promoted." She stepped into view, reassured by the hug she'd witnessed more than anything. "And I am relieved you weren't caught up in the madness."
Ahsoka felt that tensing, the way his arm tightened around her, and she trilled a soft, reassuring note even as she turned her head to glare at Padmé for showing herself before she said. "Stubborn Senator," she muttered as she slowly let go of Rex, looking up at him. "Appo, really? No, never mind that. Come on, we've got one of the chambers turned into something actually habitable."
She stretched out, reclaiming the blasters from the alcove, and slid them back into the holsters at his hips. He breathed out a sigh of relief, completely without realizing it, to have his guns back. However, he was arrested by the image of the woman he'd met several times, fought beside and with, looking… odd.
"Sir… I mean, Ma'am, is there something wrong with you?"
Padmé laughed softly, shaking her head. "No, Commander Rex, it's nothing wrong. I am pregnant." Seriously, what effort to educate the troopers had happened so far?
"She's okay," Ahsoka agreed, reassuring Rex as she took a half-step back and tugged at his arm to get him moving. "Even if she has got two little Skyguys in there that think getting out early might be a good idea. So what have you heard? Padmé only knew that Dooku was dead, the Council was being morons as usual, and Skyguy's visions said she had to run and hide... and then there were... so many deaths."
Rex nodded. "First unit I got to… they had to have been affected, because I never did see their General," he admitted. He fell in step with her easily, keeping his tread light and quiet, though nowhere near as stealth as the Togruta. "Kept moving, heading for Coruscant, but sent a pulse off."
"Affected?" Padmé pressed.
"Did the General tell you about Fives? About Tup?" he asked, his voice going hard with grief.
Ahsoka couldn't entirely bite back her sharp trill of dismay and pain at Rex's tone, at the idea that Fives was walking far away from them now, and her hand clenched on his as she listened.
Padmé shook her head. "No... not in any detail. He might have, but you lot shipped out right after, and he hadn't been back since. Not until they recalled him because of the attack. I know a Jedi died, but not much more than that."
Rex nodded, once, sharply at that. He squeezed Ahsoka's hand, though, glad of the contact. "Turns out they implanted us with chips. Bio-control devices. And there are contingency orders hard-wired into it. Orders we cannot ignore. That's what turned the men on their Jedi."
"How horrific! To take away your willpower, to make you turn against your own people?" Padmé swallowed hard.
Ahsoka snarled, deep in her throat, and shook her head firmly, her hand tightening on Rex again, riding the flare of her fury. Bad enough that they were implanted with the things at all, but to have had them activated? For her brothers to be compelled to kill their generals and commanders?! "...who activated that obscenity, and why?"
"Only the Chancellor can, Commander," Rex said, shaking his head. "Ohnaka said word went out that the Jedi deliberately drew out the war to create a power base, and were going to move against the Senate and Chancellor alike.
"We know that's not true, now don't we? Which means that karking piece of bantha shit -- pardon me, milady -- is the real traitor."
Padmé felt her breathing tighten badly, and she was light-headed at the same time. It was the logical conclusion, but… after her history with Palpatine, even as she'd been trying to curtail his power recently… how could he have used their own people to manipulate this situation? People had died and been tortured during the Occupation. And that was just the beginning, given the suffering under the war against the Separatists.
Ahsoka bit into her tongue to keep from making noises instead of speech, and after she took a couple of breaths, said darkly. "Well. That explains a few things, doesn't it? But -- but Skyguy's alive."
She had to focus on that, on that he'd made it through, not on how wrecked he had to be by this, or she was going to fall apart herself. A moment later, she noticed how still Padmé was, and the reeling, chaotic sense of her in the Force, and jumped away from Rex to catch hold of her, to gather her in. "Easy, Senator, I've got you, it's -- you're safe, we're gonna take care of this..."
"Why. Do. I. Have. To. Be. Pregnant. Right. Now?!" Padmé's emotions finally settled on rage. It was rage for her people, rage for the Gungans, rage for Anakin… and all she wanted right now was a blaster and a clear shot at the man that had done this.
Rex, wisely, said nothing.
"...I don't know," Ahsoka murmured, Padmé's rage almost a living thing in her mind, but she kept holding on. "It's -- this timing sucks. It's all going to be over before we get back!
"Oh, oh no, the babies are getting upset!" She started to whistle softly, turning to carefully pet her hand over Padmé's stomach, trying to protect their unified presence from their mother's completely justified fury.
That, the threat to her unborns, had Padmé calm like ice-water had been thrown on her. She situated her own hands under the swell of her belly, letting Ahsoka do the petting that seemed to settle them.
"I'm sorry… I should have better control."
"Milady, it's to be expected. Naboo has taken a lot of punishment from all of this," Rex soothed her. "But if I know my General at all, he's going to carve every inch of it out of that man's flesh, if he's the one to catch him."
"It's not your fault they're precociously Force-aware," Ahsoka told her, leaning her montrals against Padmé's shoulder as she kept soothing the babies, coaxing them to settle back down, gently convincing them that everything was okay and they were safe. She wasn't sure that that was at all normal, for them to be aware while they were still in the womb, but then again, they were Skyguy's. "But Rex's right."
"I know he is. I just hope… I hope it doesn't wreck him in doing so," Padmé admitted.
"He'll have you to pull him back, Senator, and us as well," Rex said firmly, even as something twisted in his chest at seeing his Commander pulling her nurturing card. He knew she was good with younglings; he'd seen it once or twice on maneuvers in civilian areas. But that was just… something he didn't have a definition for.
"Too right he will," Ahsoka agreed softly, leaning against her Skyguy's wife and nodding. She was worried about Skyguy too, but she had faith in him. He would come to Padmé, and that meant they would be there to take care of him. And if Master Kenobi didn't like it, she would just have to chase him away.
Padmé reached up to pet the montrals on her shoulder carefully, breathing slow and measured breaths until she was certain she and the babies were steady. "So now, we wait," she said, and Rex agreed with a small noise. He would not be leaving the Senator without a direct order from his General or his Commander, and the Jedi could be damned as far as he was concerned about her still being that!
It wasn't the Jedi that got to Palpatine. The combined survivors of the 91st and the Coruscant Guard, along with those 501st they enlisted along the way, worked as eyes and ears for the Jedi, guiding the man toward them.
Mace, Anakin, and Stass Allie had managed to work out their plan. They would take the Chancellor alive if they could, to face his crimes against the entire Republic and even those Separatist systems that might not have known they were being duped. If they could not capture, though, there would be no crying against his death.
Only… the troops had other thoughts. Their best sharpshooters moved into place, while the rest kept the piece of filth from truly escaping the Jedi. And when the fight had Palpatine pressed on two sides, while Stass Allie tried to recover enough to help, the sharpshooters took advantage of the distraction.
Half a dozen rifle blasts sang past their lightsabers as Anakin tried to pin the Sith blade and Master Windu attacked low. Anakin's blade suddenly had no resistance against it as the bolts tore through flesh, and in the next moment, as his 'saber swung into their betrayer's body, a violent surge of malevolent Force slammed against his body, throwing him back and away. He hit the closest wall hard, and lay there stunned as he stared at a crumpled pile of cloth where his enemy had been.
Mace had not fared any better, as Palpatine had been moving to avoid the blow when the blaster bolts tore into him. When the malevolent energy exploded outward, Mace was bowled over and went skidding along the platform they were on, and only Stass's desperate throw of Force energy his way gave him an anchor to stop from going over the edge. Just his luck that he'd been angled toward the open skyline!
"Skywalker… you still with us?" Mace croaked out as he managed to roll fully onto his back on the platform.
"He looks pretty dazed," Stass Allie said, continuing the effort to block the pain of her injuries.
"'m'here," Anakin protested being talked about as much as he answered the question, though it wasn't much of an answer. More than the impact, or the sheer power of the Force that had slammed into him, his head hurt. It felt like things had snapped in it. Snapped or torn... and he wanted to black out just to escape it.
"Good," Mace answered that, even as troops started approaching them, already slapping together gurneys out of their packs for the three of them. "Because you get to make this report to Master Yoda," he said, and Anakin could actually hear the almost light amusement, like it was meant in jest.
Mace Windu only took a light tone with people he liked, and that number was pretty small.
"...too stubborn for my own good," Anakin proclaimed, hearing his voice still a little thick, as he let his men get him up and onto the gurney. He had to report to Master Yoda? What, why?
And how was he even supposed to do that, no-one knew where the other survivors had scattered to.
"Rest easy, Sirs; we're handling you lot now," Appo said, having somehow fallen into default command. He was going to be certain Rex heard all about this later. In vexed detail, even.
"Good, because I'm pretty sure this has shaken Master Windu loose from his senses," Stass Allie said, braving the moment, because she needed to be sure the men were at ease.
To his credit, Mace laughed.
Wolffe tapped the pulses into his comm gear, waiting for the answer with his nerves turned too high.
Brothers safe. Waiting for orders. Not slaves.
On Ilum, deep in a cave, Plo Koon stopped in the middle of rocking one of the smallest ones, passing the child to a waiting youngling who was helping him in his creche duties. He then strode out to where the ad hoc advisory Council of Yoda, Kit, Shaak, and Bant were working on labeling the galactic maps with their enemies, last known positions, and possible assets were.
"My commander is contacting me. I wish to reach out to him."
"Danger, this may be. Trap, possibly," Yoda advised.
"Then I will take a ship, and determine this for myself," Plo Koon answered firmly. The others looked at him, mostly without understanding. "He put himself at risk for me, turned on his own brothers to save me. And we cannot merely remain here, unaware of the galaxy at large."
"Good points, Master," Kit answered those all. "Do you wish an accompaniment?"
"No, Kit. I will risk no others. My nav-comp will be wiped before I meet him, so I cannot be trailed back to here." Plo nodded to the rest of them when no one else protested.
I come. Meet me two systems galactic southwest from where we were, Plo Koon told the troop commander over pulses, as he left to gain his ship.
Padmé's comm was tingling, demanding attention, and it brought her fully awake, despite how little rest she had gotten. Ahsoka was not visible, but she could hear the girl… young woman… and Rex in the outer room. There voices were low and soft, but she thought they sounded peaceful, maybe even amused.
She smiled at hearing them -- glad to know they were doing well with each other -- and tapped lightly at the comm to activate it, though she said only, "Yes?"
"Angel." Anakin's voice sounded so relieved, even as it was ragged with fatigue and… more. But then, Rex had reasoned out who the real traitor was, and how hard that had hit her meant Anakin had to be in worse shape. "Angel, it's safe. The men, the Republic, you… all safe."
Her heart pounded with her own relief at hearing his voice, no matter how exhausted he sounded. "Oh, Ani.... I'm so glad. So glad. Your Captain is with me... and so is another friend of ours. One you've been missing for several months."
Anakin's heart thumped; it was Ahsoka his beloved Angel spoke of. It had to be. And… probably the reason his Angel had escaped Coruscant, he realized. That made him pleased. "I think I prefer to come to you, Angel, than have you return here, but with the Chancellor dead, and the investigation into everything, you're probably needed here." He wanted to just go home to her, leave all else to others, but… he had helped take the kriffing monster down, and the Senate was still in an uproar over just what role the Jedi had played in everything. He wondered if he could keep Ahsoka safe if she came too, worrying over the politics of the moment.
"I know," Padmé answered quietly, "I would rather have you come here, but... I should return. Moté can't actually make decisions, and I'm... unfortunately sure that my voice is needed. The only advantage would be being back upon Coruscant would be the medical facilities.
"You said I would know when it was safe, but here you are, calling me to tell me."
"So I am. But I didn't actually expect you to make it off-world. When the news went out, and you didn't appear, I knew you had to have left… and guessed where." He let a smile touch his voice at that. "I had already sent Rex there… maybe it was the Force telling me where you were then."
He took a deep breath, just centering himself on the fact she was well and safe.
"Maybe so," Padmé agreed softly. "I wouldn't have made it offworld without her. We'll be with you soon, my love, to put some more of this to rights."
Anakin gave a soft sound of satisfaction. "Until then, Angel."
Aayla had gone as soon as Wolffe's news was passed back to Ilum. She tracked the men from where Bly had warned her, before coming to a cliff facing that had recently been blocked by a rockfall. She stared at the rockfall, then reached into the Force… and knew she had tracked correctly.
"Commander Bly?" She used the comm with hope, but puzzlement.
"General, Sir?" came a reply, hesitant but a strong signal behind it.
"Are you inside the cliff, Commander?" she asked, letting her puzzlement turn to amusement.
"It seemed the best way to keep us all contained and away from you, Sir," Bly said. "And with that in mind, why are you here, Sir?"
Even as he asked, he realized he, nor any of those listening to the audio-only communication, seemed to be eager to go find the blasters. Were they free of the compulsion?
"Commander Wolffe nullified the device that necessitated your little holiday, Commander." Aayla surveyed the rockpile, and smiled. "I will have you out soon." After all, fortifying Ilum had given her a lot of experience in what rocks to move.
Stass Allie met with Mace Windu before they were, yet again, to face the entire Senate. Mace looked at the younger woman with surprise, curious why she was alone. She was mindful of Skywalker's privacy, and would say no more, even as she pondered how the young man had borne his burdens so long alone.
"Skywalker is in no shape to be here, Master," she told him. "I left him safely guarded though." If the Knight wasn't safe surrounded by his company of men, in the keeping of the returned Captain Rex, and the cloaked but familiar Force User with him, he would be safe nowhere.
"If you say so, Master Allie." Mace gestured for her to precede him into the building. "Let's go finish sorting fact from fiction, so that both the men and our Order are fully cleared of treason charges."
Mon Mothma moved to where she could catch Padmé Amidala, having been surprised by her presence in the Senate this day. Now, up close, she felt she understood far better why the decoy had been standing in of late. Many could not tell them apart, but Mon Mothma had caught on quickly, and done all she could to help Moté maintain the masquerade. Especially in those first days when things went mad, and the woman had come to her with a strange tale of being accosted by the Guard, and interviewed roughly by the Chancellor.
How all of that made such sense now, in the aftermath of Palpatine's death and seeing Padmé now. "Amidala," she said formally as she fell into step with the woman, adding her own flowing robe's sleeve as more camouflage to the way the dress Padmé wore drew the eye away from her stomach.
"Hello, Mon," Padmé replied, turning her head just enough to smile at her long-time friend. "I'm sorry I haven't been able to stand with you the way I should have."
"I believe you have had ample reason," Mon told her. "Though, I must tell you I am impressed you were able to move ahead of the tide." She looked down at the young woman. "Is it wise to be here now, my friend? These days will be stressful."
"Could I join you for a quick meal, Mon, so we can truly talk?" Padmé asked, looking up at her. She couldn't risk taking Mon back to her apartment, not until they'd gotten to talk, since Anakin might be there, but the Senate halls were no place for a talk like this either.
"I was hoping you were available for just that. I can tell you my impressions of the last several days, since the crisis began," Mon agreed.
One board held the names of those Jedi that were unaccounted for, whether by bond, comms, or intel that was filtering in by the retrieval of those units that had failed to hold back the onslaught of the chip. Another board held the list of units and last known whereabouts, as the clones from the Rim and the Jedi surviving on Ilum worked together to try and pull them all back. This, they could do without revealing themselves to the chaotic and conflicted area that was the Core.
Those Jedi that had assisted many units, like Kit and Bant, were on those retrievals, and every single one of them was nerve-wracking and wrecking their Jedi detachment. Kit had lost one whole unit because they had scattered on realizing a Jedi was in their midst. After that, he'd grown very cautious on how to handle it, and passed those tips to Bant and others. The 212th would be asked to go retrieve that first unit, once they were brought in from Utapau.
The clones would need so much in the way of therapy, regardless of if their Jedi had survived or not. The senior most Healer, Knight Krieth Nimpur, was devouring the research on psychology, searching for a way to help them, even as she knew she had a duty to the Order to make the Jedi confront and release their grief.
Shaak Ti, however, had more direct ways to aid them.
"Vengeance is not the way of the Jedi, Master Ti," Ki-Adi-Mundi counseled as she gathered the cream of the clones, their best snipers and demolitionists.
"They, Master, are not Jedi. Nor do we go to kill them all," she said in her calm manner, her robes traded for the more traditional tunics and leggings for this. "We merely go to make them give the answers needed."
With that, she continued her plans, and Master Mundi could only sigh, and hope she did not Fall on her trip to Kamino.
"The Senate has decided that the Jedi were as manipulated as the Kaminoan-originated troops in all of this," the Bothan Senator, representing the Security Council, told the Jedi trio present. "However, due to the particular ways in which Jedi wisdom has been shown to be a fallacy, and the ease with which the manipulation occurred, this august body is of a mind that the Jedi must not be allowed to return to Coruscant for its official headquarters, nor will it be trusted to fulfill security measures without some form of direct oversight from the Senate.
"Likewise, the Senate has made the recommendation that the war efforts be remanded over strictly to the Fleet and such planets as have -- "
"Begging pardon, sir, stuff it," came the voice of one veteran of the wars, one that was listened to by every clone ever created. Rex, Commander in the 501st despite preferring to be Captain in the same, stepped out into the open space of the speakers on the floor.
"This is not --" the Bothan tried, only to be shouted out by a mass of troops in civilian clothing along the edges of the chamber.
When they died down, Rex spoke again. "Slavery is illegal. The Rights of Sentient Beings have been fully explained to me, to my men. And we say now that every 'Kaminoan-originated troop', as you called us, will refuse to serve any general, commander, or Admiral if you take away our Jedi." He paused to let his words filter in to every Senator and Representative that was from a Separatist-threatened word.
"You are Republic assets!" one of those yelled out.
"Actually, as of this morning, every single man is a registered citizen of Alderaan, Chandrila, Naboo, Ryloth, Saleucami, or Pantora," Rex drawled. "All of these pronouncements you've been spitting out? Had a substantial vote against them, and those systems remembered basic sentient decency."
This had been the result of a panicked conference between said Senators and the clones, leaving the Jedi, even Anakin, out of the loop to keep them free of duplicity.
"So unless you are planning to institute a draft against those powers, you might want to find a better path!" Rex snapped, before he made a hand signal, and every single clone walked out in unison.
Mace looked to Anakin, who shook his head very slightly, just as surprised as the Master of the Order.
"I believe a recess is now in order," the acting Chancellor stated.
"The Senator requests your presence, Masters," the cloaked but familiar Force user said to the trio before they could retire away from the Senate premises. Blue eyes met Anakin's with a hint of a wink before the Force user led them to a skimmer.
"Which Senator?" Mace asked.
"Organa," she told them, taking the pilot's position.
Not the Senator Anakin wanted to go to, but he was curious. Trust Snips to be right in the thick of things already.
When they arrived, Ahsoka guided them inside, then dropped her cloak back somewhat defiantly. Mace gave no hint of being surprised or upset, but Stass Allie did blink once at it.
"Thank you, Lady Tano," Bail Organa said, crossing the floor to stop before the Jedi and bow. "Master Jedi, I do apologize that no warning was given to you of the Security Council's designs, but it was decided that would protect you best from any complicity in our own machinations."
"It was shocking, but the solution is… interesting, as much as it raises the question of strongarming. The Senate and Republic needs the Army still, until all the Separatist leaders are accounted for," Mace said. "Yet, the concept of slavery has been brought to the forefront, and the sovereign rights of the harboring systems now protecting the men."
"I did not, actually, wish you to join me to discuss the Army and the decision they made with us." Bail indicated they should take seats around the central open space, and Ahsoka settled at the one door, a militant guard to the proceedings within.
"Then why, Senator Organa, did you have us come here?" Stass Allie asked.
"To inform you that we, those who oppose the demands the Security Council was trying to impose pertaining to the Army and Fleet, agree with one term," Bail announced. "For the sake of the future of the Republic, we ask that the Jedi take up a home away from this planet," he said in serious tones.
"Tell us why?" Mace invited, holding his own calm by supreme effort of will.
"Because we believe the Jedi were too close. Too close to the politics, too close to the corruption, too close to see the birth of tyranny." Bail looked at them each in turn, eyes lingering longest on the quiet Anakin Skywalker, youngest of the three, and his hope for leadership going forward. "I am asking you, Master Windu, to voluntarily offer to take the Temple and place it elsewhere. So that in the future, the corruption of politics cannot bleed out and take your Order down with it."
Mace let those words sink in, looking to Stass Allie, who nodded, hearing wisdom in the separation suggested. He then looked at Anakin, giving him time to offer an opinion.
Anakin tipped his head to the side, considering, and then he nodded. "Senator Organa is right, Master Windu. We were too close. Close enough that none of us could see what should have been obvious.
"Besides, it's the people that need us, not the state, and we all forgot that. We should go."
"Agreed." Mace Windu nodded to Bail. "We will make the offer, coinciding with one to lead the Vod'e who choose to finish the liberation of planets that are of the Republic but occupied by Separatists. That we will not accept a mandate to further the war beyond liberation."
"If the Republic wishes to punish those worlds that are Separatist by choice, it will not be done with Jedi forces," Stass Allie said. "And I suspect, given the speech Commander Rex gave, it will not be done with the Vod'e."
"Likely not. And putting such a finite limit on the warring will probably assuage fears in the Senate, making the Security Council back down," Bail agreed. "Now, allow me to feed you dinner, for the stress of this day?"
Obi-Wan looked up from helping Katooni settle her new belt on her tunics as Cody came into the room. He rested his hand briefly on Katooni's headdress, smiling at her.
"Run along, padawan, and I will join you later."
Katooni smiled shyly at Cody, then slipped past, and Obi-Wan stood to face the man. They had not truly spoken, not since Kit had brought back the 212th, but that didn't mean they had ignored one another.
"Sir," Cody began, before moving to aid Obi-Wan to a chair. "You're still injured." The deep regret and self-directed anger was impossible to miss. It made Obi-Wan shift to where he could rest a hand on his Commander's.
"Cody, don't. My injuries are minor, and healing well. I just may have overdone it a time or two, trying to help the young ones renovate their quarters. We haven't fully staffed Ilum in a very, very long time." His hand remained on Cody's though, looking at the commander's face, afraid to lose the contact, not wanting to remember that blanking of his men and the anguish in Cody as the Commander struggled to disobey the order.
"Rex contacted me," Cody finally said, turning his attention to business. "The political situation must be a mess, but I made him aware that the chips have been deactivated, and we're removing them as fast as we can. He suggested we remain in place, until the politics sort out."
"Any word of Anakin?"
"Yes sir," Cody replied, nodding once and letting the pleasure of having good news to relay for once settle in over his heart. "He's all right, he's with the 501st and the Masters that survived the Temple."
"Then he's in good hands, with Captain… no, it's Commander now, Rex," Obi-Wan said, relieved. "Do you mind, so much, staying here, until they do get clearer word to us?" he asked his friend and Commander. "The Separatists must be in as strong a state of confusion as we are, given our success in our mission on Utapau, and Dooku being dead."
"Sir," Cody answered, looking at his General, "there's nowhere I'd rather be, not right now. If hostilities break out again, that's different, but -- not until then. Though I don't know how all of you can stand to have us so close..."
"We feel safe, Cody, to have you all back, and only wish to make certain you and your brothers can never, ever be used against your will again," Obi-Wan said softly. "You, and many of your brothers, fought the command that was hard-wired into your brain. I am only sorry that more of my Order did not give them all a reason to fight." He squeezed at Cody's hand lightly, then sighed softly. "The younglings… we've been asked to take them on now, to pass on the knowledge we have before it can be lost by further attacks and battles.
"So, when we do return to the war, the girl will be going with us, though I plan to leave her on the Negotiator when we drop planet-side." He met Cody's eyes with a smile. "Are you ready to help me as Rex did with Anakin?"
That... it made sense, or at least, Jetii-sense, and Cody breathed a little easier at it. He could believe that of his General, the others that had fought so hard and so long to protect the brothers they commanded, and he nodded slowly. Then there was the question, the idea that they were going to be taking one of the younglings with them -- that tiny girl that was like General Allie -- "Yes, sir," he replied, smiling as he said it. "Of course. ...you're certain about leaving her shipboard?"
Obi-Wan chuckled. "We shall endeavor to convince her she is yet too young for the battlefield, I should say. For now." He would still have to tell Anakin he'd taken a padawan, but surely his former padawan would understand why the eldest of the younglings were being moved forward already. There just weren't enough Jedi left in the aftermath of the war and attacks.
"Meeting one of you jetii that listens to that will be an... interesting novelty, sir," Cody replied to that, smiling a little easier himself.
That made Obi-Wan chuckle, and settle more into the rapport they shared.
Padmé had stayed longer at Mon's than she had meant to, but there were so many parts of events that the other woman knew, or didn't, and they had talked long into the night. That had led to a few revelations, ones Mon had promised to keep hidden for her behalf.
In the Senate, when Mace Windu made the counter offer to the Security Council that next day, she had felt optimistic that things would go well. She could even ignore the steadily worsening backache and pressure in her abdomen, putting it down to the cramping that the med droid called 'false labor'.
Until Anakin's head jerked up from where he was sitting with the other two Jedi, and his eyes widened on meeting hers up on her platform. Something had him disturbed, Padmé realized, before a sharper pain crossed the expanse of her swollen stomach.
The feeling ran across his mind again, an uncomfortable squeezed/tight/pressure, and then Padmé's mouth tightened a little. Then he knew, knew, that that was the twins (he'd been so shocked at that revelation from Ahsoka that he'd been unable to speak for several moments) and that his wife was going into labor.
//On it, Skyguy!// she shot back at him, but then, she had all but bonded with the twins already, in her efforts to keep the pregnancy safe. She commed Artoo to get the skimmer moving, while she moved to the exit on the level of Padmé's platform.
Padmé took in a deep breath, even as she tried to focus on the Bothan's rebuttal to the offer. Mace Windu's face was a beautiful study in pushing Jedi too far, but she lost the focus of his words in the next ripple of pain.
"Moté, take us to the exit," she murmured, thankful for once of all the motion between platforms that made her departure unworthy of notice.
"Yes, milady," her faithful friend said, navigating them over where Ahsoka reached out to help Padmé off the platform.
"They are done with being told no, I'm afraid," the Togruta said, guiding Padmé out to the skimmer.
"Worst timing," Padmé complained, but allowed Ahsoka to take care of her.
Stass followed the quiet drama with her eyes, then looked at Anakin with sympathy. In helping the young man overcome his mind's troubles, she had touched the edges of many secrets. In the interest of helping him heal, and out of loyalty to her lost cousin, she had kept those secrets.
She leaned over, so that she could speak softly to him. "Do you need to go now?" she asked him, trying to figure out how they could manage that when they were the focus of the Senate at present.
He wanted to. He desperately wanted to, he needed to be with her, needed to make certain that the vision that had nearly dragged him down into Falling didn't come true -- but he knew Ahsoka was with her, and that babies weren't born in a moment, or even an hour. And they had to get this hammered out, had to get the Order's position secured and their men completely safe... /'What would she do in your position?!'/ echoed back to him in Obi-Wan's voice on Geonosis, and he took a slow breath. "No... no, not for a little while."
"Then we will try to get this finished swiftly," Stass said, using the table they had been seated at to cover that she slid her hand over to touch his lightly in reassurance. She then focused fully on the Security Council members, her eyes boring into the Bothan's with remarkable intensity when she was next asked to speak.
Rex leaned back against the wall outside the room the Senator was resting in, but had to snap to attention almost immediately as his General came running that way.
"They're not here yet, Sir," he said. "Apparently doing it this way takes longer than uncorking a batch."
Anakin snorted, raking his hand back through his hair as he shook his head. "You know, Padmé said Ahsoka put it that way, too. And for kriff's sake, at-ease, Rex. Ahsoka's in there with her?"
"Yes. And told me to wait out here. You probably saw her security around the other end of things." Rex relaxed marginally. "You're about to be a father, and we're not letting anything get in that doesn't belong, Sir, so go be with the Senator."
"I saw them," Anakin agreed, reached to squeeze his Commander's shoulder before he went to join her, slipping through the door as it opened, looking for his wife and his padawan. Two med-droids, one on either side of her, lifted their optics to look at him, but did not protest.
"Hey, Angel," he said as he moved to her side, sliding up next to her shoulder.
"Ani," she said gratefully, her eyes finding his with clarity and a smile on her lips. "Not much longer, Ahsoka says."
The young woman snorted, flicking a glance at Anakin, but her own eyes had lines around them, as she was concentrating fully on the pair of restless twins. The pain-block on Padmé had calmed them some, but the constant narrowing of their living space was still agitating them. She was having to find balance between keeping them from being too scared by that yet not making them complacent.
"The opening is fully ready for egress, Lady Amidala," one med-droid said.
"Got here just in time, Skyguy," Ahsoka said, shifting to actually lay hands on the laboring woman, opening a flow of energy with her to keep her strong through the process of delivery.
She wasn't letting anything of Anakin's visions rear up and break their peace by taking Padmé or either twin away, not so long as she still lived.
"Sounds like it," Anakin agreed, sliding his hand down to wrap around Padmé's. She didn't seem to be in pain, which was strange -- he remembered women always screaming in the slave quarters, howling like he'd heard Padmé screaming in his visions, when they were giving birth -- but definitely not something he was objecting to. Then he realized that of course she wouldn't be in pain, Ahsoka knew how to pain-block, and besides, there were painkillers for that. "I'm so glad I made it."
"Me too, Ani." Padmé squeezed his hand, and the med-droids moved to position, as two new lives were ready to join them in the new world they were crafting.
Wolffe was the one who finally decided that staying on the crazy, cold, crystalline planet was enough to drive anyone mad… and promptly convinced his General they should at least scout Coruscant out, get news more directly.
Plo Koon, normally a calm and placid member of the Council agreed, while acknowledging the brief pulse-communiques Rex had sent to Cody.
"There is too much that cannot be said in pulse code, too many nuances lost, and potentially sensitive information that might have been left out," he said. "I am willing to take the risk of journeying there, with my Commander, to learn what we as an Order need to know, and to find out the future plans for the Vod'e."
"It is not for us to tell you no," Kit said, even as Yoda made a noise. "But I ask you, my friend, to go carefully and hold the Force close as your ally."
Plo nodded, before he gave the others a bow and left with Wolffe.
"What do you mean, Skywalker won't be joining us today?" Mace asked Stass, uncertain that he had heard her correctly. How did that boy… young man, and a solid one, Mace had to admit… keep convincing her to let him out of this mess?
"Not today, maybe not for a few days. He has other business, very important business," she answered him. "We can handle any further questions that arise, Master Windu."
Mace counted to twenty in three separate languages, then accepted that in this, like all things, Skywalker wrote his own rules. Mace had seen, clearly, that Skywalker was very much the future of the Jedi Order, and he wasn't going to risk that by being rough on the Knight.
Ahsoka was curled up in a ball on the couch, sleeping it off. Rex gathered the afghan from its back and covered her; it was cool in here even for her preferences, he knew. He then looked to the bedroom, where the Senator and his General had taken the babies now that they were out of the med-center.
It felt like everything might just be alright.
The droid whistled reassuringly, and Rex let himself sit on the floor, leaning his head back on the couch, closing his eyes. The droid was a good sentry, and he was as tired as the rest of them. Appo had a unit stationed around and in the building to beef up security. He could nap, just a bit.
He didn't even mind when Ahsoka's hand found his hair, fingers resting against the fuzz he hadn't bothered to shave back off yet. Her sleepy murmur made him tell her it was fine, and then he was out of it, obeying the soldier principle of 'sleep when you can'.
Mace and Stass had grown accustomed to that the only Force presence they had to deal with was Skywalker, so the flickers ahead didn't alarm them as they continued discussing the latest details of the treaty between the Republic and the Order.
So it was true surprise that erupted in both as Plo Koon stepped into sight, with neither protesting as he draped a large hand on both of their shoulders in greeting.
"Master Plo," Mace acknowledged, relieved beyond belief that they had not lost the wisdom and experience of the Kel Dorian.
"I was told Skywalker would be with you," Plo said in concern.
"He is unavailable," Stass said firmly, and Mace grumbled slightly. They shared a look before Mace sighed and let it go. Plo Koon found it heartening that the young Master had learned to hold her own against the Master of the Order.
Then he sobered, and he faced Mace fully. "It is with sorrow I tell you that Master Billaba is feared among the dead."
Mace's heart ached as he nodded. "You don't need to look for her any longer; I felt the death blow," he said, his grief held back by duty.
"The boy… he survived, Mace. She pushed him into the fighter and held off the attacks for him," Plo Koon said. "He is in deep shock, though, and none of those that joined us in Sanctuary have been able to reach him fully."
Mace drew in a deep breath, thinking of Depa's joy in the talented young padawan. "Then, once we are done here, I will see if he will let me help him," he vowed.
Wolffe was a gruff man, holding nearly everyone at arm's' distance. His surviving Wolfpack and his General held the sum of his heart.
Yet, seeing the wreckage of the Coruscant Guard and those members of the 93rd that had gotten swept into the vileness of Order 66, he felt more than a little of that overwhelming need to reach out and hold his brothers safe.
Direct comms with Ilum were discouraged, but the pulse band was difficult to trace, and Rex had already used it once with Cody. He sent a message back to the commanders there, Bly and Gree and Cody and others, to ask them to draw together a new unit from all the survivors to be sent to Coruscant to relieve the units here.
He would get to the depots and dig out all of the cold gear in storage, and let the men that had suffered take it back to Ilum, where the Jedi healers would do their best to put the men back together. As skeptical as he could be of such things, Wolffe knew now that nothing would sever the bonds between Jedi and Vod'e after the horror of Order 66.
Anakin nuzzled lightly at Padmé's hair, glad they'd gotten most of a night's sleep finally. She had insisted on returning to the Senate the second day after giving birth to preserve illusions for now. He hadn't returned to Stass and Mace until the fourth day, and found Plo Koon with them.
Talking to Plo had brought a lot of his future into question. On the one hand, he had his children and wife to think of.
On the other, he felt like he was only half-sure that things were stable because he hadn't seen Obi-Wan yet.
"You're worrying about Obi-Wan."
"Hey, I'm the one with the Force," Anakin protested his wife's words, his lips curving in a slight smile.
"Senate goes to recess tomorrow for three days. I can manage the twins during that time, especially now that Sabé has come to me," she told him. "Take Rex so he can touch base with Cody."
"You're sure?" Anakin asked, even as he debated that second part. If he was gone, he'd prefer Rex stay, but Ahsoka would be here still, or at least he hoped she would be.
Maybe he ought to actually ask what they both wanted, instead of assuming they were going to tough it out here? Especially when Ahsoka, and his chest tightened into a knot again, was probably eager to go and find her own place by now, with the danger mostly over.
Padmé sighed softly. "Stop worrying. Talk to your men, talk to whomever you need to, and go see Obi-Wan!"
Plo Koon had not pressed against the privacy of his foundling, yet the Jedi were set to leave with the Guard and other Vod'e to go to Ilum on the morrow, and he had not seen her more than from afar.
In the light of all that had happened between them, Plo nearly let it go at that, yet… those very events pushed him to try, one last time, to mend the breach. He followed her away from the Senate this time, letting the press of the crowd thin before he called her name.
"Ahsoka Tano?" he called in a gentle voice that nonetheless carried to her montrals.
She knew that voice even better than she knew Skyguy's, and years of habit had her turning before she remembered how angry she was with him. She'd already started, though, and she wasn't about to show hesitation. She finished the turn and took a few strides towards him, her spine straightening and her jaw lifting as she approached. "Master Jedi," she replied, politely distant.
It hurt, no matter the months since they had betrayed her, to know he truly deserved that, Plo Koon realized. How could he make amends? How could he get her to see the tragedy that had hit them all meant they needed to push past the mistakes to make something anew?
"May I speak with you quietly, out of the public ears and eyes?" he requested.
She blinked once, surprised at the request -- and, foolishly, a little hopeful -- and then she nodded. "Yes. Did you have somewhere in mind?"
He made a gesture to a secondary hallway. "There are small conference rooms along this way, often open to public use," he told her before walking with her to one such. That she looked strong and felt healthy to his Force senses was a stronger comfort to him, though he hated seeing her in the concealing cloak. Perhaps that was merely to reserve her anonymity while she worked with Senators, he consoled himself.
Once the door was shut behind them, Plo faced her and reached for the words he needed, hoping the Force could guide him properly. "I am more than relieved the recent events did not harm you too directly, Ahsoka."
She was surprised again that those were the first words he really said, but his sincerity was impossible to doubt. She'd been hidden on Coruscant for months, trying to put herself back together, before Padmé had shown up on her doorstep... and now he appeared and said that? At the same time, she couldn't lie to herself and say that seeing him walk into the Senate chambers hadn't sent a powerful pulse of joy through her chest.
"I was -- and am -- so very glad to see you still alive. It's been so impossible to trust any intel coming in that wasn't on Vod'e pulse bands that we had no idea who might be okay."
"Wolffe guarded me," Plo Koon admitted. "At great cost to himself and his men that he could control against the order." He deeply regretted the deaths of Jag and the two wingmen flying that day. "Ahsoka, I cannot make amends for following the Council's recommendation concerning you," he said next, holding himself perfectly still, instead of letting himself reach out to her. "I was wrong. They were as well. I cannot even tell you why I agreed; there was so much pressure in the Force that day."
Ahsoka said, very soft, "We remain, and remember," at the mention of the cost to Wolffe and the brothers of his unit -- and then he went on, and the knot of grief and anger and betrayal in her chest seemed to take a blow. She had never considered what else might have been going on -- and really she didn't care. Not when most of the Masters of the Council had known her since she was brought to the Temple, how could they have thought she would betray them, would kill vod'e like that?!
But the mention of pressure in the Force, the fact that he made no excuses, did not try to reach for her, simply admitted that he had been wrong, that they all had been wrong... She heard her own wounded whistle too late to stop it, and forced herself to be still, considering those last words.
"...he had to separate me from Skyguy," she said slowly, thinking about it from that angle, "and we know Tarkin was his creature already..."
Plo made a sound that she knew was deep displeasure. "That does not excuse any of us for failing to see the manipulation pushing against us." He regarded her evenly, curious if he could undo any of the harm done, knowing he had to try. "We need strong ones like you, Ahsoka, ones who can bend and adapt as these difficult times demand. Is there anything we could do that would let you come back to us?"
His first words actually made her smile, relieved almost despite herself to hear him refusing to accept the Sith's manipulations as reason for that failure (it was so like him, so reassuring). The last question, though, rocked her back on her heels, her eyes widening.
"...I don't know, Master," Ahsoka answered quietly, moving towards him a little, looking up at his protective goggles. "I wasn't -- were you part of them offering me my Knighthood, as soon as Skyguy cleared me?"
Plo made a low noise in his throat. "While you had faced much, and were as brilliant as you have been all your life, I would not have felt you to be ready at that time, 'Soka," he said, dismayed at the very concept of a Knighthood so early in the girl's life. "You're not full grown, and have so much you can't possibly have learned yet, when this war has forced peaceful lessons aside."
"Oh, good, we agree about that!" Ahsoka replied, a smile touching her lips as her finder said exactly what she'd hoped to hear. "I wasn't, and I'm not, and it was insulting to me and to the Order that they offered it.
"But there are some strictures of the Code that I will never again be willing to live under, Master."
Plo tipped his head slightly to one side, considering that. "I think, Ahsoka, you are not in the minority on that, given how the Vod'e and their trials have reshaped many of us. Master Windu is beginning to grasp the fullness of changes needed as we withdraw to Ilum fully." He slowly held his hand out, unconsciously in the same manner he had reached out to a tiny Togruta child on Shili so long ago. "Help guide those changes, Ahsoka?"
She looked at his outstretched hand, contemplated his words for a little while, worrying about Padmé and the babies, Skyguy and all of his troubles, Rex and everything she hoped for with him... but she couldn't find it in herself to just say 'no'. Not when she'd been so angry over being forced to abandon her men and her Master -- could she really choose leaving them now?
"...I'll come back," Ahsoka agreed, moving to close the distance between them and take his taloned hand again. "But 'because tradition' or 'because I said so' aren't going to cut it as reasons, Master Plo."
He squeezed her hand gently, then tugged loosely and stepped forward, wrapping his arms around her as he had wanted to do since seeing her first. "Those are never again to be good reasons within the Order, Lil 'Soka, I promise to you." He held her gently, letting his own Force presence calm now that she had said yes.
Ahsoka beamed up at him and wrapped him in a tight hug in response, burrowing in against his broad chest and holding on tight. "Good," she breathed, staying tucked against him, breathing in his scent. "I love you. Being mad at you was miserable."
"Missing you was the worst feeling," he agreed, just relaxing his shoulders to have another member of his family returned to him.
Ahsoka slipped inside the apartment, going immediately to look in on the babies, a smile on her lips to find them both asleep… and Yané asleep in the gliding chair beside the crib. She then went in search of her Skyguy, knowing she needed to tell him she was back… and hoping he understood.
She loved being part of the twins' lives, and staying his padawan would insure that she was there for them, but what if he questioned why it was okay to come back now, but not to stay then?
"Skyguy?" she called, before entering the main room, just in case the Senator was already back and they were being sappy with each other.
"Hey, Snips," he answered just as quietly, feeling her nerves and hoping that she hadn't decided that with the crisis over, she was going to go her own way again. He didn't want her to leave again! "What's the matter?"
"Nothing," she said too defensively, before she walked over to the couch and dropped in front of it, in front of him. "So, I hope you aren't too upset with me, and that you'll take me back, but… I agreed to join the Order again." She worried at the corner of her mouth between sharp teeth, looking up at him fretfully.
"You're going to stay?" he asked, stunned, his hands snapping down and out to catch hold of hers, studying her face, relief slamming through him -- though it was mingled with confusion.. He knew he remembered her being offered her Knighthood, why 'hope ... you'll take me back'?
"Master Plo asked me back, and he said he didn't agree with them offering me my Knighthood either," she said, even as she held tight to his hands. "It's not unheard of that a master won't take back a padawan that's readmitted, and I did leave you, Skyguy…." She let her voice trail off, to let him answer her, even as she prayed with all her might that he needed her back as much as she wanted to be at his side.
"Snips, can it," Anakin told her, shaking his head. "You didn't choose to leave, they left you. Besides... you know what I've done. You sure you want me as your Master, with that?"
Ahsoka slipped up on the couch beside him immediately, pressing close to his side. "You're my Skyguy. My brother, my friend… and I want you as my Master until I'm ready to try being my own person."
He wrapped around her, tucking her in against his side and holding on, his cheek against one montral as he nodded, relieved and pleased and steadied by her answer. "Okay, Snips. That -- that works for me, too."
She wasn't leaving. She wasn't -- she was staying. Oh, thank the stars, she was staying.
She made a small whistling noise of reassurance, then just tucked in as tight as he'd allow. They were Skyguy-and-Snips for all time, and nothing would break that.
Ahsoka, standing tall with her beads back in place, her very own lightsabers at her hips, saw the rest of the troops that were leaving onto the transports, her eyes lingering on Anakin's. She had command of half of the 501st -- and the only other Jedi that would be on Coruscant while he was gone was Kit Fisto, who had come with the relief troops.
The Temple was being cleared, bit by bit, by droids, but once the bodies were gone, it would be her job, and Kit's, to prepare the place for shipping everything to Ilum. Others would come to help them, Mace had said, but they would be starting the process.
And she was still going to be expected to keep eyes on the twins as much as she could. The details of how the Skywalker-Naberrie family was going to handle Jedi and Senate duties hadn't emerged yet.
"We will do this," she vowed, words echoed by the men at her back, ready to serve their Commander once again.
Obi-Wan had just finished teaching the new padawans in advanced lightsaber techniques when he heard the chime of incoming ships. Briefly, he touched his bond to Anakin… and yes, it was so strong that Anakin had to be on one of them.
"Class, we have troops who have not yet been through the healers coming here," he said. "Until they are cleared for visitors, I suggest all of you stay closer to the creche for now, to give them space to adjust." He looked at Katooni specifically, who nodded and managed a wide-eyed look that threatened to melt his heart with that innocence. Somehow, he was certain she was going to drag him into as much mischief as Ahsoka had managed to get Anakin into. "Your masters will understand."
"Yes, Master Kenobi!" they answered before going down into the deeper levels, leaving him able to go seek the landing zones. That meant acquiring a fur-lined parka before he stepped out to see what help he could give, but the troops were already being managed well by Cody and Bly in conjunction.
Anakin had wrapped up in the cold-weather gear before they even came out of hyperspace, and he moved through the ranks of his men -- they were the steadiest of any of the Vod'e aboard, but settling into a new planet wasn't always easy for them -- to be sure that Cody and Bly were handling everything without any need of him.
And he could feel Obi-Wan so close. He squeezed Appo's shoulder, turned away, and headed for his brother.
There… that height was unmistakable. Obi-Wan felt a smile on his lips, felt it in his heart for the first time in so long, and crossed the landing pad at more speed than probably was decorous.
"Anakin!" he said happily, reaching out to grab the man's shoulders in greeting.
"Obi-Wan," Anakin answered, his arms wrapping down around his Master's waist to drag him into an embrace and drop his head down against his shoulder. The happiness in Obi-Wan's voice, the speed he'd crossed the pad at, the sheer feel of him... all of it just made Anakin hold on closer.
Obi-Wan let out a small 'ooph' at being grabbed, but then he shifted his own arms and held on just as tight. He had almost lost his men and his brother in one stroke. If that didn't excuse him for the display of open affection and, yes, even attachment, then the Order could stuff itself.
"You look better than I expected to see," Obi-Wan admitted, aware of Mace and Stass passing them by with no commentary at all. That was interesting, but something he'd track down later. "Come on. I have room in my quarters for you, if you don't mind continuing to share for now. The padawans will be staying at the creche until all troops have had time to make it through the healers."
"Of course I don't mind," Anakin replied, though he wasn't about to let go first, "why would I? And yes, Plo told me you'd taken on one of the little ones the way you've been muttering about for years."
Stass had done a good enough job steadying him that he wasn't jealous of his place in Obi-Wan's life... at least, not right now, and he hadn't been yet.
"I knew you would understand. They were far too aware of what happened during the evacuation," Obi-Wan said with certainty. "And so few of us were here initially, to help them all. Training bonds were… the logical choice to give them further support." He then smiled softly. "And she is as unlike you as possible, so quiet and shy." He then slipped to the side, not giving up contact, merely falling in along Anakin's side to guide him in.
"That's got to be a first in our line," Anakin replied, shaking his head as he let his brother lead him down into the complex, keeping an arm tight around him. That idea did help a little more... and of course Obi-Wan would have done whatever he could to help the younglings. He couldn't be him and do anything else.
"I do think you are correct in that, Anakin," Obi-wan said with a chuckle. "I just got away from teaching them advanced forms, so pardon me if I am a bit mussed from it." He took off the parka once they were inside and hung it on the communal hooks. "Rest, food, and quiet?" he offered his brother-in-arms. "Or do you want to explore what we've been changing to make it more habitable?"
"I can explore later," Anakin replied instantly, shaking his head a little at the idea. No, he did not want to be in among a crowd of people, or looking at freezing cold corridors. He wanted to be with his brother, needed to talk to him, to know he was all right.
"Good." Obi-Wan guided him to their quarters, just one level down from the area chosen by the troops, and let him in. There was little more than camp-level amenities, as far as bedding and sitting went, but there was a synthesizer and a basic 'fresher. "I am very relieved you came on the transport. I was worried you wouldn't."
He was as comfortable in camp furnishings as he was anywhere else, even after the better part of a month living in Padmé's quarters. It only took a moment to figure out where Obi-Wan usually settled, and he dropped himself right beside that spot, looking up at his brother. "Relieved, huh?"
Had Obi-Wan really thought he wouldn't come, that he wouldn't want -- need -- to know he was all right?
Obi-Wan looked at him, then down, even as he settled in beside Anakin. "I knew that there would be reasons for you to remain close to Coruscant. And… once Yoda told us what you'd learned, I was half-certain you might blame me, for only ever arguing, and not investigating," he admitted.
Anakin wasn't sure, for a moment, which part of that to react to first, and then he shook his head, looking at Obi-Wan quietly. "How could I blame you, Master, when I blame myself so much more? If I'd thought for five minutes, after the Invisible Hand, I would have known you were right all along."
He'd known there were reasons? What?
"You can't blame yourself, Anakin." Obi-Wan was emphatic on those words. "That man had access to you for as long as I did. And perhaps he saw less of you… but that just meant his words lingered longer, especially in the face of my utter inability to grasp how different you were from any other youngling I'd known inside the Temple."
How could he capture that realization he'd had that Anakin embodied almost all the aspects of The Young from Melida/Daan that had coaxed him away from his lifetime goal to be a proper Jedi? Did he really need to?
Anakin frowned at him, then twisted around to drop his shoulders against Obi-Wan's near thigh and drop his head on the other, looking up at him. "It -- Master Allie spent a lot of time trying to uproot the compulsions and manipulations that man left in my head, but that... It doesn't -- "
Obi-Wan let his hand drift to Anakin's hair, stroking gently as he had when Anakin had been a small boy, still eager to know Obi-Wan, not tinged by bitterness and growing anger. "I'm thankful to Stass Allie then, for being there to aid you. I should have been." He sighed softly at his thoughts. "Perhaps, rather than play at what we might have done, or should have done, you and I need to commit to what we will do, for one another, as we move forward, yes? As in I promise to always listen, before jumping to conclusions."
Anakin leaned into the hand in his hair, grateful he'd spent the entire hyperspace trip soundly asleep, because if he'd still been as tired as he was when he got on the ship, more than a few moments of that would have had him soundly asleep. He'd missed being able to be close to his Master, and now -- now there was so much less of the deliberately amplified rage that had hammered a gulf between them. He listened to his brother's words, and nodded slowly.
"I think you have the right of it there, brother. It -- I don't know what to promise in return, but I can't lose you. I came too kriffing close to that -- to losing myself, too. I can't keep hiding from you, I... I love you too much."
Obi-Wan's petting never faltered. "I love you, Anakin. You are my brother, and one of a very few people I refuse to be parted from," he admitted. "As to promises, I don't need one from you. Just share what you want, when you are ready."
With that between them, Anakin and Obi-Wan slowly started down the path of opening up to each other, healing the bond they shared.
Caleb flinched back, toward the shadows as Master Windu looked through the creche, hunting… hunting him? Panic flared sharply in his chest, but before he could even think of running, of diving into the deep caves, Mace was there, dropping down on one knee before him.
"Caleb Dume, will you accept me as your Master, not to replace Master Depa Billaba, but to augment and continue what she began with you?"
Caleb's breath caught in his throat, and he shuddered once, twice, and then the tears and sobs tore out of him.
Mace just pulled the boy in against his chest, rising and carrying him to what would be their shared quarters. Together, they would grieve and heal, to carry Depa's memory into the new future being made.
"Well, Rexter, looks like we're on a better road," Ahsoka said, watching as their people were loading up, ready to go to Naboo next. The rest of the legion, and the 212th, would meet them there.
"Master Ti's communique said there'd be mandatory physicals; that's nothing to get excited over," he grumbled.
Ahsoka giggled at him, shaking her head so the beads shimmied against her central headtail. "They found something in the Kaminoan database, that's all, you big baby."
He eyed her reproachfully, but then reached out to straighten the beads closest to him. "Negotiations with the Separatists, the Vod'e all going into garrison…. It's like starting a new life."
"That's because we are. All of us. The Jedi are going to stay on Ilum, and learn how to be counselors and problem solvers on a smaller level. Our brothers will have a chance to find hobbies, jobs, families," she pointed out.
Rex looked at her, an eyebrow going up, but then he just shifted his stance a little, more open toward her. She didn't hesitate to step into the space, her hip touching his, as they both oversaw the withdrawal of their men from Coruscant.
Padmé knew she would have to return to Coruscant soon enough, but right now she was enjoying the family atmosphere of the night. After shrewd negotiations, she had given up the claim on most of the family property, instead taking on a broad swath of land that was dotted with smaller lakes and grasslands that the Vod'e could eventually branch out from. There were a few local hamlets, all welcoming the addition of new laborers, as the troopers were set on learning how to live outside their armor.
Most of them, any way.
She looked at Anakin, half asleep with the twins both on his chest, Ahsoka pinning his legs, and decided the couch was far too crowded like that. Instead, she went over to the loveseat, where Obi-Wan Kenobi was sitting on one end, his young padawan by his legs working on a Force puzzle. She sat down near him, and carefully laid a hand out between them.
There was much yet to learn and share between them, but they knew one thing: they both loved Anakin Skywalker, though in very different ways. Obi-Wan covered her hand with his, a silent promise to be a continuing part of this family, one that happened to include two full legions of good men.
"To think we could have lost this all, if not for the love of our men," Obi-Wan said softly.
"It doesn't bear thinking about," she said softly, her eyes twinkling as Sabé came in, intent on gathering up her god-children for bed. Padmé signed her off that, and beckoned her to join them, making room on her cushion. That made the loveseat quite full, but none of them protested.
They had a new future to embrace.