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The Jedi taught that soulmate’s marks were a lie, a twist of biology that pushed attachments where none were sought or needed, an aberration in the Force. And there was, Ahsoka thought, perhaps some truth to it. Records, art, and holocrons that survived from the days of the Old Republic showed that the galaxy’s beings weren’t always afflicted with these—she hesitated to call them stains, these tattoos, though that’s what they looked like.

For Jedi anyway, who must have them surgically altered to blur the mark before they were allowed to face their trials and ascend to knighthood.

Ahsoka had gone through the process—and more easily than most of her peers at that.

She hadn’t questioned why at the time. It was what good Jedi did and, frankly, the thought of losing her family was so much more troubling to her than losing a soulmate she’d never met. She had Anakin and Padmé and Rex and Master Obi-Wan and Master Plo and all the others. What did she need with a soulmate when she already had so much?

Now, smudging her thumb over the perfect circle stamped into her skin, a blotch slightly darker than her naturally orange skin, she wondered at it, that it had been so easy, that the rest of what followed had been what tore her apart.

This was her soulmate she’d obliterated, in name if not in actuality. And that should have meant something. Now that she had nothing, it did. And she wasn’t a little bit disappointed in herself for not having realized the consequences sooner. She might well have made the same decision, but at least she would have known what it would mean. Fully, truthfully.

She wished Anakin was here; if anyone would be able to help her understand, it was him. He was always the most attached of all the Jedi she knew and, more importantly, acknowledged that fact. Master Obi-Wan was much the same, but he liked to pretend otherwise. And that sometimes made him hard to talk to. But Anakin… Anakin would have known what to do.

But Anakin was not here.

And Ahsoka had only the memory of a name and the haunted, hunted feeling that it wasn’t enough, even at the end of everything she’d know. It wasn’t enough.

Kaeden.

*

Most people found their soulmates eventually. Approximately ninety-eight percent of beings since the galactic census began accounting for soulmate matches anyway. Even the Jedi couldn’t deny there was some element of the Force at work there. It was impossible to imagine otherwise. Mathematicians had studied the phenomenon for a thousand years or more. The chances of some form of intervention not interceding were vanishingly small according to them. One scientist once compared it, if Ahsoka remembered correctly, to meeting your doppelgänger from another universe and immediately bumping into another doppelgänger from another universe while being struck by a hovercar by a third.

It wasn’t impossible.

It was just so unlikely that it might as well have been.

And everyone accepted the fact. And Jedi, perhaps because they traveled around the galaxy so much, had an even higher incidence of encounters. They rarely ended well if the stories were to be believed. About as good as it got was when the rejected soulmate respected their parter-that-should-have-been’s wishes to stay with the Order—at least according to the Jedi. Some left the Order to be with their intended. Ahsoka supposed that was a happy ending. Of a sort.

Ahsoka still couldn’t fathom any happy ending where she wasn’t still a Jedi. Always before, she’d secretly wondered whether those who left regretted it. Now that everyone she’d cared about was dead, she imagined those who remained were relieved to have escaped.

But others surely had better imaginations than she did and had learned to cope. Perhaps there was more for them than being a Jedi.

Those people were surely happier than she.

At one time, the Order had kept busts to memorialize Jedi Masters who left. Now there had been so many that there was no point. Instead of serving as a reminder of the folly that could befall even trained Jedi, it merely showed the initiates and apprentices and knights that there was a life outside of the Order.

Maybe they had a point; maybe the ones who’d stayed had been the fools.

No. No. That didn’t feel right at all.

*

She hadn’t expected to find Kaeden on Raada.

And, for whatever reason, she hadn’t thought through the possibility that Kaeden would develop feelings for her. A complication, that, and a serious one. This was why the Jedi did what they did. She could see that much now.

Her mark had manifested itself on her abdomen, easily hidden. Not that Kaeden would know for sure even if she did see it. Rarely, very rarely, soulmates’ marks didn’t match. Surely there was another Kaeden in the galaxy could conceivably be. And though Ahsoka could hope that might be the case here, she was fairly certain it wasn’t. As little time as she’d spent considering the concept before, she could admit that she felt a pull from Kaeden—not quite what others felt when they experienced it, but a pull all the same.

But as long as she kept her real name a secret, Kaeden need never find out, and Ahsoka needn’t lie any more to her than she already was.

Kaeden deserved more than a former Padawan with a blemished soulmate’s mark on her stomach.

And Ahsoka didn’t know what she’d do with a soulmate even if she had her.

If she found that fact sad, she didn’t let herself dwell on it. There were more important things to do—for both of them. Kaeden needed to survive. The people of Raada needed to be safe. That was what truly mattered.

*

Ashla.

She had to remember she was Ashla. For Kaeden’s sake.

For her own sake.

*

She should have known that wouldn’t work. None of her plans ever worked. It was the cursed side-effect of being apprenticed to Anakin Skywalker, she thought. None of his plans ever worked either. Which made her feel marginally better, warm remembrances of fonder times threatening to lift her mood despite Kaeden knowing the truth now.

“Ahsoka,” Kaeden said, breathless, her hand drifting to her stomach and Ahsoka knew. She knew she knew she knew. She’d always known. Of course it was Kaeden Larte of Raada. Who else could it be? She’d always known.

That’s why she fought so hard to hide it. Just because she knew… it didn’t mean she knew what to do about it, what Kaeden would want from her. She didn’t know how to be the woman Kaeden probably needed her to be. She wasn’t stupid; she’d read holonovels and had seen films and had met people who loved one another more deeply than anything.

Soulmates in every sense of the term.

Ahsoka… Ahsoka had never experienced love in that way; she didn’t think she ever would.

“Kaeden,” Ahsoka said, reaching for her.

She slipped through Ahsoka’s grasp, tearing her hand out of the way so Ahsoka couldn’t grab her by the arm. She stomped away, her hands jammed into her pockets and Miara glared daggers at her. If looks could kill, Ahsoka thought.

Ahsoka shook off Miara’s lack of regard for her. Her resentment didn’t matter right now. Only Kaeden did. Besides, she would never win over Miara if she didn’t make things right with Kaeden. And though it wasn’t her primary concern, she liked Miara. She didn’t want Miara to hate her, too. “Kaeden,” Ahsoka said, jogging past Miara, barely sparing a glance for her. “Wait. I can explain…”

It sounded weak even to her own ears. No doubt it was even weaker to Kaeden’s. “Kaeden!”

“Leave me alone,” she yelled back, an edge in her voice that threatened to shatter Ahsoka’s heart into pieces. It stopped her in her tracks, that edge did. It held a knife to her throat.

Closing her eyes, Ahsoka drew in a deep breath, tried to clear her mind. But it was impossible. She couldn’t be soothed.

The Force wasn’t with her.

*

“I could kiss you,” Kaeden said, rushing forward, before she stopped herself, before she remembered that Ahsoka had lied to her. When she realized, she looked away and was unable to raise her eyes again. Her mouth twisted into a grimace. An awkward pause broke the moment into two halves and she raised her hands to cover the evidence of her hastiness. “Sorry, I—”

Ahsoka fought the urge to ask her to do just that. Just so she could see. Just so she could know. Kaeden deserved better, she reminded herself. “It’s okay,” she answered instead, hoping that was enough. “Don’t worry about it.” Oh, how she wanted to console Kaeden or figure out how to make it work. She wanted to make Kaeden feel better.

Many people end up with people who aren’t their soulmates. You’ll find love, I’m sure of it. You’re beautiful. You’re lovable. If I could…

She wanted to be around Kaeden all the time; but that wasn’t what soulmates were, was it? To be around their intended? What did that even mean, ‘to be around?’ Being with Kaeden was easy. Most of the time anyway. And Ahsoka didn’t know what that meant, but it meant something. She hadn’t been easy around anyone since before the galaxy had wronged itself around her.

And Ahsoka wanted to fix the fractures between them.

It still didn’t match what she understood about soulmates though.

But she had to do something.

“Can we talk?” Ahsoka asked, well aware that they weren’t alone. They were so rarely alone. But she wanted privacy for this conversation, worry lapping cold at the walls of her abdomen. Her eyes flicked toward the back of the house.

Kaeden frowned. “Do we have to?” She scratched at her elbow and she wouldn’t let Ahsoka catch her gaze. “I know you’re…”

Ahsoka stepped forward, brushed passed Kaeden, predicting correctly that she would follow anyway. “What do you know?”

“Jedi aren’t supposed to form attachments,” she said as soon as they were out of immediate earshot of the others. “I can respect that.”

“But I’m not—” She couldn’t bring herself to say it though it was true. “The Jedi aren’t supposed to form attachments, no.” She grabbed for the hem of her shirt, the leather of it difficult to pull up. But do it she did.

And Kaeden gasped, one hand reaching—but she pulled it back as though burned the next moment. She was right to see it as a blemish, even if it did mean something different to Ahsoka. Being faced with the evidence of your own mark’s erasure…

“Others… struggled with it,” Ahsoka looked away, willed herself to not feel ashamed. There was nothing for her to feel ashamed about. She hadn’t known. “It came more easily to me—ignoring those feelings. I never really had them. Not the way they did anyway.”

Kaeden’s head titled and she took a step toward Ahsoka. “How did you have them then?” Her question was tentative, like she didn’t dare hope. And she was right not to hope. She would probably find herself disappointed with Ahsoka’s answer.

Anakin’s face flashed in her mind’s eye. Senator Amidala. Master Obi-Wan. Master Plo. Barriss. Rex. Her mind conjured all of them and the overwhelming love she felt for them, a love that was complete all on its own.

And everything she felt for them, she felt for Kaeden, too.

Lightning quick, she grabbed for Kaeden’s hand, tugging her into a tight, desperate hug. It was unlike her to do this, her fingers grasping at the back of Kaeden’s shirt, threatening to tear the seam with her touch. The Force—the Force sang inside of her, pure and clear, and every bit of wanted to curl itself up inside of Kaeden and stay there. “This is how,” Ahsoka said, quiet, her lips against Kaeden’s ear.

Kaeden stiffened in her grip, stiffened and relaxed in turn, almost collapsing in Ahsoka’s arms. Her voice caught on a choking sob and then she was gripping Ahsoka just as tightly as Ahsoka did her. “Ahsoka,” she said, pained almost, like she couldn’t breathe quite right and so she couldn’t speak.

“I’m sorry,” she answered, unsure what to do. The Force offered no more answers and neither did Kaeden.

Kaeden buried her face against Ahsoka’s lekku, the skin of her cheek soft and warm, each breath humid against her neck. Ahsoka thought she felt the wetness of tears, but she couldn’t be sure.

“That’s what you feel?” Kaeden finally asked, her voice small and tentative.

“Yes?”

Kaeden laughed and it was a little broken and Ahsoka was no clearer on what she should be doing to make it better. But Kaeden seemed to know. Shifting her grip slightly, she pushed Ahsoka to arm’s length and brushed the back of her hand across her cheeks, first one, then the other. “What did you think being soulmates meant?”

Ahsoka swallowed, unable to look at her. Emotions welled inside of her, so many she couldn’t tell what they were or how deeply she was feeling each of them. The Jedi hadn’t taught her about this. The galaxy hadn’t taught her about it. Perhaps it came easily to most people. Perhaps they didn’t need to be taught.

Whatever Kaeden saw on her face, it couldn’t have been good because she threw herself back into Ahsoka’s arms. “Oh, Ahsoka.”

Ahsoka pressed her fingers down the ridges of Kaeden’s spine, each vertebrae seeming so delicate and breakable despite the strength Ahsoka knew she carried there.

Then Kaeden let go again, her hands drifting up to cup Ahsoka’s face. She glanced down at Ahsoka’s lips and pressed her own together. “Can I—I know you don’t—”

Ahsoka’s heartbeat sped up. Kaeden wanted to kiss her, that much was clear. Whether Ahsoka thought she should…

Would it just confuse things? Make them harder? Would Kaeden…?

The thing was… Ahsoka wanted her to. She wanted to know what Kaeden felt like pressed against her. She wanted that closeness. It settled like an itch beneath her skin, slid into her heart like it had always been there. She still didn’t feel what she thought she was supposed to feel, what most people said they felt, but in this—in this, she could see what everyone was getting at.

“I’d like that,” Ahsoka said, rewarded with the brilliance of Kaeden’s grin and the press of Kaeden’s mouth against her own. And that felt right, too. She could have kissed Kaeden forever and been happy with that.

They still had to save Raada. The galaxy was still all wrong.

But Ahsoka didn’t have to do that alone anymore. And there were still, Ahsoka realized, pieces of the galaxy that were wholly right.

Kaeden—Kaeden and her—they were wholly right.