Chapter 1: Malachor
“You have unlocked the secret of the Temple,” Vader said. Underneath the mask, Anakin was slightly impressed. He, of course, knew the answer to the question he was going to ask, but asked it nonetheless. “How did you accomplish this?”
The teenager looked up at him, his eyes fierce. There was anger hidden there, Anakin knew. This child would have a long path ahead of him, but that inkling of pride persisted; for someone who’d only been but a Padawan when the Order crumbled, Caleb Dume had trained the kid quite well. Nevertheless, Anakin knew that the two of them still had a long way to go.
“You're smart, figure it out!” Ezra Bridger yelled in defiance.
Anakin decided then that it was equally probable that this kid would turn out to be a problem, but then again, he was simply a child, nothing Anakin couldn’t handle, especially if Ahsoka continued to keep a close eye on him and his half-trained teacher. Anakin felt quite bad for Caleb Dume. Depa Billaba’s trainee didn’t deserve this; he should have been given the opportunity to finish his learning. Ignoring the rising feelings of guilt, Anakin reminded himself for the thousandth time that he hadn’t had another choice and instead focused on the angry teen before him.
“No matter,” Vader replied. He needed to get those two out of here so that he could see Ahsoka and speak with her in private. The information he had… it could not be relayed even on the Rebellion’s most secure channels. Of course, he could have gone to Bail directly, but Sidious had sent him after his former Padawan before he’d gotten the chance.
He supposed a part of it was that he ached to see her again, ached to finally tell someone the secret that he’d been keeping for the last sixteen years. He needed someone to know, for he was so incredibly lonely.
As for Caleb and his charge, while Anakin knew that they were probably trustworthy, he couldn’t risk it. They never needed to know.
“The power within will soon serve the Empire,” Vader continued coldly, a fist closed around his lightsaber.
“I don't fear you!” Bridger stated, his eyes burning. Brave as he was, Anakin knew that Ezra in fact feared Vader a great deal, so much so that Anakin could almost taste it in the air.
He looked at the young boy sadly, knowing that what came next was needed to keep up the ruse. If it were Anakin the child was fighting, he would have been granted mercy, however Vader was not merciful, so with a sharp pang Anakin lit his lightsaber and narrowed his eyes as the blood-red blade sprung to life.
“Then you will die braver than most,” Vader said with finality, lunging at the boy.
Anakin would go easy on him, just enough to scare him, not enough to land the killing blow. There weren’t nearly enough Jedi left for that. The fight wore on, and Anakin could clearly see that the kid was already worn out while he himself was just getting started. He would have to tell Ahsoka to help them out, for the fact that they’d even lasted this long only equated to pure luck, as the boy was severely lacking in his techniques.
Vader stuck his blade out and swung it sharply, cutting the teen’s saber in half. A pity, but a necessary move. Anakin knew that he could simply make another one, for the crystal inside was still in one piece. Behind him, a presence made itself known. Underneath his mask, Anakin smiled, relief washing over him.
“Perhaps I was wrong,” Vader said, turning, his fist tight on the hilt of his blade. Anakin almost sobbed. She was standing right there, tall and brave, no fear in her achingly-familiar features. She’d grown immensely, he noticed. Her lekku were longer now, her face more mature, her stature equally so. Force, she was as tall as him now.
“It wouldn't be the first time,” she responded, her voice icy. Anakin’s smile turned sad as the reality of the situation sunk in, grief making its way up his throat, treacherous tears almost forming in his eyes.
“It was foretold that you would be here,” Vader called, and it was all Anakin could do to stop his voice from shaking, for his mind hurt as she stared him down. He couldn’t tell her, not yet. Anakin steeled himself, forced himself to hold on for just a little longer. Vader raised his head. “Our long-awaited meeting has come at last.”
“I'm glad I gave you something to look forward to,” Ahsoka shot back. Anakin resisted the urge to snort. Clearly, her snippiness remained intact, even after everything. He didn’t know what to make of that.
“We need not be adversaries,” he almost pleaded, the vocoder delivering his words as emotionless and condescending rather than what they really were. Anakin allowed himself to be thankful for the cursed thing before slipping back into the role of Vader. “The Emperor will show you mercy if you tell me where the remaining Jedi can be found.”
“There are no Jedi,” she seethed, her words delivering a sharp stab of pain to his heart. “You and your Inquisitors have seen to that.”
While what she said was true, that had never been his fault. He’d tried to save the majority of them, he really had. Ahsoka had to know that. She had to understand.
“Perhaps this child will confess what you will not,” Vader growled, turning back to the boy, forcing the darkness that shielded him to rise to the surface. The Force was an electric storm around him, churning with energy and unimaginable power. The boy, to his credit, was petrified. Sorry, kid, Anakin silently apologized.
“I was beginning to believe I knew who you were behind that mask, but it's impossible. My master could never be as vile as you,” Ahsoka said in response, her words once again delivering a heavy blow to Anakin’s chest. His smile was gone now, and his expression was one of incredible sorrow, though Ahsoka couldn't see it, not while he was still wearing the mask. Something began to prick at the corners of his eyes, but he shoved the feeling down. This would be over soon enough. He only needed to get the two others out of here.
“Anakin Skywalker was weak,” Vader taunted, facing Ahsoka once again and raising his saber, the blood-red glow forcing Anakin to continue. “I destroyed him.”
He couldn't stop now, he was in far too deep. His only hope was that Ahsoka would forgive him. He didn’t know if she would, or even if she should. Time had seen to the both of them.
“Then I will avenge his death,” she replied, her eyes a blazing inferno, fists tight at her sides, her aura almost ethereal in the purple light of the Temple.
“Revenge is not the Jedi way,” Anakin said, then, breaking out of role for just a moment, his voice filled with confusion. The vocoder, however, showed no such intonation.
“I am no Jedi,” Ahsoka growled, taking the two lightsabers from her hips and turning them on.
When the white light blazed to life, Anakin forced himself not to gasp out loud. They were absolutely breathtaking. Of course Ahsoka would carry silver blades. She’d never been a fully-fledged Knight, it only made sense that she had forged herself anew and stemmed away from the role that she’d never had the chance to live.
She lunged, and Anakin began the dance. It was like their old sparring sessions, except they weren’t Master and Padawan anymore, and as far as Ahsoka knew, they were on different sides of the war. Something pulled on Anakin’s heart as he feigned another angry blow. To him, this was a game. He was going easy on her, much like he had for the boy. He doubted that Ahsoka knew, as his guise had grown impenetrable over the years. He forced her away from the main platform to behind one of the corners. She fought with something new, a fierce glint in her eye, a spark of determination that he hadn’t seen before. Force, he was so proud of her. Anakin smiled again underneath the mask. She had grown well.
They neared the edge of the platform, blades clashing in a series of bright white sparks. Anakin knew that the ship was going to come for the others any minute now. He looked into her eyes for a moment and memorized the blue that he had begun to forget before suddenly extending his hands pushing with the Force. Ahsoka was caught unawares, and before she knew it her feet had been swept from beneath her and she was falling away from Vader and the Temple.
I’ll apologize for that later, Anakin promised himself with a slight wince as he watched her sail through the air. He didn’t linger, though, for he had a role to play. Promptly turning on his heel, he marched back the way he came into the main chamber, his dark cape billowing behind him.
When he arrived, the boy was helping his master to the ship, which was floating at the end of the platform, just as Anakin had predicted. Vader reached with his hand and with the Force, willing it to gently tug at the holocron before he put a little more into it and pulled, both the holocron and the boy slowly sliding towards him. He could hear their panicked voices, although their words were lost to the buffeting wind.
He felt Ahsoka before he saw her, but the Force told him to stay still, so he listened, armed with the knowledge of what would happen the second after. He heard her yell just as his eye was nearly scarred again by a bright white blade. Sinking to his knees, he gripped his own lightsaber, his organic hand fisted so tightly that his knuckles turned white.
Ahsoka stood some feet away, tall and still, an avenging angel. She watched as Vader knelt, ignoring Ezra and Kanan’s yells from behind her. It would all end here, one way or another. She would make sure that Anakin Skywalker hadn’t died for nothing. She couldn’t take it for what it really was, refused to accept that this is what had become of him. It was easier to pretend that he was dead. She watched as Vader lifted his head.
“Ahsoka,” he said, and then, she could see. The mask was cut, revealing Anakin’s face underneath. She didn’t pay much attention to anything but his eye. It was clear and blue and so Anakin that she nearly sobbed.
“I won't leave you,” she said suddenly, unbidden emotion rising along with her voice, her inhibitions gone to the wind at the sight of Anakin’s face. “Not this time.”
And then, as the walls to the Temple finally lowered and isolated them, Vader did something completely unexpected. He turned his lightsaber off and dropped it at his feet when he stood, his back straight, head held high. Next, he raised a hand and took off the helmet and the mask.
When Ahsoka could see his entire face, she could see that he was smiling, albeit sadly, his eyes filled with grief. But there was happiness there, too, the old spark that she had long thought gone.
“Good,” he said, and it was nothing like what she had expected. His voice was exactly like his, no menacing tone, no threats. It was Anakin’s voice. Strained and tired, yes, as if he too was holding back tears, trying hard to act like everything was okay, but it was his voice.
“I was beginning to think I’d never find you,” he continued, something akin to desperation echoing within his words. “Fulcrum, isn't it? We’ve got to talk.”
“Vader,” she snarled instead, the moment of clarity gone as she was snapped back into reality. He was only playing some game. Anakin was gone. She raised her sabers, her eyes cold again. “I will not be fooled by you.”
Vader simply rolled his eyes and sighed, his shoulders slumping. Ahsoka found it vaguely unsettling how similar he and Anakin were. He put a hand to his forehead, and Ahsoka saw that it was shaking. Still, her sabers stayed lit, her head a mess of emotions and the familiar want to simply believe him, but she couldn’t, not when she knew that he had betrayed the Jedi, not when she had seen the aftermath of Vader’s infamous rage; entire cities razed to the ground.
“Personally, I blame Bail and Yoda for making this ten times more difficult than it should be,” Vader replied lightly, the tone clearly forced. Then, he sobered, his already-sad smile saddening further. “But before I say anything else, Ahsoka, I just want you to know how very proud of you I am.”
Ahsoka, on her part, grew even more wary, but his words had peaked her interest.
“What do you know of Master Yoda?” She asked. There was something not unlike tears shining in his eyes.
“I promise I’ll tell you everything once we get out of here,” he said, picking up his lightsaber and clipping it to his belt with practiced ease, although Ahsoka could see that his hands were still shaking. “Trust me or not, your choice. Still, this Temple is falling apart, so for now we’re going to have to stick together.”
With that, he grinned again, but then his face was filled with sudden pain as a shockwave swept them both forward. The last thing Ahsoka knew were a pair of dark-clothed arms and a set of haunted blue eyes, and then… nothing.
She woke up coughing. There was rubble everywhere, the pale light of Malachor’s sun casting soft white light upon the rocks, but she didn’t seem to be seriously hurt. She stood, wincing slightly, and that was when she saw him.
Vader’s body was strewn across several large boulders, still passed out. He looked to be alright, but upon closer inspection, there was a nasty-looking gash on his temple from where he must have hit some of the wreckage. Ahsoka rushed over to him, suddenly, the Force screaming in her head, for right then he looked so much like Anakin that it hurt, and all her memories cried out all at once as she knelt beside him and placed a careful hand upon his chest.
His heart was beating steadily, although his breathing was a little shallow for her liking. She shook his shoulders, once, twice, and waited as his eyes fluttered open.
When they did, they fixated on her.
“Snips?” He questioned tentatively, his voice soft and vulnerable. She closed her eyes and fed into the game. She could pretend, if only for a little while. She knew what she had to do, for the Jedi Order, dead at Vader’s hands, for the good of the Rebellion. She would avenge Anakin Skywalker’s death. But first, she would give her grieving heart this one last kindness.
“Skyguy,” she breathed as a gentle hand wiped away a tear from her cheek.
“You’ve grown so much,” he said, his voice still quiet, tears leaking from his eyes as he lay there, the moisture making his skin shine in the hazy light. “I have a mission, Snips.
“What mission?” She asked, closing her eyes, expecting Vader to be back at any second, one hand already closing around one of her lightsabers.
“A mission… To save us all.”
And then, he felled his shields, and Ahsoka was submerged in an iridescent light, surrounding her and cradling her mind in its warmth, and then, she cried out, her eyes watering, for this was truly Anakin and not even Vader could feign something like this and—
She looked at him, teary eyes wide, and he smiled through his sorrow.
“It was Master Yoda’s idea,” he said, confirming her realization, his voice still weak. “The Chancellor was the Sith Lord… but we found out too late.”
The world spun. They had orchestrated Vader. They had fooled even the Sith Lord himself. Anakin coughed, and Ahsoka’s hand leapt away from her blade as she forgot everything and quickly helped him sit.
There was a beat of silence in which their eyes met, blue to blue, and then Ahsoka couldn’t take it anymore. Finally falling apart, she threw her arms around him as a sob broke past her lips. She felt Anakin shake within her arms, his own, softer cries evident as he buried his face in her shoulder. They stayed like that for a while, simply holding onto each other, old friends finally reunited. She hadn't thought that she would ever get to see him again.
“What do you need me to do?” She asked him as she regretfully pulled away, wiping the wetness from her face with the heel of her hand. Anakin looked at her and then burst into a coughing fit, his eyes slamming shut as his chest shook.
“I need to get to Alderaan,” he rasped out once he’d gotten his coughing under control.
“We’ll have to rendezvous with the rest of the Ghost crew on the base at Atellon,” Ahsoka said in response. “Only after can we afford to get away.”
“Alright,” Anakin conceded, more easily than she had expected, a crease between his brows. It scared her, a little bit. The Anakin that she remembered had always been dead-set in the things he’d needed to do, confident. The Anakin before her, however, he seemed somewhat hollow.
“You’re hurt,” Ahsoka stated firmly, looking worriedly to the still-bleeding gash on his head. “We should get to a proper medical facility and get that wound looked at, you took the blast for me, how could you—“
“There’s no time, Ahsoka,” he replied, cutting her off, his bright blue eyes meeting hers. That was more like the Anakin she remembered. His eyes steeled before he spoke, his real hand grasping hers. Ahsoka found that she welcomed the warmth. “Long ago I made a promise to myself. I will always protect you, Ahsoka, even now.”
She knew then that there was no arguing with him, so instead she sighed. “The only ship I have if the one run by the Spectres, and as far as I know, you don’t want to drag them into this mess.”
“No, I don’t. But it’s the only chance I’ve got,” Anakin agreed, a fierce grin lighting up his features. Luckily for me, I’m still a pretty good Shadow.”
“You can’t be serious,” replied Ahsoka, eyes widenng. “There are Force-sensitives on that ship. Ezra and Kanan—“
“Are both hardly Padawans,” Anakin said, cutting her off. “Neither of them will be an issue, trust me. Does your comm still work?”
Sighing again, Ahsoka grudgingly agreed that it was the best plan they had. And, also grudgingly, she realized that Anakin was right. Ezra and Kanan, as good as they were, were nowhere near fully-fledged Jedi. Hell, even she was more advanced than the two of them combined. Anakin was right. They wouldn’t suspect a thing. Although, in close quarters… No, she couldn't afford to think like that.
Taking out her comm, she looked Anakin in the eye and nodded once before dialling the Phantom’s frequency. Luckily for her, Ezra picked up.
“Fulcrum?” He asked. “Is that you? Are you alright?”
“Yes, Ezra,” Ahsoka responded tiredly. “Yes, it’s me. I’m a little banged up, but I’ll live. Is Kanan there?”
“I’m here,” came Kanan’s gruff voice. “Vader?”
“Gone,” Ahsoka stated, her eyes glancing from the comlink towards Anakin’s direction, where he sat listening, eyes rapt with attention. “I don’t think he’s dead, but he won’t be a problem for quite some time. From what the Force is telling me, the blast seems to have weakened him, at least somewhat.”
Anakin rolled his eyes. Thanks, he mouthed at her, sarcasm evident. Ahsoka permitted herself a small grin in return.
“Alright,” replied Ezra after a brief pause. “Send your coordinates and we’ll come get you. Luckily, I’d convinced Kanan that you would be okay. He was all for hitting hyperspace as soon as we broke atmo.”
“Thank you, Ezra. And Kanan, both of you,” Ahsoka said. “Really. I’ll transmit the coordinates to you now.”
“See you soon, Fulcrum.”
With that, the line went dead. Ahsoka quickly input the coordinates and sent them along, knowing Ezra and Kanan were there on the other end. Then, she turned to Anakin. He looked dazed, and his face was suddenly very pale, the bright red of the head wound prominent against his bloodless pallor. He swayed, for a moment, and Ahsoka leapt towards him and put a steadying hand on his shoulder.
“Hey, Skyguy,” she said worriedly. “Hang in there. We have to get you on the ship.”
“Yes,” Anakin repeated faintly. “On the ship.”
“I’ll get your head looked at then, okay?” Ahsoka continued gently, her other arm finding Anakin’s second shoulder as she held him upright. “Just hold on, keep your strength.”
I can’t lose you again, she didn’t say.
Soon enough, she could begin to hear the whine of the Phantom’s engines in the distance. Anakin heard too, and after reaching to the Force for strength, some of the blood had thankfully returned to his face. His resolve hardened.
“Time to disappear,” he said, meeting Ahsoka’s eyes just as the Phantom came into view. And then, with one last look at the sky above, Anakin sunk into the Force and vanished from the world.
“Okay,” she whispered, a gentle smile upon her face. “May the Force be with us.”
And so, the dawn of a new day upon them, Ahsoka felt a little bit more hopeful.
Chapter 2: Phantom
Ahsoka knew that it was going to be a long few hours on the Phantom. She could feel Anakin in the Force, sitting beside her, his whole body rigid. He was a good Shadow, yes, but he was also exhausted and injured. Kanan and Ezra sat at the front of the ship, and luckily enough, they were either completely oblivious or too tired to notice their additional passenger. Ahsoka fidgeted in her place, glancing at Anakin every so often. He shimmered in the seat beside her, flickering in and out of focus, as if he wasn't really there. Ahsoka had to grudgingly agree that he was a good Shadow indeed. Still, that didn’t make her any less worried.
As they hurtled through hyperspace, Ezra and Kanan didn’t talk to her much, seemingly preoccupied with their own issues, which was fine, for the less attention they gave her, the better it was for Anakin.
Once they landed, Ahsoka let Ezra and Kanan leave ahead of her.
“Stay here,” she whispered to Anakin, who, as of the moment, had pushed himself as far into the seat as he could, the Force gathered around him like a blanket. He nodded in response, his large form shimmering in the shadows. Following the two tired Jedi, Ahsoka let her eyes sweep the clearing in which they’d landed. The other members of the Ghost crew were present, as was Rex. He came forward, then, embracing her tightly, and she let him. Today had been a trying day.
However, it was her that pulled away first, for she had more pressing matters at hand.
“I think I’ll head off to bed,” she told the clone captain quietly. Rex nodded in understanding, stepping away to let her pass. She allowed a wave of gratefulness and relief to wash over her before slowly walking towards the corvette and out of sight of the others. When she was sure that no one could see her, she dashed back behind a cluster of storage crates and looped back towards the Phantom and Anakin.
Upon reaching the location of the ship, she found that the area had cleared pretty quickly. There was not a soul in sight. Good.
Looking around, she quickly ran from her crouched position to the small shuttle. Despite the fact that there was no one around, she knew that she could never be too careful. The war had taught her that.
As she made her way up the still-open ramp and into the ship, Ahsoka’s eyes immediately found Anakin, hunched over in pain, still shimmering as if he were about to fade away. Without speaking, she slung one of his arms around her shoulders and hauled him up. His eyes were pressed tightly shut and his breathing was quick and shallow. There was blood smeared on his brow and the hastily-fastened bandages on his head were nearly soaked through. Ahsoka’s worry spiked.
She knew that he needed medical attention, and fast, for that matter, but she also knew that she couldn’t take him to the med bay and she wouldn’t be able to change his mind about making a quick stop on their journey to Alderaan either.
While she didn’t know what was so important to Anakin on the peaceful Core planet, she trusted him implicitly, even after all these years and the stunt he pulled. It scared her a little bit, to know that her trust in him hadn’t waned.
Finally, she decided that the best course of action was to take him to her quarters. They headed out of the ship together, although it was Ahsoka who was doing most of the walking, as Anakin was pretty much limp. Steadily, however, she made her way back to her quarters on the corvette without much issue, for the base was still thankfully devoid of people.
As soon as the door of Ahsoka’s small room closed behind her, Anakin fell victim to another racking set of coughs. Ahsoka was quick to guide him over to sit on the bed, placing a tentative hand on his shoulder as she did so.
“I’m going to have to put new bandages on that wound,” she said softly, frowning at his slow reaction speed.
“Alright,” he finally responded, the word sluggish. Ahsoka didn’t like it one bit. She wished she was able to convince him to seek proper medical help, but she wasn’t Obi-Wan. He was the only one out of the two of them to have been able to convince Anakin of anything, especially when it came to going to a med bay, although quite ironically he too often refused to go see a Healer and it was Anakin who would be doing the convincing.
They had helped each other. Ahsoka desperately wished that Obi-Wan were here now.
Quickly reaching for the emergency med kit stowed under the bed, she spared another worried glance towards Anakin, who was now as white as a sheet, the scar over his eyebrow dark against the pale pallor of his skin.
Rummaging through the kit, which, on a side note, was a little too empty for her liking, Ahsoka managed to find some gauze and a small packet of bacta gel. It wasn’t much, and she would filch more supplies from the med bay as soon as she could, but in their current situation this would have to do.
Sitting back up, she somehow managed to convince Anakin to lie down so that she could redress his head wound. Upon removing the bandages, Ahsoka cursed. It was worse than she’d thought it would be. Sure, head wounds often looked worse than they were, but right now Ahsoka was genuinely beginning to feel the faintest twinges of fear. And then, Anakin’s eyes began to close.
“No,” she commanded sternly, shaking his shoulders as hard as she dared. “No, Skyguy, you do not get to fall asleep, stay awake, damn it.”
He blearily opened his eyes, then, and Ahsoka nearly sighed in relief and helped him sit again, as if that would perhaps help him from feeling inclined to doze off. Her nimble fingers unwrapped the new bandages and opened the little packet of bacta gel.
Anakin sat stone-still as she applied the soothing substance onto the wound. She bit her lip in concentration and carefully tied the new wrappings around his head. It was a horrible, somewhat botched job, she knew, but they were out of options and Anakin was depending on her. She would do the best she could, and it would have to be enough.
Once she was finished, she sat back and took him in. They were out of imminent danger now, away from the cursed Temple, Anakin’s wound seen to as best as it could be. Her eyes traced his features, and under his gaze it felt as if she were back to being a Padawan. She saw the faintest of smiles play on his lips.
“I am so proud of you,” he said softly, his voice the gentlest she had ever heard it.
A watery smile snuck its way onto her own face in return, and before she knew what she was doing she had wrapped her arms around him and held onto his chest like a lifeline, and she felt him doing the same, his hands a comforting presence on her back.
“I didn’t think I would ever see you again, not like this,” she replied, her own voice full of emotion and barely-concealed relief at seeing him again, knowing that he was himself and that Vader had simply been a lie.
He didn’t respond to that, and a part of her was grateful because, for now, at least, the silence was enough if it meant that she could feel his presence in her mind once more. She was beginning to feel whole again, that aching hole within her chest slowly being filled.
Leaning back against the hard wall, Ahsoka let out a deep sigh. It was currently the middle of the night, and still sleep eluded her, despite the trying events of the day before. She’d let Anakin take the bed, and at the moment he was fast asleep, blanket lightly draped over his tall frame.
Now that she was back at the base and the day was over, she still couldn’t quite believe it was real. Vader, a rebel spy? It didn’t add up, and she probably wouldn’t have believed him if he were anyone but Anakin. Looking at him, she saw that when he had his eyes closed he looked almost peaceful. And that was a part of it too, wasn’t it? Anakin was nothing like the persona of Vader, and perhaps that was also partially why she’d believed him in the first place.
Still, that voice in the back whispered to her; could she really, truly trust him? Many years had passed since her apprenticeship, and even though she wanted so badly to have faith in him, was any of it even true? The Anakin that she had known had been a terrible liar, but maybe he’d changed. She had, in many ways. Why couldn’t he?
And yet, that couldn't be the case, she reasoned. Anakin may have improved his skills at lying, but not even he could change that bright Force presence, the inherent feeling of truth at his words that had flooded through her veins back on Malachor. Besides, why lie about something like this and ask for passage when he could have just as easily killed her?
Looking at the ceiling, Ahsoka felt it really sink in; at long last, she let herself accept the fact that Anakin was alive and that he wasn’t a traitor. He was here, in the flesh, right in front of her, and here she’d thought for Force-knows how long that she’d never get to see him again. Then, suddenly, she was right back to crying because she’d been so alone for so many years, thought that there was no one left, thought that Anakin and Obi-Wan were both gone— And now that she knew who Anakin was and knew that he was on their side she also knew for a fact that he would never have let anything happen to Obi-Wan Kenobi. She hadn’t been sure if Master Obi-Wan had survived. She’d suspected, hoped, of course, but now she knew. It was as if a huge weight was lifted from her chest.
Hiccuping herself back into reality and wiping her tears away with one hand, Ahsoka spared Anakin another glance to find him still sleeping. She envied him, for being able to fall asleep so easily. The gash on his forehead was worrisome, but for now the bacta seemed to be doing its job, and Ahsoka had used to Force to heal it up a little more. She wasn't a Healer, no, but a short course at the Jedi Temple and enough practice on the battlefield did give her an adequate amount of knowledge. Knowing that the wound wasn’t life-threatening, at least at the present moment, she’d allowed him to rest. Unfortunately, her body refused to allow her the same comfort.
Standing up to stretch, Ahsoka decided to go to outside and get some fresh air. It wasn’t as if she was going to sleep anytime soon. Making sure to lock the door behind her, she carefully made her way through the silent corridor of the base and out to the plains that surrounded the area.
When she got there, she was surprised to find that she wasn’t the only one having trouble sleeping. Kanan sat on the ground, the light of the moon illuminating his features. His brows were furrowed, as if he were contemplating.
“I would have thought you’d be sleeping by now,” she said amiably, to which his head suddenly jerked up, eyes wide and unseeing.
“Ahsoka?” He questioned tiredly, his face relaxing at the sound of her voice. She walked over to where he was sitting and dropped down beside him.
“It’s me,” she replied, her voice sounding equally exhausted. Kanan bit his lip, his gaze turned downwards, hands fisted in his lap.
“Are you okay?” She asked gently, her voice laced with sincerity. Kanan only sighed in response and she was sure he wouldn’t give an answer, but then he raised his head.
“I don’t know,” he said truthfully, raising a hand to rub at his neck. “It’s been a long day.”
Ahsoka felt bad for him, she really did. He’d lost a lot.
“You seem different,” he added, almost as an afterthought. “Did something happen between you and Vader? I mean, I don’t mean to pry—“
“It’s alright,” Ahsoka replied, cutting him off, thinking of something she could say that wouldn’t betray the truth. “After you left, we fought. I cut through his mask. We were pretty evenly matched, although if the Temple hadn’t collapsed he probably would have won. By the time I woke up, he was gone.”
Kanan nodded, seemingly lost in thought. Ahsoka looked down at her palms, not knowing what else to say.
“He almost got us, once,” Kanan said absentmindedly, fingers tracing patterns on the ground. “It was probably the toughest fight of my life. I mean, he’s a Sith, but he’s an incredible fighter, in his own, completely terrifying way.”
“That’s one way to put it,” Ahsoka agreed, thinking back what she remembered of Anakin’s lethal grace on the battlefield. Then she frowned, a thought suddenly occurring to her, “Hey, do you still have that holocron with Anakin’s saber techniques and Master Kenobi’s message?”
“My holocron? Of course I have it,” Kanan responded, a crease appearing between his brows, more out of curiosity than suspicion. “Why?”
“I was only wondering if I could see it again,” she said softly, her lips upturned into a gentle smile, even though she knew Kanan couldn’t see it.
“No problem,” he shrugged, looking back to the sky. “It’s in my room on the Ghost. I can get it for you tomorrow, if you like.”
“Thank you, Kanan,” she replied gratefully. The night was silent, as were they, but Ahsoka found it to be a comfortable silence, and so she was content to sit there, simply looking at the stars, the nighttime breeze and the cool air offering a welcome respite from her worries.
“I’ll be going then,” Ahsoka said after a while, her voice quiet. Kanan didn’t look in her direction as she began to stand, instead simply choosing to nod.
“Goodnight,” he told her in farewell, and then, with one last glance at Kanan, Ahsoka left, slowly beginning the trek back to the base.
As she passed the Ghost, Ahsoka sensed a pair of eyes trailing her. Turning to the open ramp, she spotted Hera, watching, exhaustion plainly visible in her weary eyes.
“Is he okay?” Hera asked her as she approached. Kanan was still sitting quietly under the moonlight, just out of earshot. “He hasn’t said much, since you got back.”
“He’ll be alright,” Ahsoka replied gently, knowing that Hera was being eaten alive by worry. She gingerly took a seat on the ramp and followed the Twi’lek’s gaze.
“He’s been through a lot,” Ahsoka continued, and at this point she wasn’t sure if she was speaking of Kanan or Anakin. Her voice quiet, she said; “Malachor… Malachor stirred up a lot of old ghosts, I think.”
Beside her, Hera didn’t reply, instead forgoing words and simply humming in agreement. After a while, she turned back to Ahsoka.
“I shouldn’t keep you up,” she told the Togruta, the smallest bit of guilt making itself known in her tone. Ahsoka shook her head in response.
“It’s only natural to be worried for a friend, Hera,” the former Jedi consoled, her voice quiet as her eyes found Hera’s own. “I know the feeling.”
A sad smile made itself known on the other woman’s face.
“You should get some rest,” Hera said sincerely, her eyes shining under the light of the stars. “It’s been a long day.”
Ahsoka placed a reassuring hand on the Twi’lek’s shoulder with a small nod before standing. “You as well.”
On her way back she paused at a storage closet somewhat close to the med bay, decidedly looking through it and tucking an extra cot under her arm. She was getting tired, now, and she’d forgotten to grab one earlier in her haste to make sure Anakin’s head wound was alright.
Humming softly, she got back to her quarters, and upon placing her stolen cot upon the ground, she lay down and slowly fell into a dreamless sleep.
The morning found both Ahsoka and Anakin wide awake. Thankfully his wound had began the healing process and was no longer in immediate danger of bleeding, although he would have to be careful with it for the next few days until he could get proper medical care. Until he was back with the Empire, the voice in her head told her. She pushed away the unbidden thought, instead fixing her gaze back on Anakin.
He smiled at her as he sat up, and yet she couldn’t place the melancholy she saw written in the lines of his face.
“Good morning,” she said, standing up to stretch her back and rolling up the cot she’d set up for herself the night before. Despite having slept only a few hours, Ahsoka felt strangely well-rested.
Anakin didn’t reply, but a crease appeared between his brows. He looked deep in concentration, hands clasped together in his lap.
“We need to leave,” he stated firmly, choosing his words carefully, his calculating gaze levelled towards her. “I feel something, in the Force. My warning, Ahsoka… I need to get to Alderaan.”
She nodded, the calm of the morning fading as reality sunk in. “I’ll get us a ship. We’ll be good to go within about two hours.”
Anakin breathed a sigh of relief, but then Ahsoka’s comm beeped and his head snapped up. Ahsoka frowned as well, for who could it be, this early— Oh. She’d forgotten about the debriefing. It was Rex for sure, oh Rex. Suddenly, their endeavour to leave the planet quickly became much harder.
“What is it?” Anakin demanded at the sight of her frown.
“The debriefing,” Ahsoka simply said, the comm still beeping on her wrist. “And— There’s someone you have to meet.”
“Who—“ Anakin began when he was cut off by the voice that came through Ahsoka’s comm at the same moment.
“Commander Tano,” came the rough voice of Captain Rex, effectively silencing Anakin and schooling his expression into one of shock and complete bewilderment. “The debriefing is happening right now, in case you forgot.”
“Yesterday was a long day,” Ahsoka replied, her expression steeled into one of calm. “I’ll be right there.”
“Alright,” said Rex over the comm. “We’re waiting for you.”
With that, their short conversation was over, and upon glancing at Anakin she found that he sat pale and stone-still on the bed.
“He’s alive?” Anakin questioned weakly, hands nearly trembling. Ahsoka, nodded, once, and Anakin breathed in sharply, eyes flitting around the room. She rose and sat next to him, placing a gentle hand on his forearm. They sat like that for a good while as Anakin calmed himself down, his presence in the Force distinct and bright, almost as if it were never gone in the first place.
“I have to go to the debriefing now,” she told him, standing up. “But we have to tell Rex. He won’t let us leave otherwise, and if he finds out afterwards that I didn’t tell him, he’ll be crushed. We can trust him.”
“I know we can,” Anakin said in response, his eyes not meeting hers. “I just… I’d never thought I’d see him again, I mean, after Order 66…”
He trailed off after that, and Ahsoka found that she didn’t know what to say. With a slight nod, she placed a hand on his shoulder for a brief moment before turning and walking quietly from the room. Sparing Anakin one last glance before closing the door, she could see that he was lost in thought, his lips still slightly parted in what seemed like aftershock. Ahsoka looked to the floor and shut the door. She walked away, her head held high, and as she made her way outside to where the debriefing was being held, she allowed herself a small smile. Perhaps everything would be okay, after all.
When she arrived, Rex was the first to meet her eyes. He was worried, not having seen her the previous night after the return of the mission. She nodded at him, as if saying, later. Thankfully, he understood, breaking eye contact to look at everyone else around the table. The Spectres were there too, a bandage wrapped around Kanan’s head. The sombre mood of the meeting was getting to her.
“Vader shouldn’t be a threat for a while,” Ahsoka began, looking at the people gathered. “I know for a fact that he was injured by the blast more than I was.”
She could see them nodding, now. They had no reason not to believe her. The conversation touched upon some other points, such as the return of Maul, but other than that the meeting was quite short. Afterwards, as Ahsoka was leaving, Rex caught up with her.
“What really happened?” He asked, and she sighed. Rex was sometimes too inquisitive for his own good, but she supposed that hanging around Jedi long enough would do that to someone. Halting her steps, she turned to look at him.
“What I’m going to show you, what you will discover today… you can never speak of to anyone,” she began gravely. Rex nodded, his eyes sincere as the serious nature of her voice reached him.
“Whatever it is, Commander,” he replied, his tone strong and understanding. “You have my word. I won’t tell a soul.”
“Thank you, Rex,” she breathed, a small smile dancing on her lips even as she once again began to walk. “Follow me.”
They strode through the corridors of the corvette side by side, Ahsoka one step ahead of Rex. He didn’t know what exactly had transpired on the planet or what Ahsoka was about to show him, but he sensed that something big what about to change for him nonetheless.
At last, they reached Ahsoka’s quarters. She palmed the security mechanism and the door slid open with a quiet whoosh. However, upon entering, Ahsoka found the room to be empty, the blanket abandoned on the bed. Anakin was nowhere in sight.
“Sithspit,” she cursed, worry coursing through her veins, her eyes flitting about the room in sudden panic. But then, just as suddenly, a warm feeling flowed through a bond in her mind that she’d thought had been long since abandoned, and her worry dissipated as soon as it had come. Reaching out with her mind, she searched for Anakin’s familiar presence, and luckily, it wasn’t long before she found it. He’d simply gone outside.
“We’re going back out,” she said, turning quickly on her heel, and thankfully Rex knew her well enough not to question the strange turn of events. Silently, he followed her back out from the room.
When they made it out of the ship that now served as Phoenix Home, Ahsoka reached again, feeling for the brightness that she’d always linked to Anakin’s presence. She saw that he was in a secluded area not too far from the main base, yet far enough so that no one would accidentally stumble across him and raise the alarm.
They walked on, Ahsoka again leading the way, the sun warm upon their backs. She was smiling again, for this was what she had wanted for so long, for her broken family to come back together, to see Anakin one last time. She hadn't thought it possible, until yesterday.
When they made it over the last hill, Ahsoka could at last see him clearly. Anakin stood tall before them, his head turned away. The sunbeams brightly reflected off of his raggedly-cut hair, and it was so bright that it looked as if he were glowing gold.
Beside her, Rex gasped, and it was then that Anakin turned around and they could see his face and the weary smile that graced his features.
“General Skywalker?” Rex questioned, his voice nearly at a whisper. Anakin nodded, and suddenly, she was thrown back in time, for Anakin’s smile was so radiant and full of barely-concealed pride that Ahsoka felt again as if she were the teenaged Padawan that she had been years ago. Rex took a tentative step forward, reaching out with one hand.
“Is it really you?” The clone captain asked, his voice laced with disbelief. Anakin only nodded again, unmoving as Rex approached him. Ahsoka stood back, watching their reunion from a distance, her heart nearly stopping.
Once Rex was close enough, Anakin placed both of his hands on the wizened clone’s shoulders, his smile somehow both filled with joy and immensely sad at the same time.
“It’s really me, Rex,” Anakin finally said, his voice strong yet almost breaking, his eyes filled with something indecipherable. And then, after a moment of hesitation, Rex wrapped his arms around Anakin in a quick embrace, and Anakin did the same, the soft smile still upon his lips.
It was Rex who pulled away first, studying Anakin’s face as if seeing him for the very first time.
“General Skywalker,” he repeated in awe. “You survived.”
“Yes,” Anakin replied quietly, composed as ever. For a brief moment, Ahsoka thought she heard a note of regret in his voice. “I did.”
“With all due respect, General, how did you do it?” The clone captain asked curiously. Anakin turned away, looking at the ground. It was a long while before he spoke.
“I did what Master Yoda and the Jedi Council asked me to do,” he said at last, slowly, his voice the quietest Rex had ever heard it. “My final mission… To become the Empire’s chief enforcer, Darth Vader himself.”
Rex immediately jumped back, his eyes alight with horror, looking to Ahsoka. She only nodded and gestured back to Anakin with her head.
“It was the only way,” Anakin continued, visibly stiffening at the words, as if trying to convince himself. “I got the younglings out of the Temple during the initial attack so that they would be safe. I’ve been relaying information to the Rebellion ever since.”
Slowly, the truth began to sink in. Rex breathed, carefully walking back over to where Anakin stood. And then, carefully meeting Anakin’s still-downturned gaze; “I believe you, General. I knew you were with us, somewhere.”
And just like that, Anakin’s smile returned, but Ahsoka could see that it was filled with a little bit more sorrow than before.
“Thank you, Rex,” Anakin replied, quietly. He looked up at the horizon, and again Ahsoka sensed those flitting feelings of regret. She didn't know what to make of that.
A few hours later, and they were ready to leave for Alderaan. Rex asked to accompany them and Ahsoka relented, for she knew that he had missed Anakin just as much as she had. Besides, it would look less suspicious if she weren’t going alone, although there wouldn’t be much suspicion anyway, as she was going under the guise of seeing Bail Organa and perhaps obtaining more supplies.
Since the Phantom wasn't equipped for a five-day journey and Hera needed her ship, she was given permission by Commander Sato to take one of the corvettes. It was a large ship, however there weren’t any missions going on as of the moment and they were not in the possession of a larger shuttle that could make the trip.
Boarding the starship, Ahsoka bid farewell to the Spectres and the rest of Phoenix Squadron before reaching for the lever that would raise the ramp.
“Wait!” Exclaimed Kanan, running to the ship. Ahsoka paused, looking down at him as he approached.
“The holocron,” Kanan explained breathlessly, reaching out to Ahsoka, something held within his hand. Ahsoka walked down the ramp to take the small object from his outstretched palm.
“Thank you, Kanan,” she told him with a grin. “I’ll bring it back to you safe. I promise.”
Kanan smiled, the skin underneath the bandage that covered his eyes slightly wrinkling. A gentle breeze swept through the clearing, Kanan’s hair shifting with the wind, the Force warm around them.
“May the Force be with you,” Kanan said, his voice quiet.
“And with you,” Ahsoka nodded to him, her montrals slightly swaying. Then, with one last glance at the lot of them, she turned around and walked back up the ramp, her hand warm against the cool metal of the lever as she pulled it, the ramp closing behind her as she made her way to the front of the ship. Anakin and Rex were already there and performing priliminary pre-flight checks.
“All systems online,” said the mechanized voice of the ship as Ahsoka entered the cockpit. Anakin looked right at home in the pilot’s seat, his fingers deftly flying over the buttons and switches of the console.
“We’re good to go,” he stated, flicking one last switch. If she tried hard enough, Ahsoka could almost convince herself that they were back in the Clone Wars. The spacecraft took off from the ground and sailed into the sky, Anakin’s piloting bringing them safely into the upper atmosphere and away from Atellon.
Beside him, Rex was programming the hyperspace jump that would take them to Alderaan. Ahsoka settled into a seat behind the two of them, basking in Anakin’s warm presence, the Force flowing steadily underneath her fingertips where they were resting on the back of the seat in front of her.
“We’re good to jump to hyperspace when you’re ready, General,” Rex said as he finished inputting the coordinates for Alderaan, looking to Anakin for confirmation.
“Send us out,” Anakin replied with a nod towards the captain. And then, Rex pulled the switch, the stars streaking away.
Chapter 3: Hyperspace
Two days into their journey to Alderaan, Ahsoka found Anakin tinkering in his room. How he had managed to find spare parts to fiddle with puzzled her, but then again this was Anakin; of course he would be able to find spare parts on a ship.
“I hope you didn’t take apart anything important to get those,” she called out, leaning against the doorframe, her arms folded in front of her chest. He hummed contentedly from the floor in response. She paused, took a moment to look at him. He didn’t look at all imposing like this, sitting on the floor, his hair shimmering slightly under the fluorescent lights of the cabin. It was hard to believe that him and Vader were the same man.
“I’ve got something to show you,” she said, taking Kanan’s holocron out from where it was fastened on her belt. Anakin perked up at that, looking to her curiously. His eyes landed on the holocron and he stood, leaving his current project on the floor.
“A holocron?” He asked, walking over to the doorway. Ahsoka nodded, meeting his questioning gaze. Anakin was quiet for a brief moment, seemingly gathering his thoughts. “How did you get this?”
“It belongs to Kanan,” Ahsoka replied, holding out her palm, the holocron almost glowing in its place. Then, her eyes softening, she continued, “it contains your old kata instructions, as well as Master Kenobi’s last message to the remaining Jedi.”
Anakin inhaled sharply, taking the holocron from her with trembling hands. His breaths were shaky as he walked back to the bed, Ahsoka trailing behind him. The Force buzzed warmly around him, and in that moment he couldn’t help but be thankful that his shields were so strong, for his mind was chaos behind them. He’d watched the message, of course, nearly hundreds of times in his early years.
Anakin could’ve said that he couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen the Obi-Wan in person, but that would have been a lie; the memory of their last meeting would forever be burned into his mind. The faint smell of sulphur and ash suddenly flooded his senses, but then it was gone, faded just as quickly as it had come.
“You were everything to me!” Echoed Obi-Wan’s voice, full of grief and pain that Anakin himself had caused. “I loved you!”
He braced himself against the bed, his breaths suddenly heavy, his entire being on the cusp of tears. Anakin had spent so many long years alone; how long would it be until he snapped? It had taken him ages to admit, but he wasn't sure how much longer he could survive like this, on his own. Sixteen years. Sixteen years he’d gambled with darkness, stood upon the precipice with no anchor at his side.
The Force flowed underneath his fingertips as he willed the holocron to open. Ahsoka was silent beside him, but he could feel her eyes fixated on him nonetheless. Before them, the small cube opened up, as if by its own accord. Anakin could feel the steady power of the Force around him, the energy that bound Ahsoka and him together, the same energy that he had just used to open the holocron. It was light, gentle in its caress of his mind.
A small hologram shimmered into view above the small box, and Anakin had to stifle a gasp, for Obi-Wan was right there before him, the epitome of what a Jedi Knight should be. He felt Ahsoka straighten beside him, her eyes, too, rapt with attention.
“This is Master Obi Wan Kenobi,” began Obi-Wan’s smaller holo-self, “I regret to report that both our Jedi Order and the Republic, have fallen, with the dark shadow of the Empire rising to take their place.”
Anakin huffed, and it almost resembled a bitter laugh. Ahsoka placed a hand on his shoulder in reassurance. And yet, there it was upon his lips, a smile. Sad, yes, heartbreakingly so, but it was there nonetheless. The Force pulsated in warm waves around the two of them, encompassing the duo in light.
“This message is a warning and a reminder for any surviving Jedi. Trust in The Force,” Obi-Wan continued, his voice loud and clear. “Do not return to the Temple…that time has past. And our future is uncertain. We will each be challenged.”
Anakin breathed in.
Ahsoka looked towards him, her face kind.
He exhaled, lips shaking.
The hand on his forearm tightened in reassurance.
“But we must persevere.”
Anakin gripped Ahsoka’s hand, the remnants of tears shining on his cheeks.
“May the Force be with you, always,” Obi-Wan finished, and then the hologram faded, leaving the room strangely dark without its soft blue hue, despite the fact that the overhead lighting was on. Anakin was silent for a long time.
“Thank you, Ahsoka,” he said at last, meeting Ahsoka’s gaze. She smiled in return, feeling some of Anakin’s sadness make itself known in her gaze as well. He was close to falling apart, she knew. Everything that had happened, everything that he had been given no other option but to endure, all of that had taken its toll on him. She could only hope he would be able to hold on through whatever happened next.
“Anytime, Skyguy,” she replied warmly, her hand a steady weight upon his arm.
They sat there like that for a good while, simply taking it all in. Finally, after so many years of battle, after so much pain and suffering and death, Ahsoka could finally feel some semblance of peace tugging at the edges of her mind. She was content to simply sit there, but then, Anakin reactivated the holocron, and the message began to play again.
Ahsoka stayed through it all, for she knew that Anakin needed her now more than ever, and yet, when he played the hologram for a fifth time, she couldn’t help but spare him a sidelong glance. Anakin was still now, the sorrow making its way back to his eyes. New tears were streaking down his face, and despite the gentle smile, Ahsoka knew that he was hurting.
She squeezed his hand, once, and stayed, letting Obi-Wan’s strong voice lull her into a sense of calm.
Later, Ahsoka joined Rex sat in the mess hall. He was sitting quietly at the table, nursing a hot cup of caf. Anakin was lost within his own world as of the moment, so she had left him to tinker in his room. There was no one needed in the cockpit, as the ship was on autopilot throughout the duration of their flight through hyperspace.
Ahsoka walked over to the small kitchenette, reaching to open a cupboard so that she could fetch herself a mug. Mug in hand, she then made her way over to the caf machine and started it up, leaning on the counter as she waited for the cup to fill.
Rex was staring quite intently at the steam rising from the liquid in front of him. He didn’t say anything, and neither did she. They were both quiet, simply enjoying each other’s company.
After a few minutes, the caf machine beeped loudly, signalling that her mug was ready. Ahsoka pushed herself from the counter, collecting her cup and swinging over to sit in a chair opposite Rex in one swift movement. He looked up, then, the corners of his lips turning slightly upwards, although the small smile didn’t reach his eyes. Aftershock was etched within his features, as if he were still trying adjust to how reality had so suddenly shifted.
If Ahsoka were to be completely honest with herself, the last few days had felt more than a little bit surreal to her as well. Anakin’s sudden arrival back into her life had changed something within her, she knew. However, despite her muddled feelings about the whole thing, Anakin was a shining star of a presence in the Force, and Ahsoka couldn’t deny that she had never once been more glad to see him.
“I can’t quite believe it,” Rex said suddenly from across the table, voicing her thoughts. “I mean, General Skywalker as Darth Vader? That man was the worst liar. I dunno how he even made it this far.”
“It puzzles me too,” Ahsoka confessed, taking a small sip of her drink, instantly regretting it as the liquid slightly burned her tongue. Flinching slightly, she continued anyway, “I thought we had it bad, but I can’t imagine what it’s been like for him.”
Rex nodded his agreement, raising his own cup to his mouth. Ahsoka looked down, her eyes following the steam that rose from the hot caf. It was silent again, the only sound being the soft hum of the engines below. She thought of Anakin, holed up in his small room with his spare parts and the holocron. Something about it made her somewhat inexplicably sad.
“How many times d’you reckon he’s watched that message of General Kenobi’s?” Rex asked her, almost as an afterthought, his fingers absentmindedly tapping some sort of rhythm on his cup. Ahsoka shook her head in response, contemplating, lips pressing into a resemblance of a frown.
“I don’t know,” she replied honestly, tracing a circle on the table with her index finger. From Anakin’s reaction to the holocron, Ahsoka could gauge that there was something heavy pulling on his heart, which, if she really thought about it, was unsurprising. While she didn't know all the details, she knew that Anakin had undoubtedly been through a great deal. At last, she said, “He must miss him a lot.”
“You could see it in their eyes,” Rex stated, his gaze unfocused, as if he were lost in thought. “They cared about each other a great deal.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Ahsoka agreed, her voice gentle. That was the truth, she supposed. Anakin and Obi-Wan had had something special, something that was pure. She saw it on the battlefield, constantly; their presences, both supernovas in the Force, intertwined into one, melded together to form a single being. After a brief moment of hesitation, Ahsoka continued; “Do you ever miss the war?”
Rex was silent for a long while at that. He glanced down at the table, and then up to meet her eyes. He seemed to be struggling to find the right words for her question, and Ahsoka could understand that. She had to fight that battle almost every day, always tiptoeing the line between wishing for the war and living in the present.
“I miss fighting beside my brothers,” Rex slowly admitted, evidently taking the time to choose his words carefully. “I miss fighting with General Skywalker and General Kenobi, and with you.”
Ahsoka bit her lip, then, in thought. They eloped again into silence, and she took that time to think. Was it morally correct to wish for the bloodiness of the Clone Wars? Did she really believe that it was better than what the world was now?
“Sometimes I wish the war never ended the way it had,” she whispered at last, her feelings getting the better of her, “if only to see Anakin smile without grief. He’s here, with us, but he’s different. I can sense it.”
Rex reached across the table and took her hand in his.
“We’ve all changed,” he said to her. “It’s what time does to a person.”
Ahsoka smiled sadly and nodded in response. Everything had changed, and now they had to live with it.
It was on the fourth day of their journey that Anakin finally left his quarters. He was utterly exhausted, as for whatever reason sleep had elected to elude him. Since his conversation with Ahsoka nearly two days before, Anakin supposed that he had gotten only a few hours of rest at most. The remainder of the time he had spent pulling apart and reassembling the spare parts that he had dug up earlier, listening to the holocron.
It was interesting to see his old kata instructions. He had looked so much less weary, and there were so many less lines on his face. Anakin almost couldn’t believe that he had ever been that young or looked so full of life. Now, if he looked into the mirror, it was as if a ghost was staring back at him.
Once he’d finally gathered the strength to move from where he stood in the corridor, Anakin decided to head up to the cockpit where he knew Rex was checking over their course and running nightly diagnostics. He knew that he probably should have gone to the mess hall to get something in lieu on sustenance, but at this point Anakin was too tired to care.
For a moment, Anakin stood silently in the entryway to the cockpit, the blanket that he’d taken with him from his cabin loosely draped around his shoulders. His eyes were ringed with dark circles, and there were grease stains on his shirt. It was a while before Rex noticed him.
“General,” the captain said upon seeing him, surprise written clearly on his face. “Sorry, didn’t see you there.”
“It’s okay,” Anakin replied hoarsely, his voice strangely muted. He looked around, slowly, as if waking up from a dream. “Do you know where Ahsoka is?”
“Commander Tano? She went to sleep not too long ago,” Rex informed him with a nod. The captain seemed at a loss for words. “You’re— uh, you’re welcome to stay here, if you like.”
Anakin shifted his weight from foot to foot for a bit before seemingly coming to a decision and slowly walking over and sinking into the co-pilot’s seat beside Rex, his blanket still cocooned around him. He turned his face turned to the viewport, the bright streaks of light illuminating the blue in his eyes.
Beside him, Rex returned his attention back to the results of the diagnostics. The vessel was, in fact, in fine condition, however Rex read them all over again anyway, as he didn't really know what to say to the other man, his general, a man who he hadn't expected to ever see again. A man who was now sat in the chair next to him, looking forlorn and lost.
“Are you okay, General?” He asked after a moment, glancing up at Anakin.
“Not really,” Anakin replied softly, not tearing his eyes away from the stars streaking by the transparisteel.
Rex wasn’t entirely sure what to say to that. He knew that General Skywalker hadn’t had it easy over the years, of course. Anyone who laid their eyes upon him would know immediately; if not from the gaunt features than they would know for sure from the haunted, almost hollow look in his eyes.
“Do you miss him? General Kenobi?” Rex inquired, looking to the holocron held loosely within Anakin’s hand. The other man stiffened at the question before something clicked in his mind and he relaxed again. After a few beats of silence, Rex was sure he wasn’t going to say anything, and just as he was beginning to regret ever asking in the first place—
“Every second, so much that it hurts,” Anakin finally said, the words so quiet that Rex was half-convinced he’d imagined them altogether. The former general was silent from then on, his eyes continuing to stare at the streaks of hyperspace.
“I miss my brothers too,” Rex revealed after a while. “The adrenaline of fighting side by side with the people you trust.”
Anakin turned to him, then, his gaze was strangely perceptive. He blinked, once, twice before nodding his head.
“I get the feeling,” he said simply in response. His brows furrowed, he continued, grief pouring off of him in waves; “Sometimes I wish the war never ended, as if that would have been better than where we are now.”
Rex didn’t fully understand the Force, nor did he understand everything there was to know about General Skywalker, but he did know this; even Jedi weren’t invincible. And despite the fact that they were together and everything was supposed to be better, Rex could see that he pain was a constant for him underneath the surface, hurt beneath the facade.
“Would you really go back to the war?” Rex asked genuinely, looking to Anakin curiously.
“In a heartbeat,” Anakin replied without hesitation, his gaze never leaving the viewport.
Rex stayed quiet for a bit after that revelation. Anakin’s response had said a lot, didn’t it? Without question, the war hadn't been anywhere near easy. They had been fighting every day, having nightmares every night, constantly on the move, always fighting. They had watched entire worlds die, been there as entire civilizations crumbled under the Separatists, and yet even General Skywalker himself would choose that over what the galaxy had become under the Emperor’s rule. It was a telling moment.
Glancing back at Anakin, only then did Rex notice the almost-unnatural quality of the bags under his general’s eyes, the unfocused quality to his gaze, all the telltale signs of lack of sleep that Rex, too, was familiar with. He debated biting his tongue, but thought better of it. The Clone Wars had been over for a long time.
“You should get some rest, General,” he chided the other man, worry seeping into his voice. Anakin only nodded, once, but otherwise ignored him.
Rex sighed. He had a lot to think about, he decided. In the seat beside him, Anakin pulled his blanket closer, his eyes still following the stars.
Chapter 4: Alderaan
Sorry for the lateness of this update! Life got in the way and, well, you all know how it goes. Anyway, enjoy! The last few chapters will be coming shortly :)
Also, thank you everyone for your lovely comments! I truly do read every one of them, even if I don't reply. They help my motivation a great deal, so if you've left comments or kudos, my many thanks to you.
Nearly a day later, the three of them were settled in the cockpit, their ship just about ready to emerge from hyperspace. Anakin was back in the pilot’s chair, his hands again flitting over the controls, much like they had when they’d taken off from Atellon. Beside him, Rex was checking over the ship’s readings, and behind the two front seats, Ahsoka was calmly looking through the transparisteel viewport, seemingly somewhat lost in thought. The Force hummed warmly about them, an echo of familiarity.
However, when the ship reverted to realspace over Alderaan, there was clearly something amiss, for an Imperial Star Destroyer was hanging in the upper atmosphere.
“What in the seven hells is this?” Anakin asked wearily, voicing all of their thoughts. Ahsoka frowned beside him, and so did Rex, but they stayed their course.
Since they were in possession of the correct landing codes, they were in no immediate danger, but the presence of the Empire on the planet was alarming nonetheless. They would need to be careful on their way to the palace and take certain measures to ensure that they weren’t questioned.
Moments later, the shipboard comm blinked. Ahsoka reached for it to accept the transmission.
“Welcome to Alderaan, CR90 Corvette,” came the crisp voice of a young woman over the speakers. “Please send the applicable codes for entry.”
While Anakin and Rex piloted the vessel, Ahsoka input the codes that Bail and had given her into the keyboard and hit send, hoping beyond hope that they would work for their unsanctioned visit. They were older codes, as they hadn’t the chance to contact Bail before their journey began, only to be used in emergencies, labelling their vessel as a simple cargo ship, making a quick stop before continuing their path onwards.
“Codes accepted,” said the woman over the comm after a brief moment of panic seized the crowded cockpit. “You may proceed on your current course.”
The three of them let out a collective sigh of relief, thankful that they were let through without much issue, especially with the threat of the Imperial starship floating in the sky. Sailing smoothly past it, they did as the comm officer told them to do and kept to their course, proceeding to the city of Aldera to make their landing.
According to the entry codes that Ahsoka had forwarded to planetary security, they were only there to refuel, so it would look suspicious if they made their way straight to the palace, for then they would have had to have more codes that weren’t in their possession due to this being an unplanned trip. Instead, the plan was to land in Aldera and accompany Anakin as far as they could, if only to make sure that he didn’t get himself injured, though Ahsoka wasn’t lying when she’d said that they needed supplies. The med bay was running low, she’d checked. Commander Sato would thank her later.
Rex was going to stay on the ship, mostly because this was a Core planet, and as unlikely as it was, there was still the slim possibility that he would be recognized as a clone trooper, and then they would be in trouble. Besides, it was better to have someone in the ship in case they needed to make a quick getaway.
Descending through the clouds, the trio got their first glimpse of Alderaan’s capital. Smooth buildings, awash in light and glittering under the warm sun’s rays, other spacecraft taking off and landing. Anakin piloted their own vessel to a less conspicuous area of Aldera, for there was a larger chance of discovery in the main ports, where Imperials checked ships often and were extra careful to make sure that things were in order.
As Anakin approached one of the smaller ports, Rex reached across the console to extend the landing gears, and once their codes were again transmitted to port authorities, they were given the go-ahead to land.
“We made it,” Rex started, letting out a relieved laugh. A small smile appeared on Anakin’s face before he spoke.
“Yes,” the other man agreed quietly. “We’re here.”
Ahsoka didn’t know what it was exactly, but something in the Force hinted that there was more to this visit than met the eye, the coming of some significant event that none of them were fully aware of at the present moment. She dismissed her feelings for the time being, instead slowly standing and following the others from the cockpit and towards the corvette’s hangar bay.
“Rex, you took inventory earlier, is there anything Commander Sato would want us to get other than medical supplies?” Ahsoka asked as they reached the still-closed ramp. Rex halted in his steps, causing both Anakin and Ahsoka to stop as well.
“I don’t think so,” he replied after a while, a hand stroking his chin in thought while the other pulled the lever that would lower the ramp. “Although he would appreciate rations, I suppose. We’re not running low yet, although it’s best to stock up while we’ve got the chance. Who knows what’ll happen later, you know?”
“You’re right. I’ll add that to the list,” Ahsoka nodded in agreement as the first of the warm sunlight found its way through the open ramp . Then, turning to Anakin, “Are you ready to go?”
“Yeah,” Anakin said, biting back a yawn, wave of exhaustion suddenly washing over him. Ahsoka looked to him worriedly, but he waved a hand in dismissal. In truth, he didn’t think he’d slept since his conversation with Ahsoka two days before.
He had been transfixed by the holocron, by the possibility of hearing Obi-Wan’s voice. It was so long since he’d heard it last that he’d let himself get carried away as his hands worked with machinery. It was soothing, to hear Obi-Wan talk, so much so that the true meaning of his words had faded and Anakin had been left in a surreal sense of false peacefulness. Now, though, he was paying for it.
He knew that he needed to get to Bail as soon as possible. The warning couldn't wait. So he dismissed Ahsoka’s worry, instead choosing to draw his energy directly from the Force. And yet, the feeling of weariness persisted, and a sense of dread began to claw at his mind.
He ignored it.
“I’ll be fine,” he lied, striding ahead of her down the ramp, pulling up the black handkerchief that was hanging around his neck to cover the bottom half of his face. His face, Vader’s face, wasn’t known to many, but it never hurt to be too careful.
So that’s how the two of them found themselves at the market in one of Aldera’s more questionable areas. They’d picked it mostly because of that, for no did routine checks of the ships docked in these spaceports. The closer they got, the bigger the chance that the Imperials would sense something off about their spacecraft.
Anakin was clothed in only his inner robes and a dark cloak, and Ahsoka was dressed much the same, although her cloak was a neutral green colour. They made a fairly ordinary-looking duo, at least for this sector of the city. Speaking of which, the market here was eerily quiet, and there was a muted sense of slight fear present in the Force. Immediately, though, Anakin and Ahsoka knew why; stormtroopers patrolled the area in droves. They would have to move slowly as to not attract unnecessary attention.
Anakin kept his head down, moving through the stalls as quickly as he dared. He needed to contact Bail, but the comm that he had modified and used to contact the former Alderaanian senator in times of need was lost and most likely destroyed on Malachor. Of course he could always simply play the role of Vader, but then Palpatine would become suspicious, and that was the last thing he needed. He hadn’t spent all of this time on the Sith Lord’s good side for nothing, and certainly not so he could one day throw it all away.
He was stuck, essentially. No way to contact Bail, no way to safely speak with him save in person, no sure way to warn him of the weapon unless he came to Alderaan himself… He’d dwindled down and out of options, the last of which being this, sneaking around Aldera and mind-tricking the guards at the palace to let him in.
The mountains loomed ahead, the palace shining in its place on the cliffside.
Ahsoka walked carefully behind him, her senses alert. Yes, this was a Core planet, and Alderaan no less, but danger was always a possibility, even more so when the Empire was around. They made moderate progress in their trek towards the palace, but Anakin wished that they could go faster, for the sun was close to setting, the tell-tale pinks and yellows already appearing in the sky, and he knew that when the sun set, well… He had a bad feeling about this.
"Ahsoka," he said, abruptly halting in his stride, turning to face her, eyes grim. She met his gaze with a questioning stare. "Don't wait up for me. If we get separated, go back to the ship and leave."
Ahsoka nodded, understanding flooding her eyes.
"Yes, Master," she replied, the old Jedi moniker slipping from her tongue almost unconsciously. Anakin didn't seem to mind, but his face was serious. She turned away from him and looked to a stall to their left. He didn't say anything after that, and the duo continued on their path.
Suddenly, a ship screamed past above them and Anakin looked up. It was clearly an Alderaanian vessel, low enough over their heads that Anakin could see that it was in good condition, headed for the palace, no doubt. And then, in the Force… Warmth, light, a set of dark eyes so much like Padmé’s… Leia. Leia was home. He hadn't thought that she would be here, as she’d been elected months ago; he’d thought she’d still be on Coruscant.
Anakin smiled, reaching for her presence, the light of it fading even as he did, for the ship had already sailed past them. He would see her tonight, something told him. Whispers of the Force shrouded themselves in the back of his mind, but he couldn’t quite make out what they were saying, only that something was going to happen. An sudden feeling of happiness rose within him, but it was tinged with a sense of something akin to a familiar heartache, the loneliness that had threatened to swallow him whole.
In that moment, he didn’t dare speak a word, lest his mental shields failed him, instead locking eyes with Ahsoka, forgoing coherent thoughts, anchoring himself to her kind eyes and the warmth he so dearly craved. She nodded to him in reassurance, not quite sure of what she was assuring him of, and the two of them forged on ahead.
As they continued, it was quite clear that they wouldn’t be getting to their destination quickly at all. It wasn't as if there were many people out at this time of day, no, it was the presence of Imperial troops on nearly every corner that impeded their journey, for right then they could make no false moves or toe a single step out of line. It was frustrating, to say the least.
Anakin glanced around the market stalls, eyeing items as if he were looking for something to purchase. Ahsoka did the same, just a few steps behind him. Stopping for a moment, he paused in front of a small cart selling fruit, pretending to think about what kind he wanted. A few moments later, Ahsoka’s hand brushing his shoulder, Anakin tipped his head to the vendor, and then they were off again.
He could see the palace perched upon the cliffside, bright and shining in its rightful place, soft wisps of clouds tangled within the spires. They were so close, so close— Naturally, that was when they first heard the shouting up ahead. A crowd had gathered up at the square before them, and there were more exclamations of protest as the duo approached.
“Let me go!” came the distraught voice of a young man. He was wearing nice robes, clearly not of a lower class. However, that didn’t stop the two Imperials at his side from grabbing his arms and restraining him as he struggled. Their armour shone underneath the cool light of the fading sun, casting dark shadows on the black where their eyes should be. Like this, Anakin could see why the stormtroopers were so often perceived as menacing. They seemed to be almost robotic, taller than the average being. The troopers played a key role in cementing the Empire’s assertive role in the galaxy, and they were doing so almost unknowingly.
“You are in violation of Regulation 4A,” stated the trooper on the young man’s right. Even his voice sounded artificial, but Anakin knew just as well as anyone else that that was due to the vocoder in the trooper’s helmet. “We are forced to take you into custody.”
“You can’t do that!” The man yelled in retaliation, fighting against the firm grip of his captors. “I have done nothing wrong!”
However, the troops ignored him. One of them said something to the others, the words lost in the din of the gathered crowd, but the two that were holding the young man seemed to understand just fine. They began to walk away, the man’s angry yells echoing in the wind.
“Clear the square!” the remaining trooper barked, the sudden loudness of his voice silencing the crowd immediately, leaving the lot of them frozen in their tracks. The soldier didn’t seem too happy about that. “I said, clear it!”
And then, the whole crowd was moving at once, the unmistakable taste of fear stark and sudden in the air. Ahsoka moved to the side, reaching for Anakin, but he wasn't there. Her head snapped up, panic slithering down her spine, only to see him two arms lengths away, a hand at his temple. She tried to make her way towards him through the crowd, but it was too dense; Ahsoka risked being swept away by the masses if she moved forward.
“Skyguy!” Ahsoka shouted, desperation seeping into her bones, hoping that the use of the old nickname wouldn’t give anything away in case there were people here who remembered. Above the heads of the crowd Ahsoka saw him shake his head and look up at her, the action slow. He looked to be dizzy, disoriented. Ahsoka held her breath. Not good. Almost as if the Force was determined to shove it in her face, it was then that the last Imperial noticed Anakin still in the square where the crowd had cleared and left him. Definitely not good.
“Hey, you!” The stormtrooper called to him, breaking away from their little group in the centre. The young man they’d detained seemed to have calmed down, but now they had a new target. Anakin, who, at the current moment, was frozen in his steps.
He was dizzy. The square seemed to almost melt with the buildings surrounding it, and Anakin furiously blinked his eyes to attempt to clear the sudden wave of vertigo that had decided to overwhelm him at the worst moment.
The trooper heading in his direction didn’t look happy, although of course Anakin couldn’t really tell, perhaps due to the helmet, or perhaps to the fact that he felt as if he were falling, he didn’t know. He saw Ahsoka at the edge of the square, eyes wide with worry. He wanted to go to her, he really did, but now that they’d seen him, well, the Imperials weren’t going to let him go so easily. It was a bit surreal, if he were honest. Had the troopers known who he really was, they would not have been so eager in their approach. He pressed his palm to the side of his forehead, eyes fluttering shut with pain. This is what he got for being an insomniac.
“We said to clear the square!” Said the stormtrooper, his mechanized voice filled with menace. Anakin turned around and raised his hands, slowly inching backwards toward the side of the small area.
“I don’t want any trouble,” he began, eyes still closed, pouring as much of the Force into his words as he dared. But, something was off. His head was throbbing, and the stormtrooper didn’t stop. Kriff. At least he tried.
“I don’t want any—“ he started repeating, but was cut off when the trooper swung his weapon and smashed it directly across Anakin’s forehead, the force of the blow sending him sprawling into the pavement. His heartbeat roared in his eardrums, the sound loud and unrelenting. Anakin felt as if he were going to throw up. The bandana that he’d used to hide the bottom half of his face had loosened, now hanging limply around his neck. Spitting blood from his mouth, he wiped his lips with a shaking hand before standing up and rising to his full height.
“I said,” he continued, feeling faint, his voice less than imposing, “I don’t want any trouble.”
His tiredness was still there, but now he’d gone into fight or flight mode, adrenaline coursing through his veins. The roaring in his ears had receded a bit, for which he was thankful, but it wasn’t over yet. His right hand reached for the concealed weapon within his cloak. While he knew he couldn’t use his lightsaber, there was nothing stopping him from pulling out a blaster.
In a movement almost quicker than the eye could see, he’d fired a shot into the air, and in the confusion and uproar that followed, he’d promptly disappeared, fading into the fabric of the Force and running as far as he could from the cursed square. Ahsoka would understand, he knew.
Farewell, he sent to her, and then he was on his way.
Stumbling, nearly blind, his vision blackening at the edges, he’d only managed to get a few blocks away from the scene when he’d been forced to stop, his weariness finally catching up to him. There was blood slowly seeping down his face. It seemed like the stormtrooper had reopened Anakin’s head wound from Malachor when he’d hit him.
All in all, he was well and truly screwed. Taking a moment to catch his breath, Anakin sighed heavily, the exhale turning into a series of racking coughs. As much as he would’ve liked to lay down and pass out, he knew that he couldn't afford to stop now. Bracing himself, he pushed off the wall with a grunt and continued running, hidden within the Force from passerby.
Thankfully, the rest of the way was relatively devoid of people, and it wasn't long before he made it to the palace. The main gate was out of the question, for it was the one with the heaviest security. He would make his way to the side and sneak in there.
Cursing all the way and half-delirious with exhaustion, Anakin snuck around the wall surrounding the palace, faintly wondering what he would have looked like to anyone who cared to notice him; dressed in all black, blood running down his face. He’d have been reported to Imperial authorities right away.
At long last, he spotted one of the side doors. Two guards stood there, and at first glance they looked unarmed, however upon closer inspection Anakin could see the they each had a blaster attached to their belts. Anakin made his way towards them, preparing himself for what was to come. As he neared the doors, he opened himself up almost fully to the Force, letting its light flow through his blood like liquid wildfire, so scorchingly hot that it felt as if his very bones were burning.
As he neared, the guards looked up, fixing him with a suspicious look.
“Halt,” declared the one on the right of the door, and Anakin saw a hand snaking towards the blaster. “State your purpose.”
Anakin breathed in deeply, trying to calm his mind. He wrapped the Force around himself, his head burning as the light swept through his veins. Raising a hand, he said; “You will let me pass.”
Anakin saw that the second guard was also looking at him, something indecipherable churning in the air around him. He frowned, pulled more on the Force, pushed his tiredness to the back of his mind. He had to get through.
“You will let me pass,” Anakin repeated. “I will pass, and you will forget that I was ever here.”
Then, slowly, as if by a miracle, the guards’ expressions relaxed, and their eyes lost the hard edge they’d had a moment ago.
“We will let you pass,” said the first man, moving to the side of the door and swiping his keycard on the lock. The second one followed suit, and they both stood aside to let him through.
Anakin nodded once, in thanks or due to delirium, he didn’t know, and then hurriedly walked past. Once he was sure that the door had shut behind him and the guards weren’t going to follow him, he carefully released his rock-hard grip on the Force, stumbling as his energy suddenly receded. His head was now bleeding more profusely than before, and he was halted by waves of dizziness and fatigue. Placing a shaking hand on the wall to ground himself, Anakin paused to catch his racing breath.
He knew that Leia was here; that would make things easier. He’d go to their garden and hope for the best. It was his only option.
After dizzily trekking through the passageways, Anakin was spent. He'd used the last of his energy to hide himself from anyone that came through the corridors, and after his own energy was out he drew from the Force, but that was not sustainable in the least. Drawing from the Force directly was never a good idea for long periods of time, and Anakin was coming dangerously close to the limit. By the time he'd made it through the gardens, he felt like a dead man walking.
He fell to his knees, panting, the world spinning around him. Faintly, he could make out the neat beds of roses to his left, and he smiled.
With one last breath, he then collapsed completely, the smile still tugging at his lips even as his head hit the ground.
Chapter 5: In the Garden
At sixteen, Leia Organa was elected Senator of Alderaan. However, it was not purely for the sake of becoming a senator, for Leia had spent months preparing, being briefed and memorizing codes that her life might one day depend on. She was a Rebel flying straight into the fire pit. Her mother and father, while slightly afraid for her, were both also immeasurably proud. It was for that very reason that they had accompanied her to Coruscant.
“Be wary, don’t meddle in things that do not concern you,” Bail had warned Leia once they’d reached the sparkling city-planet, his voice grave. “And stay away from Vader.”
She had nodded, then, in understanding. Back on Alderaan, her father had told her that she wasn’t their only agent on Coruscant, and he was adamant in that Leia must never, ever even get close to something that she wasn't directly involved in, and there had been a hint of fear in his voice. When she had asked why he was so afraid, Bail had only told her that the Alliance had an operative high up in the Empire’s ranks, and that their operation, whoever they were and whatever it was, was of the utmost importance. There had been a note in her father’s tone that had stopped her from prodding further.
And yet, she couldn’t help the spark of curiosity that had blossomed in her chest. It wasn't unheard of, for the Rebellion to have a spy in the upper ranks of the Empire, but the way her father had spoken had made her wonder just how high this operative’s position was. Did she already know who they were? Were they in the Emperor’s good graces? And, perhaps more importantly, how in the seven hells did they get there?
At the present moment, Leia sat in Alderaan’s pod, rolling her eyes as the senate discussed various issues in its usual way of squabbles and petty arguments. If she had to hear the that slimy senator from Cato Neimodia say one more thing about who should control the banks she would take out her concealed blaster and shoot him right on the spot.
Sighing, Leia was about to doze of when that sleemo began talking about some other stupid issue that could be resolved if he’d just get that stick out of his ass, and then she really was angry, because the Senate was so clearly a farce. The representatives were only there for the money, more often than not. They were selfish and greedy and they would never listen, so she just sat there, doing her best to tune it all out, quiet anger simmering in her veins.
While they spoke, Leia strengthened her mental shields, for darkness clung to the planet like a second skin. She was suddenly so very thankful for the lessons that Yoda and Ani had taught her about shielding, for she wasn’t sure how she would have survived on the planet without the mental barriers protecting her mind.
A moment later, a message came through on her data pad, and once she saw what it was, Leia silently swore. Her day was about to become a thousand times worse.
The hole in the bottom of the senate chamber meant to let in the pod of the Emperor opened, and the pod below began to rise. The cold around Leia’s mind grew, and she shuddered. The Emperor looked as frail as he always had, but Leia felt an inexplicable urge to flee and get as far away from him as possible.
However, right then she noticed the second figure in the pod and her interest was piqued. Darth Vader stood behind the Emperor, his black helmet gleaming in the artificial light. Leia sat up and stared at him, and for a second she could swear his gaze was upon her, silly and ridiculous as that seemed. He hadn’t moved and Leia was tens of metres away. There was no way, or so she told herself.
Still, at the sight of him she had sat a little straighter, her gaze a little more focused. She’d tasked herself with finding out everything that she possibly could about the mysterious man who was second-in-command of the Empire. Of course, perhaps he wasn’t a man at all, if Leia wanted to believe some of the rumours that circulated through the ranks. She couldn’t explain what it was, but she’d had a strange fascination with him since she’d been a child. He was an enigma, and Leia was good at solving puzzles.
Then, the Emperor started speaking and Leia once again sunk her face into her hands and groaned. She’d heard his speech about the ‘might and glory of our great Empire’ too many times for her liking. She looked up again, tuning out the Emperor but keeping an observatory eye on Vader. He was almost never on-planet, let alone at a senate session.
Fifteen minutes later, and he still hadn’t moved. Leia could almost pretend that he was taking a nap under that mask of his, but she quickly swatted the idea away. In her head, she repeated the Emperor’s speech in her own mocking tone whilst her hands quietly doodled on the datapad in her lap.
So that’s how had gone on for half a year. For six months she attended senate session after senate session, met with certain people on occasion, quickly realizing that being an undercover agent was, in fact, kind of boring. When she’d thought of it before, it was thrilling; she’d imagined secret meetings in abandoned spaceports under the cover of the night, high speed speeder chases, important data in her hands to pass on. But the truth of the matter was that undercover work was nothing like that.
If she was completely honest, she was getting tired. As the youngest senator to have ever been elected and a member of the Rebel Alliance, no less, Leia began to feel the pressure, so seven months into her term, she took a week off to go back to Alderaan.
That fateful morning found Leia boarding her small, personal ship and waving farewell to her staff, as her handmaidens deserved some time off too. Besides that, she was going home. Not that she didn’t enjoy their company, but Leia could do without them for a while.
She took the skiff off the landing pad and made her way into Coruscant’s busy skies, carefully weaving through the endless lines of traffic. Soon enough, Leia finally ascended to the upper atmosphere. Reaching over to put in the coordinates to Alderaan, she typed the correct codes into the comm to check in with Coruscanti air traffic control before sailing out into open space.
Leia looked forward, once, and pulled the lever to take her ship into hyperspace, the stars streaking away.
Leaning back in her seat, she smiled, for it felt good to go home.
A good few hours later, Leia felt the ship revert back to realspace. With a smile, she tapped the comm to let through the incoming transmission.
“Welcome to Alderaan,” said the communications officer. “Please state the purpose of you visit as well as your ship’s registration code and stand by for further instructions.”
“Senator Leia Organa,” she replied, sending forth her access codes, her lips twitching upwards as she waited for the comm officer's response.
“Welcome back, your highness,” came the man’s voice. “Come on through.”
“Thank you,” she told him, shutting off the comm and proceeding to guide her small craft through Alderaan’s cloudy atmosphere. Aldera lay before her, an expanse of shining buildings, surrounded by a magnificent mountain range, the peaks of the mountains snow-capped and bright.
She flew above the city, gliding above the busy streets. The landing platform of the palace was directly before her, and if she squinted, she could see her parents standing at the edge of it. Leia grinned to herself as she gently lowered the ship, and as soon as she felt the landing gears touch down, she powered off the vessel and ran from the cockpit to the lowering ramp.
As soon as the ramp hit the ground, Leia was out and in the arms of her mother and father within the quickest of moments. She pulled away, and she could see that her mother was beaming.
“Welcome back, Leia,” her father said, his smile radiant. “Let us have dinner.”
With that, the three of them headed back into the palace, their entourage of guards following at a distance, and Leia was awful glad for the familiarity of it all. She had missed Alderaan dearly; the bright sun, the mountain air, the palace, and her parents, most of all. She found that she dreaded the coming of the end of the week. Coruscant now seemed more like a prison than anything else.
And yet, as she was walking through the decorated hallways of her supposed home, something felt off, as if an integral piece of her was missing. Leia found it strange, but she decided not to dwell on it, for at that moment her mother was leading her to the dining table and her father was happy and she was content.
The dinner itself was nothing special, just a simple meal, but Leia found herself talking through most of it, telling her parents of everything that had transpired since she’d started living on the bustling city-planet. In turn, her parents told her of everything that had happened on Alderaan while she was away, everything that she had missed. It was refreshing, a break from the fast-paced life that she had lead the past few months.
Ignoring the fact that she would have to leave in just a short week, Leia allowed herself to simply nod along as her parents spoke and sink into the blissful feeling of finally returning to the place that she’d called home for so long.
Later that evening, after Leia had finished her dinner, she bid a temporary farewell to Bail and Breha, telling them that she was going to take a walk in the gardens. She wasn’t a child anymore, after all. There was no need to keep her nightly visits to the gardens a secret. Bail and Brea had both smiled in return, encouraging her to go out and get some fresh air, as Coruscant wasn’t exactly known for its air quality.
And so, as the sun began to set, Leia headed out using the real doors, not clambering down the palace wall like she used to. Stepping into the gardens felt akin to stepping back in time, for the gardens seemed to never change. The lush and peaceful atmosphere was the same as it had been years ago, and for a brief moment Leia allowed herself to stop and breathe it all in. It truly was a beautiful night to be out. Looking up, she could see that the sky above was starting to darken, small bright stars slowly appearing in the heavens above. Leia smiled, the warm summer breeze light on her skin. It was here that she was at peace.
She continued on her path, carefree at last, leaving her worries behind her. The Force hummed warmly about her, as if sweeping her cares away. A cool breeze drifted through the area, slightly tousling her hair. Suddenly, though, something began to itch at the back of her mind, a slight feeling of apprehension. She tried to push it away, and was successful, for a time.
Leia paused by the fountains, simply listening to the calming sound of the water trickling over the smooth metal. Kneeling, she touched a tentative hand to the water; it was cool to the touch. Small waves rippled outwards from the place where her fingers met the water, meeting with the larger, wilder ripples in the centre. Leia smiled warmly as she stood, the gold of the fountains almost glowing under the soft light of the quickly-fading sun. All was peaceful, just as it should be.
And yet, as Leia neared the rose garden, she couldn’t shake the feeling of dread that had suddenly overtaken her. It grew in volume as she approached the small clearing, and in turn something prompted her to walk faster. The closer she got to the small garden, the more the sounds of the night faded away. The warm atmosphere that she’d linked to the garden began to dissipate as she neared the clearing that she knew her special garden to be. Leia walked even faster, soon breaking into a run, the Force in the beginnings of a storm around her. Something was terribly wrong.
She ran, her footsteps carrying her closer to the roses, closer, closer… It felt as if she was pushing against a wall, every step delivering a shock of pain to her heart, and as she got closer the feeling only got worse.
The wind chose to pick up right then, sweeping her hair from her face. It was a cold wind, one that made her skin go up in goosebumps, despite the fact that she was wearing a jacket and it was still summer. Leia gasped, but she kept going, determined to see what had happened.
And then, finally, she reached the garden.
There was a figure lying a few feet from the neatly-sown rose beds.
Something akin to fear struck Leia’s heart as she recognized the figure’s cloak.
It was Ani.
She ran to him at a sprint, throwing herself to the ground even as the wind howled around them.
“Ani! Ani, can you hear me? Are you okay?” She asked desperately, shaking his heavy shoulders as hard as she could, but Ani was unmoving and Leia was close to tears now.
The storm in her head hadn’t lessened. There was something wrong with Ani, Leia could feel it. She didn’t know what to do, or how badly he was hurt, so she did the only thing that she could think of, for Ani needed medical attention, and fast. He was unconscious, and his breathing was shallow. He was motionless except for the occasional violent shudder. Upon closer inspection, she could see a large gash on his head, hastily bandaged. Leia took out the comm that she had kept in her jacket for emergencies and turned it on.
After a few long beeps, Bail’s face appeared.
“Leia,” he said, his eyes worried, “What’s wrong?”
“I’m in the gardens, like I said I would be,” she replied, forcing her breaths to slow. “I just found him like this, passed out on the ground. There’s a gash on his head that needs medical attention.”
“Leia— What?” Questioned Bail, confused. “Who are you talking about?“
“I know him as Ani,” she answered, and the Force pulsated with warmth as his name fell from her lips. “Please, just bring a medical team. His breathing is quite shallow, and I don’t know how long he’ll last.”
“Alright,” Bail conceded. “I’ll be there soon, just hold on. Keep him breathing.”
The comm shut off, and Leia only prayed that they’d be fast enough.
Back at the palace, Bail Organa quickly donned a robe. Getting ready for bed, Breha tore her gaze from the vanity to look at her husband.
“Bail, where are you going?” She inquired curiously, looking at the chrono. “It’s quite late.”
“Leia’s in the gardens, and there’s apparently someone there who is in need of help,” Bail replied firmly. “I’ll be back soon, promise.”
“She’s our daughter, Bail,” said Breha with conviction, all want of rest gone from her voice. “I’m going with you.”
And with that, Breha Organa rose and quickly slung a shawl around her small frame before following Bail through the door.
“Alright,” said Bail for the second time that night as he shut the door quietly behind them.
Meanwhile, Leia was sitting silently beside Ani. She reached out with her mind, her gentle tendrils of light reaching Ani’s mental shields. They were hard as bedrock, impenetrable.
Ani’s light was still there, but it was tainted. There was darkness, too, guilt and grief and sorrow and a never-ending river of pain that set Leia’s anger ablaze. What had happened to Ani? How had he been hurt? Leia had so many questions, but she knew that Ani couldn’t answer them, not in the state he was currently in.
His body shook, his breaths becoming more erratic with every minute. Leia continued reaching out to him. She would not lose him, not now.
Wake up, Ani, she sent to him. Wake up, you’re safe. Wake up, Ani.
She felt the presence of her father before she saw him. With him was her mother and a med team. Thankfully, they had thought to bring a stretcher.
Bail and Breha ran over first, checking to see if Leia was alright. While they fussed over Leia, who calmly insisted that she was fine, the med team was loading Ani onto the stretcher. When Bail laid his eyes upon Ani’s face, he turned about ten shades paler and froze.
“Bail, what’s— oh,” whispered Breha as she looked at the cloaked man. “Oh.”
“What do you mean?” Questioned Leia, both curious and protective of the motionless man on the stretcher.
“Leia, go back to your room,” Bail said, his voice hushed, almost pleading. But with the tone pf his voice, Bail had let the details slip. He knew Ani. Leia didn’t know how, but she was certain that he did.
“Do you know him?” She asked, facing Bail, her eyes fixated on his face. “Pa, tell me, do you know him?”
Bail wouldn’t meet her eyes, and that was all the confirmation she needed.
“I’ll tell you later, Leia,” he replied, and something in his voice made Leia listen. “Go to your room. And don’t tell anyone about what’s transpired here. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” Leia nodded, slightly confused but nonetheless understanding. “Of course.”
Quickly, then, they made their way back to the palace. Bail led them to a more discreet entrance. Why, Leia didn’t know, but she walked at Ani’s side the entire way back. Just as they were about to go their separate ways, Ani stirred. His eyes, half-opened, immediately latched onto Leia.
“Leia,” he said, his voice quiet, her name falling slurred from his lips. “My… Lei—“
His outstretched hand fell over the side of the stretcher, and before Leia could process his words, a shrill beeping started to sound from one of the doctor’s machines, and Ani was frantically carted off with Bail trailing in the med team’s wake, leaving Leia in the arms of her mother.
“Come now,” Breha said hurriedly. “I will accompany you to your chambers.”
Leia let herself be led away by her mother, slowly feeling Ani’s presence diminish and then disappear completely.
While Leia was being led away, Bail jogged next to the stretcher. The beeping persisted.
“Take him to the private med bay,” he instructed the doctors. One of them nodded, and they jogged on. Anakin stirred on the stretcher, his dazed eyes focusing on Bail.
“Where… am I?” He asked, his voice hoarse and quiet, gaze unfocused.
“Don’t speak,” replied Bail tersely. “You’re hurt. We’re taking you to the medical bay.”
“Leia?” He questioned again, his eyes half closed, the name burning his tongue. It was his daughter’s name, he knew. He knew it was her, of course. Bail had told him when he had first come to Alderaan and laid his eyes upon the girl. He'd held her, once. But she didn’t know him. It hurt, but the rational part of his mind told him that it was better that way, and he agreed. He had to keep going. He had to save the galaxy. She couldn’t know, not yet.
The seemingly-endless beeping of some machine started to fade away as someone secured an oxygen mask to his face.
The rush of oxygen startled his mind into action. He felt less sluggish, but at the same time his mind was still foggy. It took him awhile to grasp his memories of the day. He’d arrived on Alderaan with Ahsoka earlier in the afternoon, he thought. Yes, that sounded right. Right?
Bright light suddenly filled his vision, and he could hear voices somewhere above him, although they seemed muted, distant. He’d been feeling distant quite a lot recently. It was all he could do to keep himself together. He wished desperately to tell his daughter that he loved her, he wanted with every fibre of his being to see his wife, but Padmé was gone, and Leia, well… perhaps it was for the best that Leia didn’t know.
He longed for Obi-Wan to hold him like he had when the war got too much, when his bones ached well into the night and his lightless dreams held him in their deadly grasp. He wished that Obi-Wan was there to tell him that it was all going to be okay, that he was safe and there no need to be afraid, but he knew with grave sorrow that even if Obi-Wan could possibly forgive him for what he had done, for what he had been forced to do, Anakin doubted that anything in his life would be normal again.
And yet, his heart still held a semblance of hope, an eternal yearning for the family that he would now perhaps never get to have.
He felt the familiar stinging of something sharp piercing skin, and it was then that Anakin realized that someone had given him a sedative. He reached with invisible fingers, trying to hold on to reality, but soon he was overtaken, and the all-too-familiar grip of unconsciousness claimed his mind.
Chapter 6: At Long Last
Leia sat on her bed in solemn silence, a cup of hot tea cradled in her hands. Her mother sat next to her. Leia didn’t drink the tea.
“Ma, do you know him?” She asked tentatively, her voice quiet.
“Hush now,” Breha replied, avoiding the question. “Tell me how you met him, Leia.”
Leia couldn’t meet her eyes.
“I’ve been sneaking out to the gardens for years, Ma,” she finally confessed with a hint of guilt. “When I was nine, I stumbled upon that rose garden, completely by accident, and Ani was there. He’s a friend, I suppose. He was never there all the time, and sometimes I didn’t see him for months on end. It’s all a bit strange, actually, but he’s been kind.”
She paused, suddenly, a strange feeling fluttering in her chest.
“In all honestly,” she continued, her voice growing stronger, “I feel connected to him, somehow. I know it sounds a bit silly, but it’s true. He’s like a second father to me. In the Force, I feel as we were destined to have met.”
Once she said it, Leia knew for a fact that it was true. Ani had been there for her in a way that her parents couldn’t have been.
Like Master Yoda, he taught her about the Force, showed her how to create impenetrable shields around her mind. He had comforted her and told her stories of his exploits and adventures. He was a very sad man, haunted by demons that Leia couldn’t see. She understood, of course. If what she suspected was true, then he was one of the last Jedi of old.
At long last, she looked up at her mother. Breha only sighed gently beside her.
“I think he’s a veteran of the Clone Wars,” Leia continued, seemingly lost in thought. “He is, isn’t he?”
“That’s not for me to say,” Breha responded, looking away, and so Leia knew. She’d never wondered or asked how Ani knew of the Force, she had just accepted that he did, but perhaps she should have asked, or at least wondered, for now it all began to clear. Ani had said that he was a general, and if any of the history lessons that her father had taught her were true, then Ani had been a Jedi, for only Jedi were generals in the Clone Wars. She’d suspected, of course, but now that her suspicions were confirmed it made all the more sense.
She had never asked about his past directly, but she supposed that it hadn’t been that hard for her to put together. Who he really was, Leia didn’t know. Knowledge was dangerous, Leia knew this, and so she had never asked for his true name. That didn’t stop her from wondering though, seeing if she could figure it out herself.
Leia had started with trying to piece together who the ever elusive Ben and Snips were, but Ben was perhaps a greater enigma than even Ani was. Many of Ani’s retellings had featured the other man, and while Snips had made an appearance in some of them and Ani spoke of her fondly, answering most of the questions that Leia had, Ben remained a mystery, which only served to make Leia want to know more. Who was he? Who had he been? What happened to him? Whenever Leia outright asked Ani about the other man, he would get this faraway look in his eyes and his presence would grow sorrowful, and each time he would say: “it’s no good to dwell on what could have been,” which, naturally, did not satisfy Leia in the slightest. It also didn’t add any pieces to her puzzle. After a while, she had given up, at least for a time. It had been clear to her then that if she wanted to know who Ani really was, she would have to wait for him to tell her himself.
Suddenly, the door opened, breaking her trail of thought, and her father walked in. He looked tired and a bit wearisome, but that could have been due to the time of day. They were usually asleep now, after all.
“Is he alright, Pa?” Leia asked, looking up at him. Breha, too, raised her eyes curiously.
“He’ll live,” Bail replied, gaze soft. Leia felt a wave of relief wash over her at the news. A hint of a sad smile played on her father’s lips. “Would you like to go see him?”
Leia nodded eagerly and stood, her untouched tea left forgotten.
“I’ll wait in the hallway,” she said, quickly walking out. Had she looked back, she would’ve seen Breha’s questioning expression angled pointedly towards Bail.
“What are we going to do?” She asked carefully, also rising from her place and walking over to where her husband was standing. Bail pursed his lips, collecting his thoughts.
“I’ve contacted Yoda,” he responded quietly, placing a hand on Breha’s arm. “He’s on his way. As for Leia, I think it’s time that we let Anakin tell her the truth.”
“Are you sure?” Breha questioned, a twinge of worry in her voice. Bail sighed, bringing a hand to his forehead. He was quiet for a time before replying.
“No, I’m not,” he said honestly. “But she already knows he exists, and I feel that this is the right time. Besides the point, if she doesn’t find out now she’ll find out eventually. Her shields are strong. She’ll be okay.”
“Alright then,” stated Breha softly, smoothing her robe with a sigh. “I’m going to go back to our rooms and make sure that nobody knows that we’re missing from them. The Imperials are awfully nosy, and we most definitely can’t set their alarm off now.”
With that, she swept out of the room, Bail following close behind; but while Breha went down the right of the hallway, Bail guided Leia to the left. They strode on in silence as Bail lead her through many different corridors, always making sure to avoid patrols, both the Imperial ones as well as their own. After going through a secret passageway and many hallways after it, the duo finally reached the medical bay that was now housing Ani.
Leia stood outside of the door to Ani’s room, nervous. She had a strange feeling that after she went in, everything would change. She could feel Ani’s warm presence inside, once again guarded, but welcoming. Her mind reached out towards it, gentle tendrils of light sending waves of calm and reassurance.
“Now, Leia,” Bail said, turning towards her, his voice deadly serious. “What you will learn tonight must never be known by anyone else. Do you understand?”
Leia’s feeling of impending change grew.
“Yes,” she nodded solemnly, her voice barely above a whisper.
“Okay,” Bail replied, gently. He spared a glance at the door behind him, and then looked back to Leia. “Wait here. I’ll be back in a moment.”
With that, he turned and walked into the room, leaving Leia to wait awkwardly behind the closed door. She went to sit down in one of the chairs in the hall. Somehow, she had the feeling that she would have to wait more than just a moment.
Inside, Bail walked towards Anakin, who was now awake and staring at him with tired eyes. Master Yoda sat on a small stool beside the bed.
“You’re up, I see,” Bail greeted warmly. The corners of Anakin’s lips turned upwards, but the grim smile didn’t reach his eyes.
“I came here for a reason,” Anakin began, his voice slightly hoarse but deadly serious. “I have a warning of the utmost importance. Is this room clear?”
Master Yoda sat still. Beside him, Bail nodded, a crease between his brows. “What is it?”
“I’d thought that I’d stopped them,” Anakin said, his eyes as hard as durasteel. His stare was firm where it met Bail’s gaze. “However, it seems that they’ve accelerated production. Project Stardust. Unless we do something now, it’ll be finished within the next two years.”
Bail breathed in, sharply. Yoda’s ears drooped slightly, the news weighing heavily upon him. The room eloped into a strained silence, Anakin’s warning stark in the air. Project Stardust was the Empire’s main project as of the moment, some new type of weapon. No one much knew what it was exactly, but Anakin had said that it was to be a killer of entire planets, if it were completed successfully.
“These tidings, ill news are they, Skywalker,” Master Yoda stated at last, looking down. “Meditate on this, I will. The project, we cannot allow to be completed. Goes against everything the Jedi stand for, it does.”
“Ill tidings indeed,” Bail echoed, his voice weak. Then, shaking his head, he brought himself back to reality and the situation at hand. Leia was still waiting, after all.
“Two years, at least, we have,” Bail said, his voice stronger this time. “This matter we will put aside for the time being, as there is another reason we are here.”
Anakin looked at the two of them carefully. Bail took his lack of response as an invitation to continue. “Master Yoda has said that perhaps it is time for Leia to know the truth about her parentage, and about who she really is. She’s standing outside.”
“Yes,” Yoda confirmed with a nod at Anakin’s questioning stare. “About herself, young Leia will know.”
Anakin breathed in. A small grin graced his weary features, and it was as if the clouds had suddenly cleared. He raked a hand through his hair, letting out a hoarse laugh. Quite quickly, he found that no matter what he did, he couldn’t get rid of his smile.
“Alright,” he breathed out, the weight of his own warning suddenly leaving his shoulders. He could really tell her. Who he was, what she was, it would all become clear. A part of it, at least.
“I will not weigh her down with the knowledge of Vader,” Anakin stated firmly, his gaze darkening. He could risk telling her that she was his daughter, yes, but it was for the best that she didn’t know about his other doings. He refused to endanger his daughter in such a way. “She does not need to carry my burdens.”
“Perhaps that is for the best,” Bail agreed, nodding, secretly relieved that Anakin wasn’t too keen to admit his mission. Bail had been a senator for the Republic. He knew, better than most, that being in possession of the wrong kind of information could get a person killed. He’d seen it. He wasn’t willing to see it again, let alone to the girl he’d raised since birth. She wasn’t his, biologically, no, but Bail would fight tooth and nail if need be to protect her. She was as good as his own flesh and blood.
He met Anakin’s eyes, and within them he saw complete and utter understanding. Leia was the daughter of the both of them, and neither Bail nor Anakin ever wanted her to be at risk, especially given the fact that it was she who was now Alderaan’s senator. Bail saw Anakin nod, once, and he returned the gesture, a silent vow between them. Leia was to be safe from this kind of information, even if it meant that he was to take the secret of Vader to his grave.
Master Yoda rose from his perch, and it was then that Anakin knew. It was time.
Leia sat in a seat outside, waiting diligently, lost in thought. Suddenly, the door slid open, slightly startling her. Bail looked at her strangely as Master Yoda hobbled out behind him. Her father smiled, something strange and indecipherable shining in his eyes.
“It’s alright, Leia,” he responded, placing a hand on her shoulder. “You can go and see him now.”
Leia nodded, sparing a brief glance at Master Yoda. The wizened Jedi only looked at her pensively, and then she walked slowly into the room, the door quietly sliding shut behind her. A bed stood in the centre of the small and otherwise-empty room. It was then that she saw him. Ani. He was sitting in the middle of the bed, looking a bit worse for wear, but it was him and he was very much alive.
He smiled at her, nervously, and suddenly she ran forward and leapt onto the bed, wrapping her thin arms around his lean torso.
“I was so scared,” she said, the words tumbling out her lips before she could stop them. Ani wrapped his arms around her and she felt like a little girl again.
“Shh,” he soothed, his voice strangely akin to the sound of water trickling over stone. “It’s alright, Leia. I’ll be alright, thanks to you.”
Unbidden tears rose to her eyes as he said that, so she sat up to wipe them away. Ani looked gaunt. His eyes were sunken and his face was thin, as if he hadn’t slept for a long time. There was a large gash on his forehead, apparent only because of the bandages over it. And yet, despite it all, his eyes shone like they never had before.
“Leia,” he said, raising his head to meet her eyes. “I have to show you something. Will you let me?”
Her back straightened as the Force whispered around them, and the air was stark with something that neither of them could understand. Leia looked to his outstretched hand, then back at him, and nodded, tentatively putting her hand in his. And then, the Force took over, and the bland medcenter room vanished in a swirl of smoke as Leia was dragged into the Force’s comforting embrace.
Suddenly it was not one picture they were looking at but many; images spun around them almost faster than Leia could see, but in each one she recognized four people, she saw Ani’s sister Snips, her grin almost contagious, she saw Ben, and in his eyes a spark of pride and love as he looked at the next person who appeared in every single scene, Ani himself. The last figure, appearing fewer times than Snips and Ben but with a presence that told Leia that she was incredibly important, a woman who was none other than Senator Amidala. In these fleeting moments, she was mostly without the elaborate gowns that she wore in the Senate, but instead she was clothed in slightly less sophisticated dresses, and each time she appeared she was smiling, her beauty brilliant.
But along with these flashes of happiness, there were other moments, too. Leia saw Ani running with a group of children, fear in their eyes as blaster fire echoed behind them. She saw two figures fighting, their blue blades clashing, the scorching heat of the red planet reaching Leia even now. She saw flashes of lighting and twin red sabers, she saw pain and med bays and huge warships. She saw a pair of starfighters, flying right into the fray.
This was the past, she realized. She was watching memories.
She snuck a glance at Anakin, and she could see that he was crying, his lip trembling as he watched the flashes of memory playing before them.
Suddenly, though, they slowed, and Leia could see a veiled woman and a man standing across from her. Quickly she recognized the two people as Ani and Senator Amidala, and then she gasped as she realized that the Senator was wearing the unmistakeable white of a wedding dress.
Ani and Senator Amidala had been married. But why was Ani showing her this?
“Wait,” came his soft whisper from beside her, as if he had sensed her thoughts.
Just as the words made it past his lips, the scene dissolved into a brilliant white, and then Leia found them on the steps of a grand building that she knew as the old Jedi Temple on Coruscant. Looking around, she saw two figures, the first of which was Ani and the second, Snips. Ani’s hand tightened around hers.
“I can't stay here any longer, not now,” Leia saw Snips say, her eyes full of sorrow as she looked at the younger version of the man standing beside her.
“The Jedi Order is your life,” the younger Ani replied, his voice equally hard and pleading. “You can't just throw it away like this, Ahsoka, you are making a mistake.”
Leia had never known Snips’ true name until now. Beside her, Ani’s other hand was covering his mouth, eyes wide with grief as his tears flowed freely.
“Maybe, but I have to sort this out on my own,” Snips stated softly, her gaze firm as she stared the younger Anakin down. “Without the Council, and without you.”
“I understand,” Ani responded, his voice suddenly quiet. “More than you realize, I understand wanting to walk away from the Order.”
“I know,” were the last words that fell from Ahsoka’s lips before she turned around and began the long walk down. Leia saw the younger Ani’s broken gaze trailing after her, and the Ani beside her wasn’t much better. However, the scene before them then, too, dissolved into white.
“You are strong and wise, Anakin, and a far greater Jedi than I could ever hope to be,” said a voice, both soft and strong at the same time, love echoing within each syllable.
The light faded, and Leia saw Ben clearly for the very first time. His hair was a pleasant ginger, a neatly-trimmed beard hiding the lower part of his face. His smile and his eyes, though, within them held utter love and adoration for the man standing before him.
This time, there was no younger Ani with them. It was only her Ani, standing in front of his friend, the tears in his eyes and on his face shining as he shook with soft sobs. The hand that Leia held let her go and joined the second as Ani sobbed into his palms.
“I’m sorry, Obi-Wan.”
The softest of words fell from Ani’s lips, whispered words, words that Leia was sure that she wasn’t supposed to have heard, and then, before she could really process anything, Ben dissolved into white light, leaving Leia and Ani in the white of it all, his face still within his hands, and into them he again whispered the most quiet of pleas.
“Come back,” his voice uttered, laced with pain. And then, with a yell that nearly frightened Leia half to death, “Obi-Wan, come back!”
And in the light, Leia saw Ani fall to his knees as the last pieces of the puzzle slipped into place, for nearly everyone in the galaxy had heard the names of Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi.
The truth was right before her. All these years, and Leia had been talking to Anakin Skywalker. As a child, he and Obi-Wan Kenobi had been her heroes, and she’d known him since she was nine.
Leia was so wrapped up in her own thoughts that she hadn’t even noticed the new scene that had appeared before them.
“What?” Came a soft whimper from below, and Leia watched Anakin shakily stand as he looked forward. Confused, she tore her eyes away from him and took in the scene that they were seeing.
Leia and Ani stood in what looked like an operating room. Ben was there, and Amidala was lying on the operating table, hair glued to her forehead by sweat, eyes shut in pain.
“What is this?” Ani quietly repeated beside her, sounding lost. She spared him a glance and saw that he was clearly baffled. It seemed that this scene was not from his memory, and so Leia could only conclude that it was the Force’s doing.
A med droid rolled around the bed. There was a baby in its arms. Something was tugging at the back of Leia’s mind, a sudden feeling of anticipation. She continued to watch the scene unfold, her eyes rapt with attention.
“It’s a girl,” the droid said in its customary mechanical whine.
The woman on the bed smiled, pain momentarily flitting over her features. The Force roared in Leia’s ears.
“Her name will be Leia,” Amidala whispered weakly. “The mighty one.”
Leia’s mouth dropped open, the words washing over her like a tsunami, powerful and strong and true. Her name will be Leia, echoed Amidala’s voice. Her name will be Leia. Leia was frozen to where she stood, even as the scene dissolved before her very eyes and she found herself in a somewhat-similar room, Ani lying in the bed before her. They were back.
Ani’s true name was Anakin Skywalker. Anakin Skywalker was her father.
The smile that she had upon her face when she looked down at him was enough to bring Anakin right back to tears, and this time Leia cried with him, throwing her arms around his torso as he tentatively sat up, burying her face within his warm shoulder. She felt his presence in her mind, warm, gentle, kind, but powerful too.
Anakin Skywalker was her father. Her mother was Senator Amidala herself. Leia couldn’t have come up with this even in her wildest dreams, but somehow everything suddenly felt right.
Leia Skywalker was her name. She had her name.
In that moment, tears shining upon her cheeks, her true father’s arms around her, she felt as if she were coming home.
Obi-Wan Kenobi was still as he watched the twin suns of Tatooine rise over the dunes. In the Force, he felt as if something was missing, some fundamental part of him that was simply gone. With a grave sorrow, he knew that the source of the gaping hole in his heart was the absence of Anakin’s presence, which so long ago was always there with him.
Was it loneliness that he felt, seeping into his bones? He supposed that that was part of it. However, even as he acknowledged the source of his emptiness, the feeling that he was missing something persisted, more insistent than it had ever been before.
Obi-Wan didn’t know why that was, or what could be causing it. He thought back to his first months on the desert planet. Now, he thought that perhaps cutting the bond had been a mistake, one that he was paying for dearly, for there was nothing in the galaxy that he wouldn’t give to simply feel Anakin’s presence one last time, dark and twisted as it probably was.
Slowly, he stood, and only then did he notice the wetness on his cheeks. Wiping the tears away, he bit his lip. Was this what he and Anakin were meant to become? His own fate, he had never much cared for, but Anakin—
No, he told himself sternly. He would not think of what could have been, for Anakin had chosen his path, just like Obi-Wan had chosen his. And yet, just because it had been his choice didn’t mean that it didn’t hurt, didn’t mean that the grief didn’t eat at Obi-Wan’s heart every single day, didn’t mean that Anakin’s screams didn’t haunt him in every waking moment.
Making his way back into his hut, he could not banish his thoughts away. They whispered impossible futures into his ears, taunted him with what he could have had up until he couldn’t take it anymore—
A loud whistle from his faulty kettle broke his train of thought, and for that he couldn’t be more grateful, for he didn’t know if he could come back from the path that his mind so wanted to lay out for him. He had a job here, to protect Anakin’s son.
And yet, even that didn’t stop him from going to his old dresser and pulling out the box. He rummaged through it, his hands brushing Anakin’s Padawan braid and other small tidbits of metal that Anakin’s hands had made. Finally, he found what he was looking for; an old holo, one that he distinctly remembered Anakin asking Ahsoka to take. With a deep inhale, his finger ghosted over the activation button and the image sprung to life. Anakin’s smiling face, his arms wrapped around Obi-Wan’s torso as Obi-Wan sipped at a cup of tea. He’d been caught unprepared, and even through the grainy blue of the holo he could see the small flicker of indignation in the eyes of his past self.
There was nothing that he wouldn’t have given to be that happy again, be it only for a moment, with Anakin’s arms around him and his gentle presence there to warm Obi-Wan’s tired heart.
With a weary sigh, he stood, carefully placing the holo in its rightful place before making his way back into the kitchen to get himself that cup of tea. It was warm within his hands, and if he really tried, he could pretend that everything was okay and that Anakin was with him.
“It’s not to be, though, dear one,” Obi-Wan mused softly, a sad smile upon his face. “Perhaps it never was.”
Nonetheless, that day, Obi-Wan felt something shift within the Force. He couldn’t pinpoint what it was, exactly, but he knew with a grim certainty that there would be a reckoning, and that everything was about to change. If he listened to the whispers of the Force close enough, he could almost imagine Anakin calling him home. It was a good feeling, and while he didn’t know if it was real or not, it felt a little bit like hope. In the desolate desert of Tatooine, hope was a welcome spirit. He found himself clinging to it, desperation growing against all rationale, and then he felt it, all of a sudden—
Warmth. Light. All the good in this universe that Obi-Wan had thought long gone rushing through his veins, his mind alight with something akin to a dream. It was as if he was emerging from a storm or waking from a nightmare; his world turned hazy, figments of feelings dancing at his fingertips, an unbidden smile breaking his grim expression.
It was not an unwelcome wave, no, but if Obi-Wan were just to reach a little further— grasp at the wisps of happiness that were already beginning to fade as quickly as they had come—
He found the root, the source of the pure elation that had made him feel whole. It was a dark corner of his head, and in his mind’s eye he could see the ruins, strings of fate that lay in tatters under his feet, some of them still pulsating a soft gold… oh. With shaking fingers, he brought his hand to the torn remains, the destruction that he himself had caused, and he almost shook with the weight of it all. This had been his and Anakin’s bond, years ago. It was him that had caused this desolation, and yet it was from the same dark spot that those strange but welcome echoes of contentedness came.
Fading faster, now, he watched as the golden light began to disappear, and soon it was just him and his thoughts and the distant memory of Anakin’s smile.
Dark as it was, he had felt the Force shift, felt something change. Lost in thought, he was just beginning to drift back to reality when something incredible happened.
The soft gold from before returned, carrying joy and warmth with it, and this time it didn’t fade, but instead took the form of a new golden string which glowed brightly beneath Obi-Wan’s fingers. He gasped in his shock, the tears on his face glowing from the light of the string, and just as he had felt the Force shift then he felt fundamentally different now, like something had slotted back into place.
With stark realization and a great deal of confusion, he came to the conclusion that somehow the bond between himself and Anakin was once again there, new and thin and fragile as it was. And while it wasn’t wholly unwelcome, the thing Obi-Wan couldn’t begin to understand was the how of the events that lead him here. Anakin was dead and Vader had taken his place. How in the world did that equate to the reformation of their bond, which he had tried so hard to banish? How was that even remotely within the realm of possibility?
He knew what he had to do. He needed to get to the bottom of this, and he would. Jerking his head up, he tore himself from his mind and took a series of deep breaths to slow his racing heart.
He had to know the truth.
After a brief pause in which Obi-Wan spared a moment to collect his wandering thoughts, he sprung right into action and began to pack. Everything he owned that had even a little value, clothes, his lightsaber, what funds he had left from the sale of the shuttle that he’d gotten to Tatooine on all those years ago, packed and ready to go, just as he was. The last thing, his small box of memories, still lying half-open on the dresser. He picked it up with shaking hands and shuddering breaths before placing it with the rest of his belongings and letting out another weary sigh.
Was he really going through with this? Yes, he supposed, because otherwise, he wasn’t sure how he would be able to live with himself without finding out the truth.
As for Luke, his charge, his one tie to the planet… Well, if what he thought, what he hoped, if the only possible explanation that he could have was really true, then Luke didn’t need his protection after all. Besides, Luke was but a child still, not even eighteen standard yet. Yes, he was old enough to get into trouble, but perhaps he would be smart enough to avoid it, or so Obi-Wan hoped.
He would find Anakin, or Vader, or whomever he was now, because Obi-Wan was determined to find the truth, whatever it ended up being. There was a fire within his heart that he hadn’t felt in eons, and he damn well wasn’t going to sit idly by after this revelation. He needed to know, more than he had ever needed to know something in his entire life.
As soon he was completely ready, his bag strapped to his back, he walked to the side of his hut and ripped off the beige sheet that served to cover and protect his small speeder bike from the sand. Coughing from the sand particles that had suddenly filled the air, Obi-Wan mounted his bike with purpose. The engine groaned and sputtered in protest as he started it, but thankfully it evened out after a few terse moments.
Obi-Wan kicked from the ground and took off, his eyes quickly finding the horizon, not once looking back.
He was determined to find the truth, even if it killed him.
And so, we conclude this part of the story. Thank you very much to those who have supported my writing thus far, your comments really do make my day! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to drop me an ask over on tumblr. I'm really stoked to continue this verse, so make sure to check in every now and then, for I have lot of exciting things planned!