The sound of her name jolted Barriss awake. Had she been sleeping? She couldn’t tell. She was standing, staring upwards at a group of beings. They were indistinct, but not from distance — she was only a few meters away from them. It was like the very fabric of the universe was blurred around them. They glowed from within, bright and cold the distant stars surrounding them.
Stars. They were surrounded by stars. Barriss looked down. She was standing on nothing. A planet was visible far below her — too far to identify it — but around her was only the beings and the stars like chips of shattered glass across a velvet, inky curtain.
“Are you guilty?” Their voices were one, unison yet distinct.
She looked back up at them. She didn’t understand the question, and said so.
One of the beings seemed to huff in irritation. “Think, Master Offee. Are you guilty?” This voice was alone, and echoed all around her just the same as the unison voices.
Barriss thought. She couldn’t remember how she got here, or what had happened, but—
An explosion. A scream. A funeral. Ahsoka’s concerned face. Panic. Terror. Choking Letta Turmond. Ahsoka, again. Ahsoka running. Fire and darkness and Ahsoka.
Red and blue lightsabers clashing like supernovas of light. Her hands bound together. Screaming at the Jedi, telling them that they were wrong, the war was wrong—
Being led to a chair in a small, dark room, her powers dampened. Being strapped into place with soft-lined straps, over the cuffs that took the Force away from her. Watching the needle sink into her arm, and everything going dark.
She fell to her knees, trembling. She must have been on some kind of ground, even invisible, because she didn’t fall straight to the planet below, just landed on something hard and cold against her knees. She pressed her hands to the floor, feeling smoothness like transparisteel, but only registering how much she was shaking. A tear ran out of one eye, and she blinked it away, watching it fall between her hands and keep falling, falling, falling.
“Get up,” said the voices. Their tone did not leave room for argument. Barriss gave herself one more moment to fall apart, and slowly pushed herself to her feet.
“Are you guilty?” they asked again when she looked at them.
“Do you desire redemption?”
Barriss opened her mouth, and closed it. She didn’t know. Ever since the bombing, ever since she’d fallen into a haze of rage and righteousness and naive hope that she could fix it, fix everything — she hadn’t thought about redemption. She’d accepted that she wasn’t going to get it. It didn’t matter how far you fell if you were never going to get up again.
“Are you offering it?” she asked.
“It would require pain, and work. It would require bravery. It would require willingness to relinquish yourself and your being to the universe and the Force, to allow yourself to be used as you are needed and do nothing different, and to give yourself over to our judgement when you are done. Do you accept this?”
“I do.” She would pay her penance however they wanted. There was a part of her, buried somewhere in her ribs and close to her heart, that would do anything for this — that just wanted to do right. She hadn’t listened to it, and that had led to her death. She was listening now, and it was telling her that she needed to do right. To fix it. To make her legacy anything better than being remembered as the Jedi who killed civilians in a desperate, misguided attempt to stop the war.
She thought she sensed slight surprise, and pity, and amusement, and a touch of anger from those beings, but couldn’t be sure. Everything went dark a moment later, and she was falling.
During the Siege of Mandalore, Ahsoka ran through the fight, her lightsabers a blur of colour. She deflected every shot, but she was getting tired, her reactions slowing. She missed a blaster bolt, and it hit her shoulder, sending burning pain through her body.
“Kriff,” she gasped, and sank to her knees. Rex stood over her for a moment, his blaster a wall between her and the battle. She touched her shoulder, and it was hot and her faint touch sent waves of pain through her.
She’d been hit before, but this was a bad one. From a blaster set to full power, made to hurt and kill. “All right?” Rex called down to her, not pausing in his defence of her.
She grit her teeth, and forced down the pain. It was a distraction. She needed to get out of the fight. Survive. “I’m fine,” she said.
Ahsoka forced herself to her feet. In the moment before she fully stood and reignited her sabers, a blaster bolt was fired at her head.
Everything slowed. She saw it coming. She knew it would kill her, and her life was the briefest of moments away from ending.
She almost closed her eyes. Maybe if she had, it would have been different.
As it was, she watched in vivid, terror-brightened clarity as the bolt moved, and so did she.
The blaster bolt moved sharply to her right, between her and Rex. Some unknown force — like a hand tight around her biceps — jerked her body hard to the left, and she fell again, her knees hitting the ground with bruising pain.
On her knees, she heard the bolt hit right behind her, on — she twisted her head to see — a former decorative fountain, with the top missing and water sluggishly streaming out the side from a wide crack. There was a black, smoking hole near the top that should’ve been in her forehead.
Ahsoka looked up, and thought she saw something. The shape of… something. Someone.
But it was unclear, and she had a battle to win. She sent out a quick prayer to the Force, a thank you to whatever had saved her.
And Ahsoka stood, and fought, and survived.
Barriss was given instructions in the beginning.
Do not prevent injuries. Only intervene when her life is in danger. You may redirect her towards her fate, but do not reveal yourself to do so. Do not reveal yourself. Do not speak to her. Do not reveal yourself.
They were very simple. That didn’t mean they were easy to follow.
Seeing Ahsoka get hurt from things that Barriss could’ve easily prevented was agonizing. Watching her fall apart and break down when the Jedi were destroyed was a torture she never could’ve imagined.
Barriss didn’t understand this at all. She didn’t know why she was protecting Ahsoka and no one else, why the Jedi were allowed to be ended while she was instructed to keep one being alive. She knew she was supposed to guide Ahsoka’s fate, but she didn’t know exactly what it was — she just got a sense of when Ahsoka was moving in the right or wrong direction, and how she was supposed to nudge her back into the right way when she strayed.
Barriss didn’t know anything, except that this was supposed to be her redemption. Somehow.
Barriss had physical form, if she chose to, and it couldn’t get injured — she was just pure Force energy, she was pretty sure. She could touch and feel, though, and it wasn’t exactly the same as being alive, but it was so much closer than when she was just drifting, silent and invisible, through the galaxy following Ahsoka.
She wasn’t supposed to use it unless it was needed for Ahsoka’s protection, but she missed being alive. Missed sensation and motion. Sometimes, while Ahsoka was sleeping and her watch was momentarily paused, she would transform herself into her physical form, and sit outside, feeling cold air on her almost-skin. She would run her fingers through grass or over the metal of Ahsoka’s ship. She would dip her bare feet into water and revel in the feeling — so normal when she was alive, and now heady and exciting. She tried to only do it when there was no one around except Ahsoka, though, and not too often.
Tonight, Ahsoka was asleep on her ship, drifting through space. She'd given a report as Fulcrum to the Lothal rebel cell earlier, and it had sent a warm and tingling feeling through Barriss as she watched. Ahsoka was on the right path. She could tell.
Barriss transformed into her physical form — though not bothering to look like herself or even a person, just a vague shape made of light — and collapsed on a comfortably lined bench in the kitchen of Ahsoka’s ship. She closed her eyes, letting sensation wash over her; the cool feeling of the metal, the soft cushions under her not-shoulders, the dry air of the ship. It almost felt like being alive again.
She heard a faint beeping noise from somewhere on the ship, and opened her eyes for a moment, but she didn't sense danger. She closed her eyes again.
“Who are you?”
Barriss’s eyes shot open and she let out an undignified shriek, flinging herself backwards on the bench. Ahsoka stood in front of her, dressed in night clothes and holding an unignited lightsaber at her side. Her eyes were narrowed in suspicion, and while she wasn’t quite in a battle stance, she looked like she could shift into one at any moment.
Kriff. This was bad. This was really, really bad. Barriss wasn’t allowed to communicate. She was not allowed to reveal herself. Even if it wasn't intentional, she had been beyond careless, and now — well. She had no idea how to fix this.
So she shifted from her physical form to her non-corporeal one.
The coward’s way out, probably, but she was freaking out. She needed a minute.
“Blast!” Ahsoka snapped, and turned on a light, dropping her lightsaber on the table. In the harsh, artificial light, Barriss could see the shadows under her eyes. She looked drained and worn-down and so, so tired. She sat down, right next to where Barriss sat, invisible, and put her head in her hands.
Barriss felt awful for her, but she couldn’t show herself. She couldn’t. Force only knew what would happen to her.
But… but maybe she’d already crossed the line. Maybe it was already too late. Maybe it wouldn’t be any worse to show herself now.
Yeah, that logic sounded like delusion, but Ahsoka seemed really upset. She must have realized that something was following her, and now she didn’t know who it was or why they were doing it and probably didn’t feel safe. Barriss was supposed to keep her safe. That was what she was here for.
Knowing that she was making a mistake, Barriss became corporeal again. She made sure her form was still blurry and indistinct, so Ahsoka couldn’t make out any identifying features. She wasn’t sure what Ahsoka would think of her now — it had been years, now, since the bombing and her framing of Ahsoka — but she didn’t think Ahsoka was ready to know.
Or maybe she just wasn’t ready to know how Ahsoka would react.
Ahsoka’s head snapped up and she jumped to her feet, grabbing her lightsaber again. “Who are you?” she repeated, insistent.
“I’m your protector.”
“What are you? Why are you protecting me?”
A perfect interrogation voice. Barriss felt almost cowed, even knowing Ahsoka couldn’t actually do anything to her. “I’m a spirit. And I was told to.”
“I don’t know.”
Ahsoka’s eyes were narrowed in suspicion, but after a moment she dropped her sabers. “How long have you been following me?”
Barriss measured her words carefully. If she said specifically when — that is, almost right when Ahsoka had left the Order — that would tie a little too closely to her identity before this. It probably wouldn’t be enough for Ahsoka to identify her, but she didn’t want to take the risk. “Since shortly before the rise of the Empire,” she answered.
Ahsoka’s eyes widened. “That long?”
She closed her eyes and turned, starting a pace around the room. “Did I only survive this long because of you?” she asked after a few laps of the tiny room.
“I only intervened in life-or-death situations,” Barriss said. “You were doing very well on your own.”
“Have you been watching this whole time?”
Barriss hesitated. “Yes. Though I try to stay away if I can when you’re safe. Like tonight.”
Ahsoka’s face was tight with tension, but after a moment she nodded. “Okay. But… who are you? You were a person once, right? Do I know you?”
And there was the million-credit question. Barriss had no idea what Ahsoka would do if she knew who Barriss was. In all her years of watching, she’d never seen Ahsoka speak to another person about what Barriss had done to her. It wasn’t surprising — most of the people she would’ve talked to about it had died only shortly after Barriss herself — but it mean that Barriss had no idea what Ahsoka thought of her. If she’d forgiven her. If she even thought about it at all anymore.
No, Barriss didn’t want to tell her. Not… not yet, at least. “You did know me. But I died. I was a Jedi.” A lot of Jedi had died in the war, and even more in Order 66. It was vague enough.
And, well, she didn’t need to specify that she’d lost her right to be a Jedi before she died. Ahsoka didn’t need to know that.
Ahsoka looked curious, but she must have sensed that Barriss wasn’t going to reveal her identity. Barriss felt secure that she wouldn’t figure it out. Her voice was heavy with a Coruscanti accent, like many Jedi, and Ahsoka couldn’t see her. It would be enough to conceal her identity after all these years. Ahsoka might be able to figure out her gender, since even her blurred form revealed a near-human shape and most near-humans had similar vocal ranges between genders, but not much else.
“Thank you,” Ahsoka finally said. “But I don’t need your help.”
“I don’t have a choice,” Barriss said, and winced at her own words. “I mean, I have to keep you alive. But I can stay out of your way, as much as I can.”
“That would be appreciated.” She paused. “Good night.”
“Good night, Ahsoka.”
Ahsoka gave her one last look before going back into her cabin.
Somehow, things were actually easier after that.
The beings that had given Barriss this task didn’t show up again to tell her off or relieve her of her duty, which wasn’t quite a surprise — she had gotten the impression that her success or failure would only be solidified upon Ahsoka’s death or some other significant milestone — but still took the burden of worry off her shoulders. She had disobeyed them, but she had succeeded at her main task so far, so they weren’t interfering.
Barriss wasn’t counting on her luck continuing, but she could hope. That was all anyone could do.
It really was easier now, though. Now that Ahsoka knew about her, she would occasionally call Barriss to her side while landing her ship — calling her Master Jedi, since she didn’t know who Barriss was, and something about having that title she’d barely fit into when she died used on her made Barriss feel warm in her heart and sick to her stomach at the same time — and ask her to look around outside. Barriss caught a couple of threats before they became problems — none of them deadly, but it saved time. And on a couple of occasions, Ahsoka had gotten her to cause a distraction elsewhere either mid-fight or when she was at risk of being noticed by Imperials.
It worked. It really worked. Even when Ahsoka joined up with the Lothal rebels and spent enough time with them that her ability to communicate with Barriss was hindered, it was still fine.
As soon as they’d decided, Barriss spent every moment that Ahsoka was alone trying to convince her not to go, even though her senses were telling her that it was the right path. This was, in whatever way, Ahsoka’s fate; Barriss suspected, though she couldn’t be sure, that it would be Ahsoka’s end, too.
And she wouldn’t be able to help.
“I can’t go onto Malachor,” she told Ahsoka as she was preparing for the journey on her ship. She would be meeting the others on the Phantom in an hour, and now she was packing an overnight bag in her tiny cabin. “It’s a Sith planet, and I’m made of pure Light Force energy; it would destroy me. I can’t protect you.”
“I spent a war fighting without a bodyguard,” Ahsoka said. Her words were almost angry, but not quite. They’d had similar arguments before, but never, Barriss thought, had the stakes been so high. “And now I’m twice as old as I was then, with far more experience. I’ll be fine.”
“You can’t.” Barriss knew she was being unreasonable, she knew that if anything would damn her in the eyes of the Force it would be intentionally and directly turning Ahsoka off her path, she knew that Ahsoka wouldn’t even listen to her and this would destroy her own redemption for nothing, but she had to, she had to, because—
She realized, like a bolt of lightning striking her and pinning her in place, that she loved Ahsoka.
That was why.
“Oh,” she said softly.
It made sense. It felt like the galaxy had stopped and finally started moving in the right direction, the right way, because she loved Ahsoka, of course she did.
Years and years and years had passed, and she’d fallen in love somewhere along the way, and she only knew now.
And for a perfect moment of glory, she let herself feel it, before the reality hit her like a blow to the face.
That she would burn down the world for Ahsoka, and this was why the Jedi forbid attachment.
Force help her, she was beyond help for that now.
And nothing would ever come of it, could ever come of it, because Ahsoka didn’t even know who she was and wouldn’t forgive Barriss for keeping it from her. Not to mention that she was a ghost — or something.
“Master Jedi?” Ahsoka said, staring at her with a frown. “Are you… are you alright?” Right. She’d been talking, and Ahsoka had probably been talking as well, and she’d gone silent and zoned out while likely radiating shock and realization and a million other emotions into the Force.
“You should go,” Barriss said. It was the right thing to do.
Ahsoka’s blinked at her in confusion. “Yes? That’s what I was planning on doing? That’s what you’ve been trying to argue me out of doing for the past ten minutes?”
“It’s your fate,” Barriss said. She probably wasn’t supposed to tell Ahsoka that, but it didn’t really matter. “Whatever happens on Malachor is important. You have to go.”
“Right.” Ahsoka closed her overnight bag and set it on the floor before sitting down on her bed. “What made you change your mind?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
Ahsoka didn’t respond at first, just looked at her, her face almost entirely neutral and somehow searching, as if she could see anything in Barriss’s form other than obscuring light.
“Did you ever plan to tell me who you are?” Ahsoka finally said. “Because I have my guesses, but if I die on Malachor—” Barriss flinched, but it probably wasn’t obvious “—then I’ll never know unless you tell me now. I don’t know if it’s too much to ask, but I’m asking now.”
And in the end, Barriss didn’t think she could deny Ahsoka anything.
She had the ability to make her physical form look like herself. She hadn’t done it since Ahsoka had found out about her, but even before then she hadn’t done it very much, because she was trapped into one appearance.
Barriss let the Force form around her and fall away until she stopped emitting light. She knew, from looking into mirrors in the early days, exactly what she looked like.
She looked the same as the day that she died.
Her hair uncovered. Clad in an orange prisoner’s jumpsuit with DANGER-JEDI PRISONER stamped on the front and back in huge, bold aurebesh characters. Force-cancelling restraints on her ankles and wrists. The only thing that was missing was the chain that had bound her hands together — the Force-cancellers had taken the place of binders, with the reasoning that she would be so thrown by the inability to access the Force that she would be little danger in any case — and anyway, it had been removed just before they’d killed her, when they’d strapped her arms into the chair. She’d died without ever feeling the Force.
She looked like a prisoner. A dangerous prisoner.
She looked like the woman who had nearly condemned Ahsoka to death.
Ahsoka’s facial expression hadn’t changed aside from a slight widening of her eyes. Barriss thought maybe she had guessed who Barriss was, but hadn’t realized that she would be wearing the same thing she’d been wearing in her last moments.
Well, neither had Barriss. It had terrified her out of her mind the first time she’d realized, and she’d spent hours crying. Funny how she could still cry, even like this.
“So that’s why,” Ahsoka said quietly after a long moment of tense silence.
“Why what?” Barriss said.
“Why I have a personal guardian to keep me safe. Was this your punishment?”
“Sort of,” Barriss said. “I was given a choice, and I chose redemption. This is supposed to be my redemption.” Though I’ve probably ruined that.
A muscle in Ahsoka’s cheek twitched. Barriss thought Ahsoka might have heard her thought in the Force; she was likely projecting right now. Her emotions were running stronger than they had in years in the wake of her realization.
Ahsoka closed her eyes, and opened them. “I’m going to Malachor. I’ll see you on the other side.” She picked up her bag and walked out.
Ahsoka had guessed, but it wasn’t the same as having it confirmed.
The flight to Malachor was already tense, but Ahsoka was still reeling from the reveal, and probably riling up Kanan and Ezra as well. She retreated as far from them as she could, sitting at the very back of the Phantom, after her conversation with Rex. There was nowhere to hide on this ship, but she had to try.
Her nails dug into her arms as she tried to forget the waves of sick horror that had swept through her body when she’d seen Barriss walking into her trial in binders, seconds before her conviction.
She’d thought that she was, if not over it, at least far enough removed to think about the circumstances of her departure from the Jedi Order without feeling like she was back there. Apparently not.
Just seeing Barriss, vulnerable and weak-looking in the prison clothes she’d likely died in, made her feel sixteen again, betrayed and heartbroken, her world shattered in only a few days. Sitting at a diner on Coruscant, staring down at the food she’d ordered because she hadn’t eaten in half a day and feeling like anything she ate would come right back up again because she’d left, she’d left the only home she’d ever known, and she was utterly and completely alone for the first time in her life.
She’d never stopped being alone since then. It had just stopped hurting as much, because she was used to it. But she could feel it again now like it was that first night in the diner: the feeling of a sudden chill on her skin, like getting up on a cool morning and leaving the warmth of your bed behind, and like there was a piece of her heart that had been chiseled neatly out and left to shrivel and break into pieces on the ground.
Ahsoka touched her chest unconsciously, feeling only armour, and knowing that somewhere deep within her, something was gone.
And Barriss had taken it, and now she was here, had been with Ahsoka for years… protecting her. Trying for redemption.
The Force, Ahsoka thought, had a kriffing sick sense of humour.
Barriss waited and waited, and watched the Phantom come back to the base.
Her heart splintering in her chest, Barriss went into wilderness surrounding the base and transformed into her corporeal form. The local fauna paid her no mind, and she moved around them until she hit flat ground and then she ran, as fast as she could. Running from her thoughts, from her fears — from the memory of Ahsoka.
When she was a few kilometers away — and stars, it felt good to run, she hadn’t been able to for a long time since she had to stay near Ahsoka — she stopped and looked up at the sky. She wasn’t out of breath — she didn’t even have breath — but she breathed deep anyway, surrounded by the Atollon night air. The sun had set while she was running, and it was nearly full dark now.
The sky was full of stars, and Ahsoka had died somewhere out there. Died alone, and Barriss hadn’t been able to protect her—
—except. If Ahsoka were dead, wouldn’t she be gone, too? Barriss couldn’t feel the guiding that she was meant to feel — Ahsoka’s path had led to Malachor, and that was where Barriss had been meant to get her, she was sure of that now — but maybe it wasn’t the end.
Barriss sat down on the hard, cold ground, pressing her hands into the rock and closing her eyes. Reaching out with the Force.
It was murky, muddied with the Dark side. Unclear. It had been like this ever since the Jedi were ended. An individual light-side Force-user — none of them were really Jedi anymore, Barriss had started to believe, no matter what they called themselves — was barely a blip in the darkness. But she could feel, just a little bit, the energies of Kanan and Ezra, on the base.
She reached out, further. Further.
And there was something. Barely a spark. Dampened, stifled, buried in darkness — but familiar as Barriss’s own soul.
Ahsoka was alive, somewhere.
Barriss opened her eyes, and settled in to wait.
In the end, it took almost three years of waiting, and travelling with the Rebellion, and waiting, before Barriss was suddenly pulled out of what she was doing — watching the stars on Yavin 4, half-meditating — and landed in the copilot’s seat of an unfamiliar ship, which was travelling through hyperspace.
Slowly, Barriss turned to see Ahsoka in the pilot’s seat. Ahsoka was looking at her, her face perfectly unreadable.
Barriss swallowed past the dryness in her throat. “When did you escape Malachor?”
“Not long ago.”
“It doesn’t matter.” Ahsoka tilted her head to the side. “Your duty is done. Why are you still here?”
“I don’t know.” Something seemed to tug at her mind, and she looked to the side, and restrained herself from gasping.
A hole was opening in the wall of the ship. And it was filled with light. And considering Ahsoka wasn’t reacting with terror about her ship — the ship? — peeling apart, Barriss had to assume that only she could see it.
“I think I have to say goodbye,” Barriss said, but her words sounded distant, like she was outside of herself.
“Oh,” Ahsoka said softly. “Is this — is this it, then?”
“I think so.”
Barriss stood and faced the doorway — that was what it was, she could see the shape now. Beyond was… something. She couldn’t tell yet. She wasn’t sure she wanted to.
She turned around to face Ahsoka, who was watching her still with that maddeningly neutral expression. “Do you hate me?” she asked.
“No,” Ahsoka said. “I don’t know if I forgive you, but I don’t hate you.”
“Thank you,” said Barriss. She tried to ignore the emotions rising from Ahsoka’s words. They weren’t important now. It was too late for that.
She was grateful anyway.
Barriss took a deep breath. “I’ll see you in the next life. Whatever that is.”
“May the Force be with you,” Ahsoka replied.
Impulsively, Barriss stepped towards Ahsoka, who was still sitting in the pilot’s chair. She paused a for a moment, and said, “You too.”
And she leaned down and kissed Ahsoka.
It was short, because Barriss wasn’t going to try her luck, and Ahsoka looked floored as Barriss straightened up again and turned around, staring at the doorway. She thought she could hear voices calling her home. One of them almost sounded like Luminara’s, and Barriss smiled without thinking as she stepped forward, so close she could almost feel heat on her skin.
She reached up to touch her lips, which were still buzzing, and then Barriss Offee closed her eyes and stepped into the light.