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Enigma

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The desolate landscape of Lola Sayu made Mustafar look like a vacation spot by comparison. The air and atmosphere were uncomfortably heavy, enough so that Shaie felt physically weighed down. The sulfuric gas hung in musty clouds, especially around the nearby pool of molten rock. Though she was nowhere near it, her lungs burned from the dirty air.

Her gaze raked and combed the wreckage that laid before her, a charred mess of metal and broken equipment. It was too broken for her to recognize the exact model, but the structure of it was reminiscent of the shuttles she’d seen as a little girl. The plating was rather generic, with no markings, emblems, or insignias, although there had been too much damage for her to actually confirm this for certain.

Using a device on her wrist, Shaie scanned the broken shuttle for traps, lifeforms, and every other complicating variable she could think of. To her surprise and suspicion, nothing of concern had been marked on her radar. She frowned. This job held deep importance and deeper value, Kynn Lons had informed her. The weapon that her employer believed to be here held fetchingly high value. Kynn presented himself as a reasonable and respectable man, as far as crime lords went, but she knew that failing this would result in dire consequences. That's how much value this mission had.

Shaie planted a small, circular device on the door where the landing ramp would typically be unfolded. It hissed, letting out a torrent of sparks, and the door shifted slightly out of place, enough so that she could enter the ruins with no resistance.

She grabbed the door by its hinges and carefully put it to the side. Turning on her blaster’s flashlight, Shaie ducked inside. The shadows hindered her ability to see without assistance, and so she swept the light around the shuttle in an almost idle manner.

What she saw, however, jarred her out of her casual boredness.

A flash of cream colored metal caught her eye, contrasting with the dull grays of the craft. Shaie refocused the light on the foreign material, and saw that it had been charred by something; no doubt scorched during the wreckage. She moved her light to the side and found the severed head of a B1 battle droid.

Shaie gasped, scrambling back into the wall as if she’d seen a ghost. Her breath hitched in her throat as she processed the meaning of such a sight.

This is a Separatist ship wreckage, she realized in alarm. Not that it mattered much anymore since the war had ended years ago. Nevertheless, she still found the situation rather disconcerting.

Alright, she thought warily, clipping her blaster to her belt and taking out a stronger light source. She placed the little beacon on the ground and activated it. The light emitted blinded her at first, but she knew that her eyes would adjust.

When they did, Shaie could not believe what they saw.

At least two B1 battle droids were strewn about on the floor, dismantled and badly burned from the apparent crash. At the helm, an astromech had attached itself to the pilot’s chair, either an R2 or an R3 unit. Shaie couldn’t tell the difference at first glance, but she decided that her ignorance of vintage droids lacked any relevance; both models were outdated, like everything else in her vicinity. The astromech, though less charred-looking than the other droids, had clearly not escaped the damage. Its head and body were intact, but its circuits were completely fried on the outside; she could tell that much even from here.

“Are you my prize?” Shaie mused, more to herself than to the astromech. Lons instructed her to extract anything that would sell on the black market, in addition. While an R2 or R3 unit was hardly what one would call a lucrative enterprise or physical threat, she knew that it could very well be carrying information in its mangled databanks. However, she had no guesses as to what this information could be.

“I’ll come back for you,” she decided, looking over her shoulder. “First, I need to search the rest of your shoddy ship.”

She spotted a door in the back. Shaie squared her shoulders and walked to it. When the door didn’t automatically slide open, she attempted to unlock it manually with the nearby control panel. Her fingers made contact with the button. It didn’t work.

Shaie stamped her foot in frustration, took out her pistol, and blasted the control panel to smithereens at point-blank range. Her lips curled into a tight, but satisfied grin as the door opened for her.

The light from her beacon didn’t reach into the corners of this room, so she walked back, grabbed it, and set it down in the doorway so that it would reach both ends of the ship.

This room seemed to be more of a compartment than anything else. Giant sheets of some hard material were stored here, leaning against one another. Though some of the slates were damaged, the engravings within them remained perfectly intact.

She studied them in awe. The features carved into the slate were humanoid and incredibly lifelike. Though she had little interest in the arts, Shaie could still admire the intricacy and the nuances of the carvings that stood before her.

Most of them were of armored men, holding helmets of some sort. Her eyes widened as she recognized the markings, the shapes of the helmet. Phase One clone trooper armor. How is that even possible?

Her eyes darted frantically around the compartment until she caught sight of a master control panel wired to each slate. Shaie rushed over to it. The panel, like the rest of the ship’s rear end, had not received as much damage as the front. “That’s impossible,” she murmured as she began to piece together what had happened here.

These people were in some sort of stasis, she realized. Although Shaie didn’t have enough experience to recognize it as carbon-freezing with certainty, she still considered it as a possibility. Is this what Lons wanted? Statues of live clones? That seemed rather unlikely.

The odds that he hadn’t known about this oddity, however, were low. He always sent probes ahead to recon the area, so how could he have missed it? The easy answer was that he hadn’t.

And these were clones … could it be that they’d been trapped in this carbonite-esque material for this whole time? Twenty years?

Maybe this was her mission; to set them free.

Even if it wasn’t, Shaie knew that only a monster would leave someone in such horrid conditions. She had no intention of becoming one.

Shaie studied the panel with an intent gaze, then took a breath as she deduced the most likely controls for defreezing the clones. Her fingers flew across a keypad and she pulled a lever.

The effects were immediate. A hissing sound rose from all around her, followed by drifts of vapor and glaring lights. As she’d predicted, three clones emerged from their trap. All three of them stumbled to the ground with painful thuds. Their armors were sleek with evaporating moisture.

“Ah!” one of them yelled, grunting as his face made contact with the rusty floor. He lost his grip on his helmet; it rolled away from him, landing just at Shaie’s feet. She glanced down and saw that it had custom markings, with blue paint outlining a pair of Jaig Eyes. She didn’t even have time to react before he’d snatched it out of her reach.

One of the other clones rose to his feet with his helmet on, noticed her, and shouted, “Over there!” He and the third clone pointed their blasters at her, to her surprise.

“Don’t shoot!” Shaie cried out, placing her own blaster on the floor. She kicked it out of reach. “I mean you no harm.”

The third clone relaxed slightly, but the helmeted one didn’t waver. “Who the hell are you?”

“Captain Rex?” A fourth voice asked blearily. “What’s going on over there?”

Shaie froze, listening as more voices filled the compartment. There had to be at least a dozen clone troopers here.

The man with the Jaig Eyed helmet frowned at her. “There’s an unknown here,” he reported. His tone echoed loudly, no doubt so that the others could hear him. “Zeltron female with smuggler gear and a blaster, although she surrendered it.”

Shaie raised her hands above her head. “I just freed you guys; you should be thanking me.”

The helmeted trooper exchanged a glance with the third one through his visor. “What?” he sputtered. “Since when were you playing the part of our astromech?”

Her eyes widened. “Astromech? I saw one over there, but it’s been shut down for years by the look of it. All I know is that I found your ship crashed on this hellish planet, and I found you guys in carbonite.” Or something like that.

“That’s absurd,” Rex said incredulously. Several clones stumbled towards the compartment entrance, clearly still dazed from the carbonite. One even seemed to be blind.

“What’s absurd is that I found a bunch of twenty-something-year-old clones on a remote planet with old tech,” Shaie snapped back.

The clones looked at each other in bewilderment. Before anyone could say anything more, a new set of voices sounded from the far back.

“I must have carbon sickness, because I could swear that’s Ahsoka,” a man remarked in a Coruscanti accent. Definitely not a clone.

“Your eyes are fine,” a second man replied, deep irritation evident from his voice alone. “It’s Ahsoka’s hearing that needs help.”

A third voice, female, replied to his remark. Though Shaie couldn’t deduce what they said after that, thanks to the chatter of the clones, she listened anyway. Shortly thereafter, her efforts were rewarded. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned from you, Master, it’s that following direct orders isn’t always the best way to solve a problem.”

The first man chuckled. “I see Anakin’s new teaching method is ‘do as I say, not as I do’. Welcome aboard.”

“Sirs!” Rex shouted. “Something’s gone wrong. Over here.”

“What do you mean, gone wrong?” the girl asked. “We’re here in one piece, aren’t we?”

“That may be so, but there’s a woman over here who claims that she found us in a starship wreckage.” He jerked his head at Shaie, who swallowed nervously.

Three individuals emerged from behind the slates. She studied them as she analyzed everyone else that she met. Shaie considered herself to be quite gifted at reading body language, and what she saw indicated a sense of authority. One had a gaunt, angular face framed by dark golden hair. He was clad in a dark, almost arcane style of clothing. The bearded man was dressed similarly, though his robes were a pale creamy shade with brown undertones. The female, a Togruta with stubby montrals, had on more contemporary attire; a sleeveless maroon tunic with gray leggings and a crown of golden animal teeth---as worn by most Togrutas---though the species in question eluded her. Shaie inhaled sharply as she studied their faces; faces that she’d seen plastered all over the media as a child. “Oh my gods,” she breathed. “Generals Skywalker and Kenobi.”

Skywalker raised his eyebrow. “You know us?” Suspicion crept into his voice. She eyed him warily as his hand crept towards the lightsaber hanging at his side.

Shaie blinked, taken aback. “E-Everyone knows you,” she told him furtively. “You’re heroes of the Clone Wars; Jedi. And everyone also knows that you both died twenty years ago.”

The unfamiliar Togruta blanched; Shaie looked at her horror and disgust as she saw that she couldn’t be older than sixteen. Why the kriff is she here? That’s a child!

“Wait a minute!” The Togruta crossed her arms and marched up to her. Though she barely cleared five feet in height, Shaie got the impression that this girl could kick her ass as easily as she could a battle droid’s. She continued, “What are you talking about? How long were we frozen?”

Shaie bowed her head. “I don’t know anything about your mission, but the Clone Wars ended just under two decades prior.” She gazed at them with mournful sympathy. “You must’ve been frozen for that entire time.”

“She must be lying!” a clone insisted, disbelief written all over his visage.

Kenobi, trembling, shook his head; his face had turned a sickening ashen color. “No,” he said, his voice tremulous with horror. “She’s telling the truth. I can feel it.”

“What?” Skywalker and the female Jedi exclaimed at the same time.

The dark-clad Jedi covered his face with his hand and hunched over into a brooding position. The Togruta looked to be on the verge of tears, while most of the clones appeared to be too numb from disbelief to even process what they’d just heard. Though Shaie was not Force-sensitive, their emotions seemed to radiate through the tangible air; she wondered how a Jedi would receive such distress, and shuddered in discomfort.

“I’m sorry,” Shaie said, truly meaning it. Her jaw tightened as she considered every other factor in this horrendous situation. “You should know … you’ve missed a lot.”

Skywalker looked back over at her; She saw, to her surprise and horror, that the color had drained out of his face. “Did we win?” he asked. “I mean, did the Republic win? Did the Jedi?”

Shaie looked at each of them, unsure of how to respond. She knew that she needed to be tactful, but she had no reason to keep such an important truth from them. “The Confederacy didn’t win the war,” she explained. “But neither did the Republic or the Jedi.” She sighed gravely. “After the war, the Republic was taken over by the Imperial Empire, and the Jedi Order was destroyed by Darth Sidious.”

“That can’t be true,” Skywalker insisted, though he sounded more like he was trying to convince himself of that. “It can’t be. The Order has been around for thousands of years. It wouldn’t just fall.”

“All of the Jedi are dead, as far as the public is concerned,” she said, her eyes growing rheumy. “However, I do know a small group of survivors.”

“And how is it that you know of this group?”

Shaie leaned against the wall as her mind began to wander to the brighter days of her childhood. “There’s an alliance,” she replied. “The Rebel Alliance. They oppose the Empire and wish to reinstate the Republic. I don’t know much, but several younglings and Padawans survived the attack on the temple thanks to the heroics of a Jedi Master. That’s what I’ve heard, at least. They’re spearheading the war against the Imps.”

“These Imperials,” Kenobi said dourly, stroking his beard. “Are they tyrannical?”

She nodded. “They’re an oppressive fascist regime. How could they not be?” She exhaled in a feeble attempt to steady her breathing and heartrate. “I’m not a full-time Rebel, but I do sell them supplies. Weapons, food, soldiers, whatever I find.”

The Togruta grabbed Skywalker’s arm and shook it with vigor. “We’ve got to help them!”

“Not so fast, Ahsoka,” the valorous Jedi replied. Though sternness edged his tone, Shaie saw a deep affection for the young woman in his expression. Clearly, they were close, most likely Master and Padawan if she had to guess. “We don’t have any information. However, if what you’re saying is true…” He turned to face Shaie, who wavered at the intensity of his baleful gaze. “Then I’m in agreement.”

”This is an absolute nightmare,” Ahsoka whispered to herself, her voice cracking.

“I’ve had better nightmares,” Rex commented bleakly; a single tear shone on his cheek, though whether it had resulted from grief alone or fear, she couldn’t be sure.

“Who else survived?” Skywalker asked, both aggressive and desperate; a strange combination of emotions.

Shaie silently shook her head. “I wouldn’t know. Not many made it out alive.”

Ahsoka let out an audible and raw sob. She hid her face in apparent embarrassment as everyone turned to look at her with concern. Skywalker hugged her as she began to cry into his robes. “This is exactly why I didn’t want you to come,” he told her gruffly. “Look what you’ve gotten yourself into.”

Ahsoka sniffled. “Isn’t it good that we managed to avoid the destruction of the Order?” she pointed out through teary gasps. “If I wasn’t here, I would’ve died, by the look of things.”

Skywalker smiled, both bitter and relieved. “I hate it when you’re right,” he told her. He patted her on the back in what Shaie presumed had to be a comforting gesture; Such a gesture saw little use on her own homeworld.

Rex glanced at Shaie. “Do you have any means of escaping this planet?” When the other clones looked at him incredulously, he scoffed. “What, it’s not like we can finish our objective at this point.”

“Rex is right,” Kenobi agreed. “We’ve got to regroup with any survivors that we can find. And the Rebels must be backed by politicians; perhaps Senators Organa or Mothma will be around to assist.” He paused, then amended, “Or Senator Amidala. There’s no way any of them would serve such a regime.”

Skywalker’s lips parted in faint shock at the mention of the Nabooian senator. “She’d better not be dead,” he growled. “I swear to all the gods, if she’s dead, I’ll take down the Empire myself.”

Kenobi’s brows furrowed in concern as well as disapproval. “Anakin,” he hissed. “Don’t let your anger cloud your better judgment. It will do you no good.”

The other Jedi opened his mouth to protest, then clenched his jaw, eyes glittering. “You’re right,” he conceded. And he left it at that.

Shaie’s gaze flitted back and forth between the two Jedi. “I’ve got a ship,” she offered. “It’s not meant to hold this many people, but I think it’ll manage.”

Kenobi gave her a grateful look. “Thank you,” he began, then paused as he realized that he didn’t know her name. “Er…”

“Shaie Oppola,” she said, before he even asked. “That’s my name.” She nodded towards the front end. “Let’s get out of here.”

She stepped aside so that the clones and Jedi could duck through the doorway ahead of her. While they did so, she bent down and picked up her blaster. As she slipped through the narrow opening, however, she heard a cry of dismay.

“Artoo!”

That was Skywalker. He dashed to the pilot’s chair where the R2 unit had parked itself. He banged his fist on the droid’s head several times, muttering under his breath. Nothing happened.

“I’ll be able to fix him,” Skywalker said to Kenobi and Ahsoka. “Just give me a moment to haul him out of this junk scrap.”

“Alright, but be quick,” Kenobi responded. “We don’t have all day.”

Skywalker gave his master a rather rancid stink-eye, then pulled the astromech out of the rubble with surprising ease. Shaie saw in amazement that it hadn’t suffered any damage from being yanked out that fast. He grunted as he hefted the weighty droid through the exit.

Shaie coughed as she emerged into the purple-gold landscape of Lola Sayu. A bubbling geyser of lava sat not twenty meters away from this ship; it was a miracle that they hadn’t ended up in that instead.

“Over here,” she said, pointing to her freighter, the Seer. Thank the Force, it was barely more than a quarter kilometer from the wreckage, so they were boarded and airborne in no time. The small dejarik table in the main room had been filled to the brink; there weren’t enough seats, so several clones and Jedi were on the floor, seated criss-crossed style. Ahsoka, unlike the others, remained standing. She fidgeted as though she wanted to pace, but of course there wasn’t enough room for her to do that. “What now?”

“We’re gonna burn skies until we see lines,” Shaie replied. As the smokey hue of the atmosphere faded to speckled black, she punched the coordinates of the Yavin IV base into the navicomputer. She pushed the joystick forward. Streaks of starshine dazzled her vision as they were pulled through the swirling abyss of kaleidoscopic blue energy. When Kenobi looked at her questioningly, she frowned. “I’m taking you to Yavin IV,” she said. “That’s where the Rebels are currently situated.”

To her bafflement, Skywalker sniggered and nudged his master’s arm. “Perhaps you’ll get to learn more about the Yavin Code,” he snarked. Kenobi gave him a hard stare wrought with both indignation and amusement.

“What is that?” Shaie asked.

Skywalker shook his head. “Nothing,” he replied cryptically. “Inside joke.”

Shaie frowned, then shrugged and turned back around.

Not even a minute later, he walked over to the co-pilot chair, though he didn’t sit down. “Just out of curiosity, what model is this ship?”

She glanced at him in surprise. “YT-2400 light freighter,” she replied.

He continued, “What kind of weaponry do you have?”

“Two dual laser turrets, and concussion missiles,” she said. “As well as small ion cannons on the front and rear end. They’re not that powerful, though. They only disable fighters for a few seconds.” She gave him a curious glance. “We won’t be entering Imperial space, so the odds of us running into trouble are low.”

“No, that wasn’t why I asked,” Skywalker told her. “What about your hyperdrive?”

“Class two. Backup is class twelve.”

“Is it from Corellian Engineering Corporation?”

Shaie looked at him in faint surprise. “How did you know that?” she asked, unable to hide admiration. She always loved talking with someone who actually knew their ships. “I don’t think this model was in production during your time.” Though, she didn’t know that for certain.

He chuckled, a little too pleased with himself. “The plating gives it away.” He touched the surface above them with his gloved hand. “The pattern of the hull and the general architecture of the room are quite distinctive. I’m assuming it’s been modified?”

“Only a little,” she told him. “An old friend of mine was kind enough to lend me the ion cannons. They’re old and weak, but it’s better than nothing.” Shaie turned to look over her shoulders at the others. To her surprise, they had fallen into an icy silence, staring at one another with dead-eyed expressions.

Light, almost dainty footsteps sounded over the floor as Ahsoka made her way over to them. Like her master, she did not sit. “Who are the Jedi that survived?” she inquired with her arms crossed.

Shaie froze, glancing at Skywalker. How much should she reveal? She didn’t know much, but much of the information that she did have could mess all of them up, big-time. “I don’t know much,” she told her. “But I do know that most of them were only Initiates, though there are some former Padawans, as well as refugee Force-sensitives born after the Purge.” There was more, of course, but running through the entire list could very well be a poor decision.

“How exactly did the Order fall so quickly?” a clone with a handprint on his chest plate demanded.

“I was a child when it happened,” Shaie said. “It was just under fifteen years ago, I think. The war went on for eight years. Even the Core World planets suffered heavy losses. The Emp---I mean, the Chancellor was impeached after an investigation revealed that he was responsible for a contingency order that had been placed in the clones.” She sighed gravely. “Unfortunately, he still got everything that he wanted. Order Sixty-Six was enacted despite the Republic’s best efforts, his political opponents were accused of treason, and the entire Republic fell into his hands.” He’d seized control of the galaxy through sheer power, not his political influence. No one could argue with a Sith Lord, not after the execution of nearly every Jedi.

“What happened to the Seppies?” one of the clones asked.

“Their leaders?” Her expression darkened. “They died. No one knows why or how. All of the feds helming the war, they vanished.”

Kenobi stroked his beard thoughtfully. “And what of General Grievous and Count Dooku?”

Beside him, Skywalker clenched his fists.

“Dooku?” Shaie eyed the dark-clad Jedi warily, then shook her head. “He died at some point during the war. Palpatine’s current apprentice is named Darth Tethun, but no one knows anything else about her.” Painful tension pressed against everyone within the ship’s belly as she elaborated, “Tethun is a shadow. She’s killed a lot of people.”

Skywalker looked troubled. “I’m glad to hear that he’s dead, but the fact that Palpatine has another apprentice is rather concerning.”

“I agree,” Kenobi chimed in. “But before anything else, we must reconnect with the Rebellion and the Jedi survivors.”

As they began to talk amongst themselves, Shaie sent out a silent transmission to Kynn Lons so that the others couldn’t eavesdrop. Didn’t find any weapons, but I did find some men for the Rebellion . She neglected to mention that they were Jedi and clones at all, let alone Jedi and clones from the past.

His response was swift. You misunderstand, Oppola. They are the weapons. Good work. She raised her eyebrows, but said nothing.

 

As they traveled through the blinding vortex of hyperspace, Shaie decided to set the freighter on autopilot and walked over to the clones. “For what it’s worth,” she told them, as they eyed her with apprehension. “You guys escaped the brainwashing effects that Order 66 employed. You’ve got the chips, I assume, but they haven’t been activated.” She cast them a meaningful look. “Still, I would get those removed.”

One of the clones put down the holopad he’d been staring so fixedly at for the entire journey. “If we were normal humans,” he observed. “Then we wouldn’t be much older than we are now during this time when you look at it chronologically. It could be worse.”

The clone next to him snorted. “Could also be a whole lot better,” he muttered, kicking his white and blue boot against the wall in frustration.

“Oh, come on, Fives,” a clone in orange-accented armor exclaimed. “Echo’s right. We need to be grateful that we were rescued so soon.”

Unlike the others, Rex stood stiffly by a viewing port. Shaie couldn’t read even a singular microexpression on his face. “What exactly happened?” the captain asked her. “To the clones, I mean?” He swallowed. “I always wondered what they would do with us after the war.”

“Well, the clones became stormtroopers, but it was eventually decided that they were too obsolete, so they’re being phased out of the army now. Reassigned to menial tasks, from what I’ve heard. The upkeep of the cloning facility was too expensive and not practical during so-called ‘peacetime’, so now they use regular armies.”

She looked at Rex, expecting him to be upset by this. Or perhaps just angered. His reaction, however, was only a sigh of relief, of all things. “I assumed that they would terminate us,” he said. “Like how they did with defective clones back on Kamino.” He spat out the word like it was a rotten hunk of meat. “This is better.”

Then the clone in orange-and-white armor muttered something bitter under his breath, though she couldn’t hear his words.

An uncomfortable silence filled the room in an almost smothering fashion. Kenobi watched them, arms crossed and eyes glittering. Shaie shifted on the balls of her feet.

This is insane, she thought to herself. This wasn’t the first time today she’d expressed that opinion, but upon true reflection, it was even more horrifying. Or was it a blessing? She didn’t know. The Hero Without Fear was alive, alive and ready to save the galaxy from a threat he didn’t truly understand.

And what of the Jedi? Shaie had no desire to involve herself with such internal affairs, but she couldn’t help but wonder how they would be received by the younger ex-Initiates. Especially the Skywalkers.

She smirked and tucked a strand of hot-pink hair behind her ear. Now that's gonna be one hell of a family reunion.

They talked for a while, all of them. Although Shaie was desperate to know just what was going through their minds, no one seemed to be in the mood to share their thoughts. So she kept them distracted with the dejarik board and idle small talk. Although the clones attempted to distract themselves, it was easy to see that they were apprehensive just by watching their body language. She didn’t blame them; in fact, she was shocked that they had reacted as well as they did, not that that was saying much. She attributed it to the psychological differences in the clones; they were designed to withstand stress, after all.

An hour and a half later, the freighter entered realspace. Shaie returned to the pilot’s chair and readied the stabilizers for atmospheric entrance. Black turned to a vibrant blue as they soared to the surface of Yavin IV.

The pyramid that was the Rebel base jutted out of the limestone ground, surrounded by jungle on all sides. The shipyard was not as busy as usual; hardly any pilots were milling about the landing zone. Good, she thought as the Seer touched the ground. The fewer people to see us, the better. It’ll make our lives easier.

“This is going to be interesting,” Kenobi remarked wryly, earning a look of disapproval from Ahsoka.

She crossed her arms as the platform began to lower. Her gait was hesitant but remarkably steady given the circumstances. The few Rebels in the shipyard paid her no attention as she exited the Seer. Ahsoka shielded her eyes from the sun as her gaze traced the entire vicinity. Shaie supposed that Ahsoka wasn’t as recognizable to the public as Kenobi or her master, so the Rebels merely saw a young Togruta woman exiting a freighter. That wasn’t exactly what one would consider a source of intrigue.

Skywalker and Kenobi were another story entirely. And though Shaie doubted many would know each clone by name, their presence would send the entire base into a frenzy.

Shaie stood up, squaring her shoulders. She extended her arm in an inviting fashion, making eye contact with Kenobi as she did so. “You first.” He dipped his head in acknowledgment and ducked out of the freighter, Skywalker and the other clones at his heels.

Well, she thought grimly. This day has been kriffing insane, but at least I’m getting paid ...

Chapter Text

Ahsoka squinted as a soft, yet potent beam of sunshine hit her face. There were ships here; starfighters, mostly, but also some freighters and shuttles. The Y-wing bombers she recognized, although they were in visibly poor conditions. There were also many fighters that were vaguely reminiscent of the ARC-170 model used by the clones.

While she stood with her feet planted to the ground, Shaie shouldered past her. The Zeltron spacer began to walk towards the antediluvian temple which loomed over them. Her gait slowed, however, as she craned her neck to look at them over her shoulder. “Stay here,” she told them. Beside Ahsoka, Anakin bristled at this order. Shaie continued, “I’m going to fetch someone from High Command.” With that, she began to jog until she’d disappeared into the open hangar inside the temple.

Obi-Wan took several paces forward, Rex and Cody at his side. Charger, Echo, and Longshot all remained adjacent to their superiors, but stayed close. Ahsoka wiped at her forehead with the back of her hand; the air was uncomfortably warm and wet. What didn’t help matters was that it also seemed heavier than the pressure she was used to. Not to a debilitating degree, but it was far from ideal.

She glanced at the others. None of them seemed to be uncomfortable in the slightest. Even the clones in full body armor looked not uncomfortable. Ahsoka muttered a silent curse as she remembered the cause of her sensitivity; the montrals. Her body temperature also ran several degrees hotter than the average human’s, so it didn’t take as much for her to get overheated. “Great,” she mumbled to herself with a sardonic eye roll. Stop being a baby, Ahsoka. You’ve faced much worse environments than this .

Her gaze flickered across the distant hangar as she tried to see inside. Although she saw lights and plenty of movement, it was too shadowed for her to make out any relevant details.

That is, until she did see something. Or rather, two somethings.

Ahsoka’s eyes widened as she saw Shaie approach. There was someone else with her now; a dark-skinned woman with thick hair tied in cornrows. She wore an oversized jacket and baggy camouflage pants with a matching chin-strap helmet and fingerless gloves. A blaster hung at her side. Ahsoka could not help but take notice of and admire her muscular, athletic figure. Then she blinked rapidly and pressed her palm against her forehead, squinting. Not. Now .

Heat flooded her face as she turned around to find Anakin giving her that look. The knowing one with the cocked eyebrow, one-sided grin, and gleaming eyes. All that was missing was a Mandalorian martini. She glared at him, but her indignation only amused him further. Giving up, Ahsoka turned around to find that the woman had begun to talk.

“I’m Captain Larte,” she announced, her dark, sleek face gleaming under the sun. Although her voice was neutral, Ahsoka felt Larte’s awe spike exponentially, just from looking at them. She showed nothing of this, however. “Oppola informed me of your situation. While I want to ask you what happened myself, High Command was adamant in that you would be brought directly to them.” She sighed, her next words almost forlorn. “Follow me.”

Shaie entered her freighter with a final, wordless nod to the others. The Jedi and clones followed Larte as she led them into the hangar, and through a corridor of some sort. Apparently, this sort of thing needed even more confidentiality than the briefing room could provide. Ahsoka didn’t understand why talking about it in a hallway would make things any better, but Larte assured them that it was a time-tested system.

They rounded a corner to find a certain esteemed Senator, waiting with his hands clasped behind his back.

“I’ll leave you to it,” Larte said, reluctantly exiting through the automated doorway

Ahsoka's face burned as Bail reacted to their sudden arrival. He stared at them, slack-jawed, although Ahsoka got the impression that he wasn’t actually seeing them. She couldn’t blame him. It was too crazy for even her to comprehend.

The Alderaanian Senator looked nearly identical to how Ahsoka had last seen him, save for the streaks of silver that now cut sharp paths through his hair. He wore a blue robe similar to his usual attire, but the cloth was faded and almost-damaged looking in some places. His gaze flitted from Anakin, to Ahsoka, to Rex, to Obi-Wan, to the other clones, and back again.

Obi-Wan stepped forward with a polite nod. “Senator Organa,” he said simply.

Bail, for perhaps the first time in his life, seemed to be at a complete and utter loss for words. As he processed this, an adolescent Ithorian female sauntered into the hall behind him. Clutching a holopad of some sort, she froze in place as she noticed who exactly was in the room.

At long last, he spoke. “By the Emperor’s black heart...” he breathed, eyes rounded. “How can this be?”

Obi-Wan replied, “We were in stasis when our ship crashed and had been so for nearly twenty years.” His eyes darkened. “It is quite good to see a familiar face.”

“I could say the same,” Bail said warily. He looked down at the Ithorian girl. “This is my adoptive daughter, Princess Sheri Organa.” Sheri bowed low without so much as a peep.

“Your Highness,” Ahsoka said in respectful acknowledgment.

Anakin came forward. “Senator Organa, do you know what happened to Senator Amidala?”

Obi-Wan glanced at his former student in an almost pitiful manner. Ahsoka braced herself for Bail’s response---or more specifically, Anakin’s reaction to it. Oh, no…

“The Senator--- Ex -Senator---is fine,” he told him. “She’s with the Rebels, but she’s currently off-world on a relief mission.” Anakin’s shoulders slumped in relief, and Ahsoka allowed herself to relax.

“You should know,” Bail warned, “A lot has happened since you went into carbon-sleep. Including some rather … momentous occurrences.”

“Would you care to elaborate on that?” Anakin asked, his tone almost inimical. When Bail hesitated, he scoffed. “Didn’t think so.”

“Don’t be rude!” Obi-Wan snapped, looking almost scandalized. “Have some respect for the man.”

Ahsoka stepped between them. “He’s stressed, Master Kenobi,” she defended him. “We all are. You can’t blame him for having an outburst under these circumstances.” Though she didn’t want to admit or even acknowledge it, Ahsoka felt a tension rising in her own gut. Sooner or later it would overwhelm everything else.

She decided not to think about it.

He simply gave her a meaningful look before clearing his throat. “Senator?”

Bail nodded. “Forgive me, General Skywalker, but I believe that such information should come from someone else.”

Anakin sighed, but accepted this with reluctance. “Alright.”

At the same time, Sheri tilted her hammer-esque head, eyeing him warily. The Princess remained mute, but Ahsoka could tell she knew something that Anakin didn’t, as did Senator Organa.

What are they hiding? Her eyes narrowed. I trust Senator Organa, but what’s with all the secrecy?

Before she could voice her concerns, three more individuals entered the room. Ahsoka instantly recognized Mon Mothma; the woman was still wearing her signature white dress. The other two, a female Twi’lek and a gruff human male, were unfamiliar. The human was dressed in more traditional military attire than the Senators, with bushy white hair and a crinkled face, while the Twi’lek wore a brown-and-gray flight suit.

The Twi’lek gasped at the sight of the Jedi and clones. “I received your report, Senator Organa,” she murmured in awe. “But I didn’t believe it.”

The man was much less expressive, but Ahsoka could feel shock and an odd sort of excitement radiating around him in the Force.

“You already know Senator Mothma,” Bail said with a nod. “Meet Generals Dodonna and Syndulla.” The officers gave the Jedi polite, almost formal nods, but it was evident that both of them wanted to fall over from surprise; the Twi’lek especially.

“Senator Organa informed us of what happened,” Syndulla said. “We would like to debrief each of you---individually.”

“Why individually?” Anakin asked with a frown; Ahsoka felt a flare of suspicion from his Force signature.

Syndulla raised her chin in an almost challenging gesture. “General Dodonna and I believe it would be best for us to look at each recollection separately, in case there are any missing pieces to your puzzle.”

“May I inquire as to where the clones will go?” Rex chimed in, unsure if he was allowed to interject.

Syndulla glanced at him, almost bemused. “Each and every one of you will be debriefed,” she told him furtively. “Every soldier matters in the Rebellion, and your company will be treated no differently.”

“Thank you, General,” Rex replied.

“I’m not your commanding officer, Captain … Rex, is it?” Syndulla said with a smile. “You aren’t bound to our service unless you make that choice for yourself.”

Rex blinked at her in disbelief. Several clones began to whisper amongst themselves.

“And what of the Jedi?” Ahsoka demanded.

This time, it was Dodonna who spoke. “Every known survivor of the Jedi Purge is here,” he explained. “There’s nowhere else to go. If the Empire found a rogue unaged clone, a simple medical screening would reveal what happened, and that it was beyond the clone’s control. They will not be so merciful to Jedi.”

“But then they would make the connection that it was a member of the Five-Oh-First Legion or Two-Hundred-And-Twelfth Attack Battalion that was frozen,” Echo pointed out. “Our armor is marked. It wouldn’t take long for the Empire to figure out that the Jedi placed in stasis could also be on the loose. Just our existence is dangerous.”

“That is a factor that we have considered,” Syndulla said, turning to face him. “However, you and your brothers were slaves and were conditioned to not know any better. We want to offer you a choice, highest priority.”

Cody’s eyes widened. “That is deeply appreciated, General, but there’s no need---”

“We’ll discuss this later!” Dodonna said sharply. “Kenobi, you’re the first individual I’d like to debrief.”

Obi-Wan, though surprised, kept his mouth shut and his response limited to a concise dip of the head.

“As for the rest of you,” Mon Mothma said, raising her voice. “It will be several hours before you will be settled into the base. In the meantime, I suggest you make yourselves known to the Jedi.”

Ahsoka and Anakin exchanged a wordless, apprehensive glance. “Who exactly are they?” he asked, echoing Ahsoka’s thoughts to the word.

Mothma glanced at him with an odd sort of apprehension. Ahsoka felt her master tense as he noticed this, but the look in her eyes vanished not a moment later as the politician turned to face him. “Former Initiates, mostly,” she replied, her words slow and measured. “A few Padawans. I doubt you would’ve met them. And Master Shaak Ti.”

Ahsoka inhaled sharply as shock flared through her. It was good to see that there was at least one council member who’d survived the Purge. As she processed this revelation, Cody brightened. “Our … chauffeur mentioned that the survivors had been saved by a Jedi Master. Was it her?”

“Sheri, please escort Obi-Wan to the briefing room,” Bail ordered his daughter. Hands clasped, she dipped her head in an almost submissive gesture and grabbed Obi-Wan by the wrist. The Jedi Master almost looked as if he wanted to laugh at the gesture. He threw his companions an apologetic look as he rounded a corner and vanished.

Bail turned to Cody and nodded in the affirmative. “She was guarding the Temple when Order Sixty-Six was enacted. She was able to lead a small group of younglings to safety through a secret exit. She went back for the other Initiates, but they had died in her absence. Only a few Padawans survived to that point.”

Anakin’s eyes misted. “I still can’t believe it,” he lamented. “A thousand years of prosperity, just torn apart in days?” He shook his head. “I’m not calling you liars, but…”

“We lived through it,” Syndulla said, crossing her arms over her midriff. “All of us. And yet I doubt any of us have truly comprehended what happened.”

Rex looked troubled. “And a chip made the clones do this?” He sounded as if he didn’t want to believe it; Ahsoka didn’t blame him one bit.

Dodonna nodded. “A clone trooper---from the Five-Oh-First, actually---lost his mind and murdered General Tiplar on Ringo Vinda. The clone was terminated in the facility on Kamino, and that was the last we heard of it.” His face darkened. “That is, until a second clone grew suspicious when he saw that the medical records had been deleted. CT-6116 investigated and brought medical evidence of the chip’s capacity to override free will. He tried to organize a mass surgery for the GAR, but it was impossible for millions of clones to be given such a treatment.”

“Once there was enough evidence, the Jedi managed to arrest the Chancellor, although he hadn’t yet revealed himself to be Sith. He was tried before the Senate and was impeached. Later he arranged for the deaths of his political opponents from behind bars, and eventually escaped with a trail of dead Jedi left in his wake. No one dared to oppose him after that.”

The ground seemed to sway underneath Ahsoka’s feet. Her breath started to tremble. No doubt sensing her fear, Anakin placed a gentle hand on her shoulder in a vain effort to calm her down. Which only further served to intensify her emotions, as he was not exactly subtle in hiding his own turmoil from her.

“Where are the Jedi?” Anakin asked. “I’d like to meet them.”

“Yes, yes…” Mothma murmured, more to herself. “Many of them are away on missions, but you’ll find the majority of the Jedi in the lowest level. That is where they train.” She pointed to a staircase down the hall. Anakin and Ahsoka locked gazes, words unspoken passing between them as they decided how to proceed.

“Thank you, Senator,” Ahsoka said, adjusting her akul-tooth headdress as they walked towards the staircase. They’d only made it down one flight before Anakin was grabbing her by the wrist.

“Oh, Snips…” he said, grief swimming in his hollow blue eyes. Ahsoka, one stair below him, looked up and around. His voice was rueful as he continued, “What are we going to do?”

Ahsoka could only look at him with the blankest of expressions, her lower lip beginning to quiver. It disturbed her, that the mentor was looking to the student for such advice. It was a question that could not be answered.

Wordlessly, she did the only thing she could do; she hugged him as tightly as possible.

And he did the same. Unfortunately, he was twice the size of Ahsoka, so the sudden crushing feeling in her chest all but knocked the wind out of her. She let out an inadvertent squeak as he smothered her in his warm embrace. A flare of mild embarrassment was indicative of his realization that she couldn’t breathe; he relaxed his arms and took a single step back.

Ahsoka studied his face and saw that it was shiny with tears. It was a silent sort of weep; no audible sobbing, just him silently drowning in his own woes. She, on the other hand, did not have that sort of composure, not that it truly was composure to begin with. Ahsoka’s breaths came fast and shallow as she started to cry harder. Fear and grief had joined in a violent maelstrom, wreaking havoc on her mind and body alike.

“I want to go back,” she cried, burying her face into his embrace; his sleeves were speckled with teardrops---her own. “I just want to…” Her voice cracked as her eyes grew evermore rheumy, stinging against the dense atmosphere. “I just want to go home!”

“I know, I know,” he soothed. If she hadn’t been so distracted, Ahsoka would’ve felt guilty at his response. She could sense his distress through their mental bond; he was in no state to comfort her about this. But she had no strength, nor the will to protest.

Images clouded her vision. Master Yoda, teaching her and a dozen other children. Plo Koon, repeatedly checking up on her like a concerned parent. Constructing her first lightsaber, which bathed the entire room in mesmerizing green light. Beaming with pride as a strand of beads was tied to her headdress. Anakin, sitting on an emerald ledge, looking at her with a warm, no-longer-resigned acceptance as her mouth curled into a delighted grin. Barriss laughing as she saw just how exactly Ahsoka preferred to hold a fork. Rolling her eyes at Anakin’s petty squabble with Obi-Wan on Felucia. The strikingly beautiful face of that Separatist boy, Lux Bonteri. The familiarity of the Temple.

All of that had been lost. She’d fallen asleep and the universe had gone to hell. Ahsoka ducked her head in an attempt to gather herself, but it was no use while she was this high-strung. She continued to cry like a small child. Embarrassment flooded through her; for Force’s sake, she was a Jedi, not some toddler. Ahsoka closed her eyes and tried to compartmentalize her feelings, push them aside as a real Jedi would, but it only deepened the hollowness gnawing at her belly.

No doubt sensing her indignation, Anakin squeezed her shoulder with his fleshy hand. “It’s okay,” he reassured her, although it was rather obvious that he did not believe himself. “Our entire world was torn out from under our feet. You must let yourself grieve, or you won’t heal.”

She sniffled. “I just feel so helpless.”

“Remember, little one, we are but pawns of the Force,” Anakin quipped bleakly. Ahsoka’s cries faltered as she recognized the quote; Jocasta Nu had said that to every youngling in the Temple, at one point or another. The beginnings of humor this brought cleared her mind, if only marginally.

Although he’d said it in jest, Ahsoka realized that this was likely the truth. “Wait...:” Her mind began to spin. “Maybe this wasn’t an accident. Maybe we have a purpose here.” Their eyes met. “A mission.”

“Doubtful,” Anakin replied. “Remember, this happened due to the mistakes of the droids, and they have no connection to the Force at all. Every living being does to a degree, but not droids. So I’d be surprised if the Force had any control over their actions.”

“Oh,” she said simply. They stood in silence for a heartbeat.

Anakin touched her forearm in a comforting gesture. “Maybe meeting the other Jedi will cheer you up,” he suggested. Her throat raw from crying, she could only nod and continue to walk down the stairway. Ahsoka opened her mouth to respond, then froze as voices began to echo underneath them. “What is it?” he asked in concern.

“You don’t hear that?” she whispered, before remembering that Togrutas were much more sensitive to noise than humans. He did seem to react a few seconds later.

“...so, as I was saying,” a male voice prattled excitedly. “Once I was angsting about how much I wanted company. I went to bed, and then I woke up with a Loth-cat on my chest! I don’t even know how it got in!”

A female voice replied in turn, rife with disgust. Ahsoka had to stifle a giggle as she and Anakin smirked to one another. “So, you were perfectly fine with a wild tooka just sauntering into your bed? They’re cute and all, but still .”

A third, deeper voice chimed in, “Well, Ezra has always been an animal lover, and animals have always loved him.”

“See!” the first voice boasted, getting louder as the trio climbed up the stairs. “I told you so.”

A young human male rounded the corner, and lost his footing at the sight of Ahsoka. The man caught and rebalanced him; if not for her presence, Ahsoka was sure the orange-clad male would’ve received a reprimand for that literal slip up, judging by the glare on his friend’s face. The boy looked to be barely out of his teens, with dark, close-cropped hair and tanned skin. His azure eyes were wild as he looked her up and down. His gaze went to the lightsabers at her sides.

“New Jedi?” he asked warily.

Ahsoka frowned, puzzled at the lack of recognition. While Ahsoka mostly managed to avoid the press, the same could not be said for her master. Every sentient being in the galaxy knew of The Hero Without Fear; everyone knew his face and name. So why was this person so fixated on her?

She attributed it to her lurid coloring; it did tend to catch the eye.

The other two’s gazes, however, had slid past her shoulder and to where Anakin stood. A tension filled the small stairwell as Ahsoka was forced to sense their rather … intense reactions.

The other Jedi stared, slack-jawed.

“What the kriff is this?” the woman demanded, placing a hand on her hips. Ahsoka looked at her and did a double take.

The woman was clearly older than Ahsoka, though not by much. She was dressed in a sleeveless white jumpsuit with gauntlets of the same color. A silver lightsaber hilt was joined to her utility belt, which was also white. Her hair, sleek and dark, seemed to shine even in the shadow of the staircase. It hung loose around her shoulders in waves, restrained only by an elegant silver headdress laden with sapphires.

Ahsoka frowned. Although the woman’s facial features seemed to conjure a vague sense of déjà vu, it was the headdress that struck her as oddly familiar.

She’d seen it before, although she couldn’t remember the circumstances.

She barely paid attention to the man in green beside her. She looked at Anakin and realized that the same thoughts were running through his head.

“Who are you?” he asked all of them.

The younger man gestured. “I’m Ezra Bridger. This is Kanan Jarrus. And this, uh…” His speech faltered in a rather indescrite manner. The woman glared at him. “This is Leia,” he finished awkwardly.

Silence filled the spaces between them.

“Um,” Ahsoka suggested, her voice faint. “Maybe we should talk somewhere with more room.”

Kanan nodded. Although his face was stoic, his hands shook rather violently. “This way,” he said, shouldering past Anakin. Their mismatched group followed him as he exited on a different level, still below the ground. In the hallway, they had could actually talk.

“Okay, first of all, what in Malachor is happening?” Ezra exclaimed. “You guys died, like, fifty years ago.”

“Twenty years ago,” Kanan corrected sharply, elbowing him in a way that indicated that there was a sense of familiarity between the two. “Give or take.”

“Yeah, well, it turns out that we were in stasis the whole time. Things went a teensy bit south during our mission to the Citadel,” Ahsoka said, her voice a little too wry and sardonic for her liking; she’d been spending too much time around Obi-Wan.

“Oh.” Kanan frowned.

She sensed a rush of suspicion nearby, turbulent in Anakin’s mind, although he didn’t let this drip into his voice. “Where did you get that headpiece?” he asked Leia.

Her eyes widened for a fraction of a second as panic briefly flitted across her face, although the woman’s Force signature did not indicate anything of the sort. But her expression was quickly smoothed over into a neutral stare. A politician’s stoicism.

Her jaw tightened. “It was a gift,” she said, in a tone that did not invite further questioning.

Anakin was not deterred. “From?”

Leia averted her gaze, her confident facade wavering. “It’s personal business.”

“It’s personal for me, too,” Anakin snapped. “Because that belongs to my wife.”

Ahsoka flinched. While she was fully aware of his relationship with Padmé---she doubted there was anyone who wasn’t at least somewhat privy at this point---the fact that he was suddenly being so blunt about it was disconcerting.

What was even more disconcerting was how none of the others reacted in the slightest to what should’ve been a bombshell.

And what if he was wrong? Then he’d have harassed this poor woman over a stupid misunderstanding. “Master,” Ahsoka hissed. “You’re probably mistaken---“

He cut her off. “No. I gave Padmé that headpiece. Got it custom made for Life Day last year.” He shot an accusatory look at Leia. “So how exactly did you get it?”

Ezra winced.

Leia remained silent, pondering her words. When she did speak, her voice shook violently. “She gave it to me.”

Gave it to you?” His voice was incredulous. Suddenly Ahsoka felt an urge to flee the conversation and never look back. Something was coming, she realized. A sentence would soon be uttered and change their lives, just like that. The predicament frightened her, but it showed her it was imperative that she stayed.

“Leia---” Erza began, but the brunette cut him off with a look. He gulped and looked to Kanan for reassurance. Unfortunately, Kanan was too preoccupied with the conversation at hand to notice his silent plea.

She removed her headpiece and examined it, running her fingertips over the smooth, prism-esque shape of each jewel. The silver frame shone in the artificial light as she shifted its angle.

Ahsoka tensed up milliseconds before Leia had even opened her mouth. This was it, her instincts screamed at her. This was the moment that would change everything.

Leia’s brown eyes swam with a new kind of emotion as her gaze traced the intricacies of the headpiece. “She always spoke very highly of you,” she said to him, her head still bowed. “I grew up hearing stories of how you were this amazing hero. From the way she talks, one would think that you were invincible.” Her voice became dour. “But you weren’t. You died .” Ahsoka was surprised to see that Leia’s cheeks were flushed and shiny with tears. Every part of her seemed to quiver. She lamented, “And you don’t even know who I am.”

Anakin stared at her blankly, as if his sole brain cell had fallen asleep on the job. “Uh, should I know you?” he said in bewilderment. He and Ahsoka exchanged yet another glance. He raised his eyebrows at her, confusion broiling within him. She almost wanted to laugh. Once again, he was looking to her for answers; she heard the echoes of his many questions as she extended their bond. Which, of course, she could not answer.

All in all, it was rather absurd.

Leia shook her head. “It was a naive hope.” To Ahsoka’s surprise, she handed the headdress to him. He took from her with shaking hands and a baffled expression.

Before she could say anything else, however, Kanan grabbed Ezra by the wrist and led him back to the staircase. Ezra tried to protest, but ceased when he saw the seriousness on his face. They began to speak when they were out of the others’ hearing range. Not Ahsoka’s, though.

“Why can’t I stay?” Ezra was demanding.

Kanan’s voice was faint, but the words still rung clear in her mind. “It’s between them. We shouldn’t get invol….”

Uh oh. That could only mean trouble. Her heartbeat seemed to rise at an exponential rate.

She refocused her gaze on Leia as the woman started to speak to her master. “Padmé was devastated after you died, but you left someone else behind.” She let out a tremulous breath. “Me and my brother.”

Anakin only stared at her blankly; either he couldn’t, or perhaps just wouldn’t process this. Ahsoka could hardly wrap her head around it herself. Is she saying what I think she’s saying? No. That was too insane. She didn’t mean it that way. She couldn’t.

“But … I don’t even know you.”

If she hadn’t been so shocked, Ahsoka would’ve facepalmed at his cluelessness. But she couldn’t exactly blame him for it, for once.

Leia’s shoulders slumped in disappointment at his lack of response. Her irritation was written all over her visage. “Fine!” she exclaimed, throwing her hands up in exasperation. “I’ll spell it out for you. I’m your daughter.”

What?!

Anakin looked as if he were about to pass out. “But I never had a…” He trailed off as he had an apparent epiphany. “Oh my stars…”

At the same time, disbelief flared through Ahsoka, no doubt mixing with his. An inadvertent cry escaped her lips. “That’s impossible!”

“But---“ he sputtered, tongue-tied. His eyes grew misty with a new kind of emotion. “She… she never even said anything.”

“She didn’t know.” Leia wrung her hands together with a small wince. “When you … um, left , I mean.”

Ahsoka and Anakin exchanged yet another look; a thousand unspeakable thoughts passed between them. Tentatively, she reached out to him in the Force to send him comfort, but instead she was inundated by his own worries.

She acquiesced and relented, attempting to untangle his thoughts from her own. It was no use. Now everything that he felt weighed down on her psyche, in addition to her own distress. It had already been too much to handle. Now, Ahsoka felt utterly incapacitated.

Fear. Disbelief. Sorrow. Elation. Denial. Shock. Borderline hysteria.

It was all too much.

Her hands went to the tips of her montrals, which seemed to ring from all of the stimulation. Of course, she couldn’t cover them as a human covered their ears. The violence of this newfound cacophony reverberated painfully within her hollow montrals.  The noise wasn’t even external, but it hurt like it was. The backlash and shock careening through her seemed to reach out and penetrate the fog surrounding his mind, and he shared with her some warmer, more comforting thoughts.

But he couldn’t hold back his other emotions.

Leia stood in Ahsoka’s peripheral, muscles clenched, her face wrought with tension. No doubt she could sense the disruption around them within the Force. Hell, it seemed strong enough to resonate with every organic being ever, despite the impossibility of such an occurrence.

Anakin’s lower lip quivered as he struggled to enunciate what he was thinking. He stared at Leia, stupefied at her revelation. Ahsoka placed her small hand on his shoulder, standing on her toes to do so.

He let out a tremulous exhale. “Are … are you really my daughter?” he asked in awe.

Leia swallowed back some painful emotion and nodded. “Yes,” she choked out, barely coherent.

“So you’re a Jedi?”

She winced. “Sort of? I train like anyone else, but I prefer more, um, secular methods in life. I prefer to blast my problems, not hack them. Also, Master Ti once told me that I would never have made it far in my apprenticeship, had my training been normal. I’m too angry. Too passionate, brash, whatever.” To Ahsoka’s surprise, Leia seemed awfully indifferent about this criticism. Her statement was matter-of-fact. “And she’s not wrong.” She smirked, a little too proud of herself. “We all drive her crazy, though.”

“I think you got that from me.” He chuckled, studying his daughter’s face, absorbing every minutiae detail about her. “You mentioned a brother.”

For the first time in this conversation, Leia seemed to be happy for a fleeting moment. But it vanished in a heartbeat. “Luke. We’re twins.” Her gaze became unfocused as she reminisced. “He takes after Mother.”

His face broke into the largest grin Ahsoka had ever seen. He let out a nervous laugh, and his joy stirred the Force around them. Ahsoka smiled to herself. Now that she’d somewhat gotten over the initial shock, she couldn’t help but feel a rush of happiness for him. This was a special moment, after all.

“How is she?” he murmured. His eyes would not leave her face.

Leia tilted her head. “Honestly? Not horrible. That’s considered terrific around here.”

Ahsoka crossed her arms at her remark. These Rebels didn’t exactly have the highest of standards, not that she could afford to be picky either. It was just unfortunate.

His eyes all but glowing, Anakin handed the headdress back to Leia. She took it from him greatly, but said nothing, too overcome to even thank him. Her gratitude, however, needed no explanation, although Ahsoka felt that it had less to do with the crown and more to do with his return.

“What was your childhood like?” Anakin asked, his smile fading as a shiver crept up Ahsoka’s spine; his worry had spiked contagiously. “Before the Jedi fell.”

Leia tucked her hair behind the headdress and swallowed, staring at her boots as if they were the most fascinating things in the galaxy. “I---we were taken from Mother at birth and raised in the creche of the Jedi temple. I was barely three when Order Sixty-Six occured. Master Ti grabbed me and Luke and rushed us through a secret exit. Luke doesn’t remember much of it, but it’s my most potent memory.” She shuddered.

Ahsoka tried to send warm emotions to Anakin as anger flared within him. He was more than justified, but dwelling on the past would do him no good. She felt him relax, albeit marginally.

“We hid out on Felucia for a year,” she continued. “Then Mother’s defiance against the Empire went public and she was forced into hiding; she thought we were dead at the time. Master Ti decided we would be safer with her now, so she contacted the Rebels, who contacted Mother.” Her lips curled into a wistful smile. “She always says that our reunion was the happiest day of her life, even including our birth.”

“Wow, that’s…” Anakin blinked, stunned. Then he let out a shaky breath. “Leia,” he murmured. “I’m so sorry.”

“What for?” Leia almost looked as if she wanted to laugh; Ahsoka attributed that to nerves. “It wasn’t your fault at all.”

“I’m not so sure of that,” he replied darkly, his mechanical fist clenched at his side. Then he changed the subject. “Tell me about Luke,” he said. “What’s he like?”

“As I said, he takes after Mother.” Leia shook her head and smiled to herself, memories only she knew swimming in her gaze. “He’s Master Ti’s poster boy. He’s calm, compassionate, peaceful, and idealistic. Unlike me. He has more experience with the Force than me as well, although he also has his own gripes with the old Code.”

Ahsoka tried to picture Luke in her mind, but she could only speculate as to how much he resembled his father. Perhaps they at least looked the same, because going by Leia’s description, Luke sounded nothing like Anakin aside from being ultra Force-sensitive. If anything, Leia was much more similar to him. It had only been a few minutes, but already Ahsoka had the impression that this was a woman not to be trifled with.

“Where is he?” she and Anakin asked at the same time. He snorted with laughter at the coincidental timing.

Leia tried to hide her own smile, but her feelings were not so easily concealed. “At the moment? No idea, but my best guess is that he’s hanging out with his squadmates or Chewbacca or that insufferable man called Solo---”

Ahsoka held up her hand in a signal that halted her speech. “Who is that guy?” 

Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment---and something else. “Just a nerf-herding smuggler who tagged along with us for some coin.”

“If you say so.” Anakin raised his eyebrow at Ahsoka, who promptly burst into giggles. Leia glared at the two of them but said nothing.

“Here,” she interjected, unclipping her lightsaber from her utility belt. She handed it to her father, who studied the intricacies of the hilt with intensity. He ignited it, prompting the emission of a blue plasma blade not dissimilar to his own.

“What form do you use for combat?”

“There aren’t really any that fit my style, but---”

“Just try to tell me, I’ll see if I can give you some pointers…”

Ahsoka listened to the two of them rambling to one another. She felt a true sense of happiness for the first time in a very long time, just from watching them. They became so wrapped up in their almost sickeningly heartwarming interaction that they did not take notice when Ahsoka quietly left to descend the stairs. There are other Jedi here , she reminded herself. Not just Anakin’s demon spawn. Her jaw tightened, as did her resolve. They are all my responsibility .

Chapter Text

Obi-Wan had seen plenty of crazy over the span of his career. But never had he bore witness to anything like this.

He fought and killed a Sith Lord, the likes of whom had been extinct for over millennia. Or so it had been thought.

His apprentice was the Chosen One himself.

One of his nemeses was a Dathomirian witch.

And who could forget the lovely experience that was Mortis?

Obi-Wan shuddered as a snap of cold seemed to strike his gut, despite the stuffy air. His most recent mission in particular disturbed him a great deal, the more that he thought about it in regards to their current situation. He, Anakin, and Ahsoka had spent several days on Mortis, wreaking all kinds of havoc on the universe at large. The chaos had been incomprehensible. But at the end of it all, everyone else had perceived the passage of time as mere moments. Obi-Wan tried to think. The Force could warp one’s perception of reality, as well as reality itself if Mortis had been any indication. Was that the reason for this catastrophe? Obi-Wan understood that such insane, improbable occurrences were usually willed by the Force, but even that seemed like too much of a stretch. Why would the Force protect them from their own forces? It made no sense.

It was too insane to think about. They’d been unconscious for mere moments, but the consequences of their actions did not linger in the realm of dreams. This was evident enough in the subtle shift of the Force.

Perhaps this was something similar? Maybe instead of changing their perception of time, the Force had manipulated time itself. Obi-Wan had been told stories of a realm outside spacetime as a child. It was fictitious, but he knew better than anyone that there was always a bit of truth in legends.

The why of this theory eluded him, however.

As Bail Organa began to organize his files, Obi-Wan continued to ponder over this.

Anakin and Ahsoka didn’t have the full story of what had really transpired, nor any recollection of it. Obi-Wan, however, remembered everything with horrifying, nightmarish clarity.

The Daughter, clinging to her father as the dagger in her back drained her very life force.

A flash of red lightning, followed by a burning heat as he slammed into the ash-covered bank of the lava pool.

Qui-Gon’s gentle, yet unyielding gaze as Obi-Wan lamented his apprentice’s imperfections.

Ahsoka, limp and lifeless in Anakin’s arms, her cheeks a faded brown as her blood flow ceased.

Anakin, with a baleful glare of gold, growling to Obi-Wan about his newfound need to change the future.

The Father and the Son, embracing as a blue blade stabbed through both of them.

All of it seemed too mad to think about, even by itself. And in conjunction with this new development … well, Obi-Wan wasn’t quite sure how to process this. He sat now with his shoulders slumped and his forehead buried in the fold of his palm. He sensed Anakin and Ahsoka’s distress spike sharply and tensed with worry. Looking deeper, he saw that their feelings echoed in unison, and in a rather turbulent unison at that. Obi-Wan wanted to see what was happening, but he knew that this debriefing was paramount.

Bail rose to his feet and shut off a holoprojector. The green lighting of the room cast a sickly glow across both of their faces, making the shadowy creases of their visages even more apparent than usual.

“Please, sit down.” Bail gestured with one hand.

Obi-Wan wasted no time in taking a seat. “We were meant to go to the Citadel to rescue Jedi Master Even Piell from custody. My apprentice had the brilliant idea to carbon-freeze our entire team. That was the easiest way to fool the lifeform scanners. Presumably, we were taken adjacent to the Citadel and crash-landed.”

“Do you have any theories as to why you weren’t found sooner by either side?”

He stroked his beard, pensive. “No, I don’t.” This much was true. “Even if our transponder was destroyed, it would’ve been easy for someone to find us. It seems absurd that the Separatists did not uncover us sooner, even if a rescue mission was deemed too dangerous by the Jedi.”

“Do you know how the ship was taken down?”

He could only shake his head. “If it were Separatists, they’d have tracked us down. And Artoo was managing the reprogrammed battle droids, so I can only guess.”

“Perhaps he will provide answers,” Bail offered. “I sent him to our best mechanics, and hopefully they can recover his memories.”

“What about the GAR?” Obi-Wan inquired. “Did they send out any search parties, to your knowledge?”

“Yes.” His tone was tight. “Palpatine was most insistent that your crew be recovered. Not a single search party was able to find you, even while at the exact same coordinates.”

“They died?”

“That’s the peculiar part. None of them died, but not a single searcher remembered what they saw.” Bail sighed gravely.

Definitely a trick from the Force, then. What else could explain such an odd combination of circumstances? Obi-Wan wondered if they should perhaps go back to investigate the anomaly, but quickly decided against it. Who knew what kind of insanity they’d encounter at the crash site?

A holopad door panel lit up with a cheerful beat. Seeing Obi-Wan’s startled expression, Bail explained, “I called some of the Jedi here. They are eager to see you.”

He pressed a button on his own holopad and the door slid open with a hiss. A tall, red-skinned Togruta woman swept into the room, her brown robes billowing from the movement. She looked no different than how Obi-Wan had last seen her; barely even aged. Her curved montrals were adorned with worn gold-and-silver jewelry.

Despite Shaak Ti’s well-known impervious stoicism, she smiled. “Master Kenobi,” she greeted him, beaming. “I heard the news.” Her eyes twinkled. “It’s good to have you back.” She placed a hand on his shoulder in a gesture of respect. “I take it Knight Skywalker and Padawan Tano survived?”

Before he could affirm this truth, Bail interrupted, “I beg your pardon, Master Ti, but where are the students you were bringing?” At Obi-Wan’s questioning look, he clarified, “I told Master Ti to bring her most trusted students to hear this news.”

Shaak cocked her head, perplexed. Her smile faded. “I was told over the comm that I was to come alone.”

“My messenger must have miscommunicated,” Bail said, traces of annoyance present in the sunken lines of his face. “It’s no matter. I can get them now.”

“Please,” she said gratefully. “Summon only young Luke. I wish for Master Kenobi to meet him before things go awry.” She bit her lip, her neck almost imperceptibly bowed. There was an uncharacteristic graveness to her face and posture. Her expression revealed no trace of further emotion apart from this. “My students have not yet been informed of your return. How do you believe we should go about it?”

Obi-Wan frowned in perplexion. “Why not just tell them?”

“There are some who will react … strongly.”

He wanted to ask precisely what she meant by this, but she continued to talk over his thoughts, “Many things have changed in the last fifteen years, Master Kenobi.”

“Such as?”

Disapproval flitted across Shaak’s face for a heartbeat before vanishing. “Our principles have not changed, but our adherence to them has become more … lenient.”

Obi-Wan frowned; this was the last person he’d expect to deliver such news. “What do you mean?” he inquired.

He sensed a spike of immense discomfort within her, although she hid it well. “We fell, in part, because of our own arrogance,” she told him. “Most of this arrogance was prompted by our perceived superiority; that we were above feeling emotion and attachment like any other sentient being did.” Her voice was bitter. “But I have since learned that line of thought was an illusion. Emotions cannot be rendered null at will by the best of us.”

Obi-Wan tried and failed to form a reply. What could he possibly say to this? That it was for the best? That flew in the face of everything he’d known. But she was right; he knew that in his heart.

“I don’t mean to interrupt,” Bail interjected; Obi-Wan tensed at the new voice, having forgotten that he was even in the room. “But I just received a dire message.” He stood up, a palm against the sleek holo-display. Shaak seemed to hold her breath as he informed them, “Skywalker and Tano were seen by some Jedi.”

Obi-Wan raised his eyebrows. He did not know why this was so urgent; if he’d remembered correctly, Bail had sent Anakin and Ahsoka to meet the other Jedi, so why was this of any relevance?

Shaak, however, seemed to pick up something that he couldn’t. “The Jedi reported this?” she asked.

He nodded. “Their meeting was accidental and brief, but it scared the hell out of Bridger and Jarrus, judging by the report.”

Obi-Wan frowned. “Who?”

“Ezra Bridger and Kanan Jarrus,” Shaak murmured, her fingers tracing one of her montrals.

He decided that this detail was not relevant and pushed it aside. “And now the whole base knows?”

“I”m afraid so.” Shaak crossed her arms pensively; it was at this moment that Obi-Wan realized just how ragged her clothing was; she hid it well with her elegant poise and demeanor, he supposed. “Or, they will.”

Bail sighed in defeat as the locked entrance was overridden with an emergency code. A dark-haired woman burst into the room, panting. She cast an embarrassed look at the Jedi, her eyes widening as she recognized Obi-Wan Kenobi. Then she cleared her throat and refocused on Bail.

“Senator,” she began, sweating. “I’m sorry to burst in on a confidential meeting. Bridger told me and my crew what happened, but … you already know, don’t know?” Her gaze flickered back to Obi-Wan, surprisingly analytical given the bizarre situation. “Yes,” Bail responded. “Thank you, Lieutenant. If you can, find Padawan Luke and tell him to come here.”

Shaak looked at the other woman with an almost judgemental stare. Obi-Wan knew that this was her way of expressing frustration, but it was peculiar and almost cringe-worthy to bear witness to all the same. For all the Jedi spoke of conquering their emotions, they didn’t know how to express what slipped through the cracks. This was evident enough in Shaak’s demeanor, even after all this time.

The lieutenant stammered, “M-Master Jedi.”

“That will be all,” Bail told her, gently but firmly. He gave her a convivial smile, no doubt to put her at ease. “Tell Kes that I send my regards.”

The woman, overwhelmed, opened her mouth to protest, but thought better of it. Without another word, she rushed out of the briefing room.

Bail dipped his head apologetically. “I apologize for cutting the debriefing short, but our time is limited. I will interview the clone Commander Cody next.” Shaak acknowledged this with a tight, yet grim smile.

Obi-Wan searched for Anakin within the Force, and saw that he was practicing his lightsaber technique. This was strange; even given the blatantly inappropriate timing of this exercise, the movements of his limbs indicated that he was practicing a very rudimentary lightsaber form; Shii-Cho, if he had to guess. Shii-Cho was the form taught to all younglings before they even had lightsabers to call their own. It was a form with no real advantages, one highly unrecommended by the Jedi Order. So why was Anakin going through those movements, of all things?

He looked deeper and saw that Anakin was conversing with a female Jedi. Her Force aura was overwhelming even at this distance, barely restrained or controlled. He was demonstrating the parries and strikes of Shii-Cho while the woman watched intently.

Obi-Wan was pulled back into the briefing room as a young man with sandy-blond hair and a white tunic entered the room. He clutched a metallic, cylindrical object in his hands. “You called me here, Master? Senator?”

Shaak smiled warmly at the newcomer. “Yes, please. Luke, come in.” She gestured for him to sit down, and he obliged. The man---still a boy, really---noticed Obi-Wan and inhaled sharply. Obi-Wan sat with his hands clasped over his lap, unsure of how one proceeded from this kind of introduction.

“You…” His hand flew to cover his mouth, his next words muffled by his fingers. “You’re Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

“That I am.”

He trembled as the color drained out of his face. The Force stimmed around him. “Master Ti, how is this possible?”

Shaak raised a hand to pause his inquiries, and he relented. Her words deliberate and calculated, she explained, “Some Jedi and clones thought to be dead were found in stasis.”

“So, that means that---”

She cut him off. “Yes.” Her answer was terse.

Luke gaped in awe, flabbergasted; his jaw was almost comically slack. “I don’t understand.”

Obi-Wan studied the man; the familiar brightness dancing within his crystalline eyes, the curve of his nose, the radiance of his Force signature, the golden glint of his hair. It was all a little too familiar for his liking. Even the soft earnestness this boy radiated reminded him of a certain nine-year-old farmboy from Tatooine.

But Obi-Wan refused to consider that as a possibility. The mere idea was too preposterous even for someone as blatantly flippant as Anakin.

No doubt picking up on his thoughts, Shaak threw him an almost apologetic glance. His fingers clenched a fistful of fabric with unease. Luke looked from her to Obi-Wan with round eyes, vaguely alarmed. He said nothing, however.

“This boy,” she said at long last, her words measured and trepidatious. “Is the child of Anakin Skywalker.”

Silence thickened the air as tension wove itself between them. Obi-Wan wasn’t sure whether he wanted to laugh or shout or both. Of kriffing course his apprentice would be the one with an illicit child. He wanted to be angry, he knew he should be---Anakin had broken the Code, after all---but his loyalty to his student held some of his outrage at bay.

He turned back to Luke, who had begun to fidget with the wires of a matte gray droid head of some sort; Obi-Wan didn’t recognize the model, nor the insignia embellished upon it. This eliminated any semblance of doubt in his mind. Luke wasn’t the only Skywalker who enjoyed tinkering when stressed.

“I presume Padme Amidala is your mother?” Obi-Wan inquired.

Luke looked at his shoes and nodded.

He sighed in frustration, wringing his hands. “I’m going to have a serious talk with Anakin,” he muttered. Although he was only talking to himself, he caught a flash of dismay in Luke’s eyes. He decided to soften his approach. “It’s nice to meet you, Luke.”

“Y-You too,” he stammered. Embarrassed, he elaborated, “I’ve always wanted to meet you. And Father.”

Obi-Wan, despite his initial annoyance at Anakin’s rash decision-making skills (or lack thereof), could not help but be drawn to Luke’s genuinity. The boy, unlike his father, had at least some control over his emotions. He was softer as well; his face was rounder, his stature less impressive, and there just seemed to be a sort of brightness about him.

I can’t take my frustration out on Luke , he thought. Not only would that be unreasonable, but Obi-Wan could tell that the boy had a wide-eyed quality to him that was just too endearing to damper.

He turned to Shaak, who stood with her hands clasped together at her navel. The white undersides of her palms were faintly visible. “Master Ti,” he said. “Forgive me, but what exactly is the current policy on celibacy?”

Shaak frowned, her eyebrow-esque markings furrowed in contemplation. “While I believe in preserving our traditions, I’m no fool. I understand that the Jedi’s refusal to be human was a factor in our corruption.” She let out a breathy sigh. “So long as it does not cause danger, there is little for me to do.”

No doubt sensing Obi-Wan’s worry, she said, “And there are other parents in our ranks.”

He considered this, faintly surprised. Then he processed what else she’d said. “Corruption?” he repeated incredulously.

Her gaze was heavy. “As I said, we were blind to the rising darkness. By the time we saw what was happening, it was too late. I don’t intend to make that mistake again.” At his dubious expression, she added, “It’s not encouraged, but love is simply something that cannot be repressed.”

This was a steep departure from the Shaak Ti he had known. Obi-Wan took a moment to reflect on this before addressing Luke, “Is there anyone else I should know about?”

Luke’s lips pressed together in a fine line. “I also have a sister named Leia.”

Two children?! Obi-Wan shouted internally. How was that even possible, from a chronological perspective? It wasn’t. Anakin must have been really busy these past few years. Padme had not been pregnant, however, at the start of the war. Perhaps she’d been using a surrogate; it was what many politicians choose to do in order to preserve their careers.

Sensing his doubts, Luke told him, “We’re twins.”

Obi-Wan allowed himself an iota of relaxation, although he knew it was absurd. His loyalty to his friend overruled his better judgment, much to his chagrin, but only just. Anakin was still going to be on the receiving end of a very long lecture tonight.

 


 

Anakin was slightly dismayed to find that the other Jedi were nowhere to be found in the training center. Not even Ahsoka was present, and he’d seen her going down the final flight of stairs mere minutes prior. He had no idea where she could be.

The walls, gray and peeling with age, were lined with racks of various training materials. Training ‘sabers, safety mats, wooden staffs, and more. The room was spacious, open and almost convivial. Doorways led to small chambers---of the meditive variety if he had to wager a guess. He’d peered inside one on the way in and was not surprised to find several large cushions on the floor.

Cool water slipped down his throat. He sat with his shoulders against the cushioned couch as he watched Leia practice against a holographic opponent. He clutched the cup of drink with his cybernetic hand; the other one was shaking too hard to hold liquid. She activated her brilliant blue lightsaber. Her movements were not particularly graceful or strong, but they held an almost primal rawness.

Leia swung at the image, her strikes swift but imprecise. This wasn’t to say that she lacked the skill or even finesse. She landed every blow, but the movement was uncontrolled. Her technique was simply … unorthodox. Nevertheless, the pummel of blows overwhelmed the holographic duelist. Gripping her lightsaber with two hands, she kicked the phantomic image; it stumbled backward, clutching its stomach. Anakin could not repress a smile as he watched his daughter---his daughter!---run through her movements. Her dark hair was shiny under the light panels, the headpiece sitting within the folds of her hair. It didn’t just suit her, he realized; it belonged to her, even more so than it had belonged to Padme. Anakin could see that now.

She looked so much like Padme it made his heart ache. They had the same stature, slender and petite, but packing one hell of a punch all the same. Leia was well-spoken and eloquent, no doubt a result of her upbringing. And yet, Anakin sensed that beneath her neutral expression, a spitfire of a young woman raged inside her seemingly calm exterior. That could have only come from him.

The thought made him smile to himself. He turned his attention back to her training as the hologram faltered at another kick. Unbalanced and off-guard, it had no defense against the final blow, which cut cleanly through its stomach in a manner reminiscent of a certain long-dead Sith Lord. The image sputtered out; Leia blew a strand of hair out of her face, withdrew the blade, and clipped the hilt to her belt.

Anakin placed his cup on the ground as she turned to him, looking for … approval? This caught him off guard. She doesn’t even know me , he thought in amazement, rising to his feet. He took this moment to reflect that he didn’t know her either, but he found that he didn’t care in the slightest. He was still over the moon at this newfound revelation.

“Your fighting style is interesting,” he said. Clumsy, but at the same time not clumsy at all. He wasn’t quite sure how to describe it. Was it a thing to have deliberate, controlled clumsiness? Because that was what it resembled the most.

He’d meant that as a genuine compliment, but Leia’s expression soured. “I get that a lot.”

“I really mean it!” he insisted, scratching the back of his head. “Well, it’s not as refined as what the Jedi Order practices, but if it’s effective than that doesn’t even matter.” At least, it didn’t matter to him.

“Tell that to Master Ti,” she muttered, kicking the ground. She walked over to the drink dispenser, grabbed a cup, and set it to pour water. “Anyways,” she said awkwardly, clearing her throat. The drink overflowed slightly as she neglected to pay attention to it. She swore and put the cup down, her sleeve drenched.

Anakin had to stifle a laugh as she painstakingly tried to squeeze the water out of the end of her sleeve. Warmth spread through his chest. Never in a thousand years would he have thought such a mundane action could be so freaking adorable .

Well, he supposed Ahsoka would stir the same emotions inside of him with such a movement, but considering her odd aversion to wearing sleeves, he would never know this for certain.

Leia glanced up at him, her brows furrowing as she sensed the outlines of his thoughts. Embarrassed but at the same time unashamed, Anakin pushed those thoughts to the back of his mind. “I’m sorry…” she murmured, blinking rapidly all of a sudden. She buried her forehead into the creases of her palm.

Confusion swept over him. “What for?”

“It’s just---” Her speech faltered as she struggled to calm herself down. She raised her head. “I’m still processing everything.” Their distress swirled between them in the Force, an overwhelming fight for dominance. She continued, sniffing. “It’s all so crazy. I know I’m acting like a child and I shouldn’t be so upset by this, since it’s all I’ve ever wanted, but---” She sighed, dejected. “I don’t know.”

“Hey,” Anakin touched her forearm gently like he so often did with Ahsoka. She flinched but did not recoil. “I’m not offended. If I were you I would probably just be a blubbering disaster right now.” He tried to imagine it from her perspective. He had no father to long for, of course, but if such a man did walk into his life out of nowhere … well, he was surprised she was taking this so calmly. Calm being a relative term in this case.

Her gaze fell to the floor, fixated on her boots as if they were the most fascinating thing in the galaxy. A heavy silence stilled the air. When she did not speak, he shifted his weight on his feet and added, “Besides, you are a child.”

She had the audacity to bristle with indignation at his valid observation. Of all things to get offended at! he thought amusedly, knowing that he would’ve, and still would react exactly the same way. “I’m nineteen,” she told him, vehement.

To hear such a bizarre anomaly stated out loud was strange, even if he’d known it all along just through their interactions. She was only two years his junior, and he had no idea how that would affect their newfound dynamic. Their age gap was much narrower than the six years spanning his birth and Ahsoka’s. The thought made his stomach coil with an odd sort of dread, of all sensations.

Although he worried about navigating such a complicated relationship, he decided not to dwell on it. He refocused on her. “Yes. Still a child.” She opened her mouth to protest, but he beat her to it. “ My child.”

Her brown eyes, so achingly reminiscent of his wife’s, glistened as air caught in her throat. She opened and closed her mouth, not so much as a word escaping. Anakin briefly, painfully, wondered if he’d gone too far. They didn’t even know each other yet, after all. But then he saw that there was not an iota of disconcertion within her signature. She had simply been stunned into silence by his words.

His heart seemed to expand to an incomprehensible degree. Ridiculously, he felt the urge to wrap his arms around her and never let go. The intensity of his surging emotions frightened the rational part of him; even if they were related, it was alarming that he was growing so desperately, madly attached already.

And yet, these feelings were natural, he knew. They were beautiful and terrifying, but they were the most natural thing in the galaxy. He should have expected nothing less from someone as obsequious as himself.

He could work with that.

Leia trembled; she looked so pitifully vulnerable all of a sudden, even when Anakin knew that word was the antithesis of her character. Her lower lip quivered, but she staunchly denied her tears permission to leave her eyes. She swallowed back a wail that had already begun to churn the Force around them.

The burning desire to comfort her would not leave his gut. She was, for all intents and purposes, an adult; a seasoned veteran and a Jedi trainee with attitude, not a weak Kiros bird. They’d met only twenty minutes ago. Neither of them had truly begun to process the implications behind this occurrence.

He reminded himself of all this, but his paternal instincts overpowered all else, prompting him to sweep her into a comforting embrace. He’d done it with Ahsoka on the stairwell, but this was something else entirely. There, he had hugged her mostly to comfort himself. Her too, of course, but his own fear was what had driven him into her arms in the first place. Right now, he was driven only by the aching desire to see Leia’s grief dissipate, because it hurt him even more than it was hurting her.

This felt right , so right that he couldn’t believe it was even real. She fit perfectly into the crooks of his arms, and this made him even more certain that this was meant to be. It was like the two of them had been deliberately shaped, forged in such a way that they fit together so well. She was the missing piece to his puzzle; he saw that now. The piece he’d never even realized was missing in the first place.

The embrace felt as if it could make the galaxy itself fade from his peripheral, if only for a heartbeat. She was so fragile, so small in his arms. Yet again, he had to push this line of thinking aside. For the last time, Anakin, she doesn’t need protecting! His heart screamed the contrary at him, tore itself to bits despite this, even when his head knew better. The thought wouldn’t leave his mind.

I’m never going to let you go, Leia , he vowed. Not now, not ever,

His mouth tightened as she began to sob, her face buried in his sleeve. Humiliation cut through her grief and happiness in the Force like a jagged knife; clearly, she was not used to showing this much emotion in front of anyone, let alone him of all people. He wanted to tell her that it was okay for her to cry her heart out in front of him, that bottling up her emotions would only bring her pain, but he was too choked up to so much as utter a single word. A lump formed in the back of his throat.

Reluctant as he was to release her, Anakin relaxed his arms and took a small step back. His gaze was drawn to her remarkable face, red and raw with emotion. He didn’t even know what to say next, he was so overwhelmed. Leia wiped her face with the back of her already-damp sleeve.

This action reminded him of something else, some one else of equal importance. Shame flared through him. By the Force, how could he have forgotten, even for a moment?

“Please,” he said, his voice tremulous and painfully raw, the words scraping the back of his throat. “Take me to Luke.”

This seemed to brighten her mood. She squared her shoulders and pulled an invisible mask of stoicism over her tearful expression. Her emotions continued to press up against the Force around her, however, making it almost contort with discomfort.

Her head bobbed in a nod. She turned around and began to walk towards the staircase, then froze, her eyes darting about as thoughts raced through her mind. She didn’t even breathe.

“What?” Anakin asked in concern. “What is it?”

Leia scrunched her nose and tapped her forehead with her index finger as if jolting herself out of a trance. She smiled at him, mere moments later, like nothing had happened at all. “I’m just glad you’re home,” she said before continuing to walk. Her dark hair bounced around her shoulders as she made her way to the staircase. He decided not to press further; she’d dealt with more than enough stress for one day.

You called this home . Anakin, for the thousandth time that day, smiled, reminded of when Padme had said the same thing to him all those months ago. And indeed, he was happier than he’d ever been despite the other, less ideal circumstances.

Me too, Leia . He could not help but feel a glimmer of pride just by looking at her. It was almost comical. Me too .

Chapter Text

On Borleias, blaster bolts sang along with the screams of the innocent in a horrific cacophony. 

Something had gone terribly wrong. The Empire was not supposed to know that Padme would be here, and yet here they were.

It had seemed to be going smoothly. The Alderaanians were generous, she thought. They provided food and medical supplies for the resource-poor planet and its peoples. She curled her fingers into the sandy ground as a cloud of white sand began to rise and swirl over the entire street. Minister Hekste crouched by her left while Vice Minister Lacei peered around the corner with thermal binoculars. 

With every scream, her heart sank lower into her stomach. Padme wanted to throw up; this was excessive even for the Empire, as far as she was concerned. Every fiber of her being ached from the sheer horror of it all. All she wanted was to deliver the refugees supplies. The entire planet was under lockdown, and the city of Karre had been hit especially hard by the Empire. 

An explosion shook the ground, making her teeth chatter. This was not meant to be a military campaign; she preferred to leave those up to her friends. It was purely altruistic and political. And yet, Padme understood with a bitter disgust the motive behind this attack; pure, unadulterated spite. 

These people were taking the brunt of a personal attack directed at her. 

Padme’s fingers tightened around the trigger of her pistol as an AT-ST rounded the corner. Although it did not seem to be firing directly at the civilians, it was still brutally clear that the operator had no regard for collateral damage or casualties. The ceaseless roar of the nearby ocean did not exactly help to lower her stress, either.

There was nothing she could do to drive the Empire back. She was merely a politician with a blaster, and her few allies here fell into a similar category. Every instinct screamed at her that she needed to hold her ground and protect the civilians, but she did not have the resources to pull off such a feat. She and Hekste flinched as a blaster bolt pierced Lacei through the back. She slumped over, clutching at the wound as her breath became lost in a barrage of coughs.  

Padme whirled around to find the attacker. She initially saw nothing, until a flash of white on a distant rooftop caught her eye. “Sniper!” she shouted, maneuvering herself so that her back pressed against the opposite side of the crates. It was far from ideal; now she was exposed to the stormtroopers, but they were preoccupied with controlling the citizens. An inadvertent cry escaped her lips as a blaster bolt flew by, mere centimeters above her head.

Hekste reacted differently. He aimed his rifle in the sniper’s direction. Although it had a scope, it did not have nearly as much range as a weapon such as an NT-242. Indeed, he had to fire multiple times to mow down the sniper, and the shot that killed him was not exactly a clean bolt through the head. Padme crawled back around to where Lacei was sprawled on the ground. The center of her chest was charred and smoking; an exit wound. Her breath came in short, painful wheezes. 

Padme’s eyes stung as she took in the ghastly sight. She wanted nothing more than to help her, but it was too dangerous. Lacei’s body trembled along with her breath. They needed to move out of the crossfire, and such a hindrance would be the death of them. She squeezed Lacei’s shaking hand, whispered, “I’m sorry,” and then dashed to hide behind a nearby stack of crates. Hekste ducked into the corner of an alleyway. Guilt burned in her throat; I just left the Vice Minister to die. She knew, intellectually, that such a choice was almost certainly her only viable option, but it was a shameful sacrifice all the same.

This would haunt her for weeks. Months, even. 

She peered from behind the crates and sighted a squadron of stormtroopers coercing civilians into a building of some sort, even as they resisted. Her jaw tightened, eyes narrowed and glittering. 

The spaceport was just up ahead, she knew. From here, she could even see her own transport. It was merely a street away, but the fact that said street was swarming with Imperials complicated matters a great deal.

Padme ducked through the gateway---which, surprisingly, was unguarded---and ran towards her starcraft at breakneck speed. The sleek Nubian design stuck out among the battered civilian transports like a blossom in a mud puddle; shiny and white, with naught a speck of dirt. She didn’t hesitate, dashing up the platform into the ship. When she did not hear the minister follow suit, she turned around and found him with his feet planted into the ground. “Minister,” she called out. “We need to leave, now!”

He shook his head stubbornly. “I must stay and negotiate.”

Padme wanted to protest, but she saw the wisdom in this. The Minister would be jailed and relieved of his power at best, but death was much more likely. “Sir, I urge you to reconsider!” He’s being an idiot, she thought. Trading honor for logic. Not that she wouldn’t have done the same as a younger woman, but she was older now; more experienced and battle-hardened. As important as honor was, it was senseless to prioritize it over rationality.

“No. My place is with my people,” Hekste stated, although not completely without regret. “And if that place is death, then so be it.”

She ducked as a hail of blaster fire pattered against the side of her ship. Stormtroopers began to duck into the alleyway behind cover, before shooting from behind crates or corners. Padme returned fire, but missed the shots as they hid behind cover too quickly. There was no time to discuss this, as much as she wanted to protest. It wasn’t rational, she wanted to say. It wouldn’t even help his people.

Padme ran into her ship and started the docking sequence. She maintained eye contact with Hekste as the ramp retracted. His gaze was like steel in its resolve, and she wanted to admire him for it. Padme rushed into the cockpit and steered the ship into the sky. She calculated the jump to lightspeed and punched in the coordinates for Pamarthe. She leaned back into her seat with a heavy sigh. 

 

She’d gone dark prior to the start of the mission, so there had been no communications from the Rebellion in days. Now, though, she decided to send a transmission to High Command. 

The holographic wrinkled blue face of General Dodonna greeted her. “Lady Amidala,” he said, inclining his head. Something unreadable swam in his eyes. “Was your mission a success?”

Padme could not help but wince. “Hardly. I got the supplies delivered, but the Empire caught onto me and rounded up the civilians. There was not a single action I could even attempt to take against the Imperials.” Her voice became bitter as bile rose in her throat. “They will likely have control of the supplies now.”

“That is most unfortunate,” Dodonna said, his voice never wavering. The hologram flickered for the briefest of moments---hyperspace interference if she had to guess. “However, we need you to return at once.”

“Return?” she repeated incredulously. “I can’t do that, Sir. I’ve got to assist Master Kestis and his squadron on their recruiting mission to Pamarthe. We’re short on pilots, and we lose more and more by the day. This isn’t an opportunity I can afford to let pass.”

Dodonna frowned. “With all due respect, I’m sure that they can manage on their own.”

“But I’m needed to manage the diplomacy; not every Pamarthen is a Rebel sympathizer---”

“This is not a request, Lady Amidala,” he barked, causing her to flinch; the tone, as well as the sudden authority within it, caught her off guard. She was not one to be ordered around, so this had to be important. He softened. “And I believe you will want to see your husband.”

Padme’s brows furrowed as painful confusion overtook her. “General,” she said, refusing to let emotion seep into her steely voice. “My husband died twenty years ago; you know this.” Everyone knows this . Their relationship had long since become common knowledge, even before the Rebellion. It hadn’t exactly taken the Council a lot of effort to figure out who her children were, after all. Even if she’d managed to hide it from the other politicians at the time, the truth had come out the moment she’d left the Imperial Senate. And frankly, she didn’t even care by that point; she’d had nothing left to lose.

“Anakin Skywalker was found trapped in carbonite along with numerous clone troopers and two other Jedi.”

“What?” Her lips parted in shock. “How?” she demanded, heart racing. She didn’t want to allow herself such hope. It had been on her mind for two decades, after all; she’d long since let any naive thoughts about it go. It was the only way to focus. 

She thought of her apparently-not-late husband. This, of course, unleashed a flood of grief and longing into her beating heart. Her thoughts drifted to the sound of his laughter, so warm it could melt chocolate. She thought about the countless lives he’d saved on a near-daily basis, and his incessant drive to be the hero. Her lips pressed together in a thin line as she recalled that horrible day, where she was visited by Plo Koon and informed of Anakin’s disappearance before the information went public. Dealing with her grief over Obi-Wan and Ahsoka had been difficult enough on its own, but it was his apparent demise that broke her. 

Well, this wasn’t entirely accurate. Padme had sure as hell felt broken at the time, but part of her refused to shut down and wallow in her misery. If anything, her grief had only served as a driving force in her life, a catalyst for proactivity.

Forget losing herself to sorrow; Padme nearly lost any sense of individuality as her personal life seemed to vanish in her peripheral. It had been necessary to accommodate her increasingly strenuous responsibilities. Lucubrating became her nightly standard. She’d overworked herself so severely that she once fainted in the middle of a Senate meeting. But she helped others; refugees, war orphans, civilians. Perhaps she’d even saved a life. She liked to think that she did. 

She had done it for him, of course, but mostly she wanted to protect the lives he was no longer able to defend. Padme couldn’t have imagined a more beautiful way to honor him and his comrades if she tried.

Memories, tragic and beautiful alike, seemed to swim before her very eyes. If not for the luminosity of the hologram, she would have forgotten about General Dodonna’s presence at all. Blinking back tears, she tried to maintain a facade of dignity as she spoke. “This is wonderful news,” she told him. “I will reroute my craft to base.” 

As she punched in the new coordinates, he replied, “You should know, he was absolutely frantic about your wellbeing upon arrival.” The normally gruff general’s voice was much more tender than she would’ve thought possible. “He’s waiting to see you.”

That made her smile as jubilant warmth seemed to radiate from her heart and into her body. “Very good, General.” Her fingers flew over the navicomputer as the ship neared the system containing the hyperspace lane she needed. “Thank you. Amidala out.” She ended the transmission and only then thought of her obligations to the mission on Pamarthe. As selfish as she knew it was, the thought of delaying their reunion for a recruitment mission made her stomach tie itself into a knot. They would understand, she thought, and were more than capable of managing in her absence.

Her thoughts drifted to Luke and Leia. Were they aware of this development? They had to be; she knew that they were still in the base. There was no way anyone would be able to ignore the sudden arrival of the Hero Without Fear; his children least of all.

Padme didn’t worry about how they’d get along; she knew that Anakin would be tender once he’d gotten over the initial shock of learning who they were. What did concern her was how Anakin and other others would adjust to this foreign era of intergalactic dystopia. His mind had always been a little too rigid, seeing only extremes without acknowledging nuances; black and white with no gray. She’d seen it when he, rather poorly, attempted to explain the politics of the Clone Wars to Ahsoka, flagrantly dismissing the Separatist point of view while advocating his own. This didn’t just apply to his morals, however; in this case, it would be severely detrimental and confusing to his emotional state. It was a rather … complicated situation, to put it lightly. 

And poor, poor Ahsoka. The thought of her sent a twinge through Padme’s gut. The girl was barely fifteen, and she’d been thrust into a broken galaxy seemingly out of nowhere. Padme couldn’t imagine the amount of stress she was in. Obi-Wan would be able to handle whatever shock he may feel, but she had an acute awareness of Ahsoka’s passionate nature. Maybe speaking to one of the mind healers would be therapeutic, she realized; Padme made a mental note to tell her this once she arrived.

Most of all, she worried about the clones. From a scientific perspective, the Clone Wars was the sole reason for their existence, and serving in that conflict was their only true purpose in life. Padme did not agree with this sentiment at all, of course, but she knew that these changes will be the most drastic for them all the same. What they perceived as their lives’ purpose was gone, and there was nothing any of them could do about it. As crazy as this is for Anakin and the other Jedi, it’s nothing compared to what the clones must be experiencing.

The ship returned to realspace above a rouge gas giant. Padme took a deep breath and redirected her ship into the other space lane. The stars morphed into a superluminal kaleidoscopic swirl of blue as she jumped once more. Padme got up from her seat and walked into the back of her cruiser. It wasn’t as luxurious as the ones she’d employed as a young Senator, but she was still appreciative of its value all the same. The belly of the ship was sleek and white in color; only a Nubian ship could have such elegance within its very insides. 

Padme opened her walk-in closet, where a plethora of gowns and other vestitures awaited her. Right now she was clad in a gray blouse and pants of the same color, layered under a darker, knee-length button-down coat and matching boots. Her hair was merely in a simple knot at the base of her head. All and all, extremely dull by her standards, even if it was a bit shallow to worry about such superfluous matters in this day and age.

She briefly considered dressing up, then decided against it. There was no point in doing so for this reunion, and her wonderful handmaids were not present to assist. Padme lingered inside for a moment before she walked out, the door sliding shut behind her. 

Excitement coursed through her veins along with the surge of adrenaline. Her heart leaped. Anakin was alive. Her beloved husband, lost for so many years, was alive and waiting for her. A dear friend, long thought perished, would be there. The girl she’d lost so many years ago had survived. The clones were here, in their prime, no longer bound to a cause they barely understood. 

She went back to the cockpit to send a transmission to Anakin, then decided to hold off on it. As unbearable as the wait would be, Padme would rather see him in the flesh than as a hologram; there had already been more than enough of that in her lifetime, after all.

Her fingers thrummed against her thigh as she lost herself in thought. It made no sense; their ship should have been easy to locate, even if it had been destroyed. The Republic had the means to locate them with ease, and so did the Separatists. Why had neither side been successful in uncovering the wreckage? And more importantly, what had brought the ship crashing down? If it had been shot down by the Separatists, then why didn’t they investigate the wreckage and find the group encased in carbonite? None of this had any semblance of logic, and it drove her mad.

Then again, this had been bothering her incessantly for twenty years.

“Shiraya’s word,” she soliloquized in a whispery voice. “I can’t believe this is actually happening. He’s alive.” She broke into semi-hysterical, tearful laughter. He’s really alive. They’re all alive!

At long last, her desiderium had come to fruition. It almost felt like a cruel dream; a trick of the mind to comfort herself, perhaps. As crazy as it was, however, Padme knew that this was very real. And nothing could be better. 

It was enough for her, in fact, to forget entirely about worrying how the Empire found her on Borleias. 

 

After what felt like an eternity, Padme landed her cruiser in the shipyard on Yavin IV. It looked so out of place among the battered fighters and freighters that it was almost embarrassing, but she ignored this detail. It had been worse against the dusty backdrop that was the civilian spaceport on Borleias.

She was helped out of her ship by an adolescent Twi’lek male, who was presumably there to look after and register each ship in the records. Muttering her thanks, Padme could not help but quicken her pace as her pulse fluctuated. Her mind itched with urgency and anticipation. She had to clench her muscles to prevent herself from sprinting into the temple.

A young officer directed Padme to Anakin’s location, and she headed over there with an utmost determination. She gasped softly as she caught sight of him, for the first time in a very long time.

Anakin looked identical to how she’d last seen him all those years ago; tall and broad-shouldered with golden-brown hair that just reached past the base of his head. He was so young , she thought achingly. So pulchritudinous and amative. Barely older than Luke and Leia, even. She still loved him to the moons of Iego and back, but the sharp difference in their ages made her feel a little uncomfortable. It felt weird, somehow; a little wrong. But her heart ached all the same.

His face brightened almost beyond recognition as their gazes met. His blue eyes were so lurid and beautiful, she realized. How could she have forgotten? Almost rudely, he pushed past Bail and ran over to her. His eyes gleamed. “Padme,” he breathed. 

Padme became acutely aware of her age as he stared at her in amazement. Her hair lacked any gray and her face was only just beginning to wrinkle; the upside of being a wealthy Nubian. It still hung over her, however; a stark shadow.

Her eyes burned as her vision grew blurry. “Oh, my stars. Ani…” She raised a hand to wipe away a tear from her cheek. “It’s been so long…”

He smiled weakly. “Not for me.” With that, he embraced her, nearly lifting her off her feet. She buried her face in the curve of his shoulder, lips curling into a bittersweet smile at the familiarity of the gesture. A dizzying sort of happiness enveloped her, made her almost feel a bit giddy.

They let go.

Neither of them noticed Bail walk off.

“You don’t mind that I’m two whole decades older than you now?” Padme asked, only somewhat jokingly.

The corner of his lip lifted. “Honestly? I don’t give a damn. You could be mutilated beyond recognition and I’d still love you just as much.”

Her calescent heart fluttered as he kissed her cheek. “I’ve missed you,” she murmured.

“Padme,” Anakin began, almost ignoring her in favor of his own anguish. “I … I don’t know what to say. I’m sorry.”

This caught her off guard. “Sorry?” she repeated with a frown, tilting her head. “What for?”

“I left you for twenty years,” he cried. “Two whole decades! I ensnared myself and everyone else in a trap of my own making; that part is on me.” His voice cracked. “And I left you to raise Luke and Leia by yourself.”

Padme shushed him, borderline appalled. This wasn’t his fault in the slightest, but she knew that no amount of pleading would convince him otherwise, so she decided to just cut to the chase. “All that matters now is that you’re back.”

“But I missed everything!” he snapped; although it stung, she could tell that his frustration was not directed at her. “I wasn’t there when Luke uttered his first word; hell, I haven’t even met him yet. I wasn’t there to teach them how to make their toys float. I wasn’t there to watch Leia grow up.” 

“Not your fault!” she said, her tone equally sharp. Then she softened. “You’re here, and now we can get you up to speed.” The corners of her lips lifted into a smile. “I take it you’ve met Leia?”

He nodded. “Yeah, just now. She’s amazing. She told me that she would come and find us in a little while. Wanted to go find her brother.”

Padme lowered her head and smiled to herself. “How did the two of you get along?” She knew how Leia would react to such a bizarre occurrence; although the girl regretted never knowing her father, she had moved on in such a way that Padme and even Luke had never been able to. What was past, was past, she’d often say. And this went against all of that.

“We, ah, got off on the wrong foot,” he said, although his tone was still light. “She was wearing that crown I got you for Life Day, and I thought she’d stolen it.”

As inappropriate as it would be, Padme almost wanted to laugh. She hid her amusement. “I should expect nothing less from the likes of you,” she said, teasing. They hugged again as her eyes slid shut in relaxation. Oh, how she’d missed his mansuetude touch! “I still can’t believe you’re home,” she murmured, the words muffled. “How’s Ahsoka doing?”

“She’s pretty rattled,” he said; Padme pulled away and saw that his azure eyes were gleaming with numerous emotions, worry among them. “Rex and the others are handling it like champs, though. I checked on them after I saw the dojo.” He shook his head slightly. “She broke down a few hours ago, but I think she just needs some time to adjust.”

“Oh.” She hesitated before issuing her next inquiry. “And you? How are you doing?”

“To be honest, not that great.” At her concerned glance, he added, “Randomly waking up after twenty years to a dystopian future does not do wonders for one’s psyche.” His gaze grew heavy. “I was afraid you’d moved on.”

Never ,” she whispered fiercely. It hadn’t been the healthiest coping mechanism in the galaxy, but one just needed to look at where they were now to understand its effectiveness. At least it had worked out for her in the end.

Leia entered the musky corridor. Padme brightened as she caught sight of her daughter. She had changed into politician’s clothes; a splendid lilac dress, ruffled, falling several inches above her ankles, which were clad in white tights. A shawl of the same color was wrapped around her shoulders, and the headpiece Anakin had mentioned sparkled in her still-undone hair. Clinquant metallic braids were threaded between chocolate-brown strands. She had company, too; Padme’s smile faltered slightly as she saw that it was Han Solo who was escorting her. She had nothing against him as an individual, but he was not exactly the best conversationalist when it came to those with … class.

They stopped their chatter as Leia halted dead in her tracks. Han looked from her, to Anakin, to Padme, and back again. “Leia?” he said, cautious and questioning. “Is…?”

She looked at him and nodded as Padme and Anakin stood silently, hesitantly. 

Leia walked over to her parents, wary. “Mother,” she greeted Padme, before turning to Anakin. “And, uh, weird question, but what should I call you?”

Anakin blinked in bafflement, caught off guard by the question. “Whatever you want, I guess,” he replied. 

“That’s very helpful,” she said wryly, before continuing, arms crossed, “This is insane.”

“A very astute observation, Princess,” Han muttered under his breath. 

Padme eyed him disapprovingly as Anakin flinched. “Princess?” he repeated in bewilderment. He turned to his wife, a question dancing in his gaze.

She shook her head in response---not a princess---and he relaxed. At the same time, Leia grumbled, “Just ignore him.”

They stared at Han, who shifted on his feet as awkwardness began to set in. To Padme’s surprise and relief, he appeared to decide to not get into a snark-off with Leia right then and there. Well, she had to admit that it was incredibly entertaining to watch the two of them squabble (when it wasn’t serious, of course), but now was certainly not the time for that. 

Anakin extended his hand politely to the smuggler. “I’m assuming you’ve heard about me?” Han nodded, and he went on, “And who are you?”

Han grinned in an almost sheepish sort of way, prompting Leia to roll her eyes as she took a single step back. “My name’s Han,” he said. “Han Solo. I just kind of come and go around here.” They shook hands, and Han winced as his hand was inadvertently crushed by Anakin’s prosthetic. “Wow, that’s one hell of a grip! It’s an honor to meet you. I saw you on the Holonet a lot as a kid.”

“Uh, wizard?” Padme almost wanted to laugh at his bemused and ridiculous reply. 

Han added, turning to Leia, “Your dad’s practically the same age as you. That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.” Which was really saying something, Padme deduced, as he held himself with confidence and possessed an experienced demeanor. Of course, he bragged about his life experience constantly, but there was at least some truth to his tall tales.

“Agreed,” Padme said fervently, cutting off Leia’s inevitable and uncalled-for retort. “But he’s here now.” They exchanged a loving smile. “That’s all that matters.”

 “I’ll be out of your way,” Han said, ducking his head. He started to walk away, before adding over his shoulder, “You can tell me about it later, Your Highnessness!”

“Maybe if you stop acting like … you!” Leia shot back, although Padme could tell that she was hiding at least light amusement at his words. Not that she would ever admit it, mind you, but Padme did not need the Force to see this. 

“Ya know, for a Jedi, you’re a bit of a nerve-burner.” He simpered. “Besides, it ain’t acting like me if it is me.” With that, he rounded the corner and vanished.

Not for the first or last time, Leia huffed in exasperation. Padme could not help but crack a small smile. Those two would fit perfectly into a soapy holovid, she thought. “I’m sorry about that,” Leia said, twirling a strand of dark hair on one of her fingers and letting it fall off. The eloquence that she was so renowned for was nowhere to be seen as she stood there wringing her hands together. 

Padme almost wanted to cry. This was what she’d dreamed about since the advent of the Clone Wars; a normal-esque life with her husband and their hypothetical children. It had been out of her reach for so long, but now Anakin was here, right by her side at long last. She just wished that Luke could be here for this particular reunion. Where was he, anyway?

“So…” Anakin said, a little gauchely. “Um, what now?”

“Tooka got your tongue?” Leia teased. Her gaze flickered from him to Padme and back again as her eyes glittered with sardonicism. 

He bristled in indignation. “Well, you’re not exactly directing the flow of this weird conversation, are you?”

“...touche.” 

“Leia?” Padme inquired. “Anakin said that you were bringing Luke?”

She nodded, apologetic. “I was, but I was told that he’s in the debriefing room with Master Ti and Obi-Wan.”

“Still?” Anakin’s tone was doubtful. “Obi-Wan went in there hours ago.”

Leia could only shrug.

Fierfek! ’ he cursed in frustration. “Why does he get to meet my own kid before I do?”

“Have patience, Love,” Padme said, placing a hand on his forearm. 

“Patience?” Now it seemed as if he wanted to shout. “Padme, don’t tell me to have patience when it comes to meeting my kriffing son for the first time.”

“This is true,” she conceded with a thoughtful tip of her head, pointedly ignoring the foul language. “But we might as well talk while we can.”

“Well, can we go somewhere more private?” Anakin requested. “I have a lot of questions.”

Leia swallowed as Padme replied, “Yes, of course.” She led them down the hall and into an empty conference room. All it had was a round table and some stools, but it was all they would need. 

None of them took a seat, choosing instead to stand stiffly around the table. 

“First of all, what happened when the Jedi Council found them?” Anakin demanded, wringing both hands through his hair like a madman. “And what happened to you?”

“They were discovered very early on,” Padme told him quietly, forcing herself to maintain eye contact. Even if they were alive and together now, it was a memory she preferred to keep locked away; after all, she hadn’t known at the time that she’d get to see her children when the Jedi took them away. “Apparently there was a major disturbance in the Force upon their arrival. Mace Windu described it to me; he said, and I’ll never forget these words, ‘They shine like stars in the Force. A sun can annihilate from millions of kilometers away, but all life would die without it. This middle ground can only be reached through balance.’ So the Jedi didn’t give me a choice. Said they were too dangerous to be kept untrained.” Her breath exited through her lips in an unrestrained, bitter sigh. 

Anakin caught himself mid-seethe.“I … I don’t understand,” he fumed through gritted teeth, almost to himself. “The Jedi don’t just take children without their parents’ consent. They pressure them, sure, but they’re not kidnappers.” 

Padme opened her mouth, to her own surprise, to defend the Jedi Order. It was a reflexive reaction, she surmised. As a young woman, she’d admired the Jedi like any other Republic citizen, but that pedestal had broken the moment the Sentinels showed up at her doorstep and told her that they were taking the children to be watched by the Council. It had been so, so unbearably painful, even if it was to be expected. This was the action that made her question their steadfast righteousness for the first time.

What was worse was that she wasn’t allowed to see them once they were five months old. The Jedi told her that they needed to grow without attachments so that they’d reach their full potential. Some had even seemed apologetic---she remembered the saddened, guilty curl of Plo Koon’s mouth beneath his mask---but that didn’t justify it in the slightest. No matter how much she protested or demanded, they would not listen. Padme hadn’t allowed herself to be reduced to a grieving mess in front of the Jedi Council, no matter how upset she became, but the moment she arrived back at the apartment was another story. 

The memory was hazy, but Padme did recall falling into Sabe’s outstretched arms, her sobs muffled into her friend’s shoulder. A bitter part of her had speculated whether this would have happened if Anakin was still alive. She recalled shuddering as she wondered bleakly how he would’ve reacted to this utter monstrosity of a situation.  

And yet, against all odds, Padme recovered. A piece of her heart was broken beyond repair, but she still had a galaxy depending on her, and the last thing she wanted was for her personal issues to get in the way of achieving justice.

So not a word of justification was said or felt now by anyone in the room. Padme resolved to tell Anakin the truth; as harrowing as it would be for him to hear of the Order instigating such a cruel action, there was no point in sugarcoating it. “They made an exception.”

Something dark and acute seemed to cut into him. A shiver rolled up Padme’s spine upon seeing his scowl, although it was not directed at either of them. Leia looked at him with worry, undoubtedly sensing his anger in addition to seeing it. Her eyes became shadowed. 

“For what it’s worth,” she offered weakly. “Master Ti did everything that she could to reunite us after the Republic fell.”

Padme winced as something inside of her shattered. That was the other thing, the thing so painful that she could only circumlocate what had happened at best. Just thinking the words directly send a tremor through her body. Anything more than that was suffocating to even ponder. It was something that she couldn’t quite explain, as horrible as the ordeal had been. She didn’t understand why adding fluff to her memories would somehow make them easier to deal with, but she supposed that was just something psychological. 

That is, until those intrusive thoughts overwhelm all else. Then nothing can hold back the flood. 

 

The nightmare that was the extermination of the Jedi Order came out of nowhere; Padme looked through the window of her Senate office one fateful day to see smoke choking the air in the distance, wreathing between Coruscanti skyscrapers. Pure, undiluted fear stirred within her at the sight. The emergency broadcast that played over the holoprojector on her desk only further compounded this. “Attention,” the former Chancellor’s voice boomed; Padme reeled back in horror as she failed to recognize his deformed and ghastly face, not even human. What could have happened? Even when masked by the blue sheen of the hologram, it still nauseated her all the same. 

She’d heard all about his true allegiance when it had been revealed to the rest of the Senate; she was even serving as a character witness for the upcoming trial. She knew who he was; what he was, but what could possibly explain such a horrid decomposure of his appearance? No answer came to mind.

“Beloved citizens of Coruscant and the Republic, the Jedi Order has betrayed our sacred ideals of democracy.” Her hand flew to her mouth. “They attempted to undermine our balanced power system with a devastating coup d’etat. When I resisted, they accused me of treason. Numerous senators have been exonerated for conspiracy with these traitors, and sedition against the Republic.” 

Gooseflesh rose on Padme’s arms. Palpatine was a menace, to be sure, but she still caught herself speculating as to whether there was any veracity to his words. As much as she hated even considering it, she was aware of the possibility, however slim. It was impossible, she told herself, but the resentful part of her whispered that the Jedi had been corrupt for a long time; she’d just failed to see it until it was too late.

But this? This was something else entirely. It was too much.

“The numerous attempts on my life have left me scarred and deformed, but I assure you all, my friends, that your safety and welfare are the highest priorities of both myself and the Senate.”

Padme shook her head, murmuring to herself in disbelief. His claim was preposterous; as much as she distrusted the Jedi Order as a whole, they weren’t capable of what he claimed. Besides, his word wasn’t even credible; far from it. Were the other Senators gobbling this up? As corrupt as the representatives could be, Padme doubted any of them were that stupid. But what else would explain the Senate’s compliance?

“Fear,” she whispered to herself in horror, drawing in a breath. A politician's most effective weapon.

“From this day forward,” Palpatine intoned. “The radicalism of the Jedi Order will no longer be tolerated. For the safety of every sentient being in the galaxy, association with such a heinous organization will now be castigated with death.” Fear seized her heart and almost slowed it to a complete standstill. “In order to ensure peace and prosperity throughout the galaxy, the Republic will be reorganized into the first Galactic Empire!” He raised both arms so that they were level with his face, and bathed in a sickening pandemonium of thunderous applause.

So this is how liberty dies… Padme blinked back tears, stomping down on the sudden urge to throw up. It was that horrible. 

“We will change the galaxy together; forge it into something far beyond what it used to be.” Although the holo was completely blue, his malevolent, bloodshot irises seemed to flash gold for the briefest of moments. A trick of the light. Or maybe she was imagining things. “And may this day be remembered as the day where we reclaimed freedom for the known galaxy.”

He was a tyrant. It had gotten out that Palpatine was Sith, and he’d technically lost his political power. However, this did nothing to quell his vast political influence.

Padme hated that she hadn’t seen it until now, after a decade and a half of serving beside him. She’d been one of the first individuals to put the pieces together, but she failed to react in a timely manner. Palpatine’s opponents were dying, being picked off one by one. The blood always seemed to be on the hands of the bounty hunters. There were whispers that Palpatine was the one who hired them, but no one dared to bring this up in front of the entire Senate, especially not without concrete evidence. 

Then a horrifying thought occurred to her. “Luke,” she whispered. “Leia…”

They were at the temple right now, at this very moment.

“Oh, god.”

She grabbed the keys to her speeder.

 

Padme didn’t think, didn’t dare allow herself to ponder the realities of this situation. She parked the speeder and raced up the Temple stairs. She slipped as the fabric of her ruby-red dress caught under her heel, but she managed to recover and made it to the blaster-scorched entrance. 

So many bodies lay there; some of their wounds still smoked from the impact. Some of the deceased looked to be barely in their teens. She was thankful that blaster wounds were cauterized, otherwise the entire stairway would be red with blood, carried by streams of rainwater.

A spell of dizzying terror swept over her as she wondered whether she’d find Luke and Leia strewn about thoughtlessly on the temple floor with blaster bolts through their chests. It seemed more and more likely with each passing second, and she’d never felt so helpless in her lifetime.

Clones patrolled the air, blasters at the ready. A sickening cramp twisted her stomach into a knot. Their helmet markings … this wasn’t the Coruscant guard. This was the Five-Oh-First. 

Her husband’s old battalion. 

“Ma’am,” Appo called out, approaching her. “This is an active site; it’s not safe. You must leave.”

She shook her head, swallowing back terror and grief. “Let. Me. Pass.” Her voice staunchly refused to quiver, but the intensity of her emotions was still evident all the same. 

“It’s time for you to leave,” he repeated, more harshly.

Her eyes narrowed to slits. Padme was not an intimidating woman at first glance, but she saw from his reaction that her baleful glare had gotten to him anyway. “With all due respect, Commander,” Padme said, voice laced with venom. “I am not a member of the Grand Army, and I am a Senator. I will go where I so please.” She felt her lips peel back into the beginnings of a snarl. Her fear and determination were so strong that this didn’t even disturb her in the slightest.

He exchanged a glance with Captain Nine-o, who was Rex’s replacement. Appo acquiesced, dipping his head reluctantly and stepping aside. As she rushed inside, stepping over lulled heads and charred limbs---the work of a lightsaber wielder, she thought with a shiver---she wondered who was leading this campaign. Ever since the death of their leadership, the Five-Oh-First had been something of a wild card within the Grand Army of the Republic. Leadership bounced around from Jedi to Jedi, as these men were highly skilled and were frequently requested to lead battles. And now the Jedi were allegedly traitors, so who was in charge here, exactly?

Her question was answered mere seconds later. Padme’s fingers flew to her lips as she drew a shaky breath. Is that … Tatianna Soren?  

The Jedi’s face was difficult to make out from beneath the shadow of her raised hood, but it wasn’t completely concealed. She looked quite young, barely old enough to be a knight. Padme knew little of this woman’s reputation---the public and holonet cared far more about those on or close to the Council---but what she did know certainly did not paint her as a traitorous murderer. 

The glow of Soren’s emerald blade bored into Padme’s eyes through a haze of mist and falling rain as it slashed and sliced, one body after another tumbling to the floor. Padme pressed her back against the pillar and watched. She didn’t dare breathe, lest her presence was sensed. 

Her entering of the temple barely registered in her mind; it was so much, too much, that her brain was numbed by it all. She darted past toppled pillars and smoldering bodies. The sight was petrifying. And yet, as horrific as it all was, it paled in comparison to her current worries.

Luke. Leia. 

Padme was forced to halt when a clone trooper raised his rifle at her. She blinked, stupefied. Why was he threatening her, if she wasn’t a Jedi? “You must leave, Senator,” he snapped, firing an explosive shot that decimated a nearby doorway. The explosion made Padme stumble despite herself; when she placed a hand on her chest in shock, she was alarmed to feel just how rapidly her heart was beating beneath her fingers. Her every breath trembled.

She stared at his eyes even through his visor. “Are the younglings all dead?”

He nodded.

Raw panic began to inundate her, but she somehow managed to conceal it from the already suspicious clone. “A-All of them?” Her eyes burned tristfully, tears welling at their corners. “Are you certain?”

The clone hefted his weapon, glancing around the grand corridor before turning back to her. “The creche masters did not survive for long, so the younglings were taken care of in a swift fashion.” His voice was sickeningly fraught with pride. “We need only worry about the children old enough to wield lightsabers.”

Padme’s heart shattered into pieces; it was as if the shards were puncturing her lungs, preventing a steady intake of breath. Her chest tightened as an iron fist seemed to close around her neck. Padme leaned her elbow against her arm, her head rested in her palm. She knew he wasn’t lying. Part of her held hope still, but the likelihood of that was far too remote. Her face contorted into a quiet, but ugly wail. Her entire face felt raw, but not nearly as much as her mind and broken heart. Lugubriousness overtook her in mere heartbeats.

She sank to her knees, ignoring the clone as he stepped back in awkward surprise. Her back curled like a comma as her shaking form hunched over. She placed a hand on the ground for support but kept the other near her face. It took all of her self control to prevent herself from screaming. But her throat felt too pained for even that; every vociferous cry she uttered scraped like a menace against the back of her throat. 

Her head spun, and she had to make a conscious and forceful effort to breathe a healthy amount of air into her body. Her fingers were soaked, and she tasted salt on the brim of her swollen lip. 

In utter despair and agony, Padme was lost, even more so than her children.

 

Padme tried to suppress the traumatic memory, she really did, but she knew by Anakin’s expression that it was too late; he’d seen everything in his mind’s eye. His face was gaunt with an uncharacteristically tranquil fury, lips pressed together in a thin line. It pained her to see him like this, even made her a bit uneasy, but she couldn’t exactly blame him. 

“Padme,” he said softly, his flesh hand reaching out to caress her cheek. “I am so, so sorry.”

“Don’t be.” She shook her head, determined not to break down. Not here, not now. “I’m just glad you didn’t have to live through that,” she added with a shudder.

“Maybe, but I should’ve been there for you,” he insisted, voice growing ragged with emotion. “You were so alone.” When words eluded her, he continued his spiel. “How many years did you spend away from them before the fall of the Order? Three? I can’t imagine how you felt after it all happened. How long did it take for you to discover their survival?”

Padme swallowed. “T-Three more years.” Although it was no longer consequential, the memory still hurt more than any blaster bolt ever could or would. It was the greatest pain a sentient being could feel, the loss of a child. Although all of the younglings were said to have died, she still held out a flicker of hope. That spark was not enough to give her faith, however. The odds were slim to none. 

Her children had been lost to her for three years after the Empire’s formation. Nearly every youngling had died during the raid on the Temple, and Padme knew that two three-year-olds wouldn’t stand a chance against a force capable of slaughtering Jedi Masters en masse. After all, the creche masters themselves had been slain. She hadn’t dared let herself hope otherwise. 

Shaak didn’t bring them to her while she was still living in Coruscant; she later explained that it would be safer for everyone involved if they were kept hidden from the Emperor. The moment Padme deserted the Imperial Senate and went into hiding, however, the togruta had shown up at her hideout holding the hands of two young children, barely recognizable even to their own mother. The fact that they didn’t know who she was had struck her hard, leaving her winded. They made the connection one she’d introduced herself, but by the gods had it been an awful sensation.

Of course, she had been beyond overjoyed to find that they were alive, but it was a sobering experience nonetheless.

His face became shadowed. “You know, I was so shocked from the whole frozen-in-carbonite thing that it didn’t even occur to me to be shocked about the whole Palpatine thing. I literally just … accepted it without question, that’s how badly I was reeling. But that’s insane. The Chancellor I knew was incapable of such actions.”

Emperor ,” Leia sibilated under her breath with a hint of annoyance.

He gave her a pointed look before turning to Padme. “I don’t doubt your recollection of what happened, but it’s a lot to take in. Coming from someone else, I might not have believed it. He was my friend, after all.”

“Palpatine was never your friend,” Padme hissed, her sudden intensity causing him to flinch. “Why do you think he was so desperate to recover your crew? He wanted you as his Sith apprentice.”

Anakin sputtered. “But … but that makes no sense. He has---had---Dooku.”

“A pawn in a game you had yet to start playing,” she said, eliciting a look of absolute devastation from her husband. He had more pressing matters to focus on at the moment, but she could tell that he barely believed it. He certainly wouldn’t have if he hadn’t seen it in her head.

She exchanged yet another knowing glance with her daughter. “Even putting aside his allegiance in the Force, he’s a political tyrant. He’s maintained power over the excuse for the Imperial Senate for literally my entire life.” Leia scoffed, apparently resentful of his doubt. Padme couldn’t say that she blamed her. “His Imperial Travesty has taken everything from everyone in the galaxy. Nonhumans are treated like nonsentients and are exploited by the government itself. Planets are stripped of their resources, and their inhabitants are left to die. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.”

Padme winced at the mention of exploitation, could feel Anakin’s grip tighten around her. She knew better than to ask him about this particular trigger; doing so would only escalate his distress, which for now seemed to be 

As if hungry for comfort, he drew her into another hug while Leia looked on in concern. Padme could all but feel their eyes lock over her shoulder. “How?” he asked hoarsely. “How did you…?”

“Survive?” Leia cut him off. He nodded. “We got lucky,” she said with an ever-deepening frown. “Most of them didn’t.”

Padme released him yet again and stepped aside so that he and Leia could speak face-to-face. 

“How … how many friends did you lose?”

Her reply was flat, a little icy. “I don’t know. I lost count.” For a moment, she looked fragile, shaking like a leaf in the wind. It was almost enough to frighten Padme; she’d never seen her daughter so openly emotional since before her adolescence at least. Leia was battle-hardened and had dealt with more than enough grief to last a dozen lifetimes. And yet she always remained so stoic and detached. It gave herself and her troops more confidence without a doubt, but Padme knew how much such a coping mechanism was eating her up inside. More than one night she’d walked in on Leia staring desolately at a holo-computer, her cheeks gleaming with silent tears. 

So if her demeanor was breaking now … well, Padme knew how deeply affected she must be for that to happen. 

Then the moment passed, and her face turned neutral, if a little bittersweet. It was further broken by a very familiar voice. “Um, hi?”

Luke shifted awkwardly as they all turned to look at him. The harsh light panels caught the glint of his blond hair, significantly less curly and lighter than Anakin’s, she noted. He was dressed in a simple cream-white shirt and trousers, ever the minimalist. It always made her laugh, the different views held by herself, Luke, and Leia on the importance of fashion.

Padme glanced at Anakin, touching his forearm. The man seemed to be rather overwhelmed; his lower lip quivered almost imperceptibly, and Padme was uncomfortably aware of the all-too-frantic pumping of his blood beneath her fingers.

“Luke?” Leia tilted her head, bemused. “How are you here now? I was told that you’d be in debriefing for a few more hours.”

“Well, I was supposed to be, but Obi-Wan let me leave since Han wouldn’t stop demanding for me to see you guys. I think he caved just to shut him up, but I’m thankful.” Although his visage was bright with amusement, his smile faltered ever-so-slightly as he saw the veermok in the room.

Padme watched with tightened breath as father and son locked gazes. It was like something magnetic, an invisible force that kept their oh-so-similar eyes fixated on one another. 

Anakin inclined his head. “Luke?” His voice barely rose above a hoarse whisper.

“Father?”

That word seemed to strike a chord within him, something of happiness, regret, and surprise all at once. Padme felt his breaths growing in frequency. It was amazing, she reflected, how one’s entire perspective of life could be changed with just a single word. She felt the same surge of emotions stir within her chest as well. 

“Wow,” Luke exhaled with an almost starstruck expression. “You … you’re really…”

Leia moved to stand at Padme’s side. “This is weird,” she remarked under her breath. Padme gave her a disapproving look.

“It’s nice to meet you,” Anakin choked out. 

Luke’s brow furrowed in concern. “Are you alright?” he asked, tilting his head. Not for the first or last time, Padme was amazed at his sensitivity. Not that it was difficult to deduce what Anakin was feeling at the moment, but Luke’s thoughts immediately shifted to the well-being of someone he’d never even met. 

Anakin opened and closed his mouth; not so much as a squeak escaped his lips. Leia exchanged a look with her brother, the kind that conveyed a message only a twin would understand. This was true of them even when one disregarded their strong Force bond. Padme wished she could see what was going through their minds right now. This situation was unprecedented; how everyone would react was still up in the air. So she had to tread these waters lightly to avoid any further disturbances. 

Indeed, Anakin’s back curled slightly as he hunched his shoulders, burying his face into his flesh and mechanical hands. It was like they had all disappeared from his peripheral. Her heart sank as disappointment crossed Luke’s otherwise jubilant expression. It wasn’t personal, she wanted to tell him. He was just overwhelmed.

Although she had no doubt that Luke would be able to surmise as much through the Force, he still appeared to be forlorn.

Leia placed a comforting hand on her brother’s shoulder. 

Anakin cleared his throat. “I-I’m fine,” he stammered. “It’s just a lot to take in.” He shifted on his toes, visibly unquiet and corybantic. Luke nodded, understanding. Padme couldn’t say that she blamed Anakin for his contagious stress; after all, this was a dangerous amount of information to take in all at once.

Leia sighed, shifting her shawl so that it fell evenly over each shoulder. “This is terrible timing, but tomorrow I’m leaving for Coruscant. It’ll be several rotations until I return.”

Anakin frowned in perplexion. “Coruscant? Why?”

“There’s a gathering for the Imperial Senate.”

“Wait, what?” He blinked. “You’re a senator? How is that even possible?” Anakin turned to Padme with a crooked eyebrow. “I thought you guys were fugitives; that you aren’t a senator anymore.”

“I’m not,” Padme replied, clenching every muscle in her body. “The Emperor doesn’t know her by appearance; only by name.”

Leia’s tight smile was bleak as she added. “I’ve fallen under the mentorship of the Organas. Everyone thinks that the children of Padme Amidala and Anakin Skywalker died during the Purge, so it’s easy enough for them to pass me off as their adoptive daughter. After all, they adopted Sheri before that even happened, so that alibi is ridiculously easy to pass off.”

“Why would you risk that? Surely there's someone else who can take that place.”

“Because I can do my part in opposing the tyranny without overtly being seen as a Rebel sympathizer or threat. I have allies; connections. It’s a continuous, clandestine operation.” 

“But you’re a Jedi; surely the Empire must know who you are.”

“Well, that’s what disguises are for.” She wrung her hands together, agitated by the barrage of protests. After all, Padme knew, she dealt with them on the daily. “Also, I’m a bit of an empath with the Force, so it’s easier for me to sense one’s motive in the flesh.” Her eyes, so warm and brown, seemed to harden. “There are double agents everywhere. It’s hard to know who to trust these days.”

“And she has a way with words,” Luke chimed in, before adding cheekily, “For better or worse.”

She cracked a grin, but her gaze remained serious. “The Organas have other proteges, of course, but for all of their immense skill and eloquence, they don’t have the asset that I do.”

“The Force isn’t a tool,” Luke said sharply, though not unkindly, prompting Leia to roll her eyes. This was not the first time he’d said this to her, nor would it be the last. A spark of curiosity stirred within Padme; she knew little of Jedi philosophy, but she did know that it did not always agree with her children. The problem was that they sometimes disagreed on different parts of the code, although they also held many similar views.

It was quite interesting to watch them debate philosophy like professors. That wasn’t what was going on here, of course, but the brief derailment of the conversation reminded her of this tendency of theirs. 

Leia just shrugged. “Maybe, but it sure helps a lot.”

He conceded this point with a dip of the head. 

Padme smiled to herself as a comforting arm draped itself over her shoulders like a blanket. Although it was something she hadn’t felt in two decades, it was surprisingly easy for her to slip back into old habits. She leaned into Anakin’s steadiness as their peart gazes met. They exchanged almost comically sappy laughter. Padme wasn’t even sure why they were laughing, but she realized all of a sudden just how vertiginous she felt. Giddy from elation, she wanted nothing more than to hug all of them so tightly they wouldn’t be able to let go. 

Luke and Leia watched; although their postures indicated that their parents’ reunion was absolutely nauseating to watch, both were grinning from ear to ear. It felt as if he’d never been gone at all.

But this was not the case for her children, she knew. Both had spent all of their nineteen years believing him to be dead. Padme couldn’t imagine how she would’ve reacted if it had been her own father. Even given Luke’s composed demeanor and their Jedi backgrounds, it was peculiar that they were reacting as easily as they were to this new development. 

Not that they should’ve been reacting poorly by any means; it was just that Padme knew them well enough to figure out what they were feeling, and she could tell that they were consciously hiding their trepidation from their father. This showed in their microexpressions, but their attention was more likely concentrated on their auras within the Force.

Padme assumed it was because they didn’t want to hurt his feelings, which was rather sweet of them. But as joyous as the news was, it didn’t change the fact that their lives were now in total upheaval.

It didn’t matter, Padme decided. Right now, nothing did.

Right now, her family was whole, and the entire galaxy couldn’t stop them if it tried.

Chapter Text

The calm atmosphere of the command center---however forced it may have been---was almost enough to instill a sense of normalcy within the mind of Hera Syndulla. She leaned across her desk, her face rested in the folds of her palms. The tough fabric of her gray jumpsuit scratched against the inner side of her lekku. An uncomfortable sensation, but Hera was willing to pay the price if it meant protection from the elements, particularly the vacuum of space. 

It was a peculiar thing; Hera hadn’t flown in combat since the Battle of Scarif, a few months back. Kanan had damn near killed her for that, especially since she’d refused to let him be her gunner. She’d known going in that it would be a suicide mission, and for most of the fleet, it was. Even the infantry was depleted from reinforcing the renegade Rogue One squadron. The losses had hit them all hard, and Hera had hardly been able to bear it after the fact.

The protective outfit wasn’t even necessary, but it gave her a sense of security. Her favorite orange-and-gray jumpsuit had been recently scorched because of reasons that were classified to High Command and the more … impressionable members of her crew, and she’d worn that every day. Even if she wasn’t leading pilots into battle on the Ghost , it still seemed appropriate. 

Besides, that was where she longed to be.

The room was darkly lit, the shadows punctuated only by the greenish displays of various computers, stations, holograms, charts, and other technologies throughout the center. The echoing chatter of the base reverberated inside her cone-shaped ears.

A tiny, blue image of a hooded figure flickered front of her eyes, level with the tip of her nose. The modulated voice’s low, artificial tone almost made her uneasy, although she knew that such a reaction was ridiculous on her part. Despite all of this, Hera could thinly make out his natural accent through the many layers of digitalization. It was not one that she recognized. 

Kallus stood beside her, hands clasped against his back---no doubt a mannerism rooted in his Imperial origins. They both listened intently as Fulcrum spoke: “There is a small community on the planet Gorse,” he reported. Hera stiffened at the mention of the gloomy planet, where she’d first met Kanan and truly began to resist the Empire. She’d only been eighteen at the time; still a girl, really. That was a decade ago. Gods, had it really been that long? Not now, she chastised herself as Fulcrum continued, “This settlement is on a very remote outpost and houses about a few dozen Force-sensitives. They’re untrained, with no affiliation. According to the Imperial database, they fled to hide from the Sith and their agents.”

She chewed on her lip. This day was getting better and better by the minute, she observed wryly. But if it meant doing even an iota of good, it was a risk worth taking.

“I was only able to obtain inexact information regarding who the Empire intends to send, but I do know that specialized forces will be en route by oh-nine-hundred standard time.” Hera could picture his eyes darkening during the pause. “Inquisitors, most likely, but also be prepared to encounter Hands of the Emperor.”

“Very good, Fulcrum.” Hera took a moment to ponder her choices and the situation as a whole. “How many live in the settlement?”

“A few dozen,” Fulcrum responded. “Certainly less than one hundred. Since the settlement isn’t registered with Gorse’s government, I was unable to find an official census.”

That made their job easier, then. Fewer people in need of rescuing, and less precious time to lose. But they still didn’t quite know what they were up against, and that could, and would compromise the entire mission.

She and Kallus exchanged a look before walking to the main holo-table in the center of the room. Hera summoned the other officers around the table for a briefing, and Kallus described the intel provided by Fulcrum. As they listened, they murmured to each other in fascination. Some of them seemed outright giddy, although Hera doubted those particular rebels were thinking much about the mission itself. And yet, when Kallus had finished, they all remained professional and silent.

“We need the Jedi for this job,” he said, turning to Hera. “That much is rather obvious. The question is how many.”

Crix Madine circled around the holo-table, eyes narrowed in thought. “I recommend four. Three knights or masters, and one of their padawans.”

Kallus frowned, crossing his arms over his chest. “I’m sorry to disagree, but it’s too risky for padawan learners. I don’t doubt that they are capable of handling it, but we can’t risk the next generation of Jedi on such a task.”

“They are stronger than you give them credit for,” Madine argued. “And field work is the best teacher. They will never advance without confronting peril.”

“I do not deny that they are skilled,” Kallus said patiently. “I simply feel that the risk is too great for people that young to handle, regardless of skill level. It’s a matter of experience.”

“But they’re Jedi!” 

“Which is precisely why we should wait until they’ve been knighted to send them on missions without backup. The Jedi are a dying breed, so we shouldn’t take the risk as long as we have other options.”

Hera cleared her throat pointedly, and the chatter ceased as the others turned to her. “I recommend five Jedi.”

“Five?” Kallus sounded dubious. “They’ll be noticed for sure.”

“If we know that the Inquisitors will be there, then that won’t even matter,” she pointed out. He conceded this point with a nod as she added, “It’s not exactly going to be an overly clandestine operation, regardless of how many Jedi we send.”

“Um, permission to speak freely?” That was a junior officer. His face flushed as every gaze in the room turned to face him.

The corner of Hera’s lips lifted into the beginnings of a smile. “Granted, Officer.”

“Well, I think the solution has already presented itself,” he said. “We’ve got two legendary Jedi with us now---three if you include the padawan. Why not just send them?”

If not for the obvious issues such a decision would pose, it would’ve been a fair suggestion. Unfortunately, this didn’t stop the older officers from chuckling amongst themselves. The junior officer looked around the room, crestfallen, before turning back to Hera and Kallus. 

Hera shot the senior officers a pointed look and they fell silent. She turned to the younger man. “That would pose a great many problems,” she replied. “Generals Kenobi and Skywalker must be informed of every aspect of the war and the galaxy itself before we can even consider sending them out into the field.” Assuming they decide to stay with the Alliance. It’s not like we can keep them here if we want to . She prayed it wouldn’t come to that. Such a situation would be … problematic. “It’s far too great a risk.”

That should’ve gone without saying, but Hera was more than sympathetic to the effects of being starstruck. When she’d conversed with them and the clones, it had taken a great deal of self-control to subdue the ever-curious military buff inside of her. Part of her had wanted to interrogate them on the war; their roles, their histories, their experiences, the parts of the war that no documentary on the HoloNet could ever truly capture. But that needed to wait for another time. Or perhaps no time at all; she was all too familiar with just how sensitive such a topic could be for some.

She continued, “I recommend sending Master Ti, Knight Jarrus, and their padawans.” For Kanan and Ezra, this would be a textbook mission. It wasn’t dissimilar to what Ezra had witnessed on Lothal years ago, in regards to the raid on Tarkintown. Only this time, the stakes and challenges that awaited him were higher, and they had a chance to make things right.

“We cannot spare Master Ti for such an arguably menial assignment,” Kallus pointed out. “We need her here to sort out our new guests and keep things running as smoothly as possible; a lot of our own young Jedi have lost sight of things with the arrivals of Knight Skywalker and Master Kenobi. They’re still reeling from that.”

Hera hid an inappropriate snort of amusement as she wondered just how the Skywalker twins had reacted to this development. 

“They do have obligations to uphold,” Madine agreed. “Now more than ever. And no one will be able to keep them focused as well as Master Ti.” His mouth twitched. “I agree that sending Jarrus and Bridger is wise---even if the proposition itself was a bit, ah, biased .” He gave Hera what she supposed was meant to be a light smile. She didn’t return it.

Determinedly, she pushed aside that last comment. The tips of her lekku curled and jabbed her back as she spoke. “I agree with Kallus’s point regarding Master Ti. Do you have any suggestions as to who else we should send, General?”

Madine thought for a moment, then replied, “Another Master, then. Perhaps Master Swan, or Master Junda.”

“Master Swan is well-suited for this sort of mission,” Hera noted with a nod. “But Master Junda chose to accompany Knight Kestis on his recruiting mission.”

“Perhaps a commando unit, then?” That was Kallus. He jerked his head pointedly in Madine’s direction. “They will catch any Inquisitor off-guard, without a doubt.”

The General nodded. “I can assemble a few of my men if you require them, General Syndulla.” 

Hera paused, considering this with a pensive frown. After several heartbeats of heavy reflection, she shook her head. “No. If Inquisitors or, gods forbid, any of the Emperor’s Hands show up, your men will be decimated; torn to pieces. That is a loss we cannot afford.” Especially not after they’d lost so many men and pilots at Scarif; the Rebellion, and Hera herself, were still reeling from that. 

“With all due respect, General,” Kallus said wryly. “Not long ago, you yourself would’ve been the first to volunteer for this mission. Obviously that is no longer your role, but that assessment of Madine’s commandos still seems rather … hypocritical.”

Hera wanted to be angry at his statement, but she was aware that it was a valid point. She would be going if she were able to. Unfortunately, Hera had other responsibilities now; to the Rebellion, yes, but also to herself and her unborn child. To Jacen, who was hopefully sleeping in the creche right at this moment. Warmth fluttered through her chest and she subconsciously placed a hand on her stomach, although it was early enough that she didn’t show through her layered outfit. 

The moment passed. Hera cleared her throat and clasped her hands together. Get your head out of the clouds, Syndulla , she scolded herself. Focus . “All the same, that was before each Rebel cell was truly unified. Now, all of us lose or none of us do. And need I remind you what happened at Scarif?”

“Which you fought in,” Kallus countered. 

“Even so.” Hera calmed her breathing, stomping down on the irrational surge of indignancy in her gut. She tried not to bristle; it was a valid remark, although she was much too stubborn to admit that out loud. “You weren’t there, Kallus. You stayed safely on Yavin, probably in this very room. You didn’t see what I and the other pilots all saw.” Kallus was visibly stung by this, eyes glistening with hurt and possibly even guilt, and Hera had to force herself not to wince out loud. The contemptuous implications of such an argument hit her all too late. Her stomach coiled. She’d apologize for that after the briefing. “As the highest ranking person involved with the mission, my judgment is final.” She softened. “Kallus, who do you believe we should send?”

He scratched at his sideburn. “The Jedi from your crew, as you said,” Kallus offered. “As well as Masters Bultar Swan and Kento Marek, and Knight Ashla.”

Hera’s gaze raked each and every face crowded around the display table. “Does anyone have any further objections to this?”

The other officers murmured amongst themselves, some with doubt, but none of them voiced any concerns. Hera swallowed, wondering nervously if her unprofessional passive-aggressiveness had scared the younger officers into keeping mum about their objections. Guilt pricked at the back of her neck as seconds passed and no one volunteered.

“Very good.” She turned to a Sullustan woman. “Lieutenant, please summon Masters Swan and Marek, Knights Jarrus and Ashla, and Padawan Bridger.”

The officer nodded curtly and began to send a message to each of them.

Hera’s lips pressed together in a prim line as she surveyed the others. “Meeting adjourned.” 

Those uninvolved with the finer details of the plan went back to their stations. Those who remained huddled closer around the table, taking advantage of the freed space.

Her thoughts drifted to the arrival of Kenobi and Skywalker. They’d been thought dead for so long, the fate of their transport undiscovered by search parties on either side of the war. It went without saying that this development was momentous; maybe even momentous enough to influence the war itself. Hera knew that this was a silly line of thought. For all of their power and legend, two men would not be able to turn the tide of this war by themselves. She’d seen them as a little girl everywhere she’d looked. She remembered seeing Kenobi and the late Mace Windu from a distance. Hera had wanted to scamper over to them more than anything, but her mother simply held her back, worried. 

Hera remembered the war well; she’d watched her mother and brother die in the Separatist invasion of Rhyloth. That seems like a lifetime ago . It might as well have been. After that particular occupation, the on-planet warfare lessened, marginally, but the trauma and brutality that she’d witnessed and experienced would forever remain a part of her.

She shook her head as if to jolt herself from a daze. That war had long since ended, and there was a new one that required her undivided attention. Hera waited for the summoned Jedi to enter, reflecting on all of this, lekku drifting as she lowered her head.

“General?” the junior officer from before asked. “What is our strategy?”

Hera raised her chin, forcing confidence into her demeanor. She couldn't take any gambles when lives were at stake, nor could she afford to let herself be distracted for even a heartbeat. So she turned and addressed the inquiry with a newfound curtness. “While I wish to wait for the Jedi to arrive before we get into any details, here’s the gist of it…”

 


 

The chill of her master’s presence wreathed around Darth Tethun, the embrace of his darkness all but physical. It sent a chill through her spine, although it was not disconcerting as it had been when she’d begun her training. She knelt with her head bowed low, her eyes staring at the tip of his boots, peeking out from under his long robes. 

Sleek silver hair framed seemingly delicate mauve features. The strands fell out of the hood hastily thrown over her head, shadowing her face. “My master,” she murmured to the hologram. “What is your bidding?”

Palpatine inclined his head, hands clasped. “You have done well, Lady Tethun,” he intoned, his voice a guttural rasp. “The Infinity Gate on Dathomir you’ve secured will serve us greatly. Such an asset is … invaluable.”

The Keshiri woman looked up to see the Sith master leering down at her, which of course was nothing out of the ordinary. “Thank you, Master.” Pride bubbled within her chest. 

“Oh!” He let out a bark of laughter that nearly made her flinch. “Don’t thank me, child. Your work is far from over.”

Her lips curled into a slight frown. “I understand. The Singing Mountain Clan is formidable, and we both know that Mother Augwynne will die before handing that gateway over to us. I have some of your personal operatives stationed at the pyramid. We’ll be ready when they return.”

“Yes,” he agreed, his voice like a knife to her ears. “However, this is not why I have summoned you.” At Tethun’s inquisitive look, Palpatine elaborated, “One of my agents has discovered a quaint village on Gorse, far from any urban district. It appears to be a settlement for Force sensitives.”

Tethun perked up. “Jedi?”

“No.” Her head lowered once again in dismay as she listened to her master’s words. “Unaffiliated, but they train together. Force-sensitives fled here with their younglings so the Inquisitors wouldn’t find them.” The corner of his crinkled mouth lifted into a smirk. “Lady Tethun, I trust you will take care of them?” 

It was a rhetorical question, of course, but she still had to ask, “Does Your Lordship want them killed or brought in?”

He flicked a dismissive hand. “Take the children, but dispose of the adolescents and adults. Rendezvous with the Inquisitorus fleet and bring the younglings before the Grand Inquisitor. He’ll take them off your hands.”

The usual, then. “Understood,” Tethun said, shifting her crimson cloak. Then something else occurred to her. “I mean no disrespect, my Lord, but is this type of mission not the very reason for the Inquisitorus’ existence?” It was far below her paygrade; she was usually dispatched to track down targets too powerful for Palpatine’s other agents to subdue. Rogue, but trained or powerful Force users usually served as her prey. Jedi, too, but they were more difficult to come by nowadays. Meanwhile, these Gorse folk seemed to be absolute fedejiks.

Palpatine chuckled. “Ah, yes, you’ve reminded me; I must tell you that the Jedi are also on their way. They seek to relocate the villagers before you can get to them. This much I have foreseen.” His eyes flashed, bright even against the illumination of the hologram. “There is a distinct possibility that you will encounter members of the Order, should they arrive soon enough.”

This caught her attention. She’d killed Jedi in the past, particularly during the years immediately following the establishment of the Empire. But out of all of her victims, only one had been with the Rebellion, and it had been a mere padawan at that. Those associated with Shaak Ti’s Jedi Order were generally much more careful than lone fugitives, and had more resources to evade her with. Due to the Order’s numbers and modernized concern with absolute discretion, Jedi were nigh impossible to catch these days. That was one reason Tethun secretly resented the Rule of Two; powerful though they were, it didn’t change the fact that she and her master were vastly outnumbered. 

More personally, she was tired of Palpatine’s constant reminders that she hadn’t been his first choice. That, of course, had been Anakin Skywalker. Sidious liked to remind her that Anakin had held much greater potential than she. Just the thought of that long-dead one-eyed egg-sucking son of a slime devil filled her with repressed but unceasing fury. Even after all this time, her master never let that go.

If not for the Rule of Two, Palpatine would have less of a reason to fixate on that fact and to constantly berate her for it.

“Excellent,” she said, inclining her head. Tethun did not feel ashamed at these constant reminders---she knew her own value, thank you very much---but her annoyance and irritation at them were becoming increasingly palpable. If for nothing else, having other Sith acolytes would’ve shifted his attention from her every so often. 

But alas, this was the way of the Sith.

He simpered, no doubt sensing her infuriation. “Happy hunting, Lady Tethun.” Then the hologram flickered and died, leaving Tethun genuflecting before nothing at all.

Chapter Text

The flight to Gorse was cold and far from comfortable, which gave Kanan plenty of time to reflect on just where it was they were headed.

Gorse. That Force-forsaken excuse for a planet. It was a tidally locked planet, caught in a perpetual tug of war between its sun and its moon, Cynda. The planet itself was volatile as a result, prone to random tectonic activity. The light side of the planet was nothing short of hellish, or so Kanan heard. No one ever went there without good reason, since it was literally hot enough to melt droids. The dark side of the planet was habitable, and there were several cities scattered about the planet. But it was dark, cold and gloomy; an icy swamp, if there even was such a thing.

Kanan had spent a long time on Gorse, working under his new name and remaining under the radar. Mostly. Until Hera entered his life. Kanan remembered that day, although it had been at least a decade since. He remembered hearing her voice from a nearby alleyway and falling in love with it, even before seeing her face. 

The other Jedi were focused on various menial activities. He glanced at each of them out of the corner of his eye. To his immediate right was Ezra, who, to no one’s surprise, radiated nothing but boredom. And nervous energy, of course; only in Ezra could those go hand in hand.

Across from them, Bultar Swan sat cross-legged with her back to the wall, her hands outstretched. She closed her eyes as her age-worn face became bathed in cool light, which cast green energy in the Force and over all of them. Hundreds of tiny mechanical pieces hovered around the kyber crystal, rearranging and disarranging themselves in a practiced routine. Kanan watched dully. This was a habit, he knew; a nervous tick. Bultar liked to toy with the components of her lightsaber, and today was no different. The lines around her mouth tightened with every passing moment.

In the cockpit, Kento Marek was seated in the pilot’s chair. Beside him was his former padawan Ashla. The two were conversing in hushed voices, casting a furtive glance at the others every so often. 

“Kanan?” Ezra’s voice redirected his immediate attention. “What’s going to happen now?” At his questioning glance, he further added, “With the Jedi, I mean? We’re barely an Order at all, despite what some of the others may think.” He fidgeted, briefly reminding Kanan of when they’d just met, when Ezra had been a small, fourteen-year-old boy with a wide-eyed eagerness and a desire to learn. “How are the new guys gonna fit into everything?”

“I don’t know,” Kanan answered truthfully. “But what I can tell you is that Master Ti will make the right call.”

Ezra huffed, tugging at his loose collar. His dark hair had grown since he’d trimmed it two years ago, although not nearly to its former length. “I know she’s, like, a billion times more lenient than when you were a kid. But I feel like she’ll have something to say about Master Skywalker’s disregard for the Code when it was still a thing. That she might see as more heretic.” His eyes rounded as more questions seemed to flood his mind. “And what about his padawan? How is she gonna fit into this? Or the Clones? What’ll happen to them? Will they be forced into service? For the Rebellion or the Jedi? Or both?” 

“The clones are being given the freedom to chart their own paths,” Kanan reassured Ezra, who nodded in glum relief. “As for everything else, I can only speculate.”

He considered this with a pensive expression before changing the subject. A grin spread across his face. “I came up with some more names if you want,” he offered.

Kanan rolled his eyes good-naturedly. “For the last time, I’m not going to call my kid Arson or Darth or God, or whatever other crazy name you’ve come up with.”

“You’ll like this one, though.” His smile oozed mischief and self-satisfaction. “Because it’s true.” He paused for an unnecessary amount of time, likely to be more dramatic. “Palpatine’s Doom.”

Kanan could not suppress a chuckle at this suggestion, and for a moment he found himself wishing for it to be doable. “I feel like it’s not necessary to name them something that on-the-nose, since that will probably end up becoming common knowledge anyway.” Although he’d meant that as a lighthearted joke, the thought sent a very real shudder through his body. Having a Force-sensitive son was stressful enough in this day and age. But once Jacen made a name for himself on the battlefield, the danger would grow exponentially. And Force forbid that he or the other child became too well-known in the Empire or galaxy, like the Skywalkers or Shaak Ti … the mere idea of it made his stomach curl, and he fought to hold back his nausea.

Ezra, for all his caring and insight, did not seem to notice the change in Kanan’s mood. If he did, he said nothing to indicate otherwise.

After a heartbeat of uneasy quiet, Kanan said, “I was hoping to name them after Hera’s mother---like how we named Jacen to honor her dead brother---but she’s surprisingly hesitant.”

“Well, parents can be a very difficult subject.” Ezra’s voice was rife with bitterness as if Kanan had touched a nerve. “If I had a kid, I wouldn’t want to be reminded of my dead parents every time I looked in their general direction.” He shrugged, trying and failing to appear nonchalant. “I don’t have any siblings of my own to compare her dilemma to, but I think losing a brother would feel different somehow.”

Kanan nodded thoughtfully before adding, “And she seems determined to name the kid after one of her favorite historical figures. The problem is that she has too many to choose from.”

Ezra laughed. “Oh, you’re going for history? Then what about Any Semblance Of Freedom In The Galaxy Whatsoever?

He wasn’t sure whether to laugh at this rather morbid quip or scold Ezra for making light of such horrific things. Then again, Kanan knew that sardonic humor was often Ezra’s way of coping with hardship. So he said, distractedly, “Maybe…”

Any further comment was interrupted as Ashla got up from the co-pilot’s chair to sit beside Bultar. The red-skinned Togruta’s montrals shone under the harsh light panels. “Let’s talk business,” she said, sitting with her legs crossed. Her accent was almost melodic, a thicker variation of Shaak Ti’s.

Bultar glanced over at her before rearranging the pieces of her lightsaber into their correct order. Once completed, it dropped to the floor with a clang.

“Right.” Kanan cleared his throat. “We’re anticipating several dozen refugees, but there may be more. The idea of stealing the children is consistent with Fulcrum’s reports of the Inquisitors’ secondary mission, so they’ll probably be there.” His expression hardened. “All the same, we must be ready to encounter a Hand of the Emperor.”

“We’ll land a klick away from the settlement using a prototype cloaking device, and locate the refugees.” His sigh came out dreary and heavy. “Best case scenario, we grab them and scram.”

They talked for a little while longer before coming to a consensus on their plan. In the silence that followed, Kanan’s thoughts drifted to the newcomers. He repressed a rather ridiculous surge of giddiness the idea of fighting alone side Skywalker and Kenobi brought him. He’d never been a fanboy - he was a mature and semi-dignified adult, thank you very much - but now he was beginning to question this. 

“Entering realspace,” Kento announced. “In three, two, one…”

The dazzling kaleidoscope swirl of blue plasma gave way to darkness speckled with the glow of distant suns. Kanan glanced out a transparasteel window. His jaw tightened as he swallowed back his misgivings upon seeing the planet. Kento directed the ship toward the dark side of Gorse, away from the sun’s cruel influence.

They descended into the atmosphere, ice gathering at the edges of the windows. 

In the cockpit, Kento exhaled through his mouth, a sudden flare of horror palpable within his Force presence. The other four Jedi exchanged wary glances, and Bultar rushed to the cockpit to see what was wrong. She gasped, shaking her head. “No…” 

He found it hard to believe that there used to be a settlement here at all. The entire place had been reduced to ash and dust, smoke wreathing through the leaden air. His heart sank, and he swallowed back his outrage. Were the refugees still alive? He thought he could sense traces of their presence, but the trail was far too faint for his liking.

“We’re too late,” Ezra said, eyes rounding in undisguised horror. Kanan put a comforting hand on his apprentice’s shoulder, but it did little to dispel either of their pain. His fingers tightened, digging into the fabric of his shirt. 

“No!” Bultar insisted with a newfound resolve. “We may be too late to stop the carnage, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help the survivors. When you can’t save everyone, it’s better to save someone that no one at all.”

“That’s not what I…” Ezra cut himself off upon noticing Kanan’s silencing look, and they followed the others down the loading ramp. 

Chilly air greeted them first, followed by the dank smells of swampland. The wind rustled through the trees and underbrush alike, the sound outright susurrus after the cacophony of Yavin IV. Kanan stuffed his hands into his pockets, thankful that he’d had the foresight to bring an extra layer. He’d told Ezra to bring a coat of his own, but of course the kid didn’t listen to him. Kanan could see him shivering in the bitter humidity, although he knew that Ezra would never admit that he was right. They could be on Hoth and he’d still keep his mouth shut out of sheer stubbornness. 

A thin, ragged voice shouted something incoherent. The Jedi froze in place, searching the vicinity for the source. After several moments, an old Rutian male staggered through knee-deep icy water, clutching at his side. He walked with a limp, although Kanan could see no lacerations.

“Where are your people?” Kento asked, clutching the elderly man by the arm.

He gasped out his answer. “After the children were kidnapped, there was an orbital bombardment,” he rasped. “The survivors of the first attack fled into the catacombs, but the second wave crushed the exit.” His mangled right lekku twitched. “The entrance is there. They’re trapped.” He pointed to the charred ruins of a building built around transport rails that, if Kanan’s prior experience was any indication, only went down, down, down. Boulders piled against the entrance, numerous enough to prevent escape, but not so hindering that they wouldn’t be able to move them from the outside.

Kanan did his best not to wince as memories of his old life here crashed through his mind. It was not a time he wanted to relive. Was this one of the new thorilide mines that had prompted the Empire to move its operations off Cynda? It doesn’t matter . Offhandedly, he wondered how Hera would feel if she was here. After all, Gorse was where they’d first met a decade ago. The thought made him inhale sharply. Had it really been that long? 

He shook his head. Focus .

“There was a ship,” Vanar told them. “It was a small fighter, but we have no air defenses.

“What kind of ship are we talking about?” Ashla demanded.

He coughed, the noise scratchy and hoarse, before replying, “One TIE, I believe. I didn’t know the model.”

The Jedi exchanged uneasy glances. “Could be a TIE Advanced,” Kanan speculated. “Maybe a new prototype.”

Ezra added, “Or a Defender.”

“This is troubling,” Bultar murmured, before turning to the man. “Who are you?”

“My name is Vanar,” he answered. He opened his mouth to say more, then closed it, eyes glittering with newfound fear. Kanan looked around for what had scared him so badly, and his heart stopped upon seeing what he saw.

Darth Tethun stood in the cover of darkness, the red of her outermost layers revealed only by starshine. Without saying anything, she made a fist. Her eyes narrowed to slits as her gaze fixated on Vanar. The Twi’lek screeched and fell to his knees, clawing at his throat. Kanan watched in horror as blood bubbled through his cracked lips. Ashla and Kento knelt down beside him as he wheezed. 

Vanar’s breaths were not breaths at all, Kanan realized numbly. It was as if he were drowning in his own blood. His own chest ached in pity at the sight of him. He looked away before he could watch him die; Tethun’s orgulous expression made his stomach coil.

In his peripheral, Kanan saw Ezra avert his eyes with a wince. He understood; as disgustingly normal as it was for them to stumble across the dying and the dead, the wounds in question were almost always cauterized. He placed a comforting hand on his padawan’s shoulder as he attempted to control his own nausea. Ezra’s pulse was frantic beneath his hand.

Tethun’s smile did not reach her amber eyes, which remained as cold as ever. “Welcome, Master Jedi,” she said, opening her arms in mock invitation. Spectral shadows danced across her violet face in the torchlight, making her leer all the more hair-raising.

Ashla took a tremulous step forward, prompting Kento to grab her shoulder. She shook with anger unbefitting of a Jedi. “What did you do to him?” 

Bultar stared at the now-dead man more clinically than the rest of them combined. She knelt down and touched his forehead. Her eyes swam with thought as her brows narrowed in momentary concentration. The Force rippled around her as she focused on his internal structure. Then she recoiled with a grimace. “The carotid artery has been severed,” she reported. “Aside from bruising, that was his only wound.”

“No doubt this maniac did it,” Ezra said, unnecessarily. He buried his face in his hands, but he still failed to hide the alarming pallor of his cheeks. He looked as if he was about to be sick. His next words were muffled against his palms. “I don’t think even Count Dooku killed anyone like that.”

“He had honor,” Kanan replied. At Ezra’s baffled expression, he elaborated, “Or at least, a twisted, evil version of it. He rarely used ‘cheating’ tactics during duels, since he actually engaged in the combat itself.” His gaze raked Tethun’s sickeningly emotionless visage. “He made all his kills personally, with a lightsaber.” He raised his voice pointedly as their eyes locked. “This murglak , on the other hand…” 

“I must confess that we did not expect to see a Sith spearheading such a textbook operation.” Kento’s voice was a little dry. It betrayed little emotion, but Kanan could sense his anger over Vanar.

This had the desired effect on her. Anger spiked in the Force, almost too much for Kanan to bear. Beside him, Ezra let out an inadvertent wince. 

“Well,” she sneered. “We all know that the Inquisitors would be hard-pressed to kill any of you lot.” Tethun shrugged off her heavy crimson robes, revealing a layered dark tunic and matching trousers. Her fingers traced the hilt of the lightsaber attached to her belt. 

“You cannot take us all, Tatianna ,” Bultar pointed out as she ignited her green blade. She spat out the name like a piece of putrid meat. “Give up while you still can.” 

Ezra glanced at the Jedi Master in incredulity. Kanan understood his bewilderment. Why would Master Swan even attempt something like that?

Tethun snarled in rage at the mention of her true name. “I won’t have to.” Her lips curled into a disgustingly malicious smirk. “After all, some of you need to go and be heroes.” Her voice took on a sing-song mocking infliction as she raised her hand and closed her fist. Behind her, yet more rock caved into the entrance, sealing it up completely. Kanan watched in horror as the roof of the cave mouth crumbled in on itself. The boulders thudded hard against the ground, sending spirals of gray dust and droplets of mud flying. 

Ashla inhaled sharply.

“They’ll run out of air before long,” Tethun said. “I suggest you go and recover them while you still can. Not that they’ll live for long after, but I will give them a much swifter death than what awaits them in the catacombs down below.”

“You’re a coward,” Ezra growled, prompting Kanan to place a restraining hand on his padawan’s shoulder. 

“Strong words from one so young and inexperienced.” Tethun looked almost amused at this. “I’m no coward, but I’m certainly not a fool.” When no one moved, she looked at each of them, challenge dancing over her visage. “Well? What will it be?” Her eyes flashed tauntingly. “Will you kill a single soul, or preserve the innocent lives of dozens?”

The Jedi exchanged glances. Kento and Bultar locked eyes, and they formed a silent consensus. Kento ordered, “Ezra, Ashla, go rescue the refugees and hide with them in the marshes.” 

When Ezra opened his mouth to protest, Kanan snapped, “That’s an order!” This was enough to get the barely post-pubescent boy moving. He cast a worried look over his shoulder before sprinting after Ashla. 

“Sparing the young ones, I see,” Tethun observed. “That is admirable, I’ll grant you this. But having my respect will not be enough to save you.” She ignited a crimson blade, holding it diagonally at her side. 

Kanan scoffed. “Who said we wanted your respect?” 

She sneered, her otherwise pretty features contorting into something hideous and outright monstrous. “Indeed.” The lightsaber flew into her hand and she ignited it, sending blood-red light cascading over all of them. She pointed it at them, her other arm tucking itself behind her back. Her poise was elegant in the kind of fashion only a Makashi duelist could achieve. His gut twisted; it was all too reminiscent of Dooku’s old holovid propagandas for Kanan’s liking.

Kanan twisted the separate pieces of his lightsaber and ignited the blade as Bultar hefted her own lightsaber. Kento activated his in unison. The three Jedi stared challengingly at the Sith Lady, waiting for her to make the first move. And oh, she did.

Tethun moved her lightsaber in a sweeping motion, cutting diagonally towards Kento. They locked blades, sparks igniting, before Tethun kicked his knee inwards, causing him to double over. Before she could strike a fatal blow, Kanan and Bultar intercepted her. Green, blue, and red crackled together in a horrifyingly beautiful dance of light and energy.

Her movements were swift and graceful, like a dancer’s. As she was forced onto the defensive by the three Jedi, she broke through the blade lock by twisting her lightsaber and jabbing it forward like a spear. She dragged her toe behind her in the dirt as she moved her leg in a circular direction. Kanan found himself scrambling out of its range before it could skewer him. When Kento and Bultar moved to intercept her, catching her lightsaber with their own, she ran vertically against a large tree trunk and kicked off of it in a backward flip. Her arm twisted with the movement, causing the lightsaber to twist with it, and this forced them off.

She landed and slammed a fist into the ground, and Kanan found himself being thrown backward by the shockwave that followed. Across from him, he saw Bultar flying through the air as well. Kento had blocked this attack with a shield of sorts, his arms crossed in front of him. The shockwave only pushed him back less than a meter, and he managed to stay on his feet.

Icy liquid surrounded his head and body as he landed in the swamp water. He resisted the urge to vomit as the repugnant taste spilled into his open mouth and nose. Kanan flailed for a moment or so before kicking the muddy floor of the swamp. To his relief, the water was relatively shallow, and he stood. He paused to cough the mud out of his system, gagging in revulsion. The smell made his stomach curl. He lifted each foot with a grimace, the thick, heavy mud weighing down on his boots.

He watched Kento and Tethun go at it while running toward them. Both were employing some rather … flourished acrobatics to avoid the other’s blade. Tethun threw her lightsaber low to the ground as she launched into a back handspring. She moved her foot to kick Kento’s chin but missed as he jumped to avoid getting his feet cut off. He landed evenly.

She cried out as Kento kicked her in the stomach, but did not waver.

Beads of sweat began to gather on Kanan’s forehead as he jabbed the lightsaber forward. At the same time, Kento performed an uppercut strike while Bultar swung from the side. Tethun nimbly avoided all three blades with a well-timed butterfly kick, although Kanan could see that the fabric at her side was just barely singed. Karabast

She reached out with her bare hand and made a fist, and Kanan’s alarm spiked as his throat seemed to collapse in on itself. It was as if an iron fist had tightened around his esophagus. He gasped for air that would not come, and he dropped his lightsaber to claw at his throat. His feet lifted off the ground, kicking and dangling uselessly. Black spots danced at the edge of his vision.

“Kanan!” Bultar cried out. She lashed out with the Force, throwing Tethun into a tree trunk with a yell and breaking her concentration. Kanan dropped to the ground, coughing. He tried to stand but the effort made him too dizzy. 

A sudden, sweet strength pooled into his muscles, sharpening his mind and stamping out the pain. Kanan looked up to find Bultar focusing her energy on reviving him. Her brows were furrowed, and it was alarmingly clear that this was draining her own energy a great deal. In the background, Kento and Tethun continued to duel.

“I’m okay,” Kanan insisted, although his voice was raspy. At her raised eyebrow, he added, “We need to focus on the battle.”

Bultar’s grip tightened around her lightsaber, jaw setting itself in firm resolve. “Right.”

The four of them exchanged a seemingly endless number of parries. Their blades clashed, sparks of every color flying as they made contact. 

When their blades locked yet again, the weight of three Jedi finally forced her onto the defensive. Her stance shifted. It was a subtle thing, visible right now only in how and where she shifted her weight. But as Depa Billaba’s padawan, Kanan had a keen eye for the use of Soresu. Sure enough, she now gripped her lightsaber hilt with two hands instead of one. Her stance, though not infallible, nevertheless presented a challenge. 

They exchanged many more blows and parries before she managed to slip back into Makashi.

She thrust out her arms, throwing all of them backward. Miraculously, Kanan managed to land on his feet; Bultar and Kento were not so fortunate. 

Taking advantage of the brief respite, Tethun put away her lightsaber and created a ball of white Force lightning. She achieved this by compressing the energy between her palms. She cupped her hands together as the dark energy sparked and flickered, the light intensifying as it gained strength. After several seconds, she thrust her arms out in front of her once more, hurling this ball of energy toward them. It exploded, sending painful shocks and spasms through all of their bodies. 

Kanan bit his tongue to prevent himself from screaming as a terrible burning sensation surged around and through him. The iron tang of blood filled his mouth as he bit back a scream. His breath hitched as he lost the ability to breathe for a panicked moment, but he managed to recover after a few seconds. By that point, the others had already jumped back into the fight.

Tethun and Bultar exchanged brutal blows. Although Kanan could see that the Jedi master had a superior technique, she was well past her prime, and tiring quickly. Tethun, though hardly a young woman, had not yet become so decrepit. 

The Sith made a circular motion with her lightsaber, hooking her blade under Bultar’s and launching it up. The Jedi was forced to release her lightsaber to save her hand from mutilation. It flew into the air, and Tethun caught it with her spare hand. Her eyes burned with fervor. Panic flashed across Bultar’s face, faster than she could hide it. Before Tethun could strike a killing blow, Kanan reflexively used the Force to pull Bultar toward him, out of her range. The Jedi Master landed cleanly on her knees, rising as soon as she made an impact. She gave him a grateful nod.

He rushed forward and swung his blade. She simply ducked out of its reach before thrusting her own at him. He struck it aside. They exchanged several more blows until he managed to force her onto the defense.

Kanan pressed his weight down, using his superior height to loom over her. Tethun sank into her knees (but still remained standing) as she pressed the two lightsabers together in the shape of a cross, ensnaring his strike. He gritted his teeth and pushed down with more strength, willing the Force to free his sore limbs from their natural limits. Her left foot skidded backward, dragging through the mud.

With a strained yell, she dropped Bultar’s lightsaber from her left hand and stretched her arm out to the side. Out of the corner of his eye, Kanan saw pieces of bark begin to fly off the trunk of the nearest tree. Within a mere heartbeat, nearly half of the trunk had been stripped away. She pulled her hand toward her with a pained expression. He realized what was happening only as the trunk had already been damaged beyond the point of no return. The massive tree groaned and crashed down, forcing the two of them apart. It landed with a thud, thin green leaves rustling on and off the now-fallen branches. 

Kanan launched himself out of the way, acting purely on instinct. As a result, his landing was less than perfect; face-down, on his hands and knees, his face mere inches away from the swampy water. He wrinkled his nose in disgust.

To his dismay, Tethun was already on her feet when he raised himself to face her. She stood at the edge of the swamp, in the swamp. The cloudy water barely reached her kneecaps. Alright, if that’s how you want to play it . His eyes narrowed as he searched the environment around them. Shaak Ti was able to draw energy from plant life to enhance her own strength, thus using her surroundings to her advantage. But Kanan knew he’d have to go for a more direct route. 

He pulled back his left hand, his fist closing as if it was seizing the air. As he did so, Kanan envisioned himself drawing the water toward his hand like iron to a magnet. The water surrounding Tethun’s legs abruptly jerked forward, sweeping her up from under her feet like a riptide. She slipped onto the mud bank, landing hard on her back with a splash. Her silvery hair was all but invisible as it floated in the cloudy swamp water surrounding her head, which was completely submerged. When she raised it, however, each strand was mired and stained by dirt. She spat mud out of her mouth, rubbing the water out of her eyes before receiving his next attack.

They exchanged more blows, their movements uncomfortably sluggish in the swamp. Kanan felt his boots sink into the mud as he shifted his weight. Over Tethun’s shoulder, he made eye contact with Bultar and Kento, who were charging at her silently. The Sith apparently sensed this. She sucked in a startled breath through her teeth before using the Force to throw a giant glob of mud in Kanan’s face, blinding him. He shuddered at the horrible, slimy sensation of the wet mud against his skin. It obscured his mouth and nose, too, he realized in alarm. Unable to breathe, he quickly worked to wipe the mud off. As he did so, he saw that she’d used the distraction to whirl around and confront the others.

Kento thrust his free arm forward, performing a palm strike. The base of his hand made hard contact with the Sith’s forehead. She yelled upon receiving the blow and stumbled to the ground. Her face contorted in pain. 

The three Jedi converged on her, but faltered as she sprang back up with her blade pointed toward them. Her strength was sapped---Kanan could see this much from the almost imperceptible shaking of her limbs---but he knew that pain in and of itself would do little to deter such a Sith. 

Eyes wild with desperation, Tethun threw her lightsaber like a javelin at Kanan. He knocked it aside with a single parry before he found the blade circling around and zooming back towards his neck once more. With a strained grunt, he used the Force to push the crimson lightsaber back at its owner. They struggled in stalemate for several moments as she resisted. Then Tethun flicked her hand, instead sending the lightsaber flying towards Bultar. The seasoned Jedi Master evaded the blade by a hair’s width. It changed course and sped towards Kento, who simply Force-pushed the Sith herself. The hilt deactivated and fell to the ground as she lost her focus. She slammed into the ground, a sprawled heap.

“It’s over,” Kento said sharply, leaning forward to make eye contact. He thrust his lightsaber at Tethun, the tip mere inches away from her chest. Her amber eyes flickered in the direction of her lightsaber, at least four meters out of reach. Bultar summoned it to her hand with a grim-but-satisfied expression. Tethun’s chest heaved, and she moved oddly even on the ground as if hiding an injury she sustained.

Kanan braced himself for yet another counterattack, tightened his grip around the hilt of his lightsaber, but the Sith Lady actually raised her hands above her head. “I surrender,” she spat, voice dripping with vitriol. Humiliation spiked within her already-rageful Force presence.

Kanan and Kento exchanged an uneasy glance, but the latter nodded curtly and pulled out a pair of binders. “Don’t try any of your tricks,” he warned, visibly unable to repress a smug smirk as he did so. Kanan understood; it wasn’t every day that they were able to catch a dark sider, and a Sith acolyte at that! Master Ti was going to be impressed.

And yet, something felt wrong. Incongruously, dangerously wrong. He couldn’t quite place his finger on it. Kanan knew as well as anyone the importance of listening to his instincts, so he trained his gaze on her. If she tried something, anything, he’d be ready.

A growl rumbled in Tethun’s throat as Kento grabbed her wrists and bound them together. “Oh, Master Jedi, I wouldn’t dream of it.” She bared her teeth in a deceptive smile, her dagger-like gaze boring straight through Kanan’s gut. It sent a chill up his spine.  

Kanan watched Ezra and Ashla out of the corner of his eye. Both were covered in dirt, chests heaving from the effort, but a few settlers had clawed their way through and were retreating deeper into the marshland. Hopefully, there would be more to come.

Next to him, Bultar fastened Tethun’s red lightsaber to her belt, hanging right beside her own. 

“What do we do with her?” Kanan asked the older Jedi, nodding at the hunched figure of Tethun. Her face was gaunt in the sickly light. “It’s not like we have a brig on our transport.”

Bultar’s eyes didn’t leave Tethun’s face. She blew a strand of raven-black hair out of her face before replying, “We can improvise.” Upon hearing Tethun’s skeptical laughter, Kento jammed the hilt of his lightsaber between the Sith’s shoulder blades. Tethun’s jaw snapped shut, her amber eyes glittering with something malevolent. Satisfied, Kento put the weapon away and smirked to himself.

Kanan glanced over to the cave entrance, where Ezra and Ashla were moving the boulders. It was arduous work, even for a Jedi; both of their faces were flushed from the effort and coated in sweat. Their progress came slower than he would’ve liked, although the fact that they were making any progress at all was rather impressive given the circumstances.

As he did so, he heard Kento begin to interrogate the Sith apprentice. “Did you bring any friends?”

She sneered, unresponsive. With an annoyed sigh, Kento slapped her across the face. Kanan could not help but wince at the sound of skin hitting skin. The blow pushed her face aside; already Kanan noticed that her cheek was reddening. Her irises flared gold.

“You think you can break me?” Tethun said. “I’ve endured pain far beyond your comprehension. Whatever you do will be in vain.”

“Oh, I don’t know.” Bultar placed a hand on her hip, tilting her head. “We’ve dealt with plenty of pain.” Thanks to you , Kanan added silently.

“I suppose that you have,” she conceded, eyes flickering from face to face with uncanny intensity. “But pain weakens the Jedi. Pain, anger, hatred… you all shun these. And yet, if you are brave enough to draw your strength from your weaknesses, then you become invincible.”

“That’s enough.” Kanan crossed his arms, unimpressed. He wouldn’t let her change the subject. “How did you know about this place?” 

“I could ask you the same question.”

“Don’t bother,” he snarked. “Why target civilians?”

She scoffed. “These are hardly civilians.”

“Then what are they?”

Her answer was swift and alarmingly immediate. “Assets.” The corner of her mouth lifted into the beginnings of a smirk, although Kanan could see in the Force that she was not feeling nearly as cocky as she appeared to be. She continued, “Tools. Pawns in a game you have yet to start playing. Or perhaps liabilities.”

Horror flared from Bultar’s signature. “How many have you taken?”

“Enough. But you needn’t worry about them, Master Swan.” She raised her chin. “They will all find purpose in our machine.”

“You target younglings,” Kento growled. “Like in the Jedi Temple so many years ago. You condition them to be slaves, I assume.”

“You assume correctly, Master Merrick. Compliance is always the end result. That, or death.” She cocked her head in an almost mocking, contemptuous manner. “It all works out in the end.”

This is like something out of a bad holovid , Kanan thought with disgust. He wrinkled his nose. Once again, he looked over to see how Ezra and Ashla were faring. To his delight, the able-bodied refugees were beginning to shuffle out of the cave. Most ran off deeper into the marshes, but a Duros female had stayed behind to help the other two clear the entrance. It clearly took a toll on her untrained abilities, able to move only a single boulder before pausing to catch her breath, but Kanan was impressed by her bravery all the same. The passageway was not fully cleared, but it wouldn’t be long before the most injured would be able to climb to safety, thanks to their operose effort. He allowed himself a single sigh of relief.

Kento continued, “Why, exactly, would the Emperor send you of all people here? This work is below even an epigone such as yourself.” 

Her lips curled back into the beginnings of an animalistic snarl. “I’ll let you know soon enough.”

This boast was only met with unimpressed silence. Dissatisfied, Tethun huffed in exasperation. “I’ve killed many ex-Jedi over the last two decades,” she boasted. The Jedi exchanged mutual glances of disgust as she continued, “But I’m surprised you could have forgotten me so easily, Bultar.” She simpered. “After all, I was the one who put down your pathetic padawan.”

Bultar, a true and traditional Jedi, did not respond to the provocation with violence as Tethun had clearly hoped she would. Attachment was discouraged, after all, and most of the older Jedi still adhered to the Code. And yet, Kanan could sense a tranquil fury brewing beneath her seemingly placid gaze. Not so much as a single breath escaped her lips.

When she said nothing, Tethun let out a disappointed huff and flicked her index fingers. Kanan watched in horror as the crimson lightsaber hanging at Bultar’s side activated. The blade hummed as it swung one-hundred-and-eighty degrees to slice her torso. The Jedi Master reacted just in time. She gritted her teeth, eyes wild, and pushed against it with the Force. The blade trembled where it stuck out adjacent to her stomach, caught in a stalemate.

While the two of them were fixated on the lightsaber, Kanan leaned over and grabbed the hilt with his hands, pulling away. Making sure to cast a satisfied smirk in Tethun’s direction, he deactivated it manually.

“Everyone stop!”

That was a new voice; a cold, ghastly voice. Kanan whirled around and felt a stab of alarm at what he saw. 

Three Hands were here now, cloaked in black, blocking the exit to the tunnel. From Ezra and Ashla’s frantic expressions, it was clear that they’d been ambushed and easily overpowered. The younger Jedi stood shoulder to shoulder, pointedly refusing to look at the crimson blades pointed at their throats. 

The remaining Jedi froze in place, staring at them in undiluted horror. The third Hand was standing in the mouth of the cave, brandishing his lightsabers and driving the stragglers away from their escape route. The Duros woman had been slain, twitching feebly with her face in the water.

Kanan’s jaw went slack in a terrified sort of bewilderment. Hands of the Emperor operated independently; everyone knew that. What was so important that brought them all the way back here? 

He swallowed back a wave of nervousness. It must be a directive from the Emperor himself then. But why? What could the Emperor possibly want with these refugees? Hunting younglings was beneath Tethun, usually done by the Inquisitorius, but she was still the lesser of the two Sith. Why Palpatine would want to involve himself in this was beyond him.

And why were the Hands here in the first place? Tethun had surrendered, yes, but they clearly hadn’t come because of that; they must’ve already been in the system by the time that happened. Besides, Palpatine would never exhaust his forces to rescue an apprentice who shouldn’t, and likely wouldn’t need rescuing.

Judging by the flare of shock emulating from her Force signature, Tethun had been equally caught off-guard.

One of the Hands, a green Mikkian male, violently grabbed Ashla’s wrist, yanking her forward. She stumbled but managed to stay on her feet, and gasped as he grabbed her by a montral and moved the lightsaber closer to her neck. Ezra rushed forward but gave up as his own Hand pressed her unactivated lightsaber against his throat. He gulped.

“Stand down!” Kento barked, drawing his lightsaber. The hum of his blade was quickly joined by Kanan’s and Bultar’s. The hostages looked at their saviors with cautious hope. 

They did not respond with the sadistic taunts Tethun so often employed. In fact, Kanan sensed no desires of sadistic bloodlust from any of the Hands, just a relentless drive to complete their task and satisfy the Emperor, whatever it took.

“We will complete our mission.” The Mikkian’s tone was sharper than a vibroblade. Kanan could swear that the sheer raspiness of it would make his ears bleed. He balled his fists. “Leave now, and your padawans will be spared a great deal of pain.”

Knight ,” Ashla muttered under her breath, earning herself a questioning, and almost judgemental glance from the third Hand.

Sadness began to spill into the Force around Bultar as she looked the Hand in the eye and stated, “This is war. We are prepared.”

“Are you insinuating that you would sacrifice two young, promising Jedi for a handful of randoms?” The second Hand’s voice dripped with incredulity. Any distinguishing features she might’ve had were hidden beneath a truly massive hood and mask. “That’s a stretch even for you, given how depleted your numbers are.”

“Jedi place the needs of others before their own,” she countered. “And there are no truer Jedi than these two.” A bit of an exaggeration, to be sure, but Kanan felt his heart warm at this praise all the same. It was almost as if she’d been referring to him instead of his student.

“Bultar,” Kanan warned, lowering his voice. His eyes met Ezra’s, blue to blue. His heart wanted to break upon feeling the sudden spike of fear the Jedi Master’s words had brought on. He sent a silent message through their bond; It’s going to be okay . “How do you propose we get to the trapped refugees before the Hands do?” It would only take the Hands seconds to dispose of the younger Jedi; little time would be lost. The remaining settlers would die either way.

She opened and closed her mouth, uncertain. Her almond-shaped eyes glittered. “Fine,” she snapped. “We agree to your terms.”

“Master Bultar!” Kento protested, although the objection seemed rather weak. She glared at him to be quiet before turning back to the Hands.

Suddenly, the male Hand swiped his lightsaber at Ashla’s left montral. The blade only took off the tip of it, which Kanan assumed wouldn’t be fatal, but the Togruta gasped and fainted. Frantically, he searched for her within the Force, and saw that her presence was stable. Well, stable in that she would live. In any other regard, her signature was roaring and raging from the sheer pain of the wound. Kanan withdrew his mind and allowed himself a horrified wince. No wonder the poor woman had fainted. After all, montrals were an integral and sensitive part of Togruta physiology.

Clutching her side, Tethun glared daggers at the Jedi and Hands alike. Her cheeks had darkened, presumably from humiliation. Wait a minute.. .

Kanan dug deeper and frowned. 

It wasn’t the kind of burning shame he’d expected to feel from someone in her position, more like an irritated indignancy. 

What’s up with her?

The female Hand shoved Ezra towards his friends. “Go,” she said, voice tight and cool. “Before I change my mind.” 

Ezra gulped before grabbing Ashla by the wrist and dragging her through the bog, still crawling on his knees. Marsh water and mud caked her face, but that, of course, was the least of their concerns. Kento rushed over and scooped her into his arms. Ezra staggered to his feet gratefully. Kanan’s brow creased upon studying Ashla’s face. Her lips were visibly blue, the color in her cheeks receding to pink. Even in unconsciousness, she shivered violently against the cold air, soaked in icy water. Ezra, too, had his arms wrapped around himself as he trembled hard. K

Kanan realized for the first time that he didn’t feel anything at all beneath his knees. The water seemed to have numbed the chill enough so that it barely felt like anything, paradoxically.

They scrambled onto the ship, Kento carrying his unconscious former padawan.

Kento doubled back to pick up the survivors. Wandering around the marshes, little more than one dozen settlers remained. All of them piled into the ship, huddling together for warmth upon hearing that their transport lacked any blankets.

Kanan noticed with a frown that Ezra was still shivering too much for his liking. He understood; the innards of the ship were chilly against their backs. “Here.” He sat down next to Ezra, handing him his own jacket. 

Ezra let the jacket hang between his hands as he weighed his options. Then he accepted it with a grateful nod of acknowledgment. He put it on himself, although it was almost comically oversized on his wiry frame.

“There’s more to all of this,” Kanan murmured, mostly to himself. 

Bultar wrung her hands together. Then she rested her chin on her palms, slouched over. “I sense it too.” She looked troubled. “Such direct involvement of the Sith in this is troubling. But that goes without saying.”

“Not that I’m complaining,” Ezra added, a little dryly. “But why would they bother letting us leave? Normally they try to kill us with zero hesitation. And that’s not even when the Sith shows up! This makes no sense.”

Kento’s eyes widened. He crouched next to Ashla’s still form, having already set the autopilot. “Unless they wanted us to flee.”

“No duh.” Ezra sounded resigned, enough so that Kanan didn’t even bother to chastise his disrespect. “Maybe we should jump to a neutral system and take another route to Yavin, since they’re probably tracking us.”

“I ran a diagnostic as soon as we took off,” Kento reassured him. “Thrice.” Already? Kanan couldn’t help but feel impressed at this. “There aren’t any objects aboard this ship transmitting an Imperial frequency, nor are there any beacons attached to the hull.” His expression turned troubled, and he stroked his chin. “However, it’s possible that they could’ve used an advanced tracking system that would bypass any sort of general detection.”

“So what do we do?”

He paused, tilting his head for a moment before issuing his reply. “I’ll jump us into neutral territory, as you suggested, so we can make a more thorough sweep. We can’t risk leading the enemy to our base.” Ezra opened his mouth to protest, then clenched his jaw shut as Kanan silenced him with a look. Noticing this, Kento turned to face the padawan and said, “Better safe than sorry.”

Ezra nodded, irritated by the delay but understanding nonetheless. “Why would they rely on devices to broadcast our location, instead of the Force? Even if it’s more difficult, the Force is much more reliable anyway.” Before anyone could formulate an attempt at an adequate response, he continued, “And Tethun seemed pretty pissed when those Hands showed up. I don’t think she was expecting them. Why would that be?”

Kanan thought for several moments, but could only shrug and listen as Kento speculated, “It couldn’t be a communication issue, could it? That would be a pretty amateurish mistake for any random Imperial to make, let alone a Sith.”

“I agree.” Bultar clasped her hands together, her almond-shaped eyes swimming with troubled thought. “None of this is adding up.”

“For now,” Kento told them fervently. “We must regroup and report to the others. Master Ti will want to meditate on this matter.”

“Agreed.” 

A cough interrupted any further continuance of the conversation. Kanan’s brows creased in concern as he saw a now-conscious Ashla blinking slowly. Her crimson hand went to the little black stub where the tip of her montral had been. She hissed upon touching its deformed shape. “What happened?”

It was Bultar who answered, “Your montral was cut. You fainted.”

She put her head in her hands. “I can’t hear what you’re saying. Why can’t I hear anything?”

“I numbed it,” Kento enunciated slowly, but this only earned a confused frown. After a moment, he sighed and wrote a message in aurebesh on a nearby holopad: Montral injury. Fainted. Wound is numbed. Ashla nodded and leaned back against the metal panel with a troubled expression. 

While Kento continued to communicate nonverbally with the Togruta, Bultar went over to speak with the refugees, inquiring as to what they needed and wanted. 

“So,” Ezra asked, a little too eagerly. “What are we gonna do once we get back?”

“Well, first we will give our report to the Jedi Masters.”

He rolled his eyes. “I meant after that.”

“Did you have something in mind?” Kanan already knew where this was going. 

“Yes,” he replied. “Don’t you?” When Kanan didn’t respond, Ezra threw up his hands in exasperation before hissing, “Y’know . Meeting the new guys .”

This gave Kanan pause. He considered this for a moment, stomping down on the childish desire to jump in agreement. “We should wait,” Kanan told his apprentice. His shoulders slumped. “They still need time to adjust.”

“How do you think they’ll fit into the war effort?” Ezra tilted his head, inquisitive. His dark blue eyes swam with thought. “Will they fight?”

“For the Rebellion?” Kanan raised his eyebrows, frowning in thought. “Most likely. General Draven wouldn’t dare let any of them go off on their own, for their personal safety as well as the Rebellion’s. And having Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker leading the charge into battle would send morale through the roof.” Just the thought sent a rush of excited adrenaline through his bloodstream.

Ezra nodded thoughtfully. “Yeah, the Hero With No Fear, and the Negotiator.” Then something seemed to occur to him, and he frowned. “Wait, who even came up with those names?”

Kanan suppressed a chuckle before adding, “It’s not like they have anywhere else to go. There are no known Jedi fugitives that survived outside of the new Order. The Imps would hunt them down like Transdosians pursuing a Wookiee.”

“Aren’t they supposed to be great pilots as well?” Ezra inquired. His face was paler than usual against the white lighting of the transport. “We could use them for the Death Star attack.”

“Maybe…” Kanan shivered at the mention of the notorious planet-killer, which had already decimated Jedha and Scarif. The mere notion of it being used on a Core World planet was troubling, to say the least. Leia had barely managed to escape with the plans aboard the Tanative IV. The boarding party pursuing their cruiser had been held at bay, with Hera serving as their fighter escort, cutting a clean path through a barrage of TIEs with the Ghost . The secrets of the Death Star now laid safely in the hands of the Rebellion thanks to Leia and the late Rogue squadron. They still had time to prepare for an assault, so long as the Empire didn’t discover their base.

After reflecting, Kanan added, “But keep in mind that they’re probably used to having thousands of troops at their disposal, and an entire intergalactic government to supply them with resources.”

Kento chimed in, “I’m just wondering how good ol’ Sheev is going to respond to this.”

Kanan nodded, troubled. Although little was known for certain about the Emperor’s seemingly thwarted ambitions with the Chosen One, it didn’t take a Jedi to discern that something was up. The fact that Palpatine kept requesting increasingly-drastic search-and-rescue despite the constant failures had not gone unnoticed. He was desperate. Shaak Ti would later say that Skywalker looked up to him and that Palpatine must’ve deliberately inserted himself into a role model position. What he wanted the Chosen One’s potential powers for was unknown. But with Skywalker’s death, it had been largely deemed a non-issue. 

He just prayed to the Force that they wouldn’t find out anytime soon.

 


 

 

“Why? Why did you interfere?” Tethun demanded, fists clenched at her sides. “You compromised my mission.” She seethed, red clouding her vision. And why in the everloving nine ice worlds are you working together? The Emperor liked to deceive his Hands into thinking that they were the Emperor’s hand, a unique operative, although Tethun suspected that most of them knew better. What could possibly prompt Sidious to gather them here?

The three Hands looked at her and said nothing. Although they expressed nothing short of indifference in their body language, she could sense their collective apprehension and fear churning in the Force around them. 

Tethun wanted to snap their necks, one by one. She hated, hated that they’d seen her in a moment of perceived weakness. Sure, the three Jedi had proved a more challenging opponent than she’d expected, but their triumph would’ve been short-lived. That much she knew.

The sterile cold of their ship did little to dispel the heated tension that boiled inside all of them. The red lights barely penetrated the darkness of the ship’s interior; they were quite inefficient, really, but she supposed it made for an intimidating aesthetic.

“Lady Tethun.” That was Jinu. The Mikkian was the only one bold enough to look her straight in the eye. As annoyingly audacious as he was, Tethun couldn’t help but feel a grudging sort of respect at this. “There was a change in plans.”

Her lips curled into a frown of displeasure. “Why was I not informed of this?”

“Our Master now has a larger goal in mind.” That was Tuija, Jinu’s twin sister. Her pale yellow tendrils floated around her head as she removed her hood. “His Excellency thought it best to tell you himself.”

She straightened her posture, clearing her throat. Only now did she realize that she’d left her cloak laying in the mud on Gorse. Oh well, it wouldn’t be the first time . “Very well.” Her voice was stiff. “I’ll answer his message in a private room.”

They exchanged glances. “Actually,” Kator---the third Hand, a human---said. He shifted on the balls of his feet as everyone turned to face him, no doubt intimidated by the sudden scrutiny of the older Imperial agents. “Lord Sidious wishes to speak with you---well, us---in person on Coruscant.”

This gave her pause, and she frowned in baffled confusion. “In person?” she repeated, unable to keep the incredulity out of her voice.

Tuija nodded. “Our spy in the Order has reported something game-changing, apparently. I myself am not privy to details at this time, but he felt that this was a conversation too delicate to take place over comms.”

“What do you mean when you say, ‘game-changing’?” she asked, not even bothering to hide her bewilderment. So there had been a sudden development. Fine. Why call them all back to the Imperial Center?

Tuija exchanged uneasy looks with her fellow operatives. When she turned to address her, her eyes had darkened. “I do not know as of yet, but Lord Sidious said that there has been a massive and unprecedented shift in the Force.” 

Ominousness laced Jinu’s tone as his gaze lingered on Tethun’s face. Their eyes met, and her breath caught in her throat upon hearing his next words. “A shift so drastic, it will destroy the Jedi Order from within."