Ahsoka Tano was adrift. Walking down corridor after corridor, each looking like the last and clogged with people. The crowd of reporters was swarming her, bombarding her with questions about the trial, the Jedi Order and her opinion on everything from the war to the latest "Blast off" holomovie. Compared to this onslaught, even a Separatist airstrike would have been an improvement. And just like with the dust from near misses, she let it wash over her as there was little she could do other than hope for it to be over. But the main reason why her mind was going a lightyear a minute was her future, which just became a huge uncertainty. When the turbolift doors snapped shut and the chaotic noise was cut off the young Togruta knew that the step she dreaded has come at last. She couldn't go back, which meant that the only path open to her was forwards, into the unknown.
Yet it turned out to be anticlimactic - one moment she was in the heart of the Republic, and in the next she stood outside in the chilly breeze, walking to the air cabs as if on autopilot and ignoring the few questions still thrown her way while the reporters camped in front of the side entrance zeroed in on their next victim.
My best friend killed innocents to promote peace. She didn't blow up an armoury or an artillery emplacement, but people who were just doing their work. The maintenance staff, who were hired after most of the temple's residents went off to fight in the war. The technicians had never taken a life; why did they have to die "for peace"? What had Offee been hoping to achieve? How could a dead family be the price for peace?
"Where to, Miss?" the driver wanted to know and for a moment, Ahsoka was pulled out of her thoughts.
"Just take me somewhere where I can forget," she replied absentmindedly while she entered the banking information her master made her memorise more than a year ago. It was meant to be used for emergencies, and she hadn't even been sure if the account behind it was still active. Or held enough funds for a cab ride from the most expensive location on the entire planet. The payment terminal turned green and the driver took off. Almost immediately, he plunged the speeder into a dive which wouldn't have been out of place during an orbital assault. Which meant that their destination was down near the levels she only ever visited during missions into the underworld.
And to rub salt into the wound, Barriss killed again and then framed me for the whole mess. How could she do this to me? We were friends, we grew up together. Other than Skyguy, she was the one whom I would have trusted most.
And no one else believed me. Not Master Yoda, who spent a decade in the temple with me, nor Obi-Wan, whose life I've saved countless times. We shed blood, sweat and tears together, but when I needed him, he wasn't there. Only Skyguy, and then Padme, once she got roped into this mess. The senator tried her best, but the outcome of my trial had been decided before it even has begun. Tarkin only had circumstantial evidence and yet no one had questioned it.
So much for a fair trial and due process. If not for Skyguy, I would be dead. Which isn't exactly uncommon, but usually it's not the firing squad of the Coruscant Guard about to kill me. And the Council just watched from the Gallery, as if it was a pod race and not my life on the line.
I need to - I need to get away from this mess. But where to? There has never been much in my life other than the Order. Maybe Shili; it would be nice to spend some time there. Or one of the medical stations. I might not be a master healer, but I could do much good there.
But for a start, wherever the cabby is going will do. Skyguy always says that a bar is the best place to think. I just hope we get there soon. And that he wasn't joking.
"What's a pretty girl like you doing in a place like this?"
Ahsoka spun around, ready to tell off whoever had dared to interrupt her very important brooding and use such an atrocious pickup line. However, before she could decide on something rude to say, she froze and stared. The hooded robe might have been suitable to blend in at this location, but she could sense the person underneath, despite the faux accent. And it was not someone she had expected to come down here in a million years.
"Skyguy? But - what?"
"You didn't think that I'd leave you alone after, well, everything."
"I was in good company," Ahsoka replied, still surprised, and gestured towards the empty bottle with which label she had been idly toying. Nonetheless, she relaxed a little as his familiar force presence made her feel less alone, less lost.
"Are you even old enough to drink that yet?" Anakin asked with a frown as he sniffed at the single full glass in front of her.
"The barkeeper said that if I'm old enough to lead men into battle, I can drink anything I want. And I don't think that you should lecture me on following rules."
"I can't argue with that, but I don't think I am old enough to drink this," Anakin muttered with a disdainful grimace after he sipped the brown drink. "That's strong enough to power a hyperdrive."
An odd silence fell over them as they sat in the rundown bar hundreds of levels below the official buildings of Coruscant. There were view screens showing all kinds of sporting events - regular targets of some rather outrageous bets - and four holograms with adult entertainment, but the pair was content to sit still and let the atmosphere wash over them. They weren't war heroes down here, or persons of public interest, but just two patrons nursing sweet, slightly alcoholic drinks. The people around them led normal lives and most had never even seen a battlefield. It was a nice reminder that there was a life outside of the War.
"Look, I wanted to talk to you about - "
"Skyguy, I - I can't go back to being a Jedi. How can I trust any of them to have my back if they abandoned me with this?" she asked with a shaking voice, already anticipating the inevitable argument that would follow. It would be loud, ugly, reveal state secrets of the Republic and probably leave both of them angry and embarrassed. Therefore she was quite surprised when her former master gently squeezed her shoulder and, with the finger which could reach them, softly traced the patterns on her lekku.
"I know Snips, and I am not going to the Temple either. What the council did was wrong. They even said that this mess would simply be a lesson, should you prove your innocence. Even Obi-Wan, while not happy about this, did nothing," he replied darkly. "There was a Council meeting in the aftermath of your trial. They didn't spare you much thought though, it was mostly about the damage to the Order's reputation. They didn't even expel Offee - "
"What? But - "
"They were willing to let you face execution, and she gets a slap on the wrist and is confined to her quarters like a youngling who tried to sneak a second dessert? They were talking about forgiveness and learning from mistakes - I stormed out at that point."
"You didn't have to - "
"I HAD to. I couldn't just leave you alone out on the streets."
"I would have managed," Ahsoka replied defiantly, but it was obvious that she wasn't convinced either. And Anakin's fierce conviction made her feel warm all of a sudden.
"I managed to delay Dooku until Master Yoda arrived, but that didn't mean that it was a pleasant experience," he pointed out with his robotic hand raised. "I don't remember submitting your name for the trials. As far as I am concerned, it is my responsibility to teach you everything I know about the force."
"But - I don't even have my lightsabers anymore," Ahsoka protested weakly. Despite having thought about her future for hours, she was not closer to a plan than when she walked out of the Senate.
"Before I was found by Master Jinn, I built a classic-winning pod racer out of scrap. I don't think a few lightsabers would be difficult compared to that. And - well - I might have stashed away some components in case I lost my saber - again," Anakin chuckled and for the first time that day, Ahsoka felt like smiling. "Also, I might have picked your sabers on the way out."
"You - You did?"
"I don't think anyone else would miss them."
"Thank you. Getting replacements would have been - difficult," Ahsoka mumbled and felt some of the weight on her shoulders disappear. She could defend herself with the force, but unless she suddenly obtained a mastery which took decades to earn, the lightsaber would be more useful. "But why are you doing this?"
"Because it is the right thing to do. I might have had reservations when I first met you, but you are the best Padawan I could have wished for. And I'm not going to give you up just because they don't trust you."
"Thank you," Ahsoka said and leaned against his chest. Skyguy's words made her feel better in twenty seconds than any amount of mediation ever had. "You were the best master I could have wished for."
"I had doubts about the Order before, but after how they treated you - " Anakin trailed off as he gently stroked her back. "It was only a question of time before they would have thrown me out as well, so I left before they got the chance."
"Really?" Ahsoka perked up. She knew that her master liked to bend the rules, but she couldn't think of anything which would warrant expulsion. Then again, she had just experienced that the threshold for being thrown out was quite low.
"I never was a good Jedi. I could complete the missions I were given, but the code was a loose guideline to me, not an ironclad set of rules. After my mother died in my arms, I snapped," Anakin said slowly, his face an odd grimace before he took a steadying breath.
"I had promised her that I would return one day, to free her. But the Order prevented that. Then I got visions of her death, but could not do anything. I was supposed to let go of the attachment to her, but I kept seeing her in my dreams, screaming in pain and - "
His voice broke and Ahsoka couldn't stop herself from wrapping her arms around him. The gesture seemed to steady him, and after taking a sip from his bottle, he continued.
"I was sent to guard Padme on Naboo after an assassination attempt. She noticed that I didn't sleep well, and once I told her about those visions, she flew to Tatooine so that I could find my mother without abandoning my mission of guarding her. It was the first time I had seen her since the Blockade, and we had spent a week together, and yet she was willing to do what the Jedi had refused for a decade."
"But - but it was too late. Mum had been taken by sand people, tortured and left to die still tied to a rack. I slaughtered the entire camp. I don't feel bad about the men, their atrocities are known all across Tatooine. The women helped them rape, kill and torture. Accessory to murder and other crimes is what Padme called it when we spoke about it a later. Even some of the children had spilt blood. But two or three of them were younglings, barely old enough to talk. And yet, it felt good to butcher them like animals. I couldn't save my mother, but at least I avenged her."
"Master?" Ahsoka breathed, her eyes still wide. She had gotten little snippets of that story before, but never even close to the whole picture. And the hurt in his voice was heartbreaking, even if his actions went against everything they were supposed to stand for.
Although a cynical voice in the back of her head whispered that a few innocents for a score of targets would have been considered acceptable if he had just ordered an artillery barrage.
Is this what the war does to us? What Barriss was against? Not all civilians could escape before the battles started - How many had died due to actions of Jedi? How many have I condemned by calling for a firing mission or a -
"But you know what's the worst part?" Anakin asked in a ragged voice and startled her out of her thoughts.
"N - No?" Ahsoka stuttered and wondered how it could be worse.
"I would do it again in a heartbeat. Maybe not the youngest, but I would put the other Tuskens to the sword without a second thought. And not just in that camp. Each of the raiders in that force-forsaken desert. Or take the 501st there to cleanse the scum from that unholy rock. I can't tell you how many invasion plans I had made up over the years. How many nights were filled with dreams about ridding the galaxy of the Tuskens and everyone like them? At first, it was just the Jedi, but the longer I fight in the war, the more details I can add. Gunships, walkers, air support and recon, heavy armour and artillery. I was always in the middle of it, striking down slavers or leading the assault on Jabba's Palace. You can wake me up in the middle of the night and there would be a flawless invasion underway within the hour."
"That's not the Jedi way," Ahsoka said, but her protest was nothing but a token effort. Such an action would be more righteous than some of their missions during the war, and those had been officially sanctioned by the Jedi and the Galactic Senate.
"I never was a good Jedi. Too attached, too emotional, too stubborn when it came to following the rules. But invading Tatooine would be more in line with the Jedi code than the Council would like to admit. We were supposed to be the shield for those in need. The warriors who made a stand for what was right, no matter the odds," Anakin said passionately and Ahsoka found herself nodding along. "The Council said that this wasn't our way, that we were not warriors. So I went on missions with Obi-Wan, missions where we mediated commercial disputes or saved the friend of a politician. But the only one who expressed concern about the suffering of the common people was the Chancellor. The same Chancellor who was about to proclaim your death sentence. How can the Jedi claim to guard the Republic and all of its citizens when they aren't even bothered by the misery on their home planet, the capital world of the Republic? When even a politician is more compassionate?"
"You have really thought about this," Ahsoka realised and Anakin nodded.
"When Master Jinn asked me if I wanted to become a Jedi, I said yes because I thought I could help those who were in the same situation as I had been. My ambition was to become a Knight because I wanted to return and purge the Galaxy of slavery. Instead, I had to deal with slavers, even help them. Remember our first mission to save Jabba's son? Back in his palace, when I thought that he had taken you and I had my lightsaber at his throat - I was tempted to just end that foul slug then and there. So tempted - " Anakin quietened, a distant, haunted look in his eyes.
"Skyguy, are you alright?" Ahsoka asked when her master - former master - trailed off. He had sometimes expressed his doubts, but this was a side she had never seen before. And in the past few minutes, he probably admitted more about his past than during their two years together. Assuming that he was telling the truth - and she had no reason to believe otherwise - Anakin Skywalker was simultaneously the best and worst Jedi in living memory.
He's been carrying this alone for years, and I haven't noticed. What kind of Padawan have I been that I didn't - The Council had been blind, but that's nothing new. I should have been better. He needs someone to lean on. And if he really wants to leave the Order for me, that's the least I can do for him.
"No Snips, not for a long time. At first, I thought that the council simply didn't know about Tatooine. That as soon as Master Jinn made his report, a horde of Jedi would descend upon the planet, putting an end to the slavery and the Hutt rule. They lectured me about attachment instead, because it's much more important that I don't ask about my mother than to do something about the billions of sapient owned by others like farm animals."
"We can't afford another front - " Ahsoka tried to point out but Anakin cut her off.
"I know, I know, we need their hyperspace lanes, so we cannot afford to alienate them. But the Hutts didn't just appear out of thin air. The Jedi, the Republic, no one was bothered by criminals taking over entire star systems - " he trailed off and shook his head. "We are supposed to be the guardians of the Republic, of galactic law. To protect the weak and innocent."
"We cannot save everyone," Ahsoka said and grimaced at how hollow she sounded. The point she was trying to make didn't seem in-line with the Jedi teachings, yet it had become the creed of the past few years.
"I know, I know. But we didn't even try. There is no emotion, there is peace. But where was the peace for those we left to suffer?"
"I don't - "
Anakin cut her off when suddenly laughed out loud. "I just remembered, Obi-Wan told me that they thought I was ready for a Padawan but wouldn't be able to let you go when the time came. And they were right. I sat in the Council Chambers, but I was the only one thinking about where you had disappeared to. They didn't care about you - so self-righteous, not taking responsibility for what happened to you and even daring to claim that it was just a trial on your path to knighthood."
That felt like a punch in the gut and Ahsoka had no idea how to respond. Admitting mistakes was one of the first things taught to Younglings so that they could learn from them, but those guidelines apparently didn't apply to the masters.
"Come on, I'll take you home," Anakin said as he settled the tab, then stood up and looked for the exit. Not wanting to be left behind, she jumped up from her bar stool and tried to follow but nearly lost her balance. Her master wrapped an arm around Ahsoka to steady her wobble. He knew from personal experience that the first few experiences with alcohol usually did not end well and hoped to spare her from the worst.
"I can't go back to the Temple."
"I'm not talking about the Temple. Remember when I said that they would have expelled me if they ever found out - "
"What have you done this time?"
"Nothing Snips. Well, nothing I regret. Come on, I'll show you."
"Will we get shot at?" Ahsoka asked after a moment. She was struggling to find her balance, but her words were still clear as they left the bar and stepped into a dirty street she had paid no attention to when she had arrived. And ending up in a firefight was always a possibility where they went. It happened worryingly often.
"I hope not."
"You can't even be sure?"
"It has happened there before. Well, not me - You will see once we get there," Anakin laughed as he used the force to seat her in a speeder she didn't recognise. It certainly wasn't a stock model though, with bulges and hatches where smooth surfaces were supposed to be.
"Are we out of the war?" Ahsoka asked once they were in the air. "I don't want to leave the boys. Not another Umbara - "
"Why would we?"
"We are no longer Jedi."
"So? There are people serving in the GAR who aren't Jedi or clones. I bet we can just walk up to the recruitment office here and get our old ranks back within a day," Anakin said cheerfully as he dove through traffic. Ahsoka caught flashes of sights she recognised, but she had never taken the route they were flying. Then again, it's not as if they were abiding the traffic code and following the designated air lanes.
"Master, we don't have Separatist fighters behind us."
"There's a blaster cannon behind you for that case and a shield generator. Which reminds me; we never got to practise space combat. That's something we should do before heading back out."
"I know my way around a starfighter."
"You are better than Obi-Wan, but you aren't me. And we never properly got to train manoeuvres without a swarm of droids on our sixes."
"Your modesty knows no limits, Skyguy. But we're still not in the Grand Army. And I don't think that the Order will lend us our fighters, not after - "
"I will just call my wing then."
"Master, I don't think you understand, but until the data pushers figure out what to do with our applications - "
"I'm not talking about the Deltas or the Etas," Anakin replied, sounding very smug. "For exemplary service and going beyond the call of duty, I got promoted to honorary Wing Commander of the Naboo diplomatic squadron which is based here. I'm sure that they would lend me an N-1 to show you a few tricks, especially if we give them a few pointers in return."
"Honorary Wing - That was Senator Amidala's idea, right?"
"No, Padme had nothing to do with that," he laughed as he squeezed the speeder through a gap between two cargo barges. "Sabé, one of her handmaidens, conspired with the current Queen to get that done. That was their idea of a life-day present. Jedi are supposed to be above material possessions, but there is no regulation about honorary positions as long as they don't interfere with the code."
Anakin angled towards a garage she didn't recognise, entering a code into the flight computer to open the blast doors. "And they don't complain if I took one of their starfighters for a spin, so it saved me a lot of trouble when I wanted to fly for fun. They didn't care if I was not very serene. They even began to upload the recordings of some manoeuvres."
Ahsoka had to laugh at the thought because sneaking off to fly like a lunatic sounded exactly like something he would do. Looking up, the Togruta could see the skyscrapers go on seemingly forever, which meant that they were far below any reputable level. However, despite the rundown exterior, the interior was a pristine white and the ships inside looked as if they had been polished just before their arrival. All of them were obviously Nubian, the yellow paint and chromium accents clear giveaways. A pair of mechanics were buried in the maintenance hatch of an engine nacelle, but other than that, the garage was deserted.
The hangar guard, a woman in a Naboo dress uniform, saluted them and didn't even ask for their names or credentials. Which, together with her bright smile meant that they were familiar with Anakin.
The elevator was just around the corner, and it looked too elaborate for the level they were on. The garage appeared to be in a cheap neighbourhood and yet the elevator had a carpeted floor and handrails from polished wood.
At first, Ahsoka had thought that they were simply going to the squadron's quarters, that his honorary position came with a room there, but the ride went on and on.
"Where are we?"
"You will see," Anakin replied, unable to keep the grin off his face. And no matter how much she pestered him, he would only laugh and pat her head, something which began to annoy Ahsoka after the third time.
After what felt like an eternity, the elevator arrived at the floor Anakin had entered. They went through a doorway but instead of a bedroom, the two former Jedi found themselves on what looked like a maintenance staircase. They went up three flights before he once again pulled a door open and led them through. With the lights dimmed, the hallway looked different than what she was used to, but Ahsoka recognised the places just as the door slid open.
"Ani, what took you so long? Where have - "
Ahsoka recognised the voice in an instant, but she really struggled to make sense of what her eyes were seeing. Standing in front of them was Padme Amidala, distinguished Queen of Naboo, renown diplomat and one of the leaders of the peace fraction in the Galactic Senate. She had spent quite some time guarding the woman and even considered Padme a friend. But unlike during the previous encounters when she had met the senator, this time Padme was wearing only a few flimsy straps of fabric which did nothing for her modesty. If anything, they showed off her body and had to be by far the most scandalous piece of clothing Ahsoka had ever seen. And neither her pose nor the golden light of the candles flickering over her skin helped.
The senator usually dressed to impress, but her underwear clearly served a different purpose. Even the dancers she had seen in Jabba's Palace had worn more. The garments were sheer enough to almost be transparent, leaving nothing to the imagination. It was enough to make Ahsoka blush and feel inadequate; a decade of Jedi training, undone by a few scraps of some silk.
And while Ahsoka was staring in disbelief and Padme was wide-eyed in surprise as well, Anakin crossed the space in between them and drew the lithe woman into a passionate kiss, one which she returned after a heartbeat. Seemingly forgetting that they were not alone, she wrapped her arms around him and deepened their kiss.
"What's going on Ani?" Padme whispered against his lips.
"Snips couldn't go back to the Jedi after they kicked her out, and I couldn't leave her."
"But she was cleared of all charges. Why wouldn't the Order take her back?" the Senator wanted to know as she seamlessly fell into her political mindset, seemingly not bothered by her attire, or lack thereof.
"They wanted her back, right after deciding that what they had inflicted upon her was the will of the force. And that Barriss Offee would not be expelled or handed over to the court."
"But - "
"They threw Snips to the gundarks without a second thought?" Anakin hissed. "I said the same thing, but the Council was adamant. They also tried to save face by claiming that it all was just a trial she had to overcome, a trail she passed in an exemplary fashion."
"I spent almost my entire life with the Order, I have been fighting a war for them without complaint, and still they had no faith. Only you two believed in me. Not the Council, not the judges or Chancellor, not even my friends in the Order," Ahsoka added, looking down on the floor. "You could still go back, Skyguy. You don't have to give up your knighthood just for me."
"I don't think that's an option anymore," he replied with a dry chuckle and squeezed the almost naked woman next to him, one hand inappropriately low.
"So you two are an item?" Ahsoka asked after a moment.
"No, I always wait for the door to open dressed like this and kiss the first person to enter," Padme replied with dripping sarcasm and a growing blush. "You were just lucky that you were the second one through."
"What my wife is trying to say is that - well, she is my wife," Anakin finished lamely.
"Wi - Wife? You two are - are married? Married? As in husband and wife? That married?"
"Yes," Anakin replied proudly and even Padme laughed at Ahsoka's flabbergasted expression. "Remember when I said that the Council would have kicked me out long ago if they knew? I meant this. They might show some leniency for a singular transgression, but not for this level of attachment."
"I - wow. I thought you had a crush on Senator - Padme, maybe even a secret affair, but this - How long is this going on?"
"We have been married for two and a half years -"
"Two and a half - " Ahsoka echoed and winced at her volume. In a quieter voice, she tried again. "Two and a half years? But that's longer than you knew me. As long as the war - "
"We got married right after Geonosis. With war on the horizon - " Padme explained before Anakin cut in.
"We rushed into this, but it has been the best thing that's ever happened to me. Without my Angel - I am not sure if I would have made it through the war."
Ahsoka expected a playful comeback, but all Padme did was squeeze his hand while they gazed into each others' eyes as if they were talking without words. It felt odd to stand next to their moment, intrusive even, but she had no idea how to get out of that situation. The Temple certainly had no classes which might have been helpful. Eventually, their wordless conversion ended and the Togruta once again found herself in the centre of attention.
"Since you let Ahsoka know about us, should I expect more expect any more surprises?"
"No, as far as the Order is concerned, I left because they abandoned my Padawan. Snips is different; I didn't want to lie to her, not about us."
"So your relationship is a really big secret?" Ahsoka wanted to know. She understood that Anakin could not have been advertising his union, but for both of them acting secretive was unexpected. Then again, their whole marriage was.
"My Handmaidens know, and the droids. But not even my parents do," Padme admitted quietly and Ahsoka's eyes widened. She might not be an expert on marriage or family, but she was pretty sure that parents were supposed to know about their children's spouses.
"That's because you haven't introduced me to your family."
"It's - difficult," she pointed out after a moment of thought, a stark contrast to her husband's cheerful tone. She might be a skilled orator in the Senate, but not when her private life was the matter at hand.
"No, it's not. I just did," Anakin replied and gestured towards Ahsoka, who felt her heart flutter at that comment.
"I can't just lead my parents into the room where you happen to be wearing nothing but a take-me-now - Can we discuss this at a different time? Ahsoka, do you have any official documents other than the ones from the Order?"
"I - don't think so," the Togruta replied slowly, caught off guard by the sudden change of topic.
"Alright, we will have to sort that out first thing tomorrow. Would you mind citizenship on Naboo or should I try to get you the papers from Shili?"
"Naboo? Oh, you really don't have to - "
"Snips, it's the place where we are going to live and build a future. And I want you to be part of that future."
"I don't want to be a bother."
"You wouldn't be. I meant it when I said that I would teach you everything I know. Which includes how to bend rules, although you are already good at that. If the Jedi doesn't want you, then that's their loss, but there's a life outside of the Order."
"How can you be so sure that this will work?" Ahsoka whispered, uncertainty written plainly across her face.
"Any friend of Padme is welcome on Naboo. And Queen Neeyutnee probably even remembers you from your mission there, so she'll make sure that your documents get fast-tracked," Anakin said seriously and then switched to a teasing, conspiratorial tone. "They worship her almost like a goddess you know,"
"Oh shut up, you are the one with the massive golden statue," Padme threw back.
"It's nothing," Anakin hastily cut in, but the damage was already done.
"To celebrate his selfless acts of valour during the occupation, the people of Naboo raised a massive memorial for Ani. There is a greater-than-life statue in front of the starfighter he used to destroy the Control Ship."
"You have forgotten the best bit. The fighter is raised up in the air and has a bulkhead from the Lucrehulk as its stand," Anakin added with a lot of pride. Then again, not many could claim to have single-handedly stopped a planetary invasion before they had turned ten.
"No, the best part is that you look utterly adorable in that memorial," Padme replied and patted his cheek. She then turned to Ahsoka in a conspiratorial tone. "The statue is an exact mirror of how he looked that day, down to the round haircut."
"Please don't remind me that my head looked like a Luilris mushroom."
"You were a cute mushroom."
"This isn't fair, you know? You looked breathtaking as long as I can remember."
"I was hardly - "
"You were you. And I'm sorry to say, but your royal outfits never did you justice," Anakin said, his lips hovering over hers.
"They are traditional."
"And I liked the simple clothes you wore on Tatooine," he replied and leaned in for a short kiss. "But I like this even more, and I can't wait to get you out of this delicious temptation."
While the pair only had eyes for each other, Ahsoka raked her memory for any moments between them. And knowing about their marriage pushed a lot of their interactions into a new light. In hindsight, it was so obvious that they were in love that the Togruta wondered how she, how anyone really, could have missed it. The hints were all there to the point where it was a miracle their romance wasn't plastered all over the holonet.
"Guys," Ahsoka said in a firm tone to get the attention, but she might as well have talked to the wall. The couple seemed to be in their own little world together, and she had to admit that Skyguy looked lighter and more at peace than she had ever seen them. Despite her best efforts, it took them almost a minute to end their kiss. "I am really happy for you, but I'm also really tired and I don't think that you would like me to collapse in the middle of what you were doing."
"Oh - right - You will have to make do with the guest quarters until we can get you something more permanent," Anakin replied out of breath, still holding the Sen - his wife - flush against him. And while her outfit had looked scandalous from the front, the back was straight from one of those holos she wasn't supposed to know about. One band wrapped around her neck and two thin stings were all that covered her behind. "Like what you see, Snips?"
"No - I - Not that you aren't - I - You - " Ahsoka stammered while blood rushed into her cheeks and the couple burst out laughing. "I didn't know such clothes existed, and I didn't expect you of all people to wear them."
"I take that the Jedi don't have a sense for fashion?" Padme wanted to know while pointedly ignoring both her blush and her husband's remark about Nubian swimwear.
"Our clothing is functional," Ahsoka pouted, her arms crossed.
"So you need a wardrobe as well."
"I couldn't - "
"You can and you will," Padme said firmly before her tone softened. "You are the closest thing Ani has to a little sister - to a family really. He talks about you, a lot. You have made a big impact on him, one for the better. I couldn't help him save his mother, but I will not let you wander off to the lower levels, and if a visit from my tailor is the price, I am perfectly willing to pay it to keep you around."
"Tailor? But - But that's expensive. I mean - even more expensive - "
"We aren't exactly short of credits," Anakin cut her off and gestured at the luxurious apartment. "As a senator, Padme gets the same legally-fixed salary as all her colleagues, to ensure that they aren't susceptible by bribes. And even after donating half of it - let's just say that whoever wrote that bill made sure that their grandchildren were well-cared for; or mistresses."
"I - thank you. I don't deserve that much."
"You didn't deserve what you had to go through today. But this? It is the least we - are you alright?"
"Just tired," Ahsoka told Anakin with a yawn as she leaned against the wall. And yawned again while blinking rapidly.
He recognised that she was dead on her feet, even if it usually took a few thousand battle droids to get her in that state.
"Let's get you to bed," Anakin chuckled, let go of the senator and put a steadying arm around Ahsoka's shoulder. They crossed the lounge, even if by that point she wasn't really walking but rather hanging on to Skyguy as he dragged her through the apartment.
"This is so big - and so empty," Ahsoka breathed as she took stock of the guest quarters she would have to make do with. Even with the lights dimmed, she could see that there was enough space for more than twenty troopers. And she had all that space to herself. One large bed stood near the panorama window, a few decorative pieces of furniture made from exotic wood were spread out across blue and green carpets. "It's too much."
"If you don't like sleeping alone, we can figure something out with Sabé or Eirtaé tomorrow. I'm sure that they wouldn't mind you bunking with them. Or maybe you can arrange something with your friend Riyo."
"Skyguy?" Ahsoka asked, taken aback by his odd emphasis on the word friend.
"I'm not blind, you know. Those stolen glances, the shy touches, it is straight from a holodrama," he replied in his most sincere voice. "I have some experience with being a star crossed lover, you know?"
"But - I - we - not - I!" she stammered until she noticed his cocky grin.
"Just pulling your head-tail, Snips. Although you would make a cute couple," Anakin laughed and dodged the pillow sailing his way. Although he didn't see it come back around as it smacked against the back of his head. "Now if you excuse me, I have a wife to attend to - Force, you don't know how good it feels to say that out loud. Wife. Wiiiife. Wife!"
Ahsoka wanted to tease Skyguy, laugh at the happiness bubbling out of him as he tested the word, get back at him for flustering her, to leave a witty parting shot, but after the ordeal she had been through, the Togruta fell asleep almost as soon as her knees touched the impossibly soft mattress. She wouldn't even notice that he tucked her in until the next morning.
Beta'ed by LifeEquals42.
I've had the basic idea since watching that episode years ago and it never left me alone. So here you go. Originally, this was supposed to be it, a nice, fluffy open ending, but that didn't feel right because we all know what happens in Episode III, and those events are certainly a roadblock on the way to happiness. I'll figure something out, probably towards the end of the year.
"Senator Amidala, do you happen to know how I can contact Anakin Skywalker?" Queen Neeyutnee asked from a small screen on Padme's desk, who hadn't quite finished her late breakfast yet and hastily pulled a fruit basket out of the transmission.
"Is something wrong?"
"No, no. I just had a proposition I wanted to discuss with him. I know that you two are friends - "
"I'm right here," Anakin said and stepped into view of the camera. "How can I be of service, your grace?"
The Queen blinked a few times before looking back and forth between the pair on the other end of the connection. Eventually, a smile spread across her face. "Wing Commander Skywalker, it is a pleasure to see you well after the hardships of the past days."
"The pleasure is mine, your Highness."
"How are you adjusting to civilian life, Commander?"
"You might not know, but your argument with Master Kenobi was recorded by a reporter and has been all over the networks. The audio quality might not be the best, but it is not often that two Jedi are caught in a screaming match which ends in one of them renouncing the Order."
"Someone recorded that?" Anakin asked dumbstruck while Padme cursed under her breath. Something as big as that should have been in her morning briefing - which she hadn't actually read because for once she had gotten the rare opportunity to lie-in with her husband.
"My responsibility lies with my padawan, not the Order who betrayed her. She bled for you, and you repaid her by sending her off to certain death," Neeyutnee quoted one of the things he had shouted at his former master. "A little simple for most occasions, but your delivery was superb. I have to admit Commander, you would make a good speaker in the Senate."
"I never liked politics, and after the past few days, I'd rather go back to Tatooine and become a moisture farmer."
"I understand, and there are days where I would prefer to become that without knowing what a moisture farmer is," the Queen admitted, unfazed by his vehemence. "Do you wish to return to the war eventually?"
"Yes. I had hoped for a break with my - I intend to return to the front lines with my student eventually," Anakin hastily said to cover up that he had almost revealed his secret marriage.
"Good, this makes the next part a lot easier. I need someone to lead a squadron of fighters, and you are significantly more qualified than anyone in consideration."
"Fighter Squadron, your Highness?"
"Due to the ongoing war, there are increasing calls for improvement of our military capabilities, coming from both concerned citizens and those who want to serve. Five regional governors are even leading a campaign to introduce a general draft."
"A draft?" Padme almost shouted. "But that - "
"Goes against the core values of everything our planet stands for," the Queen cut in, wholeheartedly agreeing with her angry senator. "I do not want to be remembered as the Queen who threw away our pacifist traditions, but I fear that if I don't act at all, I won't have a choice. I am the elected head of state, not an absolute monarch."
"What do you propose then, your Highness?"
"The increasing desire to fight has been the biggest issue of my term. At first, I tried to address the topic as I would any other, giving speeches and visiting cities to convince the people. But that was not enough and my advisors as well the regional governors came up with a variety of solutions. In the end, I chose what I see as the best option, expand civilian shelters, the installation of an early warning system and an increase in medical capabilities. But that only delayed more drastic means, which is why I ordered the formation of volunteer squadrons."
"It would still be a military force," Padme objected. "We can mince words all day, but it won't change the facts."
"Yes, but once the war is over, space forces can be used for more civilised matters, from relief efforts to escorting merchants and fighting the inevitable increase in piracy. You cannot do the same with a tank or an artillery piece. And by forming these squadrons, we give those who wish to fight an avenue where we retain the oversight. There are at least two mercenary groups recruiting in Theed right now, and we have no way to know what they do once they ship out."
"Mercenaries? We are a peaceful people - "
"Yes, we are. And I do not wish that this changes due to war. But people remember how the Trade Federation landed its armies on our planet, how their families were held at gunpoint, how they were used as living shields to prevent airstrikes and lined up against walls as if they were facing a firing squad for the amusement of Nute Gunray. And they remember the more recent events even better. You of all people should be aware that our planet was nearly rendered uninhabitable due to biological warfare," the Queen retorted hotly before taking a deep breath. "There is a growing militaristic sentiment fueled by the Chancellor's former party, and all they have to do for support is to point out that we are one of the few systems who have not mobilised as much as a militia or defensive force and few trust the Gungan army to keep us safe. Even your colleague Bali maintains a personal fleet of a few corvettes and cruisers, as I am reminded at least three times a day."
"So are we going to sacrifice our principles for the sake of internal politics?" Padme asked, her voice raised.
"I think it is a good idea," Anakin cut in to the surprise of both women. "It takes time to learn how to fly a ship, so even if these squadrons are formed tomorrow, they won't be operational for at least half a year during which you can point at the massive effort put into that training program to shut up the warmongers. Hopefully, the war will be over by then, and if not then you can simply use them for secondary missions so that the clone units currently assigned to these tasks can be redeployed."
"That is a good idea, but unfortunately not enough. My advisors created a list of all those who directly petitioned me with their wish to join the war, and 37 of them are veteran pilots. Twelve are from our Diplomatic wing, seven of whom flew with you against the Trade Federation. And those are just those who went through the trouble of a royal petition. If we delay the deployment of the experienced pilots, our plan will be seen as a cheap attempt at appeasing the militaristic fraction."
"And you want me to lead those volunteers?" Anakin wanted to know and received a nod in return. "What about Ahsoka?"
"She is too young to serve."
"She is seven years older than I was when I destroyed the control ship. She is one of the best and most experienced pilots in the Grand Army!"
"I am not questioning her ability, my military advisor made sure that I knew about both your merit. But Ahsoka Tano is sixteen standard - "
"I am going to make this very simple, either Snips becomes my second in command or I won't do it," Anakin replied with detached calmness, staring at Neeyutnee through the camera. This was far from the first staring match he had been in, nor the first across thousands of lightyears, but certainly the first with a reigning monarch. In the end, it came down to the fact that he was holding all the cards while she wanted something she wanted. With an undignified huff, the Queen relented.
"Very well, I will find a way to make that happen."
"Don't sound so glum. I had hoped to get back to the 501st - "
"I should be able to get your squadron attached to your old unit if you prove yourself," the Queen replied and Anakin hated that she had managed to wake his curiosity. "I can approach the Supreme Chancellor on behalf of Naboo, even if you cannot be seen with him in the near future,"
"Why? Chancellor Palpatine and I have been acquainted for more than ten years, he is my friend - "
"Because yesterday he was about to sentence your innocent padawan to death until you burst into the session with seconds to spare. Afterwards, you had a very public disagreement with your Jedi mentor, the man who practically raised you, where you tore into the Jedi for allowing your student to go through her ordeal."
"If Chancellor Palpatine is seen with you the next day, despite all of that, or even doing you favours as if nothing happened, then that will make both of you look insincere. The trial will appear scripted with your last-minute revelation and the Court of the Republic would seem like it's just a cheap holodrama - "
"They have less integrity than Judge Ilaria from Twi'Lek Justice," Anakin spat, referring to a show on the holonet whose immense popularity was more due to the curvy lead actress rather than its accurate depiction of the judicial process.
"This is unfortunately accurate, but does not change that the Chancellor must not be seen with you if he wishes to maintain some shred of integrity."
"The Chancellor has been leading the Republic through the last decade - "
"And he has made a lot of enemies during that time Anakin," Padme gently cut in. Palpatine had been one subject where they could never find common ground, which was why she chose her next words carefully. "The reaction to Ahsoka's trial has been devastating because you demonstrated the utter incompetence of the judicial system, which included him, to billions who were watching that broadcast. It has become a public relations nightmare for everyone involved, which is why no one wants to drag Offee in front of a court."
"But that isn't right. They nearly sentenced Snips to death and now they won't do anything against the real culprit because they are afraid of bad press?"
"Sadly, such is the reality in Coruscant. If the Confederacy wasn't even worse in that regard, we would have seceded long ago."
"They aren't wrong when they point out that the Senate is corrupt, toothless and doesn't care about anything beyond the core. Fortunately for the Republic, they immediately undermine that argument by having the Trade Federation as a founding member."
"Would you really give up on the Republic due to two bad leaders?" Padme asked her distant successor and Anakin felt incredibly out of place in such a conversation. He understood battles, but the ideological divide between the idealistic Separatists and the Republic was lost on him.
"The system has been failing for three centuries now, first when the Trade Federation began to dictate terms under the threat of embargoes and later on when the Techno Union did the same. And as soon as someone tried to reign them in, albeit with the wrong approach, they seceded and raised their armies to - " Neeyutnee trailed off and took a deep breath. "Look Padme, we can debate statecraft all day, and I would love to pick your brain on galactic politics, but that's not why I called. Wing Commander Skywalker, would you help us by leading the Volunteer forces?"
"I will have to talk to Ahsoka, but I think that she will agree if we get to keep an eye on the 501st. Neither of us is comfortable to sit on the sidelines while our men bleed for the Republic, and we have enough experiences to make us distrust anyone else sent to lead them," Anakin explained. "Naboo is my home now and I will do my duty, even if not in that role - "
"Ani, please think this through - " Padme tried to object. She had just gotten her husband back and didn't want to go back to the uncertainty of his deployments.
"My mother used to tell me stories when I was a child, that one day we would be free, have a better life on a planet with never-ending water and forests, with no evil masters and enough food - " Anakin trailed off, his voice shaking with raw emotion. "She wasn't describing Naboo, but to me, it has become that miraculous planet. It is pure and uncorrupted - despite the two invasions. I did not get to spend as much time there as I would have liked, but it is unlike any other place I know and I want to keep it that way. A few snub fighters won't change the nature of your people, but raising an army would. Tanks rolling through the streets, battalions marching, guns at every corner, a general curfew - It would never be the same."
"Good morning sleepyhead," Anakin said cheerfully from next to Ahsoka's head.
"'Morning Skyguy - why - why is it dark outside?"
"Well, what do you think?"
"You woke me up at an unholy hour to carry out some insane scheme."
"I don't carry - no, try again," Anakin laughed that his student could live up to her nickname and be snippy within seconds of waking up.
"You shut the blinds?"
"No. Let me give you a hint, look at the chrono," Anakin singsonged, enjoying himself far too much.
"21 - did I really sleep for an entire rotation?"
"Yup. While everyone else had a productive day, you chose to sleep through it."
They sat in silence for a moment while Ahsoka gathered her courage to ask the questions that were burning on her tongue.
"Did yesterday really happen, or was it just a crazy dream?"
"Unfortunately, that wasn't a nightmare," Anakin said and gently squeezed her shoulder.
"The trial? The Order? Barriss?" she stuttered. Anakin's silence sufficed as an answer.
"And you are really married?" Ahsoka wanted to know as a wave of memories washed over her.
"Yes, and you are currently in my wife's guest bedroom. Padme also took care of your documents. Your new ID chip is on the nightstand. We named our house in the Lake Country as your place of residence, and it obviously has your new citizenship, but other than that, it's the same as your old one," he replied, doing his best to sound optimistic and encouraging.
"You put the same holo in? I was nine in that!"
"Well, alright, there might have been some other changes."
"Force, what have you done?"
Bleary-eyed, Ahsoka fumbled for the chip, fed it into her comlink and, after a few seconds, a small, three-dimensional figure of herself appeared above her wrist.
"That's compliant with the regulations?"
"Well, perhaps not," Anakin conceded, although he wasn't bothered by that technicality. "What are they going to do, file a complaint? You hold two freaking lightsabers in your ID. They tell everyone that you mean business."
"Do you have any idea what we should do next?" Ahsoka wanted to know once she couldn't come up with a reply. Skyguy had a point, after all, it was difficult to argue with dual lightsabers.
"You know, we could found our own Sith Order."
"Think about it: We already fulfil the rule of two and have no reason to betray each other," Anakin said, doing his best to keep a straight face. "We would be the bestest Sith in Sith history because we can actually trust each other."
"But Master, the Sith use the dark side of the force. And we don't," Ahsoka pointed out, her big eyes radiating innocence before a smile spread across her face. "And the red lightsaber would clash horribly with - well - me."
"Damn, I knew that I overlooked something. I guess we will have to open a massage parlour where we offer exclusive relaxation you can't get anywhere else."
"Why do you think Padme keeps me around? The force can do wonders for your back after a stressful day."
"That doesn't sound like a Jedi technique."
"It isn't one. The masters would have a fit at the thought of using the force so frivolously, or for such trivial matters as personal comfort and relaxation. I came up with the idea when my wife was as tense as a durasteel plate from stress."
"I can see how the wife bit might prevent the Jedi from coming up with that," Ahsoka chuckled. "You really enjoy saying that word."
"You have no idea," he replied with a smile which could out-shine a star.
"You are such a dork."
"And I hope that one day you will find someone like I have in Padme."
"Still a dork," Ahsoka grinned dangerously. "You know, I could record a few holos. I bet Rex would have a field day with his general, the Hero-with-no-Fear, acting like a besotted - "
"You wouldn't dare!" Anakin exclaimed, a look of horror contrasting his earlier smile.
"Why wouldn't I?" Ahsoka teased, smirking up at her mentor.
"I - " Anakin hesitated before a triumphant grin spread across his face. "I have that holo from your old ID. I bet the men would love to see their commander as an adorable youngling. And just imagine all the pilots fighting over who gets to paint that picture on their LAAT - "
"Truce?" Ahsoka quickly offered before her master could describe something even more embarrassing.
"Do you have any actual ideas about what we can do?" the Togruta asked after a moment of silence.
"The massage parlour would make us rich," Anakin pointed out and received a death glare in return. Although the effect was ruined by his padawan still lying under a blanket and her sleepy look only made him laugh more. "While you had your little nap, I got a call from Queen Neeyutnee. She offered us a position - "
"What about our boys?"
"I can't get us back to the 501st without making the Republic look even more like a circus than it already does because the Chancellor was involved in your trial, even if he was just announcing the decision of the judges. And official channels would take months," Anakin explained what he had been told earlier as well as what he had gathered from a supremely unhelpful call to the Department of War Affairs, who gave him a long list of official qualifications they would need to get despite their years of service. That had been Jedi business after all. "As much as I want to tell them to suck it and ask the Chancellor to give us our men back, that would only help the Seppie propaganda. And if there's one thing I want even less than help Tarkin and his lot, it's helping Dooku and his cronies."
"So what was her suggestion? Teach some of her pilots which end of a starfighter is which?"
"She asked me to lead a squadron. I told her that I would do it if you agreed. We'd get experienced pilots, and if we do well, she said that she would get us attached to the 501st."
"Because we're the best pilots in the Republic. There's also a lot of Naboo politics involved, but we don't have to worry about - "
Anything else he had wanted to say was cut off by a shout from Padme's home office.
"Uh-oh, sounds like someone is in trouble," Ahsoka snickered while Anakin's reply sounded ridiculously sweet.
"I just got a message from Queen Neeyutnee for you."
"That's - nice?" he replied, suddenly sounding nervous. A simple message should not get that kind of reaction out of her.
"Addressed to Wing Commander Skywalker, Senator Amidala's Bedroom, 500 Republica."
The two former Jedi shared a look before doubling over with laughter.
"This is NOT funny!"
Twenty minutes later, Anakin was trying to convince his padawan of the merits of their upcoming trip to Padme's homeworld. " - and you get to see Naboo."
"I've already been there, Master," Ahsoka replied flatly. "I remember the lab - "
"And that's exactly why you have to see it. That planet shouldn't be a bad memory which haunts your nightmares or the backdrop for hacking through clankers. It is - how the Republic is supposed to be," Anakin finished softly.
"I remember life before the war. Obi-Wan took me to a lot of systems, and things were simpler back then. Naboo is one of the few places where you can still experience life as it used to be," Anakin said as he stared out into the Coruscant night, feeling oddly nostalgic for his twenty-two years.
"There's more to being a Jedi than fighting a war, and more to life than being a Jedi. Peace still seems unlikely and I didn't dare to hope that I would get to teach you the latter," he admitted quietly, squeezing her hand. "But without the Order, there are more possibilities. I don't have to hide my marriage anymore. I don't have to pretend that I don't care if you're injured. We can do something fun once in a while, be it participating in a pod race or visiting a casino."
"A casino? Really Skyguy?"
"I think I was sixteen when I snuck out of the temple and into the lower levels. Let's just say that the force makes Corellian Roulette very easy."
"You rigged the game?" Ahsoka guessed in an amused tone.
"No, but I learned more about force intuition in that casino than I ever did in the temple," Anakin admitted and sheepishly ran a hand through his hair.
"So you're going to drag me through casinos to learn listening to the force? That doesn't sound very Jedi to me."
"You know a lot more about the force than I did at your age. I will teach you everything I know, but I don't think that the code is useful for that."
"But those rules, they have to be there for a reason, right?" Ahsoka asked without much conviction. "The Order didn't just wake up one morning and decided to ban itself from everything that's fun."
"If we followed the code, we'd both be dead a dozen times over."
"Skyguy?" Ahsoka whispered, unable to shake the feeling that he was right or her mounting dread at that realisation.
"How often did we do things we weren't supposed to do because we cared for another? How often did we defy Code and Council?"
"And was it the right thing to do? Because I would gladly fight my way through another droid army to save your ass," Anakin chuckled and received another defiant glare.
"And I would jump on your crashing starfighter to pull you out."
"No crashes, at least not for the next month. We're going on a vacation."
"Why are you so persistent that I tag along? Don't you want to spend some time alone with your wife?" Ahsoka wanted to know. "Not that I don't want to, but we already spend most of our days together while you rarely get to see her."
"Believe me, there will be plenty of times where Padme will be away to meet her friends, family and colleagues. I simply want to have you along so that you can have fun as well. Because when was the last time you enjoyed yourself without hacking through droids, shooting down Seppie fighters or-"
"But those are fun!"
"Snips, I pod race for fun whenever I get the opportunity, but that doesn't mean that I don't enjoy a quiet bottle of wine with Padme, Sabé and Rabe. Or just tinkering with a spaceship. Explosions aren't necessary to have a good time," Anakin said and wondered how he ended up as the voice of reason.
"Fine, I'll enjoy playing tourist if it means so much to you," Ahsoka relented, but he could sense an undercurrent of relief and gratitude from her as well.
"I'll show you my favourite place in the entire galaxy."
"I won't hear the end of this from you, won't I?"
"You mean that not only you have eloped but also are one of those couples with the sickeningly sweet nicknames for each other?" Ahsoka asked and looked up to Anakin, batting her big blue eyes in a ridiculously exaggerated fashion before she bared her sharp teeth. "Never!"
Reverting back to real space, Anakin enjoyed the sight of the small blue ball in front of them. Green specks littered the surface and white clouds shone brightly in the sunlight. It was nice to be back again, even if it was only a vacation.
"This is Naboo Traffic Control to HX19-58V. We have you in range of our sensors, please identify yourself."
"This is the Royal Yacht Grand Waterfall with Senator Amidala aboard, requesting approach vector to Theed," Anakin replied as he powered up the sublight engines.
"Affirmative Grand Waterfall, transmitting data now. Contact Theed Control on channel 7 for your landing clearance. Welcome home."
Home! That sounds nice. Strange, but right. When was the last time I had a home? Back with Mum - but nothing after that. The temple was - pleasant - but something was missing. It never felt like home. Naboo was great, but with the Jedi looming over me, it couldn't become my home. It was an escape, my own form of defiance. Now, however -
There's no one who could call me away. No Obi-Wan, no Yoda, no senators or politicians. And once this war is over, no Seppies either. I can simply stay here forever and live my life - Force, what does that even mean?
Anakin adjusted the course and enjoyed the sight of his favourite planet growing larger and larger in the front window. He even had chosen a hyperspace exit point between Naboo and its sun in order to have the best view. Although he quickly discovered that, no matter how stunning the panorama was, the more beautiful sight was in the co-pilot's seat
The light of the engineering station danced across Padme's face and gave her an otherworldly glow, the green of the lunar swamplands below contrasting her brown curls. Even after sixteen hours in a chair and nine hours asleep, she looked every bit the strong leader she was. At the same time, there was a peacefulness to her he could barely remember. No Senate meetings or bills to keep track of, no backstabbing allies and assassination attempts, no budget commissions or defence councils.
This is what I'm fighting for. I need to end this war, for her and for Snips. They deserve better than to be worn down and ground up by it. Force, Snips is sixteen, she should be worrying about sneaking out unnoticed and tricking bar keepers into selling her drinks, not mortar strikes and missile barrages. And my Angel should not have to worry about the fate of the galaxy and carry that much responsibility on her shoulders. To stop the death and destruction Count Dooku had unleashed because few others cared.
Dooku, now that's a score to settle. The bastard is a master with the blade, but after two years of fighting, I should be able to match him. And then we will see how much he enjoys losing a -
It was the chime of the communication array which tore Anakin out of his thoughts and he quickly reached over to the co-pilot's station to answer the comm before it could wake up Padme.
"This is Theed Control to HX19-58V Grand Waterfall, You are cleared for landing pad P-5. Approach through corridor 09, altitude 50."
"Grand Waterfall, P-5 through corridor 09," Anakin repeated back and couldn't keep a smile off his face. As much as he had liked his staff aboard the Resolute, there was something soothing about being treated like any other civilian compared to the military protocol of the GAR. Although it won't probably long before he would miss Admiral Yularen, or despite their short time together, Captain Henan from the Vigilance.
"Nighttime restrictions are in place, keep your speed below 400."
Nighttime restrictions - When was the last time I heard someone bother with that kind of triviality? When was the last time I didn't have to keep an eye on the chronometer, or my threat receiver?
It would have been easier to just program the autopilot, but Anakin wasn't one to shy from a challenge, even if it was as trivial as flying in a straight line. After all, there was the wind to keep an eye on, turbulences to anticipate and birds to avoid. Not that they could damage the yacht, but the stains such an impact left on the chromium hull wouldn't be pretty.
Anakin gazed out of the window towards the sunset, trying to find his little paradise among the swirls of green and blue below. Following the instructions of traffic control meant flying high and slow, which left him with a lot of time to look at the landscape below and Padme to his right.
"Artoo, give me a list of all ships in Theed available for rent."
R2 chirped in response and began to dig through the holonet.
"What do you mean hyperdrive class? An actual ship Artoo, one that goes on water. And maybe a few speeder rentals as well. I'm not sure what Padme has planned for today."
"I know that they are slower. But the entire Lake County has flight restrictions, and I don't think getting Padme into her bedroom counts as an emergency."
"Of course I could fly under the sensor grid, but that's not the point," Anakin chuckled at his friend's suggestions. Somehow, he doubted that the designers at Industrial Automaton ever intended that kind of behaviour for one of their creations.
Beta'ed by LifeEquals42.
I know that I'm depicting both Anakin and Ahsoka a lot more mushy than they were in the Clone Wars series. My reasoning here is that with both leaving the Order, for the first time there is nothing on their plates. They had emotional moments before, but those were just that, moments. There was always something else to do, someone else demanding their attention. This is the first time no one is there to butt in, and no one telling them that emotions are wrong. On a similar note, keep in mind that Anakin's perception of Naboo is more than a little biased.
You could easily write a 100k fic which amounts to "1001 traumas of Anakin Skywalker" where he does nothing but wrestle with his inner demons. Rest assured though that this will not be that kind of story. There will be scenes which deal with his (and Ahsoka's) turmoil, but there will also be happy fluff, a hopefully unique twist on galactic politics, space battles, armies slugging it out on alien planets and an original plot which will include very few stations of canon.
As their ship docked with the orbital shipyard, Anakin couldn't help but grumble at the entire situation. He ought to be enjoying the sunshine on the lakeshore right now, playing with Padmé's hair as they enjoyed another picnic lost in each other's eyes. Instead, he had to negotiate with a company. Yes, he was negotiating for the next ship for his own squadron, but surely that could have waited a day or two. Because no matter what the Kuat System Engineering had promised Queen Neeyutnee, Anakin doubted that it could be worth his time. On the other hand, he needed something to fly, and since the N-1's were manufactured one-by-one in the Palace Hangar, it was either whatever the Kuati wanted to show them or Z-95s retrofitted with a hyperdrive.
Waiting at the foot of the ramp were two men in official-looking outfits, which made Anakin glad for the dress uniforms provided for them, even if Ahsoka kept grumbling that light blue didn't suit her. And that the hat wasn't made with montrals in mind.
"Good morning General Skywalker, Commander Tano. I am Lyan Nadeau, Deputy Director of Kuat System Engineering and my colleague is Doctor Dexter Hovis, Chief engineer of this project."
"Nice to meet you," Anakin said neutrally and Ahsoka echoed the greeting.
"We invited you to demonstrate our latest development, the R-22 Spearhead, and hopefully reach a mutually beneficial arrangement," the director continued, and, with the flick of a switch, a pair of starfighters roughly twice the size of the usual Jedi craft were raised into the landing bay.
The fighters certainly looked sleek in the red and white of the Republic. Two engine nacelles hung behind the cockpit with huge stabilising fins mounted on top of and under the engines. Once they got closer, Anakin could see that Spearhead was indeed an apt name for the class. Its shape was similar to the latest Jedi Starfighter, but the two wings were merged together in front of the cockpit, leaving it shaped like a small Acclamator. Which made sense since both were produced by subsidiaries of the same company. One massive cannon hung on each wingtip and small batteries of missiles were fitted within the wing on either side of the pilot.
"How much for one?" Anakin wanted to know, mentally preparing himself for what would undoubtedly turn into a long haggling session. Queen Neeyutnee hadn't given him a precise budget, but the deal he was going to make ought to be both reasonable and sustainable.
"We will provide the ships free of charge if you find our terms agreeable - "
"Hold on, there has to be a catch. Not even the most generous companies would give away a wing's worth of starfighters. So what's in for you?" Anakin asked abrasively, not trusting the offer at all. "Mining rights? No tariffs on Naboo plasma? A vote in the - "
"We developed a ship which has no buyers. We hope that if you demonstrate its combat ability, we will be able to sell the model," the representative admitted as he led the former Jedi through the hangar.
"So you want to give us an untested ship in the hopes that we sell it for you?" Ahsoka wanted to know, her tone hostile.
"The R-22 is ready for mass production and passed the GAR design specification F.7/35. It was rejected due to budget restrictions since the Requisition Board chose further orders for the cheaper Z-95, despite its worse performance and reliance on precalculated jump coordinates. We aren't giving you a half-finished bucket of bolts but a fully operational starfighter," Hovis replied through gritted teeth.
"Again, what is in for you?"
"Kuat System Engineering, and by extension Kuat Drive Yards, would receive any telemetry and non-classified footage recorded during your engagements. And the vessels would be loaned to Naboo for the duration of the war, not a permanent gift."
"You realise that fighters get destroyed in a war, and those which return are usually damaged to some degree?" Anakin replied, trying to find the angle which Nadeau tried to exploit. "We can hardly return a ship which was shot to pieces before its debris were vaporised by reentry or fell into a gas giant.
"Of course we do. But the promotional value, as well as the performance data you will gather will outweigh the cost. We can produce an R-22 for 115.360 credits, a number which will go down further over time, so even supplying you with a hundred of them will be hardly noticeable in our overall budget."
"I'm still not convinced. You are holding something back," Ahsoka said and shot the vice director a dark look. The man met her gaze challengingly but quickly faltered, looked away and took a deep breath.
"This war is personal for Kuat. We used to have two out of seven seats on the Trade Federation Directorate before Gunray had our representatives murdered at the Eriadu Trade Summit. The Trade Federation turned against us, and we wish to repay them," he explained hoarsely. "One was a member of the Kuat family and the other a dear friend to many within KDY."
"Revenge is not the Jedi way - But given my planet's history with Gunray, I understand completely," Anakin admitted truthfully, finally grasping what the offer was really about. The Kuati would be happy with a never-ending war because they made a killing with their production of war materials. But this was not about corporate interests, but something baser, something he, unfortunately, understood all too well.
"So, what are we supposed to do here?"
"Test these fighters and figure out if they are more than just a pretty ornament," Anakin replied with a roll of his eyes. As they cleared the hangar and he switched his weapons to the simulation mode. It wouldn't do to accidentally shoot his padawan out of the sky.
"Thanks Skyguy, I never would've guessed that you are supposed to test a ship during a test flight," Ahsoka said with dripping sarcasm while Anakin engaged his reverse thrusters.
"Try to shake me off."
"What? - Not fair! Why do you always get the fun part?"
"If you want to have a crack at me, all you need to do is get behind me," Anakin laughed while his padawan went through a series of loopings. "Don't do that too long, you're a sitting target for any gunner. Loops are only good if you manage to break in an unexpected fashion. Or if you can outturn your opponent without exposing yourself to someone else."
"Then show me!"
And she did. They danced around gigantic furnaces and durasteel mills which supplied the orbital shipyards, flew through empty docks capable of servicing even the largest battlecruisers and weaved in between the defensive batteries littered all over the ring.
Throughout this, Ahsoka's threat receiver didn't shut up, but it was never a continuous tone. While Anakin probably could have taken her down with his cannons at many points throughout the simulated fight, he couldn't get a single missile lock, no matter what he tried.
After fifteen minutes in which they pushed their ships to the absolute maximum, they ended up near an antenna array, which Ahsoka tried to use to get some distance between them.
It would have worked against anyone else. Her manoeuvre even surprised Anakin, because he had been expecting to appear underneath the structure in what would have effectively been a looping around the shipyard. Instead, she had turned around and only by pure luck he could throw his fighter into a dive and end up on her tail once more. A second earlier or later and her flight path would have been covered by the massive orbital construct, given her the opportunity to put some distance between them.
"We still need a name for our squadron. Or rather, a number," Anakin said as he rolled his fighter as fast as the vessel was able to, easily following Ahsoka as she levelled out.
"We can't call ourselves the 501st Space Wing, right?"
"No Snips, as much as that would honour our men, each unit must have an individual designation."
"How about the 500th?" she suggested.
"The hundreds are reserved for guard units. And 502 might make our new pilots feel as if they were only our second choice."
"Well, they are," Ahsoka shot back hotly. "If the Senate wasn't stupid, or if the Order had a backbone, we still would be with the boys."
"Yes, but there's no reason to rub it in their faces. They deserve better Snips, they are some of the few who want to fight alongside the Clones rather than enjoy their luxuries and bend over when Dooku and Grievous come knocking."
"What if we just subtract one from the front and add it to the back? How about the 402nd Wing?"
"That's an unlucky number. They were amongst the units deployed to the First Battle of Geonosis and suffered almost 100 percent casualties," Anakin winced. He hadn't noticed it on that day, but that battle had been a series of catastrophic decisions which had ended in a massive, unnecessary waste of lives as Jedi and Troopers alike charged the Separatist lines against and again, throwing themselves against a wall of droids, which ruthlessly and relentlessly returned fire. "The battalion was stricken from the records and Master Plo's 104th got the survivors. I don't think that this is the legacy we want to continue."
"Well, there are two of us. What if we do that two times?"
"303? I haven't heard of a unit with that designation, but I would have to check the database. For all I know, there's a traffic control battalion in Corellia with that number."
"I want something to connect us to them."
"You are far too sentimental about this," Anakin chuckled. "This is just a code to prevent mix-ups."
"Me, sentimental? Have you looked in the mirror recently, Master?"
"Sure, but I thought that you would just pick your favourite number or - "
"Favourite number? You have a favourite number?" Ahsoka interrupted him with her laughter as she dived towards the ring of shipyards.
"Well, no, but I know which number I would have chosen."
"And what is that, the date you got married?"
" - "
"Oh come on. What would Ventress say if she knew that you are getting soft?"
"I had to keep this under the wraps for twenty-nine months, Snips. I am allowed to be a bit giddy. And for someone who is soft, I have been sitting on your six for an awfully long time now," Anakin shot back smugly. "What does that say about you?"
In response, she turned towards the construction docks housing the next generation of star destroyers in various states of completion. A pair looked like it was ready for combat while others were little more than a durasteel skeleton. One ship even started to track them with its weapons, although Ahsoka could tell from the powered down shields that it was probably just the bridge crew running an exercise rather than anyone seriously considering shooting at them. Well, it wouldn't do to make things easy for them.
Her master momentarily forgotten, the Togruta pulled up and put another star destroyer between her and the one with active targeting. Anakin agreed with her unspoken suggestion and took position to her right. A series of sharp turns, the same manoeuvre she had attempted before, made sure that they were coming in from an unexpected angle, the heavy turbolasers too slow to be trained on the pair. The practice missiles beeped when their seekers locked onto the superstructure and, had this been a real engagement, the star destroyer would have lost its bridge and deflector shields, rendering it dead in space and vulnerable to further attacks.
"Looks like we have company," Ahsoka smirked as she noticed the flurry of new contacts approaching from the hangar. The HUD identified them as V-Wings, using a transponder code reserved for test flights.
"This is going to be fun!"
"Turn towards me."
"Master?"Ahsoka replied hesitantly, even if she carried the order out. She had already shot down a pair of the test pilots while keeping them off his six, but the tide of the battle had swept them away from each other. Their opposition were masters of their craft who could have performed an impressive airshow, but had little skill when it came to combat tactics and it was clear that they had not seen action in a long time.
"Break right at the last possible moment and come around. That will put you behind the fighters on my tail and me behind yours."
"Remember, right!," Anakin repeated as they raced towards each other, no one able to take a shot because their allies were in the line of fire. A second before they all would end up in one giant fireball, the Kuati pilots broke off while Ahsoka stayed on course, only turning when she felt a nudge over the force bond she had with Anakin.
Shooting past his fighter with just inches between them, she swung around and, within seconds, scored another pair of simulated kills.
"I'm done with my side, do you need a hand over there?"
"No, I got - five - the situation well under - six - control," Ahsoka replied as she took out two of the remaining three test pilots. If she had done the math correctly, Skyguy had gotten two more, which meant that he would be annoyingly smug for the rest of the day. And she still needed to get the last one from her group. But where did he go?
By the looks of it, the sole survivor was a tad better than his companions because he had swung around and was trying to keep Anakin off his tail. And, at the very least, he was able to stop the former Jedi from getting a clear shot. Banking left, Ahsoka pushed the engines to their maximum and made small adjustments to her course as she sped towards the two preoccupied fighters. She gently turned right and laughed as the V-Wing appeared within her sights and she was credited with the "kill" by the simulation.
"I almost had him!" Anakin whined as Ahsoka shot past him.
"Be faster next time, Master!"
"So, what do you think Snips?" Anakin asked once they were seated in a conference room. He would have preferred to talk to her alone first, but their hosts were accommodating enough that they had immediately served refreshments.
"The test pilots sucked and the rematch was just as bad. Seriously, vulture droids would have been a bigger challenge - "
"We are not here to discuss the admittedly abysmal performance of our men, but don't worry, we will ensure that they will gather some practical experience," the vice-director reassured Ahsoka. "But I was talking about the spacecraft you have just flown."
"They are nice ships. Fast and nimble, especially for their size, but not very versatile."
"Ma'am, the R-22 is a purebred interceptor," the chief engineer pointed out. "It was designed and built for that purpose.
"Yes, but what if you need something to strike a destroyer with? Or provide air support?" Ahsoka wanted to know. That had happened more than once during their battles, and having a fighter which could only do one task seemed more liability than blessing. "Six concussion missiles are not going to cut it out there."
"The R-22 is not designed for these mission profiles."
"Then change it. Strap a few proton torpedoes under the wings or something. If you expect us to win battles and look good, we're going to need more than just a squadron of interceptors."
"You can't just strap a proton torpedo under the wing," the KSE engineer complained in an irritated voice. "They come in launchers - "
"Then mount the launchers under the wings or the cockpit. Make them removable, or replaceable by more concussion missiles. And install stronger shields while you are at it," Anakin cut in. He had had fun during the test flight, and been thoroughly impressed that a ship twice the size and eight times the mass of an Eta-2 could handle just as well, but after almost twenty years of tinkering with all kinds of technology, he also quickly found things which he would change as soon as possible.
"The reactor is not strong enough to support that."
"Then increase the output or install a more powerful reactor."
"That would cut down on the operational range," Hovis replied. "And you can't just swap all of these components for something better. They have been carefully and painstakingly adjusted to each other."
"Sure you can. During longer deployments, half of the fighters aboard the Resolute ended up mismatched parts because we had nothing else to keep them flying."
"You can do that with minor parts like fuel lines or power couplings, but not entire components like shields or weapons," Hovis replied, calmer than before. "I'm not going to like your answer, won't I?"
"And the weapons are way too heavy," Ahsoka threw in. "We didn't get to try them, but they look like the same make the ARC-170 uses. Those guns are almost useless against droid snubs because they fire too slowly."
It went on like this for another twenty minutes, in which the pair of force sensitives made suggestion after suggestion, some based on the test flight and some on their experience during the war. Some suggestions were very minor, such as Anakin wanting a softer headrest for long flights, or Ahsoka suggesting that a switch or gauge be moved. But other suggestions drove the chief engineer up the wall, until Hovis couldn't take it anymore and turned towards his superior with desperation clearly written across his face.
"No, no, don't stop on my account," the vice-director laughed. "It is nice to listen to someone utterly unfamiliar with the design process. Most of your suggestions would not be viable in a mass-produced vessel due to the costs involved, but we can certainly make it possible for a small production run."
"We can?" Hovis echoed dumbstruck.
"Within reason," Nadeau amended. "We will repurpose parts we have in stock from other models, and given the range of ships Kuat Drive Yards and its subsidiaries produce, we should be able to find something to work with for most of your ideas. Do you have further suggestions?"
"Well, in that case - "
Finally arriving in Varykino, Anakin was ready to catch up on all the lost sleep, but Padmé insisted on giving his padawan a tour. And after a cup of caf, the desire to go to bed at ten in the morning was not so strong anymore, so he tagged along.
"Why is there a mirror above the bed?" Ahsoka wanted to know once they got to the master suite and Anakin cursed his decision to stay awake for this.
"Uhm - no reason at all. That's just a mistake, yes the builders made a mistake."
"I had forgotten about that - Oh shut up Ani, you aren't convincing anyone. Ahsoka, I feel that if you have to ask, you are too young to know," Padme chuckled.
"Too young? I have won battles - Oh. Oh. Ohhhh," Ahsoka said, her face rapidly darkening.
"If it is any consolation, they were already here when I moved in. So either my parents or my grandparents thought that they needed one of these."
The Togruta didn't find that reassuring at all.
"Also, should you ever be bored, Ani programmed the cleaning droids to play Sabacc. Just be wary of the red one, he practically robbed my sister blind the last time she came here."
"The cleaning robots?"
"I was bored and needed something to do while my prosthetic arm healed. Well, something else - "
Anything else Anakin wanted to say was cut off when Padme elbowed his side.
"Knock it off Ani! If you can crack bad jokes, why don't you give Ahsoka a tour of the grounds? You might not be here all the time, but you may as well show her the best views."
Anakin and Ahsoka shared a glance before nodding in agreement and heading for the door at the not-so-subtle dismissal.
"This is the only place where mediation ever worked for me"
"This terrace?" Ahsoka asked with a frown. "It's pretty, but what's so special about it?"
"I grew up on a planet which had less water than this lake, where the only thing which grew outside of greenhouses were a few disgusting mushrooms," Anakin said hoarsely "When Padme first told me about her planet, I couldn't even understand the concept of a river. I thought that it was a joke, surely there couldn't be so much water just there without anyone trying to collect it. Water didn't exist outside of storage units - "
"That still doesn't explain what's so special about this terrace."
"I was blown away by Theed, but the Lake District was everything I loved about Naboo intensified a hundredfold," Anakin admitted with a faraway look before a goofy grin spread across his face. "Also, I got married about three feet to your left."
"You mean you got married in one of the most romantic locations in the galaxy?"
"What do you know about romance?"
"Well, there were a few holoshows - "
"Holoshows?" Anakin asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Not all of us could sneak off to marry a senator. The mere mortals had to make do with holoshows we weren't supposed to see."
"Still, I wouldn't have thought that you enjoyed the romances."
"They were alright. Barriss really - " Ahsoka trailed off, once again violently reminded that her best friend had been the one who got her into that big mess in the first place, who had become the very thing she had been fighting against. Who had framed her for murder in the name of peace.
"But to answer your question, my wedding was indeed quite romantic," Anakin said in what had to be the least subtle change of topic in Naboo history. "Ask Artoo about the recording if you want to."
"Let me guess, the sun was setting just as you kissed the bride."
"Well - "
"You're such a sap. You have to be happy no one knows, or Dooku and Grievous could not take you seriously the next time we run into them - Which actually wouldn't be a bad thing," Ahsoka admitted.
"This is a secured military channel reserved for the Grand Army, cease transmitting at this frequency immediately."
"Is this how you greet on old Friend, Rex?" Anakin wanted to know, a smile tugging on his lips.
"General? I won't even ask how you got my com after Naval Intelligence removed your clearance and changed the codes."
"Commander? You there as well?"
"Of course, and I'm sorry that I dragged Skyguy into this. He could have - "
"With all due respect Commander, that's bantha shit and you know it. General Skywalker chose to go with you because he knows that we can take care of ourselves."
"Oi, what is that supposed to mean?" Ahsoka asked, hating that there was no holo or video feed to glare at, but just a low-quality audio line.
"The galaxy is a big place. We can handle the Seppies, but you usually run into worse things than battle droids."
"Worse than battle droids?"
"Usually with red lightsabers, or some other kind of obscure Jedi business. Or rigged trials - "
"How is that my fault?"
"I'm not saying that you are at fault, Commander. But you and the General tend to end up in those messes with an alarming frequency."
"How are things on your side?" Anakin cut in before Ahsoka and Rex could escalate their bickering or Signal Intelligence noticed the intrusion and threw him out of the GAR network.
"Boring. We were supposed to ship out to Ringo Vinda as soon as you and the commander were back, but with you two gone, we got a training rotation with our new generals, a pair of Mikkian called Tiplee and Tiplar. And a new batch of Shinies."
"The twins? I've heard a lot of good about them. They manage one of the lowest casualty rates in the Order," Anakin recalled. After Pong Krell, he had spent countless hours pouring over battle reports to ensure that no other Jedi was as callous with the Clones under their command.
"It's good to know that my brothers will be in good hands. Word of the mouth is that we have the Seppies on the back foot and it will only take one good push before they collapse. The men are ready to do their part!"
"Don't push too hard. Be careful out there," Ahsoka said softly.
"You too. What are you two up to now, anyways?"
"The Queen of Naboo asked me to lead a fighter squadron. I wanted to get back to the 501st, but Senate politics got in the way," Anakin explained tiredly. "I tried the War Department as well, but they were more concerned about my paperwork than my record."
"The mighty General Skywalker, the Hero with no fear, brought to heel by data pushers."
"That's not funny. I have fought for nearly three years and yet they told me that I'd have to waste almost a year on useless courses just so that I could - "
"Relax General. Remember the last time they got all the supplies we requested to us the other on-time?"
"No - ?" Anakin replied slowly, taken aback by the unexpected question.
"Careful, I'm wet."
"You were supposed to wait for me," Anakin said smugly and promptly had a damp towel hit him in the face.
"I found Ahsoka in the whirlpool, on the brink of passing out."
"Passing out? Is she alright?" Anakin demanded to know, his earlier playfulness completely forgotten.
"She's fine, but I had to fish a puddle of padawan out of our hot tub."
"That does not sound like she's alright."
"Believe me, she's better than she has been in a long time. She simply had no strength to get out, so her soak turned into a nap."
"Are you sure that she is well? What if - "
"Ani, she used one too many of the geltana bath bombs. The root is mildly psychoactive, but the effect does not last long. Other than that, she is well."
"What are you saying?"
"She's a little high but will be fine tomorrow, probably even in just an hour. She's just completely worn down and needs to rest."
"She slept a whole day - "
"And how much sleep did she miss during the war?" Padmé asked, sounding harsher than she intended to. Closing her eyes, she continued in a softer tone. "One night might be enough for the acute sleep deprivation, but I don't think that even two weeks will be enough to make her fully rested. Or you for that matter."
"I am alright - "
"Alright? Alright? This isn't the Resolute where you are sent off on your next assignment as soon as you are physically able to limp out of sickbay. I don't care about alright, I want you to be well, to be happy - "
"I am happy. I get to spend time with you - "
"Oh Ani," Padmé laughed despite her sombre mood. "When was the last time you have gotten enough sleep? Enjoyed a good soak? Had someone pamper you all day? Just lazed around, doing nothing at all?"
"I - I don't know - "
"You just go off again, and - " she trailed off as tears began to pool in her eyes. "I don't want you to leave."
"I'm not going anywhere," Anakin replied soothingly and squeezed his wife, holding her tightly and not letting go. "Say the word and I'll never leave your side. Never!"
"I would never ask you to do that."
"For you, I would."
"Yes, but deep down you would long to be elsewhere. I don't want you to go through that, not even subconsciously," Padmé explained softly, even if the offer was tempting. "I want this war to be over, so that you can come home without leaving a galaxy ablaze behind."
"We could pretend that there is no war."
"You would go crazy after a week and Ahsoka would want to kill us after three days."
"Fine, then what about this night?" Anakin suggested and peeled her bathrobe off. Slipping his arms around her back and pulling her close, he enjoyed the feeling of skin on skin.
"That sounds fantastic You know, I had been hoping to recreate something from our honeymoon," Padmé said after a long time when they had silently enjoyed the tight embrace.
"Remember our midnight swims? I had hoped that we could do that again," Padme said from behind his ear as he ran his hands down her back.
"Well - "
"Oh no, you don't - " Padme was cut off when Anakin lifted her with the force and levitated her out of the bedroom window towards the lake before gently letting her down into the water. He shrugged off his own pants before following his wife with a triple somersault.
Thousands of light-years away, in an orbital office which belonged to Kuat System Engineering, a far less pleasant conversation was taking place.
"Sir, these ships will not be flyable at their full capacity. They are completely and utterly over-engineered. Much of the engine power is wasted and the firepower is unnecessarily high. It would make more sense to simply bring more fighters, or a dedicated bomber wing, even if they were individually less capable," Dexter Hovis pointed out to his superior.
"You are forgetting that our clients are not the average customer but a pair of Jedi. Their lot orders a lot of spacecraft no regular pilot could ever hope to fly to the limit. Do you recall how well trials with regular pilots in the Deltas went? Resigning from their Order did not reduce the piloting abilities of those two, they proved as much when they wiped the floor with our test pilots."
"I still don't see the point in this. Naboo will never request enough ships to make this endeavour profitable."
"Naboo will not have to pay for the ships, they are the stepping stone. The R-22 program has cost us 927 million credits so far, and we have no buyers because the Republic is content with the Z-95 they have and the Alpha-3 Nimbus was chosen as a short-ranged fighter instead. 927 million Hovis, that's more than the annual budget of a few systems. With the GAR not interested, our only hope is that local and sector governments purchase the R-22, but they won't buy an unproven craft if they have a wide range of battle-tested ships to choose from."
"We have a superior hyperdrive and it does not require the manual input of coordinates," the engineer pointed out, pride in his creation clear for everyone to hear.
"Most users would operate them within the system or carry their escorts docked to or on larger ships. It is a useful, but unappreciated aspect. And the reason we didn't get the Republic contract. Which is why we have to give Skywalker a squadron of R-22s and a few custom-built ones on top. Once he wins a few battles, we will be selling starfighters faster than we can build them."
"Why are you so certain that he will be successful?"
"Have you seen the man fly? He was part of almost every Republic victory which involved small craft. Even his apprentice was flying circles around our pilots. Mark my words, Skywalker will be the break we've all been hoping for, and everything he suggested is doable with our own resources."
"Some of their requests were pretty reasonable. Lighter dual cannons - we can take those straight from the V-Wing, better stabilisers, even the Astromech wasn't hard to fit compared to the Eta-2, but the entire external armament - "
"That is a crazy idea, but if we can make it work, we can patent it and offer that system on all of our small craft. And that will make us a fortune."
"What they are asking for is impossible!" Hovis complained and ran a hand over his cropped hair.
"Come on Dexter, don't exaggerate."
"Missile racks are one thing, but the girl wants composite beam pinpoint lasers! On a light fighter! The emitters would need their own power supply or they would fry the entire power lines. I know an engineer at Rothana who went bald while working on the CBPL project, and three who started drinking!"
"Then you know who can help you with your task," Nadeau replied flatly. "This has top priority! I wasn't lying when I brought up our debt to Gunray. Onara Kuat was positively giddy when I ran this project by her. This has the blessing of the principal director."
When Padmé woke up to the sound of distant blaster fire, she knew that she was in for a bad day. The bed next to her was cold and empty, so the assailants had timed their plot well most likely observing the entire estate until an opportunity arose. Grabbing a blaster from her nightstand, the senator decided to see whether she could negotiate her way out of this mess or if the countless hours practising with Sabé would come in handy. She had no delusion about shooting her way through a horde of assassins, but hopefully, she could delay them long enough for Anakin to come back. And where was Ahsoka?
It didn't take Padmé long to find the two wayward force users in a nearby meadow. From her balcony, she could see them surrounded by a small army of service droids which, for some reason, were armed and shooting at the pair. Through the optic of her blaster, she could see more than their lightsabers flashing.
They were in the middle of what looked like a sparring match, the droids acting as an additional challenge since they fired indiscriminately into the fray. Anakin kept battering Ahsoka with vicious strikes, but she was able to get one of her blades between them. Eventually, Anakin found an opening in her alternating pattern and lunged, his saber going into her stomach while Ahsoka ran her sword through his right side.
Padmé's breath hitched for a moment before she saw that the pair was laughing at the outcome, obviously only using some kind of practice setting before they reverted to a starting position and began anew. Lowering her own weapon, Padmé slurped down the wall until she was hugging her knees. With the adrenaline ebbing away, she felt that she had been in her bed not five minutes ago.
What's wrong with me? Is this war really so prevalent that I expect a firefight in my own garden? I haven't even seen a tenth of what Anakin has been through. And Ahsoka is still two months shy of seventeen, yet she is handling this a lot better than me. There have been assassinations sure, but the girl has lived on battlefields for two years! And she isn't -
I can't face my parents like that! I'll have to call them and cancel our -
They deserve to know! And it will only get worse the longer I sit on this!
But it does not have to be today.
Didn't I say the same thing yesterday? And the day before?
I overslept. The sun is over the lake, so it's already past midday, we wouldn't make it to Theed at a reasonable hour.
Excuses! What if the media finds out and they'll learn the truth from the holonet?
What if I become pregnant? What if I become a widow and -
NO, Don't even think about that. We are all going to make it through this.
Looking down the line of people who stood at attention, Ahsoka couldn't quench the feeling of pride. They weren't the 501st, there was no Rex, Fives or Tup waiting for her in the hangar. But the two weeks had given her a new perspective on those volunteers she would lead.
It is odd to see civilians eager to fly off to war. Well, they aren't really civies, they had been through some kind of military service at one point in their lives. But had moved on, built up lives and businesses, only to come back when they felt the need to step up. Do they know what they signed up for? What is waiting for them out there? How ruthless this war is, fighting droids who give no quarter? They are my second choice, but Skyguy is right. They are willing to fight. They aren't just hiding behind the Clones, they want to serve. And they deserve leaders who take this seriously, even if this squadron only a tool to get back to the 501st.
Twenty-one pilots, twenty-one different stories, twenty-one different lives they had given up to serve. A professor from the University of Theed stood next to a woman who wouldn't have looked out of place in the Royal Ballet Ensemble and a man who's sun-kissed skin betrayed the countless hours he must have spent working outside. All of them Veterans, all of them qualified for starfighters, all of them excelling in the simulator. Fourteen had survived the Trade Federation.
But does that prepare them? How many will not return? How many will perish at my orders? Will it be Ryloth all over again? I have learned a lot since then, but will it be enough? The clankers aren't smart, but all it takes is one lucky shot.
The ships waiting for them just behind the pilots were what Kuat System Engineering had dubbed the R-22 A0, a conversion of existing pre-production models. Most of the suggested modifications had been made, but it resulted in odd bulges wherever a part needed more space than was available. KSE had promised to deliver more fighters within the month, with properly fitting panels and the interchangeable external armaments they had been working on, as well as a specialised version only suitable for force-sensitive pilots.
It looks as if they have some kind of boil disease, but for our first mission, these dented advertisements for the word hideous will have to do. Not that these bumps will matter in space, but the Kuati sure did a number on the sleek Spearheads they've shown us at their big shipyard.
Get a grip girl, we won't be taking on the entire CIS fleet, but probably just patrol empty space until we have proven that we can fly in a straight line. And for that, these will do just fine.
This is a transition chapter I needed to set the stage for future chapters. Not terribly exciting and darker than I originally intended, but it is necessary because I am not fond of stories which have a big divergence only to return straight back to the canon plot. There will be some events which will happen no matter what Anakin does, mainly Sidious plots, but I hope to deliver something new and interesting mixed in-between. And the whole business with the custom fighters and the independent command aren't just something shiny for Anakin and Ahsoka to collect for the sake of being awesome but elements I will need further down the road. Also, for those of you who are unfamiliar with extended canon, the R-22 was the platform upon which the Rebellion built the A-Wing after the Empire rejected the R-22 early into its existence.
The idea for that type of marketing came from an early Airbus campaign where they lent a few of their new A300s to Eastern Air Lines free of charge and service included because no one wanted to buy a plane from an unproven manufacturer.
Next chapter: Explosions! In space!
"We need something to break our people in, an easy success," Anakin said without preamble when he and Ahsoka were summoned to a stuffy office deep in the bowels of the Royal Palace of Theed, led there by a government official.
"I thought that the pilots we had chosen were the best this planet has to offer. So why would you do something as trivial as that?" the defence attaché from Queen Neeyutnee's government, a grey-haired woman in her sixties, wanted to know, making it obvious that defence was a resort Naboo had little experience with.
"They are good pilots, but there's no cohesion," Ahsoka pointed out. That had been the biggest flaw their training flights had revealed. And unfortunately, the only way that could be fixed was time, time they didn't have. "They aren't used to flying with each other."
"Artoo, is there a list of available missions - there is?" Anakin asked rhetorically, surprised at the positive reply. "Why would someone make such a list?"
On the nearest holoprojector, a long list of dates, numbers and locations began to unfold under the bold, floating title Requests for Reinforcements.
"Oh, right. Artoo, filter out anything related to ground combat."
Three-quarters of the list disappeared while the other entries were enlarged to the point where the became readable without a magnifier.
"Can you remove everything where we wouldn't make it in time?"
The droid once again chirped and set the necessary filters.
"Artooey, which one would you pick?" Ahsoka wanted to know once only a dozen requests were left. "Commerce raiding? Isn't that a little too easy for us?"
"You let an Astromech decide on your first mission?" the representative of the Naboo government wanted to know.
"That R2 unit is one of the most decorated individuals in the entire Grand Army and has served me faithfully throughout the war after ten years as personal Astromech of Queen Amidala - " Anakin cut off the attaché. While he wouldn't blindly follow R2's suggestions, he would certainly listen to them with an open mind.
"I meant no offence, Sir."
"Right," Anakin replied, clearly not believing the woman.
Reverting back to real space, Ahsoka did a double-take. Their briefing had said that XJ-38426 was a young system, but to see more half-molten shards of rock float around than she could count was more than just unusual. The planet which shadow they had arrived in looked like a giant fireball and was littered with fresh impact craters.
"This is Guardian 3 to incoming ships, please identify yourself."
"This is Wing Commander Skywalker, 303-01. Sending codes now. We are your strike wing," Anakin replied as he looked down on his sensor readout and magnified the lone ARC-170.
"Nice to see you, Sir. It was getting a little lonely out here."
"What's the situation?"
"A base in the Dornea picked up a battleship jumping towards this star and we were sent to investigate."
"A battleship? I thought we were going after freighters."
"You are. We came here to investigate that battleship and it turned out to be a regular Lucrehulk, without the military conversion. So our support priority got downgraded and we were told to sit here until reinforcements, which would be you, could be spared. We spent the time cataloguing the system, sending data now - "
"Transmission received, give me the rundown."
"Our long-range probe discovered several installations hidden throughout the system and - "
"What kind of installations?" Ahsoka wanted to know. There was, after all, a big difference between attacking a solar observatory and a hidden shipyard.
"We identified three mining ships in the asteroid belt and some kind of refinery orbiting the twenty-sixth planetary object."
"Twenty-sixth? Just how many planets does this system have?"
"Our current count goes up to 102 objects with a diameter above 2000 klicks, but most likely we'll find some more. Hey Sting, how long since we've found a planet - Thirty-five minutes? Well, we're overdue for another one soon."
"102?" Ahsoka echoed, ignoring the chatter between the ARC pilot and his gunner. She had been to a lot of star systems before, but such a number was unheard of.
"That number will go down in the future as these proto-planets collide and merge. This is a fascinating moment in the formation of this system as within the next hundred million years - "
"Shut it, Eight. The commander isn't one of your astrophysics students," Blue 7 cut in before her wingman could go on.
"Guardian 3, what can you tell us about the defensive capabilities of the Seppies?" Ahsoka asked, silently agreeing with 7. Even with several stops along the way, it had been three days since she had done anything other than sit in her fighter or sleep at some supply base. She was equal parts eager to finally get to the action and to get back to Naboo and enjoy a soft, plush bed again.
"We didn't pick up any sensor buoys or patrol craft. The only active scanners are aboard the mining ships and traffic control near the refinery. There might be a passive network hidden though."
"Artoo, show me the sensor range on a system map," Anakin said and, watching the readout on the screen in front of him, tried to come up with the best plan to take out everything the Confederacy had built-in XJ-38426. With just twenty-one ships, this was no easy task and there was no telling if the Confederate Navy had any ships nearby. The asteroids would mask their attack, but it also made it impossible to safely tell what was inside.
"Can you calculate the best jump for each of those targets? Preferably so that we can approach through the asteroid belts and strike at the same time," Anakin said and laughed at his droid's reply. "Yes, we could jump right in their faces, but timing that right for four different attacks would be tricky with pilots who haven't practised that yet. Send them the coordinates."
"We will have to split up in four groups. Six, Eleven and Eighteen, you will lead groups Beta, Gamma and Delta respectively. You will get coordinates and jump within the system. Approach your targets through the asteroids to hide your presence and keep your sensors powered down until you are in range for a firing solution. Keep your coms silent. Strike fast and strike hard."
After getting confirmations from everyone, Anakin switched controls to R2 because the force was many things, but not a chronograph. And hyperspace jumps were not particularly interesting.
This mission would be challenging for his men, many who had not seen the inside of a cockpit in years. At the same time, this was as safe as a wartime mission could get. Anakin would usually scoff at such a mission, regarding it as a degradation of his dignity, but the need to boost his squad's morale and confidence had never been higher. Asteroids demanded your attention, but they weren't a squadron of Mulificents or ten Lucrehulks worth of Vulture droids and no pilot worth their name would be defeated by a rock. The defences here seemed light, so it was definitely the right thing to get everyone used to live weapons, their wingmen and the Confederate Navy. In many ways, this was just like breaking in shinies.
Coming up to the coordinates, Anakin switched on his sensors, ready to deliver what ought to be a devastating strike. Flying through the asteroids had been fun, and his pace had therefore been harsher than a gentle introduction, but they made it without incident and were out for blood. Or hydraulic fluid.
However, there was nothing at the target coordinates, no foundry vessel, no transports, not even a single droid. Just more of the same asteroids flying on their random paths. After several seconds of finding nothing, R2 noticed an anomaly at the edge of the effective sensor range. Scanner activity which matched what the ARC had sent them about the installation.
The probe had used visual detection only in order to remain undetected. It was not as accurate as simply scanning the system, but scanners alerted everyone nearby that someone was poking around in their neighbourhood far beyond their own effective range. That reliance on stealthy reconnaissance had resulted in target coordinates which were off by several thousand kilometres. But more importantly, Guardian 3 had gotten the size of the refinery wrong. Rather than a few hundred meters, the ring-shaped complex was over a mile in diameter and heavily armoured. Exhaust vents and smokestacks stood out at odd angles while giant furnaces littered the underside together with a maze of connectors which bridged the gap between the individual foundries, processing all resources which could be found in XJ-38426. It hovered over a small planetoid which was in the process of being strip-mined, its surface even more torn and jagged than if it had been subjected to prolonged bombardment.
The massive size of the refinery, as well as its thick armour, led to a rather simple problem. It had not been anticipated that Anakin would have to split his men up, which was why one half of their ships carried sixteen additional concussion missiles to take care of any escorts while the other half had eight proton torpedoes each to make short work out of the freighters. And his group had only the smaller and more agile missiles, which were great against droid fighters, but lacked the punch of their heavier counterparts, something he had overlooked when dividing his squadron.
Looking at his sensors as well as the display showing the status of the 303rd, Anakin realised that he would have to abandon the plan if he wanted to take down the refinery vessel. And given its size, it was the most valuable target, not just in the system but in the entire sector.
"This is Blue One to group Delta: Abort your attack and converge at my position! I need your firepower for the refinery," Anakin ordered before switching to his flight's comms. "The main complex is too heavily armoured. We'll need torpedoes for that. Group Delta has torpedoes, but they are on the far side of the system."
"So what now, Sir?" Blue 3 wanted to know.
"We can't crack the refinery, but we can soften up their defences by taking out the weapon platforms and droid fighters. That way Delta will have a clear path for their attack run. Come on!"
"I'll take the droids," Ahsoka announced and turned towards the rather pitiful fighter screen. "Blue 4, follow me."
Less than a dozen Vultures scrambled in response to the incoming strike, making it clear that the biggest defence of this entire operation had been secrecy. The asteroid belt opened up around the station, leaving everyone free to manoeuvre and the two R-22s fell upon the droids like a pack of hungry loth-wolves, slicing through them with precise strikes before coming about to fire off another deadly volley. A few additional Vultures leapt off the base and joined the fight, but they did not have enough firepower to become dangerous, coming in small groups with enough time in between to be easily dealt with.
Meanwhile, Anakin was approaching the defensive stations. Their gunners opened up, but their weapons were made to deter capital ships, not fighters. Red blurs reached out towards them, but were too slow to be a threat. More plasma came their way from both top and bottom of the K-shaped platform, but the three fighters dodged without much effort.
"Three and Five, save your missiles for the second platform. Just do a gun run," Anakin ordered and activated his targeting sensors. That way, they hopefully would be able to get both structures. His threat warner began to beep, but at the moment he was outside of effective range of whoever tried to shoot him down. With the push of a button, twenty-two concussion missiles flew off their rails and angled towards the weapon platform while the four twin lasers of wingmen battered its shields. A series of explosions erupted all over the dark grey hull and one of the turrets was blown off clean before the slightly bulbous middle was engulfed by a fireball which tore the entire installation apart. Having spent both his internal and external missiles, Anakin was the one who attacked the second with guns while his pilots unleashed their munitions.
After taking out the Vulture droids, Ahsoka and her wingman had no imminent targets, which was why she banked left towards the refinery. They might be unable to take out the ship, but they could still hurt it. And not everything was hidden under countless layers of durasteel.
"Try to hit those furnaces."
"Yes, Sir!" Blue 4, a young woman whose real name was Cora Sterling, confirmed as she followed the Togruta to the underbelly of the giant vessel. Using all of their missiles, they attacked the protruding production facilities in the hope of a lucky hit which destroyed the refinery. And although their efforts were unsuccessful in that regard, Blue 4 managed to slam one missile into the connection between an ore conveyor and the smelter. The warhead must have caught something important because within seconds, the whole module was ablaze. The return fire was almost nonexistent, the heavy turbolasers unable to get a clear shot at the Spearheads because their own production facilities were blocking their firing arcs.
Molten ore burst from a ruptured storage tank and burned its way through the surrounding structures, destroying pipes, conveyor belts and walkways alike. However, Ahsoka's attention was drawn away from the fiery destruction when her com light up.
"Snips, we have Tri-Droids incoming. Get clear of the refinery and give us a hand here."
"Blue 2, understood. Your backside needs saving once more."
"My backside is perfectly fine," Anakin grumbled as he braced himself for the head-on attack.
"Really? Mine is quite sore after three days in that cockpit."
"Then write a letter to KSE and demand leather seats for the next batch of fighters."
"Do you think we could get the ones with a massage function like aboard Padmé's skiff?" Ahsoka wanted to know.
"I don't think that they would fit into a fighter cockpit."
"Damn, there goes my plan for a nice - "
"Uhm, Commander, what about those Tri-Droids?" Blue 4 hesitantly interrupted the banter between the two former Jedi.
"We have them under control, but there's another wave coming from 227.4, 18.7."
"On it!" Ahsoka said and turned towards the direction Anakin had called before switching to a private channel. "That's why I prefer Clones."
"Come on Snips, that's not fair and you know it. The 501st had two years to get used to our madness. They also needed some time to warm up to you. And did you forget that everyone called you youngling at first?"
"No," the Togruta admitted through clenched teeth as she braced herself for the head-on engagement. The Tri-Droids turned out to be the biggest challenge so far, making it obvious once more that the Confederacy would be a much bigger threat when they weren't just pumping out the cheapest droids possible. Flying through the opening barrage wasn't difficult with the force, but once they drew Ahsoka into a turning fight, the tri-fighters could use their immunity to g-forces to their advantage. Yet, after two years, Ahsoka had a few tricks up her sleeve.
Ducking into the asteroid field, she began to weave through the shards. One of the droids following her tried too hard to gain on her and crashed into the stellar rock. She cut her main engines and flipped the Spearhead around, giving her a free shot at her pursuers as they came around the obstacle. The two dual cannons of the R-22 made quick work of the leading Tri and its wingman, both turning into fireballs. Ahsoka kicked in the afterburner to stop her drift before she hit an asteroid. Anakin swooped in and took out another pair, yet the droids kept coming.
The Tris seemed to realise that they were fighting a Jedi and therefore concentrated their forces in a relentless pursuit. Hounding her through the belt, the droids kept throwing everything into the chase, which left Blue 4 free to shoot them down one by one. Yet they kept coming, undeterred by their losses.
Feeling a nudge in the force, Ahsoka threw her Spearhead into a rolling dive. Her shields absorbed a hit from the tri's heavy laser, but the light cannon barrage tore through them, punched through her port wing, and filling almost all screens with warnings and damage reports. A second heavy bolt passed her fighter by inches while the light shots flew past her as well. Levelling out after her evasive manoeuvres, she had an enemy in her sights and pulled the trigger, but only her starboard cannon fired. Glancing left, Ahsoka was surprised to see half her wing missing, panels and frames scorched and bent where the lasers struck true.
"Your tail is clear Commander," Cora announced as she took a flanking position. "Are you alright?"
"Peachy, although my sensors are fried. What's going on out there?"
"We have more fighters incoming - wait those are ours - "
"This is Blue 18, Delta leader. We're beginning our torpedo run."
Four fighters lined up on the refinery, each carrying eight proton torpedoes in twin launchers under their wings. One of the projectiles failed upon launch, and of the thirty-one weapons fired, twenty-nine hit their intended target while two were taken down by point defence systems. Of those twenty-nine, about half got through the armour and at least three had hit something important as multiple explosions began to cascade across the dark hull. In places, the grey panels boiled or were ripped off their frames by the force of the detonations inside.
"Nice shot Delta."
"That looks like a job well done," Anakin admitted, his face lit up by the fire below as more and more of the refinery went up in flames. Eventually, a reactor went critical and started a chain reaction which tore the refinery apart in a white ball of fire.
"Beta, Gamma, status report?"
"Blue 6, target destroyed, as well as a nearby storage depot. We haven't found anything else nearby and continue our search pattern."
"Blue 11 here. We ran into an LH-3210 and had to use a lot of torpedoes for that, but we got both the freighter and the mining ship. 12 lost her shields, 14 his starboard engine and a good chunk of my circuitry is fried."
"Alright, I think that we are done here. One of the mining ships is still out there, but we are out of ordnance," Anakin announced. They could probably take it down as well, but without missiles that would take too long - every minute they stayed increased the risk of reinforcements. A single mining vessel was not enough to outweigh the risk of additional, unforeseen combat without the element of surprise on their side.
"Everyone, prepare for hyperspace to Calamari. You'll get 48 hours there before we make the trip back to Naboo. I recommend both the casino and the spa, although I didn't get around to do much sightseeing the last time I was there."
"We can still keep this quiet," Anakin said as he watched Padmé hesitating to ring the doorbell. They had come to Theed and were in front of her parents' house, but he would gladly drive their speeder another thousand miles back to the lake retreat if she said the word.
"No, my parents deserve to know."
"You could always ask Sabé to tell them."
"No, I have to tell them myself and Sabé can't fool Mum. That's the least I have to do myself after keeping our marriage from them," Padmé said as she reached for the button.
"You had no choice - "
"We had to keep our marriage secret, but not from my parents," she pointed out in a hushed tone and turned towards her husband, her finger still hovering over the doorbell. "I chose to do so because I was overwhelmed by the whole situation. I should have told them, if not outright then at least sooner. But I didn't and now I get to reap what I sowed."
Before Anakin could reply, she pushed the blue button and turned back to him. "How can you be so calm about this anyway?"
"You mean other than fighting worse things than angry parents for almost three years?" Anakin replied and even though he was completely serious, Padmé's glare made it obvious that she thought it was a bad joke. "Ahsoka was the only one about whose reaction I cared about after Obi-Wan made it obvious that he put the Order above her. Well, there are Rex and the others, but I don't have to fear more than a ribbing from them."
Anything else was cut off by the sound of metal sliding over metal and a black-haired man opened the door.
"Padmé sweetheart, I've feared that you had forgotten where your parents lived," her father said and scooped her up into a hug, ignoring her disgruntled yelp.
"I was busy Daddy," Padmé replied and only got pulled closer in response before he eventually let her go.
"It's good to see you again, Anakin," Ruwee said as he clasped his shoulder. The man hadn't changed much since their last meeting other than gaining ten pounds and a few grey hairs. "The hero of the hour."
"Oh please - "
"You should have seen Theed Daily yesterday. A two hour special on your exploits during the war."
"Mostly exaggerations, I am sure," Anakin deflected with a forced laugh. While he wasn't one for humility most of the time, he realised that this was one of the occasions where it did matter how he came across.
"Nonsense, they even got an interview with your Clone Captain."
"Rex seemed to have forgotten to mention that."
"He must have," Ruwee laughed. "I was hoping to meet your pupil. Padmé had mentioned Ahsoka in many of her calls."
"She didn't want to intrude - "
"Nonsense, any friend of yours is welcome here. And my grandchildren are finally out of the age where they would accidentally cause a diplomatic incident," Ruwee admitted jovially.
"A few years ago, we had the Ambassador of Ryloth over for dinner. Ryoo was two and Pooja just three months old. Both decided that the ambassador's lekku was the most fascinating thing in the galaxy. And to children that old, that means putting them into their mouths."
"Oh," Anakin repeated, this time on the brink of laughter.
"He had a good laugh at the kids, but that could have ended really badly," the older man said as his daughter squeezed past them and into the house. With Padmé out of earshot, Ruwee's voice took on a serious tone. "You are not here again as her bodyguard, are you?"
"No, that assignment ended a long time ago."
"I see - " he said with a warm chuckle and Anakin knew that their secret would come out that evening one way or another. "Come in, we wouldn't want to leave the ladies waiting."
Dinner was a tense affair. At first, Sola and Jobal were happy and curious to welcome him once more, riddling him with questions about the Jedi and the Force. Ruwee, on the other hand, was more interested in the technical details of the R-22 and what kind of further modifications Anakin was envisioning. But as time passed, Padmé's nervousness became clear as day until she herself couldn't take it anymore.
"We have an announcement to make. Anakin and I - "
"Ha, I knew that he was your boyfriend," Sola threw in smugly, which left her sister gaping as she struggled to answer. Their father seemed genuinely happy while Jobal had an unreadable expression on her face.
"Anakin is not my boyfriend. Well, I mean, he's not, but that's because, well not really - we are - I mean we have been - "
"Padme dear, I am afraid that I don't understand what you are trying to say," her mother said gently, concern plainly written on her face.
"Oh. That's bad - not what I'm trying to say, that's good - "
"We're married," Anakin blurted out. As awe-inspiring as Padmé could be when addressing the Senate, she was talking in circles and did not get to the point. To bad R2 wasn't there to record this wreck.
"You're not showing." Sola pointed out flatly while her parents were still processing the revelation, which left Anakin confused and Padme stuttering.
"I'm - We're - There's - I am not pregnant!"
"Then why the rushed wedding?" her sister dug deeper.
"Because of the war. We didn't know if we both make it through - "
"You have made it this far," Ruwee pointed out.
"But we didn't know that after Geonosis - "
"Geonosis? That was two and a half years ago! Are you saying that you didn't tell us, even though you had TWO AND A HALF years?" Jobal shouted shrilly.
"It's not as if we had much time together. We might have been married for more than two years, but didn't even get to spend a month together," Anakin threw back. He could endure attacks against himself all day long if need be, but Padme deserved better. While her conflicting interests had been a factor, it had been his membership in the Jedi Order which forced them to keep their relationship secret. And while Naboo technically demanded that their senators were unattached, Anakin doubted that anyone would mind. After all, the people had wanted her to remain as Queen indefinitely as well as extend the powers of her office. Even as a senator, she enjoyed approval ratings way above 80%.
"Clearly, you didn't think that your family should be told about such events."
"There wasn't time and this isn't something for a holocall. The few occasions when I was back here, Anakin was off fighting the Confederacy. The one time we both were here for more than mere hours, I was stuck in the Royal Hospital due to exposure to the Blue Shadow Virus. And when I had been released, Anakin had been sent on a new assignment already," Padmé replied, trying her best to keep her voice even.
"But why the secrecy in the first place?" her father wanted to know.
"Because Jedi aren't allowed attachments. The Order might not be celibate, but they would never have approved of how deep my feelings for Padmé ran," Anakin said and squeezed her hand under the table. "They would have separated us and I didn't want to risk that. Not to mention that I would have been pulled from the frontlines - "
"So you put the war above my daughter?" Jobal hissed.
"We both have our responsibilities," Padmé pointed out dryly. "Anakin was not wasting away in some bar but one of the leaders in the fight against the Confederate war machine. While there are many good people on the other side of this conflict, their military leadership is not above even the worst war crimes imaginable. They tried to unleash the Blue Shadow virus upon Naboo for Goddess' sake. But even if Anakin had been unemployed, he would have hardly seen me."
"And how do you intend to raise children in that environment?"
"We will cross that bridge when - "
"You are good for each other," Ruwee observed, his calm tone a stark contrast to his wife.
"This was just a test?" Padme asked with rising fury as she turned to face him.
"No, but I see how you act around each other," her father replied warmly. "I might not approve of the secrecy, but you made the right choice. Still, Sweetheart, you could have said something sooner."
"How can you be so calm about this?" Jobal hissed to her husband, Anakin, Padmé and Sola forgotten.
"If I did the math right, they got married shortly after the war declaration," Ruwee pointed out with a look which made it clear that he wanted to know the whole story. "And I know that our daughter didn't have a free day ever since."
"We got married the day after Geonosis, before there officially was a war. And less than two weeks later, I was back to fighting droids," Anakin quickly supplied and raised his mechanical arm. "Most of our honeymoon was me getting used to this and annoying the technicians at the Royal Hospital."
"That must have been hard - " Sola said and her sister shot her a grateful look.
"It was. Most of our first year of marriage consisted of text messages. Anakin was rarely in a place where we could get even as much as a voice connection, and I was stuck in senate sessions or meetings at least fourteen hours a day."
"That is no marriage, no matter what you tell yourself to feel better," Jobal said and stormed out, not even looking back. Padmé stood up to follow her, but her father held her back.
"Just - leave her. She isn't taking this well, so give her a few days and she'll come around. I will talk to her later, but you know how your mother can be. She will deny that the sky is blue when she's mad."
"Honestly, she shouldn't be that surprised. You weren't subtle with your looks the last time. And let's just say that you didn't wear that dress for my benefit, little sister," Sola said, her tone somewhere between smug and amused.
"Don't be too hard on your mother - "
"You aren't freaking out - "
"I got to spend some time with Anakin when he was here - "
"But Pad was really, really obvious with her crush - "
"Why are you so calm about this? I honestly expected you to react like Mother as well," Padmé wanted to know and Anakin felt the hurt in her voice.
"Your sister is right, you only had eyes for each other back when you introduced Anakin. You got suspiciously defensive whenever he was mentioned afterwards and you didn't entertain even one suitor during the war. Looking back, it was obvious that something was going on between you," Ruwee added, his voice still as warm and calm as at the start of the conversation.
The next delivery of R-22s included an unexpected addition because the captain of the transport ship insisted that he was now serving General Skywalker as well, compliments of the Chancellor. While Anakin was busy picking his jaw from the floor, Ahsoka excused herself to com Padmé and make sense out of the situation. The whole reason they were leading a squadron in Naboo was that the Chancellor couldn't do them any favours, but he had apparently just gifted them what looked like a shrunken Acclamator. Something wasn't adding up.
"Amidala," the senator yawned.
"Hello Padmé, can I pick your brain for a minute?"
"Is something wrong?"
"Yes - No - I - I honestly have no idea. The Chancellor just gifted Anakin a small cruiser!"
"A Kuati ship dropped off our new fighters, and the captain claimed that he and his ship had been transferred to Anakin on orders of the Chancellor."
"What? The office of the Supreme Chancellor, despite its vast emergency powers, does not have the authority to gift ships. And certainly not to individuals," Padmé said, now more awake.
"Would there be any loophole he could have used. Like leaving the ship somewhere and do nothing when Anakin would happen to find it?"
"That's ridiculous and I can't - There was a law about supplying unused ships to systems in need. But that shouldn't - wait, let me check something - here it is," Padmé grunted and began to tap on her datapad. "No, that looks fine. I can't - Wait maybe - This could be - Oh, the sly bastard!"
"Padmé, are you alright?" Ahsoka wanted to know, concerned by her friend's uncharacteristic outburst.
"No, I am not alright. After almost fifteen years advocating disarmament, I got tricked to vote in favour of a bill which resulted in Naboo getting its first star cruisers in almost three centuries. The clause which defines to whom the law applies states that any system which has been invaded by Separatist forces will receive military aid. I did not think that the actions of Rish Loo would count because the invasion was a failure, but no matter how unsuccessful it was, it has been classified as one."
"I'm not following."
"There was a law to donate ships to poor and devastated systems so that they would have additional protection during the rebuild phase. To give them a sense of security and stop opportunistic pirates and slavers. It was supposed to be part of a greater campaign to relief those who have to shoulder the greatest burden of this war. But never Naboo - " Padmé trailed off. "We have the money and capabilities to maintain a much larger military force, but we deliberately chose disarmament."
"So why did we just had a captain tell us that his ship was now ours?"
"Because Rish Loo arranged for an invasion. It failed and resulted in fewer casualties than a transit crash, but technically it was an invasion. And the Chancellor used that to justify this transfer. Even if I somehow managed to successfully object, the Chancellor can always point at the invasion of the Trade Federation, which is one of the central members of the Confederacy. On paper, the ship is called armoured transport O7-T511, but you said that it was a cruiser."
"She looks like a sleeker Acclamator or an enlarged Arquitens. It's hard to tell on the ground, but I think that she is shorter than the assault ship. There's no superstructure and I don't see any turrets. Just what kind of ships were supposed to be in that bill?"
"Whatever could be spared. Admiral Tarkin explained theCChancellor's legislation - "
"Tarkin? You voted for that bastard's bill?" Ahsoka snarled.
"That was before your trial. And I won't vote down a good draft law just because its proponent is a - "
"A cock? A giant, moronic son of - "
"Yes. I am above such grudges - Although admittedly, it would have spared us this mess. I knew that Tarkin and the Chancellor wouldn't just propose a law out of the goodness of their hearts, but I didn't expect Palpatine to swoop so low and circumvent the laws of his home planet," Padmé said bitterly.
"Ok, that explains where this ship comes from, but not why Anakin should get it."
"Ani got command because he is the highest-ranking GAR officer around. All of his superiors are members of the Royal Starship Corps, not the Grand Army. Technically, neither were you until you unit was loaned to the Republic's armed forces."
"Why does everything have to be so complicated?" Ahsoka whined, fed up by the politics which seemed to have seeped into everything she did. "I just want to do what's right."
"This is not about you or Anakin, no matter what the Chancellor might claim to make you feel good. This is him ignoring the will of Naboo government and using Anakin's fame to get away with it," Padmé said frustratedly.
"Are you going to let him?"
"By ensuring that Anakin was the one who got command, he made it impossible for me to do anything to undo this plan. Not just because I don't want to fight with my husband, but because I know enough about spaceships to tell that being in that cruiser is a lot safer than in a fighter," Padmé lamented, her voice rich with sadness and impotent anger, noticeable even through the small speaker of Ahsoka's com unit. "How is Anakin taking all of this?"
"He is - devastated. Disgusted by such a misinterpretation of the law and - "
"You're laying on too thick, Ahsoka," the older woman interrupted her with resignation in her voice. "He's giddy, isn't he?"
"He was really surprised, but now he has a big grin on his face. And he is talking to the captain, undoubtedly about the ship."
"Oh honestly, sometimes he can be such a boy. When he got the Resolute, he sent me half of the manuals because he couldn't stop talking about her."
"It was cute, especially since Anakin is usually very serious. There aren't many things which can bring his softer side out," Padmé said sadly.
"Well, this whole planet can, and you worst of all."
"I've known Skyguy for two years, and I've seen him show more emotion and happiness in the two weeks we've been on Naboo than elsewhere. And whenever he's with you, he's almost unrecognizable."
"I can't really tell because I don't get to see him without me around."
"He has been more balanced ever since leaving the Order and even meditated voluntarily."
"He doesn't do that regularly?" Padmé wanted to know, not grasping the severity of that change.
"No, and neither do I. Out here it's not too bad, but on Coruscant meditation always felt - off. I don't know if it's all the beings there or the lack of nature."
"I never noticed that Anakin had such issues - "
"What did you do?" Ahsoka asked, hoping for some hint which could help her.
"Yes, you. I've seen Skyguy skiving every meditation we were assigned. So if it's not an issue with you around, it has to be you."
"Well, I usually just held him close, ran a few fingers through his hair and - well - we might not have worn clothes - "
"Yeah, that won't work for me," Ahsoka trailed off, her cheeks darkening at the thought. At least that admission was not in person, or she might have wanted to disappear in a spontaneous sinkhole.
"Listen, I'm going to do some damage control before the Chancellor decides to donate a star destroyer to his home planet. And then finally get some sleep. In the meantime, make sure that Ani doesn't do anything stupid," Padmé said with a warm fondness in her voice.
"Naming that Cruiser Queen Amidala."
This battle is loosely based on the Mission 01 from the 2003 game Freelancer. I've also used Grievous kill tally from legends because in canon as it is right now, he only got one Jedi, and that wouldn't justify his reputation.
Of course, I could have simply given Anakin a second Resolute, or even a Victory-class. Hell, it won't be long until the first Imperial-class star destroyers will be commissioned, so a prototype could have been "found". But where's the fun in that? A mile-long, state-of-the-art battleship effortlessly tearing through the Confederate line of battle with raw firepower would get boring very quickly.
There is a deleted scene from Episode II where Padmé and Anakin visit her parents before their trip to Varykino. It honestly does not add much, but be aware of its existence. As for the Naberrie family dynamic, Prequel acting is always a little weird, but I got the impression that Ruwee and Anakin got along quite well. Therefore, the usual "shotgun dad" routine wouldn't do and it's quite cliché in the first place. And Padmé is very nervous because who wouldn't be when telling their parents such a secret?
Next chapter: Carrier battles and traitors!