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And None Of It Seems To Matter

Chapter Text

 

There was nothing alarming about the door buzzer going off.

If anything, judging by the amusement on Obi-Wan’s face, they really should have seen it coming. Luminara shook her head fondly, leaning over to set the bottle of Alderaanian wine they had been sharing on a low table. She’d allowed herself the delusion that her unexpected transfer back from the front—one of Skywalker’s reckless plans had come through, they no longer had a need for the number of senior generals in the area, and she was the only one with a Padawan waiting for her—would allow her perhaps an entire evening to herself.

“One moment, Barriss,” she called over her shoulder. She shared a wry look with her visitor.

Obi-Wan chuckled slightly as she stretched. “Right on schedule,” he began, and was interrupted by an impatient twist in the Force that opened the door before either of them could. Luminara looked up in shock; coming from Barriss of all people it was an unprecedented breach of etiquette. Obi-Wan, on the other hand, was unfazed. “Ah. Padawan Offee. What can we do for—”

“Master,” Barriss said, talking right over him. “I need to speak with you.”

Luminara frowned. “Barriss…”

“Now,” her Padawan said, and there was a frantic note under it that she didn’t like at all. Barriss shot a quick glance at Obi-Wan before adding: “Alone. Please.”

There was something in that look that Luminara liked even less than Barriss’ tone. She snuck a quick glance at the chrono and found that it was later than she’d thought, just barely before midnight. No, she didn’t like what this was adding up to at all. A hundred terrible scenarios raced through her mind, but Luminara dismissed them all before continuing. Barriss would tell her what was wrong if she was given the time.

Thankfully, Obi-Wan seemed to have reached the same conclusion.

“I can see I’m not needed,” he said, standing. Luminara was not so entirely focused on her Padawan that she failed to notice he kept the glass of wine. Still, the look he gave Barriss was one of deep concern. “Luminara,” he added—and that was unusual as well, he generally defaulted to formality around Barriss simply because it seemed to make her more comfortable. “If there’s anything I can do…”

“We shall let you know, Master Kenobi,” Luminara said quietly, with a grateful nod to her friend as he bowed to Barriss and let himself out.

The door slid shut behind him, and Barriss flinched. She swallowed, clenched and then unclenched her fists, and gave Luminara a blank stare, seemingly unsure of how to start. Her presence in the Force felt cold—a tangle of paralyzing fear.

After several long, awkward moments of this, Luminara gestured to a nearby cushion. “Padawan,” she said carefully. “Sit down.”

It jolted her out of her apparent terrorized death-spiral, at least. Barriss’ fingers scrabbled over her lightsaber hilt as she unclipped the weapon, hands visibly trembling. She turned the hilt so the emitter was facing her chest and all but shoved it into Luminara’s hands.

“Barriss!” she exclaimed as she fumbled to keep the lightsaber from falling to the floor. “What has gotten into you?!”

Her Padawan opened her mouth and began speaking so rapidly that Luminara only caught about one word in five. “Sorry” turned up a lot, along with “forgive” and “please”.

“Barriss,” Luminara said, and when she didn’t stop rambling Luminara placed the lightsaber on a nearby end table, then stepped forward and put her hands on Barriss’ shoulders. “Barriss,” she repeated. “You must calm yourself.”

Barriss bit down on her words mid-sentence. She was all but hyperventilating, and when Luminara looked into her eyes she saw pure terror staring back at her. She had never seen Barriss this afraid, never, not even when she had found her lost behind enemy lines at the First Battle of Geonosis. Her Padawan was not easily frightened, and for something to have put her in a state like this…

Just when Luminara’s worry was beginning to build into outright fear for her apprentice, Barriss managed to close her eyes and take a long, shuddering breath. Luminara could feel her forcing herself to relax, to count the moments between breaths until she could think again. Unclenching her fists from her side, Barriss let herself fall—and Luminara found herself with her Padawan kneeling, head bowed and still shaking, at her feet.

“Master,” Barriss said again, less panicked this time but still radiating guilt and fear in the Force. “I’m sorry.”

Oh Barriss, what have you done? Luminara knelt to put them at the same level. “Barriss, you must tell me what has happened.”

Barriss’ hands were pressed flat against the floor at her sides; one clenched again reflexively as her shoulders tightened. Slowly, her voice hitching on every other word, she managed to force out the words.

“There’s going to be an attack on the Temple,” she told the floor. Luminara’s entire body froze; even her breathing stopped for a moment. “Tomorrow, at eleven hundred hours. A bomb in the hangar bay.”

Luminara’s eyes were so wide they felt like they were going to fall out.

“Padawan.” She was relieved that her voice still came out even. “How do you know this?”

And why are you afraid to tell me?

“Because...” Barriss started, choking on her own voice. The spike of fear told Luminara the answer before she even said it, but it was so absurd that her mind instantly rejected it as a possibility.

Barriss’ next words were so faint that they were barely audible.

“I did it.”

Luminara stared at her, uncomprehending.

Barriss folded her hands in her lap, worrying anxiously at the fabric. “I planned it,” she whispered. “The—the bomb. I told her how to plant the explosives and I gave her the resources, she wants to, because of what the Jedi are doing—but I was wrong. I don’t want anyone else to die. That’s not what…” She swallowed, knuckles white as they clutched at her skirt, and her voice broke as she whimpered, “You made me better than...”

There was a strange buzzing noise in Luminara’s ears and she felt a little dizzy, but she managed to zero in on the few pieces of information she had that made any sort of sense.

“Has the bomb been planted already?” she asked, and Barriss flinched, again, at the sudden professional coolness in her voice before shaking her head. “How will it be smuggled into the Temple?”

“Not it,” Barriss corrected faintly. “He. The bomb is…is a person. A maintenance foreman. Jackar Bowmani. His wife was my contact. If he’s pulled aside quietly when he reports for his shift, the nanodroids can be deactivated.”

“Nanodroids.”

“Ingested,” Barriss breathed. “In his bloodstream. Undetectable to standard security scanners. Master, I—”

What she had planned to say died in her throat as she finally darted a glance up at Luminara. Whatever her Padawan saw in her face made her hug herself as her mouth worked around an explanation that refused to form into words.

Padawan

Luminara realized she was shaking her head slowly, but couldn’t be bothered to stop. “Barriss,” she breathed. “Why?

For a moment, the briefest possible moment, life flickered in Barriss’ eyes again; then it was gone, buried in misery.

“Because.” She blinked rapidly; her whole body was trembling now. “Because I—Master, I can’t do this anymore!” It was like opening a floodgate. While Luminara stared blankly at her in a desperate attempt to make sense of how this could have happened, how it could have happened without her ever seeing it, Barriss was openly crying. “And I thought—if the Council saw that the people hate us so much—maybe things would change. I’m not a soldier, I was always proud to fight at your side but this is different, Master, you weren’t on Umbara, you weren’t there, that was murder and I can’t keep killing, I can’t—if this is what it means to be a Jedi then I don’t want it anymore!”

There had been very few moments in Luminara’s life in which she could so clearly see every failure, every mistake she had ever made, laid out neatly in front of her. What she wouldn’t have given to avoid the necessity of this one.

Barriss seemed past words, now; her shoulders were heaving, arms folded tightly against her stomach and bent almost double under the weight of the months and years of pain Luminara had never realized she was carrying. Occasionally she managed to gasp out a broken apology.

“I’m sorry,” she sobbed. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know what to do and you weren’t here, I just wanted it to stop, they were going to send me out again and I can’t, I hate it, I hate the killing, I hate the violence, I hate—myself—I’m sorry, I’m sorry…”

In a daze, Luminara still managed to place what she hoped was a comforting hand on Barriss’ shoulder.

“Hush, Padawan,” she murmured. She reached out for her comlink; after a brief stutter in the Force, it leapt to her hand. She took a moment to collect herself and make absolutely certain holo was off before tapping the call button.

Luminara. Is everything all right up there? If Anakin’s been bothering her again, I’m sure I can keep them out of each other’s way.

Luminara let her hand fall from Barriss’ shoulder to run a gentle thumb over the back of her fingers as she struggled to breathe.

“That won’t be necessary, Master Kenobi,” she said quietly.

There was a pause.

What do you need?” Thank the Force for Obi-Wan Kenobi. “If someone’s hurt her—

“Obi-Wan.” Luminara could feel her control slipping, and she intended to do her duty before she let that happen. “I need you to take a hangar bay maintenance worker named Jackar Bowmani and his wife into custody. Quietly, if possible. They’re involved in a plot to attack the Temple.” Very carefully, without making eye contact with Barriss, she added, “Bowmani may already have nanodroid explosives in his bloodstream. Be cautious.”

I’m not even going to ask.

“I wish you would,” she replied weakly. “I don’t fully understand it myself. But if you were able to speak to Barriss once Bowmani and his wife are secure, I would be grateful.” Kinder, that way, than forcing her to give her initial confession to the full Council.

Of course. I’ll wake Cody. Maybe he’ll stop complaining about being bored. And, Luminara—I’m sorry. For...whatever’s happened. She’s stronger than you realize. She’ll get through this.

Barriss shivered. Luminara swallowed hard against the sudden lump in her throat.

“...Thank you, Master Kenobi.” She cut the call short before she had a chance to find out if he intended to respond.

She hit the second button—a silent call, this time, a signal rather than a conversation—before she lost her nerve. Her fingers shook as she set the comlink aside and turned her attention back to her Padawan.

The storm seemed to have passed. Barriss’ hands were folded quietly against her knees, she was sitting up again, and while she was still crying they were quiet tears now, few and far between. Her gaze was still lowered in submission as she knelt before her master, but some of the pain had gone. It was sadness, now; regret, and grief, but mostly she looked tired. She didn’t react when Luminara stood except to bow her head further.

Luminara was listening in the Force, wanted to time this properly—but she hesitated as she turned toward the door and that cold knot of confusion and sorrow in Barriss’ presence struck her again. She couldn’t just leave her like that.

Barriss still barely seemed to notice as Luminara filled a glass of cold water and set it down in front of her; but after a moment she reached out and picked it up.

Unfortunately, Luminara had sacrificed her timing. The door slid open again in response to a much firmer and more balanced command in the Force than Barriss had been capable of, and Luminara raised a hand to forestall any questions the pair of Guards might have had.

“Thank you,” she said evenly, “For responding so quickly. If you could be kind enough—to watch over my Padawan, for a moment.” She felt a spike of misery along the bond and wished she could explain to Barriss that she knew she wouldn’t run, it was the principle of the thing, she couldn’t just leave her unsupervised after everything she’d confessed to. She called Barriss’ lightsaber to her hand, suddenly grateful that Barriss had given it up so desperately. Luminara wasn’t certain she would be able to bear forcing her to surrender it. Especially not in front of the Temple Guard. “I need to…” Her voice wavered. “Wake Master Drallig.”

She was grateful beyond words that they didn’t question this. She felt Barriss’ sharp pang of irrational fear as the door closed between them, but it faded quickly enough, and then she did her best to block her apprentice’s feelings from her mind. She felt sick enough without adding Barriss’ anxiety to her own mounting horror.

It could have been worse, she tried to remind herself. It could have been so much worse.

But the world was dissolving around her, completely beyond her control, and of everything she had known might happen, all the possibilities she had thought she’d prepared herself for, the weak reminder that it could have been worse meant so little when—

She was seeking out the head of Temple security to arrest her Padawan for treason—

Luminara could just as easily have contacted Cin Drallig directly. But then she would have been facing Barriss when the truth of the situation finally caught up to her, and…it wasn’t right, she thought as she rested her forehead against a pillar and clung to the cool stone as the only solid thing left in the world.

It wasn’t right for a Padawan to see their master cry. Not like this.



 It seemed to take days for her clearance to register.

In reality, Luminara had her hand on the scanner for slightly over five seconds before the indicator light flashed green and the entrance to the holding cells slid open. The Guard was expecting her, so at least she didn’t have to explain why she was here. It was fairly obvious anyway; the humming ray shields were only activated in two of the facing cells, and she had no connection to Letta Turmond.

One of the Guards flanking Barriss’ cell deactivated the shield as Luminara approached, and she hesitated for a moment before stepping over the threshold.

“Barriss,” she said carefully. “It’s time to go.”

Barriss was sitting on the floor in the corner next to the entrance, with her arms folded across her raised knees. It took her a moment to acknowledge Luminara, and when she finally looked up Luminara was struck by how exhausted she appeared. Apparently, neither of them had gotten any sleep last night—but Luminara had at least managed a few hours of meditation. Barriss, it seemed, had not.

She offered her Padawan a hand up, which was accepted without a word. Barriss took a moment to brush herself down and adjust her clothing, making sure her hair was covered under her hood. She avoided eye contact like it would burn her, gaze locked on the floor as she folded her hands in front of her and waited for some signal, some instruction.

Luminara closed her eyes for a moment—as if it would erase the image of her silent, shattered apprentice hovering at her shoulder.

“Come along, Padawan,” she said quietly.

As they stepped out of the cell, Luminara caught sight of Letta Turmond in the cell across from them. She was standing as close to the ray shield as she dared, glaring at the two of them. Luminara could feel the woman’s contempt for her radiating out through the Force, but the look she gave Barriss was as betrayed as it was angry.

Traitor,” Letta spat as they walked by. Barriss didn’t react to the accusation, acted as though her co-conspirator wasn’t there at all, but the irony of it wasn’t lost on Luminara.

Luminara had done some research after the bomb plot had been safely foiled. Letta Turmond had a long history of radical anti-Jedi activism, and had been detained before at protests-turned-riots. Lack of success had turned her into an instigator of violence. Luminara had no idea how Barriss might have crossed her path, much less trusted her, but the fact that she had done both shook Luminara to her core.

“Would you like an escort, Master Unduli?”

Luminara was beginning to doubt Cin Drallig’s assertion that he slept at all and had not somehow transcended the mortal realm and become a being of pure cosmic energy and undiluted caf. There was no possible way he’d gotten more rest than either of them, and yet he was as alert as ever.

Barriss was still standing at her elbow, all but dead to the world; Luminara declined Master Drallig’s offer with a silent shake of the head, and four of the Guard turned away to return to their normal duties. They were still flanked by a pair of Guards as they stepped into the turbolift, but it was at least better than a full escort.

None of them said a word for several minutes. Once, Luminara glanced back at her apprentice with words of comfort on her tongue; but they stuck, felt flat and insincere, and she let the silence return.

It was a relief when the turbolift finally slid open. Their escort crossed the antechamber to take up positions on either side of the doors, while Luminara led her Padawan across the room and toward the low murmur of voices.

Barriss faltered as they stepped into the chamber; it was the first sign she’d given all day that she was more than vaguely aware of her surroundings. Luminara had taken three more steps before she realized she’d left her apprentice behind. She looked back to find Barriss rigid, frozen just inside the doors. Had they not been clasped, she suspected her Padawan’s hands would have been shaking.

Luminara projected worry along their training bond until Barriss finally made eye contact, then gave her a reassuring nod. Barriss swallowed, looked back down at the floor, and followed her inside.

What little conversation hadn’t died when Luminara entered faded to silence as they crossed to the center of the room. If Barriss stood closer at Luminara’s left hand than usual, her master felt no need to comment on it.

The full Council, Luminara thought as she glanced around the room. Even the late Adi Gallia’s recently vacated seat was filled, though Luminara had no idea if Depa Billaba was only proxying or if she had been reappointed to the Council. Plo Koon, Kit, and Oppo Rancisis were present only in holograms, but they had managed to pull the rest together in person. Which, Luminara realized belatedly, should have been a relief rather than cause for anxiety.

Yoda and Mace Windu were watching Barriss solemnly, so it came as a mild shock when Obi-Wan was the first to speak.

“Master Unduli, Padawan Offee,” he greeted them, nodding to her and Barriss in turn. The formality was belied by concern he couldn’t quite hide. “I’ve informed the Council of everything you both told me last night. Barriss,” he added, and Luminara’s Padawan glanced up the barest possible amount she could manage without being rude. “You may be pleased to learn that Jackar Bowmani is safely in Jedi custody. We’re keeping him within an interference field so the nanodroids can’t be activated remotely. They’ve been neutralized, and a medical team has already begun the process to purge them from his system. The rest of the nanodroids have been recovered from the abandoned warehouse you told me about.”

There was a short pause as Barriss apparently waited for him to continue, then sketched a faint curtsy in acknowledgement. “Thank you, Master Kenobi.”

Yoda shook his head with a heavy sigh. “Grave, this matter is,” he said. “Think you capable of such violence, this Council did not.”

Shaak Ti hummed. “In that much,” she mused, “We appear to have been correct. Padawan.” She raised her voice slightly, dark eyes commanding Barriss’ attention; after a moment, Barriss finally looked up at her. “This plot went entirely undetected by both the Jedi and the Republic. There were no obvious warning signs. Other than your conspirator, there is nothing to link you to this plot. A great deal of thought had clearly gone into its execution. So what caused this sudden change of heart?”

Barriss glanced at Luminara and bit her lip before staring at the floor again.

“I’m a Jedi, Master Ti,” she said simply. “I didn’t want anyone else to die.”

Mace Windu sat forward. “And yet, Master Kenobi informs us you planned the bombing in the first place.”

Barriss’ head came up at that, shoulders tightening defensively as she lifted her chin. “I did.”

Obi-Wan sighed, rubbing his chin. “I must say, Barriss—it’s difficult for me to accept. You’ve always been a model Padawan—this isn’t like you at all. You say you were willing to attack the Temple, your home. Why?”

“The Dark Side of the Force rarely needs a reason,” Saesee Tiin said. Luminara shot him a glance; he was shaking his head disapprovingly, and didn’t seem to notice the look.

Barriss took a deep breath, standing up straighter. She stopped wringing her hands in favor of folding them neatly at the small of her back. “You accuse me of serving the Dark Side, Master Tiin?” she asked coldly. Before he could reply, she continued. “I accuse all of you of the same.”

Barriss,” Luminara chided her, purely on reflex. Her Padawan ignored her.

“If hatred and fear are the tenets of the Dark, then the Order has fallen,” Barriss declared. “This Council signed our death warrant when it allowed us to be used as soldiers and assassins in a political war. I was raised to believe that Jedi were peacekeepers, not—not military commanders! The Jedi have failed our mandate just as the Republic has failed its people. We have no right to take sides and dictate which civilians are worthy of protection, to subjugate entire worlds by brute force just because they chose to leave a dying Republic! Whatever the Jedi once were, it is clear to me now what we have been reduced to. The pain and suffering of this entire war serves nothing but the Dark Side.”

In the stunned silence that followed, Luminara was able to wonder in some corner of her mind exactly how long Barriss had been practicing that speech.

Oppo Rancisis cleared his throat. “And you sought…revenge on the Jedi?” he suggested. “Took it upon yourself to punish us for our crimes?”

That seemed to throw her. “What? No!” Barriss’ brow creased. “I never—I wanted to make you listen. There are countless people—citizens of the Republic, the ones we’re meant to serve—who are furious with what the Jedi have become, but what chance does a civilian have against us? Their protests are ignored, they have no way to stage any resistance or even gain an audience…I provided the resources that let them strike a blow when they normally wouldn’t have been able to. All any of you listen to anymore is violence, so what choice do we leave them?”

“Violence cannot be stopped by violence, Padawan,” Depa Billaba said. Barriss spun on her heel to face her, frustration spiking in the Force.

“Do you think I don’t know that now? That’s why I stopped it from happening! The Temple should never have been a military installation. Those explosives I gave Letta, I got them from here! The Temple is not supposed to be an armory!” She swallowed, chest heaving, and looked up at the ceiling as she paused.

When she spoke again, she was calmer, but her voice was hard. “I know my actions were wrong, but my reasons are still valid. I didn’t act alone,” she added, looking almost insulted. “Jackar Bowmani and his wife, no one had more right to hate us! He’s served us loyally for years and can barely afford to live hand to mouth; they were desperate enough to die just for a chance to make you see that our actions in this war have left the people of the Republic abandoned and betrayed!”

Several members of the Council looked like they were about to respond to that, but Obi-Wan raised a hand and they deferred to him.

“I, and several other members of this Council, spoke to Jackar Bowmani this morning,” he said, keeping his eyes locked on Barriss. “Nanodroids are ugly weapons, Padawan, but his distress was not caused by any discomfort in the process of removing them.”

Barriss glared at him, distrustful. “What do you mean?”

Obi-Wan’s gaze turned pitying. “Jackar was unaware of the nanodroids’ existence, Barriss. He didn’t know about the explosives until I told him. His wife planted them without ever consulting him. Other members of the Council can confirm this.”

Barriss stared at him. Her presence in the Force, which had been pulsing dully with guilt and anger, was suddenly so silent that Luminara didn’t realize how pale her Padawan had gone until Barriss swayed.

She barely seemed to register her master’s steadying touch on her arm. “You’re lying,” she said weakly, something wild behind her eyes. “You’re wrong. I couldn’t risk making contact with him directly in case we were seen together but that doesn’t mean anything, he knew, he had to have known, Letta told me…”

Barriss trailed off, and Luminara could feel her trembling beneath her hand.The brief, bold defiance was gone as quickly as it had flared.

“She lied,” said Mace Windu. “You allowed yourself to be deceived and manipulated by this woman because you thought the end result was worth it.”

“A dangerous path, that is,” Yoda added. “Able to recognize their mistake in time, few who start down it are.” If they were meant to be a comfort, the words did very little; Barriss was staring blankly at nothing, her mind a whirlwind of incoherent emotions. She wasn’t even trying to shield herself, and Luminara could feel the full force of it through their mental link.

The Council was exchanging loaded looks now, watching as Barriss fought to bring herself back under control. Part of Luminara wished Obi-Wan had warned them ahead of time and spared Barriss the brunt of the shock; the rest of her realized that the Council had needed to see this, her uncensored horror at learning she had almost sacrificed an innocent man for her cause. The knowledge did nothing to ease the pain.

“Padawan.” That was Master Mundi, with his odd, gentle firmness. “We trust you realize how close you have stepped to the Dark Side in this matter, and the seriousness of such a thing.”

Barriss swallowed heavily, opening and closing her mouth several times before she was able to find her voice.

“...Yes,” she finally whispered. Several Council members inclined their heads in acknowledgement.

Plo Koon folded his hands. “That is more than can be said for many who have been in your position, young one.”

Master Tiin shook his head. “Be that as it may,” he said, “Padawan Offee still presents a considerable security risk. Arrangements will have to be made for her imprisonment—”

“Now, wait just a moment,” Obi-Wan protested.

“That has not been decided yet,” Mace agreed.

“I don’t see what there is to decide,” said Eeth Koth. “We cannot risk letting her remain at liberty. She is on the edge of falling to the Dark Side, and I for one am not convinced that she hasn’t already—”

Master Koth!” Luminara snapped, and was instantly horrified with herself. As it happened, the Council didn’t even appear to notice her outburst, as no less than three of its own members had echoed her.

“That was uncalled-for,” Master Windu said sternly, narrowly interrupting Depa Billaba’s “Temptation is not corruption, Master Koth!”

The image of Oppo Rancisis coiled uncomfortably. “While I disagree with Master Koth’s sentiment, the fact remains that Padawan Offee’s continued association with the Order should be called into question in light of her actions.”

Plo Koon might have glanced sideways at Oppo; it was difficult to tell, especially over hologram. “If every Jedi who had brushed the Dark Side were expelled from the Order,” he said evenly, “There would be no Jedi.”

Master Billaba tossed her head back. “Every member of this Council could claim they have never been tempted,” she declared. “And every member of this Council would be lying.”

“Quite,” agreed Shaak Ti with a decidedly unimpressed look at Rancisis. “Barriss’ character is not the subject of this hearing. She has been involved in no small crime,” she acknowledged, glancing at Luminara. “But in coming forward she saved the lives of many. It takes great strength to admit to one’s mistakes. If we are to judge this Padawan’s actions, she will be judged by all of them.”

“Well spoken, Master Ti.” Kit Fisto’s hologram had been silent until now, but he fixed his gaze on each member of the Council as he said, “Padawan Offee has not been discovered in the midst of some deception, my friends. It is important to remember that had she not already proven her honesty and desire to serve the Force, we would be having a very different conversation right now. Perhaps some of us would even be dead.”

Eeth sighed. “It wasn’t my intention to ignore the significance of stepping back from such a temptation,” he said, nodding to Depa Billaba. “But the war will not stop because Padawan Offee disapproves of it. There will be other temptations, and stronger ones. And I do not believe she is in any state to resist them a second time.”

The look that crossed Obi-Wan’s face was subtle, but Luminara knew him well enough to recognize how frustrated it was. “I don’t understand why we would consider sending her back to the war at all,” he said. “It seems obvious to me that her exposure on the front lines is directly responsible for her being in this state to begin with.”

Ki-Adi Mundi blinked, mild surprise flaring in his Force presence. “Master Kenobi?”

“The Council cannot escape responsibility in this,” Obi-Wan insisted. “There are burdens that we were unwise to place on a Padawan’s shoulders. A young healer should never have been torn from her master and thrown into the heat of battle alone. Despite her advanced abilities, Barriss is not a Knight, and we treated her as one too often. She needed Luminara’s support and guidance.”

“Shielding me from the facts wouldn’t have changed them,” Barriss muttered, but Luminara wasn’t certain anyone but her had caught the words.

“Master Unduli,” Kit said. “Your thoughts?”

Luminara was caught off-guard. “I…” Barriss stiffened in anticipation, and Luminara placed a hand between her shoulderblades to calm her. “Masters, I do not believe Barriss is a threat. This war has harmed her enough; she needs healing and peace, not further punishment.”

Ki-Adi Mundi sighed. “Your compassion for your student does you credit, Master Unduli, but you did not see any warning of this attack. While I don’t believe incarceration is necessary at this time, the Padawan is a danger to the Order if left unchecked. At the very least, I would suggest—”

Obi-Wan cleared his throat.

“Masters,” he said pointedly. “If we have no further questions for Padawan Offee, I don’t believe it’s necessary for her to be present during this discussion.”

Thank you, Obi-Wan. Luminara had been about to suggest the same thing. Barriss had been steadily radiating misery since the debate began, inching so close to her master they were almost touching; she didn’t need to listen to any more.

A few of the Council members looked chastened, as if it had just now occurred to them that speaking about someone like they weren’t there might be distressing.

“Of course,” Kit said kindly. “Padawan, you may wish to wait in the hall.”

Shaak Ti raised a hand to halt Barriss mid-curtsy.

“I do have one further question, Padawan Offee,” she said mildly, sitting forward and peering at Barriss over steepled fingers.

“Master?”

Shaak Ti tilted her head slightly as she considered the young Mirialan. Barriss didn’t fidget under her steady scrutiny, but Luminara could feel her tension.

“Several suggestions have been made,” said Shaak Ti after a moment. “What is your opinion of them? How do you feel, personally, that you should be dealt with by this Council?”

Barriss hesitated, looked over her shoulder for Luminara’s guidance; Luminara could offer her nothing but an encouraging nod. “Well, Barriss?” she asked, as gently as could.

“I…” Barriss’ eyes slid over the Council members as she tried to understand the question.

“There will be consequences for your actions, Padawan,” Shaak Ti prompted. “As I am sure you realize. What would you consider to be fair treatment?”

After a moment, Barriss seemed to lose what little fighting spirit she had left, stepping back and dropping her gaze.

“Just...don’t send me to the front again,” she whispered. Her voice broke mid-sentence. “Please. Don’t make me kill anyone else. I can’t.”

Shaak Ti’s eyebrows raised, echoed by several other Council members; Mace Windu and, surprisingly, Eeth Koth were among them.

“Is that all, Master Ti?” Ki-Adi Mundi asked finally. Shaak Ti gave Barriss a soft, reassuring smile and inclined her head, and Luminara returned guiding fingertips to Barriss’ arm.

Barriss turned willingly after her as she bowed to Yoda. “Masters,” said Luminara by way of excusing herself, but she faltered when Mace held up a hand.

“If you’ll remain, Master Unduli,” he said. “You know your apprentice best; your input will be valuable as we decide how to deal with this situation.”

“Of course.” She dipped her head in acknowledgement. “I’ll come for you when the Council has reached a decision, Barriss.” Barriss didn’t look happy about the separation, but she didn’t look any more miserable, either. Luminara hesitated, then placed a hand on her shoulder. “Meditate, if you can.”

Even that small instruction seemed to cut some of Barriss’ confusion; she bowed to Luminara and only stumbled once as she slipped out of the Council chamber.

Plo Koon sighed.

“Well,” he said gravely. “We have decisions to make.”


 Barriss never quite managed to meditate.

Not to say she didn’t try. It was just… difficult to concentrate. She was constantly aware of the two guards in the antechamber with her. Usually things like that didn’t distract her, but the knowledge that they were there to prevent her from leaving—and that the precaution was completely reasonable of them—made it hard not to feel their presence.

And waiting for her fate to be decided by a group of people whose judgement she trusted about as much as she would a spice-addled Hutt’s was certainly a cause for anxiety.

She didn’t have a chrono with her—it was built into her communicator and she’d handed that over when she was arrested—but she spent what felt like around two hours kneeling near the window, eyes closed, trying to calm her mind and her breathing. She tried. After all, she thought reasonably. What was the worst that could happen?

After spending a few minutes thinking about it, she hastily changed tack and thought, what’s the worst thing you can bear?

Execution, she told herself honestly.

No. No, that definitely didn’t help.

This was still better than the alternative. That fact, at least, helped her force her panic down. Whatever happened, whatever they did with her—it was better than not saying anything. This was better than killing people just to make a point. Nothing was worth that. Not even the barest chance of getting the Council to stop this spiral into darkness while they still could. No hope of that now. They were treating this as some kind of…psychotic break, a random act of near-violence brought on by stress. She should have known they would never really listen to her.

Maybe they would have, if the bomb had actually—no. Nothing is worth that.

“Barriss.” Master Luminara’s voice cut into her thoughts. Barriss opened her eyes and looked over her shoulder to see her master standing over her. “They’d like to see you now.”

There was something in her expression that gave Barriss cause for concern. It might even have been anger, but that was absurd. Luminara didn’t get angry, Barriss was imagining things. She gave Luminara a nod of acknowledgement and followed her back into the Council room. Time to get this over with.

Standing exposed in the center of the Council chamber felt different, this time. Barriss didn’t feel any less alone, the weight of the Council’s eyes on her didn’t make her feel any less small. But the long, silent wait had been torture. A sentence would almost come as a relief now.

“Padawan Offee.”

Well, there was a good sign, of sorts, if a Council member was still using her title.

Kit Fisto had been the first to greet her this time, which was strange; but Obi-Wan Kenobi was frowning at the floor and rubbing his beard, and didn’t react to their presence except to give Barriss’ master a distracted nod.

“Master Fisto,” Barriss replied quietly. She felt lightheaded and didn’t dare curtsy for fear she would fall over, but she gave him a shallow bow. She wasn’t a barbarian.

Yoda folded his hands over his staff.

“Reached a decision, the Council has,” he said with a smile that Barriss couldn’t return. “Expelled from the Order, you are not. A Jedi you remain.”

Barriss bowed again. “Thank you, Masters.” The words were stiff; there was still tension leaking along her bond with Master Luminara, and it distracted from any relief she might have felt.

Mace Windu sat forward. “There are conditions to your continued service as a Jedi,” he warned her, and Barriss felt herself tense again. This was it. “From this point forward, you are confined to the Temple grounds. How you choose to spend your time is your decision, but you will not be permitted to leave the Temple for any reason. Violation of that restriction will result in much harsher measures in the future, which may include imprisonment at the Council’s discretion.”

“I understand, Master Windu.” Some of the anxiety began to fade. Barriss had been resigned to a windowless cell in solitary confinement. Restriction to the Temple—it was almost a gift.

Master Kenobi sighed and sat up straighter. “You’ll have freedom of movement within the Temple,” he assured her. “But—”

“That’s not entirely true, Master Kenobi.” Eeth Koth’s interruption wasn’t quite sharp, but it was far from gentle. When Barriss turned to look at him, he met her gaze and said bluntly, “The hangar bays, command and intelligence centers, communications tower, and armories are off-limits. Breaking that ban will result in your immediate arrest. Do you understand, Padawan?”

“Perfectly, Master Koth.” His tone hurt Barriss’ pride more than anything, but she couldn’t pretend it wasn’t justified. She had, in fact, almost bombed one of those places, and the rest were tied to the war directly enough that Barriss had to concede the point. Prevention was always better than cure.

Of course it would take until now for the Council to figure that out.

“You still have free access to the rest of the Temple, Padawan,” came Plo Koon’s slightly static-filled rumble. “We believe you will make yourself useful. Should you wish to keep up your skills with a lightsaber, a training weapon will be provided while you are in the practice grounds.”

“You need only ask,” Shaak Ti confirmed.

Barriss hadn’t used a training blade since she was twelve years old, but no matter how much it stung, even she didn’t trust herself to carry her lightsaber anymore. She folded her hands together to bury the instinctive flexing around a hilt she might never see again. The blade is an extension of your soul, she had been taught, time and again. Fitting. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t known what she was losing from the moment she delivered a crate of nanodroids to Letta Turmond.

“You are to have an escort at all times,” Master Windu said. “Either a member of the Temple Guard or a Jedi Master.”

Master Billaba cleared her throat lightly, just enough to get Barriss’ attention.

“The escort will be unobtrusive,” she said. “And, after some debate…” Barriss didn’t miss the look she flicked toward Master Rancisis, and neither did the rest of the Council from what she could tell. “It has been decided not to deny you free communication or access to information. We want you to feel safe here, not smothered—to give you an opportunity to heal. As a concession to security, however, your access will be monitored. Master Unduli will receive a full record of your communications and HoloNet activity.” She nodded to Master Luminara, and Barriss was taken aback when the respectful gesture was met with barely more than a twitch of recognition. “We trust her discretion in determining what might be danger signs, and her concern for your privacy was valid.”

That was fair. It was a blow, it was irrefutable evidence of the amount of trust Barriss had lost, but it was fair, and she bowed her head.

“I understand,” she said again.

In the moment before Master Windu spoke again, she felt a spike of agitation over her bond with Master Luminara. “There is one more restriction,” he said.

“One which I continue to believe is entirely unnecessary.” Barriss looked up, equal parts shocked and concerned; her master hadn’t spoken since entering the Council chamber again, and there was a hard reproach in her voice that Barriss had only heard a handful of times. It had only been directed at her once, and that had been enough to terrify her for a week.

“You’ve made your views quite clear, Master Unduli.” Master Tiin’s voice was firm.

“But apparently not clear enough, Master Tiin.” Barriss jumped slightly as she felt a comforting arm around her shoulders, her master’s hand reassuringly squeezing her elbow. “There is little enough left in the Order that my Padawan does not associate with pain and bloodshed. To take that away is a mistake. I beg the Council to reconsider.”

Master Kenobi and Shaak Ti exchanged a pained look, but the other Council members—at least the ones Barriss could see—didn’t react. Master Yoda appeared unhappy, but shook his head.

“Made, the decision is, Master Unduli. Your argument we have heard already. Master Kenobi?” Kenobi started slightly at being addressed, and Yoda indicated for him to speak.

If someone didn’t tell her what Luminara had objected to so strenuously soon, Barriss was going to either scream or cry. Thankfully, Master Kenobi didn’t hesitate for long.

“The Council has decided,” he said, “to remove your clearance for access to the youngling classes and quarters.”

There was a cold stutter in the Force as Barriss tried to understand what he’d said.

“...What?”

Mace Windu exchanged an uneasy look with Yoda. “You are no longer permitted to take on a position of influence or authority with younglings,” he said. “That means teaching and tutoring, as well as caretaking, minding clans at play, and assisting in the creche.”

“I believe she understands that, Master.” Barriss was still too horrified to react to the terseness in her master’s voice.

Shaak Ti’s voice was gentle and steady and somehow worse than Master Windu’s neutral frankness.

“You are not forbidden from being a friend to them, Padawan,” she said. “If younglings approach you as they always have, you may be as kind to them as ever. You are more than welcome to heal their hurts, answer their questions, and play with them—so long as they are in a communal area, and you have the permission of their chaperone.”

Barriss realized she was shaking her head around the same moment she realized that the only thing stopping her from backing away from Master Ti in horror was her master’s arm across her back.

“I don’t…” She hated the tremble in her voice, but couldn’t control it. “Why?

“We feel it would…” Master Tiin hesitated awkwardly over his wording. “Put you under an unnecessary amount of stress.”

“I have never felt calmer or more relaxed than I do when working with younglings,” Barriss said quickly, the words drawn out in a rush. “Masters, I am willing to accept the consequences of my actions, but nothing I have done warrants this!”

Ki-Adi Mundi’s watery eyes were compassionate, his voice was soft, and his words went through her like lightsaber blades. “The Council knows how much you care for younglings, Padawan,” he told her. “That care is what concerns us. Many of those younglings will be Padawans soon; they may be asked to go to the front lines themselves. How might you react emotionally to seeing that happen? With how deeply the war has affected you, we cannot place you in a position that may lead to your becoming desperate.”

Master Koth shook his head. “And that’s to say nothing of the effect you could have on impressionable younglings in your current condition.”

Your current condition.

Of course.

“You think I’ll corrupt them,” Barriss translated. She had to smile at it, the absurdity of it, at her own naivety in not realizing it instantly. The smile felt wrong; too sharp, too painful. Or do you think I’ll hurt them just to cripple the Order?

No one confirmed her statement. No one argued with it, either.

After a few moments of deep breathing, Barriss trusted herself to speak without screaming at the High Council. “Is there anything else, Masters?”

“This is not a permanent arrangement,” Master Kenobi said with an attempt at a reassuring tone—which only frustrated her more. “We will discuss lifting at least some of these restrictions once the war is over, dependent on your behavior.”

The war will never be over, Barriss thought in despair. She was too tired, suddenly, to say anything more. You made us part of the military, the war will never end. If the Separatists surrendered tomorrow there would be some other enemy after that. We have an army and it will always be more convenient to use it. We’ll always be soldiers now and you’re all too blind to see it.

“Yes, Master.” Luminara’s arm around her suddenly felt like an Umbaran constricting vine. Barriss shrugged out of it as she asked again, “Is there anything else?”

The pause this time while the Council just sat and watched her stretched on even longer.

“Our judgement, this is,” Yoda said finally. “Go, you may.”

Barriss very nearly turned on her heel without another word; it was only her master’s presence at her side that kept her steady enough to bow formally before straightening and walking away.



This is getting ridiculous, Ahsoka thought as she found herself going over the same paragraph of her reading assignment for the fourth time in a row. There was no way she could focus on this, and it was Barriss’ fault.

It had been three days since Ahsoka’s transport came in. Three days. She had wanted to confront Barriss the second she stepped off.

She’d gotten distracted at first because Master Kenobi had met them on the landing platform with some message for Anakin and it would have been rude to just run off before she was dismissed. There was something weird about that—not the message from Padmé, that was pretty normal. But Anakin had rolled his eyes when Ahsoka asked anxiously what was going on with Barriss, and that was weird. They’d barely heard anything over the holocall and the little Ahsoka had been able to find out didn’t make any sense. Anakin always wanted to get to the bottom of things. She had thought he’d be more interested.

He hadn’t even stayed to walk to the dining hall with her and Obi-Wan; he’d just clapped his former Master on the shoulder, waved to Ahsoka and gone off to totally not spend time with Senator Amidala. At least Obi-Wan was willing to tell Ahsoka what he was allowed to discuss about Barriss’ trial.

Barriss. Of all the Jedi, she was the last who should have done this. It didn’t make sense, even with Obi-Wan’s explanation of her reasons. And Ahsoka wanted to get some answers.

Three days later, she still didn’t have any. Ahsoka had checked everywhere that Barriss could usually be found: her quarters, the archives, Luminara’s quarters, the Halls of Healing. Every free moment of time Ahsoka had was spent looking for her. There was only one explanation for it. Barriss was hiding from her.

She’d almost gotten her the other day, too. She’d seen Barriss go into the Halls of Healing and the pair of Guards station themselves at the door, so she’d sat down on a bench across the hall and waited. Hey, it might not be her strong suit, but Ahsoka could be patient when she needed to be.

Four hours later the Guards had cocked their heads like they were listening to something, then wandered off. Ahsoka had waited a few minutes, gotten suspicious, and gone inside.

Barriss wasn’t there, none of the Healers were all that interested in Ahsoka once they realized she was neither injured nor there to help, and a window at the other end was open.

This meant war.

Unfortunately, Padawan duties took precedence over Ahsoka’s loosely-formed plan to hide in the rafters and drop a net on Barriss’ head.

Or maybe snares, she thought as she loaded another set of ship schematics Master Skywalker wanted her to memorize. No, there was probably no way to camouflage them on the bare floors of the Temple. Besides, with her luck she’d probably end up catching Master Yoda or something. I could dig a big pit…

“Did you find everything you need, Padawan Tano?”

Ahsoka looked up from her terminal and smiled at the elder Jedi. “Yes, Master Jocasta. Thank you.” Jocasta Nu smiled at her and started to turn away. “Although,” Ahsoka added impulsively, then waited until she had her attention again. “You wouldn’t happen to have seen Barriss Offee anywhere, have you?”

Master Jocasta’s smile dimmed, but only slightly. “As a matter of fact, I have. She just came in the Archives a few minutes ago. Would you like me to tell her you’re looking for her?”

“No,” Ahsoka said hastily. “No, thank you, it’s fine. I appreciate it.” Anakin’s seven millionth variation on a Separatist patrol speeder was going to have to wait. She pushed herself to her feet. “Where…?”

Master Jocasta raised an eyebrow and nodded toward one of the medical sections. Right. Ahsoka probably could have figured that out.

“Thanks,” she said again, and was able to control herself enough to not actually bolt into the shelves. A nice, dignified jog. She was fine! She was completely calm.

Ahsoka forced herself to pause as she reached the medical reference section. She wanted to talk to Barriss, not scare her off. Deep breaths, she told herself. She closed her eyes, forced her muscles to relax, and reached out in the Force to find her friend.

Got you. Ahsoka opened her eyes and started edging down along the stacks. Barriss, I swear, if you run this time I’m tackling you.

Barriss must have been really distracted, because she didn’t seem to notice when Ahsoka peeked around the end of a row of gently blinking data units. Her arms were full of them; she was standing on tiptoe trying to push one block back into its slot without dropping the others.

Ahsoka got as close as she dared before she leaned against the row of shelves. “Need a hand with that?”

Barriss didn’t scream, exactly; it was more of a yelp, accompanied by a flinch sudden enough to send the stack of data units balanced in her arms scattering along the row as she spun around.

“Ahsoka!”

“Barriss!” Ahsoka said, pressing her lips together. “Been a while, hasn’t it?”

Barriss took a step back from her, glancing around like she was looking for an escape route. “I…yes, I suppose it…you’re here.”

“Yep!” Ahsoka gave her a tight smile. “It’s strange, I’ve been looking for you for days now.”

“Have you?” Barriss asked weakly.

Ahsoka rolled her eyes and pushed off the shelf. “C’mon, Barriss. You can’t keep jumping out windows every time I try to talk to you for the rest of our lives.”

Barriss cast her eyes down and didn’t reply.

After a few seconds, Ahsoka sighed and bent down to pick up a few of Barriss’ fallen datapads.

“Obi-Wan told me what happened,” she said, holding them out. Barriss’ fingers were tangled in the edge of her hood, but she freed one hand to take the datapads. She was careful not to let her fingers brush Ahsoka’s. “He said you stopped it.”

“Yes,” Barriss said in a small voice.

“After you started it.”

“Yes.” Barriss’ voice was even smaller that time.

Ahsoka stared at her for a long moment, then shook her head. “So why do it in the first place?”

Barriss’ eyes closed as she shrank in on herself. “I’ve already discussed this with the Council—”

“Well, I want you to discuss it with me! I’m supposed to be your friend. You didn’t tell me anything! If you hated the war so much why didn’t you—” she cut the thought off and rubbed at her temples in an attempt to calm herself. “I’m a Jedi. Do you hate me, too?”

Barriss’ eyes flew open. “What—no! Never! I don’t hate you, I could never hate you, it’s just...”

Ahsoka crossed her arms tight across her chest and glared at an empty space in the archive stacks.

“You hate the war,” she said finally. “I get it.” Sort of. “Look, I know you don’t think we should be soldiers, but…I mean…” Ahsoka didn’t even know what she was trying to say.

“I can’t give you an explanation, Ahsoka.” Barriss wasn’t looking at her, either. “My actions were wrong and my justifications for them were lies I told myself. I planned a terrorist attack on the Temple because I was angry and desperate and...afraid. Is that what you wanted to hear? Or did you think it made sense somehow?”

The overwhelming bitterness in Barriss’ words felt like a dagger to Ahsoka’s heart, but it still managed to be infectious. “Of course it doesn’t make sense,” she said. “You’re one of the most perfect Padawans I’ve ever met, how could you of all people let yourself get to that point? Not even I would be that stupid. What were you thinking?

“I just wanted it to end.”

“You know better than that!” Ahsoka’s voice was suddenly too loud for the silence of the Archives, and she felt someone in the next row look over at them with disapproval.

“Obviously,” Barriss snapped. She was glaring lasers at the floor, but the Force around her boiled with guilt and pain rather than anger.

Ahsoka resisted the urge to clench her fists. “You never thought to, I don’t know, say something? To Luminara? To me?” Her voice finally cracked on the last word, and whatever retort Barriss might have given died as she looked up in shock. “You were in pain and I didn’t know. Why didn’t you ask me for help? Did you think I wouldn’t care? We could have found a better way to change things! I thought I was your friend, you’re supposed to trust me!”

Barriss blinked rapidly, swallowed, and shook her head without a word.

“I,” she managed to whisper. “I—I don’t…”

At least she didn’t back away when Ahsoka took a step forward.

“Look,” she said. “I can’t…justify what you almost did, but I get it. You’re a healer, you probably saw a lot more of the bad stuff than I did. I get being scared, I get being angry with the Council. I mean,” she forced a small laugh. “Anakin’s angry with the Council like, all the time.”

Barriss didn’t smile, and Ahsoka’s brief moment of lightness faded.

“Barriss?” Ahsoka swallowed around a sudden lump in her throat. “I mean it. I’m not mad at you for something you thought about doing. Maybe I was, at first, but you stopped. You didn’t go through with it, and you could have. I just...you should have talked to me. You should have told me what was going on and let me help, not tried to deal with everything by yourself.”

The silence stretched on, and then Barriss finally looked up at her with a blank expression. “You’re right,” she said. “I could never have argued about it all with Master Luminara, but...” She swallowed. “I was wrong not to let you help me when I needed it.”

Ahsoka took another step closer and offered a hand. “Will you let me now?”

Barriss looked at it doubtfully. Ahsoka felt like screaming at her for a moment, but before she could say anything Barriss took hold of it.

“Yes,” Barriss said. Ahsoka suspected that her friend’s smile was forced, but it was a start.

“Right then,” Ahsoka said when Barriss let go of her hand. “I guess I can start by helping you clean this up?” She gestured to the mess around them. “I mean it’s kind of my fault you dropped them, anyway.”

Barriss raised an eyebrow, and this time her smile was much less forced. “Kind of?”

Ahsoka laughed. “Fine, it’s entirely my fault.”

As they gathered the datapads up, Ahsoka added “After this, can I help you with whatever you’re working on?”

“Adverse reactions to alternative anticoagulants in reptilian sentients?” Barriss’ lips twitched, almost shyly.

Ahsoka considered it. “Or maybe we can get some lunch?”

Barriss ducked her head.

“Lunch,” she said. “Lunch sounds good.”



There was something calming about healing.

Well, Barriss thought as she prepared a syringe. Calming might not always be the right word. Even on days like this, slow days with no critical new patients, there was always an alertness necessary in the Halls of Healing. Steadying, perhaps. It wasn’t that there was no war; the evidence of the violence was more stark here than anywhere. But there were no politics, no immediate physical threats, no conflicting moralities. It was simple. Save what lives you can. Easing pain where possible. Thinking about anything but the patient would spell disaster.

It made all the difference, sometimes. Having something to focus on. Something to do that made her feel like a Jedi. Prisoner here or not, Barriss was meant to be a healer.

“Looking better already, sir.”

Barriss looked over to see a wry smile on her Verpine patient’s face. “You should never lie to a Jedi, Ray,” xe rasped. Barriss winced in unison with the clone at the obvious pain it caused his general to speak. The insectoid skin was an unnatural shade of dark mud-brown; they didn’t even have a name yet for whatever virus xe’d managed to pick up in the field. It had been a long five days of frantically trying to figure out what exactly it was doing to the body of its host, and only in the past forty-eight hours had they started to see a true reversal of the effects.

“You’re awake, sir,” Ray insisted stubbornly. “That’s better in my book.”

His general made an affectionate buzzing sound and laid back. “How are the boys?”

Ray sat down on the edge of xir bed with a grin. “Having a little too much fun, sir. Don’t worry. I’ll have ‘em whipped into shape by the time you’re back. I won’t even tell you what Nova and his gang have been up to. It’d twist your antennae something awful.”

There was a weak, amused click. “Tell me. I could…” A harsh wheeze. “Use the laugh.”

Barriss’ lips twitched reflexively as she crossed over to them. Yes. Asking Master Che for permission to serve as a healer had been the right choice. Let her make up for some of the lives she had taken. Fix the damage she had done.

And if it also meant hearing quite a bit about the clone troopers’ exploits off the battlefield, well, who could really blame her?

Ray groaned. “Where to start, general—oh. ‘scuse me, sir.”

Barriss smiled at him as she carefully worked the long needle between the plates of Master Dfuzg’s exoskeleton. “It’s no trouble, Commander. Tell me if this hurts, Master.” The Verpine circulatory system was very different from most species that Barriss worked on—it didn’t even have a heart—so giving injections could be complicated. The last thing she wanted was to miss the vein.

Everything hurts,” Master Dfuzg whirred unhappily. The needle went in smoothly, however, so Barriss counted it a success.

There was terse silence until Barriss withdrew the syringe and set it aside. Whatever this virus was, it had a side effect of dangerously drying out Verpine exoskeletons, and she turned to Ray again as she worked a specialized moisturizing agent into a bacta pad.

“Tell xem about Nova,” she prompted. “This may sting. I’m sure xe’ll appreciate the distraction.”

The clone looked at his general uncertainly, and though Dfuzg’s huge compound eyes didn’t focus the same way, Barriss thought xe was returning the attention.

“Actually, Padawan,” xe said, “I’m very tired. I would appreciate a chance to rest.”

Commander Ray coughed. “Of course, General. I’ve got some paperwork I need to sort out back at the barracks anyway.”

Dfuzg was still as alert as xe had been before she came over, Barriss could sense it plain as day. She could also sense her patient’s discomfort. It was difficult to tell, but she thought Dfuzg might have been avoiding eye contact.

She placed the prepared bacta sponge into a sealed drawer, pretending not to notice her fingers tremble as she did so.

“Of course, Master,” Barriss said quietly. “If it causes you any pain…”

“Use the call button,” Dfuzg whirred. There was a shortness to xir tone that Barriss was only really able to detect because of the tension radiating in the Force.

“Someone will come to help you,” was all she said. “I’ll leave you in peace, Master.”

She wandered blindly halfway across the hall and stopped, trying to figure out what to do with herself. She only wanted to help. They had recovering patients who needed help. Even if they didn’t want it from a traitor like her.

She felt cold, numb, disconnected from her patients. How was she supposed to heal them like this?

“Padawan.” Barriss flinched reflexively, but Master Nema down the line only motioned her toward a clone trooper who was standing near the door, shaking the hand of one of the other healers. “I need you to prepare a new bed. I’ll finish your rounds.”

“Of course, Master.” Barriss wished it wasn’t such a relief as she handed her datapad off to Master Nema and traded places with her, gathering up the equipment and bedding they’d used for the trooper. Disinfecting things. It was better than the fighting.

At least medical equipment didn’t actively refuse to look at her.


All in all, Barriss had served better shifts.

There was a reason she normally took night shifts, she thought with a slight grimace as she placed a shuura on her tray. Three rounds washing her arms nearly to the shoulder in disinfectant, and she still felt vaguely uneasy about handling food. Unfortunately, Master Che had strict rules about the number of graveyard shifts her healers were allowed to work outside of emergencies. Barriss had already met her limit this week. That meant morning shifts only, unless her master gave her week-by-week permission to skip her training blocks.

Someday, Barriss might request that. Right now, special treatment felt like too much to ask.

After the forced, polite smiles, terse replies, and lack of eye contact she had gotten on her shift, the hum of conversation in the dining hall was a relief. Even with the stares she could feel at her back and the guard following at a respectful distance as she made herself a rushed salad, it was better than the ringing silence.

Healing was intimate; her patients couldn’t hide their discomfort in those circumstances. Back in the Temple proper, Barriss was simply ignored. It didn’t hurt quite as much.

Though she did her best not to let it bother her, she couldn’t help but notice that when she put her tray down at a random table, the conversation died before she had even sat down. She nodded to the handful of Jedi there, keeping her eyes on her food so she didn’t see the looks on their faces. After a few moments, the conversation resumed, careful and subdued.

By the time she’d gotten halfway through her lunch, the table was empty. Normal conversation continued around her, but Barriss had enough experience by now to know that if she looked up she would find herself at the center of an almost perfect circle of isolation.

It would almost be easier if the Order was being malicious. They weren’t trying to be cruel. They just couldn’t bear to be too close to her. And she couldn’t exactly blame them for that, could she?

But would it be so much to ask that they ignore her completely, if she must be ignored? She could sense eyes on her every few seconds; some pitying, some wary, some morbidly curious. All of them uncomfortable. It was...distracting. Ignored entirely, she could let her mind wander. But this—it was impossible to forget where she was. What she was. Feeling the attention of the room on her from all sides, constantly, with no reprieve…

Suddenly the loneliness was unbearable.

Barriss fumbled with the communicator on her wrist, and it took an uncomfortably long time for Luminara to answer her call. When the comm finally did pick up, there was no holo. Barriss tried not to be disappointed by that; sometimes just the sight of her master was enough to center her.

Barriss? Is something wrong?

Barriss cleared her throat. “No, Master. I was just wondering if you had any free time later today?” She winced slightly at the lightness in her own voice. She’d probably overdone it. “I was hoping I could meet you for supper. That’s all.”

There was silence for long enough that Barriss’ heartbeat started to thud in her ears. Had she said something wrong? Overstepped her bounds…?

Finally, there was a static-filled sigh.

Barriss, I wish I could.” The words made Barriss’ gut clench, but at least her master’s tone was apologetic rather than disapproving. “I have an advisory meeting with the Chancellor in a few hours, and I’m afraid I don’t see any way it will end before it’s quite late.”

Barriss swallowed. “Of course, Master. I should have remembered.”

Luminara’s voice sounded pained even over the comm. “If it were possible to leave early, Padawan...”

“Please.” Barriss gave a shallow, seated bow out of habit. “Don’t concern yourself on my account, Master. It was only a thought.”

Another pause.

I’ll speak with you in the morning, Barriss.”

“Yes, Master.”

Another pause, what Barriss would have called hesitation from anyone but Luminara Unduli, and the comm shut off. Suddenly the shuura she’d sliced so carefully seemed much less appealing.


The courtyard was something of a last resort.

Barriss could have gone anywhere; a silent, empty classroom or private antechamber were her usual choices for meditation. Failing that she could just as easily have gone to her quarters. But in her current state, with that constant itch of disconnect scratching at her concentration, the thought of isolating herself further was a horror.

Her guard, as usual, didn’t comment on the change in routine. They never commented on anything if she didn’t ask them directly. She was thankful for that, though she knew they must have picked up on a lot just from being near her. She realized they were likely reporting to the Council, but it was hard to care. She wasn’t hiding anything.

Though part of her hoped that they didn’t mention the times she had cried herself to sleep.

The Guard didn’t go far, but they gave her a few meters of space as she settled on her knees under one of the scraggly trees in the courtyard. It was a pleasant day, so there were more than a few Jedi milling about, training or meditating or just talking. This was a good choice.

Her first deep breath was thin, unsteady; it served more to call attention to her tense muscles and shaky center than anything else. Barriss closed her eyes, clenched and unclenched her hands, and took another, slower breath. Tried to feel the slight breeze, the sunlight filtering through the leaves. Everything had a presence in the Force, and she was connected to everything. She was wise enough, at least, not to try to rush herself into a trance. Relax. She could almost hear her master’s voice. Let yourself be. The rest will follow.

She started near herself—the slow flow of life in the tree and the grass beneath it, the warmth radiating off the sunlit stone. Then, letting her mind expand at its own pace, she moved out. The solid, unmoving presence of the Guard was an unexpected comfort. They knew who and what they were, and that surety radiated back to her and helped to quiet some of her own insecurities.

With that calm, the presence of others in the courtyard began to filter through. There was a young pair not far off—a Knight and her Padawan, neither of whom Barriss knew—going through a series of slow, fluid stretches. Barriss smiled slightly. It was a very basic routine, beginner level. She remembered it from early in her own apprenticeship. This pair must be very recently matched, and her sense of them in the Force confirmed it. The Padawan was nervous but filled with a shy wonder; the Knight hopeful if hesitant. Already their bond was beginning to flourish.

And beyond them, as well, there were connections. A pair of Knights having a discussion in the shade; several more reading or just enjoying the afternoon. Much less constrained emotions rolled off the group of younglings playing across the courtyard, kicking a ball between them.

None of it exactly perfect, none of it forming any kind of strict pattern, but it felt right. The imperfections were what made it beautiful. The slight cramp in the Knight’s shoulder that she was gamely attempting to ignore for her new Padawan’s sake; the Master on the other side of the courtyard who was too exhausted to focus on what he was reading but was attempting to make sense of it anyway. Even the unexplained annoyance spiking from the senior Padawan in charge of the youngling clan.

This was right, the Force whispered. And it was part of her, always. She wasn’t alone. This was life. Beautiful by virtue of existence.

It would have been the peace she needed, if the connections hadn’t begun to sour.

It started slowly. The young Knight’s focus began to slip first, replaced by wariness as she placed a hand on her Padawan’s shoulder. They hadn’t finished their exercise yet, but she still moved the boy off. And that didn’t make sense, somehow, it was only confusing him, he wondered if he’d done something wrong…

The others were beginning to move away as well. The pair of Knights at least didn’t have as much of an emotional shift; they simply turned and walked away, still talking. But others were also moving—inside, out of the sun, perhaps, but in reaction to some discomfort that felt deeper than mere heat. Nothing huge, nothing that would even have caught Barriss’ attention on its own, but it was the nudge needed to push them on their way. Even the tired Master got up and left, though he seemed mostly to be reacting to the others.

The Padawan minder’s annoyance had shifted to outright hostility long ago, and she was gathering her cohort and shooing them back inside by the time the gradual exodus had reached the point where Barriss could no longer ignore it.

She opened her eyes. Meditation would not come now.

For a moment, Barriss wished she was less perceptive. Wished that Master Luminara hadn’t trained her to read emotions so clearly in the Force. She knew exactly why the courtyard had emptied so quickly.

“Well,” she said quietly as she pulled herself to her feet. “I certainly know how to clear a room.”

The guard, as usual, didn’t reply.

Barriss stood there for several minutes, trying to gather the motivation to relocate. She would never be able to meditate like this, she was too distracted to do any research… she didn’t have any reason to go anywhere, really. Except that she couldn’t bear to stay here.

She shook her head. She’d just go to the training salle and pray someone would be willing to spar with her. Even if she couldn’t even look them in the eye. It would be something, at least…

“Barriss! Over here!”

She almost jumped at the outburst, shouted from halfway across the courtyard. But she couldn’t hold back a smile, even before she turned to see Ahsoka waving her over.

“Ahsoka. It’s good to see you.”

Ahsoka grinned at her, but the expression faded quickly. “You have got to help me. I’m pretty sure Padmé and Anakin are fighting again. There is no way I’m getting in the middle of that, so I told Master Skywalker I had a report to write on the adaptogenic qualities of extraterrestrial flora. He offered to proofread it for me tomorrow.”

Barriss felt a hint of existential dread begin to well up inside her, but at least it was a nice change from her usual flavor of existential dread. “And?”

“I don’t even know what that means!

Ahsoka!

Ahsoka threw her hands in the air. “I panicked, okay?”

Barriss shook her head, unable to stop herself from laughing. “How do you get yourself into these situations?”

“Anakin’s fault,” Ahsoka insisted.

Barriss sighed. You shouldn’t speak about your master that way was on the tip of her tongue, but instead she just said, “I wrote a ten-page essay on the subject several years ago. I’m sure you can work from that.”

Ahsoka beamed.



 Obi-Wan knew something was wrong even before he heard the shouting.

A sense of nebulous unease was, unfortunately, growing increasingly common in the Temple. As the war dragged on and the battles grew bloodier and more desperate, the tension was becoming palpable even here. But this was something different. Much less existential. An unease that radiated from about fifty Jedi who were incredibly uncomfortable and wanted very badly to be somewhere else.

And Anakin. He could definitely sense Anakin.

He sighed. Why am I not surprised?

Whatever disturbance his former Padawan was making, it was coming from the courtyard outside, a level down from him. He quickened his pace until the muffled sound of raised voices could be heard nearby. Grimacing, he stepped out onto a balcony that overlooked the scene.

Ahsoka’s was the first voice he heard.

You can’t do this!

Neither Anakin nor Ahsoka seemed to be aware of the audience they were gathering. They were facing off in the center of the courtyard—if anyone had been sitting near them, they had very wisely vacated the area so as to leave empty space within conceivable lightsaber range. Thankfully, it hadn’t escalated to that point.

Yet.

He glanced at Shaak Ti, who stood a few feet away in the shadow of a pillar. The Togruta Master leaned against the railing with a pained expression. “How long have they been at it?”

“They’ve been arguing for several minutes,” she answered. “With no signs of stopping.”

“Dare I ask what started it?”

Shaak Ti sighed. She seemed about to reply when she was interrupted by another shout from the courtyard.

“Barriss is my friend, Anakin!”

Obi-Wan groaned and fought the urge to put his hands over his face. Of course.

“She’s a traitor to the Republic,” Anakin snapped. “She’s a bad influence, I don’t want you around her, and that’s an order!”

Ahsoka made a strangled, incredulous noise. “You can’t order me not to associate with other Jedi!”

“Yes,” Anakin said, and there was a dark curl of anger under the word that made Obi-Wan stiffen. “I can! And I don’t care what the Council says, Barriss is no Jedi!

There was a sharp intake of breath from Shaak Ti, but she shook her head when Obi-Wan looked over at her.

“Am I the only one who remembers that she didn’t hurt anyone?” Ahsoka was demanding, gesturing wildly and looking at Anakin like she was meeting him for the first time. “She made a mistake—”

“Oh, she accidentally tried to plant a bomb in the Temple! Ahsoka, are you serious?!”

“I didn’t say it was an accident!” Ahsoka took a few steps toward him, and Obi-Wan found himself gripping the rail. “She knows she was wrong—”

Even from a distance, Obi-Wan knew that his former Padawan was rolling his eyes. “Right, she said she was sorry, that makes it better.”

“You—let me finish!” Ahsoka all but screamed, shoving a finger in Anakin’s face. “She screwed up and she feels awful about it, Master, I can’t abandon her now!”

“Abandon.” Anakin threw his arms up in exasperation. “You can’t abandon her after she stabbed all of us in the back?!”

“No,” Ahsoka said. “I can’t. And she didn’t stab us in the back, or have you forgotten that she stopped that bomb from going off?”

Anakin snorted dismissively. “She got cold feet,” he said, stepping forward and crowding Ahsoka back. She glared back up at him and didn’t budge. “Ahsoka, I’m your master—”

Ahsoka pushed at his chest. “And Barriss is my friend, and she needs me—now more than ever!

Anakin knocked her hand aside with a disgusted sound. “What she needs is a good pair of stun cuffs and a solid door. You don’t have to like it, but you are not spending time with her! That’s final!”

Ahsoka was practically shaking with rage; Obi-Wan could feel something in the Force fracture until she finally gave a wordless yell and shoved her master away. As she spun on her heel she seemed to register the crowd for the first time, levelled a glare at them that stung with condemnation Obi-Wan could feel even from this distance, and then ran out of the courtyard.

“Ahsoka! Ahsoka!” Anakin yelled impotently before realizing that she wasn’t coming back, then started after her.

“I’m going down there,” Obi-Wan said. “Someone has to talk sense into him.”

Shaak Ti turned to raise an eyebrow at him. “You think that Padawan Tano is in the right, then?”

Obi-Wan frowned. “I think that she’s going to do what she wants regardless of his wishes on this matter, and if he doesn’t let it go she may never forgive him.” He sighed. “Her actions aside, I’m glad Barriss didn’t have to see that.”

“No,” Shaak Ti said softly before nodding at the dispersing crowd. “But Master Unduli did.”

Obi-Wan followed her line of sight. Sure enough, Luminara was sitting on a bench not far from where the argument had taken place, easy to miss, with her head bent towards the ground and her arms folded in her lap.

He felt a brief pang of sorrow for his old friend, then left to intercept Anakin before he made the situation even worse. 


Even though she assumed Kenobi had run off to care of it, part of Shaak Ti wanted to give Anakin Skywalker a piece of her mind about how inappropriate that entire display had been. Quite aside from anything else, Barriss Offee was barely more than a child. A grown Knight had no excuse for the utter lack of compassion Skywalker had demonstrated.

Though even more concerning than that was the reaction from the crowd. For the most part, it had been uneasiness rather than outrage. She had a bad feeling that on some level, many of them had agreed with Skywalker’s sentiment—with the obvious exception of one. Shaak Ti wondered if Skywalker had known that Luminara Unduli was present for the scene, and if he hadn’t, she wondered whether knowing would have stopped him from causing it.

The most she could say for him was that it was entirely likely he hadn’t realized. There were sharp angles throughout the courtyard, intended to provide shade and slightly more places for groups to sit near one another. Master Unduli had by sheer chance been around a corner, easily visible from the balcony but perhaps not from where Skywalker had been standing.

The courtyard was emptying in record time—no one, apparently, had any desire to stay and attempt to work around the awkward silence. The only one who hadn’t moved was the small, sad figure of Luminara Unduli.

Shaak Ti shook her head, and turned toward the nearest staircase.

Part of her had hoped Luminara would have left by the time she entered the courtyard. Master Unduli was resilient, it wasn’t unreasonable to hope she wouldn’t be too deeply wounded by careless words.

But Luminara was still there when Shaak Ti walked into the courtyard. Sighing, she walked over to the Mirialan’s bench, gathered her robes, and sat down next to her.

“Master Ti.” Luminara’s voice was soft as always, but there was a thread of exhaustion running under it as she stared dully at the ground. “How can I help you?”

It was a long moment before she could answer. There was very little one could say, in the face of that kind of pain.

“I believe Skywalker was out of line,” she said finally, as gently as she could.

“Someone was going to say it sooner or later,” said Luminara, who didn’t take her eyes off the ground. “Though I can’t say I’m surprised it was Skywalker.”

Under different circumstances, it might have pulled a smile out of her; but there was such a deep current of pain and confusion in the words that Shaak Ti had to resist an urge to hug the woman.

“No more surprised than you were to find Padawan Tano defending her?” she suggested.

Luminara didn’t answer for a long time. “Not surprised, but...I wasn’t sure that she would, either. Ahsoka may be one of Barriss’ only true friends, but that was no guarantee that she would...remain one.”

When it seemed like Luminara had nothing else to say, Shaak Ti spoke up. “Perhaps Ahsoka sees more clearly than we give her credit for. Master Unduli…” She hesitated. “Skywalker does not speak for the Order.”

“Master Ti,” Luminara started. She finally sat up and looked at her with a dubious expression. “You know as well as I that the only reason he was the first to say it is because the others are too polite. Can you honestly say most of the Order does not agree with him?”

Silence.

No. She couldn’t. Not honestly, and she respected Master Unduli too much to lie to her at a time like this. “This was not our intention when we confined Barriss to the Temple,” was all she trusted herself to say.

Luminara smiled, or tried to. Having been lucky enough to see a handful of Luminara Unduli’s rare, unguarded smiles, Shaak Ti’s eyes tightened at the wry tiredness in this one.

“No,” Luminara said quietly. “You would never intend to be that cruel.” 



 

Obi-Wan sighed.

He’d gotten turned around again. How was it that he’d used these archives for over thirty years and still managed to get lost in them? All he’d wanted was to find the file on the next planet he and the 212th were being deployed to, but somehow he had wound up in the jurisprudence section. Which, incidentally, was far larger than it had any right to be.

“Excuse me,” he began, waving down a restock droid as it buzzed along, pushing an antigrav bin full of data blocks. “I’m looking for—”

The droid whizzed past without so much as twitching its optics.

“Well then,” he said with a huff.

If he kept walking, he would eventually run into Jocasta Nu, whose knowledge of the Archives bordered on frightening; or at least a Padawan who could point him to the exit if nothing else.

“...shouldn’t joke about things like that.”

The voice sounded like a younger one, probably a small group of Padawans gossiping in the next aisle. Obi-Wan smiled to himself and hoped that Master Jocasta wasn’t near, for their sakes. He had been on the receiving end of her lectures for doing the same thing on many occasions.

He had almost moved out of earshot when he heard a name that made him stop in his tracks.

They were talking about Ahsoka.

Now he couldn’t resist his curiosity. Obi-Wan turned around and retraced his steps, stopping once there was only one bookcase separating him from the Padawans.

“Who said it was a joke? Offee’s got her wrapped around her finger somehow.”

Obi-Wan closed his eyes and resisted the urge to run around the bookcase and give them a lecture that would put Jocasta Nu to shame. He should have known it would be something like this, after the scene Anakin and Ahsoka had made the day before.

“Right, have you seen the way those two carry on?” said another, female voice. “It’s like Tano doesn’t even care what she did. Offee must be good to turn her against her own master.”

“It’s a damn shame. Everything Tano’s accomplished, and she loses it over some Seppie sympathizer?”

“Leave it to the traitor to ruin that.”

“Well, I for one can’t blame her,” said one of the others in the group.

That was met with sharp exclamations of shock from the rest of them.

“Hey,” the same voice said. “I’m just saying, Offee’s got good taste. If I was going to seduce someone to the Dark Side…”

“Literally,” piped up one of his friends, to general laughter.

“Exactly. Tano’s a great choice! Talented duelist, strong in the Force...”

“Easy on the eyes,” another interrupted slyly.

They laughed again at that, and Obi-Wan had officially had enough. He stormed around the corner and the mirth died immediately. Several of the teenage Padawans jumped at least a foot in the air; one, who’d been leaning against a bookshelf, lost his balance and knocked several holobooks off it.

“Do you not have something you should be doing, young ones?” He asked, glaring at each of them. “Or is speculating on your fellow Padawans all any of you have time for?”

There was a fast, babbled storm of apologies and “Yes, Master Kenobi”s as the group scattered into the shelves.

Obi-Wan stood there for several seconds after they had fled, then sighed and moved on. Ahsoka hadn’t done anything to deserve this kind of talk behind her back, but she must have known that it would happen when she very openly aligned herself with a social pariah. And she did care, Obi-Wan knew, even if she would claim otherwise if asked. Ahsoka craved validation from her peers as much as she craved it from Anakin; hearing herself dismissed so easily would tear her to pieces. Which is why Obi-Wan didn’t see any need to mention it to her. Or to Barriss, who was already being punished enough. Or to Luminara. Or Anakin. Especially not Anakin.

Another stocking droid was hovering along the aisles. Obi-Wan hurried after it.

“Excuse me,” he said. “I’m trying to find the planetary surveys…”



“Hey,” Ahsoka said by way of greeting. “Catch.”

Barriss’ hand came up reflexively to catch the jogan fruit—she blinked at it as Ahsoka set a small box down at the foot of the wall and leapt to grab the ledge before hauling herself up onto it.

“Ahsoka?”

“That’s me,” she agreed, twisting herself around to sit on the ledge next to Barriss. “Sorry I’m late. One of my classes was cancelled so I made a market run.” Anakin had agreed to her excursion a little too enthusiastically, probably because it would keep her away from Barriss—the irony—but she hoped it would be worth it. Barriss hadn’t had anything but Jedi rations in ages, and she had always loved different kinds of food. “Those are supposed to be good, right?”

Barriss just stared at the jogan for a few seconds, which made Ahsoka a little nervous; for all she knew, these things were poisonous to Mirialans or something. But after a few seconds Barriss swallowed, blinked a few times, and smiled at her.

“I… thank you, Ahsoka.”

“There’s a box,” Ahsoka told her, pointing at the drop while she unwrapped a protein bar for her own lunch. She waved to Barriss’ escort below them. “I thought you might like them.”

Barriss’ fingers brushed the side of her hood like she did sometimes when she was nervous, but she was still smiling when she bit into the fruit. Ahsoka smiled a little herself when she saw her friend’s obvious pleasure.

“They’re good,” she confirmed quietly, glancing over and smiling wider before she ducked her head again. “Ahsoka, thank you, really—ah!

Ahsoka frowned. Barriss had been trying to shift her weight so that she could turn and face each other more easily; the exclamation had accompanied a hard flinch as she clutched the lip of their ledge and grimaced through obvious pain.

“Barriss? What’s wrong?”

Barriss smiled at her again, but this time it was tight and forced. “I’m fine, Ahsoka.”

Ahsoka wasn’t letting her off that easily. “That didn’t sound like fine.”

“Really, it’s nothing to worry about.” Barriss gingerly placed a hand over her side. “It’s only a pair of ribs. I’m a healer. I’ll be fine in a few hours.”

Ahsoka stared at her incredulously. “What do you mean only a pair of ribs? How in the universe did you hurt yourself that bad at the Temple?

“Sparring.” Barriss wouldn’t meet her eyes, instead turning her attention back to her fruit. “Really, Ahsoka, it’s fine.”

Ahsoka clenched a fist. “This is the third time this week you’ve had a so-called sparring accident.”

“Yes,” Barriss said in a small voice. “I’m...out of practice.”

“That’s bantha drek and you know it, Barriss.” Barriss’ decision to start sparring again—with a training saber, a humiliation that bothered Ahsoka more than it did Barriss—had made Ahsoka uneasy from the beginning, and this was the last confirmation of her suspicions that she needed. “Who were you sparring with this time?”

Barriss made a consternated expression. “It’s fine. I’m fine.”

Ahsoka’s frown deepened as she watched Barriss use the Force to pull up another fruit and eat it. Training accidents happened. It was all part of the learning process. Ahsoka had cracked a rib or two in her time, along with any other number of minor injuries. But a Padawan of Barriss’ experience shouldn’t come out of every session bruised and bloody.

“A broken nose, a sprained ankle, and two cracked ribs in one week.”

Barriss looked away. “Yes, well, I’m getting good practice with my healing.”

Ahsoka somehow managed not to strangle her. “You can’t just let them keep doing this to you!” When Barriss refused to look back at her, she crossed her arms. “Let me see it.”

“Unless you’ve suddenly become a healer, I can’t imagine what good that could possibly do.”

Barriss.”

Setting her fruit aside and still avoiding eye contact, Barriss slowly untucked her shirt and lifted the hem enough that Ahsoka got an extremely good look at the ugly, mottled purple bruising along her ribs. After a few moments, she looked away. Barriss pulled her shirt back down in silence.

Ahsoka studied the courtyard below them until she stopped seeing red.

“Who were you sparring with?” she asked through clenched teeth.

“Ahsoka…”

Who were you sparring with?

Barriss shook her head. “I don’t need to be protected.”

Ahsoka threw her hands in the air. “Well you’re obviously not doing it yourself!” Her friend winced, and she added, “If I need to knock some manners into your sparring partners—”

“You don’t!” Barriss leaned forward and put her head in her hands. “Don’t cause trouble on my behalf. It’s no less than I deserve.”

“Don’t say that,” Ahsoka muttered automatically. After grinding her teeth for a few moments, she finally said, “Fine. If I promise not to go find them and throw them off the roof of the Temple, will you at least tell me who’s been doing this to you?”

After a long moment of hesitation, Barriss nodded.


 “Hey. Vistor.”

Effer Vistor looked up from his geology notes gratefully—how many chapters could there be about different kinds of sand?—and grinned at the pretty young Togruta who was perched on the table next to him. “Please,” he said, offering a hand. “I’m Effer to my friends.”

She flashed him a smile that threw her incisors into sharp focus and answered sweetly, “Ahsoka Tano.”

Was that supposed to scare him? Some of the younger Padawans were looking between them like they were waiting for his head to roll; he just returned her smile and shook her hand. He didn’t approve of her choice of friends and he doubted her master could possibly approve of the obvious attachment she had to her traitor—certainly his master didn’t—but Padawan Tano had a shining service record with the Order, and if she’d come here looking for a fight she would be disappointed. Whatever stories she’d heard about him, he intended to prove false. Maybe then she would see through this fit of teenage rebellion.

“What can I do for you, Ahsoka?” he asked pleasantly.

She made a motion that could have been either brushing herself down or wiping her hand on her thigh as her eyes narrowed slightly. “Will you be training today?”

“I train every day,” he said pointedly. “As you should, young Padawan.”

“Today then.” The lightness in her tone didn’t change, but just for a second there was a flash of something predatory in her eyes. “You feel up to a sparring match? In, say, one hour?”

Effer sighed. “I don’t want to hurt you, Padawan Tano. Maybe in a few years.”

She didn’t seem perturbed by the refusal. Disappointed, perhaps. “That’s a shame,” she sighed. “I’ve heard about your fighting style and I thought I’d like to try myself against you. We never seem to be training at the same time.”

Well. That actually spoke better of her than he’d expected. Some impulsive argument or desire for revenge—though why she bothered he had no idea—that was to be expected. But this was a perfectly natural request from someone her age. Maybe she wasn’t as obsessed with Offee as she seemed.

“What makes you think we’ll be well-matched?”

Ahsoka shrugged, leaning back with a small grin. “We won’t be. But my master always says it’s the duty of more experienced Padawans to teach less experienced ones, so I thought I’d ask. But if you’re not feeling up to it, that’s fine. I can always ask Barriss.”

He didn’t bother hiding the expression of distaste. “That’s not necessary, Padawan Tano. I don’t trust her in a situation like that. Forgive me, I’ve been ungracious. I’d be more than happy to train with you.”

“Great.” He blinked at the sudden professionalism in her voice. She hopped down from the table and shot him a decidedly unflattering look. “One hour. Don’t keep me waiting.”


He kept her waiting.

Well, not exactly, Ahsoka allowed. He did show up exactly an hour later...not yet in training gear, surrounded by a group of friends, without having done anything to warm up. It was at least another half-hour before he was ready for their match.

Typical.

Effer Vistor was the kind of nineteen-year-old boy who was handsome and knew it. He was nothing all that special; a deep purple Twi’lek whose robes always seemed to be just open enough to show off a little more of his chest than absolutely necessary. Ahsoka had never spared him any real thought before except to roll her eyes.

When he finally finished his stretches and crossed over to the training ring, Ahsoka flipped down from the set of high bars she’d been hanging from and snapped her sabers live.

Vistor smiled at her as she stepped onto the mat. “We’ll start slow,” he assured her.

Don’t count on it, lowlife.

He twirled his blue blade in a lazy circle at his side as she swung into a ready position.

“Would you feel more comfortable with a lowered power setting?” he offered. “Accidents can happen. I don’t want to scare you.”

“Believe me,” she growled. “You don’t.”

The first blow sliced the flowing end of his sleeve off before he had time to react.

“What the—” He stumbled backward, eyes wide, but before he could say anything else Ahsoka swung high with her shoto. Vistor blocked it, and then she made a low slash with her main saber. She slowed herself enough to give him time to dodge—predictably, he jumped—then swung a kick into his gut that sent him flying back to the edge of the ring.

He was more careful now.

Vistor was trying to circle, to feel her weaknesses; she didn’t give him the chance. He knocked aside her first swipe easily, then made the mistake of forcing her into bladelock on the second. Rather than disengage one blade and take his hand off, Ahsoka took the marginally less cruel and infinitely more obvious route, and kicked him in the groin as hard as she could.

She had to give credit where it was due; he kept hold of his lightsaber. The power behind the blow was gone, however, and she swept the blade aside and stepped back to wait for him.

She didn’t have to wait long—and this time he didn’t hold back. The defense Ahsoka threw up to block his hard cut at her arm wasn’t feigned; he immediately spun into an overhead strike that she was forced to dodge. It wasn’t hard to believe that Barriss, in her distracted state, would suffer from the sheer strength behind his attacks.

Well, she wasn’t Barriss.

An aggressive move at Vistor’s flank was caught by a parry that forced her to switch on the fly to a standard grip or lose her main saber entirely, but opened him up for a counterattack if she was quick enough. A blue lightsaber slashed down in an attempt to dissuade her; she caught it in the cross of her blades and landed a solid kick behind his knee, forcing him down. He rolled and kicked out before she had a chance to press the sudden advantage, but half a step back was all it took to dodge.

Ahsoka could feel irritation rolling off him as he pulled himself to his feet—too slowly, if she’d been Ventress or Grievous he would be dead. She’d almost been expecting a Twi’lek version of Anakin, but Vistor was just an arrogant bully taking advantage of the fact that Barriss was terrified of hurting anyone in a sparring session. Ahsoka wasn’t certain he even had real combat experience outside of battle droids. Shiny, Rex would have called him. The thought made her grin, and she let her opponent stand with nothing more vicious than a smirk.

He glanced at his friends, who had stopped talking and laughing amongst themselves and were now watching with interest. They’d actually gathered quite a crowd, from what Ahsoka could see in her peripheral vision; other Padawans who had been training, a handful of advanced younglings, even what looked like a few knights and Masters in the background.

Vistor rolled his shoulders and shifted his grip to hold his saber in both hands. “You make good use of your second blade,” he said, like he still thought he could pretend he was teaching her. “It obviously gives you an advantage. Is that what you’re trying to prove?”

Wordlessly, making no effort to keep her disdain from ringing in the Force, Ahsoka switched off her shoto and tossed it aside.

For a moment he seemed thrown, and Ahsoka realized he had been trying to anger her, trying to force her to charge him, challenge him, lose her focus. You don’t know me, she thought as she crouched low, emerald blade humming at her back, waiting for him to make his mistake. You don’t know her, either.

This time she felt the attack coming. By the time he’d moved, Ahsoka was ready for him.

He rushed in, trying to close quickly, to use his weight to his advantage. She let him. He feinted to her left, swept in from the right with all his strength behind it—the mistake she had been waiting for. She dropped, barely had to move her arm to catch his attack on a diagonal that swept it over her head, and then surged up and inside his guard. She twisted, flicked her saber off, and brought the butt of the hilt down, hard, against the inside of his wrist.

His lightsaber clattered inert along the floor, and she stepped back out of his guard as he lost his footing and fell to his knees. She could have put her own blade to his throat, claimed her victory. She clipped it to her belt. She didn’t need it. A glance over her shoulder spotted her distance, and Vistor’s eyes widened as he realized the finishing blow was still coming. His hands started to come up to cover his face—too slow. Too slow again.

The entire salle flinched in the instant before the strike. Ahsoka pivoted sharply on her back foot, sweeping around and leaping into a devastating spin-kick. Her leg flashed out—

—and snapped back just as quickly, cuffing her opponent upside the head with no more harmful force than a friendly shove as she pulled the blow at the last possible second.

While Vistor and their impromptu audience tried to figure out what had just happened, Ahsoka called her shoto and returned it to her belt before reaching out to her opponent.

“Thanks for the match,” she said neutrally.

He stared at her hand like he’d never seen one before.

“I...” he stammered, before finally taking it and letting her help him to his feet. “I, um…”

She crossed her arms and smirked. “I get that a lot.”

He laughed nervously. “Yeah. Hey, uh…thanks for not following through on that last kick, you’d have had me out cold.”

She smiled at him. It didn’t quite reach her eyes.

“Please,” she said, with a careless wave of a hand and a much more calculated flash of pointed teeth. “What kind of Jedi wouldn’t pull their blows in a sparring session?

Ahsoka hadn’t thought the room could get any quieter, but somehow it did. She looked straight into his eyes until he dropped his gaze in what she hoped was shame, then turned without a word, grabbed her towel, and walked away.



Barriss deactivated her lighter with a faint click.

Some part of her was still darkly amused the Council had let her keep it, but apparently even they didn’t think her capable of burning the Temple to the ground with a handheld lighter. She shook her head sharply. That was too close to resentment.

She waited until the flames of her pair of meditation candles, the only light in the room, stopped dancing and settled before closing her eyes and resting her hands on her knees. For several minutes she let the breath come naturally, without trying to correct the irregularities; letting herself relax and become aware of the pattern. Then, carefully, she began to regulate it. Deeper, slower, steadier.

Negative emotions exist in all living things. The presence of these emotions is natural, but we cannot allow them to rule us. So much easier said than done when they were thrown at her all day, every day, from all sides. Anger and suspicion and disdain—like struggling through knee-deep water every waking moment and many sleeping ones, and then being lectured to just walk normally.

The heart of a Jedi is formed in stillness. The Force speaks to us most clearly through peace, and peace can only be found when you let the turbulence settle. If she was wading every moment then there was something to be said for standing still, resting, and letting the water flow around her. Acknowledge your emotions, and then let them go. Let the turbulence be washed away in the flow of the Force—

She was on the verge of slipping into trance when the sound of the door chime brought her back to reality. Barriss sighed and opened her eyes. Letting go of her minor irritation at being interrupted, she cleared her throat and said “Enter.”

The light from the hallway wasn’t very bright, but it still took her a second to adjust to the change. But when she saw who was standing in the doorway with a crooked grin and a bag over her shoulder, Barriss’ annoyance disappeared entirely. She got to her feet and returned the smile. “Ahsoka! How can I help you?”

“Why are all the lights off?” Ahsoka asked in reply, setting her pack down on Barriss’ mat and squinting around the room. “It’s not that late.” After a moment it seemed to register to her, and a consternated look crossed Ahsoka’s face. “Oh! I’m sorry. Were you meditating?”

Barriss held up a hand in a calming gesture. “It’s fine, Ahsoka,” she said. “I have plenty of time to meditate. I’m glad you’re here.”

The grin was back. “Good. I brought you something.”

Barriss sat down on the edge of the bed while Ahsoka rummaged through her pack. Her friend’s good mood was infectious, and she had to fight down a wide smile. “Oh, really?” She flicked her fingers as an afterthought, bringing the lights back up so they could see. “Another fruit run?”

Ahsoka gave a suspiciously innocent hum, tossing a handful of holovid cases onto the mattress and giving a cry of triumph as she apparently found what she was looking for. “Not exactly,” she said, and pulled out a glass bottle.

Barriss took it curiously, and her eyebrows flew up as she examined the label.

“Ahsoka,” she asked. “What are you doing with a bottle of Alderaanian wine?” Expensive Alderaanian wine. She hadn’t gotten this on a Padawan’s allowance.

“Oh, it was in Master Kenobi’s room.” Apparently foreseeing Barriss’ next question, Ahsoka continued. “He won’t mind, he steals them from Padmé all the time. And I think she gets them from Senator Organa? So this is the real thing.”

“Aren’t you underage?”

“What?” Ahsoka shook her head and made a dismissive noise. “No, legal age for Togruta on Coruscant is sixteen. I’m fine.”

Barriss looked at her for several seconds, then reached over to her nightstand and picked up a datapad.

“What are you doing?”

“Running a holonet search for the legal Togruta drinking age on Coruscant,” Barriss replied promptly.

Ahsoka gave her one of the most heartbroken looks she’d ever seen. “You don’t trust me?!”

“No,” she said, stifling a laugh under her breath as the results popped up. “But you’re right.”

“See?” Ahsoka dropped onto the mattress and twisted the locking mechanism on the bottle’s magnetic seal, which opened with a pop. “We’re having a vid night.”

“Are we?”

“Yup.” Ahsoka grinned, toasted her with the bottle, and took a swig from it that made Barriss wince even before her friend started coughing violently.

“You know, you’re really too young for that kind of thing,” she felt obligated to point out. “Despite what the law says about it.”

Barriss made a mental note not to let Ahsoka drink too much—she remembered all too well what that felt like. And yet, when she was offered the bottle, she just shook her head and accepted it. There was something oddly charming about the whole thing.

“All right,” she said, clearing her throat several times to shake off the burn. “What vids did you bring?”

“Uh,” said Ahsoka. “Bad ones.”


Considerably more of the Alderaanian wine than planned and the utterly atrocious B-list holovid The Secluded Citadel later, Barriss stared at the end credits in amused horror.

“That was terrible!

Ahsoka laughed happily from where her head was resting against Barriss’ stomach. “I know, right?”

“I—that’s not how Jedi work! The Force doesn’t—I mean, Force healing glows, but—and the lightsaber combat! What was that, a drunken Ataru imitation? Lightsabers don’t even look like that!”

Ahsoka sighed fondly. “I think they used up their special effects budget on the explosions.”

Barriss shook her head. “I don’t think anyone involved in this ever even met a Jedi.”

Ahsoka snorted with laughter. “I know, that’s what makes it funny!”

Barriss couldn’t help but laugh softly at that. “It was certainly interesting,” she acknowledged, running her fingers along Ahsoka’s lekku. She started suddenly as she realized what she was doing; she’d been absently petting her for most of the movie, ever since they’d curled up together to watch it. She was surprised Ahsoka hadn’t protested.

“I’m so sorry,” she sputtered. She could feel her cheeks flushing. “I can stop?”

Ahsoka hummed and cuddled closer. “Don’t. It feels nice.”

Barriss blushed even deeper and suddenly felt like sinking into the floor. “But I...I thought lekku were, um—I mean, I don’t want you to think...”

There was a pause, and Ahsoka suddenly burst out laughing. She rolled onto her back to look up at Barriss with a sharp-toothed grin.

Barriss Offee,” she said with what was probably meant to be sternness, but was ruined by the fact that she was failing to hold back her laughter. “Have you been watching Togruta porn-vids?”

Barriss gaped at her. “No! I just—I would never! I—you’ve let me do that before, and I was wondering what it actually felt like for you, so I...”

Ahsoka’s mirth turned vaguely horrified. “You didn’t look it up on the holonet, did you?”

Barriss let herself fall back on the bed and looked up at the ceiling; part of her hoped that it would collapse on her. “It was awful,” she moaned. “I thought that togruta lekku sensitivity was a perfectly innocent search topic!”

Ahsoka pushed herself up onto one elbow and gave her a pitying look. “Okay, okay, let me correct the kind of facts”—she made mocking quotes with her fingers as she said the word—“that I’m sure you learned.”

“Please,” Barriss squeaked.

She must have looked a very special mixture of traumatized and pathetic, because Ahsoka’s lips twitched again as she stretched out at Barriss’ side.

“Here,” she said kindly. “Give me your hand.” Barriss obliged, and Ahsoka gave it a reassuring squeeze before placing it over one of her lekku. “When it’s just over the outside like that?” she said. “That’s just skin and muscle.” She ran a hand over her own bicep and nodded. “Kind of like that. It’s no different from touching my arm or my shoulder. Okay?”

Blushing a bit at her assumptions, Barriss nodded and started to pull her hand back, then paused. “Just the outside?”

Luckily, Ahsoka didn’t seem to find the question insensitive. “It’s nothing bad,” Barriss was assured. “Just different.” Her fingers were guided gently around to the softer skin on the underside of her friend’s right lek. Ahsoka hesitated, then took the hand Barriss wasn’t using and carefully pushed the sleeve up past her elbow.

“It’s a little like… this,” she said, drawing two feather-light fingers down the inside of Barriss’ wrist. “It doesn’t have to be...you know. It’s just…”

“Intimate,” murmured Barriss.

Ahsoka smiled down at her. “Yeah.” The delicate stroke repeated itself, and Barriss shivered. “Does that make you uncomfortable?”

Barriss respected her enough to think about it.

“No,” she decided. It felt…nice. Most physical contact did make her very uncomfortable, but Ahsoka was one of the very few people that she didn’t mind it from. Though she thought there was a chance the alcohol may have had something to do with it, which was unsettling.

Ahsoka squeezed her fingers. “Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. That’s a myth that refuses to die off, like the one about us being venomous.” Her smile got wider, showing off her teeth. “I wish that one was true. Helps our reputation.”

Barriss laughed, letting her fingertips wander down Ahsoka’s lek and enjoying the softness, the way her friend leaned into her touch almost without realizing it. “I can imagine it would.”

“Yeah,” Ahsoka said, then she rolled her eyes. “The lekku one we’d rather not have to live with, though. You know how many people act like it’s some kind of exotic magic button?”

Barriss tried very hard not to think about how Ahsoka might have encountered that problem.

“I should’ve just asked you about it, then,” Barriss said in an attempt to steer the conversation away from the subject. “I can’t imagine what Master Luminara thought when she read that in my browsing history.”

For a moment, Ahsoka laughed; then she seemed to do a double-take, frowned, and sat up.

“Why was Luminara in your browsing history?” she asked, still half-smiling like she expected a joke or a story.

“Master Luminara,” Barriss corrected reflexively; then, “She receives a live feed of all my holonet activity and communications. Archive records as well, I believe.” She shook her head, blushing still. “Thankfully she was kind enough not to mention that incident.”

Ahsoka was staring at her. “A live record? They monitor everything you look up?”

Barriss blinked. “Of course,” she said. “It was one of the Council’s conditions for my probation. A Council member was going to be assigned as my monitor, but Master Unduli requested the live record go to her instead out of respect for my privacy. I’m grateful that they agreed to it.”

Ahsoka stared at her.

“...What?” Barriss asked after a moment, and Ahsoka rolled her eyes.

“Nothing,” she said. Then, “Can I see that?”

Barriss handed her the datapad. Ahsoka took it with a tight smile, pulled up a holographic keyboard, and started typing.

“So they see everything?” she asked after a few seconds, glancing up. “What do they think you’re going to do, pull up a search for How To Violently Cripple The Republic War Effort or something?”

Barriss shifted uncomfortably. “It’s more than reasonable, Ahsoka,” she muttered. “I’m hardly in a position to take offense at not being trusted. They didn’t have to let me have a holonet connection at all. If I have nothing to hide, why should I be concerned by transparency? I…consider it a way to earn some measure of trust again.”

Ahsoka looked up at her, eyes tight.

I trust you,” she said firmly. “You did the right thing for the right reasons.”

Barriss’ smile was weak, but there. “Thank you, Ahsoka.”

Ahsoka looked like she was going to say something, then shook her head and went back to tapping at Barriss’ datapad.

“So how’s your training going?”

Barriss sat forward, relieved at the change in subject. “Well,” she said honestly. “It’s going well. Master Nema’s shown me some techniques to improve my healing endurance. It can’t be rushed or forced, but over time they should help me last longer before I need to rest. I’ve been doing some independent medical research as well.” She hesitated. “And…Master Luminara has been very kind. I’m spending more time in duelling practice with her. She doesn’t let me slack off. And we’ve done several guided meditation sessions, I…they help.”

This time Ahsoka’s smile was less forced. “That’s good,” she said. “I’m glad. You haven’t had any more sparring accidents, right?”

Barriss narrowed her eyes in suspicion. “No, I haven’t.” Several of her more...eager sparring partners had barely been able to meet her eyes lately, and Padawan Vistor refused to spar with her at all anymore. Ahsoka must have said something, but Barriss respected her too much to ask.

“Glad to hear it,” said Ahsoka.

She returned to typing, and Barriss couldn’t stand it anymore. “What are you working on?”

“Hmm?” Ahsoka didn’t look up. “Oh, I’m flooding your search history with HoloFet vids. The really weird ones? I figure it’s the closest we’ll get to telling the Council to go—”

“You’re what?!” Barriss lunged for the datapad, which Ahsoka promptly held above her head. “Ahsoka! Give me that!


 Even in wartime—perhaps especially in wartime—early morning in the Temple was beautiful.

The sun was still rising. Dawn was an odd thing on Coruscant; even on the levels sunlight actually reached, day came later and ended sooner the deeper one went. The Temple was part of the highest level, and even here the walls and the light pollution from the surrounding city made it all but impossible sometimes to tell the time of day from the light alone.

Still. The sky was just beginning to grow light, there was a delicate breeze in the courtyard, and most of the Temple was still asleep. The main dining hall hadn’t even begun serving breakfast proper yet, only the lighter fare for the more ascetic Masters who were normally the only ones up at this hour.

But Luminara had found herself awake, so here she sat with a cup of tea and a plate of crispbread, reading the latest war reports on her datapad. What a lovely thing to wake up to.

At least the tea was good.

She stifled a yawn behind her hand and tucked herself more comfortably into the corner of the little alcove she’d claimed. The war reports, she decided, would do better to wait until she was awake enough to remember which legions were stationed where. She’d just spent five minutes under the impression that she was reading an update of the Republic’s hold on Rhen Var only to abruptly run into a reference to jungle creatures.

Well, so long as she had a moment she might as well get her required check on Barriss’ HoloNet activity out of the way. There had been no change in her pattern since the monitoring protocol was put in place, but at the very least it would hold her attention.

She broke a piece of crispbread in half, dipped it in her tea, and nibbled idly at it as she closed her reports and brought up her Padawan’s records.

 

10:46 | HOLONET SEARCH ITEM: Effects of common antiviral agents on Pantoran physiology

12:11 | ARCHIVE ITEM: Banquets On A Budget: 101 Ways To Spice Up Your Ration Bars

13:59 | ARCHIVE ITEM: The Best Of Intentions: Deadly Side Effects Of Force Healing Past Your Limitations

14:23 | ARCHIVE ITEM: Five Thousand Levels Down: The Lost Surface Of Coruscant

20:09 | VISITOR TO QUARTERS OF PADAWAN OFFEE: Padawan Ahsoka Tano

20:10 | HOLONET SEARCH ITEM: Coruscant legal drinking age togruta

Ahsoka visiting whenever she had the chance was nothing new, but that was certainly odd. Padawan Tano, Luminara thought to herself, amusement drowning out her weak attempt at disapproval. What are you up to? Barriss at least appeared to be making an effort at being responsible—no doubt remembering that trip with Aayla. It was reassuringly…well, Barriss.

 

22:06 | HOLONET SEARCH ITEM: hi master luminara

Luminara’s eyebrows raised. That was new as well; Barriss had never acknowledged that she was being monitored quite so bluntly before. Of course, evidence suggested there was a good chance she was drunk. Confused, Luminara scrolled to the next entry.

 

22:06 | HOLONET SEARCH ITEM: you know how creepy this is right

She sighed. She supposed she should have expected something like this sooner or later, no matter how readily Barriss had agreed to this particular restriction. Honestly, it was probably healthy at this point.

 

22:07 | HOLONET SEARCH ITEM: holofet specialty section

Luminara nearly choked on her tea.

 

22:07 | HOLONET SITE ACCESS: HOLOFET NETWORK

22:07 | INTERNAL SEARCH: slowmo wookiee hardcore

22:07 | INTERNAL SEARCH: quarren spawn season

22:08 | INTERNAL SEARCH: droid x organic bondage

22:08 | INTERNAL SEARCH: hutt on hutt action

22:08 | INTERNAL SEARCH: f/f/f mon calamarrrrhbfoijhjao

22:13 | HOLONET SEARCH ITEM: THAT WAS AHSOKA

The sound Luminara made was, strictly speaking, laughter. Except that it escaped in the form of an extremely undignified and hastily cut-off shriek, at which point she had to clap a hand over her mouth and set her tea aside before she spilled it over the datapad.

 

22:13 | HOLONET SEARCH ITEM: MASTER I AM SO SORRY

22:13 | GUARD ENTERED QUARTERS OF PADAWAN OFFEE. REASON: Raised voices, screaming, sound of a struggle. False alarm, no action taken.

22:16 | HOLONET SEARCH ITEM: SAY HI TO THE COUNCIL FOR US M. UNDUUUUUUUUUUIIOKP

22:17 | HOLONET SEARCH ITEM: I AM SO SORRY I’M TAKING IT AWAY FROM HER

The record ended there, which was fortunate, because Luminara was shaking with suppressed laughter and couldn’t hold the datapad still enough to read anything else. Sending a silent apology to her poor beleaguered Padawan, she set the datapad down for now, rested her head against her knees, and laughed until she cried.



 They called it “Coruscant stargazing.”

There were no stars over Coruscant, really. The light pollution meant there was hardly a night sky at all; it just turned a darker shade of blue. But the constant coming and going of speeders, the lights of the city and the shifting advertisements all along the skylanes had their own sort of beauty. Especially in a building with noise-cancelling shields like the Temple, Ahsoka thought there was something hypnotic about the glowing web of life spinning out underneath them.

Barriss might have picked an easier spot to get to, though. This corner of the Temple didn’t even have turbolifts. Ahsoka leaned against the wall of the staircase and tried to catch her breath. Any other day, she might have complained about the out-of-the-way meeting place.

Not tonight.

Barriss looked like she had been curled up in the windowsill for quite a while when Ahsoka got to her. Not surprising, really--Barriss always turned up to meetings early. Ahsoka tried to ignore the pair of guards standing several meters away from her.

“Hey,” Ahsoka said. “I brought you some more fruit.”

Barriss ducked her head almost to her knees, looking over with a smile. “You really didn’t need to do that, Ahsoka.”

Ahsoka tried to return the smile, but it felt forced. “Well if you’d rather have a ration bar, I could find someone else who likes jogans...”

Barriss rolled her eyes and took the fruit, and Ahsoka’s smile became a little less stiff.

“Move over,” she said, pulling herself onto the sill next to Barriss. The window was open, letting in what passed for fresh air on Coruscant. She leaned back against the frame and let one leg dangle out over the drop. Barriss bumped a foot against hers, and Ahsoka grinned.

“It’s nice up here,” she said after a few quiet moments. Barriss sat up a little straighter, looking pleased.

“I enjoy the privacy.”

Ahsoka hoped her friend didn’t notice her wince. She tried to keep her reaction muted for Barriss’ sake, but everything the simple statement had left unsaid…

“Was there an accident over there?” she asked instead, pointing at a trail of lights that had stopped moving.

Barriss considered it. “Maybe,” she said. “Or an event of some kind. Maybe a concert.”

“Yeah.”

She should have known better than to think she could put this off. Barriss was looking at her with concern; she’d probably noticed something was off the moment Ahsoka sat down. Well, there was no sense avoiding it any longer.

Ahsoka took a deep breath to steady herself. “Barriss, I’ve got to tell you something.”

Barriss barely reacted; she lowered her gaze again, closing her eyes for a moment and fiddling with her jogan. “Yes?”

Ahsoka crossed her arms around her stomach. “I had a briefing with my master today,” she said, unable to keep the pleading tone out of her voice. “We’re getting deployed. Some place in the Outer Rim I’ve never heard of before called Ringo Vinda.”

“Oh.” Something about the way Barriss said it felt like a knife in Ahsoka’s gut.

“Barriss, I…”

“You don’t have to say you’re sorry, Ahsoka. You don’t have any control over the assignment.” Barriss took a deep breath and looked up, eyes strangely distant. “When are you leaving?”

“Tomorrow. Oh-nine hundred.”

Barriss nodded slowly. “Do you have any idea when you’ll be back?”

Ahsoka looked away. “No, I’m sorry. The Seppies are digging their heels in all over the Rim, so they said it would...be a while. A couple months, probably. Maybe longer.”

She tried to pretend she didn’t hear Barriss’ breath hitch.

“Barriss,” she said desperately. “People are dying, most of these colonies are full of civilians—there are kids. I can’t...we have to do something.”

“You don’t have to justify it to me. Like I said, it wasn’t your call.” Barriss looked down. “Besides, I...trust your judgement. You’ll do what’s right, I know it. I know you’d never do anything like...”

Krell, Ahsoka finished in her thoughts, but she didn’t say it aloud.

After a long, pained silence, Barriss sat up and swung her legs over the windowsill, so that she stared out over Coruscant. Ahsoka mimicked her with a sigh.

The war will be over soon, she wanted to say, but she knew Barriss wouldn’t believe it. Ahsoka wasn’t even sure if she believed it. Every time she so much as mentioned the war around Barriss, her own justifications for it felt more and more hollow.

Barriss stirred, once, like she wanted to say something; she shook her head when Ahsoka looked over, and they watched the flashing lights of emergency vehicles in the distance as the skylane jam was slowly cleared.

“Ahsoka?” Barriss finally whispered.

Ahsoka turned to look at her. Barriss looked...sad. Tired, too. More so than she had in a long time.

“What is it?”

Barriss closed her eyes, hesitated, looked back over.

“Nothing,” she said. “Just...don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.”

There were so many things Ahsoka wanted to say to that. To her. But she wasn’t Padmé. She couldn’t put the words she needed together. She wasn’t even sure she had the words at all.

“Hey,” she said instead, softly, and reached over to put her hand over her friend’s. Barriss wound their fingers together the moment they touched; her smile as she glanced up was shaky, still a little sad, but it was real. Ahsoka ran her thumb over Barriss’ fingers, and watched the distant lights of Coruscant’s night.