Ahsoka's been in wild space, out beyond the Outer Rim, for weeks now, following a tip from a smuggler about an abandoned Separatist space station full of Clone War-era weapons that could be of use to the Alliance, but she still feels the shockwave that runs through the Force when Alderaan is destroyed. It's as painful in its own way as the first round of purges had been in the early days of the Empire. She reaches out, but she'd been careful not to establish any sort of training bond with Princess Leia, so she feels a faint presence in the Force, but Leia keeps herself (was taught to keep herself, and Ahsoka agreed with the decision at the time) so tightly shielded that that's all there is to feel, even as she heads back towards more familiar stars.
As soon as she's in range of the holonet, her comm panel lights up with news bulletins, messages, and junk mail.
"Read them to me," she says, and QT-KT runs through the list: Leia's capture; Leia's escape; the destruction of Alderaan by something called the Death Star; the bounty on the head of the pilot who destroyed the Death Star, which is so astronomically high it knocks her own bounty down to third on the list. "Wait, that's not right." She pulls the list up to read it herself, and there she is, third on the list after this unknown pilot and Princess Leia. Obi-Wan's name is gone.
She takes a deep, calming breath. She'd thought he was dead for years, and only recently learned he wasn't, so it shouldn't feel like she's lost him all over again, but it does. She allows herself the luxury of a few tears for him, for the people of Alderaan, for herself. (She refuses to think of the tears she'd shed for Anakin, before she'd known what he'd become.) She smears them away slowly, reaches for the comfort of the Force, and sets her shoulders.
She punches in Leia's comm code and waits as patiently as she can for the call to connect. It's audio only this far out, but it's enough for her to hear Leia's voice on the line. "Fulcrum."
"Princess, I'm so sorry."
Leia's voice is tight. "The Death Star was destroyed. No other planet will suffer Alderaan's fate."
Ahsoka exhales, lets her shoulders relax. "Good. That's good."
"Were you able to secure the weapons?"
"I found them, but I didn't have time to secure them. You can direct a team to the coordinates I'm sending you. I'm coming in."
"Fulcrum." Leia's voice doesn't waver, but it does soften. "Ahsoka, it's not safe."
Ahsoka huffs softly. "When is it ever?"
Leia is silent for a long moment, then, "I'll send you the coordinates for the rendezvous point."
"I'll see you soon."
"May the Force be with you."
Ahsoka cuts the call without responding.
Ahsoka hasn't spent much time with the Alliance fleet. Leia, like Bail before her, always has some job that needs doing, something that suits Ahsoka's unique skills, and it keeps her on the move and out of the way of Vader and the Inquisitors, so it works out for everyone. But when she docks with Home One a few days later, she feels like she's been away much longer than she actually was. There are so many new faces, and so many familiar faces missing, as she disembarks into the busy hangar.
Leia's waiting for her, a small, bright presence, steady amid all the changes. She looks so young and fragile that Ahsoka's chest aches. Sometimes Ahsoka can't look at her head-on, can't stand seeing her parents in her, all of them, but it's especially painful now, knowing she'll never see Bail again.
"It's good to see you, Princess," Ahsoka says. She reaches out to place a comforting hand on Leia's shoulder but Leia ducks into her space and wraps her arms around Ahsoka's waist. Ahsoka returns the embrace slowly--she's never been much of a hugger--but it seems like physical comfort is necessary after everything Leia's been through.
Leia pulls back, squares her shoulders, and lifts her chin, hiding the frightened girl behind the façade of the leader she's become. "It's good to see you, too, Commander Tano. There is much to discuss."
As Leia leads her through the hangar, a beat-up old YT-1300 freighter docked a few bays away catches her attention. She slows to look at it.
Leia stops, hands on her hips. "Oh, not you, too."
"What?" Ahsoka asks, blinking. "Is it still space-worthy?"
Leia snorts. "Barely."
"Hey, Your Worship, don't insult my ship." A man--and not the man she expected--appears from inside the freighter, the loose swagger and blaster strapped to his hip marking him as a smuggler. Ahsoka knows the type.
Leia presses her lips together, and Ahsoka can feel a rush of amusement mingled with irritation from her, which is much more than the Princess usually lets slip. She looks between them and folds her arms across her chest. This could get interesting.
Then a Wookiee comes pounding down the gangplank, growling about a fried power coupling, and Ahsoka straightens.
He bounds down the ramp and sweeps her into a hug, questions spilling from his lips faster than she can answer them.
"You two know each other?" Leia asks, shooting a pointed look at the smuggler, who shrugs.
"Not me, sweetheart." He turns to Chewie. "You been holding out on me, pal? Got a lady friend you never mentioned?"
Chewie starts explaining the way they met, and Leia looks at Ahsoka with a similar question on her face.
"Trandoshan big game hunters," Ahsoka says. She jerks a thumb at Chewie. "We were the prey. It was a long time ago." She speaks in clipped sentences, hoping to forestall more questions. "We have things to discuss."
"Yes," Leia says. She looks at the smuggler. "Han, why don't you join us?"
Han's mouth twists, but he says, "Sure. I knew you couldn't bear to be parted from me for very long."
Leia opens her mouth and snaps it shut again, but Ahsoka can hear the sharp, disdainful sound of her exhale.
"So you're a friend of Her Highnessness?" he asks, not nearly as casually as he thinks. "Known her a long time?"
"Since she was very young, yes."
"Has she always been this tightly wound?"
Leia makes a grinding noise low in her throat and Ahsoka puts a calming hand on her arm. Leia shoots her a tight smile and speeds up, leaving Ahsoka to walk with Han.
"Was it something I said?" Han asks with fake innocence.
Ahsoka turns and gives him a sharp grin. "I don't even know you and I already want to punch you. Don't press your luck." She's kidding, mostly. Leia's been through a lot recently and Ahsoka would like to hurt the people actually responsible for that, but an annoying smuggler would do in a pinch.
Leia's soft, "Ha!" is worth it.
She opens the door to a small conference room and Ahsoka is confronted with two more familiar faces she hasn't seen in years. Admiral Ackbar and Mon Mothma look just as surprised as she must. Mon glances between her and Leia, and Ahsoka wonders suddenly if she knows who Leia's birth parents were.
Mon and Ackbar both rise from their seats, and Leia says, "Mon, Admiral, this is Fulcrum."
"You've done some excellent work for us," Ackbar says. He doesn't acknowledge their prior acquaintance (it's possible he doesn't recognize her, she supposes), so neither does Ahsoka. "Your service is most appreciated."
"Thank you." She turns to Mon. "You look well, Senator."
Mon takes her hands. "Ahsoka! I didn't realize you were--" She doesn't say, still alive but Ahsoka hears it anyway. "In touch with the Princess."
"I worked with her father for years," Ahsoka says, and then freezes for a nanosecond. Mon gives her a puzzled look but no one else seems to notice. Perhaps Mon doesn't know after all.
Leia smiles, unaware. "Yes, she was one of the first operatives he ever introduced me to." She gestures at the conference table. "Let's sit and discuss the results of her most recent mission."
The briefing doesn't take long. Ahsoka explains the nature of the weapons cache and the location, and the admiral and Leia decide who will be sent to salvage it. That turns into another meeting with several more members of the Alliance general staff, but Ahsoka slips out of that, claiming that the fewer people who know she's there, the better.
Han accompanies her back to the hangar to see Chewie and she manages to distract him by asking about his ship. He's telling her about the battle to destroy the Death Star (and his own part in it), when a squadron of X-Wings pulls into the hangar.
"Shift change on the CAP," Han says.
Ahsoka nods absently, distracted by the bright unshielded presence that's just appeared in the Force. She finds herself moving towards it without even stopping to think, as if drawn into the orbit of a sun. Han follows, though she doesn't know whether it's because he doesn't trust her or he knows where she's going even if she doesn't.
The pilot slides down the ladder and takes his helmet off, tucking it under his arm as he watches his astromech droid unloaded. It warbles and whistles and he laughs.
Ahsoka almost can't bear to look at him; he's not very tall but he's got sandy hair and blue eyes and a wide, familiar grin. She looks at the droid instead, and says, "I hope you've been behaving yourself, Artoo."
Artoo whistles again, excited to see her, and rolls over so he can burble some more about his recent adventures.
"You know Ben's droid?" the pilot asks eagerly. "Did you know Ben?"
"Ben?" she asks cautiously.
Ahsoka freezes again, for a much longer length of time this time.
"Crazy old wizard," Han contributes. "Claimed he was a Jedi."
"He was," she says softly, resting one hand on Artoo's dome for support. "He was one of the best of them."
"You did know him!" the pilot says excitedly. "Did you know my father, too?"
Han puts a hand on his shoulder. "Kid, you can't just go around asking people if they knew your old man. Nobody likes to talk about the Jedi. It hasn't been safe for years."
"And you are?" Ahsoka asks, bracing herself for the answer.
"Luke Skywalker. Han and I helped rescue the princess from the Death Star."
"And then we blew it up," Han adds. "Well, the kid took the shot."
"But you helped," Luke says, still grinning. They don't seem to notice her shock.
"What happened to Obi-Wan?" she asks.
Luke's smile disappears. "Vader killed him. Like he killed my father."
Artoo warbles something about Obi-Wan's penchant for spinning the truth to favor his preferred outcomes, and Ahsoka taps a finger against his dome in agreement. She still remembers the time he'd let them think he was dead so he could go undercover to catch an assassin. Now she wonders if the whole thing had been part of Palpatine's plan all along. He'd been so many moves ahead of them for so many years that she can't tell sometimes when she's pushed past fact and into conspiracy theory.
It's easier to think about Obi-Wan's flaws--that he'd been alive all these years and never attempted to contact her--than it is to face the other secret he'd kept from her. Bail had only told her about Leia when she'd figured it out and pressed him for answers; he'd never mentioned Luke at all. He must have known. Unless Obi-Wan had kept it from him, too.
"I'm sorry," she says. "I--It's a lot to take in."
"No," Luke says, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have just sprung that on you, especially if you were a friend of his."
"Yes. I fought with him and your father," she says, her voice breaking a little at that, and she clears her throat before continuing, "during the Clone Wars." Her voice sounds far away and foreign to her own ears. "I learned much from them."
"You're a Jedi too?" Luke asks, his gaze dropping down to the lightsabers on her belt before returning to her face.
"No," she says flatly. "I'm not." The sting of that pain is gone now, but she still doesn't like to talk about it.
Luke's expression is serious now, and guarded. Good. He'll need all the protection he can get. "Then what exactly are you?"
Han steps up and puts a hand on each of their elbows. "Let's have this conversation someplace a little quieter," he says. "Maybe get a couple of drinks and some food. You must be starving, after being up in the air for the past three hours."
He steers them out of the hangar and into the pilots lounge halfway down the corridor. Ahsoka uses the time to figure out what she's going to say.
Leia joins them there before Ahsoka has a chance to say anything, though. "Ahsoka is one of our best operatives," she says. "She's been with the Alliance almost since its inception." She squeezes Ahsoka's hand. "You're the reason I was able to resist Vader's mind probe."
"He what?" she says, louder than she means to.
Leia's mouth twists and Ahsoka's heart aches for her. "There's nothing that monster wouldn't stoop to. Unfortunately, he survived the explosion of the Death Star, if rumors are to be believed."
"You should have said something," Luke says softly, taking Leia's other hand. Between them, they envelop her in the Force, though Ahsoka isn't sure either Luke or Leia knows what's actually happening. She understands why Bail didn't let her teach Leia very much, but how could Obi-Wan have let the boy go untrained?
Leia shakes her head. "I'd rather not discuss it, especially since it didn't matter. They were always going to destroy Alderaan to get to me. I just bought us enough time to fight back." She reclaims her hands and folds her fingers together. "We have more important things to worry about now."
"I don't know," Han says. "Sounds to me like the ability to withstand a mind probe is pretty important, Princess. Maybe Ahsoka can teach the rest of us how to do it."
"I can certainly teach Luke how to shield his presence so that Vader, or other Force-sensitives, can't find him," Ahsoka says. She doesn't want to think about what the Emperor would do to this boy. She turns to Luke. "Since you asked, I was an apprentice. What the Jedi called a padawan learner. I left the Order before the purges, because I discovered that some things were not what I thought they were, and I needed time to find out who I was once I had faced that reality." She gives him a sad smile. For the moment, she lets Obi-Wan's lie stand, but adds what truth she can to it. "Your father was the only one who believed in me then. He taught me a lot, and I'd like to pass that knowledge on to you, if you'll let me."
Luke gives her a sweet smile that reminds her of no one but himself. "I'd like that," he says.
Ahsoka takes a deep breath and hopes she's doing the right thing.