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trade your heroes for ghosts

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1.

Ahsoka never expects to survive an encounter with Vader, so she wakes in the prison cell groggy and surprised. The Force is faint and far-off, an inhibitor collar clasped tightly around her neck, but she's survived scarier situations. It's not that Vader isn't terrifying--she feels fear as much as anyone, even if she's learned to fight through it and release it to the Force as best she can--but that he's not done with her yet. She has to save her strength for the interrogation.

She's not foolish enough to believe that she can change him, convince him to turn back (though she carries a secret that might do it, if such a thing is even possible; it's not her secret to reveal, not simply to save herself, not when the risk is so high), but she knows him well enough to know he'll want to talk to her. He'll want to make threats, lay blame, demand answers she'll refuse to give.

She might not be able to reach the Force, but she can still meditate, and prepare herself for the inevitable.

She doesn't expect him to abandon her in a prison cell, all but forgotten, while he's called out on some other mission. She settles herself in for what becomes a long wait.

*

2.

Ahsoka doesn't know how long she's been in prison. What she does know is no one is coming to break her out.

The guards feed her regularly, and after the first few months, they rarely beat her. She doesn't concern herself with them. They're stormtroopers, barely trained and frequently replaced, but there are a great many of them, and only one of her.

She's managed, with time, to overcome the collar. Its electronics are no match for the will of the Force, especially when she's had nothing else to do as weeks turn to months turn to years, in the cell. Time is all she has now, time, and the Force and outdated knowledge about a rebellion which has hopefully not failed. And one secret she'll take into death if she has to.

She's lost a lot of weight, living on nothing but ration bars and protein paste, but she tries to exercise every day, running through lightsaber forms to keep herself limber. She hasn't seen sunlight in what feels like forever, and she misses the sky, the stars, her friends. She reaches out with the Force, but not too far, not enough to remind Vader of her presence, but she feels it when millions of lives are snuffed out in one blow, and again a day or two later, when thousands more are destroyed.

"What is happening?" she demands of the guard who shoves her tray of food in through a slot in the door.

She gets no response.

*

3.

Ahsoka feels it when Darth Vader arrives at the prison. She's been there for several years at this point, though she can't say exactly how many. She lost count of the days somewhere late in the second year.

There's a baffled edge to his anger that probably shouldn't be as amusing as it is, and she wonders what's happened to remind him of her existence, as small and circumscribed as it is.

She unfolds herself from her cot and sits up as straight as she can. She's mentally strong, if physically weakened, but she's sure he'll kill her before any illness can.

"You," he says, pointing at her with one gloved hand. His voice thrums through her like an electric shock and his presence is overwhelming. She'd almost forgotten, almost convinced herself that he was a figment of her nightmares, a lingering echo of the visions of long-ago Mortis. "What did you tell him?"

"Who?" she asks, not having to fake her confusion.

"The boy."

"Ezra?" She can't hide the leap of hope at the thought of his survival. She'd long since given up the crew of the Ghost for dead.

Vader huffs in disgust. "My son."

"Your what?" Her eyes widen in shock. Of all things. "I didn't--What?"

"My son," he says again, and the emotions reverberating through the Force contain more than hate and rage this time. She doesn't want to feel his desperation or his possessiveness. "Obi-Wan kept him from me."

Vader wasn't the only one Obi-Wan had kept that secret from. Wily old bastard.

"Obi-Wan's alive?" Ahsoka's not sure her heart can take any more of these shocks.

"No," Vader says, annoyed, as if he expects her to be up on all the latest news despite having been locked in a cell for the better part of three (or is it four?) years. It's the most familiar he's been since--well, since she discovered his identity. "I killed him on the Death Star."

She sucks in a another surprised breath, feeling like she's been punched. Which is ridiculous, because she'd thought Obi-Wan was dead for years. And then the rest of what he's said penetrates.

"On the what now?" She can't help the interruption, and wouldn't have even if she could have, because it irritates him, which is the most fun she's had in ages.

Vader makes a slashing motion with his hand. "Unimportant. Obi-Wan is dead, but Luke has gotten training from someone."

"Well, it wasn't me," she says, mouth twisting. She gestures at the cell. "I've been enjoying your hospitality since that ambush over Garel."

"Amateurs," he sniffs disdainfully. "You were a fool for joining the rebels, Ahsoka. You were trained better than that."

"Seriously?" Possibly the most unexpected thing about Darth Vader is that he makes her feel like she's a teenager again.

"It was a mistake to let you rot here in this cell."

"I'll say."

He ignores her interjection. "I should have convinced you to join me, and together we could turn my son to the Dark Side. He is a foolish boy and knows nothing of power."

Vader is ridiculously tall and her cell is tiny, but he still manages to pace the length of it, two strides to the left and two strides to the right, his black cape fluttering dramatically about his heels. She'd laugh if everything weren't terrible. She might laugh anyway. Surely this isn't reality. She's heard of people sharing delusions; maybe he's infected her over the remnants of their bond?

The despair emanating off Vader is enough to stifle any laughter. "He refused to listen to reason."

Ahsoka can only imagine what Vader considers reasonable. She definitely doesn't want to think about what happens when he abandons it for violence.

He's still pacing and fuming. "He chose the rebels over his own father. All his time with the princess has corrupted him."

This time, it really does feel like Ahsoka's heart stops in her chest. "The princess?"

"The rebel terrorist Leia Organa." He whirls and glares at her. She can feel it even through the mask. Maybe it's magnified by the mask. She's not sure. "Your feelings betray you, Ahsoka. She is alive, though why you care so much for her is a mystery to me. She is thoroughly unpleasant."

Ahsoka stifles a snort of laughter at this description, and keeps her mind in the moment, away from any further thoughts of the princess that might truly betray her.

Vader turns on his heel and begins his abbreviated pacing again, hands linked behind his back. The cape flares. "I thought you were an expert at letting go of attachment and turning your back on your friends."

"No," she says, feeling her own annoyance surge. She hadn't abandoned Anakin, despite what he chooses to believe. If anyone got to be angry over what happened, it was her, and she'd made her peace with it years ago. "I never quite managed it completely. A flaw I learned from my master, I suppose."

He makes a low dismissive noise. "There is much I could still teach you, Ahsoka."

"No, thank you," she says. "I'd be a lousy inquisitor."

"You could be more than that."

She stands, drawing herself up to her full height, and stopping him in his tracks. She raises her chin and meets his opaque gaze head on. "I already am."

"Hm." He wraps his hands around her shoulders and easily moves her out of his path. A vicious chill runs through her and she shivers. "Together we would be a formidable team. You know this to be true. " He opens the door to her cell, then turns back to say, "I will return for your answer in a few days. Do not mistake my restraint for sentiment. If you refuse to join me, you will die. I believe you are smarter than that."

"Don't hold your breath."

He doesn't grace her bravado with a response. The cell door whooshes shut behind him.

Ahsoka drops to her cot, knees suddenly gone weak. She'd thought herself resigned to her death, and she's never been truly tempted by the Dark Side, but the connection between them is harder to ignore than she expected.

She folds her legs beneath her, breathes deeply, and gives herself over to the Force.

end