The first time Ahsoka crossed paths with Barriss Offee, she’d only been a hooded figure on the rooftop across from the one Ahsoka was standing on.
Ahsoka wasn’t Fulcrum then, that would come later. But she was restless, unable to sleep with all the noise in the dorms, and the only peace she could find was outside, in the cool night air. Taking up vigilantism wasn’t really something she’d ever decided to do, it had just… happened, sort of.
She didn't even do anything, not really. She just intervened when someone getting back to their room was being harassed, or some drunk jerk got too handsy with a reluctant date. It felt good to help, and she couldn’t just let these things happen, not when she could hear everything all the time.
It was a bit of a revelation, that there was someone else out there. Someone like her. Sure, it could just have been someone who was feeling a little adventurous and was getting some fresh air… It was what she thought, at first. Then the person moved.
Someone who could jump from rooftop to rooftop like that, like it was the easiest thing in the world --with a graceful ease that was a little breathtaking even for someone as reckless as Ahsoka – was no amateur. The hooded cloak was a bit of a clue, too.
To say that she was intrigued was an understatement.
Whoever it was, they were fast and Ahsoka hadn’t been able to catch up, but they’d turned for a moment, to look at her.
Ahsoka could swear she’d seen a hint of a smile under the hood, and her heart beat a little faster.
When they first met face to face, her first thought was that Barriss Offee was perfect. She’d seen her from afar before, but even if they shared a few friends, there was something unapproachable about her. Possibly the perfection.
It was almost freaky, if you asked Anakin (and no, Ahsoka hadn't wanted his opinion).
These were the facts: Barriss Offee was a med student, had a near-perfect GPA, was gifted with languages, and very, very attractive. Hopefully into girls. Also known for tutoring people who were struggling with their French classes.
So maybe Ahsoka was aiming a little high but hey, she was a bit of a catch herself. She needed a plan for this one, though.
Fortunately, Luminara Unduli was Barriss’s best friend and mentor, and was cast from the same mold. She and Obi-Wan went way back, so it was only natural that he should mention to Barriss in passing that Ahsoka had ended up in a class that was a little too advanced for her and might need some help getting by. Would Barriss be kind enough to help her out?
Why yes, of course.
In all honesty, Ahsoka was just looking for a coffee date at best and a few hours in the company of a really hot girl at worst. It was a win/win scenario.
But Barriss, it turned out, was charming and ridiculously smart, and surprisingly funny, and… Ahsoka hadn’t expected that Barriss might be so genuinely nice, and passionate about her beliefs, and she had the cutest freckles and… well. Ahsoka was done for.
It really hadn’t been part of the plan. That they might have coffee after the lesson was done, sure, and they both agreed that while Ahsoka was doing okay, she could definitely use more tutoring.
So they did that. Once a week, then twice a week.
Within a month, they were meeting for lunch almost every day.
She still saw the girl with the hood, from time to time. Always from afar; she would simply disappear whenever Ahsoka got too close, and even with her senses she’d never managed to catch her off-guard. Ahsoka was burning with curiosity, but she understood the urge to hide, in a way. It wasn’t like she’d told her friends, herself, about her senses or the vigilantism or any of it. So she just waved at the figure in black, and occasionally got a nod of acknowledgement in return.
In between studying and hanging out with the boys and training in that abandonned gym she'd found, Ahsoka worried. Because the thing with Barriss was that she was really sweet but also really, well, reserved, and so it was really hard to figure out how she felt about their relationship, exactly. If there was one. Ahsoka had never really gotten around to asking her out, in so many words.
Her friends kept telling her to go for it, that she was being ridiculous and had nothing to worry about. No one had ever accused Ahsoka of being shy, but -- she genuinely liked Barriss as a friend, too, and she really didn’t want to risk making things awkward between them. The moment somehow never seemed right, no matter what Anakin said.
(Anakin would deny it to his last breath, but everybody knew he was a hopeless romantic. He'd been trying to set her up with just about every person he considered vaguely suitable ever since he'd started dating Obi-Wan. Possibly because he felt guilty for spending less time with her now that they were practically glued to each other. It was sweet of him but annoying, like many of the things Anakin did.)
In the end Barriss had been the one to say something, looking at her solemnly from the other side of their usual table, at their favourite coffee shop. (Yeah, they had one of those. So maybe Anakin wasn’t entirely wrong.) Barriss looked a little more tentative than she usually was, sipping at her herbal tea with a frown while Ahsoka was trying very hard not to be nervous. Something was going to happen, she could feel it.
“Are we dating?”
Ahsoka choked on a gulp of coffee, and went into a coughing fit that had Barriss hovering over her in worry. Ahsoka waved her back, embarrassed and spluttering.
“I – uh – yes? -- I mean – If you… do you want us to be?”
“Yes.” Barriss sat back down, sounding a little surprised by her own outburst, and added, softer: “Good. That’s settled, then.”
Ahsoka laughed and took one of her hands into both of hers. Barriss smiled, not her usual polite, demure smile, but with a hint of something, well... wicked. And somehow familiar. Ahsoka's breath stopped.
"Barriss. You. You're – that girl…"
Barriss flinched back, startled.
"Ahsoka?" Her eyes narrowed in understanding, and she had to make a few tries before she managed to speak. "Ah. Please don't tell anyone."
Ahsoka hadn’t thought that she could be happier in that moment, but there she was. Then she leaned over the table to kiss Barriss, and that was even better.
For the next few months everything was so easy. The first night they went out together, Ahsoka thought her heart would burst with excitement, as they chased each other up fire escapes and sat together on the edge of a rooftop, listening to the sounds of the nightlife below.
After that they planned for date night every once in a while. Not too often, because they were both busy, and agreed that vigilantism came after studying.
Ahsoka’s French improved exponentially, as Barriss was a very dedicated teacher, and one who very generously rewarded her efforts.
Their relationship was the perfect alibi. If Ahsoka showed up to class a little late, if she looked exhausted in the mornings more often than not, Anakin and Obi-Wan only exchanged knowing looks and high-fived her – well, Anakin did that.
(Not that they were always wrong. The sex was pretty damn great, too.)
The best part, though, was that Ahsoka wasn’t alone anymore. Barriss didn’t have freaky powers, but she understood the urge to go out and do something. Because they could, because they wanted to. She was much better than Ahsoka at covering their tracks, too. She knew where to hit to cause pain but no visible damage. She knew how much of a beating someone could be expected to take, and how to spot and sabotage security cameras. How to leak a professor’s inappropriate emails, and all those other things that Ahsoka wouldn’t have thought of on her own. Barriss was a planner, and Ahsoka was good at improvising. It all worked out.
“Look at us”, Ahsoka told her one morning, as Barriss was prodding at her ribs, trying to gauge how badly they were going to bruise. “A future lawyer and a future doctor, beating people up in dark alleys.”
Barriss looked up at her.
“Yes, it is ironic, I suppose.”
She declared that Ahsoka would be fine after some icing and pressed a gentle kiss to her temple. They’d taken out four guys harassing a drunk girl outside a frat party easily enough, but one of them had landed a lucky kick. Ahsoka had broken his nose on the pavement.
Barriss pulled back and smiled at her, but it was weak.
She didn’t like that Ahsoka was going to be a lawyer. She thought it was pointless. That the system was too corrupt for it to do any good. She was good about keeping her worries to herself, but Ahsoka knew she was convinced that she would be disillusioned soon enough.
Ahsoka had never managed to get it out of her, why she was so adamant that the system was rotten. Ahsoka wasn’t entirely naïve, she knew her home was a bit of a mess, but that was why she and her friends were working so hard to become lawyers, to get to do something about it.
Barriss just looked sad, when she talked about that kind of thing, so instead of saying anything Ahsoka pulled her girlfriend closer and made a valiant attempt at lifting her spirits.
Ahsoka could’ve been happy if things had stayed that way forever: Staying up to finish projects in time, and crushing the opposition with her debate team, and spending lazy mornings in bed with Barriss, and going drinking with the guys, and maybe most of all the occasional thrilling night out with a partner who could keep up with her.
(In retrospect, Ahsoka should have seen the end coming. But she was in love with the girl who would spend hours in the library, one hand flipping textbook pages and the other running through Ahsoka’s hair. And she was in love with the girl who would stand with her in the dark, waiting for the right moment to strike.
If Barriss went a little farther than Ahsoka was comfortable with sometimes, it wasn’t like her victims didn’t deserve it. If she talked, sometimes, about making a statement, something big, it was just talk, right? Barriss was a good person; she wouldn’t have let innocents get caught up in her plans.
Of course it hadn’t lasted. They’d gotten more and more adventurous, their minor successes on campus only a taste of the real difference they could make out in the world. Besides, it was far too conspicuous if suddenly every student who stepped out of line on campus took a beating.
There were rumours about the two of them, by then. Urban legends, really, that nobody really believed. Nothing anyone could confirm, just enough for them to exchange a conspiratorial smile when they hear someone whisper about vigilantes in the hallways.
There was nothing to indicate that that night would be any different from all the others.
Ahsoka didn’t think much of it, when Barriss had showed her the twin blades she’d acquired somewhere, eyes glittering in excitement. It made sense to have weapons, for their own safety. Just in case something went wrong.
Nothing went wrong. It never did, but especially not that night. They were a well-oiled machine, and the pair of muggers they found holding an older man at gunpoint didn’t stand a chance. Their victim had run off as soon as the opportunity presented itself, as Ahsoka and Barriss made a dramatic entrance from above (if there was anything they’d learned along the way, it was that fear was a powerful ally).
Ahsoka had knocked out the first one easily and turned around to see how Barriss was doing. She hadn’t been especially worried, but it was always a pleasure to watch her in action, and –
Something was wrong.
The man was disarmed and backing away, hand up in surrender, but Barriss was still moving, blades raised, and
Ahsoka knew that intent look, she knew –
She moved to stop her, but by then it was too late.
Ahsoka fell down to her knees at the man’s side, but she could hear his heart stopping. She’d never heard someone die before. Not from up close, anyway.
“Barriss, what are you doing?! He was down! He was down, we could’ve called the cops.”
Maybe it wasn’t too late, maybe if they called an ambulance – Ahsoka couldn’t think. This wasn’t supposed to happen. They were just supposed to scare them, just –
“You know he deserved it.” Barriss said, far too calm. Like Ahsoka was being unreasonable, like she just needed to be talked down. Ahsoka couldn’t take her eyes off of her blades, dripping red on the concrete. “The police? He’d have been out in a few months, and then done it all over again.”
“That’s… No, Barriss. This isn’t. We can’t just. Decide we can kill whoever we want.”
“I didn’t want to kill him.” Barriss sounded vaguely offended, and a lot puzzled. “I just did what needed to be done, to send a message. I thought you knew that.”
What Ahsoka knew, then, was that it was all over.
“Let’s get out of here. Please,” she begged.
“You’re wrong. I don’t want to do this anymore.”
The man at Ahsoka’s feet groaned, and their attention snapped to him.
Barriss flipped one of her blades.
“He could’ve heard our names.”
Ahsoka threw herself between them.
“I won’t let you kill him.”
Barriss smiled – that damn smile – and Ahsoka shuddered.
“Are you going to kill me, too? If I try to stop you?”
Barriss froze, thrown off-guard for the first time. Then, softly:
“If I have to.”
Ahsoka closed her eyes a second, pushing back the angry hurt welling up inside her. There would be time to cry later.
Barriss moved in, swiping at Ahsoka. Not so much trying to land a hit as getting her to back away, but Ahsoka stood her ground. The blade missed her face by an inch, but Barriss hadn’t been expecting that so Ahsoka managed to push her back with a kick to the chest.
“Stop it! There’s no way he heard anything, he’s unconscious!”
“How would you know?”
“You know I can hear it.”
“Let me take a look.”
Barriss stared at her for a long time, and whatever she was looking for, she seemed to find it because she lowered her weapons.
Ahsoka called an ambulance while Barriss waited patiently outside the booth. It wasn’t hard to sound panicked and distraught. Then she stepped out, and faced her girlfriend.
“I don’t want to see you anymore.”
Barriss didn’t flinch.
“I figured as much.”
“If you try to kill anyone else, I’ll stop you.”
“Fair enough. Don’t try to have me arrested. I know where your friends sleep.”
Ahsoka slapped her. Barriss touched a hand to her reddened cheek, gave her a polite nod as though they’d reached an agreement (maybe they had), and turned to disappear into the darkness.
It was hard, coming back from that. The realisation that they’d lost their way so fast would have been enough of a blow, but even that wasn’t as bad as the sense of loss that plagued her. Not to mention the guilt.
Anakin especially was dangerously close to figuring out that they hadn’t really broken up because they needed to focus more on their studies, or whatever excuse she’d come up with on the spot when she couldn’t stand being alone in her room anymore and had made her way to the guys’, the blood and tears violently scrubbed away from her skin.
Anakin who paced in anger or hovered protectively, in succession while Obi-Wan leaned back against a wall, letting her have some space.
“What did she do to you, Snips? I don’t care who she thinks she is, I swear if she hurt you...”
Ahsoka’s blood ran cold at the thought of Anakin confronting Barriss. Because Anakin was huge, and intimidating when he wanted to be, but he didn’t know what Barriss could do. Ahsoka knew.
“It’s nothing.” He frowned at her, clearly unconvinced. “It’s fine, Skyguy. Really. Just normal breakup stuff.”
And how she wished it was that simple.
“You know you can tell me anything, right? I mean it.”
“Yeah, I know. Thanks.”
Except she couldn’t involve him in her mess, and so she didn’t say a word.
(Later, when Anakin was Vader, she would wonder if it had started there, the distance that had grown between them until she couldn’t even recognise her friend anymore. If she’d trusted him, would he have trusted her when Palpatine had him working too hard and too long on blatantly unethical cases? When his reputation was so thoroughly ruined that no decent law firm would have hired him and he was desperate to provide for his family? Would he have told her that he needed that job so they wouldn’t be crushed under the weight of hospital bills because of Padmé’s difficult pregnancy, and their student loans, and twice the baby stuff? Could she have convinced him to let it go before it was too late?)
She holed up in their room for a few weeks, unable to stand the thought of Barriss’s perfume on her sheets, of the risk that she would stop by to pick up the clothes she’d started leaving there. She stole Anakin’s hoodies and Obi-Wan’s socks, and sent someone else when she really needed something. She and Anakin ate gross amounts of junk food because it made Obi-Wan wrinkle his nose at them, and they broke all their video game records.
Obi-Wan was a quieter kind of support, reminding her that no one would blame her if she’d been abused and needed to talk to someone about it. But Barriss had never hurt her, not even at the end. He woke her up when she fell asleep in class after tossing and turning in bed all night, shared his always impeccable notes until she could focus again, and brought her tea when they were both up late.
Barriss transferred universities at the end of that semester, or so Ahsoka heard. Barriss was good at disappearing, and Ahsoka never did see her when she didn’t want to be seen. Ahsoka wasn’t sure whether or not that was a good thing but, slowly, things got better.
Anakin and Obi-Wan didn’t last, either, their breakup amazingly low-key considering the parties involved. It helped that they’d both stubbornly refused to let things get awkward. There was some distance, which was to be expected, but…The bickering was nothing new, and aside from some uncomfortableness whenever their past was brought up or when Anakin tried a little too insistently to push Obi-Wan at someone new, it was business as usual. Ahsoka found herself playing buffer when things got too tense, but she didn’t mind. It was a distraction from her own problems.
And so Ahsoka went back to being a regular law student, convincing herself that she was on the right track, that vigilantism had been a slippery slope. Anakin kept on messing with the curve, thus making everyone’s life more difficult than it needed to be and living up to his ‘Chosen One’ status. It was a wonder anyone even bothered to debate with Obi-Wan, since handing him the win would have the same results for much less trouble, and Ahsoka was almost as good.
Eventually Anakin stumbled – quite literally – into Padmé’s arms, and life went on. Obi-Wan never quite stopped insisting that Cody was ‘just a friend’, even though they were fooling exactly no one.
Ahsoka couldn’t help missing Barriss through all of it, despite the occasional hookup or the weak attempts at relationships she made. She knew she was unfair to Steela, and Riyo and, in an incredible display of bad judgement, Lux… So it never lasted very long. They deserved better than what she was in any state to offer.
She never found out where Barriss had gone, went out of her way not to know where she’d relocated. She knew herself too well for that. If she knew where Barriss was, then every time someone turned up dead in the area she would wonder. If it was her fault, for letting her go. She knew she wouldn’t be able to keep herself from going there, just to be sure. Just to check.
Her resolve to stop being a vigilante hadn’t lasted past graduation, not when she was frustrated with how slow the legal process was and when she could hear the things going on in her city at night. Not when most of the police force was corrupt, to a far greater extent than she’d ever realised.
In the end, if Ahsoka was honest with herself, she had to admit that there would have been no Fulcrum without Barriss, not in the way she had turned out to be.
Because Barriss had been right, at least in some ways. Corruption was rampant in the police and the legal system and all of it lead back to Palpatine’s firm. Had she known somehow? Or only guessed at it?
Ahsoka hadn’t thought it was possible to hate a man that much.
She wasn’t going to kill him, no matter how much she wanted to sometimes. She wasn’t going to let herself fall that way. Not the way Barriss had.
But she wasn’t going to stand aside either, not when she had the means to make a difference for so many people.
It wasn’t the same as before. Ahsoka had learned to be careful, with Barriss. How to cover her tracks, and that there was so much more she could do than stop the occasional mugging. The worth that information could have, put into the right hands. The importance of making an impression. (Her costume might’ve been mostly handmade, except for the helmet, but it looked good. And, more importantly, it doubled as armour. Aesthetics were good and all, but getting shot sucked). She made a name for herself.
Even if she had wanted to be, Ahsoka couldn’t afford to get careless anymore. The thought of getting Obi-Wan or
Padmé or the kids or Han into trouble because they were associated with her kept her up at night, sometimes. Her police contacts, Dameron and Syndulla, were both a blessing and a constant source of worry.
Then there was Vader, who was dangerous and unpredictable, and had once been her best friend.
It… was a lot to bear some days. She took it out on mob enforcers, mostly.
She became Fulcrum.
It had been her idea, that she and Obi-Wan could try to make it on their own, and while it was never easy, she couldn’t bring herself to regret any of it. Tano & Kenobi was doing about as well as could be expected. Which didn’t mean much, but they weren’t starving, so she wasn’t complaining.
Obi-Wan worried about her, she knew, but even if they still worked together seamlessly (when she was on time, when she wasn’t half-asleep), their personal relationship had taken a beating in the last few years. Anakin’s absence was a perpetual shadow over them, the fact that he should’ve been there tainting all their victories. It was hard not to blame each other sometimes.
Despite everything though, Ahsoka liked to think she did an okay job balancing it all.
And then Hell’s Kitchen went up in flames.
The very last thing Ahsoka expected when she picked herself up from the ground where she’d been thrown by the force of the explosion of the warehouse she was going to investigate was to see Barriss just standing there.
It was like no time had passed at all, her cloak different but the way she moved unmistakable. She thought it was some kind of hallucination at first, that she’d hit her head harder then she’d thought, but – No. That was Barriss.
What the hell was she doing there?
Setting the bombs.
By the time she managed to shake off the stunned horror, Barriss had a good head start.
Ahsoka should’ve seen it coming, really. She only saw Barriss when she wanted to be seen. But it had been such a long time, and she forgot to be cautious, thrown off-guard and furious and confused. That, and she’d just been a little too close to an explosion.
It wasn’t Fulcrum who chased Barriss right into a trap, just plain old Ahsoka.
Nice job, Tano.
It was so stupid of her, to let herself fall for it, to get drawn into an altercation with the police right in front of security cameras. Of course Barriss was nowhere to be found when she finally managed to escape, with minimal damage to her person but far too much to Fulcrum’s reputation.
Just like that the bombings, Barriss’s bombings? – Ahsoka was still reeling from that – got pinned on her.
Barriss who’d framed her.
Well, framed Fulcrum, but there was no way she didn’t know Fulcrum was Ahsoka.
And if she knew, who else did?
Not Palpatine, because if he did Ahsoka would be dead. But how long until he did? How long until Barriss needed some leverage against him?
It was ridiculous to feel betrayed, she knew what Barriss was capable of, but… She did, she felt betrayed and outraged and hurt like it was the first time. She’d never wanted to feel like that again.
It was a sucker-punch, on top of everything else, that she was working for Palpatine, like Anakin – Vader – and that was two people she’d loved fallen to his insane crusade to ‘save’ Hell’s Kitchen by tearing it apart.
Ahsoka wanted to scream, and there was no one around to hear her, so she did.
She'd looked for Barriss afterwards, a little halfheartedly. It turned out not to be necessary. Barriss was in her apartment when she got home from patrol one night, bone-tired and with only a shoulder stab wound (efficiently patched up by Padmé) and a bad limp for her troubles. Her network of informants had lost more than she could afford in the days since the bombings, and building it back up was hard. All the people who knew more than they should’ve were either in hiding or jumping at shadows… Not that she could blame them.
Ahsoka almost turned away and left when she heard her, stopping abruptly to stare at the open window from her spot on the street. Trying to wait her out would’ve been futile, though (Barriss was much more patient than she was), and Ahsoka didn’t want to risk being out in costume in daylight.
So Ahsoka took a deep, steadying breath, and went inside. She’d thought it might happen; that Barriss might show her face again someday, but the sight of her sitting primly on Ahsoka’s couch like she had any right to be there was still… Something. Ahsoka was too tired to try to sort through her feelings. She just stared at Barriss, who didn’t look very different at all. She didn’t look evil. She just… looked like Barriss.
Any reasonable person would’ve told her to get out, shouted and screamed and threatened, but she was so tired and the anger that usually came to her so easily simply wasn’t there.
She slipped in through the window and leaned back against the far wall, letting herself slide down to the floor with her chin propped up on her knees.
“So. You’re here. Why?”
“Hello, Ahsoka. I wanted to see how you were doing.”
Barriss, her Barriss, the terrorist and murderer, smiled that same old smile. And Ahsoka's dumb heart skipped a beat.