1: The intersection of two body parts
The mission to Demos Four involves negotiating a contract, and as with most missions that involve negotiating with neutral systems without Master Kenobi along, it goes wrong almost immediately.
"We'd love to help," says Hamon Zo, the governor of the city sector and leader of the Zo Clan, "but those mines are in the territory of the Mrar Clan, and we of the Zo Clan have no authority there."
"The Mrar Clan?" Anakin asks, his mouth twisting into a grimace. None of this was in the mission briefing. "What can you tell us about them?"
"They moved out into the country a few generations ago," another of the Zo Clan elders says. "The mines are a recent discovery, and one they hope will fund their continued isolationism."
"Isolationism?" says Anakin.
"They feel the galaxy has become corrupt and that only by moving back into harmony with the land and embracing the old ways could they be purged of that corruption."
"I see." Anakin's voice still sounds pleasant, but Ahsoka can hear the irritation beneath it. This mission was not supposed to take very long; Demos Four is a fairly poor world, and a Republic mining contract could go a long way to fixing that, but not if the money's going to go to some weirdos out in the middle of nowhere. "Thank you for your time, Governor Zo. We'll get out of your hair now."
Ahsoka waits until they're back aboard the Twilight before she says, "I don't like the sound of that."
Anakin glances over at her. "Of what?"
She shakes her head. "Any of it. Isolationism. Corruption. Purging."
Anakin laughs. "Don't worry about it, Snips. We're Jedi. Shining beacons of purity and nobility to the galaxy."
She can tell he's only half-joking but the bad feeling doesn't go away.
Even after a lifetime spent among them, humans can be difficult for Ahsoka to differentiate in a crowd, but when they land in the small spaceport in Mrar Clan territory, it's even harder for her to tell them apart, since they're all dressed in drab brown jumpsuits and peaked caps that hide the different hairstyles that frequently help her tell men from women.
Anakin frowns when he sees them, so maybe she's not the only one having a bad feeling about this.
"Stay with the ship, Ahsoka."
"Yes, Master. Gladly."
He gives her a mock frown for her impertinence but doesn't scold.
A spokesperson emerges from the crowd when Anakin walks down the gangplank, and a brief discussion ensues. The spokesman--that becomes clear once he speaks--doesn't seem inclined to let them out of the landing area. They exchange pleasantries (for once, not a euphemism), and Anakin talks his way into a meeting with the Clan's elders. Anakin can be charming when he wants to be (though she'd never tell him so), and she thinks maybe there won't be a problem getting them to agree to let the Republic mine teniline granules here.
Once the spokesman agrees to take them to the Clan Leader's home, Ahsoka waits for Anakin's signal before she exits the ship. She makes sure her lightsabers are still in place and walks down the ramp, her face set in a pleasant, neutral expression she's worked hard to cultivate. She likes to think it radiates, Trust me, I'm a Jedi.
"This is my Padawan, Ahsoka Tano," Anakin says, touching her shoulder lightly.
And that's when everything goes wrong.
"Shameful," someone whispers and another person repeats it until it's echoing all around them.
Ahsoka wishes she'd put a cloak on, because she doesn't like the way these people are looking at her, even though her outfit is perfectly respectable.
"Is she your wife?" the spokesman--she never caught his name--asks over the hushed sounds of the crowd's outrage.
"What? No!" Ahsoka answers before Anakin can.
He puts a hand on her arm before she can say anything more. "She's my apprentice."
"It is unlawful for a man to travel with a female companion who is not his wife or a blood relation," the spokesman says. "I will have to take you to the lockup until Clan Leader Branf decides what to do."
"Wait just a minute," Ahsoka says, but again, Anakin shakes his head.
"Let the people to do their jobs, Padawan Tano. We'll explain everything to the Clan Leader when he sees us."
The whispers follow them to the local jail, where they're parted from their lightsabers and put in separate but adjoining cells. The people seem divided about whether to blame her or Anakin for whatever it is they're supposed to have done wrong, though she hears enough comments about wicked seductresses leading good men astray to realize that she's the one they have a real problem with. It wouldn't be the first time someone has misconstrued her clothing choices as a sign of her sexual availability. It's just never been so many people at once.
"What in the hell?" Anakin mutters once they're locked up and more or less alone. "I'm sorry, Snips. I should have looked into the 'old ways' Hamon Zo mentioned before we got here. I didn't expect," he gestures at the barred cells they're sitting in, "this."
"We could get out of here pretty easily, Master."
"Not without blowing the negotiations," he answers, pinching the bridge of his nose. " And the Republic needs those teniline granules. I hate to say it, but I wish Obi-Wan were here."
"You really think adding another man I've allegedly seduced with my wicked wiles to this situation would help?" Ahsoka scoffs.
"No, but he probably would have known about their weird hang-ups and arranged for you to stay on the Twilight."
Ahsoka grunts in agreement, because that's probably true.
Ahsoka's not sure how long they've been in lockup when the Clan Leader comes to see them. He's an older human male, his gray hair cut military short when he takes off his gold-crested cap. He's followed by a group of men, who crowd around him with low murmurs.
"Greetings, General Skywalker," he says, his voice deep and rough. "I am Clan Leader Branf Mrar and this," he indicates another man, wearing a white robe and hat, "is Service Leader Ronf Mrar. Since we are interested in dealing with the Republic regarding the teniline mines, we have come to an agreement as to how to remedy your situation."
"I wasn't aware my situation needed a remedy," Anakin says slowly.
"You've been led astray by the feminine wiles of the girl," Service Leader Ronf says, flicking a disdainful glance in Ahsoka's direction. She stares back defiantly. "Consorting with such a wanton hussy stains your honor."
Both Anakin and Ahsoka stiffen at that, though he shoots her an almost imperceptible look that means she should stay quiet and let him talk. She does, but she's not happy about it, and she makes sure he can feel it radiating in the Force.
"I understand that your ways are different here, but among the Jedi--"
The men of Mrar Clan make rumbling noises. Their leader holds up a hand and says, "You are not among the Jedi now, General Skywalker. If the Republic wishes to deal with us, they must respect our traditions."
"Ah, yes," Anakin says grimly. "Of course."
"Then it's agreed. Service Leader Ronf will marry you this evening and once the marriage is consummated, we will begin negotiations."
"There must be another way," Anakin insists.
"One of my men could marry her. We have many bachelors here who would treasure a young bride."
Ahsoka clamps her jaw so tight she thinks it might crack from the strain, but she doesn't say anything. Maybe she is finally learning discretion.
"No," Anakin says, without hesitation. The clench of his fist is audible in the creak of his synthleather glove.
"Then the wedding will proceed."
Anakin makes a strangled noise that their hosts must take as agreement, because they unlock the cells. Ahsoka glances up at him and he gives her a shrug, wearing nonchalance like a mask over the anger she can feel simmering below.
His mouth curves in a small tired smile that looks more sad than amused. "Just keep imagining how Obi-Wan will laugh when he hears about this."
"It's not really funny."
The tired smile disappears. "No, no, it's not."
Clan Leader Branf hands Ahsoka over to his wife, who introduces herself as Goodwife Woulaf and then spends five minutes clucking over how inappropriate her clothes are. They drape a brown robe over her and instruct her to raise the hood. She's surprised they don't insist on a veil, too, but maybe that's too pretty an adornment for these people.
"We know you can't help what you are, Miss Tano, and we can't do anything about your previous sins, but we can make sure you won't repeat them going forward," Goodwife Woulaf says, leading her to the Mrar Clan's meeting house. "I know you'll be a fine, obedient wife as soon as your man has made an honest woman of you."
It takes all of Ahsoka's self-control not to roll her eyes at the woman. She'll take being an unattached, allegedly wanton Jedi apprentice over being an honest, obedient wife.
Anakin's standing at the front of the room when they arrive at the meeting house, still in his regular clothes. Ahsoka gives him a warning look before he says something about the robe she's wearing.
"Let's get this over with," he says.
Ahsoka doesn't pay much attention to the ritual itself; she's too busy eyeing the exits and escape routes, and the ceremony is brief. Service Leader Ronf takes her hand and murmurs in a language she doesn't recognize before placing her hand in Anakin's. Then the Service Leader wraps a length of white cotton cloth around their wrists while chanting in that same unknown language.
"Do you promise to honor and obey your husband?" he asks Ahsoka, calling her attention back to what's actually happening. She imagines Anakin telling her to be mindful and kicks herself mentally.
Only the tight grip of Anakin's metal fingers around her own makes her say, "Yes."
"Do you promise to cleave to him and no others?"
She repeats, "Yes," through gritted teeth.
Service Leader Ronf turns to Anakin. "Do you promise to watch over and care for your wife for the rest of your days?"
"Yes," Anakin says, clearly and without hesitation.
"In accordance with the laws of Mrar Clan, on this thirteenth day of the quarter moon month, you are now husband and wife. May the stars guide your marriage and give you many children." Service Leader Ronf gives them a tight smile. He unravels the white scarf that binds them and hands it to Anakin. "Your wife should make a sash of this to wear beneath her robes, and keep it bright and clean, as a symbol of the purity of your marriage."
"Thanks," Anakin mutters, sounding a lot less sure than he had a moment ago.
"Usually we'd have a wedding feast, but I'm sure you'd like to get right to the consummation so we can begin negotiations in the morning."
"Yes," Anakin says again, grabbing Ahsoka's hand again. "We'll see you then."
"So eager," Goodwife Woulaf titters. "We must process to the newlywed cabin."
What seems like the whole settlement accompanies them to the cabin on the outskirts of the town. They call out encouragement and ribald jokes, and Ahsoka concentrates on keeping her temper in check until they get away from these people, because she doesn't want to hurt any of them. Anakin's grip on her hand is a comforting, grounding sensation, and she clings to it until they're inside the cabin with the door shut and locked.
The cabin contains a large bed, a small dining area, and a fully operational 'fresher, including a water shower. Ahsoka heads right for the shower, tossing the robe they gave her and her own clothes haphazardly onto the towel rack. Normally she wouldn't bother with water when she hasn't really done anything to work up a sweat, but she feels dirty. At least the soap they've provided smells nice.
She pulls on clean clothes and that makes her feel a little better about the whole situation.
"There's food," Anakin says around a mouthful of something when she rejoins him in the dining area.
There's a tray of fruit and a pitcher of something that she thinks is water until she takes a sip and starts coughing at the way it burns on the way down.
"What is that?"
Anakin shrugs. His eyes already look a little bleary. He doesn't drink as often as Obi-Wan does and he doesn't have the same tolerance for it. "Don't know. Some kind of local brew. Peel the paint off your speeder, though."
"Thanks for the warning." She glares at him but it has no effect.
"Meiloorun?" he asks, holding one out as a peace offering.
She takes it with a smile. "Thanks, Master."
They eat in companionable silence for a few minutes, then Anakin leans in and whispers in a hard voice, "There are cameras all over this place."
A chill shivers down Ahsoka's back. She lowers her voice as well. "In the 'fresher, too?"
"I didn't have a chance to check before you took it over, but I don't think so. They don't need one in there. Looks like they just want to make sure we, uh," he rubs the back of his neck and glances away, embarrassment winning out over anger for once, "consummate the marriage."
"Master, we can't--"
"Of course not," he says. "We'll just give them a show."
"Do you trust me?"
"You know I do."
He takes a long sip of liquor and another bite of melon. "Then don't worry. We're gonna be fine."
"We're married," she whispers back angrily. "That's not fine."
"It doesn't count, Ahsoka," he murmurs. "We didn't honestly consent so it's not legal anywhere else in the galaxy. But if it makes you feel better, we'll have it annulled when we get back to the Temple."
Ahsoka finishes her drink. "We'd better." Then she leans back and pastes a pleasant smile on her face. She has no idea how married people act beyond what she's seen in holovids and on the occasional mission. She stands and stretches. "It's been a long day. I think I'll go to bed."
Anakin stands as well. "Sounds good."
They strip down to their underwear and do their nighttime ablutions quickly and easily; this, at least, is familiar from weeks in the field or on missions. Even climbing into the same bed isn't as uncomfortable as it could be, because they've spent so many cold nights huddling for warmth (often with Obi-Wan, when he's with them) on the battlefield.
Though usually they keep all their clothes on. It's suddenly very different when she's in her underwear and bra, and she can feel the hair on Anakin's legs. Humans are so weird, with all their hair all over the place.
She can't settle. Her skin feels hot and tight and she remembers why she doesn't drink very often.
Anakin rolls onto his side and looks down at her. "Okay, have you ever--"
"No," she snaps. "I mean, Barriss and I have fooled around a little, but--"
He cuts her off quickly. "I don't need to know that. I was just going to ask if you've watched any holodramas. Obi-Wan used to watch The Galaxy's Edge whenever he could."
"Seriously? One Moment More is so much better."
"I know! Padmé, I mean, Senator Amidala enjoys it a lot."
"What are you going to tell her about this?" Normally, Ahsoka wouldn't ask; normally, they all pretend not to know that Anakin and the senator are having an affair, but this is so far beyond their weird definition of normal that she has to say something.
"That it's for the mission. And that it's to protect you." He traces the white markings on her forehead with the tip of his index finger. "She cares about you very much, Ahsoka."
Ahsoka tries to ignore the tenderness in that gesture, and how much she suddenly wants him to touch her some more. She absolutely does not want that, except for how her body feels like it does. "Okay, so, why do you want to know if I've watched trashy holodramas?"
"Because we're going to pretend to have sex, just like the actors on those programs."
Ahsoka nods. She still feels too warm, especially with Anakin pressing up against her now, but it makes sense. "It's a good plan," she says.
"Of course it is. I came up with it." He gives her a familiar smirk. "Ready?"
She takes a deep breath and nods.
Anakin leans in and puts his mouth right up against her ear. "My shoulders should block out the cameras behind us, so just do what I tell you, okay?"
He trails his fingers across her face again, and then brushes them down one of her lekku. She shivers in response, heat unexpectedly flaring in her veins. This is so embarrassing. She understands intellectually that people find him attractive, but she's never looked at him that way. He's her master. But suddenly she understands it more viscerally.
"You know there's porn about us on the holonet," she blurts out, more to distract herself from this alarming revelation than anything else, but his reaction is gratifying.
"What?" he yelps, rearing back. "What? Why would there be..." He trails off like he can't even bear to say it. Which was pretty much her reaction when she'd found out from Rex, who'd confiscated it from some shinies who'd been seconded to the 501st after the second battle of Geonosis.
"You know. Handsome Jedi master, naughty padawan." She bats her eyes at him.
He lets out a groan that's half laughter. "Ahsoka, that's awful."
"It is, but." She drops her gaze. "I think it's the kind of thing that's partially responsible for why the people here are so convinced I'm some kind of wicked temptress." She's had to get used to seeing her people portrayed as sultry sirens and pinup girls, and it's not even as bad for her as it is for the Twi'leks she knows.
"Well, they're wrong. We both know that if anybody's leading anyone into trouble, it's me."
"I know! But I guess they think men are too weak or stupid to fight against," she brings up her hands to make air quotes, "alluring vixens." Her mouth twists. "Or naughty padawans who need a spanking."
Anakin flops onto his back. "I'm going to need another drink if you're going to keep talking about stuff like that."
"Bring the pitcher over," Ahsoka says. "I'm feeling a little thirsty myself." Really, they should drink water, because dehydration is what causes hangovers, but she's comfortable where she is, and she'd like to blur this whole experience as much as possible. She can use the Force to get rid of her headache in the morning.
Anakin brings the pitcher and the two glasses back and pours them each another drink. "I hate to break it to you, Snips, but we're still going to have to--"
"Put on a show. Yeah, I know." She takes a long sip and then another, draining the glass and then setting it aside. She snuggles back down against the pillows and stretches languorously, enjoying another rush of heat in her veins. "I think I'm ready now."
"All right." Anakin finishes his drink as well, and then lies down beside her. "Don't freak out," he murmurs as his hand curls around her knee and draws her leg up around his hip.
She can feel him pressing against her intimately and she arches up with a surprised gasp. He responds by grinding down against her, his breath hot and ragged against her ear. His other hand comes up to cup her cheek, and she says, "You can take the glove off if you want."
He brushes her lips with his fingertips, the synthleather smooth and warm to the touch. "A little help?" he asks in a cajoling tone, his voice lower than she's ever heard it, reverberating through her.
She closes her eyes and reaches for the Force but it feels warm and languid around her, like a welcoming bath after a hard day's battle. There's a warning in it, but a vague one that she wants to ignore, which only makes her pay closer attention.
"I'm not freaking out," she says, "but I definitely feel weird. I mean, weirder."
"Yeah," he says, "me too." He closes his eyes and breathes, and this close, she can see the sweat darkening his hairline. For the first time, she reaches up and touches him, smoothing his hair off his forehead. She tangles her fingers in it, intrigued by the texture, and he trembles. "Kriffing hell. I think we've been drugged. Feels like some kind of aphrodisiac."
"I should definitely feel more concerned about this than I do," she says, still playing with his hair. "On some level, I am very definitely freaking out right now."
"But it feels really far away?" he asks.
"Me, too." He tips his head back and closes his eyes while she strokes his hair, pressing up into her touch, and it takes him a moment to start talking again. He blinks slowly, twice, and she can see him regaining control of himself. "I'm sorry, Ahsoka, but I think we still have to go through with the plan. We'll just be more, um, honest in our performance."
"Okay," she says.
She shifts her hips again, trying to find a more comfortable position where they aren't pressed so intimately together, but all it does is make him grind down again.
"Good," he murmurs, dropping his face down beside her ear again. "Do that again."
She arches up and he thrusts against her, and an ache radiates out into her whole body from that single point of contact between her thighs. Her breasts feel tight and sensitive, and she rubs them against his bare chest.
"I need to take my bra off," she mutters.
He gives her a predatory smile. "Let me help you with that." He's got it unhooked and halfway down her arms when he blinks and says, "Shit. Sorry. Let's try to keep our heads here." His fingers brush over her nipple and she lets out a low, embarrassing moan. "It's okay, Ahsoka." He leans in and presses his cheek to hers. Even with the rough brush of his stubble, it's oddly comforting.
"I'm going to need your help, okay?" he says. "I need you to tell me if something hurts or is wrong or, I don't know, isn't what you like. I've only ever been with human women, and I don't really know anything about Togruta," he slides his hand up her thigh, "physiology."
She doesn't think she's ever heard him so unsure, and that makes her unsure, but it also makes her want to reassure him that she's okay, and that whatever happens isn't his fault, and they're in this together.
"We're not that different," she says. She curls her fingers over his on her breast. "You know, you were right earlier. It's really a shame Obi-Wan wasn't here. It might be a little less weird."
Anakin gives her a skeptical look. "You think so?"
"He's not my master," she points out and he nods. "And I bet he'd know the," she bites back a gasp as Anakin palms the sensitive peak of her nipple, "topography."
That makes him laugh. "I'm sure he does. When I was a padawan, there was a rumor that he and Shaak Ti had spent some time together."
"No!" Ahsoka gasps, delighted as much by the gossip as she is by the way Anakin's playing with her nipples. "Barriss said that he and Master Unduli were known to, ah, associate. Can you imagine?"
"At the moment, I'd really rather not." But there's laughter in his voice, which is better than the uncertainty she'd heard before. She needs him to know what he's doing, because she doesn't, really. Especially not when she's running her hands over his arms and his back, feeling the way his muscles move beneath his skin. She grabs his ass before she can stop herself, and he grinds down against her again.
She's wet now, can feel it slick and sticky between her thighs. "Are we doing this for real?" she whispers, not really wanting the answer to be yes, but not quite wanting it to be no, not while her body is humming with need.
"I keep forgetting we're not supposed to," he admits. "It might be the only way to clear the drug out of our systems, whatever it is."
"Okay," she says. "Okay." She closes her eyes and lets herself exist in the moment; she takes in the way all her nerves seem to be sparking like live wires and her body aches to be touched and makes her peace with it. "I have an implant, so I can't get pregnant. Standard for fertile females in the Order," she adds, off his surprised look. "So I'm good to go."
"Of course." He moves his right hand to her shoulder, and uses the left to cup her through her underwear, which is embarrassingly wet now. Then he tugs at the waistband. "May I?"
"Yeah. Yes, Master."
He stops and holds himself very still, his hand warm against her skin. "Please don't call me that right now, Ahsoka."
"Right, right. Okay. Yes, Anakin. Please." She can't help the little whining tone that enters her voice on the last word, and then the gasp of pleasure when he's got her underwear off and his fingers are stroking her gently.
"Do you want me to--" She can't finish the sentence, but she runs her thumb along the skin inside the waistband of his briefs, amused at the way his muscles jump at the touch.
He shakes his head. "Not yet. That'll be easier for you if you've already had an orgasm. At least, in theory." He flashes her a bright grin. "And maybe if you do, you'll be clear of the drug and I can take care of myself."
She's going to answer him with words, but then his fingers find her clitoris and she can't find the air to speak. He strokes and teases, slipping his fingers in and out of her slowly, and deeper with every motion of his wrist and her hips. The pleasure sparks and crackles through her body, more intense than she's ever experienced, and she wonders if that's the drug or the Force, which feels profoundly present between them, though not in any active way. It simply tells her that he's feeling everything she is, that neither of them is alone in this.
She pushes up into his touch, so close to finally giving her what she needs. He uses his other hand to feather touches along her lekku and that pushes her over the edge. She arches up with a hoarse cry as pleasure bursts through her body.
She's still feeling the pulses of it when he pulls his hands away and shucks his briefs. She both does and doesn't want to see what he's doing, but then she doesn't have to look, because she can feel him oh-so-slowly pushing inside of her.
He's leaning on his elbows to keep most of his weight off her, and his eyes are closed, his face tight with strain. She reaches up and strokes the sweaty hair off his forehead.
His eyes flutter open and he gives her a sweet smile. "Hey, Ahsoka. All right?"
She shifts her hips again, and he slides the rest of the way in with a groan. It doesn't hurt at all; in fact, it feels pretty good. "Yeah," she says, and tells him so.
That makes him groan again. He pulls back slowly, till just the head of his cock is still inside her, and then pushes back in. He does it again and again.
"Faster," she says, tangling her fingers in the hair at the nape of his neck and wrapping her legs around his hips. "I thought you liked going fast."
"Not with this," he answers with a breathless laugh, "but if you insist." His thrusts speed up and she can feel the tension within her start to build again, feeding off the tension mounting inside him.
Self-consciousness gone in the wake of her orgasm, she reaches down between them to touch herself while he fucks her. She hadn't really let herself think the word before, but her brain's not capable of sugar-coating it at this point. That's what it is, and she's--she's going to have to be okay about it. She's going to have to make sure they're both okay.
"I've got you," she whispers against his ear. "Come on, Anakin. Come on."
He comes with a low moan and the hard jerk of his hips against hers, no rhythm to it now. She holds him close and whispers that he's done well, that everything is going to be fine.
"I think that's my line," he replies, and she laughs.
"We can look out for each other."
"Deal." He leans up and presses a kiss to her forehead. "But now, sleep." He rolls off her and over onto his other side, already dozing.
She shakes her head and slips out of bed to clean herself up and put her underwear back on. She feels much more clear-headed now, as she stares at herself in the mirror above the sink. Hopefully the redness on her cheeks and throat, presumably from his stubble, will fade quickly. Otherwise, she looks exactly the same.
Holding onto that thought as hard as she can, she heads back to bed and sleeps soundly through the rest of the night.
The next morning, neither of them is hungover, but they don't speak much. The Force isn't muffled anymore, but it resonates with the angry tinge of his mood.
Anakin is stone-faced and curt, but the negotiations go well. Mrar Clan is as hungry for credits as the rest of the galaxy, despite their holier-than-thou attitudes. Ahsoka sits beside Anakin and keeps her mouth shut as he and Clan Leader Branf sort out permissions and forms. She ignores the sideways glances and elbow nudging that goes on around them, and holds her head up high until they're on the Twilight and she's punching in the coordinates to get back to Coruscant.
"Let's never do that again," Anakin says. But he doesn't sound mischievous and he doesn't flash her a conspiratorial smile. He doesn't even look at her. All the playful camaraderie from the night before gone.
Ahsoka rips off the ugly brown robe they made her wear, wads it up with the stupid wedding sash, and shoves the whole thing forcefully into a storage compartment. Then she throws herself into the co-pilot's seat and says, "Agreed."
Anakin keeps his report to the Council as brief as possible, but he can't elide the facts of what happened.
"Disturbing, this is," Yoda says when he tells them about what was required of him and Ahsoka to complete the negotiations. The other Council members make commiserating noises, but nobody suggests they shouldn't have done it to save the mission. They don't have to say it; he knows there's a war on. "This drug we must investigate. Make sure on the market it is not." Yoda nods. "Tell Padawan Tano no fault this was of hers. Appropriate to a Jedi her behavior was in all things."
"Yes, Master Yoda. Thank you." Anakin's rarely happy with the Council's decisions, but this time he's thankful that they understand Ahsoka's not to blame for any of it.
"Where is Ahsoka?" Obi-Wan asks when the meeting has ended.
Anakin appreciates his concern more than he can say; it's a relief to feel his presence, to know that he does care, even if he can never bring himself to say it. "Medical."
"You should probably get checked out, too."
Obi-Wan frowns. "Anakin. Nothing about this situation is fine."
"We completed the contract," Anakin answers stubbornly. "That has to be worth what happened."
Obi-wan hums noncommittally, but if Anakin discovers that the teniline from Demos Four isn't absolutely vital to the new ships the Republic is building, he's not sure he can be held responsible for his actions.
"I realize that you're not as," Obi-Wan pauses as if looking for the right word, "casual about sex as some, but there's no shame in your actions. The shame and blame lie solely on the people who forced you into it."
Anakin can't help the way his jaw tightens and he has to force himself not to speak through clenched teeth. "That's not how I feel, Master."
"Which I understand. I do." Obi-Wan holds up a hand to forestall the interruption he must know is coming. "But if you meditate and release those feelings into the Force, you'll be able to see more clearly that you took the right actions in the moment, and did what you and Ahsoka both needed you to do."
"I couldn't protect Ahsoka," Anakin answers tightly. "She's my padawan, and I couldn't protect her. I was the one right there in the bed with her, Master. How is that not my fault? My shame?"
"Anakin, no," Obi-Wan says, his voice as gentle as the hand reaching out to cup the nape of Anakin's neck. He hasn't done that in a long time, and something deep within Anakin relaxes a little at the touch. "You protected her as best you could. Some situations have no perfect solution, no answer where no one gets hurt. You did everything you could to get both Ahsoka and yourself out of there safely. It should never have been asked of you."
"I should have just left and returned with the 501st."
Obi-Wan shakes his head. "You know that wouldn't have worked."
"Do I?" He's been pretty successful with those sorts of aggressive negotiations before. He knows he shouldn't second-guess himself, but why didn't he do that?
"Anakin." Obi-Wan squeezes his neck comfortingly; his presence is warm and open in the Force, with no scolding or judgement to be found. "Don't do this to yourself. Not without talking to Ahsoka about it first."
"Yeah, I'll get right on that."
Obi-Wan's hand drops away, and Anakin finds he misses the warmth. Just another weakness he'd like to eliminate.
"You can't avoid her forever."
"No, but--You don't understand. You weren't there."
Obi-Wan bows his head. "You're right. I wasn't. But I know you, and I know Ahsoka. Your partnership is too important to both of you to let something like this fester for too long."
Anakin nods, and makes his own noncommittal sound. He knows Obi-Wan knows he hasn't agreed to anything, but he needs to get out of there, needs to see Padmé and explain himself to her, as well.
He's almost free when Obi-Wan says, "Do you want me to speak with Ahsoka?"
Anakin pauses in the doorway. "If she wants to talk to you, and you think you can help her, I see no reason why you shouldn't."
"Thanks, Master." He doesn't stick around for Obi-Wan's reply.
Padmé's bright smile when she finds him in her office after a committee meeting is enough to raise Anakin's spirits. He gathers her close as soon as they're along and kisses her fervently.
She pulls back and looks up at him, smile fading into concern. "Is everything all right?"
"No," he admits. He drops into one of her guest chairs and pulls her down into his lap, needing the comfort of her closeness to get through the story.
She listens without judging, as he'd hoped she would. He just hates to appear weak before her, to have her know that he wasn't able to protect Ahsoka. That someday he might not be strong enough to protect her.
"It's not your fault," she says, cupping his cheek. Between her and Obi-Wan, these gentle touches are making him feel fragile, as if they're afraid he'll break if they treat him normally.
"You're not angry?" he asks hopefully.
"Not at you or Ahsoka. What those people did was unconscionable and I wish there were some way the Senate could hold them accountable for it. I'm so sorry that the both of you had to deal with it."
"I love you so much," he whispers fervently into the warm skin of her throat.
"I love you, too," she replies. "And if you think it would be easier for Ahsoka to talk to me, I would be happy to speak with her, or just listen, if that's what she needs."
"I'm the luckiest man in the galaxy," he says, kissing her again, relief at her reaction buoying his mood. "I know there'll be a counselor for her at the Temple, and Obi-Wan said he'd talk to her, but I think it'd probably be easier with you."
"Of course," she says. "I have some time tomorrow, if you bring her by the apartment right after lunch. Maybe you should speak with the counselor as well."
He shakes his head. "I'm fine as long as I know you're not angry with me." He kisses her softly. "I'll bring Ahsoka by tomorrow after lunch." He knows he can't rely on Obi-Wan and Padmé to clean up his mistakes forever, but he feels helpless in the face of this one, reminded of his childhood and the way he'd always known he had no control of his body. He'd never wanted Ahsoka to feel that, and he's failed completely. "Can you skip out on your afternoon meetings?"
"I think I can arrange something," Padmé says. "Why don't you give me half an hour and meet me at home?"
After kissing her breathless, he says, "It's a date."
He always feels better knowing she's on his side.
3: Creates new territory
Ahsoka spends some time with a post-mission counselor after a healer gives her a clean bill of health, but she can't make herself talk about what happened. It's too personal, too tied up with Anakin and their partnership (and his secrets), and she doesn't want Master Yoda or the Council to decide that she should have a different master because she and Anakin might develop too strong an attachment to each other just because they had sex. (She easily ignores the fact that she's already probably too attached to Anakin, and that sex is probably the one thing that could ruin that.)
She'd like to speak with Master Plo--she might not be able to choke out the whole story, but at least he would allow her to have a good cry without judgement--but he's on a mission to Mon Cala, and even if he weren't, he might not have time to indulge her.
She's got some free time to meditate, she thinks, as she leaves the counselor's office, or maybe to find a sparring partner, but Obi-Wan is waiting for her in the corridor. She shouldn't be surprised by that, but she is. She hasn't seen Anakin since he'd left for his debrief with the Council, and she doesn't expect to see him any time soon. He's probably off with Padmé, and Ahsoka can't think about whether Padmé will look at her differently once she knows what Ahsoka did.
Obi-Wan's presence distracts her from that upsetting line of thought, though, so she manages to call up a tight smile for him. "Master Kenobi."
"Hello, Ahsoka. How are you feeling?" His tone is solicitous, and she can't tell if it's his normal courtesy or if it's new in light of recent events.
"Okay?" she answers cautiously, but she can't help the way her voice creeps up at the end, like it's a question she doesn't have an answer to. Of course, he picks up on it.
"I spoke with Anakin," he says, putting a hand on her elbow and steering her away from the public areas of the Temple. "I thought you might be in need of a friendly ear, as well."
"Thank you," she says, feeling the tension she's been carrying in her shoulders since they arrived on Demos Four ease just a little. "I--yes. That would be great."
He leads her to his quarters and it's not until he's poured them both a cup of tea that he says, "The Council has agreed that the marriage was illegal, and thus there's no need for any formal record of it to ever be created, let alone rendered null and void."
"Good," she says. She keeps her gaze on his hands, wrapped loosely around his teacup. "I wish you had been there with us."
"Really?" He's surprised, and she's not sure if that's good or bad.
"Yes. You would have--If we'd still had to--" She takes a sip of tea, which is hot but smells better than it tastes. She's not sure why he's so fond of the stuff. She's always preferred caf herself. "I think it would have been easier with you."
Obi-Wan stills. "Because I'm not your master."
Ahsoka sighs, relieved that he gets it. "Yes." She rotates the teacup in her hands. "And also you're not--You're you."
"I see." She steals a glance at him and his mouth quirks in a half-smile. "You don't think that would have been equally awkward?"
"That's not your reputation," she says and then wants to clap a hand over her mouth. Maybe she hasn't learned discretion, after all. She takes a large gulp of tea that hurts going down.
He laughs. "I must admit, I was not expecting you to say that, though maybe I should have been." He levels a searching look at her. "But that's not the only reason is it?"
"Well, no, but as far as I know, you're not...involved with anyone at the moment and Master Skywalker...is."
"Ah. Yes. That is--no doubt part of the reason he's being difficult. I believe he's visiting with Senator Amidala, and I count on her to set him straight on this matter."
Ahsoka sits up straight, interested now in a way that goes beyond her own misery. "How so?"
"You feel you misstepped somehow, though you haven't shared the why of it with me, and Anakin feels he failed you in allowing any of it to happen at all. But surely you understand that neither of you is to blame for what happened, Ahsoka. And I believe Senator Amidala will impress that upon him much more easily than you or I will at this stage."
"I hope you're right."
"Just so." He points his teacup at her. "And once he's sorted himself out, I'm sure he'll speak with you." Obi-Wan pauses, stroking his beard with his free hand, and she wonders if he's actually hesitating or just taking his time. But he knows Anakin better than anyone except, perhaps, Senator Amidala, so she waits patiently. "You mean a great deal to him, Ahsoka. Perhaps more than is wise for a master and padawan, but I've seen you bring the best out in each other repeatedly. He'll not want to lose that, even if right now, he--you both--feel that it's in jeopardy."
Ahsoka has to blink back the tears welling behind her eyes at his words, which feel like an unexpected kindness. She breathes through the emotion that's making her chest ache, identifies it (gratitude, relief, affection) and then lets it pass over her and away into the Force. She swallows hard and washes the knot in her throat down with another sip of tea.
"Thank you, Master Kenobi." She folds her hands together and gives him a respectful bow.
"You're very welcome, Padawan Tano," he says with a small bow in return. "I care about you as well, Ahsoka. Never doubt that."
She smiles at him. "So I hear you're a fan of The Galaxy's Edge."
"Anakin told you that, did he?" Obi-Wan laughs. "I might even still have all the episodes on a datapad somewhere." He gets up and starts shuffling through a drawer, and Ahsoka relaxes, at least for a little while.
Anakin's not at breakfast in the refectory, and Ahsoka gets volunteered to help Master Nu in the archives through lunch, and doesn't see him at all. It's fine. The work is quiet and repetitive and doing it allows her to be mindful instead of stewing in her own anxieties.
She's just finished eating and is heading back to her quarters to meditate when he catches up with her.
"Hey," he says, falling into step beside her. He definitely feels calmer than he did the day before, but still not normal. "You wanna go see Senator Amidala?"
She stops walking. "What?"
"I, uh, spoke to her yesterday," Anakin glances away, shifty, as if she doesn't know that's where he's been since his debrief ended, "and she said if you needed to talk, she's happy to listen."
"She's not angry at me?"
"Of course not." He says it so vehemently that Ahsoka's inclined to believe it. "If anything, she should be angry at me, but she's not that either." He meets her gaze for a second before faltering and looking over her left shoulder instead. Before she can ask why he thinks Padmé should be angry at him, he says, "I think it might help you to talk to her. It definitely helped me."
"Okay. Let's go."
Ahsoka's been in some terrible battles and dangerous situations since she became Anakin's padawan, but she's not sure she's ever been as nervous as she is when she joins Anakin in the turbolift to Padmé's apartment. She takes a deep breath and squares her shoulders.
Usually, Anakin would notice and say or do something to put her at ease, but he stands there, radiating nerves as much as she does.
The doors swish open and Threepio fusses over them for a few moments before Padmé appears. She's dressed casually, an unexpected kindness that Ahsoka appreciates, even if it wasn't intended for her.
"General Skywalker, why don't you see if you can fix whatever's wrong with Threepio's leg while Ahsoka and I catch up."
"As you wish, Senator Amidala." He gives her a surprisingly courtly bow and shepherds the still-wittering Threepio out of the room.
Normally, Ahsoka would have to refrain from rolling her eyes at how obvious they are, but right now, she just feels on the outside of that circle of warmth, looking in at something she'll never have. Usually she feels content with her relationship with Anakin; she would have said they were good friends before the past few days happened. (She might have, once, thought of him in forbidden terms like 'older brother,' but she's glad she never went down that path. Things are complicated enough as is.)
"Anakin's told me what happened," she says once she and Ahsoka are comfortably situated on the sofa. "I thought you might find it easier to talk to a friend rather than a superior."
"Thank you, Senator," Ahsoka says.
"I believe I've asked you to call me Padmé, Ahsoka." Padmé's slight emphasis on Ahsoka's name feels like a gentle rebuke.
"You have, but I just--I wasn't sure--" Ahsoka clasps her hands together tightly in her lap so she doesn't fidget. "After what happened, I--"
"It's not your fault, Ahsoka." Padmé reaches out and squeezes Ahsoka's clasped hands. "I told Anakin, and I'm telling you, what those people did to you was wrong, and they're the ones who should feel bad about it, and be held accountable for it. And if I have to, I'll keep saying it until you both believe it."
Ahsoka's throat feels tight and she nods, not trusting herself to speak.
"You were in an untenable situation," Padmé continues, "and you did what was necessary to make it through. I'm sure others have already told you this, but if you needed to hear it from me, you have."
Ahsoka unclasps her hands so she can take Padmé's. "Thank you. That means a lot to me. I didn't want you to think that I--have those sorts of feelings for my master."
Padmé laughs. "I didn't think that at all, though I, of all people, would understand if you did."
Ahsoka shakes her head but doesn't let any of her distaste at the idea show in her expression. "Thank you again."
"You're welcome." She stands and waves at Ahsoka to stay seated when she starts to rise. "Now I think you and Anakin need to have a conversation." Then she leans over and gives Ahsoka a quick hug. "I know it's not the Jedi way, but I consider you family, Ahsoka. If you ever need anything..."
Ahsoka's smile feels a little watery but she manages not to cry. "I wish I had something better than thank you to say."
"You don't need to."
And with that, Padmé is gone. Ahsoka goes to the window and takes a moment to compose herself; it won't do to be teary-eyed when Anakin returns. The view from Padmé's living room is always stunning, even if she can't focus on it right now.
She hears low voices in the other room, and she senses Anakin before she turns and sees him in the doorway.
"Hey, Snips." He takes a couple of steps into the room, but doesn't sit, so she doesn't either. He still sounds subdued, but not in an angry way anymore.
Her mouth quirks up instinctively. "Skyguy." She takes a deep breath and says, "I'm sorry."
At the same time, he says, "I'm sorry." Then he shakes his head. "You have nothing to be sorry about, Ahsoka. I did some checking, and there was no way we could have known about those people's weird rules. There's no record of them on the holonet, and the sector governor's warning was barely adequate."
"You don't need to be sorry either," she says, taking a step closer to him. "I know that you feel responsible for me--"
"I am responsible for you, Ahsoka. I'm your master."
"I know," she says. "But you can't protect me from everything. And I know we were under the influence, but I thought we made a deal. I thought we looked out for each other."
His mouth twists and he looks away. "We did. We do, but. What they did--I never wanted you to know what that feels like."
She opens her mouth to make a joke about how she never wanted to know what sex with him feels like either, but something in his voice, the way he's standing, stops her. She remembers Kadavo, then, and how even collared and locked in a literal cage, she still hadn't felt as helpless as she did on Demos Four.
"I know," she says. "I wish you didn't know, either."
He meets her gaze now, and his smile is small, but genuine. "There's one more thing I think we should do, and then we never have to talk about this again." He pulls the stupid wedding scarf out one pocket, and produces a lighter out of the other.
Ahsoka smiles back. "I like the way you think, Master."
There's a small trash bin hidden behind an end table, as ornate as everything else in the room, and Anakin presents it with a flourish after he hands her the scarf and the lighter. "You do the honors, Ahsoka."
"Don't mind if I do," she says.
Anakin puts a hand on her shoulder and gives her a comforting squeeze.
Ahsoka flicks the lighter, holding the small flame to a corner of the white cotton until it catches. She drops it into the bin and together, she and Anakin watch it burn.