Actions

Work Header

Time To Go

Chapter Text

The words were deep and rolling and they echoed through the vast, dark chamber like the dull thunder of rocks settling after an avalanche. “The members of the court have reached a decision.”

Mas Amedda handed the datareader to Palpatine. It contained the verdict and, if there was one, the sentence; military tribunals did not have separate hearings for the two.

Ahsoka couldn’t tell if her heart was pounding at three hundred beats per minute, or if it had simply ceased to beat altogether.

The Chancellor slowly, deliberately rose to his feet, stepped forward. “Ahsoka Tano.” In his harsh, colorless tone, even her name sounded like a condemnation.

She looked up at him, detachedly calm. Time seemed to spin out; she had never imagined it would end like this, had never imagined she would go down standing alone and upright at the center of a courtroom. The very quietness of the moment astounded her, the silence that hung as a backdrop to the Chancellor’s words – no explosions, no hiss of sabers, no screams.

“By an overwhelming count of votes,” he continued, “the court finds you guilty of attacks against a Republic military target and of treason against the Republic.” 

Impossible, part of her mind protested, unable to grasp that in the short span of three days her life had crumbled to dust.

“For which,” the Chancellor was saying, “the court has voted to impose a sentence of death.”

What?

She felt dizzy; dimly she was aware of ripples in the Force – Padmé’s horror, the dismay of the few in the court who had not sided with the majority – but none of it meant very much.

Palpatine was still talking, but she could barely hear him over the rushing in her ears. She had faced death before, so many times before, but always in the breathless burning heat of pure adrenaline, always with the fiery desperation of knowing that if she died, she died for a cause and for the sentients behind it. And now – she could not believe that this was how she would end, killed by a government she had served her entire life, after being cast out and betrayed by the Order to which she had dedicated every fiber of her being. Three days ago, she would have been certain Anakin would find her a way out, would rescue her from this as he had from countless other perilous places; but now she was not so sure. Three days ago, she would never have believed that the Jedi Council would throw away all thirteen of the years she had given them, toss aside all her oaths and all her life; would never have believed that Plo and Obi-Wan could just sit there as Yoda and Mace Windu stripped everything she had away from her with a guard’s single yank on her string of beads.

She realized distantly that the guards here were leading her away, and she walked silently between them, not noticing where she went, lost in a daze of shock and disbelief and crushing, astonished fury.

———

Obi-Wan watched in silent disbelief as clone troopers in the red and white plastoid armor of the Coruscant Guard took Ahsoka back down the prisoners’ tunnel. How had it come to this? How had the Republic gone so mad in only two years of war, that they would sentence a sixteen-year-old to death for crimes for which the only proof against her was a murky series of coincidences? How had the Jedi Council gone so mad, that they would swear off all allegiance to one of their own and allow the Republic to have this trial at all? How had this happened?

The moment the verdict had been spoken, he had not felt surprise, but instead only a disorienting, enveloping emptiness. When the Council had expelled her, he had known the possibility of this outcome hovered on the horizon, but it had seemed distant and improbable; and then he had watched, as if in a daze, as all the evidence lined up, all the rhetoric of the courtroom fell into place, all the legal circumstances aligned to bring them to this. He had hoped, desperately and fervently, that he was wrong, that he was misreading the situation, that the Chancellor’s words would be not guilty; but when Palpatine had stepped forward, he had known. And he had not been wrong.

How?

He stood and followed the other Council members out of the cavernous Court chamber. Grim silence hung over them as they made their way through the labyrinthine halls of the Senate Building.

She was innocent. He was certain. Even if Ahsoka had wanted to attack the Jedi, she would never have taken the route of a hidden bomb and then continued denial; she would have simply shown up at the front doors, lightsabers blazing, and tried to take down Master Yoda herself. Besides, Anakin and Captain Rex and numerous other clone troopers had confirmed Ventress’ presence on Coruscant; there were pieces of the puzzle that they were missing, that they needed before they could reach a conclusion; but the Republic had not waited.

He had tried to argue for her to the Council, had tried to prevent them from abandoning her. I understand your sentiment, Obi-Wan, Mace Windu had said – a subtly pointed comment, the use of the word sentiment not idle, edged with its second meaning of emotion. You’re too close to her, Mace had implied. Your judgement is clouded by attachment. And how could he even argue, when he had returned from Mandalore only a week ago?

How had this happened?

There was still a slim possibility that they could get the verdict overturned, or indefinitely delayed; but Obi-Wan knew that overriding a senatorial judiciary decision was nearly impossible. Even as his thoughts spun through the legal options open to them, the coldly rational part of his mind was already dismissing them, already categorizing them as hopelessly unlikely.

They had reached the landing dock, and Mace Windu caught his eye and nodded at one of the smaller red Temple airspeeders. It was not an invitation that Obi-Wan felt inclined to accept, but it was also not an invitation at all; so he climbed into the passenger side. The grey spikes of Coruscant’s buildings stretched out into the distance on either side of them as Mace nudged the controls and lifted the speeder off the duracrete and into the smoggy air.

As the speeder merged into one of the chaotic rivers of light that made up the airlanes, Mace spoke in his deep baritone. “Skywalker won’t take this well.”

Even for Obi-Wan, who was a master of severe understatement in his own right, this statement pushed the bounds of credulity. “No, I don’t imagine he will,” he agreed neutrally. Would you have, Mace? he thought almost bitterly. If it were Depa? But he pushed the thought aside – irrelevant.

“We can’t allow him to do anything impulsive. You’ll need to keep a close eye on him until all this is over.”

Which was an impossible charge, and Obi-Wan knew it. He would of course do his best to prevent Anakin from doing anything unwise, would do his best to prevent this situation from getting any worse than it already was; and there was still the dim possibility that they could change the outcome of the trial. But if the Republic actually went through with this, if they actually planned to carry out this execution, what could he possibly say or do that would make any difference? What could he possibly say to Anakin in the face of that? “I’ll do my best,” he offered quietly, knowing he would and knowing it probably wouldn’t matter.

Mace gave him an intense, inscrutable look. “It’s crucial that you do, Obi-Wan. We cannot afford to lose him.”

“I understand.” He had an incredibly bad feeling about this.

———

Back at the Temple, the Council convened again. The late afternoon sun filtered through the wide transparisteel windows and lay warm and bright on the gold mosaic of the floor, a strange contrast to the cold that seemed to settle throughout the chamber.

“Surely we cannot let this ruling stand,” Plo Koon said in his deep, gravelly voice.

“We agreed to let the Republic try her,” Mace replied, his dark eyes grave, his Force presence a furled storm. “The trial was legal, and we are bound by its outcome.”

“Interfere in Republic courts, we cannot,” Yoda agreed, though there was a heaviness in his voice. “Above the law, we are not.”

Obi-Wan ran a hand across his face, lingering on his beard out of force of habit. Everything about this was so wrong. The Jedi Council should never have deserted a Padawan like this; Admiral Tarkin should never have asked it of them; the Senatorial Jury should never have sentenced a child to death on incomplete evidence.

This is wrong, he wanted to say. She’s innocent. But they had been over that, time and time again.

“Even if she is guilty, which I do not believe,” he said instead, “surely we can request that the sentence be reexamined.”

“On what grounds?” Mace asked, his tone as unreadable as ever.

“Dangerous it is, Obi-Wan,” Yoda said more softly, “for the Jedi to question this decision. Strong, and clear, the evidence against her was. Asked, the military did, that we expel her, so that a military trial she could have. Agreed, we did. Gave up our legal authority over her, we did. Claim the right to determine guilt of a citizen, we cannot.”

And there was, of course, truth in that. They could not interfere in the courts; they could not hand a suspected war criminal over to the GAR in one breath and then demand the right to oversee her sentence in another.

But – he was beginning to wonder if they were missing even more pieces than they suspected. Because, of course, the fact remained that her conviction would not leave the Republic unscathed. The Temple bombing had been one thing; it had been one act of violence in a long, grinding war, notable only for its proximity to the heart of the Republic and the Jedi. But the publicized, Republic-sanctioned execution of a sixteen-year-old Padawan had potential for substantially more long-lasting, if subtler, damage. The shift of power it could cause between the Jedi and the Republic military, the precedent it would set, the conflict it could sow between the Jedi and the Senate – and, of course, the fact that Obi-Wan knew, deep down, that Anakin would never fight for the Republic again if the Republic executed his Padawan. And Obi-Wan could not quite shake the feeling that Ventress’ mysterious, if unproven, involvement raised the specter that the bombing of the Temple was not an end itself, but a means; that Ahsoka had not been merely a convenient scapegoat, but a target.

“I understand, Master,” he said, because he did. Then, carefully, “However, her death could have far-reaching repercussions for the Order that I do not think we can ignore.” He paused, choosing his words. “A Republic execution of an expelled Jedi could damage the trust between the Jedi and the Senate, between the Jedi and the military, and even amongst the Jedi ourselves. It could prompt competition for power between the Jedi and the military and damage the cohesion of the war effort. And” – a brief hesitation – “Master Skywalker will… have difficulty understanding this decision. He is a major general in the Republic’s war effort, and this is a remarkably simple way to put him at odds with both the Senate and the military and potentially limit his contribution to the war.”

Shaak Ti was as calm as ever. “What are you suggesting?” she asked.

“There may be something more going on here.” Something of a wild plunge, but he had little to lose. “There would certainly be a motive for an enemy of the Republic to frame her, and I believe we should seriously investigate that possibility before allowing the execution to move forward. If, as Ahsoka claims, Ventress is involved, it seems we do not understand what is truly going on here.”

“I would agree that you have listed several regrettable possible outcomes of the sentence,” Ki-Adi-Mundi said, his careful tone conveying skepticism. “But you forget that the original crime was using a civilian worker to attack a Temple hanger. That someone was able to commit that crime and frame Padawan Tano is not inconceivable. However, that someone was able to use that crime to set in motion a precise chain of events that culminated in Padawan Tano’s execution, when that chain of events led through not only ourselves but also a military leader and a senatorial tribunal… well, it strains credulity.”

A very brief moment where the name Darth Sidious hung frozen in the air, until it was shattered by the sharp rap of Yoda’s gimer stick against the tiled floor. “Grasp at straws, you cannot, Obi-Wan! No right, do we have, to fight the outcome this case. Strong evidence against her there is, a fair trial she was given, and convicted she was. Proof you have, that guilty she is not?” A pause, long enough to make the point that no answer was forthcoming, as he regarded Obi-Wan firmly. “Then to respect the Court’s decision, our only choice is.”

Obi-Wan bowed his head in acquiescence, recognizing that the Council had made its decision.

———

“Ani, I’m so sorry,” Padmé said despondently. “I’m so sorry. I – ”

“There has to be something we can do!” he snarled. He was way out of his depth when it came to the courts, he had no idea how to begin to sort out the tangled web of laws and regulations and votes and protocols that Padmé slipped through so effortlessly. “They can’t, Padmé, they can’t – they can’t kill her, they – ”

Grief and exhaustion and despair whispered in the Force around her. “I’ve submitted an appeal,” she said, “But since it was tried as a military case with a Senatorial tribunal, the military official who had oversight of the case rules on whether the appeal will be heard in court, and that official is – ”

“Admiral Tarkin,” Anakin ground out, his mechno-hand clenching so hard he thought vaguely that it might short out.

She nodded.

“That’s insane.” He felt anger rising inside himself, he wanted to draw his lightsaber and rip apart the tan sofas of Padmé’s rooms, slice through the pillars, bring the whole building crumbling to the ground – 

Padmé’s voice brought him back to reality. “Anakin.” She crossed the steps between them, laid a calming hand on his arm. “You should talk to Palpatine. He might be able to convince Tarkin to retry the case, or at least delay the execution.”

He nodded wordlessly. Then, “Okay. I just – I – Padmé, I can’t lose her. I can’t.” He couldn’t lose Ahsoka too, he couldn’t, he didn’t know what he would do if they really tried to kill her, he couldn’t face that grief again, couldn’t face that anger, that overwhelming, all-consuming anger, that agony, not again, never again –

“I know, Ani,” Padmé murmured. She put her arms around him, and he buried his face against the top of her head, desperately holding onto the solidity of her presence. “We’ll find something,” she said.

———

“Ah, my boy,” said Palpatine heavily. “I thought I might find you here.”

Anakin had nearly worn through the floor pacing in front of the Chancellor’s office for the past half hour, waiting for the Senate session to end. “Your Excellency,” he said with a slight bow, forcing himself into controlled etiquette with tremendous effort.

The Chancellor unlocked the thick black doors with his fingerprints and nodded at the Senate Guards to stay outside. “Come in,” he said to Anakin.

Anakin followed him into the wide room, the red carpet rustling under his boots. Coruscant spread out below them through the window panel, the air traffic forming bright twisting ribbons against the dim background of gray buildings.

Palpatine sat down behind his wide desk, gesturing Anakin into one of the smaller chairs. “You’ve come because of your Padawan?”

“Yes, Chancellor.”

Palpatine sighed. “I was, honestly, stunned by the verdict. She is so young, and the evidence is so weak…” He trailed off sadly.

“She didn’t do it,” Anakin said. “I know she didn’t. Chancellor, is there any chance you could – could do anything? Reverse the verdict, or delay the execution, or convince Tarkin to retry it, or – or anything?”

The lines in Palpatine’s face seemed deeper than usual, and Anakin could feel his sorrow flickering in the Force. “I can try, Anakin. She doesn’t deserve to die, and I will do what I can.” A sigh, and he shook his head. “But the wheels of democracy are against us. I don’t have the power to overturn the Senatorial Jury’s decision. The vote went against her, and there are few legal options open to you and me.”

“But you’ll try?”

“Yes, I will try,” Palpatine said gravely. “But I’m not sure how much can be done. I’m afraid… but no, you did not come here to listen to my private worries.”

“What is it, Chancellor?”

Palpatine looked up, his dark gray-blue eyes meeting Anakin’s. “I’m afraid the Republic is failing us, Anakin. I’m afraid the Senate is falling to fear and greed and looking after its own interests at the expense of justice. And I’m afraid the Jedi Order, the foundation of peace in the Republic, is falling also. How could they have disavowed one of their own like this? Of course, I’m sure the Council had its reasons…” He shook his head regretfully. “I’m sorry, my boy – I do not mean to burden you with my own fears. We must have faith that our democracy will return to reason once this war ends.” He stood up and came around the desk to lay a hand on Anakin’s shoulder. “I will do what I can to help your Padawan, although I am afraid I have little hope of overturning the opinion of the Senate.”

Anakin nodded wordlessly, barely keeping his anger – at the Senate, at the Jedi, at the Republic, at the galaxy – in check. “Thank you, Chancellor,” he managed finally. He stood, bowed, and swept out of the room.

———

He had felt the exact moment that Anakin found out. He’d been sitting cross-legged on the floor of his quarters, sunk in uneasy meditation, when the horror and terror and anger exploded across their Force bond. He’d focused on his own breathing, trying to let Anakin’s emotions wash over him like waves over a rock; but they tugged at his consciousness and were answered without permission by his own.

Five days. They had five days until Ahsoka’s execution.

Breathe in; breathe out. Release the anxiety, the despair, the attachment, the emotion. A solution will present itself, his mind offered reflexively, and he snorted. Like it had on Mandalore?

No – irrelevant. Release.

There was so little they could do. The laws governing military tribunals were purposely designed to make the process as quick and incontestable as possible. A short minimum waiting period between trial and execution and few appeal options limited the affair’s potential to drag out and become a demoralizing public spectacle.

What would Qui-Gon have done? It was a question he had asked himself over and over in the first months of Anakin’s apprenticeship, when he was desperately wondering how his own master would have dealt with the tow-headed whirlwind and the Council’s disapproval and the questions he was now confronting as the member of the pair who was supposed to have the answers. As his own experience had grown, he had asked it less frequently, but it had often been at the back of his mind. And then the war had started, and he had stopped asking it altogether, because what could anyone do?

And now he was in yet another impossible situation, where all courses of actions had unspeakable outcomes, and he felt utterly trapped.

 

It was not until nearly two hours after Anakin learned of the outcome of the trial that he finally sought out his former master. Obi-Wan felt him coming down the hallway, felt the anger crackling in the Force around him, and then he was throwing open the door to the small room and bursting in, a whirling hurricane in the Force.

“They’re going to kill her!” he spat at Obi-Wan. “I swore to her that I wouldn’t let anyone hurt her, and now they’re going to kill her! And the Council let it happen!”

“I know, Anakin,” Obi-Wan said quietly.

“You know?” Anakin repeated with disgusted, furious incredulity. “That’s all you have to say? You know?!”

“What do you want?” Obi-Wan said, still sitting on the floor. “A lecture on gracefully accepting the execution of your Padawan?” Qui-Gon was dead, Satine was dead, and Ahsoka was about to be killed by the same government that she had spent her entire life serving. What was there to say?

“You know she’s innocent! And you’re just going to let them kill her?”

“I didn’t agree with the Council’s decision to expel her,” Obi-Wan said quietly. “But it’s not as if I have the authority to simply walk into the Senate and overturn their verdict.”

“So you are going to lecture me on gracefully accepting them murdering her,” Anakin snapped furiously.

“I wasn’t aware that I said that,” Obi-Wan snapped back.

They glared at each other for a few moments until Obi-Wan sighed and changed tactics. “I take it there was no sign of Ventress?”

“No,” Anakin growled, his hands clenched into fists. “She could be anywhere in the galaxy by now. It’ll take longer than five days to find her. But Master – I’m not going to let them hurt her.

And Obi-Wan knew he meant it. Force. He needed more time. “Anakin. I know what you’re thinking. Give me until tomorrow morning, and let me see what I can do. Please just wait and don’t do anything reckless.”

Anakin glared at him for a moment. Then, “Fine,” he ground out, and he turned on his heel and stormed through the door.

Obi-Wan closed his eyes, the room feeling suddenly very empty in the absence of Anakin’s seething Force presence.

He had bought himself time, but there was not much he could do with it.

What was the galaxy coming to?

He had been too late to save Qui-Gon, and too foolish to save Satine. He had walked straight into Maul’s trap and he had gotten her killed. And now he would get Ahsoka killed if he did nothing.

The morality that he had once cherished had become so murky it was almost opaque; the exploitation of engineered human clones, the strategic use of civilian planets for war, the expulsion of a Jedi Padawan because it was politically expedient – because all of it was better than the alternative, they told themselves, because all of it was worth it to save the galaxy. But what was one small act of rebellion in the face of all that?

Trust your instincts, Qui-Gon had always said. You must do what you feel is right.

And that, somehow, settled it. Because he had spent the last two years doing what he felt was wrong, and when finally he had encountered a situation where he knew what was right, the Council had seen only the war, had expelled Ahsoka, had not even tried to send help to Mandalore, and now Satine was dead, and the galaxy was still crumbling. Because now every path open to him was wrong, so what did it matter if he chose the one he felt was right? Because his instincts were saying that the war was going badly, that the end was nowhere in sight, and that the presence or absence of two Jedi out of hundreds would not change that, and that there was far more going on than the Council was willing to admit. And because Qui-Gon would have absolutely lost it if he could have seen Obi-Wan even considering defying the Jedi Council like this, and that image was almost enough to make him smile.

He stood up and pulled on his cloak.

Chapter Text

Obi-Wan went to see Padmé first. There was, of course, the offhand chance that she had found some fragment of a solution.

“Senator Amidala,” he said with a slight bow once Captain Typho had shown him into her rooms.

“Master Kenobi.” She was sitting on one of the couches, the low table in front of her blanketed in holobooks and datapads. It was late; through the wide windows, the buildings of Coruscant were glittering black towers against the deep blue of the sky. Beneath the elegance of her gray dress and the immaculate spiral of her hair, Padmé looked exhausted.

“Anything?” he asked.

Jaw clenched, she shook her head. “I’ve filed an appeal with the Republic Military requesting a resentencing, and I’ve filed a petition with the Senate Committee on Sentient Rights requesting they examine this case on the grounds that it involves execution of a minor, and another with the Galactic High Court requesting that they claim the right to a retrial since Ahsoka would likely have been given a civilian trial in Galactic Court if not for her ties to the Jedi Order, which have been legally severed; and I’m about to submit a request for a Senatorial review board to examine whether there might have been a mistrial given the possibility of a violation of an abstruse regulation regarding the way the prosecution presents certain categories of evidence, which I found in megabyte sixteen, sentence ninety-five of this thirty-eight-year-old treatise on military law.” She made a frustrated gesture with the holobook currently in her hand. “Tarkin will deny the first appeal, and the other three won’t even be read, much less ruled on, in the next five days.”

“So you think the chances of the sentence being delayed or reversed…?”

Padmé met his eyes fiercely. “Between low and nonexistent.” He sensed that she was fighting down her desire to blame him, as a member of the Jedi Council, for all of this. She shook her head. “I just – Obi-Wan, I don’t understand how it came to this. The Republic – this is not how the judicial system is supposed to work.

“I know,” he said, even though it was a useless thing to say, because he did know. They had both dedicated their lives to serving and protecting a system that they believed in and supported utterly, and somewhere along the line it seemed as though that system had gone off the air lanes, speeding out of control and careening towards some murky future. He had been trained to protect the innocent, to not kill unless absolutely necessary, to respect all life and act with compassion, and nowhere had his oaths left room for executing a sixteen-year-old because it was less politically troublesome to let her die than to defend her. How had the war driven them to this?

“Can’t you do anything? The Council has significant influence in the Senate – can’t you stop this before…?”

“The Council views it as too politically risky to oppose the Senate in this,” Obi-Wan said.

“What about you?” Padmé asked.

“I cannot speak to the Senate against the will of the Council.”

“The Council must know she’s innocent,” Padmé protested forcefully. “How can they possibly let Tarkin go through with this?”

Obi-Wan shook his head. “Not all of them are so certain she played no role in the bombing.”

“But surely – ”

“I’ve already tried, Padmé. The Council has made up its mind.”

A beat of silence, and then Padmé looked away. “Obi-Wan, I’m worried about…” She hesitated, took a deep breath. “I’m worried about what this will do to Master Skywalker.”

It was the closest thing he had ever heard to a confession from either of them that they were more than simply vaguely friendly acquaintances. It was only his long years of Jedi training that allowed him to keep his eyebrows from rising straight up to the ceiling in exhausted astonishment at the fact that she thought that saying Master Skywalker instead of Anakin would somehow fool him into believing that her worry was merely detached professional concern.

“They won’t even let him see her,” Padmé continued disgustedly. “Tarkin said it’s too risky, that Anakin might ‘do something regrettable’ if he were allowed into the detention center.”

Which was quite likely true, Obi-Wan thought, although beside the point. And he noted that it had taken Padmé only two sentences to subconsciously revert back to using Anakin’s first name. Honestly.

“We still have five days,” he said evenly, because there was nothing else to say, because they both knew the only way to help Anakin was to save Ahsoka. “A solution may still present itself.”

“I just – this is wrong.” Her knuckles were white against the holobook in her hand. “We sentenced an innocent sixteen-year-old to death.

Obi-Wan sighed. “Trust me when I say there is still hope.”

She clenched her jaw, looking dubious. “Five days is not long enough for the legal system to solve anything.”

“Maybe so,” he said quietly.

She looked up, met his eyes.

“Thank you for your time, Senator,” he said, severing the conversation with a return to formality.

She inclined her head. “And for yours, Master Jedi.”

———

So. He had known it would come to this, had known before he arrived at Padmé’s door that there were no options left.

He stood with one hand resting on the smooth surface of the speeder he’d come in, gazing out over the dark, gold-spattered cityscape. Ahsoka was going to die in five days.

Could he actually – could he actually go so far as to break her out? Could he actually directly defy the Jedi Order and the Republic? He had ignored Yoda’s implied instructions when he’d gone to Mandalore, and he’d toed the line of Republic wartime regulations regarding involvement in neutral systems, but he hadn’t explicitly gone against the Council.

And then, of course, there was the alternative.

Could he actually let her die?

Three years ago, the Council would not have hesitated to answer Satine’s plea, would have considered it their duty to help her and her people. Now, the war took precedence over everything – over sentient lives, over morality, over the Code. Yoda and Windu would undoubtedly argue that the war was about sentient lives, and morality, and the Code, and that fighting the war was the only way – the best option, out of all the bad ones – to restore peace in the Galaxy, and there was a good chance that they were correct. But Obi-Wan was so tired of it, so tired of compromising on everything he thought was wrong, and now he was finally presented with a situation where he knew that the right thing to do was to fight to save an innocent life, and the leaders of the Council were against him.

He couldn’t let Ahsoka die, and he couldn’t let Anakin lose her. And even if he did, what would be the point? Anakin would never forgive the Council – or Obi-Wan – regardless of how many Jedi platitudes were recited at him. Ahsoka would be dead. The war would still be going on, the Senate would still be deadlocked in chains of self-interest and greed and hunger for power, clones would still be dying. And for what? He had thought Dooku was lying when he’d tried to turn Obi-Wan to his side with his talk of a Sith Lord controlling the Senate, but the Council was secretly becoming more and more convinced that they were missing something, that the Sith Lord might indeed exist as a phantom somewhere in the shadows, lending power to the Separatists. But they still refused to truly acknowledge the possibility, and they continued to fight the endless war as though there were nothing else. How could he let Ahsoka die like that, betrayed and forsaken in favor of a cause that he was not sure was even the right one anymore? He couldn’t let her die, couldn’t let her become a victim to the same war-torn ruthlessness that had indirectly claimed Satine. He had sworn an oath to uphold the Code, to respect all life and protect those in need, and now the Council was asking him to twist the interpretation of those phrases to an extent that he was not sure he could.

And so he was back at the same conclusion he had arrived at in the Temple. He had to choose, had to choose between either doing what he felt to be right and turning his back on the Order to which he had dedicated his life, or following the Council’s directives and doing what he knew to be wrong. And he was finding that, just as he could not let Satine’s desperate appeal for help go unanswered, he couldn’t let Ahsoka be executed.

———

It was still a couple hours before dawn; the light from the ship’s overhead illuminators spilled out onto the grey duracrete floor of the repair bay as Anakin powered up the instrument panel. He’d chosen to work on this starfighter because the Padawans sentenced to mechno duty this ten-day had simply written a bewildered and despairing What the kriff???? in this ship’s most recent set of log notes. That was good. The harder this was to fix, the less time he’d have to think about anything else.

A quick scan of the repair log had told him that the ship was getting garbage readings from the inertial sensors, which in turn was confounding the control board’s ability to correctly set the grav generator, the repulsors, the stabilizers, and any number of other crucial components. He glanced at the front terminal. According to the console’s readout, gravity was indeed fluctuating wildly, hitting random values from negative three thousand to positive sixty-eight thousand. None of which made sense in light of the fact that Coruscant’s surface gravity was about nine point eight six. The magno and gyro readings were equally erratic.

Probably a synchronizer error. Anakin glared at the instrument panel. About thirty years ago, some genius had figured out that you could save about four credits on wiring if, rather than having all of a ship’s surface sensors reliably hooked up individually, you instead had them send data to a synchronizer chip that then sent it to the nav computer via a single serial bus wire. The synchronizer, in the optimistic scenario, took data from each sensor and sent it in a logical order to the main board. In the less optimistic and more realistic scenario, the synchronizer’s clock became wildly uncalibrated due to continued bombardment from the engine’s ion radiation, the synchronizer started sending data in incomprehensibly timed pulses, the nav computer did the best it could with the garbled binary and decoded it according to its regular protocol and spat out nonsense values. He should really get Ahsoka in here and show her how install a new synchronizer chip, he started to think before he could stop himself.

Teeth gritted, he jumped down from the starfighter’s cockpit. “Artoo, go get a 9.4 Cresh-Trill synchro from the supply room.” Pulling a wrench out of the nearby toolkit, he began removing the bolts from the ship’s side paneling with a little more force than strictly necessary.

Artoo returned a moment later, trilling his success.

“Thanks, buddy. You can just put it down with the other stuff.”

He yanked another bolt out. Obi-Wan had told him to wait till morning, and he would. And there was still a chance – a tiny, almost nonexistent chance – that Padmé or Palpatine would get somewhere with the Senate. But if any of them thought he was actually going to let his Padawan die, they were insane. Not again. Never again. He got the final bolt undone and yanked off the paneling, revealing the tangle of wires and instrumentation inside the ship, and found the single wire tagged Isk-Mern for Inertial Measurement. He followed its winding path through the mess of mechanical components until he hit the synchronizer chip, a small silicon mechnoboard with a blinking green light indicating its clock tick.

“Artoo, go get the durasolder.” He turned off the ship’s power, then severed the wires connected to the synchro. He would not let them kill Ahsoka, even if he had to break into the Central Detention Center himself and get her out. Padmé had said they would find a way to get the sentence commuted, but he didn’t think she even believed it herself. Tarkin wanted Ahsoka dead, and even Palpatine didn’t have the power to overturn the ruling. Anakin slashed through the final wire and ripped the synchronizer out.

He hoped that, if it came to that, Padmé would understand.

The Jedi Council, on the other hand, would be outraged that he wouldn’t let his Padawan be murdered for their political gain. And Obi-Wan… Anakin nearly snapped the new synchro in two as he picked it up with his mechno-hand. Obi-Wan was on the Council, had been there when they’d decided to cast her out, had been there when they’d decided to just accept the death sentence, and had done nothing. Anakin fiercely twisted the wires into place and brought the durasolder wick and iron sailing to him with the Force. Give me until morning, Obi-Wan had said. Well, Anakin would give him until morning. But Obi-Wan should never have let it get this far in the first place, he should have stood up for Ahsoka and instead he had sat by while she was sentenced to die, but of course Obi-Wan was the perfect Jedi, perfectly unattached, not caring what happened to anyone he knew.

Anakin finished soldering the new synchro chip in place, and he stormed to the ship’s cockpit and flicked the instrument panel back on. Obi-Wan and the rest of the Council had betrayed his Padawan, had cast her out to pander to the broken, slow-moving Senate, and now they were willing to let her die just to –

The accelerometer readings were still wrong. What? But this was a classic synchronizer error.

Anakin frowned. “Artoo, get in here.” He toggled the terminal to spit out the raw binary coming from the inertial sensors, instead of the decoded readings. “This mean anything to you? Partial inertial sensor numbers?”

Artoo’s scanners shone as he soaked up the binary, and after a few minutes he whistled a negative. No, they didn’t look like partial readings. There weren’t even start or stop codes for transmission. He’d tried decoding starting at each of the first one million bits and none of the following sequences matched decipherable output from the inertial sensors. It looked like random noise to him.

What? It couldn’t be a problem with the accelerometer, because the gyro and magno were giving similarly ridiculous readings. And it wasn’t the synchro, because he’d just replaced that. And it wasn’t the control board, because Artoo said the transmitted data it was receiving already didn’t make sense. But those were the only three components involved in that chain. So… a problem with the circuit somewhere where something that shouldn’t be was driving the wire? What in the – how would that even happen? He was already incensed, and he took the incomprehensibility of this inertial sensor bug as a personal affront. Grabbing an electrowrench, he stormed back to the open side paneling. He might not have been able to save Ahsoka from the Council’s selfish, cowardly decisions, but he had time to kill until morning, and he could vaping well fix this vaping ship and its vaping inertial sensor readings.

It was about an hour later, and Anakin was up to both elbows in the ship’s innards and had a fine dusting of aggravation at the starfighter coating his fury at the Council, when Obi-Wan stepped into the repair bay and shut the blast doors behind him.

“Well?” Anakin snarled at him, yanking a particularly reluctant Fynock booster out of its socket. “You told me to wait until morning, and it’s fifth hour antemeridian.”

“Yes, thank you, Anakin,” Obi-Wan said. “I do in fact possess the skills necessary to read a chrono.” He folded his arms across his chest. “I talked to Padmé, and she seems to think that the chances of a legal resolution are miniscule. Which gives us five days to find an alternative.”

“An alternative?” Anakin demanded incredulously, wrenching the cables out of their slots in the booster. They sparked violently, and he realized that he should have disconnected the Fynock system’s ion battery first, but he didn’t particularly care. “You already know what the only alternatives are. Even Palpatine can’t get the sentence overturned, Obi-Wan! You said don’t do anything reckless, but I’m not just waiting for them to kill her!

“I said don’t do anything reckless until morning. And as you so constructively pointed out, it’s already fifth hour.” Obi-Wan tossed a small silver rectangle at his former Padawan. “Here.”

Anakin caught it in the hand that wasn’t holding the booster. “What’s this?” he asked suspiciously.

“It’s the ignition chip for a ship docked in spot number six-oh-seven of the Star Rise Dealership’s back lot.”

Anakin paused. What in the – ? “You bought a ship? From that trash heap? At five in the morning?

“I wouldn’t necessarily say I bought it.”

Outright astonishment that beat out his anger. “You stole it? Master, what’s – what are you doing?”

“The same thing you were going to,” Obi-Wan said, “except better than you would have.”

His outright astonishment ratcheted up at least three notches. “You’re – Master, you’re – you’re getting her out?”

“Yes.” He gestured at the ignition chip in Anakin’s hand. “Load that ship with standard mission supplies and three extra sabers, disable any tracking beacons, and bring it to the northeast side of the Central Detention Center at ten-forty-five antemeridian.”

Today?”

“No, three weeks from now, once Tarkin’s already killed her.” He gave Anakin an exasperated look. “Yes, today.”

Anakin was reeling. This was not what he had expected at all.

Obi-Wan crossed his arms. “The more time passes, the more time Tarkin has to bolster security, and the more he’ll be expecting us to try something, and the more the Council will be expecting you to try something. The best time is this morning.”

Anakin stared at the ignition chip. Obi-Wan was talking about outright, immediate treason. Sure, Anakin had already resolved to do something equally drastic if he had to, but dragging Obi-Wan into – “You’re really – you’re serious? About – I mean, this would be – you’d be leaving the Order if – ”

“Yes, Anakin, I had actually worked out for myself that breaking a convicted war criminal out of Republic custody, in direct opposition to both the laws of the Republic and to the Jedi Council, would in fact result in my expulsion from the Jedi Order.”

Biting sarcasm of this level usually meant his former master was rattled. “And you’re okay with that?”

Obi-Wan was a black hole in the Force, so heavily shielded Anakin could barely sense him at all. “No,” he said flatly. “But I’m not ‘okay’ with letting the Republic execute Ahsoka either. And I’m not convinced I’d be doing more good by staying.”

Where in the star-forsaken Galaxy was this coming from? Something had happened two weeks ago, when Obi-Wan had borrowed – and destroyed – the Twilight. Anakin had felt something different in the Force around him when he’d returned, but when he’d asked Obi-Wan about it, his questions had been rebuffed with such caustic obliqueness that he had given it up. “Are you – ”

Yes, Anakin, I’m sure. Are you coming or not?”

Anakin stared at him, then shoved the booster back into its socket and shot Obi-Wan a sideways grin. “Of course I’m coming. So what’s the plan?”

Obi-Wan raised his eyebrows. “Oh, so now you want a plan? Why is it that when you want to go rushing in, we don’t need a plan, but as soon as

“Kriff, Master, you’re just going to walk in the front door?” Anakin demanded, reading the evasion. “And then what, just take out all the clone troopers, short out the ray shield generator with your saber, grab Ahsoka, and run?”

“Well, if you have some ingenious idea you’d like to suggest, by all means – ”

“I thought you said you were going to do it better than I would have,” Anakin said. “But you know that’s exactly what I would do. And then you would show up like,” – Anakin couldn’t really pull off Obi-Wan’s upper-class Core accent, but he made a valiant attempt – “Ahn-na-kin, that is not so much a ‘plan’ as a direct starmap to Catastrophe’s moon, and I would strongly suggest that –

“No, it isn’t what you would do,” Obi-Wan cut him off. “You would be detained before you so much as got past the first gate. I am a member of the Jedi Council, with no direct tie to Ahsoka, and I expect they will let me through without incident. And I have never once said the phrase direct starmap to Catastrophe’s moon.

“Yeah, sure, only because you’ve never thought of it,” Anakin said. “And stop changing the subject. That’s a terrible plan and you know it.”

“Well, what do you suggest we do? Disguise ourselves as clones? You can’t even fake my accent, much less Jango Fett’s.”

“You’re right,” Anakin said, looking Obi-Wan over critically. “And you’re a little short for a clone trooper.”

Obi-Wan gave him yet another exasperated look. “Just trust me. Bring that ship to the northeast side of the detention center at ten-forty-five. Ahsoka and I will be there.” He turned to leave. “…Hopefully.”

Chapter Text

The ceiling was a dark gray, tinged red by the glowing illuminators set into the floor’s gridding. Sort of depressing that this dim cell might be the last place she would ever see.

She wondered for the hundredth time if she was actually going to die in five days. It almost didn’t feel real; but the hard, smooth surface of the gray bench under her back was unambiguously solid, too specific for a nightmare, too immediate for a Force vision.

I would never let anyone hurt you, Ahsoka, Anakin had said. Yeah right. He’d let them bring her here, let them put her on trial, let them follow the planted evidence and convict her of a war crime. Let them sentence her to die. It was his fault, and the Council’s fault, and the Senate’s fault, and she wanted to scream at Anakin, to tell him she’d told him her only choice was to run but he hadn’t listened and now look where she was, and she wanted to decimate the Jedi Council, and she wanted to rip Tarkin’s face off, and –

She ran an exhausted hand over her eyes and curled into a miserable ball on the hard bench. Some Jedi she was, angry and afraid all at once. Kriff, maybe they’d been right to expel her. The Jedi way would probably have been to cheerfully accept being murdered by the Republic, she thought bitterly.

Was she really going to die? Was this really all she had, just these sixteen years before she got caught in and strangled by this strange twist of circumstance? Would they realize afterwards that they’d made a mistake, that she hadn’t had anything to do with the crime they’d killed her for? Would her entire life become just a single phrase in a history holobook, A Jedi Padawan was wrongfully blamed for the bombing and subsequently executed before further evidence revealed the attack was in fact carried out by….

She had always assumed, at the back of her mind, that she’d die in battle, had always assumed that her death would mean something.

She shut her eyes in a desperate attempt to block everything out. She’d thought that maybe the Council would come for her, that maybe they’d stand up for her against the death sentence, but last night three Jedi Temple Guards had taken up position at the end of the hallway outside her cell, presumably to prevent another escape attempt, and she’d known with a hot, desperate, furious, terrified dizziness that she was truly alone.

They could all go straight to the kriffing Sith Hells, she thought fiercely. The Council, the Senate, the Jedi, the Republic – she wanted nothing to do with it anymore, and if she did get out of here, if Barriss or Anakin managed to prove her innocence in time, if she made it out alive, she was leaving Coruscant and never coming back.

———

The Republic Judiciary Central Detention Center was a charmingly grayish, lumpy structure that had the delightful traits of being heavily guarded, heavily fortified, and heavily surveilled all at once. Obi-Wan brought the Temple speeder down onto the duracrete of the docking level, looked up at the towering building, and briefly entertained the thought that there was a distinct possibility that this was not, in fact, the best plan he had ever devised. But given the short notice and enormous hurdles, he had nothing better; and Anakin certainly had nothing better, if his past attempts at strategy were indicative of anything. So here he was, about to walk through the large transparisteel doors of the domed upper level of the RJCDC and attempt to break out a convicted war criminal with nothing but a single lightsaber and some mind tricks.

He felt as though he were moving through a faint haze – he still could not believe he was doing this. But the situation was untenable, the war was going nowhere, the Council was willfully blind, and Ahsoka was innocent, and he would do what he felt he must. He would not let her die for the winding scheme that had twisted this situation into its current form; he would not let her die, and they would get to the bottom of whatever snarled conspiracy had driven this.

Attachment, his mind whispered at him. Attachment to her, and to Anakin.

Compassion, he snapped back.

The peace and justice of the Galaxy will be guarded, and all life in any form is and will be respected. Words he had heard endlessly as a youngling, words of the Code that was supposed to guide his actions in place of emotion or passion. Words that the Council was supposed to hold sacred. Words that, in his estimation, precluded allowing an innocent being to be killed in cold blood in front of them for crimes she had not committed. In some circumstances, he added, reflexively philosophic – in some horrible circumstances, the death of innocents was unavoidable, or better than the alternative; but in this case, when the only thing they stood to gain was maybe an extra fraction of a gram to add to the rapidly tilting scales of political power in the Republic, as if that tiny contribution would somehow be enough to stabilize the massive, shifting weights of galactic turmoil – in this case, he could see no justification.

The walk across the duracrete of the docking level was not nearly long enough. The doors were disturbingly close now. 

Well. No time like the present to dismantle his entire life and disavow the only home he’d ever known.

A deep breath to banish this cheering thought and any wisps of emotion it entailed, and he strode through the first set of blast doors as they opened automatically at his approach, their four panes withdrawing and the diamond-shaped opening widening to let him through. He walked down the narrow gray hallway, his boots silent against the gray tiles of the floor, and waited while the next set of gray blast doors twisted open to admit him. The color scheme was remarkably unoriginal, really.

He stepped into the next room, where someone had opted for the daring move of adding red trim around the gray monitors affixed to the gray wall panels. Obi-Wan took a moment to appreciate the bold creativity of this interior decorating choice as he made his way to the transparisteel barrier walling off a control room.

One of the clone troopers in the red armor of the Coruscant Guard looked up from a glowing terminal. “Yes?”

“I’m General Obi-Wan Kenobi, here to see the prisoner Ahsoka Tano.”

“General Kenobi,” the clone trooper repeated in surprise. “I’m sorry, sir, Admiral Tarkin has ordered that no one be allowed to see her without his express permission.”

Of course he had. “I’m here to speak with her on behalf of the Jedi Council, under Clause 83-7 of G.R. Senate Regulation J-62.” Admiral Tarkin could not – he hoped – override the Jedi Order’s legal right to speak with any prisoner in Republic custody with suspected connections to a mission or investigation involving Jedi.

“Ah, let’s see.” The clone trooper pushed a few buttons on a datapad, then slid it across the counter through a narrow window. “You’ll just need to fill out the Clause 83-7 authorization form.”

There was something poetic in the fact that quite possibly his last act as a ranking Jedi Master was going to be filling out paperwork, he thought dryly. He skimmed through the form, adding his thumbprint to certify a number of statements involving the prisoner’s relevance to Jedi affairs as well as his own authority to act in official capacity on behalf of the Jedi Order. He handed the datapad back to the clone trooper, and there was a couple seconds’ delay as the system verified his print and checked his credentials. “All right, you’re cleared. Scan him,” the clone trooper added over his shoulder; once that was completed, he pushed open a drawer on Obi-Wan’s side of the barrier. “Comm link and lightsaber in here.”

Wonderful. The comm link he surrendered without issue, but the saber was another matter. “Actually, per G.R. Senate Regulation JNC-88-21, members of the Jedi Council are permitted to carry a single lightsaber in any Republic-owned building, regardless of security measures in place in that area,” he invented, infusing his voice with Force-borne certainty. It was not a particularly simple deception – there were six total clones in the control room whom he had to reach with the mind trick – but he did have the unfair advantages that the clones were genetically predisposed to follow orders and trained since birth to obey Jedi, which made them relatively easy targets. Plus, unlike Anakin’s gundark-esque attempts at subtle deceit, his lies actually sounded believable.

“Actually, per G.R. Senate Regulation JNC-88-21, you’re permitted to keep the lightsaber with you if you prefer,” the clone amended. And you questioned me, Anakin, Obi-Wan thought smugly. Anakin clearly still had much to learn.

To his immense irritation, four of the clone troopers moved to accompany him to Ahsoka’s cell, a precaution that was offensive either in its assumption that he could not cope with a single sixteen-year-old on his own, or in its suggestion that he could not be trusted in the building without an escort. The truth of this latter assertion did nothing to diminish his sense of indignation.

The clone troopers led the way down a series of narrow (gray) corridors; Obi-Wan took advantage of the situation to subtly Force-lift a keycard off one of them. So far, this was almost ludicrously easy.

Then they turned down the final narrow gray corridor, at which point things became significantly less ludicrously easy. Three Temple Guards, in their long brown robes and pale masks and armed with saber pikes, stood watch at the head of the hallway leading to Ahsoka’s cell. This complication he had not anticipated. Whatever disagreeable sentient was running this poorly decorated eyesore of an institution must have requested assistance from the Temple, and Yoda or Mace must have granted it; how discourteous of them to have failed to inform him of this glaring roadblock in his otherwise airtight plans to directly disregard their authority.

Well, he had approximately five minutes left as a renowned member of the Jedi Council, so he might as well take advantage of that status. “I’d like a word with Tano, alone.” Then, with a hint of wry amusement as they hesitated fractionally, “I don’t think I need to be protected from a sixteen-year-old unarmed Padawan.”

The guards inclined their heads and retreated around the corner and out of earshot, and he made his way down the hall to the single cell.

Ahsoka sat up on the gray inset bench as he approached, her eyes hard. She looked tired and slightly haggard, but she met his gaze defiantly through the shimmering red ray shield when he halted in front of it. “Master Kenobi,” she observed frigidly, her voice so cold it probably registered as an anomaly on the temperature sensors of the Coruscant Planetary Weather Control Network.

“You know,” he said, regarding her thoughtfully, “Anakin was my Padawan for eleven years and I never once had to aid him in fleeing a death sentence handed down by the Republic High Court." His airy gesture encompassed their surroundings. "You appear to have outdone him rather dramatically.”

A beat of silence, and then her blue eyes widened as she parsed his meaning. “Master – you’re here to get me out?”

He pulled out the keycard he’d hidden up his sleeve. “Assuming you want to leave. The décor is rather charming.”

Ahsoka was already on her feet. “I didn’t find it particularly appealing,” she said with a dubious glance at the gray ceiling. Then, with a touch of sarcasm and the barest hint of relief, “So the Council decided not to let me die after all?”

“Actually, last I spoke with them, they were proving rather obstinate on that particular point.”

“Then why are you – ” A small frown of confusion. “I mean, the rest of the Council knows you’re here, don’t they?”

“Does the rest of the Council know I’m in the Central Detention Center, about to break a convicted felon out of Republic custody?” Obi-Wan raised his eyebrows. “I may have forgotten to inform them of this particular upcoming event when last we convened.”

She froze, startled. “Chissk, Master Obi-Wan. You – ”

“Mind your language, young one, we’re in a government establishment.” He gave her a stern look, the kind that had never worked on Anakin. “Are you ready to go?”

Momentary hesitation. “I mean, yes, but – ”

“Good.” They were wasting time, and he didn’t particularly want to engage this line of questioning. He slid the keycard through the locking device, and the crimson ray shield obligingly disappeared.

Ahsoka fell into mission-ready alertness, dropping her earlier concerns at least temporarily, her desire to escape evidently overwhelming any other considerations. “So how are we getting out of here?”

“Anakin has a ship waiting at the northeast edge of the building. So we’re getting as far towards that side as we can before they come after us.”

“And when they do come after us?”

Obi-Wan looked at her. “We run, I suppose.”

Ahsoka’s eyes narrowed. “Did Anakin come up with this plan? …Or lack thereof?”

Everyone was a critic. Unbelievable. “Anakin’s would have been even worse,” Obi-Wan said irritably. “Beyond that, from what he tells me, you employed the technique of haphazardly running away to great efficacy last time you escaped from Republic custody.”

“Yeah,” she agreed with a quick grin, “but last time there weren’t Force-sensitive Temple Guards with lightsaber pikes down the hall.”

“Ah.” It was true that he might have failed to account for this particular development in the planning stages. “Well, young one, a Jedi improvises in the face of the unexpected.”

“I’m not a Jedi,” Ahsoka pointed out.

“Yes, and by tomorrow I expect I won’t be, either.” He drew his saber. “So I suggest we improvise our way through the floor and run for it.”

He waited for her nod of assent, then flicked the blade to life, hoping its vibrating buzz and blaze in the Force would not be quite enough to draw the Temple Guards, and plunged it through the grating.

Judging from the flare of surprise in the Force and the sudden running footsteps, it was, in fact, enough to draw the Temple Guards.

“Chissk,” Ahsoka observed.

The floor, thankfully, was nothing more than a few centimeters of low-grade sheet metal and a support lattice; it melted through at the first touch of the plasma blade, and Obi-Wan carved a tight circle in one rapid motion, not bothering to employ the Force to cushion its fall; it was not as if their intention were a secret at this point. “All right, time to go.” The metal clanged loudly as it slammed against the floor below, and they leapt down after it as the Temple Guards rounded the corner.

Chapter Text

They took off down the dim corridor at a dead sprint, skidding to a halt across the threshold of the first blast door so Obi-Wan could swipe the stolen card through the access panel, sending the doors twisting closed behind them, and then they were running again in what Ahsoka was assuming Obi-Wan knew to be a northeasterly direction. The alarm system roared to shrieking life, the red emergency lights flashed on, and the upcoming blast doors grated against the walls as their panes thundered shut.

They made it through three more sets of doors, dove through a fourth, and the keycard opened the fifth, at which point they found themselves facing a handful of clone troopers who were yelling at them to freeze. Or what, you’ll kill me? Ahsoka would have rolled her eyes if she’d had time, but Obi-Wan was already veering down a side corridor and the guards were opening fire, so she didn’t.

Down a hallway, blue plasma bolts streaking past them, down another – clones blocking their path, Obi-Wan cut through the floor again and they dropped down another level – zigzagging through the corridors until they emerged into the wide high-ceilinged outer perimeter hallway that encircled the building – shocktroopers coming from three directions, a lot of them, kriff

She rolled under a plasma bolt, knew it was going to ricochet off the curved outer wall behind her, flipped over its return path, landed, twisted out of the way of another, and ducked as Obi-Wan’s sapphire blade sliced through the air in front of her, deflecting a third streak of energy. Chissk, this was a lot – a lot – of clone troopers – she dove and rolled under a stun blast, pivoted out of the path of a blaster bolt – a quick flash of fear amidst her adrenaline-sharp focus, because they were penned in against the wall, there was almost no way they could get out of this without killing anyone, but if they were captured then she was literally dead and there was no telling what they’d do to Obi-Wan and she – 

Obi-Wan nudged her, lightning-fast, through the Force, a momentary sense of reassurance and a vague impression that their best bet was to hold position and – a hint of dry amusement at this – count on Anakin. Fine. She somersaulted over the field of plasma bolts, landed next to the nearest shocktrooper, and was already kicking him in the shin and yanking the blaster from his hands before he fully registered her presence. She toggled it to stun, took out several of the clones around her with rings of purple energy before they had a chance to fire, kicked some more shins for the hell of it, slammed a clone in the stomach with her elbow and rolled away from a blaster barrel swung at her montrals. They were closing in around her – she backflipped over their heads, spun sideways in midair to avoid a bolt, mistimed her landing slightly, smashed her shoulder against the hard metal floor – ow – and rolled to her feet in the lee of the azure storm that was Obi-Wan’s blinding saberplay. She took down three of the nearest clone troopers with stun blasts, and then the whine of plasma bolts abruptly stopped as one of the clones – presumably someone in charge – called to check fire.

Ahsoka had a split second to decide that this could not be good, and then she registered that the three Temple Guards had apparently gotten through the maze of blast doors and were standing at the entrance to the perimeter hallway, saber pikes glowing yellow. Kriff. Kriff kriff KRIFF. She had to stop herself from reaching automatically for her absent sabers – she felt naked, wrong, without them – chissk – she could fight non-Force-sensitive clones hand-to-hand, but with nothing but a blaster against armed Jedi – she felt another thrill of fear, a hot rush of adrenaline, as the shocktroopers fell back, forming a wide semicircle around them with the wall cutting them off from behind. Obi-Wan, meanwhile, stood at the center of this sudden open gladiatorial ring looking pretty much as jaunty as ever, saber held casually in front of him in a fluid defensive guard. Ahsoka had a millisecond to wonder, through the sound of blood pounding in her montrals, how in the vaping Force he could look at approaching doom with the same irreverent ease you’d expect to see from a kid on a hoverboard looking at a No Hoverboards sign.

And then, “Drop your weapons and surrender,” one of the Temple Guards said, stepping forward, brown robes rustling in the unnatural stillness. 

As if. Kriff that. How did they even dare say that, as if some cliché holodrama line was going to make her give in when the Republic was going to kill her? If she was going down, she was going down fighting for her life in a way that they’d vaping remember. The Force roaring with her hammering heartbeat, Ahsoka snarled her defiance, sensing in the back of her mind the echo of fear and anger rebounding across her Force bond with Anakin, and hefted the blaster to chest height.

Obi-Wan stayed unmoving, dangerously still.

“You’re surrounded,” the second guard said, voice low. “You know you can’t get past all of us before reinforcements from the Temple arrive.”

Ahsoka almost snorted. It was a clear, cowardly ploy – they obviously didn’t want to face Obi-Wan, obviously didn’t want combat, but no way in hell was she letting them get away with that. She wasn’t letting them lock her up in a cell and leave, because she knew what they were doing, they were doing their duty, they were upholding their oaths, but she was going to die because of them and yet they were too cowardly to step forward now and vaping kill her themselves, and she was sick and tired of Jedi evasion, of the it’s-not-our-responsibility-because-we-were-just-obeying-the-Republic reasoning, and she was shaking with anger because the Guards were just standing there calmly and asking her to willingly hand herself over to be murdered, as if her life meant nothing, the same way it had meant nothing to the Jedi Council, the same way it had meant nothing to the Senate, and she was kriffing going to make them fight her, she was kriffing going to make the Jedi Order see her blood on their hands, she was done letting them throw off responsibility, and if she was going to die then she was going to make them kill her. Her heart was racing, she felt battle-bright fury roaring through her veins – 

The Guards each took a step forward, a single threatening motion in which they started to separate into a three-pronged attack formation, and Ahsoka sank into a defensive crouch, teeth bared, holding the blaster in front of her. The faceless Guards spread out, moving to surround them, like Corellian sand panthers circling a paralope; the Force was taut with the same tension as the air before a thunderstorm; the Guards began to close in, and Obi-Wan spun his saber in a bright double helix of grim challenge, and the Guards raised their pikes, and Ahsoka leveled the blaster, and Obi-Wan took a whirling step forward –

And the Force split open as Anakin crashed a starship straight through the half-meter-thick wall of the building.

The five Jedi leapt, spun, or tumbled out of the way as the ship screamed to a stop, its emergency repulsors whirring to desperate life as they strained to slow it down before it smashed into the far wall or hit the clone troopers diving for safety. Ahsoka noted, with the bizarre clarity of blank astonishment, that it was a silver StarStreak 3C Mini-Series yacht – a fast, six-meter-long vehicle that looked more like an oversized airspeeder than a starship but that could manage intrasystem space travel, and that was often favored by high-end smugglers carrying expensive blackmarket goods for the upper classes. And then Anakin pulled open the sunroof – because of course the yacht had a sunroof – and he was on top of the ship, saber blazing, and he Force-shoved the Temple Guards backwards, and Ahsoka and Obi-Wan leapt for it, and all three of them tumbled into the wide cockpit as the troopers opened fire.

“For stars’ sake, Anakin,” Obi-Wan said.

Anakin, ignoring this, was already lunging for the controls, and he yanked the yoke up, raising the yacht as high off the ground as it could go before it hit the ceiling. Sparks cascaded down the transparisteel viewport as blaster bolts slammed against the side of the ship, and Anakin spun it in a tight circle and dove for the gaping punched-in hole in the outer wall. The jagged edges of the crumbling duracrete shrieked against the yacht’s siding, and then the ship was out over the congested cityscape, where they were immediately met by the screaming sirens of the Coruscant Security Force.

“What the kriff is the CSF doing here?” Anakin demanded through gritted teeth, sending the yacht into a stomach-turning vertical nose dive as three interceptors, blue and red lights flashing imperiously, streaked towards them. “I thought they were only supposed to worry about local Coruscanti stuff!”

“Well,” Obi-Wan snapped, “seeing as one of us just crashed an entire starship through the wall of a local Coruscanti building – ”

“Look, it was taking too long – chissk – ” Anakin yanked the ship sideways to avoid a honking airbus, and Ahsoka grabbed the wall as the grav generators struggled to counteract the sudden acceleration. “ – to cut through the entire wall with a saber,” he finished in response to the implied criticism. “So I sped things up.”

“Well, maybe you could speed things up now,” Obi-Wan suggested.

“Yeah, okay, Master, I’m – chissktrying, but this thing is kind of hard to steer since the nose is all bent and – ”

“Astonishing, that ramming it through half a meter of duracrete had negative consequences on its structural integrity.”

“I didn’t see you offering any brilliant ideas at the time,” Anakin snapped back as he wrestled the unsteady ship sideways, dodging through skylanes of traffic as sirens blared behind them. “What were you even planning to do? Fight all those Temple Guards singlehandedly?”

“If by all those you mean all three – ”

“Yeah, and what about all sixty of the clone tr – kriff – ” Anakin spun the ship nearly upside down to avoid a looming corporate building while simultaneously veering out of the way of a handful of airspeeders waiting to merge, and suddenly there were about ten more CSF interceptors in front of them. Cursing vividly in Huttese, he yanked the throttle and dove beneath them.

Ahsoka kept her balance on the tilting deck as Anakin zigzagged between skyscrapers and darted around slow-moving mass-transit vehicles; she felt the Force as it whirled with the motion of the ship, felt the hair’s-breadth gap between the yacht and the speeder of the furiously cursing Rodian whose left airfoil Anakin had just barely missed – Anakin sent the ship diving desperately to escape the path of an oncoming interceptor, and then he pulled up at the bottom of the arc right before they slammed into the top of a towering shopping mall, and then suddenly the ship was slowing down, much more than it should – Anakin swore again, checked the control panel – “The left power cell’s out. Chissk, we need more speed – Master, can you pilot for a moment?”

“Maybe next time, don’t fly the ship through a wall,” Obi-Wan suggested acidly as he took over the controls.

Anakin, ignoring this comment, was already turning to Ahsoka and tossing her two lightsabers from his belt. “Snips, open the front paneling and cut anything we don’t need that’s draining power. Then come help me with the ion drive.”

Okay, fine. Dropping to her knees, she activated one of the sabers and sliced through the metal siding below the dash, ripped it off and confronted the massive tangle of wires within. She found the thick red power cable, found the place it split and connected to the smaller cables for the individual panels, and yanked out anything that was nonessential – the nav computer, the pressure ameliorators, the atmosphere detectors. Not that any of those were major power drains. She sure hoped Anakin knew what he was doing with the engine – outrunning top-of-the-line police interceptors in a battered smuggler’s yacht on fifty percent power seemed like a tall order, although to be fair this was hardly the dumbest thing they’d ever tried.

She made her way across the rolling deck to the back of the ship, where Anakin had pulled off the paneling enclosing the engine and was rapidly rewiring the cables around one of the sublight drives. One of the zero-grav, zero-atmo sublight drives.

“The Z-sublight can go fast on low power.” He wrenched a cable out of its socket. “So if we – ”

Ahsoka stared at him. “What? You’re gonna use a graviton motor in a planetary grav field?

Anakin shook his head impatiently at her protest. “It’ll work if we set it incredibly low and wire it in to take weak alternating current draining off the primary repulsor. At least, it seems like it might. Theoretically.”

“No it doesn’t. But I guess it’s better than being caught by the CSF. You know, assuming the whole ship doesn’t explode.”

“It won’t,” said Anakin, with the confidence that Ahsoka knew usually signaled impending disaster. “Okay, there’s no time to go into the ship’s programming to get around the safety catches – the Z-sublight won’t boot if it’s reading planetary grav – ”

Which meant the inertial measures needed to mimic space – “What if we just swap the gyro and accel leads?” That would thoroughly destroy any attempts by the computer to piece together steady grav from the sensor readings, which, depending on the grav detection algorithm, might be enough to turn off the safety catch.

“Do it,” Anakin agreed, tossing her a knife.

Anakin,” Obi-Wan said as the ship shuddered warningly, “now would be an ideal time – ”

“Brake your banthas, Master, I’m working on it,” Anakin snapped back. “Okay, Snips, whenever you’re ready – ”

She twisted the final two ends of newly stripped wire together, shoving the strands of conductive metal into each other with the Force, and felt the electricity rush through them. “Done.”

“All right, here goes.” He connected the last cable, wiring the sublight drive into the circuit; a momentary pause, and then the drive started up, whirring faintly, and Ahsoka and Anakin were both nearly thrown backwards as the ship accelerated alarmingly.

“That took you long enough,” Obi-Wan remarked, with a hint of relief, veering the ship sideways through traffic at its newfound breakneck pace.

Anakin gave Ahsoka a grin that was part cocky and part relieved. “Told you it’d work.”

She rolled her eyes. “Even a broken chrono – ”

“Shut up, Snips,” he said, at which point the left power cell burst into flames.

Ahsoka regarded it with vague horror.

“Well, kriff,” Anakin said, with something close to incredulous amazement. “That’s not good.”

Ahsoka raised her brow at him in a sort of wordless agreement.

“Uh, Master?” Anakin called, shoving the paneling back over the engine compartment presumably on the theory that this would at least isolate the issue. “We, uh, have a bit of a problem here.”

“As in, a new problem?”

“Yeah, as in, the ship’s, uh, sort of on fire.”

“For stars’ sake, Anakin.”

“And since it’s the power cell, it’s probably going to explode at some point.”

A second of silence, the Force tense with what they all knew – Coruscant was too densely populated for an exploding ship to be harmless.

“The Reservoir,” Obi-Wan decided, referring to the large body of standing surface water maintained by the Planetary Weather Control Network for humidity and temperature regulation. “It’s about one hundred fifty klicks north – if we can fly the ship into it, that should at least minimize any explosion, and it’s in the Dacho District so we can make for the underlevels before anyone catches up.”

“It’s not a worse plan than anything else we’ve done today,” Anakin offered by way of support.

“Thank you for the ringing endorsement, Anakin,” Obi-Wan said acerbically. “Now come pilot, since calamitous landings are such a specialty of yours.”

Anakin shot him a quick glare in response to this, but he moved to take over, and then he was flying, and they were dodging between vehicles, weaving around buildings, and Ahsoka could feel his exhilaration – even with the graviton motor on lowest power, they were moving many, many times faster than the uppermost legal limits for travel on Coruscant, and it was only Force-enhanced reflexes that kept them from disaster, and then the ship shuddered again and they were losing altitude and Anakin grabbed for various buttons on the control panel, frantically rerouting power and tuning various repulsors, and then with a groan the ship stabilized, and he yanked it sideways a split second before they slammed into a high-rise apartment complex.

“Anakin, I would really prefer not to die in a Coruscant traffic accident,” Obi-Wan said irritably.

“It’s not my fault!” Anakin snapped as he jerked the yacht through a maze of decorative turrets. “It’s your piece-of-chissk ship!”

“It’s not mine. But if we do manage survive, I will make sure to convey your disdain to its rightful owners when they’re suing us in Galactic Court for destruction of property.”

“Suing us? You stole it!”

“And you flew it into a wall. And, technically, you stole it.”

What?” Anakin demanded, outraged and narrowly avoiding crashing the struggling yacht headfirst into a speeding mail carrier. “Technically – ”

Ahsoka rolled her eyes. “I can’t believe that if this thing blows up and we all die, the last thing I’m going to hear is you two arguing about who technically stole it.” Although part of her was almost relieved; much better to die listening to Anakin and Obi-Wan sniping at each other than to die alone on the Republic’s execution table.

“Do not center on your anxieties, young one,” Obi-Wan advised. “And it was Anakin.”

“No it wasn’t! You stole the ignition chip!” Anakin protested. “That counts!”

“No, it doesn’t; you’re the one who actually stole the ship.”

“Yeah but – ”

“ – and you’re the one who flew it through a wall.”

“Only because I was saving your neck for the ninth time!”

What? Eighth time, and it doesn’t count anyway.”

“Yes it does! Why do you always – ” At which point the reservoir appeared from behind the latest set of buildings they’d dodged through. “Okay,” Anakin said, “I’ll slow it down, get ready to jump.”

Ahsoka wrenched open the sunroof as Anakin angled the ship downwards, sending them hurtling towards the water.

“Okay, change of plans,” he announced after a moment of banging on various controls on the instrument panel. “I’m not slowing it down, because the repulsors aren’t working. So, uh, just get ready to jump.”

“That’s fine,” Obi-Wan said. “Crashing into a lake at three hundred klicks per hour is one of the better outcomes I’ve experienced when flying with you.”

“Shut up, Master,” Anakin said, locking the steering mechanism and grabbing a backpack of supplies from under the dash. “Let’s go.”

They climbed out onto the roof of the ship, and Ahsoka felt the blinding exhilaration of the whirling wind as she kept her balance on the speeding yacht with the aid of the Force, and then she jumped for it.

The water was cold, and it took her breath away, and she came to the surface gasping. She made her way to shore, and hauled herself out onto the surrounding duracrete, and Anakin and Obi-Wan followed a moment later, climbing out onto dry land with the singularly bedraggled look of sopping humans. Behind them, the ship, which had slammed rather spectacularly into the water, was slowly starting to disappear beneath the surface.

With the sirens left comfortably in the distance, they leapt the high barbed wire fence surrounding the reservoir and melted into the colorless, dilapidated streets of the Dacho industrial sector. The buildings, mostly abandoned, rose dingy and gray around them; this section of Coruscant had been left largely deserted and neglected as manufacturing jobs were steadily shipped off-world in pursuit of cheaper labor and looser chemical pollution laws. The streets were filthy, strewn with discarded factory machinery as well as garbage from the squatters and smugglers who inhabited or passed through this district, and an occasional duracrete slug crept around the piles of crumbling, disused construction equipment.

They made their way quickly deep into the maze of dark, empty roads until they finally came to an old, decrepit turbolift station. With a look of resigned distaste, Obi-Wan punched the button to call a lift. “Let’s head for the underlevels.”

Here?” Anakin asked dubiously. “I don’t know, Master, there’s Cthon down there.”

Obi-Wan pushed the button a few more times for good measure. “For the last time, Anakin, that’s a myth. Cthon aren’t real.”

“Yes, they are. Everybody knows that.”

“Master Vos told me he saw one once,” Ahsoka put in.

“You see?” Anakin asked. “If Master Quinlan said it’s true – ”

“ – then it’s almost certainly false.” Obi-Wan stepped into the turbolift as its doors rattled open. “Now get in this blasted thing before the CSF, who are indisputably real, catch up.”

Anakin made a face as he stepped over the threshold. “If we get eaten, it’s your fault.”

“Cthon don’t eat people, Master,” Ahsoka protested. “They just kill you for fun.”

“For stars’ sake.” Obi-Wan punched in level two thousand thirty-nine, deep enough that Ahsoka was certain that if Cthon really did exist, they’d definitely encounter them down there.

When the lift finally stopped its rickety downward descent, they stepped out into the eerie, dark silence of the Dacho underlevels. Unlike the city below the Senate District, this place was almost entirely uninhabited. The huge artificial lights were in various stages of demise, some burnt out entirely, others dim, others flickering balefully. The noise from the air traffic at the surface filtered down only as the vague impression of a faint, barely audible buzzing in the still air. Piles of abandoned junk stood like black hills against the sides of the crumbling buildings, casting jagged shadows in the dingy artificial light.

“Ugh, this place is creepy,” Anakin said, wrinkling his nose. “Master, there’s definitely Cthon down here.”

Obi-Wan gave him a look of exasperated disdain and set off into the dismal half-light. They wound through the murky streets for what felt to Ahsoka to be close to an infinite amount of time, until Obi-Wan determined they were far enough into the labyrinth that they wouldn’t be found, and then they pushed open the rusting door of an abandoned building, so derelict that its original purpose was indiscernible, and took shelter in a back room where the only light was the tenuous glow seeping in through a shattered window.

“Well,” Anakin said, breaking the ghostly silence, “that actually went okay.”

Ahsoka nodded and sank down against the cracked wall, suddenly worn out in the aftermath of earlier pounding adrenaline. She felt faintly dazed, with the sort of dizzy incredulity that came from being suddenly broken out of prison after you had just spent about fifteen hours sitting in a cell contemplating your impending death. She wasn’t going to die – well, at least, wasn’t going to be executed by the Republic in less than a week, although the Cthon situation down here was yet to be determined, she thought with the dimmest trace of amusement. But – it was just starting to really hit her, what Anakin and Obi-Wan had done. They’d gone against the Order, gone against the Republic, just to save her. She hadn’t meant for any of this to happen, hadn’t meant for them to get involved – maybe she shouldn’t have run the first time, maybe – but she had run, and there was nothing she could do about it now. And so here they were, deep in the worst of the underlevels, hiding from the same Republic they’d been fighting for nearly their entire lives.

She realized dimly that underneath her tension and anxiety, she was utterly exhausted. When had she last slept? Yesterday? The day before?

“Here,” Anakin said, unzipping the waterproof backpack and tossing her a cloak.

It was wonderfully dry, and warm, and she wrapped herself in it gratefully. Then she looked up at Anakin and Obi-Wan, reaching for words. “So um… thank you for saving me.”

Anakin gave her a sideways grin. “Come on, Snips, did you really think we’d leave you there?”

Yes? Maybe? Quite possibly, after he’d so clearly sided against her when she’d run the first time? But she didn’t say any of that, because she wasn’t quite tired enough to be that melodramatic. Instead, she gave him a shaky grin in return. “I’m still surprised you actually pulled it off.”

“Me too,” Anakin agreed, “considering Obi-Wan’s plan was just to walk in to the – ”

“And considering your plan was just to fly an entire starship into the wall,” Obi-Wan shot back.

“But it worked,” Anakin said.

“Barely,” Ahsoka interjected, not quite tired enough to let him get away with that blatant oversimplification. “I mean, we crash-landed in a lake.”

“To be fair, that’s actually a surprisingly good outcome for one of Anakin’s plans,” Obi-Wan said.

“That’s true,” Ahsoka agreed, starting to feel sleep tugging at the edges of her consciousness.

“Shut up and get some rest, Snips,” Anakin said. “I’ll wake you up if the Cthon come.”

Anakin,” Obi-Wan began, “for the last time…

Ahsoka, feeling as though the exhausting weight of the fear and the anger and all the other forbidden emotions of the past few days had crashed against her as soon as she’d sat down, took Anakin’s suggestion. She’d have to face what they’d done at some point, but that point could be tomorrow; she couldn’t stand the thought of it now, and she was suddenly so tired. She pulled the cloak tightly around herself and curled up on the cold duracrete floor, pushing everything out of her mind and welcoming the blankness of unconsciousness.

———

“So,” Anakin said, breaking the grim silence that had settled over the dark room once Ahsoka had fallen asleep, “what next?”

“We go after whoever’s behind this,” Obi-Wan said, his eyes hard in the half-light.

“You mean, whoever framed her?”

“Yes, and whoever orchestrated it.”

Anakin frowned. “What’s that mean?”

“I think there is more going on here than the Council is willing to see.” Obi-Wan crossed his arms. “All of this is just… too clean. Think about it, Anakin. The evidence pointed to her, and then the court asked to have her expelled from the Order, and the Council felt it had no politically tenable choice but to comply, and then she was sentenced to death on incomplete circumstantial evidence. Which, if it all played out correctly, would leave you with the choice to either let her be executed or to directly defy the Council. Either way, for the low price of framing a single Padawan, one of the most powerful Jedi would be alienated from the Order, a rift would be opened between the members of the Council who agreed with the choice to expel her and those who did not, and distrust would be sown between the Jedi and the Republic and amongst the Jedi ourselves. It’s really a brilliantly simple way to destabilize the entire Order, and I would guess that whoever is behind it knows that.”

Anakin narrowed his eyes. “So you’re saying someone planned the entire thing just to get at the Jedi?”

“I don’t know.” Obi-Wan shook his head. “But maybe.”

“No offense, Master, but you kind of sound like one of those conspiracy crazies on the afternoon Holonet who thinks that Senator Organa secretly had an interspecial baby with Master Yoda and the whole war is just a stunt they organized so no one would notice.”

“Yes, thank you, Anakin.” Obi-Wan shot him a repressive look. “In fact, the Council said nearly the same thing, although in slightly less lurid terms. But think about it. If you had to go after a single Jedi for maximum effect, who would it be?”

Anakin hesitated, and Obi-Wan, warming to the subject, took advantage of his silence to continue. “A Council member? No, because the Council would defend its own. You? No – you’re much too high-profile for the Council to simply expel for the purpose of a trial. Out of all the lesser-known Knights and Padawans, Ahsoka is by far the best target, precisely because of her connection to someone as high-profile and as…” A momentary hesitation, as Obi-Wan hunted for the most diplomatic way to say what they both knew he meant. “…as willing to do what you think is right in the face of the Council’s disapproval as you are.” As deeply unpredictable and volatile, he meant. As deeply steeped in unbecoming attachment. But there was, maybe, a hint of truth in it.

“So what you’re saying is…?”

“What I’m saying is that all of this seems disturbingly well-planned by someone who is disturbingly well-informed. There is something going on here that we don’t understand, and I think the Council knows it, even if they refuse to acknowledge it. We need to find whoever bombed the Temple.”

“So,” Anakin growled, “we track down Ventress.”

“As a start,” Obi-Wan agreed.

Chapter Text

She jolted awake, her heart pounding – a split second of bewilderment as she struggled to place the inky black room around her, and then the past day came rushing back. Oh. The Dacho underlevels. That’s why it was so dark and creepy.

It must have been nothing more than residual anxiety that had woken her; the Force was calm and silent. She could sense Obi-Wan asleep under a cloak against the far wall, and Anakin sitting below the window, presumably on watch, messing with something cybernetic that he somehow had with him. That at least was comfortingly familiar.

She rolled over, adjusting her position on the hard floor. She still couldn’t quite believe that this was real, that they were really here, that she had really escaped Republic prison yesterday. How – how, in a single week, had her entire life been completely upended? How had everything changed so fast? The framework of her entire world was gone, and it was so disorientingly strange, so terrifyingly bewildering, because what was she, if not a Jedi? She had been in impossible situations before – she’d been captured, she’d been tortured, she’d fought outnumbered and against overwhelming odds – kriff, she’d faced Grievous one-on-one with the lives of five younglings hanging in the balance. But in all of that she’d had a certainty, she’d known who she was and she’d known what she was fighting for and above all she’d known that she was a Jedi, with all the connotations that the word held. And now that certainty had shattered, and she had no idea what she was doing, and no idea how this had even happened in the first place, and no idea what they were going to do now. She had trusted the Jedi Order, she had trusted the Council, and they had simply thrown her out without a second thought.

She gave up on falling back to sleep and sat up, leaning back against the hard wall. How?

“Snips?” Anakin asked in the darkness. “You all right?”

“Yeah,” she said, closing her eyes. “I’m fine, Master.” They were literally on the run from the Republic. They’d been chased by Temple Guards. She couldn’t go back, not now, maybe not ever – would she ever be able to see Barriss again? Or Rex, or Master Plo, or anyone else she knew? If she proved her innocence, if she could find out who had really bombed the Temple – would they let her return? Did she even want to return? And what would they do to Anakin and Obi-Wan? She had told Anakin to let her go, she had told him the first time that he couldn’t help her, but he’d come after her anyway and then the Republic had caught her and then –

She felt Anakin get up and cross the distance between them, heard his footsteps against the duracrete. “Hey,” he said, sitting down against the wall beside her. “It’ll be okay, I promise.”

What did that even mean? How could this ever be okay? The Jedi Council had expelled her, had expelled her and left her to die, and Anakin had chased her when she’d run, had taken her back to the Temple, and they wouldn’t be here now if he had just trusted her when she’d said he couldn’t help her, and everything was gone, her entire life was gone, and Anakin and Obi-Wan had somehow gotten dragged into this with her, and –

“Ahsoka?” he asked gently in response to her silence.

She shook her head. “I’m all right.”

He was quiet for a moment. “You know it’s not your fault, don’t you?”

Yeah, of course she did. Because it wasn’t her fault, it was the Council’s fault, and the Senate’s fault, and Tarkin’s fault, and Ventress’ fault, and the fault of whoever else had bombed the Temple and framed her, and it took nearly everything she had to fight down her utter fury at all of them. And she couldn’t quite shake the feeling that it was also Anakin’s fault, for not trusting her when she’d run, for helping them hunt her down, and part of her wanted to blame him, but she knew that wasn’t completely fair, because he couldn’t possibly have known that they would sentence her to death, and in the end they would have caught her after she fought Ventress regardless of whether Anakin was with them or not. But it definitely wasn’t her fault, and that was the problem, because how could she be so helpless, so powerless, that all of this could just happen without it even being her fault? How had everything gotten so far outside her control, how had everything happened so fast, how had the institution she’d trusted with her entire life just abandoned her to die? And now she was in way over her head, and the three of them were literally fugitives from the Republic, and she had no idea where they went from here.

“Yeah, I know,” she murmured. “Master – what do we do now?”

Anakin crossed his arms. “We track down Ventress and find out who framed you.”

But that was barely even a start. Even if she could prove her innocence in the bombing, she had still fled Republic custody – twice – and Obi-Wan had still broken her out and Anakin had still flown a starship straight through the wall of a high-security government building, all of which was illegal; and she doubted those charges would simply be dropped just because she showed up on the front steps of the Senate Building with evidence that she hadn’t actually committed the original crime. And even if she tried, would the Senate even listen to her? Would they even care? Would they admit they were wrong, would they even be interested in the truth, or would they just want to see the original sentence enforced? The Jedi Council would probably at least hear Obi-Wan out, but Ahsoka was no longer a Jedi, and she was legally at the mercy of the same civilian government that had sentenced her to die. But then what? Was there a traitor with access to the Temple who wouldn’t be found, who could lie in wait and do something even worse? What if more people died because she couldn’t convince the Senate to believe her? What if – and her stomach turned over at the thought – Barriss or Plo or someone else she knew was killed in a second attack? She reflexively pressed down the sickening rush of emotion, cataloguing it automatically as evidence of improper attachment, because she shouldn’t care more about people she knew than people she didn’t, and then it occurred to her that that was a Jedi standard, that non-Jedi were allowed – were expected – to form attachments, and she felt as though the floor had been yanked out from under her, because she was starting to realize that she didn’t even know who she was without the Jedi. But she pushed that thought down, too, and she turned her focus back to Anakin. The three of them could maybe find Ventress, could maybe find out who had really bombed the Temple, but… “And then what?” she asked, more softly than she’d intended.

“Uh,” Anakin hedged, suddenly confronted with this new conundrum. “…The future is always in motion, young one.”

The evasion pulled a smile out of her, and she rolled her eyes. “Good to know you have a plan, Master Yoda.”

He gave her a fleeting grin in the faint hint of artificial light seeping in through the window. “We’ve always found a way before, haven’t we, Snips?”

She wasn’t feeling quite that optimistic about it. “Yeah, only this time we have the entire Republic after us.” And they’re literally going to kill me if they catch us. There was no hope of backup, no hope of reinforcements, and if she was caught, she wouldn’t be used as a bargaining chip, or treated as a valuable prisoner of war – she’d just be a civilian criminal sentenced to die. And if they killed her, if they refused to believe her, then there was no telling how much danger everyone in the Temple would still be in, and –  

“Hey,” he said, and she felt his calming assurance brush against her across their Force bond. “Trust me, we’ll figure it out.”

It was a confidence that Ahsoka could not quite muster herself, not after the past week, not after everything she’d thought she’d known had disappeared, not after she’d been utterly betrayed and abandoned by an institution she had trusted with her entire life. But she just nodded, trying to believe him.

Anakin shrugged. “I mean, if worst comes to worst I bet Hondo’s hiring.”

That managed to get a faint grin out of her. “So the backup plan is become pirates?” She raised her eyes to the water-stained ceiling. “Well, at least for once you actually have a backup plan.”

“Snips, I always have a backup plan.”

She snorted. “Yeah, usually it’s panic and then wing it slightly differently than we winged it the first time.

Anakin rolled his eyes. “Listen, everything will work out okay, I promise. So shut up and go back to sleep and we’ll worry about finding Ventress in the morning.”

———

‘The morning’ turned out to be three a.m., because Obi-Wan decided that they should get going before daylight on the surface. But that meant they needed a plan, and that meant a lot of sitting around eating ration bars in the dark and talking about how to find Ventress. Anakin was quickly getting impatient. They had the CSF, the GAR, and the Jedi after them, and he wanted to be moving.

They’d been over nearly every word Ahsoka remembered Ventress saying about where she’d been and what she was doing on Coruscant, looking for any slip that would tell them where she’d come from or where she was likely to be going. They’d been over every rumor or snippet of intelligence they could come up with about where she’d been and who she’d been seen with, hunting for anything they might have missed that could suggest who, if anyone, she was working with. And they were coming up empty, just like Anakin had when he’d searched the entire sector where Ahsoka said Ventress had been living. Ventress was a drifting phantom, completely untethered to anyone or any place, and piecing together where she might go was nearly impossible.

“Well,” Obi-Wan said calmly, changing approaches, “What does she want?

“I don’t know, Master,” said Anakin, who was fed up with guessing games. “What would you want, if you were a crazy bald akk-witch?”

“She acted like she wanted a pardon,” said Ahsoka, who was sitting against the duracrete wall with her knees drawn up part way. “But I guess she only said that so I’d trust her and she could get me to that warehouse.”

Obi-Wan sighed. “And you said in testimony that she gave no indication as to how she knew about the warehouse in the first place?”

Ahsoka hesitated, so fractionally that Anakin barely picked up on it. “Actually,” she said, “Barriss told me to look there.”

Anakin stared at her. “What?

“Barriss told you?” Obi-Wan repeated, taken aback.

When?” Anakin demanded.

“I commed her,” Ahsoka said, meeting his gaze calmly. “When I was on the run the first time.”

“Why didn’t you tell me that?!” If Barriss knew something that he could have used –

“When would I have told you?” She looked annoyed. “They didn’t let me talk to you alone once after you brought me back to the Temple.”

“Well, Barriss should have told me if she knew something,” he growled. 

“Well, maybe she didn’t because of the part where you brought me back to the Temple,” Ahsoka shot back.

“Well, maybe if she had, then – ” He broke off when Obi-Wan jabbed him sharply through the Force, a clear signal of knock-it-off-you’re-not-helping, and with effort he took a breath and changed tactics. “How did Barriss find out about the warehouse?” How had a Padawan managed to do what he couldn’t and somehow trace the nanodroids? Anakin had been over every inch of their programming, he’d had their transistor networks scanned and he’d run searches against all the schematics in the Republic cybernetic intelligence databases, trying to dig up anything at all about their origins, and he’d even gone through the circuit maps by hand looking for any clue he could find – multiplexor orientation, resistor length, literally anything that might point to a certain manufacturer – and he’d gotten nowhere.

Ahsoka, still annoyed, clearly sensed the undercurrent of the question. “I don’t know, Master.” She flashed him a distinctly unimpressed look. “I guess she’s just smarter than you.”

Anakin refrained from rising to the bait, although he did shoot her a quick look of disgust in return.

“So Barriss didn’t tell you anything about how she found it?” Obi-Wan clarified, still perfectly calm.

“She said Letta went there, but she didn’t say how she knew that. We didn’t have a lot of time to talk,” she added, with an accusatory look at Anakin, who ignored it. Of the two of them, he was the master, and he wasn’t going to let her drag him into an argument over his judgment. If she had just listened to him the first time – 

“Well,” Obi-Wan said, running a hand over his beard, “There’s a chance that whatever Barriss figured out about Letta might help us pick up the trail of Ventress. Or whomever she’s working with.”

“So we contact Barriss,” Anakin said.

Obi-Wan obviously didn’t like it. “Assuming you can get through to her comlink without bringing the entire Republic down on us.”

Anakin glanced at Ahsoka. “They won’t be able to flag the trace unless they’re already monitoring her sequence.” Hopefully. He didn’t have the time or the tools to equip a public combooth with the double-sided multi-jump quantum link address encryption that they’d need to make the connection truly anonymous, but so many comm signals went through the Coruscant boost points that trying to scan all of them in realtime wasn’t feasible; unless someone was actively running a specific search for a specific address link, one signal in billions wouldn’t get marked. Well, okay, was unlikely to get marked.

Ahsoka was quiet for a moment, clearly debating whether it was worth the risk to Barriss. But she knew as well as he did that this was so far their best bet; they needed to find Ventress, or some other link in the chain that had led to the Temple bombing, and they needed to do it before the trail dried up entirely or they were found by the Republic. And Barriss clearly knew something they didn’t, and she was not likely to be caught if she talked to them; Obi-Wan would have known if the Council thought she might have been in contact with Ahsoka the first time, and the non-Jedi investigators almost certainly hadn’t even ever heard her name. There wasn’t much chance anyone would find out if she accepted an incoming transmission from a public holobooth. “Okay,” Ahsoka said. “I’ll comm her and ask how she found it.”

———

The streets were deserted. As they made their silent way through the dim undercity in search of slightly less dilapidated environs where they might actually cross paths with a semi-functional holobooth, they didn’t encounter so much as a single surveillance droid. They slipped along the edges of the crumbling buildings, moving sometimes in patches of dingy lighting, sometimes in swathes of total darkness where the illuminators had failed and they had to feel their way through the murky Force.

Obi-Wan was on edge, his fingers brushing lightly across the hilt of his lightsaber out of habit. They should have at least seen a holocam droid by now. When Ahsoka had run the first time, the GAR had flooded the entire city with surveillance and recovery teams; there was no reason that they could not muster the same force now. There was, of course, a slim chance that the search had simply not reached this area yet. There was also the rather disturbing possibility that the absence of Republic forces was intentional.

“Does it seem… empty to you?” Anakin asked, echoing Obi-Wan’s thoughts.

“Yes,” Obi-Wan said shortly, letting Anakin sense some of his disquiet in the Force.

“What do you think they’re doing?

“Something needlessly dramatic, I suppose.” The possibility that the Council was intentionally forgoing a straightforward search in favor of an alternative strategy, such as laying an elaborate trap, was incredibly irksome. The three of them needed to evade the Republic long enough to find Ventress and anyone else involved in the Temple bombing, which was going to be hard enough without having to guess at what needlessly complex subterfuge the Republic was undertaking.

What they desperately needed above all else was to find proof that it hadn’t been Ahsoka before they themselves were found by the Republic. That proof alone would be enough to get the death sentence overturned, as Republic law only permitted execution in the case of premeditated murder. Fleeing custody, meanwhile, was an eighth tier offense and would bring her nothing worse than a short jail sentence; Ahsoka, if they could prove her innocence, would be fine.

Obi-Wan’s own situation, and Anakin’s, were more precarious; the Jedi Council had no such thing as strictly defined penalties and instead meted out punishment based primarily on how annoyed they were by the offense in question. Obi-Wan had a pretty good idea of precisely how annoyed they were by this particular situation, and it did not inspire optimism. It occurred to him that Qui-Gon would be outraged to learn that Obi-Wan had almost certainly managed to infuriate Mace Windu more in a single day than Qui-Gon had in sixty years.

“Like what?” Anakin asked, dragging him back to the present moment.

“I don’t know, Anakin,” he said irritably. “Possibly they’ve decided to wait us out and capture us when we return to the upper levels. Possibly they want to give us time and see if we let on that we know more about the bombing than we’ve said. Possibly they’re preoccupied implementing an ingenious, foolproof plan to catch us.”

“That doesn’t necessarily sound good,” Ahsoka said.

“An exceedingly perspicacious analysis of our current situation,” Obi-Wan agreed.

They eventually reached the outskirts of a more inhabited section of the Dacho underlevels. The illuminators, designed to vaguely imitate the daylight cycle of the surface, were still dimmed to a dingy glow, and the three of them kept to the deep shadows along the edge of the buildings. The streets remained almost entirely deserted; it being barely fourth hour of the morning, they crossed paths with a handful of mostly unsavory characters slipping through the rundown alleys, but no one paid them any particular attention.

Obi-Wan was distinctly uneasy by now. There was no reason the Republic should be allowing them to move this easily. The Order and the CSF had plenty of experience scouring the underlevels for high-priority fugitives, but he saw no hint of increased surveillance, no red glowing circles from holocam droids, no CSF speeders on patrol. What were they waiting for?

The three of them finally came across a public holobooth that Anakin and Ahsoka deemed potentially salvageable; after a few minutes of repairs, which mainly involved Ahsoka hotwiring it followed by Anakin banging it forcefully with the hilt of his lightsaber, they managed to get a response from the machine. Ahsoka punched in Barriss’ comm sequence on the thick, clunky buttons, and Anakin stepped backwards out of the scanner’s view.

After a moment, Barriss materialized as a blue, flickering figure on the booth’s gray platform. Her short hair was unbound, but she didn’t look like she’d been asleep, and her eyes widened in utter shock as she took in the identity of her caller. “Ahsoka?” she asked, sounding stunned.

“Hey, Barriss,” Ahsoka said, looking down at the hologram. “Listen, we could really use your help.”

“I – I didn’t expect to see you again,” Barriss said, her voice almost a whisper. “Ahsoka, are you – ?”

“I’m fine,” Ahsoka said quickly. “And I’m coming back, as soon as we get to the bottom of all this.”

“They’re continuing the investigation, then?” Barriss asked softly, almost as if she were talking to herself.

“Yeah, we are.”

“I – I don’t know if I can help you, Ahsoka,” Barriss said. “I haven’t found anything else. I didn’t – I didn’t expect them to let you comm me,” she finished in a whisper, sounding agonized.

The white markings above Ahsoka’s eyes drew together in confusion. “Wait, what are you talking about? Expect who to let me comm you?”

Now Barriss looked equally confused. “Admiral Tarkin and the rest.”

“Well, they didn’t exactly let me,” Ahsoka said.

“They…” Barriss trailed off, and Obi-Wan could almost hear the moment realization dawned. Her tone was suddenly low and urgent. “Ahsoka, where are you?”

“I can’t tell you that, not over public comm. Where did you think I was?”

“In the Judiciary Center.”

What? They – you didn’t know I got out?”

“No.” The blue, transparent Barriss frowned. “I knew… they said there was a training exercise yesterday, to ensure the new security systems would hold Force users. They flew a ship into the side of the RJCDC. It was all over the Holonet. But no one said – ”

What?!” Ahsoka demanded. “They said it was a training exercise?

Obi-Wan and Anakin exchanged a brief flicker of pure incredulity.

“I – take it it wasn’t,” Barriss said.

Ahsoka shook her head. “No. I – never mind. Barriss, we need to know how you found out about the warehouse with the nanodroids.”

“The warehouse? Why? Did you find something else?”

“No, that’s the problem. If you tell us how you found the warehouse, it might lead us to something we can use.”

“Of course.” Barriss hesitated for a moment. “I – it was a lucky guess, really. I found out Letta took a train to that sector, and I found a shipping sequence from the same day noted in her datapad. When I looked it up in the customs database, it listed the final destination as the warehouse, so I assumed she must have gone there.” 

Ahsoka’s fingers tightened against the edge of the holocomm’s platform. “So Letta was involved in buying the droids?”

Barriss shook her head. “I don’t know. She might simply have stolen the shipment information, perhaps from Jackar Bowmani.”

Ahsoka narrowed her eyes. “Why would Jackar have it?”

“Ahsoka… the nanodroids were in a Republic-authorized shipment.”

What?” Ahsoka echoed Obi-Wan’s silent reaction. “How do you know that?”

Barriss crossed her arms delicately. “The credit transfer for the customs import fee came from the Republic Specialized Operations account.”

Ahsoka stared at her. “So someone inside the Republic bought those droids for her?”

“Or the Republic bought them for official use, and Letta found out and saw her opportunity.”

“The Republic doesn’t use nanodroids,” Ahsoka protested. “Not as weapons.”

“Would we know if they did?” Barriss asked, her lilting accent taking on just the hint of a desperate edge. “Ahsoka, the Republic sentenced you to death. I don’t know what they would and wouldn’t do anymore.”

Ahsoka was quiet for a moment, and Obi-Wan knew she felt she couldn’t refute that. “I still don’t think the Republic ordered those droids,” she said finally. “Who authorized the credit transfer? From the Republic account, I mean?”

Barriss shook her head. “I don’t know. The entire account history is classified. I’ve been trying to figure out how to get access to those records, but the Chancellor’s office controls them and I don’t know who to go to.”

“Why didn’t you tell me any of this earlier?” Ahsoka asked, a hint of frustration edging her tone. “Why didn’t you go to the Council?”

“I was…” Barriss looked down. “I was afraid. I… I don’t know who ordered the nanodroids. I was afraid that if I did something too quickly, before I knew enough – that it could make things worse. That if whoever’s behind this found out, if Ventress has an accomplice inside the Republic, that they might do something awful. Or… what if the Republic did commission those droids, and someone is trying to cover it up? And – I – Master Luminara told me that Jedi can authorize transfers from that account. I wasn’t… I didn’t know what to think.” She looked up, meeting Ahsoka’s eyes. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I should have said… I thought I had more time. I didn’t realize you were going to…”

Ahsoka sighed, her aggravation melting into sympathy. “It’s okay. You didn’t know. But now I need that transaction number.”

Barriss, true to form, recited the sixteen hex digits off the top of her head; Ahsoka’s gaze slid towards Anakin to make sure he was entering it into a datapad.

“Thanks, Barriss,” she said sincerely.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help,” Barriss said softly. “May the Force be with you, Ahsoka.”

“You too.”

Barriss inclined her head. “Keep in touch,” she said. “Comm me if I can do anything more.”

“I will,” Ahsoka said. “Thanks.”

Barriss nodded and cut the link.

There was a moment of dead silence as the three of them looked at each other. A nearby illuminator flickered back to life, reinforcing the thin shadows cast by the jagged cracks in the duracrete pavement; a very faint draft stirred the thick air, but other than that there was no movement.

“It would have been helpful,” Anakin growled finally, “if she could have told us any of that before.” 

“You heard her,” Ahsoka said, coming immediately to her friend’s defense, the Force edgy with her annoyance. “She didn’t know who to trust. And I can’t really blame her.”

“What we need to do now,” Obi-Wan interjected, cutting off the reply he knew Anakin was about to make, “is to find out who authorized that customs fee payment.”

“How?” Ahsoka asked.

“The Council has access to those records.”

“Yeah, but you don’t,” Anakin said. “They will have locked out your access codes by now.”

“You overestimate the Republic’s efficiency, Anakin,” Obi-Wan said. “The bureaucracy surrounding the nonmilitary clearance databases is a thicket of ineptitude. Even if it has occurred to them to lock out my codes, I doubt the task has reached a high tier in the priorities of the underpaid technician on duty.” The Council’s initial request to have Dooku’s clearance cancelled, for example, had been promptly lost in a heap of files and his Republic codes had still been active a year and a half after the Council assumed they had been deleted. For once, though, the clunky, slow-moving behemoth that was the Republic’s techno infrastructure might actually work to their advantage. “Besides, the civilian Records and Information Office controls those databases; the Council would have to go through them to have my codes locked out.”

“Which they wouldn’t do if they’re trying to cover up the fact that Ahsoka broke out again,” Anakin said.

“Precisely.”

“Yeah, what’s up with that?” Ahsoka interjected. “They’re just gonna lie about it?

“What don’t they lie about?” Anakin asked, his voice taking on a hard edge.

Obi-Wan didn’t like it either; it felt wrong to mislead the public so blatantly, but he understood why the Council and the GAR were doing it. And so much already felt wrong every single day about the war, he thought almost bitterly, what was one more small thing? To admit that a Jedi Padawan had broken out of Republic prison not once but twice in a single week was to admit that the Republic could not contain even partially trained Force users; to admit that two Jedi Knights – one a member of the Jedi High Council – had assisted in breaking her out was to deepen distrust in the Jedi Order, to reinforce the idea that the Jedi were out of control and would ultimately follow their own will regardless of democracy’s decisions. He felt a twinge of guilt; he had not left the rest of the Council in an enviable position, and he had known that when he’d chosen to free Ahsoka. But Satine was dead. Satine was dead because of the war, because of his role in it, because the Jedi Order now had to ration help, now had to decide whether to offer assistance based on whether it was politically expedient to do so, and Maul had known that, had known that and taken advantage of it, and – irrelevant, he reminded himself forcibly.

“They’re doing what they deem necessary,” he said, because he understood what Anakin could not – that morality was not clear-cut, that sometimes all choices were wrong and the only thing to do was choose the one that did the least harm. After all, wasn’t that what he was doing now? How could he blame the Council for making a similar decision? “Besides, I would say this is preferable to the Republic launching an all-out pursuit.”

“You’re right,” Anakin snapped angrily. “For once the Council is actually helping us.”

“So how do we get those records?” Ahsoka asked, bringing them back to the task at hand. “We’d just need a wired data terminal, right?”

“Yeah, one that can support quantum encryption,” Anakin said, the Force still tense with the edge of his resentment. “The Republic databases won’t accept unsecured incoming links.”

“There are open Delta-40 terminals in the Public Archives,” Ahsoka suggested. “We could use one there.”

Anakin gave her an exasperated look. “Okay, Snips, so you just want to go up to the surface and walk into the Public Archives?

Ahsoka shrugged. “Well, Master, if you’d rather fly a ship through the wall, I guess we could do that instead.”

Obi-Wan had to run a hand over his beard to hide his smile.

“Shut up, Master,” Anakin said, but the Force around him had lightened. Then, turning back to Ahsoka, “Did you forget the part where we’re trying to avoid being arrested?”

Ahsoka was unconcerned. “It’s not like anyone at the Archives is going to be looking for us.”

When Obi-Wan could maintain a straight face, he said, “Ahsoka’s right. If our escape wasn’t publicized, we’re not in much more danger at the surface. And we need to get those records as soon as possible.”

What?” Anakin stared at him. “If I had suggested that plan – ”

“It’s much too sensible a plan for you to have suggested it,” Obi-Wan said.

“All right then. Let’s go,” Ahsoka said, turning to set off down the murky street.

Anakin gave Obi-Wan a disbelieving look; Obi-Wan let Anakin feel his amusement through the Force, and turned to follow Ahsoka.

Chapter Text

Maneuvering through the Coruscant hovertrain system was a dreadfully uncivilized and essentially impossible undertaking at the best of times; attempting it while simultaneously seeking to avoid holocams, routine CSF patrols, and any sentient who might have watched the news within the past week proved to be one of the most singularly irksome endeavors in which Obi-Wan had ever participated. It was not helped by the fact the hovertrain schedule was a document that reflected reality in a similar manner to a warped mirror at a younglings’ carnival: while the information it presented to its viewer was grounded peripherally in truth, its specifics were so altered and distorted as to be unusable for any actual purpose. After Obi-Wan mindtricked their way into passes handed over by an apathetic Coruscant Transportation Authority employee, he, Anakin, and Ahsoka transferred between no fewer than ten trains, one of which the schedule claimed did not run on this day of the week and another which was unlisted entirely, but whose lighted sign spelled out a destination passably close to their desired district.

They did their best to keep their heads down and avoid being caught on the ubiquitous security holorecorders – they’d put on nondescript cloaks Anakin had grabbed ahead of time from the Temple’s stash of undercover clothing, and Ahsoka’s montrals were covered by a navy hood, while Obi-Wan and Anakin were in unmemorable shades of gray. Obi-Wan had swapped his Jedi tunics for dark blue ones, and they’d also used deep red organocolor to paint across the stripes on Ahsoka’s lekku, a change that was just subtle enough to be wildly disconcerting every time Obi-Wan glanced over at her. It would hopefully be enough to avoid notice from anyone who might recognize her as the rogue Jedi Padawan who had been smeared across the Holonet news for the past week.

After nearly four interminable hours, they finally reached the surface just as dawn was spilling over the horizon. They were all somewhat on edge, the Force tense around them; they’d made it out of the underlevels without issue, but there was no telling how much caution was truly needed. While they had seen no evidence of any pursuit effort, they had no way of knowing precisely what response the Council and the GAR were silently mounting. There was also still the additional delightful fact that Ahsoka’s likeness had been plastered across every holoscreen on the planet only a few days ago, which meant there was the slim but constant danger that she would be recognized.

Anakin threw the hovertrain station a dirty look over his shoulder as they stepped out of its turbolift onto the surface. “I think I prefer flying.”

“Yes, I can see why,” Obi-Wan said, scanning their surroundings. “Hovertrains do tend not to crash.”

Anakin merely shot him an exasperated look in return.

They’d emerged a block from the Public Archives into the Shrayen District, a wide swath of high-rise city made up of towering residential skyscrapers, a handful of commercial centers, and a dozen of Coruscant’s premier universities. The wide pedestrian avenues sprawling out around them were paved with polished gray synthmarble and lined with caf shops and holobook sellers and techno stores and all other sorts of businesses aimed at the droves of academics and university students who came this way. The sector was just beginning to stir – a handful of beings were about at this hour, opening shops and buying caf and heading in a thin trickle to the hovertrain station.

The sky above was glowing with color, the smoggy clouds tinged pink and orange with sunrise. In the midst of the gentle early morning rush, Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Ahsoka made their way silently down the street, doing their best to appear as though not even one of them was an escaped convict. The surface brought with it a certain sense of exposure that set the Force even more on edge.

The Coruscant Public Archives, housed in a shimmering domed building made of white-frosted transparisteel, finally came into sight as they rounded a corner. The structure soared into the sky at the end of the avenue, the early morning light turning its sides pale gold. It looked breathtakingly ethereal, an effect achieved, Obi-Wan knew, largely because the district government had decided that the best way to express its commitment to education and scholarship was to spend millions of credits improving its library’s visual appearance. An artistic citizen had managed to slightly mitigate the effect by scrawling graffiti advocating excessive recreational drug usage above the arched front entrance.

“I hope your access codes actually still work,” Anakin said as they started up the wide, gleaming front steps.

“Pessimism ill becomes you, Anakin,” Obi-Wan said irritably, pushing open the heavy door. 

The inside of the Archives was almost as impressive as the outside. The first level was a cavernous space with a vaulted ceiling sloping above shelf after glowing blue shelf of holobooks, and the floor underfoot was a brightly colored mosaic. Burnished Selonian marble tables were scattered artfully throughout the open part of the room; at this hour of the morning, they were either empty or occupied primarily by sleeping university students.

The three of them called a gleaming turbolift and stepped inside, and Ahsoka keyed in level twenty, which housed numerous public terminals. The Force had tightened slightly with a sense of edged anticipation; this was probably the closest they’d been to an answer since this whole thing began, and they all knew it.

Obi-Wan found it highly improbable that the Republic war effort was officially purchasing nanodroids – without the knowledge of the Jedi Council – and shipping them to a shadowy warehouse and allowing the official customs declaration to list the final delivery destination as said shadowy warehouse; the whole affair had an amateur feel that made him suspect that a Republic employee had commissioned the droids surreptitiously and illegally. It was also true, of course, that knights and masters of the Order had clearance to authorize transfers from the Republic account Barriss had named, but then so did uncountably numerous agencies and their far-flung local branches. He took a breath, forcing himself to release the fervent hope that it wasn’t a Jedi; they would find out the truth, whatever it was, soon enough. He thought, uselessly, that it would have been infinitely preferable if Barriss could have pointed them to these records before Ahsoka had been tried and sentenced.

The turbolift door slid open, and Ahsoka, distracted and already automatically scanning the room for stray CSF agents or anything else alarming, nearly walked into a young human child who was skipping his excited way towards the lift ahead of his father. She dodged sideways at the last moment, startling him enough that he dropped the holobook he was holding. “Sorry,” she said hastily, handing it back to him.

“You should be more mindful, Snips,” Anakin reprimanded her under his breath as the boy disappeared behind them into the turbolift.

“You flew an entire starship into a building yesterday,” Ahsoka hissed back. “That doesn’t seem very mindful.”

Anakin gave her an unimpressed look. “You better be extra mindful next time we do saber training.” 

“Could the two of you perhaps spare a scrap of focus for the task at hand?” Obi-Wan inquired, wondering how they ever got anything done on their own considering they always appeared to spend the entire time bickering with each other.

“Okay, Snips,” Anakin said, “you stay here and keep an eye on the lifts. Obi-Wan and I will go pull up the transaction record.”

She gave him a dubious look, but nodded. As she wandered off to pretend to browse holobooks, Obi-Wan and Anakin made their way through the shelves to a terminal tucked in a back corner next to a wide window. The floor was totally silent now that the boy and his father had vacated it; the Force here was smooth and empty. The terminal, for its part, was a black, rectangular affair that lit up with blue light when Anakin turned it on. "Let me get encryption set up, so that they can’t trace us," he said, sitting down and opening an alarmingly illegal-looking HoloNet link.

When Anakin finally had both sets of encryption initiated and the Republic Database System access portal pulled up, Obi-Wan entered his codes, and to his immense gratification they were immediately accepted. He raised his eyebrows smugly at Anakin, who rolled his eyes.

Anakin began to delve into the crawlingly slow, cobbled-together labyrinth that was the Republic’s official records system, and Obi-Wan automatically scanned the empty room as he waited for Anakin to navigate through the shaky Holonet architecture. He could feel Ahsoka's Force presence, tense and alert, and the softer, less distinct presences of the handful of beings wandering among the shelves several floors below. It was unlikely that the three of them would be found up here – no one in the entire Order would think to look for Anakin Skywalker in a library – but he was on edge nonetheless. Hiding from the Republic in the middle of Coruscant was not exactly an undertaking designed for success.

“Master,” Anakin said suddenly, almost sharply.

Obi-Wan turned his attention back to him. “You found something?”

“Look who it says authorized that transaction.”

Obi-Wan glanced down at the screen, scanned the narrow print, and then froze, feeling as though he’d been punched in the stomach. Jinn, Qui-Gon.

It took a moment for his mind to clear, the initial shock leaving him faintly numb. Someone was – how – “Is there any way to trace where that authorization was entered?” he asked, forcing himself to remain outwardly impassive despite the odd sensation that the room was spinning around him.

Anakin had been watching him almost apprehensively. “Yeah, let me try.”

It made him – it made him almost angry that someone was using Qui-Gon’s access codes for this. It was emotion drawn from the same well of bone-deep fury that Maul had managed to tap when they’d fought near Raydonia, and he breathed out, forcibly releasing it, aggravated by his own lack of control. But – his mind was spinning, because how could anyone have those authorization codes? There was no central look-up system for Republic clearance codes – once generated, they were stored on a triple-locked server that would do nothing more than confirm correct entries and deny incorrect ones. It was supposedly computationally impossible to recover forgotten codes, impossible to pull the actual codes themselves off the server where they were housed. How – ?

“It… came from inside the Temple,” Anakin said, dragging Obi-Wan back to the present moment. “From one of the open terminals.”

That the authorization had come from the Temple really told them nothing new – they were already aware that someone with access to the Temple was likely involved. But he still couldn’t explain how someone – how even a Jedi, he thought with a twist of despair – could have retrieved Qui-Gon’s access codes. “Could someone have gotten those codes from the clearance databases?” he asked, wanting Anakin’s slightly more informed opinion.

“No,” Anakin said with grim certainty. “Even if they got the hashed values – which would be almost impossible because that hardware’s specifically designed not to support serial output – they’d have to crack SSHA-3 on random keys over a hexabyte. Not even Artoo could do that.” 

Dimly, Obi-Wan nodded. The techno jargon washed over him, tugging at memories from classes during his Padawan days, but the important thing was that Anakin thought it was impossible, and if Anakin thought it was impossible, it probably was. But that meant whoever had those codes must have had them from – from before. Who – ?

And at this point Obi-Wan realized how much trouble they were in. “That’s not good,” he observed flatly.

“None of this is good,” Anakin said, a hint of absolute fury swirling around him in the Force. “You think a Jedi did this?”

“Whoever they were, they knew what they were doing.”

“What do you mean?”

“Who would likely have Master Qui-Gon’s access codes?”

“Uh…?” Anakin hazarded.

There were two obvious answers. Obi-Wan gritted his teeth. “Myself, or Dooku.”

“You think Dooku’s involved?” Anakin ground out.

“Possibly.” He felt almost dizzy. Dooku would have seen Qui-Gon enter those codes nearly as often as Obi-Wan had, would have had ample time to commit them to memory if he thought his own might someday be denied. How long before he left the Order had Dooku been planning to someday go against the Republic? “But I doubt that’s how the Council will interpret it.”

“What are you – ” Anakin narrowed his eyes. “Okay, but the Council obviously wouldn’t think it was you.”

“I’m quite sure the Council didn’t think I would break Ahsoka out,” Obi-Wan said.

Anakin was still dubious. “You really think they’re gonna think you did this?”

“I don’t know.” He shook his head. “But it would make a certain amount of sense, from their point of view. Which is more likely – that Dooku managed to send someone into the Temple to commission nanodroids with Master Qui-Gon’s access codes, or that I commissioned them and then broke one of the conspirators out of prison?” There were, of course, dozens of other possibilities he could come up with – someone completely unexpected had gotten ahold of Qui-Gon’s access codes on a long-ago mission and either used them in the Temple attack or sold them to someone who had, Dooku had an accomplice inside the Temple and had given them the codes, Ventress had been given those codes by Dooku and had in turn given them to an accomplice inside the Temple… But it would not necessarily appear coincidental that the access codes of Obi-Wan’s former master had been used to buy the nanodroids employed in an attack on the Temple, and then Obi-Wan had broken the convicted perpetrator of said attack out of prison. He hoped that his standing with the Council was still such that they would be dubious that he would actually bomb the Temple, but there was the inescapable fact that recent events had sorely damaged his credibility. He ran a hand over his beard. “Were those codes used for anything else recently?”

Anakin entered the requisite database command and pulled up the record. Obi-Wan read the first line, read it again. No. The date was from sixteen days ago. The recipient’s name was unlisted, given only as an account number, but the location of the account was very clear. Planetary Bank of Mandalore. Fifty thousand credits, transferred to a Mandalorian bank sixteen days ago. Obi-Wan suddenly felt as though he’d been submerged in freezing water.

“That was…” Anakin hesitated, glancing up at him. “That was right before the invasion where the duchess was killed.”

Obi-Wan said, “I know.”

“I thought the reports said Maul was behind that.”

Obi-Wan said, “He was.”

“Then – I didn’t think Maul had anything to do with Dooku or the Separatists. Why would Dooku be sending Republic credits to someone on Mandalore?”

“I…” Obi-Wan took a steadying breath. “I don’t know. We can’t even be certain at this point that Dooku is the one behind this. We need to find out to whom the Mandalorian account belongs.” But Anakin had the timing wrong. It wasn’t before Maul’s takeover – it was during. The timestamp was from three and a half hours after Satine had contacted the Temple. Just before Obi-Wan left Coruscant for Mandalore. Just before Yoda almost certainly knew he had left Coruscant for Mandalore. Just after Yoda had said that they could not legally interfere, that the Senate would never agree to send aid to a neutral system.

He looked down at the next line of the record. A logged position from the middle of the Chommell sector, thirteen years ago. That brought with it a sharp, aching twist of nostalgia deep in his chest, but it was swamped by the rising heat of alarm. Those codes – his master’s codes – had been used only twice since Naboo, both times in the span of one month, and both times in association with Obi-Wan acting against the decisions of the greater Council. Distantly, he felt his own heartbeat pick up. That didn’t look coincidental. Even to him, knowing he had nothing to do with it, it didn’t look coincidental.

But who could have made those authorizations? Dooku? Was he working with Maul? Who would have known about Mandalore and Satine? The only three people in the Republic who had seen her message, as far as Obi-Wan knew, were himself, Yoda, and Ki-Adi-Mundi. Maul had laid the trap, and Obi-Wan had no reason to think he’d been aligned with the Separatists. Who could possibly be orchestrating this? Could Dooku really be in this many places at once? Could this whole thing really be an extra layer designed to implicate Obi-Wan, in addition to Ahsoka, or was that thought absurdly paranoid?

He was trapped once again, outmaneuvered by an opponent he had no idea how to identify. He could not see how else the Council would interpret this. Someone had used his former master’s access codes to send credits to an unidentified Mandalorian account, hours after Satine had contacted him, just before he had left Coruscant to render illegal aid, to interfere in a planetary change of government without the permission of the Galactic Senate. And then someone had used those same access codes to commission deadly nanodroids that had been used in an attack on the Jedi Temple linked to a Padawan who was then legally convicted of the crime in Republic court, and Obi-Wan had broken her out of central prison. There was no way the Council – or the Senate – could hear all that and not draw the obvious conclusion that he was somehow involved. And he had no alternative to offer them, no idea who could have done this, no idea who could have laid this trail.

“I don’t think I can get it from here,” Anakin said, startling Obi-Wan back to the present moment. It took him a moment to realize Anakin meant the Mandalorian account information. “Their database’s not public, obviously.”

“Can you slice in?” Obi-Wan asked dimly, still feeling as though all of this were very distant.

“On this piece of junk?” Anakin snorted, indicating the terminal. “Not quickly. I guess if we could get them to put a rootkit on their system…”

“How hard would that be?”

“Uh… Depends how gullible their customer service people are.”

“Well – ” Obi-Wan began, and then Ahsoka rounded the shelves at a dead sprint, throwing urgency and desperation at them through the Force. Anakin’s hand went inside his cloak to his saber.

“Go!” she yelled at them, flinging out a hand to open the window behind them.

Anakin was already moving for the terminal’s controls – “Gotta clean the memory – ” He entered commands rapidly and Ahsoka skidded to a halt next to them as the window swung shut again and Mace Windu rounded the shelves at an unhurried stroll, lowering a hand. He had Depa Billaba, Kit Fisto, Eeth Koth, and Agen Kolar with him, all looking deadly serious. No. No. Why now, why did they have to come now – Obi-Wan, still reeling, steadied himself in the Force, shoving down the hot sense of panic that threatened to pull him under. Why did it have to be now – ?

Anakin started to move forward, but Obi-Wan, in the sharpened focus of crisis, pushed at him in the Force. Hold.

Mace, flanked by Depa, Kit, Eeth, and Agen, halted a few paces in front of them. He regarded them each in turn. Anakin glared back, and Ahsoka watched him in fierce silence. Obi-Wan merely met his eyes impassively, but he could feel his own heartbeat pick up against his will. He had known this confrontation was inevitable, had known that he would eventually have to face Mace and Yoda and the rest of the Council, but he hadn’t expected it to be now, hadn’t expected to be completely empty-handed when it happened.

“Enough,” Mace said, his deep voice as hard and unreadable as ever. “You will come with us to the Temple, now.”

The Force around Anakin was a swirling black hole of furious defiance. “I’m not letting them kill her.”

“The three of you are not officially wanted by the Republic,” Mace continued, unsympathetic. “Which means we are able to give you a final chance. If you come back to the Temple quietly, we can handle this internally. Which, believe me, will be better than the alternative.”

Better for all of us but one. “Mace.” Obi-Wan met his eyes. This felt wrong, everything about this felt wrong – facing Mace, and Depa and Kit and Eeth and Agen, as an adversary, as a fugitive – he could barely focus through the wrongness of it. “She’s not guilty.”

Mace’s presence in the Force, no longer heavily shielded, was unyielding. “She was given a fair trial, Obi-Wan, and she was convicted. Her guilt is legally proven.”

There was a deadlocked silence, which Depa finally broke. “Obi-Wan. You know I have serious reservations about the war, and the Jedi’s role in it, to the point that I have yet to be reappointed to the Council.” She looked straight at him. “But this is not about the war. This is about the basic underpinnings of the Order. We are bound by Republic law, regardless of how much we might disagree with it.”

He didn’t bother to dispute that assertion, because she was right and he knew it. But Ahsoka was innocent, she was innocent and the decision to allow her to be undeniably, irreversibly killed because of a rushed, haphazard, biased trial was nearly impossible to contemplate.

“Come back to the Temple,” Mace repeated, voice hard as durasteel.

I didn’t set the bomb,” Ahsoka said, softly but fiercely, stepping suddenly forward out of Anakin’s shadow. Obi-Wan felt something snap in the Force around her. “I’m not letting them execute me for something I didn’t do.

“Commander Tano,” Mace said, “Do you consider yourself above the law?”

“No.” She looked up at him. “But the Republic is trying to kill me for no reason.

Mace ignored this. “You understand that if you continue with this, you will do real damage to the Republic.” He watched them carefully as he spoke. “Trust in the Order is already declining. If we have to publicly admit that a Knight and a member of the Council broke the former Padawan convicted of bombing a military hangar out of prison, it will damage that trust even more, and it could hurt the war effort.” A pause, the Force heavy. “Are you willing to jeopardize the entire Republic?”

Ahsoka met his gaze. “I was willing to die for the Republic,” she answered with quiet ferocity, and Obi-Wan felt the Force stir slightly with Anakin’s rush of fierce pride as she faced down Mace Windu. “I went to war for the Republic. I risked my life over and over for the Republic. And I am not going to let the Republic kill me.

“Your guilt was proven in trial,” Mace said, and Obi-Wan caught the tiniest hints of regret and resignation in his tone. “You have two choices: you can come back to the Temple on your own, or we can take you there against your will.”

“It wasn’t a fair trial, Mace,” Obi-Wan said quietly. “You know that. Admiral Tarkin was against her from the beginning.”

“The prosecution is always against the accused, Obi-Wan. I understand your reluctance, but the evidence pointed towards her and a legally convened senatorial court ruled against her. It’s not within our power to overturn a court decision.” He paused, letting the words sink in. “Now, again: you can either come with us to the Temple, or we can take you there.”

And Obi-Wan knew the right answer. He had broken the law getting Ahsoka out, had shattered the foundations of the Order by using his position as a Jedi to override the legal system. It was not within his rights to extralegally defy a decision handed down by Republic court, and he knew it.

But Ahsoka had been framed. Deliberately, expertly, ingeniously, by someone with access to the Temple, and to the Judiciary Center. And Qui-Gon’s Republic codes had been used to authorize the purchase of the nanodroids used in the bombing, and to transfer money to a mysterious account on Mandalore, hours after Satine had contacted Obi-Wan.

He saw, once again, the image inscribed forever on his memory of Satine’s initial look of surprise, before the true shock or the pain set in, the momentary startled expression as the darksaber’s blade burned through her chest – his own blazing, disbelieving horror, the conviction that this wasn’t real, this couldn’t be real, but the simultaneous knowledge that it was and that Satine was – was dying, that she was going to die and –

And even if they did surrender now, even if he allowed Ahsoka to be killed, they would still not know who was behind the Temple bombing. And even if he could convince the Council that he had nothing to do with the use of Qui-Gon’s access codes, even if they still trusted him, there was no telling what Anakin would do. Obi-Wan knew Anakin would never stay in the Order if the Order were complicit in Ahsoka’s death, would never continue to fight for the Republic if the Republic executed his Padawan.

But that was all somewhat inconsequential given that he, Anakin, and Ahsoka were facing five current or former Jedi Council members, one of whom was Mace Windu. He calculated the odds automatically, almost detachedly – they weren’t good. They had only one real advantage here: if the three of them chose to fight, the resulting melee would end up destroying at least this corner of the Archives, which was precisely the type of scene that Mace was trying to avoid. That fact meant that Mace would be reluctant to actually engage until the last possible second.

He scanned their surroundings – table, terminal, window behind large enough for them to jump through; wall to their left; corridor between shelves and wall in front of them blocked by Jedi, corridor between shelves and wall to their right empty. To turn and run wouldn’t work, to turn and try to go through the window wouldn’t work – Obi-Wan had no doubt that Mace and the others could hold the transparisteel intact even if he slammed it with every shred of the Force he could throw against it. The only way out of this situation, and he knew it and he was sure Anakin knew it, was some combination of chaos and the element of surprise.

He stepped forward, pushing against Anakin in the Force, telling him to wait. He could feel his pulse pounding through his entire chest, could feel the point blank adrenaline in his veins in a way he hadn’t since he had been a Padawan. Breaking Ahsoka out had been one thing. It had felt like the right thing, it had felt like the only option, it had felt – well, he had managed to make it feel – like adherence to his oaths to protect the innocent. He had fully intended to return with the truth behind the Temple bombing, had intended to face the Council’s anger, to accept whatever punishment they wanted to lay upon him. But this was somehow different. Breaking Ahsoka out felt like childlike defiance compared to this, compared to actively, directly facing down and attempting to evade the Jedi High Council.

“Obi-Wan,” Mace said dangerously, and the warning was clear in his voice. This is your last chance. It was a final offer, and Obi-Wan knew it.

His every instinct screamed at him to obey – Mace Windu had been on the Council since Obi-Wan was a Padawan, had held authority over him for as long as he could remember. And to actually stand here, against Mace and Kit and Depa and Eeth and Agen – he had been prepared to delay the Temple Guards in the detention center, knowing he could play for time against them, but this was different, this was the Council

But Ahsoka would die if he didn’t. She would go back into Republic custody, and Obi-Wan knew the three of them had nothing. They’d found a single scrap of evidence that pointed ambiguously towards either Dooku or himself, and that was it.

He drew his saber hilt, heart hammering. Delay. Delay and misdirect.

“If you light that,” Mace warned him, “you forfeit any lenience we might give you.”

A sort of overwhelming calm washed over Obi-Wan with the saber in his hand. Its weight was familiar. He switched it on, mostly for dramatic effect, and its buzzing heat reverberated through the narrow space. “We will return to the Temple,” he said, “on three conditions.”

Mace raised his eyebrows. “And those are?” His tone hinted at exasperation and incredulity, conveying clearly that he was temporarily tolerating these theatrics because it was easier than the alternative, but that Obi-Wan had pushed his luck far past the breaking point.

Obi-Wan could feel the underlying hair trigger quality of the Force; he knew that if he made any move, all five of the Jedi would have their sabers drawn and illuminated. “One, the Order files for a three week delay of Commander Tano’s execution under Regulation 686-D4 to allow further investigation.” He held his ground calmly. “Two, the Order petitions the Senate Committee on Sentient Rights to review the case based on the fact that it involves capital punishment of a minor. Three…” Force. Why had he said three? He spun his saber in an easy circle. “The Order guarantees that Commander Tano will never face charges for her second escape from Republic custody, and that Master Skywalker and myself, if charged, will be tried as Jedi.”

Weighted silence greeted this proposal. Mace regarded him, looking unimpressed. Obi-Wan felt Anakin’s white-hot tension tilting towards anger, knew Anakin couldn’t tell where he was going with this, couldn’t tell if he was actually willing to give up Ahsoka on such tenuous grounds. He pressed against Anakin in the Force again. Wait. WAIT. He got terse acknowledgement back in response, but he could tell Anakin’s patience was reaching its end. Please. He needed Anakin to trust him, to refrain for once in his life from doing anything rash. If they could get the Council to let their guard down for a split second, they had a chance.

“That sounds reasonable,” Kit said levelly.

Depa had a hand on her saber hilt. “I agree.” Her gaze flicked towards Mace.

Of course it sounded reasonable. Obi-Wan knew what he was doing. It should have sounded almost too reasonable, but they clearly expected him to try to negotiate his way through this, so they weren’t particularly suspicious when he did.

Another lengthy silence while Mace considered the decision. “We will accept your terms,” he said, his tone impassive but still dangerous. “Surrender and come quietly with us to the Temple, and the Council will file the requests you named and keep you and Skywalker under our jurisdiction.”

Obi-Wan nodded, forcing himself to visibly relax, and switched off his saber. He lowered the weapon, moving to clip it to his belt, and then he flung out his left hand at Mace, and Mace automatically braced himself in the Force, but Obi-Wan was already changing direction, sweeping his hand sideways and tearing holobooks off the nearby shelf, flinging them at the five Council members, and a split second later Anakin had caught on and he didn’t bother with the holobooks – he went straight for the shelf itself, yanking it over, ripping the bolts out of the floor, and Obi-Wan noted peripherally that he had nearly forgotten just how strong in the Force Anakin actually was –

The mayhem gave them a millisecond’s advantage, and they took it, turning and racing down the narrow corridor – behind them, holobooks crashed against the floor, the sound reverberating through the room – they came to the next window, and Anakin slammed it with the Force and it shattered and they jumped for it, into the chaotic whizzing blur of Coruscant’s air traffic –

And the sky lit up with sirens. Kriff. Of course Mace and the others hadn’t come alone, of course they hadn’t come without backup, without surrounding the building – CSF and GAR cruisers swooped towards them – there was nothing to do but fall, no time to think about the flashing lights streaming through the air around them because he was about to hit the ground from twenty stories up – he gathered the Force, bracing himself, shoving the power of the impact into the ether as he collided with the cobblestones – he felt the crash in every bone, the jarring shock reverberating through his entire body but he was already rolling to his feet – Anakin and Ahsoka were there too and the three of them drew together, back to back as the CSF and GAR ships closed in, an impenetrable circle surrounding them – there was nowhere to go – the air above them was a thicket of flashing lights and screaming sound, and the nearby alleys and side streets were blocked by too many clone troopers to fight through – no way out – Stass Allie diving a Jedi ship straight for them – time slowed down and he knew this was it, he had tried but even he and Anakin could not evade the GAR and the CSF and the Jedi Order and the entire Republic – a sharp, piercing flash of despair because the Council would never listen to him, Ahsoka was going to be executed and he and Anakin would end up imprisoned by the Order or turned over to the Senate or worse – he felt the Force twist and Anakin had his eyes closed and his right hand outstretched and near the edge of the street an old, battered speeder roared to life where it was parked and Obi-Wan’s chest tightened and he almost laughed out loud at the hopeless irony of it all because Anakin had just hotwired a speeder from ten meters away, Anakin was so ludicrously strong in the Force and Qui-Gon had been right and Anakin could have been the best Jedi in a century but all of that was gone, ripped apart by a war and a tangle of politics that none of them could control and Ahsoka was going to die

Anakin brought the rickety vehicle leaping towards them but it didn’t matter because not even Anakin Skywalker could pilot a flimsy broken-down civilian city speeder through a fleet of military-grade airships, and he sent it over their heads, and then Obi-Wan felt him drop his hold on it in the Force, and he must have locked the controls because it was still accelerating, fast, towards the cloud of CSF and GAR ships – no

“Anakin, don’t – ” But it was too late and Obi-Wan felt Stass Allie’s blaze of realization in the Force match his own, and she did the only thing she could and leapt from her Jedi interceptor to the runaway speeder, lunging for the brakes before it collided with the Republic ships, and Anakin was ready and he jumped for the cockpit of her vacated vehicle and he dove it towards Obi-Wan and Ahsoka, and they leapt for it and Anakin slammed the accelerator – they couldn’t go up, the sky above was thick with interceptors but Anakin threaded the ship at high speed through a narrow gap in the lowest tier of CSF ships and he veered for a side street and they hurtled between high-rise buildings over the heads of the clone troopers manning the barricade and there were people screaming as they burst out of the alley over a wide pedestrian walkway, flying far faster and far closer to the ground than any traffic regulations permitted – 

Anakin brought the ship shrieking towards the entrance to the hovertrain station – he yelled, “Jump!” and yanked the brake lever and the interceptor stopped almost instantly, repulsors humming smoothly, and Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Ahsoka hit the ground running, dodging through the stunned crowd, making for the turbolifts down to the hovertrain station – there was one blocked off with yellow tape and labeled Out of Service and Anakin ripped its doors open with the Force and they plunged into the empty shaft and Anakin pulled the doors shut behind them and they fell into the darkness. Anakin caught onto a ledge forty meters down, about ten meters before the bottom of the shaft, and Ahsoka and Obi-Wan both grabbed the central cabling, sliding to a halt, and then Anakin pulled open the doors leading to Level Thirty-Two and they hopped out, drawing a handful of curious glances from passersby as they slid the doors closed behind them and ducked out from under the tape marking the lift as nonfunctional.

It wasn’t quite as posh down here as at the surface, but the illuminators were bright and full-spectrum and mimicked Coruscant’s sun with passable accuracy. The storefronts were colorful and cheerful and the pedestrians making their way down the road past an assortment of street vendors felt somewhat incongruous with the fact that thirty levels up, an entire host of Republic forces was spreading out to tear apart the hovertrain surveillance footage and upend the city. The entire thing felt utterly surreal, and only his heavy breathing and racing heartbeat convinced Obi-Wan that they had actually just fled from a good portion of the pangalactic government. They set out at a brisk pace, automatically moving away from the danger zone of the hovertrain station.

“They surrounded the Archives much too quickly,” Obi-Wan said, still feeling as though he were in free fall. “I’m guessing they refrained from starting a publicized planetary search yesterday in the hope that we would reveal ourselves.” He should have seen this coming. What he had initially interpreted as solely an attempt to cover up a lack of control by the Order had also conveniently served as a trap. He was generally of the opinion that traps existed to be sprung, but he might have made an exception for this one had he been given the opportunity. It occurred to him peripherally that Barriss might specifically not have been informed since it was known she and Ahsoka were close. “Which means that now that we have, I would say there is a fair chance they will launch a full search.” He realized with distant annoyance that the Republic’s initial strategy had been aggravatingly versatile; if the three of them had surrendered immediately, then it would be easy to claim the show of force outside the Archives was merely an excessive precaution implemented for a false alarm; if they had put up a fight leading to publicity, then the Republic could simply assert that they had withheld the information for a day to lure Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Ahsoka out and since it had worked, no one would argue with its wisdom or efficacy. What he expected the Republic and the Council had not planned for was their successful escape from the Archives, and now, of course, the Republic was likely to come after them on the warpath.

Ahsoka glanced up at him. “That’s not good.”

Obi-Wan could not disagree with that sentiment. “It certainly does appear to border on problematic,” he acknowledged grimly.

“So what now?” she asked, sounding calm and set but unable to quite keep her unease out of the Force.

“Well…” Focus. Think. “They’ll almost certainly manage to determine we exited the hovertrain station at this level. Which means we need to get as far away from it as possible.” That much was obvious. “And then I expect they will move to pin us into this sector, which means our priority is getting out of this district before they can surround it.”

“How did they even find us?” Anakin demanded.

“I’ve no idea.” They would need to consider that question at some point, but Obi-Wan figured it could be later. “Currently we just need to ensure they don’t do it again.”

They turned down another street, past an eclectic assortment of storefronts, bright and welcoming – a bakery, a houseplant emporium, a furniture warehouse, a narrow cubbyhole selling Sacorrian wine. They paused briefly at a street vendor and Obi-Wan swapped a handful of credits and his gray cloak for a dark blue one; Anakin switched to black and Ahsoka pulled on a patterned deep purple shawl, covering her montrals in its wide hood. The credits they used were eminently traceable, their sequence numbers undoubtedly logged as last having been provisioned to the Jedi and then removed from the Order’s vault by Obi-Wan, but they were unlikely to get scanned through an official system in the next several hours. New colors would hopefully buy them more time in the immediate future by making it that much harder for the droids charged with scanning holocam surveillance footage to recognize them.

They ducked inside an upscale multilevel apartment building that was conveniently not quite upscale enough to have any sort of security, and they used its stairs to descend five more levels underground, which hopefully removed them from immediate danger. What they really needed was to get out of this district, make for the underlevels, and lose themselves in Coruscant’s grimy underworld. The hovertrains were likely to be heavily surveilled and not worth the risk; the same was quite possibly true of the nearby starship transfer shaft.

“Turbolift junction,” Anakin said, indicating a blue municipal holosign with the same words and a helpful arrow. “Let’s go.”

They wound through the streets, following the local government’s posted directions, making for the turbolifts. Fleeing downwards was not quite as preferable as getting out of the district entirely, but they would have a better chance of disappearing if they could reach the deep levels. They finally emerged near the junction, and the first thing Obi-Wan noticed was that it was flanked by five CSF officers in dark gray uniforms. The second was that the public notification holoscreens set above the turbolift entrances were showing the faces of three wanted Jedi. Not good. He felt a cold, fleeting burst of adrenaline, the chilling realization that they were really and truly in serious trouble here. On unspoken agreement, he and the other two avoided stopping dead in their tracks by instead melting into the gloom of the nearest alley, which was a narrow gap between two gray buildings, and sinking back behind a carefully ordered stack of shipping crates.

“That’s really not good,” Ahsoka said, not quite able to hide her alarm.

“Well, Snips,” Anakin said, “At least you’ve got practice with this.”

“Yeah, it didn’t go so well last time.” She looked up at him in the dim shadows of the alley. “Remember the part where you caught me and I got sentenced to death?”

He gave her a fleeting grin, and Obi-Wan could sense the anger-edged thrill of defiance in the Force - defiance of the Council, of the Republic, of the universe at large. “Yeah,” he said, “But this time you’ve got me and Obi-Wan with you.”

“That was a pretty impressive escape earlier,” she admitted, and flashed him a feral grin of her own. “I mean, you flew that interceptor three hundred meters without crashing it once.”

Obi-Wan snorted.

“Okay, can you two focus?” Anakin asked. “They’re gonna completely overrun this place if we don’t get out of here fast.”

The turbolifts were out, the hovertrains were out, any sort of public transportation was more or less out. Obi-Wan didn’t particularly like to admit it, but this set of circumstances was not in fact ideal. “Have you got a plan?” he asked.

“No,” Anakin said. “You?”

“Well,” Obi-Wan said, “I suppose we avoid the main streets, we avoid the main transportation hubs, we do our best to evade the Republic forces and get as far underground as we can, and we hope that we are deep in the underlevels by the time they can get Master Vos back to Coruscant to track us.”

“That doesn’t sound like it’ll work,” Anakin said.

“No,” Obi-Wan agreed, “It doesn’t.”

They looked at each other in the gloom, and the Force flickered just slightly with the barest hint of the dark exhilaration that came from knowing that the odds were against them, that they had almost no chance of success, and that they were going to attempt it anyway because they had no other option. Evading a full-force planetary manhunt should be nearly infeasible, and they knew they were very much on the knife’s edge of disaster. But they were cornered, they had no good way out, and so they would try for the impossible.

“Well then,” Anakin said, “Let’s go.”

Chapter Text

She lay on her stomach on the durasteel rafter beam, the icy metal pressing against her chest with each rapid breath, the freezing air slicing through her lungs and oozing under her hood and curling in tendrils around her montrals. Her eyes were wide with darkness and adrenaline; as her sight started to adjust, she noticed that the blackness of the cavernous room was tinged just slightly – next to her, a vine with fleshy leaves dangling downwards like stalactites glowed very faintly blue, the eerie luminescence giving it a ghostly outline.

Hide in an alley, wait for a break in the CSF patrols and the buzzing holocam surveillance droids swarming the streets, try to make it to the next multilevel building, duck down some stairs or into an empty turbolift, wait on a dim threshold for the coast to clear, repeat – it had felt like one of the tedious, repetitive, a-Jedi-must-have-patience training exercises she’d been forced to do as a youngling, only usually the punishment for messing one of those up was some master telling her to repeat it again or lecturing her about equanimity, while the punishment for messing this up was getting strapped to a table and injected with lethal drugs while Anakin and Obi-Wan were locked up at the mercy of the Jedi Council. Not great.

And they almost had messed it up. It was just a glimpse through the crowd of a single CSF officer stationed at the crossroads across the street, but it had been enough. He had seen them, frowned sharply, a hand going to his blaster as he said something to his partner – 

The buildings in the higher undercity of this district were packed tightly against each other in a brightly colored jumble of storefronts and apartments and balconies; the makeshift planetary crusts were closer together here, a series of heavy layers propped up by the district government and out of sync with the levels in the carefully zoned Senate District. Ahsoka, Anakin, and Obi-Wan had dodged through the ordered chaos and ducked into a tall, arched building with ornate lettering tacked above its doors that read Lower Shrayen District Botanical Gardens – they’d ended up in a narrow hallway that dead-ended in a locked door with a sign proclaiming Arctic Greenhouse: Authorized Scientific Access Only, and a wave of Anakin’s hand had sent the red light on the access pad blinking momentarily to green, and they’d slipped inside. 

And now they waited on the rafters. Five seconds, ten seconds, fifteen, twenty… Time seemed to crawl past sluggishly in the frozen darkness while her heartbeat pounded against her chest. It all came down to whether the CSF officers had definitely seen them, whether they were calling for reinforcements, whether they were calling the Jedi, whether Ahsoka, Anakin, and Obi-Wan were going to have to take off running again – if they were found down here, in the underlevels with so much less room to maneuver, with CSF and GAR forces closing in on them from all directions, with mobilized surveillance droids… Don’t think about it. 

A keypad beeped and the door swung slowly open, letting in a faint crescent of light. Ahsoka gritted her teeth, trying to quiet her shaky breathing as the frigid air cut like a serrated knife through her chest. Around her, she could feel the somnolent flow of the Force through the plants that clung to the ceiling, the slowness at odds with her own racing pulse.

Kriff,” one of the intruders said in a nice Core accent as footsteps crossed the threshold. CSF, she thought, based on the glimpse of dimly illuminated gray uniform she got from over the edge of the rafter. “It’s cold in here.” CSF and observant, she appended mentally. She was pretty sure her heart rate was at a million beats a minute. 

“I don’t think they’re in here,” the other said. “I mean, the door was locked from the outside.” A sigh of disgust. “Are we even sure it was actually them in the first place?” 

“Well, the sensor is reading lifeforms.”

“Yeah, that’s because there’s plants, genius.” The second flicked on a flashlight and swept its wide beam over the floor, illuminating a tangled jungle sprawled in beds of thick tundra soil. “See?”

“When the Togruta ran a few days ago, they were saying Jedi can open locks just by looking at them.” A brief pause, tinged with amusement. “Think it’s true?”

“No idea. Kriffing Jedi. I already worked two extra shifts the first time this happened.” He sighed, radiating annoyance. “I’m gonna start a HoloNet petition to move that temple thing to Jakku.”

“I’ll kriffing sign it three times,” the other said. A flashlight beam ran over a wide swath of the floor. “Let’s just sweep this place and get out of here.” 

They began a methodical check of the room, starting from the doorway and moving out. Ahsoka focused on trying to keep her breathing calm, trying to get her heartbeat to slow down, trying to survive the silent waiting without going insane. 

In the Force, Anakin felt tense, and Obi-Wan, like usual, felt like he was barely even there.

“What are we even supposed to do if we do find them?” one of the officers asked, exasperated, nearly directly underneath her, the sudden noise almost making her jump. She quashed the reaction with years of training. “There’s two of us, and there’s three of them. And they’re Jedi.”

“Well, I don’t think the Togruta is anymore,” the other offered. “Pretty sure the Jedi kicked her out after she bombed their Temple.” 

“Oh great. Much better.” Ahsoka could practically feel him rolling his eyes. “Not a Jedi, just an unaffiliated crazy with a laser sword.” 

No, Ahsoka thought with a dark flash of amusement, teeth gritted. An unaffiliated crazy with two laser swords.

Time inched past. 

She was absolutely freezing cold, the iciness of the air seeping through her clothes and lancing through her lekku; her fingers, pressed against the biting durasteel of the beam, were going numb. She focused on her slow, silent breath, focused on the fact that this would eventually end one way or another: either the CSF officers would leave, or they’d notice the three Jedi – well, two Jedi and an escaped war criminal – flat against the rafters, and then the officers would comm the rest of the Republic forces, and she, Anakin, and Obi-Wan would take off running again and then the GAR would show up and so would the Jedi, and – she cut off that line of thought, closing her eyes and trying to breathe silently, trying to focus on the Force techniques that would keep her from freezing to death.

“Well,” one of the officers said eventually from the far corner of the room, “I sure saw a lot of plants.” 

They agreed, finally, to leave before they died of hypothermia. Ahsoka nearly fell off the beam in relief when the door finally shut behind them. There was a loud click as the bolt slid into place, and then a moment of pure silence as the three of them waited to be sure the CSF officers were really gone.

Then, “See?” Anakin said smugly into the darkness. “I told you they never look up.” 

“Yes, your genius is truly unparalleled, Anakin,” Obi-Wan said, shifting position so he was sitting crosslegged on his rafter. “I’m sure even Master Yoda could not have come up with the singularly brilliant ploy of hiding on roofing beams.” 

Anakin shrugged. “You’re just jealous you didn’t think of it.”

“Yes, I could not possibly have arrived at that peerless scheme myself.” Obi-Wan looked over at him in the faint, ghostly blue light of the bioluminescence. “Now, as you are clearly in possession of an inimitable gift for strategy, perhaps you could stop wasting time and instead determine how we might get out of here without any of us getting executed or imprisoned.” 

Anakin raised his eyebrows. “No way. I made the last plan. It’s your turn.” 

“Hiding on the ceiling is a younglings’ game, not a plan.”

“It worked. And I also made the plan yesterday. It’s still your turn.”

“You improvised a plan and crashed a starship into a building. That doesn’t count.”

“Yes it does.”

“No, it doesn’t.”

Anakin shrugged. “Okay, fine – compromise. Snips makes the plan.” 

Ahsoka rolled her eyes and pulled her shawl more tightly around herself. She sometimes wondered if every diplomatic victory Anakin and Obi-Wan had ever achieved had come because whoever was in the room with them just agreed to do whatever it took to get them to leave. “Well, to start with, we should wait here for a bit until they’re done searching this area. Then I guess we just keep trying to go down.” It wasn’t like there were any better options than what they’d already been doing.

“Impressive,” Obi-Wan said warmly, “that you could have spent years listening to Anakin’s teachings and yet nonetheless emerge able to choose a rational course of action.”

“Whenever I have to make a plan, I always think, What would Master Skywalker do?” she said innocently. “And then I try to crash at least one fewer ship than he would.” 

The Force shimmered with Obi-Wan’s amusement. 

Anakin rolled his eyes. “Okay, Snips, but whose idea was it to go to the Public Archives on the surface?

He had a point. “Okay,” she admitted, “So maybe we shouldn’t have done that.”

Maybe,” he repeated. “Face it, you still have – ”

“Yeah, yeah, much to learn.” She shook her head, trying not to think about how cold she was. “So – then what? I’m guessing you didn’t get a name from the records or we wouldn’t have jumped out a window.” Obi-Wan, she knew, would have actually tried to talk to the Council members if he and Anakin had found good evidence that someone in the Republic government had ordered the nanodroids. 

Instead of an answer, though, the first thing she got was a heavy pause.

After a moment, Anakin said, “Actually, we did get a name.” The Force had hardened around him; whatever they’d found, it wasn’t good news. He looked at her in the blue glow. “The database said that the customs transaction was authorized by Qui-Gon Jinn.”

What?” Ahsoka said, completely taken aback. Whatever she’d been expecting, it wasn’t that. “Qui-Gon Jinn?” She glanced at Obi-Wan in the half-light. “Wasn’t he – ?”

“Yes,” Obi-Wan said. 

And he was also – kriff. Things clicked into place. “He was Dooku’s Padawan.”

“Yeah,” Anakin said. 

“So Dooku might be involved. He might have those access codes.” She felt a sort of sickening shock unfold in her stomach – could the Separatists really be involved in this? 

Obi-Wan nodded. “That was my first thought as well. If Dooku is trying to destabilize the Order, it’s not a bad plan.” 

“And it would explain what Ventress is doing here.” Anakin crossed his arms. “I bet she’s still working for him.”

“Or she got those codes from him somehow, and now she’s using them herself,” Ahsoka said.

“The authorization for the customs fee was sent from one of the open terminals in the Temple,” Obi-Wan added grimly. “Which confirms that someone with access to the Temple is likely involved.”

“A Jedi?” Ahsoka asked, rattled. Letta had told her that she’d been working with a Jedi, and whether she’d been lying intentionally or telling what she thought was the truth, Ahsoka had concluded later that she must have been talking about Ventress. 

“We can’t say.” Obi-Wan shook his head. “Possibly a Jedi. Possibly a non-Jedi worker, such as Jackar Bowmani. And, of course, it is not utterly infeasible that Ventress – or, I suppose, Dooku – actually managed to enter the Temple. Cad Bane did, and he has much less natural talent.”

“Should we… Should we try to get a message to the Council?” Ahsoka asked. “I mean, if Dooku or Ventress is using those codes, if they have access to all that intel…” She had no intention of actually turning herself in until she had real, solid proof of her innocence, but if someone who’d attacked the Jedi was in possession of Jedi access codes – 

“I think we should keep the Council out of this,” Anakin growled. 

“Are you sure?” She trusted Anakin’s judgement, and she herself was not feeling particularly warm towards the Council at the moment, but this seemed like kind of a big deal. “If the Separatists have Jedi access codes, that’s pretty bad.”

“It doesn’t appear as though those codes have been used to view records, plans, or military information of any sort,” Obi-Wan said. “Which is, perhaps, as alarming as anything else if Dooku truly is involved, as that might imply that he has other avenues of securing that information. Or, I suppose, that he considers whatever he is attempting to set in motion here to be of more importance than free access to classified Republic information, although I rather doubt it.” He paused. “However, I am not sure taking this information to the Council at this point is the best idea.” 

Ahsoka looked over at him, surprised.

“The Council may suspect that Dooku is involved,” Obi-Wan continued. “However, there is an alternative explanation they may consider that would be markedly less beneficial to us.” He sighed. “They may suspect that I have those codes.” 

Oh. “And since you broke me out…”

Obi-Wan nodded.

“Come on, Master,” Anakin said, rolling his eyes in the semi-darkness. “The Council’s not gonna think that you fed a guy exploding nanodroids.” 

“Anakin, as you may or may not have noticed, I recently freed a convicted felon from Republic custody and then proceeded to shatter a wide plethora of Republic laws. That generally causes the Council to be less inclined to trust someone.”

“I still don’t think they’re gonna think that you bombed the Temple.” 

Obi-Wan was quiet for a moment. “Perhaps not. However, I’m not certain they won’t consider the possibility that I was involved.”

“Come on, if it’s between you and Dooku, who’s more likely to try to sabotage a Republic hanger?” 

“It’s not that simple, Anakin.” 

“What’s not that simple about it?”

“The only other time those codes have been used in the past thirteen years was sixteen days ago, to transfer fifty thousand credits from the Republic to an unidentified account on Mandalore.”

Anakin grimaced. “Maybe Dooku was bribing Maul. But what does that have to do with you?

Obi-Wan sighed. “The Council may suspect that I transferred those credits.” 

“Why?” Anakin frowned at him. “Because you knew the duchess? But I mean, you couldn’t have known about Maul. The reports didn’t come out of Mandalore until – after.”

Obi-Wan shook his head. “The official reports didn’t. She contacted the Temple before that, asking for my help.”

A beat of silence. “You went.” Anakin was staring at him. “That’s what you took the Twilight for.”

The barest hesitation. “Yes.”

“Did the Council know?”

“No. Not officially. Master Yoda and Master Mundi knew about the request, but there was nothing we could do. Since Mandalore is a neutral system, the Senate would never have agreed to send aid.”

“But you went anyway.”

“Yes.” 

Anakin was still staring at him, and Ahsoka could feel that there was something going on that she wasn’t quite picking up on, that the revelation that Obi-Wan had illegally responded, unsanctioned by the Senate or the Jedi Council, to a Mandalorian request for aid had some extra meaning to Anakin that she didn’t follow.

“I – that’s – I had no idea, I didn’t…” Anakin shook his head, trailing off, then glanced over at Obi-Wan. “Hey, uh, I’m – really sorry. About Satine.”

“It’s in the past,” Obi-Wan said, dismissing whatever was going on here. His presence in the Force was completely opaque. “We need to figure out to whom that Mandalorian account belongs. Whoever it is may know of – or may be – another link in all this.”

“Well,” Anakin said grimly, “That’s gonna be sort of hard to do while we’re hiding in a plant freezer.” 

“I believe the correct term is greenhouse,” Obi-Wan said. “But yes, I agree with the sentiment.”

“It would help if we knew what the Republic was doing,” Anakin said. 

“I only saw the CSF out there,” Ahsoka said with a frown. By the time they’d been spotted, the streets had been swarming with CSF officers and municipal-grade holocam surveillance droids and a handful of military-grade ones, but she hadn’t seen a single GAR patrol. Or any Jedi.

“Yes,” Obi-Wan said. “I noticed that as well.” 

“The rest of them could be up to anything,” Anakin said. “If the GAR’s got a perimeter set up…”

Obi-Wan sighed. “Now would certainly be the time to figure out how to escape the search area, if we knew where it was or how far it extended.”

Ahsoka crossed her arms underneath her shawl, noting vaguely that her shoulder twinged painfully as she did so; she’d bruised it at some point yesterday, although she couldn’t remember exactly how. She took a steadying breath. Anakin and Obi-Wan were both acting as though none of this was more than an inconvenience, but she knew that the three of them were actually in pretty serious trouble. Their progress before they’d had to hide in here had been slow and painstaking; the roads had been clogged with surveillance droids, and they’d also had to make sure they weren’t noticed by any civilians. And it was only going to get harder, especially if the GAR and the Jedi really were up to something. Hiding from the Republic in the middle of an upscale district of Coruscant was a lot different than avoiding Separatist patrols in a bombed-out backwater war zone. “Could we find out somehow? What the Republic is doing, I mean?”

“How, Snips?” Anakin asked. “It’s not like we can just comm Rex and ask.” 

Her first thought was that they should just comm Rex and ask, but she knew when she thought about it that they couldn’t make him complicit in this. It was too dangerous; he was completely under the GAR’s jurisdiction, and there was no telling what a court martial would do to him. And, she thought with a pang of guilt, the 501st had already lost a general and a commander; if Rex were caught helping them, the 501st would lose a captain too. Don’t think about that. And anyway, Anakin had carefully explained the programming underlying the military comnet to her: it had encryptions wrapped in encryptions, and you needed specialized hardware to even gain access at all. Even if they’d wanted to contact Rex, it would’ve been nearly impossible without a military-grade comlink.

There was also Barriss, of course; but Ahsoka was hesitant to contact her again so soon after the last time. For one thing, two unmarked connections were way more suspicious than one. For another, it hadn’t escaped Ahsoka that they’d been found not too long after they’d talked to her. Ahsoka didn’t think it was likely that the Jedi had picked up their trail from that holobooth – there were a zillion other more probable possibilities – but she’d been trained not to ignore coincidences. If there was a chance that a method of communication was compromised, you didn’t use it again.

And, she thought, Barriss hadn’t known that the Republic was planning an ambush – had they not told her on purpose because they suspected Ahsoka might come to her for help?

“And Barriss is probably out,” she conceded. “They did find us pretty soon after we contacted her.”

“It is certainly a possibility that they traced that transmission,” Obi-Wan agreed. “Although,” he added with a meaningful look at Anakin, “I think questions still remain regarding just how untraceable Master Skywalker’s untraceable link at the Archives actually was.”

“Who said anything about that link?” Anakin demanded. “I bounced it through seven sealed jumps. There’s no way they traced it that quickly. Unless,” he added, “they sent a tracer through since they do control the server, but even then they’d have to get arbitrary code execution on that Archives terminal. They couldn’t have done it that fast.”

But the Republic controlled the terminal, too, didn’t they? “Unless that Archives terminal is configured to automatically respond to any Republic-signed trace requests,” Ahsoka said. 

“Yeah,” Anakin said. “…Unless that.” He gave her a look that was equal parts grudging and proud. “Good point, Snips.” 

Ahsoka sighed, her breath hanging like fog in the frozen air. It didn’t really matter, exactly how they’d been found. What mattered was that they still didn’t have evidence that she hadn’t bombed the Temple. What mattered was that they were trapped at the center of a manhunt that even Anakin and Obi-Wan might not be able to evade, and that she wanted to do anything besides hide and sneak through alleys while Republic law enforcement closed in on them.

She was probably going to prison, one way or another. She’d either be there for a handful of days before they killed her, or she’d manage to prove her innocence and she’d be there for longer. She hadn’t bombed the Temple, but she had run from Republic custody twice.

Whatever, she thought furiously. They could lock her up, they could shove her in some dark prison cell for three years, but she wasn’t going to let them think she deserved it. She was going to force the Jedi Council to admit they’d been wrong, to admit they’d cast her out and let the Republic nearly kill her and that they had been wrong. She wanted them to know that she was locked in prison because of them, because they had taken her loyalty and answered it with nothing but distrust and betrayal, that they’d thrown her entire life away for no kriffing reason.

But they couldn’t make progress from here. They couldn’t find Ventress and they couldn’t track down whoever was using Qui-Gon Jinn’s access codes while they were pinned down by a major Republic search effort. And every minute they spent holed up here was another minute that Ventress and anyone else could cover their tracks, delete records, get farther from Coruscant… It would take the three of them hours, maybe even days, to get out of here, to get out of this district – if they ever even could. They had absolutely no idea how the search was unfolding, no idea what the Republic’s strategy was, no idea what the best move was; getting out was probably going to be borderline impossible.

So maybe it didn’t make sense to try. All they needed to do was figure out who was behind those transfers.

She tuned back in to whatever Obi-Wan and Anakin were talking about, and discovered that they were, as usual, sniping at each other; she focused just in time to catch the name Cato Neimoidia. Amazing. How in the universe was it that they managed to argue about that right now? She rolled her eyes to herself; Anakin opened his mouth to say something, probably about how Obi-Wan would never have made it across that bridge in time, there was too much fog, there were too many mercenaries, he was bleeding to death, blah blah blah – but Ahsoka was quicker.

“Master,” she said, “what’s the fastest way to get that Mandalorian account information? Is there a bank nearby that would have it?” 

It was, at least, enough to derail Anakin from whatever he’d been about to say. “You’re joking, Snips.” He looked over at her. “We’re not gonna go break into a bank. We need to stay out of the Republic’s sight and get out of this district.” 

“We need to find out who owns that account,” Ahsoka said.

“Yeah,” Anakin said, “Eventually. What we need to do now is figure out how to get out of this district, and then off of this planet.” 

What?” No way. “Since when was that part of the plan?”

“Did you forget the part where the entire Republic is looking for you so that they can execute you? Come on, Ahsoka, you know we can’t avoid them forever if we stay here.” 

“Did you forget the part where we need to find out who bombed the Temple?” She shook her head. “The longer we wait, the colder the trail will be. I’m not leaving Coruscant until we know.” 

“Ahsoka – ”

She was suddenly angry – had he really just expected her to just run? “I’m not going to be a fugitive my whole life, Master,” she snapped at him. She needed him to understand that clearing her name was her only chance, that if they couldn’t do it, then all three of them were going to have a serious problem and whoever had really bombed the Temple, Ventress or Dooku or whoever else, was going to still be out there, and there would be no point to her having even run in the first place –

“Are you crazy?” Anakin asked. “If they catch you here, they’ll kill you.” 

“Yeah, I obviously know that. I was there when they sentenced me, remember?” 

“Snips,” he said, keeping calm with obvious effort, “it’s not safe to stay here. Now that they’re really looking for us – you saw how many hoverdroids they had out there. We need – ”

“We need to catch Ventress and find who bombed the Temple,” Ahsoka said. 

“It’s too dangerous to stay,” Anakin said. “They will kill you.” 

“I know,” she said fiercely. “That’s a risk I’m willing to take.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not willing to take it,” Anakin said. “I say we’re getting off Coruscant.” 

“It’s not your decision,” she said, biting back her anger. I’m not even your Padawan anymore. 

Anakin looked over at Obi-Wan for back-up. Obi-Wan was calm and neutral. “Ahsoka’s right, Anakin.”

“The Council and the GAR would want to keep us on Coruscant, right?” Ahsoka put in.

“What?” Anakin gave her a frown that was half-bewildered, half-annoyed. “Yeah, obviously, that’s the entire problem. We’re easier to find that way.” 

She glanced over at Obi-Wan for confirmation. “So that means they’ll put a lot of effort into making sure we can’t leave.” 

“It is much simpler to locate a fugitive who is boxed into a small section of a Coruscant district than one who could be anywhere in the entire galaxy,” Obi-Wan offered. “So it’s quite likely. But it depends on how many resources they have chosen to devote to searching for us. There are a number of approaches they could take.” 

“I think,” Ahsoka said, “that we should stay here and try to figure out who owns that Mandalorian account. They’re probably expecting us to run, but they probably won’t expect us to just stay in this district. All we have to do is avoid the CSF long enough to find out who’s moving that money.”

“Which you plan to do by breaking into a bank?” Anakin asked, every syllable dripping with dubiety. 

“Well, if a bank would have it,” she said stubbornly, “then yes.” 

“Ahsoka makes a good point,” Obi-Wan said carefully. “Time is not on our side, we need that information as quickly as possible, and it’s quite likely the Republic will be waiting for us to attempt to break through a perimeter. However, to my knowledge, the Planetary Bank of Mandalore operates only on Mandalore. I suppose another bank might have access to some of their records, but even getting inside is not trivial. The average Coruscanti bank requires an identification chip or a fingerprint to enter during business hours, and they’re heavily guarded. Not to mention surrounded by surveillance cameras that the CSF have access to and that are almost certainly running facial recognition that would identify us immediately.”

“Well,” Ahsoka said slowly, “do we know anyone who might be able to look it up for us? Anyone who has access to civilian financial records?”

Anakin sighed through gritted teeth. “…Padmé might be able to find out.” The Force around him was harder than it should have been.

Obi-Wan shook his head. “The Council knows you’re close with her, and she was directly involved in Ahsoka’s defense. They may very well be monitoring her communications.” 

“I know. I can get through to her securely.” 

Ahsoka frowned at him. “How? We’ll have to use a public comm. Those can’t quantum encrypt.” 

“Yeah, but they can do aurek encryption.”

She wasn’t a natural at cryptography, but she was pretty sure it didn’t work like that. “Isn’t that a one-time pad? Padmé would have to already have the right decryption module.” 

“She does,” Anakin said shortly. 

“Really?” That caught her by surprise, but probably not as much surprise as it should have. “…Why?”

“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “A past mission where I needed to be able to contact her securely. The important thing is I can get through to her now.” 

Obi-Wan sighed and ran a hand over his beard. “It’s not actually a bad thought. She would be able to look into that account number without putting herself in legal jeopardy. She represented Ahsoka and has every right to look into further information on the case. As long as she makes a good faith effort to notify the Republic that we contacted her, and provided we give her no information regarding our whereabouts, she should be free to do what she wants with what we tell her.” 

“Fine,” Anakin said. “So we’ll ask her.” 

–––

Three levels down and several blocks over, they’d found an old holobooth pushed mostly out of sight in a narrow, dingy alley between two shiny chrome buildings. Anakin knelt on the rough, pitted duracrete of the ground and splayed his fingers over the gray plastoid paneling, sensing the tangle of electronics on the other side. This holobooth was a kriffing newer model, much harder to jumpstart than the junk heaps in the deep underlevels, but unfortunately the credits they had on them were much too easily traceable to risk using them here. Which meant he had to jump it.

He hated bringing Padmé into this, hated putting her in danger – but the thought of Ahsoka being murdered was even worse. And it was true that Padmé could help them without technically breaking the law, as long as she then told the Republic that they’d contacted her. And it was also true that they needed that information as soon as possible, they couldn’t get it themselves, and even he could see that they weren’t exactly drowning in options here. They had no idea how much time they had, but it definitely wasn’t unlimited; he had no intention of letting the Republic catch them, but he also knew they had better get as close as they possibly could to proving Ahsoka’s innocence, as fast as they possibly could. He wanted to run, to get off-planet right kriffing now, but he grudgingly agreed with the other two that that strategy was likely to get them caught, and that if they could manage to prove Ahsoka’s innocence, running would be a moot point anyway. So this at least made some sense. 

He gritted his teeth, trying to work through the metal web beneath the holoprojector. In the Force, live wires showed up with a staticky translucence that felt sort of the way propeller blades moving too fast to be seen individually looked, standing in contrast to the wires with no voltage, which felt still and silent. Following circuits required a headache-inducing amount of concentration; if he let his focus waver, the wires blurred together in one giant resonating tangle. He finally found what he figured must be the access chip – okay, now all he had to do was bypass it… He moved his fingers against the plastoid paneling, pushing a couple wires around, kinking them sharply until the insulation gave way; then he connected what he suspected – hoped – was power in with what he was pretty sure was data out. That way the access chip would just be emitting a constant TRUE. Might work…?

He finished twisting the wires together and dropped his hold on them in the Force, then pushed himself up and confronted the holobooth’s tiny screen. Please insert payment still scrolled stubbornly across it in white Aurebesh letters. He pushed a handful of buttons on the off chance that would activate something. It didn’t. Kriff.

He felt for the circuits in the Force again. Maybe if he just routed the actual connection wire itself around the access box…? He frowned at it, thinking.

“Ideally sometime this lunar cycle, Anakin,” Obi-Wan said.

“This would go faster,” Anakin growled, “if you weren’t always interrupting.”

“Well, perhaps I wouldn’t be interrupting,” Obi-Wan said pointedly, “if you were going faster.”

Anakin rolled his eyes and turned his attention back to the holobooth. Okay, he needed to open it up – fine-scale Force manipulation guesswork would only get him so far. He started to draw his saber, then realized that a lightsaber burn through a hotwired public holobooth would be a dead giveaway to anyone trying to follow them. It needed to look like the lazy work of a cheapskate vandal. Fine. He kicked the side paneling, hard; it shattered, which was unexpected – the plastoid must have been old – and then clattered loudly to the stained duracrete underfoot. 

“Master, I thought we were being subtle,” Ahsoka said from the mouth of the alley where she was keeping watch, her tension in the Force overwritten with exasperation. 

“Nothing has exploded or caught fire yet,” Obi-Wan said pointedly, “which by Anakin’s standards means we are operating at the height of stealth.” 

“Hey, Snips,” Anakin said, hunting through the bundles of wires for the thick connection cable – it was probably orange, the standard color for holo-sys cables was orange… “Ask Master Kenobi what level of stealth he was operating at that time we landed on Cato Neimoidia on a reconnoissance mission and four minutes later he blew up three entire Neimoidian records buildings.

He couldn’t see her roll her eyes, but he could feel it in the Force. “Uh, Master Kenobi?” she inquired, managing to sound appropriately reverent. “Master Skywalker wants to know what level of stealth you were operating at that time that you blew up three entire Neimoidian records buildings.”

“Four minutes after we landed,” Anakin added, pulling on the connection cable and glaring at it. Apparently whoever had installed this thing had used wire with blue insulation, because kriff them. “On a reconnoissance mission.” 

“Inform Master Skywalker,” Obi-Wan said calmly, “that, as I have told him multiple times, the Neimoidians were more than capable of blowing up their own records buildings and required no outside assistance to do so. Furthermore, the incident he is referring to was merely the unfortunate result of an electrical malfunction.” 

Anakin snorted. “You slicing the main generator in half with a lightsaber is not an electrical malfunction.”

“Anakin, if you wish to quibble over issues of trivial semantics, perhaps I might remind you that on that same mission, you chose to interpret the instruction to land the ship as a directive to fly it straight into an ocean,” Obi-Wan said. “So I am disinclined to – ”

“That ship went down over water because the engines got shot out with a plasma cannon! Which only happened because the shields got damaged while I was saving your skin again –

“That’s a remarkably creative interpretation of that particular series of events,” Obi-Wan said.

Anakin rolled his eyes and finished routing the circuit around the access chip, which he figured had a fifty percent chance of success. If the holobooth’s software was designed to check with the access chip, then they were in trouble; if it just let the access chip determine whether to allow the connection through, then this should work. 

He restarted the holobooth, and its small screen loaded to a Connection established message. Kriffing finally. 

Well, here went nothing. He took a moment to wire in the tiny encryption module he kept tucked in the lining of one boot, and then he punched in the sequence of a holorelay in the comcenter of Theed’s palace, ending with the extension passcode that would transfer the call through to Padmé’s Coruscant comlink. Communications between senators and their planetary governments were carefully protected under a number of laws, which meant the Republic would need serious warrants to get comm records from Theed’s palace to Naboo’s senator, which meant Anakin tried to route calls to Padmé through there whenever possible.

There was a pause while the comm waited for Padmé to pick up the call. Anakin had opted for voice only – that meant less data overall, which meant their encryption key would last longer. He was pretty sure it still had about a hundred tetrabytes, but still. You couldn’t reuse a one-time pad because the XOR operation was kriffing commutative which meant – 

“Senator Amidala.” Padmé, calm and senatorial. Anakin felt a familiar warmth in his chest; even staticky and filtered after being bounced hundreds of terakliks to Naboo and back, her voice still sounded like home. 

He braced himself. “Hey,” he said. “So, uh – ”

That was enough for her to recognize him. “I am going to kill you.” Far less calm and senatorial now. “Both of you. What were you thinking?!

“Look, you know we couldn’t have gotten anywhere with the courts – Padmé, you know we had to – ” 

She cut him off. “So what are you planning to do now?” 

“We’re looking for whoever actually bombed the Temple,” Anakin said. “We – ”

“Oh, you’re going to find Asajj Ventress while also hiding from the entire Republic army?” 

That wasn’t good. “The entire GAR’s after us?”

He could practically feel her dim but fiery Force presence sparking with anger from a hundred kliks away. “What the hell did you expect, Anakin? Did you think this through at all?” 

“I thought through that they were going to kill Ahsoka,” he growled, temper flaring. 

She took a deep breath. “What do you need?” she asked, deliberately calm.

“We – found a Mandalorian bank account sequence that we think is connected,” he said. “We wanted to know if you could find out who owns it.” He gave her the number.

“I’ll look into it,” she said, still with that forced calm. “Where are you?”

“I can’t tell you that. If you know and you don’t tell them, you’ll be breaking the law.”

A moment of silence. “Are you – are you telling me not to break the law?” Padmé demanded, in stunned disbelief. “You’re telling me not to break the law? Anakin, where are you?” 

“Why do you need to know?”

“I talked to Rex,” she said. “I know where they’re searching. If you tell me where you are – ”

“You what? How – ?

“Anakin, I know how to do my job,” she snapped. “Just tell me where you are.”

What? “What part of this is your job?

“Listen to me. They’ve got blockades and checkpoints, some with ray shielding, at all entrances in and out from blocks twelve-sixteen to twelve-ninety between levels twenty-six and forty-four. They’ve got Jedi checking the entire area building by building, and they’ve got CSF and holocam droids randomly patrolling as well. They’re planning to box you in and just keep looking until they find you.” 

Kriff.” Blockades were bad. Checkpoints were bad. Either one with ray-shielding was even worse. The fact that the Republic had managed to close the area and narrow it to a section this small was a problem. They couldn’t avoid detection indefinitely, and Anakin also knew that realistically it was going to be extremely kriffing difficult to break through a perimeter like that. Usually barricades and enforced borders were no big deal to circumvent, but the thing was that the Jedi involved in this would know every single technique that Anakin or Obi-Wan – or Ahsoka – would usually use to get through one. 

“And they’ve tightened the wartime precautions on extraplanetary travel,” she continued. “They’re requiring identification to get on- or off-planet right now. They’ve got swarms of police droids at the hyperspace access points.” 

Bad, bad, bad. Alarms were going off in Anakin’s head. He had somehow thought this would be easy, or at least easier than this – three sentients on an entire planet should be impossible to find – but of course the Jedi and the GAR and the Coruscanti government combined did almost know what they were doing. He started flipping through possibilities – they could maybe manage to sneak through that perimeter, they could maybe manage to get a ship…

But Padmé somehow wasn’t done. “I can get the three of you out of there,” she said. “If you meet me at the level thirty public docks – ”

What?” Anakin demanded, hoping against hope that he had misheard but knowing he hadn’t. “Are you out of your mind?” 

“Are you out of yours? Do you even have a plan?”

“We’ll figure something out,” Anakin growled. “And how would you even – ?” 

“Rex gave me a clearance beacon for the expedited checkpoint,” Padmé said.

What? Rex helped you?” Anakin asked, with a rush of anger at the universe. No, not Rex too, they were somehow drawing everyone into this mess and Anakin just wanted to get Ahsoka out

“He said he hopes you and Obi-Wan wouldn’t be helping Ahsoka if she were really responsible. He told me how to get a speeder through without it being searched.” 

Kriffing – Padmé – ”

“Look, Anakin, do you have a better plan?”

“I’m not letting you get involved like this,” he snarled. “You – ”

“I’ll get involved if I want to,” she snapped. “It’s not your decision.” 

“Listen to me – ”

“No, you listen to me. Do you want them to catch her?”

Of course not, the fear that thought brought was hot and blazing and furious but – “And what if they catch you?” 

“Then I’ll tell them that I was trying to convince you to turn yourselves in,” Padmé said. “I’ll talk my way out of it.” 

Yeah right. “It’s too risky, you – ”

“Do you want to get through their perimeter or not? Anakin, I was at the invasion of Theed, I was on Geonosis, you don’t get to control what risks I take. You owe me that much.” 

She had a point, even if he wanted furiously to deny it. The perimeter she was describing was not going to be easy to break through, the search she was describing – the fact that Jedi were involved – meant they were in trouble, and the terror closing in on him that he wasn’t going to be able to keep the Republic from finding Ahsoka was – “Can that beacon really get us through?” he asked through gritted teeth. “You’re sure?” 

“Rex says it can.” 

“How do you know no one would follow you here?” he asked, grudgingly engaging this insanity. “They might be expecting us to contact you.”

“I’ll sneak out and leave a decoy,” Padmé said. “I know what I’m doing.”

“You’re not going to be able to lose a Jedi tail that easily.”

“Then that’s another risk we’ll have to take. I’ve already talked to the Jedi Council, if they’ve got any sense they know I wasn’t involved. I told them the truth – that I’d talked to you after the sentencing and that Obi-Wan had come to ask about legal options, but that I didn’t know anything about what you’d done. Even the Jedi would need a warrant for surveillance on me, and they have no probable cause to get one. And do you really think they have enough Jedi to spare one to watch me constantly?” She paused. “And you know they’re just going to close in on you there if you stay.” 

Fine. Meet us at the docks and give us that beacon. We’ll get ourselves out.” 

“Wouldn’t work,” Padmé said. “I’d have to fly you out. Even the expedited checkpoints are slow and they’re fingerprinting anyone who looks like the three of you.” 

No. Bringing them the beacon was one thing, but actively smuggling them out was another. “Padmé, this is crazy, I’m not – ”

“Do you have a better idea?” she asked again, cutting him off.

He considered grimly. The real answer was probably no. This plan was obviously terrible – like every plan you and Obi-Wan ever make, a voice in his head added helpfully, but he ignored it. But there was a distinctly nonzero probability that it was less terrible than the alternatives. They needed to get out of the search zone. That much was obvious. And if Padmé could really get them through the perimeter… He glanced dubiously at Obi-Wan, an unspoken request for a second opinion.

“If we had better options, then I would dismiss this out of hand,” Obi-Wan said. “But as it is, I’m not convinced we do. If the Republic is using ray shields, then that means they’re putting significant resources into this, which is not a good sign for us. Beyond that, if we can get through the search perimeter, we’ll have bought ourselves a substantial amount of time.” He ran a hand over his beard, directing the next question at Padmé. “How certain is Rex that this will work?”

“He said it’s what he would do in your position,” Padmé said.

Obi-Wan sighed. “That’s aggravatingly convincing.”

“I think we should do it,” Ahsoka put in, because of course she did. “If Padmé’s really okay with it.”

Anakin hated this. He hated Padmé getting involved in this, he hated putting her in danger, but he also physically couldn’t handle the idea of Ahsoka being recaptured, and he more or less trusted Padmé’s judgement, if she thought she could really get them out of here… And part of him wanted desperately to see her, wanted desperately to feel the warmth and reassurance that being around her always brought, even though he knew it was stupid and reckless and… “Fine,” he grated out. “We’ll meet you at the docks.”

 

Chapter Text

They reached the public docks through a maze of sideroads, forced to stop multiple times on the way to duck out of sight of CSF patrols and the quietly whirring hovercam droids that seemed to float around every corner. By the time they finally made it, Ahsoka was beginning to agree that they had no choice but to get out of this district. It was really only a matter of time until they were found and cornered. Especially since there were Jedi searching as well, and it was about a gazillion times harder to duck out of sight of a Jedi than a droid.

The public docks covered a wide, chaotic stretch of oil-stained duracrete that was overflowing with rushing sentients of all species and small air vehicles of all garish colors and models. The air, thick with ion fumes, vibrated with the thunder of engines and the outraged honking that sprang up every time someone took what someone else thought was too long to pull out of a space; from the other side of the docks, an argument about a fender-bender rose and fell over the underlying roar. Ahsoka, Anakin, and Obi-Wan skirted the edges, nearly getting run over by three different negligent drivers, and arrived somehow alive at the chosen rendezvous point – the far right corner, which turned out to be home to a few large municipal dumpsters.

“Scenic,” Obi-Wan remarked dryly. Behind them, the fender-bender argument ratcheted up through Basic’s more vulgar tiers of curses.

“Well,” Anakin said, “at least there’s no Cthon here.”

“Yes, Anakin, a convenient side effect of the fact that Cthon aren’t real.”

“Watch out,” Anakin said. “They eat nonbelievers first.”

“They can’t eat anyone,” Obi-Wan said, “because they don’t exist.”

“Great,” Anakin said, glancing around, “they probably heard you say that.”

The entire Force seemed to echo with Obi-Wan’s tired exasperation, but he was saved from replying by the docking enforcement official who was heading towards the argument behind them. Ahsoka, Anakin, and Obi-Wan melted back behind the far dumpster, hiding completely from view.

“So where are we going?” Ahsoka asked quietly, now that Anakin and Obi-Wan weren’t arguing about urban legends. “Once we get through the perimeter, I mean.”

“The underlevels, I should think.” Obi-Wan glanced over at Anakin. “Below the Uscru District is an option.”

“Or the Kirem District,” Anakin said. On the other side of the dumpster, the docking official loudly entered the fray. “Should be easy to find a ship there.” A significant look at Ahsoka. “If we decide we need to get off-planet.” 

She didn’t even know if she wanted that or not. Maybe they did need to leave Coruscant. She couldn’t think that far ahead right now. But it didn’t matter. She let Anakin and Obi-Wan work it out; Anakin won this particular conflict, which ended in grudging mutual agreement on Kirem.

After what seemed like far longer than the few minutes it probably was, they felt Padmé pull up under the cover of the general mayhem. They slipped out from behind the dumpster to find her flying a small, squarish, closed-air gray city speeder – an innocuous, utilitarian model that Ahsoka knew Anakin would’ve had a fit about in any other situation.

“Get in,” Padmé said, pushing open the passenger side door. She was dressed in a thick rose-colored cloak with a heavy hood, reminiscent of what her handmaidens usually wore.

“Hey,” Anakin said, sounding relieved, pausing momentarily with a hand on the doorframe. “Padmé – thank you.”

She was distinctly unimpressed. “Hurry up.

Anakin gave the boxy speeder a dubious once-over before he climbed in, frowning. “It looks like you’re on your way to pick up your kids from hoverball practice,” he said, apparently deciding to have a fit about the speeder anyway. “Where’d you get this thing?”

“I borrowed it from Teckla who borrowed it from a friend so that I could save you from your own insanity, Anakin,” Padmé said. Her presence in the Force was faint compared to a Jedi’s, but it was still as sharp as her voice.

Ahsoka clambered after Anakin into the storage area in the back, which Padmé had loaded with a jumble of crates and boxes. The edge of a layer of rough carpeting had been folded back to reveal a wide semi-hidden compartment; Ahsoka didn’t even bother to ask why Padmé’s handmaiden’s friend had a smuggler’s vehicle. But while it might be enough to hold off a casual observer or a weak scanner, it wasn’t anything that would beat police-grade tech or even a half-awake sentient examiner. “Rex is sure they aren’t gonna search this thing?” she asked, trying not to sound too dubious.

“Yes,” Padmé said, carefully calm, indicating the clearance beacon – a small, silver hemisphere of sicrillium with a tiny blinking green light sitting on the dashboard. “We’ll be fine.”

Obi-Wan shut the door behind him, and the noise of the docks became an indistinct muffled drone in the background. “Its other faults aside,” he said, settling between crates next to Ahsoka, “this speeder certainly doesn’t look like an official Republic vehicle. That won’t be a problem?”

“They’re already using unmarked vehicles,” Padmé said. “It’ll work.”

Ahsoka felt Anakin and Obi-Wan exchange what amounted to a meaningful glance in the Force, but whatever passed between them, they must have decided to take Padmé’s word on this.

“So,” Padmé said, turning around to look at them, “where should I take you?”

“Kirem District,” Anakin said. “As far underground as possible.” 

“What exactly are you planning to do down there?”

“We’ll figure it out,” Anakin said. “Avoid the search until we find what we need.”

“There’s another option,” Padmé said. “I could take you to my apartment. The Jedi and the GAR investigators asked permission to search it yesterday without a warrant, and I allowed it, so they should consider it clear. I’ve had Teckla scan it for bugs. And it’ll be easier for you to continue whatever hare-brained investigation you’re doing there.”

Ahsoka glanced at Anakin and Obi-Wan. “What would the Council expect us to do?”

“If we’re unable to get off-planet, the rational course of action would be to make for the deep underlevels,” Obi-Wan said. “So I would think they’ll expect us to head underground.”

“But they wouldn’t expect us to go back to the Senate District.”

“No, obviously,” Anakin said. “Because that would be insane.”

“I think we should do it,” Ahsoka said.

Snips – 

“Master, we need records and information and it’ll be easier to get that there than in the underlevels,” Ahsoka said. “And they’ll never expect us to go all the way back.”

“It certainly does have the element of surprise,” Obi-Wan said, sounding neutrally dubious, “in that it’s so clearly a bad idea that no one would anticipate us doing it.”

“I think it’s the best option,” Ahsoka pressed stubbornly. She knew it was reckless, she knew it was dumb, but avoiding the Republic was becoming a secondary concern to her. She wanted to figure out who Ventress was working with, how whoever it was had gotten the access codes of Obi-Wan’s master – she wanted, desperately and viciously, to prove it hadn’t been her, but she was also getting increasingly alarmed. There was something going on, something that the Council and the GAR and the Senate didn’t understand, someone who wanted to hurt the Republic who the Republic might not even be looking for – and if it was Dooku, or even just Ventress acting alone, they needed to know.

“I’m not opposed,” Obi-Wan said carefully. “Anakin?”

“I’m not letting Padmé harbor fugitives,” Anakin said, and Ahsoka almost rolled her eyes. Not this again. They’d just been over basically this exact same thing an hour ago.

“And wouldn’t have let you break Ahsoka out and go on the run from the entire Republic when we still had four more days,” Padmé snapped, rising to the challenge. “So I don’t really care what you will and won’t let me do, Anakin.”

“Padmé – ”

Anakin.”

Fine. But if anything happens to you – ”

“Then it will be for choices I made,” Padmé said. “It’s not your responsibility.”

Fine,” Anakin ground out.

“Good,” Padmé said, starting the speeder’s engine. “Now get under there before docking enforcement gets over here, we need to go.” She turned on the repulsors and the craft lifted half a meter off the duracrete as Ahsoka, Anakin, and Obi-Wan squeezed into position in the hollow of the floor.

“Why couldn’t Teckla’s friend have bought a bigger speeder?” Anakin grumbled, lying on his back to fasten the floor’s covering over them and plunging them into darkness and elbowing Ahsoka in the process.

“Why couldn’t you have been a smaller person?” Ahsoka asked, pressing herself the wall, feeling the motion in her montrals and the Force as Padmé brought them out of the docking area and lifted the vehicle the rest of the way off the ground to join the air traffic stream.

There was silence, for a while, pervaded by the hum of the engine and the pressing darkness. The thin, synthetic fabric of the interior lining was rough against her lekku. She hoped whatever Rex had told Padmé worked, that the information he’d given her was still accurate – and, she thought with a chill, that it wasn’t purposely compromised. The minutes ticked by, slow and dragging.

The speeder decelerated – blockade? Ahsoka wondered, biting down her nervousness. She felt Anakin tense, too. Padmé wasn’t a Jedi – Ahsoka knew she was competent enough, knew she’d even been in combat before – but it still needled her with anxiety, the fact that she didn’t just know what Padmé was going to do, she didn’t have a strong sense of Padmé in the Force, she couldn’t feel Padmé the way she’d learned to feel the 501st…

They crept forward for a few minutes; what little Ahsoka could sense of Padmé’s Force presence was alert and tense, but there was no feeling of alarm. Just traffic? Please let the beacon work.

They were close to a groundlane – Ahsoka could sense the surface below them, and they were running on repulsors and not ion engines. And then they stopped moving entirely.

“Identichip, please.”

Rex. The same gravelly accent as his uncountable thousands and thousands of brothers, filtered through a helmet and muffled by the floor, but Ahsoka recognized him immediately in the Force. No. No no no. Her stomach twisted – so this was the route he’d given Padmé. He shouldn’t be doing this for them, this wasn’t his fault, this was the Jedi’s fault, not his, if they caught him – 

She squeezed her eyes shut, reaching automatically for Anakin in the Force. He answered with a sense of reassurance across their bond – Not your fault – and, yeah, it wasn’t, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t happening, that didn’t mean Rex was in any less danger, that didn’t solve anything – 

A beep as the chipreader processed Padmé’s identificaton. Ahsoka really, really hoped Padmé had the foresight not to use her own identichip, which would mark her as having been in this district.

A pause.

Ahsoka bit her lip. The clones – the 501st – the one thing she’d purposely refused to allow herself to think about. They valued loyalty above all else, and she’d abandoned them, she’d pulled Anakin and Obi-Wan into abandoning them, and now she’d found out that Rex still trusted her, still trusted Anakin, even when the Jedi Council didn’t, and it wasn’t –

Another electronic beep. Rex again. “All right, the scan is showing no other lifeforms in the vehicle. You’re free to go.”

“Thank you, Captain.”

“And, Teckla – tell the senator that I hope General Skywalker knows what he’s doing and that he’s making the right decision.”

“I’m sure the senator hopes so too, Captain,” Padmé said, her tone clearly conveying that Anakin had better be.

It was another twenty minutes before Padmé set the speeder down on the docking balcony of her apartment. Then came the hydraulic whine as she had the tinted transparisteel panels lower themselves, closing the balcony and shielding them from view, and then Ahsoka, Anakin, and Obi-Wan climbed out of the speeder.

“So that was your plan?” Anakin demanded. “Get Rex to let us through?”

“Yes,” Padmé said, coldly unapologetic, heading for the balcony door. “And you can complain when you stop breaking people out of Republic prison without telling me, Anakin.”

“You can’t just – ”

She turned to face him. “Look,” she said calmly, “I told you that clearance beacon would get us through the expedited checkpoint without the speeder being searched. It did. There wasn’t time to come up with anything better, and Rex told me to do it. It was his choice and his call, and anyway right now I think we should focus on proving Ahsoka’s innocence rather than debating this.”

Anakin exhaled sharply in frustration, but he let it go. “Fine.”

“Good. Come in,” she said, leading the way inside.

Ahsoka had been to Padmé’s apartment a couple times before, but it amazed her all over again. The warm honey-colored floor, the translucent cream curtains, the couches, the pillars. It was even bigger and airier than the High Council room at the Temple, but somehow it felt like a home. She felt Anakin relax a tiny bit as they walked through the wide archway into the main room.

Padmé led them to a side room, small and enclosed, with pale blue couches and a table made of what Ahsoka suspected was actual real organic wood. She took in the rest of the scenery: thick cream curtains pulled over the one wide window, a neat desk on one side, delicate spiraling blue patterns draped across the walls, a thick matching carpet splayed out underneath the window. The chrono on the desk told her it was late evening.

“All right,” Padmé said. “So you three got out of the RJCDC, fled underground, decided to go to the main branch of the Public Archives this morning, jumped out a window to avoid the Jedi sent to bring you back, and now you’re here and somehow in all this you’re trying to find Ventress.”

“A brief yet largely accurate summary, yes,” Obi-Wan agreed. “Although missing a handful of the more crucial elements.”

“You mean it’s worse than that?”

“That, of course, depends on your definition of worse.” He looked at her and added flatly, “But yes.”

Padmé snorted. “All right,” she said after a moment, “I’m going to make tea. Then you three can explain to me what in the universe is going on.” She gave them a last exasperated look as she headed out the door.

There was a sudden lull after Padmé disappeared. Ahsoka took her hood off and folded herself onto one of the sofas, finding it almost alarmingly soft – not at all reminiscent of a meditation cushion. She looked up at Anakin. “…Do you think Padmé’s gonna kill us before the Republic does?”

“She might,” he agreed grimly.

“We can hope she views that course of action as counterproductive,” Obi-Wan said. “She did go through a lot of trouble to bring us here.”

“We’ll see,” Anakin said.

Padmé returned a few minutes later, bearing a tray of the promised tea, fancy glass dishes and all. “All right,” she said, handing Ahsoka a teacup and sitting down next to her. “So. What’s going on?”

Anakin settled onto the couch across from them, followed by Obi-Wan. “Ahsoka’s friend at the Temple – another Padawan – told us this morning that she’d found a shipping sequence for the nanodroids to that warehouse,” Anakin said. He gave her an abridged, and somewhat censored, version of what had happened since the previous evening.

Qui-Gon Jinn,” Padmé repeated, frowning sharply when Anakin said the name. “The same…?”

“Yeah.”

She exhaled. “So,” she said after a moment, “the question is who’s using those codes.”

“Yeah.”

“And you don’t have any idea who it could be?”

“We don’t know for sure. But – Padmé, he was Dooku’s Padawan. We think Dooku might have gotten those codes from him somehow.”

That clearly startled her. The line between her eyes deepened, and Ahsoka could see her setting aside a million questions as her gaze flicked to Obi-Wan. “So you’re saying that you think the Separatists might be involved in this somehow. That Dooku’s the one who ordered the nanodroids, through someone who can get into the Jedi Temple.”

“It’s the best explanation we have right now,” Obi-Wan said. “Unless you have a better one.”

“I don’t,” Padmé said.

There was a brief silence.

Still frowning, Padmé took a sip of tea. “When was that authorization entered?”

“The timestamp was for eight rotations ago,” Anakin said.

“Were you and Ahsoka on-planet then?”

“No,” Anakin said. “We left the day before for the Hensara system.” 

“Well, that’s one point in our favor,” Padmé said. “Ahsoka couldn’t have been the one to actually use those codes. Although we also know she wasn’t even on-planet for the explosion, so that doesn’t get us far.”

“…Weren’t you at the Temple that day?” Anakin said, looking at Obi-Wan.

Obi-Wan sighed. “Yes. What a stunning coincidence.”

“Great,” Anakin said. “That’s definitely not bad at all.”

“You think the use of Qui-Gon’s codes will point to you?” Padmé asked, frowning. “I suppose that narrative does fit with the fact that you broke Ahsoka out of prison, Obi-Wan.”

“I’m aware, thank you, Senator,” Obi-Wan said dryly. “The other thing, also not a point in our favor, is that those codes were also used to authorize one other transaction – a transfer of credits from the Republic operations fund to a private account on Mandalore. Which I believe could be a further attempt to make it appear as though I am involved in this, as I was on Mandalore around that time.”

Padmé sighed. “That’s the account you were asking me to look into.”

“Yeah,” Anakin said.

“You think that whoever that money went to might know something about this.”

“Well, someone must,” Obi-Wan said. “Optimistically, it’s this individual, as we are otherwise rather short on leads.”

“I can’t request private financial information, even from a non-Republic system, without an investigative warrant,” Padmé said. She looked at Anakin. “Can you slice in?”

“Why does everybody think that?” Anakin rolled his eyes. “No, I can’t slice in.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be a techno genius?” Ahsoka asked peripherally.

“All right, Snips,” Anakin said, “do you have a zottabyte drive, a Planisium 87-J Republic-certified holonet card, and a gravitationally stable long-range wave logger?”

“No,” Ahsoka admitted, then added in an undertone, “but I bet a real techno genius wouldn’t need all that stuff.” 

He shot her an exasperated frown.

“…Bail might be able to find out who owns that account,” Padmé said.

“Bail Organa?” Obi-Wan asked. “The senator?”

She nodded.

“How?”

“Bail co-chairs the Intelligence Committee, so he has access to things I don’t. And he knows people who know people who know people. Trust me. If anyone can get it, Bail can.”

“And he’d find out for you?”

“He owes me a couple favors,” Padmé said. “And he’s a close friend. He’ll look into it if I ask.”

“Well,” Obi-Wan said, “if you think it’s a good idea.”

“I do,” Padmé said. “Ahsoka?”

Ahsoka barely knew anything about Senator Organa. “Yeah,” she agreed, “if you trust him.”

Padmé looked at Anakin, who shrugged his assent.

“All right, I’ll comm him.” She got up and crossed the room, removing a small holotransmitter from a desk drawer and bringing it back to set it on the low table. She sat back down, positioning the transmitter so that its field wouldn’t encompass anyone but her, then flicked it on and entered a sequence.

Bail Organa – Alderaan’s senator, a broad-shouldered human with dark hair whom Ahsoka recognized from a handful of meetings where she’d had to stand silently next to Anakin while the politicians and the Jedi went in circles about various details of the war and the Republic’s finances and assorted laws and treaties and agreements – appeared as a blue figure sitting behind the surface of a desk, a stylus held in one hand.

“Padmé,” he said, sounding mildly surprised and very tired but somehow still with an overlay of warmth. “What can I do for you?”

“Bail,” she said, inclining her head. “Apologies for bothering you so late.”

“It’s fifteen minutes until the business day starts in Aldera,” he said wearily, “so this is a welcome distraction from the next eight hours of holomeetings.”

Padmé sighed. “Theed’s in phase with standard for another week and half,” she said, with a rueful smile. “I’m trying to enjoy it while it lasts.”

“You should.” Bail scrubbed a hand over his face. “How can I help you?”

“I need to know who owns a certain account at the Planetary Bank of Mandalore,” Padmé said. “It’s… somewhat urgent.”

His eyebrows drew together momentarily, but he erased the expression quickly. “Of course,” he said. “…For Senate business, I presume?” From his tone, Ahsoka was pretty sure he knew it wasn’t.

“Of course,” Padmé said smoothly. “Call it an anonymous tip on questionable use of Republic funds.” She gave him the account number.

He nodded as he finished writing it down. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thank you,” she said sincerely.

“I’ll contact you if I find anything. Take care, Padmé, and let me know if you need anything else.”

“Thank you, Bail,” she said again, and cut the connection. “All right.” She shook her head. “Now we wait.” She closed the holotransmitter disk and slipped it into her pocket, then stood up. “Anakin,” she said, carefully casual, “would you help me make more tea? Threepio is still with Teckla.”

Ahsoka kept her face carefully blank as Anakin and Padmé made a show of picking up the tea tray and their two teacups, leaving the actual teapot sitting on the low table, before heading out the door.

Whatever exactly was going on between them, it was obviously something. “They’re not as subtle as they think,” she murmured, keeping her gaze fixed on her own tea so that she could keep a straight face.

“No,” Obi-Wan said, with a very small but very amused smile. “They’re not.”

Ahsoka drank the rest of the spicy tarine and looked down at the empty teacup, feeling the thin fragility of the glass beneath her fingers. She took a deep breath, grounding herself in the cup’s solidity, its smooth texture, the residual heat soaking from its delicate surface into her hands. They were really here, hiding in Padmé’s apartment. Ahsoka herself was really a fugitive. The entire Republic thought she was a war criminal. What the kriff. The shades were pulled completely over the single wide window, blocking out the twilight; the artificial illuminators inside were on, casting warm radiance across the room. “Master,” she said finally, “can I ask you something?”

He looked up. “Of course, Ahsoka.”

“Does the Council really think I bombed the Temple?” Did they actually think it’d been her? Had they kicked her out because they actually thought she was guilty, or just because they weren’t willing to stand up to Tarkin and the Senate? It was dumb that she cared, but for some reason it mattered to her.

Obi-Wan seemed to consider this. “I think they find the evidence to be moderately convincing,” he said after a moment, and she could tell he was trying to be fully honest with her. “Or at the very least, difficult to refute.”

“So they really think I did it?”

“I believe the majority consider it likely.”

“But – how? Nothing adds up, I wasn’t even on Coruscant when it happened!” She pushed her frustration down with effort. “And… I’ve been a Jedi my entire life. How could they even think I could do that?” Because that was what it came down to, in the end. That was what she couldn’t understand, how it was that she’d given the Order – the Council – her trust and her loyalty and her life, and none of it had meant anything to them. How could they think she would bomb her home?

“You have to remember that Dooku was Master Yoda’s Padawan,” Obi-Wan said carefully. “The Council learned that anyone can fall. And,” he added, serious and wry and gentle all at once, “the evidence against you is not exactly trivial. There is, for example, holocam footage of you apparently murdering Letta Turmond.”

“But… you still don’t think I killed her,” she said, looking up at him. “Or bombed the Temple.”

“No, I don’t,” he agreed calmly.

“…Why not?”

He spread his fingers, palm up. “As you said, it doesn’t add up.”

Which wasn’t really an answer, but she knew better than to bother asking him to clarify. “But the Council thinks it does,” she said quietly, half a statement, half a question, searching for answers, trying to push down her anger. “Enough that they expelled me for it.”

“The Council expelled you because they felt trapped,” Obi-Wan said, “not because they were fully convinced of your guilt.” He was as calm as ever, with the same unreadable opacity in the Force. “You should understand, Ahsoka, that there is growing concern in the Senate regarding the Jedi. Many in the Senate are afraid that under the cover of the war, the Jedi are operating without sufficient political oversight and that we are taking control of civilian areas without answering to anyone but ourselves. The Council felt that, had we refused to relinquish the right to try you, it would have been seen as an admission that we expect a Jedi trial to be more lenient than a general Republic trial, and that therefore the Jedi are controlling the entire Republic military without facing the consequences other Republic citizens in the same situations would face. The Council chose to grant Tarkin’s request to expel you in order to reassure the Senate that the Jedi continue to defer to the judgment of the Republic government, and that we have no desire to use the war to gain power or raise ourselves above accountability. It was in no way a referendum against you in particular.”

“So it was – just politics,” she said, trying to keep the accusation out of her voice. She already knew the Council had sold her out because they were more worried about what some politicians thought than whether she lived or died. It was the height of cowardice and it made her furious.

“Hardly anything is ever ‘just politics,’” Obi-Wan said gently, and Ahsoka could tell it was an explanation and not a reprimand. “If public opinion – or the Senate – begins to view the Jedi as being willing to act extralegally, then we become a threat from the point of view of Republic citizens. The Jedi are the primary peacekeepers of the Republic, a duty we can uphold only if the Senate and broader Republic trust us to do so fairly and legally; to threaten that trust is to threaten the stability of the Republic.”

“I – understand that, Master,” she said, trying to be rational. It did make sense why the Jedi needed to keep the trust of the people they served; and it had always been a central tenant of what she’d been taught her entire life about her role as a Jedi. “But…” But the Council was willing to hand me over to be murdered just to prove a point to the Senate.

“The Council never intended to acquiesce to a death sentence,” Obi-Wan said quietly, answering the unspoken question. “From the point of view of those who supported honoring Tarkin's request, doing so was completely rational. Had we held your trial ourselves, we would have examined the evidence and heard your testimony and arrived at a conclusion of guilt or innocence; a Republic trial cobbled together from ancient military law and presided over by the Supreme Chancellor himself would do exactly the same thing. We did not understand that Admiral Tarkin would press so insistently for capital punishment, nor that the court would be willing to grant it."

“But if the Council didn’t want me executed,” she said, looking up at him, trying to keep her voice level, genuinely wanting to know the answer, wanting to know what possible justification they could have – “then why didn’t they help me afterwards?

“The Jedi obey Republic law," Obi-Wan said. “Always. There’s a reason that we spend so much time teaching that to initiates. The Jedi serve the Republic; we follow the will of the people as expressed through their elected representatives. Without that, we become dangerous vigilantes, imposing our own martial law simply because we have the physical power to do so. If we decide to oppose the government once, if we decide that we have the right to make that decision – where does that leave us?

“Once you had been expelled from the Order," he continued, "we had no legal claim to you. We had abdicated the right to try you, and a Republic court had done so in our place and determined you guilty, a verdict we could not disprove. Perhaps we could have used our influence with the Senate to change the sentence. But to do so would be to attempt to directly undermine the legal system and subvert the law. To be a Jedi is to place the stability of the Republic, and therefore the sanctity of the law, above emotion and personal opinion. That’s what the Council chose to do.”

She understood what he was saying, to some extent, but having Obi-Wan confirm that the Council viewed her as just another expendable dejarik piece that could be sacrificed as necessary in exchange for various abstract ideals didn't actually make her feel less angry at them. It didn't necessarily make her more angry, either, but she did have to put down her teacup because thinking about all of it made her grip the thin glass hard enough she was afraid it might shatter. Rational or not, Jedi or not, she still didn't forgive them for leaving her to die. But if Obi-Wan thought all that... She looked up at him. "But you broke me out anyway."

He sighed. "It would appear so."

She understood Obi-Wan even less right now than she usually did, which was saying something, because he was usually incredibly kriffing mysterious. "Can I... Why?”

"Do or do not," he quoted to her. "There is no try.” He gave her a slight half-shrug. “You would have been dead. Ventress and whoever else was involved in the bombing would still have been free. Those outcomes would have been wrong, and dangerous, even if I allowed them to happen for the right reasons.”

“But what if… I mean, what if getting me out is worse? What if it hurts the Republic more?”

He gave her a wry smile. “Do you know why most Padawans are proficient with a lightsaber long before we grant them knighthood?”

“Um…” This was getting into classic Jedi Master territory here. She wondered whether being able to speak in cryptic non-sequiturs was a requirement for getting on the Council, or if they taught you how to do it after you joined. “…Because there’s more to being a Jedi than being good with a saber?”

He nodded. “Teaching the mechanics of saber forms is the easy part,” he said. “It’s teaching judgment that takes so long. A particularly irritating trait of the universe is that it can rarely be split cleanly into right and wrong, and the future, of course, is always in motion. The best we can do is act in the moment as well as we believe we can. Whether I should have removed you from Republic custody in such an unsanctioned manner – well, we shall see, I suppose. Although I do tend to prefer the Republic not execute innocent beings, so I doubt I shall find myself regretting the attempt to prevent that particular happenstance.”

Ahsoka nodded, not sure what she felt. This entire situation was insane, and almost more than she could handle.

“And of course,” Obi-Wan said, pouring himself more tea, “this will give me an excellent opportunity to argue about the specifics of Clause 34-C with Master Windu.”

She looked over at him. “What’s Clause 34-C?”

He frowned, eyebrows drawing together in patented Obi-Wan disapproval. “Anakin hasn’t taught you that?”

“Anakin’s... not really good with legal stuff.”

Obi-Wan snorted. “A discerning assessment.” He shook his head. “I’m sure you know the outcome, if not the name. Clause 34-C of G.R. Senate Resolution JQS-83-202 is the legislation stating that a Jedi may break local planetary laws under circumstances in which breaking those laws will avert loss of life, even it the Jedi in question is not acting in direct pursuit of a Republic-issued mandate. It was passed roughly six hundred years ago to combat a certain type of sham court case consistently brought by disgruntled planetary governments against the Jedi.”

Oh. Yeah, she did remember learning about that, but it didn’t seem relevant here. “But none of that would apply to anything about me, would it? I mean, I was sentenced under Republic law. It’s not planetary.”

“Ah. Yes, and I expect the Council to make the same point. However, the Central Detention Center is technically within Coruscant’s planetary jurisdiction; the building has been on loan by the planetary Coruscanti government to the Republic administration for two hundred sixty-five years. The Coruscanti government has refused to sell it because they benefit from the lease payment, and because as part of the current agreement the Republic houses high-risk Coruscant planetary prisoners in the building’s lower levels.” He raised his eyebrows at her. “From a certain point of view, the actual law I broke is removing you from the detention center. That building is technically under Coruscanti jurisdiction, which would mean that local prison law is in effect.”

“And you think that the Council will buy that?” she asked dubiously.

“No,” he said calmly. “But they will have to sit and listen to me explain it.”

She snorted; it was a streak of mischief she usually forgot he had. She figured that if it came to that, if Anakin and Obi-Wan were brought before the Council, Anakin would be furious and accusatory; Obi-Wan would just be annoying. She almost felt sorry for the rest of the Council; she could picture Obi-Wan, standing before them in the Chamber of Judgment, answering every question with impossibly eloquent evasion and then proceeding to drag out the entire thing by pulling in tangentially related legal trivia. “May the Force be with them,” she said, giving him a sideways grin.

–––

Padmé shut the wide kitchen door behind them. “You should have told me,” she said, turning around, voice taut with barely contained fury. “Before.”

“Why?” he demanded. “So they could throw you in jail?”

“You know why.” Her Force presence was serrated with anger. “You should have told me.

“It can’t be your fault if you didn’t know,” he snapped. “They can’t hurt you for it if you didn’t know.

“So you didn’t tell me to protect me?” She was really angry now, but she kept her voice level. “Do you even understand – Anakin, Mace Windu showed up at my office, asking if I’d spoken to you, asking when I’d last seen you – I had no idea what was going on, I didn’t know if you’d – I didn’t know what you’d done.”

A memory shivered like gossamer on the air, and for a moment Anakin was seized with the urge to draw his saber and slash the invisible threads to nothing, but he shoved the white-hot feeling down. “And what if you had known? You think you could’ve lied to the Council?

She gave him a disgusted look. “What have we been doing for the past two and a half years?”

“That’s completely different and you know it.”

“It’s the same. You can’t – ”

“Look, I’m sorry, all right?” He didn’t know why she was so mad about this. He couldn’t have told her – she was a politician, not a Jedi, she wasn’t involved in this, he couldn’t risk the Council discovering that she’d known and beyond that it was his decision and he’d done what he’d had to do to protect Ahsoka.

She looked at him, hard, the anger still swirling around her. “I was scared.” She said it with an edge of defiance he didn’t understand.

“So what the kriff did you want me to do?” he demanded. He was furious at her for blaming him for this, as if he had a better option, and furious at the universe for doing this to all of them, and furious at the Council and at Ventress and at Tarkin – “If I had told you, then what? They’d just try to get you to tell them, and then you'd – I mean, you’re not a Jedi, you’re a senator!

“I’m involved whether you like it or not,” Padmé snapped. “What do you think is going to happen now? You think you’re just going to prove it wasn’t Ahsoka and they’re just going to let you come back like nothing happened? Anakin, you committed a felony.”

“They were going to kill her,” he snarled. “I don’t care what they do now as long as she’s alive.

“I know,” she said. “But you should have told me.”

You talked to Rex without telling me!

“That was after you were already wanted by the Republic! And I contacted him because I was afraid for Obi-Wan and Ahsoka and you!

“Sorry,” he said, not quite sure if he meant it. “I never – I couldn’t put you in danger too. I couldn’t. I – had to keep her safe, I wasn’t…”

“I understand,” she said, jaw still set, voice still hard. “I think it was rash and I think you should have waited and I know you should have told me, but I understand why you did it.”

He shook his head. “What if it doesn’t work?” he asked her, needing to say it out loud. “If they find her before we find Ventress – ”

She cut the distance between them, some of the anger receding from the Force around her, and laid a steadying hand on his arm. “Anakin. Listen. They’ll have to go through you, me, and Obi-Wan to get to her.” She looked up at him. “She’ll be okay.”

“Even the Chancellor said – ”

“Look,” she said, cutting him off gently. “The fact that you’ve found something suggesting Obi-Wan’s involved could actually work in our favor. We might be able to convince them to put her – her execution on hold if they think she might have useful information or that she was taking the fall for someone else. I can always make that case to the Senate if I have to.”

He nodded, feeling almost sick from days of suppressed panic, and she closed the remaining inches between them and he gathered her in his arms, clinging to her, and one tiny piece of the shattered galaxy fell back into place.

“She’ll be okay, Ani. I promise.”

He nodded, running a hand through the soft curls of her loose hair, holding onto her, taking comfort in the fact that she was here. It amazed him, every time, how small she was, how delicate and warm and alive…

“And you should know,” she said against his shoulder, “that if you ever break someone out of Republic custody without telling me again, by the First Mother I will end you.”

He grinned in spite of himself. “Okay, okay, twenty-four hours’ notice next time. I promise.”

She squinted up at him with one eye. “You mean it?”

Her head was a gentle weight against his chest and he could feel her heartbeat and her presence in the Force was like glittering stars. “Yeah, I mean it.”

–––

Obi-Wan took first watch. There was no real utility to this; if the Republic actually had reason to believe they were here, it wouldn’t matter whether one of them was awake to notice the dozen Jedi breaking down the door. Obi-Wan held a distinct lack of optimism regarding their chances of evading the Republic again; they’d used their only chance getting out of the Archives, and the Council would not be so careless a second time. If the Council did suspect they were here, capture was all but inevitable. Obi-Wan simply hoped that, if it came to that, whichever Jedi were assigned to the task chose not to make an excessively dramatic entrance; Padmé was doing himself, Anakin, and Ahsoka an immeasurable favor, and he did not particularly wish to repay her with a thousand-credit repair bill on top of her presumed arrest. The cost of said bill, of course, would depend entirely on who exactly was sent; someone like Shaak Ti would simply run a hand across the access panel, pushing against the censors with the Force until the blinking light shifted from red to green, causing no lasting damage, whereas Quinlan Vos was the type of person who would kick a door straight off its hinges simply because he didn’t feel like taking the time to reach for the handle. Obi-Wan found himself fervently hoping the Council hadn’t managed to drag Quinlan off whatever backwater planet he’d last been skulking about on.

Anakin, in the truly enviable optimism of youth, had actually positioned Padmé’s Nubian yacht on the balcony as a getaway vehicle. Even a half-trained Padawan sent to apprehend them would immediately recognize the need to cover the glaringly obvious sky exit, but apparently Anakin was of the opinion that there was a chance the Council would contract the task out to a random tourist pulled off the street of the Temple District. If said tourist were intoxicated to the point of insensibility, Obi-Wan figured, there was a definite chance the ship’s potential path might be overlooked during reconnoissance and left uncontested. Anakin, thank the Force, was well prepared for this particular eventuality.

But futility aside, deeply ingrained experience dictated that at least one of them be awake at all times during any sort of precarious situation, and this fell rather indisputably into that category; so here he was.

Padmé’s apartment was dark, all the artificial illuminators switched off. The wide floor-to-ceiling transparisteel window in the main room had been set to one-way, and the glittering lights of the city filtered in, shifted down a few shades by the barrier. Ribbons of speeders streamed across the dark blue glow of the hazy sky, where the ion smog scattered and reflected Coruscant’s endless sparks of artificial illumination in a dim miasma.

Obi-Wan knelt in the center of the room, grounding himself in the hard stability of the floor beneath him. It had a familiar, oddly comforting solidity, reminiscent of the calming sense of balance that came from holding his illuminated saber in one hand and feeling the solid ground beneath his feet and knowing that, whatever happened, he knew what he was doing and he knew why he was doing it and his grip on his saber was second nature from earliest childhood and the Force was everywhere...

He closed his eyes and let his awareness spread out, more a steadying meditation than the alert watchfulness it should have been.

In the side room on his left, Anakin and Ahsoka were both sprawled across the thick carpet, lightly asleep; they’d declined Padmé’s offer of actual bedding on the consistently hopeful theory that they didn’t want to leave any evidence of visitors if they were forced to run in the middle of the night. He could also faintly sense Padmé asleep in the bedroom on his right; and he could feel, distantly, the movement of the city sprawling out around him, thousands of nearby lives a faint buzzing vivacity in the Force. Coruscant, for all its chaos and its pollution and its noise and its crime and its poverty, nonetheless had a vibrancy about it; beings from a thousand planets lived here, chasing a hundred billion hopes and dreams and aspirations. That was the society – the civilization – that he fought so hard to defend; and after all this time he still found it breathtaking.

Feel how much life there is, Qui-Gon would sometimes say.

The Force wheeled around him, its currents timeless but also immediate, here and now. Obi-Wan took a deep breath, the apartment air neutrally clean, scrubbed by the filtering system of smog and dust. 

He’d told Ahsoka the truth, more or less. The Council had done what they’d had to do to keep the trust of the Senate, and to uphold the law of the Republic.

But more than that, the underlying truth, the heart of the reason the Council had chosen to let the sentence stand, was simply that the Jedi could not help everyone. They always had to make choices, always had to do the least harm and the most good they possibly could, and they always had to make trade-offs. They could never help everyone.

It was something Obi-Wan had understood and accepted a long time ago; it was something that all Jedi had to understand and accept; it was something that all the aid workers and public health officials and planetary conflict advisors and disaster relief coordinators he’d worked with had understood and accepted. For the first six days, we’ll focus immunization efforts exclusively around the Kyori area, he remembered a tall Rodian woman saying as she pointed to a holographic map, since our top priority is to secure those spaceports so that supplies can be brought in. A dozen sentients in a bland conference room condemning farther-flung communities to another week of risk and uncertainty and death, simply because the locations of their cities were not crucial to the broader planetary fight to contain the epidemic. And it wasn’t that anyone in the room didn’t understand that or didn’t care; it was that everyone in the room understood that they could not allow the pathogen to get off-world, and that to divert resources in a disorderly, doomed attempt to help every sentient affected could end up harming the rest of the planet, star system, and galaxy, and that they could not take that risk or make that sacrifice.

On some level, it took a tremendous amount of arrogance to make those decisions. It required being able to put oneself in another category, above and outside of the crisis, to talk rationally and logically and calmly about other sentients as numbers and statistics, to talk about death and suffering in terms of risks and probabilities. It was sickening, sometimes, the ease with which one could learn to think like that.

Anakin had never quite been able to do it, and Obi-Wan knew that was because Anakin had been one of the sentients they hadn’t helped.

But the Council – and Obi-Wan, included – were very good at it. They had to be. They made decisions every single day that could be measured in sentient lives. They had to be able to look past the horror of what they were doing so that they could do it well. The only alternative was to give up entirely, because the magnitude of the problems in the galaxy were immeasurable, the magnitude of the suffering they could not prevent was immeasurable, and the best they could do was make rational and logical decisions about how to hold the galaxy together as effectively as they could, how to restore and keep the peace as best they could, how to save as many lives as they could.

He remembered another meeting, nearly twenty years ago, when he’d stood beside Qui-Gon while the Council debated whether to support or speak against a proposal in the Senate to send Jedi to limit the Pykes’ seizure of agriculture lands for spice fields across Oba Diah’s tertiary continent. They’d gone back and forth about it for a while, and in the end they’d decided they couldn’t support the proposed intervention. The Pykes, the experts who’d testified in the Senate had said, had shown a willingness to intimidate the local people by torching fields and setting wildfires, and, like the Hutts, they would almost certainly retaliate against Republic interference by attacking the local populations the Republic was trying to aid; and the spice trade was so profitable that no feasible amount of Jedi interference was likely to deter them for long. Obi-Wan remembered being startled, at about seventeen years old, to realize that behind all the discussion of broader planetwide effects and the spice trade in general and the expected behavior of the Pykes five years in the future and on and on, behind all that, the Council was deciding to abandon sentient lives.

He’d asked Qui-Gon about it later, and Qui-Gon had turned the question back on him: Do you have a better way, Padawan? 

And Obi-Wan hadn’t. They had to think about the broader outcomes, they had to think about the longterm consequences and the possible fallout and all the other lives their choices would affect. It was difficult and it was tragic and it sometimes felt unspeakably disgusting, but it was the only possible way.

And that was, of course, what the Council had done in Ahsoka’s case. The trust of the Senate – and the broader Republic – underlaid everything the Jedi were or tried to be, and underlaid, to some extent, the stability of the entire Republic. That trust had become threatened during the war; and the Council had done what they had to do to protect it. The Council was not, as they sometimes pretended to be, utterly inflexible when it came to high ideals; they were willing to bend their theoretical morals when the real world demanded it, when they could do more good by compromising than by insisting. But the Council had been backed into a corner in Ahsoka’s case, had known that they could not interfere with a legally given sentence, could not publicly question the Republic judicial system in that manner, could not demand to retain control or influence over a former Padawan accused – convicted – of war crimes when they had no convincing reason to doubt her guilt. It was certainly a moral stand, but it was also a practical one; the Council never attempted to skirt or undermine Republic law, because they needed to keep the trust of the Senate and all the galaxy’s citizens, they needed to avoid sowing any doubts about their subordinance to the elected government, they needed to continue to hold the galaxy together and right now they needed to finish the war. The Council had weighed the options, and they’d chosen what they’d felt they had to. And Obi-Wan didn’t know how to convey that to Ahsoka. Or to Anakin.

Anakin. He breathed out, eyes still closed, wishing he were lost somewhat deeper in the Force. He hadn’t been lying when he’d said that teaching judgement was infinitely harder than teaching lightsaber skills. Anakin, he’d noted with a mixture of exhaustion and amusement, had known exactly where in each room of Padmé’s apartment the illuminator panels were.

He didn’t know – nor did he have any desire to know – what exactly was going on between Anakin and Padmé. Anakin was still so young, and Obi-Wan trusted him to find his own path, even if it took years. Someday – someday, Anakin would have to make his own peace with reality, whatever type of peace that might be. But they had been fighting a war; and anything that hadn’t been interfering with Anakin’s ability to do his duty as a Jedi was something that Obi-Wan could overlook. Obi-Wan had no idea where this newfound inconvenience of being actively on the run from the Republic would take them; but he knew that when it came down to it, when it mattered, Anakin would make the right decisions, whatever those turned out to be.

The Force was all around, calm and steady and alive. He drifted on it, tracking the silent apartment, until the chrono finished blinking through the hours and he went to trade watch with Ahsoka.

–––

Bail, being a politician and thus prone to creating inconveniences, commed at fourth hour of the morning.

Obi-Wan woke when Padmé, bleary-eyed and holding a softly beeping holoprojector, came in and flicked on one of the small overhead illuminators.

“Padmé, what…?” Anakin asked, rolling over and pushing himself up on one arm and squinting at her.

“Here’s your answer,” she said, voice still rough from sleep. She set the projector down on the low table and sat down across from Ahsoka, who was cross-legged and awake on the other sofa, then pressed the button for audio transmission. “Good morning, Bail.”

“Good morning,” he said. “I got a name for your account. Bo-Katan Kryze. The sister of Duchess Satine Kryze of Mandalore, I believe.”

What?

Padmé exhaled. “Thank you, Bail.”

“Any time,” he said, with a trace of a wry smile in his voice. “I’ll see you in a few hours, Padmé.”

She nodded and cut the connection.

Bo-Katan Kryze. Obi-Wan ran a hand across his face, finding his thoughts nearly completely and inexplicably blank. Of course, some corner of his mind was saying, the corner that was resigned to everything in the galaxy being snarled into the most intractable tangle possible. But what would – how would – Maul? Death Watch? What could Bo-Katan Kryze possibly have to do with any of this? None of this made any sense, there was no reason – what in – ?

Bo-Katan. Satine’s sister.

“So it does have to do with Mandalore,” Padmé was saying, looking at him.

“What the hell is going on?” Anakin asked, also looking at him.

Obi-Wan shook his head, coming up with nothing except a feeling of vague emptiness. “I have no idea.”

“Bo-Katan?” Ahsoka asked. “The Duchess’s sister?”

Obi-Wan wondered detachedly whether there was any way in the entire universe that Bail Organa had acquired that name through fully legal means, and it would normally have irked him to see a politician wriggling through some regulations even as he used his life creating others, but at the moment he couldn’t even pull together that righteous irritation. “Yes,” he said, in peripheral answer to Ahsoka’s question. “I suppose we should talk with her.”