When Ahsoka first lay eyes on Tatooine, her first thought was that she couldn't believe they were exposing the Queen of Naboo to this Force-awful place.
Secondly, she felt so much sympathy for the poor people hauled here.
The planet was bare. Empty. All she could see was sand stretching endlessly in all direction. There was no plants or wildlife, which bothered her more than it would bother most. Ahsoka rather enjoyed meditation, stretching out the Force and connecting with the miniscule life that existed on various planets. It was a calming exercise and made her feel grounded. Its absence was like a black hole in the Force itself. All this dustball had to offer was dryness, sand, and scorching heat: the moderators on the ship were working overtime so they wouldn't drown in their own sweat.
If she had to live here, Ahsoka thought she would have gone mad as there was nothing to cure boredom. You couldn't even hike across this surface without suffering heat exhaustion, and inevitably collapsing and becoming severely dehydrated as a result. She shuddered to think how much sand would become lodged in her clothes, and how long it would take to shake out the gritty grains.
Ahsoka pulled a face. She'd probably grow to hate sand if she was stuck out here.
She wondered how the people here could endure such a life - then remembered most wouldn't know any different. They'd have grown up here. Her pity for the people only grew.
So when Master Qui-Gon contacted her about Anakin Skywalker, Ahsoka had immediately decided that she was on the boy's side.
Some Jedi in the Temple wondered about the wisdom of pairing Qui-Gon Jinn with the brash, strong minded Padawan Tano. "As if Master Qui-Gon didn't get into enough trouble on his own!" some said. To give him such a reckless apprentice was only asking for trouble.
And trouble found them. Ahsoka thought she and her Master were probably responsible for every headache the Council had ever endured. Even though Master Plo was always on their side (by default, really, since he was her oldest friend), there was only so little his deep, wise words could do to placate and reason with the other Masters. The two of them generally didn't abide strictly to the Jedi Code and often found different ways of interpreting it to complete their missions.
Not to mention that whilst on their missions, they often found the worst situation possible. Sometimes Ahsoka wondered how she was still alive.
They had demonstrated often enough they would be willing to break tradition with good reason behind it, which was certainly the case with the boy Qui-Gon had encountered. Ahsoka's jaw hit the floor when she received the blood sample from Qui-Gon. She would have argued for him to return to Coruscant despite his advanced age, just to get him off the desolate planet. But after seeing how strong he was with the Force? It was determined.
"What does this mean?" she asked her Master, eyes glued to the results. "What makes this boy so special? Who is he?"
"I have no idea, Ahsoka. You're right to be curious."
"Tell me about him, Master." She wanted to know as much as possible. Surely encountering him could be no coincidence.
So Qui-Gon told her about the boy in a hushed voice, as though they were co-conspirators. By the time her master finished relaying Anakin Skywalker's story, Ahsoka wanted to punch something. A nine-year-old, a slave? Forced to work each day? Handed over in a bet like he was currency? Her rage flared as burning and blinding as the twin suns above this wretched planet. Ahsoka decided there was no planet in the galaxy that she hated more.
"Bring him to Coruscant, Master," she said, voice shaking. "Force powers that strong - the Council at least has to consider. I'm ready for the Trials, I'll take them so he can have you, a Master willing to teach him."
"I hope I can, little one," Qui-Gon sighed. "I'll do everything in my power."
"You better," she muttered, and he chuckled.
The next hours were tense, and Ahsoka spent the time pacing restlessly and attempting to meditate. Normally she could lapse into meditation with easy to soothe her agitated mind, but with the lack of life on this planet, it was a challenging feat. When she heard Qui-Gon's transmission, she laughed in exaltation. Anticipation infected her like a fever and she was unable to think of anything but Anakin Skywalker, the boy who hadn't been able to grow up a boy.
Their arrival was far from uneventful, as they had been chased by a suspected Sith. After she ensured they were piloted to safety, Qui-GOn made the introductions. "Anakin Skywalker, meet Ahsoka Tano."
Ahsoka winked at the boy and shook his hand. "Nice to meet you, Skyguy."
He blinked at the nickname. "Nice to meet you too... Ahsoka."
He was such a warm, sincere boy that Ahsoka wanted to throttle whoever had enslaved him.
"This is your first time on a ship like this, isn't it?" she said. "Come on, I'll give you a tour."
Qui-Gon gave her an approving nod. Anakin was quick to agree to her offer; they both stood and ambled to the cockpit.
Ahsoka recalled Qui-Gon saying Anakin was a pilot - then again, he'd have to be to participate in a podrace. Even if she hadn't known, she'd have been able to tell by the way his eyes lit up when they entered the room. He gazed at the controls like a child would look at a new toy.
The excited faded like a bad transmission when he lifted his eyes to see Tatooine grow smaller, and then disappeared into the blue-and-white blur of hyperspace. Ahsoka saw his hands grip something in his pocket and his face betrayed a small showing of sadness.
That wouldn't do. Ahsoka placed a hand on his shoulder. "C'mon, still more to see," she said bracingly.
The ship wasn't huge, so the tour finished all too quickly. By the end Anakin was pale, arms clutched across his chest, shoulders slumped forward. Ahsoka frowned.
"You're cold, aren't you?"
Anakin nodded once.
Ahsoka removed her robes and draped them around Anakin's shoulders, gently guiding him to a seat. "Space is cold. It must be a shock after those twin suns. I wouldn't be able to endure there like you did."
Anakin pulled the robes tighter around his shoulders. Ahsoka's heart melted like it had been left outside in Tatooine's blasted heat. She felt a strange urge, a need, to protect the boy in front of her against anything or anyone in the galaxy that might try to harm him.
"What will happen to me now?" Anakin sounded far too serious for a nine-year-old.
"You'll see the Council... They'll test your abilities with the Force and decide if you'll be accepted. If you are, you'll be apprenticed to someone, most likely Qui-Gon."
"What if they don't accept me?"
Anakin could hardly be heard. He was scared. Of course he was. He was only nine years old in a galaxy that was too big for him.
"They will," she assured, though she was uncertain herself. "You're too powerful not to be."
"But I won't be left alone if they reject me, right?"
Ahsoka drew in a breath. Suddenly, everything fell into place, like a completed jigsaw puzzle.
"You miss your mother," she said quietly. Possibly the only person who had loved him in his life, the one person that meant more to Anakin than freedom.
Anakin only nodded.
"Oh, little Skyguy," Ahsoka sighed and sat next to him, enveloping him into a warm, hopefully loving, embrace.
Anakin returned the gesture as though he had nothing else in the galaxy but the love she was willing to give.
Ahsoka was still numb, her body moving as though it wasn't her own. So much had happened, all at once, that she could barely understand or comprehend it. She knew it would change. She knew she would soon open to the Force and breathe, letting all the residue anger and sadness clogging her systems wash away from her body, and then accept the new order of things. An obstacle had fallen in her river; shed find a current that moved around it.
But until then, she could grieve, mourn. She had passed the Trials, Naboo was free, Anakin was her apprentice - but Qui-Gon was dead. Murdered in front of her. He'd died in her arms.
Ahsoka still recalled that day, though it was like looking through someone else's eyes, and the memories were unclear and blurred. She remembered the red energy field, blocking her from Qui-Gon. Watching, desperate, her body irritated like it was covered in itches she couldn't reach, as Qui-Gon battled the black-and-red figure of Maul. Her two blades gripped so tight in her hands that her palms began to sweat, as she watched Maul's double blade twist through the air. She felt the desperation claw in her veins as she witnessed her Master fight alone, knowing she should be beside him because she was always beside him, and that was how they looked after each other - how they had always looked after each other.
Then the memories became jumbled. She remembered Maul's blade, skewering her Master. She remembered screaming, the sound tearing through her throat, remembered the tears and range so blinding that her vision tinted red - or had that just been the shield? She remembered feeling a snake coil up inside her, poised and ready to strike at Maul as he paced in front of her with satisfied, feline grace.
She remembered lunging at Maul like a savage beast. She remembered duelling him, barely focusing on the fight, her heart breaking as she attacked again and again and giving herself completely to the Force, letting it guide her every action.
She remembered her blade cutting Maul cleanly in two, his body breaking just like her heart, and disappearing as it fell down the chute.
The next part was clearer. Slightly. She remembered it in images: running to Qui-Gon, cradling his head, tears in her ices. The heat leeching out of his skin. Fading pulse. Rattling breath. Desperate eyes. Words, each one a struggle to speak.
"Train him well, little one," he'd gasped. "He must be trained. Look out for him."
"I promise," she responded, voice barely above a whisper.
He'd given her one last smile, managed to gasp out that he was proud, before his body went slack and she was holding a corpse in her arms. She'd bent over his body, still clutching his lifeless hand, her cries assaulting her ears as she let loose her grief.
Now she gazed at the burning body of her Master. She was tearless, though she'd like nothing more than to cry. Her pain was eating her up from the inside like a ravenous beast and yet she stood tall. Qui-Gon would have hated to see her cry. She raised her head, the fire burning any tear from escaping her eyes.
He's my apprentice, Master, she whispered in her mind. I as good as assured that as soon as I completed my Trials.
She'd approached Yoda directly afterwards, lifted her chin, and told him sharply, "I can take an apprentice now, so I choose to take Anakin Skywalker as my Padawan. No matter what happens or what objections are raised, I will ensure he becomes a Knight like I just have."
Now, the young boy was beside her, the tiniest figure out of everyone assembled to farewell her Master. He looked so lost in this world, and scared, as though he had the creeping sensation that he didn't quite belong.
She placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Worry not, Skyguy," she said quietly. "You will belong one day. The Council agreed to let me train you - so I hope you don't come to hate me, or we're in for a difficult few years."
He didn't smile, but hope sparked in his eyes like the flames before them. Ahsoka nodded to herself. Considering the circumstances, that was good enough for her.
It wasn't much, but it was a start.