“My experience?” Ahsoka offered, a hint of amusement colouring her voice, though it was dry with unfortunate experience. “Just when you think you finally understand the Force, you find out how little you actually know.”
Ezra huffed a laugh, the barren coral plateau of Atollon stretching out before them. “I don't think I ever understood the Force to begin with.”
The owl, some avian creature native to the planet, Ahsoka presumed, hooted again. She smiled.
“We should prepare to leave,” she said, steering Ezra away from the base's perimeter. Paused. “Do you – ”
“ – feel that?” Ezra finished, face paling. The Force shook. Ahsoka's knuckles whitened around his shoulder unthinkingly, neck prickling.
The air crackled.
“Something's coming,” she whispered, though she wasn't sure why. This wasn't – right. “Ezra, get Kanan.”
“But – ”
His jaw clenched, and for a moment she thought he might refuse, but he nodded at her tightly and bolted off back towards the base. She turned to face the barrier, watched the air a few metres away ripple and shake, the same owl circling above unconcerned, felt the Force twist –
She drew her lightsabers, stepping back, heart in her throat. Incongruously, impossibly, what looked like a painfully familiar airspeeder crackled into being mere metres from the barrier, nose pointed downwards, a presence in the Force blaring into existence that she hadn't felt in –
The airspeeder, despite the pilot's belated but skillful attempt to right it, crashed into the cracked and barren ground with great impact, the ground shaking, the Force now hopelessly twisted. The wreck of it glinted in the watery sunlight. Behind her, she could hear the base's rudimentary alarms shrieking.
Well. At least now they knew the proximity alarms were working.
“Impossible,” she breathed. It was a trick, some Imperial trap, some kind of Sith magic. Vader had found them after all –
She stepped closer despite herself, past the barrier that kept the spiders out, lightsabers drawn and activated, not daring to hope. Because while the airspeeder was a ruin, the nose smashed beyond repair, smoke rising from it and trailing desolately into the still desert air, the man inside, blue eyes blinking up at her blearily, was both intact and unmistakeable.
She couldn't breathe. This wasn't possible, it wasn't right.
It wasn't fair.
“Wait,” she told him shakily, holding up a saber defensively. Reached out tentatively with the Force. It felt – wrong. Well, it had felt wrong for decades now, choked in darkness, mired in cold, but this was something different, something new. She felt with an unsettling certainty that what was happening was not supposed to. “I have to make sure you're not a trap.”
“I don't – feel like a trap,” Anakin Skywalker said, sounding dazed, blinking again, and maybe he wasn't quite as intact as she'd thought. He clambered unsteadily out of the speeder, dark robes a stain against the mild tones of the plateau, looking to her in confusion. “Why do you – wait,” he said, hand darting to his side, where his lightsaber hung at his belt, finally taking in the desolate tundra surrounding them. The blare of the base's alarms in the distance. The Force grew sharp and panicked as he reached out, searching. “This isn't Coruscant. I was – what's – ”
The blood drained from his face. His gloved hand reached behind him, steading himself.
“What's – what's wrong with the Force? Where am I? And why are you –”
He looked to her, eyes desperate, narrowed in suspicion. He didn't look great, Ahsoka thought to herself. Cheeks too sharp, the bags underneath his eyes cavernous. The Force was drawn oddly around him, confusion draped like a blanket, something sharp and cold and hopeless lurking at the edges. But it was unmistakeably him. Not a trick, or a trap, or some kind of twisted mind game. Her heart sank.
“You're supposed to be on Mandalore,” he breathed, the words bringing a chill to the back of her neck, confirming the nagging suspicion at the back of her mind. He hadn't looked nearly this ragged the last time she'd seen him, the last (but not final, something whispered, no matter what you'd still like to believe, what you can no longer deny) time they'd met. He was – different. Wherever the Force had dragged him to her from, it was clearly perilously close to the fall of the Republic. To the fall of – “Ahsoka, what's –”
She closed her eyes, deactivating her saber even as he drew his own.
“The Siege of Mandalore,” she told him, voice tight, making a decision and hoping against hope that it was the right one, “happened sixteen years ago.”
There was a long, terrible pause. She heard him draw a shaky breath, felt the Force darken with something beyond panic. A shiver rolled up her spine.
She opened her eyes to find him digging something out of the wreck of the speeder, saber drawn but not activated. He emerged, jabbing fruitlessly at his commlink.
“This isn't possible,” he told her, fiddling with it uselessly, the frequencies he was likely trying decades out of use, jaw clenched. “This is some kind of – some kind of Separatist trap, a – a trick.” Belligerent denial was the reaction of choice, then. Fine. That, at least, she knew how to deal with. He looked up, indignant. “I don't know what's going on here, Snips, but I have to get back to Coruscant. They've located Grievous on Utapau, it could turn the tide of the war – ”
“It won't,” she told him sharply, becoming aware of Ezra and Kanan headed towards them, the base's alarms still blaring. “Look, I'm not sure how this has happened, but at the moment, frankly, I don't care.” She didn't have the time or the will to sugarcoat anything. “Coruscant doesn't exist anymore. I'm not sure how you got here, or why, but this isn't your time, Master. Search your feelings. You know I'm not lying.”
A long, tense moment. The hand at his side flexed uncertainly. She felt the Force ripple as he prodded carefully, gently, like one might explore the contours of a loved one's face, seeking familiarity. Subtle was good, she found herself thinking. Her master's presence within the Force was unmistakeable, like a bright sun, loud and cold and irrepressible. If she could feel it, others would be able to as well. That, combined with the disruption in the Force from where he had landed, like a tear in the fabric of the universe, a seeping wound –
If it caught the attention of the wrong people, they'd be – what had her master sometimes said? Knee-deep in bantha shit, she thought darkly, remembering.
“Okay. This is crazy. But – okay. I trust you, Ahsoka.”
Her heart twisted, warmth bubbling up traitorously in her chest at the admission.
“I know you do,” she said, throat tight. Even though at one point you must have stopped. “Give me your saber and we'll figure all of this out inside the base.”
He looked at her, disbelief colouring the Force.
“Snips,” he said, slightly hurt. “It's me.”
I know, she didn't say, chest aching. “Saber,” she said again, hand out. “I'll explain everything, but you have to cooperate.”
“And what do you mean, Coruscant's gone – ”
He stopped. Looked at her, eyes dark. A muscle in his jaw jumped as he looked at her and finally saw her and all her years and she could practically feel the conflict, the muddied confusion –
But he hadn't lied. He did still trust her.
“Alright,” he said after a moment, handing over his saber warily, dropping the issue. For now, she thought with a hint of bitter amusement. A pause, as she clipped the lightsaber to her belt. He gazed at her, almost eye to eye. “You're – you're so tall.”
“That's what happens when you get older,” she told him, smiling despite herself, though it was bittersweet. She was older than him – this him, at least – by more than a decade. “It's – it's been a long time, Skyguy.”
He grinned, weakly, at the old nickname, some of the tension sliding from his shoulders. Some part of her, the part that was still his padawan, that hadn't done all she'd done and didn't know all she knew, wanted nothing more than to tackle him in a hug and never let him out of her sight.
The rest of her could barely stand to look at him.
“Come on,” she said, turning her back on him with a reluctance she couldn't bring herself to address yet. “Before the giant spiders get too interested in us.”
“Why do you live in a place inhabited by giant spiders? Where are we? Or am I allowed to ask that?”
“I don't – live here,” she replied, glancing over her shoulder at him as they cleared the barrier. “I mean, I suppose I do, but it's not a home. It's a base.”
The steps behind her stopped.
“A military base,” he said. “You said the Siege of Mandalore was sixteen years ago. Snips.” His voice cracked with something like horror. “Are – are we still fighting the war?”
“The Clone War is long over,” she dodged, keeping her head forward, throat tightening. “I don't think you should ask any more questions until we've figured all of this out.”
The rest of the trek back to Chopper Base was quiet, and fraught with tension. His fear buzzed between her montrails like it hadn't since the days of her apprenticeship.
He'd been better at hiding it, back then.
Kanan and Ezra emerged from the mouth of the base as they approached, Ezra bounding in front of his teacher, only Kanan's hand reaching to pull him back, coaching patience.
“Ahsoka!” he said, falling back in line with Kanan only reluctantly. “I found him. What's – ”
“Kanan. Ezra,” she said, hesitating. “I'd like you to meet my master. Anakin Skywalker. Master, this is Kanan Jarrus and Ezra Bridger.”
Anakin came to a halt beside her, a looming shadow, offering a polite bow. She felt, more than saw, him glance at her out of the corner of her eye, puzzled as Kanan bowed back reflexively, stiffly, startled, more than a decade out of practice. Ezra's jaw went almost comically slack, slamming shut as Kanan's arm came up to force his head down alongside his own. His neck bobbed back up too quickly, evading Kanan's grasp.
“Wait – you mean – the Anakin Skywalker? From the holorecordings? But – but you said – ”
“The Force works in mysterious ways,” she interrupted, parroting a platitude that had been the unsatisfactory reply to a countless number of her questions as a padawan and a youngling. “He's from out of time. The Force has – brought him to us.” To help, or to hurt, she wondered grimly, burying the thought before it could fully form.
“Brought him to –” Kanan stared, disbelieving. “Impossible,” he breathed. “It's – it's an honour to meet you, Master Skywalker.”
Anakin nodded uncomfortably, awkward in a way that was almost painfully familiar, comforting in a way that no one else would understand. In a way that no one else might have even noticed. They saw him larger than life, a great warrior, a hero. And to her he was all of those things, but he was also teacher, traitor, friend. A wonderful mentor, an inelegant conversationalist, a terrible cook.
She resisted the urge to close her eyes, swallowing. She was being thrown off centre, out of balance. They couldn't know why – none of them.
“Are you two...Jedi?” he asked, confused but not offended by the lack of proper protocol, the hesitant manners. By the powerful but incomplete sense of Kanan and Ezra in the Force. They felt like something new, Ahsoka remembered from encountering them the first time. Familiar, but not. Something a little bit strange.
“Kind...of?” Ezra offered, still starstruck.
“It's a long story,” Ahsoka answered for them, not yet sure how much to reveal. “Come on,” she said, heading towards the entrance of the base. To Anakin, she said, “I promised you some answers. You'll get them.”
“Wait,” Kanan stepped to her side, voice lowered, face pulling into a concerned frown, “answers? But – if he's from out of time, then won't knowledge of the future – change the past?”
Ahsoka paused, one eyebrow raised.
“We can only hope,” she said cryptically.
The cargo hold of the Ghost wasn't the most ambient of places to reveal the apparent existence of time travel to the rest of the crew, but Ahsoka had long ago learned to take what she could get, when she could get it. She'd managed to hold off the rest of the rebellion's high command for now, gotten them to turn off the proximity alarms (and they were going to have to run some more drills, if that lack of immediate response was the norm right now), but had come to the quick conclusion that the best way to hold off inquiries into the appearance of her master, for now, was simply to limit exposure.
“Not a word of this leaves the Ghost,” she'd told them, even before she'd bothered making introductions. “Situations like this require a bit of – discretion, or people might panic. Come to the wrong conclusions.”
She would have to tell Rex, of course. A few others, maybe. But she could already see the hopeful glint in Kanan's eye, the hero worship Ezra was happily engaging in. Even Hera seemed cautiously optimistic about the situation. They didn't understand, she thought, that his presence here was only worth something if they could find a way to send him back. Send him back and prevent everything from happening in the first place.
He wouldn't help them win this war. Some terrible nights she laid awake wondering hollowly if he was partly the cause of it.
But he could help them prevent it. Even with all the gaps in her knowledge, she was certain of that much. She just – wasn't sure how to tell him. If she even should attempt to tell him. Maybe even a vague understanding of the future in store for the galaxy would be enough to push him onto a different path. A cryptic warning, right before they sent him back? It would be in the grand tradition of the Jedi, she thought bitterly, though not without a hint of grim amusement. Telling him outright was out of the question, not least because she didn't have the whole story.
“Welcome to the rebellion,” Hera was saying warmly, drawing Ahsoka from her thoughts. Painfully, cautiously hopeful, Ahsoka noted with an internal grimace. But her words had the opposite effect on her former master.
“Rebellion,” he said. Her neck prickled. He turned to her, hesitantly. Wondering how much he was allowed to ask. How much she would be willing to answer. She wasn't sure of that herself. “Ahsoka. Do – do the Separatists win?”
The Force grew shadowed and heavy in the silence that followed.
“No,” she said hoarsely, averting her eyes, the words scraping her throat. “Not – exactly.”
“Then – ”
She shifted slightly to find him looking at her, lost. Her stomach flipped.
“Then where is everyone?”
“Near the end of the war,” she began, hands held loosely at her sides through force of will, “the public was turned against the Jedi. They were branded traitors to the Republic and hunted down.”
“Hunted down? But – ”
“The Republic fell not long after that,” Kanan continued, eyes shadowed. “Those of us who survived the purge were forced into hiding.”
“I don't understand,” her master was saying, hands clenched into fists at his side. “The Republic fell – to the Separatists? How could this have happened? We were – we were winning. And the Jedi – public approval ratings – ”
“Were already in the garbage compactor,” Ahsoka interrupted. “It was easy enough to turn the galaxy against them. I'm not sure exactly what happened that night, but according to official records there was an attempted coup against Chancellor Palpatine by the Jedi. He used it as reasoning for the purge, and for his assuming of emergency powers.” She swallowed. “The Republic didn't fall to the Separatists. It fell to the Chancellor. He declared himself Emperor that night.”
“Emperor?” Anakin stared at her, skeptical. “But, wait. You're telling me that the Jedi betrayed the Republic?”
Ahsoka's stomach twisted, frustration coiling in the pit of it. Black and white, that was the only way he had ever been able to look at things. No room for grey, no room for anything that wasn't absolute.
They didn't betray the Republic, she wanted to say. You did.
“No,” she snapped instead, watched his face twist with confusion. “It's – it's more complicated than all that.” And I don't know how much I can tell you without revealing what you –
“I need time to think,” she told him, more softly. “I'll tell you as much as I know, I'll answer your questions, but I just need – time. To figure out the best way to do it.”
He shook his head. “I don't believe this,” he muttered. “I can't – I was on my way to the Senate – ”
“It's the truth,” Hera offered, quietly. “For what it's worth, we sometimes have a hard time wrapping our heads around it too.”
“If you have other questions, I'll do my best to answer them,” Ahsoka said. There was a pause as he gathered his thoughts, the Force dimming. His jaw clenched as something seemed to finally occur to him.
“You said the Jedi are gone.” His voice was barely a rasp. Her neck prickled.
“Am I – dead?”
Her breath caught. Lips twisted. Hold it together, Tano.
“No records to say for sure. I always – I've thought so, for many years.” It wasn't a lie. The truth, after all – something twisted in her stomach, this line of thought always reminding her, unaccountably, of Obi-Wan – was a matter of perspective. Of opinion. Her voice didn't shake at all. He didn't notice, accepted this fact with a worried frown, a shake of the head, more concerned with –
She shook her head, gut churning. Felt her heart sink. The fate of the galaxy would always come second to the people Anakin Skywalker cared about.
“I don't know. He left a message, at the Temple. When everything – happened.” Kanan tensed behind her, a cautious whisper in the Force. Her eyes flicked sideways, and she inclined her head in subtle agreement. She was certain that her master had come to them to learn the truth, was set against outright hiding what had happened from him, for more than one reason – but she wasn't sure how much to reveal, how much to let slip yet. If it was fair to speculate when she herself didn't know the whole story.
When this Anakin Skywalker was still, for all intents and purposes, living it.
She swore, internally. They were going about this clumsily. She was letting her emotions get the better of her.
But she'd promised to explain.
“I haven't caught a whisper of him since,” she said, not sure what else to say. “I – I think he must be dead. V – the Empire – wouldn't have allowed him to survive.”
His knuckles were white at his side. He looked to her reluctantly, already heartbroken, though she couldn't quite bring herself to meet his gaze.
“And – ” His voice cracked. “And – Padmé?”
“Dead,” she said, quickly, sharply, to get it over with. Watched his face contort with grief, the Force rippling.
The fist at his side unclenched and clenched again. The words were dredged up from the very depths of his throat, the air growing heavy and thick. He clearly didn't want the answer but he couldn't bring himself not to ask the question.
“Was she – ” His lips twisted and pressed together. She avoided his eyes, the portentous torment of his gaze. “Was she pregnant?”
She'd caught a glimpse of the funeral on the holonet, the flowers carefully arranged in Padmé's hair, the warm lights surrounding her that did nothing to dispel the chill of her death, the cause unknown and undisclosed. Her small hands placed delicately, deliberately around the undisguised swell of her stomach. She'd wondered then, just briefly, grimly, if her master had been alive to see it. If he'd been there when she'd died. If they'd died together, somehow. It had seemed – right. Romantic, though as a former Jedi she hadn't considered herself eminently qualified to judge what exactly that meant.
(Some awful suspicion, one she'd considered all those years ago only briefly and painfully before discarding it, buried itself once more in the pit of her stomach.)
Ahsoka knew better now, of course. But still – she wondered, watching the painful-looking clench of his jaw, feeling the twist in the Force, the unbearable anguish. Wondered if Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala had died together after all, and if Darth Vader had risen from their ashes.
Watching him, the shadows under his eyes, the flickering chill of the Force around him, it seemed like a terrifyingly likely possibility. The truth would be cruel, but lying to him would be – would be dangerous, she found herself realizing starkly. Even as he was at this moment, not yet the monster he would become, she was sure of it. He'd changed.
She thought she was beginning to understand how.
“Yes,” she whispered, bracing herself, eyes stinging in sympathy as the Force tore itself open, pressing down on them from all sides, grief so thick and heavy in the air that she could taste it. The walls shook at the onslaught, the shipping containers rattling in protest. She turned to face Kanan and the rest of the Ghost's crew, lips pulled tight, lekku drifting slightly in the uproar of impossible wind. They looked to her, pale faced and uncertain, braced against the disturbance. Ezra shook, Kanan's hand white-knuckled where it had been placed on his shoulder. Hera's hands ghosted to the holster of her blaster.
“Out,” she ordered, sharply but not unkindly. They were right to be afraid. “I'll be there in a moment.”
She turned her back to them, trusting them to file out accordingly, and stepped forward, arms outstretched tentatively. She wasn't much of a hugger (or at least – not anymore), but their shipping crates were rattling so hard it seemed like they might fly apart at any moment, the air thick and staticky and awful, and she'd only seen him like this once or twice in her lifetime, so completely without control, and she wanted – needed it to stop. If only for the sake of her own heart, its cracks long boarded up and sealed over. He would break them open again, if she let him, and so she drew him in so she wouldn't have to see his face.
It wasn't – right, maybe. It wasn't what he deserved. It wasn't what she deserved. Against the bracketing Force, a distant part of her, a part the rest of her was quietly disgusted by, took careful note of the importance of Padmé Amidala, of the potential usefulness of her death, her clear existence as a catalyst. But as he dissolved in her arms, great heaving sobs muffled in the crook of her neck, she couldn't bring herself to pull away. She was almost taller than him, now. More than a decade older than him.
They'd been so young.
What happened to you? she didn't ask, heart clenching as they sank to the floor. A calloused hand rose to cradle his head, the touch of human hair, so oddly soft and shiny, sparking memories of her adolescence that she hadn't entertained in years. Sorrow and anger warred for dominance, twisted traitorously in her chest. A Jedi should have felt neither, should have dealt with them and moved on, should have prevented them from fuelling her thoughts – but she was no Jedi.
You would have had a child. You had people who loved you. How could you do the things you've done?
But she trapped the thoughts in her head, kept them safe from the effortless grasp of his own mind. He'd taken this revelation as badly as she might have expected.
The rest –
Her breath caught sharply in her throat. The walls had stopped their shaking, the Force now soaked in grief, like a sopping blanket instead of the howling storm it had been. His face was buried in her neck. He was shaking.
She wasn't sure what he'd do, if he knew.
And if she told him – if she said the words out loud –
Well. They'd be true, then.
She wasn't sure she was ready for that.
“I'm sorry,” she said, the words feeling thin and trite. “I'm so sorry. You never – you never told me.”
A strangled laugh, his breath hot against her neck.
“Secret,” he said wetly. “No one knows – knew. No one knew. I thought – after the war, but –” He drew away, face streaked with tears, breath coming in gasps. She kept a hand on his arm, was aware of the frantic pumping of his blood under her fingers. “It must not work – or – or maybe –”
“What?” she asked, fingertips whitening around his arm. “What must not work?”
He looked at her, eyes red-rimmed, still breathing too fast. Panicking.
“I've been – having dreams. About her dying, about our –” He swallowed, harshly, painfully, looking at her uncertainly. Waiting for judgement, she thought fleetingly. “ – our baby dying. It's all I see when I close my eyes, it's all I can think about –”
She pressed her lips together, steeled herself against the unrestrained wash of terror that rippled over them, sharp and cold and bright, like the inside of a dead star. His eyes grew distant, pulse racing underneath her hand.
“He said he knew a way to stop people from dying. To – to save them from death, but I –”
Her hand was wrapped so tightly around his forearm it had to have been bruising, but he either didn't notice or didn't care. “Who?” she demanded, ice gathering in the pit of her stomach. The sharpness of her tone startled him, made his pulse jump.
No, she thought. No. You wouldn't. Tell me you wouldn't, tell me this isn't how he got to you –
“The – the Chancellor,” he said, surprised. “But –”
Ahsoka closed her eyes in grief, swallowed back the hopelessness clawing at the back of her throat, the sharp tug of guilt she'd been unable to rid herself of, ever since the temple on Lothal.
You idiot. You stupid, stupid –
She wasn't sure which one of them the sentiment was directed at.
“I'm sorry,” she breathed again, pulling him in once more, feeling the Force in tumult around them, the too-fast beat of his heart against her chest, quick and terrible. “I'm sorry I wasn't there, I'm sorry I left you –”
“Snips,” he said into her neck, voice a comforting rumble when it should have terrified her, angered her. “Whatever – whatever happened isn't your fault. I don't have to know the whole story to know that.” He pulled away slightly, eyes, blue like crystals, not the hateful, sickening yellow of her dreams, gazing at her gently. “You had to go. I didn't always – maybe I don't always understand why.” He glanced down. “I won't say I wish things hadn't gone differently. That I was never – never angry that you left, but Snips – ” His eyes met hers once more. “Ahsoka. I was never angry with you. I never blamed you. And now – look at what you've become, despite everything. I'm so proud of you.”
He would kill thousands. Right now, he was actively trying to kill her and the only people left in the galaxy that she cared about.
He was proud of her.
He was also, she noted almost absently, eyes stinging, still breathing way too fast, heart slamming against her own chest at a speed that was frankly alarming.
“Breathe,” she said.
“I have to get back, though,” he was saying, still trembling. “Snips, I'm so proud of you, but I can't let all of this happen, I have to save her –”
“Breathe,” she said again. “I need to speak with the others.”
“How many days has it been since you slept?” How long have you been dreaming?
He blinked at her, not understanding, chest heaving. “Days?”
“Please don't say it's been weeks.”
“Well – I mean, maybe not – weeks, exactly – or at least, not many –”
What good was Obi-Wan Kenobi, she found herself thinking bitterly, if he couldn't even be bothered to use his tendency to nag incessantly to its full effect? How had they all missed this? She'd seen glitter-stim addicts with steadier hands and healthier complexions.
“I need to talk with the rest of the crew,” she told him again, pressing a hand to the side of his face. “With the rest of the rebellion. I want you to stay here.”
“You don't trust me,” he said, face darkening. But he didn't pull away.
“I do,” she said, lying through her teeth. “But this world isn't your own any longer. If you're really from the past, then who knows how this all might work. Who knows if we've already revealed too much.” Though she hadn't seen a way around it. Lying to him would likely have ended just as badly. And if he was really here from the past – why would he be, if not because there was hope to change it? If she'd been younger, less experienced, less tired, perhaps she'd have been more cautious. More tentative. But war and what had followed had twisted her, molded her, and she was no longer the kind of person who thought to look a gift tauntaun in the eye, to dance around the solution to a problem, to focus on her insecurities and uncertainties. The Force had provided – and she would take. “I'm not a padawan any longer,” she reminded him, firmly but gently. “And I'm the one who calls the shots around here.”
His lips pressed together. For a moment she thought he might protest, but he was still breathing too fast, still reeling, face almost grey, and he backed down a moment later, nodding at her shakily.
“Rest,” she said, the tips of her fingers whitening against the side of his head, pressing gently, a whisper of the Force driving the word. “Here the future is the past. You won't dream.” His eyes, as dark and frightening as they were blue, familiar and not in the same breath, like a punch to the gut, bored into hers for a moment that felt impossibly long before they drifted shut reluctantly. Only because he'd allowed them to, she found herself thinking as he settled stiffly against the wall, the Force quieting as he drifted off, heaviness she hadn't even noticed pressing down on them lifting from the air. Anakin Skywalker had never been one to fall for simple mind tricks.
Psychological manipulation, on the other hand –
She left the loading bay in silence, chilled, to meet the crew she had ordered out, lurking unashamedly around the entrance.
“That's the Hero With No Fear?” Ezra asked, voice a quiet hiss, white as a sheet, pressed (likely unconsciously, Ahsoka thought) against Kanan's side. “But he's – ”
“A disaster?” Ahsoka finished for him, smiling, though she could tell it didn't reach her eyes. She felt stretched thin. Stretched thin like the lie she was still living. “That's the thing about legends, Ezra. They leave out the whole story. The good parts and the bad.”
“He's not like how I pictured him,” Hera said quietly, voice a soft, low comfort that did more to ground than Ahsoka thought Hera herself could appreciate. “But I suppose the holo-net can only convey so much.”
“The Jedi were never as immune to the effects of the war as the media liked to make it seem,” Ahsoka said. “We weren't invulnerable. Even the best of us.”
Especially the best of us.
“What I don't understand,” Sabine interjected, “is how this happened in the first place. Time travel isn't possible.”
“The Force allows for many things to happen that we might not believe possible otherwise,” Kanan answered, though he too seemed troubled. His gaze rose to meet Ahsoka's, frowning.
Sabine sighed, one eyebrow raising exasperatedly. “This is the part where you kick the rest of us out so you can talk Jedi business, isn't it.”
“Your keen insight is one of the many reasons we value you on this crew,” he said wryly, the brief amusement that flitted across his face sliding away as Sabine sighed and turned to leave, an indignant Ezra in tow, her hand snagged in the sleeve of his jumpsuit (“I'm a Jedi, why shouldn't I get to stay?” – ). Ahsoka had a feeling that something was about to be colourfully spray-painted that probably shouldn't have been. Hera followed behind them with a last, measured glance in Kanan's direction, pointed, though Ahsoka wasn't certain of its meaning. She wasn't sure Kanan was either, for that matter.
“You know this isn't right,” Kanan said as the soft clang of their footsteps dissipated. “Sabine's not wrong. Even with the Force, I can't believe that something like this is the natural order of things.”
“It's not up to us to decide what that order is,” she replied, more calmly than she felt. “We can only deal with what we're given.”
The stale air grew silent, thick.
“And how do you propose we do that?” His voice quieted, heavy with the weight of crushed expectations, some unspoken plea for her to set right the world that had been tipped on its side. “That man in there is not the hero I grew up hearing about. That's a man on the edge. Don't tell me you can't feel it.”
“I feel it,” she said quietly. “More than you can understand, I feel it.”
“What happened, Ahsoka?” he asked, not quite pleading. A fist clenched and unclenched at his side. “Before Order 66. He's involved somehow. You know it. I know you do.”
“I don't know the whole story,” she said. She'd told him this before, she'd told them all before, over meals, hunkered around a table in the Ghost's dim light. It had been true then. It rang now with hollow falsehood. “I only know what I lived.”
He stared at her, no longer believing. His face had darkened as she spoke, but the look was not the telltale precursor to violence, to accusation, that it would have been on her master.
“That's a lie.” His words were measured, but not calm, though he had more control than he cared to credit himself with. She could feel the memories beating at him, caught a peripheral glimpse of upthrown dirt, the sound of clone trooper boots and blaster fire, but he didn't let them overpower him. “What aren't you telling us?”
“We'll take him with us to Malachor,” she said frostily, ignoring the accusation, not wanting to answer it with another lie, watching his jaw clench in frustration. He released it. She could feel it trickle out into the Force, dissipating even as his face smoothed out. Like a good Jedi, she thought bitterly, holding on to her own frustration like a jealous lover might, weaving it around herself like a suit of armour. She would need it. “Hopefully, the Force will provide the answer to returning him home. And to our own problems.”
His arms crossed. “Have you considered the thought that he might be the Force's solution to our own problems? Why else would he have been sent here? Maybe – maybe this is the way it's supposed to be. Even if he's not what we expected, he's still Anakin Skywalker. Maybe this is how it's always been. The records have never been clear. Maybe instead of dying during the Purge, he was sent here to help us. ”
She felt the blood drain from her cheeks, stomach churning at the naked hope on his face, so rarely seen.
“Trust me,” she said, less gently than she would have liked, tone precluding disagreement, any possible line of further questioning.
“He's not the solution to anyone's problem.”