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“Remind me why I'm the one playing the part of the slave?”

Ahsoka was in the clothes she’d picked out, with his approval. Bright, but not her usual red—he was grateful for that small touch of distance—and jewels, for a gaudier version of her headdress. Not bad; it would please the queen, he thought, to see a slave dressed both finely and in such a way as to evoke her culture. Both stood out, adding value. His Padawan had chosen well.

He let the last thought push the bile back down his throat.

“I tried it once, I wasn't any good at it. Besides, the role of master comes easily to me.”

Because I’m the one who has to keep you safe, Anakin thought silently. Bad enough they had to do this. Bad enough they needed to play nice with a slaver. He wasn’t going to be helpless this time, and it would make all the difference. He just needed to keep control over the situation.

He hoped his glib answer would steady her for what lay ahead. It steadied him to sense her resolve. They both knew it wasn’t a game, but Anakin didn’t want to dwell on how true that was, let alone give her more reason to worry than she already had. Maybe a little pretending would keep them from losing at it.

 

The grogginess from being electrocuted disappeared in an instant as Anakin took in the room. Ahsoka was gone, hidden, and so was Obi-Wan.

He wasn’t much better at playing the master. In the end, he too was left the part the slave. There was a job to be done. Distract the queen. Buy as much time as possible to find Ahsoka—or let her escape on her own—so they could leave, and extract Obi-Wan’s location. It wasn’t much different from before.

He’d just failed to keep his friends close and put them in more danger.

The queen beckoned. Anakin kept his shoulders square.

For now, he would allow her to find him helpless. He understood her. As long as she felt she could dangle his friends in front of him, there was a line she wouldn’t cross, at least not overtly. He’d once been good at making that attitude last, and taking advantage of good humor when the opportunity arose. Anakin knew the unpredictability of when one might come. For that, he could wait. Providing R2 didn’t take too long in getting him Ahsoka.

 

She was there. She was there, whole, and she was talking. Relief flooded through him. If she was willing to voice her displeasure, without behaving erratically, she was fine—as close as she could be under the circumstances.

He studied her. She looked untouched. That wasn’t actually the case. Anakin remembered the electricity, the way it had surged through him, and how he’d felt it take her too as he went down.

She’d been in a cage. His heart hammered harder to think of it. How was she, really?

Ahsoka, moving on to the present as if nothing had happened, and Anakin remembered. Dooku was here. He collected himself. He had to get Obi-Wan’s location, and he had to get Ahsoka out of here. She would be safer at the ship. He hoped she wouldn’t come after him.

He felt a surge of pride when she listened. She’d come a long way from the impulsive girl he’d recognized himself in when they’d met. There was no doubt of that.

Still, there had been the cage, and the promise of being held as worse than a prisoner.

Neither of them was going to go back. Anakin would make sure of it.

 

The temple was quiet. It was often so, even during daylight; the Jedi were not a rowdy bunch. Much had changed since the war began, but Anakin had the impression that this hadn’t, for all that he wasn’t always around even when missions didn’t take him away.

He’d chosen to stay this night. Not with any intention of sleeping, despite what little there was for him to do. There were ships in temple which he could examine and repair, plans in his room which he could medidate on to improve their designs, but he would not look at any of them now.

On the other side of the wall, he heard sound from Ahsoka’s room: the familiar buzz of lightsabers.

Ahsoka was a studious girl, but he doubted she intended to practice her forms in that tiny space. She would’ve left for the open sky.

Anakin rose from his too soft bed. He heard the lightsabers be turned off as he approached. She knew, of course. He thought for a moment. “Ahsoka?” He waited on her response, coming in only when the invitation arrived. He could hear her drawing in a breath before it did.

Ahsoka sat cross-legged on her sleeping roll. Her lightsabers lay by her side. A bundle of cloth did too. He recognized the fabric, partly blackened though it was. The blue of the undercover clothes. The slave costume. Under the soot, the jewels had a dull glow.

Despite the lack of room, he mirrored her position opposite her. Her eyes met his. He didn’t know what to say. Anakin knew only that he wasn’t going to leave.

Finally, unwilling to make her be the one to start—and given that he had been the one to interrupt—he spoke. “Taking care of the trash?”

Ahsoka looked to the side. “Yes.”

Anakin nodded. “Good.” He waited, watching her, hoping it wasn’t overbearing, wanting her to know why he was there. She knew enough about his past, at least, that she would understand. That didn’t mean it would help.

Time must have passed, but he could not say how long. Ahsoka picked up the burnt costume, and with carefully measured movements, dropped it in the waste disposal.

He stood, and offered his hand. Sensing the gesture, she turned and stared. After a moment, she took it. Anakin led Ahsoka out of the barren padawan quarters and into his own.

She sat next to him on the bed. He pulled her in close. When she hugged him back, face buried in his chest, arms tight, he allowed himself to shut his eyes for the first time that night.