Ahsoka remembered the first time she had gone to Tatooine. There had been a baby Huttlet. A crashed ship. And Ahsoka following Anakin, always Ahsoka following Anakin, as the twin suns set behind them. She remembered the heat and the sand and the dry air, and she remembered watching the back of Anakin’s neck and marveling at how her master didn’t seem to sweat, even despite the fact that he wore darker clothes than herself.
She remembered Anakin turning around to her at one point, setting a hand on her shoulder. Telling her that she would have to go in one direction while he would go in another. She remembered the fear, that quick punch of panic, but she remembered how steady Anakin had looked, and she remembered thinking, this was what a Jedi looked like.
That mission felt like centuries ago, but when Ahsoka set the ship down on Tatooine, all those memories came rushing back as clearly as though she had just been on this planet yesterday. For a moment, she only stared out the viewport. There was but a small cluster of domes that Ahsoka could only assume were houses. A young couple were just getting out of their house for their last chores. The suns were just barely beginning to set. Nighttime was treacherous on Tatooine. She remembered and knew that much.
“You’re wondering why we’re here,” she said at last. She turned to Rex. “Aren’t you.”
“I am,” Rex replied. He looked tired, even after Ahsoka practically forced him to sleep during the trip. There were dark shadows under his eyes, and there seemed to be permanent creases in between Rex’s eyebrows. “But if you say there’s some kind of clue here…”
“There has to be,” Ahsoka replied, and she hated how young she sounded in that moment. “This was Anakin’s home planet. He could have fled and come here. He could be alive.” She paused. “Maybe he figured out the chip too. You said he was with you when Fives died. He could have…” She turned back to the viewport. “He would have figured it out. Maybe he managed to get the chips out of some of the 501st.” Ahsoka nodded to herself. Yes. That would make sense. Anakin would have figured that much out. He wouldn’t have left any of his men behind.
“Do you think he could really be here?” Rex asked at last. “You said you could feel when he’s near—can you feel him now?”
Something cold settled in Ahsoka’s stomach. She imagined a small ball of flame, doused it with its unbearable heat before turning back around to Rex. “I can’t say for sure,” she replied. “Things have been…harder to sense since…” Her voice drifted, and a heavy silence filled the ship. “It’s worth a shot,” Ahsoka finished. She stood up. “There were some people serving near this system, anyways. If we don’t find Anakin, maybe we’ll find other Jedi and troopers who might have managed to make their way here.”
For a moment, Ahsoka wondered if Rex would fight back. Point out that they had literally landed in a random—village? Town? Ahsoka wasn’t sure if the houses in front of her even qualified as such.
But Rex stood up. “Alright, Commander,” he said. “Lead the way.”
“There’s no point in calling me that,” Ahsoka replied, and she tried to smile, but the smile refused to take shape. So she settled for putting a light hand on Rex’s shoulder, and she hoped that was enough. Rex looked down at Ahsoka’s hand, and then he turned back to Ahsoka.
“Sure thing,” he said quietly. “Commander.”
Heat gathered behind Ahsoka’s eyes. She wanted to sit down then, just crumple to her knees and scream and scream and scream because she wished they could rewind time to just a day—two days? Three days?—ago, back when Ahsoka had just gotten to the Republic cruiser for the first time in forever, back when Ahsoka had walked down its corridors with Anakin by her side, back when Rex had proudly showed her the painted helmets, back when it didn’t hurt quite as much to smile the way it did now.
“Okay,” Ahsoka said, clearing her throat. She dropped her hand from Rex’s shoulder and, clearing her throat again, turned back out to the viewport. The couple that had been doing their evening chores had taken notice of their ship now, and they hovered by the entrance of their house, curious and wary.
“Looks like we’ve caught some attention,” Ahsoka said, and with that, Rex and she headed out of the ship.
Ahsoka was hit first met with a blast of dry air, followed by just the faintest kick of sand that seemed to blow up as Ahsoka walked closer and closer to the houses and farther and farther away from the ship. As she got closer, she could make out the couple’s faces: a bearded man, a woman with braided hair. Both of them remained still as Ahsoka came nearer and nearer, and Ahsoka would have been relieved by that if the man wasn’t already stepping in front of the woman—his wife, Ahsoka presumed—and glaring at Ahsoka as though she were going to attack.
“Hello,” Ahsoka said when she became close enough for hearing distance. “I’m just passing through.” She swallowed. “I’m looking for a friend who might have come here.”
At that, the man’s glare softened. Not by a lot, but just by the barest amount. “A friend,” he said gruffly. “What kind of friend?”
“A friendly one,” Ahsoka said. “He could have only just arrived here. He might have arrived with some people like my friend here.” She turned to Rex, who nodded back just subtly enough for her to feel some relief. She turned back around to the couple, trying to keep her voice level as she asked, “Did you two see anyone like that?”
The woman looked at Ahsoka from behind the man. Then, after a pause, she asked, “Who are you, dear?”
“Someone who doesn’t mean any harm,” Ahsoka replied. She wasn’t sure how much information she could actually give these people, after all. Or if she could trust them with her name.
“You’re a Jedi,” the man said abruptly, and Ahsoka focused on him. He was looking at Rex. “We might not be involved in the war, but we see the news. You don’t exactly look like an admiral, and you’re certainly not a senator. Which means you have to be a Jedi.”
“Not—” Ahsoka started to say, but then she asked, “So then, have you seen other Jedi recently?”
“Why do you want to know?” the man asked.
Ahsoka swallowed again. Her throat felt too dry, and she didn’t think it had anything to do with the fact she was on a desert planet. “Please,” she said quietly. “If you know of the Jedi, then you must know that…something terrible has happened. I need to know if—” She cut herself off, and then the man’s glare softened.
“Alright, alright,” he muttered. “We’d like to help you, miss, but you have to understand—we don’t want any trouble.”
“We’re not looking to start any trouble,” Rex said. “We’re just looking for some friends.”
“Noted,” the man said. His eyes flicked from Ahsoka to Rex. “There haven’t been any Jedi.” Lie. Ahsoka could see it right on his face, and she knew Rex knew it too. One didn’t need to be Fore-sensitive to know that this couple was holding back information. “There haven’t been any Jedi here for years.”
“Are you sure?” Rex asked, his voice low.
“We’re sure,” the man replied.
The woman looked at the man first, her eyebrows furrowed, and a silent agreement seemed to pass between them. Then the woman turned back to Ahsoka and Rex. “We’re sorry,” she said, and she did sound sorry. “We hope you’re able to find who you’re looking for.”
Ahsoka’s throat closed. Fine. If these people wouldn’t help her, then—
“Rex? Is that you too?”
Ahsoka whirled around, her eyes already stinging with tears when she found Obi-Wan standing near the ship. His eyebrows were furrowed, his eyes just barely widened, and when Ahsoka met Obi-Wan’s eyes, she felt relief that might have been Obi-Wan’s or Rex’s or hers or even the couple’s, but whoever the relief came from, Ahsoka didn’t care. She let out a small little noise that sounded a cross between a gasp and a cry, and before she could stop herself, she ran forward. She saw Obi-Wan take a few steps towards her—small, almost robotic steps, and then without a second thought, Ahsoka crashed right into Obi-Wan. She heard the small gasp of surprise from Obi-Wan, and then a long, quiet sigh.
“Rex,” Ahsoka heard Obi-Wan say above her. She could hear the tired smile in Obi-Wan’s voice. “Good to see you.”
“Likewise, General,” Rex replied. “How did you…”
“It’s a long story, I’m afraid,” Obi-Wan said.
At that, Ahsoka disentangled herself from Obi-Wan. “We have the time,” she said. She looked up at Obi-Wan, at his pale face and worn eyes and felt her heart sink.
But Obi-Wan only nodded, and looking over Ahsoka’s shoulder, he lifted a hand to what Ahsoka could only assume was the couple. When Ahsoka turned around, she found that the couple were already walking back inside their house. However, before they fully disappeared, they gave Obi-Wan a small nod, just small enough for Ahsoka to catch it before they disappeared.
“Friends,” he said when Ahsoka turned back around to him. “They have been good to keep things private.”
“They seemed scared,” Ahsoka said.
“For good reason,” Obi-Wan replied. He tilted his head back. “I live not far from here. I would assume you two need rest.”
Despite the fact that Ahsoka had never been inside a Tatooine hut before, she felt a certain kind of familiarity as soon as she stepped inside. The space wasn’t too small, nor too large, but everything was neat. Ahsoka spotted a data pad sitting on a table and a few books that Ahsoka was sure she had seen in Obi-Wan’s quarters back at the Temple. Ahsoka’s chest tightened just at the sight of those old things. But there was no one else in the hut—not even a droid.
“Fast set-up,” Rex commented from behind Ahsoka.
“Yes, well,” Obi-Wan replied, “I was pointed in the right direction. There isn’t much else here, I’m afraid.”
“That’s fine,” Ahsoka said, turning back around to Obi-Wan and Rex. For a while, no one spoke. The unspoken question hung in the air between the three of them, and finally, unable to take the silence any longer, Ahsoka asked, “What happened?”
“I was going to ask you the same thing,” Obi-Wan replied, looking between Ahsoka and Rex. “How did you two manage to escape?”
“Ahsoka found the chip in my head,” Rex said. He turned to Ahsoka. “We escaped,” he said shortly.
“And so did Maul,” Ahsoka said when Obi-Wan looked at her. She bit down on her lip. “I decided to let him out as a distraction. I thought I could rein him in, but—” She cut herself off, shame and guilt snatching the words right out of her mouth. She dropped her eyes to the ground.
“You did what you had to,” Obi-Wan said quietly. When Ahsoka looked back up at him, he just gave her a tired smile.
“He’ll be looking for you,” Ahsoka said. She hesitated a moment before adding, “And he’ll also be looking for Anakin.”
Obi-Wan’s shoulders dropped. “I see,” he said quietly.
Ahsoka looked over at Rex. He only looked back at Ahsoka, as though he were daring Ahsoka to make the first move. And she knew she would have to be the one to ask, because she had been the one who had been wanting to ask for what felt like an eternity.
“Where is he?” Ahsoka asked. Her voice sounded too loud in the silence—an unfamiliar, unwelcome break in the tight quiet between all of them. She tried to catch Obi-Wan’s eyes, but he was already looking away. “Master Kenobi,” she started to say. “Obi-Wan.”
For a moment, Ahsoka was afraid that Obi-Wan wouldn’t answer. She saw him blink rapidly, and then he brought a hand up to his mouth, wiped roughly across his lips, his beard before turning back around to Ahsoka and Rex. “You should sit down,” he said at last.
“Why?” Ahsoka started to ask, but Rex was already sitting down at the seats Obi-Wan gestured to. Rex looked pointedly up at Ahsoka, and after a beat, she sat down right next to him. Her throat tightened as Obi-Wan sat down across from them. This close, Ahsoka could see the slight tremors in Obi-Wan’s shoulders, the faintest of freckles that seemed to lie flush against his otherwise too-pale skin.
For what felt like another eternity in itself, no one spoke. No one moved. Ahsoka felt as though they were stuck in frame, stuck in time. If it hadn’t been for the distant buzz of a nearby generator, Ahsoka would have thought that she must have fallen asleep or just entered a different reality—but then Obi-Wan lifted his eyes up at Ahsoka and Rex, and even before he spoke, Ahsoka’s heart started to sink.
“We were fools,” were Obi-Wan’s first words. “All of us. The Sith Lord who orchestrated the Clone Wars had been near us the whole time, and we didn’t even know.” A chill ran up Ahsoka’s spine. Maul. He had said something so similar, and now—
“We learned that Chancellor Palpatine was Darth Sidious too late,” Obi-Wan said quietly. “By then, the Sith Lord had already convinced Anakin—”
“No,” Ahsoka interrupted. She pushed herself up from the seat, the chair scraping back with in protest. Her heart pounded too fast and too loud in her chest, in her head as she looked down at Obi-Wan’s pale face. “Anakin wouldn’t.”
“There is footage, Ahsoka,” Obi-Wan said softly. “A recording of Anakin killing younglings.”
“So?” Ahsoka asked, hating how her voice cracked. “Recordings can be deceiving.” She looked down at Rex. “We know Anakin. He wouldn’t—” She turned back around to Obi-Wan. “He wouldn’t do that. There has to be some mistake.” She suddenly became aware of a hand resting on her wrist, and when she looked down, she found that it was Rex, gently pulling her back down to her seat. Ahsoka let herself be brought down, but she hardly was aware of the chair beneath her until Obi-Wan started talking again.
“Padmé tried to speak with him,” Obi-Wan continued. “She begged for him to stop.”
“Padmé…” Ahsoka’s voice drifted.
“She was pregnant,” Obi-Wan said, still not quite looking at Ahsoka or Rex. “Anakin was the father.”
Ahsoka’s heart plummeted. “Was?”
“The children are safe,” Obi-Wan said, and Ahsoka only just barely caught drift of children—more than one child—before Obi-Wan continued, “But she did not survive.”
Ahsoka stared. She saw the kind senator’s face swim before her eyes: the warm smile, the gentle eyes. Padmé, who had entertained and amused Ahsoka during shore leaves and embraced her when she least expected it and defended her during her own trial—
Ahsoka’s chest tightened. She hadn’t even been able to see Padmé since the trial. She hadn’t even gotten to say thank you or goodbye—
“And Anakin?” Rex asked beside Ahsoka. His voice was just as tight as Ahsoka felt. “If Senator Amidala tried to speak with him—”
“It was not enough.” Obi-Wan’s face twisted in pain. “He wasn’t the same person anymore.”
“Obi-Wan,” Ahsoka said, lifting her eyes up to Obi-Wan. “Where is he?”
Obi-Wan’s eyes drifted back down to Ahsoka, and that was when Ahsoka saw the distant shine of tears, the kind that Ahsoka had never seen in the man’s eyes before. “I did what I had to,” Obi-Wan said at last.
Ahsoka’s head spun. Her hands were numb in her lap. No, she thought. No, that couldn’t be true—Ahsoka had just seen Anakin a few days ago. She had seen him. He had smiled at her. He had smiled at her. And she had been about to talk to him. She had told Master Yoda—Master Yoda, what happened to him?—that she would talk to Anakin when she got back to Coruscant. She had told Anakin that they would catch up. He had smiled at her. He had smiled at her. And then he had walked away, that same confident stroll that Ahsoka had seen and memorized the moment she became his apprentice. She had seen him.
Ahsoka wasn’t even aware of her own tears until she felt the first tear hit her hand. She looked down at the single drop of moisture beaded on her palm and then, with stiff, robotic movements, she swiped at her cheeks. Her fingers came away wet. Maul’s words came whispering back to her: a new apprentice. Groomed. Destroy—
Maul had screamed at Ahsoka when they captured him. Let me die. Let me die. Let me die.
He had known what was coming.
A chill ran up Ahsoka’s spine. Let me die.
She thought that a part of her died when she walked away from Anakin the first time. And then she thought that a part of her died when Rex and she had gathered the dead bodies from the cruiser. Hour by hour, bit by bit, she had been dying just a little bit more—but this—
Let me die.
Ahsoka couldn’t sleep. She lay on the cot Obi-Wan had offered her, staring up at the ceiling until she couldn’t even make shapes out of the shadows. She rolled over on her side to find Rex on the opposite cot. His eyes were closed, too, but Ahsoka could tell from his chest movements that he wasn’t sleeping either.
But whether he was sleeping or not, Ahsoka couldn’t find the energy to say anything aloud. She wondered what thoughts were running through Rex’s head—if he had been re-playing the last moments he had seen Anakin too, or if he was looking back on their time together and wondering what exactly went wrong. Ahsoka wasn’t sure how much Rex understood the Force or the Sith, but she still felt pain. Grief. The grief came roiling through Obi-Wan’s hut in tidal waves, crashing all around Ahsoka until she sat up, unable to take anymore.
She slipped on her boots and, careful not to create much sound, Ahsoka tiptoed out of the hut. Cold desert air rushed to meet her face, and Ahsoka welcomed it. She sat down on the sand, her head tilted up at the moons. The last time she had seen these moons, she’d had the baby Hutt strapped to her back. R2 strolling behind her. She had been afraid, her mind constantly running between thoughts of how to present the Huttlet to his father and whether Anakin was safe or not.
She had been so afraid then. And she had been afraid every time Anakin and she were separated on a mission. What if I’m not there to watch your back? she would always ask, and Anakin would always give her the same cocky grin—the kind of grin that Ahsoka had memorized over time and learned to trust.
But she had Anakin’s back. He had hers. They had worked that way.
They were supposed to work that way.
Before she could stop herself, a choked little sound made its way up Ahsoka’s throat. She pressed a hand against her lips, trying desperately to keep it in, but too late, her chest was heaving and her shoulders were shaking, and she buried her face into her drawn knees. Anakin couldn’t—
Ahsoka felt something warm settle over her shoulders, and she jerked her face out of her knees to find Obi-Wan sitting down next to her. “The nights here are chilly,” were his only words as he re-adjusted the cloak over Ahsoka’s shoulders.
Ahsoka scrubbed a hand over her face. “I wasn’t that cold,” she said, trying to keep her voice even. “But thank you.” She cleared her throat. “I’m sorry if I woke you.”
“You didn’t wake me,” Obi-Wan replied. He looked up at the moons. “But I’m sure you already knew that.”
Ahsoka followed Obi-Wan’s gaze. “Yes,” she said quietly. “I did.”
They didn’t say anything for a while. They kept their eyes on the moons, the only sound between them their breaths and the occasional nightly breeze that kicked up the smallest flurry of sand.
“I didn’t get to talk to him,” Ahsoka said at last. She swallowed. “When you told me to call him. I wanted to. I was going to, but I just missed him.” She dug her hands into the sand, swallowing again painfully. “If I just talked to him—maybe—”
“No,” Obi-Wan said. He turned to Ahsoka. “Don’t.” His face was pained. “Anakin made a choice, and he made that choice alone.” His eyes lowered to the sand. “If there is anyone to blame, it should be me.”
“I taught him,” Obi-Wan said, ignoring Ahsoka’s protest. His voice was quiet, slow with a dull kind of hurt. “I was by his side. I knew he was frustrated. And I couldn’t save him.” He turned away from Ahsoka, and she heard a shuddery intake of breath, the kind that Ahsoka knew came right before something broke.
So when Obi-Wan did, Ahsoka rested her hand on Obi-Wan’s shoulder. She adjusted the cloak around her shoulders and hung it over the both of them, and when Ahsoka rested her forehead against Obi-Wan’s shoulder, he didn’t pull away.
When Rex settled down on Ahsoka’s other side, the cloak was extended over the three of them. Before thinking otherwise, Ahsoka slid her hand out from under her cloak and fumbled until she found Rex’s. Rex gave her hand a tight squeeze, and Ahsoka squeezed back. When she looked at him, his eyes were sad and tired but steady. She understood.
The three of them stayed outside the whole night.