She’d told Master Plo that she was worried about Anakin, and from the way Senator Amidala kept glancing over at him from where she was comforting the Duchess, Ahsoka figured she wasn’t the only one. And the Senator hadn’t even been with them, she hadn’t walked alongside him to hear his unnatural silence, couldn’t feel his anguish like a fellow Jedi could, hadn’t watched him hold back tears as though their release would be the final confirmation of death...but perhaps it was obvious enough in the way he kept clenching and releasing his fists, and in the way he alternated between a rage-filled scowl and a lost, almost confused expression, like he still couldn’t quite believe it had happened.
Ahsoka couldn’t fault him for that confusion, either – she almost couldn’t believe it herself, and she’d...she’d held the corpse. She was no stranger to death, of course; she’d lost so many men, too many men under her command. But with perhaps a still childish imagination that went against everything she knew to be true, a part of her had believed that Master Obi-Wan was larger-than-life, invincible, even. Her own master seemed the same way, too, right alongside him. That had always seemed constant in a galaxy filled with uncertainty. Until now.
Of course, she knew, rationally, that everything was impermanent. This was a harsh reminder of that, but she would make peace with it.
Looking over at Anakin, though...she wasn’t sure that he would, not any time soon, anyway.
Master Obi-Wan wouldn’t have wanted us to suffer for his loss, Ahsoka thought. He wouldn’t have wanted them to blame themselves or lose themselves in grief. That thought didn’t make it hurt any less, but it made it easier to accept.
Obi-Wan was gone, and it was time to let go.
The funeral ceremony was brought to a close, and Ahsoka filed out with the rest of the somber witnesses, trying to keep an eye on her master through the crowd. He slipped away, and when she found him next, she – perhaps unsurprisingly – found him alone with Senator Amidala. But unlike most of the other times she happened upon the pair of them, he stood apart from her, as the Senator uncertainly hovered at a distance.
But unlike everyone else up until this point, she’d managed to get him to speak.
“...this shouldn’t have happened! I should’ve been able to stop it!” Anakin said, his voice choked with anguished grief.
“Anakin...” she stopped short as she spotted Ahsoka. In her distraction, Anakin slipped away again. Padmé half-turned back, starting to call out to him.
“Maybe we should just give him some space,” Ahsoka said. Anakin didn’t seem like he wanted anyone around at the moment.
Padmé looked unconvinced. “He’s upset,” she said. “That’s normal.”
There was a strange, almost accusatory note in her voice, and Ahsoka bristled at it before reminding herself that Padmé was grieving, too. Her anger dissipated with that reminder. But still...did Padmé think that Ahsoka wasn’t also upset? Just because she wasn’t tormenting herself with it like Anakin was?
“I don’t think he’s going to be any less upset if we bother him right now,” Ahsoka offered instead.
“Perhaps not,” Padmé said, uncertainly. “Still, I...” she cut herself off. “I suppose I’ve overstayed my welcome here, anyway.”
“May I escort you home, Senator?” Ahsoka asked.
Padmé smiled at her – a subdued smile, not unexpected in these circumstances, but a smile nonetheless. “Thank you, Ahsoka, I appreciate it.”
They walked back to the Temple’s speeders, the silence between them not quite uneasy, but not comfortable, either. It slipped closer to uneasiness as they climbed in the speeder Ahsoka checked out. Even though Ahsoka was piloting, she couldn’t help but glance over towards the Senator. Padmé was troubled, that much Ahsoka could tell even without her eyes – though they certainly reinforced that observation, with the frown etched onto Padmé’s face and the way she shifted uncomfortably in her seat in a way that likely had little to do with the quality and comfort of the speeder’s construction.
Ahsoka could certainly understand being worred for Anakin – she was too – but she sensed Padmé’s unease ran deeper, though Ahsoka couldn’t tell why or what.
But she set those thoughts aside for the moment, and returned her attention to flying.
They arrived at Padmé’s apartment, and Ahsoka helped Padmé out of the speeder. It wasn’t necessary, of course, but it was courteous. Ahsoka knew that Obi-Wan would’ve considered that important.
Padmé thanked her again, and Ahsoka hesitated, debating whether to bring up the distress she sensed in the Senator. Among the Jedi, it would be common courtesy, an implicit offer to help and reminder to be mindful of one’s own feelings. But Ahsoka also knew that many people outside the Temple were made uncomfortable by the perceptiveness of those attuned to the Force – feeling, perhaps, that their privacy had been violated. She had even noticed this reaction in Anakin at times, since even though sensing such things was as natural to him as breathing, he had come late to the Temple, and as such had not fully been raised with that experience being the norm.
But even as Ahsoka was considering it, that disquiet bubbled up within Padmé again, reaching out towards the surface and spilling over into physical symptoms, as Padmé fidgeted, uncharacteristically off-balance.
“Ahsoka...” she said, haltingly, “Please, look after Anakin.”
Ahsoka gave Padmé a reassuring smile that she didn’t quite feel, but felt enough to give Padmé comfort – she hoped, anyway. “He’ll be alright,” she said. “He just needs some time, and space, I think.”
But Padmé didn’t seem reassured. The anxiety Ahsoka sensed from her was laced with something else, buried so much deeper that Ahsoka struggled to identify it. Guilt? Shame? She wasn’t sure if Padmé was even aware of it herself, even as it was threatening to eat its way out of her.
Ahsoka had the sudden and dreadful clarity that she did not want to hear what Padmé was going to say. The urge to leave, to turn around and hop back into the speeder and return safely to the Temple before another word was exchanged was strong. But what kind of Jedi, what kind of friend would she be, if she ran away now? Padmé needed someone to listen, and so Ahsoka stayed.
“I just don’t want things to get out of hand again,” Padmé said.
Again‽ “What do you mean?”
“I don’t want him to...do something he’ll regret.”
“Like what?” Ahsoka asked, and regretted the words as soon as they left her mouth. Padmé hesitated for several long moments.
“I’m worried...that he’ll end up hurting people...that he shouldn’t. That were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Ahsoka’s throat felt dry as she swallowed. “He wouldn’t do that. We’re Jedi.”
She didn’t like the way that Padmé wouldn’t meet her eyes.
“Wh...when?” Ahsoka asked, disbelieving. “When did you see him…?”
“I didn’t see it,” Padmé said, still shifting uncomfortably. “He...he told me that he’d killed...well, as I said, I don’t want things to get out of hand. It was understandable; some of them had killed his mother, but...it got out of hand. And with how much Obi-Wan meant to him, I just worry...look after him, please?”
Understandable‽ Ahsoka felt ill, and could only nod as her head spun, Surely, surely she was misunderstanding Padmé; she couldn’t mean what Ahsoka thought she meant – nevermind that they’d jumped from hurting to killing…
Ahsoka left, her distraction leading her to narrowly avoid crashing with other vehicles twice as she flew back to the Temple. She chastised herself - she knew better; she knew how to focus. Still, the things Padmé had said wouldn’t leave her thoughts.
It couldn’t be true – it just couldn’t. Ahsoka must’ve misunderstood something, or maybe Padmé had. Yes, that must be it. Padmé did say she hadn’t been there, that it was something Anakin had said to her. So she must have misinterpreted something he said into something much worse than what had actually happened. Gradually, the world started making sense again. Because while Anakin may have been temperamental, aggressive, and uncontrolled at times, Ahsoka knew that he had the stre n gth in him to overcome that, that he would stop and step back before he went too far. He would never go as far as Padmé had...suggested. Ahsoka knew this as surely as she knew anything.
She just had to go find him and get the real story. That would clear up this misunderstanding, and Ahsoka would be able to let go of these troubling images her imagination was conjuring up.
But as she wandered through the Temple, checking the usual spots (as much as they could be called usual with how rarely they were in the Temple), she found no sign of him. Nor was he answering his comm.
Maybe he had gone to some spot that was important to him and Master Obi-Wan that she had never gotten the chance to know while they were off at war. That seemed likely. Still, she wasn’t about to give up. She needed to hear it from him that she – or Padmé – had let her imagination get away from her.
As it turned out, it was him that found her, hours later, and with a few words, he had her putting all thoughts of the subject to the side.
“We’ve got a lead.”
“A lead?” Ahsoka asked.
“For the sniper. Come on, we’re going to bring him in,” he said brusquely, not even slowing down as he passed her. She hurried to catch up as he continued marching towards the hanger.
“Wait, how do you know?” she asked, her thoughts racing to catch up after the sudden gear switch.
“Master Yoda,” he said, with no further clarification. Ahsoka felt frustrated with his reticence, but she took a deep breath and calmed herself.
“Master Yoda what?” she asked, not letting any annoyance or impatience show.
“Told everyone they’d tracked the sniper. To some skeezy cantina,” he practically snarled the last word, as though he were imagining the man celebrating the murder he had committed. “I volunteered us to bring him in.”
“I...see,” Ahsoka said, though she was still confused. But she kept silent as they climbed into the vehicle and took off through the streets of Coruscant, taking the time to sort through the information at hand.
She brought up her concerns to Anakin as they flew, but he brushed them off, seemingly unconcerned with how the sniper had been located, with a simmering and almost single-minded fervor.
Unbidden, Padmé’s earlier words crept back into Ahsoka’s head.
No, she thought, shaking them off. He’ll be fine. That was all a misunderstanding. I’ll ask him about it...later. Now didn’t seem a good time, with Anakin barely speaking more than he absolutely had to, and focused on the mission. Perhaps once they had brought the killer to justice, he’d be more at peace.
Perhaps she’d be more at peace. She could feel her own anger rise alongside her master’s as they approached the cantina on foot. She wanted the killer brought to justice too.
Once inside, Anakin drew his lightsaber and demanded the sniper’s location. It was given up so easily that Ahsoka doubted that the lightsaber was even necessary. His cold rage was so evident that she was certain even the least Force-sensitive could pick up on it. Mentally, she geared herself up for a fight as they entered the back room.
Only to find that none was coming. The sniper – Hardeen – was simply...lying there.
Ahsoka recognized in herself a slight disappointment that she wasn’t going to get to throw a few punches his way.
“Is he dead?” she asked, uncertain in the stillness. Had someone beaten them here and killed Hardeen? Obi-Wan had had many friends, and not all of them were Jedi. Was it possible that one of them had gone looking for revenge?
“He’s about to be,” Anakin growled, and stalked towards where the killer lay.
Ahsoka froze, doubt clawing its way back up.
No, she thought, vigorously denying it, he’s stronger than that, he wouldn’t kill a defenseless man, even one who’d killed Obi-Wan…
Instead he threw the drunkard against the wall, and snarled out his wish to.
Part of Ahsoka felt some vicious pleasure at seeing the killer roughed up. But another part of her, a growing part of her, was starting to get concerned by the way Anakin seemed so driven by anger. Was it really only loyalty to Obi-Wan’s memory that stayed Anakin’s hand from a killing blow? Not his own values, not his Jedi training?
No. Ahsoka shook herself out of those thoughts again. Padmé’s words had confused her. She was drawing connections where none existed. Had Padmé said nothing, Anakin’s actions here wouldn’t have registered any alarms for Ahsoka, so they shouldn’t now. This was just normal hyperbole, the venting of a grieving man. It didn’t mean anything; it didn’t mean he would ever hurt someone for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He hadn’t, after all, hurt any bystanders here, and he hadn’t killed Hardeen. That was proof, wasn’t it? Proof that Padmé was wrong, and Ahsoka was right. Anakin would step back before going too far.
So why did she feel less confident in saying that than before?
Why did one, persistent thought continue to trouble her even as they dropped Hardeen off at prison?
Would he still have held back if I hadn’t been there?
Here's part two! There's a time skip from the end of last chapter to after the end of the whole Hardeen affair.
Ahsoka sat alone in her room, struggling to find peace. She could manage a few moments of meditation, but her tumultuous thoughts kept creeping back in, refusing to be fully let go of or worked through.
In large part, she could reluctantly admit, because she didn’t want to work through them. She didn’t want to face what it would mean if she accepted that her Master was willing to do (and perhaps had done) terrible things. She wanted to forget these thoughts entirely, to turn back time and prevent herself from ever hearing Padmé say those words. Because now that Ahsoka had heard Padmé insinuate...all of that, it seemed that it was all Ahsoka could see. And was that just her overactive imagination projecting Padmé’s words onto Anakin during a difficult time for them all, or was finally seeing something that had been there all along, that she could no longer ignore now that attention had been called to it? She didn’t know if she wanted to know the answer.
There’d been a vision, once, on a planet that was less a planet and more a fantastical dreamscape, though not truly that, either. There’d been a vision, and it had been of her, warning her of her Master’s darkness. She had refused to listen, then. How fiercely she had denied it, how fiercely she had defended her Master and his integrity.
If the vision had come now, instead of then, would she have still defended him like that? Could she have? Could she have found the words to argue, or would they have died before they crossed her lips?
Had she, deep down, known they were false even then?
She shook her thoughts away from that line, too uncomfortable to deal with at the moment. Instead, she turned her meditation towards sorting out her feelings about what had happened with Obi-Wan. That, while far from being easy to deal with, was at least the easier of the troubled thoughts Ahsoka couldn’t seem to let go of. That, at least, she thought she was ready to face.
Obi-Wan had died, and she had grieved – they had all grieved – and that grief was wasted, because it had all been a deliberate ruse. And that...hurt, as much as it was a relief. In a way, it hurt even more than if he’d simply died. She was glad that Obi-Wan wasn’t dead, she was grateful that she could have a chance to spend time with him again, now that she’d had that unpleasant reminder that it could all be taken away at any moment. But she was also upset that she hadn’t been told of the ruse ahead of time. In fact, she only found out as soon as she did because she and Anakin had gone after the escaped bounty hunters, where Anakin had discovered that the “killer” was Obi-Wan in disguise, after…
The reminder of the violence that had taken place, the unbalanced rage that had simmered in Anakin, took Ahsoka back towards those intrusive reminders of Padmé’s words, so she abruptly cut off that line of thinking and ended her meditation, opting to go for a walk instead. Perhaps the exercise would be a more effective form of meditation at the moment.
She wandered about the Temple with no particular destination in mind, but it wasn’t too surprising when her path took her to Obi-Wan himself.
He looked...weird, Ahsoka thought. He’d lost the bounty hunter disguise (not that Ahsoka had gotten too close a look at it, at least not when she was looking to see Obi-Wan in him), and had his own appearance back, but his hair hadn’t returned with that process. Ahsoka didn’t really pay much attention to human hair, usually, but its absence on Obi-Wan was noticeable. Without his face being obscured by it, he looked barely older than Anakin, really.
“You need to grow your hair back, Master Obi-Wan. Especially on your chin,” she said bluntly, in lieu of a greeting. From the amused, but exasperated look he gave her in return, she gathered she was far from the first person to offer their unsolicited opinions on his appearance.
“I’ll be sure to mark you under that column, then,” he said, wryly. “I’ve started keeping a tally – so far it’s been an even split between ‘grow the beard back’ and ‘you look better without it.’”
“I don’t care if the rest of the Temple, or even the whole galaxy, says otherwise, you need to grow it back,” she said, firmly. He smiled, and even with his weird appearance, it was almost like nothing had changed and nothing was wrong, especially as he invited her to sit beside him.
She did. He waited patiently as she gathered her thoughts, wondering if talking with him would help her find peace. It usually did, but...this wasn’t usual.
“Why didn’t you tell us?” she asked, finally, softly, letting her hurt be heard.
He sighed, not out of annoyance, but rather as though he had expected the question and was psyching himself up to give the answer.
“We couldn’t risk an information leak with such a dangerous and critical mission – there were enough risks as it was. If more people had been aware of what was going on, the mission could’ve become much more compromised even earlier,” he said. Ahsoka opened her mouth to argue that she wouldn’t have told anyone, but her intentions must have been clear in the Force, because Obi-Wan spoke before she could. “It’s not about whether you, specifically, would’ve given that information up, Ahsoka. It’s not that I can’t or don’t trust you. It’s simply standard practice to minimize any access to critical intelligence about sensitive missions, for the safety of everyone involved. You can swear up and down that you’d never tell a soul, and I’d believe that you mean it, but unfortunately, there are many unintentional and unconscious ways to give away intelligence to those who are looking for it, even among the Masters with the strictest self-discipline, let alone a Padawan or young Knight. So we mitigate that by making sure that people are told only what they need to know. And I’m afraid that the pain of personal loss is not enough of a reason to need to have known that I was still alive under these conditions.”
“But why did it have to be you?” she asked.
“It had to be someone,” he said. “And a Council member is more high-profile, which was useful in getting attention from the right people while I was in prison.”
“I...suppose,” Ahsoka said unhappily, but she was starting to find it easier to sort through her thoughts and explain how she felt. “I’m not...angry, and I can understand your reasons, but...it still hurts. It hurts that you died in front of me, it hurts that it wasn’t real, and it hurts that you didn’t tell me.”
Obi-Wan dipped his head in acknowledgement. “I don’t blame you, and for what it’s worth, I’m sorry for the pain that I’ve caused you and everyone else. But at the same time, I cannot regret doing my duty – that must always come first, as uncomfortable as it may be sometimes. I didn’t – don’t – like keeping secrets, but as valuable as honesty is, sometimes things must be hidden. This was one of those times.”
Ahsoka shifted uncomfortably as that hit a little too close to the other thing she was struggling with. But...talking with him helped with her distress around his false death, and brought her closer to being able to let that go. Perhaps talking with him about...the other thing...would help, too.
But she wouldn’t – couldn’t – tell him the details. She knew how much Anakin meant to him; she couldn’t...couldn’t put this burden on Obi-Wan, too. It would break his heart. So she hesitated, trying to work around the problem.
“Master Obi-Wan,” she said, hesitantly, “how do you...tell the difference? I mean, how do you know when you should keep secrets, and when you should expose them?”
Obi-Wan brought his hand to his still disturbingly bare chin. He seemed to realize that the conversation had shifted, and that Ahsoka wasn’t merely asking in the hypothetical, either. Hopefully, he wouldn’t press too much on it.
“I suppose...” he said, and Ahsoka wondered if he was stroking his chin merely out of habit or if there was something he still got out of the motion even without the hair there, “that it would depend on what the secret is, and what the consequences of exposing it or keeping it would be. You should ask yourself what those consequences are; why you’d keep it secret, why you wouldn’t. Are you keeping this secret to protect someone, or for your own self-interest?”
He spoke as though he didn’t demand an answer, simply wanting Ahsoka to puzzle this out for herself, but she answered anyway, after an even longer hesitation. “I…I am protecting someone,” she said, and continued quietly, “but...I don’t think I should be. Protecting them, I mean. Someone I know...may have done...something bad.”
“Ah. Yes, protecting someone from consequences is a different matter than protecting them from harm, isn’t it?” Obi-Wan said, rhetorically. “And I sense that we’re not talking about merely sneaking some extra sweets after mealtime.”
Ahsoka shook her head, though it wasn’t really a question.
“What should I do, Master Obi-Wan?”
“Do you believe this person should face repercussions? A correction?”
Ahsoka hesitated again. If she was being honest… “Yes...”
“But you don’t want them to?” he surmised.
“It’s...not as simple as that,” Ahsoka admitted. “Everything about what was done...it’s horrible. It needs to be addressed. It needs to be prevented from happening again. I know better than to let my personal feelings get in the way of this, and if I knew beyond any doubts that what I...think happened, then I...I would do my duty, even at the cost of that friendship. But I don’t...know. I only have secondhand information, and...”
And I’m afraid to dig in further and have to face not just needing to do my duty, but what it would mean about someone I thought I could respect.
She didn’t say that last part out loud, but she had a feeling Obi-Wan could fill in the blanks well enough.
“Well,” he said, quietly, after some contemplation. “I’d say you have a few options. Without knowing the exact nature of the offense or how much you know, I can’t say which would be best, but your first choice would be to present what you suspect or know to the Council – or, if concerning someone outside of the Order, the relevant authorities. The burden of dealing with the investigation would not be on your shoulders, and your friend may never even become aware of your involvement.”
Ahsoka frowned. Obi-Wan said it neutrally, with no judgment, but she couldn’t help but think of that as a form of running away from dealing with both the issue and her own feelings on the matter.
And if Anakin ever did become aware that she had been the one to report this to the Council – and that seemed likely, since Ahsoka doubted Padmé had told or would tell anyone else – he would see it as a personal betrayal. He would be furious. That wasn’t, of course, a reason to avoid this, but it was...something to take into consideration. There was probably a better path.
“Your second option would be to speak instead to their Master or whoever is more directly responsible for them.”
Yeah, she was not doing that. Well, other than this indirect way, she supposed. Ahsoka didn’t think Obi-Wan even suspected that she was talking about Anakin. He probably assumed she was thinking of one of her peers, and she would let him keep assuming that. It was bad enough that she had been burdened with this; she wasn’t going to make Obi-Wan suffer on top of that. Even if she went to the Council, she’d probably make it just between her and Master Yoda, or whoever she could besides Obi-Wan.
She ignored the whisper that said that Obi-Wan would find out eventually, when Anakin faced consequences for it. If there was even the chance that this was all a misunderstanding, she would spare him from it.
“Your last option would be to confront them directly, and if necessary, convince them to confess their misbehavior of their own volition.”
Ahsoka’s throat felt tight. It was obvious to her that that was the right choice. But also an uncomfortable and difficult one.
But a Jedi did not shy away from doing the right thing merely because it was uncomfortable and difficult.
“And if they refuse?” she asked.
“Then it is your duty to report that, and anything else you know about the situation, to one of the first two options.”
Ahsoka took a deep breath and steeled herself to knock on Anakin’s door. She rapped at it. After a beat, she heard an answering noise from within – and as it didn’t sound anything like a “go away”, she opened the door and entered.
“Hey, Snips,” Anakin said, not looking up from whatever he was working at with his hand tools. “What do you need...” He cut himself off and finally looked up, narrowing his eyes and his posture stiffening. “You’ve been talking to Obi-Wan. Did he send you?”
She wasn’t all that surprised that he was able to sense that she’d been spending time with Obi-Wan before this, and she definitely wasn’t surprised that he’d taken on that tone. He was still upset with Obi-Wan, after all.
“Yes, I was talking to him. No, he didn’t send me. You know he’d come himself if he thought you were ready to talk.”
Anakin huffed, and turned his attention back to his project, twisting at something in its mechanical guts.
“What he did was cruel,” he said. “And letting go of anger doesn’t always mean forgiving those who hurt you. He lied to me. To us.”
Ahsoka didn’t disagree with the distinction between letting go and forgiving, but she didn’t exactly think her Master was doing either of them at the moment. But bringing that up at the moment would only distract from and put off what she had come here to say, so she took a different approach.
“I didn’t come here to ask you to forgive Master Obi-Wan for anything,” she said. “But is it really fair for you to be angry with him for lying, when you and Senator Amidala are keeping secrets of your own?”
Anakin’s hand stilled for a moment, before continuing as though he’d never paused at all. “The Senator and I are just friends.”
Right. If she wasn’t so stressed by this whole thing, Ahsoka probably would’ve rolled her eyes. That hadn’t been what she was talking about – and really, she didn’t know if their...involvement with each other even counted as a secret. Certainly not next to this one.
“I meant, what happened with your mother’s death.”
The tool in Anakin’s hand scraped harshly against metal, a painful screech ringing out into the room and making Ahsoka’s montrals ache. But she hardly noticed that ache – the temperature of the room seemed to sink, and her heart along with it. Anakin wouldn’t react like that if this had all been a misunderstanding.
“How did you hear...?” he said, face frozen and pale. Then he abruptly shook his head. “No, we’re not discussing this. We’ve been over this. I. Don’t. Want. To. Talk. About. My. Past.”
Ahsoka crossed her arms, trying to project confidence and not betray her own distress. “You know I’ll have to take my assumptions about this to the Council if you don’t.”
He felt like a storm as he stared at her, anger and hurt and confusion and guilt lashing across his face and soaking into the room. “You, you wouldn’t...what do you mean, assumptions ? What do you know‽”
“Not much,” Ahsoka said, with more confidence than she felt. “Only what Padmé told me, and she said she wasn’t there, so...”
“Padmé told you‽” His voice rose in pitch, as though in disbelief, then fell low in anger and a sense of betrayal cut like needles across Ahsoka’s senses.
“She was worried about you!” Ahsoka said, not knowing whether it would do any good. “She said that you’d killed people that you shouldn’t have, that were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and she didn’t want it to happen again!”
“They can hardly be called people!” Anakin snarled.
Ahsoka took a step back. The room felt so cold now that she was distantly surprised not to see her breath fogging up in front of her. Or maybe it was just her own blood, that felt like ice inside her.
“Anakin...” she said, unable to call him Master and unable to keep horror from shaking her voice, “what did you do‽”
“They took my mother. They killed her. And then they died. The entire village. Every single one of them, down to the last child.” Were it not for the rage and pain and threads of guilt choking his voice, it would almost sound like he had been a mere observer to these events, as if the lives had been taken by a sudden storm or other natural disaster. But Ahsoka had no doubt that his response had been an answer to her question.
She felt ill.
“I know...I know what happened was unbecoming of a Jedi,” Anakin continued. “But you don’t understand, I...I couldn’t...stop it. I couldn’t save her, and I couldn’t...”
“Then you need help,” Ahsoka said, and this time, her voice was shaking. “If you’re that off-balance, if you...killed children...you need help. And I don’t think I’m the one who can help you.”
His head snapped back up, catching on her implication.
“You can’t tell anyone about this. Please, Ahsoka – you can’t. They’d...expel me.”
“Maybe they would,” Ahsoka said. “I don’t want that to happen, either, but it’s more important to stop something like this from ever happening again.”
“It will!” Ahsoka shouted. “It nearly did! I was there when you almost killed Obi-Wan because of this!”
“There wouldn’t have been any danger of that if he’d just told us what he was doing!” Anakin shouted back.
Silence hung heavy in the room.
“So that’s it, isn’t it?” Ahsoka said, quieter now. “You’re not angry because he lied, you’re angry because you know you came very close to killing him. Because you know that you would’ve done it, if he’d just been a bit slower, if he’d hesitated even a moment. You’re scared that he almost died for real, at your own hands.”
She could sense that now – beneath all the storming rage, the anger at Obi-Wan, at the people he had killed, at her, at Padmé, at the universe, through the cracks of his turmoil, she could see that at his core, Anakin was scared . Terrified, even. Perhaps not even just about losing Obi-Wan, but about facing consequences, and maybe a million other things. And perhaps, most of all, he was scared of himself.
Truth be told, Ahsoka was scared of him right now, too.
“A Jedi doesn’t feel scared,” Anakin retorted, though some of the fight seemed to be draining out of him.
“A Jedi doesn’t let their fear rule them,” Ahsoka corrected. In another situation, it might have been amusing, a Padawan correcting their Master on basic philosophy.
But today, there was nothing amusing about it at all. She knew Anakin knew this – intellectually, though apparently not instinctively – but he was gathering his words and the stormclouds of his emotions around him in a futile attempt to hide that fear. From her, or from himself, she couldn’t tell. Probably both.
Even so, he was slowly deflating, though not enough to save her from the lashing bites of his continued anger.
“So you’re going to report me,” he said, tonelessly.
“If it comes to that,” Ahsoka answered. “But I think it would be better for us both if you confess yourself.”
“What?” Anger gave way to confusion as he stared at her, clearly not having anticipated that response.
“I think you should turn yourself in. Tell Master Yoda, if you can’t face the whole Council. In fact, that would probably be for the best...” she trailed off. But she didn’t think she needed to tell Anakin that it would be kinder to spare Obi-Wan from this as much as possible.
“Then you know I’ll have to,” she said.
He looked at her, opening his mouth for a moment, before finally, he crumpled.
“You will, won’t you,” he said. It wasn’t a question. He took a shaky breath. “How...how could I possibly tell them?”
“You told me. You told Padmé,” Ahsoka pointed out.
“You weren’t supposed to know,” Anakin said, anguished. “You were never...Padmé shouldn’t have told you.”
“No, she shouldn’t have,” Ahsoka agreed. “I shouldn’t be the one carrying this burden. You shouldn’t have kept this secret. You shouldn’t have done it in the first place. But shouldn’t, shouldn’t, shouldn’t...it doesn’t change what is. The only thing that can do that is what you choose to do now.”
“I’m a man condemned no matter what. If I refuse, you’ll just...”
“I’m not just doing this to see you punished,” Ahsoka interrupted. “Yes, you should face consequences. You should reflect – really reflect – on your actions. You should – I don’t even know if it’s possible for you to make amends, but if you can, you need to do that too. But most of all, I don’t want this to happen again. For both your sake and the sake of any potential victims. I’m trying to help you. And don’t you dare say that you don’t need help, because you do. If you can’t control yourself, and will...commit murder out of grief, then you need help.”
He looked away.
“Just...take this step,” she pleaded. “Don’t leave it up to me.”
It would be better if it came from him. To confess would show a step towards true remorse, a commitment to stopping himself from doing such horrific acts ever again. Surely that was obvious? Even from a purely pragmatic standpoint, surely it was evident that that would be looked on more favorably than being exposed by an outside party? Ahsoka struggled to understand why Anakin didn’t seem to grasp this, especially when he did know that what he had done was wrong, and – she had to believe – didn’t want to be like that. She knew he was always reluctant to accept help, but he had to see that this couldn’t go on, and that between an option to be punished, and an option to be rehabilitated, rehabilitation, while more work, was better for everyone, including him.
But something was holding him back, paralyzing him. A bone-deep fear, running so deep and old within him that Ahsoka wondered if he’d ever been without it, cut through all his training like ice through skin, only from the inside out. And she didn’t know how to help him let that go. If Obi-Wan couldn’t relieve Anakin of that fear, if all of his teachings hadn’t gotten Anakin to a place where he could live with it and let it go, then what could she possibly do to get him there? It was a lifelong journey, that path to self-mastery, and there was only so much another person could do to set you along it. The rest, the journey itself, was up to every individual to walk. No one else could walk it for you, as they traveled their own paths.
But they could walk side-by-side, at times. Obi-Wan wasn’t here, but she was. And she could do that much.
“I’ll go with you,” Ahsoka said. “I’ll stay by your side when you confess what you’ve done to Master Yoda. But it has to be you.”
He still didn’t look at her.
“Please,” she said. If all the talk of doing the right thing couldn’t get through, maybe this would. “They probably won’t ever have Master Obi-Wan go undercover like that again, but what if they do? What if, next time, he isn’t able to fight back, or is just a bit too slow? Or what if it were me, or even Senator Amidala…?”
“Enough!” Anakin shouted, whirling around to face her. He almost immediately deflated and averted his eyes again. “I...okay.”
“Okay, I’ll...go. I’ll go with you.”
He spoke as if the words were dragged out of him, but an agreement was an agreement, and Ahsoka’s shoulders sagged with the release of tension.
“Okay,” she said. “Let’s go.” No sense in putting it off. In silence, they left Anakin’s room. He still would not look at her as they walked, alternating between a stiffness so tightly wound it was a surprise he was in motion at all, and bouts of restlessness that had him fidgeting constantly, as if even walking was too calm and still for him to stand.
But for that, it might have been any other day, any other moment. Nothing out of the ordinary for a padawan to walk along at her master’s side, and no one spared them a second glance.
The normalcy of it felt absolutely at odds with the situation at hand.
Ahsoka cared for her master, still. She’d been raised to have compassion for all, even those who did terrible things. Some days that was harder to accomplish than others. It was hard even now. The fact that he was her friend made it both easier and more difficult. Easier, because it was always easier to have compassion for your loved ones.
More difficult, because that same friendship meant it cut all the deeper to have the trust and faith you had in someone completely shattered. It was a kind of betrayal – though the crime had been committed before Ahsoka had properly met Anakin, the fact that he had done something like that at all, that he had hidden that, and presented a face to her and everyone else that could never seem capable of such atrocities...that was a deception far greater, crueler, and more senseless than anything Obi-Wan had done in this past week in the name of protecting the Chancellor.
The hurt of that would fade with time. But the trust and respect Ahsoka had had in her master was shattered, and things would never be the same between them. She would never again be able to look at him without knowing that he had committed not just murder, but slaughter – and had covered that up for years, unwilling to address what he had done and take steps to prevent himself from ever doing it again.
If Anakin truly worked to correct his mistakes and his lack of control, perhaps someday in the future this wouldn’t hang over their every interaction. But it would never be forgotten, and for now, Ahsoka could only be wary of him. Where once his lack of restraint had been something that seemed unique and exciting, something that got things done, it was colored darker now, and Ahsoka found herself questioning so much of their past interactions. She could not even have her memories or her training untarnished.
She calmed herself, working out of that spiral before it began, to reflect on this as objectively as she could. Yes, this revelation cast much of Anakin’s past actions and lessons (both intentional and unintentional) in a worse context. Yes, some of that could have rubbed off on her. But that did not mean that everything he had taught her was suspect – there had been much that had been valuable, and reinforced by the teachings of her childhood or by other Jedi. And even if a Jedi could be perfectly trained, they would always still need to guard themselves against the dark side and be mindful of themselves.
It hurt that she couldn’t rely on Anakin. But that didn’t mean she had nothing and no one to rely on. She had her own judgment, she had the rest of her family if that wasn’t enough, and she always, always could rely on the Force.
And that would be enough to get her through this. It would be enough to, in time, bring her peace.
They reached Yoda’s quarters, Anakin fully in his “restless” state as they waited for Yoda to answer them. After moments that seemed longer than they probably were, the door opened. Yoda took one look at them and invited them both inside.
“Troubled, you are,” he said, as they sat. “Weigh on you still, does Obi-Wan’s last mission?”
Ahsoka hesitated, considering answering to explain why they were here – but she knew that this was something Anakin had to do.
“...Yes,” he said. When he didn’t seem immediately forthcoming with anything further, Ahsoka elbowed him sharply. Not the most dignified behavior to display in front of Master Yoda, but the situation was important enough to risk the embarrassment.
“...But that’s not exactly why we...why I needed to talk to you,” Anakin continued, reluctantly.
“Hmm,” Yoda said, noncommittally, and waited patiently for Anakin to elaborate.
The silence stretched across several long moments, but Ahsoka didn’t dare break it herself. She’d said it was important for Anakin to do the confessing, and she stood by that. He wasn’t looking at her, or even directly at Master Yoda – his eyes were on the floor.
Please, Ahsoka thought, just tell him.
Finally, after a few more long moments, Anakin spoke again.
“I have...made a terrible mistake,” he admitted. “And...it has been...brought to my attention...that I cannot guarantee that it won’t...that it won’t happen again.”
“And seek my counsel, you do, to correct your mistake?” Yoda prompted, gently. He glanced over to Ahsoka. “Involved in this mistake, is your apprentice?”
“No,” he choked out. “She wasn’t supposed to know, she just...” he shook his head.
“I’m here for encouragement,” Ahsoka interjected. Or, in blunter terms, to make sure Anakin went through with taking this step.
Yoda peered at her, as if weighing her words against his instincts about the situation, and then nodded, turning back to Anakin.
Good. She could stay, then.
“I have not acted as a Jedi should,” Anakin said. “Before the war, when my mother died,” he choked on the word, “my anger took over, and it...didn’t stop with the Tuskens that had killed her. The entire encampment – men, women, children...all dead. I know...I know it was wrong, I know I should’ve done better, but even when I think on them now...I still hate them, and I can’t...” He trailed off, fists clenched and his eyes screwed tightly shut as he looked away from them both.
Ahsoka had watched Master Yoda’s ears droop lower with each word Anakin had spoken, and his face was etched with grief. She waited with bated breath for him to speak, to decide what must be done.
“Sensed such terrible pain in you at that time, I did,” Yoda lamented, “but see what became of it, I did not. If known, I had...” he shook his head. “What-ifs, not useful, are they. Know of this, does Obi-Wan?”
“No!” Anakin said, his head snapping up with horror. “He can’t...he can’t ever know about this! Bad enough that Ahsoka...”
“Fear your Master’s disappointment that much, do you? More than what you have done?”
Anakin looked down again. “I just don’t want to let him down.”
“But let him down, you have!” Yoda said, standing and pacing. “Grave, are your actions, young Anakin. A dangerous path you have set upon, a dark one. True, this is, whether known or not. A choice you have now – continue down this path, and eat away at you, the dark side will, until only darkness is left. Or fight it, you can, and never stop fighting. Difficult this path is, yes. Forever, will the dark side call to you; louder it grows, more tempting it becomes, the more given into, it is. Yet resist it, we must, if Jedi we are to be.”
“I want to do what’s right,” Anakin said. “I want to fix this. But I can’t bring back the dead.”
“Want that, too?” Yoda guessed, eyeing Anakin keenly.
He didn’t answer, but it wasn’t hard for Ahsoka to guess what it would’ve been.
“Deal with things as we wish them to be, we cannot. Deal with things as they are, we must,” Yoda said.
“Yes, Master,” Anakin said, quietly.
“Learn this lesson, accept it, or else end before it begins, your path will,” Yoda warned.
“I understand,” he said, “I understand that that’s how we should be. But...there are some things that I just can’t accept. And isn’t that true for everyone, even the Order? We don’t accept what the Separatists are doing, so we fight them.”
Ahsoka leaned forward, curious as to how Master Yoda would answer. Because...Anakin had a point, didn’t he?
But Yoda shook his head. “Confusing acceptance with approval, you are. Confusing acceptance with a lack of action. Sometimes, yes! Sometimes, to accept, leave it alone, we do. But not always. Guide ourselves and others to preferred actions and outcomes, our mission has always been. But be so attached to such outcomes and lose sight of all else, we must not, or cause harm to ourselves and others, we will. Refuse to accept that the Separatists are causing harm, we could, if denied it, we did. If refused to look, we did. Or refuse to accept it, we could, and decide that destroyed, they must be, no matter what it took. Bomb their worlds to ash, we could, poison their civilians, kill their hostages, torture our captives...all because accept things as they are, we could not.”
“But if accept that things are as they are, we do, respond appropriately, we will. Seek better, we can, and find peace with ourselves when fail, we do. Destroy us, it would, if do this, we could not. So...accept, I do, that commit cruelties, the Separatists do. Accept, I do, that cruelty you have done. Pain my heart, it does. But ignore it, I will not. Retaliate for my pain, I will not. But action, I must take; consequences, you will face. Hope, I do, that co-operate, you will. But live with it, I can, if help you, I cannot.”
“What am I to do, Master?” Anakin asked. Ahsoka wasn’t sure how much of the lesson he had truly absorbed – she’d certainly found it difficult to wrap her head around, even, unlike Anakin, having been raised in the Temple, but perhaps it was the sort of thing that needed to be heard, and maybe experienced, multiple times before truly grasping it.
Yoda stopped pacing, and closed his eyes.
“Temple-bound, you will be, and relieved of your command...”
“What?” Anakin blurted. “But...you need me! You need me out there! We have so few Jedi out there as it is, and less every day. My men...”
“Compromised, you are, Anakin,” Yoda interrupted. “Admitted this, you have. A danger you present, to yourself, to your men. Trust yourself to lead your men, can you, if killed in battle, your padawan is?” Yoda nodded to acknowledge Ahsoka. “Trust yourself, can you, not to lead them to greater harm, if consumed by your grief and anger, you are? Reckless and blinded, you will not be?”
“I...” Anakin said, and crumpled again. “No, you’re right,” he reluctantly admitted.
“Until greater control over yourself, you have, safe to send you into battle, it is not. Greater harm, it would do, than one less general. Stay here in the Temple, you will, and counseling, you will participate in, until stability, you have. Under supervision, you will be. Speak with the Council, I will, to determine what more, you must do, to make amends to your victims. Necessary, it may also be, to face Republic courts.”
“Senator Amidala apparently doesn’t think so,” Ahsoka said. She had remained quiet up until now, but if they were going to pursue Republic justice, it needed to be known that Padmé had kept this quiet.
Anakin’s anger, which had been dormant for the moment, flared up again. Apparently he wasn’t happy about Ahsoka bringing Padmé into this.
“Neither did the Chancellor!” he snapped. Ahsoka’s eyes widened.
“The Chancellor? You told the Chancellor about this?”
It wasn’t like she hadn’t known that Anakin was close with the Chancellor – she had far too many memories of them going off to talk together, the Chancellor always shooing her away like she was a child, and Anakin unbothered by it. But to confess such a horrible crime to the leader of the Republic...why would Anakin do that if he had feared consequences so much? And why would the Chancellor cover it up? Bad enough that Padmé had, but what did it say that the Republic was led by someone who would sweep mass murder under the rug if he personally liked you?
Yoda, too, seemed troubled by this. “Knew of this, Senator Amidala and Chancellor Palpatine did? And concerned they were not?”
Anakin grimaced, his anger becoming layered under embarrassment at having revealed that. “They said...they said it was natural,” he said, then hastily added, defensively, “they don’t...they don’t understand our ways, Master. They wouldn’t look at it like a Jedi would.”
“Yet sought their perspective, and not a Jedi’s, you did, knowing that a Jedi’s trial, you had failed,” Yoda said, and sighed. “Understanding the gravity of your crimes, unique to Jedi, it should not be. Spiritually, perhaps, understand they will not. But murder of innocents, repulsive that is, to most sentients. Or believed so, I had.” He shook his head. “Speak with them later, I will. Jurisdiction over them, the Jedi do not have. But if listen, they will, perhaps understand the harm, they can.”
“I...see,” Anakin said, reluctantly. “I suppose...that you won’t be allowing me contact with them, either.”
“In our power to decide, that may not be. But if the choice we have, with our counselors that decision rests. Evaluate, they will, whether helping or harming you, these friends are, or if safe, you are, for them to visit.”
“I would never hurt them!” Anakin protested. “And they’d never hurt me.”
“The counselors’ judgment that is to make,” Yoda said, unyielding.
“And what about me, Master?” Ahsoka asked. “What is to become of me?”
Yoda turned to her, his expression softening. “Interrupted, your training is, yes. Masterless, you will become. Continue with in-Temple studies, you will, until by a new master, taken up or assigned, you are.”
Ahsoka nodded, unsurprised by the decision. She was both relieved and saddened by it – she didn’t think she could continue on under Anakin’s care in his current state, but she also knew that she would, despite those tarnished memories, still miss it, to some degree. Learning under him had been an experience, and they had...they had worked well together. It wasn’t as though she couldn’t still go see him, and of course a padawan (or any Jedi, really) could learn from anyone if the opportunity presented itself...but there was still something important about the Master-Padawan relationship, and to leave that prematurely meant that something had gone very wrong. Which it had, and even though what had gone wrong was before she’d entered the picture, its poison stretched well into the present.
Ahsoka accepted the decision, and Anakin...well, he didn’t protest, at least, his eyes still lowered to the floor.
She hoped that maybe Master Obi-Wan or Master Plo would take up her apprenticeship in Anakin’s stead, but if not...well, Ahsoka was hardly the only masterless padawan in the Temple. At least her master was still alive.
But at least their masters had not committed a terrible crime and destroyed their respect. It was hard to say what was worse.
It was what it was. As Master Yoda had said, they had to deal with things as they are, and what-ifs were not useful.
Yoda turned back to Anakin. “Understand the restrictions you are under, do you?”
“Yes, Master,” he said, quietly.
“Then, come. A Jedi counselor, find for you, we will. Discuss your treatment, we will. Then go to the Council, I will.” He opened the door and headed out into the hallway, beckoning Anakin to follow. He moved to do so, but Ahsoka stopped him.
“Anakin,” she said. “Please...cooperate with the counselor. And the Council.”
He still kept his head low, looking away from her. Shame and guilt had eclipsed anger by now, and the fight had receded from him for now. But Ahsoka knew him well enough to know that it would come back, sharp and defensive, when the counselor poked at the things Anakin didn’t want to see.
“I may no longer be your padawan,” she said. “And things...won’t be right between us for a long time. I’ll never be able to overlook what you’ve done; this isn’t something you can just fix and things will be back to normal. But as a Jedi, and as your friend, I want to see you do better. You can’t fix or undo the murders you committed. But you can stop from making things worse. So please...work with them.”
“I will,” he said. “I promise.”
“Don’t promise,” Ahsoka said. “I can’t trust a promise. Make a commitment, and keep it. Even when it’s hard.”
He didn’t answer, but Ahsoka knew that her words had been heard, and she hoped, considered.
“This isn’t goodbye,” she said, “It won’t be as often, but...I’ll see you around.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Take care, Ahsoka. I know Obi-Wan will do right by you.”
“Nothing like that’s been decided, yet.”
He scoffed, though it was half-hearted, a pale imitation of the easy banter they had once had. “He’ll take you on, Ahsoka. I know he will. And I know you won’t...let him down, like I have.”
“He’s going to be very hurt,” Ahsoka said. She wouldn’t be surprised if Obi-Wan took it harder than she had. “But it will mean something to him that you’re cooperating and engaging with counseling. He wants you to do better, too.”
“I know,” he said, shifting with that restlessness again. Finally, he looked up and met her eyes again, though he quickly turned away, and left to follow Master Yoda, leaving Ahsoka alone in the room.
It was a start.