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Aphelion

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The weather was scheduled for rain, and it pattered down now, streaming in rivulets against the windows of Dex's Diner. Outside was dark and dreary, but the interior of the diner glowed with warm light, steam fogging the transparisteel windows. Ahsoka pulled her mug of caf closer so that the heat rising from it warmed her chin. Across the booth from her, Anakin was pushing the remnants of what had once been panna cakes and hash around his plate with a fork, his expression thoughtful.

“She wasn't wrong. It makes a certain amount of sense, if you ask me,” he said, pushing his plate away.

Ahsoka made an exasperated noise. “The vision told me I didn't belong there. Me! You know I've always had a strong connection to the Force!”

“But you're no longer a Jedi.” He pointed at her with his fork. “The cave reveals kyber crystals to the Jedi alone; it was they who first discovered it and it was they who converted it in to a temple. The place is steeped in Jedi lore.”

Ahsoka hunched her shoulders, leaning over her mug. “It's not as though I fell to the dark side. I'm still the same person I was before.”

“Are you?” Anakin took a long pull from his own cup of half-caf, considering his former padawan from across the table.

She looked up at him, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth. Was she still the same person who was raised and trained among the Jedi? It was true that the trial and Barriss' betrayal still felt fresh and raw in her mind, but the rest of her life at the Temple seemed to have faded in to the background, a lifetime ago.

Finally, she said, “It shouldn't matter to whom my allegiance is, I'm still a Force-wielder. I don't understand why the connection would come and go like that. It seemed almost arbitrary.” She rotated her mug between her hands. “Almost.”

“Think of it this way, Snips. How did you first learn to use the Force? Not just connect with it, but truly let it flow through you and guide your actions?”

Ahsoka furrowed her brow. “Well.. meditation, self-reflection, combat exercises--”

“Your Jedi training,” Anakin finished for her. “You learned to tap in to the Force in a certain way. Maybe now that you no longer agree with the ideals that shaped who you were when you first learned to use it..” He shrugged and raised his eyebrows at her.

Ahsoka opened her mouth and then closed it again, and leaned back against the booth seat, her arms crossed over her chest. Her thoughts raced to lessons she'd learned on the binary nature of the pathways to the Force: the balanced, tranquil avenue that led to the light side, and the passion-driven emotionality that gave way to the dark. It had never occurred to her that it was possible things were not so black-and-white.

Just then, the comlink on Anakin's bracer crackled to life.

“General Skywalker, sir,” came Appo's voice, tinny over the signal.

Ahsoka raised her brows and silently mouthed “general?” as Anakin raised his wrist and tapped the channel open on his bracer.

“Go ahead, Appo,”he said.

“Sir, it's about Fett. We've discovered one of the service droids at the temple outfitted with the same tech that rendered our disruptors useless against those clankers a while back.”

Anakin made a face. “Why would you need to use an electro-disruptor on a service droid?”

“Because we've also discovered that it is rigged to explode.”

Anakin and Ahsoka's eyes met from across the table.

“Appo..”

A moment of staticky silence passed, then Appo's voice returned sounding agitated:

“Sir, more reports are coming in, it's.. it's looking like all the droids in service at the temple have been programmed to detonate. We can't risk just shooting them down, they need to be diffused safely, and there's no signs of physical tampering, which means they're being controlled remotely-”

“It's Fett. He's there.” Anakin's fist banged the table a little too loudly and some of the other patrons of the diner turned to look at him.

“I suspect so as well. I'm dispatching what troopers are still employed here to identify and quarantine what droids we can, and I'm letting the Council know. We'll begin a temple-wide evacuation.”

“Good.” Anakin was tossing credits down on the tabletop and reaching for his cloak.

“But sir, between the medbay, the hangars, the analysis wing, not to mention the personal droids..”

“There are thousands. I know. Keep your ears open for any sign of Fett, we're on our way.” Anakin looked at Ahsoka and inclined his head to the door as he spoke.
“We, sir?”

“Skywalker out.”

Ahsoka's poncho was hanging from Anakin's outstretched hand, hovering near her side of the booth. She sighed and slouched slightly against the padded bench.

“I don't belong there, Anakin. We just got through discussing that.”

“This was your mission to begin with, and it's time to see it through.”

Ahsoka made a reluctant noise but reached for the proffered poncho and pulled it over her head.

 

__

 

They both sensed him, a beacon of silent fury and intent radiating from amongst the support beams that ran along the ceiling of one of the ship hangars. The entire floor had since been evacuated, albeit discreetly so as not to alert the Mandalorian that they were on to him.

Ahsoka split off from Anakin and crept along the far wall until she found a ledge she could swing herself up to. A few moments later she was balanced on one of the lofty beams and she could make out the silhouette of someone crouched facing away from her farther along. As she got closer, she could see the armored figure hunched over something in his hand. A blaster swung at his hip, and she could make out the glint of a knife sheathed along his thigh.

Still unnoticed, she extended her hand and reached out in the Force, feeling for the device in the man's hand, seeing it in her mind's eye. It was just as she prepared to yank it from his grasp when the blur of a second figure zoomed in to her line of vision. Anakin was hurtling towards Fett, who only had a second to react before he was swept off his feet, landing bodily on the durasteel beam. Ahsoka heard the air rush out from his lungs even behind the battered helmet.

“So much for the element of surprise!” she yelled as she caught up to the two of them, running along the narrow beam.

“I dunno, he looked pretty surprised to me,” Anakin smirked, and in that moment Boba reacted, folding in on himself and sinking his boot in to the Jedi's abdomen. The bounty hunter jack-knifed up in to a crouch as Anakin stumbled back, his hand going to the saber clipped to his belt. Ahsoka's hands hovered over her own empty holsters; she growled in frustration as she remembered that she was weaponless.

Fett was fast, quicker than any non-augmented clone had any right to be. Before Anakin had the chance to draw his lightsaber Fett was bearing down on him, the flash of a metal blade shining in his hand. The Jedi reacted with similar speed, throwing out his arms and knocking Fett back along the beam. The bounty hunter skidded completely off and disappeared from view, and Ahsoka and Anakin had time to exchange a look before Fett swung back in to view, a grappling line hooked to his utility belt. This time, his blaster was drawn and as he landed behind them he let fly a volley of shots.

Anakin snarled and batted the bolts aside with his lightsaber, descending on Fett again with new purpose.

Fett holstered the blaster and flicked the knife up and in to his waiting hand, readying for combat at close range. Anakin lunged, but Fett sidestepped and moved to swipe with the blade. Ahsoka leapt in from the side, one leg sweeping out and knocking Fett's feet out from under him. She landed in a crouch above him as Fett began to slide over the edge of the beam, and she felt momentarily victorious before she realized his hand had closed over the broken stub of her montral, yanking her down with him.

She heard Anakin shout her name as they fell. There was only a split second to react as the ground rushed up to meet them, and she kicked off from the Mandalorian's chestplate, effectively dislodging herself. Fett rolled and skidded, his heavy armor protecting him, and Ahsoka landed, cat-like, a few meters away.

Before she could launch herself anew, Fett raised his fist, a small device clutched in it.

“You take another step, Jedi, and I'll blow this whole place sky high,” he barked, his outstretched hand shaking very slightly.

Beside her, Anakin dropped down, his lightsaber clipped back at his belt.

“Take it easy,” he said in a low voice. “You're outmatched. The Jedi are already shutting down your droids as we speak.”

“They couldn't do it before. Not without cutting them down. And a lightsaber to the hull of a droid rigged to explode would not be the wisest option.” Fett was backing away slowly, his hand still holding up the remote.

“So the battledroids from before, what were they, a test?” Anakin advanced as Fett retreated.

“You could say that.” The voice of a thousand other clones growled from behind the helmet.

Ahsoka could sense Anakin's aggravation mounting. “What you're doing is cowardly. Even a man like Jango Fett wouldn't--”

You keep my father's name out of your mouth!” Boba yanked off the modified helmet and slammed it to the ground, shaking with rage. Anakin took a step back, clearly caught off guard.

Ahsoka was briefly startled to see the familiar face of a full-grown (or nearly, at any rate) clone glowering at the two of them. He looked to be in his late teens, but scarred and aged in a way the accelerated growth of his cloned brothers didn't allow for. His hair was cropped close to his scalp, his eyes the familiar golden brown that all the Fett clones possessed.

"I have nothing to say to the Jedi," Boba snarled, looking more and more like a cornered animal.

Beside her, Ahsoka could feel Anakin bristle. She placed a hand on his upper arm and pushed past him before he could open his mouth to answer.

"Then talk to me." She approached him with palms upturned, doing her best to look nonthreatening. Boba's hand tightened on his blaster, and behind her Ahsoka knew that Anakin's hand had gone to the hilt of his saber. Protective fury was flowing off him in waves.

"You wouldn't understand," Boba spat, brandishing his blaster in her direction, the remote clutched in the fist of his free hand. "The Jedi took everything from me. My father, my life, even my retribution. Don't let them take this from me, too."

Ahsoka leveled a look at him. “It wasn't the Jedi who made the decision for you to end up here. You always had a choice.”

“That's not true. I had nothing after they took my father, no where to go and nobody to trust. The Jedi say they are keepers of the peace, but I've only seen them ruin lives and refuse to accept the consequences.” The clone raised the detonator in his fist, shaking it. “These are the consequences!

Ahsoka sucked in a breath as she heard Anakin's lightsaber ignite behind her. Her hand shot out and caught him in the chest as he began to stride forward with intent. Ahsoka sent him a wave of gratitude through their bond when he slowed at her touch.

“Master Windu showed you mercy once, don't expect that I will be as gracious,” he growled, his saber still drawn.

Mercy was not his to give!” Boba shouted, stamping his foot like a child. His face had gone red with passion.

“You're right,” Ahsoka said, and placed her hand on the barrel of Boba's blaster, guiding it down and away. Boba looked momentarily dumbfounded, a crease forming between his eyes.

“Ahsoka,” hissed Anakin from her left.

“You deserved better, Boba. A lot of people did. I'm sorry.”

“They claim they are saviors. They don't know what salvation is.”

“I know,”she said, and Anakin could hear in her voice that she believed it.

She reached for his other hand, the one holding the detonator.

“No.” His voice was pleading. “This is all I have left.”

“It's all that's holding you back.” Her fingers closed over both his own and the detonator, not pulling, just resting. “You are at a crossroads, Boba. Now is the time to make a decision that will shape the rest of your life. Are you content living out your days in a prison? This isn't something you can walk away from. Or will you be stronger, braver, wiser than the Jedi were to you?”

Boba flinched. His eyes were bright and wet, narrowed in to dangerous slits.

“He should have slain us both.”

Ahsoka's fingers tucked under the curve of the remote and tugged very gently, and it came away in her hand. Boba's arm dropped to his side limply. He sagged against the wall, his blaster clattering to the ground.

The heat and glow of Anakin's saber vanished as he extinguished it. Ahsoka let out a slow, shaky breath and handed the detonator to Anakin, who was watching her carefully.

“Now would be a good time to disappear.”

“And to not come back,” added Anakin.

 

---

 

The Council was less than pleased to hear that Boba Fett had slipped through the fingers of one of their own. Ahsoka watched as Anakin smoothed things over with practiced ease over his comlink before handing the remote off to one of the service corps members to be taken to the lab. A younger version of her would have felt severe guilt at disobeying a direct order from the High Council, but now Ahsoka felt only a sense of quiet calm. It had to be a feeling not unlike growing old enough to realize that one's parents weren't infallible, she thought, but of course she had never properly known her own, nor had any of the younglings raised at the Temple.

“Your sense of justice has been tempered by your time away from the Temple,” Anakin quipped as they made their way back outside to the Temple landing pad. The rain was beginning to ease, but their boots still slapped wetly on the duracrete as they left the shadow of the hanger. The walkway was beginning to steam as the self-drying stone activated, sensing the end of the storm.

“The only source of love in his life was taken from him, and he was offered nothing in return. A person can't live that way,” Ahsoka said quietly.

Anakin pulled his hood up the last straggling raindrops. “Ahh, but 'there is no love, only compassion',” he quoted in his best Obi-Wan voice.

“I know you don't believe that,” she said, looking at him meaningfully. He quieted then, and they continued to the speeder landing in silence. High above, the clouds broke and the handful of stars visible through the light pollution and atmosphere of the planet peeked through.

Anakin stopped before climbing on to his speeder and reached into his robes. “Oh, I almost forgot..” He withdrew the silver dagger Boba had been wielding. “He must have dropped it when you fell. I don't think a kid like that needs any more weapons than he already has, and seeing as how you lost yours on Ilum..” He held it out to her.

Ahsoka looked at it, splayed across the dark leather of Anakin's gloved palm. It was a rather nice knife. Just about as long as her forearm from pommel to tip, it gleamed brightly in the light of the glowrods along the landing pad walkway. Two white stones were inset on either side of the handle, and the grip was carved with intricate Mandalorian designs.

“It doesn't really feel right taking something like this for myself,” she said, eyeing the blade dubiously. But she couldn't deny that she felt drawn to it in a way she was inclined to trust. She took it and slid it in to the sheath still strapped to her boot, and was pleased to see it fit like a glove.

Anakin was readying the speeder. “You ready to head back to the apartments?”

“You're not staying at the Temple tonight?”

“I find myself less and less in the mood to these days.”

Ahsoka found herself smiling. “Doesn't the Council object to that?”

“They do!” Anakin assured her cheerfully. He clapped her shoulder and then clambered on to the speeder, and she climbed on behind him, hooking her arms around his waist. He gave her hand a quick squeeze before settling his own on the handlebars and pulling the speeder up and away from the pad.

As they flew, Ahsoka leaned her forehead against his back and allowed herself to feel the affection for him swell in her chest. Like a stream long-dammed with detritus but beginning to flow anew, the acceptance and encouragement of her emotions felt foreign, but welcome.