Disclaimer: Characters and situations owned by Lucasfilm and Disney.
Spoilers: For all seasons of The Clone Wars and the prequel trilogy.
"Remember, Anakin," Obi -Wan tells him when he is still fuming about Yoda's decision to assign a padawan learner to him, "the master learns as much from the padawan as the padawan learns from the master."
"Oh, really," Anakin retorts, unable to pass up this opportunity. "And what did you learn from me, Master?"
"Patience, of course," Obi-Wan says, dead-pan, and the corners of his mouth twitch, with for Obi-Wan is the equivalent of kneeslapping hilarity. In truth, Obi-Wan seems to regard this entire situation as a source of endless mirth, and if Obi-Wan wasn't above any such concept as petty revenge, Anakin would have a strong suspicion as to why this is the case.
Anakin, thinking of the thirteen years old girl he's just been given responsibility for, is entirely prepared to believe Yoda meant this to be a moral lesson, but surely, there would have been other ways to give it than to throw a child at him. What's he supposed to do with her, repeat lessons in the middle of a war?
"She's older than you were," Obi-Wan says abruptly, the teasing note in his voice entirely gone, "and you're not much younger than I was when Qui-Gon died."
Anakin opens his mouth to protest that the situations aren't remotely comparable, sees that Obi-Wan isn't kidding anymore, and stays silent. The idea of Obi-Wan not as an adult who had all the answers and knew what he was doing but as a young man with confusion in his heart when their time together began is new and startling enough to make Anakin stop the entire argument, for now. Both his love for and resentment of Obi-Wan Kenobi has always been mixed up in the assumption that his Master is and has ever been the perfect Jedi, effortlessly so.
But maybe Obi-Wan hasn't always been. Maybe he has felt just like this when faced with the responsibility of raising someone to be a good Jedi: not so secretly scared, and aware that admitting to fear was impossible.
Later, he wonders whether that was the first lesson taking Ahsoka as his padawan has taught him.
As opposed to Anakin, Ahsoka was identified as force sensitive as a toddler, has grown up as a Jedi since then and does not remember any other life. The fact that she's still impulsive, opinionated, impatient and as inclined to argue with him as he ever was with Obi-Wan is oddly reassuring. He's always wondered how different he would be if he had grown up in the Temple, and if Ahsoka is anything to go by, the answer to that question is: not very much. There isn't something elusive in early Jedi training that makes being a good Jedi always out of his grasp.
None of this matters in the question of how to handle an argument with Ahsoka, of course.
"But why should I obey orders?" she demands "You disobey orders from the Council and Master Kenobi all the time!"
"This should be good," Obi-Wan comments, arms folded, radiating sardonic amusement.
"I don't disobey, I interpret orders creatively," Anakin retorts.
"Then why can't I interpret your orders creatively?"
"Because you're the padawan, and I'm the knight. When you've gone through your trials, you can interpret all you want," Anakin says, and Obi-Wan raises one hand to hide his face. Ahsoka gets a craftly look on her face.
"But what should I do," she says, "if you order me to do one thing, and a Jedi Master orders me to do something else? If it's all about who outranks whom."
This is not a question he would ever have asked Obi-Wan. He'd been too sure that Obi-Wan would never have clashed with the Council. Anakin suspect Ahsoka isn't serious about asking it, either, she just wants to back him into a verbal corner. Well, he's never been one to ignore a challenge.
"In that case, you should listen to what your heart tells you, and be mindful of the living Force," he says, doing his best to imitate Obi-Wan in mild-mannered teacher mode, and when both his padawan and his former master eye him in surprise, he adds, still as blandly as possible: "And since the Force has made me your teacher, and no one else, it means you should listen to me above anyone else as well. Clearly."
He can't keep it up any longer and winks at her. Ahsoka rolls her eyes at him, and then she grins.
"Clearly, I'll just have to be creative about that, Skyguy."
Ahsoka is good with her lightsaber, and becomes better once he starts training with her, but being constantly in the field together, often in cramped ships or hastily built camps, means there is a distinct lack of opportunity for traditional meditation. Anakin, aware meditation isn't a strength of his anyway but that it is a part of any padawan's training which can't be allowed to be neglected, decides to teach Ahsoka how to be a mechanic.
"It'll help you hone your focus, Snips," he says. "Teach you to keep out all the noise of the galaxy around you. And there are never enough good mechanics on a ship anyway, so there's never a lack of opportunity. "
"That's how you meditate?" she asks doubtfully.
"Absolutely," he affirms, though it would be more precise to say that this is his way of calming down whenever he's upset, which isn't exactly the same thing. It's something he doesn't have to think about, something he's always been good at, something from the past that's not tainted and was never taken away. And he does feel one with the Force when he's doing repairs.
"You mean it makes you happy," Ahsoka says, not challengingly. He sees the curiosity and wonder in her wide blue Togruta eyes and swallows the instinctive denial born out of the awareness that any emotion stronger than serenity could be somewhat suspicious, and that working with machines, while a necessity of life, should be regarded as inferior to the spiritual inspiration contemplation of an idea can provide.
"Yes," he says.
Her nose crinkles.
"Do I get to hone my focus on installing a holo music transmitter?" she asks, with both mischief and some eagerness in her voice. Admiral Yularen had declared just the other day that while he has nothing against soldier bringing recordings from Coruscant bands with them, any communications channel on board should only be used for the exchange of command news, not to download entertainment programs.
"Sounds like a worthy meditation project to me," Anakin says, and in the bond the Force has created between them, he feels her delight.
Early on, Anakin complains to Padmé about Ahsoka if he's truly irritated with his padawan. Complaining to other Jedi, including Obi-Wan, would mean admitting to weakness, and besides, it would feel like a betrayal; he remembers too clearly what it was like to be the gossip of the Temple when he first got there, and had to learn with children much younger than himself. How it felt to have his mistakes discussed by everyone. He wouldn't do that to Ahsoka.
Later, when he thinks Ahsoka is doing amazing things, Padmé is the only person in whose presence he keeps bringing this up, too, though for different reasons. Praise a youngling or padawan too often in the company of another Jedi, and the word "attachment" is bound to come up very soon, in disapproval. This, Anakin has learned, was why Master Plo Koon, who is very fond of Ahsoka ever since discovering her as a toddler, hasn't been chosen to train her. And attempts to share stories about his padawan with Chancellor Palpatine ended early on when the Chancellor interrupted a story about Ahsoka's bravery in the Ryloth system with a pointed: "My dear boy, I am pleased for you that young Tano did not turn out to be quite the burden you feared, but I am a busy man. Now, if there are any genuine problems you wish to talk about..."
Padmé, on the other hand, hears him out, and is even willing to store a holo shot of him and Ahsoka from the news, which, had Anakin kept it at his room in the Temple, would have been classified as unseemly vanity.
"Well, you are bragging about her," she comments matter-of-factly when Anakin mentions Palpatine's reaction with some bewilderment.
"I'm not! Am I?"
"Of course you do. You're proud of her," Padmé says. "You'll make a great father one day, Ani."
He's both pleased and worried to hear this opinion. The prospect of children is something they never talk about. It's something for the future, when the war is over, and leaving the order would not mean deserting an increasingly desperate struggle. One day.
"It's not the same," Anakin says, because it's not. Ahsoka is only a few years younger than he is, and even if she weren't, she's a Jedi. His and Padmé's children won't be Jedi. Can't be.
If they were to be Jedi, in that future world he fights for, he'd have to give them up.
The fact the Separatists keep using Droid armies means Ahsoka is a seasoned soldier before she kills an organic, living and sentient being for the first time, with her own hands. It's one of the Neimodians, not a coward like Nute Grunray but one who actually stays around when the battle turns against the Separatists. Ahsoka had intended to take him hostage in order to end the fight, but he fired a blaster at her which she deflected with her light saber, and the backlash killed him.
There was no time during the battle, but afterwards, Anakin finds her wandering aimlessly through the mess hall instead of eating with the Clones, which is what she and Anakin usually do.
"There's something not quite right with the Twilight' air system," he says, ushering her out of the mess hall. "Help me out, Snips."
She's gotten good enough to hand him the right tools before he asks, good enough, in fact, to know there's nothing wrong with the air system and that what he's doing is nothing but a routine check up, but she doesn't comment on it. Instead, she says, with a small voice:
"I always thought it would be somebody I hated. I was afraid it would be. It's so hard, keeping away from hate when you see some of the things the Seppies do. But I didn't feel anything about him when it happened. It just - happened. Is that worse or better than hate, Master?"
Above all others, there is one memory connected to killing in hate that's burned in his mind, but he shoves it aside and tries to focus on what she needs from him now, which is reassurance.
"He would not be dead if he hadn't attacked you. You did what you had to do."
"I know that," she says. "But he was alive. And now he's not. It should - shouldn't it feel like more?"
"Before I came to Coruscant," Anakin replies, not looking at her but at the intricacies of the ventilation system, "I thought Droids were alive, just as we are. I mean, I knew we built them, obviously. But it never occurred to me that this made a difference."
Usually, he doesn't talk about his past with her, not even the good parts, because she's so curious that one question would lead to another. But not in her current state of mind.
"Sometimes I still wonder." He hears her sharp intake of breath.
"Droids are machines," Ahsoka protests. "Property."
He doesn't say he used to be property, too. That is a secret for another time, if ever. "Rex was paid for, too," he says instead. "He was engineered. They all were. And they're the best men I know, other than Obi-Wan."
"The Clankers aren't like the Clones," Ahsoka says indignantly. "They're stupid, vile machines and... Why are you telling me this? You're not helping!"
"Do you really think they're alive? And that we kill them? That I've already been killing people all this time?" she whispers.
"I think those we fight would kill us if we didn't," Anakin says. "Just like the Neimodian who shot at you today. I think a lot of people - organic or otherwise - who need us to protect them would die if we don't."
She falls silent, and while he continues with his routine check up of a perfectly functioning system, trading instruments with her, he worries that he made the wrong decision. That he should have recited the Code to her instead, starting with "there is no emotion, there is peace". But that has never helped him when Obi-Wan did it.
He wonders when he stopped counting the people he killed, of either variety. He knows exactly how many there were during that night, the night he tried to drown in blood. He still knows the exact number, and how each looked. But not since then.
You can bring back droids. You can bring them back and return them to life from almost everything. Organic bodies are so fragile, and when they are broken beyond a certain point, you cannot fix them, not ever. He's always thought he should figure out a way, though, but that is neither here nor there, and Ahsoka next to him quietly takes up a tool that's not needed, either, and starts to tighten a few bolts on her own.
"You're terrible at this," Ahsoka says suddenly, but her voice doesn't sound lost anymore. Instead, it sounds firm and aggrieved, a young girl complaining. "That air system has been modified so often that it's a wonder it's still working at all."
"It's working, that's what matters," Anakin replies.
"I guess so," she says, and for a moment, he feels her hand on his when she takes the tool away from him, slightly squeezing. "Thank you, Master."
When Anakin was growing up, Obi-Wan used to take him on missions, but there was no war going on, and so there were also journeys that had no other purpose than Obi-Wan wishing to show him a world, or a star cluster. Ahsoka is past fourteen when it hits Anakin that they haven't shared anything similar. They're both serving in the army of the Republic, which means there is no time for side tours when they're in the field, and when they're on leave he spends what free time he has with Padmé, unless Padmé's own duties take her away.
Being a Jedi should be more than being a warrior, he knows this, though he also thinks the Council wants to have it both ways and is wrong to claim command positions in the army and then to refuse reporting to the Chancellor as the head of government the same way the rest of the army does. They are soldiers now, and it's ridiculous to pretend they aren't. But still, Ahsoka should learn about more than being a good soldier. Anakin tries to think of a planet they could visit en route to a mission that was conflict free and still not too much of a detour, but his first choice turns out to be a pirate's den and his next has just been hit by meteors and hasn't even begun to recover from this by the time they visit. After this, he gives up.
They're shipwrecked on Felucia - more pirates, Hondo, no less, and bounty hunters to boot, but also a village to protect - when Ahsoka wakes him up early in the morning because she thinks she's heard the buzz of a battledroid. As it turns out, she's wrong; it probably was a dream. It's an hour or so before dawn, but they're both too alert to go back to sleep, so they decide to patrol around the parameters of the village. The rich vegetation of Felucia is full of noises made by animals and plants alike, and Anakin feels the Force flowing through them all, feels the connection, and a small part of him that is Tatooine shaped and eternally expecting the desert still thinks it's wondrous planets can be like this.
There are no signs of Hondo's people scouting, let alone about to attack, and they could return to the hut they've been given, but he feels a strange reluctance to do so. Then Ahsoka asks softly: "Could we wait for the sunrise? Maybe we're missing something?", and he nods, though he's sure there isn't something they're missing.
At least no pirates or battle droids. Ahsoka is sitting next to him on a large, strong bit of foliage, her skin glowing red in the rising sun as she takes in the morning, and the quiet delight she radiates at him through the Force feels like something so elusive and long gone that he'd almost forgotten how to find it, before she did it for him.
It feels like peace.
Obi-Wan and Anakin talk about Mortis only once, directly after it happened. Obi-Wan suggests it didn't happen at all, proved by the fact their ship only disappeared for a moment, as Rex testifies, and that it was a vision the three of them shared - Obi-Wan, Ahsoka and Anakin himself. A gift from the Force, or maybe a warning, or both, but a vision, regardless.
"If it was a shared vision, we should remember the same things, and we don't," Anakin says, and Obi-Wan looks troubled. Obi-Wan is the only one who doesn't have any holes in his memory regarding what happened, or didn't, on Mortis, the planet which was or wasn't and where they encountered what appeared to be the personifications of three aspects of the Force. Anakin can't remember what happened after he was alone with the Son, but given Ahsoka can't recall what happened when the Son took her captive, either, and given Anakin has seen what happened to her then, he has a pretty good idea of what his own missing memory must be about.
"You did bring balance in the end," Obi-Wan says . "That's what important."
After getting both the light and the dark side killed, Anakin doesn't reply, because he doesn't really want to talk about it, either, or even think about it. Think about any of it. Unfortunately, he doesn't have that luxury. Obi-Wan gladly drops the subject after that one conversation, but Ahsoka does not. She corners Anakin as soon as Obi-Wan is out of earshot.
"I fell, didn't I?" she asks, plaintively. She's more self possessed than she used to be, but she still always shows when she's worried, or angry. "I worked for the Son. Just like you did later. And neither of us can remember why. What kind of vision was that, Master? What's the point of it, when we can't remember why?"
Precisely why Anakin doesn't believe it has been a vision, shared or otherwise. Which is even more disconcerting than if it had been. He doesn't remember what made him cooperate with the Son anymore than Ahsoka does, but he remembers everything else. Most of all, he remembers Ahsoka dying right in front of him, remembers channeling the Daughter's ebbing life into her in order to bring her back.
He did bring her back. She's sitting next to him, unhappy but blessedly alive. But if this was what it meant to be the Chosen One, he should have been able to do it for his mother. And he hasn't been. Too weak, he'd been too weak, and too late, not listening to his visions in time, and yet Mortis proved it could be done, he could do it, could stop people from dying.
If it was possible once, then it has to be possible again.
These thoughts aren't any help to Ahsoka now, though, and so he pushes them away for now. Briefly, he considers borrowing Obi-Wan's answer and discards it, because Ahsoka would know he doesn't mean it.
"Maybe the point was just so I find out you hate it when I call you Snips," he says instead, because he doesn't have any real answers for her, and giving cryptic non-answers is Master Yoda's specialty, not his. Joking is their default if nothing else works, and besides, she has said that, angry and advancing, her veins pulsating prominently in her tiny shape through whatever the Son had done to her. "You could have told me, you know."
Ahsoka huffs, folding her arms in the same way he does, and there's a tiny flicker of amusement in her. "Like you ever listen. And I don't. Hate it, I mean. Maybe I did at the start. Skyguy." Then her worried expression returns.
"What else did I say, when I was - you know?"
He had asked Obi-Wan as much about his own time with the Son, but Obi-Wan hadn't been able to give him any information, either because he didn't want to or because he truly couldn't; it was hard to tell with Obi-Wan.
"Something that makes me think my pearls of wisdom sound like constant criticism to you. Which they wouldn't if you'd just pay more attention to covering your left side when you use your shoto and do everything else I tell you to do with an awe-struck expression. Yes, that was the point of the vision, clearly. To make you realize this."
She hits him on the arm. She's nearly fifteen now, and a trained fighter capable of taking on Grieveous and staying alive for longer than five minutes; when she hits him, it hurts.
"You're so full of it, Master."
"Full of wisdom? I agree."
They're now fully immersed in banter , familiar and comforting, and as they trade jabs he can sense her worries fade along with his memory of what it had been like to see her die, and to bring her back. Fade, but not disappear. Whatever true lessons Mortis held for them probably still wait to be learned in the future.
When Obi-Wan dies - when Obi-Wan fakes his death, though Anakin won't find out this for a few more weeks, and when he does, the sense of betrayal won't go away for a long while -, Ahsoka is right next to him, and it's this that keeps Anakin from listening to the voice that tells him to drown the rage and loss that engulfs him in the way he has done once before.
Obi-Wan wouldn't want to be avenged, would undoubtedly be horrified at Anakin even contemplating it. But Obi-Wan isn't there anymore, won't be there again, not ever, and there is no justice in the scum who is responsible still being alive.
Ahsoka looks at him, and Anakin uses all the willpower he has to contain himself. This is no vision and no planet on another plane of reality. If he gives into the darkness again, nobody would be able to reverse it, and it would betray everything he tries to be for her.
Somehow, they muddle through the next few days, tracking down Obi-Wan's killer, or so they think, bringing him in alive. Then there's a funeral and an endless parade of Obi-Wan's friends to go through ; and an emptiness of weeks threatening to stretch into months in which Anakin has time to consider everything he never told Obi-Wan, and just how much he failed him.
When he finds out Obi-Wan is alive, well, and has in fact built the entire scenario of his death around Anakin's reaction because Obi-Wan doesn't believe him capable of faking it for the benefit of his targets, Anakin is seriously tempted to strangle him. Ahsoka keeps him from giving into that particular impulse as well.
"Well, you are a terrible liar, Master," she says matter of factly when he's fuming about the deception, not bothering anymore to keep up the pretense of not critisizing another Jedi in the earshot of a padawan.
"That's not the point! Even if it were true. Which it's not. He could have let me know afterwards, at least."
And he didn't. None of them did, Yoda, Master Windu, the rest of the Council: they'd rather have him believe in Obi-Wan's death for weeks than trust him with the truth. Well, he should have expected this from the Council. They hadn't trusted him since they first saw him. But Obi-Wan...
Anakin hits the Temple wall with enough force to put a slight dent in it, centuries hardened carbonate density of the material not withstanding. Which would be deeply satisfying at this point, but unfortunately, this is also enough force to leave some circuits in his artificial hand damaged, which he senses right away. He curses in Huttese, which feels far better than Basic to him right now.
"Do you think they'll make you repair it?" Ahsoka asks, staring at the dent in the wall and looking downright impressed.
"They'll have to wait until I've repaired myself," he mutters, and explains the problem.
"You don't have to," Ahsoka says immediately. "Let me do that."
Anakin hesitates. He's taught her a lot, but as much delicacy as working on droid circuitry requires, his hand is yet another issue. After the initial adjustment by medical droids, he's made some modifications when necessary and has never let anyone else touch it. That's why he's wearing gloves most of the time.
"Don't you trust me?" she asks, and he gives in.
They're sitting in his room for an hour while she removes the outer shell to get at the damaged circuitry, just like he taught her; utterly focused, no gesture wasted, though when she's replacing a wire, she hesitates for a moment, and Anakin has to bite his tongue so he doesn't tell her which one to choose. He knows she hates it when he does that.
"There," Ahsoka says triumphantly after putting back the last bit of durasteel. "Told you I could patch you up, Master."
He's known she could for a while, but he hadn't understood how much he depends on it until now.
Darth Vader has his own opinions on lessons learned through Ahsoka Tano. Firstly, he considers her another glaring example of Anakin Skywalker's inability to protect and keep anyone Skywalker cared about. When the Jedi Council abandoned her, Anakin Skywalker should have killed them all right then and there instead of uselessly raging but still indulging in his pathetic belief in justice, that idea that if only he found the true killer and proved Ahsoka's innocence, all would be well again. And later, when she put her Padawan beads in his hand and told him she could no longer stay in the Order, he should have either gone with her, or should have made her stay. He could have. He should have. But Anakin Skywalker watched her leave, weak fool that he was, and pathetically went on believing she would one day return until this idea was burnt out of him along with a great many other weaknesses in the fires of Mustafar.
Secondly, Darth Vader sees Ahsoka Tano as a lesson in why the past must be eliminated. He is not Anakin Skywalker; that name has no longer any meaning for him, and none of Anakin Skywalker's weaknesses are his. His entire existence is built around this conviction. But Ahsoka Tano embodies all of Anakin Skywalker's mistaken beliefs. She is everything that Skywalker has once thought a Jedi should be: brave without being cruel, compassionate without being distant, never a hypocrite, always true to her ideals, taking her failures not as judgment but as reason to try again, never content to let injustice stand.
As long as she lives, she will make what remains of Anakin Skywalker long for what cannot be, and that longing alone is a betrayal, because the promise of Darth Vader, of the creation of Vader, was that nothing like this will ever be felt again. So maybe the last lesson is this: he won't be able to be truly Vader until she's gone, gone beyond all hope and longing and possible futures, just as Anakin Skywalker was supposed to be.
He should have known fate would bring her back for this.