Just before Ahsoka turned fourteen, she almost died twice in the span of just a couple of days. Once, on Geonosis, buried under the rubble of the droid factory that Ahsoka was prepared to die to destroy, and then, a second time aboard a medical frigate infested with Geonisian brain worms. Back then, Anakin had not been prepared to lose his Padawan.
She woke up in the medical bay to find her vision swarmed, immediately, with the worried, tired face of her young master, as he tucked the blanket back around her. She thought, vaguely (her thoughts were still a little clouded and disorganized, and she was still very cold), that it was possible that she had been asleep for days, and that Anakin had, likewise, been away for that long. But in spite of the bags under his eyes, he was soft, and gentle, and attentive to Ahsoka, and he grinned at her in that toothy reckless way that made Obi Wan nervous and calmed Ahsoka's frazzled nerves. He was, in short, relieved, and he rarely left her side for more than a few minutes at a time, until Obi Wan came to get him for "important Jedi business," which Ahsoka figured out later was the only way to ever get Anakin away from something that had so captured his attention and into a bed. When Obi Wan entered the medical bay (where Ahsoka personally felt she had been for too long already), Anakin was dozing at her bedside.
Ahsoka sat up when Obi Wan entered, and he smiled at her warmly. "Do you mind if I steal your master from you, Ahsoka?" he asked, in a respectful way, but in a way that Ahsoka knew she didn't really have a choice. Ahsoka didn't mind. Anakin was falling asleep on her leg, and she was beginning to lose feeling in it. Obi Wan gently shook Anakin awake, and he grumbled up at him, but after a few seconds, Anakin was off, but not before making an immeasurable amount of very earnest apologies for leaving her.
As they grew closer, and older, but before Barriss attacked the Jedi and Ahsoka had to leave it all behind (leave him behind), Anakin told Ahsoka the truth.
That on their way back to Coruscant, unable to get any information out of Poggle (a stupid name anyway, Anakin told her) Anakin had resorted to some very un-Jedi like behavior. Behavior he should have felt ashamed for, but he wasn't, because it saved Ahsoka's life, and he wasn't going to apologize for it. Not to her, not to Obi Wan, not to the Council.
"What'd you do?" she wondered, but she said it out loud, and Anakin started, surprised by her further inquiry into the subject. (She never knew what Anakin expected after he made confessions like these, but she suspects that he never expected anything except for Ahsoka to listen. In these moments, they were not Master and Padawan, but two friends, two equals. She liked it this way, more than she did the other.) She looked at him, and he looked at her.
And just as quickly he looked away. "It doesn't matter, Ahsoka," he insisted. He flexed his durasteel hand. He was always doing that recently, like it was bothering him, or that it bothered him, that there was a part of him that wasn't quite natural. (Not that that mattered now. Not that any of it mattered now.)
Ahsoka grinned and elbowed him in the gut. "Come on, Skyguy, what'd you do?" she asked, this time like she meant it. Anakin didn't smile. He didn't even meet her eyes.
"Be serious, Ahsoka," he said sternly. He looked at her. His blue eyes seemed awfully dark and stormy just then. "I tortured him. But I had no other choice." And he refused to say more, except, once, a few weeks later, that he could "squeeze the truth" out of anyone he liked, and that he'd done it before, more than once. (He seemed wild then, even wilder than he seemed now.)
She remembers that now, that specific string of memories, as she sees him for the first time, towering over Ezra. Instead of the bright rage she was expecting from him, she feels nothingness. Cold (he was always cold in the Force, but at least he was always bright, and at least he was always warm to her). Dark. Nothingness. He didn't care about Ezra's fear (though he could feel it, certainly), and he didn't notice her approach. His cape flew out behind him, and he knocked Ezra's lightsaber out of his hand as easily as he would swat a fly, and both Ezra and the lightsaber crashed to the ground. Ezra's lightsaber shattered. Ezra looked at it, heartbroken. It was a monstrosity of a thing, but Ahsoka liked it, like she liked him. She thought it was a weapon for this new age they were in. Something traditional, something new. A little bit of both, and very adaptable to the situation. But Darth Vader didn't care about Ezra's lightsaber. Darth Vader didn't care about anything. That is what Ahsoka felt every time she looked for him. The nothingness where Anakin Skywalker used to be. She used to think it was because he had been killed in the Jedi Purge.
All Darth Vader wants to do is kill Ezra and take the holocron. In that order. Ahsoka isn't sure whether he will delight in Ezra's death, whether it will mean anything to him, whether he will remember how Ezra, a sixteen-year-old untrained Jedi, bravely stood up to him, and fought him until his dying breath. She doesn't know if he will step over Ezra's body when it is done and forget that there had ever been any life in it at all.
She doesn't know which is worse.
She announces herself, and she tries to contain her rage, honed and made dangerous by the man standing before her. She fails. It drags itself over each word out of her mouth, and she's shaking with it, shaking with rage in a way she hasn't in years. Since before she left the order. Since before it was the two of them, Skyguy and Snips, against the whole galaxy.
At least she catches his attention. He recognizes her immediately. Even before Darth Vader turns to her, she knows that he recognizes her. That was the other thing Ahsoka felt through the Force every time she looked for Darth Vader. He was looking for her too. He was longing for her. She turns, and her heart drops down to her stomach and her blood runs cold with dread. For a second, Ahsoka thinks he might speak with Anakin's voice.
He doesn't. He moves like Anakin, he feels like Anakin (Anakin twisted and dark and empty, but Anakin, nonetheless), but he doesn't look like Anakin and he doesn't sound like Anakin. He doesn't even talk like Anakin. Every word is slow and purposeful. It shakes the foundation of the temple around them. She never knew Anakin to speak with any purpose, and she never knew Anakin to use the word "foretold" in a sentence that wasn't about his prophecy, or to mock Master Yoda or Obi Wan. Most of what Anakin had to say was light, and when it was serious –nonsense. When he was angry he would growl and yell and get physical, and throw around swear words like it was his job. When he was sad he would clam up or spout poetic nonsense that she was sure made sense to him, but sounded like gibberish to everyone else. But never did he seem so calm, so calculated.
This, she realizes suddenly, might be partly because of the mask, keeping his voice and his breath even, unchanging. She heard that he was severely injured, around the time the Republic fell. Around the time that he fell. And he is, after all, still spewing nonsense that she's sure he believes.
He's offering her mercy, or he's offering her the promise of mercy, and someone untrained in the Force might think, might believe, that this is a business transaction. If you give me the Jedi, you can have your life. But Anakin could never hide his feelings, Anakin could never control his feelings, and she feels something that could be construed as hope, if there was such a thing for a creature like Darth Vader. It's closer to longing. To have Ahsoka by his side again. It's closer to fear that she will walk away from him again, that he would lose her forever. That she would betray him. Again.
Her blood boils. She is overcome with rage, but she spent years after she left the Order learning to control it. Anakin had let her use her fury to power her without shame. Any other Jedi would have reprimanded her, but Anakin smiled and called her "Snips," or ignored her, and sometimes, he even encouraged her, and the two of them, set ablaze, would be close to unstoppable, if not for a cool reminder somewhere in the back of her mind that she could be better than this. Often, Ahsoka had to pull Anakin back from the ledge of anger. The longer the war went on, the more and more she did.
But since the time that the war has ended, and Ahsoka has learned to control her anger. Not to use it to fuel her power, in an unending cycle of destruction like the Sith, and not to disregard it like a Jedi, but simply to acknowledge it and let it go in one short, effective burst.
She knows that there's no one left, and it's because of him. Rumor has it, he even killed Obi Wan. She feels sick to her stomach. The world rolls beneath her feet. She wants to remind him of what he's done, even if it's pointless, even if he doesn't care. "There are no more Jedi," she spits. "You and your Inquisitors have seen to that."
Darth Vader simply turns, and points his red lightsaber at Ezra. It looks a lot like Anakin's old one. She wonders what happened to it. She wonders stupidly if it's the same one. "Maybe this child will confess what you will not," he says simply. Ezra looks at Ahsoka, startled, but determined. Determined in a way Ahsoka used to be, when she was his age. Principled, angry, committed. Ezra doesn't know anything, but he's ready to die before he would tell Vader that. And Vader doesn't care either way. He was already planning on killing Ezra.
Every second that Ahsoka stands there, facing Darth Vader, her grip on the truth slips further and further away from her. She knows it's Anakin, behind that mask. She feels Anakin behind that mask and all the machinery that make him up now. But Anakin, the Anakin she knew and the Anakin she loved, the Anakin who loved her, would never hurt a kid. Not her Anakin. He wouldn't take such pleasure in unnecessary, horrible, gratuitous violence. Ezra had done nothing but stand in his way, and she could feel Vader's anticipation, waiting to strike down yet another Jedi.
"I was beginning to believe I knew who you were, behind that mask," she growls. "But it's impossible. My master could never be as vile as you!"
That catches his attention. Vader turns his head sharply towards her, and she thinks she can hear some of Anakin's old growl, through his mask. "Anakin Skywalker was weak," he tells her. His lightsaber is still pointed towards Ezra. It casts a horrible red glow onto his face, and he inches a few centimeters away from it. Vader doesn't notice. "I destroyed him."
Ahsoka's heart drops. She closes her eyes. "Then I will avenge his death," she whispers.
When Ahsoka was still Anakin's Padawan, when Anakin was still Anakin, when Obi Wan went undercover as Rako Hardeen and they thought that he was dead, Anakin spent the better part of two days in grief-turned-rage. After Anakin delivered what he believed, at the time, to be Rako Hardeen to the anxious clones at the prison on Coruscant he deflated. All of the Jedi in the temple could feel the anger bubbling beneath Anakin's surface since the time that Obi Wan fell from the building. He let it propel him towards the sniper and let it keep him upright for as long as it took to drop Hardeen at the feet of a clone trooper who was just as ready to give Hardeen hell as Anakin was. But it was all there was. Fear tempered with grief, overflowing in the only way Anakin knew how. But now, on the way back to the temple, there was nothing left of that rage. He was overwhelmed by grief –difficult for Ahsoka to distinguish from her own –and fear. His fear was devastating, but at least that Ahsoka knew didn't belong to her.
He stared into the traffic ahead of him absently. At least he wasn't flying recklessly, like he was the only one around, the way he had been when they went to pick up Hardeen. But once or twice, he barely avoided a head-on collision, as he swerved into oncoming traffic. Ahsoka began to think he might have been doing it on purpose. She touched his arm gently. He didn't react.
"Do you wanna switch places, Master?" she asked. Anakin shook his head and gripped the controls tighter. His leather gloves groaned in protest, and she could even hear the mechanisms in his prosthetic arm whirring as he moved contrary to its design. "Anakin," she said softly. "Are you okay?" It was a stupid question. Neither of them were okay. But Ahsoka at least trusted herself to get them back to the temple in one piece. She wanted to live to see a day where she was okay.
Anakin looked at her sharply, but he didn't say anything. He avoided another collision without looking away from her and sped away from the blaring horns of angry motorists without even acknowledging them. He turned his attention back to the front.
"Seriously, Skyguy, if you don't get a grip, we're gonna have to switch," she muttered. She had no idea if Anakin heard her.
After a few more minutes of ascending levels back to the gleaming center of Coruscant, Anakin spoke, finally. "Ahsoka," he growled. She didn't know if he was angry or if hours of crying and then screaming at Hardeen and Ahsoka and the Jedi Council left his voice hoarse. She thought it was probably both. Ahsoka didn't say anything. "If some scumbag with half a brain and a blaster ever takes me out, you better make sure they're dead before the Jedi even know that I'm gone." He didn't say anything else, and Ahsoka, who, after all, was only fifteen at the time, was too tired to continue the conversation and tried, without much success, to hide her tears.
She doesn't try to hide anything now. She can only think that Anakin (her Anakin) would want her to do this for him. The only way left to honor his memory is to kill what he has become. Vader's words echo in her mind, and she realizes that if Anakin is dead to Vader, then Anakin is dead, and Vader took his place. Vader killed her master, and that old spark flared up inside of her again, the spark of anger that Anakin worked so hard to make precise and righteous. Maybe, all the time, it was for this. So she could avenge Anakin's death when he inevitably became an unrecognizable monster.
"Revenge is not the Jedi way," Vader reminds her, as if in his past life, as a Jedi, his black and white view of justice never got him into trouble with the Order on several occasions, as if his incidence of retaliating with violence didn't cause more problems for the Jedi than the whole three years of the war combined, as if he didn't take Ahsoka along with him when they went to pick up Rako Hardeen so that she could watch him as he killed the man who he believed killed Obi Wan, and then proceeded to follow him around the galaxy in an attempt to get "justice."
As if less than a year later, Ahsoka left the order and Anakin didn't spend every moment after that reminding her how much it hurt him. As if Ahsoka was still a Jedi. As if Ahsoka's presence in his life during the end of the Clone Wars couldn't have stopped all of this.
No, Ahsoka isn't a Jedi. She isn't bound by their codes.
She ignites her lightsabers and leaps towards him.
They fight. It's a blur of light and power, and it seems, for a moment that they are equally matched. He was injured, when Obi Wan died, but he's still one of the most powerful Jedi (no –Sith, she reminds herself harshly) that she's ever met. She knows the way he fights better than anyone else. She fought beside him for almost three years, he's the one who taught her. It's the only advantage that she has. Her heart aches when she has a moment to reflect; the way he advances towards her, the power behind each blow, the fluidity of each movement –even impaired by the suit –like he was born with a lightsaber in his hand, make it impossible for it to be anyone but Anakin. Any doubts she might have had have been extinguished. She's known for months, she knew as soon as he arrived on Malachor, but rumors have a way of being lies, and the Force isn't as reliable as it used to be, so shrouded in darkness as it is. But she could not pretend, fighting him now, that Darth Vader was anyone but Anakin Skywalker. She would kill him if she could, but she knew there was only one person who was truly a match for him –and Anakin had killed Obi Wan over fifteen years ago.
She is going to die. She's in midair when she realizes this, but it doesn't scare her like it used to. So many of her friends have gone before her, and she longs to join them as a part of the Force. And it will be an honor to go out ridding the galaxy of Darth Vader, a warlord and a murderer –a ruthless, faceless monster. She tries not to think of his face under the mask, the blue eyes she remembers. The way his whole body used to shake when he laughed and how his smile used to light up the whole room. The crease in his forehead and the lines around his eyes when he got angry. How often he used to argue with Obi Wan, and the smirk he rewarded Ahsoka with when Obi Wan ultimately gave in. How gently and urgently he hugged Ahsoka after she died on Mortis. The tears gleaming in his eyes and running down his nose more times than Anakin would ever admit. Not a perfect Jedi or a perfect teacher, but a loyal friend. A good friend. Her lightsabers meet his. He pushes back at her with an inhuman amount of strength, and it takes all she has in her to resist the force of his blows.
She's going to die, but she's not going to let him take Ezra. Ahsoka's only thought is to get Vader as far away from Ezra and the holocron as possible. She throws out her hand and blasts him back with the Force. He tumbles away from her, but he's back on his feet just as quickly, and so Ahsoka forces him back blow by blow by blow. Away from Ezra. Around the perimeter of the temple, close to the edge.
Now he's forcing her back, and she can't get a good shot at him. It's taking all she has to keep him from landing a blow. He's so fast, so strong. A full Jedi, a full Sith. And she's –what? A part-timer? The longer they're in the temple, the stronger he seems to grow, his anger surging, using it to fuel him. Ahsoka can't seem to muster up enough of anything to get the upper hand for longer than a few seconds. But she will not spend her last moments surrendering to the Dark Side. She will not let Vader take her without giving everything she has.
But Vader's anger is precise and Ahsoka's is clumsy and tinged with grief for a lost loved one who's standing right in front of her. She swipes madly at his armored stomach, but he jumps back and she misses entirely. With his free hand, and with Ahsoka completely unprepared, Vader throws her from the ledge of the temple. She tumbles to the ground as Vader watches, and she hopes that Ezra gets away before Vader tears himself away from his former apprentice, dying below him.
Ahsoka comes to, and she hears the temple crumbling around her. Shaking. Trembling. The power of the Dark Side of the Force surges through her, directing her attention above her. Anakin –Vader –still determined to get what he came for. Ezra, sixteen, afraid and angry, his feelings amplified by the heaving of the Force from the temple. Ahsoka wastes no time, trying to contain her own anger, her own grief.
Ezra's voice, small and fighting to be heard over the roar of the temple and Vader's breathing. "Kanan! It's him!" Shaking, trembling, and holding onto the holocron and Kanan with a death grip.
Kanan, strong but afraid, a man forged from war, from living his life in fear of being hunted down and killed just for being born into the Force, into the Jedi. He's going to save Ezra, even if he's blind. "I know," he says. He's said it a thousand times.
It's too hard, Kanan. I can't do it. It's too hard.
I know, Ezra
For a blinding, glorious second, Ahsoka lets her rage guide her. Her anger at Anakin, at Vader, at herself for letting it happen. She is determined that Ezra and Kanan will escape and Vader and the Empire will fail, at least in this; they will not get their slimy little hands on whatever hellish power the temple holds, they will not grow even more powerful, they will not kill any more Jedi. If it's the last thing that Ahsoka does, then she will die knowing that she served the Force and the Republic and Freedom and Anakin. She will die a hero. To save two Jedi and countless innocent lives will be worth the sacrifice. The Galaxy needs Jedi after all, and Ahsoka is not a Jedi anymore.
For a blinding, glorious second, Ahsoka lets her rage guide her and she knows what she must do. She jumps at Vader, who is quick enough to sense her coming. He blocks the brunt of her attack, but Ahsoka slashes with all the fury she can manage at his mask. She might not be able to beat him, but she's pretty sure his own body can. If she aims high she has a better shot, because Anakin always had a bad habit of forgetting to protect his face and because Ahsoka knows that she can get high enough to get him.
And she wants to see his face, she wants to rip off this persona that he's forged, to look him in his eyes, blue or yellow, and force him to look with his own eyes on the damage that he has done. Vader shouts out in surprise, and a surge of pain shoots through the Force. He flings Ahsoka off of him and she falls to ground, their backs to each other.
Faintly, over the hum of the Force, and Vader's labored breathing, she can hear Ezra calling her name. Desperate to leave. Desperate to leave in one piece. She pushes herself to her feet, slowly. Behind her, Vader does the same.
Ahsoka starts. Her heart plummets. Her blood runs cold.
It's not Ezra's voice, it's not Kanan's voice. It's not even Vader's voice.
Anakin calls out to her, and he sounds older and more tired than he did the last time they met, but it is unmistakably Anakin's voice. Boyish, confident, hurt. Her stomach lurches at the sound of her name in a voice that doesn't exist anymore. How tenderly, even now, he says it.
No. Maybe she's imagining things. Maybe he speaks like that, soft and flat like he used to, under the mask because Vader's voice speaks for him. Maybe she wants to hear Anakin badly enough that she's imagining his voice, and when she turns around his mask will be intact, or maybe he's just saying it, and it doesn't mean anything to him. Just the name of another dead Jedi.
But she turns, slowly, and she can't help but hope that it won't be Vader who faces her now, but Anakin Skywalker, young, blue eyed, full of love in spite of everything that life and the Jedi have thrown at him. (She doesn't think about how she's older than he was the last time he saw him –how he was still Anakin, unconventional Jedi knight, determined and able to save everyone he loved. How glad he was to see her then, underneath all of his anger at her for leaving.)
It's not Anakin who faces her now, but it's not Vader either. She did a number on his mask, but she can't feel the satisfaction she was expecting to. He's wheezing, and it's not the mechanical breathing she's come to recognize as Darth Vader's trademark of terror. His ragged breaths squeeze their way out of his damaged lungs. His eye, the one that's looking out at her from his mask, is yellow and squinted in pain. He's kneeling, his hand resting on his knee, struggling to his feet. Yet, it is unmistakably Anakin. The lines on his face –deeper than they were when she met him –and the shape of his yellow eye (the very hint of blue behind the yellow). She's reminded of an Anakin she can barely recall, when he and the Force were barely separable, when he fell to keep this Anakin at bay.
He meets her eye, and her throat constricts. How could this happen to you? she wonders. She thinks, in this moment, she could take the emperor on alone. Damn Yoda and every foolish Jedi who have tried. She could do it now. She could kill him for taking Anakin from her.
"Ahsoka," he wheezes again, and it dawns on Ahsoka that he doesn't even know what he's saying. Just kneeling here, in front of her, reaching out reflexively. Like they used to.
"Anakin," Ahsoka breathes. His name escapes through her lips, and she wants so badly to take it back before it's even out of her mouth. She's spent so long coming to terms with this, with Anakin's death, with her master the Sith who killed her friends and so Anakin's death a second time over. It's not Anakin. Anakin could never be the person standing in front of her now. Vader doesn't believe himself to be Anakin. It's not Anakin.
She wonders when she'll start believing it.
He climbs to his feet. Slowly. He won't break eye contact with her, and even though he looms over her menacingly, Ahsoka can't help but see the familiar slope of his shoulders and the same (though she suspects different) long limbs, and relax, as if it were just her Anakin. The Force quivers at his fingertips, and the ground shakes at his feet. It's Anakin in the way his eyebrows (or one, singular eyebrow that's not hidden behind the black mask and that is barely there on his scarred face) are drawn together in concern. Vader sounds almost human when he breathes, and he looks a lot like Anakin when he was at his very worst.
His very worst in Ahsoka's memory was when Obi Wan "died." He shut everyone out, even Padmé –not that Ahsoka knew about their relationship. But Padmé touched his shoulder gently at the funeral and asked him to come home with her, and all the Jedi, who had to earlier that evening physically pull Anakin off of Obi Wan's body, ignored this. She led him away at the end, and held his hands in hers. She spoke softly to him, occasionally wiping tears away from the bridge of his nose. Anakin wouldn't meet her eyes. When Ahsoka came to get him, hours later, they were still there. Anakin was still crying.
"Master?" Ahsoka said carefully. Padmé, for once, didn't let go of Anakin when she entered Anakin and Padmé's little sphere of privacy. They were at the end of a deserted hallway in the Jedi Temple, but it still felt very private. Anakin didn't look at Ahsoka. Anakin didn't look at anything except the floor. Ahsoka looked at Padmé. Padmé looked back at Ahsoka, daring her to say something. "Uh…" is what Ahsoka said. "The council says they want to speak to you, Master."
Padmé kissed him then, right in front of Ahsoka. She kissed him on his forehead, standing on her toes and pulling his neck down to reach him. And then she kissed his hands. Each one. "Think about it, Ani," she sighed. She looked as tired and as upset as Ahsoka felt. And then, Padmé kissed Anakin on the lips. It was chaste and quick, but Anakin looked like he was melting when she kissed him, and like he died when she pulled away. Padmé left his side. Anakin deflated even further, if it was possible.
Padmé stopped by Ahsoka's side and gave her a hug. A full, bone breaking hug. "I'm so sorry, Ahsoka," she said, and when Padmé pulled away there were fresh tears on her cheeks. Anakin stood in the corner of a long hallway, watching Padmé leave, and Ahsoka had never seen him look so lost.
Anakin, at his worst, was in the Council Chambers, where he finally found his voice. The things he said would have made Obi Wan shudder with disapproval. He said them about Hardeen, who shot Obi Wan, and the Council, who existed and that was enough for Anakin, and Obi Wan, who died. They told him where to find Rako Hardeen. On the way to the speeder and on the descent to the slimehole they found him in, he said them about Ahsoka, who couldn't save him, and Padmé, who was "making his death seem noble," and then he said them about himself. What he said specifically was that he was the one who should have been shot instead. Then, at least the Jedi wouldn't have to mourn anyone. What he said specifically was that if he had been shot, then Obi Wan would have caught the shitbag before he had the chance to run off and kill anymore Jedi. He repeated all of these sentiments to Rako Hardeen –who was really Obi Wan –with a few more punches to the gut thrown in.
Anakin at his worst was in that slimehole where they found Hardeen, lightsaber out, trembling in the Force. Anakin at his worst was in the backroom where Hardeen –Obi Wan –was drunk, where Anakin threw him around like it could make him feel better to make some noise, to yell, to scream, to break, where he was teetering close to the edge of killing Obi Wan, for real this time, and for once, Ahsoka didn't hold him back. Anakin at his worst was at the saloon on Nal Hutta, which put Anakin off anyway, throwing bouncers around like they were nothing to him, his hand closing into a fist, demanding to know where Obi Wan's killer was, when a few credits would have worked just as well. Anakin at his worst was when he jumped off the ship and left Ahsoka to pilot it. He was going to bring Hardeen's ship down singlehandedly if he had to. He was going to rip Hardeen to pieces. And he would have. If Hardeen hadn't been Obi Wan.
Anakin at his worst was after Obi Wan put his face back on, and, after days of Anakin pretending like it didn't matter, Ahsoka found Anakin with his hand around Obi Wan's throat (his real hand around Obi Wan's real throat, not crushing his larynx through the Force). Anakin was shouting and Obi Wan was crying, but he wasn't fighting Anakin. Ahsoka pulled Anakin off of Obi Wan. Anakin looked at him. "I don't understand why you didn't tell me," he croaked. He wiped his eyes. Obi Wan rubbed his throat, but he didn't answer. Anakin looked at Ahsoka, and turned to leave. "Come on, Snips. Let's go."
Anakin at his truly worst was about a year and a half later, in the Council Chambers, where the younglings were hiding from the clones. They thought he was there to rescue them. They were wrong. His lightsaber trembled for a second, and then, it was extinguished. The younglings were all dead. There would be no new Jedi. But Ahsoka wasn't around for that. Ahsoka had only heard rumors, about how he later killed Padmé when she refused to join him, and then killed Obi Wan, who managed to set him on fire before he died. But she wasn't there. She wasn't there to stop it.
This is Anakin Skywalker, undone. She let this happen, she let him down. He lost his balance without her by his side, and balance was not so easily maintained for anyone, especially not Anakin. If she hadn't walked away, if she hadn't been so selfish, then maybe, just maybe, Anakin would be alive. Anakin would be himself, instead of a horrifying, terrible shell of who he used to be. Vader is something out of a nightmare, but he's a reflection of all the things that Anakin worked to keep under control, all the things Ahsoka pretended didn't exist in her.
But he's looking at her now, out of the crack in his mask. It's Anakin staring back at her, and Ahsoka can remember him at his best too. Gleaming with pride and life. After the first time they worked together and after some very grudging bonding, his gentle acceptance of Ahsoka into his life. "You're reckless, little one," he said, as if he wasn't. He was so tender with her in that moment. "You never would have made it as Obi Wan's Padawan," he said, as if Obi Wan wasn't at least as reckless as Ahsoka. "But you might make it as mine." He smiled at her timidly. Anakin Skywalker, timid. Back when she thought he was dead, it made Ahsoka laugh.
Every moment they spent together, everything he taught her, every rule they bent and every life they saved flashes before her eyes now. Anakin Skywalker used to be radiant.
Now he's just sad and menacing and evil. But there's still a part of him left, and Ahsoka knows for sure that they're going to die now. The temple is collapsing around them, and there's no way that Ahsoka will be able to convince him to come with them, and even if she did, how would she explain it to the rebels. Her rebels. How would she explain to Ezra? How would she tell Rex?
Ahsoka, at that very instant, wants to tell Anakin about Rex, about how he's still fighting, all these years later. She looks at him. Ezra is calling to her. She knows what she has to do. It's what she should have done, when she was sixteen.
"I won't leave you," she says. Ezra's still calling to her, begging her to come on. She's not abandoning him. She's making a choice. They got along fine without her before, and they'll get along fine without her now. There has never been another choice. Sixteen years ago, she just made the wrong one. She never once left Anakin before, not ever. Not when he was fanatical or angry or outright mean. He was kind, most of the time, and loyal, and he loved her. He was her teacher, her master, her friend. She was there to talk him down or pull him back until she wasn't. But now, they're both going to die. At least, they'll be together. Master and Padawan reunited, though neither one is a Jedi anymore. They both chose wrong, she supposes. "Not this time."
Doesn't Anakin Skywalker deserve the chance to die as himself?
For a moment, it seems like Anakin considers it, considers an offer Ahsoka can't make, an offer they both know he doesn't deserve. His glare softens some, his rage abates a little. She can feel him consider what it would mean, to be with her again. To live with someone who would love him, and fight for him, instead of use him, hate him, fear him.
But the moment passes as soon as it comes, and Vader returns, steeling himself against all the soft feelings he had for Ahsoka as Anakin Skywalker. A wave of betrayal washes over Ahsoka, and she doesn't know if it's her betrayal directed towards him, for believing that he could be different, just for a minute, or if it's his betrayal at her, drowning her in feelings of hopelessness. She's sure as the betrayal hardens into anger that it's his, and she knows, at that moment, that she is right: if she had stayed by his side, he would have remained Anakin Skywalker. Obi Wan would still be alive. Padmé would still be alive, say nothing of the child she heard only whispers of. Vader knows it too, and somewhere in that metal heart of his, he hates her for it. Any forgiveness he might have given her at one time is gone.
Vader gives her an ultimatum. Ezra is rushing into this mess headfirst, pleading with her to come back. Vader ignites his lightsaber. She could make it to the ship, but she has made her decision. She will not leave him –Vader or Anakin or whoever he is. He will not die alone.
She pushes Ezra back, and he stumbles towards the Phantom and Kanan, who without his sight still knows that the planet is about to implode. Vader is behind her. She blocks his blows, and then, with a quick flick of her wrist, she disarms him, the temple walls thudding to the ground. She summons his lightsaber, and stands before him. He is wheezing, sweat beading under his eye.
"What now, my Padawan?" he growls at her. With his vocabulator busted, she can hear the venom seeping through every word. She expects he makes less effort now to sound civil than he used to, now that he's more machine than man. He's making no effort now to stop his hatred (and fear, Ahsoka realizes vaguely –Darth Vader is afraid) from flooding the Force between them, and infecting every syllable of his unprocessed speech. She chafes at his voice, at the bitterness in the name that used to only be said with tenderness. With love. With a smirk, and a laugh, and a reminder that he was looking out for her, that he was there to help her, to teach her.
"I don't know what to say…" he said at one time. Ahsoka looks back on the handful of times that Anakin Skywalker was truly speechless. This was not one of them. When Ahsoka returned to him. All the people who took her were already dead, and she thought that it might be a mercy, compared to what Anakin probably would have done to them.
"I do." Ahsoka looked up at him, and smiled. Anakin probably hadn't slept since she went missing. He looked like he hadn't slept since she went missing. She doesn't know what she did to deserve someone like Anakin looking out for her. "Thank you, Master."
A smile tugged at Anakin's lips. He bowed to her. "You're welcome, my Padawan," he said softly. Ahsoka smiled at him then.
But now, Ahsoka glares at him. "We're going to die, Anakin," she snarls. "And then, at least, the Galaxy will have one less Sith Lord."
Something tugs at the corner of Vader's lip, but Ahsoka can't tell if it's a scowl or a smile. He wheezes. He looks at Ahsoka.
"You should have gone with your rebel friends," he starts to say, but at that very moment, the temple bursts, and Ahsoka and Vader are tossed apart by the force of the explosion.
There's a long moment, in which Ahsoka later realizes that she might have been unconscious, that is surrounded by darkness and the shallow breathing of Darth Vader. He's somewhere next to her, but it's hard to tell where he is. The temple is dark, and sound echoes in the cavern that it has become. And it's hard to separate Vader from the rest of the Dark Side closing in around her. Ahsoka thinks it would be easier if she hadn't been knocked so hard on the head. She tries to turn onto her side to where she think he is, but finds that she is trapped under a pile of debris. She can barely turn her head to look around.
Then, out of the darkness, Anakin's weak voice. "Ahsoka," he says. He wheezes. A rumble. Scraping. More wheezing. He coughs. "Ahsoka," he says again. "Ah-Ahsoka," he coughs.
There's more rumbling, and then the pressure on Ahsoka's chest lightens, and she's staring up at Darth Vader, whose brow is knotted in concern. He kneels down next to her. His helmet is dented and his face is covered in dust. His armor is cracked. He's wheezing and coughing. She can't see much of his face, but his expression is either one of concern or pain. The rubble that had trapped her is lifted off and thrown aside. Darth Vader's breath is hot on her face.
"Are you alive, Ahsoka?" he asks. Ahsoka sits up and pushes him away from her, her hand against his armored chest. Vader coughs and backs up, stumbling a little. "My –" he wheezes. "Ahsoka, my lightsaber."
Ahsoka stands, head pounding, heart racing. She reaches for her belt, where she clipped it before the temple collapsed, but it's not there. Hers are there, but Vader's is gone. Part of her is relieved. She doesn't want to knowingly rearm a monster and murderer, though she knows he's plenty capable of murder with or without it. But t feels wrong, somehow, for him to exist without his lightsaber.
"It's…it's gone, Anakin," she whispers, unsure how he will react. "I'm sorry."
"You are not," he says flatly. He's searching for it still, a little frantic. She catches a glimpse of his face, his yellow eye scouring the temple floor for his lightsaber. Vader tosses rocks around with the Force, his panic rising each passing second. Ahsoka can distinctly remember a very flustered Anakin doing the same, a long time ago.
"What is that, like your fifth lightsaber?" Ahsoka says without pausing to think. She knows it's a mistake before the words are even out of her mouth, and she half expects Vader to kill her for the snide remark. But he doesn't. He laughs. Just a little. It sounds forced and it dissolves into coughing. But still. Ahsoka made Darth Vader laugh.
"This lightsaber is your life," he mutters under his breath, mocking either himself or Obi Wan, or every Jedi who passed through the Order and had a Padawan who, inevitably, lost or broke their lightsaber. Ahsoka doesn't know if she was meant to hear him, so she doesn't laugh, but she smiles, despite herself. He lifts another rock and there underneath it, is his lightsaber. It looks worse for wear, just like him. He tries to ignite it, but the red blade sputters out. Vader sighs, and it sounds a lot like a growl. He turns to Ahsoka and looks at her. They spend a long time just looking at each other. It's too dark to see his eye clearly, so it's easy, for a moment, for Ahsoka to imagine that it's blue. She knows better, but it's nice to imagine. That they could leave this place, friends.
"I must leave," Vader says at last. "I'm dying." He takes a step towards her. His eye is yellow, but it was nice to pretend. "You are more powerful than all of my Inquisitors put together. You would be a powerful asset to the Empire."
"Anakin…" Ahsoka sighs. "You know I can't."
Vader falters. "You said…" he says. He sounds much more vulnerable than he probably intended to. "You said you would stay with me."
Ahsoka shakes her head. "You know I can't serve the Empire, Anakin. I can't serve the Sith."
Vader shakes his head. "You wouldn't be," he insists. "You would be serving me." As if there was a difference. Maybe there was –to Vader.
"And what would I be doing?" Ahsoka wonders. "Killing Jedi?"
"The Jedi are evil, Ahsoka," Vader insists. "They betrayed us. They betrayed you."
He was right, in a way. The Jedi did betray her, but that was a long time ago. And since then, Ahsoka had forgiven the Jedi of their mistakes. She had let go of the betrayal she felt. She had let go of her bitterness. It was over fifteen years ago. They had been wrong, but it would have been more wrong of her to hold a grudge. And besides, she never wanted to kill Jedi. They were her family. And what would be the use of hating people who were dead.
"You don't believe that," she tells Vader, because she knows that he doesn't. She doesn't think he would offer her this chance if he did. She doesn't think that he would offer her a deal where the Emperor isn't part of it, if he did. She doesn't think that he would let her live, when she was still so clearly committed, in spite of everything, to the Jedi. "You can come with me," she says. And what then? She doesn't know, but it would be best, at least to get him away from the Emperor. Away from the war. Away from Vader.
"I will die," he tells her. Ahsoka doesn't know if that's such a bad thing, considering what he's become. She doesn't share this. Vader falters again. "If you won't join me, I can tell the Emperor you died on Malachor," he says at last. "And one day, you will." He turns away from her.
This time, Anakin leaves Ahsoka, but Ahsoka refuses to hate him for it. He climbs out of the rubble, and Ahsoka sits in the caved in temple. His ship takes off, and Ahsoka is alone on a planet that Jedi were never allowed to go. She is abandoned by her Master on Malachor, and Ahsoka sees that it has nothing to do with her. She will stay, until it is her time to leave –by death or otherwise –and she will learn the truth. She will find a way to save Anakin Skywalker from the monster he's become.
A/N: Anyway, I'm super new to Star Wars, and I'm having a lot of fun. Let me know if the formatting or story-telling is confusing, because this came out a lot longer than I originally anticipated, and I tried my hand at incorporating flashbacks into the story, but I would obviously want to rethink my approach in the future if it was confusing.
ALSO, I've never seriously written for Star Wars before, so you guys letting me know if you liked it would encourage me to write more Star Wars. I mean...I'm gonna write it anyway, but if you let me know how this went, I'll post it and they'll be without long author's notes.