She came from the shadows; a fierce, inexperienced warrior determined to face her foe properly. Her lightsaber thrummed with life as the petite togruta moved to attack the armoured Sith Lord. Her Force signature was a clear beacon of light against the storm of his darkness.
Vader sensed the youngling long before she found him. Though he didn't seek her out, Anakin didn't remain put either. In fact, the young Sith Lord purposely avoided his determined former padawan. In the end, she still found him, even caught him off guard. It wasn't a great feat, as he was already distracted, but it was a feat nonetheless.
Stepping back in defence, Vader blocked her attack, swiftly watching in pained silence as sparks flew from their lightsabers clashing. The ferocity of her attack was difficult to ignore, her emotions even more so. There was anger, but no hate, not yet. Determination was the strongest of her emotions along with a sense of calm focus. Ahsota had always been strong, stronger than he had ever been. But she was at a crossroad, the very same crossroad he had face once many years ago.
Vader couldn't have asked for a more perfect opportunity, a second chance to regain his lost Padawan. It was also a chance for him to aid in the completion of her training, this time in the dark side.
"Do you really think you stand a chance?" he taunted while swiftly dodging another vicious attack by the petite woman. The taunts came without a second thought. It was a habit that Anakin had picked up years ago. Though he had intended to make her slip, his words had the opposite effect.
Her expression remained stoic, but her attacks grew increasingly focused.
It reminded Vader of Obi-Wan. His heart grew weary at the thought. It was a new reaction to a painful memory. Vader wondered if this was how Obi-Wan had felt when they fought on Mustafar. Anakin promptly buried the thought as he took control of the battle; he didn't really want to know. He didn't want Ahsoka to know the truth of Mustafar either.
"Why are you here youngling? Are you so eager to die?" Vader continued, this time fully aware of his words and forcing himself not to care. Her movements were sleek and poignant. Her training with the fighting style known as Shien, or Djem So, had become so much more refined since the last time they sparred. He was incredibly proud of her, but Anakin could not let it show.
Picking up his distraction, she took control of the battle, leaving Vader's thoughts to snap back to reality when her lightsaber swiped dangerously close to his throat.
"Fight me as you would a worthy opponent!" she challenged in frustration. These were her first words spoken to him since the eve of Order 66.
Now it was Vader's turn to go briefly silent. For a moment, only the sound of clashing lightsabers could be heard. It kept his thoughts focused and offered a strange sense of peace. "Why did you come here, child? Did you think by killing me you'd bring back the dead?
"Or do you think your death would make you a martyr like your fallen comrades?" Vader said as he completed a rather complicated move that caught Ahsoka in the shoulder.
She screamed a Huttese curse he often used in anger.
It wasn't his intent to kill her, rather to push her to her limits. He wanted her to answer the siren call of the dark side; to feel its heady rush and understand why her master couldn't resist it.
Ahsoka's rage flared like a storm to his taunts and soon her attacks grew increasingly vicious, albeit sloppy. The darkness was calling to her, leaving the Togruta struggling to remain focused.
It wasn't difficult for Vader to take control of the battle, ensuring he made his point clear without killing her was another matter entirely. "I have no interest in killing you child." His sense of focus shifted as illusions of Ahsoka fighting by his side like the daughter he had always wanted filled his thoughts along with images of them destroying the emperor.
"Join me and I will spare you," Vader pleaded though through the vocabulator it sounded more like a mocking challenge.
"Like you spared the younglings at the temple? Or the way you spared my Master?" Her words weren't meant to wound, only to anger to make him falter.
Ahsoka's jade-coloured blade nicked the neck of his armour. The smell of burnt metal reached his nostrils, through the filters of his mask. Vader frustrated and envious of her control decided it was time to teach the youngling a lesson.
"If you are so eager to die, youngling, then so be it." Drawing further upon the dark side, Anakin's control faded away, leaving him determined to win this battle, no longer caring about the damage done. If she was so eager to die, then he would make it so.
Just as he was about to behead his former Padawan, the youngling caught his attack. Through the Force, he could feel Ahsoka giving in, he could feel her touching the dark side, it was hesitant, but it was real.
Suddenly, he was reminded of the younglings who fell to his lightsaber; he could still hear their screams and feel their life energy fading into the Force, along with the guilt and shame that came with it.
The memories he had lost continued to fill his thoughts, from the child he had fathered with Padmé, to Obi-Wan's silent departure, to the tears Dormé had shed over the loss of innocent life.
Vader had earned his freedom, rid the galaxy of war and gained an empire, but at the cost of everything he loved. Could he really ask Ahsoka to do the same? Could he stand by and watch Ahsoka lose everything as he had? Gone were the taunts and challenges and the eager wish for her to give into the dark. Now all he wanted was to protect her from it—to save her from the life that now trapped him.
"Kill me now in anger and there will be no turning back!"
She didn't respond; her eyes now filled with a blind rage and hate that he was all too familiar with. Their lightsabers clashed as they continued their violent dance of blades. Reminded once more of his brother's words, Vader could no longer remain silent, he had to stop her before it was too late.
"Look at me, Snips! Is this what you want? Do you want to end up like me—like this?"
Snips. The name hung in the air like a silent curse or a desperate warning.
Vader felt his heart drop to his stomach as Ahsoka suddenly froze in position and in that moment Anakin realized his mistake. The darkness that riddled her Force aura promptly faded away, leaving in its wake only sorrow and disappointment.
She mouthed a word: his name or her nickname for him. Anakin wasn't sure. It didn't matter. Her eyes now shined with unshed tears, saying all that needed to be said.
Silently, both warriors deactivated their lightsabers as the air grew thick with unspoken memories and understandings.
With a heavy sigh, Ahsoka quietly turned and walked away, melding into the shadows as though she was never there. She left in her wake the silent reminder that not all battles won are worth the price paid.