III. Ahsoka and Anakin
I. First Impression
Anakin opened the door of their suite and looked up past the brown folds of Jedi cloak to a masked alien face. He did not recognize this Jedi, nor the orange-faced youngling standing next to him, one of her pudgy hands gripping his trouser leg. She could not have been older than five, not if her species aged like Anakin's.
Without looking around, he called out, "Master Obi-Wan?"
The tall alien said, "Good day."
Anakin heard the footsteps and rustlings of Obi-Wan's approach from within the young Master's room before Obi-Wan passed in front of him to soberly shake the visitor's hand. "Master Plo. It's good to see you."
Plo said, "And you. The entire Temple waited to hear of how things fared at Naboo."
"I'm glad to be alive."
"If you need to talk…"
"Come in. Have some tea."
The Force grew cold and hollow, and Anakin realized with some surprise that he knew that both Plo and Obi-Wan were thinking about Qui-Gon. They would bond over their shared friendship with the older Master. Anakin would give them their quiet time, their tea—and then he would mourn again, when he asked Obi-Wan how Master Plo had known Qui-Gon.
But for now, as Plo sat down on the couch in the middle of the anteroom and Obi-Wan turned his back to them all to attend to the hot water dispenser, Anakin saw that the youngling Master Plo had brought was standing in the middle of the room, looking around with wide blue eyes.
"Hi," he said. She waved at him, focused on examining the room, or at feeling its dimensions with the narrow, hollow cones above her forehead. He recognized her species as the vivid Togruta; one of the Jedi Masters looked similar, but with long, flowing head-tails instead of these stubby ones. Anakin had seen a few Togruta on Tatooine before, but had never had the opportunity then to read about each species like he could here. He knew that the Togruta youngling was partially echo-blind now; that only in her late teenage years would her senses be refined, until she could locate movement around her without her eyes, and without the Force.
"Anakin," Plo said, "Good to finally meet you. Welcome. This is Ahsoka Tano. She was brought to the Temple recently as well."
Was Master Plo saying that Anakin was as childlike as she was? Anakin felt that he needed to show his independence—but part of the way he could do that was by being polite, by making the person he was speaking to think that their two priorities were the same. He had sold worthless scrap this way. "Is she your Padawan?"
"No—she is too young. She will be paired with a Master one day. Now she should be in the crèche—but when I pass by she looks at me and I can't resist letting her have some time out." Plo could not smile like a human, but a tilt of his head and a fondness in the Force gave the same impression. Anakin smiled with him. Obi-Wan approached and put a tray set with two steaming cups of tea down on the table.
Anakin could have sat down next to him, but there was melancholy and remembrance gathering between them like the steam, and so he sat down on the carpet and patted it for Ahsoka to come sit next to him.
She did, and her robe pooled around her.
"Hi," he said again. "I'm Anakin. I helped stop the droid army on Naboo."
They did not speak after that, because she seemed more interested in crawling about the room, exploring beneath the couches and in the corners, than in hearing about Anakin's exploits. Eventually he went to his room and thought about Qui-Gon, and listened to the low voices from the Masters who were, in their adult way, grieving. Ahsoka followed Plo back to the crèche, and Anakin's training began in earnest, and they did not see one another again for a long time.
For weeks they were stationed on a world which reminded Anakin of another planet, from earlier in the war, where he had eaten grubs and other insects because they had been tastier than the Republic rations. But here, war was no longer new. There was no thrill in going out and catching things; he kept what energy he had for when he would need to expend it. He washed ration bars down with water.
But one day he saw Ahsoka sitting behind a wooden barrier, eating something that stained her hands red. He saw that it had a tail before he ducked back out of her view and composed himself.
"Padawan?" He stepped out in front of her; she looked up from a hunk of purplish meat. "What are you eating?"
"I saw one of the native predators eat one; it's fine."
She wiped her mouth on her gauntlet. "Master. I'm a Togruta. We don't get sick like you do just because we eat something as soon as we've got it."
He sat down next to her, looking out at the camp where under the setting sun the clones' tents squatted like caterpillars. "Right."
He had never really thought about her as alien before. An alien, certainly, but a Jedi child.
"Do you talk to other Togruta at the Temple often?"
She replied, "Shaak Ti and a few others get together sometimes. Tell stories, tell us about Shilli and our culture. That's where I ate like this first."
"Hmm. I wonder if anyone would bother to make a group like that for Tatooine."
"There're plenty of humans."
"But they've all got different cultures."
"Sure, but…most food at the Temple is based on yours. Humans aren't very distinct."
"I just wouldn't mind being with desert people for a while." People, he meant, who understood a culture of slaves. So that he wouldn't forget what the evil he was trying to fight really looked like, no matter how much he sometimes wanted to trade every sandy day on Tatooine for new memories of shining Coruscant and brighter-shining Padme.
Ahsoka looked out at the sun.
III. Their Finest Hour
Through the Force and on the clones' HUDs, the cluster of droids could clearly be seen from five blocks away, and so the Republic troops progressed confidently through the empty city streets. The clear, white walls around them bore the long black streaks of laser fire. The disk-shaped cleaning droids that constantly patrolled the city would occasionally delve into one of these fissures, extend its painting arm, and be engulfed in a waterfall of sparks.
The CIS never saw their foe coming. The clones swept in below and the Jedi above. Anakin saw Ahsoka leap, kick herself off a wall fifteen feet up. His breath caught as his first foe turned, ran into the sweep of his blade, and Ahsoka's readied their blasters.
But over his own whirling hands, he saw her Force-push the row of droids in front of her, scattering them into the sky. The laser shots went high and then Ahsoka was among them like a predator dropping down from a tree, green blade whirling.
He fell into the rhythm of battle after that. Few times had Anakin felt as immortal as this; the Force danced him around all oncoming attacks, and the droids fell like so much scrap metal from Watto's shop—
Until it was him and Ahsoka and three clones, their armor scuffed to gray, against a handful of droids backed up against a wall, and one of the clones fell dead into Ahsoka's arms.
She had sensed the coming of the fall, if not the death; she doused her lightsaber and caught the man under the arms. His armored body, so much taller and heavier than hers, shielded her from oncoming fire. She struggled under his weight but held him up, her eyes wide, her legs shaking.
The clones finished the droids while she held him up.
Anakin flitted to her side the moment he could, not sure whether to tell her that the battle is over.
She lay the clone down and folded her legs beneath her to sit on the sidewalk beside him.
She said, "I thought we had won. But I felt the laser meant for him and couldn't move in front fast enough."
Other clones gathered around, and silently they mourned their brother.
When Ahsoka finally rose, Anakin clasped her shoulder, feeling how sharp were her bones. Had she been eating enough? Such skinny shoulders. He said, "Feeling for your men is a sign of a great spirit. Keep that."
She glared at an invisible point in front of her. "I'd rather not."
It had been said so many times, proven so many times, but he could think of little else to say then, "Battles don't often turn out as gloriously as they appear. It's war—the losing side could turn around and win at any moment. There's just so many minutes in a melee like this. There's no such thing as a finest hour."
IV. Each Other's Creation
Luke refuses, but Vader stalks away into the clue-black corridors of Bespin, finding his way back through the smashed banks of machinery and the gates which only the Ugnaughts know, and he is not discouraged. Because Luke does not know that Vader has had an apprentice before, that before he was Vader he had known how to train someone who did not believe they needed to be trained.