This is based on Nickleback's song "Hero." This is based on it. Sorry I deviated from my other stories, but I couldn't get this outta my head. Enjoy! Warning: Character death involved (guess who?).

FYI: Song in /abc/ type-style, and double-spaced. Bond-talk in same format, just not double-spaced.

Disclaimer: Song's not mine, nor are the other SW characters. I claim Ani Laminara, though. MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAA!

She stared at the floor in her small compartment. She couldn't believe it. Well, she could logically grasp it, just not…comprehend it.

/I'm so high. I can hear heaven/

What would she tell her master? What could she say, though, that wouldn't lessen the shock of it all?

/I'm so high. I can hear heaven/

Good thing she made the healers promise not to tell her master about it. It's not like she wanted the information to become common knowledge – especially since her friends and master would probably just share it with only the entire Jedi Temple. Also, with the way the media trailed the Jedi ever since the beginning of the war, they'd probably broadcast it to every corner of the galaxy.

/Oh but heaven, no heaven don't hear me/

Why me, of all padawans and even teens, out there, she asked herself. Just because I was born different? I won't be able to even see the end of the war, even if I'm going to take the prescribed treatments. What will I tell my friends? Ahsoka? Barriss? Julii?

/And they say that a hero could save us.
I'm not gonna stand here and wait/

Luminara glanced over at her padawan, who was fiddling with her bowl of mush. The girl's eyes had circles under them, and she seemed thinner and more slender than usual. Her brow furrowed. What was up?

/I'll hold on to the wings of the eagles.
Watch as we all fly away
/

The padawan wondered idly what it would be like to soar high above ground (fast – not slow; slow is for wimps, she thinks), to control her own troops, to at least be able to see some rare beings. Now, she would never have that chance.

/Someone told me that love would all save us/

She held her mother's lightsaber in her hands, carefully weighing it in her hands. Her mother's life was cut short. Now hers was about to be cut short. Like mother, like daughter, she thought glumly, wiping at a lone tear winding down her cheek. Even her protecting me so I could be a Jedi can't help me now. Suddenly, she couldn't hold it back anymore. Tears coursing down her face, she turned and quickly buried her face into the pillow, so her master couldn't hear her sobs.

/But how can that be, look what love gave us
A world full of killing, n' blood-spilling
/

It's bad enough that we're dying by torture and armies of droids, she thought silently, sniffling. It's even worse that one Jedi-to-be has to be dying of a disease. Tear spots were in her pillow, somehow forming her name. Ani…

/That world never came
And they say that a hero could save us
I'm not gonna stand here and wait
/

The healers had given her one month to live. That's not enough time, she thought, heading down to the gardens. I should have been able to liver longer, to see General Grievous killed or something, if that will ever happen. However, since I will not see it, I might as well enjoy the time I have left, like by resting and relaxing. Here is a good spot to do so, if only that my master and friends don't find me and give me funny glances. She knew what she looked like after about a week of treatment. Sunken-in cheeks, a frail body… yep, she was wasting away, and no matter how hard she might work out, it would remain that way.

/I'll hold on to the wings of the eagles
Watch as we all fly away/

No one else knew. She had kept it a secret from everyone, afraid they'd all treat her differently. That was how it was with a Knight, not too long ago. Others had guessed and asked, but no one knew until it was too late. The padawan knew it was the same thing here, as Master Windu had already asked her about her health. And Luminara. And her friends.

/High, igh-eigh/

She sighed, and stretched as her comlink beeped. Hope it's not another mission. At least I got most of the rest I needed, here, she thought, pressing the 'receive' button. "Laminara here."

"Ani." It was Ahsoka, and she sounded worried. "Ani, I'm in the lower level hangar. A bounty hunter has managed to penetrate our defense systems and is obviously looking for something." The voice paused. "He's a bit too much for me, I'm afraid. Can you come assist me?"

"No problem," Ani said, trying to sound confident. "I'll help you track him down. Do you know where he's headed?"

"He's headed toward the cantina." Great.

"And, of course, it has to be the normal lunch hour," she finished, a hand already upon her lightsaber. "I'm going." Silence.

"Ani," Ahsoka asked, hesitantly. "Why aren't you eating lunch right now? Is something wrong?" Ani bit her lip. Crap, she sensed where I am.

"I'll tell you later," she responded curtly, cutting off the connection. Her usual response, if anyone dared to ask her what was up. It usually worked, though. Now, all she had to do was to find the bounty hunter and capture him. Piece of cake. Yeah right. She sighed out loud, loosing her bony shoulders.

She could sense him clearly, a definite, malignant presence in the Force, threatening and feeding off his hatred of the Jedi like a – like a…disease. She winced. Okay, did not need to think of that, she thought, trying to focus herself.

/(musical score)/

The cantina was crowded with Jedi Younglings, Padawans, Knights, and Masters. Ani snuck onto the durasteel beams overhead, scouting for the intruder. He has to be up here; there's no where else he could go, she thought, probing the Force. Suddenly, a shadow jumped away from her as she looked towards the corner to the left of her. She grinned, baring her teeth. It's him.

She ran towards him, lightsaber activated and humming. She felt more alive now than she had been the past two weeks. However, the disease was still battling for control. As he used a cable launcher to get close to a vent, she leaped to grab him. She ended up falling off the beam face first. Her feet caught, fortunately, and so she dangled, trying to get a good hold on the smooth durasteel. Unfortunately, the table below (mainly Jedi Masters) had sensed her and were now looking up and gawking at her. Oh crap, Ani thought, horrified. That's my master below.

Trying to look innocent, she grinned and waved. Her master didn't look convinced. "I'll tell you later," Ani yelled, using the Force to launch herself back up and towards the vent.

Now all I have to do is find that bounty hunter and dice him up, she thought, sliding down the vent. Fortunately, it looks like he went into the Room of a Thousand Fountains, seeing that he left scrape-marks from his weaponry collection.

After many turns, crossroads, and scratches later, she arrived to find herself stuck between the huge rock wall of the waterfall and the durasteel wall of the room. Her back and front were exposed. Not a great place to be stuck at. She swung towards the rock wall to get a hold when a blast of laser energy struck her leg and sent her falling towards the lake. Gritting her teeth against the pain, she tapped out an emergency code to Ahsoka and Barriss before she hit the water.

She allowed herself to sink for a little while, and then swam to a small overhang near the rocky cliff, ignoring the pain in her leg. If I can make it there, perhaps I'll be able to rest a little and try to locate his position before I go die of disease, blaster wounds, drowning, or something else the Force has decided to cook up for me, she thought. After reaching that position, she grabbed and hoisted herself onto a ledge she had discovered about a year ago.

As far as she knew, no one else knew about it, which wasn't surprising; it was quite well hidden from almost every view, unless you just happened to stick your head into the waterfall and squeeze through the tiny crack. It was easier to enter, though, from underwater. Unless you knew where to go, you'd never find it. As she stretched out her aching leg, she searched the area for the bounty hunter. She found him, hidden between two major boulders on top. She also sensed Ahsoka and Barriss coming, along with a couple masters they'd alerted. I'll bet that my master is one of them, she thought grimly. But, hey – if they're going to barge in like usual, though, he'll need to be out for them to see in order to be captured. No problem; I'll just lure him out. He'll probably be stupid enough to take the bait, anyways.

Standing and turning to face the waterfall, Ani took a deep breath. She ran, leaped off the edge – and came straight out of the waterfall.

"HAAAAAAAAWWW!" Landing on some moss, she acted as if she was ready to dice the tree in front of her. When she relaxed (as if seeing the tree wasn't the intruder), she heard some footsteps, then a snap-hiss of a lightwhip.

Time to party. Whirling around, she ignited her lightsaber in time to intercept the whip. The bounty hunter looked surprised; he was a Rodian, and as she had expected, he had an impressive array of weaponry. He quickly recovered, however, and drew out a blaster as well.

"You're going to die, Laminara!" he hissed. She impulsively stuck out her tongue at him.

"Shut up, brain-dead!" she glowered, flicking the blaster out of his hand with a Force twist. "And how do you know my name?" He roared with laughter, striking at her with the rope. She twisted and jumped, landing right in front of the doors. He gave an angry shout and pursued her, kicking out at her bad leg. She fell, lightsaber rolling away. He towered over her, lightwhip in hand, looking extremely angry. She decided she'd bide her time, waiting for back-up, and during the wait she could get the answers she needed.

"You're the only Jedi we've ever tested the virus on," he explained, guffawing. She felt rage build up inside her. "Did your employer make you do this to me?" she yelled.

"Of course. You were getting to be too strong for us, too resourceful, too powerful." He spit the words. "My employer sent me with the virus in order to stop you. I injected you with it on your last mission. That was on Ryloth, was it not?" She felt her face grow red. She had been captured by the Separatists after being impulsive enough to ignore orders and had headed out on her own to attack some 'fleeing' battle droids. After being knocked unconscious, with the screams of men dying and clankers being shot to scrap metal resounding in her ears, she had woken up twice. The first time had been in a dark cavern, and all she remembered was being put back to sleep as her vision was clearing. The second time she had found herself back inside her own lines. Since she had felt embarrassed about it, she kept quiet about it and figured she was imagining things – a mere dream. Now, however…

"I'll bet that you have the antidote, don't you?" she accused, trying to keep her voice steady. It would be just like the Sith to have what I need and refuse it. The others are coming. Hopefully they'll arrive soon. If not…

"HA! No, we don't," he said, voice resounding with mock-pity. "It's one of the rarer viruses of the galaxy. There is no known cure," he said, jabbing a finger at her chest to punctuate every word he spoke, "for the virus now running through your body." He made a face. "However, since you're not dying fast enough, my employer has sent me to get rid of you." Ani tried to get up, but found her body weakening. Kark on you, bounty hunter, she thought angrily. Kark on you, Mr. Employer. And kark on you, virus. I was doing great until all three of you had to come together and collaborate. Great for you, bad for me. I'm having trouble moving.

"Now, I'm going to finish you off." He cackled, pointing a vibroblade towards her.

"No more trouble for us, and we will win this war easily – without you coming in to mess us up. Good-bye, troublesome padawan!" So this is the end… She closed her eyes as she sensed the Rodian, and the blade, starting to fly towards her. She heard a muffled cough, and quickly opened her eyes. The Rodian in front of her was crumpling to the ground, chest pierced by a green-bladed lightsaber. A figure in dark clothes and a black headdress called back the lightsaber.

"I'm sorry, bounty hunter," Luminara smiled slightly. "I will not allow you to hurt my padawan. And besides, you can't hurt her, not since I've stuck you first." Ani grinned.

/Now that the world isn't ending/

"Hey Master, long time no see," she quipped. Luminara raised an eyebrow; Ahsoka, Julii, and Barriss stepped out from behind her and did the same thing.

"Padawan, what was he talking about?" her Master asked.

"He said something about a virus," Ahsoka and Barriss cut in.

"Is that why you look so pale these days?" Julii asked, her brow furrowing. Uh-oh. Ani grimaced. Might as well say good-bye to privacy.

"Well, uh, I –" At that moment, Bant barged in.

"Padawan Ani Laminara, what the heck am I going to do with you?" she yelled. "You know you weren't supposed to overdo it, and yet you did anyways." Ignoring Ani's frantic shakes of the head, she continued. "You know the virus affects you more if you are active." At the astonished looks of the padawan's friends and master, she explained, "It's not the normal virus; we found it to be a rarer one in this dear galaxy of ours." She grimaced. "It works opposite of a normal virus, acting almost like a poison. We found that out days after we first discovered she had it." All four turned to face Ani, surprise, shock, and hurt spreading over their faces.

"Why, little one?" Luminara whispered, kneeling to clasp her padawan's hand. "Why keep this from us?"

/It's love that I'm sending to you/

"I…"

"Why, Ani?" chorused her friends, kneeling by her as well.

"You hardly ever keep anything from us," Ahsoka stated.

"Unless you have a good reason for it," Barriss added.

"Please tell us, Ani; we need to know," Julii said gently. "We have to know." A tear slid unhampered down the young half-Mirialan's cheek. Another followed close behind as a hacking cough vibrated throughout her body.

/It isn't the love of a hero/

"I didn't want to be treated like an invalid," she stated, jaw clenching as a wave of pain overtook her. "I like being independent, and you guys would have heaped pity and…all sorts of other stuff on me, because you would've known that I was going to die in a month." She shrugged. "Actually, now I'm supposed to die in a couple weeks."

/And that's why I fear it won't do/

They gaped at her. Bant, however, merely nodded sadly and brought out a hypo, handing it to Ani.

"Time for medication, dear," she said, favoring her with a withering glance. "And please try to contain your rashness, dear." Ani rolled her eyes.

"Yes, Healer Bant." As soon as the healer had gone out the door, she promptly shifted the weight to her other arm as she stuck the hypo into her arm and injected its contents. "I hate meds," she grumbled to no one in particular. "Oh crap."

"What?" her friends and master asked.

"Meds make me sleepy. However, this one makes me hyper – and I mean HYPER." Julii rolled her eyes.

"Didn't Healer Bant tell you to rest?" Ani nodded, glaring at the hypo.

"Yes, but it's her fault for giving me this hyper-active med in the first place." Barriss sighed.

"Ani, I think that medication is supposed to help suppress the virus." Her friend snorted.

"Well, yes, it's supposed to. Does it, though?" She thought for a moment. "Well, I don't hurt as much when I take it, so that's a good thing." Luminara stared. Her padawan was joking about the whole thing. Not that she had expected any less…but gallows humor was expected more of the war-weary adults at or past the prime of their life, not younglings and padawans who had their entire lives ahead of them.

"Padawan," she said slowly. "Do you know why they injected you with the poison in the first place?" Her padawan's slight smile disappeared, and her eyes narrowed.

/And they say that a hero could save us/

"Apparently I was becoming 'too strong and too powerful' to quote the bounty hunter, for them to handle." A wry smile touched her lips. "It's to be expected, I guess. The best fighter on the enemy's side is bound to be a target for the other side. However, Anakin is the best. I don't know why they haven't tried to bring him down yet." Ahsoka gave her a small smile.

"It's because the Force wills for him to live, I guess." Ani nodded, then coughed harshly as she tried to stand. Her master immediately supported her as her friends helped her up.

"Can you walk?" Ahsoka asked nervously. Ani grinned, her old, reckless, I-don't-give-a-durn smile that had been lacking the past week or so.

"Just because I might possibly be dying does not mean that I'm going to allow myself to become totally dependent on others," she stated, testing her legs to see if they'd hold her weight. Barriss and the others, except her master, smiled back.

"Ani, you've been a good influence on me," she said seriously, holding out her hand.

"You're welcome, Barriss." Luminara's new padawan grinned. "You certainly needed it."

"Hey!" Ahsoka pretended to be offended. "What about me? Didn't I do any good?" Barriss pretended to think for a moment; Luminara stifled a chuckle.

"Well…" Ani stepped in between the two.

"Ahsoka, you started her transformation; I just helped bring it to completion." Ahsoka gave her a high-five. Barriss rolled her eyes.

"You rhymed right there, girl!" Ani gave a little smirk.

"Hey, I got to surprise you guys somehow." The girls all laughed. Luminara still couldn't believe how calm her padawan still seemed. As long as you stand behind her, like her friends do, she won't have any qualms about dying early, a voice inside her head whispered. She agreed, looking at her padawan. Her spirit is strong and tough; she won't break anytime soon, as long as we don't break first, she thought.

/I'm not gonna stand here and wait/

That night, once her padawan fell asleep, Luminara snuck into the girl's room to watch her sleep. Though her time was ticking away rapidly, she looked peaceful as she slept. Okay, not just peaceful, Luminara thought, brushing a stray lock of hair away from her face. She looks…free. As if all the worries that have accumulated upon her mind during the war and after she found out about the virus and how she got it have simply…gone. Disintegrated. Of course, us accepting her imminent death makes it a lot easier on her. She looks so much younger than I thought she could look, but then it's not like I do this a lot. She pressed a kiss to her padawan's forehead. Or this. I should've known, sensed it somehow, but then she has learned how to shield herself like an advanced Jedi Knight. At least I know it now. Do I regret lost time? Of course; what master with a dying padawan wouldn't? However, I have time to try to make it up to her. Knowing her, she'll want it to be normal until the day she dies. Her lips curled up to form a smile.

Doesn't mean we can't have a little fun, though. Her birthday is coming up. She'll be fifteen. The smile dropped. I can't believe it. So soon… This war doesn't seem to be stopping anytime soon, unfortunately. It all seems so…sad. I wish she'd be able to live to the end of the war. She touched Ani's forehead lightly with her fingertips.

I love you, my little one, and I always will.She left the room. Somewhere in her dreams, the padawan smiled. She knew.

/I'll hold on to the wings of the eagles/

"Happy birthday, girl!" Julii teased her friend, whacking her with an extra pillow.

"C'mon, don't hide!" Ahsoka yelled, using the Force to trickle water onto her friend.

"After all, this is going to be your last birthday with us, so this is one of the last chances we'll have to drive you up the wall," Barriss sang, holding up a huge piece of dark chocolate – Ani's favorite. The padawan merely groaned and flopped her pillow over her head. Julii snatched that away, grinning. Ani looked up, and tried to smile.

"Dude, can't you guys find someone else to pick on?" The three looked at each other, pretending to be puzzled.

"Well, we could," Ahsoka began.

"But hey, we just don't want to," Barriss ended.

"And 'sides, admit it: you love us bugging you," Julii yelled. Ani winced.

"If I get up, will you stop bothering me?" she asked warily. All three stopped, shook their heads, and lifted their friend up in the air out the bedroom door.

"HEY!!! What is this, a conspiracy?" Ani struggled, giving up after less than ten seconds. She was more tired than she had originally thought. Besides, it's going to be one of my last days here; I might as well enjoy it, she told herself as she was set down on the sofa. Her friends scampered off to the kitchen, no doubt to get her breakfast. 'Sides…She grinned. They hold the chocolate. They got the chocolate; they got the power.

* * *

Luminara was in her bedroom when she heard her padawan being set down on a chair in their eating area. She allowed herself a small smile as her padawan's friends sang her "Happy Birthday" and served her the traditional Jedi Padawan breakfast: chocolate milk with a big chocolate-filled, chocolate cookie and chocolate bars – basically a chocolate jumanji, with plenty more dishes that her friends cooked up.

"Eat up!" Ahsoka said cheerily, putting her hands on her hips. Ani surveyed the entire chocolate stuff before her with an air of dismay, and then, to their surprise, sat down and started to eat. About an hour later, she was halfway through the entire entrée.

"Come on!" Barriss squealed impatiently. "You guys made me eat all of it on my birthday. If I had to, you have to." Ani nodded solemnly.

"Don't worry. I will do it, if…" she trailed off. Her friends and master gave her wary looks.

"If what?" Julii asked, after glancing at Ahsoka.

"If I don't cover you guys with it first!" she cried, hurling the remains of the half-eaten cake across at Julii, who deflected it to Barriss. Barriss didn't duck soon enough, and she was covered in a chocolaty mess.

"Food fight!" Ahsoka yelled, hurling a mushy candy bar toward Ani, who ducked – and it landed right on the front of her master's shirt. Everyone froze, hoping that they would not get in trouble (at least, big trouble). Luminara looked down, as if amused at the mess on her shirt, took off her headdress, and picked up a huge chocolate fudge bar.

"My turn!" she grinned as she threw it at Ani. It hit her in the head.

"Master!" she cried, dodging a muffin. "I never thought…YOU!" She drew some frosting up, and watched with satisfaction as it splattered across her master's face. Meanwhile, Barriss was coating Ahsoka with chocolate syrup, with Julii sneaking up behind her.

The entire morning was spent in an all-out chocolate war. By the time they were done, the padawans, Knight, and Master were covered from head to toe in chocolate. Also, those who had hair had it loose and chocolate well-worked through their long tresses.

"Aw man, I'll have to go clean up now," Ahsoka whined, feeling for her braid.

"At least you didn't get any in your hair," Barriss reminded her, combing through the long, sticky mess with her fingers.

"That's 'cause she doesn't have any hair," Ahsoka retorted.

"Ani, what possessed you to do such a thing?!!!" Julii exclaimed, rubbing at a sticky patch on her arm. Ani shrugged.

"I felt like it," she replied flippantly, a glimmer of mischief appearing in her eyes. "'Sides, nothing like that had been done before, so I decided to try it. Hey, at least admit that you enjoyed it as well." Her friends all looked at each other, grinned, and did a group hug (Luminara included) with Ani in the center.

"We should so do that again," Ahsoka and Barriss shrieked, jumping up and down. Luminara smiled wryly.

"As long as you get cleaned up for this afternoon, you can do it again in the evening… in the main cantina," she pointed out. The others quickly caught on and started moving out the door, looking both ways before flitting out into the hallway to start the long crawl back to their rooms.

"Hope the cleaning droids aren't out in the vents right now!" Ani called out, an impish grin covering her face. "I wouldn't want you guys to get scrubbed to death. Julii glared at her.

"Ha-ha," she said sarcastically, quietly attaching the air vent back into place before disappearing into the darkness. Ani was still smiling as she turned to face the mess she had just created. Her master was there, almost blending in with the splatters, except she was shaking her head slowly from side to side.

"What?!" she asked, exasperated. Luminara merely gave her a look.

"Only you, my padawan, would think up of something like that." Ani giggled.

"Thank you for the compliment," she replied. "I will make sure to do it again." Her master mock-groaned and came over to rest a hand on her shoulder.

"Only you, my padawan, would think up of something like that." Ani giggled.

"Girl, you go shower." She motioned at the entire room. "There's always this to clean up later." Ani made a face; her master chuckled. Before Ani entered the 'fresher, she turned and looked straight at Luminara.

"Thank you," she said simply. "For everything." She stepped in, the doors shutting behind her. Luminara couldn't help but smile. Her padawan was quiet by nature; her saying thank-you in of itself was rare, especially to her.

Your welcome, my little one, she thought, going to the kitchen to see if there was anything left to eat. She had barely gotten any taste of the chocolate, except what had been thrown at her. It was high time to celebrate your birthday anyways. She glanced at the door of the refresher, hearing the strained hiss of the sonic shower going on at full power. Besides, what else could we have done? You will be dead; we need to have some hint of you in our memories. We need to remember you, the good as well as the bad. She sighed heavily. The war practically dominates every aspect of our lives. We need to learn to have fun every once in a while, if only to keep from going insane. Her lips twitched in a smile. 'Course, between you, Anakin, Ahsoka, and all the other non-conformist Jedi, we have lightened up at least a little bit.

You are my light, the thing that keeps me from giving in and suiciding here and now. You are my connection to reality – and to dreams. You are my hope.

You are our hope.

/Watch as we all fly away/

Walking down the main street with Ani and her friends – everyone, including her, was wearing street clothes – Luminara couldn't believe how little time was left with her padawan. About one week left, and she'll be gone from my life, she thought sadly. Better make the best of it. Suddenly, a scream resounded throughout the tightly enclosed streets. The padawans glanced sharply at each other and then at Luminara to confirm what they heard, and whether or not they'd go after it.

The Jedi Master nodded her permission, then tapped the side of her belt where her lightsaber would have been and shook her head. They understood. No lightsabers (which were secretly hidden on them) unless things got out of hand. Of course, almost everything got out of hand these days, so it wasn't hard to use the lightsaber first. Which is not always a good thing, Luminara thought.

The entire group divided into two groups instantly: Ani, Julii, and Ahsoka, with Luminara and Barriss in the second. Ani and Barriss were the leaders in this, because they had heard the scream first. After glancing at each other, nodding to confirm the other's thoughts, they casually walked towards the area: Ani and her group going the short way, Luminara and Barriss the long way to make sure they weren't being followed.

"It's in the main area, near the junkie area," Ani whispered to Luminara before they each set off. "Go around the main area, the apartments twice, then join us. Hopefully the perpetrator will be cornered by us and captured." She smiled grimly. "If we're lucky." Luminara grinned.

"Yes, Padawan," she said, stressing their relationship. Ani smiled.

"May the Force be with you, my master," she whispered.

"And with you, my young apprentice," the Jedi Master whispered back, but it was too late; Ani had since moved out of earshot.

Making sure everyone was where they were, Ani nodded for Luminara and Barriss to get on while she and her friends separated: Ani to spy from the rooftop, Julii to check on Barriss and Luminara's current position and to keep in touch with them, and Ahsoka to charge in after Ani would brief her.

"There's a small, Twi'lek girl, about twelve down in the center of the granite space," Ani whispered through Ahsoka's comlink. "A guy is holding her by the wrist…he's speaking angrily to her… Now he's drawing a knife on her. There are droids surrounding them as well – IG-88 line. Julii has confirmed that Luminara and Barriss are still scouting the perimeter, so go in whenever you feel like it." Pause. "Provided that you don't wait, like, several eons before you decide to move." Ahsoka rolled her eyes.

"Ani, if I waited for that long, we'd either die of old age or get captured and/or tortured. Personally, I don't care to wait for either to happen. I'll move in fifteen seconds from now. You be prepared to back me up, and make sure Julii keeps in contact with your master and Barriss in a somewhat secure position." She could hear Ani whispering directions to Julii filtering through like dust in a closed mouth.

"Got that. Good luck, Ahsoka."

"And you too, Ani. Make sure you're careful," she said awkwardly. "You know – the disease. It could –"

"Ahsoka." Her friend sounded weary. "Just because I have a disease does not mean I am incapable of defending myself."

"I know that. Just –"

"Hey, you gonna charge yet? Time's running out, and Julii says Barriss and Luminara are starting their second run." Ahsoka sighed.

"Gotcha. Going now." Switching her comlink off, Ahsoka switched on her lightsaber.

"Here we go," she muttered.

***

Meanwhile, Luminara and Barriss had started their second run. So far, they had heard nothing, but hopefully that was a good sign.

"Maybe they managed to complete the mission already," Barriss said hopefully.

"Nah. That's too easy for my padawan, and Anakin's. Those two will find the hardest way to complete this still in one piece." She looked pointedly at Barriss. "How you are Ani and Ahsoka's friend, I still cannot fathom. Being Julii's friend, I can get. However, those two are so unlike you." Barriss grinned.

"Master Unduli, Ani and 'Soka are great friends. Just because they're opposites does not mean I should not associate with them. In fact, they have shown me…interesting ways of doing things." Her eyes searched the complexes around them. "I just hope that they don't wait forever to capture the Twi'lek. She is Force-sensitive, I believe. Could you sense her?" Luminara looked at her, baffled.

"There's a Force-sensitive here?"

"You couldn't SENSE her?!!" Barriss smacked her forehead. "And we wonder why the Republic is going down the drain." Luminara whacked her shoulder in protest, but she ignored it. "Her presence was kind of evanescent, shining brightly one moment and the next, barely noticeable." She looked thoughtful. "I think that's when she was cornered by the droids, and why she captured in the first place. She's probably an orphan. And yes, Ahsoka told me via the Force," she replied to the unanswered question.

"Well, let's just hope the padawans can rescue her and remain in one piece," Luminara said briskly. She didn't want to think about it anymore than she had to. I can't believe I couldn't sense her, even though Barriss obviously can. I just hope Ani can keep her head, not get herself into too much trouble. She's almost always reckless…

***

"DIE, tinnies!" Ahsoka yelled, leaping out from where she stood. All IG-88s turned their attention from the girl to her.

"Shoot her," the human ordered, obviously the leader – and probably the owner as well. He now held the young one in front of him, using her as his shield in case any stray bullets might head his way. Ani had joined Ahsoka, lightsaber ignited as well.

"Well, 'Soka," she said as the droids gathered around them. "You lead, or I?" The Togruta thought for a moment.

"You," she said. "After all, I'd certainly like to see more of your technique."

"Thank you." Ani's eyes gleamed. "Prepare for some real action." She spun and took off at a run.

"You wish," Ahsoka retorted, but Ani couldn't hear her. She had kicked the head off one of the IG-88s, and now had five appear right around her.

"Heh, heh, heh," she chuckled evilly. "Time to become spare parts, guys." She did the splits just as the five fired – right into each other. Swiping off their arms with several quick swipes, she turned to slice another from head to foot. As the droid halves fell on either side of her blade, she found herself facing the captor.

"Sorry about the mess," she said sarcastically. "Now, if you would please surrender –" The guy laughed.

"If anyone's going to surrender, it'll be you, Jedi!" he snarled, pointing a blaster at her head. She didn't even flinch; she merely raised an eyebrow.

"Ahsoka!" she yelled over her shoulder. "I got the girl. Take care of the clankers." It had barely registered with the guy before she sliced his blaster, rendering it useless. With a flick of her wrist, she adjusted the power to low setting and swiped at his arms.

"OWWWW!!!" Letting go of the child's arm, he scrambled backwards – right into one of his IG-88 droids. The multi-blaster clanker whirled around and started firing like mad. Ani created a Force bubble to protect her and the youngling; the girl's captor wasn't so lucky. As his riddled body crumpled to the ground, Ani poured more energy into the shield around herself and the girl.

"Hey," she said, grinning slightly. "You hurt?" The child shook her head. "Are you Force-sensitive?" The girl gave her a look somewhere between disgust and fear. "It's okay," Ani stated firmly. "I'm not going to hurt you; I just want to know if that's why you were captured." The girl shrugged, and Ani sighed. "Do you talk at all?" she asked wryly.

"Yes, I do," the girl said quickly. She looked up at Ani, a mixture of awe and wonder radiating from her face.

"You're a Jedi, aren't you?"

/And they're watching us
(Watching Us)
/

Ani laughed. "Yes, kid. My friend over there is one as well." The kid's eyes grew bigger, if possible.

"Cool!" She giggled shyly. "My parents had hoped I'd be accepted by you guys, ever since they found out I was…different." She looked away.

"What happened to them?" Ani asked. The child pointed to her kidnapper's body on the ground.

"They were killed by him." She started to sniffle a little bit. "And all because of me and my…weirdness."

"Hey." Ani wished she could manage the Force-shield and hug her at the same time; unfortunately, she could only concentrate on one thing at a time. Suddenly, she saw Ahsoka was going back towards Julii's hiding spot, probably thinking she was done. Unfortunately, two IG-88s were on either side of her, out of sight but not out of range. VERY bad place to be, she thought grimly. Should I stay here and possibly see her die, or go save her and put the kid in danger?

As if sensing her thoughts, the girl tugged on her sleeve and whispered, "Aren't you going to save your friend?" Ani nodded, and gently drew back the Force-energy shield. As she was finishing up, however, she suddenly felt short of breath.

Crap, she thought. That took a lot out of me – more than I had thought it would. However, can't rest. Must protect this little one, and somehow save Ahsoka's butt. But how? Then, an idea popped into her head.

/They're watching us
(Watching Us)
As we all fly away/

If I do this, it will probably cost me the rest of my strength, not to mention a chunk or maybe all of my life, but it will get rid of those two last droids, and we'll be safe – for the moment. She stood, lowered her eyes as if pondering something, and held out her hands, allowing the Force to warm up inside her. This is gonna take all I've got, she thought, narrowing her eyes.

/And they're watching us
(Watching us)
/

"You had better stand behind me," she warned the Twi'lek. "I'm pretty sure I can do it, and I know I'm pretty good at directing the Force, but in case something bad happens I want you to stay behind me so you won't get hurt. Okay?" The girl nodded, ducking behind her like a frightened fish behind pond weeds. The padawan breathed in deeply.

I don't know if I can do this, a part of her thought.

You must, another part thought back. Your friend could die, the little girl could die, and others could possibly die. Even though what you are thinking will most likely kill you, that should not be considered in whether or not you should do it. You knew you'd die soon anyways. However, do you want to die as a protector and loyal friend, or as a coward?

Ani stared at Ahsoka, willing that she wouldn't move. This had to work; she had to save her friend. I just hope Master won't kill me. A slight chuckle escaped from her lips. She steeled herself, waiting. Each droid stood up and aligned their blaster tubes with a small 'click.'

Now…

/They're watching us
(Watching us)
/

A whirlwind of blue energy exploded from her hands, enveloping the IG-88s around Ahsoka, and yet not touching her. The funnel of Force energy ripped through the two droids, blasting out their innards and whipping their metal shells around. Higher and higher, faster and faster they went. Ahsoka, after watching the droids' demise and exit with little emotion, turned to look at her friend. Ani was looking the worse for wear as she tried to stop the energy whirlwind. She'll collapse if she tries to take back any more energy, a voice in her head whispered. Her friend's knees buckled, then gave out completely, causing her to crumple to the ground.

"ANI!!!!" she yelled, bolting forward as the tornado of energy quickly receded. As it evaporated, she noticed the figures of Barriss and Luminara, joined by Julii, running towards the two as well. The padawan lay on the ground, motionless. She looked too pale to be alive.

"Come on, Ani," Ahsoka muttered, bending over her friend's unconscious body. "Wake up!" She shook her – hard. "Snap out of this for crying out loud!" She then noticed the Twi'lek girl, standing to the side looking on nervously, and took hold of her as Luminara and the others arrived. Without a word, the Jedi Master briskly scooped up her padawan, but her face spoke for itself.

"Call the Temple," her lips said. "Tell them we'll need to be picked up."

/As we all fly away/

Ani came to in a brightly lit, white room. First thing she noticed was the bacta tanks, and then her master and friends sitting at her side.

"Crap!" she said, sitting up fast like lightning only to have pain resonate throughout her body. "I can't believe I'm in the Healer's Ward – AGAIN!!" Luminara and the others smiled; they knew just how much she loathed anything to do with medicine, especially if she was on the receiving end of it.

"We were worried," Barriss said, her face taught. "You were barely alive when we found you, and it took the entire body of healers to revive you once we arrived back here."

"Well, I was pouring most of my energy into the Force funnel," Ani said wryly. "How's the girl?"

"Sleeping," Julii put in. "I think once she knew you were going to be okay, she decided to be tired. She's resting in the bed right next to yours, though, so you're probably going to have a chatty roommate for a while." She smirked. "How is it that you have this effect on kids when you say you'd prefer to live without them?" Ani groaned.

"I do," she informed them. "The Force just has it in for me; it's not my fault."

"Right." Ahsoka raised an eyebrow. "Then how –"
"Master Unduli." A brown-haired humanoid came up to the Jedi Master. "Healer Bant waits outside. She wants to have a word with you."

"Alright. Tell her I'll be there in a moment." She got up, then walked over and placed hand on her padawan's arm. "Don't go anywhere; I don't want to have to placate any irate healers this time." Ani grinned up at her.

"Me, Master?" she asked innocently. "I don't know who you're talking about." Luminara mock-glared at her.

"Careful with your smart remarks," she retorted, half-grinning. "I'll be back." She walked towards the door where Bant was waiting, with whatever she wanted to talk to her about. I have a very bad feeling about this, she thought.

/(Yeah)
Yeah
/

"Master Unduli," Healer Bant said, her bulbous eyes looking haggard. "I wanted to speak to you about your padawan." Luminara's breath caught in her throat.

"Yes?" she demanded. Bant gazed at her, and then looked away. "Healer Bant, so help me if you –"

"Your padawan…is dying," Bant said, weariness permeating her tone. Silence grew thick between the two women. "The disease is advancing steadily, feeding upon her weakened state. Creating that Force funnel, while saving her friend's life and young Kailee's," she referenced the rescued girl, "has destroyed her own. She has only hours to live. I am sorry," she said, finally meeting Luminara's eyes with her own, sympathy revealing itself in the depths.

No, no, nonononononononono, NO, her mind screamed. Not my padawan! Why her?! She took a step back, blinked hard and then went back into the room. Bant sighed and turned to her humanoid helper.

"Contact the Council," she said, clearing her throat. "They'll want to know."

Meanwhile, as Luminara entered the room, Ani and her friends were discussing animatedly what they would do after the war was done with.

"I'd want to sleep for days on end," Barriss said firmly. The others laughed. They knew how much Barriss cherished her sleep.

"I'd want to visit Ilum for once and build a new lightsaber in its caverns," Ahsoka said, patting her old one. "The other students, the older ones, say it's really pretty there, and I want to see it for myself."

"I'll second that!" Julii said, grinning. Everyone broke up into giggles.

"Your turn, Ani," Ahsoka said, eyes glinting. "No copycatting either!"

"Aw darn," Ani pretended to groan. "Well, I know that I'd really like to visit Mirial. My mother was born there, and she wanted me to visit it for her. I almost got to, but we couldn't enter 'cause the Trade Federation had it blockaded but good." Her eyes became thoughtful. "I would like to be able to see what it looks like with my own eyes, not just the HoloNet." Luminara turned her face towards the wall. She wanted to scream. Life could be so unfair sometimes. Her apprentice was not supposed to die this young. Was she expected to die first? Yes; she was older than her apprentice, after all. Her padawan? Not on her watch. And yet, Ani Laminara was dying. The Jedi Master was powerless to stop it. Tears brimmed in her eyes. I can't even try to find her a cure in time, she thought sadly.

"Master?" Ani sounded puzzled. Luminara blinked quickly, took a deep breath, and turned around to face her padawan. Instantly, Ani knew something was up.

"Master, what did the healer tell you?" Luminara merely walked up to the bed, sat down next to her padawan, and grasped her hand tightly.

"Master, what's up?" Ani asked gently, sitting up to give her hand a squeeze back.

"What's up, Master Luminara?" chorused her friends. The Jedi Master shook her head. After an impregnable silence of about ten minutes, she gave in.

"The healer…told me, that you, Padawan, are not going to live for much longer." Ahsoka snorted.

"No du –mummmmuumm." Barriss quickly covered her mouth with her hand. Ani nodded gratefully at her. Luminara looked straight at her padawan after a second's pause.

"She said you have hours to live." That got different reactions out of everyone.

"What?" Ani understood; she just didn't comprehend it. "I'm going to die sooner than I thought?!"

"Come on!" Ahsoka yelled, clenching her fists. "That's not fair!"

"That explains how you're feeling," Barriss stated, her brow furrowing to show her anger and shock at the news.

"You can't die yet!" Julii exclaimed. "You have to live to see the end of the war. You have to see your home planet. You can't just die on us!" Ani put her head in her hands.

"This can't be happening to me," she murmured into her palms. Luminara let go of her hand to embrace her.

"Whatever happens, I will be right beside you," she told her padawan firmly. "Nothing will change that." Ani gave her master a wan smile.

"I know." Her friends gathered on her other side.

"We won't leave you either!" Ahsoka said fiercely. "Just because you may be dying doesn't mean we're gonna run." Ani looked as if she was going to protest.

"No 'buts.'" Julii stood next to Ahsoka, with Barriss walking up to stand on the other side of the Togruta. "We're not going to leave you unless we get killed or the Jedi Council threatens to kill us off. Of course," she added, thoughtfully, "they could just drag us out of here and – hey!" Ahsoka pretended to look innocent as Julii indignantly rubbed her shin. Ani snorted softly and leaned back against the pillows, trying to disguise the emotion welling up in her throat.

"Thanks, everyone." She closed her eyes. "I don't want to be alone, at least, not right now." Her master clasped her hand once again.

"We're not going anywhere, padawan." She glanced over her shoulder, checking to make sure no one was looking in. "We're here 'til the end." Ani smiled, opening her eyes.

"I don't doubt that for a second." Suddenly, a great, hacking cough rose out of her throat and came out. It splattered blood upon the sheets, interrupting the pure whiteness with deadly crimson stains.

She was dying after all.

/And they're watching us
(Watching us)
/

After an hour, Luminara noticed Ani's grip on her hand was faltering, and beginning to fall.

"No," she cried, capturing it and keeping it in with the other. Ani tried to speak, but all she could do was to cough up more blood. Bant and several healers rushed in, followed by Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, and Mace Windu. All wore grim looks, and the last three were especially unhappy.

"Master Yoda asked us to see how she was doing, as he had to finish up teaching a class," Obi-Wan said by way of greeting.

"What class?" Barriss asked.

"Lightsaber defense," Mace replied.

"My favorite." Everyone glanced, surprised, towards the figure in the bed, barely noticeable with all the healers swarming around her.

"I'm glad to see you can still talk, kid," Anakin said, one corner of his mouth curling up. Ani glared at him as the healers hooked her up to several machines, including a heart monitor. She tried to sit forward, but was forced back as Bant stuck a hypo in her arm.

"It should stop the coughing," she explained before motioning the others away so the girl could visit in private. The room was soon quiet again.

"Have they given you a set time?" Mace asked quietly. Ani shook her head.

"That's good," Anakin said smartly. "I hate it when the doctor tries to get you to die on his own timetable." Obi-Wan elbowed him to be quiet. Suddenly, a small voice piped up, "Is it my fault?" Everyone turned to see young Kailee, the Twi'lek girl, standing timidly before them. Her arms were bandaged, but otherwise she seemed fine.

"No, it's not," Ani spoke calmly. "It was inevitable that I was going to die. When it would happen, Healer Bant wasn't exactly sure, but it was going to happen."

"But I…you used the –"

"You didn't force me to protect you, or my friend for that matter." Ani grinned. "'Sides, it's not like you could've known what was going to happen. It's not your fault your parents died, you were captured, or that I'm dying now." She coughed slightly. "All that matters now is that you're here. You're safe, and with any luck, you'll be trained and later taken on as a padawan."

"I could be chosen as a pad…pad…whatchamajiggy?" The girl's eagerness reminded Luminara painfully of her own padawan, some time ago.

"Yeah, as long as you don't get killed first," Anakin joked. Everyone, including Ani, gave him the evil eye. "Whaaaat?" he asked, faking innocence.

"'Soka, whack him one for me," Ani ordered. Ahsoka did so, and not lightly either.

"Oww! Hey, I'm your master, Snips." She rolled her eyes at him.

"Hey, it's a dying wish, and that overrules your precedence as my master," she retorted. Everyone became silent, allowing the Twi'lek to join them as the minutes ticked away. The youngling stood by Master Windu, and looked worriedly up at him. He took her hand and squeezed it, as if to say, It's alright; you're safe now, and don't worry: She doesn't blame you. She smiled a little bit, and her fingers wove themselves securely into his.

Luminara's hand clamped tighter around her padawan's as she saw her little one pale and stiffen with pain. She bit her lip. She really is dying, she thought dismally.

/They're watching us/

"Master," Ani moaned. "Don't worry about me."

"How can I not, dear one?" Her free hand cupped the girl's pale face. "What will I do after you're gone? When will I join you in the Force?" A tear slid down her cheek. "How can I go on? You mean a lot to me, to your friends, to everyone here." She sniffled. "I can't let you go." Ani smiled up at her, blue eyes tinted with gray radiating hope and peace – and comfort.

"Master, you will find a way. And one day, you will see me again." Her smile dropped. "I am counting on it. You had better not fall to the dark side, Master, or I'm going to haunt you." She gave a stern glance to everyone else around her bed. "And that goes for you guys, too."

"Ani." Julii said. "I wish you didn't have to die."

"All of us have to die sooner or later."

"But you shouldn't be going right now!" Ahsoka burst out.

"It was the Force's will," she replied.

"But –" Barriss began. Ani looked slightly angry.

"Look, I'm dying, okay? I'm dying right now. Suck it up already!" She relaxed, looking a bit guilty. "Sorry 'bout that. Anyways, there's nothing you guys, or I for that matter, can do to change it. We're each given our own destiny to follow, and when our time comes, we must face it with the dignity of a Jedi." She looked at each of them, her gaze softening. "I just hope that you guys will all be there with me, when you die." All three grasped her limp hand tightly.

/(Watching us)/

"We will," they said in unison. Ani nodded, almost smiling. Another wave of pain racked her body. She looked towards the others.

"I will miss you guys," she said simply. "And thank you." They all bowed. She turned to look at her master.

"Master," she said, using the last of her strength to bring her free hand over to clasp her master's. "I have always thought of you as my mother, and I always will." Warmth spilled over from her eyes. "You have been a great source of strength for me, and have defended me from all the evils that you could." She paused, looking for the right words to say. "I love you, Master, and don't be afraid when it is your time to go. If it is in my power, I will try to warn you of any danger, but you must be prepared to face your death. I will meet you when you join with the Force." Luminara couldn't speak, for fear she's get choked up, but she sent one last message through their bond.

/I love you, padawan. You have been no less than a daughter to me. I will miss you greatly/ she spoke.

/Goodby, Mother/ Ani replied. Her eyes then closed, and her grip relaxed.

The heart machine began to beep.

/As we all fly away/

Tears finally poured down Luminara's face, and yet she remained silent. Her friends began to cry softly, then turned to each other for comfort. Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Mace Windu turned their heads to the wall, allowing then the grief they felt to be shown upon their faces. Bant scurried in, tears pouring down her face as she unhooked the tubes.

Ani Laminara, one of the Order's brightest lights, was dead.

/(Yeah, yeah. Whoa-oh.) /

Betcha didn't see that one coming! Review, please. And yes, am working on my other stories pronto! Just...review, por favor!