Title: Neverland
Characters: Ahsoka Tano, Anakin Skywalker
Timeframe: TCW missing moment, sometime between the end of the movie and "Rising Malevolence."
Length: ~2100 words
Summary: "I don't want to talk about my past." Sometimes, though, the past speaks for itself, as Ahsoka finds on Tatooine when she and her new Master go to recover the Twilight.
Notes: I've really developed a soft spot for doomed li'l Snips and her even-more-doomed Master. I realized that the two of them had to have spent a little more time on Tatooine after the CW movie, since of course they still have the Twilight later on. The references to ruby bliels and Anakin with the old spacer come from Terry Brooks' TPM novelization. Shili is the name of the Togruta homeworld.


Master Kenobi had told Ahsoka that, like she and her Master were doing now, Master Qui-Gon had been bartering for parts for their downed ship when he'd first found Anakin on this world. Let's hope you're less adept at finding trouble than my old Master, he'd added wryly.

A little late for that, she'd replied, chucking her thumb towards her new (and currently scowling) teacher with a grin.

Tatooine is almost nothing like the clean, quiet splendor of the Temple. Sand and dust coat the air and the people as well as the buildings. Even in the arid atmosphere her hunter's sense of smell more than picks up the unmistakable, worse-than-Stinky odor of beast – she doesn't recognize what kind; probably several. It's loud, bustling, alive. And yet there's an unmistakable air of desperation or something equally disturbing, that frissons in the Force against the back of her head-tails and makes her stay near to her Master even without his instructions to do so. A wrinkled Trandoshan catches her eye and rakes his gaze over her poncho-clad figure in an unmistakable leer; she draws closer against Anakin's side. Master Skywalker's own gaze levels on the being, and Ahsoka feels a bit of dark satisfaction as the unknown person makes a hasty recoil into the shadows. Not to mention a bit of pride in her new Master, who doesn't seem to letanything intimidate him.

It is worse here, she decides. It occurs to her that may be because on Coruscant, there's always an up to go to. Or, barring that, plenty of ships to sneak on to seek your fortune elsewhere. On this planet, she's looking at as good as it gets. Unless you happen to be one of the Hutt crime lord slavers or, like Master Skywalker, lucky enough to be picked up by a visiting Jedi.

Just the hour they've spent walking through this city she's learned more about her new Master than in their entire last day together. The public records at the Temple didn't go into much detail about Anakin Skywalker's life on Tatooine prior to his discovery by Qui-Gon Jinn and his later-than-usual entry into the Jedi Order, and he himself volunteered even less.

Whatever happened to him here, it was clearly enough for him to want to be absolutely anywhere else. Walking through this town – Mos something or other – his entire demeanor changes, instantly. Instead of staring confidently forward, his eyes are cast, like everyone else, at ground or chest level, making contact with no one else's. His head ducked down just slightly to avoid the occasional windburst of sand. His posture, his long stride restrained and confined, so as not to bump the person next to him. She knows he hasn't lived on this planet for at least ten years, but, to look at him now, if she didn't know better she'd think he'd never left.

His Force presence is different here too – just as blindingly bright and strong (more than even Master Yoda), but... hard, pointy-edged. Forbidding. When they'd first arrived in town, still on the outskirts, she'd heard this terrible guttural cry from the desert behind them that had made her own blood run cold – and she'd felt as if she'd been slapped by his reaction, the blunt, cold wave of pure fire in the Force, as his hand had twitched for the saber at his hip. It was gone in an instant, clamped off, but there had been absolutely no mistaking it.

(The desert is merciless. It takes everything from you.)

They're on their way back to the Twilight now, passing a side street full of vendors when Ahsoka catches, underneath the scent of fried bread and dried meats, an unmistakable sweetness. It's not like anything else she's smelled on this world, and she soon pinpoints it to a stall about 15 feet away. A human woman with leathery skin not unlike the jerked meat in the stall next door is handing a cup with something thick and dark red to a small Rodian boy, who begins slurping it as if it's the only food he's seen in days. From his weight and the state of his clothing, that may not be a far off assumption. She glances at her Master, and – just for a moment – she sees his too-old blue eyes fixate on the child, ever so slightly widened, before moving his gaze back to her.

"Ahsoka -" Anakin warns as she diverts to the stand, but she pushes through the crowd anyway. She beams up at the old woman, whose desire for the day to end clearly outweighs any inclination towards non-functional interaction.

"How many?" the woman asks.

Ahsoka glances up at her Master, who almost imperceptibly shakes his head, a warning in his eyes. Though he won't admit it, maybe something simple like a cool sweet drink might actually soothe his mood a bit. "Two - "

"No, I'm fine, Snips."

"Oh, come on, Skyguy, what's the harm?" she flashes a brilliant smile at him, then fishes the necessary coins out of the pouch on her belt and presses them into the woman's hand. She sees his lips narrow, but he doesn't say anything.

She knows Master Skywalker finds her bright, snarky demeanor grating sometimes. But she doesn't think he realizes it's a survival reflex: especially in a place like this, where even without the Force anger and desperation can overwhelm you almost as quickly as the sand.

A few moments later two disposable cups filled with a cool, syrupy red concoction are pressed into her hands and the woman moves on to the next person in line. Ahsoka inhales and is instantly transported by the scent: sugary, fruity, and the image that blooms in her mind is, of all things, the Arboretum at the Temple. Maybe one of the plants that blooms there makes the same fruits that create this. She wonders where anyone would find such a thing on this planet. She offers the other cup to her Master, who, quite reticently, takes it.

"So what are these, anyway?" she asks.

"Might serve you well next time to ask that before you decide to drink something strange," Anakin replies, his lips still tight. "It could be - "

"Poison? Hardly; you saw the way that kid was drinking it. What are these?"

"Ruby bliels. A lot of the children here love them."

"Did you?" she asks, eyes wide as she takes a large sip of the drink. It tastes exactly like it smells. It's wonderful.

"I don't want to – "

"Talk about your past, yeah, I know." She fights – unsuccessfully – the urge to roll her eyes. "You can't even tell me whether you ever had a certain drink?" she counters, and she's a little embarrassed to hear a childishly high note of frustration seep into her voice. She doesn't know him very well yet, so she doesn't know for sure whether he's always this closed-off, or whether this world just brings it out in him. But if he's always going to be this distant with her, then she doesn't know if she can -

"I did," he says suddenly. And there's a flicker in those blue eyes, something far-off, and his attention seems unaccountably fixed on the drink, just like that child from a few minutes ago. "My friends and I would share one whenever one of us had a spare coin. I haven't had one since..."

She's immediately struck with another image: a blond human boy half the size her Master is now, next to another slightly smaller dark-haired boy. The two children stare in awe at a grizzled old human whose uniform bears an old Republic insignia and who smiles fondly at the blond boy as he relates some tale of adventure. All three of them hold the same red drinks that Ahsoka and her master have in their hands now. There's a bright innocence in the blond boy's eyes – not as much as there should be for a child that age, but still more than she's yet seen in the current Anakin Skywalker.

She's not sure whether the image comes from the planet, or her Master, but she knows that it is without a doubt true. Ever since arriving here, these vivid sensory snapshots in the Force are more and more commonplace. On this planet, certain places are practically cacophonous with the images they unleash. She can only imagine what it must feel like for Anakin, with the strength of his connection to both this planet and the Force.

Master Skywalker's really not that much older than she is, certainly not to the extent Master Yoda or even Master Kenobi are. Somehow, though, when she looks at him now, it's difficult to imagine he was ever the tiny, buoyant child from her vision. Was it because of what happened here? Or, it occurs to her with a sobering weight, is it something in the Order that took it from him?

Will she ever know?

She looks at him, then at the drink, then back again, raising one eyebrow in questioning. She feels more than hears the sigh he makes, before he lifts the cup to his mouth and takes a too-large sip. He winces as he swallows.

"You don't like it? Did they change it?"

"No," he replies, his voice heavy with some unvoiced – does he have any other kind? - memory. "Haven't changed at all."

Something in Ahsoka's heart breaks, just a little. She suddenly feels guilty about pushing him; maybe this place really is too painful for him. It's an alien concept to her, that home should be so hurtful to think of – and that home for a Jedi could be anywhere but the Temple. Unlike him she has almost no memory of the planet or family that birthed her. She's only been back to Shili once, when she took part in the akul-hunting ritual that all Togrutans face at the end of their childhood. There had been a certain degree of familiarity and wondering, but not near the effect on her that Tatooine has on Anakin Skywalker.

She isn't sure what to say, so she takes another sip of her bliel. She closes her eyes as she lets the mixture roll over her tongue, then swallows. She can see why adults might turn their nose up (if they have one) at the drink; if she were a few years older, she herself might. They really are very sweet. But there's still something about it that just calls to her – maybe the sensation that just for a few moments, you're not on a harsh desert planet. Maybe it's that youthful bubbliness she'd hoped would, even if only just a little, infect her Master. Maybe it's the barely tangible connection it gives her to the man now responsible for her upbringing, the past he won't share.

She opens her eyes and is surprised to see her Master staring at her and the drink – and something in the expression, in those too-old blue eyes, makes her heart break just a little more.

"They'll rot your teeth if you're not careful," he says, quickly turning his head back in the direction they're walking - the edges of a wan smile just fading from view, but she catches it anyway. She wishes he would smile more – really smile – and not just because he's really cute when he does.

There's another flash in his eyes, something like sympathy. He holds eye contact with her, maybe just a second too long, and she thinks she sees – at least she hopes she does – that he in fact understands her eager pushiness for what it really is. And that he wants to trust her. He puts a hand on her shoulder, awkwardly, before he inclines his head for her to follow him back to the Twilight.

He's not ready, not yet. But someday he might be. She'll take that, for now.

--

[end]