A/N: Written for the challenge "starships" from the Star Wars fanfic club over at deviantArt.

How the kriff did this get so long how.

I cannot write Ahsoka and Anakin without citing Mathematica as some sort of inspiration.


Secondhand Echoes

Ahsoka glared at Anakin, lips pursed, headtails twitching. "Over my dead body."

He glared right back at her, the Senate dome in the morning-hazed distance behind him emphasizing his look of imperious irritation. He wore irritation well, Ahsoka thought. It went with the black.

"Come on, Snips, we've been over this. Padawans don't always stick with their masters. I spent a lot of time with Master Unduli during my training."

"That wasn't during a war. You need me here, and you know it." She pointed at him, then waved-grand gestures certainly weren't signs of the emotional control necessary for Jedi Knighthood, but they were appropriate here. Something had to encompass Anakin, the Temple spires in the distance, the mushroom-shaped Senate cap, and the whole blasted situation.

Anakin's face got serious. Ahsoka had no idea how to explain human emotions, even though most of the facial muscles were similar to the ones she as a Togruta was hardwired into reading. Maybe it was something in his eyes, although they did not exactly narrow. Maybe it was something in his mouth, although it did not turn down so much as tighten.

Anakin said, "You're tired. We can all tell. You're losing weight, and…."

"And what?" She propped her hands on her hips.

"Never mind."

"What?"

He glanced down. " The Force shouts when you sleep even on the days you don't make any noise."

She had a sudden vision of Anakin sitting upright in his bed, hearing a cry bounce off the walls of the Master-Padawan suite between their rooms. The sound would be funneled right to him, faceless, speaking only of fear and hopelessness and all those things that not just Jedi, but any strong being weren't supposed to have. It was the nightmare of any teenager who cared what others thought of them. But…

She had a weapon. "Like I haven't heard you."

He sighed, more exasperated than sad. (She was hiding the sadness too—they had that in common—but maybe he was thinking of dead clones and dead Twi'leks and the sickeningly vivid conflict in Asajj Ventress's eyes.) He said, "People aren't meant to live at war."

There were no words shaped to fill the exact mold of silence that fell between them then, so he swapped it out for levity. "You and Shaak Ti go off and have fun times."

She could change mood quickly when she had to—another thing they had in common. Ahsoka's shoulders slumped. "Babysitting senators? Do you realize how much not fun this is?"

"Yes," he cajoled. "Now go."

She scooped her satchel off the tarmac with not a little brusqueness.

"Do try and learn something…and have fun." Anakin didn't quite smile, but the lack of frown gave off the same vibe.

Ahsoka trudged toward the waiting shuttle.

Shaak Ti felt the launch shiver up through her soles to the tendons at the back of her ankles. She flexed her feet against the cold, honeycombed floor of the ship, getting to know it. She didn't like not knowing her location only through boots.

It wasn't that there was much natural about Coruscant, although the Room of One Thousand Fountains felt like Shili or Felucia or heaven sometimes. It wasn't that she wanted the feel of the ground to remind her of home, because (she was too Jedi for that) the thin ship-skin would never have reminded her of the seedpod-coated dirt of Shili even if she had ever thought of calling that place home. It was just that the coolness felt nice and made the trip feel more real and, Force, if the ship burst its steams it wouldn't matter that her feet were exposed or not, she'd suffocate either way.

She gathered up her expansive sleeves and slipped toward the bridge with that narrow, predatory gait she knew looked like she was floating, if people just saw her moving along with her legs hidden entirely beneath her robes.

The pilot was taking them out of high orbit and into a patch of vacuum where none of Coruscant's million other commuters were trying to go lightspeed. The light of his controls glinted off the thick goggles strapped to his forehead. His human neck looked naked without a headtail protecting it. Shaak Ti made sure to stamp her feet on the ground as she came in, so that she wouldn't frighten him. She snuck without meaning to sometimes.

She gave him the smile without fangs in it. "It is a pleasure to travel in your company, mister Shardan."

He looked back at her, face shaven and shiny with youth, eyebrows bushy and squished down on his murky irises with the goggles. "No trouble, ma'am. I go where the Council tell me to."

Shaak Ti turned, her headtail-tips rustling against her cloak the only sound, as Ahsoka strode into the room. The last word one would apply to the young Togrutawas "float"—those bandy legs and heavy boots kept her in obvious relation to the ground. Not necessarily kept her on the ground, not with the kind of acrobatics Yoda taught students he found to be appropriately springy. But there was something earthy about her. Even her voice was deep at times, dark purple-tinted like her lips, when Shaak Ti's was breathy.

"Ready for the mission, Master," Ahsoka drawled. She sounded tired, but in Shaak Ti's experience, teenagers didn't get tired. They just got the sort of laid-back that meant I'm not amused. This readiness was sarcasm in its purest form.

Shaak Ti understood sarcasm like she understood glitterstim. She knew that it was out there and that people used it, but wasn't going to bother to take the risk of using it herself. An overdose could get very ugly. The Council might frown.

The pilot sounded conversational as he finished keying in hyperdrive coordinates and leaned back into the pull of the lever that swept the stars into a tunnel. He was compact and brown-haired, with pale skin. "So, why Devaron?"

There wasn't any harm in telling him. "The ruling council pleaded for entry into the Senate again, saying they'd abolished their practice of feeding dissidents, criminals, and anyone they didn't like to wild beasts. The Council wanted a pair of Jedi to be sure the Devaronians were keeping up that end of the bargain."

"Ah, wow." He looked around his console, but with the ship at faster-than-light there wasn't much he needed to do, or that his reflexes could handle. "Will the Council keep up theirs?"

Shaak Ti shook her head. "The Force, as they say, keeps our futures unclear."

"Do they say that?" Shardan didn't look at her. "I wouldn't know."

The Force felt bitter in him. Shaak Ti tilted her head. "Angry about something? All of us are equally important on this mission; if you need help, please explain."

"Nah, it's nothing." He shifted, and she could see the a recent synthskin graft wrapped around the muscles of his upper arm. It looked not unlike the battlefield patches of a lightsaber burn…but he had probably brushed against a hot engine plate during repairs. "Just I wanted to be a Jedi once."

Words Shaak Ti had heard so many times that they didn't need to be rehearsed in her own mouth slipped out. "The Force gives each of us our own destiny."

His voice stayed flat, then dipped down into whisper. Sometimes human whispers could be so tightbeamed they'd buzz in her montrals, but this sound was all directed toward the joysticks in front of Shardan. "Right. Whatever."

Ahsoka folded her arms. "It won't take long." She looked down, speaking out of the corner of her mouth. "I hope."

Surprised that she's still ornery out of the sight of her equally ornery master? Shaak Ti smiled a little as she mentally chided herself. You shouldn't be. "Ahsoka?" she said. "I would like to talk to you about the parameters of our mission. In private."

"Sure." Sounding supremely bored, the Padawan skulked off.

Shaak Ti shook her head, smiling some more to the pilot's confused expression. At least he wasn't feeling sorry for himself any more. Jedi training wasn't everything anyone expected it to be.

To Ahsoka's relief, Shaak Ti paid her the common courtesy of looking in the dormitory room first before stepping into the room the Force must have told her Ahsoka actually retreated into. It was the last place one could sit on the ship before they'd have to start taking panels off and walk into the hyperdrive core itself. Ahsoka perched on a storage box and kicked her heels against its plasteel planes.

She looked up as the other Togruta ducked gracefully, keeping her montrals from touching the upper curve of the door. "Hey."

"Hello."

Ahsoka looked down. "Hey, I, wanted to apologize for being so angry. It's just that I think Anakin's going through something tough and he won't tell me about it. Getting sent off to Devaron is like leaving him and the clones to be attacked by somethin' I can't see."

Shaak Ti looked around and couldn't find anywhere to sit that wasn't breakable or heated, so folded her arms in her sleeves and stood, to all appearances as comfortable as a felinx on a pillow. "Anakin is a strong person. Do you think Coruscant will be in danger while we're gone?"

It's not that the Force gave me a premonition, Ahsoka wanted to say. It's just that he doesn't snap at me without reason. "No."

Shaak Ti nodded. She blinked, slow and sage, like—well, if she could be described as like Yoda in any possible way, it would be her blink. "Let me know if you feel anything. Until then, focus on the mission. Devaron is a fierce world…not unlike Shilli. You will feel its creatures reaching out to you."

Ahsoka stood up, trying for a heroic pause, and rapped her fist against the wall like a clone telling the pilot of his LAAT/i to start shooting. She was adult and strong and could do this.

(As adult as a clone?)

"I'll be mindful, Master."

(What do those words really mean?)

Shaak Ti gave the Yoda-blink again, but then her smile was all woman and no ancient alien. "But let me know if you feel anything else."

That was good—Shaak Ti was listening. Ahsoka had been afraid she'd fall into the rut so many other Jedi did when they were challenged the littlest bit about their doctrine—fall into the rest of it even harder. "I will."

When she was alone, Ahsoka sat down on the box again and thought about Coruscant and Devaron and Shilli. Maybe that emphasis on planets was what Ahsoka didn't get about so many Jedi Masters. She couldn't bring herself to care about factions and governments and faceless planets. She engaged with people.

She sighed and stood up.

The ship shook. Red warning light fell down around the engine room as something metal spluttered. Down the hallway Shaak Ti emerged from the dorm in a flurry of cloak-folds, dashing toward the bridge. Ahsoka followed.

Shardan's eyes were glancing back and forth over the levers and dials almost as his fast as his hands were trying to get them back in his control.

Shaak Ti gripped the back of his chair in strong crimson hands, puckering the leather. "What's happening?"

"Something's gone and…kriffing…I don't even know what it's done to the hyperdrive. We've shifted into point 3—that's faster than this ship should go—and I can't pull back. I can't pull out." He swore as he tried to finagle the computer.

"Wait," Ahsoka said. "We can't get out of hyperspace?"

Shardan's head was bowed in concentration. "Stuck until we run into something. Probably Devaron."

"You can't just pull the lever and—"

"Tear the ship up with the kinetic speed of reentry?"

Ahsoka chewed at her lip in frustration.

Shardan stood up and headed out of the bridge. "Stay here. Unless…" He stopped, looked from one Togruta to another. "You've got some Jedi trick as can get us out of this?"

Ahsoka could just gape, mind black. This ship was nothing like the fighters she had been trained in; it would have been like expecting someone with a basic speeder license to drive a Calamarian five-star cruise boat.

Shaak Ti said, "I'm afraid mechanical things aren't my specialty. If only…we have Padawans who can practically speak to them."

And, ah, Anakin, Ahsoka thought.

Shardan disappeared down the hall. "Great. I've asked somebody who works in the wrong department. Not what I wanted to hear."

Ahsoka glared at his back. This wasn't the time for humor, wasn't the time for holding grudges (it wasn't the time for staring into the funnel of hyperspace and feeling like curling up in a corner either, even if that's what she was feeling.) Think rationally. Think what Master Skywalker would do. Think…about Shardan!

"Master Ti," Ahsoka said. "Shardan said he wanted to be a Jedi. What if it's all a trap? What if he wants to kill us out of spite?"
Shaak Ti was bent over the console, touching no buttons but just splaying her fingers against the metal. When Ahsoka concentrated on the Force she could almost hear Shaak Ti calling out to it, marking in her mind the vast distances between Coruscant and Devaron and where she was between them.

"Every planet a homeworld," Shaak Ti murmured. "The Force will guide us."

Ahsoka stood with her fingers swaying, not even clenching (because a lightsaber would do no good here.)

The Jedi Master did not glance up. "Do you sense deception?"

"No."

She said no more, settling on the floor of the bridge with her cloak spread out around her like a pool. (Of blood, perhaps, from the entirely non-lightsaber variety of deadly going on here, or…perhaps…from the still Fountains.)

Ahsoka stamped back to find the pilot.

He had opened a panel behind where Ahsoka had been sitting just a few minutes ago. The wires and corroded-looking plates inside were mostly alien to her. Shifting around on his knees to look into the shadowed place, he said nothing as she stood in the doorway.

She couldn't sense any deception either, but the Force wasn't always reliable. No one had sensed Cassie Cryar when she took Ahsoka's lightsaber. No one had sensed the intruder into the library sanctum itself. The Force (Ahsoka couldn't quite believe she was saying it), wasn't always trustworthy.

"We're going to die?" she said.

He looked at her for just a moment. "Yeah, kid. But it'll take at least days to do it and I'm not going to stop working out how not to."

We're going to die, Ahsoka thought, unless we work out how not to.

It was like being trapped in the cave-in with Barriss. All dust and dark.

But Ahsoka was not one to panic. She made for the bridge to think about what she could do, thoughts trailing behind her like a comet tail. Anakin won't let me live this down. Trapped in a ship and he could do anything he wanted with it. Anakin won't forgive me for dying without giving him a chance to save me. And then gloat at me.

The hyperspace tunnel in the bridge looked more black than blue—bruised, flecked with white bursts. Shaak Ti was still meditating in front of it. Ahsoka trailed her hands along the console, thinking of what she knew of ships and, more importantly, what she knew of the Force. Maybe she could hold the ship together if they forced it out of hyperspace. Certainly, her and Shaak Ti together—

She glanced at the meditating Master. She looked asleep.

Shaak Ti did not often think about dying.

Maybe all Jedi had premonitions of their own death and it was too personal for them to talk about, or maybe they rarely did, but she had always had them. As a teen, lying in bed in the dormitory where she could hear other Padawans breathing in their sleep, she had felt cold floor against her bare legs and realized that she was alone on a starship and going to die.

Sometimes the premonition made her sit up, gasping; sometimes it made her sink into herself, fearing. As she had grown up, she had come to accept it as part of the gift and the curse of the Force. At least, she would think, I will know when I am not going to die.

This was not the ship she was going to die on. She could feel it. On that ship, the one in her premonition, there were others spinning in their own death-dance outside, a whole fleet plotting and moving like a dejarik army. There were Jedi too far away to help her. There was a presence with cold fingers and a cold voice, someone tracing the lines of stripes on her montrals almost tenderly, as if she knew them.

She opened her eyes. "Ahsoka," she asked, "Have you ever had a vision of the future where you knew how you were going to die?"

The question was so morbidly direct that Ahsoka was distracted from her thoughts of how to get out of here. Maybe, she thought, that was its intent—a Jedi Master ploy to stop her from worrying. Well, it didn't matter. She wasn't worrying. She was plotting.

Until now. Now she was pondering.

She'd had premonitions sometimes, from split-second fast-forwards in battle to the dark dreams Anakin had been talking about. Sometimes they were of things she remembered, deaths and losses. But sometimes…she knew what the future felt like. And in it there was someone waiting for her, a cloaked figure that was not like the archetype of the Sith because somehow it was part droid too, part sick body that needed metal to hold it up, but power bled from it still.

"Yeah, sometimes." Ahsoka said. "There's a man with durasteel hands."

"Yes," Shaak Ti said. "Yes there is."

I won't be killed like that, Ahsoka thought. I've been given this vision so I can stop it when it comes.

Shardan thought this was a stupid way to die. There were infinite ways in ships. A collision on Coruscant, a dust storm on Tatooine, a freak calculation that landed you in a star. Pirates, even. These were quick, decent deaths.

This was just idiotic.

They had enough food for weeks, and the recycled and fortified air guaranteed a nearly infinite supply. In theory, nothing was wrong with the ship. It just wouldn't stop.

He crouched down and started inspecting the engine, the unfairness of this situation running through his head over and over…but nearly laughing at the whole thing wasn't enough to disguise his fear.

It wasn't only not joining the Jedi that he regretted, although he still remembered the-was that Twi'lek even a Jedi Master? He might have been the adjunct assigned to the problem cases—telling him that his midi-chlorian count just wasn't high enough. (That was another stupid injustice of the universe. Midi-chlorians. What sense was there in a mystical energy field being rooted in tiny offshoots of mitochondria, just accidents of cells?) His other regrets were a laundry list of little things. If he died here he'd never be able to get the next ArbJub Band album. He'd never get to go to Glee Anselm on vacation and see the ocean. He'd never tell that girl from math class in college that he'd loved her enough to plus into Squib Lit—kriff, he'd never tell her that even if he lived, but it was worth the thought.

"This doesn't help us!" Ahsoka banged a fist against the console. "Master Ti. Could we hold the ship steady if we dropped out of hyperspace?"

Shaak Ti finally stood up. "Our course is erratic. If I could find a safe space, guarantee we're not coming out in an asteroid field or a star…"

"You can do that," Ahsoka said cheerily. Flattery sometimes worked. "Your meditation should help."

Shaak Ti gazed at her with eyes as calm as Yoda's. "And if I find a place, what are you going to do?"

Ahsoka stared back. Who did she want her eyes to look like to Shaak Ti? Like Anakin's? Maybe. "I'm going to take us back to normal space, and hold the ship together."

She could sense Shardan's failing resolve from the back. What else was there to do? Nothing. This could work. It had to work.

Shaak Ti said, "I'll try to find a place. When I do, you pull us out then and there, not a second afterward. And you watch the seams of this ship as if it's your own skin."

Ahsoka nodded.

Shaak Ti sat down again and gathered the Force around her.

Shardan had found the problem. Problems, actually; a series of wires splintered like glass fragments, swaying and passing sparks dangerously from one to another. An impact had dislodged on and it had frayed at the one next to it until a chain reaction set them all off. Shardan had all the clamps and wire segments he needed to fix them; it just took time and concentration.

He slid the toolbox from the other side of the room with his foot, resettled on his hands and knees, and got to work with rubber gloves and stemming clamps.

"You have five seconds from my mark. Count them down."

Ahsoka almost jumped when she heard Shaak Ti's voice. The younger Togruta had been staring into the hyperspace vortex for so long that it had started to look like the ship was diving straight down into it instead of cruising along horizontally. "You found a spot?"

"Found it."

"Great." Ahsoka put her hand on the hyperspace lever, feeling its dented surface against her gloved palm for a moment before curling her fingers around it. Realizing she should have done this before, she used her left hand to key in the comm. "Shardan? Hold on. We're going to cushion the ship for a drop out of hyperspace."

His voice was muffled as if he were speaking into his collar comm from an enclosed space. "Cushion it? Wait, don't do anything without me."

Shaak Ti said, "Mark."

Ahsoka felt her stomach go cold. "We can do this, Shardan. Trust me. It's the only way." Five.

"No it's not. I'm working on the problem now." Four.

"Can you fix it?" Three.

"I can, just give me a kriffing minute. It's my ship!" Two.

Ahsoka flexed her fingers around the lever. This chance or another one that might not come? What would Anakin do?

Finally she made the decision she thought was the opposite of that. "Fine. " She released the lever. One. "Plan aborted."

Shaak Ti opened her eyes.

The ship lurched. Shardan cursed over the comm as Ahsoka was thrown forward, her nose nearly striking the speaker. "What's happening?"

"Just connected a couple cords. We've put on a burst of speed. Don't worry, there'll just be a couple jumps as the hyperdrive, er, finds itself—"

The next shock was worse. Shaak Ti gripped the legs of the pilot's chair, and Ahsoka braced against the console. Instinctively she grabbed for the nearest handhold as the ship rocked.

The nearest handhold was the hyperdrive lever, and when she grabbed it and leaned, it pushed down into place.

Shardan's scream over the comm melded into the whoosh of the forced reversion. Asteroids streamed past the ship. One potato-shaped rock, its sides looking round and harmless, glanced against the transparisteel of the viewport as the ship flashed past a thinning field of more asteroids. Ahsoka realized that the chalky sides of the rocks she could see floating by were untouched minerals—the ship had ploughed through a single, large asteroid while it was half-real during reversion. The console flashed angry red sigils and a diagram of the ship that was perfectly clear—hull breaches on the starboard side living quarters, and in the cargo hold. A pilot's nightmare.

But the bridge was safe, or at least it was long enough for Ahsoka to take one breath and realize the viewport was bending inward, about to burst like a bubble as a crack spread through its edge and the vacuum pushed in.

Shaak Ti stood up. The freezing breezes of space rustled her cloak as she thrust one hand forward and one toward the starboard corridor. With a burst of Force energy of a strength Ahsoka had rarely felt, Master Ti implemented the original plan and held the ship together with her will.

Shardan stumbled into the bridge with a black burn mark covering his goggles across one eye, and a can of sealant in his hands. He sprayed the crack in the viewport, but it was still too stressed to remain stable. Shaak Ti glanced at Ahsoka. The Force delivered her a pack of information as fast as one computer to another, and she knew how to slow the ship.

Maybe this was how Anakin felt, although the instructions did have a particular flavor of Shardan about them that made Ahsoka think they came directly from his swift mind. Her hands moved controls only halfway of her own accord, directed by the Force's instinct. Shaak Ti could be felt as a partner presence, fusing Ahsoka's macroscopic perceptions to the underlying physics she commanded. The ship's forward thrusters fired, braking it as it drifted out of the path of the shattered asteroid. Space was clear and dark around them, with the pink lace of a nebula floating in the distance. Ahsoka set the autopilot to fly them in a stable circle, ducking beneath Shaak Ti's outstretched arms to activate it.

Together, while Shardan rushed to the breach in the starboard side, the two Jedi kept space out and fit the transparisteel back into place. The tornado of vacuum stopped blowing in.

It was a few days before Shardan's ship, ensconced in the bay of a Republic battle cruiser, arrived back on Coruscant. Soon after achieving a stable flight path, with Shardan back at the helm, Shaak Ti commed the Jedi Temple and told them the journey to Devaron had been irredeemably delayed. All three survivors were told to report for R&R and commendations. Repairs to Shardan's ship would be covered by the Jedi's insurance, filed under "acts of deities known or unknown".

Anakin emerged from the Temple as soon as the ship hit the atmosphere and was waiting when Ahsoka arrived, his cheeks chapped from the bustling wind, and his cloak-tails flaring. "Snips! Good job not being dead."

With Jedi, humor does not work to disguise worry. The worry is there, settled into his soul, and being glib just adds another layer to it. Ahsoka lived her life trying to disguise how much she wanted to be the sunshine cast on the mudpacked fear in him. "We had it all under control."

Shaak Ti looked up at the sky again, as if she was eager to return to the mission. If Ahsoka learned anything from this, it was that sometimes it's nice to be back home and on the ground.

Ahsoka stepped a little closer to Anakin and looked up at him. "You said beings aren't meant to live at war…"

"I was having a bad day, Snips. Don't dwell."

He put a hand on her shoulder and started shooing her back toward the Temple. Ahsoka said, "I wasn't dwelling. And you had a bad day?"

Shaak Ti glided behind them. Ahsoka mused that, despite his name, Anakin's element was not air either. There was earth on his boots from when he meditated in the Fountains (he liked to hear the water), and he walked sometimes like his boots were lined with ferrocrete. Loud steps, brash ones. There was fire-glint in his eyes sometimes and the smell of burnt electronics around his hands after he'd done a day's worth of tinkering with droids or speeders or training lightsabers.

His voice got quiet. "What happened up there, Ahsoka?"

She looked down at her feet as the ground changed from tarmac to the tile at the Temple's entrance. "Mechanical failure. There was nothing we could have done. And then the pilot fixed it and I…well, we got out alive."

"Shaak Ti told me you wanted to pull the ship out of hyperspace."

"I did."

"That sort of thing should be impossible to survive."

"I know." She thought, Shardan and I worked together by accident. But Jedi aren't supposed to believe in accidents. She had to admit it. "I fell on the lever. We shouldn't have come out of hyperspace that fast."

"You fell on—"

"The ship lurched!"

Anakin was looking at her with a softness in his eyes that he had probably learned from Obi-Wan, the face he thought was the one teachers were supposed to put on. Meanwhile, Shaak Ti smiled. Ahsoka knew that Anakin wasn't just thinking about how funny the situation was in retrospect. She knew this wasn't the real Anakin; that was the one she saw in battle or in the hanger with grease up to his elbows, his eyes narrowed and his voice without any of the padding he tried to comfort her with now. (She had not known him long, but he was so predictable.) He said, "Do you really think you all working together and the damage to the ship were by chance?"

She was about to say I'm not sure the Force would bother to set up a life lesson just for me when she realized where he was going with this. "You think it was sabotage? Shardan had a grudge against the Jedi—but he was clean. His emotions were wide open, and he had no idea the engine was going to do that."

The shadow of the Temple fell over them. Shaak Ti said, "Some things in life do come by chance. Tress sprout leaves, species live and die...these things are not random, because the Force guides them, but their purpose is unseen."

"Sabotage," Anakin said. "Check the flight plan and see if anyone from outside the Temple had access to it. This was the perfect time for Ventress to take you out while I was away."

Ahsoka bridled. "I'm not helpless without you, Skyguy. But I'll check with the dockmaster."

"Good. What are the Devaronians going to do now?"

Shaak Ti said, "The local Watchman will mediate until I can get on the next ship out there. With your Padawan, if you allow it."

"We're going to check out this dockmaster first," Anakin said. Ahsoka nodded. It was good to see someone take control. She didn't want to leave the Devaronians hanging, though—or make it appear that she was using being back in the Temple as an excuse not to complete her mission. (But, she thought, thinking you were going to die in hyperspace—never retrieved for a funeral pyre—is a pretty good excuse.)

Shaak Ti said, "Trust what you feel. If there was sabotage, it may have been hidden. But know that I trusted Shardan, and I trust that things may happen without reason. In nature, plants grow where the sun takes them."

Before Ahsoka could decide whether that statement was far too pessimistic or was simply a foil to Anakin's paranoia, Shaak Ti gave a slight bow and diverted down the corridor, toward her quarters and away from the direction that would take Anakin and Ahsoka to the hangar. Before she turned the corner, Ahsoka saw her stop and slip off the shoes that had been hidden beneath her robes. Bare-footed, she glided away.

"Now, listen." When they were alone Anakin turned to face Ahsoka, and pointed one heavy-gloved hand at her. "One of these days, you are going to get some rest. This was supposed to be an easy mission. Instead, we're both worked up. I recommend taking our next mission to Glee Anselm. Somewhere sunny and quiet."

"You, liking the quiet?"

"No, not really." He continued walking. "But I worried about you, Snips. Stuck here while you were having fun on a ship, scared out of your mind." He patted her on the back. "Let me know next time you're going to fall out of comm range and nearly die, got it?"

"Yes, Master." She smiled and did not lean away.

"So. Who might have had access to these ships?"

Ahsoka's brow lowered in concentration. "This isn't Ventress' style. There were no lightsabers involved. Cad Bane knows his way around the Temple; he might have hired someone who could sneak in and mess with the ship."

"But one of the Jedi on watch would have noticed."

"If Sugi or Bane hired a man through an intermediary, so the actual intruded didn't know what the original intent of his employer was…"

They headed down toward the hanger, where, Ahsoka knew she would feel a little trepidation at the sight of the small ships and their hyperdrive cores, blackened with heat and corroded with use. But, despite what Anakin said, she wasn't tired. She got antsy if she stayed in the Temple to long, staring at the walls. Jedi were trained to be active, and the very fact that Shaak Ti seemed to feel an incorrigible need to go back to her quarters between missions—between parts of the same mission—seemed silly to Ahsoka. She bounced on the balls of her feet as she walked, overflowing with energy.

Maybe that would change one day. Maybe one day she would be older and more tired, weighed down by the Force and her montrals, and one day she would not take lightly words like over my dead body flowing from her mouth to Anakin's ears. But today…

"Oh, and, Snips? Try not to lean on any important functions when I'm traveling with you on a ship."

"It was Shardan's fault! He didn't tell me what he was working on. And anyone else would have had the same trouble. More!"

"Okay, Ahsoka. Tell me you're always right next time something crashes."

"You're yelling at me about crashes?" She felt a little sting, but upon giving it back knew that this kind of banter was just how they talked to one another. "Mister 'I steal speeders and joyride around Coruscant for breakfast'—"

"If it's good enough for Obi-Wan, it's good enough for me."

Their words bounced off the walls as they made for the lower part of the Temple. Outside, Ahsoka thought, Shardan might have heard the secondhand echoes if he stood in just the right place outside the doorway and let the whole of the Temple be surrounded by how much he wanted to know what the words were like inside it.