A/N – The title is a nod to 'Whatever Happened to Captain Rex', a wonderful story by LongLiveTheClones.
Order 66 – Epilogue V
Whatever Happened to Ahsoka Tano?
Youngling Ahsoka had never been good at meditation. The stone walls of the Temple had seemed to always loom dangerously over her, almost about to fall, so she kept one eye open.
Padawan Ahsoka hadn't been much better at meditation. It seemed her mind was too full of questions that had no answers, too full of emotions that bubbled joyfully from some inner compartment.
It seemed Jedi Knight Ahsoka Tano was no more accomplished. Ahsoka frowned to herself; she'd never been that good at meditation to begin with, and now, every little thing wanted to intrude upon her thoughts. For some reason so many things kept sliding into her mind as she was still and attempting to find peace, to find the center and align with the Force.
Rex mostly; dream visions of him in pain, with Ventress peering into his mind and attempting to destroy his will; his strength of purpose twisting to a Sith's desire. A vision of him sitting so familiarly in the mess late at night with a caf-stained cup in his hands, but this Rex had no spark of life and when he raised the cup to his lips there was only in-grained habit and regret so deep it swallowed him.
He circumvented that, Ahsoka reminded her mind, trying to bring a vision of Rex as she remembered him from earlier in the week; a half-smile curling his lips, his eyes gleaming with amusement as they argued like the best friends they were – a poor substitute for anything more but all she would allow herself.
And if Ventress had been stronger? If she had known him better?
'With me, Captain Rex', said a harsh and powerful male voice; so familiar, yet unrecognizable in its harsh hatred.
Mentally Ahsoka rolled her eyes at her thoughts even as she gently set them aside in the attempt to find the center. For a moment she thought she'd found it, swirling white and translucent around her and being lifted toward some perfection of spirit; but another instant and the swirling white coalesced into troopers, men of the same face and, for once, the same shocked, betrayed expression and the same crushed emotions as they stared at her with pain in their brown eyes.
What do Sargent Slick and General Krell have in common?
"Betrayal," she whispered as she, again, tried to set the thoughts aside.
"You have betrayed the Republic," Master Windu's stern voice spoke. There was a soft, tremulous reply.
"Me?" That was Chancellor Palpatine's voice.
Growling at her disobedient mind, Ahsoka shifted on the meditation cushion in her room. Master Kenobi's voice flowed into her mind. A story he was telling about one of Anakin's adventures but he looked her in her meditating eyes and spoke. "Sometimes, Ahsoka, it's better to go with what's in front of you." His voice was so close and audible Ahsoka opened her eyes to see if he had returned from Utapau and quietly entered the room.
There was no one there, only the echo of her own word, betrayal.
"But who's the traitor?" Again she closed her eyes, this time to follow Kenobi's advice. To follow the visions she'd seen, to drag them squalling in front of her so she could pierce through to their hearts and understand them. It was a powerful image and Ahsoka wondered on the violence and cruelty of her thoughts.
"Not me," she whispered to herself in doubt as she considered her relation with her captain. Her montrals curled at the tips at the thought of him; his wisdom, his strength, his deep love for his troopers and, she had to admit it, for her as well. But he had never pursued the matter further; he had given her everything he could then stood back and let her be. She understood how much he could have asked, how much she would have given. She blushed remembering her offer on a night when she'd been a beautiful princess and not a drab padawan. Ahsoka remembered his reply of 'I'll wait until I'm seventeen'. Rex had loved her enough to let her grow into herself and she had taken that love in the generosity it was offered and let it grow to touch the other men of Torrent Company. "Not me," Ahsoka whispered again, this time sure of her answer.
Again came that voice, both known and unknown. "Captain Rex, with me!" But the words, she knew those words and Ahsoka's closed eyes tightened in the pain of knowledge.
"No," she whispered in denial. "Not master, no. You can't betray the Jedi."
As she acknowledged the truth, the center opened for her and all the muddiness of past meditations fell to the side. There was no rest to be had in meditation, in the Force; it was turbulent, active, moving, dragging at her, this way and that, pulling, spinning, a thousand shades of ten thousand colors swept to her and through her.
Something opened and Ahsoka saw them, the 501st, the best company ever, her men, tall and proud marching on the Temple. Ahsoka's face quivered and unnoticed tears fell from her eyes.
Anakin was there. In meditation she could see him as he was; the muddy red of Ryloth in his aura was hate, the yellow sands of Tatooine were fear, the green jungle was jealousy. Black strands of night nipped at his hair or was that evil playing around his stern expression?
"Master, no," Ahsoka yelled and jumped up from the cushion, but she already heard them attacking. She heard the blasters firing upon the first Jedi they were encountering even now. Her light saber flew to her hands as she called it to her and the door of her room was crushed aside.
They rushed into her small meditation chamber, four troopers of the 501st. Ahsoka knew them but they'd rushed in with weapons and already she'd felt death around her, heard the familiar sound of blaster accompanied by the burning odor of smoke.
They paused in shock at the sight of her and Eight-eight even spoke.
"Aw, kriff, commander. Why'd you have to be here?" As if he hoped she'd be… anywhere else. He raised his blaster and shot in her general direction. It was the signal for the others to fire as well. In the first salvo of blaster bolts, only one came near enough for her to deflect.
"Why are you betraying the Republic?" Ahsoka shouted at Eight-eight, not expecting an answer.
He answered her and there were tears in his voice, "Why are the Jedi traitors?"
That hadn't made sense, but Ahsoka knew it was only a matter of time until the orders and deaths they heard through their helmets overcame their reluctance to fire on her.
Ahsoka felt the Force signatures of Chopper and Fives rapidly moving down the corridor and she almost set down her light saber so she could die before seeing these two men fire on her. Fives had lost Echo at the Citadel and his faith at Umbara; this would break him. Chopper also had been at Umbara and had been betrayed at the very beginning of the war. Had it only been three years? It seemed so long ago.
Except they moved with purpose and their intention burned bright in them.
"We'll take care of this one." Fives' voice harshly ordered the others out of the room as Chopper took the door. Eight-eight and the other three were glad to go.
I'm sorry, commander. It was Eight-eight's voice, but he'd said nothing as he turned his masked face toward her before leaving the room.
Ahsoka wept to see Fives and Chopper; not because it meant life for her but because it meant they were men to choose their own path, men who preferred to die rather than kill this night. She deactivated her light saber and slipped it into her belt, moving toward Fives and hugging him.
"If it has to be done," she whispered, "you two are who I choose."
"No one else," said Fives as he slipped her fingers to his face. She felt the tears, but far more important was making sure he survived this. Her fingers slipped into his hair.
How odd, knowing she was not a traitor to the Jedi nor to the Force, that she would break one of the strongest strictures of the Jedi.
You and Chopper chased me, Fives. Down the street toward the Senate then caught me in a cross-fire. Chopper took the fatal shot and you set me in the fire of the Temple. Afterward you separated. That's what you'll remember, Fives. She felt his mind embrace the memory in his trust of her.
It was one of the most strictly prohibited practices of Force users – to change memories. Condemned by the Jedi as the darkest wickedness of Sith. Yet she worked the memory into him without a qualm at what she was doing. She felt a soft kiss on her fingertip as he moved her hand from face, from under his helmet.
"It'll be ok, Fives," she promised quietly.
"Commander," he nodded to her as he turned from the door and moved out.
Ahsoka followed Chopper, her hand in his as he listened to his helmet's chatter, determining where troopers were located. She could locate them by their Force signatures but Chopper was listening to the orders given and where they'd be gathering for a concerted attack. She knew where they were at the moment; Chopper knew where they would be, their general strategy in taking the Temple.
Emptiness came from so many of the brighter life flames; alive then dead, their flames suddenly gone. A few flickered then they too were gone. Ahsoka didn't notice the tears on her face. "Not the children, master," she whimpered, for a moment thinking of closing herself off from the death of so many, but she held on to watch each child's soul flicker then die. Someone should observe their passage from life to death and it seemed she'd been chosen.
Not until they reached the port, did Chopper remove his helmet. Still, he said nothing as he went to the Athualla Freight office and presented a small token to the man at the counter.
"She needs to get off Coruscant now, preferably to Naboo."
They waited together in the small office as the man got his departure permit changed to 'effective immediately'.
"Are you coming with me, Chopper?" Ahsoka's heart squeezed for Chopper as they made their way toward the cargo transport. He'd been with Sergeant Slick then at Umbara with Krell's betrayal. Surely this would shatter him.
He was silent for a moment and she smiled, feeling his solidness, feeling the rock hard steadiness of his mind that matched his trooper's body. He wouldn't shatter; he'd been tempered into flexible strength by his life. Then Chopper softly shook his head. "I have too much to do. This is the place I need to be." He gave her a small grin, "for right now, anyway."
"Will you be all right?"
He shrugged. "If there's a price for this, I'll pay it."
"Take care of yourself, Chopper," she said. Watch out for him, Chopper. Protect him for me. It wasn't spoken. She simply turned toward him with stricken eyes.
Chopper gave her bittersweet smile and nodded. Of course. That wasn't spoken either and Chopper didn't bother to try and analyze how he knew.
He took her hand and held it to his face. He knew that Fives had been crying inside his helmet. He had tears in his eyes as well. Slowly, he bent his head and kissed her forehead. It was the same promise he'd made so many times before; a promise that amid all the death and destruction, she'd survive. Somehow.
Chopper turned to go and Ahsoka had her light saber out, destroying Chopper's helmet then she stepped forward, her fingers touching his face gently. Again she touched another being's mind; forbidden by the Council – to change a living creature's mind and memory. She'd already done so with Fives and he, brilliant ARC trooper that he was, had already destroyed his helmet's ability to record.
Utterly forbidden as the darkest of Sith powers and the only way to save Fives and Chopper. She had no doubts what their fate would be for helping her escape the Temple. Was this traitorous? Was this attachment – using the Force for the benefit of self or lovers or… friends?
You killed me, Chopper, remember that. You chased me. She planted the false memory in his mind, the vision with Fives to the other side of her then looking down and seeing the blaster in his hands, knowing what it was for and using it. Then you fell and the pavement was cool on your cheek. Gently her palm rested on the scars of his face.
"Of course, commander. Those are my orders."
She almost sobbed at the trust in him; his faith in her.
Chopper was walking away from the transport as the pilot returned.
"Karner Athualla," he nodded as they went aboard with only a glance at Chopper's departure.
Once on the small transport Ahsoka sat back, letting the pilot prepare the ship for take-off, her mind reaching, trying to touch other Jedi.
"Damn," he muttered then turned toward her. "There's a stormtrooper. A different one." For a moment, he bit his lower lip in indecision then.
"Maybe he knows Ash," suggested Ahsoka. "I'll hide if he comes aboard. He won't see me."
"There's only the one." Karner nodded then strode down the ramp.
Ahsoka heard their voices but not their words. She recognized a clone's voice and had her light saber in her hand. She listened harder, trying to make out the words, what the pilot was telling the stormtrooper.
It was a conversation too long. She reached toward the stormtrooper ready to influence him… just a distant noise to distract him when Karner hurried up the ramp, slamming the lock behind him and slipped a flimsibook into one of the hold-alls.
"We're leaving," he called to her, "now!"
They were airborne before she was belted in.
Ahsoka didn't know if the trip was an eternity or an instant in time. It seemed both as she reached out, attempting to touch people she knew. It was night on Coruscant and the Force was clear; like a great ocean in its power but clean like the wind, warm and cleansing like a great sunstar. Ahsoka could reach far and see clear until the tears for so much death blurred her vision.
At some point, she looked up into the face of the pilot. It was a narrow face with high cheekbones and cat-slanted blue eyes with concern written in his expression.
"Are you all right?"
"The Jedi aren't traitors," she whispered back.
Ahsoka was watching the old woman huddling a restless toddler in her arms, cooing at him. He yawned sleepily, his pink lips moving then resting in dream-memory. He had a round face with dark hair and hazel-honey eyes, oddly familiar. Other than two older children asleep on an enormous round pillow-bed, they were alone and the other offices were dark.
"They'll be here soon," the old woman told her. "Please, have another cup of tea, dear. Perhaps something light to eat? You do need to keep warm."
Ahsoka shook her head, her fingers clasped tightly around the empty mug. "Thank you, but right now…" She hugged her arms around herself. "The Jedi aren't traitors." She'd been saying that for several hours, since Karner Athualla had brought her here to this little portside office; guiding her through the port even as the public holovids broadcast the news of the Jedi attack on the chancellor from Coruscant.
She knew it was shock. Not just of what had happened, but of the deaths she'd felt. The old woman had pressed a blanket around her shoulders and Ahsoka realized she was still shivering even though it wasn't cold. "The Jedi aren't traitors," she whispered, her eyes glistening with tears.
She knew she was trying to convince herself that none of the Jedi were traitors – not even Anakin, in spite of the black void of Skywalker looming in the back of her mind. In spite of the confusion she felt from so many sources.
"Probably not, my dear." The older woman had set the child, now asleep, on the pillow bed with the other two children. "A chancellor doesn't concern himself over a little treason; in a democracy it's called a dissenting opinion and is to be expected. But to a man who wishes to be emperor, any dissenting opinion is treasonous."
"Who has Chopper delivered me to?" Ahsoka's voice was soft in curiosity.
"You're just now asking that?" The old woman smiled. "I'm glad to see you're not going deeper into shock. Clan Athualla of Naboo."
"Athualla?" Ahsoka gave a brave little smile. She liked this wrinkled, matter-of-fact woman barely as tall as her. "Pilot Athualla's family?"
"We have quite a few 'Pilot Athuallas' including myself, but I think you mean Ash. And Knaps; I suspect Knaps had much more responsibility in you having a favor token than Ash." She shook her head. "I love my great-granddaughter, but that's not something she would think of without nudging."
"So, now I'm guilty of nudging, Matriarch?"
"Always in the best ways, my dear Knaps," replied the woman brightly as she turned from Ahsoka toward the door.
Ahsoka closed her eyes, pulling the blanket tighter. It was a man's voice she recognized; a voice like Chopper and Fives, like Rex and Echo. It was the voice of Kev and Coric and Kix and Hardcase and Matchstick and Broadside; the voice of two million men alive and dead. She couldn't help the tears that gathered in her throat as memory threatened to overwhelm her. Men who had died at her command, who had followed her to hellish battle and only sometimes returned. And for what? To protect something that no longer existed – eaten away by rot from the inside.
Those same men had marched on the Jedi Temple in their disciplined obedience. That was attachment – to follow their rules without thought of repercussion.
"Commander," he asked gently, so close she knew he could reach and touch her. "Will you be alright?"
She shook her head, tears on her lashes. "I'll never be alright again," she whispered; understanding the painful knowledge of betrayal, recognizing that Anakin Skywalker was overshadowed by a great evil.
"Come on home with us, Ahsoka. You need rest and time."
Ahsoka opened her eyes to see he'd taken the sleeping girl in his arms. Ash stood quietly in the doorway, her face pale. The toddler was asleep draped over her shoulder and the boy, sleepily rubbing his eyes with one hand, stood at her side, his other hand holding onto her flightsuit. The old woman and someone else were moving down the corridor from the office.
Ahsoka blinked and glanced down at the clone's lack of legs, at the powerchair then up to his face. "You were in the tent after Kaliida. I remember. Knaps."
He smiled softly with a nod. "Knaps Athualla now. Citizen of Naboo, ship's engineer for Athualla Shipping and Freight." He nuzzled the sleeping child's dark hair and shifted her against his chest, freeing one arm then brought his face up to Ahsoka's. "Father, husband, family member." He reached his hand palm up to hers. "Friend."
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