Several months later...
Easing the throttle of his fighter open, Anakin slipped free of the Resolute's docking bay and into open space. Eating up darkness behind him, Ahsoka and Rex followed to his right and left respectively. Gold Squadron fanned out behind them. Various check-ins assured him that everyone was alert and ready.
"We reach atmo in 90 seconds. Prime guns now. We need to take out anti-aircraft ASAP so our boys in the Laarties can land."
"Sir , yes, sir" chorused back across coms to him, and one, "You got it, Skyguy."
The adrenaline flowed through all their voices and it made something tighten in his chest. This was to be a simple, diplomatic mission. They were restoring peace between two arguing factions before the feud turned into war. He hoped, as always, that no one would have to die today, but worrying would fix nothing. He took a deep breath and barrel rolled through the inky darkness.
Folded safe and invisible behind his cloaking device, his wings twitched in excitement. They did this every time he sat in his Delta, like they belonged in the sky. It was this feeling of freedom that made the war bearable. Bearable despite all the pain, physical and otherwise. A reminder that there could still be joy and freedom in a suffering galaxy, no matter how brief.
He let the tension slide free from his body, let the anxiety of the coming battle slip from his mind. Just him and his fighter and the nothingness of space.
"Incoming Vulture droids." Rex's voice crackled across the static.
The Vultures came up fast, their sleek forms eating up the distance. Guns primed, the squadron chewed through the bombers. Anakin squinted at the flashes of heat and shrapnel expanding into space. The two remaining Vulture droids scattered and returned fire. His hull shuddered at how close the plasma came.
"Squadron, report. Any damage? Over."
"This is Gold Six. I'm hit, but damage is minimal. Over."
"Copy that, Gold Six. Head back to Resolute. We'll cover your retreat. Over."
"Copy that, General. Should I board another fighter and guide the Laarties planetside? Over."
"Affirmative, Gold Six. Skywalker out." Tilting the Delta's wings, he led the squadron in pursuit of the last Vultures.
He felt Gold Six's presence fly further away until it melded into the nebula of presences on the Resolute.
Plasma fire streaked past his right window, followed by a bright pulse of joy that leapt across the training bond. The last of the Vultures, now scrapped, drifted outward in all directions
Unrestrained glee leapt through the comm. "That's three for me, Skyguy. Hope you can keep up today."
Anakin smirked at his padawan's words. He had only taken out one of the Vultures. This was just the beginning of the battle though, he'd have a higher score by the end of the day. "It's not me who should be worried about keeping up."
Free of the Vulture debris, they blasted through atmo seconds later and started the run. Targets blasted to oblivion, one by one. The LAATs full of ground troops needed a clear path to the landing zone and it was their job to lay one out for them.
The chosen LZ was a clearing in the forest, far enough from the capitol city to keep civilians out of the crossfire.
Ahsoka had found it, actually, during one of her late-night study binges. She had poured over everything she could find about this planet.
She had grown so much since he had first met her on Christophsis, both in height and in maturity. And she had been making good progress with her leadership. Her piloting abilities were advancing as well. She'd be commanding the squadron on her own in no time.
With their first objectives complete, a path cleared for the gunships, they made their way to the LZ to wait.
"Artoo, finish the landing cycle for me." His wings shuddered in anticipation. The temptation was too strong in the secluded clearing. "I'm gonna get a little fresh air." They were a handful of meters above the treeline in the landing zone. Artoo chirped back to him.
"Don't worry Artoo, I'll be fine." Anakin said, sliding open the cockpit. He leaped out of his Delta and spread his invisible wings to their full span. The wind rushed through them as he plummeted toward the ground. It wasn't flying, but kriff did it feel nice. He gathered the Force around him, slowing his descent until his boots squelched into the muddy ground.
A laugh and a vague impression of 'Show off' drifted from Ahsoka. The sun warmed through his veins and he channeled it back through their bond, sharing a moment of wild joy with her. He almost didn't feel the glow as it rose inside him, that ethereal light he kept chained deep down where no one could see. Not even Ahsoka. Not even Obi-Wan.
He snapped the channel shut before his Padawan noticed.
Folding his wings behind him, he scanned the vast clearing. It was probably a pasture for grazing animals, as the tall grass around the edges of the field gave way to the mud in the center. Any wildlife must have scattered when his fighter drew near. Ancient trees hung heavy with moss, and the scent of sun-baked vegetation drifted on a breeze.
The rest of Gold squadron landed one after another, filling the eastern half of the clearing. The gunships would be landing on the western side. It would be easy to walk through the old growth and advance on the capitol. Their speeders wouldn't have an issue either. There was no significant underbrush to speak of. Anakin could do without the mud, but at least it wasn't sand.
With all the fighters now empty, the squadron formed up for Anakin and his padawan to approach. Captain Rex stepped forward, saluting, "Troops are en route, sir."
Anakin nodded and smirked up at the sky, letting the sun's warmth soak into him. Everything was going according to plan. They had encountered little resistance. No lives had been lost, and the troopers would have their boots on the ground in two minutes.
Several klicks away...
"Sir, should we deploy additional Vulture droids?"
"No need for more cannon fodder, activate the auxiliary shields, on my mark."
His back went rigid.
Chills of dread sparked from the base of his skull and shot down his spine and through to the tips of his wings. The Force screamed like a banshee, assaulting his senses with iron and plasma.
"Master?" Ahsoka's lip twitched, her eyes raking the atmosphere, "I've got a bad feeling about this."
Silence flooded over the group, all eyes trained on the point where the gunships had cut through atmo. Tiny flecks of silver and white grew closer every second. The flock of LAATs, full of good men. His friends.
Another streak of fear blazed down his spine. What was it? What was wrong? His gaze tore across the horizon, around the open sky, between the trees. Nothing.
Why was the Force shredding his mind in panic?
He switched his comm frequency to speak with the Resolute. "Admiral, something's off. Prep additional squadrons for support. Over."
"Copy that, General. Yularen, out."
Anakin drew a deep breath, trying to soothe the fires raging through his body and mind. Everything was normal. The gunships were near enough that he could make out the bumblebee bodies and drooping wings.
Everything was fine.
Everything is fine.
He scanned the treeline once again, searching the Force for answers. Trees and forest life shimmered around them, nothing else. No marching of klankers or tinnies. No whines of more bombers. No rumbling of tanks.
In his peripheral vision, something shifted in the sky. Not an object, but the color of the sky was changing. He focused in on it. A sapphire dome devoured the sky, spreading a film of translucent energy. It stretched down from all sides, separating the gunships from the squadron on the ground.
"KARK, they have a shield!" He yelled.
Fear bled through the Force, all around, filling him with adrenaline.
No, no, no, no, no!
This can't be happening. This isn't possible.
The gunships were hurdling towards the shield. No space left to slow down. A few of them swerved towards the treeline where the shield hadn't yet closed, but he could tell it wouldn't be enough.
Ahsoka screamed. Pilots bellowed into their comms.
The first ship pierced the sapphire film, ripped around like a leaf in a sudden gust of wind. A few of the clones passed into the Force, the trauma from breaking through the shield almost a mercy compared to those who would yet die. This was no battle.
Why does it burn so much...should be on the ground...
This was a massacre.
Less than a second later, the second ship hit the dome. And the third. And fourth. And then they were all hurtling towards the surface. It was a rain of twisted metal and mangled wings and suffering.
The wave of feeling hit him so hard it drove him to the ground. Something ground into his face, pain blazed through his wrist and up his forearm. Iron flooded his tongue.
Ner vod...My brothers...
All around him the ground screamed, a gray haze sucking his body down and down and down, into pits of black agony.
His stomach was knives, tearing at him. His head was in a vise twisted til his skull was fracturing.
Just a shiny...
There was nothing but death.
He pulled himself to his knees, retching acid into the black fog drowning him.
Somewhere behind him, Rex was screaming commands. He caught that voice, clung to it, used it to pull himself back into the present. The here and now.
He fought through the swarming thoughts not his own. Finding his focus through the pain, he rooted himself in the Living Force.
Spitting mud and bile, he broke through the agony gripping his mind. In seconds the gunships would shower the clearing in molten metal and the corpses of his friends. It would shower Rex and the squadron and...Ahsoka, his padawan, in the carnage of war.
He planted his feet into the muddy ground, reaching out to the nearest ship. He flung it towards the edge of the clearing. Before it even landed, he grabbed another, and another. It wasn't enough, it could never be enough. Agony and rage poured out of him, fueling him. Twisted wreckage rained around him.
Pain lanced through his temples as he felt the first gunship of clones blaze out of the Force. All of them gone.
Steel screamed as a piece of gunship hurled into one of the landed fighters. Thunder boomed through the daylight, shrapnel and wreckage slamming into the mud around him.
An explosion shook the ground. Heat seared the air, so close his skin stretched taut over his cheeks.
Screams echoed through the clearing. Real screams, heard by his ears, not his mind. And one shriek in a much higher tone, from a voice he knew well.
He could see Ahsoka trying to mimic his efforts on another transport. She tried to fling it away from the squadron on the ground.
Time slowed as he realized that she didn't have the focus nor the strength. The gunship would crash into her. The Living Force enveloped him as he released the coiled tension in his core.
He used the momentum to propel himself towards Ahsoka. He slammed into her, leaping into a tuck and roll, getting them as far away from the imminent crash as he could.
He threw a Force shield around them both, physically and mentally. There was so much death. His head screamed in agony, restraining the pain from rushing through their bond.
The ringing in his head was so loud that he didn't hear the gunship impact that was far too close to them.
But he felt the ground shake and the heat of burning soldiers and durasteel.
It was too much, too much.
A strangled cry came from his throat as his shield failed. His back arched in pain, but he kept himself over Ahsoka.
More and more signatures ripped out of his awareness. His mind was raw from it all. He tried not to move, not to think, his only focus was sealing off the bond.
Don't let her feel the pain.
Don't let her feel it.
A/N I am proud to present the beginning of a new era in my writing. Many hours were put in to this chapter by myself and my wonderful editors. I cannot wait to share the rest of this AU with you all and thank you SO MUCH for sticking it out this long! Future update will be more frequent than in past years and will be of higher quality. Thank you so much for reading! May the angst be with you!