Ahsoka fled the room, not really caring where she was going. Breathing hard, more in distress than exertion as her vitality had been steadily returning to her, she leaned against the wall in the hallway where she’d finally stopped and slowly slid down to the floor.
She should never have taken April’s hand. Her senses had warned her, but she’d been distracted. Her focus, though recovering, was still not what it had once been. It didn’t help that the young woman was so unusual, her power so similar to force sensitivity but not quite the same. There was something strange about it that she didn’t wholly understand.
And neither did April apparently, as she’d just reached into her head and broadcast a deeply personal memory to everyone in vicinity. She hadn’t meant it, Ahsoka could sense that much, but her lack of intention did not undo what had been done. The girl had very little control over a power that felt to Ahsoka like it was still growing. She probably should care about that and perhaps she would…later. Right now, she just needed to compose herself. Slow, controlled breaths.
She felt a warm hand on her back and jerked her head up, snapping her eyes open.
Mikey was sitting on the floor beside her, offering her a weak but sincere smile. “Sorry. That wasn’t supposed to happen.”
She leaned her head back down on her knees, allowing him to rub circles on her back. It was comforting and, after all that had happened, a moment of respite didn’t seem like too much to ask.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
‘No’ almost jumped straight out as an automatic response, but she hesitated. These memories and emotions were coursing through her like poison. She needed to do something about them. And with everything she’d ever known gone, there was no danger, no more need for subterfuge and secrets. There was just her and him and he was willing to listen.
Lifting her head, she looked into his wide, blue eyes and saw no trace of judgment, despite what he’d seen. Yes, perhaps she needed this.
Taking a deep breath, she considered where to begin. “Once, I was a student, training to be a Jedi.”
Mikey smiled. “That must’ve been cool.”
His enthusiasm, while infectious, was not entirely enough to dissipate her sorrow.
“I was taken to study at the temple at age three.”
His hand on her back froze. “What? Why?”
She shook her head. “That’s…that’s just how it was done then.”
Clearly distressed, he continued to press. “But didn’t you miss your family?”
She thought before answering, seeking to draw up some image or recollection of what they might have been like, but all she had was a vague scent of flowers, native to Shili, and a sensation of something soft and warm. In truth the first solid memory she had was of Master Plo Kloon finding her and taking her home with him. Before that…she didn’t know.
“I don’t really remember them.”
Tears welled in Mikey’s eyes as he considered that. He swallowed hard. “I can’t…that’s awful. I don’t know what I’d do without my bros. I can’t even imagine life without them. We’ve always just…been, ya know?”
While she couldn’t fully wrap her mind around it, she had noticed how close his family seemed in her brief time here. But life had taught her to be cautious of such bonds. Placing her trust in others had rarely gone well for her in the past. Although, there was…something about Mikey’s family.
“It’s ok. I had a good life among the Jedi…for a time. I was raised with many other children, so I wasn’t lonely.”
Mikey’s smile drifted back. “It must have been pretty awesome to have so many friends.”
Friends might not have been the right word. She felt that he was probably envisioning something more playful than her childhood actually was, but didn’t disabuse him of the notion.
“As my training progressed, I began learning under a mentor, Anakin Skywalker. He was my teacher, my friend…my family. I’ve never known a better man.”
Mikey grinned. “My sensei is…” his smile faltered “…was my dad. I’ve never known better either.”
She couldn’t help wishing that she could meet the man who had raised and trained Mikey. Well, he said that he hadn’t given up on saving him, so maybe someday she would. There was something about the optimistic, little turtle that inspired faith in things working out for the best.
In the meantime, she returned to her story, hesitant as these memories were less pleasant. “I was framed for a crime that I did not commit, by someone from the Order I thought that I could trust. That I thought was my friend. The Jedi Order abandoned me and everyone turned on me. Everyone but Anakin. He never lost faith. Never gave up on me. He saved me and restored my reputation.”
Mikey’s cheerful expression was back in full force. “I like him already. Cuz that’s how family rolls, right?”
Wrong. It hadn’t flowed both ways. “I couldn’t bring myself to return to the Order after that. I…at the time, I needed to find my own path.”
Mikey nodded sagely, though she wondered if he really understood. “I suppose that makes sense…” Somehow she doubted he would’ve had any problem letting everything go and returning home in her place. There was almost too much boundless hope and trust in him. “…you just freelanced it with Anakin, right?”
She looked away. The next part hurt too much to watch his expression as she told him. “No. When I walked away from the Order, I walked away from him too, even though he asked me to stay. Needed me to stay.”
It had been what she needed to do then, the right decision at the time…for her. Not for him. Maybe if she’d maintained some kind of ties to him, things would have gone differently. She could only wonder now.
He wrapped his arm around her shoulder, drawing her into a startling half-hug. “It’s not all on you. He could have kept in touch with you too.”
Tears blurred her eyes as she accepted the small comfort of his words and relaxed into the partial embrace. It didn’t change anything that followed, but eased the burden ever so slightly.
“That vision that you…everyone…saw. It was the last thing I remembered before…we’d gone to a temple on Malachor. That man in the memory, the one in the black armor…he was once Anakin Skywalker before he fell. I don’t know how such a good man could ended up a Sith Lord, utterly cold and cruel, without pity or remorse, but he did. I didn’t want to believe it, but it was true. I keep wondering if I could have prevented it somehow. If things could have been different if I’d stayed. He was there for me when I needed him the most and I couldn’t do the same for him. By the time I did try to save him, it was too little too late. There was nothing left of the man I once knew.”
Her tears were falling freely now as she admitted it out loud. With faith so shaken, how could one recover? There was no judgement or condemnation in Mikey’s silence and he didn’t loosen his hold. For a moment, she basked in that, allowing it to heal some of her pain, if only incrementally.
“Maybe he wasn’t all gone?”
Surprised, she craned her head to look up at him, a thoughtful expression on his face, seemingly out of place there.
“It kinda seemed like he could have killed you if he’d wanted to, but he didn’t because you’re here, right? Why else would he do that if he didn’t still care?”
She had no answer as she rolled the question around in her head.
“And if he cared, maybe there was still hope. What if your last attempt to save him, gave him the strength he needed to keep it alive? I mean, you don’t know what happened afterwards, so it could’ve been ok.”
That was a big if, but Mikey’s optimism revived some of her hope from the ashes. Perhaps it wasn’t all for nothing. They sat in silence as he gave her the time she needed to wonder.
“Hey.” They both looked up at the sound of Raph’s voice. If he found it odd that they were clustered together on the floor, he didn’t show it. His green eyes fixed on her. “You know all about this Sith-Force-crap, right?”
She frowned. “I wouldn’t say all…”
He barreled ahead as though she hadn’t spoken. “How do Sith make other people into Sith?”
She blinked in shock, having not anticipated that question at all.
He either didn’t notice or chose not to acknowledge her reaction. “Is it some kind of mind control or what?”
Prompted by his question, a half-remembered experience tugged at the edges of her mind, dark and amorphous, but she shied away from it, reluctant to examine it too closely. Back in the present, she shook her head. “No. Sith are Sith because they choose it of their own free will. There can be coercion and manipulation, but ultimately an apprentice must make the decision to walk that path.”
Raph breathed a sigh of relief. “So no one can force you into it? That’s good.” He paused in thoughtful annoyance. “So if only jerks and losers become Sith, then why does…?”
“It’s not only jerks and losers who become Sith.” She interrupted, her voice fierce. While she only had a general sense of what he meant by jerk or loser, she was certain that neither word applied to her master. “Anyone can fall. Even a good man. The best man I ever knew did.”
The concern was back in Raph’s eyes. “How?”
She looked away. “I wish I knew. The Dark Side can be tempting, seductive, clouding judgment, but…I can’t account for the drastic change in my teacher’s character when he took up the mantle of the Sith. The things he willingly did as Darth Vader…it’s still hard to believe it of Anakin. I just don’t know.”
“What about the Professor?” Startled, they both turned to Mikey as his voice chirped out the question.
“What?” They asked simultaneously.
“Fugi-dude found that place for Leo. Maybe he can call his history buds again and find out more about Ahsoka’s teacher.” Mikey grinned. “It’s worth a shot.”
Y’Gythgba paced her cell, furious that she had missed her chance to escape when they’d changed ships. But there was no end to her captor’s dishonorable tactics. He had installed some kind of device in her chest, probably while she had been unconscious. She could feel it, just under the skin in the center of her sternum. When he activated it, the thing produced an electric jolt, violent enough to knock her out cold.
She’d also learned that attempting to touch it in any way produced a similar effect. She was always unconscious before she could make any headway in removing the vile thing. It was getting to the point where she’d be willing to try impaling herself on something to destroy the treacherous little object, relying on her momentum to finish the job where her electrocuted muscles failed. Sadly, her cell did not afford her such opportunity.
The space, a perfect cube of smooth metal walls and one force-repulsing energy barrier, contained nothing but herself. All she could do was bide her time and await an opportunity to exact her vengeance, restoring her lost honor in the process.
As the hours ticked by, her thoughts turned to her Raphael. She hoped that he was out there somewhere, free and unharmed. Only that would make all this worthwhile.
Leo knelt in concentration as he had so many times before in meditation with his father. He understood now. It was all clear as day. Everything he’d done. Everything he’d been able to do. It all made sense.
What he’d always assumed was his ki, had actually been the Force working both within and without him. It explained why, usually in times of great duress, he’d been capable of accomplishing the impossible, time and time again. All that held him back were the limitations within his own mind.
Unfortunately, those limitations were a power unto themselves. He could hear Gravid ‘harrumph’ in annoyance beside him as he trembled with the effort, but it wasn’t working. He couldn’t just toss aside a life time of experience, dictating how reality was supposed to work. He couldn’t just believe. But he knew someone who could.
Mikey. Please. I need your help.
Reaching out his senses as far as they would stretch, he caught a faint sense of his ebullient brother. For a moment it was as though Mikey was right there beside him, the physical barriers between their souls absent. As his brother’s mind touched his, the world opened up with possibilities beyond imagining. It was beautiful. Limitations, like broken shackles, fell away from him and he knew that he could do anything.
The shattered tower in front of him lifted so easily now, massive blocks of stone floating like clouds, piecing back together like a puzzle, completing itself in an articulate dance. Somehow he knew that the reconstructed tower looked nothing like it originally had. Influenced by his brother’s whimsy, it was much better now.
Thank you Mikey.
“Well, it’s about time.”
He looked over at Gravid, smirking down at him, chin on hand and head tilted to one side as though he were a structure needing to be examined from multiple angles. “I’d call that cheating if there were such a thing as cheating with the Force and it wasn’t something you were supposed to learn anyway. Do it again. On your own this time.”
Leo turned back towards the tower, tapping into the power inside of him. Linking with Mikey had left an indelible mark upon his mind and he couldn’t forget the way his little brother saw the universe. It was easier now to find that place of possibility and faith. He parted the tower and reassembled it, somewhat less artistically and more functionally than Mikey probably would have, but he couldn’t help preferring order over abstraction.
Gravid grunted assent. “Good. The Force is more than pushing and pulling heavy stuff around, although that is fun. But you’re not a dock worker. Now that you’ve jumped the hurdle, it’s time to show you the many things that are now possible with the Force.”