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Stride For Stride

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Demonstrations weren’t ever as helpful as Anakin and Obi-Wan clearly thought they were.

 

The training salles in the Jedi Temple felt almost foreign to her, now, after so many months of non-stop warfronts, an ever-changing scenery of carnage; Ahsoka thought, sometimes, that Grandmaster Yoda must have thought highly of her vitality, if he thought she could keep up with Knight Skywalker. She’d only been apprenticed to Anakin for a couple of months, all of them spent diving into engagement after engagement, Anakin at her back rattling off rapid-fire corrections on her footwork while she fended off blasterfire at her front. If you want to use jar’kai, that’s—huff—fine, he’d said, crunching goldenrods in the air with the Force and a clench of his fist, but you need the balance for it, a jar’kai stance has to be wider than—your left, that’s it—has to be wider than a traditional one. Because the motion is side to side, constantly, you have to shift your weight in—Captain, on your ten—in a second. You need to be fast, faster than that.

 

That had been—somewhere. Somewhere with broad prairies. Sometimes engagements weren’t even names to her; just a blur of motion, and the long stretch of the hours afterward, in the living space of the quarters she shared with Anakin on the Resolute, him slumped against the wall, too tired to move, saying softly, I didn’t have time to explain, but—jar’kai means you have to be fast. You have to think fast. You don’t get fancy bladework, and you don’t get power, either, because each blade is only propelled by the strength of one arm. That’s why most Jedi don’t really get good at it, because you almost have to—hit a speed, maintain it, and you need to draw on the Force for that, but sometimes it changes how the Force works for you. Flows through you differently.

 

I’m already different, she’d said, and his answer to that had been a broad smile.

 

Ahsoka wondered, here and then, if these demonstrations would have been more helpful to her if she had learned the way Anakin himself had, through hours of dedicated sparring; but when Anakin had tugged, gently, one of her lightsabers out of her hand, and flipped it around, and said, try deflecting now, his glove had been soaked in blood. The smears of it on her lightsaber hilt had wet her palms when she’d taken off over the top of the ridge, bouncing blasterbolts away from her with one sword, the other slashing through the droids in front of her. You leave your side open when you hold it right side up, he said, later. You’ll have a strong enough base in blocking that it won’t matter when you’re more used to it—I hate reverse grips. Too dangerous. But it’s more dangerous if you keep leaving your side open. You’ve got important organs there, Snips, and then, to punctuate it, he’d stabbed her in the side with his metal hand, and she’d leaped away from him, yelping.

 

Ahsoka had sparred with Anakin dozens of times, now, all across the stars, across what felt like every somewhere in the galaxy, and she’d never been able to predict anything he’d do. He was good at feinting, tricking her into thinking he’d go one way and then slithering back in another, and then he was even better at never using the same trick twice, never flicking his saber in quite the same way. The only thing he ever did that always stayed the same was that he pressed the offensive, and he pressed it hard, to the point where even a training saber seemed deadly in his hands; she’d learned on day one that she couldn’t block a blow from him one-handed, or the force he wielded his saber with would sprain—or even break—her wrist. Your opponents won’t go easy on you either, he’d said, looking over her wrist, checking it over with a metal hand that was surprisingly warm. With a somewhat-bashful somewhat-arrogant smile, he’d added, and that’s about as much as I can pull a hit, anyway. You’ll get stronger. She’d only sparred once with Obi-Wan, and she thought—privately—that maybe that was where Anakin’s unpredictable nature in a duel came from, because although Obi-Wan clearly favored Soresu, he’d had bursts of aggressive offense natural to Djem So, and even natural to Anakin’s unique additions to the traditional Djem So forms; and then at a point in the spar he’d pulled an aerial move and connected with her saber over her head before landing behind her, a classic of Ataru, without ever missing a beat.

 

“I don’t even think your erstwhile apprentice is paying attention,” Obi-Wan called.

 

Ahsoka shifted. “I am! I am, I promise!”

 

“It’s because you’re boring to watch, Obi-Wan,” Anakin said, and his lightsaber—not even lowered to a training setting, neither of theirs were, which was either a stunning display of stupidity of a mark of their absolute confidence in the other’s parrying skills—crashed against Obi-Wan’s with a strength that made Ahsoka wince. Instead of withstand the momentum of it, Obi-Wan stepped to the side and let Anakin fall through and their weapons sizzle with power and heat as the blades slid across each other, and instead of falling all the way through, Anakin dropped to the ground and swept out a heel to knock Obi-Wan down at the ankles, but, naturally, Obi-Wan had seen that one coming, too.

 

Obi-Wan jumped up and flipped over Anakin, as gracefully as any of the Ataru masters in the Temple, and then brought his lightsaber down in what would have been a killing stroke if Anakin had been a second slower pulling up from his kick—their blades sizzled together in an even block, before Anakin pressed forward and pushed Obi-Wan back to the edge of the mat. Before Anakin could push him out of bounds, Obi-Wan stepped back—this time, Anakin didn’t fall victim to his own momentum—and went through the first motion of the Constellation disarming maneuver, one of the more brutal finales in Soresu. The philosophy was, generally, to chart a path of three points through the target, to use one elegant, economical motion around an opponent’s defense to cripple it; Obi-Wan’s saber swept towards Anakin’s leg, forcing Anakin into an awkward parry that would take him a fraction of a second longer to maneuver his weapon out of, and he’d anticipated the next point on the Constellation, instead of what Obi-Wan ended up doing, which was to swing his blade out and wide until the tip sizzled beside Anakin’s neck.

 

There were ways, she knew, she’d seen, that Anakin could have prolonged the duel—she could even tell that he wanted to, because the Force around him was almost singing with the desire to. The point of the Constellation disarmament, even, was that a duel between Force adepts was rarely ever concluded when a weapon hovered at the other’s throat; but, after a long moment, the line of Anakin’s shoulders slackened and he backed down.

 

“Much to learn, padawan mine,” Obi-Wan said, smugly, flicking off his lightsaber.

 

Anakin flicked his off, but the motion felt a little more—petulant. “I’ll remember that,” he said, sourly. “You could’ve won ten minutes ago, though.”

 

“I was being nice.”

 

“You were being blind,” Anakin said, smugly. “I stumbled on the Rising Sun barrage I did. You completely missed it.”

 

“Did I? Or was I trying not to embarrass you in front of your padawan?” Obi-Wan said. There was the faintest smirk on his face.

 

“Anakin can embarrass himself in front of me without your help,” Ahsoka said.

 

Obi-Wan’s eyes glinted, sneaking between her and Anakin, but Anakin barreled on with his criticism, pretending not to hear her. “And, anyway, I’m taller than you,” he said, like this was one of the most important facts of the universe, “and a Constellation disarmament really only works if you have an elevated position. Because instead of cutting off my limbs to end the fight, you’ll just end up cutting through me, and the whole point of the Constellation is that you don’t want to kill your opponent.”

 

“I wasn’t trying for a perfect Constellation,” Obi-Wan said, aggrieved. “It was a feint.”

 

“Feint better,” Anakin said.

 

“If you continue to be this ridiculous, next time it won’t be a feint,” Obi-Wan said, hooking his lightsaber back on his belt. “I hope that was a helpful demonstration. What was it that we were supposed to be showing your erstwhile apprentice, again?”

 

“Your inner ability to be really useless?” Ahsoka suggested, lightly.

 

Anakin squeezed her shoulder. “It was—supposed to be about blocking,” he said. “Maybe we got a little caught up.”

 

“Maybe so,” Obi-Wan said, dryly. “But all experience is good experience, little one.”

 

Anakin clipped his lightsaber to his belt and then snatched one of hers, tossing it in the air until it fell into his glove with a heavy sound. “He’s right,” he said. “Is this still off balance, after Grievous? Or did replacing the stabilizer help?”

 

“It’s working a lot better now,” she said. The memory of leaning over Anakin’s shoulder, her chin perched on his shoulder, while he explained the inner mechanisms of the stabilizer in a lightsaber—it’s like a haruka’atcha in swoop bike lifters, I can’t remember the Basic word for it, but in Ryl the haruka’atcha is the thing that balances the anti-grav repulsors—was warm in her mind.

 

“Then let’s give it a turn, and let the old man take a nap,” Anakin said, softly. “You always did like learning on the fly a lot better than sitting on the sidelines.”

 

“Take a nap?” Obi-Wan squawked. “This is heinous treatment. You are such a horrible creature. I can expect you both for tea, then, later?”

 

Anakin snorted. “Naturally.”

 

Obi-Wan nodded his head, and again there was that secret spark sneaking in his eyes, and then he was off, his robe billowing out behind him. When he was gone, Anakin passed Ahsoka her lightsaber, and she unhooked its twin, and flicked them on, so they hummed with life and power in her palms. Anakin lit his brilliant blue saber in answer.

 

“You’re right, I do like learning on the fly,” she said, with a grin, and then Anakin answered with his typical dive for the offensive position. But what she didn’t say, and what she held a lot closer to her chest, was that she always did like learning on the fly because it was the only place that she was ever by his side, stride for stride.