In prison, she dreamt often of Ahsoka. She dreamt that she was in Ahsoka’s arms, that the world around them was nothing but cold and ice. But she was safe in Ahsoka’s arms. Nothing could hurt her, in Ahsoka’s arms. Not the worms, not the darkness, not the cold. Not the voices, the chittering words, the whispers.
She walked with the Grand Inquisitor down a hallway in the Imperial prison that had once been a Republican one. At one end of the hallway was the cell she had called home for a little over a year, now. What their destination was, she did not know.
“...an elite force of special soldiers,” he was saying, “uniquely equipped to handle a very specific threat.”
She fingered the prisoner ID number embroidered on the breast of her orange jumpsuit. “I thought all the Jedi were dead.”
He laughed. “There were ten thousand Jedi spread out across the galaxy. Hardly possible to purge every last member in one fell swoop. No. Think of us as the clean up crew, sweeping the battlefield for stragglers.”
“Elite,” she remarked, drily. She stretched her legs, unable to shake the feeling that she should have to turn around at any moment, to pace back a different way.
“I can see what you’re thinking,” he said. “Not very glamorous. But one does not serve the Empire for the glamour of it.”
“Why does a former Jedi serve the Empire?” she asked.
“I’m surprised you should have to ask,” he replied. “You were the one who inspired me, you know.”
“Yes. You don’t remember me, of course, because I was in my uniform... but I heard your speech at the trial of Ahsoka Tano. It put words to a feeling I’d had for a long time.”
She looked at him fully, giving him her attention for the first time. Ahsoka Tano.... The name did not belong on his lips.
“You were one of the Temple guards that Skywalker turned me over to,” she stated.
The Temple Guards were always masked, and only near-human beings without visible markers of their species were chosen to serve among their ranks. He was Pau’an, so he fit the type. They were meant to dissolve into the background, their identities not mattering, the truest of Jedi. The preference for humanoid beings as a default was down to Cin Drallig, himself a human, who was the head of the Guard. Barriss herself could have served, she supposed. Not Ahsoka.
“I’m glad my words were so moving to you,” she said. But she wasn’t.
“The Jedi Order rotted from the inside out. We served a dessicated corpse that shambled across the galaxy spreading war and ruin,” the Inquisitor said. “You struck a blow, a small blow, like a shiv to the side—”
She wondered if he was using a prison metaphor on purpose.
“—but now the beast has finally been taken down. There are some, such as myself, who saw the monster for what it was. That is why we have survived, and become the Inquisitorius. Our purpose is to combat Force users. As I said, we are an elite task force. We fight the battles that mere Stormtroopers are unequipped for.”
“Are there many Jedi still out there?” she asked, careful to keep any trace of hope out of her voice.
“Enough to pose a threat, if they should gather together,” he said. “And as long as there are children born into the galaxy, there will be Force sensitive beings among the citizens of the Empire.”
“Is the Force illegal now?”
He looked at her sharply, and she said, “Forgive me. I have been in a cell for a long time. I don’t know the lay of the land anymore.”
“To use the Force is not, in itself, a crime. Of course not. But if there are citizens who use the Force, then there must also be those of us who serve the Empire who use the Force. Otherwise they will rise up and seek to overthrow the rule of law, because they perceive it to be weak and vulnerable. That is the way of the universe.”
“Good. I had hoped that you would. I was certain, in fact, that we would see eye to eye. I am confident that you know why I ordered you to be released from your cell.”
“You’re going to offer me a job,” she said.
He nodded. “The Inquisitorius is in its infant stages. We have an immediate task; seek out and destroy or recruit any remaining Jedi. As time goes on, we will shift our focus to recruitment of young Force sensitives, and peacekeeping.”
“How do you decide who to destroy and who to recruit?”
“It’s quite simple. Those who are still fanatically loyal to the Jedi Order and cling to its outdated philosophies must be destroyed. Those who remain loyal to the Republic—now the Empire—will be given the chance to join us. At this point, of course, those who still remain in hiding are almost surely all fanatics.”
“I can count on you, then?”
“What must I do?”
“Once you are outfitted and prepared, you will be sent out into the galaxy with a list of targets. Eliminate the targets and return to me for further instructions. Very simple.”
“And if I am uninterested? Do I return to my cell?” She cast a glance backwards.
He looked at her sidelong. “You were originally slated for execution, you know. Just as Tano was. But the Supreme Chancellor… our esteemed Emperor… issued you a pardon, personally.”
“I am aware,” she said. “It was very kind of him.” The words tasted like a slithering worm crawling out of her lips.
“Yes, he was also moved by your speech,” the Inquisitor said. “I would hate for him to be disappointed in you and regret his decision.”
“I would hate that, too.”
“Good. It is decided, then. Welcome to the Inquisitorius, Barriss Offee. Or should I say, First Sister?”
Barriss stood alone on a rocky outcropping, looking down over a dismal, dusty spaceport on a distant desert planet. Gritty, swirling wind whipped at her body, but she stood very still. It felt good, after so many months in a box, to feel the current of the outdoors flowing through her. And it took more than a little wind to knock a Jedi off her feet. Even if she wasn’t a Jedi anymore.
She wore a drab gray uniform accented with black shoulders and black cording which ran the length of the arms and legs. The sprocketed Imperial insignia was embroidered upon its breast. The pants flared out at the thighs but otherwise the fabric clung to her, form fitting and slim-lined. She felt naked without her robes, without her headwrap and her patterned cloak with its comforting hood.
She had a helmet with a mask, instead. She wore shiny, knee-length black boots. She had a ridiculous abomination of a lightsaber that spun like a helicopter for no apparent reason. A design the Grand Inquisitor had come up with himself. He was very proud of it. When he presented it to her she had said that it was ingenious; an elegant meeting of technology and the Force.
Luminara had always taught her to be polite and soft-spoken, even to her enemies.
She turned away from the spaceport and looked at the list of names and last known locations that displayed in a holoimage projected from her wrist unit. No one she knew or cared about. It would be easy to go after them, to hunt them down and return to the Grand Inquisitor for a pat on the head and a new list to soak in blood.
Nothing was ever easy, though. Nothing ever had been. Not for Barriss.
She wondered where Luminara was, if she was on a list someone else had, or if she had already died in the rubble of the Jedi Temple or been cut down on a battlefield far away.
Barriss hadn’t wanted to ask.
Luminara had visited her once, at the very beginning of her imprisonment. She had stood very quietly outside her cell for a long time. Then, all she had said was, “I have failed you, Barriss. I blame myself for this.”
“My choices are my own,” Barriss had said, then turned away to face the wall.
It was a mantra she had learned to chant to herself, in the darkness. It quieted the voices that hissed in an unintelligible chatter and the doubts that whispered you are not yourself, you are not right in the head, the Jedi are evil, the Light is dead, you are all pawns in the game and the game is death.
Luminara had left her without another word and she never saw her again.
“My choices are my own,” Barriss said aloud and the dry wind of the desert planet carried her words away.
She took off the helmet and placed the circular saber hilt inside. Then she stripped off the uniform, till she only wore a thin black tank top and leggings.
She kept the shiny black boots.
The rest she left to be buried by wind and sand.
Ahsoka Tano could not remember a time when she had not felt hunted.
When she dreamt, she dreamt of Trandoshans, she dreamt of clones, she dreamt of bounty hunters, stormtroopers, inquisitors, and weequay pirates. She dreamt of Jedi possessed by worms. Or were they Jedi corpses, shambling from unmarked graves, eaten by worms?
Either way, they all chased her through sleepless nights.
Even Skyguy, pursuing her through the rain, telling her it was for her own good.
Oh, but he was dead, now. Best not to dream of him. Best not to dream at all.
Her skin prickled as she looked over her shoulder, side-eyeing the cloaked figure who had been following her through the streets of Coronet City for a while now. It could just be a coincidence, she thought; two beings headed in the same direction.
But she knew to trust her instincts, and her her instincts told her there were no coincidences.
She wondered what the figure was waiting for. Did they want to get her into a more secluded location? Were they waiting to see where she went, who she talked to, what she was doing?
Ahsoka thought about trying to shake the trail. But part of her wanted to face them, to fight rather than run. She was good at fighting. Always had been.
She walked into a nightclub, called the Corellian Smuggler, and sure enough, her follower entered only moments later. Ahsoka leaned against the bar, drawing aside her own hood, and causally motioned to the bartender. He looked her up and down in that way so many men did, and then sidled over to her, his aura and his demeanor oily.
“What’ll ya have?”
He grunted. “We’re on Corellia. You can get any kind of alcohol here, as long as it’s Corellian.”
“Two brandies, then.”
He raised an eyebrow, but served her the drinks without comment.
She carried them over to a table in the corner and deliberately placed one near the chair opposite her.
She wondered if her shadow would get the message, or if they would assume that she was meeting someone and would wait to see who it was. She pretended not to look at them as she track them out of the corner of her eye. The figure was tall, thin, a humanoid and feminine shape under the folds of the cloak. They did not go to the bar or take a seat, but paced up and down at the edge of the dancefloor, where other beings writhed and jived to the pulsing beat.
Ahsoka sipped her drink and continued not to watch as the figure finally turned and began to make their way over to the table in the corner.
They slid into the opposite seat, and Ahsoka took note of the green hands with long fingers placed on the edge of the table. One lifted to the hood and pushed it aside, revealing a familiar face, familiar diamond tattoos, older eyes.
“Barriss,” Ahsoka breathed out, thinking for a moment that she was surprised, but then knowing that she was not.
Barriss’s skin had a grayish pallor to it that she did not remember.
“Ahsoka,” she said, simply.
Her own name had always sounded different coming from Barriss’s mouth. She didn’t know why.
“What are you doing here?” Ahsoka asked, a multitude of questions wrapped up into one. Why aren’t you in prison? Whose side are you one? Were you looking for me? Why? Why did you do it? How could you?
“I’ve been looking for you,” Barriss answered.
“Well,” Ahsoka said with a tiny scoff, “you’ve found me. What now?”
Barriss reached for the glass of brandy. She held it lightly, as she held everything, her hands always seeming so delicate even though they could wield a lightsaber or push with the Force, cutting through rock, breaking transparisteel. They were the hands of a healer, which was, all things considered, pretty ironic.
“I don’t know,” said Barriss, frowning into the dark amber liquid. She lifted the glass and took an experimental sip, then grimaced.
“Sorry it’s not to your liking,” Ahsoka said. “I didn’t know who I was ordering it for.”
Barriss was more of a tea person. Ahsoka remembered the smell of the Mirialan brew she and Luminara used to make, the way the steam rose between them and bonded them… and the way Ahsoka had joined them with a smile, but never felt quite like she belonged, a Togruta girl with a human master. Sometimes when she saw Luminara and Barriss together she thought about how Shaak Ti had expressed interest in training her, but how Yoda had had different plans.
“I thought,” said Barriss, “that maybe you did.”
Ahsoka just shook her head. What was that supposed to mean?
“Why are you here, Barriss?” she asked, her voice hard.
“I wanted to see you.”
“You’ve been looking for me, yes, you wanted to see me, yes, but why?”
Barriss looked around the room, the brightly colored lights casting shadows on her face, on her sharp cheekbones and downturned lips. Ahsoka wondered if her eyes had always been such a brilliant blue. It was probably just the lights.
She remembered a distant day under the bright Geonosian sun, no shadows in the desert, when Barriss had knelt to her in greeting and her heart had fluttered. “Padawan learner Barriss Offee, at your service.” Such a strange girl, so formal, so polite. Ahsoka hadn’t known quite what to do, until she had glanced at Anakin and he’d nodded with a smile… encouraging, reassuring, like an even more distant memory of her father’s smile when Plo Koon had come to call.
“Are you with the Empire?” she asked, bluntly.
Barriss looked her in the eye. “I hate the Empire,” she said.
“Like you hated the Jedi?”
“Like I hated the Republic.”
“So much hate,” Ahsoka murmured, and took a drink. “Who didn’t you hate? The Separatists?”
“I suppose not,” said Barriss. “I suppose I never did hate them.”
“But you hated me.”
“No,” Barriss said, and there was something like a wound in her voice. “You were my best friend.”
“Maybe prison was bad for your memory, so let me check… you do remember framing me for the bombing? Trying to kill me in that warehouse? Standing by while I was sentenced to death?”
“Good, because so do I.”
Barriss sighed. “I don’t know what I expected,” she said. “I know I don’t deserve your forgiveness, but…”
“But I want it.”
Ahsoka was silent.
“In prison I had a lot of time to think,” said Barriss, swirling her drink in a rhythmic motion, uninterested in drinking it but too nervous to leave it be. “I had nothing but time. There was no more fighting, no more orders, no more memorizing schematics or battle plans. No healing, no flying through space, no wounded Jedi or clones, no civilians. No questions, no answers.
“I thought about you, a lot. About how I had betrayed you. About how I had envied your clarity, your simple view of the war, and about how simple my own view had really been. I thought about how violence begets violence and lies lead to more lies, until no one is right and everyone is wrong.
“Mostly though I thought about whether my choices were my own, or whether they had been made for me.”
“You chose to bomb the Temple,” said Ahsoka, jabbing the table with one finger. “You chose to turn an innocent man into a living bomb, and you chose to choke a woman to death and frame me for it. You chose to attack me.” With every accusation she jabbed the table, though it only made her own finger hurt.
“I know,” said Barriss. “My choices are my own.”
Ahsoka sat back, a little steam going out of her. She had thought about this for a long time, all the things she’d say to Barriss if she ever saw her again. But it had all been a pantomime without any real hope for resolution. She hadn’t believed that she would ever see her again. And now that Barriss was here, she was not saying any of the things that imaginary Barriss had said in her mind. No excuses, no attempt to reason out or justify her actions, no accusations that it was actually Ahsoka who was in the wrong. None of that.
Just a sad, tired face. Remorse in her voice. Green skin gone to gray.
“I want to know why you did it,” Ahsoka said quietly. “Not the stuff you said at the trial, about the Jedi. I want to know why you did it… to me.”
Barriss was silent for a long time. She looked away, lowering her eyes to the table, to the glass in her hand. “I don’t know,” she said at last.
Ahsoka thought that the music was too loud, the shadows too long in the artificial colored lights. The press of beings in the nightclub dancing, talking, singing, was too much. Too much.
“You don’t know? You had all that time to think, but you didn’t think about that?”
Barriss was silent again.
Ahsoka stood up. “Another time, perhaps,” she said, and moved towards the door.
Out in the street it was not much quieter, the bustle of the city at night a steady hum of traffic, of beings loud with liquor in their bellies going from bar to bar. Small groups gathered at corners, selling death sticks and other contraband.
It was a windy night, but still muggy, somehow. It was no breeze, but an oppressive pushing, pulling air that tunnelled between the buildings and made trash swirl in the gutters. Ahsoka stepped into the street and started walking, pulling the hood of her cloak up not for warmth but for the protection of anonymity.
Barriss was close behind her, calling out, “Wait. Ahsoka. Please.”
Ahsoka stopped, looked back. The wind whipped at Barriss’s cloak, blowing the hood back from her face. “I want to tell you that I never meant to hurt you,” she said, and the wind whipped the words from her mouth. “I want to say that I never meant to hurt anyone, but I did.”
Ahsoka walked back to her. “Stop yelling in the street,” she said, and took her hand. “Come with me.”
In prison, she had dreamt often of Trikara. It was as if the Mirialan goddess was there, holding her in her arms, whispering in her ear, saying, in a voice that sounded like Luminara’s:
What are you, Barriss?
What have you done?
It’s the Jedi, she would say. The Jedi are evil. They believe in nothing but violence.
They made me this way.
There is no emotion, there is peace. There is no ignorance, there is knowledge. There is no passion, there is serenity. There is no chaos, there is harmony. There is no death, there is the Force, said Trikara. Said Luminara. Said Ahsoka, holding her and brushing ice crystals from her hair.
But none of that was true. There were none of those things, and there was all of them.
“When I was with the RMSU, there was so much death all around me, all the time,” said Barriss, picking like a nervous bird at the roll of sweetbread in one hand. The parchment wrapper around the roll crinkled as she pulled it back.
Ahsoka wasn’t sure why buying sweets had seemed like such a good idea, but there’d been a stand they passed by and the smell of fresh baked sweetbread carried on the wind was warm and comforting and Force knew she needed something like that. So she’d stopped and bought two, handing one to Barriss, who took it but said, “First a drink and now dessert? You have to stop spoiling me.”
It had made her feel foolish, because once upon a time it would have made her laugh, an easy thing. If they had been Padawans enjoying a night away from the Temple, strolling down the upper level streets of Coruscant, perhaps, and not who they were now. Who were they now?
So Ahsoka just held her own roll as it grew cold, and Barriss picked at hers, and finally tossed bits of it to the fat pigeons who roosted on a statue of some noble Corellian of days gone by.
They sat in a park, Ahsoka perched on the narrow ledge of a duracrete fence and Barriss sitting on a bench below her. It was quiet in the park. Dim lumenglobes lit the walkways and a few people strolled by now and then, but it was well away from the hustle and bustle of the downtown nightlife.
“I was supposed to stop it,” Barriss went on, bouncing a crumb off the back of a sleepy pigeon. “But I couldn’t. I felt so useless. What was the point of even trying? Every clone I saved was just going to be sent back to the battlefield, anyway. There was no life for them outside the war. The Jedi bred them to be like human battledroids and treated them about the same.”
Ahsoka wanted to say that wasn’t true. But it was.
She remembered the clones chasing her on Mandalore, trying to kill her. She remembered Rex helping her to escape, telling her that all the clones had chips in their brains that had been implanted there on Kamino, that they didn’t know what they were doing. Why don’t you have a chip? she’d asked. Had mine removed, he’d said. Didn’t want to believe Fives, but he was right. He was right…
“I know clones died in the temple bombing,” Barriss said flatly, misreading her thoughts. “But they were dead men walking already. No, I shouldn’t say that. I know it’s wrong. I know I was wrong. But that… that’s the kind of things I thought. The voices…” she stopped, and shook her head.
“The voices? What voices?” Ahsoka asked.
Barriss just shook her head again. “It doesn’t matter.”
“It does matter, to me. All of it matters.”
She sighed. “After Geonosis… after what happened on the transport to Ord Cestus, I would have nightmares about the worms. You don’t know what it was like having that thing inside you, having the voice of the queen controlling your thoughts, your actions. Even after it was gone I could hear her.”
“Did you tell anyone?” Ahsoka asked, and wondered, Why didn’t you tell me?
“I told Luminara. She had me go back to the medcenter to get scanned, to make sure there was no trace of them left, no larvae, nothing like that.”
“There wasn’t. I was clean. Everything was fine.” She picked off a bit of bread and looked at it for a moment, before eating it, none for the pigeons.
“It was all in my head, and I don’t mean literally, just… it was just bad memories. So I didn’t bother Luminara about it anymore. I didn’t want to bother anyone. I was supposed to be training as a Force healer, anyway. I meditated. I prayed to Trikara. I tried putting myself into a healing trance. Nothing worked. It was embarrassing not to be able to heal myself.”
Ahsoka looked at the back of her head, of the hair poking out the back of her headwrap. She remembered Barriss aboard the freezing medical frigate, begging to be killed. But Ahsoka hadn’t killed her. She’d killed the worm and saved Barriss, saved everyone. That horror had ended.
“Did the voice of the queen tell you to bomb the Temple?”
“No,” said Barriss quickly. Then, firmly, “My choices were my own.”
“What did it say to you?”
“Nothing really, not in any language I can understand. I don’t speak Geonosian,” said Barriss. “I could only understand her when the worm was inside me. All I hear now is the echo, a bad memory, bad dreams.”
“Now?” said Ahsoka. “You still hear it?”
Barriss looked up at her. “I think I always will.”
“Don’t apologize to me. Not to me.”
“I wish you would have said something.”
“It wouldn’t have changed anything,” Barriss said morosely, turning away again. She gazed at the fountains dancing at the feet of the Corellian statue, lit from below with lumenglobes. “You would have just told me something wise your master once said.” She laughed bitterly.
Ahsoka almost said I’m sorry again, but caught herself. Had she really been like that? she wondered. When she didn’t know what to say, she’d parrot anything Anakin had said to her, which he’d probably gotten from Obi-Wan, who heard it from his master, and so on.
They’re all dead, the ever present thought rose to the surface. All dead. Everyone you ever loved is dead.
But that wasn’t true. Rex was still alive.
Barriss was still alive.
You were my best friend.
“What do you want from me?” she asked. “Why did you seek me out?”
Barriss’s shoulders squared, sharp and gaunt beneath her dress. She had always been lean, but prison had made her thin. “To tell you that I was sorry,” she said. “Sorry that I hurt you.”
“To ask my forgiveness?”
Ahsoka looked away, out over the park, at the trees and the tall buildings beyond. Everything was dark and muted in the night, the skyline lit from below, like the fountains. She thought about the Jedi. She remembered the Council stripping her of her rank, a hand ripping her silka beads from her head. She remembered the night at the warehouse, Barriss in Ventress’ mask, with Ventress’ lightsabers. She thought of Letta Turmond, struggling for breath, the truth dying on her lips. She thought of dead clones in the hallway of the prison. Dead men walking. Human battledroids.
She thought of seeing Barriss at her trial, dragged in front of the Republic tribunal, her face on the holoscreens as she confessed. She remembered Anakin’s smile, his relief, because he thought he had fixed everything, that it was all going to be alright.
But it wouldn’t be alright.
How could it be, when Barriss had betrayed her?
When the Council had betrayed her?
And it wasn’t alright now, because everyone was dead. Anakin was dead and he would never smile at her again.
“Did you feel it?” she asked Barriss.
“I felt it.”
They didn’t have to say what “it” was.
Every living Jedi across the galaxy knew what “it” was.
Ahsoka nodded. She slipped down from the fence and settled herself next to Barriss on the bench.
“I forgive you,” she said. “But I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to trust you again. I don’t know if I can… forget.”
She didn’t say that she was sorry for this, but she was. She was.
“I don’t expect you to,” said Barriss. She looked to the side, her eyes slipping towards Ahsoka before focusing on a distant point.
There was silence between them again. They had both learned silence in long hours and days of being alone.
“What are you going to do now?” Ahsoka asked, at length.
“I don’t know,” said Barriss. “All I’ve done since I got out of prison was think about you. All I thought about was finding you.”
Ahsoka reached out slowly and took her hand, turning it over, lacing her fingers through Barriss’s. They was sticky with sweetbread glaze.
“The Empire is after you,” said Barriss suddenly. “They’re hunting down all the Jedi who escaped.”
“I know,” Ahsoka said. “I’ve been on the run this whole time. Always looking over my shoulder. Always ready to fight my way out of a corner.”
She’d had to do it a few times, too.
“They’ll be after me, too, once they realize I’m not coming back,” said Barriss. She stared down at Ahsoka’s hand entwined in hers. “They’re afraid of the remnants of the Order finding each other, banding together. They think there will be an uprising.”
“Oh, there will be,” said Ahsoka. “There will be.”
Barriss sighed. Long and heavy. “No more fighting,” she said. “No more war. I’m so tired.”
“There are some things worth fighting for, Barriss.”
A smile played across her lips. “Our lives?” she asked. “We’ll be fighting for that no matter what, I think.”
“You and me against the Empire? I like our odds.” Ahsoka returned her smile.
Barriss tilted her head to the side. A wrinkle appeared on the bridge of her nose. “Together?” she said. “I thought you could never trust me.”
Ahsoka’s smile faltered. She had almost forgotten. For an instant.
She took a deep breath.
“You don’t have to run all by yourself. You don’t have to do this alone.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Neither do I.”
In prison, she dreamt often of the wind blowing down the battlefields of Geonosis, carrying with it the stench of burning corpses and scorched metal. She dreamt of the reactor exploding like a bomb and burying her and Ahsoka in darkness with no air to breathe.
When she was free, she dreamt of it still.
She dreamt of the queen screaming.
She dreamt of the voices of an entire species going silent and the stilling of wings.
She dreamt of a hot wind blowing across the graveyard of Geonosis. She dreamt of a star whose name was death.
In the end, she dreamt of nothing. And she was glad that the voices had all gone quiet.
There was peace, serenity, and harmony in death.
Barriss stood off to the side and watched while Ahsoka spoke into the holorecorder, talking to one of her contacts through the encrypted frequency, her image and voice garbled so they would not know her identity. They knew her only as Fulcrum.
She could feel it coming again.
The wheels of war were slowly turning, gathering up steam to rampage across the galaxy.
It was the way of the universe.
“You disapprove,” Ahsoka said, after cutting off the transmission.
“No,” Barriss denied. She moved away, pacing the length of the cockpit aboard the small spaceship they piloted across the galaxy. Always on the move, looking for new recruits, keeping ahead of the Inquisitorius.
“You’re thinking dreary thoughts again.”
“I’m always thinking dreary thoughts.”
Ahsoka laughed. “That’s not true.” She came closer, and took Barriss’s hands in hers. “I’ve known you to be cheerful, once or twice in a year.”
“Only when I forget to be solemn,” said Barriss, her lips twitching.
Ahsoka squeezed her hands. Her eyes turned serious. “This is something I have to do,” she said. “You know that I do.”
Barriss nodded. She knew the Empire was evil, that it kept the peace with violence and death. It was the only language that they spoke. She knew about the missing children, about the people who disappeared in the night or were shot down in the streets. She knew about entire species enslaved or mysteriously gone overnight. She knew, she knew, she knew. The Emperor, mad with power, was everything she had once decried the Jedi for becoming.
And still, she was tired. Tired of the endless fight. Tired of questioning whether violence begat violence or if standing by and doing nothing was the greater evil, after all.
She looked into Ahsoka’s eyes and thought of all the things she wanted to say to her friend, her dear friend. All I know is that I care about you. It’s you, it’s always been you.
But she was afraid. It had been years since she’d found Ahsoka again, years trying to atone for what she’d done, but she did not think she had any right to presume a bond, or to ask for more trust than Ahsoka could give.
“Let’s go outside,” she said, slipping her hands free of Ahsoka’s grasp. “What’s the point of being planetside if we just sit in this ship like always?”
“Alright,” Ahsoka agreed.
They were docked just outside of a town on Mirial, Barriss’s homeworld, and the morning was cool, the sun just rising. Dew dampened the hem of her dress as she stepped down off the landing ramp. A light breeze was blowing down from the north, carrying with it the blooms of spring. She took a breath and lowered her hood, dropping it around her shoulders, allowing the air to brush across her face and through her hair.
“Let’s walk,” she said, wanting to move. Her feet still, sometimes, forgot to stop pacing in small spaces. Forgot that she could open doors and step outside. Forgot that she was free.
Whenever she was planetside she loved to walk. To walk as far as she could without stopping, without coming up against a wall.
“Barriss?” said Ahsoka, searching her face with those probing eyes of hers, as she walked beside her. “You know that you can talk to me about anything, don’t you? What have I always said?”
“Don’t keep things bottled up inside,” Barriss repeated, dutifully. Ahsoka prized honesty, openness, direct communication. These were the foundations of trust, she always said. This was what friendships were made of.
And we’re friends, aren’t we?
“Do you trust me?” Barriss asked.
Ahsoka’s lips parted in surprise. Her eyes went wide. It was a question Barriss had not dared to ask in all these years. It wasn’t really the question she wanted to ask, but it was, perhaps, the only one that mattered.
“I trust you,” said Ahsoka hesitantly. She looked thoughtful at her own words, then nodded, and repeated them more firmly, “Yes. I trust you.”
“Good,” said Barriss.
She stopped, turning towards Ahsoka, then carefully put her arms around her friend’s shoulders. She pulled her into a hug, feeling the press of Ahsoka’s lekku, which had grown long and majestic as she had aged. They were not children anymore, not as they had once been on the battlefields of the Clone Wars.
“Because I trust you,” Barriss whispered, and Ahsoka lifted her arms to return the embrace. “Whatever you think is the right thing to do, I think is the right thing to do. My choices are my own, and I choose you. You are my guide, Ahsoka. I would follow you anywhere.”
“I know,” came Ahsoka’s voice, her hands light on Barriss’s back, brushing her shoulder.
“Do you really?” asked Barriss.
Ahsoka drew away and looked into her eyes. “I know you would,” she repeated. “I know that you already have.”
A bird circled ahead, lazily riding the unseen currents of air. It drooped and fluttered just on the edges of Barriss’s vision, but she didn’t look away from Ahsoka’s face. She wouldn’t be distracted. Ahsoka’s lekku swayed in the breeze, twitching almost nervously as she held Barriss’s gaze, unblinking.
Barriss did a thing that she had been wanting to do for years, ever since she had approached a young togruta girl in a heated argument with her master on the sun drenched plains of Geonosis. She leaned forward and she kissed Ahsoka.
It was not something she would have dared to do as a young Padawan. It was not the sort of thing a good Padawan raised by Luminara Unduli would even admit to thinking about doing. Jedi did not kiss other Jedi (or anyone, for that matter).
It was not something she would have done when she was lashing out in pain and anger at what the Jedi had become, of what she had become, though she knew that even then, even then, it had always been Ahsoka whom she had wanted to hold her, and comfort her, and tell her that it was going to be alright.
It was something that she thought about as she lay in her prison cell, dreaming. It was Ahsoka in her dreams. And it always would be.
But it was not something she would have dared to presume or hope for when she found Ahsoka again. She had no right to ask for Ahsoka’s affections, her trust, her love. She had no right to ask that Ahsoka hold her as she had once done, aboard the transport to Ord Cestus, because she was not the girl she had been then, she was not the girl that Ahsoka had cared for, not the girl Ahsoka had thought she’d known.
It was too much to ask for.
But oh, had she wanted to ask.
When she felt Ahsoka return her kiss, mouth curved into a smile against her lips—when she reached to brush her hair back from her face, to touch her cheek—Barriss felt she had an answer.
And in that moment she thought nothing and no one could ever hurt them again. Not the memories, not the voices, not the Empire. Not her.
Not this time.