Untainted (- for Tika)

She felt, rather than heard, him running just behind her, his warmth at her shoulder. The wind hit her ears with a strange, high-pitched wailing, bringing prickles up along the back of her neck. She tried to force her mind away from master Plo’s stories of haunted ship graveyards that he had patiently spun when she was a youngling who hated sleep. She slid to a crouch behind the rusted hull they’d spotted from the cover of their cave. Her breath coming in gasps, she closed her eyes briefly. Master Plo. How she missed him.

She leaned her back up against the sun-warmed metal, lifting her bracer to shield mouth and nose as the other master landed beside her, kicking up dust.

At least it was a bit quieter here, in the shelter of the rusting old hulk.

“If they are following, they’ll know exactly where we are, with that dust cloud rising,” she coughed.

“They’re not out in this, Ahsoka. At least- not yet.”

He sounded so sure. But then- he always had.

“Here. Try this,” his voice was light, amused, his solid warmth nudging her shoulder playfully, as he pulled something out of his cloak.

She had her head down, rummaging in her pack for water. Without thinking, she lifted her hand just as a hard, smooth object smacked into her palm. That was a hard throw from close quarters, she thought in surprise, her fingers tightening around the object.

“Impressive reflexes,” he smiled.

She examined it. It was hard, but had a slight give when she flexed her fingers. Red. A small twig coming out of one end. It smelled- she lifted it to her nose – definitely organic matter. Sweet.

“What is this when it’s at home, and why should I try it?” She turned it over and over in her hand, liking the weight and feel of it.

“It doesn’t have a home anymore, Snips. This is from a world that no longer exists.”

At that, she lifted her head to look at him. Then inched back a little. He was … too close.

When did she begin feeling uneasy around her master, she wondered, shaking her head slightly.

Still, she searched his face. It hadn’t changed. Their weeks of hiding had slimmed it somewhat, so the shadows were more prominent under his eyes and the hollows of his cheeks; his beard stubble had grown in a way no master would normally allow, and there was sand on his face. His dark hair was wildly tangled, but the brown eyes that gazed back at her were warm as always, calm. He was – still himself.

She shuddered, trying to shake off her odd mood.

“Bantha on my grave,” she muttered, looking at the object again. She brought it to her mouth and gave it a tiny, experimental lick.

“Eugggh, smooth,” she said, “no taste.”

“Bite it,” he urged, getting a little too close again.

“What is it you want, Anakin?”

“Eat the Apple.”

“Eat it? But why?”

“You’ll know after you eat it.”

She’d trusted him with her life. She’d never questioned him. Well – okay- that wasn’t true. She’d questioned him, but she was inclined to weigh the odds heavily in his favor, every time. His judgment was sound. His heart was true. She thought. She frowned slightly. Had her judgment always been sound?

“Let me make sure I understand. You want me to eat some unnamed thing from a dead world, and you won’t tell me why,” she declared flatly, her eyes narrowing, holding the strange food between them. It gleamed so oddly red, almost obscenely clean in this putty-colored, dusty place.

“Yup. Exactly.” He watched her, saying nothing more.

She shrugged. Curiosity was, invariably, her driving flaw.

The first bite hit her senses like icy Hoth wind. It took some work for her teeth to break the skin, and it made a popping sound when she took a bite. The fruit was crunchy, and the juice of it was lush, tart and sweet all at once. She chewed, her nostrils flaring as she inhaled in surprise. Dead world, and the most living bite of food she had ever tasted. She closed her eyes in wonder and reverence as the delicious juice trickled down her parched throat.

She opened her eyes again slowly, and as she looked across at her teacher, she saw his eyes were no longer brown. They shone with an eerie red gleam. She turned and looked around wildly at the horizon, to see if the suns were setting already, or-

she looked down as she felt warm juices trickle between her fingers. Was the fruit melting?

the liquid was red, thick, viscous and shockingly warm.

“Blood?” She gasped, dropping the fruit, holding her hand up in front of her eyes. “Blood.”

He smiled slowly, and those strange red eyes of his never left her face.

“Dead world,” he chuckled, a strange rasp in his voice, “do you hear them? It’s your last lesson,” he added so quietly, she wasn’t sure she had heard correctly.

She heard faint screams, hundreds of voices pleading, talking, praying, the sound of anguish as she plunged her hand in the sand, and scrubbed wildly, scouring the blood off as best she could. “Jedi … do not draw blood,” she said, her throat closing in horror and disgust.

“You are no Jedi,” he answered her, and when he smiled, a full smile this time, his teeth were stained red.

She sat up, panting. The sheets were tangled around her legs. She looked around the dimly lit room. No suns. No dust. She propped herself on one elbow, and held up her hand, turning it slowly, inspecting every inch of clean skin. No blood.

“Your sick choices have nothing to do with me, my old friend. Do you hear me? Nothing. You may have told me to eat, but yours was the harm. Trusting you was my only mistake.”

She wiped her eyes and sat up, taking a deep breath. He was gone, and his evil choices gone with him. She gathered her armor to begin another day, the smell of blood and the taste and anguish of a long-dead world still lingering on her tongue.


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