this is a disclaimer.
scaled these city walls (the end)
"It was around sixteen-hundred that General Kenobi arrived at my wife's apartment," Anakin says. "He told me he needed my help – that the Jedi Council had proof that Chancellor Palpatine was in fact the Sith Lord who called himself Darth Sidious, known to be the Master of the late Count Dooku, and therefore presumably the man Dooku had been taking orders from all along. General Kenobi asked me to accompany him to the Chancellor's offices to aid in the arrest."
Senator Organa nodded. "And you complied because?"
Anakin pauses, considering his next words. There's barely a sound in the entire Senate Hall; it feels as if half the galaxy is waiting for his testimony.
"It would be wrong to say I suspected the Chancellor myself," he says at last. "But recent events had made me... wonder about his motives. When Obi-Wan told me... I found I wasn't surprised." He pauses again before adding, because that explanation is calm and objective and clinical and faultless, "And I complied because Obi-Wan asked me to."
Beside him, his former Master shifts slightly, head turning towards Anakin, smile hidden in his beard.
"Your inference, I take it, is that if it had been Master Windu, say, who had come to you to ask for your help..." Senator Organa says slowly, inviting Anakin's reply.
He shrugs. "I've made no secret of my resignation from the Order. And I think my marriage is proof enough that I don't consider myself answerable to their Council anymore."
There's a brief titter of laughter in the Hall. Senator Organa allows himself a slight grin.
"Your marriage was preceded by a relationship with Doctor Naberrie that took place while you were under the jurisdiction of the Jedi High Council."
Anakin grins back. "All right. So I've never really considered myself bound by some of their more... outdated rules."
Across the way, in the other pod, Mace Windu is watching him expressionlessly.
"In short," Senator Organa says, "you flouted the rules of the Jedi over a period of several years in order to pursue a relationship with Doctor Naberrie, finally resigning from the Jedi and the Grand Army of the Republic when the two of you married, kept your new suspicions about Chancellor Palpatine to yourself and went to interrupt a lawful arrest by the Jedi High Council solely on the word of your former mentor. You realise that no matter the outcome, your actions in and of themselves were highly irregular – dancing on illegal, in fact – and therefore smack of a certain... arrogant disregard for the rules of law?"
Anakin's temper began to rise with the very first word, and he can't stop himself from snapping when he answers. "Palpatine offered me a position in the Army," he says sharply. "He phrased it more politely, but essentially he wanted me to be a kind of enforcer, the instrument of his will. He talked of my popularity giving him a certain legitimacy, he spoke of taking control, reorganising – the Army, on the face of it, but it shouldn't be hard to read between the lines. What it came down to was a choice between my friendship with him and my wife and children – just as the Order previously expected me to choose between my family and my Force abilities when I was a boy. I chose the Order then. It was a mistake. And I never make the same mistake twice."
The murmuring starts at the top of the Hall and spreads outwards and downwards in waves of sound. Senator Organa sucks in a breath. "A mistake?"
Anakin winces. He hadn't meant to say that, to expose himself like that – his tongue's too sharp and too quick when he's angry, always has been, Padmé's called him on it more than once. "Yes," he says. "In many ways, yes. My mother was murdered on my homeworld just before the start of the war. If I'd been there I – there might have been something I could have done."
He thinks the muttering turns sympathetic, but it's hard to be sure.
"This was during your assignment to protect Senator Nertay."
"When you also met Doctor Naberrie."
"Is this an inquest into Palpatine's death or an interview for the gossip rags?" Anakin snaps.
"Temper, Ani," Obi-Wan murmurs. "They want to understand you."
Anakin snorts. "Good luck with that," he says quietly.
Obi-Wan grins. "I certainly wouldn't dare try."
But Senator Organa nods. "Point taken. My apologies; we merely wish to understand the course of events that has led us to this point."
Anakin nods back, feeling a little silly but with absolutely no intention of apologising.
"Moving on then. Would you summarise what happened when you and General Kenobi reached the Chancellor's offices that night?"
"Most of the Masters who had gone to confront and arrest Palpatine were already dead," Anakin says quietly. "The man was extremely powerful, an expert swordsman. When we found – when we found them we set off the evacuation signal. Duels like that can be destructive, especially when the duellists are strong in the Force. And there was also a chance that someone would send to the Temple, so that we'd have backup. Master Windu was duelling Palpatine when we reached the inner office."
He remembers: transparisteel window shattered, room destroyed, angry wind sweeping towards them, and Windu standing over Palpatine with his sabre drawn, the old man's call to Anakin for help –
He swallows. "Well, I say duelling. By the looks of things, Palpatine was already defeated. He asked for my help."
Another wave of muttering.
"Your help?" Senator Organa says blankly.
Obi-Wan steps forward. "If I may, Senator?"
He catches Anakin's eye and jerks his head very slightly: get off that podium. Anakin frowns at him, but Obi-Wan's steady glare doesn't waver. He steps down to let him reach the microphone.
"Senator, it's our suspicion – Anakin's and mine – that the Chancellor was hoping to turn him to the Dark Side eventually. Palpatine was not otherwise a man to take unnecessary risks, yet it seems to me that asking for Anakin's help just then was pushing him too far, and Palpatine must have realised that. I believe it's safe to say that the Council's move to arrest him forced his hand in this matter, to the point where his appeals to Anakin were made out of desperation and a last-ditch attempt to find a way to save himself rather than any real conviction that Anakin was susceptible to his words. I honestly think the last thing in the galaxy that Palpatine wanted at that moment was to have to duel Anakin Skywalker – one of the most powerful Force-users the Order has ever seen."
Uh-oh. He's in lecture mode. Anakin should have known better than to give him that mike.
"As for the reasons why we tried to intervene in the arrest... the most important part of the Jedi way, as I'm sure many of you are aware, is the precept that we use violence as a defence and a last resort, not to attack. An aspect of that is that we do not kill unarmed prisoners; that we do not kill full stop except to defend ourselves or others. Chancellor Palpatine had been disarmed – he appeared to have been defeated –"
Senator Organa interrupts. "Are you accusing Master Windu of attempting the killing of an unarmed man? Murder, in short?"
Obi-Wan squares his jaw and his shoulders, feeling a heavy weight settle on him. What he's about to do is irreversible, unfixable. A betrayal of the Order.
But still less of a betrayal than what Master Windu had in mind that night.
It takes several minutes to restore order in the Hall. The entire Senate is in uproar, shocked and horrified. Windu sits like stone, grim, silent and unmoving. Anakin has a hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder, silent support. When he looks up, he catches Windu's gaze, and sees something there: worry and introspection as well as anger.
Too late, he thinks. Months too late.
Finally, Organa gets the chance to ask another question. "Master Kenobi, would you elaborate, please?"
Obi-Wan nods at his friend. "Perhaps 'accusing' is the wrong word. You see, when the Chancellor's arrest was agreed on in Council at the Temple, several things became clear to me. One of them was the fact that Palpatine would, if he were the Sith Lord, never come quietly. Never be taken alive. The others had to know it too. What we were calling an arrest was, in practical terms, nothing more than an assassination mission."
He pauses then, hands tightening on the railing on either side of the mike he's speaking into. "I feared for the future of the Jedi Order, Senators, if Palpatine died at our hands that night. I feared what we might become in the wake of his death. I still do. It's true that Sidious was too dangerous to be left alive. We could not have held him. We could not have put him on trial. It's a dilemma I still have no answer to, even now. But to destroy him in that manner, to cast aside our principles and claim that the end justified the means, would have gone against everything the Order is meant to uphold, and begin to lead us down a path that Palpatine would have been only too delighted with."
"You went to the Chancellor's offices with the intention of preventing the death of Palpatine."
"You did so out of concern that the act of killing him would... what, lead the Jedi Council to become Sith themselves?"
Laughter. Open disbelief. Indignation, anger, fear. But no one makes a move to interrupt.
"It takes more than one murder to make a Sith, from what I can tell," Obi-Wan says dryly. "But every journey has a first step. I had no intention of letting that become ours. I had to do something."
Organa lets that stand for several seconds. Lets it sink in. He's being maybe a little manipulative in favour of his friends, but there are other questioners to come, more cross-examinations, and it's safe to say that some of them will be downright hostile towards them. "You asked for Anakin Skywalker's help because..."
"I trust him above anyone else in the galaxy."
Anakin turns his head to hide a grin; he's never been able to graciously accept praise from Obi-Wan.
It means too much coming from him.
The Senate collectively nods and murmurs in approval. Senator Organa hides a grin of his own: the media have spent four years now building up the image of Kenobi and Skywalker, unbeatable team. Seeing it confirmed like that might just win them this whole game, and neither of them even realise it.
At least, he thinks they don't.
"The idea that he might be susceptible to the Dark Side himself didn't occur? Especially considering that he had already left the Order?"
"I've known Anakin for thirteen years, and never has he seemed as much himself – as much at peace – as he has since his marriage to Padmé and resignation from the Order. Several times during the war I was concerned for him, in more ways than one. But when I visited them, before leaving for Utapau, I sensed Anakin had made the right choice."
Obi-Wan looks over at his former apprentice, his friend and brother, and smiles faintly. "I have no concerns for Anakin anymore. And I doubt I ever will again."
Senator Organa sighs. "Thank you, Master Kenobi. Senators! This session is concluded; we will continue in two days time, at ten hundred hours standard timekeeping. I bid you a good night."
He glances across at Anakin and grins suddenly. "By the way, Master Skywalker. I realise it's a little late, but congratulations on the birth of your twins."
Anakin smiles back. "Thank you, Senator."
Padmé is sitting on their bed propped against a pile of pillows, feeding Leia; mother and daughter are wearing almost identical intense expressions. Leia's tiny hands are grasping firmly at the bottle, legs kicking a little. Luke is lying at the other side of the bed, close to his mother's knees, apparently trying with great concentration and determination to put his toe in his mouth.
Anakin leans against the doorframe and watches them, wishing for a holocamera – or better yet, a time machine, to stop the turning of the world and trap them all in this moment for eternity.
Padmé's mouth twitches a little.
"I know you're there," she says without looking up.
"I was wishing for a holocam."
"I was wishing for a bigger apartment."
He laughs in spite of himself. "Yeah, I can't imagine how small this place is going to feel once they start crawling."
Anakin looks around at the worn furniture, the piles of baby things, the high small windows, par for the course in crowded Coruscant apartment buildings.
"Some of the happiest memories of my life took place in these four walls."
Finally, Padmé looks at him. "You manipulative bastard."
"Hey, could you not corrupt my children with your foul language before they're even a year old, please?"
"How much longer it's going to take you to get over here and kiss me."
About two seconds. He tilts her head back, cupping her face in his hands, and kisses her softly and slowly, putting all the love and tenderness he feels for her into it. She kisses back, gently at first, and then slides her tongue along his lips and slips inside, just daring him –
Leia squawks indignantly when her father's jacket pokes her shoulder. Anakin's leaning over Padmé all passion and strength, breathing quickly when they pull apart.
Padmé licks her lips at him and thinks she can taste him on them. He groans and shuts his eyes against the sight: hair tousled by his fingers, lips swollen, cheeks flushed. She's the loveliest thing he's ever seen.
Well, almost, he amends when he glances down.
He brushes his left hand across his daughter's forehead soothingly. "I'm sorry, Princess. Your Mom got a little carried away."
"She certainly did," Padmé mutters resentfully. Anakin stands up to pull his jacket off; then he lifts Luke into his lap and sits down next to her, grinning down at his son.
"You look like you've been enjoying yourself today, young Master Skywalker."
Luke makes a noise that sounds like "Guh!" and waves his hands up at his father cheerfully.
"He's not smiling," Padmé says automatically.
"Sure he is."
She does smile. "How was the enquiry?"
"Well, Obi-Wan said a lot of complimentary things about the both of us."
He sighs. "I don't know, love. They're not about to arrest anyone for murder, but I... it's been months. The media have been baying for Jedi blood since the moment the reconvened Council tried claiming the fight with Palpatine was private Jedi business, and the Senate hasn't been much better. Peace with the Separatists went a long way to fixing that, seeing as how Obi-Wan was so heavily involved in the negotiations, but..."
"But you're afraid that this investigation will tear open old wounds and make public opinion swing against the Order again."
"Why do you care so much? They took you away from your mother and spent thirteen years denying you everything you needed. They would have kept us apart if they could have. And they tried to take the twins away from us."
Anakin sucks in a breath. If he weren't holding Luke, he'd be clenching his fists in anger. If he weren't holding Luke, he'd probably jump up and wreck something – the bedside table, the dresser, the entire apartment, whatever. Just the memory of Master Ursan standing in the doorway expecting him to turn over his children, as if she had never so much as considered the possibility that Anakin and Padmé might exercise their legal right to refuse her...
"I don't know," he admits when he's got his voice back. "I... aah. The galaxy needs the Jedi, Padmé. When I was a child I used to dream that one day they'd come to Tatooine and free all the slaves. That no true Jedi would allow slavery to exist if they could help it. Just their existence meant hope, you know? And sometimes hope is all you've got, my love."
Padmé leans left and rests her head on his shoulder. Leia is yawning hugely in her mother's lap.
"People still need them," he says quietly. "But they need to change. And they need to do it fast."
There is a disturbance in the Force when Master Windu returns to the Temple, a flicker-swirl as of a stream gushing over an obstacle and then returning to its rightful course. Yoda sits in the Council chambers, ostensibly in meditation, and waits for his –
Friend? Yes, although the word implies an attachment which may not be.
"Forsaken us, Master Kenobi has," he says when Mace enters.
"Yes," the other agrees quietly, taking his own seat. Then he comes straight to the heart of the matter. "Master Yoda. I fear he was not wrong to do so."
Yoda looks up. "A different course of action, you feel you should have taken?"
Mace pauses, those niggling doubts suggesting he say yes, and then realises that actually, he doesn't feel he should have done anything differently. Palpatine was too dangerous to be left alone. He would have destroyed not just the Jedi but the Republic, brought years, if not decades, of conflict and division to the galaxy.
He had to be stopped.
Mace sighs. "I can no longer tell."
"Clouded, the Force still is."
"But the Sith are destroyed. Anakin Skywalker has fulfilled his destiny."
Yoda appears thoughtful. "Has he?" he asks softly. "Has he truly, Master Windu? Finished, you think he is? A happy ending, in store for him?"
"What more can he possibly do?" Mace wants to know.
"Much. Perhaps too much. Dangerous he remains, despite Master Kenobi's words."
But Mace shakes his head. "Master Yoda, you were not there. Anakin will not fall. In that, at least, I agree with Kenobi."
For the first time, a sharp edge creeps into Yoda's voice. "Refused the Temple his children, he has. Leave them vulnerable, he does. Powerful they could still be, but training they must receive! Proper training, yes. Always young Skywalker's attachments cloud his judgement. Selfish he is to deny them their birthright."
"I can't believe I'm defending the man," Mace says, looking troubled. "But... perhaps he has a different idea of what that birthright is, Master."
Yoda sighs. "Saved your life they did," he says. "Kenobi, Skywalker, Doctor Naberrie. A debt, you feel, and correct that is. But keep a clear head you must, Master Windu. Guidance of the Force alone, we listen to."
Mace bows his head.
Anakin spends the next morning at the kitchen table with a datapad and the Holonet connection, making lists and doing sums and wondering where in Kessel they're going to find an apartment on Coruscant that's fairly close to the medcentre Padmé works at that they can actually afford. It's not an easy task when his own future income is still completely hypothetical.
Luke, propped against a pile of cushions on the kitchen floor, disapproves of his father's current preoccupation with something that is not him. Leia too is sulking over some stuffed toy or other, poking at it listlessly.
The message is clear: Daddy, come play!
"This is for your future, all right?" Anakin tells them. "I'm trying to find a way to support us. You can manage to play by yourselves for a few hours while I try and secure our future, can't you? You can't always be thinking about instant gratification."
Leia drops a string of beads accidentally and her face instantly scrunches up in preparation of a good long cry. Anakin groans and climbs off his chair to pick it up for her.
"It would help if I could just figure out what kind of work I want to be doing," he says to them. "Your mother thinks I should be selling starship designs. The easiest and fastest way to make money right now is work as a mechanic, but we're not actually desperate, so there doesn't seem much point to that, especially as there are other things out there that do in fact pay better."
He could swear the twins exchange a look then. The thought makes him grin. "I know, I know. You're more interested in lunch than your old man's future career."
Luke leans forward and pokes at him with a red building block. "Dada," he says, sounding triumphant. Well done, Dad. You read my mind.
Anakin stares at him in shock and delight. "Luke, did you just talk?!"
"Da," the little boy says, disdainful of his father's excitement, and then Leia hits him with her teddy bear, demanding her fair share of her father's attention, and Anakin can't decide which one of them to snatch up and kiss first.
"You look ridiculously cheerful this morning," Obi-Wan says the next day.
Anakin grins. "Luke said his first word yesterday."
"He's almost seven months old, Obi-Wan."
"What was it?"
"Dada," Anakin says, trying and failing not to grin like an idiot. "Padmé absolutely seethed with jealousy all evening."
Obi-Wan can't help himself: he bursts out laughing. Anakin's grin widens, takes on a slightly smug slant.
"And how were your forty-eight hours with Sabé?"
"Interesting," Obi-Wan says. "She bullied me into helping her with some diplomatic assignment. Said she didn't want me brooding over my oh-so public betrayal of the Jedi Order."
There's a touch of bitterness to his words. Anakin grimaces a little. Most of the Order probably still think of him as a traitor, too; but it's different for Obi-Wan. He's never had anything else.
"She's a good friend," is all he says.
"Yes," Obi-Wan agrees. "Yes, she is."
They walk in silence for a few minutes, drawing closer to the Senate Rotunda. There's a breeze tugging at Obi-Wan's robes and Anakin raises his face to the sunshine, squinting as he does so. It's like encouragement, that sunshine, bright and warm. Like the touch of his mother's hand.
"You better hope the media never find out where you've been bunking," he says suddenly. "Or before you know it, you and Sabé will be knee-deep in a passionate love affair."
Obi-Wan snorts. "I think one of those between the two of us is more than enough, thank you Anakin."
Anakin grins at him. He's cut his hair short, not much longer than it was when he was a Padawan, and with the radiation-bleached highlights gone, it looks much darker than before. Prominent sabre scar, the thin, faint white lines around his other eye where Sidious, in his dying moments, tried to claw it out before reaching for the vibroblade that very nearly ended Anakin's life, but he still looks so young. Too young to be a Knight, a war hero, a Chosen One. A father and a husband.
It's a gorgeous sunny day, and it feels as if the wind were whispering to them, Obi-Wan thinks. Of peace, of contentment, of work to be done. He's grinning back before he's realised it.
They go inside.
Padmé's scrubbing at her wrists trying to get the blood off (sixteen-year-old caught his hand in some kind of metal junker at the local mechanic's shop or something, and she had a Kessel of a time stitching him up. The kid just couldn't sit still) when Jazu pokes her head into the washroom.
"Padmé. Boss wants to see you."
"On my way," Padmé says, reaching for a towel.
When she gets to the Boss' office, she finds her in the corridor, somewhat to her surprise.
The Boss points at her office door. "In there," she says. "I don't know what you and that husband of yours have been up to, but if this gets out, the media will be swarming all over this place, and I'd rather not have that happen."
Padmé bites her lip. "All right...?"
The Boss gives her a long, steady look. "Should I call him?" she asks at last, meaning Anakin.
Padmé squares her shoulders. "If you hear me scream."
That gets a grin. Then she pushes the door open and walks inside.
"Doctor Naberrie," Master Yoda greets her. "Taken your husband's name you have not, hmm?"
"No," Padmé says, struggling to keep her calm. "No, I didn't. The twins are Skywalkers, though. My family thinks that's a little ridiculous, but it felt right."
Yoda draws himself up a little, surprised. She crosses her arms over her chest defensively. "They are why you're here, yes?"
"They are," he admits at last.
"The answer is no."
Amusement. "Heard the question, you have not."
"You want to take them away from us."
"Training I wish to give them."
"They're seven months old."
"The correct age."
"To be indoctrinated?"
"To be protected."
Padmé draws a breath. She doesn't want to do this – truly, she doesn't. Master Yoda, by all accounts, is wise, and kind, and gentle, and it's not fair of her to fight dirty with him like this, to fling all his failures in his face.
But he wants to take her children from her, and that she will never allow. In this, she is – has to be – as ruthlessly efficient as her husband is purported to be on the battlefield.
"The way you protected Anakin from Palpatine?"
Yoda stiffens, but then sighs, relaxing again. His shoulders hunch and his ears turn down wearily. What the deaths of half the Jedi Council, a four year galactic war, the knowledge that all this time he has been obeying the orders of a Sith Lord he was not capable of recognising no matter how long he spent in his presence and the defection of the two most well-known members of his Order in the galaxy could not do, Padmé's words have accomplished.
She's made him seem, for the first time, old. Old and defeated.
"Mistakes, many have been made," he says. "Learned from them, we have."
Padmé's come too far to hold back now. "If by learning you mean taking my babies before they can walk rather than waiting until they're nine years old."
"Vulnerable, you leave them," Yoda states flatly. "Open to attack. Dark Side Adepts there may still be, trained by Sidious. Pose a threat to you they will."
Padmé puts steel in her spine, draws herself up to her full height, remembers what it was like to walk and talk and act a Queen.
"And will Palpatine's not-quite-good-enough-for-Sithhood Dark Side pets be capable of defeating the men who killed their master? Because frankly, I doubt that. I saw that office, Master Yoda. I saved my husband's life in that place, and Obi-Wan's, and your Master Windu's, too. I called time of death on four other Jedi Masters. I know what these people are capable of. And I know what they're not."
Stricken by the mention of the deaths of his friends, he doesn't answer. She sighs, her anger draining away.
"You don't understand," she tells him softly, almost pityingly. "That determination you have to keep your Order intact? To protect the Jedi way of life?"
He nods slowly.
"It's no different to the way I feel about keeping my children, Master Yoda."
Yoda seems wearily amused. "Harbouring attachments you accuse me of, Doctor Naberrie."
Padmé shrugs. "It was Anakin's attachments that took him to the Chancellor's office when Obi-Wan asked for his help," she says. "It was his attachments that led him to leave the Order to be with me and the twins. Can you really stand there and tell me that last was the wrong decision? Because if so, then you've understood nothing about my husband. Worse, you've understood nothing about what your Jedi way truly does to the people forced to live it."
Yoda studies her in silence for a long time. She doesn't flinch, doesn't fidget, doesn't look away.
Someone has to make him see.
Finally, he inclines his head slowly. "Bother you again with this request, the Order will not," he says quietly. "Respect your decision, we shall, despite my misgivings."
And suddenly Padmé is angry again. "So you sithing well should," she snarls. "Under the laws of the Republic you claim to serve, this is my decision. Don't you dare act as if you're making some great exception just to do me a favour."
Yoda actually chuckles. "Met his match, young Skywalker has, hmm?
Despite her fury at his blinding arrogance, Padmé grins. "Oh, definitely," she says.
Padmé's home before him again – he didn't think she was supposed to be back for another few hours. Anakin tosses his jacket over a chair and strides to the door to the living room, quick but quiet in case the twins are asleep. "Love? Did somethi- umf!"
Padmé's on her feet and across the room before he has time to finish the sentence, gluing her lips to his and pouring all the old, familiar passion and need into the kiss: as if they weren't married now, as if the twins had never existed, as if the last year had never happened, as if he's come to her fresh from battle with haunted eyes and bloodstained hands, as if she's been alone for weeks with nothing but her work and her memories of him and one too many patients dead on the operating table. Anakin's hands come up to grab her shoulders; then his arms go around her, hauling her close, breathless and desperate suddenly.
She shoves at him, pushing him back step by step until the backs of his thighs hit the kitchen table and her hands drag down over his chest to his belt –
Anakin breaks the kiss, breathing harshly. "Love – are you –"
"Shut up, Anakin," his wife whispers, eyes fever-bright and urgent. "Shut up and make love to me."
"On the kitchen table?"
"On the kitchen floor for all I care. Get your clothes off and take me."
He straightens so he's towering over her and tilts her head back as he kisses her, tongue sweeping into her mouth. Grips her upper arms tightly (come morning she'll get a slow sneaky smile when she sees those finger-shaped bruises, press her lips to the bite marks on his shoulders before she kisses his mouth) as she yanks his belt buckle open – not content with that she grabs the buckle and drags it out of the loops of his pants, the tongue smacking his hip when she tosses it away but that hardly matters when her hands catch and tug at his trousers and then dip and –
Force, it's been too long. First his injuries, then the birth, then Senatorial enquiries and physical therapy and official investigations and peace talks and caring for the twins... Anakin presses his face into the side of Padmé's neck to muffle his groans as her small deft hands touch him. His head is pounding suddenly – closer closer Padmé Padmé – and his blood thrums, a familiar rhythm he hadn't realised he'd missed so much. Smell of antiseptic and soap and her shampoo and something rather darker, muskier. She's pressing kisses to his shoulder through his thin shirt, trembling a little in his arms – but not solely with desire.
Something has happened, he thinks, but it doesn't matter, not yet. She needs this first, he can tell: it's in her touch, hard and urgent, in her kiss the same, in her eyes and the quick fluttering of breath and heartbeat in her ribcage delicate, breakable, warm soft stronger than his ever was. Anakin catches her wrists and draws her hands out of his pants, kissing his way up her neck, biting gently at her jaw.
"Behave," low husky whisper. She loves his voice.
Padmé laughs at him, full and throaty, twists her hands out of his grip and catches handfuls of his shirt.
"Up and off," she mocks him, the same thing she'll say to Luke or Leia, undressing them in the evening.
He raises his arms and lets her pull it up, tosses it carelessly away and drops his hands to her blouse, completely focussed on her, holding her gaze with his the way he knows perfectly well never fails to leave her breathless. She gasps as his fingers brush her breasts, arching her back towards him as he undoes the fastenings hiding her, wants to kiss the pale exposed skin but she's not tall and he is, it's awkward hunching over like that to reach her.
It's easy fixed, arms around her waist, lift and turn and lay her down across the kitchen table, spread out before him a vision unforgettable, her head tilted back and her hair fanning out across the solid wood. He licks at her skin, tasting the faint sheen of perspiration in the valley between her breasts, breathing in the smell of her, and her eyes are fluttering, breath coming quickly, cheeks flushed. Every brush of her hands over his shoulders and back and sides and upper arms trails fire across his skin and tightens the coiling need inside him. He returns the favour by moving lower, licking at her navel, always a sensitive spot for her, traces the stretch marks below it with lips and tongue: eternal proof she's borne his children. Padmé gasps again, slides her hands into his hair, desperate catch in her voice when she says –
"Anakin, yes, dear Gods –"
- and both of them aching now, trembling with want and only want home now with you so good more please Padmé Anakin love you love you love you.
He draws her boots off with the Force as his wandering hands reach the waistband of her pants, and when they too are gone she wraps her legs around his waist and her hand around the back of his neck and tugs him down to kiss him fiercely, demandingly, urging him on; a kiss a man could get lost in, and Anakin Skywalker does, every time.
Several hours, a check on the twins, a bottle of red wine and a move to the bedroom (via the living room and the couch and one particular section of the wall) later, Padmé is sprawled across her husband's chest letting his heartbeat lull her to sleep. Her left hand is rubbing over that sabre-scar on his right hip, motions getting slower and sloppier as she loses focus; all her world is narrowed down to the steady thu-thump under her cheek and the touch of his hand on her lower back.
"Tell me what's wrong," he says at last.
Padmé considers it for a moment in that abstract, detached way that thinking works when she isn't just half asleep but thoroughly exhausted with it.
"No," she says at last. "Not tonight." Kisses his chest gently. "It doesn't belong in our bed."
Anakin sighs, but he doesn't argue.
It's finally the end of the day, another glorious sunset flooding the Jedi Council Chambers with red-gold light. Orders of business have been many and varied, from investigations on former Separatist strongholds to the increasingly acute and noticeable problem that there are more Younglings at the Temple than Knights capable of training them.
But the one thing they have not addressed are the Senate investigations, and more specifically, the roles of Kenobi and Skywalker in those investigations and what is to be done about them.
Some of the Council members are already beginning to wonder if it ever will be addressed. Yoda seems determined to either ignore the question or deal with it on his own terms, and it is hard to tell, more than one Master privately believes, which option would be worse. Ignoring it would make them arrogant, detached from reality, believing themselves above the jurisdiction of the Senate they claim to serve.
But those who know Kenobi and Skywalker relatively well (that is, as well as anyone knows them who isn't Kenobi or Skywalker) are fairly certain that if Yoda does attempt to interfere in this, especially without the backing of the Council, Skywalker will be furious and Kenobi... well, no one seems to be sure what Kenobi is thinking these days. Maybe not even Kenobi himself. At the moment, only his loyalty to Skywalker remains beyond question.
"Then I believe our business is concluded," Mace Windu is saying when the doors slide back. Everyone looks up, surprised: they'd felt the Jedi approaching, but for someone to barge into the chambers during Council is unheard of.
Of course, the man doing the barging in has done a number of unheard-of things in the last year alone.
"Anakin Skywalker," Mace Windu says sharply. "What are you –"
"How dare you?" Anakin whispers, addressing Yoda. There's a fury in his face that few on the Council have ever seen in another living being, and even worse, a terrible calm.
Yoda's eyes widen. "Question me, you do?"
"I should think that's become extremely obvious," Skywalker bites out. "Your pet kidnapper already had our answer. What made you think visiting my wife in person would change that?"
There's a shocked silence.
"Attempt to explain to her the dangers you place the children in, I did," Yoda says quietly.
Skywalker barks a laugh. "Dangers, huh. Dangers. I'm guessing you didn't mean the dangers of Sith Lords, Master Yoda. Or the dangers you tend to find on the battlefields of a galactic war. Or, f'example, slavers. I'm guessing you were mostly talking about the dangers of open power sockets and falling down the stairs, because Force knows you and your precious Order are completely incapable of protecting any children against those other things!"
He started out quietly and got louder and louder, every word a punch to the gut. Yoda does not flinch.
"Clouded your judgment still is," he states.
"No," Skywalker says, and he's gone quiet again, soft, almost gentle. "No, not my judgment, Master. Tell me, why didn't you just come to our apartment? You know where it is. Half the galaxy knows where Anakin Skywalker's living these days. But no, you went to the medcentre, you spoke with her boss first – why? Because Force knows I have a theory, and it starts with Jedi mind tricks and ends with you taking my children without my wife's consent and before I can do a thing about it."
Not a punch. A slap: a sharp stinging slap, not truly meant to hurt but to humiliate instead, to make a vicious point, but it leaves everyone breathless just the same, and not even Yoda can answer that charge. It's too preposterous, too outrageous, too unthinkable.
And suddenly the traitorous little thought occurs: too close to the truth.
There's a sharp-edged triumph on Skywalker's face now. "You don't even know, do you?" he says. "You're too busy clinging on to the past with both hands to even realise what your motivations are in the present. Well, here's a suggestion for you, ladies and gentlebeings –" speaking to them all now, turning from Yoda with a swift movement like that of a great cat to command the attention of everyone in the room. "Stay away from my family. For good. Because if you threaten them again – and yes, it was a threat, don't for a minute delude yourselves otherwise – well. We all know what happened to Lord Sidious, don't we?"
He smiles then, actually smiles, cheerful and pleasant, and leaves.
It's like a grip around the collective throat of the Council has suddenly eased, a spell put on them broken, such were the implications of his words. Such is the sheer power the man carries with him. Power in the Force, mainly, surrounding him to the point of being palpable to a naked Force-blind eye, but other powers too: charisma, presence.
Anakin Skywalker has come into his own.
As soon as he leaves the room, there's uproar.
The apartment always seems strangely quiet when Anakin isn't home, even when the twins are here. There's something about him that fills up a room, drawing your attention without even trying, and when he's gone it's like there's a hole in the world itself.
Padmé hates feeling like that. It makes her feel like a character in a romance novel, and the amused look on Obi-Wan's face isn't helping.
"He hasn't been gone that long," he says, shifting Luke in his arms a little.
Padmé glares. "He's been gone once too often," she says, and then sighs. "Did he tell you where he was headed?"
Obi-Wan shook his head. "Not a word. Why, are you worried?"
Padmé purses her lips and wanders over to sit beside him on the couch. Leia is sitting in the big armchair, leaning against one of the arms and examining a pop-up book with great seriousness. Luke is apparently fascinated by the fabric of Obi-Wan's tunic sleeve.
"Yoda came to see me," she says at last.
Obi-Wan pauses. "About the twins."
"I said – several rather hurtful things."
"But he obviously didn't take the children."
"No. He was... he seemed to accept my decision."
Obi-Wan snorts. "I doubt that," he says. "He'll be back. They'll be back. The children of the Chosen One aren't just any Force-sensitive younglings."
Padmé's hands twist together in her lap. "Obi-Wan. If they try – if Anakin – I'm afraid of what he'd do. If they try."
Obi-Wan knows perfectly well what Anakin would do if the Order tries to take the twins. It's the one thing he still can't handle, the shatterpoint he will never be able to completely overcome: his need to protect the ones he loves.
He wasn't lying when he told the Senate he had no more fear for Anakin; but his certainty that Anakin will never give in to that roiling darkness Obi-Wan sometimes sensed in him during the war doesn't mean that said darkness will ever truly leave him.
"I'm not," he says at last, and smiles at his brother's wife. "He'd be furious, yes. But he has more control over it now than ever before – control I rather suspect you taught him, by the way. Don't underestimate him, Padmé: I know how direct he is, how much he abhors dishonesty, but he's far more cunning than I am. Whatever he's up to, it won't involve the use of a lightsabre."
Padmé laughs a little. "No, you're right. I just mean: is that really any better?"
"Are you sure you're not hanging on a little too tightly to the no-killing rule and ignoring the fact that non-violence doesn't necessarily mean moral?"
Obi-Wan groans. "You're worse than he is. I don't know, Padmé. Maybe I'm not sure. Maybe I'm focussing on the wrong things. Maybe I should go back to the Temple this afternoon and crawl to the Council to ask Master Windu's forgiveness. Maybe my illegal attachment to Anakin and, by extension, you and the babies, is twisting everything, blinding me to the truth – I don't know. All I can tell you is: the vaunted, prophesised Chosen One of the Jedi Order was born a slave on a world ruled by criminals and brought up by his mother to believe in loving and protecting his family before all else – values which directly contradict everything the Code teaches about attachment. The hero of the Republic is an angry young man who has a tendency to risk everything in order to do what he thinks is right, forsaking the bigger picture in favour of saving lives in the here and now. And the man who defeated the Sith and destroyed their evil is a renegade Jedi whose accomplishments make a mockery of the very Order that taught him his skills."
"He thinks the Order needs to change."
"So do I."
"You can't be the only ones," Padmé says.
Obi-Wan opens his mouth to answer her, and stops. Frowns. "No," he says suddenly. "No, we can't, can we?" He looks down at the little boy on his lap. "You know, Luke," he says, "your mother is an exceptionally intelligent woman."
"He knows that already," Padmé says and grins.
When Anakin gets back that night, he's exuding an air of rather worrying self-satisfaction. Kisses Padmé with fierce exuberance and tosses Leia up in the air in greeting: she shrieks with delight and Luke starts clamouring for the same treat.
"I don't suppose you'd mind letting the rest of us know what you've been up to," Obi-Wan says suspiciously as they trade twins.
"Giving some old friends something to think about," Anakin says smugly, tossing Luke a second time.
The Temple has been in uproar for the better part of three days now. Anakin Skywalker's visit – his first since leaving the Order, his wife even refused to let him be treated in their medical facilities after his duel with Sidious – has set a debate in motion which not even Yoda himself could stop: even the Padawans are whispering in the corridors and the Younglings look afraid and worried.
More than one has asked, hesitating and fearfully, about their own parents. More than one wants to know what Master Skywalker did wrong to have to leave the Order after defeating a Sith Lord.
The Council chamber itself has seen some bitter arguments. Yoda is unshakeable in his certainty and belief in the Code – at least outwardly. Master Windu has been silent for longer and looked more troubled than any of them can ever remember him being before.
It's been suspected by many for some years that many Jedi sent to investigate Force-sensitive younglings have... neglected to give the parents of said younglings the fullest picture of the situation, but it's the first time that any such parent has openly accused a Jedi of planning to mind-trick their spouse into giving up their children. And to accuse the Grand Master of the Order himself...
Increasingly, the Temple is becoming split in two. Yoda can feel it in his bones: the dissent, the arguments, the anger and the bitterness running through the very centre of the Order he has upheld for centuries.
If he were anyone but Yoda, it would perhaps make him angry, but he is Yoda, and there is something else in this Temple now, too. Along with the dissent and the shouting and the rebellious whispers in darkened rooms and empty corridors has come... a sense. A feeling, a ripple in the Force, gentle for now but growing every day.
Yoda sits in meditation and listens to it, perplexed, curious. It is not clarity, as he imagined it would be after the destruction of the Sith, the fulfilment of the Prophecy of the Son of Suns. It is not certainty, or pure understanding. It is... something else. Something he feels he should remember, tugging at the very edges of his awareness. Something that burns and beckons, bright and vital.
Change, he thinks. Change, I sense. Change, and new life.
Yoda may not know anger, but he still remembers fear.
Obi-Wan makes his proposal to Anakin and Padmé a week after Anakin's visit to the Temple, and frankly the notion floors them both.
"You're joking," Anakin says. "Tell me you're joking."
Obi-Wan shakes his head. "I'm not joking," he says. "But you're not going far enough, which is ironic in a boy who's spent the better part of his life leaning on every boundary he's ever come across."
"What you're proposing is a schism in the Jedi Order," Padmé says quietly.
Obi-Wan nods. "A new Temple. A new Order. A new Code, for Force's sake. Can you honestly tell me you would have been capable of defeating Sidious if you'd always followed the one we've got?" this to Anakin, with a touch of anger.
Anakin shrugs helplessly. "I just. I did what I had to –"
"You did what you had to do to help me, and to protect your family," Obi-Wan says quietly. "That's not a part of the Code as we know it. Neither was my going against the Council to ask for the help of a renegade outcast in the first place."
Anakin wants to wince at that description of himself, but it's true – from their point of view.
"Still," he says, "where would we go?"
Obi-Wan shrugs. "Wherever we can," he says. "I'm not pretending to have all the details worked out yet. But we have friends, you and I: Sabé, Bail Organa..."
"Anakin," Padmé says gently. "You said it yourself. The Order needs to change."
He glares at her. "I have other commitments, remember?"
"You have a commitment to yourself," Padmé says irritably. "I won't put up with you if you're going to spend the rest of your life moping, you know. I don't want you to settle because you think it's your duty to us. I'm a doctor; I can find work anywhere."
"Well, I don't want you to have to give up what you love because you think it's your duty to me!"
Obi-Wan is tempted to laugh, but wisely refrains.
"You want to do this," Padmé says softly. "You need to do this. Don't tell me you don't, it would be a lie. I know you better than that. You can't start something the way you started this mess at the Temple when you went there last week and then walk away from it, my love. This is right, Anakin. This is right for you. And for the twins. They're Force-sensitive, for crying out loud. They shouldn't ever have to face the same choice that you did. Hells, no parent in the galaxy should have to face your mother's choice – our choice. Can you honestly say we wouldn't have given them to the Temple if you hadn't been a Jedi? We wouldn't have known how to help them, how to be sure what was best for them."
Anakin groans. "If I hadn't been a Jedi we would never have met," he says, but that's completely beside the point and they all know it.
"Anakin," Obi-Wan says quietly. "I need your help, my brother. If this is to happen, I need your help. What do I know of love? The Code as it is is the only way I know how to be a Jedi. How am I supposed to teach a way of life I'm only beginning to understand and accept for myself? Hells," he laughs sharply, "it's taken me fourteen years to get to the point where I can openly tell you how much you mean to me. And I practically raised you."
Anakin meets his eyes across the kitchen table. Padmé is smiling a little.
"Others are going to need your example, Anakin. Just as much as I do."
Finally, Anakin sighs. "I think," he says softly, "we should be talking to a couple of other people in the Temple about this. Nejaa Halcyon, for example."
Obi-Wan frowns. "He took you to Praesitlyn." He sounds as disapproving as if Nejaa Halcyon were an old family friend who took his little brother to an amusement park for a day instead of making him study for his exams.
"I attended his son's wedding on Corellia two years ago," Anakin says in that bland but pointed way he has.
Obi-Wan stares at him for a heartbeat, and then he grins, delighted. "Perfect," he says.
Padmé glances from his wide grin to Anakin's smirk and starts to feel a twitch of trepidation.
Oh well, with any luck she can get them to move their base of operations to Naboo, and that will keep her mother happy, at least. And the twins would love Varykino.
Maybe she should call Sabé and see what she thinks.
"Also, I expect to be an equal partner in this venture," Anakin adds. "I know what you're like about taking charge of things and expecting me to fall in line like an adolescent."
"Hmm. Well, that was a long time ago."
"And don't you forget it."
Obi-Wan smiles. "I won't."