this is a disclaimer.
AN: wires verse, starting about a year after "air and angels".
for someone to believe in
"Yeah, well, maybe you could, you know, let him be a kid every now and then!"
"He's twelve and there is a price on his head the equal of that of the most famous criminal in the galaxy! Playtime is over, Anakin, unless you define playing as the way you've spent the last eleven years letting Leia have and do everything she asks for!"
"Oh, hey, Leia is not the one who didn't know how to wash a dish last week."
"Make up your damn mind if I'm spoiling him or forcing him to grow up too fast!"
"You're making him grow up in all the wrong ways!"
"No, you're not making Leia grow up at all! Or rather, not letting!"
The twins, huddled together in the fresher, exchanged a look.
"You know it's bad when Mom starts using italics all the time," Luke said quietly.
Leia sighed and nodded. "Are they even allowed to argue like this?"
He shrugged helplessly. They'd been in here playing at battleships in the sink when Mom and Dad had crashed through the door of their rooms about twenty minutes ago, and since then the argument had covered everything from the state of Dad's fighter to something Mom had done to get them to go to some place called Geonosis, which apparently had been a very bad decision, briefly touched on the subject of Mom's family, taken a detour over accusations of "what Obi-Wan would say about that", those from Mom to Dad, although what it was that Obi-Wan might have said anything about the twins still weren't sure, and had somehow found its way to the subject of child-raising.
"At least they're blaming each other for our deficiencies and not us," Luke said.
The dishwashing incident had been kind of embarrassing.
"We're not deficient," Leia said. "They just don't know what they're doing. Remember? Dad said we had to be patient and try and put up with it."
"Right," Luke agreed. "I guess we always say things we don't mean when we fight."
"... don't see what the sith hell that has to do with anything!" Dad was yelling, frustrated beyond measure.
"Everything!" Mom shouted back. "Everything, right from the start!"
"Right from the start?" Dad said dangerously. "I'll give you from the start –"
"Oh, what's the matter, is that the sound of your ego being bruised?"
Something like a muffled "oompf" and a groan and a chair toppled over, and Leia stuck her head out of the fresher door in time to see Dad tossing his jacket into a corner and Mom grabbing a handful of his shirt and yanking him in for a kiss.
She withdrew again, hastily.
"They're making out," she said.
Luke made a face. "Eww."
"We better make a run for it when they're not looking."
"Which would be when?"
Leia shrugged. "Making out takes up a lot of your attention." Suddenly, she looked shifty. "Or so I hear."
Luke gave her a curious look, but elected not to pry. "So anytime, really?"
Another chair went, and then a thump, like something hitting a wall, footsteps and the slam of a door.
Leia nodded at him. Luke jumped to his feet.
They made a run for it.
When Anakin had first realised there wasn't anyone else on base available to take the supply run, he had felt rather like hitting something, but if this was the homecoming he got every time... well.
"Oh." Padmé's head fell back onto the pillow with a little gasp of pure delight. "Yes. Definitely." She reached for him blindly, hand resting on his heaving chest, tripping over sweat-slick abs.
"Stop that," Anakin rasped when she drew a tempting little circle around his navel and made to dip lower.
She pouted at him.
"I've been gone three days."
"Three days too many."
"Point, I guess."
"Are we really fighting over the – fantasticness – of the sex we've just had?"
"Fantas-what?" Anakin demanded, starting to laugh.
Padmé laughed, too. "Incoherency is a compliment, love."
Anakin whooped softly. "Ah, OK. But there's still – there's something different. Isn't there?"
He thought he had sensed it when he'd reached their rooms, fleeting, vaguely familiar sense of new and more but he hadn't been able to put his finger on it before – well.
Padmé sighed. "We may have a problem," she admitted.
"With making love? I somehow doubt that."
"Oh, you." She rolled her eyes at him, and then twisted around so that she was lying on top of his chest, leg flung across his thighs. Her hair fell in messy, sweat-damp curls over her shoulders and his chest, and not for the first time since leaving Coruscant, she thought about cutting it.
"Don't you dare," Anakin murmured, wrapping his arms around her. "I love your hair the way it is."
Padmé laughed into his chest.
"Problem?" he prodded.
"Right," she agreed. "Well, I think I'm pregnant."
For a moment, Anakin didn't react at all. Then he said, "You think you're what?" and an instant later, "Oh, Force, why didn't you tell me before – I mean, did I hurt you?"
Padmé raised her head and stared at him. "Are you panicking? We've done this before, you know."
"Ah, no," Anakin said, looking pale. "You've done this before. I just came in at the end. And, seriously, earlier, with the wall, and the –"
"Tearing my clothes off and –"
"You started it!"
The only way to shut him up was just to kiss him: firmly, and for a long time. He cupped the back of her head in his palm and let his other hand wander, moving over her back in slow firm caresses.
"We're having a baby," he said when they drew apart, grinning the same delighted grin he'd worn when she'd told him about Luke and Leia.
Padmé smiled back. "Yes, we are."
Suddenly, Anakin looked worried again. "What if it's twins again?"
Padmé went pale. That, she hadn't thought of.
"... need you to deal with those requisitions from the Bothans, there's a comm from Ackbar I have to take before we leave confirming mission data, we've got the second transport off safely and the Imps are still an hour away by our intelligence and Luke, where is your brother?"
"Oh, Nathan?" Luke said innocently. "Leia and I stashed him in one of the packing crates on the first transport with a couple of blankets and a stuffed Ewok. Gave Biggs instructions to check in on him once every couple hours. Hope that's OK."
Anakin glared at him. "Oh, sure, sure. You want to come a step closer and repeat that?"
Luke rolled his eyes. "Leia's got him, Dad, they're in the command centre coordinating with Alpha-5. Will you please stop worrying?"
"About my children?" Anakin said lightly. "No. Sorry. Now you've got your orders, scram!"
But Luke wasn't budging.
"One more thing," he said.
Anakin took a look at him. Recognised that flat determination.
"I want to take a couple pilots out to Tarius VI and have a nose around. There's a blip there on the radar that Leia picked up – could be something, could be a speck of dust on the screen, she says. But I've got a bad feeling about it."
"Oh, I get it. You're skipping the chain of command."
Luke's mouth tightened.
"Yenssax has decided it's nothing, and we're needed here. Which we're not, and it might not be."
"Chain of command," his father said. "This is a military organisation, Luke, you can't keep running to Daddy every time something happens that you don't like."
"That's not what this is. Yenssax is a fool – a paper-pushing quartermaster who got his position because his people demanded a representative on the High Command. I'm a Senator's son, Dad. I understand how important the Neshrit and their resources are to us. But I'm also a Lieutenant Commander with years more experience at this running-and-hiding-from-the-Imps thing than he has, and I'm one of the best pilots in the fleet, and I'm a Jedi –"
"A Jedi!" Anakin interrupted, sharp and low and fierce, and for the first time, Luke faltered, seeing the look on his father's face. "A Jedi, you? Barely out of the schoolroom and a natural talent with a lightsabre and you think you're ready to be made a Knight. The last Padawan I met who believed that of himself ended up a cripple. You've learned much, young one, but you are not a Jedi yet."
It was what Leia called his General's voice, deeper and harsher than usual, the voice that could hold the attention of an entire army without any effort whatsoever and stop the most defiant Imperial officer dead in his or her tracks. A shiver ran down Luke's spine: never before had Anakin directed that voice at any of his children, and it made him think, suddenly, of a long-ago game of Imps and Rebels and a late-night conversation over cups of hot chocolate.
Darkness, Father had said then, speaking of other worlds and different timelines. I see darkness.
Luke shook off the sensation angrily, and found his voice again in the face of all that power and commanding anger. "And I never will be if my own father refuses to trust my instincts!"
Tiniest movement of Anakin's head, but it was enough to break the spell; General Skywalker shrank away, and there was just Dad, wrinkles around his eyes getting more pronounced with every passing year, tired, slightly pale under his tan, but strong as ever, and a hint of pride in his blue eyes.
"Leave Yenssax to me," he said calmly. "Give the man enough rope to hang himself, and he will."
"He could take a lot of us with him when he does," Luke said quietly.
Anakin's eyebrows climbed. "Why did you think I assigned you and Leia to him?" he asked.
Luke stared for a minute, and then he grinned.
"Take a couple of the Rogues – that Antilles boy and Celchu, Galen's had a few good words for 'em. Check out the speck of dust on the radar. Do not get shot at. And do not expect me to cover for your sorry ass when you get back. Understand?"
Luke gave him a lazy salute, still grinning. "Yessir. Right away, General Skywalker, sir."
One of Nat's most very favourite things to do in the whole world was come up behind Daddy and tug at the tops of his boots and wait with his arms held up, cause Daddy would always bend down and pick Nat up and sit him on the edge of the big holochart thing, so Nat had his back pressed to Daddy's chest and Daddy's hand on his head and could see all the glowy lights and the planets moving around the table.
Leia said she used to do that too, and then Luke would look sad cause he and Mommy had to be apart from Daddy and Leia while they were little, and Nat would have to get Luke to take him to the hangar bay and play hide and seek with him till he cheered up. Nat hated seeing Luke sad.
Daddy was talking about some place called Bfssh or something, and Jedi, but Daddy talked about Jedi a lot, specially with Luke, and there was this one glowy planet-light that was all green and shiny, and Nat thought it liked him.
He decided he liked it too.
Nat reached over and put one finger in it.
"Daddy, can I have that one?"
"Dagobah," Daddy said, leaning over to look at it. He smelled all minty, and he felt very warm and safe, like snuggling into the covers at bedtime and getting a second goodnight kiss. "It's a sign!" He kissed Nat's cheek, laughing.
"But can I have it?"
"No, little one. I'm sorry. Only Imperials own whole planets."
Nat glared. "Eww. I'm not an Imp!"
He didn't want it if it meant he had to be an Imp, even if it was nice and glowy and it liked him.
"Not in that sense of the word, no," Daddy said, smiling.
"It certainly wasn't easy to track you down," Anakin said.
"Bring others to this place your presence will," Yoda said, hobbling over to the fireplace. Anakin shifted slightly, trying to make room for him – he was too tall and too big for this hut, really. The twins would be able to manage, both of them shorter and slighter than he.
"I can hide myself."
Yoda looked at him, eyes widening and ears rising in amusement. "Changed, you have, young Skywalker. Changed indeed. Twenty years ago, a boast that would have been."
Anakin laughed ruefully. "I did a lot of growing up in a relatively short space of time," he said. "Strange that having kids can sometimes do something to you that a galactic war can't necessarily."
Yoda sat down opposite him, balancing his bowl of stew on his lap. "Your children, yes," he said quietly.
"Twins. A boy and a girl. They're nineteen now – powerful, well-trained. Not ready to be Knighted yet, but... I don't think it will take long. And our third child, Nathan – he's nearly five. Well on the way to becoming something of a hellion."
Anakin had never been comfortable around Yoda – like being in Mace Windu's presence, the wariness and fear the Grand Master held for him had always made him feel an arrogant yet inadequate fool as a child: inadequate because he would never be the kind of perfect Jedi they expected, and arrogant for thinking he should try anyway. He'd been expecting to fall back into that old pattern practically from the moment he'd set foot on Dagobah, but the awkwardness and the twisting in his gut had yet to resume.
But his inability to even guess at what Yoda was thinking had apparently remained intact.
"I went to Kashyyyk to look for you," he said. "After the attack on the Temple. The Wookiees said you'd left. That was when I found Galen."
"Marek's son," Yoda said, nodding. "Far from alone in your failing, you are."
Twenty years ago, Anakin would have shouted at that. Now, calm came first: the icy calm he carried with him in battle, calculating, patient as a Skywalker could ever be.
He thought he was beginning to understand.
Yoda sighed. "Do you? Returned to Coruscant, I did. Confronted Sidious." His next words were a struggle, an old regret that would never fade. "Defeat him, I could not."
A vicious blow – not just to his pride, his confidence, but to his belief in his own teachings, in his interpretation of the will of the Force.
Anakin sighed too, all the anger going out of him. Yoda was the oldest sentient being he had ever met – quite possibly one of the oldest sentients in the galaxy, even. He had dedicated all that long life to the Jedi way, and at the end, at the most crucial time, when he had needed it most, it had failed him. "I didn't know. The official channels stated you died on Kashyyyk; there was never a mention of a duel between you and Sidious."
"Complicate the issue, that would have."
Anakin barked a laugh.
"Why did you come here, Anakin?"
He looked up in surprise. Never before had Yoda called him by his first name.
"Eighteen years ago," he said slowly, "I went to Kashyyyk because I needed help. Because I'd made myself into the leader of a Rebellion against a Sith Empire without even realising it, just by standing up and telling the galaxy that Palpatine had murdered my brother and that I wanted no part of what he was. And because I found myself a father – not just to my own daughter, or to the son I couldn't see for the sake of their safety, but to every Youngling and lost Padawan who had survived the massacres. Even the other Knights who'd lived looked to me for guidance. The Hero With No Fear; but I needed guidance myself. I needed your help and your wisdom. Then. Eighteen years ago."
He paused a moment, watched Yoda's expressionless face. "No more."
Yoda drew himself up a little, and Anakin thought he smiled. "Good."
Anakin nodded sardonically. "Good."
Yoda put his bowl down to one side and stood up slowly, even that act a struggle now for the Grand Master, old and tired as he was, but he would not have accepted help had Anakin tried to offer it, and they both knew it. One wrinkled hand reached out to rest on his shoulder.
"Grant you rank of Master I do, Anakin Skywalker," Yoda said. "Earned it long ago, you have. My successor you have been, in all but name. That title I give to you now, as is your right."
Anakin straightened in surprise. "That's not why I came here," he said. "It was never..."
"Fact, it is," Yoda said, brooking no argument.
"I've done much over the years that hasn't been... compatible... with the way a Jedi Master should live. I'll do more after I leave here. I'm the leader of the Rebellion first and foremost, and a Jedi second. There's been no other way."
"Yet fallen, you have not," Yoda said. "Nor become blinded, as did I. To me look not for guidance! Know if right my way is, I do not. Know if right your way is, I do not. No longer."
Anakin sighed. "Well, my mother always said the first step to wisdom was admitting how much you didn't know."
Yoda nodded and sat down again. "Mention the second step, did she ever?"
Anakin threw his head back and laughed. "No. But she said I'd trip over it sooner or later if I kept going long enough."
Yoda smiled. "Then keep going, we must, hmm?"
There was, Anakin thought grimly when the twins tumbled out of the beaten-up old freighter, no need to ask what had happened.
Galen was dead. Even if he hadn't felt it in the Force, the looks on his children's faces would have been enough: Galen who had been older brother and uncle and best friend to both of them, just as he'd been son and younger brother and close friend to Anakin himself.
"Give me Galen's squad," Luke said fiercely in the command centre, leaning over the holocharts towards his father with pale face and eyes red-rimmed. "Give me the Rogues, Dad. I can do it. I can take it out."
The smuggler Solo gave a quiet but derisive snort. Anakin could feel his anxiety and his anger and his desperate need to not believe in case everything went wrong again (a need no one understood better than Anakin himself), but all his attention was fixed on his son.
He shouldn't do it. Too much had happened – Winter Organa's capture, the execution of her parents, Galen's death at the hands of Raithen. Three times now Rebellion forces had tried to attack Tarkin's Maw facilities, and three times they'd achieved little more than sabotage and delays to Project Death Star. Luke was exhausted and wrung out and fighting back furious anger: the kind of anger that gripped you by the throat and led you places you never meant to go.
But Luke, unlike his father, had never needed an outside force to turn him back. He carried his boundaries within himself, just as his sister did, and they were unshakeable.
"The floor is yours, Rogue Leader," Anakin said, stepping aside.
"Shouldn't we be doing something about this?"
"About what?" Anakin looked up at his wife curiously.
Padmé waved a hand behind herself at the door to their quarters. "Leia and Solo. I think they've actually been yelling at each other for half an hour straight. In the corridor. And it's not as if it's the first time, even."
"Oh, let 'em work it out themselves," Anakin said sagely. "We did. Eventually."
She gurgled with laughter. "Minutes away from our impending execution."
"Hey, you were the one who put it off so long."
"Put what off so long?" Luke asked, wandering in on the heels of his father's words.
"Your mother, admitting she loved me."
Luke, raiding the cupboard for a mug with one hand and switching the caf machine on with the Force, glanced over at him mischievously. "You know," he said, "there was a time, not too long ago, when you were a Nubian fighter pilot, and there was an evil Count and a heroic rescue and a lot of sappy, girly, romance novel reasons why you couldn't be properly married. And then, of course, you died bravely and heroically, leaving Mom to give birth to me. And once or twice there was some guff about you always watching over me from the Netherworlds of the Force or whatever."
"In all fairness, the part about the evil Count was true," Padmé said when Anakin shouted with laughter. "Also the bit about you always watching over him. What did you tell Leia about me, then?"
"Mostly just that you were beautiful. And, you know. Dead."
She snorted. "Well, then." They grinned at each other across the table, and Luke sighed.
"Guys. Just for the record? Two younger siblings are more than enough. OK? I mean, as it is, by the time Nat is sixteen he'll be accusing you of only bothering to have him so you could make up for all the things that went wrong with Leia and me."
Anakin smirked. "And if we had another one, that's one claim he could never make."
Padmé laughed at him while Luke groaned, and then frowned. "That reminds me – Luke, about..." she made the same gesture at the door as before – "your sister and Solo..."
Luke levelled a finger at her. "Ah-ah. You don't get to interfere in that."
"Mom. I mean it."
"Thank the Force," Anakin said. "That makes two of us with Leia's best interests at heart."
"Leia's interests!" Luke exclaimed. "Are you kidding? There's a scoreboard. And a betting pool that has the potential to make me an independently wealthy man. And besides, watching them flirt is a lot less nauseating than watching you flirt."
And he picked up his caf and left the room before either of them could start objecting to the idea of betting pools being held on the state of their daughter's relationship with a smuggler-turned-reluctant-hero – not a moment too soon, either.
"Scoreboard!" Padmé exploded. "Luke Anakin Skywalker, get back in here!"
"Nauseating?" Anakin said, offended.
"... but by that time, it was too late. The evil King had realised that the Senator was still in love with the brave pirate, and he sent his men to capture her. And the pirate's daughter and the Senator's son were forced to hide in the attic while the King's men searched the house and dragged their mother off in chains, and they knew they had to wait there for their father to arrive, so they could tell him what had happened."
"Sounds like an exciting story," Padmé said softly, coming up behind Anakin. He was leaning against the wall just outside of Nathan's bedroom, listening to the twins telling him his bedtime story.
"Favourite one of the lot."
"Well, there's a lot to love about a certain brave pirate."
"The brave pirate appreciates you thinking that, milady."
She twined her arms around his waist, laughing, and rested her head on his back between his shoulder-blades.
"There's been word from Mon."
"How is she?"
"Good. Winter's doing better, slowly but surely. Wants to get more involved in the Rebellion, especially after... what happened. What she and Leia pulled while the boys were fighting at the Maw Installation. I think she might be a little jealous of the twins, apart from anything else."
Anakin smiled. "She should stay where she is and count her lucky stars that she gets a choice."
"Oh, don't say that. It wasn't a hardship, giving up my life to be with you."
"And that was when the Senator's son had an idea for the distraction that would allow his father to enter into the King's palace unnoticed and find the information they needed to discover the whereabouts of the Senator's prison..."
"Whereabouts. Good word, Luke."
He sighed. "I'm in a funny mood today."
"Six more systems have publicly announced their support for the Rebellion and withdrawn their delegations from the Senate," Padmé said. "More and more of them are finding the courage of their convictions now that the remains of Project Death Star have been made public, thanks to the girls."
Anakin snorted. "I needed their courage ten years ago."
Padmé sighed. "I know you find it hard to respect people who don't live up to your demanding standards –"
"I find it hard to respect cowards."
"I'm finding it hard not to thump you. You know there's more to it than simple cowardice. And you know we need them. Luke and Han's victory at the Maw Installation was a great one, but it wasn't enough. We have to find a way to stop being a Rebellion, Anakin, and become a legitimate alternative to the Empire. We need to be a New Republic, not a terrorist cell."
He pushed away from the wall so that he could turn in the circle of her arms and look down at her.
"I don't know how to lead a New Republic," he said. "I am a terrorist, Padmé. I've been a terrorist longer than I was a Jedi, even."
She smiled up at him. "Oh, Ani. You still are a Jedi. I might not know much about it, but I know that. As for the rest, well. That's why you married me."
"And so, finally, the brave pirate reached the cell where his lady was held, and together they made their way through the Lord Governor's ship to the very stern, where they knew they would find a shuttle they could steal to get away and return to their children."
"If we're not a terrorist cell anymore, then we are looking at a full scale, official war," Anakin said.
"We already are at war."
"Yes. But it's different, can't you see? It feels different. It means something different."
"It means freedom. It means standing up for what and who we are and not being made out to be criminals for having the gall to demand the right to live the way we choose."
"I thought you might like it; there's four pages so far."
He cupped her face in his hands. "I'm sure it'll be riveting."
"It's not polite to make fun of the mother of your children."
"Hmm." Anakin dropped his hands to her upper arms, drew her closer, bent his head and brushed his nose along her cheek and jaw. She smelled of sweat and citrus and whiskey, had probably had one while talking to Mon, and tipped her head back easily to let him lay a trail of kisses along the side of her neck.
"You're right. There are other things I'd rather make with you."
Padmé muffled a laugh in his shoulder and got to work on the fastenings of his loose tunic, pulling it free of his uniform pants and opening snap after snap until she could run her hands over his bare chest without hindrance.
"I'm always right," she murmured, and leaned in close to press a kiss to the blaster scar to the right of his heart. He gasped softly, just the way he had the first time she'd seen it in that tiny room in Anchorhead, during that reunion eleven years in the making.
"Glad you agree," he said and picked her up to carry her the short distance down the corridor to their bedroom.
His second visit to Yoda within the space of two years; but this time, Anakin had an invitation.
"Much more time, I have not," Yoda said quietly. "Sleep, yes. Rest have I earned."
Anakin drew the blanket over his frail form gently, reminded of saying goodbye to Nat just yesterday, of tucking Leia in when she was small.
"I've had word that he's at Vjun," he said quietly.
Yoda paused, but then nodded.
"It's time. I have to face him."
"It's the only way, Master. We're running out of options. Too much of the Empire is under his personal control; as long as he lives, we'll never be able to fight it on equal terms. I can feel it in my bones. Cut off the head of the snake..."
"An assassination you plan."
"I told you the last time I was here. I am, first and foremost, the leader of the Rebellion. And I'm a father. The only one of my children who doesn't yet have a price on his head is Nat, and that's only because the Emperor doesn't know he exists yet. That red-haired pet assassin of his has already come close to killing the twins twice now. They treat it like a joke, but she's a Force-user. I have to put a stop to this. What happens if he decides to start loosening the Rule of Two, just as we've done away with many of the old restrictions of the Code? Suddenly the galaxy will be overrun with Sith."
"Thought this through, you have."
"It's been in my mind since the destruction of the Maw Installation, shortly after I last saw you. That was the turning point. Since then we've only grown stronger, but it's still not enough. And it never will be, until he's gone."
"My advice, you are not asking."
Anakin drew a breath. "Your blessing, perhaps."
Yoda chuckled, low and wheezing. "Anakin Skywalker, seeking my blessing? Faith, Master Skywalker! Faith and patience. Name you my successor, did I not? Blessing enough, is that not? Heh."
He coughed then, long and loud, body shaking with it. "Remember, with you the Force shall be. Always. Remember your training, Anakin! Stand firm. Only stand firm. Your destiny, this confrontation is, yes. Your destiny."
He drifted into sleep not long after that, breathing still harsh, but quieter. The crackle of the fire and the drum of the rain on the roof were the only sounds left, and as the fire died the shadows in the corners grew and darkened. Anakin sat with him, head bowed, his thoughts running amok, until Yoda's breathing slowed and his body faded at last into the Force.
Anakin hadn't been expecting it, but it felt so natural he couldn't even be surprised, sensing only peace in Yoda's death, peace and a profound relief.
Then he went to ready his fighter and leave for Vjun.
"Nice of you to drop in," Anakin said to his brother.
Obi-Wan was kneeling at his side, smiling down at him. "Oh, Ani," he said, shaking his head. "The messes you get yourself into."
"Hey," Anakin said, indignant. "I'll have you know I just fulfilled my destiny."
Obi-Wan burst out laughing. "You think this is it? I'm sorry, little brother, you don't get off that easily."
Anakin glared at him, wishing he could reach out and – what? Hug him or hit him? He couldn't tell. He could never tell, with Obi-Wan.
But it was getting to be an increasing struggle just to keep his eyes open, let alone talk. Let alone move. His left pants leg was heavy and wet and horribly sticky with his blood, and there was a fire in that thigh that was slowly creeping up Anakin's spine to paralyse his whole body.
Floor was cold, too. What was it with Sith Lords and this fondness for cold? Darkness, yes. Darkness he got. But it was freezing in here. Why not heat? Anakin knew all about heat. Heat, he could handle.
"Hold on, Anakin," Obi-Wan said quietly, laying a hand on his chest, warm and heavy, more comforting – more affectionate – than any gesture he'd received from him in life. "Just hold on."
"It's not a bad way to die," Anakin said. "He's gone. That's the important part."
"You know perfectly well the Empire hasn't crumbled yet."
"Have to leave something for the kids to do."
"Sense of humour's gotten worse."
"You never had one in the first place!"
"If you say so."
Silence for a while then: the only sounds were Anakin's increasingly harsh breathing and the thunder of the reactors below him that drove the skystation.
"I wasn't actually expecting to get inside, let alone up here," he admitted at last.
"But you did."
Obi-Wan was smiling again. "In my experience, there's no such thing as luck."
Anakin snorted. "If you say so. Personally I think it was dumb luck got me here, and it was dumb luck that let me kill him, and it was dumb luck that stopped me turning twenty years ago."
He wasn't quite sure why he was being so contrary. Obi-Wan just brought it out in him. Even when he was dead.
"Well, that's the trouble with you, isn't it? You tell yourself you have all these expectations to live up to, and then even when you do it you think you need to be better still."
"That's called pride, Kenobi. Pride and ambition."
Obi-Wan shrugged a little. "I did say it was the trouble with you," he said.
Anakin tried to laugh, but his maltreated throat left him with a choking noise and a harsh sort of gasping instead. Obi-Wan's other hand came up to cup his cheek, warmth radiating outwards from the touch of skin-on-skin.
"Not long now."
"No," Anakin agreed softly.
Obi-Wan rolled his eyes. "Not like that."
"Anakin. It wasn't dumb luck that let you kill him, little brother. It was skill and power and knowledge and the ability to stand firm in the face of everything he threw at you. Every. Last. Thing. I cannot begin tell you how proud I am of you."
"You're embarrassing the both of us. Anyway, what about destiny?"
"You want to know what I think about destiny?"
Even if Anakin said no, he'd tell him anyway.
"I think Destiny created you. And I think Destiny brought you to the Order. And then I think it went away and left the how and the where and when and even the if entirely up to you."
"Oh, this conversation is giving me a headache. And the fact that it's giving me a headache while I'm busy bleeding to death in Palpatine's throne room should be telling you something."
"Shut up, I'm not finished."
Anakin groaned again – pointedly rather louder and more melodramatically than the last time.
Obi-Wan's turn to glare, and strangely that familiar look was the most comforting thing of all.
Then it shifted into a smug-looking smirk.
"Personally," he said, "I think it's your destiny to kill Palpatine because you made it your destiny."
"There is," Obi-Wan said gently, "no possible reality, no conceivable parallel universe out of the countless thousands in which you exist, in which Anakin Skywalker lives past the age of nineteen and does not kill Darth Sidious. You know why? Because – this is my favourite bit, by the way – because there is no possible timeline, ever, anywhere, anyhow, in which Anakin Skywalker exists, but does not love his family more than anything else in the universe."
Anakin sighed. That last one, at least, there was no point trying to deny. "Is there a point to these metaphysical ruminations?"
"Just this," Obi-Wan said, and bent over to press a kiss to his forehead, the way Shmi had always used to – the way he'd never been able to bring himself to do when Anakin was a child. "Hold on, Anakin. The twins are coming for you; they're nearly here. Just hold on."
Suddenly furious, Anakin hauled up and grabbed a handful of his brother's robes – he'd told them not to leave the base, he'd been perfectly clear about it, he hadn't even told them the truth about Yoda to stop them from getting anywhere near this mess, but the cloth under his hand was smooth and soft, worn-out flightsuit rather than coarsely woven Jedi robes, and the grey eyes above him had melted into blue, and the lightsabre in Leia's hands was chasing away the Darkness.
"Dad," Luke said, bending over him. "Come on, Dad. You need to stand up. We gotta get you out of here. Han's waiting for us, everything's ready, come on."
"I should have been there," Anakin said furiously, pacing the length of the med bay like a caged tiger. "It should have been me duelling Raithen –"
"Right," Leia said. "With that hole in your thigh and the docs still insisting on physical therapy and worried about the lung infection you picked up in that pit Vjun. You weren't even well enough to personally command the evac from Hoth, let alone duel another Sith Lord. You would have been killed, Dad."
"Better me than Luke," Anakin snapped.
"In case you hadn't noticed, he's not dead," Leia snarled.
He glared right back. "That's not how I meant it, and you know it. What kind of a father am I if I can't protect you from things like him?"
"The kind who knows how to let us grow up," Leia said, slumping in her chair. "Dad, please. You have to let us handle this. And you have to let us go after Han. I'm not suggesting we put you out to pasture" – here Anakin snorted – "but this is our fight. Not yours. Just like facing the Emperor was yours and not ours."
Anakin sighed, looking down at his little girl – not so little anymore, he thought ruefully. Brown pants and a red sleeveless shirt that showed off the muscles in her upper arms; he'd never noticed those before. Lightsabre in her lap, and something peeking out of the top of her right boot that looked like the hilt of a knife. When had she started carrying one in her boot? Of course, when you considered that both the twins had inherited his penchant for losing their lightsabres, it was an eminently practical thing to do, and Leia was nothing if not practical. He'd taught her that himself, through word and by example.
Padmé was still in the other room, standing vigil over the bacta tank holding Luke's battered body. Ahsoka had taken Nat with her for the night, promising Anakin not to leave the boy alone for a second.
Bruises around Leia's wrists still where she'd been cuffed, and more in the inside of her elbow. She'd flatly refused to speak to him of the details of her capture at Raithen's hands: to the shrinks, yes, but not to him or Padmé. There were dark smudges under her eyes and a tired tilt to her mouth.
Tired and grieved.
"You love him."
She frowned at him. "He's my twin, dumbass."
"I meant Solo."
Leia paused, looked away, hair falling against her face. She'd never kept it as long as her mother's, preferring to chop it off when it reached her shoulders.
"Yes," she said at last, meeting his gaze squarely. "I do."
"Well," Anakin said. "Who was Fett working for?"
"Calrissian's coming along," Leia said steadily.
Anakin's mouth thinned again. "He betrayed you to Raithen."
"He changed his mind half way."
"This is no laughing matter."
"I know. But you have to let him outta that holding cell. He can help us."
"You seem to have a gift for making people change their minds. First Calrissian, then that assassin Jade..."
"Calrissian owes Han, and he knows it. Mara... Force, I don't know why she did what she did for us. She and Luke have this... weird flirty antagonism thing going on – remember when they both went after that Kaiburr crystal? And got trapped in the ruins of that temple? And Felucia before that? Something's going on there. And nobody's noticed but me!"
"Because you and Han are louder," Anakin said, and felt triumphant when she smiled a little.
It wasn't until three months later that the Millenium Falcon returned to the fleet – with its full crew. The twins had deigned to send three comms in all that time, one for each month and no more, and Anakin and Padmé were both equally torn between wanting to hug them and start a row with them for being so damn inconsiderate.
The shouting option was delayed until after a good night's sleep and a decent meal, mind.
Anakin found Solo in the mess hall the morning after their return, nursing a cup of caf and looking distant and thoughtful.
New one for him.
"General," Solo said, sitting up a little straighter.
"How are you feeling?"
"Better, thanks. Eyesight still a little fuzzy if I'm awake for too long, but that'll be gone soon."
"Good. I need you in one piece."
Han raised an eyebrow. "Lando said you'd offered him a commission."
"Largely at the urging of the twins. I have my reservations."
"Well, don't," Han said rather sharply. Anakin grinned.
"If it were that simple."
"With all due respect, General Skywalker, it is that simple."
They sat in silence for a while, watching the mess hall fill up and empty again, people coming in short waves and disappearing off to their shifts. Finally, Anakin put his mug down.
"About that commission," he said.
Han sighed. Frowned into his own mug, watching the dregs of liquid crawl along the bottom when he tilted it.
"You know what it feels like to have your head tell you one thing, and the rest of you tell you something different?"
"Oh, yes. The trick is knowing when to listen to which."
"I'm in love with your daughter."
"I certainly hope so. She's in love with you."
"Just don't delude yourself we're equals yet."
"Maybe you should start calling yourself Admiral."
"Eh, I'd hate being an Admiral. It sounds so... respectable."
Han barked a laugh. "You're planning somethin'," he said. "This place, it's humming with nervousness. Leia noticed it, but she's too tired to bother. Luke... who knows what the kid is thinking. I get the impression he's been a little out of it lately."
"Oh, you are good," Anakin said admiringly. "Picking up on that half blind and back here less than twenty-four hours... yeah. Good."
"You like me after all," Han said smugly.
"If I didn't, you'd be dead by now," Anakin said. "She's my daughter, after all."
The younger man grinned lazily. "So what's goin' on?"
Anakin smiled, faint and mirthless. "We're planning an offensive, General Solo. We're making the opening move in a final gambit that will destroy Imperial control over the galaxy and scatter their fleet to the Outer Rim and beyond."
Han was silent again for a short while, turning it over in his mind, working through the possibilities one by one.
"Coruscant," he said at last. "You're planning an attack on Coruscant."
Anakin looked at him. "Well?"
Han nodded slowly, and started to grin again. "Never been there before," he said. "Be nice to expand my horizons."
"Briefing's at fourteen-hundred."
"I won't be late," Han promised.
The ruins of the Jedi Temple on Coruscant stood out jagged-edged and blackened against the clear dawn sky. Anakin shivered just looking at them, remembering the tramp of the clone's footsteps and the screams of the dying, each death like a burst of darkness in the Force. He'd fought in those corridors against men who'd called him General and Sir for four years, against soldiers whose lives he'd saved and who he'd been saved by in return, and none of it had mattered to any of them: they had killed and killed without mercy and without regret.
Luke was sitting on the steps, not far from the main entrance that the Clones had marched through that fateful night that Obi-Wan had died, arms slung around his knees. He was wearing black for what was possibly the first time in Anakin's memory, but suddenly he was sure it wouldn't be the last.
He wandered over and sat down next to him silently. Luke didn't stir, not even to look up at him.
Maybe an hour passed before the boy spoke to him. Anakin's hands were reddened and chapped by the cold breeze by then, but he hadn't moved even to rub them together.
"He wanted me to turn," he said quietly.
"They generally do," Anakin said.
"Mara was crying when she killed him."
"She trusted him. That's not an easy thing to put aside."
"But she did it."
"What'll happen to her now?"
"Well. Assassination attempts on my family aside, she destroyed Raithen to protect you. I think that'll go over well in a court of law."
Luke shot him a sidelong glance. "Are you being sarcastic?"
"No," Anakin said easily. "Come on, kid. Half the Rebellion is made up of Imperial defectors. D'you know how few of us have been fighting them since the beginning? People can change, Luke. Look at Solo."
Luke smiled faintly. "True."
Silence again, for a long time. Finally, Luke sighed.
"Who was he, Dad? Raithen, I mean."
"A Jedi, I expect," Anakin said quietly. "Found by Palpatine after the massacre at the Temple, trained and twisted into something he should never have been. Maybe not even he remembered his true name."
"I offered him amnesty. Help. I said – ah. He claimed it wasn't possible, to come back from the Dark Side. Said I was deluding myself that Mara would ever be free of him."
Anakin paused. Then he reached out and laid a hand on his son's shoulder. "Once," he said, "I thought that way about myself and Palpatine. After you two were born... after I discovered the truth of him, it felt like there was nothing in my life he hadn't touched. He knew of my marriage, he'd murdered my brother, he even knew about my dreams that Padmé wouldn't survive your birth. It was as if everything I had was tainted by his touch. Everything except Leia."
"So, what? Mara needs to get herself a kid?"
"Oh, I don't think Mara needs to get herself anyone," Anakin said.
Luke flushed a little. "I felt sorry for her," he said quietly. "When we first met, you know, when those pirates were holding us on Felucia? She was so – she'd never had an original thought in her life. Well, no, but – you know what I mean. She'd never even considered thinking for herself. Everything she believed, she believed because he'd told her to."
"And then, every time she tried to kill you over the next couple years..."
"You have a way about you, Luke, that gives people hope."
Luke smiled deprecatingly. "I'm not Anakin Skywalker," he pointed out.
"You don't have to be," that august personage said. "You're the pilot who destroyed the Death Star Project. You went after the bounty hunter who'd kidnapped your friend and somehow, between the three of you and Chewie and that trickster Calrissian, you destroyed the crime lord who's controlled my home planet since your grandmother was a child. And now you're the heroes of the Battle of Coruscant."
This time, the smile was more pleased. The sun had crept up the steps almost to where they were sitting before Luke returned to the subject of Mara, however.
"I don't know how to help her."
"Neither do I. I had twenty years to get used to the idea of having been betrayed by a man I considered a mentor and a friend before I killed him. She had ten minutes. Or less."
Anakin smiled suddenly. "Take her flying in that death trap of Solo's. Talk her into going on a few missions with you lot. I don't know what it is about the five of you, but every time I see you in a room together I feel like... some celestial entity of the Force approves, somewhere. You're good together. And she needs someone to be good to her."
"Well," Luke said, smiling. "In that case. And six is a good number, anyway. Three-a-side shockball, easy to divide up the pie... that kind of thing."
"What about you and Mom?"
"Oh, your mother's taken it upon herself to rebuild the Republic and bring peace to the galaxy – single-handedly, if I know Padmé. I'm going to retire and spend the rest of my life keeping her happy and Nathan out of trouble."
Luke laughed out loud for what Anakin was tempted to suspect was the first time since Bespin, when Mara had saved them after Luke's disastrous duel with Raithen, giving them time to escape her Master's troops and Luke a reason to believe she could be saved from the Dark.
"Somehow I have trouble picturing you retired, Dad."
"Hmm," Anakin said, eyes trained on the horizon. He knew this view so well – had stood here so many times over the years of his adolescence. Had raced up these very steps two at a time and shaking with urgency the night of the attack, barely twenty minutes ahead of the garrison of clone troopers Palpatine had sent to destroy the Jedi. His own damn Legion, turning against him for no better reason than because it was orders.
But it wasn't Coruscant he saw right now: it was the murky swamps of Dagobah, and Yoda's voice telling him, my successor you have been, in all but name.
"I think I can manage to keep myself occupied," the Grand Master of the Jedi Order said at last, smiling at his son.
Somewhere in the Force, he rather suspected Obi-Wan was gloating over this.