Once again, your feedback fed my creativity. Thanks to all who did the R/R thing last chapter and got this epilogue to move more quickly: Eldar Melda, Jedi Master Misty Sman-Esay, Sage of wind Dragons, Skywalker's Phantom, .5851, InspectorHambone, Crazy Uncle Loki, QueenYoda, Hailey Skywalker, Jedi Angel001, TeresaLynne, ccp, namingsucks, FireShifter, LoverShadowGirl, WildHorseFantasy, Dark Mistress of the Sith, G-Man NSA spy, YTISFEDUP, This is Sparta, WizardofaSaddle, Love Chocolate Writing (I just love chocolate!), Raiukage, Guest (1 and 2), QueenNaberrie, rennylemmy and Mace Windy.
I hope you like supersized epilogues, because this one's a whopper. Hope it covers most of the bases for everyone.
And to say this is all about Anakin is a gross understatement. If you're not a Skywalker fan, you might want to skip down to… well, he's in everything, so I can't help you!
Three standard months after the fall of the Empire
The Lake Country, Naboo
For the first time in his vast catalog of memories, battles continue to rage, but Anakin does not rage with them.
As tantalizingly dangled from the moment they'd pledged themselves to one another, the Skywalkers do the unimaginable – return to Varykino without a stitch of a plan, save tucking their twins into beds underneath windows fresh with millaflowers, leaving sandy footprints, some tiny and others not, on beachside shores, and dancing in meadows where childish giggles meld with whoops of swamp birds before rising to the goddesses above.
When they take their vows again, a symbolic renewal as the twilight sun shimmers magenta fire in the braids of Leia's sapflower-crowned hair, there is no secrecy twined in the joy.
It is much the intimate affair of their first ceremony, save the awestruck sighs from the Naberries, the jaunty acceptance from the Corellian boy who has become a second son, and the wistful, "is this what it would feel like?" wonder from the surviving Jedi who do not quite know what to make of this devotion to something other than the Order.
Except Ahsoka, who has already had an enlightening discussion with Padme regarding Nabooian bridal shops, and Quinlan Vos, whose son tears fearlessly about the balcony with Luke in tow.
Obi-Wan leans against the railing, rejoicing in his former padawan's serene happiness, even as his gaze meanders to the former handmaiden at Padme's side.
Anakin catches his eye with a wink, thinking, and not for the first time, that his blatant disobedience may be the best thing that ever happened to his former master. He'll be certain to remind Obi-Wan of it, perhaps over a mug of that Force-awful Corellian ale he conceals for such an occasion.
It actually takes a bit longer than that.
Months later, when Anakin raises a goblet of Naboo's finest blossom wine to toast his brother's hours-old marriage to his wife's dearest friend, he doesn't bother to hide his smart-arse smirk, nor disguise the smugness in his tone: "Here's to the spoils of defying the Code, Master."
Obi-Wan doesn't bother mentioning that particular part of the Code has been dismantled, thank you very much, not that Anakin has forgotten – takes entirely too much credit for the handful of lovestruck Jedi who now populate the Temple.
The elder Jedi is far too entranced by the sway of Sabe's delicate hips, which clashes with the throaty timbre of her laugh as she tumbles onto her new husband's lap and kisses him soundly for all to behold.
Proving that even the most stringent of Jedi masters can learn new tricks, Obi-Wan forgoes his embarrassment for passion, and cares not who observes it.
Anakin pulls his wife close and, quite merrily, drinks to that.
x x x
Eight standard months after the fall of the Empire
The Lake Country, Naboo
For the first time, there is no chaos of Anakin's body or mind, no smatterings of dark temptations. He welcomes the unfettered silence, except…
After Obi-Wan and Sabe's nuptials, he completely re-engineers Threepio's operating system – which, shockingly, does not dull the quirks of the droids personality but adds three hundred more languages they'll never need translated. Then Anakin plants a garden of muja berries, shurra bushes and millaflowers below their bedroom window so his wife will wake to her favorite aromas (aside from him, of course), and carves complete sets of Jedi figurines, one with a neat russet beard and another adorned with two flowing head-tails, for the twins' play.
He tinkers, and he naps in the middle of the day, and he hones his skills with a chef's knife, which yields no glowing trail or whirring sound before it cleaves its subject. There is no clawing guilt once he's done with it, just a few claps from his children for the best quekka fish stew in Naboo and a sultry kiss of adoration from his wife that promises a long, leisurely nap later.
He is restless. He is happy. He knows no fear, no pressure, no sense of purpose. He misses Obi-Wan, every bristling, know-it-all, endearing piece of him, Ahsoka's fearless impudence (she does remind him of someone), fading nicks from sparring matches, followed by warm, aromatic tea in cramped quarters.
Yet he declines Obi-Wan's invitations to visit the under-construction Temple, grows quiet as he hears Ahsoka describe with priceless animation the bust of Master Yoda that's to be displayed alongside others salvaged from the remains.
"You'll get the grand tour when you come back," Ahsoka says with that guileless face of hers that sometimes trusts too much.
He dreads the nights after such visits, as he'll often awaken trembling in Padme's arms, but even the sanctity of her embrace cannot quell images he fears will always haunt him. Eyes a slightly different shade stare into his, amazingly calm for one at the epicenter of chaos. The boy is slight as Anakin was when Qui-Gon presented him to the Council, has a mop of straw-colored hair that seems in a constant state of disarray, like Luke's. There is not one hint of trepidation in those eyes, merely a look that radiates utmost faith as the boy herds the others, not nearly as brave as he, behind his little frame.
"Master Skywalker, there are too many of them. What are we going to do?"
Sometimes, Padme coaxes him out of it before his prosthetic hand obliterates the boy with a coldly-furious slash of blue flame. More often, she doesn't, and he commences to screaming, sobbing, pleading with himself to stop before he transforms into a monster.
When it is not his cries but an obnoxious banging that awakens Padme and the twins early one morning, she thinks he may have forfeited his sanity until a smile with the radiance of dual suns alights his face. Once he displays the blueprints he's painstakingly crafted and she sees a beam of anticipation has returned to his eyes, Padme picks up one of those hammer things and falls into step by his side. She's horribly inept, runs through a bunch of those nail gadgets and has to be told everything twice, but Anakin rewards her with a kiss and another grin so golden that it's worth every dainty profanity when she hits her finger.
A few weeks and several extra rooms later, Kitster arrives with the first group of parsecs-weary stragglers just as the moons have risen over a glittering lake.
The small girl he carries lacks both footwear and a discernible expression, perhaps still shell-shocked that she has been liberated from both the unforgiving desert and some of the more deplorable beings that inhabit it.
Her guarded stare reflects in the others, all no more than ten years old. The reality they project cracks Anakin's heart, a gloom thought long forgotten: no possessions, no choices, no hope.
Hushed, they cluster on the balcony, faces smudged by sand and misery, to watch with breathless awe as ripples of water make their way toward shore, crest in magnificent white caps, then disappear into the sand.
Sand that, for once, they will associate with happy things, rather than slave-chips and bone-cutting exhaustion.
Anakin gazes at them with a tinge of shame, wondering when the Tatooine boy stopped regarding fresh water as a luxury. With a peck to his cheek, his wife chases his melancholy even as she hustles the group inside for decent meals, medical checks, and brand-new datapads, through many will have to be taught the Basic alphabet first.
Small, innocuous objects that prove they are free when it seems as unreal as Anakin remembers.
The smallest of the children is finally persuaded to unlatch her spindly arms from Kitster's neck. Though she recoils from Padme – owner must have been female, Anakin grits – the girl appraises Leia's outstretched hand with a too-cynical look for one so young, then timidly accepts it.
His mind seems less cluttered by questions that have no answers when he follows Obi-Wan's sage advice, so Anakin tends avidly to the living and leaves the dead alone.
x x x
Just one Restoration Day passes before an urgent comm is sent to Naboo.
Grand Master Yoda, grizzled and weakening in his advanced years, makes the official request himself, knowing Obi-Wan will not.
On a planet harboring fugitives from the Empire, the Jedi master has bitten off a bit more than he can chew – again – too dependent on his sounding-like-a-politician-more-everyday tongue rather than the sizzle of his saber. The Chosen One kisses his children, hops into the Falcon (no, that's not exhilaration charging through his veins) swoops onto the battlefield as if he still owns it, then proceeds to aggressively negotiate the "minor squirmish" (Obi-Wan's description) that Anakin later reclassifies "a bloody frackin' free-for-all."
On the way home, recounting the newest dings on their bodies with a slew of raucous laughter, Anakin blithely reminds his master that he has just earned another point for the "who has saved who the most" scorecard. Obi-Wan, of course, vigorously refutes Anakin's calculations, suggesting a blank slate.
"Stubborn old fool," Anakin snipes, grin wider than the constellation through which he's expertly guiding the ship.
"Smelly bantha's arse," Obi-Wan retorts with utmost seriousness – until he can no longer contain the sniggers bubbling from the deepest recesses of his stomach that have been hollow far longer than they should.
After they return to Naboo – you're coming; Sabe's already there, Anakin had insisted – the wives yield placid stares of politicians when the husbands recite their rollicking adventures.
Padme follows with a firm smack to the back of Anakin's head and catches Obi-Wan's "ow!" in response to Sabe's sharp elbow to his ribcage before leaving them to their stories.
Each of which undoubtedly transforms into further Skywalker and Kenobi legend before daybreak, when two delighted younglings are unleashed to bound joyously onto Uncle Obi and Aunt Sabe's bed.
x x x
Author's note: Of all of the chapters I've written, this little section is probably my favorite.
Fifteen standard months after the fall of the Empire
The Lake Country, Naboo
Padme has just one thing to say when Anakin asks – in the most loving manner – if there is anything at all he can do for her, Angel, even brushes the most tender of kisses on the back of her wrist.
Unfortunately for him, a dagger of a contraction invades her at the precise moment he asks, so his wife's reply is loudly to-the-point.
"Out, out, OUT!" she screams, not a trace of senatorial poise present in her cloudy, bulged eyes and white knuckles that drill into his flesh-hand.
Anakin is fairly certain she's referring to their expectant child and not himself. In her current state, it could be hazardous to request clarification; maybe he'll assume and simply cross his fingers.
He also figures he should get good and used to the phrase, since it's undoubtedly what he'll hear the first time he tries to set foot in their bedroom again.
And the second. Quite possibly the third, too.
"You want the baby out, yes?" he ventures with hesitation, leaning what he hopes is a safe distance from his wife. The Hero With No Fear looks anything but, at the moment. "I mean – you still want me in here to help?"
Padme grits through the contraction, trooper that she is – and since he's actually present for this birth, Anakin views the term "warrior" in an entirely new light – then exhales the last vestiges of pain. "For now. Take this as your warning: Do not say 'You can do it, Padme,' because I know that; I did it already. Multiplied by two, in fact." She closes her eyes, her brow creasing as she gathers herself for the next onslaught. "Certainly do not tell me how to breathe, because hyperventilating seemed to work well last time. And, for Force's sake, if you ask how long it's going to be, I will have you locked out of here and our bedroom for all eternity."
Right. He'll need to have a word with Obi-Wan once this is over, thank him profusely for the alert that women in the midst of labor tend to abandon all sanity. His master had the perfect opportunity to pass on that wisdom, considering Sabe's birthing of the Kenobis' russet-haired daughter only a few months earlier.
Probably considered this one more lesson better taught by experience, blast him.
"Of course." Absently, he raises a cloth to capture the perspiration lining her forehead, then wisely thinks again. "What do you need me to do, sweetheart?"
She's back up on her elbows, grabbing impatiently at his hand as her eyes focus on something over his shoulder – thank the Force, because he thinks his face is practically the worst thing for her. "Tell me you love me." He complies, passionately. "Tell me I can do this." Wait. Didn't she just demand…? No matter. The pressure on his flesh-hand becomes vice-like as the crest of the contraction sweeps the request from Padme's mind. "Oh. Oh! Tell me I'm never doing this again!"
He considers the last few months, fondly recalls his wife's back nestled snugly into his chest as the little one in her belly played a rat-a-tat-tat against his palm, setting his insides afire in the most delicious, fatherly way.
The infectious smile that blossoms may be his last, Force help him. He replies with a rascal's smirk, "Maybe," then braces for the worst.
Which transforms completely into the best the very moment his squalling boy – every squished, wrinkled, astounding standard inch of him – lands gently in his arms. To be present at the instant his son inhales his first breath, the second his lustrous Force-signature beams in full radiance as it melds with his father's… Anakin weeps, just as he had when Luke and Leia were born, except this time, his tears mingle in the dark tufts of hair on the boy's head – so small! – as Anakin tucks his newborn against his chest, skin to skin, heartbeat to heartbeat.
Like his father's, the boy's eyes are Skywalker blue.
"Ani?" Anakin opens his eyes, the blur of sapphire dazzlingly bright, to his exhausted wife, who will never be as ethereal to him as she appears right now.
Cradling his son with utmost care, Anakin leans toward her, whispering, "Thank you, Angel," with a ragged, reverent breath. He opens his embrace, gathering his wife into his arms as he passes their son into hers.
She manages to pull her attention away from the little one, whose cries morph into mewling sounds of contentment as his father nourishes their bond with soft, awestruck words that surround the baby in a warm haven of peace.
"Don't get used to this, Ben," Padme murmurs, her lips finding Anakin's and clinging for a heartfelt kiss.
It's a long moment before her voice drifts over their son again.
"Your daddy isn't usually such a pushover. Luke and Leia will tell you their secrets about wrapping him around your tiny little finger."
"You should know a bit about that," her husband reminds with a teasing kiss to her brow, his smile a soft outline against her temple. "Don't listen to them, son. I'm quite a taskmaster."
Ben's sweet, scrunchy face shows no sign of comprehension, but his slitted eyes flicker leisurely between his parents.
"Those noises he's making," Anakin breathes, enthralled with the delicate squeaks and whispery coos. "Artoo will think he's part droid, and Threepio will be seriously befuddled by his inability to translate."
And his father, Padme muses tiredly, adoring her husband more in this moment than she ever has, will be completely over the moons.
"You're still making everything go haywire, Skywalker," she intones, her body heavy but heart so, so light as her fingertips mesh with her son's. Tiny, dewy, soft, heaven, heaven in her hands, he is.
"Want me to stop?" She feels them both; the downy tendrils of her son's curls and the warm giddiness of her husband's lips on her cheek, chin, mouth, as if his acute tenderness is a substitute for sentiment that is without eloquence.
Before a potent mixture of fatigue and bliss lulls her body to slumber, the slightest of smiles gracing her serene face, Padme manages a whisper.
"You better not."
What should have been… is. Just a little late.
x x x
The second time (by the new scorecard) Anakin is called to save his master's arse, Ahsoka actually winces as she awaits the connection, knowing this will be anything but pretty.
It's the middle of the night in Naboo, but Anakin answers quickly, his eyes considerably more drowsy than those of the small, whimpering bundle in his arms.
"Another Skywalker who's not a morning person?" she chirrups, but the sight of father and son makes something lurch in her stomach, then settle warmly in her heart.
"Wait 'til you have one stealing your sleep every night," Anakin grumbles, but he's smiling as his son thrashes his downy little head, lips pursing and un-pursing, tiny fists tangling in a blanket. "Easy, son; here you are." A bottle no larger than Anakin's palm eases Ben's frustration, a contented suckling the most pleasant of background noises. "Now, what's Obi-Wan gotten himself into this time?"
It occurs to Ahsoka that the tables have turned, with the once-reckless padawan now charging to the rescue of a once-indomitable master.
Since Anakin prefers his mission briefings succinct, Ahsoka's synopsis is briskly to-the-point. "In a pickle, as usual. We haven't heard from him or his Arfour unit in three standard days. He was sent to one of the Endor moons to investigate rumors of a second Death Star. You might remember the supposed mastermind – Xizor of House Sizhran."
The mention of Xizor, a cultured Falleen with ambitions rivaling the former emperor, causes a hostile stir of Anakin's blood. Xizor had existed on the periphery of Sidious' inner circle for years, clawing with his dignified panache toward respectability while building one of the most notorious crime syndicates this side of the Hutts.
Any being aligned with the Hutts tends to heat Anakin's blood without much effort. That this particular underworld figure has long fingers in Empire business makes the Falleen much more insidious than a common thug.
"We think Obi-Wan's hunkered down somewhere; too many hostiles for him to make it out alone."
"Stirring up the sleemos from Black Sun again, is he?" Anakin muses, voice low as he positions Obi-Wan's namesake over his shoulder and rubs lazy circles from one side of miniature bantha prints to the other. "You're a lot closer, Snips; why aren't you out saving the day?"
"Oh, I will be," she assures with that cheeky smile of hers. "I'm meeting you on-planet with the 501st and a couple extra legions, in case Xizor's feeling feisty."
There's a muffled sound Ahsoka translates into a burp, from the manner in which Anakin praises his boy before those little hands stretch again toward the bottle. One ends up twined in his father's hair, which tumbles down broad shoulders, the other clamped around the Jedi's pinkie; it takes Anakin a long moment and a reluctant sigh before he answers.
"All right." His mind is already barging ahead with infiltration strategies, and weaponry, and I'm sorry, Angel. "I'll comm you en-route. Could you send Sabe, since I'm leaving Padme with two three-year-olds and a baby who hasn't even had his first well-check yet? Kitster brought another group in from Tatooine this week, too."
He twigs his boy's hand, one finger at a time, to keep him awake for his feeding. "Mama's gonna have all our heads for this one, isn't she, Ben?"
Ahsoka's mouth quirks. "Sabe and Sidra left a few standard hours ago." Across the stars, the padawan gazes fondly at Anakin's son, thinks he and Obi-Wan's daughter will probably squabble and push each other and grapple like two fiery nexus – while loving each other more, like their fathers.
She watches as her master's hand, so lethal when it has to be, gently combs the wisps of his son's dark hair – good thing Ben has his father's jawline, or he would be far too pretty for the rough-and-tumble family into which he's been born.
"Welcome back, Master."
She throws that one in every time he hauls Obi-Wan's backside out of the fire. Anakin's eyes remain fixed on his boy, hands comically huge against Ben's as two pairs cradle the bottle.
His tone does not deviate from its soft, gentle timbre. "I'm not back, Snips." He always lobs that one in return. "Just helping a brother."
Someday, the Togrutan thinks through their bond, a wish she knows he can feel through the smog of Coruscant and over the lush, rolling hills of Naboo, you will be.
Suddenly, feeding Ben the rest of his milk is paramount. "Skywalker, out."
The image of Skyguy cuddling Skytiny is gone in an instant.
x x x
Seven standard years after the fall of the Empire
The Lake Country, Naboo
They display identical expressions, father and daughter. Eight-year-old Leia, hair slicked into an inelegant bun nothing like the elaborate styles of her mother's, is all Skywalker at the moment, one sable eye narrowed and mouth fixed as she appraises her opponent.
Her father wears much the same stoic look of concentration, yet his lightsaber is tucked in his belt. While the training sabers of the two in front of him seem to blaze with motion, there are no crystals in play.
Luke is no less focused than his twin or his father, just wears it with diminished intensity, jaw and upper body fluid, relaxed. He is more content to parry with his sister, blocking her advances with an ease nearly as infuriating as that lackadaisical tilt of his head. His footwork, more finessed than his sister's aggressive hop-steps, has the appearance of a smooth glide.
He fights like Obi-Wan, his father thinks.
Apparently, Leia does, too. Growing impatient – because, really, Luke could swat at her half-arsed lunges all day, but it's nearly lunchtime and she's hungry – she summons the force, gathers its energies to her right hand, visualizes striking her brother with a lightning-quick combination, then disarming him right into the kitchen…
A split quarter-second before she can implement her brilliant maneuvers, however, and dismissing her father's Force-warning – Careful, Princess – the dark-haired youngling finds her feet tangling underneath her, which throws her intended swordplay off-kilter enough for Luke to whip his saber effortlessly around her wrist with a resounding clank.
Before she can even think about letting fly one of those Huttese curses she's not supposed to repeat, Leia is gazing dejectedly at her fallen saber, which rests conspicuously in the grass, neatly bisecting her knobby knees.
Well, bloody kri –
"Leia," her father rebukes, but with only a fraction of the I'm-serious tone she'd get from her mother.
"I know, I know," she grumbles, looking much more a Jedi than a princess, as is her normal state. Huffing loudly, she scoops up her weapon with irritated flourish, then lifts her head to a pair of dancing eyes that nearly match the hue of the Nabooian sky.
To his credit, Luke isn't gloating. Never does, although Leia certainly gives him a Sith-eating grin when she claims a sparring match.
"I used the twin thing," Luke shrugs, proffering a hand. "Couldn't help it, you were projecting so much."
Well, I'm that hungry, she sends back. Then, he's pulling her to her feet, and they're bowing to each other and their amused father as the warm breeze of a gorgeous Nabooian spring winds through their billowing tunics.
With a few choruses of "well done" and a wide grin of his own, Anakin sends them to the house, watches as they trot in unison until Leia summons a stray perlote branch and sneaks it under Luke's boots, then darts laughingly away, her brother tripping, then howling with an eight-year-old's indignity as he gives chase.
"They certainly are a handful," a voice Anakin knows better than his own remarks, movement of humble robes a rustle in the wind. "I can see why you hardly ever make it to Coruscant."
Same old Obi-Wan; classically polite with an undertone of displeasure.
"Master." Anakin forgoes the bow, opting to clasp the older Jedi by the forearm instead. "I sensed you awhile ago; wondered when you were going to say something."
With a wry tug of his mouth – a sprinkle of gray in his beard now – Obi-Wan waves dismissively. "I didn't wish to interrupt. They're quite good; much improved over the last time I observed them."
A flare of pride echoes through their bond; a hint from each Jedi. "It seems to come naturally, even though their fighting styles are very different. Leia isn't one to let something happen; she's the spark. And Luke, well – " The father's chest swells a bit more than necessary to breathe. "He's more than happy to drive his sister to distraction with his patient defense, as you can see."
Obi-Wan lifts his head to a stream of clouds drifting across a perfect sky, allows the languor of a spectacular day in the country to relax his body, still taut from travel. "She fights like you."
The younger Jedi nods, inhales deeply of the clean, fragrant air. "And he fights like you, thank the Force. One of them has to be a good influence on Ben."
They share a chuckle over that, the sun's rays seeping into them from above. Anakin should make his way through the worn, grassy footpath to the house, as it's nearly lunchtime and another set of hands would be appreciated. Yet, a tug in the Force urges him to heed the leisure of the winds and the comfort of Obi-Wan's presence.
"Have you given more thought to formal training, Anakin? They're obviously ready for it, as is Ben, I suspect."
Obi-Wan expects the silence that overtakes them to stretch, and it does. There is no awkwardness to it, just the sway of sapflowers that reach past their ankles and the plaintive whoop of a swamp bird to disrupt. He senses conflict in Anakin's signature, though it is not of a degree that is concerning, certainly not the ilk Obi-Wan had felt during the waning days of the Clone Wars.
He is merely a father in this, concerned for his children. Now that Obi-Wan has experienced that incomparable blessing, he empathizes to an extent he'd once thought impossible.
"Yes," Anakin answers, finally, starting toward the house at a sedate pace. "Padme and I have discussed it. I've spent a couple nights on the couch because of it."
Obi-Wan follows his lead, hands clasped behind his back. "Padme thinks they should be trained as Jedi." He knows this, considering that the last time he'd broached the subject, Anakin had spewed a vile Huttese profanity before storming out of the room.
"I know they should be trained as Jedi," Anakin answers, quite candidly – and calmly – which is promising. "Doesn't mean that's what I want for them. Since they're too young to decide for themselves, the decision falls to us."
And I don't know what to do.
They are nearing the grand house on the cliff now, its picturesque balcony overlooking the majesty of a lake and the moss-spotted mountains that frame it. Light-years from the smog and sin of Coruscant, and the ill-fated decisions made there.
"Do you know what this is, Obi-Wan?" Anakin asks, skin as bronzed as the master has ever seen it, eyes certainly more settled than he remembers. "This is peace. This is important. Not saving-the-galaxy important, like before, but..."
He jerks his head toward the balcony, curls ruffling in the breeze as four small children Obi-Wan doesn't recognize patter onto the deck, plates in hand. "Just one kid at a time. Maybe it's reparation, too. Maybe."
But not forgiveness. Never that.
"Anakin – "
"I used to keep a tally in my head," Anakin cuts in, sinking dazedly onto a bench where he and Padme often lounge, her legs piled on his, to admire the stars. Obi-Wan slides next to him, negotiator's tongue silenced. "Didn't even know I was doing it. There was just this sense of… imbalance every time Kitster would bring a new group."
His organic hand wipes at a smattering of perspiration on his temple, a slow rub. "I finally figured out I was keeping some kind of scorecard, balancing the deaths of the Jedi I killed – " there is a rasp in his voice, a shuddering release of self-reproach into the Force " – with the lives of the children we're trying to help."
His eyes wander to the serene luster of the lakes. Not surprising that such a view would comfort a desert-born boy. "Stupid, isn't it?"
Obi-Wan reaches a hand to brush Anakin's shoulder, ends up planting it there, a gesture that would have felt uncomfortable a few years earlier. "I didn't come to upset you, Anakin, but there are things we must discuss."
Anakin pushes an ebony-cloaked hand through his hair. Still hides the robotic with that blasted glove, though Padme has lobbied for the synth-skin transplant. One more way to punish himself.
"There is darkness in the wind," the master continues, his words a contradiction to the beauty of this sun-drenched day. "Master Yoda and I have felt it; so have you. This Chiss – this Thrawn, as they call him – is not a darksider, but Master Yoda fears the Sith could rise if there is a protracted battle between Thrawn's forces and the Republic."
Of course he does. Anakin is Jedi through and through, despite his reluctance. The harbinger of darkness has permeated the Force, a call of warning to Jedi throughout the galaxy. If ever there was a time for the Order to rise as a reunified force, it is now.
Anakin's sigh seems to echo through the galaxy, as well, strife evident in the troubled slant of his mouth. "You are asking me to return to a life that unleashed the darkness in me. To have my children put their lives in jeopardy and face the same despair, the same evil."
Because it never really ends, he laments. The clash of light and dark will exist in every permutation of history, timeless and destructive.
"I ask no more of you than I do of myself. And of my own child." Anakin's brows raise at the mention of Obi-Wan's six-year-old daughter, a clever sprite who possesses both her father's unflappable poise and her mother's spirited verve. When Sabe and Sidra come to assist with the rescued children, the copper-haired girl and Ben are inseparable, splashing barefoot on the shore, hatching schemes against the twins, feeding shaaks in the meadow.
"Before you object, let me assure that your return would cause little more than a wrinkle in Coruscant. Funding for the Yavin 4 facility has already been secured, and politicians are politicians; their memories are short when re-election is not a concern. Even Bail Organa is on board."
At least he hasn't stomped off, Obi-Wan thinks, as Anakin's head hangs over his knees in contemplation. Part of him is most certainly furious, especially with the knowledge that this has not only been discussed among others, but planned.
The other part wonders what took Obi-Wan so long to issue this brotherly ultimatum.
"The children," Anakin murmurs. "I want – I have to keep the rescue program alive. As much for Padme as for me. And for…"
Sapphire eyes well with a flash of tears for one whose presence influences him, still. For my mother.
There is more confidence in Obi-Wan's approach now, the shine of a man on the verge of achieving his goal. "Of course. Your work with the children has been recognized within the Senate. I believe Chancellor Mothma intends to speak with Padme soon, in fact. She'd like to relocate your program to the Temple, if you both agree; the funds are already available."
Anakin's demeanor rallies a bit at this, and Obi-Wan can visualize the slow instigation of his own plan, as master and padawan's visions are rarely compatible from the start.
Obi-Wan plucks at a millaflower, fully bloomed. One would need a calling of great importance to leave such an idyllic place. "It is work we should be doing through the Service Corps, and your program will be a great help in restoring public support."
Anakin catches a shifty look from Obi-Wan, a wan smile softening the angles of his own face. "Making it hard for me to say no, aren't you?"
"That was my intention."
The silence descends once more, a sense of renewed agitation. Every scintilla of Anakin's reluctance coalesces in a single thought projected through their bond: I am not worthy of this.
Objective nearly achieved, the Jedi master is having none of Anakin's doubts. "It is time to come home, Anakin," Obi-Wan states firmly, his boots finding the well-worn pathway to the house. "And there is no one I would trust more to train my daughter than you, so you cannot refuse."
Because it is more a command – always a padawan – than a request, and because it is Obi-Wan, six months and a mountain of cajoling from his wife and children later, Anakin follows his master once more.
x x x
Author's note: Skywalker's Phantom and TeresaLynne, you called it. I actually wrote this part months ago; it's a little scary how you both saw into my head. Or maybe it was just a convenient plot point.
Nineteen years after the fall of the Empire
The Lake Country, Naboo
For the first time in nearly two decades, Obi-Wan searches the depths of Anakin's eyes for glints of gold.
It's a wild, preposterous notion, the master realizes. And yet, if anything has the power to send him careening to the Dark Side, this could be it.
"I-I'm sorry," his former padawan stutters – since when has Anakin ever stuttered? – while studying Han Solo as if the young man has suddenly grown third, fourth and fifth heads. "I must have misheard you, son. I thought I heard you ask permission to court my daughter, but it must be another food-induced hallucination from Padme's attempt at breakfast."
His wife graciously ignores the barb and pulls out a chair at the table, into which Anakin slumps while Obi-Wan maintains a strategic view of his eyes.
"Um… you weren't hallucinating, sir," Solo mutters as if gathering himself for a volley of blaster fire, eyes darting to Leia for support. But his beloved has retreated to the vicinity of her mother's skirts, probably for the first time ever, as the young woman's fiercely independent streak is well known.
You're on your own, fleets through the Force, causing Luke and Ben to snicker, Obi-Wan to wince and Anakin's eyes to bulge nearly out of his dashingly gray-peppered head.
Padme puts a hand on her husband's shoulder and squeezes, a tender reminder that Solo is a boy they had a hand in rearing, and that Anakin is no way, no how, under no circumstance whatsoever to summon his lightsaber from the adjoining room.
She sends a pointed glare to Luke, communicating tartly that he is the keeper of his father's weapon, but she suspects Obi-Wan has had the scarred hilt in his sight since he entered the room.
"Let me wrap my head around this," comes from Anakin's mouth when it finally opens. "You're asking permission to court my daughter." He spares a glance that turns into a gaze of admiration at his lovely offspring, all mahogany hair like her mother and short-tempered charm like himself, which just makes it blasted worse.
E chu ta, e chu ta, e kriffin' chu ta. Thank goodness Padme is not Force-sensitive, or he'd have earned a mild rap to the jaw right now. He senses something akin to a disapproving boot tap from Obi-Wan, while his children remain wisely silent.
He needs to meditate. He needs a belt of one of those awful, potent spirits Obi-Wan has shipped in from Corellia. He really needs to find his lightsaber.
"My twenty-year-old daughter, who in a few short months will be sworn in as the youngest current senator of the Republic." A chip off the brilliant-and-beautiful block, he thinks proudly. "My daughter, the first senator fully trained in Jedi arts, so she'll need no security detail – "
"Except her father, of course," Padme interrupts, and Anakin rolls his eyes as if it didn't even need to be said, except now it really does.
"Except her father, of course," the father emphasizes, blue eyes hard on Solo now. "For his wisdom, and his experience, and his particular talent for weeding out scruffy nerfherders that could be learned only from a hardscrabble childhood on Tatooine."
"Daddy," Leia cuts in, a sliver of courage found, but she isn't brave enough to stride toward Solo's side of the room just yet. "You said it yourself. I'm an adult, and impeccably trained in the Jedi arts, thanks to my master – " her eyes flit gratefully toward Obi-Wan " – and my father, the illustrious Chosen One. Besides," she tilts her head in that telltale way she does when she and Luke are conspiring against their parents, "don't you think I can handle the scruffy-looking nerfherder myself if he does anything stupid?"
Anakin relaxes a smidge under Padme's hand. What a sneaky-exceptional diplomat his daughter already is.
He rises slowly, smile warming as he makes his way to his daughter, bends to kiss her forehead in a gesture of acceptance. "You are more than capable of handling any situation, princess. But you are my daughter, and so young and he's, well…" Futilely, Anakin searches for a negative, any minute failing that will allow him to openly defy this dreadful, improper, completely suitable match for his only little girl.
"A decorated officer in the elite military ranks of the Republic?" Luke offers innocently.
"A man who once dragged you out of an explosion – of your own creation, I might add – and effectively saved your arse?" Obi-Wan adds, eyes twinkling with amusement, blast him to the seven hells of Corellia.
"A cheeky sabacc player who never reminds you how many credits you owe him and never tells Mom that you and Master Obi-Wan are playing at all?" Ben squeaks, then seeks refuge behind Leia before either of the Jedi who aren't supposed to be dabbling with games of chance can get their hands on him.
"A member of our family who you love just as much as your own?" Padme finishes in that sultry-sweet whisper of hers that has proven quite effective against Anakin's anger, both righteous and outrageous, over the years.
Kriff 'em all, but they're right. And Anakin hates that they're right nearly as much as he despises that his only daughter had to grow up at all.
"I don't suppose there's anything I can do about this?" The sharpness in his voice has smoothed into gruff compliance. Very slowly, he walks from the women in his life toward the man who suddenly feels like an interloper, except… he'll never be that. If Anakin listens to his heart, it will reveal Han Solo's budding devotion, a mirror of Anakin's own feelings, then and now, toward a certain breathtaking woman who will always be a queen, to him.
But he doesn't have to listen to it this second. And he certainly doesn't have to like it at all. And where in the Sith-hell is his –
Ah-ah, Dad, he hears Luke chide in the Force. Mom said no lightsaber. Nice try.
Grudgingly, Anakin extends a hand to Solo, taking in the boy's – man's – proud posture and the way his eyes alight when resting on Leia. "I'd say welcome to the family, Han, but you're already part of it. If someone has to court my daughter, it may as well be you."
There's a collective exhale in the room, caginess released as Solo grips his palm and Anakin does his best imitation of pleased father. "Maybe later we can have a word about the legendary tempers of the Skywalker women." That elicits a flare of emotion from his lovely wife, which will, hopefully, lead to a flare of something else later, if they can steal away from all these blasted people in their house…
Anakin smirks toward his former master. "You can stop looking at my eyes now, Obi-Wan."
The denial is automatic. "I was doing nothing of the sort."
They'll parry all night about this, rumble on over Corellian rum and a rowdy card game or ten, maybe even give Solo and Luke their long-awaited chance to ante up, but Anakin lets his former master have the last word. For the moment.
Solo finds he can actually breathe again, his body unwinding as Anakin squeezes his palm a bit harder, robotic fingers pinching through his glove just enough to sting. Anakin's voice is a bit lower as he adds blithely, "Besides, I don't think I have to remind you how accurate Leia's mother is with a blaster, now do I?"
Now he can grin.
x x x
Well, omg, that's it.
I'm not sure there's anyone more surprised than I that this story has encompassed 150,000+ words, 44 chapters and more than 11 months of my lifetime. When I started it, I thought, maaaybe a one-shot, perhaps a two-fer, but in no way did I think this little diddy would reach this level of epic-ness.
Give yourselves a round of applause, readers, favorite-ers, followers and anyone who skimmed a page. I kept going because you guys would not let me get complacent and your encouragement kept me inspired. Thank you!
Confession time: Anakin should have been a goner. Up to chapter 14-15ish, I didn't think there was any way of truly redeeming him, so the grand plan called for a gallant death for my favorite Jedi. But the character kept growing and sweet-talking my muse, so how could I kill him? It was surprising how valuable the Ani/Obi relationship became to me, since I started this as a means to right the horrendous Ani/Padme wrongs of ROTS. But those Jedi boys? Irresistible.
Just to wrap things up from last chapter:
LoverShadowGirl, ThisisSparta and QueenYoda: See? I gave Obi-Wan a nice little fam so Anakin didn't suck up all the happiness. But you were absolutely right, Queen. No bio sons for Obi, because Ani is his son in every way but chemistry. Hence, a little girl for Obi-Wan. Since she and Ani's Ben get on so well, I supposed it would've been fun to include a little "What? My daughter is dating your son?" business, but my muse didn't go there.
Fireshifter: I think we ended on a good note here, so I have no plans for a sequel. But thank you for thinking there's a lot more life in my version of the Skywalker clan.
I have a couple other fics out there that will probably see some action once I'm refreshed. In particular, I have some ideas already sketched out for "Duty." It's Ani-Padme-centric, so 'shippers might get a charge out of it.
Time to sit back and enjoy the gluttony of awesome SW fic on this site. And play with my Anakin Skywalker bobblehead, Han Solo action figure and stuffed Obi-Wan (with mullet!) while we all start dreaming about Star Wars VII…
May the Force be with the SW fic community!