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A Series of Better Decisions

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"Kill him. Kill him now!" Chancellor Palpatine hissed, as Anakin held the two blades against Dooku's neck.

"No," Anakin said. He deactivated both sabers, and just as Dooku was about to sneer something, no doubt some rot about the Jedi being weak, Anakin swung hard with the deactivated lightsaber handle, sending it crashing against Dooku's head. Dooku slumped to the ground, unconscious. Anakin turned back to Chancellor Palpatine. "It's not the Jedi way."

The Chancellor had some distant fury in his eyes; Anakin blinked, and it was gone.

Anakin woke up, sweat dripping off of him, shuddering at the terror that filled his mind, choking his thoughts. He closed his eyes and saw it again, Padmé's body lifeless and pale, the foreshadowing of her death thrumming through the Force with quiet certainty.

He turned, and there she was, next to him. He held his breath for the impossibly long moment between one breath and the next, the quiet rise and fall of her chest.

Relief at seeing that swept through him, and he buried his head in his hands, quiet sob shaking through him.

Padmé found him on the balcony, her hands wrapped around him as he told her, softly, what he had seen. Just as he had seen for his mother.

"Can Obi-Wan help?" she asked him, softly.

"Maybe he can," Anakin replied, turning in her hold to kiss her. "They'll kick me off the council for this. Probably out of the order."

"And I'll lose my senate seat." Padmé's jaw twitched, quietly unhappy. "I still think we should tell him. He's always been good to you."

Anakin nodded, "Whatever happens, we're together?"

"Of course," Padmé said, and kissed him. "Always."

Obi-Wan blinked as a firm grip grabbed his arm and he was yanked into a small cove by—Anakin. He wished he could muster surprise.

"Master, I need to tell you something," Anakin said, eyes wide and worried. "Something private."

Obi-Wan sighed. "Let's find someplace away from listening ears, then."

Once they were tucked safely in Obi-Wan's office, sound dampener going, Anakin put his hands on Obi-Wan's desk and said, all in a rush, "I have a secret wife."

That was…not how Obi-Wan was expecting the conversation to go. "You don't," he said calmly.

Anakin clenched his hands. "Master, please, I need you to listen to me—"

Obi-Wan held up his hand. "How is Padmé?"

Anakin blinked.

Obi-Wan sighed. "Anakin, how long have I known you? Do you really think you could hide a spouse from me?" Obi-Wan's eyes darkened. "I assumed you were giving me the gift of plausible deniability."

Anakin smiled weakly.

Obi-Wan pressed two fingers against the bridge of his nose. "No. You assumed I didn't know. Anakin…"

"Sorry Master," Anakin said, sounding sheepish.

Obi-Wan froze as the obvious question occurred to him. "So why are you telling me now?"

Anakin swallowed. "Well, you know how you asked how Padmé was doing?"

Obi-Wan nodded slowly.

"She's pregnant. And I think she's going to die."

Padmé looked up as Anakin entered her suite, followed quickly by a perturbed looking Obi-Wan. She took a steadying breath. She had faced down more terrifying encounters than this. She would hold steady.

Obi-Wan didn't say anything until the sound dampener was up, then he turned to her with a slight incline of his head. "I understand congratulations are in order."

Padmé inclined her head. "Yes. What has Anakin told you?"

"Precious little," Anakin muttered, giving her a sideways smile. "He knew we were married already. I told him about the pregnancy."

"I suppose we weren't all that subtle," Padmé said, feeling heat in her cheeks.

Obi-Wan smiled, it was gentle, and she found herself grateful for that. It would have been heartrending, if the first person she and Anakin told intentionally had been cruel about things. Especially Obi-Wan.

He turned to Anakin. "I have no idea how you convinced her to marry you, she's so much smarter than you are."

"It's my charm and good looks, Master," Anakin said with that irrepressible grin that she loved.

Obi-Wan turned to her, "It's his pathetic puppy dog eyes, isn't it?"

Padmé laughed, relief flooding through her. She had been worried, that the revelation would kill the easy banter between the two of them. She was amazed to find that instead, she was folded into it. She was profoundly happy.

She was crying.

Damn hormones.

Anakin started towards her, but to her surprise it was Obi-Wan that was there, taking her hand. "Is everything alright?" he asked.

Anakin followed a moment later, his hand on her shoulder. Padmé sniffed and wiped her eyes, feeling more than a little ridiculous. "It's been…" she shook her head, composing herself. "I'm glad you know. It's a big secret for two people to keep."

Obi-Wan patted her hand gently. "Of course. I'm going to steal Anakin for a moment and figure out what's going on with his nightmares."

"Thank you," Padmé said, squeezing his hand before letting him go.

"Steady breaths," Obi-Wan said, from his position cross-legged next to Anakin. "Open your mind to me."

Anakin sighed, and did his best. This had never been either of their particular strengths. But if anyone was welcome in his mind it was Obi-Wan. He had walked Anakin through every step of becoming a Jedi. He was his best friend and his brother-in-arms. So, even though it was uncomfortable, Anakin let down the walls of his mind and let Obi-Wan in.

Obi-Wan felt like sweet smoke pouring through his mind, present but not unpleasant, trying to keep focused on the nightmare (not a vision, please not a vision). But this wasn't Obi-Wan's strength either, and he wandered, brushing through adjacent thoughts, Anakin's concerns about the Council leadership, his worries for Padmé's Senate seat, the fact that Anakin was slightly hungry and looking for lunch.

Fortunately, Obi-Wan was considerate, gently skating around the things he wasn't meant to see.

Obi-Wan found the nightmare, and Anakin, in a strange secondhand way, experienced it again through Obi-Wan's eyes. It wasn't as bad, this time, with Obi-Wan as a bulwark between Anakin and his own worst fears. He was an even presence in Anakin's mind. Even so, the vision of Padmé's pale, still, form sent shudders through him.

There was a hand on his calf, fingers rubbing in tiny reassuring circles. Anakin let that feeling anchor him as Obi-Wan slowly withdrew from his mind. As Obi-Wan left, Anakin felt as he tried to keep his focus tight again, but something about the touch, mixed with the vulnerability, drew his incense-light presence into a part of his mind that Anakin usually had better shielded.

Anakin was mortified to find Obi-Wan tripping over the memories Anakin had of him stripped to the waist coming out of the shower, the thrill that ran through Anakin the one time a very drunk Obi-Wan had played with his hair, and various musings about what Obi-Wan's beard would feel like kissing him, mixed in among the other mortifying thoughts that made up his very buried crush on his mentor and oldest friend.

Obi-Wan's presence fluttered in Anakin's mind.

Anakin bit his lip and fought his instinct to slam his thoughts closed. He cast a feeling of apology at Obi-Wan, shot through with embarrassment he couldn't hide if he tried.

Obi-Wan was soothing, and then his presence was filled with chagrin, followed by resignation, and then, to Anakin's amazement, Obi-Wan pushed an image into Anakin's mind. It was of Anakin himself a couple years earlier, spinning mid-battle, lightsaber flashing one way, his leg kicking out another, and it was all overlaid with a horrified realization that Anakin was absolutely beautiful.

"Really!" Anakin's blurted out loud, his eyes flying open.

Obi-Wan sighed and withdrew the rest of the way, opening his own eyes too. "Yes." Obi-Wan cleared his throat. "Nobody can entirely control their attraction. But as amusing as our mutual lack of taste is..."

Anakin sighed, drawn reluctantly back to painful pressing concerns. It was a less pleasant place. Worry stuck in his throat, as he looked at Obi-Wan. "You saw it. What do you think? Is it…?"

Obi-Wan's face grew dark, something troubled passing over it. Anakin braced for him to announce that it was prophecy, destiny, so when Obi-Wan spat out the word, "Planted," Anakin had no idea how to respond.

"Planted? What do you mean?"

"I mean there's a dark influence in your mind, and that vision was not generated by your own connection to the Force. A Sith is trying to influence you."

Anakin's eyes narrowed, "Dooku?" The man had died shortly after being taken into custody, but the Force worked in mysterious ways. He may have planted something to surface later.

Obi-Wan rolled his shoulders, shaking his head slightly as he got to his feet and held a hand out to Anakin. "I don't think so. This is recent. Since we saved the Chancellor. Since you learned the news. How long have you known?"

Anakin took Obi-Wan's hand, following him up off the ground. "Just a couple days."

"We should talk to Padmé. She's not destined to die, but someone is trying to use her to get to you. She may be able to help us narrow down who it might be." Obi-Wan paused, then turned to Anakin, his eyes full of mischief. "As for the other matter...I won't tell Padmé," he said, voice bright with good humor.

Anakin rolled his eyes at the grin. "She already knows. She's teased me about it for years."

Obi-Wan smiled, then tilted his head, looking thoughtful. "You're welcome to tell her about the...mutuality. If you're so inclined."

"Not concerned about it ruining your image?" Anakin gestured over Obi-Wan's form. "You know, serious, reserved Jedi Master?"

Obi-Wan chuckled. "I think my image can stand the battering." His smile faded, face becoming more serious. "If there is a Sith in our presence, trying to drive fear between us…I favor honesty."

Padmé ran her fingers through her hair, looking worried but resolute. "Well it's good to know my demise isn't inevitable. I'm still not pleased."

Obi-Wan was impressed by her calm. If their circumstances were reversed, he doubt he'd manage such restraint. "I wouldn't expect you to be. We need to figure out who might know."

"I found out from a med droid, maybe a week ago. Ani was the first person I told. As far as I know, you're the only other person we've spoken of it to."

Obi-Wan considered this. "So the Sith is close. Someone who can pull a thought out of our minds."

"Or someone who can hack a droid," Anakin offered.

Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow as he looked over at Anakin, who just shrugged. "You have to think about the tech too..." Anakin hesitated oddly before continuing, "Master."

The old title, long-used between them, was suddenly uncomfortable to hear in Anakin's mouth. The space between them had changed. Was it the revelation of attraction? Or the knowledge of impending fatherhood?

Padmé leaned in, clearing her throat slightly. Obi-Wan looked away from Anakin, and back over to her. She gave him an odd look before continuing, "We can have Artoo look over access logs for Medical. I'm more concerned about the other option. If someone was able to put something into Anakin's head, who knows what they'd be able to pull out of somebody else's?"

"An excellent point." Obi-Wan murmured. "Both of you, try to come up with as complete a list of people that you've spoken with since you heard the news. Let's review, see who stands out."

Padmé folded her arms. "It's not one of my former handmaidens."

"It's entirely likely that it's someone we would never expect—" Obi-Wan started.

"I trusted them with my life. It's a sacred thing." Padmé's hand clenched, a tremble running through her. "It's not them."

"Who else could it be? Master Fisto? Master Windu? The Chancellor?" Anakin snapped. "We'd better hope it's not Obi-Wan or else…we're…"

Obi-Wan looked at Anakin, alarmed. "I don't appreciate you trailing off just then."

"The Chancellor," Anakin said again, slow and deliberate.

Padmé darted a glance over at him. That was a serious tone of voice. "You don't think—" she caught herself, and tried again, "You think it might be him? Why?"

"He's always been…" Anakin's brow furrowed. "There's something about him. Like when we were rescuing him—he tried to get me to leave without you!" Anakin turned to Obi-Wan, looking worried. "Before that he wanted me to kill Dooku…in anger. The look in his eyes when I refused…"

A heavy silence fell in the room. Padmé, scarcely believing the words about to come out of her mouth, said, "Dooku died, didn't he? The Chancellor would have access…"

"We cannot make unfounded allegations," Obi-Wan said.

"But, Master, he—"

"I believe you," Obi-Wan said quickly. "I've tried to be supportive of your friendships, but I've never liked the way his relationship with you felt like...patronage. I couldn't shake the feeling that he was making payments every time he talked with you, and that his debt would come due at some point."

"But we need to be cautious," Padmé reiterated, worried Anakin would lose the most important point. "He's getting more and more powerful by the day, and the Senate is moving to vote in even more emergency powers. It's better to keep things quiet, try to get him to tip his hand."

It was terrible, but even as she said the words, Padmé relaxed. She had felt for a while that there was a rot creeping through the Republic. It was almost relaxing to finally have a cause to point to. Once she knew what the problem was, she could work to solve it.

She turned to Obi-Wan. "Of course, this is all a moot point if he can pluck the plans out of our heads."

Obi-Wan graced her with an impressed smile. "We'll need to shield. Consistently."

"How are we going to explain that?" Anakin asked. "Not exactly normal for us."

"Well it's obvious." Padmé said. Two inquisitive eyes turned to look at her. She smiled faintly. "There's a bet. You two are trying to one-up each other. If anyone asks why I'm shielded too, it's because Anakin is showing off."

Anakin cleared his throat, Obi-Wan shifted uncomfortably.

"You know she's right," Anakin said miserably.

Obi-Wan folded his arms and huffed. "Entirely too insightful."

Anakin kept his shield tight over the next few days, which held one troublesome development after another. The Jedi Council were now going to report directly to Palpatine, instead of the Senate. Anakin himself was chosen by Palpatine to be the liaison between them, giving him a forced-on seat to the Jedi Council.

Anakin realized, as he thanked Palpatine with a bitter taste in his mouth, that if he hadn't known that the man was trying to use Padmé to break him, he might have been honestly grateful for the opportunity.

The three of them shared worried discussions over dinners together, that the Chancellor was using his emergency powers to centralize government.

"I was so worried about losing my Senate seat. Now, practically speaking, there's no point to even having a Senate any longer."

"Has it really come to that?" Obi-Wan asked.

"It has been coming for a while now." Padmé picked at her vegetables listlessly. "We were simply too blind to see it."

"We're not blind anymore," Anakin said, trying to bring some joy to her face again. "We'll figure this out."

"What if we missed our chance?" Padmé dropped her fork with a clatter, burying her face in her hands. "He was my Ambassador. How could I have been so oblivious?"

Anakin still hesitated a second before he reached for her. It was so strange, being open with his most guarded secret.

As he paused, Obi-Wan didn't, moving over to take Padmé's hands, gently pulling them away from her face. He ran his thumbs over her knuckles as he said, "We all missed it. Even the Jedi. He is very, very good at deceit."

Anakin reached over and started rubbing between her shoulder blades. She sniffed and leaned against him, still looking gratefully at Obi-Wan. "Thank you. I want it known that I'm blaming pregnancy hormones for this…" She shook her head slightly. "This mess."

"I believe, if anything, you are showing a reasonable emotional reaction to the potential fall of democracy." Obi-Wan squeezed her hands and looked over at Anakin.

Anakin held his gaze, not able to reach out mentally with their shields in place, but hoping his expression did a sufficient job of expressing his gratitude. Obi-Wan smiled, inclined his head. Of course he knew. He and Anakin hadn't always known each other's thoughts, but they had grown together, and now, Anakin didn't think there was anyone who knew him quite as well as Obi-Wan.

"You'll visit, right?" Anakin blurted out.

Obi-Wan's eyes turned confused, and Padmé pulled back slightly to look at Anakin. Anakin gave a crooked smile. "You know, after we get all this figured out, Palpatine is handled, and I wind up kicked out of the Jedi order. I'll probably be househusbanding on Naboo." Padmé started to chuckle, which was what Anakin had been hoping for, mostly. But still…"Will you visit?"

Obi-Wan nodded seriously, his eyes crinkling with affection as he glanced from Padmé to Anakin. "So long as you have a guest bedroom. I refuse to sleep on a couch."

Padmé leaned in, bringing Obi-Wan's hands up to her mouth and laying a light kiss along the backs of his knuckles. "You'll have your own room. Be welcome anytime."

"It's definitely Palpatine," Anakin said grimly as he let himself into Obi-Wan's room. "He just told me the tale of Darth Plagueis the Wise—also known as the story of the Sith Lord who figured out how to raise people from the dead."

Obi-Wan rested his chin on his hands. "Do you think we have enough to go to the Council?"

"I don't know." Anakin fidgeted. "He didn't actually come out and say anything, he just heavily...implied."

"And what did you say?" Obi-Wan asked.

"That it sounded interesting...and that I had to go use the 'fresher."

Obi-Wan groaned. "Anakin! He'll suspect you!"

Anakin looked up and hissed, "I have never been good at undercover work. This is not my strength."

Obi-Wan gave him a considering look. "I believe we should consult with Padmé."

Obi-Wan sent Anakin over to Padmé's suite. He then stared blankly at the desk trying to figure out a plan. After five minutes, no closer to a plan but long enough that Obi-Wan wouldn't seem to be suspiciously following after, Obi-Wan went over to Padmé's himself.

"You have got to be kidding me!" He exclaimed as Anakin and Padmé quickly separated from each other on the couch. He looked away deliberately, trying not to think about the smooth line of Padmé's leg, or how graceful Anakin's hands looked against it.

"Don't you knock?" Anakin demanded.

"You knew I was coming!"

"We need to teach Anakin how to lie," Obi-Wan said once everyone was...straightened. "He is the person who most holds the Chancellor's interest. We need to ensure that Palpatine believes that Anakin is entirely his creature. Or at least interested in becoming so." Obi-Wan glared over at Anakin. "Which means having a better plan than running to the 'fresher."

Padmé looked at him with exasperation. "Oh Ani, you didn't!"

Anakin threw his hands in the air. "What else was I supposed to do! 'Oh hey yes the Dark Power sounds amazing, let's do that.'"

"Well," Padmé said. "Not exactly that. You need to figure out what he's wanting to hear, and give him that."

"You say that like it's easy," Anakin folded his arms and humphed.

"She says that like it's her career." Obi-Wan found his way over to a chair and collapsed into it.

Padmé smiled at him, a sharp edge to her sweetness. "So cynical, Master Jedi." She turned back to Anakin. "He does have a point, though. Alright, I'm Palpatine. What do I want from you?"

Anakin blinked at Padmé, before turning to look pleading at Obi-Wan. "I can't do this."

Obi-Wan sighed and sat upright in the chair again. "I'll be Palpatine, then." Obi-Wan steepled his fingers in front of himself, hunching his shoulders and glaring evilly over at Anakin. "Hello young Skywalker."

Anakin fought down a laugh. "An uncanny impersonation."

Padmé smiled. "Alright, let's try this again. What does Palpatine want from you?"

Anakin took a deep breath as he entered the Chancellor's room, folding his hands neatly in front of him.

"Young Skywalker!" Palpatine said, standing to greet him.

Anakin suppressed a smile, remembering Obi-Wan's impersonation. "Chancellor," he said with a respectful duck of his head.

Palpatine wanted respect. He wanted to know that Anakin trusted him. He wanted Anakin to doubt the Jedi Order.

Palpatine smiled. "And how have you been?"

"I've been thinking on the story you told me. It's haunting." Anakin looked away, his face tightening. "I still can't believe the Jedi Order has suppressed those legends. Isn't all information important?"

Palpatine wanted him angry, wanted him scared, wanted him making stupid decisions. He had used Padmé, used Anakin's unborn children to drive him that way.

The anger, at least, came naturally.

"The Jedi are shrouded in secrecy. You cannot trust them, young Skywalker."

Anakin inclined his head and said nothing.

"After all, they demonstrate such little faith in you. I was surprised, to hear that Master Fisto had been sent to intercept General Grievous, after I specifically requested that they send you as my emissary."

"The council makes its own decisions." Anakin tried to sound angry. He and Obi-Wan had taken the information on Grievous's location, as well as Palpatine's request before the Council with the very emphatic caveat that neither of them should actually be sent. They did not explain more fully. The Council had been reluctant, but seeing that Anakin and Obi-Wan were in agreement, had gone along. "We must obey."

"They didn't even send Master Kenobi...I suppose the rumors I heard may have some truth to them."

"Rumors?" Anakin wondered where he was going with this.

"That his mind is clouded by a certain female senator."

Anakin's thoughts ran in panicked circles. What could Palpatine want with this line of attack? He was insinuating that the Council didn't trust Obi-Wan. And he wanted Anakin to mistrust the council. Which meant that he wanted Anakin to...defend Obi-Wan? From rumors about a romantic assignation?

"I'm certain nothing is clouding his mind," Anakin finally decided to say.

"Oh, but we never know, even with the ones we are closest to. Even your beloved Master may find himself distracted by a pair of pretty eyes."

"Well he's never seemed distracted by mine," Anakin said with a casual smile. It quickly turned brittle as Anakin realized he really, really should not have said that.

"Ah...I am surprised to..." Palpatine seemed caught entirely off guard.

Crap. Palpatine probably thought that Anakin was cheating on Padmé with Obi-Wan. Which was...not the impression Anakin wanted to leave him with.

"But you know!" Anakin said, mind scrambling, "A certain female senator does have much more distracting eyes than I do." Anakin smiled, having no idea what he was hoping to imply, just hoping that it was...better, than his last attempt.

"Oh really?" Palpatine looked pensive. "Obi-Wan never struck me as the type. You didn't either, to be frank. I thought you and Padmé were entirely fixed on each other."

Anakin shrugged. "Of course, I can't confirm anything that may lead to...unfortunate insinuations."

Please let that make Palpatine stop talking about this.

"Of course." Palpatine inclined his head. "It is unfortunate that the Council is so closed minded, though. Love is beautiful, whatever form it takes. They shouldn't be so opposed to it."

Anakin nodded grimly. "I couldn't agree more."

Padmé looked up as Anakin scrambled through the door. "I fucked up," he announced.

"Let's get Obi-Wan."

A minute or two passed after their comms (filled with so much restless pacing on Anakin's part that it wore Padmé out just watching him) and then Obi-Wan came through the door.

As soon as the sound dampener was in place, Anakin explained, "I made Palpatine believe we were having a threesome. I'm sorry."

Obi-Wan and Padmé both blinked.

After Anakin explained, Padmé buried her face in her hands. "Anakin," she said slowly, "he was trying to get you to mistrust Obi-Wan, and myself. He was trying to isolate you. Instead, now he thinks..." She threw a helpless look at Obi-Wan. "What would he be thinking?"

Obi-Wan, who was flushed red and looking at the floor, glanced up. "He...sexual relationships among Jedi are not unheard of." He seemed to be dragging each individual word out. "He may think we are pursuing something...purely carnal. If that's the case, than he may still think I'm in lockstep with the Council."

"But you would know about us," Anakin pointed out.

Obi-Wan nodded.

"You haven't turned us in. He'd think that was a weakness."

Padmé nodded thoughtfully, "He may look to exploit it."

"But...he said love." Anakin twisted his fingers in front of himself, clearly worried. "What if he thinks it's romantic?"

"I'd imagine that's even more exploitable." Padmé looked to Obi-Wan for confirmation.

Obi-Wan shrugged. "If he even believed you. It's an outlandish claim."

"Well, not that outlandish," Padmé said slowly. "You both have been spending a lot of time in my suite…mentally shielded…with a sound dampener constantly running."

Obi-Wan opened his mouth, then closed it again, looking perplexed. "I suppose…hm."

Anakin looked hopeful. "So maybe I didn't fuck things up?"

"It's not...unsalvageable," Obi-Wan finally allowed.

"I mean, to me, it sounds like I just came up with an excuse that completely justifies the time we're spending together." Anakin started to look smug.

"Don't push it," Padmé said.

Obi-Wan nodded his agreement. "After all, there is still the slight concern of potential blackmail. And this is yet another lie that you will need to keep track of. He may want to talk about the relationship."

Anakin looked only slightly chagrined. "Look, between a fake threesome and a very real plot to overthrow the Chancellor of the Republic, I would rather he be suspicious of the threesome."

Obi-Wan inclined his head.

Padmé sighed. "Well, worst comes to worst we could always turn it into a real threesome. Then you wouldn't be lying about it."

Two shocked stairs of eyes stared at her, and she smothered a smile as she tucked her hair behind her ear in a prim little gesture. "What? I'm simply agreeing with you. Obi-Wan is very attractive."

Feeling very bold, she winked at Obi-Wan, and was delighted to see him turn pink as a result.

"Let's call that 'Plan B.' Possibly 'M.' Perhaps even 'X,'" Obi-Wan muttered.

"So reluctant to sleep with me?" she teased.

"I'm leaving." Obi-Wan stood up. "Goodnight."

Anakin and Padmé shared a delighted expression, collapsing into giggles as the door swung shut behind Obi-Wan.

"You're terrible," Anakin said as the laughter died down. He shook his head. "Terrible," he said again, but Padmé would have sworn there was something contemplative in his voice.

"Heard troubling rumors, we have," Yoda said grimly.

Obi-Wan took a slow breath. He had grown soft, being on the Council itself, he had forgotten how uncomfortable it was to be pulled before them. "And what are these rumors?" he asked, forcing himself to stay calm.

Not even two days after Anakin's sloppy attempt at a cover-up left a Sith Lord thinking he and Anakin were cozied up together, and suddenly the Council was hearing troubling rumors.

"We understand you've been spending a great deal of time with Anakin," Master Windu said, folding his hands across his lap.

Obi-Wan set his jaw. "Anakin and I have always spent a great deal of time together."

"The rumors are that it's romantic in nature," Windu continued.

"It is not," Obi-Wan said flatly.

It was a tricky position to be in. Obi-Wan wanted to deny the rumors so emphatically that there could be no possible doubt. But Palpatine may have ears beyond Anakin's on the Council, as horrifying as that was to consider. He had to deny, but still leave doubt.

The part of him that had always strove to be a good Jedi, one worthy of the title of Master, screamed at him for being willing to risk his good standing for this. The part of him that was more pragmatic said that no matter how dearly he loved his place in the Temple, he was willing to sacrifice it to make sure a Sith Lord didn't rise to power.

There was a third part, one that he was trying much harder to ignore, that said that Sith Lord aside, if Anakin and Padmé invited him to share their bed, he'd be hard-pressed to say no.

Obi-Wan didn't know what to do about that third part, but it was hardly relevant at the moment.

"More difficult to dismiss, the rumors are, when shielded you both insist on being," Yoda paced in front of him, slow deliberate steps. "Open your mind, will you? Then known, the truth will be."

Obi-Wan shook his head slowly. "Unfortunately, honored Masters, that is not a request I am able to grant."

"This is why the rumors spread. There is something you're not telling the Council," Master Windu pointed out.

"Padmé too, you have been spending time with," Yoda stopped pacing and looked at him, ears flattening back slightly in disapproval. "Why? Suspicious, this is."

Obi-Wan closed his eyes. "It is not a matter I am free to discuss," he said, honestly. "Remove me from the council if you must, but I will not break confidences to share further. Know that I have every faith that I am making the correct decision. I can only hope that my history is sufficient to grant me some measure of trust."

"You aren't asking for some measure of trust. You're asking for a mountain of it," Master Windu said.

Yoda continued to stare at him intently, ears lowering even further. "Approve, I do not. But just, your past actions have been. Keep your Council seat, you may, but watched you shall be." Yoda flicked his hands, dismissing Obi-Wan.

"Of course." Obi-Wan bowed to the Council.

Watched. Excellent. As if this whole matter wasn't complicated enough.

Cursing Palpatine under his breath, Obi-Wan departed.

Anakin folded his hands in front of him gravely as he walked alongside Palpatine. He was bitterly grateful, now, for all the times the Jedi had forced his emotion down so he could react as a proper Jedi. It let him keep his internal monologue of I hate you I hate you I hate you from showing on his face.

Well, hate was of the Dark Side. He should probably work on that.

But still, he really didn't like Palpatine.

"I heard the Council called Obi-Wan to task on account of the rumors." Palpatine said, sorrowfully.

Oh, did they? Gee, I wonder why?

Anakin nodded.

"They are shrouded in their old traditions and older secrets. They have too much power, reaching into your life and breaking relationships. Nobody should have that power."

"They broke nothing," Anakin corrected, keeping his tone light. "Though I do fear for Obi-Wan's Council seat. He doesn't have the benefit of your friendship."

Palpatine stopped, looking intently at Anakin. "So Obi-Wan did not break off your..."

Anakin waved a hand. "They broke nothing," he reiterated, rather than confirm Palpatine's words. "This is hardly new. Obi-Wan and I have always had a controversial relationship."

Palpatine's eyes widened. Anakin wasn't certain where he was going with this, but he did know that he was viciously delighted to have Palpatine be the one caught off-guard, for once.

After a long moment, Palpatine said, "Surely...not since the beginning..."

Anakin coughed, suddenly understanding Palpatine's insinuations. "Oh! Ah..." Anakin looked for a way to word things. "Relationships...change as they mature. Once I was no longer Obi-Wan's padawan, I became something closer to a friend." That at least had the benefit of being true. "But even in those early days, the council did not want Obi-Wan training me. They have never really come around to the idea of our...close cooperation."

Less true, still going with it.

"Fascinating. And Obi-Wan is willing to...I never imagined..."

Anakin refolded his arms in front of him, trying to infuse the gesture with some smug emotion. "They've always been jealous of our talents. But our relationship has too benefit to be easily broken."

"Huh," Palpatine said, staring off into middle distance.

It was one of the least refined sounds Anakin had ever heard him make outside of being kidnapped or shot at, and Anakin tallied that up as a mental victory.

Palpatine resumed walking, gesturing for Anakin to follow. Anakin did so.

They walked together in silence for a while longer, before Palpatine finally said, "You should bring Obi-Wan on the next of our visits."

"Oh, Chancellor, that's hardly necessary," Anakin said, alarmed by the new tactic.

"I insist," Palpatine said firmly. "I feel as though I've underestimated him. As you said, he may also benefit from my friendship."

"Very good, Chancellor," Anakin said calmly.

This was all terrible, but at least he was getting better at keeping wild panic out of his voice.

"We're doomed." Anakin collapsed back on the couch in a fit of melodrama.

Padmé sighed from her seat next to him, remembering that she had married him of her own free will, and that she loved him. "I don't think it's quite that bad," she said patiently.

Anakin pressed his palms against his eyelids and groaned. Obi-Wan, from Anakin's other side, shared a sympathetic look with Padmé. Not sympathetic for Anakin. Sympathetic for each other, that they both had to put up with Anakin.

Padmé swallowed, briefly distracted by the realization that since Obi-Wan had been informed (intentionally) of their marriage, she and Anakin had been…well, better. They laughed more. They talked more easily. When Anakin needed someone who understood the Jedi ways, when Padmé needed someone that understood negotiation—Obi-Wan was there.

And now, when Anakin was being a bit...unreasonable, Padmé had someone she could roll her eyes at. It was nice.

She looked back over at Anakin. "It seems like all you did was convince Palpatine Obi-Wan may also be sympathetic? That's hardly the worst possible result."

Anakin dragged his hands back down his face, blank-faced with dismay as he stared out into the world. "But he wants to see us together. I'm not…I don't think I can keep this up."

"But now you'll have Obi-Wan to back you up," Padmé gestured at Obi-Wan, who nodded.

"That's the problem. I can barely keep up with my own lies. Obi-Wan's going to be there, and we're going to be on totally different wavelengths, and he's going to know! He's going to know that I've been lying to him, he's going to know there's no threesome, we're doomed."

"If you would just stop—" Obi-Wan gestured vaguely to Anakin's tantrum-sulk. "We could actually come up with a story."

"There is no story that is going to cover for the fact that you and I have not been kissing."

Obi-Wan's hands curled into fists, and he gave Padmé an exasperated glare. Padmé rolled her eyes in agreement. Then, Obi-Wan's gaze darted back over to Anakin. He turned back to Padmé, tongue darting out over his lower lip, looking contemplative.

Padmé's stomach caught, twisted, an excited rush of heat spreading through her as she realized that, quite possibly, he meant to…She nodded, not entirely certain they were on the same page, but if they were…

Obi-Wan turned back to Anakin, took Anakin's face between his hands, and pulled him into a kiss.

Anakin startled for a minute, all Padmé could see of his reaction was the way his back stiffened and his hands spread wide, startled. Obi-Wan pulled back, and Anakin twisted to look over at Padmé, frantic, Obi-Wan's hands still framing his face.

Poor dear. This was all rather a lot for him, Padmé supposed. She reached over and squeezed his hand, forcing his fingers to relax. "That was a very poor show, love. You're a much better kisser than that."

Anakin gave a disbelieving huff, turning back to Obi-Wan, who traced his thumbs on Anakin's cheeks. "I would be willing to try again, if you were so inclined."

"Ah," Anakin managed.

Padmé sighed. "I think he may need a more practical demonstration."

Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow with a smile. "I believe that can be arranged." Leaving one hand on Anakin's cheek, he reached for her, his warm hand on her shoulder guiding her over and across Anakin and in to him.

He was…different. There hadn't been much time for romance in Padmé's life. Anakin had always been the very glorious exception. Her body mapped every point of difference—his hand was broader, his lips were thinner, his nose brushed her cheek a little higher. Anakin kissed like a waterfall, all tumbling excitement and sustained energy. Obi-Wan kissed like a warm bath, something she wanted to relax into. She felt like she could wrap his kiss around her, that she could forget her worries for a moment and just…exist.

She sighed softly when they parted, opening her eyes slowly. Anakin made an impatient noise, and now, clearly getting with the program, moved in and claimed Obi-Wan's lips.

Padmé leaned back, watching the two of them. They were beautiful together, their give and take not so different from their banter, from their training. They were two people that already knew each other intimately, this one step further seemed only natural. It seemed right.

Obi-Wan eventually pulled back, nudging Anakin back with his nose once, twice, when Anakin tried to chase him. Obi-Wan smiled over at Padmé. "He seems to have gotten the idea."

Padmé squeezed Anakin's hand (which had never left hers, even as his body curled toward Obi-Wan). "He can be a little slow on the uptake, but he gets there in the end." She leaned over, resting her chin on his shoulder. "How are you feeling about your meeting now, love?"

"My…I'm really not thinking about that that!"

Obi-Wan laughed. "It sounds like we may need some further preparation," he said seriously, but there was a question in his voice, and he tilted his head as he looked at Padmé.

"I think you should stay here tonight." Padmé reached over and brushed the tips of her fingers against his cheek. She swallowed, and decided to dispense with convenient excuses. "I think you should be welcome whenever, wherever we are," she said seriously.

Anakin grunted in understanding, and looked over at Obi-Wan. "Yes. Please?"

Obi-Wan looked from one of them to the other, his eyes bright with emotion. His throat worked, until he finally reached up and covered Padmé's hand with his own. "I'll stay tonight."

"And the rest?" Anakin asked, impatient and generous as ever with his love.

"Let me think on it." Obi-Wan reached over and ran his fingers through Anakin's hair, causing Anakin to close his eyes and lean into the touch. "But you two have snared me most thoroughly," he murmured, almost to himself.

"It's not so bad, is it?" Padmé asked, cheating a little as she ducked her head to look up at him, making her brown eyes as big and guileless as she knew how.

Obi-Wan chuckled, a knowing curve to his lips letting her know that he wasn't fooled by her innocent expression. Still, he answered, "Not bad at all," and drew her into another kiss.

Obi-Wan laid his hand on Anakin's lower back as they got ready to enter Palpatine's office. Anakin shivered as heat ran through him. He certainly wasn't going to have any issues insinuating that he and Obi-Wan were involved. Not now. Not now that he knew what Obi-Wan's sighs of pleasure sounded like, knew the taste of his lips, knew exactly what those fingers were capable of. No. That was absolutely not the problem any longer.

He might, however, be having some trouble concentrating.

"We're going to be alright," Obi-Wan said softly, only for Anakin's ears.

Anakin believed him. Many, many impossible things, seemed much more reasonable now that he was around. They let themselves in to the Chancellor's suite. It was deserted, aside from Palpatine. He was seated at the desk, down the long hallway from the entrance. It seemed designed to intimidate, Anakin had always thought, though now he realized it was also a good defensive position. If anyone who came to attack the Chancellor, they'd have a hard time sneaking up on him. Maybe if they went through the window.

Something to think about for the future. This time, though, Anakin simply walked down the hallway, Obi-Wan at his side. Palpatine stood when they approached, turning his back to them, slight gesture of his hand inviting them to follow. They did, and soon the three of them stood looking out of the majestic panorama of Coruscant stretched out in front of them, a horizon of handcrafted wonder.

Anakin was struck, as he sometimes was, just how different this land was from Tatooine. Was it even a land at all, or just a foundation? If all the sapients here vanished, what would happen to their creations? Anything abandoned in the desert, it would be buried in sand in a century or two. But this place? Anakin doubted there was enough wildness left in this planet to reclaim it.

He still wasn't certain if he loved that fact or hated it. He didn't want to go back to Tatooine, a hard land he had been happy to leave. But this artificial wonderland didn't feel like home, either. He thought of Padmé, thought of Naboo, and decided that was the landscape that best suited his spirit. An easy place, but a natural one.

He slid a look over at Palpatine. That man had come from Naboo as well. Anakin felt he might understand the man better, if he had come from someplace harsher. Or if he had been born and bred on this city of a planet, never knowing anything but the controlled and manufactured. Then his grasping might make sense. But the fact that he came from paradise and still was greedy for more was damning in a way Anakin couldn't put into words.

"Thank you for coming," Palpatine finally said, breaking the silence. "I need to speak with you concerning a matter of great importance."

He paused, and Anakin said nothing. Neither did Obi-Wan.

After the silence stretched a moment, he turned, looking at Anakin. "I know the dreams you've been having. I know you have foreseen Padmé's death. Those visions are true." He waited, a long moment. "My knowledge can save her."

Another pause, this time Anakin broke it, softly asking, "How is this possible?"

"There are many powers I have. Many things I know. But I am afraid…your heart has recently become caught up by Obi-Wan. Perhaps he was offered you some solace during these difficult times. He loves you." Palpatine stepped back to consider Obi-Wan, nodding to himself.

Obi-Wan looked over at Anakin and Palpatine, shoulders drawn tight. "A Jedi can't afford that sort of attachment," he said gravely, before turning to look back out the window.

"He lies to himself, but he loves you." Palpatine smiled, and there was a cruelty to it, as much as his face tried to look kind. "How could he not? Of everyone alive, you know him best."

"The reverse is also true," Anakin said, truthful, the endearment in his tone coming naturally.

A slight smile came unbidden to Obi-Wan's lips.

"How painful for him, then, that you chose Padmé," Palpatine said abruptly. "That you will have a child with Padmé."

Palpatine turned to Obi-Wan again. "You love the boy, yes. But the girl? I know how you truly feel about her. She is an obstacle." He turned back to Anakin, no disguise to his cruelty now. "Yes. He is jealous. He won't let you use my power to save her."

Anakin turned to Obi-Wan, and for a moment, he almost believed the lies. Believed that Obi-Wan wanted to drive Padmé off. That Obi-Wan loved selfishly.

Then he caught himself. Obi-Wan? If anyone here loved selfishly, it was Anakin, grasping for affection, wrapping his whole heart around those he loved, rules be damned. Palpatine was accusing Obi-Wan of Anakin's vice.

He let that almost belief, that worry of betrayal enter his voice as he asked, "Is that true, Master?"

("Anakin." Obi-Wan had curled his fingers around Anakin's chin, holding him firm as he said, "I think we are well past the time when you should call me Obi-Wan."

"Obi-Wan," Anakin said, feeling everything between them shift slightly, coming into a more honest alignment.

And then Obi-Wan had kissed him, warm and wonderful.)

Obi-Wan's face was a serious mask. "There is no power in the Force that can save those destined to die."

"Ah," Palpatine said, as satisfied as Anakin had ever heard him. "Not taught by your temple, no. But I have been trained by my Master in the ways of the Dark Side. There, with the Sith, you will find power beyond your knowledge. But Obi-Wan stands in your way, young Skywalker. He will not let you come to me."

Anakin looked at Obi-Wan and they held each other's eyes for a long and level moment.

He couldn't have just...said it? That he was a Sith? The suspicion that they were so worried could be pulled out of their minds without proof and he just…admitted it?

Obi-Wan unholstered his lightsaber, turning to Anakin with weighted movements. "He is right about this. I will not let you go to him."

Anakin pulled out his blade in return. "And I will do whatever I have to to save Padmé."

Two blades lit, blue on blue.

Palpatine cackled in delight between them. "Yes, you must end him, it is the only way to—"

Two blades swung, burying themselves in Palpatine's chest. His eyes went wide, looking lost. "No. You were supposed to bring balance..."

And then he crumpled, still and silent.

Obi-Wan ran his fingers through his hair. "You know, I was really expecting it to be harder than tha—"

Palpatine exploded.

Anakin woke up and he hurt. Comprehensively. Entirely. From top to toe he ached. Like he had been hit by something. Thrown into something? His skin felt tight, too-new and tender. The green-sweet smell of bacta clung to him.

"He's awake," a deep voice called. Anakin blinked, thinking past the pain to look at the man that was standing next to the bed. Master Windu.

Anakin opened his mouth, but all he managed was a croak, that herb taste that could be almost pleasant coating his tongue. Master Windu looked down on him turned and handed him some water. Anakin swallowed it down, then looked back up at Mace. "Obi-Wan?"

"Recovering he is. Found with you, he was," the unmistakable voice of Yoda said from his left. "Found with you, the Chancellor was not. An attack?"

Anakin was prepared to explain everything. "It started—" Anakin choked off in pain when his entire back decided to cramp at once. "Ow."

The healer looked up from across the room, jogged over, and put her hand on his shoulder. His back loosened. She fed him a pill, which he dutifully took, then collapsed back against the bed, pain retreating from his body.

Master Windu, sounding impatient, asked, "Do you know where the Chancellor is?"

Anakin blinked. That was an interesting philosophical question. Did that blue-blaze of fire mean he had returned to the Force? Had the Force devoured him? "Um."

"What happened to him?" Master Windu pressed again.

That was an easier question to answer. "He blew up," Anakin said with a cheerful burst of his fingertips. That effort seemed to be the last gasp of his body before exhaustion snuck in and knocked him across the back of his head with a metaphorical blackjack.

Anakin sunk into sweet sleep once more.

The next time Anakin woke up the pain was worse, but the company was better. "Padmé," he rasped in delight.

"Anakin," she said, her voice full of tremulous worry. "I was so worried."

"'M fine." Anakin winced. "Will be. You fine?"

"You don't sound fine." Padmé's forehead furrowed, and she twisted around, looking for something. She waved, and a healer came over.

"He will be fine, we've just learned he reacts more strongly to pain medication than most. Let's try that again with a quarter dose." The healer gave him a much smaller pill, and left again.

Anakin waited a moment, then nodded to himself, feeling much better, but still able to think. "Are you okay?" he tried again.

"Oh good, his mind doesn't seem to be permanently damaged," a wry voice said from his other side. Anakin looked over, eyes widening in delight when he saw Obi-Wan. "You're okay!"

"For a given value of okay." Obi-Wan was more curled into the chair at Anakin's bedside than he was sitting in it, but he was still gloriously present, and gloriously snarky. It was good to see.

"I'm glad."

Obi-Wan's smile was small, but entirely open. "I am, however, miffed. You were awake first. You should have been the one to explain. They refused to properly dose me with pain medications until I explained why you said the Chancellor, 'blew up.' Rude."

"What did you say?"

"Well I was in pain, so at first I unhelpfully informed them that you likely said that because he did, in fact, blow up…" Obi-Wan smiled distantly. "I was more helpful eventually."

"This is why they like you better." Anakin nodded knowingly.

"I have good news, darling." Padmé poked at Anakin's shoulder, and Anakin looked back over at her. "I quit!" she cheered, putting her hands up in the air in a small celebration. "I've let Bail and Mon…Senators Mothma and Organa…know what was going on. I trust them to handle the cleanup."

"And we're okay with this?" Anakin asked, like a good husband. He knew that there was a part of Padmé that loved fiercely being in the middle of things. Loved getting the chance to make a difference.

"Extremely," Padmé said emphatically, flashing him a smile that let him know he had done well in asking the question. "After all this I'm ready to rest for a bit." Her voice softened. "I've spoken with Queen Apailana. She has set aside a house in the Lake District for my use. For our use."

Anakin smiled. He caught sight of Master Yoda and Master Windu across the med-bay, and beckoned them over enthusiastically. "Masters! Come here!"

Master Windu and Master Yoda walked over, Master Windu saying, "I see they've got you well dosed again."

"I'm much more coherent this time." Anakin smiled, his toes curling in excitement. This was a conversation he had been looking forward to having for a long, long time. "Master Windu, Master Yoda, have you met my wife?"

Yoda's ears went back against his head, while Mace's eyebrows climbed up, reaching for the top of his bald head.

Padmé gave a small wave. "It's nice to meet you!"

Mace coughed.

"I quit!" Anakin said cheerfully. He patted his hip, twisted and looked around until he saw his lightsaber on the side table behind Padmé. He picked it up and offered it to the two bewildered Jedi Masters. "Look, I was just trying to hang in there until we dealt with the Sith Lord. I've thought long and hard about this, and I'm going to be so much happier just being a dad."

"Expecting, you are?" Yoda looked at Padmé, his snub nose scrunching. Not waiting for an answer, he turned to Obi-Wan. "Unperturbed by this, you seem."

"I knew," Obi-Wan said easily.

"I went to him when I grew concerned Padmé might die. He helped me unravel that it was a vision Palpatine had placed in my head. We realized Palpatine was likely the Sith Lord we had been looking for. From that point it became a very dangerous game, and we needed to limit the information as much as possible. This prevented him from telling the Council about mine and Padmé's marriage," Anakin said, rote.

Anakin had been thinking of that explanation for a while. Selfishly, he was tempted to share that he and Padmé had had Obi-Wan between them, that he had gone willingly to their bed and he was theirs now. But Obi-Wan loved the temple in a way Anakin never had, and he deserved to be in the place that made him the most happy.

Even if it broke Anakin's heart to let him go. Anakin smiled over at Obi-Wan, not sure why he was going through the effort of trying to mask his emotions. Obi-Wan would just read him anyway. Still, he might appreciate that Anakin was trying. "Thank you so much for helping me. Take care of them. Try to make sure no more Sith almost manage to become dictators, okay?"

Anakin blinked in surprise when Mace snorted in disgust and Yoda grumbled. They both turned and walked away.

Anakin looked back to Obi-Wan. "Touchy, are they?"

Obi-Wan rolled his eyes, and then to Anakin's amazement, reached over and took Anakin's hand, running a thumb slowly across the knuckles. "You didn't ask me what my plans were. Maybe you should have."

"Um." Anakin shifted, having trouble thinking, his whole mind focused on the tracing the arc of Obi-Wan's thumb across his skin.

"Obi-Wan quit too," Padmé informed him, scooting her chair closer and leaning down on the bed. "The Masters spent quite a long time arguing with him. Trying to convince him that right now was when the Jedi Council needed him most of all."

Anakin gave Obi-Wan a confused look.

Obi-Wan shrugged. "I…" he swallowed. "This was all too close. It could have gone another way so easily. The Jedi have fallen from their path, and I am not the right person to fix it from within. I have chosen to leave the order as well." Obi-Wan squeezed Anakin's hand. "Spend some time in meditation. That sort of thing."

Anakin licked his lips. "Any ideas where that meditation is going to happen?"

Padmé chuckled next to him, which was as good as an answer, but still, Anakin wanted to hear Obi-Wan say it.

"I was thinking Naboo."

With a fierce grin, Anakin reached up and pulled Obi-Wan down for a kiss. With a slight 'oof' Obi-Wan went, leaning over Anakin and kissing him.

Padmé gave a happy sigh from the other side of Anakin. "I think I could spend the rest of my life watching the two of you kiss. It's beautiful."

"Doesn't seem like such a bad plan to me." Anakin collapsed back against the pillows—radiantly, deliriously happy.