Actions

Work Header

Needing/Getting

Chapter Text

Artoo beeped a warning.

Anakin stopped and crouched low in the corner. So close, they were so close. Only another level to maneuver and another layer of security to trick before they were at the hanger and his ship.

Luke, tired and confused at the break in their routine, fussed in Anakin’s arms. It was the middle of the night—well past time they should all be in bed, not ducking around the Sith compound they had called their home like it was a game of hide-and-seek. Terrified at being overhead (discovered, apprehended, imprisoned; each thought hitting a deep and newly-minted part of his soul) Anakin frantically hushed him, tapping a gloved finger against his son's mouth in a way he hoped Luke found calming. Against his back, Leia sighed and shifted in her sleep. Her ear was pressed against his back—he worked to keep his heartbeat even, steady. If they thought he was calm, they would stay calm.

He couldn’t hum to them, not now. So he wedged a crack into his shields and let a few drops of affection dribble into the Force. Those drops ran down the bond he shared with them both, keeping things simple to not overwhelm their little minds. Each bond was a slim, weak thread that he maintained only the most surface of emotions around—anything more blatant would have drawn the attention (and violent disapproval) of his Master.

Well, former Master. No matter if he escaped or was caught, succeeded or failed, Darth Sidious’s favor was as good as gone. Anakin was well and truly on his own, alone in the world without protection or guidance. Terror, the kind he hadn’t felt since his Master had found him on Tatooine a decade and a half ago, was becoming an intimately familiar feeling with each passing cycle. It rooted into his stomach, weakening his resolve. He slapped up feeble shields into place before his emotions infected the twins.

Luke’s little teeth latched onto his glove; he had a fascination with Anakin’s mechanical hand. He gnawed the soft leather, content for the moment. A new sort of anxiety shuddered through Anakin, wholly unfamiliar and striking closer to his heart than anything he had ever experienced. Focus on them—get them out. That was the goal. He repeated it over and over, locking in on his desire and demanding it of the Force. This will happen. His Master would not have Padmé’s children. He wouldn’t get even this part of Anakin.

Voices, low and menacing, echoed down the hall. They bounced off the high cavernous walls, making it impossible to locate their owners. Growing louder, moving closer. Anakin drew further into the shadows, hiding behind Artoo. The droid dropped into low-power mode, sensory lights dimming and shutting off all nonessential functions. When Luke’s little foot kicked his arm, Anakin caught the limb and swaddled his son, urging him to sleep. Leia kicked at his kidney in a sympathetic response.

Just a little longer, he silently begged them both. Just stay quiet a little longer. His energy turned towards shielding himself and their presence, hiding them from the Sith powers that lurked waiting in the compound. It was rough work; he constantly had to restart when a distracting shadow or noise ripped through his concentration. He had no skill in meditation or methodical construction. His instructors, intimidated by his power, rank, and age, had never gone in for in-depth instruction. Instead, his connection to the Force worked on an instinctual level. This for that; power for passion, ingenuity for intimacy.

This time, the Force bargained for all his concentration to deflect attention from them—the twins were so strong, even now. Not even three standard years yet and the Force sang around them like symphonies. To mask their presences, to keep the Sith—his Master—from noticing them, Anakin had to pull from wells of previously untapped power. To keep anyone from thinking things were amiss, he had to find a peace that didn’t come easily.

In his duffle, the Sith artifacts he had stolen from his Master’s vault hummed, tempting him to the simple solution of violence and wrath.

The voices grew closer. He thought he recognized Count Dooku and the captain of the guard. Anakin held his breath, pulled them all in—the twins, loyal little Artoo, his own scattered self. Tightly packing them together as if he could shrink them into obscurity if only he wrapped them up in enough layers.

With all his thoughts bent towards the single purpose of remaining invisible, the edges of his vision when gray. Cracks appeared in the foundations of his shields, and he had no thought to spare for his bonds with Luke and Leia. They were exposed, unfiltered, to his fear, anxiety, and knotted heartache. Immediately, their restlessness kicked up; they didn’t know what was wrong, only that they felt not-good. Desperately, he pushed down on them both, bringing them to a place of—well, not of calm, but inertia. Apathetic non-movement that made all thoughts distant and seemingly unreachable.

It was a trick Anakin had picked up young—when he couldn’t beat whatever Sith aligned initiate Darth Sidious had turned on him for his next level of training, he had pushed and pushed with the Force, instinct and a desire not to die feeding his emotions into a loop of sheer power. Once, he had pressed hard enough, long enough to turn another potential apprentice into nothing but a driveling zombie, devoid of any autonomous thought. The man had never recovered.

It hurt something deep in Anakin to push even a fraction that onto his children—something aching and painful that he thought had died with Padmé. He hoped his warmth and his heartbeat, the physical nearness to him, kept them calm and sane long enough to go one more level, one more layer of security. He reached back and laid a hand on Leia’s head, resting against his shoulder blade, as he cradled Luke close.

It wasn’t just the weight of the twins holding him down. Padmé’s dense collection of datapads and journals hung heavy from the duffle strapped across his chest and resting on his hip. He hadn’t had time to transfer them to a small mobile data chip. Leaving them behind wasn’t an option, so with him, they came. They were the last part he had of his wife, the twin’s mother. The physical evidence of her he could pass along to Luke and Leia when they inevitably asked of her. It hadn’t been an easy decision—he had to be ruthless about what he took with them. Only what he could carry; a small bag for which a lifetime of memories needed to fit.

He needed the artifacts. He wanted Padmé’s journals. With that, he had been forced to leave other things behind—the photos of Shmi, his large collection of complex tools and gadgets, and many of the twin’s favorite toys. All to bring Padmé’s journals. One more loss that rolled into the children.

He carried the weight of his world in his arms. One more level, he pleaded with the Force as deadly voices rumbled around them. Get me one more, and I’ll be yours to do with what you want. Just let me get them out.

Four Years Later

Two speeders kicked across the wide, flat field, spewing dirt and flora in its wake. Seas of wild grass stretched out, mingling with the sky on the horizon line. Gray clouds rolled in off the westward mountains--storms were on the way. Their energy was just starting to build. The temperature dropped with each mile, and the heady buzz of electricity danced over Anakin’s skin, igniting his senses. They would need to be fast to outrun the rain that was never far off on Nevos.

Anakin tilted the steering left towards town. Ahsoka followed him a beat later on the second speeder.

Seated in front of him, Leia cried out in excitement as she tried to catch a bright blue flower that flew past her visor. The bright green riding helmet she wore slowed her reactions. When the flower slipped through her fingers, she reached out with the Force to drag it back. Luke, seated behind Ahsoka with his thin arms wrapped around her waist, bumped against his bond with Anakin as he felt the Force move. His burnt-orange helmet wobbled as he instinctively reached out to his sister.

Anakin, headache brewing and feeling ill, stretched his power out. In an instant, he grabbed their bonds and gently stifled their exploration; like crimping a hose to cut off the flow of water. They were so powerful, so attuned it was almost unreal how innately it came to them. But they had inherited their connection to the Force from him, and that made him familiar with their tricks. It was the work of a moment to smother their combined attempt to drag the flowers along with them.

Stop he scolded them both. You know better than to play around like that out here.

Chasted, they backpedaled away from the Force, their bonds sinking to thin thread again. They radiated guilt and sullen grumpiness. Anakin mercilessly crushed his regret. It was for the best that the twins didn’t use the Force outside of their farm and surrounding lands--slip-ups like this would sink them all into the kind of trouble that they couldn’t afford to indulge. People asking questions was the quickest way to be discovered.

Ahsoka tilted her helmeted head towards him; she had noticed his muffling of the twins’ fun. He felt a flick like a fingernail popped against the shell of his ear. They’re just having fun.

He didn’t answer. The more the children explored the Force, the stronger they got. He could barely keep them all shielded and unremarked upon now--what would happen if someone saw them utilize the Force? What rumors would start? Who would those rumors bring?

No. Better that he kept their abilities in check.

When they parked near the town market, Leia ripped her helmet off. Her dark hair swept the same way Padmé’s would when she tossed it over her shoulder. Anakin’s heart ached at the sudden reminder.

She turned to him, her little face trying for innocence and contrition. “I’m sorry,” she said, voice small.

Anakin hugged her to his chest and kissed her hair to ease both of their frazzled nerves. Moments like this always left them jarred and on edge. “I know, kiddo. You just gotta be careful. Can you do that for me?”

“I’m just so bored.” Her expression turned sly. “Can we go to the junkyard? I promise we’ll behave. And it’ll keep us out of trouble!”

Ahsoka and Luke were close enough to hear her request (perfectly timed, supremely manipulative, Padmé would be so proud, Anakin was so proud and so annoyed). Three sets of eyes alight with excitement turned on him like primed predators.

The hot spice of frustration seared through him chased after by exhaustion and not a little chagrin. He hadn’t slept well for the past week, an ominous tension overtaking him whenever he closed his eyes. Paranoia came close on its heels, a well-acquainted state of being for him since he had left the Sith. Last night, he had walked the perimeter of their little homestead a dozen times over, checking and rechecking their security systems and outposts. It had made for long nights and a weakened resolve.

“We could look for that replacement wiring you keep saying we need for the eastern quadrant's security system,” Ahsoka tempted, adding a dash of reasonability to Leia’s charming gambit. She had found him on the porch earlier that morning, trying to stare down the horizon. Then, she had simply shoved a cup of kaf into his hands and sat beside him to watch the sunrise. Now, she cheerfully piled on.

In the distance, thunder rolled. The temperature was low enough to raise chills over his neck and the pressure irritated his growing headache. The market behind him bustled as vendors and shoppers both rushed to finish their transactions--he wasn’t the only one dreading being caught in the rain.

Urgh. When had he become so easy to ply? He shouldn’t reward this behavior. Leia already knew how to handle him like a primed podracer. He was sure Luke was taking notes, and Ahsoka had long ago learned that a wide-eyed, wobbly-lipped glance would get her through even the highest peaks of his anger and annoyance.

“Go on,” he broke. “Don’t grab anything that won’t fit on the speeder. Wait, come here.”

He hugged each of them, one at a time. Held them close and memorized them. Their physical warmth seeped into him, strengthening his bonds with each of them in turn until he could confidently find them anywhere in town.

Their enthusiasm flowed into him, squeezing through his soft shielding around their bonds; the prospect of spending the afternoon exploring the scrap piles rather than tailing after him while he haggled with the market vendors. New toys to play with...new things to fix…new things to learn….

His head pulsed, pain stabbing behind his eyes and through his skull. Anakin winced as the kids scampered off. Knuckles pressed into his temple, he breathed deep through the pain, swallowing it. Using it. Turned it into his shields and added his agony to the altar of the Force. From pain comes power, as his Master liked to say.

Stop. Stop exposing your children to your Master in the same thought. Just. Stop.

His vision cleared as the over-enthusiastic bond emotions receded far enough to clear his thoughts. They’d be fine, he assured himself. His hands were shaky. He fought his instinct to follow them, watch them, be sure they stayed safe, and away from the danger his anxiety swore was just around the corner.

There was nothing there. They weren’t going far. Anakin himself went further from home for longer periods when he was their age, and he’d been fine.

Ashoka stopped at the street corner. Turned back to him. Her sharp face smiled as her shoulders fell back in a confident tilt. Calm down. Anyone who comes for them--for you--will have to go through me. In their bond, she pushed her heartbeat against his. As one, they breathed. In, out. Again. Again.

You better find that wiring Anakin told her when he could think straight again. She smiled across the way and disappeared after the twins.

He was oddly weightless as he moved through the marketplace. His impulses kept urging him to turn around. To get out of the crowd. Find his family and drag them back to the relative safety of their farm.

He made himself find his preferred food stall instead.

The vendor’s eyes had alighted when she saw him coming down the aisle. She had a harried, rattled expression as her hands tried to wrangle life out of her dead credit reader. “Looking for work, Skywalker?”

“Always.”

“I’ll discount your bill if you can get this stupid thing working before I lose another sale.”

Anakin took the job and fixed the reader. It was a two-minute repair he stretched into a solid twelve. Being good at something was helpful--being shockingly good at something drew attention.

He chatted as he worked, angling for as much give as her goodwill and desperation would allow. If he played it right, he hoped to cut his grocery budget in half for the next week. When he handed the reader back, he tried a light push with it. It wasn’t his best skill by a long shot-- like a hammer trying to thread a needle--so he gave it only the slightest of touches.

The trick didn’t come naturally to him. Darth Vader had needed all the subtlety of a pack of raging bantha. It hadn’t been until Padmé and her spiraling conversations that he thought there was any worth in the slippery slick of a few choice words. Now he banked on her impromptu lessons like it was his most versatile tool.

“How’s about fifty percent?” he suggested when he released the reader and the push.

The vender scrunched her nose. “Thirty,” she offered, a wrinkle appearing in her forehead.

Anakin’s headache was back. “Let’s just settle at forty and call it a day, yeah?”

The vender looked like she was about to argue; above them, thunder rolled. The sky was blackening quicker than expected. She hastily tucked herself under her tent. “Forty, sure. Usual order?”

“Yeah.”

He didn’t utilize the credit reader, preferring to count out hard currency. Money (and money tracking) was something Anakin thought about a lot nowadays. It was new to him as everything else about his situation. When he had been a slave, money had been something outside his sphere of comprehension. It wasn’t like he had commanded any control on the income his work generated. It wasn’t like he’d ever collected enough to buy his freedom. It wasn’t like he’d ever had enough to free his mother.

Then Darth Sidious had found him. While under his Master's thumb, Anakin had wanted for nothing. He had been told (many times) that Sidious would have paid the galaxy itself to free him and his mother from the sands of Tatooine. His young ego had been thoroughly catered to with that bit.

He later suspected that Count Dooku had simply killed Watto when he brought up the price and payment options for two slaves.

Water plopped onto the back of Anakin’s neck, running down inside his collar. Automatic lights kicked on as sunlight disappeared. Throughout the marketplace, vendors surrendered their fights, folding up their stands and wares. The storm had rolled in.

***

A dense, resonating bang came from overhead.

“What was that?” Anakin called from the kitchen sink, elbows deep in water as he cleaned root vegetables. Silence followed. Ahsoka, mending a tear in one of Luke’s tunics at the kitchen table (and sticking herself with the needle every other stitch), cocked her ear to the ceiling. Tiny feet pattered around and muffled guilt seeped through their bonds.

“Should I go check on them?” she asked.

“Neh. I wanna see if they can fix whatever they just broke.” Luke was beginning to show more technical aptitude, but Leia had the cognitive skill to stay on task and not get distracted by things that often sidelined her brother, the tinkerer. Between the two of them, Anakin figured they had a shot.

“We should go out tonight,” Ahsoka suggested. “They’re antsy. I’m antsy. Even Artoo-ie’s antsy, aren’t you buddy?”

Artoo, acting as Ahsoka’s spindle, called an agreement, jostling as much as the thread would allow.

Anakin glanced out the window over the sink, the fragile glass panel propped open with a stray rock from the yard. The sun had well and truly set, dousing everything in murky darkness. The ground was nothing but mud, loose foliage, and rainwater runoff. The chill of the passing storm gave the air a crisp, alluring fragrance.

On the opposite edge of the sill sat Padmé’s official senatorial photograph, framed in a simple plastisteel case. Her serene face half-smiled back at him as he worked.

“Sure,” he agreed. “After dinner.”

Ahsoka grinned and tied off her thread with a triumphant hum.

The kitchen table was not for eating. Rather, it was a shared workbench boasting various projects: spare tools Anakin liked to have on hand and in easy reach; datapads stickered with Ahsoka’s haphazard notes; Luke’s painting supplies, left over from when he decorated his and his sister’s speeder helmets; bottles half-full of condensate from Leia’s rain catcher experiments. The Skywalker family ate standing up, shuffling their meager collection of plates between one another across the kitchen counter as they shared the latemeal.

“Go get your shoes, gremlins. We’re going out,” he ordered around his last mouthful. Artoo caught the plate that Leia nearly sent crashing to the ground with a disapproving whirl. Anakin muttered a soft ‘thank you’ as the droid set around the kitchen.

“Watch the house while we’re gone, yeah?” he asked. Artoo buzzed an affirmative, moving plates, toys, and assorted items from one hazardous place to another, less hazardous place.

Luke ended up wearing Leia’s hat. Leia got her shoes on backward in her haste. They all spent too much time searching for Ahsoka’s bad weather jacket before Anakin unearthed it from under the couch, stashed there during the construction of a massive blanket fort the week before.

Ahsoka waited until everyone--Anakin included--was properly clothed and shod before she opened the front door in a grand gesture. The tiny ones were gone in a flash, racing each other to the forest at the edge of their property line.

More than once during his tour of duty through parenthood he spared a thankful, longing thought for his mother. Shmi had raised him, alone and loving, in horrendous conditions. For all they had no control over their fates, Anakin never doubted her love for him and returned it tenfold. When his Master and Count Dooku had found him and told him of his freedom, Anakin had simply assumed Shmi was part of the deal. No-one stopped him from grabbing his mother’s hand and leading her out of the slave ghetto without a backward glance.

It wasn’t until he had left his Master that Anakin considered a grim possibility--the Sith had brought his mother along to relieve themselves of the burden of raising a seven-year-old. With two of his own to look after, he saw how unappealing a man like Count Dooku would have found the prospect. How does one go around telling the Chosen One, most powerful Force user in the galaxy, that vegetables were an important part of his meal?

He found himself pulling on the way Shmi once did things, repurposing them for the twins. The meals she cooked; the way she explained chores to him; most importantly, the games she created to occupy him during long nights.

“All right!” he called, lighting up his torch. The reedy beam of light hit the forest canopy in a thin ray, mist curling through it. “Find me something...blue!”

Luke and Leia dashed off in different directions. Ahsoka smirked and pointed to her montrals under her hood. “Done, Skyguy,” she said. Anakin tilted his torch up, illuminating his face so she could see him roll his eyes.

“Negative points,” he docked. “No imagination.”

“Give me something interesting to look for and I’ll try harder.” Her amusement was thick in their bond, enjoyment in their night raid making her loose and relaxed.

Luke turned up first with a feather that, upon inspection under the torch, was indeed a dark navy blue. Leia emerged through the darkness with a piece of blue plastisteel covered in dark, damp earth. They were both covered to their knees in rainwater mixed mud and breathlessly awaiting their next target.

“Find me something…” he ran his flesh fingers over the plastisteel, almost cutting himself on a sharp edge, “smooth.” And off they ran.

The game was easier on Tatooine, Anakin thought as he watched them run off. There the night sky was always clear and starlight offered gentle guidance. On Nevos, there were always clouds and damp.

Ahsoka stole the torch from him and aimed it high. The light struck a nest in the branches above them. The flashing eyes of the occupants reflected as they chittered, agitated. “Eggs are smooth.”

“Not always.” Anakin taunted. “Why don’t you climb up there and see?”

She huffed and returned the torch. “You just want to see me get bitten.” She reached down and dug through the dirt for a moment. Eventually, she produced a large, soft leaf that felt like silk in his palm.

“Think it’s poisonous?” she muttered with half a smile. Anakin blanched and transferred it to his mechanical hand, just to be sure.

Leia came back first this time: she eagerly dropped a smooth-shelled beetle into his hand. Luke, a few minutes later, grudgingly produced a worn down riverstone. “It was all I could find,” he grumbled.

“You don’t like it?”

“It’s too easy,” his son complained. “I wanted to find something cool—like a...like a...like a razor talon.”

Anakin was suddenly very glad he hadn’t asked for something sharp. Luke had a habit of finding exactly what he wanted, most of the time. He gave the leaf to the beetle and left them both for the nest’s inhabitants. The rock went into his pocket. Time to up the ante, now that they were warmed up. “Find me something...that’s known hardship.”

Ahsoka grinned and finally disappeared into the darkness along with the twins. Away from their immediate line of sight, Anakin lowered the torch and closed his eyes. Braced himself.

And was still nearly knocked off his feet. A wave of everything hit him from three separate bonds. They vibrated with life and emotions, shooting from intriguing to pleasurable to ferocious to staggering within the space of two heartbeats. Anakin curled into himself and desperately tried to catch his breath.

It was like wading through an overflooding house that happened to be on fire as a tornado screamed down on the roof. No matter where he turned, there was a hub of radical energy bearing down on him. It was all he could do to keep the walls up and the roof intact; there was no saving the window dressing, so he chucked out finesse and fancy techniques for pure strength.

Steadying himself with his hands on his knees, he dragged the pain and intensity inward. Used it as fuel to construct himself. Let it heat him from the inside out as he built a foundation on quicksand.

He forced his chest to expand and contract, expand and contract until he felt sure enough to hold off gravity. Combatted their intensity with his own and rebalanced the scales between them all. Hammered a path through the mess back to his body, until his feet were steady back under him, his eyes tilted towards the dark and dripping forest canopy.

“Sound off!” he bellowed into the nothingness.

“One!” Ahsoka shouted back. She was to his left, somewhere in the dark.

“Two!” Luke yelled. Not far from Ahsoka. Higher--was he climbing a tree?

“Three!” Leia; the furthest away. Almost directly in front of him in the distance.

Through the haze avalanching through bonds, small, distinct nuances emerged. Ahsoka’s simmered. She tried to rein herself in. Showing the self-awareness to understand what was too much--she just didn’t have the control down yet. Four years of training with him wasn’t enough to counterbalance twenty-one years of confusing and muddled existence.

She circled back to him, questing out with her senses. Mapping the terrain around her in quick, dramatic sketches. Submerging herself in the Force and letting it guide her steps. Oh, but she was learning so quickly. Anakin was sure she’d put any Sith apprentice she ever came up against to shame.

The Force eventually led her back to him with a long, splintered bone, picked clean and bearing deep bite marks that had ripped chunks from the surface. With an approving nod, it went into his pocket.

Next came Luke with an uprooted stem of a spiky flower--Anakin didn’t need to touch it to feel its bitter fight for survival on the forest floor.

“No razor talons?” he asked when Luke showed off the thumb-sized thorns. And the scratches he earned from it.

“Nah--maybe I’ll find them later.”

Please don’t, Anakin silently pleaded.

Leia stumbled out of the darkness, her hair a mess and dirt over her nose. She handed him the same spiky plant with a proud flourish and cuts to prove her conquest.

“You copied me!” Luke accused, pointing to his plucked plant.

“I did not! I didn’t even see you!” Leia shot back, her little chin firming up in a stubborn tilt.

His budding headache was a familiar companion at this point. Anakin whistled sharply to cut the argument off at the head. This wasn’t going to become a repeat of last month’s seedcone debacle on his watch. “Come here,” he ordered as he took both plants. “Why’d you bring me this?”

He held his breath as three bonds dialed themselves into the Force, probing the plant’s being. It was almost like tuning a radio--now that they had the frequency, they needed to calculate for the bandwidth. It became easier to think straight as they aligned themselves with him, their minds becoming linear and flowing.

“Fighting,” Luke said immediately. “For..sun? Yeah, warmth. And water. It wants to live, but it’s hard to do it out here.”

Leia glared at him, annoyed that her answer got taken. Anakin redirected her, tugged her attention deeper, and she wrinkled her nose as she probed at the plant.

“Rocks,” she finally said, stretching the syllables out as she put the words together into a thought. “It only grows around rocks. Not dirt, like everything else out here.”

Anakin looked at Ahsoka with a raised eyebrow. I’m waiting. Exasperated, she reached out and stroked the thorns with a careful finger. He waited as she pushed deeper, learning the internal being of the greenery. Finally, she concluded: “It’s not indigenous. Someone abandoned it out here, decades ago. It’s just trying to survive.” But I’ll stick with my bone shard she told him.

Anakin nodded, pushing them all along the path that didn’t lead to an argument in the middle of the forest. “So it drew everyone. That’s because it was calling for you. And you listened. Good job.” He put the plants down and smacked the dirt off his hands. “If the two of you found it, it must have wanted attention. There’s no copying when it comes to the game--it’s all about listening and finding. Yeah?”

Luke grumbled. Leia’s mouth swished across her face.

“Yeah?” Anakin asked louder.

“Yeah,” they said in reluctant tandem.

“Good!” He’d take it. “Now, next round. Find me something...that’s older than you but younger than me.”

Argument already forgotten, they scampered away--and he was hit with another wave of everything. The twins had no foundational concept of ‘too much’. They were simply too young, and too used to Anakin’s overwhelming presence. To them, this was normal.

He crouched in the dirt to save his balance. Breathed in through his nose and out through his mouth until his vision stopped spinning. Refocused the hurt to something productive.

A soft hand landed on his shoulder. Ahsoka hadn’t left the clearing yet. When he turned upwards, her eyes were far too perceptive, and a foreign concern pinged deep in him. “You gonna be alright?”

“I’m right as rain, Snips,” he assured her through the rattled scrambles that was his center. Oh, but if he ever needed a reason why the twins weren’t allowed to access their sensitivity out of his supervision, this was it. If not for the Sith artifact hiding them, their signatures would draw attention from the other side of the galaxy.

The Force roiled within Luke; a volcano of constant activity. Billowing, belching, smoking, consuming everything around him, transforming it into his own with nothing but sheer strength. Anakin didn't control Luke’s growth so much as he hemmed it in, acting as the fathomless seawater that cooled and condensed his son’s dripping inferno. When he got older, Luke would be a damn force of nature. Not one to be stopped or contained, but simply endured.

His daughter had been a source of concern for Anakin at first. Her connection to the Force was unlike anything he had ever encountered. But then he had realized--Leia was a starship. Complex and compact. Speedy and silent. Intricate, delicate wires configured in barely comprehensible patterns. Disturb one node and the whole system would be thrown into chaos. Anakin had a handle on her wiring now; it was just a matter of teaching her the right programming.

No one would ever doubt what Luke was, but they’d never see Leia coming.

“Aren’t you supposed to be looking for something?” Anakin griped when Ahsoka moved to support him.

“If I thought I could leave you alone long enough to look, I would. But I’d hate for the tinies to find you passed out in the dirt when they come back.”

Anakin gave up trying to stay on his feet and found a half-dry seat on a large knotted root. “I’m fine, ‘soka. Really. Just need a night’s uninterrupted sleep.”

She didn’t believe him. That was fair--he barely believed himself.

A dull thud. The Force combusted with frenzied energy, like fire on the tongue. A pained wail rose over the noise of the forest--Dad! Luke screamed out.

Anakin was on his feet and running before he knew what had happened. He didn’t have the torch anymore. Must have lost it somewhere. Didn’t matter. He kept running. Ducked and darted through the forest. Followed Luke’s bond back to him.

There! Anakin skidded to a halt and fell to his knees beside his son. Luke sat curled up on the ground, his face in his knees as he cried. The side of his trousers was ripped--he was bleeding.

“What happened?! Luke, tell me what happened?”

Through his sobs, Anakin gathered that Luke had fallen out of the tree. He had been three or four branches up, searching for who knew what. Had misjudged a branch and lost his footing. Fallen, and called out in fear and ugly surprise before the pain hit. Anakin slowly checked the wound--

--it was already healing. Amazed, Anakin touched at the edges of the scratch. As he watched in the too faint moonlight reflected on the shiny leaves of the forest, it went from fresh, to clotted, to scabbed, to scarred over.

“Oh,” he whispered. That was new.

“What? What?!” Luke’s big eyes welled over with fresh tears. His hands flexed as his breath came short and frantic. Anakin did his best to soothe him, bowled over by what he had seen.

“It’s okay, kiddo,” he repeated over and over. “It’s okay. You’re alright.”

“No, I’m not!” Luke howled.

“Luke--”

“No!”

There was no consoling him; his fear and shock overrode any attempt at calm. Anakin gathered him in his arms and rocked him, together in the clinging wet earth, surrounded by darkness.

The Force rang in his ears, discordant and anxious. Deafening him to anything else. He couldn’t tell if it started with him or Luke, but they passed it back and forth at blinding speed, each racketing the other up higher and higher into the bubbling Force. Suffocating and all-encompassing. There was no escaping or eluding--they could only endure the building pressure. Anakin pulled his son close and braced him, trying desperately to ground him into the here and now.

It hurt to breathe. His head was full of rusted nails and spiky barbed wire. Embedded so deep there was no hope of untangling it. It wrung pain from him at every movement.

Luke sobbed into his shoulder, overwhelmed by the sheer flood of the Force running roughshod over him. Fear and uncertainty, the scary confusion, and the feeling of being too full, too open, soak into their bond. His little fists beat into Anakin’s shoulder in a fruitless attempt to make him understand.

And he did.

There were some times Anakin saw nothing but Padmé in their children; in their curiosity, their intelligence, and their kindness. Their want to know not only ‘why’ but also ‘how’ and ‘what’ and ‘when’. Other times, when their manic energy and their radical swings between emotional highs and lows came to the foreground, he knew he was to blame.

He fought through his pain to wrap his mind around his son’s, dense seawater finding every crack and crevasse until it doused the fire. He was frantic for Luke to feel something, anything, other than the big thundering emotions rampaging through him.

“I know, I know,” he muttered, over and over. Because he did. “It’s so much. I’m sorry. I know.”

This was his legacy to his children—all the emotions and none of the control.

***

The rain came down hard on their roof; wind lashed the trees into flat green lines. Anakin, drawn to the tumultuous energy of the storm, sat on the porch as he worked their neighbor’s drilling sensor. It had begun to pick up odd frequencies that kicked it out of its programming and disrupted the larger machines it ran. His headache was set at a low simmering against his temples.

Artoo beeped and rattled beside him, tucked between two wooden supports.

“What? Oh,” Anakin reached over and wiped the water off Artoo’s lens. The little droid chirped thanks.

“Yeah, it’s not the best weather for you, is it?”

Beep.

“Better than sand, though. You wouldn’t have liked that, either. It gets everywhere. Tatooine deserts have swallowed up more than a few droids.”

A series of screeching bleeps and whirls.

“Sorry, buddy. Didn’t mean to scare you.” He watched the storm clouds gallop through the sky, looming low enough to threaten the treetops.

“I’ve put you through a lot, haven’t I?”

Beeeeeeeeep.

“Yeah. I’ll admit I wasn’t in my right mind, after Padmé.”

Whiirl beep beep.

“Look it’s...I’m glad you were on her ship and...and came with her when she married me. I’m glad you stayed after she...”

Burrrrringg beep beep wwwwwwhirrl.

“I miss her, too.”

A great shattering echoed inside the house. Surprised screaming and the heavy running of the guilty away from the scene of the crime. A spike of pain that didn’t belong to him echoed in his mechanical hand. Anakin stilled, turned.

“Everything’s fine!” Ahsoka called.

Anakin glanced at Artoo, hopeful. The droid beeped once, low and flat, and didn’t budge. He sighed and got to his feet. “Fine, I guess it’s my turn.”

***

It wasn’t just the twins who needed care and feeding.

“Let’s go, Skyguy!”

They left the twins asleep in their beds under Artoo’s watchful lens and (after the required two cups of kaf Anakin needed to function) took the speeders into the dawn. The morning was gloomy, with a constant drizzle soaking everything. Just a typical day on Nevos.

“Race you!” Ahsoka yelled from just ahead of him. Her grin was lightening--all energy and awe.

Anakin kicked open the throttle with some satisfaction. Since it was just the two of them, they moved in dangerous style. Shot through the forest, banking, and swerving around trees and greenery with reckless abandon. Climbed the foothills into the mountains, out-stretching one another as they rushed towards the sky. Daring disaster with hairpin turns and unsteady maneuvers created entirely on instinct.

Through the soft shields he kept between their bond during the day-to-day, he could just pick up her thrill at the freedom the speed incited in her. No one could catch them out here, on ground they intimately knew, where their energies ruled supreme.

It felt good. Like stretching after an afternoon crouched over his workbench. The release from a build-up of pressure that made everything work just a little easier after. He kicked his engine into high gear and tilted the speeder slightly to balance better, letting it tell him what it wanted.

In front of him, barely visible through the rain, Ahsoka screamed with delight as she took a hill at top speed, slinging herself into weightless suspension on the downturn. Her montrals caught up in the wind around her head. It had been a temper tantrum for the ages when the twins realized that the no speeder riding without a helmet rule didn’t extend to Ahsoka and Anakin.

They reached the small cave after the sun had well and truly risen. Ahsoka shook the wet dirt and rainwater off her shoulders and clothes. It was a losing battle; they were both covered in leaves, mud, and wind-chilled skin. He’s only attempt to correct things was a quick shake of his head to whip out the worst of the water from his loose, ropey curls.

Ahsoka unloaded their gear while Anakin made sure the speeders wouldn’t slide down the side of the mountain in a skate of sludge and loose gravel. They’d been through that adventure before, as well. No need for a repeat.

“You good to run a maintenance check?” he called over the echoing fall of rain. She called an affirmative from inside the cave. Once he had everything strapped down and solidly stationary, he followed her in.

The cave was a warm cloud of humidity--almost unbearably so. Steam rose from his clothes, water evaporating off them in the heat. A byproduct of the constant energy the Sith artifact poured out. The frame Anakin had built around it kept the little cube suspended in a case of wires, nodes, and ports. The sides cast a red light over the walls of the cave and Ahsoka, kneeling to reach the control panel at the base. She hummed a tuneless pattern as she worked, checking and rechecking each component. By now, she knew its inner workings as well as he did.

The Sith artifact emitted a steady pulse above her. Don’t look at me, it whispered into the Force. I’m not here. Go somewhere else.

The cube pulled at him, calling to him like an old, familiar nursery rhyme. It knew him as Sith and wanted him to utilize and dominate it, power it like it was meant to be. This constant state of defense was unnatural to it.

But Sith he was--he forced his will onto it, demanding compliance. Hold. Continue. Redirect. He had relied on the artifact to keep them hidden from his Master and the rest of his apprentices for four years. It had yet to fail him.

“Everything looks good,” Ahsoka reported as she stepped away. “We’re going to want to replace the power coil in another few months, though. It's starting to corrode.”

“We’ll put it on the list,” Anakin agreed. He knelt to perform his own double-check. (He trusted Ahsoka. He did. It was just...he was already having trouble sleeping as it was. He just had to make sure. His sanity rather depended on it.)

She must have felt his paranoia through their bond; she ceded her spot to him without a fight.

“Now that we’re well away from little ears, are we going to talk about what happened in the forest?” she asked when he was done. He concurred with her findings--that power coil was going bad quick.

“With Luke? Yeah, I’ve got no idea where that came from.” And that unsettled Anakin to an absurd degree. Were his kids just creating powers now?

“With you.”

Anakin sat back. “You worried about me, Snips?”

“I think you’d be too if your sorta-kinda mentor looked like he was one stiff shove away from collapsing.”

Anakin’s mouth swished across his face. Ahsoka wasn’t his apprentice. It was a bit of a sticking point for him. Yes, he had taken on her education and well being as his responsibility. Yes, he cared for her like she was his own. Yes, they had a bond. It could almost be called a training bond. One forged from necessity and affinity and shared trauma.

But he had never taken her through the rituals that would confirm and formalize that relationship. He had never called her his apprentice in the old traditions of his Order. Had never asked for her to bend her knees and recognize him as her Master.

“You don’t want a Sith in your head,” he had told her, time and time again.

“Skyguy, you’re already there,” was always her answer.

He made excuses: he wasn’t sure he remembered the rituals well enough to replicate them without error. Consequences for any mistake could--would--be disastrous for them both. He didn’t want to bring that kind of darkness and insecurity into their relationship. There would be no controlling it, once forged. It would be chaos in a fragile bottle.

He wasn’t ready for someone to call him Master. He didn’t think she was ready to call him that, either.

A warm hand rested on his knee, drawing him back. She had waited while his thoughts circled back, sitting cross-legged before him.

“You know I won’t let anything happen to you,” he said.

“You know what Padmé says about deflection,” she replied, emotion rooted deep in her eyes. “It’s only ever temporary. And it won’t solve anything.”

He winced. In Ahsoka, he found all his flaws highlighted to an unmissable degree. He knew how to teach her the physical: how to protect herself in a galaxy that wanted her dead or enslaved. How to be distrustful and watchful, alert to dangers that stalked in the shadows. How to fight and move and keep herself safe.

He could teach her that her emotions were her greatest weapons. That her fury and her joy and her desires were stronger than any flaccid, temporary peace.

How could he teach her the subtleties of the world? How to combat the double-speak and passive-aggressive not-agreements that oozed slick like oil around those in power? To think not just in the linear, but in the circular as well? To lead not just with her instincts but also with her heart?

In this, Padmé once again saved him. He didn’t know where he’d be without her writings. Her journals and thoughts, recorded in volumes upon volumes. More and more, he turned to her opinions to aid his teachings and his thoughts. Like tenets in their family’s religion, she guided them all.

And Padmé told them: tell the truth when you can. Don’t lie when you can’t.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” he finally admitted, pained to show such weakness in front of her. He used that pain to force out the words that tangled somewhere between his brain and his mouth. “I won’t give our bonds up. The twins need them. You need them. I think I...well, a little discomfort is worth that.”

She looked unconvinced. Concern, worry, and not a little fear hung between them, heavier than any rain-soaked piece of clothing.

No--Anakin wouldn’t allow them to sit here in misery. This wasn’t what he wanted for the day. This was supposed to be their time to play, unrestricted by the dynamic of the twins. Time to move along.

He reached into his pack and pulled out a quartz crystal ball about the size of his palm. Heavy and polished, the whirls and divots across its surface were well-worn and familiar. It was a recurring tool in Ahsoka’s training, linked to both of them since the beginning of their relationship. He stood up and tossed it down to Ahsoka. “Stop moping and show me what you’ve got.”

She smirked. It alighted her face. She stood and curled around the crystal, touch, and Force bending into one. When she let go, it hovered before her, suspended.

Anakin grinned and held out a hand. She threw it towards him with a flick of her fingers. He caught it, took a step back, and returned it to her over the widened distance with a flick of the Force. Back and forth the crystal moved, further and further Anakin moved away until he was out of the cave and into the weather.

The overcast sky brewed up a storm. Anakin could feel it calling to him. He hid in its energy, forcing Ahsoka to pay close attention to the small giveaways of his location now that she could no longer see him.

He moved upward, towards the storm. The path up the mountain became a ledge. The thin air dipped colder. The ball hovered, wavering in place as Ahsoka worked to track him. He held out a hand, waiting, until she worked out what was the storm and what was him, and sent it flying at him with more speed than was strictly necessary. His flesh hand working through the Force as his mechanical one clung to the rock.

He counted to five and sent the ball back to the cave at a meandering pace.

The ledge tapered into a series of narrow ridges. To keep going, he had to think carefully about where he put his hands, where he shifted his weight, how he breathed. His fingers strained against the sharp points of the rock face. The summit of the mountain loomed above him.

Summoned him. He climbed to reach it.

These trips weren’t all about Ahsoka. In moments like this, Anakin reached for a place of total focus. With all his physicality needed to stay on the mountain, with all his focus needed to pass the ball back and forth with Ahsoka, for all his concentration needed to plot his course, his world went quiet.

The rain came down harder in the higher altitude, the wind screamed stronger. He had to concentrate on his handholds, where he placed his feet. The thrill of the complicated situation, the delicate balance of what his body could do woven into his sense of the Force, awaking him, exciting him. Urging him onward, another stretch, another deep, comforting ache.

In this one place of complete and unbridled risk, alone in the elements, the Force finally, finally quelled to nothing. His connection, always open and broadcasting, sank into a muted whisper. Peace at last. If he had to dangle over a precipice to get that little moment of calm, well...that’s what he’d do.

Feeling suicidal, Skyguy?

The quartz ball sailed towards him, near-invisible in the rain. The parting of the atmosphere was easier to track, moving against the downpour. He shifted his weight against the sheer rock, closed his eyes against the rain, and caught it. Counted to five as it hovered in front of his face. Sent it back with a hard fling.

He held still, at the mercy of the unmovable mountain. Waited. Spread his senses wide. His body was a mess of tense muscles and freezing skin. He shook his head back, letting the rainfall into his face. In this place of certain death, his headache was gone.

He’d cry with relief if he could spare the thought to do so.

One. Two. Three. Four. Five.

Anakin leaned back into the rock and opened his eyes. “And down we go,” he told the drenched mountain. Tell me which way he instructed Ahsoka.

There was a pause. Put your foot on the rock on your left, just above the ridge she ordered. He closed his eyes and trusted his safety to her. Easy as that. Down he climbed on nothing but her instructions.

Ahsoka was sweating by the time he made it back to her and the overheated cave. “I don’t like that part,” she panted, catching her breath as she braced herself against the cave wall.

“Which part?”

“The part where you just trust that I’ll get you down without killing you.”

Ah. Oddly, that part never bothered Anakin. “You’re getting much better,” he praised.

Her eyes found him, a quick dart of mischievousness. “Good enough for a lightsaber?”

An old argument circled back on. His reaction was knee-jerk. “A lightsaber isn’t a weapon--it’s a signal for the idiotic and the dangerous to pick a fight with you. Are you that eager to put a target on your back?”

“Better I know it’s there and can fight them off.” She defended. He couldn’t think she was entirely wrong. But only two types of people wielded lightsabers, and the only thing worse than the Sith finding them would be the arrival of the dreaded, puritanical, rigid Jedi.

***

The weather was awful, even by Nevos standards. The sun had not been seen since the beginning of the week before. The rain belched down in gushing rushes, flooding out the roads and fields, and leaving a mildew smell everywhere. The deluge had brought the water bugs out, buzzing and biting with unpleasant consistency.

He wouldn’t have come out in the whole mess, but the local magistrate had offered him double his usual fee if he could get the man’s run-down and out of date protocol droid up and running within a cycle. He had stayed up through the night to get it done.

Luke had kicked a screaming fit when he realized Anakin hadn’t meant to bring them to town with him. Leia hadn’t been far behind. Anakin had broken down and agreed to let them come along in the hope that, once they relieved their cabin fever, the household could survive until the rains eased to moderate levels.

When they arrived, Anakin kicked the speeder off, not letting go of Leia until the motor stilled and the frame stopped rumbling.

“Daaad, lemme go!” she insisted, kicking her feet out. She had been fidgety, anxious, and uncooperative all morning, breaking her toys, fighting with Luke, refusing to do even simple chores. Her mood was a blistering mess of anger, anxiety, and a dash of fear--it had been all morning, dragging her father and brother into her bad mood without restraint. Anakin frankly was at the end of his patience.

“Leia!” he scolded when she kicked him, his tone dropping into a register the twins rarely heard. She stilled, sullen, and refused to meet his eyes when he nudged her. The rain streamed down, harsh and cold. His old headache was near agonizing levels, helped along by the weather and his infernal children.

“Here--give her to me. I’ll take them around town,” Ahsoka called over the weather from the other speeder. Luke was behind her, his helmeted face pressed into her back. He too had been uncommunicative and quiet after his earlier temper tantrum. His bond was as chaotic as his sister’s.

Grateful for a reprieve from both of their moods, Anakin passed Leia over. It wouldn’t be for long, he told his guilty feelings. Just over to the magistrate and back, then he’d drag them all home and lock them in their rooms for a little peace and quiet.

The magistrate lived in the center of town. The roads were no better than in the country, collecting rainwater by the meter. When he dismounted, the water lapped as high as his knees in some places.

The magistrate was thrilled to see him. Until Anakin reminded him of their agreed-upon fee. The man hemmed and hawed as Anakin’s headache grew, fueled by irritation--the kind he hadn’t felt since he commanded star cruisers. “Ohh, but it...it wasn't a really difficult job, was it? You got it done so quickly.”

Anakin pressed his hand to eyes, pressing down to numb the stabbing ache behind them. “Double--we agreed,” he all but snarled.

“I just can’t see it. I mean look, what if the whole thing rusts over from that trip in the rain!”

Anakin opened his mouth to rip into the man, ire building up to an epic boil. There was something anticipatory and anxious in the air that set his teeth on edge. It felt like the Force had draped itself over his shoulders, bearing down on him. Like it wanted to push him into the water and leave him there to drown.

His spine snapped straight, pulled tight by intuition.

His mouth was sandpaper dry as danger came.

Electricity sparked on his tongue.

The Force screeched, discordant and jumbled.

Dad!--Anakin!--Dad!

Three calls came in at once, screaming across the town. Fear, bone-deep and gut-wrenching, through three bonds woven into his psych, nearly drove him to his knees. Anakin staggered back, limbs flailing as his body caught up with his mind’s imperative need to move move move!

Words weren’t available to spare. His thoughts stopped short of coherency. His power pulled into his body, taking hold of his limbs, his eyes, his hands, his malice. He had one desire, one demand. Get to his family.

He ran, heedless of the sputtering magistrate, the speeder, and the flood. None of that mattered.

He ripped through town like a storm previously unknown. Pooling rainwater turned to rivers before him, running out of his way. Thunder came from his footfalls. Lightning from his fingertips. He slammed through an alley like hell-come-forth and burst into a rundown courtyard that butted against the junk scraps on the edge of town. Reed woven awnings, splintered and split with age, diverted water into the yard in relentless drums. The locals who would normally be there had fled with the weather, finding shelter elsewhere.

They were alone. Any restraint Anakin had retained snapped free.

Ahsoka was backed into the relative safety of a covered corner with two wet lumps that had better be the twins wedged under her weather jacket. Her face was wain and set. There was blood on her nose and over her cheeks. She had a weapon of some kind in her hand, something long and blunt. The rain made it hard to distinguish details.

Or perhaps that was his fury cutting out unnecessary information.

In the center of the courtyard, a body sprawled across the ground, chard flesh mingling with the messy slop. Anakin’s heart stopped in his throat until his eyes confirmed three times over that no, that wasn’t one of his. None of his family was dead on the ground. The body wasn’t his problem.

However, the man still standing was most definitely his problem. Fair-haired and bearded, wearing light-colored robes soiled under layers of mud and blood. He was unsteady on his feet, caught in the act of checking the body when Anakin appeared. He looked up.

Clear blue eyes pierced the muck, the rain, and the rage to pin Anakin down, steady and true. His expression aligned with his surety in the Force, which coalesced around him in intricate patterns. Anakin’s awareness drew him like iron to a magnetic field.

Confident. Intelligent. Captivating. Dangerous.

Anakin didn’t think; he stalked forward, violent intent rolling off him like his cape of old. He didn't have a weapon, so he would have to do this the old-fashioned way. The wary look the man wore broke into something sharp and focused as he realized he had an enemy bearing down on him.

“Stop--I don’t want to hurt you,” he urged. His words came with a nudge from the Force. Anakin laughed with hysterical vigor and charged.

A familiar hiss. A vision of blue light. A lightsaber flashed between them as the man ducked away.

A Jedi.

Anakin barely dodged in time to avoid losing a limb. (Not again, his vicious mind growled, pushing him further into his anger). He dropped low and struck out, aiming for the man’s knees, herding him back from Ahsoka and the twins.

Why had he never considered the Jedi coming for them? Stupid, sloppy--too focused on one enemy, he missed the other, creeping up behind him. Anakin’s will solidified in the Force. He was sure of his desire. He’d kill this man who came near his family.

It shouldn’t be hard--the man was already injured. There was blood seeping through his filthy robes. He favored his right side; Anakin recognized the opening salvos of Soresu as he built a defensive circle. Really?

Anakin took the next strike head-on. Caught the lightsaber’s arc in the Force as it came down on him. Absorbed the pain that ricocheted down his arm. Turned the momentum and pushed it back. Jolting the Jed onto the backfoot. Thrust his free hand into the man’s face. Set his intention screaming into his enemy’s mind: Lay down and die!

He pressed the message in with all his rage and terror, harder than he had ever done with the twins or any random vendor. Harder even than he had with that young Sith apprentice years ago. He demanded compliance from the man, and come hell and high water, he’d get it.

Cold rainfall lashed at their ankles. The lightsaber was hot in his hand.

The Jedi gasped and shuttered. Anakin felt his consciousness bend. Just a little more. He drew on power that left him breathless and dizzy, his head screaming as he drove it to give him more and more, flashing open old wounds to bleed anew.

Anakin nearly had it. The Jedi hadn’t been expecting an attack through the Force. He floundered, startled by the sheer intensity of the attack, and at a loss at where it was coming from. Anakin dug deep, sacrificed any advantage in subtlety or subterfuge. Like a blowtorch against a stubborn weld, he sought any weakness in the Jedi’s mind he could exploit for a quick, brutal end.

The balance between them shifted; the Jedi jerked the lightsaber out of the equation, throwing off Anakin’s equilibrium; without a force to press against, he stumbled forward into the man’s chest and shoulders, who took his weight with only a grunt of protest.

It was nothing compared to what his mind ran up against. His probing attacks slammed against something solid and unmovable. Something patiently unyielding. Startled, he looked up, through the Force, into reality.

Piercing blue eyes hardened, pinned him dead to rights, and a stubborn chin set in a determined tilt. Anakin’s will ran smack into shields that didn’t so much shatter as flex and expand, encompassing him. Light and warmth flooded his extremities, rattling his concentration. It softened everything in his head, muffling sound and fury alike, smothering him into submission. Cutting off his connections, sealing him in with the Jedi and nothing else. Sending him staggering backward into the arms of gravity. The sheer intensity of the Jedi’s towering defense shocked him to a stop, left him open and isolated.

Quiet. Like the mountain in the center of the storm, his mind went quiet.

Anakin’s steps faltered. His mind boggled.

“How…”

The unsettling Jedi’s answer was the swing of his lightsaber. Anakin pushed off the man and fell back to avoid losing his head, opening up the space between them.

Panic set in, sharp and real. He couldn’t remember the last time that attack hadn’t worked. Somewhere, he was sure Dooku was laughing. His ears rang from the sudden silence. He was dizzy, his vision gray at the edges with delirious adoration. The pain was gone; no headache pounding down his temples, no buzzing sensation across his skin. The loss left him giddy and light-headed, grasping for reason as he circled the Jedi.

Blue eyes bore into him, pushing him further off-center with their intensity. With each step, the Jedi mirrored him. Migrated in tandem across the courtyard. His steps were light, tentative—his wounds slowing him down. His face reeked of curiosity as he watched Anakin. Observed him, like an undiscovered, unconquered land.

“Who are you?” the Jedi asked. Anakin snarled and spat, clearing surprise from his mouth. He circled, placing himself between his enemy and his family--he wasn’t sure how they’d been found, but he’d be damned if he didn’t put this man into the ground.

“I truly mean no harm. Have you considered that you might be overreacting?”

“Jedi always lie,” he hissed, scrambling for familiar footing. His connection to the Force was slow and sluggish to respond; muffled like he was calling from deep within a well, holding his breath while it echoed.

The Jedi didn’t turn away or wince in guilt or embarrassment. If anything, his water-logged face looked sad. “I think you know that’s not true. Or you wouldn’t be so fearful of me.”

Enough of this, Anakin impulsively decided as his temper flared up, outraged at the accusation. There was no point in talking with a Jedi. It just gave the man time to try prying into Anakin’s mind. He surged forward, salvaging for a fault in the solid wall of the Jedi's defense.

He half-planned for the lightsaber, thinking to keep it at bay with sheer power and the all-too weak Force he currently commanded. As if to mock him, the Jedi deactivated it and slipped inside his reach. Quick hands grabbed the front of his tunic. A strong shoulder stalled his momentum. Their combined weight slammed them both sideways. Anakin was swept off his feet as he locked into the offending wrist. The Jedi controlled their fall.

Anakin landed flat on his back in rainwater. Along the way, the Jedi had put a hand on the back of his head to keep him from slamming it into the duracrete. A solid knee planted in Anakin’s chest, leaning in to keep him pinned.

“Stop fighting me, if you please,” the Jedi said. He spoke softly--Anakin felt a light touch at his mind, like fingers cupping the side of his face to urge his eyes up. The giddy feeling was back, his traitorous mind all aflutter and loopy at the sudden loss of pain.

Anakin struggled against the Jedi’s hold and got exactly nowhere. He wasn’t strong enough to break away, his body much more interested in staying close to this new source of relief and quiet. So much easier than dangling off the side of a mountain.

“How are you doing that?” he sputtered, hands scrambling over the Jedi’s shoulders, greedy impulses wanting to pull him closer. His mind wavered in eight directions, all too intrigued by this new power. Something in him surrendered to that feeling, staring at the calm, hurt eyes above him. He wanted to explore, to inhabit. To discover something he hadn’t experienced since Padmé.

“Doing what?”

Anakin opened his mouth. And lost his words to a new surge of power.

As abruptly as it had left him, the Force returned, shocking him down to his fingertips. Feelings that didn’t belong to him rose through the splintered remains of his shields. His breath caught and his back violently arched, surprising the Jedi, as tears pricked his eyes, overwhelmed by the sudden onslaught. Anakin had forgotten he wasn’t alone in his mind.

The twins! They had felt his shields collapse. And they had reacted, instinctually, reaching for that deep well in the Force, just like he had taught them. A pair of suns blossomed in the back of his mind, overtaking everything else. Luke and Leia, rising with a vengeance born of a violent need to protect him. Anakin scrambled to clamp down on the bonds, crimping them off like he always had. To reassure them that no, everything will be alright.

It was no use. They didn’t understand what was happening. All they knew was that he wasn’t getting up. He wasn’t fighting anymore. That he was hurt and pinned and couldn’t get to them. He felt their young fear and panic flooding through their bonds, seizing control. And with Anakin’s shields shattered and his connections cut off, nothing was stopping them. Like the inevitable dawn, they rose.

No! Stop!

The atmosphere released in a noiseless explosion around them.

Suddenly, Anakin wasn’t in control of his body anymore. He became a conduit, a connection from one point in the Force to another. On one end, Luke and Leia, joined by bonds of blood and love, climbed to heights previously unknown. Together, they brought forth an avalanche of power; fire and electricity recreating the world in their image.

On the other side of the bond was an unsuspecting Jedi. Unbridled power slammed into the man, burning away his strong defenses like paper. The tenuous bond he had formed with Anakin became a conducting rod as the twins instinctively lashed out at the man hurting their father. He gasped and shuddered above Anakin, losing himself in the stunning assault. Blue eyes closed as he grimaced, cracking under the strain. His mind rolled in agony.

Anakin froze, unsure of what to do stuck between two points.

The rain fell cold on his face. Steamed the breath he shared with the Jedi hovering over him.

Fingers tightened their grip in his hair, small points of comfortable pain he used to find some grounding through the paralyzing Force.

In the distance, thunder rolled.

Anakin let his instincts answer for his conscience. Reaching up, he took the Jedi’s face in his hands. Stepped into the small space in between the suns. Without thinking, Anakin kissed him, deep and intense. Connected to him, body and mind. Opened himself up to absorb the power the twins ricocheted through the man. Pulled him in, urged him into the protection of Anakin’s chaotic inner thoughts, offered him shelter from the storm with intense warmth and soft lips.

This deep in the Force, there was no peace, only passion.

The Jedi gripped his shoulders and breathed into the kiss, bringing life and energy with him. Anakin’s toes curled with the hot, heavy pressure of the Force bearing down on them. This, this connection, this high, was what his pain had paid for; what sacrifices had been slaughtered for; what the Force had made them for. How could attachment be wrong when it gave like this?

Anakin felt his connection to the Force restored, running hot through his blood. Dragging the Jedi closer, he chased that feeling, throwing them both into the abyss. They fell together, each herding the other on.

The twins, young and inexperienced, quickly lost pace with them. The blazing suns dropped away, leaving the two of them alone. Falling, suspended in weightless flight, uncontrolled and beautiful in its uncertainty.

A laugh bubbled in Anakin’s throat, caught by his lips and pressed into the man’s mouth.

The Jedi broke away, gently, reluctantly, easing out of Anakin’s mind with the greatest of care. One of his hands had come to rest on Anakin’s shoulder, his thumb pressed against his neck to keep him in place. Then, he passed out on top of Anakin with all the elegance of a grand duchess.

Released, Anakin’s world slammed back into focus; pain, fury, and sound. He was flat on his back in filthy rainwater. He ached in raw, intimate places. His headache was back in full swing, radiating agony from the twins’ uncontrolled rampage.

It was too much. He felt too much, it was like rocket fuel lit on fire in his veins. He took five gasping breaths, his muscles spasming. It was too much, too intense to hide away. Throwing his head back, he screamed into the clouds. Around him, metal structures shook to their foundations. Reed awning split and unraveled. Raindrops bent around him as he sloughed off energy into them.

“Anakin,” Ahsoka gasped, quiet. He stopped, as suddenly as he started. Tilted his head to the side. Stared. The rain was cold on his face and at his back. The Jedi was heavy on top of him.

Leia was dry-heaving--he could faintly hear it over his gasping rage and confusion. Luke’s shaking fear bled into him, driving him, turning him frantic and desperate and ruthless.

Ahsoka’s face broke when she realized she had his attention. “Anakin, he didn’t hurt us...he protected us.”

Anakin paused. Looked at his family.

Fear. His family was afraid. Of him.

A new kind of terror pierced through his temper. Anakin gasped and struggled back to coherent thought. He couldn’t lose it here. They were waiting for him; needed him. He pushed himself to his elbows and the Jedi tumbled off him into the puddles. Climbing out from under him, Anakin rose unsteadily to his feet and honed in on his family.

Ahsoka accepted his fumbling hug with sheer relief, falling into his arms with the last of her energy. She was whole and real against him. Shaking, he pulled her back to look at her battered face.

“Go get the speeders and bring them back here,” he told her. “Let’s go home, yeah?”

She wavered, looking up at him with wide, watery eyes. Whatever she saw made her nod and hurry off, leaving him with a pair of crying twins to comfort. He gathered them into his unsteady embrace, one in each arm.

“He was hurting you!” Leia screamed.

“It’s alright, now, it’s alright. I’m fine, see? Right here. I’m right here. Let me look at you, are you hurt anywhere? Either of you?”

“No,” Luke insisted. “It was the bad man who tried to grab us!”

Anakin remembered the corpse. “How do you know he was bad?”

“He felt--he felt wrong. Like, in the other way.”

“...why did the bad man try to grab you?”

Guilt flashed across their bond, as easily as Anakin could read it on their faces. Dread bubbled up in Anakin’s throat.

“He…” Leia started. Luke hid his face in Anakin’s shoulder.

“Tell me,” Anakin urged, fright bleeding into his voice. They heard it and cringed.

“We were moving rocks around. The other way. The bad man saw us.”

His heart, already fragile and perilous, broke into pieces. Ached deep and ripped apart.

“No,” he rejected. “No, no, no.” He couldn’t tell who’s panic he tasted on his tongue. They were both crying. So was Anakin. They threw themselves into his arms, sobbing apologies. The three of them fell under the wreck of emotions that enveloped them, caught in a quagmire of conflicting feelings together. The rain came down on them relentlessly, sapping anyway any warmth or comfort.

Ahsoka, when she returned with the speeders, broke them up with gentle hands. She took the twins. Her generous mouth was set in a thin line; silently, she went about strapping helmets on Luke and Leia. Pointedly, she loaded them both on her speeder.

Anakin paused, dithering under her expectant stare. The twins may have misunderstood the kiss and ensuing conflict. She wasn’t so naive.

“Need a hand getting him on the speeder?” she asked.

“We’re not taking him,” Anakin immediately rejected.

“Yes, we are.” Her tone wasn’t mocking--more resigned. Like this wasn’t an argument so much as a route program she had to run through to get the engine started.

“But he hurt Dad,” Leia protested.

“He didn’t,” Ahsoka said, staring down Anakin. “Not really. Your dad overreacted. And he stopped the bad man from taking you, didn’t he?”

“That’s right!” Luke cried, his eyes going wide as he remembered. “We gotta help him!” Leia, swayed by Luke’s arguments, nodded firmly, her chin set through her tears and shaking. Anakin’s internal voice revolted, the thought of helping a Jedi antithetical to every bone in his body.

“But he’s,” he tried to explain.

Two pairs of dreadfully innocent and terribly righteous eyes turned on him. The twins were angry--at the man who threatened them. At each other, for being scared. At Ahsoka, for taking them around the corner that led them here. At him for scaring them. Ankin’s resolve broke under their disapproval.

The Jedi was still unconscious, sprawled unmoving in the rainwater and the muck when Anakin reached him. His wound wasn’t looking any better, blood slowly ruining his light robes. Anakin leaned down to inspect the damage. He’d need more than a batcha patch for the oozing wounds over his torso and back. Anakin was also sure a few bones were shifting in unpleasant ways. He wasn’t going anywhere for a while yet.

And he had still managed to lay Anakin out. He cursed in bitter awe under his breath.

Buying time on a decision he didn’t want to make, Anakin checked to the dead body. Sith affiliated, though he couldn’t find a lightsaber when he ransacked the corpse’s pockets, taking anything he found from spare change to an innocuous datachip. Question was, what had he been after?

When he looked up, his family was still waiting for him, expectation in their eyes. They formed a wall of disapproval, making it clear what they wanted. Grumbling, he grabbed the front of the Jedi’s robes and hauled him up. “All right, all right, we’ll take him with us.”

Instant approval and excitement scattered into him. He pushed it back gently. “Go on, yeah? I’ll be right behind you.”

When Ahsoka had the twins out of the alley, Anakin turned back to the corpse. He had taken everything of value. That left organic matter and clothes. Concentrating, he slowly dispersed the organic matter into the universe, converting solid mass to powdered dust that drifted away in the rain cycle. It took longer than he’d liked--there was a lot of mass to work through. By the time he was done, all that was left was a ragged pile of cloth.

In a household like theirs, nothing went to waste. Anakin scooped up the cloth.

Then he contended with his new charge. The Force was quick to help him out, all but throwing the man onto the speeder with only the slightest prompting. It rang with contentment and excitement in Anakin’s ears. He grumbled irritably and climbed onto the speeder, wrapping a firm arm around the damn Jedi’s waist to keep him from falling off at the first sharp turn. Then, he followed his family home.