Anakin is unconscious. He'd never feel it.
"I'm sorry Anakin," Obi-Wan chokes, igniting his lightsaber once more. Everything in him fights against his conviction but he steps forward regardless - steps down and towards Anakin's fallen, broken body. "I'm so sorry. I do love you. I will always love you. It wasn't… it wasn't supposed to be like this. I'm so sorry…"
The lightsaber shakes in his hand once and is then still. He can't miss. Anakin might wake if he misses. It would be painful if he misses. His hand has to be steady - he cannot miss now.
Anakin doesn't wake.
Padmé goes into labour in the middle of their escape. The stress, the horror, the grief, it all presses down on her and Obi-Wan can feel her breaking under it. What Anakin's hand had started, his death finishes.
She doesn't live long enough to speak the names of her and Anakin's children, but Obi-Wan hears them regardless, echoing into the void in the Force where Jedi once used to be.
Leia, the elder, wails against the injustice of her life, already strong in the Force, already smart enough to interpret it. She knows she's born an orphan and she wails. Luke, the younger, is quiet. His presence echoes into the Force quiet and in the light of his sister's ferocity, nearly nondescript. But he too is strong.
They're both Skywalkers, through and through - in strength and tragedy both.
And as Padmé Amidala fades from life, Obi-Wan gives all of his now untethered love to them.
Their lives will be brief. Already the Emperor and his new, horrible Empire are after them, looking for them, reaching out to claim them. Sidious' anger, hatred and greed echo in the Force, now so very dark and empty, and it's all Obi-Wan can do to keep a straight course and try to escape.
Their lives will be short because Obi-Wan will do everything in his power to keep the twins from the Emperor. Everything.
Two months. That's as much as they get before it's all over.
Obi-Wan slides to the cockpit floor, cradling the twins in his arms. The engines have failed, the thrusters shot out. They're dead in space and the imperial army is closing in.
It's almost over now.
"I tried," Obi-Wan murmurs to the ever watchful Leia, with Luke asleep against his chest. "I'm sorry I couldn't do better. I tried."
He's so tired now. Anakin would never forgive him, and Qui-Gon would be so disappointed, but he's so tired. He's alone and friendless, the Force hollow and cold around him, devoid of hope and comfort. He's too weak to fight alone anymore.
"I'm sorry," he whispers and kisses Leia's downy hair. "I'm so very sorry."
That's not good enough, a voice spits at him, and it sounds like Anakin.
When Obi-Wan wakes it's not in the holding cell of an imperial cruiser. It's not a holding cell at all.
"Careful now, easy, easy," a voice so familiar and so long lost speaks into his ear as he tries to get up. "You're still badly malnourished and weak - no quick movements now…"
Obi-Wan stares uncomprehending at Qui-Gon's face, his mouth working without a sound. When he manages to speak, his voice cracks. "Luke. Leia."
"The younglings are safe. Look," Qui-Gon says and motions. Not two meters from Obi-Wan's bed there is a shielded crib, the twins contently asleep within. Both of them alive. Both of them well.
"They are strong," Qui-Gon says, he too watching the twins. "You're in far worse shape than they are. I suppose you gave all your food to them?"
Obi-Wan swallows. He had - and reprogramming the food processor to create a suitable milk substitute had been no easy task.
"They will be fine," Qui-Gon promises and turns to him just as the door to what Obi-Wan realises is a spaceship medbay opens. "As will you. And once you feel strong enough, I have a number of questions for you."
Obi-Wan doesn't answer because in that moment someone Obi-Wan can hardly remember steps in - Anakin Skywalker as he'd been right at the start. Young, innocent and fully Light.
And at his heels Obi-Wan himself - over a dozen years and hundreds of battles younger.
"How is our guest doing, Master Jinn?"
Qui-Gon bows his head. "He's recovering well, your majesty, and should be back to full health in a day or two. The children are doing well also, and have not suffered the same sort of malnutrition as our elder guest."
The Queen of Naboo nods her head thoughtfully. "Have you been able to talk with him? Does he have an explanation as to why his ship was so badly damaged and so stranded in deep space?"
"Not yet, Your Majesty." In fact the man hadn't spoken much at all, going completely silent after confirming that the children were alive and well. "But I am hoping to speak with him concerning that soon. In the meantime I ask that no one bothers him or the children. He's showing signs of stress and deep emotional disturbance and I wish to avoid making it worse."
"Do you think he might be dangerous, Master Jinn?"
"No, Your Majesty. But I do not think he's a man to be pushed either."
Qui-Gon carries with him three lightsabers the next time he goes to see their rescues from the derelict space ship. He's gone over both lightsabers carried by the eldest of their guests but they offered little clues about him. Nothing that wasn't utterly impossible anyway.
The man wore a Jedi's robes, he carried a Jedi's weapons - but he couldn't be one. There wasn't a Jedi in the order that matched his age, species, and appearance. Never mind the children he cared and worried for with all the desperate attentiveness of a single father.
What a mystery to find and so soon after their encounter with the Sith, too.
Their guest is up and sitting on his recovery bed when Qui-Gon enters the medbay. He has one of the children in his arms and he's feeding them from a bottle, a tender, broken hearted look about his worn, bearded face.
"Is it time for my interrogation then?" he asks, running a gentle hand over the child's head.
"I wouldn't go as far as to say interrogation," Qui-Gon says and sets the two lightsabers on a table at the far end of the room. Not that he thinks the man would even try to use them. Not with the children present. "But there are questions you should answer. Starting with your name."
"My name," the stranger repeats, looking at him. "You don't know then?"
The stranger blinks and then leans back a little. "You don't, you really don't - have I truly changed so much?"
"Have we met then?" Qui-Gon asks, frowning. There is a strange familiarity about the man - something that went beyond the Jedi garb. But he couldn't quite put a finger on it.
"You could say that," the man murmurs and looks down at the child in his arms. "I have no notion how I ended up here. It should be impossible. But then… many things that happened should have been impossible."
Before Qui-Gon can ask, the man turns his face to the side and motions at an imperfection there, a mole on his right cheek bone. "Does this not look familiar?"
Qui-Gon stares, uncomprehending. Then it strikes him and he stands up straighter in alarm.
"Do get your Padawan," the man says, his attention fully on the child again. "A genetic comparison is in order, don't you think?"
As the test confirms it, Obi-Wan stares at the man. At least a decade if not two his elder, he looks like Obi-Wan could only wish he'd never end up looking. Haggard and visibly tired and weakened by what must have been weeks of stress and slow starvation.
Unlike Obi-Wan, he is taking his sudden dislocation in time calmly. In truth he doesn't seem to feel anything at all about it.
"This is not the strangest thing to have occurred to me, and far from the worst," he says as he smears bacta on the small pinprick wound on his arm. "I've had a markedly unusual career you could say."
"How old are you?" Obi-Wan asks, unable to help himself.
"Thirty seven," the man says and runs a hand over his beard. It has a hint of grey in it. "I think I aged ten in the last two, however."
He turns to look at Qui-Gon and then around them. "A Nubian cruiser, and I am fairly certain I saw Anakin before. Are you on the way to Coruscant?"
"Yes - which you would not ask unless those things could indicate some other destination," Qui-Gon says, slow.
Obi-Wan's elder self ignores that bit of deduction and nods. "Have you talked to the Naboo concerning my identity?"
"No," Qui-Gon arches an eyebrow at him. "I did only know myself just now, after all."
"Could I convince you to keep it between us?" Obi-Wan's elder self asks seriously. "Inform the Council when we make it to Coruscant and you can speak with them privately face to face, but say nothing over transmission."
Qui-Gon frowns. "Why?"
"Because the master of the Sith you encountered could do terrible things with what I know about the future - and it's not something I wish to risk."
Obi-Wan sat a little straighter at that, turning to his master who too looked far more alert. "You know who it is," he says.
"Oh yes," the man agrees. "And I will tell the Council when we make it to Coruscant and not sooner."
Qui-Gon looks like he would like to argue but in the end he doesn't. "Very well," he says and then turns his attention to the shielded crib. "About the younglings…"
Obi-Wan turns to his elder self just quick enough to see his expression twist in pain. "They are my responsibility," he says. "And if you hold any respect for me, then please, leave it at that."
"Are you a Jedi?"
Obi-Wan looks up from Luke, who lies in the crib, and to the door. Anakin - an eight year old Anakin, still flawless and faultless - lingers hesitantly by the doorway. His hair is still sun bleached and not yet shorn short for a Padawan's cut, and his clothes are rough, hand sown. Slave garb - no one had anything better to offer a child on board the Queen's ship.
"You look a bit like Master Qui-Gon - and you got lightsabers. I didn't know Jedi could carry two," Anakin says.
"A Jedi can carry as many as they can use," Obi-Wan answers automatically. It's been so long, but the reaction is ingrained in him by years of practice. He looks away, swallowing dryly. "I look like Master Jinn, do I?"
"Well," Anakin flounders, his eyes widening. "You, uh, dress the same?"
"No need to fret - I consider it a compliment," Obi-Wan says and gently holds Leia against his shoulder. "And there is a certain code to how Jedi dress - it makes them easily recognizable."
"I guess that makes sense," Anakin says and looks at Leia. "Is he yours?"
"She. And… yes, she is," Obi-Wan answers, pain twisting deep in his gut. He ignores it.
"What's her name?"
Obi-Wan hesitates and then sits down on the recovery bed, inviting Anakin to join him. "Her name is Leia - and that over there is her younger brother, Luke," he says as Anakin climbs up to sit beside him. "She's just eaten," Obi-Wan explains. "I'm trying to get her to burp so that she doesn't get gas later on."
"I know - my mom's a midwife. I know all about babies," Anakin says which makes Obi-Wan's eyebrows arch. "Well except like their sex - that's hard to see outright, babies look the same when they're that young. Do a lot of Jedi have kids?"
"Only very few and the circumstances are always special," Obi-Wan answers softly. He doesn't recall Anakin's mother being a midwife. Had it never come up - or had Anakin simply forgotten? "Normally such attachments are forbidden."
"What? Really? Why?" Anakin asks, his eyes wide. "And how come you have kids then?"
Obi-Wan smiles sadly. "Their mother died," he says. As did their father, but that Obi-Wan will keep to himself. "My situation is special. And whether I'm a Jedi or not is somewhat under question currently."
"Because of the kids?" Anakin asks, horrified.
"And other things," Obi-Wan agrees and looks at him as he rubs a palm over Leia's back. "Shouldn't you be in bed? It's rather late."
"Can't sleep. It's cold here," Anakin says. "And I guess I'm nervous. Master Qui-Gon is taking me to see the Jedi Council and I might become a Jedi - but that's only if they like me."
Obi-Wan nods slowly. "You being nervous about it now will not affect the outcome for you, you realise," he then says.
"I know - but it's not like I can stop worrying just like that," Anakin says and looks up to him. "Why are you still up?"
"I have to feed the twins," Obi-Wan says and then sighs. "I will be seeing the Council as well and I suppose I too am nervous."
"Ha!" Anakin says, triumphant. "I didn't know Jedi could get nervous."
"Oh, they can. They just tend to be quite good at hiding it," Obi-Wan says, and Leia finally let's out a disgruntled little burp. "There you go, Princess," he sighs and stands to take her back to the crib. Anakin watches, interested, kicking his feet idly as he does.
"What happened to their mom?" Anakin asks. "How did she die?"
Obi-Wan hesitates as he settles Leia beside her brother. "She… she got very tired. She couldn't fight anymore," he then says.
"Was there a battle?" Anakin asks, quiet and eager all at once.
"Of sorts. Some very bad things happened," Obi-Wan says quietly. "She fought so long and so hard that eventually she'd given her all. She had no strength left. The battle wore her out and…" he trailed away, wondering. How long had Padmé known of Anakin's darkness? How long had she been struggling with it?
How had he known nothing?
Obi-Wan sighs. "You can take the bed if you like," he says. "I don't think I will be sleeping much tonight at any rate. Just know that Leia and Luke tend to wake up multiple times per night."
"I can handle that but… are you sure? You kind of look like you really need some sleep," Anakin says worriedly.
"I'm used to going without," Obi-Wan assures him while settling in to watch the twins sleep.
And as it was… He wouldn't be able to sleep until he saw the Jedi temple, no longer littered with the bodies of children but full of life once again.
"Hey," Anakin says even as he settles on the recovery bed. "What's your name?"
Obi-Wan hesitates a moment. "It's Ben," he then says. "And you?"
The boy blinks at him sleepily. "I'm Ani. It's nice to meet you, Ben."
"Oh. I'm sorry. I had hoped to find you alone."
Ben looks up from the datapad he'd been reading and then glances at Anakin, asleep on his bed. "A telling statement," he comments and puts the datapad away. "You may consider me alone. Anakin is quite asleep."
His younger self steps into the room and the door closes after him. "Why is he here?"
"On a ship occupied by Jedi, and the fairly imposing retinue of a queen, it's not so strange that he finds the presence of other children comforting - even if Luke and Leia are quite bit younger," Ben shrugs his shoulders. "And I represent a familiar concept, I suppose."
"Which is…?" The young Jedi frowns, watching him thoughtfully.
"A parent," Ben answers plainly. "What can I do for you?"
The other hesitates, dithering by the door. His eyes stray towards the crib and he straightens. "I can't and I won't make assumptions about what I know nothing about - your situation must be very far removed from mine. But as hard as I try, I cannot imagine a situation where… that is to say… how did…?"
Ben blinks slowly as the younger man tries and fails to word the question. "You can't imagine a situation where you might end up a father?" He asks and the younger man nods. "Let me imagine it for you then. Satine."
His younger self all but jumps at that. "Are they… did you… is she…?" He asks, half horrified, half exhilarated.
"No. But just by that word alone you can build up a whole litany of assumptions," Ben shrugs. "It has been a dozen years for me. I've had time to build up relationships. Time to acquire responsibilities. The things that came to pass… No. You cannot imagine them. And perhaps you should not try."
The younger man says nothing for a moment, thinking it over. "You betrayed the Code," he then accuses softly.
"And you fear you too will do so?" Ben asks and tilts his head to the side. Then he looks away. "Funny how little it matters in the end," he whispers. What was a code with no one left to follow it?
"It matters to me, now," the younger man snaps at him.
"Then you have nothing to worry about, do you?" Ben asks, glancing at him. "Make no mistake - you and I are already going down different roads and those roads will only change more if I have anything to do with it. This stopped being my past the moment I re-entered it - my past will not be your future. I will make sure of it."
His younger self swallows at that. "Something went wrong, didn't it?"
"Many things went wrong. But now I can change things," Ben says, more to convince himself than anyone else. "I can make it all right again."
"And how do you know that you won't make it worse?"
Ben chuckles at that. "There is no conceivable way I could make the future worse than it already was."
The younger man considers that for a moment. "And you'll change the future, even if it means the younglings will never be born?"
When Qui-Gon goes looking for his Padawan and his most recent protégé, he both is and isn't surprised to find them both in the medbay. His Padawan is meditating by a wall, carefully out of the way, and Anakin is… helping their guest feed the children. He has one of them lying comfortably in his lap, and under the man's careful guidance he's feeding the baby from a bottle.
"You seem to have claimed my companions for your own," Qui-Gon comments.
"Some of them," the bearded man agrees. "Jar Jar you may keep - I'm afraid he would be somewhat detrimental in the act of child care."
Qui-Gon can see his Padawan's lips quirk in amusement but he says nothing. "How kind of you," Qui-Gon says dryly and shakes his head. "In any case I came to get my now stolen companions for a morning meal and to inform you that we'll be arriving at Coruscant in two hours. The ship will land directly at the Senate."
"Alright, I'll prepare for that then," man says and looks at Anakin. "Might I borrow Ani here when we do land?" He then asks. "Another pair of hands would be helpful."
"Ani?" Qui-Gon asks.
"I don't mind, Master Qui-Gon," the boy says quickly, sounding even a bit relieved. "We're all heading to see the Jedi Council anyway, right? So I might as well help Ben."
"Ben?" Qui-Gon asks, arching an eyebrow at the man.
"If it is no trouble of course," the man says, smiling.