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Fundamental Force Carriers

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The Son had meant to show him - a much younger him, of course, a him who still thought he was a Jedi - a possible future so horrifying that he'd just turn his back on his master and his padawan. That much was clear. Just as clearly, he had no idea how the delicate strands of past and present were woven together. Nor how to look at the myriad possible futures without in turn touching them.

"I have done such terrible things," he said.

"Yes," said the Son. "But it doesn't have to be that way. The choice is still yours to make."

"It always is," he said. "The future is always in motion."

"Yes! Join me, and together we shall destroy this Emperor you see in your visions; and we shall end war, corruption, and suffering throughout the galaxy!"

" . . . I will, anyway," he said, and called - Luke's lightsaber, really. He'd built it, but he now knew it was for Luke and always had been. Still, it would do in a pinch. The Son hadn't been expecting it; he had just enough time to look surprised before he started looking dead.

"Right," he said to himself as he got on the speeder. "Right. Okay. I can do this."

 

He ran into the Kenobi on the way back to the shuttle. Kenobi had, of course, been following him into yet another lava pit.

"Are you alright, Anakin?"

"No," he said. "But the Son is dead; it's safe to leave now."

"And you need another trip to medical, is that it?"

"A trip to medical sounds good, actually."

That gave Kenobi pause. "Are you sure you're alright?"

"I just said I'm not," he said.

"Can I help?" asked Kenobi.

"Not really," he said. "I - desperately - need to meditate."

"And now you're scaring me," said Kenobi. "What happened?"

"A lifetime," he said. "I need to get to Coruscant. I suspect it's already too late to rescue all of me, but every minute we wait means more that won't be coming back. I - get me home? Please?"

"We're going to have a long talk about this later," said Kenobi.

"Sure," he said.

 

The Father was waiting for them outside the ship. He took one look at Anakin and said, "No. He didn't."

"He did, I'm afraid. I don't think it's reversible. Although mechanistically, even if it were, I doubt it would . . . un-bud us, or whatever it was that just happened."

"No; you're right, it wouldn't," said the Father. Carefully, he added, "What are you going to do, now?"

"Do? The same thing I've always done: protect. This time without killing."

"You must balance the Force," said the Father.

"Why?" he asked; demanded, really. "Give me one good, logical reason why I shouldn't just let that knowledge die with me."

The sighed, and raised a hand, first two fingers outstretched, glowing a little at the tips, and pressed them to his forehead. It felt - well, honestly, it felt as though he were a datapad, receiving a large download. The math alone was going to take months. The meaning, however, was clear immediately. "Oh," he said. "Yeah. Okay. Protect, and balance the Force."

The Father closed his eyes, and when he opened them again, some of the ethereal green had left them. "You have my blessing. In both of your endeavours."

"Great," said Kenobi. "At least someone is happy. When do I get to find out what happened?"

"After we get to Coruscant," he said. "Which will happen soonest if we're on the shuttle. Father . . . keep your vigil, and I'll keep mine. I hope our paths never cross again."

"I, also. Farewell," he said, and faded into the mists of Mortis.

"Well, that was bracing," said Kenobi. " - what?"

"You're alive."

Kenobi looked nonplussed. "Was I ever not alive?"

"In this time, and this place?" He looked to Ahsoka.

" . . . it's been longer for you than it has for us, hasn't it?"

"You," he said, "have no idea."

 

As soon as they were onboard, he went and sat on the single bunk, full lotus, and . . . let the Force have him. It went on for a while: depending on how you looked at it, the one day had now lasted almost twenty-five years. For most of it he'd been willfully blinding himself to one part of the Force or another. Letting it pour through him now was rather like standing underneath the Falls of Theed on Naboo, but it was good. Necessary.

Once the universe had abated enough that he could have his own thoughts again, he did. Fact: he knew who the Sith master was. Fact: he was going to annihilate said Sith master, for everything he'd ever done to Anakin and everything he'd yet to do. Fact: This probably made him a hypocrite in the worst way, except Fact: he'd never really been much a Jedi. Fact: Here and now, Padme was alive.

Fact: He was going to do everything in his power to make this continue to be the case.

Fact: He hoped he wouldn't have to fight the Jedi, but

Fact: He probably would.

Fact: He had gotten very, very good at killing Jedi.

He nodded to himself, and opened his eyes. Almost immediately, R2-D2 started beeping, which summoned Obi-wan and Ahsoka. Blearily, he sat up, and gratefully took the cup that was offered to him. Hot choco, not kaff, which was interesting. "How long was I out?"

"It's the fifth day," said Ahsoka. "You were glowing for the first four."

"That happens," he said. "Are we inbound to Coruscant?"

"Yes," said Kenobi. "None of us knew what was happening, and we thought getting you to the healers was probably best. Are we going to get an explanation?"

"About what happened to me?" he asked. "I'm not sure there's any explanation that would do it justice, and anyway it's going to take a full Council to hear this report."

"Summarize," ordered Kenobi.

"The Anakin Skywalker who walked into the Well on Mortis is - the Son was attempting to show him visions of the future. He managed to pull me out of the future. I'm pretty sure he just swapped us into one another's bodies, but since I was dying at the time," he said, and then looked away. "I'm sorry."

"Right; then who are you?" asked Kenobi.

"The Anakin Skywalker from moments before my death," he said. "I'm forty-six. I'm, um, not going to be able to tell you a lot, though. The paradoxes involved are universe-endingly bad."

There was a pause.

"You're right," said Kenobi. "That's going to take a full Council."

"But you're - okay," said Ahsoka. Begged, really.

"No, Ahsoka. I'm not. It's possible I never will be again."

"Even though you can make the future better?"

"Even then," he said. "It will be better for you; for me, it already happened."

"Oh," said Kenobi, and, "How bad?"

"Bad," he said, and left it at that. "I desperately need a 'fresher. And some clean clothes. And then maybe some solidish food. Passet, if we have any."

"You hate passet," said Kenobi.

"And I need easily-digestible calories," he said. "I suppose ration bars would work, too, but I don't want to subject my stomach to those just yet."

Kenobi made a face. "No. All right. You go take the 'fresher; I'll have some passet for you when you get out."

"I'll have some passet for you," said Ahsoka.

 

It wasn't that simple. The shower was good, hot hot water pouring over skin that wasn't screaming in pain about it. Three of his limbs were much more organic than he was used to; the fourth - he hadn't invented the synthskin-neural interface until later, so of course he didn't have it now - but the amount of feedback really was shit. He just stood there for a long time, feeling all the ways that bits of him didn't hurt, and then got to washing. It took a while for the water to stop coming off of him mud-colored.

After, he stared at his face in the mirror. It was reasonably aesthetically pleasing, except . . . he called the Dark up, just for a moment, watching it fill his eyes until they were glowing sickly Sith yellow. Then he blinked it back, let it go, let the blue fade in. "Shit," he said aloud; and he thought for the first time about whether or not Padme would even like him anymore, given what he was about to do.

It didn't matter, of course.

Ahsoka had managed to make the kind of passet that came out of packets, instant just-add-boiling-water. He always thought it tasted too chemical and was over-sweetened to hide it, so not the best combination. He was very hungry, and ate it anyway.

By the time he was done, they had, if not the entire Council, then a quorum together on the comms. He put the holoproj on the table. "Masters."

"Skywalker," said Windu. "What the kriff have you gotten yourself into this time?"

"Trouble," he said. "What has Master Kenobi told you?"

"You're claiming to be some future version of yourself," said Windu. "Which, as you know, is quite frankly impossible."

"Impossible doesn't really apply to Mortis," he said. "And I'm not going to bother trying to prove any of it. Either you believe me or you don't; and, anyway, actions matter more."

That shut him up. Yoda said, "Perhaps believe him we should. Young Skywalker you are not."

"Thanks," he said crisply.

That gave all of them pause, he could see. The person he'd been either two weeks or twenty-four years ago would have been offended; but that person had been a self-conflicted idiot.

Master Koon managed to put himself back together fastest. "We will need a full report."

"I can give you a full report about what happened on Mortis. I can't give you a full report about - everything that happened in the twenty-four years between now and then. At least, not until I've made sure most of them are never going to happen. Once they stop being paradoxes, it should be safe enough."

The councillors looked at one another. Nu said, "You're sure there is danger?"

"No. I haven't studied temporal physics. But the possibility is there, and my past will keep, so I refuse to take the risk."

There wasn't anything to say to that. Windu said, "Then what can you tell us?"

"Mm. I can tell you what the 'aggression' chips in the clones don't do: prevent aggression. You need to get a really good slicer to take a look at all the commands on those things, probably within the next forty-eight hours.

"I can tell you who the Sith Master is, but I'm not going to. It's not really believable until you're in the room with them and they stop playing nice. As soon as we get to Coruscant, I'm going after them. You, Yoda, and you, Windu, are invited to come along: to my personal knowledge, the two of you were the only people to ever face them in single combat and survive. Everyone else is disqualified on grounds of not good enough.

"I can tell you that whatever else happens, after this I'm leaving the Jedi Order. It is killing me, slowly, like a cancer. I won't survive if I keep trying to be someone I am not. You were absolutely right about not training me, but not for the right reason.

"And I can tell you that you need to take a seriously long, hard look at the difference between a clone trooper and a slave, which is, at present, none. Then you need to live up to the best ideals of the Republic and the Order and let them go. Jedi are supposed to free slaves, not make them."

"Certainly not our Anakin Skywalker," said Koon.

He looked at them, unimpressed. "Assuming I survive taking out the Sith Master - I want to make it clear, just before the swap I did it, but took four separate lethal hits in the process - I'm going to need therapy. Lots of therapy. All the therapy. It was just one bad thing after another, for twenty-four years. Like I told Ahsoka, I'm not okay."

"Anakin . . . " said Kenobi, next to him.

"And you promise you'll tell us everything? After?"

"If I'm alive to tell it, yes."

"Then I guess I have to get on a ship to Coruscant," said Windu.

"Oh for - yes, do that. I'll see you in . . . "

"A hundred and seven hours," said Kenobi.

"Right, that. Aggression chips, don't forget."

"We will not," said Yoda. "Go; Master Kenobi to you wishes to speak. Speak you should."

"Yeah. Skywalker out." He turned to Kenobi.

Kenobi raised an eyebrow.

"Leaving the order?!" demanded Ahsoka.

"Yeah."

"But - why?"

"I get a completely undeserved second chance," he said. "I get to fix all my mistakes. Staying with the Order - long past the point it should have been obvious to even the most casual of observers that I am not a Jedi - is one of the big ones."

"Not a Jedi," said Kenobi, finally speaking.

"No. Sorry."

"So then . . . what are you?" asked Ahsoka.

"Whatever I want to be." He shrugged. "But I can't be not attached, incredibly attached, this time around. Not knowing exactly how close I am to losing - everybody, really. I am holding on, as hard as I can. Therefore: not a Jedi."

Kenobi said, "Because attachment was never your problem before."

He flashed a grin. "Oh, of course not."

"You're not even remotely believable."

"Was I trying to be?"

There was a long, long moment; and then he and Kenobi simultaneously broke out laughing. Ahsoka looked between the two of them, and said, "Right. Masters. Have either of you given any thought to me?"

"I did, yeah," he said. "You can stay with the Order, and be assigned to a new master; or you can stay with me, and I'll keep training you. Or you can go do something else. Whichever you choose."

"Training me . . . to do what?"

"Feel the Force? Use the Force? It's not like Jedi have a monopoly on it."

"Uh-huh," said Ahsoka, and turned to Kenobi. "Would you - "

"Yes," said Kenobi.

He rolled his eyes. "Duh, Snips."

"Oh. I'm - let me think about it?"

He nodded; it was a big decision. "In the meantime, how about some 'saber practise? I'm used to being a little bigger and a lot heavier, and I need to get used to the muscles I have now."

"You get bigger?" asked Ahsoka.

"I get body armor. Which is a fantastic idea. Kenobi, where is the armory on this boat?"

The armor felt weird, too little weight in all the wrong places even as his body protested the extra kilos. He strapped it on anyway, and then him and Ahsoka and Kenobi went and took over a cargo hold for a while.

"How are you doing that?" demanded Kenobi, bent with his hands on his thighs and panting.

"I had a lot of time with training droids and not much else to do," he replied. "Eventually it got to the point that murderer mode was too easy, so I started building my own."

"And that still wasn't enough to beat this Sith Master?" asked Kenobi.

"It - I - in single combat, without complications, probably. There were complications. I won in the end; leave it at that."

"Yeah, and took four lethal hits - " said Ahsoka.

"It was worth it. If it weren't, I'd be fucking off for parts unknown, instead of heading straight to Coruscant so I can do it all over again. Are you ready yet?"

"Are we just going to train ourselves into exhaustion for the next four days?"

"Uh, yeah? I have to get used to this armor and having most of my own limbs and my old lightsaber, and we only have four days."

"Great," said Kenobi. "You grew up into a madman."

"I learned from the best," he said.

But Kenobi wasn't actually complaining about the necessity of the nonstop training. Ahsoka winced and went down and came back up swinging. He was having a more difficult time: he had to remember to pull his blows, to not go for the kill strike every time. Ahsoka didn't notice him doing it. Kenobi didn't notice him doing it every time, but he noticed often enough. At the end of the second day, he found himself dragged aside.

"Anakin. What the hell happened? I - you were never this brutal."

"Brutality was the only way to survive," he said simply. "So I learned."

"Can you unlearn it?"

"I have no idea," he said. "Once this is settled, I plan to try."

"And if you can't?"

"If I can't, I put down the lightsaber." He looked at Kenobi. "It's a weapon, not my life. I know that now. Besides, I'm plenty deadly enough on my own."

"Even against - Grievous, say?"

"Oh, Grievous," he said. "Easy. I'd give him a seizure."

"What."

"He's not Force-sensitive; he couldn't shield. Seizures are just moving ions. And then he falls over and dies, because even if most of him isn't organic, his brain is."

" . . . you're right," said Kenobi, staring at him. "You're amazingly deadly, with or without a lightsaber. You realize that the kind of control you're talking about requires you to be able to move single atoms around?"

"Yeah, but," he said, and shrugged. "It's not hard. Once I seriously sat down to learn it, it didn't take more than a few months."

"Why did you need to learn how to give someone a seizure?"

"You have it the wrong way around. I was learning how to defibrillate. If you use it on a brain instead of on a heart - "

"You give a seizure," said Kenobi. " - there's no chance any of this will work on the Sith Master, is there?"

"Where do you think I got the idea?"

"Thought not."

"Don't worry. With Windu and Yoda fighting together, I won't really have to get in close enough to be in danger. I think.

"I know you meant that to be reassuring, but it wasn't."

He ducked his head. "Sorry."

"You actually are," said Kenobi. "Don't be. We're all doing everything we can to make sure you win, but we know it's dangerous. You shouldn't apologize for not giving us false hope."

He couldn't help the laugh that bubbled up out of him, and given that it was the first time he'd felt like laughing in years, probably, he didn't try. "Kriffing Force I missed you." He laughed again, helplessly. He'd long ago come to terms with the fact that he was never going to get Kenobi's Coruscanti accent out of his head. Even though it was Kenobi who'd put him in the suit. Sitting here, next to the man, and without the baggage of years and love and endless, aching betrayals between them, was nothing less than a miracle.

"Are you - no. Of course not, the answer is still no. How are you not falling apart?"

"I'll fall apart when the job is done," he said.

Kenobi nodded. "I'll join you."

"Great." He snickered. "Therapy for everyone."

"I don't think that's far from the truth."

"I know; gladiator humor. I'm going to catch some sleep. You should do the same."

"In a little while," said Kenobi. "Sleep well, padawan."

"Likewise."

 

The next morning, Windu commed. He looked at the councillor. Windu looked at him. "Which order was it?"

"Sixty-six," he said. Windu winced. He continued, "And then I went insane."

"I don't think I can blame you for that," said Windu. "Nu and her entire team are working flat-out to prevent them from activating, even when the order is given. Do you happen to know how to activate order one-fifty?"

"No," he said, "and even if I did I wouldn't tell you. That's not an acceptable outcome."

"If it's a choice between the Jedi Order and - "

"The very Sith action of one point eight million murders without trial?" he asked, and let that sink in a moment before saying, "Anyway, the point is moot. I know there is a way to make more, because order one-fifty-six was to hunt me down and kill me, but I don't know it."

"You had a very interesting life, didn't you, Skywalker?"

"It's not over yet," he said.

"Uh-huh," said Windu. "Next question: why are these chips in our clones?"

"Because the whole war is a long con," he said. "For fun and profit."

Windu blinked in shock. "Fun and profit?"

"Sith," he said, by way of explanation.

Windu levelled a glare at him. "We're going to have to debrief you in person, aren't we?"

"And it will take weeks, if not months."

"Only you, Skywalker."

He shrugged. "I can, for once, honestly say that the weirdness was not my doing."

"Only you."

He chuckled. "Yeah, well. Comes with the territory. Anything else that isn't my fault and that I didn't do to chew me out over today?"

"Brat," said Windu. Disturbingly, it sounded almost fond.

"Yeah."

"Get back to training."

"Yes, sir. Skywalker out."

 

He was really, really just over training by the time they got to Coruscant, which was unfortunate because he had training with Windu and Yoda in the morning, and then fighting and hopefully killing Palpatine in the afternoon.

The first thing he did on arrival, though, the very first, even before going to his room and unpacking or checking in with the Council or even just checking in, was to go to the creche. It was late evening, and the younger younglings were already sleeping. The older ones were playing or reading or just sitting in the common areas enjoying each other's company. At least, until they noticed him; and then they crowded around and demanded tales of his exploits.

He told one story about flying and one story about fighting droidekas, and then gratefully handed them off the their clan keepers for bed.

"Regrets in you I sense, young Skywalker." He blinked, and realized that Yoda had been standing there for probably close to half an hour.

" . . . yeah."

"Even to the younglings, the order extended?"

"No." He sighed. "The other option would have been - the Master would have loved to have gotten his hands on four thousand impressionable Force-sensitive younglings. As the backbone of the new Sith Order."

"Oh," said Yoda, ears drooping to show he understood exactly what hadn't just been said.

"So I had to come in and remember why I am throwing myself on this saber."

"An odd way to think."

"Maybe for you. I did a lot of things I'm not proud of. Even if I was actively insane at the time, it doesn't change the fact that I did them. Depending on how tomorrow goes, I'll either be too dead to care, or . . . "

"Wise, you have grown."

"All it took was losing everything I ever loved." He snickered; it was his kind of morbidly amusing.

"Ah," said Yoda. "Attachment."

"Yeah, but if it kills me either way, I choose the way that lets me happy in the meantime."

"Very wise," said Yoda. "Even if a Jedi you cannot be."

He shrugged. "It's not for everyone. I wish . . . well, you did tell me that, when I was ten; I just wasn't in a place to listen."

"Younglings," said Yoda. "Come. To bed with us. A big day tomorrow we both have."

 

Half the Temple showed up to watch the three of them in the morning. He looked up at the galleries of spectators, and called, "This is not an exhibition match!"

"Sure it isn't," said Windu, hanging up his cloak and stretching out. "We're going to start two-on-one against you; you . . . fight as much like our actual opponent as you can."

"Oh gods," he said.

But he attempted to do it anyway, given that he'd only very rarely gotten Palpatine to smack him around a salle. Sidious' personal style was mostly speed and deflection and always, always going for the killing strike first. So a lot like his was, these days; he hadn't really been lying to Kenobi about where he'd learned.

They started slow, and sped up gradually. The two of them were old friends, and knew how to work with each other: Yoda penned him into confrontations with Windu, who smashed at his defences. He'd never have been able to survive in head-on attacks, but the deflections allowed him to just barely never be where Windu's saber was. He himself didn't attack unless an opportunity presented itself - an overreach, one of the two of them a bit outside of where the other could guard, or, once, simply bashing Yoda with the Force. None of them connected, but he had the feeling that if he pulled a little on the other Force, they would.

By the time they called a halt, forty minutes later, he and Windu were both dripping sweat, and even Yoda was looking frayed around the edges. They went and sat at the side of the salle and sipped water and did breathing exercises until they stopped panting.

"Okay," he said, when he could talk again. "That was - now imagine that, but faster, and without telegraphing as badly as I do, and with a whole bunch of illusions and subtle little tricks to get you to overreach, all while someone keeps hitting you with Darkness."

"I must have used vapaad," said Windu. "Against an actual Sith."

"Whatever works," he said.

"How did you survive?" Yoda asked him.

"The first few times we fought, they weren't trying to kill me. And then I spent a lot of time with training droids on murderer mode."

"Why were they not trying to kill you?" asked Windu.

"Because apparently killing a Sith apprentice qualifies you for the position, and I did."

"Oh. The debrief is just going to be twenty-four years of atrocities, isn't it?"

"Yes. Can we - you two know how to work together, and that's really great. But can we try the other ways? I need to learn how not to get in your way, and vice versa."

"Yes," said Yoda.

Not getting in Windu's way was easy, even after he switched over to vapaad. Not getting in Yoda's way . . .

"Look," he said, eventually. "Just bounce off me."

"Undignified, it is."

"Do you want to be dignified, or do you want to win?"

"For you, I meant."

"I want to win," he said.

"Very well," said Yoda, and after that it took the two of them about ninety seconds to get Windu down.

"I think we're as ready as we're going to be," said Windu, after they brought him down a second time.

"Agreed. We should break for showers and a light lunch, and then head out."

But there was news for them at lunch: Nu and her team had figured out how to write new contingency orders, written one cancelling order sixty-six, and were distributing it. All of the clones on Coruscant were safe.

"Great," he said. "Now explain to me why you didn't kill all of the orders."

"Some of those are good id - "

"No, Nu, they're not. You've never seen what it does to a person, to be forced to obey a contingency order; I have. Write an order to kill the chips, and start distributing it. Now. I want the GAR clear by tomorrow."

Nu stared at him, eyes wide, grandmotherly face white in shock. "You can't - "

"As he says, Master Nu, you should do," said Yoda.

"I - yes, grand master, right away." She bowed, and left.

As soon as she had, Windu said, "And you still don't have any emotional control."

"Yes, I do. This is just worth being angry over. 'Some of them are good ideas!' What about the rights of clones, as sapients in the Galactic Republic, to bodily autonomy and their own thoughts and making their own decisions? Never mind the sheer number of them who kissed their blasters in the year after - " He caught their expressions. "Atrocities."

"The more of your past I hear, the less I like," said Yoda.

"And we haven't even come close to the worst things," he said, humorlessly.

After lunch, they took one of the smaller aircars. "Where are we going?"

"The Senate dome," he said.

"So my padawan the truth told there, at least," said Yoda.

"Yeah - oh. Do you mind if I take a few minutes to see Chancellor Palpatine? We're probably not going to have time after, and . . . " He regretted. Force, did he regret. They both picked up on it, and both came to entirely the wrong conclusion.

"Of course," said Yoda kindly.

"Only a few minutes," said Windu, clearly irritated by the delay, but no less compassionate.

"And Senator Amidala?"

"Don't push it," said Windu.

He chuckled softly, and brought the aircar in for a landing.

They were immediately shown in to see Palpatine, despite what he was sure was a busy schedule. Jedi, after all, had certain privileges. Palpatine motioned for them to sit, but he shook his head. "We're just here for a few minutes," he explained, "and the masters didn't mind stopping by to see you."

"At least it isn't bad news from the front," said Palpatine. "I can take a moment; it seems like all I ever do anymore is read disheartening reports. Tell me, what have you been up to? Last I heard you'd gotten into trouble on Mandalore."

"Ages ago," he said. He'd actually forgotten about Mandalore. "Since then I went to Dathomir, and then got hijacked by a series of incredibly persistent visions."

"Oh?"

"Chancellor Palpatine," he said, "Under the the Constitution of the Galactic Republic, Section Three, Subsection Twelve, and under the authority vested in me by the Jedi Order as a Knight of the Republic, I'm placing you under arrest."

Palpatine's smile froze. " . . . Anakin?" He could feel Sidious prodding, trying to get a read; he let the probes catch on the fact that he was angry, blazingly so. "My boy?"

"Are you resisting arrest?"

"Arrest? On what charges?"

"Conspiracy to cause war," he said. "Conspiracy to undermine the Galactic Republic; corruption; deliberately ignoring the Constitution of the Galactic Republic while holding public office; enslaving sapient beings; obstruction of the peace process; carrying concealed weapons - " got you, he thought, as Palpatine turned to appeal for help from Windu and Yoda, - "and, lest I forget, being a murderous lying Sith bastard. Darth Sidious."

He saw the moment Palpatine got it, and felt it as well. "Ah." He looked to Yoda and Windu. "And you brought backup. I have to say, I honestly never expected you, of all people, to figure it out - "

"Are you resisting arrest?"

Palpatine smiled again, one of his public grandfatherly ones. "If it means so much to you, Jedi, then yes. I'm resisting arrest." He triggered the hidden catch in his robes, and was suddenly holding the hilt of a lightsaber. "And for a follow-up . . . well. You know I can't let you leave this room alive." The lightsaber blazed to life, red like love, or fresh blood.

Behind him, he heard Windu and Yoda power their 'sabers up. He took Luke's out, as well. "I think you'll find that somewhat more difficult than you expect."

And powered up.

Later, security footage would show that the fight lasted less than three and a half minutes. At the time, it seemed to go on forever, Windu leading the attack and Yoda keeping Sidious pinned and he, himself, mostly staying just out of reach except for when he was covering one of them. Sooner or later, he knew, he was also going to have to drop the act; and he'd had less than ten days of training and half-truths to convince two Jedi grand masters not to kill him. It was going to have to be enough, because Sidious was already pulling power for his first, devastating strike -

He reached out, tugged at it, blew away Sidious' fragile control with the deep roiling wellspring of his anger. He did it the mean way, too, the way that could catch the unwary with mindburn or even permanent brain damage. Sidious was far too canny, and let it go the moment he felt an unfamiliar Dark presence against his own. But it worked to prevent the attack.

There was a beat of perfect stillness in the heart of the battle. "Well, well," said Sidious.

"Surprise," he said, and attacked.

Yoda and Windu weren't as much help. They were still fighting Sidious, and working together, but they weren't working together with him anymore. At least they weren't actively attacking him. He breathed it out, and focused his attention mostly on Sidious and a little on what his more-or-less allies were doing. With two fronts now, the Sith lord was failing, slowly but inexorably: sooner or later, someone would pin him, and then it would be all over but the decapitation.

Sidious knew it, too, and kept trying to pull enough power for a lightning strike. He, despite the growing pressure behind his eyes that meant they were not merely glowing yellow but blazing bright orange, grimly continued to rip the Dark away. He channelled it back into his muscles and nerves and reflexes. It was barely enough to keep up the furious pace, and he had no idea how the ancient Yoda was doing it.

The break, when it came, came fast. Sidious pulled, fast and deep, and even though he caught some of it he didn't catch enough. He had enough time to shout a warning before Windu was taking the full force of Sith lightning to the chest. It wasn't nearly enough, and in a human of Windu's years . . . "No!"

Sidious looked at him, smiled one of his terrifying true smiles - and took his attention off Yoda just long enough. A green lightsaber sprouted from his chest. Sidious looked down, surprised; the lightsaber cut up and to the left, burning through his heart before emerging from his shoulder. The body crumpled, but by that time he was already moving, kneeling down and ripping Windu's robes aside.

Yoda's lightsaber appeared under his chin. "Halt."

He swallowed. "Yoda - "

"Excuses I do not wish to hear."

"Okay - "

"Sith you are."

"Was. Yoda - "

"To the Dark side, you have fallen."

"Later, Yoda. Right now I need to restart his heart."

" - what?"

"I am shit with Force lightning, but this I can do."

There was an endless, breathless moment before Yoda's blade vanished. "Know what you are doing, I hope you do."

"Sure. I've had practice." He didn't say that most of it had been on himself.

It was almost laughably easy, anyway, once he got enough Force into Windu to feel his heart. He just pushed and tugged once, twice - and Windu's heart restarted. He followed it up with a wave of healing energy, as Light as he could get given his current state of mind. That didn't work so well, but it worked enough that Windu stopped wheezing dangerously. He was just so relieved and couldn't stop smiling: whatever else happened, now, the Empire wouldn't. He sat back.

"Okay," he said.

"Anakin Skywalker, Knight of the Jedi Order," said Yoda. "Under arrest I place you."

"Yeah," he said, and tossed over Luke's lightsaber. "Here."

If Yoda was surprised, he didn't show it. "And many more questions I now have."

"I did promise a debriefing."

"Use the light side, I felt you. Yet use the dark side also you did. Such a thing impossible is. So taught I was."

"And here," he said, tossing over the handcuffs he'd brought, on the off chance that Palpatine was going to surrender. About as likely as a chunk of ice in the fusion core of a star, but he believed in preparing for every contingency.

"Hmmph," said Yoda, but set about cuffing him.

Windu was sitting up by the time by the time Yoda was done reciting the list of things he wasn't allowed to do while under arrest and all about the few rights he did have.

"Oh, hey," he said. "Go back to that one about visitors."

"Close family and approved visitors only."

"Great. Send someone to go get Padme, please. Even if she all she wants is to punch me, I - she has that right."

"Does she?" asked Windu.

"She's my wife," he said. "So: yes. She does. For however long it is before she divorces me, anyway."

" . . . right," said Windu. "We can, but the blast doors are on automatic lockout. They won't open for another twenty-three minutes."

"And Kenobi. He deserves to punch me too. And Ahsoka!"

"What the kriffing Sith hells is wrong with you, Skywalker?"

"I might," he said, "possibly, be a little bit giddy. We won."

"We won," agreed Windu.

"And no one has killed me yet, so. We're really very nearly in best-case scenario territory."

"Your best case scenario involves being arrested. Only you, Skywalker."

He couldn't help it; he broke out laughing.