Anakin feels a ripple in the force, tempting him out of his meditative trance. Along their training bond, he notes a similar shudder run through Obi-Wan, who brushes it away, continuing to reflect. A pointed nudge makes Anakin take a deep breath.
He’s always hated meditating, and no matter how long he’s been at it, he’s always ready for it to be over. Obi-Wan on the other hand, is the picture of serene, still and contemplative, his presence soothing against Anakin’s mind. It’s a valiant attempt to quieten his thoughts, but they are a constant cycle of worry and stress. Although there is a harmonious tranquility flowing between the two of them, behind his shields, Anakin is busying himself. Thoughts of his battalion, Padmé, Palpatine, a report he’s yet to write - an endless continuum that never stops turning, twisting.
The shields around his mind have improved under Obi-Wan’s tutelage, but he senses that his lack of concentration is becoming increasingly obvious. Any moment now, he expects his Master’s eyes to open with refined exasperation. If he’s in a good mood, he’ll indulge in a sparring session to wear them both down. But if not, he’ll banish Anakin back to his room, and go find an actual Master to mediate with.
A sudden heavy footfall down the hall makes them both meet each other’s gaze. Before they have time to move from the floor, the door is opened, and they have an unexpected guest before them.
A Padawan. Young, human, with his braid swinging wildly from seemingly bolting half-way across the temple.
In his eagerness, the Padawan almost falls over himself, bursting into their chambers. Anakin and Obi-Wan share a look of confusion at the child’s sudden appearance.
“Apologies, Masters,” He says, panting for breath. “But I thought you should know - There’s a Sith in the Room of A Thousand Fountains.”
“I beg your pardon, Padawan?” Obi-Wan says, standing instantly. Anakin hurries to follow, hand reaching for his utility belt and lightsaber. It's a familiar dance, running straight from relaxation to a crisis. Anakin could probably do it in his sleep at this point.
The child places their hands on their knees, visibly shaking. Most likely fear than exhaustion.
“Master Windu is there, and the clones are coming. I was told to come and get you.”
“Alright,” Obi-Wan says, grabbing his own saber. “Did they say who?”
The Padawan shakes his head.
“Dooku would not be bold enough,” Anakin replies, brash as ever, though his heart rate is steadily rising. This type of attack is unheard of. To the Padawan, he turns. “Go to the creche, and do not leave until a Master fetches you.
Down the hall, adrenaline starts to pump. Obi-Wan looks tired; they’d both come home for a quick respite, but no amount of mediation could replace the real sleep and food they both need. Still, he can see the set of determination, the strong posture as he walks ahead, lightsaber held but not yet ignited.
Padawans and younglings are herded to the furthest corners of the temple, no time to confer with passing Jedi in the blur of movement.
“I sense no familiar presence,” Obi-Wan says as they near the chamber. “It's probably not somebody we have encountered before.”
Anakin snorts, though the exhale is humourless. Stars, he’s tired. Is there a secret Sith factory somewhere in the galaxy, pumping out more enemies? What ever happened to the Rule of Two?
“Whoever it is will be made quick work of. They’ll be no match for us and Windu.”
Any other time, Obi-Wan would stop to make a point of never underestimating an opponent, especially a new one. But no verbal blow comes. His Master is likely just as tired as he is of bickering and arguments.
“Begs the question,” Obi-Wan murmurs instead, casting a furtive glance at the hall leading to their destination. “As to how they managed to breech the temple.”
Windu is barring the entrance with his back to them as they approach. Anakin can hear Yoda’s familiar cadence as he speaks from within the room of a thousand fountains. He sounds as calm as ever, and there is no hum of a lightsaber. Even Master Windu has yet to ignite his weapon, standing with his arms crossed.
“Who’s in there?” Anakin asks before Obi-Wan can start talking. Windu looks over his shoulder but does not face them. From his side-profile, Anakin sees his usual disdainful look.
“We aren’t sure.” Windu says. “They don’t seem intent on fighting. Perhaps a surrender.”
Obi-Wan strokes his beard thoughtfully, though none of the tension leaves his shoulders. Closer to the door, Anakin feels a presence, though heavily shielded. He does not feel the familiar crispness of Dooku, nor the flames of Ventress. Even Maul would be unable to pull off such a feat. He debates getting up onto his toes to see around Windu, but relents. There’s a reason that they’ve been called to help.
“What are their demands?” Obi-Wan asks after a few moments of contemplation. “Surely they have something to do with the war effort.”
“That’s the problem,” Windu replies, finally turning to face them. He looks incredibly old for once. The sight is oddly alarming.
“They are saying they come from a different time.” He sighs, hearing the ridiculousness in his words. “From the future, to be precise.”
There’s a tense few seconds of silence at the statement. Obi-Wan’s hand pauses mid-beard stroke. Anakin wonders if he’d actually died on his last mission, or was dreaming in a bacta-tank somewhere. A shocked laugh leaves his lips.
If possible, Windu becomes more stoic. Any fatigue he was showing is shoved away, replaced with scorn.
“I don’t know what you’re laughing at, Skywalker.” He says in a sneer, Jedi control temporarily slipping. “She says that she’s here for you.”
“Me?” Anakin asks incredulously. His hand twitches to his belt like he's about to slice Windu for his insolence. “What did I do? I’ve been off-planet for the last kriffing-“
“Now, now,” Obi-Wan interjects. “Did they give any reason why they’ve…” He pauses, cringing slightly as he tries to phrase a ridiculous sentence as a normal question. “…come here for Anakin specifically?”
Windu, if possible, becomes more cold.
“Apparently,” Windu says, repressing a sigh. “It’s not what you have done, but what you will do.”
Anakin looks from one master to the other.
“Alright,” He says finally. “This has been a strange, and oddly elaborate prank. Ha ha. Can I leave now?”
“Anakin, I’ve nothing to do with this.” Obi-Wan says, cutting off the scathing retort no doubt Windu had been ready to throw. “Do you really think, amidst a war, we’d have time for such follies?”
Anakin feels a headache forming. Right between his eyes. He probes out with the force, half-expecting to feel a multitude of his battalion hidden in the room before him, ready to surprise him. Instead, he feels Master Yoda’s familiar presence, and a strange bump in the force, like a person not truly formed, just an outline. Never has he seen such efficient shielding.
The bump gives a prod, almost playful, to his shields. He mentally flinches at the sensation, and almost physically takes a step back.
Foreboding brushes over him. A warning. Something monumental is waiting for him in the room before him. Anakin shakes the feeling away, takes a breath.
“Take me to the Sith,” He says, with the faux bravado he’s carried for so long, he’s started to really believe in it. “I’ll be keeping my lightsaber, if they don’t mind.”
Yoda comes back from the hall, hunched in a deep aura of thoughtfulness and trouble. He casts Anakin a look of confirmation.
“We will be just outside,” Obi-Wan says to Anakin. “After they’ve spoken with you, perhaps they’d be willing to come before the council.”
Yoda did not answer, but did not seem upset at sending one Jedi to face an unknown Sith.
“Go, Skywalker.” Yoda says, almost a murmur. “Much to discuss, there is. No harm awaits you.”
“I’m going,” Anakin replies. He looks to Obi-Wan, more out of habit than anything. His master reaches out and places a calming hand upon his shoulder. It’s almost jarring, to feel warm skin upon his; too used to the delayed thud of wearing gloves and armour.
“Try to use your words, not your blade for once.” Obi-Wan says. It’s the nearest he’ll get to a joke, but he hears the underlying concern, hidden as it is.
“I’ll do my best, Master.”
The Room of a Thousand Fountains used to be a maze when Anakin had first arrived on Coruscant.
The name itself is deceptive; there’s walkways, flowing free falls of water, and so much plant life that the Force buzzes with life and energy. Anakin steps in, feeling the presence of the Masters waiting behind him, and a strange hesitancy washes over him, knowing that they will not follow. He grips his lightsaber tightly. Reminds himself that Yoda had not seemed threatened by this mysterious Sith. He doubts the credibility of travelling from the future, which sounds so ridiculous he can hardly bare to think it. But his curiosity is piqued. If anything, it’ll be a good story to tell the 501st once he returns to the front.
For a few seconds after the door slides shut, Anakin stands on the threshold, taking in the energy flowing all around him. He expects to have to go looking, - most Sith he’s come into contact love a dramatic introduction, - but surprisingly a figure is less than twenty feet in front of him, nonchalantly leaning on a rink of a fountain.
She’s…not what he expected.
The Sith wears black robes, oddly similar to his own. Hair, dark and curling, is braided back in a way he’s seen Padme wear it. She has a pretty, young face, but her eyes are a cunning and gleaming gold that makes his stomach turn. She smiles as she catches his gaze, and he sees the hardness of somebody who’s seen war, seen conflict. A sense of danger spikes; his self-preservation instincts flare up.
There’s a standoff for a solid thirty seconds before Anakin decides to break the silence.
“What, you come all the way back from the future to ogle me?” He asks.
Bravado is good. It’s safe. Something about the woman before him is off. More off than being a Sith from a different time realm, which really is saying something. He just can’t work out what.
The Sith shrugs. “You could say that.”
She stands, and the movement is so languid and lethal that it takes a conscious effort not to ignite his saber. But she makes no movement other than that, just watches him for a moment more.
“You look different to what I imagined.” She says finally. “…younger.”
“Can I just say that this is absolute bantha shit. I don’t believe that you’re from the future,” Anakin says, ignoring her comment. It’s vague, and oddly genuine, which is what rattles him. She sounds like she truly had a certain expectation of him. That throws him off significantly. He tries his best to keep his focus, but now his mind is overflowing with questions. What was his future self like? How monumentally had he kriffed up down the line?
Clearly, enough for them to send somebody back to rectify it. If this isn’t some strange new tactic the Seppies were trying out. Or a very odd and realistic fever dream.
“You don’t have to believe it.” The Sith replies. “But it is true. Surely you can feel that I’m being honest.”
And he does. Despite the woman’s strange absence, he feels the weight of her words, stemming from that emptiness, ringing sure and true.
“Well, perhaps you aren’t aware,” Anakin says after a moment. He feels the distinct impression of trying to regain his footing on a rocky surface. “But there’s a galactic war going on as we speak. Say what you need to say, Sith. And then crawl back to whatever portal you fell out of.”
The Sith smirks. “How merciful, to let me live.” She says. She runs a finger around the rink of the fountain like a lazy tookah cat.
“And you want the war to be over, don’t you? Dooku isn’t dead yet, so it’s not too late.”
Anger surges in him. Anakin is tired. His Padawan is gone, and the Separatists make headway every second. He can't spend time with his wife. His men are dying. And he is here, being goaded by this woman, this woman who is so oddly familiar, staring at him like he’s a curiosity, as though she has all the time in the world to taunt him.
“What’s too late?” Anakin demands. He’s using his General Voice. “The temple’s being locked down as we speak. You’ve attacked the stronghold of the Jedi order and declared yourself as a direct enemy to the Republic. This foolish attempt to distract me will be fruitless. Give me a reason not to run you through where you stand.”
Despite his request, Anakin is already pulling out his lightsaber. He thinks he hears Obi-Wan’s disappointed voice admonishing him in his mind for his recklessness. But then he’s moving forward, the blade humming, outstretched in a challenge. The Sith has a lightsaber, gleaming and strange looking hanging at her hip. She makes no move for it.
Instead, she smiles. Still a smirk, but with less malice in it. More akin to sadness.
“Such anger, even now.” She remarks. The blade hums at her neck, casting her face in a blue light. “I always thought it came after she died.”
“After who died?” He asks. The force tremors around him. He grips his lightsaber, bringing it closer. “Who?”
The stench of burnt hair permeates the room. She doesn’t move as her braid starts to smoulder.
“Your wife.” The Sith says. The carefree mask cracks apart before his eyes. Then she snarls, teeth gritted. “My mother.”
It feels like the floor beneath Anakin has suddenly ceased to exist. Like before, the words echo around him, drenched in truth.
“No.” Anakin says. He makes no attempts to deny his marriage. Nor her claim to Padmé. Because when he looks to her once more, he realises why she is so familiar.
She is short, like his wife. The same hair and eye shape. Presumably brown beneath the Sith yellow. But he can see the same arrogant set of his jaw, the shape of his face, imprinted on hers.
“Yes.” She replies.
She steps forward abruptly, singing herself on the lightsaber uncaringly, burning the black fabric of her tunic. Anakin lets the blade drop carelessly to the floor, not hearing the sharp shing of the sword deactivating and going silent. “You don’t know it yet, but she falls pregnant. And in your haste to win this war, you destroy the entire Republic, and take her life.”
The words crash against him like blaster fire. His face feels slack, the muscles paralysed. All he can see is his wife’s face, with sunken, yellow eyes, glaring back at him.
"I would never hurt Padmé." He says quickly. "I wouldn't."
The Sith shakes her head. "I take no satisfaction in telling you that that is simply not true."
“Then how do you live?” Anakin asks. The thought of Padmé dying is unbearable. The very image of it burns him like a fire, and he tries to focus on anything else. Questions are bubbling up and multiplying within him, innumerable, but only those words escape. “This must be a trick. A mistake.”
“I lived because the force willed it.” She replies. Like compelling magnets, or the ocean and the tide, her face has hardened, emotion sucked away into a vacuum, where his is rife with horror.
“Perhaps I lived because this was my destiny. To come here on this day.”
Distantly, he feels Obi-Wan pressing at their bond. In his despair, Anakin had forgotten to shield. He sent back a rough shove, that he was fine and to leave him to it. The presence of several Jedi Masters, and a battalion of clones, were an abstract sensation, far away.
“Stop the theatrics and listen to me.” The Sith snaps suddenly. Unbidden tears sheen in Anakin’s eyes, and he blinks quickly at the harsh tone in his daughter’s voice.
In this moment, he feels more like the hopeless child than the parent. He's too young for such responsibility.
“Anakin Skywalker.” She says. “In a matter of weeks, a series of wrong-steppings on your part will change the entire state of this galaxy. I’m here to prevent that.”
“Alright,” He croaks. He feels empty. Defeated. It feels like a rapture. Like he should be begging for mercy. Bargaining with the force for another chance. “Alright, just tell me, tell me what to do.”
When had he fallen to his knees? He hadn't even felt the sensation of hitting the floor.
“Do not kill Dooku.” The Sith replies. “Do not trust the Chancellor. I wish I could give you more information, but the Empire has erased or edited most of the Clone Wars archives.”
Palpatine has been a life-long friend and mentor. He’d never judged the way Obi-Wan did when he made mistakes or got emotional. In fact, he was perhaps the only person in Anakin's life who questioned Obi-Wan's choices and decisions. He'd been the first to point out that Obi-Wan had been far too young to take on Anakin as a Padawan, and how he would have been far better with another Master. Advice from the Chancellor always made sense, and he carried the weight of the entire Republic on his shoulders. Should he really go on the advice of a Sith, a Sith who could very well be manipulating him to believe a lie?
The woman before him lets out a sigh.
“Alright,” She murmurs. “So be it.”
“When I was thirteen,” She says after a moment. “And starting my lightsaber training, I got distracted. I had been doing drills for hours, and my mind was elsewhere.”
Her hands, both covered by black leather, move. Anakin watches as she slowly pulls at the fingers of the left glove.
“I was weak. Easily preoccupied. And you, punished me for my negligence.”
Anakin stares at the robotic hand. More sleek and modern than his own, the design almost futuristic.
“Is this the future you want?” The Sith asks. “Is this the kind of person you want to be? The kind of parent?”
Unwillingly, he sees himself, eyes as yellow and sickly as those glaring at him. A red blade in his hand, cutting through flesh. A shrill cry of agony. His child, falling to the floor. Feeling the same pain and humiliation that he knew so intimately from his own experience. How could he ever make his own flesh and blood suffer as he had?
He stumbles to his feet.
“I wouldn’t-“ Anakin feels like he’s choking. Drowning. Because this is his and Padmé's child, and he- “I would never-”
“I am powerful in the force.” His daughter says abruptly. “Stronger than any Jedi here. With time and training, I would have surpassed you and taken your place. You taught me discipline, and it aided me. This is not some personal vendetta because you took my hand from me."
She pauses for a moment, looking at her exposed hand. Her jaw clenches. A habit Anakin also has, when he's trying to repress an emotional response.
“I am here because I have a weak spot. My brother. A twin, who did not fall to the Dark Side as we did. It was his dying wish that you be redeemed.”
This isn’t how it should be.
He and Padme haven’t spoken much of having children. They’re both busy people, and the war stretches out in an unending path before them. But on idle days in bed, they had spoken of raising little babies on Naboo. Starting a family when all was said and done, and there were no more battles to fight.
This isn’t how it should be.
A nameless, faceless son dead. A daughter condemned to be a slave to the Dark side. A wife, slaughtered at his hand.
“His name was Luke.” She says, almost with a sneer, though her voice catches. “I read that it means light. And after all we both did to him, all the pain…all he wanted was for you to come back to the light. Funny that, isn't it?”
“Luke.” Anakin murmurs, distraught. Luke.
Had he been the one to do it? He pictures a boy, with hair like his, tanned skin and Padmé's smile. Probably Padmé's heart, too.
"It's too late for me." She says. "But not for you. Not yet."
“So, you pull yourself together.” The Sith says, her voice sharp and shaking. He watches the way her face struggles to reign in the sorrow and emotion. “And you stop this war. Live a peaceful life. Leave the order. Do what you have to do. But remember what I said. About Dooku, and about the Chancellor."
When he realises that she is beginning to walk away, beginning to leave, Anakin snaps out of his stupor.
"I'm sorry," He gasps. "I- I would never want this life for you. Or for L-"
"Then do not become the person who allows for it to happen. Who would do this,-" She waves her prosthetic hand, "To their daughter. Who would kill their son in cold blood. Who would commit atrocities that I don't have time to even cover." She takes a steadying breath. "Just do as I ask. Trust your Master. Trust the Force. And don't. Trust. Palpatine."
A thousand questions burn. A thousand more apologies try and fall from his lips. All he can do is stare as his daughter pulls a triangular object from a pocket in her robe. A strange silverly glow begins to encase her.
A holocron of some sort, he notes numbly.
"What did we call you?" He asks instead, voice heaving and cracking. "What did we name you?"
He has to know. If he does, he will have two names. Two names, a son and a daughter. Hope, to cling to.
She smiles, and for a second, the yellow in her eyes allows for brown, - the colour of his wife's eyes, - to filter through.
"Leia." His daughter replies. "Use it for your daughter. I pray you give her a better life in this timeline." With a wink, the silver light begins to grow.
"Don't mess this up," Leia says. Anakin nods fervently. "May the Force be with you, Father."
The Room of a Thousand Fountains falls silent, and for the first time in perhaps his whole life, Anakin Skywalker sees a clear path before him.