The Journey Home
Chapter 2
by indie

***
 
Anakin falls to the floor, his grunt of agony forced between clenched teeth.  Wind whips through the shattered window but the stench of cauterized flesh is inescapable. 
 
"Anakin!" Master Windu's hand claps him firmly on the shoulder, rolling him over to inspect the damage.  Anakin hears the Korun Master's sharp intake of breath. 
 
"It's not mortal," Master Windu says, his voice much firmer than his emotions in the Force.
 
"Padmé!" Anakin growls, mumbling the name, unable to properly form the sounds due to the extensive damage inflicted by Sidious's blade.
 
"What, Anakin?  I don't understand you," Master Windu says.

"Padmé," Anakin repeats, still slurring badly.  He forces out the words despite the pain.  "Senator Amidala.  Chommell sector.  Need to protect."

 
"Senator Amidala?" Master Windu repeats.  "Protect her from what?"
 
"My wife," Anakin says no longer concerned by the Council's censure.  Their approval or disapproval means nothing.  Life means nothing.  He has failed his family completely. "She'll die," he continues, trying to block out the overwhelming pain.  "The baby."
 
The pain is too much and Anakin finally succumbs, losing consciousness.
 
When he wakes, he is in the Temple's medical facility.  He can't see out of his left eye.  Half his face is swathed in heavy bandages and pain pounds inside his skull in perfect rhythm with his heartbeat.  He is lying on a bed.  Upper body elevated at a forty-five degree angle, he can see most of the room without moving.
 
The large, open room reeks of bacta and disinfectants.  There are several dozen patient beds, but they are all empty save his own.  Standing at the foot of his bed, Masters Windu and Yoda watch him carefully.
 
"Saved the Republic, your information did," Yoda says.  "Grateful we are."
 
Anakin does not answer.  There is nothing to say.
 
Shunning any pleasantries, Master Windu cuts straight to the matter weighing on Anakin's heart.  "Senator Amidala is safe," he says.  His features are pinched, his disapproval clear.  Despite his earlier promise that Anakin's revelation of Palpatine's true identity would earn him Master Windu's trust, that obviously is not the case.  "At the Council's request, she has returned to Naboo."
 
Anakin starts to open his mouth, but the searing pain stops him.
 
"The children are fine," Master Windu continues.
 
Children?  Anakin stares at the Masters in shock.
 
"Think it best we do, that see Senator Amidala you do not," Yoda says.
 
Despite only half his face being visible, the Masters clearly see Anakin's outrage at the idea.  He pushes himself forward, intent on getting out of the bed.
 
Master Windu holds up his hand, palm extended toward Anakin in a gesture for him to stop.  "You almost Fell," he says pointedly, his eyes boring into Anakin.
 
Master Yoda's lips purse together tightly and he nods.  "Close it was," he agrees.
 
Anakin slumps back against the mattress.  He was so certain that killing Sidious would mean forfeiting Padmé's life and possibly the life of his child … lives of his children.
 
"Need help you do," Yoda says quietly.  "To find your path."  
 
 
Anakin shakes off the unbidden memory, quickly forcing his attention to the present.   The pilot, co-pilot and navigator are immersed in their duties, preparing the Tantive IV CR90 corvette for the jump to hyperspace.  Seated behind the pilot, Anakin watches as the ship banks away from Coruscant’s orbit.  They will soon begin their trek to Naboo.
 
He tries to allow himself to be at one with the emotions weighting his heart and soul.  That was the lesson Obi-Wan tried so desperately to teach him.  It isn’t mastery of the Force that is a Jedi’s goal.  It is mastery of one’s self for which a Jedi strives.
 
He takes a deep breath and releases it.  The last fourteen years have given him a great deal of mastery of himself.  He can accept the guilt that burdens his soul without attempting to run from it.  He can experience the groundlessness of this impenetrable loneliness that surrounds him without needing to cling to anyone or anything.
 
After all his failings, he has finally become a model Jedi.
 
And he suspects he may be dead inside.
 
***
 
"The attempt on her life is most troubling," Obi-Wan says to Senator Organa.  "Rest assured the Council will get to the bottom of this." 
 
The two men are standing in the spacious Officer’s common room.  Senator Organa nods, glancing over his shoulder at the staircase leading to the upper deck and the stateroom suite.  As head of the royal house of Alderaan and owner of the Tantive IV, the stateroom is his, but he has relinquished it for the comfort of Queen Amitabha and her handmaidens.  There is no sign of Leia.  As Senator Organa turns back to Obi-Wan, he sees Anakin approach.  His posture stiffens.
 
Anakin raises an eyebrow expectantly at Obi-Wan.
 
"The Council attempted to send you the documents," Obi-Wan says, "but you were already in transit."
 
Anakin ignores the implied censure in his former Master's statement without taking offense.  The Council has long disapproved of Anakin's starfighter and personal transport, choosing to view it as a possession and attachment.  Anakin has never bothered to debate the issue with them.  The aging Delta-7 starfighter is simply a convenience.  Anakin has no attachments – to anything or anyone.
 
Deciding that Anakin isn't going to respond, Obi-Wan elaborates.  "There have been two attempts on Queen Amitabha's life.  We suspect the Black Sun crime syndicate is ultimately responsible."
 
Unexpectedly, Anakin finds himself bristling at the information.  "Why would the Black Sun want her dead?"
 
Reluctantly, Senator Organa turns to Anakin.  "Queen Amitabha has been very influential in stopping spice trade in the Chommell sector," he explains.  "She has successfully lobbied in the Senate for increased security patrols.  It has cost the Black Sun a great deal."
 
"Master Kenobi, there is a communication for you," a crewmember says. 
 
"Of course," Obi-Wan replies, following the crewmember to the lower deck and the sensor room.
 
Anakin turns and is shocked to realize that the crewmember is in fact Gregar Typho, the man that served as Padmé's head of security for years.  He watches as Obi-Wan and Typho leave together.
 
He turns back, displeased to realize he is alone with Bail Organa.
 
"It would have been better if you hadn't come," Organa says.
 
Anakin stares at the man, taking note of how he has aged.  "The decision was not mine to make.  A Jedi serves the will of the Council."
 
"Yes," Organa says tightly.  "You often use that excuse, don't you?"
 
Anakin stands his ground, his features perfectly bland as he stares at Senator Organa.  Eventually the older man turns away and with a huff of disgust leaves Anakin alone.
 
When Senator Organa is finally gone, Anakin makes his way to one of the seats and slumps into it heavily.  He cannot remember the last time he felt this tired.  He has lived alone in the primordial ooze of Dagobah for so long that he has forgotten how exhausting it is to interact with other beings, to be assaulted by their energies and agendas. 
 
With a sigh, he leans back in the chair and his lips twist into a wry smile.
 
He is lying to himself.  He thought that was a bad habit he broke long ago.
 
It is not Bail Organa's hostile energy or the mission that exhausts him.  It is facing his ghosts.
 
He doesn't want to be here.  He doesn't know why the Council sent him unless they derive pleasure from pouring salt in old wounds.  He was never supposed to know her.
 
Leia.
 
His daughter.
 
Anakin stares at the holo, unable to prevent the tears tracing down his cheeks.
 
"Anakin, I don't understand," Padmé sobs.  "Where are you?  The Council won't tell me if you're alive or dead.  I only pray this message finds you."  She sobs for several moments and then collects herself, steeling her resolve.
 
And then, her smile is luminous, radiant despite her tears.  "You should see them, Ani," she says softly, voice full of wonder.  "I named them Luke and Leia."  Her smile turns bittersweet.  "I know you always liked the name Leia."   
 
Her smile falters and she is clearly on the verge of tears again, but she presses ahead.  “I hope you see this message,” she says.  “I hope you come home to us.  We miss you.  We need you.”
 
The recording ends and his ears ring with the sound of silence.  His wife’s sobs echo in his mind.  He holds the holodisk in his hand, gripping it tightly.  He wants to throw it at the wall, to loose the anger and rage this separation causes him.  But he doesn’t throw the holodisk.  Because right now, it is his only link to his beloved wife, to his son, Luke, and his daughter, Leia.
 
He stalks through the hallways of the Jedi Temple and Master Yoda does not seem the least bit surprised to see him when Anakin bursts into his private quarters unannounced. 
 
“Expecting you, I have been,” he says, shaking his head in disapproval.
 
“You knew about this,” Anakin accuses, holding the holodisk in his hand.
 
Yoda nods.  “Allowed it, I did,” he says.  “A choice, you must make.”
 
“I’m going to them!” Anakin rages.  “Today.  Tonight.  I’m leaving!  How could you think I could see that and not go?  How can you preach compassion and then expect me to see Padmé’s message and willingly abandon her?”
 
Slowly, Master Yoda looks up, watching him silently for several long moments.  “Almost Fell, you did,” he says gravely.  “Betrayed everything you would have.  The Order.  The Republic.  Proud would your wife be to call a Sith husband?  Proud would your children be to call you father?”
 
Anakin’s body trembles with the volatile emotions raging through him.
 
“Your emotions, control you cannot.” Master Yoda climbs out of his chair.  Slowly, he makes his way across the room, leaning heavily on his cane.  He sighs deeply. “A danger you are, young Skywalker, to all who care for you.”
 
Anakin wants so badly to refute Master Yoda’s claims, but he cannot.  Master Yoda is correct.   Anakin almost Fell.  He almost made a deal with a Sith Lord in exchange for Padmé’s life.  Yet Padmé is safe.  The twins are safe.  His nightmares, his visions, were false. 
 
He trusts himself even less than Yoda trusts him.
 
“To your room return, young Skywalker,” Master Yoda says.  “Leave for Dagobah tonight, you will.  Meditation you need.”
 
***
End Chapter

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