The Journey Home
Chapter 3
by indie

***
Anakin is pulled from his memories and meditation by the chattering of young girls.  The sound is absolutely unmistakable, yet Anakin is intensely aware of how long it has been since he last heard such innocent noise.
 
He watches as the six handmaidens descend the stairs.  All are wearing identical gowns of soft indigo fabric which cover almost every bit of exposed flesh.  The hoods obscure most of their faces, long sleeves cover their hands and the hem of the gowns brush the floor.   The Queen, by contrast, wears an ornate, complicated dress with voluminous skirts and a large headdress.  Her face is painted in the traditional Naboo style Leia wore hours ago in the Jedi Temple's Great Hall.
 
They reach the foot of the steps, falling silent as they realize they are not alone.  Standing, Anakin bows to them.  "Ladies," he says deferentially.
 
The handmaidens bow their heads in return.  All except Leia who tries, but refuses to take her eyes off him.  The young woman pretending to be the Queen says regally, "Master Skywalker."
 
Obi-Wan enters the room, followed closely by Senator Organa and Gregar Typho.  Obi-Wan's lips are pressed into a thin line.  He bows to the Queen.  "I apologize, milady," he says, "but there has been a change in our plans."
 
"What change?" she immediately asks in an imperious tone.
 
"We received a hypercomm message from the Temple.  They are in possession of new information and believe the Black Sun means to ambush us near the Kalarba sector.  Because of the delay in receiving messages in hyperspace, it is imperative we take action now."
 
"I concur, Master Jedi," the Queen replies.  "What do you suggest?"
 
"I believe – " Obi-Wan starts.
 
"We're close enough to Corellia.  We should drop out of hyperspace now," Anakin says.
 
Eyes wide, Obi-Wan looks at his former apprentice.  Anakin manages to refrain from flushing.  He realizes how out of character this behavior is for him.  His former, hot-headed self most certainly would have reacted in this manner, but he has not been that man for a very long time.
 
Looking at the Queen, Obi-Wan smiles.  "I concur, your highness," he says.  "I believe it would be best if we were to divert course to Corellia."
 
"Then we best put these plans in motion," the Queen replies.
 
Obi-Wan nods in agreement and Gregar Typho leaves the room, headed for the cockpit.  Bail Organa is speaking to the Queen decoy, but Leia hovers near, listening to the conversation.
 
Anakin turns away from the group of girls, staring at the Alderaanian moss painting that hangs on the Common Room wall.  Across the room, the handmaidens speak in hushed tones amongst themselves.  Without looking, Anakin knows Leia is watching him.
 
Obi-Wan stands next to Anakin, looking at the moss painting.  “I can’t remember the last time I heard you speak out of turn,” he says.  Anakin can hear the amused grin in his former Master’s voice.
 
“Neither can I,” he admits honestly.  “It is quite disconcerting.”
 
“Well, I believe you impressed Queen Amitabha a great deal.”
 
Anakin shakes his head.  “My life’s ambition,” he says wryly, “to impress a fourteen-year-old girl.”  He glances at the pack of young ladies and realizes his comment might not be so far off the mark.  Turning away, he says, “And that wasn’t the Queen.  It was her decoy.”
 
Brow furrowing, Obi-Wan looks at the girls.  He studies them for a moment and then chuckles softly to himself.  “Indeed,” he says.  “I believe the real Queen Amitabha is the second handmaiden from the left.”
 
Anakin nods.
 
“I can’t believe I missed that,” Obi-Wan muses.  “I must be getting slow in my old age.”
 
“It was bound to happen, Master,” Anakin says seriously.  “Don’t let it get you down.”
 
Obi-Wan shoves into Anakin’s shoulder with his own in a playful gesture.  “That sounds like the Anakin I know,” he says.  “I was beginning to wonder if anything of the boy remained in the man.  It’s good to know he’s still there somewhere, even if I have to bear the brunt of your humor.”
 
Anakin turns to face his friend, his expression once again sober.  “A Jedi strives for mastery of himself,” he says seriously.
 
“Yes, Anakin,” Obi-Wan replies with mock severity.  “But not at the cost of destroying the man inside the Jedi.”
 
Unsure of what to say, Anakin turns back to the moss painting.  He has to admit he is enjoying the exchange.  Point of fact, he has enjoyed the entire trip.  He can’t remember the last time he enjoyed anything. 
 
Anakin fixes his attention on the moss painting, trying to use it as a focus point to anchor his thoughts and emotions.  He doesn’t want to enjoy anything.
 
Obi-Wan doesn’t understand. 
 
It’s not his fault.  So much was kept from him.  But the secrecy has compromised Obi-Wan’s perspective.  If he truly knew the gravity of the situation, he would feel differently about things.
 
The Padawan springs to life, jumping up to block his way.  “Master Skywalker,” he stammers.  “You can’t go in.  The Council is in session.”
 
“I know,” Anakin says, resisting the strong urge to push the young man away.  “That’s why I’m here.”
 
“Master Skywalker!” he says again.
 
But Anakin doesn’t hear him.  He is already pushing his way into the Council chambers. 
 
As he suspected, one Council seat sits empty.  For reasons he does not understand, Obi-Wan is not privy to the Council’s decisions regarding him – and his family.  Anakin suspects that the rest of the Council does not believe that Master Kenobi could remain impartial on the subject.
 
Anakin’s vision sweeps the room and he feels like he’s been punched in the chest.  A woman, a Jedi Master in the Acquisition division, holds a dark haired infant while another woman – younger, probably her Padawan – holds a second, fair haired infant.
 
Finally finding his voice, Anakin rages, “No!”
 
“Jedi Skywalker,” Master Windu says, obviously displeased, “your presence is unexpected and unwanted.  You are supposed to be meditating on Dagobah.”
 
Anakin paces back and forth near the entrance, his vision moving between Master Windu and the infants.  “You will not train them,” he seethes.
 
“Our own council do we keep on who is to be trained,” Yoda says.
 
“Not on this issue,” Anakin rages.  “You will not take them from Padmé!”
 
Master Mundi gives Masters Yoda and Windu a sidelong glance that makes Anakin wonder if the rest of the Council members understand the full scope of the situation.
 
“They are my children,” Anakin bites out.  “I do not give consent for them to be trained.  You will return them to Padmé.  Now.”
 
The Council seems split.  Some of them obviously knew, some just as obviously did not.
 
 “The infants are strong in the Force,” Master Koon says seriously.  “It is imperative they be brought to the Temple and trained as Jedi.”
 
“No,” Anakin’s tone as well as his presence in the Force is absolutely rigid, unmoving.  “You fear me,” he says, looking directly at Master Windu.  “Let me remove any doubt from your mind as to how badly things will go if you do not immediately return my children to their mother.”
 
“That sounds like a threat, Jedi Skywalker,” Master Windu counters angrily.
 
Anakin holds his ground, glaring at Master Windu.  He is not afraid and he will not back down.
 
“Recess we will,” Yoda says wearily.  “Escalate this conflict we will not.”
 
Clearly understanding that Master Yoda intends to be alone with Anakin, the rest of the Council members file somberly from the room.  Anakin watches the two infants until the Jedi carrying them are out of sight.
 
Slowly, Yoda approaches and Anakin stares down at him angrily.
 
“In your training,” Yoda says, “many mistakes did we make.”
 
Anakin’s jaw clenches, but he does not deny Master Yoda’s assertion.  He knows he is far from the model Jedi.  He has always been too proud, too unstable, too powerful.
 
“Strong in the Force your son and daughter will be,” Yoda continues.  “Training will they need.”
 
“I.  Forbid.  It.”
 
Yoda sighs and his lips purse together.  He shakes his head sadly.  “Misstep we did,” he says.  “Informed you we should have.”
 
“Yes, you should have,” Anakin snaps.  He was in the process of establishing a permanent settlement for himself on Dagobah when he felt an inescapable pull to return to the Temple.  Because he also needed supplies, he heeded the call and made the trip.  It was a total fluke that he arrived in time for the hearing.
 
“For a thousand generations chosen Jedi in this manner we have,” Yoda says.  “Your anger anticipate we did not.  Shortsighted were we.”
 
“Did you take them from Padmé?” Anakin demands.
 
Shaking his head, Yoda says, “Her consent did she give to bring the twins before the Council.”
 
“Did you tell her you intended to take them?”
 
“Only that the Council wished to see them, tell her we did.”
 
Anakin grinds his teeth together, pacing in a tight circle. “You let her think you were bringing them to me,” he accuses.  He punches his fist impotently at the air. 
 
“A mistake it was,” Yoda says, “to bring your children here.”
 
Anakin gives him a wary, sidelong glance. 
 
“Without your consent, train them we cannot,” Yoda says wearily.  “But a choice you have.”
 
“Choice?” Anakin asks.
 
“Stay with the Order, the Council believes you should.  Meditation, control do you need.”
 
“I’ve been trying to do that,” Anakin rages.  Why the hell do they think he’s been sitting in that stinking swamp halfway across the galaxy if not to learn something?
 
“But your choice avoided you have,” Yoda says meaningfully, his eyes boring into Anakin’s.
 
Anakin stares down at his Master for only a few moments before the force of Yoda’s gaze makes him look away.  “What choice?” he asks in an insolent tone.
 
“The choice between your family and your calling.”
 
Anakin closes his eyes, reeling as if he was struck.  As usual, Master Yoda is right.  Anakin has been hiding on Dagobah.  Hiding from everything.
 
“An exception for you, the Council will not make,” Yoda says.  “Absolutely forbidden, attachment is.  For a thousand generations, this way has it been.  A family you cannot have if a Jedi Knight you intend to be.”
 
Anakin reels from the words knowing that deep inside himself he hoped against hope that the Council would grant an exception, that they would allow him to be both a Jedi and a father.  But it is not to be.
 
“Compromise your judgment, your attachment to your wife did,” Yoda says.  “Leverage did it give Palpatine.  Manipulate your fears he did.”
 
Anakin finds it difficult to stand.  He walks to one of the Council chairs and falls heavily into it, his head cradled in his hands.
 
“More raw power do you have,” Yoda says, “than any Jedi born.  But chaotic are you.  Unsettled.  Beyond your control are your emotions and fears.  Dangerous it makes you.  Dangerous to everyone.”
 
Defeated, Anakin raises his head and looks at Master Yoda.  “What do you want me to do?” he asks hopelessly.
 
“Take your children,” Yoda says.  “If within the Order you wish to stay, return them to their mother yourself you must.”
 

***
End Chapter

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