The Journey Home
Chapter 6
by indie
***
 
It's getting dark, shadows lengthening across the small living room.  Anakin gives a moment's though to Aubé, still waiting with the ship, but quickly pushes it away.  The Council will give him this.  They will allow him to say a proper goodbye to his family.  He doesn't care if Masters Windu and Yoda frown upon his actions.  It is his right.  Aubé can entertain herself for an evening.
 
There is a knock at the door and Anakin looks to the door and then back at his wife.  Padmé is already rising to her feet, seemingly unsurprised.  She pulls the door open only a tiny bit, speaking softly with the visitor.  From his vantage point, Anakin can see Sola's concerned features.
 
As a pair of toothless gums clamp around his thumb with surprising force, Anakin looks down.  Luke immediately lets go, smiling a big wet grin up at his father.  Anakin smiles ruefully down at his son, picking him up and depositing him in his lap as he sits on the floor.  "Tired of chewing on your toys?"
 
Luke shrieks in delight, flapping his arms excitedly.  To Anakin it feels like a blade through the gut.  How can he leave them?  How can he leave his family?  Even if it is best for everyone, a selfish part of him wants to leave the Order, to stay with his family.
 
Anakin looks up to see Padmé standing near him.  The door remains open, but Sola stays in the threshold, not entering the apartment. 
 
Padmé wrings her hands together, her eyes fixed on the ground, not him.  "When I heard you were coming home, I asked Sola if she and the girls could watch Luke and Leia for a few hours so we could have some time alone.  Now that you're not staying I understand if you don't –
 
He reaches up, wrapping his hand around hers to stop their nervous motions.  She looks at him and he holds her gaze.  "It would be great if they could watch the twins for a little bit."
 
Anakin plays with Luke and Leia while Padmé packs a small bag for the twins with what Anakin is certain is far more diapers, changes of clothes and pureed fruit than they could possibly need for a couple of hours.  He refrains from pointing this out to Padmé. 
 
When she is finally packed, he takes the bag from her while she picks up Leia.  He holds Luke and they walk to the door.  Padmé stands in front of him.  Sola glances at him and startles.  It takes conscious effort for Anakin to not reflexively reach for the scar bisecting his left cheek.  While he never gave a great deal of consideration to how handsome he may or may not have been prior to his duel with Sidious, he knows his injury is quite disfiguring. Unlike Sola, Padmé was informed as to the extent of his injuries by Master Windu many months ago.
 
Sola recovers quickly and gives him a look that is a mixture of anger and sadness.  At her side is one of her daughters, Ryoo.  "It's good to see you again, Anakin," Sola says tightly, years of good manners taking precedence over whatever it is she might truly wish to say to him.
 
"And you," Anakin replies awkwardly.  He supposes it is noteworthy that she didn't spit on him after all he's done to destroy her younger sister's life.
 
Sola takes Leia who goes happily to her aunt.  Padmé smoothes down her daughter's hair nervously.  "It'll only be a few hours.  We'll walk over and pick them up."
 
Sola tsks at Padmé, bouncing Leia and smiling to her.  "We'll be fine.  Stop worrying."
 
Padmé frowns, but says no more.  She turns around, taking Luke from Anakin and handing him to Ryoo whose smile is blinding as she accepts the baby.
 
Anakin frowns.  Ryoo is probably close to ten years old, but she's still a child and he isn't certain he trusts her with his infant son.  Seeming to read his mind, Ryoo looks up and gives him an offended expression.  Padmé pats his hand.  "They'll be fine."
 
He's tempted to point out that only moments ago, she was voicing the same concerns, but he holds his tongue.
 
They stand in the doorway watching Sola and Ryoo make their way up the quiet lane with the twins.  Padmé informed him earlier that Sola and Darred's home is only a couple of blocks away.  It makes him feel slightly better that her sister is so close.
 
Finally, they step back inside the apartment and Padmé closes the door.  She stands there for a moment, her hand on the door, facing it as if afraid to turn around.  He reaches out, slowly coaxing her to face him.  She does so reluctantly and he sees the tears on her cheeks.  She won't look at him, chin tucked nearly against her chest as she twines her fingers through his.  "I don't want this to be goodbye," she says.
 
He pulls her close and she gladly wraps her arms around his waist, burying her head against his chest.  He holds her tightly, his chin resting on top of her head.  "I love you," he says sadly.  "I will always love you."
 
She pulls back far enough to look into his eyes.  The light in the apartment is fading fast, but he can clearly make out her features.  She lifts her hand, her fingertips gently playing over the scarred flesh of his cheek.  His eyes flutter shut as his jaw clenches.  He feels unworthy enough of her touch as it is, being reminded of his rather monstrous visage is the last thing he wants.
 
"Does it hurt?"
 
He opens his eyes and looks at her.  "Sometimes."
 
Her fingertips venture higher, close to his eye.  "Can you see?"
 
"Not out of that eye, no."
 
She bites down on her bottom lip, worrying it absently with her teeth.  "Anakin, surely the damage could be repaired."
 
He shrugs.
 
"You don't want it repaired," she says rather than asks.
 
He looks away and then back to her.  "I think perhaps I am meant to learn humility."
 
Her lips press into a thin line.  "Is that how you feel or how the Council feels?" she asks pointedly.
 
He takes a deep breath and releases it slowly, regarding her carefully.  "This isn't their choice, Padmé.  It's mine.  If you have to hate someone, it should be me."
 
Her angry expression crumples and tears glisten in her eyes.  "I don't want to hate anyone." 
 
Her hand caresses his cheek again, pulling his head down to hers.  He is overwhelmed with the sensation of her lips against his.  The fire between them sparks to life as usual and his grip on her tightens, pulling her closer.  She goes willingly, wrapping her arms around his neck.
 
He feels less than graceful as he stumbles through the dim, toy-littered living room to the small bedroom.  There are no cribs, nor a bed, simply a large mattress situated on the floor where Padmé and the twins sleep. 
 
They don't speak.  There's no need.  They both know this is goodbye, perhaps forever and neither of them wants to talk about that.  When he reaches for the contraceptive, there is a look of regret on Padmé's features.  But again, she remains silent.  Both of them know the last thing she needs right now is another child to parent – alone. 
 
***
 
Despite how terrible he feels, Anakin knows he probably looks worse.  Aubé seems shocked to see him as he ascends the gangplank and walks past her on his way to the cockpit.  The sun is still low on the horizon, but the landing platform is already bustling with activity.
 
Several minutes later, Aubé slides into the co-pilot's seat. "I thought you might stay."
 
"Me too," he replies, his eyes glued to the console as he programs the coordinates for the return trip to Coruscant.
 
***
 
"Does it hurt?"
 
Anakin looks at his daughter and she gestures somewhat awkwardly toward his face.  It takes him a moment to process what she's asking.  "Oh," he says, absently brushing his scarred cheek with his fingertips.  "No.  Not at all."  He often forgets about the injury.  After fourteen years of constantly using the Force to compensate it's such a habit he rarely gives it conscious thought. 
 
"Did it happen during the Clone Wars?"
 
"Sort of," he answers. 
 
When her brow scrunches into a frown, he elaborates.  "It was Palpatine's parting shot.  He was trying to kill me while I was trying to kill him."  He smiles wryly.  "I was the tiniest bit quicker."
 
"You saved the Republic," Leia says.
 
Anakin shrugs.  "That's one way to look at it."
 
"You disagree?"
 
He smiles.  She is so much like her mother.  "I regret that it took me so long to see Palpatine's true nature.  Had I been quicker, many things could have turned out differently."
 
"If it had turned out differently, you could have died," Leia points out.  "Or you could have been injured even more extensively."
 
He nods with a smile at his daughter's reasoning.  "That is very true."
 
Leia takes a deep breath and glances away.  "She always told us about you – even before we were old enough to understand.  She used to tell Luke and me stories about how our father was a Jedi hero during the Clone Wars."
 
Anakin swallows thickly.  Leia and Luke know about him.  Padmé told them.  The sense of relief and sadness is nearly overwhelming.  It pulls his chest tight.  He spent more than a decade afraid Padmé hated him, knowing she would have been justified in denying his children any knowledge of him.  Yet she didn't.  She told his son and his daughter about him.
 
Leia stares at the ground, at the little pattern she traced in the dirt.  " t wasn't easy growing up without a father.  It wasn't easy on Mom to be a single parent on Naboo.  It's a very traditional society.  Other kids used to tease us, to tell us Jedi didn't have children.  They called her all sorts of horrible things they'd heard their own parents say.  We learned to never repeat the stories when we were very young."
 
Anakin tries not to wince.  If Leia hates him for leaving her and her mother and her brother, she is certainly justified.  He has earned her anger a thousand times over.   He knows without a doubt how difficult it is to grow up without a father, to hear people whisper lies about your mother.  The fact that he put his children in the same situation tears at his soul.  "I never wanted to leave any of you," he says, his voice hoarse with emotion.
 
Leia looks up at him, her expression unreadable.  Changing tactics, she says, "Mom says the Holonet called you 'The Hero With No Fear'."
 
"Propaganda," Anakin counters quickly.  He smiles wryly.  "I was afraid of everything."
 
"Are you still afraid?" Leia asks, again her expression completely unreadable to him.
 
He considers her question for a moment.  A week ago – a day ago – he could have answered truthfully that he harbored no fears.  Which is not to say he isn't wary.  He is wary of many things.  But fear implies attachment and yesterday he thought himself free of those.
 
"I'm afraid of you," he says, not realizing his feelings until the words are out of his mouth.
 
Leia nods, expression deadpan.  "I get that a lot."
 
Anakin can't prevent the bark of laughter that escapes his lips and soon Leia is laughing too.  He doesn't know when it happens, but the laughter gives way to tears.  He looks at Leia and she is crying too.  He opens his arms and Leia launches herself at him, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck. 
 
"I'm sorry," he whispers.
 
"Me too," she says, sniffling loudly.  "But it's okay."
 
It's not okay and he knows that, but right now he doesn't care.
 
***
End Chapter
***

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