The Journey Home
"I believe I've secured transport, but we'll have to be quick about – " Obi-Wan stops abruptly, watching as Anakin and Leia self-consciously pull away from each other.
With grace and dignity, Leia straightens her gown and brushes absently at the tears wetting her cheeks. She squares her shoulders and meets Obi-Wan's gaze unflinchingly. "Will we be able to make it all the way to Naboo from here?"
"Yes, your highness," Obi-Wan replies. "Providing everything goes according to plan, we will take a direct route to the Chommell sector. But I'm afraid quarters will be quite cramped and decidedly lacking in any amenities."
Taking Obi-Wan's hint, Leia nods. "There was a public 'fresher around the corner. I won't be long."
Anakin trails her to the end of the alley, watching until the door to the public 'fresher hisses shut. Obi-Wan, having followed, raises an eyebrow at his former apprentice. Carefully, he says, "I didn't mean to interrupt."
"She's my daughter," Anakin says plainly, meeting Obi-Wan's gaze, quashing any sordid speculation that may have been brewing in his mentor's mind. "She has a twin brother, Luke. I haven't seen them since they were infants."
Obi-Wan blinks at Anakin, clearly stunned. "I …" he trails off and then seems to collect his thoughts. "I heard rumors Senator Organa was their father. I knew you and Padmé were close, but I never …"
"I know," Anakin says, "and I thank you for that. I never had to deny my marriage to Padmé or my children's paternity and for that small gift I am truly grateful."
Obi-Wan's expression softens and he reaches out, placing a gentle hand on Anakin's shoulder. "You have been so alone, old friend. More than I ever feared. I'm so sorry."
Anakin laughs, mostly because if he doesn't he isn't certain what will happen. He is filled with a chaotic mess of emotions. For someone who has lived such a solitary, steady existence for so long, it is deeply unsettling.
He's going insane. Is this what they wanted? Is this how he's supposed to learn? Maybe they don't want him to learn a damn thing. Maybe they just want to put him out of their misery.
He throws the clump of mud and grass as hard as he can, but feels no satisfaction as it splatters wetly against a nearby tree trunk. The engines are filled with this crap. Even with his mechanical skills, he's not a miracle worker. He's stranded on this damn stinking swamp planet and he's about to lose his mind.
He drops to his knees in the muck and falls forward onto his hands, roaring through bared teeth. Behind him, he hears metal grind and groan as his Delta-7 starfighter bears the wrath of his fury through the Force.
He finally snaps out of it. He doesn't know exactly how much time has passed. The murky sky seems murkier. Evening is approaching. He's completely sodden, covered from head to toe in mud and grime, shivering involuntarily from the cold.
He stares at his starfighter. If it had problems before, it's certainly no better off now. The canopy is cracked. From the smell, he suspects a variety of the necessary fluids are currently seeping into the swamp. He's well and truly stranded. It will probably be half a standard year before someone comes to check on him.
He buries his head in his hands, mindless of the mud. In three days Luke and Leia will celebrate their first birthday. His rash plans to go to Naboo are finished. He lifts his head and stares sullenly at the damaged fighter. His body literally aches with the pain of missing his wife and children. He has holos of all of them. He knows Luke and Leia have changed, grown. And even though it's only been a few months since he last saw his wife, he already finds it is difficult to remember the exact shade of her hair, the exact smell of her skin.
But this is why he's here, isn't it? For them?
Again, he stares at the fighter, at the one thing that could take him to them. In his rage, he damaged it even further. He knows many Jedi who couldn't have used the Force in such a way. But that doesn't make him better or stronger. How many times did Obi-Wan tell him that it isn't mastery of the Force for which a Jedi strives, but mastery of himself.
He has a long way to go.
Anakin whistles through his teeth when he sees the ship and he gives Obi-Wan a sidelong glance. "Why does the captain owe you a favor?" he asks pointedly. The ship is older, but well maintained and without having to ask, Anakin knows the captain's main source of income is smuggling.
"There was a little scuffle in a cantina a few years ago. The details aren't important," Obi-Wan says, clearly hoping to avoid explaining this particular association.
The captain, a strikingly attractive human woman turns away from the repairs she is directing. Her glossy black hair is pulled back in a severe plait that extends almost to her waist. Anakin estimates she is probably in her mid-forties, but she could pass for much younger. Like any good smuggler, she seems reserved, wary and she studies the trio closely. "What's with the kid?"
Anakin takes a protective step in front of Leia.
"She is of no concern," Obi-Wan replies.
The captain shoots Obi-Wan a questioning glance and he motions for her to let the subject drop. She doesn't appear happy with the situation, but she nods. "We leave within the hour."
Anakin stares at the holos. Luke and Leia are five years old, smiling brightly, surrounded by friends and family. Their mother's family, of course.
Even with the help of the images, Anakin's imagination cannot fully render his children at this age. To him they are forever the cooing babies he held close.
He moves the holos aside and reaches for the newest set which was recently delivered along with enough supplies to get him through the rainy season. There are images of the twins' eighth birthday party. Anakin's gaze lingers on Padmé. She is happy, smiling brightly at her children. But he can see the strain on her features. The holos and accompanying letter are already months old, relayed by Master Yoda. As far as he knows, Padmé still has no idea of his whereabouts. She sends the small care package to him in care of the Jedi Temple on Coruscant.
It is a ritual she has maintained since that dark day he left his wife and children on Naboo. Without fail, every year she sends him pictures of the twins and a letter. Sometimes there are childish works of art or school marks. With every year that passes, her letters become slightly more withdrawn. This time, her letter focuses solely on the children, giving him no details of her life or feelings.
He hangs his head sadly. He doesn't blame Padmé. She is a vibrant, beautiful woman and she might as well be pining for a dead man. He regrets that he was not strong enough to truly let her go when they parted ways. She doesn't deserve to be chained to the memory of him, hoping for a day that may never come.
Rising to his feet, Anakin paces the few yards to the edge of the swamp. He came here hoping to learn mastery of himself, of the Force. Hoping to become the Jedi the Council prophesized. Hoping to become the man his family so desperately needs him to be. But all the hoping has been futile. Nearly eight years on this forsaken rock and he feels the only lesson he has learned is defeat. Absolute defeat. He took himself apart piece by piece, only to discover there was nothing left to rebuild.
He glances back at the pile of supplies that were delivered, the light blue holocron catching his eye. It was unexpected. The Council has a mission for him.