Anakin cradled the cup of caf in his hands. It was too hot and probably burnt. Dex’s Diner certainly wasn’t up to the standard of quality Anakin was used to. Then again, Dex had yet to actually buy and run the place. The former Jedi (and he figured, a former Sith too) frowned again at the date on the Holojournal in front of him. He wasn’t even born yet. Anakin wanted to say he couldn’t believe it but that episode had already passed upon waking up after he was supposed to have died.
He could still remember how cold he had felt. As he had watched his son struggle to carry him, an ice cold feeling crawled through what was left of his body. It had been a long time since he had last felt that way. Ever since Mustafar everything had burnt and remained burning. The return of coldness had been a welcomed relief until he realised it was too cool. From one extreme to the other.
And then he had woken up.
Back on Coruscant. Not too far from the Jedi Temple. Caught between immense relief and utter confusion, Anakin stumbled away and eventually found what was to become Dex’s Diner. After some investigating, he could only accept what was in front of him…
…and he supposed he’s gone through worse.
A part of him was relieved he wasn’t dead, unwilling to face Padmé, Obi-Wan, Ahsoka and everyone else in the Force. On the other (now flesh) hand, thinking back to every action committed under the name Darth Vader, he deserved a good smack in the face and much more than that. He’d probably feel it now that the infernal mask was gone. That mechanic body had burnt so intensely, as though trapping the flames of Mustafar inside and keeping him in constant agony.
Anakin took a sip of the caf and immediately spat it back out. Too cold and the taste was vile. Say what you will about the fats and sugars loaded in Dex’s food but at least they didn’t disappoint. Filled with grim resolution about his current condition, Anakin left the café and began he walk back towards the Jedi Temple.
His shields were impeccable after been trained by the Jedi and the Sith. There were plenty of Jedi (alive, they were actually alive) roaming around the galaxy. No one should be bothered with his presence. Wrapping his cloak tighter around his body, Anakin considered that even if someone like Master Yoda was able to deduce something was wrong it didn’t really matter. The temple archives must have something on time travel.
Master Jocasta Nu had apparently always been cranky. And Anakin always hated the slight scowl she would send his way whenever he searched through the library. He remembered complaining about it to Obi-Wan who argued that no, Master Nu wasn’t in a state of constant grumpiness, yes, Obi-Wan had been a favourite, how did you guess Padawan? And, it’s probably your fault. Too loud I expect. Anakin could almost hear his former master giving him that lecture. It wasn’t his fault the archives was always boring and always too cold.
He turned away from Master Nu and ignored her staring. So what if he was being loud? He could hear two knights up ahead having a discussion. She hadn’t looked so pleased with her authority once Anakin had turned his lightsabre on –
-No. Anakin forced his mind back to his task.
After some time Anakin was fuming. Nothing was ever easy. For once, Anakin would like something to come easily. He was also rubbing at his right elbow. He had just accidentally knocked it in his frustration and forgotten there was flesh rather than machine. Just as Anakin was about to storm out he overheard Master Nu’s voice and immediately brightened at the chance to catch her making noise in the library.
However when Anakin found her he nearly gasped aloud at the familiar figure beside her. Dooku. A Dooku that looked very alive and different from the one Anakin was used to. He looked at ease and relaxed. Granted, there was a glimpse of concern in his eyes but overall his body wasn’t tense with anger and stress. Anakin still recalled with fine detail how perfectly shocked Dooku was when his hands were sliced off and how deliciously satisfying it was to finally kill him. This Dooku had yet to do anything offensive other than being a complete snob so he was off the hook for now.
Keeping himself hidden Anakin listened.
“Master Yoda is wise in the will of the Force,” Jocasta Nu muttered, a little unconvinced herself. “He wouldn’t make a decision such as this lightly.”
Dooku’s shoulders sagged, “He’s too young. The family may have consented but I could feel their sadness. They haven’t had their child for a year and we’ve taken him.”
Anakin thought back to past discussions with his master on the acceptance of new younglings into the temple. Unless in emergencies such as abuse or death, children brought to the temple were usually over a year old, nearing two. This was to allowed the baby time to bond with their family before making a new one, establishing early lessons only mothers and fathers could teach before learning lessons only Jedi could teach. At the time Anakin had silently thought children should be allowed to go back and forth between the temple and their family, continuing lessons from both parties. Obi-Wan and other Jedi had never managed to teach the lessons his wonderful mother had.
“So the family…?” Nu said. “They were –?”
“-his family was small and humble. No sign of abuse or neglect. Master Yoda informed me that he was made aware of the youngling’s presence in the Force as soon as he was born.”
Nu’s frown deepened but she said firmly, “The Force has willed this child be a Jedi.”
Dooku was silent and Nu watched him with concern. Anakin wanted to roll his eyes at the Jedi’s hypocrisy in their approach to the Force. Sometimes they followed, other times they didn’t and bent to the whims of greedy senators. Regardless of their choice they seemed to hurt someone anyway. Now some poor kid is probably going to be damaged because of Yoda’s decision.
“Who is the child?” Nu asked curiously.
Anakin’s shields tightened, ensuring he wasn’t discovered. It wouldn’t surprise him if it was someone like the emotionless Windu or Luminara, who seemed only eager to assume her padawan was dead.
Dooku sighed before saying, “A boy. Obi-Wan Kenobi.”
Anakin’s world froze.
Padawans were occasionally put to work in the crèche, teaching social skills and engaging with the weird quirks of toddlers. Those sessions were always memorable. Someone always returned with pee on their pants and everyone smelt of baby food by the end of the day. The first time Anakin was assigned, a baby had thrown up on his robes. Eleven-year-old Anakin had nearly joined him. Upon returning what had become home, Obi-Wan had kindly washed the robe as Anakin showered.
Anakin had waited until night to invade the crèche quarters. With his skills in mechanics and the Force, handling security and getting inside undetected had been an easier task than breathing had been when he was Vader and stuck in that burning suit. He felt the bright and naïve Force signatures of the younglings inhabiting their shared rooms. Each clan had ten initiates and they all shared a room together. Babies and toddlers though were kept in small separate rooms to prevent the spread of diseases amongst vulnerable immune systems.
And every door had a name tag.
Anakin found the door he was looking for. He felt Obi-Wan’s Force signature in the room. It was him but also wasn’t. A bright and blank canvas was resting in that room. Anakin shivered. He felt too cold again. And the crèche masters wondered why their younglings caught the cold so often, Anakin thought dryly before opening the door and stepping inside.
Before, Obi-Wan had vanished. He gave one last infuriating smile before disappearing. The only thing left was his cloak and lightsabre. If Anakin was being honest with himself, travelling back in time had shocked him less than Obi-Wan’s death. The Emperor (his so-called Master, Sidious, Palpatine) had noticed Vader’s silent bewilderment and informed the Empire’s iron fist to shrug it off. Unimportant, Kenobi’s death was. As unimportant as Kenobi’s entire existence had been.
But when Anakin finally laid eyes on the youngling lying asleep in his crib, it felt like nothing in the galaxy mattered to the same degree as this small red-haired baby. Anakin reached out and touched the baby’s cheek.
It was warm.
Despite telling himself not to multiple times before arriving, Anakin collapsed to the ground in tears.