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Through A Rusted Smile

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When it hits him, it hits him all at once.

Obi-Wan has been staving off a breakdown since Order 66 (since the start of the Clone Wars, since the day Qui-Gon died, since he was a teenager and almost shipped off to the AgriCorps), and he would be perfectly happy to keep doing that, thank you very much. As much as he knows that the Jedi's emotionless dogma is harmful, it's also the dogma he's been living with since he was a baby, and it's not easy to shake it off. Some things - love, anger, grief - are safe enough to feel, but a breakdown? Obi-Wan doesn't have the time for it. He hasn't had time for it for the past two years.

Until the moment a clone trooper, wearing battered armor leftover from the war, points a blaster at his head.

The assassination attempt isn't even meant for him. There are five clones here, and their leader has a blaster held against Padmé's temple while another is aiming for her chest. Anakin is fuming, but there are two blasters trained on him as well. There's only one blaster aiming at Obi-Wan.

It's more than enough.

His heart is pounding fit to burst, and all he can see is Cody and his men firing down into the gorge after him, and all he can hear is the echoes of screams bouncing around in his skull as countless Jedi die and die and die-

"Let her go," Anakin says, his voice violently cold.

Obi-Wan tries to wrench himself back to reality, but this is the nightmare that haunts his sleep, this is the memory he'll never be able to stop reliving, this is Utupau, he's on Utupau and Cody is firing at him and he's falling and the Force is screaming and so are all the other Jedi as they fall and fall and fall and fall and Obi-Wan is falling too-

"You have no hope of succeeding," Padmé says. "You have to know that. If you hand over your weapons now, you will be shown mercy for it."

"You think our brothers will kill us?" the leader of the group of clones asks. "They'll join us. No matter what you've done, you can't turn them against family."

"What grievances do you have?" Padmé asks. "We can discuss them without violence."

The leader smiles. "And where's the fun in that?"

Obi-Wan feels Anakin nudge him with the Force. He wants Obi-Wan to open their bond, Obi-Wan realizes. He wants to make a plan.

Obi-Wan can't let him in.

He ignores the nudging and tries to focus on the sensations that keep him grounded in the present. The feeling of Padmé in the room, the softness of the plush carpet under his feet, the sounds of the traffic outside the window-

The window that Mace Windu fell through, and if Obi-Wan digs, he can still find that pain hidden beneath all of the other emotions they've layered on top-

His breathing speeds up. Anakin is looking at him oddly now, concern in his eyes, but Obi-Wan can't break down, he can't, he can't. He has to keep it together, at least until Padmé is safe, at least until the clones are gone, at least until-

A blast rings through the air, and Obi-Wan jerks backwards as if he were the one shot. He wasn't; the blast came from Padmé's security force, finally bursting through the locked doors. Anakin leaps into action, but Obi-Wan is shaking and gasping and still trying to keep his mind locked in the present (the present the present the present you're not there-) and in no shape to fight. He's in no shape to do much of anything, but he knows he can't stay here.

He pulls the Force around him tightly, wrapping himself up in its eddies so tightly that it masks his own presence completely. Then he slips out of the office, stumbling down the halls until he reaches a place that's safe. It's not his first choice, but the apartment he shares with Anakin and Padmé is too far away. This is close, so Obi-Wan lets himself in and huddles down in a corner.

He's alright. He's alright. He's alright.

His pounding heart, his heaving lungs, his panicking brain… They don't listen.

There was an attempt on Padmé's life, the entire Senate building is in uproar, and Obi-Wan has gone missing.

Bail sighs deeply as he heads back to his own office. His vacation starts today, and he's supposed to head back to Alderaan this afternoon, but he doubts it's going to happen now. He's been in Padmé's office for the past hour or so, helping deal with the fallout of the assassination attempt while Anakin, white-faced with fury and fear, searched for Obi-Wan. Last Bail heard, he was still no where to be found. Both Anakin and Padmé are almost certain that he's alright, but neither of them sound sure enough of it to be reassured.

Bail's office, he notices when he reaches it, is unlocked. He frowns, putting a palm against the scanner to open the door. He never leaves his office unlocked. Normally, he would dismiss it as a glitch or forgetfulness on his part, but after an attempt was made on Padmé's life…

Bail pulls out his blaster and enters his office slowly. He doesn't see anyone, but he hears quick, harsh breathing. It sounds like someone who's injured, and Bail lowers his blaster slightly. That doesn't mean he's safe, but it might mean he's safer.

He flicks the light on, and sitting in the corner of his office, wrapped up in a brown cloak and gasping like he's about to drown, is Obi-Wan.

"Obi-Wan!" Bail cries, dropping his blaster and rushing to Obi-Wan's side. "Are you hurt?"

He thinks Obi-Wan shakes his head, although he's shaking so hard in general that it's hard to tell. "I-" he gasps, "I couldn't- I can't-"

"You're alright, Obi-Wan," Bail says, trying to sound as soothing as possible. He ends up sounding a little like he does when he's trying to calm Winter down, but he doesn't think Obi-Wan would appreciate being compared to a two year old. "Anakin is searching everywhere for you. Let's go-"

"No!" Obi-Wan cries, grasping for Bail's arm. He grips it so tightly it hurts. "No, Bail, please-"

"Alright," Bail says, kneeling on the ground in front of Obi-Wan. "Alright. I don't have to go anywhere if you don't want me to."

"I can't-" Obi-Wan is trembling madly. Bail has always known he's ten years older than Obi-Wan, but he's never felt those years more keenly than right now. "I can't go back-"

"We don't have to go anywhere," Bail says. Obi-Wan's fingers are still wrapped around his wrist. "Can I hold you?"

Obi-Wan silently folds himself forward onto Bail's chest. Bail wraps his free arm around Obi-Wan's back, feeling his entire body tremble. Something about the assassination attempt - Bail can only assume this is related to the assassination attempt - has shaken him badly. Bail doesn't know precisely what it is, but he can wait until Obi-Wan has calmed down a bit to find out.

He's not sure how long they sit there, Obi-Wan shaking and Bail rubbing his back silently, but finally, Obi-Wan slowly grows still. He leans back a little, and Bail releases him. Obi-Wan's fingers are still wrapped around his wrist.

"I apologize," Obi-Wan says, his voice only just wavering. His face is bone white, but Bail can see that he's trying to look unruffled. "I didn't mean to disturb you."

"Stars, Obi-Wan, you don't need to apologize," Bail says. "What happened?"

Obi-Wan's mouth twists and his eyes skitter to the side. He looks at the ground, but Bail doesn't think he sees it. "The attempt on Padmé's life… It was carried out by clones."

It takes Bail a moment, and then… Well, this certainly isn't the first time a clone trooper has tried to kill Obi-Wan. And the last time was coupled with what Bail thinks was probably the worst moment of Obi-Wan's life. It's no wonder he doesn't appreciate the reminder.

"I understand," Bail says. "But the assassins are gone, and both Anakin and Padmé are worried sick about you. I can comm Padmé-"

"No," Obi-Wan gasps, his grip on Bail's wrist growing painful. Bail tries not to show any hint of the pain, but his expression must show some sign of it, because Obi-Wan looks down at his hand wrapped around Bail's arm like he's never seen it before. Slowly, one finger at a time, he peels his hand away.

"I'm sorry," he says. "But please, do not comm Padmé."

"Why not?" Bail asks. "She and Anakin will want to know that you're alright."

"I don't- I can't-" Obi-Wan curls his fingers around his own hair, pulling it tightly. "I can't go to them."

"Why not?" Bail asks again, trying to keep his voice nonjudgmental. "They're worried about you."

"I can't face them like this," Obi-Wan says, peeking up at Bail from between his hands. "I have to be stronger. I can't-"

Bail should have seen this coming. Obi-Wan has been taught to repress his emotions since he was a child. A breakdown of this magnitude can't be easy for him to deal with, and Obi-Wan has always "dealt with" (although Bail uses the term loosely) his problems by fleeing from them. It was what he did when Anakin and Padmé first propositioned him and Bail found a surprise guest in his apartment, wrapped up tightly in a brown cloak and brooding. It's why he so rarely took breaks on Coruscant during the war, because his emotions could catch up with him if he stayed still long enough. It's what he's always done, and Bail isn't surprised that he's doing it again.

Not surprised, perhaps, but not pleased either.

"They won't think any less of you, Obi-Wan," Bail says. "They'll just want to help."

"I can't face them," Obi-Wan repeats. He looks up at Bail. "Could you cover for me? Tell them I went… I don't know. Somewhere. So they don't come after me."

"They'll search for you no matter what I tell them," Bail replies. An idea starts to come together in his mind. It's not perfect, but it might be the best option they have. "But I might be able to do something that'll keep them off your back for a while."

Obi-Wan looks at him hesitantly, but curiously. "What is it?"

Padmé's expression is ice cold, while Anakin's is full of fiery rage. But Bail has faced down a whole manner of fearsome opponents, and they will not be able to beat him any more than the others could.

"Do you mean to tell us," Padmé says coldly, her voice regal enough that Bail's not certain if she's saying "us" to include herself and Anakin or using the royal we, "that you know where our husband is, and you're not going to tell us?"

"Padmé," Bail says gently, "you know I wouldn't do this if he didn't ask it of me."

"He's being an idiot!" Anakin cries. "Where is he, Bail?"

"I swore to him that I would not tell you," Bail replies. Obi-Wan had forced the vow out of him before he agreed to attempt Bail's plan. Bail knew Obi-Wan would disappear on him if he didn't swear it, so he acquiesced. "But I can tell you he's safe."

"Bail," Padmé says, sorrow melting her icy expression, "we're worried for him. Is he injured?"

"No," Bail replies. "But he needs time, Padmé. He wouldn't want me to tell you too much, but… he needs time."

"Why will he keep in contact with you but not us?" Anakin demands. "We're his partners."

"Which is exactly why," Bail replies. "He doesn't want to show weakness in front of you. I know it's foolish," he adds when Anakin opens his mouth with indignation, "but you know how Obi-Wan can be as well as I do."

"Bail," Padmé says, sounding wounded.

"Padmé," Bail replies. "I know how difficult it is to be apart from your spouse. I wouldn't suggest this if I thought it wasn't for the best."

Padmé visibly relents, if only a little. "You'll keep him safe?"

"Padmé!" Anakin cries.

"I'll do my best," Bail promises.

Padmé nods. "The second he changes his mind about speaking with us, you'll comm me." It's not a request.

"I will," Bail promises.

"And you'll tell us when he's ready to come home," Padmé adds.

"I will."

Anakin looks like he might explode. "Padmé, how-"

"If this is what Obi-Wan needs, we need to give it to him," Padmé says. "Trust me, I don't like it any more than you do, but…" She shrugs one elegant shoulder. "He needs this."

"I hate to leave you in the middle of all this," Bail says, "but Breha and Winter are expecting me on Alderaan. Will you be alright if I go?"

Padmé manages a small smile. "I have other advisors, Bail. You've been planning this vacation for weeks. You deserve the time off. Go, be with your wife and daughter."

Bail nods, then he leaves Padmé's office and heads for his own. Almost immediately upon palming open the door, a dark shadow peels itself away from the wall.

"Did they agree?" Obi-Wan asks. His face is still pale, but he looks better than he did before.

"They didn't like it, but they agreed," Bail replies.

"And they don't know where I'm going?"

"I didn't tell them."

Obi-Wan nods. "I'm sorry to do this to you, Bail."

Bail smiles and puts a hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder. "You're my friend, Obi-Wan. If I can help you, I want to do it."

"Are you certain you want me to come with you to Alderaan?" Obi-Wan asks. "You're going to visit Breha and Winter for the first time in months. You don't need me tagging along."

"Like I said, you're my friend," Bail repeats. "And Breha has been hounding me to drag you back to Alderaan for a visit anyway."

"If you're certain," Obi-Wan murmurs.

"The ship is departing in…" Bail checks the time. "One hour. I've already got all of my things packed, but do you want to get anything from your apartment?"

"I should," Obi-Wan replies, although he doesn't look like he likes the idea. "The twins aren't there, are they?"

"I don't think so," Bail replies. "Obi-Wan, you don't have to leave them if you don't want to. Padmé and Anakin won't judge you for this."

Obi-Wan shakes his head. "I have to, Bail. I need…"

"I know," Bail says when Obi-Wan's voice trails off, apparently unable to say exactly what he needs. "I'll come with you to your apartment. You can gather some clothes, then we'll go to the ship."

Obi-Wan nods. He pulls his hood over his head, and although Bail knows he's there, suddenly his eyes seem to slide right past him. "Obi-Wan?"

"Apologies," Obi-Wan says as he comes into focus again. "I made my notice-me-not too strong."


"A subtle form of a Force suggestion," Obi-Wan explains. "Just enough to make people not focus on me. I didn't mean to include you in it."

"That sounds like a valuable skill to have," Bail says. There are many times when he wished people wouldn't notice him.

"It is," Obi-Wan replies. "Shall we go to the apartment?"

The apartment, Bail notices, not his apartment. "Of course," he replies, going to the door of his office and stepping through it. Obi-Wan follows him silently. He doesn't say a word on the whole way out of the Senate building, and Bail doesn't know if his strange Force trick will hold up if they have a conversation, so he doesn't try to start one. They leave the building and climb into Bail's private speeder. Still, Obi-Wan is silent.

Bail pulls up in front of the building that houses both his apartment and Padmé's. Obi-Wan jumps out of the speeder before Bail even has a chance to turn off the engine. Clearly, he's ready to get this over with.

"I can pick out a few things for you, if you want," Bail offers. "You don't have to go in."

"I'll be quick," Obi-Wan replies, going over to the door. He lays his palm against the scanner, then the door slides open. Quickly, he goes inside. Bail trails in after him. It's empty inside the apartment, of course, but there are signs of life everywhere. A shawl draped over the back of the couch, a sippy cup on the side table, a datapad on the shelf…

Obi-Wan disappears off into one of the rooms while Bail stands awkwardly in the living room, waiting for Obi-Wan to come back out. It feels strange to be sneaking around here, in his friends' apartment. When he comes here, it's supposed to be to visit Padmé and her husbands, not to sneak around behind her back.

Maybe it's that guilt that prompts Bail to suggest, when Obi-Wan comes out of the bedroom with a small bag, "Why don't you leave them a note?"

Obi-Wan blinks. "A note?"

"A note," Bail repeats. "Just something so they know you're alright."

Obi-Wan twists his fingers in the sleeves of his cloak, but finally, he picks up the datapad on the shelf and turns it on. He writes a quick message, then sets it down on the table. It's angled so Bail can read it easily.

Don't worry about me. I love you.

"They'll worry anyway," Bail says quietly.

"I know," Obi-Wan says.

"You could stay."

"I can't."

Bail sighs. He doesn't really understand why Obi-Wan can't just stay, why he's so terrified of having his breakdown in front of the two people who love him most in the universe, but he also knows that Obi-Wan is a stubborn bastard and can't be forced into doing anything he doesn't want to do. If Bail tries to fight him on this, he'll fail. This way, he can at least keep an eye on Obi-Wan.

"Are you all packed?" he asks.

Obi-Wan nods.

"We should go to the ship, then."

Obi-Wan looks around the apartment, his fingers lingering on the arm of the couch, then he picks up his bag again.

"Lead the way."

Breha is waiting at the landing pad when they arrive, Winter in her arms. Bail smiles when he sees them, then turns to Obi-Wan.

"Breha knows you're coming, and she's promised not to tell anyone. There's a room at the palace set up for you."

"Thank you," Obi-Wan murmurs.

"Do you want to eat with us tonight?" Bail asks. "Breha's had the kitchens prepare a special meal."

"I don't think so," Obi-Wan replies. "But thank you for the offer."

Bail hadn't expected anything less. He puts his hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder and gives it a gentle squeeze.

"If you want to talk about anything, I'm here."

Obi-Wan nods, then the ship docks and the ramp lowers. Bail gives Obi-Wan one last glance, then he steps off and walks to Breha and Winter, only barely able to keep himself from running.

"And how are my two favorite girls?" he asks, giving Breha a kiss.

"Glad you're here," Breha replies.

Winter reaches for Bail, who gladly gathers her up in his arms. "Have you and Mamá been having fun?" he asks, pressing a kiss to the top of Winter's head.

Winter nods. "Missed you," she whispers, burying her face in Bail's shoulder.

"Obi-Wan," Breha calls, and Bail turns to see that Obi-Wan has just stepped off the ship. "I'm glad to see you, although I wish it were under better circumstances."

"Thank you for your hospitality, Queen Breha," Obi-Wan replies.

"I've told you a million times, you don't have to call me that," Breha replies. "Just Breha is fine."

"Who that?" Winter asks Bail quietly, looking up at him with her big, dark eyes.

"A friend of mine named Obi-Wan," Bail replies. "He has two children who are just your age."

"They here?"

"No, they're on Coruscant."

Winter makes a contented little humming noise, looking at Obi-Wan.

"Would you like to say hello?" Bail asks.

Winter buries her face in Bail's shoulder again.

"She's been going through a shy phase," Breha explains. Bail knows she's talking to Obi-Wan as much as him. "Don't you want to say hello to Mamá and Papá's friend, Winter?"

Winter peeks out over Bail's shoulder. "Hi," she whispers, just barely loud enough to be heard.

For half a second, the hint of a smile on Obi-Wan's face almost seems real. "Hello, little one," he says. "Your father has told me a lot about you."

"Be sure not to say anything in front of Winter that you wouldn't want repeated," Bail warns. "She remembers everything. Don't you, sweetheart?"

"'Member everything," Winter agrees.

"A rare gift," Obi-Wan says. "And a valuable one for a future queen."

Winter hides her face, but Bail is pretty sure she's smiling.

"Your room is all prepared, Obi-Wan, if you want to set down your bags," Breha says. "And then won't you join us for dinner? I've had the kitchen prepare all of Bail's favorites, and I seem to recall you enjoying many of them as well."

Obi-Wan manages a small smile for Breha, but it's clearly strained and doesn't quite meet his eyes. "I don't have much of an appetite," he says. "And I wouldn't want to intrude on your first night together as a family again."

"You wouldn't be intruding at all," Breha replies. "You and Padmé and Anakin and the twins are practically family anyway."

"I'm still afraid I must decline," Obi-Wan says. "Perhaps some other night."

"I'll hold you to that," Breha says, and Bail doesn't think he's imagining the slight threat in her voice.

Obi-Wan doesn't comment on it, though, just bows slightly, picks up his bag, and says politely, "Could someone please lead me to my room?"

Breha gestures and a protocol droid walks up to them. "PX-247, please show Obi-Wan to his room."

"Certainly, Your Majesty," PX replies. "Come with me, Master Kenobi."

Obi-Wan follows PX down the hall. Bail and Breha share a look, but neither of them want to discuss the topic too openly with Winter there.

"I'm sure you want to freshen up, Bail," Breha says. She takes Winter out of Bail's arms, then hails one of her nursemaids. "Celia, please take Winter to her nursery."

"Wanna stay," Winter says, not petulantly, but like a fact.

"Papá and I will come to your nursery soon, don't you worry," Breha says. "Papá just has to clean up. He's very stinky."

Winter looks at Bail, who exaggeratedly waves a hand in front of his face as if to ward off an offensive smell. She giggles a little, then obligingly toddles off with Celia.

"Tell me about Obi-Wan, B," Breha says the second she's out of earshot.

Bail sighs as he and Breha start walking towards their rooms. "There was an attempt on Padmé's life earlier today."

Breha gasps. "Is everyone alright?"

"Everyone is fine," Bail says quickly. "But the would-be assassins were a handful of disgruntled ex-clone troopers. And after Order 66…"

"Oh, poor Obi-Wan," Breha sighs. "But why didn't he want to stay with Anakin and Padmé?"

"I don't know," Bail says. "He's nearing a breakdown and he knows it, but for some reason, he doesn't want to have it in front of them. It was hard enough to convince him to come here with me instead of just disappearing somewhere until he thought he could control himself again."

"Damn the Jedi," Breha says, the sharp curse slicing through the air. "How could they make people believe it was shameful to have emotions? Anyone would struggle after everything Obi-Wan's been through!"

"I think it's best to give him space," Bail says. Before Breha can say anything, he adds, "I know you don't want to, and I don't particularly want to either, but I think it's what he needs right now. We should leave him be for now, as long as he needs us to, but we need to make sure he knows we'll be right here if he needs us."

Breha sighs. "He'll only flee if I try to mother him too much."

"He will," Bail agrees.

"Make sure he knows we're here for him if he needs anything," Breha says sternly.

Bail offers his wife a small, weary smile. "I will."

Obi-Wan doesn't leave his room that night. Bail leaves him be, but when he wakes the next morning to note from Breha that reads, Had to go for a meeting, see you later, he decides to find him.

It doesn't take long. Bail has a pretty good sense of Obi-Wan's personality, and he thinks he knows where he would go in this situation. He's right. Obi-Wan is in the gardens, in a somewhat-neglected corner, and he's meditating.

"Good morning," Bail calls.

Obi-Wan doesn't open his eyes. "Good morning."

"Did you sleep well?"

Obi-Wan cracks one eye open at that. "You don't need to go through that sort of small talk with me, Bail."

"I'm simply asking after a friend," Bail replies. "And if anything in your room wasn't to your liking, I'd like to know so I can have it fixed."

"Everything is fine," Obi-Wan says, closing his eye again. "The room is lovely. Thank you for letting me stay here."

"Of course," Bail replies. "Any time. As Breha said, you're practically family."

Obi-Wan's mouth twists slightly. "Indeed."

Bail wants to ask why that's apparently a bad thing, wants to coax Obi-Wan into coming inside and having breakfast with him, wants to get him to talk about his stars-damned feelings, but he knows that pushing won't work. If he tries too hard to push Obi-Wan, especially about this, he's afraid Obi-Wan will snap. He needs to be gentle, and he needs to let this go at Obi-Wan's own pace.

Even though he really, really doesn't want to.

"I'm going inside for breakfast," Bail says after a moment. "Will you join me?"

"I want to meditate for a while longer," Obi-Wan replies.

"Perhaps after, then?"


Bail sighs and leaves the garden, heading back inside. He finds Winter in her nursery and goes to breakfast with her. Breha meets them halfway through the meal, sitting down with a deep sigh.

"That meeting was brutal. Remind me not to schedule meetings that early again."

"'Kay," Winter says, eating a bowl of oatmeal as carefully as she can, which isn't particularly carefully.

Breha looks at Winter and laughs. "You don't really have to remind me, baby girl. I was just joking around with your father."

Winter hums to herself as she eats more of her oatmeal and manages to get it all over her in the process. If Bail didn't know that Luke and Leia are equally messy and often actually messier, he'd think she was doing it on purpose.

"How's Obi-Wan?" Breha asks quietly as she begins to eat.

"Last I saw him, meditating in the garden," Bail replies. "I invited him in for breakfast, but…"

Breha huffs quietly. "When can we just force him to talk?"

"Darling, do you really think anyone can force Obi-Wan to talk about his emotions if he doesn't want to do so?"

"You may have a point."

"Papá?" Winter asks, reaching over and grabbing Bail's cape. "Wanna play?"

"Let's get you cleaned up first," Bail says, smiling at his daughter. "You're a mess!"

Winter looks at herself and giggles. "Messy."

"Very messy."

Winter reaches for Bail, and even though she's covered in oatmeal, Bail picks her up. He can change his clothes later.

"Whipped," Breha coughs.

"Let's go play, then, shall we?" Bail asks Winter, ignoring Breha's smirk entirely.

Winter beams up at her father. "Play with your friend too?" she asks.

"You want to play with Obi-Wan?"

Winter nods.

Bail looks at Breha quickly, then shifts Winter onto his hip. She can walk herself, he knows, but he likes carrying her anyway. "Let's go find him. But first, we're getting you to a bathroom to clean you up."

Cleaning Winter up is easier said than done. She giggles and squirms the entire time, and getting her out of her oatmeal-covered clothes without getting more oatmeal onto her body is a difficult task. Bail insisted on doing it himself - he is her father, after all - but after he finally gets Winter's dress off and smears some oatmeal in her hair in the process, he thinks he might be out of his depth.

Finally, though, he gets Winter cleaned up and drops his own dirty cape off in the nearest laundry hamper, and the two of them go to the garden. Winter toddles alongside Bail and stops every few feet to admire the flowers. Bail tells her the few botany facts he remembers, and she tells him some of the ones she knows.

Finally, they reach the corner with Obi-Wan. He's still there, eyes closed in meditation just like when Bail left him an hour or so ago. Winter looks at him in confusion, then looks up at Bail.


"No, he's not sleeping," Bail says. "He's meditating. It's like a special sort of thinking."

Winter studies Obi-Wan for a long moment, then she sits down on the ground in front of him and closes her eyes. "Like this?"

Bail laughs. "Very good."

"Indeed," Obi-Wan adds, and Bail belatedly realizes that Obi-Wan's opened his eyes and is looking at Winter with what's almost a smile. "Have you ever tried meditating before?"

"No," Winter says, opening her eyes again. "Teach?"

"Winter likes to learn new things," Bail explains. "She always asks people to teach her things."

"I'd be glad to teach you how to meditate," Obi-Wan tells Winter. He looks up at Bail and asks, "And what brings you here?"

"Winter is hoping to play with us," Bail says. "Are you free?"

Obi-Wan blinks, then he looks at Winter and offers her a small smile. "Of course I'll play with you, Princess."

Winter beams and gets up. Instead of walking over to Bail, though, she plops down right in Obi-Wan's lap and smiles up at him. "Wanna play dolls," she says.

"An excellent idea," Obi-Wan replies. "Shall we go to your room, then?"

"Wanna play here," Winter says.

"I'll go find someone to fetch her dolls for us, then," Bail says. He's not sure exactly how Winter is doing this, but Obi-Wan looks more relaxed than he has since Bail found him in his office. Obi-Wan's always liked children, Bail knows this, but he didn't expect that Winter would be able to get through to him now. He's not complaining, but he's surprised.

A protocol droid scurries off to fetch Winter's dolls, and when they arrive, she tells Obi-Wan all about them and introduces each one to him. Obi-Wan is incredibly patient, as always, and seems to remember everything that Winter tells him. Bail watches with a smile as they play together. Obi-Wan still has tension in his shoulders, but less. Maybe Winter is getting through to him, doing what Bail himself couldn't do.

When Breha arrives and scoops Winter up for lunch, Bail offers Obi-Wan a hand up. "Will you join us?" he asks. "You didn't have anything for breakfast, you must be hungry."

"I don't think so," Obi-Wan replies, and Bail's heart sinks. "Perhaps another time."

"Perhaps," Bail agrees. He's not going to push, not right now. Maybe he should, maybe he's got an advantage, but he's worried that it'll be too much. Obi-Wan has just played with Winter of his own volition. It's a small step, but maybe it's enough for now.

Breha gives Bail a look when he rejoins her and Winter. "No Obi-Wan?"

"No Obi-Wan," Bail confirms.

"I don't have as much patience as you do," Breha says. "He has to know I'm only going to let him get away with this for so long."

"He played with Winter."

Breha sighs. "Well, at least that's something."

As it turns out, Breha's patience doesn't have a chance to run out. Anakin's does first.

It's barely been two days since Bail found Obi-Wan in his office, and already Anakin is landing in front of the castle in Aldera, demanding to know where Obi-Wan is. Bail wonders how he got past Padmé, then wonders if she's involved in this too. She said she'd give Obi-Wan his space, but she hasn't always been the most patient person in the galaxy when it comes to her partners. She's probably just as worried as Anakin. She wouldn't barge onto Alderaan with a list of demands, but Bail can see her tacitly turning a blind eye towards Anakin doing exactly that.

"Stars, Anakin, you startled us," Breha says when Anakin bursts into the dining room. Obi-Wan isn't eating with them, and for the first time, Bail is glad of it. He doesn't think Obi-Wan will react well to knowing that Anakin is here. "What's this about?"

"Bail, you need to tell me where Obi-Wan is," Anakin says, ignoring Breha entirely. "I need to know."

"I made Obi-Wan a promise," Bail replies. "I'm sorry, Anakin-"

"If you were really sorry, you'd tell me where he is," Anakin snaps. For a moment, Bail thinks he sees a glimpse of yellow in Anakin's eyes.

"Anakin," Breha says, her voice a bit sterner, and then the doors to the dining room open and Obi-Wan steps in.

At first, Bail thinks Obi-Wan sensed Anakin through the Force and came to confront him, but the look of horror on Obi-Wan's face quickly proves that to be false. For a moment, everything is silent, then Anakin breathes a quiet "Obi-Wan," and Obi-Wan runs.

"Obi-Wan!" Anakin cries, starting towards the door, but Bail jerks to his feet before Anakin can make it there.

"Anakin, no."

"He's my partner, Bail," Anakin says, whirling around. "He's mine, and I'm not going to let him run away again."

"Obi-Wan is your partner, Anakin, but he is not your property," Breha says, her voice cold and sharp.

Anakin flinches like he was slapped. "I- I never-"

"Obi-Wan is allowed to make his own choices and go wherever he wishes," Breha says. "I understand that you're worried about him, Anakin, but that doesn't give you the right to disregard what he wants."

Anakin sinks into one of the chairs. "I didn't mean to," he says in a small voice. "I was just worried."

"I know," Breha says, her voice gentler. "I know, Anakin." She looks at Bail and jerks her head towards the door, and Bail takes the hint to leave silently and go after Obi-Wan.

He's very glad that he and Breha were having a private lunch without Winter when Anakin arrived, because he doesn't know how he would explain this to her.

He goes to Obi-Wan's room first, to check if he's gone to pack his things and leave, but it doesn't appear that he has. Well, if he's not fleeing, Bail has another idea of where Obi-Wan might have gone.

The corner of the garden where Obi-Wan has been meditating appears to be empty, but there's one corner that Bail can't focus on. No matter what he does, his eyes simply seem to slide past it.

"I know you're here, Obi-Wan," Bail says. "I just want to talk."

Slowly, Obi-Wan comes into focus. His face is very pale. "Did you contact Anakin?" he asks, his voice rough.

"No," Bail replies. "He didn't know you were here. He came to ask me where you'd gone. I swear, Obi-Wan, had I known he were coming, I would have told you."

"Is he going to follow you here?"

"No, Breha is talking to him. She's not especially pleased that he came here instead of giving you space."

Normally, such a comment would provoke a laugh and a remark about the dangers of displeasing Breha Organa. This time, though, there's no such lightheartedness. Obi-Wan is still far too pale, and Bail knows him well enough to know what he looks like when he's about to run.

"Obi-Wan," he says with some desperation, "I know you wanted to avoid Anakin and Padmé, but why? They love you. They'll always love you, no matter what. And they're worried about you, and they want-"

"No," Obi-Wan interrupts, shaking his head. "No, Bail, I- I can't."

"Why not?"

"I don't want them to… to…"

"To what?"

Obi-Wan visibly swallows. "To see me like this. I'm a mess, Bail, I'm weak and pathetic and-"

"You are not."

"I am," Obi-Wan says, like it's an unfortunate but undeniable fact. "And Anakin and Padmé deserve better than that. They expect better than that. I can't-"

"Obi-Wan Kenobi, you shut up and listen to me," Bail interrupts, and his voice is stern enough that Obi-Wan does as he says. "You are not weak or pathetic. You have been through trauma, and it still affects you, and that's normal. You're experiencing emotions, and that's perfectly alright. Anakin and Padmé want to help you, and they will help you, and nothing you ever do will change the fact that they love you. They don't expect you to be anything but you, and if you told either of them that they deserved better than you, I think they'd punch you."

Obi-Wan looks at Bail for a long moment. "I notice you didn't say I'm not a mess," he finally says, but there's a hint of humor in his voice.

Bail shrugs. "We're all a bit of a mess, I think."

"You really think I should talk to Anakin and Padmé about this?"

"I think you should do whatever you think is right," Bail replies. "And if I were you, that would be talking with Anakin and Padmé. But it's your decision. If you want to stay here on Alderaan with me and Breha, our home will always be open to you."

Obi-Wan sighs. "Being here is running away," he says. "I don't want to run anymore."

"Then don't," Bail says, as if it's that easy.

And maybe, just maybe, it is.

The living quarters in the palace in Aldera are far from the gardens, which gives Obi-Wan ample time to turn around on his walk back to his rooms. He considers it, he won't lie, but he doesn't do it. He keeps moving forward, one foot in front of the other, moving farther and farther from the relative safety and privacy of his corner of the gardens and closer and closer to his room, and with it, Anakin.

He's still not quite sure what he's going to say. He's still not quite sure that he's going to be able to say anything. His throat feels so unbelievably dry, and the thought of actually having to talk is almost unthinkable. The thought of having to talk about his emotions is doubly so. But this is a conversation that needs to happen, and Obi-Wan refuses to run from it anymore. He's going to talk to Anakin. He's going to do it.

He finds himself standing in front of his door, which is good. If he had to go any farther, Obi-Wan thinks he might have turned back.

He doesn't.

"Obi-Wan!" Anakin gasps when Obi-Wan steps through the doors. "Stars, Obi-Wan, we were so worried about you! What happened? Why didn't you come back to us after the assassination attempt was dealt with? What are you doing here? And why didn't you let Bail tell us where you were?"

Obi-Wan swallows, trying to wet his dry throat. "I…"

Anakin frowns a little. "Obi-Wan? Are you alright?"

Obi-Wan lets out a little laugh. It's only mildly hysterical, which he thinks is a win. "No, I don't think so."

Anakin steps up to Obi-Wan and enfolds him in his arms. Obi-Wan collapses into them, feeling himself tremble. Already, though, it's easier to breathe with Anakin here. For the first time, Obi-Wan dares to think that maybe, just maybe, things will be okay after all.

"What do you need?" Anakin asks gently, not letting Obi-Wan go.

"You," Obi-Wan breathes. "You and Padmé, forever."

"You have us," Anakin promises. "We're yours."

There's more to say and do, of course. Just having Anakin and Padmé isn't enough to fully fix things. Being loved won't wipe away a lifetime of trauma and emotional repression. Obi-Wan will need to work through things, and it'll probably get ugly, and it'll definitely be hard.

But with Anakin there, embracing Obi-Wan like nothing will ever make him let go, Obi-Wan believes he can do it.