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Lingering Doubt

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Obi-Wan knew Ahsoka was at the door before she even hit the buzzer, and since he was on his way to the kitchen to refill his mug with caf, he reached the foyer before Luke and Leia did. They were always excited about visitors, so they would immediately stop what they were doing and run to greet whoever it was. Obi-Wan glanced at them as he put his hand on the doorknob and did a double-take, his eyes wide. Using the Force to open the door, he quickly backed up, crouched down, and grabbed them from behind before they could get their wet, multicolored hands all over Ahsoka’s clothes.

“What did I tell you?” he asked wearily. “No fingerpaints today. And you know not to play with the paints by yourselves.” He didn’t even want to think about what their playroom looked like. The last time he had checked in on them, they were quietly drawing with coloring sticks that were kid-friendly in the sense that the color could only be transferred onto flimsi. Artoo was with them, but he only made sure they didn’t do anything that could possibly hurt themselves. Obi-Wan swore the droid thought it was hilarious when the twins made a mess.

Luke and Leia giggled in response, their hands still reaching out to Ahsoka, who was obviously trying not to laugh.

“Sorry for dropping in without warning.”

Holding back a sigh, Obi-Wan shook his head. “It’s fine. Anakin and Padmé are out.”

There was a playful glint in her eyes. “So you could use some help?”

Obi-Wan stopped caring about keeping up the façade and gave her a look of pure exhaustion. He’d only gotten a total of six hours of sleep in the last week, and trying to hide that was only adding to how rundown he felt. At least Ahsoka wouldn’t fuss over him like his spouses would.

Whatever teasing remark she had on her tongue was swallowed down as she knelt in front of Luke and Leia. “You guys must’ve had a lot of fun with those paints. How about I get you all cleaned up?”

When Obi-Wan let the twins go, Ahsoka took them by their messy hands and led them to the refresher down the hall.

After he slowly stood up, he grabbed his mug from the table in the foyer and trudged into the kitchen. It was either his third or fourth time refilling his mug, and he knew it was a problem that he couldn’t remember how much he’d already drank. Even though he’d been able to function well enough on so little sleep years ago, he just wasn’t used to it anymore. Obi-Wan had gotten soft in the almost five years since the war had ended. And he’d gotten older. No matter what he was used to or not, his body just couldn’t handle what it once could. As much as Anakin and Padmé claimed that 43 really wasn’t that old, it certainly felt like it was.

He wasn’t sure why he had so much trouble sleeping lately. Not even a round of extremely satisfying sex had been able to give him more than an hour’s worth of sleep. He refused to believe it had anything to do with the anniversary of Qui-Gon’s death, an event that was difficult not to keep track of. Since it was the same day the Naboo regained their freedom from the Trade Federation and peace was restored with the Gungans, there were celebrations all over the planet every year. But Obi-Wan was over it. He had to be, especially when he hadn’t gotten this out of sorts during past anniversaries. Maybe the reason for his restless nights was his struggle with finding a way to resolve a long-running dispute between two families that the provincial government had asked him to work on. As unrealistic as that sounded even to him, it was better than the alternative.

His newly filled mug in hand, Obi-Wan went back into Padmé’s office to continue his research, but it wasn’t long before the Luke and Leia burst in. He sighed, his eyes slipping closed as he massaged his temples against the oncoming headache. Being the only parent home, they were allowed to enter, but Obi-Wan found himself wishing he had shut the door. Ahsoka was there, so they would have been fine.

“Come outside with us, Papa!” Luke said, tugging on Obi-Wan’s shirt.

“We’re gonna teach Aunt Soka how to play batil’a!”

“I’m sorry, but I’m very busy.” If Obi-Wan wasn’t so tired, he probably would have joined them for a little while. But with his patience running thin, and the deadline to submit his plan looming over him, he really just wanted them to let him be.

“Aww, c’mon, Papa!” Leia whined. “You’ve been working too much.”

Luke gave his shirt another tug. “And batil’a is more fun with four people.”

He took a deep breath through his nose, but he could feel his inner sense of calm quickly fade away. “Not right now.”

“But, Papa—”

Obi-Wan slammed his hand on the desk, and he saw them both jump in his peripheral vision. “Why can’t you understand that when I say I’m busy, that means I don’t have time to play with you? Let me work in peace!”

When he swiveled the chair to face Luke and Leia, they were staring at him with wide eyes, and his breath got caught in his throat. Oh, Force, what have I done? He’d never spoken to his children in that way, even when he did get frustrated with them. In fact, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d shouted at anyone like that. Before he could open his mouth to apologize, they started bawling. “I am so sorry,” Obi-Wan said above their wailing as he knelt down in front of them. “I’m not angry with you, I swear.”

Although Padmé and Anakin always pulled their children into a hug when they were crying, he wasn’t sure if that would make this situation worse. Obi-Wan frantically tried to think back to the one time Anakin had snapped at them in roughly the same manner, but he realized he couldn’t use that as an example because Padmé and himself had been there to help.

“I’m so sorry, little ones. Please stop crying,” he said weakly.

Ahsoka ran into the room, and Obi-Wan was so ashamed that he couldn’t even look at her. Artoo rolled in after Ahsoka and made several alarmed noises. If he found out that Obi-Wan was the cause for such crying, he’d probably take out his electric pike, and Obi-Wan would deserve every second of pain.

“Hey, hey. It’s alright.” She crouched down beside Obi-Wan and rubbed their arms in a soothing manner. “You’re both fine. Your papa’s not upset anymore.”

He winced at that. She must have felt his anger bubble over in the Force. Maybe she even heard what he’d said to them. His face became hot with his growing shame.

Eventually, Luke and Leia calmed down to mere sniffles, and since all that crying had worn them out, Ahsoka decided it was time for them to take a nap. Artoo followed her out while making soft beeps that were obviously meant to offer comfort. While Obi-Wan was alone, he released his emotions into the Force, something his counselor had told him wasn’t harmful as long as he didn’t use that as an excuse to not discuss said emotions.

Obi-Wan was a terrible father. He couldn’t believe he’d snapped at them. Most of the time, he felt like he was doing a decent job of helping to raise the twins, but there were instances when he was so out of his depth that he retreated into himself and let Padmé or Anakin take the lead.

Luke and Leia would hate him now. He was sure of it.

“Raising two kids with no experience to fall back on has to be tough,” Ahsoka said from the doorway.

Taking a deep breath, Obi-Wan sat back in the chair. “Yes, but it’s not as though I’m doing it on my own.” In addition to the help he and his spouses offered each other, there were parents they could go to for advice. Obi-Wan had been going to Shmi and Sola, even Darred, starting around the time Luke and Leia were a few months old, but he still wasn’t comfortable enough around Jobal and Ruwee to ask for their advice.

Ahsoka stepped inside the room, her gaze softer than it should be. “You should get some sleep, Obi-Wan.”

Unable to stand her sympathy, he swiveled in the chair to face the desk. “It’s not that I haven’t tried, you know.”

“Have you talked to Anakin and Padmé about it?”

“I haven’t.”

But he’d seen their concerned looks. If Obi-Wan told them, they would say he should talk with his counselor, and after how he’d just behaved, he knew he had to. Even though he saw Dr. Meero every other week, there were certain things he couldn’t talk about yet, and Dr. Meero let him go at his own pace, which was one of the reasons why Obi-Wan liked him. Obi-Wan understood what the benefits of therapy were, but he sometimes just couldn’t make himself talk. He’d even had appointments where he sat there and only responded to “yes or no” questions. Obi-Wan had talked about Qui-Gon, though. It was difficult not to when he was such an important person in his life, but certain memories were too painful to even think about, let alone discuss. Perhaps it was time to stop fooling himself and accept that his old master’s death still had an effect on him.

“Qui-Gon was killed 18 years ago tomorrow,” Obi-Wan admitted quietly, his head bowed. “I know I should be over it after so long, but . . . ” When he felt a hand on his shoulder, he finally looked up at Ahsoka.

“The Order didn’t teach us how to grieve.”

And that was true. Saying they should just let people go wasn’t grieving, or at least it wasn’t the healthy way to handle the death of those close to them. Because he’d fought in the war, death came up during his counseling sessions every so often, and the look on Dr. Meero’s face told Obi-Wan a lot about how flawed the Jedi’s way of handling death actually was. He still remembered the whispers after Qui-Gon had been killed, how the older Jedi were both in awe of the fact that Obi-Wan had slain a Sith Lord and appalled by his obvious attachment to Qui-Gon. He’d been expected to bounce right back after having his master die in his arms. Rejoice in the fact that Qui-Gon Jinn was one with the Force, he was told. Due to the nature of their work, it hadn’t been Obi-Wan’s first experience with death, but it’d been the most brutal.

Not wanting to go into detail about such a painful memory, Obi-Wan changed the subject a bit. “They’re going to be terrified of me now.”

Ahsoka’s hand left his shoulder before she moved to lean against the side of the desk, her arms crossed. “I don’t think so. They’ll probably just be a little wary at first. Padmé told me Anakin had done the same thing once, and they’re obviously not afraid of him.”

Obi-Wan was sure that the only reason they hadn’t feared Anakin afterward was because he’d cried along with them. While Padmé soothed Luke and Leia, Anakin’s whole body shook from the force of his sobs. His fear of snapping at their children was what had prompted him to start seeing a counselor, but it happened anyway. As soon as Luke and Leia noticed his reaction, they looked utterly bewildered, and their crying began to die down. All Obi-Wan did was sit beside Anakin and send waves of tranquility through their bond.

“You would make a good mother.”

She shrugged as she pushed herself away from the desk and stood beside him. “I’m happier being an aunt.”

“Well, I am in your debt for your help.” He tried to convey that the conversation was over by focusing back on his work.

“Nope. Do you know how confusing it would be if we all tried to keep track of who owed what to whom and how much?” Ahsoka swiveled the chair so that Obi-Wan was facing her and leaned on the armrests. “We help each other because we care. That’s what family does. I thought you understood that by now.”

Obi-Wan sighed, deflating slightly. “Yes, you’re right. I’m just . . . I’m more than a little out of it today.”

The smile she gave him was very similar to the one Anakin used when he was about to say something he knew Obi-Wan wouldn’t like. Ahsoka walked around the chair so that she was behind him and began rolling it toward the doorway. He nearly yelped as he picked his feet off the floor. “Then let’s meditate together,” she said cheerfully.

He didn’t bother trying to argue.

Ahsoka rolled him into the meditation room and took out two floor cushions as Obi-Wan slowly got up from the chair, his body feeling heavy from the constant weariness of the last week. He longed for a deep, restful sleep, but mediation was the next best thing. It had been quite some time since he meditated with someone. Anakin only joined him if he was feeling particularly stressed out and nothing else was helping, but it was difficult for him to fall into a trance on his own, so Obi-Wan would have to give him a few gentle nudges. Ahsoka, however, didn’t struggle with meditation. While she was like Anakin in many ways, that was something she seemed to have gained from Obi-Wan.

They settled themselves onto the cushions, and Obi-Wan reached out to Ahsoka through the Force. She met him with a calming warmth that was so unexpected he nearly broke his carefully measured breathing pattern. It reminded him a little of Padmé. Smiling, Obi-Wan found himself slipping into a deeper trance than he thought was possible, given his poor mental state. He could feel that part of Ahsoka’s awareness was kept on the surface, so he didn’t have to worry about the twins if they woke up while he and Ahsoka were still meditating. Artoo was most likely watching over them anyway.

Behind the thin mental shield that offered him some privacy, Obi-Wan began the process of separating his thoughts and emotions. It was only when he went that deep into the Force that he could properly examine how he felt about certain issues. He hadn’t done that very often as a Jedi, but in going over the process of meditation with his counselor, Obi-Wan was strongly encouraged to do it if he truly wasn’t comfortable with talking about whatever was bothering him. After all, it was better than ignoring the problem or simply releasing his emotions into the Force.

His shame was an ugly thing, as it always was. Although it looked bigger than normal, it didn’t overshadow his love for his children. No matter how much it hurt, he would find a way to fix what he had done. Obi-Wan loved them too much to simply pretend it hadn’t happened, which was what he used to do as a Jedi. He understood that he couldn’t fall back onto the Order’s teachings anymore, and while that terrified him, it was also a bit liberating. After having finally accepted that there was nothing wrong with love being a part of him, Obi-Wan found it easier to interact with his family. He knew he would struggle with what came naturally to Anakin and Padmé, but that fear wasn’t as large as it used to be. Behind that fear was his self-hatred, which he felt was impossible to get rid of. It was more prominent than Dr. Meero would like, but Obi-Wan was doing his best to untangle those sticky threads.

It was always difficult to measure the passage of time during meditation, so when Obi-Wan eventually opened his eyes, he was surprised that it’d only been about an hour. Inside his mind, it had felt much, much longer.

Ahsoka opened her own eyes a minute later and retracted herself from his Force presence in a way that was the least jarring to Obi-Wan. After she got to her feet, she offered him a hand. “I’m sure your old man joints are all stiff now.”

Obi-Wan laughed while he wrapped his hand around Ahsoka’s forearm, admiring her strength as she yanked him upward. “Anakin’s joints are nearly as bad as mine, so I think it has more to do with fighting in the war than my age.”

Her playfulness vanished instantly, and sadness took its place. She put the cushions away with a sigh. “Yeah, that’s probably true.”

Obi-Wan wanted to ask her if she suffered the same effects, but her demeanor made it seem like she didn’t want to talk about it, so he dropped the subject. A pulse of affection siddenly traveled across his bond with Anakin, signaling that he and Padmé were home. If they couldn’t figure out Ahsoka was visiting by the rented speeder parked outside, Anakin would be able to tell from sensing her presence in the Force.

“Good timing,” Ahsoka said as she perked up. “The kids are awake.” She left the room to presumably go fetch them.

Obi-Wan held back a grimace. He wasn’t looking forward to facing Luke and Leia, but he had to apologize to them properly.

He reached the foyer just as his spouses walked in, Anakin carrying multiple bags and Padmé finishing off what had probably been a smoothie. She hadn’t been eating as well as she should, so Anakin had convinced her to start drinking fruit smoothies since she could easily drink those while she worked. Padmé drank ones Anakin made himself or ones she’d buy in the provincial capital. She told Obi-Wan she liked the smoothies from the roadside stalls better because they used more sugar, but she drank Anakin’s without complaint.

“You look awful,” Anakin said bluntly, to which Padmé gave him a light smack on his chest with the back of her hand. Apparently, Anakin was done waiting for Obi-Wan to open up, and the second the three of them were alone together without any fear of interruption would be the start of a hundred questions. Anakin had been noticeably frustrated that Obi-Wan wasn’t talking to them, so it wasn’t surprising.

“I’m sure I do.”

Padmé frowned and opened her mouth to say something, but Ahsoka had brought the twins out, and they came barreling into the foyer to give her and Anakin hugs. “Hello, you two,” Padmé said as she bent forward slightly to hug Luke back.

Setting down one handful of bags, Anakin rested his hand on Leia’s back in greeting. “And how was your day?”

Leia tentatively looked over her shoulder at Obi-Wan before she let go of Anakin, but there was only wariness in her eyes, not fear. Obi-Wan was relieved that Ahsoka had been right.

Artoo rolled up and said something in Binary that made Anakin’s eyebrows shoot up. Never had Obi-Wan been so thankful Anakin and Ahsoka were the only ones who understood that language.

Ignoring Padmé’s confusion and Anakin’s growing worry, Obi-Wan knelt on the floor and waited for both children to face him. “I am so sorry. There is no excuse for how I yelled at you.” He wasn’t going to ask for their forgiveness since he didn’t want them to think it was owed to him just because he was apologetic.

They looked at each other for a moment before Leia said, “You have to give us sorry hugs.”

A “sorry hug” was something that Anakin came up with after the twins started picking on each other about two years ago. The hug had to last a full 10 seconds and end with an apology that acknowledged the emotions of the person who’d been hurt. It worked surprisingly well.

Obi-Wan nodded and held his arms out to Leia. Without hesitation, she walked up to him, and he held her gently as he counted in his head. Thankfully, Padmé and Anakin remained silent. Once the hug was over, Obi-Wan looked into her dark eyes. “I apologize for scaring you to the point of tears. A parent should never do something that would cause their child to fear them.”

“We weren’t afraid of you,” Leia said as she patted Obi-Wan’s arm. “We just don’t like yelling.”

“Well, either way, I’m sorry.” Then he turned to Luke and did the same for him. Obi-Wan wasn’t sure what it meant that Luke hugged him back a little tighter than Leia had.

Smiling, Luke said the last thing Obi-Wan was expecting. “We forgive you.” Obi-Wan was about to say they didn’t have to, especially so soon, but Luke turned to Ahsoka and grabbed her hand. “We’re hungry. When’s dinner?” Ahsoka was a great cook, and they took full advantage of her skills whenever she visited.

Laughing, she said, “I can start making it now if you two want to help.”

Always happy to help when it came to food, Luke and Leia cheered before they ran ahead of her into the kitchen.

As Ahsoka walked passed Obi-Wan, she reached down and gave his shoulder a quick squeeze.

Then he was left alone with his spouses after admitting that he’d made their children cry, and the shame that had coursed through him so strongly earlier had returned. During his apologies, he felt their shock, but it hadn’t gone beyond that into anger or disappointment, which he found confusing. After he stood, he couldn’t bring himself to look at them.

Anakin put down the rest of the bags he’d been holding and went over to Obi-Wan. “Mistakes happen,” he said with far too much kindness. “Force knows I’m in no position to judge.”

Still not able to take his eyes off of the floor, Obi-Wan said quietly, “I need to talk to Dr. Meero about Qui-Gon’s death.” Oddly enough, he felt something akin to pride from Anakin. Maybe it was because Obi-Wan was finally admitting he needed help dealing with his grief. While Obi-Wan was proud of all the progress Anakin had made, it was always strange when their roles were reversed.

“I’m sorry, Obi-Wan,” Padmé said as she walked up to him. She took his face in her hands, not trying to get him to look at her, but simply trying to offer comfort. “I keep forgetting that while it was a great day for me, it was a traumatic one for you. I definitely would have understood if you wanted to stay home.”

He’d gone to the last three celebrations—none of them went to the first one that took place after Luke and Leia were born since they were all running on too little sleep—and he hated every minute of them. Luckily, between his skill at hiding his emotions and all of the distractions that were around them, no one had ever noticed. But last year’s celebration was especially difficult to get through. He wondered if that was why Qui-Gon’s death was bothering him so much this time. He’d reached his limit.

Obi-Wan gently pulled her hands down by her wrists. “I don’t deserve your sympathy.” When he looked at them, all he saw was love, and it burned through him. Why weren’t they angry? “I snapped at our children. I frightened them to such an extent that only Ahsoka could get them to stop crying.”

“And they’ve already forgiven you,” Anakin said, as if it was that simple.

Padmé gave him a quick kiss on his cheek. “Why don’t you help Ahsoka in the kitchen? Go see for yourself that Luke and Leia won’t treat you any differently.”

She left the foyer before he could say how unlikely that was. Anakin picked up the bags and gave Obi-Wan a kiss on his other cheek as he walked by.

Obi-Wan couldn’t understand why they were so calm. It was true that when Anakin had lost his temper with the children, both Obi-Wan and Padmé hadn’t treated him harshly afterward. His remorse was so intense that it was almost painful. But they’d expected Anakin to make such mistakes. His emotional problems went too deep to be solved by a few years of counseling. Obi-Wan, on the other hand, had an entirely different set of issues when it came to his emotions, and bursts of anger were uncharacteristic for him. Padmé and Anakin should have been horrified by what he’d done, and their kindness only fueled his self-loathing.

Closing his eyes, Obi-Wan took a deep breath and released his negativity into the Force. Maybe Luke and Leia wanted him to move on. After all, Obi-Wan could sense that Luke was telling the truth about forgiving him. He took one more deep breath to settle himself before he walked into the kitchen.

“They want cream stew. Can you cut up some vegetables?” Ahsoka asked before he even had the chance to offer his help. She was cutting meat into small chunks as Leia watched.

“Of course.”

It was all he really could do anyway. Since he was a terrible cook, he was usually stuck with the task of cutting up ingredients. After he got what he needed from the cooling unit, Luke tugged on his shirt. While hiding his nervousness behind what he knew was a convincing smile, Obi-Wan looked down at him.

“Can I wash them?”

It really was as if nothing had happened.

Obi-Wan pulled the stepping stool out in front of the sink and made sure Luke was safely on the top step before he brought the vegetables over. After turning the faucet on for him and setting a large bowl on the other side of the sink, Obi-Wan handed Luke one vegetable at a time. “Be careful with this,” he said as he gave him the sannabi. “It gets very slippery when wet.” Not even 15 seconds later, the vegetable went flying toward the window above the sink, but Obi-Wan caught it with the Force. The fantasy that nothing had changed crashed around him as he sensed fear coming from Luke, as if he was expecting Obi-Wan to get angry with him. Even though it was what he’d expected from them after they woke, it still felt like he was being stabbed in the heart. To quickly dispel that fear, he chuckled and said, “One day, you’ll be able to do that with the Force.” When Luke relaxed, the tightness in Obi-Wan’s chest loosened.

Luckily, the rest of the preparation went smoothly, and once the twins did all they could to help, they ran from the kitchen with big smiles on their faces.

Ahsoka bumped into him with her shoulder. “See? They’re fine. They’ll only be afraid of you if you make a habit of it.”

Obi-Wan didn’t point out that Luke had been afraid of his reaction to the sannabi escaping his grasp. But maybe that was normal. He did usually sense a bit of fear from the twins when they thought they were in trouble. Had Luke’s fear been any different from that?

Suddenly, there was a small commotion out in the living space, and Obi-Wan poked his head out of the kitchen. Luke and Leia were presenting the paintings they’d done earlier.

“Oh, it’s lovely,” Padmé said as she smiled down at Leia. “Thank you.”

Anakin had that nervous smile Obi-Wan knew meant he was afraid of offending Luke. He probably had no idea what he was looking at. “Um, it’s . . . me?”

He nodded enthusiastically. “It’s you flying a starfighter ‘cause you’re the bestest star pilot in the whole galaxy!”

Grinning, Anakin ruffled Luke’s hair. “Thanks, Luke.”

Obi-Wan ducked back into the kitchen before he was noticed and went about setting the table. Ahsoka shot him a slightly worried look, but he ignored her rather than attempt to convince her he was alright. Obi-Wan grew up with little to no possessions, so he didn’t need tokens of affection from their children. He was just as much their parent as Anakin and Padmé. He cared for them when they were sick, disciplined them when they’d done something they shouldn’t have, taught them lessons that would help them later in life. He’d been there from the beginning. There wasn’t any reason for Luke and Leia to view him as anything but a parent. But maybe they liked him a little less. He knew they would always choose Anakin over him because Anakin was the “fun one.” They’d probably choose Padmé over him, too, because children had a special connection to the person who gave birth to them, or at least that was what he’d read. And that was . . . fine.

Dinner was a normal affair, if a bit more energetic than usual due to Ahsoka’s presence. Luke and Leia kept asking her for stories, and Padmé had to keep telling them to let her eat first. Obi-Wan stayed quiet unless a question was directed at him. He really wasn’t in the mood for conversation, both because of his residual guilt and his severe lack of sleep.

“How long will you be staying?” Anakin asked.

“Just for two days. I was in the area, checking up on a few villages me and Steela had helped about a year ago, so I thought I’d come to Naboo and say ‘hi.’” She gave him a slightly sheepish look. “Sorry, I meant to comm ahead.”

“Hey, we told you you’re welcome here anytime, and we meant it. That goes for Steela, too.”

“How is she, by the way?” Padmé asked as she wiped some stew from Luke’s shirt. His clothes were already dirty from the paint, so there wasn’t much point in taking out the stain remover. Trying to keep their children’s clothes stain-free was always an adventure.

“Good. We recently bought a small house just outside the capital, and she’s really thrown herself into furnishing the place.”

Anakin beamed at her. “Congrats!”

“Oh, you’ll have to send us pictures,” Padmé said with a brilliant smile of her own.

Obi-Wan was happy for Ahsoka. She finally seemed to be at peace. Then again, she might simply be good at hiding her moments of doubt and frustration. Anakin would know. Although Obi-Wan and Ahsoka had grown closer in the years since they left the Order, she would always have a special connection with Anakin. She’d even started teaching him Togruti. Obi-Wan was glad she was trying to get in touch with the culture of her people.

Anakin had asked him if he ever wanted to visit Stewjon and try to find his family, but Obi-Wan already had a family, and he had no desire to meet blood relatives who would only be strangers to him. He didn’t want to learn about the culture of said relatives either, which Anakin didn’t understand, but Obi-Wan didn’t expect him to. While Anakin was raised on Tatooine, Obi-Wan had no memories of his own homeworld, so there was nothing to connect him to his people. Through Shmi, Anakin had gotten back to his roots, and while throwing off over a decade of Jedi conditioning was an ongoing process, he definitely seemed to be more comfortable with himself. Anakin was getting impatient about helping the slaves, though. Just a few more months, and they would be able to strike.

After dinner, Anakin and Padmé insisted on cleaning up. She claimed it was only fair since they were the only ones who hadn’t helped cook, and Obi-Wan had to be practically shoved out of the kitchen. He couldn’t tell if they were being genuine or if they just wanted him to be around Luke and Leia so that he would be convinced nothing had changed.

As soon as Obi-Wan sat on the couch next to Ahsoka, the twins disappeared down the hallway. “They won’t be gone long,” he said when Ahsoka looked like she was about to follow them.

“How do you know?”

“They like spending time with you, especially since they don’t see you all that much.” Before she looked away from, Obi-Wan caught a hint of sadness in her eyes, and he realized how that had sounded. “I don’t mean to imply that you— We all understand that you’re busy and have a life of your own, and we’ve told the children that.”

Her shoulders drooped slightly. “You’ll always be my family, and I’d love to come here more often. It’s just . . . ”

“You don’t have to explain, Ahsoka. We know how far away Onderon is.”

She looked at him with a frown, but then Luke came running back in with Leia close behind him, and whatever she was going to say would have to wait for another time.

Luke held up a colorful painting of what looked like a person with a blue lightsaber fighting some kind of creature. “It’s you from one of Daddy’s stories.”

“And we both painted it,” Leia added before they looked at him expectantly.

They would have painted it before Obi-Wan snapped at them, but that didn’t mean they had to give it to him. Perhaps he really was forgiven. When he reached out into the Force, all he felt was love and hope from the two of them. Relieved, he took the painting. “Thank you. I’ll put it up in the meditation room.”

That earned him two bright smiles.

“What story is that painting of?” Ahsoka asked.

“It was before the war,” Luke said excitedly, “and Papa and Daddy were trying to help some people, but then— but then they got trapped by these large beasts.” He spread his arms as wide as they would go to demonstrate. “Daddy lost his ‘saber, so he tried to use the Force to get them away, but that only made them more angry.”

“Then Papa killed all three of the monsters after one hurt Daddy,” Leia butted in.

Luke shoved her a bit, mumbling that he was telling the story.

“Of course he lost his lightsaber,” Ahsoka said, chuckling.

It took Obi-Wan a minute to remember that incident. Anakin had gotten hurt badly enough that Obi-Wan had no choice but to slay the creatures, as it was the fastest way Anakin could receive medical attention. Obi-Wan had felt a little guilty about it since the creatures where only defending their home that he and Anakin had accidentally walked into. Considering it didn’t show Anakin at his best, Obi-Wan was surprised he told that story.

Leia turned to him. “You and Daddy saved each other a lot.”

He smiled as he looked down at the painting. “We did.”

“There were times I saved both of them,” Ahsoka said while she gave Obi-Wan a faint smirk.

That prompted Luke and Leia to beg her for a story, and Obi-Wan just knew it was going to be something embarrassing.

Later, Obi-Wan followed Luke and Leia up to their room when it was time for them to go to bed. It was his turn to tuck them in, but he had a feeling that even if it wasn’t, Padmé or Anakin would have nudged him along. He wasn’t much for telling bedtime stories, so he always just made sure they got under the covers before he gave them each a quick kiss goodnight. But he felt he owed them more than that after what he’d done.

Standing in the doorway, Obi-Wan looked at his children in their shared bed and gathered his courage. “I’m . . . not the best at expressing myself, but I’m trying to work on that. So even though I don’t say it as often as I should, please know that I love you both very much, and I would do anything for you.”

“So we can eat candy before bed, and you won’t tell Mommy about it?” Luke asked.

Laughing, Obi-Wan shook his head. “Alright, almost anything.”

“Don’t worry,” Leia said through a yawn. “We know you love us.”

Luke yawned next to her as he pulled the covers up to his chin. “An’ we love you, too, Papa.”

Warmth filling him, Obi-Wan smiled and shut the light off. “Goodnight, little ones.”

As he closed the door, Ahsoka reached the top of the stairs, carrying a pack that she’d most likely gotten out of her rented speeder. He had wondered if she brought clothes and such with her. “I’m on a different sleep cycle than you guys, so I’m also going to bed.”

“Oh, well, goodnight then.” Suddenly, he remembered he hadn’t actually thanked her. “I don’t know what— I mean, if you hadn’t been here . . . ” Obi-Wan sighed and looked away. It seemed the lack of sleep was wreaking havoc on his ability to speak properly. “What I’m trying to say is, thank you for your help today.”

Ahsoka responded by giving him a hug, and not expecting that, it took him a few seconds to hug her back. She was smiling when she pulled away from him. “Let’s put it this way, you’re much better than you were years ago, so even if I hadn’t been here, you would’ve figured it out.”

He didn’t want to think about what would have happened if he’d been on his own. He probably would have done the wrong thing, and then Luke and Leia really would have hated him. There were moments when Obi-Wan felt so useless that he couldn’t understand why Anakin and Padmé put up with him, but that cloud of misery settled over him less often than it used to.

Ahsoka’s brow furrowed, but she didn’t ask him what was wrong. Sometimes, she knew when outward concern wasn’t welcome. “Goodnight, Obi-Wan,” she said gently before stepping into the guestroom.

Obi-Wan took a moment to center himself then looked over his shoulder at his bedroom. He wished he could go to bed as well, but he knew sleep would only taunt him. Instead, Obi-Wan decided to go back downstairs, and once he stepped onto the landing, the sound of poorly concealed laughter drifted up to him. He liked seeing them be happy together, but he still felt like he was intruding at times. After debating about whether he should turn around or possibly interrupt Anakin and Padmé with his presence, Obi-Wan sighed and continued walking down the stairs. Without looking at them, he silently picked up his painting from the end table and took it into the kitchen to find a tack he could use to hang it with. Their laughter had stopped, but he hoped that didn’t mean one of them would follow him. He could already feel Anakin poking at his shields. Obi-Wan walked out through the other entryway to avoid them and went straight into the meditation room. Of course, after he put the painting up on the wall next to the three drawings he already had, Anakin appeared in the doorway.

“You’re not staying in here, right? I was thinking we should all cuddle up on the couch and watch the rest of that series about wildlife on Naboo.”

Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow. “You said nature documentaries are boring, unlike your saccharine romance dramas.” Anakin pouted in an exaggerated manner, obviously trying to get Obi-Wan to laugh. Unfortunately, all Obi-Wan could manage was a small smile. “I think it’s better that I stay here.”

Padmé suddenly walked around Anakin and held her hand out toward Obi-Wan. He didn’t doubt that she’d been standing off to the side, listening. Knowing it was useless to argue with Padmé, he took her hand and let her bring him back into the living space. She and Anakin sat down and left room in the middle if he chose to be the center of attention, but Obi-Wan didn’t know what he wanted, besides hours of blissfully uninterrupted sleep. As he continued to stare at the couch, unsure of what to do, Padmé slid closer to Anakin until their thighs were touching. Anakin used the Force to grab a decorative pillow from the armchair and placed it in his lap before he patted it twice. Obi-Wan nearly rolled his eyes, but he walked over and obediently lied down, setting his head on the pillow.

When the documentary came on, Anakin started running his hand through Obi-Wan’s hair, and he slowly relaxed to the point where it was hard to concentrate on what the narrator of the series was talking about. After he closed his eyes, a wave of peace was sent along their bond, followed by a quiet plea.

You don’t ever have to suffer alone. Talk to us.

Obi-Wan didn’t have the energy to respond. Instead, sleep pulled him under, and when he next opened his eyes, he was lying in their bed. He couldn’t believe that he’d been carried up the stairs and into their bedroom without waking up. Rolling over, Obi-Wan saw that only Padmé was lying with him, and that was when he noticed the sound of running water. For Anakin to be taking a shower, it had to be mid-morning, which meant Obi-Wan had somehow slept through the night.

Padmé stirred, and when her eyes locked with his, her face broke out into a smile. “Hello, lover,” she said as she reached out to him. “Sleep well?”

He took her hand in his own and rubbed his thumb across her knuckles. While one good night of sleep wasn’t enough to make up for the last week, he at least felt a little refreshed. “Yes, but I’m not sure why.”

“Anakin used the Force to get you up here since he was afraid that touching you would wake you up. I wish I had gotten the holocamera out.” Padmé scooted closer until her head was resting on Anakin’s pillow. “When we went to bed a little later, I actually had to make sure you were still breathing.”

Obi-Wan could only think that he was able to stay asleep because he’d been so emotionally drained. He should comm Dr. Meero and push up his next appointment.

“Stay home with the kids today, and Anakin and I will go to the celebration.”

“But they love the fireworks display.”

Padmé leaned forward and gave him a soft kiss, her hand gently cradling his jaw. “Ahsoka will be here, too, so I don’t think they’ll mind. Besides, there are other opportunities for them to see fireworks throughout the year.” She backed away and sat up, stretching as she did so. Even with her hair going in every direction and her clothes rumpled, she still looked beautiful. “It’s supposed to be nice out today, so you could take the three of them out to the garden. After all, you still have those plants that need to be put into the ground.”

Obi-Wan rolled onto his back with a sigh and threw his arm over his eyes. “My deadline is coming up, though.”

“I can help you with that.”

He peered at her from under his arm. “You don’t have to.”

“No, but I don’t mind.” Then she turned away from him at the sound of the fresher door opening. “It’s just going to be you and me, Ani.”

Anakin smiled as he towel-dried his short hair, clad only in his underwear that didn’t leave much to the imagination. “Well, that’s not entirely true. Your family will be there and so will my mom.”

“You know what I meant.”

Anakin bent down and kissed Padmé before he reached around her to give Obi-Wan’s knee a light squeeze. “’Morning.”

Obi-Wan returned the greeting and sat up only to realize just how much he wanted to lie back down and sleep for at least another five hours. He watched Padmé go to the small linen closet to grab a towel while Anakin walked over to his chest of drawers. All of their fancy clothes were in Padmé’s walk-in closet because of course she loved dressing them up, but both of them were so used to plain clothing that their everyday wardrobe was rather simple. Anakin tended to wear various shades of blue or red, while Obi-Wan stuck to tan with the occasional blue thrown into the mix.

“You know she’s going to want you to wear something a bit flashier than anything that’s in those drawers,” Obi-Wan said once Padmé had gone into the fresher.

“I want to wear the sky blue tunic that has my mom’s embroidery on it, and Padmé won’t have a problem with that.” That was true. She was happy that he’d reconnected with his culture, so she wouldn’t tell him he couldn’t wear a part of it to the celebration. “Do you think it would be in poor taste if I wore my tight-fitting black pants?”

Obi-Wan couldn’t help but laugh at that. “You’re not attending a funeral, Anakin.” Although there was a dedication for those who lost their lives during the occupation and the ensuing battle, it wasn’t as somber an event as it used to be, according to Padmé. “And I saw some questionable clothing choices at last year’s celebration, so I don’t think your pants will raise any eyebrows.”

“But they’ve raised something else, right?” Anakin turned around, one corner of his mouth pulled upward in a smirk.

If Obi-Wan wasn’t so damn tired, he’d play along. He knew Anakin wasn’t seriously trying to lead into anything, not when Luke and Leia were awake. Judging by the fact that Ahsoka was also awake, he assumed she was keeping them occupied. Obi-Wan pushed the covers back and slowly got out of bed as he let out a yawn that made his eyes water. “Sorry, I need some caf.”

The smirk was gone immediately, and Anakin stopped Obi-Wan with a hand on his shoulder when he walked in front of him. “Are you going to be alright?”

“Eventually, yes.” Obi-Wan glanced at him before he looked down at the floor, but then he felt two bursts of happiness in the Force that left him smiling. Ahsoka was definitely entertaining them. “As you well know, healing takes time.”

“And talking helps.”

“It can, but I hadn’t been able to admit to myself what the problem was, so there really wasn’t anything to talk about.” Obi-Wan looked up and wasn’t surprised by the look of frustration that Anakin was giving him. “I wasn’t shutting either of you out on purpose.”

Anakin stared at him for a moment, and it seemed like he had something to say, but all he did was nod and give Obi-Wan’s shoulder a squeeze. When he let go and turned back to the open drawer, Obi-Wan breathed a sigh of relief. He was hoping Anakin wouldn’t lecture him about the fact that he’d gone an entire week without mentioning that he’d barely been sleeping and that maybe talking about it would have led to Obi-Wan figuring out the root of the problem a lot sooner. Granted, Anakin wouldn’t have been wrong, but Obi-Wan still didn’t feel like hearing it.

The bitter smell of caf hit Obi-Wan as he walked down the stairs. He still wasn’t fond of the drink, but it did a better job of keeping him awake than any of his special teas did. It helped that the blend of caf that was popular in Dee’ja Peak was a lot better than what was brewed in the Temple, which was what had turned him off to the stuff when he was young. Once he entered the kitchen, he was greeted with giggling from Luke and Leia and a slightly nervous smile from Ahsoka. He didn’t even care what she’d done. She’d made caf, and for that Obi-Wan was eternally thankful.

Ahsoka leaned in as he poured himself a cup. “I may have told them about the time you were covered in solusa oil and got chased by swarms of boli beetles.”

That was probably one of the least embarrassing stories she could have told them, so he shrugged as a way of letting her know that he wasn’t annoyed. After he downed half of his cup, he turned to Luke and Leia, who were trying to hide their smiles by stuffing fruit slices into their mouths. “Would you like to help me in the garden today?” Luke tried to say something, but Obi-Wan couldn’t understand him through the fruit. “Finish what you’re chewing, then speak.”

Luke made a show of swallowing before he shouted, “But the fireworks! Today’s the big party!”

Obi-Wan hadn’t thought to come up with a reason for why they were staying home without referring to what he’d done the previous day. With the lack of sleep really having done a number on him, he should have let Padmé bring it up.

“I think your papa is a little too tired to handle a big party, especially one that isn’t nearby,” Ahsoka said easily. She must have already guessed that he wasn’t going. “We should keep him company, right?”

The twins looked at each other, said something through their bond—they still had to learn to control their facial expressions when they did that—and nodded at Ahsoka.

“Can we wear the funny hats?” Leia asked him.

Padmé had bought wide-brimmed hats to help shield their faces from the sun, and Luke and Leia thought they were hilarious since the brim flopped up and down when they jumped. They liked the hats even more after Anakin suggested they decorate them with special coloring sticks meant for fabric. Luke’s hat was covered in stars and what were very simplistic portrayals of krayt dragons, while Leia’s depicted a sky full of puffy clouds and murderous-looking birds.

“Of course you can.”

They grinned at him and went back to eating their fruit.

Deciding to choose the healthier option, Obi-Wan took a cold shower instead of drinking another cup of caf. Afterward, he left a message for Dr. Meero about moving his next appointment up, which he didn’t think would be an issue. Padmé and Anakin both gave him tight hugs on their way out to go pick up Shmi. They would be gone for most of the day, but Padmé said they would come back earlier than usual. Obi-Wan thought that was unnecessary, but sensing how concerned they were, he let it go. Once they left, he turned to Luke and Leia, motioned to the back of the house, and watched as they raced each other to the patio door.

Ahsoka laughed quietly beside him. “They’re so cute when they’re excited.”

He hummed in agreement. One day, Luke and Leia would reach the age when doing things with their parents would be seen as a chore, and they would much rather be with their friends, so he was going to enjoy their excitement while it lasted.

It was perfect weather for gardening, sunny but not too hot or humid. Obi-Wan went over to his tool shed and had to smile at Ahsoka’s low whistle.

“That’s quite a collection,” she said as she peered around him into the shed. “Some of them look like weapons.”

“Which is why I keep it locked.”

It was true that he’d gone a little overboard, but the guidebooks had such interesting suggestions that required specific tools. Anakin tried to make some of them himself or improve the ones Obi-Wan bought, and Obi-Wan let him since having little projects to work on helped clear his mind. Padmé was mildly fascinated by it all, but the most she did was weed.

“Anakin mentioned a tunnel of flowers a few weeks ago.”

“Yes, but I haven’t decided what flower I’d like to use to for it.” While handing her a pair of gloves, Obi-Wan called Luke and Leia over, and they came running in a zigzag pattern. “Now, I know how much you two love playing in the dirt, but I need you to wear your gloves.” Surprisingly, they didn’t complain much. Ahsoka helped Leia put her gloves on while Obi-Wan helped Luke.

He showed them what needed to be planted, and over the next hour, Ahsoka and the twins mostly followed directions. He didn’t even care that they were playing around as much as they were helping. It was simply a relief to see his children acting as they normally did around him. After the gardening was done, Obi-Wan thought about going back to work in the office, but he ultimately decided against it. As he was getting cold drinks for everyone, an idea struck him.

“Why don’t we teach Ahsoka how to play batil’a?” he asked once they’d taken a moment to rehydrate.

They perked up at that.

“You don’t have to work?” Leia asked cautiously.

“I do, but your mother offered to help, so I can put it off for today.”

Obi-Wan thought they would just smile and go get the ball. He certainly wasn’t expecting them to bound up to him and give him two very tight hugs as their love and happiness poured out into the Force. Being caught so off-guard, he froze briefly as he stared down at them. But he snapped out of it and rested his hands on their backs while projecting his love for them through the Force. Although he still wasn’t good with words, he could do that much.

As soon as they ran toward their chest of toys by the patio door, Ahsoka walked up to him and lightly punched his arm. She was grinning when he looked at her. “So is this an easy game?”

He gave her a smile in return. “Well, what the professionals play is absurdly complex, so Padmé and Sola taught them the simpler version that children learn in primary school.”

“And I’m going to bet they use the Force to cheat a little.”

“Anakin claims it’s not cheating as long as the other players are able to do the same.”

Ahsoka laughed. “He would.”

By the time Padmé and Anakin returned home, Obi-Wan was already in bed. Luke and Leia had been tucked in about an hour earlier by Ahsoka, who’d only stayed up to convince Obi-Wan to at least lie down. Considering he was tripping over his own feet, it didn’t take much to get him to go up to his bedroom. He had just started dozing off when he heard a loud thump followed by a harsh whisper. When he opened his eyes, he saw that Anakin had knocked the chair in front of Padmé’s vanity over. He’d probably bumped into it when he tried to turn on the small lamp that wouldn’t have woken Obi-Wan up on its own.

As Anakin set the chair upright, he looked at Obi-Wan and smiled apologetically. “I woke you, didn’t I?”

“It’s alright. I wasn’t fully asleep yet.”

Padmé walked over to his side of the bed and brushed the hair out of his face. “Sorry. We meant to leave earlier, but Queen Tanali had surprised me with a celebration in my honor.” She lightly scratched his scalp, causing him to let out a pleasant sigh. “In Nabooian folklore, 18 is a special number, so I had a feeling she would do something like that.”

“We brought back dessert,” Anakin said as he got undressed. “They had those pastries you love.”

“Thank you.” At least he would have something sweet to munch on while he worked, and the sugar would help to keep him awake.

“How was your day?” Padmé asked.

He closed his eyes when she started running her fingers back and forth over his arm. There were times when the simplest touch would feel incredibly soothing. “Good. The children and I taught Ahsoka how to play batil’a after we finished gardening.”

“I’m so happy to hear that.” Padmé leaned down and kissed his cheek before she left his side to most likely get undressed with Anakin’s help. She was wearing one of her more intricate gowns, but her hairstyle looked easy enough to take care of herself.

Obi-Wan rolled over to face the balcony doors, and he must have fallen into a light sleep because it seemed much too soon for his spouses to be joining him. After the mattress stopped rocking, he felt a hand settle on his waist, and Obi-Wan could tell it belonged to Padmé since her touch was quite different from Anakin’s. When he reached for her hand and brought it toward his chest, Padmé snuggled up behind him and pressed a kiss to the back of his neck.

“You’re a good father, Obi-Wan,” she whispered.

Feeling the gentle pull of sleep once again, he gave her hand a squeeze and sent a small wave of affection to Anakin, which was returned in a way that made it feel as though a warm blanket was being laid over him. He ended up falling asleep with a smile on his face.