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As the Thunder Rolls

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A queen must be strong. A queen must be stalwart. A queen must be unshakeable in the face of all turmoil. Breha knows this. She ascended to the throne in the wake of one of the worst internal conflicts in Alderaan’s history, and led her world through all the years of this long war with a poise that any galactic leader would envy. She has stood as the steadfast symbol of Alderaan’s commitment to peace, justice, and compassion for most of her adult life. Her composure has never failed her before.

But right in this moment, she can’t quite bring herself to find that core of serenity which has been her center and her guide. The Republic has fallen. The Jedi are dead. In the very moment when all their hopes should have been fulfilled, when the defeat of the Separatists should have ushered in a new era of hope and freedom in the galaxy, the entire universe as she knew it had come crumbling down. The sheer enormity of it overwhelms her.

She has retreated to her private chambers in the palace. Ostensibly, she is deliberating on how Alderaan will serve this new Empire. The excuse should hold, for a time; after all, the message from Coruscant had given planetary leaders a few weeks to respond, “to meditate upon how best to pay tribute to Emperor Palpatine, for his selfless sacrifice in protecting us all from the tyranny of the Jedi and restoring justice and peace to the galaxy”.  

In reality, Breha is just trying to catch her breath. This much is clear to her: there can be no justice, and no peace. Not while this self-declared Emperor rules. No, there are only two ways forward for Alderaan now: open rebellion, or clandestine resistance. But that is as far as she can get, before her thoughts devolve into chaos. She swore when she took the throne that she would protect Alderaan with all of her mind and body and soul, but she also swore to defend the fundamental rights of all sentients, in accordance with Alderaan’s ancient principles. Now, for the first time in her reign, these two duties have come into direct conflict.

Outside the great windowed doors of her chamber balcony, inky clouds are painting the sky black. It’s late in the season for a thunder storm, but she can’t deny that it feels fitting. Gusts of wind are tugging at the trees surrounding the balcony now, making them thrash and quake. Dead leaves whirl in chaotic patterns across the tiled balcony floor, and the impending rain looms low and heavy.

Inside the chamber, her thoughts are a match for the weather. Breha desperately wishes for someone, anyone that she can trust to be her confidant in this. But she has no idea now which of her allies have already become Palpatine’s creatures. She saw the transmissions. They cheered. Cheered, as the Republic they had all fought so hard to defend was destroyed. Breha would never have believed it, if she hadn’t seen it with her own eyes.

Bail, of course, would know which of them to approach. That is, after all, the entire point of having her Consort in the Senate - to be her eyes and and ears and voice in the wider political sphere, while she manages affairs at home. But Bail hasn’t made contact since before the first transmission about the Jedi’s “treachery” arrived from Coruscant. He is alive; that much she knows. She saw him in that first message from the Senate, his face a carefully controlled mask of blank neutrality as he stood in Alderaan’s seat and watched Palpatine issue his Declaration of the New Order. But Breha doesn’t dare make contact with Bail, not without knowing if doing so would put him at greater risk. She can’t lose him. Not now. Not when Obi-Wan...not when they’ve already lost…

She bites back the flash of grief that threatens to overwhelm her.  Now is not the time to let her emotions get the better of her. There will be time enough to mourn their lover later, once her plans are in place. Time to weep for everyone already lost in Palpatine’s mad grab for power, and for everyone who will be lost in the days to come. But right now, she cannot afford the luxury of tears. She has to pull herself together, to be the leader her people need in the face of this impending darkness. She has to find the strength to put the woman aside, and be the queen. Somehow.

A low rumble of thunder nearly obscures the sound of the door opening behind her. Breha whirls as rain begins to patter against the glass, ready to reprimand whichever member of her court has decided to intrude upon her private contemplations...only to stop dead. Because there in the doorway, looking unspeakably weary, but blessedly whole, is Bail.

She stands frozen, just drinking in the sight of him, as he closes the door with a careful dignity. The moment the door is shut, however, his shoulders slump, and he nearly runs across the room towards her. Breha meets him halfway, and they wrap each other tightly in a desperate embrace. Bail buries his face in her hair, and she clings to him, frantically reassuring herself that he is alive and here with her.

After a long moment, Bail pulls back, bringing his hands up to cup her face. He runs a thumb compulsively over her cheekbone, as though he can’t quite bear to stop touching her for even a moment. Breha can sympathize with the impulse. She fists her hands in the folds of his heavy robes, holding him anchored to her, and leans her face into his touch.

She hates to disrupt this small moment of comfort. She wants to ask him something innocuous, about his journey from Coruscant, about whether he has eaten yet, or if he is tired. But Alderaan cannot afford them any more wasted time on personal concerns. She straightens a little, then asks the only question that really matters, under the circumstances.

“How bad?”

Bail winces, but he doesn’t look away. “Bad. So much worse than we had expected, my love. It’s...everything the loyalists feared, and so much more besides.”

He pauses then, as though unsure how to go on. She reaches up and takes his hands in her own, leading him over to sit beside her on one of the padded benches set under the wide windows. When he still fails to continue, she prompts him, her voice low and gentle. “Tell me, my heart. You cannot spare me the details now; you know that. I must know everything, if we are going to find a way through this.”

His hands clench in hers, and he stares down at them. When he finally begins to speak, his voice is quiet and oddly flat. “The Jedi are gone, Breha. Palpatine, he...he did something to the clones. I don’t know what, exactly, but…” His voice breaks, and he swallows before continuing. “The clones, they killed them. They killed them all. Gods, even the children!

Breha gasps, but doesn’t interrupt. Bail doesn’t even seem to notice, so lost in the horror of his own memories. “I saw the Temple burn. I tried to go to them, to help, but when I got there, I was turned back by a troop of clone guards. Then...then there was a child. A Padawan, I think. Gods of our ancestors, he couldn’t have been older than 13! He tried to get to me, to fight them off, but there were too many. They shot him down, right there in front of me. And I could do nothing!

Breha longs to reach over and draw him down, to lay his head in her lap and stroke his hair as he weeps. She longs to weep herself, at the thought of the Jedi (of Obi-Wan, her heart wails) shot down by the very people whose loyalty they thought was most above suspicion. Instead, she sits as still as carven statue, a silent witness to Bail’s sorrow.

“It was the Sith, Breha,” Bail whispers. “The Sith Lord, the one Padmé told me about, the one Obi-Wan was hunting...he was right in front of us.” Bail looks up into her eyes. “It was Palpatine. Palpatine was the Sith all along.”

For the second time that week, the world seems to fall out from under Breha’s feet. Bail and Obi-Wan had, in defiance of all the dictates of the Jedi Council, told her about the Sith Lord who was believed to be the driving force behind all of galactic turmoil in the last decade. They could not have hidden it from her long, after all. Not when Bail first brought Obi-Wan to Alderaan to recover from the injuries he sustained on that disastrous mission to Zigoola. Certainly not after she and Bail had coaxed Obi-Wan into their bed. Their lover is a subtle man, after all (was a subtle man, that ruthlessly suppressed part of her mind whispers), but when he finally let his guard down around her, he became as transparent as still water.

She had set her own intelligence networks to watching for signs of the unknown Sith’s activities, in hopes that her spies might be able go places the Jedi could not, and find the missing pieces of the puzzle. But although the hints of the Sith’s activity were everywhere, they had been no closer to identifying him...until now. Now it all makes a sudden sense. Why every thread had led to a dead end, and why the Sith was always, always one step ahead of them.

“He had it planned,” Breha murmurs, more to herself than to Bail. “All of it, he...this is what he wanted all along. The War. The clones. The Separatists. He...he planned all of it, didn’t he?”

Bail nodded somberly. “And we were his pawns. All of us. We played right into his hands.”

Breha’s jaw tightens. She wants to scream, to hit something, to lash out at this creature who has deceived them all, and used their efforts to destroy everything that they have built. Instead, she presses on to more practical matters.

“How much of the Senate has he suborned? Is anyone opposing this takeover? What of the Delegation of 2000?”

Bail grimaces. “The Delegation is in complete disarray. People are scared, Breha, and not without good reason. At least sixty of the Delegation have been arrested already, including Garm Bel Iblis, Meena Tills, and Tundra Dowmeia. Nee Alavar and Sweitt Concorkill have been executed.” Bail shakes his head. “Half of the original 2000 have withdrawn, and I expected that number is only going to increase.”

“Surely someone is holding out, though!” she exclaims. “You can’t tell me that Padmé is just standing by while her colleagues are arrested and killed for the crime being politically inconvenient!”

Bail stares at her for a moment. “Oh gods,” he whispers. “Has he truly kept it from the press this long?”

“Kept what?” Breha asks flatly.

Bails hands tighten over hers, and she can see the truth in his eyes, even before he speaks. “Breha, my love, Padmé is dead. She was attacked by…by Palpatine’s apprentice. She died of her wounds less than a day after the declaration.”

Breha closes her eyes, then. In her mind, she adds her friend to the list of the dead who must be mourned, once her duties can spare her. Like Obi-Wan, Padmé deserves so much better. They both deserve the altar of flowers, the litany of remembrance, the offerings of bread and sweets to feed and guide their spirits as they pass between worlds. But Breha will not place these observances for the dead above the well-being of the living. She thinks that both her lover and her friend would approve of her priorities, if they were here, but gods, does it hurt.

Bail stands suddenly, then. He pulls a small device from his pocket, and sweeps it around the room. “That’s why I’ve come home, my heart,” he says, studying the device’s readout intently. “I was with Padmé when she died. She charged me with a duty. Something she left unfinished. It’s…” Bail rubs a hand over his face. “Oh, hells. It will be easier for us to show you than to explain.”

Us? Breha thinks. But before she can give voice to that or any other question, Bail is striding over to the balcony doors. He throws them wide open, heedless of the pouring rain and howling wind, and calls out into the storm.

“It’s clear. Bring them inside, before you all catch cold.”

A solid shadow detaches itself from the thrashing trees and darts into the room. Breha tenses for a moment, groping for the small blaster she has kept hidden in her skirts since the beginning of the war, but stops short of drawing the weapon when the shadow resolves itself into a strangely lopsided humanoid figure, hidden entirely by a set of sodden brown robes. Her heart gives a small, painful twist of hope when she realizes that those robes have a very familiar cut to them. Bail had said that the Jedi were gone, but maybe...gods, if even one of them has escaped, and they can be hidden here, then perhaps not all is lost. It would be a fitting memorial for Obi-Wan, if she and Bail can preserve the Jedi way on Alderaan.

Bail shuts the door, and turns towards the figure. For the first time since he arrived in her chambers, his face softens.

“Give them to me,” Bail says, and reaches out towards their guest. “And for the sake of the gods, get yourself out of those wet robes.”

The figure slumps a little, and then, from beneath its robes, it gently pulls out two small bundles of white blankets, and deposits them in Bail’s arms. One of the bundles gives soft cry, and Breha’s heart lurches in surprise and the usual pang of longing when she realizes that those two bundles are children.

Then the figure pulls back its hood, and her heart stops altogether. Because it isn’t some unknown Jedi who has appeared here in her chamber. It isn’t an abstract symbol of hope that stands there, his face gray with exhaustion and eyes full of grief.

It is Obi-Wan.

Before her mind can even fully process that fact, she is launching herself across the room and into his arms. Then she’s kissing him over and over, hands clenched in the sodden folds of his robes. Her gown is getting soaked where she is pressed up against him, but she could not care less, because he is here in her arms, kissing her back with a ferocity that matches her own, when only moments before she had thought she would never see him again.

“You’re alive,” she whispers against his lips between kisses. “You’re alive. You’re alive.”

“Breha,” he inhales, and her name on his lips sounds like a prayer. He leans down and presses his forehead against hers, just breathing the same air. His skin is cold and damp from the storm, and unpleasantly clammy at all their points of contact, but Breha could happily stand here and warm him all day. She reaches up and pushes the dripping robe off of his shoulders to puddle on the floor, and wraps herself around him, tucking her head under his chin.

Bail comes up beside them then, and presses a hard kiss to Obi-Wan’s temple. Obi-Wan sighs and leans into him, wrapping one arm around his waist and drawing him against them, careful not to crush either of the children cradled against Bail’s chest. Breha doesn’t pull away, but she does turn her head to more closely to examine the two tiny figures.

They are very small, and indistinct in the way of infants of most species. Both are clearly either human or near-human, and no more than a few days old. The nearer child is asleep, the small head with its fuzz of pale hair lolling a little against the support of Bail’s hand. The other child seems to be staring directly at Breha with dark eyes that seem too knowing in such a young face.

They are utterly, utterly perfect. They are everything that Bail and Breha had longed for, and had sworn not to bring into such an unstable galaxy. They had talked about maybe finding a little girl among the war orphans of Alderaan, who they could love as their own and raise to one day replace Breha on the throne, but they had agreed that it would be unfair to subject an infant to the hardships of war if they had any other choice. It was the right decision, she knows. But she can’t deny that the longing is still there.

Breha reaches one hand up to gently stroke the nearer child’s dark hair. The baby yawns at her touch, closing those dark eyes and nestling deeper into the cocoon of blankets.

“Whose are they?” Breha asks quietly. She directs the question at Bail, but it is Obi-Wan who answers.

“Padmé’s,” Obi-Wan answers, his voice heavy with sorrow. “They’re Padmé’s...and Anakin’s. All that is left of either of them, now.”

His voice breaks, and Breha tightens her hold on him. There is something odd in the way he said that. Not a lie, certainly, but not the entire truth either. Breha won’t press him on it now, though. If whatever he is hiding is of strategic importance, then she’ll get it out of him eventually. If not...Obi-Wan has lost enough already. She’ll let him keep his secrets, for now.

“That is the duty I spoke of,” Bail adds, low and soft. “Her children. Twins. With their parents gone, there’s no one left to care for them. Obi-Wan and I swore that we would see to their safety.”

“Oh,” Breha sighs. She looks down at the two infants again, and her heart swells at the sight of them. She runs her fingertips over the cheek of one baby, and then the other. “What are their names?”

Bail smiles at that. It’s a small smile, and a fragile one, but the joy behind it is genuine. “This little one is Leia,” he says, raising the nearer child slightly to indicate. The baby (Leia, Breha thinks, and then my daughter) whines a little, and then settles back against Bail’s chest.

“The other is Luke,” Obi-Wan says, but there is no joy in his tone. “I’ll be taking him with me, when I leave.”

Breha draws back suddenly at that. A clap of thunder sounds, and Luke and Leia both wake at once, wailing out their objections.

“What?” Breha exclaims, ignoring the commotion in favor of staring incredulously at Obi-Wan. “What do you mean, ‘when you leave’?”

“Breha…” Bail sighs, but she cuts him off.

“No, don’t you dare ‘Breha’ me, hotshot. You two come in here, and tell me that Obi-Wan is alive despite the mad tyrant who is currently hunting down all of his people and slaughtering them. Then you tell me that my dearest friend is dead, and has left her children in our care. And now, somehow, this means that you are going to take one of those children and leave?” Breha turns her most imperious glare on Obi-Wan. “No, I really want to hear why you think this a viable plan, as opposed to complete and abject stupidity!”

Obi-Wan looks at her ruefully. “It’s the only way to keep them safe, Breha. Palpatine believes that Anakin’s children died with Padmé. He can never know otherwise, or he will hunt them down. He will take them, and he will twist them to the Darkside, or kill them trying. I swore that I would not let that happen.”

“That seems like all the more reason for both you and Luke to stay here, with all the resources of the Alderaanian throne to shield you,” Breha replies firmly, starting to pace across the floor. “If Leia is safe here, then surely Luke would be as well.”

“It is not as simple as that,” Obi-Wan sighs, watching as Breha crosses back and forth in front of him. “They have both inherited Anakin’s gifts, Breha. Already they shine in the Force. Once they’re older, I’m not sure even I will be able to hide both of them if they’re together.”

“Then train them to hide themselves,” Breha snaps, stopping at the far point in her circuit to put her hands on her hips. “Or did you intend to just leave Leia defenseless here, while she grows into powers that neither Bail nor I can fully understand? You told us once that Force sensitivity can be dangerous to the untrained.”

“I…” Obi-Wan starts. He pauses, a flash of doubt crossing his face. “No. After Anakin, I...no, it’s best if I have nothing to do with training either of them.”

Breha raises an eyebrow. “Oh, is that so? You were just going to raise Luke without ever mentioning the Force to him, then?”

“No, of course not,” Obi-Wan says. “Anakin has distant relatives in one of the more rural sectors of the Outer Rim. Luke will go to them, and I can guard him from a distance.”

Breha rolls her eyes at that. “And have these relatives agreed to take Luke, then?”

“Ah...no,” Obi-Wan admits. “Not yet.”

“Do they even know that he exists?”

“...no.”

“Right,” Breha says, resuming her pacing. “Let me see if I have this straight, then. You are going to take an infant with incredible gifts, who is hunted by a Sith Lord with the resources of an entire galactic government, to hide with a family who may or may not want him, on a backwater world with no adequate warning system and no viable method of escape if your enemies do come calling. No, don’t argue,” she says, pausing in place and raising a hand to forestall the objection she can see on his face. “I know what the infrastructure is like on the Outer Rim worlds right now. You might be less likely to run into trouble out there, but if trouble finds you, you won’t see it coming until it’s nearly upon you at best, and you won’t have the means to evacuate in time even if you do receive warning.”

“It’s...Master Yoda thought it would be best.” Obi-Wan turns a hunted expression on Bail. “Surely you can understand that, Bail?”

Bail looks at Obi-Wan evenly, as he rocks the still-crying infants in his arms. “I thought this plan was flawed from the start,” Bail says, “and I think it’s flawed now. Breha and I want these children. Both of them. Alderaan has the resources to shield them both physically and politically from Palpatine, which few other worlds can match. And you can protect them in the Force better than anyone else still living.”

“And what of you, love?” Breha asks Obi-Wan, her voice much more gentle. She crosses to Bail, and pointedly takes Luke from him, cradling the baby against her breast and leaving Bail to manage Leia. “Are you simply supposed to spend the rest of your life alone, in this plan of Master Yoda’s?”

“I...that’s hardly relevant,” Obi-Wan says.

Breha turns to Obi-Wan, and lays a hand on his cheek. “It’s relevant to us, Obi-Wan.”

Bail lays his newly free hand gently on the back of Obi-Wan’s neck, stroking his hairline. He plants a kiss on Obi-Wan’s temple in silent confirmation of Breha’s words. Obi-Wan’s face crumples.

“They died,” he gasps, the last vestiges of his Jedi calm disappearing in that near-silent tide of emotion. “They died, and I could do nothing. All of them: Mace and Aayla and Plo and Depa and Eeth and Ki Adi. And all the younglings...Force, so many younglings. And then Padmé...and Anakin...don’t you see, Breha? I couldn’t save them. These children are all that is left of my duty. Of my family. I cannot let anything stand in the way of protecting them. Not the Empire. Not the Sith.”

He looks at Bail and Breha both then, tears rolling freely down his cheeks, and quietly adds, “not even my own heart.”

“Oh, Obi-Wan,” Bail murmurs. He pulls Obi-Wan close to him, drawing them both back over to one of the padded benches. Breha follows, shifting Luke to her side so she can sit down beside them, bracketing Obi-Wan between her and Bail with her body.

They wrap him in their arms then, supporting his weight as he shakes with near-inaudible sobs. It angers Breha to see it, to wonder who told Obi-Wan that his grief and sorrow were shameful secrets which should be hidden from those around him. She adds it to that ever-growing list of things she will think about more fully, once this initial crisis is over and she has found the path forward from here.

When Obi-Wan’s sobs begin to taper off, Breha gently places Luke in Obi-Wan’s arms, and reaches up to cup Obi-Wan’s face in her hand, turning it towards her. Obi-Wan enfolds himself around Luke instinctively, shielding the tiny body from the storm outside. Leia twists in Bail’s arms, and one of her tiny fists grasps onto a fold of Obi-Wan’s sleeve.

“Stay with us,” Breha entreats. “Help us raise Padmé’s children. Both of them. You’re not alone in this, Obi-Wan.”

“We love you,” Bail murmurs into Obi-Wan’s ear. “We’re so much stronger together than we are apart, darling. Let us prove it to you.”

Obi-Wan closes his eyes, and the tension seems to leave his body all at once.

“I...alright, yes,” he says at last. “This may be the most foolish thing I’ve ever done, but...yes. I’ll stay.”

He opens his eyes again, and Breha want to cheer at the slight glimmer of hope rekindling in Obi-Wan’s eyes. Behind him, Bail smiles fondly at all of them.

Lightning flashes again, briefly illuminating the room, but none of them notices. In a moment, they will need to begin planning. There will be supply lines to secure and intelligence networks to organize and allies to contact. The Rebellion, as it will come to be known, will be born that night, in that very room. But for this moment, just a moment more, Bail and Breha hold Obi-Wan and their children tight between them, as outside their window, the thunder rolls.