by Meredith Bronwen Mallory

|1400 hours, 30th of Levitite|

I'm having trouble telling this story.

Perhaps because it is not a story, it's just me; sitting or laying or standing here, looking at the ceiling and describing everything in ravenous, vicious detail. This is perception-- in many ways it _is_ all in my head, but not enough so that it gives me any comfort. It's just me, my echo, my shadow. When it's late at night and I roll over, stirred by the inner workings of my bone-marrow clock, I am the only sound I hear. That, and the hum of the ship's engines, so constant that it works its way into your body. So that you don't notice it, anymore.

Do you notice, Ani? The sweeping, hissing sound your change makes? Or have you become used to it? Normal is what you are used to, what is usual, what you have become accustomed to. Is this ordinary, Ani?

When I think about it, it gets hard to breathe, and I wonder--what makes my lungs move, when I'm not thinking about it? And then I have to think about it, for fear that if I don't...

Last night, I dreamt I was in a chill courtyard, watching crimson berries fall from a tree. There were red birds in the branches, wings fluttering, shaking, and as the berries hit the ground, I put my foot out, crushing them against the stone. I watched them bleed, out from under my shoes. Just memory, imagery. I must have done that once, bored and waiting for someone.
When I woke, it occurred to me that I should destroy this.

I should. I should rend this type pad in two, crush its delicate crystals and cords with my weight, or else put it in the 'fresher sink, drown it as one does unwanted farm animals. This is the truth, and I can't afford it. I'm broke, as they say--different from _broken_, I'm all out, I'm running on empty. Except, there is no place to run. I should do it to save Leia, to ensure her safe harbor of smoke and mirrors remains always wavering, a ghost-image, at the corner of your eye. It is she that could be hurt by this-- I have no Rebel Secrets, nothing of any value to anyone but me.
My child, my daughter. The child who, because there is sparingly little mercy in this universe, looks like me.

Did I ever tell you that I was afraid, having your son? They brought him to me, all sun-sand hair and blue, blue eyes-- he was such a beautiful baby, all the shades there for a handsome boyhood, for a man with your coloring and my high cheeks. I thought-- because I was naive then, at least more so than I am now, and still held out some hope-- that I couldn't bear it if he should grow up to look like you. How would I manage to sit across from him at the table, to eat or laugh or ruff his hair without thinking 'he looks like Anakin'? How would I keep this, this sad, sweet, bitter feeling, from crawling down my finger tips and into my little boy? Perhaps I would become used to it, stop thinking of it as your face and see it as his. In time, I would see your picture, or remember you and think-- 'oh, he looks like Luke', only to realize a moment or two later, that you were the one who came before.
I don't know, and I won't know-- not now.
I can't destroy this, I can't! I can't get away from this feeling, that-- as long as I keep putting the words down-- I will be able to stay.

Stay what? Stay hopeful? That would imply I had hope to begin with, and I really don't recall. Stay sane? This is all my perception, memory and jumble. An abstract; turn it one way, a bathing woman. But upside down, backwards? The epic slaughter of a city, or a bullet car rushing on towards home. This is a painting, with words, by my hand-- of what I see, of who moves around me, and everyone else is a caricature, whether intentional or not.

This frustration owns me, you know. I keep thinking-- a TypePad used to be a tool to me, a toy. Break one, buy another? The purse is a little lighter, but nothing more than that.
And now, now I _need_ this---someone to talk to. I define, I describe, I analyze and do everything but really look at the awful, hell-mouth fact that I...

I'm not sure. Oh, Leia----I'll say the same prayers my mother did, face lifted to the serene, marble faces that expressed the different aspects of the Force. When I was a child, I thought that's what it really was; a face, faces, watching me from a mirror that was broken in that, while not shattered, it refused to reflect. Beautiful faces, of women (child, virgin, mother, matron), men, warriors and _tensh_. That's a Nubian word, hard to explain. A beautiful creature, not wholly of earth or of sky. An a...
Oh, never mind.

But Prayer---that I will mind, will forever mind. Despite doubt, without hope. (Or am I contradicting myself?) I will pray that my daughter is stronger than her mother, that she can see more readily into the hearts of all beings, that she be careful and quick--like the wolf, leiyah, that I named her for. And, dear Force, don't ever, ever let her fall in love. Love, yes-- as a verb, as an action; she can be in love, know love, but just don't ever let her _fall_.

Am I a horrible mother, Anakin? I've no practice at this at all. So selfish that I can't forgo this one thing and ensure my daughter's safety. I would be, I could be, as silent as the grave. I will destroy this, I will--someday, I and all my words shall be swallowed so that even you can not follow us. Someday, I'll break this, make sure no one will ever read what I've put down.
Someday. But not today.
And for that, I have no one to fault but myself.

|0400 hours, 1st of Valaehan|

Half wakeful, I lay in my virginal twin bed, drifting on the heat trapped between the sheets, tracing my fingers over the fretwork on the quilt. It was a Winter Circle present from my mother, handmade in collusion with my aunts. The red, silken thread feels fluid under my finger tips-- stitching joy, faith, kindness, gentleness, strength, determination. The qualities one hopes for in a daughter. I have only recently returned from holiday, and the halls of the Academy and surrounding Dormitories are still with our halfhearted attempt to settle into routine. Slowly, I lay my cheek against the pillow, watch the chill, white light come through my window and settle like a cat on the floor. In a few minutes, Utanen-- who's room is next to mine-- will burst in without preamble, caroling, encouraging. I'll pull the quilt up over my head and curse her with words nice girls aren't supposed to use, listening to her laugh in response.

"Come on," she'll say, tossing her short, dark bob of hair-- it's stylish in the smaller continent, her homeland, but hopelessly out of fashion in Theed. "The cooks are getting started in the kitchen-- let's lift some pastries and head in town." Pulling off my covers, she'll shake her head as I clutch my nightshift closer-- "You're so modest!"-- and reach for my hands. "There's a merchant on Citadel Street who's selling scarves, all the way from Corellia."
I'll pretend to think about this, accepting the dressing gown she tosses my way and eyeing the books piled on my desk. Students in the final series of four years, like myself, get their own rooms. My walls are covered with mediocre reproductions of landscapes and goddesses-- I have a bed, a desk, shelves and my own little fresher. As big as my little hovel in the attic of the farming compound, but somehow more deliciously free-- perhaps, because no one will ever bang on the broom on my door, or gather near the vent on the stairs and giggle so the sound carries.
"I am hungry," I'll admit with a hand over my flat, never-borne-children stomach, "so I'll be happy to steal pastries with you. But I have too much studying to do to go into town with you today."
"It's not stealing," Utaten will insist, as always. We'll slip on our shoes and hold our dressing gowns out of the way as we descend the back stairs. The cooks tolerate us with fond indulgence, deliberately looking the other way when our slim hands dart up onto the counters. "It's borrowing, without permission."
"You can't borrow food," I'll snort.
"Come into town with me," my friend will plead, one last time, "you know you work too hard."

Your voice now, saying the same thing to me-- "You work too hard, Padme." There's a smooth, cool surface under my cheek; I've fallen asleep at my desk again, flimsi-plast papers scattered under my finger tips. The bindings of my dress dig uncomfortably into my ribs and I resist the urge to stretch, knowing I'll be sore. Your breath is warm, soundless-- so soundless!-- comforting against my ear in the sterile enclosure of the office. Slowly, you put your arms around me, loosening the ties and ribbons under the ornamentation at my back, then lift me into your arms. Is it only the memory of this feeling that makes me queasy, makes me wish your wouldn't cradle me against you, a half-asleep, frozen china doll? At the time, I must have liked the feeling, to have let you get away with it. Your arms must have made me feel safe, supported-- you were closer to me than anyone else had ever been.
"Ani, someone is going to see," I protest, voice muffled in the fabric of your robe. It's not soft-- that's not a luxury the Jedi would allow-- but neither is it rough. It is as if it isn't really there at all, and I can feel you all the way to your skin.
"All the sane people around here have gone to sleep," you point out, unpinning my hair and draping it's length over your shoulder. "In actual beds, no less! I'm not due at the Temple for at least twelve cycles." Never the less, you take the lift furthest from the main hall, your hands clenching their hold on me a tad too tightly.
Or perhaps I imagined that, am imagining it, now.

In my bedroom, which is really our bedroom (so foolish were we, to leave even that evidence!), you pull back the sheets and lay down beside me, your head pillowed on my breast as I shrug all the way out of my gown. It falls half-way off the bed-- you kick it fully away, saying that you missed me and love me and just want to lay here for a while and not think. Your voice is young, painfully so, as you comb your fingers through my hair.
"I'm not a child," I say, equally soft, "You don't have to take care of me, Ani."
"Of course," you bite back gently, "you're a terribly old woman, ageless even, robbing me from my master's cradle."
We laugh, even though it really isn't funny.

Someone is laughing, anyway-- perhaps it's not me. No, no, it's Sola and the cousins, outside in the orchard and it's summer, sweet like the shine on an rigo fruit. Full lipped pink, soft and inviting. I slide out of bed, stand naked in front of the mirror as I wash my body with a soft lavender cloth. It is the summer before I took the throne of Naboo; I don't recognize the woman in my reflection, with her small breasts and rounded curves. The air is heavy with the smell of flowers and possibilities, almost cloying. I am giddy, I think I am grown up, I think I have it all figured out-- or at least enough of it that I can make my way.

I do, I do make my way-- with small, gliding steps towards the throne, coronation robes heavy and soft against my skin. Or to the ship, dressed in handmaidens robes, sending Sabe looks of affirmation or question. We are brave-- we must be brave, because we have no other option. There are droids and tanks in the streets and (oh, mother! sola! papa!) the countrysides have been over run. I am brave, but also breathless. It's too hot on Tatooine, this nowhere planet, and all I can see is the way to Coruscant, barred by a damaged ship. Even with the twin suns safely bellow the horizon, there's a suffocating heat hidden in the desert-night chill and I roll over on my pallet. You are standing there, over me, all of nine years old, blue eyes glittering and never moving from me. You offer me a glass of water. I hadn't realized I was thirsty.

I am thirsty, and I wake. I am on a thin mattress, type pad hidden between it and the wall, in a gray room, on a Star Destroyer called the Unquestioned Command.
And, because this is the worst place to be, I know that I am truly awake this time.

Like a child, waking to see the water-clock slipping towards the day, I am tempted to simply roll over and ignore the passage of moments. I could let them collect on the floor, endlessly, a sea I must wade through to go anywhere. Wasted time. But my mind is too heavy, I sink down to a place past sleep, underneath it, so that I am frozen and staring at things I can not control. You told me once, early in our marriage, that you kept a picture of me in the small metal trunk afforded all Higher Officers in the Republican fleet. The clones didn't get them, of course-- they had nothing of their own, not even a name to distinguish them. They were tools that marched into battle, no different from the droids save that their wires were veins and their casing flesh. I felt very bad about that, and still do; who were we to make them alive, if we wouldn't let them live?
Bail said I thought about it too much-- the damage had already been done.

But you, and the few hundred Jedi remaining, you were soldiers, and certainly less expensive. It disconcerted me, in the beginning, to think of you in the army. A Jedi, certainly, a solitary warrior and sage of our bindings, but a soldier? A _Commander_, as they called you? It seemed vaguely ridiculous, like you were a child again, playing at being something you weren't. I remember my boy-cousins, on the farm, with their little plastic blasters-- the ones that bothered my aunts so, because they were forever having to pick them up. They'd hide out in the tall grass, the boys, popping up and flickering the play-laser over each other and passersby.
"You're dead!" they'd cry at their target. Invariably, the response was-- "Oh, no I'm not! You _missed_!" Ueko, who was a girl but aimed better than any of them, was forever playing dead when they *had* hit her, not disputing. They never returned the courtesy.

So I think about you, being a soldier that _knows_ whether or not the blaster has missed, laying in your bunk on whatever transport, with just your little metal locker to your name. You told me the trouble Obiwan gave you, just having my image tucked into the lining at the top. Later, your Master would yell at me, rave, in one of the few times I saw his expression set in anything other than aggressive calm.

'I should have known!' he cried while I clutched the folds of my gown, angered-- for the moment-- less by your disappearance and more by the fact I had to face Kenobi alone. Did he look at you, holding my picture, the way he looked at me that day? Eyes narrowed, like the word 'disappointment', jaw set sharply? He said I'd stabbed him in the back-- but he had no room to talk. He took my baby, he erased Luke from me with an efficiency that gives me no room to pity or sympathize with the older Jedi. What did he know, of betrayal, of 'back stabbing', as they say? I know what it feels like, to be stabbed and to be stabbing, and so do you. We were there.
Bang. I shot you.
Don't even try to tell me I missed.

Sometimes, this whole thing is like a vid-production. I fastfoward, watching my life become a frantic scampering, lips and hands moving too fast, or slow down. Moments in unbearable freeze frame; your face, Leia's, Luke's, Sabe's. I skip entire scenes, flitting back and forth, referencing wildly. I mute-- like your hand reaching for the controls as we cradled on the lounge, flesh, mouths touching-- so that there is no sound. Just imagery and breathless, unborn sighs.
And all of this is moving too fast and too slow, overwritten by what happens next. The truth, warped and influenced into reconstruction.
The truth-- Obiwan was very liberal with the truth, and I am only now beginning to appreciate how liquid a thing it is.
"Anakin is dead," he told me at first. You were, but he was also lying-- boldly, without repentance, in the face of my widow's tears.
"His murder is called Vader."-- and I saw just how much his face never betrayed. He thought I didn't know, he never imagined you might reach out to me as I lay dreaming, pulling me down into the lava with you, begging me to give you my hand. I knew, I turned my face from Obiwan and said, "You assume too much."
Then, "Luke is safe." Of course, I do not know if this is all the truth, half of it, or just a sip. What does "safe" mean to Obiwan? Forgive me, Master Kenobi, if I no longer take your words at face value.

All of this is what he told me, but what did he tell you? Did he say I had betrayed you to the order, confessed our 'sin' of marriage-- when my hand was forced? Did he tell you your son was dead, still born (which sounds less like death and more like an ongoing process) and that all that tied you to me once was cut? Did he offer to let you back into the fold, if only you would forget, repent? I have never understood the Jedi creed, the denial of some of the things that make us alive, in favor of others. Anger happens-- ignoring it, suppressing it, doesn't make it go away. Sadness, manic happiness, healthy fear... all these things make us Sentient. Love...
He certainly wouldn't have reminded you that I loved you.
Loved. Love. Loving.

Past, present-- conjugation. All of these things are true; 'from a certain point of view'. I can't help but wonder what you think, Ani. Is my memory laced with fear, anger, desire, sadness, or love? 'Love' is such a stupid sounding word that doesn't say what it means, but it sounds no better in any language I know.
Jah aime.
Wei ai oh.

Pretty, but insufficient.
Do you think of me at all?

Am I your wife, and you my widower? You could believe me to be dead, or you could simply not care, content to leave me to the Emperor's _tender_ mercies. My ghost could walk with you, trailing after you like the rest of the vengeful dead.
Do you hate me, Anakin? Or do you just put a lot of effort into it, like me?

I wonder what you're doing-- if you're doing it because you think it's right. It might well be that you regret what you've done but refuse to undo it. You'll see it through, with your chin held level with the word 'pride'. We're a lot alike, that way. You wanted order. You wanted to be free of the Jedi rules. You wanted the galaxy to stop arguing and get down to business. Is it everything you thought it would be?

Did you see to it that the slaves on Tatooine were manumitted, Ani? You always said you would. Did you see that their masters let them loose, that they could live as People instead or beasts? Or did you slaughter them, as I suppose the Emperor might have willed you to?

Loosed from their bonds, or dead--either way, they are free.
You should be more careful to distinguish, in the future.

[Chapter Seven]