Two chapters in less than a month? I must be sick.
The Widow Skywalker 4b/?
by Meredith Bronwen Mallory
Padmé was slow to wake but swift to rise, once she'd pierced the final veil. Consciousness was like breathing; you never realized how effortless it was until you broke the surface of the water, greedy for air. Through the window, she could see the riotous colors of the Koe sunrise, shades and hues which did not readily ascribe to names. For a moment she stretched, an inventory of her body, before she swung her legs over the side of the basin and stood, barefoot, in the center of her home. From the corner, Artoo beeped softly and, despite herself, Padmé started. She smiled vaguely towards his squat form, crossing the room so that she could stand over the sleeping form of her son. There was something covert about it-- she had no idea what she would say, should he wake and find her looming like some creature in from the bramble and the woods. She couldn't help herself, though; she studied his face, lax and unguarded, with only a half-formed thought of what she was looking for.
In her own dreams, she was always roaming endless, echoing corridors, uncertain if she was chasing the shadows, or running from them. As open as her son's face was, she could divine nothing from it-- he was still in sleep, quiet, controlled. Kneeling beside his bedroll, she gently brushed a lock of tarnished blond hair from his face. The ghosts of her baby boy revealed themselves in his adult features, faint but true. There was regret in her, yet it felt somehow selfish, as if souring on the back of her tongue. 'Things,' Nubian farmers were fond of saying, 'could always be worse'. She smiled lightly, thinking of those green hills, flooding every five years despite their height. Silent, half-sullen determination was etched in the bones of every baby born on those slopes; plodding, continuing, rising each morning with the vague thought, 'if not today, or tomorrow, then someday...'
Biting her lip, Padmé rose, letting her eyes linger on Luke for a moment, before she quietly took a fold of clean clothing and small, rickety comb from the truck. She motioned to Artoo for silence as she slipped out the threshold and into the dooryard, where her crops grew with some inherent wildness, despite their well-ordered rows. In the shade of the lone, white-wood tree that shaded the side of her dwelling, she drew her hair forward, running the comb through it with exacting patience. The motion was repetitive, soothing. The locks that slipped through her fingers faded from dark brown to light, shot through with tinges of gray and white, like the creeping fingers of age. As last, she tossed her head a bit, pulling binding her hair up with a piece of twine. She pulled a rag down from one of the branches, bending to scoop the leaves from the surface of the water-barrel. Stripping her dirty dress from her form, she began to clean her body, vaguely cataloguing scars and signs of time. It had been many years since she'd seen her own reflection, and somehow this small vanity-- the notations of her physical body-- seemed somehow amusing. Along her spine and back were the familiar, raised lines and welts of the lash; her hands worn with labor, her left side marked with the fading remnants of a glancing blaster wound. On her lower arm, the newer, rambling burns acquired from the shock of Anakin's death. She traced these gently with her free fingers, almost marveling. His call to her, his low death-cry, had reached her from so far, like a resonating wave.
For so long, she had made herself believe all those tiny fictions she had built up. He was dead, he cared no more, he was captured, missing, hovering somewhere... All of them contradictory, but all of them believed, pulled to her when she needed them. 'When a star explodes,' she thought quietly, 'the whole galaxy feels it.' Even if it was a tiny point of light vanishing, thousands of years later, from the sky. It was the immediacy of the feeling, the intensity, that shook her. That he had been reaching for her, as if expecting her down one road and then glancing her form, too far to turn back, down another. His touch had been as intense as it was brief; like fingers simply lacking the strength, but not the determination, to hold on. Then it faded, and she found she had burned her supper. In the weeks since, she felt his growing presence much the way leaves felt the rain; something natural, and half expected. She had often thought she'd glimpsed him, a reflection of a reflection, out of the corner of her eye. His shadow accompanying her own.
Taking a handful of water from the barrel, she sipped, then spit it back over her shoulder. A prison habit, rude and calculated; in the showers, they had all done it, female prisoners, deliberately crude. Bodies bared under the eyes of soldiers and the lukewarm spray, how could they not? Some small defiance, an unattractiveness, seemed to salvage their dignity, make the blank-eyed troopers turn their heads away in half-remembered embarrassment. The years had taught Padmé a sort of indifference to her body; it was a cage, a final vessel for the soul. It was where clothing ended, and real self-deception began. Finally, Padmé hung the rag back in its place and stepped into her fresh dress, welcoming the feel of fabric against her arms. Mornings in this season were a chill that faded into the midday heat, but there was something strengthening in the cool, like monks who get up early in the morning to pray. She was reaching around to do up the simple hook-buttons at the back when, as simply as surfacing from the sea, another image took the fore of her vision.
(Herself, younger, hand caught in Anakin's as she went to make this same motion. He put his arm around her as he did up the complex lacings of her bodice, tracing where the blue satin hugged her figure. He liked to stand like that, behind her, encircling her, whispering secrets in her ear.)
The image was not her own.
Suddenly, she understood just what people meant when they said, 'harden your heart'. It wasn't a malicious act-- but one of self protection, the baking of clay brick in the sun. Fortification. The world always seemed a much safer place from behind a well. Padmé let out a deep breath, her only outward sign of discomfort the stiffening of her spine.
"That," she said softly, trying to keep her soul out of her throat, "would be a dirty trick." Her fingers ceased their motions; she was absurdly thankful when the buttons did not do themselves.
'I'm sorry.' It was a voice, but also not a voice. It had shape and form, and no substance at all-- it reached from the past, reminding Padmé that time was not linear, but that you always fell back to certain places. Anakin's voice. 'I didn't intend for you to hear... to 'see' that.' There was a long silence, in which she could only hear the rustling of the leaves. 'Padmé...'
She fisted her hands in her skirt, and did not turn around. "It's never a good sign to find yourself conversing with the dead." She braced herself against the water-barrel, making sure to disturb the water. And, because the only way to stop the word was to stop breathing altogether; "Anakin."
"When I tell you that I didn't know, will you believe me?" There was no sound, but she somehow sensed that he had moved closer. "I thought you were dead-- I searched... Force, Padmé, I would never have..."
"Lying is not among your vices," she observed, careful about how the words played across her vocal chords. "There came a time when I realized that pri-- what I suffered-- was not at your hand." He said nothing, and the word 'directly' remained unspoken. Padmé had the sudden, bizarre image of her primary school teacher in the city, advising the children to be careful with their qualifiers. The intricacies of language.
"I should have searched harder, I should have found you," his voice was firm, as it always was on things he considered implicitly true.
"And then what, Ani?" Familiarity leapt unbidden to her lips, but there was no denying it; they had lodged pieces of themselves in each other, far too complex for battlefield surgery. "I'll have to live with this outcome-- there are too many other, more dangerous ones that could have been."
"Padmé, please," the sorrow in his voice was so real, winding between her ribs. "Turn around."
"I can't," she said, tone just as raw. "Not yet. I do--" she struggled with the word, simply because she had once thought she'd never say it again-- "love you, but..."
"So many things have changed," he seemed somewhat defeated, if only for a moment. "He saved me, you know." She could just imagine Anakin's stance, the brief nod of his head towards the room where Luke slept. "He's so like you... he never gave up."
Padmé smiled, though a few tears dropped to make ripples in the water's surface. "I don't know how I could have raised him, without always seeing you. I don't know... I'm afraid to really touch him. So much has come apart in my hands."
"He loves you," Anakin's voice was firm, "he always has, even if he can't reach you in waking memory." There was a pause, and Padmé found herself looking down at the faint, luminous outline of her husband's hand, covering her own. Cold, she would have expected, but the feeling was nothing like that; it was almost anti-sensation, as if his touch was teasing her senses to some level they were not yet prepared for. Quietly, like a secret, "I love you."
He lingered, briefly; she felt his absence like air rushing in to fill a vacuum.
Shaking just a little, she finished buttoning her dress, stopping near the door to pick some ripe riango for breakfast. Luke was just sitting up as she came in, looking at the floor as his cheeks pinked.
"I guess I've gotten used to sleeping in," he said. She touched his shoulder reassuringly as she passed, accepting his help as she set to cutting the fruit for a small breakfast. She felt the silence within herself, all the things she wanted to say laying inert, without words. They sat together on the swept dirt floor; all the questions, the ones she wasn't ready to answer-- or even sure how to-- clustered about, laying in wait.
In the end, the question he asked was, to her, not a question at all. His voice trembled so slightly that Padmé imagined very few would have noticed, and for a moment all she could see was that small form, wrapped in her own crimson robe, whispering, 'I care for you, too, only I...'
"You will," Luke said softly, "you will come back to Coruscant with me?"
Touched forever by the merciless winds of Bespin, Luke had often been woken by the dull ache of his mechanical hand; a phantom red pulse, invading his dreams. He'd learned early on to ignore it, or focus on making it fade, so that now it was automatic and without thought. Rolling over on his side, he stared at the black glove, how it hugged something that so skillfully mimicked a human hand. Most people didn't even notice-- even if he only wore one glove, they assumed he simply had a scar. 'A red banner,' the young rebels called it-- a medal of honor earned in battle permanent and lasting. The locker rooms aboard ships and deep within bases were always rowdy; 'I got this one dodging Stormtrooper fire on Malestare', 'That's nothing, this is from our charge on the walkers on Hoth...'
Luke shivered slightly, and flexed the steel joints, feeling them ripple under the synthetic skin. His hand had ached, too, when Father's mind sought him out, touched on the edges of his own presence within the Force. There were days he tried not to look at it, so well did it conjure the image of Father's black, smoking wires.
('An eye for an eye,' said the thugs on the streets of Mos Eisley. 'An eye for an eye.')
Frustrated, Luke laid on his bedroll, staring at the ceiling and trying to quiet his mind. Unbidden, Mother's words came to him, distant with memory, absent of judgment, 'They make these things so well these days.' Somehow, she had not been afraid.
He became aware of Mother's soft footfalls and sat up, watching her come in from the bright ruby morning. Each time his gaze touched her face, it seemed to Luke that he saw something new revealed, only to find this revelation a mystery, still.
"I guess I've gotten used to sleeping in," he said, rolling his shoulders the way he once had, scooting into Aunt Beru's kitchen long after the first toll of the bell. Mother smiled reassuringly, and he moved to help her with the dicing of the oddly shaped, yellowing red fruit. The smell that reached his nose was almost sweet, and he took in her profile from the corner of his eye. Dressed in a faded tunic that looked as if it had once been pink, hair piled back and caught up with twine, she looked like a nomad queen. She wasn't from Tatooine, he knew-- her features were too delicate, despite her strength; there was an air about her that spoke to him of flowers in full bloom, moons on the water. And still, there was a learned ruggedness to her, like a transplanted vine, struggling, emerging hardy. He tried to imagine her on Alderaan-- whose landscapes he had only seen in Leia's careful holo preservations-- walking along the beach, or sitting in Leia's apartment on Coruscant. It came to him, suddenly, that he was afraid she would leave-- even moisture farmers refused to put down deep roots, knowing that any day the small yield of water might fail, pushing them over the next dune.
"You will," he said, quite startled by the words as they left his own mouth, "you will come back to Coruscant with me?" The words hung in the air, somewhere between a statement, a question and a plea. The sands of his childhood were full of the whispers; 'assume nothing'.
Mother looked up swiftly, smile so real that Luke ached with sympathy. And yet, there was something--
(the image, brief, of hands carrying a red cloak, of small shoulders, the feel of something smooth. a boy's voice. he couldn't make out the words.)
--elusive, gone like an angle of light.
"Of course," she said, reaching up to touch his cheek. Then, just as tenderly, she looked away. More quietly, "Back to Coruscant..."
(The tilt of the world jarring; smoke and thunder and the smell of burning flesh. 'I shouldn't have come back...')
Mother was watching him; Luke found himself flustered, uncertain as to how to apologize. Only Leia had been able to 'catch' him at those slight, unconscious brushes, her narrowed brown eyes like a stone polished with fire. She knew, not because she felt his touch, but because of her own instant reaction. His presence would brush hers, and the walls would go up, like a Dionidon raising its quills. Purely instinctual. Her spine would stiffen; at those times, she gazed at him as if she couldn't see who he was.
'No hokey business, kid," Han would tease gently, so surprisingly precise with his use of humor. But in his hazel eyes, too, Luke saw a protectiveness-- despite the fact Leia didn't need it, despite the fact it always annoyed her, a little. He often wondered if his friend knew, could understand, the anger--
(i cut off his hand, his hand...)
--the desire to shield--
('if you will not turn, perhaps she will')
--with which he had once fought, for his sister.
"I'm sorry," Luke said presently, not looking up. "I didn't mean to intrude." Mother's blocks were different, strange, like a world seen through distorted glass. More disturbing, perhaps, for the half-shapes one could see.
"It's alright," Mother's voice was as smooth as the balm Leia had often applied to his wounds. "I know you didn't mean to."
Now he did look at her, blue eyes wide, "Are you--"
"A Jedi?" the tone in her voice was odd. "No."
"But you can sense me," Luke pressed.
"I am not a Jedi," she repeated with a gentled firmness in her voice. Her smile fluttered briefly to something more sad, and she shook her head, a single curl obscuring her profile. "I am-- was-- used to the feeling. There were rumors of a Force-sensitive born in my mother's family some generations back, but... if there were any records, they were destroyed. For our protection. I was never tested; the Force binds me as it binds us all, but I can not touch it." She bit delicately into a slice of fruit, eyes shining, reflecting everything and nothing at all.
Watching her, Luke could only frown. Ben's voice came to him, speaking of an Order of Knights that had served and protected the galaxy since the birth of the Old Republic. Warriors with a code of honor, a dedication to peace, or else defense.
Protection, then, from whom?
He touched his lightsaber, wondering at her words, at her quiet recitation of something he himself had learned. Mother's gaze caught and followed his; she lifted her hand, uncurling her fingers in invitation.
"May I see it?" she asked, nodding towards the still hilt. Nodding, he unhooked it, watch her take hold. Gingerly, she held it away from herself, fingers tracing the patterns, the construction. Luke had a sudden, vivid image of Yoda, the small Master's clawed hands continually correcting the grip of his clumsy human student. Mother's grip was almost perfect-- deftly, she flipped the switch.
"Similar..." she said softly, face bathed in the emerald of the blade. "You made this yourself." Calmly, she deactivated it, turning her wrist over so he could take it back. "It's well made."
"Thank you," he said, throat closing over the quiet pride within him. "I---" He found himself grasping her hands in his own. It was important, overwhelmingly so, that he make her see, impart to her all the things that others did not, would not understand. In the deep, still opal depths of her eyes, he saw a kinship he had not expected to find. "He saved me," Luke said earnestly. "That's how Father died-- saving me."
Mother's hands were gone-- she was sitting back against the wall, fingers over her cheeks, face in her palms. She shook for a moment, silently, before sitting up gracefully, the fire in her eyes the kind that forged.
"Tell me," she said, words partly an entreaty, partly a regal command. "Don't leave anything out, even if you think it will spare me. Please, tell me now."
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