That said, I'd love to hear what you think, if you have the time to comment. I'll adore you forever if you do!
A Final, Distant Shore 1/1
by Meredith Bronwen Mallory
They walked down the path together, hand in hand. It was evening on Naboo-- the sun had just begun to dip down behind the ancient towers and spires of Theed, turning the high grass of the countryside to burnished gold. They walked away from the city, their shadows growing, half born images proceeding them down the sandy way. Padme walked slowly, free hand swinging at her side in the rhythm of an unhurried young maiden, not the stately, distant queen who's trappings and pale continence she'd recently washed away. Occasionally, she glanced over at Anakin, his face turned down under his sandy hair. He kept his eyes on the dusty path, feeling each one of Padme's fingers wrapped around his small hand-- each whirl and texture, the lines of her palm. He couldn't look at her and feel that, not at the same time; not Obiwan's voice, shuddering under its new authority, echoed so readily in his mind. The boy toed his new boots against the ground, kicking at the odd larger pebble, looking at the dainty curve of her ankles in the brown-strapped sandals she wore. Padme took up the game and he caught her smile in one brief, surreptitious glance. They began gently punt the quartz rock between them, until a too boisterous kick from Anakin sent their toy skittering off into the grass. He looked up then, towards the darkening horizon, purple fading into blue, fading into the sea. Naboo's three moons were pearly smudges of pastel, hovering low.
"I'm glad Obiwan allowed you to come with me," Padme spoke softly, so that her voice did not break their comfortable silence, but blending into it, bringing it to life.
"Me too," Anakin said, pulling at his loose tunic. "Especially since..."
"You leave tomorrow," Padme finished gently.
A pause. Off in the taller brush, a lone insect called out to its fellows. "Yeah."
"It's what you want," she wasn't so much reminding him, it seemed, as she was speaking his thoughts out loud. With her own quiet certainty, "What you're meant to be."
"I know, but I..." A thousand words threatened to spill onto his tongue, and more thoughts still, to heavy and nebulous for him to explain. 'Want to stay here with you,' he thought with passionate honesty. 'Miss my mother,' was just as strong on it's heels. "...don't think they like me," he finished lamely, eyes far away.
"They've agreed to take you now," the girl-queen murmured, and through her soft palm Anakin thought he felt a beat of kinship, as if she knew the feeling. "It doesn't matter if they like you or not-- if you work hard, if you succeed, they'll have to accept that they were wrong."
"You think so?" he looked up, the hope in his eyes needing to see the belief in hers. She was beautiful in the dying, shadowed light; cloud of umber hair tied back with two simple blue ribbons, framing her face. On Tatooine, Anakin heard stories of a Queen so beautiful that planets warred over her favor, over the privilege of living under her rule. He could see that now, in the curve of her smile.
"I know so," she reached down, brushing elegant fingers against his new Padawan braid. "Pretty soon, they'll forget that they denied..." her voice trailed off, respectful of Qui-Gon's loss, "you entry, and start to think it was all their idea." Anakin smiled at that, a hint of mischief playing behind his blue eyes.
"Almost there," she announced as they followed the gentle curve of the path.
Anakin lifted his hand to trace a shape growing on the horizon. "What's that?"
"A temple," Padme answered. There were memories in her tone as she added, "Long ago, before the Naboo discovered the secrets of flight or space travel, my people built huge galleons that transversed the seas. There's a lot of water on Naboo--"
He grinned up at her, "Is there ever!"
Another smile. "--and the seas can be incredibly treacherous during the winter seasons. The temple was built for the husbands and wives of sailors, so they could pray to the Nereids for their loved ones' safety."
The path stopped abruptly before them, giving way to an aged wooden walkway, tendrils of grass growing up between the planks. They climbed the few steps in tandem, Padme's white skirt brushing against her knees.
"What's a Nereid?"
"A water-child. A woman of the ocean," she said, coming to a stop, "they guide the ships and the waves."
"Like an angel?" She blushed, looked away.
"Close your eyes," she told him, "I want you to see it all at once."
"Alright," uttered without hesitation. He let her lead him further along the platform, and down a set of steps, until the ground beneath his feet was once more the impressionable sand he was so used to.
"Go ahead and look."
Her words gave the darkness form, and he opened his eyes, unable to stem the light gasp that sprung from his throat. The fields and light woods were gone, as were the outlines of the temple and the gates leading away from Theed. Before him, water lay as far as the eye could see, stretching like the wings of some graceful nocturnal bird. Waves lapped against the shore, like a thousand echoes, rushing in and out. The waterfalls of Theed had astonished Anakin, endlessly churning and white; but here was the ocean, endless in it's own way, strange as the sands of the Dune Sea, but fathomlessly deep as well. Consuming. He gripped her hand, eyes wide with disbelief.
"It doesn't end," he said quietly, unnerved as he watched a stronger wave dislodge a curled shell from the sand, pulling it forever out to sea.
"Don't you like it?" she asked, opal eyes wide with concern.
"I do," he hurried to assure you, "I've never seen anything like it, but... it's so *big*. I've only seen rain on holovid Has this always been here?"
"Since the beginning of this world," Padme crouched beside him, arm around his small waist. "Some say the people of Naboo came from the sea, from the Core." She stood suddenly, smile reassuring and childlike, eager to share her treasure. "Take off your shoes," she encouraged, bending down to unbuckle her own. Anakin watched as she stretched, reaching around to untie the sash at her waist. Her white dress slipped easily off her shoulders, revealing a modest swimming tunic beneath. Kicking her clothing away, Padme ran towards the waves, body moving with an easy grace. Anakin watched her, spellbound, as she turned her profile towards the endless deep, eyes closed, like listening to old and favored music. There was nothing to stir in him but boyish wonder, but it swelled in him and, like the ocean, its reverence consumed.
'You're just a little boy,' she'd said, hands cupping the japor snippet. In that moment, Anakin felt as though a door was opening somewhere, spilling in a sliver of silvery light. He stood on the beach and felt himself older, taller, standing at his own side. His breathlessness was the same now as it would be in the future, she would always make his throat close over this precious feeling. Beyond that, the echo of a coin far down in the well, he sensed something else; something endlessly jealous, eager to pursue him down from some darker time and--
"Come on!" Padme beckoned him, the very breath of here and now. "The moons are low-- the tide isn't bad at all." He shed his trousers and tunic for the shorter breeches and undershirt beneath. The first step was hesitant-- he was still half certain he was dreaming-- but she came to gently take his hand, leading him a little ways in. "Isn't this nice? I always loved to swim, when I was a little."
"You can swim?" he asked, water rushing back and forth between his thin calves. "In *this*?"
"Yes." The look in her eyes became far away, and he felt a prick of frustration at how easily she left her body, leaving him with no way to follow her. "I haven't been swimming since... oh, before I was elected Queen." He reached out to her, forced to put his comforting hand on her arm rather than her shoulder.
"You're a person as well as a Queen," he had no other way of putting it, but the flare of gratitude behind her dark-moon gaze told him he'd gotten it right.
"There's not always time for things like this," she confessed. "But I wanted to make time, before you go." She walked a little more deeply into the waves, and he followed.
Earnestly, he said, "I'm not going to forget about you."
"Nor will I forget you," she tugged at the length of leather twine about her neck, pulling the japor snippet out to lay against her breast. "Things are changing, though. They'll never be the same as they are just right now."
"Show me how to swim," he said, thinking only of pulling her from the tide of her own sorrow. She smiled at him, eager to share in this simple pleasure. The water felt so strange against his body, cool and forgiving as it rose to cover his stomach, then his chest. He was watching it lap against Padme's waist when the panic returned to him, filling his sight with images of the water-logged sand as it dropped, mercilessly, off into nothing. Embarrassed and afraid in equal measures, he grabbed both her hands and held on tight.
"It's alright," she murmured, "I'm right here. Trust me-- it's easy." She moved closer, supporting him under arms, letting the water help her lift his small form.
"Lay back" she instructed, hands moving to cradle him, one between his shoulders, the other at the backs of his knees.
"Padme?" He held himself still, feeling small and insubstantial as the sea rocked him.
"The temple. It's for people who drowned, isn't it?"
"Out in the open water, during wrecks at sea," she soothed. "You're doing fine."
"You won't let go? Not 'til I'm ready?"
"Not 'til you're ready-- never in a million years." He couldn't help but grin at that, eyes closed to hide the true extent of his pleasure.
"If you balance yourself, you can float on your back," she told him. "Take a deep breath-- I'll be here." Later, her voice would come to him in the empty spaces between the temple columns, in the silence of the meditation chamber-- balance. She'd be there. 'Nereid,' he thought. 'Sea Angel'.
Softly, after a long moment, he said, "Alright." He felt her hands ease off slightly, but thought that they still remained. "Have you let go yet?"
"Anakin," Padme's happiness flowed through her voice, "you're doing it on your own." He opened his eyes to see her grinning, standing very close by, hair dangling in the water.
"Wizard," he laughed aloud, and she answered-- he craned his head back to look at her more fully. She saw his mistake and reached forward to catch him before his body began to sink. The waves drew them out a little further-- he made two paddles towards her and latched on, arms going about her neck. She could still stand at that depth, and began to move them towards the shore, one arm holding him against her. He lingered as long as he could, before setting his feet back on the sea floor.
Padme sat down just where the waves met the beach, head tipped back to the sky. Now the night was red and amber, violet and pink-gold with the sun's vanishing fingertips.
"We should get back soon," she said when he came to sit beside her. He looked back towards their clothing, laying abandoned on the white sand, and tugged on his short little braid.
"I guess." He rolled his shoulders. "Thank you, Padme."
"You're welcome." She let him sidle up against her, showed him the shell she'd discovered in the sand at her side. "And thank you."
He frowned. "For what?"
She didn't answer-- instead she turned her gaze back to where the sky and sea were bleeding together, and in a while she rose lead him away.
'Don't fight the current,' she'd told him, years later, on the shores of one of countryside's large lakes. 'Work with it-- make it work with you.' He'd been taller than her, by then, could lift her as she once lifted him, pull her further into the depths. Her body was at ease in the water; she swam around him effortlessly, dipping under the water to reappear somewhere else. When she'd pulled the folds of her blue robe up to cover her shivering form, he'd come to hold her from behind, tangle his fingers in her damp tresses and kiss her cooled shoulder. His throat had closed around that priceless happiness, to hold it inside him along with their secret.
He couldn't breathe.
Night or day on Kumino-- it mattered little. The sky was dark and thunderous as his own voice and constant hiss as he strode through the torrent of rain. The bright lights of the facility pained his eyes, before the lenses of his mask were able to adjust properly. Years and an endless, burning pain now lay in a deep gulf between himself and her voice. His loneliness was like Kumino's sea; unforgiving, and utterly without mercy. His wet cloak was taken and he was led away, apologies were made. Here, said the calm voice of Taun We, the storm never stopped. He said nothing to ease the tall, gray being's nervousness or alleviate her fear. She clicked nervously in the back of her throat, asking that he wait just a moment more. Her thumbless hands worked quickly over the datapad of yet another uniform white door.
Sometimes, when his phantom limbs ached or he stood on the precipice of dreams, Vader thought he could feel, so fleeting, the touch of Padme's hand between his shoulders, as he had on that long-ago beach. She cradled his passage into the darkness of his own mind, and she promised she wouldn't let him fall. He felt her ghost's touch as Taun We ushered him into the room, black eyes wide. Vader had no patience for her any more, and no thought either-- the room was host to a small, perfectly cylindrical tank, and that was all he saw. Once, his untrained mind had reached towards the future and felt what he did now; a burning hatred, envy, for the weak creature he'd once been.
'You have what I want,' he thought at the echoes of himself. 'You couldn't protect her, damn you.' The Emperor's horrible pronouncement sounded soon after that in the caverns of the Sith Lord's mind; he saw her, still and terribly beautiful in death, drifting in her silver boat down the canals of Theed.
He crossed to the tank, hands raised but hesitant to touch.
"All proceeds well?" A demand, rather than an inquiry.
"Our operation is always smooth, Lord Vader-- this was no difficult task."
Vader shook his head, eyes fixed on the tiny, perfect form suspended behind the glass. So much progress in three months. The baby girl lay still, eyes closed as she curled around herself.
"In about twelve hours, my Lord."
As if she could sense them, the baby moved a tiny fist, touching it against the tank.
Sea Angel. Nereid. Water-child.
Vader raised a large, black gloved hand and placed it against the glass.
*glares at Carol* Could we... I dunno, maybe once write a story that doesn't have a bleeding creepy ending? ^^;;;
I'd love you forever if you choose to comment! ^_^