Categories > Movies > Star Wars > Becoming Love: I, In You: The Rise of the Clone Wars

Chapter 1: In the Shadow of Death

by Polgarawolf 0 Reviews

SUMMARY: What if Senator Padmé Amidala had refused to go into hiding on Naboo, during the events of AotC and a scheme were instead hatched that involved sending Dormé Tammesin (the Senator's only...

Category: Star Wars - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Drama,Romance,Sci-fi - Characters: Amidala,Anakin,Obi-Wan - Warnings: [!!] [V] [?] - Published: 2008/07/05 - Updated: 2008/10/21 - 10238 words

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Author’s Warnings: 1.) Please see the Author's Warnings for the preface and prologue of this story, as they continue to hold true pretty much throughout the rest of the story! 2.) The epigraphs in this story are inspired by the epigraphs used in the seminal sci-fi series /Dune/ and are oftentimes based/modelled on famous real world quotations and sayings, so if they sound familiar to folks, odds are people are thinking of their real world counterparts! 3.) Again, this story does not have a beta - I've proof-read and checked the grammar, but I won't swear that there aren't any typos! I will be happy to fix any errors that are pointed out to me!

Author’s Notes: 1.) Again, there are two different non-Basic languages that occasionally come into play, in the speech and thoughts of my Nabooian characters. One is the Gaelic-based Nabooian originally from my You Became to Me series (which is, by the way, closely related to the Gaelic-based languages also spoken on Alderaan, Chandrila, and Grizmallt, in that SW AU series, and so also spoken on these planets in all of my other SW AU work) and the other is the Akkadian-based Uriashian of LJ user cariel and LJ user bloodraven77's various different Dormékin and Dormé/Vader AUs. If the meaning of anything is unclear by context, please ask me what a specific word/phrase means (with example from the text), and I promise I will clarify, though I may occasionally have to ask LJ user cariel for help (as most of my Uriashian has come directly from her)! 2.) Italics are generally used in this story for one of the following reasons: to denote a voice over a comm or other recording of some sort; to convey special (emotional) emphasis on some words; to set off words in another language; to denote a character's thoughts or shared/telepathically overheard thoughts; and/or to signify the words of a Force ghost or spirit or other entity of the Force. 3.) The cast of EU/original characters for this story is essentially the same as for my SW AU series You Became to Me (though there will be some eventual unique additions to this story, which will be explained in the Author's Notes as they become pertinent to the story). Please see the posts listed at the bottom of my most recent update on that series for links to my lists of cast characters, handmaidens, Nabooians, etc., at http://polgarawolf. livejournal. com/115467.html for specifics on these casting choices! 4.) I have a journal entry with a running list of costumes/images that work as "illustrations" for much of this story, over at http://polgarawolf. livejournal. com/119841.html and, when the story is completely done, I will likely go back and either create specific entries with links for each chapter or include the proper information on costumes and such for each chapter in that chapter post.


Star Wars
Becoming Love: I, In You

The Rise of the Clone Wars


Chapter One: In the Shadow of Death


1,000:05:16 After Ruusan Reformations (25,001 After Republic’s Founding), 20 days prior to the Battle of Geonosis

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence, one may murder the liar; yet, one cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence, one may murder the hater; yet, one does not and cannot murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. And so it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out hate: only love can do that, and it is better, by far, to light one small candle against that night than to curse it for its darkness.
– Sabé Kandala Dahn, former primary decoy for Queen Padmé Amidala Naberrie of Naboo and former interim and elected Senator for the Chommell Sector, from private papers dated prior to the Battle of Geonosis



Obi-Wan Kenobi has more than once indicated that the vast majority of Padmé Amidala’s handmaidens should have been given over to the Jedi Order for training, more than once opined that such things as their increased reaction times and physical prowess with certain weapons – especially bladed weapons – is a sign of unconscious use of the Force. It is (supposedly) because Bendu Kenobi had been concerned that, being largely untrained in the ways of the Force, they might accidentally cause harm to either themselves or others that he had figured out a way to essentially copy one of the more basic training Holocrons for Sabé, and, over the years, quietly worked with her on mastering several of the basic techniques and tricks, so that Sabé might then pass on her knowledge to the other handmaidens. The extra training both has and has not helped. Dormé would be the first (well, the first after Sabé) to admit that they have all become faster, since they began incorporating this knowledge into their training, their aim more accurate, their bodies more resilient, their spirits more at peace with what they can and cannot do, their minds at once both more open and more heavily protected, shielded, against undue influence by those who might mean them harm; they have also become more sensitive too, though, and that is not always a blessing, not in their line of work, not given the danger and the uncertainty they live with, every day of their lives, in Milady’s service. There are days – especially when the dreams (nightmares, prescient visions, whatever they are) come and come and come and it feels as if fragments of her are breaking violently off and shattering, dying in pieces on the ground, with each breath – that she honestly wonders how in Nisaba’s the Jedi manage to do what they do and be what they are without either becoming or going insane, in the process. And there are days when she wonders if perhaps they aren’t insane, and that’s what’s wrong with her, with the other handmaidens, that they have somehow managed to avoid embracing that insanity fully, and are only half in and half out of whatever insane state of oneness with the Force, with the criosanna teinedíait of the Great Lady, the Jedi have somehow managed to attain.

Such enlightenment, Dormé thinks, is not always the best answer to some questions.

And as Dormé is running towards what she fears will be the end of her world, heart in her throat and confusion shouting at her heels and dread burning like acid, like agony, through her veins, fear and rage and the remembrance of fire, of ashes, of a rain of destruction, of blazing light and crumpled forms scattered across red-stained sand, clogging her pores and weighting her down, slowing her to what feels a nightmarish crawl through the crushing corridors of time gone haywire, the stray thought comes, again, I wish I could have thought of a way to justify avoiding this training, regret rising within her like a tide –

– and then a sound like abruptly breaking thunder, concussive, bone-rattling, shatters wistful, wishful, repetitive, useless thought and nightmare fears alike, presaging a frenzy of heat and force and roaring fury, and her body is tossed on a rippling wave of explosion that swallows her whole and does not flatten her, in engulfing her, only because her training makes her /reach/, instinctively, for a calm center, a stable eye, that she would never have known how to find, much less seize, without the very training that she has been lamenting.

And everything stops.

Dormé entire existence becomes /this/: the shattering ringing in her ears, the blasted raw abrasion of her scalded skin, and complete, total, infrangible, unqualified fear.

No. Not fear. Terror. Utter. Absolute. Unmitigated. Abandoned. Unadulterated. Abject. Terror. With a small side dish of mixed mindless rage and sheer horror.

Dormé has had a bad feeling about this, about Milady coming to Coruscant, ever since she heard that Padmé intended to come with the other (mostly) fully trained handmaidens while leaving Sabé to continue training the others, and that she intended to land somewhere near her senatorial apartments without the added safety of a Jedi escort rather than allowing someone from the Temple to escort her and her party to a secure landing at one of the Coruscanti Temple’s many docking bays. That bad feeling has only intensified in the days since Milady confirmed that she was set in this path and could not be swayed, since Sabé commed to look at Dormé with her heart in her voice and nightmares clinging to the dark shadows of her eyes and declared (insisted, demanded) that she knew Dormé would find a way to keep Milady safe, even from Padmé’s own folly. She did not argue with Sabé’s certainty (her pleading), but nightmares and fear and useless (/useless!/) damned sensitivity /has driven her closer and closer to the brink of insanity with each passing day, hour, minute, moment, heartbeat. Dormé came early to the appointed landing coordinates this morning because to not come, to not move, would have been to resign herself to pacing and eventual madness, clawing at the walls and tearing at her hair, under the increasing pressure of all of the crushing sensation of /not right and danger and doom and /impending death/. It is only because she came so early that she has had time to react to the sudden change in plans, to turn about and dash madly, blindly, for the new landing site, asphyxiating (feeling dangerously near to imploding) under all of the screaming warnings of /disaster/, unable to spare breath enough to even begin to try to explain to the clamoring cries of the confused guards and the questioning handmaidens who automatically (if somewhat belatedly) fall in her behind her, like rowdy pack of hunting hounds coursing after prey.

Every fiber of her being is shrieking when she rounds the final curve to barrel heedlessly into the open space of the landing pad, and Dormé is opening her mouth to scream a warning that she knows (/knows/, dammit, /knows!/) will be too late, unable to keep herself from trying, despite the feeling of futility trying to crush her, the overheating bellows of her lungs stabbing agony into her sides, unheeded, the round hard explosive shape of the words, “Get away from the ships!” like old-fashioned projectile bullets primed to erupt into perceivable being when the world suddenly lights up and brazen noise shatters the relatively calm of the pilots and guards where they’re milling about, waiting for the passengers of the Nabooian Royal Crusier to finish disembarking so they can fall into ranks and be on their way, and the world dissolves into a rush of red-streaked, white-flaring, keening blackness, everything stopping, ceasing, /ending/.

Slowly (or perhaps too quickly), her mind rockets back into her body, and she begins to know more than a confused jumble of nightmare memories crashing headlong into reality.

She isn’t deaf, just deafened.

She isn’t dead, and yet . . . and yet, she smells blood, ashes, scorching, /burning/.

Her ribs hurt. Her head is ringing. There is blood on her hands, from her hands. There’s blood in her mouth, where she bit her tongue during the impact of that expanding wavefront of force. The air stings. She can’t breathe. The air is clogged, thick, with dust, debris, acrid stenches of explosion and destruction and blazing fire. The ship, the whole gorram ship, is gone, nothing but a blasted, blackened crater filled with twisted scraps of metal and fragments of what might have once been passengers, crew, guards, friends/, littered in and about it, great gouts of flame roaring and waving through the air where the ship once stood, pouring like blood from a mortal wound. There is a bundle of bomb-darkened rags that might be (might have once been) a woman, thrown clear of the blast, and her Lady is racing towards that distressingly limp and broken form as if there is Sithspawn at her heels, fumbling with the helmet of her flight uniform, her disguise as a pilot the one thing that’s kept her, so far, from joining in the fate of the girls Dormé and Sabé trained up themselves, to serve as Amidala’s potential decoys and her handmaidens, her chosen companions, her bodyguards, and there is no time, /no time/, absolutely none for this, for Dormé to be standing here, with her heart breaking, doing nothing but watch while Padmé hurtles herself across the landing bay towards her fallen decoy, and it hurts to move, /it hurts, it/ hurts/, /it hurts/, so badly she can’t even cry, and so she pushes herself, makes herself run, skidding a little across the soot-stained floor, until finally she reaches her, just heartbeats after a disheveled and badly rattled looking Captain Typho. The Captain is pulling Padmé away from the crumpled form of a clearly recently deceased Cordé, and Padmé is keening and sobbing, twisting in his arms like a mad thing, trying to get away from him, trying to go back down to the ground, to her decoy’s side, and Dormé is nearly bent double with the force of her own will, as she grits her teeth and refuses to vomit up the scream of grief and rage that’s trying to claw its raging way up from her gullet.

“Milady!”

“Let go! Let /go/, damn you! It might not be too late to save her, if we can get her to a hospital quickly enough! I can breathe for her! Let me try to /help/!” Padmé only snarls, ignoring Dormé’s cry as she thrashes irrationally against the constraints of Typho’s unyielding arms.

Her eyes tell her it’s far too late for that, but she cannot help but shoot a hopeful, pleading look at the Captain, begging with her eyes for Padmé’s claim to be true, to be possible, for there to be some chance that at least one girl might be saved from this catastrophe, but a swift shake of his dark head and the look of sorrow in his lone good eye soon disabuses her of the notion. Her hands abruptly want to shake, her eyes stinging with pain, and she is forced to take a deep breath to steady herself enough to reach out and catch Padmé’s face in her right hand, turning that tear-streaked face towards her, forcefully declaring, “Milady – Padmé /– stop. /Please. It’s too late. We have to get you out of here before the assassins figure out they blew up the wrong ship and try to take a shot at you.”

“But Cordé – !”

There’s a smear of Dormé’s blood – obscenely bright, shockingly red – on Padmé’s cheek and chin as she thrashes, trying to turn away, and she brings her other hand up, steadying her grip by sliding her hands to either cheek, framing that distraught face (still flower-like, still beautiful, in the way that a bloom rent by a storm might still be lovely, despite obvious damage) between her hands and forcing Padmé to be still, to look at her, and to listen. “Milady, Cordé, like Versé – like all of the handmaidens in that ship – gave her life to preserve yours. Will you throw the gift of your life away, now, or will you honor that sacrifice and come away, now, to safety?”

Padmé looks as though she’s been slapped, her breath stuttering audibly in her chest, eyes shining vacantly with unshed tears and mouth quivering with emotion, but the verbal reprimand is enough to recall her to her duty, and, after a few moments, she takes a deep breath and relaxes her body, enough for Typho to set her down on her feet and Dormé to trust her enough to let go. Passing her hands across her face (smearing her cheeks and chin scarlet, crimson, black, grey, from blood, ashes, soot, as if streaking herself with obscene warpaint), she visibly grabs hold of herself and settles, whispering, “I will honor her sacrifice. I will honor /all /of their sacrifices!”

“The come along! The assassins may be reading for another strike against you even as we speak!” Dormé snaps, taking charge as Sabé has taught her and leaving no room for argument, so that (hopefully) Padmé cannot be tempted to attempt anything foolish. “And for pity’s sake, put your helmet back on! The last thing we need is for anyone to easily be able to tell who you are!”

A sharp nod, and Padmé dutifully turns to reach down to pick up her helmet and lift it back into place, hastily shoving her hair up under the helmet as she eases it on, to help complete the illusion (though it must be uncomfortable, crammed up like that, given the ornaments binding it into sections, to keep it back away from her face), before falling in, trailing behind Dormé as if she were no more than another pilot, another guard. The other surviving guards and pilots close ranks around them at a gesture from Typho, and they begin making their way towards the local transports waiting to take them to the shining towers of 500 Republica Way, collecting Dormé’s escort as they go, Dormé striding out in front of them all (wishing her gown were more elaborate, hoping it looks fancy enough to fool anyone who might be watching and who might want to take a shot at the Senator into shooting at her – given the protection afforded her by the shell spider silk lining her clothes – instead of strafing the entire group in hopes of randomly hitting the right target), breaking their path, like the figurehead of a ship, and setting a brisk pace, to get them to safety as soon as possible.

If she knows Milady at all, once she has calmed down a little, Padmé will start calculating how best to take advantage of the confusion afforded by the bombing by allowing her enemies to assume she is dead until the Senate meeting has been called to order, and that means that they will have to hurry. Their schedule for the landing and the Senate meeting had been a bit tight to begin with, and now, with the explosion (and likely panicky reports about the violent deaths of Senator Amidala and her traveling companions), the Senate meeting is likely to turn towards the issue of violence and the safety that so many of those damned fools think rests with the proposed Military Creation Act even earlier than it otherwise would have. It’s a good thing that they still have at least some handmaidens skilled in the process of helping to swiftly and efficiently tend to and dress the Senator. They’re going to need all the help they can get, to get everything done that they must and still get Padmé to the Senate on time. Besides which, Dormé needs to comm Sabé, to let her know what’s happened, and she has a feeling that it’s not going to be a quick chat. In fact, she has a bad feeling that she’s going to need every extra second she can manage to squeeze out for herself, if not more.

Sighing, she quickens her pace and silently curses the familiar feeling of warning stirring in the pit of her stomach.

*****

She is pampering herself, in an attempt to distract herself from her fears about what might be going on, at this very moment, halfway across the galaxy. Enough time has passed that Padmé should /have landed by now, she /should /be safely tucked away in her senatorial apartments on Coruscant, preparing the speech she will present before the Senate, in opposition to the proposed Military Creation Act, and by all means Sabé /should have been contacted already, if anything were amiss. So she is pampering herself, locked away in her private suite at the Varykino Lake House Retreat, hair down loose about her shoulders and trailing down her back, clad in nothing but a soft white terrycloth towel, getting ready to paint her nails and give herself a relaxing facial and trying like mad to distract herself from the thought that more than enough time has passed that someone or another really should have contacted her, by now, to let her know that the landing went off without a hitch. The chiming of the comm unit both does and does not startle her. It is the sudden sensation of being unable to breathe, as if she has been checked by a hard body blow and sent rushing down into the floor so hard as to not only knock the breath from her but to make it feel as if her lungs have collapsed so far she’ll never be able to draw breath again, that makes her lose her grip on the small bottom of dark scarlet paint, unable to do anything except gasp as it tumbles from her fingers and onto the floor, deep red scattering like a rain of blood on the white gown she left in a pool of crumpled fabric upon the carpet, when she stepped out of it, earlier.

Later, Sabé will not be able to remember getting from the chair in her bedroom to the little nook off of her sitting room, where she keeps her private holocomm unit. She will only remember standing squarely in the field of the holorecorder, breathless and shivering, while Dormé’s soot and tear-stained face blossoms in blue before her, her dark hair disarrayed and her trembling pale hands earnestly strangling a scrap of material that might have been white, once upon a time. A voice speaks, high and shaking with tension, sounding small and tinny and very far away over the roaring of blood pounding in her ears, and it takes her several long moments to realize that she is the one who’s spoken them. “I’m here. What happened?”

“I don’t – I’m not – Sabé, she came in early, and to another landing platform, and I wasn’t there, when the ships landed, I wasn’t in time, I – ”

Dormé’s near-hysterical voice makes black spots dance in front of her eyes. She has to force herself not to hyperventilate with fear, make herself stand straight and tall, fighting against the urge to curl in around her stomach and cover her head, as if to protect herself against physical blows. Whatever it is that has happened cannot possibly be good, not with Dormé in such a state, and a wave of nausea crashes over her, the knowledge that something truly terrible has to have happened, to reduce the normally unflappable Dormé to such a state of tearful near-hysteria, churning in her like a poison. “Dormé, please. What /happened/?”

“I don’t know how they could have know when or where the ship was landing! They changed their coordinates at the last moment and I was already waiting at the landing site I’d been told, earlier, and even I couldn’t get to the new one in time! The ship – O, merciful Nisaba bless! The /lugasum waited until the ship had landed, until the ramp was down, until they were already starting to debark, and then – then – ”/

“How many?”

“All, on the Royal Cruiser. All. Not just Cordé and Versé. All of them.”

Shock and horror shut her eyes, but she can see it play out upon the blackness – the four starships and starfighters skimming past the great skyscrapers of Coruscant, weaving in and out of the huge metal and transparisteel structures, early morning sunlight reflecting off their many mirrorlike windows and gleaming brilliantly off the chrome of the sleek ships, the ships carefully avoiding the more heavily trafficked routes of the great city, where potential enemies might be flying or otherwise lurking within the cover of thousands of ordinary vehicles on their way to a landing platform, not far from the Senatorial Apartment Buildings Complex at 500 Republica Way, circling about that great structure, just to be sure all is as secure and clear as it appears, and thinking themselves safe as they come in for a gentle, hovering landing, the pilots and passengers of those ships all near to giddily relieved laughter, thinking themselves in the clear . . . right up until the moment when the ramp of the Nabooian Royal Crusier has lowered to the ground of the landing platform and Amidala, in her typical splendor, has begun to emerge, with her entourage of handmaidens and solider guardians, and everything explodes into fiery chaos, a brilliant flash of fire roaring into the air and pieces of burning metal spreading throughout the Courscanti sky like fireworks, fanning high and wide from the blazing wreckage – and her eyes fly back open again with a lurching gasp, her shoulders trembling and her breath coming fast, as if she has been running a great distance. “Padmé – ”

“Physically unharmed. I had to – I had to – Sabé, she wouldn’t leave Cordé’s body, wouldn’t come away, and there was still danger! I /had /to do it, I /had to say it, we couldn’t stay out there, exposed, like that!”/

“You protected her. You did right. Cordé would tell you the same thing. Where – ?”

“In the bath, washing up so she can change. She’s allowing herself to be reported dead, so that she can storm the Senate meeting.”

A small measure of balance begins to return, with the knowledge that her beloved has not been physically harmed (though the Lady alone only know how badly this will have hurt her, otherwise. Padmé has never been able to easily accept deaths among those who protect her, and this, she knows, will be especially hard to take, given how many have perished in the explosion. All of the passengers aboard the Royal Cruiser. Mother of stars be blessed, that’s over a full class of handmaidens – twenty-eight girls, in total, one of the most devastating blows they’ve yet to suffer, in spite of years of attempts by agents of the Trade Federation to assassinate Padmé and all of her guardians, all of the individuals associated with their embarrassing defeat, on Naboo – leaving not much more than a handful of handmaidens there, on Coruscant, to tend to and guard Padmé, most them there with Dormé on their first real assignment. The thought alone is enough to make her blanch), and her voice is steadier when she notes, “You should be there, too.”

“The others are with her. She told me to comm you, and I wanted to speak to you. Sabé, I honestly don’t understand how this could have happened!” Dormé merely reiterates, also starting to sound a little more like herself, if still rather frazzled. “They changed their landing time and their landing coordinates literally at the last moment. There’s no way anyone could have known about where they ships would land and how they would space themselves, upon landing, early enough to rig a bomb to the right section of the landing pad. Yet, there was just the one, perfectly targeted explosion, and it was nowhere near large enough to truly endanger the other ships. It’s almost as if the bomb was placed on the ship before the convoy left Naboo, and yet, that doesn’t make any sense, either! I know those ships are guarded closely at all times, and there’s no way the assassin could have judged how many times the ship would be opened and closed up again, to set a proper timer before the boarding, but there wouldn’t have been time to attach anything to the ship after boarding, to allow for a timer that would be sure to go off once the ship had landed. Even if the device was set on a timer, the assassin would have had to have been able to follow the ships from Naboo all the way to Coruscant without being noticed and been close enough during the landing to set the device off remotely. I can’t believe security could be so careless! And if it was a member of security – ”

“ – then there would have been no reason to target the Royal Cruiser, since Padmé was never on that ship to begin with.”

“Precisely! So what in the name of Nisaba /happened/? I /have to be missing something. This just doesn’t make sense, unless Milady wasn’t the target at all, and that’s – ”/

“She might not be,” Sabé quietly notes, cutting Dormé off. “Not yet. This might be the first blow in a complex plan of attack, meant to strip Padmé of her guards and cause her the maximum amount of pain and suffering, before taking her out, as well. The Trade Federation – ”

“Gunray isn’t clever enough to do something like this. Not on his own. Not given what we’ve seen of him and his hirelings, over the years,” Dormé in turn interrupts, her voice flat with certainty. And, while Sabé privately agrees with the young woman’s opinion of Gunray, this does not keep her from arguing the point.

“It may not be Gunray alone who’s arranged this. You know the Trade Federation has allied with the Separatists. That means they’ve joined Count Dooku’s cause,” she grimly counters, certain that Dormé will be able to connect the dots.

Unsurprisingly, Dormé recoils in shock, crying out in protest, “But Dooku was a /Jedi/! He was Master Qui-Gon’s own Master!”

“Yes, and the key word there, I fear, is ‘was,’ /m’éadáil oileanach/.”

Dormé staggers, presses a hand against her heart as if she fears it will leap out of her chest, otherwise, clearly stunned by the implication. “Oh, Nisaba bless! The Sith – ”

“Perhaps. Perhaps not. And perhaps the Count is merely a pawn of the Sith Lord, in this. Irregardless of which it may be, the fact is that we cannot risk the worst possible scenario, out of some misplaced sense of sentimentality based on who and what that man used to be. If this is part of some more elaborate scheme – ”

“ – then we’re going to need help, to thwart it. Master Kenobi?” Dormé expectantly asks, tilting her head a little, the smoothness of her voice and manner letting Sabé know that she is truly beginning to recover from the shock of recent events.

“Indeed. I had asked Cordé and Versé to send him a message, once on Coruscant, without letting Padmé know about it, but . . . ” Sabé lets her voice trail off helplessly, shaking her head.

Grimly, Dormé promises, “I’ll do it. They may not be back from Ansion just yet, but I can leave a message on his planetary comm line. Are your dreams back?”

Sabé cannot quite keep herself from shuddering, remembering those awful and terrifying blood-soaked dreams, so vivid that, in remembering them, she is all but overwhelmed with the thick stench of gore and ashes and death, choking on the taste of destruction. “They’ve gotten worse. Something is coming – the storm is coming – and there will be blood and ashes and unspeakable disaster, if we cannot find a path to true shelter. Obi-Wan needs to know.”

“I’ll tell him. One way or another. I’ll see to it that he knows.”

“Good girl. I’m going to start gathering up those among the students we have here who are nearest to finishing their training. If Padmé cannot be convinced to come home, where it will hopefully be safer, then we will come to her. Either way, I’m trusting you and your girls to keep Padmé safe, until a decision can be made.”

“I’ll keep her safe. I promise. If Anakin and Master Kenobi are back, I’ll try to see if she will consider allowing them to help safeguard her, for a time, or if they might be able to prompt the High Council into actually assigning them some kind of bodyguard duty for her,” Dormé immediately promises her, her voice pitched somewhere between grimly serious and fervently determined. “If the High Council orders it, then she cannot exactly refuse their guardianship.”

Sabé nods in thoughtful agreement. “That’s a good idea. She’ll argue against the necessity of having more bodyguards, of course, but she won’t refuse to allow them to do their job. I’ll leave you to your work, then. You’ll have to comm Obi-Wan and change into something more appropriate for an appearance before the Senate with her before she’s finished cleaning up and changing, to keep her from suspecting. Good luck, Dormé! May Asherah watch over you and Padmé and keep you both safe!”

“/Héam/. Thank you, /m’athron. /Amidala /an uachdar/!”

Sabé’s lips quirk to shape a small smile, in spite of herself, at her protégé’s formality. Dormé always has been among the most fervent in her devotions, both to Padmé Amidala and to the Great Lady that the first Queen and then Senator has been as an elected avatar of, to her people, and that faithful loyalty is both touching and reassuring, given the dangerous, uncertain times. She lets herself smile, rather than fighting the urge, because she trusts Dormé to do what she might, if she were there with Padmé, and because she knows that Obi-Wan will find a way to help keep Padmé safe, whether Padmé wants him there watching over her or not. “/Onóir acus eanach searbheáil/, Dormé,” she replies, echoing one of the many traditional responses to such a verbal show of support for their shared sworn Lady. “Until we meet again, my friend!”

“Until then!” Dormé agrees, returning her small smile and bowing her head in a motion almost deep enough to be deemed a curtsey before reaching to disconnect the holocomm.

When her blue-tinged form has flickered out, Sabé allows herself the luxury of a gasping half sob, at the pain welling in her chest. All of them. All! Asherah welcome them home and set Her face against those responsible for such wanton slaughter! She shudders, folding her hands tightly over her mouth to hold back the scream of mingled agony and rage that is trying to claw its way up out of her from somewhere deep in her gullet, feeling tears streaming coolly across the backs of her hands. Holding herself as carefully as one might hold a priceless antique in danger of shattered from any rough handling or motion, she reaches out to flick a switch on a nearby console that will alert the few handmaiden trainees remaining in Varykino that they are required to gather in the primary training hall for a meeting that will begin in no more than half an hour, and turns back towards her bedroom.

While it is acceptable to answer an urgent holocomm in anything from full dress to half dress to nothing more than one’s skin, she would prefer not to have to speak to the girls about the tragedy that has occurred in nothing more than a towel. And it would be best to see if the dress she’s spilled her nail polish on is ruined or if it salvageable, before the paint has any more time to set up. The girls are going to be devastated. If she can perhaps help to stave off a complete panic, by presenting herself in a sorrowful but calm manner, then that is what she will do, and never mind how much her heart aches or how badly she wants to be able to trade places with Dormé, so she might help to hunt down those responsible and see to it that they pay for what they’ve done! The girls are going to need her, now.

She can always cry later, when she’s alone in her room, and in no urgent need of leaving it again soon, afterwards.

*****

Her ears are still ringing from the explosion. It’s hours since the blast, hours since she left a message for Master Kenobi, hours since the Senate meeting and Milady (shaking her head with disgust at the shouting and lack of civility emanating from the huge gallery before them, bitterly telling Dormé, “This is exactly why Count Dooku was able to convince so many systems to secede,” before proceeding to frighten half of those shouting Senators into silence with her mere appearance, just minutes after the formal announcement of her “death” in the bombing, and then sparking an even more violently frenzied screaming babble of argument), in magnificent form and a towering fury, shouting down the squabbling Senators (“Wake up, Senators – you must wake up!”), only to find herself having to accept the fact that the talks and the voting on the proposal would be delayed until the following day, hours since the Supreme Chancellor issued an invitation to discuss the attack and the Senator’s safety for the following morning, prior to the rescheduled Senate meeting, and they returned to Milady’s apartments, Padmé to curl up in the shower and weep in private and Dormé to find a frantic message from a wild-eyed Anakin, demanding to know if she’s alright, and a terse message from Master Kenobi waiting for her, Obi-Wan’s eyes hard and oddly gray, despite the eerie blue of the hologram, grimly promising, “I will take care of this. Thank you for the warning. My condolences on your losses.”

My condolences on your losses. She shatters, that easily, and sobs like her world truly has ended, a brief flickering wish for Anakin’s presence (for his large hands on her shoulders, his strong arms around her, anchoring her, reminding her of where and who she is, and that she is alive and she has her duty, still) reminding her that she needs to comm him, to let him know she was not physically injured (or at least not injured badly enough to deserve any real notice) in the attack, and probably sooner rather than later, or else he’ll get himself into a galaxy of trouble trying to sneak out of the Temple and into Milady’s apartments, trying to find it out for himself.

It is nearly three hours later – she’s cried and she’s raged and she’s gone to fetch Padmé from the showers and they’ve curled together on the cool tile and sobbed like babies, until their eyes hurt so much from the shedding of tears that they finally manage to pick themselves up and make the motions of going about the process of getting on with living, with Padmé retiring to her suite to comm Sabé and Dormé changing out of her rather damp gown into a loosely comfortable sleeveless grey dress (with pink lace trim) and grey and white floral patterned sheer overdress before heading back out of her rooms to fetch herself some bracing stimcaf before she attempts to tackle anything else – and she’s just had a long talk with the girls under her care (not enough, not nearly enough to keep Milady safe, not without help from Master Kenobi) and Dormé is still telling herself she needs to comm Anakin as she staggers tiredly back into her rooms when the holocomm chimes and she finds herself gazing blearily at Anakin’s worried face.

“Stars be praised, you /are alright. Obi-Wan said that you were, but I worried, when you didn’t respond.”/

Her voice wavers, comes out higher than she’s expecting it to, surprises her with threadiness. “I’m sorry. It’s been a long day.”

He instantly looks stricken, makes an abortive gesture, as if to reach out and gently touch her cheek with the backs of his fingers, taking half a step forward before he realizes that he can’t bridge the distance between them, thus, and, clenching his other hand in unabashed frustration, carefully replies, “Hey, no, don’t apologize, okay? It’s alright. I know you’re busy. I know you probably had about a thousand things you had to do, today, to make sure Padmé was safe, and none of them involved a pressing need to talk to me. I just – I wanted to see you, for myself, make sure you were alright. And I thought I should let you know that we won’t have to worry about trying to figure out a way to actually see each other in person, without getting in trouble over it, anymore. Obi-Wan says that the High Council is going to assign us to protective duty for Padmé sometime tomorrow and I believe him. Looks like we’ll be getting that face-to-face a bit sooner than we’d expected.”

His smile is so very tentative and sweet that Dormé is almost ashamed of her knee-jerk response of anger, that he could be so selfishly happy that they’re going to be meeting face to face because someone blew up Milady’s ship and killed Cordé, Versé, six members of the Royal Naboo Security Forces (including the ship’s pilot and three-man crew), and twenty-six other fully trained handmaidens (fourteen of whom served Sabé, when she was Senator, and came back to Naboo with her, to serve Padmé Amidala; six of whom Dormé helped train years ago solely for Amidala’s service; and six of whom were so newly finished with their training that they had not even been amongst those who’d been taken with Padmé when Milady went on that insane tour, to try to gather support against the Military Creation Act), and Master Kenobi has somehow found a way to get the High Council to agree that the threat against Milady’s life is finally serious enough to warrant the Order’s attention. She’s glad that her hands are out of sight, lost in the folds of her dress, so that he can’t see how they automatically clench into angry fists. She breathes out, hard, through her nose, summons her reserves, and gives him back a smile that’s meant solely for him, one in which she crams every single particle of what it means to her – that Anakin is her friend; that he has worried so much for her safety that even the assurances of his beloved Master weren’t quite enough to quiet his fears; that he wants so very much to see her face to face that there is a strong undertow of gloating in the blue seas of his eyes when he speaks of what his Master has somehow (Nisaba alone only knows how!) arranged; that he understands her capacity for worry enough to have wanted to warn her about what Obi-Wan has arranged, even though he surely must know that Obi-Wan sent her a message promising to take care of things – and, still smiling, tells him, plainly, honestly, “I’m glad the High Council has decided to help and we won’t need to worry about you getting into trouble. Milady will fuss about accepting such protection, but you mustn’t take it to heart. She wouldn’t even have handmaidens, if not for Sabé’s insistence: she hates putting others in harm’s way, hates having others risk their lives for her. After today . . . well, she’ll be less tolerant than normal of bodyguards. Please, don’t take it personally, /kalal/. The rest of us are all going to be ecstatic that the two of you are here, helping to keep her safe.”

Anakin blinks, looking slightly flash dazzled, and then his lips curl again, angelically, and he ducks his head in that way he has that always makes her feel that odd combination of oldness (and far too much jaded cynicism) and heart-kindled warmth at his sheer sweetness of him, and simply murmurs, “Alright.” Then, growing more serious, he adds, “And Dormé? I promise that you’ll be glad we’re there. We’ll guard her well, no matter how much she fusses.”

She smiles again, at that (how can she not?), much more naturally, and assures him, “I know you will. And I know I will be. I look forward to having you with us – both of you. I expect Master Kenobi will be able to help soothe Milady’s ill temper.”

Anakin grins while somehow also making a skeptical face, tilting his head and raising an eyebrow, but he doesn’t question her (for which, after a few beats in which she is forced to play catchup with certain aspects of reality and to come to the realization that she must be even more tired than she’d thought, she is grateful, being incredibly not in the mood to try to explain Master Kenobi’s complex relationship with Padmé and Sabé), aside from that mildly inquisitive look, instead noting, “Well, I’m sure he’ll do his best. If nothing else, he’ll ignore her grousing and pouting until she gives up out of frustration. He’s very good at that. Calmly ignoring people into giving up on their foul moods as lost causes, I mean. And they’re sort of friends, so it’s not like she can really blame him for obeying the High Council. So I wouldn’t worry too much. I’m sure we’ll bring her around. Eventually. One way or another. And hopefully having us find out what /ch’utu caused all this heartache will help put her – and everybody else, too – in a better mood. I know I’ll feel better, then. And I didn’t really know any of them.”/ He pauses, slightly awkward, while her heart seizes up in pain, and then adds, “I’m sorry, Dormé. I wish it hadn’t happened.”

Her smile is bittersweet, but genuine. “You and I both, /kalal/. You and I both.”

“What were their names? The other handmaidens, I mean, besides Cordé and Versé. The news isn’t saying.”

She knows why he’s asking. Anakin inscribes the names of the fallen upon his heart and, when he visits in the Bendu Remembrance Wheel, those are the names he meditates on, rather than those of the great Jedi Masters of old. These handmaidens will join a running list he keeps, after Qui-Gon Jinn and Darra Thel-Tannis and all of the other handmaidens Dormé has told him of who have been lost, over the years. It is his way of doing honor to those who were valiant and good and, unfortunately, cut down before their times, and so, though her voice is thick with grief and her eyes itch and sting with unshed tears, she carefully replies, “Maguiné Sobellum, Rocillé Lucelia, Alashé Lymedia, Taché Scothan, Lipanné Lethrial, Ariné Nethriel, Rhé Mayumi, Shashé Mhavash, Dynjoré Kinvaunyra, Alyndé Lecria, Kieré Taldean, Selèné Acria, Jyanné Kremic, and Addé Petrina were all handmaidens Amidala asked to serve Sabé while she was acting Senator for the Chommell Sector. Risné Lhoanu, Salamé Iventha, Niobé Lorlan, Miché Morlann, Sendé Barran, and Caecé Mellano were handmaidens who trained for Milady when she was still Queen. Sarré Dabarum, Liché Nadina, Emilé Fain, Verité Drayden, Numé Cirbhan, and Ahngé Kinrin had just finished their training for Milady: this was their first real assignment, and they didn’t even get to – they didn’t get to – ”

“Oh, hey, hey, no, don’t cry! You know they wouldn’t want you to cry, right? They were doing their duty, and I know they would have all rather it’d been them than Padmé.”

She knows he’s right, but her eyes burn so much that she instinctively bites down hard on the inside of her bottom lip until she can taste blood again to stop the tears from falling (the pain, as usual, helping her concentrate on keeping herself, her volatile emotions, in check). “I know.”

Anakin starts to take another half of a step forward, realizes again what he’s doing and how futile it is, stops, scowls, doubling over both hands uselessly into fists, and then visibly takes a breath, exhaling through his mouth, before fiercely, seriously, declaring, “No, you really don’t. Not yet. And that’s why I’m going to hug you when I see you, the first moment I get you alone. I’m going to hug you until you stop looking like you’re going to shatter, like my mom does, in my nightmares. I’m going to hug you until you can believe what you just said enough to say it and /know /it, /mean it, and not just say it by rote, because it’s the right thing to say to stop others from worrying about you. I’m going to hug you until I’m sure you’re really going to be okay.”/

She flinches as if he’s struck her before she can stop herself from reacting, arms twitching with the need to wrap themselves protectively around her middle, head bowing and shoulders hunching with her body’s need to curl in around itself, brain stuttering helplessly on the thought that perhaps Anakin knows her a little bit too well and the conviction that he wouldn’t be so kind to her if he knew how badly she’d failed, how much of this is her fault. Her eyes, still burning with unshed tears, slip shut, banishing the sight of his concerned, compassionate face, and she shivers, shudders, the explosion and its terrible aftermath replaying itself in the darkness behind her eyelids, shaking her uncontrollably, shattering her precarious hold on control, on herself, and when her eyes open again there are tears streaking her cheeks, her arms are knotted around her stomach, and, broken voiced, she’s whispering, “You don’t understand, it’s my fault, I wasn’t fast enough, I had a bad feeling – I knew something bad was going to happen, I knew something was going to go wrong – but I wasn’t fast enough, I was at the wrong landing pad, I couldn’t get to the ships fast enough, I knew her coming here like this was a bad idea, and I didn’t – I couldn’t – the ship blew up before I could tell them to get away from it, I just wasn’t fast enough – ”

When Dormé looks up, Anakin’s hands are hovering helplessly over her bowed head and painfully hunched shoulders, and the look in his eyes – a terrible combination of frustrated anger and grieved pain and melting tenderness – hits her like a solid blow to the solar plexus, making her gasp, her voice trailing off into shuddering silence. “That’s not true and you would know it, if you weren’t so convinced that you have to shoulder the blame for everything. The only ones who are responsible for what happened are the /poodoo/-eating /kung who put the bomb on the ship and detonated it and the sibbu who hired the assassin in the first place. What happened wasn’t your fault. Padmé’s the one who was determined to come, and if she’d listened to you and Sabé in the first place and let a Jedi escort her to one of the docking bays in the Temple, this probably wouldn’t’ve even happened. Does that mean you’re going to start blaming her for this, too?”/

She couldn’t be more shocked if he had struck her. Stunned, reeling, she tries to protest, “Milady – she /needs /to be here, the vote – ”

Anakin, though, cuts her off, his voice viciously precise, his words ruthlessly, relentlessly logical. “Yes, but she could have landed in the Temple, where people who’ve been trained pretty much all of their lives to know if something’s wrong would’ve been right there to look out for her. No offense, Dormé, but you’re /not a Jedi. You’ve had some training, sure, but it’s not the same. Believe me. It’s never the same thing. Everybody’s always saying I’m one of the strongest Force-sensitives in, well, ever, and there are dozens and dozens of things I can’t do as well as other Jedi or even just can’t do at all, because I haven’t ever really been able to catch up on everything I missed out on learning, those years on Tatooine. You can’t expect yourself to be able to make as much sense out of what the Force is telling you or to react as quickly as a Jedi could. You just/ can’t/ – not anymore than you can blame yourself for the result of decisions made according to the will of others. Padmé’s job and her beliefs may’ve required her to be here, but she’s the one who decided to come without the offered Jedi escort. Someone else decided that Padmé or her politics or both are so dangerous that assassinating her is the only answer. And someone else entirely decided to accept that job and wasn’t bothered enough by the thought of collateral damage to limit attacks solely to Padmé. None of those decisions were yours to make and so none of those things are your fault – none/, Dormé. It’s your job to protect Padmé to the very best of your abilities, and you’ve done that. It’s not your fault if circumstances beyond your ability to control resulted in a situation where you could protect Padmé but not the other people protecting her, too. And the sooner you accept that, the better off you and everyone else will be, because the more you beat yourself up about this, the less you’ll be able to keep doing your job. I should know. I blamed myself for Darra’s death, remember? And I nearly got myself and Obi-Wan killed, because I was so busy doubting myself that I froze, the next mission we were on.”

Feeling as if she’s woken in the middle of the night and stepped through a familiar door only to find herself trembling on the edge of plunge into a vast chasm, she wavers, shakes her head, clutches tighter to herself, and flinches away, helplessly protesting, “Ferus Olin was the one who ordered you not to touch Darra’s lightsaber, even though he’d repaired it wrong and you could have easily fixed it! Darra Thel-Tannis died because that lightsaber malfunctioned!”

“Yeah, but if I’d just disobeyed him and fixed it anyway – or talked her through fixing it right, herself – she wouldn’t’ve died, now would she’ve? And if you’d disobeyed Padmé’s orders and arranged for a Jedi escort to join up with her party when she hit Coruscant, or if you’d just convinced Sabé not to let her leave, without a Jedi escort in the first place, this wouldn’t’ve happened, would it’ve? Or isn’t that what you’re telling yourself?” Anakin only demands, looming up over her, his expression hurtful, painful, half dark scowl and half twisted sneer.

“It’s not the /same/! I – ”

“Mynock muffins, it’s not!” he angrily cuts in, hands once again doubled over into fists. “It’s the /exact same blasted thing, and if you won’t listen to me about it, then maybe you’ll listen to the great Obi-Wan Kenobi! I know he’d tell you the same gorram thing, and he’d probably be a lot less gentle about it, too! I could get him to come on and give you the same set of lectures he gave me, after Darra’s death, if you don’t believe me! I know he’s already given Sabé pretty much the same lecture, today – I could hear them arguing even out in the common room! He told her that it’s as arrogant and foolish and wrong to try to assume responsibility for the choices others make as it is to try to keep others from being able to make their own choices in the first place, and I’m sure he’d be happy to tell you the same thing! It’s how free will works, for pity’s sake! Our decisions are our own, not the fault or the responsibility of someone else! You know that – or you would know it, if you weren’t so stubbornly sure that every blasted thing that goes wrong in the whole gorram universe is your fault! Bloah! You’re so like Obi-Wan sometimes I could just – !” Anakin cuts himself off, shakes his head, unclenches his fists, pushes a shaking hand through his short hair, visibly takes a deep breath, and, in a much calmer, steadier voice at a much less painfully loud volume, continues, telling her, /“Look, I’m sorry I yelled, but you just – you’re being unreasonable about this. You really can’t blame yourself for what happened, and Padmé would tell you the same thing, if she knew you were. She’s probably too busy blaming /herself for it, too, or she would’ve noticed how upset you are. This wasn’t your fault any more than it was her fault, though. The only people responsible for what happened are the ones who actually caused the bomb to go off, and that’s the assassin who put it on the ship and the sleemo who put a price on Padmé’s head. Trust me on this, okay? I’m telling you the same thing Obi-Wan told Sabé, and it’s the same thing he’d tell you, if he knew you were blaming yourself, too. You don’t think Obi-Wan would lie to Sabé about something this important, now, do you?”/

Dormé’s head is spinning like a ship that’s tried to turn with a malfunctioning gyro and it aches from her attempt to follow all of the sudden and unexpected changes in direction Anakin keeps wrenching the conversation into, and she has the sudden sinking sensation that if she keeps trying to protest, Anakin is going to go and find his Master and haul him into the middle of the discussion. And then she’ll be well and truly farkled, because if she’s too tired to be able to argue with Anakin, there’s no way in Sith hells she’ll be able to dispute Obi-Wan’s logic, and she needs her guilt, needs /her pain, isn’t ready to give them up yet just because of some clever (/Correct, a traitorous voice whispers in the back of her mind) argument about free will. “N – no . . . ”

Half patiently and half triumphantly, Anakin insists, “Then you have to believe that he wouldn’t be lying if he told it to you, either, and that means you have to trust me, because I’m telling you this so that I won’t have to get him to do it. Alright?”

It’s easier, safer, not to fight, so she ducks her head, breaking eye contact so he won’t be able to see her disbelief, and affects an attitude of surrender, quietly whispering, “Alright.”

Anakin, though, just sighs, shoulders slumping with exhaustion, as if he can see right through her. “No, it’s not. But it will be. Obi-Wan and I will be assigned to protective duty tomorrow. And if you won’t believe me, then he or Sabé or Padmé or /somebody will convince you, sooner or later, because you won’t be able to hide this from them. You never are. Not for long, anyway. You always try to shoulder more of the blame than you should, when things go wrong, and Sabé or Padmé always talk you out of it. This time’s really no different from any of those other times when things went sideways. You’ll have to believe one of us, sooner or later.”/

She just shrugs, tiredly. “If you say so. I’m really too tired to fight about this, just now.”

“Get some sleep, then. I have a feeling you’re going to need it.”

“Of course. As soon as I – ”

“Dormé. You promised to take better care of yourself, remember? You /need /the rest. I can tell. You’re practically falling down on your feet now!”

She really is too tired to argue with him, so she shrugs again and sighs, nodding her head. “Alright. I’ll go straight to bed, then.”

“Sleep well, /sakiana/, and without dreams.”

That prompts a faint sliver of a smile, and she promises, “I’ll certainly try. Dormé, out.”

He smiles back at her warmly, though his eyes are still gravely concerned. “Anakin, out.”

The instant the hologram flickers out, she has to bite viciously at her lip to keep herself from bursting into tears. She really is too tired for all of this – too tired to think straight, too tired to control her emotions, and too tired to argue with anyone or break any of her promises. Tugging wearily at her clothes, Dormé sighs and turns towards her bed.

Perhaps, if she’s very, very lucky, all of these things will be, if not better, then at least easier to deal with, tomorrow, after a good night’s sleep . . .

*****
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