The Children of Shmi
author's note: This story is dedicated to my dear friend Meredith Brownen Mallory who so graciously gave me permission to write a sequel to her wonderful story, 'Burial of the Dead'. Although my own story stands on its own, a reader will be doing his or herself a big disservice by not reading 'Burial'.
They parted ways in the courtyard. Beru returned to her own cot and pretended to sleep. Padmé went to the garage.
She did not return to the storeroom that night. Beru waited until morning before she made her way to the garage. Tatoo I edged the horizon and cast long shadows into the dim garage. Her eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness and she just drew back in time to not step on their sleeping bodies.
They lay facing each other. Padmé's arms were wrapped tightly around Anakin Skywalker in an embrace that both sheltered and restrained. One hand rested on his cheek. They were wrapped against the cold in the warmth of her robe. Anakin Skywalker's face was hidden against her friend's shoulder but Beru could see Padmé's in the shadows of the room and it was lined with the marks of tears.
Silently, so as not to wake him, Beru whispered: "Padmé." Her friend stirred but did not wake. She tried again. "Padmé." Tentatively, she reached out a hand to touch Padmé's shoulder and it was snatched away abruptly by a steel-like grip. Startled, her eyes flew from the grip to Anakin Skywalker's face. She flinched.
He was staring right at her. He looked wide awake and just awoken at the same time. His face was unreadable.
"Don't wake her," he whispered. He released her wrist and Beru recoiled.
Anakin Skywalker watched her with those eyes that were at once familiar and strange. Beru swallowed her fear. "It's almost dawn," she took care to whisper. "Father Cliegg wants to start … making preparations." She tried to read his face. "They wanted you to be the one to choose the site for…" Frightened, her voice trailed away helplessly.
Mother Shmi's son's gaze had turned inwards; he stared at Beru but she could tell that he was revisiting his grief in his mind. His hands had reached for Padmé without seeming to mean to. He smoothed the hair back from her temples and ran his thumbs down her cheeks. She did not stir. Beru watched his face and noted the changes - where it had darkened with stubble and rage and the lines of grief that seemed to have been permanently etched into his skin.
His presence seemed to return when he watched Padmé. "She is exhausted," he said. His voice was quietly lifeless.
"She did not sleep that night - after you left," Beru explained. She watched the tenderness in his face as he looked at Padmé and tried to reconcile it with the face in her nightmare.
"Where did she sleep?" Still stroking, the movement of his hands was almost hypnotic.
"In my room. She slept with me."
Anakin looked up from Padmé's face. His smile was at once glad and bitter. "You took care of her. Thank you."
The tilt of the left corner of the lip. The way the eyes narrowed and the brows furrowed ever so slightly. The grateful, painful smile.
It was Mother Shmi's smile whenever she spoke of her son Ani.
Had spoken of.
Beru's eyes stung.
Anakin was pulling himself out of Padmé's embrace; she started mumbling something but he rose up and lifted her up into his arms, cradled her like a child, and she fell silent.
"She needs to sleep." It was a request.
Beru led him out of the garage and across the courtyard. The shadows had barely shortened; she looked away from the sun and could make out Owen riding away on the back of his speeder. Fear gripped her and she tried to cast it aside.
The hallway was hot after the cool garage. Beru led Anakin past the homestead kitchen and the room where Mother Shmi had slept with Father Cliegg - Anakin's shoulders seemed to shake but she was not sure -Owen's room, sleeping pad carefully placed in one corner of the naviroom and finally they were stepping into the cool dusty air of the storeroom.
There was still a pile of blankets on Beru's sleeping pad. She had not woken because she had not really slept.
As tenderly as if she were a baby, Anakin placed Padmé into the folds of the cot and tucked the blankets around her. He sat beside her and his fingers continued their ministrations on her face.
"I don't want her to come down to the funeral." He told Beru in his soft dead voice. "She needs to sleep. You will watch over her for me."
"Of course," Beru replied although it had not been a request.
Padmé stirred again, her left foot pulling out of the blanket. Tentatively, Beru sat at the bottom of the cot and placed it back. She looked up to see that Anakin's eyes had finally lifted from Padmé and were now staring at the wooden circle that hung from the only window. It was a charm circle. The handiwork would have been familiar to him.
"It was my engagement gift, last Harvest." Beru answered the unspoken question; she lifted her hand so that he could see the tourmaline stone on her ring finger. "I was supposed to be here to just help with the work. But, my mother … she did not think I needed to come back." She swallowed back her bitterness. "At the end of the harvest, Owen proposed; Mother Shmi baked and we had a small party. Later, she gave me the charm circle."
He threw her fleeting glances but his attention was still divided between Padmé and the charm circle.
He stood up and looked at it. The window faced north and away from the sun and the charm circle cast pale shadows against his face. They recalled to Beru the demons in her nightmare.
She watched his hands as they touched the wood - Mother Shmi's hands - long, slender and remarkable strong.
The silence was hungry, waiting for more.
"She spoke about you the first time I ever met her," Beru said gently. "She was always talking about you. She missed you but she was so proud and happy for you too. And she was happy. Father Cliegg loved her. We all loved her - Owen and me; I wished she had been my Mother not..." Her voice broke off with horror.
Anakin Skywalker's hands had tightened on the charm circle. Before Beru's eyes, it actually seemed to bend.
"I'm sorry," Beru whispered. "I didn't mean…"
"Not mine?" He asked in that dead voice, finishing her sentence. The demon face of her nightmare flashed in her mind.
"Not mine," she said the truth as firmly as she could through her fear. "Not my Mother who didn't want me." You were the centre of her universe. Nobody could replace you. She wanted to say the words aloud but she didn't have the courage. So she shared her pain because she knew it would placate his.
The hands holding the wooden circle shook and she wondered if he had somehow heard anyway. Very carefully, he placed the circle back in its space in the window. Then he turned to look at her with the eyes of the woman that Beru had wanted to be her mother.
Anakin Skywalker did not thank her but his gratitude filled the dusty storeroom and knotted like a chain around Beru's chest.
He bent over Padmé once to touch her. Then he turned and left the room.
Beru waited until the sound of his footsteps had faded away completely. Then she drew closer to Padmé and tucked the blankets about her carefully. Her friend stirred and without Anakin to soothe her, Beru watched helplessly as Padmé struggled with her own nightmares before she fell silent once more.
Except on the second day, when Father Cliegg had returned with the evidence of the abduction, Beru had not wept for the past thirty days. The desert longed for water. If she cried, it would eat her tears.(i) She caught the first drop before it fell on Padmé. She trapped the rest behind her hands.
Shoulders shaking silently, she remained like that for a long time.
(i) The desert longed for water. If she cried, it would eat her tears
Our Lady of Sighs by Meredith Brownen Mallory
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