A Single Touch of Grace
a Star Wars/Sandman crossover
by Jedi Skysong a.k.a. Darth Stitch

DISCLAIMER: Y'all know the drill. It's Uncle George's sandbox, with a little Neil Gaiman thrown in. And some Tolkien references. Just playing. No money being made off this - just having fun.

"But if there was a single truth, a single light
A single thought, a singular touch of grace
Then following this single point , this single flame,
The single haunted memory of your face…"

- "A Thousand Years" by Sting

Prologue – A Song of Stars

A desert, this time.

The Minstrel pulled her wide, broad-rimmed hat over her eyes to shield them from the glare of twin suns. The suns were alien to her – she who had her first memories rooted in a world where there was only one. But the desert was not. The barrenness of endless seas of sand was familiar to her, as was the hints of unexpected beauty in a desert flower, the strangely-colored rocks worn by sand and time.

She found the city easily enough and plied her trade in the streets, singing songs and telling tales of places and times lost for so long that they only lived in her memory now. The money came, a small trickle at first, and then more and more as she caught her audience in the spell of her voice and music. It soon earned her enough for a place to stay, food to eat and drink to cool her thirst and soothe her throat after a long, hot day.

When the stars came out in the sky, she wandered out again to watch them, going just outside the city limits, finding a perch in the junk piles made out of useless machine parts and rusting speeder hulks. Their patterns were as alien to her as the suns but not the way they shone against the velvet darkness of the night sky. Not the music they made.

And oh, how the stars sang tonight.

"You like watching the stars too," said a child's voice. Startled, she turned to see a boy sitting just below her, his face upturned to watch the sky as well. He was fair-haired, perhaps about seven or eight years of age, with eyes that reflected the color of the sky.

She smiled. "I like to hear them sing."

The boy looked up at her, those sky-colored eyes wide and curious. "Do you really hear them?"

"Yes," she answered. "You can hear them too, if you listen."

The boy looked up again at the stars, his little face intent and eager. And then, he smiled, joyously. "I can hear them! I can hear them too!"

"The stars will always sing to those who love them," the Minstrel told the boy.

"Yes," the boy said happily. "You know what? Someday, I will fly to all those stars. I will see each and every one of them."

"Then greet them hello for me," she laughed. "They would love to have you."

And it was as if the stars picked up on their happiness and the song became ever more joyous, reflecting their wonder and delight.

The Minstrel joined them, adding her own voice in harmony with theirs.

The boy sprang down from his perch and spun around, his arms outstretched, laughing with glee as he danced to their song.

Somewhere in Destiny's garden, the Eldest of the Endless paused with his hand on the pages of his book.

Somewhere in the chaos and swirling madness of Delirium's realm, everything seemed to stop, to shiver in that moment of boy and Minstrel and stars and joyous song – everything seemed to be pulled together, to rework themselves in glorious harmony, in joy…

In Delight.

And Delight, whole and healed for that one perfect moment, with butterflies dancing in her hair, reached out for the boy who loved the stars, took his hand and danced with him.

And the Minstrel sang to them, for that one perfect moment, and gave herself entirely to that joy.

But all songs must end.

And Destiny turned the page of his book once more.

"IT WaS LoVely," Delirium, who was so briefly Delight, said, as she let go of the boy. The butterflies swirled and changed and turned to goldfish this time, seeking shelter in the ruins of her hair. "HaVen'T HaD so MUCH Fun in a LoNG time."

"You changed," the boy said in surprise. And gently, he reached out to touch a fish…that swirled, and changed, and turned to a star.

"I AlwayS…uM…ChanGE. ThAT's…weLL…it'S Always ChaNGE."

"But why?"

The Minstrel put her hand on the boy's shoulder. "There's always change. But there's always the joy…and that's what matters, isn't it?"

Delirium bent and kissed the boy's forehead. "I LiKE yoU," she said happily. And to the Minstrel: "THAnk YoU."

And she was gone.

The Minstrel and the boy looked at each other. "Will I ever see you again?" the boy asked her.

The Minstrel smiled and mussed his hair. "When you visit the stars, I will sing of you. You'll see me again."

"And her too, I think," the boy said thoughtfully. "Was she an angel?"

An image flashed briefly in the Minstrel's mind, a rare presentiment of the Future to one who would always See the Past. "No. But you'll see angels too. As well as the stars. Someday."

They walked back together, hand in hand, as the stars began to fade, one by one, with the coming dawn.


Part I - A Song of Heroes

A palace, next.

This was the Palace of Theed – a magnificent structure of marble and stone, of sculpture and artwork and color woven into its very bones, the crown jewel in a lush, vibrant treasure of a world.

The Minstrel's hat lay beside her on the bench this time – no need for it now in the cool breeze touched by the faintest scent of flowers. Her long dark hair trailed over her shoulder in a neat braid as she sang for the Court that night.

Her voice rang clear and sweet as she sang of the great deeds that were done just recently on this world. She sang a tale of the young Queen, sitting serenely on her throne in her white and silver gown, who defeated the invading enemy with her wit and courage. She sang a tale of the young Jedi Knight, who'd fought and won a battle with one of the dreaded Sith Lords. He was a Master now, as well, with a student to teach, even as he mourned the loss of his own mentor, fallen to the Sith Lord's blade.

She sang a tale of the boy who had so loved the stars, who now seemed so close to his dream after helping defeat the invaders' droid army. The boy smiled and waved when he saw her, the memory of a night listening to the stars sing still fresh in his mind.

It was only the beginning, she knew. She, who so often Looked at the Past, did not need the Sight of the Future to know that she would sing many more songs about this boy.

The audience applauded as her tale ended and she took her bow, for like any Storyteller and performer, the clapping of their hands was sweet to hear. But of course, once the tale was done, she left the "stage," fading back into shadow to hear the musicians play and watch the dancers taking to the floor.

There was the brief flicker of a lighter flame and then, a long thin trail of smoke. A slender figure emerged from the shadows with a face exquisite in its beauty. Neither male nor female, this being was everything, every wish fulfilled, every need filled, every want granted.

Desire.

Desire's lips, a perfect red rose, curved in a satisfied smile. "The boy is mine, now."

The Minstrel's eyes narrowed. "Stay away from him, Desire."

Desire laughed softly. "Is that a threat, Minstrel? You may enjoy my brother's protection but I do not take kindly to threats." It bent closer to her, those rosy lips almost touching her ear. "I could make you want me, Minstrel. I could drive you to a frenzy of need for me. Everyone does."

The Minstrel stepped back, her skin crawling and her heart pounding with fear and the faintest hint of…excitement? Desire? She shook her head to clear it and bravely looked up at the most beautiful of the Endless in the eye. "The boy is an innocent. A dreamer of dreams. Why bother with him?"

Desire laughed again. "Since when did innocence matter? And as for his dreams…" Another drag on the cigarette it held and then: "His dreams are powerful, little Minstrel. The more he dreams, the more he wants. The more he desires. The more he welcomes…me. And very soon…" It looked at the boy meaningfully and the Minstrel shuddered. Hovering over the boy, a shadow lying in wait for its prey was a creature that looked like a woman –short and squat, with nothing to cover the enormous rolls and folds of her flesh. The woman – the creature – sang a hook into her lips to draw blood, dark and thick, flowing over her chin.

Desire smiled at its twin – Despair.

"No," the Minstrel shook her head wildly. "You can't have him! I won't allow it!"

"You can do nothing," Desire hissed. "He will be ours. We do nothing to compel him. These are his choices, nothing more. His own free will."

"Damn you!"

Cool hands were on her shoulders, drawing her back. The Minstrel looked up into the dark, fathomless eyes of her lord.

Dream, Prince of Stories, garbed in his dark robes of dream and nightmare, held her gently in his protection as he had done for all the days of her long, long life and each life thereafter.

"His choices are yet to be made," Dream said in his quiet, even voice. "His story yet unfolds."

"But my lord," the Minstrel protested. "I am more than just a storyteller and a singer of songs. Let me help him!"

"He will receive all the help he can," Dream answered. "But his choices are his own. This you know."

The Minstrel bowed her head. Dream had given her nothing but the truth after all.

"You may not compel him," Dream told his siblings sternly. "His will is free."

Despair raised an elegant brow. "But of course."

The boy whispered something to the Queen, who laughed and ran her fingers through his newly shorn hair. There was a brightness there, a light that held Despair just precisely at bay. It was love, the Minstrel knew, the seeds of it, planted and just beginning to grow. A double-edged sword then – that could just as easily lead to sorrow and ruin.

"But there is hope," she whispered.

"There is always hope," Dream agreed.


First Interlude – the Dreaming

A star fell. A dream died.

As always, the Raven found the remains of that dream, a tasty morsel for his dinner. There was no malice in that, no ill intended. He was a scavenger after all.

As the Raven bent to take his first bite, hands scooped up the dream's tiny corpse. He cawed in protest.

"I'm sorry," said the Minstrel, looking very young and very sorrowful as she gently and protectively cradled the remains of the dream in her hands. Once it had been a dream of stars, of the songs the stars could sing. It had been a dream of an angel – a young woman who loved and was loved so completely, so purely, that it seemed the bond would never be broken. It was the dream of the boy whose bright eyes used to reflect the color of the sky, the boy who once danced to the song of the stars.

The dream had been so beautiful, shining brightly in the skies of the Dreaming.

"I would like to give it a proper burial," the Minstrel told the Raven. "Please?"

"But I'm hungry," the Raven croaked, flapping its wings in annoyance.

The Minstrel tossed him a pretty morsel, which the Raven took greedily and devoured with pleasure. "It belonged to my friend, you see."

The Raven, satiated and content, answered, "Well, if it's for a friend after all…"

The Minstrel smiled. "Thank you."


Second Interlude – Of Death and Destruction

It ended in fire and flames hotter than a thousand suns.

It ended with a cry, a shout of despair, a single name.

"Anakin!"

The boy who had once loved the stars sought their song in his agony and found them silent.

"You were the Chosen One! You were supposed to bring balance to the Force, not darkness!"

"Obi-wan…" he whispered. Mentor, teacher, friend and father…all no more. He saw none of these faces now in the Jedi Master now, beholding instead the face of his betrayer and murderer.

"I hate you," he screamed. "I hate you!"

"Ani, don't do this, you're breaking my heart!"

"Padme…" Another call unanswered. Angel, lover, friend and wife…she was lost to him now. They had turned her against him. They had taken her away from him.

"Anakin, it's time to go."

With surprise, he realized that the pain was gone, that his flesh was whole and untouched, not the burned, maimed wreck that he had been before. He turned to look done at a pretty girl, her face paler than snow, her hair a soft black mass down her shoulders. She wore an odd symbol around her neck, a strangely-shaped cross. Her eyes were kind, gentle. Like his mother's.

Like Padme's.

"Am I dead?" he asked her.

Her smile was as kind as her eyes. "Now's the time for you to find out." She beckoned to him and he followed.

He followed her down a desert road, with the suns of Tatooine setting. Followed her in the dizzy mazes of the city of Coruscant. Nearly lost her as she made her way to the river that ran through Theed.

She led him across the still, silent stars, to a place of many rooms and many corridors. Suddenly, he took his eyes from her, drawn towards one particular room.

He opened the door and slipped inside.

The room was empty except for a single pool in the middle. A sword hung above the waters, held by invisible bonds.

He knelt at the edge of the pool.

The waters swirled and shimmered, showing him images of the life he left behind. He saw himself, as a boy, dreaming of the stars. He saw Padme and how they first met, her bemused look as he innocently asked her if she was an angel, because that was how beautiful she was to him. He saw Qui-Gon and Obi-wan, the men who became his teachers, the fathers he never had.

He saw his mother die.

He saw the Jedi reject him.

He saw himself and Obi-wan, fighting. Obi-wan who had always envied him, who had always held him back, always secretly jealous of his power and the fact that Qui-Gon had so suddenly decided to choose Anakin over him, the slave boy over the Jedi padawan, the pride of the Jedi Knighthood.

He saw Padme weeping, crying out his name, saw her beautiful face turn ashen as he had lashed out with the Force against her, saw her crumple senseless to the ground.

He saw how, once more, he failed to save someone he loved.

He saw how he was betrayed and deceived at every turn.

And his anger grew.

The waters swirled once more and then, burst into flame. The sword gleamed, its blade catching the light of the fire, an unspoken promise, if he would only take it.

Punish them. Punish all who had hurt him. Punish all who had betrayed and deceived him!

His hand reached out, ignoring the searing heat of the flames.

"Don't!" The pale girl shouted in a voice more command than stern warning. "Anakin, it is not yours. It belongs to my brother."

"But he has abandoned his duty," Anakin answered, not knowing how he knew this, but as sure in the knowledge as he had always been when he fought or flew his starfighter. "The sword is calling out to me. I may use it as I wish."

"Do not do this," the girl told him, her kind eyes taking on a bleak sorrow. She stretched out her hand. "Take my hand, Anakin Skywalker. Please."

Anakin took a step back and sank into the pool. His anger and fury fed the flames and they darkened to a color blacker than black. They wrapped themselves around him, like a cloak, like armor.

Anakin burned.

The pain was beyond agony but he welcomed it now and his hands closed on the hilt of Destruction's sword.

"Mine," he whispered lovingly. He was the Chosen One and he had all the power at his command. The Sword of Destruction was his now, the weapon granted to him by the Darkness he would now serve, forsaking all his bonds to the weak, cowering Light.

Death closed her eyes.

And somewhere, Desire smiled, warmed by the heat of Anakin's need, a dark fire that would burn…burn so darkly bright.

And somewhere, Despair waited, twin to her sister, knowing the depth of Anakin's desire would be the long measure by which he would fall into her clutches.

And somewhere, Anakin awoke, his soul returning to a body fused to parts and machinery to keep it alive. The face of Palpatine, Darth Sidious, was the first one he saw.

The Sith Master's eyes gleamed golden now as he smiled and called Anakin Skywalker by his new name. "Lord Vader."

But something in Anakin Skywalker clung to one last hope, to one last name.

"Padme," he rumbled, his voice transmuted to a deep and ominous bass. "Where is Padme?"

"I am sorry, Lord Vader," was the regretful (mocking?) reply. "It seems that in your anger, you killed her."

And with his anguished cry of denial and horror, Anakin Skywalker, now Darth Vader, finally relinquished all his hopes, leaving nothing for himself but the Darkness.


And somewhere, Destiny paused once more in the reading of his Book, looking up as his sister Death came asking why the Sword of Destruction had to be taken.

Destiny answered, "It has been written now. His choice is made."

And he turned the page.


In The Dreaming:

"What's that you're holding?" the Eldest Son of the First Man asked of his younger brother.

"A..buh-baby." The Second Son of the First Man stuttered. He was, with good reason, fearful of his older brother, but there was love mixed in with that fear all the same. "Muh-matthew and Guh-goldie found huh-her." There was rapt adoration on the Second Son's face as he gazed down at the bundle he held in his arms. A tiny golden gargoyle was perched on his shoulder, making soft cheeping sounds in answer to the cooing child.

The Eldest Son found this annoying, resenting, as always, that his brother could find joy in anything where he could not. He peered over at the small child. "Ugly wrinkled little brat."

"She's puh-pretty," protested his brother.

The Eldest Son's eyes narrowed, matching the shape of his equally narrow spectacles. "I say she's an ugly brat. Are you disagreeing with me, Abel?"

The Second Son, Abel, blanched, recognizing the ugly tone in his oldest brother's voice. He curled in on himself, holding the child closer and ventured timidly, "Nuh-no, C-cain."

"You dimwit," the Eldest Son, named Cain, snapped. "You're holding her wrong. You'll smother her. Give her here." He reached for the baby, like she was a toy that only he could play with and not his stupid younger brother.

"Nuh-no, Cain! Puh-please!" Abel cried in panic and alarm. The golden gargoyle on his shoulder lost its balance, flapping his wings and squawking in protest as the brothers scuffled. Abel held his charge high, away from his brother's greedy, grasping hands and then gasped as the child was lifted away by someone else.

Something flashed and Cain, cursing, stumbled away from Abel, held at bay by the point of a very sharp sword.

The Minstrel stood between the brothers, having traded her instrument for a weapon. She trained her sword at Cain with one hand and the other held the baby securely.

"You cannot kill me," snarled Cain. "It is forbidden!"

The Minstrel smiled coldly. "I know. But I can hurt you."

"Lord Morpheus will hear about this!"

"Lord Morpheus will hear how you have tried to mistreat one of his heralds," the Minstrel returned calmly. "And you will wish for death should you displease him so."

Cain seethed, unable to make any coherent reply.

The Minstrel turned to smile at Abel. "Thank you for finding her. You might want to come with me while your brother cools off."

Abel managed a watery smile. "Th-thanks. B-but it's buh-better if I stuh-stay. Cuh-cain just guh-gets wuh-worse if I kuh-keep away."

The Minstrel looked resigned. Abel would never have it any other way. "Your choice, Abel. I must go."

"Buh-bye, baby," Abel took one last look at the baby and made a little wave.

The child laughed.

Goldie, the gargoyle, perched again on Abel's shoulder and cheeped.

"Her name is Leia," the Minstrel said.

"Puh-pretty name. Buh-bye, Leia." Abel looked at the Minstrel, with the last traces of concern for his briefly held charge in his eyes. "Wuh-where are yuh-you goin nuhnow?"

"To see Leia's mother."

The Minstrel left and she did not look back when she heard Abel's anguished cry as Cain killed his brother anew. Abel had made his choice long ago.

The Minstrel had also made her own.


Part II: Choices

"We make choices. No one else can live our

lives for us. And we must confront and

accept the consequences of our actions."

-- Dream of the Endless

from Neil Gaiman's "Sandman: The Kindly Ones"

We all make choices, the Lord of Dreams once said.

For many, it was time to choose.

Across the galaxy, the Jedi died – some of them killed by the clone soldiers they had had served with, soldiers who were merely carrying out the order coded as "66." However, in the very heart of the Republic, the rest of them died at the hands of a man they once knew as one of their own, a brother within their Order. Anakin Skywalker, renamed as Darth Vader, Lord of the Sith, wielded Destruction's Sword with unsurpassed skill, delighting in the power of darkness, letting his hatred fill the empty spaces in his soul that were left behind by the death of his wife and the betrayal of his friends.

Within the Darkness, Anakin Skywalker felt invincible, believing himself beyond the pain of the losses he had borne, secure in his newfound strength, knowing he would never be so weak and helpless again. With Destruction's Sword, he would sweep all that was broken and useless away, carving for his Master an Empire…an Empire that he himself would one day take for his own.

Anakin Skywalker, Darth Vader had chosen.

In the tower that had once belonged to the Jedi, a Dark Lord of the Sith walked, exulting in the knowledge that he had finally brought down his most hated foes. Crowning himself Emperor, the Sith Master chose the Tower of the Jedi to be his Palace, building upon the bones of his ancient enemies, using their flesh and blood for mortar and stone. The beauty of that irony, the sheer poetry of it, was not lost upon him.

Palpatine, Darth Sidious, had chosen.

On a world forgotten on nearly every star chart, in a dank and marshy swamp, a lone Jedi Master made his home in the hollowed-out trunk of an ancient tree. Bereft of his brother knights, knowing that his Order was dying and that he would soon be among the last of his kind, the Jedi settled in to wait. The Force whispered into his soul and his dreams showed him an impatient young man with golden hair and sky-colored eyes…one last student to amend the mistakes of the past, one final hope. The Jedi Master would wait for that hope…and perhaps, that young student would not be the last, for there was still one more, was there not?

Yoda, Jedi Master, had chosen.

On the peaceful world of Alderaan, the Viceroy came bearing a tiny infant girl to his wife the Queen. They had desired a child of their own for many years and while they mourned the fate of the child's biological mother, they would care for the daughter she had left behind, love her as if she was truly theirs. And even as the galaxy and all that they knew and loved seemed to be dying all around them, they would teach their little Princess never to lose hope, to fight for what she believed in with eloquence and wisdom in the diplomatic floor and with courage and skill in battle. The Viceroy knew all too well that no matter how hard they tried, that eventually, everything would again lead to war.

Bail Organa, Viceroy of Alderaan, had chosen.

On the desert world of Tatooine, a man who was once a Jedi resolutely walked towards a small homestead, his arms tenderly cradling a tiny infant boy. The Jedi's dreams were haunted by a promise, now broken, made to a man he had once called teacher and loved as a father. His nightmares were ablaze with fire, consuming a young man he had once called student and loved as a son. His brother Knights had considered him brave and noble, one of the best of their Order. As for himself, he had tried to live his life by the example his Master had set for him. He had tried to raise the boy his Master had charged him with to be a good Jedi - the Chosen One that their prophecies had foretold. And yet, he had failed, with disastrous consequences for all.

Over and over he had searched his heart and soul for the reasons of his failure. The student had spoken of jealousy and resentment within the teacher's own heart, over a lost Master and Teacher both had revered as a father, over the fact that the student had power that surpassed his teacher's own - the prophecy of the Chosen One taking on a darker edge. The teacher thought of his own pride, that he had been so arrogant and blind, presuming to teach that bright, strongly gifted boy who was so completely different from all of their Order - passionate where the Jedi were calm, reckless where the Jedi were careful, restless where the Jedi were at peace.

He had failed that boy, that young man - lost to him now and forever. The Jedi sought for redemption for them both in his student's son, determined this time, to succeed in this one last thing. He could not fail. He would not fail.

Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi Knight, had chosen.

And all choices have their consequences that those who have chosen must face in time.

But:

Somewhere, the pages of Destiny's book are flipping back in time, going back to one more person who needed to choose…


Part III – Across the Stars

For Padme Naberrie Skywalker, once Queen Amidala of the Naboo, it seemed that all her choices had gone awry.

She had chosen to support a man she had thought would bring salvation to the world and a new order to the self-interested and chaotic politicking of the Republic that she had loved. Instead, the man had himself declared Emperor of a new and deceptively glittering Galactic Empire, bought dearly with the blood of the Jedi Order and countless other innocents.

She had chosen to love a Jedi, despite the edicts of his order, defied all common sense and the whisperings of her own keen mind in order to follow, at long last, her own heart. She had known him capable of great cruelty and destruction, known instinctively how far he might be driven once provoked to absolute rage. And yet she had trusted in her lover's own good heart and the brightness of his spirit. She could still remember the little boy he had been all those years ago, who had, in all wonder and innocence, asked if she were an angel.

All that she knew and loved was being swept away – the entire fabric of her universe falling down about her ears. She had known it the minute she had softly whispered to the Viceroy of Alderaan that this was how democracy would end, to "thunderous applause." And she'd known how delicate a knife-edge she walked, when her peers had realized that they had no other choice but to do what once was unthinkable, to finally rebel and she, secret wife to the man closest to Palpatine, now declared as Emperor.

All that she could do, all that she wanted was to save what she could, to find some small corner of the galaxy where she and Anakin could free themselves of the tangled webs their lives had become. To start again, to begin anew with their children and perhaps to win back, bit by bit, everything that they had lost in the long years of war.

Instead, Anakin had changed, had turned into something terrifyingly monstrous, a creature of rage and power who had no compunction in using the Force against her. But what had hurt the most was that she could still see that little boy that he once was and the Jedi Knight she loved for he was all that was brave and fair and true.

As she drifted in and out of consciousness, lost in the combined agony of childbirth and heartbreak, Padme heard voices.

The voice of a young girl that should have sounded light and sweet to the ear, but was underlain with poisonous malice: "Such a pretty little boy. Such lovely eyes - the clearest blue. I should kill for such eyes."

The voice of an older woman who should been gentle and soothing, a mother's croon transmuted to something greedy, grasping, insidiously possessive: "Such a happy child, look at him smile! And such soft hair, lovely, lovely golden angel hair…"

And then, the sharp, derisive cackle of a crone: "Hah! He has his father's looks, his father's eyes. He'll have his father's fate too, by the looks of it."

The poison-maiden: "He is ours."

The dark mother, so unmistakably eager. "All ours, this pretty boy."

Laughter again, the triumphant shriek of a Fury unbound: "His father's blood will be on his hands. He is ours, body and soul."

Wrapped in the shadows that held her between asleep and awake, Padme struggled to brush them aside, fighting against her rising dread and panic at the chilling hunger in those…voices. Although she had yet to actually hold her child in her arms, still laboring to bring him into the world, somehow she knew that it was her baby that those…voices were gloating over.

And then, the shadows parted, and she could see clearly.

Three of them. Maiden. Mother. Crone. There were faces now to go with those hideous voices…faces distorted by rage and hatred, so perfectly matched. Scorpion-whips dangled from their hands and curled over their bodies, tails twitching ever so slightly over their skin - so perfect in the maid, slightly less so in the mother and then, the wrinkled folds and creases of the crone. Serpents twined in their wildly tousled hair and some actually grew from their heads, hissing…hissing…their tongues flickering like tiny red flames. One snake-head lock from the crone loomed just so over a tiny bundle in her arms – a newborn babe peacefully sleeping, but it did not strike, only watched the slumbering child with predatory interest.

To look at them made one seem to burn and to freeze at the same time in the icy flame of their…fury.

Yes, that was right, that was the right word. Fury.

His father's blood will be on his hands…

He is ours, body and soul…

"No!" Padme cried out, finally able to move towards her son, yes, she knew that this was her son - her hands reaching out to snatch him away.

And then she stopped again, as each woman looked at her.

Their faces were her own. All her own - as a young girl, as the woman and mother she was now and a future old-Padme, her dark hair turned to silver-white, her face aged by sorrow and pain…and twisted by that bitter rage.

A rage against fate.

A rage against her enemy…at Palpatine, the Sith Master Sidious.

A rage against her husband. Against Anakin.

Her anger. Her hatred.

Her Fury.

"Luke," said the Padme-crone, giving the child his name. "Our son."

And once more, she laughed.


Part IV: Duel of the Fates

The Minstrel, bearing little Leia, made her way through the lands of the Dreaming.

In a garden that the Entwives tended, the Minstrel and Leia found welcome and shelter. Their hostesses were kindly and gracious and sang songs of their sundered Ent-kin to the infant Leia who cooed in delight. They made the Minstrel swear to return and bring news of the Ents, the tree shepherds who had forsaken them for the wild woods and untamed forests of Middle-earth. The Minstrel meant to keep her word, for she did so love happy endings and the tale of long separation between the Ents and the Entwives had been bereft of one for so long.

In the land of Faerie, the Minstrel came to the capital of Titania's kingdom, and traded for goods in the marketplace. She found a pouch that she could put Leia in, strapping the child to her back and leaving her hands free. She paid for it with a song. Puck took a fancy to her infant charge and tried to switch Leia with a heartless changeling. But the Minstrel was wise to his ways and as skilled with her sword as she had been with her instrument. The touch of cold iron on the infamous faerie prankster sent him away, hurling curses at the Minstrel that she deflected with ease. She left Faerie with her true charge slung comfortably on her back.

In the realms of Nightmare, the Minstrel found nameless things foul and deadly waiting in its shadows. This time, she made a different sort of music as her sword flashed and sang through misshapen flesh and bone, blade stained by thick black blood. The child Leia slept peacefully through this Nightmare, shielded by the Minstrel from its horror through clever magic.

At last, at the borders of the Nightmare realm, they came to the cave that was the home of the Woman who was all Women, Mother of Cain and Abel. The Woman waited for them at the entrance of her cave, the Raven perched comfortably on her shoulder.

"The child's mother waits for you there," And she pointed to the west, where the twin suns of Tatooine were setting.

It was a simple homestead, a white dome-shaped building such as a moisture farmer would make – a cool place to escape to in the heat of the day and warm shelter in cold desert nights. The fading light of the Tatooine suns turned the whiteness of the building to a deep crimson.

The crimson of blood.

The Minstrel shivered at the obvious ill-omen. It seemed that everything she saw as she went towards the house was bathed in a reddish glow – the path she was walking on, her feet, her hands as she pushed the door open…

And inside, the blood-drenched light seemed to shine solely on the woman who waited for her.

The woman was beautiful beyond measure, sitting regally on that simple chair as if it were a throne, dressed in rich scarlet robes, her hair carefully arranged and looped through an elaborate and bejeweled headdress. Her face was painted stark white, except for the red line on her lower lip that marked the Scar of Remembrance worn by all the Rulers of Naboo. One hand gently rocked the cradle where the infant Luke slept peacefully.

The woman was exquisite.

And yet…

There were snakes entwined in her dark hair, hissing and moving sinuously within her long locks and headdress, twisting around the intricate designs made out of hair and gold.

And yet…

The hand that rested on the side of her child's cradle sported long, wickedly sharp nails. The other hand was closed, claw-like, over the handle of a red-bladed broadsword that seemed to burn with an inner fire of its own.

And yet…

Her eyes were a fathomless black, colder and crueler than the harshest winter's night.

And when she smiled...

The Minstrel shivered at that smile, feral and sharper than any blade ever forged. She knew that look, that expression, that anger, that fury that shimmered just below the surface, aching to be set free.

After all, she'd seen it before – in her own face, countless lifetimes ago.

The woman who was once Queen of Naboo, spoke and her voice was chilling in its deceptive sweetness:

"Welcome and well met, little Minstrel."

The Minstrel made her best court curtsy, perfected in countless eons of coming before royalty and this royal meeting more fraught with peril than any other.

"I come to pay tribute, my lady Queen – to offer you and your little prince a song. Also, I come to restore one who has been – who will be taken from you."

The Minstrel held out her arms and little Leia cooed at the sight of her mother.

"Forgotten, taken from me, my little Princess, my little Leia, my daughter who shall grow into my image, my shadow…" the Queen said softly as she stood up to take her child. For a moment, she was simply Padme again, a new mother, a loving and beloved wife.

But she could not take her child for she still held her sword.

Our image, the Kind Ladies whispered in agreement. Our shadow. Our vengeance.

"Your image, your shadow," the Minstrel agreed sadly. "And yet, she too is her father's daughter. Will you let your son be the sword of your vengeance and your daughter the hidden weapon to strike from behind, least expected and yet the deadliest of all? Is that your choice, my Queen?"

The Minstrel's words seared the images into Padme's brain – Leia grown as Alderaan's Princess, watching as her adopted home world was reduced to nothingness, screaming in rage and pain; Luke, grievously wounded, screaming in rage and denial at the masked, mechanical creature that was once Anakin Skywalker; her children's eyes, glowing with unholy light as they both struck their father and Palpatine down in righteous fury, only to become that which they had despised most, a Dark Emperor and a Dark Empress, lording over ruin and misery and despair…

We do not rebuild, the Kind Ladies reminded her, We destroy. We avenge.

And then, the Minstrel sang.

She sang of Anakin, that boy who had once loved the stars and longed to visit each and every one of them. She sang of Padme, the young girl who ruled as Queen and bravely defended her people against all impossible odds. She sang their tale, of their love, of their joys and their sorrows, of all that they had dreamed and hoped, of all that they had gained and all that they had lost.

Are you an angel? said that funny little boy in the Toydarian's junk shop, his eyes full of wonder and awe.

I won't lose you as I did my mother! I won't let you die! said the Jedi Knight, his eyes fiercely determined.

Padme… where is… Padme? rasped the masked and armored Sith Lord as he came awake from his hideous injuries.

Anakin. It was all Anakin and Padme could hear that one single constant, that deep and abiding love, that one single touch of grace, in his voice. Even now, it was still there and could not die, one last tiny spark of hope that not even the Dark Side of the Force could completely dispel.

And at that, Padme put down her sword and wept.

The Kind Ladies shrieked and howled in disappointment.

"I do not have much time," Padme said quietly. She was as she should be now, a young woman, tired and worn, sorrow etched deeply into her lovely features. "And my children will be taken from me, separated from each other, not to know me as their mother or Anakin as their father."

The Minstrel nodded, "I am sorry, my lady Queen."

Padme picked up her son from his cradle and took her daughter from the Minstrel. And then, she gasped as she looked up into the dark eyes of the Minstrel's lord.

Dream gently touched her cheek. He should have been cold and forbidding as he was all in blazing white, with only the green jewel at his neck and the darkness of his eyes to relieve the stark whiteness of his skin, his hair and his clothes. And yet, his touch was warm and oddly comforting.

"You will have all the time you need, in this place, in my realm. Your son will carry his father's dream. Your daughter will carry your memory. She will remember you."

"Thank you, my lord," Padme answered gratefully and she held her children close.

Into her daughter's ear, she whispered her dreams of peace for the galaxy, for the destruction of the Empire and an end to the war.

But into her son's ear, Padme whispered her one last hope for his lost father:

"There is still good in him."

Padme Naberrie Skywalker, Queen Amidala of the Naboo, had finally chosen.


Epilogue: A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far, Far Away…

In the waking world, Padme Naberrie died in childbirth, for no medical reason that the physicians could quite discern except that she had "lost her will to live."

All of Naboo mourned their Senator and former Queen.

She was laid out on her bier, seeming as if she were the enchanted, sleeping princess of a fairy tale. No one remarked on why it was that she seemed so obviously pregnant at her death. No one asked who must have fathered her unborn child. Rumors flew, of course, for it was known that she was close to the Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker, the Hero Without Fear. Those rumors were quickly suppressed, for it was not safe to speak of Jedi now, for fear of Imperial displeasure. And in time, people learned very quickly that it was far safer to forget such things.

But there was one who did not forget.

The Minstrel continued to wander from place to place, singing her songs, telling her tales, speaking of things that were forbidden by Palpatine's new Galactic Empire. She sang of the lost Jedi, sang of the courage and bravery of those who died fighting for their freedom. And the songs and tales were passed on, in secret, from one person to the next, feeding the dreams and hopes of another generation.

On the world of Alderaan, young Princess Leia Organa heard the tale of the brave Queen of Naboo, who saved her world and brought it peace and prosperity.

And when she slept, in her dreams the brave and beautiful young Queen bore the face of her true mother.

On the world of Tatooine, young Luke Skwalker heard the tale of the amazing little boy who won the Boonta Eve Pod Race. He thought that the little boy must have been very much like him, because he too wanted to fly and reach for the stars.

And when he slept, he dreamed of the stars and heard their song.

- the end -