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No, I Won't Be Afraid

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"If the sky that we look upon
Should tumble and fall
And the mountains should crumble to the sea
I won't cry, I won't cry, no, I won't shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me." -Ben E. King


 

 

“What’s wrong?” Bail asked, almost before he had accepted the call on his private commlink. Only after he heard himself say the words did he become aware he was already sitting upright in bed in his senatorial apartment on Coruscant. His years as a politician and member of the royal family had given him practice with middle of the night urgencies and conditioned him to respond reflexively. Having no memory of sitting up told Bail he had been asleep when the comm had rung after all, although he felt he had lain in the dark for a very long stretch without any success and would have thought sleep had not found him.

These days, he retired with a sense of exhaustion he had not felt since he was a new Senator, when there was much to learn. Back then he had gone to sleep with a sense of accomplishment, confident in his ability to learn and to serve well. So much had changed. The juxtaposition of the familiar and the foreign made adapting to the new regime that much harder. As did the stakes if he should fail. It wasn’t just a matter of writing new programming, but of deprogramming simultaneously. The constant attendance to behaving correctly while figuring out the new order. The trappings of the new regime had set his skin prickling and the hairs at the back of his neck standing on-end, his senses heightened by the uncanniness of it, the irrational gut feeling that this was not really the old senate but that he had fallen through a distorted mirror-world of it. Yet the Imperial symbols and rituals were starting to become a part of the daily scenery and grind. That was beginning to weigh on him too. To say nothing of the real substance of his job now, as he rather than the government understood it— the challenge of picking his subversions, what he could realistically do at this stage without detection, how to put in place the foundations of a long-game without being crippled by his too-keen awareness of all he could not do.

Now, his sleep— when it did come— was shallow and restless. Being a new father— one who was so much away from home, one who would not be physically present if anything should happen— pressed against his mind and his heart. And it was two in the morning on Alderaan, three on Coruscant — exactly the time his wife wouldn’t call — unless — “Is it the baby?”

“No,” Breha assured him firmly from the other end of the line, although she kept her voice low. “No, Leia’s fine. She was awake for a little bit— no particular reason, you remember how Dr. Kriinwood said that happens at this age— but she settled back down. She’s sleeping again. Nothing’s wrong.” Bail rubbed his forehead, sighing in exhausted relief. “Not here at least.”

Bail had seen his daughter earlier for a brief goodnight holocomm, but she had been overtired and cranky, and neither he nor his wife had had the time for a long chat. Now he conjured to his mind the image of Leia in her cradle in the master suite of the Aldera palace, her little belly rising and falling with the abandon of one not yet burdened by adult anxieties. Nothing calmed him quite so well as watching his daughter sleep, her little fingers curled around her equally tiny thumb; if Breha said all was well, then that mental picture was his proof, memory though it might be. Leia had her own nursery, of course, but she still seemed so new that parting with her at night was painful for Breha, and for himself when he was home. The immensity of their longing for a child, combined with their— call it what it was, fear— fed their desire to keep her close. So a miniature nursery had materialized in what was officially the Queen’s Bedroom, though Bail had long thought of it as the center of their private household.

As Prince Consort, he was afforded his own luxurious sleeping chambers furnished exactly to his tastes, according to custom. The demands of different sleep schedules frequently imposed by late night duties, the reality of partnerships based on well-reasoned alliances as frequently as they were on affection, even the need for personal space in a role that demanded one be surrounded continually by other people, had historically necessitated this separation of bedchambers. Bail and Breha themselves had come together as a matter of mutual partnership, based on friendship and respect, although each had held a belief— true, it turned out— that love could grow easily between them, and the stability of their union bind Alderaan itself together. It had not taken long after their wedding for the Viceroy to take up permanent residence in the Queen’s quarters. Since then, Bail mainly used his chambers as a study or, more recently, as a retreat when he and his wife desired intimacy without a little Leia sleeping one and one half meters away.

The Royal Palace of Alderaan’s magnificent ancient library, with walls of actual antique books that rose from floor to ceiling; its gardens, each perfectly cultivated to come most alive at a specific time of a specific season; the Organas’ small Anselm table carved by Isatabith artisans and used on those precious occasions when the family could dine both privately and together; Lelila’s bright, floral nursery, its painted white-wings so alive that one might be forgiven for mistaking a breeze for the flapping of one of the birds— these places all had their charms, but to Bail, no place was quite like the master suite.

The stateliness of the suite, with its four-posted, canopied bed and looming, old-fashioned synthstone fireplace, had somehow never hindered the sense of domestic tranquility he found there. Bail secretly attributed this to his wife’s ability to fill a space with equanimity and warmth simply by being in it. The chamber’s years of holding, of witnessing her— and then their —  most private moments had infused the space with Breha herself.

The way the woodsmoke clung to the curtains and the cold air that came through the windows even in early winter, as Breha insisted on letting in a bit of fresh air whenever possible, and the scent of arallutes that wafted in during the summer months, both smelled like home. Though Bail and Breha had accepted, if not made peace with, the possibility of their family being just the two of them, the gurgles and babbles of their inquisitive, affable baby added a new, long-sought happiness that filled their days with hope. Even the new routines of silent bug searches, and Breha’s sudden affinity for traditional Alderaanian water sculptures that filled the quarters with a constant murmuring trickle, had been unable to sully their private corner of the galaxy.

“Are you all right?” Bail asked after a moment, when his pulse had slowed and he realized he had become lost in his reverie.

“I suppose so. I don’t have any particular reason to comm, I just— it’s just— the news — coming out of the galactic capitol?” Breha’s voice tilted upwards, as it did when she was working out something for herself as she talked. “Coming from everywhere, really.” She heaved a heavy sigh. “The constant onslaught of news.”

Bail drew in a breath. He trusted his wife to toe the line better than anyone, trusted her completely. But these conversations set him on edge. The dangerous game they were caught in— well, it was no game at all.

Breha continued, low and rushed. “I can’t keep up. Once I’ve begun crafting a response to the latest event, three more have happened. And everyone— from our own governors to the elder houses to the other planetary leaders— wants to know what we’re doing about it, before we know the details or if it will even affect Alderaan. And I hate saying that, you know how I hate to say that, but—  well, you know as well as anyone—” She stopped, and took a deep breath. “We must presently look to ourselves, make sure that we’re doing what we need to do. We must trust your work in the Senate to serve the larger Galaxy. Its overwhelming, and I— I feel so inadequate. I was supposed to be raised for this. One side of the planet doesn’t rest simply because the other side is having problems, and so with the Galaxy, as my mother would have said. But Bail— nothing prepared me for this.”

"I know the Empire brings us peace—” Bail didn’t miss the dullness in his wife’s voice as she gave a nod to any Imperial listeners-in. “—and of course Alderaan, valuing peace as we do, are so grateful for that. But it’s been 258 days, and the constant change, it feels—” Breha dropped to a whisper, although it wouldn't be enough to evade detection and they both knew it, “— it feels almost like war.”

Now it was Bail’s turn to sigh. It was so much easier when he was there, and he could cradle her head in the palm of his hand, press his lips to her forehead as she sighed against him. He supposed he knew better than almost any being in the Galaxy what Breha was feeling, but still, it was her crown. Alderaan’s people, responsibilities, and legacy belonged to her in a way that he did his best to share but that would never truly fall on him— not in the same way.

“There’s a lot to get used to,” he agreed and, to his own ears, it sounded rather lame.

“Yes, it’s very hard.” Breha agreed, and a moment of silence hung between them, heavy with what they could not say.

“I too have my doubts about how well I can serve. But Breha, I—” Bail paused to find the words. “I don’t think any other Queen could do better than you are.” She made a small noise, that almost sounded like swallowed tears. His wife so rarely cried. “I mean it, B. You have the solidity and calm of a durasteel bridge.”

“Steel is cold, and cannot be easily reset if the environment changes and new needs arise,” Breha said in a voice that few save Bail could detect the waver in.  

“The grace and resilience of the spider web, then.” Spiders were revered on Alderaan for their mastery at weaving and their production of the strongest natural fiber in existence— lighter in density yet kilo for kilo stronger and more flexible than durasteel. Mythology attributed to the creatures a whole-hearted acceptance of the temporary nature of their creations, weaving for food, to get from one place to another, or for beauty but never— despite the strength of their fibers— dreaming of fame, fortune, or immortality. Art for a purpose or for its own sake, but not for oneself; when one finishes one masterpiece, one simply starts again. Bail knew well no Alderaanian, and certainly no Alderaanian queen, would have dismissed the compliment.  

Bail continued, “You have such a sense of what is at stake, from every angle, the ability to look at many possible outcomes simultaneously, and to make the necessary choices. That’s part of what makes it so hard but also what makes you so up to the challenge, My Dove. There is much to fear in the Galaxy— as our Glorious Emperor is so boldly correcting—” A snort from Breha that she turned into a few well-executed coughs. “—but I know Alderaan is safe with you.”

“I know that I will miss so, so many things,” Breha said.

“As we all do,” Bail noted.

“There’s no avoiding it, is there?”

“I’m afraid not.”

Bail heard Breha inhale deeply. “You give me such strength, B.” And though her voice sounded slightly constricted, he could hear the gratitude in her voice as well. “I am so lucky to have you.”

“And I you, my Queen.” For much of their marriage, he had been a little awed that a political crisis of all things had given them each other. Of course, in some ways it made perfect sense that two calm, collected pragmatists who came together for the sake of their planet might be so utterly suited to each other. It felt less poetic now that political crisis as much as personal tragedy had given them Lelila as well.  

He heard her blow her nose. “Very regal,” she observed.

“Always,” he agreed, without irony. He waited another moment as heard her snifflingly collect herself, knowing she did not like to be fussed over. “What can I do, My Dove?”

“Honestly, Bail?” she paused. “Your deep sleepy voice makes me feel like I’m okay. I only commed because I wanted to hear it.”

“My deep sleepy voice?” he asked.

“Mmm, it gets all low and gravelly.” Bail could practically hear the small upturn of her lips as she added, “Unpolished.”

“Unpolished?”

“You know. Not your aristocratic voice. Just you.”

“I am my aristocratic voice,” Bail said, putting on his best formal speaking voice for her.

“No, you are not ,” Breha responded, her tone lightening a bit.

“I seduced you with my aristocratic voice, then.”

She gave a small laugh. “Oh, is that what happened? Was that before or after we signed the Declaration of Intent to Marry and ended the Ascendancy Crisis?”

“A little bit of both, don’t you think?”

“I never needed to be seduced by you, B. That’s one thing I have always appreciated. Even then, with all our carefully cultivated social graces, there was never any need for artifice between us.” Bail heard a rustling of pillows, and imagined his wife sinking back into their large bed.

“Not that kind of call then, eh?” He rose from his own mattress without turning on the light, fumbling only slightly in his quarters to pour water into a tumbler from the self-chilling crystal carafe on the apartment’s kitchenette.

“I’m afraid not, hotshot.”

“Too bad.”

“Just talk to me.” And he saw her in his mind’s eye, her loose black hair sprawled out on the pillow, draping an elbow over her eyes as she did when especially stressed and seeking to unwind. “Decently,” she added.

“I do not suppose you would like me to tell you about my day.” Bail chuckled dryly, and taking a sip of the water.

“Oh, yes, I would . What did you have for tea? What are you reading? The holobook I’m reading is dreadful. Who is the worst dressed in the Senate these days? Tell me anything.”

Bail laughed, for real this time, as he returned to his bed. “My Queen, you despise gossip.”

“Didn’t you hear? I’m rethinking many of my positions these days. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t even begrudge Nower Jebel any of his dalliances during this difficult transition period. Update me on those if you have nothing else.”

“Should I be worried?” He laid back down and settled himself under the covers.

“There is a prominent Alderaanian senator I do have my eye on. He’s served our planet for a very long time.”

“He must be quite old then.”

“He’s no longer young— but it’s only made him more distinguished.”

“I thought you were looking for something less refined.”

“I told you, I’m fickle.” He could hear the breathing of the least fickle woman he knew growing slower, and Bail felt heartened to know his wife was beginning to relax.

“I think you’re pretending,” He said, closing his eyes.

“Am I?”

“Yes.”

“Come over and prove it.”

“Who is being indecent now?”

“I believe I just gave you a royal command.”

Bail appreciated the comforting familiarity of the flirtation more than anything. He and Breha stayed on the comm a long time, flitting from flirtation to details of their days to whatever else they could conjure that wasn’t related to work. Their breathing deepening occassionally, long pauses growing between them, and then a new burst of energy as one lit on a topic they had meant to tell the other. Breha told him about Leia’s newfound exuberance over her ability to sit up— the real reason she had woken up earlier that night, apparently, to practice— and how like Bail she was in her determination and intentness to observe the world. It was so nice to get to hear Breha gush about their child. They had waited a long time for that privilege.

“That last bit— determined,” Bail observed, “she sounds a lot like you.”  

“You and I are a lot a like,” Breha noted.

“And we compliment each other in a lot of ways.”

“That too.”

“What else does she have that's yours?”

“Well, she loves to look at you.We look at your holopic every day and she can never get enough. I don't blame her.”

“I’ll be home for Sesday this week,” Bail told his wife. “It’s all I can spare I’m afraid.”

“It’s better than nothing.”

“I wish I could spend more time.”

“I know. You’re where you’re needed though, as am I. What would you do if you were here?” Breha asked.

“Well, let me see,” Bail said. “I would be facing you—”

“Not with your arms around me?”

“My arms around you, my Dove, but facing you. I don’t return home to waste the opportunity to gaze upon your visage without the filter of the holo.”

Breha gave a small cluck of appeasement.  

“I would run my hand through your hair,” he added.

“Mmm.” She gave a sleepy sigh. “I would place my hand on your chest, where I could just brush the tops of my fingers across your clavicle.”

“That’s highly specific.”

“Well, I like that part of you,” Breha said.

Bail could almost feel the warmth of his wife’s body next to his, and could imagine how she would feel running her hand on him in that particular way of hers. He smiled. “I had a nice night with you, B.”

“Mmm too, B,” Breha murmured. She followed this statement with a sing-songy series of consonantal noises that Bail recognized as I love you. They had, at some point in the last fourteen years, taken this up when one of them came to bed late or arose in the wee hours of the morning, raising the other just enough to consciousness to merit acknowledgement but not enough to deal in full spoken sentences. He returned the longer response that signified I love you too; he was only beginning to drift off, but returning this relaxed pronunciation when it was given was their custom. The commlink was filled with their breathing, Breha’s dropping into the full, even rhythm of sleep. Even as he flickered in and out of awareness, Bail knew that his wife would awaken the next morning, as she ever did, with the resolve and sagacity required to face that day’s challenges— and she would the next, and the next. He would strive to do the same.