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Twenty Five Lives

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The very first time I remember you, you are blonde, 
and you don’t love me back.

We sit down for dinner at your house. It’s a laughing, smiling occasion; you’ve just been promoted.

It’s become easy, over the years, to hide how I feel. To hide the strange memories of before – I can never pinpoint when it was, exactly – but before, the time when we were together, the time you loved me with the same intensity I love you now.

I know you don’t remember. If you did, you would never have married her.

I don’t resent her. You’re in love with her, and she has done more than I deserve to help me. She’s one of my closest friends, just like you. All this time we’ve known each other, and neither you nor she have ever suspected.

I watch you toast, brushing a lock of golden hair out of your shining eyes.

If I have my way, you’ll never suspect.

The next time you are brunette,
and you do.

I meet you on the subway, and I know instinctively that it’s you.

The train malfunctions, and we’re stuck for hours without light. You confide that you’ve always been afraid of the dark, and I hold your hand tight while they work to get us free.

You’re the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen, and you tell me later you’ve always loved a tomboy.

Your smile is sunlight, your long dark hair the colour of warmth and home, and I love you for years and years.

After a while I give up trying to guess if the colour of your hair means anything,
because even when you don’t exist
I’m always in love with you.

The Council sends me to supervise first contact on a world on the new frontier, in the new region of space the Republic is calling ‘the Outer Rim’. The world is pretty, with sweeping plains and little rivers, and the people are friendly.

“We’ve never met a real Jedi,” they say, their voices full of awe. They cook their most exquisite cuisine, and treat the Republic delegates, including myself, to a night of dancing and singing and story-telling.

“Vi makes the best art,” one of the girls says, presenting me with a small, delicate painting. It depicts a young man’s face; my heart catches as I stare at the image.

“Who is this?” I ask her, reaching out with one finger to gently touch the sketched curve of his cheek.

“Al-Ra-Mim,” the girl says proudly. “He’s only a legend; he didn’t really exist. But the story is that he was the bravest of our people, and defended our villages against plagues of beasts from the hills.”

I softly brush the line of your jaw, and I know I won’t meet you in this life.

I remember most fondly those lifetimes where we get to grow up together,
when you share your secrets and sorrows and hiding places with me.
I love how you play along with my bad ideas,
before you grow up and realize they’re bad ideas.

In this life we meet as children; now it’s the first time that happens, but it won’t be the last.

My mother says little girls mustn’t go out running in the fields, climbing trees, getting muddy in the river and fighting like the boys do.

We sneak out in the early morning, before mother has woken and stoked the fire to get stew boiling, just as the farmhands are beginning to drive the cattle in for milking. We rush out to the meadow and spend the day there, running in the long grass and laughing.

“Mother says I should spend more time with boys,” you say as we lie in the shade of an old oak in the mid-afternoon. “Says it’s not proper to go running around with a girl.”

I take your hand. “When we’re older, we’ll get married,” I promise you. “Then we can run about together all we want, and no one can stop us.”

You give me your sunny, heart-stopping smile. “Alright. I’ll marry you, then.”

“And I’m going to climb this tree,” I say, leaping up to the lowest branches before you can stop me.

The older you would have protested; the younger you laughs.

(And in our times together I have many, many bad ideas).

I can hear the shells falling from where we sit; the stutter of gunfire comes in waves on the wind.

“Hold on,” I beg you, pressing my hand to the gash in your chest. “Just- you can’t- just hold on.”

You touch your hand to my face. “I’m dying,” you tell me softly. “Try to get out of here. I couldn’t stand it if both of us died.”

I hold you close, kneeling in the thick, wet mud, the howl and scream of battle raging around us, and I weep for you.

I don’t tell you that if I die now, chances are we’ll be together much sooner than if I live.

When we meet as adults you’re always much more discerning.
I don’t blame you.

My mother introduced us, this time. You work with her, at her office, and she thought we’d be perfect for each other.

Sometimes I never meet my mother, sometimes we’re close and sometimes we grow apart, but she always thinks you and I are meant to be.

Sometimes I wonder if she, too, remembers.

You don’t think being an artist is a serious profession. You think mother was just being kind to me, or to you, you’re not sure which, trying to set us up. You don’t think I consider you as a serious option, and you’re managing to convince yourself that you don’t see me that way, either.

I’m just trying to change your mind.

Yet always, you forgive me.

“I’m sorry, Master Obi-Wan,” I say, on the long flight back from Geonosis, “If I had listened-”

“It’s my fault, Anakin,” you say. Your eyes are tired, unbelievably weary. “I should have done better. You shouldn’t have had to fight him on your own.”

It’s not the first time you forgive me, or the last. Even after everything I do this time, you forgive me in the end.

This life is one of the bad ones, where I love you but you can’t love me, where everything comes crashing down around us.

But still, in the end, it gives me hope.

As if you understand what’s going on, and you’re making up for
all the lifetimes in which one of us doesn’t exist,
and the ones where we just, barely, never meet.

I’m waiting for a shuttle to Corellia; it’s been delayed by two hours. I see you when we both arrive at the vending machine at the same time.

“After you,” I say politely, rejoicing in my heart, for here you are, I’ve found you once again.

“Thank you,” you say, smiling politely. You’re dressed like you’re about to go on some kind of expedition into the jungle, with a business-like shirt and khaki trousers and long, durable boots. Your long auburn hair is wound back into a complex braid on the back of your head.

We’re strangers; after this moment we may never meet again, so I take the chance to talk to you. “Going somewhere nice?”

“The Outer Rim,” you say, “I’m part of an archaeology team, going out to do some research on a new site that’s been uncovered there.”

“Wow,” I say, and I’m impressed, but I’m also sad. All I have is the clothes on my back and the few possessions in my bag; I’m going to Corellia to make a new life, or so I hope. It would take a miracle for us to see each other again.

“The University of Coruscant is funding it,” you say, in the way of someone absently making conversation while they focus on something else. After this, you probably won’t even remember my face.

Your drink clunks out of the machine, and you give me a smile. “Nice to meet you,” you say, and then you’re gone into the crowd.

I look you up, much later, and find out you’re a respected professor of archaeological studies at the University of Alderaan.

I never make enough money to visit.

I hate those. I prefer the ones in which you kill me.

I’m old, this time, when I meet you, and you are young, and we are standing on opposite sides of the battlefield.

I have let myself become bitter and twisted in this life; sometimes I don’t learn from previous mistakes. They call me the terror of a thousand worlds, the ice-woman, the Sith Lord more deadly than any that were before. I destroy the Jedi, the Republic, any enemy who stands in my way.

Any except you.

The Last Jedi, they call you. You come to me in my own fortress, carving a bloody path through my guards and servants, and stand at the base of my throne, chest heaving, dark hair gleaming. You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, and I know killing you will destroy me.

“End this,” I tell you, “Kill me.”

You hesitate. I remember; Jedi don’t like killing in cold blood. I attack, then, to make it easier for you, but there’s no effort behind it.

You drive your green lightsaber through my heart, and it feels like release.

But when all’s said and done, I’d rather surrender to you in other ways.

We got married this afternoon; the feasting and drinking have gone on well into the night. Are still going on, outside the warm cloistered darkness of our tent.

Your eyes flash green in the dim light. You come closer, press your hand to my chest just over my heart, and smile that wicked smile. “Now you’re mine, husband,” you whisper.

We belong to each other again, I think, and I say, “Always yours, my wife.”

You pull me down to our bedroll, laughing in your free, wild way, and I go with you willingly.

I will always come to you willingly.

Even though each time, I know I’ll see you again, I always wonder
is this the last time?
Is that really you?

We meet out on the windswept sweep of the prairie at sunset, and for a moment when I look at you I’m not sure it really is you.

It upsets my whole balance, seems almost to destabilize the ground beneath my feet. I have always known when it’s you. Always. My feelings have never been wrong.

You’re riding your horse in an easy, relaxed manner, your hat pulled down over your eyes. “Nice day for it, Sherriff,” you comment, and in the same moment you look up, and our eyes meet.

I know then that my moment of confusion was just that. It’s you; it’s definitely, definitely you. It’s not in the eyes or the voice or the face or any physical feature. Somehow I just know.

“All quiet on the range,” I reply, with a smile and a nod, and you ask if you might accompany me back into town.

We ride off into the light of the glowing sun, my faith renewed.

And what if you’re already perfectly happy
without me?

The issue of social class has divided us before. Sometimes we overcome it. Sometimes we don’t.

This time we don’t. We can’t, really.

This time I’m a peasant, a lowly farm girl come to bring pigs to market, when I see you pass by. The whole street clears to allow the princess through, golden and smiling in her high carriage.

I see your face and I know. You are blonde and beautiful and pure as snow; I am skinny, ugly and dirty with mud of the field. There would be no reason for you to look twice at me, even without the handsome man holding your hand, kissing your cheek, basking in the warmth of your smiles.

I watch you go by, and resign myself to the knowledge that this is another lifetime we will not be together.

Ah, but I don’t blame you; I’ll never burn as brilliantly as you.

I saw you when I was thirteen; an orphaned street rat in the gutter looking up at someone who looked larger than life. In truth, you were only five years older than me, but it made all the difference then. I was an impudent little thing, and I threw myself into your path and demanded you take me with you.

For some reason, you laughed, and said you would.

Now we’ve been together for years. Living, working, sailing alongside one another, earning each other’s trust and respect. People say they’ve never seen a Captain and a First Mate closer.

You stand in the prow, one foot on the railing, holding onto a line and grinning at the fleeing merchant trader. “Raise the colours,” you say over your shoulder, your voice quiet and calm in the morning wind.

I repeat the words as a raucous yell. “Raise the colours! Look lively, sea-rats!”

We know the dangers; this could end tomorrow, in an hour, in a minute. Everyone knows what we risk, and what we stand to gain.

Everyone knows we are in love, you and I, and instead of judging, they smile.

A happy captain makes a happy crew, as they say.

It’s only fair that I should be the one
to chase you across ten, twenty-five, a hundred lifetimes
until I find the one
where you’ll return to me.

I am trudging up a narrow, snowy road through the woods, the dimness of twilight falling all around, when I see your figure coming toward me in the opposite direction. I don’t know that it’s you, at first; but then something about you catches my eye, and I stop.

You stop, too, and you look hard at me.

“It’s a lonely road, this, far from anywhere,” I say, mingled joy and trepidation rising in my heart, for here you are, I’ve found you again. “Perhaps we ought to make camp together, since darkness is nearly upon us. For safety’s sake.”

You come closer, the sound of your boots soft through the snow. Your eyes are searching my face, though I can’t guess what you’re looking for. You don’t reply to my offer.

After a minute more, your face breaks into a sudden, brilliant smile. You raise your hands and press both palms to my cheeks, looking straight into my eyes.

“My love,” you say, your voice soft as a whisper of wind, “This time, I remember you, too.”