There were options, of course. For the Queen and her Viceroy, mountains could be moved to give them options. Breha had made it her goal when she took the throne to work alongside the people she loved with everything she was and as a result, they would do anything for her.
They would give their lives for her, Bail knew. Several had throughout the course of various crises and he had come close once to doing the same, but it was hardly surprising. The people of Alderaan would have loved her no matter what and they would have given her the Galaxy if she had asked for it in that low, soft voice of hers.
Instead, she asked for little and gave much, but all the love of her viceroy and her people could not give her the thing she wanted most.
Alderaan would have given her the stars, but it could not give her a baby.
"There are options" had become their half-bitter, half-amused mantra over the months of treatments and tests. It had been their rallying cry for each other to hide the fact that they were both afraid of failing.
Then, the sickness had come, robbing her of her strength and her vitality and carving hollows in her cheeks where there should have been laugh lines and leaving terrified pain in her dark eyes. The issue of an heir was mentioned simply because those who saw her feared that the line of the Alderaanian High Court would end with the woman who was wasting before their eyes.
Three times, the High Council had called him in to discuss the line of succession, but he had refused their requests and insisted that Breha would name her successor in a few decades, when she was ready to die. At night, however, he had kept her in his arms, terrified to let her out of reach and even more frightened to speak.
She usually didn't mind, since she was too exhausted by the effort of undergoing treatments and keeping up appearances when she managed to venture into the public eye. Instead of talking about the disease, she would make plans for the Spring Equinox festivals or a visit to his family.
It gave him hope because she had spoken of such things as if she fully expected to live until the Spring. Some thought she wouldn't last a month.
It became their new ritual to talk of such monumental trivialities when things got bad. When the pain clawed the breath from her lungs and she had no more strength than what it took to remain mostly upright, he would wrap his arms around her narrow shoulders and whisper promises that he could keep.
He knew what she wanted him to say, knew too well how she wanted to hear about fixing up one of the spare rooms for their firstborn daughter or the tour they'd have to schedule to present the heir-apparent to the High Throne of Alderaan. He could not, however, bring himself to lie that blatantly to her, so he suggested things that might include a child, nothing more.
Today, he had hope because it was the Spring Equinox that she had expected to see and it also marked her first full day outside the Palace in the last six months.
As expected, her ever-present entourage of aides and advisors wanted to tag along throughout the day. She tolerated them more than needing them, but had warned them that if they expected to hover around her, they would have to make themselves useful.
Since her version of 'useful' at the Equinox festivals amounted to getting up to her elbows in the community flowerbeds or helping at the welfare shelters, this had reduced the number of tag-alongs to the Minister of Education and the aide who sat with her in all diplomatic conventions.
Thankfully, that gave him a relative amount of privacy when he approached after the morning's drudgery. Settling into a crouch next to her, he wrapped an arm around her narrow shoulders and planted a kiss on her dirt-smudged jaw.
"Not where my husband can see," she teased, not turning to look at him. "Neither he nor the fifty others I keep around for my entertainment know about you."
His smile broadened and he rested his chin at the point where her slender neck met her tense shoulders for a moment before moving to a kneeling position.
"I'd suggest, then," he murmured, "that we take this inside to where your entertainment can't see you."
It was a relief to see her squirm slightly in amused embarrassment. "Not a chance."
"Really," he sighed. "You have a previous engagement?"
She turned, lifting one hand to pull a thick strand of her dark hair away so he could see the way her eyes crinkled with a smile.
"It's not that, Bail," she corrected. "It's just that, much as I love you, I'm finally breathing the free air and I might not come indoors until the Winter Solstice."
That suggestion invoked a number of fond memories involving summer evenings spent in this garden, when they would either be involved in the same simple act of gardening or engaging in the timid courtship that had led them to marriage. He also had several memories that could not be described in a mild world such as 'fond' that were more covert, but nevertheless brought to mind the aroma of lorna blossoms on a warm spring night.
The Breha he had fallen in love with so fervently was not what one might call a tease, but she had a way of leaving impressions on your mind that would make you hyperventilate within heartbeats.
Even worse, once she had realized that, she had taken to invoking that power in the most frustrating ways.
Something must have reflected of the latter in his face, since she caught a glimpse of it and flushed a lovely shade of scarlet. "None of that," she whispered, shooting a furtive glance at the Minister of Education, who was trying to innocently avoid eavesdropping on them. "They might get ideas."
"That was the idea," he reminded.
She reached up as if to caress his cheek, but he felt a trace of mud along his cheekbone as well. He rocked back on his heels in suprise, but did not wipe it away as she retreated to a safe distance looking unconvincingly innocent. Without further comment, she turned her back on him and approached the head gardener, murmuring something about arralutes being overcrowded.
Arralutes, of course, were the flower that she monitored with an almost covetous desperation, since it was supposed to herald an impending birth in the family.
His mind belatedly registered that she had not mentioned once the appointment with the medics this morning. The fact that she wanted so desperately to remain among her people was either a sign of her good cheer or an indication that she was desperate for any kind of comfort.
This was not, however, the arena for such a discussion. There was no delicate way to ask if he would ever be a father.
He was obviously thinking too hard, had done so ever since the doctors suggested that she was well enough to resume more normal romantic activities. Every time she turned to send him a sly grin in profile, he could almost imagine tracing a line of sight down her body and finding the concave space beneath her ribcage distended by a new life. Every time his arms circled her abdomen, he could envision teasing her about his inability to reach all the way around her and their child.
He could imagine it as vividly as if he had seen it every day, but that was not the most difficult aspect of all of this. The greatest heartache came from knowing that all of his imaginings paled in comparison to the fervent yearnings that had kept Breha alive in the last months.
She might have died many times, had certainly come close on a few heartrending occasions. Instead, she had pushed through the oppressive hysteria that had threatened them both so she could have a few more dreams come true with him.
Bending forward, he slid his fingers around the delicate stalk of an arralute, cradling it as he would an infant's perfect head, then lifted it from the soil to tuck away in a fold of his jacket.
Tonight, he would have his answers in one way or another.
Breha was perfect in too many ways to list, but the most important ways had nothing to do with her stately beauty or stalwart character. They had everything to do with the fact that she had no fear of experiencing emotion and hardship. She was hardly immune to what every other person that she served could experience.
Tonight, however, Bail wished that she could be spared a few more hardships.
She had come to him after a full day in the public, flushed with exertion as well as the thrill of being among those she loved. There were no words to explain how much he loved seeing her that way, so he had simply opened his arms to her and let her curl against him.
Her breathing was quickened, excited as though she were a child with a shiny new toy to consider, so he didn't prompt conversation, only let his hand rest comfortably over her pounding heart.
Finally, when her excitement had worn down and she lay breathless in his arms, he allowed himself to consider the idea that there was good news on another front as well. His hand reached around her to retrieve the arallute and pressed it into the space where their fingers intertwined.
Immediately, her breathing slowed until she was almost deathly still. His own breath froze in his throat, trapped by the unexpected lump.
"You had to ask," she said.
The difference in her voice was the worst of it, since all of the life had been sapped from it, leaving it cracked with emotion and frustration.
He had never been so broken by four words.
"I had to," he reminded, "because you wouldn't speak to me."
"Why should I?" she gritted out. "There's no point..."
"There are options," he whispered the hollow, familiar reassurance.
She pulled free then as violently as if she had been ripping a wound open and pushed to her feet, still unable to turn her face towards him.
"It will be fine," he insisted. "Just tell me what the medics said."
"They said that it won't happen," she snapped, stalking towards the wall as if she could charge down any barrier with her anger. "They said that it was a slim chance in the first place and that I survived this disease for nothing because it's left me..."
Her hands reached out to the wall, catching her as she slumped against the confining structure.
Helpless, he stared at her, wishing he could do anything to draw her back into the comfortable place that his embrace had been just minutes before, but knowing that she would reject every attempt.
"You didn't survive for nothing..."
"I survived for us," she screamed hoarsely, whirling to face him with eyes full of fire and cheeks streaked with the tears he had never heard. "I survived it for a child, for a future of Alderaan. I survived for nothing!"
He hadn't noticed until this moment that her hands were still crushing the arralute between her fingers, but she abruptly unclenched her fist, letting it fall unhindered to the floor. She let out a shuddering, agonized gasp as if it were something of herself that had been sundered.
Finally, with that moment, he was able to go to her, letting his arms wrap completely around her until she was so deep in his embrace that he couldn't tell where his breath left off and hers began or which of their heartbeats belonged to whom.
It was something she claimed she had fallen in love with first--the fact that they were so matched that they could not distinguish one from the other because they were too united in purpose and thought. Now, it was the only thing he could use to reach her.
There were other options, as always. Someone had indelicately suggested that she find a viceroy capable of siring a child on her, but he dared not let her consider this when they had already lost so much of each other in the effort to find life again.
The only other option he could voice was one that she had refused to consider.
"The child you love doesn't have to be the one you carried," he murmured at last.
He expected her familiar refrain of "I can't," but instead the hands that had been clutching at his tunic front slid downwards and then withdrew only to return by wrapping her arms around him.
"It's all I've thought about today," she admitted, voice finally settling into a more familiar tone. "Every child I saw on the streets, every report I heard from Dantooine or Seleucami of the war refugees and the orphans..."
He let out a long, shuddering sigh of relief, his left hand coming up to cradle her head against his chest. "You're finally thinking the way I do," he commended with a slight smile.
"I should have known better," she agreed, "but I wanted her...so badly..."
Of course it would be a girl. For some reason, his dreams had never been of a son to take after his father, but a daughter who would remind him too much of his Breha.
"She will be loved with us," he assured her, finally finding hope in the words he had uttered so many times before.
She drew back, face finally returned to the beauty that he remembered when the beast took hold of their hearts.
"What shall we tell the others?" she mused.
Another smile. "Who said they had to know?"
Original cover by kotorchick
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