The air is quiet now, the sound of blaster fire having finally been silenced.
It is a blessed peace. Yet it is a reprieve that I know will last for only a moment, and so I inhale deeply. It is a cleansing breath designed to calm my racing heart and slow the adrenaline that still speeds through my body. I ignore the way the cold air stings my lungs as I continue to breathe, slowly.
All too soon, the silence is indeed shattered, and shouts of confusion erupt all around me as both clones and Jedi alike begin calling out orders. Soon joining this cacophony of voices are those of the wounded, crying out in pain or for help.
Lowering the fur-lined hood of my thermal jacket, I trudge through the knee-deep snow, my eyes sadly scanning the countless bodies that litter this battlefield of white. And once again, I am left to ponder - will it ever end?
The wind begins to blow in earnest now, its icy breath caressing my exposed face. I shudder, for I know it is the cold hand of death, coming to claim its newest spoils.
A few meters away, I see a mass of long, red hair blowing haphazardly in the winds; the fiery curls a stark contrast to the white snow that surrounds them. With a sinking heart, I stumble through the snow to her side, dropping to my knees beside her lifeless body.
We were Padawans together, and despite the way most of my age-mates ignored me out of either fear or petty jealousy, she treated me with kindness. We forged a friendship, one that lasted through our longs years of apprenticeship. She was knighted only months before me, and I rarely saw her afterward, our missions always seeming to take us to opposite ends of the galaxy.
How fitting it seems that we would find ourselves together again. Here. At the end.
Reaching down, I cradle her neck with my hands, tenderly lifting her head into my lap. The green eyes that once shone with so much life, so much laughter, stare up at me now, unseeing. I cannot bear it, and I remove the glove from my flesh hand, reaching up to gently close her eyelids.
It is the only gesture of respect, of friendship, that I can offer to her now.
Then, in the snow where her body had lain, I see it; a stain of red where her life's blood has spilled onto the drifts. It is a garish blight on a blanket of pristine white, as if the forces of nature itself have been left wounded and bleeding by the atrocities that were committed here.
How did it come to this?
I scoop a handful of the now-crimson snow into my hand, the once-powdery flakes in my palm already rendered to an icy slush from the quickly waning warmth of her blood. And from somewhere deep inside, she calls to me...
To hold time in the warmth of my hand
This moment stretched into forever
This heartbeat...a lifetime with you
I laugh bitterly, a hollow sound, as I hear her voice whispering those familiar words.
And I remember...
He awoke, noting first the unusual stillness and quiet. Although he could count on one hand the number of times he had awoken to a Naboo morning here at Varykino, when he did so, he was accustomed to the sounds of birds singing, of the waves lapping against the lake shore. They were the sounds of life. Sounds that were now strangely absent.
The second thing he noticed was the unusual chill in the air, and he didn't like it. Shivering mightily, he burrowed further beneath the blankets, scooting even closer to her inviting body and wrapping his arms around her for warmth.
"Mmmm...Anakin," she murmured against her pillow, still ensnared in the delicious throes of sleep. He snuggled even closer to her, and after a few moments, he felt his wife stretch languidly within his arms before she wriggled around to face him.
"My handsome Jedi is impatient this morning," she purred suggestively. "It's barely past dawn."
"This isn't about passion, Padmé," he explained through chattering teeth. "It's about survival."
When Padmé gave him a quizzical look, Anakin's body began to shiver once more, as if to emphasize his meaning. "It's freezing in here," he complained. "Did the thermal regulators break down during the night or something?"
Laughing, Padmé sat up, leaving Anakin whimpering at the sudden loss of her body heat. "It started snowing last night after you fell asleep," she explained, leaning forward to peer out the nearest window. "I guess Threepio forgot to adjust the interior temperature accordingly."
"When I get my hands on him, that golden droid is spare parts," Anakin grumbled, pulling Padmé's pillow against his chest and stomach for added warmth. Then as the full enormity of her words finally began to sink in, Anakin sat up, the cold momentarily forgotten.
"Did you say snow?" he asked, sounding very much like an excited schoolboy.
Padmé nodded, giving a bored yawn as she stretched the muscles in her back. But when Anakin threw back the covers and hurried to the window, she stopped abruptly, and out of the corner of his eye, Anakin saw her turn to stare at him in disbelief. "Anakin," she asked slowly, "you have seen snow before, haven't you? I mean, certainly not on Tatooine, of course, but...somewhere, on a mission perhaps?"
Anakin merely shook his head in denial, unwilling to speak or to take his eyes off the wondrous sight before him. Padmé climbed out of bed. Hurrying across the cold floor to him, she slipped her arms around his torso as she rested her head against his chest. Automatically, Anakin began to rub lazy circles on her back, his gaze still firmly fixed on the blanket of white now covering the entire grounds of the lake retreat.
"It's...beautiful," he whispered in awe.
"Yes, it is," Padmé agreed, her voice equally filled with wonder as she turned her face to gaze out the window. "I guess I just take it for granted sometimes."
"Can we go outside?" Anakin winced at the eagerness he heard in his own voice. He was a grown man, yet he knew he was acting like that little boy Padmé first met on Tatooine all those years ago.
Instead of mocking him, however, Anakin was relieved when Padmé hugged him tightly. "Of course we can, you big gundark." Then with an excited laugh, she ran to the closet unit, and Anakin watched as she tossed aside ceremonial gowns, headpieces and various other garments in her frantic search for warm clothing.
As Padmé dressed, Anakin pulled on his Jedi attire. Staring down at his tunic and gauzy undershirt, however, Anakin had the sinking feeling that his minimalist wardrobe wouldn't be quite enough to protect him from the frigid temperatures that he knew awaited him outside. He was wondering what to do to remedy the situation when Padmé appeared before him, dressed in a white unisuit, gloves, boots and a fur-lined cloak.
"Here," she said, holding out a pair of gloves and a black thermal jacket, its hood lined with thick fur. "They belong to my father," she explained. "He left them here last winter."
Anakin took the garments with a grateful smile, and once he was properly attired, he followed Padmé out the front doors of the retreat. Anakin gasped as the bitterly cold air stung his face, but it was a small price to pay, for before him was a pristine wonderland of white covering every surface - the ground, stone benches, even the tree branches.
"Oh, Mom," he whispered under his breath, experiencing a tiny twinge of melancholy. "You would have loved this."
Anakin took a tentative step forward, laughing in delight at the crunching sound the snow made beneath his boots. "I'm definitely not on Tatooine anymore," he whooped. Then kneeling down, he removed his glove from his flesh hand, reaching out to grasp a handful of the powdery flakes.
"Anakin!" Padmé scolded. "Put your glove back on first. Your hand will freeze!"
Anakin shook his head. "I don't care. I want to feel it, Padmé." He thrust his hand into the snow, inhaling sharply at the coldness of it. His teeth chattering, he grabbed a fistful of the mysterious white substance, opening his hand to admire his prize.
To hold time in the warmth of my hand
This moment stretched into forever
This heartbeat...a lifetime with you
Barely hearing her whispered words, Anakin craned his neck to look up at Padmé, and he was surprised to see tears in her eyes. "What did you say?" he asked.
She said nothing at first, and Anakin could tell that she was overcome with emotion. But he sensed that her tears were of joy, not sadness. Finally, she spoke. "It's from a poem I had to recite in school when I was a little girl," she explained. "I hated learning it. At the time, it seemed such a boring task. To me, they were just words, strung together in meter. I never understood what it all meant. Until now." She knelt beside him in the snow, removing her own glove and placing her hand atop the snow in Anakin's outstretched hand.
"I'm...grateful...that I was the one who got to share this with you, to see this moment through your eyes." Padmé leaned closer to Anakin, kissing him tenderly. "And I'd give up everything, all the yesterdays, all the tomorrows, if we could just stay here...like this, forever," she murmured against his lips.
Anakin was lost in the warmth of her lips, the coldness of the snow long-forgotten when Padmé suddenly broke their kiss. Snatching the snow from Anakin's hand, she stood up, running a few meters away before turning and throwing the handful of snow, hitting Anakin squarely in the face.
Crying out in shock, Anakin stood up, Padmé's delighted laughter ringing in his ears as he wiped the snow from his eyes and nose. "Oh, you'll pay for that, Milady," he growled, reaching down to collect another handful of snow.
With a squeal of protest, Padmé began to run away, but Anakin quickly caught her, whirling her around to face him and holding her securely by the waist with his arm. "You didn't give much chase, Milady," he teased, tossing the snowball several times in his hand, laughing wickedly as he watched her eye the snowball's movement carefully.
"You wouldn't..." she pleaded.
Anakin wrapped his arm even more tightly around her. "Perhaps I could be...persuaded...to show you mercy."
Her brown eyes flickering with desire, Padmé stood on her tiptoes, capturing his lips once more in a sensuous kiss. "Is that sufficient to earn my freedom, Good Knight," she panted against his mouth.
"No," Anakin moaned, the forgotten snowball slipping from his flesh hand and falling silently to the ground as he cradled her neck. "But it is a beginning."
And as he kissed her once more, Anakin understood what Padmé had meant. It was a perfect moment, a rare and precious thing between them. And he would have moved the planets and the stars to make it last forever.
I let the remaining bloodstained snow fall through my fingertips, biting back yet another bitter laugh that longs to escape my throat as I stare at the mass of crimson slush.
For where once I thought of only her, of that one perfect moment of pure happiness, I now know that whenever I witness a snowfall or wade through its powdery drifts, I will see only this.
It is yet another memory of her, forever tainted. Another part of my innocence, another piece of my soul, left behind as a sacrifice on the altar of war. It is my penance, the blood price I must pay that I am still alive, while so many others around me have perished. For the war gods demand that no one, not even the living, may walk away from their fields of death, suffering and misery unscathed.
Over the howling winds, I hear Obi-Wan calling to me, urging me to hurry, for there is not much time. With a whispered prayer to the gods to see her safely home to the Force, I tenderly lay Kiran's body back down in the snow. Yet, as I walk away, making my way to the transport that is waiting to take me to yet another planet and another battlefield, I am left to wonder...
How much more of my soul do I have left to give?
Original cover by Gina. HTML formatting copyright 2007 TheForce.Net LLC.