All the newsfeeds had all mentioned the traffic blockage tonight, but Michel had no difficulty in reaching his destination. Then again, he had not followed the masses and that certainly made a difference. While thousands of Alderaan's citizens filled the streets that surrounded the Antibes Palace, he decided to go to a small storefront a half kilometer away to keep his vigil.
He had absentmindedly expected that no one would be waiting for him — no one had passed by on his way through the streets. When he reached the old-fashioned hinged door, he instead glimpsed a low light through the transparisteel window and knew that he was not the first to take refuge here.
Elena did not look up as his passcard opened the front door, but her shoulders hunched either in greeting or in order to signal that she did not understand the current situation. He was willing to bet that both were equally valid explanations for the gesture.
“I thought I'd find you here,” she said quietly.
“I didn't think I'd find you here,” Michel responded, doffing his coat and draping it over one of the chairs. “Legally speaking, this is no longer our property.”
His surprise was actually that she had not joined one of the long lines for Release at the churches, since many people were feeling the need to see a priest or counselor tonight. Elena was just that sort of person, but instead of finding solace in her faith, she was hiding out at what had been the “Organa for Alderaan” campaign headquarters.
“It's ours in spirit,” she said, reaching for a mug on the nearest desk. “That's what counts.”
He was fairly sure that the Antibes Constabulary would disagree with her, but they were maintaining crowd control at the Palace and docks right now. Two morose trespassers in an abandoned storefront were probably the least of their worries.
“Pull up a chair,” Elena invited. “I'll get you a drink.”
He recognized the wine as the same one that they had used to celebrate a year ago. Come to think of it, she was drinking out of the old caf mug that had practically been a prosthetic attachment to his arm for most of the time that he had known her.
He snagged where he had draped his coat and activated the repulsor before steering it into position on the other side of the desk. By that time, she had produced a somewhat cracked drinking bulb from somewhere in the drawer and poured him a generous bit of berry wine.
He accepted the bulb and raised it for the usual toast. Elena mimicked the gesture, but words ultimately failed her and she knocked back the drink without a comment. He took his time, since he was not in the mood to get drunk. Not yet, anyway. The good news was that Elena still seemed to be sober, which meant that she had waited for company to start mourning properly.
“Did you see the Palace?” she asked.
“It took me most of the afternoon to get through,” she groused, pouring herself more. “All those people who can only think of our Leia as something that should be perched on the throne.”
“Well, she should,” he pointed out. “She's the High Princess of Alderaan, after all.”
She nodded absently, but did not take another drink and did not correct him by saying ‘was.’ There would be time later to remember that they would never speak of their Princess in the present tense again. Instead, Elena rolled the mug between her palms and stared straight through him as if he were an apparition.
“They went there because that's what she meant to them,” Elena mused. “I came here for the same reasons.”
He took a longer sip on his wine than the last time, and now it drove away some of the tremors that had been plaguing him since this afternoon's announcement.
“Me, too,” Michel confessed.
They sat in silence, sipping their wine as if it were a medicinal cup of tea rather than something that would ultimately make their current depression worse. After a long moment, Michel peered around the computer monitor and squinted in mock-annoyance.
“You're sitting at my old desk,” he pointed out.
“I didn't expect you to be here,” she echoed her earlier statements with a smile that seemed as fragile as a web of floss-silk. “Besides, I was trying to cheer myself up with the 'notes from the candidate.'”
Elena nodded. “You never did get around to taking them down,” she informed him, “and they make up some of my best memories of her.”
Since Leia Organa not only had been the youngest candidate ever elected, but to ever run, it had been difficult at times to make sure those Alderaainians that were hell-bent on electing a political veteran would take her seriously. At first, Michel had regarded her tendency to leave flimsistickers all over his computer with potential slogans with varying degrees of exasperation. By the end, however, he looked forward to each daily 'suggestion.'
“What was your favorite?” he asked.
She peeled one off the left side of the monitor and smiled at it as if it were a favorite child. “'Leia Organa: Strong, Stalwart and No Curfew Violations!'”
That, of course, made him think of the debate where her opponent had claimed that Leia's idea of thinking outside the box was skipping class.
“My second favorite is 'Princess Leia: Voted Best Hair by the Senate,'” he recalled.
She returned the flimsisticker to the side of the monitor and sighed. “And your favorite?”
“It's a tie,” Michel explained. “I couldn't decide between 'Princess Leia: Not Your Grandmother's Candidate' and 'Leia Organa: Too Young to Be As Corrupt As the Other Guy.'”
They were silent for a long moment before taking a synchronized sip of wine without meaning to. Elena reached up with her other hand to cradle the mug and stared into its depths. Finally, two of the tears that she had kept trapped in her dark eyes escaped.
"All those people are at the Palace because that's all that they remember of her," she mused. "I'm here because I have a hard time remembering anyone but the girl who stole my julaberry torte and broke that one chair in the volunteers' area. She didn't let us treat her like a princess here, but she made sure that we knew exactly who we were supporting."
"So there they are," Michel answered, "the mourners of a martyred princess. We're sitting here..."
"The managers of a murdered friend," she finished. "At least friends once in a while..."
"When we weren't lecturing her on her debate tactics..."
"Or begging her to wear something other than white," she chuckled.
"Or threatening to ground her if she even looked at a member of the opposite sex," Michel recalled.
That was as close as Princess Leia's former campaign managers would ever come to making a toast, so they clinked mug against drinking bulb and drank to her memory, if not to her health. Neither of them dared to refill, but Elena's hand found his in a tight grip.
"Where do we go from here?" she asked.
That was a more difficult question than what he felt he could answer for now, so he tried for humor. “Well,” he considered, “there's always her reelection campaign.”
It was the same exact thing as what she had said the last time they had sat here. He had winked and promised to get to work on it in the morning. Instead of drawing a smile out of Elena, it made her eyes go suddenly cold.
“I know.” His grip apologetically tightened as he considered his words. “I propose that we find someone to succeed her who will uphold her ideals and accomplish her goals.”
Elena would like that. It would be a challenge to find someone remotely worthy to do such a thing and then they had to make sure that the person in question actually had political aspirations. Still, her eyes would not lose their haunted look and he resolved immediately to find a way to change that before the night was over.
“And if that doesn't work?” she challenged.
That answer was the only easy one of the night: “We do the job ourselves in whatever way necessary.”
Original cover by Kateydidnt. HTML formatting copyright 2008 TheForce.Net LLC.