Title: "The end of all things" Genre: Alternate Universe Summary: The world might have come to an end, but Dormé remains with her lady--together, and forever. (Revised version posted 5.15.2016) * “The end of all things” The sky above the lake had only just started to fade into a swollen inkstained-blue evening when Amidala officially retired for the night. She stared through the mirror of her balcony door while Dormé picked the pins out of her elaborately made-up hair, and then undid the fastenings on the back of her dress. It was another frock from the most recent shipment from Theed: a nightpurple gown with grey pearl cuffs that shivered like teeth, and roses with mirrored thorns scattered over the skirts. It must have taken the seamstress, the last woman in the garment district who remained (fiercely, and stupidly) loyal to Amidala, hours to sew on all of those tiny details by hand. Amidala left the dress behind her in a fainted heap on the floor, and took up the brush left out on her vanity table near the scattered pins while Dormé picked it up, and draped it over the side of her arm. It smelled like warm whisperkit fur, and then, faintly, of Amidala’s perfumed sweat. She would have Nandi send it over to the steamcleaners in the morning. Amidala did not turn from watching her reflection when she spoke—but then, Dormé knew now, years after she should have, that she never had seen her: “That will be all, Dormé. You may have the rest of the night off.” She knew the lines Amidala expected to hear, and she did not have to think before she spoke the meaningless, thoughtless words. “Thank you, milady.” Then she retreated into the hallway, shutting the wooden back of the door behind her. She could feel the whisperedsoft air of the house breathing around her. It was too quiet—but then, Dormé suspected, from the moment of their conversation she had overheard that afternoon, that Nandi had allowed the housemaid to take off early again. She couldn’t even complain about it; the girl had only agreed to take the position after Dormé had offered her nearly twice the usual hourly servant’s wage. Of course, Amidala had never had to know that. Dormé had made certain of it. She had the rest of the night—the hours of time until she swallowed the little snowdrop pill that would push her into a black sleep—to herself. But there was nothing she wanted to do with it. She wasn’t interested in the imaginary adventures of the ladies in the novel on her datapad, the one that had been there for several years, or in dreammusic, or puzzle games. She would have spent a few of those hours tending to the crowded forest of Amidala’s wardrobe, but she had finished with that earlier, while her lady floated about in her bath for the second long slow hour that day, the petalsoft water slapping around her body. Dormé could only wander on through the shadowthin darkness of the hallway, towards her own little room on the other side of the house. As she approached the sitting room, the door swayed open for several inches, spilling out warm firerose light across the floor, and Nandi stepped out. She was looking down towards her feet, smacking at a scarred wrinkle in her wedding sheet white apron. Her shadow cringed along behind her on the wall. “Good evening, Nandi,” Dormé said—and the word of her name, as she went through the motions of standard polite behavior, somehow sounded wrong. Nandi lifted her head on her drooping flower root neck, and blinked over at her. Nandi Minnau was (as her half-sister Teckla had been) a lifetime servant. Apparently, she had a brother who worked as a solicitor in Keren, so she must have shown herself in the first years of reason to not be quite bright-minded. She walked in a daydreaming shuffle, and smiled, when she had to, like a kick-bruised wulf, showing her teacup-stained fist clenched teeth. She watched Dormé with her usual blank glass stare, but before Dormé could speak again, with a louder voice, she said in a hurried mumble: “Yes. It is a good evening.” Then she walked away through the hallway without another look. That was how she was—and Dormé had excused it away during the few years she had known her, thinking that she might be shy about her damaged hearing, and that she was only, merely skittish by nature. But she had finally realized it was more simple than that: Nandi didn’t like her. -- (It had been only three days since Egil’s letter, an actual letter written on thick creampale paper, had arrived for her. Dormé hadn’t found the time to read it until after luncheon, and after Amidala decided, on one of her sudden whims, that she needed to look after the twins. She took it out to the lakefront balcony. When she finished, she had stared at the words until they were only mouse-clawed scratches. Egil was getting married. She had wanted to feel flushed, and pleased, with relief. He had moved on ahead with his life—as she had encouraged him, during that meeting at the riverside walk, to do. But then she remembered what he had said next, after a bitter whip-cracked hahaha: That doesn’t mean much coming from you. Oh, he had made his opinions quite clear enough. She had known by then, by that last day she knew him, that she couldn't tell him anything he would hear--and it was only now, when she could only remember him, that she thought he must have felt the same about her. She had explained, even though it had been self-evident to her, that Amidala needed her in her exile. Oh, no, she doesn’t, he had said. But apparently, you need her, and I don’t know why. I thought you had managed to survive her. It seems I was wrong. She could have reminded him that recently, only a few months before, he had adored Amidala along with the rest of her people. It was only the truth: but she knew what response he would have, and she couldn’t stand to hear him say--and so easily, so smugly--that the woman, the girl-senator glowing with purehearted ideals, that they had all admired, and had even loved, had only ever been an illusion. And they were not impressed with the truth. She could still hear the echo of her voice as she told him: But really, this isn’t your concern. And if I am wasting my life, it is still my life to waste. They had been sitting on one of the hillside benches, and Egil stood up to leave. She watched the sunlight glowing in his hair as he looked down at her. She had only barely seen the tiny doll-sized figures of the people below on the wading beach, and the lightpath on the water. Then he spoke. It was the last thing he would ever say to her, and she had known it. It was possible he had sent this letter to taunt her, but Dormé didn’t think so. Egil had had his faults, but that wouldn’t have been like him. He must have wanted to tell her himself, before she heard about it through secondhand gossip—and that was, however oddly, even worse. The thought of it cracked a papercut wound in her heart, and she clenched her eyes shut. She didn’t know for long she sat there in the fadedpale sunlight with the letter across her lap before Amidala sent for her. The letter fluttered with a moth-winged beat when she picked it up, and returned to her feet. Of course, while Amidala might have recognized Egil’s name—he was known, if only on Naboo, as “a fresh new artist” with the Symbolists—she would not have even considered that Dormé might know him. Dormé folded the letter together into a clenched small wedge, locking the words inside, and tucked it inside her skirt pocket. It turned out that Amidala had just left a difficult holo conversation with her husband, and she needed Dormé with her as she endured the aftermath. Dormé could hear, from the next room, the sound of Leia’s voice in a long throbbing howl—but Nandi knew how to distract her into calming down well enough. She went straight for the kitchen to make up a cup of mint tea for her lady. She nodded along while Amidala talked on about her despair over her marriage. As always, she did not have to offer a single actual word in response. And when Amidala had permitted several diamond-glitter tears to slide loose, she had reached down and patted her back, scattering the words of a love poem into her skin with her fingers. It shouldn’t have still felt that way, but it did.) -- It was, according to the antique gold chrono Amidala insisted on setting on Coruscant time, nearly midmorning in the senate district, so Dormé went into the study to make contact with Moteé. She used the voice-only connection that had been reconfigured for Amidala’s grandmother—it was ancient, nearly a thousand years old, but it still worked, and Moteé would know to answer it. She was living in the apartments at 500 Imperial—and officially, she was there as the Lady Vader, with Lissé in attendance as her handmaiden. Captain Typho had suggested that last in order to make the act at least somewhat convincing. The same thought had obviously not occurred to Amidala. Of course, Amidala’s husband, Lord Vader, knew Moteé (a woman whose name he had never bothered to learn) was only a decoy-doll set up in his wife’s place. But Dormé suspected that the majority of the people around them knew, or at the least suspected, the same thing—after all, the decoy plan had been one of the many secrets Ellé, that traitor, that bitch, had revealed, through that sludge reporter, to an audience of millions of persons. But Amidala had always favored it, and perhaps from habit, she continued to do so—even when it was common knowledge that she was living in her Lake Country retreat. Dormé had wondered about her reasoning, but she had learned not to bother Amidala with any questions. (It had always seemed somewhat off that Amidala, the woman known as the figurehead of the people, had used the decoy plan so much—especially considering how many versions of her had died, most of them women who Dormé had never met, but still somehow knew. She had made excuses for her lady then. But now, oh now, it made perfectly obvious sense.) Moteé answered a second after the third ring. Her voice had a static-growl fuzz to it when she said: You know, I might have been out. Dormé didn’t bother with her preferred response to that—Moteé had to stay hidden inside the apartment while Lissé managed their errands. The Lady Vader was known to keep to herself. “Of course, milady. I can only apologize for not thinking of that. How have you been?” There was a long paused silent moment, and then Moteé spoke again. Well enough. Oh, I have on this wonderful frock that came with the last shipment. You ought to see it. Dormé remained silent, though she wanted to say it so badly she could feel the words heaped inside her mouth: Don’t be sarcastic, Moteé. It doesn’t become you. “Yes, milady. But since we are on that topic, I was wondering how Lissé is working out for you.” I see, Moteé’s voice said. You think I could use another girl to help out. “Yes,” Dormé said. “While, of course, I shouldn’t speak out of turn, I must say that it doesn’t do for a lady of your standing to have only one attendant. I shall send Padmé over with the next embassy transport. She should be arriving in another two weeks.” Oh, of course, Moteé said. Padmé was the name Amidala had used when she played the role of a mere handmaiden during her royal terms—and it was also her birthname. It had been over a year since she had made a trip to Coruscant, and Dormé did not know why she had decided to return now to reclaim the place Moteé was filling for her. But she suspected it had been inspired by that last call with her husband—Lord Vader’s voice did still have that whining edge with her. “The twins will be remaining here with me, milady,” Dormé said in the next shivering long pause. “I’m sure you would agree that the hyperspace trip would be too stressful for them.” You are quite right, Moteé said. That is what my lord husband has always said. After she left the study, Dormé stopped by the entrance to the twins’ room. They were both awake: she could hear them talking together in their imaginary shared language, and when she looked in, they were sitting together on Leia’s new sleigh-bed, each one holding a matching stuffed tooka. They were almost three years old, and the previous week, she had suggested to Amidala that perhaps it was time that Luke had his own room. Amidala had stared at her in surprise before she answered: They’re twins, Dormé. Don’t be so dense, she said, and Dormé knew that would be the end of it for years—until, hopefully at least, the twins were old enough to demand the change themselves. Amidala thought of herself as a wonderful mother. While she oftentimes ignored the twins, especially when she was preoccupied with her faraway husband, she spoke their names in an adoring, rottensweet voice, and when she was in the right mood, she would crash into their room and scoop them into the bars of her arms. She would drop raindrop kisses on Leia’s hair, and flutter her fingers in a patting stroke over Luke’s back. The twins looked nothing at all alike: Luke was blond, and Amidala seemed to favor him more for that, for her husband’s sake. But she had also told Dormé that Leia—when she had still been a young moon-faced baby—looked exactly like her. Dormé had agreed. She thought now that Leia looked only like her own distinct self, but she kept that opinion to herself. Dormé didn’t understand children that young at all well, and she didn’t know what they might be capable of knowing. But she had noticed, when they were trapped inside their mother’s arms, that they stared away from her with their shadowthin baby eyebrows scrunched down low over their eyes. She recognized the expression. They looked confused. -- (Several weeks after Dormé had followed Amidala back to Naboo, she had been on an errand at an open market in the riverside district when she had seen her mother. It had taken her a second to even recognize her—but then she had not seen the woman in person, or as the glimmering starlight of a holo, since she had returned into service for the end of her lady’s career. Her mother couldn’t have seen her yet, and Dormé had known what to do: she had already faded in with the crowd in her violetgrey cloak, so she only had to lift the hood into place, and hunch her shoulders down, and walk on towards the next fruit stall with whisper-faded steps. She didn’t know what would happen if her mother should turn away from the conversation she was having with one of her colleagues, and look straight at her. She might have, after her first gasped breath of surprise, gone forward to catch her before it was too late. She might have, out of respect for Dormé’s boundaries, given her the slight smile she used for polite acquaintances. Or more likely: she would have been rational enough to figure out, finally, that it was best to ignore her. When Dormé had wandered back to Naboo three years after she had left it, in exile from her life in Amidala’s service, her mother had been pleased to have her return to the family—only to have her turn and leave them all behind her once again. She hadn’t betrayed them; she would have betrayed Amidala--the only person she had wanted to see, the only person she had loved, for those three years-- if she had not returned to her. But she knew her mother couldn’t believe that anymore than her father, or the aunts, or Egil. When her mother had made one last attempt to sway her (telling her, in all earnestness, You still don’t seem to know what that woman really is) Dormé had walked away without looking, or thinking, back. She had turned her mind back towards the stall in front of her filled with boxes of plump purpleblack queenberries, and considered several rows before she decided on the best one. Queenberries were one of her favorites, but these would be only for Amidala. Her lady had been in poor spirits over the last week—and it hadn’t helped matters when Rhea, the girl Dormé had hired on to replace Teckla, had quit without notice or explanation. The salesclerk was polite enough to her when she paid, but her face was like a blank teacup china mask. She had hardly waited until Dormé had left the counter before she had leaned in close to the other girl, and in a harsh stage whisper: I think that’s the decoy. Oh, Dormé had wished—for that one flushed, rage-blurred moment as she walked away—that she could turn back and slap the smirk straight off the girl’s face. And she didn’t know anywhere near as much as she thought: as the result of Ellé’s detailed, and unfortunately, quite accurate stories, that was the one duty Dormé could never again perform for Amidala. It was only later, after she had returned to the rental condo outside the city, that she realized she hadn’t noticed if her mother had still been there at the market. She had forgotten her within only minutes. But then, the woman was no longer a relevant part of her life.) -- The lake moved out in the velvetthick soft darkness, pushing up against the sides of the boat dock. Dormé stood above it on the main balcony, staring out towards the cloudshapes of the mountains on the other side of the water. She could make out the scattered diamond sequins of lights of the village, from the lamps along the main marketplace street. The servants’ boat was gone, so Nandi must have rowed over to spend her evening at one of the teahouses. It just as well, of course, that Dormé had no interests there—they all knew her, if only as The Decoy, and she would not be welcomed. Amidala was no longer popular in the village. She leaned forward against the heavy-boned stone balcony fence. She had left her hair loose over her shoulders, and she clenched her toes together. Her feet had started to turn cold, but she knew how to endure that. And perhaps it was the secret-hiding darkness around her, but she felt younger—and for a moment, she remembered who, before she was only Amidala’s waiting handmaiden (and imitating decoy), she had been. Once, when she had been considered one of the prettier girls in her generation of cousins, and when Egil and her friends at the university had appreciated her moments of wit. She was known to be quiet—and she had known how to use that to startle people. She wondered if Amidala had retired fully into sleep yet. It hardly mattered if she hadn’t—she wouldn’t have any further need of Dormé. She could turn on the protocol droid her husband had bought her if she needed companionship. Dormé could stand out here, and listen to the lake, and to the windhiss shaking the leaves in one of the trees, alone with only her thoughts. It was too late, months and forever too late, to tell her mother and Egil this, but she knew: oh, she knew now what sort of woman Amidala was. Dormé had considered--with a voice in her head she had to admit was herself--finishing all of this by putting an end to Amidala’s life. While it wouldn’t change one thing about the Empire the galaxy had become—despite what Amidala might think, no one person, not even her, could be all that important—it would at the least set Moteé, and Lissé, and even Nandi free. They would never have to die because of her. That morning, she could have walked openly through the steam-blurred fresher, and over to the bathtub, and Amidala would not have seen her, would not have left her thoughts, before Dormé had her throat slit from side to side. Or: that afternoon, she could have included several teardrops of poison, a suitably fitting one, with Amidala’s tea. It might have even passed as a heart attack brought on by a condition that no one, especially Amidala, had known was hidden away there. But she knew that, if she were to ever make one of those options a reality, she would have only a few days of her own life left once Lord Vader found it out. Of course, he would not bother with the task of killing her himself—he would send one of his current underlings to manage that, someone who was already in position, and in wait, on Naboo. Dormé had learned, during her years in service, to care only for Amidala’s well-being—but it had turned out that somehow, however improbably, she still had some regard for herself. She couldn’t do it. They would continue on, then, inside the frozen-trapped life they had now, and she would have to know she had failed to change it. She had only intended to come outside for a few minutes. But she stayed out there for much longer than that. She could smell the bruised-ripe flowers growing in one of the stone vases, and a thin drifting breeze tugged at her hair. Then, finally, she turned again towards the house, and the one room that was hers—and she walked back into the darkness inside. -- Notes: Spoiler This version of Padmé is the same one I wrote about in my 2006 story "Decoy." But since I have changed some of the other details--spoiler alert: Dormé did not make it out of the Clone Wars alive--it is not set in the exact same world. Nandi is a (extremely minor) canon character added on to the Varykino staff in the AOTC novelization by R.A. Salvatore. She does not appear in the movie. Egil, Dormé's artist boyfriend, was inspired by my imperfect memories of a similar character in an abandoned fanfiction posted on the boards circa 2003 by Anyanka. The rest was inspired by certain AU fanfictions I have found during my travels around the internet in which Padmé was a *****, and Dormé was the doormat she stepped on, and most of this was not intentional on the authors' parts. Since this is not the sort of inspiration they would find flattering, I shall not name any of these stories.