If he concentrated hard enough, he could make himself put one foot down and lift the other.
Repeat the process.
It wasn?t so difficult really.
Not if he focused on it. That was the key, keeping his focus. Because if he did not keep his thoughts, his very heart, harnessed, he would be lost, cast adrift in a sea of grief.
A calming breath and then releasing the sorrow to the Force, ignoring the fact that it clung to him stubbornly, digging into him like a painful burr. Just walk, damn it. Walk.
There, that was it. Another step?and another.
So simple on the surface.
Yet it was almost unbearably difficult.
He could look neither right nor left, and the sight ahead him was too unbearable, so he kept his eyes on his feet, which moved so stiltedly that they did not seem to really be a part of him.
Nothing seemed attached.
Everything was just beyond his reach, his touch, even his senses.
Nothing made sense anymore.
Nothing at all.
Around him, he was vaguely aware of a low roar of voices, each of them clamoring to be heard above the others. They all wanted their say, each of them wanted to express what they felt. They greedily pressed in on him, stealing his breath, his sanity.
But he couldn?t let them in.
Not any of them.
He couldn?t allow their pain to enter; his own had swallowed him up. It was a huge black void of nothing.
Every kiss she?d given him, every laugh he had treasured, every memory that had been a part of what they had shared.
All of it gone.
Except for what was inside him.
Yes, it lived there if nowhere else. It filled the void even as it emptied him and left him hollow inside. There was a horrible logic in it all, but he could not wrap his mind around it.
I?ll never hold her as she sleeps.
I?ll never hear her call my name again.
She?s gone forever.
Just keep walking. It isn?t that hard. Just get through this.
The funeral procession was long and full of illustrious names, each of whom would lend their own brand of pomp to the occasion. Famous faces abounded, their presence drawing as much attention as the reason they all were gathered. It was a funeral rite worthy of Mara Jade Skywalker.
Mara would have hated it.
Later, when everyone went away and left him in peace he would give her something more suitable, something quiet and dignified and, most of all, private.
She had been an intensely private person. He had loved that about her. He had loved everything about her, even the things that made him absolutely crazy.
Maybe especially those things.
Leia walked beside him, holding Ben?s hand. Something was wrong there, something he could not identify. He tried to identify it. Failed. Failed to care. Later, he promised himself. Later.
Everything was later.
Except the future. There was no future now, not without her.
I?ve got Ben, he reminded himself.
He had to hold onto that. It was an anchor in a storm tossed sea. Ben. Their son. Her son.
His head ached and his belly felt full of ice. None of it seemed real, walking behind the body of his wife. She was still so beautiful.
How could she be so lovely and yet so cold and still?
Mara was never cold, never still. She was fire and motion, laughter and grace, moonlight and mercury.
These rites were for everyone else, but not for him, or Ben, or even Mara. As a Skywalker, Mara had lived too much of her life in the public eye. And even in death, they would not leave her alone.
He hated that, raged against it, even though he was helpless to change it.
Later, he promised himself, a quiet moment by a lake or an ocean and some words that only she would hear. He had to hold onto the thought that she would hear them, that even now she was simply waiting for him in the Force. The time for that would come.
At last the procession stopped and the speaking began. He blocked it out, blocked it all out, the heat of the sun, the drone of the voices, the murmuring of the crowd, but most of that empty aching spot inside his soul. He must have swayed on his feet, felt Leia?s cool hand on his arm. He shrugged it off.
The contact hurt, as if his skin was raw with his pain.
Don?t touch me.
I?m ice and glass and I?ll shatter.
Ben did nothing more than stare at the hands clasped in front of him. Guilt and misery rolled off the boy, roiling and writhing in the Force.
Even the Force was of no comfort. It seemed empty now, that place that was Mara was missing.
The sun was too bright. How could it shine today of all days? The galaxy should be plunged into a darkness as deep as that which ravaged his heart.
No light was there anymore.
Just that terrible darkness, which formed a frigid womb of grief and rage.
The words rolled over him again and again, a relentless tide of meaningless sounds. Ice and fire warred within him.
At last, the voices stopped.
Time to take another step.
Now the fire conquered ice.
The flames leapt and danced, hungrily consuming what had been his steady center for so many years.
Never again would there be an answer.
Silence. The sound of it was driving him mad.
Ashes drifted up in the breeze, lazily spinning up?up?up?taking her with them. He wanted to fly up alongside them, become a tiny mote, and be part of her again. Ashes and ashes, nothing else. Nothing more.
Original cover by rhonderoo. HTML formatting copyright 2006 TheForce.Net LLC.