Title: "He is Married Still"
Author: Deaka
Timeframe: Post NJO, AU
Characters: Luke Skywalker, Ben Skywalker
Disclaimer: Star Wars doesn't, and never will, belong to me…
Summary: How Luke and Ben Skywalker's relationship might have been in a galaxy where Mara Jade did not survive childbirth.

Author's Note:
This story is one that I worked on quite a lot – there are a few issues that I couldn't quite fix, but I'm posting it anyway. Not my best work, but it has its moments. Forgive me if you disagree. ;-)

He is Married Still

By Deaka

My father walks ahead of me, his dark clothes merging with the shadows. He moves with customary grace, his footfalls soft and silent. I am trying to learn that care of step, but my boots seem loud in the quietness.

The only illumination is that of distant starlight, falling through wide skylights high above. Pools of palest blue mark the light's landing across the dark floor.

This is a hall of memorial, to celebrate and commemorate and mourn the ones who gave their lives fighting in the war against the Yuuzhan Vong. To memorialise all those lost in that terrible war would take billions upon billions of plaques. Those plaques do exist, spread throughout the galaxy in an endless trail of mourning. Not here. This hall is for the Jedi who died in those days, and many silver plaques gleam faintly on these dark walls. Many names. My cousin's name is here. My mother's name is here.

My mother, the woman who gave her life that I might live.

My father speaks of her often, and I am grateful. I know it how it hurts him; I feel the pain in his sometimes-long pauses. But he tells me about her, and through him, I know her. I love her, and I feel her love.

My father stops before a familiar plaque, gleaming in the gloom. It is too dark to read its inscription, but I know what it says. Mara Jade Skywalker, it reads. Loved for all time.

My father turns his head, smiles faintly at me. Puts his hand on my shoulder as we stand together before her plaque. The weight is warm.

I turn thirteen tomorrow. My birthday, the anniversary of her death. The official commencement of my apprenticeship.

My father took me to dinner at an eatery we both like, an Ithorian place where tables sit amongst gardens, and you can hear the night sounds of nature all around as you eat. He was very quiet, as he usually is on this night.

I've always known she died giving birth to me. But my father never puts it that way, never lays the words out in a way that could hurt me. He's careful like that. He tells me it was a gift, that she freely gave to me. The most precious gift. It was her love that kept me alive while she faded. She died saving me; because, he says, you're worth saving, Ben.

"Ah, Mara," he says softly now. He lifts the hand not on my shoulder and touches the plaque, a lingering touch. His eyes are deep, and strangely distant.

I look at the plaque too. A dark shape curls beneath the words: a rose, a now-extinct flower once found on select planets on the Outer Rim. My father's fingers trace its curved length, marking the flowing lines of its lush petals, gliding over its graceful stem, lingering on its small thorns, so elegant and so dangerous.

I asked him, once, why he chose that flower to go beneath her name. He smiled, sadly, and said, She is my rose.

My cousin Jacen told me once that my mother's death changed my father. He loved your Mom so much, Jacen said, that a huge part of him died with her.

I've never known my father as anything other than what he now is, so I don't know whether Jacen's words are true. But it's somehow frightening to think of – that you could love someone so much that they become part of you. That losing them leaves you fundamentally shattered, on such a level that you can never quite recover. That you never even try to recover.

Still, there is much of my father Jacen never sees. That no one else sees, beyond me. My father lets me past his silences, and always has. Only recently have I realised the effort that must take him. The courage in his openness. The trust.

And yet there are places he goes sometimes, inside himself, that even I cannot penetrate. When his eyes go deep and distant, and I feel him withdraw.

I do not think they are warm places.

I watch him. His head is bowed, now. His hair is shot through with grey. Before I was born, it was brown. But I was a child of his middle age; I can't remember him without grey in his hair.

My mother's death accelerated the process, I'm sure. I can remember, from when I was very young, overhearing a conversation between my aunt and uncle I hadn't been intended to hear. Most of it I didn't understand, but one portion stuck with me.

He's broken without her, Leia, my uncle had said. If it weren't for Ben…

His voice had trailed away, and my aunt's response was too low for me to hear. Leaving me to wonder, if it weren't for Ben…what?

I don't know. I don't think they do, either.

I think something happened, after my mother died. There is a time that is spoken of only in silences amongst our family, in trailing words and weighted glances. Its voicelessness throbs like an angry sore, and I wonder.

It had something to do with my father, I know that much. But I don't think it touched me. In all my memories, as far back as I can recall, my father has been warm and gentle and loving. Never anything else.

But I know the depth of his love for my mother. And I cannot doubt that he may have become… lost, in his desolation. For however brief a time.

I study the curving rose, in shadow on the wall before me. It's very strange. I never knew my mother, but somehow, I feel I always have. In my father's love, I know her. In the stories he tells me. In the echo of her that lives in him always.

And, sometimes, when I'm in that place between sleep and waking, I feel something… indefinable. Something beyond conscious thought and realised memory; something flowing and twirling and warm. And I think I know her, on an even deeper level.

Perhaps it's only wishful thinking.

My father turns to me, after a time. In silence, he hugs me tightly to him. His woven tunic is soft against my chin. I breathe his familiar scent, clean and warm and sparse.

"I love you, Ben," he breathes. "She loves you. Always know that."

I nod against his tunic. "I do," I promise. "I do."

He steps back, his hands on my shoulders. He looks at me for a long moment, his eyes unreadable in the shadow. Then he smiles faintly. "Soon you'll be too old to hug," he murmurs. "What will I do then?"

"Dad—" I frown at him. "You can always hug me."

He smiles a little more. "You're a good boy, Ben." His hands squeeze fondly before dropping away. His smile fades to sadness – it comes so easily in this place. He turns back to the plaque, looks at it in silence for a long time. He brushes his fingers across the words. "Rest safe, love," he says, very softly. As he always does.

I bow my head and think of her, the woman whose genes I carry, who gave me my red-gold hair, who loved this man I love so much, who is so loved by him. Who gave her life, that I might live. "I love you," I say softly to her, wherever she is. And, in a whisper so vastly inadequate: "Thank you."

After another moment of silence, my father clasps my shoulder. "Let's go home," he says quietly. "Big day tomorrow." He doesn't comment on my words to her; he never does, and I don't think he ever would. They're between she and I, and he honours that.

We go home. He makes hot chocolate for us both, and we sit out on the grass, looking up at the stars. The night is clear and crisp, but not cold. The stars shine brightly overhead, and the moons hang low in the dark sky. We both like to watch the stars.

My father doesn't sleep a lot; never, on this night.

Sometimes, in the depth of night, I wake. I always know why. I rise from my bed, go out into the dining room.

He sits at the table, head in his hands. I make no sound, but he knows I'm there. He looks up, and his eyes are red-rimmed. Dry, though. I've never seen him weep.

I sit opposite him, and he tells me about her. Sometimes I've heard the stories before: how they met, how he proposed, things about her early life. Sometimes they're new. I don't mind; I like hearing about her, either way. His voice falters at times, and his eyes cloud and darken, but he speaks on, and I listen.

I don't know what wakes me, and I don't think he does either. But I suspect there are times, many times, when I don't wake. When he sits at the table by himself, or in his dark bedroom, and mourns her on his own. In silence.

He says he name, sometimes. Ah, Mara, he sighs, as he looks out the window, as he stares at his hands. Ah, love. It used to puzzle me, but I don't wonder about it anymore. Perhaps it helps him to get through the day. Perhaps she is with him so strongly that she never wholly left. Does she answer him, in his heart?

I don't know.

Occasionally – as we train, as we walk, as we eat dinner – he will touch my red-gold hair, his fingers light. I look at him, and his eyes are soft, full of wonder. He catches my gaze, and he smiles and says nothing.

I know my aunt and my uncle worry about him. One of my earliest memories is of them arguing with my father. I don't remember the words, but I remember my name being spoken. I remember fingers pointed angrily, like weapons. And I remember my father sinking onto the sofa, his head in his hands, after the door finally closed on them. He stared at his boots, wouldn't look at me when I cried, when I tugged on his dark trousers.

I didn't like that day; I didn't like seeing him so defeated. It frightened me.

I think I've always been a little wary of my aunt since then.

She always fusses when we visit, even now. I love her, but she's not my mother. She gets so worried about us. Asks so many questions. How are you, Luke? she says, so concerned. Are you looking after yourself?

And Uncle Han – well, he's different, but the same. He doesn't say as much as Aunt Leia; instead, he claps my father on the back, or drapes his arm around his shoulders. How's things, Luke? he drawls, and makes sardonic jokes, lazy quips. But his eyes watch my father's face closely, the edged care there belying his casual charm.

My father just smiles. He looks at me, and he says, We're doing okay. Aren't we, Ben?

And I say, "We are."

We're okay.

He teaches me about the Force. When he can. He was poisoned at the end of the war with the Yuuzhan Vong, when I was still very young. He almost died, but Jacen healed him. It left my father with a huge scar on his chest, and he never fully recovered. His access to the Force is sometimes erratic, and at other times, he tires easily.

So my cousin Jacen teaches me too, when my father can't. Besides, my father says, learning to be a Jedi can involve harsh lessons, sometimes. Harsh, but necessary; avoiding much pain later on. He looks at me, and his eyes soften He touches my hair and says, quietly, I'm not sure I can administer them, Ben.

Jacen's a good teacher. He was my father's apprentice, but he learnt some things of his own, during the war. New ways. My father says I need to learn them as well. So I'll be Jacen's apprentice, formally. My father will still teach me, though. In his own way.

As he always has.

I look over at him. His head is tilted to the stars, high overhead. His lips move, and then he feels my gaze. His eyes drop to mine, and he smiles. I move closer, lean against him. He puts his arm around me, holding me close to his warmth.

I wonder, sometimes, what it would have been like if my mother had lived. To know her, not as the echo in my father, the loving shadow I never knew, but to know her as a living, breathing person. To hear her voice, to be touched with a mother's hands. To see my father as he was before he lost her, to see him whole.

I picture it as an abstraction, how we might have been. But it is a struggle. I love my father dearly, and it is difficult to imagine him being different. I've never felt that I am without, because my father gives me all that I need.

And what's more, I know she's still here. She's with us now.

My father's love for her is more eternal than the sky that stretches above, burns deeper and longer than the brightest star. And she lives in that love.

He is married still.

And I know, always know, that his love for me is as infinite.

Yes. We do okay.