As he awoke, he felt Elena's soft, cool fingers slowly tracing his cheek and jawline. He drew in a deep breath, smiling as he looked up at her in the muted lighting of their room.
"Are you okay?" she asked quietly with obvious concern. Her luminous green eyes still mesmerized him, but he nodded after a moment, lightly stretching on the couch as he answered her.
"Yeah, I was just resting a little before we left."
As usual, she didn't look convinced.
"Koril...we don't have to go."
He blinked and laughed in surprise at her. "Uh...yeah, we do."
"Elena!" he laughed again, finding it humorous. "We're not missing our own reception! I'm fine, I promise."
Still concerned, she brought her hand to his neck, checking his pulse. With a tired smile, though, he grasped her hand instead and stood, proving to her his good condition. Though she looked as though she would protest, he silenced her as he kissed her sweetly, pulling her tightly against himself. She relaxed after a few moments, smiling, too, as she stepped back.
Even in the dark room, he could see the outline of her breathtaking, simple white dress sparkling as she moved. Each curl of her swept up, jet-black hair shined with a brief gleam, and on her skin, he could still smell the light, pleasant fragrance of the bouquet of purple panna flowers she had held earlier during their wedding. He hadn't taken his eyes off her all night, except when he had taken a quick nap while she was supposed to have been preparing to go downstairs...
Looking down at the back of her dress, though, he saw that she hadn't yet pinned it up. He met her gaze again, arching his eyebrows playfully. "You're not even ready to go."
She smiled sheepishly. "I had to check on Derek. It won't take me long to finish."
He smiled and kissed her again, gently brushing her cheek with his fingers as she stepped back again.
"You worry too much," he told her softly. "I'll wait here, you go get ready."
Smiling as she nodded, she squeezed his hand and returned to the room's large closet, tugging at her dress train. He watched her for a few moments before he sat back down on the couch, sighing contentedly to himself in their bedroom, the largest and most luxurious in the stunning Rys'tihn Retreat.
The past six months had been both very frustrating but also rewarding at the same time. After being released from intense medical care on the city-planet, the trip from Coruscant to Paneau had been brutal on his frail system, resulting in several episodes where his heart completely stopped for a few minutes. With the help of a few nurses, Elena and Mand were able to keep him stable enough to make it home, but he wasn't far removed from death. Having been so weakened by the Huxnel's foul virus and its subsequent complications in the months following its remission, he was bound to have a difficult recovery. He just hadn't expected it to get so much worse before he got better.
He spent the first three months confined to bed, slowly working his strength back up. Eating solid food again had even been an obstacle; he struggled to keep anything other than water down for a number of weeks. Once he was able to eat, though, he steadily began improving. Daily exercises with the help of a team of trainers rebuilt his muscles to once again give him the strength to stand, and though they carefully monitored his heart at all times, he was finally able to move about the Rys'tihn Manor, his home he hadn't seen since he had been taken prisoner by the Huxnel almost a year prior. He wasn't nearly as physically fit as he had been before, but he was getting closer, and just thankful to still be alive, he could get through it.
His long recovery also afforded him the time to spend at home with his son Derek, watching him grow before his eyes. He hadn't even been conscious when Derek was born on Agamar, and the boy was more than a week old before he had met him. But finally able to participate in Derek's life, Koril reveled in every hour and kept him nearby as much as he could.
He had also tried to make up lost time with Elena, as well, amazed every day by her patience with him. She made sure he always had someone with him if she herself couldn't stay at his side, even going so far as to borrow his Edgepoints from their duties from time to time to keep him company. Medical staff was almost constantly on hand at her request, tending to him as he improved, so the Manor was rarely a quiet place during the day. Elena sometimes left to work with Paneau's teenaged king Verojec Banarecc when he needed advice, but she always returned at sundown in time to relax at dinner with him and with all their guests who had been visiting for the day. Without fail, she checked on him first, as though she were his nurse. She was his best friend, his staunchest supporter, the mother of his son...
And now, she was his wife.
At times, he still wasn't quite sure how he had ended up so fortunate after all that had happened to him over the past few years. With his father's death in the Dalon Palace collapse a year and a half ago, he became the last of the Rys'tihn Royal Family, but his troubles hadn't ended there. He then survived two bounty hunter attacks, but only just, thanks to the close proximity of a Jedi each time. Elena had first saved his life in the Dalon Council Hall, removing a deadly spear from his chest just after he had restored a Banarecc to the Crown, and it wouldn't be her last.
She again came to his aid a few weeks later when he had faced six Dark Jedi beside his friends Rech and Mand Natiyr. He had seen the confrontation in his dreams in the month leading up to it, and he had been positive he was seeing his death after suffering an intense Force Lightning attack, as a prophecy predicted the death of a Jedi. His Force-sensitivity, the reason he had been having the dreams in the first place, seemed to connect him to Elena in a way he couldn't yet understand. Perhaps as a result of their connection, he survived the assault with her timely arrival shortly after he had been injured.
Hardly three months after that, he had barely avoided another attack at the hands of the vile Huxnel that Paneau had faced years before. They wasted no time in capturing his friends, as well as his Tyro Ghost Heir and twin sister Deilia, forcing him to offer himself in exchange. Once they infected him with their torturous virus, he thought once again that he would lose the fight, even after being rescued months later. But his friends had done everything they could to save him, despite his own disillusionment. He hadn't realized it until later, but he had a constant vigil of Paneau, consisting of Royals, Royal Guard and Navy, and other well-wishers that stayed with him the entire time he had been recovering on Coruscant. And there had been so many of them that he couldn't even find them all to thank them personally. He had issued a broadcast to the Paneau as a whole, informing them of his state, his prognosis, and his intention to remain Head of Security with the king's permission. Of course Jec had agreed, only too happy to have his most trusted advisor back. Koril had only officially returned to his duties in the past week, but he was eager to get back to his office and resume working. His honeymoon with Elena would wait for a few months, but they at least had the rest of the night...
Though he knew Elena was just around the corner in the closet, he heard the soft whoosh of an opening door behind him. He quickly stood after hearing two whispering voices, and turning toward them in the dim room, he saw two people standing just inside the seldom-used door that lead to the Retreat's lower tunnels. Only a Rys'tihn Crest could open the door, and as he stepped closer, he recognized the blond woman as his twin sister and family Ghost Heir, Deilia, who smiled at him.
"Koril!" she greeted him happily as she embraced him tightly. "You look so good!"
Koril hugged her back, glad to see her, too. The last time he had seen her, she had been a captive of the Huxnel while also several months pregnant. As she stepped back, he looked over her slight frame with confusion, but glancing behind her at a familiar young man holding a quiet infant in his arms, he relaxed.
"So do you," he answered with a smile. She had only been a few weeks behind Elena with her child, and as he looked at the infant, he could see little difference in age from his own son Derek.
"I'm sorry I couldn't see you sooner," she said with a slight twinge of regret, "but I had to be sure you'd..."
"Survive," he finished for her, but his expression didn't change. As his family's Ghost Heir, Deilia had duties to the Known Heirs, protecting them when they were most vulnerable, or in his case, taking over the family if the last remaining Known Heir died. She was his twin sister, so even though he hadn't grown up with her or even known about her until a year ago, they shared a special bond, and he understood and respected her role in the Rys'tihn Royal Family.
Deilia smiled. "And you did, so here I am, getting to congratulate my big brother on his wedding day. Where's your new bride?"
"Right here," Elena said as she curiously stepped around the corner. She hadn't yet finished with her dress, but she didn't seem bothered by the interruption. She smiled broadly at the infant, and as she stepped towards them, Deilia continued her introductions.
"Koril, Elena, this is Jorro. He's also a Ghost Heir."
Jorro nodded with a familiar, awkward smile as he gently rocked the baby in his arms. "I imagine you probably don't have to guess which family I belong to."
Koril had already speculated about him after studying his unmistakable Ot'rio face, and beside him, Elena laughed. "We won't tell anyone."
Appreciatively, Jorro nodded again, and as Deilia carefully tugged the little one from his arms, he stepped back.
"And this," she concluded as she sat the infant upright in her arms and turned to face them again, "is our son, your new Ghost Heir, Malin Rys'tihn."
Uninterested in his aunt and uncle in front of him, the boy quickly gripped one of his mother's fingers in a slobbery hold. Intent on gnawing on it, he tucked his head, leaning his open mouth over her hand. Though Deilia tried to sit him back up, he stubbornly wouldn't budge, prompting Elena to reach out and rescue her, laughing as she sat him on her hip.
"He's adorable, Deilia," Koril laughed as he watched Elena with him. She bounced Malin at her side, making him squeal happily and momentarily forget his chewing mission.
Deilia smiled. "He has a few years before he's officially installed as the new Tyro Heir, but it'll be a quick transition. Cade already has his room picked out here."
"I'm sure he does," Koril answered with a playful eye roll. The little amount he had seen of his uncle and Master Ghost Heir Cade Rys'tihn easily indicated that he was not a patient man, but to be fair, none of the Rys'tihn men Koril had known in his life were: his father Merli'il, his grandfather Akan, his great-uncle Tormin... With the addition of Malin as Deilia's successor, Cade would soon be relieved of his Ghost Heir duties, free to live the remainder of his life on the well-fortified, remote Rys'tihn Retreat as he pleased. If only Koril knew how to better reward his dedicated, hardworking uncle...
Reaching out for her son, Deilia smiled at them both. "We shouldn't keep you much longer. Your party awaits." Elena handed Malin back over, but as they both were turning to leave, Koril stopped them briefly, looking at them with a sincere smile.
"Deilia, Jorro...thank you both for the work you did here."
Expectedly, they exchanged confused glances before returning to him. "We didn't do much."
Koril nodded. "But you did what was most important."
The interior of the Rys'tihn Retreat had been utterly ravaged in a fierce firefight between a dozen Huxnel agents and Cade, Deilia, and Elena's friend and fellow Jedi Kihara Marelleck just days before Koril would hand himself over to them willingly. The Huxnel had somehow disabled the perimeter defenses that allowed them into the Retreat in the first place, and after taking Deilia hostage, they had used her Crest to continue their assault into the Rys'tihn Manor as he and Elena slept. What Koril had found out after his recovery was that even though Jethro Trislena, a member of the Trislena Royal Family, had personally seen to the Retreat's restoration in time for Koril and Elena's wedding there, it was the Ghost Heirs who had completely reworked the Retreat's security systems. The doors and tunnels not only required a Rys'tihn Crest, but a palm read before entrance or exit. A sophisticated cam droid counted the number of beings it saw against the number of Crests it detected, and if the discrepancy was more than one or two, the doors would remain sealed. Koril couldn't have done more thorough upgrades himself.
Though her expression faltered briefly as she remembered her own involvement in the Retreat's damage, Deilia smiled again, nodding appreciatively. "You're welcome."
Behind her in Jorro's arms, Malin squealed and bounced, earning everyone's attention before Deilia spoke once more.
"Please extend our gratitude to your friend Rech again," she said kindly. "We owe him everything."
Koril smiled and nodded, and as Deilia and Jorro left with Malin still gleefully babbling down the hall, Elena tightly took hold of Koril's arm beside him, resting her head against his shoulder. He leaned over and kissed her gently at her temple, keeping his voice soft as he inclined his head to her.
"Let me help you finish getting ready."
Elena smiled as she looked up at him, and raising up on her tiptoes to kiss him, she enfolded her fingers with his, locking their hands together in her cool grip.
Okay, the fruit, the wine, the dinner trays...
"Mand," Rech caught her by her arm as she paced past the tables for the tenth time, "relax. The hands have everything under control."
Mand Natiyr gave her husband Rech a blank look. He was calm, but she couldn't understand why. There was still so much to do before Koril and Elena arrived...
"No," Rech tugged at her arm again, shoving a glass of wine into her hand before she could get away. "You're not working anymore. You're going to enjoy yourself, alright?"
Mand looked down at the glass numbly, hardly registering it sitting in her palm. Only after a few more moments did Rech realize his mistake.
"Oh!! It's not wine, love, it's ganta juice. Don't worry," he said with a grin, "no one will know the difference unless you tell them. Now, will you please relax?"
"The musicians, are they--"
"Ready and waiting in the hall next door."
"Have all the guests arrived? We didn't give them exact directions..."
"Mand!" Rech laughed. "I think everyone made it up the stairs from the foyer to this bright and lavishly decorated ballroom easily enough."
Finally recognizing the absurdity of her concerns, Mand laughed a little, too, and hung her head, leaning against Rech briefly as he wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "I'm sorry," she confessed with blushing cheeks. "I just wanted everything to go well."
"Right now, you're the only thing that's not going well. You had six whole months to plan it all down to the number of ice cubes in each glass... But honestly, I really don't think Elena's going to notice as much as you think she will. So long as this place remains standing, I think it'll be a memorable night."
Looking out at all the guests who were mingling pleasantly and already enjoying themselves while they waited for the new couple to arrive, Mand sighed wistfully, sipping at her glass of ganta juice. "I was hoping it would be as wonderful as ours..."
Rech arched an eyebrow at her curiously. "Ours was arranged by Tascit, and I can guarantee you that she had no less than fifteen staff members working on it at any given time. This one was just you." He paused briefly, grasping her hand gently as he turned to face her, his voice just barely heard over the dull roar of the crowd. "But it's beautiful, Mand. Everything's...personal, intimate... This will be a special day, too, for all of us."
Humbly shaking her head to dismiss his praise, she leaned into him again, wrapping her arms tightly around him as he did the same around her. She could feel him extending his peaceful thoughts into hers through the Force, easily calming her racing mind. She hadn't been without him long after he had left on his healing mission in the Outer Rim, but working with him on Koril and Elena's wedding as Elena's Matron of Honor, Mand had been deeply reconnecting with Rech as they went along. She was constantly reminded of her own wedding, and while her friends' wedding couldn't be in the same mystical Crystal Room that had been a part of the Dalon Palace destroyed a year and a half ago, she wanted to create the same kinds of memories she still cherished.
"So," Rech whispered softly as he still held tight to her, "are you going to tell her?"
Mand shook her head. "No, not tonight."
"Why not? I'm sure she'll be thrilled."
But again, she shook her head, looking up at him with a tired smile. "It's okay, it can wait one more day. Besides," she said as she looked out to the crowd again, "this is their night. I don't want to--"
Surprising her, Rech began planting soft kisses down the side of her neck, making her laugh. "Okay, okay, okay!" As he released her and looked at her properly, she offered her surrender.
He gave her an expectant look, forcing her to continue. "...morning." Again. "...first thing?"
Finally appeased, he laughed and kissed her, and though he beamed with elation and looked as though he could announce it to the entire ballroom at that moment, a ringing bell caught everyone's attention at the top of the stairs that came from the Retreat's upper level bedrooms. Two Royal Navy officers stood at attention facing the crowd, and one spoke up in a commanding voice.
"Honored guests, members of Paneau's Royal Families, and Your Highness, King Verojec Banarecc, it is my honor to present to you, Mr. and Mrs. Koril Rys'tihn!"
Cheers and clapping greeted Koril and Elena as they made their way down the staircase, both sporting euphoric smiles while meeting their first round of friends on their way into the hall. Knowing it would be several minutes before they made it over to their table to their drinks, Mand downed the rest of her ganta juice and set her empty glass down, replacing it with two full glasses of wine to take to the newlyweds.