"You may kiss the bride."
The words had been echoing through Luke's head for hours—ever since he'd heard them aloud and promptly acted on them. He kept feeling like he needed to pinch himself to be sure he wasn't dreaming.
Luke jumped slightly as slim fingers pinched him lightly on the cheek, followed by a soft kiss on the same spot.
"You're not dreaming," the newly sanctioned Mara Jade Skywalker assured him as she slipped into the seat next to him.
"It's not nice to hide your presence from the man you love," Luke chastised, his smile betraying his amusement.
"What, no comeback to stay out of your mind?"
"You can be in my mind all you want." He gratefully took a long gulp from the glass of refreshment she set in front of him, then looked at it in wonder. "I see you found a punch fountain that Wes and Hobbie haven't spiked yet."
"You sound disappointed."
"Of course not." Luke put on his best affronted look. "I just didn't know this reception business would last so late."
"We could leave anytime, I suppose." Her chin resting in her hand, Mara sported an expression that could only be described as hopeful.
"There're too many people we promised dances to."
"They'll get over it."
Luke grimaced as he gazed out into the room. "I don't think Leia would."
"You haven't danced with her yet?"
"She's been too busy, running this extravaganza," Luke replied, shaking his head.
"She has been a wonder, working herself tirelessly to keep everything organized," Mara said, lightly fingering the delicate flowers at her shoulder.
"Leia likes you. She was thrilled that we accepted her offer to help."
"She has become a good friend. Better than I ever imagined."
Setting his empty glass on the table, Luke reached over and clasped Mara's hand. "Leia was...amazed...that you kept the secret of our engagement all those months."
Mara cocked an eyebrow in skepticism. "Amazed? Or ready to blast me?"
"She understood. Eventually."
"Yes, I know." Mara's discerning gaze fell on a couple waltzing not far from their table. "Do you think that Chagian senator has any idea he's dancing with an HRD?"
"Probably not, and I hope no one tells him."
"At least she's back to looking like her old self, more or less," Mara commented. "Even if that means she's still a real knock-out."
Luke smiled at Mara's apparently envious statement, for he knew she was anything but. "Guri told me earlier that Madam Buaran sold the repulsor factories and moved back to Chandrila."
"I wish her the best. She didn't deserve that monster of a husband."
"Not everyone can be as lucky as you, dear."
"Lucky? I earned every kilogram of you."
They continued to watch Guri until Threepio clomped across the crowded dance floor and tapped the senator on the shoulder. He listened to the protocol droid's message, then frowned and left. Threepio stared at Guri a moment before turning and retreating to his station near the door.
Luke looked aside as Mara started laughing.
"For one insane moment there, I thought Threepio was trying to cut in."
Luke picked up Mara's empty glass, sniffing the inside. "Have you been hitting the hard stuff?"
"Without sharing with you? Never." Mara gazed out over the crowd, then chuckled wryly. "Oh, oh. Here's come trouble."
Luke scooted his chair back, then wrapped one arm around his niece as she sidled up next to him.
"Hi, Jaina," he said. "You know, I think you look prettier tonight than you did at Lando's wedding."
Jaina fingered the pleats in her pink satin dress. "Daddy says I look like a princess. He said I was even prettier than momma."
"I think he may be right." Luke pretended to peer around the crowd. "But let's not tell your mother that," he added in a conspiratorial whisper.
"Aunt Mara looks the prettiest of everybody," Jaina said, gazing with affection toward her new aunt.
"Yes, she does," Luke agreed. "How do you think I got so fortunate, marrying the most beautiful woman in the galaxy?"
"Uh, you were just lucky?" Jaina frowned when her aunt and uncle exchanged snickers. "Are you still gonna dance with me, Uncle Luke?"
"In a little while, Jaina. I have to rest first."
"Okay." Jaina's mouth puckered as a figure approached slowly. "Here comes Jacen. He wants to dance with you, Aunt Mara. But he's scared to ask you."
Jacen was soon standing across the table from them, fidgeting nervously on the balls of his feet.
"Hello, Jacen," Mara took the initiative. "Are you saving me one dance for later?"
Jacen's brown eyes grew wide. "Really? Yeah. I mean, yes, ma'am. Aunt Mara. I'd like that."
"So what have you guys been up to all evening? Are you getting bored yet?"
"No. We've been playing with Valin and Syal and Myri." Jacen grinned. "Anakin has been floating a spoonful of camem-cheese dip around people, to see who'll notice. The girls think it's funny, but Valin is just mad 'cause he can't do it."
"I told him that you said we shouldn't use the Force to play tricks on people, but he wouldn't stop," Jaina said.
Luke held back a chuckle. "Maybe I'll overlook it tonight." He did his best to adopt a stern look. "As long as you don't bother people, or make a mess."
"Well, a little dip did get on the back of Admiral Ackbar's uniform, but I don't think he knows it yet."
Mara was holding one hand over her mouth, trying not to laugh.
Jacen looked over his shoulder. "I see Anakin's spoon floating by Mon Mothma. We'd better go stop him."
"Yes, I think you'd better," Luke agreed, releasing Jaina as she ran off with her twin.
As soon as they were gone, Mara let her laughter escape. "Stars, Luke. Do you think we should tell Ackbar?"
"You mean as practice for when we have children that pull tricks like that?"
"Our children will be perfectly behaved."
"Yes, dear. And krayt dragons make good house pets."
Mara swatted at him lightly, then entwined their hands once more, leaning back to again survey their guests. It wasn't long before a cool blue glance caught her eye. She smiled warmly when Talon Karrde strode forward and leaned down to kiss her cheek. "Have I told you how lovely you look today, Mara?"
"You might've mentioned it," Mara returned coolly. "But I don't mind hearing it again."
Talon nodded genially, then took a seat. "And congratulations once more to you, Luke. Though I can't say I appreciate your taking my best associate."
"You seem to have compiled a long list of duties for her before you let her escape."
"Can I help it she's so capable?"
"Speaking of capable, we appreciate all you did to apprehend those troublemakers," Mara said.
"You ignited my suspicions when you stopped that former Imperial guardsman at the dressmaker's, Mara. I merely followed through and caught the rest of them. It was Luke here who convinced their ringleader of the errors of his ways."
"He does have a knack for that," Mara returned, squeezing Luke's hand. "I'm just glad that whole business was stopped before today. It would've been messy if that bunch had crashed the ceremony."
"From what we've been able to extract from them," Talon said, "there were originally twice that many involved in their plot, but the intervening months since the peace treaty served to cool the ardor of several of them."
"So, one good thing came of Luke's forgetfulness."
Luke shrugged nonchalantly. He was past the point of regretting his amnesia, feeling now that everything happens for a reason. "The Force works in mysterious ways."
"Now, don't you forget that you promised me a dance tonight, Mara." Talon bowed graciously, then strode smoothly back to his seat next to Shada D'ukal. Luke privately wondered if there might be another wedding waiting sometime in the future. Mara was of the opinion that Karrde would never settle down with a spouse, but how many people had said the same thing about her?
Catching his thoughts, Mara murmured into his ear, "Care to place a wager?"
"I'd never bet against a lady," Luke avowed, trying to look offended at the suggestion, and no doubt failing miserably.
"Spoilsport." Mara relaxed back into her chair, picking out all the expectant faces of their next dance partners. "We're never getting out of here."
"Should I lend you some of that farmboy optimism you're always kidding me about?"
"You may have to." Mara jerked her head up as a tall shadow crossed her face.
"Rrrowarr," Chewbacca rumbled, holding up a heaping plate of food.
"You can thank Han for making sure there was Wookiee fare on the buffet," Luke answered.
Chewie grunted again, and Luke translated for Mara. "He says he didn't think I'd ever get bonded." He paused, listening to the rest of the Wookiee's chortle. "But better late than never."
Mara laughed. "Don't you know it, Chewie. It took me a long time to get him here, but he's worth it."
His expressive eyes lighting up with mirth, Chewie howled in agreement before lumbering off.
"At least Chewie didn't ask me for a dance."
"I could call him back."
Mara managed to level her familiar 'Don't you dare' glare just before the next guest in the revolving wheel of visitors appeared. "Oh, no," she groaned.
"What a vision of radiance." Lando Calrissian took Mara's hand from Luke's grasp, urbanely brushing it with his lips.
"I already danced with you, Lando." Mara pulled her hand back and crossed her arms. "Twice."
"And enchanting dances they were, too," Lando returned, smoothing his moustache. "No, Tendra and I..." Lando paused, looking behind him, then beaming as his own wife approached. His velour cape fell back in gently overlapping folds as he gallantly took her arm. "We have an early morning business meeting—"
"And Lando does need his beauty sleep," Tendra teased, patting his hand affectionately.
Lando's deep laugh was honest and tender. Married life agreed with him, Luke decided. "So we've come to bid our farewells, and to again offer our most sincere congratulations."
"You're leaving already?" Mara sat up a little straighter, glancing at Luke. "Why can't we leave?"
"Uh, because we have obligations?"
"Yeah, they have to sweep the floor after the last guest leaves," a droll voice interjected.
Luke peered around the Calrissians to see Han sauntering their way.
"Oh, Han," Tendra admonished. "These two look so tired, they might believe such nonsense."
"Who says it's nonsense?" Han waved one hand across the ballroom. "This blowout cost so much, I don't think we have enough leftover to hire cleaning droids."
"Take it out of my dowry," Mara countered. She and Luke rose in unison. "Lando and Tendra were just saying good-bye." She embraced Tendra as Luke was receiving a hearty pat on the back from Lando.
Luke felt relaxed as the two couples exchanged hugs. The cessation of his amnesia brought the return of memories such as his brief spike of jealousy of his longtime friend. But that jealous outburst in the caves of Nirauan had disappeared as fast as it had surfaced, and Luke knew it would never rear its ugly head again. The bond that he and Mara shared was absolute; their love was untouchable. There would never be any room for envy or mistrust.
"Take care of this ol' pirate," Han directed Tendra as he relayed his own good-night.
"Don't worry, she does," Lando put in, wrapping one arm around his wife. "Luke and Mara, it's great to see you join the ranks of us happily married folk." As he and Tendra began walking toward the exit, he added, "Even if you did manage to put on an even bigger bash than we did."
With the top two buttons of his starched shirt open and his tie hanging loosely around his neck, Han plopped into an empty seat across from the newlyweds. "Ah, the happy couple. I can't believe you two haven't skedaddled away from here by now."
"Do Luke and I look like 'skedaddlers' to you?"
"Tonight you do, Jade." Han reached back and plucked a glass of bubbly intoxicant from a passing waiter. "Leia and I were afraid you'd bolt before we could get our promised dances."
"That's Jade Skywalker," Luke interjected before Mara could, sending a mental wink her way. "And if Leia doesn't hurry up and get over here, we still may."
"Hey, Princess!" Han yelled over his shoulder. Luke winced as nearby guests all openly stared.
"These two are anxious to begin the honeymoon," Han drawled to Leia as she hurried over—more to quiet her husband than anything else. "So if you want to spend any quality time with your brother out on the dance floor, you'd better get a move on."
"We didn't say—" Mara began, until Luke cut her off.
"That's right," he said, pulling Mara up with him. "We have a nice private suite awaiting us at an undisclosed, out-of-the-way location, and we can't wait to get there."
"I know," Leia said with a frown. "So undisclosed, you won't even tell us where it is."
"Sorry, sis." Luke gave a pointed glance toward a gaggle of flashing holocameras. "But the walls may have ears."
"It's bad enough you know where we're going for our honeymoon trip," Mara added.
"Only because that fancy new ship of yours isn't quite ready, and you had to relent into letting me give you a ride there," Han said, rising and holding out an elbow to his new sister-in-law. "And don't think I'm not half-expecting you to send word in the morning that you have a change of plans, and have skipped the planet on your own to the opposite side of the galaxy."
Mara laid one hand on Han's shoulder as he led them in a waltz. "And deny you the pleasure of all those pranks you no doubt have planted in our cabin on the Falcon?"
"Who, me?" Han grinned. "You think I could hope to surprise a pair of love-addled Jedi?"
"In a heartbeat." Mara gazed over to where Luke and Leia were dancing. "By the way, Han, thanks for your support while Luke was...well, not himself. I know I wasn't exactly as forthcoming as I could've been."
"I think I had the advantage in suspecting there was more than met the eye with you two long before the accident."
"Yes, so Talon informed me."
Han raised an eyebrow in disbelief. "Voluntarily? Or did you squeeze it out of him?"
Han gave a throaty laugh. "I think we're going to get along just fine, Mrs. Skywalker." He smoothly whirled Mara in a fancy move that surprised her. "Who knew those twins would both pick such charming scoundrels to marry?"
"The wedding, the reception—everything has been perfect, Leia." Luke led them in the intricate steps of an Alderaanian waltz, thankful that Leia had given him lessons long ago. "Though earlier I did overhear Threepio suggest that Artoo should be helping to serve drinks."
"Like on Jabba's sail barge?"
"Ah, so that's where Threepio got the idea. I wondered why Artoo was warbling so loudly when he vetoed it." Luke chuckled softly to himself, listening to the music's lilting strains. He could feel Leia's love shining in her dark brown eyes. "Thank you so much for all your hard work. We'll never be able to repay you."
"Don't even speak such nonsense. You know I'd do anything for the two of you," Leia returned. "Anyway, somehow I think you and Mara enjoyed the Jedi ceremony more."
"We enjoyed them both, really. The Jedi one was just more...quiet, and private."
Leia gave Luke that little grin that always told him she was kidding. Mostly. "I don't think I've ever seen you this content, brother," she continued, her tone turning pensive.
Luke smiled down at his beloved sister. "Probably because I've never been this content."
"The smartest thing I've ever done was to marry Han," Leia said, gazing across the floor at her husband. "Though some would say the most foolish."
"Not anyone that matters," Luke assured her.
"Luke, the best thing I can wish for you is that you'll be as happy with Mara as I am with Han."
"I will," he returned, his voice strong with conviction. He angled them close to where Han and Mara were dancing, then made it known that it was time to switch partners. Luke winked at his sister as he clutched Mara close, his hand curling around her slim waist. "I will," he repeated in a near whisper.
Mara had been a pillar of strength during his long illness. She'd protected him, taught him, and loved him. She'd preserved their bond when he didn't know it existed. Now it was time to shoulder his share of the responsibility. Time for his voice to also be heard when meeting the challenges that the galaxy would throw at them. His turn to help lead the way into the destiny of all their tomorrows. But this was not a debt that he needed to repay, for Mara would upbraid him relentlessly if he'd dare to think of their life in terms of liabilities and balances. They were one, united in breath and soul and love. They would always be so.
He and Mara didn't know exactly what the future held for them. No Jedi Master, least of all himself, had ever been that omniscient. The Force was simply telling him that at this moment in time, in this action in his life, all was right.
Luke didn't care who was staring or clapping or whistling. He cupped Mara's beautiful face, leaned down...
And then he kissed the bride.
Thanks to everyone for reading! I hope you enjoyed this latest product of my overly romantic imagination. The wedding reception was based on Dark Horse's Union comics, with minor adjustments attributed to Luke's long illness.
And a special thanks to all my faithful reviewers. Remember, if you log in to review, I'll send you a personal reply.