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Out of Darkness

"Callie sneaks off to the library"
Luke would be still asleep. Callista knew he would be, when she had risen in the early morning hours and heard no tell-tale rustling from his door when she walked past his room to make her way back to the empty, waiting library. She had been careful to make as little noise as possible as she maneuvered around the furniture in the darkness, hoping she wouldn't frighten the two droids that had stationed themselves in the nearby alcove.

She didn't want Luke to know that she was awake now, that all through the evening she had been plagued with dreams that had kept her from surrendering to deep sleep. Thoughts had swirled randomly in her head in her semi-lucid state: half-answered questions, and even more questions arising from those. In her mind she went over Leia's discovery again and again, and their subsequent failure to find something--anything--to follow it. that had stationed themselves in the nearby alcove.

And each time she had come close the border of consciousness and dream, she saw him--Darth Rath. The pale, colorless eyes that had looked into hers, blind but still seeing through her, haunted her once more. She knew then, with every instinct in her, that time wouldn't wait for him. The answers had to be found now. that had stationed themselves in the nearby alcove.

The darkness of the archives had never scared her--not now, not then. that had stationed themselves in the nearby alcove.

When she entered the lightless library and heard the familiar echo of her footsteps on the cold floor, the memories came rushing back. She remembered the nights she had stolen away to the library just as she did now, when she had left Luke's side as he slept in their bed to pour over old records in search of the answers to her missing powers. In the mornings when he would wake, she would be back in his arms again, and he would never know she had gone to spend night after lonely night among the books. Each night she would promise herself that she would stay with him all night--that she would forsake the ever-fruitless search and just let him hold her until morning came. that had stationed themselves in the nearby alcove.

But something had always pulled her out of the safety of his arms, into the unknown of what awaited her here. Just as it called her here again tonight.

"Luke's dream"

Luke hadn't known he was dreaming until he woke much later.

And when he did, he wondered why he hadn't known it far sooner--why he hadn't felt it somehow in the bizarre, out-of-place images, in the things that transpired that never would have taken place in the reality that he knew. He wondered how he failed to sense it from the hollow drumbeat of his chest, the steady ache in his bones, the cold sweat that had formed on his skin and evaporated almost instantaneously into the grim air.

He should have guessed from the beginning that all of it--all he was about to witness and experience--was wrong. Very wrong.

But perhaps, he would come to think later, he hadn't really wanted to believe that it was. Perhaps it had been easier for him to be deluded by the false images, and, in some strange and frightening way, to allow himself to be swayed by them.

The dream started the same way all the others had. He had lived through it so many nights--over and over again in the past few weeks--that by now he knew every detail of it by heart, as if it had been meticulously scripted by an inner instinct he could not name. First came the familiar darkness that fell on him, a thick darkness that enveloped him in its sheath but held no warmth or comfort, only a danger he could not pinpoint. Then, as before, came the images. Slowly they appeared, materializing one at a time out of the matte blackness as if conjured up by some unknown and unseen magic.

He saw his own arms and legs, fighting to touch something solid; the bed of dirt and gravel underneath his boots; the rings of smoke which formed wherever he breathed.

And Callista. Again, he saw Callista.

Though he had dreamt this nightmare far too many times over the past few weeks, none of the images had grown any clearer with time, nor had they revealed any further clues that his Jedi instincts might have recognized. The visions had remained, Luke thought in frustration, as hazy and ambiguous as ever. Except for one. One image remained sharp and focused above all the rest: Callista. When all other gossamer, elusive remnants had long since fled into oblivion in the light of day, the sound of her husky voice, the saltwater fragrance of her, the silhouette of her sleek figure stayed with him through the waking hours--burned in his every conscious thought.

Making him hurt with missing her, wanting her. Making him quake with fear in the knowledge that he might lose her at any moment.

He should have known it then, when the darkness finally gave way to the vivid image of her, that everything he was about to witness would not--could not--be real.

Her smile had been different. That much he noticed right away, and in retrospect it should have been the telling sign, though it somehow eluded him. Or let it elude him. He felt no fear in her either--none of the breathless, choking fright he had sensed in previous dreams, that had poisoned the air between them with its intensity. She was, he came to realize, free of the tension and doubt that had paralyzed her before, but there was an air of indifference in their place, something that told him that the person who stood before him was not the lover he knew.

Even her voice was different when she spoke.

"It's over, Luke," she said. The voice was startlingly smooth like honey, absent of the slight roughness that marked it as her own. It was the same pitch and timbre as the voice he knew so well, but somehow much too sweet, too cocky, too sure of itself. She smiled at him again, sending a flood of adrenaline through his bloodstream--though he didn't know whether lust or fear had sent it. "There's nothing to be afraid of anymore. I'm free... Finally free..."

The words sounded strangely false. They should have sent his heart soaring; he'd wanted nothing more in the last six years than to hear them--and he would have taken her in his arms and flung her around with joy had something about them, something he could not put a finger on, not chilled his skin.

He remained standing in his spot, unable to bring himself to move closer to her, but unable to take his eyes off her either.

As if suddenly aware of the silence between them, she cocked her head, for a moment looking like a frightened child again, one who expected reproach of some kind but was unaware of what she had done wrong. "Luke," she said, her voice almost--but not quite--returning to its familiar self when she spoke his name, "what is it?"

He shook his head, confused, dazed, not knowing anymore what senses he could trust--if he could trust any of them at all. "I... I don't know..."

But he knew. Of course he knew. He just didn't want to admit it to her--or to himself.

She stood before him now, having floated effortlessly to him without him even realizing it. The sound of his staccato breath made him all too aware of his body's natural reaction to her proximity. He didn't resist when she came up to him and laid her forehead on his shoulder, as she always did when he held her. He felt the hot air from her mouth on his collarbone and on instinct, he pressed his hand on the small of her back to draw her to him.

He hovered somewhere between conscious will and human impulse, not sure if he was even trying to choose between one or the other. Not sure of anything at the moment, really--other than the warm sea-scent of her thick hair, and the velvet feel of her skin on his. "Callie," he said, letting the words tumble from his tongue of their own will, "this... isn't you..." And even as he said it, he wondered why, in spite of the truth that stared him in the face, he found himself still holding on to her, as if letting go meant losing the most precious thing in life. "What's happening?"

She eased herself off him to look at him. Half-amused, she gave him a smile and tilted her head, and his eye followed the stray lock of hair that fell from her loose braid and grazed her jaw seductively.

He felt even more vulnerable to her spell--as if that were possible.

"Can't you feel it?" she said, her voice thick with triumph.

Yes, his mind answered without hesitation.

"My powers are back, Luke... I finally have them back..."

No... No, Callista, don't let it fool you...

At once he remembered another moment when he had felt her powers as well--a dream, perhaps? Yes, that first dream of her, when he had felt her immeasurable joy at having felt his presence... But this was different, for what he felt in her was the dark side--a ribbon of darkness that had entrenched itself into her soul.

A frightening surge of power in her that had all but overpowered the light.

It took a herculean effort to fight his growing intoxication, and he wasn't even sure he had succeeded. "Callie," he said, knowing somewhere in the forgotten corners of his mind that he needed to tell her this, "it isn't what you think... Don't..."

"Don't what?"

Her eyes darkened to a stormy gray and she tore herself from him, like a bandage ripped off a fresh wound, and he drew his arms up instinctively to reach for hers again. "Don't grab the chance to reclaim the part of myself that was stolen from me?" Tears formed in her eyes, kept from spilling only by her diamond-hard defiance, and she shook with every breath she took in. "You don't know, Luke," she said, surprisingly without bitterness or emotion--with nothing but the resigned tone of truth. "You don't know the emptiness I've felt the last six years."

"I do-"

"No," she said, "you don't." This time the pain surfaced in her voice, and she lowered her gaze for a moment before returning her eyes to his. "I know how hard you tried to understand me. Force knows how I loved you so for trying. But you can't, Luke. You can't know. And I pray every day that you never will know the hell I've been in."

The hardness of her eyes scared him. It was a desperation he did not recognize, one he'd never seen in her even in her darkest of moments--not even in the nights when he'd felt her silent tears on his chest when she couldn't sleep, when he felt the tension in all her muscles as she fought to keep herself from trembling so he wouldn't know that she was crying, and all he could do was sling his arm around her protectively and hold her till she fell asleep. Not even then did he remember this kind of despair in her.

Softly he said, "You told me once that the dark was never the key to the light. Do you remember that?"

Please remember that, he thought.

She took her eyes away from him and gave no answer. And though he felt something stir in her, he saw the armor was still intact.

At last she said without apology, "I did it for you."

He stared blankly at her--knowing what she meant, but unable to believe she was actually saying it. "I never would have asked you to-"

"I know you wouldn't have asked," she said. "But you and I both know the only way we could ever be together again was if I could be whole again. This is the only way I'll ever be whole again, Luke. We both know that. We've always known it. We were just too damn afraid to admit it to ourselves."

He shook his head. No... There had to have been another way... There had to...

"There was no other way, Luke..."

She came up to him again, sliding her arms up his chest and around his neck. He closed his eyes, letting the heat of her enter his pores. "But it's over now," she whispered, and once again pressed her cheek on his shoulder. "I stopped resisting. And we can finally be together, my love."

Her voice made him dizzy, brought out every primal instinct in him. "Callie, we could have found another way... You didn't have to do this..." He was aware of his voice trailing, aware of the words evaporating from his mind, and as the promise of her skin tempted him, he knew his resolve was slowly crumbling into nothingness.

"Join me," she whispered.

He had heard the same invitation before--from a father to his orphan son, whose childhood fantasies and dreams had just been torn asunder with one revelation. And yet he had managed to resist the temptation then.

So why was it so damned hard to resist now?

"It's not so bad," she said, as if trying to convince herself as well. "The masters... They didn't know... They were afraid of it because they didn't know it. But you won't lose anything, Luke. Everything you think you'll lose in the light, you will gain in the dark. I promise..."

Once you start down the dark path...

Callista's voice drowned out Yoda's. Drowned out Ben's. Drowned out his father's.

Join me, my love... We deserve it... We deserve to take back what was stolen from us...

She pulled his face towards hers, and what little resolve he had left melted away in that instant.

He kissed her lips voraciously, taking her in like a man taking in water who had gone weeks in the desert without a single drop. He felt the fire underneath her skin, underneath his--they had fused into one and he could no longer distinguish between her flesh and his own--and he pressed himself against her, as if it were impossible for the space between them to be small enough. Drowning in desire, he had abandoned all rational thinking. He didn't care anymore. Didn't care about the swamps of Dagobah, where he had vowed to serve the light forever; the fierce winds that whipped his hair at Bespin, where he had chosen death rather than joining Vader; the cold gray of the Death Star where he had stood in defiance against the Emperor.

Never... I'll never turn to the dark side...

The taste of her lips was far too intoxicating for him to turn back now.

The buzz in his head was far too overpowering.

The light will never complete you... It is the dark side that will fill you...

Abruptly, she broke off the kiss, an umbilical chord suddenly severed, and she pushed him off her with a force that shocked the both of them.

"Cal..." He drew her once more to him, the response of a man whose precious oxygen had been cut off, but before their mouths could touch she pulled away once more.

"No," she cried, shaking her head over and over. The grief he saw in her eyes was almost unbearable, but he forced himself to ignore it. "I can't, Luke... I won't... do this to you..."

He forced himself to ignore her words as well. He needed her. Needed to touch her. Needed the feel of her next to him.

And he didn't care that he was losing himself.

"You were right," he said, hearing the desperation in his voice, but feeling no fear from it whatsoever. He was too drunk with wanting her. "This was the only way... What did obeying the light matter if we couldn't be together, Callista? What good did it do us but to keep us apart all these years? I'll give it up, all of it. I will give it up for you..."

"No... No, Luke..."

She trembled before him, shivering violently like an addict in withdrawal.

"Go," she said, trying to step back from him, but neither of them able to release each other's hold. "It's too late for me, Luke. Save yourself... Go..."

"I don't care about any of it," he whispered in her mouth. "None of it, do you hear me? Damn the light side! It cost me you... You were right... Please... Callista..."

Give in to the dark side... It is the only way to what you desire...

"I will not... do this to you... I will not..." She pounded her fists at his chest, but he refused to walk away from her. "Save yourself... Save yourself..."

When he opened his eyes to the darkness of his room, it was the first time he realized that he had been dreaming. And for some reason, it didn't surprise him at all that Callista would be sitting at the edge of his bed when he woke up.

"Thank the Force," she whispered, and the sound of her voice--her true voice, not the manufactured one of his dream--instantly made him sigh in relief. "I didn't think you'd ever wake... I've been trying to get you to open your eyes for the last half hour, Luke. You had me scared..."

He groaned softly, running a hand through his sleep-tousled hair. "What... happened?"

As if suddenly self-conscious of where she had been sitting--she'd been so close to him that he could hear her uneven breath--she stood and nervously folded her arms across her chest. "I'm not sure," she said. "I'm not sure how I..."

He looked up at her as her words trailed off.

"I heard you..."

His lips formed a chagrined smile. "It's a wonder I didn't wake the entire Academy," he muttered. "If you could her me all the way in the guest room, then-"

"No," she said, "I... You didn't make a noise--Threepio and Artoo would have been in here in a second if you had..."

"Then how..." He saw her move slightly, the light from the moons outside catching her face as she turned her head away from him. "Callista," he said, "did you hear me through the Force?"

"I... think so... I don't know, exactly... All I know is, I woke up all of the sudden and I knew I had to come in here to see if you were all right."

Gently, so as not to alarm her, he got to his feet. "What did you hear?"

"I didn't hear words, exactly," she stammered. "More like... sensations... I felt... that there was something bad. I knew you were dreaming something bad." He saw her drop her shoulders, then look at him again. "What was it, Luke? Was it another premonition about me?"

He knew she noticed his hesitation.

"Something's going to happen to me... isn't it?"

Luke's voice was hoarse when he answered her. "Not if I can help it."

She sighed after a few moments and much to his surprise, gently touched his arm. "Luke, I need to know. What happened to me?"

He let out a deep breath and thought for a moment about holding her--he knew she would need bracing once she heard this--but wondered if the gesture would overwhelm her, and in the end, he decided to let her reach for him if she needed to.

"Callista, none of this is set in stone yet... Yoda always told me that the future is clouded, always in motion-"

"Please," she said, "just tell me. You don't have to protect me."

She was right--he couldn't keep this from her forever.

"The dark side is strong... We both know that... It's not easy to resist if you don't fight it with everything in you."

Confusion fell on her, her brow knitted together, eyes shut momentarily before she opened them again, wide with understanding. "What are you saying..."

Something in him wanted to forget about the dream altogether, to make her believe it never happened. "I saw you, Callista... I saw you succumb to the dark side..." He sighed and turned away from her, not wanting him to see the look on his face, for he knew that the pain of remembering would be etched on it. "I saw both of us succumb to it, though in the end, you tried to get me to turn away."

She was silent for a few moments. When he turned to face her again, he saw that she had been crying soundlessly, pearls of tears rolling unimpeded down her cheeks--silver tears in the glow of the moonlight that streaked across her face. She looked, he realized, exactly the way she had in his dream aboard the Eye, when he had seen her in the gunroom, and she'd just learned of Geith's betrayal. He remembered the quiet strength she had displayed, apparent even through the bitter tears she had shed. Apparent even now, as she struggled to take in the harsh words he had just uttered.

He reached for her, but she refused his touch and shook her head.

"I know you," he said. "I know won't let this happen. You're stronger than that--you will resist it, but you have to be aware now. You will be vulnerable to it...

An eternity passed before she raised her head to look up at him again. "I almost took you with me," she said, her voice shaking. "Stars, I almost ruined you too."

Luke shook his head and started to say something, until he saw her open her mouth to speak once more.

"That," she said, "is exactly what I've been afraid of."

When he saw the anguish in her eyes, he understood for the first time what she meant.

"That's why I left, Luke. And that's why I've stayed away."


"You've never called me that before," she said, gray eyes lit with genuine surprise.

It was first time Luke realized what he had just said--it had felt so natural to him that he hadn't even thought about it. "That's what I call you in my dreams," he told her. The astonishment on her face made him smile.

"You dream of me?"

Luke nodded. "Every night."

She took her eyes away from him, shame darkening her features as she looked to the ground. "After the way I hurt you," she stammered, "I... wouldn't have blamed you if you found someone else..."

"There could never be anyone else, Callie..."

He watched her blush a deep crimson, then look up to meet his gaze and give him a teasing smile. "I wondered sometimes," she began, a hint of mischief in her voice, "The galaxy's most eligible bachelor..."

Luke joined in her soft laughter, for a minute transported to a time long gone, when they had shared carefree moments such as this.

It felt so good to hear her laughing again. The years had been hard on her, leaving their mark in her step, in the way she moved and looked in his eyes--or didn't. They had worn her down, stripping away the playful, spontaneous spirit that had once been her very essence. But here and now--with him--the light that had always been in her began to break through once again.

He returned her smile. "None of them were my type," he teased, hoping to keep her spirits light. "You actually thought that I... That I could ever forget about you?"

She tore her eyes away from him again--a little more quickly this time, as if she didn't want him to see the look on her face. For a long time, she was quiet, then at last she said softly, "I didn't know what to believe, Luke."

Gently, unsure of how she would react to his touch, he raised her chin with his hand. "Believe this," he whispered. "It was always you. Nobody else ever stood a chance because it was always you..."

After a moment, he took his hand away, not sure if she would shrink away from him.

And then the words he had fought to bury deep finally rose to the surface, taking him by surprise.

"But you left." The remorse and resentment he heard in his own voice almost frightened him. "You ran away and gave up on us."

He saw her take a step back like a wounded animal, an animal that hadn't expected ambush. "That is not fair, Luke..." Her voice cracked with a rawness that scared him. Luke nearly flinched as he caught sight of the pain that flashed in her eyes, before she turned away from him in that strong and defiant stance he had come to love. Willing herself not to cry.

He had hurt her.

The one person in the universe he'd never want to hurt, and he had done it.

"I'm... sorry... I-"

"I'm sorry too, Luke," she whispered, her back still turned to him. With each breath she took, she seemed to be fighting to keep herself from shaking. "I've had many regrets in my life. But leaving you was the biggest one I've ever had." He saw her shoulders drop with a heavy exhale, and she slowly came to face him, eyes brimming with unspeakable regret. "I thought you understood."

"I did," he said. "I... thought I did..." All these years he had defended her in his heart, when the unspoken words he'd seen in people's eyes made him wince... He had understood... Hadn't he?

The wound had run deep. Far deeper than he had ever thought.

He moved towards her gingerly, afraid that she would flee if he came too close. He drew one deep breath, then let it all out, along with the truth he had wanted to deny for so long. "Maybe I wanted to be angry at you for leaving because... I didn't want to face the possibility that maybe I pushed you away. That maybe you blamed me... for all of this."

"Is that what you thought?" She unfolded her arms and placed a hand on his arm, a delicate touch that made him feel more alive than he had remembered feeling in years. "What I said to you... That morning, after we found out I'd lost my powers... I was so lost, Luke. I was lost and confused, and I said things that I wish I could take back."

Slowly, hoping she wouldn't protest, he raised a hand to her cheek. She closed her eyes and brought her hand to rest on his.

"I don't blame you for this," she whispered. "I will never blame you." She took another deep breath and opened her eyes to look at him again. "I wanted to stay. More than you'll ever know. But I was scared..."

She broke free from his hold, and the wounded, anguished look in her eyes returned.

"Damn it, I'm still scared!" she said, tears threatening to spill at any moment. "How much would both of us have been willing to risk to be together, Luke? With the dark side taunting us?" She turned away from him again.

He wanted to give her an answer. Somehow there had to be one--some way to make her understand. But he knew she was right.

Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny...

And yet, he couldn't let go of the slim ray of hope. He said the only words he could think of.

"I love you." He had never wanted to hold her more than he did in that moment, but he held back and gave her space. "I can't give you the guarantee that you want, that you need... But I can love you."

She didn't say anything. In the silence he watched her, the sorrowful tilt of her head, sending a cascade of malt-brown curls brushing past her shoulder, the long, graceful limbs folded over in their grief. If he closed his eyes, he could easily drift back to another time and place, when he felt the warmth of her body next to his, the rising and sinking of her flesh as she drew each breath, the feeling of completeness that he had never felt before or after her... Nothing had ever felt so right as when she was in his arms on the terrible dreadnaught where their love was born.

He lay his hands on her shoulders. She didn't shrug them away, but instead turned to face him and brought her face up to his as he lowered his head and kissed her lips. "Callie," he whispered, a silent plea for her not to pull away from him now.

She kissed him back.

"Luke's proposal"

"Holding you in my arms last night, waiting for you to open your eyes... I don't think I've ever felt so alone in my life." He held her hand in his, and it felt warm--full of life and promise. He never wanted to let it go.

Callista began to straighten up in her bed. The pain must still be raging in her, thought Luke, as he helped her sit up. She leaned in closer to him, and he felt her warm, shallow breath on his face, the resistance from her slowly melting away as he gingerly reached up to frame her face in his hands. It felt so natural to hold her this way. It had felt that way from the moment he took her in his arms six years ago in the long-forgotten, abandoned corridors on the Eye; from the moment her flesh touched his and they saw each other--truly saw each other--for the first time.

I have to tell her... I can't not tell her...

"Callie," he began softly. "I can't lose you again. I... need you. I need you in my life..."

"I know, Luke," she whispered. She slid her arms around his waist, the heat of her body penetrating Luke's pores, and he closed his eyes to savor the feel of her skin touching his. He felt her tremble in his arms, and he opened his eyes again to look at her, gently lifting her chin with his hand so her gaze would meet his. Delicately he ran a finger down her jaw, brushing aside the loose tendrils that fell on her cheek, tracing the bruises on her face as he touched his lips to her temple.

"I'm done running, Luke," she told him, her voice shaking as she clung to his arms. "I can't do this anymore. If I have to be without the Force for the rest of my life, so be it. But I can't... not be in your life..."

Their mouths met, sealing their promise.

The wounds of yesterday had finally healed.

"I've waited five years to tell you this," Luke finally said, breaking away from her momentarily. Callista looked back at him silently, bleary eyes already glistening with tears in the faint light of early dawn.

She knows, Luke thought with a smile. She knows what I'm about to say...

"I can't imagine loving anyone else this way, Callie... And no matter how much time passes, I know you will always be home to me."

"And you for me, Luke," she murmured, her delicate hands caressing his face. "I promise, that will never change..."

"Callista Ming... Will you be my wife?"

Callista's soft gasp made them both laugh shakily. He saw her blush, and his heart leapt against his ribs when he recognized the look on her face--the very same look he saw on her when he first saw the vision of her on the Eye. "Is that a yes?"

"Yes," she laughed, a sweet lilt of a laugh that Luke had not heard in ages.

"Yes?" Luke repeated, not quite sure if he could believe her answer, wanting to make certain that she was not just the dream he had conjured up every night in his sleep. "Yes?"

"Yes," she whispered again, and she leaned forward to kiss him, her tears mingling with Luke's. "I love you, Luke Skywalker," she said, "and I will spend the rest of my life loving you..."

"Leia and Callie before Callie's wedding"

The knock had been timid. Callista wasn't sure at first if she had only imagined it, until she turned her head and saw Leia through the small crack in the door.

Callista smiled at the woman who would be her sister-in-law in a matter of a few hours. "Come in, Leia," she said, rising from her seat and stepping towards the door to open it fully.

Leia entered the room, the Alderaanian crystals in her chestnut braids sending light scattering in a million directions. "I just... wanted to see if you were ready-" She gasped softly when she saw Callista: tall and slim in her mahogany robes, her malt-brown tresses plaited and pinned on top in a ceremonial braid. "You look..." She paused and looked up, half-formed tears glistening in her eyes. "You're going to take Luke's breath away."

Callista knew she must have been blushing; she felt the familiar warmth in her cheeks as she looked down and smoothed the luxurious robes. "I wondered," she said softly, "if it would be appropriate for me to wear this. If I... deserved to wear the traditional Jedi attire." She met Leia's eyes and knew instantly that the other woman understood what she was trying to say--though the words came feebly to her. "It's funny. Nowadays, the Jedi reserve their robes for only special occasions like this, but they were always meant to be worn every day. They were supposed to signify our commitment to simplicity." Her lips curved into a smile, and once again she reached a hand down to touch the dark fabric, feeling the fine weave underneath her fingertips. She had worn a robe like this many years ago. It had been everyday attire for her back then, but she couldn't remember one day when she didn't feel every cell in her body tingle when she slid her arms through its sleeves and closed it over her tunic.

Every day that she did reminded her of who she was and what she had been born to do.

"I can't think of anything more fitting for you to wear," Leia said, as if reading Callista's thoughts. "You're a Jedi, Callista--one of the best I've ever known. One I am so honored to have learned from."

Callista smiled and squeezed her hand--the only gesture she could think of that could tell Leia how grateful she was to have been understood.

For a moment, there were no words between the two women; there was no need for them.

"We've missed you, Callista," Leia said. "Luke wasn't the only one who... We--I... missed you..."

The woman who stood before Callista had been more than the dignified Chief of State she first met six years ago. More than the woman who had taken the time to get to know her because she was her brother's lover. She was, Callista realized for the first time, a friend--a true friend. Through time and regret and opportunities missed, she had remained a friend.

"I missed you too, Leia. You have always been so good to me--all of you have. And... I wasn't sure if you'd ever want to see me again after everything... I'm... sorry. I'm so sorry for everything..."

Confusion flashed in Leia's eyes, then gave way to comprehension as she shook her head. "There's nothing to be sorry for," she said, her smoky voice low and gentle, even motherly. "I was there, remember? I saw the agony in your eyes when you asked me to help him understand. I felt how much it tore you up to have to walk away from him." She took Callista's hands in her own again. "One thing I have never doubted is your love for my brother, Callista. I never doubted that what you did was out of love."

"Thank you..." It was all Callista could think to say, and for a moment, the guilt she had carried with her for the last five years eased somewhat. "Thank you for that..."

Leia nodded, then walked past Callista to reach for the flowers that lay on the table. They were desert lilies--ones that had cost a fortune to have flown in from Tatooine on such short notice, but Leia had insisted on nothing but the best for her new sister-in-law.

"Are you nervous?" Leia said. "I remember right before my wedding I was just a bundle of nerves."

Callista smiled. Not for this, she thought. Not the one thing I've been hoping for all these years. "No, not nervous," she said. "But it is still hard to believe that it's all happening. I honestly didn't know if this day would ever come to be, Leia."

Leia faced her again, gathering up the folds of her Jedi robes as she came closer to put the lilies in Callista's hair. "I for one am glad it did," she said softly. "I never stopped hoping that it would."

Callista looked at their reflection on the mirror and smiled at her. "Neither did I."

"I couldn't have hoped for a better match for him, you know," Leia said. "There were others over the years, before you came along. Ones that could have been, but weren't..."

She paused, and Callista could have sworn she saw a mischievous gleam in her eyes--something Callista had seen more often from Han than from his wife--and she couldn't help but return Leia's grin.

"But of course," Leia went on, replacing her smile with a straight face, even as laughter glimmered underneath, "none of them ever met with my approval."

Their eyes met for an instant, sending both women into laughter.

"You love him," Callista said. "I don't blame you for being wary about the women in his life." She turned and stood to face Leia with a knowing smile. "I knew I'd have my work cut out for me trying to win Luke's sister over."

Leia stifled a laugh--in the way Callista had seen Luke do so many times. "I am tough to impress, aren't I?" she admitted. She came round and adjusted the hem of Callista's robe. "He's my soul, Callista," she said after a while. "Everything he feels, I feel too. And Force help those who try to hurt him because I will give them hell."

"I'm glad he had you, Leia. All those years when I... I'm glad he has someone who loves him as much as you do."

The other woman smiled, and raised her hand to Callista's cheek. It was a touching gesture--one Callista hadn't quite expected from a highborn princess, a woman who had been one of the galaxy's highest dignitaries since her teens. "It was going to take an extraordinary woman to convince me she was right for my brother," Leia said. "And I knew it was you from the moment I saw him look at you."

Callista's eyes must have shown her surprise at the statement, because Leia went on to explain.

"I'd never seen him look at a woman that way before. Or since. He loves you, Callista. Please don't ever lose sight of that."

Callista shook her head. "I won't," she said. "I promise you I won't. I love your brother more than I can ever say. He's made me the happiest woman in the universe."

A smile radiated on Leia's face. "As you've made him the happiest man in the universe." She extended her hand for Callista to take. "Come on," she said, "let's go get you two kids married."

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