Wolf smiled around his canine teeth. “You are the most beautiful sight I have ever laid eyes on.”
Scarlet cocked her head. “And you look like you’re about to get married.” There was blatant amusement in her tone.
Wolf’s eyes dipped once to the carpet, but he didn’t stop smiling. He paced across the room and took Scarlet’s hands in his, so that their palms engulfed the wrapped flower stems.
“Scarlet,” he said, “I know how frustrated you’ve been with the … attention our wedding has brought, and how much you hate what it was turning into. And on our wedding day, all I want is for you to be happy and content. I don’t want you thinking about journalists or cameras or newsfeeds. You didn’t sign up for any of that, and it isn’t fair to you. So … I thought … I wondered if you might marry me now, here, instead.”
Scarlet tore her gaze from him and let it wander to everyone else in the room. “You were all in on this.”
“Wolf had the idea a few weeks ago,” said Kai, “when he noticed you were getting … upset about the media. That’s why he wanted us all to come early.”
Scarlet blinked tears from her eyes. “I … this is … it’s perfect, but I think you might have forgotten one important element.” She turned back to Wolf. “There’s no officiant here. Who’s going to marry us?”
Wolf’s grin widened, and he glanced at Kai.
Scarlet followed the look. “Seriously?”
Kai shrugged. “I’ve never done it before, but it is within my powers as the emperor of the Eastern Commonwealth to marry people. It will be perfectly legitimate and binding.”
Wolf took a step closer so that he towered over Scarlet, creating what could have been a moment of intimacy if the room hadn’t been so crowded. “So? Will you marry me?”
Scarlet started to smile.
“Wait. Before you answer that,” said Thorne, gesturing around the room, “you should know that the store where we got all this stuff doesn’t take returns.”
Casting her gaze skyward, Scarlet said, “Well, in that case. Yes. Yes, of course I will.” Her eyes glimmered as she draped her arms over Wolf’s shoulders. His hands spread out across the sash at her waist and he bent toward her—
But just before their lips touched, Thorne thrust his hand in between them, receiving dual kisses on his fingers. Wolf and Scarlet jerked back.
“Slow those rockets,” said Thorne. “I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure we’re not to the kissing part yet.” He pried Scarlet away from Wolf, who growled low in his throat, and ordered, “Places, everyone!”
Cinder gladly claimed one of the wooden chairs that had been brought in from the kitchen, and Émilie took the seat beside her, whispering, “Aren’t they the most beautiful couple? I introduced them, you know.”
Cinder cast a frown at her. “You did?”
Émilie shrugged and flashed an impish grin. “Well … sort of.”
Kai and Wolf stood at the makeshift altar, while Winter and Jacin took the remaining dining chairs. Thorne led Scarlet back out to the foyer, and Cinder could hear him whispering hasty directions before coming to sit beside Cress and Iko on the sheet-draped sofa.
After Cress punched a new command into her portscreen, the music changed to a classic wedding march. The change was affecting, sweeping away the frivolity of the decorations and Thorne’s humor and filling the house with a sense of intent.
Scarlet waited a moment, allowing the music to permeate the ceremony, before she glided through the wall of streamers. Her eyes were locked onto Wolf’s as she took one meaningful, patient step after another.
Émilie sniffled and raised a handkerchief to her nose. “I love weddings.”
Grinning, Cinder glanced toward Kai and found him smiling back at her. If he was nervous to be playing such an important role on such a momentous occasion, he didn’t show it.
Scarlet stopped beside Wolf, and Cress lowered the music’s volume, letting it fade pleasantly into silence. There was another sniffle in the room—Winter, Cinder guessed.
“Dear friends,” Kai began, “we are gathered today to witness and to celebrate the union between Wo—er, Ze’ev Kesley and Scarlet Benoit. Though we are a small gathering, it’s clear that the love we feel for this bride and groom would span to Luna and back.” His copper-brown eyes passed fondly from Scarlet to Wolf. “Of course, we know that the world sees this wedding as a historical event. The first recorded marriage union between a Lunar and an Earthen since the second era. And maybe that is important. Maybe the love and compassion these two people have for each other is symbolic of hope for the future. Maybe this wedding signifies the possibility that someday our two races will not only learn to tolerate each other, but to love and appreciate each other as well. Or, maybe…” Kai’s eyes glinted. “… this relationship has absolutely nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with our shared human need to find someone who will care for us as much as we care for them. To find a partner who complements us and teaches us. Who makes us stronger. Who makes us want to be our best possible self.”
Cinder heard yet another sniffle—this time from Iko, and she nearly choked. Iko, like her, couldn’t cry, but that had never stopped her from faking it before.
Kai continued, “I think that when every person in this room looks at Ze’ev and Scarlet, they don’t see a Lunar and an Earthen. We don’t see an agenda, or two people trying to make a statement. I think we see two people who were lucky enough to find each other in this vast universe, and they weren’t going to let any boundaries of distance or race or even physiological tampering get in the way of a happy life together.”
Cinder listed her head thoughtfully. Distance. Race. Physiological tampering. It was almost as if Kai wasn’t just talking about Wolf and Scarlet. He could just as easily have been talking about their own relationship. She squinted at Kai, newly suspicious, but his eyes never darted toward her, and she began to feel self-absorbed for thinking it. This was Wolf and Scarlet’s moment, and Kai respected that.
But when he was writing this speech, the similarities must have occurred to him. Right?
She held her breath, listening a little more closely to Kai’s words, wondering if he’d intended a meaning that went beyond this one ceremony.