I know neither day nor night.
The shipboard chrono shimmers brightly in the dimness of my cabin; it is halfway through my sleep cycle and I have not yet closed my eyes. My mind refuses to close down, intimidating me with furious images that race across neural synapses. But I lay here and wait for sleep to come, passively counting down the seconds until I must rise and return to my duties. It matters not that I have not slept, nor that I probably will not sleep 'tonight.' Whether I am tired or not, it is a requirement to report for duty. It is easier to work than not, so when I am awake, I work.
The luxury of dividing life into definitive timeparts is alien to me, as is rising with the sun and retiring at night. The memories of these moments haunt the darkness within, blending with other faded ghosts...the warm touch of a summer breeze...the rose-streaked sky of an Alderaani sunset...the bittersweet juice of jiluchen berries dribbling down my chin...laughing at a friend's joke...
I live on a continuum, washed along by the buffeting currents of existence. I am numb to the sharp edges of life--the pleasures, the pain.
I simply am.
I am called by the titles of my former position, a fact that has not been so for three long years.
"Princess," they beseech.
"Your Highness," they call.
But never "child," or "friend," or "sweetheart."
My name is like a foreign word. No one has spoken it since theydeserted me, left me to float about space on this cadaverous frigate while theydashed off on their dangerous mission...
My three gallant crusaders.
So certain of their success and the ease with which they knowit will be achieved. Their confidence is at once inspiring, admirable and...frightening.
Sometimes, I wish I had their faith.
Yet I can't afford to think about them, or what they must accomplish. For once in my life, I am afraid of my mind. Like smiling, beguiling fools, it sends thoughts to torment me, conjuring up emotions that threaten to overwhelm and consume, sucking at my sanity with all the tenacity of a bloodworm.
So I must not remember.
For here in the dark, in my bed, it is as real to me as if the nightmare is happening again.
The burning, acrid stench.
Orange glare through coughs of steam, staining all it touches in a harsh, unnatural glow. Our faces. Our clothes. Wookiee hair. Their white armor. All except the blackness of the Dark Lord.
There is noise and confusion. Yells and growls of anger, frustration and despair.
This can't be happening. This isn't fair.
Somewhere in the midst of all this I am suddenly drawn into his eyes. I watch myself reflected in them, so small and pathetic.
Then his lips are against mine and he is kissing me with an unfamiliar intensity and warmth, until they break us apart and drag him to the platform.
He is staring at me from where he stands. I can feel the fear lodged deep behind his eyes, but he does not show it, refuses to reveal any weakness to them, even now.
This is all happening too fast.
A surge of emotions sweep through me, confusing me with their force and dredging up memories I had banished to the muddy depths of my mind.
You would prefer another target--a military target--
The bile rises in my throat. I want to do a hundred desperate things at once--rush into his arms and weep foolishly--throw myself at the mercy of Vader and offer myself in his place--wrestle a blaster rifle from a trooper and fight our way out of this chamber--throw my head back and scream like a crazed Devaronian...
Yet I do nothing.
I am frozen to the decking, cannot move out of sheer terror and disbelief at what is happening before my eyes. Again.
Dantooine. They're on Dantooine.
I need to tell him. Need to do something, anything--
No! Damn them--and him!
I will not--cannot--think of this again.
I am destroying what minimal rest I have absorbed.
I am better, stronger, than this.
It does me no good.
It does him no good.
If I must remember, remember good times only.
My dear, brave Han...
Strange that I seem to have acquired him as 'mine.'
When did this happen?
When we first made love in his cabin en route Bespin, expressing to each other our long repressed desires with words that can never be spoken?
Buried deep within the asteroid? When he looked into my soul and stole my heart as easily as my kiss?
No, before then. Way before then. Back to our first meeting...
Exhausted from Vader's interrogations, I blindly rush from the safety of my cell, out into the terrifying light and noise of trooper fire. Needless to say, I am not impressed with the reckless and ill-conceived 'rescue plan' on offer.
"Can't get out that way."
I appraise the tall, lanky man who has advised me of the blatantly obvious with a trained diplomat's eye--Corellian. Natural leader. Some military training. Mercenary, most likely smuggler. A mouth as quick as his draw. And drop-dead gorgeous.
He would roll his eyes and screw up his mouth to one side if he heard me describe him like that. For though he is many things, and has himself suggested otherwise, Han has no pretensions about himself. He acknowledges himself as a "simple kinda guy, just tryin' to survive in the galaxy."
Yet he knows how I feel about him. He has caught me watching him, admiring those lean, muscular lines when I thought no one would notice. The somehow ruggedly-handsome face, once-broken nose, scarred chin and all. And that easy smile that slips up the right side of his face...
And I have told him. Three words. Three simple words that have revealed far too much about myself. Words that were spoken in haste and with regret. Words that should have been spoken long before.
Words he did not return...
I rue the time we have wasted since our first meeting, since he rounded on my criticism of his jailbreak and suggested I return to my cell. Perhaps that was when he became "mine" and I "his," for since then we have been linked. Squandering precious moments--entangling them in arguments and anger, encrypting true emotions in sarcasm and spite--yet linked, inexorably and magically linked.
Despite my efforts, not one day has passed in the three years since that meeting that I have not thought of him. Now, there is little else besides Han that fills my mind.
Notwithstanding our struggles to deny our mutual attraction and affection, our destinies forced us to confront what was truly happening between us. Strange, but perhaps I should be grateful for what has happened since our defeat at Hoth. If he had not dragged me from the ruined command center, forced me to leave...no, for even then if I had made it to my transport as originally intended, I would not have admitted more than a passing thought of thanks for his assistance; just another rescue to add up to his tally.
That's about fifty-two you owe me, Princess.
It is almost as if I have the Empire to thank for what has transpired between us. And the Falcon,that cantankerous old bucket of bolts and her temperamental hyperdrive.
Or is it something more?
It's this stupid shirt I'm wearing. His shirt. That's why I can't sleep.
Why I insist on wearing it is beyond me. It is a childish, symbolic gesture, one I should not even entertain contemplating, yet here I am doing it--again.
Sometimes I imagine I can still smell him in the fabric of this shirt. Like I could when I wore it the first time.
But I know I am deluding myself. The cleaning unit has long since erased what trace of Han was left.
This shirt is all that I have left of those times. Of the moment we finally surrendered, and gave in to each other: our needs; our wants; our desires.
This shirt, and my memories.
...I lean into the curve of the acceleration couch, legs pulled up in front of me, purportedly studying the data reader angled against my thighs--a very un-princess-like pose but I feel decidedly "un-princess-like." I still wear the shirt I took from Han's closet when the valet unit's drying program failed, leaving my uniform sopping wet. The outfit has long since dried; however, I continue to wear his shirt, the tails tucked around my pulled up knees and bare feet. My only concession to a sense of order is the single braid capturing my unruly hair. Occasionally my head slips down inside the collar of the shirt, and I inhale the heady aroma of his scent mixing with mine.
Facts and images of Bespin and Cloud City scroll across the reader's screen, but I doubt I have absorbed any information about the place we will arrive at in twelve days time. I specifically wanted to prepare myself for what lay ahead, which is why I am supposedly studying the Falcon'sencyclopedic database. But in reality, I have been watching Han for the last few hours. He has been conducting minor maintenance within the forward compartment, and I have been covertly watching his every movement.
We have hardly spoken since the beginning of this "day" cycle, since we tentatively awoke in each other's arms and hesitantly went our separate ways. Last night, Han forced me to confront what I felt for him, and I realized it is more than friendship between us, more than anything I have ever felt for another man. Regretfully, my inexperience and uncertainty refrained me from exploring my feelings for him on a physical level. Instead we talked, laughed, reminisced, came to understand each other better. Reluctant to end this time, we were then content to share his bunk, to sleep and nothing more.
It seemed strange to share a bed with another being. Not uncomfortable or unnerving, but inexplicably consoling and familiar.
Sharing his bunk, our sleep, the night, has changed everything. There is a palpable difference to our relationship. I have been on edge since rising from his arms this "morning." A rawness jangles my nerves. A hunger gnaws at the pit in my stomach. I cannot concentrate on anything for more than a few seconds. If I did not know better, I would say that I am sick, and perhaps I am.
My mind is filled with Han.
I have no logical excuse for sitting here at the holochess table; my study could be conducted quite easily and comfortably back in his cabin. But then I wouldn't be able to watch him, and this I feel compelled to do.
Chewbacca is aware that something has occurred between us. He is giving us a wide orbit, choosing chores that remove him as far from us as possible. Even Threepio seems to have the sense to remain on watch in the cockpit.
So I read a few sentences on the screen, then let my gaze wander across the compartment to where he is working. He is wearing a pair of faded shipboard trousers that have seen better days and a charcoal-colored short-sleeved undershirt. As he has moved about his duties, I have viewed him from every angle--upright, biceps flexing as he tightened a valve; flat on his back with one long leg curled under the other, cursing in Low Corelli at some problem he found; kneeling, head buried in circuitry and components, his rump pointed tantalizingly towards me; hanging down into the engine pit, legs wrapped around a supporting beam, undershirt riding up across his flat abdomen--and marveled at how these clothes have highlighted his strong physique, defining the clean lines of his body in shades of grey.
I wonder if he knows how seductive he looks at the moment, or is it just me who is captivated by the sight of Han Solo in old work-stained clothes, tousled hair, greasy lubricants smeared across his face and arms. I suspect it is just me.
He is sitting at the control station now, back towards me, verifying the success of his repairs. From the squareness of his shoulders and the angle of his head, I can tell he is satisfied with his work. I imagine that a rather smug and appealing smile has settled across his features, the one I used to find gratingly annoying.
My next concern is more immediate and unusually, disturbingly trivial--shortly he will be finished and, if he leaves the hold, I will have to find another excuse to be near him.
I am caught openly staring when he unexpectedly spins around in his seat to face me. The speed with which my eyes return to the reader is not only obvious, it betrays my previous actions.
The pulse pounds in my brain as I hear him rise from the station and move towards me. The sound of his boots on the deckplates echo in my ears. It takes an eternity for him to traverse the short distance between us. For some unfathomable reason, I am stupidly afraid of what will happen next.
Then he is in front of me, and I can see the edge of his leg past the data reader's screen. Two work-roughened hands, grimy with sweat and grease, gently cup my cheeks and raise my face to his. The kiss he bestows on my lips is warm and brief, and our eyes only meet as he pulls away. He smiles at the questioning look on my face.
"You looked like you could use a good kiss," he explains, parodying the argument we had in the corridors of Hoth Base.
The smile I return is meek, and I drop my head slightly, forcing him to release me from his grasp. Avoiding that intense stare of his, my eyes avert. My mind is in a turmoil as I grapple for an appropriate response or action. I am lost at what to do.
Gauging my uncertainty, Han pulls away. Silently, he stands above me, and I can sense his confusion as clearly as if it is mine. I hear his mouth open as if to speak, then, with a sigh, he closes it again.
"I think I'll get cleaned up," he finally says.
He swipes a finger affectionately down my nose, and strides off towards the crew quarters.
When he is gone, I angrily slap the reader down on the circular table, and toss my braid back over my shoulder.
This is ridiculous!
It's not as if I'm some mild-mannered farm girl on her first visit to a big city. I was a member of the Imperial Senate. I was--am a member of the Royal House of Alderaan. I am a leader in the Rebel Alliance. I'm used to being in control of things. I'm used to making decisions, and making the right ones at that!
I'm used to getting what I want. And what I want is Han Solo.
Now thatsounds like the old Leia.
I decide to grant him some time to have a cycle in the refresher. After all, I'd prefer him clean. Plus, in the meantime, it will help me garner a bit more courage. So, I sit here on the couch, impatiently tapping my fingers on the holochess table, trying to guess how long is long enough.
Something tells me the time is right.
On my way to his cabin I have the sense to stop in at the now-empty refresher cubicle, just to quickly check my appearance.
Damn you, Solo,I think when I see the smudges of dirt and grease he has deliberately left on my cheeks and nose. But should I really have expected anything different?
Chuckling to myself ruefully, I wipe away the evidence of his joke. On impulse I release my hair from its single braid.
The hatch to his cabin is open; a smuggler who shares his life with a tramp freighter and a Wookiee has little need for modesty. My courage falters, and I stop at the entrance. His back is to me as he dresses near the closet. He is wearing grey, figure-hugging shorts, and for a moment I overcome my hesitancy and simply admire his body. The soft fabric of his shorts reveal firm thighs and backside, lean hips, and nestles around a narrow waist. His shoulders are broad, strong, and the muscles stretch as he shrugs on a white shirt.
I am entranced at the thought of being held in his arms, caressed by his hands, pulled up against his chest and kissed like I've never been kissed before. It is these unfamiliar urges that push me on.
He momentarily checks his actions, head cocks slightly to one side as if listening, but he fluidly returns to settling the shirt across his back. The belief that he is aware of my presence is confirmed when he casually turns around. My heart trips, then escalates its rhythm as I hold lightly onto the hatchway rim for support. Half-dressed, he watches me curiously, arms hanging loosely by his side.
My nervousness is beyond reason and belies my years of diplomatic training and experience as a senator. Again, it is as if I am a fresh young girl, inexperienced in the ways of love, who is offering her innocence to a sensual man of the galaxy. When I realize how true this is, I become annoyed with my passive reaction and step into his cabin.
Almost imperceptibly, his breathing quickens, and, through the unfastened halves of the front of his shirt, I notice his chest rise with each breath. He offers no other clues to his expectations, nor guidelines as to what I should do next.
For long, aching moments, we stare at each other. We have reached an impasse in our complex relationship, yet another piece to the facades with which we barricade our feelings. Who will be the first to act, to reveal themselves to the other?
No,I realize, that's not fair.
Han's intentions have been as obvious as his unsuccessful attempt to seduce me not twenty hours ago in this cabin. Then, I rejected his advances, but not his companionship, and we slept in each other's arms, as innocently as one can with a smuggler.
Now, he is wary of myintentions. Doesn't want to get burnt twice. Perhaps doesn't wish to push me into something he is uncertain I am ready for. But I amready. I want this. I want him.So I suppose this is up to me. I must be the one to act.
As these thoughts cross my mind, a flush of embarrassment and anticipation reddens my cheeks and I avert my eyes. At these strangest of moments, the words of my father, Bail Organa, come to assist me: The longest journey begins with the smallest step.
I pivot on bare feet, palm the hatch shut, and turn back towards him, raising my gaze to his. He has not moved. He is waiting for me to explain myself, to him and to me. The silence in the cabin is unbearable. When I speak, I stumble over my words.
"I--I don't know what I'm doing here," I offer, listening to the half-truth/half-lie of my statement.
He hears it also.
"Don't know, huh?"
His eyes twinkle with mischief and the easy, lopsided grin appears. His bemusement is infectious, makes me see the absurdity of the situation, and a slight smile tugs at my lips.
"Don't smirk at me like that, Han Solo," I half-jokingly reprove. "You know what I mean."
He nods in consideration. "Sure, I know what you mean." The hazel of his eyes deepens to an intense gold as his smile fades. "You wanna talk to me about your chances of converting Cloud City over to the Rebellion."
If he didn't exude such an air of sensuality and wasn't slowly moving towards me, I might believe his serious tone.
"Or maybe discuss the finer points of H-K ion drive maintenance. You certainly seemed interested in what I was doin' earlier."
So he has been aware of the interest I have been taking in him. If I wasn't so nervous at the moment, I might be annoyed with him.
He is standing right in front of me, close, towering above me. I am exhilarated by his presence. My senses are invigorated, tingle with anticipation.
"Or maybe...maybe you think you might want to make love to me." The back of his hand reaches towards my cheek, a callused finger delicately strokes a lock of hair behind my ear. "Is that closer?"
...closer...closer than I have ever allowed another being...
His breath caresses my lips as his mouth hovers above mine, waiting. His eyes beckon, entice, promise.
"Yes." My whisper is almost a plea.
His kiss captures me, carries me along a dizzying surge of primordial emotions. But he is restrained in his actions, more gentle and caring than I ever dreamed possible. His hot, delicious mouth grazes across my cheek, nibbles at my earlobe. My knees weaken and he steps closer as I instinctively clasp at his arms. My mouth opens involuntarily and I can't suppress a sigh as his breath whispers into my ear. His cheek presses against mine as his lips move down the side of my neck, past the loose collar of my shirt and to the base of my throat. The pulse flickers at my neck, in my wrists, and deep within my loins. His eyes return to mine, smiles encouragingly. Large fingers unfasten the front of my shirt...
I recall his sudden inhalation in pleasure and passion as the shirt drops from my shoulders. The gratifying, empowering feeling of standing naked in front of him, knowing that I am the cause of the desire burning in his eyes, the heat rising from his skin, the want boiling through his veins.
Undressing him proves to be my undoing. As I reveal every part of him, I am entranced by his body. The firm muscles, bulge of veins and tendons beneath the skin, the latent strength that lies within, the promise of thirst to be quenched, hunger to be appeased.
I am bewitched. I ache for him to hold me, to love me.
He smiles again, kind and caring. Whatever apprehension I have disappears as our fingers entwine intuitively. We walk as equals to his bunk...
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