Rising to the Occasion
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This story is rated NC-17. Please stop now if you're under 17 or sensative to adult-themed material..
The natural light streaming in through the windows brought Leia to gentle wakefulness. She drifted peacefully for a moment, treasuring the warmth of the sun on her face, conscious of sensation and nothing more. When coherent thought finally settled in she remembered that she had a relatively light schedule in place for the day, and the corners of her mouth turned up in a satisfied smile. She glanced at the chronometer, smiled more widely when she realized she didn’t even have to get out of bed for another hour. She rolled over with the intention of snuggling up against her husband and going back to sleep, but started when she saw the expression on his face. His eyes were squeezed shut and a grimace of pain contorted his rugged features. As she watched, his head jerked from side to side, and a tortured moan escaped his lips.
She touched his arm hesitantly. “Han? Han, wake up. Wake—”
He drew in a sharp breath and his eyes flew open. He looked around wildly before he was able to focus on her face, then he relaxed slightly and sighed a tired sigh.
“Nightmare?” she asked.
He nodded, embarrassed.
She burrowed against him and placed a kiss on his shoulder. “What a pair we are. If you’re not tossing and turning from bad dreams, I am. It’s a wonder we ever manage to sleep at all.”
He didn’t answer, just wrapped his arms around her and squeezed.
“The usual?” she prodded him.
He grunted an affirmative. “Yeah. Bespin again.” His tone indicated that he didn’t want to elaborate, not this time, anyway.
Leia frowned, but refrained from pushing him further. They had both found that their reactions to their nocturnal struggles differed from time to time; sometimes upon waking they needed to talk, or to be held, or touched, or made love to…and other times, it was too painful to do anything but lie still and wait for the dark cloud to pass. “I love you,” she said, knowing there wasn’t much else she needed to say.
His lips brushed the top of her head. “Me too.” He just held her for a few more minutes, his face buried in her hair, then without warning he rolled her over on to her back and began kissing her insistently. His hands traveled over her hips, down to her thighs, setting her aflame.
She let out a soft moan into his mouth and returned the caresses, although in the back of her mind she was a bit surprised. So it was one of those times, was it? Not that she was complaining. His mouth was everywhere suddenly, on her face, her neck, her shoulders, her breasts. His roughened fingertips found her core, stroked her as she arched up against him and reached for his sex, grasping it firmly, letting him know she wanted it as much as he did. And then he was inside of her, filling her again and again, his mouth locked on hers, and nothing else existed.
The light in the room seemed a bit softer, muted, when they finally came back to themselves and rested once more. Leia scooted up in the bed so that her head was directly next to Han’s. She traced the scar on his chin tenderly, studying his face, trying to unlock the secrets hiding there. “Do you want to talk about it?” she whispered.
“Not really.” He stroked her hair absentmindedly, his gaze focused inward. “I guess I should be used to them by now, but…”
“You know,” she ventured, “those Jedi relaxation exercises Luke taught me help me to sleep a lot better. If you’d let me try to—”
“Leia, no one, I mean no one, messes around with my head. Not even you.” The tone in his voice warned her to drop the issue.
“I’m only trying to help,” she said, stung.
“I know you are. But this is my problem, and I’ll handle it myself.”
“Right.” She was tempted to argue further, but once in a while, banging her head against that particular wall only gave her a headache.
“Look, I gotta get up. Me and Chewie’re supposed to take that shipment of munitions to Zeltros today,” he said abruptly. He dropped a kiss on her forehead and then rose from the bed, scratching his belly and yawning.
Leia groaned. “That’s today?” she asked. And she had been in such a good mood when she woke up this morning.
“Yup. We should be back in a few days, provided we don’t run into anything weird,” he said as he headed to the refresher.
She propped herself up on one elbow, giving herself a moment to appreciate his perfect, bare behind before speaking again. “You are staying for breakfast…?”
He turned and looked at her, grinned. “I gotta eat, don’t I?”
She laid back down and stretched luxuriously, savoring the memory of his hands and mouth on her only minutes before. Gotta eat, indeed…
When he arrived just before dinner, she gratefully accepted his warm hug of greeting. He looked good, outfitted in his usual somber black, if a little tired. But who wasn’t tired these days?
She sat down on the couch and motioned for him to join her, but he hesitated, standing in the middle of the room and eyeing her in that way he did when he knew something was amiss. Great. So much for distraction. “You sense it, don’t you,” she grumbled.
He nodded, then sat down next to her. “Yes. Something’s different about you. It’s strange…I’ve never felt anything quite like it before.”
“Thanks for your help,” she said dryly.
He smiled apologetically. “Sorry. Are you feeling okay?”
“I guess. I don’t know. Define, ‘okay.’”
“If you’d like, I could…”
She considered it, then nodded resignedly. If it would help her figure out what was going on, she’d deal with the slight, momentary feeling of invasion.
He closed his eyes, and she could feel him reaching out to her with the Force, tendrils of luminescence finding their way to her on another plane. She closed her own eyes and opened her soul to him, trusting him implicitly. The familiar glow of her brother’s Force-sense enveloped her for a moment, then ceased.
She opened her eyes. “Well?”
He grinned at her. “Leia, I’m not sure exactly how to tell you this…but I think you’re pregnant.”
She could feel all of the color leave her face, and her stomach lurched. “That’s impossible.”
He somehow managed to look skeptical and bemused at the same time. “No form of birth control is completely fail-proof, Leia. And I think…I think sometimes the Force has its own ways of helping things along, regardless of would-be impediments.”
She stood up and paced across the floor, thoughts hurtling through her head faster than she could process them. Pregnant. A baby. Inside of her. Growing. Her, a mother. Han…what the hell was she going to tell Han? Han, a father? A headache introduced itself, began pounding energetically at the base of her skull. “Luke, this is unacceptable. I’m not ready to have a baby, Han isn’t ready to have a baby, it’s too soon, and I’m so busy, and—” It was impossible. Had to be. And yet, now that he had said the words, she knew it to be true, knew it with an immutable certainty that scared the hell out of her.
Luke let out an indulgent laugh. “You’ll be a wonderful mother. And Han…he just might surprise you. I wish you wouldn’t be upset about this.”
“That’s easy for you to say, isn’t it, little brother?” He winced. Luke was either her little brother or her big brother, depending on her mood. It wasn’t like they could check on the facts or anything, after all.
“I guess it is,” he said, recovering with his usual aplomb. “I like the idea of being an uncle.”
She crossed her arms, looked at him. “I bet you do.”
He held up his palms to her in a conciliatory gesture. “Leia, what I’m trying to say is…this is a beautiful, wonderful thing. And maybe you should just appreciate this…this gift you’ve been given.”
She raised her eyebrows in disbelief. “Gift? Luke, there’s something—someone—growing inside me! I’m not ready for that! I barely have enough time to take care of myself while keeping an eye on my overgrown kid of a husband and a newborn government, let alone look after a baby.”
His blue eyes locked onto hers. “There’s something else,” he said quietly. “Something you’re not telling me.”
Damn him for being so perceptive. Damn Jedi with the damn Force seeing right through her every damn time… Why couldn’t she just have a normal brother? Why couldn’t she just be normal? Please, let my child be normal… She sat down on the couch and chewed on her lower lip apprehensively. “It’s…I can’t shake this irrational idea that somehow a child of mine could turn out to be like, like Vader. The potential is there, Luke.”
“Leia, that’s nonsense. Our father chose the Dark Side, he wasn’t born that way,” Luke said. She could hear a tinge of exasperation in his voice. “No one is born good or evil. That is determined by the decisions we make, by the type of person we choose to be.” He covered her hand with his and squeezed reassuringly. “And with two such remarkable parents, I don’t see how any child of yours could turn out to be anything other than decent and good.”
On an intellectual level she believed him. But her darker, more emotional side couldn’t shake the nagging fear that he could be wrong. What if she didn’t raise the child right, didn’t do everything correctly? If a child of hers were to follow the wrong path, the whole galaxy could feel the consequences. She wasn’t ready for that kind of responsibility. She had enough to deal with already.
What if she just didn’t want a baby right now, period?
“Luke, I don’t have to have this child.” The words hung in the air between them, and she almost wished she could take them back. Almost.
“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do,” he said after a moment’s quiet. “But I don’t have to agree with you, either.”
She wasn’t sure how to respond to that. She half-wished he would get angry, yell at her, participate in an all-out screaming match. But he was just sitting there, probably doing some damn Jedi relaxation exercises while he looked at her with infuriating calm. “Luke, I think I’d like to be alone now.”
He looked as if he wanted to say more, but thought the better of it. “I understand.” He leaned over and kissed her gently on the forehead, then left.
She watched the door close behind him, then curled her feet up underneath her on the couch and traced abstract shapes on her belly. The last thing she wanted to face tonight was a cold, empty bed. She needed Han, needed his strength, his cock-sure grin, his firm embrace.
But once he returned, how would she tell him? And when she did, would he still be there for her? Or would she yet again be facing an empty bed?
She didn’t have to wait long to find out.
Overly solicitous, Luke insisted on brewing up some hot, pungent-smelling liquid which he assured her would settle her nerves. Some disgusting Dagobah brew, no doubt. She sipped hesitantly at the reddish stuff, and was relieved to discover it didn’t taste too awful. She opened her mouth to say as much to Luke when the door slid open and Han entered the room, Chewie trailing close behind. “What’s this, did you start a party without me?” he asked good-naturedly. Chewie growled a similar greeting.
“Just waiting for you,” Luke said smoothly. He got up and clasped Han’s hand. “Welcome back.”
“Thanks.” Han returned Luke’s handshake, then turned his attention to Leia. “Hey, you.”
“Hey yourself.” She set aside her cup and crossed the room quickly, standing on tiptoe and giving him a swift kiss.
“Miss me?” he asked.
“You have no idea,” she said softly.
“I like the sound of that,” he said, and she shivered delightedly at the memory of another time he had said those same words to her. They shared a secret smile, and suddenly it was as if they were alone in the room.
“Chewie, what do you say we leave these sickening lovebirds alone?” Luke said, considerate to the last. “I wanted to get your opinion on a problem I’ve been having with my X-Wing, anyway.”
Chewie howled in agreement, probably only too glad to get away from what he considered to be needlessly demonstrative human behavior.
“Leia, if you need to talk…” Luke began purposefully.
“I know. And thank you,” she said.
“What was he talking about?” Han asked when Luke and Chewie had left.
“Something I’d rather not bother you with until I know for sure,” she said quickly.
“I don’t like the sound of that.”
“Han…” She exhaled loudly. “Please don’t push this. When I have something concrete to tell you, I will. I need for you to trust me on this one, okay?”
He crossed his arms in front of his chest, and she knew what he was thinking. Whatever it was that she didn’t want to tell him, she had already discussed it with Luke. And that hurt him more than he was willing to say.
She really, really didn’t want to hurt him. “You’d better sit down,” she said wearily.
He didn’t. “Leia, it’s not you…I mean, you’re not sick or anything—”
“No.” She laughed shortly. “Well, maybe it depends on how you look at it.”
“Now you’re scaring me,” he snapped. “What is it?”
She took a deep breath and let the words just spill out of her mouth. “I think I’m pregnant.”
He blinked at her, then reached out for the couch and sank down onto it. “You’re kidding.”
“I wish.” She sat down next to him and covered his hand with her own. “I’d been feeling…weird for a couple days. That’s the only way I can describe it. Weird. Anyway, I talked to Luke about it, and he did…well, he did whatever it is he does with the Force, and told me that he thinks I’m pregnant.”
“But you don’t know for sure,” he said, grasping at straws.
“I haven’t had it confirmed by a doctor yet, no, but…Han, I know. Ever since Luke said it, I can feel it. It’s true. We’re going to be…parents.” She spit out the last word as if it were an obscenity.
“You know, there are other options—” she began, wanting him to know the matter was still open to discussion.
He rubbed his face with his hands, then stood up. “I, uh, I need to get some air. I gotta think about this. I’ll be back later.”
“Han, wait—” But he was already out the door. Damn him.
A baby. A son. Or a daughter. His child.
Han Solo was not cut out to be a father. That was all there was to it. No paternal instinct resided in him whatsoever. The very thought made him break out into a cold sweat the way nothing else in the universe did. Sure, he’d had brushes with fatherhood before, and they had luckily turned out to be false alarms.
Apparently his luck had run out.
Leia…he could tell that she was upset, too, but he knew that she’d make a great mother. She had a warm, kind streak in her that she didn’t allow to surface all that often, but it was there, as deep as an ocean and as wide as a galaxy.
He loved her so much.
He loved her so much it was a physical pain in his chest, so much that sometimes it was difficult to breathe, when he was holding her, or making love to her, or just listening to her, watching her listen to him. He had never known that love could be so weightless, so free, so devoid of conditions and demands.
Even so, he still considered marrying her to be just about the bravest thing he’d ever done. It had taken everything in him to commit to her in such a traditional way. It had meant overcoming his darkest fears, conquering his greatest challenge. But that wasn’t enough. Because now they were going to have a baby. A baby was one huge Condition, one all-consuming Demand.
And it was one Challenge that Han Solo didn’t feel ready to face.
He sighed and turned to Chewie. “I think I should go see Han for a little bit.”
Chewie uttered a surprised growl.
“No, Han isn’t with Leia anymore. They’re having a…problem, and I have a feeling Han isn’t handling it very well just yet.”
Chewie growled again, a possessive protest this time.
“It’s okay, Chewie. This is more of a…human problem. Just trust me, okay?”
Chewie grumbled a reluctant affirmative, annoyed with Luke for not telling him what was going on, but at the same time concerned about his best friend and partner in crime. Luke smiled gratefully up at the wookie and patted him on the chest. “Han’ll be all right, Chewie. I think he just needs someone to talk to right now.”
On a simple hunch, not any kind of Force-induced revelation, Luke made his way toward the Falcon’s docking bay, determined to help Han sort through his feelings whether he wanted the help or not.
Except, when he reached the docking bay, the Falcon was gone. And Luke knew without a shadow of a doubt that Han had gone with it.
Luke waited for the storm to abate, knowing that Leia needed to let some of the anger out of her system.
It didn’t mean he had to be comfortable with it, though. Leia’s furies were not to be taken lightly. He’d learned that the hard way more than once. He was only too glad that this particular rage wasn’t directed at him.
“As if this isn’t my problem too? As if I’m not also scared out of my mind? But no, he can’t think of anybody except himself for one damn nanosecond!” Her voice rose until it practically shattered on the last word, and she paused for breath, taking in deep gulps of air. “Luke, I think I’m going to be sick.”
“Come over here and sit down,” he said. She obeyed, and he noted that she was shaking. “Take slow, deep breaths,” he instructed. “Close your eyes, that’s it…”
She did as he told her, closing her eyes and breathing deeply. A few moments later he could see her relax a bit. “Feel better?”
She nodded, then opened her eyes and looked at him. He could see the worry there, the fear, the anger. “I can’t believe he just left like that,” she whispered.
“He’s scared, Leia. That doesn’t excuse his behavior, but it is the reason for it.” Luke wished there was something more he could say, but he knew that short of Han walking through the door in the next minute, nothing was going to make his sister feel any better. Truth be told, he was shocked by Han’s behavior, too. He had expected the former smuggler to take the news badly; he hadn’t expected him to run away from the problem. That just wasn’t Han’s style. “I’m sure he’ll back soon.”
“He’d better be,” Leia said in a voice that bespoke dire consequences for her husband.
“In the meantime, why don’t you try to get some rest?” Luke suggested. Leia opened her mouth to protest, but he cut her off. “Sometimes things actually do look better in the morning. And maybe when you wake up, Han will be here. If you want him to be.”
“I might as well,” she said bitterly. “It’s not like pacing until there’s a hole in the floor will do me any good.”
A few hours after he had lifted off, he decided he might as well make a stop at Nvrgrim, a trading outpost in the system that was only about ten hours’ distance from Coruscant at standard speed. It would give him a change of scenery, and maybe he could pick up some sort of gift for Leia to try to soften the storm he knew would be waiting for him back home thanks to his impetuous move. He set the coordinates into the navicomputer, started up the autopilot, and headed for his cabin.
It was just as he had left it earlier that day. Dirty clothes on the floor, the sheets on the bunk in disarray. A pungent, salty smell filled the air, but he didn’t mind it. It smelled like him. With a weary sigh he lay down on the bunk and stared up at the ceiling.
So what if they were going to have a baby? People did it every day. Everyone’s parents went through the same thing, right? Piece of cake.
The thoughts took up residence in his mind for a grand total of two minutes before he started to feel nauseous. Who the hell did he think he was trying to fool? And he knew firsthand it wasn’t a piece of cake—his own parents sure as hell hadn’t been able to handle it.
What if he couldn’t handle it either? He shuddered at the thought of putting a child of his through the same sort of nightmare he’d had to endure.
He refused to take that chance.
Nvrgrim was a very wet world. It was surprising, actually, that it had become such an important trading center, considering that nearly eighty percent of the planet’s surface was covered by water. What dry land there was could barely be considered dry. The reddish-brown mud made an annoying squoosh under Han’s boots every time he took a step. He did his best to ignore it, though, as he scanned the booths and storefronts that lined the narrow streets. He saw plenty of merchants displaying brightly colored baubles and endless collections of figurines and assorted knick-knacks, but he knew that at this point that just wouldn’t cut it with his wife. Maybe he could get his hands on some—
“What’re ya looking for, mister?”
He whirled around, and raised an eyebrow when he discovered the source of the unexpected question. A tow-headed girl of about eight or nine standard years regarded him curiously. Her blue dress was spotted with mud stains, and upon further inspection he discovered she sported the ritualistic red and black paint whorls on her neck that marked her as a Kraschian. He wondered at that—Kraschians were not a species native to Nvrgrim, but this girl clearly seemed to be at home.
“I don’t know yet,” he said finally in answer to her question.
“You looking for something for a beautiful lady?” she asked. Her voice was loud and sunny in contrast to the dull, grey atmosphere of the marketplace.
“Maybe.” He studied her uncomfortably. “Uh, aren’t your parents wondering where you are?”
“Mama knows I’m here.” She took a piece of blond hair in her hand and twirled it around her fingers. “I don’t have no Papa.”
“I see.” He was, in fact, starting to get the picture. Mom sends her kid out to the market to hustle strangers in the hopes of raising more money for the household. He’d seen it a million times on dozens of worlds. And every time it made him sick. He considered ignoring the kid, but something in him wouldn’t let him just walk away. Maybe it was the thought of how Leia would insist on helping the child, he wasn’t sure. Maybe…oh, the hell with it. He crouched down so that the two of them were on eye level. “Okay, maybe you can help me. What’s your name?”
“Arisda,” she said promptly.
“Well, Arisda, you can call me…” He paused. Mr. Solo? General? Bah. “…Han. Call me Han. I’m trying to find something for my wife. Think you can help me out?”
“Is she beautiful?” the girl asked wistfully.
He grinned. “Yeah, she is.”
Arisda’s pale blue eyes lit up. “Then I’ll show you something perfect for your beautiful lady!” And she scampered off, trusting him to follow. So he did.
She had made the time to visit the doctor earlier in the day and had had what she already knew to be true confirmed by hard science. She was pregnant. With child. And her husband was nowhere to be found. Wasn’t even on the cursed planet. And to top it all off, Mon Mothma wanted to send her on a diplomatic envoy tomorrow morning to some godforsaken isolationist planet halfway across the galaxy. She hated the idea of leaving without knowing where Han was, and if he was all right.
She could call him on the Falcon, of course, she’d done it before. But she stubbornly refused to do it this time. He could insist on acting like a child, but she wasn’t going to grant him the indulgence of treating him like one.
The fact of the matter was, she couldn’t bring herself to really hate or blame him for his reaction. She knew Han, knew him better than he realized. And it didn’t surprise her one bit that this news had thrown him so dramatically. Han was not the settling-down type by any stretch of the imagination. Hell, she was continually amazed that he had ever summoned up the nerve to marry her. She’d also been able to glean from dropped hints and certain dark moods that his own childhood had been less than ideal. As it was, she was finding the whole matter nearly impossible to absorb. It was pretty difficult to imagine what her husband was going through right now.
So she didn’t hate him. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t mad as hell.
She sighed with self-conscious drama and pushed the plate away. Shouldn’t you be eating for two? an irritating voice nagged her. Shut up, she told it firmly.
She padded to the bedroom and took off all her clothes, until the air from the circulating vents chilled her bare skin. Standing in front of the full-length mirror, she caressed her belly, trying to imagine what it would look like swelled to ten times its size. She groaned. Women who were only five feet tall just weren’t meant to have babies, she decided. What a cruel joke.
She decided to lay down for a bit, and got into bed, staying on top of the covers, lying on her back and studying her stomach again. She’d have to say goodbye to her feet pretty soon. She wouldn’t be seeing them anymore for a while. Closing her eyes, she tried to reach out through the Force, tried to feel what her brother had felt days before. Are you there, baby? I know it’s too soon, but are you there…?
Nothing. Apparently she wasn’t sensitive enough, wasn’t skilled enough, to feel that minuscule presence inside of her. Not yet, anyway.
She sighed ruefully when she realized she’d stopped debating the continued existence of her child. She had made the decision without even consciously realizing it, apparently.
She smiled. It was a good decision.
Han, where are you, she wondered for the hundredth time. She closed her eyes and let her hands travel up her thighs, across her belly, over her breasts. With a rising need she tried to imagine him there with her, caressing her, making love to her, touching her…there. She gasped at the sensation as she touched herself again.
Damn you, Han…
The exterior of the dwelling did not look promising. The earthen dome of the roof sagged in places, and the weather-beaten wooden door was rusting on the hinges. Two makeshift windows had been carved into the hardened clay on either side of the entrance. Hardly the place to find anything worth taking back home.
The girl reached up and grasped his hand. “Trust me,” she said simply.
He shook his head ruefully. Han Solo, former smuggler, being led around by a kid. Thank whatever gods there were that Chewie wasn’t there to see it.
The door to the makeshift structure swung open with a jarring creak, and grey light filtered into the room to reveal an elderly Nvrgrimese female seated behind some sort of table, her white pelt clean and soft. Large ovoid green eyes swirled at him, and her smile revealed two rows of well-maintained pointy teeth. “Enter, enter!” she cried eagerly.
With Arisda leading him, he ducked his head and entered the dwelling, approaching close enough to realize that the table the Nvrgrimese was seated behind was in fact a display case, the light inside illuminating the shopkeeper’s fur with a ghostly light. Nestled inside on luxurious cloth trays were assorted gems, necklaces, rings, jewels…his mind reeled. There was a staggering amount of wealth here. How had this old woman gotten her hands on this kind of merchandise?
“Fwalan,” the young girl said, “this man wants something for his beautiful lady. You can help him, can’t you?”
The fur on her skin seemed to ripple as the elderly woman cackled. “I don’t think he needs my help, cher’ami,” she replied, her eyes studying Han intensely. “Do you, son?”
Han didn’t answer. He was too entranced by the jeweled assortment spread out before him. Almost immediately his eye was drawn to one piece in particular—a ring with three stones, one of the palest blue, one green, and one of a deep indigo hue. An exquisite gold setting cradled them, with the most intricate engraving of interlace along the band that Han had ever seen.
Three stones, he mused. Three. Me, Leia…and baby makes three…? He stroked his chin as he considered it.
“That one is meant for you, I think,” the Nvrgrimese said, those disconcerting green eyes cutting right through him. With one taloned hand she reached into the case to take the ring, then held it out to him.
He took it from her hesitantly, almost surprised when the metal didn’t burn his skin. He turned it over in his palm for a while, then held it up to the light that managed to creep through the rough-hewn windows. The stones sparkled invitingly.
Three stones. The ring seemed to sing to him to accept it.
He glanced over at Arisda, who was smiling widely, as entranced by the ring as he was. “You think this one is nice?” he asked her.
She tugged on her hair. “It’s beautiful,” she whispered.
He was struck by her guilelessness, unusual in one with her kind of lifestyle. It gave him hope, that she wasn’t too jaded yet. No child should have to become a hardened cynic at such a young age. If she were his kid…
He shook his head, exasperated. The forces of the universe were ganging up on him. “How much?”
He blanched at the outrageous sum she named, but he managed to haggle her down to nearly half that amount. As she placed the ring in a small beaded box and handed it back to him, she said, “May it bring you joy.”
A smile tugged at his mouth. “It might,” he mumbled. “It just might.”
Shit. Shitshitshitshitshit I finally did it she’s left me and there’s no way I’m gonna get her back this time, idiot, Solo, you’re a damn idiot… Clenching his jaw, he set off to track down Luke.
Luke, for his part, was still wrestling with the navicomputer on his X-Wing. What good was the Force, he reflected as he tried for the fifth time to make the proper wire connections, if you can’t use it to fix your ship once in a while? Was that too much to ask?
He poked his head out from underneath the ship to see his brother-in-law standing there, looking appropriately sheepish, and more than a little worried. “About time you got back.”
“Yeah,” Han snapped. “Where’s Leia?”
Luke wiped his sweaty forehead with the back of his sleeve. “Byblos.”
Han’s eyebrows shot up. “Byblos? What the hell is she doing there?”
“Mon Mothma sent her on some diplomatic envoy,” he said, trying not to lose his temper. Han was the last person who should be acting antagonistic right about now.
“Damn!” Han opened and closed his mouth a few times, evidently trying to decide what to say next. Finally he exhaled harshly and met Luke’s eyes. “I messed up big time, didn’t I.”
Luke shrugged, fighting back a smile. “It’s not the first time.”
“Thanks, you’re a real pal,” Han grumbled.
“How are you doing?” he asked quietly, instead of rising to the bait.
Han massaged the back of his neck with his hand. “Okay. Pretty good, actually. I think…I think I’m gonna be a father,” he said, grinning.
This time Luke let the smile spread over his face. “Congratulations…Dad.”
Han grinned even wider, then turned to leave.
“Han, wait a second! Where are you going?”
The Corellian didn’t halt his retreat. “Byblos,” he yelled over his shoulder.
Luke chuckled. Some things never changed.
In fact, the Byblians’ willful refusal to accommodate her any time soon was only too in keeping with her visit thus far. The reptilian-esque natives dug their heels in every step of the way of the diplomatic talks, and it didn’t appear they’d be giving in any time soon. Leia massaged her temples wearily and sat down on the bed. Stubborn snakes…
The com tone sounded, and she gathered up the strength to cross the room and hit the reply button. “Yes?”
The image of a low-ranking Byblian tech appeared on the small monitor. “Minister Organa Solo, we have received a landing request from someone who claims to be your mate.”
She blinked. “Han? Is here?”
The Byblian flickered an impatient tongue at her. “He would have us think so. He claims to be General Han Solo, native of Corellia, presently of Coruscant. Would you please confirm this visual?”
Before Leia could answer the image of the tech was replaced by one of Han, sitting in the pilot seat of the Falcon, tapping his hand on his thigh impatiently, oblivious to the fact that he was being broadcast to her. She sighed. It was amazing how he was on the one hand so predictable, and on the other never ceased to keep surprising her. “Yes, that’s him. Please allow him to land and have him shown to my quarters,” she said in her most regal voice.
“Yes, Minister.” The monitor blanked out.
Leia ran to the mirror, feeling a bit silly for doing so, but part of her couldn’t help but check her appearance, make sure she looked presentable. She was chagrined to discover that there were rings under her eyes, her makeup was a little smudged, and her hair had seen better days, so she took a few minutes to clean up a bit. When she was satisfied with what she saw in the mirror, she sat down on a lounge chair and waited. Moments later, the lights in the room dimmed to a normal level. She sighed in blessed relief and threw the sun visor aside.
What did it mean, that Han had showed up here? Obviously he had returned to Coruscant and someone had told him where to find her. But what was he coming here to say? That he was sorry, and that he had accepted his new role of father-to-be? Or that he couldn’t handle the pressure and was leaving her?
She didn’t want to lose him. But she didn’t want to force him to be someone he wasn’t, either.
By the time the door tone sounded she was on the verge of throwing up from anxiety. Taking deep breaths to steady herself, she walked to the door and opened it.
Why in the name of all that was holy did he have to be so damn good-looking? “Hi,” she managed.
He smiled hesitantly. “Well, I guess you’re speaking to me, that’s a good sign.”
“Don’t push your luck.” She turned and sat back down on the chair, suddenly not trusting her legs to support her. She was terrified, and glad to see him, and nauseous, and maddeningly aroused at the sight of him… She looked up, raised an eyebrow when she saw that he hadn’t entered the room. “You can come in.”
He scratched his head sheepishly and walked in a few steps as the door closed with a whoosh behind him.
“Well? I’m listening.” He could say whatever he came there to say, but she’d be damned if she’d make it easy for him.
He held his palms up to her in an appeasing gesture. “Okay. First of all, I’m sorry I flew off like that. It was inconsiderate and stupid.”
She nodded. “Keep going…”
“…and I at least should have told you where I was going.”
Leia smiled to herself. She was training him well…
“…but I had to get out of there. And I’m not going to apologize for needing my space,” he said forcefully, jabbing the air with his finger.
Leia swallowed. Well, maybe not that well.
Han began to pace, back and forth, back and forth, until Leia had to stop watching him or she really would be sick. “What I’m trying to say is, I was confused, and scared, and pissed, and I reacted the only way I knew how at the time. But while I was gone, I did a lot of thinking. And…well, maybe this will help explain.” He reached into the inside pocket of his vest and withdrew a small blue and gold beaded box. Joining her on the couch, he held it out to her. “I got you this on Nvrgrim,” he said.
She took it from him gingerly, at a loss as to what could be inside. When she opened it, she gasped at the sight of the ring. An exquisite creation, the center of its glory being three brilliantly colored stones. It was breathtaking. She studied his face curiously. “I’m not sure I understand.”
He took the box from her, removed the ring, and slipped it onto her finger. “There’s three stones. Get it? Three.”
She opened her mouth to question him again, and then it sunk in. “And baby makes three…?”
She smiled. Oh, that man. That maddening, unbelievably simple man. “I take it you’re feeling better about the situation, then?”
“I…I guess I realized that I’m not my parents. I’m me. And maybe it would be nice to have a little me running around. Well, a little me and you,” he amended, seeing her expression. “Plus, I met this kid on Nvrgrim, and… well, I want to be able to give someone the kind of life that she’ll never have. I think we can do it, Leia.”
She leaned over, kissed him softly on the lips. “I think so too, nerfherder.”
He grinned in relief. “I love you.”
“Me too.” She got up, made her way toward the bedroom. “But that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for taking off the way you did.”
He followed her, leering all the way. “So what’re you gonna do about it?”
“Come into the bedroom, General. I’m sure I’ll think of something.”