I see her approaching from my seat in the Falcon'scockpit. The hangar is like a morgue, which seems appropriate considering the circumstances. Her head is low, and she walks at a slow pace. She's in no rush to reach the Falcon,that much is obvious. In fact, I know she's unsure about coming here at all. I'm usually a last resort, a final port of call. Things must be worse than I thought.
I consider going down the ramp to meet her, to make her decision an easier one. But that isn't our way. If it were easy, it wouldn't be worth much. So I make my way to the living area, but no further. I'm not sure whether to sit or stay standing, and I'm annoyed with myself for the indecision and for the way my heart has started to beat a little faster. I need to stop this, or I will take my annoyance out on her and we'll end up fighting. I really don't want to fight with her today. After all, I'm her last resort.
It had been a routine mission. Arkala looked like a good spot for a rebel base. Red Squadron had been sent to gather more information about the uninhabited planet near the outer rim. That they were attacked and most of them killed had been a shock the rebels weren't quite prepared for. They're always prepared for death; in a way, it's the business they're in. But this hadn't been thought of as a dangerous mission. That makes the deaths that much harder to deal with.
Everybody is still in a state of shock, and today is mostly about people regrouping. Plans need to be amended; people need to move on. There's an unofficial time-out for the moment, but I know things will be back to normal very soon, and people will deal with the tragedy in their own way and on their own time. This is what brings my visitor to see me.
She seems tired and worn, and my heart aches as she looks at me.
"I was hoping Luke would be here."
She knows Luke isn't here. He's where most of the other pilots are, in the mess hall. It's a lame excuse, but I let it pass.
"No, Your Highness. It's just me."
She freezes, caught in a moment's indecision, and then turns away as if to leave. I decide to help a little. I take a seat, a subtle invitation. She accepts my offer after a slight hesitation and sits across from me. She stares at her hands in silence. Unable to bear uncomfortable silences for very long, I make a bold and impulsive move and place my hand over one of hers.
"Hey, wanna play handsies, Princess?"
It's a game I haven't played since before I can remember, and I'm amazed how it suddenly surfaces in my memory after so long. I've obviously triggered a memory for her as well, because she starts playing, surprising the hell out of me. She places her free hand over mine, and I do the same, and our hands start to fly as we try to outdo each other's speed. It ends in chaos with hands flying through the air, just like it did when I was a child, but it makes us both laugh out loud and breaks the tension.
"This has hit everybody hard," she says quietly. "It's such a blow to morale."
"I have a fair idea how the base feels, Princess. How about you?"
She's not ready to talk about how she feels yet; I can see that. She'd rather talk about the rebels and High Command, and the plans that are afoot, but I don't allow her to. I'm pushing, and she hates being pushed. I can see the resentment building in her face, but I know it's what she came for. To be pushed...to push back...to feel... She's tired of patting shoulders and soothing fears. She's tired of being the strong rebel leader. She just can't admit it, even to herself.
"And what about you, Captain? Here you are, all alone in your precious ship. Most people are gathered in groups all over the base telling stories about our pilots. They're taking comfort in sharing incidents with each other, in being together."
"I'm not alone, Princess. You're here. Anyway, I didn't really know anybody on that mission. Not well, that's for sure. You did."
"Oh, I forgot," she interrupts. "Han Solo doesn't get to know people--not well, anyway--because he's likely to leave at any moment. How convenient for you!"
Ah, insult my ship or berate me for my lack of loyalty to the rebellion's cause...she knows exactly what buttons to push. This is where I hit back, and she storms off in anger. Today, though, is going to be different. She needs more from me this time and she hates me for realizing that, for seeing what she needs so clearly.
"I'm getting to know you, aren't I? Or at least, I'm trying to. How well is really up to you, Princess."
This stills her. I've deviated from the normal routine, and she's a little thrown by my sincere tone. Gods, even I'm a little thrown. She stares at her hands once more, but I make no move to take her hand in mine. All the games are over for the moment.
"I don't feel anything," she eventually says. "That's what scares me the most. Everybody is so upset and I feel numb. How can that be?"
I can sense her watching as I struggle to find an answer while trying to avoid her eyes. I know instinctively that she doesn't want to be soothed and told that everything will be all right. If she just needed a shoulder to cry on, she wouldn't pick mine.
"You must feel something, Princess, or you wouldn't be here bugging me." I smile to soften the jibe.
Maybe she doesn't catch the smile. Maybe she's just in the mood to ignore it.
"Please forgive me for 'bugging' you, Captain," she throws at me as she storms off.
She knows I won't allow this to end here. In fact, she's counting on it. I don't disappoint her. I catch up with her in the corridor and grab her around the waist from behind. She fights like a womp rat for a few timeparts, but her heart isn't in it. Before I know it, she's in my arms holding on for dear life, and I realize that this is what she needed and wanted from the very beginning--to be held while she allows herself to grieve. I can feel the sobs even though I can't hear them, and I wrap her even tighter in my embrace. This is the first time I've really held her in my arms. There have been a few quick hugs here and there, but nothing like this. I'm amazed by how right it feels, how perfectly we fit together and how I want it to go on and on forever.
It's easier to face terrible things when you have somebody's arms around you. The tough part is finding the right arms. Of course the toughest part of all is trusting those arms enough to step into them, and strangely enough trusting yourself to take that step. That's the way it seems to me, anyway. Leia is a little ahead of me in the trusting department, for the moment anyway. Perhaps because she needs this comfort more than I do. That makes some sense after all she's been through.
"I hate you, you know." Her voice is muffled against my chest.
"I know," I reply.
She dries her eyes and averts her gaze as she disentangles from my embrace.
"Feel any better?" I ask, trying to hide how lost I suddenly feel without her in my arms.
"Some," she says, slightly embarrassed. "Any chance of a drink, Solo?"
I'm grateful for the opportunity to ease the tension in the air.
"Ah," I mock, "the true reason for your visit becomes clear eventually. Come this way, Princess. In fact..." I pause, giving her a hint of where I'm headed...
"Don't even try to go there, hotshot!" she interrupts. She moves ahead of me, but I can sense her smiling, and my heart seems a little lighter. I must be going mushy in my old age, I think to myself. Wouldn't fur-face just love to know that!
We're back now in the living area, and the rebel pilots are still dead. Nothing has changed except her willingness to face this fact and try to move on. I'm not sure what I've done to help, if anything, and I wonder if I'm right about my arms being the ones she needs to hold her. Today they seem to be, but I wonder about the days ahead. Her mood is somber once more as I fetch the glasses and fill them. We both throw our drinks back in one swallow, and I'm pleased to see she remembered my lesson on how to treat a Corellian brandy with respect. I catch her eye and wink in acknowledgment as she places her glass down.
I fill them up once more and cork the bottle. This is the one we will sip and talk through. The conversation will last as long as the drink does, and I'm glad to see her take a tiny sip when she brings the glass to her lips. I'm in no hurry to see her go.
"So what's the mood like out there?" I ask.
"Grim, to say the least. Which is to be expected, considering. A lot of us have lived through this over and over in the past couple of years, but some of them out there are so young, Han. They've only been with us for such a short time. Every small victory makes us seem invincible to them, I think, and then something like this happens out of the blue. Well, suddenly they don't feel as safe as they did before. I can see the shock in their faces."
"Yeah, well, everybody's gotta grow up sometime, Princess."
She knows this is true; she just hates the fact that death and devastation are more often than not the final push into adulthood around here. It reminds her too much of her own painful rite of passage. My comment has reminded her of that, and I need to distract her.
"But then, of course there are those who remain short all their lives."
She gives me one of her "looks" and then seems to go somewhere else for a moment.
"I remember complaining to my father about being short once," she says eventually. "He told me he knew of a planet, I can't remember where, but the people who lived there kept growing throughout their lives."
She smiles to herself, lost in the memory. "I told him I was a bit old for fairy stories, but he insisted it was true. He said that though they continued to grow in height, they stopped growing as beings very early in their life span. It seems they used up all their 'growth energy' in becoming taller and couldn't grow in other ways. I remember him warning me not to stop hoping that I might grow a little, but to always remember what kind of growth was important."
She focuses her attention back to me. "Now you, Captain, are quite tall, relatively speaking. Figures, I suppose..."
I ignore the jibe, touched by her simple story. This whole day must be getting to me, 'cause I speak without thinking. "My old man was tall--take after him, I suppose. But he was a small man, very small."
I want to kick myself for starting something I have no intention of finishing. I haven't spoken or thought about my father in years, and I don't want to start now. She seems to sense my discomfort, though, and kindly lets me off the hook.
"My father had another saying he used every now and then to appease me."
"Let me guess," I gladly interrupt. "Good things come in small packages."
"See," she replies, "you are familiar with the concept."
"Familiar with the concept? Why, it's been my experience, Princess, that every now and then wonderful things come in small packages. I remember this woman in some gods-forsaken planet who only reached my knees. But, I tell you, sometimes it's worth bending..."
I'm quieted by a whack over the head that thankfully was delivered in jest. She has a mean right hook, and yes, I speak from painful experience.
We're suddenly serious again, and I start to worry that she's about to leave because her drink is nearly finished. But she swirls the dregs in her glass instead of finishing it. I follow suit and the silence stretches, but this time it's an incredibly comfortable one.
As we sit here together, I'm struck by how content we seem at this moment, and I figure anybody seeing us would find it difficult to believe that death is all around us. It's as if we've been cocooned from everything and everybody in a safe and wonderful place. I told you I'm going mushy in my old age!
I'm not normally astute enough to recognize or appreciate these moments that infrequently come my way, but I recognize this one. I almost want to close my eyes, to capture this sensation in some way, to revisit it later. But these moments are just that: moments we can't capture and can't plan for or manufacture. That's what makes them so perfect.
I catch my breath and look at her, wondering if I'm alone or if she can sense it too. Our eyes meet, and I know she feels it. We smile at each other, small smiles but they're there nonetheless. The moment is broken then, gone as suddenly as it arrived, and she brings the glass to her mouth and empties it.
"Well, I think it's time I go and see how people are holding up," she says.
I rise with her and we stand awkwardly now, not sure how to end it. I'm not even sure if any connection between us has taken place, but I sense it has. I know I'll rationalize it later and convince myself it was nothing, but at the moment I want to believe we've shared something special.
"Thanks, Han," she says softly.
"Any time, Leia," I reply, and I know we've both offered each other's names as gifts.
"Next time, bring your own drink," I shout after her as she leaves, and I'm glad to feel more like my old self again. She totally ignores my comment, a silent return by both of us to the old status quo.
I return to the cockpit to watch her walk back across the hangar. It's still empty and still seems full of death. But she's different. Her head is held high and she's walking at a brisk pace, a princess with a purpose. Her last resort came through for her. How or why, I'm not really sure. I'm just glad I did.
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