"Okay, things seem to have gone quiet out there. I've set a course for base."
Leia smiled in acknowledgment as Han Solo walked through the lounge area of his ship. It had been another close mission with just Han's near-suicidal but expert piloting making the difference between success and failure, life and death.
She took a deep breath as she tried to calm her heartbeat. They were safe; they were on their way home. Another debt to whomever or whatever was watching over her. She blushed slightly as her subconscious decided that she owed a certain pilot that debt.
Whether he'd ever collect was anybody's guess and Leia purposefully stopped her subconscious from taking her past that thought. She'd gotten quite adept over the last couple of years at deciding what her mind could and couldn't entertain. It was time to be busy, to fill her mind with tasks and goals, not daydream about that certain captain.
She made her way to the cockpit where Chewbacca was at the controls, preparing for the jump to lightspeed.
"That was a close one, Chewie. How long before we're home?"
She couldn't understand his reply but had learned over the years to interpret a lot from the Wookiee's body language. He agreed about the close call, that much was obvious. And she translated his two finger sign to mean two timeparts before they reached the latest Rebellion base. Either that or he was being rude--and while Chewbacca was a lot of things, rude wasn't one of them.
Now, his captain was a different matter altogether.
Think about him and he's bound to appear, she thought as Han brushed by her, making his way to the pilot's seat. She ignored the delightful shiver that went through her body at the barest of touches from him.
"All systems go, Chewie. Let's do this and get home. Strap yourself in, Princess."
Leia did as she was told while her mind mused on the term he'd used to describe their latest base. Since when did Han Solo refer to it as "home?" The man was slipping, she mused. Best not to mention it though, as she would have to listen to a lecture on freedom, taking to the skies and how his home was the Falconand always would be. She'd received the lecture many times in the past and she didn't understand why, but it always left her feeling empty inside. Another topic not to analyze. She accepted that the Falconwas his home; she would have just liked to understand why.
The stars became a blur as the ship went into lightspeed and Leia at last relaxed fully. Chewie vacated his seat and left the cockpit after telling Han something that the captain did not appreciate.
"What did he say?" Leia questioned as she moved into the vacant seat beside Han.
"It didn't sound like nothing."
Han stopped what he was doing and turned toward her with that look that told her she was annoying him.
"Well, now you know what nothing sounds like in Wookiee speak. Congratulations!"
His response sent Leia from relaxed to exasperated and well on her way to downright annoyed all in the space of a nanosecond. No, she decided, she was actually all the way to angry. She impulsively picked up a manual lying beside Chewie's seat and threw it at Han, catching him on the back of the head.
"Ouch! What was that for?"
"Nothing," she retorted, suddenly feeling playful instead of angry. She really needed to get some control over her mood swings when she was in this man's company.
Rubbing his head, Han turned toward her with a mischievous glint in his eye.
"It didn't feel like nothing!"
Leia couldn't help smiling. She liked it when he played along. It was his silent apology for giving her a short answer before. She often apologized to him in much the same manner. Their own secret code. She wasn't going to think too much about that aspect of their banter.
"Well, now you know what nothing feels like in Organa speak. Congratulations!"
With that they both looked at each other and smiled. One of his rare real smiles, she noted. They didn't happen often but they were worth the wait. She was now deliriously happy and for no reason at all except that she had connected with Han Solo in a small way; their secret unacknowledged way. She was really beginning to worry about herself!
Han moved closer to her. "Any chance of finding out what everything feels like in Organa speak?" he whispered suggestively.
This was normally her cue to give a smart retort and escape as quickly as possible. But today she didn't want to leave his company quite so soon.
"In your dreams, Solo..."
She laughed out loud at his over-the-top 'hurt' reaction and was aware that he seemed very pleased with himself.
"It's nice to hear you laugh, Your Highness. You should do it more often."
Feeling slightly embarrassed by his sincere tone, she turned and looked out the canopy window at the vast nothingness that surrounded them. She didn't notice the emptiness, though. She felt at peace, as if she belonged in this crazy, beat-up space ship with this even crazier spacer. She knew it was a fleeting peace but it was a pleasant respite.
"Why does this ship mean so much to you?" She wasn't sure why she had asked him that all of a sudden. It was something she had often wondered about though. Luke had told her that Han had won it in a sabacc game years before. That was as much as she knew. "I mean, I know you've put a lot of time and effort into her, but that still doesn't explain why you've never upgraded her."
Han looked at her as if trying to decide whether she was being rude about the Falconor was genuinely interested. Leia returned his gaze with her practiced "interested" look. Diplomacy training came in handy every now and then.
"'Upgraded her?'" Han asked as if he didn't quite understand her question.
"Yes, 'upgraded her,'" Leia replied. "You know; sell this ship, buy a better one. I know you've modified her over the years, but you could always modify the next one and have an even better ship. I just wondered why you are so loyal to this ship in particular. I bet you had another ship before you got the Falcon.You upgraded that one, didn't you?"
She was really warming to her topic now: The more she thought about it, the more intrigued she was becoming. He would never change this ship. She knew that much about him. He would tinker with it forever and only admit defeat when the bucket of bolts stopped lifting off the ground. Leia really wanted to know why.
"Well, Princess, in your world I can believe that you 'upgraded' things as you went along. Bring out the old, ring in the new. But in my world we work hard for things and they mean something to us. We don't change them in a hurry. Mostly because we can't afford to. A difficult concept for you to understand, I imagine."
Leia bristled silently at his obvious belief that she had not only led a privileged life but a frivolous one also, which was far from the truth.
"No, Captain, I understand very well the concept of earning things. I never did without, I admit that. But I wasn't quite the spoiled princess you seem to believe me to be. And you haven't answered my question. I'm sure you could have afforded another ship at some stage. And you would have worked to earn it."
Han seemed to think about her question, as if he was only deciding the reasons himself. "Yeah, I could have changed her. Maybe I just didn't want to. She's never let me down and I don't think there's a better ship out there. Not for me, anyway."
For some reason Leia felt jealous of the ship and a little annoyed at herself for such childishness. "Oh, so it's a question of loyalty then, or sentiment. Funny, you never struck me as the sentimental type. I think you just love this ship, Han Solo, more then anything else."
"Well, maybe I'm just waiting to find something, or someone to love as much as I love this ship, your Highness. And when I find it, maybe I won't be so quick to upgrade her either--if she lives up to my expectations."
Leia was suddenly uncomfortable with the tone of the conversation. Why did every conversation with Solo turn into a personal one? And why did she always wonder if he was talking about her? Okay, she admitted to herself, she knew he was talking about her. She just wasn't sure how serious he was, or whether he was only teasing her.
All she did know was the effect he had on her. And it was this lack of control over her emotions when dealing with him that made her want to lash out at him.
"Expectations, Captain? Somehow I can't imagine yours being too high if this ship is anything to go by."
That got the reaction she expected. Insult his ship and any softening between them disappeared. She was torn between relief and sorrow when he turned to her with obvious disdain.
"This ship just saved your hide once again, Lady. Don't you forget that! And I'm sure you'll be glad to hear that you always manage to live up to my expectations of you--or should I say down?"
He left the cockpit before she could respond and, in a way, she was glad. His comment hurt too much and she wouldn't have been able to come back with a clever retort. She felt guilty and a little ashamed. Insulting his ship had become such an obvious ploy on her part. And he was right of course. The ship had saved her on numerous occasions. She trusted Han and his ship with her life. She just couldn't tell him that. She also cared what he thought of her far too much, she admitted to herself, and it annoyed and scared her because she didn't understand why.
Flopping back into the seat she wondered where that peaceful feeling had disappeared. Now she just felt empty again and totally fed up. Allowing herself a deep sigh, she decided to fmd him and see if they could make up again without her having to apologize.
Why do you care, Organa?
She didn't, but it would be easier to deal with this now rather then spending the next few days avoiding him while he got over their latest spat. The truth was she missed him when he wasn't speaking to her. It was just the boredom of rebellion base life, of course; he relieved it every now and then. It wasn't anything more involved then that, or so she told herself.
Chewie came back into the cockpit and she took that as her cue to leave and find Han. She spotted half of him, with the requisite spanner in hand, sticking out of some hole near the crew quarters. He had his back to her but she knew he had sensed her approach and was just ignoring her. At least this way it just looked as if she was on her way to her cabin.
She forced herself to make the first move.
"How's your head?" Original, Organa!she chided herself.
There was a moment's silence while he decided whether or not to ignore her.
"No bigger than usual." He carried on with his tinkering.
She couldn't help smiling. She was grateful he had given her the opening she needed. He could really be sweet and witty, she decided, which was a definite part of that Solo charm which she tried hard to ignore.
"I'm sure it would be scientifically impossible for it to get any bigger, Captain, but I was wondering about that hit you took."
"Well, now that you mention it, Your Highness, it does hurt a little." He turned to look at her with that 'scoundrel' look of his. "Maybe you could rub it for me?"
She was so tempted--just to shock him and to see what that hair felt like, if only for a moment. But that was dangerous territory, no matter how tempting.
"Oh, I think you'll live this time. You're right, Han, about the Falcon;if you care about something you should hold on to it. Upgrading isn't always a step up."
His head was level with her waist as she passed by; impulsively she brushed her fingers through his hair. What had started out as a fleeting touch suddenly became a surer, more definite one. Her fingers seemed to take on a life of their own as they ruffled his hair and grazed his neck. She then pulled her hand back as if her fingers had been suddenly burned. It had all happened in a second, but to Leia time had seemed to freeze from the moment she touched him. Amazed at her body's incredible reaction to the contact, she quickly moved past him toward her cabin.
She was acutely aware of his eyes following her along the corridor, practically boring a hole into her back. Her body was still obviously running on autopilot because an intense shiver went all the way from her toes to the top of her royal head. Once she reached her cabin, she resolved to stay there until they reached the base. She would be safer there, out of harm's way. In more ways than one, she admitted.
Sitting on her bunk, all she could think about was the way his hair had felt. Soft and smooth, just as she knew it would. Her fingers still tingled from the feel of skin against skin. The image of her lips grazing against his neck came to her out of nowhere and she flopped back onto the bed and stared at the ceiling. Why had she reacted so intensely when she'd touched him? Why she had actually touched him at all was beyond her. She had never initiated any contact between them before now.
He, on the other hand, always seemed to take advantage of every opportunity to brush up against her. Oh, he did it in a subtle and seemingly innocent manner, but Leia knew better. It had always annoyed her but she also admitted that she found a perverse pleasure in his nearness and in his touch--perverse in her eyes anyway.
Burying her head under her pillow, she considered the fact that when she tried to learn more about Han Solo, she seemed to end up learning more about how she felt about him, and consequently learned more about herself. When she was around Han she was constantly aware of the fact that she was a woman, as well as a Rebellion leader and a princess. This was something she'd never had time to dwell on; Leia Organa, the woman, was someone she did not know very well.
Until she'd met Han, men had treated her as her station in life demanded. No one had broken through her outer layers before and seen her as just 'Leia.' She both loved and hated the feelings Han elicited from her, all womanly feelings it seemed to her. But love or hate those feelings, she didn't have time for them. They were in the middle of a war, for Kreth's sake!
Pacing the cabin now, she resolved to stay out of Han's way for a while once they got back to base, at least until she didn't feel quite so vulnerable in his company. If that failed she could always insult his ship yet again. Han had spoken about expectations. But such prospects were dangerous, Leia decided, as neither of them could live up to the secret desires in their hearts. To push those wishes away, or to even ignore they existed was her only hope for survival. Any expectations, even of a lasting friendship when a man like Solo was involved, were both dangerous and foolish. Leia knew this; just as she knew the odds were high that he would some day wave good-bye to her and disappear in his beloved Falcon,never to be seen again.
The school of the heart taught some painful lessons, and Leia closed her eyes and her heart against those lessons in a vain attempt to ignore them. Lying back down on the bunk she resolutely began to rebuild the invisible walls that sheltered and hid her heart from Han. She knew she would need those walls someday to survive when he was gone. The school of the heart had taught her that much today, if nothing else.
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