Leia ran a towel over her face and tried to slow her breathing.
Luke patted her on the back. "That was a good session. Your levitating skills are really improving. Why don't you hit the shower. We'll work with the lightsabers tomorrow."
Leia nodded her head and moved toward the women's locker room. She padded quietly across the red and blue mats, the promise of a shower the only thing keeping her moving. Her T-shirt clung to her with sweat and every muscle in her body seemed to be hurting. Luke's regimen to turn her into a Jedi was exhausting both physically and mentally. If she complained, he'd say it was worse for him. 'I had to do that with Yoda on my back,' he'd say, or 'At least you get to sleep in a comfortable bed; I had to sleep on Yoda's floor with nothing but a blanket.'
Leia rolled her eyes at the thought of Luke's comments and pushed the door to the locker room open. A double-sided row of lockers split the room down the middle; on either side was a hard metal bench. Leia chose the bench next to the showers and sat down to pull her boots off. She heard the door open. She looked to see who it was, but she couldn't see the door from where she was sitting. Too tired to get up, she let it go and went back to taking her boots off.
On the other side of the lockers she could hear two women talking.
"Well, I don't think that rumor is true."
"Why not, they're together all the time."
"No they're not. Besides, why would someone as hot as Han Solo want someone as cold as the princess?"
"Oh, please, you just don't like her because of Alderaan."
"Well, that may have cinched it, but I didn't like her before that either."
"Why, what did she ever do to you? She's been a good leader, Fren."
"Right, some leader. She's just some power-hungry rich girl, as far as I'm concerned. The minute she made Senator she was climbing for the top. She didn't care about Alderaan; she wasn't half the Senator her father was."
"They usually voted the same."
"But she didn't care about the people. Not like he did. I mean look at her now. She doesn't even come to the Alderaanian meetings. She never makes an appearance for any of the holiday celebrations. I mean, there are hardly any of us left; you'd think she could make the effort to be there. Out of respect for her father if nothing else."
"Don't you think you're being a little hard on her. I mean, a lot of the Alderaanians have made it clear that they don't want her around."
"Which is exactly my point," the woman called Fren said. "Things get a little hot and she runs away. Some leader."
"Well, say what you will, I think she and Solo are a couple."
"Please, then why is she always with Skywalker?"
"Maybe she's doing them both."
The women laughed.
Leia felt sick. She was relieved to hear the women shut their lockers and walk back out into the gym.
Leia stepped into the shower just long enough to rinse off. She quickly dressed and headed back to her quarters, anxious to get away from the gym and everything else.
Han came in carrying a tool kit he'd stopped off at the Falconto get after work. He'd promised Leia he would hang a rack for her stemware. Leia's quarters were quiet when he came in. He wondered when he was going to stop thinking of them as her quarters. He'd been living almost solidly in them for the past six months, yet somehow, they were still hers.
He set his tool kit on the counter and noticed that a bottle of Corellian brandy was open on the counter.
Bad sign,he thought to himself and went to investigate. He found Leia in the bathtub, submerged so that only her eyes and nose were above the water line. On the side of the tub sat an empty brandy snifter.
"Want some company?" Han asked from the door.
"Only if you promise to drown me when you're done."
Han began stripping off his clothes. "I love the way you say sweet nothings to encourage me," he said, trying to lighten her mood.
For a moment he was successful, as Leia let out a half laugh.
She moved forward in the tub to make room for him, and he settled himself in behind her, trying not to splash. Immediately, he reached for her shoulders. She settled against him. Stirring ripples in the water, he used his thumbs to ease away some of the tension in her muscles.
"Rough day?" Han asked.
"Five hours training with Luke."
"How's that going?"
Leia knew Han was a little uncomfortable with the idea of her training to be a Jedi, so she appreciated his attempt to listen to her day. "Fine, I guess. I'm good at some things, not so good at others. Luke says my levitating is getting better, but it's still pretty weak compared to his."
"You'll get it," Han said, hoping to sound encouraging. He pushed her away from him slightly and began to work on her upper back.
Leia stared at the white of the tub, followed the curve of it to the white of the wall. Morosely she thought, There's no color to my life.Then she mentally kicked herself for having such a self-pitying thought. No wonder Luke says I have it easy. I've got to stop whining. Here I sit in a huge tub getting a massage from the man I love and all I can think about is the decor. I need to get some perspective.
Han didn't push her about the rest of her day, even though he was sure that there was more to her funk than poor levitation skills.
Finally, Leia let out a big sigh.
Here it comes,Han thought, but what she said next surprised him.
"What's a hot guy like you doing with a cold bitch like me?" Leia asked bluntly.
Han's mouth hung open as he tried to decide what to say, if anything, in response. Finally, he decided to go with a humorous approach. "I'm just in it for the sex." He kissed her neck, then playfully ran his tongue over her ear.
She pulled away from him and turned to face him. "Seriously, that's the question of the day in the women's locker room."
Han screwed his face up in consternation. "Someone said that to you?"
"Not directly; I overheard some people talking."
Han pulled her into his chest and wrapped his arms around her. "Well, anyone who thinks you're a cold bitch obviously doesn't know you very well."
After awhile, Leia said, "She was Alderaanian."
"One of the women I overheard talking. She's apparently hated me for a long time."
Han scrubbed a hand over his face. "Leia, you can't please all people all the time, you know that."
"I can't seem to please any of them. They all hate me."
"Not every Alderaanian hates you."
"Yes, they do, and rightfully so. It was my fault, my mission, my failure, my fault."
Han stood up and stepped out of the tub, grabbing a towel from the rack and wrapping it around his waist. He was angry at her--angry because she was going down a very self-destructive line of thinking and angry because it pretty much guaranteed that there would be no sex now.
Leia pulled her knees tightly against her chest and didn't look at him. She knew she'd struck a nerve.
Han sat on the edge of the tub and started. "First of all, Vader and Tarkin made the decision to blow up Alderaan."
"Actually," Leia said quietly, "it was just Tarkin. Vader didn't say anything."
"Fine," Han said, taking a deep breath and trying to control his temper. "Then Tarkin made the decision. Either way, it wasn't you."
"But," Leia said, "if I hadn't been the one standing there, Alderaan wouldn't have been chosen as the target."
"You don't know that for sure. And, if you're basing your guilt on your mission, then this whole thing is your father's fault for sending you in the first place."
Leia didn't say anything but instead reached over to pull the plug out of the tub to let the water drain. All of Han's anger melted away as she stood up, and he watched the water run down her body, over her breasts, and down her legs.
As she reached for a towel, Han stopped her hand. "Let's not fight about ancient history; what's done is done, and nothing can change that now."
Leia sighed and pulled the towel around her anyway. "It's easy for you to discount all this as ancient history, but it's a little harder for me. You weren't the pawn here. I was. Trapped in a game of hide and seek between my two fathers. The greater the illusion of my control, the greater the fabrication. You know, the irony of it is that I'm beginning to have problems discerning the good father from the bad. I mean, all those years of slavish devotion to Bail Organa. I loved him, Han, and I thought that he loved me. But the more I learn about my past, the more it looks like he was just a caretaker who threw me to my fate when the time came. I mean, at least the Lars were trying to protect Luke."
"Leia..." Han stopped, not sure how to comfort her. He'd had the same thoughts about Bail Organa.
"It's like one day I woke up and everything I thought I knew about my life and my family was a lie. It's like losing them all over again."
Han pulled her into his arms. "You still have me."
Leia nodded against his chest. "You and Luke. My whole world has narrowed to that."
Han kissed her forehead. "But that's not enough?"
Leia pulled away from him. "Look, I need to get ready for work. I'm due on the bridge in twenty minutes."
Han let her go. He continued sitting on the side of the tub and watched her walk out of the bathroom, but the more he thought, the angrier he got. He set his jaw and stood. When he entered the bedroom Leia was just pulling a tunic over her head.
"You spent five hours working out with Luke, and now you're going to pull how many hours on the bridge? Ten, maybe more?"
Leia moved to the closet for her pants. "What's your point?"
Han grabbed her arm, causing her to look up sharply at him.
"My point," he said, "is that the war is supposedly over and I see less of you now than ever."
Leia pulled her arm away, clearly angry. "There is a lot of work left to do."
"Yes, and you seem hellbent on doing it all yourself. Something has to give, Leia."
"Something is giving. I'm giving." Suddenly, there were tears in her eyes.
Han's heart broke. She was obviously under a ton of stress and he wasn't helping her. He moved to hold her but she turned away from him and held a hand up in a stopping gesture. The sudden rejection hit him hard and he resented it.
"Oh, that's right," he growled. "Hold it in. Fight it. You wouldn't want to share the burden; that might be a sign of weakness."
Leia was fighting sobs. "You don't understand."
"How am I supposed to understand? You don't talk to me anymore."
Leia angrily wiped tears from her eyes as she began pulling on her boots. "I'm doing the best that I can," she growled between clinched teeth.
Han sighed. "I know. But like I said, you can't do it all, Sweetheart. Something's got to give. I would like for it not to be me."
Leia glared at him. "Is that a threat?"
"No, it's just hard to have a relationship by myself."
Leia was stunned and for a long moment their eyes locked. A thousand unnamed thoughts passed between them until she finally dropped her eyes. "I have to go," she said in a hoarse whisper.
Han stepped away and gestured to the door. "Fine," he said simply.
He was getting dressed as she left.
When she returned that night, eleven and a half hours later, all of Han's clothes had been removed from her dresser and her closet, but he had hung the rack in the kitchen. As she stood there looking at his handy work, their earlier conversation came back to her.
"You and Luke. My whole world has narrowed to that."
"But that's not enough?"
She leaned forward and rested her brow against the cabinet. Maybe that's plenty,she thought. She went back into her bedroom and changed clothes. She had a sudden need to get out of her uniform and into something that felt like she had an identity of her own, something that separated her from the Rebellion. There wasn't a lot to choose from, so she settled for khakis and a dark brown sweater. She left with determination and headed for the Falcon.
Han was sitting on the floor next to the entrance ramp, rewiring a panel. Leia walked right by him and to his cabin. After a moment's pause, he followed her.
"What are you doing?"
She was putting his clothes into a duffle bag, but she offered no explanation. Instead she said, "In a few weeks Mon Mothma is going to be elected Chief of State for the New Republic. When that happens, she's told me she intends to appoint me Secretary of State. She feels my status as woman-without-a-
planet puts me in a uniquely neutral position for negotiating with new member systems."
"Oh." Han wasn't sure what to say so he settled on something innocuous. "That's quite an honor. Big job, though."
"Huge job. Enormous job. Tremendous power and status."
Han cleared his throat awkwardly.
"I don't think it's a good idea for me to have that kind of position. After all, I'm my father's daughter."
She shook her head. "I am, Han, and I'm training to be a Jedi, and you're right, I can't do both."
"So..." Han said, feeling a little lost.
"So, I'm moving your stuff back to my suite. I hope you'll come too." With that she pulled the duffle on to her shoulder and pushed past him and out the door.
Han was tired. He'd been working on that panel for the last two hours. He flexed his back to crack his spine back into place and rubbed a hand across his stiff neck. He was pretty certain that Leia was the most difficult woman he had ever met. He shrugged, grinned to himself and followed her.
Leia drew a deep breath and took the podium. The applause seemed deafening, and the lights were unbearably bright. She shut her eyes for a moment, calmed herself, felt the Force flowing through her, guiding her. She calmly turned off her datapad and her carefully written speech faded from view. She looked up and took in the smiling, expectant faces before her.
Leia had stood there so quietly for so long that the crowd naturally stilled and a nervous hush fell over the room.
"Thank you," she said softly into the microphone. "Tonight you have unanimously elected Mon Mothma to be your president, and you couldn't have picked a better leader."
The crowd clapped and whistled its approval. Leia waited for them to settle again before continuing.
"And I am here before you because she has asked me to be her Secretary of State."
Thunderous applause ensued. Leia waited again, feeling patient in a way she had never felt before. When the crowd settled down again, she went on.
"In many ways," she said, "I was born to stand before you tonight. I was raised to be at this podium, and since my eighteenth birthday, I have lead a single-minded existence. I breathed to see the end of the Empire and the return to a democratic republic."
The crowd went wild, but Han knew with an uneasy feeling that Leia wasn't saying what they thought she was saying.
When the room was finally quiet again, Leia steepled her fingers and leaned over the podium, adding to the intimacy of the moment. Suddenly everyone in the room felt as if she were talking only to them, a one-on-one conversation with the Princess of Alderaan.
"When news reached me of the death of the Emperor and of Lord Vader, I felt something I had never felt before..."
The crowd waited in breathless anticipation.
"I felt free."
The crowd broke in ebullition unequaled that night. It was a full five minutes before they settled down enough for Leia to continue speaking.
Finally she said, "Last night, I turned twenty-four."
There was some clapping.
Leia smiled. "Thank you," she nodded. "If I were to accept Mon Mothma's generous offer of Secretary of State, I would spend the rest of my life, as I did the beginning, in rooms like this, at podiums like this, giving speeches. Faced with this as a future as well as a past, I must respectfully decline."
As a unit, the crowd gasped in shock. No one had been even remotely prepared for this, with the exception of Han, who half-smiled and nodded to himself.
"I'm sorry," Leia said. "I'm sure this comes as a shock for most of you, but as of tonight, I am officially retiring from public life to pursue other interests. I will still support the New Republic and on occasion may act as a consultant or as a liaison, but not in any permanent capacity. I wish for the New Republic the realization of all its goals and endeavors. I know that with Mon Mothma as your leader, the course will be true and just. May the Force be with you."
The hall was so silent that the creak of the platform as she stepped off the podium echoed through the room. Then everyone began talking, speculating, regretting and a few were even rejoicing, but everyone had something to say. Leia ignored it all and slipped through the curtain to exit out the back of the amphitheater as Mon Mothma was trying to call everyone back to order.
She was headed for her quarters when Han caught up with her.
"Hey," he called. "Didn't you used to be Princess Leia?"
Leia turned around, a small grin playing on her lips. "No. You must have me confused with someone else."
He pulled her into his arms, and she wrapped hers around his waist and pressed her face against his chest. "Tell me I did the right thing," she whispered.
"You did the right thing," he whispered back.
"That's what Luke said too."
"Luke's a smart kid."
"I've always thought so."
"It runs in the family, I think," Han said, draping an arm around her shoulders as they continued walking.
"You know, Han, I think you might be right." Leia wasn't sure what the future held, but she felt lighter. For the first time in years she felt the weight of the rebellion lifted from her shoulders, and the Force must have truly been flowing through her because suddenly she felt completely connected to everything around her. It might have been dizzying to be so aware. She could have been lost in all that energy, but Han's warmth kept her steady and held her like an anchor to the world. She was finally free.
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