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Later that night, in the silent hours on board the Falcon, Han wrestled back and forth on the narrow couch. It was not uncommon for him to lose sleep over thoughts of Leia. It had been growing in frequency the past several months, but rarely this intense.
He was profoundly confused and very ambivalent about their whole relationship. Why was she pulling back? He had relinquished all the freedom and space he could imagine within the confines of his ship. Never would he have listed patience as one of his stellar qualities. Yet here he was.
He also wondered - in between physical fantasies - what their mute pleasure in each other might lead to, something or nothing? Would it just go, as it had come? Could it change?
Especially with him leaving.
There was an incapable sleeper somewhere in his mind, a sleeper bruised and tossing on a weathered, rough surface, suffering the burning shoulder mark where Leia’s lips had been.
Two things resulted from their medical bunk encounter. First, Han stopped cleaning out the bunk room. The remaining items were brushed aside far enough to allow him ample sleeping room. Leia, out of guilt for his injury, never pushed him to finish. And second, nothing else was said about sleeping arrangements. She kept the cabin, and he slept in the bunk room.
Things had changed between them nevertheless. They worked and maneuvered comfortably in companionable silence. They touched each other without comment and without progression. A hand on a hand, a clothed arm, resting on an arm, and not removed. A knee brushing against the side of a leg, as she helped him lift a cable panel back into place.
They did not question this. It was important to both of them that the touching should not proceed to any kind of fierceness or deliberate passion. They felt that in some way this peacefulness of unacknowledged contact gave them back their sense of their separate lives (his to Jabba and her’s to the Alliance) inside their separate thoughts. Speech, the kind of words they knew, would have ruined it.
Sometimes she felt as if her breathing was shallow, that she stood at the edge of an opportunity to fill her lungs and inhale something beautiful and gloriously satisfying. But she knew how this story would end. Eventually, there would be no air left.
The luscious and brightest of the fresh food went first, followed by the green chicory, the vagnerian canapés and finally the neonan red cheese.
Now they were down to the least desirable fare, and Han had mixed the remains into a traditional Corellian spiceloaf. It had been cooking for the past several hours, filtering the ship with the smell of steamed meat. It lacked enthusiasm, but everyone knew - as their jaws struggled through the rough bites - going forward they had to survive on soypro biscuits and cans of Vayerbok.
Han chewed slowly, keeping his head bent over the meal. Chewie rose to get seconds and Leia had difficulty swallowing.
The one gracious gesture of the meal was Han’s last bottle of vintage, brought up from the cargo hold. The red liquid had a wonderful aroma and lifted the dreary spirits around the table.
“Have you ever run this low on supplies before?”
“Sure. Chewie and I used to run almost on nothing back in the day. Of course, the hyperdrive was working so we could always stock up fairly soon.”
Chewbacca yelled his irritation at Han’s story, reminding his companion how hungry he had been on those trips.
“Sorry, pal, I forgot about that time. But come to think about it, when have you not been hungry?”
The furry mammoth thought for a moment.
Leia continued her question. “But not like this?”
When he noticed the lines of stress around her forehead he added, “Hey, don’t worry. We’re nearly halfway there. And just wait till you taste the seafood on Cloud City. It’s like nothing else you can get in the galaxy.”
“Seafood at a city with no lakes or oceans?”
“I know. Sounds bizarre, but trust me, it’s amazing. Chewie and I’ll take you to one of the places there.”
“I doubt we’d fit in.”
“Nah. Lando will hook us up. You’ll be fine.”
Threepio walked into the gallery, anxiously waving his arms about.
“Chewbacca! That cell unit you charged earlier is shooting sparks again. If only you’d have turned the joint properly like I instructed, we wouldn’t be in this ridiculous mess.”
Chewie growled loudly and then pushed past his companions to trudge off in the direction of Threepio, the droid following close behind, still commenting on the situation. “Don’t take that tone with me. I’m not programmed to tighten rails that need a firm grip. That was your job.”
Han shrugged and moved to the now vacant seat next to the princess. Leia cleared her throat.
“Han, when you said, awhile back, about me never dressing like a girl. What did you mean?”
“Oh, that.” He rubbed his neck. “Nothing really. You just don’t ever wear…you know…dresses and stuff.”
She frowned. “That doesn’t mean I don’t like them. We’re at war, we’re always hiding. I don’t really have time to get out much and buy something.”
“So…you admit you like them?”
“Sure I do.” She was quiet for a moment. “Remember the awards ceremony at Yavin? I was wearing a dress then.”
“I remember that.” He smiled, thinking back. “You looked nice.”
“Yeah…you looked beautiful.”
She softened and then blushed, unsure of what to say next. She took another sip of wine, already starting to feel the weightlessness of the drink. Her words flowed forth.
“This wine reminds me of my mother.”
He lifted up the bottle, inspecting the details. “Never thought the royal family would be interested in this vintage.”
“It’s more the flavor, very light and clear, almost a floral hint.”
“You rarely talk about her, you know. It’s always about Bail. What was her name again?”
“That’s right. Now I remember.”
“Did you ever meet her? I know you saw my father once. Was she with him?”
“No.” He thought back to his early teen-age years as a recruit with the Empire. On a routine, political assembly he had stood at the edge of the marbled city, Aldera. His general and Bail Organa had met at the front of his line before disappearing inside.
“She was a woman who loved to wear your definition of ‘girl clothes’.”
“So what happened? Genetic makeup never rubbed off on you?”
Leia grew serious, looking down at the oversized shirt tied at her waist, the lose pants. “Actually, I think she’d be pretty disappointed in me right now.”
The drink stopped half way to his lips. “Why?”
“I don’t think I’d measure up to what she envisioned a proper princess to be.”
“And what’s that?”
She pulled at the clothes. “Always remember who you represent and hold yourself accordingly. Always keep in mind the people who watch you, never allow yourself to be seen at weak moments. Weak moments were frowned upon.”
Han picked up her hand and began running the pads of his fingers over her nails. “Remember, you had to flee a base that you took the lead in organizing, and refused to leave until almost every member of the Rebellion had been evacuated.”
“I know, I know. But if she would have been in my shoes, she would have done the whole job with more grace and tact, and possibly saved more people in the process.”
“You don’t know that.”
“True.” She closed her eyes, savoring the feel of Han’s hands on hers. “But I do know she always looked beautiful and gracious, no matter what crisis we were going through. She was soft spoken, yet incredibly efficient. She always…did the right thing.”
“And you don’t?”
She pulled her hand back from his grasp. “I’m never tactful enough. My anger overwhelms my good sense with almost everyone I deal with. I yell at generals, at droids, at Luke…at you.”
“Can’t argue with you there. But I think its part of your charm.”
She was unmoved by his humor. “Breha never would have tolerated such behavior. It would have been another mark on the list of my many faults…my numerous mistakes.”
“I’m always making mistakes when I compare myself to her.”
“Look, there is no set rule we have to become like our parents. That’s just some sentimental, nostalgic belief that very dependent people come up with.”
“But what if…what if a part of you does want to?”
“Well sure, but…eventually you have to cut yourself off, you know. Or have it cut off for you.” This time he pulled both of her hands into his. “Either way, all of us at some point or another find ourselves drifting with no port, or city, or people you can call home.”
“That’s a pretty bleak picture.”
“Not really, because eventually you get there. Can’t tell you where that is, exactly. But it’s who you become, you know, while you’re adrift, that defines you.”
She looked down, her mind dissolving what Han was saying.
“Okay, so yeah, you might get her nose or Bail’s eyes or walk like those famous aunts you talk about. But that doesn’t mean you have to be them.”
“But they were respected people. I should want to be like them.”
“Fine. So get their…strength. Or their resilience. But don’t let their influence confuse you while you’re out there trying to decide who you’ll be. Does that makes sense?”
They sat in silence, listening to the far-off cry of a Wookiee losing his impatience with a droid. Her hands were still safely held in his warm ones.
The tiny corners of her mouth twitched upward and she found herself leaning closer to him. “Finding ourselves….that sounds like all of us you know? You, me, Luke…even Chewie.”
He laughed. “Especially Luke.”
“Yes. He always seems that way. But lately, especially before the evacuation, something was off.”
When his thumb started moving gently over her palm, she glanced up at his facade, unable to keep the slight smile that leapt to her face.
“So what about you Han? Were you ever adrift?”
He leaned back, letting go of her hands and shrugged. “Yeah, maybe.”
“So what do we do in the meantime? Before we get there?”
“Do?” He looked around and abruptly got up from the table, dishes and glasses in his hand, clearing his throat. “We get to Bespin, fix the hyperdrive, get you back to the team and then I’m…I’m…I’m as good as gone.”
Leia could not help the crease appearing on her brow. Had she misread the moment? She crossed her arms, leaning towards him, trying a different tactic. “Or could you still be drifting? Like the rest of us.”
He kept his back to her, cleaning the last remains of the food. “Sorry, Princess. But I reached my destiny a long time ago. It’s who I am. It’s what I have to do.”
“But I thought nobody controlled your destiny.”
“We all have sacrifices to make.”
“And this is yours?” She pushed.
“There’s more involved here than you know.”
“But I know you.”
“Maybe you don’t.”
“But Han – “
“Look, Sweetheart.” Now he turned to face her, his eyes unreadable. “I’m tired. Can we call it quits for now and maybe…not talk about this again?”
She did not have time to reply. He retreated to the cockpit only because the spare bunk room would force him to pass Leia and he wanted just the opposite.
A few nights later, deep within the lower compartments of the Falcon, Han ran his hands over several cargo boxes, mentally calculating the final net worth. He already knew the sum, but he counted regardless.
“I know you’re worried, Chewie. But I think he’ll still go for it.”
The Wookiee shook his head, a low, mournful cry on his lips.
“Look, it might be that we have to do a few jobs for him to cover the rest, but it’s not like we haven’t done that type of stuff before.”
Chewbacca barked back at him, a slight tone of anger that surprised Han.
“I know you want to stay with the Alliance. Believe me, I never would have thought twice about it years ago if it hadn’t have been for you. But I want this over, once and for all.”
His companion said nothing. He shook his head again, returned a data pad clip to the wall terminal and walked out of the room.
Han sighed, placing his boot on a nearby case. His eyes swept the room. Over the past three years he had slowly been accumulating the debt he owed Jabba the Hutt. The cache was now made up of valuable gemstones, precious metals, bottles of rare wine, bolts of silk, and a few cases of Tatooine’s local currency. Some of the cases gleamed a dusty sheen from the powerful chrome visible from the outside. It had long ago failed to impress Han.
After the explosion of the Death Star, he had finally earned enough to return and clear his name. But he had discovered a weakness. A weakness he thought had been dead and buried since the long forsaken news of Toprawa. He never allowed his mind to dwell there.
Sympathy and compassion came in all forms, and for Solo, it materialized in Luke and Leia. How could he take the meager resources of a fledgling Alliance to pay back his own debts? How could he look into the eyes of a beautiful princess, who had just watched her entire existence explode, and take what little she had left? In the past it would have been unthinkable, but he found himself returning his pay.
Nobody had asked him – including himself – what he had planned to do once he was free from Jabba. The galaxy was a big place, and there were still alcoves, nooks and stars he wanted to see. But solitary freedom, even with a companion like Chewie, was still solitary. There were relationships he did not want to forfeit, though he could not guarantee anything at this point. He was slowly starting to admit to himself that he did not want to let this one go.
He figured he was still short a couple thousand credits, maybe more depending on how tough Jabba would be with compounded interest.
He hoped he caught Jabba in a good mood.