Into the Fire

By Susan Zahn

useakiss@gmail.com

 

see You Could Use Another Good Kiss home page
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Chapter 24

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This story is rated NC-17. Please stop now if you're under 17 or sensitive to adult-themed material.


 

Chapter 24 — The arrival  

By the time Leia put the finishing touches to her hair, a good portion of the morning was gone. Staring at her reflection in the mirror now, she wondered if she looked any different. Did she look changed? Older? Would people know in an instant that something profound had happened?

Stop it, you’re being paranoid. The only thing different is that you’ve finally rejoined the rest of humanity.

In fact, she had even picked the same old flattering but no-nonsense crown of braids that were her mainstay since Yavin, although between that and the snowsuit, she knew it was an invitation for an unfavorable comment from Han. The problem was that she needed something to help her reassume that mantel of responsibility she’d so blithely shed weeks ago, and unlike the hairstyles she’d experimented with throughout their long trip, the one today wasn’t for his benefit—it was for hers. This one was practical, familiar, and business as usual.

Is that what you really want? Business as usual?

Frowning at her appearance, all too aware that her moods lately had swung wider than the Outer Rim, she was filled with a sudden urge to undo it all and damn propriety. A new sound from outside the cabin made Leia stop mid-motion, hand hovering near her ear. It was the rhythmic clanking of metal footsteps on the deck plates of the circular corridor outside, growing closer and then stopping. A moment later there followed a sharp, brief tapping on the bunkroom hatch.

“Mistress Leia?”

Leia squeezed her eyes shut and willed reality to go away, preferably down the nearest black hole, but the fact that the Falcon’s crew had switched See-Threepio back on was perhaps the most inarguable sign that their holiday was ending.

The nervous tapping resumed. “Mistress Leia? Are you in there? Captain Solo sent me to find you. Is there anything I may assist you with?”

Sighing, Leia stowed the hairbrush away and walked out into the main cabin. “I’ll be out in a moment, Threepio.”

Pausing in the center of the cabin, she looked at their bunk. Their bunk.

Maybe if I talk directly with Chewie, I could change his vote…

Laid out on the medical station bunk, the matching vest and gloves that accompanied her outfit seemed to mock her, but they were all part of the armor, part of what protected her from elements beyond her control. With a grimace, she grabbed them and turned toward the door.

“It’s good to see you again, Your Highness,” the protocol droid chirped as soon as the hatch opened. “Captain Solo has informed me that nearly four weeks have passed since we left the asteroid belt, and that we’re about to arrive at the mining colony on Bespin. I must say that I am very confused as to how we escaped, or what has happened, and neither Captain Solo or Chewbacca will tell me. I am hoping that you will enlighten me so that I may share the story with my friend Artoo-Detoo later. Oh, I do hope he’s all right! He does have a knack for finding trouble—I suspect it may be a flaw in his programming—”

Already inundated and wondering if she would even get a word in, Leia waved a hand as she stepped around the droid and marched down the corridor toward the cockpit. “We can thank Captain Solo for his skill and knowledge. The hyperdrive is still down and we’ve been traveling at sub-light speed ever since. Nothing else has happened.”

That may be the greatest understatement of all time.

But the rest of the story was none of his business and she would be a fool to share anything so personal with such a chatterbox. Not satisfied with her lack of elaboration, Threepio fussed along behind her, but she blocked him out as she finished dressing along the way. There wasn’t much logic to putting on the gloves now now—she wasn’t cold—but maybe wearing them would discourage her from touching Han at random and inappropriate times in equally random and inappropriate places, something she was prone to doing now.

Leia entered the cockpit to find it humming with a tense energy she hadn’t felt in many weeks. The Falcon’s crew was arguing as the massive gas giant of a planet loomed ahead, crowding out everything else in the cockpit view, its surface a roiling swirl of orange and red that seemed alive, like a heatless sun, giving off such an oppressive glow that it made Leia stop in her tracks and stare out at it in dread.

“—don’t give a damn what Teffarik said, he’s the last person I’d trust to relay anything to Jabba.”

“[Then how are we to even set foot in Mos Eisley without—]”

The smugglers hushed and Leia knew they’d stopped discussing their plans in deference to her, which only succeeded in annoying her.

To call that a plan would be too generous.

Frowning, she made a barely controlled landing into the navigator’s seat. “Don’t stop on my account.”

Not taking the bitter bait, Han twisted around to give her an appraisal, his expression a mix of what she’d come to think of as “old” and “improved” Han; some of the old displeasure and orneriness had returned to mingle with the now-familiar affection. She wasn’t sure how to interpret that.

“You know, I like how it hugs the curves, but it’s not easy for me to get into.”

It took Leia a moment, in her funk, to realize he was talking about her clothing and not the latest landspeeder or whatever. There was a time when she would have treated him to her chilliest stare or a sharp retort, but now her first instinct was a begrudged laugh. “Well, I can’t go walking around in your old workout clothes, now can I?”

“I’m not sure walking around in that will be any better.” He gestured at her military-issued thermal suit for emphasis, and in particular the clearance insignia above her left breast.

Growing serious again, she gave him a cool look. “If you’re trying to make me feel less nervous about this whole thing, you’re doing a terrible job of it.”

Too late Han seemed to realize his miscalculation, but was interrupted when the ship’s comm link crackled to life.

“Cloud City Flight Control to approaching Why-Tee thirteen-hundred freighter. You are about to enter unauthorized airspace. Please transmit identification and landing permit immediately.”

The link went quiet and Han gave his partner what she thought to be a very anxious look. “Okay, Chewie, send that fake ID we set up.”

“[What about a landing permit?]” the Wookiee queried, even as he followed his captain’s orders.

“We obviously don’t have one, so just fly normal.”

“[What’s ‘normal’?]”

Leia couldn’t help rolling her eyes. The Wookiee had a point.

They were entering the outermost atmosphere of the planet now, and huge columns of dense, billowing clouds, tinted red and orange by the system’s distant sun, rose up around them to form a canyon.

A proximity alarm went off, making them all jump as it announced other ships approaching, while the comm station speaker boomed out again, this time with more menace. “Cloud City Flight Control to Gambler’s Fate. You are not authorized to approach for docking without a landing permit.”

Han leaned toward Chewie and hit the toggle switch on the comm mike. “Gambler’s Fate to Cloud City Flight Control. This is an emergency. Let me speak with Lando Calrissian. He knows who I am. He’ll okay the docking.”

A pair of orange twin-pod cloud cars appeared out of the brilliant cloud cover ahead, swooping in to bracket the Falcon on either side. As one of them drew up alongside close enough that she could make out the pilot in the cockpit and navigator in the matching nacelle, Leia stood and gripped the back of Han’s chair, too nervous to sit still any longer.

“Warning, Gambler’s Fate, you are entering unauthorized airspace. Do you have a landing permit?”

As if to prove they were finished playing games, one of the cloud cars dropped back out of sight, and a second later a blast of laserfire crossed the Falcon’s flight path, causing Han to react in an instant by changing their course to new coordinates, even as he continued toward the city. Meanwhile, he tried to reason with the docking official, his voice an exercise in measured patience. “No, I don’t have a landing permit. I’m trying to reach Lando Calrissian…”

There was another burst of flak, and this time the Falcon was buffeted as laserfire deflected off the rear shields.

Showing alarm for the first time, Han hit the transmitter switch again. “Whoa! Wait a minute! Let me explain—”

“You will not deviate from your present course.”

“Rather touchy, aren’t they?” Threepio pointed out, causing Leia to jump once again. Having grown used to the droid occupying the communications station in darkened silence, she’d forgotten he was reactivated.

All senses on full-alert, every instinct now screamed at her to run the other way, but what choice did they have? They would starve long before reaching the next inhabited planet, assuming they weren’t picked off by scavengers or suffered some other catastrophic breakdown. Even so, their reception so far was anything but hospitable. Leaning forward, she shot Han an accusatory glare. “I thought you knew this person.”

“[That’s probably why they took a shot at us,]” Chewbacca volunteered. “[He may still hold a grudge about the Falcon. Or maybe about the time Solo upstaged Lando’s attempts to seduce half of Serrel Konash’s wedding party..].”

Leia cast a renewed look of smoldering annoyance at Han.

I still don’t know a blasted thing about this man!

Han squirmed in his seat as if somebody had dumped a hive of stinging creepers down his pants, although Goddess knew those were tight enough Leia couldn’t see how anything more would fit. “Well, that was a long time ago. I’m sure he’s forgotten about that.”

He was rescued from further embarrassment by the authoritative voice coming through the comm link once more. “Permission granted to land on Platform Three-two-seven.”

“Thank you,” was Han’s sarcastic response as he switched off the intercom. Only then did he seem to notice her glare, which he shrugged away with a satisfied grin. “There’s nothing to worry about. We go way back, Lando and me.”

Feeling anything but convinced, she returned to her seat. “Who’s worried?”

The Falcon broke through a rouged layer of clouds to emerge into the open stratosphere, where in the distance hovered a massive platform that she recognized from her datapad research as Cloud City. A tense silence prevailed in the cockpit as their cloud car escorts corralled their approach and arrival, making sure the starship never strayed from its approved course. Early morning air traffic was light as Han wove the freighter among the tallest spires and buildings.

Any other time and Leia would have been fascinated by the unique architecture of the outpost city, but her mind was too occupied with possible scenarios, most of them bad. They appeared to be heading for a vacant single-ship docking platform ahead, the sort of landing stage reserved for VIPs, and she couldn’t decide if she liked that or not; while it would offer them a degree of privacy (something she was keen to maintain), it would also restrict their freedom of movement. Glancing again at Han, his cool façade was back, foiling her attempts to read his body language.

I can feel it, though. He’s thinking the same thing. He’s not used to this sort of reception.

Within a few short minutes, as the Falcon came to rest on the circular platform and her crew began shutting down the main systems, Leia noticed they were keeping the defensive systems online and felt a modicum of relief—at least it demonstrated they were remaining cautious.

As Han climbed out of his seat, straightened up to his full height, and adjusted his holster rig, he spared a long moment to look at her before offering his hand. His poignant smile made her heart pound. “Come on, Princess. Time to get some fresh air.”

She nodded, accepting his chivalrous gesture, and it was an odd sensation to touch him but not feel his skin. He must have noticed as well because he glanced down at her hand in dissatisfaction.

“[Should I bring my bowcaster?]” Chewie interrupted their moment of silent disorientation.

“Nah, Chewie. That’s probably not the kind of mood we want to set…but make sure you redirect the quad guns to the external auxiliary controls on the boarding ramp—just in case.”

“[Right.]”

Feeling more apprehensive with every moment, Leia began to shake her head, but Han preempted any comment by pulling her out of the cockpit and into the passageway. “We’ll get the ship fixed up, restock, and buy you some new outfits before we head back out. This’ll be real quick.”

“I wish I had your confidence.”

He plowed on. “Hell, I can’t decide which sounds better right now, seeing you in something different or digging into a five-course meal.”

“I don’t know…I think we should stay as close to the Falcon as possible.”

“It’s cabin fever. You’ve been on this ship too long. As soon as you’re out and walking around a bit, you’ll feel better. Trust me.” Stopping near the loading ramp to wait for Chewbacca and Threepio, he reached up to caress her cheek. It was the first time he’d touched her since the alarm in the early morning, and she couldn’t help closing her eyes, needing the contact.

If I’m already missing him this badly after only a few hours, how am I going to cope when he leaves for good?

“This is so exciting,” Threepio prattled on as he minced down the cockpit corridor toward them. “I have never had an occasion to visit Cloud City before, but I have heard of it. They say the views rival any to be found on the most popular luxury cruise lines of the Core systems…”

Meeting her dismayed look, Han rolled of his eyes before hitting the controls to lower the boarding ramp. “He’s your droid.”

“That’s a matter still up for debate.”

Despite her insulated suit, the rush of cold fresh air that gusted past them made Leia shiver as the sealed environment of the ship was breached for the first time in four weeks. While it carried a taste of something unidentifiable and slightly metallic, it was a pleasant change after breathing the recycled, lubricant-tinged atmosphere of the Falcon for so long. Pure reflex made Leia close her eyes again as she drew in a deeper breath.

Maybe he’s right. Maybe you’ve just been cooped up too long. You’ve had too much time to obsess about this day.

Already halfway down the incline of the ramp while it was still lowering, Han peered around in caution as it came to rest on the docking bay platform

“[Where’s the port authority?]” Chewbacca asked as they followed in Han’s wake and moved out onto the empty platform.

“Oh, no one to meet us,” Threepio fussed. Whereas the Wookiee’s comment had been loaded with suspicion, the protocol droid just sounded disappointed by the breach in decorum.

All of them stared at the sealed docking bay doors at the far end of the narrow walkway where there’d yet to appear any sign of welcome or even acknowledgement of their presence.

The hair rising along Leia’s arms had nothing to do with the bracing air. “I don’t like this.”

Han turned and stepped back to face her, some of his exasperation with her ominous remarks beginning to slip through for the first time. “Well, what would you like?”

What I would like involves going back to our bunk.

That was just the sort of wildly inappropriate thought she was afraid of. Not about to voice it now, instead she tipped her head to meet his bothered gaze with a mute one of her own.

“Well, they did let us land,” Threepio interjected on a positive note.

“Look, don’t worry,” Han reasoned. “Everything’s going to be fine. Trust me.” Now clearly frustrated, he was doubtless growing tired of saying that, which seemed fitting as she was tired of hearing it.

There was a loud hiss from the docking platform blast doors, drawing their attention.

“[Somebody’s coming,]” Chewie announced as the doors slid open to reveal an interior of dazzling white walls and a squad of blue-uniformed men inside.

As if she’d needed another jolt of adrenaline, Leia froze in alarm upon seeing the armed cadre that began marching toward them.

Oh dear Goddess, they’re coming to arrest us.

She shot a look at Han, preparing to bolt back up the ramp for a hasty departure upon his signal, but he appeared to recognize one of the men approaching and gave her his most confident smile as he gestured toward the party.

“See? My friend.”

Leia gave him a little nod, reserving any further comment as Han moved away to pause beside his partner and tap the Wookiee on the chest. “Keep your eyes open, huh?”

As Han walked out to greet the group, she noticed a dark-skinned man in the lead, dressed in indigo and black, and wearing a style of cape she was pretty sure had passed out of fashion in the Core Systems quite some time ago. Even from this distance Leia could read tension in his body language, his gait stiff and angry as he crossed the bridge that linked the circular building to their landing platform. He looked like a man preparing for a fight.

Another detail that caught her eye was the rare cybernetic device wrapped around the head of the one other man not part of the security detail, dressed in a grey jumpsuit. The rational part of her guessed he was probably the city administrator’s assistant, but the fact he was capable of silent communication only contributed to her unease. The subordinate called the guards to a halt, but the swarthy, handsome man in the lead continued advancing, and now she could see the forbidding set of his dark expression, all of it aimed at Han. A chill ran through her as the wind buffeted them, ruffling Solo’s thick hair and making the stranger’s cape fly out like raptor’s wings before a strike.

“Hey!” Han called out as he strode from under the relative protection of the Falcon’s hull.

“Why, you slimy, double-crossing, no-good swindler!” The words were ground out through gritted teeth and Calrissian’s eyes flashed outrage as he came to a sudden stop within arms’ reach of Han, as if squaring off for a duel. “You’ve got a lot of guts coming here, after what you pulled.”

Han pointed both his hands at his own chest and mouthed an innocent, “Me?” It had to be the most disingenuous gesture she’d seen Han make in months, and she was not surprised when it appeared to have the same affect on Calrissian as it usually did on her—he seemed to grow angrier.

Calrissian took a series of steps closer, into Solo’s personal space, and then jerked his hands up as if about to land a much-deserved punch. Solo’s reaction was instant, bringing his fists up in defense.

Maybe that was just the response the stranger was looking for—to see that flash of fear on Han’s face—because rather than strike, he suddenly grasped Han’s forearms and then closed the distance to throw his arms around Solo in a tight hug. Lando’s dark mustachioed features broke into a dazzling smile as he let out a booming laugh in the quiet morning air. Then he stepped back to grip Han’s upper arms and shake him.

“How you doing, you old pirate? So good to see you! I never thought I’d catch up with you again. Where’ve you been?”

Clearly still on guard, Han unclenched his fists and returned the loose embrace, and only then did his face break out in a wide grin.

Standing beside Leia, Threepio shuffled forward in delight. “Well, he seems very friendly.”

Still uneasy but grateful that things hadn’t ended up in a brawl, Leia echoed, “Yes...very friendly.” Realizing it would be appropriate to join them now, but reluctant to emerge from the shadows where she could observe unnoticed, she watched the droid head off toward the little reunion, then summoned up her most neutral diplomatic mask and followed.

“What are you doing here?” Calrissian babbled on, all enthusiasm.

Han pointed a thumb over his shoulder at his ship. “Ahh...repairs. I thought you could help me out.”

Calrissian adopted a sudden look of exaggerated concern. “What have you done to my ship?”

Either Han was more sensitive about that subject than he’d let on, or this was an old joke between them, for his manner took on a sharp defensive tone. “Your ship? Hey, remember, you lost her to me fair and square.”

Calrissian dropped it and looked past Solo. “And how are you doing, Chewbacca? You still hanging around with this loser?”

“[Hello, Calrissian.]”

Now that’s tact.

For some reason, Leia had never discussed the topic of Lando with Chewie during their trip, and all of the sudden she regretted the oversight for it was obvious there was a story here. As she drew near and got her first up-close look, Calrissian seemed to notice her for the first time. The lightening-swift change in his expression caused her to reassess her initial impression of the man: he was all instant charm.

“Hello. What have we here?” He zeroed in on her, abandoning Han as he advanced forward to hold out his hand. “Welcome. I’m Lando Calrissian. I’m the administrator of this facility. And who might you be?”

I might be on to you already.

Leia’s innate ability to read people had served her well in the Imperial Senate and numerous less-than-legal negotiations since, and now she recognized Han’s truth in description from the moment their eyes locked: gambler, con artist, scoundrel—a different sort of scoundrel, perhaps, but one none the less. His tone and gestures were more appropriate for a ballroom reception than the middle of an exposed docking platform on a gas-mining facility, but then again, some women were easily swayed. Han must have known this, too, for he grimaced and walked off to the side while running his hand through his hair in a failed attempt to hide his discomfort.

I do believe the man is jealous!

Now perversely intrigued, she matched Lando’s charm with a smile that had dazzled more than a few politicians back in the day, and accepted his hand. “Leia.”

“Welcome, Leia.” Lando bowed to kiss the back of her gloved hand.

That seemed to push Han’s last button, for he stepped around from behind Lando to peer down at her, monitoring her reaction like he might the gauges on the Falcon. Her eyes rose to meet his hazel ones, teasing him, daring him.

One more rescue, for old time’s sake?

Han hesitated, and then grinned as if only now getting her point before butting in by reaching to remove her hand from Lando’s as he passed between them, breaking the mood. “All right, all right…you old smoothie.”

She rewarded Han with a genuine smile, beaming up at him as he steered her away from the others and toward the city entrance. “You never mentioned he was so charming.”

“Why would I give a man like that a head start?” Han mumbled back to her with his most lopsided grin—the one for which she lacked immunity.

They were prevented from any more banter when Lando caught up beside them. “What’s wrong with the Falcon?”

Han gave her hand a solid squeeze before letting go so she could fall back and let them talk shop.

Hands clamped behind her back to keep them from clenching at her sides, Leia trailed behind Han. She wanted to admire the surprising elegance and beauty of the industrial city they were entering, the white and rounded architecture that complimented the natural beauty of the clouds around them, but something still ate at her nerves. Yet there was a strong temptation to take their time at this outpost city, enjoying anonymity together, being just Han and Leia for once outside the confines of the Falcon.

Stop it. Don’t forget why you’re here. This isn’t a social junket.

Han tossed a quick glance over his shoulder to check on her as they neared the doors, perhaps sensing her struggle.

Lando turned back to her as well, walking backwards long enough so he could meet her gaze, his animated comments for her benefit. “You know, that ship saved my life quite a few times. She’s the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy!”

Leia granted Calrissian a nod of agreement before meeting Han’s eyes again, letting her affection show once more.

Yes, the Falcon has a habit of doing that.

As they passed through the open doors and into the city proper, Leia divided her attention between the ongoing conversation and the beautiful architecture, something she wouldn’t have expected to find on such a remote and industrialized platform. Random pieces of artwork and expansive viewports were scattered throughout the wide, white corridors in a deliberate attempt to make the enclosed city as appealing as possible.

Solo’s laugh snapped Leia’s attention back to him—it always had—and she watched as Calrissian gave him a cautious look. “What’s so funny?”

“You. Listen to you—you sound like a businessman, a responsible leader. Who’d have thought that, huh?”

Lando paused, bringing their little party to a halt in the middle of the corridor. “You know, seeing you sure brings back a few things.”

“Yeah.” Han appeared to reminisce as he gripped Lando on the shoulder. But there was something off in his response as he glanced past Lando to give Leia another pointed look. Unable to tell if it was to offer into evidence that his friend was reliable, or if he were reminded of things he’d have preferred left forgotten, she cocked an eyebrow and tipped her head, as if to say, ‘You have friends with legitimate jobs. Very impressive.’

Lando resumed walking, leading them over toward a bank of turbolifts. “Yeah, I’m responsible these days. It’s the price you pay for being successful.” He ushered them into the lift and punched in directions for the top level.

“I’m surprised you still have this place. I’d have figured you’d put it up in another wager by now,” Han admitted.

Lando laughed. “Who says I haven’t? I just happened to win those hands. You’re the only one I regularly lost to…”

“Huh, go figure…” Standing across from her, Han sought her eyes yet again and gave her a little wink.

Not the gambling type—or at least not that kind of gambling—Leia found herself glad she’d never taken Han up on any of those proposed games of strip Sabacc during lulls between missions; she got the distinct impression she would have lost every hand.

“I’m taking you up to our VIP suite,” Lando interrupted. “I’ll get that team of mechanics assigned to the Falcon. If there’s anything else you need, I can have it sent up.”

Leia opened her mouth to respond, but Han beat her to it. “Thanks, buddy, but don’t go to too much trouble. We won’t be staying long.”

Lando’s smile was suave and all for her. “Nonsense. You’re my guests. Lobot, my assistant, will arrange all the comforts while you’re here. I’m sure you’d prefer something a bit more comfortable than the Falcon. Something with a better view. You won’t find one more beautiful in this whole quadrant.”

“It is a lovely city,” Leia agreed, glancing from one man to the other, still trying to determine the relationship between them; something in Calrissian’s manner seemed tense, on guard, even though he was working overtime to disguise it with protocol.

Protocol.

It took a moment for Leia to recognize what felt out of place. She’d been so distracted by their new surroundings and the interplay between the old friends that she hadn’t noticed the absence of a nattering droid in the background.

“Han…” she said, trying to mask her alarm. “Threepio…”

Han frowned for an instant, as if wondering why she would bring him up now, and then realization dawned on him, too, and he glanced around the lift. “Where the hell did he go?”

Lando looked confused. “I’m sorry, is something wrong?”

“Ah, it’s our protocol droid. He was right behind us a minute ago. He’s more trouble than he’s worth.”

Lando nodded. “Don’t worry, he can’t be far. I’ll have my people track him down.”

The lift slowed to a stop and they stepped out into a brightly lit corridor where an arched threshold led down into what appeared to be a lounge. Lando gestured for them to step in, and then followed them down.

The room was circular, elegant, and airy, a penthouse suite with a graceful skylight that let in the morning light to dramatic effect. The center of the sunken lounge was decorated with a twisting crystalline sculpture, circled by a simple but stylish seating arrangement and glass tables, and an entire half of the room’s wall was made of transparisteel, offering a commanding view of the city below and the shifting cloudbanks of scarlet and orange beyond. There were two doors lining the curved walls, no doubt leading into private sleeping chambers.

Leia walked over to the window to gaze out at the still-sleepy city outside. Her first instinct was to search for the Falcon, but she couldn’t spot the docking platform in question—their journey through the winding corridors and lifts had mixed up her sense of direction. Han was much better at that sort of thing, but it still made her nervous that she didn’t know where they were in relation to the ship.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Lando catch Han by his shirtsleeve, tugging him off to the side. Although his voice was subdued, she could still overhear them.

“I wasn’t sure how many rooms you needed, Han. Are you two…you know…?”

“Yeah. We are.”

There was a possessive, defensive quality to Han’s answer, intended to leave no doubt that she was hands-off, and while Leia suspected that might have been his answer even if they weren’t a couple, the thought that Han might feel uncertain about her fidelity was unexpected. After all, hadn’t she been rather obvious the past few weeks?

“I see. Well, my friend, clearly your tastes and luck have improved.”

Leia sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. She didn’t know whether to be flattered or embarrassed, but she was pretty sure that the novelty of being compared to mysterious women from Han’s past would wear off very fast. Even now she could feel the two sets of eyes appraising her while they spoke, and it took all her self control to keep from telling the men to take it outside.

“How soon do you think those technicians can start on the Falcon?”

“I’ll make sure it’s right away.”

“Great. I’ll go back to let them onboard. Listen…” Han hesitated long enough to cause Leia to glance back at him, wondering why he’d gone quiet. He sent her what looked like a preemptive half-smile of apology. “Is there any way you could maybe arrange something like a personal shopper for Leia? We…ah. We had to leave in a hurry and it’s been a long trip. She could use something new to wear, that sort of thing.”

Leia had to give Han credit for reading her mood better than she expected, and for coming up with a good solution. Tempted as she might otherwise have been to shop for new clothing, walking around in her current wardrobe would only invite unwanted attention—something she felt desperate to avoid. Plus, the notion of exploring unaccompanied by Han held no appeal; still-fresh memories of the fiasco on Ord Mantell left her uncertain of the whole idea of wandering around the city at all, much less alone. Still, she sensed Han wasn’t thrilled with the idea of putting himself that much further in Calrissian’s debt, either, so the sacrifice was appreciated.

Lando agreed with a zealous nod. “Of course! It would be my pleasure.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought. I didn’t mean by you, Buddy.”

Lando laughed, holding up his hands in defense, getting the point. “I wouldn’t dream of it, Han. I’ll send Giesla right up. She’s another assistant of mine. She’s done that sort of thing before and she’ll know just what to do.”

“Thanks. I appreciate it. Just add it on my tab.”

“Riiiiight.” There was obvious skepticism in Calrissian’s statement.

 

 

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