Soon as the evening shades prevail,
The moon takes up the wondrous tale,
And nightly to the listening earth
Repeats the story of her birth.
--Joseph Addison (1672-1719), Ode
They say it's your birthday.
Well, it's my birthday too, yeah!
--The Beatles, Birthday, The White Album
Located deep within a tropical region of Serricci's major continent, the Rebel Alliance base was a network of hastily constructed buildings, narrow roads and circular landing fields large enough to handle troop transports. The complex was spread out over several kilometers of rain forest, and the dense growth of trees and brush which surrounded the military operation provided effective camouflage. Torrential rains occasionally interrupted by hazy cloud cover--the daily forecast since the Rebels had made planetfall nearly nine standard months before--made living damp, dreary and generally miserable, but it also further obscured their presence from probing Imperial eyes.
Today the rains had stopped completely and the sun had made its first appearance.
I'm obviously not the only person who's found an excuse to get outside.
From her high perch, Leia Organa could see individuals and small groups of freedom fighters milling around on the drying ground, drying themselves out after months of nothing but humidity and rain. Immediately following the end of her own shift in headquarters, she had taken more initiative than most and scaled an access ladder to the roof of the Command Post at the far end of the main landing field. It was an exclusive place that offered privacy, a generous view of the base, and, at least for this evening, a riveting sunset. It was exactly what she'd hoped for.
Dusk had always been her favorite time of day. She found a special aesthetic beauty in the shifting colors and emerging stars. She'd been fortunate enough to witness a wide range of sunsets on many different worlds during her travels as a noblewoman, politician and Rebel, but in her memory none compared to Alderaan's dramatic contrasts of fire red and cobalt blue. Tonight was different, however, and Leia had to concede admiration for Serricci's stunning light show. At least there's something pleasant about this wringing-wet world, she mused with a sigh. The effort spent in climbing to the roof was being rewarded by a palette of colors that left her a little breathless and very homesick.
That ache for Alderaan, senselessly destroyed less than one standard year ago, had ever-so-slowly eased with the passing months, buried beneath a never-ending parade of new pains that further separated her from the awful terror of the Death Star. For a long time she'd worked double shifts in an attempt to avoid the memories, until exhaustion and a personality normally used to dealing with issues head-on had forced her to face the reality of her loss. And by doing so, she'd learned that she wasn't quite so alone as she'd imagined. She'd belatedly discovered an entire network of friendly support created and maintained by her new friends within the Alliance; Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca and others to a lesser degree. They still watched in mostly-mute concern as she worked herself into oblivion, and yet they always seemed to be right there when things got too much to handle alone. They had become her surrogate family.
She was still a little amazed by the dramatic shift of direction her life had taken since the abrupt ending of her tenure in the Imperial Senate. In less than one day she'd gone from Senator, Princess and a respected Imperial Citizen, to an administrator in the Rebel Alliance and a hunted outlaw. Not exactly what one would consider a positive career move,she thought, but sometimes you have to follow your heart and do what you feel is right.
She had emerged onto the stage of galactic representation at an unprecedented young age by her own initiative and determination, not her adopted heritage. If anything, the name Organa had served as a hindrance to any political aspirations. The rumors of nepotism had been a formidable obstacle, but she'd overcome the accusations and rapidly advanced. Unfortunately, the altruistic motivations for attaining such an influential position had demanded an unimaginable price; blatant sympathy for and growing connections to the Rebellion to Restore the Old Republic had ultimately cost her that hard-won career, Alderaan, and her freedom. Free as one could be under the double yoke of royal responsibility and Imperial oppression, anyway,she reflected. The loss was terrible and there were dark times when she found herself searching for a reason to continue fighting when all that she had ever cared about was callously reduced to so much space debris.
Thus, rare moments like this, when the beauty of nature bedazzled her senses and rejuvenated her life-force, seemed to provide a venue for cleansing away those nagging doubts. No being could live untouched by the death-throes of a powerful and evil empire. How could I expect to be any different?
Leia shifted into a more comfortable position upon the knee-high housing of the climate-control power plant atop the roof, then arched her back and expressed a heartfelt yawn before stretching her legs out and crossing them at the ankles. She leaned back on her hands, then glanced down at the mid-calf black boots into which her khaki trousers were tucked. She felt sorely tempted to kick them off and wiggle her toes.
A sound, the scrape of leather soles on metal rungs, broke through her stream of thought. Leia glanced to her side to watch as the shadowed but nonetheless immediately identifiable figure of Captain Han Solo emerged from the edge of the roof. He smoothly clambered over the top and straightened up to his full height. The black-on-white of his favorite utility vest and shirt combination stood out like a beacon in the growing dusk, and she admired his slim, magnetically masculine physique. Oh, you are feeling good tonight, aren't you, Organa?she mused, a little surprised by her own assessment of the normally irksome spacer. Must be the weather.
"Thought I might find you up here," Han's deep voice rumbled in the still air of the approaching night. "I've been looking for you."
"Oh," she answered, making a conscious effort to sound uninterested. Maybe he'll just go away,she wished, hating the idea of losing a peaceful sunset. Between the lingering pain of her memories and the sheer pleasure of being able to relax, she had no desire tonight to engage Han in a round of verbal boxing.
The Corellian smuggler stepped closer, then paused, evidently registering her inhospitable signals. "I needed to fly an idea past you. Mind some company?" Before Leia could refuse, he moved quickly and sat down beside her on the metal box. Assuming her same loose, semi-reclined pose, he seemed content to remain in silent, mutual appreciation of their unhindered view.
Gods, he really is gorgeous,Leia conceded to herself, unable to get the disturbingly distracting idea out of her head. Handsome men were nothing new to her--rich, royal, suave and attractive suitors had been a mainstay of her previous life. She'd flirted with a practiced flair, teasing but never succumbing to any of their smooth words or other charms. So how was it that she could be so mesmerized by this particular man to the point that she forgot every lesson of her past? Was it possibly because Han Solo had proven to be the first man that she couldn't successfully flirt into submission? He seemed at once immune and too eager, and each of her attempts had backfired with embarrassing results. He also displayed a complete lack of awe for her name, contacts and history--yet more weapons in her usual arsenal of influence that she'd easily wielded as a politician. Perhaps that was the source of her mysterious and rather perverse attraction--he was unlike anything she was used to dealing with. And although he was also brave, intelligent, and amazingly talented and charming in his own admittedly dubious fashion, surely her old tutors and advisors would have disapproved of a man with such a questionable background.
Then again, when did I ever worry about what they thought?
Leia belatedly caught herself studying his long, outstretched legs: the silver reflective flash off his holster buckle irresistibly drew her gaze upwards. Blinking back to reality, she attempted to change the unspoken topic. "How did you know I was up here, anyway?"
Han met her look, his lips crooked in a smirk that seemed to say 'Wouldn't you like to know?'
"Let's just say that I have friends in high places." Leia groaned, then chuckled. Relieved to notice that he was doing the same, she redirected her gaze toward the setting sun. She dared to hope that this would be one of those rare times when they remained congenial in each others' presence. She'd always enjoyed those friendship-building moments and one would certainly fit her mood this evening. Besides, it was incredibly reassuring to learn that he considered himself a friend.
"Decided to get away from it all for a little while, huh?"
Wondering whether or not he was baiting her, Leia risked an honest answer. "I suppose so. I wanted to see the sky while it was still visible."
"I know what you mean. Nice view."
Something in Han's voice drew Leia's full attention back to him once more. He was studying her. Although she'd privately hoped for just such openness from Han, she suddenly felt unsure of how to behave. The quiet emotion they were sharing was discomforting in its very unfamiliarity: She became acutely conscious of his close proximity. "You wanted to speak with me about something?" she prompted.
"Yeah. There's scuttlebutt on the Flight Line that tomorrow is the kid's birthday. He's embarrassed that it's his Majority, so some of us were thinking of throwing a little surprise party. Thought you might like to join in; and we'll need your help to get supplies."
Leia jolted upright; the hair on the back of her neck tried very hard to perform the same feat. "Luke's Majority is tomorrow?"
"I know, it's a little short notice, but we only just heard about it this morning and--" Han stopped mid-sentence, eyeing her as if she were about to topple off the roof, which seemed a distinct possibility at that moment. "What?"
"I can't believe this."
"What?" he repeated with just a touch of impatience.
"I come into my Majority tonight," Leia confessed, unable to mask the bewilderment in her voice. A moment later--too late--she realized that perhaps sharing that little fact with Captain Solo wasn't one of her wiser moves. Han could be merciless when it came to poking fun at what she considered personal foibles.
Han's thick eyebrows rose in shock, then just one dropped back down with obvious disbelief. "You're kidding, right?"
Leia mutely shook her head, then stared down at her boots once more. Sometimes it was a little creepy, the things she and Luke had in common.
"No, I suppose you aren't." Han seemed to answer his own question. It was common knowledge that Alderaan in particular took the twenty-first anniversary of one's birth very seriously as a symbol of moving into the majority of one's life. Leia's noble background increased the importance of this milestone--at least it would have, had her royal inheritance not been obliterated.
Clearly doubtful but easygoing enough to let the coincidence slide for now, Han sat upright and rested his elbows on his knees. "Weird."
"Well, that explains why you're up here, anyway."
Leia glanced up at him. "What do you mean?"
"Hey, correct me if I'm wrong, but traditionally a person was expected to meditate about their actions over the past year before beginning the new one. And if you're about to reach Majority, then--"
"I'm to reflect on my entire life up until today, and then contemplate my new life as an adult," Leia quietly finished. She was grateful for the diminished light around them; it masked the flush that she knew tinted her cheeks. Never one to let age interfere, Leia was nevertheless acutely aware of the years and experience between them.
Han was still watching her closely. "It's a beautiful night--a rare one on this rain-slicked hunk of rock--and you can see the stars. I couldn't think of a better place to be." His grin seemed to illuminate the entire rooftop. "Just goes to show that we both have excellent taste."
Leia laughed out loud at that. She couldn't find fault with his logic, either. Strange how they did tend to appreciate many of the same things, particularly stargazing. Even stranger how some of their more memorable soul-revealing moments occurred during quiet nights like this, absorbing the beauty of a diamond-studded sky. Another stray thought interrupted her contemplation: This could turn into a dangerous habit if you're not careful.
"Well, I guess this rules out a surprise party for you, but at least now we've got another excuse to celebrate, huh? Think you could scrounge up some special provisions?"
Han's enthusiasm was contagious. Although she felt no desire to be the focus of a celebration, she liked the idea of throwing one for Luke. "I believe I might be able to tap into the Rebel stores."
"Great. Chewie and I have a case of Corellian brandy that we can donate to the cause, but it won't last long. And I found--" Han's face was suddenly marred by a frown. "Damn. Wish I'd known yours was tonight. I've figured out something to give Luke, but I don't have a gift for you."
Flattered and a little surprised by the honest regret in the smuggler's tone, Leia offered a demure smile. "That's okay. I didn't expect anything."
"Sweetheart, I wouldn't offer if I thought you expected it."
How typical,she thought with a growing sense of appreciation for whatever it was about this blunt, conceited, uniquely irritating man that fascinated her so.
"Actually," Han went on to suggest with a casual air, "I could give you a Majority Kiss, with the promise that later on I'll give you something a little more...lasting."
How very typical,Leia amended, not bothering to hide her skepticism. He never gave up his attempts to seduce her, a flattering and equally disturbing matter in and of itself. She couldn't help noticing the surge of warmth that his proposal generated. Definitely a dangerous habit. We can't keep meeting like this.
"Hey," he coaxed, obviously anticipating her suspicion. "Kissing is a traditional Corellian tide-you-over-'til-I-can-get-you-something-better gift. I'm making a serious offer here."
Unable to recall ever having heard of that particular tradition before, an impish thought came to mind and Leia flashed a wicked grin at the expectant spacer. "Would you have given Luke a kiss as well?"
A dark eyebrow shot up. Han looked more surprised by her whimsical taunt than by her implication. "Sure, if I thought he'd appreciate it."
"But you're so sure I would?"
Han didn't take the bait and run with it as she'd expected. Instead, he returned her gaze in a challenge. "There's only one way to find out."
Where have I heard that line before?Leia thought with some trepidation. She vividly recalled another time, back on Yavin IV, when he'd proposed a learning experiment; under Solo's tutelage she'd learned how to use a microfuser, then gone on to display throughout the entire Rebel base his greasy hand print on her royal posterior. That little incident in particular still begged for retaliation, but tonight simply didn't feel like the time to exact revenge.
Han seemed to be remembering the same prank for his expression turned serious. "I promise to be nice." He held out his hands, palms up, to show they were free of grease and other incriminating residue.
What's the promise of a scoundrel worth?Leia wondered. In most matters she'd come to trust him implicitly, so why was it that with this sort of thing she didn't want to trust him any further than she could levitate him? A part of her suspected that it wasn't necessarily Solo that she doubted--it was herself. If he made a move, she wasn't completely convinced that she would resist him. The thought of a kiss was very compelling; in fact, she'd always been just a little curious--all right, a lot curious, about what those full lips might feel like and how he would use them. And there were times, like tonight, when she truly enjoyed his company. Besides, she considered him a friend; if his offer were genuine, he might be offended by her rejection. What are you afraid of, anyway? It's just a little harmless flirting.For a long moment she studied his face and considered the possible ramifications, then made a decisive nod. "All right, I accept."
She waited for Solo to grin until his head imploded. Thus, she was surprised when his expression grew more somber. He leaned closer, gently framed her face within his hands, and met her eyeswith an unflinching intensity that instantly erased all other thoughts from her mind. Her heartbeat fluttered.
"Welcome to your Majority, Leia."
The rumble of his deep voice as he spoke her name--no teasing nicknames tonight--sent a wave of sheer energy down her spine and out to the very tips of every tingling nerve ending; the rush of warmth left her short of breath. His hands were so hot! Oh Gods, maybe this isn't such a great idea!The frantic thought evaporated away as quickly as it had emerged, however, when Han's lips pressed against hers. The kiss was surprisingly gentle and incredibly pleasant, and Leia instinctively closed her eyes, half anticipating--maybe even wishing--that he would put a little more passion into it. The last thing she expected was for the embrace to end as quickly as it did. Inexplicably disappointed, she opened her eyes to find Han studying her, his own shadowed features unreadable, his eyes dark and unwavering. There existed a silent, sensual moment between them that neither seemed anxious to break.
"Thank you," Leia said softly in a belated attempt to relieve the awkward tension. She instantly regretted her words. The change of expression on Han's face told her that she'd inadvertently resolved his unvoiced debate on whether or not he was finished. She'd expected him to be more forceful in his sexual advances, and now felt unsure of how to interpret this new development.
"That wasn't so bad, was it?" he finally asked with a little grin, appearing to regain his own equilibrium as he released her.
"Not too bad, but do I get a receipt on the other gift?"
Han let out a startled laugh. "No. I told you I'd be nice and I was. You'll just have to trust me on that too."
Leia nodded, settling back on her metal perch. She drew in a lung-full and tried to convince herself that the slight shiver that coursed through her body was due to the cooler night air. "I guess I can live with that."
"Good." Han leaned back on his palms, settling into his former semi-reclined position, the easy smile and flash of white teeth illuminating his face. "Then again, that's one present I wouldn't mind having returned."
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