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The story is a series of vignettes, which cover a time period from a few months after ANH to just after ROTJ. It looks at Han’s early perceptions of Leia as Luke’s potential girlfriend—and the ways in which his perceptions change, over time, as he ends up falling for Leia himself.
“Han! Wait up!”
Han turned to see Luke loping across the shuttle bay, waving towards him. His mouth quirked in a lopsided, unwilling smile. He was glad to see the kid, but sort of embarrassed by the loud welcome; Luke was really too old to be so openly cheerful, so exuberant, just at the sight of a friend. At any rate, he wasn’t used to the idea of anyone being so happy to see him. The younger man caught up to him, slapping Han on the back as he skidded to a stop. “You’re back!”
“Yeah—right on schedule. What’s the matter, didn’t think I could get past the border patrol?”
“No way. I knew you’d do it.”
“So why are you surprised to see me?”
Luke shrugged and smiled, his face alight with unguarded enthusiasm. “I’m not surprised. I’m just glad, that’s all.”
But no matter how he fought it, Luke managed to get to him—without even trying. Sometimes Han wondered if having a younger brother would have been like this—would have awakened the same feelings of protectiveness, of comradeship.
That, however, was sentiment talking, and Han didn’t let himself get sentimental. He’d found a friend—rare luck in a hard world. All there was too it. No need to get mushy.
They walked on in companionable silence for a few moments; Luke obviously had something on his mind, but wasn’t quite ready to speak up. Han was content to wait, and to try and get used to their new base—the fifth world their Alliance unit had been stationed on in seven months. He looked around the caverns that surrounded them—B’Reil’s surface was uninhabitable, but within that world’s lithosphere were millions upon millions of caves. Warmed by the heat of the planet’s core, supplied by abundant subterranean rivers, these caves were a luxurious resting place. He looked up at the opalescent stone arching hundreds of feet above their heads, and thought, it’s beautiful. After only a moment, he added: especially compared to some of the womprat-heaps we’ve been stuck in ever since Yavin. Even within his own mind, Han rarely let himself get soft.
“Guess what tonight is,” Luke finally managed.
“The night I finally run some vari-gee piloting sims with you? We’ve been putting that off too long—”
“That would be great! But that’s not what I meant.”
“Well, what did you mean?”
“It’s the Princess’s Name Day.”
“Name Day? I’m not familiar with that one—”
“She’s adopted—you knew that, right?”
“No, sure didn’t.” So Her Highnessness wasn’t actually of royal blood after all. She sure acted the part.
“It’s Alderaanean custom to celebrate an adopted child’s Name Day, rather than a birthday, since that’s not always known.”
“That’s logical. Only logical Alderaanean custom I’ve ever heard of.”
“Well, there’s a party tonight. Not a real big party—”
“Still, they got quite a few people together. We’re invited—gonna go?” Luke seemed unusually eager—then again, Han suspected it wasn’t his company Luke was so eager for.
“Depends. Is this gonna be better than your birthday party? Because we’ve got to top that.” Luke had turned nineteen not quite a month ago; they’d been in hurried, desperate transit from Revenna Minor to B’Reil. His “celebration” had consisted of a medium-grade bottle of Dantooine brandy, consumed in the Falcon’s living area, by Han, Chewie, Luke, and Wedge Antilles. Han had poured lavishly, wanting to make up for the scanty gathering; he hadn’t realized that Luke had only rarely touched intoxicants before. The latter half of the evening had been spent in the head, with Han mopping down Luke’s head with a cold towel in those rare moments when Luke wasn’t getting noisily sick.
Luke looked faintly green at the memory. “I don’t plan on throwing up at this one.”
“That’s good; it’s gonna be hard impressing the princess with a performance like that one.”
“Who said I wanted to impress the princess?”
Han laughed. “Luke, you’re good at a lot of things, but lying ain’t one of ‘em.”
Luke blushed faintly, but quipped, “Yeah, I thought I’d leave that to you. Me, I’ll handle the navigation, the piloting, the shooting—”
“Can it, kid,” Han said, grinning. About time Luke started giving as good as he got.
He understood why Luke wanted him along. Princess Leia had, since that incredible day seven months ago, treated them both as friends; Han still had some problems believing that, given how different they were from the rest of the people she spent time with. Generals—diplomats—aristocrats.
Her own kind of people.
Han personally didn’t care much for that kind of people, and had only made an exception for the Princess because she seemed to have some sense underneath all the fancy trappings. He’d dealt with the rich and powerful before, in many circumstances: as a cadet at the Academy—during the con games he’d been forced to run as a youth—in a few scams and shady dealings he’d had not so long ago. Money and prestige didn’t intimidate him.
Luke, on the other hand, was intimidated as hell. Han was being invited along as moral support, and knew it. He oughta get used to facing them on his own, Han thought. Leia obviously thinks the kid’s wonderful—she lights up every time he walks in the room. So why should he feel second-class?
Still, maybe there was time to teach him that later.
“It’s been a rough trip, and I need to relax; I think a party sounds perfect. Come by and get me when you’re ready.”
Luke’s face lit up with pleasure. “That’s great. Thanks, Han, I knew I could count on you.”
“Don’t mention it.” Han watched Luke lope across the docking bay, trying remember if he’d ever had that kind of boundless enthusiasm.
Probably not. His childhood hadn’t allowed many opportunities for it. In all honesty, he only wanted to crawl back into his bunk and go to sleep. A night spent making small talk with the big shots was the last thing he wanted.
But Luke needed him, and it wasn’t much to ask—so he’d go. Besides, he thought absentmindedly, it would be nice to talk to the Princess again. She was maddening sometimes—but she was always interesting. And he needed to get to know her better.
After all, she was going to be Luke’s girl.
“Now, this of course is from Igern’s second opera. ‘Chalice and Altar’—lovely work, don’t you think?” Major Taroc Straate smiled winningly at Princess Leia. She smiled slightly and nodded. Luke, a few seats over, looked hopelessly confused.
Han took a long draught of his drink and prayed for the party to end. He’d had hopes for the evening when he first walked in; they did have a band, enthusiastic if amateur, composed of various Rebellion members who had learned to play in gentler times. The spread wasn’t half bad; several people must have chipped in their food rations to afford the stuff. However, it hadn’t taken long for Han’s worst fears to materialize. The Princess’s attention was being monopolized by a select few, some of them older generals; Han didn’t mind those so much, since they obviously didn’t mean to be so damn boring. But Straate was getting the hell on his nerves. He’d been schmoozing up to the Princess all night, and had obviously arranged this evening to be as upper-crust as possible. He had done it to please the Princess—Han could forgive that. But he hadn’t pleased her; at any rate, she didn’t seem thrilled. And the toniness of the gathering had left Luke awkward and alienated. That, Han couldn’t stand.
“Igern is such an intellectual composer, don’t you think? ‘Chalice and Altar’ takes in so many heady themes. The role of self-sacrifice in the moral life—the repression of desire—all typical of his early work—” Han snorted, not as quietly as he’d meant to. Straate shot him a look.
“You don’t agree, Captain Solo? Maybe you would like to share your thoughts on opera with us.”
Princess Leia frowned at Straate, opened her mouth as if to speak. But Han didn’t let her.
Don’t defend me, Princess. I don’t need it.
“Igern writes a lot about repressing desire in his early work, but it doesn’t have a damn thing to do with his intellectual ideas. He was in love with a married woman at the time. She eventually left her husband; right about that time, Igern’s music suddenly gets a lot lustier. She leaves Igern himself eventually and that’s why his last opera’s so depressing. Doesn’t seem that intellectual to me.”
Han gave up a silent offering of thanks to his Music History professor at the Naval Academy, wherever he might be. He’d hated that course then, but all those hours of study had just paid off: Straate’s jaw was slightly slack, and he was obviously grasping for something withering to say.
Princess Leia leaned forward—effectively blocking Han and Straate from each other’s view—and said, “You don’t think he might have dealt intellectually with an emotional loss?”
She wasn’t defending Straate. Just engaging in conversation. Something about her expression was strange, though.
“I suppose he may have tried. Still, seems to me like his feelings are always the main theme of his work.”
“You’re right,” she said, smiling with a little more warmth. “I admire him for trying, though. For making some sense of what had happened to him—for creating art out of it. Not everyone has the spirit to do that.”
Straate obviously felt this conversation had gone on long enough. “Well, I wouldn’t have taken you for an opera buff, Captain Solo.”
“I’m not a fan,” Han took the final bite of his dinner, glanced over at Luke. C’mon, buddy, this would be a great time to change the topic.
Luke didn’t get the clue. “I never even heard any opera before about a month ago.”
Leia smiled softly. “You’re the lucky one; all that wonderful music is still ahead of you. I know—Captain Solo and I can teach you.”
Han laughed, catching the mischievous light in her eyes. She laughed too, not mocking the idea, but reveling in the unlikeliness of it. Come to think of it, that was the first time he’d heard her laugh all night. Even now, the smile didn’t quite reach her eyes.
“Maybe I ought to leave that up to you, Your Highness. You’re the expert.”
“I’d like to learn,” Luke said eagerly. Thank the gods the kid finally took a hint.
“Then I’ll lend you some of my favorites,” Leia said. “We could talk about them—”
“That would be great—”
Perhaps Straate realized Luke was getting the advantage; perhaps he only wanted to keep the party going. In either case, he gestured once in the band’s direction as the Igern music drew to a close. They began a genteel calenada dancing tune, spirited but refined; some of the others at the table smiled in recognition and began moving to the open floor near the table.
“Princess, I took the liberty of arranging some dancing for the night. I’d thought to take you out on the floor myself, but perhaps your young friend would like the pleasure of this calenada.”
Smooth, Han thought. He looks generous and friendly, making the offer, but I’d bet anything he knows Luke hasn’t even seen this dance before, much less done it.
“I—thank you, no. I don’t know how.” Luke’s face fell as he realized the lost opportunity.
He’d be damned if he’d let Straate get the upper hand. “I know how,” Han offered.
Princess Leia motioned him towards the floor, her smile again challenging. “This I have to see. Let’s go.”
He was aware that both Straate and Luke watched them go with some amazement, but was distracted by his own concerns. How long had it been since he’d been on a dance floor? A while—years since he’d done anything this refined, at any rate. The Imperial Navy had done a good job of teaching the trappings of gentility to its cadets, but Han hadn’t had much use for such things in the years since.
But as soon as he began moving his feet to the music, the dance returned to him—a memory of the body, rather than of the mind. Han smiled, at ease once again, as they spun around the floor.
“So you can dance, too. You’re a man of many surprises.”
“You don’t know the half of it, Your Worship,” he grinned, arching his eyebrows to be comically lewd. She laughed again—but there was still an air of melancholy about her. “Princess—what’s the matter? You don’t seem very happy with your party.”
Han didn’t understand why he’d been nosy enough to ask, nor had he given any thought to how she might respond. So he was caught completely off-guard when she looked away from him and bit her lower lip—she was in no danger of losing control, but it was as much as he had ever seen her composure shaken. “Hey—I’m sorry—”
“No, it’s all right. You’re the first person who’s thought to ask. This is just a difficult day for me.”
Well, of course, you jerk. Her whole life, she’s always been with her family for this celebration. And they’ve all died. This is the first time she’s been alone.
He didn’t speak; the usual words of condolence were grossly inadequate to such a loss. But he pulled her a little closer, tightened his hand on hers. To his surprise, she kept speaking. “I’d rather not have had a party. I just wanted to be alone in my cabin.”
“So why did you let them do this?” “Them,” in this context, meant Taroc Straate.
“Because—the others needed a party. Needed something. It’s been so hard, the last few months; an event like this makes people feel cheerful. It lets them feel as if things haven’t changed so much, if we can still dance and drink the night away. Of course, it isn’t true—but just feeling that way for a night can help everyone go on.”
“Everyone but you?”
She sighed. “Saying no would have been selfish. After all, just look at the band—they’re all so happy to be playing again. And everyone else is laughing and talking. I couldn’t have turned this down.”
“It’s your day, Princess. You ought to come first.”
Leia looked up at him as if he’d said much more than he’d meant to. Something in her eyes, something about his response to her, threw him off-guard; Han covered quickly, leading her into a tricky move in the dance, spinning her around once, as smoothly as if he’d done it yesterday. She followed his lead perfectly, except for one thing: when she spun back into his arms, she stayed with her train of thought. “I did hope that the party would cheer me up too. That I’d be able to—”
“Forget about it?”
“No. Never that. But that I’d be able to manage it. To deal intellectually with an emotional problem, like Igern. Do you see?”
“Not really. To me, it sounds more like you’ve picked up on the idea of self-sacrifice.”
He’d pushed too far; Han saw her pull back a little, smile mirthlessly. “Self-sacrifice isn’t something you believe in, is it?”
“I’m not much into repressed desire, either,” he joked, and was surprised to see her blush, delicately but definitely.
Just then, the music stopped; gratefully, Han turned from the Princess and applauded the band. From the corner of his eye, he could see Straate fuming—and failing to cue the band. He seized the moment and spoke above the clapping in the room. “What’ll we have for the next dance?”
He’d hoped somebody would shout out a suggestion, taking the party’s control from Straate. But he hadn’t guessed that everyone would turn to Leia. The guest of honor—well, of course, she’d get to pick the next dance.
She gave him a look of not-entirely-mock exasperation, then smiled as if nothing would please her more than to lead the evening’s festivities. He was expecting another calenada, or something equally refined; once again, he’d misjudged her.
“How about the margengai glide?”
Cheers of approval met this suggestion; the glide was a popular dance around the galaxy, had been for years. Everyone knew how—even Luke, apparently, since he was cutting through the crowd towards them.
“Princess, I can dance with you now—if you’d like,” Luke said, offering her his hand.
“I would like. Of course, that’s assuming Captain Solo will release me.” She looked over at him, good humor either restored or expertly assumed.
Han dropped his head in a mock bow. “I wouldn’t dream of stopping you, Luke. Dance the night away.”
And so they did.
The rest of the night Han hung out in corners, talking to Wedge or a couple of the other pilots about engine remodifications, the gravity anomaly half a system out—stuff he understood. Nothing as confusing as his conversation with the Princess.
Nothing as interesting, either, although he didn’t admit it to himself. When he did look at her, he looked at her dancing with Luke or one of the generals, to all appearances enjoying herself thoroughly. (Straate, apparently recognizing defeat when he saw it, had turned his attention to a comely young navigation tech.) And he smiled when he saw her and Luke during one of their many turns about the floor—they look like they belong together, he thought. Sappy thing to think about, but it’s true.
As the evening drew to a close, Han watched with bemused interest as Luke tried to get up the courage to kiss the Princess on her cheek; the kid’s intent was blazingly clear, even from across the room. If she recognized it too, she didn’t give any sign. In the end, Luke seemed to think better of it, and simply took her hand for a moment before turning away. Leia didn’t watch Luke go. Instead, she lifted her eyes, finding Han in the darkened room almost instantly. He was somewhat abashed to be caught staring at her—which was what he had been doing, although he hadn’t really realized it—but smiled at her, lifted his hand in a quick wave. She returned the wave with what must have been her first genuine smile of the night, then turned to go.
“Didn’t I tell you? Wasn’t this great?” Luke said, clapping his friend on the shoulder.
Han nodded. “Better than I would ever have expected, to tell you the truth. But now it’s way past time for me to get some sleep.”
They wandered down the corridor towards the Falcon. Luke had quarters on base, but often bunked down in the Falcon’s extra rooms. Han never questioned his reasons; he liked the younger man’s company.
“So, did you enjoy the dancing? Looked like you were making some pretty good time with the Princess out there,” Han teased.
“You were the one who got to slow-dance with her. And it looked like you were enjoying yourself. A lot.” Luke was trying to match his friend’s light tone, but the sight of Han and Leia in each others’ arms had clearly annoyed Luke.
Han opened his mouth to deny all interest in the Princess Leia Organa—then thought better of it. He’s never gonna get up the nerve to approach her if he’s left to his own devices, Han decided. He needs a push.
“Hey, she’s a beautiful woman. Last I checked, she was available. That makes her fair game.”
“Fair game? Han—are you serious?”
Han laughed. “Serious enough to run circles around you, farmboy—that is, if you don’t get on the ball.”
Luke stared at him for a moment—then laughed out loud. He shoved Han playfully; Han shoved back, just hard enough to knock Luke out of step.
“Run circles around me? I don’t think so,” Luke said, stumbling back into place beside Han.
“One thing’s for sure—I can still pilot circles around you. Are we gonna run those sims tomorrow?”
“You got it,” Luke laughed, looking over at Han with an expression so happy and trusting as to turn a sterner heart than Han’s. He ruffled the kid’s hair as they walked on.
He’ll catch on yet, Han thought.