The worst thing about being a princess and one of the most wanted women in the galaxy was the annoying lack of privacy.
“Mistress Leia, I really do not think this is advisable.”
Threepio was shuffling after her as fast as he could – which was, admittedly, not very fast. He was determined, though, she had to give him that.
“It will be fine,” she said, for what had to be the twentieth time in the past hour. “I just need some time alone.”
Mostly she had to settle for being alone in a crowd, and Ord Mantell was a good place for doing that. The locals, in this part of the planet especially, were friendly and turned a blind eye to the Rebels in their midst. There was a particular little bar, she knew, where she could go. The owner was a Rebel sympathizer, and the place was small and dark and usually half-empty. Plus, the drinks were strong – very strong.
She could use a good drink.
They all could. It wasn’t exactly like she was alone in that. But for Leia, especially, it was hard to find the time and space to decompress.
The men- most of them were boys, really. Boys like Luke, from little-known planets in the poorest parts of the galaxy or washouts recruited from the Imperial Academies, all hoping to save the galaxy and change their lives. The reality was that most of them were going to their deaths, and, if they were honest with themselves, they knew it. So they, these boys and men, whenever they could, drank too much, sang too loudly, went home with women of dubious morals. Nice men, under the pressures of war and doom and destiny, could get away with that kind of behavior. It was even expected. It annoyed Leia, secretly, not because she disapproved, but because she wanted some of that release for herself.
Nice women, however, didn’t have that option.
Or maybe they did, she wouldn’t know. But princesses almost certainly didn’t. Discretion was of the utmost importance – though, at the moment, she couldn’t quite remember exactly why.
Surely one drink, by herself, couldn’t do any harm.
Threepio was still making dire predictions in her ear when they reached the entrance to the bar.
“I highly doubt, Threepio,” she said, in response, “that the Empire would even know where to find a Ovreucian bloodworm, let alone put one in my drink.”
With that, she went in.
A group of young men watched her walk through the door, then turned away quickly. They were leaning up against the bar, their backs to the wall. There was something familiar about them and it took her a moment to place it: Alliance pilots. They had to be, with that mix of bravado and determination, looking that ill-at-ease in civilian clothes. She’d gotten very good at recognizing that sort of man lately.
“No droids,” a man behind the bar said, waving a hand at Threepio. “Sorry, it's not my choice.”
“Wait outside, Threepio.”
She sighed heavily. “Outside, or go back. Take your pick.”
“I’ll go back, Your Highness,” he said, turning awkwardly to leave. As he did, she could have sworn she heard him mutter something to the effect that “Master Luke will sell me for scrap for this!”
She found a table in the corner, deep in shadow and far away from the pilots at the bar.
“What can I get you?” the bartender walked over, wiping his hands on a suspiciously soiled-looking cloth.
“Whiskey, and keep them coming.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, vaguely amused, and returned quickly with a sizable one.
Two drinks later a shadow fell across her table. Leia looked up and found one of the pilots standing there, looking vaguely sheepish. She wondered briefly if maybe it was a bet with his buddies, but when she looked over his shoulder, she could see the other two talking to a pair of girls at the bar and not looking in her direction at all.
The pilot, dark-haired and boyish-looking, shoved his hands in his pockets. “I, uh, couldn’t help noticing that you’re alone over here-"
Oh, really. Please.
Leia put one hand to her head. “Nothing slips by you, does it?”
His cheeks flushed slightly. “What I mean is- are you sure you ought to be here alone?” He stopped himself just short of ending the sentence with ‘Your Highness,’ but it was a close thing.
She recognized him then: an X-Wing pilot and a friend of Luke’s. She’d noticed him before, but hadn’t really given him much thought at the time. He was cute, in that same fresh-from-the-farm way that Luke was.
“Should you, um-?” She paused, realizing that she couldn’t remember his name.
“Wedge. Wedge Antilles.” He gestured toward the bar. “And I’m not alone. Wes and Hobbie there are entertaining a few of the local ladies.”
“Have a seat then, Wedge Antilles.” After all, what the hell.
He sat a little unsteadily, running a hand through vaguely unruly hair. Perhaps he’d already had a few himself.
“Drinking to forget your troubles?” she asked.
He laughed sharply. “What else is new?”
Maybe not so fresh from the farm, after all.
“I know the feeling.” She clinked her glass against his a little too hard. Whiskey slopped over the side as he tried to hang onto it.
“Where are you from?”
“Tell me,” she said, conversationally, “are all Corellians completely exasperating and suicidally heroic?”
He blinked. “Uh-"
“I ask because the Rebel Alliance is lousy with you: gamblers, pirates, smugglers, all-around scoundrels. There seems to be some sort of pattern.”
“My parents ran a refueling station.”
“Oh.” So not a pattern, then.
“I’d ask,” he said, with a hint of wry humor, “if you come here often, but-“
“Right.” She leaned her chin on one hand and took a drink. “So, um-"
“Lieutenant,” he supplied helpfully.
“All right. Lieutenant Antilles-"
“But you can call me Wedge…”
She sighed again. “I’m trying to make conversation here. Work with me, okay?”
“I was going to ask what a nice guy like you was doing in a place like this,” she said, perfectly deadpan.
He looked at her in disbelief for a moment, then burst out laughing.
“I’m serious. Really, how did you get here? Read the recruiting posters wrong?”
His smile vanished. “Nah.” He cupped his hands around his glass. “It’s really messed up out there, someone’s got to help – and it’s not like I’ve got a whole lot to lose.”
“Trust me. I know the feeling.”
A bartender turned up, bottle in hand. “Another for either of you?”
“Oh, just leave the bottle,” Leia said.
She poured another. “Drink up, Lieutenant, for tomorrow we may die.” She half-raised her glass in toast.
Wedge laughed. “I can see your reputation for inspirational leadership is well-founded.”
“Well, that’s the thing.” She took another drink. “There are days when being a beacon of light and hope for the galaxy… well, it gets a little tiresome.”
“I imagine it probably does.” He poured himself another as well.
“Do you want to get out of here?” she said, before she could stop herself.
“What?” He nearly choked on his drink and put the glass down abruptly.
Leia frowned. She wasn’t some dewy-eyed virgin, and she really, really wished people would quit treating her that way.
“You heard me. Your place, my place -- it's pretty much the same place.” She stood. “Finish your whiskey, flyboy. Let’s go.”
She half-expected him to stammer out an excuse or an apology, but instead he downed his drink, tossed a few coins onto the table and followed her out the door.
Well, Leia thought, a little surprised. Good, then.
The cockpit of an X-Wing, she discovered that evening, was roomier than it looked.
He walked her home afterward (all forty feet from the hangar to the barracks), which was a nice, romantic gesture, even if it was a little wasted on her.
Also, they never quite made it there.
As they walked past, she noticed group of senior officers clustered around the occupant of a single chair in the command room. The door was closed, but even through the windows she could sense a sudden tension in the air.
Definitely not a good sign.
“Oh, this could be bad,” she said aloud, stopping in front of the door.
Wedge turned to look at her. “Trouble?”
“When isn’t it?”
“I ought to let you go, then-” She was already opening the door as he said it.
She turned back toward him with a smile, though, stopping in the open doorway. “Thanks for the drink. We should do it again sometime.”
His eyebrow quirked up just slightly in surprise. “Sure, if you’d like.”
Someone in the room coughed loudly as he turned to go. Leia let the door slide shut before she walked the all the way into the room. The officers standing around the chair moved apart to let her through, revealing… Han.
He looked like hell.
“What was that about?” he demanded, holding a cold-pack to one bruised eye and gesturing after Wedge with his free hand.
“What happened to you?” she asked instead, ignoring the question.
He grimaced. “Bounty hunter. Looks like we may have to get out of here, and fast. Or, at least, I might.”
“Oh,” she said numbly, and sat down beside him.
“It was bound to happen, you know.” He said it like it was no big deal and for some reason that made her angry.
“General,” she said, turning to Rieekan, “what would you suggest?”
“As far as we know, the bounty hunter didn’t have time to tell anyone what he’d found-” He spread his hands. “I’d suggest proceeding with caution, but no need to make any hasty decisions. We’re nearly ready to move on from here anyway.”
“Solo,” the general said, “you ought to see someone in Medical.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Han waved him off as the officers began to leave.
“He might be wrong, you know,” Han said when they were alone. “It would probably be better for everyone if I left.”
“It might – then again, it might not.”
They sat in silence for a long moment.
“Here.” She took the cold-pack from him and pressed it against his eye, laying her other hand on his wrist. “Let me. You’re doing it all wrong.”