Han lay on his back, panting his way back to normal breath, eyes still rolled back in his head. His fingers grasped the sheets now that the feminine thighs they’d held just minutes ago were gone. The flow of air was welcome on his damp skin. In the heat of the moment, he hadn’t realized how blazing it had got in his cabin. That was— holy kriff.
Leia had rolled away immediately after. That didn’t bother him. In his experience, that’s what women— real-life women, not the ones in songs or sappy holovids— did after sex. He had immediately removed the condom, tied it off, and tossed it in the wastebin next to the bunk before falling back onto the mattress to enjoy the blankness that lingered post-orgasm— that close to complete looseness he never quite attained any other way, all the more intense when he was able to get acrobatic with another person. And it had been a real long time. Too long, he thought, as he lay in that loose sensation for another moment, hands behind his head, trying not to think. His brain didn’t need to catch up yet, or to worry about what would happen next. It wasn’t like Han expected to cuddle afterwards. She’d made it clear enough that she’d enjoyed herself, so what was there to worry about?
He glanced at Leia. She was on her back as well, the blankets strategically placed over her chest, her hands resting on her (covered) stomach in a way that could only be described as prim. Her braids were surprisingly tidy— “No hair,” she had instructed breathily, well after that one harmless kiss had deepened into the frenzy of touching that had them heading toward Han’s cabin. Little frizzles of auburn were beginning to form a halo, the only evidence of her recent exertion. Han should have wanted to laugh at how proper she looked. Instead he found himself biting back a roil of annoyance that she could return so swiftly to her poised princess self. His hackles raising, he fought the urge to lay into her about it. Starting that kind of thing with Leia now wouldn’t get him anywhere he wanted to go; he had to watch it. The surge of irritated discontent shook off his post-sex drowsiness, and he wondered, could he get away with a playful tug of those blankets? Mental image wasn't the real thing.
Kest, was he thinking about trying to go again with her? Already? That didn’t happen so often— he wasn’t twenty anymore— and it would probably take another fifteen minutes or so for him to be, uh, ready. That didn’t mean he couldn’t get things started now though. Han wouldn’t soon forget the image of Leia bare and astride him, her eyes closed in concentration at own pleasure as she rocked her hips against his. Gods, the feel of her. And the way they had moved together, easy, natural, just like they did in a firefight— anticipating each other’s next move, despite the novelty of the situation, responding to each other’s needs from just a nod or a look, just a word here and there. The heightened senses from the adrenaline; the receding of all the irrelevant stimuli; the complete focus on the points that mattered; the flickers of electricity in their own movements and between the two of them as their eyes met, their bodies touched, in those brief, most critical moments in combat and, apparently, in bed— moments when they weren’t sniping at each other or vying for who was in charge.
Yeah, he wanted her again. He’d at least like to see her again. And he definitely wasn’t prepared to return to the weird hot and cold that had crept into their friendship of late- oh no, the hot he could live with, the warm had its charms too, but the freezing him out like he’d never meant or done a damn thing for her had to go. He was just resolving to make a play for those blankets when Leia said—
“And we never talked after that.” Her voice was dry, deadpan.
Han gave a short laugh. “Why talk when we just discovered that? Sure beats all that fightin’.” He rolled onto his stomach to face her. She pursed her lips slightly at him, her eyes a tad too narrow. “What? What are you talkin’ about?”
She turned her face away in her typical frustrated sigh before returning his gaze. “This is it, right?”
“What is what?”
“This—” she said slowly, waving her hand at the space between them, “—is the beginning of the end.”
“Well, we could do it again,” he said seriously, raising an eyebrow.
“This was a mistake, and that would be also,” she returned. Her mouth was tight, pursed.
“Hey.” Han reached two fingers out, to run his fingers against her shoulder, and Leia flinched away. He dropped his hand onto the mattress between them and swallowed. He noticed how cold he felt now that some of the heat had dissipated. He took a breath. “Seriously, what are you talkin’ about?”
“Suppose we do it again—”
Leia shot him an annoyed glance. “—And then again, and again.”
“I like the sound of that.” He leaned his face further forward, trying to make his voice low, and— what was the word? gravelly— but returned his hand to his pillow, comfortably digging his fingers into its cloth.
“Eventually, it gets old right? It fades out. Then what?”
Han wanted to let it burn out, to enjoy the fire as long as it could last. He hadn't thought that far ahead. What did it matter? They were wanted beings on an illegal military base. He wasn’t even supposed to still be there. Nobody had much of a future, so Han didn’t think about it.
“I dunno, Princess. What are you asking?”
“Well, I'll tell you what happens then— ‘And we never talked after that.’ That's what.”
“I still don’t get it." Han shook his head. "Why?”
She thought for a moment. “Because… well, I suppose because when that part’s over, there’s not much left. Think about it. We see each other, but don’t know how to interact anymore. It’s awkward. It feels like we don’t know what to say, but maybe it’s more accurate that we become suddenly aware we don’t have anything to say.”
Han shook his head, incredulous. “That’s crazy!”
“I’m not crazy,” Leia gritted her teeth, nostrils flaring.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” he said, immediately regretting his word choice. Since that first time he’d banged on the crew cabin door to make sure she wasn’t— dying or something— they’d both, by mutual, silent agreement, pretended he didn’t notice, but he had a sense of how frequent her nightmares were, how intense they must be. It took a lot to make Leia scream. Not to mention the pressure from High Command that she “see somebody.” He got that “crazy” was a sore-spot for her, he just, he forgot sometimes. She’d been through some stuff, but she wasn’t crazy. Any jerk with half a brain could see that. “I just mean—” Han reached for her arm again, placing his hand gently below her shoulder. He was surprised at the thump he felt in his stomach she let his hand linger his time, and he gave her a squeeze that was intended to be reassuring. “—you’ll at least prob’ly always have somethin’ to yell at me for, right?”
“Well, that’s worse, isn’t it?” She sat up, shaking her head and bringing her knees to her chest under the strategically placed sheets that she took with her. “Before I was just your hardass commanding officer—”
“I don’t have a com—” he started, sitting up with her, but Leia didn’t let him argue the point, and he thought better of digging in on not being a real member of the Alliance while she was worrying about what would happen to them. He made sure he got enough of the blanket to cover his waist; no way was he gonna be the only one completely exposed here.
“Rieekan already thinks I’m too harsh with you. Just wait until I’m the spurned harpy!”
Ha, me, spurn you? Everyone’ll know I wasn’t good enough to keep you. The thought came to him before he could smack it down. Where the hell did that come from, Solo? Fuck. Han cursed whatever treacherous inner voice had decided this was the moment to makes itself known, and buried it. “We both know I’m a pain in the ass. The whole base knows. Anything you give me, I deserve 99% percent o’ the time.” He shrugged. “Fuck anyone who says otherwise.”
“Can I get that in writing?”
Han shook his head. “Pillow talk is sacred, sweetheart. What happens here,” he tapped his pillow for emphasis, “stays here.”
“Figures.” Leia threw up her hands in exasperation, elbows on her knees, keeping the covers in place. She put her chin in her hands, and exhaled. “You can't call me that anymore,” she added, quietly, after a moment.
The irony of it, being denied that nickname only now. Han understood though. What he didn't understand was how hard it hit him right in his ribs. He opened his mouth to protest, but then huffed a breath, not knowing what to say and trying not to lash out immediately. He still didn’t want to let himself go from 0 to 100 so quickly after they’d been intimate, or to give Leia fodder for whatever she was getting at. He closed his mouth and nodded. “Okay, then.”
They sat in silence for awhile. Her conviction that sex was a path to— what? the dissolution of their friendship?— gnawed at him. Han liked their regular banter, was used to having her around. The whole idea seemed overblown. The sex had been great. They were talking now. That was gonna change because of, what? It wasn’t sitting right with him.
“So where’s this comin’ from, huh? This whole, we’re not gonna talk anymore thing?”
Leia looked at him, a twist to her mouth that was half rueful, half impish, as if deciding whether to share— or bracing herself for his response. A beat passed.
“Leia.” Han said in his best, let’s have it tone, the fake serious one with the hint of playfulness. The one that worked more times than not when she was feeling effusive or simply cooped up, and if she’d had an ale with dinner. He’d learned to emulate it from Luke, truth be told, and he could never tell for sure which of them had more luck with it.
She placed her hands over her face in a gesture that made her look— girlish. The melting off of her artificial years should have reminded him of just how young this woman whom he had just gone to bed with was, but it didn’t spook him as much as it might have. Instead, the exaggerated embarrassment made her somehow appear almost carefree, a palpable change in her demeanor that felt like relief. From what, he didn’t know. Han took a moment to appreciate artlessness and amusement in her features as she gazed out at him through splayed fingers. After another beat, she said, “It's happened to me before.”
“You didn't think that was my first time, did you?” She threw her hands back down on the bunk, laughing at him lightly.
“No— but— ah— no,” he sputtered. That hadn’t even crossed his mind. If it had, he would have asked a hell of a lot more questions before they’d gotten here.
“Or did you imagine a formal ceremony, perhaps a coming-of-age custom, with arallute-petals and a signed royal decree from my parents?” she asked with an air of faux haughtiness.
“No.” He didn't imagine Leia with other men at all, not because he assumed anything about her sexual past, but because he didn't particularly like to think of her with other men. These last couple years, Han tried as hard as he could to keep images of her with Luke out of his mind, but that was different— Luke was a current issue, not a past one.
“I don't mean that I was abandoned by my other lovers, mind you,” Leia clarified.
“Lovers?” Han asked, emphasizing the s.
Leia rolled her eyes. “Just that eventually we fell away from each other. No hard feelings.”
“But you're already mad at me for that happening with us? Can’t catch a break, can I swee- sister.” He grimaced. That wasn’t a good word either. “These other guys—”
“I never said they were both guys.” Now the bristle in her voice was tinged with real imperiousness.
Ah, sithspit, he’d walked into that one. After the whole thing with Sana, you’d think he’d know better than to assume. “Were they?” he asked. Leia’s only response was a pointed, arched eyebrow. “How many lovers we talkin’ here? You said, both, that mean two—”
“Are you going to tell me how many people you’ve been with?” she asked.
“I been with women, not people,” Han grumbled, settling back into a prone position on his stomach.
Leia rolled her eyes. “So reassuring. I was fairly sure you were a real man, after what we did, but now I can rest—”
“I didn’t mean that I got any problem with gay people,” he said grumpily into the pillow. Damned Alderaanians and their obsession with— well, the old guard Corellians called it political correctness, but that wasn’t quite fair. Yeah, it was an obsession with the right words, but that’s because Alderaanians saw words as a kind of action. That, combined with Alderaan’s separation of sexual preferences and practices from personal traits or who you were as a person— men and women both, and anyone in between, Leia liked to remind him— well, it meant they cared a lot about how you put things. He’d learned a lot about Alderaan these past two years.
Leia finally smiled at him, and again with a little glimmer of light in her eyes. I totally got you and you know it. He heard it as clear as if she’d said it. She’d caught him defending his masculinity in a way she would call highly stereotypical and Corellian; he knew it was kind of dumb, and she didn’t have to say anything else. And she knew it.
“Anyway, these other people you been with,” Han continued. “How’d you get with them?”
“I don’t believe I agreed to a full sexual history disclosure,” she said, picking at the lint on the blanket.
“It goes to the question of whether or not we’ll talk later, Your Honor. After this is all over.” He gave her his charming lopsided smile.
She narrowed her eyes in feigned skepticism. “I’ll allow it,” she sighed. “But watch yourself, Counselor.” Han put his hands up in agreement. “We were at university at the same time.”
“Wait, was this both at the same ti—” Leia shoved him in the shoulder. “Ow,” he said, matter-of-factly, placing a hand where she’d hit him.
“No, hotshot, it was not.”
His smile broadened. “Well, I don’t know. Not judgin’, just tryin’ not to make any assumptions, sw— s’your worshipfulness,” he covered.
“I was involved with Irek one year, and Desiraye the next. They were very different from each other, but the nature of the affairs were the same.”
“And that was?”
“Casual. I was under a lot of pressure, between trying to finish my degree and running missions for the Rebellion. I was passionate about it, but it was a lot of work. I needed to blow off some steam.”
“And those missions weren’t doin’ it for ya?” Han propped his head up on one arm to listen to her.
“I was so desperate to prove that I could hack it. No one wants a teenage princess on a mission, especially if her father is one of the big bosses. A lot of people thought they had to protect me above the mission, or coddle me to make me feel like I had contributed— instead of letting me actually contribute.”
“I was sixteen. I had no real romantic prospects, nobody I wanted a relationship with, nor did I want any entanglements that could jeopardize my family or the Rebellion. I was curious too, about what sex with another person would be like. Looking back, while I wouldn’t have traded my professional pursuits for the— galaxy, I think maybe I was chasing one ‘typical’ ” Leia put air quotes around the word typical, “teenage experience. Making out in the stacks, that kind of thing.”
“You had sex in the stacks?”
“I said ‘making out.’“
“Yeah, but— ?” Leia smiled in a way that appeared much more proud than guilty. Han let out a low whistle. “And they burned out, huh?” She bent her head in affirmation. “You regret either of ‘em?”
“No. Each felt right at the time. Irek was sweet and gentle, and Desiraye was so beautiful. She had the most devilish sense of humor. I had a lot of fun with both of them.” Her voice constricted with the last word, and she looked away, her mouth tightening as she pressed her chin into her elbow. Han saw a drop of water trickle down her face, although she wasted no time swiping it away.
“It’s fine,” Leia assured him quickly as Han sat up again. “I’m sorry, I haven’t thought of them since— just— I just wish they weren’t—” She swallowed. Leia had gone to the University of Alderaan. Both of her lovers would have perished in the Disaster. Instead of finishing her sentence, she gave a sniffle that wrenched at Han’s heart as he fumbled to figure out if it would help if he put his arms around her or— Leia rarely showed emotion, and she didn’t like people making a big deal. He knew her well enough to know that she withdrew into herself when grieving, and he didn’t know how to express caring without messing with that. “I wish they were out there, living their lives,” she whispered.
Han put his hand on her back tentatively, and held it there to gauge her reaction. Her skin was smooth and cool, tinged with pink in the dimmed cabin lights. He could feel her back rise as she took a deep breath. “Some people say that sort of thing doesn’t mean anything. I wasn’t in love with them. I didn’t even see them outside of that— relationship, really— except in lab or study group or whatever. But I knew them. And what we shared... It wasn’t nothing.”
Han didn’t know what to say, so he settled for running his thumb back and forth on Leia’s shoulder blade, keeping his hand still. He hadn’t been able to live that— openly. There were very few people who he felt he shared something with. The women he’d been with— well, they were trying to scrape what they could for themselves out of this gods-forsaken galaxy, just like him. A philosopher might argue that it’s not so very different from what Leia was doing, but Han knew better. How that looking out for number one meant there was a barrier that couldn’t be crossed. He turned his hand over, tracing circles on the Princess’s shoulder now with his knuckles. When had he stopped living like that? He was suddenly seized with such a strong urge to put his lips to her neck and take her in his arms, but as he was weighing the likelihood of being welcome, Leia again interrupted his thoughts.
“Anyway, I thought I got that kind of thing out of my system in my teens,” Leia said, her voice suddenly collected, as she wiped her face. Time for tears were over, and the moment to kiss her had passed. She gave a one-note laugh. “I guess I was wrong about that,” she added, gesturing to the mattress. “How did we get on this subject?”
Han let his hand fall. “You were informing me that we were never gonna talk again.”
Leia gave a snort of laughter without mirth. “Ah, right.”
“I still think this is different,” Han said, laying back with his hands behind his head.
“How so?” she asked.
“You said it yourself. With them, you were either studying or in the stacks.”
“Did either o’ them smuggle in fresh stuff an’ invite you over for dinner so you didn’t have to eat whatever was at the mess?” Han cooked for Leia and Luke at least once a week, when he was on base.
“Well, it was Alderaan,” she said, “so the food was actually locally—”
“Not the point, Highness,” he replied, grabbing the second pillow on the bunk with one hand, and throwing it at her hard enough to make a point but gently enough that it was playful. She caught it, letting the blanket slip for a moment. In that instant he was conscious— almost as if he was an outside observer— of the way his eyes instinctively flicked down to her exposed chest, and of the force it took to tear his gaze away so quickly, the uncomfortable double-time of his heart as he refocused on her face, radiant with an indulgent smile. “They let you mess with their ship when High Commands’ bein’ a bunch of bantha’s asses, and you need to pound at something for awhile?” He listed, resisting the urge to make an innuendo, as it would only undercut his point.
“You tore apart the air unit,” Han said seriously.
“I replaced the air unit.”
“You did. Not everybody gets that privilege though. You must be pretty special.”
“I’m so lucky.”
“You need me to go on?”
“You’re a real hero, huh?” she asked,
“The best, Princess.” He winked at her. “We been friends for what, two years now? Two and a half? You and I sat in a bog for two days. half-drowned to death, eating nothing but soaked ration bars.”
“We almost killed each other on Nal Hutta.”
“Yeah, but we didn’t. In those circumstances, I think that says a lot. You and me, Leia? C’mon. We’ll always talk.”
She looked at him a long moment. He still felt the pounding of his heart, as he searched her face for a clue as to what she was thinking. Finally, she said, “You go off and deal with Jabba. We run into each other on some remote planet, and you'll just what, say hello?”
The question settled like lead in his stomach. He returned her gaze, as it sunk in, and he briefly wondered if he looked as inscrutable as she or if he wore the regret that he felt on his face. “Not if it blows your cover,” he said honestly, and that answer tasted like lead too. The idea of seeing her in some crowded cantina and having to pretend not to see her, not to know her, with no chance to say hey later on or try to get her to crack a smile— he hated it. He sighed. “I don’t know about that, Princess. But I’m scheduled out for weeks’ worth of runs for now. I’ll be around for awhile.”
She held his gaze another moment, then nodded, and turned away. “I should probably get dressed.” Han watched her peer over the edge of the bunk and begin rummaging through the pile of clothes that lay at its foot.
“Are you hungry? I’m starving. I'll make hotcakes before you go.”
Leia shrugged her camisole over her head. “I guess I could eat.”
“That way you won’t go to bed hungry. Clothing’s optional too,” he said.
Leia rolled her eyes, and tossed him his boxers. “Not if you want me to stay, it isn’t.”
“Can’t blame a guy for trying.”
They continued to dress in silence, not showing more skin than necessary as they did so, handing each other the right articles of clothing as needed. Han sat back on the bunk to put his socks on. He stopped and looked over at Leia who was had just finished buttoning her blouse. She reached down to pick up her belt. That halo of auburn frizz round her braids was in full force now, and she looked tired, but— relaxed. Even in her Princess-white alliance gear, she looked pretty.
“What are you looking at? I’m dressed,” she chided him, pulling the belt through her pant-loops.
“I know,” he said, not taking her eyes off her. He put his hands on his knees, and took a breath. “Look, Leia.” She stopped for a moment and gave him her full attention. “if you don’t want to do this again, we won’t do it again. Even though I’d like to. But I’ll talk to ya either way. Is that clear?”
She smiled. “Clear.”
“I’ll even talk to you during more, if that’s what you’re into.”
“I liked it the way it was,” Leia said, as she finished fastening her belt.
“I did too.” He pulled on his sock. “So that means— ?”
“We’ll see. I’d say chances are favorable.” She reached for her boots and joined him on the bed. “I’d prefer to keep this between us, though.”
She bent down to lace the boot she had shoved her foot into, and then paused. “Well actually,” she said, looking up at him with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. “I’d prefer for you to run past Dodonna’s office with me over your shoulder. Howling if you can manage it.”
Leia resumed tying her laces, as Han finished putting on his footwear. “I think he’d die. We’d have to live with the rest of the Alliance personnel though, and they’re overly interested in us as it is. And Jan has been very useful in the war efforts. So I supposed it isn’t worth it.” Leia heaved an exaggerated sigh.
“I thought you and Dodonna got along?”
“We manage as colleagues.” She sat up, and met his eye. Han raised an eyebrow. “He made it very clear in my younger days that he doesn’t like me even knowing about sex.”
Han stopped. “What?”
She shook her head to confirm. “As part of my role as Princess of Alderaan, I promoted certain causes officially. One of my pet projects was an organization that sought to bring sexual education to all planets. Alderaanian sex education, mind you, not that Corellian ‘here’s how to use a rubber, don’t have sex or you’ll get pregnant and die' that somehow you get away with calling the 'basics.' ” Han snorted in recognition of her accurate portrayal. “We covered the proper fundamentals. Obviously contraception, but also healthy relationships, boundary setting, female sexuality, all of that. ” she said, getting up off the bed to open the hatch, followed by Han. They walked down the hall to the Falcon’s tiny galley. “After a Rebel meeting, Dodonna cornered me and started asking me about my work, only to encourage me me to find something ‘more appropriate' to advocate for.' ”
“What an old fart.”
Leia settled herself in her usual spot on the counter and got out the bowl and hotcake mix from the cabinet behind her, as Han retrieved the blue milk from the fridge. “Well, if you can believe it, Dodonna actually told me it wasn’t princessly. I’ll never forget it, he said—” she paused for dramatic effect, as Han took a spatula from a drawer. “He actually said— ‘No one wants to hear about how the dwarf's big nose allowed the Princess to become an expert in sexual pleasure before she meets the Prince’ ”
In an instant, Han was suddenly aware of a loud cracking sound and an acute pain shooting through his fist. It took another second to connect these sensations to the dim realization that he had slammed his fist and the spatula down on the stove. “WHAT?!”
Leia was still perched on the counter, her hand over her mouth, eyes wide in shock. “Han, shh, you’ll wake Chewbacca.”
“Dodonna said WHAT?” he hissed in a voice that still shook the room.
Leia nodded curtly, an amused curl of her lips peeking out behind her hand. "That was my reaction too."
"Why you smilin'?" Han could feel his nostrils flaring.
Leia shook her head. Her shoulders began shaking. She was— she was giggling behind those fingers.
"It's not funny."
"I know. I know." Her giggles were morphing into a full-on laugh. "It's horrible. It's so horrible that I have to laugh. Your reaction—" she said, grabbing his arm," —is the only appropriate response." She was belly laughing now, tears in her eyes, hand still on his arm. Taken aback by her laughing fit, and having no immediate outlet for his rage, Han settled for putting an arm around her and pressing his lips to her hair. She leaned into him, now placing her head against his chest, and continued to laugh-cry against him.
Although the evening had essentially begun with her in his embrace, the feel of Leia in this context was new. He closed his eyes and tried to focus on that feeling. It should have been calming, but his own breath pounded in his ear and his heart hammered angrily in his chest. Each time he started to calm down, Han again remembered what the general had said, and bile rose in his throat. The Princess in his arms was the only thing stopping him from tearing down the ramp to High Command quarters. Still, he rubbed her back, and allowed himself to breathe out some of the tension he wanted to use to put Dodonna's teeth in the back of his throat.
Leia's laughter began to subside. "I'll kill him," he whispered into the crown of her braids.
"Then you're not so very much better, O Protector of My Honor," she said, her fingers absently playing with his collar.
"It ain't just about honor," he leaned back to look at her. "It's about respect. It ain't about us sleepin' together either. If you'd'a told me that on the Death Star, I would'a kicked his ass on Yavin."
She smiled up at him. "Well, wait until after we win the war."
"How can you be so calm about this?"
"You think that was calm?" He had to admit she had a point. Leia sighed and shook her head. "It was a long time ago. I've tried to let it go."
"You don't let anything go."
"The next time I saw him, I may have spit in his kaffe when he wasn't looking."
"That's lowball revenge for you, Highness, considerin' the nerve o' him."
"When my father found out what he had said to me, he yelled at Jan for an hour. That was the equivalent of a violent fit of rage for my father. He didn't tell my mother about it, however. I still don't think Jan realizes that my father spared his life."
Han snorted, and stroked the length of her back.
“I’m still hungry,” she reminded him, tilting her chin toward the hotcake mix. “Why don’t we eat now, and take vengeance on General Dodonna after the war?”
“Sure thing, sweetheart.” He only remembered when he was pressing his lips to her forehead that he wasn’t supposed to call her that, but his worry abated when he glanced down at her and saw the smile on her face. He let her go to reach for the hotcake mix. “I got you.”