Han Solo awoke from a sound sleep to the distinctly painful sensation of his nose being broken. He rolled out of bed. In the faint light, he could see Leia thrashing in the throws of a nightmare.
"Leia! Wake up!"
She didn't respond. He went into the bathroom to grab a towel to staunch the flow of blood gushing from his nose.
He came back out and she still wasn't awake. "Damn it, Leia, get up and help me!" With his free hand he grabbed one of her flailing arms and shook it. "Wake up!"
Leia's eyes popped open. For a moment she sat panting, disoriented, then her eyes focused on Han.
"You're bleeding," she said, getting out of bed.
"Really? I'm so glad you're here to tell me these things."
"What happened?" she asked. The blood was soaking through the towel. He had blood on his chest. She looked down; blood flecked the sheets.
"This woman I foolishly let share my bed just clocked me out of a sound sleep."
Leia grimaced. "I'm so sorry, I was having-"
"A nightmare, I know," he interrupted. "I was there. Could you get me some ice?"
"We should probably take you to the med-center."
Han glared at her. "Could you just get me some ice?"
She was back in a flash with a plastic bag full of ice cubes. "I am really sorry," she said, handing it to him. She slipped into the bathroom, wet a hand towel and came back out.
"Let's get you cleaned up." She started wiping the blood from his chest. "I really am sorry."
Han shifted the bag of ice. His voice was muffled. "I know. It's not like you did it on purpose." He sat down on the edge of the bed and waited for the bleeding to stop. After a couple of minutes, he removed the towel. Leia winced. His nose was quite swollen and his right eye was starting to blacken.
"How bad is it?"
Leia tried to think of something positive to say. "Um..."
"Shit." Han got up and went into the bathroom to look in the mirror. "I can't believe you broke my fucking nose."
The next day Leia showed up at the Falcon earlier than she usually did. She brought a 20-year-old bottle of Corellian brandy that cost her quite of bit of time and money to locate. The ramp was down so Leia just walked in. She could hear Han and Chewbacca talking. Han sounded angry.
"I swear Chewie, one more of Leia's guard dogs comes after me, and I'm going to blow somebody's head off!"
Before Chewie could respond Leia stepped into the lounge where they were talking.
"What happened?" She asked.
Han turned to face her. The swelling in his nose had gone down to almost normal, but a dark bruise crossed it and spread under his right eye.
"Nothing," he grumbled. "Is that for me?"
"Yes, but before I give it to you, I want to know what you mean by 'Leia's guard dogs?'"
"Don't you ever knock?"
"The ramp was down."
"Ever heard of a private conversation?"
Chewie grumbled something to excuse himself, but neither Han nor Leia was paying any attention.
"Tell me what happened?"
"It's obviously not nothing or you wouldn't have been talking to Chewie about it."
Han clapped his hands. "Fine. General Dodonna tried to give me a dressing down today about not getting into brawls. He said it was behavior unbecoming of an officer especially one with such close ties to, I think he called you, Her Royal Highness."
"Well did you tell him...?"
"What? That last night as we slept together in my bed, Her Royal Highness had a nightmare and broke my nose? No. I told him to mind his own damn business and walked out. I'm a general too, remember? I don't have to take that from him."
"I don't understand why he would say such a thing."
"Oh please, there isn't a single member of senior staff that doesn't take every available opportunity to bust my balls."
"What right do they-"
"None, but they feel like they have the right to say anything they want."
"Come off it, they get their cues from you."
Leia stepped back. "Excuse me?"
"You heard me. You think I don't know. You think I don't notice how you act."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Oh really? How about why you only come down here 20 minutes after a shift change when everyone is either at their post or had time to make it to wherever it is they're going? How come we never sleep in your cabin, even though it's a lot nicer and the bed is big enough for you to have nightmare without breaking my nose? How come it's okay to eat with me in the cafeteria among the troops but you never ask me to formal dinners with your crowd?"
Leia put the bottle of brandy on the holochess board and shook her head. "Okay first of all, I come down here 20 minutes after a shift change because that's when I have time to leave. We sleep here because I don't particularly like my quarters. They're sterile and kind of bleak. I like eating with you in the cafeteria and I didn't think you liked formal dinners. I don't much like them myself."
Han frowned at her. "That all may be true, but let me tell you how it looks, not just to Dodonna, but to a lot of people. It looks like you wait until after the shift changes so you can slink down here with the fewest possible people seeing you. Then you stay here to fuck your low-life boyfriend who isn't good enough to be seen coming out of your cabin in the morning and possibly running into the rest of senior staff in the hall outside your door. I think they probably like that you occasionally eat with the troops. It improves moral, makes them feel like administration cares about them. They're willing to turn a blind eye as long as it's not official, as long as you're not parading me in front of visiting dignitaries as your consort."
"You are my consort," Leia said softly.
"No, I'm not. I'm your pilot. I know because that's what the manifest of every single mission we've ever been on together says. Regardless of whether I'm actually flying the ship, it always says Han Solo comma pilot to HRH Princess Leia of Alderaan. It may as well say butler or footman, servant." His expression was hard. "Is that what you come to me for, Leia, servicing?"
She felt like slapping him, but his face was already so bruised and obviously painful she didn't have the heart. She also had the sinking sensation that there might be some truth to what he was saying, and she was deeply ashamed of her behavior. Not that she was willing to admit that to him.
"Enjoy the brandy," she said, turned on her heel, and walked out.
Two hours later, Luke Skywalker walked up the ramp of the Millennium Falcon, looking for Han. He found him in the ship's hold punching a heavy bag, and listening to music that sounded as angry as Han looked.
"Hey, practicing for an upcoming match?"
Han stopped punching the bag, turned around, and looked at him.
"I had five people come up to me today to ask if I'd heard about your fight."
"Really, just five?"
"Just five. But the funny thing is all five stories were pretty different. Sometimes you were in a bar, other times the hanger bay, once on the main bridge. In some stories you're fighting off several attackers, in others it's just one guy."
"You want to know the truth?"
"If it's not too much trouble."
"I was beat up by a girl."
Luke smiled. "Anyone I know?"
"Guess. I'll give you a hint. She's a relative of yours."
"Well, that certainly narrows it down."
"She was having a nightmare, woke me up."
"She woke you up giving you a black eye?"
"Yeah, and a hairline fracture in my nose."
"Too bad she didn't hit you harder, she might have been able to straighten it out."
Han snorted. "Yeah, too bad."
"So what's she doing to make it up to you?"
"She brought me a bottle of Corellian brandy and then we had a argument."
Luke grimaced. "That's not good."
"Can I do anything?" Luke asked.
"I don't think so. She's just going to have to decide this for herself."
Leia spent the next two days avoiding Han. She woke up on the second day in a panic that he was lost. This is ridiculous, she thought, and got out of bed. She walked through the suite of rooms that had been assigned to her. She walked around the king sized bed. She looked at the luxurious bath. She wandered into the living area, the office, and the kitchen. The rooms were all bleak, undecorated except for a single tapestry, that Han had given her for her birthday years ago. She looked out the huge round window that afforded her a view of the stars. Why didn't she invite him to stay here with her? These were much nicer, much more spacious, quarters than those on the Falcon. Was Han right? Was she ashamed of him? She could still remember her father's lectures on discretion. Did she need to be discrete about Han? For whom and why? Leia sighed and rolled her shoulders. This all boiled down to her future, what she wanted to do with herself, now that the war was over. The Alliance now held all but a few core systems. The Republic was being restored daily. It had been only a month ago that the banking system had finally been sorted out and accounts that had been frozen for so long were suddenly available to her and so much more. As the sole heir to the House of Organa, Royal House of Alderaan, Leia not only took ownership of her own family's off-world holdings, but also those of any Alderaanians without heirs to claim their holdings. It amounted to trillions of credits. Overnight, Leia had gone from being an exiled war refugee to one of the wealthiest people in the galaxy. She didn't tell anyone about it, least of all Han. She hadn't really absorbed all the ramifications yet.
It was clear however that other high-ranking members of the Alliance were ready for her to be done with Han. They saw Leia's potential for marriage as a merger, something to broker for power to add more systems to the fold. They saw Han as a distraction, as something she should quickly relegate to her past. It was clear that they thought of Han as a youthful indiscretion on her part, something to be attributed to the strain and sorrows of the war. Leia walked over to the lounge area and flopped onto the sofa. The question was how did she see Han?
Suddenly filled with resolve Leia got up and headed for the shower. She needed to get her day started. There was a lot to be done.
She was walking out the door an hour later when she almost ran into Luke who had his hand poised to knock on the door.
"Hey, I was just coming to talk to you."
"Good, I was just coming to ask you to help me with something."
Han had had two terrible days. Not only was he upset about how things went with Leia, but he'd also spent the last 14 hours doing an inspection of the merchant fleet and had met some resistance from some old acquaintances. It was late in the day, ship's time, when he finally walked up the Falcon's ramp. The bottle of brandy was still on the holochess board where Leia had left it. He thought for a moment then snagged it and headed back to his cabin. He instantly knew something was wrong. His diagram of the first Corellian star fighter was missing from the wall over the bed. He opened his closet and all of his clothes were gone. He opened his chest of drawers and those clothes were also missing. He went into the bathroom to find all of his toiletries gone. His first instinct was to be angry, but slowly a light dawned. He thought about calling her on the commlink, but decided to take the risk and just go to her cabin instead. When he got to her door, he started to knock but then decided to see just how far she'd committed herself. He rested his palm against the door lock for it to scan his hand. The door slid open.
Leia was sitting on a long white sofa reading a data pad when he walked in. She looked up at him. He was shocked to see that her quarters had been completely transformed since the last time he'd seen them. Instead of sterile grey and white, the place actually felt kind of homey. A large, hand-woven rug covered the living room floor. Colorful throw pillows were strewn across the two white sofas. In addition to the tapestry he'd given her there were several paintings and his starship print on the walls.
"I'm looking for my clothes," he finally said.
"They're in the bedroom in the closet on the left."
"And my toothbrush? I can't find my toothbrush."
"It's in the bathroom, in a little cup next to mine."
"Is that where it lives now?"
"If it wants too."
"I'm sure it does."
"Maybe." Leia sighed. "Sit down, Han. We need to talk about who I am, who I can be, and who I can't be. Then you need to decide whether or not you can live with that. You were right the other day. I haven't been fair with you. I guess I thought if we could just keep this to ourselves that I wouldn't really have to face the reality outside our relationship. Obviously, that was ridiculous, and unintentionally, I made you feel like I didn't think you were worthy of my company. Nothing could be further from the truth. Actually, I'm afraid once you're presented with all the facts it's you who'll find living with me intolerable.
Han wasn't sure what she meant, so he sat down. "Okay. What's going on?"
"I'm a little unsure of what my place in the galaxy is these days."
Han raised an eyebrow.
"Actually, that's a gross understatement. I'm a lot unsure of what my place is."
Han settled back against the sofa, sensing that this was going to take awhile.
"I guess a lot of the problem is that I never really expected the war to be won in my lifetime. I've honestly been going along expecting to die any moment."
Han chuckled. "You and everybody else."
Leia smiled at him. "Exactly. We've all been in crisis mode."
"Okay," Han said, unsure of where she was going with this.
"Suddenly, I'm confronted with choices and responsibilities I never expected to have."
"And that's a bad thing?"
"It's a confusing thing, and I feel like I need to tell you what these choices and responsibilities are, so that you can see what sort of things you're potentially in for."
"First of all, Luke wants to train me as a Jedi."
Han refrained from saying anything.
"We've done some meditation exercises, but I'm not sure that's a path I want to take. Mon Mothma wants me to run for vice-president of the senate. She's also mentioned the possibility of an ambassadorship."
"Then there is the whole issue of Alderaan, and the remaining Alderaanians."
"It's complicated, but I've inherited my family's off-world holdings."
"What's complicated about that?"
"Nothing, except that I've also inherited everyone else's family's off-world holdings."
"Any Alderaanian that died without an heir for their off-world holdings forfeits those holdings to the Alderaanian government, which at the time of the destruction was lead by the House of Organa."
"But that must have been millions of people."
"So that's like..." Han wasn't sure what to compare it to.
"Trillions of credits worth of land, businesses, jewels, just about any kind of asset you can imagine. All my responsibility."
Han's jaw dropped. "What the hell? How are you supposed to manage all of that?"
"I'm currently in the process of setting up a corporation to do just that. I, of course, will have to direct the board. My interest is in seeing that any Alderaanian anywhere gets whatever they want, need or desire. The problem is that the best estimate puts the number of Alderaanians living off planet at the time of the destruction at only about 100,000. Unfortunately, that number has dropped dramatically to a little over half of that. Between the war and..." Leia pressed the bridge of her nose. "The suicide rate is incredible."
Han ran a hand through his hair and let out a slow breath. "That's a lot."
Leia nodded. "And then, of course, the icing on the cake is that there is a large contingent of people in the upper echelon of the Alliance that want to arrange a marriage/merger of me to some young prince from one of the large outer systems to further solidify our position of power."
Han cleared his throat and looked down at his feet. "Which leaves me?"
Leia shrugged. "I can only tell you that I love you, that I'm willing to thumb my nose at all of them, if you're willing to stay."
Han smiled. "Willing to stay? Why wouldn't I be willing to stay? I love you, you love me, what business is it of anyone else's?"
Leia smiled back at him. "I like your attitude, but the truth is, there are a lot of people who will think it is their business, and frankly, I'm about to become a public figure again, but this time on a much grander scale. I can't keep the financial stuff quiet. It's too big to hide, plus I'm going to need a whole corporation to handle it, not exactly something I can keep a lid on. Not to mention, I don't want to. I want Alderaanians to know they have somewhere to turn. I never expected to be in this position again, but I can't fail them. I have a sworn duty."
Han nodded. "And you're worried that I might be a liability."
Leia shook her head. "No. I trust you. But we are going to have to decide how we want to handle our relationship publicly, because like it or not it will be public."
"What do you mean handle it?"
"I mean that the mainstream press is likely to have a field day with our relationship and more likely than not they're going to go after you."
"Pretty much the only thing I watch on the holonet is the occasional smashball game."
She smiled at him. "Okay, but don't say I didn't warn you."
He smiled back at her. "Fair enough. Anything else?"
"You'll need some new clothes if you'll be attending formal events with me."
He nodded. "Okay, what should I get?"
"Don't worry about it. I'll have a tailor come around."
He raised both eyebrows. "Pricey."
"I'll cover the expense."
"Hey, I make pretty good dough now that I'm a general."
"Generals don't usually have their own tailors. I'll pay. I don't expect you to stop working or anything, but as long as we're together, you shouldn't have to worry about money."
"What do you mean 'as long as we're together?' I told you I'm not going anywhere."
She touched his hand. "I'm sorry. I just...I'm a little worried that you're going to hate this."
"Maybe, but I love you and that's all that matters."
She nodded, leaned in and kissed him. He kissed back and she let herself stop fretting about the changes in their lives.
The next morning, feeling quite pleased with himself, Han stepped out of Leia's cabin door. He corrected himself: not Leia's cabin, their cabin. Unfortunately, his joy was short lived because Jan Dodonna stepped out of his door at almost the same moment. Han could see the instant surge of rage that crossed Dodonna's face. Han's first instinct was to knock on Leia's door to pretend he was just arriving instead of just leaving, but he recalled Leia's comment on a public relationship and thought better of it. May as well start now, he decided.
"How dare you!" Dodonna hissed.
"Look, Jan-" Han started, but just then an admiral whose name Han didn't know stepped out of her door.
Dodonna instantly switched gears. "Thanks for coming to a breakfast meeting, Solo," he said just a little too loudly.
The admiral gave them a strange look as she moved down the hall toward the lift.
Han was incredulous. "What?"
The instant the lift doors closed. Dodonna shifted gears again. "How dare you be seen on this hall? The impropriety!"
"People will think you are having relations with the princess."
"I am 'having relations' with the princess, but thanks to you, that admiral now thinks I'm 'having relations' with you."
Dodonna's face went scarlet. He puffed up his chest to shout at Han, but the door behind Han slid open.
It was Leia holding a datapad in her hand. She could instantly see what was happening, but she smoothly handed the pad to Han.
"I'm glad I caught you. You left this. Good morning, Jan."
Han took the pad. "Thanks. Jan and I were just heading up to the bridge."
Leia smiled. "No, you weren't. Come in Jan."
Stone-faced, Jan went by her into the cabin. Han started to follow but Leia stopped him with a gentle hand to his chest.
"Go to work, Han," she said softly.
Han started to protest, but the set of her jaw told him it would be pointless. He kissed her forehead instead. "I'll see you later?"
She smiled. "Yes." She turned around and the door hissed closed behind her. Han didn't like it, but left anyway.
Leia found Jan Dodonna standing rigidly at attention in her living room.
"Sit down, Jan."
He paused only a moment before taking a seat on the sofa.
"May I get you something? Coffee, juice, toast perhaps?"
Dodonna cleared his throat. "No, thank you, Your Majesty."
Leia sat on the sofa opposite him. "You were one of my father's most trusted advisors."
Dodonna didn't say anything.
"Even though you weren't Alderaanian, he trusted you."
"He asked you to look after to me. To see to my safety."
"I was girl when he asked that, Jan. I understood politics, but I knew little of the realities of life. At the time, I knew almost nothing of hardship except what I learned from reading and watching holovids, but that all changed."
Dodonna dropped his eyes to the floor.
"Look at me, Jan," she commanded.
He looked up.
"You need to stop trying to look after me and trust that I can look after myself."
"I cannot stop, Your Majesty."
Leia sighed. She'd been hoping to avoid having to go down this road. "What would you have me do, Jan?"
Dodonna seemed relieved to finally be asked. "Stop this dalliance with Solo. Think about your future. Don't you see, with the war over, you can have your life back. It's no longer necessary for you to live on board a ship like some kind of traveling waif. You can settle down and resume your proper place."
Leia sighed again. "I can't have my life back, Jan. Alderaan is gone."
"I know, Your Highness, but there are other royal houses."
Leia shook her head. "So what you want me to do is find some nice prince and settle down in his lovely palace and have children."
Jan nodded. "Yes, and either take a position with the Senate or possibly an ambassadorship."
Leia let out a brittle laugh. "Okay. Let's flash forward to the first time this prince sees me naked."
Jan gave her a shocked look. "Your Majesty!"
"No, if we're going to play your game, let's be realistic. I have a blaster burn on my left arm. I have a death tag tattooed on my hip, and those are just two of the most obvious scars. These aren't things people can overlook without question, Jan."
"You could explain."
"I could, but I don't want to. And what about the nightmares, Jan. When I have a nightmare that results in my flailing around and breaking the prince's nose, what then? I mean even Han was angry about that, and yet he didn't say a word when you and everyone else assumed he'd been out fighting. Not a word, Jan. Will your prince have that kind of loyalty?"
Dodonna started to stammer but Leia didn't give him the chance to say anything.
"I've known a lot of princes, Jan, and I can tell you, they won't understand. They don't want a wife who's been tortured, raped and tagged for death. They don't want a wife who wakes them up screaming. They don't want a wife who will look at them every day and think of them as soft and useless. Men like that think they can handle high maintenance women, Jan, but they haven't met me. I'm high maintenance in all capital letters. In the entire universe, there is probably only one man crazy enough to want to live with me, and I'm not so foolish as to let to him go. In fact, I risked everything to get him back. So I'm telling you, get used to Han Solo walking out that door every morning."
Dodonna's face was blanched white.
Leia blew out a slow breath and tried to stem the tide of her resentment. "Look, I wish the world worked the way you want it to, Jan. Sometimes, I wish I could somehow go back and start again, but time doesn't stop that way. My experiences, both good and bad, have shaped who I am. I'm not ashamed of that, and I'm not ashamed of being with Han. If you don't think you can handle that, then I suggest you transfer off this ship."
"I have always been with Your Highness."
"Yes, and I would hate to sever our relationship after all these years, but I have enough to worry about without you hovering around being disapproving all the time. I don't need that and neither does Han. Frankly, I would think you'd have better things to do with your time as well."
Dodonna swallowed hard, but didn't say anything.
"I assume I've made myself clear."
"Crystal, Your Majesty."
"Good." Leia stood. "Then I see no reason why we should ever have to speak of this again."
"You're dismissed. See yourself out." Leia turned and walked out of the room.
Dodonna watched her disappear down a hallway. He let out a long slow breath, stood, and let himself out.
Han came home early that afternoon. He'd called Leia's office to see if they could have lunch only to be informed that she'd cancelled her appointments for the day. Uncomfortable with the situation he'd left that morning, he quickly wrapped things up at work and headed home.
The suite appeared empty when he first opened the door. He saw an open bottle of wine on the kitchen counter that hadn't been there that morning. Most of the wine was gone, but he didn't see a glass. He moved further into the apartment and heard the shower going. He saw that as a positive sign so he went into the bedroom to change his clothes. Leia still wasn't out of the shower so he decided to make a couple of calls that he hadn't gotten done at work. Thirty minutes later when Leia still wasn't out of the shower he went and knocked on the door. There was no response. He palmed the door lock but it didn't open. He started to panic. He didn't know the override code so he ripped the panel off and rewired the door. Five minutes later, the door slid open and a billowing cloud of steam rolled out into the hallway. He took in the room all at once. An empty wine glass sat on the vanity. Steam clouded the shower stall. He opened the door to find Leia sitting on the floor with her knees pulled up to her chest and her arms wrapped around them. She leaned heavily against the wall. Water pounded steadily on her back and neck. Her head was tucked into her knees and Han couldn't tell if she was asleep or unconscious or what. He reached over her and turned off the faucet.
She slowly lifted her head up and looked at him. Clearly trying to focus, she asked, "What time is it?" Her voice sounded thick and slow.
"Were you planning on being sober before I got home?"
Leia let her head fall back against the wall of the shower. She looked at him for a moment before answering, "Yes."
Han stood looking at her. Unsure of how to respond to the honesty of her reply, he finally held out his hand. "Come on, let's get you dried off."
She took his hand and he helped her stand. She wouldn't look at him. He pulled a towel from the linen cabinet and draped it over her shoulders.
"You want to tell me why you're drunk in the middle of the afternoon on a Tuesday?"
Leia didn't say anything. Instead she slid her arms up around his neck and pulled him into a kiss. He could taste the wine in her mouth and considered for a moment letting the matter go. Then he pulled her arms down between them and held her hands together.
"That's not an answer."
She shut her eyes and her face colored. She was clearly stung by his words, which almost made him reconsider, but he hated the idea of her punishing herself and then planning to hide it from him when he got home. He wanted whatever led to this aired out and resolved. "Why don't you dry off. I'll go get your robe."
He came back to the bathroom a moment later to find the towel wrapped tight around her and a second one wrapped around her hair. He handed her the heavy white robe. "Come out to the kitchen when you're ready."
She continued to avoid his eyes.
Han busied himself making coffee and pouring two glasses of water. He made dry toast for her and a sandwich for himself. He cut the toast into quarters and set everything on the table. He was halfway through his sandwich before she came into the kitchen.
"Hey," he said, wiping his mouth. "I made you some toast and I want you to drink that whole glass of water. Then I'll get you some coffee."
Leia sat at the table but made no move toward the toast or water.
"You going to tell me why you're drunk?"
"I'm of age. I can drink if I want to."
"Oh, okay, so this is just a new thing you're doing. Are you going to ditch work every Tuesday to get drunk or just some Tuesdays or is it going to be different days of the week? I just need to know so I don't accidentally come home before you can sober up. Maybe you can give me a schedule."
A single tear slid down her cheek.
Han sighed. He softly touched his fingers to her chin. "What's wrong?"
"Everything is wrong. I'm wrong."
"Did you know there's an Alderaanian band out now?"
"They're actually pretty popular. They refer to me as Princess Death in two of their songs."
"Well, that's just sick."
"No, what's sick is, I really like their music."
"I can't stand this."
"What?" He was trying to follow her, but felt like he was failing.
"I can't stand having people like Jan bowing and calling me Your Majesty while all the time disapproving of how I'm living my life. Meanwhile there are other people out there making money singing about how horrible I am. Then I'm supposed to turn around and give these same people, who hate me, money and tell them how sorry I am that our home was destroyed. The thing is, I want to do it. I want to give them the money. I want to say I'm sorry over and over again because I know why they blame me. I blame myself."
"It wasn't your fault."
"But it was my fault. I chose to fight the Empire. I chose to capture those plans. I was the one standing on the bridge when Tarkin said 'fire.'"
"That's true, but you also prevented any other planets from suffering Alderaan's fate when you got those plans."
"But that's incidental to the facts, don't you see?"
Han dropped his head back and stared at the ceiling for a second. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly
"Okay, but what's done is done. The question is how do you move forward."
"A lot of Alderaanians aren't moving forward. They just stop."
Han grimaced; he'd always been very uncomfortable with the subject of Alderaanian suicide. "You're stronger than that."
"I'm not sure it's a question of strength."
Han had no response for that. They sat quietly for a moment not looking at each other.
"Then, of course, there is the other response. I had sixteen messages this morning about the Alderaanian Vengeance Brigade."
"Haven't you heard? There's a group of Alderaanians going around executing Imperials. Not just the military either but their families as well. They're even killing children."
"All the messages wanted to know my opinion: if I had any idea who might be behind it, if I had any suggestions for making them stop. The scary thing is a very sick part of me wants to say 'why stop them?'"
"I know how they feel. Sometimes, I have dreams where the whole time I'm just killing Imperials. Just one after the other."
"I know. I have dreams like that too, but that's a far cry from actually going around and doing it."
"The AVB doesn't feel like the war crimes tribunals are holding enough people accountable. They're furious that the Emperor and Vader are dead and they didn't get to see the bodies. I guess they wanted to drag them through the streets of Coruscant or something."
"So what are you going to do? Become a sympathizer, start sending them money?"
"No," she said, but not very forcefully.
Han decided it was time to get off the subject of the AVB. "So how did things go with Jan?"
"I guess we'll have to wait and see if he submits transfer paperwork or not."
"I gave him a choice. He could get over my relationship with you or he could transfer."
"He's not going to transfer, Leia. He's always been part of your retinue."
"I almost wish he would just go."
"Why, what did he say to you?" Han asked with an edge to his voice.
"Mostly 'yes, Your Majesty' and that he thought I should leave you and marry some prince and resume my proper place in the universe."
"And you said?"
"At first I tried just commanding him to get over it, but when that didn't work..."
"I told him princes don't marry women who've been tortured, raped and tagged for death. I told him princes don't marry women who have nightmares and wake up screaming and sometimes break noses in the process."
Han raised both eyebrows. "You said that?"
"Yes. It would have been kinder if I'd clubbed him in the head with a vase. It's just he's been holding on to this illusion of me." Tears began sliding down her cheeks again. "He had this picture in his head of this woman that wasn't even close to accurate."
"That's not true," Han said, shaking his head. "Jan just didn't have the whole picture. You're everything he thinks you are, and more."
"I don't think he's going to see it that way."
"I don't think you're giving him enough credit. Let him digest this. You'll see. He'll come around." Han wasn't sure why he was suddenly defending Jan Dodonna but he hoped he was right.
They sat quietly for a time. Han finished his sandwich. Leia nibbled at her toast and drank some water.
Finally, he said, "You're not settling for me, are you? Because you don't think any of your own kind will have you?"
Leia looked up at him. Her mouth dropped open and her eyes filled with tears. "No," she croaked. "No. I didn't mean that at all. No. It's just you understand because you've been..."
"Tortured. You can say it."
Leia shook her head. She covered her mouth with her hand.
Han knew she had been forced to watch his session on the scan grid from another room. For some reason, she could reference her own experiences with a certain cool detachment now, but she couldn't talk about what happened to him without sobbing.
"Come here," he said, taking her hand. She slid out of her chair and on to his lap. She wept on his shoulder. He whispered softly in her ear. "I just don't want you thinking you're stuck with me because you don't deserve better. You deserve whatever you want."
Leia lifted her head and looked at him. She ran the heel of her hand across her face to push away the tears. Han could see resolve in the set of her jaw. He smiled to himself, knowing what was coming.
"I want you," she said, and slid her mouth over his. Her hands began tugging at his shirt.
Ah, there's my girl, he thought as he slid his hands inside her robe.
Leia left for work the next day before Han was even out of bed. She made the excuse that she needed to catch up from yesterday, but Han was pretty sure she was a little embarrassed by the wantonness of her behavior last night and needed a little distance to pull herself together. That made him laugh out loud alone their bedroom. She was awesome. He adored her. He got up and got ready for work. When he opened the door, Jan Dodonna was just coming out of his quarters.
"Good morning, Solo."
"Dodonna." Han assumed that was all, but Dodonna stopped.
"Her Majesty informed me of how your nose was broken. I want to apologize for my earlier remarks on the subject." Dodonna offered his hand.
Han shook it, trying to match Dodonna's formal manner. "Apology accepted."
"I'll be putting in my transfer today."
"What?" Han was sure he'd misheard that last part.
"I'll be leaving The Freedom."
Incredulous, Han couldn't help but ask, "Why?"
"I think my days of usefulness to Leia Organa have passed."
"What makes you say that?" Han asked, an angry edge seeping into his voice.
Dodonna appeared unshaken. "She is simply not the woman I thought she was."
"She's twice the woman you thought she was. You sanctimonious son-of-a-bitch."
Dodonna looked Han in the eye. "I have no doubt that what you say is true, but it remains the same, she's not the woman I thought she was. I pledged my loyalties to that woman and her great house, but as Leia so clearly pointed out to me yesterday, those days are gone, never to return. Good day to you Solo, and good luck." With that Dodonna turned on his heal and headed for the lift.
Han watched after him loathing the idea of dealing with Leia's response to this news.
Han had left work early to be sure to beat Leia home. He'd gone over in his mind a hundred different things to say to her. He knew she would be upset. Unfortunately, he'd had to discard all hundred things he thought of because they were stupid or trite or just pointless. He found himself pacing around the room waiting for her to get back. He was both relieved and anxious when he finally heard the door hiss open. She walked into the room and tossed a couple of data pads on the coffee table.
"You're home," she said, "I wasn't sure you would be."
"Yeah. How was your day?" Maybe she doesn't know yet, he thought.
"Pretty good, I guess. Mon Mothma wants to have an enormous formal event for all the members of the Alliance. She wants me to oversee organizing it."
"That sounds like fun," Han said, grinning at her.
"Just call me Princess Party Planner."
"Oh, and Jan Dodonna submitted a transfer today."
Han hesitated. "I know. I ran into him in the hall this morning. You okay?"
Leia nodded. "It wasn't unexpected."
"Come on, I took a swan dive off my pedestal right in front of him yesterday. Did you really think he could stay after that?"
Han stood in front of her. "I can't understand anyone wanting to leave you."
Leia smiled and patted his arm. "You might be a little biased. Besides, you've only known this me."
"The girl that Jan knew, for all intents and purposes, died on the Death Star. I just happen to walk around in her body."
Han wrapped his arms around her and rested his cheek against the top of her head. "Well, I like this you, and I like this body."
Leia smiled into his chest. "Good. That makes it easier."
Author's Note: Thank you for reading. You might also like my books: The Annie Fitch Mysteries: Exposed Fury and Hidden Fury (available March 2,2021) and the stand alone novel: One Big Beautiful Thing, available anywhere books are sold and on all digital platforms. Enjoy!