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Their first night on the Falcon (after a day, well more than one day really, that included a quick escape from the Hoth Rebel base, discovering the hyperdrive was broken, flying into an asteroid field, hiding in what turned out to be the belly of a giant space slug, realizing too late the hyperdrive still wasn’t fixed, tricking Imperial ships into thinking they were garbage floating out into space, deciding the closest and best bet for repairs was Bespin and hoping that some man named Lando wasn’t still angry about something Han did or didn’t do depending on who told the story, sharing a first kiss that had been building up for years and was too short and also maybe a bit overwhelming for Leia because she knew she liked it more than she could admit in the moment, and knowing that no hyperdrive meant the trip to Bespin and the Rebel rendezvous would take many weeks at sublight speed), he taught her how to play Sabacc.

There were often games on bases, late nights, whenever there was down time, but she never played. She sometimes watched, sitting on the sidelines. Everyone was friendly and tried to convince her to pull up a chair but she never felt comfortable. Always felt a bit removed, like she didn’t really belong. Now that they were stuck in the Falcon for far too long, he decided it was time she learned.

“Two-person game ain’t high stakes. Keeping it simple for you.”

“I’m confident I can follow along.”

“It’s not following along, Sweetheart. It’s keeping up.”

He explained the rules, which seemed unnecessarily complicated to her and designed to create confusion, and the points system. She asked a lot of questions, a near constant stream, trying to apply logic to the game.

“It’s about staying agile. Knowing that everything can change in a moment. You’re betting on your ability to react as much as the cards.”

“So, it’s luck.” She gave him a look, almost a challenge, with lower lids and the touch of a smile.

“Let’s try a hand. Anything to end this chatter.”

Once they started playing, she didn’t want to stop. The first few hands were a bust but once she caught on, she was determined to win. She stopped asking so many questions. She was trying to crack the code and was becoming more competitive the closer she got.

They were laughing. Drinking ale, slamming cards on the table, calling out wins and mocking loses. They should both be exhausted. By all rights, they should be sleeping off the effects of their day of too many near-death experiences. Yet they were energized, charged up, ready for the next big thing. Leia thought they would be avoiding each other post-kiss (well, post-kisses). They were wary for the first while, circling, testing the space between them, but the spark they both discovered was drawing them in rather than repelling.

He knew she was plotting. She played it cool but he could see her eyes darting over the cards played and discarded, trying to assess what cards he might still have. He had to remind himself to not get distracted by her eyes. It wasn’t easy.

“Feeling sad, Flyboy? Worried I’m going to take your title?”

“There’s no title, your Highness. You need to win a hand if you want bragging rights.”

He’d seen her laugh before. He’d made her laugh many times. This was one he didn’t see often. This was a belly laugh, carefree and long-lasting.

She was wearing leggings and one of his (much too big for her) shirts, her hair in loose braids. She sat up on her seat with legs tucked beneath her and leaned on the table, leaning into the game and toward him. She pointed to emphasize a point, a joke, a taunt. She looked relaxed and slightly giddy, maybe punch drunk from the adrenaline. She looked beautiful.

He was in love. He knew it. He’d known it for a long time.

It started as a game. Part of his survival plan, whether working a run, making deals, playing cards, was to set people off. You always needed the upper hand. You always needed the time to make a get-away or figure out the next angle, even if it was only a second or two. He found it also helped with people. Keeping everyone on guard, unsettling things a bit, also kept them at a distance.

With her, though, it was different. He was always looking for more. She made him mad, furious sometimes, but he always wanted to be with her.

“This has been fun, hasn’t it?” she tilted her head and gave him an exaggerated sympathetic look. “But, I’m so sorry, we’ve reached…” She dramatically turned over her cards and pushed them toward him on the table. “The end.”

He looked at the cards then her proud grin and laughed.

“Sweetheart, what are you doing?”

“That is a winning hand.”

“That’s a nothing hand.”

“What?! You just can’t admit when you’ve been beat. Because that’s you. Beat.”

He explained the rules of the game to her again. Her hand totalled twenty-five points, which eliminated her. He showed her how to count the cards and why her math was wrong. She countered almost every point with how and why her hand passed the test. It was an argument but neither of them was angry.

“Should I be worried that you’re cheating? Trying to cheat?” He narrowed his eyes to scrutinize her. It was an intended tough guy look that fell flat thanks to his wide grin.

“I don’t cheat. You were outplayed.” Her eyes were laughing but her voice was calm and serious.

“If I check these sleeves, am I gonna find a stash? Are you holding cards?”

“The nerve. How dare you?”

He took her wrist and pushed his hand inside the sleeve of her shirt, then along her forearm and her upper arm. His plan was to say something sharp and clever (maybe about the best places to hide things or a missing Endurance card) but he was momentarily lost in running his fingers along her smooth skin.

“You’re not going to break me, Flyboy.” She didn’t pull away from his touch. She didn’t ask him to stop. In fact, she leaned in closer.

He released her wrist and put his hand on her cheek. He looked into her eyes and it felt, for just a second, like his heart might burst. “So, Princess, who’s the scoundrel now?”

It was a slow and gentle kiss. Her hand caressed his jawline, his fingers ran up and down her arm. When they parted, she smiled at him and moved her hand to push some hair behind his ear.

“Do you know what I want right now?” Her voice was a near whisper.

“Tell me.”

“Another round.” She smiled as she pushed him back. “Another drink. More cards.”

He sat back, a smirk on his face. “Okay, Princess. One more round. Let’s make it a good one.”

He filled her glass and collected the cards.

“I’m dealer this round.” She took the cards and started shuffling but they never got to the game.

“Did you really win the Falcon in a game? I used to believe that story but now I’m not too sure.”

“Fair and square. And guessing Lando hasn’t forgotten.”

“Oh, good! We’re asking help from someone who thinks you’re a cheat. Nothing will go wrong with this plan.”

Leia played with the cards while they talked. Absentmindedly turning them over, rearranging them. She was comfortable and letting herself relax rather than keeping focus and staying on top of the situation.

He kept close to her, refilling her glass when needed.

She told him about the private school she went to and hated. How much she hated being away from home, from her friends at the Palace and in Aldera, and where she thought everything important happened. She wanted to learn about her father’s job. Hear about what was happening in the Senate, the diplomats he met. Also, she disliked the other kids. They seemed silly and never wanted to talk about important things.

“You hated a bunch of ten-year-olds because they didn’t want to talk about votes in the Senate?”

“Honestly, yes,” she laughed. “I was a terror. I deserved every terrible name they gave me.”

“What did they call you? I might need some new ones.”

He took the cards from her and shuffled. He dealt three cards face up, waved his hand over them, indicating she should pick one.

“I don’t remember many of them. Ice Princess, of course. That was an easy one.” She looked at her card then handed it back to him.

Han put it at the bottom of the deck and shuffled again.

“Sounds lazy not easy.” He turned three more cards face up and she chose another one.

“It was the shunning, really. I thought they were all stuck up and snobs.”

“The princess thought the other kids were stuck up?”

“I was the princess of the people. Very accessible.”

“Private schools, palaces, thrantas. I’m sure everyone could relate.”

Three more cards, face up, and her pick.

“I was very happy when my father said I could spend more time with him to Coruscant. I could go to school there, work as his aide, and learn about the Senate.”

“You were fourteen?”

She nodded as she watched him shuffle then lay out three more cards, face up. They were all the cards she picked.

Her face lit up. “Now who’s the cheater?” She reached out and grabbed his hand. It was an excited gesture. He pulled his sleeves up to prove there were no hidden cards. “Are you going to show me how it’s done?”

He laughed. “Never. Taking that one to my grave.” He laced his fingers with hers.

They sat at the table, holding hands and talking. They gossiped about people on the base—the secret romances, feuds and pranks. Han had a theory that Mon Mothma and General Dadonna had something going on and Leia swore that Mon after a few drinks was more fun than he’d think. They weren’t necessarily new topics but everything felt fresh thanks to their day and how they were sharing their time now.

Han occasionally spread out her hand and traced along the lines on her palm and wrist. She noticed that he wouldn’t look at her when he did, which was good. She wasn’t sure what she would do if he looked at her. If he was touching her so tenderly and she looked into his eyes—she tried not to think about it. Except, she couldn’t think about anything else.

“It’s late.” He kissed her palm. Then her wrist. He looked at her, eyelids heavy, slight smile on his lips.

“Is it?” Her heart was pounding.

“Do you need anything? An extra blanket. You know you can fix the temp in there?”

Her mouth was dry. She shouldn’t have drunk so much. She should have had water. Why didn’t she drink more water?

“I’ll be fine.”

“So, nothing?”

She wanted to answer. She wanted to revert quickly to their banter. Maybe something about definitely not needing him or asking if he intended to keep her warm but she couldn’t say it because it wasn’t a jibe or a joke. It was what she wanted to happen. She wanted him to keep her warm. She knew she wanted more—she definitely wanted more—but the baseline was she wanted to be next to him, to be close and connected and intertwined. No words came, though. She could feel her face flush slightly, her lips were parted, but no words came.

“I’m gonna call it. Use the ‘fresher then it’s all yours.”

This time, both hands on her face, he pulled her close and kissed her. Gently on the lips, the tip of her nose, her forehead. Then he was gone.

Leia wasn’t sure if she was embarrassed or disappointed. Maybe angry? No, definitely not angry. She only knew that things were feeling kind of perfect, without her realizing, and then it was over.

She gave him enough time (she hoped) to use the ‘fresher then head to the crew quarters before she went back to the cabin. Maybe she was embarrassed and didn’t want to see him. It was hard to pull apart what she was feeling. It all felt like a tangled mess of emotions.

Technically, it was his cabin. His very small captain’s quarters (with attached ‘fresher that he claimed used to be a walk-in closet, but who would have a closet that big on a freighter like the Falcon?) that he gave up because, as he said, “We can’t have a princess slumming it with the crew.” He said the same thing on almost every overnight trip when he thought she could use a bit more privacy so it was already a comfortable space for her.

She changed her clothes though she wasn’t sure why. She was exchanging one of his shirts for another, pretending some were for the day, others for sleeping. She had nothing of her own with her. They left Hoth so quickly that she didn’t even have her datapad. And with the base under attack and so much chaos as the walls were literally crashing around them, and as some Rebels faced the battlefield and others struggled to get supplies on the transports, she knew she was likely to have even less by the time they got to the rendezvous.

She grew up with so much. She always had clothes—so many clothes—and books and toys (for when she played with them) surrounding her. There were thrantas to ride and parties to go to and so much food—anything she might have wanted. She used to say that material goods meant nothing to her. She cared about people. And their rights. And justice. She was Bail Organa’s daughter, after all. She knew how to speak and think like a liberal politician. She was a benevolent royal who cared about her people. But that was when she had the clothes and thrantas and food and it was easy to say no when she knew it would be right there.

Then Alderaan was destroyed and everything was gone. No more palaces, only Rebel bases. Her clothes now were military issue. She had a few personal items that she’d picked up over the years and she dragged from place to place with nowhere to wear them and those were likely gone now, too. After three years, she had little more than the clothes on her back and now even those weren’t hers.

She wanted to brush her hair but that seemed like a lost cause. Unless someone else left a brush behind at some point and then she’d have to ask Han and she wasn’t in the mood to have that conversation or hear about who did the leaving. She pulled out her hair pins (careful to save them because that’s something else she couldn’t replace until this trek was over) and let her hair fall down her back.

The bunk was wider than the ones in the crew quarters but the room was small. There wasn’t much else there. A storage closet. A few drawers. Leia considered snooping, she wanted to snoop, but she didn’t have the heart. If she was going to learn more about Han, she wanted him to reveal the goods. It was felt like cheating to gather intel without his permission.

She should be tired but she was still energized. She was thinking about the kiss. The kisses. And how he remembered that she went to Coruscant when she was fourteen. He always listened. He often looked like he couldn’t care less about what people were saying but he paid attention. He once told her that you needed to listen if you wanted to stay ahead of the game but she knew there was more to it. He was always watching and listening.

She saw him watching out for Luke, especially when they first arrived on Yavin, and making sure he wasn’t overwhelmed by the pace of his new life or eaten alive by jaded military personnel. (Leia laughed to herself, Maybe it was just like private school.) It was a big leap to go from a moisture farm on Tatooine to the Rebel Alliance, even if you were the star pilot.

And Han had done the same for her, more than once.

If she was taking a late shift in command central or keeping watch, he often came to find her. At first, he made up an excuse to come by (something wrong with this requisition order, complaints about a mission, if they weren’t going to pay him enough then they should provide replacement parts for the Falcon) but he gave up the ruse after a while. He plopped down in a chair near her, said, ‘Hey, your Highness’ and kept her company. It wasn’t that they always talked. It was often nice simply to have someone near.

Once, she was camped on Hassan, a temporary base, a stopover until they could regroup at the next (slightly more) permanent base. It was a smaller group there, living and working out of a series of tents, leading patrols through the area and trying to connect with other factions. They weren’t expecting more supplies because they didn’t plan on being there for long. They would use up what they came with and move on.

She wasn’t sleeping well. It was the time of year when the nightmares came more frequently. So, she spent a lot of her nights sitting in a tent used for officer meetings, away from most of the activity, going over files or simply sitting. She opened a flap so she could listen to the nearby lake, water lapping on shore. Even though she couldn’t see it, it was reassuring to know it was there.

Suddenly, he was there, too. Plopping down on a chair like it was nothing, like it was any other night and they’d seen each other only hours before.

“Your Highness.” He always sounded so casual.

“What are you doing here? Aren’t you due at Home One?”

“Plenty of time. And I figured you could use some goods here. Otherwise you’re stuck with those cheap Rebel rations and we know that stuff is shit.”

“Can’t argue there.”

He looked at her intently. “You look tired Princess. What are you doing here? You’re not on shift. I already checked at Command.”

“How did you know where to find me?”

“I looked for the loneliest, most depressing spot and there you were.”

The tent was off to the side of the camp. She kept the lights low because she wanted to be alone. She assumed that no one would look for her there or bother her. Yet she was happy to see him. Glad that he had suddenly appeared out of thin air.

“I wanted a quiet space.” She tried to sound casual. “And temp quarters mean bunking up with people and no one wants to kick back after a hard day and complain when your boss is in the next bunk.”

“So, you’re hiding.”

“Giving them space.”

Han reached into his bag. He pulled out a box of tea and a tin of candies and slid them across the table.

Leia stared at them. Speechless. She opened the tea, closed her eyes and inhaled.

“Sorry, I know it’s not the real thing. I thought I had a line but it was knock-offs. Didn’t expect a black market for the fake stuff, too.”

“This was my Aunty’s favourite. She said it was better than real bangora leaves. Not as sweet. She made it every time I came for a visit.”

Leia held on tightly to the box, letting the aroma wash over her.

“I tried to get here for the actual anniversary. Traffic was hell.”

She let out a burst of laughter, quickly followed by tears. A torrent of tears that made her body shake.

Han was taken aback. He started to reach toward her but stopped. He moved in his chair, like he might come to her side of the table and wrap her in a hug but she sat up quickly and shook her head.

“No, no, I’m fine.” She took a deep breath and wiped away the tears. “I can’t do that right now. I can’t break down. There are other things to focus on now.”

This time he took her hand and she didn’t pull back.

“Okay, Princess. Whatever you say.”

“Solo? You here?” Wedge called from outside the tent.

Without breaking eye contact with Leia but letting go of her hand, Han responded. “Yeah. In here!”

Wedge stopped in the tent entrance, quickly assessing the situation. He showed no reaction to the scene. “They’ve pulled everything off the Falcon. They want to go through the manifest.”

“Sure. I’ll be right there.”

“And there’s a game happening in the mess if you want to get in.”

“I could use some extra credits. In a minute.”

Wedge nodded to them both and left.

“I’m going to be gone a few hours—maybe many hours if I can pull enough credits from them. You should go sleep on the Falcon.” She shook her head. “You want quiet, it’s quiet. You need rest. Take my cabin. It’s clean-ish. And I’m nearby if you need anything.”

She gave him a look of suspicion.

“I know you have trouble sleeping sometimes.”

He got up to leave. “You know how to get in.”

She blinked away tears and gave a barely audible thank you and he was gone.

That was her first time sleeping in this bunk but not the last. But now, after their Sabacc game, and the kisses, this was the first time she felt alone in the room.

It’s not that she woke up one day and thought, Huh. Maybe there’s more to this than late night tea deliveries. It was a gradual process and ran alongside realizing how much she craved his touch and more.

For the first while they were all together in the Alliance, they developed a comfortable routine. After the Death Star and Battle of Yavin, she, Luke and Han all had their jobs and knew the roles they played. Luke was sweet and a bit goofy and slowly leaving his farm boy innocence behind. She and Han argued, seemingly about everything, but most of it could be seen as playful. At least it was playful for them. Not sure anyone else who witnessed it felt the same.

Then she started to notice little things. Like he knew where to find her even if she was hiding from the world. He knew she had nightmares, and what they were about, and even though he would mock her for the most trivial things in the day-to-day, he never made light of her terrors. If they were on the Falcon together, he checked on her. More than once she fell asleep on the bench in the lounge and woke up to his calm voice telling her it would be okay, it’s just a dream, I’m right here. Sometimes, just knowing he was nearby helped and she could get a good night’s sleep.

Then there were times when they were sitting together in the mess hall. He’d get food he knew she’d eat, get her kaffe the way she liked it, and deliver it to her. He never made a show of it. In fact, he was usually talking to someone, at their table, across the room. Some elaborate story about a supply run or modifications he was making to the Falcon. It was all so natural and casual. He often didn’t even look at her as he placed the items in front of her. When she finished eating and pushed the tray away, if he didn’t think she’d eaten enough, he pushed it back.

She finally, truly noticed this behaviour when he brought her a kaffe and no milk. She wasn’t going to ask or complain. Instead she looked around the table for some and realized she’d have to go up to the dispensary. He saw her looking around, realized, then reached into his pocket and pulled out two packets. He drank black kaffe. He wasn’t saving the packets for later. He was stocked up and prepared for her. Again, he didn’t miss a beat of his story and looked at her only long enough to wink.

She understood, in a flash, how comfortable and easy it could be with him. That they had a natural rhythm. That she liked and depended on this rhythm. That she liked and depended on this man more than she acknowledged. That she suddenly felt flush with excitement.

Then they landed at the Hoth base and she lost her damn mind.

Not that it was all her fault. They were definitely amping each other up but she suspected she was the one to push them down this path. Fewer quiet moments. More yelling. In public. About increasingly ridiculous things. Every insult and accusation lead to a bigger one.

The worst part was she knew what she was doing.

She needed to convince everyone, especially Han (and maybe herself), that she didn’t need him. Or want him. She didn’t think about his touch, she didn’t care about his gaze, she didn’t imagine touching him, his soft lips. They were adults, she was a professional, and they could have a mature relationship if he wasn’t so damn annoying.

She knew she didn’t have his level of sexual experience (she didn’t know actual numbers and didn’t ask) but she wasn’t the complete innocent everyone assumed. The difference was, she didn’t brag about any of it. This was partly a hold-over from when her father was alive. Bail was a kind and generous man but when it came to sex, or talking about sex, he was conservative and old-fashioned in many ways. And she also knew talking about her sex life meant she could easily be defined by the company she kept.

She never wanted more than what her friend Graz called, Fun and done! Leia’s focus was on school and politics and getting to the Senate where she could make a real difference. She had needs, desires, and she liked knowing that someone wanted her but if she thought there was a chance of any real attachment, she would avoid it entirely. In truth, though, that was never an issue for her. It was always easy for her to keep her boundaries, the walls, in place. One part of her life did not bleed into the other.

Her first time, she was sixteen and thought she was in love. Kier seemed like the perfect match. Interested in politics, wasn’t intimidated by her position, respected her, and her parents adored him. He didn’t support Leia’s growing involvement with the Rebellion but maybe that would have changed in time. She’ll never know, though, because he died. When she reflected on it, she wasn’t sure if she was truly in love with Kier but she knew she definitely didn’t want to repeat that feeling of loss.

After that, she made sure that no emotions came into it. Kept it to people she barely knew or would never see again or who had no illusions that it was anything more than a fun and done. All in all, it was still only a handful of men but she was in control and that always made it easier.

Han knew all about it. Not the details. Not too many details anyway. Only that she’d had lovers (a few) and no attachments. She’s not sure why she trusted him with this information but, somehow, knew he wouldn’t share it. They could throw low blows in a fight but he wouldn’t reveal her secrets to anyone else.

He was more guarded. He rarely mentioned his life on Corellia. Only the occasional story about some adventure or scheme but she could read between the lines and knew he was alone. There was no family. An ever-changing group of friends. Everyone seemed to have their own plan or hustle. Everyone left. It never seemed like anyone showed up in more than one story.

But he did tell her about Qi’ra. They were on a supply run and she was going to make contact with someone they hoped would contribute to the cause. It was a short trip but they spent most of the travel time, both ways, talking while watching the lights across the galaxy as they sat in the cockpit.

“We tried to get out together, to make it happen. She fucked me over. That’s it. Door closed.”

She was amazed that he told her next to nothing yet it was also the most vulnerable he’d ever been with her. While she suspected he wasn’t lost in anger over it anymore, she could see that it still cut deep.

“I think you’re looking at it the wrong way,” she said. “That isn’t a story about another betrayal, someone who double crossed you. It’s that despite everything that happened to you before, you loved her. That you could love someone.”

She wasn’t looking at him. She stayed focused on the swirl of hyperspace outside the window.

“Not sure how you did it,” she added. “I don’t think I could handle losing one more person. But I do know that you’re more of a softie than you’ll admit.”

He shifted in his chair, started to speak, “Look…”

“Don’t ruin the moment, Flyboy.”

He chuckled. And even though she was still facing out toward the stars, she knew there was a lop-sided grin.

“And she wasn’t your first kiss?” She wanted to lighten the mood. Keep him from thinking too much or brooding.

“Not even close.”

“What was their name?”

“Don’t remember.”

“How old were you?”

“Young.”

“How old were they?”

“Older.”

She crossed her legs and sat up in the co-pilot chair. It was built to support a Wookie and she looked even tinier than normal in comparison. But it felt almost like a hammock and she could sit there for hours.

“For me, since you asked, I was 13 and he was 15.” She ignored his, You liked older men even then comment.

“Our fathers were working on a proposal together so his family came to stay with us for a few weeks. We were helping with research and spent time in the archives studying records. He liked politics. He recited poetry.”

“Who could fight that combination?”

“Precisely. Then we started saying we were going to the archives but hid in the garden or some far-off room in the palace.”

She paused for a moment, mostly to see if he was still listening. Or interested.

“C’mon. You can’t stop there.”

“Really, it was just a lot of kissing.”

“How did the research go?”

“Not so well.”

“And then? He’s not still your boyfriend, is he?”

“He put his hand under my shirt and I punched him in the face.”

“There it is!”

“And then I worked extra hard, around the clock, to get all the research done, wrote it all up, gave it to my father, and didn’t give him any credit.”

She laughed at herself. She knew it was a petty and controlling thing to do to someone but it was also so long ago and happened during a time when she felt safe and happy.

“And a politician was born.”

“Bail took me to Coruscant the next year.”

She looked across the cockpit at him. He really did have a marvellous smile. His whole face lit up. Her whole face lit up just watching him.

Now, lying in the bunk on her own (after a dinner that was nothing special yet felt like a feast, several rounds of cards, a card trick that clearly relied on a carefully shuffled deck and nibble fingers but also felt like a spark of magic that she preferred over math, soft kisses that fell on her wrists, lips, forehead that felt more chaste than the deep kisses they shared earlier in the day but filled with more passion and promise, and being left on her own at the end of it all) she thought, It’s a good thing. It was confusing that Han left so abruptly but it was good. She thought he would push for more, or joke about wanting more, because that’s what he did. Their first kiss happened because he kissed her. They kissed again while playing cards because he kissed her.

It was good that he left and she was alone because she needed to keep things separate. It was already too complicated, too intertwined. She was in too deep already. Mixing emotions and sex was against the rules. He would be gone soon. She was just going to have to get used to this alone feeling. This empty feeling. This feeling of regret. She would have to get used to wondering what would happen if kissed him first.