Letting out the air in her lungs in one long breath, Leia slumped back into her seat, both gestures helping the tension drain out of her, along with the adrenaline that had kept her going so far, leaving her exhausted as a result. She looked up as Han navigated through the field of garbage left by the Avenger, floating like artificial asteroids all around them.
Another mess to sort out, she thought, glancing at Han’s profile.
‘How long until Bespin?’
Han’s look of concentration broke as he checked the screen. ‘Couple of weeks, if we don’t run into any other problems.’
She squinted at the computer readout herself and decided “a couple of weeks” was an understatement and, with their luck, not running into problems seemed unlikely.
‘Great,’ Leia muttered. It was too much time to be isolated from the Alliance, drifting through space to a contact that could as easily be friend or foe, and in very restricted quarters with Han, after what had happened.
He seemed to have read her thoughts.
‘I’d say I’m sorry you’re stuck here, but it’s your own fault,’ Han said, looking over his shoulder. ‘If you’d gotten your royal rear into your ship, you’d be on your way to the rendezvous.’
Leia glared at him. ‘You didn’t have to go back for me. I thought you’d already left.’
‘Yeah, I’m not sorry about that, either,’ he muttered gruffly.
That helped dispel her bad mood. Her state of mind had to adapt to these abrupt changes ever since she’d met Han—growing in frequency over the years, his teasing and his arguing mixed with gestures of care for her.
‘Thank you,’ she finally said, crisply but heartfelt.
‘Don’t mention it. So, whaddya think we should do to pass the time?’
His mood had changed, too—although far more abruptly than hers. She swore he was smirking as she stared at the back of his head.
‘I think play dejarik and pray to some deity that this old bucket doesn’t fall apart,’ Leia countered, impassive.
Han ignored the last part. ‘Too much time to do nothing but play dejarik.’
Leia had to fight the impulse to roll her eyes at that, but was saved from saying anything else by Chewie’s return. She could tell he was growling a question, but with Threepio powered down, she was at a loss as to what he was saying.
‘Of course I’m talking about repairs, you big oaf,’ Han drawled, turning towards his co-pilot and grinning. ‘And till we get the shields back up, there should always be someone in here. We’ll take shifts.’
‘All right,’ Leia said, slipping into full business mode. ‘I’ll take first shift.’
‘No, you go get some rest,’ Han said, barely sparing a glance at her. ‘Chewie, you get started on repairs. I’ll stay here for a couple of hours.’
The Wookiee offered to take first shift so Han could get some rest as well, but he was stubbornly refused and left. Two could play that game, though.
‘Tell me how I can help,’ Leia said. ‘There must be something—’
‘Yeah, go to sleep.’ Whether because he’d heard the noise of her teeth grinding together or by intuition, he turned in his seat and looked sheepishly at her. ‘It’s been a long day, Leia. There’ll still be work to do when you get up.’
That mollified her, but barely. ‘I don’t want to sleep. If you don’t need me for anything, at least let me borrow a datapad. I’d like to see if there’s news of Hoth.’
‘Fine, Your Highness, whatever you want,’ he said with a tired sigh. He stood up to open a small compartment over her head and pulled a datapad, checked the state of the device and, deciding it would do, handed it over to Leia. She grabbed it, but Han hadn’t let go of it yet, looming over her instead with an oddly thoughtful look. Leia stood up and tugged gently at the datapad until he released it, rubbing a hand over his jaw and turning to look out the viewport again.
She didn’t know what he was expecting, but she needed to figure out what she expected to happen on this trip, soon. To think hours ago she’d indulged in the possibility of kissing him again under the safeguard of them parting ways soon, of not having to face any consequences, of not wondering about impossible things… And now she had more time alone with Han in front of her than she’d ever counted on. But he’s still leaving at the end of all this, isn’t he? Leia thought, clutching the datapad to her chest. The situation hasn’t changed, it has only… extended.
‘Thank you,’ she said at last, touching his upper arm briefly before turning on her heel and heading to the main hold.
And this extended situation leaves you with a whole different set of problems, Leia.
Feet tucked under her and thermal vest discarded on a side, Leia was sitting on the acceleration couch as she perused the holonet.
‘Hey,’ Han said, walking up to her. She glanced at her chrono and was surprised to see it had been four hours since she’d left the cockpit.
‘You want me to take the next shift?’ Leia asked, already starting to take her legs off the couch, but Han held up a hand to stop her.
‘Chewie got there first. Next time.’
‘Is this your subtle way of saying you don’t trust me at the controls?’ Leia asked, narrowing her eyes at him in suspicion. Han chuckled.
‘Don’t worry, Princess, you’ll have your turn. This ain’t no pleasure cruise—’
‘Could have fooled me.’
‘—you’ll have to help around here like everyone else,’ Han continued, frowning at her quip.
‘That’s exactly what I’ve been offering to do. At least Chewie accepted my help.’
Before she’d had a chance to sit down, the Wookiee had come along with Threepio and asked her to give him a hand with some of the repairs, which she had been grateful for. She felt guilty at the damage the Falcon had taken since their flight from Hoth, even if she knew that, had the hyperdrive not failed, they would have been away from the clutches of the Empire far sooner. But the relentless pursue they had just gone through was due to the reputation Han’s ship had gained over the past years, and he owed that to his involvement with the Alliance. It was only right she helped patch the ship up, whether Han wanted it or not.
‘So he said. Anything interesting there?’ Han said with a nod towards the datapad, sliding around the table to sit on the couch next to her.
‘Just the usual news and Imperial propaganda. No mentions of Hoth at all, which is good. If they’d gotten a clear victory, or captured anyone from High Command, it’d be all over the holonet. Of course, this is good news only from a certain angle. We have to start all over again. We lost good fighters… but what are a few slaughtered rebels to the Empire?’ Leia spat bitterly, setting down the datapad and folding her hands over the table. She bowed her head. ‘I should have done more.’
‘More?’ Leia’s head snapped up at Han’s incredulous tone. ‘There was nothing else you could do apart from dying. Is that what you think you should have done?’
Leia turned to face him. ‘I’ve pledged my life to the rebellion,’ she said, her voice level. She expected him to go on a tirade about how surprising it was the rebellion hadn’t died out yet with so many martyrs on their ranks, but he clenched his teeth for a moment instead before saying, ‘I know. Doesn’t mean you should be stupid about it.’
‘I should have stayed to make sure everyone else had left,’ Leia insisted, scowling. ‘That was my duty.’
‘Your duty is doing what’s best for the rebellion. Getting yourself crushed by a slab of ice or captured by Vader wouldn’t have helped anyone, sweetheart.’ Leia opened her mouth to retort angrily to that, but he held up a finger at her. ‘Save the part where you lecture me about how I don’t get what duty means.’
Leia set her jaw and looked away. She had been about to say something along those lines, and she realized just how unfair it would have been, especially when she knew he was right. She had done all she could; staying would have helped no one.
‘You have to stop havin’ so many regrets, Leia,’ Han said, softer now, and she turned to find him staring at her. ‘You can be sorry things don’t work out the way they were supposed to, and you can try to do it different next time, but there’s no point regretting stuff you can’t take back.’
He’s not wrong, Leia mused in silence, thinking about other things she couldn’t—and wouldn’t—take back.
‘So you have no regrets?’
‘I don’t,’ he said proudly. ‘I always do what looks like the best choice at the time. Like, I’m sorry the hyperdrive broke down, even if it’s not my fault—’
‘—but I don’t regret having dragged you off that ice ball,’ he finished, without scowling at her interruption this time. Leia noticed it was the second time he said something along those lines. ‘Even if you hate me for that.’
‘I don’t hate you, Han.’ The words were out before she could consider them, but it was true. She was frustrated and annoyed at him, at his ship, and at the whole situation, redirecting the intensity of her feelings towards one or the other in turn, but she didn’t hate him. Not right now, at least.
‘But you still regret that I did, don’t you?’
Leia took longer to answer that question. ‘I suppose I don’t.’
Han grinned. ‘There you go. Feel lighter now?’
‘Loads,’ she said sarcastically, though she smiled.
He wasn’t looking away and Leia couldn’t bring herself to break the spell. The way he looked at her sometimes, the brief moments when he left his guard down and she knew he wasn’t just trying to seduce her—damned if it didn’t work, though—it made her feel as if he was pulling her in, and she’d let him. Usually, she had been able to remember herself and put her own shields back up, but now…
She raised her eyebrows and saw his matching look of surprise. Had they both been about to broach the same subject?
‘Please,’ Han said, making a gesture for her to speak first. She considered insisting that he began instead, but smooth talking wasn’t Han’s forte, despite what he believed—not when he tried—and she thought an innuendo-laden start might throw her off her resolve entirely.
‘All right.’ Leia swallowed, looking away. ‘I’m not sorry you kissed me. And… I don’t regret kissing you back.’
A corner of Han’s mouth twitched, but he mercifully decided not to smirk at that. ‘Really. You seemed pretty averse to the idea before. What changed?’
Leia’s lips parted, but no sound came out. She hadn’t been expecting that question—or rather, she hadn’t expected Han to question her at all about her change of heart. He had a knack for surprising her, for better or worse. Usually, though Leia wouldn’t admit it to anyone, it was for better.
She was debating whether to answer or not, when he said, ‘It’s ‘cause I’m leaving, isn’t it?’
‘Aren’t you?’ she asked quietly.
The question was practically rhetoric, and they both knew it. When he didn’t answer, Leia let out a small sigh. Of course he was. That was what her thoughts of the past hour had kept circling around, and the stem of the decision she had reached.
‘Neither of us wants a relationship,’ she started to explain and, to her shock, Han’s expression seemed to fall for a split second before hardening again. It was almost as if... No, it was stupid. Wasn’t the fact that he was leaving why he had kissed her just now, when they’d had enough opportunities before? She pushed the thought away. ‘If this had started while on base... I can’t get involved with anyone. Everything I did would be seen as bias towards you, even if it wasn’t, because of my rank.’
‘People do it,’ Han said with a shrug.
‘People who aren’t me.’
‘Right. So what are you saying?’
Leia took a breath. While she may have not been her clearest, she’d been sure Han would have been quick to see where she was going. Leave it to him to want to squeeze it all out of her.
‘I’m saying that if... something were to happen during this trip, there’d be no further implications when we rejoined the fleet.’
‘’Cause I’m leaving,’ he clarified unnecessarily.
‘Yes. And I... wouldn’t regret it.’
Han regarded her for a moment in silence until it nearly made her squirm.
‘You gave this an awful load of thought,’ he said at last. Leia nodded once. Now that she had more or less made her move, she had to sit and wait to see what his would be. He leaned forwards, one arm braced on the table, and she nearly closed her eyes thinking that he was going to kiss her. ‘Do you always treat your affairs like you’re sealing a trade deal?’
Leia pulled back, glaring at him.
‘That’s not... I wasn’t... I was only trying to make this as straightforward as possible,’ she blurted, feeling her cheeks warming up. ‘I didn’t think you’d object. I’m sorry—’
There it was again, the urge to flee and avoid him until they reached their destination—a feat much more difficult now than it had seemed back in the asteroid. Before she had set her feet down, though, Han said, ‘No, you’re right, neither of us want a relationship. Besides, a princess and a smuggler?’
Leia settled back down slowly, looking warily at him. That had never been the problem for her.
She was starting to feel foolish. Her experiences were limited to making out with boys the court didn’t approve of and kissing chastely the acceptable ones as part of bets with her friends. It had always been on her own terms, too. The fact that Han had been the only one who’d dared defy that—and that she’d liked it--didn’t mean she couldn’t regain some control over the situation. He had been pursuing her for years now, waiting for her to throw herself at him; why wasn’t he jumping at the chance she was so willingly offering?
‘So it’d be what, just sex?’ Han asked, leering at her. He nearly did a double take when Leia didn’t even flinch; if she hadn’t been so nervous, she would have taken a holo. She reckoned he wasn’t the only one full of surprises. He pointed a finger at her. ‘You're screwing with me.’
A double entendre crossed her mind, but she didn’t think it’d help prove the seriousness of the matter.
‘We both know what will happen during this trip, Han.’
‘Nothin’ you don’t want to happen’s gonna happen,’ Han said, still looking as though he wasn’t sure he believed her.
‘What if I wanted to?’
Now, that was a look worth recording. He swallowed.
‘Take it easy, flyboy,’ Leia said, partly in an attempt to break the tension, partly to let him know in a subtle way that she needed some time before it got to that.
‘And you can handle that?’ he asked, referring, she assumed, to having a no-strings attached affair. If they had been complete strangers, or if he was, after all, sticking around afterwards, she would have reconsidered it, for different reasons. They had never sat with the prospect of spending so much time together with no possibilities of escape, though, and with the tension between them finally out in the open. Sooner or later, they would either kill each other, or pursued matters further. Her directness, much as part of her was regretting it, was saving them more dancing around each other, something she was growing sick of.
‘I can handle anything,’ Leia said, summoning all of what he called her regalness.
A smile finally eased its way across Han’s face.
‘How could I forget. All right then; what happens next?’
‘I don’t know,' Leia said, befuddled. ‘It’s not like I have a plan.’
He leaned towards her again and Leia couldn’t help but look at his lips, so close...
‘Don’t worry, sweetheart, I’m good at improvising,’ he said in his low rumbling voice. Leia felt the familiar rush of adrenaline she got whenever they were in such close proximity and the air became charged with barely contained electricity—
But once again, he was pulling away before making contact, winking as he got to his feet and further away from reach.
‘Where are you going?’ Leia cried out, failing at masking the exasperation in her voice.
‘To get something to eat,’ he said innocently, before turning on his heel and heading off to the cargo hold, leaving Leia staring after him in disbelief.
With a frustrated huff, she decided she’d been too quick to judge the situation.
I might end up killing him after all.
Han Solo, who had flown from one side of the galaxy to the other, rarely admitted to being surprised by much. The small, fiery princess he had left sitting in the main hold (shooting daggers at his back, he was sure) was an exception, and he’d be hard-pressed to say it wasn’t one of the things he liked best about her.
You heard the lady. Take it easy, buddy.
How he was supposed to manage that when she’d just practically told him she expected to sleep with him, he didn’t know, which was partly why he’d decided to give himself some time off.
Above everything, though, was the fact he had waited too long to kiss her, and the idea of kissing her again right after she’d told him she’d be okay with it only because she wouldn’t have to see him again soon was… well, off-putting. Even if he understood what she’d meant. Maybe on some level, Han thought, sorting through storage crates for something that could pass for a meal, he hadn’t kissed her until now because he was so close to leaving, when he had considered doing so many times before and it’d never seemed like a good call. If she had punched him, then good riddance; he wouldn’t be around enough to feel her wrath and he’d know he couldn’t hurt her, but at least he’d done it.
This, he hadn’t seen it coming, especially not when she’d run away after Goldenrod interrupted them. It was as if Leia’s defences had short-circuited and she’d finally let him in, only to shut him out again the second she got her wiring sorted out. When he found out how much their journey had extended, Han knew there was no way for her to avoid him or pretend nothing had happened until they reached the rendezvous, and in the hours he spent alone in the cockpit, he had toyed with ways to get her to warm up to him again. What she’d told him just now, what she’d decided without any sort of prodding on his part, it was a big deal from her. She was one of the most self-controlled people he’d ever met. It drove him crazy, but if she was willing to do this, it was… a huge deal. He wasn’t going to squander that chance.
(And yet, he was making an effort to ignore the—rather big—part of him that regretted this was about the only way something could happen between them.)
Han picked up a ration pack and headed back to the main hold, where he was surprised to find the princess gone. He could hear work being done in the circuitry bay, but it turned out to be Chewbacca.
‘Where’s Leia?’ Han asked, merely for confirmation, as he knew Chewie leaving the cockpit could only mean one thing.
‘[She asked if I minded switching shifts. What did you do?]’
‘Nothing, and it’s none of your business anyway,’ Han shot at his friend, who, far from being intimidated, made a typical Wookiee noise to show his disbelief. ‘She looked upset? Angry?’
‘[She looked something, but I can’t say what it was.]’
Han twisted his mouth. Big help that was; there were several things she could look like right now, none of them good. Maybe it hadn’t been such a good move to tease her and leave…
‘[If you said we leave this time, we leave],’ Chewie said, tilting his head. ‘[So maybe it’s time you leave her alone.]’
Han scowled. ‘Oh really? You’re a know-it-all now?’
Chewie let out a series of growls in reproach, and Han sighed at his own unchecked temper. ‘All right, all right, I’m sorry. But you don’t know what you’re talking about. She… I don’t think she wants to be left alone this time.’
‘[How would you know?]’ Chewie snorted.
‘’Cause she told me, that’s how. Sort of. I dunno, whatever happens just… go along with it and don’t make a fuss,’ Han said, sticking out a hand in Chewie’s direction. Turning on his heel, he retraced his steps back to the cockpit and paused at the open hatch.
The rear seat she had sat on earlier was turned, and Leia was leaning against its back, not quite facing the viewport. Her braids had been unwound from around her head and one of them had already been undone, the long, brown hair left to tumble down past her waist. Her fingers were working slowly—deliberately, he thought—on undoing the other one and she watched the movements of her own hands as if she drew comfort from it.
Han felt a bit mesmerised himself, and had the sudden urge to touch it. Would she let him or would she punch him? He didn’t know if it was part of her culture, but some women had a weird thing about their hair. Well, he’d kissed her before and it could have had either outcome…
‘There you are,’ he said, stepping into the cockpit. He held up the blue ration pack. ‘Here’s the food.’
Leia nodded and calmly followed his movements as he left the ration pack in the spare rear chair and came to stand in front of her. Her frustration had ebbed when she had been able to see through the intent of his sudden leaving. She had always had the gift of seeing through people—what motivated them, whether they could be trusted or not, what their weaknesses were. It wasn’t infallible, but it had served her well in the Senate as well in the Alliance. Han wasn’t always easy to read—she had to admit, they matched in how jealously they guarded themselves—but she had picked up a few things. Like, the fact that he had wanted her to stop him from leaving Hoth. He had always wanted her to give him a reason not to leave, but she’d never got it right and she couldn’t give him what (she thought) he wanted from her. Not until now.
So she’d figured out why he’d got up and left instead of kissing her, and it was partly her fault. He’s right. I am treating this like I’m closing up a deal, laying out the terms and duration, but it had to be done, Leia thought, looking up at him. I’m happy to give out command to him now. Mostly.
In an unexpected move, he took the half undone braid out of her hands and ran his fingers through the strands, continuing the gentle work of untangling she had been doing. Undoing her hair at the end of the day was not only a physical relief (sometimes she braided her hair too tightly in the rush of mornings and it ended up giving her a headache), but a process that gave her a moment of calmness. It felt so intimate to have him touching her hair like that, without asking for permission but without acting as if he didn’t care that he needed it, not unlike when he had kissed her.
She watched his fingers climb steadily until the last of her braid at the nape of her neck was undone, then they curved around the back of her head and Leia looked up again. For a split second, his eyes dropped to her lips—the next thing she knew, he was kissing her, and she was gripping at his jacket as she kissed him back and sealed their fate of transient lovers.
If she’d thought there was a sense of urgency to their second first kiss, it was nothing like what she felt now, as if what had happened before had been barely the prelude and the way it had been cut short, the hours they had spent apart, the teasing, the caress of her hair, had all served to fuel the main act.
Well played, Han, Leia thought drowsily as his other hand landed on her waist and pulled her closer. His mouth grazed her bottom lip, teasing her mouth open, and she complied. Soon, their breathing was coming noisily in and out their noses in an effort not to disengage, until they couldn’t keep it up anymore and broke apart gasping for air. Han’s hand slid from her nape to her jaw as he planted the last shallow kisses on her lips. Then, it rested on her neck for a moment and dropped to her upper arm as they regained some space between them.
Leia swallowed, waiting for her breathing to normalize. Her fists were still clutching at the front of his jacket, and she shook them slightly as she asked, ‘Couldn’t you have done this before?’
Han chuckled. ‘No, ‘cause you expected me to.’
‘And you hate it when I try to one-up you,’ Leia said, smirking. Han cocked an eyebrow at her.
‘I don’t, but I wasn’t gonna kiss you like we were shaking on it,’ he said, and even though he was smiling too, Leia saw that he was serious and she had been right. She drank in his punch-drunk face, something she had missed the first time, and realised she must have looked the same. She felt heavy-lidded, light-headed, and content like she hadn’t been in a very long time.
‘Sometimes you are really good at improvising, hotshot,’ she whispered, releasing her hold on his jacket and smoothing her hands against his chest instead.
‘Glad you can recognise true talent,’ Han said, letting go of her and taking a step back before making a ridiculous bow. ‘C’mon, let’s have something to eat.’
Shaking her head in fond exasperation, Leia took a seat while Han perused the various rations inside the container.
And he said this wasn’t going to be a pleasure cruise.