Renewal: Chapter Three
It had been his decision.
Han hated that. He hated the truth of it. It seemed almost insouciant, the truth that he’d had it in him to walk away from her, stick to his guns, do what he’d told her he would. It hadn’t been like that at all. There was certainly no pride to be salvaged from acts that hurt people, especially people you loved, whether you thought they would to them good or you good, the universe a world of good. This had been one of those oxymoronic decisions which ultimately hurt everyone a hell of a lot more than it did them any good, and he was starting to think it hadn’t done anyone any good. Trouble was, once all was done and said, there was really no way to undo anything without undervaluing the point he’d been trying to make in the first place, that wouldn't paint his leaving her as a reckless act after all.
On occasion it was enough to make him hate himself.
In the early hours after the faintly sun dappled, leaf filtered, impossibly tree covered Kashyyyk dawn, Han Solo was not a happy man. Today he hated everyone and everything for no reason in particular.
It might not have been Leia at all.
It might have been the five flasks of Grakkyyn he’d consumed (idiotically too, because he was well versed in the effects of Wookiee spirits on human males) the night before, although he would never admit that, because then he’d be admitting he no longer had the metabolism of a twenty year old. Time, years, aging -- none of these had as of yet belligerently stomped their way into his worries, but they were all knocking at the doors. More likely was the flashing red lights of his Fabritech Sensor Array Interpreter, stubbornly insisting his primary shield generator was still off line.
"The blasted thing is on line," he shouted at it. "I just checked." He’d checked it five times now. The thousand credit question was how much. First the hyperdrive shell, now the shield generator. They’d been lucky on Woostri, gotten a replacement in under a day. He was not counting on being so lucky twice in a row. He tabbed for more details.
Novaldex Stasis Shield Generator reports a .037 degree variance.
Han stormed back to the engine room and glowered at it, studiously following the mess of diatium wires. Once again he began the tedious process of rechecking the connections. Someone brilliant, he thought, should invent an interpreter that could tell you WHICH wire was causing the problem. If he knew which, it wouldn’t take an hour to go through all fifty. They were, just like the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth time, all sealed and firmly attached. He marched back to the cockpit, swearing that he would blast the damned thing to bits if it was still claiming to be off line. The Interpreter was now green, with a perverted version of a computerized smile in the right side corner.
All systems functioning at maximum capacity.
"About time," he muttered. Maybe he’d joggled a wire into place unknowingly. Either way, it was fixed and he didn’t really care so long as he didn’t have to replace it. This was supposed to be a vacation, and he didn’t want to spend it holed up in his ship doing repairs.
Or maybe he did.
Who was he kidding? The reason he’d decided to leave the morning party in Chewie’s home village was precisely to see if anything did need fixing. It was better to find things to do than have to endure Chewie and Mallobotuck’s cooing and cuddling -- whatever passed for Wookiee foreplay -- or getting stuck babysitting Lumpawarrump. Coming to Kashyyyk had not been a good idea after all. Less than a day here and he was ready to take off.
He had to pinch himself, remind himself, that this had been his choice, that he had been the one to walk out.
It had been a fluke really, that on his way to the Falcon that night Madine had caught him in the hallways. He’d had no idea at the time what he was doing or where he was going, other than that he intended to round up Chewie and take off. His next tour on the Mon Remonda had been suspended indefinitely. Ever since the battle for Coruscant and the Krytos Virus epidemic, Zsinj’s activities had fallen to the back burner. In the meantime, he hadn’t been in the mood to volunteer for any duties that required a torture suit or where everyone addressed him as Sir. That had left him with little else to do than work on the Falcon and play consort to Leia for the numerous diplomatic functions taking place, that or make the odd insystem errand depending on who asked and how much they paid.
Madine made him a simple offer. They were looking for a skilled pilot and able ship to run supplies to Tierfon in the Sumitra Sector. The pick-up points and contact were all set, it was simply a matter of evading the Imperial Navy, getting in and about without ever using the same transponder twice and catching their attention. Tierfon was bottlenecked between competing warlords and factions, and although they were readying the outfit, now wasn’t the time to launch a full scale assault. The Supreme Allied Commander of Intelligence managed to avoid using the term smuggler, slyly hinting that his past occupation made him their first choice. They had needed him to leave right away, and they were also willing to pay quite well (a little too well for an official government, he had thought, but he had needed the money, and quasi legal smuggling for the New Republic was better than any of his alternatives). It turned out to be serendipitous. He was leaving her, not the New Republic although his brain had not calmed down enough to make the distinction. At the time it had been perfect: cash, a mission, and time away.
One hundred and twenty two days later, it wasn’t so easy to remember why he’d left or what he was doing out here.
Although things between them had been bad when he left, after these long months they were overshadowed by the better times, when they weren’t fighting, when she wasn’t, in her own way, turning into the type of person he’d known so well for most of his life. Not to say it was the same, because it wasn’t at all. He’d spent most of his life looking out for number one, Leia set her designs on the opposite end of the spectrum, looking out for everyone but herself. Noble, to be sure, but a hell of a way to live her life. He wasn’t really sure how long after Endor it had been -- it occurred so gradually, sneaked up on him -- before she’d begun systematically closing herself off, throwing up boundaries, as though if he saw too much inside her, she feared he wouldn’t like what was there. What she failed to understand was that he knew what was in there and loved her for it. His princess, wounded as she was, was still stronger than any woman he’d ever known. But she had the disconnected habit of one who treaded water against a flooding wave of panic and grief. Nothing was real to her unless it was grafted onto another; her war battered psyche viewed everything through the eyes of an empathic observer, who was so detached from her own life experiences she sought out safe methods to allow her own sorrow a cathartic outlet.
Someone else ...
Not me ..
They said -- within the ranks of the New Republic -- that she handled all that had happened to her remarkably well. They said -- amidst the loose collection of refugees who’d survived Alderaan’s destruction -- that she offered hope, set an example, reminded them life went on. They said -- in journals and newsreels -- that her tenacity was surpassed only by her beauty. They assumed they knew her. They didn’t at all.
Han did. He knew her body like the back of his hand, how she liked to be touched, where she was ticklish, which muscles knotted up when she was tense. He memorized the freckles on her nose that were visible after a day in the sun, the birthmark on the outside of her right thigh, the tiny scars the hypodermic needles the interrogator droid had left along her spine on the first Death Star. He knew that the past five years had taken their toll on her, that what was on the outside was a mirage erected to placate her protagonists. He knew that on the inside she was falling apart. Whoever had decided there were five stages of grief had left one out. They neglected to include ‘numb’, that human tendency to curl up in shock and shove all other emotions back.
Numb was wearing off.
The nightmares weren’t new. He had his own, of carbon freeze, of inky darkness, suffocating, wondering if he was dead or alive or lost in some realm in between. Her body was always there, warm and reassuring, and in the darkness he could feel her heartbeat through her back where it pressed against his chest, hear the sound of her breathing. If she didn’t have to be up too early, he’d wake her too so that they could forget everything but the here and now.
Hers were more varied. He knew, though he never told her, that he could tell what she dreamed about. When they were about Alderaan -- and those dreams were hard for her, because she would awaken to remember it was gone again and again -- she would snuggle against him and cry herself back to sleep. When they were about Bespin, she clung to him to make sure he was real, made him talk to her, prove he was really there. When they were about her father, or anything he’d done to her, she crept to the furthest side of the bed, unable to bear even the slightest physical contact.
Some nights, he awoke alone, only to find her huddled on the refresher floor staring at the tiles, thinking with a pained glaze over her eyes he could only guess at. It was always the same: Please go away ... I’m fine ... I’m need to think ...
Whatever the definition of normal was, whatever they thought, none of it mattered. He wasn’t sure what normal really was for either of them, what normal had been for her before. If you could get up each day, shower, brush your teeth, eat, go through the motions, nod when other people spoke to you, pass yourself off as someone who was in control, were you succeeding or acting?
The nightmares grew worse. She threw herself into her work. The mangled shield that had protected her for so long began crumbling. Her anger spilled over into their relationship with the force of a maelstrom, making her irritable and short tempered, prone to lashing out at him over trivial things. They bickered and fought. They made up in her bed, made love, and swore to each other next time they wouldn’t let it go so far. They whispered words in the heat of passion, in the aftermath of lovemaking, that were as meaningless and insubstantial in the day as the secret admissions of two people drunk on wine in the wee hours of morning when they should have gone home hours ago. They forgot, and the cycle continued unchecked.
Han kept trying. For their second anniversary, he gave her a copy of Hari Seldona’s Requiem for Alderaan. She’d thanked him profusely, told him she loved him, that she was touched. A few months later he’d found it buried away in the corner of a drawer, re-wrapped in the ornate paper, still sealed in its packaging. The funny thing was it didn’t bother him that she couldn’t read it, couldn’t bear to open it. It bothered him that she couldn’t say it to him, couldn’t say something as simple as 'it hurts too much,' admit she had her weaknesses.
It wasn’t until Luke had all but withdrawn completely from her life that he’d begun to understand.
One day she would succeed at convincing herself she didn’t need anyone. There would be no place for him. And as twisted as it seemed, as it sounded, she wouldn’t be entirely alone. From whatever hell he’d been banished to when he died, Vader had one hand around her throat and was slowly destroying her.
It had been the beginning of the end, with neon lights blazing up ahead, and he’d ended it, hoping that by doing so there might be another beginning for them, although he was not nearly eloquent enough to have explained it to anyone, or even view it that way. It had been quite possibly the most difficult, gut wrenching decision the Corellian had ever had to make.
"A hundred and twenty two days," he sighed to the empty passageways. He’d hoped his absence would bring her to her senses. He wanted her to stop acting, stop pretending, say out loud, ‘I need you’, or something like it, but he was bitterly coming to realize that it hadn’t worked. Maybe she was over him. Maybe one of those seedy stories he’d caught on the Life Monitor Newsgrid, media fodder for the galaxy, where the Princess of Alderaan was linked to that man or this man had been true. Heavens knew she’d been courted famously, right under his nose on occasion, by royalty from other worlds. Maybe she’d gone ahead and taken one of them to her bed. Maybe she’d replaced him. The not knowing left an acrid taste in his mouth.
It wouldn’t help his mood to check the hypertransceiver for messages again, but he would. He withdrew the folded flimsy from his pocket and reread it.
I haven’t forgotten I owe you one.
You still jetting around with members of royal houses?
If you are, information has come to my attention that I think she and her brother need to be made aware of.
I’ll only go through you.
Be in contact soon to arrange a meeting.
It had arrived mere hours before they departed Woostri, and although he’d read it at least a dozen times, those four little words snagged him.
She and her brother ...
He’d broken his vow not to contact her first and messaged three days ago, stressed that it was urgent, but not heard back yet.
Against his better judgment, he wandered to the unit and switched it on, held his breath. There was a message waiting that began with the calling frequency of the Inner Council, though it wasn’t her private channel. Anxiously, he scrolled the screen down.
General Solo. Contact me as soon as you receive this.
Mon Mothma’s private channel was the one listed. He suddenly had a very bad feeling about all of this. Madine was the only New Republic leader he’d dealt with since he took the assignment, and if Mon Mothma was trying to reach him something was wrong. He tried the channel, wondering if waking the New Republic’s Chief of State in the middle of the night could be construed as harassment, thankful the Grakkyyn fumes oozing through his pores couldn’t be appreciated over the Holonet.
One of her aides answered, the static ridden screen image making him impossible to recognize.
"It’s General Solo," he said.
"Oh. Yes, Sir. Please hold. We’ve been expecting you. She’ll be right with you."
That was quick, he thought. The screen only showed the front of a desk, an empty chair. Her office, he guessed. There were voices coming from somewhere off screen, and he tensed until the smooth featured face of the New Republic’s leader moved into view and into focus.
"General Solo," she began, pressing the corners of her mouth into a terse line.
He ran a hand self-consciously through his hair, praying he looked semi-respectable. "Mon Mothma."
"I have some information to share with you regarding Councilor Organa and General Skywalker."
A knot formed in his gut. "Yeah? Where are they?"
"They left for our base on Baskarn six days ago." She closed her eyes, looking weary and stressed. "They ... a situation arose."
"What kind of situation?"
The switch to informal address told him instantly it was going to be bad. She’d never used to his first name before, not once in the three years he’d known her personally.
"I’m so very, very, sorry to be the one to give you this news but I wanted you to hear it from me before the media gets wind of it. Luke and Leia were supposed to arrive at Advanced Base Baskarn three days ago. Their shuttle arrived when it was supposed to, however it was detected coming into the base at speeds well over the safety requirements. When control radioed them there was no response. The shuttle continued heading toward the base and... it appeared to be out of control. They... They waited until the last second trying to get them to alter course before firing. They had no choice."
"I’ve reviewed the logs extensively myself. It does appear as though the shuttle was coming in on a suicide mission. When the shuttle was hit it exploded with such force we’re assuming something on board was set to go off when it hit the base."
He thought he fell and hit the deck; a loud clap seemed to thunder in his head, but Mon Mothma was still in front of him. The audio and visuals were slightly out of sync, so that when her mouth moved he heard nothing, and when it didn’t her voice kept coming. He was thinking, she’s not dead. I would know ...
"Before they fired it was ascertained that there were no life forms on board."
He breathed a sigh of relief, of hope.
"We don’t know what that means as of yet. They might have been captured and not been on the shuttle for some time. They may have deployed one of their escape pods. They might have been already dead. We’ve only just begun inspecting the wreckage."
"I’ll go," he hastened, preparing himself for an argument. He wasn’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer. His mind swam with images of Luke and Leia stranded, injured, out there somewhere on Baskarn, on one of the neighboring planets. "I’m one sector over. I can be at Baskarn in less than a day."
Mon Mothma’s mouth flattened again as though she had anticipated this and prepared one, but she changed her mind and nodded. "I thought you might want to do that. I’ll tell them to expect you."
The picture on screen faded to black. He swallowed, leaned back against the paneling. The knot in his gut felt more like a black hole. "She’s not dead," he told himself. "They got off ..." He ran for the hatch and made it to the bottom of the ramp. A golden furred cub lingered a few feet away, his curious examination of his ship interrupted. "Tell Chewie I had to leave," he shouted.
The youngster growled that he didn’t understand Basic.
He waved his hands, pointed at the bridge that led to the village, at himself, to his ship, then up at the sky. "I’m leaving."
The cub stared blankly at him, tugging on its whiskers.
"Well, whatever," Han snapped, dashing back inside and starting the engines. Leaving, taking off, would be fairly self-explanatory.
* * * * *
I can’t do this ...
Mental will and physical limitations battled each other.
Yes you can ...
Cutting the heavily coiled limbs was an art form they both perfected out of necessity. Swing the blade around in a semi-circle, bend low, arch overhead in the sweep, over, back down low, breathe, and give the roots two seconds to fall. Then move ahead and start again. If you stepped forward too quickly, the last victims crashed down on your head. If you didn’t gingerly watch your footing, the broken limbs snagged your boots, and that left you in the rather awkward position of pitching forward with an outstretched lightsaber onto cut branches, the weight of the pack further adding to the precariousness. The work itself would have been backbreaking even if her whole body didn’t scream with each movement that it had been nearly pulverized in the crash. Muscles she didn’t know she possessed ached or felt torn. Scratching the tiniest itch on her back made her feel like a circus contortionist.
After three days of sheer drudgery, Leia had amassed a litany of verbal descriptions for the planet they’d crashed on, few of which could be spoken aloud in any official debriefing without censure or raised eyebrows. Her kindest thoughts were that Baskarn was a subterranean maze, trapping them like rats. Little life subsisted within, not even a resilient blade of grass poked its way up from the earth. Instead, the wood was barren, unfertile, discouraging all but the tiniest insects from making it their home.
The addition of night only made it worse. It took fifteen minutes just to clear enough space for their tent to be set up, provide enough room to take ten steps before hitting the gnarled walls. The need to create a sheltered world, carve enough away to ease the suffocation was illogical but reassuring. Up above was an endless patchwork of roots and darkness, reaching into more roots and darkness, any attempt to see past them as futile as searching for the source of snowflakes on a moonlit night; they stretched to infinity.
Again last night she’d shoved her sleep roll against the floppy wall and wrapped herself as snugly as possible, trying to adjust to the sounds, the feel of another person sleeping so close to her, of Luke sleeping near her. She’d been hypersensitive to every tiny movement he made, every change in his breathing, awakening again and again when he jostled the tent by straightening a leg or an arm, rolling over. If the bone heavy weariness of her body was any indication of her physical appearance, she was eternally grateful she didn’t have a mirror to see herself.
I can’t do this, she thought again.
If she’d known for a fact the end of the forest was near, she would have set her blaster for vaporize and tried blasting a path through it, even though basic physics dictated that in all likelihood she’d fuse the battery into a smoking blob of metal in ten minutes.
Admittedly, she knew it was ridiculous to think she’d be able to match a Jedi’s endurance, let alone match her brother’s upper body strength, but it wasn’t going to stop her from trying. Since when had she ever let her sex serve as an excuse? They’d only been at it for six hours, and she’d only cut for two of those. This was her second shift and she hadn’t been at it for half an hour yet but the nausea which had begun plaguing her intermittently before she left Home Fleet had returned with a vengeance. She took another swing, swallowed another mouthful of saliva, halted and took several deep breaths.
"You okay?" Luke asked.
"No," she panted. Please, please don’t let me ...
Dropping his lightsaber and her pack, she dashed a few meters past him, vomiting onto cut branches. By the time her body was finished rebelling she was retching up bile and it was too late to be mortified. Luke was handing her the canteen. She did her best to rinse the acidic taste away and wash the clammy perspiration from her face.
Luke kicked enough of the debris away further off to drop his gear, then settled on top of the large pack cross-legged and worried. "You’re sick?"
The tiny sip of water she’d swallowed accidentally made her insides squeeze and compress until it came back up. "I’m not sick," she lied quickly when she could talk again. "I’m just ... too hot."
"We’ll take a break."
Pausing at the stanch order -- and she knew an order from her brother when she heard one -- she pulled at the sticky collar of her coveralls. Beneath them, she was gluey all over, drenched in sweat. They didn’t provide much ventilation in the muggy and damp undergrowth, but it had been cool when they started out. Her toes were squishing in her boots. Dropping clumsily to the ground, she unfastened her belt and the clasps on her suit. Then she dragged it down over her waist and struggled to pull the legs over her boots without removing them. Luke did the same, then rummaged around in his pack while she concentrated on staying very, very still. It would pass, soon enough.
When he pulled out the medkit she blanched. "You don’t need that, I’m fine, really."
Again an order. "We’ll run a quick scan to rule out anything environmental ... "
"I’m really fine."
"I really don’t think you are."
"I don’t want you to run a scan," she retorted angrily, attempting to snatch the kit from his hands before he had a chance to open it. Luke didn’t let go and it wound up stuck between them tug of war fashion though she got her fingers over the clasps. "I told you I’m too hot."
"Hey! Hey! Hey!" Luke rolled his eyes and jerked the kit away. "You’re being ridiculous. I’m worried about you because you haven’t exactly been a glowing picture of health since we left the fleet. And I’ve been meaning to ask when’s the last time you had yourself checked out?"
"That would be the day before we left," she mumbled, thickly. This was ridiculous. She wasn’t going to be able to hide this from Luke much longer, and had half expected him to know somehow, the way he always knew things.
"I promise ... I’m not sick," she said again, lifting her hair off the back of her neck, praying a wayward breeze would appear and save her. "Can we please leave it at that."
"Leia, no," he said firmly. "We’re not going to ‘leave it at that.’ If there’s something wrong with you ... "
"This isn’t up for debate." While they were arguing Luke had unpacked the portable medisensor and activated it. He tapped the end of the tiny scope connected to it with his forefinger to make sure it was working. "Just give me your arm ... ."
She took a few deep, almost divine breaths to summon courage and locked both arms at the elbows childishly. "Okay, look. You know how I said right now things are very complicated?" Luke stopped tapping "Yes."
"They’re more so than you can imagine. I’m pregnant."
Her brother fell back on his hands, mouth hanging open, shocked, stunned. He sucked in air between his teeth and stared at her for so long she thought maybe he hadn’t heard her and she said it again, but he kept staring at her, until finally his hand reached across and rested on her side. Grinning enormously at her with an expression of sheer joy and wonder, he finally whispered, "You are! I can’t believe I didn’t feel it before. That’s amazing. Its heart is beating so fast ... "
Its heart. Her heart. She set her palm beside his over her belly. "You can feel her already?"
"Uh huh ... "
"My stars ... "
She had to laugh, because she was so nervous and because in all the years she had known Luke he had never said 'my stars' about anything, nor had she expected that he would be so happy, so beautifully jubilant, that it would be so blissfully contagious. For a second she allowed herself to share that with him, let the ripples of unrestrained elation wash over her. This felt good; a thousand times better than she’d imagined it would be when this moment came. She loved him for it. "You’re going to have a niece."
He kept his hand on her side, shaking his head and grinning. "I don’t believe it, I really don’t. I figured it was years and years away ... . I mean, remember that night on Bakura when we were talking and you said you weren’t ready to even think about it ... and ... holy gawl."
"Holy gawl?" she echoed. First ‘my stars’ and now ‘holy gawl’.
"Well," he explained sheepishly, "it’s a very Tatooinian expression. How far along are you? I mean ... " He studied her middle with newfound fascination. "You don’t look very pregnant to me."
"Just over seven weeks."
She swiftly intercepted his attempt to hug her, nudging him back to arm’s length. "Please no squeezing or touching unless you want to end up decorated with what’s left of my insides."
He settled for giving her hand a quick squeeze. "What does it feel like? It must be incredible."
"It’s ... um ... " Leia wasn’t sure whether or not he anticipated a magnanimous response about life and creation. Obviously he wasn’t waiting for her to say that she was exhausted and nauseous half the time, that her breasts ached so badly it hurt to sleep on her stomach, that she was riding an emotional roller coaster with no where to get off and cried over ridiculous things like malfunctioning consoles and missing datafiles. She quashed any illusions straightaway. "I feel like I picked up a terminal virus or I’ve spent too much time in one of those cut rate space stations that save credits by rationing oxygen."
"Oh, yeah, I forgot. I mean, I don’t know that much about it," he blustered eagerly, "but I remember reading about the symptoms."
"They’re all true," she sighed, wondering what anachronistic text he had read. The Alliance had had strict rules regarding pregnant women serving in combat and on their bases. Positive tests resulted in immediate dismissals, so she doubted he’d had much exposure to them. His aunt had also never had any children of her own -- not that she knew much more herself about child rearing. Luke glanced over at her half digested breakfast again, which she desperately wished he wouldn’t do. "I had supplements and drink mixes that helped but I didn’t manage to pack them in the escape pod and apparently she hates insta-meal even more than I do. It feels strange. Good-strange though. I’m happy and ... I’m happy you are too."
"So this is you’re big secret?"
Leia smiled. "Not quite yet. I’d call her a tiny, tiny secret at the moment."
"I’ll bet. When did you find out?"
Despite her many misgivings, he was so ecstatic it felt as though nothing she said could possibly make a difference. She decided to be as honest as she could with him. This was going to be difficult enough. "I’ve known since a few days after she was conceived ... " Luke’s mouth started to form the words, ‘that soon?’ She went on, "I had a feeling. Call it female intuition. I just knew."
"Oh, Leia ... " His face grew somber, guilty. "That message over the break? You must have known then?" In earnest, he murmured, "I would have been at Coruscant right away if I’d had any idea. I swear it. I hope you know that."
"I do. I know it. I couldn’t tell you over the comm."
"Yeah. They are a terrible substitute for in person. But you’ve told Han, right? I know he’ll be thrilled and even though you two... Oh." He stopped mid-sentence. The ephemeral spell crumbled to ashes and the blue of his eyes darkened to slate. "Oh ... " He climbed to his feet, crossed his arms, turning to the wall of roots so that she couldn’t see his expression. His stance was perfectly quiescent, his silence lucid. When the silence was on the verge of becoming unbearable, he started rationalizing aloud. "Han left four months ago right and ... I didn’t know Han had made it back to the fleet? When was he back?"
"He wasn’t," she replied simply.
"But you’re seven weeks pregnant ..."
"Then how ..."
She was sure Luke’s thoughts would eventually reach the most logical conclusion but it was taking him so long to get there she simply said it first. "Han isn’t the father."
"Oh," he said again. It was as though someone unseen had pricked him hard with a sharp object, almost an ouch. "I didn’t know you were seeing anyone else. I mean, I saw the footage of you and the Gasconian Ambassador. Everyone did, but I didn’t think much of it?"
She winced involuntarily. The Gasconian Ambassador had taken her to dinner twice, but her actual dealings with him had been to persuade him his planet’s ‘scientific’ interests could be protected under the New Republic’s Right to Privacy laws. Repeated offers to dinner where they could ‘discuss the issues’ as he’d put it, were tangled with hints that his government was leaning against joining the Republic, that there were sensitive issues he’d prefer to discuss without his aides listening in. After two dinners when it was obvious his intentions were personal, she’d politely told him she wasn’t interested in playing games. Gascon had joined in the end, and nothing had ever gone on between them. The clips on the newsgrid of him taking her by the arm and leading her into a restaurant, dropping a kiss on her cheek had been replayed for a week, and she’d been furious to learn the holoshills had been tipped off by one of his assistants. It had been so many months ago she’d almost forgotten about it. "That was just the usual holovid garbage," she told him. "You know better than to believe it."
"Then ... " He dropped back down beside her. "Then who?"
"It’s personal. It’s my business."
"Personal?" He stared at her vigilantly. "I’m confused."
"I mean it doesn’t matter," she blurted out. "It isn’t going to matter."
"What do you mean it doesn’t matter? Do I know him?"
The sides of her throat stuck together when she tried to swallow. "No, you don’t and whatever was between us doesn’t matter. He doesn’t know about this and I’m not going to tell him."
"But why? How could ... obviously this wasn’t that long after Han took off on his mission, yet you two ... you two ... "
"Went to bed together," she finished for him. "Yes."
"You didn’t plan for this happen?"
"What do you think?" It came out sharply; she couldn’t help it. Embarrassing them both in order to snuff out his current train of thought seemed like a good idea. "If you need an in depth discussion on modern birth control-"
Unruffled, he interjected, "No, I don’t."
"Good then," she assented. Using no birth control, forgetting one’s hormonal implant had expired and remembering the next day did not exactly fall under the taking precautions category anyway. That fell somewhere between the humanoid girl who posed for the 3-D education billboards on the arm of her amorous boyfriend with the sign, Are you prepared? and the next image the pixels materialized into -- a solitary and visibly distraught girl standing sideways and studying her ballooning stomach in the mirror. Her caption read, I thought it wouldn’t happen to me.
All Leia had been able to think that first week was, I’m a Politician, a battle commander, part of the Inner Council, not one of the girls from those ads. I’m twenty-four, not seventeen ...
Whatever Luke was thinking now caused something akin to reproach to flicker briefly in his eyes. Then he sank his chin onto his intersected forearms and sighed deeply. "What in the blazes has been going on since I left for Folor Leia? I feel like I don’t know anything about your life. We were in hyperspace alone for a week, you could have told me any time. We’ve been here for three days and ... " The tone of his voice took on a hard edge. "Speaking of which, you should have told me to begin with if you were feeling so badly. This trip hasn’t been easy on either of us. I should have known from day one. Why wouldn’t you have told me sooner?"
She picked up the canteen and wet her mouth. "You’re right and I do apologize for that. I should have admitted not being up to this, but I really wanted to tell Han first. I thought I could make it. Getting stuck out here was not part of the master plan."
"Okay. Okay," he exhaled loudly. "Then what was your master plan?"
"My plan?" she echoed lamely, too queasy and weary to be quick on her recovery. There never had been any plan, per say. As Luke had dared accuse her in her cabin what felt like a lifetime ago, for the most part she’d been trying to avoid both of them temporarily, running away. But she couldn’t admit that to him.
"You said you wanted to tell him first. Why didn’t you stay with the fleet until he got back? He would have been back in a few days?"
"I needed more time to think," she murmured, wondering if the paltry excuse was near enough to the truth to fool him. "I wasn’t ready yet."
It was. He barely considered it before saying, "Then I really should have been there. I should have gone back to Coruscant."
"There’s nothing you could have done."
"There’s plenty I could have done."
Simmering with indignation, she snapped, "Like what?" There were a thousand things he might say she didn’t need to hear, didn’t want to hear. "What precisely are you thinking you should have done?" she demanded. "You’re my brother, not my chaperone and I certainly don’t need a lecture in morality or life principles as they were where you were raised. I’m not going to pretend to be ashamed of anything I’ve done. It happened. I didn’t plan for it to happen but it did."
Luke absorbed the backlash without reaction and kept going. "That’s not what I meant at all. I meant I wouldn’t have wanted you to be going through this alone the last few weeks. I wouldn’t judge you the way you’re thinking. Not ever. Surely you know that of me and if you don’t..." He let the thought go, suggesting instead that she attempt to drink something, then dug out a carton of carbosyrup.
Immediately she began to feel better. Either the fruity taste was easier on her stomach or the break was helping. She’d been pushing herself too hard and she knew it. Now Luke knew it too. When he spoke again it was to ask one question.
"You’re really not going to tell her father?"
Leia set the carton down and ground her palm into the soil. No one needed to remind her that he’d spent his entire life idolizing his father, tortured not knowing who his parents were, an orphan given over to the care of an uncle and aunt who weren’t even blood relatives. But it was more than that. "Luke, it’s more complicated than you think. What about the Council and our decision to tell them who Anakin Skywalker became? It’s coming up soon, right? She’s force sensitive -- I can feel that already and I know you can. If this gets out, do you want to take the chance I won’t be raising her, that she won’t be protected?" Raising her chin again to meet his eyes she saw that he was indeed, only listening. "Because that’s a risk," she implored. "You have to understand it could happen. If her father knows ... I can’t afford to let that happen. I won’t."
He drew her dirt stained hand into his own again and this time he kept it firmly clasped. "It’s really a possibility?"
She nodded. Her child’s father was from Alderaan too. On Alderaan paternal rights were revered and protected as strongly as maternal ones. What remained of the Alderaanian council could accept his petition for a hearing if he wanted one, and then it would be a major public debacle carried out over the holovids. Luke would empathize and understand, but if he knew where her father was from it was only a matter of time -- or a few hours detective work -- before he learned who he was. "I’m not proud of having to make this decision, but I have to accept the consequences and repercussions. Trust me, I’ve had weeks and weeks to think about this. What matters is that she’s innocent and she’s mine and that matters more than how."
"What about Han? What are you going to tell him?"
She really didn’t want to answer that, didn’t even know if she could bring herself to say it. When I tell him he’s going to be on the other side of the galaxy before I can bat an eyelash and if he leaves for good it will break me ... If, if, if ...
Luke’s face grew grim. "Maybe this is a good time to explain to me what happened with you two?"
"I don’t want to talk about it," she whispered thickly. "Please, please don’t push me. I don’t have the energy to do this right now. Either you’re happy or you’re going to keep haranguing me. Pick one or the other."
Luke’s hand shifted to her shoulder. "I’m not. I wouldn’t and I’m sorry if it’s coming across that way. This is just sort of a shock, I guess. If you were telling me this was you and Han it would be one thing and but I had no idea until now you two were over. But..." There were more questions brewing beneath his pose, she felt them keenly, but he gave up for the time being, returning to the good. "I’m very happy for you. You’re going to be a mother. That’s the sort of news you celebrate, right?"
She forced a weak smile. Whatever spirit of celebration they’d been sharing had been lost ages ago. The truth be had, it was only recently that she’d been having those moments, quiet epiphanies, where the idea of bring a life into this world, holding a part of herself in her arms, caused her to gush with yearning and a love so primal its intensity awed her. For the most part the idea of taking on the enormous responsibility of being a mother terrified her. The impact this child was going to have on her life terrified her. But she said, vainly forcing the weak smile into something that resembled sincerity, "And you’ll be an uncle."
"Imagine that," he marveled, leaning over to kiss her forehead. "Imagine me as an uncle."
Blinking back tears, she said in a low voice, "I always figured you’d be great at it."
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