Renewal: Chapter Thirteen Rated PG
Ivy

Han had a very strange twilight dream.

In his dream, he and Leia were at Ben Kenobiís. Benís old home was no longer a home, but what appeared to be a mausoleum or an ancient style of crypt. His kitchen table had been replaced by a funeral bier, his cabinets by tapestries, and every inch of the floors was covered with candles. Heíd tried to step his way around them, observed the flames lick at the hem of the cloak he wore, but oddly, they werenít hot and they failed to catch him.

Lukeís body lay atop the bier, wrapped in the umber folds of his cloak. Braided rope tied his wrists and ankles. It was as though someone had wanted to bind him in the afterlife. Han thought he looked very peaceful. Leia kept trying to convince him he was asleep but he knew, with that eerie sense of dream certainty (the sort where you knew things and didnít pause to question them) that Skywalker was dead and he wasnít going to wake up.

Now that he was fully awake, he was eternally grateful that he wasnít a Jedi and that his dreams boded no ill omens for the future.

Aside from the lingering uneasiness left by the near dream he felt good. Better than good, as a matter of fact. Heíd made love to Leia again on the floors of the engineering station before untangling her feet and carrying her into his cabin. There theyíd made love all over again, and what had begun as wild and abandoned had grown tender and submissive, her body painstakingly explored, tasted, and invaded.

The Adarians, according to his friend Roa, had over five hundred different expressions relating to sexual behavior. More than half of those referred to the act itself, depending on the mood and emotions, time of day, position, duration, whether both participants found it mutually pleasurable, and then to varying degrees of how pleasurable the mating was. Vocabulary existed to describe the first time you made love, the first time after an extended separation, sex in the heat of the moment, sex with someone you loved. One word was capable of encapsulating an entire experience, reducing it to two or three vowels. There were no needs for further adjectives or detailed descriptions.

Nearing the end of the Falconís pre-programmed day cycle, Han could only recall, appropriately enough, one term in the Adarian language.

Jaífarissah.

It meant afterglow.

If the giddy euphoria could be bottled and sold, the galaxy would be a much kinder place, he thought. People wouldnít need spice and alcohol, the tílanda Tíil and their Exaltations would have no servants, no slaves, and no victims. Power and money would cease to drive worlds to war and ruin. The sapient philosophers and pacifists could revel in visions of their utopian societies. Of course, the more he thought about it the more it seemed that last part had volumes upon volumes dedicated to it already, that perhaps his idea lacked originality. He might feel more peaceful and happier than he had in months, but he could only imagine Leiaís laughter if he gave her his new slant on diplomacy. Just order the warring parties to bed first, then bounce over to the discussion platform. How human of you, she would say. Youíre forgetting that not all species do this. What about the Hutts? What about the Bith? What about the ... Her list would be long.

Besides, Palpatine had probably plotted his ascension to power between his mistressí silk sheets.

Granted, afterglow was fleeting. Now Leia was sound asleep, with her head crooked up against his chest, her knees drawn up partway. One of her ankles was tucked between his calves. She cradled his bent arm against her breasts like a worn childhood toy and with each exhale the hairs on his forearm wiggled and danced. Han would have preferred to sleep too, but there were two abandoned crates of perishables in the hall behind the main hatch. They needed to be put away in the galleyís refrigeration unit soon.

Prying his arm free carefully, he nudged her away and swung his legs over the edge of the bunk. Leia sighed and rolled onto her back. The stretch of bare skin induced him to lean forward and draw his tongue along the curve of her shoulder. She shivered and made an annoyed purr in the back of her throat. Encouraged, he waited a few seconds and retraced his wet trail.

Her hand flew up again and felt his hair. "I was starting to dream," she whispered, without opening her eyes, "that something was trying to lick me to death. But of course itís just you."

"Lick you to death," he teased involuntarily. "Now thereís a depraved fantasy I can honestly say Iíve never had."

"My depraved fantasies all involve sleeping," she countered groggily. "Imagine that."

"You donít say?" Trying to replay the dayís events over again, he slid his palm over blade of her shoulder - the one the stormtrooper had brutally wrenched behind her back, Heíd elicited several ouches already, and thought it a wonder that it wasnít broken or dislocated. A moment later, Han determined that the guilty party had been the first one down. Han wasnít a vindictive or soulless man, not by any means, but he knew when to avoid second guessing his actions, knew when not to waste his time feeling contrite. Theyíd all gotten what they deserved, either for past crimes or future cruelties. He and Leia were both alive; they werenít in custody. There were fates worse than death. "How are you feeling?"

She smiled a touch sheepishly. "Good. You?"

He smiled back, noting that her cheeks were red with scruff burn and made a quick vow to shave soon. "Me too. But I meant howís your shoulder?"

"A little sore. Nothing that wonít fade in a day or two."

He nodded. Theyíd been this route before. Thereíd been too many occasions, close calls, near escapes, where theyíd comforted each other and tried to assuage lingering panic, joked beneath edgy nervous tension, "and how many bumps and scrapes did you get this time?"

"Han ..." She sat up, brushed her hair away from her eyes and gathered the sheet over her breasts. "I forgot to tell you before. I know where we can go."

He started searching for his pants, located them in the hatchway, one leg in, one leg out, as though they hadnít made up their mind about whether to enter his cabin or not.
"Go?"

"To hole up for a while. Itís not far from here. Once you reach the edge of the Sector weíre almost there."

He made a harrumph in the back of his throat. "Oh, no ..."

"Thereís a very good chance Luke might be there," she implored lastly.

Han fought off hazy visions of sand dunes and blinding suns, but they were too fresh on his mind to obliterate completely. But of course she was going to ask ... and you knew it, didnít you? It may have been at the back of his mind but it had probably been creeping forward. Fortunately, Leia draped in sultry black thermasilk with her hair loosely framing her body provided a beautiful distraction. "Itís certainly out of the way and isolated," he commented glibly.

"And you know how he is about Ben."

"He can recite every conversation they ever had word for word and claims to still communicate with him."

"He does still communicate with him," Leia corrected.

"Yes, Sweetheart," he deadpanned, not all that sure he did believe it, not at sure that he didnít. Leia caught the less than subtle attempt to humor her, but before she could comment, he went on. "You want to go to Benís place then?"

"Yes. I wouldnít be surprised if Luke is there now. Sparing that, heíll show up eventually. There arenít many other places he would go."

Weird. Han wondered whether Luke and Leiaís precognitive senses were catching. He wasnít all that excited about revisiting the planet that had almost been his final resting place, but it would be like Skywalker to go somewhere familiar to sort out what he was going through ... if he wanted to be found by his sister. If he didnít, he imagined the kid would be headed for the farthest place from his homeworld. On the flipside, it would save him the struggle of convincing Leia to stay put for a while, and he had promised they would look for him. "Okay," he told her. "When we drop out of hyper at the edge of the Sector, Tatooine it is."

He dragged his pants on, left for the galley and began unpacking. Tatooine was forgotten within minutes beneath the barrage of racing thoughts and emotions that were uncharacteristically sentimental. There were also all the Ďwhat nowís?í that he didnít want to sort out quite yet. Leia was in his bed, and as far as he was concerned, the rest of the galaxy was on hold while they maintained their own private cease-fire. He hummed to himself while he worked.

Sheís in your bed ...

Sheís happy ...

She still loves you
...

Those were the things that he was sure of, even the final one. Heíd seen the way she was looking at him when sheíd first sought him out earlier. Heíd been sure then, even if he hadnít been the last few days. Now what he wanted to do was curl up in bed with her and stay there for a week.

It only took ten minutes to empty the goods into the galleyís stowaway compartments. Dried goods went below the counter and those that needed to be frozen or refrigerated went in their respective units. He dumped the leftover crates in a smuggling compartment. Then he grabbed an armful of red skinned fruit and a small basket of yellow berries, along with a plate and a knife. Back in his cabin, he promptly suffered disappointment. Leia had retrieved the remainder of their clothes from the engineering station and redressed.

Upon seeing his surprise, she clapped with delight. "Han, you found sunfruit!"

Han tried to contain his own delight at her reaction. Sunfruit was Leiaís favorite, heíd remembered that and it had taken over an hour of searching to find it. (The vendor at the end of the row specializes in exotics, they kept telling him, except the urban planning of the market made it something of a maze and the stalls had gone on and on and on without end.) He collected a stray towel and spread it across the center of the bed, then laid out their impromptu feast. "They wonít last so we have to eat them now."

"We do, huh?"

"Every last one. No stopping until weíre both in fruit induced comas."

She laughed and sniffed the berries. "What are these?"

"I canít remember what theyíre called. Theyíre native to Elrood and the vendor at the fruit stand went on and on about them, said I absolutely had to try them. I bought them so heíd shut up."

Leia plucked a few and popped them in her mouth, oohing and ahhing while he sliced the sunfruit into segments that disappeared as fast as he sliced them. The vendor hadnít been exaggerating about his local produce. The mystery berries were so sweet at first bite the nerves in his cheeks shivered painfully from the tart and sugary taste.

They climbed back on the bed, talking about Luke while they ate. Again, Leia stressed that she genuinely believed that they would find her brother, that he would be all right, that she could feel it in her heart. It got him on a tangent thinking about the last time that heíd seen the two of them together. Luke had shown up unannounced for dinner right before heíd left for Folor Ė heíd missed the dinner and arrived at her quarters just as Luke was leaving. Neither Skywalker had looked all that happy. Theyíd both been wearing expressions that mirrored each other more than either would have wanted to admit, as though each found the other the most impossible person to talk to. Leia hadnít exactly gone into details with him about what had transpired, save that, it had been related to her training, or lack thereof, but she had muttered a few comments bitterly under her breath.

He makes me feel like being his sister isnít good enough. Heís obsessed with one part of me and one part of me alone.

Then Luke had left for Folor.

There had definitely been a major shift in their relationship down on Baskarn, which Leia confirmed more through her tone than in actual words. He made a mental note to ask her more about it later. They ate and cuddled until Leia declared her stomach was going to burst and her chin was shiny with sunfruit juice. He insisted she eat the last piece, kissed her and licked her face, thinking licking her to death might have its appeal after all.

Eventually she squirmed free of his mouth and rested her head on his shoulder. "I dreamed about eating fruit every day we were down there."

"You did?"

"Fruit and hot baths ..." She stared absent mindedly at their naked feet for a moment before returning her attention to him. "It was terrible being down there and being so sick all the time. Luke was so wonderful."

It went over his head. "Your brotherís a big softie when it come to you." Then he thought back. "Why were you sick?"

"The joys of early pregnancy," she murmured softly.

As if, he thought with a pang, I could ever forget. "Oh. Thatís right. I ... Well I guess I hadnít thought of all that."

Leia replied with her own, "Oh."

He wasnít sure what he should say next. Leia resumed staring at her toes. Either way he fairly certain he was stumbling into one of those tricky situations where he was going to say the wrong thing and blow this. Heíd been told in the past he had a knack for that, and he really didnít want to talk about it, didnít want to think about it. The mere mention rattled him. Getting out of his cabin became a priority. He needed to rebuild his guard without her watching him, needed to think this feeling through alone. "Do you want some caf?" he asked, patting her knee and hopping up, trying to sound as normal as possible. He collected the remains of their meal and folded the edges of the towel together, scooping up the leftover seeds, skins, and plate. "Iím going to go make some caf. I could use some."

"Now?"

"Iíll make you some," he decided.

It was a terribly obvious departure.

In the galley he started a pot and mentally kicked himself. The notion of Leia carrying a child was inconceivable. Her body hadnít changed. If he hadnít been there that day he never would have known and in a way, he wished he didnít. He wasnít exactly sure how to tell her he didnít want to talk about it, wasnít capable of extending himself that far yet.

It already had a father.

He stared at the caf distiller and willed it to brew faster, watched the opaque pot fill drip by drip. Briefly he wondered how he would have felt if it had been his, if it had been his and there hadnít been any Ďaccidentí causing a miscarriage. What if the miscarriage had never happened? And then, learning that the Imperial interrogation drugs would have killed the fetus anyway ... for Leia that was tantamount to all of her worst fears coming true. He wondered if she was still having nightmares.

The distiller had finished brewing and he was still staring at it when he heard Leia enter behind him. Her arms reached around his waist and settled on his stomach. He dropped his chin and studied her fingers, the re-growing nails, tiny pink scars on her knuckles from almost healed cuts.

She burrowed her head against his back. "Youíre upset."

Cringing inwardly, he patted her forearm and reached for two mugs. "Iím not upset. Go and have seat, Iíll fix you a cup." He added milk and frill syrup to both cafs and delivered them, feeling remarkably ill at ease. It shouldnít be this awkward, he thought. We were in bed together not an hour ago and now weíre sitting here and I have no idea what to say to her because whatever comes out is going to be wrong...

Leia ignored her beverage, holding her chin in her hand with two fingers splayed across her lips. Her expression was guarded and solemn. She went first. "Itís not fair, Han."

"What isnít?" he asked.

"Iím not going to forget everything thatís happened to me recently. Itís not going to go away. I donít want to forget."

"Who said you were supposed to?"

"You took off because I brought it up."

The pullover was slipping off one of her shoulders. He resisted the urge to reach over and tug it up, because it would require him to get off his seat. It was too late to change positions without drawing attention to how far away heíd sat in the first place. "No I didnít. I wanted some caf. And no oneís asking you to forget anything. Leia, youíve been through a lot. I know that."

"It bothers you if I mention her. It did in there. I could tell. Donít ... donít ... just donít lie, okay?"

Yes.

The word crouched in the shadows of the galley, alive, breathing, waiting.

Either way he was stuck. If he said 'no' sheíd know he was lying. If he said Ďyesí, she would tell him that this had all been a big mistake. Han might have said either, except that he had never seen Leia quite as vulnerable as sheíd been lately. Not as she was now, afraid of what he might say or do, wearing an expression that was the anticipation of hurt, for times when they said things like Ďhold your breath, thisíll only sting and then itíll all be over.í They always lied about things like that. The image of her bawling in the examining room filled his mindís eye, along with his reactions that afternoon. The last thing he wanted to do was make it worse. He struggled a bit, and settled for, "It bothers me to see to you hurting. If you-" The next part didnít come out quite so easily. "If you want to talk about it go ahead."

She shook her head. "I know it wonít make it easier for you but you have it all wrong. I was going to do this by myself. I was going to resign from the Inner Council-"

"What are you talking about?"

"I couldnít serve as Alderaanís representative while I was pregnant and unmarried. I was going to step down before it went public. They never would have permitted it. With that and with news of Lukeís and my parentage about to come out I couldnít risk anything happening to her. So you see, until a few weeks ago my life was in the midst of a major upheaval and I was left with major decisions about where I was going to go and what I was going to do. This wasnít a ripple in the stream of things. My entire life was changing. Luke was gone. You were gone and I know it sounds crazy but it isnít, and I know you always think this stuff is crazy but I could feel her. I could feel her inside of me the whole time she was growing ..."

Hanís insides flinched, and he heard himself saying, "You could?"

"Yes." She hugged herself. "So you have to understand. Iím not pleading for your sympathy but ... when I was sitting on the bed with you, all of the sudden I thought, we probably wouldnít be here if I was still pregnant." Her voice fell catatonically flat. "And then I thought, I canít even tell you how much it hurts because you donít want to know and why are we in bed together if I feel like I canít talk to you. I donít want to believe that this had to happen in order for you to still be here. It hurts so much to even think that. I just ... stop me from thinking it. Say something to stop me from thinking it because Iím going to and I canít help it."

"You shouldnít think that," he instructed, reaching over to take her hand in his. "Donít think that. I would never have wished that sort of pain and suffering on you for any reason whatsoever. I hated seeing you go through it." Yes, heíd overreacted but since then, heíd done everything within his power to make sure she was safe, make sure she stayed healthy. Heíd spent two weeks on Baskarn believing there was someone else, and if that didnít prove anything to her he didnít know what would. "Iím here and Iíve been here all along," he said gently. "But I canít give you blanket reassurances for a situation thatís more complex than a yes or no answer."

She pursed her lips and blew out a long sigh. "Iím not asking that of you. I know it sounds like it but thatís not it at all."

"Then what do you want?"

"To feel like I can say what I need to without you backing away from me."

"You can."

She clamped her lower lip between her teeth and shook her head. "Maybe Iím asking to much of you. Maybe weíre not ready to do this."

The respite was accepted, more because he wanted to see her smiling again. Fingering the bruises around her wrists he leaned over closer and lowered his voice. "Say, have you ever seen my impersonation of a Two-One-Bee?"

"Youíre impersonation of a Two-One Bee?" she stammered, a look of sheer bewilderment developing on her face. "Whatever ... "

He tugged her sleeve up partway and inspected the rather nasty evidence of her brush with Elroodís law enforcement. "We should really wrap those. I have some topical stuff thatíll help with the swelling. Roll up your sleeves properly and sit tight. Iíll be right back."

"Theyíll be..."

"Sit."

"Youíve gotten really bossy over the last few months, did I mention that," she called after him.

"Who me?" he hollered back.

"Yes you."

That sounded like the Leia he remembered, and it was the first casual connection either of them had made between then and now. He followed the looping corridor to the first aid bay and grabbed the medpac, dumping the contents on the patient bunk. Then he grabbed the few items he needed and returned to the galley. Leia had obediently rolled up her sleeves and rested her elbows on the table so that both injured wrists were waiting and ready. He couldnít help it. "I donít remember you ever being so good at following orders."

"Two-One Beeís donít tease their patients. Theyíd give you a memory wipe for that sort of attitude."

"Oh -- I see." Han smeared her left wrist with ointment and meticulously wrapped it with sterile bandaging. The bruising and cuts were mainly superficial, but they were raw and redder than before, bleeding a little where the cuts were deepest. When he was finishing her right wrist, she burst out laughing.

"What?" he asked.

"That wrapping isnít waterproof, is it?"

"Uh -- no."

"Oh well. I can just get you to wrap it again after I shower."

"And you thought youíd wait to mention that."

"You didnít ask." She leaned over and hugged him, curled her white swathed wrists behind him. They scratched, papery, at the nape of his neck. "Or maybe we can go back to bed. I think Iím too exhausted to make it into the shower. You can hold me and not let me go."

And he knew some sort of unspoken affirmation had passed between them at this table, though he was at a loss for exactly what. "Iím pretty good at that," he assured her, kissing her neck rapidly with playful affection. "Itís been an eventful day."

"It has."

He let her lead him back to his cabin. It had been so long since theyíd slept together that it took a few awkward moments for him to remember how to get comfortable with her there. He gave up and curled around her the way he used to.

* * * * *

Tatooine: Four days later.

Alpha 1733-Mu 3449, Quadrant 1 was famous galaxy-wide for one reason, and one reason alone. It was also so inhospitable and isolated it attracted little in the way of tourists or guests. For those obsessive and peculiar beings who felt it necessary to visit to the last of the Jediísí home planet, the destination marked ĎObi-Wan Kenobiís Homeí was an old hermitís cave in Beggarís Canyon. Thereíd once been dozens of hermits living out there, but Jabba the Hutt had driven them off years before Luke took his first skyhopper ride through the criss-crossing canyons. The tourists never knew the difference, still left feeling they had touched the walls of history, tread upon the same sodium rich sand as his teacher, mistakenly believed they had seen where Luke Skywalker first picked up a lightsaber.

hree hundred kilometers East, at Alpha 1733-Mu-9033, Quadrant 1, Ben Kenobiís veritable dwelling rested anonymously on the mesa, overlooking the craggy outcroppings and ridges bordering the Dune Sea. It was impossible to approach from any one direction without being spotted. For over two decades, it had gone undetected by Tatooineís human residents, Jawas and Tusken Raiders. One simply needed to know exactly where to find it, and there were very few beings in the galaxy that did.

Luke and Leia were two of them.

Few creatures ever ventured willingly nearer the Dune Sea. The sea itself was lonely and whole all at once. A dried up ocean that had erased every trace of the creatures that had once inhabited it, that gathered its victims to its bosom and forgot about them as fast as the suns and sands could dry them and sweep them away. Other than the occasional susurration of the wind, sand pelting, the far off sound of dewbacks calling to each other or the buzz of a sandfly, there was nothing to hear.

The quiet was what Leia remembered most vividly. She remembered it from her time on Tatooine, before theyíd launched their half-cracked plan to rescue Han from Jabba the Hutt. It made her inner voices and thoughts seem preternaturally loud, reawakened. The quiet hadnít changed at all.

Unfortunately, upon arrival theyíd discovered Benís Kenobiís home to be an utter disaster, though disaster was an understatement: disaster area, sandstormís final destination, site of a whirling sand tornado, sand hurricane -- those were more like it. The entire dwelling had been coated with a heavy layer of sand, an ankle deep beach in the main room. Luke had described to her the autumnal storms about that rolled across Tatooine post harvest season, periodically demolishing late crops that struggled to ripen. With the doors wide open theyíd made short work inside. The furnishings had been swept up and over, shelves collapsed, pottery and dishes -- anything breakable had been shattered. It had taken them over four hours to clean up. It would have taken longer but Han had rigged the sonic vacuum from the Falcon to perform as a miniature wind machine. Theyíd taken everything needed from the ship, from food to dishes to inflatable cushions since thereíd been little that was salvageable.

n the upside, Leia was sure her brother hadnít been there, since she couldnít imagine him leaving it that way. Outside the winds and frequent sandstorms had obliterated any trace of footsteps, wiped clean any trace of a Y-Wing compacting the ground with its weight. The desert was as timeless as it was quiet.

So what do you think?" Han asked.

She sipped tentatively from her glass. The pale green Vintaarian wine was sweet and strong enough for her to instantly feel the alcohol. Unfortunately, considering how much Han had paid for it at The Pit, the pronounced smokiness and furry aftertaste disappointed her. "I think you were ripped-off," she declared.

"No, I wasnít." He swiped her glass out of her hands, tipped his head back, and gave a remarkably astute impression of a sommelier, nose half in the glass, mouth partially open, right up to ridiculous faces they always made in order to spread the wine to the various taste-sensitive parts of his tongue. After a quick review of the label, he mumbled, "Damn," and returned the glass. "I bet itís the barrels. The Vintaarianís ran their Jíkassi forest down a few decades ago. I bet anything theyíre still using them to ferment their wine when they should be onto the plexalloy tanks."

"Oh really," she asked, trying to recall if sheíd ever heard anything about the Mid-Rim world having a timber crisis. Han was good with wine but not that good. "I believe you just made that up off the top of your head."

He winked. "Maybe, maybe not. Iím not telling." One hand reached over and started winding its way through her unbound hair again. Leia had re-braided it three times today, but Hanís favorite pastime was to undo, and her fingers had given up redoing.

I say maybe," she affirmed, scanning the room again to make sure it was in order. Then she glanced over at him and winked.

Her logical brain had short-circuited when it came to him, abdicated all responsibility for her actions. Not five days ago sheíd given him her spiel on why they shouldnít be doing this, and here she was, guilty of eschewing her own advice. If thought was what set the sentient beings apart from other lifeforms, than love was what divided the sane and the insane, made the normally rational completely irrational.

Not that Han was making it all that easy for her to think straight. It was as if he were, in his own way, trying to make up for how heíd treated her over the past few weeks, for her loss, for Lukeís absence. He was more attentive and doting than she remembered, spoiling her with dinners and back rubs, breakfast in bed. That afternoon heíd actually lain down with her and taken a nap -- a nap. Sheíd been lying there, reveling in the feel of his body against hers, feeling as though she were drinking him in, and sheíd tugged his hand over her waist. When sheíd awoken, he was still there, snoring softly against her shoulder. She couldnít remember a single time when the hyper-energetic, "Iím going to go berserk if I donít do something" Han Solo had actually lain down in the middle of the day and slept unless heíd been up for over a for day to start with.

He continually surprised her.

Theyíd found a beat up Nebulox swoop in the cellar. Leia couldnít remember if it had been there or not two years ago -- it certainly looked ancient. The windscreen bore a crack down the center and the silver foil engine connector had been spliced. There was no telling how many other problems were waiting beneath the engineís guard. Together theyíd hoisted it out and Han had spent the past few afternoons camped in front of the synstone exterior with worn tools and a vow to get the thing working if it was the last thing he did.

Yesterday heíd tossed her a pair of goggles, just as sheíd finished reviewing Kadannís writings for what had to be the billionth time. "Here."

Sheíd set down her datareader. "Here?"

"Weíre going for a ride."

"Weíre going for a ride
?" sheíd repeated, sincerely thinking there was no way he had possibly repaired the old craft.

Han had misinterpreted her wonder completely, making an apologetic gesture and extending his arm. "Pardon me. Would you like to come for a swoop ride, Your Highness?"

Sheíd laughed and asked him if this was some standard Corellian date. Heíd looked absurd, pretending to be chivalrous with grease stains on his forehead and shirt.

In return, heíd flashed a smile that was nothing less than devastating and gestured pointedly toward her with his chin. Then heíd told her if he was going to get lucky when they returned, yes it was most definitely a standard Corellian date.

Naturally, Han had turned out to be one hell of a swoop rider. He told her heíd raced Ďsomeí many years ago. It wasnít hard to imagine him as a velocity-junkie in his youth. With her arms wrapped tight around his waist, she watched the caverns and crags of the Jundland Wastes flash by in a blur of perpetual motion, sands and skies. Han took them up several precipitous inclines so fast she had to hold on for dear life to keep from sailing away, then down, dropping so abruptly for a few moments she was weightless, suspended up above the narrow seat in mid-air. He stopped before turning back so that they could switch, but as they unfortunately discovered, trying to accelerate with a man twice her size holding on to her nearly unsaddled them and sent them careening out of control. She settled for riding in front and letting Han reach around her to drive.

All she could think the entire ride back was that she couldnít remember the last time she been so stupidly happy. Theyíd discussed numerous vacation spots in the past, the romantic and the isolated, galactic famous resorts and never had the opportunity to go. Now here they were, at probably the last place in the galaxy she would have chosen to go, with gritty sand dusting her, and she was blissfully happy.

Or crazy ...

Theyíd set no deadline for a departure, to give up on waiting for Luke. Thoughts of her miscarriage, of her daughter grew less frequent, less painful with every passing day. There were no comlinks, no intrusions, no deadlines, and no schedules to keep. Sheíd told Han several afternoons ago that she needed him to hold her, and he seemed content to do just that. They didnít discuss their time apart, though Han had taken an intense interest in her relationship with Luke of late. She tried to explain to him about Baskarn.

They were more like new lovers, reticent to say too much aloud, and if their time alone was a winnowing it seemed crucial that they wait. Maybe, Leia thought too, they were both waiting it out to make sure they were capable of forgiving each other before they spoke. Beneath everything, she was hoping so hard that it was more akin to praying. She was hoping so hard, hope upon hope, that they would find a way to fix all of the things that werenít fixable, that they could both forgive the things that werenít forgivable, make the things different that should have been different. She so badly wanted this time to be different. She wanted it so badly most often she was afraid to say anything.

"On second thought, I like the wine," Han was saying. "You just have get past the initial bite."

The wineís smokiness magically cancelled itself out after a few sips. She concurred. "Almost vintage quality."

"But compared to my nerf tenderloins and redour sauce?"

She grinned. Working beneath the blazing suns had turned him vweliu-nut brown, while her cheeks were still pinkish from their swoop ride the day before. He looked like a pirate or swoop racer, not like the type who fished for compliments for his meals. "Those were excellent. But Iíd love to know when the ban on my presence in the kitchen ends."

"Maybe Iíll let you move up to observer tomorrow." He pantomimed a rapid chopping motion with his free hand. "How about cutting small vegetables with supervision?"

"Itís not like I have anything better to do."

That was rewarded with a long chuckle. He looked infinitely amused.

"I take it back. I forget where you told me you learned to cook?"

"How could you forget what I never told you?"

She crossed her arms across her chest. "Tell me."

"All right, all right ... My favorite hangout was a kitchen when I was a kid. I got lots of lessons helping in exchange for everything I could eat -- believe me that meant a LOT of helping."

"I canít even picture it," she giggled, and really she couldnít. The image of Han waist-high standing on chairs before the stove materialized. She giggled harder.

He smiled broadly to himself, a remembering the past kind of smile that seldom graced his very guarded features. "She was a Wookiee, and very kind to me." Leiaís, "Oh," was interrupted. "Yes, youíve just figured out where I acquired my ear for it. Most people never understand it otherwise, unless they spend a lifetime studying it."

Sarinís face flickered briefly across her thoughts, along with the Yrashu heíd called Trickster. "Well, if our paths ever cross Iíll have to thank her," she told him. "Your sauce was wonderful."

"Iím sure she would love to hear it if she were still alive."

"Iím sure she would."

It was unusual for her to pick up pieces of what Han was feeling through the Force, his casual sarcasm and ironclad ability to hide anything, even from her, just a few of the barriers she was used to. Nevertheless, there was definitely a terrible sense of grief beneath his words. For a heartbeat, she fought the impulse to go comment on it, opting to go with her instincts the next. "Sounds like she was very special to you?"

"Iím going to clean up," he said curtly, dropping her hair.

"But Han," she began.

"Leia, drop it!"

Stung, she jerked back before he snapped at her again. What just happened? The edge of his tone made her think twice about snapping back. I was just trying to be nice to him. Why does he have to act like such rotten jerk? Listening to him bang dishes in the kitchen, she glowered at his few belongings in the main room wondering which would annoy him most if she destroyed it. Jacket or shaving kit or his favorite shirt ...

There was little she knew about Han before their paths crossed, and the man certainly didnít volunteer much about his past. Other than sketchy references to his days in Imperial Service and smuggling tales, he was rather mysterious about it. Once heíd told her he had no parents, no long lost relatives who would leave him any money, and a cousin on Corellia he would kill on sight if they ever crossed paths again. Fortunately for the cousin, Han was an odd expatriot, devoutly Corellian to the core, so long as he and his home planet kept their distance from one another. Wild stories and exaggerated dogfights, outrunning Star Destroyers, the very frequent, Ďoh, Iíve been there,í when she mentioned worlds and out of the way star systems -- those were the only hints he dropped. Beyond that, his personal history was a closed topic.

She had a vivid memory of their first real quarrel after theyíd become lovers. Heíd told her that after he was nine or so, heíd split his time between his home planet and a starship, done a bit of touring on the galactic scene.

"Was it some sort of school?" sheíd asked innocently.

Han had responded with, "No Princess, some of us didnít grow up in palaces with servants waiting on us hand and foot." It was as though heíd been hydrostatic and suddenly gone combustible, launching into a condescending tirade that had all but named her a spoiled sheltered girl from a cosmopolitan society.

That night heíd stormed off for the first time. It had been awful. Though sheíd long forgiven him, she had not forgotten it, though she was supposed to forget. Heíd asked her to.

Noticing that sheíd unknowingly emptied her wine, she refilled it before Han returned from cleaning up. At the weight of his hand on her shoulder, she stiffened. "Donít."

"I didnít mean to snap at you," he said softly.

"Well it made me feel lousy."

"I know," he sighed, wrapping his arms around her anyway, vine-like muscles relaxed and powerful against her. "I donít want you to feel lousy. I want you to feel good. Talking about stuff like that makes me feel lousy."

Her anger melted only slightly. Guilt was something she was all too familiar with, prone to irrational reactions when people tried to make her feel better, but it didnít excuse lashing out at people. She resisted leaning back in his arms. "Then why do you act like that? It was one stupidly mundane question."

"Iím sorry," he started. "Itís just that ... I dunno ... she died and I donít like to remember it."

The well-intended response made her even angrier. As if heíd forgotten who he was speaking to. "And naturally I couldnít possibly understand what that feels like, right?"

"No ... " Han sounded sincerely repentant. "Iím sorry. I mean it. Letís let it go. Iím an idiot."

"Yes, you are." She was twenty paces beyond letting it go. She was angry with him for ruining the mood, ruining the peace between them; angry over the memory of a fight that had happened two years ago and all the ensuing ones that resembled it. She was angry with herself for allowing them to go this many days without talking about the past four months. She was furious because Han was obviously waiting for her to bring it up and that was so like him. The discussion was looming over their heads like a dark cloud. When he tried to hug her again she thrust his hands away and clambered from her seat. "Donít!"

"Now what did I do?"

"I donít feel like being pawed at right now. Thatís all youíve been doing and Iím sick of it."

"Fine."

She stepped up into the kitchen and hedged her way over to the counter. "Besides, we need to talk about how much longer we should wait for Luke or where to start looking for him."

"Ah ... well." He rubbed his chin. "How much longer do you think we should wait?"

"I donít know ... "

"We can give him a few more days."

"How many?"

He shrugged. "Three, four-"

"You just donít want to go look for him," she accused.

"Thatís not true." He ran a weary hand across his face. "Look, if youíre trying to pick a fight-"

"I didnít start this."

"I already told you I was sorry."

She shrugged and held her ground. "Maybe itís not good enough."

Hanís face darkened and the muscles at the corner of his mouth bunched together. "Leia, what do you want?" Then he groaned. "Whatever. We could never make it more than thirty hours without someone jumping all over someone. This is probably some sort of record."

"Iím not jumping all over you," she replied curtly. "Iím standing three meters away. And play-acting that weíre together doesnít count."

"What are you talking about?"

It began to seem blankly incomprehensible that she was picking a fight with him. She stared at the ceiling, smoke damaged from a few meals that had apparently gone past their time. For the first time since theyíd arrived at Tatooine, she allowed herself to remember the day she had discovered heíd left, the following weeks, months. The hurt of old wounds opening was poignant and deep. "I donít know."

"Then why did you say that?"

"Iím not the one who left us," was all that came out.

He let loose an exaggerated sigh. "Okay. You want to talk, letís talk."

"I donít get it," she said. "I know we used to fight, I know sometimes I have a hard time dealing with stuff-"

"Thatís not why I left," he interjected quickly. "It had nothing to do with that."

"But the night you left-"

He cut her off a second time. "You said so yourself a few days ago -- we needed some space from each other."

Only she wasnít at all sure that sheíd meant it. It had just slipped out, an extremely convenient synopsis mid-conversation. "How could you do it?"

"I thought I was doing the right thing."

"Well was it?"

He said, "I donít know," again.

Then it was all some sort of mistake? It had all been some terrible mistake -- some erroneous judgment on his part. When would it happen again? "I canít afford to do this if you donít know," she said quietly. "I canít."

Han swirled the contents of his glass, let them settle, swirled them again and watched. "Why is it that people always define leaving someone as physically going -- you hop on a transport, a starship, a cruiser, whatever. I never could follow that. Cause when it comes down to it, Sweetheart, thereís really more than one way to leave someone." She started to shake her head but he motioned for her to wait. "No. Donít. You just couldnít see it. You were already out the door."

"I didnít jump on my ship and take off."

Han locked his hazel eyes with hers. "Of course not," he reproved sharply. "Youíre much more sophisticated than that. Itís not your style. Youíd never stoop to doing something so blatantly obvious!"

"Thatís not true. Han I needed you."

"Gee, lady, when did you figure that out? Huh? Cause it sure wasnít before I left. You might be extremely talented at going through the motions, you might be a great diplomat but youíre a lousy liar."

Now she was baffled. "What are you talking about?"

"It is a lie when I ask you whatís wrong and you repeatedly tell me nothing. Itís a lie when you put on an act so I donít ask you at all. Gods forbid I knew you woke up crying half the time. And yes," he nodded, "now weíre venturing into that black hole stuffed with things you donít, wonít or canít talk about; that Iím supposed to pretend doesnít exist. Itís not a relationship when you decide you have to go through everything alone. Itís just sex." He tweaked his glass one last time, set it down and pushed himself up. "I spent enough years of my life playing that game."

Anger crackled through her like electricity. "Lucky for me you got that out of your system," she said sarcastically, gesturing to the scrim that divided the sleeping area from the main room. "Otherwise I might misinterpret whatís been going on here."

"If thatís all you think this is or ever was between us then you donít know me very well," he growled.

"Maybe I donít," she muttered. "Sometimes Iím not sure that I do. And if you really knew me you would have known how much that would hurt me."

"I know you. I did know how much it would hurt you."

His words hit her with the force of a physical blow. She felt as though heíd slapped her across the face. The words were spoken with such confidence and pride, no trace of penitence. "Youíre not sorry about it," she snorted derisively, watching his face closely. "Iíd swear you almost look proud of yourself. I canít believe you can stand there and act like hurting me is something youíre proud of."

"Leia, Iím not ..." he began weakly. "Itís just that no oneís going to win here. Not me, not you."

Suddenly she knew was going to say something horrible and unforgivable and was helpless to prevent it, heard herself speaking. "I guess weíre even then."

"Even?"

"Sure." It just came out, fueled by emotions. "You left knowing what it would do to me, huh? Well you know what? I couldnít imagine what would hurt you more, hurt Han Solo, than for me to go to bed with someone else." Hanís head snapped resolutely and she made sure to look him straight in the eye. "Arenít you even going to ask me how it was?" she said, trying to imitate the sultry voices and cool bravado of the women in second rate starports who called all men darling and promised never before discovered pleasures to any man with a hundred credits to burn. "I know itís killing you. Maybe I lied when I said it was only one time. Maybe the entire time you were gone-"

The wall above Benís ancient stove exploded in a storm of glass and green liquid. Tiny fragments glinted off the sleeve of her tunic, wine splattered across her cheek. She ducked her face to the side, shielded it with her shoulder and closed her eyes, waiting. There was nothing but the sound of the door slamming, and a moment later, the swoopís engine firing up.

Her heart was pounding faster than the wings of a flutter-moth. "Stang," she whispered to herself, not knowing who had just frightened her more, herself or him. There was a recklessness pulsating through her veins she only experienced in the heat of battle, only now it felt twisted, corkscrewed by anger and hurt, so far down everything seemed jumbled up and horrible, hopeless.

Leia, why did you do that? Why did you say that?

She followed him outside but by then he was so far away she couldnít even be sure which direction he had taken. There was a small measure of comfort to be found in the sight of the Falcon a short distance away.

At least heís not really gone, she thought. He has to come back.

Back inside she changed her tunic and washed her face, inspected her hair for shards of glass. Then she cleaned up all the broken pieces of the wineglass she could spy and began tackling the wall behind the stove.

Scrubbing viciously only lightened the stains and smeared them further and further around. Wine was one of those liquids that tended to stain easily, stain anything, and the coarse pale sandstone might have well as been a canvas for Hanís rage. At such close range, it had splattered outward beautifully. Twice spasming aches in her side forced her to catch her breath. She refused to cry.

Why did you say that?

Why didnít he have anything else to say
?

All he was doing was accusing her of walking out on their relationship, trying to equate a deliberate act with what, a mood? Maybe it was time she gave up expecting the two of them to find any common ground to make their relationship work accept that it was irremediable. A post mortem autopsy would yield the sort of findings the cynics and lonely hearted adhered to: See, this is one of those sad examples where two individuals loved each other and love failed to conquer all. It is a myth. All the people who said they werenít right for each other, that it would never last, they could cash in their bets and see how much theyíd won.

He still hadnít returned when she was conceding that the wall was permanently going to remind her of the noxious slime that had oozed off Jabba the Hutt. She grabbed a jacket and went outside to wait, grabbing the remainder of the Vintaarian wine purely as an afterthought. There she sagged under the weight of her own body and shivered in the frosty night air. Her only company burned down the back of her throat and warded off chill as effectively as the extra clothing.

She waited over an hour for him.

When Han finally did return, it was on foot, and she didnít hear him until he burst out of the shadows. "Youíre going to wind up with hypothermia if you stay out here all night. I can hear your teeth chattering a parsec away."

"Whereís the swoop?"

"You should get inside."

"Whereís the swoop?"

"Youíre cold."

"Iím not cold," she lied. "Go away."

"Yeah, right." He stooped down (she thought, oddly to kiss her, so she ducked her face away) and managed to flip her up and over his shoulder before she knew what was happening.

She flailed at the back of his thighs and tried to keep her hair from dragging, shouting at him to put her down. He did, inside Benís, dumping her unceremoniously headfirst onto the floor. She rolled into a sitting position and glowered at him. In the light, he didnít look as though heíd had an unpleasant collision with a rock or a cliffside. His hair was wild, and his cheeks were flushed from windburn. That was it. "Thanks a lot."

"Did you mean what you said before?"

"What about what you said? I expect something better than ĎI donít know,í and ĎIím not sure if it was the right thing to do or not.í"

His mouth pressed tight and his eyes flashed with an anger that promised more than threats. Like a predator trapping his prey, he interposed himself along the route back to the door lest she try to go back outside. "Thatís not what I asked you."

"Ooooh ... You canít bully me Han! Itís none of your business besides. Go find some other inanimate machine to have it out with. Tackle a moister vaporator for all I care." Feeling very undignified sprawled on the floor, she scrambled to her feet, surprised to find herself slightly unsteady. She gingerly picked her way over to the dinner table and immediately wished sheíd stayed on the floor: sitting on chairs involved motor control, or at least a functioning equilibrium. Carefully steepling her hands above her elbows to stay balanced, she centered her gaze on the wall straight ahead of her. "You were gone. You never messaged, not even once. Not to tell me when youíd be coming back. I had to find that out from Madine."

"Well neither did you."

"Then weíre even again."

Han gritted his teeth, then dropped the menacing posture. "Leia you would have told me to go eventually the way we were going. I thought ... I thought the only way we had a chance-"

"Was if you tried to control us, throw out ultimatums. ĎLeia, letís take a break or else Iím outta hereí. Thatís what you did!"

"It wasnít about control. I know you donít believe me -- or you donít want to believe me or see it but we were headed down a road I know too well. You started with your brother-"

"I did no such thing!"

"Yeah, you did. You cut him out of your life, bit by bit, granted he didnít do a hell of a lot to help but I watched it happen. I kept my mouth shut. And then those little signs started creeping their way into us."

"Or you imagined them," she fired back defensively. It didnít matter that she might have admitted as much about Luke. Her brother was different.

"You know what?"

"Whatís that?"

"I donít know how to fix this if all you want is apologies. I really, really donít. I thought we could just start from here, where we are. 122 days was a long time for us to be apart and I thought itíd been good these last few days ..."

He counted the days?

"So if Ďusí going anywhere rests on me saying Iím sorry a hundred times, well ..."

She watched him swallow, still thinking, 122 days ... he knows the days...

"Tell me now so we can end this here and now."

"No."

"No?"

I hate you I love you I hate you love you ... "It doesnít."

Han softened, his eyes warming. "Leia, believe me when I say I didnít want to hurt you. It would have been you sooner or later. I know what I saw coming-"

"And what precisely was that?"

"You, trying real hard to convince yourself you didnít need anyone. Now and again, you almost had me convinced. And I bet deep down inside you tell yourself you just donít trust me but itís not me you donít trust, Leia. I do know you. I know you better than your brother, twin bonds and all, better than anyone." With that he crossed the room to his satchel and withdrew a bottle of whiskey sheíd last seen in the Falconís galley, saying casually, before making himself at home on the floor, "You know youíre the third woman Iíve ever been in love with."

No preamble, no lead-in. "Uh huh," she mumbled, suddenly confused, at a loss as to where this was headed.

"Cheers." He took a long draught straight from the bottle and ahhed.

The Ďcheersí sounded woefully misplaced slam in the center of their quarrel. Three? A million questions screamed through her mind like panicked hawk-bats. "Are you drunk?" Han was asking, far away. Affronted, she carefully straightened her spine and paid extra attention to her diction. "Of course not," she replied, though the empty container outside was evidence enough to the contrary, and heíd probably seen it. "Iím perfectly sober. So what happened?"

"To what?"

"You said Iím the third woman youíve ever been in love with. What happened with them, the other two?"

"Iím a moody bastard. They couldnít take it after a while."

"I can certainly sympathize. That doesnít surprise me a bit."

"Well, I didnít think it would."

"Why really?"

"Why really what?"

"Did things end with them?"

He started shaking his head, then switched to a single nod. The single nod was punctuated by a long perusal of her person. Again, she was extra careful with her mannerisms, her hands, and her posture. At long last he said, "They had their own problems."

"They did?"

"Sure. One of them lost her entire family to the Empire -- husband, children. After that ..." He shrugged noncommittally, making it impossible for her to guess how many emotions had been invested in the particular relationship. "I guess she couldnít handle letting anyone get too close to her. We were together and eventually it became too much for her. Thatís when it was time for her to go."

"Were you with her for a long time?"

"Xaverri? Not more than a year."

Xaverri. The name branded itself to her memory like red-hot steel on bare flesh. She wondered if she would be overstepping her bounds if she pried more, then decided to heck with it. It was so seldom that Han opened up to her that she felt she had the right to pry away guiltlessly. If she hadnít earned that right by now, she never would. "And the other one?"

"I donít talk about the other one," he informed her.

She clamped her teeth down on the tip of her tongue, and then asked anyway, "Is she dead?"

"Sheís dead."

"Iím sorry."

Han lay on his back and folded his arms behind his head so that she couldnít see his expression. Despite his affirmation that he didnít talk about her, he kept going. "You wouldnít believe what people get into out there trying to make the universe make sense. Stupid, stupid ..." He sighed mournfully. "You name it, I think Iíve seen it."

"I believe you there." The Ďbelieveí was interspersed with a hiccup, but she managed to suck it in and keep the heaving of her body quiet. She doubted there was little he hadnít seen.

Han kept going. "She was fucked up because she was fine and she kept trying to convince herself she was still fucked up. She didnít believe me, she wouldnít have believed anyone." He did a half sit-up so that he could make eye contact. "When I saw her again she was working for the Rebellion, incidentally, running the Corellian underground. She wound up another Alliance martyr."

"She died working for us?"

"She died for what she believed in," he replied, with a definite air of finality. "Your organization didnít have a high survival rate in those days."

"No."

"Another statistic," he concluded.

One had lost everyone she cared about to the Empire; another had given her life for the Rebellion. Leia knew better than to ask more or why, though she felt more than a little uncomfortable by the similarities between both of these women, though they may have been solely surface comparisons. That didnít matter though. She didnít want to be like anyone else heíd ever cared about, though perhaps this sudden burst of honesty revealed more about Han than herself, in a roundabout sort of way. Her addled senses struggled to put everything in context. "So thatís your thing then?"

"Whatís my thing?"

"Youíre attracted to wounded women who are walking emotional disasters waiting to explode all over you, love being there to pick up the pieces when their lives go to blazes?"

He laughed and patted the floor beside him. "No, not at all. I like my women smart, beautiful, quick with a comeback, good to have at my side in a fight, tougher than neutronium."

She rolled her eyes. "No. Iím listening, not going over there. And I think that is your thing." It made her ... not jealous exactly but rather uncomfortable because she didnít know enough to know if she should be jealous or not. Han never gave her enough information. It wasnít a stretch to picture him with women dangling off his arms left, right and center and she was shrewd enough assume Ďwomen heíd been in love withí, and Ďwomen heíd been withí, were two entirely different categories. "What about the other ones?"

"What other ones?"

She raised an eyebrow. "Three?"

"Three?"

"Youíve only loved three women? What about the ones you didnít?"

"What about them?"

"Werenít any of them important to you?"

"Some of them, yes, most of them, no."

"How many women are we talking about?"

"A few."

"A few how many?"

"A few I canít even remember them all and why are you asking me this?" He caught the burgeoning incredulity on her face. "Oh, Sweetheart, sex happens when it happens. Itís a big universe and there are a lot of women out there. Sometimes I invested time and energy, other times I just went along for the ride. I never implied that I lived the way your brother does way back when."

"And does your Corellian-bred attitude to casual sex ring true only for men or do they have double standards a parsec wide?"

The tense, menacing glare returned. "Is whatís-his-name important to you?"

"Weíre not talking about me. Weíre talking about you."

"Oh, of course," he replied, his tone cold again. "But see youíre not Corellian, and Iíve never slept with anyone to purposely hurt anyone else."

Remorse washed over her. It wasnít true but it had been flung at him to purposely hurt him. She supposed saying it and not doing it should have spared her an iota of guilt but it felt the same. "I didnít mean it, what I said before."

Han exhibited no relief, but he said, flicking his hand carelessly in her direction without looking at her. "Good."

Leia had no idea if either of them was making headway, but at least their arguing had settled into a discussion of sorts, albeit a disturbing discussion. No one was throwing fifty credit glasses of wine and painting the walls a ghastly lime green. "I want to get this straight," she told him. "Youíre trying to enlighten me as to why you left and somehow itís come full circle to you having issues with women leaving you in the past."

Han looked at her as though sheíd lost her mind. "No."

"Then I must be hearing you wrong." She rubbed the side of her temple and squinted. The balance problem hadnít improved and paying careful attention to everything he kept telling her was taking most of her concentration.

"I know you wonder. I know I donít tell you much."

"Oh." So this was Hanís reaction to the after-dinner fiasco. It was recognition on his part. It was progress, although it was still akin to pulling out his toenails to get him to talk. That or it was a strategic topic change to get off his leaving and steer clear of the deep seeded part of her that wanted to hate him. She wanted to hate him. And to love him to pieces. It was hard to decide.

In return, Han patted the empty space beside him, and yet again, she shot him a look of placid indifference. "Youíre wrecking my floor party," he informed her sullenly, turning onto his side. He stretched and ran his fingers through his hair, scratched the side of his neck, gave the floor one more pat.

"Tell me something else," she suggested, trying relentlessly to sound casual. Any second now she half expected him to start crooning, "Come here, come here," in falsetto as though she were a lost pitten or equally easy-to-lure pet.

"Like what?"

"Anything. You pick."

Han deferred to the whiskeyís label as though it held a clue to his past and grinned magnificently. "I pulled in top scores in transfinite hyperspacial mathematics and the physics of astrogation at the Academy. Top one percent of my class."

Leia was dumbfounded. "On Carida?"

"On Carida," he reaffirmed. "Hey. You actually look impressed. Now that Iíve let you in on how much of a genius I actually am, please donít tell anyone in command when we get back."

She heard herself laugh in spite of herself and weakened slightly. As usual, Han was working at deflating the situation altogether. She wasnít ready to move past their argument but she no longer wanted to be angry with him and had a sudden craving to be nearer. "You look impressed enough with yourself for both of us."

"Now you have to come over here."

"Says who?"

"It was directly implied. I said, Ďcome over here,í you said, Ďtell me something else,í and I did. Now your end of the bargain is to accept my invitation." Han started laughing to himself. "And if you donít, Iím going to come after you and youíre not going to like that."

Leia knew he would. Additionally, she was starting to feel dehydrated from the wine, too weary to keep this up. Knowing she would regret this later, she gave in and went to curl on the floor beside him. Han pressed an initiative mouthful of whisky on her, and she took a deep breath before she let the rounded edge touch her lips, saying, "To those of us that died fighting for what we believed in."

Han caught her wrist tightly before she could drink. "Nah. Donít do that. Everyone dies sometime. Drink to those of us that actually lived."

"Okay, to those of us that made it," she assented, swallowing and waiting out sensation that her insides were burning through her ribcage. Then she replaced the cap, set it above their heads, and rested her head on her arm.

"I mean no one ever does it," Han added, quietly curiously. "Why do we always drink to dead people?"

The answer was lost in her perusal of the tiny holes freckling the front of his shirt, no doubt due to a piece of the Falconís equipment exploding. "So now what?" she asked him.

Han worked a hand beneath her tunic and began rubbing her back in circles. "You tell me."

"I hate fighting with you when itís like that."

"Then we should stop." He appeared to rethink that. "Then again ... You know when weíre old and grey and in the old spacerís retirement home someday, weíll probably be dreaming of our battles. Youíll miss them." The words sounded so nonchalant and natural coming out of his mouth. When weíre old and grey ... when weíre old and grey ... Not as though it might happen, but as though it would happen, as if he knew for sure. He eased a leg over hers as if to trap her. "The make-up sex is what Iím getting at," he explained.

She smiled and rested her chin on her elbow so that their faces were inches apart. "Who says Iím going to be in the old spacerís home with you? And weíre not made up; weíre just talking. Iím still listening to you."

For a moment they lay like that. Then he said, "Iím not going to let you get away so easily, whatever youíre thinking. Not ever."

Trying to clear her head with a few deep breaths, her gaze darted across his features in disbelief. "Look Han, thatís funny considering you-"

"Love you. I love you."

"You..." She closed her eyes and butted her head against his shoulder in frustration. Count on Han to be saying the right things when she least expected it. Count on Han to be as unpredictable as his shipís hyperdrive. She gave up. Han started to pull her on top of him with the room going all topsy-turvy and she heard herself saying, "I love you, too."


To Chapter Twelve | To Chapter Fourteen

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