Han Solo was plainly sleeping.
It wasn’t exactly that Leia begrudged him this. He was tired from his mission to Kelada, tired from the welcome party the Rogues had thrown last night when he returned, and more tired still from the smaller, more private welcome party Leia had thrown for him back at their apartment. She didn’t think Han had minded any of that very much, but she did feel a pang of guilt over the part she’d played in the fact that he was now plainly sleeping, and General Dodonna was asking for his opinion on the allocation of resources along the Rimma Trade Route.
She gave him a discreet nudge, and then a less discreet one.
With a sharp inhale of breath, Han jerked upright, hair sticking up on one side where he’d been leaning his head against his palm. ‘Huh? What?’
‘Would you like me to repeat myself, General?’ Dodonna asked. His tone was polite, but it was clear he felt he had Han backed into a corner, and Leia had to agree.
Han frowned, expression nonplussed. ‘Well, yeah. I was asleep for at least a minute there.’
Which, Leia supposed, was one way of getting around it.
‘What was I supposed to do?’ Han asked her afterward when she chided him for his admission.
They walked down the corridors of the Senate Building, finally done for the day, her hand wrapped tight around his. It was still strange to walk these halls again, in a way that was sometimes good, sometimes bad, and always made her feel an urgent need to anchor herself.
‘Lie?’ she suggested.
‘And say I wasn’t asleep?’ He squeezed her hand. ‘He was looking straight at me. Would’ve been insulting to his intelligence, don’t you think?’
‘I imagine sleeping through his meeting already had you well covered on the insulting front.’
‘Yeah, well, he should make his meetings more interesting,’ he said, as they emerged into the bright Coruscant sunlight and headed toward the speeder lot.
‘I really don’t think you can lay the blame with Jan.’
‘It’s his meeting,’ Han said. ‘It’s his job to make it entertaining.’
‘You’re an adult,’ she reminded him. ‘Are you expecting General Dodonna to convey information through the medium of… puppetry, perhaps? Or interpretive dance?’
‘I think I’d pay a lotta credits to see that.’
‘So would I,’ Leia admitted. ‘Still, it couldn’t hurt to get to bed early tonight.’
At their parked speeder, Han turned to grin at her. ‘Got ways of making that more interesting, too.’
Leia glanced down at the message on her datapad, then at Han where he sat at the other end of the table. His distaste for this meeting and for the person running it was clear. He slouched, arms folded, barely even looking up at the Vice President of the Salliche Ag Corporation. But Leia thought she caught a skeptical furrow of his brow, a derisive curl of his lips, that suggested he was listening.
She sent him a reply, just in case. Pay attention.
Everything the Vice President had to say was interesting, though not in the way he believed it to be, and only if you could see through the kind of posturing she’d become used to from formerly Imperial-aligned organizations. She understood that the New Republic’s fledgling government might need to forge uneasy alliances, and knew Han did too, no matter how much he might complain. But Han was less willing than Leia to hide his utter contempt for an agricultural conglomerate that had wielded like a weapon a resource so basic and necessary as food.
Someone else would have to handle the diplomacy part, but Han was well equipped to gauge just how full of it Salliche Ag was, and had agreed to sit in on this meeting with a sort of gleeful fury.
I’m paying attention. He’s lying. Dinner later?
She glanced at him again, finding him already watching her. She made sure he saw her roll her eyes before she sent her response. Fine.
This turned out to be a less sound strategy for shutting down further conversation than she’d anticipated. Han had thoughts about the conditions of the meeting room (too warm), how long it would go on for (too long), and the Vice President’s mustache (unrepeatable, but the gist was “ill-advised”).
‘And you didn’t proposition me even once,’ she said later, over her bowl of charbote fries. In truth, she was a little put out by that. If he insisted on distracting her with irrelevant messages, he could have made them a lot more exciting.
‘Not with that clown in the room; it would’ve been weird.’ Han reached for her fries.
She batted his hand away, tongue darting out at him. ‘Get your own.’
‘’Sides, I was concentrating,’ he said, hand still hovering. ‘No point sending you anything sexy if it’s half-assed.’
Leia’s eyebrows shot up. ‘You were concentrating?’
‘Yeah.’ He eyed the fries, clearly plotting his next attack.
‘Could’ve fooled me.’
‘Reckon I fooled him too,’ he said carelessly.
She narrowed her eyes, trying not to smile. ‘Han Solo. You wily so-and-so.’
‘Share your fries; I’ll share my notes,’ he suggested.
‘They really will bring you your own,’ she said, but pushed the bowl toward him.
Leia was quite seriously contemplating the possibility that this meeting could be an attempt to take out the entire New Republic leadership in one fell swoop.
Not by way of assassination, though if one could die of boredom she was in some danger. But it was possible that after several hours of attempting to address the concerns of the indecisive, ponderous delegation from Pirin—a planet whose strategic significance Leia was starting to forget—everyone would just give up and let the warlords get on with it.
She’d feel bad for even having the thought, but it was apparent that everyone else felt much the same. The delegation had insisted everyone, from the Chief of State on down, be present, ‘To make sure we’re all reading off the same flimsi,’ they’d explained, which suggested that everyone in the room would find some part of the meeting at least vaguely relevant.
The conversation meandered around to the use of the space just outside Pirin’s atmosphere.
‘We did clear that up half an hour ago,’ Mon Mothma said, through gritted teeth and with none of her usual tact.
Maybe, Leia thought, she could be called away for something. Or pretend she had another meeting. They had been at this for a while now; it was plausible that somewhere on her schedule she had something else, something that was useful and didn’t make her want to gnaw her own arm off.
‘Excuse me, General,’ said Admiral Ackbar, cutting into her reverie. ‘Where are you going?’
‘Ah, ship emergency,’ said the general in question, jerking a thumb over his shoulder toward the door he’d been about to head out of.
Ackbar glared at him. ‘I think we should all stay put, General Solo. Out of respect for the delegates.’
Leia turned to give Han a steely look. Don’t you dare.
‘Mm,’ Han said, nodding thoughtfully in response to Ackbar’s suggestion. ‘I see what you’re saying.’
The rest of the room perhaps expected him to expand on that a little, and so no one protested further when Han turned and walked out.
The Pirini First Minister coughed. ‘Should I continue?’
‘I should make sure everything’s okay,’ Leia said brightly, jumping to her feet and stuffing her things into her bag. ‘I think you have this covered without me.’
‘Princess Leia, I must object—’ Mon began, but Leia, too, was out the door before she could protest further.
‘Hey!’ she called, after Han’s retreating back.
He wheeled around to look at her. ‘You got out too, huh?’
‘“Ship emergency”?’ she asked, striding up the corridor to catch up to him. ‘That’s the weakest excuse I’ve ever heard.’
‘It’s not an excuse; it’s real!’
‘Oh, really?’ She stopped in front of him, planting her hands on her hips. ‘How did you hear about it?’
‘Chewie,’ he said, not missing a beat.
‘Chewie’s on Kashyyyk.’
He shrugged. ‘Luke, then.’
‘You can’t just—!’ She broke off and lowered her voice; sound carried in these corridors. ‘You can’t just make up an emergency!’
‘Why not?’ he demanded.
‘Because,’ she hissed, ‘I was about to do that!’
‘And I have to sit in on far more dull meetings than you do,’ she said, ignoring the triumphant expression on his face, ‘so it’s only fair—’
‘Hey, if you’d’ve been faster—’
‘It’s only fair,’ she insisted, ‘that I should get to leave this one.’
‘You have left,’ he pointed out.
‘I wanted to leave first,’ Leia said.
Her tone was petulant enough to make Han laugh. ‘Sorry, sweetheart.’ He took a couple of casual steps back from her so he could lounge against the wall. ‘Well, so. You wanna go back in there, or you wanna go hole up on the Falcon for the rest of the afternoon and face Mon’s wrath tomorrow?’
‘Mon is rarely wrathful,’ she said.
‘Easy decision, then.’ Han held his hand out to her.
Leia took it.
‘I don’t wanna do this,’ Han announced.
‘Yes, you’ve said.’ Sitting on her desk, Leia swung her legs back and forth, watching Han as he paced across the floor of her office. There was barely a patch of her thick carpet left unmarked by his footprints. ‘Why don’t you go through what you’re going to say?’
With a huff, Han completed a length of the office and turned back again. ‘I don’t want to say anything.’
She closed her eyes, pinching the bridge of her nose. ‘I know.’
She was really trying to be patient. Han’s debriefs usually flew through the salient points, and it often seemed as though New Republic High Command would rather not hear about some of his less orthodox maneuvers. The debrief for his latest mission, though, would be much more in-depth, in front of far more people, and if Leia didn’t know any better, she’d say he was nervous.
‘You know you’re not in any kind of trouble,’ she said.
‘I know I’m not,’ he said impatiently. ‘Mission went off without a hitch; why would I be in trouble?’
She dug her nails against the edge of her desk. ‘Yes, that’s what I’m saying,’ she said, measured. ‘It’s just that Abregado-rae was an important mission.’
‘I know it was important,’ Han snapped. He stomped the whole way back across the room before he continued: ‘I was there. Matter of fact, I should think all of ’em are pretty damn important—’
‘I wasn’t saying they weren’t,’ she said coolly, ‘and I’m offering to help you, so maybe you could not take whatever this is out on me?’
He had the good grace to look abashed, hovering close to the door. ‘Sorry.’
‘Your apology is accepted,’ Leia told him. She folded her hands in her lap. ‘Now, why don’t you go through what you’re going to say?’
Now he looked at the door as though tempted to flee through it. Wouldn’t be the first time. ‘Technically I’m not supposed to tell you, Princess.’
‘That’s a nice stalling tactic, but you’ve already told me everything about that mission,’ she reminded him. Inspired, she added, ‘You see, you’ve told it once. You can tell it again. But possibly with less cursing.’
He gave her a weak smile. ‘You don’t think the cursing makes it sound more interesting?’
‘Is that what you’re worried about?’ she asked. ‘That it won’t be interesting?’
‘I’m not—’ he started. He blew out a breath and came closer to her. ‘I mean, you gotta wonder how I’m gonna hold their attention for three hours.’
‘A nice, colorful presentation, perhaps,’ she suggested. ‘Maybe with some wipe transitions.’
He looked down at her, wrinkling his nose. ‘Wipe transitions, really?’
‘It would be a fun quirk,’ she said, shrugging. She smiled up at him. ‘You know you hold people’s attention just fine.’
‘Ah.’ He sighed, drawing closer still, and Leia found herself, as she often did when she felt Han was on the verge of revealing some new part of himself to her, holding her breath.
‘It’s not that,’ he said eventually. ‘Not really. Guess it all just feels—I dunno. More formal than I’m used to. It ain’t really my thing. Makes this all feel…’
‘Very real,’ she suggested softly.
‘Yeah.’ He seemed to relax for a moment, and then stiffened, eyes snapping to meet hers. ‘Not that I have a problem with it, mind. Being… an upstanding citizen and all. It’s just—’
‘I get it,’ she said. ‘It’s a big change.’
‘I’m sorry for—’ He waved a hand. ‘Before. I know you’re trying to help. I think I’m just gonna—go in there and answer their questions tomorrow as well as I can.’
‘That’s all anyone expects, you know,’ she said gently. She considered him for a moment. ‘If you want, we can stop talking about it.’
He stepped close to her, placing his hands either side of her hips. ‘I think I’d like that.’
Leia tilted her head up to kiss him, felt tension leaching out of him as she ran her hands up and down his braced arms.
‘You know,’ she confided, drawing back, ‘I used to get nervous before meetings. Do you want to know a trick?’
‘Picture everyone naked.’
Han looked at her, mouth agape, for a brief second before recovering himself. ‘Well,’ he said. ‘We’re in a meeting right now, Your Highness. Wanna show me how that might look?’
She put her arms around his neck. ‘With pleasure.’