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Making Choices

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Changing into the dress was a last-minute decision. She needed a boost of confidence and the green dress was added armor. Leia moved quickly through the halls, hoping she maintained a stride full of purpose rather than the nervous excitement she felt.

Han and Chewie were only supposed to be gone for a few days but were pulled into a rescue mission on Kochi. A Rebel cell was discovered and Imperial troops had captured or killed most of the members. The Falcon was in a nearby system when the emergency signal went out so they responded. And then the Alliance had days—almost an entire week—with no word.

Leia was in her morning meeting when General Madine reported the Falcon and the remaining cell members arrived safely. Some injuries on board but all-in-all a successful extraction. She broke into a smile then quickly put her game face back on. She let the others discuss the logistics of integrating the new Alliance members while she planned her quick exit.

They had argued before Han left, though she couldn’t remember exactly why. Well, she knew why. She got nervous when he went on runs into Imperial strongholds and she didn’t feel comfortable telling him she worried. So, she yelled at him. She suspected that part of him wanted to say he would miss her but yelled back instead. It was a part of their routine.

In the two years they’d know each other, this routine evolved from cautious colleagues to trusted friends. In that mix, there was bickering, all out arguments and, occasionally, a hurtful phrase thrown around. They were both stubborn and opinionated and neither one was likely to back down when challenged. It was both their fuel and their downfall.

He infuriated her with his casual, cynical responses to genuine concerns. He accused her of fighting a fool’s war. Not seeing that most of the galaxy was concerned about surviving the day not who was in power. Claimed he was always just about to leave. Said his main concern was money not conviction. She only believed him some of the time but he irritated her every time he said it.

But, in truth, that was only a portion of their relationship and much less than most people thought. They also spend long hours talking on the Falcon, somewhere quiet on base or on missions. Leia felt comfortable telling him things she wouldn’t say to anyone else. Han revealed very little about himself and she knew he would keep her secrets safe, too. He distracted her from her stress, anxiety. Made her laugh. Gave her space to feel like Leia and not princess, leader, martyr.

At some point, though Leia couldn’t say exactly when, physicality became a part of their routine. Sometimes, they held hands, loosely lacing their fingers together. He ran a finger along her hairline, tucking in loose strands, playing with the end of a braid while she talked. But inevitably, as soon as she felt they were getting too close, she pulled back. Shifted positions in her seat. Made him understand they’d hit her limit. Every once in a while, he would respond with a whispered, ‘C’mon, Leia’ but she always turned away.

It wasn’t that she didn’t want to. She did. But she held herself back for reasons that always seemed valid in the moment. And in that moment, as she made her way to the hanger, Leia decided she didn’t want to hold herself back anymore.

Of course, she still had no idea what to do next. She had some experience with men but not a lot and she hated thinking of herself as an innocent. She didn’t like displaying the vulnerability that came with being new to something. Leia straightened her shoulders and took a deep breath. She’d walked into the unknown before and survived. She’d just have to trust this time would be the same.

The hanger was its usual buzz of mid-morning activity. Mechanics and pilots working on ships. Supplies and cargos arriving and departing. There was a small group gathered by the Millennium Falcon’s ramp with Han leaning against the support struts. He was laughing at someone’s story, his left hand wrapped in a bandage resting on his stomach.

Leia paused for a moment and smoothed the lines of her dress. She had hurried back to her quarters to change because he had once said he liked the dress. He liked the colour on her. She was a bit self-conscious by how form fitting it was but took a deep breath, reminding herself that looking special was the point, and moved toward the Falcon.

When they received no word on the rescue mission, days of checking for messages and communiques, Leia surprised herself. She thought she had successfully pushed aside personal concerns. She worried about every member of the Rebel Alliance, regardless of rank, on the same level. She was responsible for all their lives and one was not worth more than another. Of course, Luke and Han were friends, close friends, but they didn’t hold a higher position when it came to safety and survival. Losing Alderaan stripped her of the luxury of truly close relationships. To stay strong, determined, she needed everything and everyone kept at equal distance.

But she was lying to herself. She mourned for the Rebels killed or captured by the Imperials on Kochi, she worried about the remaining cell members. It ate her up that the rescue attempt may have failed and there may be more deaths. But she was consumed by Han’s fate.

Her energy, anxiety, was almost entirely focused on him. It was more than wanting him to be safe. She needed him to be safe. Leia barely slept, frantically going over their times together, berating herself for fighting with him. She should have kissed him when she had the chance. She should have taken a chance period. When Madine said the Falcon was back on base, Leia knew what she needed to do.

As soon as Han saw her approach, he smiled and her heart skipped a beat. Leia kept a steady pace and locked eyes with him as he left the group and walked toward her. She noticed he walked with a slight limp.

“Good to have you back, Captain.” She immediately felt awkward. She knew how to be authoritative, keep everyone at a comfortable distance. She also knew it was possible to feel perfectly relaxed and comfortable around him.

But she was suddenly worried this was a manufactured moment. Was this what someone did when they were interested in someone? Put on a bit of a show? She wanted to present herself as open and inviting but maintain a secure position as she gauged his reactions. How does one present themselves as casually optimistic?

She nodded to the bandage. “What happened?”

He flashed a quick, cock-sure grin. “You know. The usual.”

He looked like he’d just stepped out of bed, his hair sticking out in all directions, eyes red from exhaustion. She assumed there was much more to the story.

“Well, I suppose I can wait to read the report for the full story.”

“Ah, Princess. You know I save all the best parts for private conversations.”

Leia laughed and felt her body relax. This was familiar territory and one she could navigate. One she hoped she hadn’t misinterpreted.

He was a flirt. He liked to drop innuendos, lewd comments, anything that would make her blush. But that, in itself, didn’t mean he had any interest in her beyond someone to torment. It was the way he sought her out in a crowded room, made sure she knew he was there, that he saw her. How they could argue about every small detail on a mission but trust each other, know the other would always be exactly where they needed them, without saying a word.

It was the quiet times that made her think there was more. He brought back small tokens for her on his runs. He acted like it wasn’t a big thing or that he would do it for anyone but she knew that wasn’t true. He remembered her birthday, the anniversary of Alderaan’s destruction, her favorite candy and tea, a book she loved as a child, that she got cold on late night shifts and could use a small blanket.

The risk was not knowing if he wanted this to be anything more. Leia took a quick breath. If she was going to do this then she should do it. “I’m late, need to get back to command center, but maybe you could fill…”

She was interrupted by a pilot—someone Leia didn’t know—clapping Han on the back.

“Look who finally crawled out of their cabin!” The pilot laughed while Han smirked and gave a small shrug. “Weren’t feeling too social last night?”

“Something like that.” He dropped the smirk, looking like he was trying to avoid the subject.

“Or just keeping your party small?” The pilot slapped him on the shoulder again and winked at Leia. “Apparently this guy doesn’t waste any time. Disappeared almost as soon as we landed.”

Leia knew her face fell in that moment, knew the color suddenly drained. Han turned to her quickly as the pilot walked away but she couldn’t look at him.

She needed to compose herself, quickly straighten herself out. She could do it. This is what she did. How she survived. They called her the Ice Princess for a reason. Stand straight, focus, don’t let emotions get in the way. Push them down, put on the mask. She hadn’t risked too much. Maybe he didn’t notice the dress, her smile, the expectant eyes. Leia took a quick step back, putting more space between her and Han, and looked up.

In reality, only a second or two had passed. He was watching her, gauging her reaction. At first, she thought he looked worried but she was wrong. Why would he be worried? He didn’t have a care in the world, certainly not about her. She was wrong. Wrong about the whole thing. She couldn’t look at him, not for long. Her eyes kept darting away.

“You got back last night.” Her voice was flat, unemotional, but she knew colour was rising in her cheeks, on her neck, despite her best efforts.

She was stating a fact. He arrived the night before. He didn’t come to see her. Didn’t let her know. No one let her know. Why should they? She didn’t fit into this scenario. Didn’t matter to Han. Definitely didn’t fit into this group of laughing pilots and mechanics. She was the princess, high command, a boss.

“You’ve been back for some time and were busy. Entertaining.” She realized she was saying things out loud so she could remind herself. Center herself in this truth.

He reached a hand toward her but she took another quick step back and smoothed out her skirt again.

“I’m glad you and Chewbacca arrived safely. I’ll have C-3PO come by later for the supply manifest so I can review it.”

Then she turned and walked off as quickly, without looking like she was trying to walk quickly, as possible. She thought she heard him call her name but it was difficult to hear over the blood rushing in her ears.

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As soon as he saw her in that dress, Han’s mind started the mental gymnastics. She knew he liked that dress, right? Did she wear it for him? She didn’t always wear military garb and he didn’t know who she was meeting with that day. Sometimes she needed to look more diplomat-like. But then she smiled and he knew it was all for him.

He was still a bit groggy from the med center and pain killers but felt a quick rush of excitement. He smiled at her, moved closer. Everyone around them was loud and wrapped up in their conversation so maybe they could talk without anyone listening in. Han knew it was better with Leia if she didn’t feel so observed.

But then Tucker had to be a jokester. They didn’t know what they were talking about, thought they were ribbing him, giving him a hard time. If Han had noticed Leia’s reaction sooner, he should have shut Tucker down, straightened things out. But he was in a good mood. They’d made it through another hair-raiser of an escape with no serious injuries or damages to his ship. Everyone on base seemed fired up and cheery. Leia came down to meet him wearing the green dress he liked and smiling. So, he laughed it off and then it was too late.

He saw Leia’s face fall. Saw the curtain drop. He was used to watching her back pedal, reset herself if she thought they were getting too close. He knew what that looked like. But this was something else. It wasn’t Leia denying something, not taking something for herself. It was disappointment. Profound disappointment. A door slamming shut.

Han followed her out of the hanger but he was moving slowly. His leg wasn’t hurting too much thanks to the meds but there was still a limp. He almost ran into Luke as he entered the corridor.

“Hey!” Luke took Han by the shoulders to avoid being knocked over. “Hear you got a bit banged up.”

“I’m fine.” His words came out more as a grunt. “Did you see Leia?”

“She also almost took me out. Is she okay? She looked upset.” Luke was suspicious. He guessed the two of them were fighting but Leia looked worse than usual. And Han didn’t usually race after her.

“Did you see where she went?”

“Said she was late for a meeting.”

Han gave a quick nod and turned toward the command center.

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Leia was almost at her meeting when she decided to change her outfit again. The dress was a painful reminder of her foolish behaviour. She didn’t want to spend another minute thinking about Han or that she had, even for a moment, thought there was anything more between them. Not only had he arrived the night before and not contacted her, that pilot insinuated someone, probably one of the rebels from Kochi, was in his bunk. Why did she even give herself a moment of hope? How could she have been so stupid?

She hated feeling this way. Hated feeling vulnerable. Hated that she let her guard down. Hated that she wanted anything more with him. Hated wondering who was in his bunk. Hated feeling jealous and unwanted. What was wrong with her? She didn’t do this kind of thing.

She tried dating a few times on Alderaan and Coruscant but it always ended the same way. They all seemed to like the idea of dating the princess but disappointed when they discovered Leia. Even if she wasn’t taking it particularly seriously, she had to listen to the same speech over and over. She was always running at the wrong temperature, the wrong speed. She was too cold, too distant. Too intense, too serious. More than once she was told she was an aggressive kisser. She took control too easily. One told her that he could feel her teeth when she nibbled at his earlobe and she asked, without much mirth, “Wasn’t that the damn point?”

The speech was never a surprise. She saw their reactions whenever she refused to back down from an argument or insisted on correcting some fact. She had no time for people who wanted to explain how the Senate worked or what she should do when negotiating a deal. It also probably didn’t help that she also had opinions about speeders and blasters and combat training.

As she quickly made her way to her quarters to change out of this ridiculous dress that she spent far too much time primping in, checking lines in the mirror, adjusting it on her body to, she hoped, look her best, she hated that Han wasn’t intimidated by her intelligence and opinions. He encouraged the fight. He enjoyed the argument as much as she did. He wouldn’t admit when she was right (the same as she wouldn’t admit when the situation was reversed) but he would acquiesce and move forward. She hated that she liked that about him. She hated that it felt right and comfortable. She was an idiot for thinking it meant anything more than colleagues working well together.

The corridor leading to her quarters was crowded. Certainly far more people that she cared to encounter and she didn’t feel like going through the motions of even nodding hello. So, she veered once again.

xxxxxxxxxx

Leia wasn’t in the command center so Han started looking in meeting rooms. He palmed open a door, did a quick check of all the faces turned toward the interruption, clearly annoyed but not surprised by the brash Corellian, and moved to the next one. He was just about through all of them when he found C-3PO.

“Princess Leia was expected at a meeting with General Riekaan and Colonel Trenoke but she sent her regrets.” The protocol droid appeared put out by Leia’s change in plans and Han’s question. “She said ‘something else came up’ but I am well aware of her schedule and have no knowledge of any new activity.”

Han didn’t even know Leia knew the term ‘sending regrets’ since she never said no to anything the Rebellion suggested. If she was happy, she worked. If she was upset, she worked. What did Leia do if she said no to work? Where would she go?

The night before he left, they fought about her overworking. Well, actually, she yelled about his inability to take anything seriously and he yelled back about her refusal to have any fun. He was worried that she would make herself sick when he wasn’t around to distract her, make her eat meals, or that she wouldn’t stop for any meals period. It’s what he tried to say to her but he somehow ended up telling her she had a stick up her ass.

He regretted it immediately. She wasn’t particularly upset that he said it, at least not more upset than before he did, but he wanted to take it back. He was honestly trying to end their evening on a good note. Tell her he would miss her. But the more even he kept his voice, attempting to be smooth and calming, the angrier she became. Speaking in a low rumble, dropping to a baritone, usually worked with women. Leia, however, responded like he was reciting an Imperial creed. He was suddenly glad she didn’t wear a blaster while on base.

“Comm me if you hear from her.” He shouted to Threepio over his shoulder and headed toward the officer quarters.

Her cabin seemed like the next best bet but there was no answer. He knocked louder, tried not to shout so people in the corridor noticed.

“Leia, open the door. Just talk to me for a sec.” Still no response. “Look, I’m gonna pop this lock so if you’re in there and you don’t want the lock popped you need to speak up.”

He pulled out his multi-tool and was poised to make a swift and easy turn to unlock the door when he reconsidered his actions. Whether she was inside or not, Leia likely wouldn’t be pleased to hear he entered her quarters without permission. Though maybe he should remind her how easy it was to break in.

Now he was stumped. It wasn’t a very big base and there weren’t many other places she could go. She wasn’t with Luke. She often hid out on the Falcon when she wanted quiet but that wasn’t likely this time. She didn’t have other friends to visit (which made him upset for other reasons). He needed to think of some place that didn’t have a lot of foot traffic and probably some cubby she could hide in.

He smiled to himself and headed back down the corridor the way he came.