By Kathryn Olsen

"Let me see that."

Leia winced as the damp cloth encountered a laceration just below her eye. "That hurts,"
she protested.

Han Solo looked as though he were fighting a losing battle with a grin. "I know," he
soothed. "But the bacta gel won't hold unless I get this cleaned."

She sighed and bit her lip, trying to think of anything but the pain. "I can't believe
this happened to me."

"All missions have a danger factor..."

"No." She sighed. "He took me down with a single blow to the side of the knee. I'd
thought my defenses were better than that."

Han shook his head. "You weren't supposed to be on the defense. Bay 197 hasn't been
used in thirty years."

She shrugged. "Why not?"

He broke open the bacta pack and began gently applying the gel to her numerous lacerations.
The gash on the back of her head would have to wait until they got to a more well-equipped base.

"Some people think it's haunted; others say it's privately owned by one of the Hutt
syndicates. I just think it's kind of been forgotten."

He removed a vial of pills from the medpack and handed two of the painkillers to her.
"Those should let you sleep."

She downed them, then grimaced. "I hope they take effect fast. Walking on a dislocated
knee doesn't help the pain much."

He stood and began repacking the medkit. "I can't imagine it does. Those typically
take effect in ninety seconds."

"Thank the Force for modern pharmeceuticals," she said with a strained smile.

He shoved her down gently. "Sleep. That's an order."

She settled into the pillow and sighed. "Who was that?"

"Boba Fett. He comes from a long line of bounty hunters and warriors. It's rumored
that he was one of the first clones and he's the best the scum of the universe have to offer.
If he is the one hunting either of us, it's not a good sign."

She raised an arm to touch the cut under her eye. "I don't know about you, but I don't
think being beaten into a stupor is ever a good sign."

Han laughed. "True." He squeezed her fingertips gently. "I'll let you sleep now."

Halfway to the door, her voice halted him. "Han?"

He turned. "Yes, Leia?"

Her brow furrowed in a mixture of regret and consternation. "I'm sorry for failing
you," she said softly.

*Oh, Sith,* he thought. *She's blaming herself for this whole mess.*

He folded his arms. "Your Highnessness, you have the extraordinarily bad habit of blaming
anything which happens within the Galaxy proper on yourself."

"I was weak," she countered. "I should have been able to warn you."

"There are a lot of things in this Rebellion that should have been. None of them are
entirely anyone's fault. We can't change anything by beating ourselves over the head with
nightmares of what could have been."

She couldn't help smiling. "Leave it to you to absolve yourself of any guilt."

He resumed his seat. "Let me ask you something. Does this self-flagellation make you
feel better? Does it change anything or bring back the dead? Does it serve anyone at all?"

She frowned. "No," she admitted.

"The blame is not yours to place or accept. You think you have wronged me, but I refuse
to hold you responsible because you did nothing wrong. So don't blame yourself because you
don't have the right."

She threw a weak salute. "Yes, sir."

He grinned. "I'll leave you to your dreams now. May they be sweet."
* * *
Leia awoke to find a Too-OneBee droid removing bandaging from her face. Luke hovered
nearby, a concerned look on his face.

"I will live, you know," she said lightly.

His face broke into a sheepish grin. "General Rieekan wasn't too happy when Han brought
you back unconscious."

Leia rolled her eyes. "Rieekan is the closest thing to a father figure I have left.
He's a bit overprotective."

"As are we all."

"How long have I been out?"

"Well, you arrived here four days ago."

She touched the healed skin gingerly. "Any scarring?"

"Luckily, no." He stood. "We're all quite impressed with your brilliant negotiation

She smiled. "I imagine High Command is as ecstatic as antiquated statesmen get."

"Who are you calling antiquated?"

Leia blushed fiercely as Rieekan entered, a paternal scowl on his face. Leia held out
a hand and he took it. "Well, General, you have your defenses."

He kissed her cheek. "I can't believe you got them for that price. It's the best deal
in the history of the Rebellion."

She batted her eyelashes in mock innocence. "Well, no telling what a beautiful princess
can come up with."

"Indeed," he said with a smile.

He turned to Luke. "Commander Skywalker, I believe you and Captain Solo have duty patrol
in a few minutes?"

Luke nodded and embraced Leia quickly. "I'll see you tonight?"

She nodded. "I'll contact you."

Rieekan helped her to her feet. She tested her leg and found it a bit sore, but otherwise
fully healed.

He tossed her the snowsuit she was fond of wearing in this climate. "Sorry, but I don't
think you would be very suitably dressed in your...costume."

She blushed. "I can't imagine what people thought when I returned from a mission dressed
like a spacer and knocked out cold."

"You can be assured the rumors flew with their usual peak efficiency." He gestured towards
a door. "If you'll get changed, I'd like to show you where your efforts went to work."

Leia disappeared into the refresher. Five minutes later, she emerged, braiding her hair
around her head. "Let's go survey the damage."
* * *
"Well, Her Worship is finally up and around."

Leia looked up to see Han standing on top of the *Falcon.* "Couldn't let you see me
rest," she countered. "Bad for my image."

"I wouldn't be too concerned about that."

She folded her arms. "I never got to thank you for what you did."

"My pleasure," Han commented. "You up for another round of repairs?"

She shook her head. "Rieekan's called a morale leave. Tonight, rotating skeleton
crews for all stations. He's ordered everyone not on duty to find a way to enjoy themselves."

Han's mouth twitched. "It's an admirable idea."

She nodded. "After what happened at Derra IV and the problems we had when we first got
to base, everyone's in low spirits."

He nodded. "What are you planning to do?"

She smiled slightly. "I'm sure I'll find something to entertain myself. As for you,
I came by to let you know that there's a sabacc tournament in the works, courtesy of the South
officer's mess. Thought you might want to get that money you're always asking for through legitimate

Han laughed and vaulted down. He landed with a soft thud, then straightened. "I thank
you for the advisory." He offered an arm. "Would you escort me to the premises?"

She smiled and took the arm. "Certainly."

Rieekan looked up as they entered. "Come to lose a week's wages, are you?"

Han took a seat next to a stony-faced Flight Officer from Corsair Squadron and folded
his hands. "If you ever paid me wages, perhaps."

"Rumors are spreading, naturally," Leia said. "We should have half the base here by
the time we're finished with the first hand."

"Then let's get it started. Anty up."
* * *
Luke surveyed his hand and tossed it down. "I fold."

Leia sent him a smile. "For a hero of the Rebellion, you have no courage."

Luke scowled. "As Han would undoubtedly like to know, courage does not always involve

Han threw a vweliu nut at him. "Hold your tongue, farmboy."

Leia held up a hand. "So, call it. Who's the victor here?"

Han threw down his cards. "Twenty-two light."

"Impressive," Rieekan said wryly. "But I don't think that beats a dark sabacc."

He leaned forward to gather the credits in the middle of the table, but Leia rested
her hand on top of it. "Aren't you interested in what I have?"

Rieekan narrowed his eyes. "All right, Princess, call it."

She smirked. "It's an appropriate choice for this group." She spread her cards and
sent him her most charming smile. "Idiot's array."

Han groaned. "Go figure."

Leia swept the credits into her small satchel and stood. "I think I'll stop there while
I still have the credits to do so of my own free will."

She stepped back to let someone else join the game. Luke joined her moments later.
"Your compassion is overwhelming."

Leia smiled slightly. "What do you mean?"

He gestured to the table. "Another five minutes and you would have bankrupted the

"You are too kind."

He reached over and took her hand. "How are you?"

She winced. "I've been better," she admitted.

"Something's changed with you and Han," he observed. "Was it the mission to Ord Mantell?"

Leia nodded. "I don't know how it happened. Somewhere between Hoth and back, we made
a connection. We found ourselves, for the first time, being friends. I never thought it entirely

"Few of us did." He squeezed her hand. "I'm happy. I think we'll all sleep a little
easier when we shall not be awakened by your brawls."

Leia dropped her chin to her chest and laughed softly. "It is a relief to us both."
She shrugged. "I can usually tell what a person will be in my life fairly soon. Han's been
an enigma for three years, but once I gave him a second chance at a first impression, I figured
out that he's going to be a defining influence."

"He's a mercenary," Luke commented. "He's bound to move on once the funds run low."

"He hasn't done it in three years," she countered. "I think he feels attached to us
all in some way."

She glanced at him, a familiar heartache rising as she realized that she could be wrong,
that despite the friends he would leave behind, he would choose to leave.

"We can only hope that he realizes it."
* * *
"This is amazing," Leia said quietly, surveying the readouts. "Kharten certainly fulfilled
his end of the deal."

"A bit of an understatement," Rieekan agreed. "We're having some trouble adapting the
speeders to the cold, but they should be functional within a day or so."

"That will be convenient." She stepped back and folded her arms across her chest.
"Any signs of life forms so far?"

"None to speak of."

"Where did we get the ion cannon?"

Rieekan smiled wryly. "While you were at Ord Mantell, one of our attacks on a remote
Imperial base in the Ketaris Sector resulted in the seizure of the facility. One of the few
weapons systems left was that cannon. It could come in very handy if we're under aerial attack."

Leia nodded. "We can only hope it doesn't come to that."

"Report from Echo 7. More meteor showers in Sector 12."

Leia sighed. "The disadvantages of parking on a base next to an asteroid field."

Rieekan nodded. "Any anomalous readings on the scopes?"

"None, sir."

"Probably nothing to worry about."

"There's been another meteor impact in Echo 3's region."

"Just one?"


Leia heard Luke's voice coming over the comm to confirm that he was investigating the
matter. "Hope it doesn't take too long. There's a storm coming and night will come early as
it is."

Rieekan frowned. "Keep sensors trained on that area." He turned to Leia. "You don't
have to been on-duty for another hour. I suggest you go rest."

"I've been resting for nearly five days," she countered. "I'll let my predecessor get
the rest he needs."

Rieekan gestured her to her seat and turned away to converse with the tracking officer.
Leia crossed to her seat at the sensor boards and pulled on the headset.

Lieutenant Tarin Chet looked over and smiled. "Good to see you're back, Princess. We
were worried."

She shrugged and returned the smile. "We ran into a bit of trouble with a bounty hunter,
but no serious damage. Not even a scar to show for it."

"I heard you survived Boba Fett."

Leia shuddered. "That's what Han tells me."

"I always heard you were unusual, but now you're elite." He frowned. "We ran into
him once when I was with Intelligence and not many of us lived to remember the experience."

Leia winced. "I wasn't exactly conscious to know what happened. After dislocating
my knee, the first thing he did was knock me out."

"You're lucky that's all he did."

"Lord Vader doesn't pay well for corpses," she said quietly.

Chet turned to stare at her, not quite wanting to acknowledge the truth of her statement.
"Indeed," he said instead.

The door to the command center hissed open and she heard Han report back to Rieekan.
She turned to see him, but he barely noticed her.

"General, I've got to leave. I can't stay here any more."

Leia caught her breath. She had known that this day would come, but it didn't help
ease the shock. After three years of faithful service to the Rebellion, he was going to finally
move on.

She turned back to her boards, trying not to listen. Readings from the crash sites were
coming through. It was mostly metal, probably some composite ore from the asteroid field.

"A pity, you know."

Leia glanced at Chet, found him trying not to smile. "What?"

"He's one of the best we've got."

"True," she said quietly.

She suddenly became aware of Han behind her. She turned slowly, keeping her expression
as blank and aloof as possible.

"Well, Your Highness," he said quietly. "I guess this is it."

Annoyance at him lingered in her mind. "That's right," she said flatly.

His eyes narrowed to slits. "Well, don't get all mushy on me. So long, Princess."

He stormed from the command center, leaving bemused spectators behind. Ripping off
her headset, Leia stood and followed.

He was halfway down the hall, not even looking back to see if she was taking pursuit.


He halted and turned as she caught up with him. "Yes, Your Highnessness," he mocked.

She drew parallel to him and tilted her chin, fixing him with her most imperious glare.
"I thought you had decided to stay."

"Well, the bounty hunter we ran into on Ord Mantell changed my mind."

"Han, we need you," she snapped.

"We need?"

He repeated the phrase, more to himself than anyone else. "What about you need?"

"I need," Leia repeated, incredulous. Was he implying... "I don't know what you're
talking about."

Han smirked. "Probably don't."

He continued his exodus with her close behind. "And what *precisely* am I supposed
to know," she demanded.

"Come on," he taunted. "You want me to stay because of the way you feel about me."

"Yes," she admitted. "You're a great help to us, a natural leader."


He finally stopped and jabbed a finger into her face. "Come on," he mocked. "Huh?"

His grin was infuriating, his words a bit too logical for comfort. "You're imagining
things," she protested.

"Am I? Then why are you following me? Afraid I was going to leave without a goodbye

The memory of that moment on Ord Mantell, the fervor behind the kiss, the taste...

"I'd just as soon kiss a Wookie," she stated.

He seethed. "I can arrange that."

He stalked away, clearly as infuriated as she was. "You could use a good kiss."

She threw up her hands in frustration and stalked back to the command center, followed
by the bemused laughter of her comrades.

Rieekan stood at the door, one eyebrow cocked. "Perhaps you should take the remainder
of the day off. You do not seem yourself."

She blushed furiously. "I apologize for my lack of control."

"Quite all right," he said quietly. "None of us are particularly happy to see him go.
You have a good friend in him."

She looked back over her shoulder. "I know."
* * *
Night had fallen hours before. The storms were building with steady fury.

Inside the hangar, Leia was keeping vigil for the best friends she'd ever hoped to have.
She'd been frantic when it was announced that Luke was missing somewhere on the plains of Hoth.

But she had no idea that the disappearance of Han Solo would so devastate her.

He'd left her with nothing but memories of rebuke to think of. He undoubtedly thought
that she did not even value him enough to properly say goodbye to a friend.

She was abruptly and acutely sorry for every wrong she'd done him. He'd done more to
save her, body and spirit, than anyone else that she knew of. He would never cease to amaze
her, to uplift her. He would never hesitate to comfort her.

He would never know that she loved him.

Much as the thought startled her, it was true. Somewhere in all of the madness, she
had grown to love him.

Perhaps there would still be a chance. Until the morning, there would be a chance to

As long as they kept the blast doors open, there was hope.

The possibility was becoming bleaker with every passing heartbeat. She could hear the
mournful howling of the gales and felt the ever-present chill begin to penetrate her heart.

For lack of anything else to do, she paced before the *Falcon,* unwilling to let their
return go unheralded.

"All reports are in," she heard someone say. "Still no..."

Leia looked up sharply. The Major lowered his voice at a signal from Colonel Derlin,
but the meaning was clear. Leia braced herself against the landing strut and prepared for the

"Your Highness," Derlin said softly.

Leia looked up, daring him to pronounce her friends' death sentence.

"The shield doors must be closed."

That was it. Nothing but a miracle would save them now.

Her throat constricted and her brow furrowed as she fought the tears that threatened
to surface.

She lowered her chin and nodded, unable to speak the words that would consign their

As the doors began to close, she lifted her eyes, hoping to see two figures emerging
from the darkness. No reprieve came.

Chewbacca let out an undulating howl, his shaggy forehead pressed to the hull, his
tone matching the keening wind.

Leia knew exactly how he felt.