Perchance to Dream
By Runaway Scrape
Author's Note: This story actually came from an early morning dream that woke me, heart pounding. From it came the ideas for this and another vignette. The setting is shortly before the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back.
The ice caverns of Hoth were extensive, but there was a lot of work to be done before they were really livable. As a consequence, most of the Rebels on site bunked down in the south corridor on rotating shifts. No one had a cot they could call their own. At best, each person shared with two others and hoped for partners who bathed regularly and didn't sleep too long.
So, it was no surprise to anyone who knew the Princess that instead of requiring a cot of her own – let alone private sleeping quarters – she would simply crawl into the first unoccupied one she found. No ceremony, no special favors, and usually she didn't bother unless General Riekian ordered her to get some sleep. Otherwise, she would have continued working in the command center until her eyes burned holes in her skull.
She slept the sleep of the exhausted, arm dangling over the edge, a tiny string of drool collecting on her pillow. She slept, and she dreamt, and her dreams were not pleasant.
"There, you see Lord Vader? She can be reasonable." Tarkin's mocking, cultured voice sent a wave of tension through her.
On the bridge of the Death Star, officers and enlisted, Imperial and Rebel, wandered about, looking to tasks without glancing up at the tableau. Vader held her by her shoulder. Alderaan glowed in the black extremes of space before them.
"No..." she whispered, struggling against the hand that held her. She knew what was going to happen, what she had to stop.
"We will deal with your Rebel friends soon enough," Tarkin announced, and with a flick of his hand, gave the order.
She had to stop him. She had to reach him and...and...hit him or choke him. Something. Her life didn't matter. It was a given that she would never leave the station alive. But her hands were bound, and Vader's hold on her was all too strong. She tried, desperately twisting, but she could no more move than she could scream.
If truth be known – and it sooner or later was – Solo was one of the best scroungers the galaxy had ever seen. How else was he supposed to keep the Falcon in the air with couplers, spanners, and struts disappearing off the common market. You got what you could, when you could. And if you didn't manage it, you were out of the game. Which reminded him to figure out why he'd been hanging around the Rebellion as long as he had. Of course, if there were any better scroungers in the galaxy, it was them, but their activities tended to get much more stern attention from the Empire than the occasional smuggling job.
Those thoughts occupied him as he wandered into the southern corridor. Lights were kept low for those sleeping an off-shift, but most of the sleepers were far too deeply asleep to notice one man cadging some kaffee beans from the cache Her Highness had donated to the cause. Quietly, he found his way to the cupboard he was pretty sure the beans were kept in. The prep unit had a carafe of the stuff sitting on a heating element, but by the smell, it was hours old and as bitter as a Hutt's interest rates.
A noise, a tiny, muffled voice caught his attention, and he looked up from his search. On the second nearest cot, Her Majesty, Herself, was curled up under a thermal quilt. She turned and moved in uneasy sleep, twisting the quilt around her. Keeping an eye on her, he pulled out the bag of ground beans and set up the prep unit to brew a couple of cups. Then he tucked the remains of the bag into his coat.
The prep unit clucked and gurgled to itself, starting the brew, and he took a step closer, curious. He knew better than to wake her, of course. Chewie had been the first to mention that the Princess never slept without a slender, deadly laser blaster secreted somewhere on her person, and in fact, he caught a glimpse of it now. Not that he blamed her, of course. Any amount of time in the Empire's hands would make a person cautious, and he'd heard tales of how the Empire treated prisoners that would curl a wookie's hair.
Her scream finally exploded from her throat, all too late.
Alderaan was gone – her father, her aunts, the gardens her people strolled through on a summer's evening, the oceans, the forest retreat, everything – and she had done nothing to prevent it. As she cried out, a black gloved hand caught her by the jaw and lifted her up against the wall behind her.
No longer on the bridge, she was in the holding cell, the one Luke had found her in, the one Vader had questioned her in. And now she could feel her toes leaving the ground as Vader picked her up one handed and dangled her. It was a favorite tactic of his. Struggle too hard, and you broke your own neck. Or he broke it for you.
"Where is the Rebel base?" he asked, calmly, patiently.
She hadn't told him then. She wouldn't tell him now. It didn't matter, because either way, her father was dead and so was her world.
"You will tell me," Vader insisted.
She hung eye level with him, choking and unable to support her weight even by grabbing his hand with her own. She never knew how she'd resisted his interrogation before. But as she saw his eyes, the ruined eyes behind the facemask, heard the rhythm of his mechanical breath, and it occurred to her that there were worse things than interrogation. Far, far worse.
She struggled, but nothing moved him. The world contracted to blackness, his grip around her throat, the voice, the breathing, and his eyes.
"You will tell me."
A scream stuck in her throat as he looked at her, into her. The deeper he looked, the more he knew her, knew who and what she was on a level she barely comprehended. And as he knew her, he could change her. The grasp of his fist was no longer around her throat, but around her soul, and she was as trapped as a butterfly pinned to a sheet of examination paper. He knew her. He would say her name, and death would be more welcome than her fate.
Leia sat bolt upright with a gasp, halfway off the cot, hand on the butt of her laser blaster. Han, who had been expecting something like that since he'd checked her respiration rate and the speed of her eyes flickering under their lids, turned from the prep unit with a cup of kaffee in his hands. Pretending not to notice her hard, terrified breathing, he shrugged.
"Okay, okay, you caught me, Your Highness. One cup of less than honestly procured kaffee in my hands. Happy?"
She didn't really hear his words, only the tone of his voice, and after a frozen second, she lowered her hand from the blaster and searched the corridor with her eyes, as far as the dim light illuminated sleeping shapes, piled crates, and one out of work smuggler with a pilfered beverage. It occurred to Han as he waited for her to unwind another notch or two that he really, really didn't ever want to go against her if she were cornered like. At best, he'd come out a couple of limbs short. She would fight like a mother skeerix in a bag if it came down to it.
"Want one?" he asked, holding the cup out, letting the fragrance reach her.
That seemed to do it. The familiar smell pulled her back into the here and now from wherever she'd been. The tension in her shoulders eased, and she sat back down on the cot, not quite sure where to put her arms. Without waiting for an answer, he poured the second cup for her and added half a teaspoon of sweetener and a squirt of cream, then mixed it up and handed it to her.
"Thank you," Leia murmured, touching her forehead and finding tendrils that had escaped from her coronet.
"Might as well share the spoils with you," he answered, pulling a small crate over with his foot and taking a seat on it. "After all, it is yours."
She gave him a look and closed her eyes briefly. Of course, a princess of the oldest house of Alderaan would never resort to snippy remarks. That's what made taunting her so much fun. Right now, she looked like she'd just stumbled over a piece of wreckage from her lost world and seen her name on it. How much sleep had she gotten lately? From what he'd seen, she had two modes – Full Speed and Keeled Over From Exhaustion. It was everything Reikian could do to keep her from working until she collapsed. To Han's mind, she looked the worst he'd ever seen her – too thin, pale, huge circles under her eyes, and fine lines gouging her expression as she lifted the cup to her nose and inhaled the steam. As much as the Falcon, she was held together with baling wire and nerves.
"Bad dream, huh?" he nodded at her, not expecting an answer. She only glanced at him and took a tiny sip.
"You know," he continued, "reminds me of this buddy I had, back before the Kessel Run. Old Stink Maken, we used to call him. Now he was a real nightmare, body odor that could knock down a bantha at fifty paces. Makes these tauntauns we're dealing with look like dates for a promenade. So I made Old Stink this bet . . ."
And he started his story, no idea where he was going with it, because it suddenly occurred to him that he wouldn't mind seeing her smile, and if anything, a really bad story about his smuggling days might take her mind off of whatever woke her.
"...and there we were, surrounded by a pack of very angry Jawas. All I've got on me are my boots, because of course, everything else is back in the packing crate the stormtroopers are watching. Chewie's been half shaved, and okay he's angry enough to dismember every single Jawa, but that would take a while, and here comes Old Stink. He raises one – ONE – arm, and the smell is so bad that the Jawas scatter. I nearly fall over from the stench, but hey, I've still got the crate of bobble-headed Calmari dolls to offload and a half-naked wookie to take care of. Beggars can't be choosers, you know..."
Over the course of the story, Leia slowly unwound until she sat cross-legged on the cot, sipping from the cup she held with both hands. She wasn't quite smiling, but she'd lost the shell-shocked terror of her first few seconds awake.
"Wait a minute," she interrupted at one point, "who owned the dewback?"
"Oh, that was Lefty, and he really didn't mind that we stole it, painted it with alternating stripes of green and red, and moved it off planet. He just said that because he wanted a better price on the dolls."
She shook her head in wonder. "You're incorrigible, you know that?"
"That's what Lefty said," Han blinked in surprise. "Well, he didn't use that exact word, but that was the gist of it."
"What time is it?"
He checked his chronometer. "You've got an hour and a half before the next shift comes in to sleep."
"Well, there's plenty to do," she said, standing up and pulling on her jacket. She took his cup from him and dropped them both into the cleaner.
Realizing that staying any longer might invite questions as to the whereabouts of the rest of the kaffee supply, Han stood as well and kicked the crate he'd been sitting on back to its place. As he turned to go, he stopped and looked back at Leia. She was expertly tucking hair back into place.
"You know," he started, "you can always bunk on the Falcon, if you like. There's plenty of room, and it's a whole lot warmer."
She waved him off. "Thank you, but I prefer to stay here. I wouldn't want to impose on you."
He leaned forward and caught her attention. "You know, Your Highness, you don't always have to be the noble leader. You can be whatever you like. You might try that, someday."
And he left, walking back to the Falcon with a jaunty stride and half a pound of ground kaffee. Leia watched him go, feeling shivers run down and back up her arms. Easy for him to say.