Disclaimer: These characters don't belong to me. I'm not making any money off this story. Please don't sue me.
Leia found herself staring out the window during the staff meeting. She was embarrassed at her lack of focus, but otherwise didn't really care about the meeting at hand. Lately, she didn't care about much of anything. The righteous fervor that kept her going in her tireless crusade against the Empire had been replace by a certain hollow defeat. It had been two months since they had returned from Bespin without Han. Luke was distant and self-involved, obsessed with his Jedi training. There was something else too, something he was hiding, but she couldn't tell what it was, and he wasn't sharing. Chewbacca and Lando were out looking for Han. Chewie made weekly reports of their progress, which up to this point was nil. Leia had never felt so completely alone in her entire life.
Even after the destruction of Alderaan, Han and Luke had been there. They would sweep in and take her to lunch, talk her out of working through dinner. They would insist she go with them to watch the smash ball games that often picked up in the makeshift courtyards on Rebel bases. Han was quick with a joke, and was always looking for ways to make her smile. Luke was quieter, more shy, but he always took her side in an argument and was quick to put a comforting arm around her shoulder. Now, she rarely saw Luke, and when she did the tension of whatever he was hiding stood between them like a wall. Then there was Han. Han was lost to her, possibly forever, trapped in time, frozen in carbonite. The thought of it made her stomach turn. Suddenly, Leia realized someone was asking her a question.
"Leia, what do you think? Leia are you all right?" Mon Mothma's tone was worried.
Leia blinked back into focus. "Actually, no I'm not. I think I might be coming down with something. I'm not feeling well. Excuse me." Leia got up from the table and quickly exited the room.
Mon Mothma turned to General Madine. "I'm worried about her. Does she look thinner to you?"
Madine nodded and absently stroked his beard.
Once outside the meeting room, Leia took a deep breath and scrubbed her hands across her face. She had to clear her head. She had to get her focus back or she was useless here, maybe even dangerous. She went back to her quarters and changed. She didn't have much to choose from. She pulled an old pair of khaki pants and some brown work boots from the closet. As she was strapping on the boots, she noticed how worn the clasps were. Something about the state of her boots made her feel unbearably lost in the universe. She got a heavy, dark blue pullover from her drawer and pulled it over her head. Then she headed for the motor pool. She was greeted by Sergeant Tedder.
"Princess, we don't see you down here too often." Tedder said.
"Hello, Tedder. I just thought I'd get out and about. Scout the perimeter."
"What can I do for you?"
"Can I get a speeder bike?"
"Sure, just put your thumb print here."
Leia thumbed the pad he held out to her and walked toward the speeder bikes. She picked the one that appeared to be in the best shape and hopped on, adjusting the seat and altering the settings to fit her diminutive stature. As she slowly eased the bike out of the motor pool, Tedder called to her.
"Nice day for a drive, eh Princess?"
Leia looked up and realized the day was warm and clear. The air was crisp and she took a deep breath, noticing it for the first time. She slipped on a pair of goggles.
"Yes, it is." she said, and headed out of camp and toward the perimeter.
Unconsciously, she increased the bike's speed until the countryside was streaming by in a blur. She pushed the bike further and further toward its limits. She felt it humming beneath her, felt it respond to the slightest touch of her hands. She felt absorbed in it, felt part of it. She pushed the bike toward the trees and raced on.
As she moved into the forest, something in the back of her mind cautioned her to slow down, that this was dangerous. Unfortunately, something darker in her mind said, so what?
She pushed further into the forest, maneuvering the bike deftly over and through rapidly thickening undergrowth. The bike was screaming with her efforts and her every thought was on keeping it stable and upright without slowing down. As she dipped below a fallen tree she should have gone over, she was forced to pull up sharply. A huge rock she hadn't seen from the other side loomed directly in front of her. Leia swerved, pulled up and hit the brakes simultaneously. The engine screamed and shuddered beneath her. She cleared the rock by a fraction, actually scraping the rear fin of the bike. She idled the bike and slumped over, taking in deep breaths. That had been close. She looked back at the rock and realized this wasn't the way. She had to get off of this base. If she stayed here, she was going to end up killing herself. She leaned her head back and took a deep breath. I'll try and contact Chewie tonight, she thought. Then she heard a twig snap, she jerked her head around, her hand instantly feeling for the blaster rifle strapped to the bike. Then she realized it was Luke.
"What the hell were you just doing!" Luke shouted as he came jogging up.
Leia ignored his question. "What are you doing out here?"
"I was running. I'm serious Leia, what was that about?" he said, indicating the rock.
"Running from what?" Leia said, suddenly angry.
"Just running. What's going on?" Luke stared at her. He was drenched with sweat. His sleeveless shirt was damp with it and it clung to him tightly. His lightsaber dangled from his belt.
Leia stared at him, taking note of his physique. He was in amazing shape. Not that he had been a slouch before, but he'd really bulked up recently. "Nothing," was all she said to him.
Luke held his hand out to her. "Come on off of there. Let's sit down for a minute."
Leia hesitated for a moment then took his hand and slid off the bike.
"I feel like we don't get to talk anymore," he said, as he guided her to a fallen tree where they sat down.
Leia began to absentmindedly pick at the bark of the tree. Luke watched as she scraped at it with her fingernail.
Finally she looked up at him. "You haven't been around much."
Luke sighed. "I know; I'm sorry."
They were silent for a moment.
Luke took her hand. "What's bothering you? What was that little stunt with the rock all about?"
Leia was silent, weighing her words, trying to decide how much she wanted to say and how to say it. Finally she said, "This might be hard for you to hear. Maybe not. I don't know. So much has changed."
"Why don't you just say what you have to say and not worry about what I think right now." Luke gave her hand a gentle squeeze.
"I lost him, Luke." Leia's voice broke, but she held back her tears. "For two years, whenever I needed him, he was there. He's saved me too many times to count, but the one time he needed me..."
Luke put his arm around her, and she leaned into him.
"I couldn't get to him in time." she cried, the tears starting to flow.
"You can't blame yourself for that Leia. It was beyond your control."
"I can't eat; I can't sleep; half the time I feel like I can't even breathe. I've lost all interest in the Rebellion. I can't focus in meetings or strategy sessions. I'm of no use to anyone here."
Luke sat quietly and held her, letting her cry. The realization hit him with a dull thud.
"When did you two become lovers?" he asked quietly.
Leia sobbed and buried her face in her hands. "On the way to Bespin," she whispered.
She had pulled away from him, but he put his arms around her, and rested his cheek against her back. "It's okay." he said, "Everything is going to be okay," but inside him a tiny flame of hope dimmed out and disappeared.
She cried for a little while longer. Then they both got on the speeder bike, with Luke driving, and headed back to the camp. Her body was warm against him. Her thighs pressed against his; her arms were wrapped around his waist. Han Solo is a very lucky man, was Luke's persistent thought the whole way back. By the time they reached camp, it was starting to get dark.
Once back at base, Leia composed an encrypted message for Chewie and took it to the comm station and asked them to send it immediately. Then she went back to her quarters and packed a bag. Everything she owned fit nicely into one duffle bag. In an hour she was done. One item remained, a bottle of Corellian whiskey she'd taken from the Falcon before Chewie and Lando had left. She'd been drinking it before bed lately in a vain attempt to get some sleep. There was hardly any left. She poured the remains on the ground and threw the bottle in recycling on her way to headquarters. She stopped at the comm station on her way. Chewie had responded. They were close, he'd be there in two hours.
As usual, Mon Mothma was working late. Leia found her in her office pouring over intelligence reports. A dozen datapads were on her desk and her monitor was alive with various battle scenarios. Mon Mothma looked up when she walked in.
"Leia?" she said. She took note of the duffle bag in Leia's hand, which Leia sat down before coming to stand in front of Mon Mothma's desk.
"I'm taking a leave of absence, Mon."
"I can't stay here. I can't concentrate and I'm not doing anyone any good here."
"I'm sorry you feel that way, Leia. What brought this on? Where are you going?" Mon Mothma knew, but she asked anyway.
"I'm going to join the search for Captain Solo. Chewbacca will be picking me up in a couple of hours."
Mon Mothma gasped. "So soon?"
"I can't stay, Mon. This is killing me."
Mon Mothma steepled her fingers and shut her eyes for a moment, biting back her disappointment. She'd always been very fond of Leia. After the destruction of Alderaan, Mon Mothma had taken Leia under her wing, trained and trusted her as a protege. She was deeply disappointed that Leia was giving up everything she'd built to go running after some pilot, albeit a talented, brave and handsome one. "How long will you be gone?"
"Until we find him."
"Leia, are you sure this is what you want? It's a terrible risk."
Leia laughed, a dry, bitter sound. "My life is full of terrible risks. I just have to decide which ones to take and which to leave. I'm taking this one. I know you're disappointed, although I appreciate you not saying so. I'm sorry it's come to this, but I really have no choice. I've got to go."
"I understand." Mon Mothma sighed. "I hope you find him, Leia. I hope everything works out and you all return to us safely. You deserve some happiness. May the Force be with you."
Leia reached out and shook the older woman's hand. "Thank you." she picked up her duffle bag and went back out into the night.
The hangar bay and landing pads were on the other side of base. Leia's intention was to wait there for the Falcon. Luke stopped her halfway.
"So you're leaving tonight?" he asked.
Leia checked her wrist chrono. "Yes, they should be here in a little over an hour. You've already resigned your commission, Luke. Why don't you come with us?"
Luke smiled, feeling a tug on his heart strings. "I don't think so. Not yet. Maybe in a couple of weeks. I think it would be kind of a blow for morale if we both left tonight."
Leia sighed. She hadn't thought of that, which was a perfect example of why she needed to leave. It was her job to think of things like that. Two big symbols for the rebellion leaving at the same time would be disheartening to the troops. "No, you're right."
Luke leaned in and kissed her cheek. "You guys be careful, and may the Force be with you."
Leia kissed his cheek. "You too."
"I'll see you in a couple of weeks then."
"Right." Leia said.
Luke turned to walk back to his quarters. Leia walked toward the hanger bay, to wait for salvation and pray for redemption.