bridges

Leia sat in the pilot's chair staring out at the stars.

It was her turn at watch, and so far she'd been at it for two hours, with four more to go. The stars slipped gently by in sharp contrast to what was racing through her mind.

Han Solo was foremost in her thoughts, and the way he had come back for her on Hoth. She had thought at the time that he had already left, and she had decided to stay, to stop running, but then he was there, grabbing her arm and pulling her along. Just a few short hours later; their relationship had taken a dramatic turn. Again. And this time there was nowhere to hide. There would be no breather as he went to pick up a shipment or she joined a diplomatic mission. This time they were stuck on a very small ship crawling slowly toward Bespin.

She wanted to blame the whole thing on him, blame him for cornering her, blame him for kissing her. Unfortunately, she had kissed back, had run her fingers through his hair, pulled him closer. Even now the mere thought of it sent a shiver down her spine. There was no denying it now, no blaming it on alcohol, or the moment, or temporary insanity. She had kissed him again later, kissed his cheek and rested her hand on his shoulder when he'd thought of the garbage strategy. His quick thinking had saved them all, saved her. Again. But her gesture, that almost casual peck on his cheek, had sealed her fate, had said to him, I'm not denying this anymore, I'm in this.

"What have I gotten myself into?" she whispered to the stars.

As if on cue, Han entered the cockpit with two mugs in hand. "Hey, I thought you might like some coffee."

She took the mug he held out to her and smiled when she tasted its contents. Cream, no sweetener. The way she liked it. "Thanks," she said.

"Listen, we need to talk. We've got logistics that need to be worked out."

Logistics, that's one way to put it, she thought, but nodded, knowing the Millennium Falcon wasn't designed for long distance sub-light travel, and that was probably foremost in his mind right now.

"The way I figure it, we've got roughly a month to Bespin, assuming no major system failures and no interruptions by uninvited guests."

Leia nodded again. "Okay."

"So, I think we should be fine for water. We've got maybe a week's worth of fresh food and then we're on rations. I hope we have enough rations. What I need you to do is an inventory, of everything. Food, water, medical supplies, equipment parts, and anything else you feel like counting. Chewie and I will concentrate on fixing what we can fix while we're in flight. We can't fix the hyperdrive because we need a part, but that doesn't mean we can't have all the other systems running at peak efficiency. We might even be able to shorten the trip by a day or two. Every little bit helps."

"That sounds good. I can start on the inventory right after my shift." She liked the way his throat moved as he swallowed his coffee. She liked watching his lips when he talked.

Han gave her a funny look as though he hadn't expected her to be so compliant. "Great," was all he said, though, apparently not willing to push his luck with a smart comment. "The other thing is sleeping arrangements."

Leia raised her eyebrows, instantly refocused on what he was saying.

"Threepio gets the graveyard shift, so none of us have to lose sleep. Chewie keeps his cabin, because no one else can sleep in that rope hammock of his. You can sleep with me..."

Leia's jaw dropped.

"...or," Han continued, "you can have my cabin, and I'll sleep on the crew cot."

"You don't have to do that," she said, recovering quickly. "I can sleep on the crew cot."

"No, I think you'd be more comfortable in my cabin. At least you'll have some privacy there, which I think is going to be important, unless you're going to wear your snow gear for a month."

Leia didn't want to wear it for another minute, much less for a month. It was hot, even with the vest off, but it was all she had.

"I don't suppose you have anything I can borrow?" she asked.

"Not that'll fit you. I've got a couple of shirts and an old pair of sweat pants that are too small for me. You're welcome to them, but they're still going to be way too big. Feel free to borrow anything you want, though."

"Well, I'm going to melt in this thing, so I guess it's better than nothing."

"I wouldn't say that," Han said with a leer.

Leia nodded, a slight smile across her lips. "Well," she said, "I think I'll borrow them anyway."

"Go ahead. As a matter of fact, if you want to change now, I'll sit here."

"You don't mind?"

"No, go ahead. The stuff that's too small for me is in a bag in the bottom of the closet. I keep meaning to pitch it, but I keep forgetting."

"Okay," Leia smiled. This wasn't so bad, she thought. He wasn't acting the way she'd expected. He wasn't all over her, and he didn't seem like he intended to be. On the other hand, she thought, as she walked to his cabin, why wasn't he? Maybe he's changed his mind? Maybe he didn't like the kiss, maybe he...but no, he made the comment about sleeping with him, and me wearing nothing, that would indicate...what am I doing? I'm not even sure I want this. He's arrogant; all he does is pick on me. Why am I suddenly worried about what he thinks?

She reappeared in the cockpit fifteen minutes later. Han was stunned. She'd cinched the drawstring of his sweat pants so they wouldn't fall off her, and then rolled the top so all the excess fabric was taken up. She wore the T-shirt she'd had on under her snowsuit, and when she moved right he could actually catch a little midriff. The outfit was completed by a pair of sweat socks, no boots.

"Well, you look a lot more comfortable," Han said with a smile.

Leia frowned. "It's not what I would have chosen, but it beats the snowsuit."

Han walked around her with an appraising eye. "Actually," he said, "I like it. I like it a lot, it relaxes you." He didn't recall ever seeing her looking quite so...cute.

He was about to reach out to touch that irresistible strip of skin that kept appearing, when Threepio poked his head into the cockpit.

"Captain Solo, Chewbacca would like to know whether or not you intend to finish working on the power couplings."

"Tell him I'll be right there." On impulse he leaned down and kissed her quickly on the lips. "Duty calls," he said and disappeared through the doorway.

A few hours later Chewie came in to relieve her of watch. She wandered into the galley to return the coffee mug and to get something to else to drink. Han walked in a few minutes later as she was reaching for a glass. He was about to comment on the skin exposed by the stretch when something caught his eye.

"Hey," he said, approaching her and crouching down on the balls of his feet. "What's this?"

Leia gave up on the glass. "What's what?" she asked, suddenly uncomfortable with his proximity.

"This," he said, rubbing his thumb across a barcode tattooed on her hip, causing a shiver to run up her spine.

"Oh, that," she grimaced. "It's my death tag."

"I thought they put those on after you were dead."

Leia cleared her throat. "Yes, well, that's a popular misconception. Living flesh takes the laser better, so they put it on about an hour before execution."

"An hour?" Han frowned. "That means..."

Leia smiled, trying to make light of the subject. "You guys have impeccable timing."

He looked up at her. "Why don't you have it removed?"

"Um." She took a deep breath and let it out. "I don't know. I mean, I think sometimes I'm going to, but then I don't. I don't know."

He searched her eyes for a better answer, but they seemed impossibly dark in the half-light. And then he surprised them both. He kissed the tattoo, softly, his lips warm against her flesh.

Leia took in a sharp breath and closed her eyes, the kiss radiating through her whole body. He rested his forehead against her hip for a moment, and instinctively she moved her hand to rest in his hair. He moved his hands to circle her waist, moved his mouth to kiss the soft skin of her belly.

She sighed, and felt lightheaded. Still, as his hands went to untie the string at her waist, she broke through the waves of emotion washing over her.

"Han?"

"Yes," he whispered.

"When we get to the rendezvous..."

He murmured something unintelligible against her skin.

"How long will you stay?"

He stopped, looked up at her. From where he crouched she suddenly seemed taller, self-possessed, strong. "I don't...I don't know," he fumbled. The question had taken him off guard, wrecked his timing.

"Then you need to stop."

"But..."

"This has to stop now, Han."

He stood up, rubbed his hand across his face. "Damn," was all he could manage to say.

For some reason, that made her smile. She touched her palm lightly against his chest, and for a moment Han thought he saw a flicker of regret cross her face. The she turned and walked away from him.

"Damn," he said again.

She avoided him the rest of the day, and worked on the inventory. She slept fitfully that night in his cabin, having dreams that alternated between the erotic and the frightening. When she got up the next morning, Han and Chewie were working in the lounge on a panel across from the game table. They were arguing about something as she entered the room.

"Well, damn it, what do you want to do?"

I don't know! I'm not sure what the problem is! Chewie howled back.

As Leia walked by, Han glared at her. "Well," he said, "then if you don't know what you want we should probably just stop here!" He slammed the hydrospanners on the deck and stormed off to the cockpit. Leia and Chewbacca were left to awkwardly stare at one another.

"I'm sorry about all this, Chewie," Leia said quietly.

Chewie shrugged and gave her a noncommittal grunt.

Leia climbed down into the hold to do the equipment inventory and spent the next four hours meticulously sorting and cataloging spare parts. When she was done she carefully went over the report she'd put together, checking the datapad one last time to make sure everything was in order.

When she stepped into the cockpit for her turn at watch, Han noted she was wearing one of his old dress shirts over the sweat pants. There were no tantalizing strips of skin exposed today since the shirt hung to her knees. All he said was, "You're late."

"I'm sorry," she said calmly, "I do have a report for you, though."

"A report?" Han looked at her, incredulous.

"Yes, the inventory." She handed him the pad.

"And you put it in a report. For me?"

"You are the captain, aren't you?"

"Oh, so I'm the captain now, and you're the princess. Or wait, are you the crew now?" There was a nasty edge to his voice. He looked at the pad, skimming its contents. "Well, this is very professional." He said "professional" as though it implied something vile.

"Look," she said, "I made a rational decision about what's best for me. I don't understand why you resent that."

"You don't understand why I resent that? Are you kidding? I resent it because I was making a passionate decision while you were being rational."

"I can't afford to make passionate decisions right now."

"Oh, please, like you're even capable of one. You wouldn't know passion if it slapped you." He turned away from her and went to walk out of the cockpit. With a strength that surprised both of them, Leia grabbed his arm and spun him back around.

"Passion has done a lot worse than slap me, flyboy."

"Well then, I guess the Empire wins. Nobody else gets to touch you." He regretted it the minute he said it; he started to take it back, but she was too quick and too angry.

"No, you don't get to touch me," she said, jabbing a finger into his chest. "You're not the only man in the universe."

"Fine. Is this about Luke, then?"

For some reason the thought of Luke in this conversation threw her off guard. "No," she stuttered. "We don't have that kind of relationship."

"Oh really? Does he know that? He might be a little confused since you stuck your tongue down his throat in the med center."

Leia's jaw dropped as she struggled for a retort, but none came.

"Oh, hey," Han grimaced, "I think I'm on to something here. You're just a tease."

She slapped him. Hard. It was impossible to tell whom it startled more, her or him. When it was over they both stood there, looking at each other.

Han finally rubbed his hand over his jaw and said, "You've got a hell of right, Princess."

Leia shut her eyes, let out a sigh. "Han, I'm sorry."

"Don't be. I'm kind of glad you did it. Don't do it again, though. Look, you don't want to sleep with me. Fine, you got your reasons. Maybe just being in the Rebellion is enough slumming for you. Whatever. I get the hint, we can return to that professional relationship you're so good at." He turned to walk out again.

"It's not slumming," she said quietly to his back.

Han turned around. "What?"

"The Rebellion, it's not slumming, and neither is being with you. Hanging out in the Imperial court, that's slumming."

Han stared at her, unsure of how to interpret her words.

She continued. "Look, everything else being equal, we would probably already be lovers, but there are so many other factors."

"Like what?"

"Like this is a big deal for me. They hurt me, Han, and believe me, I don't want them to win this one. I want something better to compare it to. I want you to touch me like you did yesterday, but I'm scared."

"I'm not going to hurt you," he said, exasperated but sincere. "Trust me."

"With my life yes, even with my body, but I don't trust you not to drop me off at the rendezvous and never look back."

Han shut his eyes and let out a sigh. They had been whispering, but suddenly it sounded very loud in his ears. "Leia, I have to pay back Jabba."

"And then after Jabba?"

"There may not be an after Jabba. Hell, there may not be a tomorrow. There's about a billion awful things that could happen between here and Bespin. All I know is that right here, right now, I want you and you want me and that should be enough." He leaned in close to her, to stare directly into her eyes, "And given half a chance, sweetheart, I could make every bad thing anyone ever said or did to you disappear and melt away, at least for a little while. Just give me a chance."

She leaned her forehead against his chest. "I don't know what to do." Then almost to herself, she said, "You're always threatening to leave."

Han leaned in, almost touching his mouth to her ear. "But I've been standing here for two years, Leia." He kissed her ear softly, turned around and left.

This time she let him go. She folded herself into the copilot's seat and hugged her knees to her chest. She sat that way for a long time, staring at the stars as they streamed slowly by.

Six hours later, Chewbacca came in to relieve her. She wasn't sure what to do with her remaining time. It was really too early to go to bed, but she had completed the inventory. She was reluctant to go to Han for another assignment, she was reluctant to go to Han at all, but as she walked toward her cabin, she saw him working on the same panel he and Chewbacca had been fighting about earlier. He was lying on the deck with his head and shoulders buried in the hole in the wall. His right hand was searching the deck for the hydrospanners that were just out of reach. She sighed to herself, hoping she was doing the right thing. She sat down on the deck and gave him the spanners.

The feel of cool fingers putting the spanners in his hand sent a shock coursing through Han's body, racing up his arm and then shooting down his spine to make his whole body tingle. Leia had come to him. He hesitated a moment, lying perfectly still. Then he moved the spanners up and began making the adjustments on the valve in question. She wasn't saying anything, so he didn't either, with the exception of the occasional request for a different tool.

It took another hour to finish the job. When he pulled himself out of the hole, he sat up and folded one leg under him. "That about does it," he said. "You okay?"

She nodded. "How's your jaw."

"Surprisingly sore," Han said, rubbing his hand across it.

She lowered her eyes. "I'm really sorry about that. I don't know what's gotten into me lately. I haven't had a decent night's sleep since we got to Hoth and I guess it's starting to affect my judgment."

"That could be it. Or, it could be that you're just sick of me chasing you around."

"Actually," she smiled at him, "I kind of like you chasing me around. You're the only one who does it anymore."

He laughed. "That's 'cause you scare the hell out of everyone else."

"I know. I don't mean to, it's just...every day now is so hard. My life before was so different, now...I don't know...I feel like I have to struggle just to keep up."

"Leia, you work yourself to death," Han said gently. "Other people don't know how you do it."

"I don't know. I feel like if I stop, I'll never start again. If I slow down, they'll catch me."

"Then maybe this is good."

"What?"

"This trip."

She looked at him incredulously. "It's good that we're stuck out in the middle of nowhere with no hyperdrive?"

"Well...that's not good, but it does give you the opportunity to slow down. Relax a little. What's the worst that could happen?"

She arched an eyebrow at him.

"Okay, don't answer that, but you know what I mean." He arched his shoulders and rolled his neck, trying to work out some of the kinks in his muscles from lying on the deck all that time.

Leia shifted around behind him and put her hands on his shoulders. She had a moment's hesitation, and then she gently began to knead his muscles, moving from his neck out to his shoulders.

Han started to say something, but held his tongue. He didn't want her to stop, and not just because the massage felt so good. He realized this was a safe way for her to touch him. He started to realize then that Leia wanted him as much as he wanted her, and that this was taking its toll on her, too. Sure he'd said that to her, but until now, he hadn't really believed it. He let his head fall forward as she moved her thumbs to work the back of his neck. Her hands were so small; it surprised him how strong they were. As he let the tension ease out of him, he wondered to himself if she had ever done this before, and if so, with whom. A few minutes later, she rested her palms against his back.

"Better?" she asked.

"A hundred percent better. Where'd you learn to do that?"

"We had a masseuse on staff."

"Must be nice," Han said, impressed.

"It was." The pain in her voice had grown old and worn, but it was still there.

He turned around to her and took her into his arms and she let him. She rested her head against his shoulder. They sat like that for a long time. Han started to grow uncomfortable on the floor, but he didn't want to stop holding her.

"Leia," he said, quietly, "sleep with me tonight."

She stiffened in his arms.

"I'm just talking about sleeping," he added. "Nothing else. I don't want to let you go, but I'm tired and I'm sick of sitting on this floor."

She smiled, not looking at him. She slipped out of his arms, but remained on the floor.

Han stood up, grateful to be able to finally stretch his legs. He looked down at her. She still wasn't looking at him. He wasn't sure if he should say something else, or just go to bed, or what. He stood there for a moment that felt like days.

Finally she looked up at him. "You promise?" she asked.

"I give you my word as a Corellian."

"Good," she said, placing her hand in his. "For a minute there I thought you were going to give me your word as a gentleman."

"Nah, that's not worth much," he said, smiling as he pulled her to her feet.

She held his hand and they walked together back to his cabin. A million thoughts and feelings were racing through Leia's mind, but his hand was firm and warm around hers, and it felt so right that she followed him.

Once inside his cabin she had another attack of doubt, but Han didn't give her time to say anything. He wandered into the bathroom and shut the door. She sat on the edge of the bed, practicing what to say to him when he came out of the bathroom. She could hear him brushing his teeth. Finally the door opened.

She started to say, "Han, I think this is bad idea—"

He was peeling his shirt off and tossing it into the hamper. "You want a T-shirt to sleep in?" he asked nonchalantly, as though they slept together all the time and this time she'd just forgotten her pajamas.

His attitude threw her off. "Yes, I guess, um..." He tossed her a clean T-shirt. She caught it and went into the bathroom to change. She looked at herself in the mirror. Why can't you speak? she thought. For goodness' sake, you speak for a living, tell him you were wrong, tell him this is a bad idea, get out of here.

When the door opened, Han couldn't hold back a grin. "You do wonders for a plain white T-shirt, sweetheart."

She blushed. He was shirtless and the sheet was pulled over his waist. If he's naked, she thought, I'm out of here.

He pulled the sheet back, revealing a pair of boxer shorts. He patted the bed beside him. "Come here."

Not a single thought for something to say crossed her mind. She mentally kicked herself. Some great orator, she thought. I'm glad I didn't know Han when I was running for Senate. She crossed to the bed somewhat reluctantly and crawled in beside him. He slipped his arms around her and held her close. He took in a deep breath and made a "mmm" sound against her hair, then reached up and turned out the lights. The room plunged into darkness, leaving only the soft, muted glow of the emergency lighting.

They lay there quietly for a few minutes just listening to each other breathe. Leia couldn't help but let out a soft chuckle against his chest.

"What?" Han asked.

"Nothing," she said; she didn't want to offend him.

"Come on, tell me," he insisted.

"Are you sure you want to know?"

"Yeah, I do," he said, starting to wonder if he really did want to know.

"Well," she said, clearing her throat, "I was just thinking what my family would say if they saw me here."

"What?" he teased. "Are you saying they wouldn't be thrilled that you've found such a good-looking scoundrel?"

"Probably not, but I'm sure they'd be impressed with your humility."

"Of course," he said.

Leia couldn't see him grinning but she could hear it in his voice. "This would definitely be hard to explain," she said.

"No it wouldn't, 'cause if they were still around, you wouldn't be here." There was the slightest edge to his voice as he said it.

Leia was quiet, and Han mentally kicked himself for bringing up her loss. Damn, why did he keep putting his foot in his mouth around her?

"Yes, I would," she said, quietly.

Sure you would, he thought to himself. I'd have dropped you off on Alderaan and you would have invited me in for tea and cookies and to meet the folks. All he said was, "I don't think so."

"No, it's true," she insisted. "I would have ended up underground after the mission to Tatooine, anyway. There was no way I could have come back with General Kenobi and been able to keep my position in the Senate."

"Then why'd you go?" Han said, suddenly curious. They'd never discussed the events leading up to their introduction.

"Father said it had to be me."

"Why?"

"He didn't say. He said General Kenobi would make that clear to me, but I never got a chance to ask General Kenobi, and I never got a chance to ask my father again. So, I guess I'll never know."

Han was silent for a moment as he mulled over what she'd just said. "So basically, he just said 'go on this incredibly dangerous mission' and all you said was 'when do I leave'?"

She paused. "I guess you could put it that way."

"That doesn't sound like you."

"He was my father, Han. I loved him, and I believed in his crusade against the Empire."

"But..."

"Besides," she interrupted, "I was just supposed to get General Kenobi and take him underground. The opportunity to steal the plans for the Death Star just happened. We were in the right place at the right time."

"I guess that depends on how you look at it."

"Yeah," she said softly, "I guess."

He tightened his hold on her ever so slightly. She sighed and rested her cheek against his chest. He knew they were done talking for the night.

She awoke early the next morning. Han was still sleeping and she took a moment to watch his dark form. She had been sleeping against him, her head on his chest, her arm casually thrown over his waist. She smiled to herself, and noted this was the first decent night's sleep she'd had since this whole trip started. She slipped quietly from his arms and moved into the 'fresher. She used the sonics to avoid making any noise. She didn't want to wake him, didn't want to face him. She felt decidedly vulnerable. She needed to slip away and think by herself, rebuild her defenses. She wasn't ready to feel what she was feeling, and she didn't want him seeing it, sensing it, calling her on it. She dressed in the 'fresher, conscious of the fact that again she was putting on his clothes. She slipped into the galley, and started a pot of coffee.

When it was done, she poured herself a cup and sat at the small table in the galley. She wanted to take another look at the inventory, but realized she'd left it in the lounge last night. She went to get it off the game table. She came back to the kitchen, datapad in hand, to find Chewbacca pouring the rest of the coffee into a huge wooden mug. He growled something at her.

"Chewie?" Leia said.

Yes, he grunted at her.

"Would it be okay with you if I arranged with Threepio for the three of us to have some Wookiee language lessons? I'd like to be able to understand you better."

Chewie nodded his head yes and growled. Leia wasn't sure what he was saying, but he seemed agreeable to the idea. "Great," she said.

His big form moved out of the galley, huge mug of coffee in hand.

A few minutes later Han came in. He kissed her quickly on the mouth. "Morning," he said and then moved to the coffee machine. "Aw, man, there's no coffee left."

"Chewie got the last of it. I can make some more."

"Nah, I'll do it. I hate that stupid mug of his, it holds like a half a gallon, that's ridiculous." While he rinsed out the filter and got more grounds, Leia went to the cabinet and got out another cup for him. She poured half of her coffee into it and handed it to him.

He found himself oddly touched by the gesture.

They stood quietly facing each other, sipping their coffee and listening to the water filter through the machine.

Han broke the silence. "How'd you sleep last night?"

"Pretty well, actually." She felt her cheeks flush.

"You were gone when I woke up."

"I'm kind of an early riser. I didn't want to wake you."

He sat his coffee cup on the counter and put his arms around her, cupping her head under his chin. "I don't want to criticize, Princess, but in polite circles, it's customary that if you go to bed with someone, you wake up with them."

She pulled away slightly and gave him a chilly smile. "I'm sorry, in the polite circles I moved in you simply didn't go to bed with people."

"Well, that's not very polite," Han said, grinning.

She nodded her head. "Well, I'll try and do better next time. Now that I know the etiquette and all."

He gave her a quick kiss on the mouth. "Good." He started to walk away; as he left he said, "I was kinda looking' forward to you being the first thing I saw in the morning."

She stared after him, flabbergasted and absurdly flattered. I have completely lost control of this situation, she thought.

She spent the rest of the day organizing things and trying not to be too bored. She lucked out just before lunch and discovered a box of book and music chips in the bottom of Han's closet. She had been arranging his clothes. She went in to relieve him of watch, with a Corellian classic loaded into the datapad.

"Don't tell me that's another report," Han grimaced, as she walked in carrying the datapad.

She arched an eyebrow at him. "No. This," she said, reciting from the synopsis on screen, "is an epic tale of two families."

"You're reading Love, Honor, and Freedom?"

"Well, I haven't started it yet. Why, is it bad?"

"No, it just doesn't strike me as your kind of reading."

"It was either this or Sublight Engine Repair."

"Now that's a good book."

"Okay, I'll read that next," she said laughing.

"Well, you might prefer it to the one you've got there."

"Why, what's so bad about this?"

"Nothing, I just don't think you'll like it."

"Why?"

"I don't know, it's very...Corellian."

Leia sat down in the co-pilot's chair and gave him a shy smile. "I might surprise you," she said. "It turns out I like a lot of Corellian things."

He grinned at her and then leaned in and kissed her, slowly, his breath warm against her cheek. When they parted, he winked at her. "Enjoy the book."

When he left the cockpit, Leia let herself sink into the chair. She blinked and tried to rein in her thoughts and emotions. She didn't want to feel all the things she was feeling. Her control was slipping, and she hated it. She could hear her pulse pounding in her ears, and she knew that inside her some fundamental frozen thing was thawing.

When Chewie came in to relieve her six hours later, she was halfway through the book and completely engrossed. As she walked back to Han's cabin, she could hear him pounding on something in the hold. When she got to the cabin, she curled up on Han's bed to finish the book. She reached a good stopping point an hour later. Her eyes were tired from all the reading, so she decided to go ahead and change for bed. Where was Han, she wondered, and what would their sleeping arrangements for the night be? Had she set a precedent or was he going to sleep in the crew quarters tonight? She had just pulled her T-shirt over her head when the cabin door opened and there he stood.

"Han!" Instinctively, she turned her back to him and expected the inevitable comment.

Instead, he said, "Hey, where'd that come from?" Suddenly she felt his hands warm against her back. She trembled at his sudden touch. She didn't say anything.

"Where'd you get this big bruise?" Han asked again, running his hand lightly over the right side of her back.

She turned toward him, the T-shirt tangled in her arms between them. "You won't believe this," she said, looking at his chest instead of his eyes, "but I was running down this hallway and this big guy and a bunch of ice fell on top of me."

She could feel him smiling. With mock concern he said, "That's terrible. Does that sort of thing happen to you a lot?" He slid his hands up her back.

"More often than you'd think," she whispered.

"Umm," he muttered, running his index fingers under her bra straps. He lightly slid the right one off her shoulder, and bent to kiss the skin where the strap had been. "You need to start hanging out with a better crowd," he chided softly.

She leaned into him, against him, willing her knees not to buckle. He moved his hands to the T-shirt still tangled between them.

"Weren't you taking this off?" he said softly.

His question brought her back into focus. "Han..." she started to say.

"I'll get you a clean one," he interrupted. He moved away from her.

As his warmth left her, she felt suddenly deprived.

He handed her a fresh shirt from his closet. "I need to do some laundry," he said casually. "Look, I'm going to wash up and then let's hit the sack. I'm beat."

Leia blankly stared at him.

He went into the bathroom and shut the door.

She stood for a moment in the center of his cabin, completely confused as to what had just happened. She heard him turn on the water and that set her into motion. She quickly tossed aside the dirty shirt, slipped out of her bra, and into the new shirt. Like all his other shirts it hung to her knees. She slid off his old sweat pants and crawled into his bed.

It struck her then that she was acting as if all of this was perfectly normal. Any minute now he was going to come out of the bathroom and crawl into bed with her and that would be fine. Although it occurred to her that she had no idea what would happen after that. A few minutes ago she thought she knew. Now she had no idea.

Han stepped into the bathroom and shut the door behind him, leaning against it the minute it was closed. This take-things-slow-approach is going to be the death of you, Solo, he thought. He moved to the sink and went to splash water on his face, rubbing his hands back through his hair. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror and decided to take a long hard look. What am I doing? He thought.

He knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to go back to her now. He wanted to pick her up and crush her to him. He wanted to absorb her. He wanted to be inside her and on top of her and under her. He wanted to make love to her in every position and in every location on the Falcon. Then he wanted to land and do it all again somewhere else, everywhere else. He wanted to see her naked; he wanted to see her relaxed and limp beside him. He wanted her to want to touch him. He wanted to see her guard down.

He looked in the mirror. You're going to scare the hell out of her if you don't calm down, he thought. Just relax; she has to want this as bad as you do for it to work. Take it easy, be careful, she's warming to the idea, give her time. Time, he thought, I've given her years! This is your chance, he warned himself, don't blow it. Come on you're not some eighteen-year-old kid, you can wait. That thought suddenly reminded him of Luke. Please don't let her be holding back because of Luke, he thought. Suddenly he realized he'd been standing there for a while. He wiped his face on a towel and opened the door. She was already in bed. Good sign, he thought. She could have left.

He crossed to the bed and slid in beside her.

"Hey," he said.

"Hi." They sat awkwardly for a moment, and then he slid his arm around her and she put her head against his chest as they had the night before.

Leia dreamed. She dreamed of home. She was walking in the garden with her father. The ground beneath them was transparent. As they walked they could look down and see her curled in Han's arms below them.

"This isn't what I would have chosen for you," her father was saying.

"He's not such a bad man," she told him.

"It isn't him so much," her father explained, "it's all of it. I had hoped to shield you from this life, but I'm afraid it was beyond my control."

"Then who controlled it?" she wanted to know. She needed to know. "Why did you send me to Tatooine?" But then the garden disappeared. And her face was against a wall, a cold familiar metal wall. "Noooo...," she wailed. She could hear alarm bells in the background. She was back in the command center on Hoth.

"Imperials have entered the base!"

She felt Han pull her arm, and suddenly she was awake. But the alarm was still going off. She could hear Threepio on the com.

"Help, help, we're being attacked!"

"Threepio," Han was shouting, "set evasive pattern delta 11 then follow with a roll." He turned to Leia. "Come on, I need you in the belly gun."

She was on her feet and following him in an instant. They passed Chewbacca in the hallway.

"Chewie, take the helm," Han shouted as they raced for the guns.

Han hit the ladder and crawled up. She hit it and crawled down. She slid into the seat, pulling on the headset. Han was already talking in her ear.

"Are you in."?

"Yes."

"Do you see them?"

"No." Threepio executed the roll. "Wait, they're coming up on the horizon. " She started blasting.

"How many are there?" Han shouted and then he saw for himself. Five old Headhunters. "Pirates!" he shouted as he began pulling the trigger.

Leia drew first blood, blasting the wing off one of the headhunters. The others tightened up their formation and swirled around the Falcon, heading for her cockpit where Chewie started firing at them with the forward guns. Leia could hear his triumphant roar as he got one.

The remaining three Headhunters split and raced down the Falcon's hull, one on top, one starboard and one port. The pirate on top kept up a steady barrage of fire in an attempt to push the Falcon's shields into overload. All three raced past where Han and Leia sat in the gun turrets.

"This old girl's got more than they bargained for," Leia heard Han whisper to himself.

The three Headhunters pulled up and decided to come back for one more pass.

"They're coming' in fast this time," Han shouted. "Stay on top of them."

Leia focused on her screen, and forced her hands to be steady. The fighters remained just out of her range. She could hear them firing and then she heard Chewie say they'd lost the upper rear deflector shield, the one protecting Han. She could see the flash of another Headhunter exploding.

"Roll, Chewie, roll!" she shouted, scarcely knowing why. As the Falcon rolled she was brought face to face with a Headhunter. She could actually see the pilot, as her finger closed on the trigger and moments later there was nothing but glowing dust swirling around outside the plastisteel turret.

The last Headhunter beat a hasty retreat, but not hasty enough, and Chewie popped him with the forward guns.

Leia sat there staring into space. The sound of Han climbing down the ladder shook her out of her daze. He was shouting and hollering. She started climbing up from the turret, but he reached down and pulled her up the last few rungs. He swung her around in his arms.

"You are some shot!" he shouted, setting her down. "Damn! You're good!" He stopped for a moment, resting his hands on her shoulders, and looked at her. "And you are the sexiest gunner I've ever had in my life."

As she stood there in nothing but his shirt and her panties, Leia couldn't help but laugh. "You don't look so bad yourself," she grinned. Han only wore his underwear. They both laughed. She started to say something else but then Chewie came in and scooped her up, wrapping her in a big Wookiee hug. He swung out a hairy arm and gathered up Han, too. They all stood there clinging together, laughing for a long moment. Then Han got serious.

"Look, we better get that shield back up, just in case they've got any friends. Leia, can you take the helm?"

She nodded.

"Good. Chewie, come with me."

Leia sat in the cockpit watching the stars, worried that one of those points of light might actually be a ship coming to attack them, but the stars remained stars. Two hours later, Han came into the cockpit.

"We got the shield back up."

"I know. I saw the light come back on."

"I don't know about you, but I'm going to hit the shower and then go back to bed. If we haven't been attacked again by now, I think we're safe, for tonight anyway."

"That sounds good."

Han raised his eyebrows at her. "Care to join me?"

Leia laughed softly. "I don't think so."

"Can't blame a guy for trying'," Han said, and turned to go.

As she watched him leave, she re-thought his invitation. They had practically been killed just a few hours ago. There were weeks left before they made it to Bespin. They were a slow-moving target for anyone who came along in the interim. How was she supposed to fill her days for the next few weeks, by learning Wookiee and reading old Corellian novels? And what about her nights? Was she supposed to fill those by lying in Han's arms but never giving in to her impulses or his?

What was she waiting for? A guarantee? There were no guarantees in life, especially not in her life. Was she hoping for someone better to come along? Better how? Han was brave and always looking out for her. He came back for her on Hoth. Did he realize how much that meant to her? Did he know that she had decided to stay? Did he know that for the last two years every time she reached the end of her rope, he handed her a new one? He was handsome and funny. So what if he wasn't from the finest home, so what if he was full of himself?

It struck her then that she loved him. Loved him more than anyone. Loved him in a passionate, hungry way that she didn't feel for Luke. Luke -- the last she'd heard of him in the command center was that his speeder had gone down but hadn't been destroyed. Was he okay? What if he wasn't? What if Luke was dead? That would mean that only Han was left to her. She had no one else. And if Han went off to pay Jabba the Hutt and never came back? Then so be it, she thought. I've lived the last few years for the rebellion; if Han leaves and doesn't come back, I'll die for it too. Leia stood up and walked out of the cockpit.

Threepio was sitting at the game table when she walked by.

"Threepio, take the helm," she said.

"Of course, your majesty. I'm delighted to see you still trust--" She ignored him and kept walking. When she got to Han's cabin she went in and shut the door behind her. She could hear the shower running. She peeled off the shirt and her panties, took a deep breath, and opened the door to the bathroom.

Han heard the door open and turned just in time to see a very naked princess open the stall door and step inside.

Leia had never actually seen anyone's jaw drop before. She could feel herself blushing all the way to her toes as he stood there staring at her, water running over his shoulders.

She stared too, suddenly pleased with her boldness. The look on his face was priceless. The rest of him was priceless, too. She smiled.

"Did I ever mention how much I like water showers?" she asked.

"Huh?" Han was stunned, not sure whether he should scoop her into his arms or check her for head injuries. What brought this on? He wondered. "No, I don't think you ever mentioned that."

He was blocking the water so she moved to stand in front of him, brushing against him as she did so. She pulled the fastener from her hair and let the water soak into it.

Han thought he'd never seen anything so beautiful as her standing under the shower, her wet hair hanging to her waist, almost black against her fair skin. He had stood still long enough. He moved against her, and was delighted as she leaned her back into his chest. He slid his hands around her waist, up and over her breasts. She trembled in his embrace but didn't stop him. She turned in his arms, sliding her hands up to his neck, pulling him down to kiss her.

He found her mouth passionate and hungry for him. Who is this woman? he thought. But she didn't take things any further. Her hands stayed on his face or his chest, but never lower. He wasn't sure how far he should attempt to take this. He wasn't sure it would be a good idea for their first time to be standing up in a shower. Not that he didn't think he could do it. He knew he could hold her, she didn't weigh anything, but he hesitated to press her against a wall. He was afraid that might bring back memories of what the Imperials had done. He moved away from her mouth, bent to kiss her neck, trailed tiny kisses down her throat, reached behind her and turned off the shower.

Leia looked at him, her lips parted as if to say something, but she didn't. He opened the stall door and stepped out. "Come on," he said, reaching back for her. She took his hand and followed him out. He slid a towel off the rack and wrapped it around her, running it softly over her skin. A distressing thought occurred to Leia, as he ran the towel over her body.

Is he stopping? she thought. Tell me he's not stopping. He was crouched down before her on the balls of his feet, as he had been in the galley. He let the towel drop and traced a thumb over the tattoo on her hip again.

She shut her eyes. She could hear her heart pounding in her chest and wondered fleetingly if he could hear it, too. Then she felt his arms around her and for a moment she felt him pressed warm and hard against her belly, then he slid one arm under her knees, picked her up and carried her to his bed.

As he walked toward the bed he stuck a finger out to flick off the overhead light. The room was plunged in darkness as he gently lay her down on the mattress.

He moved over her, kissing her mouth softly, pausing when he realized her arm was over her head and fumbling around. Finally, her fingers found the button that turned on the reading lamp over his bunk.

Han blinked as the light popped on.

Leia caught his confused look and dropped her eyes. "I need to see you."

Han smiled. "That's fine with me. I like the light on, most..." He stopped himself. He was going to say Most women like it off; instead he just nodded, figuring she probably didn't need to think about him with other women. He realized then that she was trembling.

"Are you cold?" he whispered, noting her damp hair.

"A little," she whispered back.

He settled in closer beside her and pulled the blankets up over both of them. "Better?" he asked.

She nodded. She could feel him hard against her thigh. Taking in a deep breath, Leia tried to will herself to relax. She reminded herself that she had started this, that she wanted this. She fought back a rising wave of panic as an image of her Death Star cell flashed through her mind. Opening her eyes to clear the image, she saw Han looking down at her, a look of concern clearly etched on his face.

"You don't have to do this," Han said softly, almost wishing she'd back out of it. He was growing increasingly concerned about his performance. What if he wasn't gentle enough, what if he hurt her, what if he offended her somehow? He'd never been with someone as inexperienced as she was. He'd never been with an Alderaanian before. What if they had some ritual she was assuming he knew? Han had been lying on his side with his weight resting on his elbow and his chin in his hand. He rolled on his back and let his head rest on the pillow next to hers.

"No," she said, rolling on her side to face him and running a hand over his chest. The hair there was golden in the lamplight. She busied herself by watching her fingers lace in and out of soft curls. "I want to, I'm just nervous."

Han smiled, enjoying the feeling of her cool hand on his chest. "I'm nervous, too."

Leia smiled and nodded. She appreciated his attempt at empathy, but she didn't believe him. "And what are you nervous about?"

"I've never slept with a princess before. More importantly, I've never slept with you before. I want you to...I want it to be perfect." As he said "perfect," he leaned over to kiss her.

She opened her mouth to the kiss and felt him move to face her. She felt his arm slip around her waist and pull her closer. Once again she could feel him hard against her belly. Unconsciously she shifted her hips away from him. Han noticed.

Misinterpreting her actions, he whispered softly in her ear, "Leia, are you protected?" He moved his mouth to kiss her neck.

As he gently nibbled on the soft skin between her neck and shoulder, Leia could hardly think how to answer him. For a moment she didn't know what he was talking about. Then it suddenly occurred to her that he was referring to pregnancy. "Yes," she sighed, "I have an implant."

Happy with her answer, Han moved his mouth to her collarbone and shifted his hips toward her. She shifted away from him. If we keep this up, he thought, she's going to fall off the bed. Then he realized that she was afraid he was going to hurt her. Intellectually, she might feel differently, but her body associated sex with pain, and in bed the body ruled, not the mind. Han decided then and there that tonight would be about her; he would put his own needs aside for the moment and concentrate on her. Suddenly, as his own fears slipped away, Han felt better about everything. Making Leia feel good was a goal he could handle, and much simpler than trying to erase everything the Imperials ever did to her. Resolved, he slid his hands down her body to cup her breasts and feel their shape and weight.

Leia's whole body tingled with the sensation. As his mouth began to trail down her body, she found herself in breathless anticipation of where it might go. When finally he closed his lips over one of her now aching breasts, she felt she might shatter with the effect. The movements of his tongue and teeth sent ripples of pleasure coursing through her body to finally settle between her legs in a pool of liquid fire begging to be released.

Han continued attending to her breasts as his hand trailed down her thighs, down her calves and then back up to cup her sex and the soft nest of curls there. Leia arched her back and unconsciously ground her hips into his hand. Han smiled and moved back up to kiss her mouth. As she pulled his tongue into her mouth, he deftly slipped a finger inside her.

She pulled her mouth away, and at first, Han thought he might have pushed her too far, too fast. When he opened his eyes to check on her, her head was thrown back and her back was arched against him. Emboldened, he decided he hadn't taken her far enough. Gently he slipped his finger from her and backed off the bed.

Leia sat up and her eyes flashed open. Did I do something wrong? she thought. He had suddenly stopped everything, and now he appeared to be getting out of bed. "What...?"

"Shhh," Han said. "Trust me." In one swift motion he circled his arms around her hips and pulled her toward him. He splayed one hand across her belly and said, "Lie back," as his mouth descended to her.

Leia was absurdly struck by how large his hand looked flattened across her stomach. Then she stopped thinking. She stopped hearing, she couldn't see. She could only feel his mouth and his tongue. As her other senses fell away, her sense of touch heightened almost to the point of pain, which was when she shattered into a million pieces. Each piece melted, until she was nothing but a million individual pools of liquid with no hope of ever again coalescing into anything resembling her.

Leia regained herself with a sudden intake of breath. Somewhere in all this she had forgotten to breathe. She felt lightheaded. Her eyes fluttered open to find Han staring down at her.

"Hey," he said, smiling, "For a second there, I thought I'd lost you."

Leia opened her mouth to speak, but had no voice. She still felt more liquid than solid and the liquid had no words.

Han bent to kiss her collarbone.

As she looked at him, Leia couldn't help but notice he was still hard and waiting. She suddenly realized she had completely neglected him. She wondered if he expected her to do the same for him. She'd never done that before. What if she didn't do it right? What if she hurt him? What if she didn't like it?

Han noticed her looking at him, and couldn't help but smile at her expression. Her brow was furrowed, and she was biting her bottom lip in a way that implied anything but desire. It didn't take him long to figure out what she was thinking.

He leaned over and kissed her ear. "I'm not looking for a blowjob, Princess," he whispered.

Leia blushed crimson.

Han was delighted, not only with the blush, but with the whole evening so far. Leia had obviously enjoyed herself and she seemed relaxed and happy. Spurred on by his success, he kissed her, deeply.

Leia could taste herself in his mouth, but before she could decide how she felt about that, Han slid his body over hers.

"Spread your legs for me, baby," he whispered softly in her ear.

Leia tensed at the suggestion, but swallowed back her fear. It's his turn, she thought, this is fair, this is how it's done. You can get through this.She complied with his request and found him poised at her entrance.

Han could feel her tensing up, so he dropped his head down and began to nuzzle her breast, taking first one and then the other tip into his mouth. Slowly he let himself slide inside her. He was overwhelmed by how tight she was. The heat of her, the wetness, the tightness was quickening his body way too fast, so he forced himself to calm down and take it slowly. Every nerve screamed for him to pump into her furiously, but he held back and tried to set a gentle pace.

He slid a hand down her body to stroke her thigh. "Lift your knees just a little, sweetheart." Leia attempted to comply, but panic was quickly overwhelming her. The muscles in her legs had tightened so as to be almost frozen.

Han could feel the tension. He brought his head up to look at her and ask her how she was doing, but he didn't need to ask. Her eyes were clamped shut, her jaw was clenched and her fingers were curled into fists clutching the sheets.

The last thing he wanted to do was pull out, so in an attempt to calm her down, he whispered, "Leia, open your eyes. It's me." He kissed her forehead. "Leia?"

Leia looked up at him. "I'm okay," she lied.

Her face was blanched, and it broke Han's heart. In a supreme effort of self-control he pulled out. The air between them seemed unbearably cold by comparison. He went to sit up, but found a cool hand on his thigh.

"You don't have to stop," Leia said softly. "I can take it."

It had been a long time since Han had been this close to crying. Her willingness to go through this for him touched him in a way for which he had no response.

He swallowed back the lump that had formed in his throat. "I don't want having sex with me to be some kind of tolerance test for you, Leia. It's not supposed to be like that."

Horribly afraid she'd hurt his feelings, Leia tried to explain. "It's not you. It's me. I just...with...when...I start to feel trapped...it's hard for me to relax..." She trailed off, unsure of what else to say or do.

Han ran his fingers through his hair and silently begged his body to calm down. Then he had an idea. "Do you trust me?"

Leia nodded.

"Enough to try something?"

Leia nodded again. Han could see her take a deep breath and square her shoulders. He smiled at her and took her hand. He lay down on his back and pulled her toward him. She went to lie beside him, and he shook his head. "Straddle me."

She complied, resting her palms against his chest and looking down at him.

"Okay," he said, "now you're in control. You can stop or start whatever you want."

Leia felt a little awkward. She was uncomfortable with the idea of initiating, so she decided to stick with what she knew. She leaned down and kissed Han, gently running her tongue across his lips. He opened his mouth to her and she began to relax. Han's hands began to play their way across her body. A few minutes later, she decided to try and take him inside again. She knew it was what he really wanted, and it was what she wanted, too. Despite her earlier fears, the sensation of him inside her had not been altogether bad, and she loved the idea of being that close to him. If she could somehow separate it from her other experiences, she thought she might like it.

She shifted her hips so that once again the tip of him was at her entrance. Han resisted the urge to thrust and let her slide down the length of him at her own pace. At first she started slowly, but once past the initial resistance of her body, Leia moved to take the rest of him inside.

She felt herself stretch to accommodate him. The feel of him filling her this time was not so frightening. After all, she could simply get up whenever she wanted; she wasn't constrained under his weight.

She moved her hips to pull up a little and Han was afraid she'd changed her mind. This is going to kill me, he thought. I'm going to die right here if she gets up.

To his delight, she slid back down.

As she did so, she noticed his eyelids flutter. He was biting his lower lip and struggling to control himself. The effect she was having on him filled Leia with a sense of power and deep affection. She smiled and began to move her hips. The friction began to build the fire in her again. After a moment or two, Han began to match her rhythm. Careful to let her set the pace, he was content to follow. Too soon, he was on the edge. He wanted to come, but he wanted to take her with him. He could feel her muscles tightening around him. Sensing she was close as well, he moved his thumb over the sensitive bundle of nerves above her core. She broke, and Han used the moment to thrust harder and faster than he had dared up to this point. It was only a second before he crashed over the edge after her.

Han fell back and she fell forward on top of him. He ran his hands over her back and her whole body shook. She quickly moved her hands to still his. She was too sensitive to be touched right now. She just wanted to lie there and pull herself together.

Han smiled, understanding. He reached to pull the blanket back over them, and lay back enjoying the feel of her, soft and warm on top of him.

Leia stirred to the sound of Han's heart beating slow and steady beneath her ear. When had she fallen asleep? She looked at the clock and realized several hours had passed. She moved to get off him, and Han woke.

"Hey," he mumbled slipping his arms around her, "where are you going?"

"I was just going to take a shower."

Han smiled, more awake now. "Want some company? I'll wash your back."

Leia pretended to think it over. "Okay," she finally said sliding off of him and the bed. She reached back to take his hand. Together they returned to the shower.

Leia woke the next morning with a strange sense of well being. As she watched Han sleeping, stretched out beside her, she marveled at how right this felt. He'd made love to her last night in his bed, and then they had returned to the shower where he made love to her again. She wondered for a moment if she was using the right term. Perhaps it had only been sex for him, but it certainly hadn't felt that way. She smiled to herself and couldn't stop herself from running her hands through the soft brown hair of his chest, down over his trim and muscular stomach, and below.

Han's eyes flew open.

She drew her hand back, but he caught it.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, misinterpreting his actions.

He smiled and brought her palm to his mouth and kissed it. "Don't be. You can touch me anytime, anywhere you want." He rolled toward her, pulling her into his arms. "How do you feel?"

She blushed. "Good."

Something about her blush touched him in a way that surprised him. It embarrassed him and scared him a little that he hadn't ever felt this way before. He ran his hands over her back, touching her, letting his hands tell him this was real. She felt so good.

"Han," she whispered, "I think you were right."

He smiled. "About what?"

"This trip is a good thing."

He wrapped his arms around her and rolled her on top of him. It was a long way yet to Bespin.