20. Day 77 – Part IV
She bumped into him while exiting the fresher. Throwing her arms around his waist, she buried her face into his fresh-pressed shirt.
"Everything alright, Princess?" Han asked.
"Everything, flyboy," she lied. She would not ruin his happiness this morning with her stupid hunches. She wanted to ask him not to use this particular shirt today, but she did not. He had worn this shirt dozens of times, why would it be different today?
"Ya know," he continued, "when I come back, I'd like for you and I to go away alone for a few days, I dunno, maybe somewhere with a beach... What d'ya think?"
When I come back, not if I come back, not should I come back. Right. She let his permanent optimism permeate through her being. "Sure," she answered, "I'd like that too."
It was the red dawn of Bespin and not the cool wind or the lonely landing pad what gave Leia the chills when she stepped down the ramp of the Millenium Falcon.
"Look, don't worry, everything's gonna be fine," Han tried to reassure her, "trust me."
She trusted him. But not the rest of the galaxy.
Skeptically, she witnessed the reunion of the so-called friends. At last, Calrissian approached her.
"And who might you be?" He asked smoothly. The Princess gave him her name.
"Welcome, Leia," he greeted, kissing her hand. It was obvious that he was displaying all his charm just for her.
She almost chuckled when she noticed the half-amused, half-worried look in Han's eyes. Great, THAT kind of friends, she thought. He rescued her hand from Lando's hold. For a brief moment, she forgot her anxiety. It had been so long since two handsome men competed for her attentions. This is going to be fun.
The Baron-Administrator guided them to the best hotel in the city and even to their suite's door.
"The technical crew will be starting their shifts in an hour," he was saying. "You can call room service if you want to have breakfast meanwhile."
Han took him apart and explained him schematically the circumstance of their departure from Hoth and Leia's lack of wardrobe.
"I see," Lando said, going back to the Princess side. His eyes appraised her figure expertly, from toes to head. "Hmm, forty-two if I'm not mistaken," he told her, "and forty-four, right?" His gaze leveled at Leia's chest.
The Princess nodded, blushing deeply.
Han sneaked into the bedroom after her. He flopped backwards onto the bed while Leia inspected the giant bathroom.
"He's hiding something, Han," she said coming back and pacing the room.
"Lando's always hiding something, sweetheart," he laughed. "Come here," he added huskily, patting the mattress.
Chewie's roaring was heard outside just then. "I think breakfast arrived," she observed, nervously. Sighing, he left the soft bed and stopped her before she could open the hatch.
"Can't believe you'd trade me for some fresh fruit so soon," he teased, leaning down to kiss her. She seemed to have an endless capacity to get embarrased and he could not help loving it.
He had come personally to check on Leia and tell her that the repairs on the Millenium Falcon would be soon finished. For some strange reason, their comm units did not work on Cloud City. He had to ask Lando about that.
He peeked through the archway and saw her pacing in front of the window. Gods, she looked so gorgeous in that outfit! Yet, the fanciest clothes in the galaxy could not rival the breathtaking view of her he had been blessed with only a few hours ago.
Princess Leia Organa sat on the floor of a detention cell in Cloud City, Bespin. On a hard bunk by her side rested her lover, Han Solo. Yes, her lover, for just one glorious night. Her rough, reckless, bold, tender, beautiful, nerfherder lover. And her love too.
Long gone were the daydreams where she wore that space blue gown that Lando provided, the one with the audacious slit, and told Han the words she knew he was waiting for, with the sunset for witness. Instead, she had finally whispered them in this cold and sad room and he had not been conscious enough to savor them.
Chewie kept himself occupied mounting Threepio back. But his head jerked up suddenly and he gave a soft warning bark to the Princess.
He had been dreaming of his beautiful Princess when the stormtroopers grabbed him and pulled him onto his feet. She was saying something in his dream but he could not recall what. Without a word, the white-armored soldiers stripped him of his jacket and put restraining bands around his wrists and his arms.
"No!" Leia protested, but they simply shoved her aside.
They stepped down the stairs cautiously, Leia first with Han and Chewbacca in tow. The facility had a gloomy atmosphere, with orange lights and cold fumes everywhere.
The Princess looked around, trying to recognize the place. No, this was not the place of her dream. Maybe there was still hope... But no. With horror, she heard the exchange between Han and Calrissian.
"What's going on, buddy?"
"You're being put into carbon freeze."
Her eyes searched for Han's for a glance that she knew had to last forever. This cannot be happening, his eyes said. Everything else became blurry, because nothing else mattered anymore, nothing except his eyes. As long as she could see his eyes, everything would be all right. A strange heaviness fell upon her, like if she was moving through deep water.
This is all my fault, Han thought. I should have paid more attention to Lando and not to Leia's outfits, or lack of...
"Put him in," the Dark Lord ordered.
Chewbacca, oh dear Chewbacca, started to growl and toss stormtroopers right and left, in a futile attempt to stop the inevitable.
She was drowning, drowning... She could barely hear Han's voice addressing the maddened Wookiee. She could not breathe... Then she felt compelled to turn around and face the Monster that had presided over the worst moments of her life.
Say goodbye, Princess, Darth Vader sent over the Force, your destiny awaits you.
You can take him away from me, but you can't take his love from me, Leia thought, and turned her back deliberately to the Dark Lord, blocking him out of her mind. Instead, she laid her hands on Chewie's powerful paws. With that simple gesture, she accepted Han's transfer of the Wookiee life debt, in the same natural way she had made her own her father's leadership of the Rebel Alliance.
The smuggler and the Princess kissed then, in a fierce, desperate way, oblivious to the pitiful or scornful views of friends and foes. Of them all, only Lando looked away.
A painful moment and the troopers dragged him to the hydraulic platform. From this horrendous event, Leia would remember every detail, every feeling, for the rest of her life. The little trail of sweat along his cheek, his tousled hair, the rumpled shirt. His haunted eyes.
Her own voice, reverberating in the vast chamber.
"I love you."
She was not sure at first if she had said it aloud or not, but Han answered her nevertheless, with the words that would soothe her pain, keep her going in the upcoming months.
And then she could not see his eyes anymore and she welcomed the Ice Princess back.
I'm sorry, Leia, was Han's last coherent though.
Good, the Dark Lord said to himself. She's strong. She would be a perfect match for the boy. He noticed then the Princess's rhythmical, controlled breathing. Luke's been already teaching you, I see. Good, he repeated.
A certain numbness fell upon Leia when the fumes raised savagely from the dreadful pit, as if she had been frozen too with Han.
Nobody talked as the newly casted slab was taken out and placed on the surrounding platform. One more push and it rested flat on the floor, where it landed whith a sound that resembled a mourning bell.
The Princess braced herself to the Wookiee but it was difficult to discern who was supporting whom, because both of them were shaking helplessly.
"Well, Calrissian, did he survive?" Darth Vader asked.
The Baron-Administrator studied the slab's controls for a long while before acknowledging. "Yes, he's alive... and in perfect hibernation."
Again, everything became blurry to Leia, as she and Chewie were dragged along a corridor amidst a stormtrooper squadron. Then she suddenly felt first a presence and then shooting.Luke?
Then she saw him. "It's a trap!" she shouted instinctively with all her might.
The escape was so fast, that she did not have time to think at all as they ran through Cloud City following Lando's lead. Amazing how she had suddenly trusted him, but she would do anything, no matter the risk, just for the chance of rescuing Han.
They did not succeed, though, and Fett took him away from Bespin. Leia then followed blindly Chewie until she found herself in the Millenium Falcon, sitting in Han's pilot chair.
Goddess, why? She cried inwardly, the sorrow and grief threatening to overwhelm her, in spite of the Ice Princess. Again, she felt Luke's presence. Much clearer than before, much stronger. Much more urgent. And it was now not only his presence that she felt, but his voice too, as clear as if he was talking at her side. As clear as Vader's intrusion in her mind, only much gentler, safer.
Leia, hear me!
At last, Luke was safe, mildly sedated to ease the pain from his stump and his soul. What had Darth Vader done to him? They had fought, that was evident. But she felt a fundamental change in Luke as well, something she could not exactly locate, but that much was as plain as the missing limb. There would be time later to solve this mystery, to learn why she had heard him so clearly in her mind. For now, he was safe and that was all that mattered.
Her dreams had been only partially right. Luke had been in grave danger and he had fallen down a vent to the vane from where they had rescued him... What had happened to Han... well, that she had not see. Maybe her dreams were not that accurate after all. Or maybe it was something still bound to happen.
Later, on their ride through hyperspace to join the Rebel fleet, Leia and Chewie met in the Falcon's lounge. The Wookiee sat by her, one of his big paws covering her tiny hand.
"We'll get him back, Chewie," the Princess said through clenched teeth.
Of course, Leia.
The Princess raised a brow. "What did you call me?"
I have to apologize to you, Leia, Chewie started. He had never addressed her by her name before. It was the word for beautiful. She let him continue. I used to give you another name when we first met.
Now she knew were he was getting. "Chewie, you don't need to..."
But I want to, he interrupted. It wouldn't be honorable if I didn't. Chewbacca locked eyes with her. I used to call you the flea. Leia chuckled softly. You know, tiny, restless, annoying...
"...Bloodsucker," Leia finished. She smiled at her hairy friend. "Han told me."
The Wookiee growled and tilted his head.
Leia, remind me when we rescue him that I have to kill him.
"Not before me, Chewie..."
It was not easy to read his facial expression, but it was clear that he was about to cry, or the Wookiee equivalent of it.
Why don't you try to rest a bit? Chewie finally offered, I'll keep an eye on Luke.
She had every intention of going to her cabin – Han's cabin – to rest a bit but her feet brought her to the main cargo bay.
There she stood, dumbfounded, facing the makeshift bed with its rumpled sheets. With a muffled sob, she suddenly collapsed on it, clutching tightly the pillow that still harbored Han's scent.
Later, when all the tears had been spent, she composed herself, wiping her face dry. Chewie doesn't need this and it doesn't help Han in any way either. With firm hands, she collected the sheets and Han's garments from yesterday – only yesterday? – which she had found in a careless pile in a corner of the room.
Stepping out of the cargo bay, she dropped the clothes into the cleanser unit. Her hand hovered over the controls for a while.
"This is not the end, Han Solo," she menaced aloud, and pressed the button to start the cycle.
With a firm step, she went to check on Luke.
Thanks for reading:)