AN: You know I don't own SW, everyone knows I don't own SW. Anyway, by popular demand on this and other websites, here's the sequel to my short story "Invitation." It works best if you read that story before reading this one, but this one can stand on its own as well. Just in case you haven't, both of these stories take place a few months after ANH.
And today's my birthday, so this is appropriate to post. ;)
Luke and Leia were having merged birthday parties?
Han thought it would be tough enough to get just one birthday present, yet alone two. There weren't exactly a lot of stores on the Rebel Base, not to mention that he wasn't sure what they would want. He stirred his breakfast that resembled something like the hot cereal that he once ate on Corellia as his mind went through momentary considerations of what would make good birthday presents. A blaster? No, Leia already had plenty of them. Beauty products? No, Leia didn't seem like the type who liked those. A gift basket of food? Maybe, but he wasn't exactly sure what her favorite foods were, and if he did, he probably couldn't obtain them here. A letter of apology for all the times he'd insulted her? Ugh...was he crazy?
Wait a minute, why was he only thinking about gifts for Leia?
"Hey Han, can I sit here?" said a familiar voice.
Luke stood across Han, balancing a tray of food on his hands.
"Sure kid," said Han, suddenly feeling like his habit of calling Luke "kid" was slightly awkward due to the fact that he was the same age as Leia.
Once Luke was seated across from Han, he gave the older man an strained-looking grin. "So...you ready for the party?"
"Are you?" asked Han.
"No," said Luke, giving a stressed snicker. "I wasn't exactly expecting to share my party with a royal. You know, I kinda wanted it to be a little party, not this big extravaganza."
"Well you could've refused to share a party with Her Highness, kid," said Han.
"I know, but...well...you know, she's a princess."
"That don't make any difference, kid," snorted Han. "Bout time you learned that, you bein' twenty and all."
"Not until tomorrow," reminded Luke.
"Yeah, yeah," said Han. "So you'd better enjoy your last day as a teenager."
Luke smirked as he stuck a spoonful of cereal into his mouth.
"So you share a birthday with Her Royal High And Mightiness," Han continued. "How's that feel?"
"Weird," said Luke. "I mean, really, what are the odds?"
"Any idea what you're gonna get her?"
Luke gave another awkward grin. "Actually, Leia and I have agreed that we're not going to give each other presents, since the party is for both of us."
"Well that helps a lot," Han said, blowing air out of his mouth.
Luke shrugged. "Well, I don't think I'd know what to get her anyway. She's...I dunno...hard to figure out."
You have no idea, kid, Han thought. He wondered what sort of secret Luke had discovered that allowed him to get along with Leia so well. Luke could have a conversation with Leia without breaking into their own mini-war. And now that they knew they shared birthdays, they'd have even more to talk about. It would only be a matter of time before she'd be passing Luke a very different kind of invitation - the thought of which did not sit well with Han, though he wasn't exactly sure why.
Maybe teasing the kid would discourage his crush.
Han shifted his eyes. "You like her, don't ya, kid?"
Han grinned as widely as he could without hurting his cheeks. "You heard me - you like her."
"No!" Luke sputtered. "No...I don't. Where'd you get that idea?"
"Oh let's see, maybe from the way you were looking all gaga-eyed at her when we met her?" said Han. "Or how bout the way you're always talkin' with her?"
"Han," protested Luke, his face scrunching.
"Well just so you know, continued Han, "you guys were both born on the same day and neither of you know your parents."
"So?" said Luke.
Han showed his teeth through his grin, not caring if there was food stuck to them. "I'm just sayin' there's a possibility you guys could be twins - gettin' in a relationship might be dangerous." He leaned back and put his feet on the table. "Incest babies don't live very long, ya know, so if you wanna have kids..."
"Han, come on," said Luke, sounding like he was trying to think Han's theory was ridiculous, but not doing a very good job, "there are..."
"Billions of people born in the galaxy every day," finished Han. "Yeah, I know, but there's always a possibility."
Luke rolled his eyes. "Well what about you? You don't know your parents either - how do you know you're not Leia's long-lost brother?" He reached over and pushed Han's foot to the side with his knuckles. "You guys fight like siblings, that's for sure."
Han rolled his eyes back at Luke, but he suddenly didn't feel like saying anything more about his twin theory.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Han didn't know why he was doing this, but the party was in six hours and he was rapidly running out of time to find something for Leia. Luke's present was ready, no problem once he had figured it out, but Leia's was another matter. Hard to figure out was an understatement with her, but still, Han had to be either really desperate or just plain crazy to want to see Mon Mothma for advice. He wasn't even sure if Mon Mothma knew he existed - he had seen her when she led meetings of the Alliance, but he had never talked to her personally.
Yet he was knocking on the door to her office. Was he desperate or just plain crazy?
"Mon Mothma's office," an elegant, accented voice said through the intercom. "Who is it?"
He was just plain crazy.
"Uh...Han Solo, Captain of the Millennium Falcon," Han said between gulps. "Requesting advice from Mon Mothma." After saying these words, he immediately wanted to turn around and run as far away as possible, but something held him in place.
"Captain Solo, do come in," said the voice, after which the door slid open, exposing Han to Mon's desk, making him suddenly wonder if maybe he should have washed his clothes before putting them on.
Mon Mothma sat up straighter than Han thought the human back was capable, wearing a simple but fancy yellow dress. "So nice to finally get to talk to you, Captain Solo," she said. "Do have a seat. Leia's told me you're quite an interesting character."
Oh really? Han thought as he sat down in front of Mon's desk. He suspected Leia's stories about him were mostly in an unfavorable light. "So...my reputation precedes me, I guess?" he said feebly.
Mon pursed her lips, looking like she could possibly be studying him. "Perhaps," she said. "She's told me you have a tendency to let your mouth rule over your head."
Han forced himself to chuckle while at the same time he wondered just why he was going through all this trouble for Her Worshipfulness. It wasn't like she deserved it.
"So exactly what brings you here, Captain Solo?" asked Mon, giving a smile that Han wasn't sure was genuine.
Han took a deep breath. "Somethin' pretty stupid, actually." He cleared his throat as he prepared to give away his dignity. "I'm sure ya know that Leia's birthday is today."
"Yes," said Mon.
"Well...I still gotta get her a present."
"Yes," Mon repeated as if she was trained to say that when people gave her stupid requests.
Han blew air out of his mouth, attempting to undo the knots in his stomach. "So...anyway...Leia mentioned to me once that you like to collect unusual stuff from different planets."
"That's true," said Mon, giving Han a look of slight confusion.
Han swallowed several times before speaking again.
"Well..." he said, "...you got anything from Alderaan?"
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
That evening, the main room of the Rebel Base was decorated for something very different from battle. Holobanners with scrolling messages that read "Happy Birthday Leia" and "Happy Birthday Luke" hung all over the walls. All movable equipment was pushed to the side to make room for dancing, while a few Rebels who were musically talented set up their instruments to provide musical ambiance for the party.
The Rebellion leaders - Leia among them - were dressed as if this was a formal ball instead of a birthday party. Once Han saw Leia in a long orange dress with her hair in those buns covering her ears, his fingers spontaneously relaxed their grip on her present so they could pull up at his belt, after which he wondered what the hell had gotten into his hand. If Leia had a problem with him wearing his regular shirt, pants, and vest to her party, that was her problem. It was her invitation that had failed to mention a dress code.
"Hello Han," she said in a flat voice, as if she suspected that he was only here because he didn't have anything better to do.
Han gulped, noticing how good she looked in orange. For a second it seemed that his voice box had forgotten how to talk, and then when it remembered how, it did so in a single breath.
"HiYourHighnessHappyBirthday," he exhaled.
Leia snickered through her nose. "So a smuggler is so out-of-place at a formal party that he turns sentences into single words?"
Han was beginning to wish that he hadn't promised he wouldn't insult her on her birthday. You'd better keep your end of the deal when my birthday comes, Your Worship, he thought. After a moment he held up her present in one hand and Luke's in another. "Where do I put these?"
"Over there," said Leia, pointing towards a corner. "Luke and I each have separate piles."
One look at the corner revealed that Leia had far more presents than Luke did. As he distributed his gifts to their respective piles, Han was wondering if he should have given Luke two presents to try to even things out a bit more. It was becoming clear to Han that this was really Leia's party and Luke was just a tagalong.
Where was the kid anyway? Was he missing what was supposedly his own party? Had he freaked out and cowered away at the idea of having a formal celebration?
"Hey Han," a voice said from behind him, immediately proving Han's suspicion wrong.
Han turned around to see Luke wearing a fancy, uncomfortable-looking brown suit and a grin that looked like it couldn't decide if it wanted to be genuine or not.
Luke held up his palm. "Don't say a word - Leia insisted that since I was one of the birthday people, I should look the part."
"Told ya you should've said no, kid," said Han. "So, you plannin' on dancin' at all?"
"Not really," said Luke, "especially considering that I can barely move in this thing."
"Well I doubt you would've had the guts anyway."
Han swayed from side to side on his feet. "I'm sayin' you wouldn't have the guts to ask Her Worship for a dance."
Luke gave a humorless snicker. "What are you talking about? Of course I would."
"Sorry, too late for that," said Luke. "I'm already in a bet."
What? Luke in a bet? "Cute joke, kid," said Han, "but I'm challenging you for real here."
"Who said I was joking?" said Luke.
At that moment, Leia strode up to the two men (how she managed to do that without stepping on her skirt, Han had no idea). Her eyebrows were down, her face pointed in Han's direction. The smuggler suddenly noticed that her dress showed quite a bit of cleavage, something that immediately took his interest.
"Han," the princess said through an exhale, "may I have this next dance?"
"Mmm, what?" muttered Han, still looking down at the visible parts of Leia's breasts.
He then felt Leia's hand jerking his chin up to look at her face. "Han, I asked you to dance with me. Did you hear?" She then turned to Luke. "See? I win."
"What?" exclaimed Han, just now comprehending what Leia had asked him. "What are you talkin' about?"
"Han, do you want to dance or not?" Leia said, sounding like the offer would end in a few seconds.
"Well...sure," Han voice responded without permission, "but what's all this about 'I won'?"
Luke shifted his eyes and grinned sheepishly. "Well...I kinda bet Leia that she would be too prideful to ask you for a dance."
Han's eyebrows lowered. "Oh, so THAT's what this is about? Needed a bet in order to get the guts to admit that you..."
Leia threw her hand over his mouth. "Remember your promise?"
Han attempted to say, "Of course, Your Highnessness" through Leia's fingers, but all that came out was incomprehensible mutters. Which was just as well, since the princess probably would have interpreted that as an insult anyway.
As Luke laughed, Leia led Han towards the dance floor - and didn't remove her hand until they got there.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Han didn't want to dance. He really didn't want to dance, especially not when Leia was at a proximity close enough to point out his mistakes, yet for some reason, he hadn't been able to say no to her. So much for her princess thing not mattering, he thought.
Leia looked like she didn't want to dance with Han any more than he wanted to dance with her, but she said nothing as she led him into the middle of the dance floor, where several of the Alliance leaders were doing some complicated-looking dance to the slow music.
"Come on," said Leia, turning her body to face him. "Take my hands."
Han didn't think she'd ever ask him to hold her hands. Dancing was sounding better already. For once he happily obeyed her command, probably squeezing her hands a bit tighter than she would like.
When they began to dance, Han wasn't at all sure if they were doing it right, but he didn't really care. He started to move faster than the music, pulling Leia into the sort of dance he usually only did when he was drunk.
"Han," Leia muttered, "you're not doing the right dance."
"Who cares?" said Han, spinning Leia around and sweeping her close to him.
"Han, you're making us look like idiots here," Leia said through ground teeth, looking a few seconds away from exploding.
"That's your problem sister, you're always afraid of lookin' like an idiot." Han grabbed her shoulders and began tilting her back and forth.
"Well maybe it doesn't bother an idiot to look like an idiot, but some of us have reputations to maintain," Leia struggled to say between steps.
"Com'on, Your Worship, have some fun on your birthday," said Han, taking small jumps from side to side, still gripping the princess's hands.
Leia said nothing more for the rest of the dance. She was trying to look embarrassed to be seen with Han, but he was certain he caught her smiling a few times.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Han twitched nervously when the time came for Leia and Luke to open their presents. He was perhaps the only one in the room who wasn't cheering loudly for the birthday people. Luke would obviously be done long before Leia, left to sit there while the princess was still surrounded by gifts. Maybe he should have given the kid five presents.
Leia unwrapped her gifts with more restraint than Han had ever seen in any birthday person. She unfolded the wrapping paper as if it were nothing more than the covering for a piece of food and followed with nothing more than a polite thank-you. Han wondered if she actually enjoyed her birthday or if this party was only so her fellow Alliance leaders wouldn't be disappointed.
Luke was the first one to reach Han's gift. He tore the paper off of it like he was a child excited about a new toy. How one should act on his birthday, Han thought.
"Wow, Han...is this really...Corellian whiskey?" Luke exclaimed.
"A whole case of it, kid," Han said proudly.
"Er...thanks...but you know, I'm technically still underage."
"Not on Corellia, kid," Han said with a large grin. "Just give me a night and we'll get drunk together."
Luke laughed, ignoring Leia's rather strong glare at him.
Han laughed too, ignoring Leia's even stronger glare at him.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
As Han predicted, Luke ran out of presents long before Leia did. He was now drumming his fingers on the table, giving halfhearted congratulations to Leia, who still hadn't gotten to Han's gift. Han was beginning to suspect that she had hidden his gift at the very bottom of the pile in hope that she'd "accidentally" lose it.
Just when Han thought she had lost his present, she came to it. She held the small box in her hand and moved it up and down, as if trying to weigh it to guess what it was.
"This is a bit small for whiskey, isn't it?" she chided.
Han snorted. "C'mon, even I wouldn't give you guys the same present."
"So it's ale, then. Or sabacc cards, maybe?"
Han rolled his eyes. "Just open it," he said through gritted teeth.
Leia slowly unwrapped Han's present with the same restraint that she had used to open all the others - or possibly with more restraint. Her lips were curled and her eyebrows raised, as if she expected something disgusting to pop out of the package. When the paper was off, revealing only a brown box, her pursed lips shifted from side to side, like she thought it was a practical joke. Han was about to instruct her to open the box when she began to do so, delicately sliding her fingernail through the seal inch by inch. Despite his promise, Han found himself sighing loudly, wondering if she was doing this just to test his patience.
Her face changed dramatically when she got the box open. Her eyes bulged, her lower lip hanging inches below her upper lip as she slowly lifted the object out, paying no attention to the bunches of interested eyes staring at it.
The tiny glass ball she held carried no image of anything special. It encased miniatures of mountains surrounding a gray palace with thin towers. Probably those further away from her couldn't even see what was inside it, but they could see her reaction - the first time she had actually reacted to a gift at this party.
She stared at it like it was a precious jewel, scarcely blinking. Her fingers brushed the glass as if they were stroking a beloved pet. Han thought he caught her gulping, but he couldn't be sure.
"Alderaan..." she whispered.
A strange silence followed. No one seemed to know what to say, not even Han. He wanted to point out how his was the only present she seemed to appreciate, smirk at her getting emotional in front of everyone, do something...but somehow he couldn't move. He was as tranced as she was, perhaps because this was a rare moment when the princess was actually showing emotion...or perhaps because he was witnessing a wanderer holding a small piece of the home she once had.
Finally she looked up, giving Han a real, true smile, completely lacking any of the smart-alecky nature or one-uppedness he had learned to associate with her face. She probably hadn't given him this sort of smile since the medal ceremony on Yavin 4.
Han felt himself smiling back at her. "Cheap knickknack, I know, but it was the only thing from your planet I could find..."
Leia's nod once more struck him silent, leaving him with the ability to do nothing except stare once more at her dazzling smile.
"Thank you, Han," she said. "So very much."