The bird sat on his shoulder, its long pink claws extending to give a firm grip on his shirt. It had been found by a sentry outside the base a few days before, one wing badly mangled. Assiduous treatment in the med centre and careful attention by a number of the rebel staff had assured its survival, and it was now on the road to recovery, carried on the broad shoulders of Han Solo.
It amused Leia enormously to see Han's carefully cultivated image as a pirate so gloriously enhanced by the presence of his new companion, a brilliantly coloured scarlet and saffron flash, with a long tail and sparkling black diamond eyes. Initially named after his beloved ship, the bird now, heedless of gender, was simply called Millie.
As Leia watched, the bird moved slightly behind Han's neck, and ducked down. Han tipped his head back, and turned it from side to side, caressing the top of Millie's head with his thick brown hair. If a bird could purr, Leia thought, Millie would be purring now.
Over the next few days, Leia noticed a change in Han's appearance, beyond the permanent presence of the bird on his shoulder. First, she noticed an afternoon shadow on his chin. The next day, it had grown into a dark, rough stubble. She wondered at the change from his normally fussy personal grooming habits. While his shirt might not always be clean, his chin always had been clean shaven. She did not find it objectionable – in fact, she thought to herself, it accentuated the clarity and brightness of his eyes.
The reason for the change became apparent that evening after dinner. Millie sat quietly on Han's shoulder for most of the meal, but, as they relaxed with a drink on a couch in a quiet corner of the mess, she moved around to the front of his shirt and tucked herself beneath his chin. Closing his eyes, Han dropped his head and slowly, carefully, moved his face from side to side. Millie leaned forwards and down, exposing the whole back of her neck to the caress of Han's stubble. Forget purring, Leia thought, that bird was swooning, and Han seemed to be enjoying it just as much.
Han's beard grew thicker, and softer, and Millie found numerous ways to enjoy it. She perched on one or other shoulder, on the back of his collar, or beneath his chin, a constant fixture as he worked, ate and moved around the base. Once, watching the bird stroke its face against Han's, Leia felt a flash of desire to touch her own smooth cheek to Han's beard, to see if it felt as good as it looked. She smiled at herself, jealous of a bird.
She wondered at such a rare display of tenderness from the smuggler. She had long suspected that he had a poorly concealed tendency to befriend the weak, the small and the defenceless. Is that where it sprang from? Or from a childhood memory of a pet? Whatever the source, she found herself spending too much time watching him interact with his new friend, and trying to unravel this new development in the ongoing, intriguing riddle of Han Solo.
When the time came, and after an examination showed Millie's wing to be healed, Han very tenderly removed her from his shoulder, and held her in his hands. He gave her one last soft caress with his cheek, and then reached out his arms and opened his hands. The bird hesitated for a few moments, standing on his palms. Then she extended her wings, stretching, as if testing the weight of the air. Finally, with a quick flutter, she rose into the air and was gone, a flame among the greenery, soaring above their heads.
Leia looked at Han, concerned as to how he felt about the sudden departure of his friend. But he wore a contented, almost delighted smile, his eyes fixed on the heavens. After a few moments of silence, he turned on his heel and disappeared into the Falcon.
The next time she saw him, he had shaved.