Love's Strength

By Susan Zahn

(My first published story, circa 1987)

The small circular window of their assigned lodgings afforded a very limited view of the expansive night sky above Endor's moon, yet it hypnotically drew Han Solo from his exhausted sleep. He sat up-right, his hazel eyes fixed on the familiar constellations that sparkled like diamonds, tempting him on. There was only one other thing in his entire experience that could entrance him so—her eyes.

Suddenly brought back to reality, he shifted his attention to the rough-hewn shelter, dark but for the small candle flickering in the far corner. Normally, he wouldn't have bothered with the small hut the Ewoks had offered, preferring his cabin on the Falcon. But somehow that bunk did not seem as comfortable anymore. It just wasn't as welcoming and warm as he remembered it to be—not since his friends had released him from his living nightmare in carbonite. Perhaps it was because finally he'd found a home, a real one, to take the place his old freighter had filled for a good portion of his life. Or, he mused with a small smile, more likely because Leia had asked him to stay. And, no doubt about it, no bed was comfortable without her.

What they were laying in wasn't anything like the bunk on the Falcon but rather a thick pile of soft pelts, which he happened to like immensely and consequently surprised the hell out of him.

For some reason, this felt real, soft and closer to reality than the harsh, man-made world of a spaceship. A shame he had never come to appreciate that type of thing until after his ordeal in carbonite.

The idea of his beautiful princess buried somewhere among those luxuriant furs called up something pleasurably primitive within him.

As if in reaction to his silent thoughts, Han felt the warm figure beside him stir beneath the fur coverlet. A gentle, caressing hand touched his bare back, then slowly traced down his spine.


Her voice, as soft as her caress, sent a shiver of pure affection rushing through him, and he twisted around to gaze down at the young woman. He smiled. "Awake so soon?"

"Alderaanis recover quickly." There was a slight tease in Leia's tone, almost a challenge. "Although apparently not as fast as Corellians."

"Ah, you do wonders for one's...fortitude." Han chuckled softly and eased himself back down to one elbow on the plush cushion beneath them, leaning over her to press his lips against hers. The kiss quickly became one of passion long denied, and their arms wrapped around each other in a tight clench. He slowly lowered onto his back, taking the princess, still in his arms, over with him.

When they eventually came up for air, Leia continued to gaze down into his wonderfully hazel eyes, a bright twinkle in her own as she brushed away some of the disarranged chestnut hair from his forehead.

"Okay, flyboy, are you going to tell me what's eating you?"

"Besides you?" he murmured with a wicked grin.

With a melodramatic sigh of exasperation, she stretched to plant a kiss on his forehead. Han didn't bother stopping a small moan from escaping as the pleasant sensation of her movement pushed aside her uncomfortable question.

"That's not what I meant, Han. Something's on your mind, and it's not what you want me to think you're thinking.

Han hugged her tight, then tried to busy himself by tangling his hands in her long, unbound hair. His shadowed face almost turned serious. "What makes you say that?"

"I don't know." Leia touched his cheek, then traced a finger along the scar on his chin. "I guess I…" Her hand stopped as she hesitated, and her dark eyes flicked up to meet his once again.

"I can sense it."

Han studied her lovely face in the shimmering candlelight, reaffirming his decision of the night before that it was definitely her milieu. She was almost irresistible in this light—more so than any other time. But in spite of his desire to make her his own forever, he couldn't miss her uncharacteristic confusion. "The Force?" he asked softly, the normal tone of skepticism noticeably absent from his voice. Six months ago he probably would have laughed in her face, but so much had happened. So much had changed. He had changed.

"Maybe." Leia sighed again, this time for real, and her shoulders sagged slightly above him. "I really don't understand; how I'm supposed to use it. Things I've taken for granted for so long Luke now tells me are really Force skills I've only developed on my own. I don't understand." She cocked her head, refocusing on her lover. "I have so much to ask Luke, but we'd been so busy today—or yesterday, as the case may be—that we never really got much of a chance." She shrugged. "It might have been the Force, or maybe just feminine intuition."

"The Maker save us," he exclaimed with a teasing smile.

"You're a lot of help, Handsome," she growled, playfully poking him in the ribs. "I haven't heard you cry out yet—not to complain, anyway," she added, with a lewd grin that could only be credited to one certain Corellian.

"Uhmmmm," was all Han said before raising his head to kiss her lips again. Then he slowly shook his head. "Nah, sweetheart, do you honestly think I'd complain after tonight? This is somethin' I've always wanted—somethin' I've always dreamed about…I feel complete with you, Leia-love. If I'd known how wonderful this could be when we first met, I never would've wasted so much time arguin' with you."

The ever-present love in Leia's eyes increased triple-fold, and she bit down on her lower lip for a moment to keep the sudden threat of tears from becoming a reality. "You enjoyed all that teasing, though, didn't you?"

"Of course I did. Admit it, you loved every minute of it, too, yer Wonderfulness. And we certainly kept everyone on the bases entertained with our little drama." He laughed a little. "I placed a couple of bets myself."

Leia's eyebrows shot up in genuine surprise. "You bet? Do you mean—to tell me—they were actually wagering on the outcome of our—?"

Laughing even harder, he held her body tight until she relaxed in his powerfully reassuring embrace. "Don't you worry, sweetheart. I won, in many more ways than one."

Leia continued to eye him suspiciously for a few more moments, then she couldn't resist cracking a little smile. After all, it was a scoundrel she'd fallen in love with; she would have been disappointed by anything less from him. "And you got to walk away with the Grand Prize, huh, scruffy?"

"Modest as ever, yer Worship."

"You promised not to call me that anymore," Leia scolded softly. Then she moved to kiss him thoroughly, leaving little doubt as to her real emotions. Han returned the endearment with the usual enthusiasm, but after what seemed a timeless moment, Leia pulled away slightly, suddenly determined not to let him change the subject again.

"Something's on your mind, Han, and I can sense it. You're not here with me. Your mind is somewhere else." She softly caressed his cheek. "Tell me what you're thinking. Tell me where you are."

'Gods, what perception,' Han thought to himself. He remained silent for a long moment, losing himself in the sensations that were his lover: Her caring, steady gaze; her velvety skin against his; her soft, warm breath. His dream had come true; the young princess he'd loved since their destined—yes, destined!—encounter on the Death Star, now in his arms. In spite of the hard and demanding work of cleaning up after the battle, now almost two days old, they had found the energy to make love twice tonight and for the first time during the celebration the night before. Indeed, they'd all had something to celebrate that night.

She was right, as usual. He had given himself totally to her earlier, as he had to no other, which in all modesty was saying a lot. After so many years of searching for his perfect mate by trial and error, he had accidentally stumbled across the woman he'd longed for. Compassionate, spirited, outspoken, undeniably beautiful—an Alderaani princess, of all things. All those fleeting acquaintances of his past had swiftly faded away. The woman now in his arms had become his entire world; past, present, and—he prayed—future.

"Han? Honey?"

"Hmmm?" He blinked, snapping out of his reverie. A concerned look had clouded her features, and he cupped her face in his hands. "Leia, I—there's something I should tell you, before we become any more involved."

Leia was about to ask how they could possibly become any more 'involved' than they'd been mere hours ago, but held her tongue when she noticed his stress. "Yes?"

Han couldn't help himself; he looked away from her gaze, the old feelings of guilt and uncertainty suddenly washing over the equally old barriers he'd built to hold those regrets and memories back. "This won't be easy for you to hear, but I've got to tell you—get it out in the open." He drew a deep breath and silently collected his thoughts.

Once again, Leia could sense his mental distance and the pain he was remembering. She recalled the way his eyes had been drawn to the hut's tiny window and to the endless reaches of the night sky outside. She experienced an unexpected thrill of fear.

She lowered her head to press her cheek against his strong chest, offering a silent prayer, but knowing she could do nothing (would do nothing!) if he made up his mind. "You're leaving…Aren't you?" Her whispered words were more a statement than a question. After all, she had never asked for a commitment, and he had never offered one. She really had no right to expect him to stay now that he'd helped defeat the Empire, other than that she loved him. And that same love would prevent her from keeping him here against his will. He had his own life, to live it the way he wished.

She needn't have worried. She felt his chest heave abruptly as he drew in a sharp breath, then his strong arms tightened around her, a crushing embrace of untainted love.

"No, no, no!" He forced himself to relax, kissing the top of her head and beginning to slowly stroke her waist-length hair as he rested his head back to stare up at the dark ceiling above. "Wild banthas couldn't pull me away from you. Not unless you wanted me to leave."

It took a moment for his last words to sink in before Leia began to flatly refuse such a suggestion. He silenced her with his own quiet words. "You haven't heard what I have to say. Gods, this is so hard for me to tell you. You've lost so much already, and I almost—" He broke off, swallowing hard. "I…was hired by the Empire to infiltrate the Rebel Alliance."

Han felt her grip on his sides tighten and knew the pain he felt wasn't from her clench, but from her simple reaction, the sudden tenseness. That hurt more than any blaster bolt. He fought to hide the trembling in his voice—throughout his entire body.

"Back in Mos Eisley, on Tatooine, right after Luke and Ben Kenobi hired me to take them to Alderaan, Stormtroopers came into the cantina. Luke and the rest slipped out to hide, and Chewie headed for the Falcon's docking bay, but I stuck around, figurin' they had nothin' on me. As far as I could tell, the Imps didn't know who or what Kenobi was, but did know he was tryin' to get those droids to the secret Rebel base and were right in assumin' Kenobi had hired me. At that time, I didn't really have any loyalties to either side, so when the Imps came up and offered me double what Kenobi had, just to keep an eye on those blasted droids, I couldn't pass on the deal. All I had to do was stick with Luke and Kenobi, win their confidence, and when we reached the base, I'd give the Imps the coordinates. Then I'd get the rest of my credits and be on my way to pay off Jabba.

"It sounded simple enough; I kill a few Stormtroopers along the way to convince the Rebels I'm straight, and the Imps promised to keep resistance to a minimum.

"It's when we came out of hyperspace and saw what was left of Alderaan…" Han paused, knowing full well how much that loss still affected Leia. Then he swallowed again and went on. "After I saw, that's when I began to really have my doubts. I mean, I'd heard about some of the atrocities the Empire had committed—everybody had. But who'd ever imagine they'd sink so far as to wipe out an entire planet! But then, just as quickly, I decided that once I got my money, I'd get out of it. That's all I was in it for, so what did I care? Besides, I figured I couldn't do a hell of a lot about it, anyway.

"The tractor beam on that Death Star dragged us on board, and I got the chance to strengthen Luke's trust in me by chasin' around with him. I'll tell ya' one thing, the Imps hadn't planned on me rescuin' some princess who was bein' held on the detention level. Hells, neither did I. It had been Luke's idea, and at first I was against it 'cause I just wanted to fill my end of the bargain and get the hell out, but finally I gave in, rather than ruin their growin' trust in me."

Han paused and drew a deep breath, feeling himself relax slightly. Leia had made no move to push away, or stop his slowly stroking hand, and for some reason he found that reassuring.

"I hadn't planned on meetin' a princess who'd end up stealin' my heart, and I certainly didn't want it. I was in deeper than I'd bargained for already, and the last thing I needed to complicate matters was a spoiled, self-righteous, highborn woman to mix up my emotions. I decided the sooner we got to the base, the sooner I could get away from you. I didn't want a woman to tie me down—I thought actually loving a woman would tie me down. But I was only fighting fate."

Han paused again to let those words sink in before continuing. "I hadn't planned on Kenobi dyin', either, but he gave me the perfect chance to make our staged escape seem plausible.

"You know, I think he knew all along what I was up to, the way he'd keep givin' me those funny smiles every once in a while, like he knew I'd eventually come to see things like they really were, if only I'd stick around you and Luke long enough.

"Anyway, you were right about why the Empire only sent four TIE fighters after us. They were trackin' my ship 'cause I'd helped plant the bug myself, back on Tatooine, right before we'd lifted off. When you commented on the easy escape, I figured the game was up and made a feeble attempt to defend myself, but you didn't bother to carry on, just went off on that tangent about whether I cared for anything or anybody. That really threw me.

"All the way to Yavin IV I thought about that, and what I'd done, and wonderin' what would happen when the Empire caught up with us. The more I got to know you two, the more I found myself worryin' about what was goin' to happen; everybody knew they'd use the Death Star again.

"When the Empire finally showed up 'round the corner, a part of me really wanted to stay, but as soon as I got the reward for rescuin' you, I snapped into the mercenary mode, decidin' I'd get gone before I got killed, too. Chewie never knew about my deal with the Imps, and he wanted to stay and help, but I gave my order, and he followed it.

"We lifted off, and I set the hyperspace coordinates for the nearest Imperial base to pick up my payment—but I couldn't make the jump. I just sat there, thinkin' about you, an' Luke, an' everybody who'd ever been trapped by the Empire. I knew what they were gonna do, and how I'd caused it. I knew I couldn't live with that kind of guilt, no matter how much I was paid. All of you were friends—Luke never even questioned our friendship, it was that strong! So when he accused me of not caring for anybody but myself, the same way you had, it hurt deep.

"Finally, I swung the Falcon around and headed for that Death Star—thank the Gods I wasn't too late! Didn't really give a damn about the Empire or the rest of my payment, guess I never really did. You—all of you—were more important to me than whatever those Imperial bastards could offer. Because you had accepted me as a friend suddenly seemed to mean everything.

"Ever since then I've been carryin' that guilt around with me, trying to make up for what I'd almost cost you. Maybe that's why I was afraid to admit how I felt about you, Leia. I knew sooner or later I'd have to tell you the truth, and since I had no idea how you'd take that kind of news, I thought it was easier just to avoid that part of my past—until now."

Han finally stopped, closing his eyes in relief, his conscience eased for the first time in years. His relief was short-lived, though, for the woman in his arms still hadn't moved. He felt a pang of anxiety and regret at what his earlier greed and foolishness might ultimately have cost him. "I can understand if you're upset, and I'll understand if you can't forgive me for the pain I've caused you—and the Alliance that day, but— Please, don't stop loving me." Han gently lifted up her chin to meet her dark, tear-filled eyes. "I—don't know what I'd do if—"

Leia had remained silent throughout his story, but now she moved a hand to touch one of his that framed her face. "How could I stop loving you?" She caressed his cheek. "How could I go on living without you?" She stifled a sob by suddenly pressing her lips to his for a long, hard kiss. Then in a weak voice, she said, "Don't you ever think I'll give you up that easily."

Han wrapped his arms around her, but remained silent.

"Luke asked me to forgive our father. He explained how Anakin turned back to the Light before he died, but I—it's going to take me a long time before I can do that, after all he's done, Dark Side or not. If I can forgive my father his countless crimes, don't you think I could forgive you your one?"

"I guess so."

"What's past is past," she continued softly. "Remember what we said about the past?"


"Then don't worry about that. What's important is how we feel about each other now."

"But I—"

"No," Leia said suddenly, sternly, shifting to look him straight in the eye. "No if's, and's, or but's. Now you listen to me, Han Solo. I didn't spend six months of searching for you, and sleepless nights without you, just to give you up now. As far as I'm concerned, my life began the day I met you, and it would end the day I let you go.

"I don't care what you used to do before we met. I love you for who you are, not what. And, Force help me, that'll never change! I don't care if you're a pirate or a smuggler or a general or a—a damned nerf herder! I love you, and I'm going to keep on loving you." Despite the absolute firmness and sincerity of her voice, she trembled as tears streamed unhindered down her cheeks. "I believe in you, Han Solo. I believe in what you do; I believe in what you stand for. You've changed, and I know that. All my life I've waited for you, and as the Gods are my witness, I'm not going to let you go!"

Leia stopped, speechless, breathless, and—sweet Gods above!—she saw tears in his eyes. That would have been the last straw, but she clamped down hard on her bottom lip again, willing herself not to burst into sobs, and buried her face in the muscled curve of his shoulder.

Han held her tightly, indeed intending to never let go, as slowly one tear, then another, slid across his cheek. It had been so many years since he'd cried—a lifetime ago. But this time was different.

These were tears of relief and joy, and the promise of a future too important to simply take in typical Solo stride. He needed to cry. Needed her to see him cry. "I love you, too," Han said softly when he felt her Wookiee-like hug relax somewhat and her breathing return to normal. "I'm sorry I ever doubted you, sweetheart."

"Just…" Leia hesitated to swallow and take a deep breath. Then she let it out slowly, a sniffle still detectable, "Just don't do it again, all right?"

"You have my word." Han sighed, slowly stroking her luxuriant hair, searching for the right things to say.

Leia nuzzled her head against his shoulder and surprised herself by smiling ruefully. "I'm sorry about the waterworks, Han."

He smiled in understanding and ran his fingers down her smooth sides. "Didn't think it'd be contagious, did you?"

"No…I'm sorry, I never meant to—"

"Hey," he halted her, just as stern as she had been moments before. "There's no reason to apologize. It takes a lot to admit emotions like that. I should know, shouldn't I?"

Leia stirred and lifted her head to study his handsomely shadowed face.

"Don't you ever be ashamed to cry in front of me, if that's what you feel inside. We've hid how we felt from each other for too long. It's about time we stopped."

She remained silent for a few more seconds, then couldn't help smiling slightly. "You're right."

"You bet your tiara I'm right!"

Leia laughed softly and scooted forward to press her cheek against his, inadvertently burying the rest of his face in her long hair. Far from complaining, Han breathed in the warm fragrance and whispered. "Leia-love."

In response, she planted a wet kiss beneath his ear, then mumbled, "You know me; I may not get real emotional very often, but when I do, watch out!"

"Tell me about it." Han rolled over suddenly, returning the princess to the soft animal furs, following her partially over to end up halfway on top of her. Then he propped himself up on one elbow while his free hand found a comfortable resting spot on one of her ivory hips. "You get spunky when you're emotional—a real handful." He riveted her with a patented hazel gaze. "I like that."

Finding herself unable to draw away from his eyes (indeed, she never had been able to) she began to melt. "I think we're talking about two different—"

"I don't think so." His words were slow and deliberate, the same as his hand, which now moved across her belly and then higher to cup a breast. He watched, slightly amused, as her expression changed, eyes closed, her breath caught in her throat as she began to tremble beneath his practiced touch.

"Again?" Leia managed to ask, the taint of astonishment clear in her voice. She opened her eyes in time to see him bow his head and extend a kiss along the length of her opposite collarbone. His breath against her bare skin felt hot, and despite her still lingering tiredness, she desperately longed for his touch.

"Please?" His hand didn't stop, and his lips moved to find the pulse beat at the base of her throat, then up to nibble on her ear lobe. "Leia."

Before giving in to the inevitable, she protested weakly. "What about the War Conference tomorrow? What would—ahh!—what would they say if we didn't show up? It'd be awfully…conspicuous."

Han didn't seem to hear her, intent on other matters. Already her hands had sought him out, at the moment moving sensuously up and down his finely muscled back. He could sense her need, in spite of her feeble argument, and put it upon himself to see that she wasn't disappointed. "So we'll be a little late," he finally volunteered, evidence that he had heard her.

"But what about Admiral—" She stopped with a gasp as he touched a particularly sensitive spot he had discovered the night before, and she clutched at him, drawing him closer. "Han."

"The Admiral can find his own mate," he said huskily, his own breath becoming shorter.

"Damn' scoundrels," she muttered. "Hang around with 'em long enough and they'll corrupt you." Then Leia wisely gave up, knowing too well that arguing with the Corellian was usually futile. Besides, she was becoming aware of her own growing desire to lose herself in the same Corellian's experienced touch.

There was a momentary silence, punctuated only by their harsh breathing and occasional moans, before Leia found enough spare energy to exclaim softly: "Gods, those rumors I heard about you were true!"

Han paused to look her straight in the eye, his hands not moving away from her, but his dark eyebrows knit in obvious confusion. Then he suddenly realized what she had meant, and a roguish smile lit up his face as he resumed stroking her smooth skin. "All except for one. There's only one woman in my life now. That's you, sweetheart, and I intend to keep it that way."

Even if they hadn't been in the middle of making love, she would have been breathless at hearing his statement. How he found the spare oxygen was beyond her. 'Chalk it up to Boundless Corellian Energy,' she thought, her mind having strangely wandered from the matter at hand. She nodded her head slowly, then with more enthusiasm. "That sounds fine with me. I won't argue with it."

Han remained at his vantage point for a moment longer, searching her eyes in the candlelight before asking softly, "Do you think we should get married?"

Leia opened her mouth to say something, found nothing, and closed it again, then tried once more. "That's up to you. I—I don't want you to feel you're obligated to because of who I am, or—"

Han sighed and shook his head. "You know damned well I wouldn't've asked if I thought I had to. I want to make a commitment to you…but I'm not doin' this right. Let me start over." He drew back and sat up, straightening his shoulders, and gave her his most serious expression. "Leia Organa, would you do me the honor of becoming my wife? How's that? Better?"

Leia found herself fighting back tears and laughter at the same time. But wasn't this how she'd always dreamed his proposal would be? "It'll have to do," she burst out, sitting up faster than she would have given herself credit for and smothering him in an expressive, poignant kiss.

When they finally resurfaced, Han grinned smugly. "That was nice. Does it mean yes?"

Leia tried to feign exasperation, but her broad smile and equally wide eyes ruined the effect. "Of course it does, you pirate! Pirate of my heart." She kissed him again, a little slower, but unarguably more intense. It was even longer before they parted again, and Leia whispered. "Han, I've waited so long for you—"

Totally caught up in her kisses, Han decided there had been enough talking. "You don't have to wait any longer." He gathered his princess up in his arms and lowered her back down to the furs, enveloping her in a kiss meant to last forever.