Chapter One: The Best Medicine
Princess Leia Organa found herself caught in a rainstorm. As her tiny foot splashed into a deep puddle, she cursed under her breath. Her white gown turning brown along the edges as the wet fabric stretched hungrily towards the street, the filth crawling up like kaffe spilling upwards. Shivering, she wrapped her arms around herself and bit her lip to keep her teeth from chattering.
Her brow furrowed and her eyes narrowed into determined slits as she studied each closed door and shook her head as she passed every boarded window. She looked a sight, with her dress and her long, unbound hair clinging to her all too familiarly. She stopped suddenly, stiffened her back and slowly looked behind her. Facing forward again, she let out a deep breath that disengaged the rain drops resting on her lips, letting them tumble towards the street to join their comrades.
She began to walk again.
A long, high-pitched siren wailed in the distance and the princess's head lurched towards the direction of this new sound. Her pace quickened as she turned to abandon the high ground of the street and splashed onto the low lying sidewalk. In her wake she left a small entourage of waves that lapped up against the closed doors as if knocking to get inside. Grabbing the fabric of her dress, she raised it to mid-calf as she walked through the ankle deep water. She wondered when she had lost her shoes.
It was so dark and the rain fell in sheets; she hoped she would recognize the place when she got there. The street looked monochromatic, all blacks and grays and the siren grew louder, but she pressed on. The rain drops beat down on her head and her shoulders and an occasional burst of wind would drive it sideways and pelt her back or her stomach causing her to shiver. She wished she was home in her bed by a warm fire with a book. The thought temporarily warmed her but a stiff wind came along and blew it out like a candle.
Her legs stopped moving as her eyes landed on a red door, all inviting and open. Inside she could see the dancing shadows of a raging fire and her breath caught in her throat. Crossing the street she began to walk towards it, wincing at the deafening sound of the siren. She blinked furiously as the rain came down with a renewed ferocity and her eyes stung from the cold, wet wind slapping her face. She brought her hand up to her cheek and felt it with the backs of her fingers, like her mother used to do. She dropped her hand and clutched her stomach, suddenly feeling sick.
The street began to spin like a top and she stumbled sideways towards the red door until she ended up clinging to a small support beam that ran up to the roof. Resting her head against the wooden beam she took her hands and held them tightly against her ears. Her eyes moved toward the door but stopped before they reached their destination. She dropped her hands down to her sides and her mouth fell open as she looked nervously up and down the street.
She saw the siren.
There in the street in front of the opened red door, was a baby lying on the ground in the rain and filth crying and choking as the deluge poured into its open mouth. Walking over towards it, Leia bent down and scooped it up in her trembling arms, hugging it to her chest.
The siren wouldn't stop. Leia cooed in its ear and patted its back, but the baby could not be soothed. She brought it down to cradle it in her arms. Her movements were slow, deliberate and awkward. This is very different than holding a doll, she thought. Leia smiled and spoke calmly and smoothly to the infant, using the voice she perfected on the Senate floor. The baby sputtered and coughed; its arms and legs flailing about as it screamed louder.
Leia's eyes slammed shut as she tilted her head back, took a deep breath and tried to calm her thoughts. Finally, opening her eyes and slowly looking back down at the baby, she gasped. There was blood all over its face. Frantically turning the baby over and running her hands along its small body, she searched unsuccessfully for some sort of wound.
Soon the baby was the color of the door.
Leia looked down at her once white gown and discovered she too was the color of blood. Her eyes slowly rose to scan the street and the puddles and the filth, only to find they all were now tinged scarlet. She shook her head violently back and forth and furrowed her brow. Looking up towards the heavens, she noticed that the sheets of rain had turned from gray to red. Lowering her eyes back towards the baby in her arms, Leia found its eyes were pools of red.
She screamed but nothing came out.
The baby's siren cry wailed on.
And then Leia woke up.
She was in her quarters aboard Home One, the Alliance's Headquarters Frigate. Her bunk was drenched in sweat. Placing the backs of her fingers to her cheek as she had done in her dream, Leia's hand felt like ice against her hot skin. She threw her covers off, walked to her small kitchenette and poured a glass of water, closing her eyes and gulping it greedily. The cool liquid blazed an icy path down her throat and as it coalesced in her stomach, a chill zipped up her spine. Her shoulders shivered as she set the empty glass down on the counter.
Several bottles of pills sat on the counter, all with her name hastily written on the labels. Painkillers, nerve pills, sedatives and whatever else one needed to recover from the very worst days of their lives. It had been six weeks since her internment on the Death Star and everything that went with that. The smell of her untouched soup from the night before made her stomach rumble. She wished she had a bowl of Winter's "feel better" soup. It was the best in the galaxy. Leia picked up the untouched bowl, dumped out its contents and put the small dish in the sanitizer.
She poured herself another glass of water and held the glass out in front of her. The water sloshed inside as she fought to steady her trembling hand. Placing the glass on the counter she looked down at the pills.
I can do this, she thought as she closed her eyes and steadied herself with her hands. They felt warm against the cool kitchen counter. Standing up straight, she opened her eyes, lifted her hands away and watched her phantom prints slowly dissipate. First her fingers and thumbs, then her palms, then only small dots remained. And then they were gone.
Feeling a twinge of pain shoot up her side, she grabbed the pain meds and twisted the cap open, pouring the little white pills into her hand. She squeezed her hand into a fist, digging her fingernails into her flesh and crushing the pills inside her sweaty palm. Her eyes slammed shut.
Her first two weeks were spent between the med center and debriefings with High Command. There was no evidence that she was forced to witness the destruction of Alderaan. There was no physical evidence that Vader had personally interrogated her. No physical evidence… Leia's eyes flew open. She shook her head.
Unclenching her fists, she looked at the pills in her hand. Holding her hand out over the basin and tilting it sideways, she watched the pills tumble off of her palm and fall into the metal sink. They made noises as they fell and Leia's head pounded with each metallic ping. They bounced and rolled around until they finally came to a stop.
She did the same with the pink nerve pills.
And the capsules that were supposed to help her "cope".
When she turned on the water she watched the pills swirl around several times and disappear.
Turning to the empty bottles lined up on the counter, she took her hand and with one sweeping motion slid them all off of the counter and down onto the floor. The hollow sounds they made echoed through her tiny galley and she held her hands up to her ears to try and quell the pain.
She fell to her knees and stretched her body out on the galley floor. Pressing her cheek to the cool tile she closed her eyes. Maybe her nightmares wouldn't follow her here.
Her eyes fluttered open slowly and she realized she must've fallen asleep. Pushing herself up to a sitting position, shooting pains traveled up her sides and shot through her arms. A twinge in her neck caused her to wince and her side hurt from her bruised ribs. Her mind had rested peacefully on the galley floor. It seemed her nightmares had not found her there, but her body had paid the price.
She preferred the physical pain over the mental.
Forcing her body to obey her, she stood and studied the scene at her feet, temporarily mystified. Empty medicine bottles and their matching lids were strewn about on the floor, and then it slowly came back to her. Against all better judgment, Leia bent down and began to scoop up the bottles and throw them away. Stars danced in front of her eyes as her body once again protested violently to her request for movement.
She walked over to the brewing station and set the kaffe to brew. Returning to her bunk area, she opened her trunk and began to dress. Her eyes fell on the fading bruises dappled on her upper arms. No longer the color of ripe, purple plums, they had turned a sick, rotten green. She wondered if the mind healed the same as the body and if so, just what color her brain was right now.
As she slipped her boots on she heard the kaffe machine chime. Walking back into the galley, she poured herself some kaffe and took two large gulps before setting the mug back down on the counter.
She pressed the back of her hand to her forehead. She thought her fever might have broken.
Leaving her quarters, she headed left towards the offices of High Command. Leia paused at the entrance of General Rieekan's office, ran her hand quickly through her hair and then walked inside. He was sitting at his desk and his eyes rose to meet hers as she approached him. His office smelled like cigars and men's cologne. Nodding her head, she simply said, "General."
"Princess, please have seat."
A fellow Alderaanian, General Carlist Rieekan had been a close friend of Leia's father and had known the Princess nearly her entire life. She respected him as a man and an officer and in the last couple of weeks had begun to regard him as a friend.
"Thank you, General," Leia replied as she lowered herself into one of his guest chairs.
"How are you?"
"I'm fine. Thank you for asking."
"I'm not asking as a General, you know."
"I know and I'm fine, really." Leia's throat tightened as she squirmed in her seat.
"Are you taking your meds?"
She hesitated as she looked at the older man guiltily. Feeling as though she had just been caught smoking behind the palace fence, she replied, "I think I've taken them long enough."
"Is that a no?"
"I hear we've secured a new base location."
The General relaxed back into his chair, steepled his fingers together and sighed as he said, "You're changing the subject."
"I know," Leia replied steely and for a long moment the two merely stared at each other in a kind of standoff. Leia noticed new lines on the General's face.
He leaned forward and rested his forearms on his desk. Clasping his hands together, he asked, "Are you seeing Dr. Paque?"
"I've been released."
"It helps to talk about it."
"I did nothing but talk about it for two straight weeks."
"A military debrief does not constitute-"
"I'll be late for a meeting with my operatives."
Once again the General stared at her. Finally, he responded, "You've been at your post with the supply crew for a month now," he paused and then added, "I'm due to submit my recommendation on your performance and overall…competence."
She did not say a word.
The general looked at her with sympathy and understanding in his gentle eyes. She held her breath as he held her mental well-being in his hands. Turning to his holoscreen, he began typing something. Try as she might, she could not read his screen from the angle at which she sat. As she watched his hands punch the buttons on the terminal, the light reflecting off of his wedding ring caught her eye. She wondered who he talked to.
He looked back at Leia and rubbed his hand over his mouth while he studied her. She let her eyes drop down to her hands in her lap, unable to meet his eyes any longer. "Report to your meeting, Your Highness."
Leia's eyes shot up and met the general's. She sprang up from her seat and said, "Thank you." It was a thank you that someone would say to a stranger that returns a lost child. Her eyes became glassy and she bit her bottom lip.
"Are you sure you're alright, Leia?"
"I'm fine." Watching his eyes she was sure he suspected that she was lying, but he didn't say anything. "General," she said with a polite nod.
"Princess," he responded. And she turned around and left his office.
Leia left the General's office and made her way straight to the conference room just outside the main hangar bay. She was the first to arrive. The conference was round and the large table at its center mirrored the room's shape. Walking around the table, Leia sat at a chair facing the door and she began powering up her datapad and connecting it to the visual outlet in preparation for her meeting.
"You look like hell."
She looked up quickly in response to the voice. She hadn't heard anyone walk in. It was Han Solo. She hadn't seen him since the award ceremony on Yavin; he had gone on a supply run to the outer rim. He must've docked at the rendezvous last night when the fleet dropped out of hyper to reset their coordinates.
"Thank you for the compliment, Captain," she replied dryly and went back to her task.
"Sorry, I just…hadn't seen ya." He sat down at the table across from her and asked, "Are you alright?"
Leia was shaken by his reaction to her. Do I really look that bad? No one else had said anything, of course; no one else would probably dare. She wondered if maybe it was because he hadn't seen her in several weeks, absence making slow, subtle changes seem more distinct.
Regardless, she had forgotten how inappropriate Han Solo could be and she responded coolly, "I'm fine, thanks for asking."
Han didn't seem to know what else to say and as the other pilots began to shuffle in, their conversation ended there. Leia projected the schedule on the plotter board and began to divvy out the runs. She had to organize everything from how much cargo each ship could carry, to mapping out the easiest routes to how fast each ship could travel. Doing most of this work ahead of time, Leia usually had a preliminary schedule assigned before her pilots ever walked in the door.
The meeting was over quickly and Leia was making notes on her datapad when she heard a familiar voice.
"I got a problem."
She looked up at him. It was Han. Looking back down at her datapad, she said, "Only one?"
"I can't go to Tatooine," he said, ignoring her comment as he walked around the table towards her.
She looked back up at him, somewhat perturbed. Hadn't she just spent the last hour sorting all of this out? She shook her head in aggravation and said, "I know better than to inquire as to the reason. But may I ask why you didn't bring this up during the meeting, so that I could shuffle the assignments around then?"
He put his hand down on the table and leaned down towards her and lowering his voice he said, "I got a bounty on my head with a Hutt there and I don't feel like announcing that to a room full of outlaws."
"We are not outlaws, Captain. Everyone that was in this room has sworn their allegiance to the Alliance," she replied indignantly and then looking back down at her datapad, searching for Han's file, she added, "Except for you, I see."
"Look, I just want to trade the Tatooine assignment for something else. I don't feel like debating with you on what the definition of an insurgence is and I sure as hell don't want a recruitment speech," he responded as he stood up and raised his voice back to a normal conversational level.
Leia sighed and still studying her datapad, she offered, "You can trade with Tye Maartin. Tatooine for Iego." She looked up to him and added, "Do you know Tye?"
"Perfect, track him down and make the trade and then I need both of you to message me when it's done so that I know for sure the communication has been made and nothing got dropped."
"Alright," Han replied and as Leia looked back down at her datapad she heard him say, "Thanks."
"You're welcome," she replied without looking up. He was half way to the door when she looked up and called to him, "Oh, Captain Solo?"
"Yeah," he replied as he turned around to face her.
"Are there any other Hutts or entire populaces that are after you that I should know about?"
Leia noticed that this seemed to aggravate him, but she hadn't been trying to push his buttons.
"Look," he said as he walked back towards her in a huff, "I got one kriffin' planet that I'm asking not to be sent to, you don't have to go making a big deal about it. Besides, part of the reason I can't go back there is because the last time I left, I had to bust through an Imperial blockade carting your farmboy and that ancient general off of that rock."
The mention of Kenobi and the indirect reference to her rescue stung. Working on controlling her reaction, she replied, "Calm down. I didn't realize you were so sensitive, Captain. I'm only asking so that I can make a note of it in my files, I do so on all my runners. I don't usually send people to their home planets, for obvious reasons, or to a planet that might be hostile to their species. Or...where they might be wanted by any Hutts," looking down at her datapad she added, "The better my notes are the less shuffling around occurs during my meetings."
He didn't respond, so she looked back up at him and he seemed embarrassed by his gruffness. Leia bristled at his lack of restraint as she added haughtily, "Or after my meetings have adjourned."
"I can go anywhere else you want to send me," he responded almost apologetically.
His sentiment didn't stop Leia from responding with a smirk, "Well, I will definitely make a note of that."
"Cute. Are you done?"
"Yes, and don't forget to message me when you are," she replied and then looking up from her datapad she watched him walk away. But as he neared the conference room door he stopped, spun around and looked at her. After a few quick moments of silence, Leia offered, "Remember another Hutt, Captain Solo?"
"What?" He replied and then seemed to relax a little as he added, "No. No, it's nothing like that." Taking a couple of steps back into the conference room he said, "Well, since we just landed last night we still have a galley full of fresh food."
Leia's stomach grumbled at the mere mixture of the words "fresh" and "food" in the same sentence. She wondered if Han could tell that she was salivating.
"Anyway, the kid already said he would come by for dinner and I was wondering if you'd like to join us."
She stared at him for a millisecond and then answered, "Yes, thank you," more quickly than she would have liked. Han only smiled.
"Okay. Just come by when you knock off then," he said as he turned around and walked out of the conference room.
Leia arrived at the Falcon just in time to be served dinner by the ship's pilot and his Wookiee comrade. Luke was already seated when she entered the lounge and she squeezed in next to him after grabbing a plate. She hadn't been on the Falcon since her rescue and somehow the insides of the ship seemed different. There was no carbon smell from freshly used blasters for one thing. And it seemed Han had gotten the smell of the garbage chute out of the upholstery even after his endless tirade that he never would. Leia thought better of mentioning it, though. Even the grime on the bulkheads seemed less revolting and the spacer's tape randomly holding pieces of the ship together appeared less haphazard than she remembered.
She inhaled her food practically without chewing it, abandoning years of ingrained etiquette. Graciously accepting an offer of seconds from Chewie, try as she might, she couldn't recall a more spectacular meal. Unable to understand Chewie's arguments, it seemed both smugglers wished to take credit for the cooking. Leia just enjoyed watching them fight like an old married couple. Luke seemed more capable of understanding the Wookiee and he interpreted as best as he could for her while trying to keep himself from getting caught in the fray.
By the end of the feast she felt as if she might pop. She wanted to unfasten the top button of her khakis, but she quickly thought better of it. Relaxing against the banquette she closed her eyes and listened to Han and Chewie argue over hyperdrive theorems, or at least that was her best guess from the one-sided conversation she was trying to follow. When the two smugglers seemed unable to agree, Luke broke in and suggested a friendly game of Sabacc. Immediately dropping their disagreement, the two spacers readily agreed and Leia found herself three rounds in before she could even try to think of a reasonable excuse to decline. But by that time, she was winning and she no longer wanted to leave.
"Where did you learn to play Sabacc?" Han questioned her curiously as he glanced down at his cards.
"My father and I used to play cards together," Leia responded. "He told me I was a natural."
"I can't imagine little Princess Leia playing cards with her father, the King," Han teased and Leia noticed his counterparts glaring a silent warning.
"My father wasn't a king," she replied and then added, "And anyway, he always taught me to never let my title define me."
There was a silence that settled around them after Leia spoke of her father. She watched out of the corner of her eye as Luke looked at Han and then Han looked at Chewie while Chewie was looking back at Han. Princess Leia just looked back down at her cards. Does anyone feel comfortable around me?
Han was the first to break the prolonged silence that followed when he cursed under his breath, "Sithspit!"
"Is there a problem, Captain?" Leia questioned teasingly.
"No, there's no problem."
"Isn't there a time limit on throwing a card, Chewbacca?" she smirked at the Wookiee and stole a glance at Luke.
Chewie howled something and banged his paw against the table, apparently trying to hurry the spacer along, or egg him on was probably more like it.
"Would you just shut up, I'm trying to think!"
"Oh, is that what you're doing?" Luke chimed in and then added with a big smile, "Back on the farm we call that losing."
Han shot Luke a glare that could have peeled every piece of spacer's tape off of the Falcon's hull, and then the group all looked at each other in turn and broke out into a fit of laughter. Chewie really got the group going as he slapped his knees and hooted and howled. Leia was sure that Wookiee laughter had to be the most contagious kind there was. It wasn't long until they were all doubled over in excruciating pain, as only belly busting hysterics can produce on a bunch of over-stuffed stomachs.
Princess Leia found the entire experience liberating and empowering. It was hard to know when it was finally alright to be happy when one is so mired in mourning. As she looked around the table at the unlikely crew that had rescued her from the Death Star that day, she let herself laugh some more, slowly releasing the rope that she had tightly wound around her. And as they all laughed, she let herself cry, just a little, inside.
Luke walked her back to her quarters and they giggled and talked the entire way. Once alone in her room, she threw herself down onto her bunk and fell right to sleep. When she woke in the morning she felt strange and as she sat up and tried to figure out why, it hit her very quickly.
For the first time in weeks, the nightmares hadn't come.