"Now I could get used to this look," Han said with a grin. Leia rolled her eyes, twirling around to look at herself in the bathroom mirror as her companion continued to chuckle.
She had straightened her hair, leaving it blonde but tying it back up in loose braids that formed a crown around her head. An Our Retacy t-shirt left little to the imagination in the vicinity of her bosom, as Heath had only been able to scrounge up one sized for a pre-teen boy. The denim miniskirt would have gotten her locked in her room as a teenager. Only her tall combat boots seemed remotely comfortable. Slipped a soft flannel man's shirt over her arms as a jacket, Leia grimaced. "Do you really think this will help me blend in?"
"It'd be better if you didn't take a shower for a week," Han responded, his voice raised enough to ensure that Heath could overhear him in the other room, "But I think this will be fine for now."
"Why don't you have to dress up?" Leia asked. Han shrugged.
"I'm not wanted for murder, for one."
"Not on this planet, anyways." Leia smirked at him. "I wouldn't go making any blanket statements."
"And remember," Han continued, ignoring her crack. "You stay next to me, in the back of the room, and if there is any sign of trouble we are getting out. And…" He punctuated his next sentence with a finger in her face. "I am not taking any responsibility for any trouble that does happen. When we get back, you are telling Rieekan this was your idea."
"I doubt he'd even consider another option."
"Good." Han stepped out of the bathroom, leaving her to finish her make up.
Heath was sitting on the sofa, flipping idly through channels on the holoprojector.
"Anything good on?" Han asked mildly, flopping down beside him.
"I'm looking to see if there's anything on the election yet," Heath responded, refusing to catch Han's eye. He paused on a news station that was replaying an interview with a self-styled analyst out of the local university. The man was busily opining on the impact of the Our Retacy endorsement of the Starn campaign, and arguing that while Carrella Starn and Heath Dolmin had overcome their differences, he anticipated the relationship with Ty Starn would be more difficult. Heath and Han both laughed, the man's bloviating clearing some of the tension out of the room.
"What's so funny?" asked Leia as she emerged from the bathroom. She gave Han a withering look as he flashed her a suggestive grin, his eyes focused squarely on her chest.
"The professor here is concerned about Ty and Heath," he said, gesturing at the set. "He says politics can get in the way of a beautiful relationship."
"Does he take anything seriously?" Heath asked Leia, changing the channel once again.
"Rarely," she told him, surprised that Heath was even speaking to her. Perhaps their imminent departure was improving his mood. "By the way, thanks for getting me these clothes. It really means a lot to me to come to the event tonight."
"Yeah," Heath said non-committally. "Well, I guess you earned it."
"What do you mean?" Leia asked, trying to disguise her pleased grin.
"Seriously?" Heath sighed loudly. "You're going to make me spell this out for you? After everything you did to me?"
"No," Leia said kindly, just as Han said "I want to know."
Heath shook his head. "I don't think Ty would be in a position to win if it weren't for you. There, I said it, okay?"
"Thank you, Heath," Leia said sincerely. "That means a lot to me. And when Ty does win tonight, it will have a lot to do with you, too. I hope you realize that."
Heath grunted. "Sure. Thanks."
"You're going to do great things, the two of you," she continued with a warm smile. "Now, shall we get going?"
The ballroom was already crowded when Han, Leia, and Heath arrived. The environmental activist attracted the attention of Our Retacy supporters and reporters alike when they came in, giving Han and Leia a chance to melt back into the multitude as Heath basked in the attention. To Leia's relief, the Our Retacy representatives who had deigned to attend the victory party for their one-time rival were not those who had been in the campaign office the night she showed up bedraggled and dirty from her escape from Carrella, and didn't recognize her. She was less pleased to note that Han had been right, and, as he pointed out several times on the speeder ride over, her outfit meant she was drawing more attention to her breasts than to her face.
The polls closed at 1900 hours, and already a frisson of excitement was propagating through the crowd. Trying to peer around Han, Leia caught a glimpse of Eri on the platform at the front of the room, hunched over a computer. Certain that he was the one who accused her of Carrella's murder, Leia stepped back, grateful that her diminutive height kept her relatively invisible in the packed room.
Someone turned on a projector at the front of the room, and a plain graphic showing the candidate's names with a space for their vote percentage lit up the faces of the revelers in shades of green and red. Having helped work on election night graphics, Leia knew that the original display should have featured Carrella's smiling face. Though she had no love for the now-deceased politician herself, she felt a twinge of sorrow as she ruminated on how bittersweet this night would be for Ty.
"Just a few more minutes," an excited girl said next to them, bouncing up and down as she handed them both "Our Retacy" buttons. "I hear he's going to make a big announcement about the Natural Resources bill if he wins." Leia gave her a tight smile, taking the proffered button and pinning it to her shirt.
"He's going to come through on that, right?" Han whispered. "You don't think that's why Heath has been so nice all of a sudden."
"It's going to be fine," Leia whispered back. "Ty's idea is solid. It's going to work."
Demonstrating exactly why his mother had made him executive vice president of Starncorp at such an early age, Ty had excitedly shared his idea for a compromise between the Rebels and Heath after making the reporter Fejj Smap swear to complete secrecy. Ty told them all exactly how he had inserted the data for bierzite into the equivalent fields for terrellium, thus convincing the Imperials that there was little reason for them to continuing their mining work in the Trelm region. Bierzite, he explained, was a common element available on planets across the galaxy, and the market on Retacy for the soft metal had nearly bottomed out. Following the election, Ty would vote against allowing trade in terrellium, and then allow enough sampling from the Trelm river bed to collect the terrellium the Rebels needed. Using the Starncorp analysis, he would show the other companies with property holdings in the region that Trelm was useless for mining, offering to buy them out and then turning the region into a wildlife preserve. The "bierzite" samples would be sold to a ready buyer, namely, the Alliance, at a cut rate—cementing Ty's reputation for business acumen under difficult circumstances.
"Seems complicated," Han had said.
"It's brilliant," Leia had countered.
"And Trelm will be a preserve? You promise?" Heath had asked. Ty nodded at him with a wide smile.
"Are you sure you want to stay on Retacy?" Leia had added. "That sort of strategic thinking could be very useful to us."
Ty had reached out to hold Heath's hand, squeezing it tightly. "Retacy is home," he told her. "It may not be the bright center of the universe, but it's got everything I need."
She had patted their clasped hands fondly. "I understand. Now let's go win an election."
Background music was playing as they awaited the moment of truth, and Leia found herself tapping her foot to the lively beat. Han stood behind her, lightly placing his hands around her waist and shaking his hips along with her. He was pleasantly surprised when she began dancing a bit more rather than shaking him off, and gave her a quick twirl of celebration. She grinned.
A moment later, the lights dimmed and Eri stepped up to the microphone, his eyes red rimmed and tired but a wide smile on his face. "Ladies and gentlemen," he announced. "Our early results are in, and I am proud to say that all the major news outlets have called the race for our next legislator, Ty Starn!"
Han clapped his hands over his ears as the room exploded in whoops and cheers. Even the Our Retacy group, who had been relatively subdued in all matters not involving Heath Dolmin, applauded and joined in the chant of "Starn! Starn! Starn!" Leia beamed.
"You did it, your worship," Han said in her ear, giving her a quick hug. "Congratulations."
She had cautioned Ty to make his supporters wait for the victory speech until his opponent had conceded, and so as the party began in earnest, she began leading Han towards the back of the room. Their plan was to watch Ty's speech and then slip out, leaving their borrowed speeder in the spot where the Millennium Falcon waited to whisk them back to Hoth.
They backed up against the wall, noticing a door to a service hallway with a small round window looking into the ballroom. Han ushered Leia through, relieved as the door swung shut and muffled the dull roar of the celebrating crowd.
"We can wait here," he told her. "Those news cameras were surveying the crowd a little too much for my comfort."
"They were just panning for B-roll," she told him.
Han rolled his eyes at her. "I don't care if they were panning for gold. The last thing we need is your cute little mug all over the local news." He was right, and Leia didn't argue.
He stepped aside so she could peek through the porthole in the top of the door, though the only thing visible from her vantage point was a sea of heads. The stage was empty now, a photo of Ty and his mother with the words "Representative-elect Ty Starn" superimposed on the display screen.
Raised voices from down the hallway and around the corner caught their attention, and Leia pushed against the door, intending to step back inside until whoever else was using the service hallway passed. She grunted as the door didn't budge. "It's locked!" she whispered with a small amount of desperation in her voice.
"Lemme try," Han said as she stepped out of the way. He shoved against the door to no avail. "Hm. Guess we'll just tell whoever's coming that we got locked out?"
"The sound system on the stage was supposed to be portable!" the voice said, drawing closer. Leia's eyes widened in alarm. It was Eri.
"He'll recognize me," Leia hissed at Han. "We have to get out of here." Taking his hand, she pulled him in the direction opposite of Eri's approach, heading past a set of metal shelves and around another corner.
"Dammit, I'm locked in," they heard Eri mutter. "Who picked this venue anyways?" His footsteps got closer as he unknowingly followed their path around the perimeter of the ballroom. On tiptoes in hopes of silencing their footfalls, Han and Leia put on another burst of speed as they tried to keep ahead of the young campaign manager.
"Hey! What are you doing back here?" Leia and Han screeched to a stop as a police officer appeared in front of them. Leia's eyes grew wide.
"Um….looking for the 'fresher?" Han said casually.
"Right." The officer gave Leia an appraising look. "You kids aren't fooling anyone. We know what you did at that rally a few weeks back."
For a moment Han was utterly confused, then he remembered Leia's costume. The officer must think that Our Retacy was planning some sort of prank. He held his hands up in a gesture of surrender, then pulled the man aside.
"S'not what it looks like," he said, forcing a blush onto his face. "See, her boyfriend…well, ex-boyfriend, is with Our Retacy, and he showed up tonight. She and I were in the middle of something, and we came back here to, uh, find some privacy where he wouldn't make a scene, you know?"
The officer looked back at Leia, who was desperately trying to listen in on their conversation while keeping another ear out for Eri's approach. She was also a little worried about what Han was telling him, considering the suggestive looks that the smuggler kept throwing in her direction.
"This area's private," the officer said finally. "Why don't you get a room or something?" Leia blushed beet red, making Han laugh.
"Sorry 'bout that, officer," he said, taking her by the hand, "Can you help us find a way out?"
At that moment, an equally red faced Eri rounded the corner, continuing to shout into his comlink. With no other option, Leia grabbed Han, pulling him around her and yanking his head down to make it appear as though the couple was locked in a passionate embrace.
"I said get a room!" the officer bellowed, using a key to unlock a nearby door and pushing them back out into the crowd. Eri looked up with amusement at the scene in front of them, then his eyes narrowed as he looked directly at Leia. Spotting his expression, she barreled into the crowd with Han close behind.
"You have to stop her!" Eri shouted, forgetting his phone call as he spoke frantically to the officer. "That's the woman who killed Carrella Starn!"
"'Scuse me, 'scuse me," Han said, pushing aside bodies at increasing levels of inebriation as he tried to keep close to Leia, who was deftly maneuvering through the crowd. Finally catching up to her, he grabbed her shoulder. "We're getting out of here!"
"They'll have the place surrounded," she muttered back. "Leaving right now will only get us arrested."
"Seems like someone suggested leaving a few hours ago," Han replied bitterly as Leia headed deeper into the crowd. She ignored him.
"Let's head back out into the service hallway and see if we can get out the way Eri came in," she suggested, guiding them back towards the original door.
"You don't think that hall's full of cops yet?" Han asked.
"Only one way to find out," she said dryly, pushing past a pair of Our Retacy volunteers with enormous knit hats to poke her head through the door. The hall was silent, and she slipped inside.
"Looks clear for now," Han said as he jumped ahead, checking around a corner. "Only problem is it's a dead end."
"Kriff." Leia joined him at the end of the hallway, which indeed concluded into a white wall lined with more metal shelving. "Wait, what's this?" She pointed at a thigh-height door built directly into the wall. Pulling on the round handle, Han bent over for a better look.
"A crawl space?" he ventured.
"Better than nothing- come on, flyboy." She got down on hands and knees and scurried through with Han in close pursuit. He pulled the door closed behind them, hoping they weren't again trapped in rat infested duct work.
The area was surprisingly spacious, and loud. The music from the ballroom rattled the walls and ceiling.
"I think we're under the stage," Leia said aloud, confident that the ambient noise would muffle her voice.
"Yeah," agreed Han. "So how do we get out of here?"
"I thought you were the strategist?" Leia teased, looking around for another door. She began to crawl over towards a line of light trickling through a crack in the wall when the music stopped.
"May I have everyone's attention?" It was Heath, directly above them. The stage floor was comprised of wood planks, and looking up, Leia could make out Heath's silhouette as he walked towards the podium. "My name is Heath Dolmin, and I'm the director of Our Retacy. Tomorrow morning, our legislature will reconvene to consider legislation that is absolutely critical to the future prosperity of our planet. Our Retacy has long advocated for conservation and careful stewardship of natural resources, and today I am excited to announce a new legislative partner in our endeavors. Without further ado, I want to introduce your next representative, Ty Starn!" With another burst of music, Heath stepped down from the podium and Ty walked out from behind some curtains, blushing at the cheers from the assembled crowd.
"Guess you'll be here for the speech after all," Han whispered to Leia, reaching over to pluck a dust bunny from her hair. "Though this isn't exactly the venue I was expecting." Leia turned around and put her hand over his mouth, shushing him.
"Thank you, Heath." Ty sounded poised. "Serving the people of Retacy is an honor and a privilege that was my mother's dream. She saw our potential as a planet and as a people and wanted nothing more than to ensure that our great future remained in reach for every child, everyone who dared to dream."
"Yeah, dream of handing over the planet to the Imps," Han mumbled.
"Her gift to me was the gift of passion, the gift of hope," continued Ty. "I will always mourn my mother, but I intend to honor her legacy by asking myself every day—what more can I do for Retacy?"
Leia pumped a fist happily in Ty's direction. His delivery of her speech was impeccable. She settled in to listen to the rest as Han noticed a small trapdoor that led onto the stage. They could hardly emerge right then, but as he saw Heath still standing above him, he began to formulate an idea.
"Our infrastructure needs and our environment should not be seen as competing priorities," Ty was saying now, "But rather as a manageable challenge that can offer us unique opportunities to find a way to balance conservation and progress."
"Psst," said Han, working one of his lock picking tools up through the crack between the planks underneath Heath's feet. He finally managed to poke Heath in the ankle, and the man looked down in surprise. Surprising Han with his quick thinking, he turned away from the audience and knelt, pretending to tie his shoe.
"Who's there?" he said softly, his voice melting into the reverberations from Ty's amplified speech.
"It's us," Han responded quietly. "We had some company. Can you get a crowd onto the stage? There's a door we can get out of but I don't want to just pop up and hand ourselves over?"
Heath grimaced. "Fine. But this is the last thing I'm doing for you. Wait til the speech is over."
Han turned back to Leia, who was listening rapturously to the conclusion of Ty's speech. "Get ready, Princess," he said, tugging on her leg for attention. She crawled over to him, giving him a puzzled look.
"Again, thank you for this great honor," Ty concluded. "I look forward to getting to work." The room erupted in applause, and Han saw Heath make his way back to the podium.
"I'd like to invite some people up who played an enormous role in this victory tonight," Heath said. "As you know, Our Retacy endorsed Carrella Starn the same day that she was tragically killed, and it was our privilege to offer that same endorsement to her son. Will the Our Retacy volunteer team please come to the stage?"
Leia snickered, imagining how pissed Eri would be that Heath was taking over the event as if Our Retacy had engineered the whole victory themselves rather than just showing up at a couple of rallies at the end. The poor kid had been totally manipulated by Carrella, she realized, but it was a good lesson to him to never let your guard down when it came to politics. A rumble of feet followed by the distinct smell of spicy incense mixed with body odor indicated that the Our Retacy volunteers had appeared on stage, and Han used the opportunity to push open the trap door, ignoring the murmurs of surprise as he and Leia crawled up in the middle of the group.
"Thank you for your hard work!" Heath said, gesturing for them to head off the stage. The volunteers began hugging each other and high-fiving. Han wriggled free from an older woman's enthusiastic embrace, but Leia clung inside of a group of girls as they meandered back down and towards the back, once again appreciating the benefits of being short. "Who's up for drinks?" she squealed, squeezing her new friends tighter as they cheered in support of her proposal and—to her relief—headed towards the door.
Police officers had surrounded the building as Han and Leia expected, but they paid little mind to the large group of activists pouring out of the doors. They had been instructed to watch for a lone man and woman, and most of them were damn sick of hippies at this point. As they made their way down the glistening sidewalk towards the closest dive, Leia expertly extracted herself from the cocoon of young woman and found Han. With one last glance back towards the building where Ty stood reveling in his new position, they disappeared into the darkness.
"I wish you could have come. We could wear short sleeves!" Leia told Luke as she slurped a rapidly chilling cup of coffee. They sat at a small table at the edge of the mess hall, where Luke had just finished telling Leia about the modifications they were working on to the snow speeders. He was proud that they had managed to keep them operational during the day, but she detected a note of frustration as he mentioned that the sensors went completely haywire as the temperature dropped at night.
"It sounds like it was fun," Luke said with a grin. "And we were worried you and Han were going to kill each other."
"Who is we?" Leia asked, rubbing her hands together. Her body had gotten accustomed to the temperate climate on Retacy, and the return to Hoth was more difficult than she anticipated.
"Oh, you know…" Luke waved his hand around the room, refusing to name names. "Chewie. Some other guys."
"Right." Leia stood, suddenly annoyed. There were better things to do on this base than speculate about her interactions with Han Solo. "I'm headed to the main hangar. The shipment of terrellium is coming in from Retacy today."
"I'd go with you, but we've got sim time scheduled," Luke said. "I'll come find you later."
"Okay." Leia started to walk away, then turned to give him a quick hug. "I missed you, Luke."
"I missed you too. You and Han both. It's not as fun without you here."
Leia was surprised to see Han waiting in the hangar as the freighter arrived from Retacy. The rear of the ship opened disgorging a collection of techs. They quickly offloaded a series of heavily sealed containers, heading directly for the lift into the ion cannon's maintenance area.
"Hope it works," he said to her as she joined him near the freighter's cockpit. "I'd hate to think of going through all that and still having a malfunctioning ion cannon."
"It wasn't that bad," she said to him crisply. "Admit it, you may have learned something."
"That's true." He grinned. "I learned that you can be a krakana when it comes to campaigns. Watch out."
She grimaced, and he gave her a gentle nudge. "I mean that as a compliment, your highnessness," he said. "You were pretty great."
"Thanks," Leia responded. She looked up as the captain of the freighter walked purposefully down towards them, waving a handful of flimsis.
"This is for you," she said, handing the papers to Leia. "For both of you. I was told you'd be interested."
Leia looked baffled, then peered at the papers. It was an old-fashioned newsprint.
"The Retacy Weekly Chronicle," Han said, taking it away from her and reading the main headline aloud. "In it to win it—the inside story of the Starn campaign, by Fejj Smap." He laughed. "Guess old Fejj managed to not get fired."
"Let me see," Leia said, snatching it away from him and flipping the paper open. "A political analyst, speaking on the condition of anonymity, noted that Carrella Starn's efforts to engage the environmental community could have been a liability, had the candidate not committed to follow up with meaningful legislation aimed at conservation efforts." She looked up. "A political analyst? I guess you could call me that."
Han took it back from her. "Another insider, also speaking off the record, argued that Starn would find a way to turn her new found interest in preserving native species into an asset for Starncorp." Laughing, he repeated. "An insider? I think I like the sound of that."
Leia peeked over his shoulder, skipping ahead to the end of the page. "With the still-unsolved death of Carrella Starn dominating talk in the business world, Starncorp's sudden move to acquire open space and designate the areas for preservation under the company's new president Ty Starn has gone relatively unnoticed in corporate circles. As may be expected for an industry leader thrust into the world of politics, Representative Starn did insert an amendment into the controversial legislation limiting off-planet resource sales that would increase tax deductions for companies following in Starncorp's footsteps and setting aside land for wildlife preserves. Starn elicited the support of one-time rival Heath Dolmin's group Our Retacy to endorse the legislation, effectively inoculating himself from criticism based on the impact to his company…"
"Do you think Ty will be okay?" Leia asked softly as she closed the paper.
"No," replied Han, "Not as long as he keeps that Heath guy around. What an asshole."
Leia laughed. "I think they make a good couple. Heath thinks he can bully Ty, but Ty has more tricks up his sleeve than people give him credit for."
"That reminds me…" Han said innocently. "What are you up to tonight?"
"Why?" Leia asked, suddenly suspicious.
"I was talking to Rieekan, and he agreed that it would be a good idea to have a bit of a party. It's been a while."
"What kind of party, Han?"
"For the procurement crew. You know, the ones who make sure the fighter pilots have the ships they need when they blow the Imps to hell, and what not? Seemed like they weren't getting enough credit."
Leia smiled, standing on tiptoes to give him a quick kiss on the cheek. "I think they'd like that, Captain. I think they'd like that very much."
Hey everybody! Thanks for indulging my other love—politics—as I tried to take the eternal advice of "write what you know." I think for my next challenge I'm going back to long form: I have a story in mind that will be an AU for Return of the Jedi that will put Han and Leia on an unexpected mission for the Alliance. Coming soon! ~radioboca