Leia sat next to Han, his left arm draped comfortably over her shoulders. The Ewoks continued to dance and play music, fireworks constantly being launched to the sky. They look like the second Death Star being destroyed, Leia thought. The image of color exploding in the atmosphere reminded her of everything from her imprisonment on the first Death Star to Bespin. She thought about what Luke had told her last night on the bridge. His words had haunted her for the past day cycle.
How can Vader – Darth Vader – be my birth father? she thought. How could the Force allow that to happen? Was it not enough that he tortured me on the Death Star, assisted in the destruction of Alderaan? Leia considered the other atrocities Vader had done. No. He had also cut off Luke's hand. But worst of all, he had Han put into carbon freeze as a test. No decent human could perform any of those acts without feeling remorse, but then, Vader was more machine than man. That's still no excuse…
Abruptly, Han gently tugged on her arm – the one without the blaster burn – and effectively put an end to her reverie. But memories of Vader were still on the forefront of her mind.
"Come on, sweetheart," Han said standing up, practically dragging Leia to her feet. "You're coming with me."
"Han, where are we going?" Leia scrambled to her feet.
Han only smirked. "You're not the only one who can give orders, your worship. Be patient, you'll see where we're going, but trust me. Now let's go."
"I can follow orders just fine, but being told what to do by scruffy looking nerfherders?" Leia playfully wrinkled her nose. "I can only question that authority."
Han grinned. "Oh really?" He paused dramatically before continuing. "What about what generals tell you to do?"
"Well, as far as generals go, I suppose I have no problem listening to what they say." Leia smiled as Han took her hand.
"Now as General Solo, I'm asking – not ordering – you to come with me." He lightly caressed her face with his free hand.
"Lead the way, General."
Half a standard hour later, Leia was tired of being dragged through the Endorian forest. The shoes the Ewoks had provided her with were made of a material thinner than bantha wool. Blisters had formed on the soles of her feet and the cool night air numbed her nose. The only nice thing about the walk so far was having her hand enveloped in Han's strong, warm grasp.
"Do you even know where we are, flyboy?"
"Sure I do. We're almost there." Leia watched as Han stumbled over a knotted tree root.
"Just tell me where we're going."
Han pushed some tree branches out of the way for him and Leia to pass through. "Hey, I said we're almost there."
"This had better be worth it, Han."
He leaned down to kiss her frosty nose. "It will be."
Four hundred meters later, they reached a small clearing. A lone tree stump, cut down long ago to build an Ewok hut, was the only mark in the lush grass covered ground. Brown barked trunks enclosed it; the tops of the trees seemed to outline the sky in a green foliage frame. The celebration continued in the village and colorful fireworks of various colors were still being launched into the night sky. Once more, they reminded Leia of Luke's words the previous night.
I have to tell Han, she realized. But how can I tell him the truth? What will he think of Luke and me – of me –when he learns our father was Darth Vader? Gods, how can I tell him that his friends' father is the one who put him in carbonite? I don't have to tell him tonight. No, I won't put him through that now. Tomorrow maybe…
"Credit for your thoughts, princess?" Han was looking at her, his trademark grin slowly creeping up the side of his face. "You were in your own little world there for a minute." He squeezed her hand out of reassurance and Leia squeezed back.
"I was just thinking about this place and how pretty it is," Leia lied. "How did you find it?"
"When Lando got back, he showed me where he landed the Falcon. We were on our way back to the fuzzy version of hell – I mean, Ewok village," Han corrected himself as Leia jokingly slapped his chest. "Show some respect," she whispered with a quiet chuckle. Though she had to concede, the Ewoks certainly resembled tiny Wookiees. A little bit, anyway.
"As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted," Han continued, "we were heading back when he got lost. It wasn't my fault, believe me, it was all Lando. Then we sort of found this place, and I decided it was the perfect place for you and me to get away." His eyebrows rose expectantly. In the shadows, they almost appeared to disappear into his hairline, giving him a mischievous yet comical look. "You know, so we can be alone."
Han then led Leia, since they were still holding hands, to the heart of the clearing. He situated them so they were both sitting on the ground, him leaning up against the tree stump with her cradled in his arms. Leia used Han's shoulder as a pillow as she looked heavenward, enjoying the peace and quiet. It was the first time that day she had been able to reflect on everything that had happened. The prevention of a completed second Death Star, the death of Emperor Palpatine…and the death of Darth Vader. But before she had time to dwell on those thoughts for long, Han interrupted her.
"I know I haven't said much about my time in carbonite," he began and turned her around so he was looking into her eyes, "but there's something I need to tell you." Leia felt fear seize her heart, frightened of hearing Han's next words, but encouraged him to continue nonetheless.
"Being in that stuff, it's like being suspended in…in…I don't think there's anything to compare that experience to. Lots of time to think, though, but with no real perception of time – I didn't know if I'd been frozen for a day or a month. It was maddening." He took a deep breath and Leia brushed a few loose strands of hair off of his forehead. "Mostly, I thought of you, Leia. How the last face I saw was yours. How the last thing I heard was you saying you loved me," he finished uncertainly.
Leia traced the scar on his chin with the tender touch of a fingertip. "Loved? I hate to break it to you, Han, but I still love you."
Relieved, Han clutched Leia to him and she returned the hug with equal vigor. They stayed in each other's arms for a while, enjoying the feeling of being held by the other.
Han was the first to break the silence when he held Leia out at arm's length.
"You love me." While he phrased it like a statement and not a question, Leia could detect a note of doubt in his voice. She kissed Han on the forehead and nodded. "And you know I love you."
"Yes." Leia could tell Han was nervous.
"Like I was saying, I had a lot of time to think over the past six months. Kest, it still doesn't seem like I spent six months as a frozen block on Jabba's wall." He whistled as he thought about all of the lost time. Six months he could have spent with Leia.
Wanting to hear what Han had to say next, Leia poked him lightly on the chest. "And?"
"And the more I thought about it, the more it seemed right. I decided it's what I want."
Confused, Leia asked, "What do you mean when you say 'it'?"
Unusual for Han, he reacted by blushing. It was quite possibly the first time in four years of knowing him that Leia had seen Han flush. "Uh, me and you."
"But I thought we'd decided since Bespin – or Sullust at the latest – that you and I are…you know." Still timid talking about their relationship out loud, Leia blushed, as well. Why is it easier to think about Han and me together than it is to say it?
Han squirmed a bit before answering. "I wasn't talking about what we'd said on Bespin or Sullust. I mean, I guess it's related it that but…kriff, Leia. It's hard for me to explain, so I'm just going to say it." He placed his hands on her face. "Will you marry me?"
When Leia's only response was an open mouth and wide eyes, Han quickly added, "I know I'm just an ex-smuggler with a shady background, but I love you. Please, just say something." He kissed her nose and held her close once more, buried his head in her hair.
But Leia wasn't thinking about Han's history as a smuggler. Instead, her thoughts returned to Darth Vader for the umpteenth time that day. Gods, how I want to say yes, but I can't. I can't marry Han without him knowing about the identity of my birth father first. But I can't tell him. Not now. It'll just scare him away, and I can't do that. I'm being selfish, but I can't lose Han right now. I can't
Without realizing it, Leia had begun to cry. Her tears slowly slid down her face, leaving a wet trail that glistened in the moonlight. Leia tried to wipe her face with the heel of her hand before Han could see, but she let out an involuntary sniff. He heard and held her back to get a look at her to see what was wrong.
"What's wrong? I didn't mean to upset you." He brushed away the remaining tears and looked at her, his hazel eyes full of caring and concern.
Leia's eyes brimmed afresh with new tears. "I'm…sorry, Han. I c-can't marry you."
"I see." Han's mouth set itself into a grim line.
"It's not…you," Leia tried to explain, breathing hard, "it's me." Helpless to keep her emotions in any longer, she openly sobbed, crying into Han's shoulder. "I'm sorry," she repeated.
Bewildered, Han could only think to hold her until she calmed down. While he was confused and hurt over why she had said no to his proposal, he was more worried about Leia. He had only seen her cry once for Alderaan, and it had been nothing like this. Whatever was bothering Leia had to be something of immense magnitude to reduce her to such misery and obvious emotional pain.
"Shh, it's okay. It's okay." He rubbed her back as she continued to cry. He wanted to relieve Leia of her tears but wasn't sure how. "I'll admit that this isn't exactly the way I imagined your reaction," he tried to joke, but even to his own ears, it wasn't funny.
Leia moved her head and looked up at Han with shining eyes. It's the right time to tell Han. It's now or never. I can't keep lying to him; he's going to find out eventually. I love him too much to not tell him…at least this way he won't waste any more time with me once he knows.
"Do you remember last night when you saw Luke and me on the bridge?"
"Of course. How could I forget?"
"And you remember this afternoon, when we saw that the second Death Star had been destroyed I told you that on the bridge, Luke told me that he's my brother."
"Yes." Han still wasn't sure where she was going with this.
Leia looked down at the grass, the large trees in off to her right – anywhere but at Han. "That's not all he told me."
"Oh. Hey, Leia. Look at me." He had one hand resting on her shoulder and used the other to cup her chin to look him in the eye. "Hey. You can tell me." He moved his hand from her chin to tightly hold her hand.
"I'm afraid of what your reaction will be. Once I tell you, I'm afraid you'll be too angry to ever want anything to do with me."
"That'll never happen."
"I'm not so sure."
"You're not going to tell me you've changed your mind and want Luke instead of me, are you?"
Shocked, Leia managed to sputter, "Han! He's my brother!"
"I know. But what other reason would there be?" Han winked, and Leia realized he was teasing her, trying to make her laugh to stop her tears.
"I'm trying to tell you something important and all you can do is make asinine wisecracks every time I open my mouth! How insensitive are you?"
"Hey, your worship, I was just trying to – "
"You were just trying to what?"
"Trying for levity. Too much tension in the air for a minute and I wanted to change that, is all. Now just tell me. It'll help to get whatever's bothering you out in the open."
Leia gathered up all the courage she had. She found the prospect of telling Han the truth was going to be harder than addressing a full senate meeting. "You know that I was adopted by the Organa family when I was a baby, right?" Han nodded. "Well, Luke found out who our birth father is."
"Hey, that's great news! That's got to be exciting."
Leia shook her head. "I should have said Luke found out who our birth father was. He's dead now."
"Oh," Han said regretfully. "I'm sorry."
"You didn't know," Leia mumbled as she looked down at her hands.
Hesitantly he asked, "Was he an Imperial?"
"That's one way of putting it, yes."
Unsure by what she meant, Han continued anyway, wanting to understand. "How do you know that for sure?"
Leia looked down at her hand, how her fingers were entwined with Han's. "I met him a few times. But neither of us knew about the other." She looked at Han's face. She could tell he was trying his best to understand her situation. She knew he was hurt by her reaction to his proposal, but he was putting his own feelings aside to help her. Call it help from the Force or just woman's intuition, but it gave Leia the encouragement to tell Han the rest. "You met him, too, Han."
"I wh…I did? When?"
Leia wanted tell him yes, but found that her throat had gone dryer than midday on Tatooine. She merely nodded.
"Leia, sweetheart, you can tell me anything. Keep going."
With a dry throat and low voice, Leia said, "Bespin. He was there when we were on Bespin."
"He was? How do you know?" Han cocked his head in a quizzical gesture, curious.
Please don't let him hate me for this. I won't be able to bear it if he does…
"Because we saw him there." She looked up at Han once more. "Because he's the one who ordered you be put into carbonite."
Han's eyes widened in shock, but Leia couldn't sense any hate from him, only astonishment. "You mean your father was…"
"Vader." Leia finished for him, her voice was no more than a whisper.
"No wonder you were so upset last night. But he can't get to you now. He's dead." He wrapped his arms around her and held her tightly.
"You don't hate me?" Leia asked him, her face pressed into his neck.
"Leia, I could never hate you." Han's voice radiated love – love for her. Not contempt or fear…love. He loved her wholly and devotedly. "It doesn't matter who your parents are. I mean, I don't even know who my parents are. Or were. They're probably dead now, anyway. But what I'm trying to say is you can't pick the people who you're born to, but you can control the person you become."
Leia pulled away from Han and tried to explain her answer to his proposal. "But don't you see? Luke told me I'm Force sensitive, and while I didn't want to believe it, I know it's true. I have the potential to become what Vader was. I have his blood in me. I can't change that. And with the danger of that happening, I can't marry you. Not in good conscience. I can't do that to you."
"You mean that's why you can't marry me? Because of who your father was? I just told you it doesn't mean – "
"It does to me!" Leia shouted as she tried to stand up, but Han held onto her. She covered her face in her hands. "It means something to me. To think I came from that…that monster, Han. It leaves me just feeling alone in the galaxy."
"Hey," Han cupped her face with his hands, "you have a twin brother. And you have me. You even have Chewie. As long as Luke, Chewie and I are with you, you're never alone, princess. Because we all love you." He tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. "But I love you the most."
Leia blinked back tears, but these were not tears of sorrow, these were tears of happiness. She realized that she had the best friends anyone could ever wish for. But most of all, the sincerity of Han's words touched her heart and warmed her better than a steaming cup of kaffe ever could. She leaned in to hug Han and clung to him. "Thank you."
Thank the gods of Alderaan! I've found the best man in the galaxy.
Han rhythmically stroked Leia's hair and placed tender kisses on her face. "So about us getting married…what do you think now?"
Leia couldn't bring herself to move from Han's warm embrace. Instead she turned her head to face Han's ear. "Not yet, Han," she whispered, "but soon. I'd love nothing more than to spend the rest of my life with you." She twisted her head ever so slightly and passionately put her lips to Han's, sealing her words with a kiss. "I love you."
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