Silence had settled over them, after the flurry of activity leading up to the jump.
She stared at the mesmerizing streaks of hyperspace, feeling unanchored in Chewie’s oversized armchair, distinctly conscious of the awkwardness that still crept in at moments like these: the transition times, those abruptly quiet “now what?” gaps that managed to throw her off-guard despite the fact that they’d been lovers for over a week.
Eight standard days, to be precise.
“You know, hyper-rapture is a real risk if you stare out there too long,” Han spoke over the faintly-humming engines.
Had he ever witnessed it, she wondered, this mythical spacer’s madness supposedly caused by prolonged hyperspace viewing?
The question faded unasked as she turned to look at him and found herself marvelling once again at the reality of his return, which left him whole and unscathed and sitting here across from her, stretched comfortably in his captain’s chair with his right arm draped casually back behind the armrest. And he was gazing at her, smiling unabashedly with an intensity that warmed her cheeks. She held his gaze self-consciously; wondered if she might be risking a clinically distinct variant of hyper-rapture simply from staring at him too long.
“C’mere,” he motioned with the barest tilt of his head, breaking the awkward spell.
The captain’s chair creaked a soft protest as she shifted in his lap, his mouth deliciously warm on hers, her fingers woven through the hair at the nape of his neck while his hands mapped, through the thin fabric of her worn combat shirt, the contours of her spine, her ribs, her breasts. She’d endured a lifeless shadow of this, throughout months of anguished dreams which had wholly failed to convey the exquisite corporality of him.
The fragmented backdrop of hyperspace was seductive, though from recent experience she knew they would eventually retreat to his cabin -- where, presumably, one misplaced shudder wouldn’t risk offending his temperamental ship into dropping them out of hyper-space.
“Why didn’t we think to do this ages ago?” Her fingers were tangled in his hair as they both came up for breath.
“*I* thought of it,” he grumbled, bowing his head to her newly-exposed shoulder.
The words stabbed through her unexpectedly. She tilted her head in an attempt to look at him. “When?” she asked softly. How much time had her ambivalence cost them? It was a question which had haunted her during his captivity, and which was resurfacing now as she discovered first-hand what she had been passing up.
“When what?” he mumbled, eyes half-lidded, lips intent on pursuing bare skin. She gently nudged his chin and he looked up, open-mouthed and a touch breathless.
“When did you first think of… us… like this?”
His eyes reflected the dimmed lights of the control panels as he seemed to replay her question in his mind. “You mean,” she saw the beginnings of understanding in his mischievous grin, “when did I first imagine royal make-out sessions in the cockpit?” She felt her cheeks flush unexpectedly at his choice of words. He smiled and ducked his head, his fingers teasing her shirt open a little further. “That was day one, Princess.”
Day one, her mind echoed at her in accusation. His ship’s ventilation system puffed at her reproachfully, cooling the trail which he’d blazed on her skin. Then she sniffed skeptically in spite of herself, recalling the circumstances of their first meeting. “I don’t believe you.” She’d been angry, and tortured, and sporting sludge in her hair.
“So don’t,” he shrugged, intent on his task. “You thought I was just trying to piss you off?” He worked the last closure loose, glanced up at her suggestively. “Huh. I even asked Luke if he thought you’d go for me.”
She absorbed this in silence as he lowered his head again.
”He said ‘No,’ by the way…” Han trailed off smugly, the words half-muffled as he disappeared into the folds of her shirt.
Her breath caught at the sensation stirred by his mouth and she felt her eyes drift closed, was barely aware that her sudden onset of melancholy had faded into a swell of affection for him, this irreverent scoundrel who could still re-vector her mood as casually as he could his ship’s course.
Later, in his cabin, she would note that he hadn’t bantered back with the obvious: when had she first considered him in that way? Likely because he’d long ago guessed that she herself wasn’t sure.
Over the years they’d shared hundreds of meals on his ship, but never like this. Conversation had become relaxed, now that she had shed her wariness of his potential to gleefully transform the most innocuous of topics into innuendo-laced provocations.
“Did you know that I personally oversaw the security check we ran on you after Yavin?”
“You don’t say…” He looked up from his plate with an innocent grin. “Find anything interesting?”
She frowned at the memory of the maddening data her slicers had turned up, a veritable cesspool of conflicting nonsense placing him in ten different systems at any one time, under a variety of aliases and circumstances each more preposterous than the last. A month later the absurd data had mysteriously evaporated, but the damage was done.
“Honestly, Han,” she sighed. “We had to include every bit of it in your confidential dossier. It’s there to this day, General.”
“No wonder Mon Mothma’s always looking at me funny.”
She had to smile at that one. “For what it’s worth, flyboy, I’ll admit to squandering considerable personal time trying to decide what, if any of it, might possibly be legitimate.”
“And what did you conclude? Just so I’ll know what to tweak for next time.”
“Well, for starters,” she leaned back in her chair, “I’m guessing you were never a Founding Father of the Holy Sect of Varn. Or chief fundraiser for the Society for the Protection of Orphaned Dinkos.”
Han shoveled stew into his mouth and shrugged noncommittally.
“But the professional bantha jockey sounded plausible,” she continued. She ignored his self-deprecating smirk, gazed at him thoughtfully a moment before taking the plunge in a more sober tone. “And you did graduate top of your class at Carida.”
She saw a flash of vulnerability in his eyes before he looked down to stir at his food. “That was never in those files,” he countered in a quiet voice.
“No, it wasn’t,” she agreed softly. “It was Dodonna who suggested we slice into the naval records.” The former Imperial war hero had looked beyond the smuggler’s reckless bravado, recognizing well-honed military training for what it was.
“Dodonna,” he nodded. He considered this a moment, then quipped lightly. “Just so you know, the Holy Sect of Varn thing was just as true.”
She didn’t take the bait, concentrating instead on steadying her voice for the topic she was about to broach. “Well, you might be interested to know that High Command is considering you to lead the mop-up fleet. And I don’t think it’s your experience with the Holy Sect of Varn that’s weighing in on their decision.” All her senatorial training couldn’t keep the unease out of her tone.
There was a long pause. “Yeah. I heard the rumours.”
She’d wondered if he had. “There are a few dissenters,” she added after a moment, “but the general consensus is that you’re the top candidate on Madine’s short-list.” She clearly recalled the moment Han’s name had come up at the conference table, when, from the curious glances cast in her direction, she’d realized that other rumours, rumours of a rather more personal nature, were spreading quickly.
She wondered if he’d also heard that she’d voiced in support of his candidature, all the while knowing, dreading, that it might mean losing him, again, for months at a time out in the galactic fringes. She’d wanted to scream her dissent. But she couldn’t, not without unjustly discrediting his qualifications and compromising her political integrity. No one with any kind of military sense could deny he was perfect for the assignment.
“What if I’m not interested in a promotion right now.” It was a statement, not a question.
She realized she’d been holding her breath and released it in silent relief. “Then they continue on down the list,” she told him quietly.
“Good. I’ll pass.” He reached for the serving container, ladled more stew onto his plate, and before she had a chance to formulate a comment he changed the subject. “You know, this stuff’s really not bad for dehydrated military surplus. You want some more?”
And that was that.
“I still think you’re making it up, Han. Day one?”
They were cleaning up the supper dishes.
“What do you want me to say?” he shrugged, apparently amused by it all. “Day twelve, then.”
She shook her head in exasperation. “But I was impossible. I did nothing but yell at you all.”
He rolled his eyes innocently. “And I’m supposed to wait until that changes? Cause I have better things to do with my life, sweetheart.”
“I had garbage in my hair,” she protested with a frown, ignoring the jab.
“Not as much as Luke did, and you were better-looking.”
She glared at him, half-annoyed, half-flattered.
“Look,” he eyed her good-naturedly, “you’re the one who wanted to know.”
She sniffed haughtily. “Maybe you just have cockpit fantasies about all the women you bring on board,” she concluded, trying to sound reproachful and wondering why the thought didn’t bother her as much as it might have a year ago.
He grinned wickedly. “Maybe…” he nodded, moving slowly towards her, seduction in his eyes. She met his gaze with amused defiance. “But that wouldn’t explain why I hung around all these years, would it?”
He had a point, she realized, as he pressed her to the galley bulkhead.
He didn’t think of life in terms of regret, she suspected. Han Solo lived in the here and now. So why did she feel the need to pursue this?
She couldn’t help herself. “Han?” She wriggled a little, disentangling herself from him. “I want to ask you something.”
His forearm slid over the curve of her hip as she pushed herself up to a sitting position. He opened his eyes and assessed her drowsily, then struggled to prop himself up on an elbow. His free hand came to rest on her thigh, his fingers tracing questioning circles there.
“What if I’d accepted your advances?” she asked solemnly.
He looked amused. “I thought you did.” He glanced around the dimmed cabin, at his rumpled bunk and then back at her with an innocent expression. “Did I misinterpret something?”
She stifled a smile. “Sooner, I mean,” she chided. “What if I’d responded in kind on day one, or twelve, or one hundred, instead of waiting until…?” she shrugged, at a loss.
“Responded in kind?” He seemed delighted by the euphemism. He rocked a little on his elbow, and she could see his eyes calculating a trajectory, his mouth plotting a landing course for the still-glistening surface of her abdomen.
She put a deliberate hand to his forehead to stop him. When he glanced up in mock indignation she eyed him steadily, refusing to let him navigate off-topic this time.
He sat up with an exaggerated sigh of defeat, settled back against the pillows beside her, considering her words. She watched in silence as he scratched his chin thoughtfully and evaluated her with apparent seriousness.
“You wouldn’t have,” he concluded at length.
She shook her head with insistence. “But what if I had?”
Without hesitation he reached out to touch her cheek, and met her eyes with a sincerity that stopped her breath in her chest. “Then you wouldn’t be you. And it’s you I wanted.”
She stared at him wordlessly as she absorbed his meaning, and felt her eyes suddenly brimming. Finally she managed to murmur, “I’m glad you’re turning down the mop-up fleet command.”
“Me too.” He cleared his throat, and she saw him swallow. “I know it’s, ah… hard to believe coming from a gorgeous catch like me,” he smiled modestly, “but I’ve… had a woman or two walk out on me before.” She watched as his expression grew vulnerable. “Never completely understood why,” he shrugged, “but I’d rather not have it happen again and I’m pretty sure spending the next six months apart wouldn’t be a great start.”
She studied him in silence, transfixed, wondering again about the possibility of Han-Solo-induced hyper-rapture.
Her throat was aching as she reached up to trace the outline of his mouth with her fingertips. When she finally spoke, the words were hoarse and anguished to her ears. “Did you know I spoke in support of your candidature?” She felt the tears begin to spill. “I couldn’t even abstain without it seeming --” her voice broke helplessly.
“I know,” he said, brushing his thumb across her cheek.
She pressed her hand flat over his against her cheek, held it there, pressing her lips to the edge of his palm as her tears squeezed stubbornly through tightly-closed lids.
Of course he’d known, she realized as he gathered her close and kissed her. He’d known, and still he understood, accepted it, all of it. All of her.
Simply because it was her he wanted.