Leia stood stopped outside the Falcon's guest sleeper and paused for a moment, studying the scuffed hatch. Mara might already be lost to the sweet oblivion found only in dreamless sleep and waking her would be cruel. Peace didn't come easily in an empty bed.
An empty bed... she closed her eyes and opened them just as quickly, shying away from the image of the bed she left behind in their cabin. His sleep shirt was still thrown across the pillow and the sheets rumpled. Small though it was, the bed seemed like an ocean of fabric trying to drown her. She was awake because she couldn't stay in there alone. Not now. Maybe never again.
Her breath quickened into tiny gasps. With effort she poured everything she was into the gnawing hole where her heart beat just days ago, trying to fill it. Instead, the void just grew, consuming her confusion, her pain, her anger. She found herself revolted by the greedy nature of its appetites. She didn't understand how she could welcome this sensation as one would welcome an old friend.
It was a curious thing but she was terrified to stop the hurting. She would rather hurt and hold on than heal and risk losing the sound of his voice or the rough feel of his cheek on hers first thing in the morning. She didn't want him to fade away into the ghostly perceptions of memory, so she trembled and welcomed the pain. For better or worse, she embraced it willingly in the end.
The hatch before her opened, and Mara's haunted eyes startled Leia out of her reverie.
"I came to see if you were alright." Leia cringed inwardly. Of course Mara was not alright. One look at her tired eyes and flushed face was enough to see that.
"You came," Mara said wearily, "because you can't sleep, either."
Leia smiled apologetically, "That, too." She lifted the carafe and two glasses.
"Artoo has the helm and Threepio is powered down. I thought we could talk."
Mara didn't respond and Leia added, her voice strained, "It's the last of the good Alderaanian. Han and I were saving it for a special occasion."
Mara eyed the golden liquid dubiously but her face softened as she stood aside for Leia to enter.
"That sounds... good," she admitted, palming the door closed.
Leia lowered the stowaway bench and table from the wall and made a mental note to refurbish the guest cabin next time Han suggested a vacation.
She froze with the carafe halfway to the table.
There won't be a next time. How could you forget?
The moment of self loathing passed and she set the wine down with trembling hands, filled the glasses carefully and turned to Mara with a rueful smile.
Mara, sitting on the bed, accepted her glass and raised it in a silent toast. After draining them, Leia refilled both before sitting down across from Mara on the tiny bench.
"Lights 40%." At the typical lack of response from the Falcon, Leia half turned and pounded once on the panel behind her. The lights instantly dimmed.
Mara smirked, "I always knew that violence was the answer. I'll have to remember that trick next time I have to negotiate with the Falcon's hyperdrive."
Leia grinned back, "Honestly, I fell in love with this bucket of bolts before I even liked Han." Lifting her glass to Mara once more, she said, "To Love."
This time she allowed herself to actually feel the warmth of the wine sliding down her throat, leaving an electric tingle in her mouth and igniting her stomach with delicious heat. Her heart ached but the wine was good. She leaned back and asked Mara The Question.
Mara frowned as she swirled her drink and Leia was content for the moment to watch the illumination dance in the whirlpool Mara was creating.
"What about a toast to large quantities of insecticide?"
She couldn't help it, she giggled. Leia wasn't sure exactly why, but the idea of toasting pesticides was funny. Then, at Mara's look, she threw back her head and laughed while trying to explain.
"I think that we are the insecticide now! Wouldn't it be impolite to toast ourselves?"
Her question was met with a feral grin, "Bottoms up, Princess Pest Control."
Leia drank. Her stomach felt calm and content for the first time in days, no longer doing nauseating flips and gravity defying maneuvers at every reminder of Han. She sighed in relief and then shook her head, scowling at her glass.
"I don't know about you, but I haven't eaten much in days and this stuff is strong. Maybe we should slow down."
"Speak for yourself, Leia." Mara's bitter tone reclaimed her attention immediately. "I have been on my best behavior from the moment I decided not to kill your brother. Tonight I plan on getting drunk enough to see flying Ewoks." She paused. "Pink ones."
"Because," she thrust her glass toward Leia to be refilled, "I can."
Leia waved her free hand in annoyance. "No, no. Why did you decide to stop trying to kill him?"
Mara leaned forward and filled her own cup before sitting back to stare at it, swirling it thoughtfully once more.
"Luke used to say that it was because there was still good in me that the Emperor never touched. That I wasn't completely Dark because I was still serving another before myself. Even though I served a lie, I did it for someone else."
She snorted softly.
"I believe it was because, when I finally found him, I realized that it wasn't Luke that was clueless. It was really me all the time." Her voice dropped to a murmur, "When truth speaks with blue eyes and a gentle tone, it is hard to ignore. Luke never lied to me. Never. He rescued me with Truth and I loved him for it."
Leia closed her eyes and tried to work past the lump in her throat and found that she needed another sip of courage to do it. She was intruding here.
She heard Mara swallow again and then her voice was in the here and now, with the familiar hard edge instead of the vulnerable whispers.
"Your turn. Why, of all the men in this galaxy, did you choose Han?"
"Cause I couldn't have my brother?"
Leia had the eternal satisfaction of seeing her sister-in-law shoot wine from her nose. Mara's white face quickly flushed as she twitched her nose in an attempt to alleviate the burning sensation. Leia picked up a cloth and tossed it to her with a satisfied smile.
"You did that on purpose."
"I would do it again, if I could. Being the butt of the biggest incest joke in the galaxy has to be good for something."
Mara's glare provided just enough amusement to keep the pain of her question at bay while Leia tried to formulate a more truthful answer.
"He... didn't care who I was." She realized how foolish that sounded and tried again, "I mean, he didn't see a title, he saw a woman." She looked up, at a loss to express herself and found only understanding in Mara's eyes. She settled for a nod instead and took another drink to fill the space inside.
"Maybe I'll see pink Stormtroopers. Bottoms up, Mara."
Original cover by DarthMikus. HTML formatting copyright 2007 TheForce.Net LLC.