Laughter in the Dark

Irene Heron


Once a princess, always a princess, Leia Organa teased herself silently as she instructed the housekeeping droid in the fine art of Alderaanian table settings. Although this was only an intimate dinner for four, still it pleased her ingrained sensibilities to offer a gracious and elegant ambiance.

After four years aiding the Rebel Alliance and three additional years in exile struggling to re-establish the galactic republican government, she welcomed the transition from their temporary Corellian headquarters to the temples and palaces of Coruscant. This most refined and civilized planet, known as the Crown Jewel of the Core Worlds, had been home to both the Old Republic and the Empire and was uniformly regarded as the center of galactic culture. The move to this traditional seat of power lent their fledgling administration a cachet of legitimacy previously denied by non-member systems, as well as offering a brief respite to the senior personnel of that administration. With only minor restructuring the vast bureaucratic mechanism could serve this New Republic just as capably as it had served the Empire before them, and the Old Republic before that.

Thus it was that Leia, daughter of Viceroy Organa, princess and royal heir, former junior Alderaanian representative to the Imperial Court, found herself with the leisure and inclination to scrutinize table settings.

Tantalizing smells drifted from the food preparation area—exotic delicacies unavailable during the tumultuous war years. Leia's mouth watered most inelegantly as she anticipated the exquisite taste of sweet shellerks from Ordella and tender asparagans rolled in wafer thin bonato slices. The enticing aroma triggered a fond memory from her childhood.

I remember the first time I tasted shellerks, must have been all of five or six years old. I was so repulsed by those horrid, slimy things swimming in sauce I thought I was going to be ill, right at the dinner table in front of fifty guests. There I was, simply glaring daggers at Father and daring him to make me eat those slugs, when Dallis came to my rescue. Dear, blessed Dallis. He teased me until I finally got mad enough to eat one, to prove myself! Just as he intended, of course.

How wise Dallis had been, even in his youth. He understood her all too well. The goddesses had smiled and granted her wish that he be counted among the handful of homeworld survivors. And how like her father to have tenderly cloaked both of them with ignorance as to the other's responsibilities in the quiet subterfuge and sedition of the early rebellion. Now that the destruction was behind them, only the monumental task of restoration loomed before them, daunting in its enormity, but one for which she and Dallis had spent their lifetimes in preparation. If only they could prove worthy of her father's foresight and instruction.

She absently rubbed fingers against the satinwood table, idly admiring the craftsmanship of a kinder and gentler era. What a relief it was, she mused, to relinquish the burdens of state for a few hours, to indulge in the mannered gentility of bygone days. The droid completed its task and abandoned Leia to her deliberate consideration of luxury. In startling contrast to the primitive living conditions during the war and its aftermath, her apartment in the reclaimed palace boasted elegant proportions and rich furnishings. Its former occupant had forsaken rank, social standing and possessions in favor of survival, fleeing the arrival of the combined might of the victorious republican fleets.

She verified the wine cooler settings. Three bottles of palest Muerget champagne for the inevitable toasts. One bottle of hearty Kendalan purple for the bonato course, one of Thesaran tart to complement the sweet shellerks. Excellent vintages, all of them. Dallis would be pleased to see she recalled those long ago lessons in the palace wine cellars.

Han would raise an eyebrow at the extravagance and pretend not to notice the quality put before him. Luke would be oblivious to the food and drink, as usual. He was oblivious to almost everything these days, except Han.

Leia smiled at the image conjured by recollection: her beautiful brother uncharacteristically awkward before her, searching for the appropriate words to confess what her heart, if not her mind, had long understood. That he loved Han and was loved in return.

* * * * *

Late afternoon Corellian sunlight slanting through the window fired both the dust motes and Luke's hair with burnished gold.

Leia was quick to recognize her brother's preoccupation, both physically and emotionally. Through the tenuous empathic link they shared courtesy of twinship and the Force she further sensed he was withholding something from her, something he hesitated to disclose for fear of causing distress.

"Tell me, Luke," she invited, gathering his hands between her own smaller ones.

He smiled widely, unable to suppress the joy and relief escaping from wherever it had been contained. She drew in a sharp breath, for this sort of emotional resonance came from only one source.

"You're in love!" she cried, elated by his undoubted happiness. "Oh, who is it?" In retrospect she wondered why she had asked such an obvious question

"You already know him," he whispered, holding her eyes and watching as she stiffened with understanding. Her reaction leaped precipitously from astonished realization, cruised through wounded pride and settled somewhere in the region of flustered grievance.

Of course. Memories unfolded as spontaneously as petals in unreasoning response to the sun: illegitimate reminders of misguided expectations.

Passionate nights spent with Han, marked by his soft laughter, a deliriously wicked blend of shared intimacies and secret delights. She missed that laughter in the dark.

She sensed again that tremendous uncontrolled euphoria, and suddenly realized it came from Luke, his joyous memories blazing through the bond between brother and sister and intermingling with her own recollections.

Han's face hovered close in the pressing dusk, barely enough space between them for the words in fragile suspension: 'I love you.' She heard that laugh again as he lowered his head to claim his lover's mouth. A private laugh, meant only for his beloved, coupled with a sweet remembrance of lying together on tangled sheets, spent passion still singing in every nerve and fiber.

Han had said those words to her only once, in the heat of battle. This wasn't her memory at all.

All too briefly she'd considered herself to be the Corellian's beloved. Now she knew better. It hadn't been her, had never been her, although they'd tried hard to pretend otherwise.

Her body drew tight like the tension rod on Chewie's bowcaster when he exerted pressure on it. Abruptly the conflict drained from her body and she dropped gracelessly to the sagging divan.

"Oh, Luke!" Her eyes swept across his face and down his body. "You're lovers." It wasn't a question, not with that singular memory dwelling in flesh and bone. New found sensuality and contentment radiated from Luke, reverberated down the link between them.

He nodded without a hint of embarrassment or shame, patient as she worked through this unexpected challenge to her precarious tranquility.

"What does Chewie say?" she asked quickly, remembering the Wookiee's pronouncement on her romance with Han, proven correct in short order.

"Welcome to the family?"

Leia caught the clear mental image of a huge paw affectionately mussing fair hair and a rumble of distinct approval vouchsafing Chewbacca's opinion of a worthy pairing.

Despite her best intentions, she pulled away from his hands to rise and pace edgily.

Bail Organa's daughter tried to summon outrage. She tried to summon heartache. But all that rose within her was a sort of amused tolerance, a touch of injured pride, and a reluctant sense of envious relief. At least the waiting was over.

"Don't be concerned for me, Leia."

How like Luke, she thought, to ascribe such noble motives to her reaction.

* * * * *

Turning aside, she glimpsed herself in the mirror hanging above the sideboard. The Princess of Alderaan gazed back at her. Struck by the appearance of a nearly forgotten stranger, she looked closer. Dallis would know this woman, but Luke and Han might not. She touched a hand to the intricate coils of elaborately dressed hair, then gauged the texture of the skin at her throat.

She had never looked better. Her carriage remained flawless and confident, displaying the sapphire-hued silken gown with regal grace. Now she ran both hands the length of her body, pausing briefly at her bosom. Only a year before, the touch would have stirred memories of Han, but he was no longer a truth her body recognized. She had already surrendered to a different, more substantial reality.

Knowing that Han and Luke were happy together, far more suitable than she and Han had ever been, satisfied her in a way she'd never thought possible.

In the other room she heard C-3PO respond to the demands of the door chime. Dallis, naturally. Always correct, always punctual.

"Princess Leia." The protocol droid paused on the threshold between the two rooms. "Ambassador Travan has arrived and awaits your convenience."

Even with all of his faults, Threepio was really a most valuable assistant. Poor Threepio had been at a serious disadvantage during the war years, vastly overshadowed by his mechanical companion, the astromech R2-D2 unit. Leia inspected the gleaming golden carapace of her protocol droid and found no fault with his freshly polished appearance.

"Thank you, Threepio," she replied with the same grave courtesy the droid always extended toward her. "You may open the champagne now, and serve it as soon as Master Luke and Captain Solo arrive." Amazing how quickly one reassumed structured formality.

Pity there wasn't a staircase. She'd always enjoyed the drama implicit in a ceremonial staircase entrance.

Dallis Travan, hereditary lord of Mishaka Realm, son of Assistant Viceroy Travan and former senior Alderaanian representative to the Imperial Court, greeted his hostess with the respect and courtesy due her position as his social and political superior.

So unlike Han, she thought, even as she approved of Dallis' formal mien. It suited the circumstances, a deliberate acknowledgement of their current and future roles. Han would have grabbed her and kissed her thoroughly, wrinkling her gown in the process and not giving a damn about it, either.

Dallis was her elder by some fifteen years, elegant and still handsome in his classically tailored dinner clothes. Not quite as tall as Han, he remained lean and fit, and the slight graying of his hair enhanced his quiet charm. Every inch of his person bespoke of intelligence, nobility and refinement. No one would ever guess at the tattoo hidden behind the dignified demeanor and conservative clothes, but she knew it was there. And it was there because of her. She couldn't help but smile at the memory of her ten-year-old self at the gypsies' fair one fine autumn day, escorted only by her beloved childhood hero. She'd been fascinated by the artistry of the tattooist, watching him create magnificent designs and likenesses on the canvas of flesh, and had been disconsolate when the gypsy refused her request for one of her own. Always tolerant of her whims, Dallis had offered to get one in her place, a design of her choosing—one that would belong to both of them. Pleased, she'd described the image she wanted and watched as the artist etched the stylized, intertwined songweavers on Dallis' chest, close to his heart. Her juvenile crush had dictated her choice, for songweavers, birds that mated for life, had long been a symbol of true love in Alderaanian folklore. Dallis had only smiled and submitted to the artist's laser.

She'd not dared to ask Dallis if he still carried her mark upon his flesh, but there'd been no need for the question. Shortly after their recent reunion, Dallis had quietly, proudly, revealed that he still bore the tattoo over his heart. At the same time, his eyes had confessed to a dormant devotion waiting to be re-awakened.

The door chimed again. Threepio performed his prescribed function, and her brother and his lover entered. Their recent stay on Venara had brightened Luke's hair and imparted a bronze glow to Han's skin. Luke appeared duly impressed by both her appearance and the luxurious surroundings. His affectionate hug took the fragile nature of her elegant gown into consideration and she emerged unscathed from the embrace. Before Han could cheerfully desecrate her carefully constructed noble visage, Threepio distracted the Corellian with champagne.

"Highness." Han sniffed at the pale liquid, impeccably presented in exquisite Borealan crystal flutes on a hammered truesilver tray, and smiled at her over his upraised glass. And yes, his eyebrows climbed upward, disappearing into unruly dark hair falling over his forehead.

With a gracious inclination of her head, she accepted his tribute while Dallis and Luke also paid homage to their hostess.

Moments later, as Han and Luke inspected her new quarters, Leia noted the possessive physical contact the Corellian maintained with Luke: an arm wrapped around a slim waist, a hand at the small of the back, an innocent brush of fingers, an affectionate smoothing of ruffled hair. She further watched her brother accept and return each gesture with a dazzling smile.

Once they were settled in the dining room, she nodded to Dallis, the pre-arranged signal, and offered her hand to the Alderaanian man in a formal indication of alliance. He accepted her gesture and pressed his lips to her palm in a courtly manner before launching into the ceremonial Declaration of Marital Intent.

Not one muscle of Luke's body expressed surprise as Dallis formally pledged his bond and requested permission of the eldest family male, but Han appeared astonished at the unexpected honor as Dallis addressed him.

Perhaps he was recalling the occasion of his introduction to Dallis Travan, as Leia now did, barely repressing a smile at the thought of that inauspicious event. Not precisely belligerent, Han had exhibited a wary antagonism. Leia's memory supplied the deliberately defiant words: So, Your Princeliness, tell me, does it bother you that I used to sleep with Leia before I started sleeping with her brother?

Goddesses, but nobility brought out the worst in Han Solo, just as Jedi Knights seemed to bring out the best in him.

Leia was pleased with the sober decorum Luke exhibited as he attended the rather lengthy Declaration, respectful of custom and tradition. Her pride knew no bounds at Dallis' expression of respect as he acknowledged the bond between Luke and Han. They had not discussed this in advance and she was as surprised as the others. By his recognition of the relationship, Dallis blessed her brother's choice and forged a family.

None of this made her any less aware of Solo, restlessly shifting throughout the tedious recitation, those lively eyes darting back and forth between her and Dallis.

Ah, Han, three years ago I hoped it would be you here beside me. You wouldn't have asked permission, either, but taken what you wanted. Demanded it, as your due, but within a year, we were simply a fond memory, a fantasy for lonely nights.

"I'm sorry, Leia, but it just ain't working."

There had been neither subtlety nor embarrassment in Han's blunt announcement, and very little regret expressed in the perfunctory apology. He was not deliberately cruel, of course, but the bare statement of undeniable fact carried its own sting.

At least he'd used jer name, not some careless derivative of her former title.

In all honesty, she was surprised it had taken Han so long to petition for freedom. Their joining had been a fundamental error, a wishful misjudgment on her part. I've only borrowed him, chanted the permanent refrain in her mind, and soon he'll go back to wherever he belongs. She was earth-bound, service in her blood, a child of mortal time. He belonged to the stars and himself, hearing a call she could admire and envy, but never share.

For a time she had been lulled by his transformation upon release from the carbon freeze, deluded into thinking she was the reason for the alteration.

Reality had taken a sideways slip the moment of Luke's return to them in the Ewok village. Two steps behind her, Han fidgeted with impatience as she embraced her brother until Luke thrust her aside in his eagerness to reach Han. Her eyes sought out Chewbacca across the platform, only to find him staring stolidly back at her. Soon after, secure and comfortable in Han's arms, she realized the Corellian's attention was elsewhere, protecting another with his watchful gaze. She turned inside his embrace and recognized her brother keeping vigil against the future. Only months later did she finally understand what the Wookiee had tried to tell her with that expression of sorrow and warning.

She'd suspected the truth even as she took the Corellian for her lover on Endor. Within a few days of that battle they were sharing a bed and making plans for the future.

She corrected herself. No, she'd made plans for the future. As always, Han was content to let the winds of fortune carry him forward to challenge entropy itself.

From somewhere outside herself she observed the struggle between his conscience and his nature. Daily denial of small aggravations accumulated in his psychological ledger, victim of her discipline and duty, but what else could she offer? She had been bred for dedicated obligation and responsibility, just as he had not. More than that, she had freely chosen to bind herself to such pursuits; their needs had never truly aligned. As time trespassed further she began to fear that wondrously emancipated spirit would be shackled beyond redemption.

Those moments and more rose before her in orderly sequence, well-bred countdown to private compromise. Her desire and determination hadn't been enough. Neither ingenuity nor diplomacy could patch this rupture.

All that time, she'd been chasing a mirage of her own manufacture.

"I know," was all she could say in response, past the loss and regret lodged in her chest

Han resigned his commission the next day, settled his personal affairs in a matter of hours and left on the Falcon, with Chewbacca in tow. Two days short of the one year anniversary of the Battle of Endor.

What saddened her most was that he wasn't running from her at all, but toward someone else.

She would have preferred that he ran from her, ran from the fear of total commitment and dissolution of self in a joyous union. Rather, she found herself accepting the bitter truth that he was drawn toward that very fate, yearning to live in someone else's heart.

If others beside herself charted the journey, marking each step of the passage in an unseen chronicle of suspicion and confirmation, she neither knew nor cared.

* * * * *

Upon Han's dutiful and embarrassed acceptance and blessing of the Declaration, Dallis lapsed into his more customary informality and good humor, and the evening found its proper balance. As anticipated, Han delightedly proposed numerous toasts, heavily weighted toward sexual and reproductive matters. As the Corellian voiced bawdy limericks masquerading as highly imaginative toasts to her marital happiness, Leia had been forced to defend her rapidly dwindling supply of champagne. Fortunately, the prospect of an excellent dinner finally curbed his eloquent and mischievous tongue.

Luke and Han fell to their meal with the enthusiasm of men who frequently forgot to eat, a fact Leia found both amusing and alarming. That was one of the drawbacks of same gender relationships, she suspected. Two men in love would refuse tender ministrations in favor of demonstrating independence, and two women in love would compete to see who could be most solicitous. Luke in particular appeared luminously insubstantial, as though he were existing solely on love and other spiritual dietary supplements.

Taking advantage of the instant camaraderie forming between her three beloved men, Leia divorced herself from the conversation and observed Han and Luke. This was her first opportunity to study the dynamics between them as a couple. Regrettably, in the two years since parting from Han, she'd seen very little of him, not much more of her brother and nothing of them together.

She appraised her ex-lover carefully, lingering over the details of his appearance with a devotion surprising in its possessive precision. Did a trace of challenge and insult linger, that her lover should have discarded her in favor of no less a rival than her own twin brother?

He's mellowed, she realized. The defensive bristle of ironic self-interest he used to wear had dissolved, rubbed off like tarnish from fine silver, to expose a core of determined faith and acceptance. Luke's influence.

Evidence of intimacy revealed itself in every flirtatious glance from beneath lowered lashes, woven into the subtle physical language of advance and retreat, inscribed into the twitch of lips and unmistakable in the caress of voice.

Fascinated, she watched as Luke reached across the table to clasp his lover's hand in an unabashed gesture of affection and reassurance. The twined fingers whispered to her: of trust earned and returned, sorrows shared and eased, challenges met and conquered, and of an enduring and sustaining love.

They were friends first, a claim predating her own, companions of the heart from the instant of introduction; proving her all the more foolish for her years of blindness.

She found she envied them their history and as yet unwritten future. They knew no boundaries, seeing only the stars and each other.

Han laughed at some witticism uttered by Dallis and winked at her, signifying his approval of her choice. Although it was pleasant to think she had his approbation, she couldn't help but smile at his presumed conceit.

Dallis touched her hand, drawing her attention. In his eyes she found comprehension, acceptance, and more: a past all the more precious now that it belonged so exclusively to them alone, and a future all the more desirable for its unlimited, unknowable potential.

He would share her life's work in a way neither Han nor Luke ever could, for he served the same ideals and values. Together they would sculpt that future, for themselves and their children. The passage of time had given her new perspective, and what she had once perceived as failure now proved itself as wisdom. In whatever future Han and Luke created for themselves she would still be there, offering the love, trust and support which only a friend and sister could provide.

Han and Luke had their path. She had her own.

As it should be.

Once again, she would hear laughter in the dark.

END

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