Leia’s only in her late twenties, but she’s already quite done with the grand New Year’s celebrations held all over Coruscant. She’s only in her late twenties, and she’s served more time as a Senator than most others working in the legal committee that keep her up late most nights.
She’s in her late twenties, and she’s so, so, tired of the idea of new years and fresh starts.
Because her age doesn’t really reflect what she’s been through.
Because there’s no easy way to say “I watched my entire home planet be blasted to bits, and then, spent the next six years in the middle of a war in which I gained a brother, lost my trust in the parents who raised me, gained (and then broke up with) a ridiculous, incredible lover, and then, had to learn I was the biological daughter of the most feared man in the galaxy.”
In short, Leia feels ancient most days. Especially, she’s realizing, when she’s around people who haven’t been through as much as she has. Not that anyone’s life was easy, under the Empire, she reminds herself. Well, no one she associates with. There’s plenty of successful merchants who did deals with both sides and benefited greatly.
“Leia!” Winter says, “Stop staring out the window and come sit on the couch with us! I’m opening that box of sea-sweet-crispettes from Naboo!”
Leia smiles at her friend, perched on her apartment’s one couch, between two other friends from boarding school. “I’m coming. I was just… thinking year-end thoughts.” Except her thoughts are like that every night, regardless of the year.
Instead of attending any of the grand Galas she’d been invited to, as a Senator and representative of the New Republic, Leia threw a small get-together for Winter and other old friends from boarding school, who had been visiting. The women had all grown up into various roles; minor dignitaries, business leaders, and, one, Navri, a holo-fashion-model. But the one thing all the women had in common was they had no other New Year’s Eve plans.
All the Core worlds celebrated the same New Year’s, a tradition which Cassian, when Leia explained she was skipping work to decorate her apartment, had said was both bantha fodder-worthy and astronomically nonsensical. She’d simply told the dour intelligence-operative-turned-security-officer that maybe she’d un-invite him to her party. Because Leia hadn’t wanted to admit how much his scorn had hurt her feelings..
Because Leia couldn’t admit, especially to him, how much she’d hoped he’d take the day off too and relax in her room. She’d already gotten used to his casual presence at night, the way he’d come over for a cup of tea or a nightcap and then accidentally fallen asleep on her couch, every night, the way she looked forward to both of them being off-duty so she could pick his brain on whatever they’d both overheard… she’d assumed he’d want to come to the party too.
But Cassian had refused and so, Leia hadn’t seen him all day, which was a little odd. She tries not to think of that and instead turns back into her friends’ champagne-infused conversation, joining them. There’s no room on the couch, so Leia perches on the end table across from them.
“I just want romance,” Ruui says with a soft sigh, letting her pale blue fingers run over the swirling embroidery on the sleeve of her dress. “Flowers, kisses at midnight…”
“Flowers wilt,” Navri comments. She hadn’t dressed up to the same degree as the others, saying it was wonderful to let her hair down and relax for once, without holos being taken every time she smiled. It didn’t matter. Even in a pair of flowing trousers and a long tunic, she was still incredibly beautiful, with her high cheekbones and bright eyes. All of Leia’s friends are beautiful, she thinks, much more than she is. “I’ll take wealth. Someone who can keep me wrapped in glittering eltro-shot silks and buy me all the finest foods.”
“Ooh, silks,” Ruui comments. “Those new ones that tint juuust enough to not be scandalous in only the areas that they need to?”
Leia tugs her dressing gown around her a little tighter. Some holo-mag or other commented that the youngest senator dresses like the oldest, that even Mon Mothma showed more skin. But in the back of Leia’s mind always is a golden chain and cold metal and red fabric. Red like blood. Red like rage. No. It’s… it’s just more comfortable to wear more layers. That’s all. Nothing else to it.
Yet, the grotesque laughter of a Hutt still echoes in her head. “More wine?” she asks, her voice cracking a bit. “I’m getting more.” She pours a generous glass, and takes a long sip. And then a second. The wine is dry, but not as dry as the waves of heat on Tatooine. She’s safe. She’s far from there. Her friends are having a wonderful time, and she is safe.
“Leia, you didn’t paint your nails?” Navri comments. She reaches out her hand. “Let me see. You always had such lovely hands. Remember how you put those little gems on each nail for that dance when we snuck out? And then you had to use two of them to pay the guard to let us back in our dorms?”
She shakes her head, and clenches the hand that isn’t holding a glass, hiding her fist in her billowing robe. Her hands have calluses now. From blasters and from chains, from repairing the Falcon and from countless other broken moments. She’s always been a fighter, she thinks, but only now does she think of her hand’s as a killer’s. This party had been a bad idea. She’s not the girl who sneaks out of boarding school anymore. She’s the girl who fights her way out of captivity, who commands others to fight, who fights so that there will never be a need for more fighting.
Leia sips her wine, trying to remember how to enjoy a party. Trying to remember how to be a young woman with friends, and not the youngest commander of a Rebellion with the weight of the galaxy on her shoulders.
Maybe she’ll never remember. The new year will come and go and Leia will still be trapped in the past. She stares out her large window as her friends chatter. Coruscant is bustling, as always, and soon, fireworks will illuminate the never-quite-dark sky.
The city-planet will cheer on a new year, as they had cheered on a new Republic, only three years ago. Had they cheered on Empire Day as well?
There’s a loud peal of laughter that makes her turn around. Navri has started a pillow fight, just like she always did when the four were roommates, and there’s a good deal of laughter and jeers over it. Leia even joins in, bopping Winter on the head with a pillow.
After, they all piled back on the couch. Navri has raided the little tray of desserts Leia set out (from a bakery, of course) and holds one chocolate sweet in each hand. “Maybe I’ll elope with this chef, whoever they are. Any being who can cook is worth their weight in gold.”
“I’ll pass your compliments on, though I think Master Anduui is quite happy with his two husbands already.” Leia smiles. The smile is only slightly informed by the memory of the dinner she’d had just two nights, on this couch.
The dinner with Cassian.
No, no no no. She stops her thoughts right there. Deletes them like a wiped data disc, and thinks only of the food, the steaming pan of perfectly seared mushrooms and vegetables, the glaze that added so much flavor and just enough heat that she found herself blushing at the memory. Because that’s of course what made her blush.
Not… not Cassian’s hands as he stirred the vegetables, not the shy almost smile on his face as he’d watched her take her first bite. No. Just… the food.
“What about… a hero,” Winter says dreamily. “Someone who is brave, and mysterious, and…”
Leia lets out the tiniest giggle, because she knows exactly which pilot Winter is considering, and it’s very hard for her to imagine Tycho as mysterious.
But all it does is have the attention focused on her. “And you, Leia?” Navri asks. “What do you want in a partner?”
Leia just shrugs, which sends the silky dressing gown she’s tossed over her dress tumbling down a shoulder. Taking the moment to pull it back up allows her to gather her thoughts. “I’ve had love,” she finally says, which is probably not what anyone wants to hear.
I love you.
“He’s single again,” Ruui muses. “That fling he had with Officer Antilles is over.
Of course he is, Leia thinks, but she knows better than to say that. Han’s the guy everyone thinks they want. Almost, almost like a New Year’s party. All glitter and fun and anticipation, the buzz of liquor racing through your veins, the hum of music in your bones as you dance until the heel of one shoe breaks, the laughter that bubbles out at the events that occur, I can’t believe we’re really doing this! As you jump into the pool with your clothes on, as you take one drink too many, as you follow your heart and ignore your head… and then, once the new year starts… You’re stuck with a headache, a broken pair of shoes, and a mess to clean up.
But sometimes, Leia still desperately misses that party. She’s comm’d him a few times, seen him in passing at least twice in the past year. But once the party’s over, it’s hard to figure out what event ignited that magic.
“If not Han, what about one of those Senators?” Ruui asks.
“Oh, or Amilyn Holdo! Didn’t you two…” Winter begins.
Leia’s cheeks turn bright red. “We’re better as friends, she and I.”
Maybe Leia was meant to be everyone’s friend. A crying shoulder, a steady hand when they were trembling. It was the role she was most comfortable in. Even in the hours after she’d met Luke and Han, those two ridiculous, life-changing idiots, she’d been more comfortable taking care of Luke in his grief than addressing her own.
He’d lost a mentor. She’d lost her planet.
But her loss had been so complicated, so horrific, and so… her fault. She’ll never stop thinking it is her fault Alderaan fell. That was the reason it was easier to comfort Luke, if she’s honest with herself. She’s not good at that, the honesty thing.
Han used to tell her that too. That she was so good at pretending to be open with people, pretending to say what she was really thinking, that it was impossible to ever really know her.
Then again, she thinks, it wasn’t like Han ever tried that hard.
“Leee-ia,” one of the girls teases, poking her side. “You look so serious! It’s almost the new year. Shouldn’t we open your window?
The window. That damn window, the one that Cassian has deemed only a slight risk, compared to the one in his room that gave him such nightmares that… the only place he could sleep was here. On this silly floral couch.
But he wouldn’t be able to sleep here tonight. Really, no one in this whole city would be getting much sleep tonight. Not with the fireworks. Not with the way those things would rumble and flash and boom throughout the night. Strange, how the same technology was used to celebrate and to destroy.
Because the fireworks would sound so close to… to bombs. To explosions, and detonations, and all the terrible percussions of war. Though the lightshow would no doubt entertain her friends, what would it do to all the soldiers still stationed here. What would it do to…
“I… I have to go.” Leia stands up, brushing crumbs from her gown.
“But you’ll miss the countdown.”
“That’s all right,” Leia smiles. “I’ve seen it before.” And she’s had too many other important countdowns in her life to cherish such a silly one.
Instead, she races in her slippered feet down the hall. He’s her security detail now, he’s not too far. He’s watched over her for months now, for a year, ever since she extended the offer, and she… she was the fool who couldn’t offer that same protection to him. She should have offered to be by his side, to take him somewhere they wouldn’t hear the walls shake. To get him away from that damn window he hates so much.
If he even wants her by his side. She’s not very good at protecting. She hadn’t been able to save Han from the carbonite, had needed Luke’s help to save everyone from Jabba… she’d never even been able to save herself.
But if she can’t offer protection, she can at least offer companionship. Leia hopes he’s not too far away, at least, physically. She’s sure that by the time the fireworks begin, he’ll be completely in the past in his mind.
Oh, she’d been an idiot, an absolute idiot. He’d made a joke about flying her off planet for the holiday and she hadn’t thought that it was for his sake. Because he’s just as bad about taking care of himself, of putting his own needs first as she is with hers. And honestly, they could have had a great time… somewhere else.
Really, she’s not quite sure where a Senator and a semi-retired spy would go on a friendly vacation. She’s not even sure Cassian has ever had a vacation.
The door opens, and she’s face to face with an Imperial Security Droid. As always, there’s a little prickle on the back of her neck at the sight of that massive frame. She tries to pretend it’s not there, tells herself it’s just K-2SO, but memories linger.
Which is exactly why she came. “Kay, is Cassian here?”
“Why are you asking?”
“Because…” Because she’s caring about someone else, again, but this time, it’s for a person who will never take the time to care for himself. She’s only been friends with the former operative for two years, and she knows that already. “Because I wanted to say hello.”
“I will convey the message.”
“No, I… I’d like to.” The room beyond K-2SO is dark. She’s never actually seen Cassian’s room, and wonders if he’ll mind the intrusion. Then, she wonders if he’ll even tell her if so. Of course he won’t. “Myself. I’d like to tell him myself.
K-2SO states, “Cassian sees you as a close friend, so he would instruct me to let you in. But I do not see you as a friend.”
“You are quite welcome.” There’s a whir of metal, and suddenly, K-2SO is leaning down quite close to her to add, “for the record, I liked Jyn Erso much better, and I barely liked her at all.”
Leia plasters on her fakest of all fake smiles. “It is in poor taste to compare two women, Kaytuesso, and besides, I am not… romantically involved with Cassian.” That, she knows, has as much chance of happening as banthas flying.
Now that she’s in the room proper, she can see there is one small light, an orb affixed to the wall above a simple but comfortable-looking chair. There’s a small crate with a few holobooks to one side, and some simple maps and star charts pinned to the wall.
“I put those up,” K-2SO comments. “I enjoy decorating.”
“I… see.” Aside from the chair, there’s a electrokettle for caf, a cabinet full of bottles she does her best to ignore, a mostly-empty bottle next to a plain glass tumbler with only a little ice remaining that she can’t ignore, and a simple cot, neatly made with precise military corners, which is as far from the window he hates as possible. That window has been tinted only as half as dark as the auto-tints will go, and she remembers that he said he’d rather see what’s out there than live in hiding. Three jackets are hung on one metal bar, nex to two shirts and two pairs of brown pants. A few pairs of shoes, all of them boots, are lined up beneath the clothes, in a perfect line. Nothing is out of place, and nothing, she notes, has any personality at all. She wonders who’s neater, the robot or the spy, and she has no idea what the right answer is.
“Where’s Cassian?” she asks K-2S0.
“He’s in the shower.”
Leia sputters, all of the liquor she’s had only somewhat responsible for heating her face all at once. “You didn’t tell me that.”
“You didn’t ask.”
“I need to leave.” Leia spins on her heel, trying to turn, and colliding with K-2S0, hard. Her head clunks against the cold metal, her hands flying out to try to steady herself. Had she screamed? She so hoped she hadn’t sc-
“Kaytu!” That’s Cassian’s voice, harsh and raw. The voice she’d tried so hard to keep him from using. And now, thanks to her, he’s…
In a towel. Dripping wet. He’s completely naked, except for that towel… She shakes her head, clears her mind, hopes to see anything else… but no. Cassian is still standing in a towel with a blaster in his hand, the ‘fresher door open behind him, light streaming into the room.
“It’s me, Cassian,” Leia mumbles. K-2SO still hasn’t let go of her, which means she can’t hide her face behind her hands. The towel is wrapped so low around his narrow hips, showing off muscular abs, a soft trail of hair leading lower… She closes her eyes, tight.
“Leia? What are… what the….” He sets the blaster down on the chair, and runs a hand through his hair. Leaving only one hand on the towel.
Leia remembers, belatedly, that her eyes were supposed to be closed. He’s beautiful. Not in the way many men are. He’s too lean, too angular, with too many scars crossing his body. But he’s warm and strong and so graceful in his movements. That was what had caught her eye, at first. The careful way he moved. Never taking up too much space, never too brash. She’d known there had to be scars under the layers of his clothes. She hadn’t known how badly she’d want to touch those old wounds with gentle fingers.
If she couldn’t heal the past, she wished she could at least quiet the nightmares of it.
“I wanted to say happy new year,” she mumbles, somehow, feeling more young, more giddy and foolish and wonderful, than she has in years.
He checks his chrono, left on the small table. “Not the new year yet.”
No. Because she’d wanted to check on him before that. “I like to be early.”
“You,” he looks over his shoulder at her for just the length of that word, “are never early. Especially not in the morning.”
“Getting ready is a lot of work.”
“Mm.” He doesn’t seem to be embarrassed by being in the towel. Leia thinks back to the mostly empty liquor bottle, and realizes that’s her answer. He’s not a loud drunk, or even a very chatty one. What he is, from what she’s seen, is a drunk who cares about very little at all. That’s what hurts the most. Because he is a man who cares so much. Who sacrificed all his life for the Rebellion’s ideals, who gave until he broke, and then kept giving. Who even now, uses his days off to volunteer in a soup kitchen for refugees. Cassian is all compassion, is all heart… and yet, right now, he looks so empty, so sad.
It’s a new year, but nothing will change for him, Leia realizes. He will keep living in the shadows of the war he misses, because it’s the only thing he’s ever had.
“Should I release her?”
Oh. Leia had rather forgotten she’d been trapped by a droid. At Cassian’s nod, she’s let go. She brushes herself off, while Cassian walks away, wordlessly, back into the ‘fresher. Leia glares up at the droid, who shrugs at her. “You said you had an important message.”
A moment later, the door opens, and he’s pulled on trousers. His shirt is undone, and he fastens it while he asks, “Is everything all right with your party?”
“Yes. I think so. They’re… a little loud.” Her words sound stilted as she tries hard, and fails, to not watch the movements making that bare skin vanish beneath the faded off-white fabric.
“Most parties are.” He finishes dressing. “Better?”
She blinks. And then it sinks in. He got dressed for her. Because she was so flustered. Because…he’s more worried about her comfort than his own.
“I thought the towel added some festive flair to your wardrobe. A little variety. Why, it was aquamarine! That’s a completely different color from any you wear.”
He just raises an eyebrow and crosses over to the bar. Holding up the bottle, he tilts his head, offering. The bottle is definitely whiskey, and definitely mostly empty.
She sighs. “No.” She’s had enough to drink as it is. And he probably doesn’t need more either.
“Don’t sound so excited.” There’s no excitement in his voice either, as he tops off his glass. “Planning to watch the fireworks?”
“I… had quite forgotten about them, if i’m honest.”
“You’re a politician, and i’m a spy. Neither of us, Leia, are ever honest.” He raises his eyebrows at her, before toasting her with his glass.
“I wish you wouldn’t drink so much. There. That’s honesty.”
“And I wish you wouldn’t make nice with former Imperial bastards when they sit at the same table as you.”
He’s certainly drunk. Because he’d never say that sober. He’d think that, she knows he thinks that, but he’d never say it. And he’s right. “I’m just doing what I’m supposed to. What I have to.”
“Heard that before.”
Leia strides past him, up to the damned window. It’s small, and he’s right. It is a cheap single-pane. Pressing her palm to the glass to feel it vibrate whenever a hovercar zooms too close, which, given the mad way people pilot on this planet, is often. The glass is cold, colder than anything else tonight, and she lets herself focus on that, conquering her temper. She’d been so quick to argue with him.
And that’s a warning sign she recognizes just as much as a blush. “I’m sorry,” she says. “It’s your life. You do what you want.”
“I signed my life away as a child,” he says. “Maybe that’s my problem. I can’t figure out how to get it back.”
“I’m sure there’s paperwork involved,” she says, keeping her voice light, beckoning him toward a shared joke.
“Always paperwork,” he takes the invitation, his voice so much warmer now. “Even paperwork to prove I don’t exist.”
“I am quite good at paperwork, Cassian.” Both of them spin around. Leia had forgotten about K-2SO, who is now glaring down at them, hands at his hips. “May I help?”
“Mm. Yes. Kay?” Cassian tilts his head. “Go stand guard at the door.”
“One of Leia’s friends might try to detain her, and I am quite sure I do not need a society lady in this room, at this hour.”
“Am I to engage them in physical combat if so?”
It’s Leia who chuckles. “Please do. It’ll be Winter, and she’s quite scrappy.”
“Winter?” Cassian says, with real shock. “Wait. Operative Targeter? That Winter?”
He sounds… younger when he’s baffled. She finds she likes that quite a bit. “Mm. Maybe? I never had clearance for her code name.”
“Are you referring to Winter Retrac?” K-2SO inquires. “If so, she owes me a game of Dejarik from seven years ago.”
“It’s probably her. Holographic memory?”
“I refused to believe it without further testing but yes, that was how she was introduced.”
Cassian sips his drink and shakes his head. “Good. Then, Kaytu? Go wait outside the door for Oper-For Miss Winter.” She catches the slight glance her way, and realizes he’s probably confirming she’s still single. Leia pretends not to notice, just like she pretends not to notice the way something tight has twisted beneath her ribs. She’d had no idea Winter knew Cassian. And Winter was smart, talented, far more beautiful than Leia… “Understood?”
K-2SO leaves, and Leia returns to staring out the window. Force be damned, she can’t do anything right. She can’t even provide comfort to a friend, because she’s too busy being jealous of another friend.
He stands behind her, looking out at the window, where all the early fireworks have begun to bloom. Colors tear through the sky, brighter than even most of Coruscant's various advertisements and speeders. One is close enough to shake the window. “You know,” his voice is soft, but she doesn’t turn. “It’s strange. How similar all explosions sound.”
There’s the clinking of ice in his drink as he takes a sip. “When they hit, they all sound the same, doesn’t matter if they’re from a Y-Wing, or a TIE, or clone trooper’s”
The last one struck her as odd, but she didn’t comment on it. Instead, she says, “Concussives. That’s what I heard most.”
“From Echo Base?”
Leia nods. He’s so close now, standing there. She can hear him breath, between the echoes of the far-off early fireworks. Each breath steady, each breath proof he’s alive. That they’re both alive, even as the past reaches out greedy hands to pull them under and keep them there, with all the others now gone forever.
They’re survivors, she and Cassian, though she’s not sure she deserves to be one.
Suddenly, the window illuminates with a flare of bright green, high above one tower. The vivid, sickly color is horrible among all the pinks and golds. Leia flinches, hard, turning away from the window. Flinches, just like she had that day, when she’d had a hand of iron on her shoulder, forcing her to watch. The hand of a man Luke tells her to think of as her father.
This time, her flinch is only met with the soft warmth of Cassian. His arm wraps around her shoulders. At first, she thinks he’s shaking. Then, she realizes she is. That even her teeth are chattering. She still forces out. “Did it… did it sound like a bomb?”
He doesn’t answer. She’s an idiot. She should have never mentioned, never asked…
There’s a soft thump that she doesn’t understand, until his other arm also embraces her, pulling her closer. Cassian set down his drink. To hold her. His hand strokes her hair, and now she knows they're both shaking. “No,” he whispers, his voice rumbling against her body. His heartbeat races, so much faster, so much shallower than his breathing had been. “It was far worse.”
Her fingers twist in his shirt, and she lets herself feel the roughness of the weave, the place where there’s a small hole he’s patched with neat stitches. Needs to feel something, anything, real. “I didn’t want you to be alone,” she says, softly. “I mean, I know you have Kay, I just…”
His chin rests on the top of her head, a comfortable weight. They’ve never held each other for this long. Never like this. She tries again. “I guess, I knew I wouldn’t want to be alone. So I wanted to be there for you, the way I wanted…”
“Someone there for you,” he finishes. His hand is so gentle as he cups her cheek, tilts her gaze up to him. “Leia, you’re allowed to want things for you. For yourself.”
“You’re one to talk, Captain,” she retorts. “What do you want?”
“To wake up without a hangover tomorrow.”
“If you stopped drinking, that would be easily solved.”
“So it would.” His fingers rake through the tendrils of hair that have escaped her braids. “Does it bother you? The drinking.”
“Yes,” She squares her shoulders. “But I want it to bother you.”
“You strike a hard bargain.”
“That’s why I’m a Senator.” It’s easier to do this, to keep talking, to bicker back and forth… the way she had with Han. But this is nothing like whatever that had been. She and Cassian are friends. She cares about him. That’s why the drinking bothers her, why she wanted to check on him, why the way he’s gently playing with her hair is making her go quite weak in the knees.
She really is extraordinary at lying to herself, she thinks. Han was right.
“And I’m a…” he trails off. “Who knows what I am, these days. A veteran?” He snorts the word.
Now it’s Leia who is reaching out, her hand coming up to his cheek. His hair is still wet, and it brushes the tips of her fingers. The stubble, rough against her palm, makes her mouth go dry. He’s so… real in this moment. He’s here. They both are. They’ve both survived so many bombs, so many battles, just to stand in this tiny dark apartment tonight, watching the fireworks that only fill them both with pain.
“You are a friend,” she says, softly. “That’s what you are.”
“And is that what you want?” Something deep and wild has crept into his voice, like a nexu that had stalked prey and is now close enough to pounce. It makes the last word turn into a growl that sends shivers down her spine.
The traces of whiskey clinging to his words, though, grounds her. Even if the way he smells like his soap, plain and fresh, a little like citrus, makes her wonder what his skin would taste like, the whiskey is a reminder to keep her own hunger locked down. Neither of them are in a good place, especially not tonight. “I am badly in need of friends, Cassian Andor,” she says.
“Then that’s all I want.” He frees his hand and uses it to capture her own, bringing it back down to his shoulder, so they are simply holding each other, as the fireworks sound.
She’s about to think that’s all there is, that it’s… whatever it was, is all over, and then, so soft she thinks she might be imagining things, his lips brush over her forehead.
Then, he lets go. “You have a party to attend to, Senator,” he says, all the pain, and all the hunger, wiped from his voice. It’s his professional voice, and it’s the first time she’s heard it tonight. She hasn’t realized before, how rarely he uses it around her these days.
“Will you stop by?”
“I thought you wanted me to stop drinking.”
She lightly whacks his shoulder, the sort of intimacy they’re much better with. The sort that friends share. The same as a teasing smile or the way he’d brush a bit of dust off one of her gowns. “I do! I do. I really do.”
“I’ll take it under advisement.”
“And the party?” she tilts her head. Her voice, too, is different now. Professional. Warm, still, but conveying none of that weakness that had made her tremble. The weakness that she carries with her every minute of every day, and threatens to drown her some nights. Most nights, if she’s honest with herself. Which is exactly why she never is. “You can stop by at the end. I’ll send you back with a tray of snacks.”
“Are you trying to bribe me with food?”
“It usually works.”
She flashes him a shy smile, knowing that he’s stubborn, maybe as stubborn as her. So she lets the topic rest and walks outside, to where K-2SO is still standing guard. “Have you delivered your message? I would hope so. You took thirty-eight minutes.”
“You should be.”
“Kay,” she hesitates, because there is clearly no affection, nor even a working relationship between them. “Will you look after him? During the rest of the fireworks?’
“Will the fireworks bother him?”
“They bother me,” she says, offering brutal honesty to a droid who seems to operate with only that as his parameters
“I am not concerned about you.” For a moment, she thinks that sharing her raw emotion was a waste of time, until Kay adds, “But I will ensure Cassian is safe. That is a job I am quite good at. I have kept him alive so far.”
“Good. Keep it up.”
She leaves the droid and the man that she’s realizing just how much she cares about, and heads back to her party.
The party winds down soon after midnight. Her friends kiss her cheeks and dance off, leaving behind traces of their perfume, the flowers they brought for her hostessing, the memory of their warmth… and many, many dirty dishes. Her friends are gone, which always happens at the end of a party, gone with all of their sweet normalcy that she longs for. Navri even left behind one shoe, somehow, and had gone skipping down the hall with the other high heel in her hand. They’re sweet, her friends, but they’re almost strangers these days.
All except Winter, who has claimed the couch in the far corner, a woven blanket pulled high around her shoulders. Typical Winter. She’d even slept through the end of the fireworks. Winter continues to sleep through Leia programming the small sweeping droid for the crumbs, which is enough proof that she’ll sleep through anything else. So Leia pulls the folding partition around the part of the couch it covers, giving her friend privacy.
Odd. She’d bought that partition for Cassian, and yet, every time he falls asleep, both of them have forgotten to pull it up, separating the room between them. Instead, now, when she thinks of falling asleep, she thinks of watching him, his long eyelashes fluttering over his high cheekbones.
Which, perhaps, is quite silly. It must be the wine talking, she lies to herself. Nothing more.
Then, Leia gets to work, which is almost a relief, even though it’s daunting. There are cleaning droids on Coruscant, but fewer than this large of a building really need, so a lot of it is up to her. In addition to the dishes, there are a few spills, plenty of crumbs, a mess. So much glitter, all over the floor, the table, throwing sparkles into the corner of her eyes as she moves. There’s a mess, because that’s what always happens after a party.
The door pad beeps at about two hours after midnight. Leia looks up, from where she’s stacking plates. The light from the hall turns him into a silhouette. He’s lean, rumpled, with a weariness that wraps around every bit of him, and he’s so, so beautiful.
How has she never noticed that before? How has she worked, side by side, with him for two years and not noticed the way that one swoop of his dark hair brushes so temptingly over his forehead. How has she been part of the same Rebellion, sat in the same Mission Briefing rooms and never realized how perfect his lips were?
“You’re still awake,” he says.
“So are you.”
She knew, in an odd way, that he would come. Because although neither of them have admitted it, or even commented on it, if they’re both here on Coruscant, then he sleeps on her couch. And has for… for months now. The time crept up on them, until, now, she realizes, she’s spent just as long knowing him here on Coruscant as she has without him.
And if she admits it to herself, which she’s finding a little bit easier as long as he’s near her, she’s not sure she wants to be on Coruscant without him
“I’ve already packed up the food.” That had been the easiest thing. But he’s not here for the food. Of course not. It’s far too late. He’s in that shirt with the bright blue patch on one sleeve that she’s come to think of as his nightshirt, even though she’s certain he probably wears it under his uniform sometimes. No, he’s not here for food. Just to sleep in the same room as another person, that habit they’ve started together, and neither one knows how to stop. She admits, “I’m sorry, your couch is a little occupied,” she nods over at the far corner where Winter has crashed.
“Ah,” he says. “I’ll go.”
“No!” Her voice is too urgent, too needy. “I mean. Stay? For a nightcap?” At some point in time, she’s really going to have to address her bad habit of those. Maybe, maybe tonight. It is the new year. “Or a cup of tasha mint tea?”
“Tea,” he says, with a small smile. “I’m capped.” So he’s still drunk, then, and trying to make light of it. They need to talk about it. But not tonight. Not when they both know it, when it’s a gaping wound that needs more than just one night’s bandage.
His hands slide into his pockets, and he stands next to her, not looking at her but surveying the remains of the party. “Must have been a good time, no?”
“It was.” And now, she’s pretty sure she might rather face another battle on Endor than clean all of this up. She will, of course. She’ll wake up early and scrub all of this up, because it’s not fair to ask the one overworked droid for the whole floor to do it. “I just… I want it clean.”
“I didn't know princesses knew how to run hydro-dish-spinners.”
“We do. Just not ovens,” she teases back, based on her last four tailed attempts at cooking. There. This is good between them. More like how they usually are. “I don’t want to leave it all to the droid on this floor. That’s not fair.”
Cassian tilts his head, that sign that makes Leia feel like he’s awarded her a point in some mental record-keeping book.
She asks, “What are you thinking?” Drinking tea will be a nice break. If only they had somewhere to sit. Well, someplace other than the obvious. The one piece of furniture far from Winter, and quite comfortable. The one place that even thinking of suggesting to him has her blushing.
“Nothing.” He shakes his head. “Can I help?
“I guess, yes.” She nods, deciding she can do this. She’s an adult. It’s just a bed. “Why don’t you get down the mugs and then sit over there?” If she doesn’t call it a bed, maybe that will be a bit less awkward.
“I meant with the cleaning.”
“My party, my mess.” It’s true, in so many ways. And the Rebellion hadn’t been a party, far from it, but it is her duty to clean that up, too, to make it into a working government, no matter what.
He fetches the mugs. She makes the tea. All of a sudden, she has to face the fact that Cassian Andor is sitting on her bed. Sitting there, with one of her many, many throw pillows in his lap. “Is there… a cultural reason for these?”
She sets the mugs down. “For throw pillows?”
“Ah, they’re weapons then.” His eyes narrow, just for a moment, and one goes flying. Leia ducks, just in time, and it bounces off the wall behind her. She brushes hair out of her eyes, looks up at him… and gets hit by a tiny purple bolster.
“Hey!” But she’s not upset, not at all, because there’s real humor on his face right now. Not a smile, those are too hard won, but those crinkles that appear in the corner of his eyes, like the memory of a grin.
“I feel much safer, surrounded by so much artillery,” he teases, before taking a mug. He always goes for the one with the small chip in the handle, which is the only reason she hasn’t discarded it yet.
Then, there’s no place to go but to sit next to him. They drink it in comfortable silence, which she appreciates. Her wine is starting to wear off, and the giddiness has faded. She starts to nod off on the bed. He shifts, a little. It’s subtle, but it’s just enough that her head is pillowed by his chest.
Kriff, he’s warm. She’s forgotten what this is like. It had been nice, those few months with Amilyn, to press close to someone else, to listen for their heartbeat, instead of her own. He’s a little bonier a pillow than she had been, but it’s still so… nice. It’s very nice.
“Comfortable?” he asks.
“Good.” There’s a long pause. This one, she thinks, isn’t as comfortable as the silence. There are so many things either one of them could say, and they both know it. But they’re both liars, as he pointed out. What’s worse, is that they are they best liars to themselves.
Finally, he whispers, “Happy New Year, Leia.”
Her heart thuds, so fast, so hard, that surely he notices. She aims for glib but ends up with more of a rambling tone. “I thought you said the new year was Core-centrical bantha fodder.”
“I’m amazed you can say all that mid yawn.” He shifts again, just a little, so that he can take her mug and set it down. Then, his arm wraps around her waist, holding her. Leia’s eyes flick closed.
“I don’t think you’re bantha fodder,” she mumbles, as both sleep and the wine pulls at her.
There’s a little shake of his chest that worries her, for one small moment. She remembers his shaking at the fireworks. Both of them. Both scared more of the past than what the future will hold. Then, she realizes… it’s laughter. Silent, but there. Because there’s humor, soft and gentle in his voice when he says “and I don’t think you’re bantha fodder either. Not at all.”
“Glad that’s settled.”
His hand is warm, where it rests on her forearm. Warm, and callused, as all soldier’s are. As Leia’s are. She slides her hand over his, her fingers brushing gently. And just as gently, his hand opens, takes hers. She's the one who squeezes, just once, just to say, look at us. We're still alive. Where she rests her head, she knows there’s scars beneath. They’d exchanged words, only once, about the torture each had faced at the hands of the Imperials. Only Leia’s had left no scars. Or none most people could see.
But Cassian saw them. Cassian knew her in her brokenness and met her there. They were both more tied to the past these days than hopeful for the future. But it was a new year now, and maybe… just maybe.
Leia yawns, and a moment later, she is asleep. But in that small moment, between waking and sleeping, between the old year and the new, she thinks just maybe, Cassian might have bent and kissed her cheek, as soft and sudden as a shooting star. She's always loved those much more than fireworks, anyway. They're softer, more predictable, familiar. The ones on Alderaan used to occur every year, right around her birthday. And every year, she'd stay up to midnight to watch for them.
She hopes, in that small, silent moment, there will be more midnights shared between her and Cassian.
In the morning, she wakes to a clean apartment and an empty bed. There’s no sign he was here, no sign at all, beyond the scent of his soap on her pillow and the lack of mess on the tables and counters. Winter is still snoring peacefully in the corner.
Just when Leia has managed to convince herself that last night was a fluke, that everything will go back to normal, her door slides open once more. It’s him. As tidy as he’ll ever be (she’s already learned that if his shirt is too crisp, if he trades his comfortable brown jacket for a formal coat, then he’s not going to be the Cassian she knows at all that day) with his hair parted to one side, and his eyes warm.
Are his eyes… warmer than usual? No. She’s being silly. He’s the same Cassian as he’s been for the past two years. Her friend. The only friend she has left on this planet, once Winter and the other girls leave again. But Winter has never made her heart race like Cassian does, when he says, “Ah, yes. There you are, being punctual.”
She’s still in her clothes from last night. Damn him. Leia looks up, and knows she’s blushing. “I do need a few minutes. And I have to get Winter up and on her way…”
He nods. “I’ll wait for you.” Then, there’s a smile. A tiny, tiny smile, so fast she almost misses it, before he says, “try not to take all year.
She wonders, just for one small moment, if they’re both waiting for each other, in a thousand tiny ways. She wonders, if just maybe, one day their waiting will be over, and their own fireworks will bloom.
Then the day begins, and the work of building a new galaxy occupies all her thoughts. All of them, except for the one that turns over that memory of Cassian’s small smile, over and over, the way a river makes a stone smooth.
Time, perhaps, makes all things smoother.