Cold Hands, Warm Hearts

Princess Leia flexed her fingers and then rubbed her freezing hands together as she waited. Today, the frigid hangar air had permeated her thin gloves even more quickly than usual. She'd only entered the cavernous space minutes before, but the cold had quickly begun crawling upwards from her fingertips, leading to an unpleasant tingling sensation, and finally to the numbness she felt now. Frustrated, she crossed her arms and tucked her hands under her vest, wishing once again that she had a thicker pair of gloves.

But Leia refused to show weakness. She never complained, striving instead to portray strength and confidence no matter the circumstances. As an Alliance leader, she understood that their limited resources must be used wisely in order to defeat the Empire. Thus, she wholeheartedly had supported allocation of the best cold weather gear to those whose duties required frequent exposure to Hoth's unforgiving climate. She knew that she, as a member of High Command, did not fall in that category, and so she bore her chilly suffering in silence.

She strode quickly around the perimeter of the hangar, occasionally glancing in the direction of the Falcon. Well aware of the ever-present Echo Base gossip machine, she didn't want to reveal her desired destination to any curious onlookers. Shivering, she pulled her scarf up to cover her chin, hiding her discomfort behind a stoic expression. She looked at the ship. Typically, it would be open, and she'd at least have the opportunity to wait indoors, perhaps sitting at the dejarik table with a cup of hot chocolate. One night during a clandestine sabaac lesson with the Falcon's captain, she'd casually mentioned her love for this hard-to-find beverage, and shortly thereafter, it had begun to appear next to her favorite mug in the ship's small galley. The thought elicited a warm sensation in her chest, and a small smile.

Their relationship had begun on a tempestuous note, yet slowly had developed into a genuine friendship characterized by trust, a shared sense of humor, and his flirtatious remarks. At first, Leia either completely ignored the latter or sniped at him in exasperation. But over time, his acts of courage and kindness had chipped away at her carefully constructed defenses, as she began to see a good man behind the bravado. Her attraction to him, which she'd denied for so long, had blossomed from simply noticing his handsome features to relishing and reciprocating his casual, incidental touches, which seemed to occur more frequently these days. Lately, she found herself coping with boring meetings by daydreaming about his muscular arms enveloping her in an embrace, his large hands caressing her lower back, and his sensuous lips crushed against hers. Her dreams took her fantasies a great deal farther along this continuum, a welcome respite from the nightmares that had plagued her since her torture and her planet's destruction.

Leia's eyes focused on the large, open hangar entrance and the various comings and goings of pilots and mechanics, searching for a certain Corellian—the reason she was here, suffering in the cold in the first place. Thinking that perhaps she'd missed his return, she began to make her way back to the Falcon, continuing to watch the entrance all the while. Then, she saw him, and her heart skipped a beat. It wasn't difficult to pick Han Solo out of a crowd; his height and the sway of his hips were unmistakable. Darkened against the snowy backdrop, his tall, lanky figure weaved through the activity and toward his ship—toward her. He removed his hood and greeted her with that lopsided grin.

"Hey, Sweetheart. Nice to have a welcoming committee!"

"I am not a committee," she retorted, her ire sparked not so much by his comment but by her physical discomfort. She flexed her fingers again as Han keyed his entry code and lowered the ramp.

"It's a bit more hospitable in here. Come on up," he suggested. Too cold to care about reinforcing rumors, she gladly accepted his offer, trailing along behind him into the ship.

She followed him through the ring corridor to the Falcon's lounge. Thankfully, the temperature was much warmer here, and Leia began to feel sensation slowly returning to her fingers. Then, recalling the real reason for her visit to the ship, her budding sense of relief was replaced by a twinge of trepidation. Rehearsing her question silently, she uncrossed her arms and clasped her hands under her chin in an attempt to speed up the warming process. When that strategy proved unsuccessful, she resorted to what she had done so many times as a child when her fingers were freezing: she lifted them to her lips and blew on them. Finally ready to deliver her planned words, she looked up to see Han staring at her with a wide grin. He stepped closer to her, so close that she felt his warm breath on her forehead, and she forgot what she was going to say. He took her small hands in his much larger ones, and her face grew warm as he massaged her fingers, the gentle pressure sending waves of excitement through her body.

Is this really happening?

"You need gloves, Sweetheart," Han said quietly.

"Han, I have gloves," she whispered. She looked up at him with her heart racing, catching his gaze.

"These aren't gloves." Holding her right hand in his palm, he gently tugged the fingertips of her glove, carefully removed it, and then caressed the back of her hand. His darkened eyes held hers as he took her other hand and repeated the motion, then tucked both gloves into his coat pocket. His fingers curled over hers, and suddenly she couldn't think. She could only feel, and want. He drew her closer, and...

The clanking sound of footsteps ascending the ramp startled the couple out of their trance. An embarrassed Leia took a step back as Han glared at the intruder. Chewbacca looked back and forth between his friends. Waving dismissively at them, he turned around and disappeared back down the ring corridor, shaking his head and grumbling in Shyriiwook.

Grinning, Han turned back to Leia, who rewarded him with a small smile. "Like I was sayin', those aren't gloves. THESE are gloves." He pulled his own thickly-padded pair out of his other pocket and slipped them onto her tiny hands.

Moving her fingers, she realized that plush lining of his well-worn gloves had taken the shape of his hands. She felt as if his hands were enveloping hers, warming and infusing life back into her freezing fingers. "Oh," Leia began, and then paused, closing her eyes as a soft, warm feeling washed over her. Bringing her hands together over her rapidly beating heart, she took a deep breath, then exhaled. After a moment, she opened her eyes again. Han was looking at her, his eyes twinkling fondly, and a kind smile graced his handsome features.

"You like those," he said. His smooth baritone voice again brought a flush to her cheeks and a flutter of happy anticipation in her belly.

Her eyes flickered away for a second, then returned to his. "Mmm… Yes," she replied.

He grinned knowingly at her, and her legs felt a bit weak. She casually placed her hand on the dejarik table, trying to keep her balance without looking like she was keeping her balance. His grin grew into a large ear-to-ear smile. Her blush deepened.

"That's good, 'cause I've got somethin' else you'll like," he replied as he removed his parka, hanging it on a bolt by the small galley.

Bewildered by a rush of confused emotion, she immediately straightened up and put her hands on her hips. "Han! That's not… What are you doing?"

"Relax, Sweetheart. It's just hot chocolate." Raising his eyebrow at her, Han continued in a mischievous tone, "What did you think I was doin'?"

At that point, Leia considered hiding in the storage compartments under the floor, and she was thankful when he turned and entered the galley. However, much to her chagrin, Han chose to accompany the usual sounds of cooking by whistling a rather baudy Corellian folk tune.

She removed his mitts, then her scarf and vest, placing them in a pile beside her as she sat at the dejarik table. Frustrated with her inability to conceal her emotions and maintain her dignity around this man, she wondered if she could go through with her plan, which had seemed so logical on flimsi. For her next mission, she needed a pilot, a bodyguard, someone who knew the planet, and someone she trusted with her life. She needed Han Solo.

High Command had initially recommended several other candidates, all of whom were commissioned officers in the Rebel Alliance. Leia understood that those men were qualified, competent, and responsible. However, she simply did not know them well enough personally to feel comfortable with them on a lengthy mission of this nature. She'd discussed this concern with Carlist Rieekan, who had proceeded to convince the rest of High Command that Han would be the best man for the job. His argument had irked her at first, in that he'd reminded them how Han prioritized her safety, protecting her from her own risky decisions on at least one notable occasion. Leia gave each mission her all. Han would make sure she wouldn't give this one her life.

But lately she'd realized that she'd been lying to herself, that logistics and Han's abilities in battle weren't her only motives for advocating his involvement in this mission. But what if he didn't share those unsaid motives? What if he'd still leave, as he so often threatened? She felt a pang in her heart just thinking of these possibilities.

"Hot chocolate for your thoughts? I spiced it the way you like it." Startled out of her contemplation, Leia looked up to see Han offering a mug of her favorite beverage. She took it appreciatively, holding it in both hands and bringing it to her nose. She inhaled the sweet scent and gave a little smile.

"Thank you, Han."

"You're welcome." He placed his own mug on the black and white surface of the games table and sat with her, stretching his arm across the seat back behind her. "So what's up?"

Acutely aware of his proximity and and the sensation of his leg brushing against hers, Leia suddenly felt very warm and a little unsteady. She averted her gaze, noticing the swirl of colors in her mug, the green Corellian jobo spice sparkling in the deep, rich chocolate. Initially, she'd been skeptical of the combination of sweet and spicy hot, but Han had gently cajoled her into trying it. Much to her surprise and to Han's delight, she found that each flavor highlighted and complemented the other. She lifted the drink to her lips and took a sip, savoring the taste before setting the mug down on the table.

Then, mustering her courage, she took a deep, calm breath, looked up into his curious hazel eyes, and took his right hand in her left one. "I want you to go on the mission to Ord Mantell with me."

Han grinned. "Casinos and nature's wonders with my favorite princess?" He paused and eyed her warily. "Wait. Who else is coming?"

Her heart was pounding in her chest. "No one."

A beat of silence followed.

"Just us?" Han gaped at her.

Leia couldn't help but grin at his astonished expression. She glanced at their joined hands, then looked up and met his gaze once more. "Just us."

A sudden buzzing sound interrupted them. Leia picked up her comm, shutting off the annoying device. "I'm sorry, Han, I've got to go. I'm overdue for a meeting with Mon." She squeezed his hand. "So? Will you come?"

"Nah. I'm not interested in Mon." He winked at her.

She rolled her eyes in mock exasperation, grabbed the pile of clothing next to her, and stood. "No, really Han. I need an answer."

"Well, yeah. 'Course I'll come."

Taking note of his open, serious expression, a jolt of unbridled happiness coursed through her, and she couldn't help but smile. "Your gloves, Captain," she said, holding them out to him.

"You can keep 'em, Sweetheart. I got another pair," Han replied quietly.

Noticing his serious expression, Leia's smile faded, and time seemed to stop as she looked into his hazel eyes, sensing… something more than friendly affection. She felt her body tremble in response, and she looked away, her cheeks tinged with pink. Slipping his gloves back onto her hands, she turned and began to walk toward the ring corridor. Then she stopped, took a few steps back to Han, leaned down, and kissed his cheek. "Thank you," she murmured, her lips grazing his ear. Mesmerized by their closeness and his distinctively masculine scent, she was tempted to linger.

Oh, how she wanted this.

But her duties remained, so she made her exit quickly. Although she was quite accustomed to a busy schedule and having to rush to meetings, her quick strides through the passages felt different this time. Her hands were warm, and her heart was full of happy possibilities.

THE END, or is it?