Whichever way I go, I come back to the place you are
‘Can you two stop canoodling over there and bring the damn wine?’
Leia blushed at having been caught but laughed, untangling herself from Han’s arms.
‘Sorry, Lando,’ she directed at their friend’s sour face before it disappeared from the doorway. To Han, she said, ‘Later.’
Grabbing the platter of bite-sized sweet confections, she patted Han’s bum as she exited the kitchen, and was followed by a ‘Hey!’
Han joined Leia and the rest of the party in the living room a few seconds later, carrying the uncorked bottle of Chandrilan blue, and sat down next to her. They had moved into their second apartment about two months ago and, considering how small their previous place had been, they still had a lot of furnishing to do. Right now, there was only their old sofa in the spacious living room—Han had bought it very cheap from someone he’d met at the Hanna City spaceport. The black fabric hid the multiple stains and tears that had come with it for free, and one of the legs had started threatening to give out, but it was still in one piece. In light of that, after dinner the hosts and their guests had all gathered on cushions on the floor around the low caf table—a recent purchase they’d found in the city’s open market.
After refilling glasses, Han wrapped an arm around Leia’s shoulders and she leaned into him.
‘Okay, enough with the suspense,’ Luke said across from them. ‘It’s been nice seeing all of you again, but—you have to admit it’s a bit suspicious.’
‘Yeah, you look like you got a secret,’ Lando added, ‘but either it’s one you want to tell us or you two have suddenly misplaced your Sabacc face.’
‘[And you’re acting more disgusting than usual,]’ Chewie supplied.
Next to him, Winter leaned forward, widening her eyes at Leia.
‘Are you… pregnant?’
Han choked on his wine; Leia elbowed him on the ribs.
‘No.’ Leia reached for the hand that hung over her shoulder and threaded her fingers with Han’s. When he stopped coughing, they exchanged a look and she said, ‘We’re getting married.’
Surprised laughter and cheers erupted from the circle before their friends toasted to the betrothed couple’s happiness.
‘Who proposed?’ Luke asked, a big grin on his face.
‘I did,’ Han answered, chest swelling.
‘[I’m so proud of you, cub,]’ Chewie said, ruffling Han’s hair.
‘Me too, old buddy, and you know what? Honeymoon’s on the new shareholder of the Triple Nova Resort and Casino on Le Yer,’ Lando said, raising his glass.
Leia and Han simultaneously turned to stare at him
‘You’re investing in the Triple Nova?’ Leia asked.
‘Why’re you tryin’ to steal our thunder, pal?’
‘I was trying to find the right moment to tell you all about it,’ Lando said, shrugging at his friend’s frown with one of his fake-guiltless grins, ‘and this just happened to be it.’
‘We haven’t discussed honeymoon plans yet,’ Leia interjected, ‘but thank you, Lando, we’ll keep that in mind.’
‘So when did it happen? And how?’ Winter asked.
‘It was this Wednesday. We were having lunch at the Lanii Gardens—it’s about ten blocks from the Senate,’ Leia explained, as none of their friends had ever stayed in Chandrila for long. She turned her head to point her chin at Han and found him staring at her. ‘This one was looking exceptionally tidy, but nervous as a Tooka in a bathtub.’
‘I wasn’t that nervous,’ Han said, making a face, but Leia ignored him.
‘And then he said “do you think you want to marry me now?”‘
‘Very smooth,’ Luke said, stifling a laugh, as Lando groaned, Chewie let out a disappointed growl and Winter cringed slightly.
‘Hey now—’ Han wagged a finger at the others. ‘It wasn’t that bad!’
He looked dolefully at Leia.
‘It wasn’t that bad, was it?’
Leia demurred. ‘It wasn’t the most romantic way to put it, but—I liked it.’
Han didn’t seem very convinced. ‘Alright, just to make it clear for everyone else, last time we talked about it, she said she didn’t want to get married yet, so that’s how—why it came out—the way it came out.’
‘She said yes, so you must have done something right,’ Winter said, smiling at her oldest friend. She looked from Leia to Han. ‘Did you do a ring? Or necklace?’
‘Um, well, he did give me a huge rock.’ Leia got up and went to her and Han’s bedroom, carrying a box when she came back. She sat down again and opened the lid, revealing a chunk of uncut blue stone, shot with veins and flecks of iridescent white, darker blue and glittery gold.
Winter took the box from her and examined it.
‘This is—really, it’s a beautiful rock, but… what is it… for?’
‘It’s—ah, it’s a Corellian tradition, you find a stone you like and give it to the person you wanna settle down with,’ Han explained, rubbing the back of his neck.
Winter still looked confused, but Han didn’t want to tell the whole story in front of everyone.
‘We’re going to have it framed,’ Leia said, ‘but I was thinking of cutting up some bits and having a ring made with them… like the one my mother used to have.’
Winter pressed her lips in a display of emotion and nodded before passing on the box to Chewbacca.
‘[You did a good job,]’ Chewie told Han. ‘[I was hoping I would see the day you found someone to give a love stone to.]’
Lando smirked as he took the box. ‘A “love stone”, is it? Bit unorthodox and cheesy, but so are you.’
‘You’re this close to gettin’ yourself uninvited from the wedding, Lando, I promise,’ Han said, holding his thumb and index finger half a centimeter apart.
‘Wait—Wedge told me about these!’ Luke said excitedly, jabbing a finger at the stone. ‘He said it’s a tradition that goes back to when Corellian were sailors, so giving someone a rock meant that you wanted to build a house on land with them, right?’
‘Yeah, that’s—why’s Wedge Antilles talking to you about love stones?’ Han asked, narrowing his eyes at Luke.
‘No reason,’ Luke answered with a shrug, but Leia and Han knew that the two Rogue Squadron veterans had been keeping in touch more than usual of late.
As the stone in its box circled back to Leia, Winter picked up a biscuit and shifted on her seat before saying, ‘You said you’d discussed getting married before, right? What made you want to ask now, Han?’
‘I found the right stone,’ Han answered, one hand coming to rest on Leia’s knee, ‘and—I mean, that’s all I’d been waitin’ for.’
Five days earlier
‘No, no, no; we been over this a hundred times— this is what you’re s’pposed to do and this is what you did,’ Han told Kellin, the twenty-two-year-old Chandrilan and former flyboy for the Rebel Alliance Starfighter Corps, who had earned his spot as co-pilot for the day, as he pointed at the Millennium Falcon’s console. ‘You’re a trained Y-wing pilot and the kid almost got you beat at this.’
Viqi’s face lit up from the navigation chair behind them.
‘Thank you, sir!’
‘It’s Captain, Viqi, no sir ,’ Han reminded her. Antilles had been the one to tell him about the pilot who was considering a career change, but Han had met the tall Corellian girl, barely sixteen, far from home at the Hanna City spaceport, doing odd jobs and dreaming about being a starpilot. He remembered that life all too well, and had decided to give her a chance in his budding shipping enterprise. Kellin had the piloting experience, but Viqi had an instinctual talent for it, so much so that Han wondered now and then whether she could be Force-sensitive. Neither of them actually knew much about working on a freighter, though: it had taken a few weeks of training, assisted by Chewbacca, before he’d been able to take on the two youngsters on his own.
After going over and signing various shipping forms, Han left his trainees to oversee the unloading and rented a speeder for a quick detour into the city. He quickly put the warehouse district behind him and headed to the harbour. The Treasure Ship Row was just as he remembered it: crowded, with artisanal stands next to luxury stores, shadowed from natural light by the high apartment towers that surrounded it but artificially lit by the permanently twinkling billboards. You needed to keep an eye out for pickpockets at all times there: he knew that because he’d been the one people had to keep an eye out for, long ago. Han walked by stands offering everything from fruit to counterfeit perfume, antique furniture and hand-crafted souvenirs for tourists. He wondered if this was where Leia had gotten the ryshcate she’d brought back for him once during the war, when she’d visited Corellia without him, and decided to pick some up if he found a promising stand. He’d give one to Viqi, who might have a taste for it, and have Kellin try it, too.
He was also looking out for stones.
Most bazaars in many planets had stalls that sold jewellery made of gems, and they also sold them as rough chunks in different sizes. Han had never paid particular attention to any of these offers. He didn’t remember the exact moment he’d started bringing little things back for Leia from his missions for the rebellion, but he’d carried on with the tradition now that he had more time—and money—to indulge it. His gifts during the war tended to be things that she would have use for, like a bottle of hair conditioner or a thick blanket. After they got together, these tokens had been more obviously romantic in nature—a bouquet of rare flowers or sweets he thought she would like; when he got a bit more money to spend, he would pick up a few Alderaanian knickknacks.
Han had been browsing a bazaar in Denevar several months ago when a sign that read Corellian Love Stones drew him to the gemstones stall. There was no jewellery, only cuts of different types of rocks in sizes ranging from a pikobi egg to a small tooka.
‘You lookin’ for a Love Stone for that special someone?’ the vendor had said then, popping out of nowhere. ‘Tell me what they’re like and I’ll tell you which one I would get. We have Harterran moonstones for transparency, sunblaze for passion, fire nodes for protection, hezar for joy—and of course, if you have the credits for it, we also have jians, the heart of Corellia. Go on, young man, tell us what you’re lookin’ for.’
Just like the gemstone stalls, Han had never given a second thought to the Corellian Love Stone custom: he’d never had any need for it, and he thought it was stupid to give someone a chunk of expensive rock they would have no use for. He had felt so stunned by the seller that he’d left the bazaar without buying anything at all, and ended up getting a Bama Bar for Leia from one of the spaceport shops just to have something to bring back to her, even though you could get those pretty much anywhere in the galaxy. Still, when he had given it to her, she’d beamed and stood on her tiptoes to kiss him in thanks, and told him she had remembered to record the latest episode of Baking Fails and if he wasn’t too tired they could watch it after dinner.
After that, he’d taken to peruse every stand that sold precious stones. The thought of proposing to Leia with a piece of jewellery didn’t sit right with him. It felt impersonal, unrelated to what he would be asking of her. The love stones, in Corellian lore, originally were a block of ordinary, solid rock, nothing more and nothing less than the foundation of a home with the person you wanted to spend the rest of your life with.
He’d been to the markets in Coruscant, Naboo, Lothal, Sarka, and wherever else his business took him, seen countless pieces that were fit for a palace, but none of them drew him enough to make the purchase. Han was starting to think that maybe it wasn’t the stones, but the idea of giving Leia a rock as an engagement token what was making it so difficult.
The gemstone stalls in the Row, like the first one he’d stopped at, had signs advertising love stones, although they also offered them as jewellery pieces. Han examined those first. A necklace might not be a bad idea, maybe; after all, it would still have a symbolic piece of stone. He refused the seller’s help like he always did; all that blabbing about the different properties of each stone and what it would bring to his marriage just made him more impatient about the whole thing. The merchant bowed her head, but Han could feel her eyes on him the whole time. Whether she recognized Han from the holos or suspected him of wanting to pocket the treasures on sale was anyone’s guess, but Han couldn’t resent her for it.
There were several rings with gem inlays that, while beautiful, were simple enough in design that he knew Leia would wear them every day, as well as necklaces with rougher cuts of stone that still looked delicate; he spotted several hair accessories, too, encrusted with star-shaped jewels.
‘How much for this?’ he asked, pointing at a necklace with a jiang for a pendant, knowing the answer would set him back several paychecks.
‘I’ll tell you but you must pick it up first,’ the seller said, coming up to him in a flash with a toothy smile. She lifted the necklace herself with two hands and offered it to Han. ‘How else would you choose to make an investment in such a fine piece as this if you don’t take the time to really take in its worth?’
‘Uh, sure.’ Han took the necklace and brought it up for a closer look. The pink jewel was rare; it had an authenticity label that Han could scan with his datapad in two seconds before making the transaction. As lovely as it was, part of Han remained unconvinced. Wasn’t he supposed to… feel it when he found the right thing? Or had he spent too much time hanging around Luke?
He asked about some of the other pieces and was instructed to hold them again before he was told the price, but he could tell the seller was getting impatient, perhaps thinking that Han was going to leave without buying a thing, or else trying to scam her. He was putting down a bracelet when he saw the blue chunk of stone out of the corner of his eye, and something made him turn and inspect it.
‘Oh, you have very good taste, sir. That’s Corellia’s very own lapis, from the Gus Talon moon—much rarer than common lapis, as you can see,’ the woman told him eagerly.
Han picked up the stone before he was told, turning it over. Something in his gut was telling him his search was over.
‘It stands for royalty, wisdom and truth, and in relationships it aids with communication and harmony,’ the seller continued unprompted.
Han looked up at him.
Han had visited dozens of markets all around the galaxy, seen thousands of stones, but the only one that felt truly right had been waiting all this time in the place he’d tried so hard to run from.
‘I’ll take it.’
‘You’d told me about buying it on Corellia, but not what it symbolized,’ Leia said, covering the hand that still lay on her leg with one of her own.
‘It’s not like it’s got magic powers,’ Han said sheepishly. ‘They just make that stuff up to sell ’em. But—well, at first I thought the old lady probably knew who I was gonna be proposin’ to and added the royalty bit, but then I looked it up and it seems that’s an universal meanin’.’
‘Okay, but hold on,’ said Lando. ‘When you said you’d talked about getting married before… did you mean you proposed to her and she said no?’
‘No,’ Leia said categorically. ‘He didn’t propose before.’
Han gave her a roguish grin.
‘Han overheard a very unfortunate conversation a few weeks after Endor—we were on a diplomatic mission at an acquaintance’s on Birren, and someone suggested to me that I should aim to a marriage alliance with a noble person.’ Leia had felt angry enough to slap the son of a Lord from Arkanis who had made such a proposition. ‘And Han thought from my answer that I didn’t think he’d ever want to marry me.’
‘Because that’s sorta what she implied.’
‘Fine, yes, I suppose I did say that—but what I was trying to tell him was that I wasn’t thinking of marriage yet. We’d been official for less than two months, for goodness’ sake!’
Lando straightened up, holding both hands up and staring from Han to Leia.
‘Hang on a moment. What do you mean, less than two months ? You were together when you came to Cloud City—weren’t you?’
Leia looked at Han in surprise. ‘You never told him the full story?’
‘I didn’t know I was supposed to. You didn’t tell him the full story, either!’
‘But he’s your friend! I told Winter.’
‘And Chewie and I lived through it,’ Luke said to Winter and Lando, ‘so you two are very lucky.’
‘[But you were not in the Falcon for the worst of it,]’ Chewie told him mournfully.
‘Alright, alright,’ Han interrupted. ‘Yeah, we were together when we got to Bespin, but we’d only gotten together on the way there, and the plan was to get Leia back to the rebellion and go to Tatooine to pay Jabba, so…’
‘So it was meant to be a casual fling,’ said Leia, looking fondly at Han.
Lando whistled. ‘Could have fooled anyone.’
‘Anyway, we were sort of forced to have that conversation way before either of us would have wanted,’ Leia continued, ‘and Han said that he did want to marry me, and I essentially said that I wanted to marry him too, just not yet.’
‘Are you sure that wasn’t a proposal?’ Luke asked, frowning in confusion. ‘It sure sounds like one.’
‘Nah, I didn’t mean it as a proposal,’ Han said. ‘But that Arkanisian guy did get me to realize I’d marry her anytime—’
He snapped his fingers. ‘Hey, I should send him a thank you note.’
Leia patted his thigh. ‘Sure. Why don’t we invite him to the wedding?’
‘Eh, he didn’t do that much.’
‘Have you set a date yet?’ Winter asked.
‘No, we haven’t figured out the details yet,’ Leia said.
‘Uh, yeah, guess we were caught up in the whole bein’ engaged part,’ Han said with a smirk, which Leia returned.
‘Please don’t tell us what that means,’ Luke begged.
‘Okay, here’s a question for you, Princess.’ Lando gave her a shrewd look. ‘Say my old buddy here had taken longer to ask, or thought he was supposed to wait till you gave him some kind of sign. Would you ever have asked him?’
Everyone looked at her with curiosity, but it was Han she looked back at as he asked, ‘Yeah. Would you have asked me to marry you?’
Two months earlier
Leia lay on her back on the floor amidst towers of crates. She would have moved to the sofa, but it was currently piled high with various bubble-wrapped items and cardboard boxes, and even if she hadn’t been too tired from spending the past week painting the new apartment, packing all of hers and Han’s belongings and finally moving out, there was no other place to put them.
A long shadow fell over her.
‘Oh, we’re restin’?’ Han joined her on the floor. ‘Great.’
‘Sorry. I sat down to take my shoes off and I couldn’t get up. Did you send the hovervan off?’
‘Yep, all good.’ Han took off his boots and socks and threw them near Leia’s flats.
‘We’ve been here three hours and your dirty socks are baptizing the place already?’ she teased.
‘You left your shoes there too, Your Highness,’ he said, leaning back on his elbows. ”Sides, it’s not like my socks are makin’ much of a difference right now.’
‘I ordered food on my way up.’
‘Thanks, I’m starving. What are we getting?’
Han gave her a crooked smile. ‘Bilbringi pies. I figured, since we don’t know where the plates are…’
‘Any excuse is good for you to order Bilbringi pies,’ Leia told him with an eye roll, the effect of which was ruined by her smile. She actually didn’t mind; she just liked to joke that he would eat that all the time if he could.
After a moment, Han said, ‘Just thinkin’ we have to unpack all this stuff and find where to put it makes me want to take a week off work.’
‘You can if you want, Mr. Business Owner,’ Leia told him, turning on her side and propping her head up on her arm. ‘Us public servers don’t get to take a leave out of the blue for a move.’
Han humphed. ‘You mean you don’t.’
‘We can do the big stuff tomorrow and then little by little,’ she consoled him. ‘It’s not that much.’
‘Only ‘cos there wasn’t enough room for us to have more stuff,’ Han reminded her.
Leia laughed. ‘Yeah, I’m having a newfound appreciation for how small our old place was.’
That was surely going to change: their new apartment had bigger spaces and an extra room, and they would have to find new furniture to fill it. She was already dreading the next time they decided to move out—a huge leap of imagination, since they weren’t in a hurry to go shopping, even less to find a new home. And yet, the idea that there could be a distant future where they would still be together made her feel elated despite the bone-deep tiredness and headaches of the week.
‘You know what I realized the other day?’ Leia asked. ‘In three weeks it’ll be two years since the first time we kissed.’
Han straightened up a little, looking startled.
‘What? You’re sure?’ Leia nodded. ‘But—we didn’t do anything for it last year.’
‘”Do anything for it”? You mean… you think we should celebrate it? Like an anniversary?’
‘I dunno. When would you say we made it official? That we were goin’ out?’
‘After we got you back from Tatooine.’
‘Yeah. But that doesn’t feel right, does it? ‘Cos we were together before, in a way, and… that counts. Right?’
‘Right.’ Leia grinned at him. ‘We have an anniversary, then.’
‘You bet we do,’ Han said, wagging his eyebrows at her once. Turning on his side, he kissed her; soon after, Leia’s back was pressed against the floor again. Then the doorbell rang.
‘I’d complain, but that’s probably our food,’ Han whispered against her lips, before drawing his hand out from under her shirt. Leia stretched her neck up to steal another kiss as he got up.
‘Can you make sure to block the doorway so they don’t see me down here?’ she asked.
‘You got it.’
They ate on the floor, leaning back against the sofa, with paper towels for plates and Corellian ale out of the bottle as they discussed whether they should replace the sofa or the viewscreen first, both of which they had acquired second-hand.
‘I can fix the sofa when it gives up on us, and I could soup up the viewscreen too but I can’t make it bigger!’ Han said. ‘See, now the living room’s bigger, it ain’t gonna be so close to the sofa.’
‘That’s true, but I just think the sofa is part of the presentation of the house; it should be nicer,’ Leia argued, eating the rest of her second cheesy meat pie. Han pushed the box with the last piece towards her as he presented his next point.
‘Yeah, but you want a matchin’ three-piece set, sweetheart, that’s gonna cost us. I can reupholster the sofa for now if you want—though, to be honest, it’s black , you can’t tell it’s worn out unless you’re sittin’ on it—’
‘Well, our guests are supposed to sit on it, and since when do you know how to reupholster anything?’
Han shrugged, tipping back his ale.
‘How hard can it be? Been thinkin’ of redoing the Falcon’s bench; we can use the same material an’ all.’
‘Absolutely not,’ Leia said. She finished her food and stretched her arms over her head with a groan. ‘I want to take a shower and then straight to bed, I don’t even care about fitting the sheets right.’
Han froze as if she had stunned him, giving her a blank look that slowly turned appalled, and that’s when realization hit Leia, too.
‘We forgot the mattress,’ they said at the same time.
Their mattress was the only thing that they had not been able to fit with the rest of the things in their rented hovervan. Han had wanted to go back later and strap it to the roof of his airspeeder; Leia had argued that, unless he wanted to read stories about their sex life through the next week, they should just pay the hovervan for one more trip. In the end, both the argument and the mattress had been neglected.
‘Alright, I’m gonna go get it,’ Han said now with a tired sigh. ‘I’m afraid speeder it is, sweetheart.’
‘Fine. Let’s go.’
Han shook his head as he pulled his boots on.
‘I can manage. You stay and take a shower. Find the bedclothes and the ‘fresher things, yeah?’
An hour later, they were clean and cuddling on their bed at last, hushedly—and interrupted by yawns that were becoming more frequent by the second—making plans for the next day. Leia’s musings from earlier in the evening returned as the conversation died down and she turned over, and Han shifted to spoon her, one hand sneaking under her shirt to rest against her bare skin. She wanted this forever, with him; it was not the first time Leia thought about it, but she was now more aware than ever that she was ready to make another commitment.
From jokes and comments in passing, she was sure that Han was on the same page. She feared that he might be waiting for her to bring up the topic, though, trying not to rush her. Leia knew that heterosexual culture in some planets, including Corellia, mantained that the man was always supposed to propose, and it was cause for rejection and mockery if the woman did it, but there were no such qualms in Alderaan. She also knew that, by now, Han’s pride wouldn’t be that easily wounded.
Han’s breathing had evened out behind her. Leia placed her hand on top of his, brushing a finger over his knuckles. She would take her time to figure out how and when—her mind was already jumping miles ahead, recalling different traditions, conjuring up interesting locations, sounding out the right words. And then, when she had it all planned, she would finally ask Han to spend the rest of their lives together.