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There is no logical reason for it, but the Millennium Falcon seems much quieter during her night cycle. The air is stilled, muted; the sounds of ship, the hum of the engines and of pressure systems and coolant, whisper softly on the edge of hearing, voices without words.
Leia rises from her bunk. The floor is cool against her bare feet. She searches in the darkness, finds the boots she discarded earlier, pulls them on under her long sleep trousers. She tucks back the strands of hair spilling from her braid.
The corridors of the Falcon are dimly lit. The sounds behind the bulkheads are–almost soothing, almost alive. Leia remembers old stories from her childhood of living ships that befriended orphaned children, wandering through the stars. The Falcon always carries an air of history with her, of past lives lived, age and mystery and stories silent in the scratched bulkheads, but it’s more telling in the night cycle.
Leia enters the cockpit. She stops as she sees movement, as she realises she’s not alone. Han blinks at her with dark eyes, turning in his seat.
“Captain,” she says, after a moment. She wasn’t expecting him here, wasn’t expecting anyone. Surprise catches her with extra formality, more coolness than is usual.
“Princess,” he says in his smooth voice, tone hard to read. His gaze flits over her briefly; she’s aware of her sleep-clothes, soft-woven and warm. He’s wearing a different tunic, looser, softer, open at the throat.
The captain, she thinks, is a little like his ship, rich with past, edged in mystery.
“Couldn’t sleep?” he says.
“Dreams,” she replies.
“Mm.” He gives her a look that’s – not pitying, because she couldn’t stand that, from him or anyone, but is understanding, and almost sympathetic, in a way that demands no acknowledgement or gratitude. He looks tired, eyes softer than usual.
Leia steps into the cockpit, sits in the chair Chewbacca normally takes. Hyperspace twists and whirls outside, colours that form patterns if watched for long enough.
“I dream about Alderaan sometimes,” she says, eyes on the viewscreen because it’s easier. “I dream of the sky, the stars… The way the air smelled up in the mountains in the second season. It’s all so vivid.” The smells are so real it hurts, memory made dream made tiny little shards, slicing her to pieces. She tries to hold onto it, even with the pain, but she never can. It fades back to memory, going opaque like mist filming in sunlight. She looks over at him.
He moves a hand, rubbing at a thin scar on his neck. “I never saw much of Alderaan,” he comments.
She hears and is grateful for the unspoken invitation. “It was beautiful,” she says. “Mostly grasslands and mountain ranges, with tropical islands scattered throughout the oceans. Aldera was where I grew up.”
“Aldera,” Han says. “Docked there once. Didn’t see much outside of the spaceport, though.” He glances at her. “Alderaan wasn’t much for smuggling.”
Leia smiles faintly. “My father came down hard on smugglers.”
“I know,” he says.
There is a silence. She glances across at his face, almost unfamiliar in the strange colours of hyperspace whirling outside. A stranger’s face, soft in the lines of a friend’s.
“Where did you grow up?” she asks, suddenly curious.
His expression shifts, subtly. “Here and there,” he says. “Nowhere in particular.”
He shrugs. “Originally, yeah. But being Corellian’s more than planet of origin.”
He says it like he’s preoccupied, or as though the words have some other meaning she can’t penetrate. There’s no pride of place in his voice, and he doesn’t sound defensive; she almost wishes he was, because then, at least, she would know he feels a sense of belonging to something, somewhere, on some level.
The faint light catches his hands, plays across a faint scar on his wrist she’s never noticed before. He glances at her, and she moves her eyes away. When she looks back, he’s watching her.
She looks away again. “I’m glad you were available to assist on this mission,” she says towards the hyperspace motley whirling beyond the viewscreen. “Resources are so limited at the moment. It’s hard to find an available ship.”
“I had things to do there too,” he says, casually. “Worked out.”
“Anything to do with us having to leave so suddenly?” Leia asks, a little amused.
He grimaces. “Saw someone I’d rather not run into.”
“You seem to have a lot of enemies,” she notes.
“Says the woman who has the entire Empire gunning for her.”
She shrugs. He says, “You’re awfully casual about that.”
“About the Empire gunning for me? There’s not a lot I can do.”
“About taking risks when there’s a price on your head. It’s something I know a bit about, and there’s being unconcerned, and there’s being – stupid.”
Leia hears the aborted pause, perhaps a substitution of a word, and eyes him. “What am I supposed to do?”
“I don’t know.” He stares out the viewscreen for a while. Then he says, “Don’t put your neck on the line when the risks aren’t worth it.”
Leia narrows her eyes at him. “Just because you’ve never cared for anything—”
He cuts her off. “Yeah, yeah. The rest of the Rebels care too, and they don’t risk themselves like you do–and they’re not walking around with huge prices on their heads. Even Luke doesn’t take the risks you do, and he’s crazy.” He looks at her, and his eyes are hard, a little angry. “You don’t have to prove anything to them.”
“Who says I’m trying to?” Leia says.
“Or to yourself, or to your dead family, or whoever. Getting yourself killed isn’t going to hurt the Empire any, is it? You can talk about dying for a cause and martyrs and heroes all you like, and maybe someone like Luke will believe you, but you and I both know that all it amounts to is another dead body and the Empire still being out there, as powerful as ever.” He pauses a moment, then mutters, “They need you alive.”
Leia’s so angry she can’t speak for a moment. “Who do you think you are?” she demands finally. “Sitting there talking about people who have given their lives for the Rebellion, when you can’t even be bothered committing to anything. Caring about anything.”
He sinks back in his chair, staring through the viewscreen. “Whatever.”
He makes her impossibly furious. It’s almost as though he knows exactly what to say, what buttons to press, and sets out deliberately to – not to hurt her, never to hurt her, because that wouldn’t make sense, would it? For her to be hurt. To make her angry. That’s all. “Good night,” Leia says coldly, rising. “I’m going to bed.”
“Leia,” he says. He says it so–normally, no teasing inflection, no casual slant, that she turns. He’s risen from his chair, and is directly behind her. “You push too hard,” he says, his voice quiet. “That’s all I’m saying. You don’t leave anything for yourself.”
He’s so, suddenly, genuine, that it throws Leia, confuses her. “I don’t–there isn’t anything more to me,” she says. “Than the Rebellion. Not anymore.”
His face shifts. “That’s not true,” he says.
She breathes, and can smell him, faintly, a warm scent, masculine. He hasn’t shaved. There are faint lines around his eyes, his mouth, almost invisible. She thinks suddenly of the years he has she doesn’t; she wonders what the difference in their ages is. She’s never asked, because it has never seemed to matter. He’s changeable, fluctuating often, sometimes seeming young, sometimes older, with his past and his pain and his silences. She doesn’t feel young, herself, and hasn’t for a while. It feels like her youth was killed by the same blast that destroyed her planet.
“It is,” she says softly.
He looks at her, silent, eyes dark. She leaves the cockpit.
It is, she repeats to herself, and wishes she could entirely believe it.
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