"When you seek it, you cannot find it."
Zen riddle, J. Hyams (1979, 21).
This all happened during the time when they couldn’t sleep.
When the oversized piece of Coruscanti pottery hit the deck plates, the vessel shattered into a dozen pieces.
They were halfway to the Corporate Sector when the accident occurred. She hadn’t put down the galley’s containment racks because they were in hyper and unless the Millennium Falcon was in realspace, onboard motion was slim to none. Yet the cleaning fluid sprayed up and onto the galley counter and the glossy earth-coloured mug skidded across the viscous surface when she set it down as surely as if she commanded it to do so with the force, as her Jedi brother might have. But she hadn’t, for then she would have been able to save it and she didn’t.
Leia set about picking up the jagged fragments and wondering whether to tell Han she’d broken it outright, or wait until he noticed and went looking for it. It was an accident, yes, but she had been thinking how much she hated it directly before setting it down. As if it knew this, the largest piece glared back at her accusingly with garish gold letters. Interspecies Shockball Centennial Championships it shouted. Beneath that, in smaller letters it read, The Triad will overcome, and beneath that, in even smaller letters, sponsored by the Burning Deck. She’d never actually read that last part because his hand usually covered the base.
The Old Republic had outlawed Interspecies Shockball over a century ago. What made the game such an incredible spectator sport – watching to see which players were randomly jolted while holding the metallic sphere – made it equally unpopular with conservative types. Not every species handled the random electrical pulses well. Some merely dropped the sphere, a few dropped to their knees twitching, others fainted dead away and their team-mates raced to pry the sphere free from their clutched fingers before opposing players got there. And not every species had four arms, like the furry blue Pho Ph’eahiams for instance, or had long flaps of skin tucked beneath between their underarms and rib-cages so that they were capable of running and gliding, like the reptilian Vorrinians. Due to their sheer unpredictability, the bizarre mixed match-ups were a pro-gambler’s worst nightmare. On the other hand, they were a HoloNet advertiser’s dream: dazed athletes fighting off stuns, playing with numbed fingertips, claws and appendages, racing back into field battle – these were the stuff of legends that children grew up on.
Sound carried. The minor dilemma was decided for her.
"What’d you break?"
Quickly, Leia spun on her knees and faced him. "I’m sorry. It slipped."
Han squinted at the mess as if to ascertain what, for the pieces were barely distinguishable as having once been part of something whole. "That old thing? Don’t worry about it."
"But you always use it." Religiously. If it was dirty he washed it and re-used it. If he left it in his cabin when he was in the cockpit he’d go fetch it. If he left it in his cabin when they were sitting down to dinner he’d go fetch it.
"Cause it’s the biggest one," he reassured her. "Not for any sentimental reason."
Leia tried to smile to show him that she was relieved. It didn’t come. "What’s The Burning Deck?"
"A hangout in the Corellian sector on Nar Shaddaa. An indisputable hole-in-the-wall dive."
"Is there any other kind?"
"You’d hate it more than the others."
She said ruefully, "I remember when the Centennial Championships took place. Alderaan made it to the semi-finals but my aunts deemed it barbaric, and wouldn’t allow me to watch it. It was one of the greatest tragedies of my childhood." And she meant the sort of tragedy one clung onto dearly when they were too young to fully comprehend what a tragedy was.
"Huh. The old folks always think of that ancient Dresselian and human game that got it all banned?" Han crouched and began collecting pieces with her. "I saw an old recording of that once."
Leia blurted out, "You did?"
The leathery-skinned Dresselians were famous for their high resistance to pain, and yet no one, not a coach or organizer, had thought to compare the levels of electricity both species were accustomed to before the game. There were no interruptions during the First Wave on the alien’s home planet – not until the Dresselians realized they were the only ones standing.
"Black market, but genuine." He rocked back on his haunches. "Real shockball before they came up with the multi-sensored balls that tagged everyone by species. It wasn’t the first time players died during play, you know. It was just the first time it happened to humans."
"I read about that."
"If it helps, you didn’t miss much in that last game. Alderaan lost to the Triad with only three men standing."
"Who’d you bet on in the finals?"
"The Adumarians." A pleased expression came over him. "They were a shoe-in." The expression brightened. "How many years is it until the next one?"
She spied the portrait-holo in his closet later that same day. She’d been wearing his robe at intervals even though it dragged on the floors and covered her fingertips so that she wound up dipping the cuffs into her tea. Most of his old clothing was buried in his closet, and she was going through the chaos piece by piece, selecting items suitable for lounging in deep space, more comfortable than her faded Alliance greens and greys. The credit-sized disk was lying flat beneath the very bottom of the pile. By then she’d almost forgotten about breaking the mug, but not the championships that had taken place when she was eleven.
Without turning around and without hesitating, Leia flicked the activation tab. There was Han (Han? Is it?), although she practically failed to recognize him at first. Young, full of bravado and eager pride, he was leaning against the sleek siding of an ancient Kuati freighter with a pair of leather pilot’s gloves dangling from his right pocket and a blaster hanging low on his left hip. He was in the process of gesturing good-naturedly towards someone or something – maybe encouraging whoever was taking the holo to stop and leave him alone – and he was on the verge of speaking…
"Ah hell, give me that…"
Han, who’d been lying lazily sprawled in his bunk with his hands folded behind his head last time she checked, was suddenly behind her grumbling.
Leia scrambled to her feet and back-stepped determinedly with the holo firmly locked behind her. "No?"
"No. I want it."
And she didn’t know exactly, save that her instincts were screaming that it would vanish if she handed it over. She needed it, the same way she needed other trivial everyday objects that anchored her to loved ones and memories - like flowers and novels and credit chips and bits of Alsaskan lace - and all those things had been destroyed with Alderaan. Here in her hand was something to keep just in case. Maybe she only wanted to look at it. "I just do."
His angled expression was grumpy in the dim light. He looked like he wanted to burn it or smash it to a fine powder. Then he said, "Fine, fine… gawk at the thing all you want. What do I care?" He rubbed his stomach. "I’m too hungry to argue."
"Thank you." Euphoric, Leia exhaled and realized her heart was racing. She slipped to the adjoining alcove, not wanting him to notice how near-panicked she’d become over the near loss of the trivial item. She said, "I was actually going to take a shower. Do you mind starting dinner?"
"I can be persuaded to do that."
"I’m too famished to do any persuading," she announced, pulling the fresher portal between them. "I need food."
"Whatever her highness wants," he called merrily. He was in a perpetually good mood these days.
After listening to make sure he wasn’t coming after her, she sat on the floor with his robe tucked under her knees and activated the portrait-holo again.
It was only two-dimensional and head-on was the only way to view it. She couldn’t get a good sense of where he was or what was around him other than the freighter (she guessed it was just an ordinary backwater spacebarn), but she wasn’t all that interested in the background anyway. Just him. Or almost him. It was pre chin-scar, pre a broken nose, pre laugh-lines and a few other barely discernable changes that she couldn’t put her finger on. Studying it, she realized that although the image was similar to the pirate who’d claimed her heart, they were not quite one and the same. Each time she blinked she was certain it was Han, and then at next glance she wasn’t. Yet, she loved the man in the holo so desperately the pit of her stomach ached as though she’d been starving herself for days and not hours.
An understanding had developed between them when she hadn’t been paying close enough attention. That was the only way it could happen. For no one ever proclaimed outright, I don’t talk about my past. It just wasn’t done that way. The primary reason she knew that he didn’t discuss it was just that; he simply didn’t. Whatever type of growing up he’d had, there was never any mention of family or childhood. It was as though he’d been born a full-grown star-faring captain with a ship that pulled point five past lightspeed and a Wookiee co-pilot with a life-debt.
But she knew him well enough to know she made him happy.
Minutes later, she hid the memento, her treasure, in her case of toiletries and shoved it to the furthest corner of the last cabinet beneath the sink. Then she took her shower.
Along with being a scoundrel, Han was also wild and she liked that more than she was willing to admit to herself. And the wildness seemed to rub off on her like sticky summer pollen. On the way to dinner she caught her reflection in the passageway porthole; the darkness was swallowing her from behind in a blurry whirlwind of shadowed corners and her veiled features were as alluring as the decade old holo of her lover. She pictured them together in her mind’s eye, trying to imagine how they might have appeared at the same age but she couldn’t without the holo beside her. Han’s face as it was kept coming back to her. And her reflection was too distracting, too seductive, with her hair blended into the shadows, hanging alive over her shoulders. It was as though she was seeing what he saw when he moved to touch her, a woman trapped in a state of ceaseless longing.
Self-conscious at being smitten with her own image, she stuck out her tongue at herself to break the spell.
It wasn’t until they were almost finished with dinner that she asked about it again.
"When was it taken?"
"What taken?" Han kept eating and acted as though he had no idea what she was talking about although it was inconceivable that he’d forgotten in the span of an hour.
Leia wondered how they’d managed not to run out of food on the way to Bespin with him and Chewie devouring everything in sight. "Why - the portrait-holo."
"Hey." The hey was a light-hearted snarl under his breath. "I said you could have it. I didn’t say you could ask questions about it."
She began to scowl, but just in time noticed Han’s eyes glinting deviously. "How old were you?"
"I think it was taken almost fifteen years ago. Maybe less."
"Well…" Han waved his hand. "I’ve only had the Falcon about seven years. Whatever I have on board, I accumulated after. But that thing…" He pointed at her as though she were holding it then and there. "It’s from before. And to tell the truth I have no idea where it came from or how it got here. Someone I knew must have slipped it to me… at a reunion when I was drunk."
"Do you have a lot of drunk reunions?"
"What do you think?"
"I think I’d like to be there for your next one." Leia slid her plate out of the way and rested her chin on her hands. "It would be very educational. But you do look so different."
"More than that…" It wasn’t the sort of aging and changing wrought by life. It was almost as if… Well, that was probably silly, to ask if he’d altered his appearance on purpose.
"It’s really, really old." He speared another bite of meat and chewed slowly, then added casually, "I didn’t even use my name."
Not once during the meal had she noticed that he was drinking from a monochromatic standard issue cup. Now she did. He was holding it oddly, as though it was too small for his hands. Well it was too small. His fingers didn’t quite fit through the handle the way hers did. A twinge of guilt resurfaced.
"I’m sorry about breaking your mug," she thought aloud.
"I told you I didn’t care."
"I could chase you around the ship and give you a lashing if you want some sort of punishment." Han set the too-small-cup down and grinned. "But I can think of things a hell of a lot more fun than a lashing."
I’ll bet you can, she went to say, for she knew exactly how his mind worked when they were alone, but swiftly Han had both her wrists gathered into one hand, tethering her to him with her elbows locked in the center of the table. He tugged her forward until she was half off her seat and their faces were inches apart. "I’ll give you a ten second head start."
Leia parted her lips slightly, daring herself first, then him. "Thirty."
When he released her she ran to the left, to the cockpit, ducking inside and pressing herself to the left of stanchion behind the pilot’s chair. It was a foolish choice of direction; there was nowhere to flee without passing back by the galley. There was no escape route. Outside the stars formed ribbon-like streaks of light that stretched along either side of the forward viewports, embracing the ship as she moved forward at speeds so great time and space were casualties. It hadn’t been quite a minute when she heard him approach the doorway – standing patiently but not entering. Her breathing sounded louder than the hum of the hyperdrive engines.
The laugher rose within her, and finally she had to cover her mouth to muffle it. It was only a game after all, and the game was over hastily.
"Gotcha." Laughing too, he walled her up in the corner so that there was nowhere left for her to go (she’d wanted to be caught all along, she wouldn’t have come this way otherwise), and stretched the neck of her pale tunic down over one shoulder with one hand. The other slipped beneath it, touching her with heated impatience.
Both panicked and excited, Leia closed her eyes and felt his breath on the side of her neck.
"Now you’re in trouble," he growled.
It was very good that they were alone.
The not sleeping continued.
Later, when she turned in his arms sighing restlessly, he whispered that it was always that way in the beginning. Only he didn’t understand that now it was the past that refused to allow her to sleep, rising misshapen and mercilessly troublesome. There was a distinct horribleness to remaining angry with a loved one years after they’d died, to laying wide awake at night, thrashing one’s legs as though one was struggling to stay afloat in the sea. All the while his skin against hers felt like hot sun on naked flesh and he wouldn’t let her draw the sheet up between them to stop her skin from burning to pink and blistering.
At eleven, Princess Leia Organa been young enough to possess a wide streak of naïveté that firmly cemented her belief in absolute justice and truth and old enough to know that those fragmented memories of her real mother weren’t going to get any clearer without help. She’d had nothing substantial to prove that they were more than dreams, that she-who-gave-her-life was more than a ghost, and her constant struggle to remember had perpetuated the awful sense that there was a hollowed out space inside her that kept growing and growing. At eleven, she had been certain if she asked her father for more information he would tell her the truth.
"You’re driving me crazy," he said finally.
"I can’t sleep."
"Well don’t kick."
Suddenly, what she truly wanted to do was rescue the portrait-holo from its hiding place and look at it again (she was still wondering about why he appeared so different), but he would probably be suspicious if she locked herself in the fresher and started rummaging through the cabinets. Then she would have to explain that she’d hid it in the first place, that she’d been possessed with the idea that he would destroy it. Hours later, it seemed paranoid and irrational.
Sighing, she hauled herself out of bed, drew on an old thermal shirt she’d appropriated from his closet, and began following the glowpanels around the looping passageways. Halfway around, she stopped at the starboard porthole to see if the wildness was still there, wondering if it had more to do with the not sleeping than with Han.
The girl with the dark circles forming beneath her eyes wasn’t giving out answers this night – if it was actually night anywhere civilized.
Until recently, her entire relationship with Han Solo had been neatly divided and separated into mental datafiles and specialized compartments. Lately, she couldn’t even remember which of their conversations had taken place a year ago, a few weeks back on Bakura, or the last sunny afternoon spent hidden in the deepest thickets of the Endor forest. She was confused about why they hadn’t been lovers a year ago. Surely she hadn’t always loved him, but she couldn’t remember not loving him, and in the present she was terrified of being apart from him. That’s why she was here, after all, on her way to the Corporate Sector rather than at the Alliance headquarters on Endor.
Almost against her will, she ventured to the galley and opened the hatch to the garbage container. The largest section of Han’s shattered mug glared back at her as though it had been lying atop the old cleaning rags and vegetable peelings, plotting and waiting for just such a moment to blame her for destroying it.
Centennial Championships 00021.
"I didn’t do it on purpose," she insisted.
It kept staring at her.
The Triad will—
"And he said he didn’t care, not really," she added. "I believe him."
Again, it stared.
Before she left, she flipped it over so that it wouldn’t have the opportunity to stare at her again, wondering if she was losing her mind to exhaustion.
When she went back to his bunk, Han insisted she take off the shirt, claiming it always ended up on the floor anyway.
"I’m angry with my father," she informed him stoically, crawling between the sheets and curling up. The hollowed out space inside her soul throbbed slightly, the way one’s ears were supposed to ring when someone was discussing them in another time and place. It would never go away, not with Alderaan gone.
Every muscle and tendon in his body suddenly tensed. "Aren’t we all?"
"Not that father," she amended quickly, for she wouldn’t think about that father now. Not ever, if she could help it, which at times she couldn’t. Instead, she concentrated on not moving her legs and tried to picture her adopted father’s face, but it was crumpled and creased, smudged from over-handling.
The Corellian’s body remained taut as a wire, as if he wasn’t certain that she meant the other father after all. "What did he do?"
"What if I become a Jedi?" she asked, ignoring his question, having contemplated her demon-father fleetingly despite not wanting to, and next, because he was a safe tangent, Luke.
"I thought you wanted nothing to do with it."
"I don’t." She shrugged indifferently and rolled up onto her right side, brushing back a lock of dark hair from his eyes. They were greener than usual beneath his lashes, satisfied and languidly curious. "This is all strictly hypothetical. What if I was a Jedi? What if I could sense what you were feeling or thinking? Would it bother you?"
"Only if you actually did it," he replied, yawning deeply. "Not if you could. There’s a difference. And no, I don’t worry about stuff like that."
"I wouldn’t," she assured him, on the verge of sounding self-effacing – she hadn’t intended taunt or threaten him with the powers she might one day have. She didn’t even want them.
"What is it about Bail? I mean, it must be something if you’re up about it. That’s not like you."
"It’s nothing," she lied, wanting to forget. If she dwelled on it her frustration would crush her like a vice and send her nettled and fuming from one end of the Millennium Falcon to the other. So she settled into his arms and kissed him with hopes of banishing the lingering sense of incompleteness. Maybe now she would be able to sleep.
She kept the persistent thought to herself.
He lied to me…
It didn’t work.
Less than two hours later she was in the cockpit again, up and half-dressed for the second time, leaving Han to snore quietly with one arm dangling over the edge of his bunk. It was morning-afternoon-night somewhere in the universe. Leia had completely lost track of Endor time by now. After this many years, she was pretty familiar with the woes of having too much time to think on her hands, with the tedium of long voyages and the lack of fresh air, lack of exercise.
It didn’t usually bother her. Not like this.
Luke’s questions that night on the bridge outside the Ewok village had opened a portal to the past, begun setting off a string of explosive epiphanies. She had been only eleven then, inquisitive and bright, desperate for more of a connection to her primitive memories. Of course her adopted father knew her if she could remember her. Of course someone had to know her name. They had spoken, Bail Organa and the beautiful woman who haunted her early childhood. She was certain of it. She couldn’t remember the when or the where, or how much longer after that it had been when they’d told her of her mother’s death, but the meeting had occurred.
She could hear her real mother’s grief-stricken voice saying, "Bail, you have to promise me…"
Promise what? The rest was disembodied noise.
They’d been familiar; acquaintances, friends, more than perfect strangers, as her father had claimed. Perfect strangers didn’t hand over their children to one another. Her mother had been crying that day. So had she.
At the sound of the deck plates creaking, Leia straightened her spine in the Wookiee-sized chair and wiped her cheek with the back of her hand. But the sound didn’t move from its position against the doorframe, and they were both silent until it occurred to her that even he didn’t always know how to handle everything.
"I couldn’t sleep," she whispered.
"Something’s been eating you all day."
"Nothing’s been eating me."
"Sweetheart, I’m no Jedi-" he began to say, coming around the chair. He wore only a beige fuzzy blanket and sleep-rumpled expression.
I’m no Jedi, but I know you, he meant. Han probably didn’t worry about her becoming a Jedi, because in truth, he was the one who possessed the advantage in their relationship. This, even though it was impossible to predict what would set her off, shock him in the midst of the First Wave. He was like the Dresselian Shockball players that way; what would kill others barely deterred or stunned him. Had he even blinked when she’d told him who Darth Vader was? After the horrors he’d endured on Bespin?
Leia hugged herself and rubbed at the goosebumps on her arms. "There are things my adopted father said that felt off, that felt dishonest," she explained. "Now that I know who I am, it makes sense and it hurts at the same time. It’s all opening up."
That was most of it - it had to do with Luke too. She could see her own painful emptiness lucidly mirrored in his eyes, even sense it with their newfound twin-ness, and yet she had so little to tell him. She felt as though she was failing him somehow, by not being able to offer more. It didn’t seem fair that she alone should remember her.
"Okay." Han deliberated, sinking into the opposite seat. "However, I bet he may not have felt he had a choice. The powers that be made choices calculated to protect you two that we can’t even fathom."
"I know his name," she added. "Owen and Beru, even Obi-Wan didn’t hide that from Luke. All I ever asked him for was her name. It was the single most important thing I ever asked of him. He swore to me that they'd never met – that he didn’t know it. It wasn’t true. I remember."
"You’re not just remembering something because it makes sense that it might be true?"
She frowned and felt her eyes stinging with barely the flutter of provocation. No one had believed her in her childhood either. "No. I’m not suffering from space-induced dementia and hallucinating."
"I didn’t say that."
Her wavering gaze came to rest on the floor. "I’m over-tired," she murmured. That was at the top of list. And over-emotional; half-demon/half-angel; head over heels in love and perpetually sick to her stomach with giddiness and happiness and grief resurrected by newfound knowledge. Every feeling was in mutiny. With a sigh, she stretched out her hand, gaze still downward.
Warm strong hands folded around her slender fingers, just as she’d known they would.
"You know more than I do about where you came from," he said. "That’s something, even if it’s not as much as you’d want."
She looked up as he spoke. "You don’t know-"
"Nothing. No names, not how they died or where they went. Not why I don’t remember them."
"It’s all right." There wasn’t even a glimmer of sadness or wistfulness; next to no emotion, in fact, no change in his expression or posture, save the quick descent of his eyes to his knee and up again. He’d moved past the question in less than a full breath, though for a moment, a fragment of a heartbeat, Leia thought the resemblance between him here and the portrait-holo image was inscrutably unclouded. Han’s face appeared open to her, almost youthful. He’s usually so guarded, even with me, she thought. Once upon a time he wasn’t…
Or it was a trick of the light from passing solar systems.
Leia accepted the silent offer and went to rest on his lap where he enclosed her within the blanket as though she’d just come in from the bitter cold.
"I mean, I made my peace with it a long time ago. Han shifted his legs and grinned animatedly. "I have no parents, no long lost relatives who will leave me any credits and a distant cousin on Corellia I’ll kill if our paths ever cross again. That’s me."
"I didn’t know you had a cousin."
"I’ve spent years trying to forget."
Leia let it go. "I suppose we have more in common than they know," she breathed, pressing her cheek against the side of his throat until she could feel the blood moving beneath his skin. She liked the sensation of it, the feel of raw life and body heat. Other than that, Han was calm, his usual restlessness absent.
"You suppose finally after all this time?" Han laughed lightly. "Hell, I always knew that Sweetheart."
He’s right, she was thinking by then. You know Bail only would have wanted to protect you. You know she loved you. It mattered more than a name didn’t it?
Han’s legs shifted again. "So, can we go back to bed yet?"
Suddenly she felt oddly satisfied, having gained something elusive and unexpected. Not what she’d been looking for, but something even more dear to her heart. Leia lifted her head just enough to check. Han was smiling at her. No, the look on his face wasn’t a trick of the light after all.
"Yes," she replied. "I’d love to."
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