A Thousand Pieces
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It shouldn't be so pretty.
Father. Mother. Stars screaming. Life scattering into a thousand pieces.
The destruction of an entire planet doesn't have the right to be so stanging pretty, you think. It should be howling and visceral, and full of things that come up from the liver to burn the back of the throat. It should be hideous in a way that makes the memory go numb, never to return, never to haunt, never to remind you that you're utterly alone.
The end of your world shouldn't be so pretty, you think.
They're fleeing a moon that isn't a moon in an escape that isn't really an escape; they're a light year trail on some Imperial tech's screen, courtesy of the Empire's tricky sleeves. She tells the pilot this, but he doesn't listen. He's deaf to anything other than the smirk and swagger of his own pride. Desperation comes at her with its claws, makes her want to use them to wipe the self-indulgence from his face.
She brushes by the bright eagerness of Luke and huffs from the cockpit in search of something to take her mind off the fact that she knows she's leading the Death Star toward Yavin, knows she's gambling with futures. She flees into the main hold and throws a wild look around the room. There's the holochess board, yes, but a dig through the storage compartment under the lounge seating reveals two flak jackets, a few decks of sabacc cards, and a puzzle box.
The puzzle lid promises blackness punctuated with tiny points of light; the box under it falls away like an escape hatch and clatters to the table with a thousand pieces of distraction. A thousand pieces. Like home. Her knees can't resist the opportunity to buckle and her eyes assume it's the right time for some long-overdue watering. But they're wrong; it's the wrong time, the wrong distraction. The rattling box yields to her angry, questing fingertips. A piece is found—her thumb nudges—and slides in. And another. And another. Put yourself back together again. A frame, an edge, is born.
"You found the puzzle, huh?"
Smirk-and-Swagger's standing in the entryway, one hand propped against the frame, the other on his blaster. The volume's been turned down on the smirk, she notices; the swagger's been lost in favor of one foot being cocked behind the other.
A few pieces have strayed too close to the edge of the table, and she knocks them to the floor for a discreet swipe at her eyes under the table. "I never would've pegged you as the type," she says, condescension muffled by knees and grief.
He hmpfs at her. "You pegged right; never touched it. Came with the Falcon, so who knows who left it behind? Someone with a thing for harder than hell puzzles, I guess." She hears footsteps. From her vantage point, she sees scuffed boot tips approaching. "Looks like you're the type, though."
She's not in the mood for conversation or appraisal, and her head is getting uncomfortably full, so she slaps the errant pieces onto the table and says, "Excuse me."
Then she slithers away from the table, away from the puzzle, away from him, away from her memories, away, away, away, until it's time to stand helplessly by as the moon-that-is-not-a-moon attempts to eclipse her.
What separates a win from a loss? The number of casualties? Size of financial loss? Did a win need to be recognized in an arena of senators or in a HoloNet headline to be official? Or were medals around necks and ten-thousand-star-bright smiles validation enough?
"It's all relative," Han tells her over his shoulder. He starts to say more, but the engineering station in front of him beeps to get his attention, causing him to swear at it under his breath.
Leia doesn't know why she's sitting in the Falcon's main hold again, or why she bothers to pose her nagging questions to someone who seems to enjoy disagreeing with her. "How can you say that?" she asks the thousand-piece box in her hand. "There are scores of famous battles that have been won and lost. History tells us there has to be some defining criteria."
"Has to?" Han makes a noise of contention and swivels his chair around to face her. "Sister, war isn't a necessary thing."
"Isn't it?" Leia looks at him fully. "What about in cases of oppression? Tyrannical rule? How can you say war isn't necessary then?"
He returns her stare. "Easy. Give me a universal definition of 'tyranny.'"
"No? Give me a universal definition of 'oppression,' then." Han meets her silence with a cynical purse of his lips. "Can't do it, can you?"
She lifts her chin. "I'm sure I could if I really sat down and thought about it."
"But you are sitting down," Han points out. "And unless you reserve that very intense look for daydreaming about me, you were thinking about it."
"I was not daydreaming about you!" she protests.
"Then it proves my point. Relative." Han thumbs the red stripe that races down the side of his pants. "Everything's relative. Trust me on this." Then he pushes out of the chair and strides off toward the cockpit.
Leia mulls over his words as she glares down at the burgeoning galaxy on the table. He's wrong. He has to be wrong. Her father had taught her that the universe was made up of two-sided coins, a bank of polar opposites. You were good or evil, right or wrong, black or white. But according to Han—easily not the foremost expert on morality, ethics or philosophy—the universe was a bag of marbles. No sides, just round relativity and shades of gray.
The puzzle is abandoned in a hasty decision to go look for Luke and get his opinion. Leia knows already that he'll agree with her, and he does. He always does. And the rest of the afternoon passes in harmonious idealism.
It doesn't occur to her until later that night to question why the Falcon is still allowing her puzzle to monopolize its holotable.
They still call you "princess" even though you're the farthest from a queendom you've ever been.
Ironic, you think, as you step into a meeting room full of men and hems and haws and what-do-you-thinks and in-my-estimations. You've been here before, only it was an echoing, cavernous auditorium with politics and what-should-be-dones much more immense than this. In your old life, you wielded your famous negotiator's voice, the one that sounded like Mandalorian iron wrapped in Dramassian silk, for votes and policy changes. You ratified and majoritied and seconded for planets and federations. Now, you suggest, cajole and bargain for twenty percent off the next shipment of much-needed X-Wings.
Ironic, you think, as you give Luke the details of Rogue Squadron's next mission. You send him on his way after wishing the Force to be with him, and then you head to your own ship, your own team, to stir up unrest against the Empire in the Minos Cluster. You've become a civilian-dressed figure of do that, fire there, stay down, and you know, in your heart of hearts, if you'd been born a man, they would have given you a uniform and called you General Organa. But, you're not a man, and you're fine with that. You're an unexpected threat. You're a gundark in nerf's clothing. You're grit and determination and maybe a little bit stubbornness all braided together under a pretty face. And no one ever calls you ma'am.
Ironic, you think, as you dive into a corridor to dodge enemy fire. Living on the edge is nothing new to you, but it used to be the volley of sharp words meant to end your career, not the volley of blaster fire meant to end your life. The synthetic sounds of fighting rage on around you. You duck, you roll, you unleash a strafe of particle beam energy at two Stormtroopers, you clear a path of escape for your team, and you take out two more boys in white as you provide cover for their escape. With grim satisfaction, you realize your aim is becoming as deadly as your tongue.
A diplomat, a commander, a fighter—all for the price of a princess. This is your game now, your life, and for the first time since you watched your beloved Alderaan disappear in a shower of blue sparks, you feel at home.
She says, "Can't this thing fly any faster?"
He says, "I'm flying as fast as I can, sweetheart."
She says, "I'm not your sweetheart."
He says, "That explains the sour look on your face."
She says, "You are the reason for the sour look on my face."
He says, "Give me a chance to replace it with a sweet one, then."
She says, "How about if I give you a chance to drop this subject before I write you up for improper conduct?"
He says, "Improper conduct? I see how it is."
She says, "It's about time."
He says, "Yeah, I know. Do try not to get ice on the seats, Your Worship."
When Luke looks at you, he sees the hologram princess he jettisoned Tatooine for. He'd follow you to the ends of the universe simply because you asked him to.
When Han looks at you, he sees a woman, not a dream. He's been a dubious fixture in your life for the last three years—a pilot when you needed one, an argument when you didn't, a brown-on-brown contrast to the blue-on-blond in the other corner of your widening galaxy.
And both of them have been swallowed whole by the white-on-white of Hoth.
You wait and worry and wander into the Falcon in an effort to skim off some of the jetsam of your mind. The puzzle still sits in the main hold, slowly matured over three missions' downtimes into a half-finished facsimile of the picture on the lid. You take up your usual spot over and behind it, release the grav-field anchoring the pieces to the table, and once again, you're nothing but blanks in need of filling.
A small star gets jammed into place, only to be yanked out and thrown back into the box. A constellation refuses to form. Your concentration is shot, spread too thin until it's as taut as your shoulders. You sift through the pieces, but everything looks the same to you—black and light, small, alone. You slam yourself against the back of the lounge, furious, blinking back useless tears. You feel helpless to do anything for them and you hate it. You're wanting to believe they're safe but they're at the mercy of an inhospitable planet, their chances of survival are seven hundred and fifty-five to one, and oh, stars, why are all the men in your life racing off to die with your permission?
In the morning, the commlink crackle of Han's voice is a most wonderful thing.
The nerve of him!
By the stars, he's up and kissed her and taken them over a line she thought they had unconsciously agreed not to cross. If Threepio hadn't interrupted, no telling how far she would have let it go.
"Why did you do that?" Leia asks him later, once they're alone in the Falcon's cockpit.
"Do what?" Han frowns in concentration as he waits for Chewie to report back to him on the status of the hyperdrive. "I tend to do a lot of things you can't make sense of. Which one're we talking about this time?"
Her nails are suddenly very interesting to her. "Why did you kiss me?"
Han interrupts his scrutiny of the cockpit's controls to fix her with a look. "Oh, that." There's a smirk. "Bothering you, is it?"
Leia feels her face growing warm and tries to cover it up by smoothing a hand along her braid. "I didn't say I was bothered."
"Oh?" His eyebrows arches at her. "You must've liked it, then. Well, how about we—"
"I didn't say that, either," Leia hastily puts in. "I was just wondering why."
Han shrugs and leans back in his chair, lacing his hands behind his head. "You looked like you wanted one, and since Chewie wasn't around to accommodate you..."
"I wasn't serious about wanting to kiss a Wookiee!"
Han grins. "Hey, I'm not a mind-reader. You need to tell me what you want. Specifically. Like, 'Han, I want you to kiss me again because I liked it so much.'"
"I'd rather kiss—"
"Careful," he cautions her. "At the rate of your denial, you'll be running out of options real quick-like."
"I am not in denial!'
"Glad to hear it. Sounds like we're making progress with this."
Leia opens her mouth to protest, but the arrival of Chewie and Threepio on the scene cuts her off, and Han shifts into serious mode. He's at his most attractive when he's all business, and after he finds a destination for them to dock for repairs, she startles herself by finding his cheek to be warm and masculine against her lips. She feels like she's out of her body, floating, as they drift away from the Star Destroyer, drift to a city in the clouds where her lips will find him again after trying to block out the sounds of his torture. And again, before the vapor hiss, before he's sealed away and taken from her forever.
Then too much happens at once, snatching her back to the present. Luke's there, and then he isn't—and when she finds him again, his sun isn't as bright as it was. The restoration of him keeps her from going out of her head to find Han, but Luke's lips aren't his, and now that she's tried both, she knows which set she prefers. When she passes by the puzzle on the way to the cockpit, she wills herself not to cry or think about how lonely the ship is without its captain.
She's lost one but found the other, and Luke's arm around her as they watch Lando undock the Falcon from the medical frigate confirms what she already knew in her knees, hands, lips and heart.
Now it's a matter of finding Han and telling him.
The next time she sees him, she's going to give him a piece of her mind. She'll—
Tell him: I've spent almost a year searching for you, the least you can do is be grateful.
Tell him: Luke's a Jedi now.
Tell him: The puzzle was Lando's. He won it in a sabacc tournament.
Tell him: Chewie's missed you.
Tell him: I love you I love you I love you I love...
What do you do when you're finally face-to-face with a man you've dreamed of for so many months it seems like the same dream melting into itself? What do you do when you're finally face-to-face with a man you've questioned, threatened, begged, searched all over the galaxy for? What do you do when you're finally face-to-face with a man you've disguised yourself for, infiltrated a notorious crime lord's den for, held a ticking thermal detonator for? What do you do when you're finally face-to-face with a man whose last words from you were "I love you"?
You tell him you love him again. And then you promptly get the both of you caught. Then you suffer the humiliation of a cold, chafing, metal bikini and a Hutt's tongue worming across your face. You watch helplessly as one of your best friends almost gets himself killed by a Rancor. You pull your underwear from an uncomfortable spot. You listen to the grating tunes of Sy Snootles and the Max Rebo Band over and over... and over. You wrench your shoulder while trying to strangle a notorious crime lord. You take down a sailbarge. You pull your underwear from an uncomfortable spot.
And then you tell him you love him again.
She's standing inside the doorway of his room in the medical frigate later that night, making a long shadow on the floor. The door shuts behind her, leaving her in a room of musky dimness and beeping machines, and she fills her nostrils with the knowledge that it's him, he's been found, and he's safe at last.
"No more tests!" Han grouses. "I'm fine; can't you see that? Go away. Come back tomorrow. Let me sleep."
"It's me," she reassures him. "But I can come back later if you want me to."
"Leia?" She hears the rustle of sheets around a stirring body. "What're you doing here? What time is it?"
"I don't know," Leia says. "It's late."
"Late? Why are you here, then? Something wrong?" There's a pause. "Oh, I get it."
"You just can't get enough of me. Missed me so much you had to sneak in here to tell me, huh?"
Leia's lips startle her by trembling. Smirk and swagger—oh, how she's missed it. "Yes. That's it. Exactly."
It's Han's turn to be surprised. "...Really?"
"I need this," Leia explains, picking her way past the beeping things to his bed. "I need to make you real."
It's warm under the covers when Leia slides in, mindful of the wires connecting parts of him to various monitors. She clings to him, cheek pressed hard against that glorious, reassuring heartbeat that peaks and valleys on one of the screens next to the bed.
"Too-Onebee's going to have a fit if he finds out you're in here, you know," Han says as she settles in. "That med-droid kicked Chewie out earlier."
"Well, if Too-Onebee wants to take issue with me, he might just find himself transferred to another ship," she replies. "Or memory wiped. Or made into spare parts."
There's a rusty chuckle under her ear. "Still pulling rank, Your Worshipfulness?"
She sniffs. "Of course."
His chuckle upgrades to a hoot of laughter, making the monitors sputter. "...Oh, how I've missed you."
Leia smiles into his chest and says, "Welcome back, Han." And when his arms tighten around her in response, she closes her eyes and pretends the Empire doesn't exist.
Han's prowling around the Falcon under the guise of doing one last lookover before he turns it over to Lando, but you know he's really rolling his hello and goodbye into one visit.
You smile to yourself because you can relate. The holotable's at your hip, and as you look down at the puzzle that's taken you almost four years to finish, ready to break it down and pack it back into its box, you realize how much you're going to miss it. It's been a much-needed outlet, a friend, and it seems almost cruel to bury it under the lounge cushion again.
But, you remind yourself, it's time to move on. You've come a long ways from needing a thousand pieces to pull yourself together, and even if your life isn't exactly where you want it to be, it's close enough that you can manage the rest. You flick the grav-lock switch to off for the last time, and you pick up the edge of the puzzle and prepare to fold and crumble the universe onto itself.
But something catches your eye. There, in the upper right corner, is a blank spot. Disguised by a dark section of the holoboard, you've never noticed it until now. Alarmed, you grab for the box, but it's completely empty. You crouch beneath the table to pat your way around the floor, but your hands encounter nothing more than dust and a few bits of lint. It perplexes you; your anal-retentive bent wants to tear the ship apart until you find it.
But Han's calling for you. It's almost time for your strike team to head out to the forest moon of Endor. You've got an Empire to wound and kill. So with a deep breath, you take up the edge of the puzzle again, you break it into sections, and you listen to the unjudgmental plunks as you scatter the universe into nine-hundred and ninety-nine pieces.
It's over. The Empire's been shattered into a thousand pieces of gone.
Father. Mother. I love you.
Long after the celebration, long after the celebration after the celebration, long after the climb and the burn and the orbit, they're lying side-by-side on a pallet, bodies cooling in the indigo night of Endor's moon.
Slowly, slowly, the man next to her has worn her down, insinuated himself into her being, made her become something more than skin and idealism. Leia hopes she has slowly, slowly returned the favor, made him into something more than cynical detachment.
"Hey," Han whispers. "What're you doing over there in that mind of yours?"
"I was thinking." Leia can see the stars existing quietly through a break in the thatch of the roof. "I was thinking of all the things that have changed."
Han rolls over and props himself up on an elbow. "Like the Empire?"
"Among other things." She inhales and exhales in contemplation. "It's all different. I'm different."
"Is this good or bad?"
"I would say it's relative," she answers. "Wouldn't you?" The smirk's an involuntary thing.
"Oh, I don't know," Han replies loftily. "I think there has to be some defining criteria."
Leia smiles in dry appreciation. "Okay, fine. I think it's good."
"And what makes it good?" Han persists.
"You. This. Us."
"There's an 'us' now?"
Han's lopsided grin makes the night feel a little warmer and she answers it with one of her own. "There's an 'us' now."
"Then how about we go somewhere for awhile, dock the ship, see the same walls every morning together for a week or two? Explore this 'us' you're referring to."
Leia's grin grows into something that lights up her face. "I think I could put in a vacation request."
"Tomorrow morning," she agrees.
"Good. Now to figure out where..." Han falls back onto the pallet to stare up at the ceiling and ponder. "Oh, before I forget, I've got something for you." His hand does a little search-and-rescue beside him and he withdraws something from his pants pocket, pinched between a thumb and an index finger. "Found it on the floor a while back, but kept forgetting to give it to you. Sorry. I bet you've been searching for this for a long time, huh?"
You pluck it from him and suspend it above you, examining it. There's a hole in the sky between your fingers, but to you, it looks suspiciously like completeness. Nine hundred and ninety-nine...
"I love you."
...And the last piece slides home.