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Fast, Thorough, and Sharp as a Tack

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Leia Organa had been interrogated by Darth Vader without cracking. She had smuggled stolen plans to the Death Star and started working as an undercover operative for the Rebellion on her sixteenth birthday.

She was not going to be defeated by a washing machine.

The battle had been raging for almost a week - a silent, secret battle, and she was determined to keep it that way. She had not particularly minded wearing the same pair of trousers over and over; Han, after all, appeared to wear each clothing item for nearly a week. Or he had an infinite supply of cream colored shirts that folded back at the neckline. Leia wasn’t really sure which. It wasn’t the point. The point was, she was out of underpants, so she had to win this battle today. Without asking for help, because she’d sooner kiss Jabba the Hutt than admit to Han Solo that she’d never washed her own clothes.

The clothing went in the large hole. That much she’d worked out. But the detergent went where? Her last attempt, two nights ago, had been a disaster: her clothes were a sodden, dripping mass when she pulled them out, and even hours in the drying unit hadn’t fixed them. Suds had spilled out all over the floor, and she’d spent half the night mopping them up. She hadn’t mopped much in her life either, but that had at least been easy to figure out.

Not for the first time, she wished Luke were with them instead of flying his X-wing toward Hoth. He was almost as out of his depth as she was, though for different reasons. Hey, Han, we don’t wash our clothes this way on Tatooine. How does this thing work, anyway? Easy, casual, no snide comments about his royal heritage or implied questions about his fitness to join the Rebellion.

Why were there so many buttons? she wondered, not for the first time. And a dial! What was that for? And they were all labeled with arcane little symbols instead of words, probably some marketing tactic to make it understandable by users of many languages -- assuming, of course, that they had consorted with a washing machine sometime in their previous life.

Fine. She would just have to choose something and hope for the best. She reached out to give the dial a spin and a calloused hand caught her wrist.

“What’s the matter, Princess? Never washed your own clothes?” Han asked. Then he smirked - though maybe Leia shouldn’t be offended. It was practically his default facial expression. He drawled on, oblivious to her indignant internal monologue. “That’s alright. You don’t have to answer. Is it four nights you’ve spent down here staring at the dials? Or just three?”

Leia jerked her wrist back and stuck out her chin. “Have you been spying on me?”

“Don’t get any ideas, Your Highness. It’s a small ship.”

With that, Han spun the dial and tapped a button, and the washing machine whirred to life.

“Thank you, Captain Solo,” she said with all the dignity she could muster.

Han narrowed his eyes. “Do you know how to function in our world, Princess? Have you, say, cooked anything in your entire life?”

“I’m sure I can muster something worthy of a man of your tastes,” Leia snapped. She hoped it wasn’t a lie; she had a bad feeling he was going to force her to prove it.

“Good,” Han said, leaning against the wall in that infuriating way that drew her attention to every line of his body. “Your turn in the galley tomorrow. Unless you think passengers don’t have to earn their keep.”

He vanished before she could think of a good retort.

***

Han found her in the galley the next evening trying to scrape a charred bantha steak off a skillet. The outside was black, but the inside was still half raw -- so Chewie would love it. She and Han on the other hand…

“You know, Princess, you could ask for help,” Han drawled. He wasn’t smirking, or leaning, or doing that threatening pointing thing he liked to do. His hands were jammed in his pockets and his shoulders were hunched up -- and, well, he looked awkward. Awkward and kind and sincere, and all sorts of other things she would not tolerate from him of all people. If she’d wanted kindness and pitying glances, she would’ve evacuated from Yavin on the regular transport ships, not begged to go on a supply run with a pirate.

“I’ll take your offer under advisement, Captain Solo,” she said cooly. Her royal tone was usually enough to put him off, or at least launch them into the familiar territory of a bickering match.

This time he stayed. “No, seriously, Princess. This would be a lot easier for both of us if you’d get the chip off your shoulder.”

And what sort of help do you imagine I need from you? Leia bit back the tart reply. Her mother would say she was being snotty. Because she was being snotty, and prickly, and defensive -- all her character flaws, wrapped up in one neat package.

“What sort of help do you have in mind?” she managed. Not civil, exactly, but she could do worse. Had done worse. Many times.

Han shrugged. “I don’t know. Whatever you need.” He looked down at the charred skillet and evidently thought better of teaching her to cook. Suddenly his face brightened. “Sparring lessons? I’m pretty good in a fight, you know. I could teach you.”

Leia smiled. “Thank you, Captain Solo. That would be quite agreeable. What time shall I meet you?”

Han blinked away his surprise. A white-toothed grin spread across his face. “Cargo bay. 0800 tomorrow.”

Leia smiled back. He really had no idea what was coming for him.

***

Regrettably, Leia had no idea what was coming for her either. Mostly because she had failed to anticipate that sparring lessons would entail allowing Han to touch her.

The first time he put his hand on her hip, she flinched away. He took a step back, but not nearly far enough. She could still feel the warmth radiating from his body.

“Easy, Princess, just correcting your stance,” he muttered. And then he did it again.

Leia gritted her teeth against the sudden surge of heat that raced through her body. Her breath hitched, and Han raised an eyebrow.

“Been awhile, Your Highness?”

Actually, she hadn’t ever, but Han didn’t need to know. She clenched her jaw harder and did not reply.

He was standing behind her now, and he reached around her to pull her hands into a fighting stance. His thumb swiped across her palm, lingering just a little too long. Then he leaned in so close she could feel his breath against her ear.

“I was going to teach you how to get out of a chokehold, but if you have something else in mind…”

“Absolutely not,” Leia snapped. With that, she slammed her hips backward into his, knocking him off balance. His hand was still wrapped around hers, and she tugged hard on his wrist as she hunched down, flipping him over her shoulder. He landed on his back with a surprised exhalation, and Leia gazed down at him with the most imperious expression she could muster.

“On second thought, Captain Solo, I don’t believe I need your help after all,” she said. Then she sauntered out of the cargo bay, telling herself she didn’t care about the wounded look in his eyes.

***

Her mother would be terribly disappointed. Han was trying to help, and she’d kicked him in the teeth -- almost literally. Now she was going to have to apologize and then ask for help, which was twice as humiliating as asking for help in the first place. All of that was terribly unfair. Even worse, he caught her off guard before she’d formulated her apology.

She couldn’t sleep that night, as usual. If she didn’t see Alderaan explode every time she closed her eyes, she pictured Vader and his interrogation droid. Usually, she padded to the Falcon’s tiny galley, where she’d found an engine repair manual propped under one leg of a rickety table. She read each chapter twice, taking notes on her datapad -- one more thing she’d know about, just in case. Chewie had found her there in the morning more than once, though he’d been nice enough not to say anything to Han.

This time, Han was there, sitting on one corner of the tattered couch. There was a drink in his hand, and his shirt was unbuttoned halfway to his navel. No, no, no, Leia tried to wrench her eyes away before she got caught -- but of course Han picked exactly that moment to look up at her and smirk.

Heat flushed across her face, and Leia drew herself up as regally as she could. “I apologize for this morning, Captain. I behaved poorly.”

Han raised his eyebrows. “Thanks, Your Highness. Could I get that on royal stationery? I’ll be checking for the watermark, so don’t try to put one over on me.” He took a long swallow of his drink and Leia tried -- and failed -- not to watch his Adam’s apple slide down the smooth line of his neck. Then his face softened. “I might’ve been just a little insufferable.”

Leia snorted. “That’s your specialty, isn’t it?” She looked down at her hands. “I probably should have told you I’ve been taking dok’jo lessons since I was six.”

Han cocked an eyebrow. His usual smirk was gone. If Leia didn’t know any better, she’d think he looked admiring.

“Martial arts and garbage chutes,” he said. “What kind or princess are you?”

“I’m not one anymore,” she said, swallowing hard. Then she shook her head, as if that would be enough to clear away the grief that threatened to overwhelm her. She forced herself to continue, thanking the Maker -- and her father -- for the diplomatic training that made it easy to keep her voice steady, no matter what she felt inside. “Once upon a time, I was a princess who refused to sit still for etiquette lessons. Then my parents promised I could have an hour of dok’jo for every hour of protocol I studied.”

“So you learned both fast,” Han said, and no, Leia hadn’t imagined it -- there was admiration lurking beneath his familiar smirk. He scooted over on the couch, a clear invitation.

Leia sat down on the other end, keeping a prim distance between herself and Han. There was an extra glass on the table, and she managed not to check for spots before she filled it with whatever Han was drinking. The aroma made her eyes water, but she knocked it back anyway and promptly choked. Tears rolled down her face, and Han passed her a dirty handkerchief.

“I don’t know how to do any of this,” Leia confessed when the coughing finally subsided. She wasn’t sure what she meant -- fighting a war, making apologies or washing her own clothes. She was faking as best she could.

Han shook his head. “Could’ve fooled me. You got away from the Death Star, didn’t you?”

“I had help,” she answered quietly. To tell the truth, escape hadn’t been on her mind until Luke had appeared. All she had wanted was to die unbroken.

“True,” Han said, preening a little bit. But he added, “If you hadn’t thought of the garbage chute, all four of us would’ve died in that cell block.”

“True,” Leia echoed, permitting herself a small smile. She didn’t allow herself to add, your assistance is greatly appreciated, Captain Solo no matter how comforting it would have been to retreat to royal formalities.

“C’mon, admit it, Princess. We’re not a bad team,” Han said. He lifted his glass, and she clinked hers against it. This time she managed to swallow without sputtering, and she thought she felt warm for the first time since she saw Alderaan explode -- though maybe that was just the liquor.

“You’re awfully forgiving,” Leia murmured. It wasn’t just this morning she needed forgiving for; it was a whole week of icy formalities and fits of temper.

Han shrugged. “You can’t be having an easy time of things.”

Leia looked down at her lap. This kind of conversation was exactly what she’d hoped to avoid when she’d chosen to evacuate Yavin base with Han instead of taking her place on one of the transports. She’d spent the days after the battle dodging pitying glances and murmured condolences, and she’d left with the one person who’d give her none of that. Except now he was. Somehow receiving kindness from a rough man stripped her of her defenses more thoroughly than any condolences from well-meaning courtier ever could.

Well, she’d never been a woman to be intimidated -- not even by her own emotions. She pulled herself up straight.

“No,” she said. “I’m not having an easy time of anything.” Her jaw clenched, and she felt her teeth grind together. She tucked her hand into a fist so tight her fingernails dug into her palms.

Han reached for her shoulder and she flinched back, shaking her head. Already she could picture the wounded look in his eyes. How did she know him so well after so little time?

“It’s not you,” she said hastily. Between the alcohol and the emotions, her words were losing their usual polish. “I can’t let myself --”

“You have to let yourself sometime, Princess,” Han said. “C’mon, there’s no audience here. Nobody you have to pretend for. Tomorrow we can act like it didn’t happen.”

Leia took another long swallow of her drink. She could imagine herself leaning against his outstretched arm, burying her face against his chest -- but no, she didn’t deserve that.

“It was my fault,” she said, keeping her back straight and her eyes focused somewhere in the middle distance. Her voice broke anyway.

Han shook his head. “You can’t think that, Princess. They were going to test that thing. No way they wouldn’t.”

“But they didn’t have to test it on Alderaan. If I hadn’t let them take me --”

Han shifted on the couch so he was facing her. His jaw was slack with surprise. “You let them take you? You went with Darth Vader by choice?”

Leia nodded. “More or less. I shot a stormtrooper and ran out in the open. I thought if they had me, they might not notice the escape pod launching with the droids.”

“You know, most people would’ve been on the escape pod with the droids,” Han pointed out. “Myself included.”

“That wasn’t a choice. They would’ve come after the pod if they’d detected lifesigns,” Leia said. Her voice faltered. “But because they had me, they came for Alderaan.”

“What else were you supposed to do? Kill yourself?” Han shook his head. “I’ve known you for all of two weeks, Princess, and that’s not your style. Besides, the Rebellion needs you.”

Vader certainly thinks so, judging by the price he put on my head, Leia intended to say. Instead she blurted, “That’s the last thing my father said to me.”

Steady, she told herself. Keep breathing. But she didn’t know what to do - pushing her father’s face out of her mind felt like betrayal, but her throat was closing up and her vision was going blurry. She heard a dull clink as Han put his glass down on the table, and she felt more than saw him reaching toward her. When his hand landed on her shoulder, she couldn’t fight it anymore. She leaned in until her head was resting on his chest and his warm arms were wrapped around her.

After the tears had stopped -- and they did, eventually, although she’d thought she might go on crying forever -- she pretended that feeling his wide hands spread across her back didn’t send a jolt of heat down her spine. She did not imagine how their lips would meet if she tilted her head up, did not let herself think how it would feel to sleep next to the steady warmth of his body. When he thought she was asleep, she let him ease out from underneath her and tuck a pillow beneath her head and a blanket over her shoulders. She did not picture what would happen if she said Han, stay.

Well, okay, she did picture it, but she didn’t do any more than that. She was a mess, but not the kind of mess who fucked a space pirate right after mourning her parents and her planet.

In the morning, her eyes were puffy and her throat was scratchy, but she braided her hair to precision in the one battered mirror on the whole of the Falcon and marched up to the cockpit. Han spun around in his seat when she walked through the door, looking both hopeful and wary.

“About last night --” she said, clearing her throat. She’d had a cup of tea, but she still didn’t sound like herself.

Han cut her off with a shake of his head. “Don’t mention it, Princess.”

He was sprawled in the pilot’s chair, long legs extended in front of him, shirt half-unbuttoned as always. Leia clenched her jaw and refocused her gaze on the unfamiliar collection of buttons and dials on the instrument panel. The sensor readout she could manage, and she thought she could handle the flight controls in a pinch. But in a real emergency, a chase or a firefight, she’d be a liability rather than an asset.

She slid into the copilot’s seat next to Han. “The offer of help you made last night. Is it still good?”

Han nodded warily.

She smiled. “Then teach me how to fly.”