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The damn trash vaporizer broke.

They’d reattached the Falcon’s dish, taken Coruscant, fixed the hyperdrive again, established a new galactic government, and Chewie had made a fantastic fish dinner last night. And now halfway into a batch of rotting fish carcass, the Falcon’s vaporizer decided to break.

It wasn’t a big problem, and both he and Leia were capable of fixing it. But the last few months had kind of worn them out, and the vaporizer was the snowflake that killed the tauntaun.

Han cut it off and it stopped spewing fish smoke into the air and making that awful grinding sound. Then they both just stared at it for a solid thirty seconds.

“Well,” Leia said. And then: “I guess we’d better fix it.” Neither of them moved.

Han broke first and went for the toolbox with a loud, pointedly aggravated sigh.

“I’ll do it,” Leia told him, irritated.

“No, I got it.”

But he couldn’t get to the darn thing. His shoulders crammed awkwardly into the tiny space, and his hand fit awkwardly behind the pipes. “I see the problem,” he called. “It’s just old. Darn thing is so rusted it probably sprung a leak. It’s all segmented though, so I can just undo the bolts and replace this section…”

But he couldn’t. He banged around for a few more minutes, bumping his hand against the back edge of the vaporizer with every attempt before facing the fact that this wasn’t going to work. But it had to get fixed somehow. He decided to strong arm it, grabbing the edge of the wrench handle and pulling it down with his weight behind it.

His elbow cracked against the ground and nearly split open when the wrench came off. “Owwww!”

“Are you all right?” That was Leia, across the room, in what sounded like a better mood. She liked watching him make a fool of himself.

“Yeah. Yeah, fine. I think I loosened it some.”

And there was the tap, tap, tap of her shoe against his calf. “Move over, hotshot. You don’t even fit back there.”

“Yeah, all right.”

So Leia took his place and he washed the filth off his hands. She’d started a pot of caf. And she seemed to be making more headway than he had, though rusted bolts were still sithspawn and it was slow going.

He leaned against the counter and watched her work. “Hey, Princess, I ever tell you how good you look as a mechanic?”

“No.”

“You know, dirty hands and all that?”

“Mmm,” she answered, noncommittal.

“…Flat on your back…”

“Shut up, Han,” she told him sharply.

He threw his hands up in surrender, though she couldn’t see the gesture. “All right, all right. Just making small talk.”

“You were being lewd. …Do you have the hydropick? No, not the hydropick. The other thing, the one that cleans corrosion. This is a mess.”

“That’s the hydropick.” He handed it to her and watched her work for another minute. “You okay? You usually don’t mind me being lewd.”

He expected her to say “I’m fine,” but instead she blew out an angry breath, and he thought here we go again. He couldn’t imagine what he’d done to piss her off. He hadn’t meant anything by it—she didn’t usually mind that kind of talk when they were alone.

“I’m FINE, Han. I just don’t like being mocked and belittled while I’m fixing your ship.”

Mocked and belittled, huh? “Hey, nobody’s asking any favors. You can crawl on out and stop any time.”

“What, and leave it to you to finish?”

Okay, that was taking it too far. He opened his mouth to let her have it, even if the tirade was directed mostly at her legs. Then he took a deep breath and said instead, “That was mean.”

“No it wasn’t.” She worked for a minute in silence, then amended, stilted and grumpy, “I’m sorry.” It wasn’t exactly a real apology, though.

"No, Leia, I mean it. You're not all that upset. You slept well last night. I'm just teasing. What's your problem?" 

She bristled. "I don't like to be teased." 

"Yeah, I got that. What I don't understand is why. You know I think the galaxy of you. Why do you have to take a little teasing like I'm throwing down the gauntlet? You know I'm on your side, so why do you have to fight me all the time?" 

She turned her attention back to the vaporizer with a clunk and a bang that was definitely her trying to force off the rusty bolts. A quiet curse--she must have scraped her hand on something when it didn't work, or maybe she was just frustrated. "I don't know," she admitted, cranky.

Han felt a twinge of guilt. He always felt that way when Leia stopped yelling and told the truth, and it wasn't fair, because she really did lash out at him and he really did have good reason to be pissed off. Still, he spoke more gently. No reason to drive her off. "Is something bothering you? Is...uhm...is everything bothering you? Is this about the war?" 

Is this about the war? Leia didn’t know what to do with herself if she wasn’t fighting something. That thing everyone else called relaxing? Han was pretty sure she saw it as giving in. He knew where some of it came from. 

She struggled with the bolt in silence for a minute before admitting, "No. I don't think so." 

"Ya don't think?" 

"I don't know. Maybe. Some. But that's not really...most of it. I've always been this way. I think it's genetics." 

"You think you're genetically wired to be angry and defensive?" he asked skeptically. 

"Yes." 

"I doubt that. I've met your twin brother, you know." 

She snorted. "Luke. He's different. I think he must take after our mother." 

"And you think...you take after your father?" 

Her response was immediate and vicious, even though she'd started the conversation herself. "Don't call him that."

"Okay. Okay, I won't. You think you take after Vader, then?" 

Leia said nothing. The repetitive grinding and squeaking noises told him that she'd loosened the bolt and was working it off its thread. 

"Well, Princess, I think that's stupid. You're plenty willful, but you're no sadist. Look, you've never tortured anyone in your life." 

"Haven't I?" 

He was lost. "...Have you?" 

She sat up, throwing up her hands in that gesture that meant How dense can you be?

"YOU, Han. I'm talking about you." 

"You— Wait...when did you torture me?" Bespin? Could she still be torn up about Bespin, thinking it was somehow her fault? 

"Every day," she grumbled, and he figured something out. That scowl on her face--she wasn't angry at him. She was angry at the damn bolt. She was angry at the world for not bending to her will instantly. And she nearly hated herself for feeling that way and for taking it out on everyone around her. 

Well, this torture talk was stupid. Before he could figure out a way to tell her that wouldn't set her off yelling again, though, she'd ducked back under the counter and moved on. Or back to the topic before, maybe. "He's not a sadist," Leia said quietly. 

"Sure as hell seemed like one when I met him." 

"No. He's not a sadist. He's...angry. He has a job to do and he gets angry when people get in the way. He's...he's more dangerous than a sadist, honestly. Tarkin and the rest--they enjoyed bringing me as low as they could. Vader didn't. Only... I was in his way and he couldn't stand it. He's not in control of his anger. He might have accidentally killed me. Or you, or Luke, or anyone. I'm like that." 

"The kriff you are," he told her. "I'm sorry I said anything. No, I’m not, you were acting snitty. But you don't get angry like that, Leia. You--you can be a real pain in the ass sometimes, and we need to work on that. But you get angry so you can get out of bed in the morning and then go fight for the rest of us. You get pissed off so you can save people." 

But she shook her head, brooding. "There's something dark in me. I just didn't know it until now."

“It’s a trash vaporizer, Leia. Come out of there. Let me see your face.”

He heard a ping as the bolt hit the floor and then she slid it his way and started on the next one. End of conversation. Back to work.

Chapter Text

Amidst all the screaming, all the joy, all the dubious suggestions about how to set up the fireworks, Luke has the audacity to bring Vader’s body back to Endor without his mask. He does this in front of Leia. She is outraged—outraged—to see that this monster has a human face.

But no. He’s not a monster, and she already knew that. He’s just an angry man, causing death and destruction like every other angry man who has no sense of humility. And anyway, by the time they get to her, Anakin Skywalker is not exactly a human being anymore. He’s a corpse, which is rather a different creature.

Leia should feel a wicked triumph. She should want to grind her boot heel on his dead face. She doesn’t, and it’s not because she’s a good person. She just feels drained. It’s so easy to be brave when the odds are stacked against you. You’ll probably die, one way or another. After you win, when you catch a glimpse of yourself on the other side, alive—that’s when the danger sets in. You get hungry for life, and it—what does Han say?—it throws you off your game.

Six months off to reclaim Han Solo, just because she wants to, and now a dead Vader and a vaporized Emperor. Leia Organa isn’t even sure what game she’s playing anymore.

So she lets it go and revels in the (against all odds non-lethal) fireworks display. She hugs her friends, who are ALIVE, all alive. She is greedy for victory and greedy for living, and when they finally fall into borrowed huts in the pre-morning light, she and Han are so supremely greedy that they don’t bother to keep quiet. They aren’t the only ones.

Like the rest of the soldiers, Leia falls into the deep sleep of exhaustion. She dreams the dream again. Alderaan is a million bright sparks in the sky, a firework that’s gone off at the wrong time. Leia looks down in the middle of her own anguished shriek and stops short at the sight of a basket on her arm. Some woman she doesn’t know speaks to her—beautiful dark eyes, brown curls, a crown—her shadow self, perhaps. She can’t hear the words, but she understands—every piece of Alderaan is alive. Flung out to the corners of the galaxy, but still alive, at least for a few moments. Quickly, the woman tells her. You must gather them quickly. But she doesn’t know where to go. All of the people she loves, they’re hidden from her. The woman mouths instructions, but Leia can’t hear them. She has a chance to make things right but something out there won’t let her hear. She starts to cry.

Then she wakes to the late morning sun shining full on her face through a slat between branches. Alderaan is still blown to bits and nothing she can do will ever, ever restore any part of it. Waking is the worst part of this dream: All of them gone without even a body to clutch to her chest and mourn.

But maybe it’s better this way. She’s seen corpses, Vader only the latest in a long string of them. She’s guarded wounded soldiers while there was still hope for them and watched them stop breathing while there was still hope, and never has she been able to pinpoint that moment—when they go from animated creature, gears turning and blood pumping—to—what does Han say?—dead meat. Lifeless. Forceless. No longer a person.

Seeing that, it’s easy to be brave. The Death Star can’t do any more to her than a hand blaster, or a gangrenous infection, or a badly timed step into a crowded street. Dead is dead is dead. And since she can’t beat it, what is there to fear? If she’s not going to lose her cool walking through traffic or staring down from the top of a mountain, there’s no reason to lose it when confronted with a battalion of Stormtroopers. Different scene, same results.

But victory has reminded Leia that she doesn’t want to die. She doesn’t want to become that person-not-person thing, to wind down slowly into nothingness. But she will. And so will Han, and so will Luke, and Chewie… Threepio might be safe. That droid might live forever.

Leia’s used to facing impossible odds and winning. Even Vader could be beaten, given the right circumstances. But she’s also gotten close enough to humiliation and terror to understand that her lucky streak won’t last. She can prolong the inevitable by fighting, but she’s not exempt from mortality, and she certainly can’t protect anyone around her. The end of their story is defeat.

So when Han wakes and pulls her in close with his mouth at her neck—Hey, sweetheart, we won—she shrugs him off instead. And now he’s giving her that wounded boy look. “Lots of work to do,” she explains. Then she walks out into the gray light of an overcast morning.