The thumping had persisted for awhile. It didn’t sound like the sustained clacking of metal on metal that Leia might have expected for what was evidently an ongoing task. It much more resembled the one-two pound of a fist (or, more likely on the Millennium Falcon , a five-count pound) beating a part into working submission on the fly. Leia never understood how Han’s hit-it-until-it-works approach could resolve malfunctions so consistently on a machine engineered to maneuver through space. She had never seen anything like it before— certainly not on the stately Tantive IV or any other diplomatic craft, nor on her official Alliance transport. (Although she found herself on the Falcon far more than really made sense given the fact that she had an official Alliance transport, a fact she chose not to dwell on.) Even the beat-up X-Wing force was maintained using the most up-to-date, standard engineering practices. Not that the Falcon ’s captain didn’t have his hands full with meticulous, complex repairs and “improvements" where the whack-a-glitch approach wouldn’t work, but she got the distinct impression that even the most planful of his projects were exercises in creative engineering that would be frowned upon at the Imperial Academy of Aeronautics.
Leia took another sip of kaffe and turned to the next page of the report on her datapad. They were returning from a mission where nothing had gone wrong, but for which they had nothing to show. Their intel hadn’t panned out. That was the nature of the work, and they should be grateful it hadn’t resulted in blaster fire and a narrow escape, or worse — but Leia was compelled to carefully review the reports that they had relied upon to see where the Alliance had gone wrong, where they could do better. A particularly loud thwack sent her jumping, and she gave a silent curse as she almost spilled all over the crew bunk she had holed up in. (She would have spilled, had the mug been more full.) Despite her nerves of durasteel in battle, she found that loud, sudden sounds in more peaceful contexts— especially when she had achieved some iota of relaxation, which she must have to startle so hard— occasionally sent her into hyperdrive. Her pulse was already returning to its regular rhythm, whatever vice had momentarily gripped her chest was releasing its hold, and the room kindly refrained from spinning around her; this was not one of those terrible times. Still, her startle response embarrassed her, even unseen in her cabin. She couldn’t afford that kind of uncontrolled display of weakness. Not as a woman at the beginning of her twenties; not while trying to lead an armed insurgence.
A volley of noise echoed from wherever Han was. Leia closed her eyes and took another sip of kaffe, making an effort to take comfort in the familiar sounds of the Falcon and its inhabitants. It was late at night, and she shouldn’t be having caffeine, but she wasn’t particularly sleepy anyway. It didn’t sound like the ship’s captain was either. Again she mused on how he could achieve results by banging and jostling the parts of his beloved vessel. Was it the bouncing of a screw back into place that did the trick? Frayed, open wires being jiggered ever so slightly but effectively in the right direction? Who knew what witchery Han Solo breathed into each part to keep the thing going. Sometimes, when she could feel her panic response rising at the sense of nakedness in space and the realization that her life depended on a ship held together by luck and engine tape, Leia told herself that it was the ritual itself that soothed the ship. An ancient form of communication between pilot and ship that appeased whatever gods or spirits controlled such things. Or perhaps the ship whispering, Remember, your fate is in my hands; the pilot replying, I know— favor me a little bit longer. She knew it was childish and fanciful, and more lofty than Han Solo deserved. In the privacy of her mind where nobody could see, however, she would take anything that brought her solace. The benevolent magic of imagination, in addition to whatever was in those knocks Han dealt the ship.
Another thump. Leia sighed. This had been going on for what— fifteen standard minutes now? The low muffled rumbling of the Corellian captain was becoming, well… less low. She turned off the data pad and set it aside. It wasn’t her ship so technically whatever was occurring wasn’t her problem— it wasn’t even Alliance property— but a frustrated Han Solo was likely to become her problem in one way or another.
She found the captain in the lounge.
“I got you now, you unholy bastard.” Han Solo, criminal, mercenary, hotshot pilot, and Death Star hero, was perched on the dejarik table, bent at the knees in a half-crouching position under the pipe that ran along the Falcon ’s exposed ceiling. One boot off, revealing a hole-riddled sock, and held just above him in one hand, as if aiming. Having made his threat, Han remained completely still, appearing not to even breathe, like a loth cat suspended in wait for its prey. On the ceiling, Leia saw the glint of silver, as if from a mirror—
“Stop!” she yelled, just as Han smashed the boot into the pipe with a clang . There was a leggy flash of iridescence across the black metal. Han wobbled on the table, caught himself for an instant, then lost balance again to lurch onto the lounge seats.
“Godsdamnit!” he shouted, grabbing at the back of the seats with his free hand, trying to untangle the mess of legs and knees that had broken his fall. “Why’d you have to yell at me?” he asked, making eye contact with Leia. He pointed to the pipe. “He got away again!”
“What are you doing ?” she shouted.
“Tryin’ to get that sithspawn,” Han said, finally tripping his way off the lounge seats, boot still in hand, following the direction of his quarry. Leia moved to cut him off, stepping in front of him as he approached the tech station. She drew herself up to the greatest height she could muster and assumed her most intimidating stance, narrowing her eyes and jutting her chin pointedly at the captain’s throat. Instinctively her hand flew to his chest in the way she’d seen security guards and bouncers do— splayed, only the pads of her fingers making contact with Han’s shirt. Except, she realized with dawning alarm, for her thumb, which hit Han’s bare sternum, exposed by the V-cut of his shirt. Han appeared stunned. She imagined it was not the first time someone had told him to step back in such a way; nor did she think that he hadn’t met such gestures with his own aggressive posturing in the past. But coming from a 42 kilo princess on his own ship, it was apparently effective in suspending him by the mere force of shock. He looked down at her hand as if checking to see whether it was in fact real and not imagined, before meeting her eyes again. Leia’s cheeks warmed at the awkwardness of the position, but she confidently gave a small push of her fingers that sent him backing up.
Satisfied that she had made her point, the Princess released the smuggler. She turned around to the tech station to see a glistening, silver spider scurrying off the pipe and onto the console. Using one open palm to prevent it from abruptly changing course, Leia put her other hand in the spider’s path and waited until the right moment to scoop it up. The spider thus safely in her palm, she covered it with her free hand, firmly creating a seal. It was almost too large to keep thus cupped in her hands. She swore she could feel its distress right in her soul as it frantically beat against her palms. She couldn’t keep it like that forever.
“What in the hells are you doing?” Han asked.
“Get me a cup or a bowl or something,” she commanded.
“Preferably with a lid.”
Han remained where he was. “ Han,” she pleaded, but he showed no signs of moving. The poor little thing felt so frightened— and it was little, taking up only her hands— so without thinking, Leia did the only thing she could think of. She closed her eyes, inhaled deeply, and conjured up all the positive feelings she could for the creature. And then she began to whisper an ancient peace prayer. It was what she had done when she played while her mother tended a small, personal plot in the expansive gardens around the Palace of Aldera, whenever Leia had wanted to get an animal to slow down so she could get to know it better, or when she found an insect in distress and needed to help right it without upsetting it further. She had long thought her memories of her garden playmates had been tinged by the fairy-taled nature of childhood itself, which seemed to imbue the ordinary world with qualities of the fantastic and mystical until one outgrew them— so even she was surprised when she felt the spider stop beating against her hands as she uttered the Alderaanian incantation. Leia worried for a moment that she might have smushed or suffocated the creature, but she felt calm wash over her as she completed the prayer, and she somehow knew that the spider was all right. A little Alderaanian magic; not quite dead, it seemed.
“Are you talking to it?” Han asked.
“Shhhhh,” she whispered, turning around slowly to face him. “She’s just calming down.”
“What the—“ Leia shot him a glance, and Solo lowered his voice to a whisper “ What the fuck? ”
“Shhh,” she admonished again. Leia slowly opened up her hands to reveal the perfectly still, perfectly fine glittering arachnid. She was one of Leia’s favorite kinds, common, but no less beautiful. Her abdomen was covered in silver sequins, though some of the yellow gold of her body bled into those mirrored blocks as if stained glass.
Her eight long legs curved in elegant, champagne-colored parabolas, her eight-eyes forming a beaded, double-banded tiara on her tiny head. Tentatively, the spider tapped the area around herself, not going anywhere just yet. Leia released a breath she had been holding and her shoulders relaxed.
Blinking, Han seemed to regain some control. “Leia, put that kriffin’ cryptid son-of-a-bitch down.”
“She’s not a ‘son of’ anything. You can tell from her size that she’s a female.” The Princess held the spider aloft towards him and Han gave such an exaggerated, uncontrolled shudder that she burst out laughing, although she moved her hand to the side to get the offending arachnid out of the his face. Leia put on her best lecture voice, adding just a hint of teasing so her meaning would be clear. “And she isn’t a cryptid . Cryptids are, by definition, an animal whose existence is disputed, either in history or to the present day.” The spider started moving slowly up Leia’s arm, which she held out further to give her more free space to survey. “Spiders are not only well-documented in both our current and historical eras, but widespread. You must have seen one before, probably on many occasions. But I think, if there were any doubts to their existence, we can safely say that we have just substantiated it.”
“I know what a cryptid is,” Han said. Leia gave him a wry glance; he returned a look of revulsion. “Doesn’t mean I feel better about you havin’ that prehistoric, googley-eyed fucker crawlin’ up your arm.”
“What’s the matter, captain? Jealous?” She returned her gaze to the spider. “Don’t listen to him, he’s just jealous,” the Princess cooed as the spider made her way to Leia’s elbow, which she gently bent to encourage the creature to choose the path on her outer rather than inner arm.
“‘M not jealous!” Han shuffled in the same spot, apparently uncomfortable with the whole situation but respecting whatever bubble of space Leia had claimed for herself and her new arachnid friend. “What if it bites you?”
Leia shook her head. “Stained-glass spiders don’t bite people. She’s perfectly harmless to us. Wookiees too.”
“ That thing is an it, not a she .” The contempt in Han’s voice was matched by his disgust. He put his hands on his hips in what Leia knew was an attempt to assert himself.
“Have some respect,” she chided. “How would you like it if she talked that way about you? An it .”
“ I’m not a non-sentient abomination.”
“That’s debateable.” Leia used a finger to adjust the spider’s course, as she seemed bent on exploring her inner arm in spite of the princess’s efforts. “Anyway, I told you, she’s far too big to be a male. And the males have more heavily colored sequins, with almost no silver. They look like little Adubian churches.”
“Hellschurches maybe. I thought males were s’posed to be bigger?”
Leia rolled her eyes. “A common humanoid male fixation.” She turned back to the spider, now scrambling onto her shoulder. “Don’t you find?”
“Stop talking to it.”
“ Jealous, ” she whispered to the creature. She was rewarded with another shuffling of feet from Han and a grunt of displeasure. Fully aware of (and a little bit smug about) the effect she was having on the ship’s captain— frustrated at his lack of control over the situation, disarmed by her comfort with the prehistoric fucker , subject to her teasing — Leia decided to up the ante. She made a series of kissing noises at the spider, now resting on her shoulder, lightly tapping its legs in exploration.
“Oh, Kest, you’re kiddin’ me,” Han exclaimed, throwing his hands up. “It’s not a pet! ”
Delighted by his reaction, Leia put her hand to her shoulder to once again scoop the spider up. “You’re not really afraid of her, are you?”
“Who said anything about afraid?” But Han was already retreating.
“You’re pretty jumpy,” Leia affirmed, extending her spider-laden hand slightly in Han’s direction, and he stumbled backwards again. “She’s just a spider.”
“Well, it can be a spider over there, away from me.” Leia raised her eyebrows. “I jus’ don’t like it, doesn’t make me afraid .”
“What’s not to like? She’s beautiful.” The princess took a step forward.
“Beautiful?!” Han took another step back.
“Elegant.” She inched closer to him.
“It’s too— leggy.” He put more space between them. It didn’t escape Leia that it was highly unusual for her to chase him.
“And you’re what exactly?” she asked, nodding her head at the captain’s own long legs. Somewhere— in whatever recess of her brain that had sounded the alarm when she had put her hands on Han, perhaps— it registered to Leia that this kind of teasing was dangerously close to flirting. Nevertheless, she persisted.
“I only got two of ‘em.” He caught himself before backing up into the dejarik table, but only just.
“And I suppose you think that’s the proper number?” Leia closed the gap, stopping less than a half-meter away from him. She brought the spider back to her chest. She didn’t wish to be truly cruel— either to Han or the spider, which surely could sense the palpable negative energy radiating off of him.
“As a matter of fact, I do.” Han planted his feet on the floor and crossed his arms, as if he were choosing to stop retreating of his own volition. His eyes flicked to the spider in her palm, then back up to meet Leia’s. She was suddenly very conscious of the place she had naturally rested her hand. Her shirt wasn’t particularly low-cut— there was no risk of the spider escaping into anywhere it didn’t belong— but she’d never felt that whatever she wore impeded Han’s gaze. Not that he leered at her or made her uncomfortable. In fact, it was often the quickness of his looking away, or the unspoken charge between them as he kept his eyes fixedly on her face, that left her disconcerted. A treacherous part of her mind wondered if the slight reddening she saw in Han’s face now, the bob of his larynx, the half-ashamed, half-earnest kath-hound glance, were reactions entirely related to the spider she held or if they had something to do with where she held it. She resisted the urge to adjust, as doing so would only confirm… well, she wasn’t sure what it would confirm, but it felt like it would confirm something . Nothing had passed between them, and she needn’t be ashamed of anything.
“Hmm. Kind of self-centered, don’t you think? Your way or the hyperspace lane?” she retorted. “She needs all of those legs—”
“Nothin’ needs all them legs.” Leia practically could see Han put his cool-guy mask back on in an attempt to also recover some of his bravado.
“—she needs them to weave and to climb and to hunt and— well, to do spider things, I suppose.” The princess lifted the arachnid to her own face, as if contemplating the creature. “She doesn’t get to use tools like you do. I’m frankly surprised you don’t like her. You two have a lot in common.”
“Like what?” Han asked in a tone that was equal parts skepticism and offense.
“She’s a technological wonder. A marvel of engineering!”
Han leaned in further, only to recoil immediately, his cool mask slipping for another moment, visibly repelled by the spider. Leia bit her lip to quell the urge to laugh at him again, but couldn’t suppress her smile. She gave him a moment to recover his sabaac face. Shifting his weight to lean casually away from her, Han raised an eyebrow meaningfully. “Is that what I am?”
“Okay, so maybe that isn’t you,” Leia clarified, giving him another roll of her eyes, and attempting to tamp down on his excitement. “But you appreciate those things, right? By any laws of nature, the Falcon shouldn’t fly—” Han opened his mouth to argue. “—but it does, because of Goddess-only-knows what you do to it. There probably isn’t anyone else who could keep the thing in space. I’m not always sure Chewie knows how you do it! And she —” Leia gestured to the spider, now crawling along her arm again, “—shouldn’t be able to make one of the strongest, most flexible structures in the galaxy out of nothing but what she carries within her, but she does. And nobody really knows how.”
“Spider webs ain’t that strong.”
“You only think that because you’re so big. You can generate enough force to tear through them because of your size. If you could blow their webs up to our scale—” Leia thought she detected a squirm at the idea of tearing through webs that Han covered with a slight shift in his stance. “ —-they’d be stronger than durasteel, and much more flexible.” Although she was allowing the spider to crawl up her arm, Leia took care to retrieve periodically, and let it begin its climb again, so as to keep it within view. She found herself imagining she was sending positive energy to keep it calm as she spoke. “With all our technology, we haven’t been able to produce anything like spider silk, and she does it without needing anything at all. She’s very resourceful— again, like you. I’ve seen you fix a gyro-stabilizer with cast-plast piping and spare droid parts. You two also share a strong sense of spatial intelligence.” Leia held her arm up, admiring the spider. “I thought you two might bond.”
“Did you bring that damned thing on board?”
“No, but I’m not going to let you hurt her just because you don’t like her kind . That’s not what we stand for in the Alliance,” she said haughtily, drawing the spider in again.
“Wait a second now,” Han said.
“Why do you think I asked you to get a container?”
“I don’t know,” Han responded tersely. Leia gave him her most pointed stare, while keeping the spider occupied moving from hand to hand. “I definitely don’t know, because I do know that we’re not keeping it around until we get back to base.” He was doing his best to appear authoritative and serious, but Leia recognized the underlying gruff resignation and self-deprecation in his voice. It was the same tone he used when he told Luke no— but with the barest edge of the banter voice he reserved specifically for her.
“Well, I’m sensing you don’t wish her to be moving about the cabin freely. Although if you let her, I’m sure she’d help you out with any other unwanted tag-alongs you may be carrying.” She did her best to keep her tone matter-of-fact, while putting her own subtle sharpness that signified she was in on the banter.
“It’s one standard day.”
“And it’s my ship. I said no.”
“It’s my mission.” She hit exactly the right pitch to get him going. Just assertive enough to spark him, without going over the line to insulting his capabilities or right to make decisions on his ship.
“That son-of-a-sith is not relevant to the mission.” She caught the glint in Han’s eye that told her that this was now the full-on, familiar push-pull that they so often fell into lately. Not the kind that made missions complicated as they vied for who was in charge, though that was real enough, and not the kind that left them licking their wounds over a disagreement they couldn’t even remember. This was the kind that some of the Rogues said was them flirting. (Though they were boys barely into adulthood. What did they know?)
“As an unaffiliated contractor who answers to me, you don’t have the authority to rule what is and is not relevant to the mission.”
“What, is it carrying a datachip with intel on it?”
“She might be,” Leia said, raising her voice to match his.
“Then we take her out, and get the chip.” He attempted to lean forward, this time conspiratorially, but was again repulsed by the arachnid she held. Leia did her best to stay in-character despite their rhythm having been thrown, Han’s usual moves rendered ineffective by a palm-sized bug.
“She’s a civilian,” Leia corrected him. “That’s not how we operate.”
Han dropped the spy act, and gave Leia a long look that seemed to lack his regular cool facade completely. It didn’t feel desirous either. She couldn’t quite find a word that fit; she wasn’t sure she’d ever seen him look at her like that before. Finally, he spoke. “If we keep this cursed thing alive ‘til we get back to base, will it make you happy?”
Leia was caught off guard. She couldn’t remember the last time anyone had asked about her happiness. If she was okay, maybe. How she was holding up, even, if it was someone close to her who was also affected by the Disaster, like Carlist Rieekan. But happy ? She was waging a war. She’d lost— “She’s not cursed, she’s sacred.”
“Dejarik, dejareek. Answer the question, Your Highness.”
Leia looked down at the spider that had made her hands her playground. She was round and glittering and Leia could feel how full of life she was, how her presence felt so like the spiders that had protected her mother’s garden. “Yes,” she replied, with a confidence that she hadn’t mustered in her personal life since Goddess knew when. “It would.”
“And then we release it, and I never have to see it again?”
“And then we release it,” Leia acquiesced, “and you never have to see this particular spider ever again.”
“Okay, then.” Just like that, Han walked to the Falcon’s tiny galley and started rummaging through the cabinets.
Leia followed, arachnid in tow.” “They’ll still be in the rest of the Galaxy though,” she warned. “They’re very common.”
Han grumbled an ill-humored response, and pulled out an old canning jar that had seen better days.
“You don’t have anything in cast-plast?” Leia asked.
“No plast-wrap either, I suppose?” Han put the jar on the small counter and said nothing. Leia sighed. “We’ll have to drill through the lid then.”
“It’s ruining a perfectly good jar.”
“The Alliance will compensate you for the loss. You can have one of the canning jars from the kitchens. I don’t know how we’ll spare the expense, but I’m sure we’ll find a way.”
“This is from the kitchens.”
“Honest to entropy, Han!”
“‘Spose I’m gonna have to do the drillin’ too.”
“I’d be perfectly happy to do it if you’d like to hold the spider.”
When they had finished, and the spider was safely ensconced in her temporary home, Leia reached into the conservator and pulled out two Corellian harvest ales. “You looked like you could use a drink,” she explained, using all her upper body force to crack one open on the edge of the countertop as Han had taught her and Luke one late night. They moved to the dejarik table and drank in silence for a bit.
“Well, sweetheart— she happy?” Han asked, picking up the jar. The creature, which had been crawling about her new environment quite peacefully a moment ago, become agitated, furiously beating her legs against the side of the jar. He immediately put it back down with a grimace.
“As happy as she’ll be in that jar,” Leia observed, pulling the spider away from him. “She doesn’t like you though.”
“Tell her it’s mutual.” Leia found herself stroking the jar. The spider regained her equanimity. It stood still for a moment, then began again meandering around. “She need food or anything?”
“No, she’s good for a week at least. Unless you have live flies, she’s not interested in anything we can provide anyway.”
“How come you know so much about them?”
“We had them on Alderaan. My mother kept them in her garden because they ate pests. Hmmm,” she said after a moment, breaking her thoughtfulness. “Maybe that’s why you don’t like them— because they eat pests?” She slid the jar back Han’s way, and he flinched. “I’ll stop,” she said, reeling it back in, and taking a sip of her ale.
“You’re the pest.”
“Indeed.” She took another sip from her bottle. “You know, on Naboo they say spiders on the shortest day of the year are loved ones coming to visit you.”
“Those are kids’ tales.”
“I know.” She huffed out a breath. “It would be nice if the Galaxy worked that way, though.” He looked at her. “Don’t say it.”
“Don’t say what?” Han asked.
“Don’t say, ‘So that’s what this is about . ’ “
“‘Kay. I won’t.” He took a swig of ale.
“I meant it, when I said they were sacred. They’re sacred to Alderaan.”
Han nodded. Leia was grateful for his acknowledgement, and for him not asking more about it. Or calling out her use of the present tense. She closed her eyes, enjoying the drowsiness that was beginning to creep up on her. The hum of the Falcon , the content energy of the spider (even if she was just imagining things), the warmth of the scoundrel next to her whom she was definitely not leaning against, all conspired to lull her dangerously close to sleep. She let herself linger a moment longer, not ready to tear herself away quite yet. When she did finally shake herself off Han’s shoulder and go to bed, though, that silver spider would keep her company on the crate that served as the crew cabin nightstand. Like a child with a jar of fireflies, Leia knew she would go to bed with a sense that there was magic left in the Galaxy. After all, if a garden spider could find her on the Millennium Falcon , who knew what else could happen?