When you seek it, you cannot find it.
Zen riddle, J. Hyams (1979, 21).
* * * * *
This all happened during the time when they couldnít 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 hadnít put down the galleyís containment racks because they were in hyper and unless the Millenium 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-colored 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 hadnít, for then she would have been able to save it and she didnít.
Leia set about picking up the jagged fragments and wondering whether to tell Han sheíd 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 she set it down. As if it knew this, the largest piece glared back at her accusingly with large 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, although sheíd 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 teammates 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 Phíeahiams, 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-gamblerís worst nightmare. On the other hand, they were a HoloNet advertiserís dream; dazed athletes fighting off stuns with numbed fingertips, claws and appendages, racing back into field battle was the stuff of legends that children grew up on.
The minor dilemma was decided for her. Sound carried.
"Whatíd you break?"
Quickly, Leia spun on her knees and faced him. "Iím 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? Donít 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 heíd go fetch it. If he left it in his cabin when they were sitting down to dinner heíd go fetch it.
"Cause itís the biggest one," he reassured her. "Not for any sentimental reason."
Leia tried to smile to show him that she was relieved. It didnít come. "Whatís The Burning Deck?"
"A hangout in the Corellian sector on Nar Shaddaa. An indisputable hole-in-the-wall dive."
"Is there any other kind?"
"Youíd 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 wouldnít allow me to watch it. It was one of the greatest tragedies of my childhood." And she meant the sort of tragedy one clung to 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 alienís 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 wasnít 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 didnít miss much in that last game. Alderaan lost to the Triad with only three men standing."
"Whoíd 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. Sheíd 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 sheíd 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 pilotís 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 gesturing to 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, whoíd 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 backstepped determinedly with the holo firmly locked behind her. "No?"
"No. I want it."
And she didnít know exactly, save that her instincts were screaming that it would vanish if she handed it over. And she needed it, the same way she needed other absurd 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 and 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. "Iím too hungry to argue."
"Thank you." Euphoric, Leia exhaled and realized her heart was racing. Slipping to the adjoining alcove, for she didnít want him to notice how near-panicked sheíd become over 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."
"Iím 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 wasnít 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 couldnít 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 wasnít 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 couldnít put her finger on. Studying it, she realized that although the image was similar to the pirate whoíd claimed her heart, they were not quite one and the same. Each time she blinked she was certain it was him, and then at next glance she wasnít. Yet, she loved the man in the holo so desperately the pit of her stomach ached as though sheíd been starving herself for days and not hours.
An understanding had developed between them when she hadnít been paying close enough attention. That was the only way it could happen. For no one ever proclaimed outright, I donít talk about my past. It just wasnít done that way. The primary reason she knew that he didnít was just that; he simply didnít. Whatever type of growing up heíd had, there was never any mention of family or childhood. It was as though heíd been born a full-grown star-faring captain with 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 mindís eye, trying to imagine how they might have been at the same age but she couldnít without the holo beside her. Hanís 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. She looked like she was 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 wasnít until they were almost finished with dinner that she asked about it again.
"When was it taken?"
Han kept eating and acted as though he had no idea what she was talking about although it was inconceivable that heíd forgotten in the span of an hour.
Leia wondered how theyíd 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 didnít say you could ask questions about it."
She began to scowl, but just in time noticed Hanís eyes glinting deviously. "How old were you?"
"I think it was taken almost fifteen years ago. Maybe less."
"Well ..." Han waved his hand. "Iíve 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. "Itís 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 Iíd 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 wasnít the sort of aging and changing wrought by life. It was almost as if ... Well, that was probably silly, to ask if heíd altered his appearance on purpose.
"Itís really, really old." He speared another bite of meat and chewed slowly, then added casually, "I didnít 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 didnít quite fit through the handle the way hers did. A twinge of guilt resurfaced.
"Iím sorry about breaking your mug," she thought aloud.
"I told you I didnít 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."
Iíll bet you can, she was going 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. "Iíll 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 pilotís 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 hadnít been quite a minute when she heard him approach the doorway -- standing patiently but not entering, and her breathing sounded louder than the hum of the hyperdrive engine.
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.
Laughing too, he walled her up in the corner so that there was nowhere left for her to go (sheíd wanted to be caught all along -- she wouldnít 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 impatience.
Both panicked and excited, Leia closed her eyes and felt his breath on the side of her neck.
"Now youíre 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 didnít 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 theyíd died, to laying wide awake at night, thrashing oneís 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 wouldnít 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 naÔvetť that firmly cemented her belief in absolute justice and truth, and old enough to know that those fragmented memories of her real mother werenít going to get any clearer without help. Sheíd 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 with her. At eleven, she had been certain if she asked her father for more information he would tell her the truth.
"Youíre driving me crazy," he said finally.
"I canít sleep."
"Well donít 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 around. Then she would have to explain that sheíd hid it in the first place, that sheíd 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 sheíd 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 wasnít giving out answers this night -- if it was actually night anywhere civilized.
Until recently, her entire relationship with Han Solo had been neatly divided, separated into mental datafiles and specialized compartments. Lately, she couldnít even remember which of their conversations had taken place a year ago, on Bakura, or last week in the deepest thicket of the Endor forest. She was confused about why they hadnít been lovers a year ago. Surely she hadnít always loved him, but she couldnít remember not loving him, and in the present, she was terrified of being apart from him. Thatís 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 Hanís 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 didnít do it on purpose," she insisted.
It kept staring at her.
The Triad will-
"And he said he didnít care, not really," she added. "I believe him."
Again, it stared.
Before she left, she flipped it over, 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.
"Iím 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 oneís 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. "Arenít we all?"
"Not that father," she amended quickly, for she wouldnít think about that father now. Not ever, if she could help it, which at times she couldnít. Instead, she concentrated on not moving her legs and tried to picture her adopted fatherís face, but it was crumpled and creased, smudged from over-handling.
The Corellianís body remained taut as a wire, as if he wasnít 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 donít." 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. Thereís a difference. And no, I donít worry about stuff like that."
"I wouldnít," she assured him, on the verge of sounding self-effacing -- she hadnít intended taunt or threaten him with the powers she might one day have. She didnít even want them.
"What it is about Bail? I mean, It must be something if youíre up about it. Thatís not like you."
"Itís 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 Millenium 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 didnít 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 didnít usually bother her. Not like this.
Lukeís 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 back 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 couldnít remember the when or where, or how much longer after that it had been when theyíd told her of her motherís death, but the meeting had occurred.
She could hear her real motherís grief-stricken voice saying, "Bail, you have to promise me ..."
Promise what? The rest was disembodied noise.
Theyíd been familiar; acquaintances, friends, more than perfect strangers, as her father had claimed. Perfect strangers didnít 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 didnít move from its position against the doorframe, and they were both silent until it occurred to her that even he didnít always know how to handle everything.
"I couldnít sleep," she whispered.
"Somethingís been eating you all day."
"Nothingís been eating me."
"Sweetheart, Iím no Jedi-" he began to say, coming around the chair. He wore only a beige fuzzy blanket and sleep-rumpled expression.
Iím no Jedi, but I know you, he meant. Han probably didnít 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 sheíd told him who Darth Vader was? After the horrors heíd 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. Itís 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 didnít seem fair that she alone should remember her.
"Okay." Han deliberated, sinking into the opposite seat. "However, he may not have felt he had a choice. The powers that be made choices calculated to protect you two that we canít even fathom."
"I know his name," she added. "Owen and Beru, even Obi-Wan didnít 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 never met -- that he didnít know it. It wasnít true; I remember."
"Youíre 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. Iím not suffering from space-induced dementia and hallucinating."
"I didnít say that."
Her wavering gaze came to rest on the floor. "Iím 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 sheíd known they would.
"Han, do you remember your parents?" She looked up as she asked.
"No, Sweetheart. No I donít."
There wasnít 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. Heíd 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.
Or it was a trick of the light from passing solar systems.
It was all just as well.
It doesnít matter any longer, she reminded herself, accepting the silent offer and going to rest on his lap where he enclosed her within the blanket as though sheíd just come in from the bitter cold.
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