October 1999 - July 24, 2001

Disclaimer: Here I go with the intellectual trespassing again. Happy birthday, Ellen! And, um, thanks for the beta. Do not archive this story without permission.

Two reasons

They came out of hyperdrive over the night side of Coruscant. It glittered crazily in the dark, as though someone had wound strings of lights together to make a ball, a bright shiny toy, and Han wondered if it would all fall apart if he got hold of a loose end and tugged a little. Like the New Republic, he thought, taking the Falcon down in a lazy swoop, something that looked good from the right angle, but—

He couldn't make himself finish the metaphor, and it was a bad one, anyway. Better to concentrate on flying. Next to him, Luke sat in silence, leaning forward a little, staring at those strings of light as they came closer, searching intently. Han knew what he was looking for, and knew when he found it, too. It was just another building, owned by the Gannery-Ktif banking and insurance group. Just another building, except that it had been constructed on top of the remains of the Jedi temple. Last time they'd been to Coruscant, Luke had made Han go with him on the visitors' tour of Gannery-Ktif, and had vanished partway through, leaving Han to listen to nearly two standard hours of architectural nonsense mixed with not-so-amusing banking anecdotes. Luke had reappeared just as it was time to leave, looking so withdrawn and melancholy that Han had bitten back all his I-told-you-sos.

"There's the Galactic Senate building," he said instead, an inane distraction, as Luke could hardly fail to notice the single largest structure on Coruscant appearing on the viewscreen. In use again, for its original purpose, although it looked as though restorations were far from finished. "If they add any more glass walls they'll have speeders going through the diplomats' apartments."

Luke came back, blinking his eyes, once again in the same world. "It's good for the economy," he said. "All the rebuilding."

"Sure." Han dropped down further, into one of the upper-level travel lanes, and slowed the Falcon down. "But once everything's built and paid for, there's still the politics." There, ahead, was the landing platform he wanted. "And back on J'tel they didn't have the money to build in the first place." A solitary figure stood there, waiting for them. "And we're going to have to explain that to your sisterly worshipfulness, princess I-don't-need-any-bodyguards-because-everyone-loves-the-New-Republic Leia Organa."

The Falcon touched down like a butterfly on a flower, and while Han ran a couple of post-flight checks on his baby, Luke was already heading outside. By the time Han got down the ramp, Luke had walked up to Leia and was reaching out to her as she reached out for him. Han made sure the ramp went up smoothly, took a few deep breaths. Coruscant and the sweet smell of pollution. He looked at the two of them, locked in a tight embrace. They could have been posing for a picture, Luke all in black, Leia in white, her dark hair tugged out of its elaborate braids and flying like a banner in the wind while Luke's blond head bent towards her.

They were beautiful. Both of them. Han patted the Falcon reassuringly, caught himself at it, broke away, and walked towards them. Leia saw him over Luke's shoulder and smiled. "Welcome back," she said, and stepped away from Luke, held out a hand.

Han took it, kissed it while executing a perfectly correct bow, then straightened up and winked at her. "I hope you've got dinner waiting, princess."

"You've let him get too thin again," she said sternly, nodding towards Luke. "Come on, both of you." Leia took one of Luke's hands in her free one and led them both inside.

The roar of wind and traffic died away as the door slid shut behind them. Inside, it was pleasantly warm. Not much seemed to have changed since they'd left; some rooms were fully furnished and decorated, others looked as though the builders had downed tools and gone on strike. Leia never got round to having the work finished; she was too busy learning how to be chancellor. Getting a good look at her under the bright hallway lights, Han saw that there were dark circles under her eyes, and Luke wasn't the only one who'd lost weight. Han scowled; neither of them could afford it.

It seemed that the chancellor of the New Republic still ate in the kitchen. Dinner really was waiting — the table was set for three and crowded with serving bowls and platters and spice jars and jugs and bottles. Luke pulled out a chair for Leia and waited until she was seated before choosing his own place. Looking at them, Han couldn't see the smiles, but he could feel them smiling, as though the ceremony were a private joke between them. He sat down ungracefully and poured himself a glass from the nearest decanter, looking suspiciously at the contents. "So, I guess everything's been quiet around here while we were gone."

"Much more quiet," Leia agreed.

"And that's why I don't see those bodyguards Luke hired for you." Luke was no help, spooning something orange out of a bowl and refusing to look up and meet Han's eyes.

"I gave them the night off," Leia said serenely. "I don't need bodyguards when you and Luke are here." He barely saw her move, but there was a blaster in her hand, pointing straight at him. "And I think I still remember how to use one of these."

"All right," Han grumbled. Then he couldn't help but smile just a little, the corner of his mouth curling up despite everything at the sight of her like that, armed and wind-tangled and resolute. "Is that how you're planning to keep the senate in check?"

"There are days," she said, and took the bowl that Luke passed her. "There are days..."

The food was good, simple and plentiful, and Han felt himself grow a little more mellow. J'tel had been harsh, inhospitable and uncomfortable. He still felt a bit dusty, probably looked it, too. They talked idly of little things during dinner. Leia outlined the plans she had for renovating the bathrooms, and Luke teased her that it would never get done. Han ate and listened. When he reached to pour himself a third glass of wine, he felt Luke's sideways glance and ignored it.

"I like this sauce," Luke said, a little too brightly, or what passed for bright with him. "I didn't think you'd have time to cook." Leia looked up from under her lashes, and didn't answer. "You didn't have time to cook."

She sighed, and smiled. "The caterers on the fifty-second floor are excellent. Tell me how things went on J'tel."

"They went to hell," Han said, spearing a small piece of deep-fried seafruit a little too hard, fork scraping against the plate. "We didn't exactly win any popularity contests."

"J'tel is not currently interested in joining the New Republic," Luke said. "They have a strong tradition of.... They've always been part of the Outer Rim common interest group, and the idea of allying themselves with the center worlds is new to them."

Han snorted. "It's a question of simple economics," he said. "They only have one thing to sell on J'tel, and if they join the New Republic it becomes illegal. They're not interested in being part of something that would protect them by killing the only trade they've got."

"But surely if they're offered an alternative to the slave trade, they'll take it," Leia said. "They're selling their own children — it's like selling their future."

"It's worked for a couple hundred years. You've been in office for eight standard months. They didn't trust the old Republic, and they don't trust you."

Leia just nodded; Luke was the one who looked hurt, somehow, the same look that kept passing over his face ever since they'd left J'tel. Han scowled and finished his glass. The wine decanter had been moved out of his reach. Luke's doing, since he'd seen no hand reaching out. Moisture had beaded on the outside of the greenish glass, and he could see his own dark fingerprints in it. The drops left in his glass were jewel-dark, but through the glass, the wine looked brown as dead earth.

"It's all right," Leia said. "I only asked you to find out how things stood. It wasn't even a formal talk." She stretched, hands laced over her head, and Han heard her spine pop. "It gives me more to go on in putting together a proposal." She sounded casual, as though rebuilding the J'tel economy from the ground up was just a question of finding the right words. "Luke, did you find...?"

"Nothing," Luke said, a little too fast, shooting a look at Han from the corner of his eye.

Han turned his head. "What were you looking for?"

Luke stared at the table. "It was nothing more than a rumor."

"I found hints in an old senate protocol that the Jedi might have had a hideout on J'tel," Leia explained, digging through a bowl of candied fruit for her favorite sour slices. "But Luke didn't think it was likely, since J'tel was unfriendly to the old Republic, too."

"I see." Han pushed his chair back and stood up. "I need some air."

He walked away from the warm light in the kitchen, back the way they'd come, out through the heavy door with the too-simple lock codes and onto the landing platform. A cold high wind swept across it, and he slapped on the grav-increase in a moment of self-preservation. It was a long, long way down. On newly heavy feet, he wandered out to the Falcon and leaned against one of her landing struts. The air smelled filthy, and he could almost feel it coating the inside of his throat, his lungs. Han clenched his hands. The wine had a bitter aftertaste.

Coruscant didn't have much of a night sky. There were too many lights, there was too much smog, the stars lost somewhere in the orange glow. With all its skyways and its heavy traffic, the planet still seemed locked away from the freedom of space, and Han wanted nothing more than to palm the Falcon open and take off. He hated Coruscant, and there was only one reason why he came back again and again.

Two reasons.

He kicked his heel idly against the strut and watched the movads on the building across the street-canyon, colorful incitements to buy candy, liquor, rooftop apartments, speeders. Leia's face suddenly smiled at him, covering at least fifty floors, polished and made up. Politics. Probably you needed to be as big as that, Han thought cynically, to be noticed someplace as big as the Senate building.

The wind nipped at his skin through his shirt. Down in the lower levels, where the wind never reached, Coruscant was heavy with the heat of a million machines and houses and living beings. Up here, it was cold. He could go into the Falcon and get his jacket.

Han didn't move. He could get into the Falcon and leave. Except that he couldn't leave.

After a while he began to shiver. Either he was nostalgic for Hoth, or really, really stupid. It probably wasn't wise to think too much about that, and he made his heavy-footed way back again, remembering snatches of Coruscant's urban legends about those who had been blown off their platforms and pulled by flightlane turbulence halfway around the planet before smashing through the window of someone's kitchen. Han thumbed in the door code. The keypad needed upgrading; any fool could get through a lock code like this one.

Inside, he noticed the silence first. The whine of the wind cut off with the closing of the door, and he'd thought to hear voices replace it, but the apartment was quiet and almost completely dark. He walked towards the thin spill of light from the kitchen and found the table empty, Leia in the act of rinsing out the last bowl. She looked over her shoulder at him. "Luke's in the guestroom," she said.

He leaned against the doorjamb and watched her as she piled the bowl on top of the others in the sink rather than put it in the built-in cleaning unit. She'd pulled her hair into a loose tail, tied with a scrap of yellow fabric. There was a neat economy to her movements, like Luke's, though he knew Leia could switch at any moment into the intensity of bigger gestures and louder words, make the transition from invisibility to the focus of attention seemingly just by straightening her spine.

The wine had been put away, and he didn't miss it. Leia turned from the dirty dishes and walked towards him, but stopped by the table, watching him with troubled eyes. Han strode over to her until he was closer than he should be, looking down into her face. She was very pretty. She was more than just pretty. Han searched her eyes and saw it there, an acknowledgement of the heat between them, all the things they'd never done, all the ways they'd never touched. If he kissed her fingers, there would be sugar under her nails from the candied fruit. If he reached out to brush the fine strands of hair away from her cheek—

Leia grabbed his wrist in a bruising grip and wrenched his hand away, pushing him backwards until they were literally at arm's length.

This look, he knew. And still he twisted his hand in her grip to brush his thumb against the inside of her arm. His voice came out a little hoarser than he'd anticipated. "Luke would understand."

She flung his hand away, and his knuckles skimmed the edge of the table, the edge of pain. And there it was, the way she straightened and flared into life and took possession of the air around her: princess, ruler, politician.

"Yes, Luke would understand. Luke would forgive." Leia gesticulated as she spoke, her hands moving like birds' wings. "Don't you think I know that? Don't you think I see it in his eyes every time he looks at us? Luke would forgive us if we cut his liver out and fed it to a rancor!" She took a deep breath. "He'd fade away like a ghost, and we'd never see him again. I don't want him to have to understand, Han."

When she said it, he could see it, blond hair and blue eyes washing out into a translucent grey, disappearing into the smog layer. Han swallowed, hard. "I know. It's just that I want—"

"You want. Is this all about what you want?"

"No!" He didn't know how to find the words to explain to her. It hurt to see her like this, and then he thought about Luke, and that hurt, too.

"No," she agreed, to his surprise, quietly. "It's not. And it should be. Han, you can't give us both what we want, what we need. You just can't." He tried to look into her eyes. Leia half-turned, and when she spoke next, it was to the wall across the room. "The guestroom hasn't moved, you know."

Han rubbed his knuckles. He moved away from the table, went to the cooler unit and pulled it open, took out the carafe of wine, and drank straight from the neck. Three deep swallows, then he put it back and crossed the kitchen floor. The light arrowed out into the hallway, pointing the way for him.

He ran a hand through his hair as he walked; the wind had left it snarled and spiky. Walking past empty or half-furnished rooms, he could almost see what they would be like later on, filled with guests and conversation and expensive flowers in expensive vases. She would be completely at home, then.

Stepping through the guestroom door, Han saw that Leia had added curtains and a rug in matching deep jewel tones, green and blue. Luke sat by the window, looking out, and the only light was a small lamp on the other side of the room. All in black, he was barely visible, and Han stalked over before he could think, dropped to his knees and flung his arms around Luke's waist, pressed his face hard against Luke's shoulderblade. Kept still, counting breaths and heartbeats.

After a while, Luke moved his left hand until it rested lightly on Han's reddened knuckles. His breathing didn't change. "You can tell me," he said softly. "Are you—"

"Staying. I'm staying, Luke. If you want me."

No answer, just the interlacing of warm, strong fingers with his own.

And he wanted to say to Luke that they should leave right now, get in the Falcon and take off, away from the wind and the smog and the politics and goddamn Gannery-Ktif, all of it. Away, just the two of them, forever.

But he knew they'd come back. He knew he'd always come back. For one reason.

Two reasons.

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