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He’s panicking.

Except, Jedi don’t panic, so he’s not really panicking – just. Experiencing a rational amount of concern regarding his niece and nephew’s general whereabouts in relation to himself.

Right.

Because twenty minutes after Luke enthusiastically volunteers for Babysitting Duty, he is forced to draw the conclusion that it is almost a certainty that Master Yoda will be turning in his metaphorical ghostly grave, muttering irritably about how a Jedi should not be spending his time frantically catching toddling babies using the Force before they could run off ramps or impale themselves on sharp looking tools, because, not the way to use the Force, that is, and hasn’t Luke learned anything?

But then, Luke decides he really doesn’t care early on – somewhere in between definitely panicking and stumbling off the Falcon’s ramp with a dangling Jacen in his arms, drool in his hair, and a plush mewsk toy sticking out the back of his pants to face a shocked-looking, possibly-nervous-but-that’s-ridiculous-because-why-would-she-be-nervous-and-she’d-probably-punch-him-for-entertaining-the-idea Mara Jade.

Well.

***

(The decision was made, as all great decisions are, in the middle of a crisis.

Of sorts.

“Look,” grumbles Han as he tries to wipe child-friendly craft glue out of his eyes, “we can’t keep doing this. We need – something.”

“Something?” This from Leia, engaged in the infinitely more difficult task of extricating the glue from her hair. “Something, as in, can we please move out of the damned used-to-be-Imperial Palace and live with the kids in the Falcon as the nomadic family of semi-diplomatic vigilante Jedi politicians we are?”

“That,” says Han, “is not what I meant. And I think we established years ago that I am anything but a politician.”

“It was implied.”

“It was inferred.”

“Right,” says Leia, her hand dropping down from her hair to play with the shirt covering the not-yet-quite-swollen curve of her belly. “So.”

“We need an extra room.”

“That was also implied.”

“No,” he says, and his efforts to stop the ridiculously huge grin that tugs at his lips from forming are utterly useless. “Because you’re – ‘cause of the baby.”

“Again, implied.”

“So?”

“So, an extra room.”

"With high level security codes on the door?”

“Well, that too.”

“We need a nursery. A proper one.”

“A portable nursery.”

They look at each other.

“You know,” begins Leia, “there’s a whole space –”

“On the starboard side of the –”

“The Falcon’s cabin,” she finishes for him.

“You read my mind, sweetheart,” as the last of the glue comes out. “C’mon, I’ll put the kids to bed.”

“Fa-con!” says Jaina, at the same time Jacen says, “goo!”

“You got it, kiddos,” says their father, and doesn’t even flinch when Jaina’s glue-covered hand is planted directly on his mouth.

Leia grins.)

***

(It could be said that this is a beginning, of sorts – “and thus, the epic tale of the quest to build a nursery on a starship and that can’t be that hard, I’m sure hundreds of beings have done it before oh ye of little faith and that means you, Lando, begins” – but it’s really more of an awkward disorganized stumble than an epic beginning, and Leia firmly decides early on that this is because they have far too much stuff.

“Stuff,” repeats Han slowly, sitting up on the edge of their bed and looking at Leia, who is standing on the other side of the room in an old purple bathrobe with her hands on her hips and her “I’m going to overthrow an Empire” look on her face. The twins have been blissfully asleep for a little over an hour.

“Yep,” she says, her foot tapping once on the floor. “Stuff. Stuff. We have boxes of junk just sitting around. Where did we even get all of it?”

“No idea,” he says. “I just guess at one point between living by the skin of our teeth from an hour-to-hour basis and not knowing if we’d still be alive the next day and with sith-all else but the clothes on our backs for fear the massively corrupt and evil fascist government that wanted us personally dead would take that away from us too, and getting married and having twins –” he takes an exaggerated breath “–we accumulated stuff.”

“Funny,” she says, pursing her lips. “Real poetic.”

He smirks, and she is suddenly reminded of that same grin, nearly ten years younger.

“I aim to please, princess.”)

***

(“Okay,” says Luke. “So you want to build a nursery. It can’t be that hard, right?”

“Right,” agrees his brother-in-law, head and shoulders vanished into a box of – well – stuff. “Shoot down a couple TIEs and get tortured by Sith Lords and building nurseries becomes a piece ‘a cake.”

“Sure,” says Luke. “So where are you going to start?”

“Not a kriffing clue.”)

***

“Mara! Um. Hi.”

“Unca woowk,” says Jaina seriously.

“Pitty!” says Jacen, waving his chubby fists around in front of him.

“Uh,” says Mara, “Skywalker. Right. Hello.” And looks as though she is fully prepared to turn around flee, her back straight as a ramrod and her eyebrows creased slightly in the middle, but any pending attempts are stalled when Leia’s voice sounds loudly from behind the box of assorted blankets she’s carrying down the Falcon’s ramp.

“I told you that it needs to be put a little to the right!”

(Han’s voice is just as loud, if not a little muffled.)

“It is a little to the right!”

“Not your right, my right!”

“That was your right, sweetheart –”

“No, you nerf, my right’s on your left, and –”

“If your worship could just make up her mind –”

“We had this conversation an hour ago, Solo –”

“We totally did not, Solo.”

“That’s Organa-Solo to you, hotsho –” A start of surprise, boot-clad feet pausing on the end of the ramp, eyebrows shooting up infinitesimally behind the crate. And then, with a soft smile that tugs slightly at her lips and makes her big eyes twinkle knowingly: “Oh, hello, Mara!”

The vaguely-alarmed-definitely-uncomfortable-why-is-she-even-alarmed-and-uncomfortable glance that is shot in Luke’s direction would be amusing, Luke thinks, were it given by anyone but Mara.

***

(There is, of course, the immediate requirement of a crib. A pair of two-year-olds and a newborn on the way, and you kind of really need a crib, says Han, leveling the wrench at his wife as she scrolls through a datapad filled with jumbled notes and schematics and okay, Han, we’ll make the damned crib, but you should probably note that neither of us is trained in the art of crib-building and knowing us, this will most definitely end in catastrophe.

“It won’t end in a catastrophe,” says Han. “I know what I’m doing, alright?”

Leia frowns, and bounces Jacen on her hip.

“Kib!”

“’S right,” agrees Han. “Crib.”

“Are you sure we won’t spot-weld something erroneously incorrect to the wall of the cabin.”

“Hey,” he says, grinning as Jaina sucks cheerfully on his index finger, “it’s me.”)

***

(They spot-weld the railing on backwards, and Han swears. Loudly.

“I’m not above starting a swear jar,” says Leia, sounding entirely too smug, her braided hair twisted around the crown of her head and her tunic rolled up at the sleeves. Han glares at her spot on the edge of the bed, sorting through the jumble of tools fished out of the Falcon’s storage compartments.

“I could just as easily make you do this.”

“Oh, good,” says Leia, leaning over to give Jacen a peck on the nose as he bounces up and down in the makeshift purple papoose, his sister gurgling happily beside him. “So we’ll actually do it right this time.” Jacen blows a raspberry, and Leia winks. “Your daddy’s a silly guy, you know that?”

Han sighs.)

***

(Luke’s claim to Babysitting Duty is made the next day, all careless grins that are more farmboy than Jedi Master and isn’t he the most self-sacrificing, noble brother there ever was.

“Just to spend time with my niece and nephew,” he says, dumping the latest armful of stuffed kiddy toys – the plush blue bantha is particularly endearing – he brought on the Falcon’s ramp.

“Positively martyred,” says Leia, depositing Jaina into his arms. “Careful, now, they can walk on their own these days.”

“Ah,” says Luke, “we’ll be fine.”)

***

"Fine" was perhaps not the most apt of descriptors, Luke thinks – his stomach doing a funny thing where it swoops downwards and then upwards and he’s not sure what that’s all about even though he’s actually kind of sure – as he smiles widely at the person in front of him, lips quirking slightly as he watches her lift her chin and narrow her eyes, almost (almost) out of habit. Jaina breaks the awkward silence by sticking her finger in Luke’s eye.

Ow!

Mara snorts in spite of herself, and Leia pretends she’s not smothering a grin.

“Um,” says Luke.

“Kib!” says Jacen.

Mara seems to shift her weight slightly to her left leg, swinging her arms a little where they’re hanging at her sides. “I just – was around. Doing business with Karrde, and – and I thought I’d drop by. And. Um. Say – hello.”

“Hello,” repeats Leia, smile widening, her flushed-with-exertion cheeks dimpling. She calmly sets down the box of blankets on the collapsible table in front of the ramp and tugs down at the hem of the over-large white shirt covering her torso and hanging all the way down to the tops of her knees, as though ex-Emperor’s Hands who until recently had been trying to murder her brother are a thing she greets every day. “It’s nice to see you again,” as she wipes her dusty hands on a small rag. “Would you like to stay for lunch?”

Luke opens his mouth as though to say – something, Mara isn’t quite sure what, and that unnerves her more than she’d like, so she beats him to it.

“I really think I should be –”

“Sweetheart, where’s the hydrosp – oh hey Mara, how’re you.”

“Fine,” says Mara, swinging her hands again, as though she isn’t sure what to do with them. “So, I said hi. I should probably get –”

“There’s lunch in the galley if you want,” continues Han, pushing his welding goggles up his forehead and turning to Leia. “Where’d you say the ‘spanner was again?”

“Second bunk to the right,” says Leia, neatly tugging her worn cargo boots off of her feet and scooping Jaina up off the floor where she had been deliberately waddling towards Mara’s legs. “And go put on a proper shirt, please.”

Han frowns, as though only just noticing his grease-smudged undershirt.

“Says the lady with no pants on.”

“This thing comes down to my knees,” says Leia primly, expertly dodging Jaina’s drool-covered hand and making her way back into the Falcon.

“If you stopped wearing my shirts then I’d be able to wear something other than my undershirt!”

“Semantics!”

“Well –”

“I, personally, am greatly in favor of the Keeping The Pants On Rule,” says Luke from the edge of the ramp, trying to pull Jacen’s sticky fingers out of his hair and glancing at Mara as though they’re supposed to be sharing some sort of inside joke.

(She raises an eyebrow and smirks slightly, in spite of herself.)

Han pushes his goggles farther up his forehead, his bangs sticking out even more than usual, and grins at his brother-in-law. “Yeah, come to think of it, I dunno why I’m objecting.”

Luke sighs through his nose.

“Pats!” says Jacen happily, giving up on Luke’s hair and going for his nose instead.

***

(Leia starts taking afternoons off work early on, slipping down to the docks in full senatorial regalia, bestowing a quick kiss upon each grease-smudged family member before stripping away her white robes and slipping into The Old Shirt; thin white fabric worn through years of wear and tear and sweat and wash, sticking on her old combat boots and letting her braid fall down her back before she deems herself ready to help Han expand the captain’s cabin space into the next hold.

The roof nearly collapses in on them twice; she seems to always have engine oil on her fingers; and once, she nearly knocks Han in the nose with the other end of a durasteel plank – but it’s nice, steady work, and it reminds her of their quiet days en route to Bespin, which shouldn’t really be comforting, but it is, she thinks, in an odd, cathartic sort of sense.

And, honestly, The Shirt does fall to her knees, so pants are a necessity that are no longer a necessity, and really, it’s more comfortable this way, anyway.

Han teases her about it twice before realizing how advantageous this decision is.)

***

(Once, Mon Mothma visits the apartment, her sweeping white senatorial robes exchanged for an elegant blue cloak, short hair brushed neatly to the side and back as straight as ever.

“Captain So – I mean, Han. I merely came to see how Leia – how all of you, really, are doing,” she says, clasping her hands in front of her midriff and smiling slightly in a way that suggests her presence may also have something to do with the smudge of yellow paint in Leia’s braid that morning in the council meeting.

“We’re doin’ great,” says, Han, hand on the door jamb and trying to balance a baby in his other arm, looking vaguely-nervous and vaguely-surprised and unsure as to why he looks either, reaching up absently to stop Jaina from poking her finger into his eye and adjusting his grip on her against his thin grey house-shirt. “C’mon, Jaini-girl, you wanna blind your old man a second time?”

“Dasss!” coos Jaina, reaching for his eye again.

“Uh,” says Han, “Leia’s in the kids’ room, if you want me to get her.”

“Oh, it’s no big deal, really,” says Mon. “I was just wondering how things were, that’s all.”

“If you came to ask why there was paint in my hair this morning,” comes Leia’s voice, loud and sudden, from behind them, causing Han to start slightly and visibly bite down on his lip to stop himself from saying anything he might regret, “it’s because we’re building a nursery. Han, can you fetch Jasa some clean clothes? He got jam on his shirt, somehow.”

“Jam?” repeats Han incredulously, dodging Jaina’s fingers for a third time. “We don’t even have jam.”

“I know,” says Leia grimly, handing him a sticky-looking washcloth. “Winter’s cleaning him up now, and the jumpers are in –”

“Third drawer to the right,” says Han, shaking his head in what could probably pass for awe-struck amusement. “I know.”

And Leia turns to Mon with a smile on her lips that makes the older woman wonder why she would have ever imagined Leia to be happy in the years past, because that tiny little smile shines more brightly than a thousand core suns and her cheeks haven’t even dimpled –

“Come inside and I’ll make you some tea,” says the young woman, “and you can tell me what new crisis has come up in the three hours I’ve been away from the office and I’ll see what I can do.”

“My dear girl,” says Mon, smiling tiredly, “I don’t know what we’d do without you.”

“Probably build nurseries that didn’t have indiscernible blobs of paint on the wall masquerading as X-wings,” says Leia, pushing the sleeves of her thin tunic up her arms and grinning.)

***

“So,” says Mara loudly, crossing her arms in front of her chest and pointedly staring at the spot where Leia had disappeared into the Falcon. “Another one on the way, huh?”

“You should try it sometime,” Leia’s voice sounds again, her long braid swinging down her back as she remerges from the ship sans baby and carrying another box, this time filled with what appears to be old spare bunk parts. “It’s really quite fun.”

Luke makes a funny choking sound that might be laughter and might be horror, and Han looks like he’s fighting a decidedly inappropriate grin.

Mara stares.

“Whatever she meant,” says Han, “I fully endorse that statement. You stayin’ for lunch or not?”

“I really didn’t mean –” Mara takes a breath, her arms crossing tighter. “I only came for – I should go.”

“What?” Luke pulls Jacen’s fingers from his nose. “But you just got here.”

“Yeah, and we’ve got loads of food,” says Han, leaning against the bulkhead. “You might as well stay.”

Mara narrows her eyes at him.

“You’re obviously busy, Solo. I don’t want to impo –”

“That,” says Han cheerfully, “is a load of bantha shit. Sit your ass down in the galley and eat, Jade; you look like you haven’t gotten a proper meal in a month.” Which is not true, but it’s the principle of the thing – the fact that for some reason he seems to care – that makes Mara bite back a sarcastic remark.

“Swear Jar,” Leia reminds her husband, eyebrows raised, as she comes back out of the Falcon again with Jaina balanced in one arm. The thin white fabric of her shirt is stretched to the side, making the swell of her stomach more noticeable. If Mara cared (which she doesn’t), she’d say that their playful familiarity, the easiness of the way the five of them fall into place together, makes her heart do funny things. But she doesn’t care. “Really, Mara, it’s no trouble at all. You’re welcome here any time you want.”

She glances at Luke, who hasn’t said anything and is calmly watching her as Jacen tries to do a handstand in his lap, foot nearly poking him in the eye.

“’Sides,” says Han, the grin returning in full force. “Luke’s just been dying to see you –”

“I’m hungry,” declares Luke, sudden and loud and a nervous (but why would he be nervous?) grin on his lips, from around the sticky toddler feet in his mouth. “We should really go eat, Han, don’t you think?”

She stares at him. And then turns to glare at Han, who is still wearing that stupid grin.

“Look. I was just in the neighborhood and thought I’d come say hi. I’m not staying for lunch.”

***

(When asked later, Han will firmly declare that the copious amounts of yellow paint smeared in his wife’s hair is not his fault.

Surprisingly enough, Leia agrees.

“We should paint the wall.”

“Paint the wall? What the blazes do we need to paint the wall for?”

“Ambiance.”

Ambiance. I dunno where you've been this whole time, sweetheart, but I don't think two-year-olds really appreciate this whole ambiance thing.”

“Oh, you know what I mean.”

“I really don’t.”

“It’ll be like – memories! Something they can look at and remember that their parents put up on the wall for them –”

"Woah, woah, woah – we’re actually painting – things – on there?”

“Well, yes. I was thinking starships might be appropriate.”

“Leia.”

“Yes dear?”

Leia.

“Han.”

“I can’t paint.”

“Well, tough. Neither can I.”

“Fa-con!” says Jacen.

“Fa-con!” Jaina agrees.

Han sighs.)

***

Mara, as it turns out, stays for lunch.

***

(Lando’s help is enlisted when Han decides that glow-in-the-dark stars are an essential part of Leia’s “ambiance”.

“All kids have glow-in-the-dark stars on their bedroom ceilings –”

“Han –”

“Didn’t you have them? It’s – it’s just a thing.

“I don’t know,” says Leia, arms crossed over her chest and not sure whether she should be amused or frustrated. “Did you?

Han pauses, caught mid-gesticulation, his eyebrows slightly creased. And runs a paint-stained hand through his hair.

“Well. No.”

Leia bites her lip, pretends she’s not studying the flecks of green in his eyes.

“Alright,” she says, taking a deep breath and uncrossing her arms. “Call Lando. We’ll have a whole galaxy up there, I guess.”

He doesn’t do anything then, except smile sheepishly, but when he catches her emerging with the last of the paint buckets a half-hour later, he twirls her around and presses her against the wall, briefly and oh-so-gently, and she smiles against his lips.)

***

“Skywalker.”

“Mmm.”

“Skywalker.

“Yes, Mara?”

“What. What – in the nine Corellian hells – are these. Supposed to be.”

"Glow-in-the-dark stars.”

Glow in the d – you know what, I’m not even going to –”

“Ask? I came to that conclusion myself. I don’t know where Lando and Chewie got these from, but –”

“Who the hell has glow-in-the-dark stars in their bedroom?”

“Jacen and Jaina, apparently.”

“But –”

“Oh, hey, there’s one stuck in your hair.”

“I swear to the Force, Skywalker, if you –”

“Ah – look, there, it came out easily.”

“Stop looking at me like that.”

“Like what?”

“Like you know something I don’t.”

“But I don’t know anything you don’t. In fact, I could argue that you know more things I don’t than I know more things you don’t, because – please tell me you didn’t just slap a star on my forehead.”

“Serves you right for dragging me into this mess.”

***

(The complicated papoose system that is rigged in the Falcon’s main cabin space is abandoned when Chewie arrives, and if he has any problems with Jacen and Jaina using his shoulders as a set of monkey bars, he hides it well.

Leia smiles widely at him and Luke says that they should take a holoplast and Lando chuckles and rolls his eyes, but Han’s grin is widest, his eyes shining with something like pride and something like awe, with his arms crossed loosely over his rumpled shirt and the laugh-lines around his eyes suddenly, brightly apparent – and Leia decides later that his happiness is contagious, because she can’t stop smiling, either.

Eventually, Lando cons Threepio into taking three holopasts, and Leia claims them all, pinning them to the space on the wall above their half-built crib and kissing her husband on the cheek.)

***

It is when the baby is dumped on her lap that Mara decides she needs to leave immediately.

“Relax,” says Luke, infuriatingly cheerful. “They don’t bite. Usually.”

“Pitty!” says Jacen, giving Mara a gummy smile and reaching for her hair.

“Oh, no you don’t,” growls Mara, tugging his tiny fingers away from the red strands. “You’ve got baby goop all over your fingers, buddy boy.”

“Mawa!” says Jacen.

“Will you look at that,” says Luke, blowing a raspberry on Jaina’s cheek. “He likes you.”

Mara glares at him, and Luke thinks that she’d have probably told him just where he could stick his errant niece and nephew if Jacen hadn’t chosen that moment to lean (though his leaning is more akin to toppling) into her shoulders and bestow a sloppy not-yet-two-year-old kiss on her cheek.

“Oh,” says Mara.

“Pitty!” repeats Jacen, while Jaina giggles with delight. Luke’s grin is so wide Mara is surprised his face hasn’t split in half.

"I’m taking that as a compliment,” she tells the baby in her lap, bouncing her knees slightly, and deliberately doesn’t meet Luke’s eye.

***

(“Luke, I swear to Force.”

“What?”

“This needs to stop.”

“What? Am I not allowed to spoil my niece and nephew?”

“Yes, little brother, but this –”

“Oh, no way. I’m definitely older.”

“First of all, you have no way of knowing for sure –”

“Jedi intuition,” he replies promptly, crossing his arms over his chest. “And I don’t see what I’m doing wrong.”

She turns and gives him a Look.

“Luke.”

“Yes?”

“Luke.”

"What?"

“If you show up one more time with a loaded armful of toys, Iwill walk around without pants for the rest of the week.”

“You don’t mean it,” his face utterly scandalized.

“Oh,” says his sister, grimly scrutinizing the three rows of stuffed baby toys lining the wall of the half-finished crib, sunny-yellow backdrop of muddled paint causing their numbers to be even more apparent. “Oh, I do.”)

***

It is a general consensus that Lando definitely, certifiably, one hundred and ten percent obtained the stars through less-than-legal dealings, and that they look like the least reputable glow-in-the-dark stars any of them has ever seen – if they could even be called stars. But Leia takes one look at the box, nods, and dumps a fistful into everyone’s hands as though there are no questions to be asked.

“Hey,” says Lando, as Chewie growls in agreement, “You’re the ones who wanted ‘em fast.”

“They’re lovely,” says Leia, while Han snorts loudly, and she turns to smile at Mara, who is hovering close to the cabin door in a way that suggests she has been trying to escape surreptitiously all afternoon but has either not had the will (unlikely) or the chance (a little more likely); she narrows her eyes at Leia’s smile and opens her mouth as though to rebut anything Leia is about to say – “Mara, are you familiar with the air space around Naboo?”

Mara stares.

“What?”

“The galactic quadrant surrounding the planet Naboo,” repeats Leia patiently, plucking a glow-in-the-dark thing out of the box and pinching it experimentally between her slender fingers.

“I – don’t know.”

“Good,” says Leia promptly, her smile widening. “You do that one. Luke, you’re doing Tatooine, I’ll do Alderaan, Lando gets Coruscant, Han – you do Corellia, of course, and Chewie, if you’d like, you can do Kashyyyk.”

“Sweetheart,” says Han, bouncing a half-asleep Jaina in his arms. “Are we plannin' on mapping the entire galaxy on the ceiling with these, uh –”

“Glow-in-the-dark stars,” supplies Lando from the corner.

“These,” says Han darkly, “are not glow-in-the-dark stars.”

“Actually,” says Leia, “that was kind of my plan.”

“You’re not serious,” says Han.

You were the one who wanted the stars, Solo.”

***

(Twice, the fate of the Galaxy is in grave danger and Leia’s immediate presence is required.

“To moderate the proceedings,” says General Bel Iblis over the grainy comm.-connection, the static just enough to mask the apology in his voice.

The third time, Han and Luke somehow manage to convince her that sitting down for ten minutes is more important than a pending civil war on the other side of the quadrant, and so she delegates the task of moderation to someone else and takes a nap on the living room couch, Jacen curled up against her chest.

“One of these days,” Han tells Luke later that evening, reluctantly sipping at his hot chocolate with a half-scowl on his face, “one of these days, she’ll actually be able to take a moment to breathe like a normal human being should be able to.”

“Mmm,” says Luke into his own mug of chocolate, and he nudges Han under the table with his foot. “Don’t worry. When the baby’s born she’ll have more free time.”

“Last time –”

“Last time,” Luke reminds him, “there was a Grand Admiral of the Imperial Navy trying to take over the galaxy and reduce the New Republic to smithereens, while simultaneously a totally cracked Dark Jedi tried to take over my and Mara’s minds, not to mention kidnap your babies. I don’t think anyone had time to take a calming breath.”

“You say that like it doesn’t happen all the damn time,” mutters Han, but there’s a crooked, reluctant grin tugging at his lips.

Luke takes a gulp of his chocolate and matches the grin

“I’d formally apologize for terribly unlucky genes, but then, you’re just as bad.”

“I’m still alive, aren’t I?”

“Sure, Han.”

Han dumps his hot chocolate in the sink in retaliation.)

***

When Mara finally gets around to making it to the exit ramp of the ship, the lights in the docking bay flickering in the night air of Coruscant and the blessed half-silence of a ship no longer holding over-excitable toddler twins ringing in her ears, she finds herself face-to-face with Leia Organa Solo.

To say that they had accomplished a lot that day would be – inaccurate, Mara decides, eyeing the other woman uncertainly and thinking of the confusing constellation of glow-in-the-dark not-stars plastered on the ceiling over a half-made crib in the disarrayed cabin. Her hand immediately jumps to the spot where Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber hung just that morning, before she tucked it firmly away in the back compartments of the cabin of her ship and went to see Karrde, all business and no-nonsense and then, oh, then, she somehow ended up here and she’s felt guilty all afternoon that she doesn’t have it on her.

But Leia is standing in front of her with an unreadable expression on her face, arms crossed loosely over her expanding midriff as she leans against the bulkhead in a gesture that is so very like her husband that Mara can’t help but raise an eyebrow.

“So,” says Mara. “I’d better get back to my ship.”

And then Leia smiles, and Mara thinks that of all the times she has seen this woman – from a podium in front of millions to in the middle of battle, teeth bared and hackles raised and ready to draw blood to protect her little circle of people, more important to her than a thousand positions of power; to teasing laughter dancing in her eyes as she kisses her husband and ruffles her brother’s hair – this. This posture, this expression, this soft light in the other woman’s eyes that seems to reach out to Mara without poking or prodding or any of – those things –

She finds that of all those pictures in her head, all of those faces, this one is the most powerful. Because she drops her hand from her empty belt and steps forward, mouth opening to say –

“Mara,” Leia beats her to it, her lips not-quite-smiling but at that point between rest and curving upwards that Mara would recognize as contentment, if she herself had ever experienced such a thing. “Thank you for staying today.”

“I,” says Mara, thrown off-guard. “I wasn’t really intending on –”

“I know,” says Leia, uncrossing her arms to prop one hand on her hip. “You looked just about ready to turn tail and fly out of there like a spooked pitten when I stepped off that ramp.”

Mara frowns. “Look, Organa-Solo –”

“And I appreciate,” continues Leia, ignoring Mara’s deliberate use of her surname, “that you stayed despite that, and helped out with the twins.”

"I’ve never handled children before,” Mara blurts, and is unsure as to why she does, but she does, and that makes all the difference.

Leia’s expression shifts the slightest bit. “But you handled them today,” she says. “And did a damn fine job.”

“Why are you –” she takes a deep breath, tries not to scowl. “Look. Thanks for – for thanking me, or whatever. But I seriously just stayed because you –”

And that is where Mara realizes the answer “because you asked me to, nicely and with kindness and genuine compassion and I’ve never actually had friends” is just about the most pathetic argument she can make so her mouth snaps shut and she bites her lip and watches as Leia’s smile widens, just barely.

“It’s not my business why you stayed,” she says. “But you did. And I guess my point here is that whatever you may think we think of you, we don’t.”

“I don’t think you think anything of me,” says Mara sharply, her hands twitching. “And even if you did, why should I care?”

Leia shrugs, and Mara finds that she doesn’t know what to say.

“Again, I don’t know. And, quite frankly, I’m not sure that I entirely care how much you do or do not give a damn about our opinions.” Her eyes light up with a twinkle of something akin to Han’s grin, earlier that morning. “You might want to consult Luke on that one. But I do want you to know that after – well. After everything you’ve helped us with, it would be silly if you felt you weren’t welcome to stay for something as simple as lunch. You know?”

Mara swallows.

“I’m not sure that I do,” she says.

"Well,” says Leia. “When you figure it out, pay us another visit.”

“You don’t owe me anything,” she says, not sure if it is a reminder to herself or a reminder to Leia.

Leia smiles, on last time, and steps past her into the Falcon, arms swinging at her sides, half-lost in the baggy folds of the old white shirt.

And Mara, one hand on the door and one hand hovering at her hip, inhales. And takes another step off the ramp, hand leaving the door and palm closing.

***

Three weeks later, she returns, red hair pulled back in a sloppy pony-tail and cotton shirt rolled up at the elbows; her shipment of goods delivered and her dealings with the Trader’s Guild finished and when Luke grins enthusiastically and offers her Jaina to hold as Han burns his finger on the welding torch again and stops himself mid-swear, she sighs (almost mock) resignedly and scoops the little girl up into stiff uncertain arms and pretends she doesn’t see the smallsmall smile Leia sends her over the rim of the newly-finished mobile hanging over the still-half-finished crib.