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Linguistics

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There were certain extra senses you developed, when you chose smuggling as a career. Stuff like: was this person going to actually pay you, or were they going to kill you? Was it worth partnering up with this person, or were they going to kill you? Did this person just happen to be standing close to you, or were they hovering around waiting to kill you?

Leia was hovering.

Probably not to kill him, which was a relief, but it had been ten minutes of her casting him furtive glances without approaching him, and he was starting to feel scrutinized.

‘Am I doing it wrong, Your Highness?’ he called over to her, eventually.

She looked at him like she’d only just noticed he was there. ‘Doing what wrong?’ she asked.

Han nodded at the chunks of metal and wire in front of him, which usually formed part of the Falcon’s sensor system, but were now spread out along with tools and spare parts on a workbench in the corner of the hangar.

‘No,’ she said, folding her arms and lifting her chin. ‘I don’t even know what you’re doing. Do you want help?’

He didn’t push it. He was certain she’d rope him in to whatever crazy nonsense she had planned soon enough. And she was decent help, and good company. ‘Sure,’ he said. ‘You wanna undo that thing?’

Seating herself at the bench opposite him, Leia picked up the squareish box he’d indicated. ‘This thing? What am I undoing from what?’

‘See this seam?’ he said, leaning across the bench and pointing to the device. ‘There’s a little blade attachment on that multitool you can use to pull it apart there, nice and gentle. But not at this seam—’ he tapped just above the first place he’d pointed to, ‘—else it won’t go back together.’

She raised her eyebrows, smoothing a finger along the correct join. ‘That sounds like there’s room for things to go wrong.’

‘Well, that’s half the fun.’ When her eyebrows arched further, he added, ‘’S’okay, Princess. I trust you.’

Leia flushed a little, reaching for the multitool. ‘I have to ask something,’ she said, after a moment.

‘Yeah? Where you tryna send me this time?’

‘What? No. Nowhere.’

His eyes flicked up from the wires he was carefully stripping to meet hers. ‘Come on, Princess.’

She huffed, picking through the multitool’s attachments. ‘Why do you always assume I’m trying to send you somewhere?’

‘’Cause you usually are!’ he exclaimed, setting his own tool down and reaching across to help her find the attachment she needed. ‘You’re always sending me some place to meet some contact or pick up supplies—’

‘Well, you always say yes,’ she reminded him, taking the tool back from him.

Han trained his eyes back on the mass of wires. ‘I guess I do.’

Leia chewed on her nail for a moment. ‘I’m really not trying to send you anywhere this time.’

‘No?’

‘No.’ She shook her head, tapping her multitool against the box; Han was about to caution her to be careful when she said, ‘It’s about Chewie.’

‘Oh.’ That was unexpected. Han set his wires aside. ‘What about him?’

‘He… I’m not sure how to describe it. There are particular… words? Or—there’s a certain sound… pattern I was noticing—’ She broke off, shooting him a slightly desperate look. ‘I don’t really know how to talk about his language properly. But there’s a similar sound I thought I’d noticed and I wondered if it was some kind of greeting?’

‘What’s the sound?’ he asked, propping his chin on his hand.

She narrowed her eyes at him, sliding the fine blade he’d selected into the seam on the box. ‘I don’t think I’m really going to be able to convey the nuance, do you?’

‘No,’ he agreed. ‘And you’d hurt your throat trying.’

‘You know what sound I’m talking about?’ she asked, jiggling the blade gently.

‘There’s one when he greets you, and in the middle of conversations sometimes. I’m guessing that’s what you mean. He’s saying your name.’

‘He’s saying “Leia”?’ She looked hopeful and flattered in a way that Han wasn’t going to be able to maintain, at least not without a speedy lesson in Shyriiwook.

‘He—well.’ Han scratched at his chin. ‘There’s no direct translation of your name, so not exactly. What he’s actually saying means something like—now, don’t take offence at this, Your Highness; he means it in a complimentary kinda way—

‘Why would I take offence?’

‘It means “extremely tiny little being”.’

Leia’s face fell. ‘It does?’

‘Yeah.’ Han tensed a bit; it was automatic. A lot of people got kind of weird about Chewie’s language, or turned nasty, even. Never Leia, he knew that; she’d never be like that, but still, he couldn’t help but feel defensive on behalf of his friend. ‘You gotta understand it how he means it,’ he said hurriedly.

‘He refers to me as “extremely tiny little being”?’

‘Well… sort of.’

‘That’s—’ Leia sat up a little straighter. ‘I’m not that tiny.’

‘Don't worry,’ Han said. ‘He calls me that, too.’

Her brow furrowed. ‘So it’s not to refer to me specifically?’

‘Well, the—let’s call ’em words, right? Or—’ Han waved his hands vaguely, ‘—patterns, like you said. The vocal pattern ain’t particular to you. But Shyriiwook’s about more than just what you say, like any other language. So the words aren’t unique, but the way he says ’em is.’

‘So… how’s it different?’ Leia put the partly separated sensor pieces down and leaned in, genuine curiosity on her face, which Han liked. ‘Between the way he says it to you and the way he says it to me? You say it’s meant as… a compliment?’

‘Uh.’ He thought about it. ‘So there’s no Wookiee word for royalty in any dialect, right? But there’s a change in pitch when he says it to you to mean you’re titled, and he thinks you’re worthy of your title, but also that you got his personal respect, title or no title, see?’

Leia flushed, looking pleased. ‘He respects me?’

‘Sure he respects you. Why wouldn’t he?’

‘Well,’ Leia said, picking at the sleeve of her shirt and blushing more deeply, ‘I was quite rude to him when we first met.’

He shrugged. ‘You were rude to me, too, but we’ve both gotten over it.’

She met his eyes and smiled. ‘I’m glad.’ She cleared her throat. ‘That’s a lot of meaning in one pitch change.’

‘He’s got a lot of thoughts about you.’

‘What else?’

‘Um.’ A lot of Chewie’s thoughts about Leia Han wasn’t going to share, but only because Chewie said a lot of things about Leia, and especially Leia in relation to Han, that were dead wrong.

Dead wrong.

But he said a lot of things that were very true, too, and much easier to say when it sounded like Han was just the messenger. ‘How you’re kind and formidable. I mention ’em together ’cause they’re all rolled into one inflection. Whole bunch of things about wisdom that I’ve noticed are missing from my version of it.’

She laughed. ‘What’s in your version?’

‘Lotta stuff that pretty much means I’m like an annoying younger sibling no one else is allowed to fuck with.’

‘That’s… nice?’

‘It is nice,’ he said, sincerely. ‘Never had a sibling before.’

Leia looked like she had questions, but the one she chose to ask was, ‘How long did it take you to learn all this?’

‘Ah… I got an advantage,’ Han admitted, surveying the sensor pieces in front of him, ‘’cause there was a Wookiee around when I was growing up.’

‘I didn’t know that,’ she said.

‘Anyway,’ he said quickly. ‘It’s just time and patience.’ He hesitated, then offered, ‘Chewie and me’ll teach you if you want. You just gotta hang around him enough; you’ll pick it up.’

‘Is that—’ Leia widened her eyes, putting her hand on her chest. ‘Han Solo. Is that a rare and coveted invitation onto the Falcon?’

‘I invite you onto the Falcon plenty!’

‘For specific occasions. This sounds very open-ended to me,’ she teased.

He grinned back at her. ‘Yeah, well. Chewie’s got a lot of time for you.’

Leia ducked her head, hiding a smile. ‘Does he?’

‘Lotta respect, like I said.’

She picked up the box again, and when she spoke again it wasn’t teasing at all. ‘I respect him, too. The whole Alliance does. He knows that, right?’

‘Yeah, sweetheart,’ Han said. ‘He knows.’