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peel away the gray

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Han hated Coruscant.

Han had decided he hated Coruscant the very first time he set foot there, and been proven right over and over on every visit after that. The galaxy’s capital planet had been aggressively hacked apart and built up over hundreds of thousands of years, and you’d have figured they’d have put some effort into making it nice. Han was glad he’d had that notion put to bed years back, so that now the planet was liberated he could at least enjoy walking about a little freer.

Not that there was a whole lot to enjoy about walking around Coruscant, or flying, or moving through it in any fashion. The buildings were packed together like canned sardfish, trapping the heat, blocking the light. You got even a few levels down and the skyscrapers would feel like they were closing in on you; quadrant after uniform quadrant meant you took one wrong turn and you’d be going in circles for hours. The place would make even someone who hadn’t spent a year trapped in carbonite claustrophobic. It reeked of fumes and garbage and the sharp scent of ozone like they’d only just finished terraforming. And the clanging, rushing, blaring din of the place never let up.

Even—or maybe especially—the government-issued residence he and Leia stayed in if they had to spend a long time planetside was no escape. Unlike their pretty little place on Corellia, alive with the two of them through framed pictures and notes on the conservator and mementos from places they actually liked, nothing they did with the soulless apartment made it feel like home. Neither of them felt much like leaving anything of themselves there, anyway.

And the thing was, Coruscant was supposed to be nice. It was supposed to be the pride of the galaxy, and Han wondered if it made him ungrateful, the way he felt about it, especially when he and Leia had it so much better than so many of the planet’s citizens. But that was part of it too: the way anything nice about the place was just surface-level gloss. Han had seen the seediest parts of the galaxy and the most sanitized, but Coruscant layered one over the other, its richest citizens literally sprawled on top of its poorest. Head down and pristine steelstone gave way to dirty duracrete; where the sunlit parks and plazas were thought out in gaudy detail, the planet’s underworld was carelessly thrown together and left to tear itself to pieces.

It got to him, and to Leia, who hated Coruscant for all the reasons he did and a lot more besides. Luke’s clever tricks aside, Han had never believed more in the Force than when he’d sat outside the Imperial Palace as volunteers cleared out every last trace of Palpatine, Leia nauseated beside him. She’d bolted from the throne room like she’d been shocked.

‘It’s so cold in there,’ she’d muttered, leaning against him, still shivering despite the bright summer sunshine, and for all the place gave Han the creeps too, for all that Coruscant, for Leia, was packed with bad memories, he knew it was more than that.

‘Can you take me home?’ Leia had asked, and he had—not back to the apartment, but back to the Falcon, back to Corellia. She’d slept the whole flight and most of the next day, and he’d figured that was that—the place made her sick; she couldn’t be thinking of going back, could she?

But it was a blip, Leia had insisted, fastening her braids, pulling on her jacket like armor as she prepared to head back to the capital not two days later. She’d know what she was in for next time. She’d talk to Luke about shielding.

‘Yeah,’ Han had replied, ‘or you could talk to Mon Mothma about holocommuting.’

‘She already lets me do that most of the time,’ Leia had pointed out. ‘Come on, Han; you know some things are too important or too sensitive to talk about them over a damn hololink.’

‘Fine,’ he’d conceded. ‘Then how about this: they could run the government outta some other planet not haunted by Darth Heeby-Jeeby the Terrifying?’

‘We can’t just give up on Coruscant,’ she’d said, zipping her overnight bag. ‘From a strategic standpoint as well as a symbolic one.’

‘Oh, fuck symbolism,’ Han had muttered, which had put an effective end to any conversation.

He’d apologized later. He understood where the New Republic was coming from, and Luke’s shielding methods seemed to help with some of the lingering ghosts. But it was hard to avoid the root of it all: they were both summoned on a semi-regular basis to a place they hated. Han dealt with it as best he could, and when he was sick of Coruscant’s noise and heat and people and attitude, he went to the only part of it worth a damn: the Alderaanian Memorial Garden.

Leia had spent a long time arguing about where the memorial should go with other members of the Alderaanian Council, pushing for somewhere that felt a little more like the home they’d lost. Han wasn’t sure what had persuaded her in the end, but once it became clear she hadn’t been pressed into a decision she didn’t want to make, he’d held his tongue and was now glad about it—truthfully, these extended trips to Coruscant would be unbearable without this small slice of green to escape to, tucked at the base of the Manarai Mountains.

Green, and other colors besides, so different to the drab grays and sterile whites of so much of the city. Leia liked it best in fall, when the uwa trees and oro woods and Alderaanian maples were decked out in red and yellow and burnt orange, fruit trees heavy with crisp pink apples, golden pears. Little signs hammered into the ground beneath them, cheerfully inviting the reader in a multitude of languages: PLEASE HELP YOURSELF!

But Han most liked spring, loved the rich greens of new leaves and fresh grass, the way the sky filtered down through frilly clusters of cream and violet blossoms as he sprawled beneath a tree and ignored his comm.

Gods, it was good to get some peace and quiet. Cleverly placed sound and air filters at the garden’s edges did a decent job of blocking out the noise and the pollution. He was free to listen to birds chirp overhead, and bees drone softly as they pollinated wildflowers—there was little in the way of the regimented beds and immaculately clipped shrubs common to Coruscanti gardens. Alderaan’s memorial was maintained enough that people could get around it easily, but not so much that they were scared to touch. It was hard to imagine lounging on the lawns of the Senate Rotunda. But here Han stretched his arms above his head, fingertips grazing rough bark, and closed his eyes.

‘General Dodonna is looking for you,’ said a voice.

Han started a little guiltily. Not because of Dodonna, but because he hadn’t told Leia he’d gotten into the habit of coming here by himself. He knew she wouldn’t mind—the sign at the entrance declared that all were welcome, for one thing—but with the woman herself looking down at him, Han had the oddest sensation of having been caught doing something he shouldn’t.

‘Dodonna should retire,’ he said in response.

Leia smiled, sitting down cross-legged in the grass. Up close, he could see dark circles beneath her eyes. She’d been restless last night. ‘You know you can’t suggest that every time you don’t want to talk to him,’ she said.

‘’S’not like it’ll ever take,’ he pointed out. ‘He’ll be a hundred years old and still deciding strategy.’

‘Probably still the sharpest mind in the room,’ Leia said.

‘Sure,’ Han agreed. ‘And definitely still a huge pain in my ass.’ He squinted at her against the bright sun. ‘Sending you to hunt me down is a dick move.’

‘This isn’t a summons, flyboy; this is a warning.’

He closed his eyes again, smiling. ‘I should lay low for a while, huh?’

‘Han!’ Leia exclaimed, feigning shock. ‘I would never suggest you hide out for the next two to three hours until General Dodonna leaves for Loronar.’

‘Two to three hours?

‘Allegedly.’ Leia was silent for a moment. ‘Do you mind if I hide out with you?’

Han cracked one eye open incredulously. ‘’S’your garden, sweetheart; you don’t gotta ask me.’

She gave him a contemplative look, then lay down next to him. ‘Do you come here often?’ she asked, slinging one arm over his chest.

‘Uh.’ He felt himself flush. ‘Sometimes, yeah. Only if out there’s all getting…’ he waved a hand, ‘… a bit much. Y’know?’

‘Yes,’ she said, simply.

He felt her sigh against him. ‘How were your meetings?’ he ventured.

She worried at her lip. ‘Today’s been hard,’ she admitted.

‘Ah, sweetheart,’ he murmured. ‘You gotta go back for anything?’

‘No.’

‘You wanna talk about it?’

‘Not right now,’ she said. Her grip on him tightened; he rubbed at her forearm where it pressed against his breastbone, and for a while they lay like that.

‘It’s not my garden,’ Leia said, at length.

Han, lulled into drowsiness, took a second to respond. ‘You know what I mean. Alderaanians’ garden.’

‘No.’ He felt her shift; when he turned to look at her, she was staring gravely back, propped up on one elbow.

‘I’m sorry—’ he started, feeling like he must have misstepped somewhere, but Leia shook her head.

‘I just mean—’ She broke off, eyes flicking skyward, then continued. ‘It’s a tribute to Alderaan; it needed to honor the spirit of Alderaan, and Alderaan made a point of being a home to everybody. There’s nothing more Alderaanian than inviting people in who are tired, or hungry, or avoiding meetings about the military implications of a trade deal with Kuat—’

‘Just don’t see why he needs my input four different times,’ Han muttered.

‘—and telling them they’re welcome,’ Leia finished, poking him in the chest. ‘So it’s my garden, but only as much as it’s your garden, or anyone else’s. You’re supposed to feel at home here.’

Han pulled her close, kissing her forehead. ‘I do,’ he said, and was silent again. He considered Leia, relaxed in his arms as she rarely was when they were in that cold high-rise apartment. ‘Why Coruscant?’ he asked, finally.

She arched her eyebrows at him. ‘Aren’t you glad it’s here?’

‘Yeah, but you didn’t put it here for me, or for you. Or at least not just ’cause of that. C’mon, Princess.’ He caught her hand. ‘You wanted to plant it on Chandrila. Nicer place, climate would’ve been better. Why’d you change your mind?’

‘A trillion beings on this planet, and how many is it actually a home to?’ Leia asked him. ‘Alderaan led by example. I don’t see why that should stop. And I don’t want to sound like I’m putting too much stock in the power of a garden to fix everything wrong with the galaxy, but I agreed to Coruscant because it seemed like it needed this the most.’

Han squeezed her hand a little tighter, and didn’t say aloud that if he had faith in anything to fix what was wrong with the galaxy, it was Leia Organa.

Lying back down and tucking her face into the crook of his neck, she said quietly, ‘I wish I could have shown you it. Alderaan. I’m so glad you come here.’

He nodded. ‘I’m glad too.’

‘I want it to be easier for everyone,’ Leia said. ‘Being on Coruscant. Me included. I don’t want to be scared of being here; that’s why I keep making myself come here, even if things might be easier over holo.’ She paused. ‘I think we should try again with the apartment. I think we should make it more ours.’

He peered at her. His kneejerk response was that they’d already tried, and Coruscant was still awful. But then he thought about Corellia, where he’d grown up, and where, until a few years ago, he’d never have imagined going back. How his feelings about it had changed, with Leia at his side. How it was slowly but surely becoming a better place, not just for him, but for kids like the one he’d once been.

So maybe they needed to keep trying.

Her face was still hidden against him, so he kissed the part of her temple he could reach and said, ‘Sure, sweetheart. We can do that.’

‘You don’t have to help right now,’ she continued. ‘You don’t have to stay at all with Dodonna gone; you could go home early.’

‘Nah.’ Han slid his fingers beneath her chin, tilting her face up so she could look into his eyes, warm and intent on hers. Smiling softly, he said, ‘Home’s wherever you are.’