A Mercenary's Heart

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He'd warned them. Tried to. So many times.

"I'm only in it for the money."

"Just a mercenary."

"Yeah, I'd care if I had a heart, which, ya know, I don't."

Not his fault that they didn't listen. That Luke kid is so naive that Han doesn't know how he's even lived this long. And Leia, she's tough, sure, and got plenty of spirit, but she's been lucky, no mistaking that. The old guy had said there was no such thing as luck but however right he was about other things he was dead wrong about that one. Luck is the only law a smuggler knows, luck and the certainty that one day it will run out. Luck is the reason he's still alive.

Of course, the thing is, you make your own luck.

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If he wasn't in debt.

If there wasn't ol' Chewie to think of. Or his ol' gran. Or his son, the product of one crazy drunken night in a bar, and this might sound surprising to some people, but he has a smuggler's sense of honor, and that's more than no honor at all. The boy has a place around the town (and he won't say what town, or what planet, because some things are important.) Kid knows his way around a blaster by now, knows the ins and the outs. "Make yourself vital," he tells the kid every time he checks in. "Don't be nobody or somebody. Just be there." He can't lie and say that his son will go far or do great things, but he'll stay alive. And he might, who knows? Do great things.

(The kid's mom was a nuclear explosion. She was so, so good, better with a weapon than he could ever be and he gives every other girl grief in her memory, cause nobody shoots that good. Her name was Cally. She dyed her hair purple because she thought it looked pretty. She died when a nuclear reactor leaked. It was probably fitting.)

Sometimes when he calls Luke "kid" he thinks of his son. Superficially they're nothing alike. Luke dresses like a country boy, wears his hair like one. Zeck (yeah, that's the kid's name, but he prefers to call him Zeckkie) wears city clothes and keeps his hair sleek and in streaks. And Luke has baby blue eyes and Zeckki has muddy brown ones but it's something about the long lashes and they way they look at him, like he's not going to let them down.

He lets everyone down.

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So maybe he's materialistic, but Leia and Luke only see surfaces. They see him act cocky and run like a coward and do shit for money and think that they know him. They see him smile and lend a hand and be a bit kind and they think they know him. Like they know what his life has been or what he really cares about. If he told them he'd sent all the money from his last job to his gran, even though Jabba had told him real clear that if he didn't pay up his life would be nothing, or that it wasn't all the money, even, because Chewie gets 40% minimum, always, no matter what, even though the big guy has no head for figures, even though he could cheat him easy as breathing, even though. Chewie is his partner. And money isn't all that Han cares about, even though he tries.

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If he were a different sort of man, maybe he could believe. If he were a different blend of gut and heart and cool calculation, if he'd seen a little less or a little more, maybe then he would be able to give everything up and commit to this crazy rebellion.

It's suicide, of course. That's another thing he's tried to tell them.

Sure, the Empire isn't pretty. He's not brainwashed or deluded; the Empire is a dictatorship, the senate is a farce. It cares nothing about its subjects, has no scruples, no morals. But here's one thing it's not, and that's a war.

See, the Empire isn't totally secure in its power yet and so it's lashing out, cracking down on security, blowing things up first and asking questions after. But once the rebellion's been quashed, once the threat is gone, there won't be any reason to kill. Some killings, sure, to keep the fear alive. But mostly? Life will go back to normal. People adapt. The authorities will stop thinking in terms of battle and instead in terms of economics. There's no point in running an unproductive Empire, after all.

Now consider a war. The Empire empties its armory, the rebels use guerrilla tactics and desperate cunning. More people die. More planets die. If the rebels win they win at a high, high cost and rebels actually aren't that great at building worlds back up – he's read his history books. Or if the Empire wins (more likely) they'll get paranoid, more so than now. They won't relax, not for a long time, sure that there are still rebel spies and rebel plots to be dealt with. People will die and die and die.

There's no such thing as a good war. A just war, sure. But never a good one, because people always die.

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He was on Capierra when the Empire came. They took the strongest, bravest boys and girls, and hung them up in the city square as an example. He was stuck there for five grief-stricken days, until he snagged a ship and got the hell out. It's long enough to watch as the people decide they can't fight back.

Years later he returns on business and finds himself standing in the city square. There's a memorial in the center and below it kids are laughing and around it as merchants peddle goods. And standing beside it, he realizes that these people are okay. Really, genuinely, okay.

(They did fight back on Kizlu. He'd heard that planet was famous for its waterfalls once, but it's surface is dry now, dry and black with ash.)

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Cost and benefit, risk and reward. That's what being a smuggler is all about.

But some things break the game. The Death Star could destroy planets. It's not Luke's eyes or Leia's eyes or anyone else's that bring him back in the nick of time. Planets. That's all there is too it.

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Leia's hot. He'll admit that freely. She's got these bright eyes and flushed cheeks, pink eye shadow and ridiculous hair, and she's hella fierce. Knows her way around a gun, and didn't trip once in that awful white dress. He likes that.

In another time, another place, if she wasn't a princess or a rebel and he wasn't a smuggler or a realist he thinks they might have been great together, pure dynamite. And, ice queen attitude aside, he'd hate for her to die. But he'd hate for a lot of people to die, and she's not at the top of his list. Add to that all those cheering people who'll die for her, or instead of her. She's not a victim; she chose this.

He's a bastard for so many reasons. This is just another one.

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All those cheering people are cheering for him. All those beaming smiles, just for him.

"I don't deserve this," he tells them.

"You do!" Luke says excitedly.

"You do," Leia says, more restrained, but her eyes full of mirth and pride. "You saved us all."

Next to him, Chewie shifts and lets out a frustrated howl. "I know, Buddy," he says, utterly glad that no one else understands Wookies. Chewie knows him.

"You don't, but it doesn't matter." That's what Chewie said.

He's dead right, of course.

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He doesn't believe in the force. If there was a force, every person and every being perfectly connected – the world wouldn't be the mess that it is.

No, he doesn't believe in the force.

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He gets to know everyone around the base. They like him – he's charming when he needs to be. They trust him – he's a decorated hero, why shouldn't they?

He talks Leia into telling him the rebel plans, smiling invitingly, hazel eyes warm. "What do ya know," he says with a wink. "Maybe I could help."

"You?" She snorts.

"Well, I don't like to brag, but I've made my way out of some pretty tight spots in my time."

"Tighter than that garbage compacter?"

"You betcha."

She laughs. The sound is clear and pure. Just like a harp.

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So, maybe he does care about more than money. Maybe they sensed that, Luke and Leia. He wishes he could save them, but wishes are a luxury he's never had the spare change to afford. These two are going to get themselves killed, with him or without him; their stupid noble souls won't let them do anything less. He wants to tell them sorry, but he doesn't need their forgiveness. He doesn't need their understanding, but if he did he'd tell them that yes he cares about more than money, and yes, he's more than a mercenary, and yes, he does have a heart, and that's why he needs to do this.

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One quiet night, he finds a lonely place, and makes a short transmission.

The imperial ships arrive three days later. By the time the screaming starts, he's already gone.