A KALEIDOSCOPE OF ILLUSIONS
by Mary Sue
Han woke slowly, blinking the foggy sleep from his eyes. Was I drinking last night? he wondered, looking around at the familiar confines of his cabin onboard the Falcon. Except.... it wasn't the same, somehow. He slowly sat up and took stock of his surroundings. What's different? Solo mused, trying to sort out the problem. The last thing he remembered was drifting off to sleep, his body spooning the slight form of his wife of twenty years, but Leia wasn't here anymore - somehow she had slipped away without waking him. They were on their way to the Corporate Sector, after dropping off Luke, Mara and Ben. The war with the Vong was finally over, but only after taking a huge toll on the Solo family. Frowning, he looked down at the small bunk. How in stars did this old bunk get put back in here?
The Corellian got up and stared down at his sleepwear. Why am I dressed in these old rags? Leia will kill me if she sees me wearing this old sweatsuit. He made his way to the refresher and splashed cold water on his face. His eyes drifted to the mirror. Han stepped backwards in shock. The face looking back at him was his face, but not the face he remembered from yesterday. Han leaned forward uncertainly, running his fingers over his unlined face, and through his dark brown, unkempt hair. This is just a really strange dream, he told himself as sweat started to form on his forehead. He put his palm against his head. Maybe I have a fever and I'm hallucinating. He opened the small refresher cabinet. Soap, shaver, pain meds, just the usual items, but what wasn't there concerned Han the most. Leia's things - her perfumes, her toothbrush, her various feminine products that Han pretended never to see.
Heart pounding, Solo hurriedly dressed and rushed out of his cabin. Voices came from the ship's hold. Luke's voice, and someone Han could not place. Why is Luke still onboard? We dropped him off - this just isn't possible! Cautiously, Han made his way into the hold. Luke turned around and flipped up the visor he was using to shield his eyes. For some reason the phrase, "I told you'd I'd outrun those Star Destroyers..." popped into Han's mind, but he didn't say it aloud. Instead, he stuttered....."B...Ben Kenobi? But you're..." A woof interrupted him. Solo spun around, his eyes wide with disbelief. "....dead." The usually unflappable Corellian dropped to the ground as blackness overtook him.
The first thing Solo became aware of was the cold floor against his back. Then he felt his head being cradled by a large hand. When I open my eyes, I'll be back in my bunk with Leia, when I open my eyes, I'll be back in my bunk with Leia..... he mentally chanted to himself. Slowly, Han opened his eyes into the brightness of the interior of the ship. His vision cleared. Chewie hovered over him, barking questions in concern.
*Cub, are you all right? You hit your head when you fell, and now you're bleeding!*
Dreams aren't supposed to hurt. But Han couldn't deny the fact that the back of his head was pounding. "Chewie?" he whispered.
*Hold still, I'll carry you to your bunk,* Chewie ordered his friend.
Quickly, Han shoved himself into a seated position. The room spun around for a few seconds, and he tentatively felt the back of his head. It was sticky with blood. "No, don't carry me.... it's just a cut. Head wounds always bleed a lot. I'm okay," he lied while thinking, Okay? I'm anything but okay.. I'm having a conversation with my deceased best friend, for kreth's sake!
*You look like you've seen a ghost, and you passed out. That is not okay.* Chewie argued.
"No," Han shook his head and struggled to his feet with the Wookiee's assistance. "I didn't pass out. I... I slipped and fell. Yeah, that's it. I just slipped." He looked over at a very youthful Luke Skywalker and the Jedi Ben Kenobi, who was standing silently behind Luke.
"Why did you think Ben was dead?" Luke said accusingly, as he narrowed his eyes at the smuggler. He turned to the Jedi. "Maybe he ordered the Wookiee to kill you, and Solo was just surprised that his orders weren't carried out!"
"What?" Han snapped. "Where did you come up with this Bothan-brained theory? I didn't order Chewie to kill you! How could you even think that, after everything we've been through?"
"Everything we've been through?" Luke snorted. "I hardly know you. The only thing we've been through is escaping from Tatooine!"
Of course, Luke was right, and in a strange way, Han knew it. He hardly knows me. The situation was so surreal that he suddenly felt dizzy again. Solo put his hand on the wall to steady himself. "I think I need to sit down," he said quietly.
*Let me help you to your cabin. I need to tend that cut on your head.*
Han allowed Chewie to lead him to his cabin, and he sat meekly on the bunk while the Wookiee gently cleaned and dressed the cut on his head. Han watched the tall Wookiee move to the refresher and rinse out a cloth. It occurred to Solo that maybe this was more than just a dream. Maybe he died in his sleep, and this was what the afterlife was like. Or perhaps it was a gift from the Force, one last chance to spend time with his friend, and the next time he fell asleep he'd wake up with Leia, back in the future. If that was the case, then Han decided he wouldn't waste this opportunity. Getting up, he moved next to Chewie and hugged his friend. "It's nice seeing you again, pal," he whispered into the russet fur.
Chewie looked down at his Captain, concern and puzzlement showing in his blue eyes. *Uh, right. It's nice seeing you, too, cub,* he replied as he gently patted Solo on top of his head. That blow to his head must have been harder than I first thought. *Maybe you should rest for a while. It's been a busy day.*
"Busy?" Han stopped hugging Chewie and looked up at his partner.
*Meeting Skywalker and Kenobi, almost getting killed by Greedo, getting shot at by Stormtroopers, evading Star Destroyers. You do remember all that, right?*
Greedo. Now that was someone Han hadn't thought about for decades. Memories of that day, so long ago, came flooding back. "Sure, I remember."
*Good. You had me worried there for a minute. You get some rest, now.*
The Wookiee watched as Han climbed into his bunk and pulled up the covers. Then he turned to leave the cabin. "Chewie?"
"I love you, pal."
Chewie left the cabin with a new, and very intense, concern over Han's mental state.
"What's his problem?" Luke questioned Obi-Wan once the Wookiee lead the ship's captain away. "Do you think he's drunk? Or just crazy? Maybe he really is trying to kill us."
Obi-Wan sat back down, and stroked his beard thoughtfully. "I don't believe he's drunk, and I don't sense he means to harm us."
"Great. That just leaves crazy," Luke lamented. "I told you we should have bought our own ship."
"We had far too few credits to purchase a ship, Luke," Obi-Wan said calmly.
"Well, I don't feel too secure with a demented person piloting the ship I'm on," the young man argued.
Obi-Wan smiled. "Chewbacca seems to be quite stable, and I'll discuss the pilot with him later. In the meantime, you should continue practicing with your lightsaber."
As promised, Obi-Wan sought out the Wookiee co-pilot several hours later. Chewie was sitting in his cabin, cleaning tools and trying not to worry about Han. His human friend had always been slightly off-center, but never to the point that it made Chewie wonder about his sanity. Perhaps someone had put something in his drink while they were in the cantina. There simply had to be some explanation. The Wookiee looked up as the Jedi softly knocked on the frame of the open doorway.
"Chewbacca?" Obi-Wan nodded as he stepped into the small cabin. "How is Captain Solo?"
*I do not know. I have never seen him acting like this before.*
Ben frowned. "Do you think he is suffering from an illness?"
Frustrated, the Wookiee stood up. *I wish I knew. I have never known Han to simply pass out. It is very... strange.*
Putting his hand gently on the Wookiee's forearm, Ben said, "Perhaps he is just stressed, and all he needs is rest."
Chewie nodded in agreement. Having bounty hunters looking for you because of a huge debt to the evil crimelord Jabba could stress anyone. It seemed to be as good an explanation as any, and Chewie could only hope Han would get back to normal quickly. Well, what passed as normal for Han, anyway.
When Han awakened from his short nap, he quickly realized things were not back to normal as he had hoped. It was not a dream that he'd been having, and Leia was still gone. Leia! If she's not here, then...then, she's still on the Death Star! And Alderaan is about to be blown up!
Throwing off the blanket, Han ran into the hold. "The Death Star - we have to stop the Death Star!"
The two human passengers and Chewie, sitting around the game table, only stared at him as if he'd lost his mind.
"What's a Death Star?" Luke finally asked the agitated smuggler.
"It's an Imperial Battle Station, the size of a moon," Han replied breathlessly. "It's about to blow up Alderaan! We have to stop it!"
"There isn't anything that can blow up an entire planet," Luke shot back in disbelief. He turned to the Jedi Kenobi. "I think we need to lock him up somewhere, before he hurts someone."
"I am NOT crazy!" Han yelled back at his future brother-in-law, restraining the urge to stomp his foot in frustration. It wouldn't do him any good to start acting like a two year old. "The Imperial's are targeting Alderaan to make Leia talk."
Luke Skywalker jumped up and pointed his turned-off lightsaber at Solo, "How do you know anything about Princess Leia? I still think you're an Imperial spy, and you're being paid to deliver us to them!"
Han stepped back nervously from the lightsaber's handle while Chewie roared a warning to the young man.
"I think everyone needs to calm down and discuss...," Ben started to say before he put his head in his hands.
"Ben?" Luke turned worriedly to his mentor. "What's the matter?"
"I have felt a disturbance in the Force," he gasped out. "It was like a billion voices cried out and then were suddenly silenced."
"Alderaan," Han said, his face grief-stricken. "It's too late. I'm here too late to help." The Corellian turned and fled the room.
"Can I talk to you?" Obi-Wan asked the smuggler as he stepped into the cockpit, and closed the door behind him.
"I'm not crazy, and I'm not a spy."
Ben sat down in the co-pilot's seat. "I know you're not a spy. But what I don't understand is how you knew what was about to happen to Alderaan - if that is indeed what just happened."
"It's what happened," Han replied hoarsely, staring out at the blur of stars. "And the Death Star will still be there when we come out of hyperspace."
"I'm going to ask you again - how do you know all this? You are not a Jedi, and even if you were, Jedi can't see into the future."
"I can't explain it," Han sighed. "You really would lock me up if I told you the truth."
"The truth creates far less problems than lies."
"I'm not sure that's the case in this instance," Solo answered, thinking, You should talk about telling lies.
"I went to bed last night a fifty-nine year old man with a wife and grown children," Han said carefully, not looking directly at Obi-Wan. It was easier to tell this story without looking into his face and seeing his dubious expression. "And when I woke up this morning, I was twenty-nine years old, and reliving the same thing all over again." Solo turned his chair to face the Jedi. "Now go ahead and tell me I'm lying. Or that I'm crazy."
"I think you believe what you are telling me," Ben said gently.
Han gave a short laugh. "I can prove it."
"Prove it? How?"
Lowering his voice, Solo leaned toward the Jedi. "Luke Skywalker is the twin brother of Leia Organa. And I know who their natural father is. How is that for proof?"
The words took Ben aback. "You have a very good imagination, Captain Solo," Ben quickly said as he tried to recover. Chewbacca....you promised!
"My imagination?" Han snorted as he shook his head negatively. "Why would I possibly imagine that?"
"This conversation is over," Obi-Wan said as he stood up. He simply could not believe what he just heard. How many other people knew? How could you betray this trust, Chewbacca?
"You're not doing Luke any favors, ya know," Han said as Ben turned to leave. "He trusts you, and when he finds out that you lied about his old man, it's not gonna make his life any easier."
The Jedi left the cockpit without a giving a reply, his hands trembling in suppressed fear.
Obi-Wan Kenobi glanced briefly at the tall Wookiee when he re-entered the hold. Once, eighteen years ago, the Wookiee and the Jedi had made a pact - a vow never to betray the trust they had been given by Padme Amidala. And now, apparently, Chewbacca had broken that solemn vow. The question was - why? Did he put his life-debt to Han Solo above that vow? Why would his life-debt to the Corellian ever entail the need to disclose such vital information? And, mostly, why would Captain Solo tell such an outrageous lie after informing the Jedi of his knowledge? It just didn't make any sense, but Obi-Wan often found that life seldom made sense.
*How is Han acting?* Chewie woofed to Ben.
"Perhaps it would be best if you discussed that with Captain Solo," Kenobi replied coolly. "You seem to discuss everything with him, anyway."
What does that mean? Chewie wondered as he left to find Han. Whatever Kenobi was talking about would have to wait. Han's bizarre behavior was getting worse, and Chewie intended to get to the bottom this issue.
"What did Solo say?" Luke asked as he toyed with his cup. "Why does he think Alderaan is gone?"
The Jedi sat down and leaned back, suddenly weary. "I think you were correct, Luke. Captain Solo is definitely unstable. If you find yourself in his company and I'm not around, please ignore anything he says to you."
"Do you think he's dangerous?"
He is far more dangerous to you than you can possibly imagine, Ben thought. "Perhaps he is."
Nobody is ever gonna believe me. The old man didn't believe me, and he's a Jedi. Luke is always tellin' me that Jedi can sense when people are lying. Why can't Kenobi tell I'm not lying? Han wondered in despair. He hadn't arrived in time to save Alderaan, so what was the purpose of coming back to this time? Anything he said or did differently could disrupt the entire future, the future he knew. And it hurt him to think that Leia was onboard that Death Star, suffering at the hands of Darth Vader. Luke would not have to beg and bribe him this time around to help rescue her.
Chewbacca entered the cockpit and sat down. *Ben Kenobi seems upset. What did you say?*
Don't disrupt the future anymore than you already have, Solo! Han admonished himself. "I don't know why he's upset. I've upset everyone and I'm sorry, pal. It won't happen again, I promise," Han answered his friend. Whatever happened, from now on he promised to keep his knowledge of future events to himself. Even as he told himself this, Han wondered how long he'd be able to keep that promise.
With Ben Kenobi and Luke Skywalker looking over his shoulder, Han pulled back on the lever and brought the Falcon out of hyperspace and into the debris field of what was Alderaan.
"Where's Alderaan?" Luke questioned the pilot, still not trusting that they were anywhere near Alderaan.
"We're at the correct coordinates," Han informed a shocked Luke. "This is what's left of the planet."
Chewie gave a startled woof as a Tie fighter swooped past, heading toward a distant moon. Han knew it wasn't a moon - it was the Death Star, and Leia was onboard. "Hang on," Solo told his passengers, "I'm not letting that Tie get back to base." And I'm not letting Leia stay onboard that station any longer than I have to.
*I didn't know Alderaan had a moon,* Chewie barked out as the Falcon followed the fighter.
"That's no moon," Obi-Wan answered, barely believing his eyes. Solo had been right after all, it was a Battle Station. How had he known? Was Luke right after all, and Solo was a spy?
"Let the Tie go, Han," Luke said urgently. "We need to get away!"
Han looked down at the control panel, and waited.
"What are you waiting for?" Luke shouted, angry and frustrated at the pilot's inaction.
A few seconds later, a red light started flashing on the console. The Falcon was now caught in the tractor beam of the powerful Death Star, exactly like the first time. Solo made a few maneuvers to make it appear he actually was attempting to disengage the hold of the beam, without any intention of actually doing so. "Sorry kid, the tractor beam is too strong. I'll have to shut down or I'll fry the engines. But don't think they're gonna get us without a fight." Han wondered if his words sounded as lame to everyone as they did to his own ears.
Solo felt Ben put his hand on his shoulder. "We can't fight them son, but there are always alternatives to fighting."
Death Star, above the remains of Alderaan
Solo removed the Stormtrooper helmet and sat down in the small control room near the docking bay, trying to remember the exact sequence of events from his previous time aboard the Station. He turned his attention to the Jedi, who was talking quietly to Luke.
"I will need to turn the power off at the main source of the tractor beam if we are to escape," Ben said softly.
"Let me come with you," Luke pressed. "I can help."
Kenobi turned and looked directly at Solo before answering. "Luke, you should come with me."
"No," Han objected instantly. He could only think about Leia, sitting alone in her cell, and waiting for her execution. Solo needed Luke's help to pull her out of there. Events could not be altered, or he might fail to free the Princess. When the two men stared at him with suspicion, Han desperately tried to explain. "It doesn't take two people to turn off a power source. The kid's too inexperienced, Kenobi. He'll only slow you down."
"What do you know?" Luke snapped at Solo. "I don't trust you as far as I can throw a bantha."
"He's right," Obi-Wan said to Luke. "I can do this faster myself. Stay here and out of trouble."
When the Jedi left the room, Luke grumbled under his breath. "He leaves me alone with a lunatic and tells me to stay out of trouble."
Artoo began warbling, rocking back and forth excitedly, and Luke ran up to the droids. "What's he saying, Threepio?"
"He keeps saying something about finding her, Master Luke," Threepio replied.
Han managed to keep the smile of relief off his face.
"It was a stupid conversation, anyway," Han mumbled under his breath as he blasted the control console to pieces. Turning, he called down the corridor, "Luke, hurry it up, we're gonna have company!"
It didn't take very long. Moments later, the lifts opened and Stormtroopers poured out of the tubes, forcing Han and Chewie back into the prison hallway. Pressing his body tight against the wall, Han squinted through the haze caused by the blaster bolts hitting the durasteel.
"This is some rescue," a familiar voice said sarcastically. "When you came in here, didn't you have a plan for getting out?"
Han nearly dropped his blaster out of sheer happiness. I know I should be saying something annoying right about now, but all I can think about is kissing her and telling her how much I love her. Han could not take his eyes off his young, future wife.
The Princess broke her gaze away from the lanky man. Why is he staring at me with that goofy grin on his face? Turning to Luke, she grabbed the blaster from his hands and shot a hole in the side of the hallway. "Tell your strange friend to get into the garbage chute, when he finds the time to stop gawking at me." With that, she disappeared into the chute.
This time, Han did not fire at the sealed doorway. But that did nothing to prevent the snake-like dianoga from nearly drowning Luke, or the walls from almost crushing them. Fortunately, history faithfully repeated itself, and Threepio and Artoo managed to once again turn off the garbage masher in the nick of time.
"He did it!" the Princess shouted joyfully, returning Solo's embrace. Unable to stop himself, Han bent down and kissed her. Instantly, Leia's face darkened and she pushed him away, barely able to stop herself from slapping his face. "How dare you," Leia snapped. "Whatever type of women you're used to flyboy, I can guarantee that I'm not one of them."
"What type of woman I'm used to?" Han asked, fighting back his old feelings of inferiority. "What type would that be, Princess?" I'm used to you, sweetheart!
"I don't think it's necessary to use too much imagination to answer that question," Leia shot back as she pushed past Chewbacca. "And get this walking carpet out of my way."
"That was a fine piece of rescuing, if I do say so myself," Han said as he entered the cockpit, plastering a smile on his face he didn't feel. Watching Obi-Wan Kenobi die a second time had not been easy. Solo kept questioning himself, Maybe there was something I could have done, some way to change the outcome. I feel like I've failed, again. The guilt was starting to eat at him.
"They wanted us to escape," Leia declared. "It's the only explanation for the ease of our escape."
Han looked at the determined Princess. I think I argued with her, and told her it wasn't easy. "I agree. Do you want to make a stop, and have me an' Chewie look for a homing beacon?"
Surprised at his agreement, the young woman looked up at the tall Corellian. "No. We need to get the Artoo unit to the base. Hopefully, we can find a weakness before the Death Star finds us."
"Yeah, well, I'm only in this for the reward," Han forced himself to say. It felt like he was choking on these hurtful words. "I ain't in this for you or you're rebellion." No wonder she hated me so much in the beginning. Was I really this crass and money-hungry?
"Don't worry, if money is all you love, then that is what you shall receive," Leia turned to Luke as she started to leave the cockpit. "I wonder if your friend cares about anything or anybody."
"I care," Luke called to her as she left, then turned and faced the pilot. "What do you think about her, Han?"
I love her, and I'm going to marry her. "She's got a lot of spunk. Do you think a Princess and a guy like me...?"
Luke quickly stood up. "No, I don't." With that, Luke left the cockpit.
Shows what you know. Han grinned at the retreating figure.
*Han?* Chewie stuck his head inside Solo's cabin. *Are you feeling better?*
"Better than what?" Han looked up from his bunk, where he lay on his back staring at the ceiling and thinking about Obi-Wan Kenobi.
*Than before.... when you passed out. And started acting so strangely.*
"Chewie, " Han started then stopped. The need to confide in someone was overwhelming, and his earlier vow to keep his knowledge of the future seemed to be fading.
"Remember when you asked me why Kenobi was so upset?"
The Wookiee nodded.
Han sat up. "I need to tell you why I've been acting so bizarre."
Chewie entered the room and sat on the corner of the cot. *I would appreciate that.*
"I'm from the future, somehow." The look of worry in Chewie's expression made Han rush forward with his story. "I woke up the other day, and I wasn't the same age anymore. I mean, I went to bed fifty-nine and I woke up twenty-nine. Somehow, I was sent back to this time, and I'm reliving this whole thing -the rescue of Leia, and the Death Star, and everything. When I told Ben Kenobi that I could prove it, and that I knew Luke and Leia were twins, and that Vader's their father, he got upset and walked away from me. But I'm not making any of this up, pal. I don't know why any of this is happening to me, but I'm not crazy. You do believe me, don't you?" Han finished desperately.
*You know about Luke and Leia? And that Vader is their father? How did you find out?*
"I just told you, I'm reliving all of this! In the future, I'm married to Leia!" Han persisted. Then the way Chewie asked his question made him pause. "Wait a minute..! You already KNOW that Luke and Leia are twins separated at birth? You knew Vader was their father all along?"
*I know, cub, because I was there when they were born.*
Han was startled. "You never told me," he said accusingly. "In all the years we were together, you never told me."
*I made a vow, Han,* Chewie growled softly. *I do not break my vows. Not to you, and not to the mother of Luke and Leia.*
"I think I need a drink," Han said as he put his head into his hands.
Luke leaned against the corridor wall, shaking with shock. While he only understood half the conversation Solo was having with the Wookiee, it was more than enough. Darth Vader is my FATHER? Ben, you LIED to me! You told me Vader killed my father! How could you lie about something so important? Carefully, he moved away from the open door of Solo's cabin. Luke didn't think a drink would be sufficient to ease his pain.
Moon of Yavin
Luke listened half-heartedly to the instructions about the reactor shaft. His thoughts were swirling around like a black hole in the depths of space. Indeed, that's exactly how he felt inside, like a black hole sucking all the life around it down into a void. Darth Vader was his father! Ben Kenobi just calmly sat there in that little hut and lied about Vader killing his father. Why, Ben? What purpose did that lie serve? And to think that Leia was his sister! Ben had sat there and watched as Luke mooned over his own sister. You must have thought it was a funny joke, Ben. I'm glad I was able to give you laughs. He wished Han had offered him a chance to leave on the Millennium Falcon but strangely enough, the smuggler had not yet indicated he was leaving. Left without options, Luke had joined the Rebellion.
The Princess stood next to General Dodonna at the front of the room. Her concern for the young man who had rescued her was growing by the hour. He seemed unnaturally depressed over losing Obi-Wan Kenobi, considering the fact he had only known the Jedi for a few days. Maybe the fact that his family had been brutally murdered was just catching up to him now. Certainly, Leia could sympathize with his loss, for she too wanted nothing more than just to curl up in bed and cry. But the Princess knew there was no time for private grief because the Death Star was approaching. Leia's eyes drifted to the back of the room where the Corellian and Wookiee stood. Usually, Leia could size up a person in a few seconds, but Han Solo was an exception. The way he looked at her, like he was seeing through to her very soul, unnerved her. Perhaps, if they survived, she would have the time to figure out that smuggler.
The smuggler debated with himself about officially joining the Rebellion. The entire trip to Yavin, he had stayed away from Leia for fear he might say or do something wrong. He did not want to hear her sarcastic comments when they were directed at him, even though he knew it was Leia's way of dealing with the pain. The comments simply hurt too much and all he wanted to do was take her in his arms and comfort her about Alderaan, just like he'd spent the past twenty-five years doing. He loved her deeply, but she no longer even knew him, and that was causing Han more grief than he thought possible. Solo wondered if he should join the Rebellion and flying an X-Wing against the Death Star, but the last thing he wanted to do was tip some cosmic scale and ruin the rebel's chances in the upcoming fight. Han had no idea the scale had already been tipped.
"So you got your reward, and now you're leaving?" Luke asked, surprised. He'd thought the Corellian decided to stay with rebellion. Luke approached Han and Chewie as they loaded up boxes of credits, thinking, Take me with you.
"Yeah," Han nodded. "You don't think I'm fool enough to stick around here, do you?"
"They could use a good pilot. Why don't you help them?"
I plan on it, kid. "Going up against the Death Star ain't my idea of courage. It's more like suicide," Han said quietly. For some reason, a chill ran down his spine as he said that comment.
"Well, take care of yourself, Han. But I guess that's what you're best at." Luke started to walk away, head down.
Luke stopped and turned back. Maybe now Han would ask him to go with when he left Yavin.
"May the Force be with you."
The Force. I never heard of it until a few days ago, and now it's the curse of my life, and the curse of my father's life. "Thanks." He turned and left.
"Luke, I've been hit! I can't hang on," Wedge yelled into his comlink as the X-Wings screamed over the surface of the Death Star.
"Get clear, Wedge. I can handle this," Luke replied calmly. Why did you turn to the Darkside, father? Luke questioned in his mind. I hate the Force. I will never, ever use the Force again.
Carefully avoiding the defensive lasers shooting from the turrets, Luke focused on the targeting computer. The Ties behind him were getting closer, and any second might be his last. Artoo had already been hit.
Suddenly, two of the Tie's exploded, and the third spun away from the tunnel. "You're all clear, kid! Now blow this thing and we can go home!" Han's voice shouted over the comlink as the Wookiee roared encouragement in the background.
Home. I don't have a home. Using the targeting computer, Luke fired his missiles. The bolts bounced harmlessly off the edge of the exhaust port. He'd missed. Pulling up, Luke could see the huge red laser as it shot out from the Death Star. A second later, the Rebel base was gone in a tremendous explosion as the Yavin moon was obliterated.
"NOOO!!!" Han screamed, pounding his fists on the console. This could not be happening! Leia could not be dead! Rage and grief consumed him to his very soul. How did the kid miss? Everything up to that point had gone exactly as the last time. Barely able to comprehend what his eyes were telling him, he looked back at Luke's X-Wing as it flew directly into the range of a defensive cannon. For a brief moment, the X-Wing flared and then debris rained down on the Death Star.
Both Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa were dead.
Tatooine, four days later.
Chewbacca picked up the empty bottle of Corellian whiskey and tossed it into the recycler. Han had not stopped drinking since the deaths of Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa. His captain had lost many people in his life, some he'd known for much longer than Luke and Leia. It just didn't make any sense to the Wookiee that Han would have taken these deaths so personally. It certainly wasn't his fault Luke's shot hadn't gone in the exhaust port. Since Solo was not passed out in his cabin, Chewie went to the cockpit. Han sat in the seat, staring out at the distant dusty wall that formed the berth where they were parked. At least the rebel reward money had paid off Jabba the Hutt, and now bounty hunters would not be searching for them.
*You need to sleep,* Chewie said gently, putting a giant paw on Solo's arm. *This is not helping. You cannot bring them back.*
"I failed them," Han mumbled slowly. "I failed everyone - Alderaan, Luke, Ben, the Rebellion and Leia. My Leia. Why was I sent back here, if all I did was make things worse?"
So that was the problem - Han still believed he had been sent back to the past. Chewie shook his head, not knowing what to do. It was apparent to the Wookiee his friend needed the help of a professional, but he knew Han too well. Even making that suggestion would just enrage his long-time friend. *You did not fail them. You did nothing to cause their deaths. Please, Han, you need to rest.*
"I've tried to sleep," Han replied in a low voice. "I can't. My mind keeps replaying the same scene over and over of the rebel base blowing up. Of Luke's X-Wing being destroyed."
*And it doesn't bring them back. It never will,* Chewie woofed. He reached over and tugged on Han's arm until Solo stood and followed the Wookiee to his cabin. *Go to sleep. Things will get better.*
Han collapsed onto his bunk and shut his eyes. No, things will never get better.
When Han opened his eyes the next morning, he felt disoriented. He staggered into the refresher and washed his face before looking at himself in the mirror. The last thing he had prayed as he fell asleep last night was that he'd wake up beside Leia and everything would be the way it was, before this nightmare started. But he was still twenty-nine. That means Leia is still dead, he thought despondently.
The Corellian dressed in clean clothes and walked into the hold. "Chewie?" No response. There was, however, hot fresh caf brewing, so Han poured a cup and turned on the holovid to watch the current Imperial propaganda. Instead of a fresh faced human cheerfully discussing the latest sports scores, the screen remained dark. Then words appeared - TRY AGAIN. Frowning, Han pressed the on/off button several times. Nothing happened - the strange words refused to leave the screen. Footsteps heading up the ramp of the ship made Han turn his head as Chewbacca appeared, holding a sack of groceries. *We were low on supplies, so I went shopping,* Chewie informed him casually.
"What do you make of that?" Han said with a sweep of his hand toward the holovid display.
*Make of what?*
"Those words..." he started to say as he turned around. The words were gone, replaced by the happy face of a young woman discussing current news events, silently mouthing words as the "mute" symbol flashed in the corner of the screen.
*You have the "mute" button on, Han,* Chewie laughed. *Mute means silent.*
"I know what "mute" means," Han snapped. He turned back to the Wookiee, feeling his skin crawl. "What is the date?"
"The tenth of what month? What year?"
Carefully, Chewie set the groceries down. *Are you feeling okay?*
"I'm fine! Just answer me!"
*It is the tenth day of the fourth month, 6032.*
Han sat down on the bench. "Alderaan was destroyed on the twelfth day of the seventh month, 6032," he whispered so softly that Chewie could not make out his words. This meant that Leia was not dead! The relief was so intense he felt his throat tighten, and he had to shut his eyes to keep tears of joy from flowing.
"Something, or someone, wants me to try again," Han replied to his confused partner. "And this time, I'm not gonna fail."
He had three months this time to make things right. The fateful trip where he'd been forced to dump Jabba's spice had not yet occurred. And most importantly, his last encounter with Bria Tharen had not yet happened, either. The details of Bria's involvement in securing the Death Star plans were sketchy in Han's memory, but he remembered from his days as a General reading classified documents that mentioned her rebel cell, The Red Hand Squadron, being heavily connected to securing the original Death Star plans. Bria's last betrayal had hurt Han deeply at the time. The emotional fallout as a result of her behavior caused most of Solo's initial hostility toward Leia and the Rebellion.
Han was not looking forward to seeing his former lover again. It would be difficult to pretend that everything was fine between them, all the while knowing she was planning to use him and his smuggler friends - people that would no longer consider him a friend after Bria was done with her little plan. This time it would be different, and the outcome of that last encounter would be much, much different. This time, Han planned to be the one using her.
One month later, on Nar Shaddaa
Solo walked into the smoky bar, the place he'd accidentally 'run into' Bria the last time he lived this. He was determined that the conversation would go differently, and he had no intention of walking away in anger when she offered him a chance to go to Ylesia and steal that treasure, a treasure she did not intend to share. He saw her right away, and positioned himself so she could easily see him when she looked up. It didn't take long.
"Han?" Bria said, startled.
Forcing a smile on his face, Solo got up and strolled casually over to her table. "Hello, Bria. Fancy seeing you here." I think I'm getting good at this.
Bria smiled nervously. "It's been awhile, Han. I'm surprised to see you."
"Really? I do a lot of business on Nar Shaddaa, and this ain't exactly the hangout of high society."
"Will you join me for a drink?"
Solo cleared his throat and sat down. Han could not recall the last time he'd slept with Bria, and he certainly had no intention of picking up where he'd left off. Leia's face kept swimming back into his memory, reminding him of what he'd lost, and what he wanted back. His Princess was alive, and he had every intention of finding her and making her fall in love with him again. This was only a means of achieving that goal.
The conversation went according to plan, and Han avoided accusing Bria of selling herself for the rebels as the mistress of an Imperial Moff. It didn't matter, and Han didn't care. When Bria offered him the chance of a share of the treasure on Ylesia, Han did not turn her down.
Solo stood to leave, and Bria quickly pushed herself up and moved to embrace him. Han stepped back, holding her at arm's length. "Um, Bria, " he started out carefully. "I really don't think we should pick up where we left off. It probably would be a good idea to take things slow, ya know? Maybe if we can get to know each other as friends again, things might work out better."
"That sounds like something a woman might say, Han," Bria said with a husky laugh. "Since when did you become mister sensitive?"
Since Bespin, since Leia, since my children were born.... "I'm only suggesting we take things slower this time," he replied as he tried to keep the hostility out of his voice. It was difficult, especially since he was now aware of her back-stabbing plans.
"Will I see you tomorrow?" she asked him.
"Sure, Bria. Tomorrow."
Ylesia, three weeks later
"What's going on, Bria?" Han snapped as the rebels surrounded the smugglers, weapons pointed at his chest. He knew perfectly well what was going on, but playing the part was critical.
"I'm sorry, Han, it's necessary. The rebellion needs these credits far more than any of you need them. It's for a good cause," she pleaded her case urgently.
Han could see the angry looks on the smuggler's faces, the looks of suspicion directed at him. It was a suspicion that would never go away from this point forward. Bria had sealed his fate that day, even though he had turned down her offer to go with the rebels. It was this single action that had caused him to make that Sith-spawned spice shipment, which ultimately lead to the Tatooine charter of Luke and Obi-Wan Kenobi. If Han hadn't seen the rebel base destroyed by the Death Star with his own eyes, if he hadn't watched Luke die in that X-Wing, he probably would turn her down again. But taking that same old path again might only result in another disaster.
"Come with us, Han," Bria begged her lover, tears forming in her eyes. "The cause is just, and you're a great leader. You could be a tremendous asset to the Rebellion."
"Okay," he said simply.
Chewie stared at his partner, dumbfounded. Bria's face broke into a huge smile. "You won't regret this, Han."
"You'd better never show your face around us again, Solo," one of his long-time smuggling associates threatened.
Han didn't answer either Bria or the smuggler as he allowed himself to be lead away from the group by the rebels, with Chewie following quietly in his wake.
One week later.
If Han thought that smugglers were a paranoid lot, he quickly discovered that they had nothing on the Red Hand Squadron. The Corellian and Wookiee were allowed, under supervision, to fly the Falcon to a secret destination. Once there, Han had to suffer the indignity of watching as his ship was scanned from one end to the other for tracking devices. Then Solo was separated from Chewie and questioned for nearly five hours about his reasons for joining. His interrogators were fast to jump on any perceived inconsistencies in Han's answers. If it wasn't for the fact that Leia's life was hanging on Han's ability to "join" this group, he would have told them to take a flying leap out of the nearest airlock. In the end, the rebels were finally convinced of Han's sincerity, and the Corellian was silently thanking Leia for his years spent under her persistent, if somewhat underappreciated, tutelage regarding "diplomacy".
When he left the small, windowless, room Han was ready for a stiff drink. Chewie was waiting patiently outside the doorway. "Did they give you the once over too, pal?" Han groused to his partner.
*They did not bother me,* Chewie informed Han. *No one understood Shyriiwook, and I think they were frightened of me.*
"Lucky you," Han snorted.
*Han, why did you agree to join the rebels?*
Solo didn't know how to answer his friend's question. After the disaster at Yavin, he was more reluctant than ever to mention his knowledge of the future. Besides, since Chewie didn't believe him last time, and Han saw no reason the Wookiee would believe him this time. "I love Bria," Han lied guiltily "I don't want to live my life without her." Well, the last sentence is partly true, anyway. I don't want to live my life without Leia.
*Well, we are here now,* Chewie sighed. *And here comes the love of your life now.*
Looking back, Solo watched as Bria came running up to him and threw her arms around the smuggler. "Oh, Han," she said happily. "I knew I could convince you to do the right thing. You can't pretend with me."
Don't bet on that, Bria. "Of course not, honey," Han gave a strained smile at the woman. "So now what's the plan?"
"We need to head to Toprawa," Bria informed him as she took his arm possessively. "Our sources, which all those credits we took from your friends paid for by the way," she said with a coy smile, "tell us that the new Imperial Battle Station plans are being transmitted to Toprawa. We need to be there to intercept those plans."
"Then what?" Han asked casually.
"Then we'll transmit them to the Tantive IV, and Senator Organa will forward the plans to the rebel base," she replied, leaning against Solo's arm.
Senator Organa. Just the mention of her name made Han's heart leap for joy. She was still alive, waiting for him.
"You didn't really mean what you said before, did you?"
"About us, you know, and not getting involved again," she said as she stroked his arm and hand. "I love you, Han. I always have and I always will. We don't have to stop showing that love."
For years after Bria died, Han wondered how he would feel about her if she was still alive - if she showed up unexpectedly someday and declared her love. Now he knew - Han Solo felt absolutely nothing for Bria Tharen, except perhaps pity. Even his anger over her betrayal had faded to nothing with the passage of time. Now that he was truly able to compare her to his Princess, he realized she was a mere wisp of smoke, a temporary distraction in his voyage toward his soulmate. "I'm sorry, Bria," Han said as gently as he was able. "I did mean what I said earlier. And now that I'm part of the Rebellion, you should realize more than ever we can't let a relationship distract us from what's important. Maybe when this is all over, and we've won the war, we can pick up where we left off."
Stepping back, Bria looked up at Solo and blinked back tears. "You're right. You've always been right. This is more important than just our needs and desires. Forgive me, Han."
"I forgive you," Han said. And he truly meant it.
The Fifth Day of the Seventh Month....
Toprawa. This was the place where Bria died, fighting an Imperial ambush after forwarding the Death Star plans to Leia's ship. Han knew, if he wasn't careful, it could very well be the place he would end up dying, too. If he was killed here, then once again he would have failed. Solo also knew the reason that the Imperials stopped Leia's ship was because of those transmitted plans. Vader had traced the signal to her ship. Therefore, Han needed to convince Red Hand Squadron of the need to send those plans to the rebels a different way. Hopefully, he'd be able to convince Bria to let him and Chewie take the plans on the Falcon and then rendezvous with the Tantive IV. If the plans were simply transmitted, he would be back to square one - needing to rescue Leia from the Death Star. How many times would fate allow him to accomplish that feat?
"Bria," he began as he sat in her tiny hotel room, "I think this plan to transmit the Death Star data is too risky."
"It's war," she returned evenly. "Everything's a risk."
"Someone needs to physically take that data to the rebellion," Solo persisted. "I can do that."
"We don't have time to have you fly the disk all that way."
"The Falcon is fast. I can get them there."
"No, it won't work," she said dismissively. "Transmittal is the best way." Bria continued to unpack and sort her weapons. "We might not survive tomorrow, Han," Bria said softly as she moved toward him, putting her hand on the side of his face. "Are you sure you won't change your mind about us?"
Damn, the woman was persistent. Quickly Han stood up and moved away from the small bed. "I'd better get back to the Falcon. Chewie'll be wondering what's keeping me." And I have plans to make tonight, too. I don't plan on dying tomorrow in that ambush. "I'll see you tomorrow morning when we go over the final strategy."
She nodded sadly as he exited her room.
When the fighting erupted, the Red Hand Squadron was quickly surrounded. Han had to give them credit - they put up a courageous fight against overwhelming numbers. Quickly, Han made his way to the transmitter station. The rebel, a man by the name of Kairn, was frantically trying to enter the code to the Tantive IV before the tower was destroyed. Solo grabbed his hand, and roughly pushed the startled rebel away. "Not like this," Han snarled as he snatched the disk out of the computer.
"What are you doing?" the shocked man asked.
"I'll get these plans to the rebel base," Solo snapped. "They can't be transmitted!"
"Are you crazy? We'll never get out of this alive!" Kairn exclaimed. "Transmitting is our only chance!"
A loud explosion sounded as the transmit tower was destroyed by the Imperial forces. Han shook his head and grinned. "Told you they couldn't be transmitted."
"I would have had the time if you hadn't stopped me! You're a spy!"
And once again I'm being called crazy and a spy. This is getting old. "I really don't have time to argue with you," Han said tiredly as he pointed a blaster in the rebel's direction. "If you're interested in getting out of this situation alive, you'll do as I say." With that, the Corellian pressed a signal button attached to his belt.
"Han?" Bria's voice came from behind him.
Moving with the speed that kept him alive for so long, Han grabbed the rebel and spun him around, using the man as a shield between himself and Tharen. "Don't make me hurt anyone, Bria," Han growled.
"I can't believe you're doing this," she whispered. "Those plans had to be sent, and now the Imperial's have won."
Han only grinned as the Falcon swooped over the horizon, firing lasers at the Stormtrooper's positions. "They haven't won, Bria. Here comes our ride now."
"Fine," she snarled at him. "I guess we'll do it your way. You haven't left us much choice."
That was the idea, he thought as he escorted them to the Falcon, which was now hovering over the beleaguered rebels, its landing ramp extended.
Once everyone was safely inside, Han raised the ramp and started to turn toward the corridor. It was at that instant he knew he'd made a mistake. Bria's blaster bolt hit him directly in his chest, and he dropped to his knees as agonizing pain spread through his body. He could see his vision tunneling into blackness, heard a distant roar in his ears, and dimly felt the warmth of his blood as it seeped from his chest. He knew his heart was no longer beating. Leia, I failed you, again, was his last thought.
"You shouldn't have made me do that, Han," Bria whispered through tears as she watched Solo die.
Try Again, Try Again, Try Again.... The words seemed to echo inside Solo's brain in rhythm with the beat of his heart. Heart.... Han's eyes snapped open, and he sat up with a gasp, grasping his chest and looking down. No fresh wounds marred his body. Where am I? Licking dry lips, he looked around. His cabin, his bunk. But I died! I remember dying! On shaky legs, he made his way once again to the refresher. Hot water poured out of the shower and the faucet, creating a sauna-like effect in the small room. He quickly turned off the water and looked at the steamed up mirror. In the misty mirror were the words: TRY AGAIN, dripping down moisture trails and rapidly fading in the cooling room.
Han spun around and looked at the ceiling. "What do you want me to do?" he screamed at the top of his lungs. "I don't understand!! I keep trying and trying, and whatever I do is wrong! Just give me a hint... some direction! This isn't FAIR!"
*Han?* Chewie stuck his head into the small room. *What isn't fair? Who are you talking to?*
The Corellian took a shuddering breath and tried to calm himself. "What is the date today?"
"You heard me!" Solo screamed at his partner as he pounded the wall in frustration. "What is the krethin' date?"
*The fifteenth,* Chewie replied carefully, not knowing whether to be angry or concerned.
"What month? What year? Where are we?"
*Do you need to go to a medical clinic? I think something is wrong, Han.*
Solo pushed past Chewie and sat down heavily on his bunk. "Please, pal. Just answer me."
*Fifth month, 6032. We just arrived on Nar Shaddaa two hours ago. You wanted to come here. Why don't you remember this?*
I'm back to two months before Alderaan was blown up. Why is this happening? Maybe it's not. Maybe I've gone insane, and none of this is happening, except in my mind, like some shifting illusion. "I remember. I just had a really bad nightmare and I lost track of where I was. I'm sorry for yelling," he mumbled into his hands. It wants me to try again and I'm not sure I can.
Toprawa, the sixth day of the seventh month.
Solo snatched the disk out of the computer for the second time, not at all certain if he was doing the right thing. He pushed the confused and angry rebel in front of him as Chewie guided the Falcon toward the fighting. "Drop your weapons," Han snapped at Bria and the others. "All of them. I'm not messing around, sweetheart."
"I can't believe you're doing this," she whispered. "Those plans had to be sent, and now the Imperial's have won."
"Believe it," he growled at her. "If you do as I say, you'll live. But don't think I'll hesitate to shoot you if I have to." Just like you shot me, Bria honey.
"I guess we don't have any choice," she snarled at him.
"Not if you want to live," was his curt response. He quickly herded the five remaining rebels up the ramp, and without taking his eyes off of them, slammed the hatch closed. "Chewie, take us to orbit," he shouted down the corridor. "Now everyone stay in front of me, and head to the left. I'm locking you into a cargo hold and I wouldn't advise that you try anything funny or I swear I'll space all of you out the airlock."
After securing the rebels in the empty, locked hold, Han ran to the cockpit. "How bad is the pursuit?"
Chewie nodded at the six approaching Ties. "Hey, six to one odds!" Han crowed. "Now those are odds I can live with!"
Senator Leia Organa waited in vain for the transmission of the Death Star plans, a transmission that never came. Eventually it became apparent that something had gone wrong, and the plans would not be sent. The Captain of the Tantive IV interrupted her vigil. "Princess? We have a Imperial Star Destroyer approaching. It's Lord Vader's ship, and he's hailing us. Do you want to take the communication, or should we attempt to jump into hyperspace?"
The Princess squared her shoulders and faced the Captain. "I'll take his call."
Obi-Wan Kenobi stopped cooking. Something had shifted in the flow of the Force. He shut his eyes and tried to concentrate, but whatever had happened eluded his senses. For some unknown reason, he suddenly and urgently felt the need to go to Mos Eisley, and if that's where the Force wanted him to go, that's where he would go. Walking over to a battered old trunk, Obi-Wan removed two lightsabers. One was his own - the other belonged to his long ago paddawan. He hesitated for only a moment before putting both lightsabers in a pouch under his robe.
"Lord Vader," Senator Organa said formally to the holo-image. "It's certainly unexpected to see you here."
"I would agree with that statement, Princess Organa," Vader hissed through his mask. "May I ask why your ship is in his area?"
"I'm here on a diplomatic mission to Tatooine," she replied smoothly. "The flight plan and my mission is public knowledge."
Vader had waited for the Senator's ship, anticipating the rebels would transmit the stolen Death Star plans to her. It hadn't happened, so the information provided by the Alderaanian spy had been incorrect. "Do you still plan on meeting with a coalition of moisture farmers on the surface?" he questioned her.
Indeed, that was Leia's cover - Imperial Senatorial aid for credit-strapped farmers. Except that the moisture farmers were rebels, using their positions as a cover for Senator Organa's presence on Tatooine. "Yes, I was just getting ready to leave on a shuttle for the surface. Is there a problem?"
I think there is a huge problem, Princess. "No," Vader inclined his head. "But my Star Destroyer will be remaining above Tatooine until your... mission is complete."
"That is your choice, Lord Vader," Leia said as she turned off the communication.
"I'm heading into Mos Eisley for a few days, Luke," Owen told his nephew. "I need you to stay here and take care of things until I get back."
"Mos Eisley?" Luke said eagerly. "Can I go with you? I never get to go anywhere."
"Your aunt can't stay here by herself," Owen grumbled at the young man. "Do you always have to argue with me?"
"Owen, he's young and he's bored," Beru interjected. "The farm can survive for a few days without him, and I can check the condensers. I'm not helpless."
"What if something stirs up the Tuskens? I don't want you here alone."
"We haven't had trouble with Tuskens since..." she stopped. "Well, for a very, very long time. They won't come to this farm, and you know it. Take him with you."
"Women," Owen groused as he threw up his hands.
"Does that mean I can come?"
"Yes, I suppose," he conceded rather reluctantly. "But I'm going to be in meetings, and you'd better stay out of trouble."
*You didn't tell me where we are going,* Chewie pointed out slowly as he watched the stars streak by. Evading the six Ties had not been much of a problem, even with no one manning the turrets, and now they were safely in hyperspace, along with five very angry, locked up rebels.
"We're heading back to Tatooine," Han said with a sigh. And, hopefully, Leia's ship will still be in one piece, and Luke will still be an innocent farmboy.
*Are you planning on selling these plans to Jabba?* Chewie growled suspiciously. Normally, this would not have been something the Wookiee would have even considered, but Han's behavior over the course of the past two months had been erratic and very out of character.
Offended, Han replied, "Is that what you think of me?"
*I no longer know what to think.*
"I'm taking the plans directly to the Tantive IV," Han said sullenly. "It's the rebel ship where Bria wanted to transmit the plans."
*The transmit tower was destroyed before the plans could be sent?*
"What does that mean?"
"I didn't let the rebels transmit, okay? I wanted to take the plans directly to Tatooine."
*May I ask why?*
"You wouldn't understand," Han answered his friend.
*It seems I no longer understand anything.*
Mos Eisley, Ben Kenobi thought to himself as he overlooked the sun-baked city. A wretched hive of scum and villainy. He shook off negative feelings and headed his ancient speeder down the slope.
Leia's shuttle landed in a private docking bay on the outskirts of Mos Eisley. The difference in temperature shocked her when she exited the cool craft and stepped into the furnace hot air of Tatooine. The Princess glanced up into the light blue sky nervously. Somewhere, high above, Darth Vader's ship circled like vrakri's, the predatory birds on Myrkr who swooped down on unsuspecting forest creatures, crushing the life out of their prey with sharp talons before the animal could scream. Leia thought she knew how those little animals felt.
The young moisture farmer felt giddy with excitement as the busy city of Mos Eisley came into view. The quiet town of Anchorhead was the extent of the young man's experience with a social life, and Anchorhead could fit into a corner of this large city. Everyone knew each other in his small village, and most of his friends had left Tatooine for Universities or military academies. Luke Skywalker knew there was more to life than this dry, dusty world, and he was yearning to break free.
By the time the Falcon came out of hyperspace over Tatooine, the ship's Captain was in a foul mood. Tending the five captive rebels had been a tedious and dangerous chore. Han had no intention of turning his back on them, or allowing any more than one at a time out of the locked hold to use the refresher. Even then, they were heavily guarded by both the Corellian and the Wookiee. The rebels had been quite vocal in their hatred of him, except for Bria, who refused to speak or even look at Han. As long as Leia was safe and Alderaan was not used for target practice, Han didn't care what the rebels said to him, or what they thought about him.
*Star Destroyer to port bow,* Chewie noted as the yellow planet came into focus.
Solo grunted his acknowledgement, his eyes scanning for another ship - Leia's ship. As they rounded the curvature of Tatooine, the Alderaanian ship came into view. "There it is," Han breathed in relief. "Still in one piece. We're gonna maneuver as close as possible to that ship and send a short range communication to them."
*They are focusing their defensive weapons at us.*
"Just keep our weapons powered down, and the forward shields up," Han instructed his co-pilot. "If we don't make any hostile moves, they won't fire. Hopefully." Solo ignored Chewie's groan, and drew the Falcon up as close as safety permitted.
*They are signaling us, and demanding that we pull back.*
Han turned on his short-range communication, and narrowed the signal as much as he could. "Tantive IV, this is Captain Solo of the Millennium Falcon, requesting to speak to Senator Organa."
"Captain Solo, this is Captain Nyars," a voice came back over the speaker. "Senator Organa is currently unavailable, and you are in violation of our space radius. Please pull your ship back to the required distance."
"No," Han said shortly. "I have to speak to her, and it's a matter of utmost importance."
"No?" the Captain of Tantive IV sounded incredulous. "You're refusing to back off?"
"Listen carefully, Captain Nyars," Han growled. "I'm not in any mood for niceties, and if you don't put Senator Organa on the comm, I'm gonna start sending my Red Handful of guests over one at a time to your ship - without spacesuits."
Chewie groaned again, louder this time, and Han put his hand over the microphone. "Just a sabacc bluff, pal."
The silence went on for a long minute. Then Nyars came back on the comm. "Senator Organa is in a meeting."
"Interrupt her! How hard is that?"
"It is very difficult, Captain Solo. She is not currently on the Tantive IV."
The Corellian felt sick. "Don't tell me you let her go onboard that Star Destroyer."
"I don't "let" her do anything, Captain," Nyars replied coolly. "And she is not on the Star Destroyer."
"So she's on Tatooine?" Han sighed. It felt like he was pulling teeth to get information out of this annoying man.
"Yes," Nyars admitted, somewhat reluctantly.
More silence. Finally Han yelled into the comlink, "Listen, you bureaucratic, pompous, son of a Sith, I'm not kidding when I told you this is important! I know the Princess personally, and she's gonna be more than a little ticked when she finds out you've been jerking me around!"
"Thank you. Thank you very much." Han pulled his ship into a tight turn and headed to the surface.
*You know the Princess personally?* Chewie teased with a toothy grin.
Ben Kenobi parked his speeder and wandered through the streets of Mos Eisley, waiting for the Force to give him some direction. Although everything seemed calm and quiet, his inner sense was prodding at him, giving him a sense of unease. Something was going to happen, and very soon.
When the Falcon lifted off from the small town of Anchorhead, Han actually laughed out loud. "Didn't you just love the expression on Bria's face when we dumped those rebels off in that backwards little town?" She had been furious, accusing Han of being a traitor and a spy. The extent of her vulgar curses surprised and impressed Solo. "Now you have some idea how I felt, sweetheart, when you pulled that blaster on me and my friends," he'd replied with a shrug. It had felt good to be able to turn the tables and show her how it felt to be betrayed by someone you loved. Not very high and noble sentiments, he had mused, but then, I'm not a Jedi.
*That was mean,* Chewie answered his friend. *They don't even have enough credits between them to buy a ride to Mos Eisley.*
"I wouldn't worry too much about 'em," Han returned. "They have enough to buy food, and Bria can always contact her rich daddy to forward them money. It'll just take a few days to get to them, and a few days is more than we need." Han nodded his head at the forward viewport. "Mos Eisley, coming up."
*I hope you know what you're doing, my friend.*
That answer didn't make Chewie very happy.
Owen Lars stopped at a small building in a shabby part of town - well, shabbier than most of the buildings. He indicated with a jerk of his head a darkened stairwell that led to a basement area under the main street. "This is where my meeting is being held. I want you to stay out of trouble, Luke, and I mean it. Just look around at some speeder shops, or trader's posts. Don't go in any bars."
Luke sighed and repressed the urge to roll his eyes. "I'm not a little kid."
"Luke! I'm warning you again, this isn't Anchorhead. Rough outlaws hang around this town, and if they take one look at you they'll smell an easy mark."
"I'll be careful, Uncle," Luke replied, only slightly chastised. Owen walked down the narrow stairs and disappeared through the doorway. Grinning at his sudden freedom, Luke turned around and put his hands on his hips, trying to decide where to go first.
After wandering around for the better part of a timepart, Luke realized he was hot and thirsty. He stopped in front of the entrance of a saloon, listening as loud music drifted from the doorway. A faded sign hung overhead, advertising Food and Spirits. Free entertainment - The Fantastic Maxx Rebo Band! How could a place that offered free entertainment be dangerous? Uncle Owen worried too much - besides, how would he ever find out?
Senator Organa looked around the battered table at the four craggy faces of the moisture farmers. Two of them weren't very old, but the years spent working under the relentless twin suns had lined their faces, making them appear older than their actual ages. The farmers were honest, credit-strapped men with more than a few things in common. One of those things was a mutual hatred of the Empire and Palpatine. She had been listening for hours to their complaints and grievances. The Princess understood completely how the Empire had spent years wronging them, allowing slavery to run rampant on this system, and taxing their earnings to the point that they had turned to hiring smugglers to bring them needed supplies and equipment. They were fed up, and more than eager to lend assistance in whatever way they could to the Rebellion.
And that was why she was here - to offer credits in exchange for setting up information and resistance cells on Tatooine. Perhaps these people would never be able to directly fight against the Stormtroopers that raided their homes and killed their families without remorse. But like a drop of water dripping on a boulder, they could, in time, help wear it down.
Han sat down heavily on the padded seat in the dimly lit bar. They had spent hours looking for the Princess without success. This did not surprise Chewie, since the city was large and crowded. He glanced over at Solo as he sat down across from his friend. *You didn't think we would just run into this Senator, did you?*
"Sorta," Han replied as he squinted to adjust to the low light in the saloon. Because I still don't understand what I'm supposed to be doing, so why doesn't the Force help me out just a little bit? A movement at the bar counter caught his eye, and Solo broke into a huge grin. "Skywalker." Maybe things were going to go right this time.
*Who?* Chewie barked out. Did he say .. Skywalker?
"A kid I know..." Han started to say. "I mean, uh, I've seen hanging around. I just heard someone say his name." After his first experience in reliving time, Han had not confided in Chewie again. He was starting to wonder if it made a difference, since the second experience had been no more successful than his first.
Looking back to the bar, Han saw a nasty looking human and a Nikto pushing the kid around, while Luke was holding up his hands in a vain attempt to calm the drunks. Solo also noted Obi-Wan Kenobi was nowhere to be seen. Why is my life always so complicated? Groaning tiredly, Han pushed to his feet and strolled over to the confrontation, calmly unsnapping his blaster. "Leave the kid alone," he ordered the drunken pair.
The dirty human spun around to face Han. "You mind yer own business," he snarled at Solo, poking the Corellian in the chest. "Or yer gonna find a big ole smokin' hole in yer center, friend."
That's already happened to me once, buddy, Han thought, growing ever more weary. "I'm making this my business, friend," Han returned in a deadly voice. He stepped back several paces, and put his hand down loosely at his side. "Leave the kid alone, or face the consequences."
The drunk grinned. "Don' say I didn' warn ya." He reached for his own blaster, but barely had a chance to put his fingers on the handle before Solo's blaster shot hit his chest. He looked down in amazement for a brief second before falling face forward - dead before he hit the ground. The Nikto snarled at Solo, but quickly backed off when a large Wookiee with a bowcaster appeared behind the Corellian as backup. Giving a curse in Han's general direction, he turned and left the bar.
"Wow," Luke whispered in awe. "You sure draw fast. I could barely follow it."
It seemed amazing to Han that Luke was ever this young and inexperienced. The Jedi Master that Luke became would have simply pushed both the human and Nikto against the far wall with a flick of his wrist. "Why don't we get out of here before some law enforcement Imp's decide they're bored and need to investigate," Han suggested with a grin.
"Sure," the young man smiled back.
"Sorry about the mess," The Corellian said as he tossed some credits at the bartender as they left. When they exited the bar, Han stuck out his hand. "The name's Captain Han Solo and this is my co-pilot, Chewbacca. Nice meeting you." Again... for the third time.
"Luke Skywalker," the blond kid returned. "Thanks for helping me out back there."
"Not a problem. I'm glad I could help." Han frowned as he looked at Luke's worried expression. The kid was not looking at him, but past his right shoulder. Solo turned and noticed the billowing smoke as it rose over buildings in the not too far distance. Stormtroopers ran past them, heading toward the disturbance.
"Uncle Owen?" Luke said softly. He started to follow the troopers, until Han grabbed his arm.
"Wait! Where are you going?"
"My uncle is over there!"
While they rushed toward the haze and the smoke, Solo noted that only Stormstroopers were headed the same direction they were - all the residents were fleeing the scene. That struck Han as odd, since usually beings of all types were attracted to disasters. So whatever the problem is, it appears the Imperials are the cause, Solo surmised. Turning a corner, the three came to a sudden halt. Stormstroopers surrounded a small building, blowing holes into the sides of the crumbling structure. "Is that the building your uncle is in?"
"Yes," Luke replied, wide eyed with fear. "Why are they doing this?"
"It's the Empire, kid. They don't need much of an excuse."
"We have to help him!"
"There are about thirty troopers and three of us. Do you even have a weapon?"
"Oftentimes, what seems impossible is only impossible in our minds," a refined voice said from behind them.
This time Han recognized the speaker, and turned his head around to look at the man in the brown robes. "If you would like to offer any helpful suggestions, stranger, I'm willing to listen."
"If the Wookiee would be so kind as to take cover inside the building to our right, and if you would go to the roof of this building, you could provide me with a decent cover while I attempt to rescue those that are trapped inside."
"What can I do?" Luke asked, desperate to help.
"Come with me," Ben replied. "There are probably wounded inside the building that will need assistance." The Jedi turned to Solo. "Will you do as I ask?"
"Oh, sure. I haven't been shot at yet today, and I was starting to feel neglected." The Corellian nodded to his partner and they quickly ran to take their positions.
When the Stormtroopers suddenly found themselves under assault from behind, they broke cover and attempted to locate this unexpected threat. Ben Kenobi used the distraction quickly and efficiently, and with Luke running behind, made his way through the thick smoke and dust into the interior of the besieged basement area. Immediately, Luke's eyes started to burn, and he coughed as the smoke made breathing difficult. "It's too dark, we can't see to find anyone."
A snap hiss sounded, and a blue glow lit up the hazy interior. "This should help." The older man led Luke toward a small room, and carefully pushed the door open. A blaster bolt flew from inside the room, but the Jedi easily deflected the shot. "We're here to help you," he called into the room.
A female voice shouted back, "Identify yourself!"
"General Obi-Wan Kenobi?" The young woman limped forward, appearing out of the dusty fog. Her white robes where torn and filthy and her hair was hanging loosely down on one side of her face, the other side was still up in a bun against the side of head. A dark, red streak stained the left leg she was favoring. "I can't believe you're here!"
She's beautiful, Luke thought, awestruck. "Hi. I'm Luke Skywalker," he introduced himself.
Only then did Leia Organa notice the young man and responded politely. "Hello, my name is Leia Organa, and I really think we should get out of here."
"I agree," Ben said. "How many are wounded?'
"I'm the only one that's been shot, but we've had a casualty," she replied tightly.
"Who? Who was killed?" Luke asked, grabbing her by the arm.
"A man named Owen Lars."
Luke felt the room sway and the old man steadied him. "I'm sorry, Luke. We have to leave," Ben said gently.
The boy nodded and watched as Ben Kenobi and the young woman helped the three remaining men to their feet and prodded them toward the door. Blinking back tears, Luke looked for a moment at the body of his uncle. They'll pay for this, Uncle Owen. I promise you, they'll pay.
"Luke?" the young woman asked.
It always amazed Han to see how badly Stormtroopers aimed. They really should've come up with a helmet those idiots could actually see through. As soon as he noticed figures emerging from the smoldering building, Solo put his comlink to his mouth. "Chewie, let's make a break for it, but keep shooting to cover the kid and the old man." With that, Han took off - running and firing at the same time while he headed towards an alleyway. He quickly met up with the group of six fugitives. It took him a second to recognize Leia through the grime and soot. "Leia!"
Frowning, the young woman looked up at the tall man, who was smiling down at her. "Do I know you?"
"Uh, no. My name's Captain Han Solo. I just recognize you from the holo-news."
"Then I would appreciate it if you'd address me as Senator Organa, and not as Leia."
"Fine, sweetheart, whatever you want," Han replied as he looked around. "Where's Chewie?"
"Who?" she snapped, annoyed at being called 'sweetheart' by this impertinent man.
"My partner..." a roar sounded as a large land speeder turned the corner at breakneck speed. "Never mind, our ride's here."
The three moisture farmers and Ben Kenobi climbed into the back, while Han, Luke and the Princess smashed next to the Wookiee in the front. "This is a tight fit, Senator Sweetheart. Care to sit on my lap?" Han grinned at the bedraggled young woman.
"Care to become a eunuch today?" Leia shot back quickly.
Solo laughed. "Get this thing moving, Chewie!"
"Once we get to the Falcon, you contact your ship and tell them to leave. I'll get you to your rebel base," Han instructed Leia as the stolen speeder tore through town.
"How do you know I'm with the rebellion?" she asked suspiciously.
"The rebellion?" Luke leaned forward. "Uncle Owen was involved with the rebellion?"
"I'm not leaving my family behind," one of the three men said from the backseat.
"Me, either," another put in.
"And Aunt Beru can't be left alone on the farm," Luke protested, thinking about his aunt for the first time. She would be devastated over the death of her husband.
"We can't make a bunch of little hops," Han said, exasperated. "We'll get caught for sure."
The third farmer, a ruddy faced, red-haired man spoke up. "I've got my own ship. Just give me locations and I'll pick everyone up in this speeder and follow after you. I'll just need the location of the base," he added eagerly.
A warning tingle went up Solo's spine. "Since we're all friendly here, I don't see a problem. The base is on Datooine."
He felt the pressure of a blaster on his neck. "Thank you. Now tell your friend to stop this vehicle so I can contact the authorities."
"I think you have a spy in your little group, Senator Worshipfulness. Stop the speeder, Chewie." The Wookiee quickly obeyed.
The ruddy man grinned and brought a comlink to his mouth, but before he could turn it on the blaster was ripped from his grasp and flew into the hand of Ben Kenobi. "It would be a good idea for you to leave this speeder," Obi-Wan said as he also relieved the man of the comlink. They watched as the man climbed out, his face becoming pale with fear.
"I vote for blasting him," Han said.
"That is not necessary," Ben replied. "Just take us to your ship, Captain."
As they pulled up to the Falcon, Han turned to face the farmers. "What do you want me to do about your families?" Now that he thought about it, he knew there was no way he'd ever leave his family behind and in grave danger. If they wanted to take the risks involved with short hops to each farm, he was willing to do it, although he suspected it would mean they'd all get captured.
"I have relatives on Duro, Ellbe," the youngest farmer said, addressing the older farmer. "And I have my own ship. If you want me to, I'll take you and your family with me to Duro. I know my relatives aren't wealthy, but they'll do right by us, and once our families are safe we can rejoin the rebellion."
Ellbe nodded in agreement. "That's decent of you to offer, and it sounds like the best chance we'll have."
"What about my Aunt Beru?" Luke inserted. "She can't take care of that farm, and once the Imp's identify my uncle, they'll go after her."
"We'll stop by Owen's farm first, Luke," the older farmer replied. "We can't make her leave, but we'll do our best to convince her. I knew your uncle for years, and it's the least I can do."
"She'll go with them, Luke," Ben said. "Beru has always been a very sensible woman."
Luke nodded, suddenly feeling overwhelmed by grief and loss, and Ben put his arm around the young man in comfort. They left the speeder to the two remaining moisture farmers turned rebels, and headed for the Falcon.
"You actually fly in this thing?" Leia said to Han as they approached the ship. "You're braver than I thought."
"You never answered my question," the Princess said as soon as the Falcon lifted off. "How did you know I'm with the Rebellion?"
Han sighed. The true answer was too complicated, so he opted for a partial truth. "I was with the Red Hand Squadron when they intercepted the Death Star plans. The transmitter was destroyed before they could send you the plans, so that's why I'm here."
"You're with the Red Hand Squadron? You have the plans?" Leia asked excitedly.
"Yes, I have the plans. We're gonna need to send the Captain of your ship a quick message that you're okay, and they need to head back to Coruscant, or Alderaan, or wherever. I'm taking you to your rebel base with the plans." Han looked over at his co-pilot. "Take us close to the Tantive IV one more time."
"How do I know if I can trust you?" Leia questioned. "What happened to the Red Hand?"
Han hesitated for a second. "We got separated." It was the truth - in a manner of speaking.
The Princess was uncertain if she should trust Solo, but at this point she felt as though she had no choice. The plans to the Death Star were too important. "All right," she conceded. "I'll contact Captain Nyars, and tell him to return to Alderaan. But you should know Vader's Star Destroyer is over Tatooine."
"I'm way ahead of you on that, too, Senator Holiness."
Leia felt like slugging the man.
Lord Darth Vader watched from a distance as the small ship drew close to Tantive IV, and moments later flew away. Attempts by Tie's to intercept the small freighter failed miserably, just as the bumbling Imperials on the surface had failed to catch the Princess in the act of espionage and recruitment of rebel sympathizers. Both the Tantive IV and the unidentified freighter jumped to hyperspace, leaving Vader fuming. The Emperor would not take this failure to recover the stolen Death Star plans lightly, but without the Princess he had no way to find either the plans or the rebel base. Vader could see only one way to force Senator Leia Organa to cooperate. He turned to his Captain. "Set course for Alderaan." Perhaps Bail Organa would be able to make his foolish daughter come to her senses. If not, Bail Organa would be sorry he was ever born.
"I can fix my leg myself," Leia shouted from inside the refresher. "I don't need your assistance."
The Corellian shut his eyes and leaned against the side of the door. "You were bleeding pretty badly. I think you should let me at least look at it." Stars, that woman was stubborn. No wonder it took three years before she let me kiss her.
"I have it under control, flyboy," she yelled back. "I'm not letting you paw me."
Don't get mad, don't get mad... "Fine! Just don't blame me if you pass out and crack your thick skull on the floor!"
The door slid open, revealing a slightly cleaned up, patched up, very angry Princess. "You seem to be the one with the thick skull," she snapped at him. "As a matter of fact, it's probably so thick it doesn't leave room for a single brain cell. And quit that annoying grinning, you look like an idiot! What's the matter with you, did the doctor drop you on your head when you were born?"
I love you, Princess. "Maybe," Han kept smiling at her, unable to stop himself. "Can't say that I remember."
"It's amazing you can remember to put your boots on the right foot," she said as she pushed past him.
"I love you, Princess," Han whispered to himself as he watched her storm off.
Yavin Base, three days later.
"General Dodonna," Leia said as she embraced the older man. "I'm sorry I was delayed in bringing you the plans."
"As long as you got them here, Princess, that's all that matters," the General replied. He turned his attention to the man in the brown robe. "Obi-Wan Kenobi. I can't believe my eyes."
"Believe your eyes, my friend," Ben said as he shook Dodonna's hand.
"And who are your new friends?" Dodonna asked the Princess, indicating the two men and the Wookiee.
"This is Luke Skywalker," she replied quickly. "Obi-Wan says he is very strong in the Force, and has already started training him as a Jedi." She waited until Dodonna shook Luke's hand and welcomed him before introducing Solo and Chewie. "And this is Captain Han Solo and his partner, Chewbacca, a former smuggler who joined the Red Hand Squadron and ended up with the Death Star plans. I guess we should be thanking him for getting the plans to us," she concluded reluctantly.
"Oh, that's okay, Senator Sweetie," Han teased. "Your overwhelming gratitude is thanks enough for me."
"Listen, you, you..." she started to respond before Dodonna interrupted.
"Captain, on behalf of the Rebellion, we do thank you for ensuring these plans arrived on base." He turned to Leia. "Princess, I need to speak to you in private about something we've just heard."
Leia nodded and followed the General away from the group. Han watched them go. Please, please let Alderaan be still in one piece.
"I think I'm going to join the rebellion, Ben," Luke told his mentor. "It's what Uncle Owen would have wanted me to do."
"Your uncle wanted you to follow your own path, and not be influenced by others," Ben said to the young man.
Solo looked at Obi-Wan. "Isn't that exactly what you're trying to do? Influence Luke to become a Jedi?"
"Ultimately, the decision is up to Luke. I am merely offering him options."
"People need to make decisions based on all the facts, Kenobi," Han argued, annoyed at Ben. "It's hard to play a fair game of sabacc when someone is withholding the most important cards in the deck."
"What cards do you think I'm withholding, Captain?"
"Jedi seem to have their own rules for playing the game, don't they?" Han responded cryptically, trying to keep in anger in check. "Come on, Chewie, let's go run some checks on the Falcon."
"What did he mean by all that?" Luke asked.
Obi-Wan watched the Corellian walk away. He knows. "I don't know."
The next day.
Solo was poking around under the belly of his ship when Luke approached him. "Han."
"Did you hear about Leia?"
He felt his heart drop to his boots. "No. What's happened?"
"Vader's arrested her father and is holding him on his Destroyer. He says Prince Organa will be executed unless she returns the Death Star plans and tells Vader where the rebel base is located."
"Where is the Death Star now? Does anyone know?"
"There's a rumor that it's heading to Alderaan."
He won't just stop at killing her father.....Han felt sick. No matter what he did, the end result was always the same - Alderaan was destroyed. "How is the Rebellion going to respond?"
"There's going to be an assembly in a few hours to lay out the plan. Are you coming?"
"Sure, kid. I'll be there."
Princess Organa stood in the front of the room of rebels as General Dodonna addressed the small crowd. "As I'm sure you are aware, Prince Organa is being held hostage by Darth Vader in exchange for the Death Star plans, and the location of this base. We also have it on good authority that the Death Star is currently on its way to Alderaan, undoubtedly to be used to further threatened the good people of Alderaan. It is imperative that we intercept the Death Star before it arrives at Alderaan. We have analyzed the plans, and found a weakness in the defense system of the Death Star..."
Dodonna continued his speech while Han and Chewie listened at the back of the room. Chewie roared his disbelief when the General described the only way to destroy the Death Star.
"I know," Han nodded. "It sounds impossible, but I think it can be done." It has to be done! I can't go through this again. He watched as the rebels started to stand and leave the room once the General dismissed them. Luke and Leia headed in his direction.
"Are you going to help us Han?" Luke asked. "We sure could use a good pilot like you."
"I don't think so, kid," Han replied slowly. "I think maybe it's about time I leave the rebellion. I'm not too sure I'm cut out for this stuff." Besides, I need to be there to shoot those Ties off your tail.
"I wish you'd find it in your heart to change your mind, Captain," Leia added sincerely. "The rebellion needs resourceful people like you."
Before Han had a chance to reply, a very familiar female voice spoke up from behind him. "Oh, he's very resourceful Princess. Let me tell you just how resourceful Solo is."
Slowly, Han turned around to find himself facing a very angry Bria Tharen, who was pointing a blaster at his chest. "Hi, Bria. Funny how we just seem to keep runnin' into each other in the oddest places."
Ignoring Solo's comment, Tharen looked at the Princess. "This man is a spy and a traitor. He prevented Red Hand Squadron from transmitting those plans until the Imps took out the tower."
"Is that true?" Dodonna asked as he came up behind the Princess.
"The plans are here, aren't they?" Han shot back. "I told you it was necessary to take them personally, and not transmit them. Vader would have been able to trace that transmission."
"How did you know Vader was right above Tatooine?" Leia asked. The idea that Han Solo might be a spy bothered her. Even with all his teasing and his annoying flippant attitude, he had not come across as a traitor.
"And you were just about to leave, right Solo?" Bria added. "I figure the first place you intended to head was Coruscant, and let the Emperor know where the rebel base is located."
"Do you have an explanation, Captain?" Leia questioned, hoping he did.
"I, uh, see..," Han started out. Well, that certainly sounds convincing. "I'm not a spy," he finished weakly.
Dodonna signaled the rebels, who were now surrounding the group. "Please remove your weapons, Captain Solo and Chewbacca. I regret to inform you that you're both under arrest until further investigation."
Guards stepped forward and quickly handcuffed both the Corellian and the Wookiee. Han looked first to Luke and then to Leia. "I'm not a spy," he repeated as he was lead away.
Sitting alone in his small but clean cell, Han could only rail at whatever fate had decided to put him through this living hell. It's not working, he thought desperately to whatever or whoever would listen to his mental rantings. No matter what I do, I can't make it work! Just send me back to the age I was! I can't take this anymore!
The door slide open, and Princess Leia entered the cell. "Captain Solo," she said politely. "I want to talk to you." She noted Solo looked upset, and guessed she might feel the same way under his circumstances.
"All right," he answered carefully. "Make yourself comfortable." He waved at the tiny cot.
"I'll stand, thank you."
"I'm not a spy."
"So you've said. Please explain why you stopped Red Hand from transmitting the data. I want to believe you, Captain."
"I already told you, Vader was going to trace the transmission. You would have ended up his prisoner, instead of your father, and you would have been tortured. I couldn't let that happen."
Leia sighed. "How did you know Vader's ship was above Tatooine?"
Just tell her, Solo. What have you got to lose? "Princess, I'm going to tell you a long story, and when I'm done you're gonna tell me I'm either the boldest liar ever born, or you're gonna think I'm insane." Han took a deep breath. Here goes nothin'....
When he was done, Leia was sitting next to him on the cot, staring at him. "You believe all this? That you're from thirty years in the future? And something or someone expects you to change what's happening right now?"
"I know what it sounds like," Han conceded. "And every time I start over I do manage to keep changing things. Just not for the better." He still hadn't told her everything up to this point. He'd withheld the fact that Luke was her brother, and the fact the Vader was her father, and that he was her husband in this distant future.
"All right. Suppose I assume you're telling the truth. Why you, and why were you leaving the rebellion if you were sent back to help?"
"I mean, why are you the one sent back and not me? Or Luke?"
"I don't know why I'm the one having all this fun. I wasn't leaving the rebellion, anyway. I just didn't want Dodonna to get it in his head they need more pilots and have him send me up against the Death Star in an X-Wing. I can help Luke better in my own ship, and in my own way." I hope.
A sudden thought occurred to her. "Am I dead in this future?"
"No!" Han yelled, upset at the idea. "Both you and Luke are just fine from the time I came from."
"Am I married to Luke?"
"You'd better not be," Han groused.
"Do I sense jealousy?" she laughed.
"No, sweetheart. I got over being jealous of Luke when you told me he was your twin brother." There, I said it. Let the chips fall where they may.
"You think Luke is my twin brother? Maybe you are crazy."
"Ask Kenobi. Although on second thought, since he seems to like to lie maybe that's not such a good idea, either."
"I don't appreciate you calling General Kenobi a liar," she responded hotly.
"Well, he is. I can't help it."
The Princess stood up. "I don't know if this conversation has helped or hurt your cause, Captain. I simply don't know what to make of you."
"Twenty years of marriage, and you'll still be saying the same thing," Han grinned up at her.
"Marriage? Are you telling me you think we've been married for twenty years?"
Han stood up next to Leia. "I know we've been married for twenty years," he whispered to her softly. "I know your favorite color is light blue, and I know the name of your favorite stuffed toy when you were growing up - Kissaday. You called him Kissaday because you always gave him a kiss a day. I know your favorite novel is, "The Dawning of Tomorrow", and I know that your feet aren't ticklish, but touching the soft skin behind your knees drives you crazy. I know that you were a bit of a tomboy growing up, and everyone mistook Winter for the Princess of Alderaan. I know a million little things about you, sweetheart, that only a husband would know."
During that quiet speech, Leia had stood rooted to the spot, staring into his hazel eyes. Eyes that reflected love. He loves me. Even if his words, every one the truth, had failed to convince her, she could not deny the love in his eyes. "A spy ... could have found out most of that stuff," she stuttered to the Corellian.
"I'm not a spy," he repeated, his voice husky. "You once told me you kept a diary when you were about ten, and one day your father made you really angry. You wrote in your diary that you hated him, and that you wanted him to die. But as soon as you'd written the words, you started crying. You took the diary down by a lake and tore each page, one by one, from the book and ripped them into shreds and threw them into the water. You never kept a diary after that. How would a spy know that?"
"I... I'll see you later." Heart pounding, she turned and fled the cell, leaving Han once again alone.
Leaning against a wall, Leia shut her eyes and forced herself not to cry. It was very difficult to think of her father on Vader's Star Destroyer, suffering at the evil Sith's hands. Like I would have suffered.... She brought herself up short. I believe Solo. I know I shouldn't - it's a crazy, insane story - but I believe him. Determined to get to the bottom of this issue, she sought out Obi-Wan Kenobi.
"When you go up against the Battle Station, you must allow the Force to guide you, Luke," Ben was telling his pupil when Leia entered the room. "You must not allow outside distractions - feel the Force as it flows through youu, and you will not fail." He turned to the Princess. "Can we help you?"
"Hello, Luke," she said to the young man, the man Solo claimed was her sibling. "Do you mind if I talk to Obi-Wan in private?"
"No, go right ahead. I need to get ready to leave with my squadron anyway."
The Princess nodded, and then went up and embraced a startled Luke. "You take care of yourself, and come back alive. I'll be heading out behind you in the Command Vessel."
"I'll be careful, Leia," he said quietly. "You take care, too." With that he walked away, leaving Leia standing next to Obi-Wan Kenobi. She started having second thoughts about questioning the Jedi.
"What's on your mind, Princess?" the Jedi asked.
No point in beating around the bush, she decided abruptly. "Is Luke Skywalker my brother? My twin?"
Obi-Wan opened his mouth in surprise, shut it quickly, and then tried again. "Where did you hear that story?"
"Does it matter?"
The smuggler! "Solo?"
"Please," she said simply. "Please just tell me the truth."
"It appears you already believe what you've been told."
"I would like the truth - the entire unvarnished truth, Obi-Wan."
"Are you certain you're prepared to hear the unvarnished truth? Because if I tell you, you mustn't tell Luke, at least not yet."
"So it's true." For some reason, it relieved her to know that Han Solo had not lied about everything. Perhaps he wasn't lying about the rest of it, either.
"Did he tell you anything else, like your parentage?"
"No. Is that important?"
"Very important and I think you can handle it, but like I said, Luke must not know what I tell you. It will only cause to distract him during this crucial event and if he becomes distracted, he will not survive."
This sounded ominous to Leia, and suddenly she wanted to be a little girl again, protected by those that loved her from evil and hurt. But it was time to grow up, and if she didn't find out the truth today, tomorrow might be too late. "I won't tell him."
"Then we should have a seat, because this is a very long story, and you will need to be sitting down when I tell you these truths you are so determined to hear."
When the cell door opened a second time, Han was lying on his back with his arm flung across his face. He rolled on his side and looked up at a very pale Princess Leia. "You didn't tell me Vader was my father," she said accusingly.
"I, I didn't want to upset you," Han replied. I see old Ben didn't have that same problem. "He admitted everything? That surprises me."
"I'm sure you're not nearly as surprised as I am," she snapped out. "Get up."
Bossy woman, Han thought as he obeyed. "Okay. Standing upright, Senator Highnessness."
"I'm letting you and your partner leave. I tried to convince General Dodonna that you're not a spy. I don't know if he believes it, but we have bigger problems right now, so he agreed to let you go."
"Thank you." He was surprised to see tears in her eyes. "Don't cry, Leia." Han stepped forward and took her into his arms, pleased when she did not resist his embrace. "Maybe it'll all work out right this time."
"My father...I mean Bail, is going to die, and there isn't anything I can do about it."
"First, let's save Alderaan and take out that Death Star," he whispered into her hair. "Then we'll come up with a plan to save your father."
"Which father?" she mumbled into his shirt.
"Maybe both of them."
"Take care, Luke," Han said as he shook the young man's hand.
Luke smiled and returned the grip firmly. "I really wish you'd come with us."
I'll be right behind you.... "May the Force be with you." Han watched as Luke went running off the join his squad, with Artoo in the distance being lifted into the X-Wing.
"Solo," a sultry voice said from behind him. Bria. Han turned to look at the red-head. "I see you sweet-talked your way out of another tight situation. Some things never change."
"And some things change so much, you can't recognize them," Han returned. He noted she was holding a duffle bag, and the rest of Red Hand Squadron stood behind her. "Off on another mission?"
"Yes, but I'm sure you won't mind if I don't tell you where," she replied tightly. "You might have pulled the bantha wool over the eyes of Princess Leia and that naive farmboy Skywalker, but I'll never trust you again."
"The feelings are mutual, Tharen."
When she walked away, Han felt a huge weight lift from his shoulders. Hopefully, she was out of his life forever, but the way his life seemed to work, that was probably wishful thinking. His eyes searched the hanger until he located the female he wanted to see - Leia. He headed toward her, hoping it wouldn't be the last time he'd see her. "Princess."
She looked up from her datapad and gave him a tentative smile. "I'm surprised you're still here."
"Hey, I like to be unpredictable."
"You certainly manage that. I see Tharen had some words with you."
"Bria and me go way back. We've always had what you'd call a dysfunctional relationship."
"Do you love her?"
"Once I thought I did, before I met you and discovered what real love was all about."
Leia lowered her eyes. "You're not giving up on this story, are you?"
"How can I give it up when it's the truth?" Han put his finger under her chin and tilted her face up. "Goodbye, Leia. I'll see you soon, I promise."
"I plan on holding you to that promise, flyboy."
Vader's Star Destroyer, above Alderaan
Darth Vader watched as Bail Organa screamed in agony as the interrogation needles pierced his skin. The man was a fool, Vader had decided hours ago. Organa was fully involved with the rebellion, of that Lord Vader was certain. But, unfortunately, he had no idea where the rebel base was located. Perhaps when he sent holovids of the dear Prince to the surface of Alderaan, his young daughter would eventually receive those images. If she had any love at all for her father, she would give in once she saw that the Empire meant business. And even if she could hold out against evidence of her father's pain and suffering, the images of the Death Star hovering above her beloved planet would convince her to betray the rebellion.
"General Kenobi," Leia said as she exited the shuttle that had taken her up to the large Command Ship. Threepio trailed behind in her wake. "I didn't expect you to be onboard."
"I've stayed away from the action for too long, Senator," Obi-Wan said. "I only hope I can help."
"I'm sure you will be of great assistance to us," she replied politely.
"The young smuggler has left the rebellion?" Kenobi questioned casually.
"Captain Solo said he has business that needs attending. Whatever you may think of him, I don't believe he is a spy, or that he intends to sell us out to the Empire."
"I do not believe that, either," Obi-Wan said. "But I have no idea what his agenda is - he is one of the very few people whose intentions I have not been able to read through the Force."
Leia smiled. Maybe you aren't supposed to be able to read him, General Kenobi.
It was a now race against time -the rebels needed to intercept the Death Star before it arrived at Alderaan. The Millennium Falcon arrived before either the rebel fleet or the Death Star, and hovered far back on the opposite side of the system from Vader's private Destroyer. Solo was surprised at the amount of ship traffic leaving the planet. "I'm gonna see if Vader's communicating with Alderaan," Han told his partner as he played with comlink dial. A voice came over the comm, "The terrible images of our dear Viceroy, Prince Bail Organa, have caused system-wide turmoil. People have taken to the streets to protest the Empire's illegal action while others have fled the planet in fear of the new space station that is rumored to be able to destroy an entire planet, and according to sensors, is heading toward Alderaan."
Han looked up at his partner. "With all these ships leaving, at least we blend in with the crowd."
*At least,* Chewie barked back sarcastically.
"Hey! You don't want to just abandon the rebels, did you?"
*No, I don't want to abandon them, cub. I just don't understand what's gotten into you. The Han Solo I've known for years has been replaced by this stranger that does one unexplainable thing right after the other, and I would just like to know why, that's all.*
"I can't explain it either," Han replied softly.
*I think you could, but you don't want to.*
Ya, Chewie, you should understand that dilemma. "Please, just trust me," Solo responded.
*I'm still here, right?*
The rebel fleet dropped out of hyperspace and quickly took up positions between the planet and the location where the Death Star was estimated to leave hyperspace. General Dodonna reviewed the coordinates and looked over at the Princess. "Our larger ships are heading to engage the Star Destroyer. I hope we won't lose too many X-Wings before the Death Star arrives, or .."
An excited voice interrupted him. "Sir! The Death Star has just left hyperspace and it should be on your screen now!"
Dodonna turned his attention back to the tracking screen and clicked on his comlink. "Attention all X-Wings. Red squadron, assist the Fleet with the Star Destroyer. Blue squadron, engage the Death Star and begin your runs immediately."
Leia folded her arms tightly against her chest and shut her eyes. Please, Luke - stay safe. And please Han, don't let me down.
Vader's Star Destroyer
Lord Vader frowned behind his helmet. This was a bold and risky move the rebels were making, but it could lead to the Empire's advantage. He watched as Tie fighters tore away from the Destroyer to take on the larger ships. The rebels would be forced to engage in two battle fronts at the same time. If the rebel plan failed, this rag-tag operation that had been an annoyance for years would be finished. Palpatine would be very pleased.
"We've analyzed their attack plan, and there is a possibility they could be successful in destroying this Station," the Imperial Lieutenant informed Governor Tarkin. "Would you like me to ready your ship, sir?"
"You overestimate their chances, Lieutenant," Tarkin snapped at the man. "I will not abandon this Station in our hour of triumph. Soon, the rebels will be destroyed and Alderaan will be space dust. Continue our approach and let me know when we are within firing range."
Space, over Alderaan
Obi-Wan Kenobi flew the small black ship, stolen from the Imperial Navy months before, from the bowels of the Command Ship and out into the battle. Using the Force as his cover, he moved toward the Star Destroyer, sending out an Imperial distress signal. General Dodonna had been reluctant to allow the Jedi to attempt this rescue effort, but Kenobi had convinced him of the necessity to at least allow him to try. The Star Destroyer's docking bay obediently opened at his approach, but why wouldn't it? After all, it was only a crippled Tie fighter returning to home base from the intense fighting in space. From across the blackness of space, Obi-Wan could sense Luke's fear and uncertainty. The Jedi shut his eyes and concentrated. Trust your feelings. Use the Force, Luke. But by dropping his Force-block, even for that brief moment, another Force-sensitive became aware of his presence.
"Get clear, Wedge! You can't do any more good here," Luke yelled to his new friend as Wedge pulled away from the trench. The exhaust port was coming up fast, and there were still two very persistent Tie fighters on his tail. Artoo had already been hit, and his best friend, Biggs, had died in the intense fighting. Luke nervously adjusted his targeting computer. Trust your feelings. Use the Force, Luke. Luke flipped off his computer, and allowed the Force to guide him.
"Luke, your targeting computer has been turned off," Leia's voice said in his ear.
"I know," he replied. "Everything's under control." A shot from behind nearly hit him when suddenly one of the pursuing Imperial ships spun out of control, crashing into the wall and taking out the other Tie in the process.
"You're clear, kid! Now blow this thing so we can all go home!" Solo's voice yelled over the comlink as Chewie roared in the background.
The young Jedi-in-training took a breath and fired. The shot hit the exhaust port and went in. Quickly, Luke pulled his ship up and away from the Death Star.
"He did it!" Han screamed at his partner. "He did it!" Seconds later, the Death Star blew up in a spectacular explosion.
Alderaan was safe. A minute later, Vader's Destroyer left orbit and jumped to hyperspace.
Onboard the Rebel Command Ship
"You did it!" Leia yelled as she threw her arms around Luke, kissing his cheek. When he held the embrace, Leia pulled back. He still doesn't know, she reminded herself. That was going to be Obi-Wan's responsibility, not hers. Briefly, Leia wondered where Obi-Wan Kenobi was, but her musings were interrupted by Threepio's wail of distress.
"Oh my stars! Artoo!" Threepio lamented as the astromech droid was lowered. "If any of my parts will help, I'll gladly donate them."
"He'll be fine, Threepio," Luke reassured the worried protocol droid.
"Han!" Luke slapped the smuggler on his back joyfully as Solo rushed forward through the crowd. "I knew you'd come back!"
The Princess hugged the man who made the strange claim to be her husband from the future. "Thank you," she said.
"I told you so," he said, giving her a conspiratorial smile. Solo could not believe it - finally, he had managed to save Alderaan. Maybe now the Force will give me a break, and I'll wake up back with Leia in the future.
"Where's Ben?" Luke asked the Princess. "I used the Force, just like he wanted me to! That's why that shot went in."
"I haven't seen Obi-Wan for some time," Leia admitted.
"That's because he's not onboard," General Dodonna said as he walked up to the happy group.
"What? Where is he?"
"He used a stolen Tie to sneak onboard the Imperial Destroyer during the fighting. He planned to rescue your father, Princess, but he didn't have time. The Star Destroyer jumped to hyperspace immediately after the Death Star blew."
"Now they're both prisoners of Palpatine," Leia whispered in fear.
"I'm afraid so, your Highness."
The trip down to the surface of Alderaan was done in silence. Leia stared out of the viewport of the Falcon, thinking of her father, and Luke sat silently thinking about Ben. The old freighter set down on the island city of Aldera, inside the walled compound of the Royal Palace. Han could only stare in awe at the beauty of the elegant Palace and the flowering gardens that surrounded the huge estate. He had only seen images of the Palace in holovids, but the images didn't do justice to the size of the palace or the exquisite beauty of the grounds. Once again, Han was reminded of the huge gulf between his social status and that of Leia's. "Wow. I never imagined..." he stopped, not wanting to accidentally say anything wrong. Leia had asked him to keep his knowledge of Luke's relationship to her a secret until she found the opportunity to tell him in her own way, and Solo had agreed it was best that Luke hear it from the Princess.
"It's so big," Luke agreed. "I can't imagine what it would be like growing up in a place like this."
"It has it's disadvantages," Leia put in a little defensively. "Try to imagine what it's like to be followed by reporters and have your holo image broadcast all over every time you leave the grounds."
I know exactly what it's like, sweetheart. Being the husband to the President of the New Republic took away any anonymity I ever had, Han thought with a wry grin as they exited the ship. A tall, breathless young man with curly dark hair rushed toward them. Solo watched in surprise as the man gathered Leia up into his arms.
"Darling! You're okay! After they came for your father, I thought the worst had happened to you, too."
"Farrel, I'm fine," Leia reassured the man as she stepped quickly out of his embrace. "I'd like to introduce you to some people." She turned to Luke. "This is Luke Skywalker. He was the pilot that destroyed the Death Star."
Farrel grabbed Luke's hand and enthusiastically shook it. "Thank you! We owe you our lives. Perhaps we can offer you a reward, or perhaps an honorary title."
"I had help," Luke replied, embarrassed at the man's fawning. "Han got the Ties off my back so I could get the shot in."
"And this is Captain Han Solo and his co-pilot, Chewbacca," Leia finished up the introductions. "Everyone, I'd like you to met Lord Farrel Jarmon."
"Her fiancé," Farrel added with a grin.
"Fiancé?" Han sputtered out. "You had... have a fiancé?" Another krethin' thing I never knew! Did I know really ever know anybody, or did they all keep deep dark secrets from me?
The Princess's eyes narrowed. "Excuse us for a moment, Farrel. I need to discuss something with Captain Solo." Leia stalked back up the ramp of the Falcon, leaving Han staring after her.
*I think she wants you to follow her, Han,* Chewie remarked calmly.
"I know that," Han snapped as he stomped loudly up the ramp. Leia was waiting for him inside the hold, her hands on her hips, glaring. "You never said a word!" Han accused her as he pointed his finger in her face. "Never!"
"In this first place," she started out in a low tone, resisting the urge to chomp his finger. "I have only known you for a few days, so it should hardly come as a surprise that you don't know everything about me. In the second place, Farrel just assumes he's my fiancé - he proposed to me, and I never really accepted. He thinks he's my fiancé, kind of like you seem to think you're my husband!"
"I know I'm not your husband in this time!" Han yelled at the Princess. "I just don't understand why you never told me - even after twenty years of marriage!"
Leia gritted her teeth and growled out, "How would I know why I never told you? Maybe because I figured you're such a bantha brained, stubborn.... nerf...that you'd get mad and wouldn't listen to a word I said? If you act like this all the time, it's not a wonder I never told you anything about him! Actually, it's a wonder I married you at all!"
That last comment brought Han up short. He lowered his hand and suddenly realized she was right. She's always right, dammit. "It is a wonder you married me," he said quietly. "I see all this ... the palace, the gardens, everything you were surrounded by as you grew up. Believe me, Leia, everyday I had with you, I wondered why you ever married me. And now that you still have all of this, this stuff, I know I can't compete. By changing things, by saving Alderaan, maybe I've lost you."
"I don't love you, Han Solo," Leia replied after a moment. "But that doesn't mean I never will. Just don't try rushing things, okay?"
Han shut his eyes, trying to keep the pain of her words from showing in his face. I don't love you, Han Solo....I don't love you, Han Solo.... "I won't push you."
He opened his eyes and looked at her. "Yeah?"
"How long did it take me the first time to tell you I loved you?"
"Three years. Three very long years."
"That sounds like me," she laughed before turning and leaving the ship, thinking, Maybe, if you stop antagonizing me, it won't take that long this time.
Vader's Star Destroyer en route to Coruscant
It had been easy to distract the Stormtroopers using the Force, and move without being seen through the corridors of the vast ship. When the Destroyer jumped into hyperspace, Obi-Wan Kenobi knew he had missed his window of opportunity to rescue Viceroy Organa, and the hiss of a lightsaber behind him told him he'd been discovered. Removing his own saber, Obi-Wan turned to face his former padawan.
"You should not have come here, Obi-Wan Kenobi," Vader said in a deep voice. "Now I will have to kill you."
"Palpatine controls your mind and spirit, Vader," Kenobi replied. "But there is still good in you - I can sense it. There is still time to turn away from the Darkside."
"You are foolish, old man. The Darkside offers powers you can only imagine. Now, prepare to die."
"Do you like your room?" Leia asked as she stepped into the suite that had been assigned to Luke Skywalker.
"Are you kidding? This is just...unbelievable. I think most of my house on Tatooine could fit into this room," the young man replied with a laugh as he led her to the living area. Tatooine. It had been only a few days since Uncle Owen had died, and he'd escaped from the planet with his new friends. Thinking of his uncle made him start to worry about Aunt Beru, and his smile turned to a concerned frown at the thought.
"Are you sure? You look worried," she persisted.
"I'm just worried about my aunt, and now Ben's gone," he told her. "He shouldn't have tried that rescue by himself. It was too dangerous."
"Well, I appreciate the fact that he tried," Leia responded stiffly.
"I'm not saying the rebellion shouldn't have tried," Luke said quickly, trying to placate the Princess. "Just that he should have had help."
"I understand. In any case, I plan on organizing and leading a rescue effort for my father in the near future. Hopefully, we'll be able to rescue General Kenobi at the same time."
"You're going to Coruscant?" Luke asked, shocked. "That's dangerous."
"I realize that, but that's not the reason I came to see you. We have to talk, Luke, and it's important."
"What's the matter?" he asked, becoming worried.
The Princess steadied herself and plunged ahead. Since Obi-Wan was gone, and very possibly dead, Leia no longer could wait to tell Luke the truth - it was simply too important, and she felt it was unfair to keep this secret from her brother any longer than necessary. "Luke, you're my brother. We're twins, separated at birth and raised apart."
Shocked, Luke sat down on the sofa. "How did you, I mean when did you..?"
"I just found out, Luke," she said gently as she sat down next to him and took his hand. "Obi-Wan told me before he left, but only after I heard.. a rumor, and confronted him. He told me he was going to tell you very soon, but then this happened." When Luke remained silent, she went on, "There's more."
"The reason we were separated and hidden was to protect us from our father. Darth Vader."
"Vader?" Luke asked, incredulous.
"I know," the Princess said gently. "I haven't had time to accept it yet, either. Maybe we can get through this together."
Luke could only nod mutely while he rubbed the hilt of the lightsaber Obi-Wan Kenobi had given him earlier. The lightsaber that once belonged to his father.
The next day
Han had awakened that morning with the Alderaanian sun warming his face. When he sat up and looked around, he had felt a profound sense of disappointment. Somehow, he had hoped he'd wake up in the future with Leia as his wife again. Apparently, that wasn't going to happen. How could it? I've changed everything too much. Now that Alderaan is in one piece, Leia doesn't need me. She has a fiancé, a life. Where do I fit in anymore? Han feared the answer was - nowhere.
Getting dressed, he headed out of his room. "Hey, kid," Han called out as walked toward the young man sitting on a sunlit patio and eating breakfast. "Did ya leave anything for me?"
Looking up from his uneaten food, Luke forced a smile on his face. "Plenty left for you and Chewie."
He knows, was Han's first thought at seeing Luke's expression. "I'm sorry about Kenobi, Luke. I know you were counting on him to train you as a Jedi."
"Thanks," Luke said glumly. "I'll never become a Jedi now, but maybe it's for the best, considering."
In for one credit in for a million......"Listen, Luke," Han started quietly. "I know about you and Leia, and about, you know, Vader."
"She told you?"
"Uh, sure. She told me - yeah," Han shrugged. I suppose it's less complicated that way. "Anyway, I've been from one side of this galaxy to the other, and I've heard some strange things. I think maybe you should hear this one."
"Supposedly, there is still a Jedi living on a backwards system. Maybe this Jedi could finish your training."
"Really?" Luke perked up. "Where is he?"
"His name is Yoda, and it's rumored he lives on some system called Dagobah."
"Do you think those rumors are really true? How come the Emperor hasn't heard them?"
"I doubt that old Palp hangs around the seedy bars I frequent, kid. But I still think it's worth checking out if you're so keen on becoming a Jedi, and I can take you there." Besides, I've always wanted to met this Yoda character anyway, and now's my chance.
"What about the fact I've officially joined the Rebellion? They probably won't let me just leave."
"The Princess has lots of pull, kid. The rebels would love to have a trained Jedi on their side."
"I hope you're right, Han."
Back in his apartment on Coruscant, Vader stared out at the steady line of hovercrafts busily heading in all directions. His eyes drifted down the brown robe he was holding in his gloved hands. Foolish old man. Did he really think he had a chance to snatch Viceroy Organa out from under Lord Vader's watch, and on his own ship? It annoyed Vader that there was no body to present to the Emperor, only this Jedi robe. Maybe he didn't have Obi-Wan's body, but he still had Bail Organa, alive and sitting in a cold prison cell. Killing the Viceroy would serve no purpose - yet.
"Don't try any rescue attempts until Luke and I get back. Promise me," Han told the Princess once he informed her of the plans to leave for Dagobah.
"I can't stand the idea of my father rotting away in a Coruscant prison."
"I don't blame you, sweetheart," Han said. "But we'll get him out. Give Luke a chance to train as a Jedi before he takes on Vader and Palpatine."
"Is this how it happened the first time?" Leia asked.
"Well... eventually Luke trained on Dagobah and fought them. Just not this fast." And I plan on avoiding Bespin this time around if I have anything to say about it. "I've managed to alter things so much, I'm not sure what's gonna happen next anymore."
"Why can't I go with you and Luke to Dagobah? Is there a reason I can't train as a Jedi, too?"
The question took Han aback. "Um, well, I don't really know. You never much applied yourself before. I'm sure you could've been a great Jedi, but you were so busy with other things, it kinda got pushed aside."
"Then I'm going with you," she said determinedly. "This time around, I'm going to apply myself." When Han didn't reply, she added, "Do you have a problem with me becoming a Jedi?"
Of all the possible scenarios Solo had imagined, this was the last thing he expected. Since Han fully intended to take Luke to Dagobah, having Leia come with was an unexpected bonus that would also keep her away from Jarmon. His original plan of dropping Luke off and heading back to Alderaan changed in a heartbeat. So he would have to spend a few months on Dagobah. After spending six months frozen in that carbonite hell, camping in a swamp would be a piece of cake. "No, not at all," he said.
"Good. Then let's get going," Leia ordered.
"Yes, Senator Bossy."
Putting the Falcon down on the marshy surface of Dagobah was tricky, and by the time Solo set his ship down, he had used more than a few choice swear words. The landing pads settled unevenly into the mucky bog, making the ship slant to one side. By the time the landing ramp lowered, Han was not in a good mood. Maybe coming here wasn't the best idea I've come up with, he decided as he stepped off the ramp and into the drizzle.
"Dear me," Threepio said from behind Solo. "This type of weather is not at all good for my circuits."
"I don't think it's so hot for mine either, Goldenrod," the Corellian groused, adjusting the straps on his backpack. "I hope this Jedi can find us, 'cuz we're sure not gonna be able to find him in this mudhole."
"What if we're on the wrong side of the planet?" Leia asked, trying to peer through the mist.
"Blame your brother. He's the one that said we should land on this spot."
"Blame me? Why blame me? Coming here was your idea, Han," Luke complained back. "I'm new at this Force stuff, so if we're in the wrong place, it's not my fault."
A large, dark, bat-like creature flew overhead and Chewie ducked back inside the ship. *This rain is going to soak my fur and I'll never get dry!* the Wookiee howled in complaint.
"It's a good thing you're heading to Kashyyyk for a nice, long visit," Han said to his partner. "I wouldn't want you to get moldy or anything."
"Perhaps Master Chewbacca would like some company during that long trip," Threepio said hopefully.
Han grinned up at his partner. "Sure, Threepio, you should go with Chewie. I'm sure he'd appreciate the company, and we don't all need to traipse through this swamp."
"Thank the Maker!" Threepio threw up his hands and quickly hustled back up the ramp. Artoo gave an indignant whistle from beside Luke.
*I'm going to get even with you, Solo,* Chewie threatened as the droid pushed past and disappeared into the bright interior.
"Lord Vader," the Imperial guard lowered his head in respect. "We have captured a rebel spy trying to infiltrate the palace. She attempted to kill herself with poison before we could apprehend her, but we prevented her from doing so."
"Very good," Vader hissed through his respirator. "Bring her to me."
Minutes later, a young woman with short red hair was dragged before the Sith, her hands tied behind her back, and one eye swollen shut. She tried to stare defiantly at the Dark Lord, but Vader could sense her fear. She would be easy to break.
"Leave us," he ordered the guards. They bowed and quickly left. "You and I have a great deal to discuss, rebel."
"I'm not telling you anything," she spat at him.
"We shall see."
When Vader was done with her, the guards dragged her limp body from the room. She was still alive, but Vader had used the Force to dissect her mind, and the Sith knew everything. Bria Tharen never had a chance.
"I'm finally convinced you're insane, Solo," the petite Princess said as she pulled her boot out of the gooey mud, while trying to stay balanced on the foot that was still covered. With the weight of her own pack, it wasn't easy. "There is no Jedi on this system. There isn't even intelligent life on this system - other than Luke and me. And Artoo, of course."
"Hey, what about me?" Han protested.
"This was your idea. You don't qualify." Leia pulled her slime-covered boot back on her foot.
"Listen," Han snapped, clearly annoyed. "The short green guy is around here somewhere. He has to be!"
"How do you know he's short and green?" Luke questioned, watching as Artoo spun his sensor around looking for signs of life.
"You - " Solo stopped. - told me. "I mean, that's what I've heard. In the bars. Maybe the rumors were wrong."
"Oh sure, so now that we're stuck here without a ship you think the rumors were wrong!" Luke yelled at the Corellian. "We've been marching around this hell-hole for eight timeparts and now all of a sudden you might be wrong!"
"Not wrong, is he," a strange voice said from behind and below Luke's knees. "And a hell-hole this is not!"
The three humans spun around and stared down at the short, green creature. "Yoda?" Han asked in a whisper.
"Three interlopers I see," the Jedi Master huffed. "Ask the questions, will I"
"Okay," Luke replied. "You can ask us the questions."
Yoda looked at each human in turn. "Seek me out, do you?"
"Why else would anyone possibly want to come to Planet Swampy?" Han said sarcastically. The green Jedi stepped forward and jabbed the tall human in the thigh with his stick. "Ow! Dammit! Why did you do that?" Solo jumped back, rubbing his right thigh near his hip. "That was a little too close for comfort, pal!"
"Attitude, have you? Tolerate it I will not!"
Han looked over at the amused Princess. "Wait till he pokes you, sweetheart, and see if you think it's so funny."
"If he's a Jedi, you should be thanking the stars that's all he did," she returned with a laugh.
"Quiet, humans!" the Jedi said as he swung his stick around to point it at Luke. "Now you will tell me. Why do you seek me?"
"My name is Luke Skywalker, and this is my sister Leia. We're here to ask you to train us as Jedi."
"Hmmm. Jedi you wish to become. To what ends do you seek this desire?"
"So we can defeat Palpatine," Luke explained. "And give the galaxy back freedom."
"Noble are such goals. Large is your quest."
"Will you train us?"
"Skywalkers, hmmm?" Yoda said quietly, looking off into the distance. "Strong is the Force in your family. Not certain am I this is wise."
"Because of our father? Vader?" Luke asked softly, looking down at the mud. The young man had been plagued with doubts and fears ever since Leia had told him the shocking news. "Maybe you're right.. maybe we'll just turn out as badly as he did."
Yoda looked at the human, surprise showing on his face. "Know this, do you?"
"Yes," Leia answered Yoda and then turned to Luke. "We're not him, Luke. We have our own paths to follow. My father will always be Bail Organa, just like you will always carry the values your aunt and uncle gave you. No one is going to tell me I'm evil because of genes." The Princess looked down at Yoda. "That's why we have to become Jedi. The two of us can put things right that our biological father has spent years making wrong."
"Old are you. Late is this training, perhaps too late."
"Jedi Yoda," Luke said. "If you refuse to train us, then no one can. You're one of the last Jedi."
"And if we can't put things right, who will?" Leia added to the argument.
The old Jedi gave a deep sigh. "Fine. Train you I will. Answer me this - who is this human?" He pointed at Han, who jumped back from the swinging stick. "Not strong in the Force, this one, but hard to read through the Force, he is."
"I'm just a friend," Han explained before Luke could say anything to make the Jedi suspicious. "The pilot who brought them here. I'll stay out of the way, and you won't even know I'm here."
"Hummruff. Doubts I have of that!"
Rebel Base on Yavin moon.
General Dodonna read the report sent from the Red Hand Squadron, and frowned in concern. The leader, Bria Tharen, had been captured by the Imperials. It was doubtful, even with her training, that she would be able to withstand the torture and not tell the Imperials where the rebel base was located. Shaking his head in dismay, Dodonna gave the orders to evacuate the Base.
When the Imperial Star Destroyers dropped out of hyperspace over Yavin, Vader was not too surprised to see that the base had been deserted. Of course, the rebel they had captured was not working alone, and her cohorts would have quickly notified the base of her capture. The rebels weren't stupid, or Palpatine would have destroyed them years ago.
Vader watched the green moon far below. Tharen's mind had not only revealed the location of this base, but something Vader found far more interesting. A young man by the name of Luke Skywalker had recently joined the rebellion. Lord Vader now had a much more personal reason to find the rebels - his son.
Solo sat on the ground near the entrance to his small tent watching as Yoda instructed his new students. "Practice with lightsabers, you will. A Jedi skill this is, and master it you must."
"I don't have a lightsaber," Leia pointed out.
Yoda got off the log he was sitting on and hobbled over to her. Reaching under his robe, he withdrew a silver tube. "My lightsaber you may have. No longer will I need it."
"Honor me by using it justly and without anger," was his calm response. "Now, practice you will." With that he went over by Han, surprising the Corellian. "Watch from here, will we. Out of the way, you will stay."
"Hey! I've been behaving," Han protested.
Yoda looked at him dubiously. "Already, shot two tree-snakes and a thrush-bat you have. Disrupt the quiet you do."
"Well, who needs snakes in their sleeping bags? Not me."
"More value you must put on other life, Han Solo."
"Fine. I won't shoot anything anymore. Does that make you happy?"
"Happy will be the creatures living here," Yoda replied with a sigh. While Luke and Leia slowly circled each other, carefully clashing and parrying, Yoda watched. Finally he spoke again. "Tell me your story, Corellian. Interesting, I sense it is."
"I tried to tell Kenobi once," Han answered softly. "He didn't believe me, so why should I think you will?"
"Old am I, and much I have seen. Doubt me, do you?"
"Fine. I'll tell you."
"So that's why I think this is happening to me, so I could come back and save Alderaan," Han finished his story as he strolled along the edge of a murky pond with Yoda. "I really expected that I'd wake up back in the time I came from once I accomplished that, but it hasn't happened."
"Expected that, did you? After such a drastic change in history?"
"It's not fair," Han sighed and sat down on a stump. The Corellian had been rather surprised to find that Yoda was good listener. As far as he could tell the Jedi Master believed his story, and not only believed it, but didn't criticize or judge his decision to alter the future. Maybe he believes my coming back to this time was for a reason, just like I think. "What was I supposed to do?"
"Perhaps Alderaan was not your purpose."
"Then what was it?" Han shook his head in despair. "I wish I had some hint, some tiny clue."
"In this future you came from, did something later go wrong?"
The Vong. "Yeah, something went wrong. Real wrong. Dozens of systems were destroyed by invaders, and billions upon billions of lives were lost." Including Chewie and Anakin. Even now, Han felt a lump form in his throat just thinking about his son and best friend.
"Then perhaps this is why you are back - that disaster to prevent."
Solo put his elbows on his knees and buried his face in his hands. "Then why was I put so far back, before I married Leia? If she doesn't fall in love with me again, I don't think I want to even go on."
"Years it may take to prepare for these invaders. Much work to be done. Do not put your personal happiness before the greater good of the galaxy."
Easy for you to say, Han thought sadly.
Dagobah, three months later.....
"Too soon, this is," Yoda said with a shake of his head. "Not yet fully trained. Failed the test at the tree did you both." Indeed, both young Jedi had reacted with anger at the vision of Vader, and left the area visibly shaken.
"We've been training non-stop for three months!" Leia protested. "I can't let my father, I mean my real father, sit in prison any longer."
"Impatient, you are. Just like Anakin Skywalker."
"Don't compare me to that monster!" Leia snapped. "I'm nothing like him."
Yoda glared meaningfully at Solo, who responded defensively. "It's not my fault! She never listened to me before, why would she start now?
"Yoda, we have to go," Luke said with the confidence that had come with his new skills. "You've trained us well, and we promise to make you proud of us. We'll defeat the Emperor, and bring light back to the galaxy."
"Stop you I cannot. Go with the Force then, but remember this - strong is the Darkside. Always tempting you it will."
"We won't turn to the Darkside," Luke said confidently. "Between the two of us, the Emperor doesn't stand a chance."
With that, the three humans and Artoo headed off toward the Falcon. "Impatient and overconfident they are. Too much of their father in them I see," Yoda said to no one in particular, shaking his head.
The three weary, dirty humans trudged up the ramp of the ship and deposited their backpacks on the floor with heavy thuds. "I never thought I'd be so happy to see this junky ship in my life," Leia said with a groan.
"Hey! Watch your mouth, Senator Sassy," Han laughed. "Or I might leave you here with the insects and the snakes."
"Would you please stop with the "senator" all the time. It's getting annoying."
"Sure, Leia," Han winked at her. "Your wish is my command, sweetheart."
"Artoo!" Threepio cried out as he saw his companion. "You're covered with corrosion! I warned you this would happen." The astromech droid gave Threepio a raspberry and wheeled away. "How rude!" Threepio called after his short companion.
*You need a shower,* Chewie woofed as he gave Solo a quick hug. *You stink.*
"Nice to see you, too, pal," the Corellian laughed. Han turned to Leia. "Ladies first."
"About time you show me some royal courtesy," Leia shot back lightly. After spending three months in close quarters with the Corellian, the Princess found that she actually liked sparring with the man. Sometimes he annoyed her beyond words, and other times she would spend hours just talking with him and enjoying his companionship. She never forgot his earlier explanation - he was her husband from the future, and that idea was starting to appeal to her more than she wanted to admit. Sometimes, late at night, she would find herself thinking about Solo in very personal ways. Leia sincerely hoped Yoda could not read minds.
"I get to go after Leia," Luke quickly put in.
"Fine, just don't use all the hot water," Han said agreeable as he picked up his pack and headed to his bunk. After three months of sleeping on the ground, he was looking forward to a soft cot. He sank down on the cushions on shut his eyes, glad to be back on the Falcon. When he looked up, Chewie was standing at the door, regarding him with a curious look on his face.
*What's come over you, cub?*
*You have been different, ever since Nar Shaddaa. The old Han would never have joined the rebellion. The old Han would have never spent three months camping in a swamp with people he barely knew for ... for what reason, Han? I do not understand what has come over you.*
"Maybe I've changed."
*That is an understatement. At first, I thought this was just your way of getting back at Bria for dumping you all those years ago, but even that fails to explain this behavior.*
"I'm doing what I think I have to do, Chewie. That's the only explanation I can give you. You don't have to stay with me, ya know," Han answered, suddenly thinking about Sernpidal. I know you, my friend. No matter what I do, you'll stay by my side.
*That is not the reason I am questioning you, Han. I'm glad you have finally taken up a good cause, and are siding with good people. I just wish you trusted me enough to be able to confide in me.*
Han watched as Chewie walked away. "I trust you, pal. I trust you."
"Do you have a report for me, Vader?" Palpatine hissed from behind his cowl.
"The rebel base was deserted when we arrived, my Master," Vader said on bended knee, his head tilted at the ground. "The rebels must have been warned by a spy cell operating on Coruscant."
"Of course they were," the Emperor ground out. "Why wasn't I notified as soon as you captured the rebel woman? I sense you are keeping something hidden."
"I did not wish to destroy the base, Master," Vader replied humbly. "The rebel had knowledge of someone I wish to capture."
"Who would that be?"
"My son, Master," Vader reluctantly admitted. "He has joined the rebels."
"Your son? Then you will find him and bring him to me," Palpatine ordered. "Together, we will turn him to the Darkside."
When Vader left the room, Palpatine drummed his gnarled fingers on the armrest of his throne. It bothered the ancient Sith that his servant had not confided this knowledge of his son until directly confronted by his Master. The Emperor came to a swift conclusion - Darth Vader could not be trusted. Two Skywalkers were simply too great a risk to his power and he had doubts that Vader would bring his son before the Emperor. The young Skywalker would have to die, and he would die by his Hand.
When Lord Farrel Jarmon approached the Millennium Falcon, Leia smiled and greeted the man politely, holding her hand out to shake his. "Lord Farrel, it's nice to see you again. Have you received any information regarding my father?"
Frowning, Jarmon kissed the Princess's hand rather than shaking it. "This is rather formal, my dear. How about a real kiss? We haven't seen each other in three months."
Out of the corner of her eye, Leia saw Solo fold his arms across his chest, his face growing hard and hostile. Leia smiled and gave Farrel a peck on his cheek. "There. Is that better?"
"Not much, but I suppose it will have to do - for now," he said with a shrug. "I regret to say that the Empire hasn't contacted us about Viceroy Organa."
"Oh." The disappointment in Leia's voice was evident.
"What is it they always say, my love? No news is good news?"
"I'm not sure that's always the case, Lord Farrel," she replied coolly as she turned to Luke and the others. "Let's go get cleaned up and start planning this rescue."
"Surely you don't intend to get involved with this foolishness personally, Princess?" Farrel asked, shocked. "Your father wouldn't want you to risk your life for his."
"Don't presume to tell me what my father would and would not want," Leia shot back as she walked toward the palace.
Leia stopped toweling her damp hair to answer a soft knock on her door. When she pulled the door open, Solo stuck his hand out formally. "Nice to see you again. We haven't seen each other in thirty minutes, so how about a kiss?"
"Very funny," she laughed. "Where's Chewie?"
"He'll be along in a bit," Han answered as he entered her luxurious room, his eyes taking in all the lovely furnishings and knick-knacks that sat around on shelves and dressers. "All that hair takes a long time to dry. You should know all about that."
"Are you comparing me to a Wookiee?"
"Of course not. You're much shorter."
Solo ducked as the Princess made a fist and gave him a half-hearted swing. "One of these days, Solo."
"One of these days, what?" he asked, his voice husky and low.
"One of these days, I'll..." Leia stopped, forgetting what she was about to say as she stared into his intense gaze.
The Princess felt her heart start hammering in her chest, and suddenly found it hard to swallow. "You wish," she managed to whisper.
"I do wish," Han admitted quietly, and moving closer. "And I think you wish for it, too."
"I happen to like nice men, not scoundrels," she said as she tried to regain some control of the situation.
"I am nice men." Bending over he took her into his arms, kissing her slowly and gently. As he felt the Princess respond by wrapping her arms around his neck, the kiss became deeper and more passionate. Solo only broke away when he heard footsteps enter the open door behind him.
Han looked over his shoulder in time to see Luke trying to leave the room unnoticed. "Good timing, kid," Han said with a groan. "Have you been taking lessons from Goldenrod?"
Embarrassed, Luke could only shuffle his feet and mutter, "What?"
Threepio entered behind Luke, with Artoo trailing close behind. "I'm afraid Master Luke doesn't understand your question, Captain Solo. As a matter of fact, neither do I. Lessons? What lessons would I be giving Master Luke?"
Leia fought down her own embarrassment at being caught in the act of kissing the smuggler by giving him orders. "Solo, go get your partner. We have a lot of serious planning to do, and I don't want to waste anymore time."
Leaning over Han whispered in her ear, "That wasn't a waste of time, sweetheart." He left the room to retrieve his co-pilot, leaving the Princess flushed and confused.
"Since I have no idea where the new rebel base is located, I've contacted Winter by our private code," Leia said as the group sat around her polished table. "She'll be able to let the base know I'm alright, and that we are planning to head to Coruscant. She's also forwarding stolen Imperial security codes to us, and we'll need them, I'm sure. Does anyone have any suggestions as to how we can get into the Imperial prison?"
"Not to mention, getting out again in one piece," Han added.
"How about disguising up as Stormtroopers?" Luke suggested. "We could lure a couple of them into an alley, then stun them and steal their armor." When Han moaned banged his forehead on the table, Luke turned to Solo. "What's wrong with that idea?"
"It's not very original," Han mumbled, his face still pressed against the tabletop.
"Do you have a better idea?" Luke shot back, feeling put out.
Solo looked up unhappily. "Unfortunately, no."
"Now about getting out," Leia said. "Han's right, getting out is just as important as getting in."
"More important, if ya ask me," Solo commented. "Probably sending the droids in first would be the best plan. Artoo could open up locked doors for us, and once we're in, guide us to the right cell. The Emperor has lots of droids, and it's not likely anyone would think twice about them walking around in secure areas."
"He could also keep track of anything suspicious, and turn off alarms," Luke nodded in agreement.
"I still don't understand why I have to go at all!" Threepio whined. "It seems to me Artoo is going to be doing all the work, anyway."
"He needs a look-out, Threepio," Leia said calmly. "And what would happen if a Stormtrooper squadron questioned him? You need to be there to help explain things - in basic."
"A Stormtrooper squadron?!" the golden droid squawked in panic. "We're being sent to our doom, Artoo!"
"Stuff it Goldenrod," Han grumbled. "What's the worst that could happen? A memory wipe? Take you apart for spare parts?"
"Oh my! I think my circuits are melting already!"
"Han! You're not helping matters," Leia snapped. "Threepio, you'll be okay. Just calm down." She turned to the men. "What will I be doing while you two are taking all the risks - for my father, I might add."
"Staying on the Falcon, with Chewie. And before you get all mad, let me remind you he needs a co-pilot if things get dicey and Luke and I need to get outta there in a hurry. We can't all go inside the palace, anyway."
"Fine. This is a pretty skimpy plan, but it's better than nothing. Maybe we can polish it up during the trip to Coruscant."
"We'll leave first thing in the morning," Han agreed and looked at his partner. "Let's go run some system checks on the Falcon"
Farrel Jarmon slid the recording disk out of the computer and watched the two men leave the Princess's room. He had paid a fortune in bribe money to one of the Alderaanian guards to bug the Princess's room and now it looked like it would be money well spent. He chewed his lip, trying to decide what to do with this information. A few months back the Death Star had been poised to strike Alderaan, and if that had happened Jarmon knew he would be dead. The Empire had never warned him to leave - So much for my loyalty to Palpatine, he thought bitterly.
Unsure of what to do, he slide the disk back in and started it over from the beginning, watching as Solo kissed his Princess and her eager response. Jarmon hit the replay over and over, feeling his blood pressure spike with each viewing. Slamming his hand on the table, Farrel removed the disk again, his mind made up. Maybe now the Emperor would see the value of having Lord Farrel Jarmon on his side.
Luke could not believe his eyes as the Falcon swooped down toward its landing pad. An entire planet, covered with buildings! And so much activity, with ships coming and going, hoverlanes filled with small speeders zipping along in a steady, endless stream. "How does everybody not crash into each other?" he wondered aloud.
"The hoverlanes are computer controlled, and a signal lets you know if you're too close to the guy in front of you," Han explained. "Not that you can't override the guidance controls. Some do, and there are crashes on occasion."
"There wouldn't be crashes, if everyone followed the rules," Leia added.
"Princess, rules are made to be broken. Didn't anyone teach you that?" Han shot back with a lop-sided grin.
"I've broken plenty of rules, Solo. The rebellion is trying to break all the unfair rules of the Empire," she replied, slightly annoyed. "It's just that some rules are necessary and correct. Didn't anyone teach you that?"
Luke laughed. "She's got you there, Han."
"I guess," Han answered. "It's just that most rules are made by stuffy people with nothing better to do than impose their views of right and wrong off on other people."
"Are you telling me that because I'm a Senator and make rules, I'm stuffy and have nothing better to do?" Leia asked, her eyes getting narrow. Solo cleared his throat, and looked out the cockpit viewport, not giving a response.
Chewie looked over from his co-pilot's seat and gave a toothy laugh. *Well, cub? Are you going to answer the Princess?*
"Of course I'm not gonna answer her. She's sitting right behind me, holding a lightsaber. Does it look like I have a death-wish to you?"
"See, Han? You're already following Leia's number one rule - Never annoy a Force-strong Princess holding a lightsaber," Luke sputtered out, adding to the already loud laughter in the cockpit.
"Did you know Lord Vader had a son?" the Emperor said as he peered down at his kneeling, loyal servant.
"No, Master, I did not."
"I have received a very important communication from a loyalist on Alderaan," the Emperor continued. "This son of Vader's, Luke Skywalker, is on his way to Coruscant to foolishly attempt to rescue Viceroy Organa. You understand what I want you to do?"
"Yes, My Master. I am to kill young Skywalker."
"Do not fail me, or I will kill you personally."
"I will not fail you, Master."
Darth Vader stood up from his meditation. There was a change in the Force, a change that could only come from the presence of another Force-sensitive. My son! he thought in a combination of excitement and fear. If I have sensed Luke's presence, then so has the Emperor. Vader shut his eyes, and allowed the Force to guide his senses, reaching out for his son, a child he had never met, when suddenly he trembled and had to hold onto a table to steady himself. There was another Force-sensitive arriving on Coruscant with Luke, and this presence was feminine and familiar. The image of Padme entered Vader's mind, and he pushed it aside in denial. No, it could not be! But whoever this new Force-sensitive was, Darth Vader could not deny that both his son and this female somehow received training as Jedi. Palpatine would not be pleased, and Vader feared for his child. I have given Palpatine everything but I will not give him my son.
Jade sat cross-legged on her bed, her eyes shut tight. Never, in all the many years she had spent as the Emperor's Hand, had he threatened her. All this time, I thought I meant something to him, she thought, trembling with anger. Am I nothing more than a dirty rag, something to use and discard? How dare he tell me he'll kill me if I fail. I have never failed him! Never! Getting up, Jade put on her dark clothes, the clothes of an assassin. The Emperor's Hand assessed her appearance in the refresher mirror, and fastened a lightsaber to her side. The lightsaber was one of many weapons she carried. A thin cord of metal was wrapped around her waist - handy for twisting around a victim’s throat and cutting off oxygen. A vibro-blade as well as a conventional knife was within easy reach at the top of her boots. A small blaster was tucked into her sleeve, and a vial of poison was hidden in a pocket on her belt. Of all her weapons, Jade liked the blaster the least. It was noisy and you could kill your victims without looking into their eyes. Assassin Jade liked to see that brief moment of fear in her victim’s eyes, right before they died. The last thing they heard was her voice, telling them they were paying the price of crossing Emperor Palpatine. Jade felt it was something they needed to know, and now wondered if Palpatine would pay her the same courtesy. The very idea of such a betrayal by the man she had served so long and with such loyalty caused her to burn with rage. Her green eyes stared back at her in the mirror, cold and merciless. No one threatened Mara Jade without paying the ultimate price.
She would obey her Master, and kill this Skywalker. But something had shifted inside her, and a change had taken place between Master and Servant. It was unlikely the Emperor's Hand could forgive or forget, and the years of unquestioning servitude she'd been forced to endure had come to an end. Without even being aware he had done so, Palpatine had just set free Mara Jade.
"Winter forwarded these forged codes after I contacted her," Leia told Threepio as she handed him a small disk. "It should give you and Artoo clearance into the Palace. Wait for our signal, then Luke and Han will need you to tap into the main computer and guide them into the prison compound."
"Make sure you turn off the alarms," Han added. "We sure don't need every Stormtrooper in the place coming after us."
"Once we've gotten to the Viceroy, we'll just handcuff him and walk him out of there," Luke told the droids. "We have forged disks giving us authorization to take him to a medical clinic, and once we're in the medical clinic, it shouldn't be a problem getting out. There isn't much security there, and there is a landing pad for medical emergencies. Han and I will contact Leia as soon as we get inside the medical ward."
"That's where Chewie and I come in," Leia continued. "Make certain - very, very certain you and Artoo are at that pad when we land. We'll only be able to set down for a minute, and if you're not there you'd better be ready to stay on Coruscant for a very long time."
"Oh my," Threepio said softly. "This sounds exceedingly dangerous. What if the forged disks are no longer valid?"
"Then this is gonna be the shortest rescue attempt in history, Goldenrod," Han replied with a snort. "You'd better hope the codes work."
Luke looked at Chewie and Han. "We need to find some Stormtrooper armor. Any suggestions on luring a couple of Stormtroopers into a dark alley?"
"We could try the local version of a second-hand trading store," Leia laughed. "Maybe used Stormtrooper armor ends up on the black-market."
"That's not a bad idea," Han said as he pursed his lips.
"I was joking!"
"No, it might be easier than knocking out and then having to hide a couple of stupid Stormtroopers. Give me an' Chewie a few timeparts down in the lower levels. You'd be surprised what credits can buy, if you ask around and talk to a few shady characters."
"Fine, Solo," Leia said with a sigh. "Just be careful, okay?"
"Princess! I didn't know you cared!" Han winked at her as he left with his partner, his step lighter.
I have to find my son before the Emperor does, Vader thought as he walked the long hallway of the Imperial Palace. The Dark Lord knew Palpatine feared the combined powers of both Vader and his son. It was very unlikely he would be able to easily turn the boy to the Darkside, something the Emperor was counting on. If Luke refused, it would give Palpatine the excuse he needed to kill his son. I do not want to kill my child. Palpatine has every reason to fear our combined powers - I am the Chosen One, and it is my destiny to rule the galaxy, with my son by my side. Convincing Luke would require time and patience. Darth Vader was determined to give his son all the time he needed to see the truth.
*This is the seediest bar we've ever been in, Han,* Chewie woofed softly as they walked down the rusted stairwell into the dimly lit room that reeked of spice, cheap alcohol, and the sweat of dozens of species.
"I agree with ya there," Solo nodded as they made their way through the maze of small tables to the narrow bar. Han sat down on the cracked stool, testing it carefully before putting his full weight on the tilted seat. What I don't do for love.
The bartender, a short Rodian, came up to the newcomers. *What can I get for you?* he asked in his native language.
"A couple of whiskeys," Han replied. "And some information."
*Four credits for the whiskey,* the being said as he put the small glasses on the sticky counter top. *But information costs a lot more.*
Solo leaned forward and lowered his voice. "I'm lookin' to buy some used Stormtrooper armor. Two complete outfits, no blaster holes, current models."
*That'll cost you.*
"Can you direct me to a dealer?"
*That will cost you, also.*
"I'm willing to pay a fair price, pal."
*You may find the price considerably higher than what you consider fair.*
Han reached into his pocket and slid a credit voucher across the counter. The Rodian took the chip, his eyes nearly popping out when he saw the amount. "Is that adequate for your assistance?" Han sneered.
The bartender wrote an address on a torn flimsy and pushed it at Solo. *This is in the lower levels of Coruscant. The humans that reside there are dangerous. Do not blame me if something goes wrong.*
Sliding the paper into his pocket, Han stood up and took a sip of the whiskey. Not surprisingly, it tasted terrible. "Thanks for the warning - I'll keep it in mind."
The Wookiee followed Han back up the steps. *Lower levels? How much lower can we get?*
"I guess we're about to find out."
"Why do humans always make us go on these types of risky adventures, Artoo?" Threepio asked as they walked up to the Palace gate. "They could purchase a droid made for such purposes, and we could be left in peace. But oh no, every time something dangerous needs doing, it's send in Threepio and Artoo! It's not fair!"
"Beeep bee do."
"Don't tell me to be quiet," Threepio replied, thumping Artoo on top of his domed 'head'. "I have every right to complain."
"Vreeb bleep," Artoo answered as they stopped at the gate.
"I know what to do - quit ordering me around," the protocol droid huffed as he inserted the small entry card into the slot. The gate parted silently. "Of course it has to let us in with no problems," C3PO grumbled softly as the entered the compound's walls, with Artoo rolling quietly beside him. The astromech droid spun its dome around and headed off down a elegant walkway decorated with flowering ornamental trees along the edges. "Wait for me, you ungrateful short circuit!" Threepio said as he hurried behind his partner.
"What's taking them so long?" Leia asked her brother as she paced the ship's hold. "It's been nearly five time-parts!"
"They're all right, Leia," Luke said as he tried to meditate. "If you would just relax and do your mental exercises, you'd - "
"I would what?" the Princess asked in exasperation.
Luke opened his eyes. "They know we're here," he whispered.
"Who? Who knows?"
"Our father. And the Emperor - they both know," Luke replied slowly. "We can't rescue your step-father, Leia. Not now."
Tears formed in the Princess's eyes. "Fine. You can leave, then. I'll think of something myself."
"Please," he pleaded. "We'll all die, even the Viceroy. We can't succeed if they know ahead of time we're coming."
"I thought Yoda told us to do or do not, that there is no try! I don't intend to try, Luke - I intend to succeed."
"He also told us we didn't have enough training," Luke argued back. "If we call the droids back, we can rejoin the rebellion. All the prisoners will be freed when the Emperor falls, anyway."
"What if my father doesn't survive that long? I can't take that chance. He's my father, Luke! Not that ... that monster behind the mask. Why can't you understand that?"
"I do understand what you're feeling, sister. It's just that.." Luke stopped, and stepped away from Leia, his eyes growing round and wide.
"Now what?" she snapped, trying to hold her anger in check.
"Vader is calling me through the Force, Leia. Father is calling me."
Sister? Luke has a sister? Vader felt a chill run up his spine as the truth entered his mind through Luke. A Skywalker dynasty. No wonder Palpatine feared him. *Luke,* he called again to his son, *Do not fear me. I will be there soon. Tell your sister I mean you no harm.* Vader quicken his step toward the distant, shimmering Force-senses. My children!
"He's coming here," Luke said quietly. "Our father knows we are here, and he is coming for us."
"No!" Leia's eyes widened. "Vader is evil. He's a pawn of the Emperor." The Princess grabbed her brother's arm. "We have to find Han and leave, before it's too late."
"We can't avoid this," her brother replied. "We can take the Falcon and escape right now, but we'll be leaving Han behind. Is that what you want to do?"
She shook her head. "I won't leave Han." He loves me, and I think I love him. The thought surprised her. When had she fallen in love with him, this strange smuggler who claimed to be her husband from the future? It wasn't something she could pinpoint, even if she had the time to consider it further. "We can just run down into the lower levels. There are too many people down there, even for Vader to track us."
"Then what, Leia?" Luke asked. "What happens when Han and Chewie come back to the Falcon? Vader will be waiting for him and he'll end up in a prison cell right by Bail."
"We'll comm him!" she shouted, getting angry. "We can tell him not to return to the ship!"
"Do you think he'll leave the Falcon behind?"
Leia put her hands on her head. "So what do you want to do? Just wait for him? Don't you think we'll end up in a prison cell, too?"
"No, I don't. If he wanted to arrest us, he'd be bringing guards with. I think he's coming alone."
"You think," she said dully.
Jade frowned as she stealthily followed the Dark Lord. She might not have the extensive abilities Lord Vader had when it came to Force skills, but there were two Force-skills Jade had perfected over the years - one was the ability to remain hidden, even from Force-sensitives, the second was sensing Force talent in others. Not that there are too many of those left, she mused with a grin. Vader had cleaned up the Jedi for Palpatine, and Jade had taken care of many beings that radiated Force strong signatures, even though they had been untrained. No sense in taking any chances, my Hand, the Emperor had told her as he had given her assignments. This was just like all those others - a Force-sensitive boy, untrained and unsuspecting of his fate. So what if he was the son of Darth Vader? Of all people, he should understand duty to the Emperor. Perhaps if she did this last job well, Palpatine would be pleased and not attempt to track her down when she left his service. Who am I kidding? Palpatine will never stop hunting me...unless he isn't around to care.
Vader approached the battered, saucer-shaped freighter. It looked familiar, and he pondered where he had seen such a ship. He had been present for several engagements with the rebel fleet, perhaps that was where he had seen it - in battle. The ramp was raised as the Dark Lord approached the ship. *Open the hatch, son. I am alone, and I will not harm you.*
When the ramp gave a protesting groan and lowered, Vader smiled beneath his mask. I am about to meet my children for the first time. He walked confidently up the ramp and into the small hold. His son and daughter stood side by side, each grasping a turned-off lightsaber. "Princess Leia Organa?" Vader sounded surprised, even behind the disguise of his respirator. "Obi-Wan was wise to hide you in plain sight. I never suspected."
"Neither did I," she commented dryly.
"What happened to Ben?" Luke questioned the Sith Lord.
"He should not have attempted to rescue the Viceroy by boarding my Destroyer. It was his last mistake."
"You killed him?" Luke felt like Vader had struck him physically.
"We fought, and I successfully defended myself. It was simply a question of which one of us would die, and I did not wish it to be me."
"Why are you here, if you don't want to arrest us or kill us?" Leia said slowly, trying not to let her anger over Obi-Wan's death or her fear for her step-father distract her.
"The Emperor has found out you exist, son," Vader said, inclining his mask toward Luke. "He asked me to bring you to him, but his only intention is to kill you. He fears our combined powers, and he has yet to discover your sister."
"So what are you suggesting?" Luke asked, suspiciously.
"That we make his worst fears come true - by combining our powers, and defeat the Emperor."
"Do you honestly think we'll turn to the Darkside and join you?" the Princess gave a harsh laugh. "You underestimate us."
"The Darkside is only a myth, perpetuated by the Jedi of the old Order to control their members."
Leia laughed harder. "Vader, we're not fools. The Emperor is evil, and so are you."
"No, he isn't," Luke argued unexpectedly. "I mean, the Emperor is evil, but our father has good in him. I can feel it, sister. Reach out with the Force and you'll understand." He's my father, Luke thought, surprised at the depth of emotion he felt towards this man. I have to save him.
"Listen to Luke. He speaks the truth."
"Luke is naive," she spat back.
"The Emperor knows you are here, and that you are going to attempt to rescue the Viceroy. If you try this, you will fail. Palpatine is too strong. You must continue your training before challenging him, and I can finish what Obi-Wan started, if you will only trust me."
"Leia, he's right. We can't succeed if Palpatine already knows our plans."
The Princess shut her eyes tightly. "How long will it be then, Luke? How many years before my real father is freed from that prison? If we leave now, he may be executed before we can try again."
"I will make a deal with you, Princess," Vader rumbled. "I will go back inside the Palace and get Organa. No one will question me. If I free the Viceroy, will you come with me and allow me to finish your training? Then, together, the three of us can end Palpatine's reign of terror."
"This sounds like the best chance we'll have to free the Viceroy," Luke said quietly.
"It sounds like blackmail to me," she replied softly. "But I can't let him die, so I'll do it."
"I will be back here within three timeparts. You won't regret this." With that, he turned and left the ship.
I already do, Leia thought as she watched the imposing Sith depart.
The Emperor's Hand watched from a distance as Vader left the battered freighter - alone. The Force-sensitives were still inside the ship, alive and well. But why were there two? If she had sensed only one, Jade would not have hesitated to enter the ship after Vader left and kill Skywalker. But two Jedi, even partially trained ones, would be difficult to handle. So she waited. Perhaps one of them would leave the ship, making it much easier to kill them individually.
"Threepio?" Luke's soft voice came over the comlink. "Are you there?"
"Yes, Master Luke," the droid quickly replied as he shuffled into a small closet area. "Artoo is with me, also. Are you ready to enter the compound?"
"No. There's been a change of plans. You need to come back to the Falcon, and hurry."
"Thank the Maker!" Threepio threw up his hands in relief. "Finally, it appears they have come to their senses, Artoo!"
Artoo gave a worried warble as he followed the protocol droid out of the closet and back down the same corridor they had just come from.
"Five thousand credits!" Han complained to Chewie as they entered the lift and headed to the docking area where the Falcon was berthed. "That was such a scam. Those jerks probably pulled them off some long-dead troopers they found laying around. Those things reek so bad I almost lost my lunch when they hauled 'em out. I don't wanna even think about putting one on."
*We are just lucky it was that easy, and no one shot at us,* Chewie said, unconcerned at Solo's ranting. He shifted the heavy package that was flung across his shoulder containing the two stormtrooper uniforms.
"Easy? We had to go to six places before we found the right people to talk to. Stupid bartender. I should go back there and demand he return the credits I gave him."
*Quit complaining. We don't have time to go back and cause trouble with the bartender. Luke and the Princess are probably wondering what's taking us so long.*
"I know, I know. But I'm still giving Luke the smelliest outfit to wear. Age should have its privileges."
*Yes, you'd think it would,* Chewie sighed.
With his black cape billowing behind him, Darth Vader entered the prison area and requested Prisoner 11962 be brought to him. Minutes later, Viceroy Organa was pushed in front of the Sith Lord, his hands bound and his eyes wary. "I still have nothing to tell you, Vader," he said, raising his chin defiantly.
"Perhaps an audience with the Emperor will impress you, Organa," Vader returned as he grabbed the man by the collar and pushed him forward. Two Stormtroopers started to move, as if to accompany the Sith. Vader spun around and faced the troopers. "Did I request your presence? Do you presume to think I can't handle this prisoner on my own?"
"N..no, Lord Vader," one Stormtrooper stuttered out.
"Then I strongly suggest you find something to do other than disturb me."
"Yes, my Lord."
No one else questioned Vader as he left the prison area with his captive.
He's coming back! Jade thought as she sat up straighter. I can't wait anymore. With that, she quickly made her way to the silent ship.
Just outside the still lowered ramp Jade collapsed, crying out loudly in agony. When she heard the sound of footsteps running toward the opening of the ship, she hide a smile. "Help me, please... help me!"
"What happened?" a young man's voice said at the top of the ramp.
"I fell.... I think my leg is broken," Jade moaned, holding her the lower part of her right leg. She watched carefully out of the corner of her eye as the blond made his way down the ramp, a young woman close on his heels.
"We have some scan equipment on board," the dark-haired female said as they approached. "Or would you rather have us contact a medic?"
"I don't think I need a medic," the red-head said calmly as she leapt to her feet, drawing out her lightsaber and flicking it on with a single, fluid motion.
The two young people jumped back, shock quickly replacing surprise. Luke drew his own saber and turned it on, taking a defensive position. "Who are you?"
"I am the Emperor's Hand," she replied with a feral smile. "I am your executioner."
Jade watched as the woman responded by igniting her own lightsaber.
"There are two of us, and only one of you," she pointed out.
"I've faced much worse odds in the past, and prevailed," Jade sneered. She was certain neither one had the ability to kill in cold blood, and that would be their downfall. She attacked the young man with lightning speed.
"Where are you taking me?" the Viceroy asked his captor as they speed along in a hovercraft. "I wasn't aware the Emperor lived outside the Palace."
"I am not taking you to Palpatine. I am freeing you as a gesture of goodwill."
"Proof that I am not evil. My daughter requires I demonstrate this before she agrees to come with me and continue her training."
Bail felt his blood run cold. "Daughter?" he whispered.
"It appears we have something in common, Viceroy - Leia. I suppose I owe you something for the years you spent taking care of her. She has her mother's fire and passion. I should have seen the connection years ago."
"Leia will never agree to go with you," Bail said, his mind reeling from the shock. "She has too many principals. Like you said, she is just like her mother."
Vader stopped the craft and pushed Organa out. "She will come with me. The docking area is only a short walk from here and..." Vader stopped talking, taking a deep gasp. "My children! We must hurry." Taking long strides, the Sith pulled Organa after him.
"What's the matter?"
"They are in danger," Vader hissed. "My children are being attacked."
Yoda was right, Leia thought breathlessly as she attempted to hold off the assault of the assassin. We aren't ready! We can't even defeat this woman, how did we ever think we could prevail against both Vader and Palpatine? The Princess dropped to the ground and rolled away from her attacker, shocked at the red-head's speed and skill.
Luke tried to distract the assailant from continuing the rush against Leia. Moving quickly, he brought up his lightsaber under the crazed female's blade, forcing the purple saber up and away from the Princess, allowing Leia time to get clear and back on her feet. He didn't want to kill this woman, but it was becoming apparent that she was serious about intending to kill both of them. If I kill her, won't that make me evil, just like Vad.. no.. Palpatine! Luke wondered, his heart pounding in fear and exertion.
Out of the corner of her eye, Leia saw a dark robed figure running toward them, and a thin, pale man attempting to keep up. Vader! And my father! She watched in awe as the Sith ignited his red lightsaber, barely giving the attacker time to spin around to face the Dark Lord.
"Jade," Vader hissed, as he brought down his saber, clashing with the assassin's sword. "I should have known he would have sent you."
For the first time in a very long time, Mara Jade felt fear.
When Han stepped into his ship's hanger, it took a moment for his mind to comprehend what his eyes were telling him. Vader was engaged in a fierce lightsaber battle with Mara Jade, while Luke, Leia and a man he didn't recognize stood off to the side, watching. Jade doesn't stand a chance, was Han's first thought, followed by, She can't die! It'll be my fault, again. Chewie gave a shocked roar, and Solo looked up at his partner. "I don't know what's going on, but it looks like Luke and Leia are alright. Who's that guy next to the Princess?"
*Prince Bail Organa,* Chewie woofed.
"Leia's father? How'd he get here?"
*I don't have a clue, Han.*
"Well, hell. We just spaced five thousand credits on those uniforms for nothing."
Jade felt sweat trickle down her spine as she fought to defend herself against the powerful Sith. She was no match for Vader's skills or his powerful Force abilities. The fight had simply disintegrated into a struggle of survival for the Emperor's Hand. She didn't want to die, but at this point the assassin could see no way this wasn't going to end with her death.
"Give up, Jade," Vader growled, surprising her. "I will allow you to live and return to the Emperor with a message from me."
Jade backed up, trying to catch her breath. Holding her aching side, she gasped out, "The Emperor will kill me for failing him, so I'm dead one way or the other. I'd rather go down fighting you."
"Then prepare to die, Jade." With that, Vader slashed out, forcing Mara to bring her own saber up in an attempt to ward off the blow. At the last second, the Sith lowered his blade, slicing off Jade's hand and sending her purple blade spinning away, her severed hand still grasping the hilt.
Mara Jade gave a strangled cry and dropped to her knees in pain and shock, staring at the stump where her hand had been moments before. She raised her green eyes up to the Dark Lord as he stood before her. Vader raised his red lightsaber and moved to bring in down across her neck.
No one was more surprised than Vader when a perfectly aimed blaster shot caught the assassin in the back. The red-head slumped forward, unconscious. The Sith spun around to face this new threat, only to see a tall man and a Wookiee dropping their weapons and raising up hands in surrender.
*I hope you know what you're doing,* Chewie growled under his breath.
*I'm starting to get tired of that answer.*
"Han!" Leia's called out as she left her father's side to hurry over to Solo. "Don't hurt him," she said, looking at Vader as she passed. The Princess gave Han a quick hug. "Why did you do that?" she whispered to him.
"That woman is Mara Jade," he answered quietly as he pulled her aside. "She can't die."
"You know her, too?" Leia asked, trying to keep the jealousy out of her voice. How many pretty, hostile red-heads did Solo know, anyway?
"She's my sister-in-law in the future," Han replied, watching Leia's reaction carefully.
It took a few seconds for the sentence to register in Leia's brain. "Sister-in-law? You mean... you mean...."
"Yeah, I mean Luke marries her. That's why I stunned her before Vader could kill her. If she died, I'd probably have to start this stupid game all over again, and honestly Leia, I'm gettin' real tired of playing."
"Oh," she said, unable to formulate a coherent response. "I guess you and Chewie will have to take her with you when you leave with my father, Bail. He can't go back to Alderaan until we defeat Palpatine, or he'll be arrested all over again."
"Me and Chewie?" Han questioned sharply. "What about you an' Luke?"
Leia averted her eyes. "I...we've agreed to leave Coruscant with Vader."
"Quiet!" Leia shushed him. "Vader says he wants to
overthrow Palpatine, and he wants to finish our training. I agreed to go with
him if he got my father out of prison."
Han felt panic rising up inside. "Vader is still a Sith, Leia. He'll say anything to get you to believe him! You just can't be serious - have you even thought about the possible consequences to this? I won't let you go with him! Your father won't let you go with him!" He stopped his rapid fire sentences, not even sure of what he was saying anymore, while trying desperately to think of ways to add to his argument.
"Han, please. This isn't easy for me, and you can't tell me what to do. Vader just saved my life, and Luke's life. I gave him my word that I'd go with him if he freed my father. I won't turn to the Darkside, and neither will Luke. You have to help my father stay safe, and obviously help this crazy assassin, too. Please promise me you'll help? Isn't that what you're supposed to be doing, anyway?"
"It wasn't supposed to happen like this," Solo protested, thinking once again about Bespin. "Vader is evil. He'll manipulate you and Luke and you won't even know he's doing it."
"Luke says there is still good in him, and I think he's right. I feel it too, Han. Trust me."
"Yoda is gonna be real annoyed, and he's gonna be annoyed at me, especially. He'll think it's my fault, and I don't wanna think what he'll do with that stick of his." Sith-spit...even I think it's my fault!
"That's a good idea," she said, suddenly smiling.
"What's a good idea?"
"Going back to Dagobah - with my father and Jade. I can't think of a better hiding place."
Han groaned and put his hands into his face. "Maybe carbonite wasn't so bad after all."
Han watched nervously as the Sith and Luke tended Mara's wound, and strapped her down on a cot inside the Falcon. So far the red-head was only moaning, and hadn't fully regained awareness. Solo was not looking forward to her wrath when she did wake up. "She doesn't have abilities like Force-choking people, or manipulating locks or stopping hearts just by a thought, does she?" Han asked, trying to sound casual.
Vader straightened up and turned his head to look at this strange man. "So you know a great deal about Force-choking, Solo?"
"Um, well, more than I'd like to, actually," Han replied, keeping his tone light, but unable to look directly at Vader. The last time Han had encountered the Sith was on Bespin, and even thirty years later it was still a nightmarish memory for the Corellian.
"She is untrained in most Force-skills, since Palpatine fears fully trained Force-sensitives."
"And we've found all her weapons, Han," Luke added. "So you shouldn't have too many problems with her."
Han had quickly agreed with Leia not to disclose where he would be taking Jade, to protect not only Bail but Yoda as well. The Corellian's first stop would be Kashyyyk and a medical clinic that had the facilities to treat humans. Han nodded at Luke. "Okay, kid. Me and Chewie will get her fast as possible to Kashyyyk and get her hand replaced." As far as Luke or Vader knew, Kashyyyk would be where Jade and Viceroy Organa would remain.
Luke looked down at the young woman, groaning in her restless, enforced sleep. Something pulled at his heart and soul, and he reached down and touched her cheek. "I can't hold her to blame when she's nothing more than a pawn of the Emperor. I don't think she even wanted to kill us."
The Princess exchanged a look with Solo. Han's right once again. Luke already sees something in her, and he doesn't even know what Han told me. She stepped up to Han and took his hand. "Take good care of my father, Solo. And always remember."
"Remember what?" he asked softly.
Leia reached her hand up and pulled on his neck so he bent close to her. Gently she kissed his lips and then moved her mouth to his ear. "I love you," she whispered, and then said much louder, "Have faith in me, Han. I won't turn to the Darkside."
He pulled back and looked into her eyes. "I know."
"We should go, before Palpatine sends Stormtroopers," Vader rumbled. "My private ship is docked very close."
"Leia," Bail stepped up to his daughter. "I don't understand what you're doing, but I also have faith in you. Take care and come back to me."
"I will. You can trust Han to keep you safe, father," Leia said softly. "And once you get past wanting to kill him, you might even start liking him. I love you, Father." She kissed his cheek and quickly left the Falcon so no one could see the tears in her eyes.
Luke nodded at Han. "Thanks for everything." He stuck out his hand and Solo grasped it. "Until we meet again. It'll be soon, I promise."
"I'm holding you to that, kid."
Han watched in dread as the Sith left with Luke by his side.
"Master Luke!" a mechanical voice called out as the three humans headed toward the Sith's private ship. It was the exact opposite of the Falcon - sleek, needle shaped and glistening black. It didn't have a single scar blemishing its shiny surface. "The Millennium Falcon is parked that way," he pointed down the curved corridor. "Where are you going?"
Luke turned and smiled as Threepio and Artoo hustled up. "We're going with Lord Vader to continue our training."
Artoo gave a startled beep. "Excuse me, Master Luke? I believe my circuits are malfunctioning. I thought I heard you say you and Princess Leia were going with Lord Vader!"
"You heard right, Threepio."
"Maybe you should come with us," Leia said to the droids. "Han seems to have limited patience with droids, and he's going to have his hands full with an Imperial assassin to take care of, anyway."
"An assassin?" Threepio repeated. He looked down at his short companion. "Apparently, I was in error when I stated earlier they had finally come to their senses."
"Come on, Threepio," Luke laughed. "We'll comm Han when we get inside the ship and let him know you're with us."
Vader sighed as he continued walking. I thought I'd seen the end of that annoying droid I built so many years ago. I guess our past mistakes really do come back to haunt us.
"They have betrayed me," Palpatine railed as he sensed the young Jedi and his Sith servant leaving the system. Even his Hand had not followed his orders, and the Emperor knew she was only injured and not dead. At least not yet. "They will die! They will all die for betraying me." But deep inside, a new fear had taken root. If Vader was successful at turning the young Jedi to the Darkside, could the Emperor survive the inevitable challenge that was to follow?
Bail stuck his head inside the cockpit. "Your Imperial guest is awake, and quite agitated. She's already threatened to disembowel me with a dull knife."
"Ah, that sounds like Jade alright," Han laughed. "I'll go see if I can calm her down." He got up and started to leave.
*Do you need me for protection, Han?* Chewie questioned.
Solo hesitated. "Nah. But if you hear me screaming, be sure to come running."
The Corellian walked into the area that held the medic cot, and observed a furious Jade, staring at the ceiling as she lay on her back. "Are you in pain? Do you need more meds?" Solo said into the icy silence. No response. "My name's Han Solo." He waited for a long moment, then continued. "You can't ignore me forever, especially since a good-looking guy like me is so hard to ignore."
Jade turned her cool green eyes in his direction. "As soon as I get loose, I'm killing all of you."
"That sure isn't a nice way to pay me back for saving your skin back there. Vader was about to cut your head off."
She tried to sit up, and failed. The straps held her firmly. "You're the idiot that shot me? I'll keep you for last, and draw it out real slow, so you suffer a long time."
Han grinned and sat down on a chair next to the cot. "Let me get this straight. You'd rather be dead?"
"Yes," she hissed at him. "At least it would have been fast and fairly painless. When the Emperor gets me, I'll die a slow death for failing him."
"Not if he dies first."
Her eyes narrowed. "Vader talked his son into helping overthrowing Palpatine? What a joke."
"Luke and Leia insist their father still has good inside of his heart. I'm counting on them to turn Vader back to the light."
"You're all fools, then. Wait - what did you say? Luke and Leia? They're both Vader's children?"
"Yes," Han nodded. "Twins, separated at birth." He
leaned forward and lowered his voice. "You've had a rough life, Jade - in
some ways we're a lot alike. Both loners, both hardened by a bad childhood. And
both saved by love."
"Love?" Jade snorted, wondering why this man presumed to know so much about her. "Love is a worthless emotion. It blinds people - makes them vulnerable and soft. And being soft gets you killed. Maybe you've been saved by love - I'll never have anything to do with itt."
"Never say never, Mara." Han stood up. "We're heading to Kashyyyk to get you a cyber-hand. After that, we'll go find out if someone wants to train you as a Jedi."
"Someone? Who is this someone? I don't want to become a Jedi!"
"Oh, you said that last time, too." Han laughed as he walked out of the room.
"We need to go somewhere safe and quiet to continue your training," Vader told his children once they had reached the safety of hyperspace. He turned in his chair to face the Princess. "Who trained you? Kenobi may have had time to teach Luke, but he could not have been your teacher."
Leia shifted in her seat nervously, trying to think of a plausible lie. "Luke."
"That is not possible. Luke is at the same level as you, and he did not train you. Do not lie to me, Leia."
"We can't tell you," Luke quickly put in. "He has to be protected. If you expect us to trust you to finish training us, and not try to turn us to the Darkside, isn't it only right and fair that you trust us as well?"
Vader mentally checked off the Jedi he knew were deceased. After killing Obi-Wan, that was nearly all of them. Of course, it was likely that several Jedi, or even Jedi Masters had escaped the purges. "It's interesting you should have ended up with C-3PO. The Force works in strange ways."
Startled by the change of subject, Luke frowned. "Threepio?"
"When I was a child, I built that droid. He was annoying even back then."
"You built Threepio?" Leia asked, astounded. "When you were a child?"
"Even a monster such as myself started life as a child."
"You're not a monster," Luke said. "If I thought that, I wouldn't be here. You saved our lives."
"That hardly begins to make up for all the evil I have done through the years as a servant to Palpatine."
"It is a start," Leia argued gently. "You have a long way to go to convince me that your intentions are good, but I agree with Luke - there's hope for you."
Vader stood up, drawing himself to his full height. "I am going to check system maps, and locate a safe place." He watched as Luke and Leia got up to follow him. Looking down at his children, he commented, "How is it possible that I sired such short offspring?" Without waiting for an answer, he left the cockpit.
"What are your intentions in regards to my daughter, Solo?" Bail said casually as Han made dinner. He had seen the way Leia had looked at the smuggler, and not missed the kiss they had shared. This was all a very sudden turn of events as far as the Viceroy was concerned. He had assumed, like his sisters, that Leia was engaged to Lord Farrel Jarmon. Personally, the Prince was not convinced Jarmon was the right man for his daughter, but he was even less sure a common smuggler qualified.
Carefully, Han put the hot dish on the table between the Prince and Chewie, who sat opposite the Viceroy. He cleared his throat, uncertain what to say. Oh, great. Now suddenly I have not one but two potential father-in-laws to contend with. "I love your daughter, Viceroy, with my entire heart and soul. I'm sure you think I'm not good enough, and I happen to agree with you. But you need to know this - I would gladly die for her, and if necessary, I'd even die to save you to make her happy. I don't really know what you want me to say about my intentions. I intend to do everything in my power to give her everything and anything." Han could see his answer startled Chewie, who hadn't been aware of the depths of Han's feelings toward the Princess, even though the Wookiee suspected his friend had fallen hard for the young woman.
"Would you step aside for her to marry Jarmon, if you thought he made her happy?"
"Jarmon's a sleaze. I don't trust him." Han went to the cupboard, removed some silverware and glasses, and then placed them on the table.
"That's not what I asked you."
"If I thought he was her soul-mate, yeah, I'd step aside. But he's not. I am."
"You seem very certain of that, Solo."
"I'm positive. Now can I ask you a question, sir?"
"Certainly," the Prince nodded.
"Do you think Jarmon's the right man for Leia?"
Bail Organa looked uncomfortable with the question, and Han smiled inside. He doesn't like the guy anymore than I do.
"I will support my daughter - whoever she decides to marry. Even if she decides to marry a smuggler."
Han grinned at the Prince, watching as Bail tasted the food, nodding in approval. "I guess you're lucky your future son-in-law is such a great cook."
Bail decided he had to give Han points for confidence.
"I have decided that I will finish your training on Yavin 4," Vader said unexpectedly the next morning while Luke and Leia ate breakfast.
"Yavin?" Luke asked.
"It's the perfect place," Vader replied. "It is deserted, and has many buildings, including ones large enough to hide this ship. And since the rebels just left, the Emperor will not look there again. Perhaps, in their haste to leave, the rebels even left supplies. But we will still make a fast stop - perhaps on Nal Hutta - for rations, just in case. We will need to stay on Yavin for at least six months."
"Six months!?" Leia asked, almost choking on her bread.
"Jedi of old took years to train. Six months will still only give you basic preparation. Your fighting skills against Jade were pathetic, and she isn't even a trained Sith."
"But she's had years of training as an assassin," Luke argued. "Don't you think that counts?"
"Of course it does. But do you really think you would have survived Palpatine?"
"No," Luke admitted, his eyes downcast.
"Do not be ashamed of your skills, my children," Vader told them. "The raw talent is there, and whoever trained you did well. But the job was not complete."
"He warned us that was the case when we left."
"It would have been wise of you to heed his words, but then we would not have met under these circumstances, so perhaps everything worked the way it should have."
Both Luke and Leia nodded in agreement. Six months, Leia thought in dismay. I won't see Han for six months!
Han watched from a discreet distance as the Wookiee medic and the droid attached a new hand to Mara Jade. The assassin had not mellowed during the trip to Kashyyyk, and Solo had worried that she would get free and accomplish what she threatened to do - kill everyone onboard. Freeing her, even temporarily to use the refresher or eat, had made Han nervous. The Corellian was certain Chewie and Bail were on hand to guard her when he undid the straps. While she had not attempted to escape, her constant taunting insults were getting on Han's nerves. If she wasn't a women, he would have hauled off and given her a crack on the jaw.
"Looks as good as new," Han commented as Jade flexed the fingers.
"It will never be like my real hand," she snarled back. "It feels strange."
"It will take time to adjust to the new sensation," Two-fourteen said as his glowing eyes turned toward the human female. "The prosthetic hand is the latest in technology, and should last at least thirty-five standard years before a replacement is required."
"Is it stronger than a regular human hand?" Jade asked, suddenly interested.
"Yes, you will have to learn to adjust your grip so as not to accidentally bend or break objects," the droid instructed.
Jade looked at Solo and sneered. "So you've given me a nice new weapon. Thanks, idiot."
"Listen, Jade," Han snapped at the ungrateful woman. "I still have the upper hand, so to speak, in this situation and if you don't start behaving you're gonna find yourself in chains on our next little hop. And if you don't quit callin' me an idiot, you're gonna need more than a hand to replace."
"Oh, dear," she said, eyes growing wide in mock-fear. "The pilot of the junkiest ship in the galaxy can get offended! I was starting to think you didn't understand half the insults I was throwing at you."
I swear, maybe Luke is better off without this woman. I don't know what he ever saw in her! Maybe I'll just space her out an airlock and go fix Luke up with someone nice, someone who deserves the kid, not this piece of work, Han thought as he glared at Jade. "Chewie, let's put her in binders and take her back to the Falcon. Then you can go visit your family for a few time-parts before we leave. Sorry your visit is gonna be so short this time, pal."
*That's alright, Han,* Chewie woofed. *I was just here for a long visit, and I'd be too worried about leaving you alone with her very long anyway.*
Solo smiled up at his tall friend and realized how much he missed his constant, gentle protector by his side for the past five years. Maybe Yoda was right. Maybe what's happening to me goes way beyond just saving Alderaan.
"This place will do very nicely," Vader said to his children as he looked around at the abandoned stone buildings. He walked over to a ledge that overlooked a vast rainforest. A distant rainbow arched in the green carpeted distance, glittering in the morning dew. The moon was teeming with life, but when Vader shut his eyes and reached out, he found an underlying current of evil here, too. Something that lurked just below the surface - waiting for the right opportunity.
Han maneuvered his ship down past the crackling electrical storms that shielded Dagobah from the casual space traveler. Only those truly determined, or desperate, would want to risk heading past the currents that protected the swampy surface.
When the murky green planet finally came into view, Mara Jade snorted in disbelief. "Are you serious? The place is nothing but a bog. No Jedi Master would live here."
The Corellian spared a glance at Jade's reflection in the cockpit window. Despite protests from both Chewie and Organa, he had allowed Mara to roam free on the Falcon since leaving Kashyyyk. Solo was basing this mostly on his knowledge of Mara Jade from the future. Luke had once told him, shortly before his marriage to Jade, that Mara had only killed on direct orders from Palpatine, never of her own volition. Therefore, Han hoped rather sincerely that the Emperor had not communicated in any way with Jade and given her an "order" to kill whoever she was with. He suspected they were fairly safe, since five days had passed and everyone was still alive. "He's down there - trust me."
"That's the last thing I'll ever do, Solo," she sneered at him.
He shook his head and sighed. She might not have killed them, but her attitude sure hadn't changed. I hope Yoda pokes her a good one. Solo settled the ship as close to Yoda's hut as space allowed. He wasn't interested in anymore long hikes if he could prevent it. "Well... here we are," he announced with a sweep of his hand. "Home sweet home."
"I'm not going out there," Jade informed them. "If a Jedi is out there, he'll have to come in here."
Solo swiveled in his seat to face her. "What's the matter, Jade? Are you afraid your pretty red hair will get all frizzy in the humidity?"
With lightning speed, the assassin jumped up and pinned Han against his seat, her knee pressing painfully against his groin, her new hand holding him at his throat. "I'm really tired of being jerked around by you, Solo. I could have killed you a hundred times by now. I could kill you right now, or I could just make sure you never father any children. That would certainly be a blessing to the galaxy."
Chewie gave a angry roar and instantly pointed his bowcaster at Jade, warning her off. Han looked directly into her hard green eyes. "But you won't, will you?" he said quietly, no fear showing in his eyes or his emotions. "You don't like killing, do you Jade? Not really. Besides, you can't figure me out, can you? If you kill me, you'll never know why I know so much about you, and that would drive you crazy. You can't stand a mystery, and I'm a mystery to you."
The Corellian felt the pressure on his throat ease, and she removed her knee. "You're playing with fire, Solo," she warned. "The odds are you're going to get burned."
Rubbing his neck, Han stood up and waved Chewie to put his weapon away. "I never much cared about odds, Jade. You want to meet this Jedi - I know you do. So quit being stubborn, and let's go find him."
*Do you want us to come with you?* Chewie asked as he stood up.
Han looked at the very silent Viceroy and then at his partner. "No, you stay here with the Prince and watch the Falcon. Me and Jade get along so good that we don't need a chaperone, do we Red?"
Red? I just assaulted him, threatened to kill him and he has the nerve to call me by some annoying nickname!? Jade felt like screaming in frustration. She glared up at the tall Corellian. "I'm the last woman in the galaxy that needs a chaperone. Idiot!" Giving Han a push, she stormed past him out of the cockpit."
"Been nice knowing you, Solo," Bail said dryly.
"There is evil here," Vader hissed as he watched his children practice with their lightsabers while the two droids stood off to one side.
Surprised, Luke held up his hand at Leia to stop. "Evil? Where?"
"Evil?" Threepio chimed in. "Did you hear that, Artoo? I knew we shouldn't have come to this place. Why do we always end up in the wrong places!"
Ignoring the droid, Vader continued. "In the nearby temple. It radiates of the Darkside. Something is there, restless and waiting."
"Then we should avoid that place," Leia said. "Maybe we should leave Yavin altogether."
"I couldn't agree more, Princess Leia," Threepio concurred.
"No," Vader disagreed. "This is the place where we need to be. Whatever is there cannot harm us as long as we do not awaken it."
"Do you know what's out there?" Luke asked.
"Not yet, but I will meditate on it, as should you." With that, Vader stood and left the large chamber.
Leia turned her eyes to Luke. "Do you think we made a mistake coming here with him?"
"Absolutely! We should leave at once," Threepio said, not caring if the Princess hadn't been addressing him. "Don't you agree with me, Artoo?"
Artoo only made a mournful sound, and rolled over to be closer to a troubled Luke.
"I hate you," Jade said as she followed Solo around a murky pond, slapping at insects. "What makes you think you know so much about me? You're nothing more than a two-bit smuggler with an inflated ego."
"You hate everyone, Jade," Han said and rubbed his shoulder where the backpack was digging into his skin. "Maybe someday I'll tell you why I know so much about you, but it ain't gonna be today, so quit griping."
"I could kill you," she said hotly.
Han spun around, his eyes flashing in anger. "Go ahead, Jade. Make good on your constant threats and kill me. What are you waiting for, anyway? I haven't kept you tied up or confined, and you're right - you've had plenty of opportunities. So go ahead, take your best shot. I won't even try to stop you."
Surprised showed on her flushed face. "You're crazy."
"What else, Jade? I'm a two-bit idiot smuggler. I'm crazy. I have an inflated ego. I have a junky ship, and I'm a lousy pilot. What else?"
She stared at him in silence for a moment. Then Jade started laughing, and laughed until she had to sit down, holding her side while her outburst subsided. "I never said you were a lousy pilot."
"I fail to see the humor here, Jade," Han commented in a irritated tone.
She wiped away tears of mirth, leaving a muddy streak on her cheek. "I've never been in such a bizarre situation, Solo. You'll have to excuse me if I find this all surreal. Here I am, running for my life from the Emperor, hiking around in a swamp with a crazy smuggler while looking for a Jedi Master, and now the crazy smuggler is telling me to kill him. I'm sorry. I just find this too funny."
Sighing, Han sat down next to the woman, and shrugged off his backpack. "The Jedi is here somewhere. Unless he up and died on me - he was kinda old."
"Look this good at 900 you will not!" an indignant voice said from behind them, a stick jabbing Solo hard in his side.
"Damn it!" Han yelled and tried to grab the pole.
Yoda was too fast, and pulled it back. "Back you are, I see. And brought yet another Force-sensitive with you. Daughter of Palpatine is this one?"
Her eyes wide with surprise, Mara Jade turned on her hip to look at the short creature. "This is the Jedi Master?" she asked, shocked.
"Judge me by my size do you?" Yoda huffed.
"I wouldn't recommend annoying him, Jade," Han grumbled, rubbing his ribcage. "That sharp stick is a match for any of your weapons."
Quickly, Jade got to her feet, glaring down at the being. "I'm Mara Jade, Emperor's Hand."
Yoda's eyes narrowed and he looked at Han in distain. "Former Emperor's Hand," Han amended with a cocky grin. "She quit her job just the other day and it really ticked off her employer. I've brought her to you so you can train her, too."
"What has become of the children of Vader?"
Han got to his feet and backed up a few steps, just to be on the safe side. "Well... it's a long story."
"Time we have plenty of."
Biting his lower lip, he said carefully, "Jade here was sent by Palpatine to kill them when we got to Coruscant. But Vader came to their rescue, and so, well, see..."
"What?" Yoda snapped.
"Luke and Leia went with Vader to finish their training," Han finished as fast as he could. Then he stepped back another foot, watching the stick warily.
"Allowed this to happen, did you?"
"Allowed? I didn't have much to say about it," Han defended himself. "And Luke has always insisted Vader had good in him. If he did last time, why can't the two of them bring him back from the Darkside this time before it's too late?"
"Last time? This time?" Jade questioned, confused. "What are you talking about, Solo?"
"Told this one you have not," Yoda stated flatly.
"You and Leia are the only ones I've told on this trip."
"I think you are both crazy," Jade said, looking up at the moss covered branches.
"Wait you will while Solo and I talk," Yoda instructed as he turned and hobbled away.
Han turned to Jade. "Just sit and rest. I'll be right back."
The long strides of Vader made it difficult for Luke and Leia to keep up the pace through the tangled underbrush of the jungle. Vader's red lightsaber slashed at the foliage, clearing a path toward their destination. Eventually, a vine covered ancient temple came into view. "A Massassi temple. This is the place," Vader said softly.
"What's here?" Luke asked as Leia gripped his arm.
"A dark energy sleeps here. A spirit of a Sith, waiting to be called."
"I don't really think we should be the ones to give him a wake-up call, do you?" Leia questioned sharply.
Vader looked at this young woman who reminded him so much of Padme. Behind his mask, he smiled. "I would agree with you, Princess. Waking this Sith would not be wise."
"I'm glad we finally agree on something."
The Jedi Master shook his head at Solo's explanation, and sighed. "The wife of Jedi Luke Skywalker this Mara Jade, Emperor's Hand, becomes?"
"Allow Jedi to marry the Old Order did not. Forbidden it was."
"Luke's New Order allows it, so you'd better get used to the idea. I think the Old Order had too many stupid rules, anyway," Han replied with a shrug.
"Know nothing of the Old Order do you! Jedi you are not," Yoda said, annoyed.
Han squatted down so he was eye level with the Jedi Master. "I know enough. I've spent thirty years around Jedi, and my kids were...I mean are Jedi. And I'll tell you one thing you'd better believe - If I had lived during the time of the Old Order, and some arrogant Jedi Master came knocking on my door to whisk my kids away from me to teach them to become Jedi, I'd have fought them with my last breath. No one, pal, not you, not Obi-Wan, not anyone would have stolen my children from me. You would have had to kill me, and I'm not joking."
"Foolish you are," Yoda said shortly.
"No. Foolish were the Jedi of the Old Order. You can't fight hate if you forbid love." With that, Han stood and walked back toward Mara.
Mara looked up as Han strolled casually into her view, a few steps in front of the Jedi Master. "Train you I will. Easy will it not be," Yoda said as he followed Solo into the clearing. "Temper you have, and temper you must learn to control. Do this first will we, before further training begins."
"Think you can handle becoming a Jedi, Red?"
Jade jumped to her feet and in four strides stood in front of Solo. "I can handle anything, idiot!" she snapped, poking him in the chest with her finger.
"Much work do we have," Yoda sighed.
"Leia?" Luke asked as he sat down on a boulder, resting from a long run that Vader had instructed them to take.
"Yes?" she replied, winded and hot.
"Do you think it was a good idea to send Han to Dagobah with Mara?"
"Han thought it was a good idea."
"And you believe him? He's not even a Force-sensitive, so how can he judge whether Mara Jade would make a good Jedi?"
The Princess opened a container of water and took a sip, trying to formulate a good response to Luke's question. It certainly wouldn't be a good idea to tell Luke about Han being from transported somehow from the future, and that he knew Mara would eventually be his wife. "What do you think we should have done about Jade?"
"I, well, I guess I don't know. It's just that.."
"What if Mara and Han fall in love?" he said quickly.
Leia's deep brown eyes held amusement. "You like her. The woman tries to kill us, and you like her."
"She's not evil," Luke insisted. "And I don't understand it myself. When she was laying there, unconscious, I just felt something I've never felt toward anyone before."
"So this isn't about the fact she doesn't have potential to become a Jedi, is it? It's about her being on Dagobah with Han and not you. Chewie and Bail are both there, and Yoda, too."
"I know other people are there. It's all stupid, so just forget it, alright?"
Reaching over, Leia took Luke's hand. "Listen to me, brother. Mara Jade can't have Han, because he's mine. If she even tries, I'll fight her all over again." Mine. He's mine. The idea pleased her more than she ever thought possible. "I love him, and he loves me. He won't steal Mara from you, I promise," she said with a smile.
Leia's matter-of-fact statement relieved Luke, until he thought of a different problem. "How is, I mean, how will your father Bail feel about you and Han? He's, well, he's not exactly..."
"That sounds snobbish, but other people will say things like that," Luke looked down. "I feel like Han's the older brother I never had, but will he be able to handle the way people talk about him? It won't be very nice."
"I think he'll be able to deal with the snobs of the galaxy, Luke." He already has years of experience behind him on that.
"I hope so. I want you to be happy, Leia. And I want Han to be happy, too."
"Luke, you are a kind, sweet person. I love you," she leaned over and kissed his cheek before standing up. "Race you back to base." Without giving her brother a chance to respond, Leia took off down the winding path.
Four months later.
The messenger bowed deeply to the old Sith. "My Lord, one of the satellite probes we've been sending over systems has finally indicated something. Perhaps this system is the one you seek."
"Not a planet, a moon. Yavin 4."
The Emperor snorted. "Fool. Yavin 4 was the old rebel base. If a few stray signals are still coming from that system, it would only be something they left behind."
Nervously, the guard nodded. "That is possible my Lord. Pardon me for my error."
Palpatine flicked his wrist, sending the kneeling man crashing into the far wall with such force his bones and internal organs pulverized on impact. "You're forgiven."
The ancient Sith went to his window and stared out at the busy traffic. Yavin 4.... the last place I would suspect. He turned his head and looked over at the dead body of the messenger. Perhaps I was too hasty in judging you. Not that it matters.
"Why do I have to carry you every time I run? Why do I have to run all the time?"
"More questions you have than both Skywalkers together," Yoda said evenly. "Have I taught you nothing in these months?"
"I've learned not to be too vain about my looks," she conceded, glancing down at her torn, filthy clothes.
Yoda gave her a light slap on her ear. "Vain you shall not be."
Her eyes narrowed as she rubbed her ear. "And I've learned not to kill Jedi Masters that hit me, poke me, and chastise me non-stop."
"Good," the Jedi nodded. "All is not lost."
Mara picked up the pace and quickly returned to the small settlement, pleased to see that Solo had brought over lunch from the Falcon. "Something smells good," she said, kneeling down and allowing the Jedi to wiggle out of the backpack.
"Hey," Han grinned. "Red says I what I cooked smells good! I swear that's the first compliment she's given me in all these months."
"It's just a sign of how desperate a person can get, Solo," Jade shot back. "You get to go back and sleep on your ship while I have to stay here night and day. It's hardly fair."
"I'm not the one training to be a Jedi. You have to expect to make some sacrifices, Red."
"Yoda tells me you camped out on the ground with Luke and Leia when they were here training the entire time. You never slept in your ship."
"That was different."
"Different? How? Because I'm not a Princess?"
"Chewie took the Falcon to Kashyyyk the first time," Han said as he handed her a plate of food. "So most of the time, my ship wasn't even here. Don't tell me you're afraid to be alone out here."
"I'm not afraid, and I'm not asking you to stay with me," Mara said hotly. "I wouldn't want you here, anyway."
"Not alone is she," Yoda put in.
Han laughed. "No, she's not. You're here."
"You love her, that's why you stayed here," Mara said unexpectedly. "She's the one that saved you."
For a moment, Han remained quiet. Then he said, "In more ways than I can count."
The former assassin gave a wane smile. "I've never known love. I have no idea what the emotion would even feel like."
"You'll know it when you feel it," Han said with a smile, "And maybe sooner than you think." If I have anything to say about it. " I'd better get back to my ship. I'll see you later."
Mara watched Han head off, and swallowed a bite of food. He's one of the strangest people I've ever met.
"Finish eating, then meditate, you will," Yoda instructed.
"Yes, Master Yoda."
Vader watched over Luke in the cool night air as he slept. Powered-down for the night, the two droids were silent and still in the corner of the stone room. Neither one of his children had embraced the Darkside, even though Vader had encouraged them to experiment with its power. But he had not pushed the matter for fear of turning them away from his instructions. He could be patient and wait. Eventually, if he earned their trust, perhaps they would embrace the truth, the true power of the Force. Obi-Wan Kenobi never understood that true Power. None of the Jedi did, and that was why they were defeated. Both Luke and Leia were strong-willed, but kind and caring. Like Padme. How can I defeat the Emperor with only two young Jedi? They need to feel the power of the Darkside or they will not survive Palpatine. They don't understand. They just don't understand their destiny.
Death. Destruction. Star Destroyers raining down death and destruction on a quiet, green system. The face of Luke Skywalker, bloodied and pale, as he carried the limp body of his sister through the trees, trying to escape. But there was no escape. Mara Jade's eyes snapped open. Trembling, she focused on the Jedi Master who sat in front of her. "The Emperor knows," she said quietly. "He knows where the Skywalkers are, and he is going to kill them. They're on Yavin."
"A vision you saw," Yoda nodded in approval. "In touch with the Force you are."
Jade got to her feet. "How can you be so calm? Didn't you hear what I just told you? Palpatine is going to kill Luke and Leia!"
"Care about them, do you?"
"I.." she stopped. "I don't know. There's no reason I should care. Except they're my only chance at living my life without running and hiding forever."
"Only reason this is for caring?"
"I don't know!" she yelled. "But I'm telling Solo what I saw. He'll go to Yavin - he loves the Princess."
"Always in motion is the future," Yoda said cryptically.
"Thanks for your sage advise, Master Yoda," Mara said as she gathered up her few belongings. "I'll be sure to keep all this mystical prattle in the front of my mind when I deal with Palpatine."
Yoda watched as Mara Jade headed towards the Falcon. "Strange this new Jedi Order this will be."
Less than an hour later, the Falcon rose through the turbulent atmosphere of Dagobah, leaving behind a rather disgruntled Prince Organa in the care of Yoda. If there was one thing Han was certain, Leia would be furious if he took her father with him into a dangerous situation. "I promised Leia I'd protect you, sir. Taking you with me would be breaking my promise," Solo had explained to the Viceroy.
Of course, if no one survived the upcoming battle, Organa would be forever trapped on Dagobah. Unless I end up starting all over again. In which case, I might just lose my mind. Gritting his teeth, Solo pulled back the lever and the Falcon made the jump into hyperspace.
"I hope we don't get there too late," Han said in the silent cockpit. Like Luke was too late to save me on Bespin. These visions don't seem to leave too much time to spare.
"You claim this piece of bantha poodoo is fast, so prove it, idiot."
Han turned in his seat to face Mara. "Can I ask why you care all of a sudden about Luke and Leia?"
"You can ask. I don't plan on answering."
Shaking his head, Han turned back to the streaking stars. I hope it's because you've softened up, Jade, and not because you plan on helping Palpatine.
Yavin, two days later
"We must leave, immediately," Vader told his children as he interrupted their lightsaber practice.
"Leave? Where are we going?" Leia asked.
"Don't question me! Get your things together, now."
Luke turned off his lightsaber. "We're not questioning you, father. But something is wrong, isn't it?"
"Palpatine is coming. I feel the presence of people - Stormtroopers - very close. We must hurry."
"The Emperor? Stormtroopers?" Threepio said, frightened. "We're doomed!"
Quickly the twins gathered their few belongings and along with the droids, followed Vader toward the distant building that held his needle-shaped ship. A flash, brighter and far more intense than lightening, tore down from the night sky. The hanger that held Vader's small, personal ship blew into a million small chips of stone, forcing the young humans to duck down and cover their heads for protection.
Vader did not duck down, or cover his helmeted head. He only stood still, staring at the large hole where his ship had been moments before. "We are too late," he said simply.
The Emperor stared down at the night side of Yavin 4, feeling the fear from the young Jedi on the surface. Broken, yellowed teeth showed as he grinned in glee. "Prepare my shuttle," he ordered his red-robed guards. "I wish to see the faces of these traitors as they die."
"We have to hide," Leia told Vader as she grasped Luke's arm. Her eyes drifted up to the blinking lights of incoming shuttles - shuttles that were carrying dozens of Stormtroopers.
"He will find us," Vader replied.
"So what do you suggest we do? Just stand here and give up without a fight?" Luke questioned, his voice rising in volume.
"No. We will go to the temple of the Sith. There we will make our stand."
"The Sith temple? Why? That doesn't sound like a good place to hide," Leia argued, trying to keep the fear out of her voice.
"I happen to think a Sith temple sounds like a terrible, awful, horrible place to hide," Threepio said as he gave his unasked for opinion.
"The temple was created to hold Kun. It has powers even the strongest Sith cannot defy." Not looking to see if Luke and Leia were following, Darth Vader headed toward the Sith temple.
"I don't trust him," Leia whispered to her brother.
"It doesn't look like we have a choice anymore," he answered softly as he pulled Leia to follow.
"Why us?" Threepio lamented as he tagged behind.
As soon as the stars came into focus, Han felt his skin crawl. "Star Destroyers," he whispered. "We're too late, they've already been blasting the surface."
"But they've stopped now," Mara pointed out. "Look at the shuttles heading down." She shut her eyes briefly. "Palpatine is on one of those shuttles."
Chewie gave a roar, and turned to look at Han. *Can Jade use the Force to guide us to Luke and Leia?*
"Chewie wants to know - " Han started as he looked over at Mara. She sat silent, eyes shut in concentration. Han stopped talking and waited.
She opened her eyes. "I can get us very close. Will you let me fly?"
Han sighed, reminding himself, She's a good pilot, Solo. "Fine," he said as he stood up to trade places with her. "Just don't get used to piloting my ship."
Mara sat down in the worn pilot's seat and grinned back at Han. "Don't worry. I'm sure any idiot can fly this pile of junk."
A chill fell over Princess Leia as they entered the musty temple walls. There is evil here, she thought, forcing herself to stop from shivering. Even Threepio had fallen into a fearful silence.
"What if we accidentally awaken this Sith?" Luke whispered to his father.
"We will not be the ones to awaken it, Palpatine will. And if he does..." Vader trailed off.
"Then there will be the ultimate battle for rulership of Sith. Only one will survive the fight."
"Won't the victor be even stronger when it's over?" Leia questioned.
"That is why you must obey me now, without question." Vader turned and looked down at Luke. I will lure Palpatine into this place and challenge him. While he is occupied with fighting me, you and your sister will use the Force to seal us into the antechamber. The same powerful forces that hold Exar Kun's spirit within this temple will also prevent Palpatine from escaping."
"But, then you'll be trapped as well," Luke said softly. "I can't allow that."
"You are questioning me."
"I can't do that!" Luke protested. "I ... I love you father. I can't kill you."
Vader was silent for a long time before he spoke. "I brought both of you here to turn you to the Darkside, to convince you of your rightful place by my side in ruling the galaxy. I knew the three of us could defeat the Emperor, and Palpatine knew it, too."
"We haven't turned to the Darkside," Leia said, confused and afraid. "We told you we would never do that."
"I know that, now. Palpatine needs to be stopped, and I won't allow him to destroy the only good thing I've done in my life, and that was to create you. It isn't my destiny to rule the galaxy, it's my destiny to stop Palpatine. That is what I was chosen to do. If you defy me now, we will all die."
Luke felt tears sting his eyes. "We can seal Palpatine in this tomb, and try to get you out. We can save you father."
"Luke, my son. You believed in my goodness when no one else did. You have already saved me."
"We'll do as you ask, father," Leia said quietly, tears coursing down her face.
"Thank you, Leia," Vader said as he put a gloved hand on her face, "Thank you for finally calling me 'father'.
"I'm signaling with an Imperial code so we don't get blown up as soon as we land," Jade informed them as she maneuvered into a clearing. "But I don't know how long they'll buy it."
"They seem to be buying it so far," Han nodded from his seat behind Chewie, looking up at the dark night sky. "How far are we away from Luke and Leia?"
"About two miles."
"Two miles?" Solo protested. "We could be too late by the time we hike all that distance."
"We can't land closer, or the Imperials will see this isn't just a shuttle!"
Han sighed. "I know, I know. I just can't be too late. Leia can't die," Not again. My heart can't take it.
"You really love this Princess, don't you?"
"More than words can describe, Red."
"She's lucky, then. I wish..." Mara stopped.
"You wish someone loved you?" Han smiled. "It'll happen, trust me."
"Shut up, idiot."
The Imperial Shuttle landed close to the old temple, and Palpatine walked carefully down the lowered ramp. So you are challenging me, Vader? the old Sith thought as he reached out across the distance. You think your power is stronger than mine? Even with your weak offspring to help you, it is nowhere near my power. You will now die for this betrayal, and so will your children. There will be no more Skywalkers after today.
The Emperor made his way through the jungle, with his Stormstroopers clearing a path and providing protection for their Master. Soon, Palpatine stood before the vine-covered, crumbling temple. "They are here," he declared. Frowning, he felt a stirring of something strong and evil. This can't be Vader.. he never projected such hatred. If he had, he would have destroyed me years ago. He turned his yellow eyes to several Troopers. "Six of you enter that chamber. Then return and tell me what is in there." The Stormtroopers hurried to obey. Then Palpatine waited. And waited. Where are those fools? He ordered a dozen more to enter and bring back a report. Those dozen disappeared just like the first six.
"Those worthless drones. Must I do everything myself?" Palpatine held up his twisted fingers. "Half of you shall come with me, the remainder stay behind and guard the entrance."
Holding up a glowlamp, the lead Trooper made his way into the gloom of the entrance tunnel. Turning the corner, he entered the large antechamber, stumbling over an obstacle. He aimed the lamp down. Twisted bodies of Stormtroopers lay scattered on the floor, blood oozing out from their uniforms. "Emper -" He tried to warn those behind him, but the lantern dropped to the ground as the Stormtrooper grasped his throat, choking on blood. His knees buckled and he dropped. He never saw the remaining Stormtroopers that accompanied the Emperor die in the same manner.
Only the Emperor remained unaffected by whatever power destroyed the squadron. Casually, Palpatine flicked on his own lamp, casting an eerie light. Skeletons, along with the many recently deceased Stormtroopers, lined the uneven floor of the huge room. A wicked grin spread across Palpatine's wrinkled face. "Show yourself, Vader. I know you're in here, with your weak offspring. If you think you can destroy me, then prove it."
A red lightsaber lit up the far side of the room, the black cloaked figure making a flickering shadow on the moist stone wall. Behind Vader was another chamber, this one sealed with a round, carved stone, warning people from entering the tomb of Exar Kun. "I am the Chosen One," the hissing, deep voice told his former Master.
"Chosen to serve me, and now that service has come to an end," the Emperor laughed. "You cannot defeat me. Where are those worthless children of yours?"
"This is not their fight. It is mine."
"Then fight, Lord Vader." The Emperor raised his hand, and lightning jumped from his fingers toward his apprentice.
"We're almost there," Jade panted as she sprinted through the underbrush, slashing anything in the way with her lightsaber.
"Good, 'cuz if we have to run much further, I'm gonna be dead before we get there," Han gasped, holding his side while trying to keep up the fast pace. Chewie, reluctantly, had again stayed behind, waiting for word to raise the ship and land much closer to the action.
"Wait!" Mara held up her hand, coming to such a fast stop Solo nearly collided with her.
"What's the matter?"
"A battle is taking place. Intense hatred. Anger. Fear." Jade shuddered and shut her eyes. "There's something here even more evil and powerful than the Emperor, and whatever it is, it's regaining awareness."
"It's like its been sleeping, or captured for a long, long time. And this battle I'm sensing is waking it up."
"Oh, that's just swell. So now I've created a chain of events that's waking something even more evil than Palpatine. Hopefully this isn't some giant, cosmic test I'm gettin' graded on, 'cuz I keep flunking. I wonder how many do-overs I'm allowed."
"What are you talking about?" Jade snapped.
"Never mind, let's just get moving."
"It's time, Leia," Luke whispered from their vantage point high on top of the temple. "We have to use the Force to seal off the main entrance, before Kun or Palpatine escapes."
"Vader will die," the Princess said quietly. "Our father will die."
Luke nodded, feeling a crushing weight of sadness. Taking her hand, he shut his eyes, and Leia joined her Force strength with his. Concentrating, the boulders that sat above the entrance to the antechamber began to shudder and shake.
Vader parried the Force lightning with his lightsaber, sending the charged bolts careening into the walls of the ancient temple. The carved rock doorway behind him was starting to tremble, with small rocks falling from the ceiling and the walls around the sealed entranceway.
"A powerful Sith is waiting to come forth, Vader," Palpatine laughed. "Perhaps he will join me by taking over your body. Then I will have an apprentice worthy of serving me."
"Exar Kun will not accept being your servant, Palpatine," Vader rumbled in warning. "He will kill you and gather all the evil in the galaxy to his side. He will make you look like a kindly grandfather."
"Is that why you lured me here, Vader? So you could serve Kun instead of me? How very clever of you. Which one of your children will you sacrifice for his new body? Probably the boy - I don't think Kun would enjoy being female, but he will certainly enjoy the Princess once he has a new body."
Furious, Vader went on the offensive.
Solo grabbed Jade's arm as the came into view of a stone temple surrounded by Stormtroopers. "This seems to be where the action is."
"Thank the Maker!" Threepio's voice called out from the gloom. "It's Captain Solo! See, Artoo? I told you we'd get rescued." Artoo responded with a disbelieving twitter.
"Threepio?" Han asked, incredulous. "Why are you here?"
"Master Luke and the Princess asked us to hide in the forest while they climbed to the top of the temple."
"Climbed to the top?"
"Look," Mara pointed up into the gradually brightening sky. Following her arm, Han could see Luke and Leia hiding on the temple roof.
"What are they doing?"
"Trying to seal off the doorway with the Force."
"I believe Miss Jade is correct, sir. Vader has lured Palpatine into the temple, and told Master Luke and Princess Leia that they needed to use the Force to send rocks in front of the entrance to trap them," Threepio said helpfully. "Apparently, the temple holds the spirit of a Sith named Exar Kun, and it needs to be sealed before he escapes!"
Solo slapped himself on the side of the head. "Kreth! Exar Kun! How could I have forgotten?"
"You've heard of him?" Mara asked, puzzled.
"I just have way too much on my mind, Jade," Han sighed.
"You have a mind?"
"Funny. Maybe Luke and Leia could use some extra help sealing that temple. What do you think?" Han suggested to Mara with a lop-sided grin.
"Maybe." Jade shut her eyes again, adding her Force strength to the children of Vader. The rocks, which had been trembling, began rocking violently back and forth. Suddenly, an avalanche of debris crashed down in front the entrance, sealing it and crushing most of the Stormtroopers in the pathway. The spirits of Palpatine and Exar Kun were safely trapped inside the temple.
"It worked," Luke said as he looked down at the destruction. He felt overwhelmed with sorrow. "We've killed our father."
"It had to be done, Luke," Leia said, her throat tight with grief. "He sacrificed himself, not only for us but for the galaxy."
"It doesn't make it any easier to take."
"Did you sense someone else, right before the stones crashed down? Someone using the Force to help us?"
"I thought it was my imagination."
"It wasn't." She looked down at the remaining Stormtroopers, milling around and trying to fire blasters at the huge rocks. "They have to be stopped from opening the entrance." No sooner had the words left her mouth, then well aimed blaster bolts from the jungle starting firing on the already frightened Troops. Confused by the sudden lack of direction from the Sith Emperor, they fired back randomly for a few seconds before fleeing in the opposite direction. "I think that's our cue to get down from here." She pulled on Luke's hand. When he didn't respond, she touched his face. "Luke. He'll always be our hero. Even if no one else ever knows, we know. And I think, in the end, what we thought of him was all that mattered."
Luke followed his sister down the rocky side of the temple until they reached the ground.
"Leia!" Solo's voice called from the underbrush. Han ran out and gathered the Princess in his arms. "You're safe," he murmured into her hair. "You're safe."
"You do like these last second rescue operations, don't you?" she laughed against his chest.
"Those are the exciting kind," he answered with a chuckle as he bent to kiss her, pleased when she eagerly responded. "I love you, Princess. Will you marry me?" he asked when he broke away.
"You're proposing right now? Here?" Leia asked, looking back at Luke and Mara's reactions. Luke smiled shyly at Mara, while Mara stood there, arms folded, with a smirk on her face, feigning disinterest in the reunion and in Luke. You've changed from the last time I saw you, Mara, Leia thought happily. You're the one who helped us by using the Force.
"It's better than the last place I asked you," Han laughed softly.
"Does my father Bail approve of you?" she teased, still not answering his question.
"You mean I have to ask his permission?"
"Not really, but it would be considered polite," Leia answered, trying to keep the amusement out of her voice.
Solo gave a dramatic sigh. "Fine. I'll ask. But if he says no, don't blame me if I go all Sithy on him."
Onboard the Millennium Falcon, five hours later.
"After we pick up the Viceroy, can we go to the Duro Sector and get my Aunt Beru?" Luke questioned as he slipped into the booth across from the Wookiee.
"Of course, kid. I'm sure she'll be thrilled to see you again."
"And we have to contact General Dodonna as soon as possible. Now that the Emperor is gone, they can move to take Coruscant," Leia added as she stood next to Han, who was sitting in the chair across the room from the game table.
"That's still gonna be a lot of work."
"I, for one, will be glad to get to a system that is civilized," Threepio said primly. "If I never see another jungle world, I will be happy forever."
"Do you suppose you can lend me a ship, Princess?" Jade asked carefully from the doorway, not looking at the young man who held such a mysterious and powerful attraction for her. "I don't have a place in the galaxy anymore. I would probably be prosecuted by your people if they find out what I did in the past."
"No one will ever know, Mara," Leia assured the young red-head. "But I will get you your own ship, not a loan, either. You helped save our lives, so you can consider it a small token of appreciation."
"Thank you," she said briefly, and then left the hold.
She's leaving, Luke thought, despair flooding his spirit. I don't want her to leave. I'll never see her again.
Chewie gave a puzzled roar, and Han looked over at an unhappy Luke. "Kid, I strongly suggest you go after her."
"What am I suppose to tell her?"
"Start by telling her she has a place in the galaxy. She's a Jedi now, too, ya know. If you're gonna rebuild the Jedi Order, you can't let one of the few remaining players leave the game, can you?"
Luke looked at Han, his expression unreadable. Then he smiled. "Alright. I will." He got up and followed Mara.
"You're really sure about this, Han?" Leia asked warily, as she watched Luke walk away.
Solo pulled her down into his lap. "Positive, Princess. Absolutely positive."
"Home, this is. Leave it I will not," Yoda said.
"But Palpatine is gone. You're safe to come out of hiding," Luke persisted gently. "I could use your help in rebuilding the Jedi. There's so much I don't know."
"A clean slate is perhaps best for the Jedi," Yoda answered. "Go, and rebuild with your sister and your wife."
Yoda was silent. "About this ask your friend, Solo," he finally said as he hobbled off.
"My dear niece," Tia cried out as she gave Leia a breathtaking hug. "We were so incredibly worried about you and Bail." Leia looked out from her aunt's tight grasp, and saw Rouge and Celly hugging Bail and crying in happiness.
"Everything is alright now, Tia," the Princess reassured her aunt. "Can you let me breath?"
"Sure, honey." Tia back off and Celly came forward.
"You have to understand we never thought we'd see you again after finding out about Lord Jarmon," Celly told Leia.
"Farrel? What does he have to do with anything?"
"Oh honey, I'm so sorry you don't know!" Rouge cried out. "Alderaanian security found out he was sending secret messages to the Emperor, with the help of one of our own security guards, if you can believe it! He betrayed you, and we didn't know until after you disappeared. We feared the worst."
"So he's in jail?" Han asked, trying not to smile.
"I'm afraid that's where he'll be for years and years," Tia answered sadly.
"Damn. That's a shame," Han replied, unable to stop from laughing.
"Han!" Leia chastised. Then she turned to her aunts. "Aunt Tia, Aunt Celly, Aunt Rouge, I'd like to introduce you to my fiancé
- Han Solo."
"Your.. fiancé? He's not even Alderaanian!" Tia sputtered out. "What, exactly, do you do for a living, Han Solo?"
"Ex-smuggler," Han gave her a lop-sided grin. "And I'm a Corellian, by the way."
"A...a Corellian smuggler?" She looked to her brother, while fanning a pale Rouge who was now being supported by Celly. "Bail? Is this true?"
"Very true, Tia. Han Solo will marry my daughter in two years."
"TWO YEARS?" Han yelled, ignoring the babbling aunts.
"Han! It's royal tradition to be engaged for two years," Leia told him firmly.
"We find it prevents many unhappy marriages, and usually gold-diggers are found out long before the two years are up," Bail explained, then added with a grin, "Not that I think you're a gold-digger, Han."
Solo sighed. "Oh, what the hell. I waited a lot longer last time."
"What LAST TIME, Solo?" Mara shouted at him. "I'm going to Force-choke you if you don't explain yourself!"
"Mara!" Luke admonished with a grin, as he stood between Aunt Beru and Jade. "Jedi do not Force-choke people. It's not nice."
"Oh, and by the way," Leia added with a sly smile. "Aunts, I'd also like to introduce Luke Skywalker to you. Luke is my twin brother."
No one was surprised when Rouge fainted.
Alderaan, Wedding Day.
The warm morning sun felt good on Han's back when he woke. Stirring slightly, he smiled and reached for.. nothing. Han sat up, confused for a moment. Then he remembered what day it was - Jania and Jag's wedding day. Leia had been up for hours already, making preparations for their daughter's big event. She's twenty-one already and getting married, Han thought, amazed. I'll be a grandfather before I know it.
He and Leia had celebrated an event of their own last month, twenty-eight years of marriage. Even though Han had to wait for two years, he still had married Leia when he was thirty-one, long before some distant Prince forced the issue. It had felt good to never have to worry about the Hapans blackmailing Leia.
Children were a different problem. Han did not want to change the future in any shape or form when it came to his kids, and Leia had agreed to wait until the "right" time to have Jacen and Jaina. Sure, the holo-reporters had been relentless in constantly asking when there would be a "little" Prince or Princess. Seven years later the twins were born, and then a year and a half after that Anakin had been born.
Han quickly showered and dressed, then headed toward the large breakfast room. "I see I'm not the last one to arrive," Solo commented as he sat down at the huge, almost deserted table.
"I saved some food for you, dad," Anakin laughed and passed a huge platter of eggs over to Han. Solo took the plate and smiled at his youngest son. Another thing he had managed to alter - The Yuuzhan Vong War. On Han's advise, Leia had waited much longer to assume the Presidency of the New Republic, and when she finally did, the new president enlisted the aid of scientists and trusted allies to prepare for the Vong invasion. She had also relentlessly pursued the Imperial remnants into an alliance with the New Republic, pushing aside those Senators that accused her of "sleeping" with the enemy. President Organa-Solo knew the Imperials were not the enemy they needed to worry about, and Vong spies and sympathizers were flushed out long before they could do much damage.
Luke and Mara had taken their twelve year old daughter Marla, Jacen and several other young Jedi, and searched out the "living" planet before the invasion occurred. Because of these extensive preparations, the Vong War lasted less than two years. The loss of life still ranged at over half a million, but it was still a small fraction of the number that died the 'first' time. President Leia Organa-Solo would go down in history as the greatest leader in the New Republic for her foresight in preparing for the Yuuzhan Vong War. At times, Leia felt guilty about the all credit she was given, when many of her decisions had been made by simply listening to her husband's counsel. But Han never seemed to care that she was the one showered with love and devotion from the beings of the galaxy, while he stayed in the background. Shortly after the end of the war, Leia had resigned as President and the Solo clan moved back home to Alderaan.
Luke and Mara entered the dining area, with Mara carrying her two-year old son, Ben. "Hey you two," Han smiled as he watched Mara put Ben in a high-chair. "Sleep good?"
"Great," Luke nodded. "But Ben was a little restless. He's used to our own home on Naboo, and I think he picks up on the different cycles when we're not there."
Naboo was the system where Luke and Mara settled after getting married, less than a year after Han and Leia's wedding. After setting up a Jedi training facility in an unused Palace, donated by the people of Naboo, they turned the many rooms into spacious apartments. The newlyweds had searched for Force-sensitives and invited them to come live and train on Naboo. Families were welcomed, and if they did not wish to live in one of the apartments, the Skywalkers helped settle them in a nearby town. Because of this extensive work, Luke and Mara had taken even longer to have children than the Solos - another five years had passed after the twins were born before Marla entered the galaxy. Now, at sixteen, she was a striking girl with sky blue eyes and strawberry-blonde hair. And every bit as fiery as her mother. Ben had been a 'surprise' baby, born only months after the end of the Yuuzhan Vong War. A celebration of life and victory, Leia had called him. Han had thought a little differently. Apparently, the Force doesn't need my help in making certain things happened the second time around. It's a good thing, too. I'm not about to tell Luke and Mara when to make a baby.
"Where's Marla?" Han asked as he spread jam on his toast.
"She's with Jaina," Mara replied. "You wouldn't believe how excited she is to be in a Royal wedding. She hasn't even complained about wearing a bridesmaid dress, if you can believe it."
Han laughed. "I have a hard time picturing your little tomboy in a fancy dress, Red."
"She's not so little anymore, idiot," Mara shot back with a wicked grin.
Luke and Anakin both shook their heads in dismay. Over the years, they had gotten used to Han and Mara constantly calling each other by those odd, insulting "nicknames." "I have to go see Tahiri, dad," Anakin said as he got up from the table. "Can I be excused?"
"No excuse for you, kid," Han snorted. "Get going before your girlfriend goes into boyfriend withdrawal and starts hyperventilating."
"Dad!" Anakin protested, flushing slightly. "See you later, Uncle Luke and Aunt Mara." He quickly took off before his father could embarrass him further.
"That'll be the next one to get married," Luke pointed out to his brother-in-law.
"I'm sure that's true. Jacen needs to start looking at Danni before she starts looking elsewhere. That boy has more girlfriends than he can keep track of, and none of them compares to Danni. She's the one he needs to settle down with, if you ask me."
"Oh, I'm sure you can arrange that, Han," Leia said from the doorway. "You've played matchmaker for almost everyone else in our circle of friends."
Han turned in his chair and grinned at his wife. "Hey! Someone has to do it. If everyone just got their acts together faster, I wouldn't have to keep interfering."
"You love interfering," Mara smirked.
"I guess I do," he conceded before asking Leia, "Have you seen Chewie and Malla yet this morning?"
"Yes, dear. Stop worrying. They were just out taking a morning stroll in the gardens."
Solo nodded. Chewbacca had returned to Kashyyyk after Han and Leia's marriage at the Corellian's insistence. They had made a deal - if Han left Alderaan to go anywhere besides Naboo, he would first pick up Chewie before heading out. That way, Chewie would be able to stay with his family at home and at the same time fulfill his lifedebt to Han. The arrangement had worked out well.
"This caf is cold," Leia said as she poured a cup.
"I'll make a new pot." Han volunteered. Solo got up, went into the spacious kitchen and poured the tepid beverage down the drain. He looked up at the clear blue sky, thinking it's gonna be a beautiful day for Jaina's wedding, when a white cloud formation caught his eye. The only clouds in the sky spelled out the words... WELL DONE, before drifting apart and dissipating in the clear morning air. Perhaps the first time around had been the real illusion all along.