By Kathryn Olsen

The space around Talfaglio was, for once, crowded with ships. The fairly remote world
rarely found itself the center of attention, but for the time being, it was a haven and rendezvous
point for the refugees fleeing Duro.

There to meet the convoy was a task force of medical ships, transports, and escort
frigates that had been waiting at the rendezvous point when they'd arrived.

"Looks like the reinforcements finally arrived," Han Solo commented sourly.

His daughter nodded silently, watching the various elements of the task force Coruscant
had sent to intercept them fell into place.

"It's about time," she agreed. "A pity they couldn't have made themselves useful a
few days earlier."

It was almost the first time she'd spoken since their frantic jump to hyperspace a little
over an hour ago.

It didn't take a Jedi to note the strain in her voice, the bitter hardness in her liquid
brown eyes. Her delicate jaw was firmly set and her posture stiff.

"I'll bring us in," she said quietly. "You go see to Mother."

Han shook his head wearily and inclined his head back towards the hold. "Jacen's back

She stiffened even more, but did not look at him. "Why are you putting this off? Your
wife was nearly sacrificed to the Yuuzhan Vong gods. We all nearly lost her forever and you,
the one who has loved her longer than either of you have ever realized, are the only one who
has not looked after her." Her voice took on a frighteningly harsh, intense tone. "Why?"

Han winced. "Would you believe I'm afraid?"

She nodded. "We all are."

"I don't want to deal with her until she's had a chance to heal."

She turned an unreadable expression on him. He saw a mixture of anger, pain, apprehension,
and a bit of pleading in her eyes. "Dad, see to her," she bit out. "You've neglected her
long enough."

He opened his mouth to protest, then quickly shut it, recognizing a bit too much of
her mother in her expression. He knew that not only was she determined, but she was right.

He nodded, almost imperceptibly and unstrapped. "Take her in."

He moved through the ship, past the deactivated See-Threepio, past the holochess table
where Droma was dozing, to his quarters.

His wife was sleeping finally, her expression slack from the sedatives they'd given
her. The blankets pulled up to her chest covered most of her injuries. A small bandage high
on her forehead, near the thickening stubble that had once been her hair, was the only visible
sign of the abuse she'd suffered at the hands of the Yuuzhan Vong.

*"She's hurt bad."*

He knew that the external injuries were just the beginning. The physical healing would
be a matter of hours or days in a bacta tank. The spiritual healing would take months.

He shuddered deeply; he didn't want to know what they had done to her at Duro. He suspected
it wasn't something any of them would want to acknowledge, because they would all feel that
they had a measure of responsibility for what had happened to her.

Jacen, his oldest and most mercurial son, sat in a chair by Leia's bedside, his expression
drawn. He was holding her hand, keeping up a constant contact as if he were afraid that by
letting go, he'd let her slip away.

Han's chest tightened as he recognized the fierce protectiveness that had always been
his son's strongest asset and greatest weakness. He wasn't sure who Jacen had inherited it
from, but he was immensely grateful for it.

Someday, Jacen would make a great father.

As if sensing his thoughts, Jacen looked up to fix his hazel gaze on his father. The
skin around his eyes tightened, but then relaxed slightly.

"We've come up on Talfaglio and Jaina's taking us in." He paused, then moved almost
hesitantly closer. "She could use your help."

Jacen nodded and rose smoothly, careful not to disturb the first real rest his mother
had gotten in months. He broke the physical contact and backed towards the door.

"The sedative should be wearing off soon; we only had enough to keep her quiet until
we could get her to a bacta tank." His voice caught. "I wanted to put her into a healing
trance so she wouldn't have to feel the pain for now, but I can only do that if she helps herself
into it as well."

Han winced. "I understand," he lied.

Han rested a hand on his shoulder briefly, then moved to sit by his wife. He lifted
her small hand in one of his and with his other hand gently stroked her cheek. She stirred
slightly, then stiffened.

He rested a hand on her shoulder and held her down in a firm grip. Movement would only
exacerbate the situation. Her eyes opened slowly and he could see the dampened agony.

"It's all right; we're at the rendezvous point. As soon as we're docked, we'll get
you medical attention."

She nodded wearily and opened her mouth, but couldn't seem to summon the strength to
speak. She swallowed weakly, then grimaced. He retrieved a small water bottle and lifted her
head, helping her drink some. She let out her breath and nodded her thanks.

"I wish you'd let me know you were coming," she said hoarsely. "I hate for you to see
me like this."

Han squeezed his eyes shut, fighting back the wave of emotion that her reliance on her
innate sense of humor invoked. "I've seen better days myself," he countered.

She raised her arm weakly to touch his cheek. "You don't look so good," she agreed.
"But then again, you've been letting our children do all the gallavanting around the universe
this time. Boredom must be running you ragged."

He mustered a smile and took her hand. He lay her arm across her chest, then gently
kissed the other hand. "You know me too well."

Her brow furrowed and she took a deep shuddering breath. "My hands are dirty," she

He leaned in and kissed her gently, lingeringly. "Let them be," he whispered.

The tears came for them both then, unhindered. She turned her head away. "Please don't,"
she whispered. "Not unless you mean it."

Han drew back, stung. As usual, she left no room for error, no matter how painful the
truth may be.

Her chest heaved. "You've been keeping away from this family for months because you've
been too proud or too guilty or too afraid to let us help you deal with what's happened in
the last year.

"I don't doubt that any of this is hard for you, but you are not the only one suffering.
A family unit is formed to support each other, to make sure that not one individual has to
carry life's burden alone. I wish you'd trust us enough to realize that.

"I accused you of having a fling with the past. It was what you needed to do to cope
in the interim, but it will quickly lose its effectiveness and then you'll be left with nothing.

"What you need to do is establish a serious relationship with your future. The one
that we created and our children are fighting to preserve."

She shifted her grip on his fingers. "I want you back in my life almost more than

"Almost," he queried, half-teasing.

She pursed her lips. "I don't want to be second-guessing you for the rest of my life,
Han," she said quietly. "Wondering if you're really there or if I'm just setting myself up
for disappointment and heartache. I have to know that you are as firmly committed to loving
me as I am to you."

A flash of memory entered his mind, of when he had finally discovered how much an ir-
replaceable part of his life she had become, the day they'd been captured on Bespin.

*"Then you're as good as gone, aren't you."*

She was the same strong-willed woman that he'd loved then and he'd fooled himself into
thinking that there were higher priorities.

It wasn't until later that he'd realized his mistake. As soon as he'd recognized himself
for the over-grown gorrnt he was, he'd sworn to himself that he'd never let himself make that
mistake again.

His breath caught in his throat, hindered by thick emotion. He reached down and turned
her face to look at him so that she would never have to second-guess him again. "Now and
forever, Your Highnessness."

She reached up and pulled him down into a deep, almost fervent kiss. Han gathered her
into a gentle embrace and returned the gesture tenfold.

The sound of someone clearing their throat interrupted the moment. Han turned to see
a medteam standing in the hatchway.

Leia squeezed his hand. "Stay with me, nerfherder," she said quietly.

"Of course."

"We received an emergency alert from Lieutenant Solo. We need to get her to Medical."

Han stood and moved out of the way. The medics pulled back the blankets and someone
cried out in horror. Han himself fought back the urge to vomit as he saw the deeply gouged
flesh of his wife's legs.

"All right," the first medic said shakily. "Let's move her out."