Author's Note: Thanks for the reviews! No, the old man who hired Han is not Palpatine. Our smuggler knows what Palpy looks like, remember and I do believe he called him an 'old mummy' in previous chapters. So you'll just have to wait and see who it is. Now on with the story…
"Uh oh!" Han muttered as he suddenly realized whom the egg might have belonged to.
Then a cocky smile appeared on the smuggler's face. Even if it was a dragon, it was just a tiny dragon. And worst, it was PINK! The longer Han watched Quartzite sitting on Vader's shoulder, the more ridiculous it looked. Soon he started to laugh, a shaking finger pointing at the colorful duo. "Mahahahaha!"
Vader glared at the man. "What are you laughing at?"
"The big bad Sith Lord has a pet … and its PINK!" Han gasped for air and leaned forward, one hand pressed against a thigh for balance. His body quivered as he was raked with more laughter. He hadn't laughed in a long time and now he couldn't control himself. The bright pink against Vader's black armor, it was more than he could stand. If only he could see how it looked…
"I see nothing funny, General Solo." Vader replied, menace suggested by his tone of voice. "Nor do I find it funny you have apparently cooked Quartzite's eggs."
"Well, you shouldn't leave them lying around!" Han managed to say through his laughter.
With lightning speed, the tiny pseudo dragon leaped off Vader's shoulder. Quartzite spread his wings and dived right at the still laughing smuggler. Before the man could react to what was happening, the pink lizard landed on his arm and sunk its sharp teeth into the tender flesh of his hand.
"Oow! It bit me!" Han cried as he felt the thing bite him. Angry now and the last trace of happiness disappearing instantly, he reached for the dragon's slim body. But before his other hand could close around it, it took off into the air and just vanished. Unknown to Han, the Pseudo Dragon had the ability of a chameleon. That is, it could match its skin color to any background so it became invisible. It also had Force powers and could do mostly anything a Jedi could. More importantly, it possessed the incredibly rare Force Resistance. This allowed it to repel attacks by other Force users and it shared this ability with its owner. Not that Han cared about any of that at the moment. The smuggler turned around in frantic circles as he searched for it, wild-eyed. "Where did it go? Where is it? I'll strangle the little thing!"
Vader stood with his arms folded in front of his chest, Quartzite's weight on his shoulder. General Solo could be incredibly stupid. How the man managed to survive all these years was a great mystery.
Han darted forward and peered underneath a nearby chair. Nothing. Next he checked inside a large vase, stupidly sticking his unbitten hand within to feel around. Once he was satisfied that the little dragon wasn't hiding inside the vase, he dashed towards a sofa. Grabbing the first cushion, he tossed it over his head carelessly and then repeated the maneuver again with a second cushion. It was at this part of the action that Obi-Wan made the mistake of entering the room. The smuggler dashed up to the startled Jedi and clutched onto his tabards, shaking. "Do something! That thing could be anywhere!"
"What thing?" Obi-Wan asked, confused.
"That pink menace!" Han replied.
"Well, I'm afraid I don't know anything about that." Obi-Wan admitted as he grabbed the other's hands and pulled them free of his clothing. "I just came to tell you that dinner is ready."
"Well, why didn't you say so?" Han eyed the Jedi suspiciously, as if he expected him to vanish, too. Then he jabbed a finger at Obi-Wan's nose. "You still owe me that money!"
"But I thought the Rebel Alliance paid you…" Obi-Wan stated. "When you arrived on Yavin Four…"
"Hmmph!" Han snorted. That money was long gone and he needed more, especially if he wanted to marry Leia. "Don't you get any ideas of vanishing."
"I was DEAD!" Obi-Wan exclaimed.
"Yeah, right!" Han rolled his eyes. "Do you expect me to believe that nonsense? Look, Gramps, I wasn't born yesterday. You just made yourself invisible like that drat pink lizard thing your buddy has. For all I know, you ARE that pink lizard!"
"What!" Obi-Wan cried, horrified. "I am NOT a pink lizard! I'm a Jedi Knight. And he is NOT my buddy! He's my former apprentice!"
"Whatever…" Han continued, dismissing the Jedi's words with a wave of his hand. He didn't care what the old guy said. Words were cheap, after all. "All I care about is the money you owe me for transporting you to Alderaan. You gave me two thousand… Hmm… let's see if I can figure out the interest…"
"Interest? You have got to be kidding!" Obi-Wan cried. "I was MURDERED!"
Han lifted his eyes off the banged-up calculator he had pulled off his belt. "Well, you don't look dead to me. In fact, I think you're a chronic liar, blabbing on about being dead and coming back to life and that nonsense about kooky old religions. Yep, you're a real nut case. But fruit loop or no fruit loop, you still owe me money. And until you pay it up I'll be on your back like mynocks on a power coupling."
"I don't believe this."
Han then waved his bitten hand in front of Obi-Wan's face. "And I'm charging you an extra two thousand for biting me!"
"That wasn't me." Obi-Wan shook his head. "What do you think I am, a kook?"
"Yeah." Han agreed as he turned his back on the Jedi and sauntered off towards the dining room.
As soon as Han had vanished, Obi-Wan turned to face his former apprentice. "This is your fault, Anakin. You still have that pink dragon, don't you?"
"At least Quartzite stayed with me. That's more than I can say for others…"
"Let's not argue about that again, Anakin." Obi-Wan replied. He stared up at his former apprentice's black mask. He still felt partly guilty about leaving Anakin that day lying there. How could he have done such a thing? Even to this day he didn't know what had possessed him that day. "We both made mistakes and I regret those mistakes. I wish I could go back and change the past, but I can't. If I could, I would have been more aggressive with the Council. You weren't ready for an assignment on your own, no matter how skilled your Force powers were. If we would have stayed together you might not have fallen to the Dark Side that first time your mother died. But you have her back now. You have Padme back now. You have the family you always wanted and the Council can't say anything. Come back to me now, Anakin. Let go of the Dark Side. And I did stay with you in a fashion. I watched over Luke all those long years from a distance. I made sure nothing happened to him."
"My duty is to the Empire." Vader stated. Motioning with a black-gloved hand, he signaled for Obi-Wan to accompany him. "Let us go to dinner."
They entered the dining room to see it already filled with people. The empty seat at the head of the table, of course, was empty and reserved for Lord Vader. Padme, as Lord Vader's wife, was given the honor of sitting at the other end of the table. Luke would sit by his father's right side while Obi-Wan would sit on his left. The others would fill in the rest of the table, with Leia sitting by her mother. Han immediately claimed the seat across from Leia as his own and he grinned crookedly at Padme. He noted that she wore another weird basket on her head and he rolled his eyes. Vader took his seat and soon servants brought out the first course of the meal, which were appetizers.
"What the heck is THIS?" Han grumbled as he picked up an itty-bitty hot dog stuck to a stick. "Where's the FOOD? A man could STARVE eating in this place!"
Padme raised a hand to her open mouth, a look of utter horror on her face as she stared at her future Son-In-Law. "Please, General Solo! You're creating a scene!"
Han gawked at her blankly. "Huh?"
"A scene!" She hissed at him.
Han shoved the entire hot dog into his mouth and chewed. Within moments it was gone. Then he eyed the hot dog on Padme's plate. "You gonna eat that?"
"How rude!" She exclaimed, even more horrified. And worst, she noticed he had his elbows on the table as well! It was becoming increasingly clear that he had no table manners to speak of!
Then Han leaned over the table itself, his chest pressed flat atop his now empty plate. He turned his head so he could see Vader down at the table's other end. "Hey! Are you going to actually serve any FOOD at this meal? I suppose you probably suck applesauce through the grates of that mask, but the rest of us are hungry!"
HO-PAH. HO-PAH. HO-PAH. HO-PAH.
"Well?" Han shouted. "I would think a guy so rich could afford better than little hot dogs…"
Vader's hands clenched into fists and he resisted the strong urge to choke Solo. He reminded himself that if he gave in to his feelings, his would loose his daughter. Leia was the only thing keeping the pest alive and Han knew it. Reciting the Jedi calming technique, Vader finally spoke. "That, General Solo, was only the first course. I doubt if you're experienced with multi-course meals."
"Oh." Han relaxed back into his chair and soon had a big bowl of soup before him. He rubbed his hands together with glee and soon started to suck it down, right from the bowl itself.
Padme stared horrified at him, her soupspoon partly raised in her hand.
Lifting his face from the bowl, Han gawked back at her. "What's the matter?"
Just then the doorbell rang, the loud sound echoing throughout the dining room. Within moments a gray-uniformed Imperial appeared and whispered to Lord Vader.
"Excuse me." Vader said and rose from his seat. Then he left the dining room to head towards the front door.
"I don't see why he sits at the table at all." Han stated as he paused in licking his empty bowl. "I mean, he's not eating!"
By now, Padme was turning slightly greenish from the smuggler's lack of table manners. Of course, she was too polite to actually say something, because then she wouldn't have any table manners. JarJar spearing a fruit with his tongue had been acceptable. He had been a Gungan, after all. But Solo was human. He should know better!
"You know," Han said as he peered at Padme with a worried look on his face. "You don't look too well. Are you sure you're feeling OK?"
"I … I feel fine." Padme managed to gasp out, a hand to her throat. Next time they ate she would make sure to request that one of the Jedi sat next to her…
Vader reached the front door of his castle and opened it.
"Ani, long times no see." Watto floated in the air at mask height to Vader, his wings beating fast. "Me hears you be Lord Vader now, er? Plenty rich! How's about you helps me out, er, Ani? Me business doing badly these days, lots of deadbeats no pay me. Me forced to sell store and now I have no where to live.."
Vader sighed inaudibly. It figured. Everyone else had moved in with him, why not Watto as well? "Very well, Watto. Why don't you join us for dinner?"
"That's great, Ani!" Watto said as he followed Vader into the dining room. There was an empty seat next to Shmi and Watto happily settled down into it. Master Mace was directly across the table from him and the Jedi paid the Toydarian no heed. Unfortunately, Han WAS paying attention. As soon as the little alien floated into the room behind Vader's tall imposing body, the smuggler locked his eyes on him.
Han's eyes narrowed and without warning he lunged across the table towards Watto. Bowls of soup went flying and Yoda was knocked out of his chair. "You! You're the one that bit me!"
"Aahhhh!" Watto cried as Han grabbed his snout and started yanking on it. The Toydarian floated up into the air and hovered above the table, shrieking for help.
"Han!" Leia cried, aghast. "Let go of that alien!"
"It bit me!" Han cried as he waved his bitten hand in front of her face.
Not paying the disturbance any mind, Qui-Gon finished his bowl of soup. The Jedi had been clever enough to actually hang onto his bowl of food so it had not spilled with the others. Putting the bowl back onto the table, he burped loudly. As he did so, a burst of flame leaped from his mouth towards Shmi, who sat directly across from him.
Startled, Shmi had enough mind to duck and the fire flew over her head and hit one of the gray-uniformed Imperials who acted as waiters. The unlucky man went shrieking from the room back towards the nearby kitchen.
Watto, feeling protective of Shmi even while his snout was being pulled by Han, flew closer to Qui-Gon and started kicking him in the head with his duck-like feet.
"Don't you breath fire at my Grandmother!" Luke, ever the hothead, leaped forward. He opened his mouth and willed a ball of fire to come out. To his delight, one did, but his aim was bad and it flew closer to Obi-Wan than Qui-Gon. Qui-Gon started to laugh at the farmboy's bad aim but started to choke when dark smoke emitted from his nose.
Obi-Wan, meanwhile, was forced to leap backward to avoid being burned. Him and his chair clattered to the floor with a loud thud.
Yoda had picked himself up off the floor and was busy pounding on Han's back with his cane. "Let go of that Toydarian you will!"
"Please!" Padme called with a clear voice over the loud ruckus from where she stood at the end of the table. "Can't we stop fighting so diplomacy can be used?"
Vader watched the disaster unfold before him and he hung onto his helmet with both hands. He heard the loud shouting in the kitchen and knew that Quartzite was stealing the roasted steaks … AGAIN. Dishes and crockery crashed to the floor and he could imagine the chef chasing the Pseudo Dragon with a big hatchet … AGAIN.
To be continued…