TITLE: "Good Buys"

AUTHOR: vader-incarnate

SUMMARY: When Leia is kidnapped by slave traders, it falls to everyone's favorite smuggler to get her back. Never underestimate the power of a silver-tongued scruffy-looking nerfherder.

CONTENT: Pre-ESB H/L-ish. Humor. Hints of romance.

AUTHOR'S NOTE(S): Not quite sure where this came from, either. But it's humor -- humor's always a good thing, ain't it? And hey, if not ... at least it makes up for the bouts of unrelenting angst.

He found it on the evening of the third day, a delay that did little for his pride. It was the fault of his rumored respectability, he suspected -- his brush with heroism at Yavin had made most self-respecting slave traders wary of approaching Han Solo, even after he'd put out the rumor that he was looking to buy.

By the time he knew where to look, though, Han was somewhat disgusted with himself for not searching there sooner.

The structure itself was small and run down, a cross-beamed entryway giving the whole thing a more dignified appearance than it merited. A large gate -- too large, actually, to aesthetically fit the structure itself -- attempted to give the building an illusion of grandeur that it didn't really have. It was wooden, like most of the other structures on this planet -- the Empire had billed it as an opportunity to help in the settlement of a new frontier or some such romantic bull. Han didn't see it, personally -- once you'd seen one hive of scum and villainy, you'd seen 'em all.

All in all, though, this was going to be ... challenging.

Han finished his reflection with a slight frown. He was beginning to regret not bringing Chewie, though they both knew that the Wookiee would be somewhat less than cordial in a slave market. Though his partner had offered to come, Han refused, knowing how much Chewie hated the places.

"Well," he murmured. "Might as well get this over with.

He purposefully through the gate, receiving hardly a glance at his entrance. The better part of the day had already ended, and the proprietors were closing down the shop. Their charges, for the most part, had already been packed out of sight, sleeping or chained up or whatever method this particular breed of traders chose.

After a few moments of searching, Han's eyes lighted upon his quarry -- a short, balding man seated on a wooden bench. His face was buried in his hands, and he looked for all the world as if his rich uncle had died, leaving him nothing in the will.

Han strode towards the man. From closer up, he could see that the man's lips were moving. After a moment, Han realized that he was talking to himself.

Han raised an eyebrow. "Been drinking too much again, Ortas?" he mocked, affecting an indifferent yet striking pose -- arms crossed over his chest, feet splayed, head cocked slightly to the side. "You don't usually talk to the invisible munchkins till you're in pretty deep, as I recall."

Ortas looked up, watery brown eyes lighting upon the smuggler. His face, which had brightened at the sound of a potential customer, darkened again after he identified the speaker. "What do you want, Solo?" he demanded sourly. "Can't you see I'm trying to run a business?"

Han raised an eyebrow. "Ortas, is that really any way to treat a paying customer?" he drawled, hand going down to pat his hip pocket a few times. The trader's eyes traced his hand, watched as he withdrew a credit chip. "I'm looking to buy, Ortas, no need for any of that now."

Ortas' face lit up again -- until wariness overcame the greed. "You, Solo, looking to buy?" he demanded suspiciously, obviously thinking of Chewie's rescue all those years ago. "Every slaver in the stars-damned galaxy knows your feelings about the trade."

Han shrugged. "Ideals only get you so far, come nightfall. Sometimes you need a good, warm body to do the trick."

The trader smirked knowingly, greed overcoming suspicion. Han was fairly sure he could see the credit chips already clinking behind the man's eyes. "Oh, it's like that, is it?" he leered, dropping a wink. "You're in the market for some ... feminine company ... to fulfill your needs, Solo?"

"You could say that. I heard you had some goods you couldn't quite get rid of."

Ortas grinned. "How do you like 'em? We just got a new batch yesterday -- redheads, blondes, brunettes, your choice, we've got 'em all. Even got some of the more exotic, if that's what suits your fancy. Four legs, six boobs --"

"Looking for a brunette, I think. Petite, but not weak -- decently strong." He grinned, the patented crooked Solo-smirk. "And I like 'em with long hair," he added, as if as an afterthought.

The slaver's face brightened even more, a feat Han wouldn't have thought possible. Han grinned inwardly -- the slaver, he surmised, would be more than happy to have that certain petite brunette taken off his hands.

So she was here, then -- he'd have to find some way to reward his tipster.

"I have just the one for you!" Ortas exclaimed, clapping a hand on Han's back and steering him towards a smaller enclosed arena. "I've received a lot of good offers for her already ... but for an old friend like you, Solo, I'll tell them all to hang. Friends first, eh? You'll love this one, I know it. Strong ... healthy ..." he made a crude gesture. "A great f--"

"Yeah, sure, but can she cook?" Han interrupted.

Ortas blinked, having lost his chain of thought. "Cook? Uh ... sure, why not? Yeah! In fact, the guy who sold her to me said that she cooked like she was born in a kitchen. I'm telling you, Han -- can I call you Han? -- you'll not do any better ..."

They rounded the corner, and Han found that his voice was stuck in his throat. Quickly scanning the captive, Han tuned out the trader's droning voice, looking at the woman he'd come to rescue.

Her long, dark hair was messy and tangled, the first time he'd seen it looking anything less than immaculate. The remainder of her dress was in tatters, scarcely enough to cover the usually modest princess, and yellowing bruises tattooed what skin he could see. Her hands were chained above her head on a ringed post, and she'd been gagged with something that looked distinctly unsanitary.

Leia's eyes widened at the sight of the smuggler, and she instinctively strained at the chains, trying to call out through the gag.

Han's step faltered slightly.

"What's the matter?" Ortas' voice sounded distantly in his ears.

"Nothing," he answered vaguely. "Just a little tired."

Ortas studied his face. "I'll say," he grunted. "You look like you haven't slept in a week, Solo -- Jabba got you on the run again, or is it the Empire this time?"

"I'll tell you when I need to rent a mother, Ortas," Han snapped irritably. "Just show me the goods, and I'll go take care of my business, shall I?"

Leia stopped struggling at his word choice.

Han made a point of casually surveying his surroundings as they approached the subject of the discussion. "You know, Ortas," he mused, "you've got a nice little place here. Isolated, only one way in," he listed, glancing towards a couple of lower life forms examining a pile of blasters a few yards away, "and no one here but unscrupulous dregs who'd do anything for a line of credit. It'd be almost impossible to get out of here without paying for the goods." He smiled at Ortas. "I don't think even I could do it."

Brown eyes widened in comprehension.

Ortas was nodding. "Yeah, but I never have to worry about that sort of things anyway, with my prices as good as they are." He nodded towards the captive. "Only four hundred credits for this one," he declared, as if proving his point.

Han raised an eyebrow. "What makes you think I have four hundred credits to spare?"

"Oh come on, Han. You and I both know you've got to have at least a hundred times that much stashed away over the years. People like you and I, we make that sort of money, no matter what the market."

Han shrugged. "So why didn't she sell?" he asked, tossing his head towards the princess.

"Well you know how it goes, my friend -- I just wasn't willing to lower the price on this one."

The smuggler rolled his eyes. "Ortas, we both know you'd lower the price on your own mother to close a deal."

"Yeah, but my mother has nothing on this little beauty." He reached his hand down towards the girl's face, and she lunged for it. Ortas jerked his hand back quickly, looking nervously at his customer. "You've gotta love that energy," he laughed uneasily.

Han snorted. "Forget it. I'm not looking for energy, Ortas -- I'm looking for a slave that won't give me headaches." He turned to leave.

"Wait, wait!" Ortas called, sounding panicked. "You ... you said you wanted someone to cook for you! I'm telling you, this one's perfect!" he lunged for the departing smuggler, catching the other man's arm. "Perfect for you, friend, I promise it!"

"Don't waste your breath, Ortas," the smuggler snarled. He took a few steps towards the slave, who was watching him through narrowed eyes, and surveyed her coolly. "She looks like trouble -- don't tell me she got those bruises from falling down the stairs?"

"No permanent damage," Ortas laughed uneasily. "Just a little misunderstanding, that's all."

Han gave him a look but remained silent.

"You know, Solo," Ortas purred, steering the subject away from dangerous territory, "it doesn't hurt for the wenches to have some energy ..."

The smuggler looked at him expectantly.

"You know," Ortas said with a wink.

Han shook his head. "Not my type. I like nice girls in the sack -- less trouble that way."

"C'mon, Solo, think about it -- alone on the Falcon ... long voyages ... late at night ..."

"It'd have to be pretty damned late."

The princess grunted.

"But just think about it for a moment -- energy like a wildcat, this one. Your bed will never be boring."

"My bed's never been boring -- but I'm not interested in a fight to the death for every meal and every lay," the smuggler snapped. "Maybe I'll go see Tambr -- he usually has some pretty good stock."

"Wait wait wait, Solo! I'll tell you what: we had some pretty good times together in the old days --"

"No we didn't."

"-- so I'll do you this little favor. Three hundred, and she's all yours."

Han sighed. "You don't get it, do you? I don't want her."

"How do you know? You haven't really given her a chance." Ortas reached out for Han's arm again, but the smuggler took evasive action, stepping closer to the chained woman.

"Why the gag?"

"Um ... well, you see, there's this funny story about that --"

He raised her hand. "Let me guess. Because her voice is pure siren's song, and you didn't want to lull your bidders to sleep."

He tugged down the cloth.

"Force damn your dirty hide!" she screeched. "I'll cook nothing for you but the bantha dung--"

He drew the gag back up and turned to Ortas, eyebrow arched.

The trader wrung his hands. "Two-fifty."

The gag went back down.

"-- I'll gouge out my own eyes before sleeping in your unnatural bed, and the instant you fall asleep I'll cut off your shrunken balls with a rusty --"

The gag went back up.

"Ha-ha, what a kidder," Ortas murmured weakly. Han continued to look at him, amusement shining in the smuggler's eyes as he watched the trader struggle to compromise a chance at a profit with the sheer power of Leia's personality. "Two hundred, but that's as low as I can go -- I paid two hundred for her myself."

"Then you were cheated," Han retorted, stepping in close and looking at the captive princess speculatively. He reached a hand towards her face, grabbing her chin and forcing her head from side to side, making a show of his inspection. Ortas was right about her bruises, at least -- no permanent damage done.

Brown eyes rolled expressively, though in irritation or amusement he couldn't quite tell.

He winked.

"You're nuts, Solo," Ortas grumbled from behind him. "Most buyers would be more interested in her bed than her cooking. Just look at those hands. Think what she'll be able to do with 'em, those little fingers wrapped around your c--"

Han took one of the captive's hands in his own, scrutinizing it as Ortas prattled on. "Stars, Ortas, where'd you get this one?" he snorted. "These hands look like they've never done a hard day's work, simple cooking included -- if I didn't know better, Ortas, I'd say you'd grabbed a princess."

"Well ... uh ... the man who got her for me --"

"Because," Han continued over the fumbling explanation, "the holonet's been broadcasting news of some kidnapped princess for the last few days. Her planet's been offering a reward for her return, along with the head whoever kidnapped her. If this is the girl, Ortas, you're in some hot water."

The trader paled. "Come now, Solo," he began, "surely this girl has to be worth something for you ... a hundred, maybe, I'm sure I can eat some of the cost --"

"Forget it, Ortas," he snapped. "Nobility's a pain on an occasional basis, why'd I want to have one under foot every day?"

The trader, no doubt seeing his chance at profit quickly sliding away, tried again. "But a princess, Solo! How many people can boast that they own a princess?"

Han snorted. "Forget it. They're all stupid anyway, with all that inbreeding and incest. Don't want a slave I have to explain the meaning of 'sex' to, after all -- takes the pleasure out of it, know what I mean?"

Brown eyes narrowed dangerously. In any other situation, Han might have been intimidated.

He turned to leave. "Sorry, Ortas," he said, putting a hand on the dealer's shoulder. "You got a raw deal with this one -- maybe some other time." He took a dozen long strides to the exit.

"Wait!" Ortas caught up to her, grabbing his arm in panic. "Surely we can work something out?" he pleaded.

Leia watched the two of them from her vantage point, trying in vain to hear the discussion. Han was shaking his head, adamant, but Ortas seemed desperate. Eventually, though, Han nodded, drawing out a small purse as they stepped under a canvas shade between the entryway and the auction area.

A few minutes later, Han emerged with a large key.

He knelt and looked into her face, eyes twinkling with suppressed merriment. "You know, sweetheart," he whispered in an undertone as he bent to unlock the chains on her ankles and wrists, "we should do this again sometime. I'll turn my back, and you get yourself kidnapped. Then, you bother and harass the slaver with your personality until he can't take it any more -- an hour or so ought to do it -- and I'll move in for the kill."

She glared, the gag stopping any scathing retort that may have been coming. A scathing retort, as far as she was concerned, that he richly deserved, rescuer or not.

He winked. "You were," he explained, "a very good buy indeed. Ortas me paid a thousand credits to take you off his hands ..."