By Kathryn Olsen

Princess Leia Organa rested her chin on her hand and sighed. The High Command meeting
had been going on for eight hours now, with no end in sight. Another day of bureaucracy and
exasperating planning sessions.

It was on days like this that she despaired of ever winning the war.

She surreptitiously slid her right hand along her left wrist, pulling the sleeve of
her loose green tunic towards her elbow so that she could catch a glimpse of the time. Lando
was supposed to be checking in within the hour; she could not miss that.

General Carlist Rieekan caught the motion and sent her a wry smile. He tapped something
into the datapad and slid it over.


Leave it to Rieekan to understand. She smiled slightly and shook her head.


Leia looked up and pulled a straight face. "Yes?"

Mon Mothma frowned slightly at her. "Are you all right?"

Leia flushed slightly. "I'm sorry. I'm just a bit distracted."

"So we all noticed," Mon Mothma countered. Her frown dissolved into an unreadable
expression. "We have one more order of business. Alole, please show General Cracken in."

Leia caught her breath. If the director of Alliance Intelligence had asked for an
audience, there was something amiss.

Cracken entered and bowed deeply to all of them. "Thank you for seeing me."

"General," Mon Mothma said, "you have some information for us?"

"Yes, Madam." He handed a datacard to the aide and took his place in the speaker's
circle. "I come to you under grave circumstances.

"Two weeks ago, during a scouting mission, a member of the 119th Fighter Squadron, also
known as the Krakanas, discovered the whereabouts of an Imperial installation in the Mid Rim.
It had been rumored that this installation housed some of the technological geniuses of the
Empire, among them the people who designed such monstrosities as the Super Star Destroyer and
the Lancer-class frigate.

"The pilot returned with the data she collected and five days ago, a strike team overtook
the facility. A slicer found encrypted files within the system which contained designs for a
new superweapon. Further investigation into the installation's files indicated that a construction
schedule had already been approved."

He frowned deeply, then looked up. "Based on this data, we have reason to believe that
the Empire is currently building a second Death Star."

Leia inhaled sharply at the mere mention of the code name. "Where?"

"We're not sure," Cracken admitted. "I come before you today to request your approval
to send a team of Bothan spies to ascertain the location and the status of the Death Star, so
that we can decide what to do next."

Leia met Rieekan's gaze and he nodded solemnly. If they did not locate and eliminate
the Death Star before it became operational, there was no doubt that other worlds would suffer
the same fate as Alderaan.

Mon Mothma clasped her hands before her. "I think I speak for all of us when I admonish
you to do whatever necessary to eradicate this threat from the Galaxy. Any objections?"

Leia shook her head. "See that you do not fail us, General."

Cracken's mouth twitched into a wry smile. "Never."
* * *
Leia sank into the chair before the comm unit and began unfastening the intricate
hairstyle she'd fashioned her hair into. It was one of the vile necessities of leadership--

She'd become increasingly conscious of her image in the six months since Bespin. Yes,
she was distraught, on the verge of being in mourning, but as with every other circumstance
throughout this war, she was still the Princess Leia. No matter her personal feelings, she was
the symbol of the Rebellion, the one they looked to for their inspiration. She could not afford
to break stride.

At night, however, she was simply human and the memories came as readily as the tears.

The comm buzzed and she immediately keyed it on. "Lando?"

A Wookiee roar greeted her and she broke into a grin. "Chewie, where's Lando?"

The ensuing dissertation was fairly hard to understand, but the general gist of it was
all-too clear.

Lando had disappeared.

Lando had been their forerunner of sorts, making contacts, doing reconnaisance, working
tirelessly to track down Boba Fett. In the course, Leia had developed first a grudging respect
for him, then began to see him as almost a friend. To lose him was a serious matter indeed.

Leia rested her forehead against her palm and squeezed her eyes shut against the headache
that suddenly developed. "What happened?"

Her head was pounding too much to follow what he was saying. "Chewie, never mind. I'm
going to contact Luke and we'll be at Mos Eisley in four days. Lie low until then. All right?"

He rumbled a reluctant assent and she signed off. Planting her elbows on either side
of the terminal and buried her face in her hands. She trembled, physically shaking off the
sense of despair that threatened to overcome her.

Lowering her left hand, she keyed in the comm code for Mon Mothma's office. "Alole,
I need to see Mon Mothma immediately."

"She's available for the next hour, but she will be shuttling back to Raltiir after

"I'll be there in five minutes."

She fashioned her hair into a single plait, then stood and left her quarters in a brisk
stride. She arrived at Mon Mothma's office four minutes and was shown in immediately.

The elder Senator of Chandrila looked up and smiled slightly. "I didn't expect to be
honored with your presence again so soon."

Leia sank into a chair. "You'll not like the honor of hearing what I have to say."

The stylus dropped from Mon Mothma's hand. "You're leaving."

Leia nodded. "Chewbacca and Lando have tracked down Captain Solo's whereabouts. When
Lando went to investigate, he disappeared. Whether he's dead, captured, or simply undercover,
we have no way of knowing. What we do know is that we have limited time in which to recover
both of them."

Mon Mothma steepled her fingers and pressed them to her lips. "You're leaving," she
repeated. "Can they not survive without you? You have responsibilities to this Alliance."

Leia pressed her lips together. "Undoubtedly they could survive without my help, butg
I also have responsibilities to my surrogate family."

"This is one of the most crucial stages of the war and you're abandoning us for a mission
that is more than likely to fail..."

Leia slapped her hand against the desk and hunched forward, her shoulder muscles painfully
taut. "Mon, when have I ever abandoned this Alliance," she demanded. "I have pushed my personal
needs and emotions to the background for the sake of the Rebellion. I have never asked for any
concessions because I know that I had to be strong for the people I'm fighting for.

"I fully realize that the Alliance needs me right now, but for once I am going to do
what I need and what my friends need most. I love Han more than I ever thought possible and
I am going to go to Tatooine with or without your permission."

Mon Mothma's features hardened slightly. "So, why are you here?"

Leia narrowed her eyes. "Because I respect you too much to simply run off in the night.
I had to give you an explanation."

The other woman's expression became suddenly unreadable. "You have too much of your
father in you."

Leia's chin came up and she smiled slightly. "Thank you."

Mon Mothma's shoulders straightened. "All right," she said quietly. "I wish you luck
on this venture. Come back to us safely."

Leia relaxed. "Thank you, Mon."
* * *
"Officer on deck."

Leia waved Wedge's comment away and continued down the center aisle of the Rogue Squadron

"Your Highness, wait."

She did not stop, only scanned the room for Luke's bunk. "Wedge, I've got a shuttle
to catch and I have to find your Commander first."

Wedge folded his arms. "That's what I'm trying to tell you. Luke's resigned."

Leia's breath caught in her throat and she turned to stare at him. "*What?*"

"About ten minutes ago, he returned from a meeting with Admiral Ackbar and called us
to order. He said that he'd been greatly honored and privileged to be a member and officer of
this unit, but his path in life no longer lay here. He announced that he'd tendered his resignation
to Admiral Ackbar and that I was to take command of Rogue Squadron effective immediately. He's
packing right now."

He nodded over her shoulder. "Will you please talk him out of this?"

Leia finally caught sight of Luke in the far corner of the room, collecting his gear.
"Commander Antilles, I doubt there's anything you or I can do to dissuade him, but I intend to
speak to him, nonetheless. If you will excuse me."

She crossed to his bunk and sat on the end. He glanced at her, offered a wry smile,
then continued packing. "I hear you've been making a scene," she commented.

"If you're here to talk me out of it, forget it."

Leia reached out and gripped his hand. "Not my intention at all."

He frowned and turned to face her and pulled his hand away. "What *is* your intention?
You don't usually shuttle over from the Headquarters Frigate for a social visit."

She sighed. "Where will you be going?"

"To finish my Jedi training. I can't take any more risks with my soul. You know what
happened at Bespin. If I don't go through with this, I risk becoming Vader."

She shuddered. "Can I persuade you to make a detour?"

He frowned. "How much of a detour?"

"Tatooine," she said softly.

His eyes narrowed. "I'm never going back there. Not even for you."

"Not even for Han?"

He zipped the bag shut and pulled on his flight gloves. "Lando and Chewie have that
well under control."

"Lando's disappeared."

She could see his shoulders slump and his chin drop to his chest. "When?"

"About four days ago." She turned to face him. "We need your help. Please, if not
for me, for your best friend."

He winced. "What makes you think that you don't hold that position?"

She shrugged. "It's a tie, I'm sure, but nevertheless, Han needs your help."

"I know."

She reached out and took his hand. "We all have memories that we don't want to face.
For me, it's the destruction of Alderaan, when you and Han were lost on Hoth, and that day on
Bespin. For you, it's Tatooine, losing Ben, and of course, Vader. But you've avenged Ben.
You faced Vader again and came out without losing yourself. If you can't face the memories
of Tatooine alone, take all that I am. Let me help you in any way I can. But I need your help
as well."

His chin came up and he fixed her with an unreadable expression. "All right. When do
we leave?"

"I'm commandeering a shuttle in an hour. I could use a copilot."

He released her hand, then slung the bag over his shoulder and glanced around the room.
"All right, but we're stowing my X-wing in cargo. You never know when we'll need a snubfighter

"Fair enough." She retrieved his flight helmet from the shelf above his bunk and handed
it to him. "I'll go make the necessary arrangements. I'm sure you have some farewells to make.
I'll meet you in hangar 7 in forty-five minutes?"

He nodded. "Deal."

She stood and embraced him. "Thank you."

His arm tightened against her lower back, drawing her nearer. It was the familiar embrace
that he used to communicate his protective nature, his intense loyalty to the recipients of the
gesture. She always felt comforted by the merest suggestion of what it implied.

"It will all work out, you know."

She pulled back and smiled. "Now I do."
* * *
"I've got the jump calculated," Leia called. "You strapped in?"

"Go ahead," Luke replied.

Leia checked the coordinates one last time, then pulled the hyperdrive lever back.
The stars elongated, then dissolved into the mottled sky of hyperspace.

"We're in," she reported.

Luke appeared in the hatchway, wiping his hands on a rag. "Here we go again," he quipped.
"It's four days to Tatooine. Perhaps we should decide what the plan is."

She stood and folded her arms. "First I want to hear why you resigned."

He let her pass, then followed her back to the cargo hold. She drew up a crate and sank
onto it. He did the same.

She spread her hands. "So, I'm waiting. The squadron's been almost the most important
thing in your life since you joined the Rebellion. What could have made you turn your back on

He let out his breath and set his jaw. "Vader," he said quietly.

She reached across with both hands to grip his fingertips. "How," she asked gently.

He met her gaze and she saw something there that frightened her intensely. She wasn't
quite sure why.

"Ever since I learned what the Force was and how Vader had killed my father, I've been
afraid of the Dark Side in others. As I continued my training, the feeling intensified, but
my apprehension was still naive. That night on Ketaris, when I actually *talked* to Vader,
I realized something terrifying.

"Vader was like me once. He had his triumphs as well as his disappointments. He loved
and was loved. He had friends, surrogate family, just as we do. He probably still has something
of a soul, a heart, inside that masquer. What I am now, he once was. What he is now, I can

Leia squeezed his hands gently, feeling a parallel squeeze on her heart. "But Luke,
you aren't him. And you know enough not to become him."

"I don't know that," he admitted. "That's why I must finish my training. If I don't,
I run a greater risk of betraying myself and my friends."

He frowned. "You understand what I'm saying, don't you?"

She nodded. "On some level, I have the same fear of myself."

"I know," he agreed. "That's one of the reasons I respect you so much. You are very
aware of the various directions your life could take and the way to ensure that you don't fall
along the wrong path."

"We don't fall along the wrong path," she countered. "We take each step by ourselves."


She looked down at their intertwined hands and her brow furrowed deeply in thought.
"When we left Vader at the reception on Ketaris, you said something to him that puzzled me.
You said that turning to the dark was a process based on day-to-day decisions and the same could
be said for returning to the light. Why did you say that?"

Luke's smile vanished. "Vader has tried numerous times to convert me to the Dark Side,
but that night, I turned the tables on him. I offered him my help in returning to the Light

Leia's mouth dropped open in shock. "After all he's done to you, to your family?"

Luke frowned. "Master Yoda once said that anger and hatred were the path to the Dark
Side. I have the feeling that another step along that path is vengeance. If we are driven by
our need for it, those we seek it on have already won. Forgiveness is a path of the Light Side."

She smiled. "I'll have to remember that."
* * *
"You want me to wear *what?*"

Leia stifled a yawn and sent a groggy glare at Luke Skywalker. "There have got to be
easier ways to get into Jabba's Palace."

Luke set the helmet down and folded his arms. "There are alternatives," he admitted.
"But I'm not sure..."

"Fine. We'll use one of those."

He shook his head, smiling slightly. "You didn't let me finish."

She gestured expansively. "All right, Skywalker, finish."

"There are alternatives, but I'm not sure they're as safe and I'm very sure you wouldn't
like them any better." He winced. "The only alternatives are going in as a servant girl, which
involves a lot of groveling and a very small amount of clothing; or as a prisoner. If you didn't
enjoy the Empire's hospitality, I'm pretty sure you won't be thrilled with the accomodations
here on scenic Tatooine."

Leia folded her arms, frowning deeply. "When I said I'd do anything to rescue Han, I
didn't know it would entail becoming a bounty hunter."

Luke reached over to take her hand. "I know," he said sympathetically, "but every other
overture has failed; we don't even know if Lando's still alive."

Leia released his hand, then pushed her long hair behind her shoulders and fashioned
it into a simple plait. She pinned it up, then grimaced and shoved the helmet over her head.

"Do I even want to know how I look," she asked in a hoarse, garbled voice.

"Probably not," he said with a grin. "But you're unrecognizable, so that's a good
start." He squinted. "And no one can tell if there's a human under there. Say something in

She sighed and switched into the guttural language. "My father had me learn this cursed
language for diplomatic relations, not inane plans."

"I don't doubt it," Luke conceded. "You'll have to speak a little more clearly. I can
barely understand your syntax."

"That might not be the helmet's fault," she countered.

She pulled off the helmet and let out her breath. "So that's what Vader feels like."

Luke looked up sharply. "What do you mean?"

"I don't think I could live my life behind a mask," she said softly.

He nodded. "Sometimes, I think we're all living behind masks of our own making. Afraid
that if we remove them, we are too exposed."

Leia's mouth twitched. "I know exactly how you feel." She buried her chin in her chest.
"I think that's why I fell in love with Han in the first place. You, Rieekan, and Han are the
only people with whom I don't have to wear any masks. Everyone else expects me to be strong,
infallible, their inspiration, their leader. With you two, I only have to be Leia. I've never
had to fear what you might think."

"As if you ever do," Luke teased gently.

She squeezed his hand. "You know what I mean. You've never asked me to be anything
but a friend..."

"And a bounty hunter," he countered.

She groaned. "Don't remind me. I'm not sure even Han would appreciate the irony of
what you're asking me to do."

"I know."

"Nevertheless, I've gotten more than my share in return."

"Not as much as you deserve."

She shrugged. "I've had more blessings in my life than I ever deserved. Might as well
make good use of them."

The door slammed open, startling them both. Leia looked up to see Chewbacca enter,
shaking the dust from his coat. He rumbled a question, gesturing towards the helmet in her

"You don't want to know," Leia muttered. "I'm going to play bounty hunter tomorrow."

He stared at her for a moment, then broke into his chortling laughter.

She stood and set the helmet on the nightstand. "Laugh it up, fuzzball. You're my

Leia was no great expert at Wookiee body language, but there was no mistaking his opinion
of *that* idea. She reached up to scratch his fur and grinned.

"I know. I don't much like the idea myself, but it's what's necessary. Besides, we'll
get at least 20,000 credits out of the deal."

"Oh, sure," Luke teased. "Appeal to his sense of greed."

"You're just jealous that you didn't think of it first."

She heard something like a snort from behind her and the bed creaked as Luke pushed to
his feet. "I *did* think of it first. How do you think Han ended up in that cell block in
the first place?"

Leia shook her head in disgust. "I should have known it wasn't out of the goodness of
his heart." Her brow furrowed. "Is that where 'no reward is worth this' came from?"

"Of course."

She sank back onto the bed and sighed wearily. "I'll have to use that against him."

Luke checked his chrono. "It's nearly midnight. Where have you been?"

Chewie rumbled that he was reconnoitering. Leia listened for a moment, then sagged in

"Lando's still alive?"

Luke retrieved the helmet from the stand and inspected it. "I think our odds just improved."

Leia cocked an eyebrow. "Since when do you believe in odds?"

He grinned. "I've been lucky enough to have good influences."

"Who are you calling good," she quipped. "Let's get some sleep. We all have a long
day tomorrow and dawn will come too soon as it is."
* * *
"Sandstorm's coming," Leia called.

Luke joined her in the doorway and peered out into the hazy morning light. There was,
indeed, a storm developing. It could be very dangerous to travel in, but the landspeeder they'd
procured should shield Leia and Chewie from any minor natural disasters.

He rested a hand on her shoulder and pulled her into a side embrace. "You're not getting
off that easily."

She sighed and rested her head against his chest. "I still can't believe we're doing

"It's definitely a story for your children." He shrugged. "If they ever doubt that
you were young and foolish, you can tell them about your days as a bounty hunter."

She made a face. "You always were the optimistic idealist."

"Once upon a past," he countered quietly.

She caught the now-familiar anguish in his voice and her heart ached. Something horrible
had happened to him at Bespin that had shaped him in ways not even he understood.

"I'm sorry," she whispered.

He turned to stare at her. "What for?"

"Not being able to understand, to help you."

He winced. "Someday, I'll be able to let you understand and even then I'm not sure you
could help me."

"I'll try," she offered.

"I know." He squinted into the distance. "You need to be going soon."

She turned and reentered Kenobi's home. "Chewie, two minutes."

She began gathering her hair into a plait. "All right, so I will strike a deal with
His Royal Sliminess for Chewie, then lie low until the parties wind down. I'll free Han and
get him to the speeder, whereupon I will bring him back here. Either you or Lando will then
break Chewie and the droids out."

Luke smiled. "You make it sound so easy."

She winced. "We all know what can go wrong, but I'd rather not dwell on catastrophe.
It distracts me too much from what's important."

"So that's how you survive," he said quietly. "I wish I were that wise."

"I wouldn't wish the coursework on anyone," she countered, "much less my best friend."

He took the helmet and inspected it. "We're all doing independent study, it seems."

She stretched up and kissed him on the cheek. "I know, but we're doing it together."

He reached out to stroke her cheek. "I'm glad."

He leaned in and embraced her tightly. "Be careful."

"I'll do my best," she promised.

He kissed her gently on the cheek, then shoved the helmet over her head. "One more

She sighed audibly. "What now?"

He held out a small silver ball. He could hear her sharp intake of breath as she inspected
it. "Is that what I think it is?"

"A thermal detonator," he confirmed. "If Jabba gets argumentative, I'm pretty sure
this will either convince him of your expertise or your eccentricity. Either way, it's a sure
bet that he'll respect you for it. I hope you won't have to use it."

She stared at the activator stud. "Me too." She tucked it into her belt and adjusted
the hang to better conceal it. "I can't believe I'm doing this."

"I know."

Chewie lumbered past them and began preparing the landspeeder for departure. Leia turned
back to Luke and squeezed his hand. "I'll see you soon?"

"Count on it," he agreed.
* * *
Leia was trembling beneath her mask as she entered Jabba's Palace. Her resolve could
not block out her apprehension.

She neutralized the Gamorrean guards with stun blasts just before the Twi'lek who served
as Jabba's majordomo appeared.

She drew herself up to her full, rather unintimidating height and told Bib Fortuna of
her intentions. When he didn't bring her to his master, she seized him by the throat and slammed
him against the wall.

"You will take me to Jabba," she growled in Sluissi. "If you will not comply, I will
eliminate you and battle my way in."

She soon found him more cooperative. A guard at the door attempted to forestall her
entrance, but a few well-placed blows sent him crashing into the wall of the stairwell and her
path to the audience chamber was clear.

Leia strode confidently through the crowd and stopped directly before the massive Hutt.
A cursory glance of her surroundings indicated an ongoing celebration, with several guards and
Boba Fett scattered around the room.

She let her gaze drift over an alcove, was not surprised to see the block of carbonite
there. She forced herself to tear her eyes from the sight and forced the anguish from her mind.

There were more pressing negotiations to handle for now.

"I have come to collect the bounty on this Wookiee."

Jabba rumbled something and she wondered how exactly she was supposed to negotiate without
understanding a word the giant graniteslug would say.

Luckily, a familiar...faceplate came into view as C-3PO was summoned for the purpose
of translating. "His Highness the great Jabba the Hutt bids you welcome and says that he will
gladly pay you the bounty of twenty-five thousand."

Leia snorted. "Fifty thousand, no less."

Threepio translated and was knocked from the dais for his efforts. Leia rolled her
eyes. Apparently, Han wasn't the only one who found the protocol droid aggravating.

"What did I say," he lamented as he regained his footing. "Jabba demands to know *why*
he should pay you fifty thousand."

She sucked in her breath and her hand dipped into her sash, locking around the thermal
detonator. "Because of this," she said matter-of-factly.

"Because he's holding a thermal detonator," Threepio wailed.

All civilians took cover, while the guards naturally took aim. Jabba, on the other
hand, laughed.

Leia rested her finger lightly on the trigger, keeping her gaze steady. Jabba rumbled
something, which no one bothered to translate.

Threepio listened to his discourse, then turned back to her. "Jabba offers a sum of
thirty-five thousand. And I do suggest you take it."

Leia let them sweat for a moment more, then deactivated the trigger. The first stage
had gone off without a hitch. Perhaps this mission would not be the disaster it was cut out
to be.
* * *
The revelry had long wound down and the victims strewn in a drunken stupor around the
Palace. Not a sound could be heard, except gentle snoring and groggy murmurs.

Luckily, that masked the footsteps approaching the alcove where Han Solo hung.

Leia descended the staircase carefully, scanning the room for any sign of movement.
Finding none, she crossed to the alcove and pressed against the wall. Still, no one seemed to
notice her.

*This is too easy.*

She shook her head to clear it, then turned to the control panel and began toggling the
switches that would reverse the freezing process. Finally, the levels were set.

All that remained was to see if the process *could* be reversed.

She stepped back and waited, willing Han to emerge alive. After all this, she couldn't
handle it if she failed to revive the man she loved.

The block began to glow and bits of carbonite peeled away, exposing skin. First fingers,
then face. His lips relaxed, forming one word: Leia.

Finally, his form fell limp from the block. Leia dropped to her knees and gathered
him into her arms, rubbing warmth into his motionless form. He showed no signs of life and her
throat constricted.

Abruptly, he took a great, gulping breath and began shuddering violently from cold and
shock. She continued massaging his chest and he recoiled.

"Just relax," she said softly in Basic. "You have hibernation sickness."

Han's trembling hand lifted to pass before his eyes and his shuddering increased as
he realized his blindness.

"I can't see," he gasped.

"Your eyesight will return in time," she assured him.

"Where am I?"

"Jabba's palace."

His mind finally registered that he knew not who he was being rescued by and his hand
brushed against the mask. She could see the terror in his eyes.

"Who are you?"

She rested him against her knee and carefully removed the helmet. She set it down and
let her breath out. "Someone who loves you," she said simply.

His breath exploded from him in a half-sob. "Leia," he breathed.

She clasped him to her, kissing him fervently, hoping the reality of the familiar gesture
would alleviate his fears.

She pulled back and moved to a supporting position. "I've got to get you out of here,"
she murmured.

Getting him on his feet after such an ordeal was a challenge, but they finally managed
it. As she moved to help him from the chamber, a resounding and all-too-familiar chuckle emanated
from behind them.

"I know that laugh," Han mumbled.

The curtains retracted to reveal Jabba and his coterie. Leia helped Han turn and he
blinked furiously, trying to focus his eyes in vain.

"Look, Jabba, I can explain. I was on my way to pay you back and I got a little sidetracked..."

*Sidetracked by a Rebellion and a stubborn Princess,* Leia thought wryly.

She couldn't understand what Jabba was saying, but the gist of it was acrimonious. Han
was ripped from her arms before she could protest and she was once more left alone.

Not quite.

As she was dragged up to Jabba's side, she caught a glimpse of the face of one of the
guards restraining her.


He shook his head almost imperceptibly. No, it was not time. She must bide her time
and keep her mouth shut.

Their salvation would come in time.
* * *
Leia stood, shivering, in the midst of the slave quarters. She'd been given a sleeveless
shift to wear while the dancemasters found her something *appropriate* to wear.

"You're her, aren't you."

She looked up to see a lithe, dark-haired woman eying her carefully. "Who do you think
I am?"

"The greatest traitor the Empire has ever known."

Leia drew herself up. "I'm flattered by the description."

"I'm sure you are." The other woman approached and Leia met her emerald gaze steadily.
"Is he really worth this?"

"Absolutely," Leia said quietly. "It is only temporary. My friends will get us out
of here in a matter of days.

"That's what we're counting on," the other woman muttered.

Leia arched an eyebrow. "We?"

The woman shook her head slightly. "The slaves. If you are here, the only logical
candidate for your rescue is Luke Skywalker. He will not leave this place without seeing justice

Leia brushed at the slimy spot on her collarbone where the Hutt had kissed her.
"I'm hoping that's true."

The door opened and one of the dancemasters, a tall Twi'lek woman, entered. "We've got
orders for this one. She's to be dressed and brought up to the grand audience chamber?"

Leia snorted. "They expect me to dance?"

The Twi'lek rolled her eyes and tossed her a bundle. "You're a former princess of Alderaan.
You know how to sit there and look decorative." She backed away. "You'll be summoned in fifteen
minutes. Be dressed accordingly."
* * *
Leia started awake as the voices approached. She could have sworn that Luke had brushed
against her consciousness, sending comfort, hope and love.

All emotions that could have come in handy the last few days.

She'd been a living display for the past four days, serving little purpose other than to
be gawked at and mocked. It was thoroughly humiliating, especially since she had been chained
to Jabba's dais, unable to move from his side for more than thirty minutes a day. She was allowed
to bathe and use the refresher during that time, but she had no way of getting to the dungeons to
see Han.

At last, Luke entered; not violently as she had, but just as effectively. Cloaked in
a hooded robe of midnight blue, he moved with the confidence of a Grand Moff and the bearing
of the Emperor himself. Bib Fortuna preceded him, murmuring to himself. Luke stopped on the
grating and clasped his hands before him.

Leia straightened her posture and attempted to look defiant. Luke sent her a sympathetic
smile as Fortuna explained the situation.

"I must be allowed to speak," Luke stated in an eerily calm voice.

Leia immediately recognized the tone. He was using a Jedi mind trick. She only hoped
it would work, but the chances were slim.

She caught something in Jabba's disgusted tirade about the trick and she shot Luke a
sheepish look.

He removed his hood and she could see the intensity of his expression; it gave her a
certain amount of comfort to know that he, if no one else, was in complete control of the

"You'll bring Captain Solo and the Wookiee to me."

Leia glanced at the grate over which he was standing. He was coming dangerously close
to personally insulting the Hutt and when that happened, it would not be wise to be over the
rancor pit.

She cleared her throat softly, but Luke paid little attention. "Nevertheless, I'm taking
Captain Solo..." He glanced at her. "And his friends. You can either profit from this or be
destroyed. It's up to you, but I warn you not to underestimate my powers."

Leia stiffened. He'd crossed the line; if there were anything that enraged a Hutt, it
was being dictated to. Most likely, Luke had just signed his own death sentence, if he were

Threepio was apparently thinking along the same lines. "Master Luke, you're standing on the..."

Luke's hand flew out and a guard's blaster came to his hand. Just then, the grate disappeared from
under his feet and he fired into the ceiling as he fell feet-first into the rancor pit.

Leia instinctively lunged forward, only to be hauled back by means of her collar. Her hands came
up to struggle against the grip, but the effort was futile.

All she could do was sit back and watch catastrophe unfold.

*Not again,* her mind protested. *First Alderaan, then Han, now Luke. How long can this go on?"

But the roar of the crowd subsided with each passing moment. Luke was gaining the advantage.
Leia let out a tremulous breath as the gate crushed Luke's opponent. Luke slumped out of view and Leia
craned her neck to catch a glimpse of him.

From the sounds of it, Jabba was less than thrilled with this turn of events. Leia slumped back,
emotionally exhausted. *I should have known that after facing down half the Imperial Starfleet, ice
creatures, and Darth Vader, Luke would not let an overgrown dune lizard defeat him.*
* * *
"Point the gun at the deck."

Leia sprinted across the deck to the gun deck and adjusted the aim. Luke deactivated his saber
and mounted the post. Seizing a loose rigging, he beckoned her closer. She wrapped her arms around her neck as
he kicked the trigger and swung across to the skiff.

"Let's go and don't forget the droids."

"On our way," Lando replied.

Leia sank onto the bench and wrapped her arms around herself. "Just like old times, eh?"

Luke grimaced. "All-too-familiar."

The sail barge suddenly disappeared in a brilliant conflagration. Leia shielded her eyes
against the flash, then grinned. "Best fireworks display I've seen in years."

Luke turned and embraced her tightly. "I'm so sorry."

Leia pulled back and smiled wryly. "At least now we know that if I ever fail as a politician,
I'll always have an ignominious fallback career."

Luke winked. "Don't you dare."

Han folded his arms impatiently. "After what Chewie tells me, I hope my eyesight returns in
time for some decent blackmail."

Leia shoved him gently. "Don't count on it, flyboy."

He caught her arm and found her face. Cupping her cheek, he drew her closer and kissed her
gently, lingeringly, then with more intensity.

Leia found tears rolling down her cheeks. She pulled back, then kissed him again. "You have
no idea how long I've been waiting to do that," she said softly.

He reached up to brush the tears from her cheeks. "I can imagine," he countered.

She buried herself in his embrace, resting her head against his chest. He intwined his fingers in
her hair and drew her closer.

"I love you," he whispered.

She looked up in shock. His eyes were focused elsewhere, but he was clearly holding his breath in
anticipation of her response.

She sighed deeply, contentedly, and relaxed against him. "I know."

"About time you admitted it," Luke called.

There was an answering roar from Chewie and Leia grinned. "It was well worth the
* * *
Night had fallen before long, so they set up camp once more at Ben Kenobi's homestead. Han fell at
once into a deep sleep, exhausted by the activities of the last few days. Chewbacca and Lando soon followed.
The droids powered down for the night.

Luke entered Ben's bedroom to find Leia still awake. Her eyes had circles under them, her shoulders were
still tensed, but for the first time in nine months, she was at peace.

Luke drew up a chair next to her and nodded towards the bed where Han was snoring softly. "You've got him
back. Why don't you get some rest?"

Leia ran her thumb along the ridge of Han's right hand gently and sighed. "Force knows we've all earned it."


She turned to look at him and he could see the faint glimmer of unshed tears in her liquid brown eyes. "I'm
afraid," she said softly. "We've worked for so long, risked so much to find him. Now that we have him, it's absolutely
worth it, but I'm afraid that I'll lose him again."

"I know," Luke agreed. "But he's not going to leave you, not without the intervention of death."

She shuddered deeply. "You think so?"

He rested an arm over her shoulders and drew her into a gentle side embrace. "You know it, too."

She rested her head on his shoulder. "I just realized that he has a rather large amount of surplus credits, now that
I've killed off the resident slime trail in the Galaxy."

Luke snorted. "Use it to pay for the wedding."

Leia laughed. "Even I'm not planning that far ahead."

Luke sighed. "Are you sure it's far? I have the feeling that as soon as this war is over..."

Leia rolled her eyes. "All right, so it's only twenty years in the future."

Luke reached over and rested his hand on top of their intertwined fingers. "Please, rest."

She bit her lip. "I'd rather not."

"Come on, you won't be any good to Han or the Alliance bone-weary. I just want to see you happy and healthy."

She smiled broadly. "I know, Father."

"Show some respect for your elders," he teased.

"Never," she rejoined. "My sense of conformism is inversely proportional to your sense of heroism."

"That's a frightening thought."

She shrugged. "Why are you still awake?"

"Would you believe sympathetic insomnia?"

She fixed him with a glare. "I know you better than that. What's wrong?"

"The usual, I suppose."

"The reason why you left Rogue Squadron?"

He nodded. "Sometimes, a fear can consume every waking moment. The problem is that fear and anger are part of the Dark
Side. It's a very ambiguous area. By fearing the darkness, I am surrendering a bit of myself to it. What I have to do is
learn to master my weaknesses, rather than let them master me."

"It must be a great burden to bear," she said quietly.

"Someday, I will be able to let you understand, but..."

"But not yet," she finished. "I know. I'll have to be patient and understanding. Not my greatest assets in the best
of circumstances."

Luke pried her fingers loose and squeezed her fingertips. "I've never noticed."

She leaned over and kissed his cheek gently. "I'll make you a deal. I'll go to sleep if you do."

"It's a bargain," he conceded. "I'll see you in my dreams."