Disclaimer: I don't own Star Wars...obviously...Or the prequels would have been so different that they would be unrecognizable, believe me!

Author's Note: Takes place before A New Hope...I'm trying to do something a little complicated, so I hope that all of my Star Wars history is straight in my head, and I won't be writing something when those characters should be doing something else, you know what I mean? If there are inconsistencies with this and the actual timeline, I'd love to hear about it. Enjoy...read'n'review is always welcomed!

Chapter I: A Stay at Club Jabba!

Han Solo hated Jabba's palace.

There was not one thing that the young man could think of that was even close to redeeming the place. It was hot and dirty, it smelled and the riffraff that frequented the Hutt's desert palace was lower than the dirt that laid beyond the palace's enclosing wall. If he wanted to find a dirty, smelly low-life kind of dive, Nar Shadda was the place to be. At least there were friends to be found there.

Not like here, Han thought sullenly, looking around the throne room where he waited to see the Huttese crimelord. A lot of local criminals, a lot of bounty-hunters, but smugglers? They tended to keep away from the Hutt's palace, opting to deal with go-betweens than actually meet the crimelord on his Tattooine turf.

Which Han could not blame them in the slightest for their caution. But the Hutt had insisted that his favorite smuggler – Han held the title proudly for it garnered him more credits – come to his palace, and being the good employee that he was, Han came – only after he had been offered five-thousand credits up-front for doing so.

And there he was, slouched against a wall in the throne room, waiting for the Hutt to notice him and get his business done with. Chewbacca stood beside him, the Wookiee curling his lips at any of the minor bounty hunters who cast an eye in their direction. All of these hunters think they're Boba Fett these days, Han shook his head, his hand settling on his blaster at his thigh. Chewbacca roared, baring his magnificent set of fangs at one hunter, who, upon noticing Han's readiness and the impressive teeth of his Wookiee friend, opted to look away. Someone really ought to put them in their place.

That wasn't really his job, though. Han shifted his stance impatiently, wondering when – Or if, he thought gloomily– Jabba was going to get to him today. The Hutt was sitting on his dais – it was all he could do, after all – smoking his hookah and watching yet another dancing girl, a human this time. She was pretty, of course – few of Jabba's slave girls weren't pretty. With dark eyes and elegant features, she had long, dark hair that slipped and slithered along her frame as she swayed to the music.

The song was ending and Han was glad. Listening to Jabba's in-house band was only so entertaining, after all. As the song climaxed to a blare of a trumpeting horn, the dancing girl bowed low to the ground, prostrating herself before the Hutt.

Jabba seemed pleased. It was hard to tell. But the girl got to live, and Han supposed that that was enough praise.

Again, he looked around the throne room, hoping that the scenery had changed somewhat. And that was when he noticed him:

Boba Fett.

Han's surly-looking frown became etched a little deeper, when he saw the notorious hunter. He wasn't exactly sure how the animosity between himself and Fett had began, but he was certain the fabled rivalry existed. He had only thwarted Fett once and even then, that had been with Lando Calrissian's assistance. But he knew that when he peered into that cold and helmeted, razor-bladed gaze, that the hate seething from the masked man was more than Han felt was warranted.

Chewie whuffled a question.

"No," Han said loudly, "I'm not looking at him."

The Wookiee snorted imperiously.

"And I'm not trying to start a fight!" Han looked up at his companion with an indignant scowl; Chewie was always acting like his nanny or some similar nonsense. "Besides, he's the one looking at me!"

Both turned to gaze at the hunter who was clearly studying the other side of the room.

Chewie's hooting laugh was damn annoying, Han soon decided.

& & & &

With more nervousness than he'd care to admit, Han noticed that the throne room was being crowded with more and more bounty-hunters. Seeing Boba Fett was shock enough, but now he was anxiously keeping a tally of the other visitors to the Hutt's desert abode.

Swallowing the dregs of yet another mug of lum, he pushed his hand through his hair, rumpling it. Rumbling with soft laughter, Chewbacca reached over to smooth his hair down, but Han slapped his hand away irritably. How much longer was Jabba going to keep him waiting? And with all of these bounty hunters around?

A thought that at once frightened and flattered him flashed quickly through his mind. What if Jabba was gathering all of his bounty hunters to have one giant contest, a contest to see who could catch the, as yet, uncatchable Han Solo? He posed the question to Chewie, and the Wookiee answered with a whine.

"I know he likes me, but maybe," Han paused to think. "Maybe he wants to weed out the ranks of his bounty hunters or something. You know, clean house."

Chewie shook his head and growled an interrogative.

"I guess he wouldn't ask me to come here first." Han sat back in his seat, confused. Staring blankly at the grimy tabletop, his mind chased a thousand and one reasons for this unofficial meeting of the Bounty Hunters Guild – never mind that not all of them were members. He sat up suddenly, the answer striking him. "He wants them to test them! They can chase me, but they can't kill me." He leaned back again, relieved, and summoned for another mug.

The answer by no means satisfied Han, and he did not, in all actuality, believe it for a second – though a tiny part of him did. But by having an answer, it just allowed him to ease up the tension that was strangling him, drying his mouth and pumping too much adrenaline into his blood to keep still. He didn't like to think of himself as an antsy, ninny sort of personality, but these bounty-hunters were nerve-wracking.

And he did have a pretty handsome price on his head, thanks to the Besadii.

But since Jabba's Desilijic clan was a bitter rival to the Besadii, Han was all the more welcomed by the Hutt gangster.

And he hoped that meant "Hands off" as far as those bounty-hunters were concerned.

& & & &

More and more hunters were entering the throne room. And Han was losing more and more of his sense of security.

Bossk's entrance into the room was hardly the high point of Han's evening. The Trandoshan hunter was shown into the room by Jabba's Twi'lek majordomo. He paused at the entrance to the room, his nostrils flaring as he rapidly sampled the dry air. With a ferocity that he made no attempt to conceal, his gaze snapped toward Han and Chewie's direction. He stomped over to them, pushing and shoving his way through the crowd, and stopped dramatically in front of the pair.

And then he said nothing. He just glared through them.

Idiot. As though he's too good to meet me eye-to-eye. Try as he might, Han couldn't stop a sneer from twisting his lip. "Did you actually have a plan when you decided to walk over here, buddy?" he posed the question mockingly, glaring at the Trandoshan from under his brow. "Or did you just want to make it up as you go?" Han stood slowly, and he saw that Chewie was doing the same. Carefully, his hand settled on the grip of his blaster and his gaze held Bossk's.

Or maybe it didn't. Still looking as though he were staring through Han, Bossk growled in that snarling language of his something to the effect of:

"You had better hope that Jabba does not pit me against you."

He also added an incoherent growl for good measure.

Han wasn't sure why Jabba would pit Bossk, a hunter, against himself, a smuggler, but he answered with what he felt was a sizeable retort, saying, "Yeah, damn straight."

Bossk's eyes widened, and he blinked. Hard. Once his confused gaze cleared, he stared at Han as though seeing him for the first time. He spat some snarling curse in Han's direction, before weaving through the crowd, displacing bodies as he shouldered his way through, as if he owned the place or something.

"What the hell?" Han turned to Chewie, bewildered. "I didn't think my comeback was that crazy."

Chewie shrugged indifferently. The furball was probably just glad that Bossk had gone away; it wasn't as though Trandoshans and Wookiees were bosom buddies, after all. Trandoshans were common among the slavers that were commonly assaulting the Wookiee populations on Kashyyk, and there was no love lost between the two species.

"The problem is that you're that crazy. He was addressing me."

Han spun around sharply, hand flying once again to his blaster. Upon seeing who had said the remark, however, he instantly regretted it.

Boba Fett's gaze lowered almost imperceptibly as he watched Han's hand stop just before touching the steel grip of his weapon. "Perhaps not completely crazy," he said, his flat voice just barely reaching "amused", and even then, only slightly.

"Where do you get off?" Han blurted before he could repress the indignant inquiry. It was against his better judgment to engage Fett in conversation, but he couldn't help himself.

Fett stared silently, his gaze sharp enough to sever Han's windpipe.

He began to wish he didn't run his mouth so much.

Clearing his throat, he willed his pounding heart to slow. He was sure that Fett's sensors were picking up his spiked heart-rate, the increased blood flow to his face. He was willing to bet that Fett also had the brains to pick out that all of these were signs of his nervousness – Don't lie to yourself, he thought blandly, You know it's terror. Slowly, he began to realize that he was just staring rather stupidly into the helmet's T-shaped visor. Since he couldn't bring himself to sit down without looking like an idiot, Han finally asked, "Do you know why Jabba has asked all of these bounty-hunters here?"

Fett just stared. It was disconcerting, to say the least.

"I know you're trying to be intimidating and all," Han said, an inkling of irritation entering his voice. "But all you have to do is say 'yes' or 'no'. Better yet, just nod or shake your head."

He remained silent for a long moment before finally answering, "No."

Han supposed that was as much answer as he would get.