Author's Notes: Thanks for the replies everyone! I apologize profusely for the tardiness of this update. It may be a while before I update again as I'm slogging my way through a massive research paper this month.



Part IV

The pilot's chair in the Falcon's cockpit wasn't all that comfortable and the chrono on the panel said it was a few hours until the first round of talks began. It was too early for respectable politicians from foreign worlds to be out of bed, and too late for a man pursued by memories let them get the better of him. Han's nightmares tended to strike during the heaviest period of sleep, when he was paralyzed and effectively tied to the bunk in which he lay.

After wrestling up a second cup of caf, Han grabbed the speeder. The funny thing about heading out aimlessly was that ultimately, one headed for a familiar place.

The melted mask was irrefutable, a horrible visage even after being burnt, but Han could still recognize pieces of it. All of the Sith Lord's body armour had been fire resistant and consequently, none of it had burned completely, not to ashes. Han didn't know why Luke hadn't removed the armour and machinery from his father's body before setting him atop the funeral pyre. Of course, Han supposed he wouldn't have remembered either, that Skywalker couldn't have been thinking clearly at a time like that.

With the early morning dawn casting a watery rose light, and seedlings sprouting radiantly, hungrily from the ashes, Vader's resting place was little more than an archaeological site, in the process of being devoured and trapped by taproots and thick-waisted trees. Nothing reminiscent of the horror remained. Han knew he couldn't fight Leia's nightmares any easier than he could his own of carbonite, his own of not rescuing her from Tion in time. The nightmares lately had been vivid, assaulting his senses like a fresh blaster wound, like smelling his own burnt flesh and ozone all over again.

By the time he arrived back at the Falcon, Luke was there to meet him with a stack of data-files. "How is Leia?" he asked.

"Everyone keeps asking that." Han shook his head incredulously. "What's crazy is that-" He gestured to himself dramatically. "-I'm the one whose intestines were on display in the not-so-recent past."

"I know. I didn't mean it to sound like that." Luke whistled under his breath. "I suppose it's not my place to ask what's going on with you two."

"Didn't you ask your sister?"

"Leia's real funny when something bothers her."

Han fiddled with the access panel for the concussion missile launcher, which theoretically was illegal for a civilian to possess, but now that he was a General for the New Republic, he figured technicalities like that were irrelevant. "You mean she's about as communicative as a mynock?"

Luke picked up a hydrospanner and studied it. "Something like that. She did say she delivered a nasty right hook."

"Were you coming by for breakfast?"

"No." He set the hydrospanner down and gestured to the datafiles. "I have information for Leia. I also wanted to let her know we haven't discovered much about the Wraith yet. He's been eating everything they bring him."

"Can't he tell you who attacked us?"

"He doesn't know."

"He was there that night. Have him look at holos."

"It's not that simple." Luke cleared his throat. "He's blind. He's been manipulating his force-sensitivity as a way to cope with his handicap."

Han raised an eyebrow. "I guess that explains why he didn't steal a ship."

"Yeah." Luke checked his chrono. "Do me a favour and tell Leia the Emperor blinded him. It'll make a difference to her."

"Sure," Han replied.

When he went back inside the Falcon, Leia was sleeping on her stomach with both hands folded under her breasts, breathing heavily with a slight stuffiness as though the thick morning pollen from the forests had seeped inside his ship and affected her. Sharp memories came to him, of how she'd looked during that terrible period just after Alderaan was destroyed, when she hated him and scared everyone else. Heads down, everyone had furtively watched her cut across the hanger decks because she was beautiful and angry and tragic, and therefore mesmerizing.

She was still mesmerizing. That temper, the one that both excited him and startled him.

Han sat on the edge of the bunk and wiggled his hands beneath her dress. It was very early morning on Endor. The ship was cool and quiet, but her skin was warm and the softness of her belly beneath his palm was enough to drive him mad. His groin was already throbbing with heat. The impulse to make love to her surged like liquid heat through is veins. He shed his clothing, tugged the sheets up, and then crawled atop her, prodding her legs apart with his knees.

Her mouth half-opened, surprised.

"Shhh." He pressed two fingers against his mouth until they were wet, then reached down between her legs, moving them this way and that way, not quite a circle.

When she was ready, she dug her knees in and arched her back, making it easy for him to enter her. They coupled quietly and quickly. Leia pressed her face against the pillow, closed her eyes, and clenched her fists around the sheet. Her climax came with a gasp, thighs and knees quivering, her body tightening so that only his hand pressed over her sex kept her from pushing him out. Beneath his lips, Han felt the thump-thump of blood rushing beneath her ear.

Her body relaxed, legs parted slightly more, and several strokes later, his own release came. Then he withdrew and fell to his right side, drawing her up against him so that his erection fit into the cleft of her buttocks.

She reached back and cupped his thigh, sliding her fingers up over his hipbone until they grazed the rough edge of his bandages. "Do you hurt?" she asked.

"Nah," he half-lied. He had a painful stitch in his side and it hurt to breathe but it was worth it. It wasn't nearly as bad as yesterday.

"If I'd been more awake I wouldn't have let you do that."

"You've been playing hard to get ever since I got back from Ralltir," he complained, adopting a silly falsetto. "I have an Inner Council meeting. The Ishi Tib delegate is lost! You just got out of the bacta tank! "

"Stop that." Leia reached back and slapped his leg. "I heard a speeder outside."

"Luke dropped off information for you." Han nuzzled her shoulder and pressed his cheek against her hair. "I went for a ride."

"Let's stay here all day," she said.

"I'm not the one who usually needs convincing." Han lifted his head. "What's the matter?"

She sighed. "It's the end of the war and it's not the end of the war. Nothing will ever go back to the way it was before.

"War changes people," he answered. "You can't go back to being who you were. Loss changes people."

"The past is diminishing faster than I can remember it."

"You won't forget."

"Maybe I want to." Leia shifted cautiously, seeking a more comfortable position for her right leg, draping it over his calves. "Maybe it would be easier if I could. Then I wouldn't identify with warriors willing to kill everything in their path in order to go home."

Han chuckled. "You're overstating it, don't you think?"

"No." Her chin was pointed wedge against the mattress. "I feel like my entire life has been divided into before and after."

"Aren't there parts to the after that are good?"

"Yes." Leia rolled over and squirmed until they were face-to-face, sharing one pillow. "Except for shouting matches on bridges. I can't handle that. I can't permit myself to be that kind of person," she said determinedly.

"You're not."

"Not even for a minute."

A shudder of sympathy washed over him. "You're being too hard on yourself. And well, I admit it. I've been a Hutt's ass about the Nagai." Han shifted his arm. "I'm not saying that I'm going to fall in love with them but I'm willing to be more open-minded."

"Thank you for trying. For saying that." She leaned up and kissed him on the tip of his nose. "It must be late and Shin Kai will be here soon. Do you want help with your shower?"

On his cramped ship, they were used to sharing intimacies that couples often kept private from one another. He followed her in and removed his bandaging. After she proclaimed him healing well, he climbed beneath the spray of water and scrubbed himself until the smell and taste of bacta was as close to gone as he could get it.

By the time he made it to the galley, Leia was swathed in layers of 'diplomatic white' and had nearly finished her caf. The holotable had been converted into a temporary office, covered in durasheet documents and her datareader. She was already ploughing through the information Luke had dropped off for her.

He ruffled his drying hair. "What does it say?"

She tabbed her way through a dense section of writing on her datareader. "It says that Savuud Thimram was last seen two years ago on Coruscant. Currently, he's believed to be in hiding on Byss."

"Byss?"

"It's a planet in the deep core." She sipped her caf distractedly. "Supposedly, he's an adept, private servant to Palpatine. If this is true, he's probably had time regroup. Once the New Republic is organized, we'll plan to retake Coruscant." Leia turned and faced him. "We must assume that someone here has been relaying all of that information to him."

"I know you're not naïve enough to believe the proceedings here aren't being fed to what's left of the Empire."

"No." She crossed her legs and frowned.

"Relax." Han set his hands on her shoulders and worked his thumbs into the base of her neck. He was having one of those mornings where he couldn't touch her enough.

"I can't."

"Try."

After a moment, she said, very softly, "Han dear?"

"Hm."

"Is there any reason the starboard smuggling compartment would be open?"

"No." Not only was the compartment open, the edge of a scarlet robe peeked out at them.

"Stay there," he hissed. Holding his blaster in his good arm, and moved to the smuggling compartment and kicked the lid away.

Lusubrin's youngest concubine cowered beneath him. Her face was bruised and she was babbling nonsensically in her own language.

It looked like Han was going to have to start being more open-minded right away. "Leia," he said.

"Oh no." Leia climbed down into the compartment and put her arms around her. "Send for Threepio," she ordered. "And Luke."


Threepio came out first. They'd been in the medbay for over an hour, but Leia wouldn't let anyone in.

"So what's going on?" Han asked.

"I am afraid Mistress Leia ordered me to delete the file-"

Han banged his head against the bulkhead.

"You deleted the entire conversation?" Luke repeated, slightly aghast. "Everything you just translated?"

"Yes. Unless my system is malfunctioning. However, the odds of my recalling Mistress Leia's order to delete my most recently created file and having the file arbitrarily suffer due to an unknown internal malfunction-"

"Isn't that like giving yourself a memory wipe?" Han barked.

Threepio looked perplexed. "Not at all. I have the capability to delete single files. It was built into my system so that I could translate sensitive information."

For once, the golden droid made perfect sense.

Leia entered the common area with a loud sigh.

"Are you going to tell us what's going on?" Luke asked, tipping his head toward the protocol droid.

"I needed to make sure he doesn't accidentally leak anything of what she just told me."

Han hobbled back over to the holotable and eased himself into the booth. "She was assaulted."

"Someone tried to kill her," Luke said.

Leia said quickly and bitterly, to both of them, "Not exactly."

Han stared at her for a moment, and the look in her eyes explained the rest. His gut twisted uncomfortably. "Should we call for a medic?"

"She doesn't want one." Her nostrils flared slightly, as if this topic had already been the subject of debate. "She says she fought him off before it got that far."

"Do you believe her?"

"Nagaian women are stronger than most human men." Leia rubbed her arms as though she were chilled. "I scanned her. Nothing is broken. But I gave her a dose of antibiotics and slipped in a conception blocker just in case." She looked over at Han. "She's resting now."

"Why come to you?" Luke asked.

"She's afraid that if Lusubrin or Shin Kai find out, they'll do something that will jeopardize the vote tomorrow."

His gut had twisted into a knot, watching Leia's slender frame and thinking of Ambassador Tion. Privately, he wished he had killed him. It was an effort to shrug and act casual. "She's right. You have a problem. And I hate to be the voice of reason, but they're going to notice she's missing if they haven't already."

"Yes, you're right. I should go to see them." Leia slouched wearily and rubbed at her forehead. "As soon as we figure out what to tell them and who to talk to first, that is." Han arched an eyebrow and Leia went on to explain, "She and Shin Kai are having an affair. If Lusubrin finds out he'll challenge Shin Kai to a duel, and if Shin Kai were to win, he would usurp Lusubrin as their head delegate."

"Relationships," Han grumbled. "They used to be so much easier."

"Did you think our government had the monopoly on impossible relationships?" she asked, swiping a hand across her brow. "Han, you need to stay here today and look after her. When the medic stops by the afternoon see if she can check her out."

"What medic?"

"The one I made an appointment with while you were in the shower," she said quickly. "This must be another tactic to disrupt the vote. First the attack on Kerrithrarr, then your being shot, now this."

"So you think it's the same person who shot Han?"Luke asked.

"Yes. And I'm afraid something worse will happen tomorrow."

There was a clattering on the Falcon's onramp as Shin Kai, the wild looking Nagaian entered.

"Iri," he began.

"She's here," Leia said. "And she needs you."