Set between ANH and ESB
Tilobe - Rebel Base
Han Solo shuffled through the seemingly endless stone corridors on a planet called Tilobe that held the latest headquarters for the Rebel Alliance. Like Yavin, this planet was basically unpopulated. Unlike Yavin, only local life forms could exist outside the artificially carved caves and hallways. The Alliance had to use special filters to turn the outside air usable for humans and most humanoids. Solo's latest assignment had been to bring more of these filters back to the rebel base, and he had been gone for almost three weeks completing his run.
The pilot turned a corner and nearly collided with a fast moving young rebel. "Luke!" Solo yelped and jumped back a fraction to keep from getting run over.
"Han, it's good to see you back," Luke smiled and clapped his older friend on the back. "We thought maybe you decided to skip out on us." Although Luke had only been teasing, instantly a scowl appeared on the Corellian's face.
"Who said that? Her Royal Shortness?"
"I'm joking, Han, really," Luke quickly tried to calm the hot-tempered pilot. "Leia never said anything like that." It was mostly true - although two evenings ago Leia had complained to him that Han was taking too long to return. She had even remarked that Han might just decide to leave them without so much as a goodbye. But even while she griped about Solo's lack of commitment, Luke had sensed an undercurrent of worry from her that Han was gone too long, and that something bad happened to him. The Princess would deny this, of course, but Luke was certain she did not believe Han would ever deliberately take Alliance funds and take off, no more than Luke himself believed that of his friend. "You did take a long time. Did you run into problems?"
"Nothin' me and Chewie couldn't deal with." Han waved his hand dismissively. "Imps hanging around the drop point, so we had to out-wait 'em. We got the filters, so everything turned out okay. I just need to take these confirmation chips to Rieekan. You seen him around?"
"He's in a meeting with some other people." Luke pointed to a closed door.
"Thanks," Han nodded and turned to the door.
"Han! I don't think you should just interrupt like...." Luke sighed and watched as Han barged his way into the meeting. Not wanting to hang around for the ensuing fireworks, Luke quickly continued to head for his destination.
Conversation stopped and all eyes turned to the smuggler as he swaggered into the conference room. Quickly, Han's own eyes sought and found the young Princess. As expected, Leia was glaring daggers in Solo's general direction.
"Hey sweetheart," Han smirked, ignoring the others in the room. "Miss me?"
"This is a private meeting, Solo," Leia hissed through tight lips. "Your lack of manners just never ceases to amaze me."
"And here I thought you'd be happy to see me," Han said with an injured expression. "Luke told me how sick with worry you were, so I just wanted to reassure you I'm back. And not a hair on my gorgeous head outta place."
Leia felt herself flush with embarrassment. "I was not worried about you! You, you....egotistical, stuck-up.. spacehead!"
Han grinned, pleased at the reaction, when a familiar male voice spoke up. "Some things just never change, do they Han?"
The pilot felt the color drain from his face, and he slowly turned to face the speaker. "What in the seven hells of Corellia are you doing here?" Han found his voice to ask in a whisper.
"You're not happy to see me?" the younger man laughed. "What a surprise."
When Han said nothing, Leia finally asked. "You two know each other?"
"I should think so," the man remarked at the Princess. "Han is my older brother. We haven't seen each other in a very, very long time."
"Not long enough, Reg," Han finally managed to grind out. "Why are you here?" The Corellian spared a second to glance over at the Princess. The look on her face would have been priceless if Han had not been too upset to enjoy her wide-eyed shock.
Leia kept looking from Han to Reg, comparing their features. Now that she knew they were brothers, she could see the similarities - both were tall, with dark brown hair and the bone structure in their faces matched closely. Still, she was astounded that Han had a brother. In the two years she had known him, he had never even hinted at a family. Somehow, she had assumed he was an orphan - obviously she was wrong.
"Do you think you have control over who does and who does not join the rebellion, Han?" the man Leia had been introduced to less than an hour ago as Reginald Sollon was saying.
"You're not here to help the Alliance," Han snapped back. "You wouldn't bother throwing a life preserver in a lake to save a drowning kid! I know you. So what's your angle?"
General Rieekan cleared his throat and finally spoke. "Captain Solo, your ..brother has offered his family's business to help supply the rebel troops reconditioned X-Wings."
Han turned to the General. "You don't know my brother, Rieekan. He'll stab you in the back and laugh while he's doing it. If he's here, it's because there's something in it for him personally. You can't trust him."
"Apparently, being a mercenary runs in your family, Solo?" General Madine snorted.
The tall Corellian glared at Madine. "You've never met a bigger mercenary than Reginald."
"If the Rebellion has trusted you for the past two years, I don't see the issue in trusting Mr. Sollon," Madine returned quickly. "Your brother is a well respected business man on Corellia, not a smuggler."
"A family business you turned your back on, if I recall correctly," Reg added smugly.
Han could barely keep from rushing at his brother. "You and me seem to have two different memories when it comes to that," he replied tightly. Then he looked over at the still speechless Princess. "You have a choice, sweetheart. If he stays - I leave."
Regaining some composure, Leia sputtered, "You can't expect me to be able to tell Mr. Sollon to leave, not when he has offered us so much assistance."
"Good luck then, Princess," Han returned sharply. "Don't say I didn't warn you." With that, Han spun on his heel and stormed out of the door, leaving the rebel leaders in stunned silence.
Reg Sollon looked at the Princess, amusement playing across his handsome face. "Han always was such a sore loser. You're better off without him," he smiled at Leia.
Everything had happened so quickly, Leia could not quite take it all in. Facing Rieekan, she stood up and said, "Excuse me, General. I think I need to, um...."
"I understand, Princess." Rieekan smiled kindly at Leia. "Go."
With that, Leia took off after Solo.
Out of breath, Leia finally caught up to Han as he walked swiftly toward the Falcon. "Han!"
The smuggler spun around, the look of rage on his face catching the Princess off-guard. "I am not staying on the same planet as that son of a Sith!" Solo hissed at her. "There are not enough credits in the galaxy you could pay to convince me otherwise."
"What in the stars did he do to make you hate him so much?"
Han rolled his eyes and looked up at the tall stone ceiling. "It would take all night to fill you in on half of the things he's done, not just to me, but to everyone he comes in contact with."
"You could start with one or two major items," Leia replied.
"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" Han shot back. "Forget it - I'm not telling you my life history." Turning, Han headed to the lowered ramp of his ship.
"Maybe I'll just ask Reginald," Leia shouted after Solo. No sooner had the words left her mouth, than she regretted speaking them. Leia did not want Han to leave the rebellion, even though she could not quite fathom the reason why. All she knew for certain was that she had followed to convince Han to stay, not to goad him even further into leaving.
At the top of the ramp, Han turned to her. "You go right ahead and ask Reg. I'm sure he'll be more than happy to fill you in on his version of my life," Han said bitterly. He hit the switch, and the ramp rose.
Five hours later
Luke entered the cafeteria and sat down next to a quiet Princess. "Has the Falcon left yet?" Leia asked worriedly.
"No, last time I checked, it was still in the hanger," Luke replied. "I think Chewie has something to do with the fact they're still here. I heard a big argument coming from inside the ship about two hours ago."
Leia looked up at the young man she considered one of her closest friends. "Maybe he'd talk to you. He doesn't get hostile talking to you like he does with me."
Luke shook his head in exasperation. Most of the time, it was Han who claimed that Leia was the one with the hostility. "I tried to get him to talk to me," Luke sighed. "He said it was none of my business."
"I just don't understand this, Luke," Leia said quietly. "I just can't make Reginald Sollon leave, not without reasons! Can't Han see this?"
"My brother seldom sees reason," a smooth voice said from behind Luke and Leia. "Do you mind if I join you?"
"I guess not," Leia replied cautiously as she watched the man quickly sit down across the table.
Reginald smiled broadly at Leia, and instantly Luke felt internal warning bells go off in his head. Without even a reason, Luke knew he did not trust this man. I'm just jealous, Luke tried to reason with himself. Although, I'm aware I feel jealousy around Han because of Leia, but I still trust Han. "Han never told us he had a family," Luke began tentatively.
"I imagine he wouldn't say anything, considering," Reg smirked at the young pilot.
"Considering?" Leia asked.
The Corellian leaned back, and folded his hands behind his head. "My dear old brother got dumped at the alter by a woman. By a woman who left him - for me," Reg laughed, enjoying the stunned expressions of the faces of people his brother considered friends. "Then he threatened to kill me, so our parents simply had to disown him. You understand, don't you Princess? My family has a reputation to maintain."
"So you got Han's fiancée and the family business?" Leia questioned through narrowed eyes. Suddenly Han's reaction made a lot of sense.
"Yes, I guess I did," Reg considered. "It all worked out for the best. Han has no business sense - he would have run the business into the ground."
"And what about his fiancée?" Luke asked. "Did you marry her?"
"Married and divorced," he admitted with a chuckle. "Turns out you just can't trust a woman that dumps a man at the alter. So I did Han a favor there, too. He just refuses to see it."
"I'm sure one day, he'll wake up and realize that you only had the best of intentions," Leia said sweetly.
"Of course. And speaking of intentions," Reg grinned at the Princess, "would you like to join me for a private dinner this evening?"
"I'd love to," Leia quickly replied.
Reginald looked surprised and pleased at the Princess's easy acceptance of his invitation. "I'll see you this evening then," he said as he stood to leave.
Leia smiled as the man strutted off.
"Are you sure that's a good idea?" Luke questioned nervously.
"Oh, I'm positive."
The Millennium Falcon sat in a dimly lit hanger, its ramp raised. Luke took a deep breath and walked over and hit the buzzer positioned on the landing ramp. A few seconds later, the ramp lowered and Luke carefully walked into the bright interior. "Han?"
"Aaroughh," Chewie woofed as he came around the corner, concern showing in his blue eyes.
"How is Han doing?"
"I's fine," the Corellian slurred as he stumbled into Luke's view.
"So?" Han shot back hotly. "I'm not parta yer club, so's I kin get plaster'd innytime I wanna. Where's 'er Royal Highnish?"
Luke was uncertain whether he should answer truthfully. His slow response was all Solo needed. "She's wit' him, isn't shee?" Han surmised quickly. "Well... that's jus' ricch. Reg's always did act fasht wit' da w'men."
Luke looked over at the Wookiee and together they each grabbed one of Han's arms to keep him from falling, and steered him back toward the ship's hold. "Don't always assume the worst, Han," Luke spoke as they led the drunken pilot. "Leia believes you, but she needs proof."
"Oh, she'll get p'oof aw right," Han mumbled as he waved an unsteady finger in Luke's face. "You've jus' betters hope it's not too late."
Evening, after dinner
The constant small talk during the dinner had been a strain, but Reginald had been the one doing most of the talking, constantly bragging about his private ships, factories, and homes. The Princess smiled politely as Reginald Sollon poured her a glass of wine. "Thank you. I wasn't aware the Alliance had stored such expensive wine in its supplies."
The Corellian gave a soft laugh. "It's not the Alliance's stock. I brought some necessary supplies with me on this trip."
"Ah, necessary," Leia nodded her understanding. "Actually, Reg, I accepted this invitation to make a request."
"Anything at all, beautiful Princess."
Leia blushed and looked down at her wine glass. "I'd like to be able to go to Corellia and inspect your X-Wing factory."
Sollon leaned forward. "That would be wonderful. I'd love to show off my assets to you, Leia."
The double meaning was not lost on Leia. Fortunately, she'd spent far too much time around Han to let the comment fluster her. "Why, thank you. I'll follow you in the Falcon with my friends, if that's all right with you."
"The Falcon? You mean Han's dump of a ship?" Reg looked surprised. "My brother will never agree to take you to Corellia. You can come with me in my private yacht. I have the best droid pilots money can buy crewing The Grand Splendor."
"Droids? So, you're not a pilot, Reg?"
Sollon picked up his wine glass. "I'm afraid I've been too busy running a multi-million credit business to take up such a... hobby. "
Leia smiled politely at the man, noting that he never missed an opportunity to belittle his brother, and brag about his own accomplishments. "I think I'll be able to convince Han to take me to Corellia. He's never turned me down in the past." Quickly, she took a sip of her wine to cover her expression. It was best not to mention how many times Han had said 'no' in the past, forcing her to beg, bribe and nag. This was undoubtedly going to be one of those times.
"Fine, my dear Princess," Reg said carefully. "My brother really has changed if he's willing to go home and try and make amends with my parents."
The Princess nearly choked on her wine. "P..parents?"
"Most people have parents, Leia."
"I know that," she snapped, and then caught herself. This was not Han she was dealing with, so she forced herself into her role as a politician. "I guess I just assumed they had passed away."
"No, they are both very much alive, although Father is not well."
"You said earlier your parents disowned Han? Perhaps they won't want to see him."
"That was really more Father's doing than Mother," Reg replied with a shrug. "With Father being ill, it's possible he will forgive Han. I am less sure Han will be willing to forgive Father, however."
"Well, thank you for the dinner." Leia rose from her seat and Reg quickly got up and escorted her to the door. "Don't worry about Han not agreeing to take me to Corellia. I'm sure I can convince him."
"I'm sure you will," Reg agreed. "Han was always a soft touch. Not a good trait in a businessman, I'm afraid."
Or a smuggler, Leia thought with an inward smile. "Have a nice night, Reg."
As soon as the door slid shut, Reginald Sollon leaned back on the wall and grinned. This was going to be too easy.
The next morning
Chewie greeted Luke and Leia as they boarded the Falcon. Luke had filled the Princess in on Han's condition last night, and Leia had informed Luke about her plans to head to Corellia. Neither had been thrilled with the other's news. "He's not going to agree to this, Leia," Luke mumbled as he stared at the metal floor.
Leia sighed, afraid that the young Jedi was probably correct. There were assignments in the past that Han had not wanted to be party to, yet she had always managed to convince him. That was why both Luke and Chewie were there for backup. This was one time it would take more than just Leia's ability to cajole and push the stubborn pilot into doing something he did not want to do.
The Corellian was sitting at the small table in the hold, nursing a strong cup of caf. He looked up when the threesome entered and glared at them through bloodshot eyes. "Now what?" he asked suspiciously.
"You need to shave," Leia informed him, instantly getting off on the wrong foot.
"Who are you to come on my ship and tell me I need to shave?"
"Han, we need to ask you for a favor," Luke put in quickly, before the next war of words escalated further.
"What kinda favor?"
"We would like you and Chewie to take us to Corellia," Leia answered carefully.
"Listen Han, if your brother is up to something, don't you think this would be a good way to flush him out?" Luke returned, and looked to Chewie for support. Chewie woofed his agreement with Luke.
"I'd rather just flush him out of an airlock," Han snorted. "Much faster."
Leia slid into the booth opposite the Corellian. "I agree that something is not quite right with this situation, but if you want my help, you're going to have to be more cooperative. General Madine has taken a liking to Reg, and I can't just tell your brother we don't want his help without good reason."
"Madine would like anyone that hates me," Han growled out.
"If you don't take us, I'll go with Luke on your brother's ship to Corellia," Leia said simply.
Han slammed his fist down on the table so hard the caf sloshed out, and Leia jumped in her seat, her eyes growing wide. "I will not be blackmailed, Your Highness!"
"I'm not blackmailing you," she snapped back. "I'm doing this for the rebellion! You're the one who insists Reg can't be trusted!"
There was a moment of tense silence in the hold before Han spoke. "Just how much did Reg tell you last night?"
"Not too much. Mostly he just bragged about his wealth all evening," Leia answered softly. "He did tell me that your parents are still alive."
"His parents," Han said tightly. "Not mine. They disowned me, thanks to wonderboy."
"Then this is your opportunity to make things right, Han," Luke said to his friend. "Maybe we can help."
"Good luck, kid. Reg has a twenty-eight year head start on you."
"Will you take us?" Leia asked. "Please?"
Han shut his eyes and leaned back. Why, oh why do I always end up caving in to her requests? "I'm gonna regret this," he sighed.
Later that afternoon
The Millennium Falcon lifted off, followed closely by the much larger, sleek yacht, The Grand Splendor. Reginald Sollon sat behind his droid pilot and co-pilot, smiling as he watched the battered ship make the jump to hyperspace. You always were a sucker for a pretty woman, Han, he thought gleefully. Maybe, before you die, I'll seduce her, just to show you one more time I can still take everything you want away from you.
En route to Corellia
"Where's Han?" Leia questioned Chewie and Luke as she entered the hold. They had already been in hyperspace for a little over a day, and the ship's Captain had kept to himself, locked away in his cabin.
"Rarrouurch," Chewie waved his paw, as Threepio translated. "He says Captain Solo is unhappy about returning to Corellia."
"Well, I'm going to go talk to him," Leia said with a shake of her head.
"Are you sure that's a good idea?" Luke ventured. "Maybe we should just leave him alone." The lack of heated arguments during the past day had not gone unnoticed by the innocent bystanders on the Falcon.
"He's acting like a baby, moping around in his cabin." Leia glared at Luke. "Someone needs to point this out to him."
She marched out of the hold, and Luke looked over to a worried Chewie. "Do you think we should go hide in the smuggling compartments again?"
A sharp rap on the cabin door startled Han. He had been sitting on a cot in a small room he was sharing with Luke, sorting a variety of small parts into boxes. It was a monotonous task, and one he had been putting off for months. It was less boring, however, than staring at the ceiling for hours on end. "Who is it?" Han asked sharply. He had given his own cabin to Leia during the course of the trip, as was the usual procedure during the past two years. In the beginning, Han's willingness to let the Princess use the larger, private berth surprised her. But Han had never complained and Leia admitted to herself that sometimes the stubborn man could be unexpectedly chivalrous.
"You're acting incredibly immature."
It was Leia's turn to be surprised when the cabin door suddenly opened, revealing a very annoyed, and shirtless, Corellian. "What do you want?"
"I want to talk to you," Leia stammered very flustered, trying not to look at his bare chest. It was a difficult task, and she felt her cheeks redden.
"Your brother, for starters," she replied firmly, forcing herself to meet his eyes and refusing to back down despite the icy glare from Solo.
Han shook his head. "Why don't you just ask him, once we get to Corellia?"
"I'd like your version, not Reg's."
"I detest talking about my personal affairs, your Worshipfulness."
"No kidding," she smiled and determinedly shouldered past him into the cabin. Han watched warily as she carefully sat down amidst the boxes at the foot of the cot. "Are you going to just stand there?" she asked.
Han sighed and shut the door before returning to the cot. He slowly sat down on the opposite end of the bed. "Would you like me to remove the boxes, so we can get comfortable?" Han smirked.
"Your brother told me you were engaged at one time," she began quickly, ignoring his suggestion. The Princess was well aware Han was trying to change the subject by making her angry, and she was just as determined not give him the opportunity. Leia tried to keep her eyes focused on his face, and thought, Why doesn't he put a shirt on? I could handle him better if I wasn't so distracted - I know he's doing this deliberately! Typical!
"And that she left you at the altar - for him."
Han gave a harsh laugh. "Reg is such a jerk. Chirlyn left me for my brother about three weeks before the wedding. They came back, married, on the day that would have been our wedding day."
"I'm sorry," Leia said softly. "That must have been painful."
"Don't be sorry, Princess," Han snapped. If there was one thing Han hated above anything, it was someone taking pity on him. "Do you really think I'd want to be married to someone like that? But apparently, neither did Reg. The marriage only lasted about six months. I think he's been married and divorced since then, a couple of times."
Even though Leia knew she had made a mistake saying the word 'sorry' she decided to push ahead and approach an even more difficult subject. "Why did your parents disown you?"
The Corellian looked away, and Leia could see him become tense. "Somehow, CorSec got information that I was selling drugs. They stopped me while I was heading into town in my hovercraft, searched the vehicle and found illegal spice hidden under the seat. My parents had to pay a great deal of money to get the charges dropped."
"Were the drugs yours?"
"Let me guess. Reg."
"You got it, sister."
"And he denied it, and your parents believed him and not you."
"On top of that, I threatened to kill Reg during that confrontation. The drug incident happened less than a month after Reg stole my fiancée. It doesn't matter anymore," Han mumbled as he stared at his hands. "It's been ten years."
Leia swallowed a lump in her throat, stood up and walked over to the pilot. Despite their constant bickering, Leia regarded Han as her friend, someone who had been there for her for two years. Although she wanted to put her hand on his shoulder, she stopped herself, too self-conscious over touching his bare skin. Instead she said quietly, "Something like that never stops mattering."
If Leia had hoped her little discussion with Han would open him up, she was disappointed. Over the course of the next two days Han had behaved normally - at least as far as normal could be when Han Solo was concerned. But any further attempts to question him about his past had been met with either a sarcastic comment or an abrupt subject change. Finally, they had given up and stopped asking, which put the pilot in a better mood - at least temporarily.
Now that they had arrived on Corellia, Han's foul temper had returned with a vengeance. The Falcon had landed several hours before Reg's yacht arrived, and Solo refused to exit his ship to greet his brother when it finally set down. This left Luke and Leia to make arrangements with Reginald.
"I have a hoverlux craft waiting in a private garage. It will easily fit all of us, except your droids," Reg informed them.
"I think Han will prefer it if we hire a transport to your home," Leia replied. "If you don't wish to wait, you can leave us with the directions."
Reg grinned at the Princess. "You are quite the politician, Leia. It's too bad you always seem to be trying to soothe my loutish brother's temper."
"That's not what I'm doing," Leia said, holding her own temper in check. "You have to admit some small part in his attitude toward coming home."
"Of course," Reg quickly agreed. "Han and I have always been like oil and water, and perhaps I did ruffle a few feathers when I was young and foolish. Still, I'm willing to forgive and forget, so I just wish he could grow up a little, also."
"Why don't you just give us driving directions, and we'll come along after we get a rental?" Luke suggested.
"Han knows where I live," Reg replied, barely glancing at the young man. "Even with his faulty memory, he should be able to find the way."
"How does he know where you live? He hasn't been here in ten years," Leia questioned.
Reg laughed aloud. "I live at the Sollon Family Estate. Han could still be living there if he hadn't been such a rebel and forced our parents to kick him out. Trust me, he remembers. I'll see you there in an hour or so - hopefully you won't have to tie Han up to get him to come home."
They watched as Reginald Sollon strolled off toward his private garage. Luke turned to the Princess. "The Sollon Family Estate?"
"This just keeps getting more and more interesting," Leia agreed.
It took several hours to locate a rental hovercraft, and another full hour to get to the Estate. Han drove, silent and sullen the entire trip, with Chewie beside him and Luke and Leia in the rear seating area. The droids had been left behind on the Falcon at Han's insistence. My family owns enough droids. They'll just get in the way. Luke knew the real reason was that Han did not want to listen to Threepio's constant babble, and in Solo's present mood it was safer for the golden droid to stay behind.
Han turned off a main thoroughfare and entered a much smaller, winding road. Tall, leafy trees and flowering shrubs lined the road as they traveled on. After five minutes on this beautiful, isolated road Leia could not stand the silence. Taking a chance on getting her head bit off she asked, "What's the name of this road? I didn't see any street name. And how much further before we get to your parents' house?"
"We'll be there in about a minute," Han growled, keeping his eyes straight ahead. "This isn't a road we're on. It's the driveway to the house."
"Driveway?" Luke spluttered. "You're kidding me."
Solo spared a second to glare back at Luke. "Do I look like I'm kidding?"
In truth, both the Princess and Luke had noted that Han had lost his sense of humor since Reginald had shown up. The hovercraft turned another corner, and a large metal gate appeared across the road. Han slowed the vehicle and stopped. A security droid appeared from a small stone enclosure. "State your name and business," he intoned flatly.
"Han Solo," the Corellian snapped. "And my business is none of your business."
The droid was unconcerned with Han's rudeness. "I have no Han Solo listed in my databank."
The muscles in Han's jaw tightened. "Try, Hannibal Sollon."
"Thank you, Mr. Sollon," the unit politely replied, then spun around and re-entered the enclosure. A second later, the huge gates swung open.
Leia could not help herself. "Hannibal?"
"My parents have strange tastes in names," Han snapped. Before he could say anything further, Luke interrupted with a short gasp as the craft made one final turn. Just ahead, was the largest house Luke had ever seen, with an enormous, immaculate sweeping lawn and landscaped gardens for a front yard.
"Wow," Luke spoke in awe. "You grew up here? It's as big as a museum!"
Solo looked in the rearview mirror at Luke's expression. For the first time in days, he had to laugh. "That's a good description, kid. A museum."
The Princess was stunned as well. Although the Alderaanian Palace she had grown up in was larger and grander, this house was very impressive. "I always thought you grew up poor," she whispered.
"I never said that," Han returned sharply.
"You might not have said it," Luke replied. "But you keep telling us you don't have any money."
The older man grinned. "I don't have money - now."
Han parked the hovercraft near the front entrance, and the four piled out, stretching cramped muscles. Luke craned his neck to look up at the massive four story stone house. From the second floor, a flutter of a curtain caught his eye, and Luke caught sight of Reg as he moved back from view. Again, Luke felt a sense of foreboding as they walked up the tiered steps to the front door.
The shiny silver butler droid, designated as J7B1, opened the front door before Han had a chance to press the buzzer. "Welcome home, Master Hannibal," he said primly.
"Thanks, BeeOne," Han said dryly. For the most part, droids had played a huge part in Han's upbringing. His father was far too busy with his companies, and his mother far too busy with social activities to bother much with her two rambunctious, and often contentious sons. Han had grown up resenting both his parents and the stuffy droids that had been assigned to take charge and enforce discipline. As often as possible, young Han had turned to the Wookiee cook Dewlanna and her husband, Isshaddik, the Wookiee in charge of grounds keeping, for companionship and comfort. When Han was fourteen, Dewlanna and Isshaddik had been suddenly fired by his father on the charge of embezzling funds. It was a charge Han had never believed, and the fact that Reg was overly pleased with the Wookiees' departure only confirmed Han's suspicions.
Luke gaped at the vast foyer with a wide curved stairway that lead up to the next level. The floors gleamed with highly polished wood, and a sparkling crystal chandelier was high overhead. Expensive paintings and vases with exotic flowers sat on pedestals against the high walls. Han had not been joking when he said the place was a museum - most museums would not be able to compete with the furnishings in this home.
The Princess could not believe her eyes. It floored her that Han Solo had grown up in such a place, especially given his attitude toward her upbringing. She had always thought that he resented her because he had grown up deprived and she had grown up wealthy. Since that was not the case, Leia was forced to rethink her past assumptions. Since Reg had bragged about how he stole Han's fiancée, perhaps his resentment came from thinking that all "rich girls" were unfaithful, and he had placed her in that category. It annoyed her to think that Han would lump her in with this Chirlyn. Leia decided she would need to confront Solo about this problem, and the sooner the better.
An elegant thin woman, perhaps in her late fifties, came out of a doorway. "Hannibal."
"Mother," Han replied flatly. "It's nice to see you."
"Yes, well..." she trailed off and looked at the two young people and Chewie. "So are these people friends of yours?"
Han nodded. "This is my co-pilot, Chewbacca," he waved a hand at the Wookiee. "And this is Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa." He faced his friends, and nodded toward the tall woman. "And this is my mother, Euridice Sollon."
"Organa, as in Princess Organa, Bail's daughter?"
"Yes, Mrs. Sollon," Leia replied politely. She stepped forward and offered her hand to the older woman, who reluctantly and briefly shook it. Leia could tell, despite her wealth and privilege, Mrs. Sollon was not a happy or cheerful woman.
"I heard Bail's daughter had become involved with a rebellion," she said with a brittle smile. "I guess my son's involvement shouldn't surprise me. Hannibal always hated authority." She looked at Han. "BeeOne will show you and your guests to their rooms. Dinner is in two hours. Please dress appropriately," Mrs. Sollon ordered as she took in the pilot's casual appearance. The woman turned and left the room.
Han looked over at Luke and Leia. "And that was a little taste of my former life. Charming, don't you agree?"
Reginald went to his office and turned on the holo-message screen. Carefully he worded a short text message, addressing it to Lord Darth Vader, and hit the "send" button. Things were sure to start looking up.
The huge bedroom Luke had been given could easily have held half of the adobe house he grew up in on Tatooine. The shuttered patio windows overlooked both a curved outdoor swimming pool and, in the distance, a private sapphire blue lake. Luke carefully opened a door to his private bathroom, with a sunken marble tub and a separate shower. It amazed him to see a holo-entertainment unit on the bathroom wall, which could be viewed while bathing. The young Jedi wandered back into the bedroom and tried another door, only to find that it opened to the backside of another door, which was locked tight. Using the Force, Luke reached out and tried to manipulate the simple locking device. He heard a 'click' and the second door swung open.
"Luke!" The startled Princess leapt up from lying sprawled out on her huge bed. "How did you get in here?"
The young Jedi realized he had opened an adjoining doorway to the Princess's room. "Leia... I'm so sorry... I didn't know where this door..." he trailed off lamely, blushing madly at his intrusion. He was saved from further explanation by a knock on the door. "I'll get it," he quickly volunteered. He opened the door to find Han standing in the hallway.
"Isn't this Leia's room?"
"Uh.. yeah, I..um.."
Han gave a laugh and stepped into the room. "Making yourselves comfortable, I see."
"It's not what you think," Luke tried again, not wanting to hurt Leia's reputation.
"And what, exactly, do you think I'm thinking?" Han prodded. "Just because you and her Highness here decided to share a little ... down time together..." Solo looked pointedly at the messed bedspread.
By this time, Leia was getting irritated. "Look, flyboy," she said as she walked up to Solo and tried to look intimidating. "Luke did not know where this door led, and he accidentally opened it - that's all! So you can just put your dirty little mind back into its dusty cubbyhole."
"I see," Han smirked down at the Princess. "My mother must be slipping."
"What does that mean?"
"Just that she would never have let the maintenance on the house get so shoddy back when I was living here. These doors used to have locks that actually worked."
"The lock worked," Luke confessed, looking down at the thick teal colored carpet. "I used the Force to open the lock."
"You what?" Leia sputtered, not knowing who she was more upset with at the moment.
"I swear I didn't know this was your room, Leia," Luke replied desperately.
"Is there a problem in here?" Reginald asked from behind Han. Leia could see Han's entire face change in a split second, from teasing amusement to dark hostility.
Before Han could turn around, Leia smiled and walked over to Reg. "No problem, Reg," she smiled up at him sweetly.
Solo turned around in time to see his brother offer the Princess his arm. "Would you like me to show you around, lovely Leia?"
"I'd love that," Leia replied, aware of the surprise and jealousy radiating from the two men standing behind her. Good, she thought, annoyed, Let them think about their behavior for a while.
Shooting a triumphant grin over Leia's head at Han, Reg led the Princess away.
Reg led Leia into the manicured gardens, pointing out various rare plants and flowers. "My Mother has quite the collection. She wins awards every year for her plants."
"I'll bet she does," Leia said demurely. "Does she work in the gardens herself?"
The Corellian laughed. "No, she has hired professionals for that. Here we are, the greenhouses." Reg opened the door for the Princess. Inside, the flowers were truly spectacular.
"My goodness," she exclaimed. "I haven't seen anything so beautiful since the hot houses on Alderaan."
"I have," Reg replied, putting his hand on Leia's arm. "You put every flower in here to shame, beautiful Princess." Not giving Leia a chance to answer or pull away, Reg leaned down and kissed her, passionately and very intimately.
It was a long moment before Leia pushed Reg away. "I .. I barely know you," she gasped, burning up with embarrassment. Even Han, with his constant suggestive remarks, had never been so bold.
"I'm sorry if I was too forward," Reg remarked quietly. "It just seemed right. It's like I've known you my entire life. I think we're destined to be together, my sweet Princess."
"You're right," she answered quickly. "You were much too forward. I have to get ready for dinner." Leia turned and exited the greenhouse at a fast pace, leaving Reg behind. It was only after she was back in her room that she wondered why it felt like she had betrayed Han and not Luke.
Mrs. Euridice Sollon had sent Leia a beautiful, but modest sky blue dress to wear to dinner. Luke had been provided with a tailored jacket, which he wore with his best pants and clean shirt. And Chewie had carefully groomed his entire coat to a shiny, coppery finish. But it was Han that again shocked Leia. He had come out of his room wearing a formal dark gray suit, and new shoes instead of his usual boots. She had never seen him so dressed up. Even during the medal ceremony he had only put on a buttoned up shirt as a concession to the formality of the occasion. Han looks as though he's heading toward his own wedding, Leia thought in surprise, then chastised herself mentally for using the word wedding and Han in the same sentence.
Reginald, too, was dressed to kill. It seemed to Leia almost as if the brothers were trying to compete for the title of best dressed. Reg quickly stood when the four entered the elegant dining room, took Leia's hand and kissed it. "You are truly stunning, my lovely Princess."
Leia did not miss the look of annoyance on Han's face and his rolled eyes. "Thank you, Reg," she replied politely.
Reginald pulled out a chair at the end of the table and held it for the Princess as she sat down. He quickly sat next to her, forestalling any attempt by Han to sit by Leia. Glaring, Han sat near the head of the table, while Chewie sat next to Han and Luke sat next to Reg. The seat on the end was held by Mrs. Sollon.
Server droids placed some fresh salad greens in front of each person. Leia could not help but note the high quality of the china that was set before her. She had not seen such expensive dinnerware since her days in the Alderaan Royal Court.
The droid offered the Princess a wide choice of dressings for her salad, and she carefully placed a tiny amount over her greens. Luke watched intently, and copied her exactly, not wanting to make a mistake.
"Normally, my husband would be sitting at the head of the table," Mrs. Sollon explained to the Princess. "But he has been too ill lately to leave his room."
Leia nodded and Reg asked his mother, "Does Father know the prodigal son has returned, Mother?"
"No, I have not yet informed Benewald of his return."
"I am sitting right here, Mother," Han grumbled. "You don't have to act like I'm not listening."
"That was not my intention, Hannibal," Mrs. Sollon remarked back.
"Don't call me Hannibal. My name is Han."
"That's not what your birth certificate states, son."
"Then burn it," Han sneered back.
"This is exactly why Mother has not yet told Father about your homecoming, Han," Reg said calmly. "You always seem to upset Father with your attitude."
"I have an attitude?" Han shouted across the table. "I have a suggestion where you can put your attitude!"
"Hannibal! I will not have this type of behavior at the dinner table!" Euridice ordered.
Quickly Han stood up. "You won't have to, Mother."
"Han!" Leia hissed out. "This is your motheryou're speaking to - sit down and apologize."
"What the hell is it with you females? I'm not a child, and I won't be bossed around like one!"
"Maybe if youstopped acting like a child, we'd stop treating you like a child!" Leia snapped back.
Solo stormed out of the room, leaving silence in his wake.
Reg cleared his throat. "You see? This has been his typical behavior since he was old enough to talk. I don't know how many expensive, private schools Han was kicked out of after he defied authority and broke all the rules. And Father even indulged him with private flying lessons, because that's what Han wanted. After his fiancée left him, he joined the Imperial-Corellian Navy, if you can beat that. Of course, he got kicked out of the Navy, too."
Chewie gave a warning growl. Both Luke and Leia knew that Han had been court-martialed because he had saved Chewie at the expense of his career, and Chewie did not take well to people insulting Han, or implying he had thrown away a perfectly good career just to save a Wookiee.
"It's a good thing he didn't stay in the Navy," Luke said softly, playing with his salad. "I wouldn't want to fly against him in battle."
"Han has been an enormous help to the rebellion, Mrs. Sollon," Leia added, trying to smooth things over for Solo. "We wouldn't even be alive without his help. He's a great pilot."
"How nice, dear."
"So," Reg smiled at Leia. "How does tomorrow morning sound?"
"The tour of the X-Wing factory," he clarified.
"Of course. Tomorrow morning would be fine, wouldn't it, Luke?" Leia had no intention of being alone again with Reginald.
"Tomorrow sound great," Luke replied, trying to sound enthusiastic.
Two hours later
Han was lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling and replaying the little dinner scene in his head when there was a knock on his door. "It's open," he called out, expecting Chewie. He was surprised when Leia entered.
Solo jumped off the bed. "How was dinner? Reg smooth talk you all night?" Han asked sarcastically.
"The food was wonderful, but the company left a little to be desired," she admitted. "I'm sorry for saying you act like a child. It was uncalled for."
Han had expected the Princess to further chastise him for his behavior, and the apology caught him off-guard. "Yeah, well. I guess I shouldn't of let 'em get to me like that. And I shouldn't have left you an' Luke an' Chewie alone with my crazy relatives, either."
Leia knew that was the closest thing she would ever get as an apology from Han, so she continued. "Reg is taking me and Luke to the factory tomorrow for a tour. I think you and Chewie should stay here."
"Really? Was this Reg's idea?" Han did not like the idea of Leia going off with his brother, even if Luke went with her to chaperone.
"My idea, not Reg's. I think you and Chewie should see if you can find out anything once Reg is out of the way. Maybe question the help, or go get Artoo and see if you can tap into some personal records."
"A woman with a devious mind. I like that," Han grinned. Then he got serious. "I don't trust Reg. You and Luke watch your backs around him."
The Princess smiled at Han's unexpected protectiveness. "You watch your back, too, flyboy."
Reg listened carefully to the exchange between Han and the Princess. Placing a listening device in her room was a good idea, Reg thought happily. He reached over and turned on his secure holovid screen.
The holovid in the private office of Corran Horn, CorSec Officer, flashed with an incoming message. Corran leaned over and pressed the "on" button. The face of his long-time friend came onscreen. "Reg! It's been a while. What have you been up to?"
"Hello, Corran," Reg grinned at the officer. "I brought you a gift back from my trip."
After breakfast, Reg escorted Leia and Luke to a sporty expensive hovercraft. During the lengthy drive to the factory, Reg would point out various Sollon holdings as they flew past at a breakneck speed. It started to seem to Luke as if every other building belonged to Reginald Sollon, President of Sollon Enterprises, Inc.
"How long has your family lived in that house?" Luke questioned, leaning forward from the back seat.
"My great-grandfather had it built for his wife, about a hundred years ago. So this is the fourth generation in the house. I prefer my other homes, actually. The Sollon Estate is just so ... old. In some ways, I envy Han his easy lifestyle. Being head of a bunch of corporations can have its downside, believe me."
"So you think Han has had it easy since he left home?"
"Flitting around the galaxy, sleeping with a different woman every night, no responsibilities. Yes, I think he has it easy."
"I don't think his life has been as easy as you think, Reg," Leia objected, keeping her tone light, but she bristled at the comment that Han slept with a different woman every night. In fact, once she had accused Han of that very thing to his face. His response had been to ask if she was jealous. The ensuing exchange of insults had resulted in Leia not speaking to Han for a week.
"Maybe not," he conceded, unable to keep resentment out of his voice. "But it's his life, not his father's. Unlike mine."
A short time later, Reg turned into a vast parking lot. "Here we are. The X-Wing reconditioning factory. I think you'll be impressed."
Unable to get information from the droids or the employees of Sollon Estate, Han and Chewie took the rental and headed back to the Falcon, intent on retrieving Luke's R2 unit. Arriving at the hanger, they climbed out of the speeder and headed toward their ship. Halfway across the hanger, a group of armed, uniformed men stepped out from behind crates and parked ships, blasters drawn. "CorSec!" Han yelled at Chewie as they dove behind the nearest cover. Shots rang out, shattering the plasteel boxes the pair had rolled behind. Blaster in hand, Han looked over at his co-pilot. "They've been waiting for us," he panted out. "Reg has something to do with this, I'm sure of it." Chewie growled his agreement.
"Solo!" a male voice called out. "You and your partner - toss out your weapons and come out with your hands up and you won't get killed. Don't be stupid. You don't have to die."
"I don't intend to do either, pal," Han yelled back. Turning to the Wookiee, he gave a half-hearted grin. "I need some serious inspiration here, Chewie."
Chewie gave a series of barks. Han shook his head negatively. "No way. You're not getting caught for me while I get away." More shots came their way, forcing them to end the conversation. Solo bent around the shattered box he was hiding behind and fired off his own return shots. Quickly he ducked back behind the boxes. "We can't stay here, our cover is disintegrating fast. You head for the hovercraft, and I'll distract 'em."
*So you think I should get away while you get caught?* Chewie argued.
"Someone needs to warn Luke and Leia," Han hissed back. "It's me they want! You'll have a better chance of getting away if I cover for you, and you know it. Besides," Han winked. "I don't intend to get caught."
*Fine, we'll do it your way. But you'd better not get caught, cub.*
With that, Chewie took off toward the hovercraft as Han leaned over and fired quickly and randomly to give the Wookiee a chance to reach his goal. Eventually, Solo had to duck back as intense return fire was aimed his direction. Han spared a look over, and grinned. Chewie was climbing in the driver's seat, and a moment later took off. The Security Officers changed their aim, now firing at the departing speeder. Way to go, Chewie, Han thought gleefully as the speeder drew away. A second later, a blasterbolt hit the rear exhaust of the hovercraft. The speeder swerved wildly and as Han watched in horror, it flipped several times before erupting in a fireball.
"No!!!" Solo stood up screaming. Without thought, Han ran toward the burning wreckage. He barely felt the bolt as it struck him between his shoulder blades, and the Corellian crumpled to the ground.
Inside the Falcon, Threepio and Artoo stood in the cockpit watching helplessly as the scene unfolded. "Oh dear me, Artoo. I do believe Master Luke should be told about this, don't you?"
Artoo whistled his agreement, and rolled out of the cockpit.
The tour of the X-Wing factory had been predictably boring. Mostly it consisted of a bunch of droids taking apart, and repairing old X-Wings. It was something Luke found only slightly more interesting than Leia, who plastered a fake smile on her face and did a lot of nodding.
They finally arrived back at the Sollon Estate late in the afternoon, and both Luke and Leia went back to their rooms, exhausted from the stress of feigning interest for hours on end. After checking both Chewie's and Han's rooms and finding them empty, Luke knocked softly on the door adjoining their rooms.
"Yes?" Leia asked as she pulled the old-fashioned wood door open.
"Han and Chewie aren't back from the Falcon."
Leia frowned in thought. "It's still early. I don't think we should worry - yet."
"I don't know, Leia," the young Jedi murmured. "Something doesn't feel right. I'm going to check the comm-system and see if Han left any messages."
The Princess followed as Luke went over to the communication station and opened a coded channel to the Falcon. Immediately, Threepio's frantic voice came online. "Master Luke! Thank the Maker! Artoo and I were just about to open the comlink you left us to contact you. I'm afraid I laid the comlink on the table in the hold, and it rolled off onto the floor, and Artoo and I had a time trying to find it! You must do something about all the boxes lying around in this room, it's most untidy. Anyway, it must be divine intervention that you should happen to call us at the exact same time we were about to call you! You would not believe what just happened outside of the Millennium Falcon only minutes ago! It was terrible, simply terrible!"
"Threepio!" Luke yelled, trying to stop the protocol droid from his constant chatter. "Just calm down and tell me what happened."
"Corellian Security Officers were waiting outside the ship when Captain Solo and Chewbacca arrived! I'm afraid they've been killed! The hovercraft with Chewbacca exploded and Captain Solo was ...." The connection went dead. Leia grabbed the back of a chair to keep her knees from buckling.
"Threepio? Threepio? Can you hear me?" Luke fiddled with the switches, desperately trying to reestablish a link.
"Please be so kind as to put your weapons on the table and your hands over your heads," Reg said politely from the doorway.
The young man and woman spun around, only to face a smiling Reginald pointing a blaster in their direction.
"What did you do to Han?" Leia snapped.
"You mean Han Solo, the smuggler? A common criminal wanted by CorSec for a wide variety of crimes?" Reg's grin got wider. "He should be in the capable hands of the law by now, if he went quietly. If not, well, then he's probably dead. But I wouldn't worry too much about him. You have much bigger concerns."
"What have you done?" Leia whispered.
"I've contacted Lord Vader," he answered, pleased when the Princess's face went white with fear. "When he arrives, I plan on selling both of you to him, along with the location of the rebel base."
"Why?" Luke gasped. "You have more money than you know what to do with!"
Reg's eyes narrowed. "Looks can be deceiving, Skywalker. I've made some bad investments in the past that have come back to haunt me. My stockholders will have my head if I don't get some credits to cover my debts. After tomorrow, no one will be the wiser, especially my parents. Now if you will be so kind as to come with me. I'm afraid I can't let you stay in the comfort of your rooms tonight. You might just decide you are tired of my company and leave. Now, put your weapons down, or I will be forced to shoot you."
Luke put his lightsaber carefully on the table and Leia placed her small blaster next to the saber. With that done, Reg herded the shocked pair down flights of stairs until they reached a dank cellar. "As you can see, this room was once used as a wine cellar, but lately I haven't been able to afford to restock it with the types of wines my Mother and Father are used to drinking. The truly valuable bottles I've sold. Feel free to drink any remaining wine you can find. It may help you forget about facing Vader when he arrives." He laughed at his joke and slammed the heavy door shut, leaving them in the musty, cold darkness.
"Can you use the Force to unlock this door, like you did with mine?" Leia asked.
"I'll try," Luke replied. "But it depends on how complicated the locking device is inside the door. I'm not very good at this stuff yet." Luke shut his eyes and concentrated. The thick wooden door had not one but three very sophisticated locks in place to prevent employees from stealing wine that sometimes was worth several thousand credits a bottle. Nearly fifteen minutes passed before Luke sighed in defeat. "Too many locks. It's too hard." He tried squinting to see Leia in the darkness. "I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault," Leia whispered as she rubbed her arms in the chilly room. "I just can't think about facing Vader again, Luke."
In the blackness of the cellar, Luke reached out and put his arms around the Princess. "We'll think of something," he reassured her gently.
Although Leia said nothing aloud, her insides felt like knots just thinking that a certain cocky, annoying smuggler was lying somewhere, cold and dead.
"Well, just what do you expect us to do, Artoo?" Threepio wailed, throwing his arms up in defeat holding the silent comlink. "Captain Solo and Chewbacca are dead! And now something terrible has happened to Mistress Leia and Master Luke! Now we're all alone in this dreadful place, surrounded by enemies! We'll be melted down for certain!"
Artoo extended his leg and rolled away from his hysterical partner. Even if he failed, Artoo had no intention of waiting quietly for the fates to decide things for him.
"Just where do you think you're going?" Threepio called after the small droid. Threepio followed down the corridor listening to a series of beeps and buzzes from the small unit. "What do you mean, you are leaving the ship? We were told to stay put! I distinctly remember Captain Solo telling us to...."
Artoo plugged his arm into a socket and lowered the ramp, then proceeded to roll out of the ship.
"Wait!" the protocoldroid yelled after him.
Reg sat silently in the library, staring out at the early evening stars. He could not stop thinking of the beautiful and regal Princess Leia. A smile appeared on his face as an idea occurred to him. She seemed very fond of that young man, Luke Skywalker. Perhaps she would be willing to strike a bargain to spare the kid's life. After all, how bad could it be to spend the night with someone as rich and handsome as Reginald Sollon? And when he was done with her, he certainly was under no obligation to actually keep his end of the deal.
"What do you think you're doing?" Threepio leaned over as the small droid located a landspeeder parked near the ships hanger. Artoo answered his partner with beeps. "You can't be serious! You can't steal a landspeeder.. it's against the law. Besides, who do you think is going to drive?"
"You?! Well, then you can just go by yourself, because I am not having any part of this life of crime you have suddenly decided to embark upon, you faulty bucket of bolts!"
Using his "foot", Artoo hoisted himself with some difficulty into the driver's seat of the speeder that was resting flat on the ground and inserted his "arm" into the control panel of the speeder. The craft roared to life and lifted slightly off the durocrete. The small droid turned his photo-receptor eye to the gold droid and gave some more bleeps.
"I just know this is going to be the end of me," Threepio lamented as he quickly hustled to the passenger side and climbed inside.
Luke and Leia were sitting huddled against a wall when the door clanked open. Since Leia was positive they had only been in the cellar for perhaps four or five hours, the fact Reg had returned so quickly surprised her. Had Vader arrived already? It was possible, she supposed, that Reg had contacted the Dark Lord even before he had arrived at the rebel base. Both of the prisoners quickly stood up, their hearts beating rapidly in fear.
"Back so soon?" Leia snapped defiantly. "Or did you forget your nightly bottle of wine?"
Reg ignored her taunt and stepped into the cellar, shining a bright light in their direction, forcing them to squint and shield their eyes. "I've decided to give you a little option, Princess, before Vader arrives."
"Do you want to purchase Luke's freedom?" he asked casually.
"What do you mean, purchase? I don't have any credits. At least not as many as you seem to need."
"Oh my lovely Princess, I'm not talking about money. The way you buy Skywalker's freedom is to spend a little recreational time with me, in my suite. Make me happy, and I'll let him go. Of course, I'll still need to turn you over to Vader, but at least one of you will live."
"Get lost, Sollon," Luke snarled at the man. "Leia won't do something as disgusting as that. I won't let her!"
"It's not your choice, Skywalker," Reginald returned with a laugh. "What do you say, beautiful?"
Leia took a deep breath and stared into the beam of light. "I'll do it."
Lieutenant Corran Horn, longtime member of the elite crime fighting organization known as CorSec, watched in disgust as his Captain mercilessly beat Han Solo with the butt of the smuggler's own blaster. Solo was tied to a chair in the middle of an empty room, his face was swollen and bloody, lips split, and his eyes nearly puffed shut. Horn felt physically ill as he watched the beating continue without letup. After Horn had shot the smuggler with a stun blast, Solo had been taken to CorSec headquarters. Captain Jenkins had ordered Solo strapped to the chair, and the other CorSec officers had been told to leave. Only Corran was informed he needed to stay and watch.
"You need to stop already," Horn told his superior officer. "This isn't the way CorSec operates."
Captain Jak Jenkins looked at Horn. "Who do you think you are, telling me what to do?"
"This is wrong, Captain," Corran insisted as he watched Han's head slump forward on his chest. "He has the right to stand trial. This isn't anything other than a torture session."
"Do you think you're the only CorSec friend Reginald Sollon has, Horn?" Jenkins sneered at his officer. "He's paid me a great many credits over the years to do him favors. This is just another one of those favors."
Corran was truly stunned. He had always considered Reg his friend. Only once, in the very beginning of the friendship, did Reg offer him money in exchange for a favor. When Corran had gotten angry and turned him down, Reg had profusely apologized, insisting that it was a simple misunderstanding. He had never bribed Corran again. "You accept bribes?" Horn questioned his Captain.
"Don't act all innocent, Horn," Jenkins barked. "You've been taking bribes from Sollon for more years than I have."
"Reg is my friend," Horn protested. "I don't take bribes from him!"
Han forced himself to look up. "Reg isn't anyone's friend. He's a user, and you're a fool, Horn."
Captain Jenkins lashed out, striking Han so hard that the smuggler's blood and sweat splattered on the far wall. "Shut up, scum."
I've made a huge mistake, Corran Horn thought desperately.
"Slow down, you pile of defective chips!" Threepio shouted as the speeder wound its way through traffic. Artoo simply ignored the endless complaints coming from the passenger side of the vehicle. Without warning, the speeder veered off into a wheat field. "Ahhh!! Now what are you doing? Stay on the road!"
The astromech droid answered with a long series of beeps.
"A shortcut? We can't take a shortcut! You're going to get us killed!'
Artoo replied with a raspberry. "How rude!" Threepio spluttered through a face full of grain stalks that were plastered against his face.
"Would you like a glass of wine?" Reg asked conversationally once Leia was standing in his suite.
"No." Leia's eyes flicked around the room, searching for something to use as a weapon. Other than vases, there did not seem to be too many choices, and Reg had locked his blaster away in a drawer.
"This doesn't have to be unpleasant," Reg remarked coolly. "Women have always enjoyed my company. I'm sure I can make you forget all about my worthless brother."
"Is that what this is all about? You think I'm Han's lover?'
"You've never slept with Han?"
"No," Leia snapped out. Not for Han's lack of trying, she thought somewhat wistfully.
Reg only found her answer amusing. "I guess my brother's losing it," he laughed. "If you don't want to make any small talk, then I suppose we should just get started, don't you agree?"
The Princess stepped backwards, her stomach in knots. She had only agreed to go with him to get free of the cellar and disable the security system, and then escape from Reginald at the first opportunity. At the time, it had seemed like a good plan, even if it had been a bit hazy on details. Now she wasn't quite as certain about her decision. "This isn't right. Don't you have any sense of decency?"
"No, I don't. I wanted you from the moment I saw you, and I always get what I want." Reg moved closer, a predatory look in his eyes. "You can still say no, my beautiful Princess. But your friend down in the cellar will get turned over to Vader if you refuse me."
"Then I have no choice at all."
Corran watched as his commanding officer took a vial and a syringe out of his pocket. "What's that?" the Lieutenant asked suspiciously.
"Concentrated ceurel, a very addicting derivative of spice. Deadly in high enough doses," Jenkins grinned at Horn.
"I know what ceurel is - what are you planning on doing with it?"
Jenkins inserted the needle into the vial and filled it completely. Looking up, he informed his officer with a casual shrug, "Killing Solo. Ironic, don't you think? A spice smuggler dying of a lethal injection of spice? At least Reg seems to think so, and this is what he's paying me to do."
"That's murder," Corran said in a hoarse voice. He looked over at the still form of Han Solo, slumped against the binders that held him fast to the metal chair. The front of Solo's shirt was stained with blood, and he was breathing heavily. If Han was conscious and listening to the conversation, he gave no indication.
Tossing the empty vial on the floor, Captain Jenkins jabbed the needle into Solo's upper arm.
Leia was trying to think of a way to escape as Reginald grabbed and kissed her roughly, when a loud, high-pitched alarm began sounding. Reg pushed the Princess away and swore vehemently. "What the hell...?"
"What is that?" Leia asked as relief flooded through her. Whatever it was, the noise was buying her precious time to come up with a plan.
"The alarm system, indicating intruders." Reg went over to the dresser, unlocked it and pulled his blaster out. "You come with me. Princess," he snarled, waving the blaster in her direction. "If this is Skywalker's doing, he's dead."
"We are going to get caught, Artoo," Threepio gasped as they tore wildly through manicured gardens, leaving destruction in their wake. "Are you even aware of how many laws we have broken in the past hour? Speeder theft, sixteen major traffic violations in less than an hour, destruction of private property, trespassing....."
The blue and white droid interrupted Threepio's listings with an angry, high-pitched whistle.
"Of course I want to help Master Luke, you little ingrate! I just think we should have tried contacting the proper authorities!"
More beeping emanated from Artoo. "Oh," Threepio said after a moment. "Of course I remember Corellian Security shooting Captain Solo and Chewbacca. Well...."
Artoo braked violently as the speeder pulled up behind the great Sollon mansion. "Would you mind not driving so erratically? I think all of my internal parts have been shaken loose!"
The small droid did not reply, as he was far too busy departing the speeder and with great haste started rolling away. "Slow down, Artoo....." Threepio called after him as he hurried to catch up.
Lieutenant Horn moved with almost supernatural speed. The CorSec officer's fist struck his superior officer, knocking him off his feet and sending him skidding across the room. Snatching the syringe out of the smuggler's arm, he noted it had been only partially depressed. Still, even a small amount of this potent drug could cause serious problems. He threw it aside and it shattered on the floor. Captain Jenkins started to pull Solo's blaster out from his waistband where he had tucked the 'souvenir', but he was no match for Corran Horn. Grabbing his own weapon, he fired off a shot at his Captain, killing him instantly. Lieutenant Horn knew in that split second he had crossed the line of no return.
Turning the body of Jenkins over, Corran found the release switch for the binders that held Solo and freed the smuggler, who promptly fell over onto the hard floor. "Solo." Horn bent over and attempted to wake the drugged man.
Han forced his eyes partially open. "Ch..Chewie?"
"Your partner is alive, Solo," the former CorSec officer tried to tell Han. "He's in the prison medical ward with a broken arm and some broken ribs." While Han had been led to believe his partner had died in the crash, the Wookiee had been only injured. The open top of the speeder had allowed Chewie to leap to the ground before the explosion. Only Chewie's incredible athletic abilities prevented him from serious injury.
"Yes, and I have an idea," Corran said as inspiration struck. "Don't move. I'll be right back." After giving Han those instructions, Horn realized that Solo would have been unable to move even if the idea had occurred to him. Leaving the interrogation room, Horn locked the door securely behind him before spotting a very young guard walking down the corridor. "Hey, you there!"
The guard stopped and snapped to attention. "Yes, sir!"
"I have orders from Captain Jenkins to go retrieve a gurney for a prisoner. You are to stand guard at this door. No one is to enter. Do you understand?" Horn barked out his orders.
Corran Horn hurried away toward the medical ward, hoping his escape plan had a chance to succeed.
Reginald pushed Leia down the hall to a room that held dozens of holo-screens, showing the various areas of the Estate. Keeping his blaster trained on the Princess, Reg peered into the screens trying to spot the source of the alarm. He frowned as he studied the different images. Nothing appeared out of place - only the Estate droids hustling around doing chores, and the security droids attempting to find the problem.
The Princess stared at the blaster in Sollon's hand, trying to decide if she should make an attempt to grab it away. The odds did not seem to be in her favor. Leia glanced up at a monitor and did a double take. One of the monitors showed a very familiar protocol droid standing nervously next to a short blue and white astromech droid, who was plugged into anoutside control console.
A second later, the entire Estate lost all power.
Artoo disengaged his arm and gave an encouraging beep to Threepio.
"Are you certain the computer indicated Master Luke is locked up in the wine cellar? That would be very bad manners on the part of his host!"
The short droid gave an exasperated warble as he wheeled away.
The security guards outside Chewie's room were both nervous and bored. Nothing had been happening for several hours, yet the idea that something as powerful as an enraged and injured Wookiee lying only a few shorts yards away filled them with apprehension. They had heard stories about these creatures pulling a man's arm from the socket, for star's sake! When Lieutenant Horn strode purposefully into the hospital room, the guards did not question him. Surely he must have orders, for no one in their right mind would enter that room otherwise.
Chewbacca was strapped down, his arm and ribs set in a bone-knitter cast. Even injured, Horn was aware that the Wookiee could break the binders that held him if he got angry enough.
"Chewbacca?" Horn said quietly. The Wookiee turned his intelligent blue eyes toward this new threat. "My name is Corran Horn. Your partner has been badly beaten, drugged and..."
A huge roar escaped from Chewie's throat. "Quiet!" Horn looked over his shoulder, hoping the guards were too afraid to come in the room. "Listen to me!" The Wookiee snarled, but obeyed.
"My commanding officer was about to kill Solo, so I shot and killed him," he whispered. "Apparently, Captain Jenkins was being paid by Reginald Sollon to kill Solo. Sollon has used me for the last time, I swear. Will you cooperate and help me get Solo out of the detention ward?"
Upset, but also realizing this might be Han's only chance, Chewie nodded and listened to Horn's plan.
In the complete blackness, Leia took her opportunity. Turning and making a diving tackle for her antagonist's ankles, Reginald was sent sprawling backwards into a wall. She heard a loud grunt as the man's head impacted with the hard surface, and the clatter of the blaster as it hit the floor and careened across the room. The Princess did not waste time groping in the darkness for the weapon. She quickly stood and lunged in what she hoped was the direction of the old-fashioned wooden door. It was somewhat a surprise that the first thing her fingers came in contact with was the metal door handle. How did I do that? she wondered. It must be some of that Solo luck rubbing off on me.
Quickly she pulled the door open and stumbled out of the monitor room into the hall. She could hear groaning coming from Reg, and Leia assumed he was trying to get up and follow her. Fortunately, the ambient light from the windows at the end of the hallway allowed Leia some vision. The Princess got her bearings and headed for her bedroom.
Once the power was out, it was only a matter of minutes before the two droids were able to gain access to the inside of the Estate. Artoo quickly guided his companion to the doorway that led down to the wine cellar. "I don't know why I should have to go down in that dungeon by myself," Threepio protested as he peered nervously down a narrow flight of stairs.
"Don't use that tone on me," the protocol droid looked down. "I am well aware of the fact you can't navigate stairs! It's just so unfair that I always have to put myself in harm's way." Sighing dramatically, Threepio began to climb carefully downward. "And don't you dare take off and leave me alone!" he called up to Artoo.
Arriving at the bottom, Threepio looked around with his glowing eyes. He sincerely hoped that Artoo had been correct when he noted that the security cameras recorded Luke being locked inside this room. A single locked door stood at the end of a short hall. The droid walked stiffly to the door. "Hello? Master Luke? Are you in there?"
"Threepio?" a muffled voice called from the other side. "How did... never mind! Just unlock the door!"
"Yes, Master Luke," Threepio replied. "I am trying to figure out how to work these strange locks as we speak." Threepio turned knobs and pulled the handle. Nothing. "Oh my, I wish Artoo could be down here, he would certainly be able to open this door! I am simply useless, Master Luke, useless! You should just wipe my memory chips and start over!"
"Threepio!" Luke yelled back. "Calm down and think. You can figure it out, I have faith in you." Luke shook his head and leaned against the wall. He was in no mood to try and boost the morale of Threepio, but he obviously needed the droid's help. Leia was in danger, and he needed out of this prison - fast.
"Guards!" Corran leaned out the hospital door. "I need your help."
"He..help?" one of the young guards sputtered. "With what?"
"Get in here," Horn ordered sharply. He knew he had to at least appear to know what he was doing....
The four guards walked apprehensively into the sterile, small room. The dangerous Wookiee lay chained to his bed, his eyes shut, breathing evenly.
"What's wrong with it?" the tallest guard asked Horn.
"I've doped it up, so you don't have to be scared of it," Horn shot back sarcastically. "I need help transferring the thing to a gurney. I'm under orders to bring it down to the interrogation room. You," Corran pointed to one guard, "Go get the gurney."
The guard quickly obeyed, and a minute later was back with the floating table. Lieutenant Horn pressed the release switch on the wall, and the binders slid open. Still the Wookiee did not move. As fast as they could, the guards transferred the creature onto the gurney. Corran flipped the sheet from the hospital bed over the Wookiee, covering Chewie completely. "You've done a good job here, men," Horn praised the guards. "I've been told to tell you that you have the rest of the shift off. Consider it a bonus for hazardous duty."
"Thank you, sir!" the youngest smiled. "Do you need help taking the prisoner down to interrogation?"
"I don't think so. It's pretty drugged up. I don't think it'll be giving me any problems."
The four grateful guards saluted and headed off to get a few stiff drinks.
"Threepio! Hurry up!" Luke was getting impatient at the long delay.
"Master Luke! Curse my clumsy metal fingers! I just can't get this open, and now everyone is going to die because of me!"
"No one is going to die, Threepio," a calm voice spoke from halfway down the stairs.
The Princess smiled and quickly joined Threepio in front of the door. "Luke! Step back."
The young Jedi felt a wave of relief that Leia was safe and quickly obeyed her request. Then the sizzling sound of burning wood was heard as Luke's blue lightsaber cut easily through the door. Once free of the hinges, the door fell inside the room with a loud crash. Luke stepped out of the cellar and hugged Leia tightly. "I'm so glad you got away. What happened to Reg?"
The power to the Estate surged back to life and the hallway lights suddenly came on, making them blink as their eyes adjusted to the brightness. "Reg is right here," the now familiar voice said from near the top of the staircase.
Luke and Leia looked up. Reginald stood grinning down at them, pointing a blaster. "You didn't think you'd really get away, did you?" He gave the turned off R2 unit a kick with his foot, sending the droid tumbling down the steps.
"Goodness, Artoo!" Threepio keened as he watched the astromech droid bounce helplessly down. Several small parts broke off before he rolled to a stop at the bottom, dented and scratched.
"Now that you've wrecked the only place I could keep you safely locked up, I guess I'll have to kill you."
Halfway to the detention area, Corran veered off and headed the gurney into an emergency stairwell. Once inside, he pulled the sheet off the Wookiee, who immediately leapt to his feet. Horn pressed his comlink and blaster into Chewie's paw. "Wait until you hear from me before you come out the door," he instructed. "Solo isn't going to be in any shape to help us, so we're going to have to act fast."
Chewie nodded his understanding and Horn pushed the now empty gurney back out into the hall. He then continued on his way to the detention ward, hoping that no one had discovered his little handiwork.
The same guard was still at the door when Corran pushed the floating table up and grinned sheepishly. "Took longer than I thought it would. Sorry."
"No problem, sir."
"Had any trouble since I left?" Horn asked casually.
"No, sir. Just some groaning from inside the room," he replied with a smile. "I guess the prisoner must not be too cooperative."
"Not at all," Horn agreed. "I can handle things from here. Thanks for your help, Ensign. Dismissed."
The young man gave a sharp salute and left. As soon as he was far enough away, Horn hit the open switch and pushed the stretcher into the room. Solo was laying near the chair, curled up into a fetal position, his body trembling violently. The ceurel, Corran thought with a pang of guilt. It could still kill him if he has a bad enough reaction. Gently, Corran bent over Solo. "Solo? I'm going to try and help you, so don't fight me, all right?" Horn wasn't sure if Han was even able to register his words. With a great deal of effort, he hoisted the smuggler onto the stretcher and strapped him down. Corran then took the comlink from Captain Jenkin's pocket and pried Solo's blaster from the man's stiffening fingers.
Taking a steadying breath, Corran pushed the gurney from the room and locked the door behind him. If his luck held, no one would discover the corpse until well after he was well away from CorSec headquarters.
The Princess moved closer to Luke, and surreptitiously pressed the turned-off lightsaber into his hand. "Vader won't be happy if you give him dead bodies," Luke said as he tried stalling for time.
"Maybe," Reg conceded, walking most of the way down the steps "But I'm sure once I sell him the location of the rebel base, he'll forgive me. That's what he really wants, anyway. It's too bad you were so unwilling to share my bed with me, Princess. You would have discovered I'm a much better lover than Han."
I've already told you I'm not Han's lover, Leia thought angrily. Then she decided to change tactics. "At least he never had to coerce me," Leia taunted, trying to ignore Luke's shocked expression. "You might think you're so much better at everything than your brother, but you'll never be half the man Han is."
Leia struck a nerve. "Shut up," he screamed at her. "Han is dead! And now you can join him in the afterlife!"
Luke turned on his lightsaber and jumped in front of the Princess, prepared to defend her against the enraged man. He never got the chance. A blaster shot flared from the top of the stairs and Reginald dropped like a rock.
Corran wished Solo would stop moaning and trying to thrash around. It was attracting far too much unwanted attention, but he didn't know how to quiet the smuggler short of shooting him again with a stun blast. In Solo's current condition, he didn't think that would be a good idea, so Horn kept his eyes focused ahead and walked with a quick confidence he truly didn't feel. Keeping as much as possible to less populated corridors, Horn headed to the hovercraft parking area.
He knew he didn't have much time left. The guards watching the security screens would certainly get suspicious when a CorSec Lieutenant pushed a stretcher into a parking lot. Horn picked the nearest land speeder, unfastened Solo, and as quickly as he could, unceremoniously dumped the smuggler into the back seat. He felt another stab of guilt when Solo cried out in pain. It can't be helped, he thought apologetically. If we get out of this alive, I'll say I'm sorry later.
Climbing into the driver's seat, he expertly hot-wired the starter and took off, but instead of leaving he drove as fast as he could toward the hospital wing. Corran reached into his pocket and pulled out the stolen comlink and tuned it to his own comlink's frequency. "Chewbacca? Can you hear me?"
A quick bark came through and Horn smiled. "Get ready. I'm pulling up to the emergency exit door...right....now!" Corran slammed on the brakes and the Wookiee came thundering out of the building, barely slowing down as he dove into the passenger side of the land speeder. Horn hit the accelerator and took off, swerving to avoid oncoming traffic. He turned to the Wookiee and grinned. "That was easier than I thought!"
The words hardly left his mouth when two CorSec speeder bikes charged up behind them, firing deadly blaster bolts in their direction. Corran looked over at Chewie. "I guess I spoke too soon," he commented dryly.
The two rebels stared in stunned silence at the unconscious Reg Sollon, who was lying face down on the hard floor. Cautiously, they peered up the stairs at the shadowy form. "Vader?" Leia whispered in fear.
Hearing the Princess's softly spoken question, Threepio threw his arms up in defeat. "Vader? We're doomed!"
From the top of the stairs, Luke heard a man laugh. "I've been compared to some wicked people in my time, but never Darth Vader."
"Who are you?" Luke called up.
"My name is Benewald Sollon," was the confident answer. "And I'd appreciate it if everyone could come upstairs, if you don't mind."
The former CorSec officer pressed Solo's blaster into the Wookiee's paw and concentrated on driving while Chewbacca fired back at the speeder bikes.
The wild chase shot down busy streets and across manicured lawns. Corran pressed the vehicle's warning horn non-stop - he did not want the responsibility of acccidentally hitting an innocent bystander. The CorSec officers following behind them were good, and stuck to the pursuit like mynocks on a starship's hull. Finally, Horn picked his way across an intersection, directly in front of an oncoming hover-freighter, and barely avoided a collision. The first speeder bike behind them was not so lucky. Swerving desperately, the bike went sideways, crashing into the side of the large freighter. Corran knew the CorSec officer did not survive. I probably knew that guy, he thought with a guilty conscience.
But there was no time for grief or guilt. The second bike was still on his tail.
The strange group sat in the opulent living room, facing each other on matching sofas. Luke and Leia sat on one side, with the two droids standing next to them - Benewald and a very sullen Reginald Sollon sat on the other side.
Luke had managed to power up Artoo. The damage was mostly cosmetic, although Artoo's "eye" had broken off, rendering him temporarily blind, and his front "leg" had been bent. Luke had managed to straighten the "leg," but he needed special tools on the Falcon in order to fix the "eye." The young Jedi repeatedly reassured a certain protocol droid that Artoo could be easily repaired, and Threepio was now silent under strict orders from Leia.
"I can't believe you shot me, Father," Reg snapped out, still dizzy from the stun blast.
"And I can't believe you were about to kill these two young people, Reginald," his father answered calmly.
Leia leaned forward. "Mr. Sollon, I thought you were very ill." Benewald Sollon looked anything but sickly. Handsome, tall and rangy, with thick white hair, he looked very much in shape for a man Leia guessed was in his mid-sixties. The Princess could easily see the resemblance between Han and Benewald - Han looked far more like his father than his mother, whereas Reg took after Euridice. For some reason, it pleased Leia to be able to see a version of what an older Han Solo would look like. It made her wonder why she cared that he was going to age well. If he is even still alive, she suddenly remembered with dread.
"Yes, Father," Reg added, glaring at him. "I thought you were dying! Every time I saw you, you were lying in bed, with the draperies closed, acting like it was your last day alive."
"Acting, son, is a good description."
"What?! You were lying to me?"
Benewald leaned back and crossed his arms. "Do you honestly think I don't know what kind of shady deals you've been doing with the business? You're not the only one with paid informants, Reginald."
Reginald was the one who looked sick. "You know about my debts? The bad business investments?"
"I've known for quite some time," he said casually. "Most of those bad debts are to me, Reginald. And the ones that weren't I've managed to pay off. Your business sense is less than impressive, and my 'sick act' allowed you to run the company as you saw fit. After all, you didn't have to worry about your old man looking over your shoulder every minute."
"So Sollon Enterprises isn't bankrupt?" Luke asked.
"Far from it, Luke Skywalker," Benewald replied.
"That's wonderful, Father!"
"It would be wonderful, if you hadn't contacted Lord Vader. Now we have somewhat of a different problem, don't you agree?"
The land speeder turned hard right, forcing the biker to slow slightly to make the same turn safely. It was Chewie's best opportunity, and with a careful aim he fired at the driver hitting him squarely in the chest. The unconscious officer flew off his speeder bike like a stuffed ewok toy and the bike screeched sideways on the ground, coming to rest against the wall of a building.
Corran knew it was only a matter of minutes before even more CorSec speeders would be joining the chase. He had to get to the Falcon, and fast. It would be their only chance of escape.
Addressing Luke and Leia, Mr. Sollon continued. "I've had a complete memory wipe done on the droid pilots onboard The Grand Splendor, as well as destroying all logs on the ship itself. Of course, that doesn't erase Reginald's knowledge of the rebel base, does it?"
"No sir," Luke answered politely.
"And I don't think your son would be able to withstand Vader's interrogation techniques, even if he wanted to," Leia added, refusing to look at Reg. The man simply disgusted her.
"Then perhaps it would be best if Reginald went back to the rebel base with you, as your prisoner," Benewald said with a sigh.
"What!? You can't be serious, Father! They would torture and execute me as a spy! Mother will never agree to this!" Reg yelled at his father.
"The Alliance does not torture its prisoners," Leia snapped back at Reg. "And while you may deserve execution, we don't do that, either. You would be sent to a separate rebel base that holds prisoners. And once the war is over, you will be allowed to go free, unfortunately."
"Please, Father, don't do this to me!" Reg was now on his knees, in front of his stern-faced father. "I can't survive in prison...if you don't let them take me, I'll change, I promise."
His father shook his head sadly. "This will either make you a better man or destroy you, my son. The choice is yours."
"I'd rather you had just killed me in that cellar," Reg stood up and screamed, his face turning red with rage. "You always liked Han better than you liked me! It's not fair! You let him do whatever he wanted, even if he always defied you! I hate him! He's dead now. My friends at CorSec killed him!"
"Han had the backbone to stand up for what he wanted in life, Reginald. I admired his independence, even if we were always butting heads. You truly did him a favor when you stopped him from making the mistake of his life by marrying that gold digging female. If you have played any part in his death, there will be no forgiveness from me. Sollon Enterprises will never be yours again."
"All those years ago, I put those drugs in the hovercraft and told my friends at CorSec to stop his speeder, you know," Reg sneered, unable to stop himself from taunting his father. What difference did it make, anyway? Without Sollon Enterprises and his fancy lifestyle, Reg considered himself dead.
"I know that - now," Benewald replied. "I wish I had known it sooner - if I had known I wouldn't have told Han he had to leave home." The elder Sollon sighed and looked at Luke. "Sometimes parents make mistakes, young man. I know Euridice and I certainly did when we allowed Reginald to pressure us into disowning Han. But if he had not left Sollon Estates and joined the military, he never would have been able to save that Wookiee."
"Or help save Leia and the Alliance," Luke agreed.
"So perhaps things did work out for the best," the older man nodded. Reginald gave a disgusted snort, and Benewald returned his attention to his son. "Actually, son, when my friends at CorSec told me about that little set-up, that was when I started watching you very, very carefully. It's what saved Sollon Enterprises."
"I think we'd better get going, " Luke inserted, uncomfortable at listening to so much personal information. "But even if we take Reginald, what about you and Mrs. Sollon? Vader could still take revenge out on you."
"Yes, where is Mother?" Reg hissed, latching onto his last hope. He knew he was always Mother's favorite, her baby boy. "She won't let you do this to me!"
Benewald Sollon smiled kindly at Luke, while ignoring his son. "Thank you for your concern, young man. Euridice is on her way to The Grand Splendor as we speak, for a little vacation off-world. My wife's biggest concern in life is her social status, and as long as there are adequate credits to maintain it, little else concerns her. Euridice was quite upset when I told her how close Reginald had come to jeopardizing her lifestyle." He paused for a moment and then added with a wink, "And believe it or not, I have ways of dealing with Vader. Trust me."
Trust me, Leia smiled to herself. Han, you have more in common with your father than you probably would admit.
The Millennium Falcon came into sight as Corran Horn drove the speeder recklessly up near the ramp. As the Wookiee leapt from the vehicle, it was the first real chance Chewbacca had to take in Han's appearance. He gave a soft roar of dismay, and gently cradled the shaking Corellian in his strong arms. Turning to the CorSec officer, he barked a question.
Corran did not understand Shyriiwook, but he tried to guess. "He was injected with ceurel," he explained slowly. Horn did not have to ask if Chewie knew what that was - the Wookiee gave a angry roar, and bared his fangs. "I'm sorry, Chewbacca. It was meant to be a fatal dose, but I think I stopped Jenkins in time."
The Wookiee only shook his head and headed to the Falcon. Once in the ship, Chewie carefully strapped Han down in the medical bunk. Where are those stupid droids? the Wookiee wondered in disgust. He knew he certainly could use them, especially when it came to communicating with Horn.
"Chewie?" Horn called from the cockpit. "Speeders heading our way! We need to lift off, now!"
The Wookiee appeared in the cockpit in seconds, and the ship roared to life moments later. *We can't leave without Luke and the Princess,* Chewie barked at the CorSec officer.
"I don't know what you're trying to tell me," Horn replied, frustrated. He could tell the Wookiee was trying to tell him something important, just what that was, however, was a mystery.
Chewie reached for the controls, and pointed to his chest. *I am in charge of where this ship goes, Horn. I hope you understand that, or you may find yourself floating home.*
"I think I get it," Corran nodded. "You're the pilot. I'm just along for the ride. Got it."
The group headed for one of Mr. Sollon's many luxury hovercrafts, with Reg's wrists bound behind his back. Reg alternately begged his father, and cursed him, during the walk to the large garage.
Benewald Sollon turned to Leia. "Despite what Reginald has said, I don't believe Hannibal is dead. And I thank you for everything you've done for my eldest son, Princess Leia. Maybe my brother was correct after all."
"Your brother?" Leia questioned. "What did he say about Han?"
"My brother was a Jedi," he answered, smiling at their shocked expressions. "He said Han was destined for greatness. I hope he was right. In any case, when you see Han, tell him I hope he forgives me for the past. And tell him that I love him."
"I'll tell him, Mr. Sollon," Leia smiled up at the tall man.
"Leia?" Luke interrupted. "Look." The young man pointed at the night sky. Flying low and barely skimming the trees was a saucer-shaped freighter. "The Falcon."
"That can't be," Reg whispered. "He's dead. Han has to be dead."
"Just another one of your schemes that didn't work, Reginald," his father said with a relieved grin.
Their relief was short-lived. When the ramp was lowered, an unfamiliar man appeared at the top - unfamiliar to everyone but Reginald and Benewald.
"Corran!" Reg shouted out gleefully. He turned to Luke and the Princess. "He's one of my friends in CorSec. I told you Han was dead!"
Corran Horn ran down the ramp and did not look at Reg. "Are you Solo's friends? We need to hurry, CorSec will be following any minute."
"Where's Han?" Luke asked the stranger.
"He's onboard, and badly hurt. We need to get him to a medcenter."
Leia felt her heart drop. Badly hurt? Just what did that mean? It took a great deal of effort not to push past everyone and rush to Han's side.
"Wait a minute, Horn!" Reg shouted. "Whose side are you on?"
The former CorSec officer turned to Reg. His fist struck Reg in the jaw, sending him sprawling awkwardly to the ground. Reg glared up at Horn, livid with rage but unable to retaliate with his hands tied. "Traitor!" he spat out.
"I've pretended to be your friend for the last time, Reg Sollon," Corran returned sharply. "Now get up, and get in that ship." Horn turned to the elder Sollon. "I hope everything turns out all right, Mr. Sollon. I'm glad I was able to help you keep your business from going under."
"You've been more help than you can possibly imagine, Corran," Benewald smiled at his son's former friend. "You are a remarkable young man, and you have a great future."
Luke and Corran reached down and pulled the man to his feet and hustled him forward, following the droids into the Falcon. Leia turned to Mr. Sollon. "I wish we had more time. You could apologize to Han yourself."
"I wish that too, but you need to go. Take care of Han," he asked softly. "You're the right kind of woman for him, Leia. Someone smart, kind, and strong-willed. He needs to be pointed in the proper direction, and you've been doing just that. Thank you."
Leia hugged him and pulled back, embarrassed by his praise and unsettled by his comment that she was the 'right kind of woman' for his son. "I'll tell him you're sorry, and that you love him. And I'll take good care of him, I promise." She turned and ran up the ramp.
Once onboard, Leia hurried to Han's side. Chewie was there, trying to clean the blood off the smuggler's face but it was a delicate task not to injure him further. It made Leia's stomach turn to see how battered his face was. Solo was incoherent, thrashing around and held in place with straps. "What's wrong with him?" she asked shakily.
"My commanding officer was about to kill him with an overdose of ceurel, by Reg's request. I stopped him, but some of the drug was injected before I could," Corran explained from the doorway.
Leia's face went white. Ceurelwas one of the most highly potent, addicting drugs made from spice in the galaxy. The Princess knew that Han was experiencing the initial effects of the spice. After that, he would be an addict, his body craving the spice. Even with just one dose, Han would be suffering from agonizing withdrawal symptoms for days. The Princess touched his sweat-soaked forehead tenderly. "You're in for a rough ride, flyboy," she spoke gently. "Good thing you have so many friends to help you get through this."
She turned to Luke and Chewie. "Get up to the cockpit, and I'll stay with Han." The pair took off, followed by Corran, who was pulling a rather smug-looking Reg after him.
The Falcon lifted off into the night sky. Mr. Benewald Sollon watched the ship leave, taking both his sons to their destiny.
Corran Horn knew all the tricks that CorSec would throw at them, and with Luke and Chewie piloting, the Falcon was soon safely in hyperspace.
It was shortly after the Falcon made the jump that Han tried to open his puffy eyes. "Princess?" he croaked out. She was looking at him with her beautiful brown eyes full of concern. I love you, Princess, he thought blearily, and tried to smile at her through his swollen lips. Then he gave his head a little shake, attempting to clear up his thoughts. What am I thinking? I didn't say that out loud, did I?
"I'm right here, Solo," she said softly, trying to put on a brave front. "I told you to be careful. You never listen to me."
Han grimaced, trying to concentrate on her words. It seemed like she kept drifting in and out of focus, her words sounded like they were echoing off the walls. Trying to lick dry lips, Han mumbled, "What's wrong with me? I...I've been beaten before... and never felt like... this." He tried to move his arms, and couldn't. That puzzled him, too, but it took too much effort to figure out the reason.
Leia got a small glass of water, and put her hand under his head. "Here, sip some water." Even that small effort drained him. The Princess decided to try and explain what was wrong. "Han, after the CorSec Captain beat you, he tried to kill you with an injection of ceurel. That's why you feel so... strange. But we're going to help you beat this, I promise."
Ceurel. Han had watched people die of the spice drug, some quickly, and some very slowly. He never knew of anyone getting off the spice once they started. He shut his eyes and thought, Never tell me the odds, before he drifted off again into a haze.
Lord Vader's Star Destroyer dropped out of hyperspace less than an hour after the Falcon left the system. Using the coordinates that someone named Reginald Sollon had provided, Vader took a shuttle and a squadron of stormtroopers planet side.
The shuttle landed on a large, well kept lawn. Droids buzzed around tending the gardens and mowing in the early morning hours. Vader swept down the ramp, his black cape billowing behind him and watched as an older man came out the front door and hobbled toward him, using a cane for support. "Are you Reginald Sollon?" Vader hissed as the man approached him and stopped.
"No, my Lord, that would be my son."
"Where is he? He sent me a message saying he had rebel prisoners and vital information."
"I'm afraid the rebels my son was referring to escaped and took my son hostage. They may ask for a ransom," Benewald replied worriedly, wringing his hands and hunching his shoulders in fear.
"That would be very unlikely. The rebels do not operate like that, unless the kidnappers are operating independent of the Rebel Alliance." Inside his mask, Vader frowned. He could sense no duplication from theman, only worry and concern for his kidnapped son. Killing the timid and fragile elder Sollon would serve no purpose, Vader told himself. "This has been a wasted trip. Perhaps it would be beneficial for your son's health if he did not get released from the rebel prison anytime soon. If you ever see him again, tell him he should sincerely hope he and I never meet." The Dark Lord spun around and stalked up the ramp.
For the second time that night, Benewald watched as a ship left his Estate. He straightened his shoulders and, swinging the cane next to his side, walked inside his house then up the curved staircase to his private suite. Smiling, he went to the mantle above the fireplace and took a holo of a middle-aged man down from the shelf. "Ah, Quentin, my dearest brother. I may never have been a powerful Jedi, like you were, but I have some hidden Force talents of my own. And I think my eldest is in for a lifetime of involvement with the Jedi as well, he just doesn't know it yet." Benewald placed the holo of the Jedi brother he had the honor of meeting only a few times in his life back on the shelf. Mr. Sollon never knew his older brother when he wasa child because Quentin had been taken from Sollon Estates as a five-year-old child by the Jedi and his name changed to Qui-Gon Jinn, ten years before Benewald was born.
En route to the Rebel base on Tilobe
When Han woke up the second time, he was cleaned up and no longer strapped down. His initial "high" had passed, and Chewie sat in a chair next to his cot, head tipped back and snoring loudly. "Chewie?" Han whispered, dismayed he could barely talk. He tried again, this time his words came out a little louder. "Chewie?"
The Wookiee's eyes snapped open. *Cub! You're awake! Are you thirsty? Are you cold? Hot?*
Han smiled through swollen, painful lips. "I'm glad to see you're alive, pal. You had me worried when that speeder blew."
*I'm a tough one, Han,* Chewie woofed at his friend. He pointed to his arm, still in a bone-knitter cast. *The only thing that happened to me was a broken arm and some broken ribs. I'm much more concerned about you.*
"Me?" Han frowned, puzzled. "I'll be okay."
*Cub,* Chewie leaned forward and spoke gently. *You were injected withceurel.*
Han shut his eyes, suddenly remembering Leia's words. "Oh.. yeah." He looked up at his friend's concerned blue eyes. "I'm a tough one, too, Chewie. I know the withdrawal will be bad, but I'll get through it."
Luke left Chewie guarding Reg and walked down the corridor to the refresher. Lt. Corran Horn stepped out, rubbing his face with a towel.
"I'm sorry," Corran apologized as he noticed Luke. "I didn't know you were waiting."
"I just got here," Luke gave a small smile. "Can I ask you a question?"
"Why did you save Han's life?"
Corran shifted on his feet and seemed uncomfortable. "I wanted to get Solo for years. It seemed to me that he was single-handedly giving all Corellians a bad reputation. But I wanted to arrest him, and have him stand trial, even if I did admire his father." He looked directly at Skywalker. "I wouldn't have cared if the justice system gave him hard labor for life. But then I stood there and watched as Captain Jenkins beat Solo nearly to death and I didn't stop him. That was bad enough. There was no way I could have lived with myself if Jenkins murdered your friend."
"Thank you," Luke said quietly. "You did the right thing, Lieutenant."
The young Jedi smiled. "Corran. I hope we can be friends, too. Believe it or not, once you get to know Han, you might even start liking him."
Horn laughed. "Don't hold your breath, Luke."
Eight hours later, Han decided his words were going to come back and haunt him. Never, in his entire life, had he been so ill. He could not sit still, and no position he put his body into relieved the agony of the muscle cramps, and the hypersensitive nerve endings. Soaked with sweat, he lay curled on the floor in the corner of his cabin, shivering violently and retching slime from his sore stomach.
His friends felt helpless. Indeed, there was nothing anyone could do to make Han feel better. Threepio and Artoo had researched the effects of this spice, and found that intense withdrawal could last up to three days. It would be another two or three weeks beyond that before Han stopped having cravings for the spice, the protocol droid had informed Solo's worried friends. Although they would be back at base tomorrow, even the doctors would not be able to help Han with his battle.
Horn guarded Reginald, with Chewie and Luke relieving him to help watch the prisoner. This left mostly Leia to take care of Han, but she didn't complain. She cooled Han's face and torso with water, and held a pan when he felt the need to heave. Leia knew Han was humiliated during these episodes. He barely spoke a word to her, other than to thank her when she helped him or gave him sips of water.
Leia drew up her knees where she sat on the floor next to Han and put her hand on Solo's hot forehead. "Han, are you sure you wouldn't be more comfortable in bed?" she asked softly. "This floor is so cold and hard."
"I wish I could just die," he mumbled, not opening his eyes.
"You are not going to die," Leia snapped, her worry coming out as anger. "Don't say that!"
Forcing his eyes open, Han looked up at the Princess. "Would you care if I did die, your worshipfulness?" he managed to croak out.
I'm not sure I could handle it if you died, flyboy, she thought, her heart racing in fear at the idea. "Of course I would care. Chewie would be devastated, not to mention the Alliance would have a hard time replacing you."
"Ah. The Alliance," Han groused, and shut his eyes. "Nice to know you care, though," he added sarcastically.
"Let me help you get into bed, okay?" Leia tried again. Why did I even mention the Alliance? What is wrong with me? He doesn't want to hear that right now. She reached over and gently took his arm, gratified when he weakly pushed himself into a seated position.
"I can't tell you how many times I wanted to hear that sentence from you, sweetheart." Han tried to leer at her, but with his swollen face, the attempt failed miserably.
He was too sick to get angry at, so Leia just smiled and helped him to his feet. "Well," she grinned at him slyly, "maybe you'll hear that sentence from me again.... the next time you're sick." She was pleased when he actually laughed.
Rebel base on Tilobe, two days later.
The Millennium Falcon set down with Luke and Chewie at the controls. Corran sat behind Luke, pointing a blaster at Reginald. Several times during the past two days, with Han moaning in terrible agony, Luke had to physically put himself between the enraged Wookiee and Reginald. Neither Luke nor Leia would have been too upset if Chewie had actually gotten his claws around Reg's throat, however. It was impossible to watch and listen to their friend and not wish Reg a truly terrible fate.
By the end of the second day the symptoms began easing, allowing the exhausted smuggler a chance to rest. Leia sat watching as Han slept, loath to wake him. But he needed to get checked out in the medical ward, so she gently shook his upper arm. "Han? Wake up."
"Humm?" Han opened his eyes, feeling groggy and disoriented. "Where are we?"
"Back on Tilobe," Leia answered. "How are you feeling?"
He shut his eyes for a brief moment, assessing himself. "A little better. I don't ache so much anymore. And I don't feel as nauseated."
Leia laughed. "Well, I'm certainly glad to hear that! Do you want me to call for a stretcher, or do you think you can walk to the medical ward?"
Solo pushed himself into a sitting position. "Do I have to go to the medcenter? I'm feeling a lot better and I don't think there's a thing they can do for me."
The Princess put her hands on her hips, and plastered on a stern expression. "Yes, flyboy, you have to go see a doctor. No arguments, and no whining. I mean it."
"You're getting bossy again," Han sniffed. "Besides you can't make me."
"Chewie can make you," Leia shot back, getting truly annoyed. No sooner does he start feeling better, and here we go - arguing again!
"Fine," Han returned angrily. "I'll go, but I'm walking." He stood up slowly to keep the room from spinning, and peeled off his under shirt and tossed it on the cot. "Are you leaving, or do you want to watch me strip naked?"
The Princess's eyes got wide. She spun around and stalked out of the room. "Laserbrains," Leia huffed under her breath.
The better part of the day was spent with debriefings and meetings. General Madine was annoyed that Reginald had turned out to be a liar and a traitor, and he had snidely remarked, "Well, I guess we shouldn't be too surprised, especially once we found out he was Solo's brother." The comment had angered Luke and Leia, but neither was surprised. "He was the one who invited Reg here, Leia. So he has to make some excuse to cover his own backside," Luke had told the Princess in private.
Leia was forced to spend much more time in meetings than Luke. Once he was dismissed from his debriefing, Luke headed for Han's hospital room. Solo sat in a chair, his feet propped casually on the bed, with Chewie busily eating the food Han had rejected.
"Hi," Luke grinned as he entered the room. "How are you feeling?"
Luke plopped down on the empty bed. "I think Corran's going to be a real good addition to our ranks. He's a great pilot, and knows a lot about the inside workings of the Empire. Wedge is real excited that he's hooking up with us."
"Good for him."
"Do you hate Corran?" Luke asked worriedly. The last thing he wanted was for Han to decide to leave because a former CorSec officer was joining the rebellion.
"What's the problem?"
Solo abruptly stood up and started pacing. "I feel like ... I'm crawling outta my own skin, kid. I can't stop thinking about..," Han hesitated. "Spice. I crave spice. I hate myself for feeling this way. It makes me feel weak."
"Threepio said it was going to take weeks before you were over this," Luke said calmly. "You're not weak, Han. I don't see you jumping in the Falcon and taking off for Nal Hutta to buy drugs. You'll get over these cravings. Give it time." Luke paused for a moment, as if undecided how to ask this next question. But Luke felt compelled to ask - his curiosity about the Jedi and the Force was far too strong. "Han?"
"Did you know your uncle was a Jedi?"
Han laughed. "Yeah, my father told me about my uncle when I was a little kid. He died right before I was born so I never met the guy. Apparently he got himself killed on account of the fact he was a Jedi, too. I told you not to buy into all the Force stuff, Luke. Nothing controls your destiny but you, especially not some mystic energy field."
"The Force is more than just an energy field, Han. And the Force doesn't control, it helps guide. Maybe you're Force-sensitive, too, and you've just been ignoring it all these years. There has to be some explanation for your incredible 'luck'."
Han sighed and rolled his eyes. "I make my own luck, and there's not the slightest chance I'm Force-sensitive, kid. I told you years ago the only thing controlling my destiny was me. I meant it then and I mean it now." Solo was about to sit back down in the chair when Corran Horn burst into the room.
"Reginald!" Horn gasped for breath.
"What about him?" Luke jumped off the bed.
"He pretended to be choking on his food, and when the guard opened the cell door, Reg jumped him. He's hiding somewhere on base, and he has a blaster!"
Han reached for his gun belt that was draped over the side of the chair and started to put it around his hips.
"What do you think you're doing?" Luke asked his friend.
"What do you think I'm doing?" Han returned, annoyed. "I'm gonna help find him."
"The doctors haven't released you," the Jedi tried to argue.
"Reg is my brother," Han snapped back. "And I really don't care what the doctors say."
"Solo, you still haven't recovered from the spice," Corran put in quietly. "Everyone on the base is starting to look for Reg. One more person isn't going to help much."
*Two,* Chewie inserted. *If Han looks, I look.*
Han grinned up at his long-time partner. "Thanks, pal. I know I can always count on you."
"Fine," Luke sighed in defeat. If Chewie wouldn't back him, Luke knew arguing with the stubborn Corellian would be a waste of breath. "Since he can't leave these tunnels, I would guess he's going to try and steal a ship eventually. We just have to find him before he does."
"My thoughts exactly," Han agreed with a nod. "Let's go."
The Princess was seething with anger as she stalked down a deserted hallway. She could hardly believe the guard had fallen for such an obvious ploy, but sometimes the rebels paid a very high price for the inexperienced people that made up a large portion of their ranks, and this was one of those occasions. If Reg managed to escape from the base, the rebellion would have to immediately evacuate, since Leia was certain Reginald would contact the Imperials again.
Her comlink buzzed and she stopped walking and opened the channel. "Yes?"
"Leia? It's Luke. I'm with Corran and Wedge. We're organizing a section by section search, but Han and Chewie have already headed out into the tunnels."
"What?" Leia snapped out. "Solo is supposed to be resting in the medical ward! What in the stars does he think he's doing?"
"We're talking about Han here, right?" Luke returned dryly.
"Of course. Whatever was I thinking?" she sighed. "I'm heading for the hangers to make sure the guards have secured the area. I'll talk to you later." She turned off the comlink and was in the process of putting it on her belt when a blaster barrel was rammed painfully into her ribcage.
"What a coincidence, Beautiful. I was just heading for the hanger myself."
"You'll never get away with this!" Leia snapped at the desperate man.
"I've got nothing to lose, Princess, and if I die I'm taking you down with me," Reg returned,wrapping his strong forearm around her neck. "I might not have succeeded in destroying my idiot brother, but I see the way he looks at you. He's in love with you, and killing you would be almost as good as killing him."
"You're a fool," Leia said in a choked whisper. "Solo doesn't love me!" Does he? "You can't even fly a ship!"
Reg pushed the Princess forward. "That's where you come in, Beautiful. Not only will your people not stand in my way, Solo will take me in his ship wherever I want to go - as long as I'm pointing a blaster at you. And the blaster is not set on stun this time."
Leia did not doubt for a second that this was the one time Reginald Sollon was actually telling the truth.
"I know Reg," Han told Chewie as they jogged through the stone corridors. "He may be the most underhanded slimeball in the galaxy, but he ain't stupid. He'll head for the hangers 'cuz he knows it's his only way outta here."
*He doesn't know how to fly,* Chewie pointed out.
That comment brought Han up short. He held out his hand and stopped the Wookiee from continuing. "That means..."
"He's gonna need a pilot," Han looked up at his friend. "And the only way he's going to get a pilot is to force someone at blaster point."
*Then he will have a hostage,* Chewie nodded, understanding. The situation was going to turn ugly if they couldn't find Reg before this happened.
The Wookiee and the smuggler continued to run toward the hangers.
Luke carefully checked around a darkened corner, while Wedge and Corran covered him. "It's clear," Luke called over to the two men. Pointing their lightbeams, the three started to work their way deeper into the unused portion of the tunnels when the Jedi suddenly stopped. The hangers. Go back to the hangers. "Wedge, I need to check something out," Luke murmured. "Will you and Corran care if I head a different direction?"
"By yourself?" Wedge asked, worried about the young man.
"I'll be okay, Wedge. You and Corran just be careful," Luke replied and took off at a fast run back the direction they had just come from.
"Does he do that a lot?" Corran wondered, amused.
"Way too much," Wedge replied with a sigh.
Reg pushed Leia into the hanger, holding her tight and keeping the blaster leveled at her temple. He glared as the many Alliance personnel turned around in shock to face the escapee and the Princess. "Tell them to leave! Now!" he snarled into her ear. "I'll start shooting people if you don't do as I say."
Keeping her voice calm, Leia said loudly to the assembled men and women, "Everybody clear the hanger. That's an order."
The people exchanged nervous glances at each other before Reginald yelled, "Now!" They backed away carefully and slowly, not wanting to turn their backs on the man. Soon the hanger appeared to be empty, and Reg grinned at his hostage. "Good Princess. Now let's head for your boyfriend's ship. I'm sure he'll be along shortly." He forced Leia to head toward the old freighter at the far end of the hanger, his eyes darting back and forth. Leia could sense both fear and rage coming from his trembling body as he held her tightly against his chest.
They had almost made it to the Falcon, when Han stepped out from behind the lowered ramp, his blaster in his holster. "This has gone on long enough, Reg."
The Princess felt Reg give a slight jump, and then he tightened his hold on her neck. "Just the man I expected to see," he sneered. "You never get tired of playing hero, do you,brother?"
"Let her go, Reg."
"If I let her go, I won't have any way to make you cooperate, will I?"
"I'll take you where you want to go. Just let her go."
Reg pressed his lips against Leia's cheek. "I told you he was in love with you, didn't I?" he snickered quietly. Louder, he addressed Han. "Tell her, brother."
"Tell her what?" Han asked tightly. Reg had never seemed too stable to Han in the past - now it seemed he had completely spaced out.
"Tell her you love her. I want you to say that, yell it in fact, so all your rebel friends can hear you."
"You've lost your mind, Reg," Han snapped back.
"Say it, brother," he returned, grinning as he tightened his arm around Leia's neck, forcing her off her feet.
Han watched in alarm as Leia started gasping for air. "Put her down! I'll say it."
"Then say it, or watch her choke."
"I love you, Leia," Han said quietly, staring at his brother.
"Louder! Your rebel friends can't hear you if you whisper!" Reg screamed, his face turning red with rage.
"I love you, Leia!" Han shouted at the top of his lungs. The words echoed off the stone walls, as if Han's own voice were mocking him. He felt sick to hear those words forced from his mouth - words that he knew, deep inside, he truly meant but would never be able to bring himself to say privately to the Princess for fear of rejection. Solo also knew that this was exactly the kind of thing Reg would do to try and destroy any chance Han would have with Leia, and he felt his own rage growing by the second.
Leia's heart was pounding in fear and anger. She listened as Reg forced Han to say words he did not mean, cringing inside. No, not like this, her thoughts screamed. Then, What? What do I mean, not like this? She felt confused and torn by conflicting emotions.
"Did you hear that, Princess? My worthless brother loves you!" He laughed hysterically, then glared at Solo. "Get inside the ship, Han. You're flying me out of here. And throw your blaster on the ground. You won't be needing it anymore."
Carefully, Han withdrew his blaster and placed it on the ground. Reginald stared at Han, but never took his blaster from the Princess's temple. Slowly Han stood up, putting his hands above his head. "You win, Reg," Han said softly.
"I always win, Han. When are you going to realize that?" Reg taunted. "Get in the ship."
The pilot exchanged a worried look with the Princess and started to move onto the ramp. A loud crash echoed in the hanger. Reg spun Leia around trying to determine where the sound came from, and for a brief second the blaster was not pointed at her head. Leia threw her entire weight to one side, pushing away from Reg. At the same moment, Han launched himself at his brother's back, and the two men went down in a tangle of limbs. Reginald twisted around, refusing to relinquish his grasp on the blaster. Han grabbed his brother's wrist, desperately trying to keep the weapon's barrel from being pointed at his chest.
The flash of blaster fire flared out.
Princess Leia Organa stood completely still, holding Han's DL-44 blaster in both her hands. Reginald Sollon lay on his back, his lifeless eyes staring up at the stone ceiling. I've killed Han's brother, she thought in shock as Luke and Chewie ran up from behind the Falcon, where they had been hiding, waiting for the opportunity to stop Reginald.
"Leia, Han! Are you all right?" Luke shouted out. "One of the mechanics didn't get out of the hanger in time, and he tripped over a toolbox trying to hide!" the young Jedi explained as he rushed up beside Leia. Luke's eyes followed where Leia was staring, and he watched as Han gathered his brother up in his arms.
"Reg," Han whispered to his still brother.
"Han, I'm so sorry," Leia said softly as she walked up to the kneeling smuggler.
"It wasn't your fault," he said so quietly she could barely make out his words. Han stood up, placing Reg carefully on the ground. Turning he faced his friends. "I ... I can't explain this, but he was still my little brother. No matter what he did, he was still my little brother." He began walking slowly up the ramp of the Falcon.
"Han?" Luke called out. "Where are you going?"
The Corellian stopped but did not turn around. "I need some time alone. Okay?" He continued onto his ship.
Three days later.
Princess Leia stood at the ramp of the Falcon, hesitant to enter the ship. Leia knew if she had stood by and done nothing, it was possible that Han could have ended up dead, but that did not stop her from feeling badly about having killed Han's brother. Solo was right - despite everything, Reg was his family. Han had not left his ship since his brother died, and he had spoken only through Chewie, giving instructions to cremate Reg. This was why Leia was now standing by the Falcon, holding a box that contained Reginald Sollon's ashes.
Chewie appeared at the top of the ramp, and motioned her to enter. Taking a deep breath, she walked up and stopped in front of the Wookiee. "How's Han doing?" she asked. She had been worried about the smuggler, not only because of his brother's death, but the fact that he was still dealing with spice cravings.
The Wookiee nodded and indicated Han was in the ship's hold. When Leia headed that direction, Chewie discreetly left the ship.
Han was sitting in the chair at the control panel, cleaning his blaster with an oily cloth. "Han?" the Princess said,uncertain of his reaction to her presence.
He spun the chair around to face her, but did not speak. "How are you feeling?" she asked carefully.
"I'm okay," he replied slowly. "The cravings are getting less intense. Can't say they're gone yet, unfortunately."
She nodded, and then placed the box on the game table. "I've brought you... the ashes."
"Thanks. Someday, when circumstances change, I'll have to take him home. I'm not looking forward to that," he sighed. "Reg was always Mother's favorite. She's gonna blame me until she dies."
Leia sat down on the bench. "It wasn't your fault. I'll go with you and explain that, if you want me to."
"Won't matter," he replied with a shake of his head. "They won't believe you."
"Your father will believe you," she leaned toward Han. "I didn't get a chance before to tell you what he told me. Your father said to tell you he was sorry, and that he loves you."
Han looked away, embarrassed. "People can't help how they are. I never hated my parents and I guess I never really hated Reg, either. I just wish things could've been different, you know?"
"Leia?" Han turned his face away, trying to think of a way to say this without sounding uncaring.
"I, um, about what Reg made me say..." Han mumbled, looking down at the floor. "I ... I consider you a friend and all..."
Leia felt her heart drop. "Han, I understand. Really. You just said what you needed to in order to save my life. And I consider you a friend, too."
He looked up and gave her a lopsided smile. "But that doesn't mean we can't be really, really good friends," he winked at her. "If ya know what I mean."
The Princess blushed and stood up. He just can't leave things well enough alone. "Goodnight, Captain Hannibal Laserbrains." She glared at Solo and stalked away, listening as Han gave a snort of laughter and then he shouted after her, "Don't call me Hannibal!" When she was well off the Falcon, Leia started to smile, and as her smile grew wider she found herself laughing as well.