The jungles of the moon of Yavin were hot and sticky, the humid air was repressing even to the hardiest of Jedi students and teachers. After nearly a three hour jog, Mara Jade-Skywalker was ready to call it a day. She entered the much cooler air of the stone temple, and then headed over to her two-year-old daughter, gathering her up into her arms and covering her with kisses as the girl giggled and squirmed. "Have you been a good girl, my little monster?" Mara asked, looking over at the Jedi student that had been caring for her daughter while she was out.
"She was very well behaved," the young Padawan answered Jade.
The little girl nodded earnestly in agreement. "See, momma? I made you a pitcher." She pointed to a flimsy covered in a mess of glue and colored bits of paper.
Mara picked it up and grinned. Her daughter loved to draw and create various works of 'art'. "Very good. We'll put it up on the wall, with all the others. In the meantime, I think you'd better clean up that big mess." She put her child down, watching as the little girl brushed up her table and carefully put the lids back on containers.
"She'll be old enough to start preliminary training soon," Luke said from behind his wife.
The red-head turned to face her husband. "Do you really think so?"
"Of course. The sooner the better." When he saw the hesitation in Mara's eyes, he frowned. "What's the matter? You don't agree?"
"No, I agree." She shook her head. "It's just that...."
"Your niece and nephews are much older than our child. Don't you think you should start their training as well?"
Luke looked away, unable to meet his wife's eyes. "I know. I know."
"But you can't bring yourself to ask?"
"I can't take them away. They're all he has left."
Mara shut her eyes, sensing the familiar, intense grief that always swept through Luke whenever he thought about his sister. His feelings were so strong that sometimes it even overwhelmed Mara. She remembered seeing the holo-recordings of the dedication of the Kashyyyk Embassy, and the explosion that killed so many members of the New Republic Senate - as well as President Organa-Solo and Chewbacca, the heroic Wookiee that had been Luke's close friend. Han Solo had survived only because he was standing further back during the initial blast. Their three young children had been home with Leia's friend and aide, Winter, so they had been unharmed.
After Solo's lengthy recovery, and the many public memorials to the victims, Solo had taken his children and fled Coruscant, retreating with his guilt and his grief to an agricultural system in the Corporate Sector. There, he had purchased a small house with the compensation the New Republic offered him, and he had tried to create a new life for his children.
Luke and Mara had visited Han, Jacen, Jaina and Anakin several times during the past five years, but they had never lingered very long. Han had been polite, but very distant from Luke during those trips, and soon the Jedi had felt he was somehow interfering... and unwelcome.
"They're too strong in the Force to just ignore their training, Luke," Mara persisted gently.
"Last time we were there, I hinted at starting their training," Luke murmured softly. "I could sense Han's hostility, even though he tried to hide it. He just changed the subject." Luke sighed, and shook his head. "I can't push this. Try to understand."
"I do understand."
"I wish I did," Luke added sadly. "I should have sensed she was in danger..."
"Luke, you weren't even on Coruscant at the time," Mara shot back, growing weary of the same old argument. "You could not have known."
"She was my twin. I didn't even feel her death."
Mara opened her mouth to speak, and then quickly shut it. Again, it was more of the same. After five years, Mara had finally concluded that only Luke could come to terms with his sister's death, and in his own time.
Leia's body had never been found, not even a trace of material, blood or DNA. Everyone else on that platform had been accounted for, even Chewie's mangled and twisted body, and he had been standing next to the President during the explosion. Eyewitnesses had insisted that the Wookiee had seen the detonator before it went off, and had thrown the President off the platform. But the holo-recordings could not confirm this - they had only shown Chewbacca moving to intercept the bomb, and then chaos. The experts finally decided that Leia must have been standing directly on the bomb, and thus her body had been obliterated. If Luke had not felt her death, perhaps that was a mercy, for it could only mean she had died instantly, and not have felt any fear or pain.
"Momma...." Little Leia tugged at Mara's hand. "I'm done cleaning."
"Yes, you are, sweetheart." The ex-assassin bent over and embraced her child tightly. You could never tell when the moment you were living in would be your last.
Sitting nervously on a chair that was meant for a five-year old, Han looked over at the tall, thin teacher. She smiled briefly as she sat down at her desk. "I'm truly sorry, Captain," she began her prepared speech. "I realize raising three children all alone must be difficult. But Anakin is out of control in this classroom."
"What's he done now?" Han said, groaning inwardly. Of the three children, Anakin, now six, was the main mischief maker.
Jacen was exactly the opposite - he was so obedient, it sometimes worried Han. Perhaps the elder boy sensed how distraught his father had been after Leia's death, and had decided to become the model child for fear of losing his father. The twins were three years old when Leia died, and they remembered their mother, unlike Anakin, who'd only been a year old when the tragedy had occurred. And although Anakin was a handful, it was Jaina that worried Han the most. She missed her mother deeply, even more so than Jacen. Perhaps because she needed a woman in her life. Jaina's reaction to her mother's murder had been to withdraw from everyone in the beginning stages of her grief. Then she had turned to displays of anger and temper, getting in frequent fights with her brothers. Sometimes she even broke their toys out of revenge or spite. It worried Han to the point he had tried to take her to see a therapist, to no avail. The problems not only remained, they seemed to get worse with outside interference.
"The other children all love Anakin," Mrs. Starshine continued gently. "He's very popular with everyone in the class. Unfortunately, he's also disruptive. Today, for instance, he used his special... powers to levitate one of the boys to the ceiling."
Han sighed, and rubbed his tired eyes. He had tried, repeatedly, to lecture his children on never, ever using the Force. Not at home, and especially not in school. Apparently, his lecturing had fallen on three sets of very deaf ears. He knew his children used their powers behind his back at home, but using them in public was a far greater offense. "Did he say why he did it?"
"The boy was teasing one of the little girls in the classroom. I think Anakin likes her."
That comment made Han open his eyes wide, and stare at the older woman in disbelief. "He's six. He can't be thinking about girls!"
Mrs. Starshine gave a wan smile. "You'd be surprised, Captain."
"I'll talk to him - again."
"That would be a good start."
"A start? What else do you want me to do?" Han's voice rose in panic. "You can't be thinking of kicking him out of school!"
"Of course not. I just think, perhaps, that all three of your children would benefit from special schooling. One that helps them not only with basic learning skills, but teaches them about their powers. Doesn't your brother-in-law have something like that?"
Han stood up quickly, sending the tiny chair skidding out from behind his feet. "I'm not sending my children away," he snarled at the teacher. "If you can't handle Anakin, maybe the problem is with you. Did you ever think about that? Maybe I should complain about you, to your supervisor."
"I don't think the problem lies with me, Captain," she replied calmly. "I know Mr. Tracely is having difficulties with Jaina in his classroom."
"He's never said anything to me!"
"Mr. Tracely has been trying to deal with Jaina's problems on his own."
Mrs. Starshine hesitated. "She's violent toward the other children. And she steals."
"Yes, I'm sorry to report this to you, but it's true. And if she's caught, she breaks into tears and makes promises that she won't do it again. Only, she does."
Shocked, Han wandered over to the large window, and looked out at the children playing in the grass. It was far from the first time since Leia's death that he felt overwhelmed by being a single father. He thought about Luke, whom he hadn't seen in over six months. My fault... again. Han knew he'd deliberately pushed his friend away after Leia and Chewie's deaths.
Han had told himself it was too painful to see Luke, and that he was nothing more than a reminder of what he'd lost. But that wasn't exactly true. The children were a daily reminder of Leia, and yet Han had not been able to let them out of his sight. When the time came, even leaving them at school had taken all his willpower. No... Luke was a different problem. He was a reminder of how much Han lacked as the father to three Force-strong children. If Luke took them away, he'd lose his children forever. They would see what a useless man their father was, and how much better at everything Luke was. Luke would take his place as their father, and Han would be left with no one. Luke was a Jedi Master - someone Han could not compete with, even on his best days. And since Leia died, his 'best' days were behind him, and only the thought of his children forced him out of bed in the morning.
"I'm sorry," he whispered aloud. "I'll talk to Jaina, too." He could see Mrs. Starshine's reflection in the window, her face sympathetic. Han Solo hated sympathy.
Anakin looked worriedly at the sturdy school building. "Do you think I'm in trouble?"
Jaina giggled, and gave her little brother a shove. "Of course you are. Dad's gonna be so mad at you for levitating that boy!" She looked down at Jacen, who was poking a beetle with a stick. "Don't you think Anakin's in big trouble?"
"I dunno," Jacen replied with a shrug. He tried to stay out of these fights, since he had enough of his own problems with Jaina.
"What do you think dad'll do to me?" Anakin asked his sister.
"Probably feed you bugs for dinner.... Jacen's bugs!"
Jacen looked up sharply, not even noticing Anakin's lower lip begin to tremble in fear. "He will not!"
"Yes, he will! Bug stew for a week! That's what'll happen when you get home, little brother."
"Dad will not kill my bugs!" Jacen cried out, clambering to his feet. "I won't let him."
"Like you'll have any choice," Jaina said with a smirk. Anakin started crying, and Jaina turned her teasing up a notch. "Then he'll make you drink mud water, to wash those bugs down. Bugs and mud go together, you know."
"I don't want to eat bugs!"
"Kids!" Han's voice called out as he approached them in long strides. "Time to go home."
"Dad, Jaina says you're gonna make me eat bugs."
Han sighed and looked over at his daughter, who had the grace to look slightly embarrassed. "Why would you tell Anakin that?"
"Cuz he's in trouble?"
"So are you, young lady, and I think you know why."
Young lady. Dad never called her that unless he was angry. "I didn't do anything," Jaina protested, deciding to take the offensive. "It wasn't my teacher that made you come all the way down to the school."
"We're not discussing this now, Jaina. But we're all having a nice long chat as soon as we get home."
"All?" Jacen protested. "I didn't do anything! Really!"
Han put his hand on Jacen's shoulder. "Not you, kiddo. You're not my problem." He herded his children toward the hovercraft, wondering how in the galaxy he was going to make them behave. Although he didn't have the Force abilities of his children, Han knew he had been less than a model of good behavior as a boy. But his childhood was far different than his own children's, so they could hardly be compared. Han knew he'd spent the past five years desperately trying to make up for the loss of their mother, and to give his children the love and stability he'd never had. And still, he felt like a complete failure.
No one noticed the silent, ghostly apparition standing in the trees at the edge of the playground, watching the family as they headed to the vehicle.
Over the green and blue system of Paricellan, the agricultural world Han had chosen as his new home, Luke adjusted the controls of his wife's ship, the Jade's Fire. He looked over at Mara, busy at her own controls. "We've been given landing clearance," Luke informed her.
"Good." She turned and smiled. "In a few hours, we'll be seeing your family. I know you've missed them."
"They're your family, too," Luke pointed out.
"True," she said, nodding in agreement.
Luke turned to her. "I still can't push this, Mara."
"Luke, be reasonable. They need training. You know they need training. You have to push this, or we could all be sorry years down the road." When Luke turned his attention back to the approaching system without speaking, Mara continued, more gently. "I'm not suggesting you try to take them away. Maybe we could just start their training right here for a few weeks, and when Han sees how well it's going, we'll move them to Yavin. All of them, including Han."
"He would feel uncomfortable on Yavin," Luke replied quietly.
"Why? Because he's not a Jedi? That's stupid, Luke. He's part of this family, and I just don't see what possible difference it makes if he's the only non-Jedi on Yavin. It's not like anyone is going to tease him about it. It doesn't matter."
"No, not to us, it doesn't. You just don't know Han like I do. He'll think I'm replacing him as his children's father."
Mara felt like pounding the control panel, but wisely refrained. "You're their uncle! Han will still be their father."
"I know that."
"You need to reassure him you won't undermine his authority," Mara said firmly. "Tell him that nothing will be done without his approval, and that you'll back him up when he needs to discipline his kids, and not make different suggestions. At least not in front of the children."
Luke sighed. He felt like he was in a losing situation from all fronts. "I'll try, Mara."
She smiled. "There is no try, Skywalker."
It had been a long evening, with many tears and promises to behave. Han wished he could believe them; after all, they were his kids, and a father should believe his own kids. When he considered it, maybe the problem was that they were his kids - as much Solo as Skywalker. Not exactly the best combination for obedient and polite behavior.
He put the last of the supper dishes in the recycler, and wiped down the tabletop. Although it was still early, Han was bone-tired. He turned to head to his own bedroom, and stopped short, deciding to watch the evening holo-news instead. He sank down into the sofa, and flipped on the unit, watched in boredom as the local newscast discussed recent weather and crop forecasts. Then another man discussed the local school sports teams, a cause of great pride in this small town. It could have been last year's news for all the interest it held for Han.
His mind wandered to the past, and he realized, with deep regret, that he missed having adult friendships. Here, miles away from the nearest neighbor, he was isolated and alone with his children. At least the kids got out on a daily basis and interacted with other people. Han was totally alone, and lonely. And it was all of his own making. He could have chosen to remain on Coruscant, and continued to make a contribution to the government that Leia founded and was so proud of. She would have wanted that. And Chewie would be furious that Han had pushed away all his friends and family.
The highlights of Han's days were shopping for food and helping his kids with their homework. He'd considered hiring a sitter and going out to the local sporting events and concerts in an attempt to make a friendship. After five years, he even started to look at other women, and they had looked back. But something always held him back from asking for a date. Jaina would feel betrayed... Anakin had a part in a school play ... Jacen needed help with a science project ... It was always something.
Han jerked awake, rubbing his stiff neck. He'd fallen asleep watching the holo-news, and not for the first time. "What are you doing up so late, Anakin?"
"I'm thirsty... I need a drink."
"Alright," Han said, dragging himself off the sofa. "Come on, squirt."
Anakin followed his father into the kitchen, watching as Han poured him a glass of water. "Dad?"
"Grampa asked me to tell you something."
"Yeah, I see Grampa Skywalker sometimes. But this is the first time he's talked to me."
Grampa Skywalker? Han felt his heart drop. "What does this person look like?"
"Just an old guy. Tall and shiny. He's nice."
Nice. Oh, sure. "Shiny?"
"You know... shiny. Like Uncle Luke when he calls on the holocomm projector."
"What did he want you to tell me?"
"That Uncle Luke was coming," Anakin said, breaking into a grin. "And that you're supposed to listen to him and not be stubborn."
Han gave a grunt and shook his head. If someone had to come back from the grave and give him orders, why couldn't it be Leia or Chewie? No, only Han's family was lucky enough to get otherworldly visits from reformed Sith Lords.
The sound of his kids tearing around the living room woke him up. Instantly, he remembered the conversation with Anakin about his grandfather.
The door buzzer sounded, and Han quickly sat up, wondering who was visiting so early. "Don't answer that...." Han yelled out to his kids, trying to remind them of yet another rule: Always let Dad answer the door.
"Uncle Luke! Aunt Mara!" Jaina's excited cries carried into Han's bedroom as he reached for his robe. So much for that rule. Didn't they ever listen to anything he said?
Han stumbled out of his room, rubbing his eyes. So it was Luke after all. Unable to help himself Han glanced around, looking for the ghost of Anakin Skywalker. Nothing was there, of course, and Han felt a sense of the absurd. Maybe Anakin had been dreaming, and Luke being here was just a coincidence.
"I was right, dad!" Anakin yelled out. "Uncle Luke, Aunt Mara and cousin Leia did come."
Again, the pang at even the mention of her name. "I see," Han replied carefully, looking at the little girl in Luke's arms, struggling to get down and play with her older cousins. With reddish-blonde hair and blue eyes, she didn't resemble his Leia in the slightest, but Han still found himself wishing Luke would have chosen a different name for his first-born.
"Sorry for coming over so early," Luke said cautiously. "We actually got here late last night, but it was so late."
"And we didn't want to wake the kids and get them all wound up," Mara continued hurriedly. "So, anyway, here we are. Surprised?"
"No?" Luke asked, raising his eyebrows. "Don't tell me you're getting 'feelings', too."
Han forced himself to smile. "No, I'm not."
"I told him you were coming!" Anakin said proudly.
"How would you know?" Jaina shot back to her little brother.
Anakin opened his mouth and was about to argue, when Han interrupted. "Go get ready for breakfast, kids." He turned to Luke. "Have you had breakfast, yet? I've gotta make the kids some, and they've got to get ready for school."
"Awwww, dad!" Jacen protested. "Uncle Luke's here! Do we have to go today?"
"It's just one day," Jaina added. "We hardly ever miss. Please?"
"Yes, you are going to school," Han said firmly, shaking his head. Just what he needed, more disruptions in his life.
"Listen," Mara said, smiling down at the eager children. "I promise we'll be here when you get home, and we adults have some important things to discuss today. School is too important to miss." She looked at Han. "I'll get them ready while you and Luke make breakfast. How does that sound?"
Han's eyes narrowed suspiciously at the over-friendly attitude of his sister-in-law. Something was up, and it wasn't like her to be so maternal, especially with his kids. Han turned his attention to Luke as they walked to the kitchen. "Something to discuss, huh? This sounds like something I'm not gonna like."
Remembering his son's words from his grandfather,"you're supposed to listen to him and not be stubborn", Han decided he would be damned if he'd listen to the advice of the ghost of Darth Vader.
Sitting at the breakfast table, Luke looked fondly at his niece and nephews as they finished up their food. "So, what have you kids been up to lately?"
"Anakin got in big trouble yesterday," Jaina replied, stuffing a big piece of bread in her mouth.
"You did too!" Anakin yelled back.
"No shouting at the table," Han said sternly as he poured Jacen a second glass of milk. "And don't talk with your mouth full, Jaina."
Mara shot Luke a concerned look across the table. "What kind of trouble?"
"It was nothing," Han replied shortly, wanting to change the subject.
"He levitated a boy all the way to the ceiling," Jaina answered, giggling.
"Really?" Mara asked, raising an eyebrow. "And how did you figure out how to do that?"
"I'm smart," Anakin replied proudly.
"That wasn't smart... that was stupid!" Jaina said smugly.
"Dad! Jaina called me stupid!"
"Your brother isn't stupid," Luke told his niece gently, jumping slightly as Han slammed the milk container down hard enough to slosh the liquid over the top.
Glaring at Luke, Han addressed his children, "Get your books and coats. I'm taking you to school. Now."
For a change the children obeyed without protesting, perhaps sensing their father's growing anger. "I can take them, Han," Mara volunteered. "Luke would like to talk to you."
Han turned his focus to Mara, speaking slowly, "I can take my own kids to school. I manage to do it every morning. Without assistance."
"Han, please," Luke said softly. "Mara only wants to help out."
"I don't need help." He turned and headed out the front door, his three children following quietly behind.
After the door shut, Mara turned to her husband. "That went well."
When Han returned, the house was very quiet. Luke was sitting on the sofa in the living area, watching a holo-show with the sound turned off. "Are you practicing lip reading?" Han muttered as he tossed his jacket aside.
Luke flicked off the unit. "No. I'm waiting for you."
"Where are Mara and... your daughter?"
"Her name's Leia," Luke said, standing up and facing his brother-in-law. "You never call her by her name."
"She sure has gotten big since the last time I saw her."
"Don't change the subject. You're good at that."
"At least you think I'm good at something."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Luke asked, keeping his voice even.
"You want to take my kids away from me. You think I'm a lousy father. Admit it."
Luke shook his head. "No, Han. I don't think you're a lousy father. You're raising the children to the best of your abilities, under very difficult circumstances." More difficult than they'd have to be, Luke thought, but didn't say.
"The best of my abilities," Han repeated. "I'm sure you don't think much of those abilities."
"I didn't say that. Don't put words in my mouth."
"Why are you here?" Han snapped. "Mara said you wanted to discuss something with me."
"Actually," Mara responded from the doorway, returning from a short walk outside with Leia. "We do have something important to discuss with you." She entered the room, placing her daughter on the floor. It looked fairly clean, considering that three children ran in and out constantly, and there were few hazards in the room. Mara had noted how spartan Han had kept the house. No knickknacks or vases or books. No pictures on the walls. Just the bare essentials. Only the children's rooms had any personality, with the boys' room divided into two sections - a very neat, orderly half that was Jacen's, and a messy half that belonged to Anakin. A strip of white tape dissected the very center of the room. Apparently, it represented an invisible wall, and Anakin had informed Mara he wasn't allowed to cross over into Jacen's side, except to exit the door. Jaina had her own room, and it was filled with holos of starships and galaxies yet to be visited. She desperately wanted to become a pilot, just like her father.
"So, let's discuss it," Han said tightly, his fists clenched at his sides.
Luke took a deep breath. "Your kids are very Force-strong, Han. Whether you want it or not, they are. They need to be properly trained to handle those skills."
"Anakin can't be allowed to levitate kids to the ceiling," Mara added.
"Don't you think I know that?" Han shouted, making Leia whimper and move closer to her mother's side. He lowered his voice. "I lectured them last night."
"What, exactly, did Jaina do?" Mara questioned.
Han struggled with his anger, and his embarrassment over Jaina's problems. "I handled it, okay? They're my kids, not yours."
"Han," Luke tried again, "We know they're your kids. But they need special training that regular schools can't offer. Mara and I can train them in the ways of the Force, and we have tutors for learning other subjects on Yav-"
"NO!" The little girl started crying, and Mara picked her up, trying to calm her. Ignoring them, Han continued, "You're not taking my kids to Yavin!"
"You're being unreasonable," Mara said, sighing.
"Unreasonable?" Han could barely contain his rage. "You want to take my kids... the only thing I have left in this galaxy... away from me, and I'm being unreasonable? Would you like it if I came flying over to Yavin and told you that you're not raising Le... your daughter the way I see fit? And told you I wanted to take her to Paricellan?"
"That's not what we're suggesting...."
"It sure as hell is!"
"This is stupid, Solo," Mara snapped. "Would you let us finish?"
"You're finished!" he roared. "Get outta my house, and stay away from my family! I don't need you, and my kids sure as kreth don't need you!"
"Han..." Luke pleaded, not wanting to leave, especially with the situation worse now than ever.
"Go! I told you - " The holocomm unit sounded, and Han's eyes flicked over to the unit - it was the school calling. He hit the 'on' button, and snapped into the speaker, "Yes?"
"Captain Solo? This is Superintendent Juzuu. Can you come to the school immediately? There's been an accident."
Han felt lightheaded as he stared at the holocomm. "Accident? Are they hurt? What's the matter?"
"No one is hurt, Captain, but I'd really rather discuss this with you face to face," the Superintendent replied curtly.
"I'm on my way," Han said, cutting the connection. He felt Luke put a hand on his shoulder.
"I can tell through the Force that they're not injured," Luke said gently. "Will you let me drive you there? I'll stay out of the way, I promise."
"Sure," Han mumbled distractedly. He headed for the door, muttering to himself aloud, "How could they have gotten into trouble so fast? I just left them twenty minutes ago."
Mara watched Han leave the house. "I think maybe the Force is giving us one last chance to convince him. Goddess, that man is stubborn."
Luke laughed, and kissed his wife and daughter. "Han's the only person I've ever been tempted to use a little Force-choke hold on." When he saw Mara's look of mock horror, he grinned. "But only hard enough to shut him up so he listens to me - not cut off his oxygen." When she put her hands on her hips and glared, Luke held up both his hands. "I'm teasing!"
Mara gave her husband a swat on his rear. "You'd better hurry, or he'll leave without you."
While Luke drove, Han stewed in silence. The Jedi Master decided it would be a good idea to allow his brother-in-law a chance to cool down before trying to broach the subject of training the children again.
At the school, Han jumped out of the land speeder before Luke had a chance to cut off the engine. Quickly, he followed Han, determined to only be an observer during these proceedings. Luke noted the entire school was empty; the children were all outside, playing in the open field as teachers stood around watching. The door to the school stood wide open, and Han came to an abrupt halt at the entrance. Luke peered past Han into the hallway, noting the dripping ceiling and the hallways covered in white foam that ran down the sides, forming puddles on the drenched floor.
"As Threepio would say," Luke whispered in awe. "Oh, dear me."
"You don't think..." Han trailed off, sounding horrified.
"Do you know where the office is located?"
Han turned to Luke and gave a snort. "I think I've worn a track in the carpet, I've been there so many times."
"Oh. I see."
They carefully made their way down the hallway and turned to the right, their boots making a loud squishing sound with each step. Anakin sat outside the Superintendent's office, swinging his legs back and forth as he kicked at the foamy puddles by his feet. He looked up at the approaching pair. "I didn't do it this time, dad," he informed his father quickly. "Jaina and Jacen are in the office with Mr. Juzuu."
Sighing, Han pressed the open button on the door. "It doesn't work anymore," Anakin supplied helpfully. "I think it shorted out. You have to push it real hard to make it open."
Han pushed, and the door reluctantly slid open, revealing three soaking wet people - Jacen, Jaina and Mr. Juzuu. Luke saw the Superintendent was a tall, thin man with a balding pate. His normally pale face was flushed, and he was radiating annoyance.
"Come on in, Captain Solo. Please, have a seat if you don't mind a wet backside." Mr. Juzuu motioned to a couple of dripping chairs - neither Han nor Luke made an effort to use them.
Jaina giggled at that comment, and Han cut her off with a glare. "What happened?"
"Perhaps I should let your children explain." The man looked sternly at Jacen. "Why don't you tell your father exactly what happened, Jacen?"
"J..Jacen?" Han stuttered out. Jacen had never, ever caused him problems.
"It's not my fault!" Jacen cried out, trying to keep the tears from falling.
Luke laughed, and quickly coughed to cover it up. "Sorry," he muttered under his breath. "That just sounded so... familiar."
"Who, may I ask, is this?" Mr. Juzuu asked, narrowing his already tiny eyes at the Jedi.
"This is Luke Skywalker, my brother-in-law," Han said by way of introduction, unable to tear his astounded gaze away from his son.
"Ah," the man nodded eagerly. "The Jedi. Good. Good. I'm glad you're here."
"Jacen," Han said firmly. "What happened here?"
"Well we have science first thing in the morning and the teacher took this big box out and when he took the lid off there were all these spiders in the case and he said we were going to look at these spiders through a microscope so I just had to do something." Jacen stopped and took a quick gulp of air.
"I don't understand," Han said dully.
"Dad! He was gonna KILL them! Every one of them! Just so we could look at them though the microscope! I couldn't, just COULDN'T let him kill them!"
Knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt he didn't want to hear this, he asked, "So...what did you do?"
"I used the Force... and I pushed the box over and then all the spiders ran out and then all the kids in class started screaming and trying to crawl on top of desks so the spiders wouldn't crawl on them and then Mr. Tracely tried to stomp on the spiders so I started to pick them up so he wouldn't stomp on them... and then....."
"And then the fire sprinklers all came on, but I didn't do that! I swear it!"
Han turned his attention to his very quiet daughter, who was in the same classroom as Jacen. "Jaina. What do you know about the fire sprinklers?" The girl squirmed in her wet clothes, looking down at the floor. "Jaina!" Han said, trying his best not to yell.
"I might have had something to do about that...." she said very quietly.
"Might have? Could you elaborate?"
"Well, the teacher once said the sprinklers would come on if they sensed heat, and I always wanted to see that happen...."
"So .... WHAT DID YOU DO?" Han yelled, unable to prevent the raising of his voice.
"I used the Force to create just a little bit of heat against the sensor," she replied, looking up with pleading eyes. "I didn't think all that would happen!" She waved her hand out toward the hallway, which now resembled a shallow, polluted stream.
Luke could no longer restrain himself, and he gave a loud snort of laughter.
"I don't see the humor here, Jedi Master Skywalker," Mr. Juzuu said dryly. He looked at Han. "I'm sorry, Captain, but this is the last straw. Your children have been nothing but a disruption in this school since the day they started. It's going to cost a small fortune to clean up this mess, but that won't be your concern. I'm expelling your children. Permanently. Find them a new school."
"You can't be serious!" Han protested. "I'll pay for the damages!"
"I'm very, very serious. Have a good day, sir." Standing up, the Superintendent stalked out of his dripping office, making loud splashes as he left.
The Hapan zookeeper looked nervously at the exotic animal. The ysalamir in the cage was sluggish, and it was losing its gray fur. The keeper was certain he'd done everything right. The tree the strange beast lived upon had been uprooted and brought to Hapes, at great expense, along with the animal. The animal should be happy. It should live just fine, as long as it had its tree.
If the creature died, it was very likely the zookeeper would lose more than just his job.
Mara settled Leia into her bedroll, and looked over at Luke, who was staring out of the window at the night sky. Her thoughts turned to Han, who had been very subdued the entire day - he had not yelled at his children or demanded that Luke and Mara leave. Instead, he'd told them to use his bedroom, and that he'd sleep on the sofa. Neither Luke nor Mara had brought up the subject of Jedi training, and the day had passed in tense silence, since the children had been banished to their rooms - even Anakin, who'd protested it was unfair since he'd done nothing wrong on this particular day.
"The outside shed needs cleaning," Han had informed his youngest. "If you don't want to spend the day in your bedroom, you can do that instead."
Anakin had retreated to his room to play holo-games.
Mara stepped up behind her husband, putting her arm around his waist. "A credit for your thoughts?"
"I'm thinking how wrong this all seems. I want everyone together, Mara, not scattered across the galaxy. Things just feel... so broken since Leia died."
"She left a big, missing piece in the center of this family," Mara agreed. "I don't think Han has finished grieving for her, even after five years. Maybe he never will stop grieving, and I don't think Leia would want that. Endless grief is just as mentally and physically harmful as deep hatred."
"He lost two people he loved that day," Luke replied somberly. "His soulmate, and his loyal friend." Although Luke had lost his sister, he had not pushed his friends away after Leia's death. In fact, in the aftermath of her death, Mara had drawn closer to him, and they had finally admitted their love for one another during those trying times. Luke and Mara had married two years after Leia's passing. Han had declined to attend their wedding, much to Luke's dismay. Frustrated, he turned his face to Mara. "Why can't he accept our help?"
"He's afraid, Luke. He loves his children and he's holding onto them for dear life. He thinks we want to take away his last link to Leia."
"He has no idea how wrong he is," Luke said quietly. "He needs to see we want him inside of our family circle, not standing outside, looking in."
"Tell him that."
Han wasn't in the living area, but Luke had no trouble locating his presence. The old house had a wide porch, but since it lacked outside furniture, Han was sitting on the lower step, his elbows on his knees and his face buried in his hands. Carefully, but not too quietly, Luke sat down next to his long-time friend. Han straightened his shoulders and lowered his arms, staring out at the inky blackness of the night.
For a long while, neither man spoke. Finally Han said, "I thought I could handle it, Luke. I thought I could be a good father, but you and Mara are right. I guess I really am a bad father, and the thing is, I've tried to do what's right. I love my kids, I try to be fair and teach them right from wrong. But whatever I'm doing, I'm not doing it right." He spoke quietly, his voice emotionless, but Luke could feel the grief, defeat and self-recrimination in Han's senses. Luke remained quiet, allowing his friend to vent his feelings. "That school was the only one in the area, and unless you take them to Yavin, I'll have to sell the house and move, anyway." Han's voice choked up, and he was glad it was dark enough that Luke couldn't see his trembling hands or his flushed face. "You and Mara just take them, and I won't interfere with their Jedi training. I'd like to be able to visit them, sometimes, if it wouldn't cause you too much trouble."
Luke swallowed the lump in his tight throat before answering. "I'd be honored if you'd trust me and Mara to train your kids, but only on one condition."
"Condition? I suppose you don't want me to visit them, either," he said flatly.
"No, that's not it," Luke replied, trying to understand how his friend could feel so alienated from the very people that cared about him. "The condition is that you move to Yavin with your family. I want to train them, not raise them."
"No buts. Being a father doesn't come with some magical instruction manual, and being a parent isn't easy - it's darn hard work. No one is a perfect parent, and I make my share of mistakes. I have one kid, and she's got two parents, but do you think Leia is perfect? That she never gets into trouble, or always listens to everything we tell her? Not a chance. I swear she loves to disobey just to get a reaction out of us. But she's happy and healthy, and she loves us. She's a good kid, even if she gives us gray hair and wrinkles. Those are my standards for being a good parent, Han. From where I'm sitting, I can see your kids are happy, healthy, kindhearted kids that know the difference between right and wrong, even if they test the limits you set for them, even when they cross the line and do things they know are wrong. That's what kids do, that's how they learn and grow. As adults, it's our duty to learn and grow with them. And I can clearly see that your kids love you. So, in my humble farmboy opinion, you're a good father. I'm not about to take your kids away from you and raise them. Raising them is your job, a job you started nine years ago, and one you'd better plan on finishing, because I'm not letting you off that easily."
Han turned and looked at Luke. "Nine years? The twins are only eight."
"The responsibilities start nine months before they actually enter the world, Han. When you make the decision to become a parent, you make a decision that affects the rest of your life. When you're dancing at their weddings, your job as a parent still won't be over. It never ends, until the day you die."
"I miss her, Luke," Han whispered, shutting his eyes against the ache in his heart. "Every day, every night. Every single minute. I miss her, and I miss Chewie, too."
"So do I," Luke agreed sadly. After a moment, he continued, "Do you agree to my condition? You'll move to Yavin?"
"I'll be in the way."
Luke gave a sigh of exasperation. "No, you won't be in the way. I'll make sure you have enough space for you and your family. You'll be doing exactly the same thing on Yavin that you do here, except maybe one thing extra."
"Extra? What's that?"
"We need supplies brought in to Yavin all the time, and I have to pay independent shippers a lot of credits to make those runs. If Mara or I would make all those runs, we'd be gone far too often, and none of my students have a fast freighter like the Falcon. I'd like you to make those supply runs. We have a lot of good pilots that will take turns co-piloting for you, and sometimes even I'll co-pilot for you. There are plenty of responsible Jedi on Yavin to watch the kids if we're both gone at the same time. How about it? Will you do that?"
"Are you really sure you want me on Yavin? I can be a real pain in the backside."
"A pain in the backside is an understatement, Han," Luke said with a grin. "Mara and I will be willing to lend a hand, pass on Jedi skills and teach Force control to your kids, but teaching them to be a pain in everyone's backside is your special gift to the galaxy."
They laughed, stood up and headed inside. Stopping at the door, Han turned around and looked out into the darkness one more time. "If you're listening, I'll have you know I'm not doing this because you told me to. Got that?" Han entered the house and shut the door.
The unseen, ethereal form of Anakin Skywalker smiled at his stubborn son-in-law. One problem down, one to go.
Endless pain. Darkness. Cold. Luke, can you hear me? Never an answer. Only silence. Maddening silence. And a complete loss of Force feelings. Why had the Force deserted her?
Memories. Soft, milk-sweetened little kisses. The fuzz of baby hair. Longing. The gentle swell of her belly as she ran her hands over her stomach, sensing little minds, feeling little kicks. My babies. I want my babies. But only hardness filled her aching arms, not the softness of her babies. She wanted to scream in frustration, but nothing came out. No sound at all.
Memories. Hazel eyes, a gentle, deep laugh. That lopsided grin. Forever gone. Gone because of the noise of an explosion, the flash of heat, the roar of a Wookiee, all happening at once. The gentle caress, the shiver of pleasure at his sensual kisses. All gone. Han, I love you. No one was there to answer 'I know'. She wanted to sob, but no tears would come.
Yavin, three months later.
"Dad!" Anakin's excited voice called out through the apartment the family now called home.
Made up of five spacious rooms inside a secondary temple, the apartment walls were made from blocks of stone, cut and placed eons ago by the ancient race that built the many temples that sat clustered together in this vast jungle. Durasteel screens in the tall windows kept out the insects and allowed the filtered green-hued light into the rooms.
Luke and Mara had helped Han moved his furniture from his house on Paricellan, and everything was placed inside their new home. A local agent had been contracted to sell the farm house, and forward the proceeds when the sale was made. The only part about the new living arrangements that Han didn't care for was the lack of live holo-entertainment shows, especially sporting events. Somehow, watching a holo-recording of the event after the fact lost the excitement, since the odds were you'd already heard the outcome. Still, having actual adult contact made up for the missing holo-shows, and both the students and Jedi teachers treated Han as an equal - living up to Luke's promise that he wouldn't feel out of place.
The Corellian stepped out of his bedroom, and watched as his three children and Leia tore into the room. "You four are sure wound up." He looked over at Luke and Mara, who followed the children into the room. "What's goin' on?"
"We get to start using real lightsabers tomorrow!" the youngest replied, barely able to contain his joy.
"I love practicing the Force!" Jaina chimed in. "It's so much more fun than those boring regular lessons."
"In the first place, those boring lessons will come in real handy when you need to calculate a jump to lightspeed, or need to figure out a directional holo in a strange city," Han said, mildly chastising his daughter. "In the second place," he continued, looking worriedly at Luke. "REAL lightsabers? Already?"
"Daddy won't let me," Leia pouted, sticking out her lower lip, and looking accusingly at her traitorous father.
Luke laughed at both his daughter and his brother-in-law. "Those sabers will have safety settings, Han. They might leave a slight burn if they touch skin, but they don't have the power to cut off arms or heads. You worry too much."
"Yeah? I notice Leia won't be using one."
"She's only two!" Mara protested, trying to keep a straight face. At least Han had started calling their daughter by her name. It was just another small step toward his recovery. She sniffed the air. "I smell something good. Did you make enough for all of us?"
"Of course I did," Han returned with a wink. "But you gotta wash the dishes." He knew Mara could cook just fine ... but why bother when he already had plenty of food prepared for the entire family? It was very little extra effort to cook for three more people, and cooking dinner made Han feel like he was making a small contribution to the daily cycle. He was aware that the trips to pick up supplies were useful, and he finally was starting to enjoy flying again after years of avoiding the memories that always came when he entered the Falcon.
"Wash the dishes? That's why we have Threepio," Luke said, grinning. It had been fun to watch Han try to avoid the protocol droid since arriving on Yavin, so Luke went out of his way to send Threepio to find Han and relay messages during the day, rather than simply using the comlink. The Jedi Master sometimes wondered if he should feel guilty about being so sneaky and trying to get a rise out of Han, but it was too much fun to stop.
"Threepio sure does complain alot," Anakin said thoughtfully. "He says Yavin is too wet, and he keeps having to clean the rust out of his joints."
"I remember Tatooine was too sandy and dry for him," Luke reminisced.
"If Goldenrod didn't find something to complain about, he'd worry that everything was going too good and pop a circuit," Han the family sat down to their evening meal, Han felt a sense of peace settle over him for the first time in years. The bitter ache in his heart was slowing fading, and he could finally see there was a possibility for happiness in his future. He could think about Leia and Chewie without quite as much pain, and remember the past joy and good times.
Oddly, though, his dreams of her had become more frequent and vivid since moving to Yavin, but Han just put that down as a result of his renewed ties to his extended family and living on Yavin. He would have discussed this matter with his friend except for the fact that the dreams were rather erotic in nature. He knew that Luke would ask what the dreams were about, and Han just couldn't see himself describing that to Luke.
So it was left unsaid, and Han had no idea that Luke was having unsettling dreams about Leia, too. Dreams about her calling to him, asking for help. Since Luke couldn't help someone that had passed to the other side, he didn't say anything to Han for fear of upsetting his friend.
The three children discussed their intensifying dreams of their mother only with each other. They found it amazing how similar the dreams were - their mother whispering how much she loved them, giving them soft kisses on their forehead, stroking their hair. It was almost like she hadn't left them at all.
The zookeeper knew he was doomed. The ysalamir was skin and bones, its eyes closed and runny. He'd done everything he could to keep the odd creature alive. An I.V. dripped nutrient fluids into its veins. It wasn't working - the creature would be dead in a few hours, and unless he left Hapes, and very quickly, he'd be dead, too.
Gathering up his courage, the zookeeper looked up at the terrible, living statue one last time and trembled in fear. Once beautiful and intelligent, the former President of the New Republic had been reduced to this, a gruesome monstrosity - a frozen, screaming, clawing image embeddded in carbonite. The cause of all of his nightmares. The cause of the ghost that wouldn't leave him in peace, even when he was awake. Only the zookeeper and a few very well paid guards knew what was hidden in this secure chamber. And, of course, the evil woman that had arranged, at such great expense and planning, this terrible revenge.
She was insane. Completely, utterly insane. Oh, it had been gradual, this slide to insanity. As the former ruler of the Hapes Consortium, Ta'a Chume could still appear to be in full control when she needed to be, when it was necessary. The zookeeper had often thought it was a very lucky thing that Ta'a Chume was not Force-strong. She would have made Palpatine appear normal. All because she hated the New Republic and the loss of her status. After all, it had been Leia Organa, acting as an Ambassador, that had first approached the Queen Mother about forming an alliance with the New Republic. Therefore, it was Organa's fault that her son married that uneducated, uncouth, savage who now ruled in her place. It was Organa's fault that Hapes was no longer independent. It was Organa's fault that Ta'a Chume was no longer Queen Mother.
It was all Leia Organa's fault, and Leia Organa was paying the price.
Sometime around mid-afternoon, when the golden rays of the Hapan sun were just starting to slant through the leafy trees, the ysalamir breathed its last. By that time, the zookeeper was already on his small ship, setting his course for the relative safety of the New Republic. Only where to go? Who had the power to keep him safe from the wrath of one of the most powerful women in the galaxy? He looked nervously over his shoulder, hoping his ghost would stay behind, and not follow along.
Yavin, shortly after midnight, but during mid-afternoon Hapan time.
//LUKE! HEAR ME! HELP ME!!// The Jedi's eyes snapped open. //LUKE!! PLEASE!//
Reaching out with the Force, Luke pushed his Force-sense outward. And for the first time in five long years, he felt his sister's living presence. "Mara," Luke shook his wife's shoulder. "Wake up!"
"Hmm? Luke?" She turned sleepy eyes toward him. "What's wrong?"
Mara sat up, her heart suddenly in her throat. Quickly she reached out mentally, sensing her daughter's warm Force-sense sleeping nearby. "Leia?"
"No," Luke replied joyfully, while belatedly realizing he'd frightened Mara. "My sister, Leia. She's alive."
"They're awake," Mara said as they approached the Solo apartment. "The children are upset." Little Leia was in Luke's arms, clinging to her father tightly, sensing the sudden tension in the air.
Mara pressed the buzzer, and a tired, very upset Han Solo answered the door instantly. "What's going on?" he asked in a low voice, his face tight. "All three of my kids woke up at the same time, screaming from some nightmare. I keep asking them what's wrong, and all they can do is cry and say they want their mommy." Han motioned them inside, and shut the door. "I tried to calm them down, but..." Han's voice choked up. "They keep asking for her. The twins haven't done that for four years now, and Anakin hardly ever did. I don't understand...."
Luke and Mara looked at each other with concern. "I'll stay with the children," Mara said, taking Leia from Luke. "You go talk to Han."
"Let's go in your room," Luke suggested, nodding toward Han's bedroom.
"Kid, I'm gettin' real nervous here," Han muttered as Luke took him by his arm and led him into his room, away from the children. "What's happening?"
Once they were alone, Luke looked over at his friend. "I don't know how to tell you this - "
"Just say it! Draggin' it out is killing me!"
The color drained from Han's face, and he staggered slightly. Quickly Luke grabbed him and pushed him toward a chair. "Sit," he ordered. Han sat, too stunned to speak or even think about arguing.
"H...how?" Han looked up, confusion gripping his mind. "Where is she?"
"I can't tell where she is, but I suddenly felt her through the Force again. I was thinking I was sensing her a little bit before, and everyday it seemed to be getting stronger and stronger. But then, all at once, I could feel her just as clearly as I felt her before she... before the explosion." Luke sat down on the edge of Han's rumpled bed. "It was like she was hidden somehow, and now the curtain is gone. I know she's alive."
"Why didn't you say something before?"
"It was all so nebulous. I just couldn't be certain it was really her, and I didn't want to upset you, or get your hopes up."
Han looked down, rubbing his hands nervously. "I...I think, maybe, she was reaching out to me, too. But... but I'm not Force-sensitive, so I didn't think it was possible. And it was always when I was sound asleep." Han pondered that last statement. Had he been asleep during those moments when he could have sworn he felt her lips claiming his? When her soft, phantom hands touched his body? Now that he considered it, he wasn't so sure.
As if Luke read his mind, he said, "I thought I was dreaming, too, when she was calling for my help. But I don't think it was a dream, not now, anymore." Luke smiled gently at his friend's confusion and distress. "I think Force-sensitives can call to non-Force-sensitives, anyway. Didn't the witches on Dathomir speak to you through the Force, and show you visions?"
"Yeah," Han admitted reluctantly. That particular memory wasn't exactly a pleasant one - it had been invasive and horrifying. Exactly the opposite of what he felt during the "Leia dreams", as he'd come to think of them.
"Then you can understand what I'm talking about," Luke replied.
"How are we gonna find her, if you can't sense where she's at?" Han stood up suddenly, pacing his room, fear gripping his heart and soul. "We have to find her! I can't stand to think about her suffering."
"I can meditate, Han. If I reach out, I might be able to decipher where they're keeping her, and how they're doing it. That was how I located you and Leia on Bespin."
"Good. Go meditate, kid. And when you figure it out, don't you think for one second I'm not coming with you." Han's voice grew low and harsh. "And don't think whoever did this isn't gonna pay the ultimate price."
"We have to keep our heads," Luke insisted. "The laws will handle the justice. That's what we fought a war for."
"They killed Chewie and stole my wife for five years. Took her away from me and her children. The law can't do enough to punish them."
"We'll deal with that when the time comes," Luke replied, knowing it would take awhile for Han to think clearly. Luke wasn't too sure he didn't agree with his brother-in-law, anyway. No punishment would be harsh enough for this crime.
Hapes, a short while later.
"I'm not alone," Leia's mind thought, feeling her connection to the Force suddenly grow stronger. "Luke... can you hear me? Help me!"
//I can hear you, sister. Where are you?//
"Cold. I'm so cold. I hurt so badly. Luke, please...."
The rush of ice cold steam, the sudden, agonizing pain of being flash frozen, unable to move, to scream. The endless blackness and silence. Clinging to sanity. It was so hard to cling, and she needed her brother to help her. She needed to hold her children. She needed the warmth and comfort that only her husband could offer. "Carbonite. I'm .... I'm so cold...."
//Where are you? Who did this?//
"I don't know.... I don't know...." Leia wanted to cry, but the tears wouldn't come.
Luke felt breathless with shock as he pulled away from his Force-trance. Carbonite! His sister was trapped in the living hell of carbonite. It was too terrible to contemplate, but he finally understood why they had been able to hold her for so long. Luke had been able to draw memories from his sister's mind, even if she could not formulate thoughts well enough to tell him exactly what had transpired. The heat and noise of the explosion. A small cell. Pain. The unmistakable odor of the carbonite chamber. Laughter. He unfolded his legs and stood, shaking and soaked with sweat. Telling Han this information would tear his brother-in-law apart.
He thought back, remembering when Leia had confided in him about Han's terrible nightmares after his ordeal in carbonite, making him promise he would never tell Han she had said anything. It would embarrass him, Leia had said. Still, she had sought Luke's advice, wanting to somehow help Han overcome those horrible memories that refused to let him sleep in peace. Luke had helped Leia with some Force-calming techniques he'd learned over the years, and instructed her on how to apply it to Han while he slept, since Luke suspected that Han wouldn't accept any 'hokey' Force-assistance while he was awake. Months later, Leia had happily reported that Han's nightmares had begun to fade away. The reason would always be a little secret between brother and sister.
And now she was suffering that same torment. Who could be cruel enough to do this? Why would they want to? If it had been to destroy the New Republic, it had not been successful. The government had proved its resiliency in those terrible hours and days after Leia's 'death'. Luke suspected the attack had been personal. Someone had done this because of Leia, not the government. A disgruntled Alderaanian perhaps? There were enough of those around, stupidly blaming Leia for the destruction of their world. Perhaps an attempt by Jabba's relatives to pay her back for the Hutt's demise? But how had they been able to kidnap her after the assassination attempt failed, and more importantly, how had they been able to keep her from reaching out to him through the Force? There were so many questions, and Luke didn't have any answers.
Han shut Jaina's door softly, glad the children had finally fallen back asleep, then wearily made his way back to his own room, collapsing on the bed. Leia's alive... she's alive. The thought filled him with joy and despair. Somewhere, his Leia was being held prisoner. He closed his eyes, trying not to think of all the horrible things that could be, and probably were, happening to her.
It was at that moment Leia reached for him again with the Force, and he knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, he wasn't sleeping this time. Taking deep breaths, he relaxed his body and allowed her full access to his mind. In another time, a different, younger Han Solo would have resented this intrusion into his mind, even by Leia. But no longer, for he knew she was somehow drawing strength from these connections, using them as one would use a life-preserver in the middle of a cold sea. If he could, he'd give her all his strength, and then some. He'd gladly die to save her, so since this mental lifeline was something he could do for her, he'd do it willingly. He could have sworn he heard her whisper.. in his ear? his mind?.. I love you. Although he didn't have the ability to send words back to her, he still thought, 'I know'.
"How did it die?" Ta'a Chume snarled at the calm technician, her face flushed with rage.
"It was poisoned, my Queen," the female replied, watching the older woman's reaction with interest.
"Poisoned? How is that possible? The only person that was in charge of the creature was the zookeeper! He wouldn't have done that!"
The technician shrugged. "The tree has been saturated with chemicals, and the ysalamir absorbed those chemicals as it ate from the tree. The tree is dying as well, but slower."
"Then it was an accident," Ta'a Chume surmised. "He tried to fertilize the tree, and accidentally killed the creature."
"You wouldn't fertilize any tree with these chemicals," the tech replied as she handed the lengthy list to the Queen. "If he was the one that did it, he did so knowing this would be the result."
Ta'a Chume read over the list of poisons. "He did it on purpose. He betrayed me," she whispered.
"It would appear that would be the case."
Ta'a Chume dropped the flimsy and walked away from the woman. This could cause her problems, very big problems. She had to think of a solution.
"Valak," a deep voice said inside the cockpit.
The zookeeper's eyes snapped open. "Who said that? Who's there?" He looked around frantically, unable to see the speaker.
"You poisoned the ysalamir," the same voice said.
"No, no... no," the Hapan man whispered fearfully, standing up and backing away from his unseen accuser. "I didn't do that."
"You did. You will remember."
"Noo!" Valak cried out, falling to his knees as his locked memories opened up. Sneaking the bottles of poison past the guards, pouring them at the base of the tree. Why had he done that? Why had he killed the ysalamir? It didn't make any sense. He was a good servant to Ta'a Chume, and now he'd sabotaged her plans. "Go away! Why won't you leave me alone?"
"I will leave when you finish what you started."
The man grabbed a fistful of his hair, pulling at it frantically. "I can't! I can't! I'll be prosecuted! I...I'll be executed!" He jumped up and ran out of the cockpit, as if he could somehow escape his wraithlike tormentor.
The sun was already up when Mara found Luke, sitting atop the main temple, head held down. Even if she was without the Force, she would have been able to tell how deeply he was hurting inside, just by reading his body language. "Luke."
He looked up as she sat next to him. "Where's Leia?"
She gave a small smile, knowing he meant their daughter. "I left her with Cilghal and Threepio." She put her hand over Luke's. "Did you sense anything during your meditation last night?"
"She's in carbonite," he replied, his voice flat.
"I don't know where she's being held, or who did this to her. Leia barely remembers the explosion, and then a small cell. She was hurting - her face and arm were badly blistered from the blast." He paused briefly, then continued, "A while later, they took her to a carbon freezing chamber, and she knew what was going to happen to her. She could hear someone laughing. Insane laughter from a woman. Then she was frozen, and she's been that way ever since. Trying to hang onto her sanity, trying to reach me through the Force."
"A woman? Daala?"
Luke shook his head sadly. "Those are all the memories she was able to convey to me. She has no idea the identity of the woman, or the location of the carbon freezing chamber."
"This is going to devastate Han," Mara said slowly.
"I don't know how to tell him. He isn't going to be able to handle it." He turned haunted blue eyes toward Mara. "Why did it have to be carbonite? Even if she'd been held in a prison somewhere, it wouldn't be this bad."
"The only way they could have blocked her Force abilities would be with ysalamiri. Unless there is some other method we don't know about."
"I hope not. Those things are enough."
"Do you suppose she's on Myrkr?"
"If she was, she isn't anymore. And why would they move her? If they took her to Myrkr to hide her from me, then they'd have to know moving her away would allow her to reach me."
"I don't know, Luke. I just don't know." She rested her head on his shoulder. "We'll find her."
"We have to," Luke replied. There simply was no choice.
The former Queen of Hapes headed toward the hidden chamber, head held high. The guards bowed deeply as she passed them by, as much out of fear as respect. She demanded both.
The former Queen wasn't aware she was being followed, and so when a second person approached them, the guards allowed this person to enter the chamber and follow Ta'a Chume around the corner. After all, the child had stated very firmly and insistently that her grandmother was expecting her, and the guards knew the former Queen doted on this girl, so they certainly wouldn't risk making her angry by refusing to admit the child.
Ta'a Chume entered the large, well lit main room, looking at the grotesque statue hanging on the far wall. The tree from Myrkr was obviously dying... its leaves were turning brown and curling, then dropping to the floor. The Queen didn't care about the tree anymore. She walked past the sickly tree, looked up at the frozen form of the Princess, and spoke aloud, "You will soon finish dying, Princess, without ever knowing that I was your executioner. But, oh how I've enjoyed watching you suffer before I killed you." She gave a soft, low laugh as she thought about the carbonite encased Princess, slowly suffocating inside her metal death shroud.
The guards would soon be ordered to remove the dead tree and the carbonite slab, and place them inside a Hapan transport. Then they would be ordered to take all the evidence far away from Hapes, and Ta'a Chume's involvement would be erased. Those loyal insiders would never know about her real plans, for Ta'a Chume would arrange for all their deaths - the guards, the technicians, the workers that had first assembled, and then dismantled the carbon freezing chamber. They would all have to die on that transport in order to protect Ta'a Chume. Trisdin, her trusted private aide, would be the only one left with this knowledge. Trisdin was necessary, for she needed him to arrange to tamper with the hyperdrive programming. It would be a terrible 'accident', and the holo-news would talk about it for days. Something went wrong with the hyperdrive, sending the transport into the nearest primary, they would say. Those types of terrible mistakes happened, sometimes. The poor, mourning families. At least they could take comfort in knowing those onboard died quickly, without pain.
Not that the Queen cared about giving them a painless death. "No one will be left alive to tell of this," Ta'a Chume said aloud, smiling peacefully. "They will all die, escorting you to your final resting place."
Ta'a Chume had no idea Tenel Ka was listening, hiding behind a work station, too shocked and afraid to utter a sound.
Han sat on a stone ledge, watching his children practice with their lightsabers under Mara's instructions. He hadn't seen Luke yet this morning, and was starting to suspect the kid was avoiding him. Did that mean that Luke couldn't feel Leia through the Force again? The thought left him cold with fear.
Turning slightly, Han looked up at the short-haired man standing next to him. "Corran," he responded, nodding briefly at the Corellian Jedi.
"I just saw Master Skywalker, and he asked me to bring you to his apartment."
"Bring me?" Han asked, puzzled. Why didn't Luke send Threepio to find him? That had been the usual way he'd been passing messages. Annoying as that was, the fact that it wasn't Threepio formally requesting that he meet with Luke made Han grow even more concerned. "I can find my way, you know."
Corran looked at him oddly, almost cautiously. "Please. I really would appreciate it if you'd come with me."
That was way too polite. Corran Horn had been a Corsec Officer during Han's smuggling days, then served under Han's command during the Zsinj crisis. Han knew Horn hadn't exactly trusted him in the early days - fallout from his attitude that Han was a criminal and Horn was the law. In time, Horn had shed his prejudice toward Han, and while they would never become close friends, they respected each other. Frowning, Han rose, falling into step next to the Jedi as they walked in silence to Luke's room. The door opened and Han stepped inside, noting that Horn remained outside. Luke waved his hand and the door slid back shut.
"You'd better sit down, Han."
Han felt his mouth go dry. "Why? What did you sense last night?"
"This isn't going to be easy - "
"She's encased in carbonite."
Carbonite. Han felt the room spin, and his heart hammer in his ears. It was even worse than he could have imagined. The horrors that he'd tried for so long to forget came rushing back like an avalanche, crushing him under their weight. The pain, the cold, the sheer, unending fear and suffocation. "No," he whispered. Then rage replaced horror, and he lashed out without thinking, knocking a nearby vase off its stand, sending it careening to the ground, barely aware of the shards of glass as they skidded across the floor. "NO!" He turned and faced the wall, slamming his fist into the stone so hard he felt bones break, felt the skin on his knuckles crack.
The physical pain did nothing to relieve his anguish. He wanted to run, to grab his blaster and start shooting at everything and anything. He wanted to scream until he was hoarse. Gasping, he blindly moved for the doorway, crashing straight into Corran Horn, who was now standing between him and the exit. "Let me go," Han ground out, struggling to push away from the man's grasp. Then Luke was behind him, and both men were holding him tightly, preventing him from leaving. Han wasn't sure if they were using the Force, or only their own strength, but either way he was held fast. "Let... me... go," he repeated, begging.
"We'll find her, Han," Luke said softly, trying to calm his friend. "I promise you, we'll find her."
Han stopped fighting to free himself and slowly sank to his knees. "It's worse than death, Luke," he whispered, burying his face in his hands. "You don't understand....just how bad it is." Despite the fact that Corran and Luke were both watching, Han broke down and cried for his Princess.
She watched as her grandmother left the chamber. Up until now, she had always liked her grandmother, even if she had been a bit afraid of her. Now, listening to her talk about killing people and making them suffer, Tenel Ka was very afraid of her grandmother.
A few years ago her mother, Queen Teneniel Djo, had wanted her daughter to attend the Jedi training facility on Yavin IV, but backed down when Ta'a Chume had grown furious at her daughter-in-law's suggestion. This had been a deep disappointment to the young girl. She had asked her father to intervene on her behalf, but Prince Isolder declined to do so, indicating they should humor Ta'a Chume, since his mother had already given up so much when Teneniel became Queen. Tenel Ka didn't quite understand this. Her grandmother was still highly regarded, and everyone in the palace, even her mother, listened to her, so what had she given up?
Tenel Ka nervously approached the lady hanging on the wall, thinking how unhappy and scared the stranger looked. Tenel Ka tentatively reached out with her rudimentary Force skills, and staggered back in shock. The lady was in pain. She was so cold. Tenel Ka wished her parents were home so she could ask them what to do, but they were currently away from the home planet on yet another boring diplomatic trip. That happened a lot, and the girl understood that travel and 'diplomacy' was her parents' job. Sometimes, she even got to go with them, but Tenel Ka hated having to put on frilly dresses and meet a bunch of boring grown-ups that told her what a beautiful young lady she was.
So the decision was hers, and Tenel Ka knew that no one should be in that much pain. The little girl lowered the slab and studied the flashing lights on the side box, trying to figure out how they worked. Hoping she was doing the right thing, she pressed the green buttons, and the box started humming. The gray metal started melting from the lady's face.
Valak could not sleep. He tossed and turned in his small cot, half hoping he'd programmed the ship incorrectly and it would take him into a black hole. That would end all of his problems. He was so afraid. Afraid of the insane Ta'a Chume. Afraid of the New Republic that would correctly blame him for his role in keeping the President a prisoner. Whatever he chose, he was going to end up paying, and probably paying with his life.
He sat up, eyes wide. "No. Leave me alone. I told you to leave me alone."
"Go to Yavin IV."
"Yavin? Why would I want to go there? I don't want to tell them anything. They'll arrest me."
"If you go to Yavin, I will leave you in peace."
Valak stumbled from the cot, and headed to the cockpit. With trembling hands he started to enter the coordinates for Yavin IV, and was shocked to realize how close he already was to the system. He must have programmed the coordinates to head in this direction, just like he'd poisoned the tree without being consciously aware he was doing it. The zookeeper shut his eyes, very much afraid he was losing his mind.
Mara shook her head in dismay as Luke escorted a pale looking Han Solo into his apartment. "Cilghal will use the Force to heal the bones in your hand, Solo," Mara said with a sigh, looking at the blood running down his fingers. "I'll go get her."
"No," Han said, his voice dull with grief. "Just go away. I won't do anything stupid."
"Looks to me like you already managed to do something stupid," Mara shot back. "And we're not leaving you alone. Do you honestly think your kids aren't going to sense how upset you are? They probably already have, but I've sent them for a run with Kyp, just to distract them. You need to pull yourself together... not just for Leia, but for your children."
"Han, it's your right hand. If we figure out where Leia's located, do you really want to have your gun hand broken?" Luke pointed out, a bit more gently than his wife.
Han sank down on the sofa, and stared at the floor. "What if we can't figure it out? What if she stays trapped inside that hell forever?"
"I won't let that happen," Luke replied firmly. "Neither will you."
"Can't you tell a direction, even?" Han asked, looking up at Luke.
"I suppose we could just get in the Falcon and start moving around," Luke conceded reluctantly. "But do you have any idea how long that would take? There are so many possibilities in every direction, it could be years before I got a lock on an exact location."
"It's already been years."
Luke knew he didn't have a good argument for that, but he was saved from a response when the comlink on his belt buzzed. "Master Luke?" Kam's voice came over the small speaker.
He lifted the device to his mouth. "Yes?"
"We have an unidentified incoming ship. The pilot isn't responding, but the ship's signature indicates it's Hapan."
Han stood up, staring at Luke in concern. Reaching out with the Force, the Jedi Master sensed the pilot of the incoming ship had no intention of attacking them. Unfortunately, the pilot's mind seemed distracted and extremely distressed. Luke could tell that the pilot didn't intend to land - he intended to crash.
"Hapan?" Mara wondered, frowning. She quickly contacted Kyp, asking him to return to base.
"Can you track the trajectory?" Han asked Luke.
Luke reached out with the Force. "It's not heading toward the temples."
"Should we try to intercept it?" Han questioned.
"It's too late," the Jedi replied, looking at his wife. "We need to get to a couple of speeder bikes, and head out there. The pilot is still alive."
"I want to go with you," Han stated.
Mara shook her head. "With a broken hand?"
"But - "
"She's right, Han," Luke interrupted. "You can't fly a bike with one hand. Just wait for the kids to get back - Mara and I will go check out the ship.
"Are you sure you don't want Cilghal to use the Force to heal your hand?" Mara asked, trying not to look too smug at the Corellian being forced to stay behind because of his self-inflicted injury.
"Send her over," Han muttered under his breath. He looked over to Luke. "And I can fly a bike with one hand better than most people can with two."
"Is that a challenge, Solo?" Mara asked, grinning at the idea of a speeder bike race.
"Only if you don't cheat and use the Force."
Luke rolled his eyes. "Some other time, you two." Tugging on his wife's arm, he pulled her out of the apartment before he'd have more problems to contend with.
The lady fell out of the casing, and crashed to the floor before Tenel Ka could catch her. Bending over the stranger, the little girl felt more frightened than she ever had before in her entire life. Perhaps the lady was dying, and she had killed her by pressing the wrong buttons.
Carefully, Tenel Ka turned the lady over, trying to see if she was alive. The lady coughed. Her eyes opened, and she stared ahead sightlessly. "H..help...me."
"I'm trying to help you," Tenel Ka replied softly. "You have to be quiet. The guards will hear you."
"Guards? W..where am I?" She felt so cold, so confused. She shivered violently, feeling terribly nauseated. "Who... who are you?"
"My name is Tenel Ka. I let you out of that box."
"Box?" She had no idea what this meant.
"You were trapped," Tenel Ka said, matter-of-factly. "So I let you out. What's your name?"
Suddenly, the lady looked even more frightened than ever. "My name? I.... I don't remember."
Tenel Ka had no idea what to say to this strange lady. Why didn't she know her own name? "We should leave here, before my grandmother decides to come back," the girl finally announced.
"I think she might have put you in that box."
"Can, can you turn on some lights? We need to see where we're g..going."
Lights? "Ma'am, the lights are on."
"I can't see," the woman whispered in shock, bringing her hand to her face. What could have happened to her that caused her to lose her sight and her memory? Touching her face, she winced in pain. "I've been burned."
"Yes, that's a fact," Tenel Ka replied. "Your face and left arm have bad blisters, but once we get to my room, I will find you some bacta gel. That will help." The girl looked around the room. "I have to distract the guards." Her eyes flicked down to the dried leaves under the tree. "Wait here."
"Wait? Wha..what are you planning to do?"
The girl searched around the various equipment in the room. "I need to start a fire. Then we can get away."
The lady shuddered as an image of a sudden, terrifying flash filled her mind. "That sounds dangerous..."
"It will make smoke, and then the guards will not see us when we leave." Tenel Ka smiled as she found what she was searching for - a small laser tool. She gathered the leaves together into a small pile, and aimed the laser at the dry material. A flame flicked up, and she quickly threw additional leaves on the pile. Soon, flames and smoke were billowing toward the high ceiling. Tenel Ka hurried over to the woman, helping her struggle to her feet. "Soon, the guards will come running, so we must hide near the doorway. When they are busy trying to put out the fire, we will leave."
"It had better be soon," the lady replied, coughing on the smoke. "Or we won't be in any shape to escape."
Tenel Ka barely had time to get them both hidden when the alarms sounded. A moment later, the Hapan guards rushed into the smoke-filled room, waving their hands and shouting frantically. "Quick," Tenel Ka whispered, tugging at the woman's trembling hand. "Come with me."
Left with no choice, the amnesiac Princess followed the Hapan Princess out of the smoky room and down a long corridor.
Two speederbikes tore through the Yavin forest, using both the Force and the dark smoke over the tree line to guide them to the wreckage. Soon, a smoldering ship came into view. Smaller than the Falcon, it was definitely a sleek Hapan model, mainly used by upper class individuals for travel.
Mara and Luke jumped off their bikes and ran to the tightly shut entrance. Luke pulled his lightsaber out, and gave his wife a wan smile. "It's not like we're going to ruin anything."
Working as a team, they sliced open the hatch. Dark smoke surged out the doorway, and the Jedi hurriedly made their way to the cockpit, their eyes burning in the acrid interior. A human male sat slumped over the controls, his forehead badly bleeding, his eyes shut.
"Let's get him into fresh air," Mara shouted over the sparking circuits. She put her saber away and hoisted the man by his shoulder. Luke quickly assisted her, and they rushed back outside. Both Luke and Mara could sense there was no one else inside as they moved away from the ship and carefully laid the man on his back. "I suppose someone should try and resuscitate him," Mara commented, looking pointedly at her husband.
Luke's eyes widened at the suggestion. "Me? He's a .. guy! You should do it."
"But I'm your wife," Mara replied, folding her arms across her chest. "Shouldn't you be jealous, or ... something?"
"I'll make an exception."
"So much for the noble Jedi Master," Mara muttered as she got on her knees and pinched her fingers over the man's nose.
After a few moments, the man started to cough, and his eyes snapped open. Mara drew back, and remarked to the panicked man, "Was it as good for you as it was for me?"
"I'm still alive," he gasped out in shock. "Why? Why? I'm not supposed to be alive!"
Before an astounded Mara or Luke could respond, the man jumped up and rushed into the forest.
"Well, that's gratitude for you," Mara drawled out, watching him run away.
I don't think I can go another step, she thought, utterly exhausted. They had escaped without being seen from the corridor. Once outside, the little girl had led her on a fast walk for what seemed like forever. The girl finally stopped pulling her hand, almost as if she could sense the woman's tiredness.
"We can rest here, for a little while," Tenel Ka told her.
"That's good," she replied, her head spinning. After a moment, she asked, "Where am I? What system is this?"
"Hapes. I'm taking you to my room in the palace."
Palace. A vision of an elegant castle, surrounded by beautiful lakes rose up in her mind. "I live in a palace," she whispered, barely aware she had spoken aloud.
"You do?" the little girl asked, her voice sounding surprised. "Where?"
She struggled to think of her system's name. "I can't remember."
"That's okay," Tenel Ka replied. "You'll remember when you feel better."
"I hope so."
"I'll bet your family misses you."
More images, this time of an elegant, dark-haired man, along with three older women entered her mind. My father?" she wondered. Would one of those three women be her mother? No, that didn't seem right for some reason.
"Can you walk now?"
She nodded, grateful when the girl's warm hand closed around her cold fingers. They continued across the sweeping lawns and through the vast gardens as they made their way toward the Hapan palace.
The terrified Hapan ran through the dense jungle, unaware of the thorns and brush scratching his face and tearing at his clothes. He only wanted to escape, to run as fast as possible away from those people. He turned his head as the whine of speederbikes sounded behind him, and he tried to run faster. It never even occurred to him that he couldn't possibly outrun bikes, and the noise got closer and closer. Finally, he tripped over a vine and went sprawling face-down in the brambles. Strong hands lifted him off the ground, forcing him to sit and face his pursuers. "Don't kill me! I'll tell you everything... just make him leave me alone!"
Mara and Luke exchanged puzzled looks. "We have no intention of killing you," Luke assured the man. "Can you tell us your name?"
"Valak. My name's Valak d'Entz. Will he leave me alone now?"
"Who are you talking about?" Mara snapped, not as inclined to be as patient as her husband.
"The voice.... he won't stop talking in my head. He made me come here. He made me do - " The man stopped talking abruptly, looking around as if someone else might be listening.
"Do what?" Luke asked gently.
"Kill the tree. He made me kill the tree."
"Oh, for..." Mara muttered, then spoke to Luke thought the Force, //He's crazy, Luke. Let's just get him to the base and have him kept under guard until we can send him to Coruscant.//
Luke was inclined to agree with Mara, but still... something was pushing him to continue asking questions. "Why did the voice want you to kill a tree?"
"The tree was from Myrkr... he made me poison the tree... and then the creature died, too."
"Creature?" Mara spoke up, suddenly interested at the mention of Myrkr.
"The ysalamir. I killed the ysalamir." The man put his hands up to his face, covering his eyes. "But I didn't mean to..."
Solo watched in fascination as the Jedi Cilghal healed the bones in his hand using the Force. Even after everything he'd already witnessed with regards to the Force - and it had been quite a lot - this still amazed the Corellian. He could feel his hand grow pleasantly warm and tingly, the broken skin mending as he watched in awe.
She looked up and smiled at him. "How does it feel now?"
Han flexed his hand. "It feels great - no pain at all. What do I owe you, doc?"
Cilghal laughed. "Just promise you won't try to put your fist through a stone wall again, Captain."
"Can't promise that," Han said, and lowered his voice while he leaned toward the Jedi. "I'm Corellian, ya know. Corellians sometimes do things like that without thinking, and I'd hate to make a promise I can't keep."
The Healer shook her head in mock dismay and stood up. "Well, then, you might not be so lucky next time. Regular doctors take much longer to fix broken bones than Jedi."
"I appreciate it, anyway. Thanks," Han replied lightly as his children came running into the apartment. They never seemed to walk, and Han wondered if he ever had that much boundless energy.
"You're welcome," Cilghal answered as she left the room.
Han looked over his sweaty, hot children. "You look like you all need showers."
"Ah, dad!" Anakin protested. "I just had a shower two days ago!"
"Wow, we certainly wouldn't want to get too clean now," their father replied with a smile. "All that soap and water might make you melt."
"I want to take a shower," Jaina declared.
"That's because you want to smell nice for Kypie," Jacen teased. Then he turned to his father. "Jaina likes Kyp. She wants to marry him and be Mrs. Jaina Durron."
"I do not!"
"If you don't shut up, I'm going to flatten you," Jaina said, threatening her twin.
"You and what Wookiee?" Jacen yelled back, but looking at Han for protection.
"Kids!" Han interrupted the bickering. "Can't you ever be nice to each other?"
"He started it!" the girl protested, then looked past her father as the apartment door opened. "Uncle Luke! Aunt Mara! Did you find that ship?"
Luke smiled indulgently at his niece. "It sounds like you children are giving your dad a headache again."
"Who, me?" Anakin said innocently, pointing at his chest.
Luke and Mara both laughed, much to Han's chagrin. "So, what did you find?" Han asked.
"Can you come for a quick walk with me, Han? I have something important to tell you."
Han followed Luke out the door and down the hallway, until they stopped on an open balcony overlooking the misty green forest below. "What's up? Did you find the ship?"
"Yes. And I think I know where Leia is being held."
She could tell they were now inside a large building because their footsteps were muffled by thick carpet, and the little girl led her carefully through the vast hallways. The sound of loud voices came from around the corner, and Tenel Ka stopped, pushing her quickly into a small room. "Stay there! Someone's coming," she instructed the lady, shutting the door before anyone could see her.
Straining to hear through the door, she could hear an older woman talking to the girl. "Tenel Ka! Where have you been?"
"Outside, playing around," came the answer.
"You haven't been near the guard tower, have you?" a male voice asked.
"No, Mister Trisdin. I wouldn't go there."
"Good thing! There's been a fire inside the lower tunnels."
"Yes," the older woman replied. "And I'm afraid we also have a prisoner on the loose, so you must remain inside the palace, where it's safe. Your parents would be very upset if they knew how incompetent these guards have been, so you mustn't tell them about the fire or the escaped prisoner. You know I wouldn't want those guards to lose their jobs."
"If you see anything suspicious, you must tell your grandmother immediately, young lady," Trisdin said firmly.
"What does he look like?" Tenel Ka asked.
"The prisoner. I will need to know who to look out for," the girl explained.
"He's a she. A short woman with long, dark hair. Very dangerous."
"Dangerous?" Tenel Ka asked, suddenly a bit worried.
"Yes, she's a crazy person that believes she's the deceased Princess Leia Organa."
Tenel Ka glanced over at the small room where she'd hidden the lady. Had she perhaps made a mistake, letting her out of the box?
After hearing the story, Han was furious. "He's been working for Ta'a Chume, taking care of a ysalamir? She's the one behind this?" The Corellian stalked to the edge of the balcony. "Why am I not surprised? I should have suspected - "
"That's not true," Luke said calmly. "There is no way we could have known Ta'a Chume was behind this."
"I'd like to go wring that zookeeper's worthless neck. The Sith-spawn just sat there, watching her hanging frozen on a wall for all these years, knowing damn well who she was."
"Wringing his neck wouldn't change things," Luke replied. "I think he's ... not all together anymore. He claims he's been hearing voices, and he killed the tree because of those voices. He's frightened of everything - us, Ta'a Chume, the voices. I've locked him up, and already contacted Wedge to come pick him up and take him to Coruscant."
"He's still a part of all this. Murder, kidnapping." A sudden, new fear stabbed at Han. "If the ysalamir is dead, then won't she know you've been able to reach Leia? That means she could have moved Leia by now... or..." He stopped, unable to bring himself to verbalize the thought.
"Leia's not dead."
"Can you be sure about that?"
Taking a deep breath, Luke shut his eyes and reached for his sister. Then he was thrown backwards, stumbling and almost falling.
"Luke!" Han grabbed his arm, his voice tight with dread. "What is it?"
"She's not in carbonite anymore," the Jedi gasped out.
"Is she hurt?" The question sounded strange to Han. Carbonite was unending pain, and the unfreezing process was both mental and physical agony, but if Ta'a Chume had removed Leia from carbonite then she was in greater danger. If Jabba had chosen to unfreeze him before help arrived, Han knew it was unlikely he would have survived the Hutt's torture chamber. And now he wasn't there to protect her, like she had been there for him on Tatooine. Was she blind, like he'd been? Cold and nauseated? I should be there. She needs me.
"She mentally pushed me away. I ... I frightened her." Luke looked worriedly at Han. "I don't think she remembers me."
"I'm going to Hapes," Han growled out, trying to keep the fear out of his voice. "And you'd better not try to stop me."
"I have no intention of stopping you, but only if you don't try and stop me from coming along to help."
Han forced himself to smile. "Just like old times, right, kid?"
"Just like old times."
For several heart stopping seconds, Leia thought that Tenel Ka was going to tell her grandmother where she was hiding.
Then the girl's determined voice carried through the door. "If I see her, I will be certain to tell you, grandmother."
"You are such a good child," the woman replied. "Everyday, I see more and more of myself in you. I'm glad you inherited my fine sensibilities, and not your mother's barbaric nature."
Tenel Ka wasn't too sure what 'barbaric' meant, but she guessed it was an insult to her mother. Ta'a Chume never lost the chance to belittle her daughter-in-law, especially in front of the family. It made Tenel Ka very angry sometimes, but she'd learned to react like her mother, and ignore the insults. "Thank you, grandmother," she said coolly. Tenel Ka also decided it didn't seem too likely the sick lady was dangerous. Her instincts told her not to trust her grandmother, and she'd learned over the years to trust her feelings.
"Come, Trisdin," the woman ordered. "We have a large problem to deal with."
Footsteps faded down the hallway, and Leia heard the door open. "It's safe," Tenel Ka informed her.
Again, the child guided her down the corridors, careful not to be seen as she checked around corners before they entered. "Here we are - my room." She pulled Leia inside and shut the door. "Is your name really Princess Leia?"
"Yes," Leia replied slowly and thoughtfully. The name felt right - it fit. "I believe it is." Then she remembered another name. "Alderaan. I live on Alderaan."
Tenel Ka frowned in concern. "Alderaan? But Alderaan - " She stopped herself from saying anymore. "Lie down on my bed, and I'll go get the bacta gel." She led Leia to her large bed, and covered her in a soft bedspread. "I'll be right back," the girl said, heading out the door.
Exhaustion overcame Leia, but before she could drift off to sleep something, or someone, disturbed her. //Leia.//
"Who's there?" she whispered, the hair on her neck prickling.
//Leia... it's Luke... are you okay? Do you know where you are?//
There was no one speaking in the room. She was positive the voice was in her mind. Luke? Who was Luke? Without consciously being aware she was doing so, Leia slammed barriers up in an instant, pushing this unknown intruder away, out of her mind. She waited for long minutes, thinking the voice might return. When nothing further happened, she drifted off into a restless slumber.
"Princess Leia! Princess Leia!"
Leia opened her eyes, squinting in the unexpected brightness of the room. Her skin was damp with sweat, and she was shaking - not from cold, but from some terrible nightmare. A nightmare where her world was being destroyed. Images from the nightmare still remained - of a dark, gray cell and a small droid with a long needle.
"You have to stop yelling," Tenel Ka informed her. "Someone will hear you."
The Princess looked at the child, trying to get her bearings as the dream faded. The little girl had red, curly hair, and unusual gray eyes. She was very distinctive and intelligent looking. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to shout... I was having a bad dream."
"You can see," she stated, looking at Leia's focused eyes. "Do you feel better?"
I can see! Leia realized with relief. She sat up, and assessed herself. She was still achy, and her eyesight still a bit blurry, but overall she felt much improved. "I think I am feeling a bit better." She reached up to her cheek, noting that the side of her face itched, but was no longer blistered or painful.
"I put bacta gel on your face and arm while you were sleeping," the girl told her. "You didn't even wake up. Your face is much better now. It's hardly red at all anymore."
"Thank you." Leia looked around the large, well-appointed room. Decorated with lace and ruffles, the colors were a warm pastel peach and sunshine yellow. "Your room is very pretty."
Tenel Ka made a face. "I hate it. My grandmother decorated it for me. I wanted green and orange, but she said I couldn't have those colors."
"Oh," Leia replied, swinging her legs over the side of the bed. "Do you have a refresher I can use?"
"Over there." The girl pointed to a yellow door. "I don't like how that's decorated, either."
Still feeling a bit wobbly, Leia made her way to the 'fresher and shut the door. It was only when she looked in the mirror that she felt the fear and panic return in a rush. I'm Leia Organa from Alderaan. I'm eighteen years old.... so why do I suddenly look so much older?
The murky green orb of the Yavin moon grew more distant with each passing second. Han Solo sat in the pilot's seat, unconsciously clenching and unclenching his fist. His senses radiated tension inside the small cockpit. "I hope the kids will be okay. I don't like it that all of us are leaving them at the same time." He glanced over at Mara, who was sitting behind Luke.
She knew he'd wanted her to stay behind - not because she couldn't help out on the rescue mission, but in concern for the children. "We've already been over this, Solo," she returned. "The children are as safe as possible. The Jedi on Yavin would do anything to protect your children, or Leia."
"I know. Still..."
"I guess I should consider it an honor that you'd want me to raise your children, if something happened to you," Mara said.
"You're family. Of course I'd want it to be you, instead of someone else."
"Did you hear that, Luke? He's finally decided we're his family."
Luke looked over his shoulder at his wife, smiling. He knew she was trying to help Han relax, take his mind off his worry for Leia, and he was grateful for her effort. "It only took him five years."
"I always knew you and Mara were my family, kid," Han said quietly. "It was just so hard, though. Seeing you only made me miss Leia even more. I know it doesn't make any sense." He paused before adding, "I'm sorry I didn't come to your wedding."
"I'll forgive you if you buy us a belated wedding present," Luke joked.
"And it better be something real expensive," Mara put in, quite serious. "After all, you've already missed three anniversary presents, too."
Han laughed, feeling his stress ease a bit. "All right. I'll find something extra nice for you two."
"You'd better let your wife pick it out," Mara replied. "I'm sure she has much better taste in gifts than you."
Han nodded, then said, "If... when we get her back, I'll spend the next five years holding packages for her while she shops. I'll do anything she wants me to do, without one word of complaint."
"Hmm," Mara said, pursing her lips thoughtfully. "I'm going to be sure to tell her you said that, Solo."
"You won't have to tell her, Mara. I'll tell her myself," Han replied, sincerely.
Leia stumbled out of the refresher, her face pale. "What year is this, Tenel Ka?"
The red-headed girl frowned at her. "Year?"
"I know it sounds like a strange question," Leia said, forcing her voice to remain calm. "Please. I need to know."
"5916, Galactic Standard."
"5916?" Leia repeated in disbelief, gripping the bedpost. "I'm missing seventeen years."
"You were in that box seventeen years?" Tenel Ka asked, shocked. "That's almost forever!"
Leia tried to grasp what had happened to her. "What did that box look like?"
"Dark gray, almost black. You were covered in metal, and you looked like you were in pain. When I used the Force to sense you, I could tell you were in pain... so I pressed the green buttons on the side and then the metal melted away."
So it wasn't a stasis chamber. Leia knew she wouldn't have aged very much during stasis, but she didn't understand what the girl was describing. Metal? People couldn't live inside metal. Had she simply been kept in a drug-induced coma for all these years? Leia clenched her jaw in frustration at her lack of memories. Why would this girl's grandmother want to keep her as a prisoner? Leia had heard of the Hapans, but they were a very closed society, refusing to get involved with the Rebellion, and powerful enough to force the Empire to retreat from their borders. And how did the child learn how to use the Force? Wasn't General Kenobi the last living Jedi? "I need to get back home to Alderaan," Leia said. Once she was home, she would find her answers.
Tenel Ka looked away, flushing. "I can't do that."
"I can fly a ship," Leia prodded, thinking the girl was too afraid to steal. "It won't be stealing, just borrowing. I'll have someone return it later, I promise."
"My parents will be back soon," the girl said softly. "We should just wait until they get home. They'll help you. I know they will."
Maybe the girl's parents were part of this, Leia thought worriedly. "You don't have to help me anymore, Tenel Ka. I'll find my own way back to Alderaan, and then I won't be your problem."
"But - "
"Can I just stay here until it gets dark?" Sneaking out of the palace and trying to escape would be easier at night, although Leia still wondered how she was going to locate and steal a ship.
"But you can't go back to Alderaan!" she blurted out.
"I know you're frightened, Tenel Ka, but I really have to leave Hapes. Try to understand," Leia said gently. "If I'm caught, your grandmother will put me back in that box." Or worse.
Tenel Ka looked away, her eyes watering. "You can't go to Alderaan, Princess Leia. Alderaan is gone."
Leia felt the room spin. "Gone?" I don't want to hear this. I don't want to hear this.
"A long time ago, before I was born, bad guys blew it up."
Hapes, two days later in the hidden chamber.
Ta'a Chume was beside herself with fury as she again watched the two day old holo-recording of the hidden chamber. Her only grandchild. She had rescued the Princess, set the fire, and lied about it to her grandmother's face. Could Ta'a Chume order her own grandchild's death? The former Queen thought back to when she had her own son murdered. It was unfortunate, but sometimes those things had to be done, for the greater good. It was even more annoying that the guards had failed to find the missing Princess, and they had been very reluctant to show her this recording, at first claiming it had been destroyed in the fire. It turned out they had good reason for not wanting Ta'a Chume to see it. After the first viewing, Ta'a Chume had ordered the two guards on duty at the time of the fire to be executed - after watching their families' deaths. Her order had already been carried out.
She turned as Trisdin entered the room. "Do you know where my granddaughter is now, Trisdin?" she asked casually.
"As far as I know, she's in her room, my Queen."
"Then I suspect that's where we'll find Princess Leia." She turned to her four remaining guards, waiting instructions. "Go to my granddaughter's room and bring both of them back here." They quickly hurried to do her bidding, knowing the price of failure.
"Prince Isolder and the Dathomir witch have sent a message saying they are returning this evening," Trisdin added, watching the guards leave.
"Then we will have to hurry, and arrange for a terrible accident for Tenel Ka. She mustn't be allowed to tell what she knows."
Tenel Ka handed Leia some fruit and bread that she had taken from the breakfast table. "I wish it could be more, but I can't take too much, or they'll wonder what I'm doing. I think they are already wondering why I've been so hungry the last two days."
"That's okay," Leia said dully, taking the food. She knew she should eat, but food held no interest for her. She tore off a piece of bread and ate without really tasting, unable to stop thinking about Alderaan. Once the little girl had told her the Empire had destroyed Alderaan, she realized her terrible dream had not been a dream at all - it had been a memory, and Leia had spent the past two days in mourning for her lost family, her lost world.
"Can't you remember anymore since yesterday?" the girl asked hopefully.
"A little bit," Leia replied. Tarkin. Vader. Thinking about them made her stomach churn. "I remember being on the Death Star when it destroyed .... Alderaan." She shut her eyes, forcing back tears. Something that happened seventeen years ago, and the pain was fresh, like it had happened yesterday. "I remember being rescued right before I was supposed to be executed."
"That's good. Then you are remembering things. I told you that would happen."
"Yes, some things." And people. People like, Luke "I'm here to rescue you" Skywalker. That's probably why I thought I heard his voice yesterday, Leia mused. It was just a long ago memory. And Han "I'm just in this for the money" Solo. What had become of them? She could vaguely recall the medal ceremony on Yavin. And that was all -nothing more came back to her. As hard as she tried, going past that single point was impossible. A blank wall that she could not breach. Perhaps shortly after Yavin, this Hapan Queen had kidnapped her.
If all that happened over seventeen years ago, then Luke Skywalker and Captain Solo were probably dead. At least Luke probably had died. If she were to guess, the young man had undoubtedly been a casualty of the war. One of thousands. The smuggler probably had taken off after the medal ceremony, never to be seen again. Tenel Ka had assured her the Rebellion had won the war, "a long time ago", as she had put it. The Emperor was dead - he had died in a big battle over some planet she couldn't name, although that had embarrassed her a little, since it was something she was supposed to know. It had been a history lesson, but she hated history.
Leia gave a sad smile. History. Everything she loved, everything she had worked so hard for, was now history. Alderaan, the struggle for freedom. Something to be learned by children.
Suddenly the girl jumped up, her eyes wide. "We have to leave."
"My grandmother! She knows! She knows where you are."
"How do you know?"
"I just know things," she replied cryptically as she grabbed Leia's hand. "We have to hurry. We must hide somewhere, until my parents come home. They will protect us."
Wondering how the child knew these 'things', Leia hurried behind as they ran from the room.
They ran through the hallways, making sudden turns and unexpected stops as the girl peered around corners. Two guards appeared at the end of one of the corridors holding weapons, and Tenel Ka pulled back, knowing she'd been seen. "This way," she instructed Leia, running back in the direction they had just come from. "Here!" Tenel Ka stopped in front of an elaborate gilt-covered door, punching in an access code. The door opened and they hurried inside, just as the guards shouted for them to halt.
The fancy door was slammed shut and locked by the Hapan girl while Leia looked around, holding her side from the exertion. "I don't think I've quite recovered from that box," Leia panted out. She noted the huge room had twenty foot high walls, covered in rather risqué murals of young, good-looking, scantily clad men. "Is this room a museum?"
"No," Tenel Ka replied. "This is the entryway to my grandmother's apartment. We can escape from here."
"How? The guards saw that we came in here," Leia pointed out, listening to their muffled voices through the thick door.
The girl smiled. "They don't know about my grandmother's secret tunnel. No one does, except me." She started walking, her shoes echoing on the marble floor. "Come on."
The guards starting blasting at the outer door, and Leia hurried to follow. The girl led her through a hallway filled with gaudy stone statues of muscle bound males, covered with strips of cloth placed in strategic areas. Tenel Ka noted that Leia was frowning at the sculptures. "My grandmother had them covered up. Mother wouldn't let me in this apartment unless she put clothes on the statues."
"Oh," Leia mumbled, unable to think of an appropriate response. What kind of woman was this grandmother, anyway? Leia understood art, but this was a bit extreme for any art lover.
"Do you want to know a secret?" Tenel Ka whispered as they walked along.
"I peeked anyway. Boys are built very strange, and that's a fact."
Leia laughed, understanding that a child like Tenel Ka would be curious. Tenel Ka led her into a lavishly decorated bedroom, with gold furniture and deep purple rugs and curtains. Crystal vases sat on tables, and a chandelier sparkled overhead. It was the room of someone that still believed she ruled the Hapes Consortium.
A loud noise sounded from the outer doorway. "I think the guards just got the door open," Leia said, looking over her shoulder. "Is your grandmother's secret tunnel very far?"
Tenel Ka pushed at the edge of a picture frame, and the wall slid apart. She smiled up at Leia. "No. It's right here."
"Listen up, you bantha-brained bureaucrat," Han snapped into the speaker, "I'm landing, whether you give me permission or not, and if you have a problem with that you can come discuss it with me personally - after I land. I'll see to it that future Hapans never have to worry about you passing on your simpleton genes to the next generation."
"That's the way to sweet talk him, Solo," Mara muttered.
Han spared his sister-in-law a glare over his shoulder as he muted the speaker. "Sweet talk? Come on, Jade. You don't sweet talk idiots either, so don't act all innocent with me."
"Mara's right," Luke put in. "We should just ask to speak directly with Isolder or Teneniel."
"Isolder? That pompous jerk? He's probably in on this."
Luke shook his head. "No, I don't believe that. I know you don't like him, and he's not one of my favorite people, either. But I don't think for a moment he's part of this."
"Millennium Falcon," the harried space controller spoke up. "You will be escorted to your landing site. Please do not deviate from this course, or you will face serious consequences."
"Could you please define 'serious consequences'?" Han pointedly asked the controller, trying not to think of how this was reminding him of Bespin. "I would think firing on a ship piloted by two Jedi Masters, and a former New Republic General would have serious consequences for you."
"I... uh... I didn't mean we'd fire at you!"
Luke slapped his hand over the speaker, and gave Han a stern look, which he could tell had absolutely no effect. "Han, please! Leia's down there!"
"Fine," Han replied, lifting the Jedi's hand off the speaker. "Controller, I'll be a good Captain and follow your escorts down, so you can quit worrying about your job."
"Thank you. General Solo."
"You're not welcome," Han grumbled under his breath as he adjusted the yoke to follow the two Hapan escorts.
Once inside the hidden passage, Tenel Ka pressed a button and the wall slid shut. Then she turned on dim, overhead lighting. "The guards do not know of this tunnel. My grandmother doesn't even know that I found it." She gave Leia a bright smile. "My parents are gone a lot, and I have lots of time when no one even knows where I'm at, or what I'm doing. So I sneak in here when grandmother is busy and look around."
"Why does she have this tunnel? What does she use it for?"
"I guess to leave the palace without being seen." Tenel Ka started walking, guiding Leia down the musty, narrow corridor. "This has always been her private apartment, even when she was the Queen Mother. The tunnel goes all over. One hall leads to the library, and another leads to the Royal spaceport, and that is just outside the palace walls."
"It is guarded," Tenel Ka said, understanding what Leia wanted.
"Is there another spaceport nearby? A public one, where lots of ships come and go?"
"There is one in town, but it is a long way to walk. Maybe..."
"Near the palace spaceport is a place where supplies arrive by hovercraft. If we could sneak inside one of those..."
"We could get a ride into town?" Leia finished the sentence.
"We must be very careful not to be seen."
"And that's a fact," Leia said with a nod.
Local Hapan Public Spaceport
Luke Skywalker moved away from the spaceport security guards, and walked over to his wife and brother-in-law. "I explained to them that this is all just a misunderstanding, and we're here to visit Queen Mother Teneniel Djo."
"Did they buy it?" Han asked, scowling at the security men.
"I had to gently persuade them, but yes, they believe me."
"Persuade? You mean you used the Force on them," Han said with a smirk. "Blasters can be pretty persuasive too, ya know."
"So can lightsabers," Mara added. "Especially when they're pointed in the direction of stubborn Corellians."
"Hey!" Han looked at his brother-in-law. "Your wife is threatening me."
Luke gave a dramatic sigh. "How did I end up related to both of you?"
"You married me," Mara pointed out. "And it was your idea, too."
"See, kid? That's where ideas get you. They're nothin' but trouble."
"Especially your ideas," Luke shot back as he headed toward the hovercraft rental area.
Hapan Royal Spaceport
Just as promised, one branch of the very long tunnel led directly to the palace's private spaceport, and the wall opened up inside a dark storage room. Unfortunately, Tenel Ka was proved to be quite correct about the guards patrolling the spaceport. Leia frowned as she noted how far away they were from the area where the hovercrafts were parked. In order to reach them, they would have to cross a large hanger with several tightly locked, expensive Hapan transports, and those transports were spaced widely apart.
"I don't know how we'll be able to get to the other side without someone seeing us," Leia whispered to the girl, as they crouched down behind some crates, just outside the storage room. "These guards don't seem to be especially on the alert, considering your grandmother thinks I'm a crazy, dangerous, prison escapee."
The little girl was silent for a while as she stared at the guards, then said, "Wait here." Without giving Leia a chance to argue, she hurried away from the hiding place behind the crates and headed directly for one of the Royal Guards. Leia felt her heart drop down to her boots as Tenel Ka stopped by a guard and had a lengthy discussion with the man. The guard nodded, and Tenel Ka skipped away, moving in the direction of the hovercrafts. Then she disappeared. And Leia waited. And waited. She's not coming back, the Princess thought in panic. Desperately, she looked around for some cover, or something she could use as a weapon if necessary.
Cautiously, Leia inched forward, preparing to make a run across the hanger to the hovercrafts, when one of the smaller vehicles careened across the hanger floor, swerving back and forth like a drunken space sailor. Leia's eyes widened as the craft veered toward her, and she tensed, preparing to leap out of harm's way. Guards followed the vehicle, waving their arms and shouting orders to stop. The hovercraft stopped abruptly - inches away from the wall and directly next to Leia.
Tenel Ka leaned over from the driver's side. "Could you please get inside, Princess Leia? The guards will be here any second."
Leia didn't hesitate, jumping inside only moments before the hovercraft jerked wildly backwards, making the startled guards lurch clear of the insane driver, or risk being run over.
"Do you know how to drive?" Leia asked dubiously. The child could barely see over the steering wheel to look out of the viewport.
"I have watched my father drive," she replied matter-of-factly. "It never looked too hard." The hovercraft spun around in a half circle, and now was facing the opposite direction. Tenel Ka pressed on the accelerator control, sending the vehicle roaring toward the hanger exit.
"The doors are shutting!" Leia yelled.
"Hang on!" The hovercraft sped toward the huge metal doors, as their only means of escape got smaller and smaller.
"We're not going to make it!" Leia screamed just as the doors started to scrape the sides of the hovercraft, sending sparks flying. A second later, they shot clear of the doorway, leaving behind confused and startled guards.
Tenel Ka laughed as she steered the craft onto a public thoroughfare, forcing other hovercrafts and speeders to veer sharply to avoid hitting them. She hadn't had this much fun in a very long time.
"Why didn't that first guard try to stop you?" Leia asked, gasping as they ran an intersection.
"I don't think he knew anything," she replied thoughtfully. "I could feel he wasn't looking for me. That's why I talked to him. He told me I shouldn't be in the spaceport, and that I should go home."
"Feel? You must get these feelings a lot," Leia commented, digging her fingernails into the front console as the craft swerved back and forth, like it was trying to avoid incoming fire - except there was no incoming fire.
"Yes, that is very true," the girl replied, looking at Leia. "Grandmother gets mad when I tell her about these feelings."
"Could you please watch where you're going?"
Tenel Ka turned her attention back to her viewport.
"Isn't it strange that no one came after us?" Leia mused aloud. Just then, a flash of blaster fire sizzled past the hovercraft, only missing because of Tenel Ka's very erratic driving.
"I don't know why I have to sit in the back," Mara groused as Han drove the rental along the designated travel lanes, moving in the general direction of the Hapan palace.
"Because," Han answered.
"Because? What kind of idiotic answer is that?"
"I don't know," Han replied with a shrug. "My kids don't think it's much of an answer, either."
"I can't say as I blame them."
"You could sit on Luke's lap. I'm sure he wouldn't mind, but it'd be kinda hard for him to read the holo-map that way."
Luke studied the holo-map, trying to ignore the conversation. "We need to make a right turn in a few miles."
"Just let me know when, kid. There's a lot of traffic flyin' around."
"You should've let me drive," Mara commented from behind Luke. "Women are better drivers, anyway."
"Oh, sure," Han said, laughing. "Where did you come up with that statistic?"
"All right. How about I'm just a better driver than you?"
"I'll have you know I've never gotten a citation in my life.... one that I've paid, anyway."
"The next turn," Luke instructed the Corellian.
At that moment a small hovercraft came screeching around the very corner that Luke had pointed at, causing many other vehicles to scatter and blow their warning signals. It headed directly toward their rental hovercraft, forcing Han to swerve violently to avoid a collision. "What the - ?" Han never got his sentence finished, as a second hovercraft also turned sharply and narrowly missed a collision, following directly behind the first one. The pursuing craft fired blaster bolts wildly at the smaller vehicle, almost hitting them instead of the fleeing craft.
"Leia!" Luke shouted, grabbing Han by his upper arm, almost making the Corellian lose control again.
"She's in that first hovercraft!"
Han turned their rental around so quickly that he caused more warning signals to sound, as well as a wide variety of obscene gestures directed at the insane driver. "Hang on!" Han yelled as he accelerated the hovercraft to its limit.
Luke and Mara were thrown back against the seat padding, and the engine protested with a high pitched whine. They began a high speed chase to overtake the two other hovercrafts.
"I wish I had a blaster!" Leia yelled over to Tenel Ka, trying to avoid whiplash as the small hovercraft jerked back and forth. She reached over and made certain the little girl's safety belt was fastened, and pulled her own tighter. "It's only a matter of time before they hit us with blaster fire!"
"I think I'm getting better at this driving," Tenel Ka shouted back gleefully, unaware that her method of 'driving' was the only reason they hadn't already been hit by a blaster.
Another blaster shot flew past, only this one seemed to come from a different blaster. Then a second bolt, and Leia understood. "Oh great! Now we have two hovercrafts shooting at us!"
"Well, I'm truly sorry Princess Leia, but I'm going as fast as I can," the girl replied, trying to push herself high enough to see where she was going.
"It's not your fault," Leia replied, looking through the back viewport. But Leia wished she were the one at the steering controls, as well as wishing she had a blaster.
A blaster shot caught the back of their hovercraft, causing the engine to spark and crackle. Tenel Ka shouted worriedly, "I can't make it go straight anymore!"
"You mean we were going straight before?" Leia muttered, shutting her eyes.
While Luke was using the Force to prevent several dozen accidents from occurring simultaneously, Han drove through the dense traffic at a breakneck speed.
"Keep this thing steady, Solo!" Mara yelled out, gripping Han's blaster. "You keep making me miss!"
"If it's okay with you, I'm trying to avoid running over innocent bystanders, Jade!" Han shouted back, feeling the need to defend his wild driving.
Mara leaned further out of the side window, and fired another shot at the hovercraft that was pursuing Leia. Her shot hit the rear stabilizer, causing the hovercraft to lean to the right. However, the driver managed to keep control and continued his chase, while the passenger tried to ignore them, continuing to direct his fire at Leia's hovercraft. It was then that Mara noticed the hovercraft with Leia was now heading directly toward the oncoming traffic. "I think he hit Leia's hovercraft!" Mara yelled, trying to be heard above the roar of the rushing wind.
Luke reached out with the Force, helping Leia's vehicle avoid the oncoming hovercrafts, and reducing its speed. Even though the oncoming hovercrafts were forced to swerve to avoid a collision, Leia's hovercraft safely weaved through the vehicles, then ended up nose first into an grassy embankment, effectively ending the chase.
The pursuing craft slowed and tried to turn away from the mayhem, but Mara was too quick. Another accurate shot from the DL-44 blew a smoking hole in the engine compartment, and the craft went down on its belly, skidding sideways. Han slammed on the brakes and stopped.
The men in the pursuing vehicle jumped out, firing randomly at their unknown assailants and Leia's hovercraft. Luke and Mara quickly climbed out, easily deflecting the fire with their lightsabers. Then, using the Force, yanked both weapons from the startled Hapans' hands. Mara handed Han his blaster back, and smiled at him smugly. "I can drive and shoot better than you."
"Are you trying to add to our little challenge?" Han questioned her. Without waiting for a reply, Han shouted at the men as he pointed his blaster at them, "Get down on the ground!" To his surprise, one man attempted to run away, heading directly into the path of a speeder coming in the opposite direction. It was only Luke's intervention by the Force that spared the man's life - the man flew into the air and sailed above the oncoming vehicle, landing safely on the far side of the thoroughfare. The second Hapan obeyed Han's order, and dropped to the ground.
A young girl climbed out of the driver's side of the crumpled hovercraft, and a dark haired, bedraggled woman followed her from the passenger's side.
"Leia!" Han shouted in joy. She was dressed in exactly the same clothes he'd last seen her. She was covered with soot and dark stains. But to Han, she'd never looked as beautiful as she did at that moment.
The girl and Leia headed toward the group, and Leia looked at the Corellian in surprise. "What are you doing here?" she asked in irritation.
Han ran to the Princess, gathering her up in his arms. "What am I doing here? Looking for you, Princess," he replied happily, still barely able to believe that she was standing right in front of him, alive and in one piece. He moved to kiss her, and was roughly pushed back.
"Just what do you think you're doing?" Leia snapped, twisting out of his embrace.
If Han had hoped that just seeing them would bring back her missing past, he was disappointed. Leia took a step back, glaring at him like he'd committed some crime. "Sweetheart, it's me," he prodded gently.
"Han," Luke spoke as he quickly came up behind them. This was not the time or the place to create a scene by telling Leia more than she could handle. "She has amnesia."
"I know who you are," Leia said sharply. "An arrogant, stuck on himself, mercenary. How much did you get paid to come help rescue me, Solo?"
"Paid?" Han asked, confused. The fact she remembered him was a very good thing, but the way she was treating him - it was like she blamed him for everything that had happened over the past five years. "I'm your - "
Then Leia turned and looked at Luke with a huge smile, cutting Han off. "Luke! You're alive! I was so worried about you."
"Leia, what exactly is the last thing you do remember?" Luke questioned gently.
"I.. I remember the Death Star blowing up ... Alderaan," she answered in a shaky voice. "I remember the medal ceremony." She looked at Luke, her eyes shiny. "Tenel Ka told me the Rebellion won the war. I'm glad you survived, Luke." Leia threw her arms around him, hugging him tightly.
Glancing over her shoulder, Luke could see the hurt in Han's eyes. Leia was pleased to see him, but far less pleased to see Han, her own husband. She doesn't remember she's married to him. She doesn't even remember I'm her brother, Luke thought worriedly. Luke pulled back, looking in Leia's eyes. "Leia. You've been frozen in carbonite for five years. Until a few days ago, we thought you were dead."
"It's... a freezing process for long term storage and transportation. It's not meant to be used on humans, or sentients."
Sirens sounded in the distance as traffic control officers headed in their direction.
"Five years? But I can't remember seventeen years!" She paused, then added, "No, I guess it's more like fifteen years, now. I remember several bases after Yavin."
"I think your memory has been affected by the freezing, or maybe the unthawing process. But you haven't been missing for fifteen years."
Leia looked over at the red-headed woman standing behind Luke. "Who is this?"
"This ... is my wife, Mara Jade-Skywalker," Luke replied, watching Leia's reaction to this small revelation carefully. If she couldn't handle this information, then telling her about other, more important issues would have to be done with great caution.
Mara gave a small smile and nodded at the Princess. Mara knew that the last time Leia had seen her, the ex-assassin was still struggling with her past, and her last command by the Emperor to kill Luke. By the expression on Leia's face, the name Mara Jade didn't ring any bells - for that, Mara felt a wave of relief.
Wife? Luke is married? She felt a pang of something she couldn't quite place. Jealousy? Then she really looked at Luke. He was no longer the boy she remembered. He'd matured, and he'd changed. Luke Skywalker was now a very confident man, dressed in the robes of a Jedi. Had he become a Jedi, like Obi-Wan Kenobi had wanted? So much time had passed, events she couldn't remember. What else had changed in those missing years? Unwillingly, her eyes flicked back over to Han Solo. What had happened to him? His cocky expression was completely missing, and he was staring at her with a strange mixture of sadness and joy on his face. Something had changed Solo, as well.
"Princess Leia," Tenel Ka interrupted, pointing up as a ship passed overhead, heading in the direction of the palace. "That's my parents' shuttle returning to the Royal spaceport. They are back early."
"Luke," Leia started out tentatively, tearing her gaze away from Solo. "This is my friend, Tenel Ka. She saved me from the, the carbonite. And Tenel Ka, this is Luke Skywalker and his ... wife. Mara."
"Hello, Tenel Ka," Luke said, smiling. "The last time I saw you, you were still in diapers."
"I haven't been in diapers for a long time," she replied, staring up at Luke in fascination. Then she looked at the taller man, who was standing silently behind the Princess, looking upset, but unable to stop gazing at Leia. "Who are you?"
"I'm Leia's - " Han started to answer, but stopped when the approaching traffic security hovercrafts' sirens drowned out his words.
Hapan Traffic Security forces jumped out, weapons drawn. "Throw down your weapons, and put your hands up!"
Tenel Ka stalked toward the men. "I'm Princess Tenel Ka, and these are my friends." She pointed at the men face down on the ground. "Those are the two bad guys. You will contact my parents, and take us back to the palace. Right now!"
"Yes, your Highness!"
Three hours later.
At Luke's insistence, Han had not told Leia he was her husband, and Luke had not brought up the fact she was his twin. But it bothered Han a great deal that Leia was pleased to see Luke, while she barely acknowledged his existence. Had she hated him that much in the beginning? What if she would never recall that they had fallen in love? He worried if that happened, he wouldn't be able to win her love a second time. And what would happen when she discovered she had three children with a man she couldn't stand? It was killing him inside not to be able to hold her, kiss her, tell her how much he loved her and had missed her.
Now, back at the Hapan palace, Han, Luke, and Mara sat in a formal receiving room, while Prince Isolder and Queen Teneniel Djo tried to sort out what had happened. Tenel Ka had been sent with trusted caretakers back to the safety of her room, while Leia was currently being checked by a Hapan doctor.
"It just seems impossible to me that Mother did all this," Isolder said, shaking his head in dismay. Earlier, Luke had also filled Isolder and Teneniel in on Leia's memory loss, and they agreed to leave it to Leia's family to tell the details of her missing years.
"Why?" Han groused out. "Your mother isn't exactly up for any philanthropy awards."
The current Queen Mother got up and paced the room. "I'm not surprised she could take some demented revenge out on Princess Leia," she said, her voice bitter. "But ordering those guards to kill her own granddaughter? That's even lower than I thought it was possible for her to stoop."
"Has anyone found Ta'a Chume yet?" Mara asked.
"We are looking. All but two of her paid guards have been arrested, and the ones we caught are telling us everything. Unfortunately, Mother and those two guards are missing."
"Missing?" Han asked, trying unsuccessfully to keep the anger out of his voice. "Someone had to see them leave! Maybe you're just trying to protect her from me!"
"That is not the case, Captain Solo," Isolder said, annoyed. "I promise you she will be found and brought to justice." He paused briefly, then added, "I am truly sorry for everything Mother has done to you and your family."
"Sorry doesn't even begin to make up for this," Han shot back hotly. "How are you going to explain this to the New Republic government? Why don't you come tell my kids you're sorry they haven't had their mother for five years!" He was pleased when Isolder was unable to keep looking at him. Apparently, the Prince did have a few more scruples than his mother, and had the grace to appear ashamed of his mother's behavior
"Captain Solo," Teneniel Djo spoke softly. "There is absolutely nothing I wouldn't give to change what happened five years ago. Perhaps your government will request the Hapan Consortium leave the New Republic - if that is the case, we will withdraw immediately. But are you certain this is something Leia wants to happen?"
Isolder watched as Han looked away, his eyes filled with uncertainty and grief over the years he'd lost with his wife. "Credits won't make up for this, but we will compensate you and your family, Solo."
"I don't want your money," Han replied tightly, then belatedly thought about Tenel Ka. He had to admit the little girl was remarkably heroic and selfless, even if she was Isolder's child, and it would be unfair of him not to acknowledge her efforts. "I appreciate what your daughter did, the risks she took to help Leia."
"How did Ta'a Chume do all this?" Luke questioned into the uncomfortable silence that followed. "Did her guards explain?"
The Prince took a deep breath and then spoke. "Apparently, she wanted President Organa-Solo either dead, or the next best thing. Her private guards told us she hired specialists and bounty hunters to infiltrate the Kashyyyk Embassy dedication, and plant the bomb. If the bomb failed to kill her, then they were to kidnap her during the confusion following the explosion. After your Wookiee friend threw Leia off the stage, the bounty hunters grabbed and drugged her. She wasn't able to use the Force to sense there was any danger, because they were carrying the ysalamir with them. Once they brought her to Hapes, Mother had Leia placed in carbonite, so she could never escape."
"Why is there a carbonite chamber in the palace?" Mara asked, narrowing her green eyes.
Isolder gave a harsh laugh. "There isn't. Mother had one brought in and assembled, just in case the bomb failed to kill Leia. As soon as she was frozen, the carbon freezing chamber was disassembled and removed, to get rid of the evidence."
"She thought of everything," Han said flatly, staring at the carpet. "If the ysalamir wouldn't have died, we would never have found Leia."
"Maybe that proves she didn't think of everything," Teneniel Djo replied gently.
The Hapan doctor carefully and thoroughly checked the Princess, running every test she could think to run. The Princess appeared to be in amazingly good health, considering what she had been through, and said as much to her.
"Then why can't I remember everything? Why am I still missing fifteen years?" Leia questioned, frustrated.
"I can only surmise that Tenel Ka did not release you from the carbonite correctly. I have checked with her, and asked the experts on carbon freezing. There is a pattern you must press, and it must be exact. Press two buttons wrong, and that deviation can cause death or brain damage. A one button deviation can cause - "
"Memory loss," Leia interrupted. "I know this, somehow."
"Yes, the memory loss is caused by an interruption in your neural connections. The good news is that your memory should return in time. It appears that it's already coming back to you, a little bit at a time," Dr. Kann'i replied.
"That's a relief," Leia whispered, nodding in agreement. In fact, seeing Luke and Han had jarred some additional memories. She could now remember spending a great deal of time on missions with both men, especially Han Solo. General Rieekan always seemed to get some odd pleasure from pushing her into assignments with Solo as her pilot. And she could remember the Rebels deciding to move to Hoth, much to the annoyance of a certain, aggravating Corellian. Something bad had happened on Hoth, Leia thought, trying hard to remember. It was right there, tantalizingly close at the edge of her memories....
"There's one other item you should be aware of, Princess."
"You should know that you are five weeks pregnant, but the freezing process did not appear to harm your fetus."
Luke jumped up, his eyes wide. "Leia..."
"What about her, kid?" Han asked, instantly afraid. He turned to Isolder, his hand coming to rest on the butt of his blaster. "You said she was safe! Where is this medical ward?"
"I'll take you there," Isolder replied as he stood up.
"Han," Luke said, quickly returning his focus on the room. "She's not in any physical danger. She's..."
"She's in emotional distress. I didn't tell the doctor... I should have, but in all the confusion, I forgot..."
"Luke!" Han snapped out impatiently. "What did you forget?"
"I forgot to tell the doctor not to inform Leia about her relationship to us."
They quickly followed Isolder to the medical wing.
Leia stared at the doctor like she was speaking an alien language Leia couldn't quite comprehend. "Pregnant?"
"Yes. I take it you didn't know yet," Dr. Kann'i said with a smile. "Congratulations."
"Con..congratulations?" Leia stuttered. "This isn't possible!"
"Not possible? You mean you and your husband were taking precautions? Well, unfortunately, sometimes that fails, or people misjudge or forget when to get their birth control updates."
This can't be happening.... Wait! What did she say? "Husband? I don't have a husband!" Leia spluttered out, still unable to fully comprehend what the doctor had just told her.
"Ah, I see," the doctor said with an understanding nod. "You don't remember him yet. You will - just give it time."
"Who.... who is my husband?" Is it Luke? Is that why I felt jealous when he introduced Mara Jade as his wife?
The doctor looked at her information on the small computer screen. "Organa-Solo. I guess your husband's last name is Solo."
"SOLO?" the Princess yelled, jumping off the examine table, and pulling the new dress that Teneniel Djo had given her over her head. "This is crazy! You're crazy! I wouldn't marry that .... that scoundrel if he were the last man in the galaxy!" Quickly, she buttoned up the dress, and pulled on her boots.
"Mrs. Solo, calm down - "
"Don't call me that! My name is NOT Solo!" Leia's eyes darted around the room, her heart racing. A thought occurred to her. "He put you up to this, didn't he? I remember now he's got a warped sense of humor... always pulling pranks.... this is a ... a joke, right? Right?"
Dr. Kann'i's face got stony. "I am a professional, Princess Leia Organa-Solo," she replied, her voice frosty. "I do not lie to my patients, nor do I 'pull pranks', as you put it, on my patients." She stood up, placing her hands on her hips. "I can assure you that you are, indeed, five weeks pregnant. Whether or not Solo is the father of this child is between the two of you. I'm sorry if this information has upset you, but perhaps you don't need to worry about it."
Leia stood still, trying to absorb this avalanche of information. "Not worry? If I married that laser brained nerf-herder, I must have lost my mind before the carbonite."
"What I meant to say, Princess, is that it has been five years. Five years is a long time for a husband to grieve for a deceased wife. Perhaps, believing you were dead, he has remarried. Then you can simply divorce or annul your marriage to this man you don't seem to like, much less love."
Remarried? He wouldn't dare! Wait.. what am I thinking? Why would I care if he was remarried? Did I used to love him? DO I still love him? Does he love ME? Leia had never felt more confused or conflicted - all she could remember was non-stop arguing with Han Solo, and his claims about not caring about anyone but himself. Of course, he was always risking his life for her, and he did care about Chewbacca. Where was Chewie, anyway? It seemed odd that the ever-present Wookiee was not at Han's side.
If I'm pregnant, and Han is the father, that means... Her face flushed at the thought of having been intimate with Solo. The idea of being another one of his many conquests upset her - didn't she always swear that would never, ever happen? - but if he married her, then wouldn't that mean she was more than just another notch in his gunbelt? Han Solo, husband! Those two words just didn't seem to go together, it was just too surreal to wrap her mind around. Still, Leia could remember the long nights she'd spent thinking about the Corellian, wondering what it might be like to kiss him. I must have found out what it's like, she thought, feeling a bit woozy. "What about the baby?" Leia asked.
"You don't have to have it," was the doctor's curt reply.
That statement brought Leia up short, and she put her hand over her stomach. Not have it? "I... I wouldn't do that..."
"That's your decision, Princess. Perhaps you can just have Solo raise this baby without your help. He must be taking care of your other children."
"Others?" Leia whispered.
The doctor's voice grew softer, realizing that she'd told her patient more than she intended. "My examine shows you have given birth before, Princess. I'd say more than once."
Leia's mouth literally dropped open. How could I forget about having children? she thought, astounded, desperately trying to recall ever having been pregnant, or giving birth. Maybe that's why he married me, because he felt obligated. Or Luke and Chewie forced him to marry me. That has to be the reason.
The sound of the door opening made Leia turn around. Han Solo stood in the entrance, his expression filled with compassion and concern. "Leia -"
"You've got a lot of nerve, flyboy," Leia snapped out, fighting back the impulse to slap his face. She was not about to let him see any weakness, or think she was about to fall swooning into his arms. He'd like that, and probably have some arrogant wisecrack comment about his virility, or her lack of self control. Although she couldn't place where it happened, a memory came back to her. "You just couldn't stand to let a gorgeous guy like me outta your sight." "I hate you," she said, her voice brittle. Quickly, she pushed past the stunned Corellian, and rushed out of the room.
"I'm afraid this is my fault," the doctor told them. "She's overwhelmed with too much information, too fast."
"What did you tell her?" Han managed to ask.
"Princess Leia is five weeks pregnant. She didn't handle that news too well, or the fact that she's married."
"Pregnant?" Han said with a gasp. "A... a baby?"
"The baby is fine," Dr. Kann'i assured him, but Han wasn't listening. He turned and started to follow Leia out of the room.
"Han," Luke stopped him. "Let me talk to her."
"No. She's my wife."
"She doesn't remember that."
"She doesn't remember you're her brother, either," Han returned.
"Maybe both of you should just leave her alone for a while," Mara put in. "She needs time to assimilate everything she's just heard."
Han was about to argue when a scream came from down the hallway.
"LEIA!" Han shouted, trying to push past Luke and Mara, while drawing out his blaster.
"Wait, Solo!" Isolder yelled. "That sounded like Teneniel."
The three men rushed out of the room, unaware that a certain red-head was moving in a different direction. Following Luke, they quickly entered the throne room, and instantly saw the problem. Queen Teneniel Djo stood to one side of the room next to Princess Leia, and each woman had one of Ta'a Chume's guards standing behind them, while Ta'a Chume stood near the tall windows, holding Tenel Ka around her neck with one arm, the other hand pointing a blaster at the girl's temple.
"Stay back, or I'll kill her," she snarled as the men entered the room. "And my guards will kill those witches, too."
"Please, Ta'a Chume," Teneniel begged her mother-in-law, her face white with fear. "Tenel Ka is only a child. Let her go."
"Where were you hiding, Mother?" Isolder spat out in disgust.
"She was in her secret tun-" Tenel Ka started to say.
"SHUT UP!" the former Queen screamed, her arm tightening around the girl's throat. "You're just like her, spying on me all the time! You're like both of them! They hate me.... they laugh because I'm no longer in power! Because Hapes is under the control of the New Republic!"
"You can't get away, Mother," Isolder said slowly. "Let Tenel Ka go, and tell your guards to drop their weapons."
"You drop your weapons," Ta'a Chume ordered sharply. "Starting with you, Solo. Or I'll have my guard kill your wife, first."
Han glanced over at the guard standing behind Leia. He looked nervous, and very uncertain. Still, he wasn't willing to risk Leia's life with a sabacc bluff, so he tossed his blaster on the floor. "Let them go," Han repeated the Queen's plea. "If you need a hostage, I'll go with you."
"How noble of you, smuggler," Ta'a Chume said with a harsh laugh. "What makes you think I'll let you take her place?" She looked over at the Princess. "My only mistake was allowing you to live, even in carbonite. But I stole your life, anyway, didn't I? I took you away from your husband and your babies. I doubt they even remember their royal mother."
It took all of Leia's skills as a diplomat to speak calmly. "I'll go with you, Ta'a Chume. Just let Tenel Ka go unharmed. She's your grandchild. You must feel some love for her."
"Love?" The older woman snorted. "I don't believe in love. Just look at my son. One minute he claimed he loved you, and the next minute he claimed to love that worthless witch from Dathomir. And you're no better, Princess. You claimed to love Solo, yet you very nearly let the idea of being the Hapan Queen Mother sway you into marrying Isolder, a man you had barely met. Love is a joke."
"You need to let go of your hatred," Luke said, trying to use the Force to gain some control of the situation. "It's blinding you, Ta'a Chume. Making you think only power is important - more important than your family."
"My family? I have nothing but fools and idiots for my family! Power is more important, Skywalker - why do you think your father became Vader and tossed aside his family? He loved that power more than he loved you and your sister."
Leia felt her legs get weak at that comment. Vader! Vader was Luke's father? And Luke had a sister?
"Our father saw the truth in the end," Luke argued, able to feel Leia's shock through the Force.
"Then he was a fool at the end, as well," Ta'a Chume answered.
Luke shook his head, and only then noticed a movement outside the window.
Mara moved along the edge of the narrow stone window sill, trying to keep her balance. It was a five story drop to the ground from where she was. Probably not fatal, especially for a Jedi, but it was likely to hurt. As fast as possible, she made her way over to the ornate balcony in front of the throne room, and dropped silently down to the outside stone. She glanced through the curtains, into the throne room. Ta'a Chume stood rigid, her back toward the balcony, holding a blaster to her grandchild's head. Mara shook her head in disgust. Ta'a Chume reminded her of Palpatine in so many ways. Cruel. Power hungry. Not caring who they hurt or killed.
She turned on her lightsaber, trying to make as little noise as possible. It was unlikely they'd be able to hear the snap hiss of a saber through the thick doors, but she kept her eyes glued to Ta'a Chume, just in case. She cut through the lock, and nudged it open. As the old door swung out, the hinges gave a squeal, and Mara's eyes opened wide.
Everything happened at once. To Leia, it seemed to happen both at lightning speed, and in slow motion.
Ta'a Chume heard the noise, and quickly tried to turn around, keeping Tenel Ka in front of her body. Mara moved forward, striking her blue saber down, and severing the former Queen's right arm from her body, preventing her from pulling the trigger. Luke moved forward, reaching out with the Force and hauling the child to safety while the grandmother screamed in agony.
Teneniel Djo twisted around, and using her own Force skills, threw the guard standing behind her against the wall. Isolder rushed past his wife, grappling with the man's weapon, and wrenching it away.
Leia dropped to the ground, trying to get out of the firing range just as the man standing behind her pulled the trigger. She saw Han diving forward as he lunged for his blaster, she could feel the heat of the blaster bolt as it barely missed the top of her head and left a smoldering hole in the wall across the room. She watched, to her horror, as Han grasped his blaster, aiming at the guard, but the guard fired off a second shot, this time at Han. "HAN!!!!" Leia heard herself screaming a warning the moment before the blast hit the Corellian in his left side. Still, Han managed to get off his own shot, striking the guard through his heart. Leia started to stand up, knowing she had to get to Han, when the dead weight of the guard fell on top of her, slamming her into the marble floor. She felt the impact knock the air from her lungs, and her head cracking against the hard surface.
"She's awake," Dr. Kann'i told a worried Luke and Mara as she exited Leia's room. Luke and Mara quickly stood, but the doctor held up her hand, stopping them from entering Leia's room. "She's lost the fetus. I tried drugs to stop the bleeding, but I'm afraid it didn't work. Since we have so little information about carbon freezing on humans, a miscarriage may have happened anyway, even without this latest trauma to her body."
"Does she know?" Mara asked.
"I've told her. But she's far more concerned about her husband."
Luke nodded. "Can we see her?"
"Go ahead. But she needs to rest, so keep it quick."
They entered the dimly lit room, waiting a moment for their eyes to adjust. "Leia?"
The Princess turned her bandaged head to Luke. "I remember Bespin. And what happened on Endor." She gave a choked sob, reaching for Luke's hand. "You're my brother."
Reaching out, Luke grasped his sister's hand. "It's been a long five years, Leia. A very long five years."
"Han's dead, isn't he?"
The Jedi knelt down next to her bed. "No. He's in surgery right now. He's going to make it. You have to believe that."
"I love him."
"I know you love him. And Han knows you love him, too."
"I still can't remember everything - I can't remember getting married, or having children... but I know Han's my other half." She took an unsteady breath and continued, "I can't believe what I said to him today."
"He knows you didn't mean it, that you didn't remember very much. Don't beat yourself up about this, Leia."
"What are their names?" she asked softly, trying not to think too hard about the baby she'd only known existed for less than an hour, before she lost it.
Luke knew what she was asking. "The twins are Jaina and Jacen. They're eight, the same age as Tenel Ka. And Anakin is six."
"Anakin? I named, I named my son... after him?"
"Yes. It took a while, but you finally came to understand he wasn't always evil. He was a good man in the beginning, and a good man at the end, when he needed to be. It was your way of making peace with our father, and the past."
Leia looked up at Mara. "I can't remember you, either."
Mara gave a wan smile. "I'm an ex-assassin that worked for Palpatine. I tried to kill Luke before I decided to marry him."
There was a stunned moment of silence in the room. Then Leia started laughing hysterically, right before bursting into tears. Luke drew up and sat on the side of her bed, holding her. "The Skywalker family likes to pick interesting spouses. Spouses that keep us on our toes, make us feel alive, and challenge how we think."
"Ta'a Chume is right," Leia said sadly. "They won't remember me. I've missed their entire childhood."
"Not all of their childhoods. I know they'll be thrilled to have you back in their lives." Luke smiled, before warning her, "They're quite a handful."
"Have you been raising them?"
"No. Han's raising them, but right now we're all living on Yavin, where I have my Jedi academy. Your children are learning how to be Jedi."
The Princess was amazed that Han Solo had accepted the fact his children were Force-sensitive, and was willing to allow Luke to teach them about 'that hokey religion'. "Han's living on Yavin, too?"
Mara laughed. "It was quite the battle to get him to move there, but three months ago he finally saw the light."
"Why?" Leia swiped away her tears. "How did he 'see the light'?"
Luke shifted on the bed, looking away. "It might have had something to do with Anakin levitating his classmates to the ceiling."
"And Jacen using the Force to free thirty big spiders in his classroom," Mara added.
"And Jaina deciding to see how the fire repression system in the school worked," Luke continued. "All in the span of two days."
Leia's eyes grew wide. "Oh, dear."
Mara patted Leia's arm. "Don't worry. Han's been dealing with this for five years now. He's gotten good at it, too."
"Well, at least he's had help," she replied. "Chewie's been there, right?"
Luke and Mara looked at each other, suddenly uncomfortable.
"Luke? Where's Chewie?" Leia wasn't too sure she wanted to hear the answer.
There was no way he could avoid telling her. "He died, Leia. The day you disappeared, he saved your life by throwing you off the platform, seconds before the bomb went off, but he didn't make it."
The Princess buried her face in her hands, shutting her eyes tightly. Chewie was dead. Died because of his loyalty to her and Han. "Chewie," she whispered, her heart breaking. "My poor Han."
Luke bent over and kissed Leia's forehead, trying to use the Force to soothe her troubled senses. "Get some rest. And like I said, don't worry about Han. I'll wait up until he's safely out of surgery."
"Don't let him die, Luke."
"He won't die. I promise."
"We're losing him," the surgeon snapped out, "We need to get his blood pressure back up."
Han stared at the scene, watching as medical droids and Hapan doctors rushed around his body, trying to save his life. He could see himself lying on the table, his side cut open as the doctors tried to stop the bleeding, and repair the damage caused by the blaster shot. The doctors, the droids, even his own body looked like a holo-projection, or like his son had described his grandfather - shiny. "I'm dying," he said quietly, calmly, knowing they couldn't hear him, even though he could hear them quite clearly. He thought, I should be upset, but he felt oddly at peace with the idea of dying. Somehow, he knew Leia was okay, and even if he died she'd still be okay. His Princess was strong, far stronger than anyone he knew.
"It isn't your time, Han," a man's voice spoke from behind his shoulder.
Han turned and looked at the older man. Tall, dressed in Jedi robes, with sandy hair and blue eyes. The same color blue as Luke's and his youngest son's eyes. He was very real, and very solid. "Anakin Skywalker?" Han asked in surprise, feeling no fear from this man that used to be Darth Vader.
The Jedi smiled and nodded. "Leia needs you, son. She's lost the baby she was carrying. She can't lose you."
"You've been watching over my family for the past five years, haven't you?"
Anakin nodded. "Things weren't right, and when so much time passed, I knew I needed to help make them right - make some amends to my children for all the grief I caused while I was living. Leia needed to be rescued from carbonite, and your children - my grandchildren - needed to be trained as Jedi. You did the right thing by taking them to Yavin. Thank you."
A sudden thought occurred to Han. "You made that zookeeper kill the ysalamir, didn't you?"
"Perhaps I shouldn't have, but yes, I convinced the zookeeper to poison the tree. I could see no other path to free Leia from the carbonite."
"Then I'm the one that should be thanking you," Han said, sincerely. He turned around as the doctors' voices grew more frantic. Monitors in the room were sounding, very loudly.
"You need to go back now, Han. Before it's too late."
Han nodded. He started to move toward his body, then quickly looked back at Anakin. "Hey, if you see Chewie, can you tell the furball I love him?"
"He knows. And he's watching over you and your family, just like I am."
Warm. Fuzzy. Those were the two words Han would have used to describe how he was currently feeling. Then he forced his eyes open and the fuzzy feeling turned into dizziness. He quickly shut his eyes, trying to swallow against a dry mouth and throat. Slowly, he reopened his eyes and carefully turned his head. Leia was sitting in a chair next to his bed, wearing a hospital robe. A large bandage was on her forehead, her head slumped forward in exhaustion.
"Leia?" It sounded like a croak rather than a name. Still, she was instantly aware and sat up.
"Han?" Tears filled her eyes. "You're awake!" She leaned over and gave him a careful hug. "We almost lost you during the surgery."
How do I know that? Han thought in bewilderment, since he hadn't been awake during that time. He watched her fumbling for a small cup, filling it with water, before gently propping her hand beneath his head, allowing him to take a sip.
Then another thought occurred to him. "The baby?"
"I... I lost it," she said, her eyes downcast.
Somehow, he was aware of that, too. Han tried to reach for her hand, but was frustrated by the tubes in his wrists. "Leia... I love you."
"I know." She looked up, and smiled. "I remember."
Yavin, five days later.
"I can't believe I'm really here," Tenel Ka said excitedly as she peered up at the ancient temples. "My parents actually let me come with you, and start my training."
With her arm looped through Luke's, Mara smiled at the young Hapan Princess as they walked down the lowered ramp of the Falcon. Now that Ta'a Chume was in prison - along with her aide Trisdin, who was caught trying to sneak out of the palace grounds - Tenel Ka would have the opportunity to become a great Jedi. "I think you'll really enjoy training, Tenel Ka," Mara said. "And your parents know you've earned the right to begin your journey as a Jedi."
Pausing at the bottom of the ramp, Luke looked back up at his sister and Han, standing in the open hatch. During the past few days, her memory had finally returned - almost all of it, anyway. Of course, the five years spent in carbonite would always be missing, and she still could not recall the explosion or the time spent in carbonite.
Hearing the sound of young voices yelling in excitement, the Jedi Master turned as the three Solo children and little Leia came running out of the stone temple.
"Master Luke!" Threepio called out, shuffling behind with trusty R2-D2. "I tried to tell them to wait in the apartment.... but they never listen to me!"
"Dad!" Anakin yelled out, tearing around in circles. "We missed you!"
"And you, too, Uncle Luke and Aunt Mara!" the diplomatic Jacen added.
Leia realized she was trembling as she walked down the ramp, watching as Han gathered his children, one at a time, into a huge hug. "Kids," Han started out tentatively. "I'd like to introduce you to some people." He motioned toward Tenel Ka, who was watching the other children with interest. "This is Tenel Ka. She's Luke's new student at the academy, so you need to show her the ropes, but try not to get her into trouble."
"I get into enough trouble on my own," Tenel Ka stated. "And that's a fact."
They greeted the new girl, then turned their attention back to their father, waiting for him to continue. Han straightened, and pulled Leia to stand next to him. "And this is someone you've already met, but you probably don't remember her. She's your - "
"Mom," Jaina finished before Han could say any more. Then she addressed Leia directly, "You look exactly like I remember."
Bending over and hugging all three children, it was all Leia could do to keep from sobbing in joy. At first, the children felt cautious in returning her hugs, then grew bolder and tightened their grasp. Greedily, Leia soaked in what they looked like, what they smelled like, everything about them. "Jaina and Jacen, you were only three, just babies - and now look at how you've grown." She looked at her youngest. "All of you, you're just so big now.... I've missed you so much."
"I'm glad you came home, mommy," Anakin said, holding onto Leia tightly. "Listening to you talk to me wasn't good enough."
"Talk to you?"
"You talked to us, mom," Jaina agreed with her younger brother. "Right before dad, Uncle Luke and Aunt Mara went to rescue you, you talked to us through the Force."
Still kneeling, Leia glanced over at Luke, who nodded. "You did, sister. You reached out to me, asking for help. And you reached out for your children, and Han."
The last one surprised her. "Han? But he's not - "
"No, I'm not," Han quickly put in, not wanting to go into the details of her 'communications' with him in front of witnesses. "I couldn't answer you, but you were there in my mind, sweetheart. Trust me."
"Mommy," little Leia tugged at her mother's hand, wanting some attention of her own. "I made lots more pitchers for you while you were gone."
"Yes, she did," Threepio said primly. "I don't believe I will ever get the paint and glue out of my joints."
Everyone laughed, much to Threepio's dismay. "I can't wait to see them, Leia," Mara said, reaching down to pick up her daughter.
"Leia?" Leia asked, shocked, as Han helped her stand up while her children refused to let go of her hands and legs. "This is your child? And you named her Leia?"
Luke grinned. "Leia, I'd like to introduce you to your niece, little Leia. We thought we should wait and surprise you about one thing on Yavin, anyway."
"I call her Lelee," Anakin said. "It makes her laugh."
"That might be a good nickname, Anakin," Mara said. "We can't have her getting confused now that Leia is back home."
"I like Lelee," little Leia informed them.
"I can do better than that," Luke replied, kissing his daughter. "I love Lelee."
"I can't wait to show you our apartment, mom," Jacen said enthusiastically. "I think you'll like it – it's got really big rooms. And super high ceilings! I've been feeding some birds at the windows, and sometimes they fly around inside."
Threepio looked worriedly at Han. "I have tried to tell him that he should keep his pets outside, but he never listens to me. Not one of your children listens to me! It's quite distressing, if I do say so myself."
Ignoring the droid, Jacen tugged on his mother's hand. "Come on... I want to show you everything."
Han reached over and pulled Leia into his arms. "I think that's the best idea I've heard in a long time. Let's go home."
Two weeks later
Mara Jade-Skywalker was not happy. Just yesterday, Han Solo had bested her! He'd actually won a stupid blaster contest that involved hitting moving targets. Threepio had been chosen to fire a small propulsion cannon filled with rocks, aiming them into the air - one, two, or sometimes three at a time. Each contestant - which was to say Han and Mara - took turns shooting down the rocks.
After one hundred rocks, Mara had hit ninety-seven of them. To her disgust, Han had hit ninety-eight. Of course, if she'd been allowed to use the Force, even just a little, she could have hit all one hundred of them. And the blasted Corellian had been gloating ever since. It was enough to make her want to Force-choke him a bit, or maybe levitate him to the ceiling like Anakin did his classmate. But, oh no... Luke wouldn't let her. He insisted she had to act like an adult, and be a good example to the children.
Now they were positioned on speeder bikes, ready to race around on a predetermined course. And, once again, use of the Force was forbidden. The entire group of Jedi and padawans stood around, watching and placing bets, much to the dismay of Jedi Master Luke Skywalker. Placing bets just seemed so unJedi-like.
Leia looked at the two determined racers, then watched the overly excited children jumping from boulder to boulder. The past two weeks had been a crash course in re-learning what her children were like. And one thing she had learned was that Anakin, Jaina, and sometimes even Jacen, had a tendency to get into a great deal of trouble with very little effort. Definitely, they had inherited that from her husband. It was never far from her thoughts about all the years with them she'd missed, years that could never be regained. It was for that reason she decided to remain on Yavin, rather than return to Coruscant. Leia had so much time she needed to make up, and a return to the political life would just take her away from her family again. Besides, continuing her training as a Jedi was also a big consideration.
"Han?" Leia called out over the noisy, rambunctious children. "Are you sure you want to do this? It could be dangerous!"
Han paused before sliding the helmet over his head. "Ah, sweetheart. Danger is my middle name."
"I could have sworn it was nerf-brain," she replied, to the giggles of the kids, and the louder laughter of the adults.
"Watch it!" He gave her a mock-injured look, and wagged a finger in her direction. "Besides - " He put on the helmet and his voice became muffled as he put the face cover down. "I won yesterday, and I'm gonna win today."
"In your dreams, Solo," Mara shot back, putting on her own helmet.
"Good luck," Luke called out, watching as Threepio raised the starting horn into the air.
"Thanks, kid!" Han said cheerfully.
"He meant me," Mara groused back.
"He didn't say your name."
The starter sounded, and the speeders raced away. Leia looked over at her brother. "What was it you said about Skywalkers picking interesting spouses?"
"Did I say interesting?" Luke said dryly. "I think I meant insane."