This story was inspired by StonedRose's "While You Were Gone"
Sands of Time
Tatooine, thirty-five years after ROTJ
The two human miners toiled away in the unrelenting heat of the Tatooine suns, laboriously digging away in the twisting tunnel that they hoped would, eventually, bring them riches beyond their wildest dreams. Holigems were rare, only found in a few places on Tatooine, and bringing them to the surface was hard work. Dangerous work. Sand People, desert storms, claim jumpers were all very real possibilities. There was also the possibility that once the valuable stones were located, your partner would kill you when you turned your back to him.
Huber, the older man, hoped he'd chosen his partner wisely, but he couldn't be certain. Years ago, a large earthquake had caused this cave to collapse, trapping and killing several miners. Superstitious in the extreme, the locals had claimed there was a curse on this cave, and no miners ever ventured back. Until now. The younger man, Layne, placed the explosives and uncoiled the wire.
"You sure this'll work?" Huber questioned, his eyes watering from the blowing sand. "I'd hate to spend months diggin' this pit, only to have'ta start all over."
The younger man pushed back his filthy cowl, showing a face far more lined than his years would indicate. His hard blue eyes showed contempt for the older miner. "I know what I'm doing."
"I hope so," was the other's reply.
The men took cover outside the cave and waited until a muffled blast sounded, then a puff of pulverized rock and sand roiled out of the mouth of the cave. When it finally cleared, they reentered the tunnel and made their way to the back of the stone corridor. Huber's eyes grew wide with surprise. The blast had opened up a large chamber, but that wasn't what surprised him.
"How in hell...?" Layne muttered, staring up at the ancient, battered ship.
"It must have been trapped here," Huber answered quietly. "During the quake."
"What was it doing here in the first place?" Layne wondered aloud.
"Hiding, probably," Huber replied. "Guess the pilot never figured he'd be forever trapped here by an earthquake."
"Let's check it out. It might have something valuable inside."
Cautiously, both men approached the old Firespray class pursuit vessel.
The Queen Mother of Hapes watched as her twenty three year old daughter defiantly turned her back on her father and stalked out of the living chamber.
Her husband turned an angry face toward his wife. "You must make her see reason. She must not keep turning away every suitor that arrives. Elissen should have been married three years already."
"And how is this my fault?" Leia asked coldly. "She wants to marry for love, not money. I can't say that I blame her."
Isolder gave a snort, and then pushed his long gray hair from his neck. "Love. Love is a myth, my Queen. Royal marriages have no place for love. Talk to her, or I will." With that threat, the Prince walked away from his wife, leaving her alone in the vast apartment.
Leia wandered to the window, and gazed out at the night sky. Her eyes drifted toward Yavin's sector, where she knew her Jedi brother lived with his wife and children, training Force-sensitives. Luke had married Mara out of love, and theirs was a happy marriage. I wish I would have listened to you, brother, Leia thought unhappily. I should never have married out of duty. But even that thought made Leia feel guilty. She had a beautiful daughter from this loveless union. A very headstrong, beautiful daughter. You won't suffer my fate, Elissen. I'll make sure you never have to marry someone you don't love. Her eyes moved to the west, toward the star cluster that held Tatooine. She could only wonder what happened to the man she'd loved and lost so many years ago, back when she was young. They'd spent so much time searching, only the Slave I had never been located. After the final battle over Endor, Chewie and Lando had continued their search, giving up only after all possible leads had ended in failure. Chewie had been devastated. Lando had never recovered from the guilt. And Leia had never fallen in love again.
Huber stared at the crushed Mandalorian armor that was partially visible beneath the base of the ship, then gave the helmet a kick with his boot. The helmet rolled away, revealing a skeleton encased inside the suit. "Guess he wasn't expectin' that quake to hit right then, or he'd been inside the ship instead of under it."
The younger man nodded, then looked up the lowered ramp of the Firespray. "If he was hiding, he might have had something of value with him."
They entered the dusty, dark interior of the vessel, then proceeded to rip apart panels and storage containers as they looked for something of value.
"With our luck, it'll be a pile of old Imperial credits. I ain't goin' to the Imp regions just to cash 'em in. Some things just ain't worth it," Huber grumbled.
At that moment, Layne staggered back, looking down in the ship's hold, his eyes wide. "Wha....what's that?" he asked, pointing down.
Huber bent over, frowning at the strange object. "It looks like some horrid sculpture of a man screaming in pain." He moved closer, holding up his glowrod for a better look. "I wonder what those flashing lights on the side are."
The younger man wiggled himself down into the hold, inspecting the slab. "Those are life sign readouts." He looked up at the older man. "This isn't a sculpture. It's a living human - trapped inside this metal case," he whispered in awe.
"I wonder what that poor bugger did to make someone that mad at him," Huber responded, stroking his chin thoughtfully. "He might be some dangerous, insane criminal."
"Or if he wasn't insane when they put him in there, he might be now," Layne added. "We should just leave him here and forget we saw him."
"No! I've been workin' this mine too long. I ain't abandoning it. 'Sides, he might have family somewhere. Someone that will pay good credits to get him back. We're takin' him to Mos Eisley."
Layne gave a deep sigh. "I'd like to go on record as saying this is a mistake."
"It ain't no mistake. If you don't want to get involved, I'll handle it when we get to the city," Huber said.
"No way. We're partners. Any credits coming out of this mine belong half to me. Even a reward for a criminal."
"Then quit complainin'."
She knew she'd find her mother here, in this peaceful garden. Queen Mother Leia sat on the damp ground holding a small flower. Carefully she placed it on the grave, then touched the small headstone, tracing the engraved words. Sleep in Peace, our Beloved Son, Ismall. Born 3044 Died 3048.
Elissen bit her bottom lip, hating to interrupt her mother's solitude. She never knew her brother, since he'd died almost two years before she was born. The tall, dark haired young woman turned to leave when her mother spoke.
"He died in my arms." Leia said as she rose gracefully to her feet, wiping a tear from her eye. "I never found out who killed him."
"Who?" Elissen questioned, a bit sharper than she intended. Surely her mother didn't mean someone murdered a four year old child. "Don't you mean what?"
"Yes," Leia answered quickly. "I meant what. Not who. Just a slip of the tongue." She stepped forward, embracing her daughter. "You've turned out to be such a beautiful lady. I'm proud of you."
Elissen stepped back, looking down at her much shorter mother. "Even if I won't marry whoever Father and Grandmother deems worthy?"
"I'm always proud of you, Ely. You shouldn't marry out of duty."
Leia looked away. "It didn't matter anymore when I married your father."
"Tell me about him."
"No," Ely shook her head. "Him. The man you were in love with."
"That was so long ago..."
"So you've forgotten?" she questioned.
Leia thought about Han Solo. His deep laugh. His way of always pushing her buttons. How he made her angry, yet made her feel alive. She thought about his lopsided grin, his hazel eyes. His warm kisses. "No," Leia replied softly. "I'll never forget him. Never."
"Would you have married him?"
"Yes. I would have married him." Leia looked back up in her daughter's brown eyes. "Don't let them win, Elissen. Marry for love, or don't marry at all."
"Are you sorry you married Father?"
"I had you," Leia replied, her voice tight with emotion. "So, no, I'm not sorry. I just want you to have what I'll never have. A loving husband, and a strong marriage. Not a business arrangement. Stand strong, Elissen."
"I will, Mother."
The eighty year old matriarch looked down at the garden below her bedroom window. Turning slowly, she faced her son. "Elissen is too much like her mother. She needs to be controlled, before it's too late."
"It may already be too late," Isolder replied, his voice full of regret. "I should never have married Leia."
"No, you should not have. She has turned out most unsuitable as a Queen. Elissen at least has Hapan blood. Hopefully, she will be able to overcome her mother's pacifist training."
"I cannot convince her to accept any Hapan male as her consort. She claims she can't marry unless she loves the man first."
"Fool. Stubborn fool. She only says this because she has her mother's blessings on the subject. Eliminate the mother, and she will fall into obedience."
"Eliminate?" Isolder asked, shocked. "You wish me to assassinate my wife?"
"She has fulfilled her purpose, and it's time for a new start, with Elissen as Queen. I doubt your wife will step aside willingly, just as Elissen will not marry who we tell her to marry. Not when they have each other for support." Ta'a Chume looked through her veils at her son. "Do you love Leia?"
"No. I have never loved her. But I've never wished her harm, either."
"Consider my advice. The longer you hesitate, the harder it will be to have Elissen do our bidding."
Isolder bowed, then exited his mother's room. Ta'a Chume turned her gaze back to the garden, and the grave of her grandson. Too bad Queen Leia had informed Ta'a Chume she had done her duty when Ismall was born, and that there would be no further grandchildren. A granddaughter, a future Queen of her direct blood, was important to Ta'a Chume. Too late, Queen Leia discovered just how important a granddaughter had been to her mother-in-law. It was important to the point of ensuring her daughter-in-law try again, and provide her with an suitable heir. A grandson was simply unacceptable. The elderly woman turned and walked away from the window, wondering why Leia was still mourning her long-dead child.
Tatooine, Mos Eisley
Huber and Layne struggled to unload the living sculpture, now covered with a heavy cloth, and then proceeded to push it into an alley off the main thoroughfare. Huber found the numbered door he was looking for, then rapped sharply in a series of seemingly random beats. Long moments passed before the door swung open, and an older, desert-worn woman standing in the entrance. "Huber," she stated flatly. "What brings your womprat's bottom back here?"
Huber broke into a huge grin, showing his big yellowed teeth. "Rossi, you're lookin' mighty good, woman."
"Who's your latest victim," she asked, nodding toward the younger man standing in the alley behind Huber.
"Victim?" Huber laughed. "You always were quick with a joke, doll. That's my partner, Layne. We've been minin' the outer peaks for holigems."
"I'll bet you've found a ton of 'em," she said, shaking her head mockingly. "What's your scam, now?"
"No scam, really." Huber turned and indicated to Layne to move forward, then they both pushed the covered slab into the small home. "We found something you might be able to help us with, Rossi."
"Why should we trust her?" Layne grumbled. "She'll just want a cut of our profits."
"Rossi has contacts," Huber snapped out. "She's lived on Mos Eisley her entire life."
"What is this?" the woman asked, her tone irritated. "I swear, if your bringing me some lost spice shipment you uncovered in the sand..."
"No. No," he said, pulling back the cloth. "It's a man."
"By the Force," she whispered, reaching out and tentatively touching the hardened face. "It's him. After all this time.... he's finally turned up."
"Him?" Layne quickly asked. "You're telling me you know who this is?"
Her light gray eyes turned toward Huber. "The Wookiee and ..." she shut her eyes, trying to recall so very long ago. "Some Baron. Cal something or other. And the Jedi. They were here years ago, around the time of the end of the Empire, looking for this man. He was their friend, if I recall correctly. Yes!" She snapped her fingers as the memory flooded back. "Some bounty hunter caught their friend, and they thought he was taking him to Jabba to collect the bounty."
"Jabba?" Layne questioned, looking at Huber.
"Jabba the Hutt," the older man explained. "Used to be a big crimelord in these parts, back during the Empire. Then, when the New Republic took over, he got run outta business. Rumor had it the slug died, creditless, on some rimworld somewhere." Huber turned his eyes to the silent statue. "You musta really annoyed ol' Jabba, pal."
"The Baron said his friend had been frozen in carbonite by Vader," Rossi added, suddenly recalling a bit more to the story. "I think some princess was in love with this guy. I remember thinking it sounded so romantic at the time," she said with a snort.
"Do you remember any of these people's names?" Huber questioned, wondering how this guy managed to get Jabba the Hutt and Darth Vader irritated at him at the same time.
"Nah. But how many Jedi are there, even now?" she asked. "They all train on some jungle planet, and they all know each other. I'm sure you can find the location on the holonet records."
"Do you think the Jedi will pay to get their hands on this guy?" Layne asked, suddenly excited. Maybe this would result in a big payoff, after all.
"I think I'm gonna do some askin' round," Huber said, rubbing his hands together in anticipation.
"Luke?" Mara called out as her husband finished his morning run with his two sons, twenty-one year old Ben and eighteen year old Anakin.
The Jedi Master looked over at his wife of twenty-five years. "Yes?"
"You have a holocomm call," she replied, her voice sounding a bit puzzled. "From Tatooine."
"Tatooine? That's odd..." he said, entering their private living quarters. He turned the receiver toward his view, looking into the eyes of a craggy faced man he'd never seen before. The reception wasn't too wonderful. Yavin's atmosphere had lots of interference, plus the distance between the systems was vast. "Can I help you?"
"Hope so," the man said shortly. "This call is costin' me a fortune. I have somethin' you might want to buy from me an' my partner."
"May I ask your name?" Luke said politely.
"Huber. Name's Huber. You had a friend you lost, years ago? Someone frozen in car...carbonite?"
Luke felt his heart drop to his boots. "Yes?"
"I got 'em. You wanna buy him?"
It took a second for Luke to formulate a response, as he wrapped his mind around the idea that this man had somehow located Han after all these years. "Is he alive?"
"Hell if I know, but it don't look like he's havin' a good time inside that box, if'n ya ask me. Do you wanna buy him, or not? I can't waste my credits on ya, if yer not interested. Maybe some relative of Jabba's will be interested in payin' me for the stiff."
"How much do you want?"
At that, the man smiled in triumph. "Ten thousand credits. New Republic credits."
Luke nodded, unfazed at the amount. "I'll be there in four days, with the credits."
The man's smiled faded slightly. Perhaps he'd asked too little, since the Jedi seemed eager to pay him. "Fine. Mos Eisley. I'll be waitin' for you at docking bay 75 in four days. No tricks, Jedi."
"No. No tricks."
The holocomm went dark, and Luke turned his troubled blue eyes toward his wife. "Mara.... if Han's alive...."
"You'd better find out, first," she said. "Before you get everyone's hopes up. And I'm coming with you, too." Mara smiled, and kissed his cheek. "I've never met this Han Solo. He'd better live up to his reputation."
Luke laughed, then sobered as he thought about the lives that had been altered with Han's disappearance. Chewie had eventually recovered, taking the job of Kashyyyk Ambassador to Coruscant. Lando had drifted from one adventure to the next, never quite climbing over the wall of guilt he'd built around himself for betraying his friend. Leia had married a man she didn't love, simply because the High Council had asked her.
Although Luke only saw his sister on rare occasions, he knew full well she wasn't happy with her life. Her only joy was her daughter, the future Queen of Hapes. Luke's niece was only slightly Force-sensitive, certainly not enough that she'd ever become a Jedi. His nephew, Ismall, had been the one with the Force talent - even at a young age he'd given Luke hope that one day he'd become a great Jedi. His death had taken another hard toll on his sister. Luke wanted to help her, but he didn't know how. He wasn't certain finding Han would be the answer, not now anymore. Too much time had passed. Far too many things had changed in the last thirty-five years. There was no way he would allow his friend to continue to suffer inside carbonite. But Luke had a feeling if Han had survived, he was in for an entirely different kind of suffering once he was rescued from his living tomb.
Layne looked at his partner, his eyes narrowed with contempt. "Ten thousand credits? For someone that's been missing for thirty-five years? For someone a Jedi and a princess wanted to locate? You should've asked a hundred thousand credits."
"I wasn't expectin' him to agree so quick, or I woulda asked fer more," the older miner snapped at Layne. "It's too late now. He already agreed."
The younger man looked across the room, where Rossi stood looking at the frozen man. Lowering his voice, he said, "Maybe not. Let's tell him we got a better offer, and see if he comes up with more."
"You want me to double-cross a Jedi?" Huber asked, shocked. "They carry nasty weapons with 'em. Weapons that can make a man less.... manly."
"Is that possible with you?"
Suddenly furious, Huber pushed his partner, sending him crashing against the wall. "Don't you talk to me like that!"
"Hey!" Rossi yelled, looking up from across the room. "No fighting in my house, or you can both take your guest and leave."
"Sorry, sugar," Huber yelled back, then turned his attention back to Layne. "If you want more credits, you talk to the Jedi. I ain't riskin' it."
"No problem. Force or not, Skywalker is just a man. I can handle him," Layne replied.
Two nights later.
The young miner lay on his back, staring up at the ceiling, then glanced over at the silently screaming man by the name of Han Solo. The man had been an ex-smuggler turned Rebel, Huber had finally been able to deduce from old public records, as well as Rossi's slowly returning memory about the incident. Which explained why both Jabba the Hutt and a Sith Lord had it in for him.
Why should he share the reward of a measly ten thousand credits with that idiot Huber? It could have been so much more. They both could have been rich, if Huber had half a brain. Layne swung his long legs over the side of the sofa and walked over to the prisoner. He'd been thinking of a way to cash in on this situation for two days and nights and earlier in the evening, when Huber and Rossi had gone out to a local watering hole, Layne had declined an offer to go with them, preferring to be alone with his seething anger. This was the first time he'd been alone with the slab, so Layne pondered on how he could easily steal the large object. It was far too bulky to move on his own, and hiding it would be a problem.
His eyes dropped down to the controls, and a new idea formed in his mind. It would be much easier to deal with a walking prisoner, than a frozen prisoner. Even if the man was insane from his long entombment, he could simply stun him, then carry him to a hiding place. Layne was a physically powerful man. Hauling tons of rocks for a living had given him enough confidence that he could deal with a single human. He'd already researched the holding device on the holonet, and thought he understood how to unthaw the man. Nervously, he knelt beside the box, then pressed a series of buttons, watching as the metal slab hummed and the carbonite slid away from the prisoner's face, revealing a man in his early thirties. Solo didn't move, or open his eyes, or make a single sound. Perhaps he was dead.
Disappointed, Layne jabbed Solo's chest with his finger, and suddenly his eyes snapped open, making the miner fall on his backside in surprise. Then Solo started coughing and gagging, his hands groping the air above his face. "Hey, pal," Layne said slowly. "I guess you're not dead after all."
"Wh..where am I?" the smuggler managed to gasp between his chattering teeth.
"I'm your friend. I only want to help you."
The smuggler turned his face toward the voice, swiped his hand over his eyes. "I can't see..."
"I'll fix you right up, Solo. I promise."
"Solo?" the shaking man asked, frowning in confusion. "Who's Solo?"
Layne's face broke into a huge grin. This was getting easier by the second. The man was blind, and apparently no longer remembered his own name. "I didn't say Solo... I said.. Saylor. You've been sick for a long time, my friend. We have to get out of here."
"Here? Where's here?" Han mumbled, reaching for his 'rescuer'. "I'm not goin' anywhere with you... who are you?"
"The name's Layne, and I'm your partner, Saylor," he replied, trying to sound worried, while avoiding Solo's outstretched hand. "Don't you remember anything?"
"There are nasty people coming back here, real soon. They've been holding you as their prisoner. If we don't leave now, it'll be too late. Trust me, my friend." Layne reached down and grabbed the man's unnaturally cold wrists, then pulled him into a sitting position. The unfreezing process had left the smuggler's clothes soaking wet, which didn't help his chilled body. "Can you walk?"
"I...I think so..." The smuggler attempted to stand, only to have his legs collapse out from under him.
The miner quickly caught Solo before he hit the ground, hauling him upright. It took all of Layne's willpower to not laugh aloud as he guided the stumbling, ill man from the small house, leading him away from his stupid, former partner. If anyone would see them, they'd just assume Solo was drunk, being led home by a well-meaning friend. Layne could just see all those credits he'd have in a few days. He was well on his way to becoming a rich man.
Two hours later
"He double-crossed me!" Huber said, looking down in shock at the empty slab, the carbonite melted into thick, hardened puddles on the floor.
Rossi ran her hand along the edge of the box. "It's not like you wouldn't have double-crossed him, if you'd had a chance."
"It just is, that's all," Huber insisted angrily. "Layne's a dead man. He ain't gettin' away with it."
"I wonder if Solo's alive," Rossi murmured. "He probably needs medical attention."
The older miner shook his head in despair. "If that Skywalker comes here, and I can't give him Solo, or if that fool killed Solo by unfreezing him ...." He trailed off worriedly, thinking about Skywalker. Did his memory serve him correctly? Wasn't Skywalker's father Darth Vader?
"I hear dying by lightsaber is fairly fast and painless," Rossi said, smirking as she looked at Huber's pale face.
Layne was no longer certain his plan of stealing Solo had been a good one. He had taken his prisoner to a dirty little hotel and checked in. Now, two hours later, Solo was violently ill. His eyesight had not returned, nor had his memory. For the past hour, the smuggler had been vomiting carbonite as well as the contents of his last meal out of his stomach. His body didn't seem to know how to regulate itself, swinging from shivering cold to burning up, then back again. If Solo died, Layne knew he would be in serious trouble with a Jedi, a Wookiee, and Huber. All in all, not a good combination to have as enemies. Suddenly, he understood just how easy it must have been for Solo to annoy both a Hutt crimelord and a Sith at the same time.
Ta'a Chume handed her son a small vial, then gave him a wicked smile. "A small amount in her evening meal for a week. That's all it will take."
His hand shook as he lifted the clear container, no larger than his little finger. "I cannot do this, Mother. Let me talk to Elissen one more time."
"It won't help," she snapped out. "Not as long as Leia lives. If you are too cowardly to do it yourself, I will have one of the servants that I know are loyal to me put it in her meals."
"I am not a coward," Isolder replied bitterly. "Don't you think the Hapan people will become suspicious if their Queen falls ill and dies?"
The old matriarch gave a brittle laugh. "They can be as suspicious as they want. This poison cannot be detected through any normal medical tests, and only a handful of Hapan scientists know the cure."
"It sounds as if you are quite familiar with this," Isolder said, holding up the tube.
"It has served me well in the past," was her cryptic reply. "Do as I order."
"Yes, Mother." Isolder bowed, then left her suite. The idea of killing Leia was distressing. Over the years, he had come to admire Leia's natural abilities as the Queen Mother, and considered her a friend. In the early years of their marriage, Leia had done her duty as his wife, and borne him a son. Ismall had been his pride and joy; the child's death was as devastating to him as it had been to Leia. Ismall had been so healthy, never had even so much as the sniffles, and then one day he'd fallen deathly sick. No doctor had been able to save him - in less than two days he was gone. Leia had been distraught, she had even accused Ta'a Chume of causing Ismall's death. It had taken Isolder many years to convince her otherwise.
However, it had not gone unnoticed to either Leia or Isolder that Ta'a Chume was the one pushing them to try again after Ismall's unexpected death. So they had done their duty a second time, this time Leia gave birth to a girl, pleasing Ta'a Chume. Although they had not shared a bed since Elissen had been conceived, they had always remained polite to each other, seldom arguing until this issue of Elissen marrying a proper, titled Hapan husband had come up.
Had Isolder somehow fallen in love with Leia, without ever having been aware he'd done so? Again, his eyes fell to the small tube and he wondered if he would be able to kill his wife.
Tatooine, one day later
A hot, filtered light slanted in through the small window. The excessive dust in the air was the first thing Han noticed. Then he sat up, ignoring the powerful nausea that still held him in its grip. He could see, even if everything was a bit blurry. What he saw was that he was alone in this small, filthy room. He shut his eyes briefly, trying to remember how he got here. Someone named Layne. The memory of the man's voice seemed distantly fuzzy, like a bad dream. He couldn't remember why he was brought here, but recalled Layne telling him he was going out for food and medicine.
Han struggled to his feet, shocked at how weak he felt. He could barely stagger over to the refresher. When he looked in the mirror, he wished he hadn't. It was only at that point he realized he couldn't remember anything at all, even his own name - Saylor. Hadn't the man claiming to be his friend called him by that name? That didn't seem right, somehow. Nothing seemed right. His ribs hurt, so he tentatively lifted his shirt, noting with shock the dark burns on his torso. He had also been recently beaten, judging from the purple welts. But how... and why had this happened? All he could remember clearly was a disgusting odor of metal and cold. A bone-numbing cold that went all the way through his body and soul.
His instincts seemed to be screaming at him that something was very wrong. Ignoring his trembling limbs and his blurry vision, Han stumbled out of the room into the musty hallway. He had to get away, before this "Layne" person came back and prevented him from escaping.
Leia looked up from her desk as a tearful Elissen and an outraged Isolder entered the spacious office. Putting down her writing stylus, the Queen gave a tired sigh. "Now what?"
"Do you know what your daughter was doing?" Isolder demanded, his face flushed.
"No. I don't."
"Mom - " Elissen started to say.
"Of course not," Isolder shouted, interrupting his daughter. "You probably don't care, either. The child gets it from you, you know."
Leia felt a spike of hostility. "What, exactly, are you talking about?"
"Poor judgment in lovers," he shot back. "Low class lovers."
"Perron isn't low class - " the young woman tried protesting.
"He's the son of our maintenance mechanic" Isolder spat the words like a curse, then pointed his finger at Leia as a rush of irrational jealousy over her long-dead lover swept over him. "Just like you picked some worthless smuggler to slum around with when you were young and foolish!"
"We weren't doing anything wrong!" Elissen argued. "And I'm not a child... I'm twenty-three years old."
"Your Grandmother will be appalled when she finds out," the Prince continued his rant. In the back of his mind, he worried that Ta'a Chume would make good on her threat to have one of her aides murder Leia when she found out about this latest escapade. "I have ordered Karlev dismissed from his position -"
"NO!" Elissen cried at Isolder. "He's been employed by the Royal family for over forty years! You can't blame him for what Perron and I do."
"I can, and I will. You should have thought about the consequences before started your illicit tryst with his son."
"Mother..." Elissen said, turning her pleading eyes toward Leia.
By this time, Leia was seething. Turning to her husband, she spoke in a deadly quiet voice. "I am the Queen. I will not allow you, or your mother, to push aside my wishes. Karlev will be rehired - immediately." Then her voice lowered even more. "And you will never, ever, refer to Han Solo as 'some worthless smuggler'. Do I make myself clear, Isolder?"
"Perfectly clear, my Queen," Isolder replied, his tone just as deadly.
Layne had barely exited the foodstore when the blaster jabbed him hard in his ribs. Slowly he dropped his package, raising his hands above his head.
"Thought you could get away with it, didn't ya?" a familiar voice snarled from behind him. "I ain't as stupid as you thought. People talk in this town, if'n you pay 'em to talk."
"I can explain..."
Huber gave a snort. "I know yer explanation. You thought you could cheat me."
"Shut up!" Huber snapped. "Yer takin' me to Solo. Now. Then I'll decide if I let'cha live, or not."
Layne started walking, trying to decide what to do. "Huber, I just wanted to get us more money. I'd have shared it with you, fifty-fifty."
"You could'va done that without stealin' him. Is Solo even alive?"
"He's alive," Layne admitted. "But he's real sick. The man can't see, or even remember his own name. He can't even stand up without my help. That's why I knew it was safe to leave him while I got some food and medicine. You should have let me take him the medicine."
"We'll get him some more, if'n yer not lyin' to me."
"I'm not lying, but we should tell Solo we're friends."
"If'n ya think I'm puttin' the blaster away, think again." To emphasis his point, Huber kept the blaster jammed against his partner's back, following him as they entered a run-down hotel. They climbed several flights of stairs before walking down a narrow corridor, stopping in front of the last room. Layne nervously fumbled with the lock, finally pushing the door open.
"Where is he?" Huber demanded. "I swear... I'll kill you."
"He's got to be here!" Layne said, his voice rising in panic. Hurriedly, he checked the refresher, only to realize the smuggler had somehow left the room. "This can't be! He was too sick!" He looked to his older partner, his eyes wide with fear, pleading for mercy. "I swear it... he couldn't even walk."
"Neither can you, Layne," Huber snarled, then pulled the trigger. He watched as Layne looked down at the gaping hole in his chest, then his eyes locked back on Huber as he sank to his knees. He tried to speak, but no words came from his mouth, only a thin trickle of blood. A second later, he fell face forward - dead.
Huber spat at the deceased man, then turned and hurried out of the room. He had less than one day to locate Solo, or he feared he wouldn't live much longer than Layne.
Han stuck to the back streets and alleys as he tried to get his bearings. The suns had now reached their peak, so hardly any shade remained, even if he used the buildings for cover. His mouth felt parched and a constant buzzing sounded in his ears. He was well aware of the fact that this was a high crime area, and he had no weapon for protection. He needed water, rest, and a way off this accursed planet.
He knew this wasn't a system he wanted to stay on any longer than he had to. Slowly, almost without being aware he was doing so, Han made his way to the spaceport. A wide variety of ships were parked in oval shaped spacedocks. The Corellian looked them over, trying to decide if he should attempt to offer his labor in exchange for transportation, or just try to stowaway on one of the larger ships. Considering the shape he was in, he doubted anyone would be willing to take the chance on hiring him. Another odd thing was how many of the newer ships he simply could not recall having seen before. His amnesia must be extensive, although the older model ships were types he could recognize.
Finally, his exhaustion became overwhelming. He located a large pile of crates, then found a small area behind them to lie down. Despite the heat and uncomfortably hard floor, Han immediately fell asleep.
En route to Tatoo
The Jade Sabre dropped out of hyperspace half a day early, in what was now early evening in Mos Eisley. Mara looked over at her husband as she adjusted the controls, then headed down toward Mos Eisley. "Don't let your guard down, farmboy," she said seriously. "I don't trust this Huber character. He looked sleazy."
Luke sighed as he looked at the approaching planet, remembering Obi-Wan's description - a wretched hive of scum and villainy. "I just can't seem to get away from this system."
"Bad memories for me, too," Mara responded. "I waited for months in Jabba's palace, and you never bothered to show up. That really irritated me at the time."
"I wish I would have been able to check you out," Luke said with a grin. "Seeing you as a palace dancing girl would've been worth the risk."
"Don't bet on it," she shot back quickly. "I was more than ready to take your head off after being drooled on by a Hutt for that long."
"I guess you should have thought of that before taking on your assignment."
"Like I had a choice," she replied, shaking her head while thinking back to that terrible time. Now, years later, Mara was glad that Luke hadn't shown up at Jabba's palace. Her life, and the future of the galaxy, could have turned out so different. And not in a good way, if she had succeeded in her assignment. Of course, the fact that Han Solo hadn't been delivered to Jabba meant that Leia's life took a new turn, as well. For Leia, the difference hadn't been good.
As the sleek shuttle moved into position to land in docking bay 31, Mara could sense a change coming over Luke. "What's the matter?"
"Han's here, Mara. He's alive, and he's here," he whispered.
Leia was eating lunch with Elissen when the explosion occurred. The force of the blast rattled dishes and made the curtains sway against the windows. The two women stopped eating, looking across the table at each other in surprise. "What was that?" Leia asked. A second later, sirens sounded.
Elissen jumped up and ran toward the floor to ceiling window that overlooked the palace grounds. "Mom..." she whispered, putting her hand to her mouth.
Quickly Leia joined her daughter, her eyes finding the source of the explosion by the billowing black smoke that poured out of the distant, burning building. "That was the maintenance building," Leia said, stunned.
"Perron. He was going to help his father work on some landspeeders." The girl looked at her mother, her face in a panic. "I have to go see if he's alright."
"No," Leia said, shaking her head. "It still could be dangerous."
"I have to!"
Leia watched helplessly as her daughter ran out of the dining room, aware that she would not be able to stop Elissen, even if she tried. But the Queen knew in her heart that Perron probably hadn't survived the blast, just like she believed the explosion was no accident. No more than she believed her beloved little boy's death had been 'natural causes', like his death certificate claimed.
Turning from the window, Leia resolutely left the dining room and made her way to Isolder's apartment.
Tatooine, two hours later
Docking bay 75 was no different than any other docking bay, other than the battered, small ship inside the hanger. Luke had contacted Huber when they first landed, and the man had seemed irritated beyond reason that they were early, but finally agreed to meet with them ahead of schedule.
Stretching out with the Force, Luke could sense another's presence, but it wasn't Han. "Huber?" Luke called out, keeping his fingers around the hilt of his lightsaber.
Tension was radiating from Mara as she stood behind him, keeping watch over the corridor behind them. "Solo isn't in this docking bay, is he?" she whispered.
"No, he's not right here, but - "
"Skywalker!" a gravelly voice called out from near the ship. Luke recognized Huber as he came into view, holding his blaster in clear view. "Do you have the credits?"
"First, where's Han?"
The man pointed to a covered slab with his free hand. "Right there. You can have him after I get my money," he bluffed. Despite searching the entire day in the sweltering heat, Huber had not turned up a single trace of Solo. He was angry and frustrated that the man had eluded him, but finally decided Layne had been lying all along. It was probable that Solo had been dead when the traitorous partner had defrosted the man. But the idea of ten thousand credits was too tempting to pass up, even in the face of such long odds. If he could get close enough to shoot the Jedi, he'd simply grab the money and run away to the outer regions. No friend of Skywalker's would be able to track him there.
Luke knew the man was lying. Not just because he could sense it through the Force, but he knew there was no way Han was still frozen in carbonite. "Pull back the cover."
The miner shifted nervously on his feet. "Show me my credits."
Mara stepped forward, placing a medium size case on the floor, then flipped open the top. Stacks of credits chips gleamed in the artificial light of the hanger. "There you go, Huber," Mara said, narrowing her green eyes at the man. "Now, do as my husband requests, and show us Solo."
Huber hadn't counted on two Jedi showing up, but he saw no way out of his plan at this point. He started to turn toward the slab, slowly pulling the cloth back. Then he twisted around, aiming the blaster at Skywalker. The green blade ignited just as Huber fired.
The blaster shot was easily deflected by the Jedi. Surprised, the miner fired a second time ... with the same result. Then the blaster was torn from his grasp, flying across the open space directly into Luke Skywalker's outstretched hand.
Mara ignited her blue blade, walking calmly up to the now panicked miner. She lifted the humming saber until it was less than an inch away from his throat. "Now, pull the cloth off the box, or I'll have to cut your head off your body and do it myself."
The man's larynx bobbed, and he reached behind him, groping for the material. Without taking his terrified eyes off the blade, he pulled the cloth off the slab, revealing an empty box, stuffed with oily rags to make a facsimile of a man's body. "My... my partner stole Solo. He unfroze him and stole him! But I..." he trailed off suddenly, not wanting to give the Jedi any ideas.
By this time, Luke had approached the miner and his wife. "But you, what?" Luke prodded, knowing the man would spill everything, even without Mara's lightsaber at his neck.
"I tracked Layne - that was my partner - down. It wasn't too hard, lemma tell you. People in this town talk if'n you wave a few credits in their face. And, and he tried to tell me Solo just walked away from him. He was a liar. I think Solo was dead when he unfroze him."
"Was a liar?" Mara asked, raising an eyebrow. "What happened to Layne?"
"I sorta... got even."
"You killed him."
"He deserved it!" Huber protested, not realizing the irony of his words. "He was tryin' to cheat me!"
"Like you were trying to cheat us?" Luke asked, folding his arms across his chest. The man's proclamation that Han was dead didn't faze the Jedi. He could tell that Huber believed it, only Luke knew better. "Wouldn't you think it's only fair that we do the same thing to you that you did to your partner?"
"But... yer Jedi! Jedi don't do that!"
"Care to wager some credits on that?" Mara responded, watching the sweat dripping from the man's face.
"Please? Please don't kill me!" the man begged, turning his watering eyes toward Luke. "I swear I was gonna sell you Solo for what we agreed on.... I didn't do this! Layne did!"
"Let him go, Mara. We've got to find Han."
Mara stepped back, pulling her lightsaber away from the trembling miner. "You're lucky my husband is so softhearted, Huber. Now get lost. If I ever see you again...." She watched, amused, as the man ran away.
"Mara," Luke admonished, trying not to smile. He knew she never had any intention of actually harming the miner. "That was very unJedi-like of you."
"But it was fun," she protested, winking at her husband. "No time for lectures. We've got a missing Corellian to locate."
Despite having fallen asleep immediately, Han had not slept long. His rest had been plagued by horrific nightmares of cold, steam, sensations of suffocation.
He was currently trying to find an open, unattended ship he could steal. Han was also frantic with thirst. If he'd had a blaster, he would have found an alley and robbed the first easy mark he spotted, just so he'd have a few credits to buy himself some water. He felt a twinge of guilt. Someone, at some point in his past, wouldn't have approved of his half-formed plan to steal a ship. But at this point he was too desperate to care, too desperate to escape from whoever had caused him this much pain. It also hadn't occurred to him where he would escape to, since his entire focus was on getting away from this system.
He stumbled into the open doorway of yet another docking bay, the nighttime gloom adding to his vision difficulties. Walking closer, he could see the ship sitting inside was unlike any he'd ever seen before. A modified shuttle, large and well armed. The nose came to a point in the front of the vessel, the sides flared out like wings. It looked fast, and very impressive. Of all the ships he'd seen so far, this was the one he wanted to steal. He looked the ship over carefully, wondering how hard it would be to pry the control panel off the hatch, then hotwire the ramp open.
At the sound of approaching voices, he quickly ducked down behind the back landing strut, hoping the shadows would help conceal him. Squinting, he could see a two people enter the bay. Their voices carried across the hanger.
"Mara, I know he's around. It's like he's close enough that I should be able to touch him."
The woman stopped the man's progress by putting her hand on his arm. "Someone is in here, Luke."
Han tried to swallow, his dry tongue thick in his mouth. He had made no sound, and she hadn't so much as glanced in his direction. How did she know he was hiding here? Mentally, he measured the distance to the nearest exit. Even if he was in the best of shape, they were still much closer. When he made a run for it, they'd easily be able to shoot him before he reached the corridor. The only thing he had on his side was the fading element of surprise.
Determined to go out fighting, Han made a desperate rush for the exit.
Isolder was not in his apartment, which forced Leia to contact him on his comlink. His voice sounded breathless when he answered the hail. "Yes?"
"You killed him," Leia snapped out, not caring if anyone was listening on the other end.
"Leia....I don't know what you're talking about, but I'm busy trying to organize a rescue operation. I don't know whether anyone survived - "
"You're making sure they didn't survive," she interrupted bitterly. "Don't try to play the hero, Isolder. I know the truth."
"You know nothing!" he yelled over the comlink. "We'll talk about this later." With that, the connection was cut off, leaving Leia fuming.
It takes a lot to surprise a Jedi, but when Han Solo stood up under the Jade Saber and went rushing past, Luke was definitely surprised. "HAN!"
The Corellian stumbled slightly as he twisted around to look back, confusion and fear evident across his face. When Han continued to run away, Luke hurried after his friend, with Mara on his heels. The Jedi could see that Han was in a very weaken state, his emotions in a panic. He doesn't remember me, Luke realized, wondering if the problem was the after-effects of the carbonite, or simply the fact he was now much, much older than Han would remember him. After all, the last time Han had seen Luke, he was just twenty-two years old, not even a fully trained Jedi. Now he was closer to sixty than fifty, his blond hair mingled with gray, his face lined with the hard-fought wisdom of his years.
It didn't take long to catch the Corellian. Luke reached out, both his hand and the Force, to stop his friend. It startled him when Han reacted by striking out with his fist. Using the Force, Luke blunted the blow directed at his jaw. Then he grabbed Han's wrist, twisting his arm around behind his back, easily taking him to the ground. The Jedi could see the surprise in Han's face as he pinned him on his stomach, holding him fast.
"I didn't touch your ship!" Han protested, still trying to struggle.
"Calm down, Han," Luke said, again using the Force to try and soothe his friend's fear. For a brief moment it seemed to work, then Han blinked hard and his panic intensified.
"Solo," Mara said, getting exasperated just watching. "If you don't stop fighting, I'm going to stun you."
Han looked up at the redhead, his eyes questioning her. "Solo?" Wasn't that the name Layne originally called him? It certainly seemed more familiar, unlike the name Saylor. He forced himself to relax, at least temporarily. If they thought he was giving up, he might have another chance to make his break.
"Your name is Han Solo," Luke quietly explained. "I'm a friend." He eased his grip, allowing Han to sit up. The Corellian was pale and shaking, obviously still fighting off the hibernation sickness. After thirty-five years in carbonite, Luke decided it shouldn't be too surprising that Han was having memory problems. He watched in concern as Han grasped his head, sensing his confusion through the Force.
"I don't remember you," Han mumbled. "I don't remember..."
"Han," Luke continued gently. "You've been gone a long time. I have a lot to tell you, but first we're going to help you get better." He looked up at Mara. "Let's take him back to the Sabre."
Again, Luke felt a wave of fear emanating off his friend. He knew Han was on the verge of trying to escape again. "Please, Han, let us help you. I know you're confused and afraid. I don't blame you, but I promise I'm not going to hurt you." The Jedi stood up, offering his hand to Han, hoping his gesture would be accepted willingly. Although he'd keep Han forcibly restrained if he had to, Luke didn't want to do that. It would be a bad way to earn Han's trust.
Slowly, like a frightened, cornered animal, Han reached up and took Luke's hand, allowing Luke to pull him off the floor. Unable to stop himself, Luke suddenly pulled the Corellian he always thought of as his brother into a tight hug, feeling him tense at the unexpected embrace. "I've missed you, Han. Everyone's missed you."
Although Han didn't know why, the heartfelt comment from this stranger made him feel weak with relief.
Leia approached her daughter as she sat in the hospital waiting room, sitting down next to her and placing her arm around her shoulder. "Have you heard how Perron's doing?"
"Not yet." Elissen dropped her eyes to the floor. "His father died in the blast."
"I'm so sorry, darling." Leia hesitated for a second before asking, "Do you love him?"
"He's my best friend, mom. He's been my friend for .... well, forever it seems." She looked up at her mother through tear-flecked lashes. "He always treated me like I was normal, not some pampered, rich princess. I love him as a dear friend, and maybe someday we could have been more to each other. Does that make any sense?"
"It makes perfect sense, darling."
Together, they waited.
Han watched nervously as the two strangers tended his wounds. He'd showered and been given clean clothing, although wearing a brown tunic and loose-fitting tan pants felt very strange. Carefully, he sipped some more cool water, savoring the sweet liquid as it eased his parched throat. The man that called himself Luke Skywalker finished wrapping the bacta bandage around his chest. Already the sting of the painful burns was fading as the bacta quickly took effect. His eyes flicked over to the woman, busy running a medical scan over his back.
"Dangerously low electrolytes. Cracked ribs. Nerve damage. Also, severe dehydration. He needs to have a drip," she informed her husband.
When she opened a cabinet and withdrew a bag filled with clear liquid, and started to attach a line, Han understood what she was intending to do. "I don't want any needles stuck in me."
Luke laughed, remembering Han's needle phobia. For someone with such wild, reckless courage, the idea he feared something as benign as a needle always amused Luke. "Same old Han, even if you can't remember your own name."
"I don't have a bacta tank, Solo," Mara said with a sigh. "You need these fluids."
"I don't want any needles," Han repeated stubbornly. "You promised you wouldn't hurt me. Needles hurt."
"You can't be serious!" Mara practically shouted at the Corellian. "Needles hardly hurt at all, especially after a scan grid and - " She stopped, looking at Luke worriedly.
"Scan grid?" Han questioned. "Is that how I got these burns? What else happened to me?"
"Han... do you remember a place called Bespin?" Luke asked softly.
"What's the last thing you do remember?"
The Corellian frowned, thinking back. "I... I just remember waking up, sick and blind. And someone calling himself Layne telling me my name was Saylor."
Mara and Luke exchanged glances. "Layne was one of the miners that found you," Luke continued. "In a cave that had been buried because of an earthquake. Thirty-five years ago."
This time, Han laughed. "That's not possible. I couldn't have survived trapped in a cave for thirty-five years. What are you trying to pull?"
"We're not pulling anything. You were on Bespin, and Darth Vader had you frozen in carbonite. A bounty hunter named Boba Fett was supposed to deliver you to a Hutt named Jabba for a reward, but he never did. He must have been caught when the cave collapsed, and you were still on his ship."
Han shut his eyes against the sudden onslaught of dizziness. "Carbonite? Frozen?" Slowly, he opened his eyes, looking directly at Luke. "Are you telling me I've been frozen .... and lost for thirty-five years?"
"Exactly," Mara replied. "Which brings us back to the fact you need fluids. I'm not taking 'no' for an answer, Solo. We can do this the easy way, or the hard way. Your choice."
Rubbing his chin thoughtfully, Han glared at Luke. "Is she always this bossy?"
"Yes." The Jedi gave a quick grin at his wife, hoping she wouldn't make him pay later for that admission.
"Lie down," Mara ordered, pointing at the medical cot. "Now."
Solo could see by the look on her face she wasn't kidding. He obeyed.
Isolder looked up from the holonews when Leia entered his apartment. "Did the boy live?"
"He's still alive, but not out of danger," Leia replied, her voice frosty. "I'm sure that disappoints you."
"I didn't have anything to do with the explosion," Isolder said, clenching his teeth. "Why do you keep accusing me?"
"Because you're just like your mother," Leia snapped. "She doesn't have any problems resorting to murder, so why should you?"
The Prince jumped to his feet, glaring down at his petite wife. The years had been kind to her, despite her unhappiness at being Queen. Her body was still slender, her hair only lightly touched with streaks of gray. Only the worry lines around her eyes and mouth betrayed her years. Isolder had not aged nearly as well. His muscle had turned to paunch, his golden hair, once his pride and joy, was now completely gray and quite thin on top. "Are you back on that old story? Accusing my mother of having had something to do with Ismall's death? Give it up already."
"I'll never give it up," Leia said. "Because it's the truth. She wanted a granddaughter, and she knew I'd never have another child if Ismall lived." Her eyes misted over as she thought about her beautiful little boy. "His death was my fault, too. I should never have said that Ismall would be an only child. My loose tongue was the reason why she killed him."
"My mother did not kill Ismall!" Isolder stalked over to the window, staring out at the charred ruins of the maintenance building. He hadn't told Ta'a Chume about Perron, the mechanic's son. Surely the explosion was an accident.
"Either you are the biggest liar in the galaxy, Isolder, or the biggest fool," Leia said as she turned to leave.
The next day
"You have to eat," Leia prodded her daughter. "It's been over a day since you put anything in your stomach."
Elissen shook her head. "I don't feel like eating." The young woman looked at her mother. "The doctors don't think he's going to make it. The burns are too extensive."
"I'm so sorry, Ely," Leia said quietly. What could she possibly say to soothe her daughter's torment?
"Did Grandmother or Father do this?"
Leia was startled by the question. She had never voiced her suspicions to Elissen, or spoke poorly about either Ta'a Chume or Isolder in front of her daughter. "Why would you think that?"
"Perron's mother came to the hospital today while I was there. She told me my family is evil, that we killed her husband, and that Perron is going to die because of his friendship with me. Is that true?"
For a moment, Leia was speechless. Finally she managed to say, "Your Father isn't evil." Her voice sounded weak, even to her own ears.
"She told me to stay away from him," Elissen sobbed out. "I wouldn't have been his friend if I had known..."
Leia got up and stood behind her child, putting her hands on the young woman's shoulders. "We can't see the future, Elissen. Don't blame yourself." Leia pulled her own dish of untouched food toward the girl. "Please, eat something. For me, darling."
Nodding mutely, Elissen ate the food. In the back of her mind, she wondered why the food tasted so bitter, and why it felt like a cold, hard rock in the pit her stomach.
Jade Sabre, halfway to Coruscant
Luke stepped behind his wife as she watched the Corellian toss and turn on the cot, occasionally yelling out, even in his tormented sleep.
"He's not getting any rest, Luke. We should sedate him, or he's never going to recover."
"He won't want a sedative."
Mara held up a syringe, filled with the medication. "Let's not ask him."
The Jedi hesitated. Although he understood Mara's point, he didn't want to risk further alienating Han's trust. A full day out of Tatooine, and Han still didn't remember his name, or any of his past. Not Chewie, or the Millennium Falcon, or Leia Organa. There was a brief relapse of panic when Luke informed Han they were going to Coruscant. Why would they want to take him there, if not to deliver him into the hands of the Imperials? Even after both Jedi patiently explained the Empire no longer existed, Luke could still see the doubt in his friend's eyes. Still, Luke clung to the hope that once Han actually saw his Wookiee friend and his beloved ship, he would remember the past.
Solo's eyes opened, and he struggled to free himself from the blankets. He was gasping, and soaked with sweat. Dark circles were apparent under his eyes. Mara was correct; he needed a restful sleep, and his tormented mind wasn't allowing it. "Han, the needle is in your arm. Be careful," Luke reminded him gently.
"I.. need to use the refresher," Han whispered. The direct fluid was keeping him hydrated, but he was still constantly thirsty. He watched as Luke disconnected the line, allowing him to stand up. The Corellian carefully made his way to the refresher, not looking at either Mara or Luke as he left the room.
"He doesn't trust us," Luke said regretfully.
"I do recall you told me Han Solo was a very suspicious, private individual. It was almost as hard to gain his trust as it was to gain mine."
Luke smiled, and gave Mara a quick hug. "But my hard work was worth it." He watched in concern as Mara took the syringe and injected it directly into the bag of saline solution. "Mara...."
"It's very safe," she assured him. "You can see for yourself how exhausted Solo is. Sometimes you have to do what's for the best for someone, even if you have to be sneaky." She stepped away from the drip before Solo stumbled back into the room.
"Let me reattach that line, Solo," Mara said briskly, pushing him down on the cot.
Han didn't object when she reinserted the tube, and fifteen minutes later he was sound asleep.
"See?" Mara whispered to Luke. "No nightmares."
Luke nodded, knowing Mara was right, but it didn't ease his guilt or worry.
Hapes, the next night
A frantic knocking on her door woke Leia up. Quickly she threw on her robe and hurried to the outer door. Elissen stood there in her nightgown, eyes wide, perspiration soaking her hair, her skin so white it was almost translucent. "Perron died, mom. The doctor just called me..." Elissen trailed off, her eyes became unfocused.
"Oh, honey, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
"Mom..?" Elissen whispered as she started to tremble, then her body started to convulse.
"Ely! Ely, what's the matter with you?" Leia demanded, her voice rising in panic.
"I... I think I'm dying, too...."
Leia barely caught her daughter as she passed out.
Ta'a Chume was startled when her son burst into her bedroom, pulling the covers off her bed. "Get up, Mother! Now!" he ordered, his voice trembling with fear and rage.
"How dare you..."
"How dare I?" he shouted, reaching out and grabbing an expensive, flower-filled vase off the nightstand, throwing it with all his might, barely listening as it shattered against the far wall. "HOW DARE I?"
The elderly woman climbed to her feet, grabbing her robe. "Have you lost your mind?"
"You knew about Perron, didn't you?"
"Who is Perron?"
"The boy Elissen was seeing!"
"Oh," she said dismissively. "The commoner. Yes, I knew. I have my sources, Isolder, even if you keep secrets from me."
"And you had someone blow up the garage." It wasn't a question.
"He needed to be disposed of," his mother answered. "Obviously, you won't take care of these matters."
"You killed six people! Six!"
"They are replaceable."
"Is Elissen replaceable? Like Ismall?"
"What are you talking about, boy?"
"I am NOT a boy!" Isolder roared, making his mother flinch away. "You killed Ismall, didn't you? Admit it! You killed my son!"
"I will admit nothing."
"Elissen is dying," he ground out. "You poisoned Leia's food, didn't you?"
"Elissen?" Ta'a Chume's eyes grew wide.
"Ely ate the food you had poisoned." He grabbed his mother's arms, shaking her until her head snapped back and forth. "You tried to kill my wife... and instead you managed to kill my child! Just like you killed Ismall!" He let her go, turning to pace the room. "I've been such a fool. Leia told me you killed Ismall. All these years, she tried telling me.... and I didn't believe her. I actually defended you!"
"There is an antidote," Ta'a Chume said quietly.
"You said the poison took a week to work," he said, his eyes hard. "How long have you been poisoning Leia's food?"
"It was only one time. I told my aide to make certain that one dose was strong enough, even at the risk of being detected."
Isolder turned to his mother, his face filled with contempt and hatred. "The antidote had better work, Mother. Or I will kill you with my bare hands."
Luke had asked Mara to wait aboard the Jade Sabre until he returned with Chewbacca. After getting a reluctant promise from Han that he wouldn't attempt to escape, the Jedi headed for the Kashyyyk Embassy, where Chewie had an apartment.
After long minutes, the Wookiee finally answered his door, catching his friend up in a furry embrace. *It's has been too long, Skywalker. I have missed you.*
Smiling up at Chewie, Luke could see very little difference in his appearance from the first time he saw the Wookiee in that dirty little bar in Mos Eisley. Hopefully, Chewie would be able to bring back Han's memories, but first Luke had to tell the Wookiee that Han was alive. "Chewie.... I have something I need to tell you."
*Come in...* He waved his giant hand toward the spacious room, filled with plants native to Kashyyyk. *What brings you here?*
Taking a deep breath, Luke blurted out the story, barely pausing to catch his breath until he was done.
Chewie had not spoken, or even moved, since Luke started his tale. Finally, when Luke concluded, Chewie spoke, his voice shaking, *Are you telling me my cub is here? Alive? On Coruscant?*
*Why did you not bring him to me?* the Wookiee demanded. *I must go to him...*
"Chewie, his memory, and his personality, has been affected by the long stay in carbonite. He doesn't know who he is. I've tried filling him in on the past, but nothing seems to be helping."
*Flying the Falcon again will bring back his memories,* Chewie woofed insistently. *I must see him. Now.*
"Then let's go."
"You drugged me," Han said quietly as he sat beside Mara in the cockpit, looking out of the viewport at the busy port activity.
The redhead looked over to the co-pilot's seat at Solo. "You needed to rest. It's a perfectly safe medication."
"You could have asked me," he responded, his voice low and bitter.
"Maybe I should have, but Luke knows you too well. He said you would have refused." When Solo didn't reply, she asked, "Well? Would you have agreed to take the sleep medicine?"
She shrugged. "There you go, then. Luke does know you, and you have to admit you're feeling better since you've been sleeping without nightmares."
"It still doesn't give you the right - "
"Here they come," Jade interrupted, glad that this conversation was being sidetracked. She pointed out the viewport at Luke walking with Chewbacca. She had met the Wookiee on several occasions, and while she wasn't close to him, she truly liked Chewbacca. "Do you recognize him?"
Han's eyes were focused on the Wookiee, his face desperately searching for answers. Slowly, he shook his head. "No," he replied sadly. "I don't."
Chewbacca could barely contain his excitement as he hurried up the ramp.
"Chewie..." Luke's voice said from behind him. "Han's different, he's changed. It's not just his memory loss, either."
The Wookiee stopped and turned to face the Jedi. *Explain.*
"He's frightened and unsure of himself. He's lacking his usual self-confidence."
*If he can't remember anything, is that so strange?* the Wookiee questioned.
"Maybe not," Luke conceded. "But you need to be careful of how you greet him."
*I will not crush him, if that is your concern.*
Luke smiled, then patted Chewie's arm. "That was a bit of my concern."
They continued into the ship, where Mara and Han stood waiting. Han looked up at the tall Wookiee, struggling to recall anything about him, and failing. "Hello," he finally said, glancing at Luke nervously. "Chewbacca, right?"
*Cub!* Chewie roared, unable to keep his promise to Luke as he swept the Corellian off his feet, swinging him around. *You're alive!*
Han shut his eyes, a sudden rush of fear coursing through his entire being. He heard Luke shout a warning to the Wookiee, and then Chewbacca set him back on his feet, quickly apologizing.
*I am sorry,* he woofed out. *It's been so long, Han. I've missed you, and I should never have stopped searching for you. Please forgive me.*
"I...I can understand you," Han replied, puzzled.
"That's not too surprising," Mara said. "It appears to me only the memories of you personal experiences have been affected, not your basic knowledge. And understanding Shyriiwook is very basic for you."
*I have kept the Millennium Falcon for you. Other than standard upkeep, it is unchanged since the last time you flew her.*
"The Millennium Falcon is my ship, right?" Han questioned, looking up into the Wookiee's blue eyes.
*It is your ship.*
"Can I see it?"
Chewie looked over at Luke. *It could help him remember.*
Luke nodded, hoping there would be something that could trigger Han's deeply repressed memories. "Let's go check out the Falcon."
Leia watched as the doctors administered the antidote they hoped would save Elissen's life. "If she dies..." Leia whispered, her fists clenched with fury. Isolder put his hand on her shoulder, and Leia angrily shrugged it off. "Don't touch me." She turned to him, keeping her voice low. "You knew about that poison."
"I've only known it existed for a few days."
"It was meant for me," Leia said, her voice brittle. "And now Elissen is paying the price."
"Mother wanted me to kill you, and when I refused, she took matters into her own hands."
"She always does."
"Yes. She does," Isolder replied. "You were right all along, Leia. She murdered Ismall, because she wanted a granddaughter."
"And she killed Perron."
"She's not getting away with it," Leia snapped at her husband of thirty years.
"As Queen, you have the right to banish her, or have her executed," Isolder said quietly. "The choice is yours, and I will support whatever decision you make."
Leia looked back at her pale, still daughter, her face covered with a breathing mask. "Ta'a Chume won't ever be allowed to hurt anyone again, Isolder. I can promise you that." Leia looked up at her tall husband. "When Elissen recovers, I'm taking her and leaving Hapes."
The Prince's face changed from sorrow to shock. "You can't! You're the Queen Mother. Hapes needs you!"
Hapes needed her. Not Isolder - no, he never needed her. Leia wondered if her words, spoken so long ago to Han Solo, had sounded so cold. The Rebellion needs you, Han. I don't know what you're talking about. They could use a good leader.
"And Elissen needs me more," she said firmly to Isolder, pushing her husband's words from her mind. "I'm going to Coruscant, and visiting my friends. Then I will spend time visiting my brother and his family on Yavin. Whether I return or not is still undecided, but I can tell you something right now - Elissen will never be forced to marry someone she doesn't love, nor will she be forced to become Queen of Hapes. It will be her choice. Do you understand me?"
"If she refuses to accept the throne, then one of her cousins - "
"I don't care!" Leia snapped. "I suggest you make arrangements and have one of those cousins get prepared, if that's the case. You're not forcing this type of life on her. I will not have her happiness destroyed, like mine was destroyed."
"Is that what you think, Leia? That I forced you to marry me? And that I destroyed your life?"
Leia turned away from her husband, shutting her eyes to keep the tears from falling. "No, Isolder. My life was destroyed on Bespin. This sham marriage to you was just the funeral."
The four took a hovercraft back to the Kashyyyk Embassy, then went to the roof where the Falcon was docked. Both Luke and Chewie watched Han's face as they approached the old ship, looking for some sign of recognition.
"What a piece of junk," Han finally muttered, staring up at the ship. "Does it fly?"
Chewie gave an indignant roar, while Luke and Mara burst into laughter.
"What's so funny?" Han demanded.
"Nothing," Luke managed to choke out, holding his side in laughter. "But when you get your memory back, I'm never letting you live this down."
Han spent time exploring the old freighter, looking in various rooms, checking out the modifications and nodding in approval. "Guess there's more to her than it looks," he admitted to Luke.
"You and Chewie installed all these modifications yourselves," Luke told him. "You're always bragging how fast she can go."
Grinning, Han remarked, "So you're tellin' me that I'm a pretty smart guy, huh?"
"Don't get cocky, Solo," Mara shot back, watching Luke's amused expression. She could tell her husband was pleased that the Corellian's old personality was finally starting to assert itself.
Their attention turned to Chewie as he came around the corner, holding a gun belt and blaster, the same gun that Lando retrieved during the hectic evacuation of Cloud City. *This is yours, cub. I have kept it for you since Bespin.* Chewie held it out to his friend, watching as Han took the gunrig. *The blaster needs recharging, but other than that, it should work fine.*
Slowly, the Corellian strapped the belt around his hips, then fastened the tie-down. "I guess I really like antique things, don't I?"
"Yes, you do," Mara replied. "Ships, blasters.... Wookiees..." She ducked as Chewie made a mock-swipe at her head.
*I am not an antique!* Then he turned his blue eyes toward Han. *Would you like to take the Falcon up?*
"I'd love to," Han admitted, feeling a rush of excitement. Memory-loss or not, he knew flying was his joy.
Luke nodded his approval, then took his wife's hand. "We'll wait until you come back, Han."
As they left the Falcon, Mara looked back. "Are you sure we shouldn't have gone along?"
"I'm sure," Luke replied. "Han needs to fly his ship, and he needs to know we trust him. This is important for his self-confidence."
They headed back to the Chewie's apartment, unaware the Jade Sabre was currently getting an incoming message.
Ben Skywalker turned and looked at his younger brother, Anakin. "Dad didn't answer my comm, but I left a message."
"Aunt Leia looked really upset," Anakin remarked. "I wonder why she's going to Coruscant. You don't think she heard about Mom and Dad finding Han Solo, do you?"
"No," Ben replied, shaking his head. "It didn't feel like that to me." He shrugged. "I might be wrong."
"What?" Anakin threw up his hands in horror. "Wrong? It can't be! Ben Skywalker is never wrong!"
"Shut up, bantha breath."
Hapes, the next day
Elissen struggled to put her clothes on, allowing Leia to help her dress. "Are you sure you're feeling well enough to leave the hospital already?" Leia questioned. "This trip can wait another day."
"I'm fine, mom. Just a bit of a headache and an upset stomach, but that's getting better." She gave a small smile at her mother. "I can't wait to get to Coruscant. It's been so long since I've been anywhere, and I really need to get away from Hapes."
"I know you do, and I need to get away, too." Leia sighed, then added, "You're cousin Ben told me his mother and father are on Coruscant, so it's like this trip is meant to be. I haven't seen my brother in so long. I miss him."
"What did you decide to do about Grandmother?"
"I've ordered her sent away to a prison on the furthest Hapan system, where she'll be under constant guard. It's really more like a retirement village for rich criminals than a true prison, but I couldn't execute her, even if she deserves it."
The young woman nodded. "I understand, mom. We have to show that we're better than her. Didn't she want a trial?"
Leia felt a surge of pride in her daughter. Elissen would make a good Queen, even if becoming the Queen wasn't her desire. "No, not after your father told her that he was going to testify against her. If a jury would have sentenced Ta'a Chume, most likely they would have given her the death penalty, and she knew that."
Both women turned and watched as Isolder entered the room. "You're leaving," he said, dully.
"Yes, immediately," Leia said coolly. "Our luggage is already on the Alderaan."
"You should at least take a Hapan battle cruiser as an escort, just for protection."
"No one knows about this trip but my family, and you," Leia replied. "So if something happens to us, like an unexpected encounter with a rogue warlord, I'll know who betrayed us."
"I would never do that," Isolder whispered, his shoulder's slumping in defeat. "Please, Leia, you must believe me. I didn't know about Ismall, or the explosion."
"I'll let you know when we arrive on Coruscant," Leia told him as she headed out of the room. "Let's go, Elissen."
Father and daughter stood still, staring at each other. "I love you, Ely," Isolder finally said. "Be careful."
"I... I'll see you, Father." She hurried away, following her mother.
Isolder focused on the closed door, then spoke softly, his voice tinged with regret, "And I love you too, Leia."
Coruscant, two nights later
Mara twisted her head and looked at her husband. Their room in Chewie's apartment smelled woodsy and sharp, the air somewhat humid, like the atmosphere on Kashyyyk. "Luke?"
"I'm worried about Leia's reaction when she sees Han. I wish we would have seen the boys' message earlier."
The Jedi turned over, rubbing his eyes. "I tried to contact her before she left Hapes, but she was already in hyperspace. There's nothing I can do about it, except contact her ship when she arrives tomorrow."
"And Han still doesn't remember her?"
"He's remembering bits and pieces from his childhood, but nothing beyond his time aboard the Trader's Luck."
"That's a beginning," she said with a sigh. "I wish he'd remember Leia. That's going to be extra hard, when he doesn't know her."
"Maybe seeing her will be what it takes to finally remember everything," Luke said without much conviction.
"Always the optimist, farmboy."
The next morning
The Alderaan sat waiting on a landing pad near the Jade Sabre. Luke and Mara hurriedly approached the ship as Leia exited, with Elissen following behind her mother. Brother and sister embraced, then Leia hugged Mara while Luke greeted his niece.
"It's so wonderful to see you again," Leia said, barely able to keep her tears in check. "I couldn't believe it when Ben told me that you and Mara were on Coruscant."
Mara was easily able to see how fragile her sister-in-law's emotions were, and worried about the upcoming shock. "It's nice to see you, Leia." She looked over at Luke. "Why don't I show Elissen around a bit, and you can spend some time alone with Leia?"
"That sounds like a great idea," Luke enthused. "I'd like a chance to catch up with my twin."
Leia watched as Mara hustled Elissen away, then frowned suspiciously at her brother. "What was that all about?"
"What do you mean?" Luke said, trying to maintain his innocent expression. "It's just like Mara said.... I want to spend some time alone with my sister."
"Luke, I just got here, and already I know something's up." She put her hands on her hips, trying to look intimidating. "I do have a bit of the Force myself, you know."
"More than a bit," Luke mumbled.
"I ... I ..." He stopped, then tried again. "Chewie has a really nice apartment. Would you like to see it? I'm sure he'd love to see you."
"What about spending time alone with me?"
Luke took a deep breath. "Leia, there's no easy way to say this, so here it goes... Han's alive."
The stress of the past week finally took its toll, and Leia's legs gave out as she nearly dropped to the floor. Immediately Luke caught her, gently holding her in his arms. "Leia? Leia... say something!"
"Yes, he's alive."
"Where.... where has he been?"
"Frozen in carbonite, and buried in a cave on Tatooine."
Leia gasped out, "He's... okay?"
"He can't recall his past. But maybe when he sees you, he'll finally remember."
Putting her hands to her face, Leia whispered, "He's still young, isn't he?"
"Time stood still for him, as far as the aging process."
"I can't see him, Luke." She looked up, her face stricken. "I'm an old married woman, with a daughter the same age I was when I last saw him. He's still a young man. I can't... it would be too hard."
"You're not old," Luke admonished. "Because if you're old, so am I, and I refuse to admit that."
The comment made Leia smile. "Are you in age denial, brother?"
"Maybe," he conceded. "Would seeing Han again be too hard on you, or Han?"
"Me," she admitted, looking away from Luke's steady gaze. "I've never stopped loving him."
"Does he know about me?"
"I told him what I could." Luke suddenly looked uncomfortable. "I...I never knew how far, um, you and Han went, physically."
"We never made love," Leia confessed, still looking at the floor. "Only because I held back. I've regretted that now for thirty-five long years."
"You really don't want to see him?"
Leia drew away from Luke, then straightened her dress as she mentally pulled herself together. "I have to see him. Even if it kills me."
Han waited with Chewie back at his apartment, pacing the length of the living area. *Stop already, you are making me dizzy,* Chewie woofed at his friend.
"Do I look okay?"
The Wookiee sighed. *You are wearing the same old clothes you always wear. You look no different than you did thirty-five years ago.*
"I wish I could remember her, Chewie. A princess? A real princess, and she actually liked me?"
*Yes. Loved you, actually. And she's not a princess anymore. She the Queen of Hapes. Her daughter is the princess.*
"What does she look like?"
*I told you - *
"No... I mean, in comparison to before when I knew her. I assume she was really good looking, right? If I liked her, she had to be pretty. But sometimes a woman lets herself go when she gets married and has kids... didn't you say she had kids? So if she was pretty before, that doesn't mean she's still pretty now and -" A large paw slapped over his mouth, stopping his rambling.
*Leia was, and still is, a beautiful woman, inside and out. Do not be so... so shallow or I will hold you upside down by your ankles. You do not want that, do you?*
A muffled 'no' came from behind Chewie's paw. Then the door buzzer sounded. *That's Luke and Queen Leia, and you will behave yourself. Understand?*
*Good. I'm glad we have reached this understanding before she arrived.* Chewie removed his hand and went to answer the door.
There stood Queen Leia Organa-Chume, looking nervous and at the same time, regal as always. "Chewie." She hugged the tall Wookiee, grateful to have another moment's distraction. Then she looked past Chewie, and saw Han Solo standing in the middle of the room, looking for all the galaxy exactly as she remembered him in her thousand dreams. "Han Solo."
"That's what they tell me," Han said, shuffling his feet. Chewie was correct - the woman standing before him was still quite stunning, even if she was well into her fifties. "And you must be Queen Leia of Hapes." He stepped forward and stuck out his hand. "I wish I could remember you."
"I remember you, Han," Leia said quietly as she took his hand. Her own fingers felt clammy, and she realized she was trembling. "I'm so glad you're alive." For a brief moment, she wanted to throw her arms around his neck and kiss him with all the passion that she had bottled up for thirty-five long years, but she held back upon seeing the polite, somewhat curious look on his face. He didn't remember her, and she was a married woman. Time had passed them by, and whatever erotic reunion fantasies Leia had held onto for so long disappeared like sand through her fingers. Perhaps Han had never loved her in return, since the words had never left his lips all those years before. It had been Leia, and Leia alone, declaring her love as he was lowered into that terrible pit.
The silence between them hung heavy, neither one knowing what to say. Finally Luke spoke, trying desperately to fill the silence. "You don't remember Leia at all? You two used to argue constantly. It kept the Rebel troops very entertained."
"Really?" Han mumbled. "What did we argue about?"
"Everything," Luke continued. "The time of day, whether it would rain or snow... why you wouldn't join the Rebellion..."
"Why didn't I?"
"You claimed you were incapable of taking orders from anyone but yourself," Leia said, giving a slight smile. "And you kept threatening to leave, because you needed to pay off Jabba."
"Jabba," Han remarked, then looked up at Chewie. "Why did I work for a Hutt, anyway?"
*Credits, always credits,* Chewie woofed, shaking his shaggy head. *I tried to talk you out of it, but you are stubborn.*
The sound of voices carried down the corridor, and Luke grinned in relief at the interruption. "Mara and Elissen are coming." He looked at Han and explained, "Elissen is Leia's daughter."
All eyes turned to the door as the two women entered the room, and Han couldn't help but stare. The dark-haired young woman standing next to Mara was almost an exact replica of her mother, only taller. Her brown eyes focused on the Corellian and she smiled. At that moment, Han suddenly understood why he must have stayed with the Rebellion for all those years.
Leia saw the look the two exchanged, and felt her heart break a bit further. Elissen saw Han Solo the same way she did, and just as surely, Han must find Elissen attractive. She met Luke's eyes. Whether through the Force or not, the Jedi had seen Han and Elissen appraising each other, as well.
Leia cleared her throat. "Elissen, this is Captain Han Solo. Han, this is my daughter, Princess Elissen."
"Nice to meet you," Han said quickly, taking her hand and giving her a lopsided grin. The same grin he had always given Leia when he wanted to charm her, or annoy her.
Mara had filled the young princess in on the situation during the walk over, so Elissen thought she was prepared to meet the ex-smuggler her mother had loved. "Same here," Elissen replied, blushing. Maybe she wasn't as prepared as she believed, and felt a rush of irritation at her lack of self-control. Blushing wasn't something she did. Ever.
"Elissen, we should go check into our hotel," Leia said, trying to wrap her mind around this bizarre situation. She had to get away from Han for a little while, and think about what he still meant to her, how to handle this unexpected turn of events. "I have a lot of people I'd like to visit yet today."
"Maybe I can take you out to dinner this evening?" Han asked Elissen. Quickly, he looked over at Leia, then added, "Both of you, of course."
"It's been a long trip, Han," Leia replied politely. "If Elissen would like to go out, that's fine. I'd rather rest."
"I'd love to go," Elissen answered quickly. "I'll let you know what hotel room I'm in, and you can pick me up. Does that sound okay?"
"Sounds great to me."
After Luke and Mara left with Leia and her daughter, Chewie shut the door, his blue eyes looking accusingly at his friend. *Why did you do that?*
"Do what? I asked them both."
*Leia loved you.*
"Loved, not still loves. Come on, Chewie, it's been thirty-five years. She's a married woman... a Queen, for stars sake! And it's just a dinner, anyway. It's not like I'm gonna seduce Elissen."
*Famous last words.*
"I'm not!" Han shot back, irritated. "If you don't believe me, why don't you come with?"
Chewie shook his head. *No, Han. Go, but mind your manners, and remember who she is.*
"A Princess? Someone that's too good for me?"
*No, cub. She is the daughter of the woman you love.*
Elissen watched as her mother hung the dresses in the closet, biting her lip nervously. "Mom? I'm sorry I said I'd go out to dinner with Han Solo. I'll call it off."
The older woman turned from the closet, facing her worried daughter. "You need to get out. I want you to go and have fun."
"You want me to have fun, but not with the man you love. I understand, mom. Really I do."
"Elissen - "
"I love you, and the last thing I do is want to upset you," she hurried on. "I can see why you fell for him, though. He's really cute."
"Cute?" Leia smiled ruefully. "I'd never use that word to describe Han. Scruffy looking, maybe."
"It's really upsetting you that he can't remember you, isn't it?"
"Yes," Leia admitted. "It's not his fault, though. And maybe it's better he doesn't remember me."
"Why would you say that?" Elissen questioned.
"The woman he would remember looked like you, Elissen. Not a married woman pushing sixty, with wrinkles and gray in her hair. Or a Queen that's ruled over Hapes for thirty years." Leia's eyes welled up with tears, but she turned her face away so Elissen wouldn't see her pain. Wouldn't it be ironic to have her daughter end up with the man she'd loved and lost? Sometimes fate, or the Force, could be very cruel.
Dropping out of hyperspace over Coruscant
Isolder stared out the viewport as the stars came into focus, thinking about his wife and daughter. If he lost them, he would have nothing. Before he followed Leia's ship, he'd hurriedly contacted Elissen's second cousin, and asked if she'd consider accepting the crown if Elissen turned it down. Lady Nammon, a Royal family member of nineteen, had always impressed Isolder as being intelligent and having a solid head on her shoulders. Lady Nammon had quickly agreed, undoubtedly much to the delight of her family.
The Prince no longer cared if Elissen became the next Queen. He loved his child, more than he thought possible. And only in the past few days, when he became aware of his mother's plot to kill Leia, did Isolder also come to realize he loved Leia. He intended to make this trip count, and persuade his wife and daughter to return home, and he would never again argue with Elissen's choice as husband.
"Do your mother and father get along?" Han asked, taking another bite of his Alderaanian tella'k stew.
Elissen gave a wane smile, sipping her drink. This was the seventh question Han had asked about Leia since dinner started. She knew, because she'd counted. "They rarely disagree," she informed her date. "Their relationship is very cordial."
"Cordial? That's an odd word to describe a marriage."
"It's a better description than a lot of marriages," she pointed out.
"But certainly not the ideal description."
He had her there. "No. I guess not." After a moment's silence, Elissen said, "It must be hard not to remember any of your past."
"Confusing, is more the word," he shrugged. "Frustrating."
"Do you have a steady boyfriend?" Han asked her. "You know, back on Hapes?"
Elissen put down her fork, and smoothed the tablecloth with her fingers, trying to hide her grief. "Not really. I had a good friend that just died, right before we came to Coruscant. He might have been more, someday."
"Oh." Han cleared his throat. "I'm sorry. How did he die?"
Elissen's deep brown eyes met Han's hazel ones. "My grandmother murdered him."
Startled, Han dropped his bread into the stew. "Your grandmother? Why?"
"He wasn't high class enough," she said in a low voice. "Then she tried to kill my mother by poisoning her. Fortunately, I ate the food instead of mom."
"Fortunately?" Han sputtered, barely able to comprehend what he was hearing. What kind of people were these Royal Hapans, anyway? His mental image of kindly old grandmothers was suddenly shot all to heck.
"Grandmother didn't want me to die, so she made certain I received the antidote in time. If mom would have been poisoned, she would have died," Elissen explained as she looked at Han's food. "Are you finished eating? I'd really like to go back to the hotel now."
"Sure," Han mumbled as he waved the wait-droid over. "I'm finished."
When the buzzer rang, Leia got up from her reading and headed for the door, wondering why Elissen was back so soon. Hopefully, Han hadn't been too forward with her, especially since she was so emotionally fragile at the moment. Although she trusted Han, Leia found herself wishing that she would've asked Chewie to have a little 'talk' with Han before this date. When the door slid open, Leia was stunned to see Isolder standing before her.
"Isolder? What are you doing here?"
"May I come in?"
Leia stepped aside, allowing him to enter, but said nothing as he looked around the expensive suite.
"I want you to come home, Leia."
"I told you that I'd make that decision later. I meant much later, not a few days later," Leia said tightly.
He turned his haunted eyes to his wife. "Please..."
"You have no right - " Leia started to say, but stopped as Isolder grabbed her roughly, pulling her to him, kissing her hard on the mouth.
Furious, Leia tried to push him away. "Don't you dare..."
"You're my wife, and I love you, so I'll dare." He moved to kiss her again, when suddenly he was pulled away from Leia, and a hard, blinding punch landed on his jaw. The Prince crashed across the room, falling to the thick, cream colored, carpet. Before he lost consciousness, he heard his daughter's voice crying out in shock.
"HAN!" Leia yelled, pulling him back from further attacking Isolder.
Han turned to her, his face livid. "Is that the krethin' idiot you married?"
"Isolder is my husband, yes," Leia replied, watching as Elissen rushed past to go to her father's side. Had she heard correctly? Had Isolder said the words 'I love you'? Leia had waited for thirty years to hear those words from the man she married, waited until she had given up hope of a normal, happy marriage. Although she never felt love toward Isolder, if he would have said those words to her years ago, she might have been able to let go of her love for the missing Han Solo, and start to love him in return.
"Why?" Han hissed at her. "Why would you marry ..." he waved his hand in disgust at the groaning Prince. "That vrelth? Why would you throw your life away?"
"I ... I didn't throw my life away, Han. Arranged marriages are common among royalty, and I had two beautiful children from Isolder, even if I didn't have a passionate love." Suddenly, another thought tore through Leia's confused mind. "Han...?"
"What?" he snapped, watching as Elissen helped her father sit in a plush chair as the Prince regained awareness.
"You remember me?"
The Corellian's mouth dropped open, his face registering shock. Seeing Leia kissing another man had been the key that unlocked all his memories. Now he remembered. From the first time he saw Leia on the Death Star, to the last vision of her as he was lowered into the freezing chamber. And along with those memories came the horrors of carbonite. Endless pain, endless darkness, endless suffocation.
Han staggered, his mind reeling as he was suddenly overwhelmed by the knowledge of everything he'd missed. Thirty-five years was simply gone, a gaping hole in his life, a missing piece he could never retrieve. His friends had moved on, assuming he was dead. Chewie had an important, worthwhile job. Leia was a Queen, a married mother of a beautiful young woman. Luke had married a vibrant, Force-strong woman, had his own kids, become a Jedi Master. The Empire had fallen. His world, everything he knew, was gone, or completely, irrevocably changed. He sank to his knees, unable to continue to stand as the impact struck him like a physical blow. "Leia..."
She was there, next to him, holding him as he began shaking uncontrollably. Distantly, he heard her say to Elissen, "Get a medic."
Han wanted to protest he was fine, but when he couldn't speak he knew he was anything but fine.
"How is he?" Luke asked as he and Mara entered the waiting room.
Leia looked up, her face showing strain and exhaustion. "They sedated him. The doctors said he went into shock when he remembered."
"So Chewie is with him now?" Mara questioned her sister-in-law.
Nodding, Leia put her face in her hands. "I don't know what I'm going to do," she whispered. "Did you know Isolder is here?"
"Elissen told us what happened," Mara said, sitting down next to Leia. "Other than a loose tooth and a bruised ego, she says her father is fine."
They looked up as Chewie came out of Han's room and approached them. *Han will recover physically,* he woofed softly. *It will take time for him to mentally adjust to this new galaxy. I wish his memories would have returned slowly. It would have been less of a shock to his system.*
"Is he awake?" Leia asked, glancing down at the monitor that translated the Wookiee's words. Over the years, Luke had mastered Chewie's language, and while Leia understood most of what Chewie said, it was still difficult to catch all the words.
*Yes, but quite sleepy. The doctor told me you can see him, Princess.*
Leia hurried into the room where Han lay, his eyes shut. Walking up next to him, she put her hand on his forehead, gently brushing the hair from his face.
Slowly, he opened his eyes, giving her a groggy smile. "Hey, your Highnessness."
"You gave me quite a scare, flyboy."
"I seem to make a habit of that," he smirked. Then he grasped her hand, holding it tightly against his cheek. "I'm sorry, Princess."
"For, for Bespin. For not living up to my promise to keep you safe. For not telling you I loved you, when I had the chance."
Carefully, Leia sat down on the edge of the bed, fighting back tears. "Things happened beyond our control. I never blamed you for anything."
"I love you, Leia."
A tear rolled down her face, and she leaned in to kiss his lips. "I have always loved you, too, Han Solo."
"Is it too late for us, sweetheart?"
Leia looked into his eyes. How she had loved those eyes, with that odd, ever changing color. Then she thought about her husband, and the commitment she had made to him all those years ago. Isolder had been good to her, and perhaps passion had never been in his personality. Could she blame him for cold, informal the way he'd been brought up? And it had been Leia that asked him to leave their marriage bed, first after the birth of Ismall, then after Elissen had been conceived. Isolder had not balked at her request, and at the time Leia wasn't sure if she felt relief, or sadness, that he didn't care enough to argue. If only Isolder would have told her he loved her all those years ago, how different their lives could have been.
The Queen of Hapes felt a rush of conflicting emotions. Isolder mattered to her - for better or worse, he was her life-mate, if not her soul-mate. "I survived, Han. Somehow, all these years, I survived. So will you, because you're strong." She paused a moment, gathering her emotions and strength. "I took a vow to Isolder, and it's not something I can just break. I hope you can find it in your heart to understand, and forgive me."
"There's nothing to forgive, sweetheart," he replied, his voice trembling.
Leia leaned over and embraced Han. As she held him, she knew sometimes love couldn't overcome all odds, no matter how much the heart wished for it.
When Leia returned to the hotel room, Isolder and Elissen were waiting for her. "We need to talk," Leia said simply.
The Prince nodded. "I'm sorry, Leia. I shouldn't have kissed you."
"I overreacted, as well," she conceded, sitting down across the living area from her husband of three decades. For so many years she'd been married to him, yet she felt she hardly knew him at all.
"I've informed Elissen that her cousin, Lady Nammon, has agreed to take the throne if she doesn't want it," Isolder told both his wife and daughter.
"And I've decided to return to Hapes, to continue my rule until Elissen makes up her mind," Leia said quietly.
The young woman looked up, surprise in her face. "Mom, what about..." She stopped, looking over at her father.
"Han?" Leia finished for her, trying to smile. "I still love him, and I always will, but that part of my life is over. I'll gladly supply him with whatever finances he needs to get a fresh start in life, but I suspect he'll turn me down. He's always had too much pride to accept anything he thinks is charity."
"I appreciate your honor, My Queen," Isolder said sincerely. "I'm glad our marriage, and Hapes, is important to you." He looked at his daughter. "Will you be returning home, too?"
At first, Elissen was about to agree, then she shook her head. "No, Father. I've been protected and sheltered my entire life. I want to live outside of Hapes, travel around the galaxy. I want to discover who I am, on my own."
"But, who will protect you? Who will keep you safe? There are so many evils out there..." he protested.
Leia held up her hand, stopping her husband. "I know a certain, scruffy-looking Corellian with a strong sense of honor as well, and his partner, a very formidable Wookiee. They will keep Elissen safe."
"Solo?" Isolder asked, his eyes wide. "Are you serious?"
"I'm quite serious, Isolder."
The next day
Han spent a long, sleepless night in the hospital. He could think of nothing but Leia and what she had said to him. When the morning light finally streaked through his window, Han finally concluded she was right, that she had given him the only answer she truly could give him, but his heart would have a much longer time accepting the truth than the rational part of his mind.
He'd been expecting Chewie, so he was surprised when Leia entered his room just as he was pulling on his boots. "Leia?" He looked into her face, hoping to see evidence that she'd changed her mind, and she was here to tell him she was divorcing Isolder. One look at her sad, but expectant face told him otherwise.
"I... I have a favor to ask you, Han."
He knew he'd do whatever she asked of him. "Anything."
"Elissen wants to see the galaxy, get some experience besides presiding over formal banquets and ribbon cutting ceremonies. Maybe learn how to be a pilot, deal with people other than politicians, so I'd like you to agree to take her with you when you travel." She stopped talking, noting Han's incredulous expression. "I'll pay you for your time, Han. You'll need to get financing anyway, if you want to start a business as a legitimate shipper, and I'm assuming that's what you'll want to do for a living."
"Are you serious?" Han asked. "You want to pay me to fly your daughter around the galaxy?"
"You'll be flying around anyway, so what's wrong with having another passenger?" Leia said, quite seriously. "And I can't think of anyone I trust more than you and Chewie." Leia was assuming was that Chewie would resign as Ambassador, and resume his life-debt with Han. She felt fairly secure with that assumption, especially when Han didn't deny it.
Han stepped up to his Princess, putting his hand against her face, trying one last time. "Are you sure you want to go back to Hapes? You can come with me, sweetheart. We can still make this work. We can run away, to someplace where no one knows who you are..."
Leaning into his warm hand, Leia shut her eyes. "I wish it were that easy. I wish I didn't have all these responsibilities, and that I could turn back time and be young again."
"I don't care about our age difference."
She opened her eyes, swallowing the lump forming in her throat. "We weren't meant to be, Han. No matter how much we wish, wishes don't come true."
"Sometimes they do," he said insistently, while at the same time knowing he was fighting a losing battle. The Leia he knew would never run away from responsibility, and thirty-five years later she was still the same person she had been back then.
"That's true," she replied softly, turning her face and kissing his palm. "You're back, alive and well. So that wish did come true." Putting her arms around his waist, she held him tight, and once again found herself not wanting to let him go. "Keep my Elissen safe, Han. I'm trusting you with the most important thing I have - my child."
"I'll keep her safe, Leia. And that's a promise I'll keep." Han bent down, kissing her softly on the lips, feeling his heart shatter into a million tiny pieces. He wasn't sure anyone would ever be able to put those pieces back together, or if he'd even want them to try. Then he turned and walked out the door without looking back. Han knew if he looked back, even for a second, he wouldn't be able to leave at all.
Leia stood alone in the small hospital room, tears coursing down her cheeks, knowing that her heart and soul had just walked out of the room to start a new life.