H/L V/Luke

All characters are owned by LFL

Lieutenant Han Solo is part of the crew of the Death Star.

A Change of Heart

Lieutenant Han Solo lay on his back in the small room that he shared with another young officer. Two days ago, he had been awarded the Scarlet Star, an Imperial medal of honor for bravery. Han turned the medal over in his fingers staring at it. Two months ago, if you asked him, Han would have bet his last credit chip on being court-martialed. The fact he was given a medal instead only reinforced his long-held belief in his incredible luck. He shut his eyes and thought back on that day. The day he helped free a group of Wookiee slaves...

The group of Wookiees, chained together, walked in a single file. They held their heads down, as though they had no will to live left in them. They were being taken to work in gem mines on an unindustrialized planet, ruled by a few rich humans, who purchased Wookiees to do the demanding and often deadly work in the dangerous mines.

Lieutenant Solo stood off to the side, in the shadows of a tall building, watching the Imperial Troopers use force whips on the dejected slaves. Han felt sick to his stomach. "I am part of this evil," he thought to himself. "I hate slavery beyond words, yet I am part of this government that enslaves anyone not human." Han felt sweat trickling down his back. This hot, backwater world was only a brief stop for the Star Destroyer Avenger, the ship Han was currently assigned to serve on. Han felt as trapped as the chained Wookiees. He could see no way out, short of deserting. And if he deserted, he would be a wanted man. Having the Empire hunt him would be a hundred times deadlier than having the Hutts on his tail.

The lead Wookiee, a large male with russet colored fur, suddenly moved with astounding speed. With a mighty roar, he swung his chains at the stormtroopers. The other Wookiees took action, and the bodies of half a dozen Troopers were flung away from the slaves before a single shot was fired. The body of one Trooper landed near the spot where Lieutenant Solo stood hidden by the cool shade. Han bent down and took the lock-release scanner off the dead man. When he looked up, he saw a Storm Trooper aiming his blaster directly at the back of the rust colored Wookiee. Without thought, Han drew his own blaster and shot the Trooper dead. The huge Wookiee turned around, his blue eyes looking at the dead Trooper. Then he noticed Han. Lieutenant Solo tossed the lock-release to the Wookiee, and watched as the male released his binders, and those of his companions. The large Wookiee approached the young Imperial Officer slowly. "Hey pal," Han smiled nervously up at the towering creature. "Take the EW-970 in docking bay four. The access code is 963-580." The Wookiee nodded his understanding and turned to leave. "Wait!" Han called out. The male turned back to the Corellian. "I can't be left untouched. Bang me up and knock me out," Han instructed him. The blue eyed Wookiee frowned. "I'll be shot for treason if you don't!" Han told him urgently. The Wookiee barked his agreement, and sent the Corellian sailing into a wall. For a few desperate minutes, Han thought the Wookiee misunderstood him and intended to kill him. Then a blow to the back of his skull brought darkness.

The former slaves quickly made their way to the docking area. More blaster fire rang out before a stolen hyperspace capable ship lifted off and made its escape.

Han grinned at the memory. He had awoken in a medical ward, with Imperial doctors hovering over him. Everyone assumed Lieutenant Han Solo had been injured attempting to stop the slaves from escaping. Han had not argued, and now here he was, the Big Hero. "If they only knew," Han thought with a shake of his head.

The door to his room opened and the Captain of the Destroyer strode in. Lieutenant Solo leapt to his feet and quickly saluted, "Captain Needa!"

"Solo," Captain Needa replied coolly. He had never liked the young Solo. The Scarlet Star medal was only the latest reason he resented the Lieutenant. "I have some good news for you." Needa handed Han a small disk. "You have been reassigned."

"Reassigned, Sir?" Han asked, puzzled. Officers were generally assigned to a ship for two to five years. Han had been aboard the Avenger for six months.

"Apparently, Lieutenant, your heroics have caught the eye of General Tagge. He has requested that you be assigned to the newest Imperial design, The Death Star."

"The Death Star?" Han had never cared much for the names of Imperial ships, and this one sounded worse than most. "I have never heard of that ship, Sir!"

Needa laughed. "It's not a ship, Solo. It's a moveable Battle Station, the size of a small moon, with incredible firepower. I envy you. Congratulations," he said without conviction.

"Thank you, Sir," Solo replied, and saluted again as Captain Needa left.

Han sat down slowly on his cot. The Death Star. Why do I have a bad feeling about this?


Six months later, Alderaan

"Are you sure you want to do this, Leia?" Bail Organa questioned his daughter.

"Someone has to take these plans to the Rebellion," Princess-Senator Leia Organa answered. "I have the best excuse to be traveling in that sector, with business for the Senate. The Empire won't dare stop my ship. Even Vader is not that stupid."

"Vader is not stupid," Bail admonished her. "Vader is evil, just like Emperor Palpatine. They did not get that much power by ignorance."

"I know father," Leia agreed. "I'll be careful."

With that, Leia gave her father a goodbye kiss, and started up the shuttle ramp. At the top, she turned and smiled. "I'll see you soon, father!"


Yavin

General Rieekan walked crisply to the battered YT-1300 freighter that just set down. The Rebellion was desperately short of supplies, and the two members of the Alliance piloting the old ship had returned, hopefully with food and medical equipment. The ramp lowered and a large Wookiee exited the ship, followed by a short male human. "Captain Antilles, Chewbacca!" Carl Rieekan called out. "Did you get what we needed?"

Wedge Antilles smiled. "Of course we did, Sir. Chewie has an amazing amount of friends that hate the Empire."

The older man nodded his agreement. "Thank you, Chewbacca. Once again, your contacts prove invaluable." General Rieekan remembered the day, seven months ago, when the Wookiee contacted the Rebellion asking to join. He had not hesitated to enlist the Wookiee, and now could not imagine doing without Chewbacca's assistance.

Chewie gave a series of growls and woofs, which Wedge, the only human on base that understood Chewie, translated. "He says you're welcome. We'll get the supplies unloaded right away."


Tatooine

Luke had seen his homestead, and knew his aunt and uncle were gone forever. This big adventure with the newly purchased droids and Ben Kenobi had lost its luster. Now he sat in a dingy bar waiting for Obi Wan Kenobi to locate transportation off this dust ball. A rude, dirty being pushed Luke, attempting to cause trouble. When Old Ben intervened and cut off the beings arm, Luke was frightened and a little more than shocked. His complaints about his 'boring' life seemed to be coming back to haunt him. "I think I've found transportation," Ben told the young man. "Let's go meet the Captain."

At the back of the bar in a corner booth, a hard looking, thin human female sat. Luke was unable to judge her age, since she wore generous amounts of makeup and jewelry. She openly leered at Luke as he approached the table. "Hi, cutey," she smirked at the young man, pushing back her short dirty blonde hair. "Looks like you still have sand behind your ears. Have a seat." She patted the cushion next to her invitingly. Ben and Luke exchanged worried looks, and sat down across from the woman. "My name is Captain Zema Pavett. And this is my co-pilot, Kasray," Pavett gave a nod in the direction of large leather skinned Nikto. Luke looked nervously at the co-pilot, who carried a large variety of blasters and knives around his waist and strapped to his forearms. "If you need a charter, I am more than willing to take you wherever you want to go, for a price."

"How much for transportation for myself, the boy and two droids to Alderaan?" Obi Wan asked politely. Unlike Luke, he did not seem at all impressed with Kasray, or his weapons.

"Twenty-five thousand, half now, half when we get to our destination."

"Twenty-five thousand!" Luke stood up and shouted. "We could buy our own ship for that!"

"Go ahead and try," Pavett shrugged. "It's not like I need the trouble your kind always seem to bring along with 'em." The co-pilot hissed at Luke, showing long, jagged teeth. Luke sat back down.

"We can pay you five thousand credits now, and another thirty thousand when we get to Alderaan," Ben said quietly. "And no questions asked."

Captain Zema Pavett smiled with her short, yellow teeth. "Fine. No questions. Meet us at docking bay forty-two in two hours." Obi-Wan Kenobi stood and shook the woman's hand. When Luke stood, she only winked at the young man, making him blush. After the pair left the bar, Captain Pavett turned to her partner. "Who do you suppose will pay more for those two, the Empire or the Rebellion?" The Niktoan threw his head back and gave a howl of laughter.


Executioner

Lieutenant-Commander Han Solo waited outside the small prisoner transport ship that was parked in the docking area of the huge Super Star Destroyer, Executioner. He had been given the assignment to shuttle a Rebel to the Death Star, where Han presumed the prisoner would be eventually executed. They all were. He had heard all the rumors of the 'interrogations' that prisoners endured before their deaths. He was grateful he had never been forced to watch. Most officers thought it was a privilege to be invited to take part in the tortures. Some had bragged about forcing themselves on the female prisoners. All of it made Han Solo physically ill when he listened to the numerous stories. The fact that Lieutenant-Commander Solo did not participate made him suspect among his fellow officers. Han knew it was only a matter of time before a Superior Officer ordered his participation. He did not know what was going to happen when that day came. Han guessed it would be his final day as an Imperial, and perhaps his final day alive.

When the squadron of stormtroopers rounded the corner escorting the rebel, Han felt his jaw drop. She's nothing more than a girl! It seemed mind-boggling to Han that she required six troopers as guards. The young girl was dressed in white from her neck to her feet, her hair done in the current fashion rage of young human females - two buns pinned against the sides of her face. She held her head up and walked proudly toward the shuttle. Before she boarded she glared directly at Solo, and he saw both fear and defiance in her pretty brown eyes. "Welcome aboard, sweetheart," Han said with a lopsided grin.

The young woman's expression hardened and she spat in his face. "Thank you," she replied sweetly, and turned and walked up the ramp.

Han wiped the spittle from his face in shock. But instead of anger, all he could feel was admiration toward her spirit. He turned and followed the squadron up the ramp.

Senator/Princess Leia Organa sat down on a hard chair, and watched as the troopers chained her waist to the back of the chair. It had given her satisfaction to spit in that Imperial's face, and seeing the expression of shock come over his handsome features. Handsome? Why am I thinking that? He's Imperial scum! Leia watched him carefully as he followed her onboard, waiting for his retribution. Instead, when their eyes met a second time, she saw only pity. She would have preferred his wrath. He knows I'm doomed. For a brief moment, her resolve wavered. Then she straightened her shoulders and began preparing herself for the worst.


Death Star

Pain. That was the only thing Leia was aware of - that and her own screams. Lord Vader stood above her, snapping off questions. She would not answer him. Using a deep, internal strength, she held the Dark Lord off. By the end of the session, Darth Vader knew he had failed. He did not like failure.


En route to Alderaan

Captain Zema Pavett watched as the old man attempted to teach the kid how to use a lightsaber. What a waste of time, she thought. Although her ship, the Firestar, was on its way to Alderaan, Captain Pavett had no intention of actually landing. She had decided that, shortly before exiting hyperspace, she would have her co-pilot incapacitate the old man, and use the boy to negotiate a deal with the rich Alderaanians. If they did not come up with her price of half a million credits, she would contact the nearest Star Destroyer. It never even occurred to her that the old man would be able to fight off her co-pilot. Sure, she had seen the fight in the bar, but that was different. They knew about the lightsaber, and the old man no longer held the element of surprise.

Obi-Wan Kenobi watched the woman out of the corner of his eye. Those two were up to something, he could feel the Force warning him of the danger. It was only a matter of time before they betrayed their passengers. Obi-Wan watched Luke struggling to feel and use the Force. Luke Skywalker was the hope of the future of the Jedi. He could not allow anything to happen to the boy.


Death Star

Lieutenant-Commander Han Solo sat in the officers' lounge eating his lunch. The conversation at the table behind him caught his attention. "Yeah, that pretty rebel is a Princess." a Security Officer was telling his lunch companion, "I hear some officers will get lucky and Tarkin will pick some to "entertain" her while he watches. He likes to watch, you know." The lunch suddenly felt like a rock in Han's gut. He pushed his plate away and leaned back in his chair. "Rumor had it we're on our way to her home planet, Alderaan, to teach her a lesson," the officer continued.

"What kind of lesson?" his friend asked curiously.

"The kind the entire galaxy won't ever forget," the officer lowered his voice slightly. "Alderaan is going to be history!"

Han did not hear the other's reply. It was all he could do not to lose his lunch right there. Quickly, the Corellian got up and walked to his room. Alone in the dark, he lay on his back staring at the dark ceiling. Without question, Solo knew he had to try and stop this from happening, and a plan began forming in his mind.


En route to Alderaan on the "Firestar"

"Do you think you can take out the old man alone?" Pavett whispered to Kasray. "I can handle the droids and the boy myself. I'm kinda looking forward to handling the boy," she smirked at her co-pilot.

"You just go have your fun," the Niktoan answered his boss. "The old man will cause me no trouble at all." He turned and walked toward the hold, sliding his vibroblade from his belt as he left.

Zema Pavett sauntered down the hallway toward the refresher. She had seen the young man head that direction minutes earlier. When the door slid open, she positioned herself directly in front of Luke, blocking his exit. "Hey there, good looking," she gave her best sultry smile. "My berth is just a quick hop that way," Zema tilted her head to the right. "These hyperspace trips can be real boring, but I am sure I can liven things up for you." The woman stepped closer to Luke, forcing him backwards into the small refresher.

"Uh, I, uh..." Luke stammered, his face burning up.

Pavett gave a deep laugh. "I can teach you more important things than that old man is teaching you. And it'll be more fun, too."

Luke tried to duck around the aggressive Captain, but she reached out and pinned his arms to the wall, pressing her body up against his. "Captain, please," Luke tried to squirm away from her surprisingly strong grasp.

Zema Pavett laughed louder. "A man that begs. I like that!"

A commotion sounded down the hall, coming from the ship's hold. A cry of pain, following by a large thud. "Oh dear me," C3PO cried out in terror.

"It sounds like your old friend has met his match," Pavett said with a feral grin.


The Death Star

Months of boredom during his six months aboard the Death Star had finally paid off for Lieutenant-Commander Han Solo. The Death Star had no bars, no sabacc games (that were legal, anyway), and no women. Shore leaves had been rare. During his long hours off duty, Han had explored the miles and miles of corridors in the interior of the battle station. He had examined, in detail, how the station worked. He knew exactly where the main power stations for both the weapon systems and the propulsion systems were located. His frequent, and therefore familiar presence in those areas had proven to be a great help over the course of the last six hours. The Death Star was so enormous that it required four power stations to move it through hyperspace. The systems were not all online at the same time, since they needed time to recharge. Two power stations would operate for ten hours, then smoothly pass off operations to the next two, fully recharged stations. It was a brilliant design, and one that Solo intended to exploit. He had been nervous and sweating, fearing that someone would see what he was doing, and ask one too many questions he would not be able to answer. But Han had not been noticed, or questioned. The Corellian was grateful that internal security was lax aboard most Imperial ships. The only places with security cameras were the detention areas. Why would the Imperials need security cameras? Everyone on board was a loyal Imperial, blindly serving their leaders. Han was done blindly serving the Emperor.

Getting in and out of the high security detention area was going to be a bit harder than the first part of his plan, but he had an idea. If only his Commanding Officer would cooperate.

Lieutenant-Commander Han Solo stood at attention before General Tagge and the lecherous Grand Moff Tarkin.

"At ease, Solo," General Tagge returned Solo's crisp salute. "You asked to speak to me?'

"Yes, Sir!" Han said sharply. "I would like to volunteer to... to entertain the rebel prisoner, sir!"

General Tagge raised his eyebrows in surprise. "You? I thought you did not approved of such diversions."

"Sir! I brought the woman aboard the Station, and she spat in my face," Han put on his best sneer. "She is attractive, and I would like to teach her a lesson."

Tagge grinned at his Lieutenant-Commander's change of attitude. He knew it would happen, it had only been a matter of time. "Of course you can participate, Solo."

"Sir! Can I.. be first?" Han asked with what he hoped was a look of eagerness.

The General and Tarkin both laughed. "I think you have earned the right to be first, Lieutenant-Commander!" Be at the detention area in one hour."

Han smiled and gave a sharp salute, and waited to be dismissed. Only when he was outside the room did he allow himself to breathe deeply.


The "Firestar"

Luke Skywalker had never met a woman like Zema Pavett. His experience with any females was rather limited, so he did not know how to react when she trapped him against the wall. His uncle had always told him "never hit a woman", and Luke was fairly sure Pavett was a woman. At first he tried to duck under her arms, but she moved swiftly, blocking his attempt. Then, when he heard the cry of pain from the hold and Threepio voice, the Captain was abruptly pushed backwards and crashed against the wall out in the hallway.

Zema Pavett was angry. "How dare you push me, you ungrateful gutter vrelth!" She growled as she drew her blaster. It did not matter that she had not actually seen Luke push her, the fact remained she had been pushed, and Luke was the only candidate.

Luke was shocked. Had he used the Force, without even being aware of it? His eyes grew wide as he watched Captain Pavett draw her weapon. Before she could even take aim, the blaster was ripped from her hand, and flew down the corridor toward the direction of the hold. Now it was Pavett's turn to look stunned. She slowly turned to face her Jedi passenger.

"I'm afraid your little plan has been unsuccessful, Captain Pavett," Obi Wan Kenobi said firmly. "You are going to have to settle for your original fee. However, I regret to inform you, you will be needing to find another co-pilot."

"Kasray?" she whispered, her eyes wide with shock.

"I am truly sorry, but he left me no choice," the elderly Jedi informed her. "Please be so kind as to help the droids clean the hold, Captain. Threepio is quite agitated."


The Death Star, approaching Alderaan

The dark gray walls of the detention area matched Solo's mood. Exiting the lift, he took stock of the situation. Two stormtroopers at the main station, and three Imperial Officers along with Grand Moff Tarkin. Han knew the troopers would not be invited to participate, and would be expected to remain at their posts. That left four men he would have to contend with, at least in the beginning stages. Four to one odds. He had faced much worse. Solo crisply saluted Tarkin, and stood at attention. Tarkin smiled at the four assembled Officers. Han was not sure who he hated more at that moment, the Officers who so eagerly looked forward to assaulting a helpless young woman, or Tarkin, for being a disgusting voyeur.

The Moff turned and lead the four men down the hallway to the girl's cell. When the door slid open, the disheveled girl leapt to her feet. The young Princess had lost none of her defiance, even though Han could see the dark circles under her eyes, and the remnants of the torture sessions she had already been forced to endure.

"Good morning, Princess Organa," Tarkin leered at the woman. "Since you are scheduled for execution in a few hours, I thought you might want to enjoy the company of these fine Officers, before you meet your maker. And I do so enjoy the type of entertainment you are about to provide for me."

Leia felt the color drain from her face. She forced herself to look at the four officers, and was genuinely surprised to see the pilot of the shuttle among them. For some reason, she had thought he would be above this. But the Princess was learning the hard way how wrong she could be. "I am not surprised you like watching, Tarkin," Leia snarled at her captor. "You and your kind are filth, and I expect no less from you!"

Tarkin only turned to the Officers. "Since you're first, Solo, the other men will hold her down for you," he instructed.

Han felt his heart pounding in his temples as the three other Officers moved to grab the Princess. Solo reached behind his back under his jacket, and drew out his blaster. Two of the Officers were dead before they could turn around. The third dropped and rolled, drawing his own weapon as Han threw himself behind the shocked Moff. The blasterbolt meant for Lieutenant-Commander Solo hit Tarkin in the chest, and Han and the dead Moff both fell out of the doorway. Han heard the sizzle of another blasterbolt, and taking a deep breath threw himself into the open door while trying to get a fix on his target. The third officer lay face down, a hole smoldering in his back. Han slowly looked up into the determined face of Princess Organa, who was holding one of the dead Officer's blasters, and pointing it directly at Han's chest.

"Don't shoot! I'm trying to help you!" Han said quickly, while at the same time raising his hands slowly. The look in the young woman's eyes was deadly. "Stormtroopers are going to be coming, we need to get moving." Reason with her Solo, or you're dead, he told himself. He hoped he would still be able to reason with her, after all she had been through.

"Why? Why are you helping me?" Leia shot back, suspicious. The sound of approached footsteps signaled the coming troopers.

"Can we have a heart to heart conversation a little later, your highness?" Han answered, as he spun on hip and starting shooting down the corridor at the two stormtroopers. In a second, both lay dead. Han leapt to his feet, and stared at the short Princess. "Are you coming, or would you rather wait for more company?"

Princess Leia pushed past the impertinent Imperial Officer and without hesitating charged down the corridor.

"Hey, wait up!" Han called as he ran after her. He knew they did not have much time, and he quickly charged ahead of her, firing at the cameras in the main lobby as he entered. He quickly choose the lift located at left side, and grabbed the Princess by the arm as he dragged her into the small confines. Han punched in the number for one level up.

"You shoot pretty good for an Imperial," Leia said, surprised. "Usually you guys shoot like Banthas with one eye missing."

Now that he had a second to spare, Han glared at the young woman. "You're not the grateful sort, are you?"

"What do I have to be grateful for?" Leia replied. "We aren't out of this yet, and for all I know, this is just another trap to find the Rebel Base."

Han did not have time to answer. The lift door opened and he pulled the startled Princess out and ran as fast as he could down the corridor.

"Where are we going?" Leia panted as she tried to keep up. "Do you have a plan for getting off this thing?"

"Yup."

"That's your answer?" Leia was getting mad. "Can you be a little bit more specific?"

"Not right now, I can't," Solo replied roughly. Four Stormtroopers suddenly appeared around the corner. Han raised his blaster and began firing, at the same time pushing the Princess aside.

"I can shoot too, you know!" she shouted at him as they ran down the opposite corner. The Officer did not answer her as they quickly entered another lift. She watched his tight face as he punched in some numbers and the lift began moving. "Where are we going?" she repeated the question.

"To the launch bay, where in the seven hells do you think we are going?" Han snapped at her.

"Assuming we can get to a ship, how are we going to launch? We are in hyperspace! We can't launch from hyperspace!"

"Do you think I am a complete idiot?" Han asked slowly, through clenched teeth. He looked furious, and Leia decided it was safer not to speak for a moment. When it was apparent she was not going to answer him, he continued. "We are leaving hyperspace in five minutes, if no one discovered my little handiwork. Hopefully, they will be so busy trying to keep the Station from imploding, they won't even notice our little ship leaving."

"Why are you doing this for me?"

"Not for you, your worshipfulness," Han answered. "I'm doing it for the billions of people that live on Alderaan."

"Alderaan?" she asked in a hushed voice.

"This Battle Station is on it's way to Alderaan, to destroy it. I might not be able to stop it from getting there, but I intend to try and slow it down."

The information left Leia numb.


Reports had begun to filter in to General Tagge about the rebel prisoner escaping. Somehow, the Princess had been freed from the detention block, and Grand Moff Tarkin, as well as three Officers and now about five Stormtroopers were reported dead. Tagge felt icy fear at the thought of informing Lord Vader of this problem. Although the names of the three dead Officers had not yet been reported to the General, he suspected that Lieutenant-Commander Han Solo was not among those dead. I should have questioned his motives. He will pay for this treason. When I am done with him, no Officer will ever forget the example I will set.


"They are going to destroy my planet?" Leia whispered to the lanky Officer, as they crouched down in a doorway outside a large docking area.

"That's the plan, sister," Solo replied. "Hopefully, I can slow them down long enough to give your people a chance to either evacuate or come up with some defense."

"We can't evacuate everyone! And we have no military! How can we defend ourselves?"

Han turned to face her. "Would you rather that I'd not done anything at all?"

"I haven't seen you do anything at all, yet!" she snapped at Solo.

Han looked at the chrono on his wrist and then gave her his best lopsided smirk. "Hang onto your buns, sweetheart!"

A second later the huge Battle Station lurched wildly and both the Princess and the Corellian were flung backwards against the opposite wall.


Darth Vader had been on his way to General Tagge's office when the Battle Station was ripped violently from hyperspace. The Dark Lord was thrown to the ground, along with nearly every person that had been standing upright at that moment. The Station's lights went out, and for a few moments all was dark and quiet. Then the emergency power came up and the corridors became visible in a dim, eerie blue light that cast shadows in all directions. The overstressed infrastructure groaned and the power grids arced and sizzled. The Station was not created to be torn from hyperspace, and the damage was substantial. Vader quickly picked himself up and continued to the General's office. General Tagge's days as Commander of The Death Star had come to an end.


Alderaan

The 'Firestar' dropped out of hyperspace over the blue and green world of Alderaan. Captain Pavett sat sullenly in the co-pilot's seat, as Obi-Wan brought the ship down. Luke was in total awe of the vibrant world, so different from the hot, dry planet he grew up on. "It's so beautiful," Luke whispered. "So green."

Pavett snorted. "I can't imagine it would take much to impress you, farmer." Captain Pavett had spent the remainder of the trip under the close supervision of Kenobi. Pavett had vowed to herself that someday she would get even with her passengers, and she did not care how long it took.

"Ignore her, Luke," Kenobi said softly to Luke. "Alderaan is truly a beautiful world, and there is nothing wrong in admiring it." Obi-Wan turned his attention to the controls, as he contacted his old friend, Prince Bail Organa, ruler of Alderaan. At least the Prince had been the ruler, until six days ago. Not only had the Emperor dissolved the Senate, he had also declared all planets would be ruled by Governors, assigned by Palpatine. Prince Organa had heard that Governor Tarkin would be arriving soon to take over Alderaan's leadership.

Luke smiled gratefully at the kind words from old General. He watched with fascination as Obi-Wan set the Firestar down inside the confines of a large palace, surrounded by immaculate gardens. Once they landed, the three humans and two droids exited the ship. Bail Organa waited to greet his old friend.

"Obi-Wan, its been too long," the Prince smiled at Kenobi, and embraced his old friend.

"I wish my visit could have come under better circumstances," Obi-Wan replied with a shake of his head. "Let me introduce to you Luke Skywalker of Tatooine."

Luke smiled and held out his hand as Bail Organa shook it. Luke had no idea how to properly greet royalty and was a bit concerned at the strange look the Prince gave him. Perhaps I should have bowed, Luke worried. Before he could ask, Obi-Wan motioned to the female pilot. "I hate to ask, but we did promise Captain Pavett thirty thousand credits upon arrival. And I would strongly suggest keeping a sharp eye on the Captain during her very short stay," Kenobi looked sternly at the female pilot.

Bail nodded his understanding and spoke briefly to one of his Aides before turning back to Obi-Wan and the young Skywalker. "My Aide will see to your pilot," he said. "Please follow me inside the Palace."

Luke, Obi-Wan and the two droids followed the Prince as they left the Captain of 'The Firestar' behind, hoping they would never see the untrustworthy woman again.


Onboard the Death Star

"What was that?!" a shocked Princess asked as she picked herself up off the floor. The emergency lighting flickered on.

Han Solo grinned broadly as he dusted off his slacks. "My escape plan. Do you like it?"

Leia's eyes narrowed. "Depends on what's next."

Solo snorted. "Women! Always wanting more. Come on, let's pick a ship and blast outta here," he informed her as he charged into the dimly lit docking bay. The Corellian quickly made his selection and started to run toward the small, but fast Imperial transport ship near one of the dock's exit doors.

"Halt!" a stormtrooper voice called out. Solo spun around, and aimed toward the voice as a blaster shot flew past his side. Leia watched as the Corellian stumbled slightly before firing, killing the trooper.

"Get inside the ship!" Han screamed at the Princess. Leia may have considered arguing, but decided against it as more troopers appeared and began firing in their direction. She ran up the ramp of the ship and into cockpit. Without hesitating she hit the power switch. The sleek craft instantly came online. A moment later, the Corellian dropped into the pilot's seat and turned the nose of the ship to the exit door.

"Will it open?" Leia asked nervously.

"I hope so," the pilot replied bluntly.

"You don't know?"

"It's supposed to open automatically when a ship approaches. Unless someone had the brains to override the controls, it'll open," he said confidently. When the huge door began sliding open, he turned and gave her a grin. "Told ya."

"What about tractor beams?"

"Not working. The Station is on emergency power, and tractor beams take too much juice."

"They can still send out Ties to destroy us," Leia persisted.

The pilot's grin got even wider. "Don't worry about it, sister. The best pilot in the Imperial Navy is sitting in this ship. I can outfly anybody."

Leia gave a heavy sigh. "You seem very sure of yourself, sir."

"I am sure of myself," he agreed. "And by the way, the names Han Solo." He turned slightly to her. "I really hate being called Sir," he added with a wink.


Vader watched out the bridge viewport as the small craft left the ship. He was certain the Princess was onboard. And he was just as certain she was headed toward Alderaan. Lord Vader turned and headed toward his private space craft. Although he wasn't sure why he felt the need to follow the escapees, Alderaan was his destination as well.


Alderaan

Luke explored the luxurious private rooms he had been assigned. He walked out on the balcony and smelled the clean cool air. It was so different than anything he had ever experienced in his twenty years of life on Tatooine. I could get used to this lifestyle, Luke thought with a smile. He walked back into the apartment and into the huge refresher. A water shower! Unable to resist, Luke decided to indulge himself and waste actual water. He stood in the warm shower and experienced guilt pangs when he saw the water running down the drain. It was the first water shower Luke Skywalker ever had, and he felt truly decadent.


Ben Kenobi and Bail Organa sat in an ornate office discussing their multitude of problems. "I am so sorry about Leia," Obi-Wan said quietly.

Bail looked out the window, trying to compose himself before speaking. "At least we still have the Death Star plans," he said sadly. Then he added, "Have you told the boy?"

"No, I don't think that would be a good idea," the Jedi replied. "He needs to be trained. The truth would only make matters worse."

Bail looked directly at his old friend. "It will only make matters worse if you lie to him. Eventually, he will find out the truth. What will you say to him then? How will you justify your lies?"

"I will try to explain to him that he needed training before he learned the truth. I can only hope he will understand," Kenobi answered with a sigh. "Did you ever tell Leia?"

Bail lowered his eyes. "No. I never told her, and I regret it now. She should have been told, and now it's too late."

"We do the best we can, Bail," Obi-Wan told his friend. "Everyone makes mistakes." Obi-Wan knew he was speaking from bitter experience.


Hyperspace

"I can't believe we made it out of that place alive!" Leia exclaimed as she watched the stars blur when the ship leaped into hyperspace.

"Yeah, not a bad bit of rescuing, huh?" Solo bragged to his passenger. "Sometimes I even amaze myself."

"That doesn't sound too hard," Leia replied sharply, then asked, "How long before we get to Alderaan?"

Han glared at the prissy young woman. Obviously, she was not going to thank him for helping her, and that annoyed the former Imperial Officer to no end. "You know, I just spaced my career rescuing your royal rear! You could be just a little bit grateful!" he snapped at her.

"Career?" Leia asked incredulously. "You call being a murdering Imperial, a career?"

Han winced at the description of how he had spent the last ten years of his life. Although he had never personally participated in killing civilians, the fact was he had stood by and watched as others murdered innocents in cold blood, all in the name of the Emperor. "That career was all I had!" he yelled back as he tried to justify his life to her, and perhaps to himself as well. "Some of us weren't born with a silver spoon lodged in our throat!" His excuse sounded pathetically weak, even to his own ears.

Leia stared at the Corellian for a moment, her expression unreadable. "Thank you for the rescue! There... does that make you happy?" she asked him, deeply annoyed that he presumed she was spoiled.

"Just shut up, your worshipfulness," Solo growled at her. He turned his attention to the controls. "We'll be arriving at Alderaan in six hours, OK? Six very long hours!"

The former Imperial and the Princess sat in stony silence for the better part of an hour. The fact the Death Star had been only six hours away from destroying Alderaan rattled the young Princess more than the knowledge that she had narrowly escaped both rape and execution.

Since the stolen ship only consisted of the cockpit, a small refresher and several rows of hard seats lining the small hold, there was really nowhere either of them could go to escape the other's presence. Despite her accusation of calling Solo a murderer, oddly, Leia felt safe with this man. Feeling a little guilty about her lack of gratitude, the Princess finally looked over at the Corellian intending to apologize for her harsh words and even for spitting in his face. Leia immediately forgot all about her apology when she saw Solo. He was sitting in the pilots seat, his eyes shut, his forehead covered in sweat, and a tight set to his mouth. Leia frowned and then noticed his hand pressed against his side, covering a dark stain on his gray tunic. "You've been shot!" she exclaimed, suddenly worried. "Why didn't you say something?"

"No point."

"No point?" Leia repeated in disbelief as she started to stand. "I'm going to find the medical supplies."

"This is a stormtrooper transport," Han replied evenly. "There will be no medical supplies."

"Why?"

Han opened his eyes and looked up at the Princess. "Stormtroopers are expendable, sweetheart. The Empire does not spend any more credits on them than they have to. "

Leia's eyes widened in shock. "You mean they don't get medical treatment if they are injured or ill?"

"Nope," Han replied.

"I hate the Empire," she said with fury as she sat back down.

"So do I," Solo agreed softly.

"Then why did you join?" she asked. This man was becoming more and more of an enigma to the Princess.

"I wanted to become respected," he said with a bitter laugh.

Not knowing if she should continue to question him, her curiosity prodded her forward. "What did you do before joining?"

"Smuggled."

"And they let you join the Imperial Navy?" Leia's brows shot up in surprise.

Han grinned at her. He really does have a nice smile, she decided before shoving the traitorous thought aside. He's an Imperial, and I hate all Imperials!

"Do you think I told them I smuggled?" he asked with a chuckle. "You really do think I am an idiot."

Leia was uncertain how to react to his teasing tone. No one had ever treated her quite like this before, and she was not sure if she liked it or was offended by his cavalier attitude toward her Royal status. "Maybe you should let me take a look at your wound," she finally said. "I have first aid training."

Han shook his head negatively. "No. You can't do anything to help, and it's not that bad."

"You are a very stubborn man, Han Solo," she said wearily.

"Yeah? Well, maybe we do have something in common after all," he replied with a smirk.


Dropping out of hyperspace jerked the Princess awake. She had not even been aware of falling asleep, and now her neck was stiff. She looked over at her pilot. Solo looked much worse than he had been five hours earlier. His jaw was clenched, his face pale, and his short hair was plastered down with perspiration. He glanced over at his passenger. "We are going to be landing on the dark side of the planet. It will help cover our approach."

"We can land in the Palace courtyard," Leia argued immediately. "All I have to do is signal my father..."

"No!" Han snapped. "You can signal your father after we land, not before."

Leia held on to her thinning patience. "Can I ask why?"

"I need a head start, a chance to escape," he answered softly.

"Escape? From whom?"

"From everybody," he replied slowly, as if speaking to a small child. "The Imperials are going to be gunning for me. And since I am an Imperial in your people's eyes, they will be after my hide, too."

"You saved my life," Leia said, trying to make him see reason. "My father will thank you, not kill you."

Han shook his head. "I can't take that chance, sweetheart."

"How do you think you can escape?" she responding, raising her voice several notches. "You are wounded, you have no money, nowhere to go. If you don't get medical help, you're going to die!" Leia felt like putting her hands around the man's neck and shaking sense into his head. Why do I care if he dies? Leia frowned, puzzled at her conflicting emotions.

"I'd rather die than risk spending the rest of my life in an Alderaanian prison, Princess," he replied. "No offense to your Alderaanian prisons intended. I'm sure as far as prisons go, they are very nice."

Leia said nothing further, and simply watched in silence as Solo turned off the communication device and silenced the Alderaanian Air Traffic Controller who was attempting to hail the small craft as it made its way down.

"Your Air Patrols are following us down, so as soon as I land, I am going to make a run for it. You need to let them know who you are right away, so they don't start shooting," Han instructed her.

"They won't just start shooting. You are paranoid, do you know that?" she informed him. "So why don't you just drop me off and take off again, if you are so sure you are going to be shot or imprisoned?"

"Won't work. You need to stay with the ship in order to be located, and too many patrols will be on my tail by the time I would be able to lift off," Han replied.

Leia shook her head, exasperated. "Fine. But when you collapse and die, don't say I didn't warn you."


Bail Organa, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker were eating dinner at one end of an enormous dining table when the Prince's comlink buzzed. He excused himself and left the table for a few moments and then quickly came back, a huge smile on his face. "Leia is back on Alderaan, somehow!" he exclaimed, excited and overjoyed. "She just contacted the Private Palace code, and asked to be picked up. She is all right, thank the goddesses!" Bail could have wept with happiness. "I have to leave immediately to go meet her. She asked that I come personally. Would you and Luke like to join me?"

"That sounds great!" Luke said enthusiastically. "If you think it's a good idea, Ben," he added quickly.

Obi-Wan smiled at the young man and then turned to his old friend. "Yes, I believe we would like to join you."


Twenty minutes later, father and daughter were reunited as Leia ran up the ramp of a Royal transport. This time, Bail could not hold back his tears of joy. "Leia, my Leia! Are you hurt? How did you escape? I thought I'd never see you again!"

The Princess laughed and cried at the same time, as she embraced her father. "I didn't think I'd see you again either, Father."

"Did they hurt you?" he repeated, this time stepping back to appraise her appearance.

Leia averted her eyes. "I... I survived them, Father. Right now, we have other things to worry about. The Death Star is on its way to Alderaan, to destroy us." She waited for her words to sink in, and looked at Obi-Wan. "Do you still have the schematics I sent to you in the Artoo unit?"

"Yes, Artoo is here," Kenobi told her. "Luke brought me the droids when he found your message."

For the first time, Leia noticed the young man standing next to Obi-Wan. The old Jedi smiled. "Let me introduce you two. Luke Skywalker, this is Princess Leia Organa. Princess, this is Luke Skywalker, of Tatooine." Luke held out his hand and Leia shook it. A strange feeling came over the Princess when she looked in the young man's blue eyes. It felt like she had known him forever. Luke Skywalker, however, felt overcome with shyness and awe. The Princess was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, and he was instantly enamored.

Leia was somewhat taken aback at the intensity of Luke's gaze, and looked away. There were far more important matters to deal with. "We need to contact the Rebellion," Leia informed her father. "They need to assemble here, and destroy the Battle Station before it destroys Alderaan."

"There won't be time," Bail told her. "We need to start evacuating the planet."

Leia shook her head. "There won't be time to evacuate everybody, either. And I think there may be time for the Rebels to arrive. Let me explain."

The small group went to the hold of the transport, sat down and listened as Leia told them the long and strange story of her escape. When she finished, Bail nodded slowly. "I can contact Rieekan immediately. Maybe there is time," he said carefully. "I wish this Imperial would have stayed around. He could have given us some idea of how much damage he did, and perhaps given us an estimation of repair time."

"Solo's been injured, and we need to find him before it's too late," Leia stated. "We can't send Security after him - he'll think their intent will be to kill him."

"Perhaps Luke and I should go," Kenobi thought out loud. "We will look like less of a threat to him."

"I want to go with you," Leia said firmly. "I owe him," she added looking at her father.

Bail sighed. He knew Leia was exhausted and needed rest. He also knew she would not rest until this man was located. "Keep her safe, Obi-Wan," was all he asked his friend.


At the exact time that Bail Organa was contacting General Rieekan for assistance, Lord Vader was landing his private ship on Alderaan near a small village located on the outskirts of a large forest.

As Vader exited his ship he thought, There is a presence here that I have not felt for a long time. The time had come to settle old scores.


Han stumbled blindly through the deep woods. He had seen the lights of a small village off in the distance when he had landed in the clearing. Either he had misjudged how far away the town was, or he was in worse shape than he first believed. Probably both, if he were to be honest with himself. The blaster wound hurt like hell, and the fact he hadn't slept in hours didn't help. Finally he could go no further. He found a fallen tree and sat down, holding his head in his hands. The night air was cool and he was shivering. It surprised him when he felt his forehead and realized he was burning up with fever. I need to rest, just for a few minutes. If I can rest, I will feel better. Then I can make it to the village. He wanted to make it there while it was still dark. If he could find a place that sold medical supplies, he figured he would be able to break inside and steal the supplies he needed to patch up his wound. However, if he arrived later, when it was light, he would have to wait until nightfall again. Han was not at all certain he could last another day. He lay down on the soft pine needles and shut his eyes. Just a few minutes. That is all I need.


The Rebel Fleet had wasted no time leaving their base on Yavin. 'The Millennium Falcon', with Wedge Antilles at the controls and Chewbacca the Wookiee sitting in the co-pilots seat, were part of the contingent en route to take on the Death Star. "I hope we get there before it's too late," Wedge said as he leaned back into the seat. "We need time to review the schematics before we go up against that thing."

Chewie growled his agreement with his friend. *We are going to need all the time we can get.*

And although neither said it, they were both thinking the same thing...And we are going to need all the luck we can get, too.


The Jedi, the Princess, and the young man from Tatooine made their way carefully through the dense forest. Luke had volunteered to carry the backpack with the medical supplies they would need when and if they found the Imperial, and now he was beginning to regret volunteering to haul the pack. At first the pack had not felt heavy, but now, nearly two hours later, it felt like it weighed a ton. Adding to his discomfort was the fact that it was beginning to rain, and all three were now soaked to the skin. Although the rain was warm by most human's standards, coming from a hot desert world Luke found it to be quite cold and miserable. Obi-Wan Kenobi suddenly stopped. He raised his head as if he were listening to a far off sound and then shuddered.

"What's the matter?" Leia asked as she stopped beside the Jedi.

"Vader," Kenobi said quietly. "He is here."

Leia felt herself grow dizzy with fear. "On Alderaan?"

"Maybe we should contact Security, and have them come get us," Luke suggested. The last thing he wanted was to run into a Sith Lord on this hike.

Obi-Wan turned to the Princess. "The Imperial pilot is not far away. His life signs are growing weak. If we turn back now, he will surely die. But the choice is yours."

Leia stared off into the darkness, imagining the trees altering their shapes and turning into Darth Vader. Then she shook her head. "No. Solo saved my life, and now I am going to return the favor. We keep going."

Obi-Wan Kenobi smiled at the determined young woman. Luke Skywalker only felt a growing sense of dread as they hiked on.


It was the dripping of rain on his face that woke Han. He opened his eyes, confused for a moment as to where he was. Then the pain of the blaster shot in his side reminded him. He pulled himself into a sitting position and tried to get his bearings. It was then he saw three lightbeams flickering through the trees in the distance, heading in his direction. Solo lurched to his feet, and stood for a moment, swaying. His self preservation instincts kicked in screaming, Run! He turned and stumbled away from the lights. In the rain and the darkness he did not see the edge of the steep embankment. Han tried catching himself as his feet slide out from under him, but the slick ground sent him crashing down the side. The last thing he was aware of was his skull colliding with a large tree at the bottom of the ravine.


"What was that?" Luke asked as he listened to the sound of branches snapping sounded in the distance. He had visions of hungry carnivores lurking in the underbrush, waiting to spring out at the group.

"I believe it may be our Imperial," Kenobi answered his young charge. "I sensed his panic at our approach for a brief moment."

"Now what do you sense?" Leia questioned the Jedi.

Obi-Wan looked at the Princess. "That he has further injured himself, and is now unconscious."

Leia's concern for the pilot was mixed with irritation that he was making it so difficult for them to find him. "Well then," she said after a moment, "at least he won't be shooting at us." The Princess stalked off in the direction of the noise they had heard.

"Why is she so worried about an Imperial?" Luke whispered to Ben.

"He saved her life, and possibly the lives of everyone on Alderaan," Kenobi replied. "I would be disappointed in her if she showed no concern for him." Obi-Wan set off after the Princess and Luke nodded and followed. Obi-Wan could tell Luke was feeling jealousy directed toward Leia, and this was beginning to concern the Jedi. Perhaps Bail was right, and both Luke and Leia needed to be told the truth.


Lord Vader had no problems locating a speeder bike parked outside a local's house. The owner of the bike, asleep in his bed, would have gladly given his bike to the Dark Lord if he had known the alternative. Fortunately for him, he did not discover it was missing until well after the fact.

Darth Vader had been looking forward to this day of revenge for a very long time. Now that Kenobi was so near, Vader could feel his body, or at least what was left of it, trembling with anticipation. And there was something else tickling the back of his Force-senses, something he could not put a finger on. Whatever it was, Vader was confident he could deal with it.


The group reached the top of the slippery embankment in less than ten minutes. They could easily make out the broken branches and the skids marks of the pilot's boots as he slid down the hill. Kenobi aimed his light down the slope and located the Imperial immediately. "There he is," the Jedi informed the two young people. "He is regaining awareness."

"How are we going to get down there?" Luke questioned. "We'll end up falling down ourselves."

"I'll use the Force to levitate him up," Ben replied. "Then we will need to carry him to a clearing and contact Security to come get us."

The Jedi shut his eyes, and concentrated. Leia and Luke watched in awe as the Imperial pilot rose slowly up the hill and was placed gently at their feet. "I didn't know you could do that kind of trick, Ben," Luke gasped.

"The Force is no trick, Luke," Obi-Wan answered patiently. "In time, you will be able to use it as easily as I do."

Leia bent down and inspected Solo. Now, besides the blaster wound, his forehead was dark with blood from a deep gash. She pushed his muddy hair back and was not surprised to feel the heat from a fever radiating from him. "We need to hurry," she said as she looked up at Kenobi. "He has a fever, and it looks like a concussion."

Han mumbled incoherently and then opened his eyes. "Princess?" he whispered. "Why did you follow.... I don't want to be a prisoner..leave me...."

The Princess frowned at the stubborn man. "You are not our prisoner, Solo. I'm taking you to a hospital, so just stop arguing." She thought she heard him grumble something like "bossy women", before he shut his eyes and lapsed back into unconsciousness.

Ben and Luke both bent over and picked the pilot up, each taking an arm over their shoulder. It took nearly thirty minutes to reach a clearing that was large enough to accommodate a shuttle. Leia spoke quickly into her comlink and contacted her father. "They should be here in five minutes," Leia informed both men.

"The sooner the better," Luke replied. "This place is giving me the creeps. I keep getting the feeling we are being watched."

"I am inclined to agree with you, Luke," Obi-Wan said, as he looked into the forest. The sky was beginning to change from black to purple as the first rays of the sun began softening the sky. The Force was warning him of the coming danger, and Kenobi knew he could not avoid the confrontation with his former student. He hoped the shuttle would arrive quickly. He did not want Luke or the Princess to get caught in the middle of his battle.

Minutes later, the Alderaanian Shuttle landed and the ramp lowered. Security quickly exited with a stretcher for the wounded pilot. No sooner had they lifted the Imperial up on the stretcher, when a dark cloaked figure stepped out from the trees, igniting a red lightsaber.

Obi-Wan heard Leia gasp in shock. "Vader," she whispered, her eyes wide with fear.

"Get in the shuttle and go - I need to deal with this on my own." Without taking his eyes from his former padawan, Jedi Kenobi turned on his own saber.

"Ben, we can't leave you," Luke argued. "I can help, I know I can!"

"Go!" he ordered, his voice harsh. "Do not disobey me now, or everyone will die!"

Leia grabbed Luke's arm and pulled. "Do as he says Luke! We can't help...come on!" she urged.

Reluctantly, Luke obeyed and followed Leia and the Security officers, who were hurriedly carrying Solo onboard the shuttle.

Luke rushed to the cockpit and watched the scene below in horror as the shuttle lifted from the ground. The last he saw of Ben Kenobi was his form bathed in an eerie combination of the blue and red glowing lightsabers.


Early evening on Alderaan

Leia knocked softly on Luke Skywalker's door. When he answered, she could see the deep sadness in his eyes. "Hello, Princess, can I help you?" he asked politely.

"I was wondering if you are all right," she questioned her new friend. "I haven't seen you all day and you didn't come to eat lunch or dinner."

"I guess I'm just not very hungry," Luke replied glumly. "He's dead, you know. Vader killed him."

Leia knew that Luke was probably correct, and Obi-Wan Kenobi was gone. The mention of Vader's name chilled her. "We don't know that."

"He would have come back by now," Luke argued.

Leia had no answer to that. "Still, you need to eat," she persisted gently.

"How is your Imperial?" Luke asked, trying to change the subject.

"He's not 'my' Imperial," the Princess said with a small, embarrassed laugh. "Solo is still unconscious, but the doctors expect him to make a full recovery."

"Good," Luke nodded. "Have you heard from the rebel fleet?"

"Yes, they should be arriving in the morning," she said. "I guess I'll leave you to get some sleep."

Luke gave the Princess a smile. "Goodnight then, Princess."


Bail sat in his apartment by a large window, staring out at the early evening stars. He was certain Obi-Wan was dead, and Vader was undoubtedly still somewhere hiding on Alderaan. Security was on high alert, but the Prince knew they would not stand a chance against the Sith Lord. He was becoming more and more convinced that both Luke and Leia needed to be told the truth. And Bail Organa was also becoming convinced, with each passing day, of the need to establish a new Alderaanian Defense Ministry. If the Empire could coldly plan to destroy Alderaan, he did not see how he could sit idly by and watch his own murder, and the murder of all his people. Bail knew that loving peace was one thing - and being peace loving to the point of foolishness was another.

For a moment, Bail thought he caught sight of a tall shadow, moving among the ornate trees in the garden below. He watched for long minutes, but he did not see anything further.


Morning

The medicinal smell of the hospital room was the first thing Han Solo became aware of, then he slowly opened his eyes and took stock of his situation. Although he heard machines, they were not the noises of a ship, or of the Battle Station. Therefore, he must be still on ... Alderaan. His head and side had been treated, and bacta bandages covered his wounds to prevent scarring. Solo tried lifting his hand, and realized both his wrists were locked down to the sides of the bed. So much for thanking me for saving your life, Princess Han thought cynically. Solo turned his head to the window. He guessed it was mid-morning, by the angle of the sun, but how many days had he been here?

The door to his room opened. A medical droid walked stiffly in. "Sir," the droid said formally. "I see you are awake. How do you feel?" The droid was puzzled that his patient did not answer and finally said, "I will go inform the doctor you are awake." The droid left the room, much to Han's relief - but his relief was short-lived. A human doctor arrived in minutes, taking his temperature, blood pressure, checking his pupils and asking what seemed like a thousand questions.

When the doctor completed his exam he asked Solo, "Are you feeling well enough to see visitors? They seem anxious to talk to you."

"Talk to me, or interrogate me?" Han asked snidely.

The doctor gave Solo an odd look before leaving the room, leaving the Corellian to worry about what was coming next.

A short while later, Princess Organa entered following closely by two older men. "Hello, Lieutenant Solo," Leia smiled at the sullen Corellian. "I'm glad to see you are awake. Are you feeling better?"

"I'd feel better if I weren't chained up," Solo grimly replied as he tilted his chin toward his wrists. "Strange hospital regulations you have on Alderaan, Princess."

Leia glanced away, uncomfortable, but one of the men answered him. "I'm sorry, Solo. I realize chaining you to your bed is not the best way to repay you for all you have done for us, but after my daughter told us about your escape I thought it might be a good idea to ensure you do not try to run away from us again."

Solo looked evenly at the dark haired man. "Your daughter?" So this was her father, Prince Organa. Han decided he should have been able to guess this just by the way the Prince carried himself, an exact copy of his daughter's regal bearing.

"This is my father, Bail Organa," Leia introduced Bail Organa to the former Imperial. For some reason she could not explain, she desperately wanted the two men to like each other, and she hoped that Solo would not be as smart-mouthed to her father as he was to her. Then she turned to the taller of the two men, "And this is General Carlist Rieekan."

"Rieekan," Solo said slowly, sizing the man up. "You're one of the main rebel leaders. I've heard about you. Your somewhat of a legend, even among the Imperials."

"I see you have been awarded the Corellian Bloodstripe, " Rieekan said as he nodded toward the cleaned and folded slacks on the dresser. "That is an award that is not handed out lightly." When Solo did not give a response to his comment, Rieekan looked over at the Prince. "This is for the best, Bail. It won't hurt him."

"What are you talking about?" Leia asked worriedly.

The doctor reappeared, holding a syringe. "I don't approve of this, your Highness," he said softly.

"I understand," the Prince replied. "This particular interrogation drug is extremely safe, but you can monitor his heart rate and blood pressure to be on the safe side."

Solo's eyes narrowed in understanding. "I told you this would happen, sweetheart," he snapped at the Princess. "Guess I'm not as paranoid as you thought."

"Father, please! We don't have to drug him," Leia pleaded.

General Rieekan put his hand on Leia's shoulder. "Leia, too much is at stake," he said quietly. "We have to be absolutely certain he is telling the truth."

"If Obi-Wan were still here, we could have had him use his Force powers to judge this man's words," Bail added. "But we don't have that ability anymore. I promise you daughter, this drug is safe and painless. No harm will come to him."

Han watched in cold fury as the doctor attached small disks to his chest to monitor his heart, and a narrow cuff around his arm to watch his blood pressure. Solo knew both readings were already elevated from fear, and turned his face to the wall. He felt strangely hurt and betrayed, even though a large, cynical, part of himself expected this. A moment later, he felt the sting of the needle as it entered his vein. A slight burning sensation trailed up his arm, then his eyes grew heavy, and the voices in the room became distant. It was as though he were floating, unaware of his physical body.

"How much damage did you do to the Death Star? Can you give us some idea of how long it is going to take for them to repair it and get it moving again?" the disembodied voice of the General came through his foggy senses.

"I'm sure it can still move," Solo replied instantly, if somewhat thickly. "But only at sublight speed."

"How did you damage it?" Rieekan asked.

"I re-routed the power cables to the hyperdrive systems that were recharging. When the power was transferred to the recharged stations from the drained stations, it doubled back into the chargers and overloaded the entire system. The huge power surge should have taken out the recharged stations, and the charger system as well."

The General nodded. "Do you think they had parts onboard to fix everything?"

Han paused for a moment, trying to think clearly enough to continue. "I think I did a pretty good job of tearing up the drives when they dropped out of hyperspace so quick. There is no way they had all the equipment onboard that they needed to fix everything. They would have needed to send for major components. I think the first day or so they would have been mostly concerned with keeping the life-support systems online."

General Rieekan's grin got wide. "That sounds like you did a pretty good number on the Station all by yourself, Solo. What is your best estimate for repair time?"

Han remained silent, his eyes shut, for so long the people in the room started to think he had fallen asleep. Finally Solo answered. "Three, maybe four days to get hyperdrive back online. "

"A little over a full day has passed already," Prince Organa said grimly.

"So you have about two and a half days to evacuate Alderaan, maybe less," Solo replied blearily to the Prince.

"The general population has been asked to leave, if they have a private ship. Many people do not, and not everyone will be able to evacuate in time." Rieekan said carefully. "The Rebel Alliance is going to head for the last location of the Death Star. We are going to fight it, before it arrives at Alderaan."

"Fight it?" Han asked incredulously, forcing his eyes open. "How?"

"We have two days to figure that out," Rieekan answered him grimly. Then he said to Leia, "The drug should wear off in a few minutes, with no aftereffects."

"Thank you for saving my daughter, Lieutenant," Bail said to the pilot, putting his hand gently on the man's shoulder. "I hope you can find it in your heart to understand and forgive me for this incident."

Han looked up at the concerned face of the Princess and then turned his face away. At least they didn't ask me any personal questions, Han thought with relief.

Leia quickly left the room with her father and the General, feeling a deep sense of remorse and guilt.


Later that morning.

The door to Han's room opened and Princess Organa swept in, followed by a young man with blond hair. "Hello, Lieutenant," Leia said, trying to muster up her courage after what had happened earlier. "I'd like you to meet Luke Skywalker. He helped rescue you last night."

"Hello," Luke said politely, unable to think of anything to say to an ex-Imp.

"Ya did, huh?" Han remarked as he sized up the young man. Skywalker looked like nice enough, but he appeared to be very inexperienced in the ways of the galaxy. Not to mention the fact he kept gazing at the Princess as if just standing in her presence was reason enough to live. The kid's apparent infatuation annoyed the Corellian. "Well, thanks for nothing, kid," Solo added sarcastically as he nodded his chin toward his chained wrists. "And that little interrogation session was real fun, too." He took some satisfaction in seeing the young man squirm, and the Princess flush with shame. The General had been right, however. Minutes after the three had left his room the drug had worn off. The only after-effect had been thirst.

"We're here to take you for a walk and show you around the Palace," she said, her voice pleading for forgiveness. "I didn't know what was going to happen. Please don't hate me."

Solo stared at the young woman, trying to decide how to play this new hand he had been dealt. He definitely did not hate her, and after his initial anger had faded, once he thought about it, he truly did understand the reason they drugged him. With the lives of billions of people at risk, the necessity of finding out the truth was worth the price of offending a single man. Still, he did not want to let the Princess off too easily, especially since she appeared to be upset and willing to make amends because of the interrogation. This seemed like a situation any good Corellian could exploit, and Han could bluff with the best of them. "I risked my life, threw away everything, to save you, Princess," he said with a righteous anger he did not feel. "And the thanks I get? Handcuffs and drugs! How would you feel in my place?"

"I'm sorry," she whispered, lowering her eyes.

"She really didn't know," the young man spoke up defensively, glaring at Solo.

Han felt immediately guilty, but still he continued to push her. "Do I have to stay handcuffed? Are you and this kid gonna hold a blaster at my back during this walk? Maybe you plan on walking me right into your palace dungeon."

At the mention of a dungeon, Leia's eyes narrowed. Oops, Solo, you might have just pushed her too far, Han winced inwardly.

"We do not have dungeons!" the Princess declared indignantly. "Fine then! If you want to stay in this bed the rest of the day..." Leia turned to Luke. "Come on Luke, we have better things to do than put up with this, this.. stuck up nerfherder!"

Nerfherder? That's the best insult you can come up with, Princess? Han mused. "Hey!" he called as they headed for the door. "Getting outta here sounds good. I don't have to stay handcuffed though, do I?"

"Not if you behave yourself," the Princess shot back smoothly. She gave him a quick smile and removed the binders from his wrists. Solo certainly could have given her a much harder time than what he was doing, and in Leia was relieved he was even talking to her. "We'll give you time to use the refresher and get dressed. There is a shirt in the closet that should fit you. Luke and I will wait in the hall." Before Han could reply she left the room. Luke only shrugged at the Corellian as he followed her out.

Han wasted no time washing up, taking care not to get his bandaged side wet. He got dressed in the new white shirt that was provided, and his now clean pair of black slacks. His black military boots had been cleaned and left in the closet with the clothes. The kid and the Princess were waiting for him as he came out of the room. As they walked out of the hospital, Solo quickly noted the presence of Royal Guards, following them at a discreet distance. "Your bodyguards, Princess?" Han asked casually. "Or do you think you need protection from me?"

Leia glanced up at the tall Corellian, refusing to take his bait. "Vader is somewhere on Alderaan. I think we all need as much protection as possible."

The fact that the Sith Lord was hiding somewhere near by startled Han, and he noticed a flash of grief in Luke's eyes. "Why aren't your people trying to find him?"

"We are trying to locate him," Leia answered patiently. "I don't think Vader wants to be found."

Han had no answer to that, and he walked in silence with the pair until they reached a well guarded area, with dozens of assorted ships parked in a vast hanger. "Is this the junkyard of the former Alderaan Navy?" Han joked.

Leia stopped and looked up at the pilot. "These are the Rebellion ships. They don't have unlimited recourses, like the Empire."

"So they are planning on attacking the Death Star with... these?" Solo waved his hand at the assembled old ships, mostly made up of X-Wings.

"Yes, we are!" Luke finally spoke up, feeling the need to defend the Rebellion. "I am going to be piloting one of the X-Wings."

Han looked at the young man carefully. "Going up against that Station with an X-Wing is suicide."

"I wouldn't be so sure of that," a voice said from behind them. Han turned to face another pilot, not as young as Luke and rather stocky. "Wedge Antilles," the man introduced himself as he held out his hand. "It's always nice to meet a fellow Corellian."

Han opened his mouth to answer the man, but he never got a chance to reply. A huge roar filled the area, and before Solo could react, he was caught up in the grip of a giant, hairy Wookiee. I'm dead, he thought in panic, trying to remember when he had made an enemy out of a Wookiee. Only the Wookiee did not kill him, and instead set him down after a few heart stopping moments.

*I cannot believe we meet again, Lieutenant,* the Wookiee barked. *It is the will of the Force. I owe you a Life-Debt, and now I can repay it!*

Han suddenly remembered. This was the Wookiee he had saved from certain death six months earlier. "You don't owe me anything," Han quickly replied. "I was glad I could help you and your friends, really."

"You understand 'Wook?" Wedge asked in surprise. "Not too many people can."

"Why does he owe you, Han?" Luke asked, curiously.

Solo shifted, suddenly embarrassed. "He doesn't owe me anything. I helped him escape from becoming a slave a few months ago. It was nothing."

*You saved my life, on top of helping free me and my friends,* the Wookiee insisted. *My honor requires that I owe you a Life-Debt. I will protect you, from this day forward.*

"I don't think you can get out of this," Antilles laughed. "By the way, the Wook's name is Chewbacca, or Chewie as we call him."

Unable to think of a smart remark, Han held out his hand, "Nice to meet you, Chewbacca. My name is Han Solo. This Life-Debt business is unnecessary." And unwanted, Han added to himself.

"Well, this is very interesting," Leia remarked as she folded her arms across her chest. "Do you make it your hobby to rescue people, Solo?" The Princess had thought she knew exactly what kind of men the Empire employed. Now she was not so sure. Han Solo seemed like a man intent on a mission to destroy her long held beliefs.

Han sighed and rolled his eyes. "Only Wookiees and Princesses," he answered quickly. "Everyone else is on their own."

Much to Leia's chagrin, both Luke and Wedge laughed at Han's comment. "Let me show you around the hanger, Solo," Antilles said amicably.

Wedge pointed out various ships to the small group. Han was not impressed, since all of them had seen better days. It wasn't until they reached the outer edge of the field when Han stopped short. "That ship," he said softly, and pointed. "Who owns that?"

"You mean that old piece of garbage?" Luke asked with a laugh. "I'm surprised it flies at all."

"It's not garbage," Solo replied, not taking his eyes off the old freighter. "It's a classic."

"The YT-1300?" Wedge questioned. "Technically, it belongs to the Chewie, but it is part of Rebellion fleet since he is a member. I help him fly it sometimes. It's a great ship for picking up supplies."

Han looked up at the Wookiee. "You have great taste in ships, pal. I envy you. I always wanted a ship like that."

Chewie cocked his head at Solo, and then turned to the old freighter and nodded. *The Millennium Falcon is a great ship. And now it is yours. I give it to you.*

"What!?" Han exclaimed, the shock and surprise evident in his voice and expression. "I don't want you to give me your ship, for kreth's sake! I just said I liked it!"

*Nevertheless, it is now yours,* Chewbacca said firmly. *Come Wedge, we have ships to work on, and time is short.* With that, Chewie walked away.

Wedge looked at Han, who was obviously stunned at this turn of events, and shrugged. "Well, you did say you liked it."


Thirty-two hours later.

So many things could go wrong tomorrow, Princess Leia worried. She had spent most of the night pacing her room, and now it was only a few short hours until sunrise. So many of her people were still on Alderaan, unable to leave. Security had been kept tight, and there were only a few reports of panic. Still, those remaining knew the next day could very well be their last. If the Rebellion failed to take out the Death Star before its hyperdrive was repaired, there would be no hope for Alderaan, and all people remaining on the planet would perish.

Leia thought about Luke Skywalker. He was so young, so inexperienced. Yet tomorrow he would be going up against the most powerful weapon ever built. She shut her eyes to keep back tears. The rebels simple could not fail. Leia lay down on top of her blankets and breathed deeply. I wish Solo would volunteer to fly tomorrow, she thought desperately. They needed all the pilots they could get, and she knew Solo was probably one of the most experienced. His reluctance to help did not really surprise her, especially after the interrogation, and considering that General Rieekan had insisted that Solo remain under lockdown at night. Even though he was in a spacious, comfortable room and not a prison cell, the fact that he was locked up clearly told the pilot he was not trusted. Leia had tried to explain to Solo it was for his own safety, but he had been less than receptive to her explanation. "Sure your highnessness," he had said sarcastically, "are you and Luke locked up for the night, too?" Despite their almost constant snide comments to each other, Princess Leia could not deny her attraction to the pilot. She had felt a sense of dread when Chewbacca gave that old ship to Solo, because it meant he had the means to leave, and the Princess did not want him to leave. Father would not approve of him, and my aunts would be appalled. He's too old for me, and we have nothing in common. Still, it was thoughts of the Corellian that followed Leia into her dreams.


I'm going to die tomorrow, Solo thought morosely. These fools think they can destroy the Death Star with a single shot! Ain't gonna happen. It annoyed him that he was basically under house arrest. Not that he could blame the rebels. If he were in their place, he would make sure the ex-Imperial was kept locked up, too. Han struggled with his feelings regarding the Rebel Alliance. Part of him wanted to stay angry because of the interrogation session, even though he understood their reasons. Solo remembered clearly how the Imperials treated not only enemies, but Officers they suspected as being less than loyal. Han wrestled with his desire to forgive the fifteen minutes he had spent feeling warm and fuzzy and answering General Rieekan's polite questions.

Han lay in large, soft bed, dressed only in his shorts. He wondered how much pain was going to be involved, and for how long, when the planet blew up. Probably for only a few miserable seconds. But he had no one to blame but himself. If he had minded his own business, he would still be alive after the Death Star arrived and destroyed Alderaan. And it would arrive, of that Han was sure. Of course, if Han had not rescued the Princess, he would never have gotten to know Chewbacca, Wedge, Luke, and mostly, the Princess. Although he had known them for only a day, he could tell they were the kind of people he wanted as friends - so unlike the backstabbing Imperials he had spent the last ten years of his life around.

Princess Leia. He was unable to stop himself from thinking about her, fantasizing about her. He kept telling himself he was a nobody, from nowhere, and she was a rich, spoiled Princess. She was far too young for him. But whenever he was around her, his heart started pounding harder and his palms started sweating. This reaction bothered Solo, so in response to his physical reaction to her, he did his best to annoy her and get her angry at him. He knew it was a stupid, immature thing to do, but it was better than letting her see that he was starting to have feelings for her. If she saw that she had such an effect on him, she would laugh at him, or be condescending. It was much easier on his ego if she just stayed angry at him all the time. Besides which, I'm going to die tomorrow anyway, so what difference does it make?


Sleep was hard to come by. Luke tossed and turned in his big bed, going over the rebel's battle plan. Once the rebels left Alderaan, it would be a six hour hyperspace trip to the current location of the Death Star. Then someone would have to make a single shot, fired into an exhaust port. Han had said it was going to be a million to one shot. Luke still did not know how he felt about the ex-Imperial. He had spent the past day and a half with both the Princess and Solo, and felt strangely connected to both of them. Han Solo, despite his misgivings about the battle plan, had nevertheless given Luke and other pilots' critical tips regarding the defenses of the Death Star. The Corellian treated Luke like he had always imagined an older brother would treat him. With his quick wit and easy going style, it was hard to believe that Solo had been an Imperial Officer only a few short days ago. Solo had not offered to go up against the Battle Station himself, however. The man was a strange mixture of helpfulness and selfishness, humor and sarcasm, and Luke was uncertain how to take the Corellian.

The Princess was a different issue. She was kind to Luke, and he could not help but feel as though she was, somehow, a part of him. Am I in love with her? Luke wondered. He had never been in love before, so he had nothing to compare his feelings for the Princess against. Luke had seen her looking at the ex-Imperial, though, when Solo was not aware she was watching him. It was the kind of look that Luke wanted from the Princess, and when he saw her staring at the pilot, he felt jealous. He sighed in frustration and shifted around in the bed.

A strange, rasping, breathing came from the balcony door. "Luke," a deep voice spoke. "After all these years, my son, we finally meet."

Luke Skywalker sat up in a tangle of sheets, staring at the tall dark form of Darth Vader.

"Son?" Luke asked with a gasp. "I'm not your son! You killed my father... Ben told me all about it!"

"Obi-Wan's adept at twisting the truth to meet his needs," Vader hissed.

"You're lying," Luke stood up shaking. "You killed Ben, and now you are here to kill me."

"I am not here to kill you, son," the Dark Lord said quietly. "I am here to tell you the truth. You are my son, hidden from me by Obi-Wan Kenobi. It is your destiny to join me in ruling the galaxy."

"The Emperor rules the galaxy," Luke replied defiantly. "And he rules you, too."

"Together, we could destroy the Emperor. He is old and growing weak," Vader answered. "Think about this, my son. When the Emperor is gone, the galaxy will be at peace. It is a far better way to help the downtrodden than to waste so many lives with a civil war."

"The Imperials intend to destroy Alderaan!" Luke shouted. "And unless you kill me right now, I'm going to help the rebels take on the Death Star."

"The destruction of Alderaan would only serve to turn more people against the Empire," Vader nodded. "Like I said, I have no intentions of killing you. I wish you well tomorrow. May the Force be with you, my son." Vader turned to leave.

"Wait," Luke said suddenly. "You're just leaving?"

Vader turned back to face Luke. "We will meet again soon, my son. Until then, consider carefully what I have told you."

Then the Dark Lord was gone, leaving a confused Luke Skywalker staring out into the night.


The next morning.

"Father?" Leia asked as she entered the Royal Office. "You asked to speak to me?"

"Yes, my daughter," Bail Organa said quietly. "We need to talk, about your mother."

Leia sat down on the sofa, not taking her eyes from her father. "This sounds .. bad."

Bail swallowed hard before he began. "Some time before you were born, your mother was married to another man. This man, he was," Bail paused and tried to get his bearings. "He was a good man, when your mother married him. When she became pregnant, things began changing. Her husband, who was strong in the Force, fell to the dark side, and became a pawn of Palpatine. Your mother was forced to run from him, and she came to Alderaan immediately after giving birth to a son."

"I have a brother?" Leia asked, surprised.

"Yes," Bail continued. "A half-brother. He was taken to Tatooine, and raised by a kind couple by the name of Lars. Obi-Wan stayed on Tatooine, to ensure his protection. Your brother is Luke Skywalker."

Leia seemed shocked for a moment, then she smiled. "No wonder I felt so... so close to him. Does Luke know?"

"Not yet," Bail replied sadly. "Obi-Wan did not seem to think Luke was prepared to hear the truth."

"He didn't think Luke should know he has a sister?"

"Obi-Wan did not think Luke was ready to hear what happened to his father, Anakin Skywalker," Bail stated flatly.

"What happened to him?" Leia asked with trepidation.

Bail paused for a long time. Finally he reluctantly answered his beloved daughter. "He was a powerful Jedi, who sold his soul to the Emperor. He became Darth Vader."

It took some time for the words to sink in. When they did, Leia was glad she was sitting down. For a very long time, she could not find her voice. "Vader? Vader is Luke's father?" Leia gasped.

"He fathered him, yes," Bail replied softly. "But he was never Luke's father. There is a big difference, you have to believe that. You must not blame Luke for something he has no control over."

"How could mother have married..?"

"He wasn't always a monster, Leia," Bail answered her. "He was a young, good looking man, strong in the Force, with such great potential."

Bail took a deep breath and continued the tale. "After giving birth, Padme divorced Anakin Skywalker and came to Alderaan. At first, Palpatine tried to force me to turn her over, as a fugitive. So, in order to protect her, I married her. By marrying your mother, I was able to claim her as an Alderaanian citizen and claim The Right of Alderaanian Protection."

The Princess knew Alderaan's laws well. The Right of Alderaanian Protection allowed Alderaanian courts and its rulers to overrule other systems demands of extradition, and protect its people from unfair prosecution. Only Alderaanians or those married to Alderaanians were qualified to invoke this law.

"After I married Padme, we fell in love," the Prince continued. "About a year later, you were born. I thought we were safe, until one day, three years later, Vader showed up to reclaim Padme. For several long weeks, Padme ran from city to city, attempting to escape Vader, while I remained under house arrest. She couldn't leave the planet. So many Destroyers were in orbit above us, killing anyone attempting to leave. Finally, Vader caught up with her, and killed the men protecting her. I never saw her again."

Leia could see her father was struggling not to cry. "Is that why I remember hiding in trunks?"

"Yes," the Prince replied. "You were with your mother that entire time. I thank the goddesses every night that Vader did not find you hiding the day he located your mother. You were found, safe and asleep, in that trunk the next morning."

Leia put her head in her hands. "You told me she died."

"No, Leia," Bail responded. "I told you she went away. After you got older, you assumed it meant she died. I never said otherwise, because for all I know, she is dead."

"Why didn't you tell me this before?"

"I didn't know how," Bail admitted. "But once you met Luke, it became necessary. I see how he is looking at you, and it couldn't go on. I'm sorry, Leia. So sorry for everything."

"It isn't your fault, father," Leia said quietly. She turned to face Bail, suddenly making a decision. "I am going with the Rebel Alliance on the Command Ship, when they face the Death Star. It's something I have to do."

The Prince nodded, understanding. Whether she stayed on Alderaan, or went with the rebels, her life was in danger. Bail had always respected his daughter's decisions, and knew that even though she was reeling from the shocking information he had given her, taking action was her way of trying to deal with it. "Take care, my dearest daughter." He kissed her forehead, and Leia turned away and walked out the door.


Leia walked up to General Rieekan, who stood directing his pilots into various ships, and giving last minute instructions as the young men entered the cockpits of their X-Wings. "I want to come with you on the Command Ship," Leia asked the General.

Rieekan regarded Leia for a moment and nodded. "Of course. We'll be using that shuttle over there to head up to the main ship in about fifteen minutes." He indicated a small craft off to his right.

"I need to say goodbye to some people first," Leia stated, and headed off to the young man she now knew was her brother. Her father was right, she would never blame Luke for his parentage. Leia knew the situation could very well be reversed, and Vader could have been her father.

"Luke!"

Luke Skywalker turned around from watching R2D2 being placed in his X-Wing. "Leia!" he called back, smiling and glad she had come to say goodbye. He was truly grateful she did not know who his father was - Luke was certain she would not be talking to him if she knew the awful truth.

"I'm going with the Rebellion, on the Command Ship," Leia informed Luke. "I just wanted to wish you well. May the Force be with you." Impetuously, she hugged him. I wish we had time to talk, Leia thought sadly. I would have loved to have gotten to know you better. Immediately, Leia shook off the negative thoughts. I will get to know you better, she amended, after we come back from the battle.

"Thank you, Leia," Luke answered sincerely. "Did Han change his mind?"

"I doubt it," Leia replied. "I haven't seen him this morning. I need to find him before we leave, to say goodbye."

"When you see him, tell him I said goodbye too, OK?" Luke asked.

Leia smiled and nodded. She walked quickly away, before the brother she never really got to know could see the tears in her eyes.


Han Solo watched as the Rebel Alliance preparing to launch their X-Wings and shuttles. He felt a nagging sense of guilt, and tried to push it aside. He addressed the Wookiee, who stood by his side. "You don't have to give me your ship," Han told Chewie. "You can take it and go with the rebels."

*'The Millennium Falcon' is yours,* the Wookiee replied stubbornly. *I told you this yesterday, and it is still yours today, tomorrow, and forever. Until you choose to sell it.*

Han sighed. "Fine. But I am not going back to face that Battle Station. I'm leaving Alderaan and heading maybe to the Corporate Sector. As far away from the Empire as I can get."

*Then I am going with you,* Chewie stated firmly. *I have already given Rieekan my resignation. He understands that my Life-Debt to you comes before everything else.*

Han shook his head. "You don't owe me a Life-Debt. Even giving me your ship is more than you need to ..."

"Han!" The feminine voice of Princess Leia interrupted Han's protests. He turned to look at the beautiful, determined face of the young woman he would never see again.

"Morning, your worshipfulness," Han said, covering his sudden sense of regret with a cocky grin.

Leia answered his smile with a frown. "You're leaving." It was not a question, but a statement said with disappointment etched in her face. "I thought maybe you changed your mind, and joined the rebels."

"I could never join them, Princess," Han replied with a shake of his head. "Anything that would go wrong, now or in the future, who do you think they would blame? The ex-Imperial. I know how these things work, sweetheart, and after watching Rieekan drug me up, you should know it too. So yeah, I'm leaving. Tell your father thanks for letting me go, OK?"

"I'll tell him," she said sadly. Leia had hoped that Han had forgiven them for the interrogation. Apparently he hadn't. "Luke asked me to tell you goodbye."

"If you were smart, you'd find a nice little ship and take off, too," Han remarked, trying not to think about the young man who was about to leave Alderaan to face certain death. "They can't take out the Death Star with one shot in an exhaust port."

"We have to try," she replied softly. "I'm going with them, on the Command Ship. I just wanted to say goodbye before you left. And to thank you for everything, Captain Solo." The idea of never again seeing Han Solo bothered the Princess far more than she would ever admit. Before she met him, she had believed all Imperials were evil. Now she knew differently - Han Solo was a brave and caring man, a man to whom she owed more than her life. She reached up and kissed his cheek before walking away, embarrassed by her small display of affection.

Captain Solo. That title sounded good to Han. Almost as good as the kiss the Princess had given him on his cheek. Solo looked at the Wookiee. "Are you coming?" he asked as he headed for The Falcon.


Six hours later

The Death Star was still in the same location it had been in when the hyperdrives were destroyed. Imperial Technicians had been working frantically to get the systems repaired, knowing if they took too long they would be severely punished. Solo had been correct in his assessment - the parts required to repair the Station had to be shipped in from Coruscant, and those components had only arrived several hours previously.

When an assortment of older ships and several squadrons of X-Wings dropped out of hyperspace, the crew of the Battle Station were shocked. It was inconceivable to them that anyone would try to attack this immense Battle Station. Imperial pilots hurried to their Tie fighters to defend this unexpected assault.

The X-Wings started their runs against the exhaust port almost immediately, meeting Tie fighter resistance as well as laser guns mounted on tall turrets.


General Rieekan and Princess Organa stood onboard the rebel command ship, The Discipline, waiting a safe distance away from The Death Star. They watched, feeling helpless, as the small dots on the console that represented X-Wings disappeared one by one. The voices of their pilots sounded frantic. Leia mentally clung to the sound of Luke's voice coming over the speakers.

"Wedge, we need to make a run," Luke said to his new friend. "We're losing too many fighters!"

"I'll fly cover, Luke," Wedge answered.

The pair proceeded to head down the long trench, followed closely by four Ties.

"Luke!" Wedge yelled. "I've been hit! I have to pull out!"

"Get clear, Wedge," Luke replied.

The last X-Wing that was covering Luke pulled away. Now he was alone, and the last chance for Alderaan. Use the Force, Luke, a deep voice said in his head. Luke took a deep breath, and turned off his targeting computer. He concentrated, trying to ignore the Tie fighters as they came ever closer. A shot from behind took out Artoo, but still Luke focused.


Leia shut her eyes. She could not watch as her brother died. "Where did that ship come from?" she heard Rieekan ask. For a moment, Leia chanced to open her eyes. A fast moving, larger ship came swooping in, and the four dots representing the Ties following Luke suddenly became erratic and disappeared.

A familiar voice shouted out over the comlink. "You're all clear, kid! Now blow this thing so we can go home!"

A second later, Luke's voice came over the speaker. "It's in! A direct hit!"

The few remaining X-Wings and The Falcon peeled away, heading toward the Command ship. For a few heart stopping seconds, all was silent on the command bridge as everyone's eyes stared off into the direction the Death Star was located. Then a spectacular explosion was seen blossoming in the distance.

The Death Star was gone.


Evening

The surviving rebels arrived back at Alderaan six hours later. The reunions were joyous, and the people of Alderaan welcomed the rebels as the heroes they truly were. A huge ceremony was being planned for the following day.

"Leia!" Bail Organa shouted as he gave his happy daughter a hug.

"Father, we did it!" Leia looked over his shoulder at Luke and Wedge. The pair were busy shaking Solo and Chewie's hands and slapping backs. "When are we going to tell Luke?" she asked in a quiet voice.

Bail smiled at his Princess. "Tomorrow, Leia, tomorrow is soon enough. Tonight, let's just celebrate life!"

Han Solo left Chewie busy trading stories with Luke and Wedge, and swaggered over to Princess Organa. "I told you I was the best pilot in the Imperial Navy," Han said with a grin and pointing at his chest with his thumb.

"And I told you they all shoot like one-eyed Banthas, so how hard could that be?" Leia replied promptly, putting her hands on her hips and arching an eyebrow at the ex-Imperial. Unable to maintain the act, Leia threw her arms around Solo. She did not want to ever let him go. Luke was right, Leia thought in surprise, I do think of Han as 'my Imperial'. "Thank you for coming back," she whispered into his chest.

Han put his hands on her shoulders and stepped back, looking her in the eyes. "You're welcome, your highnessness," he answered her, leaning over and kissing the top of her head. Maybe leaving for the Corporate Sector can wait, he decided.


Late that night

Although Luke was physically exhausted, his mind was unable to let him sleep, so he stood on his balcony watching the impromptu party in the gardens below. For hours, the rebels had been celebrating their victory, and Luke had finally left the festivities to find some peace and quiet. Luke Skywalker was now the Hero of Alderaan. It could be so perfect.. if only.

If only he could stop thinking about Darth Vader. His father.

"Luke," the deep mechanical voice said from behind him. Luke spun around, facing the tall Dark Lord.

"Father."

"So you have accepted me?" Vader questioned.

"Yes," Luke replied. "I believe you are my father."

"Have you given thought to what I asked of you? To come with me and learn the ways of the Force, so together we can defeat the Emperor?"

"I have given it consideration, father."

"And?"

"And I agree," Luke said simply. "I will go with you, and together we can defeat the Emperor."


Alderaan, The morning after the destruction of the Death Star.

The first thing Leia heard when she walked up the ramp of the old freighter was an argument between the Wookiee, Chewbacca, and the new captain, Han Solo.

"Murhaarghh?"

"I'm telling ya," Solo's voice called back, "if you put in these types of capacitors, we'll get a five percent power boost when we fire her up."

"Aroough?"

"I'm positive!"

Leia restrained a smile and called out, "Han?"

The grease covered Corellian appeared from around the corner. "Morning, your worshipfulness. What brings you down among the peasants this fine day?"

Do not take his bait, do not take his bait, Leia chanted to herself. "Have you seen Luke?"

"No, but I haven't been looking for him," Solo remarked. "Did you check his room? Maybe he is still hung-over from last night's party."

"Wedge checked it," she replied distractedly. "Something is wrong. I can't find him anywhere."

"Maybe he found some pretty girl and got lucky."

Leia glared at the pilot. "Luke is not like that!"

Han laughed at the Princess's comment. "He's a male, sweetheart. We are all like that!"

"Don't lump everyone in the same class you are, Solo," she snapped back, defending Luke's reputation.

"Which class is that?" Han asked in a deep rumble. "Low?" He was no longer smiling.

"Princess Leia?" a male voice called up the Falcon's ramp.

"I'm right here," Leia quickly replied, grateful for the interruption. Once again, she had said the wrong thing and angered Solo. Why can't we just have a nice, normal, conversation, without fighting? she asked herself.

General Rieekan appeared at the top of the hatch. "Your father wants to see you, Princess. I think it's about Skywalker."

"Thank you," she answered as she turned and walked down the ramp.

"Let me know what he says," Rieekan called down the ramp after the Princess. "He's part of the Rebellion now, and I need to know where he is. We have to get back to our base before the Empire shows up."

Leia nodded her agreement as she ran off. Rieekan turned to the Corellian standing next to him and watching the Princess as she hurried away, his expression unreadable.

"Solo," Rieekan said in the uncomfortable silence. "I never got a chance to thank you yesterday for coming back. Luke would have not been able to get that shot off without you taking care of those Ties."

"You don't know that," Han shrugged. He turned to head back into his ship, when Rieekan stopped him with a hand on his forearm.

"I'm also sorry about the drug, Solo," Rieekan said quietly. "Don't blame the Princess or Bail. It was my idea."

"It doesn't matter," Solo mumbled, unable to look Rieekan in the eyes. Years of serving the Empire had made him feel dirty, and the Princess's comment about his class had hit home. These people were too good for him, and the sooner he left the better off everyone, the Rebellion, Alderaan, would be. The good feeling of yesterday, and the desire to stay with the Princess vanished. Suddenly, Han wanted to run away, and the further the better.

Rieekan watched the emotions play across the former Imperial's face. Guilt. Remorse. Self-hatred. "You're a good man, Solo," Rieekan persisted. "You can't change your past. No one can change the past. You are at a cross-roads right now. You can self-destruct out of guilt, or you can make a difference in the future. Not only your future, but the future of the galaxy. Chewie can be a great asset to you. Don't be afraid to ask his opinion, and don't be to proud to take his advise. If you change your mind about joining us, I will welcome your help."

Han stared at the man for a moment. "When this war ends, maybe you should become a psych-med." Han said with a smirk.

Rieekan smiled at the Corellian. "I'm a General. Same thing."

Han watched as the man walked down the ramp and headed toward the activity in the distance.


Leia sat down in the large chair and waited for her father. Minutes later, Bail walked into the office, holding a flimsy in his hand.

"These are reports from witnesses in town, Leia," Bail began without preamble. "They reported seeing a young man matching Luke's description and a tall man dressed in black, with a mask and a robe, stealing a small freighter and leaving Alderaan."

"Vader kidnapped Luke?" Leia gasped in horror.

"We don't know that he was kidnapped," the Prince replied. "Witnesses did not say it appeared he was going with Vader against his will."

"Of course it was against his will!" Leia said indignantly. "We have to rescue him."

"Give me an idea where to start, daughter," Bail said wearily. When she could not answer, he continued. "I understand what you are feeling, Leia. We just can't assume Vader did not convince Luke to go with him willingly."

Leia felt ill. "I need to get some air, Father," she said as she stood up. Bail nodded his understanding as his daughter left his office.


Coruscant.

The Emperor sat on his throne, rubbing the arms of the expensive chair with his gnarled fingers. Palpatine was angry, frustrated and confused.

He was angry because his expensive Death Star had been destroyed. He was frustrated because Alderaan not only still existed, the defiance of Alderaan was inspiring other systems to challenge his rule. And he was confused because Darth Vader had disappeared.

The Emperor knew Vader had not been on the Death Star when it was destroyed. The Officers that had come to Coruscant for supplies to fix the damaged Battle Station had reported Vader had followed the escapees to Alderaan, and the Dark Lord had never contacted his Master again. It seemed impossible for Palpatine to believe that Vader had been killed in his attempt to capture the Princess and the traitorous Lieutenant-Command Solo.

The Emperor seldom bothered to remember any names of insignificant Officers, but the name Solo was not one Palpatine intended to ever forget. The Emperor turned his rummy eyes to the red robed guard.

"Contact The Avenger and tell Captain Needa he is to leave immediately for Alderaan. Prince Organa will not dare refuse to turn over Solo to the Imperial Navy as a deserter."

The Royal Imperial guard bowed and quickly departed to obey his orders.

When he was alone, the Emperor shut his eyes and concentrated. In order to locate a missing Sith Lord, he would need to call on someone with very special talents.


Alderaan

With the main hero missing, the Alliance awards ceremony lost much of its luster. The rebels seemed far more interested in pulling out of Alderaan than watching medals being handed out.

Leia stood off to the side, eating the elaborate luncheon that the Alderaanian people had provided afterwards. The food was beautifully prepared, but Leia was not tasting any of it. All she could think about was her missing brother. Eventually she gave up trying to eat, and went for a walk down a winding path that lead to a sandy beach overlooking a blue lake. She sat on the soft ground and tossed pebbles into the still water, watching the ripples spread over the surface.

"Princess?" a deep voice asked from behind her.

The Princess twisted around and saw Han Solo standing at the end of the path. "You followed me?" she asked in surprise.

"Yeah," Han admitted with a chuckle as came over and sat down next to her. "You looked so unhappy." When she didn't reply he said, "I'm sorry Luke took off. You must'a really taken a liking for the kid."

"I found out yesterday he is my brother," she said softly, watching the surprise play across Solo's handsome features.

"He told you he was your brother, and then just left?

"No, Luke doesn't know," Leia replied. "My father told me that Luke is my half-brother. We have the same mother. I was going to tell Luke today."

"Oh," Han said slowly. The rumors of Luke taking off with Darth Vader did not take long to spread among the rebels. "I just can't imagine he would have left with Vader. The witnesses must have it wrong."

"I don't think so," Leia said, making a sudden decision to trust Solo. "Vader is Luke's father."

Han was speechless for so long that Leia continued. "Please keep this between us," she asked him.

"Of course, Princess," Han finally said. They sat in silence for a long time, staring at the lake and lost in thought.


Hyperspace

Luke Skywalker wiped the sweat off his face with his sleeve. Vader stepped back and turned off his red saber. "You have great talent, son," he rasped through his breathing device. "The Emperor will not stand a chance against the two of us."

Luke nodded. He did not know if he should ask his father too many questions, but his curiosity won out. "Father?"

"Yes?"

"Why did you decide to serve the Emperor?" the young man asked meekly.

Vader turned his back to his son. Long minutes passed and finally the Dark Lord answered. "I thought most of the Jedi on the Council were arrogant, and I was tired of taking orders from them. My entire life was spent answering to other people. I wanted power, and the fastest way to that power was through Palpatine."

"So why do you need the armor and respirator?"

"Obi-Wan tried to convince me I was doing the wrong thing. We fought and I lost," Vader replied. "I lost everything that day - most of my natural body, my wife, my child. Serving Palpatine became my only option, but I always believed it was a temporary option. I knew that someday you and I would join together, to rule the galaxy. Palpatine thought he was using me, but I have been using him, and now he realizes the truth. The Emperor fears us, son, and he knows he cannot stop us."

The very idea of lording over the beings in the galaxy and instilling them with the same hate and fear that the Emperor did was not something Luke thought he could ever do. Before leaving Alderaan, Luke had decided he would take one day at a time. The first step would be to remove the Emperor from power. After that... well, after that he hoped to convince his father to return to the Light Side. Luke just knew there still good in his father, and that he would be able to succeed where Obi-Wan had failed.

In the haste to depart Alderaan, and his reluctance to question his father Luke had not discussed details, such as their destination. "Where are we going?" Luke asked.

"We are going somewhere Palpatine will not think to look," Vader replied. "A unpopulated system called Dagobah."


The Avenger headed full speed to Alderaan. Captain Needa was looking forward to bringing Solo back to Coruscant to face his execution. I knew there was a reason I didn't like that man, he thought. Needa knew Prince Organa would have no excuse not to turn Solo over to him. The case was simple, and no one could protect the traitor from facing his just dues.


Dagobah, three days later

The murky green planet of Dagobah loomed larger and larger in the viewport as the stolen ship made its way to the surface. It was difficult to see the surface through the mists and the fog. Luke stared nervously ahead, watching silently as his father guided the ship down.

The pair exited the ramp into the misty jungle. Vader stood still for a few moments, as if he were listening for something. "I think you're right, father," Luke remarked lightly as he looked around. "No one will ever think to look for us here."

"Be careful of your attitude, son," Vader warned. "Things are very often not as they appear."

Chastised, Luke followed his father without further comments, deeper into the humid jungle. After an hour of walking, Vader stopped and pointed to a stump. "Rest here, son." Luke obeyed and sat. Vader simply walked a short distance away and stood still for the better part of another hour.

Finally, Luke could not remain silent. "Are we waiting for something, father?"

"Patience, you must learn," a strange voice said from behind him.


Alderaan

"We have a problem," Bail Organa informed his daughter as they walked down a palace hallway. Leia looked up expectantly at her father. "The Imperial Star Destroyer, the Avenger, is orbiting Alderaan."

"The rebels have already left," Leia replied quickly. "And Naboo has sent us ships so we can defend ourselves."

"Yes, the Naboo ships are here," the Prince told his daughter. "I'm not sure they can help this situation, unfortunately."

"What situation?"

"The Imperial Captain is demanding we send Solo to them, so they can return him to Coruscant for trial," Bail said slowly.

Leia's eyes grew wide. "We can't do that! They will execute him!" The idea of sending Han to his death terrified the Princess.

"If I refuse to turn him over, they will be within their rights to arrest me," Bail answered her.

"Then he needs to leave, right away," Leia reasoned to her father.

"Too late, Leia," her father replied. "They know he is here, and if he runs now, I will still be arrested for permitting him to escape."

"We can't just turn him over!" Leia pleaded. "He saved my life. He saved everyone's life!"

"I am aware of that, Leia," Bail said with a sad shake of his head. "And that is why we have a problem."


Coruscant

"We have a problem," the thin voice of the Emperor spoke to the young redhead who was on her knees, head bowed, before her Master. He stared off into the distance, and then continued to speak. "Vader has disappeared. I fear the time has come. He no longer wishes to be the servant, but the master. Therefore, you must use your talents and locate him, before he can cause damage."

"Yes, my lord," the young woman answered, her head still down. "I will find him."

"Good," Palpatine hissed. "I know I can count on you, Jade."


Dagobah

"Who are you?" Luke asked as he spun around to face the shortest, strangest looking being he had ever seen.

"Told him of me, you have not?" the green creature addressed the Dark Lord.

"I thought, perhaps, it would be more interesting to see his reaction, Master Yoda," Lord Vader replied.

The small being gave a short laugh. "Master Yoda, am I," the being said to Luke. "Brought you here for your training, he has. Soon, face the Emperor you must. Much work we must do first."

Luke looked at his father, puzzled. "I thought you were going to train me."

"Yoda is going to train you, son," the Dark Lord answered Luke. "I am merely an observer."

Luke looked down at the short creature. "Are you a Sith Lord, too?"

"Black and white not everything is," Yoda snapped at Luke. "Shades of gray, are many things. Learn these you will in time." The creature called Yoda started walking further into the swamp. When Luke just stood, rooted to the spot, he turned back slightly. "Come, short is time. Begin we must."

Darth Vader looked over at Luke. "I wouldn't recommend keeping him waiting," the Dark Lord told his son as he followed the strange being.


One hour later

Han Solo sat in Prince Bail Organa's office, listening as the Prince told him about the Empire's demands. "It's pretty clear I'll have to go with them," Han said, trying not to let his fear show. "You can't be held responsible for my actions," the Corellian addressed the Prince.

*Arraaughhuu,* Chewie howled in disagreement.

"Chewie, I don't want to go either," Solo argued with his co-pilot. "I'm sure not looking forward to what's gonna happen to me when they get me in their sadistic hands. I just don't see an alternative."

The door to Organa's office burst open, and a breathless Princess Leia rushed in. "I know what we can do to protect both of you!" Leia exclaimed. "I can marry Han, and make him an Alderaanian citizen, just like you did for Mother!"

The ensuing silence in the room was deafening. When neither men spoke, Leia tried again. "You married Mother to protect her from extradition, didn't you?" she addressed her father.

"That was different," Bail finally said.

"Different?"

"I think what he means, sweetheart, is that your mother wasn't low class," Han said dryly.

"That isn't what I mean," Bail replied to the Corellian. "Leia is... too young."

"I'm eighteen, and sixteen is considered an adult on Alderaan," Leia argued. "I can't believe you'd rather turn Han over to the Imperials!"

Bail sighed. He knew that his daughter was correct, and on Naboo, where Leia's mother was born, people were considered adults at an even earlier age - fourteen. Bail also knew that his headstrong daughter would marry this man with or without his blessing. "Leia, they expect me to turn him over this evening. That is less than ten hours from now. How do you expect to get married by then?"

"We have an Alderaanian Priest in the Palace," Leia replied quickly. "All we need are witnesses and a marriage certificate. The certificate can be rushed through, Father. All you have to do is make a call."

"You seem to have thought of almost everything," Bail said slowly. "Except one detail."

"Which is?"

"This marriage has to be real, Leia," her father answered. "The Right of Alderaanian Protection law does not allow for marriages of convenience. It will have to be.... consummated."

Leia flushed bright red and Han coughed and looked out the window. "I..probably... I can.. do that, too," Leia finally stammered. "It's a natural, um, normal part of life. I think...I can, uh, deal with .. it."

"I don't exactly look like a Hutt, do I?" Han snapped at the Princess.

Leia's embarrassment turned to irritation. "I'm willing to do this for you, doesn't that say enough?"

"Solo!" Bail quickly tried to stop this argument before it got too far. "I'm not too fond of my daughter marrying someone other than an Alderaanian, but she is willing to do this for you. The question is, are you willing to marry her? Or does execution by the Imperials sound preferable?"

"No," Solo answered sullenly.

"There are several things you need to be aware of before you agree to this marriage," Bail continued. "The first is - you will take the last name Organa."

Han's eyes grew wide with disbelief. "What?"

Bail sighed and went on. "Your name and title will be 'Prince Consort Han Solo Organa', since you are marrying into the Royal family. This is tradition."

Han groaned and slid down into the chair. "Prince Consort?" he mumbled into his hands. That was even worse than having the last name Organa.

"Consort only means you are married to royalty," Leia said tightly.

"Also," Bail said slowly, "you do not have the right to divorce Leia, although she retains the right to divorce you. If she chooses to divorce you, you cannot make claim to any royal holdings or titles." When Solo remained silent, staring at the floor, the Prince asked gently, "Do you agree to these things?"

"I don't have much choice if I want to stay alive, do I?"

"Now you're acting like I look like a Hutt!" Leia snapped.

Bail turned to address his daughter. "Leia, you need to go see your aunts, and tell them the news. They will not be pleased, but they will help you find an appropriate dress. I will contact the Priest."

Leia gave her father a hug. "Thank you for understanding," she murmured to him before running out the door.

The Prince smiled at the shell-shocked Corellian. "I will have my secretary see about finding you appropriate wedding attire, Solo. In three hours, you will be a married man. Oh, and one other thing, Solo."

"Yeah?"

Bail leaned forward, and his expression became deadly serious. "If you ever hurt my daughter, I will give you every reason to think, by comparison, Palpatine is a nice guy."


Three hours later, Han Solo became Prince Consort Han Solo Organa. Solo was dressed in a white Alderaan uniform with gold piping. His beautiful young bride stood next to him wearing a beaded pale pink dress. As he repeated his wedding vows, the entire time he kept thinking, this is only a really bizarre dream and I'm gonna wake up any minute now. Han listened as Leia's three aunts wailed loudly in the background, and watched Prince Organa glare at them in an unsuccessful attempt to get his sisters to quiet down. He felt the Princess's damp hand, shaking, in his own. Why is she doing this if she is so scared of me? Of course, Han was just as nervous as the bride, and his Wookiee co-pilot standing behind him knew it.

Leia Organa, professional politician and life-long Princess, stumbled over her wedding vows, barely able to hear the soft-spoken Priest. Han Solo looked so incredibly handsome standing next to her, she could no longer even picture him in his Imperial uniform. Leia wanted to turn around and scream, Shut up! at the top of her lungs to her keening aunts. The only thing that terrified Leia more than saying the vows, was the idea that very soon she would be going back to her apartment, no, their apartment, with her new husband to finalize the marriage.

As the couple turned to face the small audience, the Priest stated simply, "I now present you with the newly created union of Princess Leia Organa and her husband, Prince Consort Han Solo Organa. May your marriage be joyous and for all eternity, and may many children bless your home."

The small group broke into applause. Even the aunts stopped sobbing long enough to clap.


One hour later

Solo sat down on the finely embroidered quilt next to his trembling wife. "We don't have to do this, you know. We'll just lie, and say we did."

"We can't lie," Leia responded. "I... I have to get this confirmed by a doctor, before our marriage is valid."

"Are you kidding me?" Han could barely believe what he was hearing. "Every marriage has to be confirmed by a doctor?"

"No, of course not," Leia looked at him nervously. "Just those between Alderaanians and non-Alderaanians, and not even all of those need to be confirmed. Just marriages that might have occurred because of the Rights law. Like ours."

Han sighed. "And you're sure about wanting to do this?"

"I'm sure about not wanting to turn you over to the Imperials," Leia answered him quietly, staring at her fingers.

Han smiled at the jittery Princess, leaned over and took her chin gently in his hand. He kissed her, softly and slowly. Leia turned and put her arms around him, returning the kiss with more passion than Han thought possible. She finally broke the kiss and averted her eyes. "You kiss... nice," she informed him.

"So I've been told," Han answered without thinking.

Leia quickly stood up and walked to the window. "You've had lots of women."

Stupid, stupid thing to say Solo, he mentally kicked himself. He got up and went and stood behind her, putting his hands on her shoulders. "A few," he admitted, trying to downplay his experience.

"I've only done this once..." Leia trailed off, embarrassed beyond speech. Her first and only time, about a year ago, had been with a young Alderaanian boy her own age, a son of an ambassador. The boy had been just as inexperienced as Leia, and the entire fumbling affair had taken about five minutes. It had left Leia puzzled as to why the activity was so popular.

"Leia, it's all right," Han interrupted. "We'll take this as slow as you need to go."

Leia, he called me Leia, the Princess realized as Han took her hand and lead her back to the bed.


Dagobah

The creature known as Yoda had led Luke and his father to the small hut that was his home. The space inside was cramped and both men had to sit on the floor, shoulders hunched, in order to fit. When all three were seated, Yoda spoke to Vader. "Allies we have been for a long time. Correct you were in bringing me your son."

"Thank you, Master," Vader nodded.

"I thought Palpatine was your Master," Luke questioned his father, puzzled.

Yoda gave a short laugh. "Delusions, Palpatine lives under. Short is his time as Emperor."

"Yoda knows I am the Chosen One, son," Vader told Luke. "He has been my friend and confidant for many years."

"Bring order to the galaxy, the Chosen One must," Yoda agreed. "Waited, we have done for many years." Yoda walked up to Luke and looked closely at him. "Hard is the training. Ready are you?"

"Yes, Master Yoda," Luke said confidently. "I am more than ready."

"See, we shall."


Two hours later

When Leia came out of the doctor's office, Aunt Celly threw her arms around her niece. "My dear," she said as she embraced Leia, "I'm so sorry this marriage happened. This must be a nightmare for you. I can't imagine having to marry a man I'd only known for five days!"

Leia stepped back and eyed her three aunts. This simply could not continue if her marriage was going to be successful, and Leia had every intention of making this marriage last. "Aunt Celly," Leia said slowly, "I am not in the least bit sorry I married Han Solo. You have to understand and believe this." Leia looked reproachfully at her other two aunts, Tia and Rouge. "He is my husband now, and I expect you to treat him accordingly." The nervousness Leia had felt during the previous hours had been replaced with a new self assurance. She was a married woman now in every way. The tenderness that Han displayed during their lovemaking, and the way he had made her feel, was completely opposite from her first experience. Leia now understood why people craved this type of closeness.

Her aunts had the grace to appear ashamed. "Of course, dear," Rouge replied. "We will be nice to him, for you."

Leia shook her head and started to walk away, then she turned back. "And by the way, the last several hours were bliss. If you were smart, you'd all find yourselves a Corellian husband." With that, she turned on her heel and continued walking, leaving her three shocked aunts speechless.


The Avenger left Alderaan with Captain Needa fuming. Somehow, the Corellian had outmaneuvered him again. When he was sent the marriage certificate, Needa was dumbfounded. It seemed impossible to him that the Princess of Alderaan would have allowed herself to be sullied by this nobody, Solo. Yet the medical proof that came with the certificate was undisputable evidence. Needa was left no choice but to abide by Alderaan's laws. He was not looking forward to facing the Emperor with this news.


Coruscant

Mara Jade, Emperor's Hand and assassin, spent hours pouring over flight logs from Darth Vader's Star Destroyer, The Executioner. The name of one system kept coming up, time and again. Vader obviously felt the need to go there several times a year. Jade wanted to know why.


Tatooine

Captain Zema Pavett sat in a seedy bar, getting drunk. Getting drunk took the edge off of the hangover she always experienced after taking too much glitterstim. It had been necessary to pay off her deceased co-pilot's family with a great deal of credits. Failure to do so would have resulted in the family taking revenge out on her. She was his employer, thus he was her responsibility. Now she was no further ahead financially than she had been before taking that cursed charter to Alderaan.

Pavett needed to find some steady work. She had a good ship, and when she wasn't too spaced on spice or alcohol, she was fairly reliable. Captain Pavett had heard a rumor that a baron that owned some city in a system called Bespin needed ships to move frozen gas. That sounded like easy work. She would have to check out that rumor.


Alderaan, two months later

"The first troops are completely trained, sir," Commander-General Han Solo Organa addressed his father-in-law. "Naboo troops should be able to start phasing out their deployment in less than a month." One week after the marriage, Prince Bail Organa had assigned his son-in-law the job of organizing and assembling the new Alderaan Army. The new job had given Han an additional title to contend with, but he much preferred the military title to his royal title, since during the course of his day people referred to him as Commander-General and not Prince Consort. Han knew even the most pretentious of Alderaanians would hesitate to call him by his entire formal title of Commander-General Prince Consort Han Solo Organa. Han's new job was a huge undertaking, and one that kept him extremely busy. The task would have been even more daunting except for the constant help of Chewbacca, who seldom left Han's side.

Several systems, including Naboo, had loaned temporary troops and ships to help protect Alderaan from Imperial retribution. Alderaan had been busy purchasing its own ships, and soon would have its own troops defending it. "I'm glad to hear that, Han," Bail replied informally. "You have done a superb job." Many of the Prince's advisors had been unhappy with Bail's choice of military leader, but the Prince never wavered. The naysayers had faded away when they had seen the hard work and results of the young Commander-General.

"Thank you, sir," Solo responded. "I've had a lot of help. The Alderaanian Generals are very professional."

Bail smiled at Solo and indicated he should have a seat. A moment later, Leia walked in the door. Seeing her husband already in the room, she gave a worried frown. "Good morning, Father," she said uneasily. "Is there a problem?"

As far as Princess Leia was concerned, her marriage was a huge success. Sure, she still argued with Han, but the arguing always led to making up, and Leia loved making up with her husband. The only thing that worried Leia was the fact that neither of them had ever said, I love you to the other, even in the heat of passion. It had become an undeclared, silent, challenge - each waiting for the other to breakdown and say those three little words first. And each was quietly afraid if they said the words first, the other would not return them.

Bail watched as Leia sat down next to Han. "I have some bad news," he stated as he slid a disk into a viewer. A picture of Imperial Lieutenant-Commander Han Solo appeared, with a voice describing his crimes, some real, some fabricated, against the Empire. What was most frightening to Leia was the words scrolling across the bottom of the screen, One million credit reward for the live capture of Traitor Han Solo and his return to Coruscant for trial and punishment.

"One million credits?" Leia gasped.

Han shifted nervously in his seat. "That'll bring every bounty hunter in the galaxy to Alderaan," he said quietly.

"That's true," the Prince replied. "It's not like you are difficult to locate. But I may have a temporary solution."

"Solution?" Leia questioned her father.

"I have a friend and business partner that owns a gas mining business in a place called Cloud City," Bail told the couple. "It's on a system called Bespin. I realize hiding is not the ideal solution, but I am certain he will help you. The war effort is seeing good results, and hopefully the Emperor will not last much longer. Then we won't have to worry about the bounty."

Han looked at his wife. "You should stay on Alderaan, Leia. Coming with me would be too risky. I can go with Chewie."

"Not a chance, flyboy," Leia shot back at her husband. "Where you go, I go. Get used to it."

Han looked to Bail for support but his father-in-law just shrugged his shoulders. "Don't expect me to tell her what to do, Solo," he said to Han. "I haven't been able to give her advise since she was nine."


Dagobah

Vader watched as the milky green planet of Dagobah dropped away in the distance. Luke had not been happy that his father was leaving him alone with Yoda, even for a short time, but it was necessary. His son's training had been long and difficult, but it had seen good results. Luke was strong in the Force, and his skills with a lightsaber matched his father's. Even Yoda had been pleased with the boy's talent. However, Master Yoda had not been pleased with Luke's constant questions and doubts. Yoda believed that Luke's lack of complete trust in the Force could be his downfall. Vader, however, thought the problem was in Luke's deep, basic kindness. The Dark Lord believed only the power of the Dark Side could defeat Palpatine.

Still, Vader knew that he needed his son to complete his destiny. For eighteen years, Vader had waited for this time to come, and now he could finally see the end. Darth Vader set course for the Kamino system.


Kamino, three days later

Darth Vader stepped off his stolen ship into the perpetual rain of Kamino. With his black cape billowing behind him, he entered the brightly lit confines of the cloning center. A tall, pale humanoid stepped out of a doorway to greet the arrival of the Sith Lord.

"Lord Vader," he bowed his long neck. "It has been a long time."

"Has your job been finished?" Vader inquired.

"Yes, my Lord," the Kaminoan replied. "Follow me."

Vader was lead into a small room, with a window for a wall. Through the window sat a young, good looking man with blue eyes and light brown hair.

"He has no abilities at all in the Force?" Vader asked.

"No, my Lord," the humanoid replied. "He has been prepared exactly as you requested."

"Good," Vader nodded. "You have done your job well. I will be back very soon to take possession of his body." Vader stared for a moment longer through the window at the young man, an exact image of himself at eighteen. Without the Force to protect it, it would be simple to take over his clone's body. Vader had no concerns regarding the mind of the individual who currently resided in the body. That part was expendable.


Dagobah

Luke Skywalker sat hunched over in the tiny home of Yoda, watching as the strange being made a type of stew. "How long have you known my father?" Luke asked, finally able to ask the questions that he had been unable to ask with his father watching.

Yoda dished out a generous portion of the glop, and placed it in front of the young human. "Since he was a child, I have known him, hmm."

"I was told by Obi-Wan that Vader killed all the Jedi Knights," Luke continued. "Why didn't he kill you?"

"His friend, I convinced him I was," the old creature said with a sad shake of his head. "Few friends your father had left. Believed me he did, and brought me here to protect me from Palpatine."

"But you're not his friend? You lied to him?" Luke asked indignantly.

The being walked up next to Luke, and promptly stabbed him in the thigh with his walking stick. "Ow! That hurts," Luke objected, rubbing his leg, and glaring at the short creature.

"Lie I do not. As much a friend to your father as anyone, I am." Yoda walked back to his stove. "Help him over the years, I have. Advise I give him."

"And what have you been advising him to do lately?"

"To train you, is one," Yoda replied. "To destroy the Emperor, the other."

"Are we going to be able to destroy the Emperor?," Luke asked. "Just the two of us?"

"Always changing is the future," the old being cryptically answered as he sat down to eat.


Kamino

Darth Vader walked briskly down the corridors of the cloning facility, followed closely by the Kaminoan. The Dark Lord swept into a room he had entered many times in the past. Only this time, it was different. The room was empty. Vader spun around. "Where is she?"

"The human female you have kept in stasis?" the Kaminoan questioned, puzzled.

"Yes," the Sith Lord hissed. "Where.. is.. she?"

"A human came and got the stasis chamber about a month ago," the being answered politely. "She had the proper authorization from the Emperor. I could not refuse her. I can get you the authorization disk, if you wish to see it."

"What was this woman's name?"

"I believe it was Jade. Mara Jade."


Cloud City, three days later

"Wow," the usually jaded Solo exclaimed when the Falcon dropped out of hyperspace over Cloud City. "This is quite a place Calrissian has."

"Yes," Leia agreed from the navigator's seat. "I remember Father telling me Baron Calrissian won Cloud City in a sabacc game a long time ago."

"A sabacc player?" Han questioned with a lopsided smirk. "He sounds like my kinda guy. Have you ever been here?"

"No, but Baron Calrissian has been to Alderaan several times," Leia answered cautiously. "He is a real ladies man."

"Really?" Han asked turning in his seat to face his wife. "How well do you know him?"

Leia rolled her eyes. "Not very well at all, and I want you to behave yourself, Prince Han."

Chewie gave a woofing chuckle at the Princess's not so subtle reminder to Han that he was now considered royalty, and as such, needed to act accordingly.

"What are you laughing at, furball?" Han shot over at his co-pilot. Over the course of the last several months, Chewbacca had proven his friendship and loyalty to the Corellian. Han could no longer imagine his life without this giant Wookiee as his friend. Indeed, Han's life had changed so dramatically he would sometimes wake up early in the morning and look over at the sleeping Princess that was now his wife, and wonder how he had gotten so lucky. The thought that he had gotten too lucky would sometimes cross his mind, and Solo would worry that his good fortune would soon come to an end.

Solo and Chewie landed the old ship on the landing area they had been directed. Han and Leia exited the ship holding hands, while Chewie walked guardedly behind them. "Where is this friend of yours?" Han asked the Princess.

"He'll be here, don't worry," she replied worriedly.

"Princess Leia!" a booming male voice called from the end of a walkway. Baron Lando Calrissian swept out of the door and toward the visitors. Reaching them, Lando reached for Leia's hand, kissing it gallantly. "It's been too long, my dear," he said with a smile. "I'm glad you could finally see my home."

"Baron Calrissian," Leia said, forcing a smile on her face. "It's nice to see you again as well. I appreciate your hospitality on such short notice."

"Anything I can ever do for you or your father is never a problem, Princess," the Baron replied smoothly. He finally looked at Han and Chewie. "And this would be your new husband?" he remarked, sizing up Solo instantly. Calrissian could tell Solo was not someone who had been born into an upper class society. - probably the exact opposite.

"Yes, this is my husband, Prince Consort Han Solo Organa," Leia answered the Baron as she formally introduced Han. "And this is his friend and co-pilot, Chewbacca of Kashyyyk."

"Nice to meet you," Calrissian held out his hand and shook both Solo's and the Wookiee's hands. "I have to admit, I was quite surprised to hear the Princess got married so suddenly. And even more surprised she married a Corellian ex-Imperial."

"Our marriage was rather sudden," Han said evenly to Calrissian. "And I am sure you are aware of the reasons."

Lando studied the Corellian for a moment and then laughed. "I like you, Solo," he declared suddenly. "Leia's quite a woman, and it appears you might be man enough for her. Come, let me show you to your apartment." With that, he looped his arm through the Princess's and hurried her inside, leaving a rather annoyed Corellian and a bemused Wookiee to follow.


Dagobah

"We must go to Coruscant immediately, my son," Vader informed the startled pair.

"Complete his training is not!" Yoda protested.

"It is irrelevant," Vader hissed back. "We must confront Palpatine, now!"

"Why, Father?" Luke inquired. "What's so important that we have to leave in such a hurry?"

"The Emperor has stolen something from me, something valuable," Vader replied darkly.

"What did he steal?"

"Not what, son," Darth Vader answered. "Who. He stole your mother. My wife."


Captain Zema Pavett had spent the last month working for Baron Calrissian, shipping frozen gases. While it earned her credits, those credits were a far cry from what she needed to support her growing glitterstim habit.

Therefore, when she saw Han Solo walking with Calrissian and Princess Organa, a man wanted by the Empire for a million credits, Pavett knew she had hit the jackpot.


Cloud City, two days later

Every time Captain Needa looked in the mirror at his disfigured face, he felt a burning rage. Two months previously, Captain Needa had pleaded for his life on his knees before the Emperor. It was a terrifying, humiliating, and painful experience. The Emperor had punished his failure to return with Solo by using Force lightning to scorch the entire right side of the Captain's face, and forbidden Needa to receive bacta treatment. The Emperor wanted Needa to be reminded of his failure on a daily basis. But Palpatine had spared the Captain's life - this once. He would never get a second chance. Therefore, when the Avenger dropped out of hyperspace over Cloud City, two days after a message was received from some two-bit freighter captain named Pavett, Needa was shaking, both with fear of failure and anticipation of revenge.

Several hundred Stormtroopers were dispatched and Needa himself landed on the beautiful city within twenty minutes. It was the middle of the night, and few citizens saw the massive invasion. Baron Lando Calrissian was rudely torn from his sleep as Captain Needa entered his bedroom.

"I wouldn't advise trying anything, Calrissian, or your life will be instantly forfeit," Needa spat at the befuddled Baron.

Surrounded by Stormtroopers, Lando instantly surrendered. "What's this all about?"

"You know why I am here," Needa snarled at Lando. "Show me around your facilities. I need to make plans."

Calrissian did as he was told, taking the large group of men on a tour and pointing out how the gas was frozen and handled. Normally this was something Lando took great pride in showing. Now he was simply terrified.


Han, Leia, and Chewie in his separate room, were awakened in the same fashion the Lando Calrissian had been. They had been immediately handcuffed and pushed roughly into a cell block. Once the door slide shut, Han spoke bitterly. "It appears your father's friend has betrayed us, Princess."

Leia shook her head negatively. "No, it had to be someone else. No matter what I think of Lando, he wouldn't do this."

"Well, someone did," Han replied harshly. "I told you to stay on Alderaan. I could handle whatever happens to me, if I knew you were safe." His fear for his wife's safety far outweighed concerns for his own well being. If anything happened to her... the Corellian simply could not contemplate his future without the Princess.

"And I told you, whatever happens, we are in this together."


Needa watched in glee as the Stormtroopers strapped the Corellian to the scan grid. Revenge was sweet, and he intended to savor every moment.

"I have waited for months for this, Solo," Needa cackled as he rubbed his hand across scarred features. "I hope you suffer as much as I suffered at the hands of the Emperor." The Corellian said nothing to his former Captain, fearing that a wrong word would make the insane Imperial take his rage out on Leia or Chewie. Instead, Solo stared at Calrissian, wondering if the Baron would try to help Leia, or if he would allow his friend's daughter to die.

Han felt the platform he was strapped to tilt down and make its way to the sparking currents. He jerked his face away in a desperate attempt to keep the electricity from his eyes, his heart racing in terror. Then the pain. Intense, unending pain. Han tried to keep from screaming, but the agony overwhelmed him and the cries were torn from this throat. Solo could not imagine a worse torture.

Lando could not watch Solo suffer. He turned to look at the sadistic Imperial Captain, who stood and laughed at the Corellian's pain. I have to protect Leia, Calrissian thought fearfully. The idea that Needa might turn his attentions on Bail's daughter made him numb.

"You're going to kill him," Lando finally stammered out.

Needa stopped laughing long enough to answer. "The human body can take enormous amounts of pain, Calrissian. Don't annoy me, or you will find this out personally."


Needa watched Solo's torture until the Corellian lost consciousness and could not be revived. The troopers dragged Han away, and Needa turned to the Baron. "Now, show me the carbon freezing facilities again."

Shaking with fear, Lando escorted the sadistic Captain back to the chambers. He watched as Needa circled around the pit, and finally came to a stop back in front of the Baron. "This will do nicely. Have your people prepare this pit for freezing Solo."

Lando's eyes grew wide. "You can't be serious! This isn't used for humans - he'll die!"

"Then we shall test it first."

"Test it?" Calrissian asked in trepidation. "On who?"

"You have an employee, by the name of Captain Zema Pavett," he replied coldly. He turned to his troopers. "Find her, and bring her here." He returned his attention back to Calrissian. "If I don't eliminate her, she will expect a million credit reward. The Emperor will be so much more pleased if he doesn't have to make that kind of payout."


The frozen body of Zema Pavett dropped with a thud to the floor of the carbon freezing chamber. Lando Calrissian checked the controls on the side of the slab, and was surprised to see that she had survived. He turned to Needa. "She is alive, and in hibernation."

Needa came up beside the frozen form. She had put up quite a fight, and the final look on her face was one of agony and horror, her body twisted and her fingers curved and frozen, clawing as the freezing gas turned her body into a grotesque sculpture.

Needa turned to his troops. "Dump this body off the edge of the city. She can become a permanent resident of Bespin," he said with a grin. "Prepare the chamber, and bring Solo."

"What about the Princess and the Wookiee?" Lando asked worriedly.

"The Emperor has expressed no interest in them," Needa said as if the subject bored him. "You may keep them here."


All three prisoners were brought to the carbon freezing chamber, only because Needa wanted to watch the reaction of the Princess as she lost her husband to a living hell. Lando watched the nightmarish scene unfold as if it were happening in slow motion. Han Solo, still weak from his torture and the only one wearing binders, was torn from his wife's embrace and taken to the platform. Chewbacca, the loyal friend of Solo, almost going berserk until Han spoke to him gently and firmly, asking Chewie to protect Leia. And the look of agony on the Princess's face as Han was lowered down into the cold mists. It was almost too much for Lando to bear.

"I love you, Leia," Han said with a tender smile, breaking their unspoken contest. He knew he could not die without telling his wife what he knew in his heart from the first moment he saw her.

"I know," Leia choked out in response.

Then the rush of cold and the molten carbonite poured down, and Han knew instantly he had been wrong - it was indeed possible to experience a worse torture than the scan grid.


The Stormtroopers kept them surrounded until Solo's body was loaded on the shuttle. Then they turned and left. Lando stood next to the sobbing Princess, his arm around her shoulder.

"He told me he loved me," Leia gasped between sobs. "I should have told him I loved him back, and now it's too late."

"It's not too late," Lando said quietly. He had let Bail's daughter down, and the guilt was overwhelming. He looked to the Wookiee. "Are you willing to go into the Dragon's den of Coruscant to get Solo back?"

Chewie howled his agreement. Leia stepped back from Lando's embrace, forcing herself to stop crying. "There is no way you are going without me," she said firmly.

Within the hour, the Millennium Falcon departed for Coruscant.


Coruscant

Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker landed their ship on the outskirts of the Imperial Command Center. They made their way to the lower levels and rented a small, dingy room. Luke was not certain how his father planned to rescue the mother he never knew, but he had no doubts that they would succeed, or die trying.


The Emperor ran his hand across the clear cover of the stasis chamber that held Princess Consort Padme Amidala Organa. He looked up at the young redheaded woman standing at the foot of the tube. "He has arrived, and brought another Force sensitive with him."

Mara Jade smiled. "I knew he would come for her. She will be his downfall."

Palpatine gave a dry laugh. "She always was."


Coruscant, four days later

The Emperor watched as stormtroopers carried in the frozen body of Lieutenant-Commander Han Solo. He stood and walked over to the encased form, and touched the outstretched, hard fingers. "He is awake, and aware of his situation," the Emperor murmured in awe. "Such agony you are experiencing, Solo," he addressed the Corellian, who was forever caught in a moment of silent screaming. "Mental and physical torment."

Palpatine turned to Captain Needa. "You are to be commended, Captain," the Emperor said with a grin. "You have thought of the perfect torture. Intense, endless pain, for all eternity. You are lucky he did not die. I would have been very displeased to have a corpse returned to me."

"Your Highness," Needa bowed down before his Master. "I tested the chamber on the worthless pilot who contacted us for the reward. She will never be complaining about not receiving the bounty."

"You have redeemed yourself, Needa," Palpatine said with a nod. "You may continue to live."

Captain Needa rose from his knees and quickly left the Throne Room, before Palpatine changed his mind.

When he was gone, Palpatine went back to gazing at the face of the traitor. "The Princess failed to protect you, Solo," Palpatine spoke aloud to the unhearing statue. "Just as her father failed to protect her mother." He shook his head and turned to look at the stasis chamber, humming quietly only a few feet away. "Maybe now they will understand that their foolish laws are worthless against my powers."


Princess Leia Organa looked out the hotel window at the distant towers of the Imperial Command Center. Although it frightened her to think that the Emperor was so close, her determination to find Han offset her misgivings about her personal safety. When she had contacted her father upon leaving Cloud City, he had tried to convince her to return to Alderaan. You can't just go to Coruscant without a plan, Bail had argued. Perhaps her father had been right but it was too late now - they were on Coruscant, and definitely without a plan.

The door to the adjoining room opened and Baron Calrissian came in, followed by Chewbacca. "I've contacted my friends, Princess," he informed her. "We will be meeting them tonight, in the lower levels."

"The lower levels?" Leia asked dubiously. As far as the Princess was concerned, they were already on a low level.

"I know they're pretty seedy, but I doubt anyone will bother us," Lando said with a smile as he looked up at the tall Wookiee.

"All right," Leia agreed. "I'll do whatever it takes to get Han back."

Lando nodded his understanding. "These are good people, Princess. Some of them have been resistance fighters even before the Rebel Alliance was born."

"Good," she said curtly. "We're going to need all the help we can get."


Less than ten miles away, Luke Skywalker sat on the edge of a thin mattress and watched as his father paced the small room. For four days, Vader had done nothing but pace, and meditate. Luke was growing impatient.

"Why did mother leave me on Tatooine?" Luke finally ventured to ask.

Vader stopped pacing. "Kenobi lied to her, and convinced her that I was trying to harm both of you."

"So where did she end up going?"

"Alderaan," Vader said slowly, trying to keep his rage from showing. "Once she was on Alderaan, the brainwashing continued, this time by Bail Organa."

"Leia's father?" Luke asked, surprised.

Vader turned and gazed out of the small window that overlooked a dingy corridor. "Organa convinced Padme to divorce me, and marry him," the Dark Lord spoke quietly, trying to keep his anger from showing.

For many minutes, neither one spoke. Then Luke finally whispered, "Is Leia my sister?"

"Padme is your mother, and Princess Leia is the daughter of Organa and my wife," Vader said bitterly. Even after all these years, the betrayal still hurt him, still enraged him. He had known full well that the defiant young Princess he tortured on the Death Star was Padme's daughter, and it gave him a strange satisfaction to cause her harm, as if the pain he was inflicting on the Princess was Padme's punishment instead.

"How did you talk my mother into leaving Prince Organa and going back with you?" Luke asked, not at all sure he wanted to know the answer.

"I did not even try to convince her," Vader replied, as he faced his son. "I simply went to Alderaan and took her back by force. I did it for her own good, even if she refused to see this. Organa could never love her like I love her, and someday soon Padme will understand and forgive me. We are meant to be together... it is destiny."

Luke could barely believe what he was hearing. He stood and looked up at Vader. "So all these years you have kept her in a prison somewhere?" Luke practically shouted.

"No, Luke," Vader responded softly. "The past fifteen years I have kept her in stasis. Until the day I could return to her, as the man I once was. Until the day I could make her proud of me and return to her as a hero, and ruler of the galaxy."


The dark, smoky establishment resided several levels down from the hotel Calrissian and Leia were staying. The various humans and humanoids that patronized the diner were either extremely poor, or criminals.

"I'm surprised there are so many non-humans still on Coruscant," Leia remarked as she tried to adjust her eyes to the dim interior.

"Where would they go, Leia?" Lando asked her. "For some of them, this has been their home for generations. They have no credits, and no where else to live."

Leia nodded, feeling sorry for the persecuted beings. Still, she was grateful to have the presence of the large Wookiee at the table. The way the rough males looked at her made her nervous. Both Leia and Lando had located shabby, used clothing. Although she was dressed the part, neither Calrissian or the Princess could quite blend in with the locals.

"How long before your contacts show?" she asked softly.

"They're here," Lando replied nodding toward the entrance.

Leia was careful not to turn around and draw attention as the people they waited for made their way to the table. Only when they arrived did Leia look at them, and when she did she thought she was seeing a ghost.

"Hello, Leia," an older man smiled at her kindly. "It's been a very long time."

"Have a seat," Lando indicated to the empty chairs.

The two men sat down. "You know each other?" Lando asked the Princess.

"I've known Leia since she was a baby," the man replied.

"General Dodonna, I thought you were killed when the Emperor took over the Republic Army," Leia finally said, finding her voice.

"It's hard to kill off a tough old guy like me," he laughed. "Let me introduce my associate, Corran Horn," Dodonna nodded at the young man sitting next to him. "He used to be with CorSec, until Palpatine murdered his father."

"I'm sorry," Leia addressed the young man.

Horn shrugged his shoulders. "It's the Emperor who is going to be sorry."

Lando smiled. "This here is Chewbacca, a friend of Leia and her husband."

Jan Dodonna acknowledged the Wookiee then said to the Princess, "I heard you got married. Where is your new husband?"

The Princess flushed and looked down. Lando cleared his throat and replied quietly, leaning forward so not to be overheard. "He's been frozen in carbonite and delivered to the Emperor. That's why we need your help. We're going to rescue him."

Dodonna said nothing for a moment then declared, "Well, I guess it's situations like this that make life interesting. You know I will do anything at all to help you, Leia."

"Thank you, General," Leia said quietly.

"What about you, Horn," Lando asked the young man. "Are you willing to help us?"

Corran leaned back in his chair and grinned. "I wouldn't miss this for the world."


The inactivity was driving Luke up the wall. Vader sat silently on the floor, his hands resting on his knees, meditating.

"Have you thought of how we are going to do this?" Luke asked, breaking the lengthy silence.

"The Force will guide us," was his father's reply.

"How do you know she is still alive?"

Vader turned his masked face to his son. "Killing her would not serve his purpose. She is the bait, and he will keep her alive so I will come for her."

Luke threw his hands up in the air. "So he knows you will be coming for her? Won't we be walking into a trap?"

"Yes."

"Then won't we be killed?" Luke asked, frustrated.

"He is old, and growing weak," Vader answered. "He will not be anticipating two of us. Together, we will defeat him."

Luke sighed and sat back down. The more time Luke spent with his father, the more convinced he was becoming that Vader was completely unstable. He suddenly wished Ben Kenobi was still alive.


The former Republic General led the trio down flights of stairs, and through twisting corridors. Finally they arrived at a locked door, which Dodonna opened by punching in a series of codes. When the door opened, the three were quite surprised to find a large, well manned command center.

"This is quite impressive." Lando said as he stepped into the room.

"We've been in existence for a long time, Calrissian," Horn replied. "The Empire's days are numbered."

"Why don't you join with the Rebel Alliance?" Leia asked the men.

"We do assist each other," Dodonna answered the Princess. "But sometimes it pays to operate independently. That way, if the Empire manages to destroy one group, the other still exists."

"Would you like some caf?" Horn asked politely. "We are well stocked with supplies."

"Actually, I would like to start going over plans to rescue my husband," Leia responded. "I know we need to get into the Imperial Palace, but I can't even begin to think how we are going to do that."

Dodonna smiled at the young woman. "What we are going to need is a major diversion. Something that will keep those Imps so busy, we can sneak in and steal the Emperor's new trophy."

"Do you have any ideas on how to create this diversion?" Lando asked.

"Actually, I do," replied the older man. "Your rescue operation couldn't have come at a better time."


"So, we are just going to walk into the Imperial Palace, and nobody is going to stop us?" Luke questioned his father.

"If they try to stop us, they will die."

"Won't the Emperor know we're coming?"

"You must use the Force to block your thoughts from him, at least for a while," Vader answered. "Once we are in the Throne Room, we will attack. Speed is of the essence."

"What if I can't block my thoughts from him?" Luke questioned.

"Did Yoda teach you nothing?" Vader snapped at his son. "Failure is not an option. You must do it, or we will all die."

"Yes, Father," Luke replied obediently. "I will not fail you."


Dagobah

Back on the swampy world of Dagobah, Yoda looked into the night sky and stared at the distant star that was Coruscant. He turned to his old friend and shook his head sadly. "Coming to a head, all this is. A long time to wait is twenty years."

"In the course of history, twenty years is but a blink of the eye," replied the flickering image of Obi-Wan Kenobi. "I just wish we would have been able to defeat Palpatine ourselves, all those years ago."

"The Chosen One, we are not," Yoda answered. "On a single spark of goodness, all depends."

"We have to believe that spark is still there, or all these years of waiting will have been a waste," Kenobi responded.


Coruscant

The next day

Lando Calrissian and Corran Horn came out of a back room, dressed in stormtrooper gear. "This armor is hot and awkward!" Lando gripped. "It's no wonder troopers are so clumsy."

"Don't complain," Horn shot back. "I've had to do this a few times already in the past. Wait until you put the helmet on."

Leia smiled at the pair. "That explains how you two are getting into the Palace. What about me and Chewie?"

"There is a work crew of Wookiees working on the outside of the Palace," Dodonna explained. "Lando and Corran are taking Chewie in as a new prisoner. We have forged authorization disks to take care of any questions, and Lando will be staying with the Wookiee work crew as a guard. Corran has "orders" to work at the computer control center. He should be able to override exit controls when the time comes."

"That sounds simple enough," Leia replied. "But that doesn't help me get in."

"You'll be going in the backdoor, Princess," the old General said slowly, handing her another disk. "The Emperor likes pretty serving girls surrounding him." He coughed slightly and looked embarrassed.

"What else?" Leia asked warily.

"Well," he said hesitantly. "He likes his serving girls rather.... scantily attired."

Dodonna picked up a small package and handed it to the quiet Princess. Leia opened the box and removed a tiny blue bikini costume, complete with veils.

Leia sighed and rolled her eyes. I wish you could see what I am doing for you, Han, she thought ruefully.


Corran Horn and Lando Calrissian walked the giant Wookiee up to the gates of the Imperial Center. The Baron was sweating and nervous, hoping that the access chips worked. If the resistance fighters failed to provide them with updated information, the ruse would be up before it began.

The stormtrooper at the gate took the disk and inserted it into a computer. A second later the huge gate slid slowly open, admitting the trio.

"The animal work crew is to your right," the stormtrooper directed them. "Follow the markings that point to section 4296."

Horn inclined his head slightly to the trooper and lead Chewie away. They were in.


Princess Leia Organa, dressed in shabby clothes, stood outside the area of the Palace that admitted maintenance and delivery vehicles. Taking a deep breath, she pressed the buzzer, and waited until a droid appeared. "May I help you?" the mechanical voice asked.

"Yes," Leia said in a meek voice. "I have received orders to work for the Emperor." She handed the droid her disk and waited as he disappeared. A moment later, the droid reappeared.

"A new female slave for his Majesty," the droid stated flatly. "Follow me."

Leia picked up her small satchel and resolutely followed the droid.


Imperial Palace, evening

The Princess stared at her barely covered body in the mirror, feeling her face grow warm with embarrassment. The other slaves, who were dressed exactly like Leia, paid her no attention. They hurried around the kitchen, gathering food and arranging large serving plates. An elderly woman came up behind Leia. "Get busy, girl!" she snapped. "Just because you are new, doesn't mean you can stand around admiring yourself all day." The woman pointed to a large silver tray, heaping with fruit. "Cover your face, and carry that," she ordered.

Leia placed the sheer blue veil over the lower part of her face, which left only her heavily made-up eyes showing. Although it was unlikely the Emperor would have recognized her, the fact she was partially disguised eased her fears of discovery. She picked up the heavy tray and followed the other five girls down a long corridor, finally walking past the red-robed Imperial guards through a large, ornate double door.

The Throne Room. Leia's heart starting beating faster when she saw Emperor Palpatine himself sitting on his huge chair, towering above all else in the vast room. The girls quickly climbed the steps to his Throne, each presenting a tray for Palpatine to pick and choose from. Leia had assumed all this food was being prepared for a banquet, with many other people in attendance. It became immediately clear the food was for Palpatine, and no one else.

Her legs trembled as she climbed the stairs and bowed before the evil, decrepit man, offering her fruit laden tray. "You are a new one, aren't you?" he wheezed out at her as he picked up a small piece of fruit.

"Yes, your Highness," Leia replied softly, keeping her eyes down.

"You are a pretty one, but not up to my usual standards," the Emperor leered at her chest. "You will need to see the Medic and get yourself enhanced."

"Yes, your Highness," Leia agreed meekly, all the while seething with anger.

He waved his thin hand at her, dismissing her, and Leia turned and walked down the steps. It was only then she saw the statue on the opposite wall. Han, his frozen body hanging suspended on the wall, directly in the Emperor's line of vision. It was all the Princess could do to keep her knees from buckling. She felt sick with fear for her husband, and wondered briefly about the cylinder shaped object that was sitting next to his suspended form.

The girls positioned themselves on the steps, three on each side, facing Palpatine. There they stood and waited for the Emperor to snap his fingers and demand they bring him food. And there Leia stood with them, trying not to look over at Han - and waited.


After spending the entire day hauling sheets of gilded durosteel up the sides of the Palace, Chewie was taken to a holding cell for the night. Before the door slid shut, a stormtrooper pressed a small blaster in the Wookiee's huge paw. The trooper faded into the night.


Corran Horn had spent the day in a small room that was shared by a dozen other Stormtroopers. He had stayed reclining on a corner cot, facing the wall. No one had thought his solitude unusual since troopers were seldom social men. When evening came, he put on his helmet and headed for the computer control center. His authorization disk had specified the night shift, and Horn was ready for action.


Under the cover of darkness, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker entered the Palace walls. Vader easily manipulated the weak minds of the stormtroopers standing guard, and soon they were inside the Palace itself. Their destination was the Throne Room, and Vader showed no mercy to any stormtrooper that tried to question them.


The Red Imperial Guards crumpled lifelessly to the floor outside the Throne Room. They had been moments away from raising the intruder alert, but their hearts stopped a second too soon. By this time, Luke was in complete awe of this father's powers. The fact the Vader needed him to defeat the Emperor seemed mind boggling. The entered the Throne Room and walked without stopping up to Palpatine.

Six young women lined the steps leading to the throne. Luke averted his eyes from them, embarrassed at their barely dressed state. It was the second time in an hour that Leia had to keep her knees from folding out from under her. Not only was the Dark Lord standing a few feet from her, but her brother was with him! They had not planned for this problem, and Leia now feared this additional enemy would destroy all hopes of pulling off the rescue.

"Ah, Lord Vader," Palpatine hissed through clenched teeth. "I see you have decided to join me for my evening meal. Please," he waved his hand at the stoic females, still holding the heavy trays, "have some food."

For a long moment, the only sound was Vader's respirator. Then the Dark Lord ignited his lightsaber. "I am sorry to inform you, Master, that you have enjoyed your last meal."

Luke immediately turned on his own saber, and watched as four of the girls hurried away. Only two stood rooted to the spot, a girl with long, dark hair and a redhead.

"So you have finally gotten your son to join you in your quest for becoming the next Emperor?"

"My first quest is to see you dead, Palpatine," Vader responded as he stepped forward.

The girl with the red hair dropped her tray, revealing a lightsaber clutched in her hand. She removed her veil and stepped between Vader and Palpatine, turning on a purple lightsaber.

"So this is the Emperor's Hand," Vader acknowledged the woman. "If you leave now, you will survive."

"The same can't be said for you," Jade spat at the Dark Lord.

Palpatine began laughing and pointed to Luke. "Kill the traitor's spawn, Jade. I will take care of Vader."

Mara Jade jumped aside and moved to attack the young man. Without thinking, Leia raised her heavy tray, bringing it down on the redhead's skull with a loud crack. Fruit flew in all directions, and Jade went down in a heap, rolling to the floor. The Emperor looked at the slave woman, astounded, as Leia ran to Luke's side, pulling down her veil to reveal her face.

"Luke!" Leia screamed. "Come with me!"

"Leia?" Luke stammered, shocked that his sister was here in the Throne Room.

Vader knew this distraction was what he needed. Before anyone could recover from their shock, he struck out at the Emperor with his lightsaber. Palpatine only had time to partially block the blow with the Force, and Vader's saber slashed a deep wound down his arm and side. Still, his powers were strong. Even reeling in pain, his fingers sent lightning bolts at the Dark Lord, sending Vader crashing off the podium.

Jade was struggling to her feet, and she called her own lightsaber to her hand. Seeing the woman struggling to stand, Luke pushed his sister aside. "Get out of here, Leia!" he screamed as he raised his own saber in defense.

Leia ran, but only as far as the outer wall. There she crouched down behind the cylinder and watched in horror as the battle scene unfolded.


All the prison cell doors in Imperial Center slid open. In moments, every prisoner in the area was free. Stormtroopers tried to restore order, but surprise was on the side of the thousands of wronged beings.

Chewbacca the Wookiee shot down the nearest trooper who was firing at the escapees, and retrieved the heavy duty blaster. He headed out the door, firing at every armored trooper he saw, and hoped Lando had the sense to remove his trooper uniform before the breakout.

Lando had not been born yesterday. He crouched down at the corner of a building, dressed completely in black, picking off stormtroopers. A good business man always makes practical decisions, and when given the choice between being fired at by angry ex-prisoners and determined resistance fighters, or stormtroopers, the decision required no thought.

Moments after the prison cell doors opened, so did the gates to Imperial Center. Thousands of well armed resistance fighters and downtrodden civilians stormed through the open gates. Corran Horn looked down from his computer tower and smiled. His job here was done. He took a blaster and fried the controls. Then he took off his armor and joined the fighting.


The rebel ships dropping out of hyperspace and into the orbit of Coruscant was no coincidence. General Rieekan knew all about tonight's plans from his contact with Dodonna. In fact, coordinated attack plans on the Emperor had been in the works for months. He watched as Tie fighters left the planet and raced to intercept the rebel X-Wings. Tonight, it would be all or nothing.


The Emperor knew his compound was under assault by the fear and confusion in the minds of his stormtroopers. He knew that a battle was beginning to rage in the space over Coruscant as well. So much was happening, so fast, that he could barely focus his energy for the task at hand - killing Darth Vader. He raised his fingers and allowed the Dark Side to flow through him, and the bolts of energy flew again from his fingers. This time, Vader blocked them with his lightsaber, and using the Force, jumped to the other side of the Throne. Palpatine shifted around and tried standing to face his attacker. Vader, using his own powers, called the loose furniture in the room, and sent it flying into Palpatine.

Jade had to duck the flying tables and chairs and rolled out from under the assault. This young man was surprisingly strong in the Force. She had assumed it would be a matter of a minute or two to dispatch him, but she was wrong. When she had rushed to attack, Skywalker blocked her moves easily. Their eyes met, hers dark green, his sky blue. For a brief moment, Jade lost her train of thought.

"I don't want to kill you," Skywalker said quietly.

"But I want to kill you," she responded with a grin. And again, she attacked.

Leia shrank down in back of the cylinder, trying to think a way to help. Her gaze focused upwards, to her silent, still husband. Leia forced a lump in her throat down, telling herself that as long as he was alive, she would get him out of his frozen hell. She needed to find a way to help Luke. If she could convince him to desert Vader, he could help get Han out. Leia eased herself up and looked in the clear top of the cylinder and wiped away the mist, to see if there was some weapon inside that she could use. This time, her knees buckled and she blacked out.


TIE fighters and X-Wings dodged and jockeyed for position as they fired deadly beams at each other. Although the X-Wing pilots were far superior pilots, the Tie fighters had far more fighters. The battle in space was not going well for the Rebels, who had not recovered from the excessive losses they had over the Death Star. General Rieekan shook his head. Abandoning such carefully laid plans was the last thing Rieekan wanted to do. He would allow for a few more minutes, to see if things turned around. If they did not, he would order a retreat and live to fight another day.


Imperial Center had been overwhelmed by sheer numbers. The majority of the stormtrooper were either dead or had deserted and run. The civilians and resistance fighters had suffered massive casualties as well.

Lando stood in the middle of a courtyard, looking at the dead and wounded. He needed to find Chewie, and get into the Palace to help Leia. Calrissian was about to turn around when a strong grip landed on his shoulder.

*Arroughhg?*

"Chewie!" Lando yelped in surprise. "Where have you been?"

The Wookiee answered with a series of barks and pointed to dead troopers. Lando grinned. "I was just joking," he smiled at the outraged Wookiee. "Come on, we need to get into the Palace and get that friend of yours out of there."

Chewie woofed his agreement and headed off in the direction of the tallest building.


The Princess slowly became aware of her surroundings - the sound of lightsabers in the background, the sparking of electricity, the crash of loose objects. She opened her eyes and looked up, her eyes drifting the stasis chamber where her mother lay. Leia knew beyond a shadow of a doubt it was Padme Amidala Organa. She had seen her picture, watched the old holovids far too many times not to recognize her. She looked exactly the same as she appeared in the old pictures. Leia struggled to her knees and leaned over to see what was happening at the Throne.

Luke and the redhead called Jade fought a desperate battle, their lightsabers clashing viciously. Although Jade was more experienced, Luke was far stronger in the Force. The two enemies parried and spun, attacked and retreated, neither gaining nor losing ground.

Vader was locked in a battle of his own, using his saber to deflect both the bolts that flew from Palpatine's boney fingers and the objects that both men sent crashing at each other's head. Vader twisted and rolled, barely avoiding a large metal tray that sailed at his neck. On his back, he used his powers to pry an overhead beam loose, and it crashed down. The Emperor dove sideways, not quite avoiding the heavy object. The impact crushed the ribs in his left side and sent him sprawling into the back of Jade's legs. Taken by surprise, the woman went down, her lightsaber flying from her hand.

Vader called Jade's saber to his own hand, and turned to the Emperor who was struggling to rise. "It is over, Palpatine," Vader hissed. "You cannot win. Use your powers one last time, and feel your defeat!"


General Rieekan gave a heavy sigh and went to the comlink to call off the X-Wings. They were simply too outnumbered. It was not the outcome he wanted.

"Sir!" a junior officer called from behind him. "We have incoming ships! Large ones dropping out of hyperspace, directly behind us!"

Star Destroyers! Rieekan thought in horror. Already the rebel capital ships were barely holding their own against the Destroyers that had been orbiting Coruscant when the Rebels attacked. Now that Destroyers were behind them, they were effectively trapped. "How many?" Rieekan asked, not really wanting to hear the answer.

"I am counting sixteen, Sir!"

Sixteen? Rieekan felt his stomach drop. "Sixteen Star Destroyers?"

"No, Sir," his Officer responded. "Ten Naboo Command Vessels and six large vessels with Alderaanian signals!"

Rieekan turned around to face his people, and the bridge crew broke into spontaneous applause. The battle in space began shifting.


Palpatine felt his power slipping away, just as he felt his life signs begin to falter. He watched as Jade backed away from Skywalker, her green eyes flashing in anger. The Emperor looked toward the wall where the stasis chamber lay, and his eyes drifted up. With his last burst of energy he pointed his fingers to the sky, and sent another ornate ceiling beam down. This one went crashing into the tube that held Princess Padme Amidala Organa. The Emperor glared weakly at Vader, "That was using my powers one last time," he snarled and collapsed.

Luke watched in horror as the shaft fell from the ceiling and crashed into the cylinder. A second later he heard Leia's screams of pain and ran toward the source. The fallen beam was huge, at least thirty feet long, five feet wide and made from solid durasteel. When it had hit the ground, the beam had bent and toppled on its side. The cylinder was crushed, and Princess Leia lay on her side, her lower leg pinned beneath the shaft. Luke rushed to his sister's side, and held her as she moaned in pain. "Hold still," Luke said urgently. "We need to get this off your leg."

Vader followed on his son's heels. Using the Force, he lifted the heavy object and threw it aside. Luke quickly put his arm under Leia's shoulders, but Vader was not watching them. His eyes were on the stasis chamber, and crushed body of his beautiful wife. Slowly he stepped forward and gathered her broken body into his arms and lifted her tenderly out. Vader walked several steps away and could go no further. He knelt on the ground and rocking his still wife softly spoke her name, over and over.

"Help me sit up," Leia groaned, her teeth clenched with pain. Luke complied, and carefully eased his sister into a seated position. Her gaze focused on the Dark Lord. "Our mother, Luke," she whispered, fighting tears. "That was our mother."

Luke stared, grief-stricken, at his anguished father. Vader had been so close to his goal, only to see it slip away at the last moment. The plans he had so carefully laid for twenty years had only resulted in the death of the woman he had spent his entire life loving. Padme Amidala Organa was dead, never aware of how close she came to finally knowing her children.


Calrissian and Chewbacca burst into the room moments later, gasping for breath. "We came as fast as we..." Lando trailed off, seeing the destruction. Tears streamed down the Princess's face as a young man knelt beside her, his arm around her waist, his head resting on her shoulder.

Lando and Chewie looked over to the bizarre scene of Darth Vader, weeping inconsolably over the lifeless body of a beautiful woman. Confused, he looked back to the Princess.

"I'll tell you later, Lando," she whispered sadly.

Lando nodded and opened his comlink. "Corran, everything up here has been secured, but we are going to need some help."

Vader placed his wife gently on the ground and removed his cloak. He covered her as he stood up, and turned to face his son. "Luke, give your mother a proper burial. She is royalty." And then he walked past Calrissian and the Wookiee, never once looking back.

Lando watched nervously as the Dark Lord departed. He turned back to the young man. "What happened to the Emperor?"

"He's dead," Luke replied and pointed to the spot where Palpatine had fallen. Only the Emperor's body was no longer there, and neither was Mara Jade.


En route to Alderaan

Ten hours later.

Leia lay in a medical facility on the Alderaan capital ship as it headed back to her home planet. Her damaged leg had been set and inserted into a cast with bone-knitters. Although the bone-knitter stung her leg as it healed, Leia was not thinking about her own pain. She looked through the large window into the next room where her husband lay, still encased in his living carbonite coffin. The doctors had strongly recommended that the Corellian be returned to Alderaan and the better equipped hospital for the unfreezing process, and Leia had agreed. Still, it made her shudder to see the man she loved so still and lifeless. The Princess could not wait to get back to Alderaan.


The ship that was stolen on Alderaan two months ago left Coruscant without being challenged by the Rebel Alliance. So many ships arrived and left daily from the busy planet that it was impossible to check them, and the Alliance was too overwhelmed with clean up operations on the surface to care about the small private ships that came and left constantly.

Lord Vader sat alone in the small ship his fingers hovering indecisively over the controls. Finally he set his course, and the stars blurred into streaks as he pulled the lever.


General Rieekan, at Leia's request, had allowed Skywalker to take an X-Wing on his personal mission. If it had been anyone else, Rieekan would have felt obligated to at least investigate Luke's desertion and the theft of the private ship on Alderaan. For the Princess, however, Rieekan was willing to turn a blind eye. She had suffered enough, and Rieekan knew it was time to move forward and let go of the past.


It had not been easy for Luke to tell his sister he was not coming back to Alderaan with her. Luke knew he had left his training unfinished, and the Force was pulling him back to Dagobah. He had promised his sister he would return to Alderaan as soon as he was able, and it was a promise Luke intended to keep.


The hot sun of Coruscant was the final resting place for the body of Emperor Palpatine. Mara Jade, Emperor's Hand, watched as the tube she sent out from her ship headed toward the gravitational pull of the sun. The temperature outside her ship was dangerously high, and Jade knew she could not stay much longer.

Mara Jade was finally free of her servitude. A grin appeared on her face as an image formed in her mind - that of Empress Jade ruling the galaxy, with the Force strong young Skywalker as the Empress's Hand. He was such a handsome young man, and having him do her bidding would be the ultimate insult to Vader. Mara Jade turned her ship away from the sun and began to make plans for the future.


Alderaan, three days later

The carbonite melted away from the contorted face of Prince Consort Han Solo Organa as Alderaanian doctors hovered anxiously around his bed. For a few heart stopping moments, he did not breathe and the doctors were about to apply measures to revive him. Then he coughed and opened his eyes, sightlessly reaching out. "Where am I?" he gasped, confused and in pain.

"You're on Alderaan," Leia instantly replied as she pushed past the doctors and grabbed his hand. "You're home."

"I can't see," Han said fearfully, his mind struggling to sort out the situation.

"You're suffering hibernation sickness, and your sight will return soon," Leia said soothingly as she stroked his wet forehead.

"Who..who are you?"

He doesn't remember who I am? Leia thought as her heart raced in panic. Please, please remember me, Han "I'm someone who loves you," she whispered as she leaned close to his face.

Despite his aching and nausea, a teasing, lopsided grin appeared on his face. "I know."

Leia gave a shaky laugh. "If you weren't so sick I'd slug you, nerfherder." Then she kissed him, and the tension faded away from her body.

Han put his trembling arms around his wife and thought about what she had said. You're home. Home. After a lifetime of never truly feeling as though he belonged anywhere, he was finally home.


Dagobah

The X-Wing set down in the mists of the humid jungle. Luke departed from his ship and made his was carefully to the small home of Yoda. "Master Yoda?"

"Yoda is no longer with us, Luke," a familiar voice answered from behind him.

Luke spun around in shock. "Ben!"

Obi-Wan Kenobi smiled. "In the flesh."

"I thought my father killed you!"

"Is that what he said?"

Luke thought back to the conversations he had with his father. "No, he never said he killed you. I guess I just assumed he did. Why did you disappear? What happened that day? Where did Master Yoda go?"

"So many questions," Obi-Wan laughed. "I will try to answer them all, but let's have a seat." He waved his hand toward a fallen tree, and Luke sat a distance away from his old mentor, unsure if he should trust him.

Obi-Wan took a deep breath and looked off into the jungle. "Master Yoda died, Luke." Seeing Luke's shocked expression he continued. "Yoda was very old, and his time had come to join with the Force. Do not mourn his passing, for his work was completed."

"His work with me?" Luke questioned. "Or Vader?"

"Both."

"He knew that Vader would someday destroy the Emperor?"

"Yoda remained Vader's friend to ensure that his final destiny would be completed," Kenobi replied. "Your father had to destroy Palpatine and bring order to the galaxy. Sometimes it is necessary to help guide someone along their path."

"And you guided me?" Luke asked. "Did you know I would meet my father?"

"The Force led me to take you to meet your father. You were the final push he needed to do the right thing, to redeem himself for the past."

"What happened that day you met Vader on Alderaan? Did you fight him?"

"For a short while, we fought," Obi-Wan said quietly. "I explained to Vader that I was returning you to him. He needed to understand that you had been hidden not from his father, but from the Emperor. Had Vader found you when you were young, the Emperor would have warped your mind against your own father, and eventually, Palpatine would have ordered you to kill him. He must have believed me, for he turned off his lightsaber and we parted ways. I suspected he would take you to Yoda for training, and I was not wrong."

"I can't believe he just walked away. I thought he hated you, and wanted revenge."

Ben smiled and shook his head. "He hated me, but he hated Bail even more. It was the Prince he wanted to exact revenge upon. I believe his ultimate goal was to someday restore his body, restore the galaxy, and win back Padme's love. Then he would flaunt their love and make Prince Organa feel the same jealousy and helplessness Vader felt when Padme married the Prince."

"Would it have worked?" Luke asked the Jedi. "Would Mother have returned to him willingly?"

Obi-Wan stared off into the distance. "It's so hard to say, Luke. I know she loved him deeply, once. Could he have won her heart back? Perhaps if she knew he had turned away from the Darkside, she would have loved him again. But revenge is of the Darkside, and it would have taken a serious change of heart to convince Padme to return to him."

All of this backstabbing and drawn-out revenge plans made Luke's head spin. "Now what?" he asked softly. "Am I a Jedi? Or a Sith?"

"You are a Jedi, Luke," Obi-Wan said firmly. "Just like your father was before you. I will help you complete your training, if you want me to, with one condition."

"I do want you to finish my training, Ben," Luke said quickly. "On what... condition?"

Obi-Wan gave a broad smile. "That we complete your training on Alderaan. Yoda may have liked it here, but I would much prefer some comforts in my old age."


Epilogue

Naboo, six weeks later.

The somber and elaborate funeral of Princess Consort Padme Amidala Organa was broadcast by the holonews throughout the galaxy. The citizens of Naboo mourned the noble woman that had served her people so unselfishly. They lined the streets as the funeral procession passed, and laid flowers at the gates of the Palace where she once ruled as Queen.

The grand old cathedral was filled with dignitaries from Naboo, Alderaan, and the New Republic. They had all come to pay their last respects to the brave Princess Padme.

Luke Skywalker stared at the floor, rubbing his hands together and swallowing the lump that kept forming in his throat. He kept thinking how close he had come to meeting his mother. Now she was gone forever, and apparently so was his father. Luke could not help but wonder where his father had gone, and why he had not said goodbye to his only son. After all they had been through, Luke could not understand why his father would simply desert him.

Unable to keep the tears from coursing down her cheeks, Leia took comfort in holding her husband's hand. She barely heard the ceremony, and her mind kept drifting back to the Throne Room. Perhaps if I had moved the stasis chamber, she would not have died, she kept telling herself. She felt Han give her fingers a gentle squeeze and looked up at him. The past six weeks had been difficult. Han woke frequently to terrible nightmares, and sleep had not come easily for either of them. If we had gone somewhere else besides Bespin, the terrible tortures he experienced would not have happened. Leia blinked back the tears and looked back at the Priest.

Han was aware of Leia's self-recriminations, and knew it would take time for the Princess to stop blaming herself and accept the fact she could not have prevented these tragedies. He would support his wife, and be there for her - a shoulder to cry on for however long she needed. Just as she was there holding him when he woke up in the middle of the night, beset by nightmares from the carbonite. As he listened to the Naboo Priest speaking of Padme Amidala Organa, Han knew he fully intended to spend a very, very long time married to his Princess.

Prince Bail Organa sat in the front row, between Luke Skywalker and his daughter, Princess Leia. Bail stared stoically ahead during the ceremony, refusing to show any emotion before the hundreds of holocams. His memories drifted back to the many nights Padme spent crying for Anakin Skywalker, and the son she never knew. Bail had always lived with the fear she would return to Skywalker's side - such an act on Padme's part would have caused a major scandal in the Royal House of Alderaan. Although Prince Bail Organa told Leia that he and Padme had fallen in love after they married, it was a lie told to ease Leia's shock. From the very beginning, their marriage had been a business deal - he would give Padme protection from her Dark Side husband, and she would give him a child. To outward appearances, they had been a couple in love, and Padme had lived up to her end of the bargain. The Princess Consort had given Prince Bail Organa an heir to his throne. And even more importantly, now only Obi-Wan Kenobi and Prince Bail Organa knew the true story about the little baby girl -Princess Leia Organa.


Tatooine

On the other side of the galaxy, the patrons of a dusty bar watched a holoscreen in silence, all eyes fixed on the somber ceremony. Somehow, even this normally rowdy crowd was affected by the funeral of the beautiful woman.

As the funeral came to a close with a haunting Naboo song sung by a choir, no one noticed the young man with short blond hair sitting at the back corner table. I loved you, Padme, he thought sadly. And maybe I can still prove myself to you. Maybe, someday, I can still make you proud of me. A single tear fell from the man's sky blue eyes and dropped to the dirty table, mingling with the sand of Tatooine.

THE END