Set sometime during the YJK time-frame
"Han, I have an idea."
Normally, those words coming from his wife's mouth wouldn't bother Han too much, but this time it was different. Maybe it was her tone, or the way she looked so serious when she spoke. In any case, Han became a bit worried. "This idea doesn't have anything to do with me, does it?"
Leia put her hands on her hips, glaring up at her husband. Another bad sign. "We don't spend enough time with our children," she declared firmly.
Putting on his best 'innocent' look, Han put his hand against his chest. "That's not my fault!"
"Is that your favorite expression?"
"But this time it's the truth. I never wanted to send them away to Yavin."
"Do you want to hear my idea, or not?" Leia demanded.
Han knew better than to answer that question honestly. "Sure."
"The kids are coming home in a few days, and I have tickets to the ballet - "
"The ballet?" Han interrupted with a squeak. "I hate the ballet. It oughta be illegal for guys to wear tights, especially in public. You'd think they'd be embarrassed showing off their attributes like that. Some things are best left for the imagination. Not that I ever imagine guys wearin' tights, mind you."
"I know you hate the ballet," Leia said impatiently. "I also have concert tickets to the Screaming X-Wings."
"You're kidding, right? The Screaming X-Wings are nothing but racket. I can't believe what kids call music these days..."
"Han. Shut up."
"Fine, but I'm gonna need to stock up on a lot of headache medicine if you expect me to go to a ballet and a noise-fest."
Leia gritted her teeth, trying to stay calm. "I'm taking Jaina to the ballet, and the concert. I also plan on a few days at a beauty spa, and maybe some heavy-duty shopping. You know... girl stuff."
Up until this moment, Han had thought the old saying, 'going weak in the knees with relief' was only an expression. "So this doesn't involve me?" He grinned widely. "Thanks, sweetheart. I hope you an' Jaina have lots of fun." He frowned when Leia's hands went back to her hips. "Now what did I say?"
"The boys are coming home, too, nerfherder."
"I'm not sure they'd like a day at the beauty spa. Well, maybe Jacen might, but - "
"I want you to spend time with your sons, just like I'm going to spend time with Jaina."
"Because," Leia ground out, annoyed, "they're your sons. If you don't spend time getting to know them now, it will be too late. They'll be all grown up and married, and we'll never have this opportunity again."
"So you want me to take them to the Screaming X-Wings concert," Han said with a sigh. "I suppose I can put in ear-plugs."
"I told you I'm taking Jaina to that concert," Leia said, her fingers twitching as she unconsciously desired to throttle her husband.
"So where am I supposed to take them?"
Han pursed his mouth in thought. "A holo-show?"
"You're going to have to fill up an entire week, not just two time-parts."
"A week?" Han asked, aghast.
"Yes, a week."
"How about an amusement park?"
"You want to spend an entire week at an amusement park?" Leia asked dubiously. "And don't forget... Jacen hates amusement parks."
"Ah, that's right. That kid's not normal."
"Sorry. What do you suggest?"
Leia thought for a few moments. "How about camping?"
"That's usually where camping takes place," she said dryly.
"But I hate outside," Han grumbled. "It's either too hot, or too cold, or it's raining, or snowing..."
"Hoth had snow, and I had to camp outside there," Han pointed out.
"That was your choice."
"So you're saying I shouldn't have gone out and rescued Luke... who turned out to be your long-lost brother?"
"Jacen loves the outdoors, and camping will give you lots of time to bond with the boys." Leia pulled a charge card out from her carry-satchel. "Here... go buy camping gear."
"What about Anakin?" Han asked, reluctantly taking the card from his wife. "Maybe he doesn't like camping."
"Anakin will have fun. You'll all have fun," Leia insisted firmly. "Now, do as I say and go shopping."
Defeated, Han's shoulders slumped. "Shopping. The fun has already begun."
Five time-parts later Han and Chewie entered the Solo apartment, exhausted and laden with heavy packages. The three Solo children had already arrived from Yavin, and were sitting on the sofa looking glum. Luke Skywalker sat in a chair facing the children, and it appeared to Han that the Jedi Master was still in his 'teacher' mode.
"Hey, you're already home," Han said to Luke, stating the obvious.
"Hello, Han," Luke replied.
"Dad, tell Mom I hate clothes shopping and I hate the ballet, too," Jaina put in quickly. "I'd rather go camping with you."
"I'd rather go to the ballet," Jacen remarked, ignoring his father's groan of disgust. "It sounds interesting."
"It sounds boring," Anakin said. "How come you didn't get tickets for all of us to go see the Screaming X-Wings?"
"I hate the Screaming X-Wings," Jacen said.
"Jedi do not hate," Luke lectured calmly as Leia came into the room and approached the pile of packages.
"Did you get all the right camping gear?" Leia asked, poking around in the bags and boxes.
"I bought everything the guy at the store told me I needed," Han informed his wife proudly. "The best of the best. The sleeping bags are rated to temperatures minus 25 degrees." The Corellian grinned at his brother-in-law. "We coulda used those on Hoth."
"Where, exactly, are you planning on forcing us to go camping?" Jacen asked warily.
"I thought I'd leave that up to you kids."
*You could camp on Kashyyyk,* Chewie suggested.
"Kashyyyk sounds great," Anakin said, thinking about all the possibilities to get into trouble.
"The surface of Kashyyyk is too dangerous," Leia said. "Think of somewhere else."
"I vote for Naboo, at the Luxury View Waterfall Inn," Jacen said hurriedly.
"Sounds good to me," Han agreed.
"That's a hotel," Leia snapped out at her husband and elder son. "You three are going camping so you can bond."
"Why can't we bond while sleeping in comfort and eating good food?" Jacen wanted to know. "You and Jaina aren't going to be roughing it."
"Jacen," Luke warned. "You'll listen to your mother. She wants you to go camping, so you'll go camping."
"Are you coming with us, Uncle Luke?" Anakin wanted to know.
"No. This trip is strictly the three Solo men."
"Yup," Han agreed. "Your mother wants us to suffer, so we'll put on brave faces and go suffer."
"HAN!" Leia yelled.
*Have fun, Han. Don't do anything stupid,* Chewie woofed as he headed for the exit.
"Sure," Han grumbled under his breath. "He tells me not to do anything stupid after he lets me get married and have kids."
"What was that, Han?" Leia questioned loudly.
The Wookiee knew he should feel guilty for leaving Han on his own, since his life-debt dictated he should protect the Corellian from even Leia's best intentions, but he had to admit he was feeling a bit of relief he wasn't expected to accompany the small group. Hopefully, nothing too bad would happen in a week.
A few time-parts later all the camping gear had been loaded into the holds of the Millennium Falcon. Han closed the last hatch, and turned toward his wife. "Well, this is it, sweetheart. It's been nice knowin' ya."
"Why are you acting like this is the end of the galaxy?" Leia asked. "You'll have fun if you just give it a chance."
"MOM!" Anakin yelled from the galley. "Jacen's using the Force to trip me!"
"Tattle tail," Jacen shouted.
"Jacen... don't make me come in there," Leia said in a loud warning voice. Then she smiled at her husband, and gave him a quick kiss. "Have fun. I'll see you in one week."
As she left the ship and another loud crash came from the hold, Han muttered, "I have a bad feeling about this....."
On the Falcon.....
"Are we there yet?" Anakin asked in a loud voice for the tenth time in the past time-part.
Han gritted his teeth, and answered in what he thought sounded like a very patient tone. "No."
"Where are we going, anyway?" Jacen asked as he stood up from the gameboard.
"Uh.... well," Han said, frowning. "I thought Naboo sounded as good as anywhere, so that's where I programmed the jump into the navicomputer."
"You mean we are staying at the Luxury View Waterfall Inn?" Jacen asked, grinning happily. "Mom is going to be really annoyed at you when she finds out."
"We're camping on Naboo," Han said, not voicing the small idea that perhaps, if this camping thing didn't work out, the Luxury View Waterfall Inn sounded like a good backup plan. Especially if they were already in the general vicinity.
Anakin yawned loudly. "I'm bored."
"Play another game with your brother," Han suggested.
"I'm not playing with Jacen anymore," Anakin grumbled. "He cheats."
"I do not cheat!"
"BOYS!" Han inserted in his best 'father' voice. "Why don't you find something else to do then?"
"Can we practice with our lightsabers?" Jacen asked hopefully.
Han groaned. "No. Your mother will never forgive me if I bring you home minus a few limbs."
"We won't cut anything off," cajoled Jacen. "I've never hurt anyone with my lightsaber."
"Liar!" Anakin yelled, standing up and pointing at his older brother. "What about Tenel Ka?"
"That was an accident," Jacen said hotly.
"So you say."
"DAD! Anakin is calling me a cheat AND a liar."
Han rubbed his temples, feeling a headache coming on. "Anakin, quit callin' your brother names." He watched as Jacen stormed out of the hold in anger.
"I think Jacen is going to be a Sith when he grows up," Anakin declared, nodding in the direction his brother had gone.
"Well, if he does go all darkside, you'd better find a good place to hide 'cuz he'll be coming after you first," Han muttered.
"I'm telling Mom you said that," Anakin said, running out of the small room.
Han found the headache medicine, and downed a rather large dose.
Meanwhile, back on Coruscant......
Jaina tugged at her long gown, trying to hide the lip gloss stain on the waist before her mother saw the damage, but it was too late.
"What's that orange mark?"
"What orange mark?" Jaina asked, eyes wide.
Leia moved toward her daughter, pulling the belt aside. "That orange mark." She touched it with her newly manicured fingertip. "It's lip gloss."
"I dropped the stupid tube, okay? It was an accident," Jaina grumbled. "I look stupid wearing an evening gown and wearing makeup. I'm sure glad Zekk can't see me now."
"Zekk would think you look beautiful," Leia said firmly as she got a washcloth to clean up the offending mark. "I think you look beautiful."
"I hate dressing up. I wish I could have gone camping with Dad instead."
"This is our time to be together, Jaina," Leia told her daughter. "We'll have lots of fun. I promise."
"Since when is the ballet considered fun?"
"Since I have tickets," Leia returned evenly. "Now stop complaining. You sound like your father."
"I'll bet Dad is happy he doesn't have to go to the ballet."
"I'm sure he is."
"Next time I get to go camping, and Jacen and Anakin get to go to the boring old ballet."
"Next time," Leia promised.
On the Falcon......
Anakin peered down in the dark smuggling hold, squinting through the gloom at his quiet brother. "Are they still alive?"
"Of course they're still alive," Jacen replied, his voice echoing up through the small chamber. "I wouldn't have brought them with me if I couldn't keep them healthy."
"Are you feeding them?"
"Yes. Shut up. They don't like noisy little brothers."
"They're just dumb snakes," Anakin objected. "They don't have feelings."
Jacen stuck his head out of the floor. "Sure they do. Everything has feelings." He paused a moment, then added, "Except you." Then he disappeared under the floor again.
"I do too have feelings. I'm coming down there," Anakin said.
Anakin shrugged and jumped feet first down into the hold. A large thud sounded as his toes connected with a box. "What was that?"
"The snakes!" Jacen screeched out. "You just kicked over their cage, and now all the snakes are loose."
"Dad's gonna kill you," Anakin informed his brother.
"ME? You're the one that kicked the cage over!"
"But you're the one that brought them onboard without his permission to start with," Anakin pointed out. "So he'll be madder at you than me."
Furious, Jacen grabbed Anakin's collar. "Help me find those snakes. Now... before Dad finds out."
"How?" Anakin asked curiously. "They're invisible."
"Use the Force to sense them."
"How many did you bring?"
"Only eleven.... or twelve."
Anakin looked at his brother in shock. "We have to find twelve invisible snakes... before Dad finds out?" A loud scream sounded from the cockpit, and Anakin grinned at a stunned Jacen. "Too late."
Leia looked over at her squirming off-spring. "Quit fussing," she whispered as the lights started to dim. "It hasn't even started yet."
"Don't remind me," Jaina groused. "This dress is so uncomfortable, and my feet hurt." She twisted around in her seat, scanning the audience before the room went completely dark. "I think I see Tenel Ka and her mom sitting three rows behind us. What are they doing here?"
"It is a Hapan ballet, so that's probably the reason."
"Poor Tenel. I'll bet she's just as miserable as I am."
The former Princess suppressed a sigh. Maybe she should have sent Jaina with Han and the boys, since the girl was far more like Han than Leia, at least in attitude if not in looks. The loudspeaker boomed out...."The Royal Hapan Ballet Society is proud to present the most beloved and galaxy-renowned holiday ballet, 'The Figgy Sticker Suite', with a surprise special guest star for tonight's performance only!"
Jaina leaned toward her mother. "Who's this special guest?"
"I don't know," Leia said softly so as not to annoy the people sitting around them. "That's why it's called a surprise."
"Funny," Jania mutttered. "Figgy Sticker Suite. What a dumb name."
"Quiet!" hissed a lady who was seated directly behind Leia.
Jaina turned around and glared at the elderly lady, only to have her mother give her a sharp elbow in the ribcage. Then the curtain rose and music boomed forth. Ten dancers on tippy-toes wearing fluffy green hats and brown tights came onstage, twirling around in the spotlight. Then a tall, handsome man in a white and gold uniform strode onstage, and the actors dressed up like figgies gave a deep bow. Wild applause broke out from the audience, and the man gave a wave before starting to sing a sad song about a little figgy that had gone missing from Figgyland in a perfect, deep voice.
"Oh, my," Leia gasped, her eyes never leaving the stage.
"Mom... isn't that Prince Isolder?"
"Yes.... yes, it is."
"You're in trouble, you know," Jaina said, smirking.
Leia turned in her seat to face Jaina. "Why?"
"Dad's gonna be real mad when he finds out you went to a ballet to watch your old boyfriend sing."
"Isolder was never my boyfriend!"
"Dad's not going to buy that."
"Your father is NOT going to find out about this!"
"If you two don't shut up, I'm going to call the usher," the lady behind them snapped out. Since the room was completely dark, she had no idea she was threatening the Chief of State. "Then you both will get kicked out."
Jaina sighed and slumped down in her seat. "Don't make promises you can't keep."
On the Falcon
Anakin and Jacen rushed to the cockpit, and saw their father leaping madly around like his feet were on fire. "Something's crawlin' up inside my pant leg!" Han bellowed out. His belt was already unfastened, and he yanked down his pants, desperately trying to pull the material past his boots.
"Stop jumping," Jacen yelled back. "You'll make the snake upset."
"SNAKE?" Han looked around, his eyes wild. "I don't see a snake!"
"I'll bet you can feel it," Anakin said, trying not to snicker. Laughing would only make his father even more upset.
"You can't see crystal snakes too well," Jacen informed Han. "They're nearly transparent."
"Get it off me!"
"ARGHHH!" Han screamed out, clutching his inner thigh as pain coursed through his leg. "It BIT ME! I'm gonna die...."
"The bite of a crystal snake isn't fatal - " Jacen started to say before Han thudded, unconscious, to the floor.
Anakin started to get worried. "Dad?" He turned and looked accusingly at his older brother. "You just said crystal snakes can't kill people. I think Dad is dead, and it's all your fault."
Jacen reached down, snatching the nearly invisible snake behind the head. "I've got you!"
Dropping to his knees, Anakin tried to feel for his father's pulse, and said in a quivering voice, "I think Mom's gonna be really mad at you for killing Dad."
"He's not dead," Jacen told Anakin in an annoyed tone. "He'll just sleep for about an hour and then he'll be fine. Let's catch the rest of the snakes before he wakes up. I'd hate to have another one bite him."
The younger boy shook his head ruefully. "You'd think he'd have gotten bit by a snake after we started camping - not before."
Just then, the navicomputer gave a warning buzz, and the boys exchanged worried looks. "What's that noise?" Jacen questioned, then noticed all the flashing lights. "Why are all these lights blinking?"
"We're about to come out of hyperspace. And Dad's not going to wake up in time to fly the ship."
"Oh, that's just great," Jacen muttered, still holding the annoyed, thrashing serpent. "Where's Jaina when we need her?"
The 'Figgy Sticker Suite' went on and on... until Jaina thought her brain was going to explode with boredom. Her eyes were fixed upward, on the dark ceiling high above, when she felt a sharp sting on her right ear. Annoyed, she slapped at what she assumed was an insect, but a second later she felt another sting, this time on her wrist. Jaina twisted around in her seat, prepared to berate the lady sitting behind her, when she noticed Tenel Ka quickly moving her arm down.
"Jaina," Leia hissed out of the side of her mouth. "Would you sit still?"
The girl opened her mouth to protest, then felt another strike - this time in the back of her head - and spun around in her seat fast enough to see Tenel Ka lowering what looked like a small tube-like device.
"Jaina!" Leia admonished, not quite as softly. "What are you doing?"
"Tenel Ka's shooting spit wads at me."
"Just ignore her."
"I can't," Jaina argued. "It's disgusting."
"That's it!" the lady behind them declared loudly. "I'm calling the usher."
Leia turned around in her chair. "You can't do that. I'm the Chief of State."
The older woman gave a shocked gasp. "I didn't know... I'm sorry."
"You'd better be," Jaina huffed back. "My mom can have you thrown in a dungeon.... or even executed."
"Jaina!" Leia chastised her daughter. "I do not have people executed."
The girl swatted at her nose. "There's another spit wad!" Jaina stood up, facing her smug-looking foe. "Tenel Ka... you'd better quit shooting me."
A few rows over, someone spoke loudly, "Shooting? Someone is shooting in here?" A loud murmur went up from the audience, drowning out the perky figgies singing onstage. Another voice could be heard saying, "I think someone is trying to assassinate the President!"
"No," Leia said loudly, standing up beside her child. "That's not what's happening...."
"She just shot me again!" Jaina screeched out, lunging toward the Hapan girl.
Pandemonium broke out as ballet patrons lurched toward the aisles, trying to escape the deranged 'assassin.'
On the Millennium Falcon
Anakin pushed Jacen aside just as the older boy was about to sit in the pilot's chair. "I'm a better pilot than you are, so I'm landing the ship."
"But I'm older!"
"What's that got to do with anything?" Anakin shot back.
"I have more flying experience," Jacen tried arguing back, knowing in his heart that Anakin was probably right - the younger boy was a better pilot. But that fact galled Jacen, and he wasn't about to admit it. "Dad would want me to fly his ship."
"He'd want Jaina, actually," Anakin pointed out correctly. "But since this is all your fault, I get to land."
"You're the one that knocked the cage over," Jacen said hotly. "I told you not to come down in the smuggling hold."
"That wasn't nearly as bad as bringing the snakes onboard in the first place," Anakin snapped. "You go find your dumb snakes, and let me save our skins."
"I need to fly co-pilot," Jacen insisted. "The snakes can wait."
"What if they bite us before we can land? Then we'll all die in a big fiery crash, because we'll all be sleeping."
"They won't bite us," Jacen said calmly. "They're my pets."
"Only you would be strange enough to keep invisible snakes as pets," Anakin complained as he tentatively started pushing buttons on the control panel. He smiled when the panel lights stopped flashing, and the stars came into focus. "Piece of ryshcate!" No sooner had the words left his mouth, when the ship bucked wildly, and screaming alarms filled the interior of the ship.
"What did you do?" Jacen demanded, holding the chair's arm rests with a deathgrip.
"I think I pushed the wrong button!"
"No... you think?" Jacen said sarcastically. The boys watched in horror as the peaceful planet of Naboo grew larger and larger at an alarming rate. "Do something!"
Anakin grabbed the yoke and gave it a hard jerk to the left. The planet still kept approaching, but now the Falcon was spinning around in a tight corkscrew.
"AHHH!" Jacen screamed. "Wake up, Dad!"
"It's not my fault!" Anakin yelled to his brother.
"Watch out, Mom!" Jaina yelled, grabbing her mother by the arm and pulling her clear of the mob of frightened figgies as they fled the stage.
"Princess Leia!" a deep voice shouted from behind the stage curtain. "Come this way.... it's safer."
"That's Isolder," Leia told her daughter. "Let's go."
Jaina looked up at the stage as she was hustled along. "Why doesn't he go rescue his wife and daughter? I thought he was a big Hapan hero. Some hero... hiding behind a curtain."
"He is a hero," Leia said defensively, climbing the stairs and scanning the crowd. "I don't see Tenel Ka or her mother anywhere."
"The Hapan guards have already moved them to safety," Isolder said, stepping out from the stage backdrop and bowing. "It's always a pleasure to see you again, Leia."
"Thank you," Leia replied, trying not to blush in front of Jaina. "It's nice seeing you, too, Isolder. I never knew you could sing so beautifully."
"There are many things about me you don't know," Isolder said with mock sadness and a suggestive wink.
"Oh, gag," Jaina muttered.
Leia glared at Jaina. "Jaina, please mind your manners."
"She can hardly help her manners... considering," Isolder said softly.
Now Leia turned her icy gaze on the Prince. "I beg your pardon?"
"Well, her father is a ruffian...."
"Don't you insult my father," Jaina warned the tall man. "He doesn't wear ruffles and hide behind curtains."
"That's not what ruffian means...."
"And your daughter started that riot out there by shooting spit wads at Jaina," Leia snapped out. "What do you say about that?"
Isolder shrugged. "Tenel Ka is far more Dathomirian than Hapan, unfortunately."
That was all Jaina could take... she dove low, and tackled the smug prince below his knees, determined to beat him senseless. She heard Isolder's head give a resounding crack on the shiny floor, and her mother shouting at her to behave. Then several Hapan guards pulled her up off the floor and away from her target. The Prince lay still, his eyes glazed over and his mouth hanging open.
"I think you killed him," one of the guards holding her said in shock.
Millennium Falcon over Naboo
"We're all gonna die!" Jacen yelled, covering up his eyes at the rapidly approaching planet. "I'm getting dizzy."
"Use the Force - " Anakin started to say through clenched teeth.
"I can't use the Force to land the ship," Jacen interrupted. "I'm not that good... yet."
"Use the Force to hold Dad in place so he doesn't get hurt," Anakin snapped out. "Let me concentrate." The younger boy struggled with the controls, bringing up the shields in time for re-entry into the atmosphere, and finally, leveling out the ship. Still, it bucked and swayed as it tore through the protective layer of Naboo, the viewport showing the burning red heat. Then the red haze disappeared and the blue and green planet reappeared.
"You're going too fast," Jacen warned, looking worriedly out of the cockpit window.
"I'm trying to slow down, but I think something's broken."
"If you don't figure out how to fix it, we're all going to be broken... into a million pieces."
"At least I won't have to listen to your whining anymore."
"I don't whine," Jacen whined. "Now I'll never get to marry Tenel Ka."
Anakin pulled back on the yoke, surprised when the ship responded somewhat. "Why would the future Queen of Hapes want to marry a whiney bug kisser like you?"
"Mom was a princess, and she married Dad."
Anakin spared his brother a quick glance. "Dad's wiz. You're just a buck-toothed nerf lamer."
Jacen would have argued, but he was distracted by the fast approaching treetops. "Ack! We're gonna crash!"
Anakin couldn't disagree with that assessment, and the Falcon smashed down, leaving a smoking path of forest debris in its wake.
Leia rushed over to the fallen Prince, placing her fingers against his neck. "He's breathing."
"Dad'll be so disappointed," Jaina mumbled under her breath, which earned her a disapproving stare from her mother.
The bejeweled prince moaned, and opened his eyes, staring up at Leia. "My angel..."
"Excuse me?" a woman's voice said from behind Leia. "Did you just call President Organa-Solo your angel?"
Leia recognized that voice, and twisted around to look up at a very annoyed Hapan Queen. "Hello, Teneniel."
Isolder pushed himself up, his face concerned. "No, my dearest of heart. I thought I was looking at you. It was the blow to my head that confused me so."
"I don't look anything like Princess Leia," Teneniel said, irritated.
"The stage lights blinded me."
Teneniel frowned at her nervous husband. "Sometimes, I wonder why I married you."
"Jaina Solo attacked me," Isolder said, trying to deflect the wrath of his wife. "You should do something about that."
Jaina turned toward her friend, Tenel Ka. "Mom's taking me to a spa tomorrow. Do you and your mom want to come with us?"
"A spa?" Tenel Ka asked dubiously.
"Yeah... I think they'll have hot mud packs. Right, Mom?"
"Uh... they might," Leia said, suddenly worried about Jaina and Tenel Ka at a spa with mud. It sounded like a bad combination.
"We would love to go to this spa with you tomorrow," the Hapan Queen said happily, accepting the spur-of-the-moment invitation.
On the surface of Naboo
Anakin finished his inspection of the outside hull of his father's precious ship. Somehow, either through inherited 'luck' or the Force, he'd managed to land the ship upright. The ship had suffered bent landing struts, a mangled dish antenna, lots of new dents and scratches, and a big gash in a coolant line, but the boy was relieved that everything appeared fixable. He turned around in time to see Jacen poke his head out of the open door at the top of the ship's ramp. "Is Dad awake yet?"
"He's starting to come around," Jacen replied. "I caught all the crystal snakes and they're back in their box." He looked around the exterior of the Falcon. "How much damage?"
"A lot, but nothing that can't be repaired."
"And we're still alive, amazingly enough."
"I'm a good pilot," Anakin groused, then noticed his father stumbling past Jacen and down the ramp. "How are you feeling, Dad?"
Han put his hand on his forehead, blinking hard. "Wha....what happened?"
"Well, first Jacen snuck his snakes onboard..."
"SNAKES?" Han looked around at the ground, suddenly remembering painful fangs. "I hate snakes!"
"And then Anakin tipped the box over and let them all loose," Jacen quickly inserted.
"Then one slithered up your pant leg and bit you," Anakin continued, glaring at Jacen as Han looked down at his legs and noticed he wasn't wearing his pants.
Jacen grinned nervously, and said, "The bite of a crystal snake only makes you sleep for about an hour. Isn't that lucky, huh, Dad?"
Han slowly surveyed his ship, his eyes narrowing at all the new dents and dings. "Who landed my ship? I thought you boys knew how to fly, but I guess I was wrong. Look at all this damage you caused. You'd better be ready to spend the next two weeks fixing this, 'cuz there's no way me and Chewie are gonna do all this work ourselves."
"Anakin landed it," Jacen said, pointing at his brother. "You can blame him for all this damage. I know I do."
"I did the best I could!" Anakin shot back hotly. "All you did was sit in the co-pilot's seat and scream."
"That sounds like the truth," Han muttered, still fuming over the damage as he inspected the dripping coolant line.
"Dad!" Jacen whined. "That's not fair. I was using the Force to keep you from crashing around the cockpit. The way Anakin was flying, you would've ended up squashed like a bug on a viewport."
Han gave a tired sigh. "I'll go send a message to Chewie to bring the parts we need to fix the ship, and then we'll get the camping gear out of the containers."
The boys looked startled. "We're still camping?"
"Why not?" Han asked. "We're already here, and I spent a lot of credits on all that gear. 'Sides, we can't go anywhere for a while, and I'll never hear the end of it from your mother if we don't camp. So we're camping."
"Can I bring my snakes?"
Anakin snickered. "I'm sure they'll be plenty of native Naboo snakes around for you to play with, Jacen."
Although that comment caused distress to appear on Han's face, it cheered Jacen right up. "You're right, brother. And spiders, too."
Coruscant, the next morning at an expensive spa
"It seems very strange to me that people would pay credits to have mud smeared on their bodies," Teneniel commented as a spa 'therapist' spread warm goo on her body.
"I think it feels wonderful," Leia said, moaning in contentment.
"It's slimy and it stinks," Jaina complained loudly.
"HOT, HOT!" Tenel Ka shouted, grabbing and twisting the arm of the large-eyed humanoid hovering over her cot and applying a thick layer of glop. "TOO HOT!"
"It is supposed to be warm," the Sullustan protested.
"But it's not warm... it's HOT!"
"The temperature is very regulated," the spa employee said firmly. "It's warm."
Tenel Ka called her lightsaber to her hand, and ignited the blade. "I said it's too hot!"
The Sullustan backed away, fingers dripping. "I will turn the temperature controls down."
"Good idea," the girl snapped back, watching the humanoid hurry away before turning off her lightsaber.
"I'm not sure Master Luke would approve of that, Tenel Ka," Jaina said, giggling.
"Master Luke isn't here." A large handful of mud hit the Hapan girl on her cheek. "HEY!"
"That's payback for the spit wads last night," Jaina said, laughing.
"Jaina," Leia warned. "You apologize to Tenel."
"Only if she apologizes first," Jaina argued.
"Tenel Ka, you tell Jaina you're sorry about the spit wads," Teneniel ordered her child.
Tenel Ka turned her face to Jaina, and away from her mother. "I'm sooo sorry, Jaina," she said, then stuck out her tongue to her friend.
"You're not really sorry," Jaina replied, throwing another ball of mud.
"JAINA!" Leia yelled out. "Stop that this instant!" A ball of muck hit Leia squarely in the face, and Leia turned in astonishment toward her assailant - Teneniel Djo. "Teneniel?"
The Queen Mother gave a wicked grin as she threw another blob. "That's for flirting with my husband."
"I did not flirt with Isolder," Leia objected, returning fire with her own ball of mud. "He's not my type."
Teneniel tried ducking out of the way, but failed to move fast enough to avoid the impact. "That's true... Isolder is way too classy."
"Are you saying my dad doesn't have class?" Jaina yelled, chucking a piece at the Queen.
"Your dad is a scoundrel, and mine is a prince," the Queen said with a laugh, launching a return volley.
"The Prince of a Really Boring Ballet," Jaina mumbled, diving away from Tenel Ka.
The therapist reentered the room after turning down the heat controls for the mud, and looked around at the mess in shock. "Ladies!" the therapist objected. "This is totally unacceptable behavior. This is a high class establi - "
All four of the human females pounded the poor, confused Sullustan with hot mud until he ran screaming from the room, and this time he had no intention of returning.
Han wiped sweat from his forehead, then threw down the heavy backpack he was carrying. A rippling lake glinted in the distance, and tall mountains framed the green valley. Even the jaded Corellian had to admit the scenery was very pretty. "We've hiked far enough. We'll put up the tents here."
"Can we go swimming in that lake?" Anakin questioned.
"Uh...." Han said, trying to think of a reason why they shouldn't. "Maybe the lake is polluted."
"It has lots of happy fish," Jacen said. "If it were polluted, it wouldn't feel so alive."
"The lake feels alive? Well, that's a good enough reason to stay out of it, then," Han said firmly. "The fish are probably dangerous."
"Not the ones close to shore, where it's shallow," Jacen insisted. "The dangerous ones live way down deep."
"They could come up and eat us," Han replied. "No swimming."
"I'll tell them not to."
The Corellian sighed. "You don't speak fish."
"We could catch some dinner with the fishing poles Dad bought," Anakin suggested.
Jacen appeared shocked at the idea. "What? You want to catch them and eat them? We can't do that!"
"Why not?" Han asked, getting annoyed. Fishing seemed like a fairly safe way to pass some time, if a bit boring.
"They have feelings! They'll feel the pain of the hook, and then we'll have to KILL them! Those fish have families, too, you know."
"Big fish eat little fish all the time," Anakin said, rolling his eyes. "If they can eat each other, there's no reason we can't eat them."
"I won't do it," Jacen said, folding his arms stubbornly across his chest.
"So you plan on eating ration bars for this entire vacation?" Han asked his elder son.
"Nothing died in the making a ration bar."
"I'll bet there are all sorts of bugs squashed up inside the ration bar grain," Anakin said with a wicked grin. "And technically, plants are alive before they're picked, too."
Jacen opened and closed his mouth a few times, trying to formulate a response. "I'll just drink water, then."
"What about those poor, little microbes in the water?"
"DAD!" Jacen yelled. "Anakin's being mean to me!"
"All right," Han snapped out. "We're pitching the tent, and then we're going fishing. This means you, too, Jace."
"That's not fair!"
"Tough," Han grumbled as he unfolded the heavy tent. "I didn't want to go camping, but here I am... camping. Life's not fair, so just get used to it." As he turned his back, he missed the triumphant look Anakin shot at his brother, and the look of anger that flashed across Jacen's face.
The Chief of State tried to remember the last time she'd been lectured for misbehaving. If she recalled correctly, she'd been about Jaina's age, and it was probably her aunts giving her the 'you're a princess, so you'd better act like one' speech. Forcing an expression of remorse that she didn't feel on her face, she told the spa's security officer, "I'm terribly sorry, Officer Yackl. If we caused any damage, I'll certainly pay for it."
"Nonsense," Teneniel told Leia. "It was my fault.... I will pay."
"Jaina started it," Leia said.
"That's a fact," Tenel Ka agreed, trying not to laugh.
"You started the riot last night," Jaina informed her friend.
"I did not!"
"Who started a riot?" Officer Yackl said, shocked.
"Why don't we split the expense, then?" Leia suggested, hoping Yackl wouldn't pursue the riot comment.
The officer shook his head. "Ladies, since there was no actual damage to the room - "
"Then why did we just spend the last half time-part listening to you complain?" Jaina groused.
"Causing a public disturbance is a civil infraction," the man replied, wagging his forefinger at Jaina. "I could fine you one hundred credits per person."
Jaina snorted. "Big wookiee-cookie."
"Fine, then," Yackl sniffed. "Just for that type of attitude, I will fine you four hundred credits. I must say, however, I'm completely and utterly shocked that the New Republic Chief of State and the Queen of Hapes would behave in such a....a ...."
"Unladylike manner?" Tenel Ka supplied helpfully as her mother glared at her and the officer nodded in agreement.
Annoyed at her daughter, Leia pulled out her credit chip and transferred the amount to the local Coruscant municipality. "There you are. I hope this puts an end to the matter."
"Of course, Madam President."
The two women and their daughters left the room, and once the door shut, Officer Yackl grinned and reached for his comlink. "I need the communication code for the 'Intergalactic Inquiring Minds' holo-zine, please," he asked the droid operator.
Han gave a happy sigh and tossed his fishing line into the blue lake. Even though Jacen refused to fish, and sat morosely on a grassy incline above the lake, Anakin seemed to be enjoying himself a great deal. This isn't too bad at all, Han mused to himself. I could even get used to the peace and quiet. However, no peace could ever last too long when a Solo was involved. Anakin's line gave a hard jerk, nearly ripping the pole from his grasp.
"I think I caught a big one, Dad!"
"Hang onto it," Han ordered. "Reel it in slow, so the hook stays in place."
The lake was now roiling, and huge splashes now disturbed the once calm surface. Jacen stood up and moved next to his father. "I don't think that's a fish Anakin has," Jacen said.
The older man glanced at his son. "Of course it's a fish... what else could it be?" Han asked. "Don't you dare use that hocus-pocus to free it, either."
"But it's sentient," Jacen protested.
Han suppressed a sigh. "It's a fish, Jacen. Fish aren't sentient."
"What about Admiral Ackbar?"
"Don't let fish-face catch you calling him a fish," Han warned. "He gets real offended when people do that."
"So you've offended him, huh, Dad?"
"Yup," Han admitted. "Almost got myself kicked out of the New Republic military because of that insult. I have a way with people... what can I say?"
Anakin backed up, slipping on the muddy bank. He managed to retain his balance, as well as the fishing pole. "This thing must weigh over a hundred pounds!"
"We'll have good eatin' tonight," Han crowed.
"You guys are making a big mistake," Jacen muttered. The older boy watched with interest as his brother fought the monster fish, slowly but surely reeling it closer to shore. Finally Han grabbed a big net, and flung it wide over their prey. Five minutes later, the two Solos dragged the huge creature out of the water, then staggered back in shock when it stood up still tangled in the net, pointing in pain and annoyance at its extremely long tongue.
"Youtha puth a tharpa hooth rightha in myth thongee," the tall, long earred creatured lisped out indignantly.
"I'm sorry we got kicked out of the beauty spa, Mom," Jaina told her too-quiet mother as they arrived back at their apartment. "I shouldn't have thrown a mud ball at Tenel Ka."
Leia looked sternly at her child as they walked into the living area, then started giggling. As Jaina watched in astonishment, her mother fell across the sofa, her laughter now coming in loud snorts. "Mom? Are you alright?"
"I'm... fine," Leia gasped out, holding her sides. "I haven't had that much fun since, well, I can't remember."
Leia wiped a tear away from the corner of her eye. "I always have to act so dignified, Jaina. It felt so... freeing, I guess that is the word... to act irresponsibly. I'm glad your father isn't here, though. He'd never let me hear the end of this."
"So we're not telling him?"
"Never!" Leia said firmly. "He's the irresponsible one in the family - not me."
"Oh. Are we still going to the Screaming X-Wings concert tonight?" Jaina questioned.
"Of course," Leia replied. "I never got to attend those types of concerts when I was growing up. My aunts wouldn't have permitted it, and I was always too busy with politics, anyway. I can't wait to go."
"I see," Jaina said, suddenly becoming a bit concerned about this concert. "Maybe we should go to a holo-show instead."
The Chief of State kicked off her shoes, flinging them across the room, uncaring where they landed. "A holo-show instead of a concert? Are you crazy, girlfriend? We're going to that concert... I just have to see if I have a wiz-enough outfit to wear. We might have to go shopping."
Girlfriend? Wiz outfit? Jaina watched worriedly as her mother skipped happily up the staircase and disappeared into her bedroom. It seemed to Jaina that her mom was suddenly regressing into the teenager she never had the chance to be.... but was it fair that Jaina become her chaperone?
The unhappy Gungan sat on the edge of the lake, rubbing his long tongue and glaring at the three uneasy humans. "Dat hurt."
"It was an accident," Han replied testily. "We got the hook out, and you seem to be alright." At least Han assumed this was true, since he'd never seen this particular type of race before.
"Yousa puts hook'n yousa thongee and den tells mesa yousa alrightee," the gangly creature grumbled.
"I was only trying to catch a fish," Anakin argued. "I've already told you how sorry I am."
"You wouldn't have hooked him if you'd listened to me," Jacen pointed out smugly, then turned to the Gungan. "What's your name?"
"Pong Pong Willy."
Han gave a loud snort, which he tried to cover up by coughing. "Sorry," the older man finally gasped out. "Frog in my throat."
"Yousa too?" Pong Pong asked in surprise, then gave a loud hack and coughed up a frog, which hopped into the lake and swam away.
"That's a strange name," Anakin said.
"What's yousa name?"
Pong Pong stood up, slapping his thigh and hooting in laughter. "Annie kan? ANNIE KAN SOOOO LOW? Yousa gotsa girlie name!"
"It is not!"
"I think he's right," Jacen muttered. "Anakin is a girlie name."
"So is Jaaaaacen," Anakin snapped back at his brother.
Pong Pong nodded in agreement. "Jacens very girlie, too."
Jacen took a step toward the Gungan, sticking his finger in the creature's chest. "How would you like to have crossed eye stalks?"
"Okay," Han stated loudly, pushing his son away from the Gungan. "Let's not argue about names."
The Gungan swung around to face Han, his long ears whacking the human across the face. "What's yousa doing on Naboos?"
"Camping," Han explained, moving further away from Pong Pong.
"Uh...." Han paused, trying to think of a way to explain camping to a fish-man. "You sleep in a tent, do a lot of walking, and try and keep warm with fire -"
"FIRE?" the Gungan exclaimed, eyes wide. "Fire scaresa mesa!"
"And we have to catch fish to eat, or we go hungry," Anakin added. "Right, Dad?"
Jacen glared at his brother. "That's not true. We can eat ration bars. Or nuts we find on the ground. Killing innocent fish isn't necessary."
Pong Pong slapped his thigh in amusement. "Fishees innocent? Dat'sa funny one. Yousa never met a colo-fishee. Dis camping sounds fun. Mesa wanna camp wit yousa, okays?"
"Errr...." Han said, getting worried. "You want to camp? With us? Aren't you afraid of our camp fire?"
"Mesa nots worried," Pong Pong said firmly. "Yousa keep Pong Pong safe'n sound. Right, Dads?"
"I'm not your...." But it was too late. Pong Pong jumped into the lake, disappearing beneath the surface. Han peered into the swirling water. "Maybe he went home," he said hopefully.
Jacen shook his head negatively. "I don't think so."
A few moments later, the Gungan reappeared, holding four large fish up for them to see. "Mesa catches yousa dinner! Now wesa all goes camping." He sloshed out of the lake, depositing his catch at Han's feet.
"Gee, thanks," Han muttered, looking down at the flopping fish.
Pong Pong gave the Corellian a hard backslap. "Yousa welcomes, Dads!"
Jaina peered at her mother through her fingers, aghast. "You're not going to wear that to the concert, are you?"
Spinning around, Leia gazed at her appearance in the mirror. Her long hair was hanging down, and bright green and pink sparkling streaks from temporary color-crawlers had streaked the chestnut strands. A hot-pink, too-short dress and green, knee-high boots matched her hair, as well as her over-done eye make-up. "Of course. I don't want to look out of style."
"Mom.... you're the Chief-of-State. You can't go to a concert dressed like... like...."
"Like a what?" Leia demanded, hands on her hips. "I think I look like a teenager. No one will recognize me, and if they ask you, just introduce me as your friend - Leila Antilles."
Jaina blinked, trying to think of a suitable response. "A teenager?"
"Sure. A teenager," Leia said. "This is what they all wear. I looked at one of your holo-zines."
"Just because some anorexic model is wearing it in a holo-zine, that doesn't mean real people buy it," Jaina tried telling her mother. "It looks stupid." Besides which, Jaina didn't think her mother looked like a teenager at all. Maybe a hooker with too many credits.
"What?" Leia gasped out. "I look stupid?"
The younger girl saw the look of hurt on her mother's face, and instantly regretted her words. "No... not stupid. I didn't mean stupid..."
"But that's what you said!"
"I... I meant... you look a lot prettier than me. Real wiz. I could never pull off that, um, look."
Leia's face relaxed. "Sure you can. You just have to let me pick out your outfit."
Jaina eyed her mother's outfit, trying to keep the look of disdain from her expression. "No thanks. I think I'll pick out my own clothes." Then she quickly left the room before her mother could object.
When they left the apartment an hour later, neither one saw the skinny Bith holo-reporter from the 'Intergalactic Inquiring Minds' holo-rag skulking behind them with a recorder.
Back at the campsite, Pong Pong watched as Han carefully cleaned the first fish, removing the insides and the head, then scraping the scales. Finally the Gungan was unable to contain his curiosity. "Whysa do dat?"
Han paused long enough to scowl at the floppy being. "Do what?"
"Taken outs da good parts."
"You mean the guts?" Anakin asked, making a disgusted face. "We don't eat the insides."
"Buts itsa all good," Pong Pong insisted. "Yousa justa wasting half da food." Then he reached over to one of the fish and popped the entire thing in his mouth, crunching loudly as the juices trickled down his jaw.
"I think I'm going to puke," Jacen muttered, looking away. "As a matter of fact, I'm definitely eating ration bars for dinner."
"Good," Han declared at his son as he returned to his task. "That leaves more for me and Anakin."
By this time, Anakin wasn't sure he could swallow even a fully cleaned and cooked fish. "Maybe I'll find some berries and nuts."
Han shook his head. "That's not a good idea. We don't know what's edible on this planet."
"Pong Pong can tella yousa," the Gungan inserted happily. "Mesa knows which'n berries make'n yousa inside go all twisty."
"Just because they're safe for you, that doesn't mean it's safe for humans to consume them," Han argued.
"Humans live'n here on Naboos," Pong Pong said stubbornly. "Mesa knows which'n berries yousa can eats."
"I trust him, Dad," Anakin said eagerly. "Can we go pick berries?"
"I want to go, too," Jacen said.
Han knew he was outnumbered. He put his fish in the frying pan, and watched as it gave a satisfying sizzle. "Fine, then. But don't say I didn't warn you."
"Wesa not say dat," Pong Pong said happily as he started to lope off with the two boys following behind. "Be careful of dat der fire, Dads."
"Listen, I'm not your...." Han started to say, but stopped when he realized the Gungan was too far away to hear his protest.
The Noghri bodyguards sat in the Solo living room, both blaming the other one for their current situation. Conversing in their own language, the first one spoke. *It was your responsibility to tell me when Lady Vader left.*
The other gray-skinned being shook his head. *She must have gone out the back way. I do not think she wished to take us with her.*
*It is our job to protect her, no matter what.*
*I overheard her speaking to her daughter about some concert. Perhaps we can locate them.*
*A concert? Which one?*
The younger Noghri looked down at the floor. *I am not certain. It must be close by.*
Sighing, the older being stood up. *Come, then. We are in for a long night of searching, but I am fairly certain of the types of music Lady Vader enjoys. She will probably be attending some opera.*
Both Noghri headed out into the Coruscant night.
At the flashy front entrance to the concert venue, young people - mostly human - jostled each other, trying to get inside to see and hear the currently most popular singing group in the galaxy, the Screaming X-Wings. Of course, next month they would be passé as another 'most popular' group would take their place in the fickle hearts of teenagers. But that was an entire lifetime away.....
The girl spun toward the familiar voice as she tried to keep her mother in her view. "Zekk? What are you doing here?"
Zekk held up a ticket. "I spent all my credits and got a ticket." His eyes tracked past her toward the other 'girl.' "Who's your friend?" Before Jaina could reply, he moved forward and addressed Leia. "Hi, beautiful. My name's Zekk. What's yours?"
The Chief-of-State flashed her daughter a triumphant look, as if to say, See? He thinks I'm a teenager! "It's nice seeing you again, Zekk."
"Again? I'm sure I'd remember meeting such a gorgeous babe as you."
Jaina groaned. "Zekk... this is my mother."
Surprise quickly replaced confusion, and embarrassment followed on the heels of surprise. "Madame President?"
"Shhh," Leia said, leaning forward. "Tonight I'm Lelia Antilles, just a friend of Jaina Solo." The crowd gave a shout as the doors swung open, and 'Lelia' smiled. "Hurry... we don't want to be the last inside." She moved toward the entrance, leaving Zekk and Jaina behind.
"Is your mom having a second childhood?" Zekk finally managed to ask.
"Second? She never had a first childhood, so she's making up for lost time."
"We'd better hurry and catch up," Zekk pointed out. "We don't want her to have too much fun without us."
"Fun?" Jaina muttered as she tagged after Zekk. "I'm not sure fun is the right word to describe what I'm having right now."
Lightning started flashing off in the distance, and the fish Han had fried for dinner became cold and shriveled as more and more time passed. The Corellian was getting worried, and he shouted into the growing darkness of the rapidly approching storm, "ANAKIN! JACEN? Where are you kids?" Only a low, ominous roll of thunder met his straining ears. He shook his head in disgust with himself, knowing he shouldn't have allowed the boys to leave with the strange creature. Maybe Pong Pong's stupid looking appearance and dopey behavior was just a cover for a pyschopathic killer. Han had faith that his Force-strong sons could handle one nut-case, but what if Pong Pong had led them into a trap, with dozens of Gungans lying in ambush? Maybe the entire race was nothing more than flesh-eating, murderous, human-hating beings?
By the time the rain started pelting down, Han had worked himself into quite a state, and was in the process of putting on rain gear to go on a search, when a very distressed Pong Pong came crashing back into the clearing, arms flaying and ears flopping. "Dads! Dads!"
"What?" Han said, both annoyed and still frightened for his kids, who were very obviously still missing. "Where's Jacen and Anakin?"
"Mesa was just showin' dem boys which'n berries ares goods, but den when mesa turn around, dem boys are just gones!"
"You lost my kids?"
Pong Pong looked ashamed. "Sorry. Mesa always losin stuffs."
"Jacen and Anakin are not stuff," Han said indignantly. "Now we have to go out in a storm and find them."
The Gungan's eyes grew fearful. "Outsa in dis storm?"
"You live in water," Han responded. "You can't be afraid of a little rain."
"Itsa nots da rain. Itsa der sky fire."
"Sky fire? Oh... you mean lightning," Han said as understanding dawned.
"Dats what mesa said.... SKY FIRE!" Pong Pong pointed up at another flash, then ran into the tent and huddled in the corner as he shivered in fear. "Mesa not goes out in sky fire."
"Listen, frog-face," Han said, pointing his finger in the overly-excited being's face, "these are my kids you left out there in a storm. You told me you'd keep the boys safe!"
"Mesa only say dat mesa wouldn't let dem eats bads berries!"
Han could see this argument was going nowhere fast, so he gave up. "Stay here then. I'm going out and finding my kids."
Pong Pong nodded happily. "Mesa stays here and keep'n the tent safe from grass pinchers."
"What's a grass pincher?"
The Gungan held up two fingers, spaced a millimeter apart. "Itsy bitsy, tenny wenny buggers. Dey liken to gets into bedding and eats flesh all nights long. Buts yousa not know dis til morning."
"Oh, great. I love camping," Han groused out sarcastically. "I'll bet Leia's having a wonderful time, and I get to hunt for the kids in the rain, and then get bitten up by bugs all night."
"But dem buggers make a good snack, if'n you find enough of dem," Pong Pong yelled out helpfully as Han left the clearing.
"MORE! MORE! MORE!" Leia screamed up at the stage where the twenty-something singers pranced around in skintight pants and torn shirts. She glanced over her shoulder at Jaina, who was trying to restrain her mother. "What's the matter?"
"Mom - "
"How many times do I have to tell you.... I'm not your mother tonight!"
"Okay, then... Lelia," Jaina said loudly, trying to be heard above the screams, clapping and overloud amplification of music. "That probably was their last number. Let's go home."
"Last?" Leia shouted back, looking disappointed, then her face lit up as Zekk appeared, holding another beverage. "There you are, Zekkie. I thought you'd never get back." She took the drink and downed it in one gulp.
"Do those have alcohol in them?" Jaina sharply questioned her friend. "I think Mo--- err, Leia's drunk."
"Am not!" Leia objected, swaying unsteadily.
"Well, they didn't ask me about my age, and I think some of those drinks have alcohol in them," Zekk said thoughtfully.
Jaina glared at Zekk, her back toward Leia. "How many drinks have you gotten Lelia tonight?"
"That one makes eight. Or nine. I've lost count. Your mom is sort of bossy, you know that?"
"AM NOT!" Leia shouted, suddenly drawing Jaina's attention as she swung a tiny, black cloth in the air over her head.
"Is that your bra?" Jaina asked with a gasp. "How did you get it off so fast?"
Leia giggled. "I think they might play another song if I throw it, don't you?" Without waiting for a response, the undercover and partially clothed Chief of State tossed the lacy undergarment onstage. "MORE!"
One of the band members winked as he retrieved the object, and held it up so everyone close to the stage could see. "I think we're getting propositioned," he informed the rest of the band, his voice clearly heard over the microphone. "Let's give this cute fan a backstage pass for after the show."
"Did you hear that?" Leia asked her daughter. "They want to meet me. Isn't that sweet?"
"They want more than just to meet you," Jaina mumbled under her breath.
Leia spun around dizzily, and wagged her finger in Jaina's face. "You're so cynical.... just like your father." And with that, she passed out, barely giving Zekk time to catch her before she hit the floor.
The skinny Bith holo-reporter from the 'Intergalactic Inquiring Minds' snapped his holo-camera, catching every move the Chief of State made. "I'm rich... I'm rich beyond my wildest dreams," he muttered happily. "This is the best day ever."
"Anakin!" Jacen yelled into the woods. "Stop playing games. We have to get back to the campsite, and I'm cold and wet." The older boy stopped walking, listening for his brother's response. Only silence. "Okay.. now I'm getting mad. Dad's gonna kill us. Anakin?" Crashing sounds could now be heard in the underbrush. "Anakin? Pong Pong? Is that you?" Jacen reached over and picked up a stick, brandishing the weapon with both hands. "I'm warning you.... I've got a club and I'm not afraid to use it!" By this time, the boy sincerely wished he'd brought his lightsaber with him and not left it behind on the Falcon, but who knew camping was a deadly pasttime?
The giant, evil creature was now so close, Jacen could hear his grunts, and he watched in fear as the bushes parted, then swung his stick.... and soundly connected with his father's stomach. A rush of air left the older man's lungs, and he gasped in pain as he dropped to his knees, clutching his abdomen. "Dad?"
It took Han a few seconds before he could reply. "Ja.... Jac....en...."
"I didn't know it was you. Honest!"
Han twisted his neck to peer up at Jacen, his vision blurry from both the rain and the pain. "What about your damned Force? Why couldn't you tell it was me?"
"Uh.... I wasn't thinking about using it. Sorry."
Staggering to his feet, Han snatched the stick from Jacen's fingers. "Where's Anakin?"
"We got separated."
Han opened his mouth to respond, when a muffled 'boom' sounded in the distance, and a howling scream was heard from the general direction of the campsite. "Now what was that?"
"It sounds like Pong Pong's in trouble," Jacen offered, pointing through the trees. "Look.... I see fire. We'd better go help Pong."
"I hate camping," Han grumbled loudly as he headed toward the flames.
"Rich... filthy, stinking rich....."
A moment later, the camera was snatched from the Bith's fingers by two dangerous looking gray beings. "We will take that, if you don't mind."
"You can't do that," the Bith objected, suddenly recognizing the interlopers as Princess Leia's Noghri bodyguards. Although that made him nervous, he still could see credits falling out of the Coruscant sky. "That holo-cam is my personal property... "
"And now it is trash," the Noghri hissed out, smashing the holo-cam to the ground, where it shattered into hundreds of pieces. "Be gone, before the same happens to your bones."
Wide-eyed, the Bith backed away. "I'm going to report this. Even without the visual evidence, I'll still tell what I've seen."
"One word from your lips, and it will be your last," the older being threatened. "Lady Vader's downfall will be yours as well." For emphasis, the Noghri looked over the edge of the walkway.
The implication wasn't lost on the reporter, and fearing for his life the Bith ran, knowing he'd just lost the story of the century.
Han struggled to keep up with his nimble son as they tore through the underbrush. He noted that the rain had stopped, at least temporarily, but as they approached the campsite Han realized that detail was probably a bad thing, considering the scene in front of his face. Pong Pong Willy was rushing around, his mouth open and his tongue hanging out. The Gungan's eye stalks looked like they would spring off his head at any moment.... Fire was everywhere, consuming the tent... sleeping bags.... sticks and bushes.... anything that would burn was currently burning, and the camping gear that wasn't burning was doing a good job of melting into a useless blob.
Pong Pong saw Han and Jacen, then rushed up to the humans, grabbing Han's shoulders and shaking him. "FIRES! Ders fires everywheres!"
Roughly pushing the Gungan away, Han snatched a smoldering sleeping bag and started thumping rather ineffectively at the conflagration. Jacen stepped forward, stomping on another sleeping bag. "I think if we just keep it from spreading, it will burn itself out," Jacen suggested as he picked up the bag and beat at the smaller fires around the perimeter of the campsite.
Eventually, the fire was put out, leaving only wisps of white smoke coming up from the charred remains of the Solo camping gear. Han threw down his ruined sleeping bag and glared at the Gungan. "How did this happen?"
"Dad," Jacen said, trying to calm his father. "Maybe it was a lightning bolt."
"Is that what happened?" Han asked, moving closer to the cowering Gungan.
"Yes? A big old lightning bolt came down out of the sky and hit the campsite, but miraculously missed you completely and burned up the entire area while you stood around in total shock?"
Suddenly, Pong Pong burst into tears. "Mesa not mean to burn yousa camping stuffs. Mesa wanna eats the fishy insides and den mesa bumped into da pots 'en stuffs and den all dem pots fell overs and mesa tried to tidy up, but den mesa accidentally knocks into da tent, and den da tent fells over wit a big boom and went rights into der fire... and den everything burns up." This confession was followed by a loud sob, and the Gungan threw himself on the charred, soggy ground as he keened loudly. "Pleasa don't be mad at mesa!"
Han didn't have time to respond, because at that moment Anakin came strolling into view. "Wow... what happened here?"
"Pong Pong destroyed our camping equipment," Jacen informed him. "Where were you?"
Anakin grinned, holding up his pail. "I found a bunch of berries, but then it started to lightning so I took cover in a cave. For a little while, I couldn't find the campsite, but then I saw this big blaze, and here I am."
The Gungan sniffed loudly, rising up from the ground. "So yous founded yous ways home because of da fire?" Pong Pong grinned. "Mesa thinks Pong Pong besa hero."
"Yeah," Jacen mumbled as he gazed around the smoldering ruins. "You're a big hero, Pong Pong."
Han turned to his sons. "We're heading back to the Falcon, and as soon as Chewie gets here, we're going home. If your mother asks, we camped and had a great time. Got it?"
"Got it," both boys said simultaneously.
"Got it, Dads," Pong Pong added enthusiastically.
The next day.....
Leia groaned and sat up with great difficulty. "What happened? Where am I? What time is it?"
"Which question would you like me to answer first?" Jaina said dryly.
The Princess opened one eye cautiously. Even letting in that much light hurt, but at least she could recognize her own bedroom. "What time is it?"
"It's the middle of the afternoon," Jaina replied lightly. "You've been sleeping a long time. Sleeping or passed out. After Zekk carried you home."
"I can't remember much of yesterday," Leia confessed slowly. "What happened?"
Jaina put her finger on her chin thoughtfully. "Let's see.... you dressed up like a teenager with bad taste, hit on Zekk, had too much to drink and threw your bra onstage."
"I.... my bra? No!"
"Unfortunately, yes. But at least you passed out before you took up the lead singer's offer to meet him backstage."
"Oh, dear......" Leia whispered. "No one recognized me, right? RIGHT?"
A voice sounded from the bedroom doorway. "You were followed by a reporter for the 'Intergalactic Inquiring Minds', and he holo-recorded the entire evening," the Noghri bodyguard informed Leia. "We were fortunate to locate you, as we wasted much searching normal concerts. It is not a good idea to wander around Coruscant without us as backup."
"My career is over."
"That reporter's equipment met with an unfortunate fate," the Noghri continued. "He will not be able to harm your reputation, My Lady."
"Thank you," Leia managed to croak out, watching as the Noghri bowed and left. "Jaina?"
"When your father and brothers get home, you won't breathe a word of this to any of them... for as long as I'm alive. Please?" Then Leia's face grew still. "But there is still Zekk."
"Don't worry about Zekk. I can control him better than I can control you," Jaina responded with a tired sigh. "He won't talk. When Dad and the boys get home, we'll just tell them we had a wonderful time shopping and at the spa and all the concerts. They'll never know the truth."
"Sometimes ignorance is bliss," Leia said agreeably.
Two days later....
The two Solo women watched as the Millennium Falcon landed, and Jacen and Anakin came rushing down the ramp. "You're back early. Did you have a nice time?"
"Sure did!" Anakin answered. "We fished, and had a really big bonfire."
"And we even met some local character," Jacen put in. "He was a real fun guy. Maybe one day you'll meet him."
By this time, Han had exited the ship, and was warily watching his wife. "Did you and Jaina have a good time?"
"I had the best time of my life," Jaina responded quickly. Anakin and Jacen gazed at their sister, while she stared defiantely back. "What?"
"Nothing," Anakin said. "I guess we all had a swell time."
"Fantastic," Jacen added with a firm nod.
"Me, too," Jaina said. "It was a real... riot."
Leia started coughing, and Jaina pulled her brothers away, leaving their parents alone. "Are you glad you went camping?" Leia asked.
"Oh, sure. I love camping. I can't wait to go again. Sometime."
"And I loved the Screaming X-Wings," Leia said, knowing full well she didn't remember anything about the concert. "Best singing group in the galaxy. I think."
"You hated them."
"You hated camping."
"So we're not gonna have to do this again?" Han asked his wife hopefully.
"Not in this lifetime," Leia agreed.