The man entered awareness quickly, like a light suddenly flicking on overhead. His eyes snapped open, and he stared at the stark white ceiling for long minutes before his thoughts became a bit more coherent. Slowly, he turned his head to the right, taking in the austere bedroom. White walls. Brown dresser and chair. Tan carpet on the floor. With great effort, he turned his head to the left. Two shut doors.
He pushed the tan blanket off his chest, and sat up. His head spun with that small motion, and he swallowed a wave of nausea down as he stared down at his lanky, muscular body, wearing nothing but baggy gray shorts. He managed to stand up, but his legs trembled, as if they were unaccustomed to bearing his weight. Carefully, he took one unsteady step, then another, until he staggered against the wall, gasping.
The door on the right did not open, but the other door obeyed the 'open' command when the small button was pressed. Inside was a refresher, clean and just as glaringly white as the rest of the …. apartment? Perhaps this wasn't an apartment at all, the man suddenly wondered, as it occurred to him there were no windows. Perhaps it was a prison. Was he a criminal?
A sudden, startling realization came over. He had no idea if he was a criminal, although, in the back of his mind the thought niggled at him that he operated outside legal boundaries. He stepped inside the refresher, cautiously raising his gaze to the small mirror, and his heart sank further. The deep blue eyes, edged with hazel staring back at him were not familiar in the slightest. Nor was the wavy, nearly black, short cropped hair. He ran fingers over his unlined facial features, noting his perfectly straight nose, lining up symmetrically over full lips. I'm young… twenty? Twenty-five? he thought in surprise.
Who am I? How did I get here? There were no answers for the stranger in the mirror.
After taking a long shower, and testing the locked door dozens of times, the man finally slept again, more out of boredom than tiredness. Images battered his dreams. A battered ship. A chestnut colored Wookiee. A petite dark-haired young woman. When he awoke, he felt frustration welling up. He should know names to put with those images, and he sat up, grinding his teeth over his mind's refusal to cooperate.
A second later, a bald, older man entered through the previously locked door. His face was heavily lined with age and his portly form dressed in standard medical professional clothing. He was pushing a cart filled with several covered items.
"Good morning," he said, cheerfully. "How are we feeling this fine morning?"
The younger man eyed the cart warily. "I don't know about you, but I'm feeling lousy." He stood, putting distance between himself and this stranger. "Who are you?" It was more than disconcerting to hear his own voice, which while deep and masculine sounding, was as foreign to him as his face.
The man grinned broadly. "Of course. We were never properly introduced, were we? My name is Doctor Pub Belvolus. Well, Pub is my nickname, actually, since in my younger days I spent a lot of time in pubs. My actual first name is Kimbryln. But you can call me Doctor Pub."
"Doctor Pub," the younger man repeated blankly. "Where am I? Who am I?"
The doctor rubbed his narrow chin, frowning. "Memory loss. I didn't consider that, actually. But I guess it shouldn't be too surprising. Hopefully, it's just temporary." He stepped closer, squinting up at the much taller man. "Do you recall anything?"
"I dreamt about a Wookiee," he replied, not mentioning the old ship and the pretty woman that had invaded his restless dreams as well.
"Ah… your co-pilot."
"Chewbacca… or, as you call him – "
"Chewie!" The floodgates let loose, and the younger man leaned against the wall for support. It was similar to the rush of memories after Leia freed him from the terrible carbonite. Leia… how his heart constricted thinking about her, and their last acrimonious words.
"So you do remember!" Doctor Pub declared, clapping his hands in glee. "And your name is – "
"Solo. Han Solo."
Six months earlier, onboard the Mon Remonda
General Han Solo sat on the edge of the medical cot, resisting the urge to drum his fingernails on the metal edge as he waited impatiently for the Mon Calamari medical officer to peruse his medical records. Although he was loathe to admit it, Han Solo was genuinely afraid. He'd been undergoing test after test for months now, and every result had mystified the medics. Han being Han, he'd kept all this a secret from everyone close to him, Chewie and Leia included. Although keeping it a secret from the Princess had been fairly easy, since she was busy on a diplomatic mission to the reclusive Hapan colonies. It was hard to believe it had been over a year since Endor and the victory over the Empire, and in all that time, Han had seen his Princess for perhaps six weeks in total.
After a few minutes, Han spoke up, trying to sound confident. "You can fix whatever's wrong, right, doc? I'm just over-tired, that's all." His complaints, taken individually, were small. Dizziness, tingling in his fingers, blurry vision, headaches. But together, they added up to a lengthy, and worrisome, list.
Doctor Barric coughed nervously, rolling his bulbous eyes toward the human. "I don't know quite how to tell you this, General Solo…"
"Just give it to me straight. Whatever it is, I can deal with it once I know what the problem is."
"I'm sorry, but there isn't any easy way to say this. You're dying, General. And there is no cure I can come up with for a disease I've never seen before."
Han Solo pushed past Doctor Pub, nearly knocking the startled man off his feet in his rush to the refresher. He locked his stare onto the mirror, his mind uncomprehending. "This isn't me…." he whispered to himself.
The doctor tentatively stuck his head in the small room. "I suppose you have a few questions."
Slowly, Han turned to face the man. "You think?" he returned sarcastically.
Six months earlier…on Mon Remonda approaching Coruscant
Han sat alone in quarters, debating his limited options. Doctor Barric had given him six to eight months to live. The Mon Calamari had guessed that Han's disease, which involved some complicated explanation involving his blood cells not reproducing, had been brought on by the Corellian's time frozen in carbonite. But it was just a guess, since Doctor Barric confirmed he couldn't be certain. His advice was to seek out more specialists, since perhaps, somewhere, someone could find a cure. He didn't sound optimistic about Han's chances though, and further recommended that blood transfusions might delay the inevitable.
There was no easy way Han could think of to break this news to either Leia or Chewie. Leia had already lost so much, and he agonized over adding to her personal losses.
The first thing he'd have to do would be to resign his commission, or Doctor Barric would be forced to inform the New Republic Council about his condition.
The next day
Han sat stone-faced as he watched his Princess accept the sixty gifts from the Hapan's. When the foreign Prince offered himself to Leia, and the audience broke into applause, Han rose from his seat and calmly left the room.
Later, in Leia's apartment
The Princess looked over at Han, who was uncharacteristically very quiet. He looked so pale and drawn, and it was apparent he'd lost a great deal of weight, as well. She handed him a glass of ale, then sat beside him on the sofa.
"I've resigned my commission," he said suddenly.
The news startled her. "You're just tired. I'll ask Reeikan to change it to a leave of absence…"
"No," he said brusquely. "It's my decision. Just like marrying that Prince is yours."
Leia's face flushed. "I didn't know he was going to do that. And I certainly haven't made up my mind to accept his proposal."
"Yes, you have," Han said hoarsely, wanting nothing more than to take her far away. Far enough that there would be no Princes… no diseases. Nothing but the two of them, living happily ever after. But fairytales were for Princesses, not smugglers. In a strange way, it was as though the Force was giving him a strange present – he could fade away from the scene, knowing Leia would be happy. His death would not be causing her endless grief, and for that he felt he should be grateful. Instead, he felt bitter and cheated out of what rightfully should have been his. He felt the next words would surely choke in his throat. "Do you love him?"
"You like nice men."
"I suppose I do," she answered, rubbing her fingers together nervously.
"Can I stay here? One last time?"
She almost said 'no', but something in his eyes, desperate, sad and longing, made her change her mind. "Yes."
That single decision would forever alter the Princess's future.
The Millennium Falcon came to a stop over the city planet of Corucscant, and Chewie watched his partner staring down at the sparkling lights far below.
*Why did you not fight for her?* the Wookiee asked softly.
"She's a Princess," Han replied, his throat tight with grief. "She'll be happier with him than with me."
*You know that is not the truth,* Chewie chastised lightly, worried at his long-time friend's physical and emotional state. *You've been upset for quite some time. Something is the matter, and do not try to deny it again. You would never quietly step aside for this vainglorious prince under normal circumstances.*
Han turned his face toward the Wookiee, the Corellian's face paler and much thinner than Chewie could ever recall. "I'll tell you when we get to Kashyyyk," Han promised, wanting to put off telling his partner the terrible news for as long as possible.
The two pilots turned their attention back to the controls, and silently watched the stars blur as the ship jumped into hyperspace.
Six weeks later….
Princess Leia sat on a small pink velvet divan, looking out over the beautiful royal courtyard. Even from her window several stories above the ground, she could smell the sweet scent of the various flowers mingling with the cool, evening mist.
For the past six weeks, almost all the Hapans had been treating her wonderfully, and Isolder had not made one wrong step. He had never pushed her further than a kiss, and never spoken a harsh word, to either her or his overbearing mother.
She clenched her fist, and slowly lowered her gaze to a small computer disk that was digging into her palm. On that tiny disk held everything she had hoped for – and everything she feared.
A soft chime sounded, forcing her out of her reverie. "Come in," she spoke, hoping her voice wouldn't betray her tremulous emotions to her caller.
Isolder entered her suite, talking long strides over to her side. "You didn't come to dinner, my love. Are you not feeling well?"
Inwardly, Leia cringed at his verbal endearment. "No, I wasn't, actually." It wasn't a lie. Even before today, food had been making her nauseated. She'd tried to explain it away by thinking it was nerves, or even the company of Queen Ta'a Chume. Both certainly could be the cause of an upset stomach. But now that she knew the truth…
"You are looking a bit peaked," Isolder said, then looked aghast at his misstep. "Not that you don't look beautiful. Of course you look wonderful tonight, as you always do."
Leia sighed. The fawning prince reminded her of all the well-bred, polite rich boys – then men – that had inhabited her life before…. before a certain, overbearing, rude Corellian came charging in and refused to be impressed with her title. "Thank you, Isolder."
The Prince moved to kneel at Leia's side, taking her hand. "I will ask you again, and for a hundred days henceforth if that is what you require. Leia, my love, will you marry me?"
For six weeks Leia had been putting the Prince off, telling him she needed time to think it over. Did he really think six weeks qualified as time enough to know someone well enough to decide if you wanted to spend the rest of your life with him, Leia wondered. How had he decided, after knowing her for six days, that she was the one? Simply because of her title? I don't believe in love at first sight, she thought, before the memory of a harrowing escape involving a garbage masher swept her back in time. But that was different. Somehow.
"I can't marry you, Isolder."
Her words stunned the handsome Prince. "What?" he asked, as if he couldn't quite believe his ears.
"I can't marry you," Leia repeated, carefully enunciating her words. "I don't love you."
He stood up, taking a step away from her. "But you will learn to love me. I will earn your love and devotion. There is nothing I will not do for you."
"Really," Leia said dryly.
Leia looked up at the flustered man, and dropped her bombshell on him. "I'm pregnant." It went without saying that the baby wasn't his. "Are you so certain your words hold true, now?"
For a long moment, the regal Prince was silent, his eyes wide with shock, his muddled thoughts trying to sort through Leia's comment. "Solo."
She didn't know if she should admit that, considering it might put Han in danger. But the Prince wasn't stupid. "I love him."
"Does he know?"
"Of course not," she responded. "Not yet, anyway. I haven't been able to reach him, and Chewie's wife wasn't very forthcoming about their whereabouts."
"Then abort it," Isolder ordered. "No one will ever be the wiser."
Leia was incredulous. "I just told you that I don't love you, and I'm having the baby of the man I do love, and you want to marry me anyway? What's wrong with you? I'm not destroying my baby."
"I think you'd better reconsider your options, Princess," Isolder replied, his eyes narrowing. "My mother wants this marriage. I want this marriage. Your precious New Republic needs this marriage. Don't throw away the best thing that's ever happened to you."
"I already did," she said sadly.
Han sat down with a heavy thud on the park bench, putting his face into his hands and resting his elbows on his knees. They had just come from another specialist, and the news was the same as six weeks before onboard the Mon Remonda. "That's three death sentences out of three, Chewie," he said tiredly. "No more doctors. I'm done."
*You can't give up…*
"Give up?" Han jumped to his feet, staring at his partner. "How many more times do I have to hear the same story? I've got less than five months, Chewie. I don't want to waste a single more minute of it, so I'm gonna do what I've wanted to do from now on."
"Get drunk, gamble and find as many willing females as I can."
*What about the Princess? Malla told me she's been trying to - *
"Shut up already about Her Royalness!" Han roared out, not caring that passerby could overhear. "She's found her true love, and it ain't me." Seeing Chewie's dubious expression, he lowered his voice, allowing himself to remember that last night together. "We parted on pretty good terms, considering. I'm glad she's got someone. I just wish the guy wasn't that pretty-boy Hapan slime."
*You don't know him. How can you judge him?"
Han shrugged. "It doesn't matter. She can't know anything about this until I'm gone, so promise me that you won't contact her." When Chewie said nothing, Han pressed, "Promise!"
*I promise,* Chewie said, a bit too quickly.
"Or Luke… or anyone else that will let her know," Han said, his lips thinning as he watched his friend shuffle from one foot to the other. "I know you, pal. No shady gray areas with this promise."
*Fine. I will not speak of this to anyone.*
Han's mind told him he'd won the battle by extracting that promise, but his heart told him he'd lost the war.
For the next month, Han and Chewie flew the Falcon from one side of the galaxy to the other. In the beginning, Han spent most of that time gambling and half-heartedly trying to charm women. As the weeks passed by, the Corellian even stopped trying to attract the attention of females, spending more and more time alone in his small berth. Chewie didn't question his friend's actions. He could see Han's health – both mental and physical - visibly decline with each passing week.
When Chewie could no longer bear just watching, he finally decided to press his luck. *We should visit Kashyyyk,* he suggested as they sat at the table, eating breakfast. At least Chewie was eating – Han mostly picked at his food, unable to handle more than a few mouthfuls. *I miss Malla.*
Han was immediately suspicious. "What if I don't want to go there? She'll see right away something's wrong."
*I will tell her you've been drinking too much, and not taking care of yourself properly. That's the truth, anyway.*
"Like it matters," Han replied bitterly. "Nothing matters anymore."
*If that is true, then why can't we go to Kashyyyk?*
Han sighed and ran his fingers through his overlong hair. "You win."
Pleased, Chewie headed for the cockpit to set the new course heading.
Chewie entered his tree-home, throwing his long arms around his wife and then bent over and hugged his son, Lumpy. Han waited outside for the exuberant greetings to get done with, then stepped inside the cozy house. It was a good thing he wasn't standing outside, near the balcony.
As he staggered back a step in shock, Han felt his heart drop to his boots. "Leia?" He glanced over at his partner. "Why is she here?"
*Ask her yourself,* Chewie woofed back. *She's standing right there.* The Wookiee nodded to his family, and they quickly left the human couple to their privacy.
"Hello, Han," the Princess said in a quiet tone. She took a few steps closer, stopping in front of the tall Corellian and peering up at him in concern. "You look awful!"
Han felt his defensive mechanism kick in. "You don't look so great yourself, Your Worship," he responded sarcastically. When Leia's face flushed, Han felt a wave of remorse over his untrue words; in fact, the Princess looked wonderful to his eyes. It was probably her new love making her glow, he quickly decided. And the mere thought of his Princess with him… "Where's your lover-boy?"
Leia face showed confusion. "Lover? Oh, you mean Prince Isolder?"
"You've had lots of lovers since dumping me?" he sneered.
"No…. Han, I didn't come here to argue with you," Leia said. "There's something important I need to tell you."
"Like, 'Don't you dare interrupt my perfect wedding', sort of thing? You didn't have to worry, Princess. I wouldn't dream of stopping you from a life of wedded bliss with … him."
"I'm not marrying Isolder," she blurted out, trying to stem Han's anger.
That shut Han up, and he felt a rising sense of dread. She must never find out he was dying, no matter what happened next.
Leia could see something was terribly wrong. Han was so much thinner than the last time she'd seen him. His skin had a gray pallor, and there were dark circles under his eyes. Could she have done this to him? Driven him to such recklessness that he was drinking himself to an early grave? Then she added fuel to the fire by telling him he looked awful. It might have been the truth, but it wasn't the way she wanted to start out, and he reacted predictably – by getting angry and defensive.
"I'm not marrying Isolder." Maybe those words would put joy back in his face.
"Why not?" Han replied. "Isn't he good enough in the sack?"
"What?" Leia spluttered out. "No…. that's not it. I'm pregnant!" Leia didn't think it was possibly, but Han managed to grow even paler at those words. "I'm pregnant," she repeated. "The baby's yours."
"No," Han croaked out, backing further away and holding up his hand as if he were trying to ward her off. "That's not true."
"Why would I lie to you?"
"It's his, isn't it? And he's suddenly changed his mind about marrying you, so you need to find some gullible idiot so you don't look like a …." He trailed off.
Leia was furious. "Like a what, Han? Slut? Loser? Finish what you're thinking!"
"You're not trapping me into a marriage neither of us want," Han finally said, his voice shaking. "I won't raise another man's baby and pretend its mine."
"And I can't believe I was happy about this," Leia shouted back. "I thought you'd be happy! I was a fool, and I wouldn't marry you if you were the last man in the galaxy, Solo. I'll raise this baby – MY baby – by myself. I certainly don't need YOU!"
The Princess roughly pushed past the Corellian and rushed out of the house, her footsteps rapidly fading away.
Chewie walked back in the room, shaking his head in disgust after overhearing Leia's last comment. *How could you behave like that? She loves you!*
"Me?" Han asked his partner. "You set me up!"
*I did no such thing,* Chewie argued. *Malla told me Leia was here, waiting for you. I thought you would be happy to see her.*
"Happy?" Han repeated. "I can't let myself be happy." He shut his eyes, trying to erase the image of Leia holding his child in her arms from his mind. It wasn't easy, since it was a fantasy he'd been having ever since Endor. Now it was going to come true, and he wouldn't be alive to watch his baby's toothless smile… take his first step… say her first word. Life was unfair and cruel.
*That makes no sense,* Chewie said, exasperated.
Han gave a shuddering sigh. "Don't you understand? Leia's already lost too much in her life. I can't put her through watching me die."
*Sending her away, furious, is better?*
"Yes!" Han shouted. "She's at her strongest when she's angry. She'll take this as a challenge, and go about proving to the galaxy, and especially to me, that she can handle being a mother. She'll prove she's the best mother, ever. And I won't be the cause of more grief."
*You are already causing her grief,* Chewie stated.
"No, this is different," Han insisted. "I'd rather make her mad than sad."
*I will never understand humans.*
Leia paced her spacious apartment, forcing her brother to turn his head constantly if he wanted to make eye contact. "You're making me dizzy," Luke complained.
"Maybe I should terminate," Leia mused aloud.
"I thought we already discussed that, and you said you wanted this baby."
"I do," she admitted. "But Isolder already told me he'd still marry me if I ended my pregnancy."
"You don't want to marry Isolder," Luke said patiently.
"No!" Leia said. "I wanted to marry Han, but I pushed him away and ruined any chance I had with him. What was I thinking? That he'd be so thrilled at the idea of becoming a father, he'd take me back with no questions asked? What if he'd have left me for another woman, then changed his mind? I would've acted exactly the same way he did."
Luke stood up and took his sister by her hands. "Leia, give Han a chance to think about this. He'll come around, and do the right thing, just like he did over Yavin. He loves you, but he's hurting right now."
The Princess nodded. "You should see him, Luke. He looks so unwell, and it's all my fault."
"Give him some time," Luke prodded. "Everything will work out."
Two months later….
Leia's panel buzzed, and she stood up from her desk, stretching her aching back and walking over to answer. The last person she expected to see stood outside her office door. "Isolder?"
The handsome prince bowed his head slightly. "Princess Leia. May I have a word in private with you?"
Flustered, Leia stepped aside and allowed the debonair man to enter. After the door shut, she turned and leaned against the frame for support. "I'm certainly surprised to see you on Coruscant."
"Yes, well," Isolder said, gazing around the office. "I have a business offer for you. And for the New Republic, as well."
"Okay," Leia said, both curious and suspicious. Any business proposal would have come at the direction of the Queen Mother.
"My offer of marriage still stands."
Leia almost laughed, but managed to catch herself. "I'm four months pregnant. Surely you don't think I'm terminating anymore."
"No, of course not," Isolder said quickly. "You may certainly have your baby."
"Thank you," Leia said dryly.
"And give it up for adoption."
Isolder plunged forward with his proposal. "Think about it before you say 'no' out of hand. Your brother can take the child and raise it. Then we get married, and everyone is happy. The New Republic gets what they want… you can see your child and know she is well taken care of… and the Hapans still get their new queen."
"I beg your pardon?"
"My baby is a boy."
"Better yet," Isolder said. "Boys are not overly valued in Hapan society, so my people will understand your motives."
"I don't want to give up my child," Leia stated.
"I can sympathize with that. But the galaxy will be a far safer place for him to grow up in if the New Republic is strong and secure. You will be doing the noble thing by allowing your brother to raise him. Give this some consideration, Princess, before you turn me down."
"What would your mother think of all this?"
Isolder gave a broad grin. "It was her idea, Leia."
Several hours later, when Leia was home and trying to put the Hapans latest scheme out of her mind, another visitor buzzed her door. This time, it was Mon Mothma.
"Hello, Leia," the older woman greeted the Princess, her eyes briefly flickering down to Leia's abdomen. "How are you feeling?"
"I'm fine, thank you," Leia answered cautiously. "Would you like some kaffe? I've just made some."
"No, thank you," the New Republic leader said. "Actually, I just had a visit from Prince Isolder."
Leia sighed audibly. "I gave him my answer. I'm not giving up my child."
"It's wrong, that's why," Leia said, a bit sharply.
"Many women give up their babies so their children can have better lives," Mon Mothma continued on, unfazed at Leia's tone. "Are you saying they are all wrong?"
"Of course not. But I'm not in that type of a situation. I'm a grown women who knows her own mind."
"Everyone's situation is different," the tall woman said agreeably. "Some women give up their babies because of personal financial reasons. It really wouldn't be that much different for you."
"I can afford my baby."
"I'm not talking about personal finances, Leia," the other woman chided lightly. "I'm speaking about the larger picture."
"The New Republic's finances," Leia said.
"The Empire is still a threat," Mon Mothma stated unnecessarily, since Leia already knew that. "With the Hapans on our side, that threat is decreased significantly."
"I love my baby," Leia said, her teeth clenching in frustration.
"Certainly you do," Mon Mothma responded soothingly.
"I'm not selling him. Not for you, or the New Republic."
It was Mon Mothma's turn to sigh. "Allowing Luke to raise your baby is not selling him. Is your baby Force-strong?"
The question surprised Leia. "Luke says he is."
"Good. Then that should help you decide."
"I don't understand."
"Leia, I was around before you were born… before the Jedi Order was destroyed. Force-sensitive children were taken at a very young age from their parents. All ties to family were severed. It was the way of the Jedi for centuries. You would – unselfishly I might add – be continuing that long-standing and noble tradition." Mon Mothma hesitated. "Unless you don't trust your brother to train or raise your child as he should be raised."
"Of course I trust Luke," Leia said indignantly.
Mon Mothma patted Leia's wrist. "You'll do the right thing, Leia. For the New Republic, for your child, and for the future of the Jedi. I know you will. You have plenty of time to think about this, so I'll leave you to consider all the facts."
With that, she left Leia alone and confused.
One month later..Kashyyyk
Chewie tenderly ran a damp wash cloth over his dying friend's forehead. Han had not eaten in two days, and was now running a high fever while drifting in and out of consciousness. Time for the Corellian was drawing to a close, and nothing the Wookiee did could change this terrible truth.
*I wish I could take his place,* Chewie groaned softly to his wife.
*He would not want that,* Malla said gently. *But I believe he needs human medical attention to make his last days less painful.*
*Where should I take him?*
Chewie shook his head negatively. *He would not want to go there.*
The Wookiee considered his wife's words. *Perhaps you are correct. His final days should be in the same place he entered this existence. That is appropriate.*
With great gentleness, Chewie wrapped Han in a blanket, and picked him up. Then he carried him to the Corellian's beloved Millennium Falcon for one last trip through the stars Han Solo adored so much.
Corellia, one month later....onboard the Millennium Falcon
Tears streaming down her cheeks, Leia placed her hand over the metal black casket that held the body of Han Solo. "Why didn't he tell me he was so sick?"
*He didn't want you to be unhappy over something you could not change,* Chewie responded gently.
"I could have been there for him," Leia said sadly. "Maybe I could have found a way to save him."
Knowing there was nothing he could say to make the Princess feel better, Chewie looked at Luke Skywalker. *Thank you for coming to his funeral.*
Luke nodded, not quite trusting himself to speak. He cleared his dry throat, then asked, "I don't understand what happened at the hospital."
*Neither do I,* Chewie growled unhappily. *I left for a few hours, and Han was still alive, although he wasn't conscious. Then, when I returned, the personnel were all in a flustered, claiming they had lost him.*
"They meant he died?" Luke questioned, puzzled.
*No. They lost him, as in they had no idea where he was. Han just disappeared. It was quite the panic, and I was furious. A day later, they located his body in the morgue, and everyone assumed he died while I was out, and some medical droid removed the body without informing anyone.* Chewie shook his head in disgust. *They are totally incompetent. I should sue them.*
"I wish he would have believed me about our baby," Leia said, still lightly stroking the coffin as her other hand rested on her protuding belly.
*I think, deep down, he did,* Chewie told the Princess.
"I wonder what he would have said about having a Force-sensitive child."
*He would have found it ironic,* Chewie said. *I was planning on sending Han's body into Corellia's primary, along with the Falcon, but I've decided that perhaps, one day, his son may want the Millennium Falcon as a memory of his father.*
"Thank you," Leia replied. "I'd like that, too."
Together, the three friends watched as the black coffin exited the ship, and burned up in the atmosphere over Corellia. As the small flare quickly died in the inky blackness of space, Leia felt a large part of her heart die as well, and she suddenly decided on the course of her future, and the future of her son.
"Now, don't get all upset, Captain Solo," Dr. Pub chastised. "I've just saved your life, so you should be grateful."
"Grateful?" Han repeated, hovering over the nervous doctor in his best threatening manner. "You obviously did some weird surgery on me, and I'm supposed to be grateful?"
"I've done no such thing," Dr. Pub said indignantly.
"Well, I used to work for Palpatine..."
"Great. A crazy Imp."
"Don't interrupt. It's rude." Dr. Pub cleared his throat. "Like I was saying... I worked for Palpatine. Well, actually, my mentor, Doctor Stanfrincer worked for the Emperor. I was just his second-in-command, which turned out to be fortunate for me, actually, since poor Stanfrincer couldn't seem to please Palpatine. But, then, that turned out to be good for you, too. So I suppose, in the great scheme of things, everything works out for the best."
"You're starting to annoy me," Han warned the doctor.
"Well, then, let me start at the beginning. You recall the Ssi-ruuk that invaded Bakura, right?"
"Yeah, I remember."
"The Empire had problems with them before the Rebels won the war, although Palpatine covered it up. Especially when he found out about their little abilities to transfer human essences into machines. He really liked that technology."
"I'll bet," Han remarked. "That would be right up his alley."
"And, when you combine that with ... well," Dr. Pub said, smiling. "The Emperor thought he'd hit the lottery, as far as living forever goes."
Han blinked, suddenly comprehending. "He wanted to transfer himself into a clone."
"Not exactly a clone, son. Palpatine was way too proud to want a clone's body. He wanted the perfect unique body, built cell by cell, from the ground floor up, so to speak. Poor Doctor Stanfrincer thought he'd gotten it perfect, too. A good-looking guy, tall, muscular - someone all the ladies would swoon over. And with none of the problems inherent with cloning, either. The body grew in a tank over time, aging exactly as a body should age, kept free of all learning and self-awareness. The Emperor wanted to wait until the body had aged to at least twenty-one before he took over, since he didn't want to appear too young."
Doctor Pub stroked his chin. "The Emperor came for a visit to his 'new' body. He was quite pleased, but he demanded a blood test for midichlorians."
"What the hell is a midichlorian? A disease?"
"No... I don't really know how to describe it. It's the special cells in the blood of a Jedi that makes him or her Force-sensitive. Unfortunately for Stanfrincer the midiclorian count wasn't nearly high enough for Palpatine's standards. The Emperor was furious, and promptly choked the life out of poor Doctor Stanfrincer." The older man shook his head at the memory. "So then Palpatine ordered me to start over, and get it right this time. Fortunately for me, the Rebels killed the crazy Sith shortly thereafter, and I didn't end up like poor Doctor Stanfrincer."
"You still might," Han warned. "What in the seven hells of Corellia does any of this have to do with me?"
Doctor Pub smiled. "I snuck you out of the hospital where you were dying, in the middle of the night, right under the noses of all those medical personnel and brought you to my home, where I've kept Little Pal alive and well. Security at hospitals is pretty lax, let me tell you."
"Pal. Short for Palpatine," the doctor explained. "I'll bet your Wookiee friend tore a few limbs off when he came back in the morning looking for you. Anyway, I hooked up your dying body, and using that Ssi-ruuk technology, and hoping for the best, hit the transfer switch, and here you are ... alive and well in a new body."
Han felt dizzy. "What happened to my old body?"
"I left it in the hospital morgue the next night."
Without thinking, Han grabbed the man around his neck, pushing him against the wall. "You KILLED me?"
"Hey..." the doctor gasped, struggling for air. "I saved you!"
"How do you figure that?" Han yelled back.
"You were on the verge of death," the doctor mumbled. "You'd be dead by now anyway, so you should be happy."
Han released the man, staggering back in shock. "How long ago did you do this to me?"
"Five days ago."
"Everyone thinks I'm dead."
"Yes," the doctor agreed, frowning and rubbing his neck. "You've been given a second chance at life, Solo. You have new body, you'll have a totally new identity, and I'll set you up financially as well. You can have it all."
"Except the woman I love," Han muttered quietly.
"I assume you're talking about the Princess," Doctor Pub said. "She hasn't married anyone else yet, so why can't you win her back, too?"
Why not, Han wondered as well.
Doctor Pub motioned Han over to a computer terminal so he could see the information on the screen. "I thought you still might be interested in the Princess, so I've set up your new identity to help you win her back."
"Why are you doing this for me?" Han asked suspiciously.
"Shouldn't it be obvious?"
"No, not to me."
"I wanted to make amends for helping the Empire. I figured that helping one of the New Republic's biggest hero would be a good start," Pub explained. "Anyway, pay attention. This is important. You're new identity is Kaset Hoyla, the son of Duke Jasser Hoyla of Primara, Alderaan."
"Wait a second," Han protested. "A duke? From Alderaan? What if Leia knows there wasn't any Duke Hoyla?"
"Ah, but there was," Doctor Pub explained with a grin. "And he had several good-looking sons, as well. But they lived on the far side of Alderaan from the Organa palace, and lived on what we would call 'old money'. Duke Hoyla, the father, was an aging playboy, and was an outspoken supporter of the Empire, and didn't care much for Bail Organa. His eldest son, Kaset, was in the Alderaanian University at the time of the attack by the Empire. Unfortunately, the entire family perished. There is no way to prove you're not Kaset Hoyla."
"Except that I was at the University," Han argued.
"Off-planet at the time," Pub continued, unfazed by Han's logic. "You liked a girl from Corellia, and had snuck away to visit her. You were so upset and ashamed you didn't die along with everyone you knew, you went into seclusion for a long time."
"Leia still might have met Kaset."
Han shook his head. "I can't pull off being Alderaanian royalty."
"Think about it, son," Doctor Pub prodded. "If your Princess almost married some Hapan prince, won't she fall faster - and harder - for a fellow Alderaanian?"
"Why can't I just tell her the truth?"
Doctor Pub laughed. "She won't believe a word of the real truth. She'll despise you for trying to use Han Solo's memory to woo her. Then you'll never stand a chance with her again."
Han looked doubtful, but asked, "You have identity disks to back me up?"
"The best forged disks in the galaxy, and a great deal of credits, thanks to vast Imperial medical bank accounts. You're wealthy, young, handsome, and healthy. The galaxy is at your feet Han, err, Kaset."
Another troubling thought occurred to Han. "You said Palpatine didn't like this body because it wasn't Force-sensitive, right?"
"It wasn't Force-sensitive enough," Pub clarified.
"So this body can access the Force? I don't want to be a Jedi."
Pub grinned. "So don't become one. If a person was born with a great set of vocal chords, yet he doesn't sing, he's not a singer, right?"
Han looked appalled. "I'm not a great singer, am I? This is getting worse and worse!"
"You're missing the point," Doctor Pub said with a sigh. "Don't sing, and don't access the Force. Then no one will ever be the wiser."
"We can only hope," Han said worriedly.
Sitting with Luke in Han's old berth, Leia squared her shoulders and looked her brother in his eyes. "Will you raise my son?"
The question shocked Luke. "What?"
"I've decided to take Isolder's offer, and that means you'll have to take my child," Leia said tightly. "Like Mon Mothma pointed out, I'll only be doing what all mothers of Force-sensitive children have done for generations - allow a Jedi to raise and train my child."
Luke shook his head. "This isn't a good time to decide anything, Leia. You're too upset to think straight."
"I'm doing the right thing," Leia shot back. "For the New Republic and my child."
"But not for you."
"I should have known," Leia whispered, shutting her eyes. "He was so ill, and I could see he was. But I was so caught up in politics and my own problems, I ignored the obvious. If Han hadn't been so sick, he would have argued with me about going to Hapes. He would have fought for me... for his unborn baby. He died alone, and feeling unloved. And it's all my fault."
"So you plan on punishing yourself by marrying a man you don't love, and giving up the child of the man you loved and lost?" Luke asked gently. "Han wouldn't want that. I don't want that, either."
"Please raise my baby, Luke," the Princess pleaded. "I want to be able to see him sometimes, to know that someone I love and trust is raising him. If I give up my child to a stranger, I'll never know. Not knowing will kill me inside. Please?"
Luke took his sister's hand. "I'll make this deal, sister. You wait until after the baby is born until you decide about giving him to me. You don't tell Isolder you've accepted his proposal until after the baby is born. If you still feel the same way one week after he's born, then I'll agree. That's my deal. One week after he's born."
"His name is Han," Leia stated. "My baby's name will be Han Bail Organa."
"Will you agree to my terms?" Luke asked hopefully.
The young Jedi felt a rush of relief, knowing in his heart that once Leia held little Han Bail Organa in her arms, she would never agree to give him up.
One week later….
"Captain Solo, I really must object to this premature departure," Doctor Pub pleaded. "You are not ready."
"In your opinion," Han shot back. "Unless you plan on shooting me, I'm leaving."
"You don't know Alderaanian well enough to pass as a native."
"I know enough," Han argued. "'Sides, I pick up languages pretty easy, and almost everyone speaks Basic, anyway."
Pub shook his head in despair. "Han, listen to me! The Princess will, sooner or later, speak to you in Alderaanian. And your accent isn't quite right. We must work on this more before you try passing yourself off as Duke Kaset Hoyla."
"I lived on the other side of Alderaan," Han said easily. "Our accents would be a bit different."
"Not that much!"
"So? I'll just say I've lived on Corellia for a long time, and lost my original accent."
Doctor Pub sighed in defeat. "You are a stubborn man, Solo."
"Is my new ship ready to lift off?"
"And I've got enough credits in my account to live on?"
"More than enough."
Han grinned, his new smile eerily similar to his old one. "Thanks, Pub. I appreciate all help. I'll make sure Leia gives you a full pardon for your Imperial involvement, once I win her back."
"You sound very confident," Doctor Pub said. "Perhaps it would be best to take a more cautious approach to this."
Han frowned at the doctor. "A week ago you were tryin' to convince me I could pull this off, and now you're trying to discourage me. What gives?"
"I'm not trying to discourage you," Pub replied. "I'm only pointing out that it would be wiser to plot your hyperspace course before pulling the lever, so to speak."
"I can't take the time to plot my course," Han answered. "Leia needs me, and I wanna be there when my kid is born." He picked up a satchel filled with clothing and various items he would need to prove his 'identity' to the galaxy, and flung it over his shoulder. "Thanks for the new body, doc. I'll try to not get it all messed up like I did my first one."
"Take care, Han. Kaset."
"Kas. I'm gonna shorten it to Kas, 'cuz I think Kaset sounds like a pretty-boy wimp name." With those words, Han turned on his boot-heel and headed out of his room and out of the life of Doctor Pub Belvolus.
As the door hissed shut, Doctor Pub shook his head slowly and spoke to the empty room, "He's never going to pull this off."
The room flashed with bright strobe lights, and he rushed from table to table in the dank bar. The Corellian heard shards of glass break as he crashed wildly into angry customers. "Watch it, creep," one of them shouted as he pushed past. "I'm wanted in six systems."
An older human woman – she must be the bartender, because she was holding a tray of drinks - tried stopping him from leaving. "Where are you going? You still owe me money."
"I'm looking for someone," the man responded, confused and panicked.
The woman smiled toothlessly. "Aren't we all?" When the man tried to moved away, she sighed. "Who you looking for, honey?"
"But he's dead."
"He can't be dead – he's me!"
All the bar patrons backed up, a look of horror in their eyes. "A dead man. You're a dead man!"
The room changed, and he was standing in a cold, white corridor. The bartender dropped the tray, and her face suddenly altered, becoming young and beautiful. The face was Leia, staring at him in shock. "You're dead. Go away! You're dead!"
"Leia…. I'm not dead," Han begged. "It's me."
She pointed at the wall, and his eyes tracked over. Hanging on the wall was a mirror, and the face of Han Solo, his skin mottled and green, his eyes hollow and black, stared back. "NOOO!"
Han sat up in his bunk, gasping and sweating. Pushing off the blankets, he staggered over to the refresher, and forced himself to look in the mirror. His 'new' face stared back, handsome and perfect. Shuddering at the horrible nightmare, Han splashed cold water on his face, then looked back at the mirror into the blue eyes. Frowning, he moved his face a bit closer. He was certain his new eye color was blue, but now, in this light, they appeared more hazel than blue. Han shook his head to clear his mind from the dream. He'd never get back to sleep now, and he headed for the cockpit to check on his progress to Coruscant.
In a few short days, Leia would be back in his arms, and all his nightmares would end.
Han deftly maneuvered his sleek craft through the heavy traffic over the busy city-planet of Coruscant, landing his ship in the center of the circular parking area. He stepped outside, scanning the tall buildings, his eyes drawn to the Senate building, as well as the apartment tower Leia called home, then checked the fancy blaster strapped to his hip. He'd fought a major battle with Doctor Pub over that, too, since Pub was of the opinion that Alderaanian royalty would shun openly carrying weapons.
After paying the attendant for his over-priced parking fee, he rented a speeder and hopped inside. With his hair flying in the wind, and the hum of the powerful engine throbbing under his feet, Han felt better than he'd felt in a long time. He was confident that Princess Leia would see him, especially since he was a fellow Alderaanian. He decided it was likely that the Princess would be in her office at this time of day, and eagerly headed in the direction of her office building.
Rapidly, he swung his speeder into a parking space, ignoring the sign that stated firmly, 'Reserved for Senator Borsk Fey'lya'. "The guy's never in anyway," Han muttered under his breath.
Moments later, trembling in anticipation, Han stood in the main lobby, waiting for an annoying droid to acknowledge his presence. With agonizing slowness, the silver protocol droid made its way over to the counter. "May I be of some assistance, sir?"
"Yeah," Han grunted. "I'm here to see Princess Leia Organa."
"Do you have an appointment?"
Han clenched his jaw. "I don't need any appointment. My name is …." He stopped, then frowned as his new name slipped his mind. "Uh."
"Uh? Is that your first name, or your last name?"
"Kaset!" Han declared, as he suddenly remembered.
"Kaset Uh, or would that be Uh Kaset?"
Was it just protocol droids that were equipped with this unique talent to annoy him? Han pondered. "Neither. My full name is Kaset Hoyla, and I'm an Alderaanian duke. Or at least I was, before, you know."
"Before?" the droid asked, completely baffled.
"Before Alderaan was destroyed," Han shouted, resisting the urge to dismantle the droid. The sentient beings in the crowded lobby all turned their heads and stared at Han's outburst. "Before Alderaan was destroyed," Han repeated in a whisper. He stood up straight, and glared at the droid. "Trust me, she'll want to see me. Just give her a comm and let her know I'm here."
The droid looked dubious, yet shuffled off toward the communication board. Han strained to listen, but the large room was noisy, and the droid had his back turned away. A few moments later, the protocol droid primly returned. "I'm sorry, sir. The Princess's secretary said she had no available appointments today. She can, however, with proper confirmation and clearance, set up an appointment for ten standard days from now."
"Ten days?" Han asked in disbelief. "You surely don't think I'm waiting here for around ten days!"
Again, the droid appeared flummoxed. "Well, no sir. I would not expect you to wait in this lobby for ten days. The standard procedure is to leave, and then return in ten days. We are not set up to attend to your personal needs inside this lobby. Not to mention we close and lock up every night."
"I hate droids," Han muttered. Then he headed toward an open lift, determined to see Leia, with or without an appointment.
"Sir!" the droid called out, holding up his arm and waving. "That lift is for authorized personnel only! You cannot enter there unless you have special clearance!"
Han stepped into the lift, and spun around, glaring at the droid. "Just watch me." He pressed Leia's clearance code into the terminal, and grinned as the door obediently shut off the droid's protests.
"You can't do this to me," Han shouted as he was hauled out of the building by heavily armed security guards. "I'm royalty.. sort of…"
"And I'm a Jedi Knight," one of the guards said sarcastically, giving Han a hard push into the street. "If you try this again, we'll be taking you directly to jail pal, so you'd better think twice before pulling that stunt a second time."
The older guard turned to his co-worker. "Now we're gonna get blamed for this guy being able to hack into the computer's security codes."
"What about my blaster?" Han demanded hotly.
"I've always wanted one of those fancy new Blastechs."
"File a complaint with the NRI," the man answered with a snort before following his co-worker back inside.
Han groaned in disgust at his bad luck. He'd only made it as far as Leia's secretary's office before alarms sounded and he'd been surrounded by about ten guards. After a brief interrogation and inspection of his identity disks, he'd been 'escorted' from the premises. Apparently, seeing Leia wasn't going to be as easy as he'd first thought, and now he was going to have to purchase a new blaster.
He made his way through the crowded streets, scanning store fronts until he located a weapon shop. The owner, a disreputable looking Neimodian, tried to swindle Han out of a small fortune for a blaster, but after threatening to take his business elsewhere, the business-being finally came down to a more reasonable price, and Han left the store fairly satisfied.
The Corellian was about to head back to his ship to sort through his options, when a flashing sign caught his eye. 'Ole' Palpie's Cold Dead Heart Waterin' Black-Hole', the letters flickered on and off, invitingly. It had been a while since Han had downed a good ale, and despite the bar's idiotic name and his better judgment, Han headed inside the smoke-filled interior.
Han automatically headed for a corner booth, sliding in and leaning his back against the wall so he could observe the entire room and see who was coming and going without being obvious. He was deep in thought, considering his options how to go about meeting Leia, when a server droid rolled over to his table. The Corellian sighed at the appearance of yet another droid.
"Welcome to 'Ole' Palpie's Cold Dead – "
"Gimme a Whyren's Reserve," Han interrupted the droid.
"I am terribly sorry, sir," the droid responded. "That particular brand is not carried in 'Ole' Palpie's Cold Dead Heart Waterin' Black-Hole'."
Of course, Han thought morosely. It was just his luck to pick a dump that didn't carry his favorite drink. "Do you have any Corellian ales?"
"Yes!" the droid said, sounding pleased. "'Ole' Palpie's Cold Dead Heart Waterin' Black Hole' carries a wide variety of wine, whiskey and ales. We have 'Death Ray Rum', 'Crystal Corelli', 'Centerpoint Grog' – "
"Those are all second rate brews," Han argued. "Don't you have anything better?"
The droid paused as his processor ran through the list. "How about 'Trade-route Raki'?"
"That's not any better," Han groused. "Get me a 'Corelli', then. I suppose I can choke it down."
"Right away, sir!" The droid whirled mercifully away, and moments later returned with his drink in a sticky glass.
Han downed the foul-tasting brew in three gulps, blinking his watering eyes and feeling the liquid burning in his stomach. Then the saloon's door opened briefly, admitting two human males. For a moment, Han thought the alcohol was causing him to hallucinate, and he shook his head. The men - Captain Tycho Celchu, and a man Han though he should recognize – sat down at a table in the center of the small room. Both were dressed in civilian clothing, yet still carried the attitude of New Republic fighter pilots. Han strained to hear their conversation over the throbbing background music, and caught the name 'Gavin' as Tycho spoke. Darklighter… that was the other guy, Han mused to himself. Both Rogue pilots had served under his command during his time on the Mon Remonda. And, Han remembered, Tycho Celchu was Alderaanian. It was the perfect opportunity. Quickly, Han stood up and approached the men's table.
The men stopped their conversation, and stared up at Han with a mixture of curiosity and wariness. "Can we help you?" Gavin asked, his eyes narrowing at the weapon strapped to Han's thigh.
"Um, yeah. I thought I recognized you…." Han said, thinking that perhaps he should have planned out what he was going to say before coming over. Addressing Tycho, he said, "Are you, err, the famous Luke Skywalker?"
Gavin gave a snort, and Tycho looked miffed. "No, I'm not. Go bother someone else."
"Oh," Han said, snapping his fingers. "You're that famous Alderaanian guy, right? I thought I recognized your accent. I'm from Alderaan, too."
"You are?" Tycho asked suspiciously. "You don't sound Alderaanian."
"Well, I haven't been there for a while…"
"Neither has anyone else," Gavin snapped out.
"I mean," Han stumbled for a decent recovery. "I was on Corellia for a long time, so my accent is sorta gone. But … my family…. we were Alderaanians." Tycho peered up, doubt plastered on his face. Han plunged ahead, "Dukes. My father was Duke Jasser Hoyla, so I'm a duke, too. Duke Kaset Hoyla. You wouldn't happen to know Princess Leia Organa, would you?"
Han wasn't expecting Tycho's reaction. The Alderaanian jumped up and his fist connected firmly with Han's jaw, sending the stunned Corellian reeling. Caught totally off-balance, Han fell, face first, against the corner table. Pain shot up through he jaw, and he felt himself jerked back to his feet by Tycho. "You're lucky I don't kill you, you lousy traitor!"
"Wha…what?" Han gasped, his fingers trying to stem the flow of blood from his cut face.
"Jasser Hoyla was a well-known supporter of the Empire, and probably a spy, too. Every Alderaanian knew that, and us survivors don't have nice things to say his legacy," Tycho hissed out. "You stay away from Leia, you creep."
What the hell had Doctor Pub done? Han wondered, still in shock. He needed to change Tycho's mind, and fast. "My dad wasn't a spy…"
"It doesn't matter," Tycho shot back. "He loved the Empire. It's just too bad you didn't die along with your traitorous family." He swung at Han a second time, and this time Han blocked the man's fist from connecting.
"Wait! I don't – "
Gavin Darklighter stepped up, grabbing Han's arms and twisting them behind his back. This allowed Tycho a clean shot directly to Han's nose, and the Corellian could hear the cartilage crunch. The pain made his head swim, and he wrenched free of Gavin's grip.
"I'm not who you think I am!" Han yelled, instinctively swinging back at his attackers, managing to hit Darklighter in the gut.
The young man let out a loud 'whoosh' and bent over double, leaving Han to try and deal with Tycho. "I thought us Alderaanians were peace-loving folks," Han grumbled as he ducked yet another blow, and connected his fist under Tycho's left jawbone.
"Peace-loving doesn't mean spineless," Tycho shouted back, feeling for loose teeth.
"I must object!" the server droid said, stepping in-between the human brawlers. "If this does not stop immediately, I will be forced to take drastic measures!" He pointed toward the exit. "Leave. You are not welcome in this establishment. The 'Ole' Palpie's Cold Dead Heart Waterin' Black-Hole' has a reputation to maintain."
"I'm sure it does," Han said, backing away from the Alderaanian. "Don't overheat your circuits… I'm going." Giving one last glare at Tycho, he added, "This isn't the last time you'll be seeing me, Celchu. You're gonna live to regret attacking me."
Han stomped away, leaving the two men rubbing their various bruises. "If he's an Alderaanian, I'm a Hutt," Tycho informed Gavin.
"I've always thought you had a family resemblance to Jabba," Gavin answered with a straight face.
Back in his ship, Han gingerly dabbed at his battered face with a cold wash cloth. His once perfectly straight nose was now bent slightly to one side, and dark circles had formed under his eyes. He winced as he touched the jagged gash on his chin, and reached for the bacta gel. He was about to put the salve on, when he stopped and grinned. If he bandaged the wound without the gel, he would have a scar. Leia always liked that scar, he thought, biting his lower lip and studying his features. He pushed the jar of bacta aside, and decided he rather liked having a less-than-perfect face after all.
Later that night, Han found he couldn't sleep. Besides the pain of his broken nose, his mind was racing with ideas on how to meet up with Leia. He mulled over various options. Perhaps he could locate Winter and ask her for a date. She might accept, considering he was 'Alderaanian'. Then, if she liked him enough, she'd introduce him to Leia. Han sighed, discarding that idea. Leia would never steal a man away from Winter, and if Tycho's reaction was any indication to his 'identity', Winter would never agree to even one date, much less introduce him to Princess Leia. Or, he could camp out in the lobby of Leia's apartment, hoping to 'accidentally' run into her. But she might consider that stalking, especially if she heard about his bold attempt to visit her in her office.
It might be time to use some of those credits to purchase a new identity, and forget being an Alderaanian Duke, especially in light of the fact 'his' father was considered an Imperial sympathizer. Why would Pub do this to him? Han wondered, annoyed. If he didn't come up with a plan soon, that idiot Hapan might worm his way back into the Princess's life.
He thought back to Isolder's method of proposing, and suddenly his famous inspiration struck.
Two days later….
Leia's new secretary, a skinny, short man named Gili Sorteau, stuck his head inside her open office door. "Ambassador Organa?"
Leia forced herself to smile. The man, while efficient, got under her skin and not in a good way. His attitude seemed more in line with a over-awed fan of a holovid-star instead of a professional secretary. "Yes?"
"A package arrived for you. It has no return address, but it's marked 'private and confidential'. Would you like me to dispose of it? It might be dangerous."
For safety reasons, destroying unmarked packages was standard procedure, but Leia hesitated. "How big is it?"
Gili held up his hands, about six inches apart. "It's small, and light. It could have poison inside. I'll send it to Security."
"No," Leia said. "Bring it to me."
"Are you sure that's a good idea?"
"Who's the boss?"
"You, ma'am. Sorry," the secretary mumbled, hurrying off to retrieve the small box. When he returned, he stood at her desk, watching as she turned the box over and inspected her printed office address.
Leia looked up. "That will be all."
"Oh… okay. Let me know if you need my assistance."
"Of course I will," Leia said evenly, watching as the assistant hurried off. Maybe it would have been a good idea just to use Threepio, instead of hiring that over-bearing guy. Once he left, she tore open the plain brown paper, noting it had been rather clumsily wrapped, and far more tape than necessary had been used to secure the item. What was inside surprised her – pretty stationery decorated with printed pastel Alderaan flowers. There was no note to indicate who mailed it to her, or why.
When a tired Leia arrived home that evening, Threepio greeted her at the door. "How are you feeling this evening, Princess Leia?"
"Fine, considering my feet are swollen and my back hurts," Leia replied, easing her body down into the soft sofa. It felt good to relax after a long day. Being six months pregnant and working long hours was difficult, but it would be at least another month before she could take a leave of absence. The New Republic needed her, so Leia felt she couldn't afford the luxury of too many weeks off. Once the baby was born, she would contact Isolder and…. She shook her head, feeling queasy and the idea of handing her child to Luke and accepting the Prince's hand in marriage, but she had made up her mind. Luke might still believe she'd decide differently after little Han's birth, but he was wrong.
"Would you like some tea?" the protocol droid asked.
"Yes, that would be nice, Threepio."
"Oh! And I almost forgot. A package arrived for you this afternoon." The droid shuffled off and quickly returned with the tiny box, wrapped in the same paper as the stationery.
Leia tore off the paper, and found a ornate, gold writing stylus inside, imprinted with tiny flowers. A small blue gemstone sparkled at the top. It was quite pretty, and matched the stationery she had received at her office. "Who brought this?"
"Just a courier service," Threepio replied. "They did not indicate the sender."
This was odd. Leia turned the stylus over in her fingers. She'd have Security check it out, to make certain it did not contain some small eavesdropping device, but she was fairly sure it was safe. How she knew that she didn't know… but the gift seemed to radiate good intentions, and holding it made her feel happy. It was very odd, indeed.
In a small café near Leia's apartment, Han took a bite of his Corellian stew. Leia should have received his gifts by now, he thought happily. Two down, only fifty-eight to go. He might not be able to match Isolder gifts for monetary value, but he knew Leia's heart. Han could only hope his gifts would top the Hapan's present for sentimental value, and if he could get her curious enough about who was sending the gifts, she might seek him out, instead of the other way around.
One week later…
When Luke entered his sister's apartment, he immediately noticed Winter and Leia standing over a large pile of packages, animatedly waving their arms and pointing at the boxes. "What's going on?"
Leia spun on her heel, glaring at Luke. "Is this your idea of a joke? Or did you put Wes up to it?"
"Up to what?" Luke asked, puzzled.
The Princess snatched up a box, and walked – or rather waddled at this point – over to her brother. "I've been getting gifts every day…. sometimes five or six in one day!" She thrust the box at him.
"And this is a bad thing?" Luke asked with a smile.
"I don't know who's sending them." She pointed at the box. "That one was the first, and today I received two more, and it's still morning."
"This baby blanket is beautiful," Winter pointed out, running her fingers over the delicate stitching. "It must have cost a lot of credits."
"That's the thing," Leia said. "The gifts are all lovely and expensive. Quilts… earrings…books…vases…"
"Well, I haven't been sending them," Luke protested. "Why don't you question the delivery agency?"
"I have," Leia snapped back. "They only can tell me a 'mystery' man brings them, and pays in hard credits to ship them to me. He won't give his name, and they can't tell me much about him, other than he's tall, because he wears a hood over his head. I would go wait until he shows up, except he uses various locations to mail the packages."
"Tall? So you immediately suspected me?" Luke joked.
"It must have been the 'hood over the head' part," Winter dead-panned. "Maybe he's a Jedi."
Luke frowned and looked down at the small box of writing flimies. "What was the latest item he sent?"
"This," Winter said, thrusting the baby blanket at Luke. "It arrived about an hour ago."
The Jedi took the blanket, and his eyes widened at his Force-touch. "I can sense…."
"What?" Leia prodded.
"The sender is Force-sensitive, and somehow familiar."
"Ah, ha!" Winter cried out in triumph. "He is a Jedi."
"I didn't say that," Luke replied. "Only that he's Force-sensitive."
"What about the familiar part? Do you know him?" Leia questioned intensely.
"It seems like I should," Luke admitted. "But something's not quite right. Something doesn't fit."
"The guy's dangerous? Demented?"
"No, I don't think so," Luke said. "I'm getting the impression he means well."
"Can you find him for me?"
Luke bit his lower lip, considering. "I suppose I could enlist Corran, and we could stake out the stores he's using to ship the packages, and the locations he's been shopping. He can't hide his Force-sense from me once I get close enough." Again, he felt an odd sensation tingling through his body at the words, 'Force-sense'. This stranger's sense was very, very familiar, and Luke was frustrated not to be able to place it. "Maybe when I find him, I can talk him into training as a Jedi."
The Princess fought down a smile. "Always looking for recruits."
"Maybe the sender is Isolder," Winter suggested to Luke. "You did once mention he had a bit of Force-sensitivity, and Hapans like to send lots of gifts."
"No," Luke said, shaking his head. "It's not Prince Isolder - that much I can tell."
"Good," Leia said, feeling relief.
"Good?" Luke repeated. "So you're not planning on accepting his proposal?"
"Don't put words in my mouth," Leia snapped back. "I haven't changed my mind."
"Too bad," Luke said, putting the baby blanket in Leia's hands. "It looks like you might have alternatives."
Leia laughed. "You're kidding, right? Surely you don't think I'm going to marry a total stranger that's trying to win my affections with presents!"
"Are we talking about Isolder?" Luke asked, then hurried out of the apartment before Leia could hurt him.
The past week had been hard on the normally stoic Corellian. He hadn't gotten much sleep, and when he did his mind tormented him with bizarre nightmares. Added to that was the fact he was sorely missing Chewie, the Millennium Falcon and especially Leia. The fact that the Princess was so physically close, yet so far from of his reach was frustrating beyond words. And his brand-new ship made it impossible to spend any time fixing it up, so that important therapy wasn't available, either.
Han made certain his hood was up and entered the shipping store, pulling a heavy box behind him on a small repulsor-lift. "I have a box I'd like to send to Ambassador Organa's office," he told the bored teenager behind the counter. The package contained a beautiful, hand-carved orowood cradle. At the rate Han was spending credits, he'd be broke before he ever saw Leia in person.
The kid maneuvered the box on a scale, then punched some numbers into a computer terminal. "That'll be seventy-nine credits."
"Just for shipping?" Han spluttered.
"Well," the kid drawled out. "It is heavy, and we go by weight, ya know."
Han groaned, then counted out the chips. "There. Make sure it gets there today."
"Same day delivery is ten more credits."
Giving his head a disgusted shake, he added more chips to the pile, then turned to leave.
"Ya wanna receipt?" the employee called out after him.
"No, but if you don't get it there, I'll be back," Han said threateningly, putting his hand on his blaster.
The young man looked startled and under his hood Han grinned as he left the building. It was fun intimidating people, especially sullen teenage boys. He was about to head toward the retail stores for yet more gift shopping, when he felt someone place a hand on his shoulder.
"I think we need to talk," the familiar voice of Luke Skywalker said in his right ear.
No sooner had those words left Luke's mouth than he felt like he'd been hit in the gut. The overwhelming sense of familiarity suddenly had a name, and that name was…"Han!?"
The man spun around and the hood dropped down to his shoulders. There was a look of surprise on his face, but not fear. "What?"
Luke took a step back in shock. This was the face of a stranger. Sure, the man's eyes were the same hazel color, his nose was off-center, and a still-raw scar slashed across his chin. But the hair was too dark and wavy, the bone structure slightly different than that of Han Solo. "I… thought I recognized you," Luke stated uncertainly. "But I guess I was wrong."
"Oh," the man replied, his skin becoming flushed. "That's okay."
"No… actually it's not," Luke continued as he remembered his mission. "You've been sending my sister presents."
The man's lips twisted into a grin. "Really? Who's your sister?"
The Jedi could tell this man knew exactly who his sister was. "Leia Organa."
"How do you figure I'm the one doing it?"
"Well," Luke said, pausing for a moment. "It's your Force-sense. It's the same as the blanket."
"I have no idea what you're talking about."
"What's your name?" Luke demanded. Despite the man's physical appearance, he couldn't shake the feeling that this was Han Solo. It made absolutely no sense at all.
"Kas," the man responded quickly. "What's yours?"
It was time for a test. "I think you know my name."
"Let me think… Leia Organa has a brother who's a Jedi, right? Skywriter? Spacewalker? Something like that."
"Skywalker," Luke said dryly. This man was already testing his patience. "Luke Skywalker."
"Nice to meet you, Luke Skywalker," Kas replied lightly. "Is it a crime to send presents on Coruscant?"
"Then – assuming I'm even the sender – what's your problem?"
"Why are you sending Leia gifts? Why keep your identity a secret?"
Kas crossed his arms over his chest. "She, um, seemed like she needed some cheering up. I heard that she lost a guy she sorta liked, and that Hapan jerk dumped her."
"You've got it half right," Luke said, carefully watching the man's reaction. "She's still going to marry that Hapan jerk, though."
Kas's eyes widened. "She can't do that!"
"May I ask why you would care?"
"Well… I'm Alderaanian," Kas stuttered out. "She can't marry anyone besides an Alderaanian. It wouldn't be right."
Luke tried to sort through the muddle of this man's lies and truths. He truly was distressed at the idea of Leia marrying Isolder, yet he was lying about being Alderaanian. "You're Alderaanian?"
"Why does everyone doubt me when I say that?"
"Because it's not true?" Luke asked the obvious.
"No," Kas stated. "My name is Kaset Hoyla, and my father was Duke Jasser Hoyla. My father was, unfortunately, a supporter of Emperor Palpatine. Thanks to him, all Alderaanians automatically assume the worst of me, even though I have nothing but contempt for the Empire. So that's why I kept my identity a secret from your sister. If she knew they were from me, she wouldn't accept them."
The explanation made sense, in a bizarre way. "Are you aware that you're Force-sensitive, Kas?"
A look of wariness swept across the man's features. "It's not considered polite to call a man sensitive. Even if he is Alderaanian."
Luke grinned at the man's humor. It was yet another spooky similarity to Han Solo. "I mean, I think you have the potential to become a Jedi. I'd like you to consider allowing me to test you."
"I don't do good on tests, Skywalker."
"It's not difficult," Luke pushed on. "I can give you my apartment number, and you can contact me. Or, I could come to your apartment if you'd feel more comfortable."
"I don't live in an apartment," Kas said. "I live in my ship."
Luke suppressed a shiver at yet another 'Han' quirk. "Your ship? Where's it berthed? I can meet you there."
"You're pushy, you know that?"
"I could say the same thing about you, and all those secret presents you're sending Leia."
Kas laughed. "Level twelve-hundred thirty-two. Section Ninety. The bay is called 'Senate View Docks.'"
"I've heard of it," Luke commented. "It's expensive."
"Yeah, well, I'm a rich duke, so I can afford it."
At least that was one thing this guy didn't have in common with Han, Luke mused. "So I can meet you there?"
"Sure," Kas said, shrugging. "Just don't get your hopes up, Skywalker. I don't go much for hokey religions."
As he walked away, Han felt like shouting for joy. His plan had worked; Leia had sent Luke to find him. He'd have to pretend he was interested in the Force for a while, and probably play around with one of those stupid lightsabers. But those were minor setbacks to his grand scheme. If he could convince Luke how sincerely he was trying, and how sorry he was about his 'father's' support of Palpatine, it would only be a matter of days until he was face-to-face with the Princess. Then Leia would quickly fall in love with him all over again, Han thought happily.
The bigger hurdle, the one about revealing his true identity, was something he'd think about later. After all, inspiration was his specialty.
The first words out of Leia's mouth when Luke returned to her apartment were, "Did you find him?"
"His said his name is Kas Hoyla," Luke supplied. "He claims he's Alderaanian."
"Hoyla," Leia repeated. "That names sounds familiar…"
"He said he father was a duke, and a supporter of the Empire –"
"I remember!" Leia interrupted, her tone tight. "I didn't know anyone from that family survived. He's got a lot of nerve sending me gifts!"
"He said you'd feel that way, which is why he was keeping his identity a secret."
"Why do you sound like you don't believe him?"
Sometimes Leia was too perceptive, Luke mused. "I don't think he's telling me the complete truth. In fact, for a few seconds, I thought it was Han."
The Princess looked up at her brother sharply. "That's not funny."
"It wasn't meant to be," Luke said. "Even after I saw him, I kept getting that impression."
"Han wasn't Force-sensitive," Leia said, swallowing down the lump that seemed to form in her throat every time she thought about the Corellian. "And he certainly wasn't Alderaanian."
"This guy isn't either, despite what his claims." Luke shook his head. "The last thing he said to me as he was walking away was that he didn't go for 'hokey religions.' Tell me that doesn't sound like Han. Even his voice inflection was exactly like Han's."
"But he didn't look like Han?" Leia questioned, seeing her brother's confused expression. She felt more than a bit confused herself, since Luke's impressions of sentient beings was seldom wrong.
"No, not exactly."
"Explain that, please."
"He … he had a new scar on his chin –"
"Do you think this person is trying to impersonate Han for some reason?" Leia shook her head in disgust. "I can't believe how low some people will sink. It's just like all these strangers that claim to be our mother, and some of them aren't even human."
Luke shrugged. "I can't say he was trying to impersonate Han, or why would he pretend not to know me? Like I said, it's very odd. Maybe I can figure him out after I start training him as a Jedi."
The Princess laughed. "I guess if he agreed to do that, he couldn't be trying to pretend to be Han." Her shoulders slumped, and the amusement left her face. "I miss him."
"So do I," Luke agreed, giving his sister a tight hug.
Senate View Docks lived up to its named, as it overlooked the towering Senate building in the distance. Large, private yachts sat on shiny pads, and security droids kept a sharp look-out for unauthorized intruders.
Since Luke was well-known and had all his proper clearances, he had no problem finding section ninety, and the sleek craft that rested there. The Jedi approached the ship, and felt the same sensation he'd felt earlier; this Kas Hoyla had the identical 'Force-sense' his deceased friend had carried. Was it possible that two different beings could be indistinguishable through the Force? If true, the implications were worrisome. A Jedi could think someone was a friend, and, in fact, be someone different and dangerous.
The ramp lowered, and Kas was standing at the top. "Hey, Skywalker… come on inside."
Luke entered the sparkling ship, and nodded his greeting. "Hello again, Kas. Nice ship."
"Thanks," Kas replied flatly, giving the impression he didn't much care for his transport.
"Does it have a name? Most ships have names."
"I know that," Kas answered, frowning. "It's called, um, the, uh…"
"You can't remember?" Luke asked in surprise.
"Well," Kas said, "I just bought it, so I'm having a hard time remembering what I named it. Duke's Duck. That's it."
"I'm a duke, and a duck flies, right?"
"I guess," Luke muttered.
"Did you tell your sister about me?"
"Yes, I did," Luke said. "You were correct about her reaction to your last name."
"Oh," Kas said, looking crestfallen. "So she doesn't want to see me?"
"You never said you wanted to meet her. Is that why you were sending the gifts? You told me you were only trying to cheer her up."
Kas rubbed the back of his neck. "Did I?"
"I'll ask her if she'll meet with you, if that's what you want," Luke said.
"Good," Kas said, nodding. "You do that. So, are you gonna train me as a Jedi, or what?"
"Sure," Luke replied as he followed Kas into the spacious, and relatively empty, main hold. "Let's get started. I've brought you a low-power lightsaber, so you don't have to worry about cutting off something you'd rather keep." He took the training saber out from under his robe, and handed it to the man.
Luke took his time explaining the techniques of dueling, and recited the rules that any Jedi must follow before turning on his weapon. Only use it in self-defense or the defense of others'. Never turn on your weapon if you don't intend to use it. Never turn it on to show off. Never…..
"Can we just get on with this?" Kas abruptly interrupted. "I hate rules."
"If you become a Jedi, rules will guide your entire life."
"Kenobi didn't make you memorize every Jedi decree prior to letting you turn on your lightsaber," Kas argued.
"How do you know?" Luke asked sharply.
Kas looked flustered. "It's…I just guessed. It's common knowledge he didn't have much time to train you before he died."
"Really." Luke stared at this familiar stranger, watching as he shifted on his feet. It was time to see if Kas had what it takes. "Turn on your lightsaber."
Three days later…onboard the 'Duke's Duck'
Han lay on his soft bunk, trying to decide which part of his body hurt the most. Luke had been putting him through every Jedi exercise he could think of, pushing limits beyond what Han believed was humanely possible. There were moments when it took all the Corellian's self-control not to throw in the proverbial towel, and tell Luke what to do with the towel afterward. But Luke – and his stupid Force nonsense – was his only ticket to see Leia. Sometimes Han suspected that Luke knew 'Kas' was going along with Jedi training for that reason.
If Han thought all the running, jumping, and hiking was bad, the meditation exercises were even worse. No matter how hard he tried (and if he were honest, he'd have to admit he didn't try very hard at all) Han wasn't able to 'tune out' his surroundings and 'feel the Force' as Luke continually admonished. He didn't think about the lightsaber lessons at all, since Luke managed to knock the weapon from his grasp every time, and without much effort. It was a stupid weapon, anyway, Han thought grumpily. There wasn't anything that could ever replace a good blaster at your side. He wanted to tell the kid that too, but he knew from past experience that Luke wouldn't agree, and probably launch into another boring lecture about Jedi traditions.
Luke was scheduled to arrive in two hours, and Han was determined to press the issue about setting up a meeting with Leia. Then Leia would fall madly in love with him, and he could tell Luke to stuff a Wookiee in his lightsaber.
The second Luke opened the door to Leia's apartment, the Jedi was swept up in the shaggy arms of a russet-colored Wookiee. "Chewie!" Luke mumbled into the fur. "What brings you here?" Luke's ever-present companion, Artoo, burbled out his greeting as well.
*I've been missing my human friends,* Chewie woofed out, and turned to Threepio for interpretation.
"And he has been asked by Kashyyyk to become the new Ambassador to the New Republic," Leia added with a laugh.
*Do not congratulate me yet,* Chewie barked back. *I have not yet decided to take the position.*
"Why not?" Luke questioned. "It sounds like quite the honor."
*It is,* Chewie agreed. *But something is holding me back from accepting. I just do not know what that something might be.*
Luke nodded, and turned his gaze at his sister. "Do you want me to bring Kas to your office today? He keeps asking me when he can see you."
"Luke's new Jedi-trainee," Leia explained.
The young Jedi gave a weary sigh. "Yes. My newest student."
"He's still not very interested, is he?"
"No," Luke admitted. "Actually, I may have been mistaken about him being Force-sensitive."
Leia looked confused. "But you were sure before."
"I know," Luke agreed. "But the more I'm around him, the less and less I think he's cut out to be a Jedi. He's terrible with lightsabers. He hates meditating. He refuses to even try and levitate objects… he just claims he can't do it, but I know he's not even trying!"
"He still reminds you of Han."
*WHAT?* Chewie roared out.
"More than ever," Luke said, looking at the Wookiee. "This man is so similar to Han, it's scary. I keep thinking that I'll start thinking 'Kas' when I go over to his ship, but every day he looks, and acts, more like Han, not less. Yesterday, I could've sworn his hair was getting lighter, but when I asked if he was coloring it, he laughed and told me it was my imagination."
*It is not possible this is my cub,* Chewie said firmly. *I watched as Han's body was placed in the coffin. His body never left my sight.*
"Except for that strange incident where he disappeared, and then showed up in the morgue," Luke pointed out.
*The body was Han's mortal remains,* Chewie insisted. *His scent was the same.*
"Okay," Leia suddenly declared. "It's time."
"Time to take me to his ship. I want to meet this mystery man of many gifts."
*So do I,* Chewie growled.
Luke grinned. "I'd love to see his reaction when he sees you, Chewie. Let's all go."
"Does that include me?" Threepio questioned.
"Of course," Leia said. "I'd love to see his reaction to you, Threepio."
"Oh, dear," the droid murmured. "If he's anything like Master Han used to be, I hope he doesn't blast me to pieces."
The two droids, two humans, and Wookiee headed out toward the Senate View Docks.
"Wow," Leia commented as the group entered the hanger that held the sleek and new Duke's Duck. "That's some ship."
Luke nodded. "Kas told me it was custom built to resemble a Naboo yacht, which were used by royalty before the Clone Wars."
*It is impressive on the exterior,* Chewie agreed. *Nothing like the Falcon.*
"I wonder why he gave it such a ridiculous name," Leia mused.
The young Jedi laughed as he approached the ship and pushed the buzzer to signal his arrival. "I think he made up that name the second I asked him, and that was the first thing that came to his mind."
Moments later, the ramp lowered, revealing Kaset Hoyla standing at the top. The man's mouth dropped open and his eyes widened as he hurried down to greet his guests, mustering his will-power not to throw his arms around his friends and hug them. "Leia? Chewie….err bacca?" He swung his head to look at Luke. "You didn't tell me you were bringing them over today."
"You know Chewbacca?" Luke questioned intently.
"No… no…. I've just seen his holos, and I've read about him," Kas quickly explained. "He's famous, you know."
"The famous Wookiee's name is Chewbacca, not Chewierbacca" Leia said tartly. "And I'd appreciate it if you'd call me Ambassador Organa, and not by my first name, Mr. Hoyla."
"Is that right?" Kas replied, looking Leia up and down. "You've put on a few pounds, Princess."
Leia flushed. "I'm over seven months pregnant. You've got a lot of nerve insulting me, Mr. Hoyla."
"I ain't insulting you… I think you look great. Wonderful, even," Kas said, trying to smooth things over. "You an' me got a lot in common, Princess. We're both Alderaanians, and royalty to boot, since I'm a duke."
"You are no more Alderaanian than Palpatine."
"But I'm a lot better looking."
Chewie leaned forward and gave a loud sniff. *This is not Han's scent… exactly.*
Luke waited while Threepio explained Chewie's comments, then asked, "Exactly?"
*It is strange. It is almost like I can smell Han underneath, but not on the surface.*
"Hey!" Kas objected. "I don't stink. I took a shower this morning and everything."
"You understand Shyriiwook?" Luke asked, not sounding too surprised.
Kas looked startled. "Uh… sorta. A few words here and there. I studied it at the University."
"Which university would that be?" Leia asked in a fake, syrupy-sweet voice.
"Alderaanian U. The Primara campus," Kas said, beads of sweat forming on his brow. "Why am I getting the third degree here? I'm not a criminal."
"Maybe if you were honest with us, DUKE," Leia snapped out.
"There was a Primara Campus of Alderaanian University," Threepio piped up. "So I am certain Duke Hoyla is being quite honest in that regard, Mistress Leia."
Kas glanced over at the droid. "I've heard good things about you, and now I know they're all true."
"Well, thank you, sir," Threepio said, pleased. "This man is much more refined than Captain Solo. I think he is a fine human being."
"Thanks," Kas said smugly. "See, Princess? Your droid thinks I'm a great guy. Now maybe we can go have dinner tonight. Whaddya say?"
"You're asking me on a date?" Leia asked, incredulously. "I wouldn't date you if you were the last man in the galaxy!"
"Why not?" Kas shouted back, frowning down at the Princess with his hands on his hips. "I'm a hell of a lot better than that Hapan jerk!"
"Oh, really?" Leia said through gritted teeth. "Well, DUKE Hoyla, I'll have you know that I'm marrying that so-called Hapan 'jerk', so you can forget about dating me since I'm technically engaged."
"You'll marry him over my dead body!" Kas yelled.
*Are you threatening the Princess?* Chewie growled, stepping between the man and Leia.
Kas gulped and took a quick step back. "No. I'd never do that. I love Leia."
"Love me?" Leia yelled. "You don't even know me!"
"I know you better than you think."
"I've seen more than enough, Luke." She glared at Kas. "Thanks for all the gifts, but don't expect more from me than that." The Princess spun around and headed away from the ship. "Come along, Threepio. I'm late for work."
"I am coming, Mistress Leia!" Threepio called out, shuffling after the Princess. "I still think Duke Hoyla is a fine human, in my humble opinion!"
*I had better escort the Princess,* Chewie woofed out to Luke. *Good luck training this strange one to become a Jedi.* The Wookiee hurried off, concerned that Leia was unguarded.
"That didn't go too good," Kas muttered unhappily. "Why didn't you warn me they were coming? You caught me off-guard."
"Kas," Luke said, starting up the ramp of the ship with Artoo in tow. "I think you have some explaining to do."
"What more can I explain?" Kas complained, following Luke inside. "I've told you everything about me."
Luke spun around to face the man. "You are not who you say you are."
"That doesn't make any sense."
"Don't lie to me," Luke shot back, getting angry. "I can tell you've been hiding something from the moment I first met you. So tell me the truth. Who are you?"
Kas leaned his shoulder against the wall. "You won't believe me."
"I'm not Duke Kaset Hoyla, from Alderaan…"
"No kidding," Luke said dryly.
"I'm Han Solo."
Luke wasn't sure what emotions he felt upon hearing those words. Relief that he wasn't crazy, and that the Force hadn't been misleading him. And in a way, shock that this truly was Han after all. All he could think of to say was, "How?"
"It's a long story, kid."
"We've got plenty of time," Luke replied, following his friend deeper into the ship and sitting down in a comfortable lounge chair in the main compartment. He watched as Kas… now Han…. sat down across the dining table. Then he listened to Han's long and incredible story of how he ended up in a Force-sensitive body.
After a while, Luke placed his hands on top of the table, intertwining his fingers as he pondered the tale. "You've suffered no side effects to this transfer?"
Han shifted in his chair nervously. "Nothing too serious."
"I've been having a hard time sleeping, and when I do, I have nightmares. Mostly of feeling lost, or I'm looking for myself, and I find myself, only I'm dead. Or I find Leia and she doesn't believe I'm me," Han explained. "Now that nightmare has come true, actually."
Luke nodded. "Those are understandable fears."
"You believe me?" Han said, his face and tone betraying underlying fears of rejection.
"The Force tells me that you're finally being truthful," Luke said, smiling.
"Good. Then I can truthfully tell you I don't want to become a Jedi, either."
"That's a good thing, Han," Luke replied, laughing. "Even with the Force, you'd make a terrible Jedi. And to be honest with you, it seems to me that your abilities with the Force are lessening, not growing. That's a very strange thing, since lessons usually bring out the Force in a person."
Han gave a shaky laugh, running his fingers through his hair and joked, "Maybe it has something to do with the fact my hair is getting lighter and straighter every day. Maybe this body required dark, wavy hair to be Force-powerful."
"You may be onto something," Luke agreed.
"What? I was kidding."
"No," Luke insisted. "I've noticed physical changes in you, too. Not just your hair, but subtle alterations in your facial features. I think the Force may be changing this body to match your previous body."
"Why would it do that?"
Luke shrugged. "The Force is a strange thing, Han. Maybe it can tell that Han Solo wasn't meant to be Force-strong, and before it fades away it's giving you a different gift - its own secret gift, if you will – of returning you to you."
"Can it do that?" Han asked, surprised. "I noticed my new eye color was blue originally, and now it's more like my old eye color."
"I don't know," Luke admitted. "Yoda would tell me there isn't anything the Force can't do, as long as you believe."
"The big question is – will Leia believe I'm me?"
Luke gave a sigh. "She's going to be harder to convince than I was, that's for certain. I'll go explain all this to her first. I think it may be easier to accept coming from me."
"What about Chewie?"
"I'll tell them both at the same time," Luke said. "Then, after letting them think about it for a day, I'll come and get you and we can face them together."
Han gave a relieved grin. "Thanks, kid. I owe you one."
"I plan on collecting, too."
"Hey!" Han objected. "This wasn't my fault!"
Inside Leia's Office
For not having a great deal of Force-training, Leia was excellent at concealing her emotions as Luke relayed Han's bizarre story of Doctor Pub and the Ssi-ruuk technology used to transfer him into a different body. When Luke was finished, she said, "You believe this garbage?"
Chewie roared his agreement with the Princess.
"It's not garbage," Luke said patiently. "He's telling the truth."
"Because the Force is telling you this?"
*Perhaps this Kas person is skilled at deception using the Force. He could not be Han, no matter how much I wish he were.*
"I would have to agree," Threepio piped up helpfully. "Kaset Hoyla is precisely one point seven centimeters taller than Captain Solo. It is not possible for a human to grow taller at that stage in his life. Or, for that matter, younger. It appears that Duke Hoyla is a decade younger than Captain Solo."
Artoo gave a long toot directed at C-3PO, and the protocol droid tilted his head. "I am not disagreeing with Master Luke! I am merely pointing out that there are certain differences that humans cannot alter."
"Maybe he was wearing boot lifts" Leia said to the droid. "And humans can use surgery to appear younger."
"Oh. Well, I did not consider those possibilities. Never mind."
"This is Han," Luke insisted, ignoring the droids. "Chewie, you said yourself he smelled the same underneath. It's just like I told Han – the Force must be making him over, into the person he was."
"You are too trusting," Leia stated firmly. "I wish Han were alive, too. But I'm not allowing some con-artist to waltz into my life and make these strange claims that can't possibly be true."
Chewie nodded in agreement. *Just because he resembles Han, does not make him Han.*
"What if he can prove it?" Luke asked, suddenly getting a brainstorm.
"Let him fly the Falcon with you," Luke suggested. "See if he can do the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs."
*You are trying to kill me.*
"I'll come with," Luke said. "We all will!"
"What?" Leia shouted in disbelief.
"If he can fly the Millennium Falcon like Han, won't that convince you?"
*It would go a long way,* Chewie agreed.
"I don't have to come along on this folly, do I?" Threepio asked in horror.
"If I have to go, so do you," Leia told the droid.
"It's my lot in life to suffer," Threepio complained, unaware no one was listening to him.
Han was too excited to sleep, so he got up and had a strong cup of kaffe. Then, after pacing the hallway in the Duke's Duck for a few minutes, he headed out of the ship. He hesitated a few moments on the bottom of the ramp, watching blinking lines of hovercrafts heading in all directions. The tall, endless buildings stretched for the sky, which was just now glowing pink, a sign of the coming morning.
The Corellian couldn't wait another moment. If Luke's promise was correct, today he would once again be sitting where he belonged – behind the controls of his beloved Millennium Falcon. According to the young Jedi, this would be a test to prove to Chewie he could fly the freighter. Apparently, both Chewie and Leia were not convinced that Kas Hoyla was truly Han Solo, even with Luke's assurances.
With a spring in his step, he headed off toward the less expensive docking bay where Luke had told him Chewie had parked his ship. At the exit door, Han stopped and looked back at the Duke's Duck. If he never saw the shiny ship again, he'd be happy. Besides which, he hated the name he'd bestowed upon that vessel. Whatever had possessed him to come up with such a dim-witted moniker?
A half-hour later, Han approached the closed-up Millennium Falcon. He pressed the signal and when there was no response, he confidentially punched in the codes to open up the ship. He was pleased when the ramp lowered, and yelled up into the ship, "Chewie?" When there was no answer, he walked into the ship. The Falcon was exactly as he'd left it, and after inspecting each room, Han decided that Chewie wasn't onboard. That wasn't too surprising, as the Wookiee kept a small apartment in the same building he'd once lived during his time as a New Republic general.
Han entered the cockpit, sitting down with a contented sigh in his battered, familiar seat, and ran his fingers over the dented control panel. This was more like it – the ship smelled like grease, sweat and hyperdrive lubricant, mixed up with the distinct smell of Wookiee fur. In a word, perfection.
Movement caught his eye out of the extended window. Entering the hanger was Leia, followed closely by Threepio. Han grinned. Of course she was bright and early. In all the years he'd known the Princess, she was nothing less than prompt. He waited until he heard her footsteps inside the ship, then stood and entered the corridor, leaning casually against the wall and waited until she came around the curve.
"Well, look who's arrived," Han drawled out, grinning. "Couldn't wait to see me again?"
Leia looked startled. "What are you doing here?"
"Luke told me to come."
"But…. you're early!"
"So are you."
"Where's Chewie?" Leia questioned sharply.
"He's not here," Han replied, looking pointedly around the hall. "So he must be somewhere else."
"Oh," Threepio piped up from behind the Princess. "Chewbacca contacted me a short while ago, and said he needed to get some supplies for the trip. He said he'd probably arrive back at the ship around eight or so. Those were his exact words, although I must say that the words 'probably' and 'eight or so' seem a bit vague."
"Did you send him away on purpose?" Leia asked suspiciously. "Where's Luke?"
"No, I did not send Chewie away, and I'm guessin' Luke's still at his apartment." Han frowned at Leia. "What are you thinking, anyway? That I pushed both of them off a walkway so I could get you alone?"
"I think I'll go wait outside the ship for one of them, if you don't mind."
"I do mind," Han said shortly. "I'm not gonna hurt you, Leia."
"Ambassador Organa," Leia corrected. "I thought I told you to call me Ambassador Organa. You may have fooled my brother, but I think this trip is going to be your undoing, Duke Hoyla… or whatever your real name is."
"Han Solo. My real name is Han Solo."
"Sure it is," Leia replied. "Come along, Threepio. We're waiting outside." Leia turned and started down the corridor, then stopped abruptly in front of an open doorway. "As soon as I use the refresher, that is." She entered the small room, shutting and locking the door.
Threepio twisted his neck to look at Han. "The Princess seems to require using every refresher we pass, even if she just used one ten minutes earlier." The droid turned back around to wait for Leia.
"How about that," Han muttered distractedly. He hated that Leia didn't trust or believe him, and felt a rising desperation to convince her he was telling the truth.
Then inspiration struck. Or, perhaps when he had more time to consider the consequences, he would regard the 'inspiration' as insanity, but without thinking further, Han quickly reached up and switched Threepio's 'off' button on the back of the droid's neck. Hurrying back to the cockpit, Han sat down and starting pressing buttons, remembering to raise the ramp.
With a quick scan of the area to ensure no one was in harm's way, he pulled the lever back, and the Millennium Falcon lifted off the dock, then gracefully turned to the sky and arced upward.
It took only about thirty seconds before Princess Leia came storming into the cockpit, her face flushed and her eyes wide with shock and anger. "What in the kest are you doing? If you don't land this kriffing ship immediately, I'll … I'll …"
Han glanced up briefly before looking back to the viewport. He was sweating and his heart was hammering from the rush of adrenalin. He realized, belatedly, that he might have made the situation worse, but it was too late now to go back and pretend this didn't happen, so he'd have to see it through and hope for the best. "You'd better sit down and strap in, sweetheart. I'd hate to have you and my baby bouncing off the ceiling."
"YOUR baby??" Leia shouted, then continued ranting before Han could reply. "Are you listening to me? Are you hard of hearing, or just a stupid rodder?" She sat down in the seat behind the vacant co-pilot's chair, putting the restraining harness on. "I said land, dammit!"
"Did you learn all those bad words from me?" Han questioned innocently while typing in his course setting. "I'm impressed, Princess, really I am… but I can't believe that snooty Prince you claim you're engaged to would appreciate the refined art of swearing."
"I AM engaged to Isolder!" Leia insisted, pushing aside the nausea that always accompanied that thought. "Now, land! Or you'll spend the rest of your worthless life rotting in a Hapan prison!"
"We're not landing," Han said firmly. "I'm taking you on a little trip."
"You're kidnapping me!?"
"Uh, not exactly."
"What do you call it, then?"
"Kidnapping involves some type of ransom payment," Han hurriedly explained. "I'm not asking for credits… only some of your time."
"You could have asked me first," Leia shot back, her voice lowering a bit. "Instead, you just decided – on your own – to take off while I'm sitting helpless on the pot!" She shook her head, furious. "It's not like I could just leap up and run off the ship in my condition!"
"That's why I thought it was a good time to go ahead with my plan. Besides, you wouldn't have said 'yes' if I'd have asked first, anyway."
"How long have you been planning this?"
"For about sixty seconds… give or take a few seconds."
"Where are you taking me?"
"Well…" Han stopped and gave the matter some consideration. "Not Kessel. That's the first place Luke and Chewie will go and look for us. I think maybe a romantic trip down memory lane."
"I don't have any romantic memories with you," Leia said with a sniff. "You'll never convince me you're Han Solo, even – "
"Even? Even what?"
"Even if you do sometimes act like the nerfherder used to."
"Ah, Your Worshipfulness," Han said, grinning back at her. "You know how much I love it when you call me those special pet names."
Flustered, Leia tore her gaze away from the man's hauntingly familiar eyes. "You're good at imitating him. I'll give you that."
She watched as the man pulled the hyperspace lever and the stars blurred. He was paying close attention to the readouts, and she suddenly realized it would be easy to reach over and pull out his blaster from the holster strapped to his thigh.
Slowly, she leaned forward.
Meanwhile, back on Coruscant…
Luke hurriedly entered the empty hanger, only to see Chewbacca standing in the center of the landing pad, surrounded by several large packages. "Chewie? What happened to the Millennium Falcon?"
*I only left for a short while,* Chewie barked out, holding out his arms. *And when I got back, it was gone! Someone stole the Falcon!*
"Not someone," Luke said. "Han. Han took it. And Leia's with him. I can sense her agitation."
*He took off with the Princess? Against her will? Is he crazy?*
"I think so," Luke conceded.
*I am now convinced that Kas Hoyla is truly Han Solo. Only Han is crazy enough to kidnap the Princess.* Chewie sighed. *I fear for Han's safety.*
"Let's take the Duck and head to Kessel," Luke suggested. "Maybe he went there to impress her with his flying skills."
*Yes. I'm sure she's already impressed with his common sense and self-restraint.*
Onboard the Millennium Falcon
Leia was astounded at how fast the man's hand shot sideways and grabbed her wrist. "Let go of me," she said, futilely trying to twist away.
He spun around in his chair to face her, his expression dark. "Would you really shoot me, if you got a chance?"
"I see," Han said, trying to keep the disappointment out of his voice. "Since you insist on doing this the hard way, come on." He reached forward, unfastening Leia's restraint harness and then stood up, pulling Leia to her feet.
Leia held her ground. "Where are we going?"
"Right this very moment, or in the greater scheme of things?"
"We're on course for Corellia, to start our little journey."
"Why?" Leia demanded. "I've never been to Corellia with Han, romantically or otherwise. If you really were Han, you'd know that."
"I am Han, and I do know that," Han responded. "I thought maybe a little meeting with Doctor Pub might convince you I'm telling the truth."
"I doubt it," Leia said, tilting up her chin in defiance. "If he does exist, he's undoubtedly part of this kidnapping scheme."
Han groaned in disgust, then tugged a reluctant Leia along. "Come on, Your Worship. You don't want me to carry you, do you?"
"Where are you taking me?" she asked, her voice barely betraying her panic.
"The hold," Han replied, looking her in the eye, then moving his eyes down to her swollen belly. "I'm not going to take your innocence, sweetheart. I'd say there's pretty clear evidence I already did that."
He pulled her by her wrist into the hold, then ordered her to sit at the game table. Without hesitating, he opened a compartment and pulled out a pair of binders, slipping one end over the Princess's wrist, and clipping the other end on the table leg. "There. That'll keep you from mischief while I go to my cabin for a minute."
"Han would never put binders on me," Leia said tightly.
"Yes I would, especially if I knew you were out to shoot me the second I turned around. And besides," Han added, winking. "Binders can be fun, under certain circumstances."
Leia blushed, and her mouth dropped open. Han quickly left the room before she could start yelling at him.
*This Duke's Duck is a nice ship,* Chewie said, nodding in approval at the smooth take-off.
"Yes," Luke agreed. "Nice and new. That's why Han hates it so much. There's nothing to tinker with."
*Where should we head?*
Luke frowned, trying to reach out to his sister, but she was too far away by this time to get any sense of where she was located. "Do you think Han might take her to Kessel, like we'd first planned?"
"Alright, then. Kessel it is."
When Han came swaggering back into the hold ten minutes later, Leia was positive she was seeing a ghost. The man claiming to be Han was now dressed in Han's old clothes – white shirt, black vest, slacks with the red bloodstripe, and his old gun rig and blaster strapped to his leg. If he strongly resembled Han before, this change of clothing completed the illusion, for Kas Hoyla could now pass himself off as Han Solo's twin brother.
Seeing her expression, he gave a lopsided grin. "Everything fits. The pants are just a little looser, and the shirt's a bit tighter around my shoulders, but not enough that it's uncomfortable. Even my boots still fit… can you believe that?" He stomped his feet to demonstrate his point. When Leia remained speechless and motionless, Han waved his hand in front of her face. "Are you in there?"
Leia blinked, then shook her head to clear her muddled thoughts. "Did this surgery to make yourself over to look like Han cost a lot of credits?"
"I don't have a clue what Pub paid to create this body, Leia. All I know is that every time I look in the mirror, I look less and less like I did when I first was transferred into it, and more and more like I used to look, before I got sick."
"Han died," Leia said softly, feeling a tear trickle down her cheek. "I loved him, and he died without knowing how much I loved him."
"Love, not loved," Han said, brushing the tear from her face with his finger. "It's not past tense, sweetheart. I'm still here." He leaned forward to kiss her, but the Princess turned her face away before his lips could reach hers.
"Why are you doing this to me?"
"I…." Han stopped, frustrated beyond words that he couldn't convince her. Reaching down, he unfastened her binders, and tossed them aside. "I'm going to make you something to eat. I hope Chewie has something stocked besides ration bars and Wookiee food."
"I'm not hungry."
"Then eat for our… your baby."
"My baby is a boy," Leia said quietly. "Luke say's he's strong in the Force."
"That definitely comes from your side of the family, sweetheart," Han said with a laugh.
Leia ignored that remark. "I'm going to let Luke adopt him, and then I'm going to marry Isolder."
Anger flashed across Han's face. "No, you're not."
"You can't stop me."
"You are the most stubborn, bantha-headed woman I've ever dealt with," he stated. "But I'll match you that bantha-headed stubborn streak with a nerfherder's stubborn streak."
"I'll raise that by a Force-strong Princess," Leia replied, trying to keep a straight face.
"I'll show you a Wookiee side-kick, and raise it by the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy."
Leia finally smiled. "You might win this hand, Mr. Hoyla, but the game's far from over."
"I'm counting on that, Princess."
"Here we are," Han said, waving his hand dramatically at the blue-green ball floating in space through the viewport. "Corellia. The place I was born. And died. And was reborn, in a strange sorta way."
"So all the big events in your life happen on this planet," Leia said.
"Not all of them," Han replied. "I didn't meet you here."
"Where did you meet me?"
"I am fairly certain Captain Solo met you – " Threepio started out.
"Let him answer, Threepio!"
"Oh. I see. This is yet another test," Threepio said. "Captain Solo has answered every question correctly up to this point, Mistress Leia."
Leia fought the urge to switch off the droid. "I know that. But let him answer anyway."
"In the detention corridor on the first Death Star," Han answered. "Right before you made us all jump into a garbage crusher."
"There wasn't another way out!"
"So you always claim," Han said. "Everyone strapped in? We've got our landing clearance."
Leia checked her harness, thinking back on the last few days. Kas had acted exactly like Han the entire trip. He'd carefully prepared meals, and he knew exactly what she liked to eat. He joked around, and teased her about her girth, laughing when he made her angry. He had gotten annoyed when she insisted on calling him Duke Hoyla. He had not made one slip-up in any part of any story. If he was an actor, he'd win the Holo-Grande Award of the Year.
The worst part was that Leia feared she was falling in love with Kas Hoyla. In Leia's mind, marrying Isolder would not be nearly as terrible, since she wasn't – and never could be – in love with the Hapan Prince. Marrying Isolder would be 'just a job,' and she could forever hold Han in her heart as her true soul-mate. But if she fell in love with another man – even a man that looked like Han's twin - then she would be betraying Han, and that she couldn't bear.
The Princess harbored the hope that Doctor Pub Belvolus existed, and he would back up Kas Hoyla's claim with proof. Then and only then would Leia believe Kas was Han Solo, and no longer feel guilty over her emotions.
*Kessel,* Chewie declared as they exited hyperspace over the murky, gray planet.
"It's not too attractive, is it?"
Chewie opened his mouth to reply when a bright flash lit up the sky and the ship bucked violently. Artoo rolled across the cockpit, crashing into the wall.
"We're being attacked!" Luke cried out.
Artoo let loose with a long wail, clamping his 'arm' to the wall for support as the ship took yet another strike.
"Our shields are already down to fifty percent," Luke warned as Chewie attempted to elude more hits.
*This ship looks pretty, but it has terrible maneuvering abilities,* Chewie complained.
"Why are pirates attacking us?"
*For our pretty ship?* Chewie growled out. *I don't know why… that's what pirates do.*
"You don't have to be sarcastic about it," Luke said. "I was just asking."
*Sorry. I have spent too much time around Han,* Chewie responded. *Do you sense the Princess or Han in the area?*
"No," Luke admitted. "I was trying too hard to sense them, and that's why these pirates got a jump on us."
Another hit, and the Wookiee let loose with a loud roar. *They have taken out our hyperdrive.*
"And the shields are down to ten percent. If they get one more hit, were done for."
*We need to land.*
Luke nodded, his face grim. He knew that was the intent of the pirates all along… to force a landing, or an evacuation of the ship. But these pirates were in for a surprise when they boarded the Duke's Duck, because Luke sincerely doubted they were expecting to come face-to-face with an angry Wookiee and a Jedi Knight.
"This is the apartment," Han stated to Leia, pointing to the door. The entire building was shabbier than Han remembered it, but then he'd been a bit overwhelmed with other, more pressing issues, at the time. He pressed the buzzer, waiting expectantly.
It took a long time before the door finally opened, and a rumpled-looking Doctor Pub stood inside the apartment, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. "Yes?"
"Hi. I'm back," Han said eagerly. "I need you to back me up, so Leia believes me."
Pub frowned up at the tall Corellian. "Who are you?"
"Han. Han Solo."
The doctor staggered back several paces. "Han Solo? He's dead!"
"This is certainly convincing me," Leia said dryly.
Han shook his head, pulling Leia into the dusty, threadbare apartment. "My old body is dead. You put me in this new one. Tell her."
"Cloning is against the law," Pub stated nervously. "I'd never break the law. Not me. I'm a law-abiding citizen of the New Republic."
"You told me this wasn't a clone. That your mentor created this body from scratch, to give it to Palpatine, but it wasn't Force-sensitive enough for him, so Palpatine killed him. Don't you remember any of this?"
"No…. no I don't. Go away and bother someone else."
Han was getting angry. "I'm not leaving until you confess what you did to me." He pointed to a closed door. "That's where the Ssi-ruuk transfer machine is… I'll prove it myself."
"Wait!" Pub protested as Han hurried over and pressed the 'open' button.
When the door failed to obey, Han drew his blaster. "Open it, or I'll blast it open."
"I don't think threatening him will work, Kas," Leia said, walking up to the door.
"Kas?" Pub asked, his eyes widening. "Kas Hoyla?"
"That's the stupid name you stuck me with," Han complained. "Now, open this door."
"You don't look anything like Kas Hoyla," Pub argued.
"So you're admitting you know Kas Hoyla?"
"Just because I knew him, doesn't mean I broke any laws," Pub said hurriedly. "It's not a crime to know someone. Is it?"
"Not any law that I know of," Leia said, amused.
"Shut up already with the laws," Han snapped out. "I'm counting to three… then I'm blasting this door open. One. Two…."
The man quickly entered the code, and the door opened. Leia's mouth dropped open in surprise.
After being pursued down to the surface, Luke and Chewie didn't have time for a soft landing. The Duke's Duck skidded to a sideways halt in a gravel field, sparks fanning out from the once shiny façade.
*It could have been worse,* Chewie moaned. *We could have crashed into that large boulder.*
Luke eyed the jagged rock. "I have an idea…."
*Why does that sound like something Han would say?*
"Han's ideas never involve the Force. Mine does."
*I'm sure that will make it work a lot better,* Chewie muttered sarcastically.
"What is all this garbage?" Han demanded to know as he stomped into the large room.
Doctor Pub looked highly offended. "This is not garbage. It's art!"
"Art?" Han swung his head around, looking at the many, odd-shaped and colorful objects. Some were quite large… others on the small side. "This looks like junk that outta be melted down and made into something useful... like a hydrospanner."
"I think I recognize some of these," Leia said. She touched a bright orange, lopsided orb twice as high as she was tall. "This one is from Naboo. It's called 'The Harvest Moon.'"
"You have a wonderful memory," Pub said, pleased the Princess recognized the work.
"These were all considered stolen," Leia said, putting her hands on her hips and glaring at the doctor.
"I didn't steal them! I saved them! They would all have been looted and destroyed after Palpatine fell from power!"
"No great loss," Han muttered, frowning up at a flat, yellow square, with dozens of holes drilled through the panel. "What's this one supposed to be? Cheese?"
"You're not even a doctor, are you?" Leia asked Pub.
The man flushed. "No… no I'm not."
"Then who are you, exactly?" Han said, pointing his blaster at the trembling man.
"My official title was 'Imperial Museum Maintenance Supervisor.'"
"A JANITOR?!" Han slammed the terrified man up against the wall.
"No! I supervisor the cleaning droids. I'm a supervisor."
"That makes me feel so much better," Han groused. "How did you get me out of the hospital?"
"I…. I lost my job when the Empire fell, so I'm working at the local hospital, doing the same thing I did at the museum."
"Stealing, you mean."
"No! Stealing is against the law… I'm a law-abiding – "
"What happened to the transfer machine?" Han demanded. "How did you know how to use it?"
The man looked wildly at Leia. "I don't have any idea what he's talking about…."
Leia put her hand over Han's forearm. "Let him go, Ha-.. Kas. You're just scaring him."
"That's my intention."
"Please … " Pub shut his eyes, trying not to cry. "I only try to help. I swear I only try to help."
"Sith-spit," Han muttered, allowing the man to drop to the floor. "I give up. Let's go, Princess." He turned and headed for the exit.
"Where are we going now?"
"Coruscant," he answered dully. "I'll take you back to Coruscant."
Leia followed him, worried about his sudden, defeated demeanor.
Chewie and Luke watched the rusty ship land next to the Duck from their hiding place behind the large rock. *Can you tell how many are on the ship?* Chewie asked, lifting his bowcaster and lining up his aim.
Luke concentrated. "One."
*One? Pirates do not act alone.*
"This one apparently does."
*Good. Then we can blast him as soon as he exits. We will use his ship for the parts we need to repair the hyperdrive."
The Jedi raised scanners to his eyes, watching as the ramp lowered and a slender, human female wearing a flight suit and a cap left the ship. "Don't shoot, Chewie."
*What? Why?* Chewie asked, listening as Artoo warbled his own confusion.
"The pirate is a woman."
*So? Women can be just as deadly as men, in my experience.*
"I just have a feeling, okay?" Luke replied. "As soon as she enters the Duck, we'll hurry and take off in her ship."
*Leave the nice, shiny new ship behind, and steal that rust bucket?*
"The rust bucket probably has its hyperdrive working," Luke pointed out.
*Probably does not mean positively.*
*Another thing Han would say,* Chewie groaned. Still, as soon as the women disappeared into the Duck, he followed Luke and Artoo as they hurried into the old ship, and rushed into the cockpit.
"It's ready for lift-off," Luke noted as he looked over the cockpit controls. "Let's get out of here."
The old ship shuddered and protested as it raised, and Luke's eyes were drawn back out of the viewport. The woman had reappeared, looking stunned that her ship was being stolen. She lifted her arm, and fired uselessly at the small freighter, then ripped off her cap and threw it on the rocky ground in frustration. Luke noticed a glint of red-gold hair reflecting from the planet's burning sun.
*You think everyone is Force-sensitive,* Chewie barked. *You even thought Han was Force-sensitive.*
"He was," Luke said defensively. "I can't explain it, but somehow the Force left Han."
*Do you blame it?*
As the ship angled for space, Luke couldn't help but laugh.
Han had remained silent for a long time after they left Pub's apartment, and Leia was getting concerned. She was about to try and cheer him up, when he finally spoke.
"How about we spend some of those stolen Imperial credits Pub gave me and get dinner at a fancy Corellian restaurant?" Han suggested. "I always wanted to try one of those, but I never could afford it until now."
"A duke couldn't afford fancy restaurants?"
"I'll never be able to convince you I'm telling the truth now, will I?"
Leia desperately wanted to tell him that she believed him, despite the lack of 'proof'. But what if she was mistaken? She wasn't prepared to betray what Han Solo had met to her. "All right. I'd like to find out what real Corellian food tastes like, anyway."
"Real Corellian food? What do you think I've been making you all these years?"
"Undoubtedly a pale imitation to the real thing."
Han stopped walking, and caught Leia by the arm, his eyes locking on hers with an intensity that made her breath catch. "I am the real thing, Leia."
Then he kissed her to prove his words were true.
For a few moments Leia forgot to breathe, and her knees went wobbly. Then she shut her eyes and leaned into the kiss, memories of her first kiss with Han flooding her mind. This isn't Han... She drew away, panting for air, trying not to think about how warm and soft Kas Hoyla's lips were against her own, and tried to calm her pounding heart.
"Do you believe me now?" Han asked.
"You kiss very nicely, Duke Hoyla," Leia said primly, hoping her voice wasn't too shaky.
"You like nice men, right?"
The Princess swallowed hard. "Nice men are... nice."
Han smiled and took her hand, turning her palm upward, and kissing her fingertips. "Oh, look. You're hands aren't dirty. We can safely go into the restaurant."
"Good," Leia said agreeably. "I'm so hungry I could eat a gundark." She tried to tug her fingers away, but didn't try too hard.
"I hear those gundarks are tough," Han informed her. "Let's hope they have something better than that."
Then they walked, hand in hand, to the restaurant.
"Where to now?" Luke asked.
Chewie thought for a moment. *Let's try Corellia. Han may try to find that doctor... what was his name?"
"Doctor Pub Belvolus. Han told me all about him, even where his apartment was located. I should be able to find it."
*So on to Corellia," Chewie woofed out. *I hope this old tub makes it in one piece.*
Luke gritted his teeth and pulled back the hyperspace lever. The ship protested and groaned, but the stars blurred and the readouts indicated they were safely on the way to Corellia. "See?" Luke said, waving at the viewport. "No problem."
Chewie decided it was best not to tempt the wrath of the Forest Gods of Kashyyyk by agreeing with the young Jedi.
Leia sat down in Chewie's co-pilot chair, absent-mindedly giving her belly a soft pat. "That was a very nice place to eat. I'd better be careful, or my baby will end up liking Corellian food too much."
"That is actually a known fact," Threepio put in. "Research indicates that what the mother consumes while she is pregnant does impact the future food preferences of her off-spring."
"What's wrong with that?" Han wanted to know, pretending to be offended.
"Alderaanian food is much more refined," Leia teased. "Even Wookiee food is more refined."
"Wookiee food?" Han asked, pretending to be shocked. "They like raw meat!"
"Like I said…. more refined that Corellian."
"Very funny, Princess."
Leia leaned back in her seat, pleased that he had cheered up considerably over dinner. But then, Han never stayed in a bad mood too long… She shook her head, clearing her thoughts. When had she decided he was actually Han? What if she was believing because she wanted to believe it so badly? "Besides, Duke Hoyla, you're not Corellian. You're Alderaanian… right?"
Han's jaw tightened, and the humor left his expression. "Whatever."
The Princess regretted her remark. She glanced over at the controls, and watched as he keyed in a series of numbers. "Where is that heading? It's not Coruscant."
"I'm not giving up," Han stated, refusing to meet her eyes.
"What are you talking about?"
"We're going on a little side-trip, and this time it is a romantic spot."
"Where are we going?"
"The Hoth System."
Luke and Chewie arrived on Corellia, one step behind their friends. "We just missed them," Luke said with a sigh as they set the creaky ship down on a landing pad.
*Then we should leave.*
"I want to have a talk with Doctor Pub first. We can find out if Han's been to see him."
A half-hour later, Luke was knocking politely on the doctor's door, and when it opened, Pub's face visibly paled. "Did he send you?"
"Who?" Luke asked.
"The man claiming to be Han Solo, who else?" Pub backed up, looking fearfully at Chewie. "All right… I'll tell you everything. Just don't rip my arms off!"
Chewie let out a confused roar, which only frightened the man even more.
"Calm down, Chewie," Luke said, patting Chewie's arm, and entering the dank apartment. "We'll see if he's telling the truth first."
"I really am just a maintenance supervisor," Pub stuttered out. "I wasn't lying about that part. I just left out that I was the maintenance supervisor for the entire Imperial Palace."
Now Luke was confused. "You're not a doctor?"
"NO! Don't act dumb with me… I already told Solo this. Who are you, anyway?"
"Jedi Luke Skywalker, and this is Chewbacca."
"I stole the the Ssi-ruuk machine, okay? But it was after Palpatine died, so what did it matter? I knew Doctor Stanfrincer, but he wasn't my mentor, like I told Solo. I watched the body that Stanfrincer created for Palpatine grow from a few cells to a full grown man. It was almost like little Pub was my own son."
"Little Pub?" Luke questioned. The man wasn't lying… he was simply terrified.
"The body I put Solo into… I called it little Pub. When old doc Stanfrincer was killed by Palpatine, I thought for sure Little Pub would be killed, too. But the Emperor just ignored him. So I took him home, and kept him safe."
"Then what?" Luke prodded.
"After the Empire fell, I took the machine, too. I stole the machine, little Pub, hundreds of thousands of Imperial credits and all that artwork… and then I hired a ship to take me to Corellia."
Luke wondered what 'art' Pub was talking about, but decided not to interrupt the shaking man with extraneous details.
Pub continued talking, pacing the small room. "Once I got to Corellia, I had to get a new job, so people wouldn't wonder where my finances were coming from. I saw an advertisement that the hospital needed a new droid supervisor, and I was hired. Then, a few months later, Solo was admitted and I had this great idea. Why not give Solo little Pub's body? He was a big Corellian hero, and I could get back at Palpatine for Doctor Stanfrincer's death."
"So you took Han out of the hospital?" Luke asked. "You're really good at stealing, aren't you?"
Pub nodded. "I have lots of security clearance, and no one thinks about someone sneaking out of a hospital with a patient."
*I'll bet not,* Chewie growled. *How did Pub know how to do the transfer?*
"Chewie wants to know how you did the transfer," Luke said.
Pub backed away, worried. "I just sorta guessed."
*WHAT?* Chewie roared. *You could have killed Han!*
Pub quickly surmised what the Wookiee was saying by his body language. "He was dying! If I'd guessed wrong, would it have mattered?"
"He has a point, Chewie."
"I don't understand how Solo survived," Pub muttered. "I could've sworn he was deader than a flattened shrill-mole when I took the body back and put it in the morgue."
"Han's old body is dead," Luke said.
"Then why does he still look like Han Solo?" Pub questioned. "That's not little Pub's body. I remember what my little Pub looked like."
"The Force has altered little Pub to look like Han."
Pub looked startled. "Is that possible?"
"Apparently, it is."
"Are you going to rip my arms off?" Pub asked nervously.
Luke bit back his amusement. "Not today. But if you ever do something like this again…."
"I won't! I promise!"
Chewie leaned forward, lifted Pub in the air and bared his fangs at the man just to reinforce Luke's warning. Suddenly, Pub went completely limp, and Chewie placed him on the ground. *I think he's fainted.*
The icy-blue orb floated in the viewport, and Leia's brain tried to wrap itself around where they were.
"Looks pretty much the same as when we left it," Han said.
Threepio leaned forward, peering out of the window. "Could you please reconsider this plan, Captain? The temperatures on Hoth are extremely hard on my circuits."
"What's so romantic about Hoth?" Leia asked. In the time it had taken them to arrive, Leia had asked that question repeatedly, but 'Kas' had been elusive about the answer. She was starting to think her declared belief that this truly wasn't Han was correct. That idea upset her more than she wanted to admit. Although, why should it be upsetting was something she couldn't fathom. She couldn't be in love with Kas Hoyla, and Kas Hoyla could never be Han. Even if he looked like Han. Even if he said the same words Han would say. Even if he knew things only Han would know. Even if he kissed like Han….
"Come on, Princess," Han cajoled, interrupting her musings. "Hoth might've been cold, but the sparks flyin' between us were awfully hot."
"I never noticed any sparks," Threepio said. "Static requires friction, and insulated boots and gloves do not conduct friction well enough to create static electricity."
Han leaned back in his seat, giving Threepio his best scowl. "Leia an' me had plenty of friction between us."
"I can't argue with that," Leia agreed.
"Good," Han said happily.
"I would like to point out that the caverns containing the Rebel Base were destroyed by Imperials," Threepio said.
"I don't intend to land on Hoth."
"Then what do you intend?" Leia asked suspiciously.
Han gave a wide, lopsided grin. "Hoth is still there, which means that asteroid field is still there, too. If I can't convince you with words, or even a kiss, I'm gonna take us on a little trip through memory lane."
"If …. if you're saying what I think you're saying…." Leia managed to stutter out.
"Yup. I'm proving to you that I'm Han Solo once and for all," Han declared firmly. "I'm navigating that asteroid field again, and once I dazzle you with my piloting abilities, you won't have any choice but to believe me."
"Sir!" Threepio said worriedly. "The odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field are – "
"Three thousand, seven hundred and twenty to one," Han finished.
The droid threw up his hands. "How did you know?"
"You've already told me, Goldenrod."
"Any ideas where to next?" Luke asked Chewie as he settled back into the cracked pilot's seat, and absent-mindedly tuggeda small piece of stuffing sticking out from the side of the seat cushion.
Chewie shook his head. *No idea.*
*No. Han has bad memories of that place.*
"That makes two of us," Luke said. "Ord Mantell?"
*Even worse memories.*
"Is there any place that Han has GOOD memories?"
Chewie considered for a long time. *Maybe Kashyyyk. I don't believe anything too terrible has happened to him there.*
"Do you think he took Leia there?" Luke asked hopefully.
Luke was getting frustrated. "Where do you suggest we go, then?"
"And just give up?"
*Do you really think Leia is in any danger from Han?* Chewie asked.
"Not deliberately, but you know Han as well as I do. If something can go wrong, it will."
Chewie knew Luke was correct, but what could they do to help at this point?
Leia reached over, gripping Han's wrist tightly as they rapidly approached the portion of space strewn with rocks. "You don't have to do this to impress me."
"It worked the last time."
"Dear me," Threepio cried out. "We're doomed all over again!"
"Alright," Leia snapped. "I'll admit you're really Han Solo. Now will you stop this stupidity?"
"How do I know you're not just saying that?" Han asked. "Nope, Princess. I have to prove it. So hang on, 'cuz we're going in…"
Threepio threw up his hands to cover his eyes. "Please… don't do this to me again!"
Han ignored the droid, and concentrated on his flying. Small rocks careened off their shields as he swerved wildly around the larger ones. Sweat was trickling down his brow and making his eyes burn.
Then a turn around a very large asteroid brought into sight dozens of dangerous rocks forming a large, seemingly impenetrable wall.
"DOOMED!" Threepio yelled out as Leia gasped in shock.
"I might've made a mistake coming in here again," Han muttered, pulling down on the yoke as hard and fast as he could.
Han Solo was an excellent pilot, and the Millennium Falcon was a fast and nimble ship. It was that alone that saved the three passengers from instant death. Diving sharply down, Han managed to avoid the largest asteroids, but there were too many small ones to avoid entirely. The ship shuddered and shook as the rocks bounced off the over-stressed shields. Then a rock got through, and the Falcon rocked wildly. For a brief, heart-stopping moment, the lights in the ship went out, leaving everyone in complete darkness.
The Corellian swore, and rapped his fist against the control panel. The lights blinked off and on, before deciding to stay on… to the occupants vast relief.
"We have lost the front deflector shields," Threepio informed Han, rather unnecessarily.
"I'm taking us out of here," Han muttered.
"Sir?" Threepio said, poking Han in his shoulder. "I think …"
"Shut up, Goldenrod!" Han snapped. "I'm concentrating."
"Let the man concentrate," Leia said to the droid, her fingers digging into the armrests.
"But this is rather impor-"
"Threepio!" Leia yelled. "Shut up, or I'm shutting you off."
A few tense moments later, the Falcon cleared the debris field, and Leia gave a sigh of relief. "Can you please take us back to Corucsant now?"
"Do you believe that I'm me yet?"
"Yes," Leia said quickly. "Only Han Solo would be so … so…."
"I was thinking foolish," Leia said dryly.
"Do you forgive me?" Han asked.
"For what? Kidnapping me? Lying to Luke? Nearly getting us killed?"
"Yeah. That pretty much sums it up," Han said, grinning.
Leia folded her arms over her swollen stomach. "I'm not too sure that I should."
"Aw, come on, Princess," Han pleaded. "I know that you love me. I could tell the moment you kissed me."
"Take me home, and we'll discuss it then," Leia said, trying to keep her emotions in check. "I'm still an engaged woman, you know." She was finally convinced this was truly Han, and it was taking all of her willpower not to throw her arms around him and kiss him senseless. Or, perhaps, punch him on the nose for nearly letting her marry Isolder. In the meantime, however, Leia intended to make Han sweat a bit after nearly getting them killed. It was the least he deserved.
"Engaged?" Han asked, his voice going up several notches. "The only man you're marrying is me! And we're raising our son, not Luke! And we're gonna have a daughter, too, now that I'm thinking about it."
"Really?" Leia asked, quirking her eyebrow. "What gives you the right to order me around, and make all these decisions?"
Han had the grace to look embarrassed. "Well, those aren't really orders, sweetheart."
"What do you call them?"
"Common sense suggestions. We love each other, right?" Han asked. When Leia didn't respond, he continued. "And normal married people raise their own kids, right?"
"Since when are you normal?"
He ignored that jab. "And don't tell me you don't want a little Leia running around, bossing little Han, right?"
"I'm seriously reconsidering naming our son 'Han', now that you're still here."
"Well, whatever you decide is okay with me."
"That sounds much better," Leia declared. "Now, take me home."
Han adjusted the course for Coruscant. Then he pulled back on the lever… and the ship gave a protesting whine. The stars remained firmly in focus.
"What just happened?" Leia asked, her tone low and even.
"Uh…" Han pulled the lever again, with the same result. "It looks like the hyperdrive is having problems."
"That is what I was trying to tell you," Threepio said, sounding put-out. "The last asteroid that struck the ship seriously damaged the hyperdrive unit."
"How serious is serious?" Han asked, trying not to appear overly concerned.
"The main coil was completely burned-up," Threepio said, pointing at the side panel lights. "It needs to be replaced."
"I see that," Han stated as he looked at the read-out, and felt his heart drop to his boots.
"Do you have a spare coil?" Leia questioned.
Han held up both his hands, as if he could somehow prevent her wrath. "Even if I did have a spare, it can't be replaced from inside the ship. We'd have to land to replace it."
"Land?" Leia asked incredulously. "We're in the middle of nowhere! Hoth is the closest system!"
"It seems very unlikely that there will be a spare hyperdrive coil lying around on Hoth," Threepio said helpfully.
"Well, we'll just contact Luke an' Chewie and let them know we need a little help."
"The long-range dish was sheared off when we lost our front deflector shields," Threepio informed them.
"Are you telling me we are stuck in the middle of nowhere, and we can't contact anyone for assistance, either?" Leia asked, her tone taking on a distinctly deadly tone.
"We could always go to Bespin," Han suggested.
"BESPIN? That's six weeks away! Do you have any idea how close that will put me to my due date?"
Leia jumped up, furious. "I could kill you sometimes, Han Solo! This time this IS all your fault, and don't you try to deny it! Unless this was all part of your grand scheme. Was it?"
"Not this part." Han nervously rubbed his hand across his face. "You won't have the baby until we get there, right?"
"How in the seven hells of Corellia do I know that? Babies come when they want to come!"
"Maybe you can just hold him in until we get there," Han said, trying to remain optimistic.
Then she slugged him as hard as she could on his bicep, and stalked out of the cockpit.
"Ow," Han mumbled, rubbing his aching arm. "I tried to do something romantic, and this is the thanks I get. Men just can't make women happy, Threepio."
"I must agree that Princess Leia seems most displeased, indeed. At least Darth Vader and Boba Fett won't be waiting when we get there," Threepio pointed out.
Han perked up. "That's the spirit, Goldenrod. We gotta look on the bright side of things. Leia finally believes I'm me, so that's good. Everything else will work out, too. I'm sure she won't have the baby before we get to Bespin."
"The odds of Princess Leia delivering her baby in the next six weeks are – "
"Never tell me the odds, Threepio," Han interrupted quickly. He had a bad feeling about those odds this time.
Four days of silence later, Han was worried that Leia might never speak to him again. She had remained in isolation, sending out Threepio to retrieve her meals, and only ventured out to use the refresher. If Han happened to see her in the corridor, she refused to look at him, or speak.
Tentatively he knocked on her cabin door. "Leia? Breakfast is ready." When there was only silence, he tried again. "Are you alright in there? Little Han needs to eat, you know."
To his surprise, the door slid open, and Leia was standing in the doorway, hands on hips. "His name isn't going to be 'Little Han'," she grumbled. "I think I've decided on naming him Bail."
"That's nice, too," Han said, trying to placate her. "How about eating breakfast with me? I'm getting sorta tired having only Goldenrod for company."
"It serves you right."
Han sighed. "Please? I've said I'm sorry for this dozens of times. How long until you forgive me?"
The Princess surprised Han by pushing him with both hands on his chest. "You can explain to me why! Why did you accuse me of trying to trap you into marriage?"
"Huh? When did I do that?"
"How could you forget?" Leia shouted. "On Kashyyyk? When you said the baby was Isolder's, and not yours?"
"Oh, that," Han said, suddenly remembering what she was talking about. "I knew the baby was mine. Why are you bringing that up now?"
"How dare you!" Leia yelled. "I left in Kashyyyk in tears! I wanted you to be happy… to forgive me for going to Hapes, and all you did was make nasty comments and… and…."
"I was dying," Han said softly. "I didn't want you to know that, so I pushed you away by making you angry. I'm sorry."
Leia blinked hard. "Why would you push me away? When I found out you'd died, it felt like my heart had been ripped out. I could have been there for you. I should have been there for you. That's what love is about, Han."
"I know that. Now." Han ran his fingers through his hair. "I'm not good at knowing what to say or do, Princess. This love business is new territory for me."
"You've never been in love before?" she asked, her expression changing from anger to curiosity.
"Not like this," Han said. "What I thought was love before was only practice for the real thing." He gave a small, tentative smile. "How about you? You ever been in love? Before falling madly in love with me, of course."
"I was always too busy with work," she admitted.
"No," Han said, feigning disbelief.
"I'm still mad at you," she said, tilting up her chin. "It's going to take a lot of work on your part to make up with me."
"I'm a hard worker," Han said. "And you know how much I love making out with you."
"I said, make up, not make out!"
"Tell me where to begin."
Han's grin grew wider, and he leaned forward eagerly to comply… when suddenly Threepio hustled around the corner. "Master Han! Smoke is coming out of the breakfast unit!"
The Corellian groaned in frustration and Leia burst into laughter.
"Did I interrupt something important?" Threepio asked, confused.
"You always do," Han grumbled.
"What should I do about the smoke?"
"Go turn off the unit, Goldenrod," Han snapped. "We'll be right there."
"Yes, sir!" The droid hurried off.
"Now where were we?"
"Right about here," Leia said, pulling Han's face down to hers and melting into his embrace.
Coruscant. Two weeks later…
Luke paced his small apartment, aware of Chewie's eyes tracking his every step. "Where are they?" Luke asked, while knowing Chewie couldn't answer. "I've tried to contact the Falcon dozens of times every day, and nothing! They should have been back by now, or at least contacted us. Something's wrong."
*I agree,* Chewie responded. *I have tried contacting some old smuggling associates, but no one has heard from anyone claiming to be Han. I did not come out and explain about this body-switching business, except to Lando.*
That interested Luke enough that he paused his steps. "What did Lando say about that?"
*He was speechless,* Chewie woofed, sounding amused.
"There isn't much that makes Lando Calrissian speechless," Luke agreed. But the mention of Lando sent a Force-tingle through Luke and he chewed his lip thoughtfully, trying to make some connection. "I think Han might go to Lando if he's in trouble. Where is he, anyway?"
*Roon. He's trying to set up a betting pool for a local sports festival called the Colonial Games.*
"That sounds like Lando, alright," Luke said.
*Should we head to Roon?*
The connection to Lando remained strong, even though the Force sent no signal regarding Roon. "I guess," Luke said. "It's a place to start, anyway. I hate sitting around while Leia might be in danger."
"All right," Luke admitted. "The Force isn't telling me she's in danger.. exactly. But she's still in trouble."
*That is because she's with Han, and trouble is Han's middle name.*
"And if it's not, it should be."
Roon, thirteen days later
Luke gazed through the floor-to-ceiling window at the spectacular views of the sparkling green mountains from Lando's penthouse located on the top floor of the tallest building in the city. It had been a long trip to this system, and it was Luke's first time here, although he had heard stories of the mystical planet and its beautiful and valuable gemstones. He took the fizzy drink that Lando graciously offered, and nodded his thanks. "I guess this was a wasted trip, then."
Baron Calrissian looked injured. "You got to visit with me. So it wasn't a complete waste of time."
The young Jedi laughed and Chewie, who was sitting nearby stretched out on the large gold-toned sofa chuffed in amusement. "I didn't mean that the way it sounded, Lando. I'm just very worried about Leia and Han."
"And the Force told you they were with me?"
"Not exactly," Luke admitted. "But when I thought about Leia, I pictured you for some reason."
"I'm flattered," Lando said, giving a wide grin. "I appreciate being connected to royalty in any possible way."
"I'm sure you do," Luke replied, his eyes drawn back out of the window. "This is a beautiful view."
"Yes, it is," Lando agreed easily. "On misty days, it reminds me a bit of Cloud City."
Cloud City. Luke felt his neck hairs stand on end, and his eyes took on a far-away look. As his mind drifted through the Force-tide of space, he could picture Leia, sitting on a small cot in what appeared to be Han's cabin, and crying. Then, unexpectedly, he felt a sharp stab of pain, and Luke gasped and doubled over. He was drawn back to the present by Lando shaking his arm. "What?"
"Are you alright?" Lando asked in concern. "Do you need a doctor?"
"I think Han and Leia are heading to Bespin," Luke mumbled, as Chewie jumped up and hovered over him. "I felt pain from Leia."
*Bespin!? Are they being tortured again?*
"No…. I think it was labor pain."
*Leia's in labor? Already?*
"It's been a month since Han took off with her. It's only two weeks until her due date, and I'm not certain if I was seeing the present, or the future."
"Why in the galaxy would Han go there?" Lando questioned. "Are you sure this is really Han? Maybe the guy's a good imposter."
"It's Han," Luke assured the gambler. "Now that I think about it, this all makes perfect sense. Han went to the Hoth asteroid field to impress Leia with his flying skills, not Kessel, like we first thought."
*Something must have caused the hyperdrive to fail,* Chewie woofed out. *If I were not so happy Han is alive, I would skin him when I see him.*
"We need to head to Bespin right away," Luke said, pushing his drink back toward Lando. "Thanks for the hospitality."
Lando watched as Chewie and Luke hurried toward the exit. "Whatever happens at Bespin, this time it won't be my fault," he called after them. "Tell Han I'm thrilled he's alive, but I'm sure happy I'm not in his boots right about now."
Two weeks away from Bespin, at sublight speed….
Han dropped to his knees next to his cot, taking Leia's small hand. "Please stop crying, Princess. We'll be there in two weeks, I promise. I know the food isn't the greatest, but we'll have enough to hold us – "
"I'm not crying about the food," Leia sniffed, interrupting his pleading.
"That's what you were crying about yesterday…."
"My back hurts. My feet hurt. I look awful…."
"No, you don't," Han said, patting her wrist. "You look beautiful." Inwardly, he groaned, as the entire trip had been one wild mood swing after the other. One moment, Leia was happy, passionate and sitting on his lap kissing him, and then in a blink of the eye she would suddenly become weepy or angry. Han wasn't certain which emotion was worse. He could deal with her verbal assaults, since that was what he'd grown accustom to over the years – but the Princess had never been an emotional and overwrought female, at least until now.
Leia struggled to her feet, and waved her arms around wildly. "Look at this cabin!"
Confused, Han stood up and looked at the cabin. "Okay….what am I supposed to be seeing?"
"It's filthy!" Leia screeched out, bending over and flinging a damp towel in his face. "In fact, this entire ship is a rat-hole. It's greasy, and dusty, and completely unsanitary from one end to the other."
Han pulled the towel from his face. "Uh…"
"We have to clean it up!" She looked up at the Corellian. "We have to scrub the entire ship from top to bottom."
Leia glared at Han until he took a step away. "Yes. You get the buckets, and I'll get the mops and rags. We've got to scrub until every inch sparkles and we can eat off the floor."
"Why would we want to do that?"
"Han Solo!" Leia snapped, pointing at the door. "Get moving."
"Yes, ma'am," Han muttered unhappily as he hurried off to do her bidding. In his opinion, unexplained crying jags and yelling at him were both better options than suddenly becoming obsessed with cleaning.
Three hard days of labor later, Han dumped his last bucket of dirty water down the recycler. He turned to the Princess, who was sitting at the game table and looking pleased. "I've cleaned every inch on this ship, just like you asked. I'm positive there isn't a single speck of dust or dirt anywhere."
"That cannot be possible," Threepio stated, trying to be helpful "Dust is, in actuality, particles that make up the entire universe. It is an impossibility to eliminate each molecule of dust, since if that occurred, the galaxy would cease to exist."
"I'd like you to cease to exist," Han muttered under his breath.
"Don't be mean to Threepio," Leia said. She ran her finger across the back of the battered, curved couch. "But you're right… this place is finally fit to live in."
"Glad to hear that," Han said, plopping down across from Leia. "I'm exhausted."
"Could you rub my ankles?" Leia asked, kicking her legs out. "They really hurt."
Han thought about the past days, and how he was the one, back bent and on his knees, scrubbing the floor, while Leia sat and gave orders. But he bit back a retort and forced a smile on his face. "Of course, sweetheart. I'd love to massage your legs."
Wincing, he eased his aching body out of the booth and sat on the floor, pulling off her boots. He started high, in the back of the calf, he kneaded his fingers firmly against her leg. Leia let out a harsh gasp, jerking her leg away. Han looked up in surprise and worry. "Did I hurt you?"
"What is it?"
"My water broke," she managed to say, her eyes wide. "I'm going to have the baby."
"Oh, dear me," Threepio twittered. "Where is Artoo when we need him?"
"We don't need Artoo," Han shouted, jumping up from his kneeling position. "We need water! Get some boiling water, Goldenrod!"
The droid tilted his head in confusion. "Boiling water?"
"That's what I said. Boiling water."
"Nothing in my programming states boiling water is necessary to deliver a human child. In fact, it seems rather dangerous to have boiling water around a newborn infant."
"Since when are you an expert on delivering babies?" Han shot back sarcastically.
"It seems to have been downloaded in my memory chips, although I can't recall who did it, or why it was done."
"They must've left out the part about the boiling water," Han responded.
"Exactly why do you require boiling water?" Threepio persisted.
"Well… um…." Han said, desperately trying to come up with a decent reply, before finally conceding defeat. "I have no idea. But I know I've watched holo shows where they boil water when a baby is on the way. So just do as I say. Maybe we'll figure out why we need it later."
"If you insist," Threepio said. "Although I still claim that boiling water is unnecessary, unless you intend to make the child a tea party to welcome him into the galaxy."
"Excuse me?" Leia interrupted, panting and holding her stomach, "Have you two forgotten about me?"
"Of course not," Han said, whipping his head around to look down at the Princess. "Come on, sweetheart. Let's get you into my cabin so you can lay down and relax."
"RELAX?" Leia shouted, her face beet red. "I'm not going to be able to relax, you nerf!"
"Sorry. I didn't mean that."
"You didn't mean to get me pregnant, either," Leia berated Han. "You can't do anything right, can you?"
Han helped Leia stand up and steered her toward his cabin. "No?"
The princess stuck her finger in his face. "No?? You'd better figure out how to deliver a baby correctly, or you're a dead man, Solo. Dead! Do you hear me?"
"Yes," Han mumbled nervously. "I hear you, Princess. Loud and clear."
Hours later, Han was pretty sure he'd rather be back in Jabba's dungeon. Anywhere would be better than right here, at this moment. He looked at Leia, whose hair was plastered down against her skin with sweat. "Breath, honey, okay?"
"I'm breathing!" she gasped out. "If I weren't breathing, I'd be one with the Force by now."
Threepio had positioned himself at the foot of Leia's cot, and noted brightly. "According to my programming, you have dilated to the correct diameter. The baby should arrive shortly."
Leia nodded, grabbing Han's wrist so hard it felt like she was going to puncture his flesh. "Get down there and deliver this baby, Solo."
"Me?" Han squeaked. "Threepio is doing a fine job."
"Thank you, Master Han," Threepio said, pleased.
"His metal fingers can't catch a slippery baby, and he can't cut the cord," Leia ground out. "A cold droid is NOT the first thing our child is going to see or touch when he's born. Now… get down there and …" Her words were cut off with yet another intense contraction.
"I can see the baby's head!" Threepio cried. "He's coming!"
Shaking, Han pushed the droid out of the way, trying not to think about what was about to happen.
"I'm never having sex again," Leia shouted when she could finally speak.
"This might ruin it for me, too," Han mumbled in agreement. "Push, sweetheart. He's coming."
"Don't you dare drop him," Leia ordered between pants of breath. "I'll kill you if you drop him."
"I wonder if having a baby can't turn a woman into a Sith?"
"What did you say?" Leia asked sharply.
"Nothing. Just push."
"Dear me!" Threepio said, throwing up his arms. "He's out! He's out! Clear the mucus from his mouth, Master Han. The baby needs to breath."
A second later, a baby's loud wail filled the interior of the Millennium Falcon. "Little Han is here, Princess," Han whispered proudly, wrapping the baby in the blanket Threepio handed him. Han proudly took the baby to Leia, placing him in her arms. "He's handsome."
"Yes, my little Bail is very handsome," Leia said, tears running down her exhausted face.
"I wonder what we needed the boiling water for," Han mused.
"You need to clean everything up now," Leia instructed. "Boiling the water makes it sanitary."
"Why didn't you say that earlier?"
"I was busy."
Later, Han was sitting in his pilot's seat with his eyes shut, trying to relax after the stressful past few hours. A soft binging made him sit up, blinking hard to clear his tired brain. The incoming short-range signal light was flashing, and Han felt a wave of dread. Who could be out here, traveling at sublight speed? Images of pirate ships and Imperial Star Destroyers filled his mind. Worriedly, he flipped on the audio, fearing the worst.
Static crackled, then cleared. "Luke Skywalker hailing the Millennium Falcon…" Luke's voice came over the speaker. "Do you read me, Han? Leia? This is Luke Sky-"
Han let out a war-whoop, and shouted back, "Skywalker! What in the hells of Corellia took you so long?"
The roar of a Wookiee filled the speaker, and Han felt the weight of the galaxy lift from his shoulders at the sound of his partner's voice.
"Han?" Leia called through the corridor. "What's going on up there? All that noise is waking up the baby."
"Quiet, Chewie," Han said, laughing. "You're waking up our baby."
More roars followed, and Luke's voice shouted over the commotion. "Baby? Leia had her baby? Is everyone okay?"
"We're all great, kid. More than great, now that you're here."
Once the ships had latched together, the rest of the trip to Bespin took less than an hour. After they had landed, Luke and Chewie entered the Falcon, boisterously greeting their wayward friends and family.
Leia carefully placed her child in Luke's arms. "Isn't he wonderful?" she asked, rather needlessly.
"He's strong in the Force," Luke murmured.
"That's not what I wanted to hear," Han grumbled.
Luke smiled up at his friend, who now looked so much like Han Solo it would be impossible for anyone to tell there was any differences. Luke then looked at Leia. "Are you finally convinced that this is Han Solo?"
Leia laughed. "He's Han Solo, alright. I knew it all along."
"You did not," Han protested.
Han was incredulous. "Why didn't you tell me then?"
"After everything you pulled? I needed to make you sweat a bit, Nerf. It was my secret present to you."
Han's mouth worked soundlessly, and Luke quickly placed little Bail in his friend's arms. "Here, Han. I think this makes up for everything." Luke had his doubts whether or not Leia was telling the truth about knowing it was Han all along, but if she wanted Han to believe that, who was he to argue?
The Princess stepped up to Han, and put her arm around his waist. "Don't be mad, Flyboy. I love you."
Han Solo looked down at the baby. His baby boy, the greatest gift of love Leia could ever have given him. "I know," he answered.