Relative Force - AU
sequel to Everything's Relative (which was set between ANH and ESB)
Reginald, Han's younger brother
Hannibal, Han's full first name
Chirlyn, Han's fiancée, and Reginald's first wife
Euridice, Han's mother
Benewald, Han's father
Sollon Enterprises, the family business
One year after ROTJ
Leia leaned back in her chair, rubbing her tired eyes. If she had hoped the end of the war would mean more time with Han, she'd miscalculated. President Mon Mothma had endless meetings, committees, diplomatic trips lined up for her, and Han - General Solo - had been kept just as busy running around chasing down rogue Imperials. But they had survived. Not only survived, they'd become lovers.
The buzzer on her desk sounded, and Leia wearily answered the comm-unit. "Yes?"
"Ambassador Organa," the young voice of her assistant, Thal Bryce, responded. "There is a woman here wishing to speak to you. She's, err, quite insistent."
Leia took a deep breath. "Does this woman have a name?"
"Uh. She won't give it to me."
There were times Leia suspected Mon Mothma enjoyed seeing if she was up to meeting certain challenges, like keeping her patience with inexperienced assistants. "Then I'm afraid I don't have the time right now," Leia said briskly. "Escort her - "
The door opened, and a tall, well-dressed woman strode in with Leia's harried assistant tagging after. "She won't listen to me," Thal moaned. "Please don't fire me, Ambassador... I can call Security. If you want me to, that is."
"Do that," Leia snapped, her hand already inside the drawer which held her small blaster.
"Hannibal won't like that," the woman said smoothly.
The name caught Leia's attention, and she took a closer look at her intruder. "Mrs. Sollon."
"So you do remember. How nice." Euridice Sollon gave a sideways glance at the young man. "You heard the Princess. She wants you to call Security."
"Never mind, Thal. You can go home."
The man looked nervously from Leia to the older woman. "Are you sure?"
"I'm sure," Leia said tightly, watching as Thal hurried away. "What brings you to Coruscant?"
"My husband died unexpectedly last week."
Leia studied the woman's cool expression. "I'm sorry to hear that. I liked your husband. He was a decent man."
"Well, yes. I guess." Euridice looked around the room, feigning disinterest in the large office. "At least he wasn't murdered in cold blood, like my youngest son. That makes it a bit easier to take."
"Reginald wasn't murdered," Leia said quietly. "He lost his life trying to kill Han."
Euridice gave a humorless smile. "And we have for witnesses...?"
"Han, Luke and myself."
"Ah, yes. The murderess, her brother and her lover. How convenient."
Leia felt her stomach knot. "If you came all this way to tell Han about his father, I'm afraid he's on assignment right now. His ship is scheduled to return in ten standard days. I can contact him through a secure channel, if that's what you desire."
Euridice waved her gloved hand dismissively. "It hardly matters. I've already disposed of poor Benewald's remains in the family crypt, next to his beloved Reginald."
"Then you want me to inform Han when he returns? Or do you plan on waiting on Coruscant until then?"
The older woman sat down in a soft chair facing Leia's desk. "Oh, I plan on waiting, my dear. After all, Sollon Enterprises now belongs to Hannibal... in full. My lawyer tells me Benewald's will is quite airtight, apparently. All I get are some houses, jewelry, and a lousy twenty million. Nearly forty years of marriage, and that's all."
"Twenty million?" Leia managed to choke out. "That's quite a bit."
"Less than two percent of Sollon Estates actual worth," Euridice snapped. "You grew up a Princess. I'm sure you're aware that amount won't be able to support my lifestyle. But, I guess as long as Hannibal has millions to give to his trollop..."
Leia stood up, glaring down at the woman. "I will not allow you, or anyone else, to come into my office and call me names. Please leave."
"Are you quite certain?" Euridice asked, her voice suddenly venomous. "You haven't heard the rest of my sad story."
"I'm not interested."
"Really?" Mrs. Sollon stood up, carefully brushing her skirt. "I'm sure when Chirlyn's story comes out in the holonews tomorrow, you'll find yourself very interested."
"Chirlyn ...Reg's ex-wife? The woman he stole from Han?"
"Ah... so you do remember those little details," Euridice smirked. "Did Reginald tell you why he divorced Chirlyn?"
"No, and I don't care."
"You should care. After all, if you marry Hannibal, you'll become a step-mother."
Leia was aware her mouth had, quite literally, dropped open, while her mind was not quite able to wrap itself around the woman's words. "What?" It wasn't her most eloquent moment.
Euridice seemed pleased with Leia's reaction. "A step-mother," she repeated smugly.
"Are you telling me Han has a child?"
"Very astute," she said sarcastically. "I can see you'll go far in politics."
"You're lying. Han would have told me," Leia shot back with far more conviction than she was feeling. She suddenly recalled Han's reluctance to discuss his family. It was only Reg's unexpected appearance at the Rebel Base that forced him to confront his unpleasant past. And after Reg's death he had never talked about them again, even though Luke had been quite eager to ask him questions about his Jedi uncle. "How many times do I have to tell you, kid? He died before I ever knew him. I can't tell you something I don't know."
"Maybe he would have," Euridice agreed smoothly, very aware of Leia's inner turmoil. "If he knew. But it was one of those dirty little family secrets - the kind that gets buried under layers of legal flimsies and sealed documents." Euridice sat back down, indicating the Princess should sit as well. "I'm sure this is quite unexpected for you. Perhaps it would be best for your career if you distanced yourself from the Sollon family, with all our scandals."
"I'm used to scandals," Leia said, refusing to sit. "I grew up inside a royal family, and with politics."
"So you know how your enemies will twist this around, to hurt you." She gave a thin smile. "Or, perhaps, how much it will hurt Hannibal. Maybe he's the one that won't be able to deal with the fallout."
"How old is this child?"
"Quentin was born five months after Chirlyn and Reginald married, and he just turned thirteen. Shortly after the wedding, Reginald found out she was pregnant, and Chirlyn admitted it was his brother's. Poor Reginald," Euridice said, sighing. "Hannibal was always ruining his life, even up until the very end."
"I think it was the other way around," Leia said. "Reg seemed to do his best to ruin Han's life. And your youngest son didn't always tell the truth. Has it ever occurred to you the child isn't Han's?"
"Chirlyn insists Hannibal is the father, even though Reginald is listed on the birth-certificate. A few days before her big - and expensive, mind you - wedding to Hannibal, she appeared, sobbing, at Reginald's door. She told my poor Reginald that she had a big fight with Hannibal, and that he threatened to call off the wedding. That very night she ran off and married Reginald. She used my poor baby," Euridice said sadly, dabbing the outer edges of her eyes, even though Leia could tell she wasn't crying. "As you can imagine, Reginald was quite bitter about this turn of events. He wanted to divorce her immediately, but Benewald was firm that they stay married until the baby was born."
"I'm afraid we'll need more proof than Chirlyn's word... or your word."
Euridice stood up, looking down her thin nose at the diminutive Princess. "I don't appreciate being called a liar, dear. You'll get your precious proof - after I discuss this situation with Hannibal."
"Why is she coming forward with this now?" Leia asked the woman.
"Maybe you're not as bright as I gave you credit for," Euridice snapped. "Your lover is now the sole owner of Sollon Enterprises, as well as having ownership of the Sollon Estate. The main house - the family home - was not one of the houses left to me in Benewald's will. My husband paid Chirlyn a great deal of money every year to keep her happy and quiet. I'm afraid I don't have, shall we say, the same incentives for paying for her silence. If Quentin were Reginald's child, I'd be more inclined to continue helping her," Euridice mused, then shrugged. "So she's going to the holoshills to shame Hannibal into giving her child-support."
"She could have asked Han first," Leia persisted. "Before going to the holoshills."
"But that wouldn't give her the pleasure of ruining his life, would it?"
"Is that what this is all about? Getting even?"
Euridice pursed her lips thoughtfully. "Revenge is sweet. That's what I've heard, anyway. But I suppose I could try to convince her to hold off going public with this story. Temporarily, anyway."
"You would do that?" Leia asked suspiciously.
"There would be a price, of course."
"Of course. What do you want?"
"I want you, my dear, to convince Hannibal to turn over all assets of Sollon Enterprises, and the main estate, to me."
"I don't know if I could do that, or if I even should try," Leia informed her.
"Well, you have a few time-parts to consider the alternative. If I don't hear from you by early tomorrow morning, I won't be able to stop Chirlyn from going forward with her plan. Let me know."
And with that, she left the office.
"This sounds like a simple case of blackmail," Luke pointed out over a quiet dinner at Leia's apartment. "Can't you just have her arrested?"
"This is Han's mother we're talking about," Leia pointed out. "And it would be her word against mine. I don't have my office bugged."
Leia laughed. "That sounds strange, coming from a Jedi."
Luke had the grace to look vaguely ashamed. "Sorry."
"Don't be. I'm sure most politicians record what goes on inside their offices. Maybe I should consider it."
"So, what are you going to do?"
"I was hoping you'd give me some ideas," Leia said. "I just can't see any way to win in this situation."
"You can't speak for what Han would do," Luke told her. "I don't know what she hoped to accomplish by telling you this first."
"She wants me to agree to pressure him into giving up Sollon Enterprises," Leia said with a sigh. "I can't do that."
"But if you say you won't, then Chirlyn goes to the holoshills before Han even gets a chance to consider any of this," Luke said thoughtfully. "Do you think this child is really Han's?"
"Who knows?" The Princess shrugged. "I suppose he could be."
"Tests would prove it one way or the other."
"I think Mrs. Sollon has the idea that this will drive us apart, but it won't work."
Luke reached over and took his sister's hand, hoping she was right in her belief.
"She's not alone in there," Luke informed his sister as they pressed the buzzer on the gild-covered door.
Luke shut his eyes briefly. "Three." He started to say something else, but was cut off as the door hissed open.
Mrs. Euridice Sollon was standing just inside, and gave a short step backwards. "I wasn't expecting you to bring your brother."
"Is that a problem?" Leia asked the woman.
"It's nice to see you again, Mrs. Sollon," Luke said, giving his head a slight bow.
"Well. Well. I suppose you've told him everything we discussed," Euridice said sharply, ignoring Luke's greeting.
"You didn't ask me not to," Leia said, pretending to be surprised.
"I just assumed..."
"Can we come in, or do we have to stand in the hallway and have this conversation?" Luke interrupted, looking pointedly down the corridor at a small cluster of humans.
With her mouth in a tight line, Euridice stepped aside to allow the siblings to enter the suite. Sitting on a sofa, her long legs crossed and smoking a thin cigga, was a skinny woman with long, rather unkempt blonde hair. She appeared to be in her late thirties, and was wearing a low-cut, tight, black pantsuit. Leia's eyes darted around the room, looking for the third person. No one else could be seen. The blonde woman stood up and approached them, hips swaying as she tottered on very high heels.
"This is Chirlyn, my daughter-in-law," Euridice said curtly. "Chirlyn, this is Ambassador Organa - Hannibal's latest conquest - and her brother, Luke Skywalker."
"I wasn't expecting her to be here, either," Leia said, visibly tensing at being called 'a conquest.'
"So we seem to be even with our exchange of surprise guests," Euridice replied. For a brief moment, Leia could almost picture Euridice as Governor Tarkin.
The blonde stuck out her manicured, bejeweled hand, blowing out a puff of disgusting smoke in Leia's direction. "Pleased to meet you," Chirlyn said, her voice low and husky.
Leia had thought, at least from a distance, the woman was beautiful. Up close, she changed her opinion. At one time, perhaps less than a decade ago, Chirlyn must have been gorgeous, but time had not been kind. Makeup tried to cover up a multitude of sins - smoking, over-exposure to sun, and Leia guessed by the sickly yellow overcast in her eyes, probably illegal spice. Dark roots indicated her hair wasn't exactly a natural blonde.
Careful of the sparkling red daggers at the ends of Chirlyn's fingers, Leia grasped the woman's hand and shook it. "I would like to say the same, but your mother-in-law makes it difficult."
Chirlyn gave a hiccup that Leia assumed was a laugh, then turned her attention to Luke. "Mother! You didn't tell me we were having a handsome gentleman over for company. I would have put on something dressier, not this old rag." She made a show of tugging at the neckline, drawing attention to her abundant chest.
"Yes. I'm sure you would have found something even more revealing if we'd have only known," the older woman said snidely. She looked at Luke. "Are you hungry? Would you like me to order something from room service?"
"I'd love some white wine, Mother. And maybe some blue starberries," Chirlyn said enthusiastically. "But no food for me... it goes straight to my hips." She gave a little wiggle for Luke's benefit.
"I wasn't asking you," Euridice snapped. "Order your own wine."
"No, nothing for me," Luke replied politely. "Thank you."
Euridice pointed toward the living area. "Let's have a seat, shall we? There is much to discuss."
Giggling, Chirlyn hurried over to Luke's side, and grasped his arm. "Come on... I'll show you the way."
"It's six feet away," Leia said dryly. "I'm sure he can find it himself."
Chirlyn ignored Leia's comment, and pulled Luke with her. Euridice just sighed and shook her head. "I'm sure you can see where both my sons were so smitten with her, they ended up at each other's throats."
"Han's tastes have matured," Leia muttered softly. "I hope."
"Men always go for the lightweights," Euridice replied just as quietly. "And I don't mean body weight, dear. Don't think for a second time changes them, either."
"The lightweights, or men?"
Unable to hear what Euridice and Leia were saying, Chirlyn was busy fawning over Luke. "So, you're a Jedi? I'll bet you have a lot of women falling all over you."
"Uh, not really," Luke replied, trying to gently disengage his arm.
"Oh, you're just being modest," Chirlyn said with a throaty laugh, slapping his shoulder playfully. "What do Jedi wear under those boring robes? I'll bet nothing."
Luke blushed. "I have pants and a shirt on."
"Let me see."
To Luke's mortification, she started pulling at his robe, when Euridice stepped forward. "Chirlyn, sit down and quit acting like a gundark."
"I'm not a gundark," she pouted, sitting down on the sofa with a flourish, then patting the cushion next to her. Luke smiled and sat down on a chair.
After Leia sat, Euridice cleared her throat. "What have you decided?"
"I'd really appreciate a chance to discuss this with Han, before you go to the holoshills," Leia addressed Chirlyn directly. "I'm sure Han would be glad to provide you with child-support, if Quentin is his."
"Are you calling me a liar?" Chirlyn shrieked, standing up. "QUINTY! GET IN HERE!"
"Stop yelling," Euridice grumbled.
A young boy entered the main room, noting the guests, but not acknowledging them. "What do you want? I'm busy."
If Leia had any doubts that Han was the father, seeing the sullen boy changed her mind. He was exactly how she imagined Han Solo would've looked like as a teenager, down to the shaggy brown hair and scowl.
"Busy? Doing what?" his mother asked, annoyed.
"Playin' a holovid. I'm up to level twelve, and if I get two more dragons, I'll get a gold ring."
"Well, that sounds important," Chirlyn said sarcastically.
"Just as important as when you paint your fake fingernails," the boy shot back.
"Stop back talking me, Quinty!"
"SHUT UP AND QUIT CALLIN' ME QUINTY!" With that, the boy stalked away.
"Isn't he exactly like Hannibal?" Euridice said, smirking.
"No, not exactly," Luke said softly.
"What do you mean, Skywalker?"
"I mean... I think Quentin might be Force-sensitive."
"That's stupid," Chirlyn said instantly to Luke. "Quinty isn't sensitive at all. He didn't even cry when Benewald died."
That comment earned a glare from Euridice. "As I recall, you were the only one shedding tears at the funeral, and only because your free money had died with him." Euridice turned her icy stare at Luke. "The subject of the Force is off-limits in this family."
Ignoring her mother-in-law, Chirlyn asked, "What's the Force?"
"It's what gives Jedi special abilities," Luke tried explaining.
"Oh, I see," Chirlyn said her face blank. "You mean like when you play with your lightswords. Quinty would probably like playing with those."
"Lightsabers," Luke corrected automatically.
"Can we get back to the topic?" Euridice said, gritting her teeth.
Chirlyn frowned. "What topic?"
"I swear, Chirlyn, you are six coils short of an operational hyperdrive unit. The topic of Hannibal being Quentin's father, and that you want child-support. Lots of child-support," Euridice explained, rubbing her temples.
Leia suddenly had an idea, and decided to try a different tact with Chirlyn. "Why don't you give Han a chance to discuss this with you, before you go to the holoshills? It's only nine more days, and I'm certain he'll be reasonable."
"I want half," Chirlyn announced brightly. "Of all of it. And Euridice wants the other half, and you're supposed to make Hannie agree to this. Right, Mother? Is that what I'm supposed to tell her?"
Flushing, Euridice tried to clarify. "She means, of course, that Quentin is entitled to half of all the business assets, with Chirlyn as the executor of the child's estate. I would get the other half, plus the family estate."
"Wouldn't it be fairer for Quentin to get the family estate?" Leia asked Chirlyn. "You know, because he is a Sollon by blood, and Euridice is only a Sollon through marriage."
"Yeah," Chirlyn took a long drag on her cigga. "I never thought about it that way." She narrowed her eyes at Euridice. "I think you're trying to cheat me."
"Don't you see what she's doing?" Euridice snapped. "The Princess is trying to divide us. Divide and conquer."
The bedroom door cycled open, and Quentin reappeared. "I'm bored. There's nothing to do in this stupid hotel. Let's go out."
"Quinty, darling," Chirlyn cried out, waving her hand at Luke, and spreading ashes all over the floor. "This man is a Jedi, and he says you're sensitive!"
"I AM NOT!"
"I meant...I think you might be Force-sensitive," Luke said. "But I'd have to do further testing, just to be certain."
"I hate tests."
"But if you pass, you can play with his lightsword," Chirlyn prodded.
"You have a lightsaber? I want it," he demanded. "None of my friends have lightsabers, and I could be the only one to have one."
"I can't just give you a lightsaber," Luke told him. "It's something you have to earn, and only then if you're a Jedi."
"That's not true!" Quentin argued. "Money can buy anything, even a lightsaber, and I've got lots and lots of money." He looked at his mother. "Buy me a lightsaber!"
"Okay, Quinty, but I don't know what kinds of stores carry them."
"You can't just buy a lightsaber in a store," Luke said, getting exasperated.
"I'll bet I could," Quentin continued, unfazed. "I have friends, and their fathers have connections. They can even buy illegal things." That comment brought a stern glare from his mother.
"I have an idea," Leia said suddenly. "Quentin and Chirlyn could come with me and Luke, and we could find out about his Force-sensitivity."
Chirlyn jumped up. "That's a good idea!"
"I think it's a terrible idea," Euridice said hotly. The last thing she wanted was for Chirlyn to become friends with these people.
"If I'm Force-sensitive, can I buy a lightsaber then?" Quentin asked Luke, then added before he could respond, "My tutor says the Jedi are all dead. The Emperor killed them all."
"Not all," Luke told him. "I'm still here, and I find new students to train all the time." A slight exaggeration, perhaps, but Luke knew what Leia was trying to accomplish... at least he thought he knew.
"I'll bet those old lightsabers ended up in used space-port trader posts," Quentin mused. "You could take me around to trader posts here on Coruscant."
"And while Luke does that, we could go shopping, Chirlyn," Leia said, pretending to be excited about the idea, and ignoring Luke's look of dismay. "There are really nice clothing stores on Coruscant."
"Expensive?" she asked eagerly.
"Very," Leia said, nodding.
"You don't have money to waste," Euridice told her daughter-in-law firmly.
"Money's no object," Leia informed her. "I'm sure Han will be thrilled to pick up the tab."
"You think?" Chirlyn asked her expression uncertain.
"Of course he will. If you're fair to him, I'm certain he'll be very, very generous with you... and your son. As a matter of fact, you and Quentin can stay with me in my apartment until Han gets home. It's more than big enough."
"Let's go get our satchels," Chirlyn told her son happily. "Come on, Quinty.... we're going."
"Chirlyn, if you go with these people, I... I won't be responsible for what happens," Euridice threatened.
Leia leaned forward, patting Euridice on her bony wrist. "Nothing will happen to them. You've taken care of this matter for long enough. It's high time Han and I did our fair share." She stood up, and headed toward the door, pausing only long enough for Chirlyn and Quentin to reappear with bags. "What did you say about my brightness?" Leia commented loud enough for Euridice to hear as she followed her brother out the door.
Luke had to admit he was pretty impressed with his sister's negotiating skills, even if he was dreading the prospect of spending the next nine days taking Quentin to trading posts looking for used lightsabers.
Nine days later.....
Luke sighed as he leaned up against the wall of the space-port, watching as Quentin picked through old equipment. He was now certain Quentin was Force-strong, but Luke was ambivalent about training the boy. Quentin could be a handful, and then some. He was strong-willed, argumentative, sneaky and bossy.
On the other side, Luke saw he was kind-hearted, intelligent and was full of passion. The latest quest was proof of that. A few days ago, Quentin had located a battered old pod-racer at one of these used parts sales. Instantly, he'd forgotten about looking for old lightsabers, and begged Luke to buy him the racer. Grateful that the boy was finally distracted from lightsabers, he'd agreed. Of course, the pod-racer didn't work since it was missing half its insides. So now they were spending hours looking for ancient parts to make the pod-racer fully functional. Luke was sincerely hoping those parts no longer existed, and so far, it appeared his wish was coming true.
The young Jedi watched as Quentin picked up a greasy part, and handed the Rodian some credits, then headed in his direction. "I found one of our parts," he said happily.
Luke inspected the object. "Looks like you did. Congratulations. Only twenty-seven more pieces to go."
"Ha! I'll find them. You just watch me," the boy bragged. "I gotta go use the refresher."
"Fine," Luke replied. "I'll wait right here."
Watching Quentin head off, Luke shook his head, smiling. Was the galaxy ready for a younger version of Han Solo, Jedi Knight? Or maybe he was wrong, and the boy would turn out like his great-uncle, Qui-Gon Jinn. In the few days Luke had spent with Quentin, he'd come to understand and sympathize with the teenager. Quentin had spent nearly his entire life in rich boarding schools, and with nanny-droids when he wasn't in school. His 'father,' Reginald, barely acknowledged the child's existence, and it seemed like the only Sollon family member to ever show him kindness was his grandfather. Although Quentin shrugged off Luke's questions about his feelings regarding Benewald's passing, Luke could sense the grandfather's death greatly impacted the boy emotionally.
"What's taking him so long?" Luke groused, then pushed his way through the thick crowd and headed toward the refresher. Sticking his head inside the unsanitary refresher, Luke called out, "Quentin?" No response. The Jedi reached out with the Force, and felt his heart drop. The teenager was far away, and getting further with each passing second.
Han stuck his head inside the bedroom door, smiling when he saw a form lying in bed and completely covered with blankets from head to toe. He'd called Leia's office an hour before, and found out she was home. Takin' a nap in the middle of the day, huh? Well, I guess I lucked out gettin' back a day early. Now I can really surprise her. With those thoughts, Han quickly undressed, and as quietly as possible slipped under the covers. "Sweetheart... surprise! I'm home!" he whispered before grabbing her waist.
The woman let out a startled yell, and sat up. "What.... ?" She stopped talking, staring down at a dumbfounded, and wide-eyed man. "Hannie? Is that you?"
It took Han's brain long seconds to decipher what he was seeing. "Chir.... Chirlyn?"
"HAN?" Leia's shocked voice called from the bedroom doorway.
Pulling the blanket around his hips, Han jumped out of the bed, moving faster than he'd moved in a very long time. "Leia.... wha.... what's Chirlyn doing in our bed?" He looked at Leia, his face drained of color. "How did you meet her?"
Han's expression was so priceless, it was difficult for Leia to keep her face set and angry. "You were supposed to be back this evening," she replied accusingly. "You're early."
Mind still reeling, Han managed to formulate a response. "I pushed the top speed of the battleship to full, because I... I missed you."
"So the first thing you did was jump in bed with your former fiancee?" Leia questioned sharply, pointing at the blonde.
"I thought it was you in bed, I swear!"
"Sure, that sounds like a likely story."
"A story?" Han repeated, his voice actually squeaking. "I haven't seen her in, uh...." He hesitated, doing some quick calculating. "Almost fourteen years!"
"Mother brought me and Quinty to Coruscant," Chirlyn supplied helpfully, leaning over and reaching for a cigga. "Leia and me have gotten real close the last week." She leered at Han, who was still clutching the blanket to his torso. "You're looking real good, Hannie."
Mother? Who in the stars was 'Mother?' Han turned his head slowly, staring at the rumpled blonde woman in his bed, and felt a rush of gratitude toward whichever Corellian deities disrupted his engagement to Chirlyn. "Quinty?" was all he could think to ask.
"Quentin. Our son."
Son? OUR son? Han felt himself flush, no longer embarrassed, but angry. "I don't have a kid with you, and I don't know what you're tryin' to pull..."
"Han, we need to talk," Leia interrupted, pulling at his arm. Addressing Chirlyn, she said, "I'll straighten him out, don't worry."
With the cigga between her lips, Chirlyn flicked on the lighter. "I'm not worried."
"Where are you taking me?" Quentin asked his abductor, more irritated than frightened. He had never even made it inside the refresher before a stun-blast had knocked him unconscious, and he had awakened inside a fast moving hovercraft, with his hands bound behind his back.
"None of your business."
"My grandmother is rich. She'll hunt you down and kill you."
This was met with laughter, and Quentin grew uneasy. "You're gonna ask a ransom for me," he surmised.
"If that's what you want to think, go ahead."
"Jedi Luke Skywalker says I have the Force, and I'm going to be a Jedi someday," Quentin bluffed. In fact, Luke had been evasive about training him as a Jedi, but his kidnapper didn't need to know that.
"I feel sorry for you."
"I'm friends with Princess Leia Organa. She'll use the entire New Republic military to find me."
"Let them try."
Quentin tried easing toward the hovercraft's door, but his kidnapper reached over and grabbed him by the hair at the back of his head, making his eyes water.
"Try anything, and I'll cut you open with a vibroblade," the kidnapper threatened.
The teenager grew still, and stared at the floor, wondering how such a pretty woman could be so callously brutal.
While he pulled his pants on, Han looked around the messy guest room. It was apparent that a young boy was staying here. "If Chirlyn came here with some story that I'm the father of her kid, she's lying. That woman was always a flake," Han growled out.
"Can I ask you a question?"
"You mean Chirlyn has left some blanks in her story? What a surprise."
"What did you see in her?" Leia asked, crossing her arms over her chest.
Han wasn't expecting that question. "She was pretty."
"Pretty. That's it?"
"Mostly," Han mumbled as he tugged his boots on.
"She, um, was my father's personal secretary," Han continued, growing uncomfortable under Leia's intense gaze. "He was always inviting her over for dinner because he said she didn't have anyone, and I think he really just invited her to make my mother mad. So I..." Han trailed off, and sat down on the edge of the bed.
"I started dating her, just to annoy both my mother and my father. It worked so well, I asked her to marry me, even though I didn't love her. I'm surprised to hear she's with her mother. If I recall, Chirlyn told everyone she was an orphan." Han shook his head. "I guess that's another lie."
"She's here with your mother, Han," Leia replied calmly.
"My mother's here? Why?"
"She came here to blackmail you after she was left out of her husband's will."
Han grew still, and Leia suddenly realized her error. This wasn't how she'd intended to break the news of Benewald's passing, and she quickly sat down next to Han, taking his hand. "I'm sorry... with everything that's happened lately, I forgot you haven't been told... I'm sorry..."
"How did he die?"
"I don't know," Leia admitted. "Euridice never told me."
"It seems hard for me to believe he's gone," Han said quietly. "He was always so strong, I sorta had the dumb idea he'd live forever."
"You loved him."
"Yeah, I guess I did. We had our problems, but I think underneath it all we both loved each other. I'm just sorry I never got the chance to say it to him." Han sighed. "Unfortunately, I've never felt any love from my mother. Reginald was always her favorite. I never even came close."
"That's why I asked Chirlyn and her son to stay with us," Leia explained. "I'm pretty sure she's just doing what your mother is asking, and I wanted to get her away from Euridice's influence."
"That was probably a good idea," Han agreed. "But... letting her sleep in our bed?"
"I wasn't expecting you to crawl in with her," Leia said with a laugh, then grew thoughtful. "Do you think Chirlyn ever loved you?"
"Nah. And that's what makes it so hard for me to understand why Chirlyn is claiming this kid is mine." Han shook his head. "I don't believe her story - she's angling for something."
"I agree. According to your mother, Benewald was paying Chirlyn money to keep her happy and quiet. Even though Reg is listed as the child's father, they both say that he's yours."
"And you believe them?"
"Quentin looks a lot like you."
"So?" Han shot back. "Reg looked a lot like me, too. That doesn't mean a thing."
Leia sighed, knowing Han was right. "Your father left you nearly the entire Sollon fortune, including the estate. Euridice is furious, and wants you to sign over everything to her. That way, this will all be kept quiet."
"If, by some slim chance, this kid is mine, will you leave me?" he asked quietly. "I know a scandal like this would hurt your career."
She didn't know if that question made her mad or hurt. "I'll never leave you," she responded truthfully. "I'm offended you'd even think such a thing."
Relieved, Han then asked, "Should I sign over Sollon Enterprises to make this all go away?"
"That's what they want you to do," Leia pointed out.
"If it turns out Quentin is really yours, do you want no part of his life?"
That hadn't occurred to Han. "If it turns out he's mine, I'll be the one furious for not being told I had a son."
Leia smiled, and wrapped her arms around his waist. "Welcome home, flyboy. You owe me big for taking in Chirlyn for an entire week. I've been dragging around every evening shopping, and she's made the entire house reek like ciggas."
"I'll make it up to you," he promised.
Han started to lean down to kiss her when the door opened and Threepio came hurrying in, waving his arms. "Master Han! Princess Leia! There you are... I've been looking all over for you!"
"Threepio..." Han started out warningly.
"Master Luke is on the comlink, and he's lost Master Quentin!"
Quentin was hauled into a small ship, and pushed roughly into a closet-like space. The boy was now scared, and this pleased his kidnapper. "Are you going to kill me?"
"That depends," the red-headed kidnapper snapped back.
"On the person that's paying me to do this job." With that, the door slid shut, leaving Quentin in total darkness.
"But I still have to use the refresher!" he protested weakly into the tiny space.
"Lost?" Leia asked quickly. "What do you mean he lost him?"
"Master Quentin went into a refresher, and when he did not return in what Master Luke assumed would be a sufficient amount of time to perform whatever bodily function he was needing to do - " Han sighed loudly, and Threepio paused only half a second before continuing, "- Master Luke then went to locate Master Quentin. It was then he discovered Master Quentin was nowhere to be found."
"We'd better go inform his mother," Leia said reluctantly. "Then I'll contact Security."
"Master Luke claims he has already done so, Princess Leia."
They headed toward their bedroom, and knocked once before opening the door. Chirlyn was sitting at Leia's desk on the holocomm unit, and jumped back in surprise. "Oh! You're back already." She quickly hit the disconnect button. "Did you tell Hannie everything?"
"Yes," Leia said. "But I'm afraid we've got some bad news. Quentin seems to have disappeared."
"Oh," Chirlyn said, waving her hand dismissively. "He does that sometimes. I wouldn't worry about it."
"Not worry about it?" Han asked incredulously. "He's a ..." Han paused to look at Leia. "How old is he?"
"Thirteen," Chirlyn replied before Leia could respond. "Do the math, Hannie."
Han glared at the blonde before continuing his rant. "He's a thirteen-year-old kid running around in a place he's never been before. I could think of a million bad things that could happen to him." He glanced at the holocomm unit. "Who were you talkin' to?"
She took a long drag on her smoke, frowning at the question. "Just Mother."
"Why do you call Euridice 'Mother?'" Han asked in annoyance. "She was your mother-in-law for a few lousy months, and I sure as hell can't see her appreciating you calling her 'Mother.'"
"How would you know?" Chirlyn responded tightly. "Maybe me and Euridice have gotten real close because of Quentin."
"If Reginald were Quentin's father, we'd believe that," Leia said, supporting Han's comment. "But Euridice told me the reason she's not giving you any of her money is because Han's the father."
Chirlyn was unable to stop herself from smirking at the couple. "Are you going to give me lots of child-support, Hannie? And turn over all Sollon holdings to Quentin and Mother? Or am I going to have to go to the holoshills and hire lots of lawyers? I can make your life hell you know, Hannie."
"You might need those lawyers, Chirlyn," Han snapped out. "I'll need medical proof, but if it turns out he's my son, I'm filing for full custody."
It was a toss-up who was the most surprised by that statement - Chirlyn, Leia... or Han.
After Chirlyn declined to search for her son, Leia and Han quickly met with Luke. "We don't even know if he's still on the planet," Leia stated in frustration. "Whoever took him, might be long gone."
Luke shook his head in disagreement. "No. He's still on Coruscant. I can feel it."
"Feel it? How?" Han questioned.
"You haven't told him?" Luke asked his sister.
"I didn't have a chance."
"You mean you weren't done with the surprises before Goldenrod interrupted?" Han questioned Leia. "I really don't think I can deal with anything else right now."
"Quentin is Force-sensitive," Luke informed him, smiling at Han's disgusted grunt.
"I think this Force-business is working in a conspiracy against me."
"And do you know what else?" Leia said, frowning.
"No, and don't tell me. I don't want to know," Han replied.
"Chirlyn not only wasn't surprised Quentin disappeared, she didn't care."
"Well, that's no surprise," Han responded. "She doesn't seem like the motherly sort. Maybe it's something in the air on Corellia."
Luke shook his head. "All I know is Quentin didn't just wander off, or even run away. He was having fun, and there was no indication at all he was thinking about just taking off."
"Which means someone took him," Leia said grimly. "That's even worse."
"What I don't understand is how they could have kidnapped him," Luke said. "I was only thirty feet away from him. I should have sensed something, some danger. But I didn't."
"What do you think that means?" Han questioned.
"I think it means we're dealing with another Force-sensitive. Maybe even a dark Jedi."
The kidnapper leaned forward, glaring at her employer. "You never said anything about taking him off-planet."
"The situation has changed."
"If it's changed, then so has my price. I'm not a baby-sitter."
"You'll be paid, I promise."
"Promises don't spend," the red-head snapped. "And I don't like changes."
"But you'll do it?"
"I'll do it," she agreed reluctantly.
The kidnapper started her ship's engines, her fingers flying automatically through the pre-flight drills. Leaving Coruscant annoyed her. Not only wasn't it in the original agreement, but unknown to her employer, the kidnapper had her own agenda, and that agenda involved remaining on Coruscant.
A loud banging sounded from the hold, and for a moment she thought something was wrong with the engine. Then it occurred to her that it was the boy. Irritated at another disruption, she got up and stalked over to the locked closet. "Do you want me to stun you again?" she yelled through the door.
"No! I have to use the refresher... really bad," came the muffled reply. "Please? I won't try to escape. I'm going to wet my pants."
The door opened, flooding light into the closet. The redhead stood, pointing a blaster at the boy. "The refresher is to the right."
"I can't go with my hands in binders."
The woman pressed a small button on her belt, and the binders fell to the floor. "If you try anything funny, I'll kill you."
"I won't," Quentin promised, then hurried to use the refresher.
Luke was desperately trying to locate Quentin by his Force-signature, yet he was having little success. In a few more years, with more experience under his belt, he would probably have been able to trace the boy. Right now, the only thing he was certain of was that Quentin was still on Coruscant.
Eventually, they decided that it might be a good idea to head back to Leia's apartment. If the kidnappers were in this for credits, they would be contacting either Chirlyn or Euridice. The big question was - how did the kidnappers even know Quentin Sollon was on Coruscant? It wasn't like he'd grown up in the spotlight, and everyone knew what he looked like.
Leia pressed in the code to her apartment, and they were not overly surprised to see Euridice sitting in the living area, holding a glass of wine. Chirlyn was nowhere to be seen.
"It's about time you got back," Euridice stated. "Chirlyn called me up, hysterical, claiming Jedi Skywalker lost Quentin."
"It's nice to see you too, Mother," Han said dryly.
"Hysterical?" Leia asked. "When we left, she claimed this was no big deal, and that he ran away all the time."
"She wouldn't even come with us to search for him," Han added.
Euridice sipped her wine. "Well, something set her off. She won't tell me any details."
"I'll go talk to her," Leia said, starting for the bedroom.
Leia stopped walking. "No?"
"She told me she'll only discuss this - and these were her exact words - this tragedy with Quentin's father, alone." Euridice gave Han a smug look. "That would be you, Hannibal."
"That remains to be seen."
"In any case, you're the only one she'll talk to."
Han gave a reluctant look at Leia, and she tried to give him an encouraging smile. "Be nice to her, Han. Just not too nice."
With a shake of his head, he walked into the hallway, then knocked on the bedroom door. After he identified himself, the door opened and he disappeared into the room.
"So..." Euridice said casually, leaning back against the sofa. "Why won't my worthless son marry you?"
"We'll get married when the time is right," Leia replied, annoyed.
"You think so? Maybe the same thing will happen to you that happened to Chirlyn."
"What would that be?"
"Finding out you're pregnant, and Hannibal running off."
"That's not what happened, and you know it," Leia said tightly. "The first thing you told us was that Han never knew about Chirlyn being pregnant."
"That's right, I did say that, didn't I?"
Luke cleared his throat. "Shouldn't we be discussing how to find Quentin?"
"The boy will turn up," Euridice said, unconcerned.
"You know, for being his grandmother, you sure don't have much use for Quentin," Leia snapped.
"I have use for him, my dear. As a matter of fact, he's turning out to be very useful."
"Only to blackmail Han!"
Euridice stood up and walked over to the Princess. "This will all go away... we will all go away... just pressure Hannibal into giving me what I deserve."
"Maybe if you were a good mother, you wouldn't have this problem. Maybe if you would have been a good wife, Benewald would have left you more," Leia shot back. "From what I can tell, twenty million was more than you deserve!"
Euridice's face grew hot, and the stem of the wine glass snapped under the pressure of her fingers. "You know nothing, you worthless little murderer. And when I'm through with you, you'll have nothing, especially not the Sollon fortune. It should have all gone to Reginald and me. I'll die before I let you have one credit of my money."
Inside Han and Leia's bedroom suite.
As she sat on the bed, Chirlyn sniffed loudly, then blew her nose. "I think Euridice is behind Quentin's disappearance," she whispered rather loudly.
Han kept his distance, leaning one shoulder against the door. "Why do you think that?"
"She hates me, and she hates Quentin," Chirlyn said, standing up and walking closer to Han. "She doesn't want Quentin to have the Sollon money, she wants it all for herself. She'll probably have me killed. I think I need a bodyguard."
"Why are you claiming this boy is mine?"
"I don't know how that's possible," Han said, shaking his head. "I took yearly shots."
"Those can fail."
"Not too likely."
"I made a terrible mistake, Hannie," Chirlyn said, pouting. "I know I should've never run off with Reggie. If you wouldn't have gotten so angry, we could've worked everything out."
"You think when a guy catches his fiancee kissing his brother, that's not a reason to get angry? It's not a reason to break off the engagement?"
"Reggie was kissing me! I was caught by surprise, and then when you came in the room... well, I was just so upset. It wasn't my fault, and you wouldn't listen to any explanation."
"Huh. Imagine that."
"I still love you, Hannie," Chirlyn said in a sultry voice. "You can come back to Corellia and we can all live in Sollon Estate, and be one happy family again. The way it was meant to be. We're soulmates, Hannie. You need me, not that, that, snippy little politician. I can make you happy. She doesn't know the ways to make a man happy that I do."
Chirlyn moved closer, leaning against his chest. "Make love to me, Hannie."
"What about Quentin?"
"He's not here."
"Exactly," Han snapped, pushing her backwards none too gently. "You're so busy scheming, you've already forgotton all about your missing kid. You're a real piece of work, you know that?"
"I'll go to the holoshills, I swear it! You can't reject me, or I'll ruin your life," she threatened. "Just watch me!"
"You don't have the power to ruin my life, Chirlyn. You just think you do."
Onboard the kidnapper's ship....
"Sit down and shut up," the woman ordered. "If you try anything, I'll put the binders back on, and throw you back in the closet."
"I'll be good," Quentin promised as he strapped in next to the woman. "You're real pretty, you know that?"
This earned him a scowl. "You're way too young to be noticing women."
"Uh huh. I'm thirteen... I'm a man now." He then asked, "Why are you a kidnapper?"
"What's your name?"
"If I told you my name, I'd have to kill you." The ship started lifting off, smoothly turning its nose toward the sky.
"Where are we going?"
"That's not your concern." The ship started to accelerate.
"My boarding school teachs basic flying skills," he told her, rubbing his fingers over the control panel, and the small action earned him a sharp swat on his hand from his captor. "It's a very expensive school." When she said nothing, he continued. "My father - his name was Reginald Sollon - made sure I had the best education money could buy. My mother said he was murdered by some criminal."
"Really? Did she ever say who did it?"
"No, they never caught the guy. But when I get older, I'm going to find him and kill him myself."
"Good for you."
"And you know what else?"
"I'm not going to let anyone kill me, either," he said firmly. Before the kidnapper could react, Quentin reached over and pushed down hard on the flight control stick, sending the ship into a very rapid, downward spiral toward the fiery smokestakes of the industrial section of Coruscant.
"Quentin!" Luke yelled suddenly, startling both Euridice and Leia and interrupting their stand-off.
Euridice turned her glare at Luke. "What about him?"
"He's in danger," Luke said, addressing his sister. "I saw a flash... like an explosion. I've lost contact with him."
"Contact?" Euridice snapped out. "How are you in contact with him?"
"Through the Force," Luke tried explaining. "I can sense people I know, especially those that are Force-sensitive, like your grandson."
By this time, Han had hurried out of the bedroom followed closely by Chirlyn, who seemed to be as angry as Euridice.
"You mean you can track him?" the woman asked. "If that's the case, then why aren't you out looking for him?"
"What's goin' on, kid?" Han questioned.
"Something's happened to Quentin."
"We weren't done discussing things, Hannie," Chirlyn told the Corellian. "I'm going to the holoshills! Right now, too. I'll tell them you're a dead-beat father, and you had your own kid snatched to keep from taking responsibility for him."
"Quentin was taken before Han even knew he was here," Luke pointed out.
"He knew!" Chirlyn screamed back, pointing at Leia. "You told him! You've got ways to contact him, long before he got back!"
Leia stared at both the women, trying to read them. Euridice seemed both amused by the scene that was unfolding, and a bit disturbed by the notion that Jedi could sense others through the Force. Chirlyn, on the other hand, was furious and jealous. Neither one seemed concerned about the missing child.
"I think we should check out the space traffic reports," Luke said, addressing Han. He looked at Leia. "Maybe you should stay with our guests, and, um, try to keep things calm."
The Princess understood the underlying message: Keep an eye on them. I don't trust them. "Of course," she quickly agreed.
Han hurried over and gave her a kiss, then whispered in her ear, "Don't turn your back on them, and keep one hand on your blaster at all times."
"Don't I get a kiss?" Chirlyn demanded. "I'm the mother of your child."
"As soon as Chewie gets back from Kashyyyk, I'll ask him to fill in for me," Han said as he followed Luke out the door.
The redhead fought to control the spinning ship, but this close to the surface of the planet, she never really had time to correct. The ship clipped the top of a smokestack, sending sparks flying throughout the cockpit. "Why did you do that?" she yelled out, desperately trying to make the failing controls obey.
"I... I didn't want to leave Coruscant," Quentin managed to gasp out.
"It looks like you're going to get your wish, since we're both about to become small pieces for scavengers to eat."
"We're gonna die?" Quentin asked, his eyes wide and his fingers clutching the armrest. "I didn't mean for us to die."
"If you thought I might kill you before," she said tightly, "just you wait until I land this thing."
It was all she could say before the ship skipped violently over the rooftops of several factories, causing quite a of bit of destruction in its wake. The kidnapper's ship finally came to a rest, lodged in a narrow crevice. The lights inside the ship flickered once before going dark, but by that time, the occupants were in no condition to notice.
Han and Luke rushed into a space traffic control booth, startling the occupant. "Are there any reports of a crash?" Han demanded.
"You're not authorized..."
"I'm General Han Solo," Han interrupted the man. "And this is Jedi Skywalker. Who would you like to get authorization from?"
"Uh... you're good enough."
Luke leaned over and pointed at a read-out. "There... in the industrial section. A crash happened less than eight minutes ago."
The controller nodded. "I control over five hundred ships an hour," he said defensively. "Crashes happen all the time, and most of the time it's pilot error or some type of mechanical problem. Emergency personnel are already headed over there."
"Let's go, kid," Han said to Luke.
"It'll take you at least twenty minutes at top speed," the controller protested. "By the time you get there, the scene will be cleared." He watched as the two men took off, ignoring his advice.
Leia watched as Chirlyn rummaged around, looking for a cigga. Finally, the woman gave up, and grabbed her small purse. "I have to go to the store."
"You'll wait here until we hear from Han and Luke," Leia responded calmly.
"I need smokes!"
"We'll send Threepio."
Chirlyn's face grew frustrated. "He won't know what kind I need."
This comment made Euridice snicker. "Since when are you fussy?"
"I've gotten fussier since I agreed to marry Reggie instead of Hannie," Chirlyn ground out. "That was a big mistake. The only reason you liked Reggie was because he was a mama's boy, but he didn't like other women, I can tell you that." She looked at a quiet Leia. "Reggie liked to hit me. A lot."
"Shut up, Chirlyn!" Euridice warned.
"It's true," Chirlyn said, unfazed by Euridice's glare. "That's why you didn't like Hannie or Bennie, because you couldn't control them."
"Don't you dare call my husband cute little nicknames."
"Maybe if you would've, Bennie would've paid attention to you instead of - "
Euridice jumped up, slapping Chirlyn across her face. For a long second, there was total silence in the room. Then Chirlyn turned and fled into Leia's bedroom, locking the door behind her.
The first thing she noticed was the overpowering smell of oil and chemicals. Slowly, the kidnapper opened her eyes in the dim light, putting her hand to her forehead and groaning.
"About time you woke up," a young voice rebuked softly.
The woman lunged forward, grabbing the startled boy by his shirt. "You could have gotten us both killed, you little brat!"
"So it's all right for me to get killed, but not you?" the boy shot back. "It's not so much fun when you're the one in trouble, huh?"
The kidnapper looked around the filthy room. "We're not on my ship, so where are we?"
"I don't know."
"I woke up just as some beings were pulling apart your ship, and when they saw I was alive, they grabbed both of us," Quentin said. "They took us a long way, down below the factories, and threw us in this room." He watched as his captor stood up, swaying slightly, then headed toward the door. "It's locked," he informed her, wondering what she was doing as she patted her vest and belt.
"Rodders! They took it!"
Quentin's eyes grew wide. "You had a lightsaber? You're a Jedi?"
The woman laughed. "When banthas fly."
"So you bought your lightsaber at a used space-port sale?" Quentin said excitedly. "I knew there would be old lightsabers somewhere!"
"That was not a used lightsaber," she replied icily. "It was given to me."
"None of your business."
"Will you tell me your name now?" Quentin asked, grinning. "Since we're probably both gonna die anyway?"
She stared at him, trying to decide whether it mattered if he knew. "It's Mar...Arica."
"M'Arica? That's a stupid name."
"It's Arica. And Quentin is a pretty stupid name, if you ask me."
"I'll have you know that I was named after my great-uncle, who was a Jedi Knight," Quentin bragged. "And Jedi Skywalker is going to teach me to become a Jedi."
"If he lives long enough," Arica said under her breath.
"I said, if you live long enough," she said louder, then looked up toward the ceiling. "That's it."
Quentin followed her gaze up. "That's what?"
She pointed at a rusty air vent. "That's our way out. We'll climb through that vent... it looks big enough."
"But.... but there might be bugs in there. Spiders."
"So Quentin Sollon, soon-to-be great Jedi Knight, is afraid of a few little bugs?" she mocked.
"Good. I'll boost you up, then use these old crates to get myself up there." A loud banging sound came from outside the doorway. "And we'd better hurry... it sounds like our friends are coming back."
Luke watched in dismay as the Security officers loaded what remained of the crashed vessel onto a large repulsor lift.
"At least they didn't find any bodies, even if the local scavengers picked out most of the undamaged pieces before security arrived," Han said quietly. "It's possible the kid wasn't even on that ship."
"He was on it," Luke said firmly. "And I can sense his presence again. He's close to here."
Han sighed. "So now what?"
"I wish I knew," Luke mumbled. "If I had more experience with the Force, I could track him."
"If you had more experience with the Force, he wouldn't have gotten kidnapped to begin with," Han muttered.
The comment irritated Luke, and he spoke without thinking. "If you had less romantic experience, we wouldn't have this problem at all."
The Corellian regarding his friend thoughtfully. "Someone givin' you sarcasm lessons?"
"Nice. But I still have my doubts the kid is mine."
Luke felt a rush of regret over his harsh words. "I'm sorry, Han. Yoda would've whacked me with his gimer stick if he'd heard me right then. I'm just worried about Quentin."
"You like the kid, don't you?"
"A lot," Luke admitted. "It's not that he doesn't have an attitude - like a certain relative of his - but he's basically a good kid. When we find him, I'm going to ask him if he'd like to start training as a Jedi. I hope his mother allows it."
Han smiled at his long-time friend. "If it turns out he's my kid, I might have a say in that."
"You wouldn't let me train him?" Luke asked, surprised.
"On whether you give me an' Leia your blessings when we get married," Han said with a smirk. "I'd hate to have to grovel for your permission."
"So this is blackmail?" Luke questioned, raising his eyebrow.
"Insurance. Think of it as insurance."
"Let's go find your insurance policy," Luke said with a laugh.
Leia looked up in surprise as Euridice headed for the exit. "Where are you going?"
"I have a hair appointment, my dear. You stay here and keep your eye on Chirlyn," the older woman told her. "I think she has designs to get Hannibal back."
"Would you want that?"
"I'd love for Hannibal to marry Chirlyn," Euridice said briskly. "They deserve each other. And at least you wouldn't end up with the Sollon fortune."
"Reginald died because he was trying to kill Han. It was either Han or Reg, and I'm sorry for everything that happened, but I'd do it all over again," Leia said.
"Reginald was my life," Euridice said, her voice cracking. "Despite what you, or Chirlyn, or anyone says... he was a good son, unlike Hannibal."
"Mrs. Sollon," Leia started out carefully, "if Han is Quentin's father, I know that he'll be a good father. He should have been told the truth from the very beginning. But there is no way I will tell Han to sign over the Sollon fortune to you. It's not my place -"
"Because you want his wealth. The only reason you're with Hannibal is because you know he comes from money."
"No. I grew up rich, and I know money doesn't buy happiness... or love. I was in love with Han before I knew about his family wealth, although it was several years before either of us would admit our true feelings. Even if he was just Han Solo, ex-smuggler without a credit to his name, I'd still love him."
"I don't believe you."
"Did you marry Benewald for his money, or because you loved him?" Leia questioned.
"His money. I'm no different than other women, and that includes you."
"I know you really believe that," Leia said softly. "I feel sorry for you."
"Feel sorry for yourself, Princess," Euridice said bitterly. "I'm going to end up with the Sollon fortune, not you."
She watched as Euridice left, wondering if she should follow her, or remain with Chirlyn. After a few moments of indecision, Leia slipped out of her apartment and trailed Euridice.
Quentin brushed aside some cobwebs, then nervously inched forward in the darkness. "How come I had to go first?" he whispered, trying not to cough on the dust.
"So the bugs would bite you instead of me," Arica shot back. "Keep moving."
"How come you're a kidnapper?"
"You already asked me that once," she replied.
"But you're too pretty to be a kidnapper," the boy persevered. "You should do something legal to make money."
"I don't know.... a model? Actress?"
Arica laughed. "I probably could be a good actress."
"See? And then you could make more money than kidnapping kids for a living."
"I don't kidnap kids for a living," she informed him.
"If you didn't kidnap me for money, then why did you kidnap me?" Quentin stopped crawling as he approached a rectangular hole, and light flooded the shaft.
"I... have my reasons," she said quietly. "And it has nothing to do with you. Keep moving."
"That doesn't make any sense," he argued back, quickly scooting past the opening.
"Stop!" Arica snapped.
"Fine... I won't ask any more questions."
"No, I mean I see my lightsaber and blaster lying on a table." Arica pushed at the grating, wincing as it unexpectedly, and loudly, clattered to the ground.
"If I would've done that, you'd be strangling me right about now," Quentin said, grinning.
Arica wiggled out of the vent, and rushed over to retrieve her weapons. Her fingers barely had time to close around the hilt of her lightsaber when the outer door cycled open, showing a dozen gaunt, and demented-looking Coways all holding large metal pipes and twisted coils of rusty wire.
The Coways lunged forward with a roar, and Arica took a step backward before igniting her lightsaber. The purple blade shot out, and the beings in the lead paused, hesitation evident in their expressions. But the pause was a brief one, and the largest Coway quickly swung his pipe at her. Arica brought up her saber, easily slicing through the metal and leaving the being with only a half-meter long pipe in his grasp. If Arica thought this would discourage the others from attacking, she was mistaken. The mob rushed at her, fast and furious, forcing Arica to swing her blade in a wide arc, severing limbs and heads. This action took out five Coways before two of them dove low, tackling her around the waist and ankles.
Arica hit the floor on her back, and the air left her lungs in a rush as more beings piled on top of her, wrestling for her lightsaber. The hilt was torn from her grip, and all she could think was, I'm dead.
Leia was surprised when Euridice actually entered an expensive designer hair salon. Biting her lower lip, she watched through the duraglass as the older woman was escorted into a private styling room. Up until this point, the Princess had been fairly sure Euridice was behind Quentin's disappearance. Did she think Han would pay an enormous ransom, and then the money would be funneled back to her? Why wouldn't she have at least given Han the opportunity to meet her halfway? Leia was positive Han would have taken financial responsibility for Quentin if it turned out to be his son. Even if Quentin were only his nephew, she was certain Han would have arranged for the boy to continue his education, and given him a fair portion of the estate. It surprised Leia that Benewald hadn't made those arrangements to begin with. The child was his grandson, after all.
Of course, none of this would benefit Euridice, and Euridice obviously didn't care about Quentin, or his mother. I'm missing something, Leia thought as she gazed at her reflection in the window. Something important, but for the life of me, I can't figure out what the missing element in all this is.
Leia was still thinking this over when she noticed another reflection in the window, coming up behind her, the woman's face half-covered with a veil. Chirlyn? It was then the Princess noticed the blaster in the blonde's hand.
"Hurry," Luke cajoled the panting Corellian as they rushed down a narrow hallway. "We're getting closer, I can feel it."
"The...only thing I can feel is the heat in this place," Han gasped, holding his side. "It must be a hundred degrees, and we've been running for half an hour."
Luke wiped the sweat from his face with his sleeve. "It's only been fifteen minutes since we've been down here."
"I suppose you're gonna tell me this is cool compared to Tatooine."
"Nope... this is worse. Tatooine was a dry heat."
"Ah," Han nodded in understanding. "So cooking in an oven feels wonderful... as opposed to broiling in a steamer."
"Something like that," Luke said, his face getting a distracted look. "I think I hear a lightsaber."
"What?" Han strained, and could only hear the hiss of steam and the steady thump of machinery. "Your ears are that good?"
"The Force amplifies senses." Luke pointed toward a hallway that headed toward the right, pulling out his lightsaber as he broke into a trot. "That way."
"Good idea," Han muttered as he followed. "Let's hurry to go find ourselves a dark Jedi."
"You can't have Hannie," Chirlyn's gravelly voice hissed in Leia's ear. "He was mine first, and I want him back."
Princess Leia Organa had been shot at by stormtroopers, tortured by Sith Lords, chased by Star Destroyers, and survived. There was simply no way some greedy, dim-witted female was getting the better of her. Especially since that dim-wit felt the urge to actually speak to her victim before firing. Leia spun around and dropped out of the blaster's sight-line in one smooth action, lashing out with her foot at Chirlyn's knee-cap. A distinctive, and painful sounding, pop sounded. Chirlyn let out a strangled yell, dropping the weapon, and rolling on the surface as she clutched her leg. Quickly, the Princess retrieved the weapon, pointing it at the woman. "If you plan on shooting someone, it's always a bad idea to taunt them first," Leia said, shaking her head as a crowd gathered around the scene.
"You broke my leg!" Chirlyn screamed in agony, rolling around. "I'm telling Hannie what you did to me!"
"You were about to kill me," Leia replied icily. "You're lucky a broken leg is all you have to worry about."
"What's going on out here?" a familiar voice said behind Leia's shoulder.
The Princess glanced over to see Euridice, an expression of disdain plastered on the older woman's face. "Your lovely daughter-in-law tried killing me."
"What are you both doing here to begin with? Spying on me?"
"She was trying to kill you!" Chirlyn cried. "I was only trying to protect you, Mother!"
Leia looked down at Chirlyn, stunned. "I wasn't trying to kill anyone." She turned to face Euridice. "Everything you two say seems to be a lie."
"Don't you dare call me a liar," Euridice hissed out. "You're the only one holding a blaster, I've noticed."
A security officer ran up, slightly out of breath. "What's going on here?"
Leia opened her mouth to answer, but Euridice was faster. "Princess Leia tried to kill me, but my daughter-in-law managed to prevent my untimely demise."
"Wha..what?" Leia stuttered out. "That's not true!"
The officer looked dubiously at the three women. "Princess Leia tried killing you? Why would she do that?"
"She wants my Hannie's money," Chirlyn screeched out from the ground. "She'd do anything to get her hands on him...err..it... including having our poor son kidnapped! She's evil."
"I did not have Quentin kidnapped," Leia objected hotly, then addressed the curious crowd of onlookers. "Didn't anyone see what happened?" The question caused beings to shake their heads and back away, not wanting to become involved.
"I'm sorry, but you'll have to come down to the station so we can get this matter cleared up," the officer said apologetically.
"I can't," Chirlyn whimpered, sounding pathetic. "She attacked me and broke my leg! I need to go to a medcenter."
"Fine," the officer snapped out. "I'll contact the medics, and have you taken there. I'll need to question you later, though."
Despite the pain she was in, Chirlyn managed to give Leia a triumphant smirk.
Arica instinctively put her hands up to ward off the coming blows, mentally knowing it would do no good. The Coways never got the chance to strike. The blur of a green lightsaber and the sound of blaster-fire filled the room. In seconds, the remaining seven beings had their numbers reduced to two, and those two used their speed to push past the men and make their escape. The taller man lined up his weapon to fire, but the other one grabbed his wrist. "Let them go, Han."
"I doubt that's all of 'em. They're gonna bring back reinforcements."
"We'll deal with that if it happens."
Skywalker, Arica thought in disgust as she recognized her savior. Of course the noble Jedi Knight wouldn't want to kill the creatures, even if it put them all at risk. And that meant the other man was Solo.
Approaching with his blaster now pointed in her direction, the dark-haired Corellian asked, "Where's the kid?"
Luke Skywalker gazed down at her with extremely disconcerting blue eyes, flicking off his lightsaber. "We don't want to hurt you. We only want Quentin back."
Of course he'd be calm and reasonable. He was a Jedi, after all, even if he wasn't too experienced. "He's fine," Arica said, trying to appear meek and defeated. "He's in the airshaft."
Solo stalked over to the vent, shining a lightbeam in both directions, and while Luke watched his friend, Arica eased her hand over to her blaster which had fallen off the table in the scuffle, and quickly pushed it behind her back.
"She's lyin' to us, kid. No one's in here."
The comment surprised Arica. "He has to be!"
"She's telling us the truth, Han," Luke said. "Quentin must have used the fight as his chance to escape."
Solo looked disgusted. "Well, ain't that just great. Now we've got to keep looking down here, and drag a dark Jedi around with us to boot."
"I'm not a Jedi!" Arica objected, then snapped her mouth shut. Why did she say that? If they believed she was well-trained in the Force, it could be to her advantage to allow them that delusion. Again, those blue eyes bored into her, and she felt herself shifting under his scrutiny. He's the enemy, she reminded herself firmly. He must die.
"You're Force-sensitive," Luke said to her in that maddeningly calm tone.
"So?" she shot back. "That doesn't mean I'm a Jedi... dark or otherwise."
"You have a lightsaber. I heard it."
"Not anymore," she replied bitterly. "The Coways stole it."
"Why did you kidnap Quentin?" Han asked sharply.
"A big ransom," Arica lied smoothly, thinking about the boy's 'actress' comment. Little did he know she'd been an actress her entire life, performing in real-life dramas where the final curtain-call meant death for her unwitting co-performers. "I'm from Corellia, and I followed him and his family here. So what if I wanted to be rich, beyond my wildest dreams? What's a few million here or there to the Sollons? I grew up on the streets, begging for a piece of bread so I wouldn't starve. Why should some people have more than they'll ever need, while others sleep in alleys and have nothing?"
She watched in satisfaction as Solo's face flushed with embarrassment or anger - she couldn't tell which. He would be easy to goad into an argument, and that would be just enough to distract Skywalker. A single distraction was all it would take. She fingered the blaster behind her back.
"Let's find something to tie her up with," Han suggested tightly. "I don't trust her."
"That's probably a good idea," she said sarcastically. "You wouldn't want a little female to overpower two big men."
"Get up," Han ordered.
YOU WILL KILL SKYWALKER came a different order. She pulled the blaster from behind her back and fired before either man could react.
Luke was still holding his lightsaber when he saw the redhead pull out the blaster, and in that brief second turned on his lightsaber. The bolt was partially deflected by his blade; instead of hitting him in the center of his chest, it was driven to one side, moving down and to the right, grazing his side. The bolt had barely sizzled past him when she squeezed the trigger a second time. This time, despite the burning pain, Luke quickly adjusted and prevented another, possible fatal, wound.
Han's blaster was already pointed at the woman, and he pulled the trigger, striking her in the forearm. With a short gasp of pain, she lowered her own weapon, and Luke used the Force to wrench the blaster from her fingers.
"Told you I didn't trust her," Han growled, sparing a glance at his friend. "How bad is it?"
"Just a flesh wound," Luke replied through clenched teeth. It was amazing how much those flesh wounds hurt. "I think she's in worse shape."
"I should've just killed her," Han complained. "I'm gettin' too soft in my old age."
The Jedi shook his head negatively. "You did the right thing by not killing her."
"That's what you think, Jedi," Arica scoffed, holding her arm. "As long as I'm alive, you'll have a death-mark on your head."
"Why?" Luke questioned gently. "What have I done to make you so angry at me?"
"You killed my Master," she spat back. "You murdered Emperor Palpatine."
Han frowned, remembering Vader using him and Leia as bait. "So you kidnapped Quentin just to get Luke to come after him? Is that the real reason?"
Arica laughed at the question. "I was paid to kidnap the kid," she replied. "It's not normally my line of work, but it happened to fit in with my plans."
"Who paid you?"
Euridice and Leia sat waiting for a long time in the interview room before a lanky detective with overly large teeth entered the room. The man sat down at the end of the long table, looking first at the Princess, then at the older woman sitting on the opposite side of the table. "My name is Detective Taft." He cleared his throat when neither woman spoke. "Turns out we were pretty lucky," he said finally. "There was a security holo-cam pointed in the general direction, and it backs up Ambassador Organa's story." He shook his head. "Why are you trying to protect Chirlyn Sollon, Mrs. Sollon?"
"She's the mother of my grandchild."
The detective sat back with a sigh. "We had another investigator already question the younger Mrs. Sollon, and she claims you put her up to killing the Ambassador."
Euridice's eyes grew wide, and she stood up. "What? That stupid little worthless tramp told you that?" The older woman looked like she was ready to explode. "That shrew tried killing Organa because she wants to snare my son! And the only reason she wants to marry Hannibal is because he now has the entire Sollon fortune! She wouldn't care a thing about him if that idiot husband of mine wouldn't have left him everything! Can you just imagine that? Hannibal... the sole holder of a fortune worth nearly two billion credits! Did you hear me! TWO BILLION! Money that should be mine. Or, at the very least, my Reginald's." She waved her hand wildly at Leia. "Why don't you arrest her for murder? She killed my Reginald!"
"Both you and your daughter-in-law are in quite a bit of trouble," Detective Taft said, ignoring most of the outburst.
"I didn't do anything," Euridice snapped out. "Chirlyn is lying."
"But you've already lied to protect her. That's a crime."
"I want my lawyer."
Leia finally spoke up. "Considering the circumstances, maybe you can overlook Euridice's lie." She glanced over at the surprised older woman. "After all, she was only trying to help her grandson's mother. I'm sure we can all understand that we do whatever we can to protect those we love." The Princess hoped she'd kept the sarcasm out of her voice - maybe all those committee meetings would finally come in handy.
"Are you certain?" the detective asked.
Quentin's eyes widened as he peered out from yet another vent further down the airshaft. Two of the aliens that attacked Arica were huddled in a corner, studying her lightsaber hilt. Immediately, the boy felt a rush of guilt and grief. If they had her weapon it could only mean the beings had killed her. I should have helped her. I could have followed her into the room, and grabbed the blaster.
One of the aliens pointed the handle at his friend, grunting in a language Quentin didn't understand. Maybe I should've paid more attention in my 'Species of the Galaxy' classes, he mused. Suddenly the blade shot out, driving the purple shaft completely through the torso of the other being. The one holding the hilt cried out in obvious surprise, dropping the lightsaber and staring in horror at his dead friend. Then he took off, running away from the gory scene.
The boy swallowed hard, staring at the dead being and the deactivated lightsaber. Then he made his decision, and kicked at the grate until it came loose.
Trying to ignore the dead being, Quentin carefully picked up Arica's lightsaber. "I guess this means I'm a Jedi now," he declared into the murky gloom.
Han gaped at the redhead. "My mother paid you to snatch the kid? Why would she do that?"
The woman shrugged. "I have no idea," she said truthfully. "I was only supposed to grab him for a while, and then she would meet me and take him back home. Then she contacted me, and said she needed me to take the kid back to Corellia. I can tell you I wasn't pleased with the change in plans."
"Maybe she was planning on using the kidnapping to pressure you into giving her the money," Luke suggested. "She'd have to know you would do almost anything to help a child, even if he's not yours."
"Could be," Han conceded. "I don't think Chirlyn is completely innocent in all this, either."
"I agree," Luke said, nodding. "I get the impression greed is their overpowering motivation." Luke looked back at the redhead. "That wrist looks like it hurts. Maybe I can find something to wrap it."
"I don't want your help, Skywalker," she snapped back. It would be difficult to overpower and kill Skywalker with her right arm wounded. She knew she'd made a mistake trying to kill him so quickly, and with Solo as his backup. Palpatine would have been displeased with her impatience.
"You know our names," Luke said gently. "It's only polite for you to tell us your name."
For a moment, she thought about lying and giving the Jedi the same name she'd given Quentin, but she really wanted him to know who she was before he died, before she killed him. "Mara Jade."
"You worked for the Emperor?" Han questioned. "You don't look like his usual brand of bootlickers."
"I was his most trusted servant," Mara bragged, then added, "His most loyal subject, unlike Vader."
"Darth Vader was blinded by the darkside," Luke explained. "And I think you are too."
"You're a fool, just like Vader," she returned evenly.
"We need to keep lookin' for Quentin," Han inserted. "Do you want to take our guest back to the surface while I keep seaching?"
Luke mulled over the options. He was certain he could deal with Jade on his own, but he was far less thrilled with the idea of leaving Han alone down in these dangerous metal caverns. If only Chewie were here as backup, he'd have agreed with Han and escorted Jade to the upper levels. Then again, taking Jade with them might cause another set of problems entirely.
Allowing the Force to guide his decision, he made up his mind. "No. I'm coming with you. Leia'll kill me if I leave you down here by yourself."
"That would save me the trouble," Mara sniffed.
"Alright," Han agreed reluctantly. "But we tie her up?"
Luke shook his head. "Too risky."
"For her, or for us?" Han spluttered out in disbelief.
"For both," Luke replied, grinning. "Come on, before Quentin gets too far ahead of us."
Chirlyn lay on the uncomfortable bed, her leg propped up in a bacta cast. "This cast thing is itchy," she complained loudly to a passing One-bee droid. "I need softer pillows! Quit ignoring me!" A second later a small astromech droid entered the room, a food-tray balanced on its domed head. "Hospital food? You go out and find me something decent to eat. And get me some ciggas while you're at it." She waved her hand at the little droid. "Shoo." The unit merely gave a little beep and wheeled closer to the bed. "Are you stupid? Did you hear me?"
She stopped arguing with the unit when a thin figure entered the room, shutting the door behind her. "Mother," she stated nervously. "What took you so long? Did you bring me a nightgown? All they have are these cheap sheets to cover up with."
"Why did you tell them I ordered you to kill Organa?"
Chirlyn smoothed the bedspread with her fingers. "It just, um, slipped out."
"Slipped out? SLIPPED OUT?"
"Well, you did keep telling me you wanted to see her dead," Chirlyn said defensively. "So I thought I was doing you a favor."
"I do want her dead," Euridice said tightly. "But I wouldn't be stupid enough to expect you to do the job correctly. You want her dead because you suddenly have some idiotic notion Hannibal will take you back."
"Listen to me," Euridice said slowly, like she was speaking to a disobedient child. "We had a plan, and now you've messed everything up. If Skywalker and my son find Quentin before we get the money, it's all over. If that happens, I swear by every Corellian deity there is I will destroy you, and that... that... boy."
"You worry too much," Chirlyn said cheerfully. "I've already contacted the holoshills, and I told them all about Quinty being Hannie's child."
"YOU DID WHAT!?"
Chirlyn stuck out her lower lip. "I can't go to prison. I'm not cut out for bad food and clothes. There is no way Hannie will send the mother of his child to prison."
"You should have thought about that before trying to kill Organa. You are a fool."
"I don't think so," Chirlyn said, smiling. "Hannie will be so overwhelmed with holoshills when he gets back with Quinty, he'll have his dumb girlfriend drop the charges. And he'll forget all about those blood tests. Besides that, Quinty might be his. I told you when he was born I wasn't too sure."
"I can't take that chance," Euridice said hotly, wishing she could strangle Chirlyn with those cheap bedsheets. "You seemed pretty certain of the parentage thirteen years ago."
"I was never too good with keeping track of those things," the younger woman giggled.
Euridice thought she might have a stroke on this very spot. "If they find Quentin and it turns out neither Hannibal nor Reginald is the father, I will sell you into the spice mines of Kessel. I will not be humilitated, Chirlyn. You might have ruined my marriage, but I will not let you ruin my life."
"There's a one in three chance Quinty is Hannie's," Chirlyn said. "Those are pretty good odds, right?"
"They'd better be odds you wish to bet your life on, Chirlyn." With that, Euridice spun on her toes and stalked out of the room.
Chirlyn pursed her lips, trying not to laugh. It was fun to watch her ex-mother-in-law get so worked up. The little droid gave a soft toodle, bumping lightly against the bed.
"What are you doing, you clumsy oaf?" Chirlyn snapped. "Get out of here, and take that lousy garbage you call food with you. It stinks."
Obeying, the blue droid turned and headed out of the room, wondering why humans always felt the need to use him for subterfuge.
Working his way up several levels, the boy used the glowing lightsaber as illumination. He was fairly certain once he got outside, he'd be able to find someone to help him. But deep down inside the bowels of Coruscant's great energy producing plants, the humans and aliens that called this noisy, hot pit home could not be trusted. He was almost positive more of those aliens were following him, trying to catch him. They probably thought he was responsible for the dead one.
Although Quentin had never experienced hardship in his life, he'd dreamed of adventure and facing down dangers with courage. His great-uncle had been a Jedi, after all. And Quentin was determined to show Jedi Skywalker he was worthy to follow in his great-uncle's footsteps. He turned a corner, and came to a quick stop. The hallway ended abruptly, and a huge, man-made cavern dropped down for what seemed like miles. Hot mist rose from the bottom, making the dura-steel walls drip with rust-colored sweat. He turned his head slightly, listening for the footsteps that had been trailing him. They were getting closer.
Looking up, he observed a steel beam that stretched over his head, and extended all the way across the abyss. The beam was narrow, and probably slippery. But what did that matter? Quentin was strong in the Force, and with the Force as his ally, he could make it across without falling. With that thought in mind, he pulled himself onto the girder, and stood up, swaying as he tried to gain his balance. Then he confidently moved out over the canyon.
It pleased Mara Jade to no end that Skywalker had decided not to bind her wrists. The man was an idiot to trust her. How he'd managed to kill her Emperor, even with Vader's assistance, she'd never understand. It proved that everyone was capable of making errors, even Palpatine. So she made a mistake earlier by revealing her goal too quickly - it could be corrected. Mara eyed the lightsaber in Skywalker's grasp, wishing she still had her weapon. But as long as they remained down here, she knew the opportunity to try again would soon present itself. No, not try. She would kill Skywalker.
"Hurry," Luke said, pulling her along by her uninjured arm. "I can sense we're getting closer to him."
"Keep your hands off of me," Mara snapped. "Do you grope all of your prisoners?"
"Nah," Han said from behind her. "The kid just likes groping the pretty ones."
"Han!" Luke said, mortified. "You don't have to agree with her!"
Mara could tell the young Jedi was embarrassed by this exchange. How could someone so young and innocent be a threat. Innocent? Where did that idea come from? She couldn't afford such thoughts, not if she wanted to obey her Master.
R2-D2 gave a beep, and spun his dome around to face the Princess.
"Artoo says he thinks you will be pleased with the information he gathered," Threepio interpreted primly. "Although I fail to understand why you would trust Artoo to such an important undercover operation, since he is inclined to finding trouble at every opportunity."
This comment caused the astromech droid to give an indignant warble.
"Just play the recording, Artoo," Leia said tiredly. Holoshills had been waiting to ambush her the second she'd left the Security Headquarters, screaming questions in her direction about how she felt regarding Han's illegitimate 'son.' "Have you known all along about this child?" "Is he still having a relationship with the child's mother?" "Is it true Solo was left the entire Sollon fortune, and he refuses to share it with his family?" "Why is Solo denying paternity? Just to keep more credits for himself?"
No, it had not been a good day, and to top it all off, she was starting to get worried about Han and Luke. Where were they so long?
The click of Artoo's recorder sounded, and a woman's voice came through clearly. Leia listened as the women calmly discussed murdering her, then leaned forward as the conversation veered in a different direction.
"If they find Quentin and it turns out neither Hannibal nor Reginald is the father, I will sell you into the spice mines of Kessel. I will not be humilitated, Chirlyn. You might have ruined my marriage, but I will not let you ruin my life."
"There's a one in three chance Quinty is Hannie's. Those are pretty good odds, right?"
"They'd better be odds you wish to bet your life on, Chirlyn."
The recording ended, and Leia sat back, stunned. "They're behind Quentin's kidnapping. Euridice doesn't want a blood test." Everything was now making sense. Han's mother wouldn't want the galaxy to know her husband had fathered an illegimate child by his personal secretary. And Chirlyn was undoubtedly motivated to continue the lie by either fear or greed - probably both. If the blood test proved Reg was the boy's father, Chirlyn was assuming Han would cut them off. Leia was fairly sure Han would never do that to his nephew, since none of this was the boy's fault.
"I'm afraid I don't understand, Princess Leia," Threepio said, sounding distressed. "Why would Master Quentin's mother want to harm her own off-spring?"
"Chirlyn was having an affair with both Reg and Benewald while she was engaged to Han," Leia whispered more to herself than the protocol droid. "She thinks Benewald is the father, and Euridice must think that, too. Quentin isn't Han's son.... he's his half-brother! I think...."
"Oh!" Threepio said worriedly. "That's not good. Or is it? I'm so confused."
"Me, too, Threepio."
He had almost reached the very center of the beam when his foot slipped on the slimy fungus, and he nearly tumbled off the girder. Catching his balance, he looked down for the first time toward the long, long drop. I'm a Jedi, he reminded himself. I can do this! But his leg refused to move and despite the dampness, his throat felt parched. With pounding heart, he tried again, and realized his body wouldn't budge. He was paralyzed with fear as he stood on a five-inch wide beam. And his pursuers were almost on top of him.
He wanted to turn his head and look back, but he couldn't. Still, he felt a rush of relief as he recognized the voice. "Jedi Skywalker! I.... I need help."
"What the hell are you doing out there, kid?" a rougher sounding, unfamiliar voice shouted.
"He's pretending he's a Jedi," another recognizable voice said sarcastically. "And he's holding my lightsaber."
"Arica?" Quentin managed to ask in a shaky voice. "You're alive!"
"I'll bet that just thrills you, brat."
"It does! I'm sorry I left without helping you."
"Who is Arica?" the other man asked in annoyance.
"What? You never heard about anyone using an alias, Hannibal?"
"Quentin, you need to come back this direction," Luke called out, ignoring the others.
"I can't," he whimpered. "I'm too scared to move."
"Yes, you can," Luke said soothingly. "Just turn around very slowly. I'll use the Force to make sure you don't fall off."
"I.... I can't. I'm sorry."
The older man spoke again. "I'll go out and get him."
"No," Luke argued. "I should go."
"He's my s... uh, relative, not yours."
"That girder is narrow and slippery."
"And you're injured," Han pointed out. "'Sides, you need to stay here and grope the prisoner. I'd volunteer, but Leia'd shoot me."
"She'd have to stand in line behind me," Mara groused out.
"See?" Han said. "Staying here with Jade's just as dangerous as going out on that durasteel."
Luke was quiet for a moment, then agreed. "Okay, you go, and I'll use the Force to help keep you steady. Be careful."
"Hey," the older man said indignantly. "It's me!"
Han swallowed hard, and tried not to think about how many seconds it would take to hit bottom if he fell off the beam. It would certainly be long enough to have his life flash before his eyes, and probably even a bit longer. He eased his boot forward against the slick surface. Five lousy inches. If this dura-steel were sitting on the floor, he probably could walk across it backwards without making a misstep. Don't look down... don't look down...
Finally, after what seemed like hours, he was close enough to the boy to speak without shouting. "I'm almost there, kid."
"That's nice. Then what?"
The ex-smuggler grinned. "I don't know. Ya got any ideas?"
"You came out here with no idea how to get me off?" Quentin asked incredulously.
"Inspiration's my specialty."
"Why didn't Luke come out? He's the Jedi. You're just a..." He hesitated. "Who are you, anyway?"
"Oh. The Princess' boyfriend."
"Yeah... I have a feelin' that's how the rest of my life is gonna go, kid. 'Look, there's Princess Leia and what's his name.'" Han moved closer.
"If we live long enough for you to worry about that," Quentin said with a snort. "Where's Luke?"
"He's watchin' our friend, Mara Jade the kidnapper."
"Ah... or Arica. Who knows what her real name is." Han reached out carefully. "I'm right here, kid. Take my hand, okay? Once you got me, you can take your time turning around, and I'll keep you steady. I won't let you fall, and Luke back there is using his hocus-pocus to make sure we don't take a really big tumble, too."
Quentin reached back, his sweaty fingers clasping onto the older man's hand. "Hocus pocus?"
With aching slowness, he first twisted one leg around, then the other. "You don't believe in the Force?" the boy asked, trying to keep himself from thinking about where he was, and what could happen.
"Well, it's like this," Han said thoughtfully. "I never used to, but lately I'm not too sure anymore. I suppose it could be real."
"It's real!" the boy protested. "My great-uncle was a Jedi Master! Grandfather showed me his holo, and told me his Jedi name was Qui-Gon Jinn. I was named after him."
"Ah." Han gave the kid's fingers a little shake. "Nice to meet ya, Qui-Gon."
"Quentin," the boy replied, squinting up at Han now that he was facing his direction. "My name is Quentin. You look like my dad."
Han felt his face flush, and it had nothing to do with the heat. "It sure is hot in here, isn't it?"
"Friction and steam. The generators create friction, which is hot, and that uses water to make steam. And the steam powers all the buildings, including the generators. It's all a big loop system. The generators can even manipulate the weather."
"I didn't know that," Han lied. "Come on, let's start moving back."
Quentin nodded, and to his surprise found he was able to move his foot forward again.
Keeping one eye on Mara, Luke spent most of his concentration on the two balanced on the rafter. He reached out with the Force, placing a protective envelope around them, keeping them steady and safe. It would have been an easier task if his side wasn't hurting so badly, or he wasn't so concerned about his 'prisoner.'
The prisoner wasn't concerned with Solo and the boy. She felt a pang of guilt thinking that the child didn't matter, that he was expendable. But he was expendable, she had to remind herself. He was just a pawn to her ends. Her green eyes flicked down to Skywalker's lightsaber hilt, which was hanging loosely in his grip. Skywalker, as usual, was more concerned with helping his friends than ensuring his own safety. And he was very distracted at this moment. All Mara needed to do....
She lunged forward, tackling Luke around his knees and taking him down. The lightsaber hit the ground with a sharp rap, and the assassin drove her knee into Skywalker's wound, making him gasp with pain. Then the lightsaber was in her left hand, and she twisted it around, trying to point the deadly end at the Jedi's heart.
"LUKE!" a young voice screamed out. Mara looked up for a fraction of a second, and saw the boy start to lose his balance.
It was that fraction that Luke needed and he grabbed her wrist, wrestling for control of the lightsaber.
Then there was a scream, and both the Jedi and the assassin looked over to the metal canyon just as Quentin slipped and fell.
Han dropped to his stomach, wrapping one arm around the beam for balance, and grabbing Quentin's wrist with his free hand. "I got ya, kid!"
"I'm going to die," the boy gasped. "It's too slippery."
"I won't let you," Han growled back. "Just hang on. I'll pull you back up, and we can scoot backwards on our butts."
Han gritted his jaw, straining with all of his strength to try and lever the boy up to safety. "Where is that Jedi magic when you need it?"
"Luke's fighting Ari... um, Mara. He can't help us."
"See what I mean about that hocus pocus? Ya can't count on it, kid."
"Grab my arm with your other hand. I can't pull you up with just one."
"I can't," Quentin argued. "I'd have to drop my lightsaber!"
"It ain't your lightsaber, kid," Han said. "Just drop it!"
Mara managed to jerk the lightsaber away, and Luke quickly spun out of harm's way, climbing to his feet. "You'd let a child die to kill me?"
"I have my command," she returned, flicking on the green saber.
"He means nothing to you, because he'd mean nothing to Palpatine. Think about that, Mara. Try to have an independent thought, instead of just what the Emperor programmed into you."
"Children grow up, and become the enemy."
"Is that why all the Force-strong children were murdered?" Luke asked quietly. "Because they were enemies?"
"Vader killed all the trainees, not the Emperor," Mara shot back. It was something Palpatine had told her as a child, to keep her in line. The message was clear back then - disobey, and Vader will kill you, too.
Luke flinched at her words. "My father...?" He stopped himself, but it was too late.
"What?" Mara asked, confused.
"My father was Vader," Luke admitted reluctantly, hoping Palpatine had lied to her about Darth Vader killing children. That wasn't something he'd want to tell Leia, since she was still struggling to find forgiveness for the man who had caused her so much grief and pain. "I didn't know about the children."
"Vader?" Mara felt stunned. "Your father was Darth Vader?"
"My father was Anakin Skywalker," Luke said firmly. "Darth Vader was a creation of Palpatine. He used my father's hate to turn him to the darkside, and I used his love to turn him back. If it wasn't too late for Anakin Skywalker, it isn't too late for you."
"LUKE?" Han's voice called out desperately. "I could use a little help about now!"
Earnest blue eyes bored into her soul. "Don't let the Emperor keep winning, Mara. Don't let him keep killing."
"NO!" Mara Jade lunged at Luke, slashing high, and forcing the Jedi to duck and roll.
Luke stopped himself just short of rolling off the edge, and his eyes flicked back over to the beam, where Han was still trying to pull Quentin to safety. Then he noticed a silver tube drop from the boy's hand, and using the Force, he pulled the object toward him.
The lightsaber reached his hand, and Luke flung his body away from Mara's strike. The green blade left a smoldering deep gash in the dura-steel floor where his head had been a second earlier. Luke jumped up, igniting the purple saber, holding it in a defensive posture.
"That's mine!" Mara said, surprised at the unexpected appearance of the weapon.
"And you have mine," Luke replied. "Funny how life works, sometimes." He could see hesitation in her face. "You can't beat me in a lightsaber duel, Mara. You know that, and I know that."
The comment angered the redhead, and she threw herself at the Jedi, slashing left and right until she was panting with the effort. Luke simply blocked her blows, his breathing steady and his expression serene.
"I hate you," she gasped, staggering back.
"Hate is of the darkside."
"Solo is losing his grip, and the boy is going to fall," she taunted. "You'd better turn around and help them."
"And let you kill me? How would that be helping them? If Quentin falls, his death is on your shoulders, Mara. Do you hate the boy, too? Did Palpatine order you to kill children, like you claim he ordered my father?"
"Age was irrelevant to my Master," she spat back. "It was irrelevant to Vader. An enemy is an enemy, regardless."
"So because they saw no difference between killing an infant or a spice-lord to reach your goal, you don't either?"
Mara suddenly looked unsure, and confused. "I don't kill infants."
"What if Palpatine would have ordered it?"
"I... I wouldn't have killed a baby."
"Where do you draw your line, Mara? At age five? Ten? Thirteen, like Quentin?"
"LUKE!" Quentin screamed from the beam, his voice raw with fear. "PLEASE! MY HAND IS SLIPPING!"
Her eyes darted to the dangling boy, and she dropped the lightsaber. "Go help the kid," she said flatly.
Quickly, Luke called his own lightsaber back, and turned around to face the beam. Shutting his eyes, he drew on the Force, easing Quentin back to the top of the narrow walkway. Immediately, he could sense both Quentin and Han's relief as they scooted the remaining distance back to safety.
"That was close," Han gasped, helping the boy off the rafter.
"Thanks, Jedi Skywalker," Quentin managed between sobs of relief as he hugged Luke tightly. "I thought I was a goner for sure."
The young Jedi looked up at Han. "Yes?"
"Where did your pretty prisoner go?"
Luke spun around, realizing she was gone, and reached out with the Force to locate her presence.
Mara Jade was no where to be found.
"Leia?" Han yelled as he entered their apartment. "Are you here?"
Instead of the Princess, Threepio came walking into the foyer. "Master Han! I'm so pleased to see you have returned. Did you and Master Luke find your brother?"
"Brother? What are you babbling about, Goldenrod?"
Before the droid could answer, Han pushed past, calling Leia's name again.
"How rude!" Threepio grumbled. "And here I was worried about him."
Han was halfway to the bedroom when Leia hurried out to meet him, and wrapped him in a hug. "Han. Did you and Luke find Quentin?"
"Is he okay?"
"The kid's fine, but that's another long story. What are all those reporters doing outside our building?" Han asked, giving her a fast kiss. "Luke had to take Quentin back to his place to avoid the mob." He looked around the living area. "Where's our two lovely guests?"
"Your ex-fiancee tried killing me, and when I managed to put her in the medic-ward, she called the holoshills."
"So they think Quentin is my brother?" Han asked, confused and angry. "Why would she tell them that?"
"Who told you Quentin is your brother?"
Leia sighed, rubbing her eyes. "Chirlyn told them Quentin is your son. But I think he might be your brother."
"Your mother tried helping Chirlyn by telling security that I was the one trying to kill Chirlyn, but they didn't believe her."
"What the hell...?"
"That's when I had an devious idea."
"I like it when you talk dirty," Han said, smirking.
"Since we weren't under arrest, I was allowed to contact Threepio and have Artoo follow Chirlyn to the medical center. I was hoping once Euridice left, she'd head over to give Chirlyn a visit. She didn't disappoint me."
She guided Han into the bedroom, and had Artoo replay the recording. When it was done, she could tell Han was actually speechless. "Chirlyn was busy," Leia said dryly.
"She was having an affair with my father?" Han finally managed to croak out. "While she was engaged to me?"
"Probably before she even started dating you," Leia said. "Don't forget, it was your father that brought her home first. Because he 'felt sorry' for her." She studied Han's dumbfounded expression. "How long was it from when you first met her that you became engaged?"
"Um... maybe three weeks."
"THREE WEEKS?" Leia shouted before she could stop herself. "We've been living together for a year, and you haven't asked me!"
Han's mouth dropped open. "I thought you wanted to wait. You told me your life was so hectic, you couldn't see straight."
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"I can't believe you'd meet someone, and ask them to marry you in less than a month! And I get to dangle in the wind, wondering if you'll ever ask!"
"I just assumed..."
"You ASSUMED? What did you assume, Solo?"
"I assumed when you were ready, you'd just go buy a dress and rent the cathedral, and tell me what time to show up."
Leia took a deep breath to steady herself. "How long after you proposed to the irresistible Chirlyn did you catch her with your brother?"
Han frowned in thought, jarred by the sudden switch back to Chirlyn. "She wanted to get married in a big hurry, and I remember my mother was doing everything she could to rush things along, too. I think it was about another two weeks."
"Let me get this straight. You met Chirlyn, got engaged, caught her in a lip-lock with Reg, and all this happened in five weeks."
"Yeah. About that. Then she took off with Reg and married him."
"If Chirlyn had told Euridice she was pregnant, and she thought the baby was Benewald's, it would make perfect sense that your mother rush the wedding."
"Huh, how about that. Are you sure you want to marry into this insanity, Leia?"
"I'll tell you when to show up, flyboy."
"Where do you think Arica, err, Mara went?" Quentin asked Luke.
"She's probably long gone by now," Luke said, feeling oddly upset by the idea. "I wouldn't be surprised if she's off-planet already."
"Can I have her lightsaber?"
Luke shook his head negatively. "It's not yours."
"But I found it!"
"It's not yours," Luke repeated, a bit more firmly.
Quentin looked almost as upset as Luke. "I liked her. I don't think she was as mean as she tried pretending. Sometimes people say and do mean things when they're lonely, and think no one likes them."
"I agree," Luke said, nodding. "Is that why you say mean things to your mother?"
The boy headed over to the sofa, flinging himself down with the loose-limbed ability of a teenager. "My family doesn't like me," he said softly. "My dad never once came to visit me at my boarding school before he died. The only time I ever saw him was during holidays at the Sollon Estate, and then he never stayed long. My grandmother never spoke to me, and my mother was always off with some boyfriend, because she wasn't welcome at the Sollon house. Even during school breaks when I'd come home to our apartment, my mother was gone, so the only person I could talk to was a nanny-droid or my tutor. When Grandfather Sollon found out I spent all my time at school or with a droid, he starting having me come over more. I liked Grandfather. I miss him."
Luke sat down next to the teenager. "That sounds like a pretty lonely life. I don't want to get your hopes up, but if things work out, how would you like to become one of my students?"
"I'd love to become a Jedi. Then I can have my own lightsaber," Quentin said happily. "Do you have a lot of students?"
"A few," Luke admitted. "I'm looking for a place I can train all the Force-sensitives I can find, but it will take lots of money to set a place up that's safe and secure. I'm hoping the New Republic Council will allocate some funding for a Jedi Academy."
"If you can find this Hannibal Sollon - he's my uncle - maybe he'll give you the money. That's why I think we came here, because Grandfather left all the money to my uncle Hannibal, and my Grandmother wants to tell him that."
Luke didn't know if it was his place to say anything, but all he could think about was how upset he'd been when he had discovered Obi-Wan and Yoda withheld so much information from him. "Quentin, Han Solo is Hannibal Sollon." He wanted to add 'uncle' Hannibal, but decided against it.
The boy looked surprised, then grinned. "That's why he looks so much like my father! Why didn't he tell me?"
"I guess he didn't want you to be surprised while you were balancing a thousand feet in the air."
Quentin laughed at that. "Then he's your close friend?"
"And he'll give you money to open up an academy?"
The Jedi paused, thinking about how that would solve a lot of problems. Not having the Jedi beholden to the whims of politicians would be wonderful. "I never thought I'd be asking Han Solo for a loan, to tell you the truth."
"He won't have to loan it to you," Quentin scoffed. "The Sollons are all loaded. He can give it to you, and never even miss it."
The holocom sounded, and Luke leaned over and answered. Leia was on the other end. "Luke? I think Han and I need to come over and talk to Quentin, before he hears what the holoshills are saying."
"That's probably a good idea." He hesitated, then added, "I told him Han was Hannibal Sollon."
"Really?" came Han's voice. "And how did that go?"
"Pretty good," Quentin replied before Luke could speak. "I think I might like my uncle Han. My rich uncle Han."
"Kid, I can sure tell we're related."
When the buzzer rang, the tall woman was pouring a glass of wine. After her terrible day, she needed something to steady her nerves. "Get that, will you droid?" she called out to her long-time butler, a droid by the designation of C-9B2. Euridice never called droids by names, since she considered it low-class to act familiar with servants. The buzzer rang again, and she gritted her teeth. It was time to order a new model, and send that one to get melted down. After two years, those machines became very unreliable.
Annoyed, she headed for the door, stopping when she saw the door was open, and the B2 unit was standing next to it, deactivated. A redhead leaned against the frame, then entered the room and shut the door behind her.
"Jade," Euridice stated. "You failed to do your job."
"I did my job," the younger woman said tightly. "None of this would have happened if you wouldn't have changed plans."
"Chirlyn contacted me, and told me Hannibal threatened to seek custody of the boy. He had to be taken off-planet."
"Well, that didn't quite work out. I want my money."
"For messing everything up? Now my son will discover the truth. My life is ruined. Do you hear me? Ruined!"
"It will be over, if you don't pay what you owe me," Jade threatened, drawing out a vibro-blade. "This is how I make my living anyway..."
Euridice backed up, eyes wide. "The money will be transferred to your account within the hour."
"And I want your ship. Your grandson destroyed mine."
Gulping, the older woman quickly fumbled in a drawer, and pulled out a small disk. "The access controls to my private starliner. It's top-of-the-line, and very expensive. I'm sure you'll find it suitable."
"Where is it located?"
"Fourteen levels up, docking pad seventy-one."
Jade snatched the disk out of Euridice's trembling fingers. "You betray me, and I'll kill you. I've slit the throats of less despicable people than you, Sollon."
"I... I won't betray you. The money will be transferred."
"Good luck with your little problem."
Leia watched as Han paced Luke's apartment. "Your mother isn't being exactly truthful with us, Quentin," Han finally muttered, unable to look directly at the teenager. "She's told you Reg is your father, and now she's here tellin' me I'm your father."
"You're my father?" Quentin asked, stunned.
"That's just it.... I don't know," Han admitted. "I was never even told you existed, and now I have this bomb dropped on my head."
"That's why we need you to take a blood test," Leia added gently. "We need to find out the truth."
"What will happen to me?" he asked worriedly. "No one wants me."
"That's not true," Luke objected.
"I'd just be in your way, just like I'm in my mother's way."
Han stopped pacing, and squatted down in front of the boy. "You'll never be in anyone's way, Quentin. If it turns out you're my kid, I'll be mighty upset I was never told about you. You'll have a place with me an' Leia, and we'll never turn you out. I promise."
"I'll second that promise," Leia added.
"What if Reg is my father?" Quentin questioned. "You won't want me then. Mother always said you and Reg hated each other."
"I didn't hate Reg," Han said. "I won't lie to you and say we got along, but I didn't hate him. If it turns out Reg is your father, you're still welcome to live with us."
"Don't forget about your Jedi training," Luke reminded him. "If you really want that, you'll have to live and breathe your training, and live at the Academy I set up."
"But since you're family either way, you'll be spending lots of time with us," Leia told the boy.
"And I'm gonna make real sure you never have to worry about money," Han said. "I know what that's like, trust me."
Quentin thought for a few moments, then nodded. "Okay. Let's go find out if you're my father."
As they headed out the door, Leia couldn't help but notice that they never mentioned to Quentin there was a third possibility.
Sometimes, even Princess Leia couldn't intimidate someone into getting what she wanted. A Mon Calamari doctor by the name of Walzen simply shook his head, his bulbous eyes looking disappointed he couldn't comply with their request. "I'm terribly sorry, Princess Leia, but I simply can't give the boy a blood test without his mother's approval. He's a minor. I must obey the laws."
"Don't you get it?" Han groused out. "That's the only way we can find out if the mother is lying to us."
"I understand," the doctor said. "But that doesn't change the rules."
Han slapped the wall in frustration. "Fine. Let's go talk to Chirlyn."
"Do you want me to come with you?" Quentin asked. "I can ask her to sign it."
"No, you stay here with Luke. Han and I will be right back," Leia said.
"I'll have to witness her signature," Walzen stated.
"Come on then," Han snapped as he headed out of the small office.
It didn't take long to get to Chirlyn's room, and Leia could smell the smoke drifting out from under her doorway from three rooms away. The Mon Calamari led the way into the room, blinking hard against the fumes of the ciggas. "You're not supposed to be smoking in the medical ward," he admonished.
Chirlyn slowly tore her eyes away from the holo-drama on the entertainment unit, taking another long drag on her cigga. "And I don't like non-human doctors telling me what to do, fishman."
Han took the flimsy out of the doctor's hand, and thrust it in Chirlyn's face. "Sign this."
Glaring, Chirlyn snatched it, and read the form. "Not a chance, Hannie."
"You have got to be joking," Han snapped. "First you claim Quentin is my kid, then you and Mother have Jade grab him, then you contact the holo-shills with this story, and you won't allow a blood test to back up your claims?"
"I told you I'd make your life miserable if you didn't help out," she returned evenly. "You're the one that had to up the stakes by threatening to go to court for custody. This is all your fault."
For a second, Leia thought Han was going to explode. She placed her hand on his arm to calm him down. "Chirlyn, be reasonable. You hardly have anything to do with Quentin, so why does it matter if he does live with Han and me?"
"If you don't sign that form, we'll see you in court," Han warned. "A judge will order the blood tests, and you won't have a choice."
"Get that doctor out of this room," a sharp voice spoke from behind them.
Leia turned around to see Euridice standing in the doorway, her face drawn and pale.
"Great," Han growled. "A real Sollon family reunion, right here in the hospital. Maybe we can give out the bedpans for party favors."
"Don't be crude, Hannibal."
Han took a step in his mother's direction. "I haven't even got warmed up."
"What I have to say is between family," Euridice continued, ignoring Han's comment. "The doctor must leave, and I'd prefer the Princess leave, as well."
"Tough," Han shot back. "Leia stays. She's my fiancee."
Leia raised an eyebrow at that description, then watched as the doctor, already uncomfortable in this situation, left.
Euridice shut the door, and headed to the only chair. "There must be no blood test."
"That's what you think - "
"You're not the boy's father, Hannibal," the older woman interrupted. "I cannot allow the holo-shills to dig further into this affair." She glared at Chirlyn as she spoke the last word. "A blood test is unnecessary."
"Then what in all the hells of Corellia is this about?"
Euridice shut her eyes, her expression defeated. "Why couldn't you just agree to give me more money? I'm your mother. I shouldn't have to beg. I shouldn't be reduced to a pauper, because of, of... him."
"You'd never win any awards for Mother of the Year," Han said sarcastically.
"You're just like your father," Euridice said bitterly, then looked at Leia. "I hope you know what you're getting. He'll break your heart, just like Benewald did mine."
"Bennie always said you didn't have a heart," Chirlyn said, taking a puff. "If you would have been a real wife, a real woman, he wouldn't have looked twice at me."
Euridice jumped up. "SHUT UP!"
Chirlyn looked at Han. "Quinty is Bennie's child. He started having an affair with me before I ever met you. I kept telling him not to worry, I was being careful with, um, my control, you know. But I wasn't careful at all."
Leia heard a soft sob, and was stunned to see Euridice was actually crying. "Were you pregnant before you started dating Han?" Leia asked softly.
"I think so." She gave a shrug. "I'm not too sure about exact dates. I was dating Hannie at the same time I was still being, you know, intimate with Bennie. And then I got pregnant, and a few days later I found out Hannie was being way too careful. You know, those stupid male repression shots." Chirlyn made a disgusted face. "So that's when I told Mother about my little problem, and she suggested I push Hannie to marry me."
Han stared in disbelief at Euridice. "You knew Chirlyn was pregnant, and it was undoubtedly Father's child, and you tried to manipulate me into marrying Chirlyn?"
"She seemed your type," Euridice said dryly. "And Chirlyn refused to end the pregnancy. I couldn't let Benewald find out the baby was his."
"Then you caught me with Reggie, and the whole thing almost fell apart," Chirlyn said with a pout. "I had to quick get Reggie to marry me instead, but he found out I was pregnant shortly after we eloped." She giggled. "Only he thought the baby was yours! Isn't that a hoot?"
"My poor Reginald," Euridice said sadly. "I couldn't tell him the truth."
"Did Benewald ever find out Quentin was his son?" Leia questioned, her head spinning.
"Of course not!" Euridice snapped. "He could never find out. He thought the child was Hannibal's. I'm sure he assumed you'd take financial responsibility after his death."
Han had never been more furious in his entire life. "I intend to take financial responsibility for Quentin."
Euridice looked surprised. "Even now?"
"He's my brother," Han returned. "Here's the deal I'm offering you, and you'll have one minute to decide to accept my offer, or take me to court and let the galaxy know this whole sordid story. One - Chirlyn will receive a total of five million, and in exchange, signs over full custody of Quentin to me. She stays out of his life and mine. If Quentin wants to contact her, that's fine, but it's his choice, not her's." When both women remained quiet, Han continued. "Two - Mother, I'll make the total you receive fifty million instead of the twenty million Father left you. In exchange, you take your personal belongings out of Sollon Estate, and never, ever return. If you can't survive with two expensive homes and fifty million, you got a problem, and it's not mine. Do you accept?" He looked at his wrist chrono. "Sixty seconds and counting."
"What about the murder charges against me?" Chirlyn wanted to know.
"I'll have them dropped," Leia said instantly.
"And Quentin's kidnapping?" Euridice asked.
"No one knows you were involved but me, Han and Luke. It will remain our secret."
"Thirty seconds, ladies," Han said, still staring at his chrono.
"What will you tell Quinty?" Chirlyn questioned.
"What do you care?" Han shot back. "Fifteen seconds."
"I accept," Chirlyn said quickly, visions of what five million credits could buy her.
"Fifty million still isn't much, considering," Euridice said grimly.
"It's more than you deserve," Han said. "Five seconds."
"Fine. Just don't invite me to your wedding."
"I wouldn't dream of it."
As they headed back to see Luke, Leia was silent. Finally, she asked, "Was that your version of a proposal?"
"Calling me your fiancee?"
Han grinned. "I've considered you my fiancee since Endor, sweetheart. You know me... it takes me a while to get around to saying things out loud."
"Things like, 'I love you,' and 'will you marry me?'"
"You're askin' me?" Han said quickly, pretending to look surprised. "'Bout time." He had to duck as Leia swung her fist in his direction. "Usually you're supposed to follow up with a ring, not a punch."
Leia sighed. "You don't make it easy, do you?"
Reaching the lift, Han grabbed her around the waist, his face growing serious. "Nah, I don't." He moved off to the side, allowing a One-bee droid to shuffle past with a tray of medicine. "Will you marry me?"
"Of course, Solo," Leia replied, grinning. "And such a romantic place to propose, too. A hospital corridor."
"It's a step up from the belly of a space slug," he protested before he kissed her.
Leia had to agree with that.
Luke sat next to Quentin, offering support as Han and Leia told him the details of the meeting with Chirlyn and Euridice. But the Jedi was convinced that they were doing the right thing by telling him the truth, and the teenager seemed able to accept what was being said, even if he was upset.
"My Grandfather was actually my father," the boy stated as he absorbed the flood of information. "Han is really my brother."
"To be fair," Luke said gently. "Benewald was never told, so you mustn't blame him for not acknowledging you as his son."
"I'll just blame my Mother and Grandmother," he muttered, kicking his toe against the chair leg. "They lied to me. They were using me to try and hurt Han."
Leia cleared her throat. "There's something else you have to be told." The boy looked at her expectantly, and Leia dove into a long story about their encounter with Reg, not leaving out any details. Finally she got to the part of the story she was dreading. "Reg was struggling with Han, and trying to shoot him. And I'm the one that killed Reg, protecting Han. I'm so sorry, Quentin. I didn't have a choice, and I can only hope you'll be able to forgive me someday."
Quentin blinked back tears, trying not to cry. "That's okay, I guess. I'll forgive you."
The Princess leaned over and gave him a tight hug. "Thank you."
"You're going to be a great Jedi someday, Quentin," Luke told the teenager. "Of course, it will take a bit more than just owning a lightsaber."
The teenager gave an embarrassed smile at the Jedi. "I know that now.. and thanks, Master Luke."
"So what'ya say, kid?" Han asked, trying to lighten the mood. "You wanna be my son?"
"I don't know why we have to protect Grandmother by telling everyone I'm your kid," he grumbled. "She doesn't deserve our help."
"Well, I did sorta promise," Han pointed out. Quentin nodded, staring at the floor. "What's the matter? You don't think me an' Leia will be good parents?"
"Probably too good," Quentin finally admitted. "I won't be able to get away with half the stuff I used to do, since my mother never paid any attention to what I did."
"Kid, the more I get to know you, the more you sound like me."
"And just think," Luke mused aloud. "I get to train a teenage version of Han Solo as a Jedi Knight. If I get through that without going over to the darkside, I'll be safe for the rest of my life."
Corellia, two months later....
Chewie let out a loud roar of approval as the group turned the final corner and entered the huge gates that protected Sollon Estate. "It still looks like a museum," Luke told everyone, reaffirming his orginal assessment of the estate. "It's way too grand for my Jedi Academy grounds."
The Corellian stopped the ten-seat luxury hovercar, then hurried over to open the door for his new bride as everyone climbed out. "If you don't like it, then just consider it a temporary residence until you find a place you really like," Han told his brother-in-law. "I'm not living here again, so once your Academy moves out, I plan on donating it to the locals as a nature preserve and museum."
Leia took Han's offered arm, and addressed her brother as well. "The grounds are well protected, and you can fit a lot of students here."
"You're not supposed to look a gift-gundark in the mouth, Master Luke," Quentin said, laughing.
"Are you calling me a gundark?" Han asked in mock indignation.
"I do believe that is just an old Corellian expression, General Solo," Threepio said helpfully. "I'm not certain it is meant to be taken as an insult."
"Stuff it, Goldenrod," Han said. "And that is meant as an insult."
Leia gave Han's arm a slap as Chewie woofed in laughter, and looked up at the stately mansion as they approached. It seemed like a lifetime ago she had first laid eyes on this enormous home, and now she was married to the owner.
Han had promised Luke he'd give full financing to the Jedi wherever Luke decided to eventually put his academy. But here was a good place to start for the future defenders of the galaxy.
"Go pick out a room, Quentin," Luke said, pushing the boy forward once they'd entered the foyer. "Before the rest of the trainees arrive."
They watched as the boy ran off, thundering up the stairs. "That's probably the first time in twenty years a kid's run in this old house," Han commented. "Mother yelled at me everytime I ran... or slid down the bannister. Not that it ever stopped me."
"Of course not," Leia said, snickering. She could just picture the havoc Han must have caused as a child.
The Corellian looked down at his wife. "Wanna go check out the main headquarters at Sollon Enterprises? I'd like to see if Lando's settled in as CEO yet."
"Do you really trust Lando to run your billion credit corporation?" Luke questioned.
"More than I'd trust those guys Mother put in after Father's death," Han said. "Lando's trying to hire most of the old group back, but some of them have decided to retire, or try some other type of job. Lando will do all right... he's the businessman, not me. I'd hate running a corporation as much as I hated being frozen in carbonite." When everyone laughed, Han amended his comment. "Okay... maybe not quite. But almost."
Two months ago, Euridice had shown up on Coruscant to twist things her way, but despite her best efforts, the group felt as though the Force had worked it all out for the best.
On the planet Tralus in the Corellia System, Euridice Sollon was feeling exactly the opposite. That Alderaanian Princess had been married to her worthless son less than a month, and already she was squandering the Sollon fortune. Giving millions to orphanages, homeless shelters, wildlife sanctuaries, and medical reseachers. It was all money that was rightfully hers, not some filthy little street urchin. Why, there was even the rumor going around that the Jedi were taking over the Sollon Estate!
Still, the fifty million would go a long way to disrupting the peace and happiness of those thieves. If only that redhead would return her communications, she could try again to get what she deserved.