Luke struggled to get his injured father to the shuttle. Mass confusion in the Death Star swirled around him. He thought someone might notice them, and cause problems with their escape. But the Death Star personnel were far too occupied with their own survival to care much about the strange sight of a young man helping the feared Sith Lord. Luke could sense through the Force fear all around him. The Death Star was doomed. The Emperor was dead. Luke knew that he should be happy, even thrilled. But all he cared about was saving his father. His Father. How could he not help his own father? Luke blocked out his own doubts and fears. He knew Leia would be disappointed with his decision.
Once in the shuttle, Luke quickly cleared the Death Star. Seconds later, the huge orb exploded. Luke used the Force to block his Force signature from reaching his sister. It would be for the best that she believed him dead, at least for a time.
Luke looked down with sadness at the green and white planet of Endor. It would be quite awhile before he saw his sister, and his best friend, Han, again.
Three years later...
Han woke up in his bunk with a smile. After five long months on assignment for the New Republic, he was coming home. Today was the day he would see Leia again. Leia, too, had been very busy the last several months, having gone to Hapes in an attempt to get the reclusive Hapans to join the New Republic. Han worried about Leia. After Endor, she had been devastated about the loss of her brother. But, slowly, she had recovered. And now Han believed the time was finally right to propose to his princess. The buzzer on his communication board sounded, and Han reached for the 'on' button. Leia's face instantly came on the screen. Han felt his face break into an enormous grin.
"Hey sweetheart! It's been a long time!"
Leia's smile seemed forced. "Yes, Han, it certainly has. What time is your ship arriving?"
"About two hours," Han replied. "I can't wait to see you again."
"Han, we need to talk." Now, Leia had no smile on her face at all.
Han felt his stomach knot. This didn't sound good. "Alright. But I'll have to get debriefed first. Can I come over for dinner? We can talk then, if that sounds okay to you."
"That's fine, Han. I'll see you then. Leia out." Without further comment, the screen went black.
Han stared at the screen for a minute. "Leia out?" Not "I love you. Just Leia out?
This did not sound good at all.
Han stared in disbelief at Leia. "What did you just say? You're gonna run off an' leave me for some krethin' prince?"
Leia stared down at her uneaten dinner. "I'm sorry Han. I have to."
Han could barely find his voice. "You have to? What the hell does that mean? Do you love this guy?"
"No. I don't really even know him. But I do know I have to marry him, for the good of the New Republic. I can see no other way."
The hurt and rage spilled out, and Han spoke without thinking, "What is the difference between what you're doing for the New Republic and what a common streetwalker does, Princess?"
Leia looked up sharply, her face flushing. "Don't you dare compare me to a streetwalker! Leave now Han, before this gets worse. I have nothing more to say to you!"
"Just leave Han."
Han felt shaky and cold all over. He couldn't understand what was happening. He remembered a few weeks back, when he told Wedge that one day Leia would decide he wasn't good enough for her, and she would leave him. But another part clung to the hope they would always be together. It turned out his words to Wedge were prophetic. He was losing his princess. There was nothing he could offer her but his love, and that wasn't nearly enough. He tried to muster some dignity, turned and walked out of Leia's apartment.
Leia watched him leave, and felt her heart breaking. When the door shut behind him, she put her head in her hands and cried.
Back on the Falcon, Han sat in his pilot's seat, thinking over what had just happened. He could hear Chewie rattling around in the hold of the ship. The Wookiee had listened to his Captain rant and rave after returning from the disastrous dinner with Leia. Chewie could only offer his support and friendship. Han reached over, and hit his record button, quickly and curtly holo-recorded his resignation to the New Republic. The next holo-recording would be more difficult.
"Leia. I'm sorry for what I said at dinner. I hope you know what you're doing, because I wish you nothing but happiness. Please remember me fondly. I will always and forever love you. Han"
Han set the timer on the messages to send in one hour. "Chewie!" he bellowed with false bravado. "Are you ready to take off and spend some quality time with your kin folk?"
Minutes later, the Falcon lifted off from the planet.
The blond young man was dressed from head to toe in black, and he stood before a holovid with his hands clasped together behind his back. His sister's wedding to Prince Isolder was quite the affair. Huge crowds filled the streets, banners flew from street poles, proclaiming the nuptials. A smile flitted across his face. Everything was going according to plan.
The door behind him opened, and Luke turned to face his father. "Father." He inclined his head. "All is going well. Horm has sent us a message. He wishes to receive the credits we promised him for arranging this." Luke swept his hand toward the holovid.
"Have you sent the 'reward' to him yet?"
"Yes, Father. Jade is on her way to Coruscant," Luke said with a smile. "Horm will be getting his 'reward' very, very soon."
Luke had spent the past three years continuing his training under his father. When he had first rescued Darth Vader from the Death Star, Luke's intentions were noble, and good. He'd truly believed he could turn his father to the Light Side. And, for a while, his father had allowed him that illusion. Instead, eventually, Darth Vader had turned Luke to the Dark Side. After the destruction of the second Death Star, Darth Vader had assumed the role of Emperor, and no one even was even aware of Luke's existence. Not yet, anyway.
"The New Republic officials are fools," Darth Vader hissed. "They think they are getting all the wealth and support from the Hapan Consortium. Little do they know how short-lived these riches will be held by them."
"Leia has no idea what kind of man Isolder really is," Luke agreed with a laugh. "As soon as she realizes, it will be too late. It always amazes me how easy it is to manipulate people's lives."
"Prince Isolder is serving our purposes, too, Luke. He is just too self-absorbed to ever realize this."
"I can't wait until Leia joins us, Father. My only question is, will she let her husband live, or will she be kind and just banish him from Hapes?"
"If we train her well, there will be no question of his fate," Vader replied.
Hapes, 30 minutes prior to the Wedding
Winter sat next to Leia on the edge of the bed, holding her hand. "Isolder seems like a nice man, Leia. I'm sure everything will turn out alright."
"I thought I would feel love for him by now, Winter. He's so handsome, and such a gentleman. But every time I'm around him, I just get this feeling of doom. What is wrong with me?" Leia shook her head, refusing to cry. The decision to marry Isolder had been hers, and hers alone. She couldn't back out, not this late. "My wedding day should be the happiest day of my life, and all I want to do is cry."
"It's just pre-wedding jitters, Princess. You look so beautiful." Winter stood up and faced her life-long friend. "Every woman in the galaxy will wish they looked like you on their wedding day," Winter said, desperately trying to cheer her. "Your dress is gorgeous, your hair is perfect!"
Leia tried to smile, glad to have her friend's support.
"That's better, try to smile, okay?" Winter encouraged.
A knock on the door made them both jump. "Are you ready, dear?" the harsh voice of Leia's future mother-in-law, Ta'a Chume, called out.
"Yes, Queen Mother. I'm coming." Leia stood and faced her friend. "Well, this is it."
"Leia, it's your wedding, not an execution."
Leia walked toward the door, thinking, Then why does it feel like my execution?
Today was Leia's wedding. The woman he loved was getting married to another man. Han walked slowly down a dirty street, in a seedy town on Ord Mantell. He had spent the previous two months on Kashyyyk, while Chewie visited his family. He had been in no hurry to leave there since it was the closest thing he had to a home, and he always felt welcomed. After Leia had left him, that welcome felt especially good. But as Leia's wedding date got closer and closer, he could not escape the holo-vids of her upcoming nuptials. All the looks of pity, real or imagined, were getting on his nerves. So less than a week before 'the big event', he and Chewie took off, mostly to escape the constant reminders of the life Han had lost. After spending all morning pounding on the Falcon, Chewie finally had enough. He sent Han to buy some food supplies, just so he could get some peace and quiet.
Han passed by a dusty store window, and glanced inside. Immediately, he wished he hadn't. The holo-vid was facing the street; on the screen were the smiling newlyweds, standing on a beautiful balcony while waving at the crowds below. Seeing Leia married and standing next to her handsome prince, Han felt as though someone punched him in his gut. A stranger stopped next to him, commenting, "They sure make a pretty couple, don't they?" Han couldn't find his voice to answer. He turned and fled into the nearest bar.
Leia watched, numb, as her husband pulled his boots on and started for the bedroom door. "Where are you going?" she finally whispered.
Isolder turned around as he reached the doorway, "You don't really think I am going to stay here all night, do you?"
Isolder gave a loud, harsh laugh. "I have done my duty, Queen. Do you think I married you because I loved you?"
"Then why, why all this...?"
"I hate my mother, Queen Leia. She did not wish to join the New Republic. And she certainly does not approve of you. I married you simply to spite her. Did you really think I could find you attractive?" Isolder snorted. "Look in the mirror, Queen. You are as homely as a womp rat compared to Hapan women. I will spend enough time with you to give me an heir. Then we will never share the same bed again." With those cold words, Isolder spun on his heels, and walked out the door.
The new Queen spend the night alone in her big bed, curled up and crying.
Hours later, Han came stumbling back into the Falcon, his arm draped over a humanoid female he'd picked up in the local bar. Chewie came around the corner. *Cub, what are you doing? I sent you for food supplies.*
"Well Cheewieee, th' way I figurr it, this here is better th'n food anyday." Han could barely stand upright.
*Why don't you say goodnight to the woman, Han, and let me help you into bed.?.*
"Stay outta this. I have all th' help I need gettin inta bed. Goodnight, pal." Han pulled the female with him down the hall, and into his room.
Chewie could only shake his head in despair over what had become of General Han Solo.
Coruscant, four days later.
Threkin Horm was feeling very pleased with himself as he drove his hoverchair into his apartment. He had actually gotten rid of that annoying Han Solo, and maneuvered the Princess into marriage with a real Prince. Now, if only Vader would live up to his end of the bargain, and send him his credits. As far as Horm was concerned, everyone came out of this deal better off, except Solo, and the smuggler deserved whatever he got. Horm would certainly be richer, the New Republic would be aligned with the Hapans, and well... he did not know why Vader had been so keen on getting Leia married to Isolder. But what did it matter? He'd done her a favor.
Horm moved his chair to the wet bar, and opened a bottle of expensive Corellian whiskey. He had just started to lift the glass to his lips, but he never actually tasted the amber liquid. A thin metal rope wrapped around his throat with lightning speed. The last thing he felt was his neck snapping. The last thing he saw before his vision went black was a beautiful red-head with hard green eyes laughing at him.
One year later.
Han's savings had run out some time back, and he felt at a loss what to do to earn a living. He knew he could not return to smuggling, at least not in the New Republic regions, and he didn't feel like risking another encounter with Vader by returning to Imperial Space as a smuggler. Just thinking about Bespin still made him shudder. So he and Chewie ended up, reluctantly, asking Lando if he had any work for them. It galled Han to be forced into asking Calrissian, of all people. But Han could not imagine a job that did not involve piloting, and Lando had offered him a legitimate shipping job. While the pay was not great, it would pay enough for him and Chewie to survive. So Han's life moved forward, strangely uneventful, and unexciting. Although he didn't know it, this was about to change.
It was a warm early evening as Winter strolled casually down the sidewalk, looking at the wide variety of merchandise in the store windows. She had volunteered to go buy Leia some pickled delicacy at a local food store. Her best friend was now eight and a half months pregnant, with very odd food cravings. Winter knew that although Leia was still unhappy with her marriage, she was looking forward to the birth of her baby daughter. She hoped the new baby would bring Leia some peace and happiness.
Without warning, a high shrill sound came roaring up from behind her. People around her panicked and scattered. As Winter began to turn around to see what was happening, her eyes became wide with horror. A fast moving land speeder threw her forcefully into the brick building, and terrible pain was quickly replaced with nothingness.
Leia couldn't sleep, even though she was exhausted. The news of Winter's death had brought on an early labor for Leia, and only six hours early her daughter, Isabella, had been born. That was the name Prince Isolder had insisted upon - Leia didn't have the willpower left to argue. So the new baby's name was Princess Isabella Chume. Leia felt immense guilt and grief over Winter's death. Her friend had remained on Hapes, knowing how desperately Leia needed someone around her that cared. She would not have been on that sidewalk if not for me, Leia thought in despair. The young Queen felt the need to hold her infant, to seek a sense of solace by holding her firstborn. Tiredly, she reached over and rang the buzzer.
A nurse instantly stepped into the room. "Yes, my Queen?".
"Could you bring me Isabella? I would like to hold her."
The nurse looked down at the floor, and shuffled his feet, unable to meet the Queen's gaze.
"Is there a problem?" Leia felt a rising sense of dread.
"Yes, my Queen. The , um..."
"Go on!" Leia snapped, her heart racing. Nothing else could go wrong, could it? Isabella was in perfect health - the doctor had told her so.
"The former Queen Mother has taken your daughter. I assumed you knew this."
"Taken her?" Leia asked, puzzled. "There must be some misunderstanding. Let me speak to Ta'a Chume, immediately, and bring me Isabella."
"That's not possible, my Queen," the nurse mumbled nervously. "She's given me strict orders. I'm sorry."
"NO!" Leia screamed so loud, the patients on the surrounding floors surely heard her despair.
Vader looked up from his meditation at the same instant Luke looked up.
"It is time, my son."
A furious Leia stood in front of her mother-in-law and husband. "How dare you take my child! You have no right to do this!"
"You are quite incorrect, my dear," Ta'a Chume stated with a smirk. "You are not fit to be a mother, or a Queen. Until Isabella is old enough to assume the throne, I will be running things. This includes bringing up my granddaughter."
Leia spun toward Isolder, her eyes blazing with fury. "Aren't you going to defend me? What's the matter with you?"
"There is nothing to defend, Queen. My mother is absolutely correct in this matter. And there is nothing the "matter" with me, as you put it, except I am married to a useless, ugly shrew."
"I am the Queen, not you, Ta'a Chume!" Leia spat, trying to ignore the insults her husband had hurled at her.
"You just think you are, dear. You are not one of us, and you never will be. The Royal Hapan Guards are loyal to me, not you. If you continue to give me this much trouble, you may find yourself under house arrest. Is that what you want?" the Queen Mother asked, smiling without humor.
"You murdered my friend Winter, didn't you?" Leia asked, her voice breaking.
"You are delusional my dear. Winter was nothing to me. Our investigators have reported that the speeder was stolen, and that the driver, a woman with red hair, disappeared immediately after the accident." Ta'a Chume seemed quite pleased to relay this bit of news to Leia.
Ta'a Chume and her son looked smug as they made their way to the door. Before he walked out, Isolder stopped, and turned to his wife. "Do not try to change this. You have done what was required of you, by both the Hapans and the New Republic. People will still assume you are in power, and you will do nothing to discourage this view." With that, Isolder followed his mother out the door.
Leia was now completely, and utterly alone.
The sleek space craft landed in the middle of the night, only a few miles from the Hapan Palace. A young man dressed in black departed, followed closely by several dozen Noghri. Luke looked up at the stars and smiled. He anticipated no great difficulties getting into the Palace, and he was right. Luke had no trouble gaining entrance to the Palace, leaving many Royal Hapan Guards lying dead in his and the Noghris' wake. When the reached Leia's suite, Luke signaled his Noghri to remain outside her door, while he slipped inside.
Leia lay in a restless sleep, and Luke quietly went to her bedside. "Leia? Leia? Wake up."
Leia woke to a soft voice whispering her name, and sat up with a start. Outlined in the darkness of the room, she saw a man. Her Force sense told her immediately who it was, but it seemed unreal. Luke was dead...he had been dead for over four years, now. "It ... it can't be..."
"Leia, it's me, Luke. I'm very much alive, and I have come back. I've come back to help you."
Leia leaped out of bed, and turned on the lights. She stood in shock, staring at her long lost brother for long seconds. It really was her brother, alive and well. "Luke!" Leia wrapped her arms tightly around him, and Luke embraced his sister. "How can this be?"
"I have been on Bastion, Leia," Luke replied carefully.
"With our father," came the soft response. "Learning the ways of the Force."
Leia suddenly comprehended. "With Vader? Why? I don't understand. Vader is, is...evil."
Luke took a step back. His next words would mean the difference between success or failure, and Luke knew he could not fail.
"Our father is not evil, Leia. The old Emperor was the evil one."
"No... Vader destroyed Alderaan. He tortured me. He tortured Han. He is evil," Leia argued, stepping further away from her brother.
"Really Leia? Vader did not destroy Alderaan. Tarkin did that, and you know that's true. He only tortured you under Palpatine's orders, unaware of who you were. He was under the Emperor's control back then, just like you are under the control of Ta'a Chume and Mon Mothma now. Is what Vader did any worse than what they are doing to you right now?" Luke questioned his sister, moving closer to her.
"How can you compare my situation to his?" Leia snapped back. "I'm only here to help the New Republic, and the survivors of Alderaan. Isolder and his mother might not be nice, but you can't possibly compare them to Vader! They never tortured me."
"Not physically, but you know they are hurting you, mentally, emotionally. Don't deny it."
"I'm not denying it. But they are still not evil Sith Lords."
"Neither is Father. He was put in a terrible situation by the Jedi Council, and by Kenobi," Luke responded calmly. "We only knew one side of the story - the side Kenobi wanted us to hear. Kenobi lied to us, Leia. They all lied... Everyone knew who we were, yet no one told us. Thanks to Kenobi, I thought Darth Vader had killed my father. Is that the way of the noble, good Jedi? To lie and manipulate to get their way? I love you, sister. Our father never knew you were his child, or he wouldn't have obeyed Palpatine, no matter what it cost him. He only wants your forgiveness. We're family, Leia. The only family you have left... the only two people in the galaxy that cares about what happens to you."
Leia had no good answer to her brother. Her despair was so great, suddenly the idea of having someone, anyone, who cared about her was so important that she didn't question him further. She simply threw herself into his arms and cried.
"Leia, Leia, Leia, my beautiful sister. What have they done to you?" Luke said soothingly. "You were always so strong, and now you are reduced to a whimpering puppet. You don't deserve this."
"They, they took my baby, Luke," Leia sobbed.
"That's not a problem. I promise I will have your daughter back in your arms within the hour."
Leia stopped crying, and looked up into Luke's blue eyes. "Trust me, sister dearest. It will be done. I will take care of everything. This is your kingdom, and you shall rule. Have no fear."
His low voice was hypnotic. "I trust you, Luke."
"What else do you want, my beautiful sister? I want you to be happy, and whatever you want, I shall get it for you," Luke asked his sister, knowing he was pulling her into his control. Father had been correct - her loneliness and despair was making this easy.
Leia looked out of her bedroom window, and her eyes focused on the stars as she thought about someone she had tried, unsuccessfully, to put out of her mind. "Han. I want Han."
Luke smiled. "That is something you will have to earn, Leia. Let me train you in the ways of the Force, so no one will ever treat you poorly again. When you are ready, I will get you Han."
Leia smiled at her brother as she thought about Isolder and his wicked mother. "I accept."
When the sun came up two hours later, Ta'a Chume's aides found her dead of a heart attack on the bathroom floor. Prince Isolder could not be found anywhere...he had simply vanished.
Luke watched his sister holding Isabella. The child was strong in the Force. Father would be pleased. The young Dark Lord would begin Leia's training before the sun set.
Three months later...
Lord Skywalker was pleased with his sister's progress as a Dark Jedi. She had learned skills in days that had taken him weeks to master. It had been so easy to use her anger to twist her to his own purpose, and she never even suspected. Or, perhaps she did, and simply didn't care. Leia's fury at the New Republic's role in forcing her into a loveless, soulless marriage, followed by her best friend's death, had served the Dark Side well. Luke knew the time had come to move on to the next part of his father's plan.
Opening his private holo-link, Mara Jade's face soon filled the screen. "Hello, my love," Luke smiled at his servant, and lover. " Have our bio-chemists done their job?"
"Of course. They know better than to fail you, my Lord," Jade replied coolly.
"Is there a vaccine ready, also? The disease without the cure does us no good."
Mara held up a vial. "The vaccine is ready and prepared in sufficient quantities, my Lord."
"Good. Well done. Proceed to Kashyyyk as we've planned. I look forward to our reunion. It has been much too long, my love," Luke said in a low voice, filled with anticipation.
"As you command, my Lord."
Lord Vader watched his daughter's speech from his private Star Destroyer. It must be killing Mon Mothma to be listening to this, Vader mused.
"And further," Leia continued, "The Hapan Consortium, from this day forward, will be aligned firmly and forever with The Imperial Regency, which my brother, Lord Skywalker, and my father, Lord Vader, rules. Ironically, the New Republic, an organization in my blindness I helped birth, is now my sworn enemy. I will stop at nothing to bring this travesty of a government, and those rulers who lie and cheat in the name of fairness, to its knees. I, Queen Leia of Hapes, declare this in the name of the Hapan -Imperial Consortium."
The crowd of Hapans listening outside the Royal Palace were silent for a moment, and then, slowly, tentative, scattered applause broke out.
Far away, in a casino owned by a Baron Calrissian, Han Solo and Chewbacca watched the speech. Han barely registered the words Leia was speaking. He watched her, entranced by the women he still loved. Despite her harsh words, and hard, rigid appearance, he knew he still cared about her. His suddenly dry mouth and pounding heart was proof enough of that.
"Huh? Oh yeah. I can't believe the kid is alive either," Han answered his partner. "And what's happened to Leia... joining the Imperials? I just don't understand how she could have changed so much in seventeen months. If I didn't hear and see it myself, I wouldn't believe it."
*Maybe she needs help, cub,.* Chewie replied back.
"That's an understatement if I ever heard one. But it ain't gonna be me helping her. She is married with a kid, in case you've forgotten."
*I don't hear her mentioning her husband.*
"Yeah, so?" Han shot back. "That doesn't change anything. But she sure is as beautiful as I remember her."
The comlink in Han's pocket buzzed, interrupting the debate. Putting the comm up to his mouth, he answered, "Yes?"
"Han, it's Lando. You and Chewie need to get to my office as soon as possible. We have a problem."
When Han and Chewie entered the office, Lando was seated on a expensive dewback leather chair, looking as calm and collected as always. "Have a seat, gentlemen." Lando waved his hand toward the matching sofa.
The Corellian and Wookiee sat, then looked at each other. "Ok, Lando. You said there was a problem, and we came rushing over here. If you tell me this big emergency is because you can't decide which wine to serve with dinner..." He trailed off, glaring.
Lando gave a brief smile. "No. I wish that was all that it was. I'm sure you are aware I have sources high up in the New Republic."
"Yeah, Lando, we all know. You don't need to impress me."
"Han! Can you shut up your big mouth for two minutes and let me talk?" Lando snapped.
This wasn't the typical reaction he got when he smart-mouthed Lando. "Okay."
"There's a problem on Kashyyyk."
Chewie stood up, roaring, and almost tipped over the expensive hand carved oro-wood coffee table.
"Chewie, you shut up too! How hard are the two of you going to make this?" Lando yelled over Chewie's roaring.
Chewie sat down, but his worried blue eyes didn't leave Lando's face for even a second.
"A plague has suddenly appeared on the planet. It showed up about four days ago, and it's spreading fast." Lando spoke in a hurry, knowing he had to get this all out before his friends rushed out of the office. "The bizarre thing is, it appeared in about half a dozen cities, almost overnight. Right now, it appears to affect only Wookiees, and the ones hardest hit are the elderly and those already sick from other illnesses. Fortunately, there have been no reported deaths - yet."
"Are the New Republic scientists working on a vaccine yet?" Han questioned Lando.
"They say the virus is so different from anything they have ever seen before, they don't think they will have a vaccine for months, at least."
Chewie stood up again, agitated. *I need to contact Malla. Right now.*
"I agree Chewie," Han stood, and looked at Lando. "We'll be on the Falcon."
Lando nodded as he watched his friends leave.
Once onboard the Falcon, it didn't take Chewie long to contact his wife, Malla. When her face appeared, Chewie knew instantly something was terribly wrong. *Malla?.*
*Husband, have you heard about this new virus?.*
*Yes. What is happening?.* Chewie asked, not certain he wanted to hear the answer.
*Your father has become ill. I fear he is not going to make it.*
Chewbacca threw back his head and roared with grief at this news. *I will come home immediately!.*
*Husband! Do not be foolish. The planet is under quarantine, and even if it that wasn't the case, coming home would only cause you to be at risk. It will not help your father.*
"You know she is right, pal," Han said as he tried to comfort his friend. "We have to think of some other way to help."
Fearing for his family's lives, Chewie hung his head in despair.
Han was sitting in his pilot's seat, trying to think of something, anything at all, that he could do to help Chewie's family. The Wookiee was putting up a brave front, and at Han's insistence, had gone to try to get some much needed sleep. The incoming message light on his display board began blinking. Han saw that it was from Malla, and he answered it, fearing the worst.
*Han. I am glad I was able to reach you. I just received a message less than five minutes ago. You will never believe who it was from.*
"Do I have to try and guess, or are you just going to tell me?" Han joked weakly.
Malla frowned. This wasn't the time for games. *It was from Luke.*
"Luke?" Han spluttered in surprise.
*Yes. He asked me to contact you. He says it is absolutely urgent you meet him as soon as possible at the coordinates he sent over to me.*
"Ok, send them over to me. I will get Chewie up."
*Han. Please be careful. Luke is now an Imperial. I fear this may be a trap.*
"Malla, it's me!"
*I know. That's why I am telling you to be careful.*
Han grinned. "I'll be careful."
As he stood to go wake Chewie, he couldn't help thinking, I have a bad feeling about this.
The man, or what remained of him, hung by his wrists chained in the dungeon. Lord Vader and Mara Jade stood before the prisoner, discussing him like other people would talk about a piece of furniture. The man's body was thin, and bloody stripes and burn marks criss-crossed his frame. His head hung forward, long stringy hair dangling from his bent head.
Vader walked up to the man, grabbed his hair and tipped his head back. The man's eyes were open wide, and completely insane. "You are done here, Jade," Vader hissed. "Finish him off."
"Won't Queen Leia wonder what happened to him?"
The Sith turned his head slowly toward the assassin. "She has not asked about him in nearly three months. Do not question my commands."
"I apologize," Jade quickly replied. "I will do as you wish, my Lord."
"Of course." Vader turned and walked out the prison door, his black cape billowing behind him.
Jade turned toward her victim, a feral grin slowly spreading across her face. This was the part she liked the best, the part she was born to do. Slowly, she walked in front of him, pleased with her work. Weeks ago, when he stilled cared, Jade had used her lightsaber to castrate him, laughing as he screamed and begged her to spare his manhood - now he no longer cared. Jade turned on her purple lightsaber. "You and I have something in common, Prince Isolder," she stated coldly. "We are both quite mad." With that, she cut open his abdomen, stepped back from the stench that poured from his insides, and watched him die.
The coordinates Luke had sent Malla sent the Corellian to the outer edge of the Hapan Cluster. When Han came out of hyperspace, he saw that two ships awaited him. One was an Imperial Star Destroyer, the other was a Hapan Medical Frigate.
Han turned on his communications panel. "Millennium Falcon to Lord Skywalker."
Lukes voice came over the comm. "Welcome, Han. Please follow instructions, and dock with the Star Destroyer. I will see you then. Lord Skywalker out."
Han and Chewie exchanged nervous glances. "Well, here goes nothing."
The battered freighter docked inside the huge hanger, then Han and Chewie exited the Falcon, half expecting to be met with blasterfire, but the only person waiting at the end of the boarding tube was Luke. He looked so completely different from the young Tatooine farmboy, Han hardly recognized him. With his hair cut extremely short, and dressed from head to toe in black, with a cape to adding to his somber appearance, he appeared to be emulating the style of Darth Vader.
"Hello Luke," Han said cautiously, the hairs on his neck prickling a warning.
The young Sith inclined his head slightly. "Han, Chewie. Welcome aboard my ship. However, I am going to have to ask that Chewie and all your weapons remain on the Falcon. What I have to discuss is with you, Han." Luke was very dismissive to Chewie, barely glancing at the towering Wookiee.
*I do not like this idea of us separating, cub,.* Chewie whispered to Han.
"It'll be ok, Chewie," Han said, with more conviction than he felt as he handed Chewie his blaster. "Wait here. I'll be back."
Han followed Luke silently down the long corridors, reminding the Corellian once again how enormous Star Destroyers were. They finally arrived at what Han assumed was Luke's private, large quarters, with a viewport overlooking the vastness of space.
"Have a seat and make yourself comfortable, Han," Luke instructed, his voice sounding almost friendly. "Would you like something to drink?"
"Um, no. Can you just get to the reason you asked me here?"
"My, my. You don't seem too happy to see me again. Have a seat. I insist."
Not wanting to upset his former friend, Han sat, and waited.
"I guess I'll get to the reason I asked you here, since you don't seem interested in small talk," Luke snapped, his eyes suddenly narrowing as he glared at the Corellian. "Hapan doctors are much more advanced than New Republic doctors and scientists, don't you agree?" Luke questioned. It seemed he was almost to be talking to himself instead of Han, as he stared up at the ceiling.
"I have no idea," Han answered, confused. Hapan doctors? What in the hells of Corellia did Luke want?
The young man smiled, his face showing no amusement or warmth. "Trust me, Han, they are. As a matter of fact, Hapan scientists already have a cure for the virus that seems to be troubling Kashyyyk."
Han looked up at Luke, suddenly interested. "They do? Are they willing to sell it to Kashyyyk? What do they want? The Wookiees need that vaccine, desperately."
"I know full well how much they need it. The question is, do you?"
"Of course I do. What kind of question is that?" Han asked, annoyed. Luke gave a harsh laugh, and Han suddenly felt a wave of apprehension. "What do you want, Luke? I can't afford to vaccinate the entire population of Kashyyyk. Do you want me to act as a go-between with the Empire and the New Republic? I gotta warn you, I'm not too good at diplomacy."
"It's not what I want...it's what Leia wants. She wants you, Han. And that is going to be the price for the vaccine. Not Imperial credits. Not New Republic credits. You will be her concubine; her slave, for as long as she wants you. If you do not agree to this price, the vaccine will be destroyed. All of it. Today," Luke stated harshly. "You have two minutes to decide if the Wookiees are worth the price."
Everything seemed surreal as Han stood up, and walked on shaky legs to the viewport. Desperately, he tried to think of a way out, find something else he could strike bargain with, but he knew, deep down, that Luke would accept no alternative. He turned to face Luke. "I have no choice then, do I?"
"Not really. Not unless you don't care about all those Wookiees. But I know you do care about them... I was counting on it, as a matter of fact."
"What am I going to tell Chewie?" Han asked, more to himself than Luke.
"I would suggest telling him the truth, but know this - if he attempts to rescue you, he will die. His family will die. It's as simple as that." Luke stated coldly. "You will contact him by comlink. There will be no personal goodbyes, since that would be too dangerous for all concerned."
"It sounds like you have everything figured out, friend," Han spat.
"Yes, I do," Luke said. "And I'm not your friend. From now on, you will address me as My Lord. Unless you enjoyed the pain of the scan grid."
Han had been left alone during the trip back to the Hapan Capitol world. The room he had assumed was Luke's turned out was actually his, and Han had to admit it was certainly more comfortable than a cell. No one had come to threaten him, or abuse him. He just could not leave the room, since the outside door remained locked. Han guessed, correctly, there were guards posted outside, just in case he made trouble.
Telling Chewie about the situation over the comlink had been difficult to say the least. Chewie had not wanted to leave his friend and partner, but after a great deal of discussion and persuasion, he had finally, reluctantly, agreed that the lives of millions of Wookiees had to come first. Watching the Falcon depart through his room's viewport, he knew it would be a very long time before he saw either Chewie or his ship again.
Flying the Millennium Falcon, Chewie arrived back on Kashyyyk, and the Hapan Medical Frigate dropped out of hyperspace minutes later. Without preliminaries, the medics shuttled down to the surface in dozens of cities, and began disbursing the vaccine.
The vaccine worked flawlessly, and Chewie's father quickly recovered from his illness. Chewbacca of Kashyyyk was again hailed as the greatest Hero of all the Wookiees. Only Chewie and Malla knew who the real Hero truly was, but they could never tell the truth, or their lives would become forfeit.
Han Solo was escorted into the Hapan Palace wearing handcuffs and surrounded by half a dozen guards. He was led through the ornate, beautiful hallways, and finally taken inside a huge apartment suite. The handcuffs were removed, and the guards left without speaking once to their prisoner. Han took stock of his surroundings. This opulant apartment put to shame the nice rooms he and Leia had shared on Coruscant. The furniture and artwork all looked priceless, and this was only in the main living area. He strolled into an adjoining room, and noted that it was a dining room with an elaborate dining room table. The table had two formal place settings on it, then a server droid hummed into the room, and began putting covered dishes in the center of the table.
"Do you like my apartment, Han?" a familiar voice asked from behind him.
Han spun around, startled. Standing before him was his princess, the woman he'd never thought he'd see again. She looked stunning, wearing a emerald green gown, with her hair piled up in a soft hair style. Han felt his heart beat faster.
"Leia. You look so... beautiful." Han could think of nothing else to say, and it was truth. Leia would always be beautiful to him.
"Thank you." Leia gave him a smile that did not reach the hard set of her eyes. "Have a seat. Dinner is ready, and we have a lot to catching up to do."
Leia began to seat herself before Han realized his manners,then he quickly pulled her chair out for her. Leia glanced over her shoulder with an odd look, and gave him another smile. "Thank you."
"You... you're welcome," Han managed to stammer. He realized he was sounding like an idiot, so sat down.
They ate the each course, with Leia asking Han polite questions about his job with Lando. When dessert was finally served, she leaned back and asked, "Did Luke tell you why you were brought here?"
So much for the small talk, Han thought morosely. "Yes. I have a hard time believing you need me as your concubine, what with all these good-looking Hapan guys falling out of the woodwork."
"Ah, Han. How I have missed your droll observations of life. You might be surprised, but Hapan men are not all they are cracked up to be."
"Speaking of Hapan men, what happened to your husband?" Han asked, truly curious.
"Luke showed up. Isolder disappeared. I have no idea where he is. I can only assume he feared my brother's wrath, once Luke knew how he treated me." Leia answered without hesitation.
"How did he treat you, Leia?" He felt his fist clench at the mere idea that anyone would abuse her.
"Like garbage. Worse than garbage," Leia replied, her voice suddenly bitter. She looked down at the uneaten cream pudding, dropping her spoon with a clatter.
"I'm sorry to hear that," Han responded slowly. "I guess he deserved your brother's wrath. I wish I could turn back time, and fix everything for you. You deserved a great husband, someone that adored you. You deserved love."
"I've come to the conclusion love doesn't exist.. it's only a part of our childhood fantasies," Leia said shortly. "It's not real, any more than the fairytales my aunts told me about talking planets and happily-ever afters."
Uncertain what to say, Han stared down at his dessert, then glanced at the departing server droid. "That reminds me...whatever happened to Goldenrod and his tin-can side-kick?"
Leia smiled sadly. "The Queen Mother would not allow non-Hapan built droids in the Palace. She said it gave the Royalty a bad image, so I gave Threepio and Artoo to Mon Mothma before I left Coruscant."
Han gave a loud snort. "Mothma and Threepio. Couldn't have happened to a more deserving woman." Han shook his head mirthfully. "Threepio is the gift that keeps on giving."
For the first time in what felt like a lifetime, Leia gave a genuine laugh. For one brief moment, Han saw the old light in her eyes, and he felt a flicker of hope.
Just as quickly, the light was gone and Leia suddenly stood up. "I am not hungry anymore. Come with me," she ordered sharply.
Han's pulse quickened, but he got up and followed her down the hall, visions of Bespin flickering through his memories. Then they entered a large bedroom, and the door slid shut behind him without anyone touching the controls. Leia spun around, her face expressionless, her eyes once again hard. "Take off your clothes, slave," Leia ordered. "You are about to learn what your duties are."
Hours later, Han stared at his reflection in the refresher mirror. He was sore in places he did not know could be sore, and he was completely exhausted. He'd always prided himself on his sexual endurance, but Leia had outlasted him, and then some. This 'new' Leia certainly had surprised him. I thought I was too old to learn new tricks, Han thought with a rueful smile, splashing cold water on his face. Even if my muscles are sore, I have to admit it was fun. At the back of his mind, he wondered how long it would be before she got bored with him. What would happened to him when that occurred? Would he 'disappear', like Isolder? Or would he be able to escape before then? Of course, escaping would endanger Chewie and his family - Han had no doubt that Luke would live up to his threats. Cautiously, he glanced out of the refresher and looked toward the bed. It appeared Leia was finally asleep, and Han felt a wave of gratitude.
"Han?" Leia's sleepy voice called through the door. "Where are you?"
Han felt a moment of surprise and disappointment. "I had to use the refresher. I'll be right back," he called back. Sighing, he finished washing his face, and went back to his fate. He crawled back under the sheets, then Leia curled up next to him and fell back to sleep. The Corellian looked up at the ceiling, silently thanking the gods.
The next morning, things didn't get easier for Han. After he took a quick shower, Leia handed him a sweatsuit, watching as he dressed in the baggy, tan colored clothes. They proceeded to eat a light, but tasty breakfast, served by the same efficient droid. Then Leia looked up, informing him, "I have lessons with Luke this morning. You'll be working out in a gym while I'm working with Luke."
"All right," Han answered warily. This seemed fairly safe, although working out in a gym after last night's gymnastics was not something Han was looking forward to - he'd had enough exercise to last a month, at least.
"Another thing, Han," Leia stated. "Calling me Leia in private is acceptable. However, once we leave this apartment, when you address me, it will be either as either 'My Queen', or 'My Lady', and not in a sarcastic tone, either. Is that clear?"
"Yes, perfectly clear," Han replied tightly.
"Oh," she added thoughtfully. "And you will not look directly in anyone's eyes. You will keep your head bent, and only speak when I give you express permission. Do you understand?"
"Good. Now I will take you to your trainer."
Trainer? Han thought. This sounds bad.
Han followed Leia through the maze of Palace hallways. Finally they arrived at well-equipped gym. A Hapan man about Han's height, but bulging with muscles, approached them, bowing his head as he addressed Leia. "My Lady."
"Jonri, this is Han. He will be working out with you every morning for two hours. Try to be gentle with him today. He had a hard night last night," Leia joked without humor.
At that comment, Jonri quickly sized Han up. "This way," he said with a slight shake of his head.
Leia and Luke sparred with their lightsabers for half an hour. Finally, Luke turned his saber off, and looked at his sister's face.
"Are you happy with your reward?" he questioned her, gently probing her feelings with the Force. What he sensed pleased him - Leia was relishing her role as Solo's owner. As long as that remained the case, he would allow the Corellian to live. However, if he ever sensed she was falling in love again with Solo, the smuggler would have to die. The Dark Side was simply incompatible with love.
Leia turned her saber off as well, wiping the sweat from her face. "I couldn't be any happier, Luke. Thank you."
"You don't have to thank me. You earned him, and I want you to be happy. But remember, this is Han Solo. Keep a close eye on him," Luke warned.
"I fully intend to, brother."
Han stepped out of his second shower of the morning. If that was an easy workout, Han thought with despair, I don't want to even think about the medium-type workout.
He toweled himself off, and then looked around. His sweatsuit was gone. Wrapping the towel around his waist, he started to look around the large locker room. A door slid open and a droid came in, carrying a small package. The droid approached him, and extended its 'arm', handing Han the package. Frowning, he took it, staring down.
"What is this?" he asked, hoping that speaking to droids was not against any of Leia's new rules.
"This is your afternoon clothing, sir. Do you need assistance putting it on?"
"I don't think so. Get lost, metal head," Han snapped hotly.
The droid left, and Han unwrapped the package. Inside was a pair a silky black slacks, and a glittery red shirt, much like items Lando would enjoy wearing. This is clothing? This isn't going to fit me! Han thought, panic setting in. He sat down and stared at the lightweight, shiny material. After ten minutes of debating with himself, he finally put on the shirt, wincing as he looked down. He spent another few minutes tugging the tight pants over his hips, fastening the front closures. He stared in shock at his image in a full length mirror. "I look like - "
"Nice outfit," Leia interrupted from behind him.
Han turned around to see that Leia was smiling, and holding something shiny in her hand.
"This is a joke, right?" he growled out, waving at his outfit.
"No joke, flyboy. Sit down while I put your collar on."
"Collar?" Han snarled. "You have got to be kidding me!"
Leia's eyes grew hard and angry, then an invisible pressure forced Han to sit down, hard,on a bench. Leia took the jeweled collar, and fastened it around Han's neck, then attached a gold leash to the neck piece. "Now follow me, and don't you dare question anything I do, ever again," Leia snapped, her tone clipped. She abruptly turned, and still holding the leash in her hand, started walking briskly. The swift movement forced Han to leap off the bench to keep from being pulled down on his knees.
As he followed behind, Han kept his eyes on the ground, not just because of her orders, but also because of how acutely embarrassed he was feeling. If the floor opened up and swallowed him, he'd have shouted in joy.
Soon, they entered a large room. Nothing was in this room but an ornate throne sitting on a platform in the very center. Large double doors were on the far wall, with a strip of royal blue carpet leading from the doors up to the throne. Royal Hapan Guards lined either side of the carpet. Tilting her head up, Leia led Han up the steps to the throne, and she turned at sat. A large, plush pillow sat off to the side of the throne.
"Sit down on that, and don't speak for the rest of the afternoon," Leia ordered, pointing to the pillow.
Growing increasingly angry and embarrassed, Han sat down.
Leia looked up, and motioned for her aide to enter the room. An older man with a slight build and no hair came running up, his face lined with worry at displeasing his Queen. "You may let the first petitioner in," Leia spoke regally to the man. The man nodded, and hurried down the carpet to do her bidding. Moments later, the aide brought an Hapan politician into the room, quickly leading him down the carpet. The politician stopped before Leia, bowing deeply.
"Your Majesty," the politician began, and then proceeded to ask Leia for some expensive favor. It was abruptly declined, and the man left, disappointed. Another Hapan entered shortly thereafter, making another request. This went on for the remainder of the afternoon, with various people coming before the Queen, all asking for something costly. Rarely would Leia would grant them their request. More often than not, it was swiftly denied, and she seemed to savor her ability to make people grovel and beg. This was not the Leia that Han remembered, and loved.
Han spent the afternoon, trying to find a comfortable position to sit, and trying not to be humiliated at all the blatant stares he was receiving. It felt like the afternoon would never end.
Eventually, the afternoon did end, but Han's day didn't get much better. Quickly following the ordeal in the throne room was a formal dinner banquet, with rich Hapans invited as guests. Han was now dressed in white and gold, formal, frilly Hapan clothing that he truly hated. The collar was still around his neck, but Leia had deigned to remove the leash. As he sat next to Leia, he picked listlessly at his dinner, while Luke sat on his other side.
"What's the matter, Han?" questioned Luke. "Food not to your liking?"
Han looked up at a smirking Lord Skywalker. "Food's fine. I'm just not very hungry," Han mumbled, quickly looking back down at his plate. He wasn't sure whether the no-talking rule applied to Luke or not.
"Han has had a very busy first day, haven't you, darling?" Leia asked sweetly, patting his wrist.
"Yes, My Lady," Han answered dully. I'm going to have a real hard time being her slave.
Bastion, ten months later.
Mara Jade paced the halls of the lower dungeons of Bastion. Rage was threatening to overwhelm her, since she simply did not have enough prisoners to relieve her anger upon. The ones who still remained cowered in their cells, wondering if they would become her next victim. Five years. It had been five years since the death of her lover and mentor. Shutting her eyes, she could feel his hot hands on her bare skin, his dry mouth and parched lips sucking at her body. No man would ever compare to him.
She was so tired of waiting. Those responsible for his death would be paying the price very soon. Her first step would be the elimination of Darth Vader. Mara wished she would be there to see the look on Lord Skywalker's face when he discovered her deceit, and saw the results of her plans. The thought of Skywalker's love-making made Mara Jade physically ill, becoming his lover had been the most difficult part of her plan. Although he had been gone for the last year, training his sister, Mara could not stop feeling repulsed by the memory of his touch. His skills as a lover were pathatic compared to her mentor, who knew exactly how to use the Force to bring her body soaring to heights of pleasure... and pain.
Skywalker would be back on Bastion within days. But Palpatine had taught her well. She had not only learned patience from him, she had learned the important technique of hiding her true intentions from even the most Force sensitive. Palpatine had been able to hide from the greatest Jedi of all, Yoda and Kenobi. She intended to use her skills to her advantage, and if she succeeded, she would never have to share a bed with Skywalker again.
Luke walked with Leia down the corridors of of the Hapan Palace, carrying his one year old niece, Princess Isabella. Isabella was a happy child, with plump rosy cheeks, a mop of curly blonde hair and her mother's brown eyes. With the passing of time, Luke was becoming convinced that Isabella, while Force sensitive, would never become a powerful Dark Jedi. Lord Skywalker was not overly concerned about this. Reaching out with the Force, he felt the life forces of the twins Leia carried within her womb. These children would be powerful in the Force. Leia was now six months along in her pregnancy, and her doctor had advised her to ease off on her workload. Leia had agreed, and Han had been only too happy to spend less time in the Throne room, and less time at State Dinner parties.
Then there was the matter of Mara Jade. Although Luke trembled with anticipation at their upcoming reunion, he was more than disappointed he had been unable to impregnate the Force-sensitive assassin during the last time he'd spent with her. He wanted off-spring of his own, powerful in the Force as Leia's twins. No... more powerful. His child must be the strongest, most potent Sith ever. Soon, he would rejoin Jade, and if she failed to become pregnant this time he would have to dispose of her, and search out another Force-sensitive female to bear his child.
Luke and Leia reached their destination, the shuttle launch area on the Palace grounds. Luke smiled at his sister. "I guess this is goodbye for a while, sister."
"I'll miss you Luke. I can't believe how fast the past year has gone." Leia answered sincerely.
"You have become a strong Dark Jedi. There is nothing left I can teach you. But I promise I'll be back soon. Father expects me to act as a liaison between the Imperial Regions and the Hapan Consortium. Besides, you don't think I'll miss seeing my new niece and nephew as soon as they arrive, do you?"
"I'll look forward to your return, brother."
Luke kissed his sister's forehead, then signaled a Hapan Guard to take Isabella. He quickly walked up the ramp of his shuttle, turned around and waved at his sister and niece. The door slid shut and Leia watched as her brother's shuttle left, heading up to his waiting Star Destroyer.
That night Leia lay in Han's arms, thinking about Luke. Her brother had been adament that she never start loving Han, because love was not a dark side emotion. Luke had warned her if she loved Han, she'd lose him, and since Leia couldn't bear the thought of losing Han, she had ruthlessly pushed those emotions aside whenever she felt tenderness toward her lover. But she also knew she felt love for Isabella, and certainly for her unborn twins, yet that subject had never been discussed. How could you love your children, but not your lover? It confused the Queen of Hapes, considerably.
She could feel her babies kicking. Propping herself up on an elbow, she looked at Han, feeling a twing of guilt knowing that he loved her, despite her treatment of him. She pushed that emotion aside, as well. "I've decided to name our daughter Jaina."
"That's a beautiful name. I love it. What name have you decided for our son?"
Leia paused, realizing Han wasn't protesting his lack of input in name choice. Again, the guilt tried to needle back inside her soul, and she implusively made a decision. "I let my derelict husband pick the name Isabella. You can choose our son's name."
Han was more than a little surprised at her benevolence. He looked at the ceiling and thought for a few moments, not wanting to pick something that would displease her. "Jacen. I think Jacen sounds like a good twin-name for Jaina."
Leia nodded at Han in approval. Reaching over, she kissed his lips and then drew back and said, "That is a perfect name."
Bastion, four days later.
Mara Jade could wait no longer. She stood up and stretched her legs from her meditations. Carefully she clipped her lightsaber to her belt and placed a satchel over her shoulder. As quiet as a cat, she started out of her room.
She walked through the nearly deserted halls that housed the officers of the Empire. Using the Force to hide her actions, she quietly placed six high powered thermal detonators in the ventilation shafts of the halls. When she had them all placed she hurried to her ship, and without contacting the traffic controllers, lifted into the night sky.
Darth Vader had also been meditating in his room. His Force sense seemed disturbed, but he could not place the problem. It just seemed to be warning him that something was not right. Standing, he walked to his window just in time to see Jade's ship lifting into the sky. For a moment he was puzzled. Where is she going? the Dark Lord wondered. I have not given her any orders to leave. Suddenly he knew. His Force disturbance was coming from Jade. He spun around and nearly ran to the door, using the Force to form a protective bubble around his body.
Jade knew Vader had broken her Force-block. She reached for a button, and pressed it. A large orange-red cloud exploded with violence, instantly destroying a large portion of the Imperial Base on Bastion. Most importantly, the entire living quarters had been obliterated. After a few seconds, she reached out with the Force, trying to sense Vader's presence.
To her horror, she realized she'd failed - the Dark Lord still lived.
Luke sat up from a deep sleep. Something was wrong. He glanced over at his clock, and saw that the Star Destroyer was only twelve hours from Bastion. Unable to sleep, he paced the room, waiting as time slowly passed.
The minute the Star Destroyer dropped out of hyperspace, Luke knew his feelings were correct. The minds of the Officers on the planet below were in chaos and panic. Luke reached for his holo-comm and signaled the ground staff Commanding Officer. A fluster General appeared before him. "What's the matter?" Luke snapped.
"I, um, well..." a dirty, blood covered General stuttered.
"Jade tried killing Darth Vader."
Luke felt a cold chill. "Tried?"
"He survived, My Lord."
"Jade will not," was Luke's curt response.
Lord Skywalker walked around the smoldering remains of what had been his father's apartment feeling a sense of the surreal. His father stood behind him, glowering in rage. "She is a traitor."
"This is all my fault," Luke muttered under his breath. "Her beauty blinded me."
"She loved Palpatine," Vader remarked. "Do not blame yourself. She hid her intentions well, but she still failed."
"She'd better hope she can hide her body, as well as her intentions," Luke growled, fists clenched. "I'll see her death is even worse than Isolder's."
Tatooine, three months later.
After the death of Palpatine, the galaxy had been in disarray, and both the New Republic and the Empire claimed victory. Systems had been in political upheaval, and when the fallout had ended, the New Republic had claimed about forty-five percent of the galaxy, and the Empire had held around fifty-five percent. Tatooine had stayed aligned with the Empire.
Mara Jade sat in a murky bar, watching a holo newscast. A perky humanoid announced the birth of twins to Queen Leia of Hapes. No mention was made of the father, and the Hapan people did not particularly care. They had their future Queen, Princess Isabella, Royalty by birth. The Queen's affairs and illegitimate children were of no consequence to their future leadership, and the smuggler turned concubine slave at Queen Leia's side was irrelevant to them.
Mara watched as the face of Queen Leia filled the holovid. She was still bitter over her failure at Bastion. A slow smile spread across her face as she realized she could hurt Skywalker by attacking, and killing, an easier target than Vader.
Leia sat on a sofa and watched her newborn twins sleeping in their bassinets. Everything could be so perfect, she thought, if only Luke would let go of this crazed obsession.
Since Jade's attempt on Darth Vader's life, Luke's personality had altered dramatically. He had remained on Bastion, using bounty hunters to search for his sworn enemy, the assassin Jade. He was angry all the time - the smallest misspoken comment would send him into black rages. Leia was becoming frightened of her own brother.
She thought about Han, listening as he shuffled stuff around in the bedroom. During the year of his bondage to her, she could sense he was restless, always longing for the stars and space. He had honored his contract to Luke and not attempted to escape. She sincerely hoped he would never to try to escape, because Luke would turn his rage on on the Corellian if that ever happened.
Han had, with a few lapses, obeyed her quickly and without arguments. To reward his loyalty, she had even allowed several visits by Chewbacca to the Hapan Palace. Leia had hoped the birth of his children would bind him to her, and ease his need for freedom. As he'd held his babies for the first time, Leia gently probed his feelings, and believed this to be true. At least, she hoped it was true.
"Hey," a deep voice said softly. "How's the new mommy feeling?"
Leia smiled, and reached for Han's hand, pulling him down on the sofa next to her. "I feel wonderful. Thanks for asking, daddy."
Leia put her head on Han's shoulder. "Han?"
He frowned down at the top of her head. "For what?"
"For giving me these beautiful babies. For honoring your word, and staying with me."
"Does this mean I get a reward?" he teased.
Leia pushed back, looking up into his hazel eyes. "What sort of reward would you like?"
Han tugged at the annoying collar. "How about not having to wear this anymore?"
"Luke won't like that," she replied, seeing the disappointment in his face. "I'm sorry. Luke's been... upset lately. I don't want to make things worse. If he thinks I'm getting soft with you, he might..." She trailed off, not wanting to finish the thought.
"It's a possibility," she conceded. "Ever since Mara betrayed him, he's grown so bitter. I just can't take the chance of doing anything that might make him lose control."
Han tightened his arms around Leia. "I don't want that, either."
Luke kept his promise to his sister and returned to the Hapan capitol several weeks after Leia gave birth. He found her sitting in her office, with her infants beside her. Luke was pacing around her office, unable to sit still or even stand in one place. Just watching him made Leia nervous.
"Where is Han?" Luke suddenly questioned his sister.
"He took Isabella to the zoo. He is a very good father to her," Leia answered calmly. Inside, she was cringing at Luke's question.
Luke narrowed his eyes into small slits as he gazed at Leia. "You seem to be treating him more like a husband and less like a slave these days. I don't like it. He should be kept in his place."
"Don't worry about it, Luke," Leia tried to soothe her brother. "He knows he is still my slave, and he keeps his place. He never gives me any trouble." She hesitated, then added, "He asked me if I would remove his collar a few weeks ago, and I refused."
"I still don't like it. And I don't like him going off with Isabella, either. What if there are kidnappers around?"
"Luke, please! Han and Isabella have at least two dozen bodyguards surrounding them at all times," Leia reasoned with her brother. "Nothing is going to happen to either of them." She could tell this reply did not satisfy Luke.
"Your twins are perfect Leia. Absolutely perfect," Luke said, abruptly switching subjects.
The Queen focused on her children. "Thank you."
"They are so strong in the Force, it doesn't seem possible their father is such a nobody," Luke remarked, staring down at the sleeping infants.
This statement annoyed Leia, but she kept her expression neutral, since she didn't want Luke to go off on another tangent about how she was treating Han.
"Yes." Luke continued to look down at the babies, and began to breath noticeable heavier as perspiration formed on his face. "Yes," he repeated in a whisper. "So strong. I can mold them. Make them mine. Make them powerful. Everyone in the galaxy will fear and respect them." Luke swung his gaze toward his sister, his eyes glazed over. "Do you think they will be old enough to train when they are two?"
"I...I don't know, Luke," Leia replied softly, cold with fear at Luke's words. Make them mine? she thought. Fear them?
Luke didn't seem to notice Leia's ashen face. "I can't stay too long," Luke declared, once again changing the subject. " I have a very good tip that Jade may be hiding on some dump of a planet called Duro. I am leaving in the morning to check it out. Father will be very pleased when I find that shrew."
"That's fine, Luke. I understand you have to go." Leia felt a profound sense of relief that Luke was quickly leaving Hapes. "I hope you find her." Maybe if he located Jade and executed her, he would return to normal.
Mara Jade was not on Duro. She was nowhere near Duro. Jade, in fact, was hiding on a small planet in the Hapes Cluster, waiting for her opportunity to strike.
Two days later, a Force-warning woke Leia up in the middle of the night. She immediately reached out with her Force-senses to check on her children. The babies and Isabella were all sleeping soundly, and she breathed a sigh of relief. Leia sat up and stayed very still, just listening. All she could hear was Han softly snoring beside her. Careful not to disturb him, she got up and went into the refresher and drank some water, unable to shake the warning.
Leia left the 'fresher, and climbed back into bed. Han stirred as he woke. "Leia? Are you feeling alright?"
"Yes, Han. I just got a drink. Go back to sleep."
"Mmmm," he mumbled into his pillow.
Leia reached over and softly touched his hair A shiver coursed through her, and suddenly, her feeling of dread became a fear for Han as Luke's face flashed through her mind. I can't lose him. I need him. She forced herself not to think about love.
Lord Skywalker had spent ten days on this backwater planet, trying to track down his father's would-be assassin. Every lead had turned up nothing, and soon Lord Skywalker was coiled like a over-wound spring, ready to snap. He stood in the lobby of a run down hotel, looking at the officer whose advice had brought them to Duro to begin with.
"General Rayol," Luke began calmly. "Who, exactly, passed this wonderful tip on to you?"
The General knew he was in serious trouble. "My Lord, my wife's cousin knows the mayor of..." Rayol got no further in his convoluted explanation. Luke lifted him into the air with his black-gloved hand, crushing the man's windpipe. The General dropped, lifeless on the floor.
Luke stared down at the body, feeling a sense of satisfaction. He turned to the squadron of stormtroopers who were awaiting his command. "Burn this hole to the ground," Lord Skywalker ordered, and turned and walked out of the lobby.
Mara Jade sat in a chair looking out the window in her hotel. The hotel she was currently staying in was a family-run business, clean and comfortable. But cleanliness was not the reason Mara had chosen this hotel. Her eyes were focused on the tall, elegant spires of the Palace, an easy ten minute walk from her room.
Queen Leia was hard at work in her office when the buzzer rang. "Yes?" Leia asked her assistant.
"My Lady, there is an incoming holo-message from the New Republic. Do you wish to take it?"
The New Republic? Leia thought in surprise. "Of course I'll take it. Send it through immediately." Leia could not have been more stunned to see the image of President Mon Mothma shimmered and appear before her. She quickly masked her rage with a polite smile.
"Queen Leia. It has been a long time since we've spoken," Mon Mothma began.
"Yes, it has," Leia agreed coldly. "I must say, I am certainly surprised to be hearing from you after all this time."
"I hear congratulations are in order. You must be very proud of being the mother to three beautiful children," President Mothma said. "I take it your, um, well... Captain Solo is doing well?"
"Yes, I am proud of my children, and yes, Han is well," Leia responded with forced politeness. "I'll be sure to tell him you inquired about his welfare. I'm sure he'll be ... surprised." She had been a politician far too long to think that Mon Mothma was sending her an expensive holo transmission just to offer congratulations to someone she considered an enemy and a traitor, or ask about Han, someone she'd always looked down on.
"You are probably wondering why I am contacting you," Mothma said, as if she had read Leia's mind.
"It had crossed my mind."
"The New Republic Senate has decided they would like me to set up a series of high level talks with the Hapan-Imperial Consortium," the New Republic President got right to the point. "Our people are tired of living in fear of waiting for the next war to begin. We would like to end this stand-off. Our two governments may never be in complete agreement, but we would like to, at the very least, no longer be waiting for someone to fire the next hostile volley."
Leia took a moment to absorb this information - it had caught her completely off-guard. "I would like very much to meet with you, President Mothma. It will take a while to resolve security issues, and I will have to discuss this with Lord Vader, as well," Leia replied carefully.
The older woman's face visibly cringed at the mention of the Sith Lord, but she quickly covered her disdain. "If it is alright with you, Queen, I would like to have my Advisors set up the first series of meetings with you at the Hapan Palace," Mon Mothma requested. "I doubt the New Republic High Council will agree to the meeting taking place on Bastion, and I doubt even less they'd want Lord Vader on Coruscant."
"Yes, that will be fine. I will make Lord Vader aware of the situation," Leia answered.
"Thank you, Queen Leia. I hope this will turn out to be beneficial to all," President Mothma finished. Mon Mothma's image faded away.
Leia worried how her brother and father were going to take this news, and if perhaps Mothma might be setting them up for an attack.
Lord Skywalker's Star Destroyer was orbiting Duro, waiting for their leader to decide where to head next. Luke was sitting in his private chambers, meditating. Luke's eyes snapped open. Suddenly he knew exactly where Jade was. Luke quickly stood and hurried to his comlink. "Admiral, set course for the Hapan capitol, and leave immediately!" Luke practically shouted his command.
"Yes, My Lord," the Admiral answered immediately.
Two minutes later, the Star Destroyer turned and made the jump to hyperspace.
After a bit of a rocky start, Han and his personal trainer Jonri had become friends. Han liked the man's dedication to his job, and easy laugh. He also liked the fact that Jonri never mentioned Han's inauspicious position as the Queen's concubine.
Han was busy doing push-ups while Jonri stood in back of him, counting, "129...130...131." Jonri stopped counting.
Han kept doing his push-ups, annoyed that the trainer lost track. "Jonri? You're cheating. Keep counting." Suddenly, Jonri's body flew through the air past Han as if he were a lightweight doll, crashing with a sickening, bone crunching thud against the far wall. A smear of bright red blood followed the body to the floor.
Immediately, Han's survival instinct kicked in. He quickly rolled away from where his trainer had just been standing, and got to his feet in a defensive posture. Standing before him was a beautiful, red haired woman, her arms folded across her chest, smiling. "Jade," he guessed.
"Hello, Solo. The two slave lovers of the Skywalkers' finally meet."
The call from President Mothma had completely occupied Leia's thoughts the remainder of the morning. She had continued to work in her office when loud alarms began to sound throughout the Palace. Startled, Leia jumped up and ran out of her office, then into the lobby. "What's happening?" Leia questioned, trying to keep the panic out of her voice.
"We have an intruder alert, My Queen," her assistant answered, while trying to listen to a comlink at the same time. "Apparently, someone has entered the Palace several hours ago."
"Several hours! Where were the guards? Why has it taken this long to be noticed?" Leia demanded. Whoever was responsible for this lapse would pay a high price.
"No one knows. The posted guards were just found dead. No one remembers seeing anything unusual." The assistant paused and listened intently to the comlink for a few seconds more. "Security vid have been disabled."
"My children!" Leia exclaimed, turning to head down the hallway.
"Let me check the nursery." Leia's assistant changed frequencies, and quickly questioned the nannies. "The children are fine," he reassured his Queen. "Besides, the guards seemed to indicate the intruder was in the gymnasium."
The gymnasium. Leia felt her stomach drop. That's where Han is! Leia reached out with her Force, and was slammed by agony radiating from Han senses.
Leia ran all the way to the gymnasium. Guards were frantically trying to open the sliding steel door when she arrived. "Why can't you get in?" Leia gasped, winded from her long run.
"It's jammed, your Majesty. Nothing we are doing seems to be budging it." the guard said worriedly.
Leia shut her eyes and reached out with the Force, to try and nudge the door open. Whatever was keeping it shut, held firm. Leia's comlink buzzed. "Yes?" she snapped, not wanting to be interrupted.
"Hello to you, too, Queen Leia. My name is Mara Jade... I'm sure your brother told you all about me. I am the one inside the gymnasium," a mockingly sweet voiced stated. "If you ever want to see your charming concubine alive again, I suggest you tell your guards to back off. Once I can sense they are no longer at the door, I will open it, but only as a favor for you."
Mara Jade, Leia thought with a sinking feeling. Luke, where are you when I need you? Leia turned and ordered her guards to leave.
"My Lady," a guard argued. "That is a trained assassin in there. You can't go in there!"
"I can, and I will," Leia shot back. "Now leave!"
The guards reluctantly withdrew. As soon as they were gone from the hall, the door slid open.
Leia grasped the handle of her lightsaber, and stepped into the large room. The door slid shut and locked behind her. A few feet away, crumpled in a heap and probably dead, was Jonri, Han's fitness trainer.
But the sight that shocked Leia most was Han. He was across the room, hanging by his wrists from a climbing rope. His head was slumped forward, and blood was dripping from his face. Leia stepped closer, and saw he had been severely beaten, his face covered with bright red bruises that had not even had time to darken. But he was breathing, and the assassin had not used her lightsaber on him, for which Leia felt a rush of gratitude.
"Han?" Leia tried to get a response. When she received no reply, she moved cautiously toward him, then jumped back as a beautiful woman stepped out from behind Han's hanging body. Leia immediately understood why Luke had been so taken with her - she was stunning, even though her green eyes seemed wild, unfocused.
"Why have you done this to Han?" Leia demanded. "If you have a vendetta, it's against me, not him."
"If I am not mistaken, Queen, this vermin was on Endor when the Emperor died," Jade's voice was like ice. "That means he has to pay the price, as well. All the Skywalkers will die, but since you have so nicely accepted my invitation, I will start by killing you."
Jade lit up her purple saber, and started toward Leia. Quickly, Leia turned on her coral colored lightsaber, striking a defensive pose. Jade moved faster than Leia thought possible, and drew her blade down and across the front of Leia's legs. Leia only had a second to jump back and knocked down a stack of dumb-bell weights in the process. What could have been a crippling blow, only grazed the front of Leia's right thigh. Still, she gasped in pain at the burn.
"I can't understand this, Jade." Leia backed up and tried to give herself time to think. "You were in love with Luke...what happened?"
Jade's eyes grew hard and angry. "You are naive, Queen. I hate Luke with an intensity you can never begin to understand. Before I kill you, I want to know something, Queen Leia."
"What is that, Jade?"
"Did you enjoy the marriage your brother and father arranged for you?" Mara smirked.
"You don't know what you are talking about," Leia shot back. "Luke and Lord Vader had nothing to do with my marriage to Prince Isolder!"
"Really? You had no idea that Vader and Skywalker contacted that fat slob Horm to send you to the Hapes Cluster? That is very amusing."
Leia was taken aback. "Even if that is true, he still could not have known the Prince would want to marry me."
"The Queen Mother was the one behind your marriage to her son," Mara said, as she laughed at Leia.
"You are lying, Jade. I know that Isolder didn't marry me because he loved me. He told me himself it was his idea, to spite his mother."
"Ta'a Chume was very, very good at manipulating her son, Queen." Mara informed her. "Did you know that if Isolder did not produce an heir by the time he was 29 years old, he would lose his crown? His cousin's child would then be next in line to the throne, and Ta'a Chume would lose her power. When your daughter was born, the dear Prince was 28 years old."
"This still doesn't make sense. Why wouldn't Ta'a Chume just find a suitable Hapan woman to marry Isolder?" Leia questioned, truly puzzled by Jade's story.
"If a Hapan woman finds her husband less than ideal, she has the right to divorce. Since Isolder did not even like women, Ta'a Chume could not take that chance. She had to find someone who could not divorce her dear son. You were the perfect fit." Mara was highly amused at Leia's expression. "Vader knew all this," Mara continued. "He had many informants located throughout the galaxy. Skywalker and Vader wanted to turn you to the Dark Side, and they knew that trapping you in a loveless marriage would be their best bet. I would hazard to guess you do not even know that I was the one who killed your friend, Winter. Under your brother's direct orders."
"Search your feelings," Mara mocked. "You know I speak the truth"
Leia's eyes filled with tears and she blinked them back. Leia knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, that if she failed to defeat this woman not only would Han die, so would her children. She moved forward, striking Jade's saber, but the assassin was well trained, and parried Leia's blows, driving her back and forcing her to take cover behind a weight lifting machine.
Mara Jade circled around the weight machine, never taking her narrowed eyes off the Queen. "Too bad you didn't bring Solo with you when you came to Hapes, Queen Leia. Maybe he could have been Isolder's concubine, as well as yours," she taunted. "Then you and your husband would have something in common."
Trying not to let Mara upset her, Leia attacked again, slicing a piece of the equipment in two, sending it crashing toward the redhead. Jade was too fast, blocking the metal post, sending it sailing into the chest of Jonri. If he hadn't been dead, he most definitely was now. "I killed him, you know... Isolder, your husband," she taunted, grinning. "First I took my time torturing him, driving him insane. I even castrated him. You should have heard him begging, Queen Leia. Maybe I'll castrate Solo, too, after I kill you."
A loud bang reverberated through the room as the guards attempted to break down the door, and for a brief moment, Mara's eyes flicked toward the door. Leia knew this might be her only opportunity.
Using speed she didn't know she possessed, Leia leaped forward and slashed her blade in a diagonal cut, down and across Jade's torso. Jade screamed in pain and staggered backwards, putting distance between herself and Leia. A moment later, the door burst open and Darth Vader rushed in, his red blade already on and humming. Launching himself at the assassin, he drove his blade through her chest, then swiftly pulled it out. "You are not the only one that knows how to shield their presence, Jade," Vader hissed out.
Mara looked down at the gaping hole, and knew her wound was fatal. With rush of vengeance and her last remaining ounce of strength being fueled by the Dark Side, Jade threw her saber toward the helpless Corellian.
Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion to Leia. Her eyes widened with fear, and without conscience thought, Leia reached out with the Force and picked up a ten pound weight disk, then hurled it with her entire Force strength toward the hilt of Jade's lightsaber. The disk struck the lightsaber at the last possible moment, sending it spiraling away from the unconscious man. A moment later, Mara Jade dropped to the floor, dead.
Slowly, Leia turned to face her father. "She told me what you and Luke did... what you planned."
"Do you believe her? After everything she just did?" Vader asked, irritated. "She was insane. She was nearly successful in her plans to kill all of us. You are lucky the Force gave me adequate warning, and I was able to arrive in time."
"In case you didn't notice, I was winning," Leia remarked dryly.
"I noticed. I am proud of your abilities, even if you failed to use the Dark Side of the Force to aid in your battle. You would not have been injured if that were that case."
Unable to answer her father, the Queen turned to the medics. "Take Han to the infirmary, and treat his injuries. If he dies, so do you."
Leia held Han in her arms while resting on a hospital bed after they both received treatment, grateful they were both alive. Leia knew she loved Han, even if it was against the rules of the Dark Side. Luke would be furious with her, and her feelings would endanger Han's life. She couldn't hide her feelings much longer. It was hard hiding them from just Luke, and now that Vader was here, it would be a matter of time before one of them caught her real emotions. When she considered it further, she realized her children were also in danger because she loved them, as well. And if Luke ever did have his own children, would he consider the twins a threat to their power or rulership of the galaxy? It was very likely. It was likely he would have no problems killing his own nieces and nephew, if he thought it served his purposes.
"Han... Luke is coming. Once he knows how I feel about you, he'll kill you, and maybe even our children. I know he will; the Force is warning me about this."
"Then we'll leave here. Take the children and run away. We'll go somewhere Luke can never find us," Han promised.
"I can't just leave the Hapan people to Luke. He'll punish them if I run away."
"Then what can we do, Leia? If I leave, he'll try to go after Chewie and his family."
"I know. And I know exactly what we have to do," Leia said softly. "I need to stay here, protect the Hapans. I'll tell Luke I set you free of your contract with me. He won't have any reason to go after Chewie, and I can send word to Kashyyyk to warn Chewie, too."
"What? Leia, you can't be serious! " Han was incredulous at Leia's plan.
"You need to take the children away when you go. Raise our children, and keep the most precious things I have safe for me. Will you do that for me, Han? Please? I know you will be a good father. You're the best person I know."
"I'm not sure about this plan, darling. I don't want to leave you." Han was scared for Leia, scared for Chewie, and scared for his children. "How will you maintain your rule without Isabella here as your heir? And don't forget Vader is here, and he's plenty dangerous, too."
"I can shield us for a short time from Vader. Enough to let you and the children escape. As far as the Hapans are concerned, I can only try to be a fair ruler. I'll explain to them that when things become safe, Isabella will return to Hapes. One day she will rule over her people."
Leia looked up into Han's face, her eyes shining with unshed tears. "You won't be able to take Chewie with you wherever you go. You'll need to be as anonymous as possible, and that won't be possible with a Wookiee around. I'll get you a new, fast ship. I have access to a fortune in Hapan gems. You'll never need to worry about money again. And I will give Chewie a case full of gems, too, if he will accept them."
Han looked into his lover's eyes. He knew this was the way it was going to happen. He reached over and kissed her. When he broke away, he said "I'll try to be the best father in the entire galaxy. They will grow up loved."
And Leia knew this was the truth.
The next morning.
Han walked up the ramp of the new ship in the pre-dawn hours carrying a sleeping Isabella, while Leia pushed the twins in a pram, using the Force to shield them from her father. The holds of the ship held millions of credits worth of jewels. She watched as Han put Isabella in the acceleration chair designed for toddlers, then fastened the take-off straps. Leia took each of her infants out of the pram, kissed them and placed them in cribs especially designed for space travel. She turned to Han, who was wearing his regular black slacks and white shirt and spacer's vest. "You remember everything I showed you?" Leia asked, trembling with fear that they would be caught.
Han laughed. "You think I can't remember how to change diapers and warm up baby formula, Leia? Give me a break."
Leia gave a small smile and said, "I'm sorry you can't wear your bloodstripes anymore." Like a certain large Wookiee, the stripes were something too noticeable and recognizable.
"I understand the reason, Leia. It's okay, really."
Leia reached into her pocket, and took out the two red ribbons. She started to hand them to Han, but he stopped her. "You keep them. Maybe someday I'll be able to come back and get them."
Leia threw her arms around Han. They held each other for long minutes, neither one wanting to break this last embrace.
Finally Leia backed up. "I love you," she said. Before Han could answer, she turned and fled the ship, only pausing to lower the ramp as she left.
Han walked into the cockpit, and started the engines. When he looked up, he saw Leia standing on the edge of the landing strip. She lifted her hand and waved. Han smiled, waving back. "I know," he whispered. The ship rose gracefully and turned.
Leia stood, clasping the red ribbons and watched the blue-white afterburners of the ship as it lifted into the purple morning sky, until it was no longer visible. Then she turned and headed back to the Palace, to face Darth Vader's wrath.