Hapes, two days later.
Leia was on edge after her meeting with Vader had gone badly. The Sith had accused her of betraying the Empire by allowing Solo to leave and take the children - his grandchildren, the Empire's future, with him. After the tense scene, he had vowed to make Solo pay for her mistake, then stalked away, leaving her alone. At least he hadn't Force-choked her, so she counted that as a small victory.
Now her brother's shuttle had landed twenty minutes ago, and he would be inside her apartment within minutes. The upcoming confrontation frightened her more that she cared to admit, even more than facing Darth Vader.
The buzzer rang, and Leia jumped up off the sofa. She reached down and hit the release switch on the door. Luke walked with fast strides into her living room. "Where is she?" Luke demanded.
"You mean Mara?" Leia asked cautiously.
"Of course I mean Jade! Who do you think I mean?" Luke snapped.
"I'm sorry Luke. She attacked me. I... I had to defend myself," Leia responded. "Father had to kill her."
"Father is here? Now?" He reached out with his senses, suddenly aware that was true. It annoyed him that he'd been so preoccupied with Jade, he'd missed his father's Force-presence completely.
"Yes," Leia answered uselessly. "I'm sorry she's dead."
"Why should you be sorry?" Luke ground out. "She deserved to die. I just wish I could have been the one to kill her. I'm very impressed with you, sister. If you held your own against that assassin, you are good. Very good."
Leia gave a small smile. "Thank you." Then came the question Leia feared.
"Where are my nieces and nephew? I want to see them."
"Luke," Leia began and stopped, not knowing how to continue.
"Where are they Leia?" Luke shouted. "Mara didn't..."
"No!" Leia interrupted quickly. "They're fine. They're safe."
"Then what's the problem. Where are they?"
"They are no longer on Hapes, Luke," came Vader's hissing voice from the doorway. "Your sister found it necessary to send them away with her slave."
"What?" Luke sputtered out, incredulous. "Why in the hells would you do that?"
"I can't let you destroy them, like you tried to destroy me. I love you Luke, but I'm afraid."
"Afraid? Of me?"
Luke said nothing for a long time. He simply stared at Leia and watched the fear play across her face. "Where are they, sister? You WILL answer me!"
"I don't know Luke." Leia tried to keep her voice from breaking. "All Han promised me was that he would keep them safe."
"WHAT?" Luke screamed, his face growing red. "What's the matter with you? Solo is a fool. He will sell the children on the black market to the highest bidder, or lose them in a game of sabacc!"
"Han is not an idiot." Leia said as calmly as she could. "He's the father of the twins. He will never sell them. You should know better than to think that."
Leia was afraid Luke would try to kill her, and she knew she would not be able to defend herself. At this point, she doubted Vader would step in and help her, like he'd done with Jade. And Leia wasn't certain she'd be able to even try to defend herself against her own twin. But Luke didn't reach for his lightsaber. "Tell me Leia, is being alone again, without your children, without a lover, worth it? You had everything you wanted. Riches. Power. Everything. You can't tell me for one minute you didn't enjoy controlling Solo, and having him obey your every whim. Letting all your subjects see him sitting at your feet, wearing those fancy clothes. Knowing they walked out of your throne room talking about your concubine," Luke taunted with a feral grin. "You loved keeping that free spirit of his under your thumb, knowing that his very life was in your hands. It made you feel good. Admit it!"
"Yes, Luke, it felt good," Leia admitted, looking down at the floor. "But it also made me ashamed of how I treated him."
"Shame," Luke spat in disgust. "Shame, caring, love. These are weak emotions. And weak emotions make weak rulers. Let me tell you something, sister. Now that Jade is dead, all those bounty hunters I had looking for her have a new job. I will find that slave of yours and when I do, he will remember fondly the time he spent in carbonite."
"You can't take this out on Han," Leia looked desperately at her brother, then her father. "He left with the children at my request!"
"Then you should have considered the consequences more thoroughly, daughter," Vader stated coldly. Both men turned walked out of the room.
Leia watched him leave, feeling ill.
Luke walked beside his father, still steaming about Leia's betrayal. "She isn't a Dark Sider," he finally commented, his tone one of disappointment.
"She is always standing on the precipice, looking at both sides. You struck a chord when you told her she'd miss having Solo as her lover, and her slave. She knows this to be true. She wants him as her slave, and at the same time, wants him to want to be her slave."
"I should not have allowed her to take Solo as her slave. He made her weak," Luke said.
"Perhaps," Vader conceded. "Or, perhaps as time passes, and she grows to miss both her children and the physical companionship of her concubine, this will help push her to the Dark Side once and for all. It was my weakness for Padme, your mother, that pushed me over the edge. Leia's longing for Solo will push her, as well."
Luke smiled. "We will find Solo and the children."
"Yes. It is only a matter of time."
"Then I will punish Solo for leaving."
"And by watching Solo's punishment, Leia will finally join us," Vader agreed. "But first we have to take care of President Mothma, and the New Republic."
Luke looked up at Vader, startled. "Mothma?"
"Leia has informed me she is on her way to discuss a peace treaty with the Empire. The President will be in for a huge surprise when she arrives."
"I love surprises."
Four days, Han thought in despair. How could it only be four days? All three children were crying at the top of their lungs. After four days in space, Han was exhausted beyond words. Every waking minute had been spent feeding, bathing, and mostly changing diapers. He felt as if he were at the end of his rope. I never thought it would be this hard.
Han finished changing what felt like his one millionth diaper, and propped Isabella into her high chair. He set a chair in front of Isabella and arranged the bassinets on either side of his chair. Han retrieved the food from the heater unit, and only at the last moment remembered to test it so it would not be too hot. Tiredly, he sat down and placed a small plate of baby food in front of Isabella. She stopped crying and smiled at him. Even this tired, her smile made him melt. Isabella picked up her tiny spoon and began to shovel the mush into her mouth. Han then picked up Jacen and put the bottle in his mouth. At least now only Jaina was crying. Jacen sucked at the bottle contentedly, and even Jaina awaiting her turn, got quieter. Han smiled and shut his eyes. Peace. Suddenly a large green blob of baby food hit him directly in the face. Slowly he opened his eyes. Isabella giggled.
Luke sat crossed-legged on the floor of his apartment in the Hapan Palace. His eyes were tightly shut as he tried to meditate. It wasn't easy, since his thoughts kept returning to the conversation with his sister. How could she do that? He kept repeating the question in his mind. I will turn her back. I will find that worthless Corellian. The thought of the various tortures he had in mind for Solo made him smile. You will scream until you have no voice left, Solo. Still, he knew he couldn't actually kill Solo without turning Leia against him. It would be a delicate tightrope to walk. If he played his cards correctly, he would be able to punish Solo, and somehow persuade his sister into participating in the punishment. That would be ideal.
Luke had turned off the comlink to his apartment after Leia had tried, repeatedly, to contact him. He didn't want to be disturbed. Therefore, he was annoyed when the door buzzer sounded. He knew instantly it was his sister. Luke tried to ignore the buzzing, but Leia wouldn't give up. With a sigh, he rose and answered the door. "What do you want now, Queen Leia?" Luke asked, he voice dripping with sarcasm.
"We can't leave things like this Luke. We need to talk this out. Please?" Leia pleaded.
"Before you returned to Hapes, President Mothma contacted me." Leia informed Luke. She waited for the fireworks. "Mon Mothma wants to end the stand-off. She wants a peace treaty."
"So Father told me. Are you planning on signing a peace treaty with this shrew?" Luke asked calmly. "She will only end up stabbing you in the back."
"Like you did, Luke?" Leia said softly.
"What are you talking about? It seems to me that you are the one busy stabbing me, sister!"
"Luke, I know."
"You know what?" Luke was feeling his blood pressure rise.
"Jade told me everything." Leia answered him. "She told me about your arrangement with Threkin Horm. She told me about your orders to kill Winter." Leia knew she was pushing her luck. But this needed to be said, no matter the cost.
"Jade was a liar. Why would you believe a single word she said? Mothma is the one that insisted you marry Isolder. You seem to be conveniently forgetting this fact."
"I haven't forgotten anything, but I have forgiven you, Luke." Leia stated simply.
"Forgiveness is just another sign of weakness, sister dear." Luke snapped at her.
Leia shook her head sadly. There would be no further arguments from her today. She left Luke's apartment and returned to her office with a heavy heart.
One week later.
After much internal debate, Han figured out where his first stop would be. Estmaran, a small planet on the very edge of known space. This planet was not aligned with either the Empire or the New Republic. It had never been aligned with any government, other than its own. Estmaran was, on the surface, a very wealthy resort community with a tropical environment. But that was only on the surface. Although Han had never been there, he had heard enough about Estmaran's 'government'. This planet was ruled by a Syndicate, whose main income was the buying and selling of stolen art and jewelry. The Syndicate was not above slave trading, either. Almost anything illegal you wanted to buy or sell, you could find on Estmaran.
Han landed his spacecraft. He had dubbed his new ship the Hawk, because the name reminded him of the Millennium Falcon. Han felt a pang every time he thought of Chewie and the Falcon, hoping that his friend was safe from the Sith Lords.
He unlocked the holds, and removed the 20,000 worth of credits, split between Imperial and New Republic currency, that Leia had given him. He also took a small handful of gems from one of the twenty large suitcase-type containers. He put on his best clothes, and made sure the children were fed and clean. Han placed the twins in their tram and put Isabella in a backpack type of holder, and fastened her to his chest. Taking a deep breath, Han emerged out of his ship, trying his best to act like a single father out on holiday.
Exiting the hanger, he was immediately swallowed by a rush of tourists, both alien and human. Hundreds of families, couples, and single beings swarmed the terminal. No one took notice of him. Han pushed his way through the crowds, and made his way to the street. It took him nearly an hour before he was able to flag down a hover-taxi. By this time, Han was hot and annoyed. "Take me to a hotel," Han ordered the droid as politely as he deemed a droid warranted.
"Which hotel, sir? There are hundreds," the mechanical voice asked.
"An expensive one, okay? I don't care. Just as long as I get a room."
The droid sat and waited.
"What the heck are you waiting for?" Han snapped.
"I am afraid my programming forbids me to make those kinds of decisions, sir."
"Alright," Han growled. "Just start driving then. When I see a hotel I like, I'll tell you to stop. Is that acceptable?"
"Yes, sir." The droid drove.
It was another two hours before Han found a hotel that fit his requirements, and he was checked in. By that time the children had become hungry and restless. As he called for room service over the din of three crying kids, Han sincerely hoped these hotel walls were really soundproof.
Vader read the autopsy report of Mara Jade, truly stunned at the medic's findings. For a brief moment, he debated with himself whether he should inform his son. Then he crumpled the flimsy into a small wad, and threw it into the recycler.
Leia watched with sadness as her brother's shuttle lifted into the sky. After yesterday's argument, he had refused to speak to her again. Vader had told her he was sending Luke on an assignment, refusing to answer any further questions. The buzzer on her desk sounded, and Leia answered. "Yes?"
"My Lady, your assistants have requested a meeting with you today regarding the summit arrangements with President Mothma," Leia's secretary informed her.
"Any time later this morning would be fine," Leia replied.
"Thank you, My Queen. Also.." Her aide hesitated.
"Go on," Leia prodded.
"We have been getting a lot of attention from the holo-shrills. They are wondering where Isabella is, and they are stirring up the citizens by hinting your father..." the secretary trailed off.
"My father did what?"
Leia sighed, but understood their concerns. "All right. I will have to set up a media conference. Thank you, Mr. Moridian."
Leia turned her attention back to Luke's shuttle that was now only a speck in the sky. Reaching out with the Force, Leia sent, Luke, I love you. I will see you soon. Leia couldn't tell if her Force message was received or not.
Han got up early the next morning, and fed and bathed his children. He awkwardly pushed the pram into the lift while clutching Isabella to his chest. A rich, elderly couple stared at him for a moment, then the lady gave him a sympathetic smile and asked him where the mother was, and why he was tending three children all alone. The nosy questions annoyed Han, and he muttered a Corellian curse under his breath, just loud enough for her to hear. After that, the woman was no longer sympathetic, turning a bright shade of red and informing her husband that Han was a rude oaf. It took all of Han's willpower not to give her an obscene hand gesture as a way of saying 'goodbye'.
Once on the main floor, Han rolled the pram into a large door emblazoned with gold lettering 'Child Care Center'. A perky, young human female smiled brightly at him. "Can I help you, sir?"
Obviously, Han thought sourly, his mood already black. Fighting down the urge to be rude, he said instead, "Yes, I need to do some business in your lovely town, and I'm afraid I'll need someone to watch my children for the day."
"Of course, sir! Just fill out these simple forms. The cost is fifty credits per child per hour. We do require a minimum prepayment of three hours. Will that be a problem?" she asked, her eyes questioning his ability to pay the amount.
Han groaned inwardly. This hotel was already costing 500 credits per night. "No, no problem. Which do you prefer, Imperial or New Republic credits?"
"We gladly accept either kind, sir."
Han counted out 450 New Republic credit chips, and watched as a nanny-droid rolled into the room. Han eyed the droid suspiciously. "Is that all that's takin' care of the children here? Droids?"
"No, sir!" the perky female replied. "We have fifteen state-of-the-art nanny-droids, but they are overseen by six humans at all times. Your children are in good hands. We have never had a complaint."
"Would you like a tour of our facilities, sir?" the droid asked. "We have separate areas for older children, toddlers, and infants. I think you will find everything in order."
"No, I'm sure everything is fine here," Han quickly answered, not wanting to waste time with a tour given by a droid. He turned his attention back to the young girl. "It's just that this is the first time I'm leaving them and..." He trailed off with a worried sigh.
"Oh, I understand, sir!" The girl answered brightly. "Do you have any other questions? I will still need you to fill out these forms. They are really quite short."
Han took the forms, and filled out the few blanks, mostly health questions and the children's names, which he made up on the spot. Isabella became Belle, Jacen became Jak and Jaina became Anna. He hoped he would remember what he put on the forms when he returned for his kids. The girl seemed satisfied, and after reluctantly parting with the children, Han left the hotel.
The Corellian walked for several blocks, and stopped. It occurred to him that for the first time in over a year he was completely free. He could go to his ship, get inside, and fly away a rich man, leaving all these responsibilities behind him. Then the faces of his children filled his mind, and he continued on his mission.
The best place to begin a search, in Han's opinion, was a local bartender. They seemed always to be a source of endless insider information. Which was probably the result of too many drinks causing too many loose lips. Han decided a long time ago. So he started at the bottom - a small, dark, smoky bar. He sat on a stool fingering the chips in his pocket. Twenty thousand credits might seem like a lot of money, but he knew information was always costly. And the things he needed were going to cost him plenty.
A furry Bothan bartender approached. He didn't seem to think it was odd that someone would come into his establishment in the early morning hours. "What will you be drinking this fine morning, friend?" the Bothan asked amicably.
Han leaned forward, even though no one was within listening distance. "Information, if you have it, friend."
"Ah. Information. That would depend now, wouldn't it?" the Bothan grinned, and leaned forward, copying Han's posture.
Han smiled - he'd played this game many times in the past. No one needed to tell him the rules, because they never changed. He slipped a hundred credits toward the Bothan. "Is this what it depends on?" Han asked.
The Bothan put his finger on the credit chip and started to slide it toward himself, but Han quickly put his hand on top of the bartender's, stopping him. The Bothan looked up, annoyed. "Ask away, sir."
"I need to make some contacts." Han replied. "Someone who specializes in high quality "after-market" space ships, to start with. And someone who sells new identities."
"Is that all?" The bartender said mockingly. "How about a used Star Destroyer? Maybe filled with glitterstim?"
"No, Star Destroyers are too hard to dock," Han answered sarcastically. "But I also need to get in contact with someone who deals with precious gems...someone who can keep his mouth shut."
The Bothan appeared to consider Han's request. Then he stated, "All the businessmen on Estmaran keeps their mouths shut. That is a lot of information you want, my friend, and worth more than a measly hundred credits."
Han rolled his eyes. He released the Bothan's hand, and slipped another two hundred credits toward him. "Is that adequate?"
The Bothan smiled broadly at his customer. "I will be most happy to do business with you, friend!"
President Mon Mothma of the New Republic was preparing to leave for the Hapan Consortium. She was pleased that Queen Leia had agreed to this meeting. Mon Mothma had been one of the New Republic officials that had placed a great deal of pressure on Leia to marry Isolder, and she felt a bit guilty that things had not turned out as intended. Her political opponents were making a lot of noise about the fact Queen Leia was now an enemy, pointing out, correctly, if Mon Mothma hadn't pushed the Princess into a loveless marriage, none of this would have happened. But when do things go according to plan? Mothma asked herself. I'm sure Leia understands why I did that, and she seems to have ended up with Solo, anyway. If I get this treaty signed, all these accusations will fade away, and Fey'lya will have to find something else to stake his ambitions on. Her thoughts turned to the Queen's concubine, and she felt another small pang of guilt. It was very apparent that Han Solo was not on Hapes by choice. Still, that's not my fault, either, is it? Her musings were interrupted by a prim and proper voice.
"Mistress President, I have come to inform you that your cases are all packed, and ready," Threepio informed her.
Mon Mothma sighed. I think Leia knew exactly how to get her revenge before she left for Hapes. She turned toward the droid. "Thank you, Threepio. You have been a great help, as always."
"Why thank you Mistress President. I do my best to..." Threepio started to say.
"That will be all, Threepio."
Threepio turned and walked out the room, commenting as he left, "I can never understand why humans never let me finish a sentence."
En route to Bastion
Lord Skywalker stood very much like his father, hands clasped behind his back, staring out at the blur of stars. These problems with his sister had been much unexpected, but not insurmountable. Darth Vader's instructions were very clear, and Lord Skywalker was happy to carry out his commands. He turned to his First Officer. "Stop the ship and turn around. We are returning, very quietly, to Hapes." Luke ordered. "And contact Bastion. We will need a fleet of Star Destroyers to be joining us."
The Deck Officer saluted Lord Skywalker sharply, then turned and gave the order.
It took Han about three days to accomplish all his goals. He had several new forged identities - one for himself and another for each of the kids. He sold his ship, and purchased a brand new Corellian freighter, then transferred all his belongings to his new ship. He sold one case full of the gemstones, making himself a rich man in the process. And last, but certainly not least, Han purchased a state-of-the-art nanny droid, N7V9. Owning a droid was the last thing in this galaxy Han ever thought he would do, but after having spent eleven days traveling from Hapes to Estmaran, Han knew he needed help with the children. Besides, Han reasoned with himself, the bounty hunters Skywalker will send after me will not be expecting Han Solo to own a droid.
Han was now sitting in his expensive hotel room with his feet propped up on the coffee table. Tomorrow morning he would be leaving Estmaran, and he needed to decide his next stop. It would be important only to make short stays in very obscure places. No highly populated planets, no big cities. He did not want to stay in small towns, either, because people in small towns asked too many questions to strangers. Eventually, he would need to pick a place and settle down. But he would not be able to make that decision for a quite a while. He could only hope he would know the place when he saw it.
The cloaked Imperial Star Destroyers sat waiting, hiding a short distance from the Hapan Capital.
President Mon Mothma's Mon Calamari Star Cruiser, with about half a dozen escort ships, arrived exactly on time. Moments after coming out of hyperspace, Lord Skywalker's fleet of Destroyers de-cloaked. Immediately, alarms rang throughout the New Republic ships. "It's a trap!" yelled Admiral Ackbar. "Defense maneuvers! All hands to battle stations! Return fire!"
President Mothma stared in horror as the huge number of Star Destroyer's bore down on them, already firing. "I can't believe the Queen did this," she said in shock. "I was such a fool to trust her. Now my Presidency will be ruined."
Wave after wave of TIE Fighters swarmed from the bellies' of the Star Destroyers. The escort ships released a squadron of X-Wings, but they were hopelessly outnumbered. Explosions rocked the President's ship, and within minutes, three of the escort vessels were destroyed.
Queen Leia had already begun walking to the shuttle landing area inside the Palace courtyards, when a Hapan General rushed up to her. "Your Majesty! The New Republic convoy is under attack!"
Leia felt her skin turn to ice. "Attack? By whom?"
"An entire fleet of Star Destroyers just de-cloaked. Three of the escort ships have already been destroyed, and the others are already damaged," the frantic General reported.
"Send up reinforcements at once to help the New Republic ships." Leia ordered.
"Belay that order."
Leia spun around to face Darth Vader. "What? You can't override my orders!"
"I just did."
"You're starting a war," Leia ground out.
"The Hapans have it wrong, Queen. The New Republic started attacking the Imperial ships, not the other way around," Vader explained tightly.
"But - "
"The Force was telling me this was a setup by Mothma," Vader interrupted her. "I had Luke waiting to provide escort and protection, but he never had a chance to explain this before he was fired upon." When Leia didn't respond, Vader continued, "If you do not believe your own family, perhaps you will believe your own eyes. Luke will provide a holo-recording of the attack."
"I believe you," Leia replied dully as Vader gave the order for Hapan ships to assist Lord Skywalker's fleet.
Lord Skywalker watched from his personal Destroyer, slightly back from the main action. An evil smile filled his face as two more New Republic escort vessels crackled with blue sparks and went dark. The TIE fighters quickly moved in for the kills, easily avoiding the two remaining X-Wings. Luke knew his former friend Wedge was one of the surviving fighters. It surprised him that he felt a brief pang of remorse, knowing both X-Wings were doomed, but he damped down the feeling. Antilles was the enemy; a fast death was the best he deserved.
"Sir!" Admiral Piett said. "Hapan reinforcements are leaving the planet surface. Orders?"
Luke turned toward his Admiral. "They are coming to our assistance. Block Mothma's ship from escaping. She must die."
"Yes, sir." Piett stated.
For a brief moment, Admiral Ackbar hoped the Hapan ships were coming to their aid, but when they started firing in his direction, he knew the odds of survival had just greatly diminished. Desperately, he tried to maneuver the Cruiser into a clearing, trying to locate a jump lane toward the safety of hyperspace. A large Destroyer blocked his attempts, and a Hapan ship came up from behind, letting loose with a steady volley of laser fire directed at his ship's power thrusters. The shields began to fail, and smoke filled the bridge. The mighty ship began to turn and make an uncontrolled spiral toward the planet's primary.
Luke watched as the Mon Calamari cruiser exploded, the flames quickly dying in the vacuum of space. This time, Father, we will win the war, Luke silently vowed.
Leia stood in the Space Traffic Control center, helplessly watching the next war begin. A signal sounded on the comm board, and her brother's face appeared. "Mothma's ship is destroyed. We have struck a hard blow against our enemies."
Standing behind her, Vader nodded in approval. "You have done well, my son. Clean up what the New Republic started."
Onboard his Star Destroyer, Lord Skywalker watched as the last X-Wing, the one he was certain was piloted by Wedge Antilles, exploded against one of the Destroyers.
"Sir," Admiral Piett informed him. "The last threat has been destroyed. We are victorious this glorious day."
"Good," Luke replied. "Have my shuttle crew ready."
Leia sat at her desk in her office, waiting for her brother, the only sound in the room the steady rasping of Vader's ventilator. She sat as still as a statue, her trembling hands folded in front of her. She knew another galactic war could not be avoided. The New Republic would hold her responsible for President Mothma's death. Leia felt responsible, even though it had been Vader that overrode her orders, and even though he'd offered 'proof' of Mothma's treachery. Leia suspected it wouldn't tell the whole story.
Luke swept into the office without ringing the buzzer. "We have much to discuss, sister," Luke stated without preamble.
Leia could think of nothing to say. She simply stared at the brother she no longer knew.
"From now on, Father and I are in charge," Luke began. "You will do exactly as we tell you."
"What if I resign?" Leia asked defiantly.
"You will remain the official leader of this foolish Hapan Consortium only because they will not accept a male ruler," Vader replied. "But let me make this perfectly clear, daughter - you are only a figurehead. I am in control. Do you understand?"
Unable to look at Vader, Leia stared at Luke. "What do I tell them about the New Republic? The Hapan people don't want a war!"
"Look out your window, sister dearest. I think they may hesitate to voice very much opposition," Luke said with a smirk.
Leia rose from her chair and went to the window. Hundreds of Imperial shuttles were landing in the city, as far as the eye could see. The shuttles that had already landed were spewing forth legions of white-clad stormtroopers. Leia turned to face her brother, Lord Skywalker, and her father, the Emperor Darth Vader.
"Perhaps you should have thought about the consequences to your actions before sending your children into hiding from your family. So, unless you wish to fight me with your saber, we have nothing more to discuss," Luke said. He was certain she would not challenge him, not with Vader backing him up.
Leia sat down, defeated. "You win."
"That is a wise decision."
Six months later.
Queen Leia sat in her opulent Hapan Palace. The six months, for all intents and purposes, she had been under house arrest. The Hapans did not know this; they only saw that Imperial Officers and stormtroopers filled the halls of the Palace. While war raged on in the galaxy, Queen Leia had become hated, both by the New Republic and the Hapan people. For Leia, there was only one bright spot during the past months - Lord Skywalker's bounty hunters had failed to turn up anything in their search for Han Solo.
Han Solo had spent much of the prior months jumping from system to system. He changed identities several times, and covered his trail better than he had ever done before in his life. He had grown a short beard, and had his hair lightened. Han was now the owner a tiny farm house and living with his six-month-old twins and almost two-year-old Isabella on Alzov V. Alzov V was a small agricultural world located well within the dubious safety of the New Republic regions. It had a small farming population made up of both humans and non-humans. Small to medium size towns dotted the surface of the temperature and moisture moderate planet, so it was a perfect planet for growing crops. It was also perfect for a family of four to blend in with the locals, while another bitter war raged on throughout the galaxy.
Han fully intended to blend in for as long as possible. He was tired of non-stop traveling with three small children. He had made certain he purchased enough property to be able to rent the land out to the local farmers, which would provide him with a modest income. He knew it was important not to appear to be wealthy, and the few wealthy people on Alzov V didn't flaunt their riches.
It had been a difficult time for Han in many ways. He missed having Chewie around, and the thrill of their adventures. He missed Leia - at least the 'old' Leia that had seemingly returned to her senses before sending him away. Han had seen holo-vids of her standing next to her brother, looking lonely and sad. The Corellian was one of the very few people in the galaxy that doubted the war was caused by the actions of Queen Leia. But the children filled a large part of the void inside Han's heart. He loved them, and considered Isabella every bit as much his daughter as Jaina. Raising three children under two years of age had been a major challenge. The purchase of N7V9 back on Estmaran had been a smart move. Han didn't believe he would have survived without Veenine's help.
"Veenine," Han called out. "I have to head into town for some supplies. Do you know of anything we need?"
The droid walked into the living room, handing Han a disk. "Yes, sir. I have already noted items we seem to have in short supply."
Han smiled and took the disk. Veenine was very efficient, had did very little to annoy him, unlike another droid he remembered. Although he might have never have wanted to own a droid, if he was stuck with one, Veenine was a good fit with his personality. Programmed to be "female", Veenine was always polite, firm but kind with the children, and best of all, never, ever, quoted odds to Han.
"I should be back in less than two hours," Han told the droid as he left the house.
Boba Fett sat in a small cafe in a boring farm town. He had been paid a fortune by his current employer. At first, when he'd heard who the bounty was on, Fett had almost turned down the job. But the payout had been astronomical, enough that he could retire, and the prey... Well this was one challenge he could not turn down, even if his employer had been adamant about the 'Alive and Unharmed' part of the deal.
Lord Skywalker was not pleased. Although the war was going in the Empire's favor, the bounty hunters he had hired were all utter failures. "How can they not know where that smuggler is hiding?" Skywalker growled at the hapless Imperial Major standing next to him. "It's been a half a year!"
The Imperial Officer didn't hold the crafty and elusive Solo in as low regard as Lord Skywalker, but he also did not wish to upset the Sith. It was never wise to upset a Sith. "Some of them claim they have turned up promising leads, My Lord."
"Leads!" Luke snorted in contempt. "If they don't come up with something soon, I'll make certain the hunters become the hunted!"
The Major quickly nodded his agreement. "I agree, My Lord. Failures of this magnitude cannot be tolerated."
Lord Skywalker stared directly at the Major for several long moments, then turned and left the room. The Major gave a deep sigh and swallowed hard before returning to his own duties.
Han left the store with several cartons of supplies. Arriving at his hovercar, he had just started placing the containers in the back of the craft when a blaster jammed him in the ribs. "Don't move a muscle, Solo," a familiar mechanical voice sounded in his ear.
Han froze. Fett! He felt as if his heart stopped. I've failed Leia. I've failed my children.
"If you are a smart man Solo, which I doubt, you will cooperate fully. I do not wish to harm your children, so be very careful what you do next," Fett advised.
"What do you want me to do, Fett?" Han hissed softly through his teeth.
"Get down on your knees, and place your hands on top of your head. Very slowly." Fett ordered.
Han began to slowly sink to his knees. At the very last moment, he swung out at the bounty hunter with his leg, attempting to throw him to the ground. Fett was ready and waiting for the move, and the last thing Han saw before blackness fell over him was the flash of blasterfire.
Veenine was beginning to wonder why her Master was taking so long. The trip into town was only fifteen minutes one way, and she knew Han was not one to linger too long once he was there. The children were safely playing in the living room, so Veenine decided to begin preparing lunch. She had just started to walk to the kitchen when a loud bang sounded on the front door. Turning to go see what had caused the noise, Veenine didn't have time to answer the door. A tall man dressed in gray and green armor burst into the room, and quickly shot a stun net over the startled droid, instantly deactivating her. The children looked up from their play at the stranger with innocent, wide eyes. Fett decided he would not need to stun the younglings, especially since that would annoy his employer.
Han woke up with a splitting headache. It took him several moments to remember what had happened, before his muddled brain kicked in. Fett! My kids! If that scum hurt them, I'll kill him!
The Corellian pulled himself up on his elbow, and took stock of his surroundings. He was in a very small cell, approximately eight feet by eight feet, and chained by his ankles to the wall at the far end of the small hard cot he was lying on. The chains were heavy, and only long enough to reach the toilet, which was the only other piece of 'furniture' in the room. On the opposite wall was a heavy steel door. The room was dimly lit and reeked of oil. Stacked at the head of the bed was bottled water and dry ration bars. I guess he doesn't plan on starving me, Han considered ruefully. The pilot could tell by the vibrations that he was in a ship and already in hyperspace. Han strained to hear anything else, but the room was fairly soundproof. Sighing, he knew he wouldn't be able to try to escape until he was released from his cell. Han lay back down on the uncomfortable cot, and racked his brain to come up with a plan. Mostly, however, he worried about his kids, and tried not to think about what Emperor Vader and Lord Skywalker had in store for him.
Fett was beginning to wonder if the reward was worth the hassle. The hunter had put a restraining bolt on the nanny droid and then reactivated her so she could take care of the kids, but the three children were making an unbelievable amount of noise and mess in his tidy ship. Fett tried yelling at the children, but all that accomplished was making them scream even louder. Solo must not be much on discipline,thought Fett in irritation. Why does this not surprise me?
Fett turned toward the nanny droid. "Why are you unable to control these ... whelps?
"They are children, sir," The Veenine replied. "They are upset, and behaving as well as can be expected, under the circumstances."
Fett wished he could blast the droid to pieces, but then he would have to deal with the brats himself. Boba Fett restrained his impulse and left the hold to go sit in his cockpit, the only place on his ship where he could find peace and quiet.
On the stormy, watery world of Kamino, a tall pale humanoid entered a long-forgotten room. The creature was surprised to see that the large room held only one cylinder shaped object, located directly in the middle of the floor. Walking up to the tube, he carefully swept the mist off the top. Suspended in the tube was a human female. The Kaminoan checked the date the human had been placed in stasis, and was very surprised to see the date showed twenty-six standard years ago.
Kaminoans operated on their own time-set. Decisions that a human would make in days or weeks, took them months, and sometimes years. They thought it was a much better idea to think things over thoroughly, and weigh any decision with great deliberation. The Kaminoan that made the strange discovery of the human female in suspension went back to his quarters to slowly ponder what to do about the matter.
Han Solo couldn't tell how long he had been kept in his cell, but he guessed it had been about three standard days. Fett's ship had left hyperspace a short while ago, and Han judged they had landed about twenty minutes prior, which probably meant this portion of his imprisonment was about to end. He felt tense and irritable, and knew he looked terrible and reeked from a lack of proper hygiene.
The door to his cell opened. Bright light flooded the tiny room, making Han squint painfully as his eyes adjusted to the light. Han was shocked speechless when four strange looking 'guards' with long ears and bulging eyes entered his cell. The Corellian had never seen beings like this in all his travels. They were tall, gangly, and appeared to be a cross between a swamp-progg from Dagobah and a hurze-grazer from Corellia. "Pleesa stand ups, and wesa will removes your binders," this strange creature politely requested.
Han slowly stood up. "What are you?"
Two of the creatures were already removing the binders and the third one spoke again. "Wesa be's Gungans. Welcomes to Naboo, Capteensa," the Gungan replied happily.
Leia sat across a conference table from Lord Skywalker. "I have some excellent news, sister," Luke said.
"Yes?" Leia asked, not at all certain news Luke considered excellent would qualify as 'excellent' to her.
"Coruscant has fallen, and Father is on his way to reclaim Imperial City," Luke said smugly. "We are very close to our goal of total victory over the New Republic."
"That is your goal, Luke, not mine," Leia answered. "Doesn't it bother you how hated we are, or that so many beings wish us dead? Is that what you really want, a legacy of war and oppression?"
Luke snorted. "I couldn't care less if people hate me. This war will soon be over, and if our subjects cooperate, we will allow limited freedoms. Perhaps then we will receive the love and admiration you seem to crave."
"I don't crave love and admiration, Luke. I only want fairness and justice," Leia replied shortly. "Is that asking so much?"
"Fairness and justice are very subjective, sister," Luke answered. "Besides, what do those things have to do with ruling from the Dark Side? This relapse of yours has gone on long enough."
"I must have been blind to ever believe what Vader was telling me," Leia replied.
"The Dark Side isn't blind," Luke returned angrily. "I will be going to Coruscant once Father reestablishes our control. We believe that the Skywalker Dynasty should rule from the proper Capitol World, don't you agree, Queen Leia?"
Leia sighed. "Does my opinion really matter?"
Luke grinned at his defeated sister. "I guess not."
Han was led out of Fett's ship surrounded by armed Gungans. The ship had landed near a large body of water, and he could see no settlements nearby. The bounty hunter stood a short distance away, with a much larger group of Gungans, busily having an animated discussion. At least it appeared to be animated on the Gungans part, since they waved their lanky arms around, swinging their long ears back and forth, and almost hitting Fett in his helmet. Han saw that his children were with this large group of Gungans, and Veenine was also standing there, a twin in each arm, with Isabella clinging to her leg. They appeared to be unharmed, and relief flooded his entire being. Only then did Han noticed his remaining gem-filled cases on the sitting on the ground near Fett. Suddenly, the Gungans lifted ten of the cases, and toted them back into the bounty hunter's ship. Fett turned and walked toward Han, stopping a short, but safe distance from him.
"I have received the remainder of my payment, Solo," Fett informed him.
"Payment?" Han spluttered indignantly. "That's my money! They paid you to catch me with my money!"
"Ironic, isn't it?" Fett replied, unconcerned. "You and your disruptive brats are now in the custody of these...interesting beings. Have fun." Fett didn't give Han a chance to reply. He walked swiftly back into his ship, and sealed the ramp the second the Gungans exited.
The apparent leader of this gangly group loped up to Han. "Wesa needs to hurrys," the Gungan instructed Han. "Musta nots let anybodys sees us'ins." The Gungan waved his lanky arm toward the body of water, and the large group herded Han and his brood toward the water.
Now what? Han could only think with a sense of rising trepidation.
Han and his children were put onboard a submersible craft, and taken deep down in the lake. Eventually, they came to a beautiful, underwater city. The Gungan guards refused to answer any of his questions, only telling him he would soon understand. Or as they put it, "Yousa unnerstanda soona." Han gave up trying, and simply watched as the craft docked at the edge of the domed city.
The Gungans helped Veenine and Han from the craft, carefully carrying the children into the domed city. Han could not help but gape at the vastness and beauty of this hidden 'world'. Everything was spotlessly clean, neat and orderly. So much so, the Han felt totally out of place, even if he'd have discounted the fact the he and his children were the only humans to be seen.
Eventually, the Gungans escorted Han and his children to a room with an elderly Gungan sitting on a throne. What's with kings and their need to sit on fancy chairs? Han wondered, bemused at the scene. The Gungans all bowed deeply before their leader, and seemed taken aback that Han just stood there, refusing to humble himself before their great leader.
The King Gungan didn't seem offended. "Welcomes to ouras beautious city, Capteens Solos," The Boss-King beamed.
"Um, ok," Han answered, frowning. "I don't think I had much of a choice coming here."
"Ahhh. Wesa truly sorres for da way wesa invites yousa," The Boss-King replied.
Invites? Han thought, trying to decide if it was time to get really angry, or laugh at the insanity of the situation. "May I ask why I was 'invited' here to begin with?"
"Of coursa! Wesa Gungans never forgets a debt," The Boss-King answered cheerfully, if very ambiguously.
Han felt his headache coming back. "Why do you think you owe me a debt?"
"Nots yousa, Capteen, da Queens!"
"Queen Leia?" Han asked, becoming even more puzzled.
"Nos, not Queens Leia. Queens Amidala!" The Gungan laughed.
Han was not amused. He felt as if he were playing the kids game of twenty questions, and it was getting old very fast. "And who, may I ask, is Queen Amidala?"
"Queens Amidala isa greata ladys. She helps us Gungans many, many cyclas agos. Wesa helps her grandchilds to safeness. Safeness is heres. In oursa greats city!" The Boss-King boasted. "Justa likes da Queens!"
"Grandchildren?" Han asked with an exasperated sigh.
"Of coursa! Queens Leia is daughter of our'n owns Queens Amidala!" The Boss-King proudly proclaimed, waving his hand behind the Corellian.
Slowly, Han turned around, coming face to face with a stunning woman with huge brown eyes and long dark hair only slightly streaked with strands of gray. "You're Leia's mother?" Han asked, stunned.
"Padmè Amidala-Skywalker," she added, extending her hand to shake his. "I'm truly sorry for having to hire Fett to bring you here, but I could see no other way to protect my grandchildren."
It was under these bizarre circumstances that Han and his children fell under the care of the Gungans and the wife of Darth Vader.
Eight months later.
During the preceding months, stormtroopers had cleared away any remaining opposition in Imperial City, and now the new Emperor ruled with his son by his side. Any dissidents either escaped the planet or went deep underground, living fearfully in the crime riddled lower regions.
It pleased Lord Skywalker that they were now in a more visible position of leadership. Bastion had felt like a hiding place to him. Darth Vader had appointed governors to rule each planet, and those governors were sending senators to represent them in the Imperial Cabinet. Things were going exactly as Luke had envisioned. It frustrated him to distraction why his sister refused to be happy in her role as Queen of the Hapan Consortium. If she would only finish embracing the Dark Side, Father and I could give her more leeway to rule as she sees fit. Why doesn't she understand this? Luke would wonder, annoyed. Why can't she see this is the way it's supposed to be?
Another thing that truly frustrated Luke was the search for Han Solo. His bounty hunters had turned up promising leads, and each and every time those leads dried up. Or worse, they would arrive on a planet only to find the smuggler had been there days earlier, and vanished like Ithorian mist. The past six months, the leads had disappeared entirely. Luke still believed it would only be a matter of time before Han Solo's luck gave out.
Several weeks back, Lord Skywalker had decided he would live in the Presidential Suite on Coruscant, while his Father arranged to move into Palpatine's old apartments. It amused him to think that a little over one year ago, it had been home to Mon Mothma. After Mothma's death, a Bothan by the name Fey'lya had assumed the Presidency. But the cowardly Fey'lya had fled when Coruscant fell to Imperial Forces.
Lord Skywalker entered his newly refurbished, spacious apartment, and admired the view of the tall skyscrapers from his vantage point high above the city. We've done it, Luke thought. This is the Skywalker Dynasty. We are the Chosen Ones, now and for all time. He couldn't understand why he was still not satisfied, and when he lay in bed at night, visions of the beautiful red-headed assassin filled his thoughts. He had other woman - plenty of them, but none were Force-sensitive, and none that he wanted to bear his off-spring and be by his side during State Dinners. He wanted someone he couldn't have, because she was dead.
Sighing, Luke walked into the freshly painted bedroom and opened a door, which lead into an enormous closet filled with storage cartons. Curious, Luke began to look around. A surprised expression came over his face. Reaching over, Luke flipped a switch. Golden eyes lit up.
"Master Luke!" exclaimed C-3PO. "What a surprise to see you here!"
The tall Kaminoan finally decided to consult an ancient male leader by the name of Lama Su. Together, they went into the archives and searched their records for information on the red haired human in the stasis chamber. After much research, they finally came up with a name - a newly Knighted Jedi by the name of Mara Jade.
Lamu Su would have to ponder what to do about this matter.
Han Solo was bored. It had been eight long months with absolutely nothing to do, other than watch his children grow. When he first arrived, he'd listened to Padmè tell her story of how she feel in love with a young man named Anakin Skywalker, a boy who had been a slave on Tatooine, a boy that grew up into a Jedi Knight that was seduced by the Dark Side, and became Darth Vader. The story had fascinated Han, but he still couldn't work up much sympathy for the man that had tortured him and had him frozen in carbonite. Padmè had been horrified at that tale, and spend much time blaming herself for Luke and Leia's fall to the Dark Side. Although Han had argued with her, the elegant woman believed if she'd come out of hiding after Palpatine's death, she could have saved them all, including her Anakin. Han doubted this was true.
The Gungans were very kind and helpful, so much so that sometimes Veenine complained they were too helpful. During his first few days in the water city, a Gungan by the name of Ban Yen Binks had been assigned as Han's 'assistant' by Padmè, as she tried hard to make Han feel at home. Ban Yen had been very proud of the fact that his uncle was the Great Jar Jar Binks. Ban Yen had been crushed when Han had told him he had never heard of Jar Jar Binks, and Padmè had laughed at the exchange.
During an evening meal, Han had argued with the former Queen that it had not been necessary to abduct him and his family and bring them to Naboo, much less paid him with the money Leia had provided him to live on. Padmè then handed Han a communication disk that the Gungans had intercepted between bounty hunters and Imperial spies. Han had been shocked to discover how many times he had come close to capture, and finally conceded this was a safer location for his family, and worth the cost. But he was still bored.
The Corellian was sitting in a public area watching his children press their noses against the clear outer walls and coo in delight at the colorful fish swimming past. Isabella turned toward her father and pointed, "Daddy, wed fishy!"
Han smiled proudly and answered, "Yes, Belle, that is a pretty red fish." Han was trying to keep his children from speaking like Gungans, although he felt as though he were losing the battle. One day, not so long ago, he'd told Padmè that Leia would kill him if - no, when- he brought Isabella back some day, and the first words out of her mouth were, "Mesa glads to meets yousa, mommas!" Padmè had laughed at this, too.
Han looked up as Ban Yen plopped down next to him on the bench. "Yosa lookas unhappys Capteen Solos."
"I'm not unhappy, Ban Yen, just bored. I feel useless here," Han answered.
"Boreda? Yousa needa to feel usefuls?" The Gungan said happily. "Come wit mesa!" Ban Yen hopped up off the bench.
Han looked up dubiously, but got up and called over to Veenine. "I'm going with Ban Yen for a bit, Veenine. I'll be right back."
It was a long walk, but the Gungan finally lead Han into an enormous room, filled from one end to the other with hundreds of apparently broken Submersibles of various ages and condition. "Where did these all come from?" Han asked, surprised.
Ban Yen shook his head sadly. "Humans very messees. Der water machines dat breaka, dey justa leaves at bottom of us'ins lake."
"So you want me to try and fix all this...junk?"
The Gungan smiled broadly at Han. "Yosa saysyousa boreda!"
One year later
A conference was held by all the Kaminoans. It was decided, after much debate, that the Jedi they had been holding captive for the past twenty-eight years, at the request of Emperor Palpatine, would be released.
The soft chime rang at the apartment of Han Solo. Veenine walked over and opened the door to admit Ban Yen Binks and a tall human female close in age to Solo. Han had been pouring a beverage in the kitchen area when he looked up and almost dropped his drink. He had not seen another human other than his children and Padmè in almost two years. The woman had honey colored hair, and was very poised and elegant.
"Hallos Capteen Solos!" Ban Yen shouted across the room. "I'sa bringa yousa a lady!"
Han walked into the living area and nodded politely at the woman. He looked at Ban Yen and asked, "I don't seem to recall asking for a 'lady'. Han felt his face getting warm with embarrassment. It was certainly true he had been missing female companionship, but he had never voiced this to Ban Yen. He hoped Ban Yen had suddenly not become a mind reader.
Ban Yen remained blissfully unaware of Han's discomfort, although the woman had noticed Han's reaction. She smiled at him and said, "Padmè Amidala has asked me to tutor your children, Captain. It appears you have indicated your children need an education, and I am a qualified Early Education instructor, and since Isabella is almost four, she really needs to start learning how to read and write. Even your two-year old twins can start learning basics."
Han felt a wave of relief. A teacher... well, he had discussed Isabella's education several months back, and Padmè must have taken his worries to heart. Han stepped forward and held out his hand. "Han Solo. Very glad to meet you."
"Kayleen Berrian. My mother was a handmaiden when Queen Amidala ruled Naboo. I feel very privileged to be able to teach Padmè's grandchildren."
Han looked at Ban Yen. "Does she know about the restrictions?"
"Yesa Capteen. Missa Berrians knows shesa cannat leaves," Ban Yen replied.
"It's fine, Captain. I know how important it is to keep these children safe. I have accepted the price of helping you."
"Thank you," Han said. "I can't begin to tell you how much I appreciate this."
Jedi Mara Jade woke from her long "slumber" in stasis. For her, time had stood still, and she had not aged since the Emperor had her put in stasis when she was twenty-four. When the Kaminoans told Mara Jade about all of the changes in the galaxy, of the death of Emperor Palpatine, the two galaxy-wide wars, and the rise of Darth Vader and his children to power, she was stunned. "I have to stop them," she whispered softly, fearing that one Jedi would not be able to do what hundreds of Jedi, and Jedi Masters had already tried, and failed.
Six months later
Lord Skywalker wondered if they would ever find enough loyal governors to serve the Empire. Many of Emperor Vader's original choices had already started scheming and going behind their backs in an attempt to gain more themselves more power. It enraged Vader when these reports filtered back, and Luke found that he was spending a great deal of time 'disciplining' these traitors at his father's directions.
Watching as the disloyal cowards groveled and begged for mercy, then using the Force to strangle the life from their puny bodies gave him less and less satisfaction each time he did it. He could almost hear his sister's voice in his mind, telling him the only way to ensure loyalty from the beings of the galaxy is to show compassion, and ruling by fear would lead to revolt. Then his father's voice would override Leia's, telling him that compassion was for weaklings. Lord Skywalker was not weak, so he obeyed his father's voice.
Queen Leia lay in bed, staring out at the stars and wondering which system was home to her children. Sometimes the ache for her babies almost overwhelmed her. But they are not babies anymore, Leia thought sadly. Jacen and Jaina are over two and Isabella is almost four. If things were different, Luke and I could start her training as a Jedi.
She also wondered how Han was coping with being a single parent, and she found herself once again questioning her decision to send them all away. The loneliness was unending, the desire for Han almost more than she could bear. The longer he was gone, the more she wanted him. I never hurt him, she reasoned silently. "There are millions of desperate, destitute beings in the galaxy. Was the situation Han was in so terrible? He was well cared for... I treated him well. He had wonderful food, clean clothes, and a soft bed. I never hurt him, and Jonri kept him in top physical condition. He could have adjusted to being my slave, given enough time. I want him back, before he finds someone else. The thought of Han in the arms of another woman filled Leia with a jealous rage. If anything could push her back over to the Dark Side, that would be it.
Luke and Vader seldom contacted her, and when they did, the communication was short and cold. Perhaps Luke was telling her the truth; perhaps he wouldn't have harmed her children. Vader had informed her Luke would not have dared kill his grandchildren, since they were a part of the Skywalker Dynasty. The galaxy was big enough for all of his grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren, to share and rule over. Maybe Father wasn't lying to her, after all.
In the early evening hours in the underwater Gungan world, Veenine had finally gotten the three active and happy Solo children to sleep. Instructor Berrian had invited Captain Solo over to her apartment for dinner, and Veenine's master had readily accepted this first-time invitation. The two adult humans had been spending more and more time in each others company, and even a droid could see they were fast becoming comfortable in each other's presence. Although Veenine had been rather surprised when earlier, Padmè had expressed disapproval for Captain Solo's and Instructor Berrian's growing friendship. This seemed odd to the droid, since Padmè had been the one to invite Instructor Berrian down to the Gungan city in the first place. But then, droids were not meant to understand human behavior and motives.
Han Solo arrived at Kayleen's apartment with a bottle of Gungan wine. Personally, Han thought it tasted like sweetened salt water, but Kayleen didn't seem to think it was bad. He rang the door chime and waited. When Kayleen answered Han stood for a moment, not speaking. Although Han would never have considered Kayleen beautiful, she was attractive, tall and willowy. Tonight he revised his estimation of her. Dressed in an elegant pearl gray gown and her honey colored hair flowing softly down her back, she was stunning. "Come in, Han," Kayleen smiled. "You don't have to stand in the hall all night."
Han stepped into the room and handed her the wine. "You look beautiful, Kayleen."
"Thank you," she looked down, flushing. "Dinner is ready. I don't want it to get cold. I hope you're hungry."
"Starving, as a matter of fact," Han answered, looking around the apartment.
Kayleen gave him a brilliant smile and took his arm. If she played her cards right, tonight would change their relationship forever.
Morning on Hapes
Jedi Mara Jade stepped off the Public Transport shuttle, and onto the landing platform. She shielded her eyes from the brilliant sunshine and took stock of her surroundings. Mara knew her mission her would be difficult but she could not allow herself to think about failure. She was the last chance for the galaxy, the last Jedi. Putting her hand on the hilt of her new lightsaber, she lifted her chin with determination, and headed toward the Hapan Palace.
Queen Leia sat in her throne room listening to the various requests and complaints by her subjects. Since she had been trying to stay away from the Dark Side, she was much more compassionate toward their requests, and she would try to help each person who stood before her, as long as she sensed their intentions were honest and not self-serving. She understood how difficult it was to get past all of the paperwork and screenings to actually get an appointment to see the Queen.
This day had been an especially long one. Leia couldn't stop thinking about the feelings she had last night about Han, even as she listened to the petitions of the people standing before her. It was hard to concentrate on the days tasks as she mentally wrestled with her conflicting thoughts and desires.
Therefore, it was a true shock to the Queen when the last person was brought before her. "Mara Jade!" Leia exclaimed in horror, berating herself for not paying attention to the Force. "This isn't possible! How did you get past my screeners? How is it possible that you are even alive?"
Mara Jade gave a rueful laugh. "That's a great many questions, Queen. I would like to answer them, but only in private."
"Why should I trust you?" Leia asked, her eyes narrowing suspiciously.
"Because, Queen Leia, if I had wanted to kill you, you would be dead," Jade replied with a shrug, carefully watching Leia's reaction.
"You seem very sure of yourself, Jade," Leia snapped. "Guards! Arrest this woman!"
The Royal Guards, which had been standing at attention facing each other across from the blue carpet run, began looking around in confusion. "My Queen? What woman?" a nervous Guard asked.
Mara folded her arms across her chest. "My Queen, they only see me as one of your Royal Guards. I've been wearing a Force disguise since entering the Palace. You need to trust me, Queen Leia. Just like I need to trust you."
Leia reached outward with her Force sense. She could detect no deceit or danger coming from Jade. I hope I don't regret this, Leia thought. Aloud she said, "Follow me into my office."
Naboo, late evening
"I should be getting home," Han said, standing up and stretching. "Again, that was a wonderful meal, Kayleen. Thanks for asking me over."
"You can call me Kay," she said, moving closer. "And you don't have to leave."
"My kids -"
"Your children have Veenine watching them. They'll be okay. I'm sure they're asleep already, and you can be home before they wake up."
A huge part of Han wanted to stay, and another part kept reminding him he still loved Leia. But would they ever be together again? He couldn't stay faithful his entire life - he simply wasn't cut out to be the celibate sort, not that too many Corellians were. Besides, it was just sex between friends, nothing more. He'd done it a hundred times in the past, before he fell in love with a spunky, sassy Princess. "Well..."
Kayleen moved forward, putting her hands behind his neck and pulling his face down as she kissed him. Then the door chime rang, and they jumped apart, as if they'd been caught doing something wrong. Kayleen frowned. "Who can that be at this time of the night?"
"If you answer it, we'll find out," Han remarked dryly.
Sighing, she pressed the 'open' button, and standing in the corridor was Padmè Amidala-Skywalker.
"Han!" Padmè said, stepping into the apartment. "There you are! I called your apartment and Veenine answered. It was so late, I thought something might be wrong." She smiled nervously. "But it looks like you're just fine."
"Yeah... I'm fine, Padmè. How about I walk you back to your apartment?"
"That's great. Just great," Padmè hurried out as she took Han by his sleeve. "I hope you have a good night, Kay."
"It'll be just great," Kayleen snapped, glaring at the older woman as she shut the door in their faces.
"Your timing is impeccable," Han muttered sarcastically as he walked Padmè down the hallway.
Padmè gave him a knowing look. "Thank you."
Mara Jade took a seat across from Leia's desk. Mara had fully intended to kill Queen Leia when she had arrived on Hapes, but when she entered the Throne Room something had stopped her. When Leia sat down, Mara wasted no time. "You're not what I expected."
"What did you expect?" Leia asked politely.
"Evil. Dark. Full of hatred. Someone like Palpatine." Mara hesitated. "Instead, I sense conflict in you. An ongoing fight between Darkness and the Light."
"Most people are in a constant struggle between good and evil."
"You're a Skywalker. Evil goes along with that name."
"I'd have to agree with you on that," Leia commented.
"I came here to kill you, and then kill your brother and father."
"That might prove harder than you think. I'm not too bad with a lightsaber, myself."
"And I'm a Jedi, sworn to fight for justice. Even if it costs me my life," Mara returned.
Leia raised an eyebrow. "A Jedi?"
The red-headed Jedi smiled at Leia. "I'm sure you have many questions, Queen."
"So many, I don't even know where to begin," Leia admitted. "Let's start with an easy one. Who really are you? I know you're not the woman who attacked me three years ago. She certainly was no Jedi."
"You're correct, Queen. At least mostly correct. The woman that attacked you was my clone," Mara answered.
"A clone!" Leia exclaimed. "You have clones?"
"I certainly hope the one you killed was the only one he created. Personally, I would not look forward to meeting myself," Jade said. "Or fighting myself."
"Who created a clone of you? Why did they create a clone?" Leia questioned.
"Emperor Palpatine created the clone. He was very fond of clones, as I am sure you remember," Mara stated, watching the shock play across the Queen's face. "Years ago, during the Jedi purges, he wanted to turn me to the Dark Side. Apparently, Palpatine lusted after me, and wanted to add me to his list of conquests. When I refused, he had Lord Vader attack me. I lost, as did all the other Jedi at the time. The only difference was, I wasn't murdered."
Leia was speechless. She waited for the Jedi to continue her story.
"Vader was very powerful. He was ordered to bring me to Kamino, alive" Mara continued. "He succeeded."
"Kamino?" Leia interrupted.
"Kamino is where Palpatine's clones were created," Mara explained. "Palpatine decided if he could not turn me, he would have me cloned. He could then train and use this clone as he desired. I guess he got exactly what he wanted. I've been held captive, and forgotten until six months ago."
"But you're so young!" Leia protested.
"You don't age much in stasis, Queen," Mara answered.
Leia's eyes grew wide with understanding and sympathy. "You were in stasis for thirty years?"
"Twenty-eight, actually," Mara replied. "Much has changed in all those years. It seems impossible to believe all the Jedi are dead."
"Not all, Mara," Leia said simply. "You're here."
"That brings us to the next problem, Queen Leia," Mara said sharply. "I cannot allow your family to continue this reign of terror. I don't understand how you can allow this to continue."
"Luke still has good in him, Mara, I know it, " Leia said softly. "I can't harm him, because I love him. Maybe, if we work together, we can convince Luke to reject the Dark Side."
Mara Jade leaned back in her chair and regarded the Queen thoughtfully. "It's difficult to turn from the Dark Side, Queen. The need for power is like a drug. A wise Jedi once said, once you start down the Dark Side, it will forever dominate your destiny."
"I understand this more than you know," Leia said softly. "I embraced the Dark Side for a year, and I still struggle with it every single day."
"I hope you're right, Queen," Mara said. "I would rather turn your brother back than kill him."
"So you'll help me, Mara?" Leia asked hopefully.
"Yes, Queen Leia," Mara replied. "I'll try. But if I find that the task is impossible, I'll do it my way."
Lord Skywalker was meditating in his apartment when he was interrupted by the holo-comm. Standing up, he walked over and watched as his sister's face came into focus. Luke was pleased, if a bit puzzled, to see his sister. "Hello, Queen Leia," Luke said formally. "What's the problem?"
"There's no problem," Leia replied, knowing she would need his permission to leave Hapes. "Where's Father?"
"He left a few days ago for Corellia, to check out the engineering specifications on the next generation of Star Destroyers. He should be back in five or six days."
Leia nodded, pleased Vader was gone. "I would like to visit you on Coruscant, if that's alright with you."
Luke raised an eyebrow at his sibling. Leia had not been to Coruscant since the day she left to marry Prince Isolder.
"That's certainly unexpected," Luke answered suspiciously. "Of course you are welcome to come. When are you planning this trip?"
"Immediately. There's something we need to discuss."
Discuss? Luke thought. Maybe she's come to her senses about Solo and the children. "I will see you soon then, sister."
Three days later.
Leia took a deep breath before entering Luke's apartment. She had been trying to come up with an opening sentence that would not send her brother flying off into a black rage. Luke, I would like you to meet the original Mara Jade. She's a Jedi Knight. Luke, do you happen to remember Mara Jade? Well, she's back. Luke, please don't kill the person I am about to introduce to you. Luke, what do you know about cloning? None of these beginnings seemed quite right. Leia rang the buzzer, and took a step back in surprise when a golden droid answered the door. "Threepio!" Leia exclaimed in surprise.
"Mistress Leia, it is a pleasure to see you again. I can not begin to tell you what an awful time I had after you gave me to..."
"Threepio!" Luke shouted from across the room. "Let her in already."
Leia laughed and stepped in the door. "It's nice seeing you again, Threepio." An indignant beep sounded at her feet. "And you too, Artoo!" Leia patted the small droid.
"You didn't tell me you found C3PO and R2D2, Luke," Leia mildly chastised her brother.
"I guess it never occurred to me to say anything," Luke answered. "They're just droids."
The old Luke wouldn't have said that, but then she had to remember this wasn't the old Luke. "I suppose this is going to be a day full of surprises, Luke," Leia said.
"What surprise do you have for me? I hope it's a good one. I'm not too fond of unpleasant surprises, unless I'm the one giving it."
"Can we sit down?" Leia asked. "This is something that requires sitting, I think."
Luke looked at his sister suspiciously. "Okay, let's sit." He motioned his sister to a large sofa, then sat in a chair across from her.
"You have a nice apartment here, Luke," Leia said looking around, trying to avoid the reason she was here.
"It should be. It's the Presidential Suite. If anyone has a nicer apartment on this planet, I'll have to kill them," Luke replied.
Leia looked up startled.
Luke laughed. "It's a joke, sister... maybe. Now what is the real reason you are here? It's certainly not to discuss my living quarters."
Leia swiped the palms of her hands across the sofa, realizing that they were damp. She stood up and walked over to the window staring out at the air traffic flowing past. "I don't know how to start this conversation, Luke, so I am just going to blurt it out. Please hear me out before you get angry or upset."
"This definitely sounds like bad news, Leia."
"It could be, or maybe not," Leia said. She turned to face her brother. "Mara Jade is alive."
"What!" Luke stood up and roared. "You said she was dead... Father said she was dead! Did both of you lie to me!"
Leia stiffened her shoulders and replied, "Father did kill her. This isn't the same Mara Jade. The Mara Jade we knew was a clone."
"A clone?" Luke stared at his sister, and slowly sank back down in his chair. "Apparently, we do have a lot to discuss."
An hour later, Leia finished telling her brother the entire story. "Do you want to meet her?"
"She's here? Now?" Luke asked. It was his turn to be startled.
"Yes, she's waiting aboard my shuttle."
"You brought a Jedi Knight to Coruscant? Father really will kill you this time."
"Then it's a good thing he's on Corellia, checking on the latest Star Destroyer models," Leia commented dryly.
Dinner had been a very uncomfortable, silent affair with the only distraction coming from Threepio's clumsy attempts at serving dinner. Threepio may have been programmed for conversing in three million forms of languages, but he never had decent programming for being a waiter.
Lord Skywalker could not take his eyes off Mara Jade. She was ever bit as beautiful as her clone had been. But the original had a life force and genuineness about her aura that the copy never had, and every bit as trained at shielding her emotions and intentions. Luke was mesmerized, and knew he wanted this woman. She was the one he could see having his children, standing by his side while he helped ruled the galaxy. By the end of the meal, he was determined to possess her.
When the last plates were cleared away, Lord Skywalker sat back. "It is very difficult for me to read you, Jedi Jade."
Mara looked up sharply. "As I intend it to be, Lord Skywalker."
Leia held her breath, easily able to sense Luke's interest in the woman. "Mara is a fully trained Jedi, Luke. Of course she would be hard to read."
Luke gave a slight smile. "I did not mean to offend, Jedi Jade. Would you like some wine? I have one of finest selections in the galaxy at my disposal."
"Of course you do," Mara replied.
"We would love wine, wouldn't we Mara?" Leia said quickly, before Luke could take offense at Mara's remark.
Luke rose from the table and called to C3PO. "Bring us a bottle of red wine, Threepio. Something Corellian." Luke looked directly at Leia, "Ships and alcohol. The only good things that ever came out of Corellia."
Leia refused to take the bait, but Luke was pleased that the comment upset his sister. It confirmed what he wanted to know - that she still desired the Corellian.
They waited in silence until Threepio came back and presented Luke with a bottle. "I believe this is considered a superb year for this particular brand of wine. It comes from the lower regions of the southern hemisphere near the ..."
"It's fine, Threepio," Luke told the droid.
"If you need anything else Master Luke, I will be glad to..."
"That will be all for now, Threepio," Luke inserted as he sighed and rolled his eyes.
Threepio turned and walked away, and when he was gone, Mara couldn't hold back her laughter.
"Is something amusing you, Jedi Jade?" Luke asked tightly, as he opened the wine bottle.
"You and your droid," she replied still smiling. "For some reason, Lord Skywalker, son of Emperor Vader, owning an annoying droid just seems funny to me."
Any other person would already be dead for laughing at Lord Skywalker. Instead of drawing his lightsaber, Luke poured the wine and handed Mara and Leia each a glass. Then he raised his goblet, and looked deeply into the green eyes of the Jedi woman. "To a very long relationship," he toasted cryptically.
Luke's true meaning was not lost on Leia.
Two days later
"I should have known she was still out there, alive," the Sith snarled under his breath as Luke finished explaining the presence of a Jedi Knight on Courscant. "Palpatine's lust for Jade was too obvious, and I was blind not to understand why he wanted her captured alive when he wanted all the other Jedi dead."
"Original?" Luke questioned. "You knew the other one was a clone?"
"Only after I read the autopsy report. Clones have very distinctive cell structures."
"Didn't you recognize her?" Luke shot back, annoyed.
"Recognize a woman I had only seen once, twenty-five years ago? Even if she had looked familiar, I doubt I would have connected her with a Jedi that should look fifty years old, if she still lived. Why was it important?"
"Because Jade was mine!" Luke nearly shouted. "I wanted her to be the one to have my children."
"And now you want this one, instead." It wasn't a question.
"Yes," Luke replied hotly. "No one else will do."
"You sound like Palpatine."
"She's mine," Luke repeated stubbornly. In the back of his mind, he realized he sounded like a petulant child, but he didn't care.
"Keeping a trained Jedi as a concubine will be difficult."
"Nothing is impossible, son, because there are always solutions. But you will have to get Leia's cooperation. If she takes Jade's side, this may become impossible. I do not wish this family to be torn apart by one Jedi."
"Perhaps Leia will be cooperative if Solo's life is on the line," Luke mused aloud. "A simple trade. She still wants him, you know. It's the one thing keeping her from turning away from the Dark Side entirely."
"We have not located Solo," Vader pointed out.
"Nothing is impossible."
The young Sith leaned back in his chair, pressing his fingertips together as he regard Jedi Mara Jade. "I want you to remain on Coruscant as my assistant."
Mara restrained the urge to laugh. "A Jedi assistant to a Sith? Sort of like my clone served as Emperor Palpatine's Hand? Now that's an interesting proposal."
"It's not a proposal," Luke said evenly. "Consider it an offer you can't refuse."
"Are you threatening me?" she asked, her hand involuntarily reaching for her lightsaber hilt.
"I'd rather not, but if that's what it takes." Luke shrugged. "It would be easier on you, if you cooperated."
"Leia believes you can be saved from the Dark Side. That's the only reason I agreed to meet with you, instead of plotting your demise."
"You would have failed," Luke said simply. "I don't want to kill you."
"But you want me as your assistant?" Mara said with a sneer.
"Your life will be enjoyable, if you allow it to be. I'll teach you the true power of the Force – the Dark Side of the Force. You can help rule over the galaxy, standing by my side."
She felt the hair on the back of her neck prickle. "You're no different than Palpatine."
"Palpatine was a shriveled up old prune," Luke replied, grinning. "I'm young and good-looking. Sharing my bed will be very pleasant for you."
"You might not look like Palpatine, but you're just as insane. I won't turn to the Dark Side, and I won't share your bed." She stood up, drawing her saber. "Coming here was a mistake. Leia's wrong, it's too late… you can't be redeemed."
"I'm not interested in being redeemed, Jedi Jade." Luke stood as the door to his office opened and Emperor Vader entered, trapping the Jedi between the two powerful Siths. "Don't be foolish, or you could end up dead."
"I'd rather die honorably, than live as your concubine."
"I'm afraid you don't have that option." Luke and Vader turned on their lightsabers, watching in amusement as the inexperienced and outmatched Jedi ignited her blade, and took up a defensive stance, her eyes flickering back and forth between the two powerful Siths.
The younger woman stabbed her finger in Padmè's direction. "How dare you interrupt us! You had no right to do that!"
"You were hired as my grandchildren's teacher," Padmè replied calmly. "Becoming Solo's lover would be unseemly."
"Han isn't married to your daughter," Kayleen shot back. "He was her slave, not her husband. Talk about unseemly!"
"He loves Leia," the older woman replied. "All that will happen is that you'll get hurt."
"I don't believe he could possibly love her, and I'm willing to take that chance."
Padmè shook her head stubbornly. "It will give the children a bad impression. Having an illicit affair will only end badly for both of you."
"An illicit affair? You mean like a certain Senator sneaking around behind everyone's back and having an illicitaffair with a Jedi?" Kayleen shot back.
Padmè flushed. "That's none of your business."
"And my relationship with Han is none of yours," she returned hotly.
"When my grandchildren are involved, it is my concern."
"Maybe you're lying to me…. maybe you don't care a bit about your daughter, and you want him for yourself, since you seem to like younger men."
Padmè was outraged. "Your services are no longer required, Kayleen."
"I guess by getting rid of me, you'll be the only one left to provide Han services."
Without conscious thought, Padmè reached up and slapped the younger woman across the face. Kayleen stood still for a moment, then laughed and walked away.
Coruscant, next day
Leia looked up at the unconscious Jedi as she floated in the bacta tank, her red hair fanning out around her face in the thick liquid. "This is my fault."
"Don't be stupid," Luke snapped. "She's the one that fought us, knowing full well she'd lose. She's lucky it was just her arm Father removed instead of her head."
"What are you planning on doing to her?"
"The same thing as you did to Han – make her my concubine."
Leia's brown eyes turned incredulous. "She's a Jedi… she'll never agree to that."
"She doesn't have to agree. Father knows a way to make her obey."
"Apparently, Palpatine spent a great deal of time developing ways to restrain Force-sensitives after he came into power." Luke held up a heavy durasteel collar. "This is one way."
"Not just for appearances, like Solo's was," Luke explained. "This has a special electrical field. It prevents someone that's Force-sensitive from not only using, but feeling the Force. Once it's on and activated, Mara Jade will be just as helpless as any non-Force-sensitive being. And she'll be mine, whether she likes it or not."
Leia felt ill. "You're going to force yourself on her?"
"She'll learn to enjoy it. Besides, you shouldn't judge me, since you forced Han to be your lover."
"Han loved me."
"If he didn't, would it have mattered?" Luke asked, smugly knowing the answer. "You need to return to Hapes, Leia. I've already ordered your shuttle crew to prepare for departure, and the Royal Guards will escort you to your ship. If you try to interfere with this, I really will kill Solo when I find him, and I will find him – soon."
Han was sitting on the floor of the children's bedroom, reading a story. He had read this story about a happy Ewok family and their adventures so many times, he knew it by heart. Sometimes, just to tease his kids, he changed the words and made the story different. This always brought cries of outrage and demands he read it right!
Closing the reader cover, Han told his kids, "Time to go to sleep. Everybody get in to your beds, and I'll tuck you in."
The children leaped up off the floor, scurried over to their beds and jumped in. Han started tucking Jacen in.
"Daddy," asked Jacen, "was momma pretty?"
Han felt deeply repressed emotions stir inside of him. "Your mother is beautiful. In every way."
"Will we ever meet her, daddy?" asked Isabella.
"I hope so, honey," Han replied.
"When?" Jania demanded to know.
"I don't know the answer to that, Jania. I hope it will be real soon, okay?" Han tried to explain.
"Did you love mommy?" Isabella asked her daddy.
Han went over and tucked Isabella's blanket around her and kissed her forehead. "I will always love your mommy, sweetheart."
The Corellian was unaware of Kayleen standing just outside the doorway, listening in on his private conversation, her face twisted in jealous anger.
One week later
Looking out of the hospital window, Mara felt a strong sense of dread. She looked down at her reattached limb, flexing her slightly numb fingers. Emperor Vader and his son had easily defeated her when she'd tried to defend herself. The memory of the lightsaber burning and cutting through her bone and flesh still made her cringe. Then she touched the Force-damping collar around her neck. When she had awoken from the bacta dip, the collar was already locked in place, effectively cutting off her access to the Force. The inability to access the Force was worse than the loss of an arm – she felt as though a huge part of her had died.
The doctors had been in earlier in the day, happily declaring that she was recovered enough to be released. Mara shuddered at the thought of being Lord Skywalker's concubine. It wasn't that young Skywalker was repulsive, like Palpatine had been, but that didn't make the idea of sharing his bed any easier to take. He was a Sith, evil, cruel and twisted, just like Palpatine in every other way. It's only temporary, Mara kept telling herself. I can deal with this, until I figure out a way to make him trust me enough to remove the collar. If I can convince him I like him, he'll be that much easier to kill. But could she convince him of a lie, when she couldn't use the Force to shield her true feelings?
Lord Skywalker was going over the work that was piled on his desk when his secretary rang him. "Lord Skywalker, I am sorry to interrupt but we have a problem," the secretary stated.
Luke rolled his eyes, irritated, and glanced at the chrono. Mara Jade was scheduled to be taken to his room in less than an hour, and he'd been looking forward to spending the afternoon, relaxing with his new slave in his hot tub or bed. Or maybe both. "What kind of problem, now?"
"There is a woman in the lobby, insisting she speak to you personally. She has been informed that she must make an appointment, but she will not leave," the secretary answered. "Would you like me to have her arrested?"
Luke thought for a moment. Why would a woman demand to speak directly to the feared Lord Skywalker? Most people avoided him like he was a contagious disease. This was highly unusual. Finally he decided. "Search her thoroughly for weapons and allow her to come see me."
Luke could tell this decision surprised his secretary. "Yes, My Lord. Immediately!"
Fifteen minutes later, Lord Skywalker's secretary escorted in a human female. She was tall and refined, with long honey colored hair. She was also extremely nervous.
Intrigued, Lord Skywalker looked her over. "Have a seat." She obeyed, perching herself on the edge of the chair. "What's your name?" Luke demanded.
"My name is Kayleen Berrian, of Naboo," she replied looking at the floor.
"You have my attention," Lord Skywalker stated flatly. "I suggest you do not waste my time."
The woman cleared her throat and fidgeted. "I have information you want."
"Go on," Luke said.
"I know where Han Solo and his children are living," she whispered softly.
Through the Force, Lord Skywalker knew this woman was telling the truth. He couldn't stop the grin that filled his face. I have you Solo!
"How do you know Solo?" Luke questioned.
The woman hesitated briefly, then said, "I was brought to his hiding place by a woman named Padmè, to teach her grandchildren."
"Padmè?" Luke whispered, his body tingling. Was it possible? Was his mother still alive, and in hiding for all these years?
"Yes… I guess that's your mother, right?"
"Where are they?"
"On Naboo, in the Gungan underwater city."
"Why are you betraying them? For money?"
Kayleen frowned, biting her lower lip nervously. "I guess, um, yes…. Money."
Lord Skywalker removed a credit voucher from his drawer, pushing it toward the young woman. "Is that adequate?"
Her eyes widened at the huge sum. "Yes! Thank you!"
She started to reach for the voucher, when Luke grabbed her wrist. "No one betrays the Skywalker family," he said, his fingers tightening. "Even if they deserve it."
Kayleen Berrian's gray eyes grew wide with horror as she clutched at her neck. Then she dropped to the floor – dead.
Emperor Vader looked down at the dead body of the woman with disdain. "She was lying. Your mother is dead."
"I didn't sense she was lying," Luke argued.
"Then she was mistaken. Or insane."
"Or telling the truth." Luke clenched his fists. "I'll go check it out by myself, if you're convinced it's not true."
Vader's respirator wheezed for long moments as he considered. "No. I will come with you."
Mara Jade had been taken by a stormtrooper squadron to Lord Skywalker's apartment, and now she sat waiting for his return, her eyes tightly shut, trying to prevent herself from hating the Sith. If she hated him, she'd slide to the Dark Side, and he'd win. But could a person go to the Dark Side if you couldn't feel the Force? She tugged uselessly at the metal control collar, and knew that any attempt to remove would result in agonizing pain, then unconsciousness. Lord Skywalker had frequently visited her in the medic war during the past week, and during one visit, she had asked if the collar was designed to kill. The Sith had laughed, then assured her that he'd never allow her to escape her fate by way of death.
She jumped slightly as he entered the room and then headed for the bedroom, his body-language radiating anger. Mara refused to follow him, determined to fight him with every bit of her ability and non-Force skills. When he exited minutes later carrying a satchel, she was surprised – surprised enough that she asked without thinking, "Where are you going?"
"How many times do I have to tell you, you are to call me Master, or my Lord. I don't care which, but pick one," Luke snapped out. It annoyed him endlessly that Solo was, once again, interfering with his immediate desires. Until the visit from the now-deceased Naboo woman, Luke had been looking forward to spending a long, hot night with his new concubine, teaching her what pleased him. Now his physical needs had to take a backseat to this new, more pressing problem. "My patience is running thin with you, Mara. When I come back, you'd better have a different attitude."
"I'm sorry, Master," Mara said tightly. "Where are you going, Master?"
Heading toward the door, he answered tersely, "I know where my nieces are nephew are. I'm going to go get them."
This was unexpected. "Have you told Leia?"
Luke turned around to face her. "Of course not. It'll be a surprise for her when Father and I return with her family. I'm sure she'll thank us."
"I'm sure," Mara said dryly, then added, "Master."
The Sith glared at his slave. "Stay out of this, Mara ... this is no concern of yours. I'll be back in less than a week, if it all goes as planned. Sleep in my bed, and get used to it. Oh, and don't try to escape from this room. It's heavily guarded, and if you try, you'll live to regret it."
Mara had no doubt that was true.
"I think you're worried for nothin'," Han said, trying to reassure Padmè. "I'm sure she just went home for a visit."
"You don't understand," the older woman replied, pacing Han's apartment. "She was furious with me for interfering with your personal lives, and maybe she was right. It wasn't any of my business. Kayleen knew she wasn't supposed to leave here - she gave her word. If she left, that means..."
Han shook his head. "That still doesn't mean she ran off and told your husband."
"Anakin will never forgive me for hiding from him for all these years," Padmè said despairingly. "You need to take the children and run. I'll face Anakin."
"Run where?" Han asked quietly. "I don't have any money, or a ship."
Padmè gave a choked sob. "That's my fault, too. I wouldn't blame you for hating me."
"I don't hate you. Maybe it's time we faced your family, anyway. We can't hide forever."
"Not anymore," she agreed sadly.
Coruscant to Hapes
Having the collar on might have stopped Mara from accessing the Force, but it didn't stop her from re-wiring the long-range communication panel, and contacting Queen Leia on Hapes. When the former Princess of Alderaan's face shimmered into focus, Mara wasted no time.
"Leia... your brother is on his way to Naboo. He found Han and your children."
Leia's face grew still and pale. "He'll kill Han."
"Maybe. That's why you need to get there first." A loud knocking on the door sounded, and Mara looked back nervously. "I have to go... you need to hurry."
"Mara, I'm so sorry for what's happened to you. I really believed that when Luke saw you, he'd realize… he'd realize."
"Realize, what?" Mara asked gently.
"I thought he was in love your clone, and when he saw you, he'd fall in love with you, too."
"I - "
The holo-screen went black as Coruscant Security cut the communication.
Naboo, two days later.
"She is here," Vader whispered softly as the sleek transport headed down toward the surface of the planet. "All this time, she's been here." He shook his head. "I should not have avoided this planet, just like I should not have avoided Tatooine."
"You couldn't have known," Luke said, maneuvering the ship into a landing. "You were told she died."
"Palpatine told me I killed her." He thought back to that fateful day, when he had used the Force to choke his own wife, a woman pregnant with his child- his children. He'd regretted that day for over twenty-five years now.
"Well, Kenobi told me you'd killed my father," Luke commented harshly. "We were both used for others' purposes."
"I will have her back. I will never allow her to leave my side again."
"Just like I'll never allow Mara to leave mine." Luke sighed. "All we have yet to accomplish is to turn Leia back to the Dark Side."
"She has never been too far away."
"Just far enough to cause us problems," Luke pointed out as he set the ship down, and opened the landing ramp. "This will be a glorious day for the Skywalkers, Father. Today, our entire family will be brought back together."
So focused on their quest, neither man noticed the small Hapan ship that landed in the distance.
The lanky Gungan rechecked the controls, then looked nervously down the long corridor. "Yousa sures dis good idea?"
"Of course I'm sure," Han growled back. "Not even a Sith will be fast enough to avoid dozens of laser shots coming at them all at once, from all angles. I saw this happen once to a gunslinger named Gallandro. Turned him into toast before he knew what hit him."
"Yousa sure'en dis isa da only way?" Ban Yen had been very reluctant with this plan. Killing just wasn't part of his makeup.
"They're comin' here to kill us," Han snapped back at the Gungan. "Vader's pure evil; trust me on this. I've had first-hand experience with him."
"Buts…Luke'a, he's notsa yoursa friend?"
"Luke wasmy friend, and I'm not crazy about killin' him, either. But the way I look at it, he's not really Luke anymore - now he's as crazy as his father." The Corellian pointed his finger in Ban Yen's face, trying to disguise his distress at being forced to kill someone he once considered his friend and brother. "It's him or me, an' I ain't interested in dying, and I ain't lettin' him twist my kids. 'Sides, do you really think they'll just kill me an' Padmè, and leave this city untouched? After your people have been hiding us for years?"
"Isa guess'n notsa."
"You bet not," Han agreed. "With the kid and gruesome dead, Leia will come to her senses, and we can all live him peace." He hoped he was telling Ban Yen the truth, and the deaths' of Vader and Luke wouldn't make Leia crack. "I want you to take the kids an' Padmè, and head to the dock. If things go bad, at my signal you get in a sub and head toward the surface. Hopefully, Padmè's connections can get you off-planet."
"Padmès knowsa bouts dis?"
Han shook his head negatively. "No. She can't know." Because she might try and stop me.
Shielding herself with the Force, Leia watched as her brother and father rented a submersible, then entered the craft and disappeared beneath the choppy surface of the blue-gray water. I can't let them kill Han… she thought in panic, quickly hurrying up to the dock. Several more submersibles sat bobbing gently on the surface. She picked the closest one, and hit the 'open' button on the hatch.
"Hey there, missy!" a man's voice called out. "You can't just take one… those are rentals… they cost fifty credits per hour to use."
Smiling, Leia turned around to face the portly Naboo man. "I don't have any credits with me. I'll pay you later."
"Later?" The man shook his head, folding his arms across his chest. "That's not the way I run things, lady. You pay upfront, and give me some identification, too." He held out his hand expectantly.
"You don't need to see my identification."
His hand dropped to his side. "I don't need to see your identification."
"You can trust me for the credits."
"I can trust you for the credits."
"Be on your way, now."
"Be on your way, now."
"Thank you," Leia said, hurriedly entering the craft before the man realized he'd been manipulated.
By the time the submersible dove beneath the waves, the Queen of Hapes was trembling in fear and anticipation. The underwater city came into view. Han was living down here… her children were living down here. I'll see them soon. Her heart twisted in her chest as she realized her children wouldn't recognize her. And then there was the distinct possibility she'd have to fight her brother in a dual to the death to save Han's life. If she ended up winning, it would be at the cost of killing her own twin. If she lost, Han would die, but then, she'd be dead, too. Maybe there was some other way, some way she could convince Luke to let her take Han and her children back to Hapes. The price to that scenario would be Han's freedom. As the bubble over the city grew larger, Leia wondered if Han had felt free living here for two years. Back on Hapes, he would be able to breathe fresh air, visit with Chewie, and be her lover again. Did he even still love her? If not, forcing him to remain on Hapes would even be harder. Again, she found herself questioning her decision to ever let him leave in the first place. I'll make him love me again, she decided with bitter determination. Just like I'll make my children love me.
Han turned off the comm and looked at the woman that he'd come to respect as a good friend. "That was the signal from Ban Yen. They're here, and we don't have much time."
"Time?" Padmè questioned as she watched Veenine hurry to gather the children and a few packed belongings.
"You're not facing Vader and Luke – I am," Han informed her. "You're takin' the kids and heading to the surface if I can't stop them. You'll need to escape, before it's too late."
Padmè frowned in puzzlement. "How in the stars are you planning on facing them alone?"
"We don't have time to discuss this," Han muttered, pushing her toward the door. The Corellian looked down at his children, and with a heavy heart, realized this might be the last time he saw them. Bending over, he quickly kissed them. "You kids be good, and listen to your grandma, you hear me?"
"Daddy!" Isabella sobbed. "I don't wanna goes without you!" Her crying caused the twins to start whimpering and trying to cling to their father. The situation was getting out of control, and the Corellian was starting to worry the Siths would arrive before his family was safely gone.
"I'm not going anywhere until you tell me what you have planned," the woman said, hands on hips.
Sighing, Han pointed up. "Ben Yan and me set up a line of lasers, down along the top of the hallway leading to this apartment. Once I turn it on, anyone standing in the hall gets fried."
"Padmè, listen to me…. Vader is notthe Anakin Skywalker you remember, and Luke is just as far gone. You have to trust me. If I don't stop them, we'll both be killed, and my kids – your grandchildren – will grow up as Siths. Is that what you want to happen?"
"They're still my husband and son. They can be saved!"
"No," Han argued, feeling a growing sense of dread as the wails of the three children got louder. "I've seen them in action, I don't think they can be saved. You have to leave. Now, before it's too late."
"Veenine, you take the children and go meet with Ban Yen. I'm staying with Captain Solo."
"Don't argue with me, Captain. I'm a very stubborn woman."
"Now I know where Leia gets it from," Han grumbled, then turned to Veenine. "You heard the lady. Get going. If you don't hear from me in fifteen minutes, leave here and don't look back. I guess I'll have to trust Ban Yen to protect the kids." Even as he said those words, he wasn't certain it would be possible.
When the droid left with the crying, nearly hysterical children, Han turned to look at the woman that could have been his mother-in-law. "You can't save them, you know."
"I have to believe I can," was her response.
Emperor Vader put his gloved hand on Luke's shoulder. "We must be cautious. I sense they know we are coming."
"What can they do?" Luke returned. "Neither one can use the Force – they don't stand a chance against us."
"I do not intend to harm my wife," Vader intoned. "She is mine, and must return to my side."
Luke smiled, pleased at the thought. "We can be together again, at long last."
Using the Force to guide them, the Siths headed down the corridor that led to Solo's apartment. The door stood wide open, and inside the room was Padmè Amidala-Skywalker, standing next to Han Solo.
"Padmè," Vader said quietly. Even though he'd felt her presence through the Force, somehow he had needed to actually see her in order to believe it was true. "It's really you."
"Anakin." She rushed out into the corridor, ignoring Han's exasperated protest. As long as she remained in the laser's range, he couldn't activate the weapon - not without killing her, too. And there was no way he'd kill Padmè.
"My name is no longer Anakin."
She approached him, unafraid, then reached up and touched his helmet. "You'll always be my Ani."
Vader grabbed her wrist, pulling her into the apartment. "Why did you hide from me?"
Han gave a derisive snort as Luke stepped into the room. "Shut up, Solo. You'll be lucky if I don't kill you this instant."
Padmè turned toward her son, holding out her hand imploringly. "Luke, my child, please don't talk like this. If only…."
"If only you'd have stayed, and raised your children, like any decent mother would have," Luke said, his voice bitter. "Why don't you answer Father? Why did you hide from your family?"
"Obi-Wan thought it was for the best," she replied, her face stricken by Luke's hurtful words. "I wanted to protect you."
"You should have protected me from Obi-Wan, not my own father."
"Obi-Wan Kenobi destroyed my life," Vader said curtly. "He destroyed all of our lives."
"No, Ani. Palpatine destroyed us, not Obi-Wan."
"Perhaps they are both responsible," Vader concurred. "But their influence has come to an end. I am the Chosen One, and you are my wife. We will return to Coruscant to rule."
"I told you they were beyond hope," Han told her, pulling his blaster from his holster. "Now do you believe me?"
"I told you to shut up!" Luke screamed. He raised his hands; first ripping the blaster from Han's grip, then shot Force-lightning from his fingertips in the Corellian's direction.
Immediately, Padmè threw herself at Luke as a bloodcurdling scream could be heard coming from the corridor. Everything seemed to move in slow motion. Vader reached out, grabbing his wife before she could fall into Luke's Force-lightning, then the Force-lightning slammed into Han's chest, and the Corellian gasped in agony, dropping to the floor as he writhed against the tentacles of electricity... then the familiar snap hiss of a lightsaber being ignited sounded.
Luke spun around, instinctively turning on his own red blade, barely intersecting his sister's orange-hued lightsaber before it could cut him down. "Turn off your weapon, sister," Luke snarled. "You can't hope to win."
"You were going to kill Han!"
"He deserves to die."
"He's mine," Leia returned, enraged. "If you kill him, I swear I'll destroy you!"
"He had an affair with a woman named Kayleen," Luke taunted. "That's how I found him... Solo must have made her angry - that's a big surprise - and she came to Coruscant as payback."
"That's not what happened," Padmè protested, trying to uselessly pull away from Vader's grip. "I stopped them before they could get involved... that's why she was angry."
It was Leia's worst fear, the very thing she'd dreaded, and she felt her last hold on the Light Side slip away. Looking past Vader and the woman he was restraining, Leia watched as Han struggled painfully to his feet. "Is that true?" she asked the Corellian, trembling with rage as she stalked up to him, still holding her humming saber. "You were interested in some slut?"
"Nothing happened between me an' Kayleen," Han ground out, noting her face was contorted with fury. It was very likely Leia would be the one to kill him at this point - not Luke.
"Kayleen," Leia repeated. "Was that the slut's name?" She raised her hand, using the Force to slam Han backwards, and his body hit the far wall with such speed he lost consciousness.
"Please, daughter..." Padmè begged, tears streaming down her face. "Stop this madness. Han loves you."
The words slowly sank in, and Queen Leia spun around to face the stranger. "Daughter?"
"My name is Padmè Amidala-Skywalker. I'm your mother."
Leia's mouth opened and closed, but no words came out. She looked at Vader, who nodded in agreement.
It was Luke that broke the stunned silence. "Obi-Wan, that good Jedi Knight, hid her from us, Leia. Now she's coming back to Coruscant with us, where she belongs. She belongs to Father, just like Mara belongs to me."
"And just like Solo should belong to you," Vader added. "You haven't been happy since he took your children and left. Admit it, Daughter."
Now openly staring at the older woman, Leia barely heard Vader's comments. "I remember you. How is that possible?"
Padmè swallowed hard. "After Bail's wife died, I took a huge risk. I left this hiding place and went to Alderaan to see you. Bail was furious that I endangered my life, and your life, but I had to see you. You were so young and innocent, my Leia. I could only stay one short night."
Suddenly, it all made sense to Leia. Whispered conversations, remarks about hiding and proclamations of love. "My life was a lie," Leia said dully. "It was all a big lie."
"It was," Vader agreed. "The Dark Side is your truth, Leia. It always has been your destiny."
"Ani, please... I know you've still got goodness inside you," Padmè dropped to her knees, pleading with her husband. "We can all live happily, if you just allow yourself to see the truth."
"This is the truth, Mother," Luke said, pushing past and grabbing Leia by her arm. "Tell your mother. Tell her what you want."
"I want my children, and I want Han," Leia admitted coldly, reaching down and pulling this woman - her mother - to her feet. "I can't fight the Dark Side." She twisted her arm away from Luke, and walked over to where Han was groaning, and regaining awareness.
"Leia, I love you," Han said, staring up at her with blurry, pain-filled eyes. "There are lots of places in the galaxy we can go with our kids... no one will know us - "
"It's too late," Leia cut him off. "It's too late."
Padmè looked at Luke, and saw triumph in his face; then down at Han, and saw despair.
Coruscant, six months later
As she stood on the wide balcony overlooking the endless buildings, Mara put her hand over her swelling abdomen, and felt Luke put his arms around her from behind. She repressed the urge to flinch away. Since she learned to accept his advances without struggling, the physical abuse had stopped. Lately, she sometimes even thought she saw a flash of kindness in his usually hard features. So there was always that slim possibility that Leia was right after all - maybe, just maybe, Luke could be saved from the Dark Side.
"In four months, another Skywalker will join the Dynasty," he commented.
"Why can't you be happy, Mara?" he asked, his tone irritated.
Touching her collar, she replied, "You expect me to be happy without the Force?" Without love?
The young Sith pulled his arms away. "You want me to trust you, but I can't do that. At least, not until I sense you care about me."
The irony of Lord Skywalker using words like 'trust' and 'caring' were not lost on Mara. "Will you ever trust me?" She didn't dare ask him if he'd ever love her - that would be pushing her luck. Luke claimed love was incompatible with the Dark Side, choosing to ignore the fact his father apparently loved his mother, or the fact Leia was enamored with Han Solo.
Luke considered the question. "Maybe. Someday. But not yet."
Mara turned back to the skyline. As long as there was that one small chance that someday he'd trust her, and remove this horrible collar, she could allow herself to see hope for the future - her future, and the future of the galaxy.
Standing at the window, Padmè breathed in the sweet, clean air of Naboo, trying not to think of the high price she'd paid for finally coming out of hiding. She had never intended things to go so terribly wrong when she'd hired the bounty hunter Fett to bring her Solo and her grandchildren.
She thought about Luke and Leia, and the fact she was going to become a grandmother again. Padmè adored her grandchildren, and was looking forward to having two more. Luke seemed thrilled about becoming a father, and deep inside she harbored hope that once he held his child, Luke would change for the better. Mara, however, seemed less than happy about bearing Luke's child. Padmè couldn't blame the girl, dismayed that the red-headed young woman was Luke's concubine, and not his wife. Perhaps though, someday, Mara would fall in love with Luke. It was always a possibility, Padmè believed fervently. After all she was almost certain that Han loved Leia, despite the fact he was her slave.
She wrapped her shawl tighter around her shoulder's, listening as Vader's respirator hissed inside the living room. This wasn't how she ever envisioned her life, or the lives of her family, but it was all she had now.
Vader called her name, and she turned to face the man she would always love, for all time, and no matter what the circumstances. "I'm coming, Ani."
*Are you okay, cub?.* Chewie woofed, gently laying his large paw on his friend's shoulder.
Han shook himself out of his private musings. "I'm fine, pal. Just krethin' fine."
A slight hesitation, then the Wookiee said,. *It was good of Leia to allow you to visit me.*
"Good," Han repeated, turning the word over in his mind. A month ago, Leia had discovered she was once again pregnant, and like the previous time, pregnancy seemed to soften her emotions. Other than the incident on Naboo, which had resulted in several broken ribs as well as deep bruises, Queen Leia hadn't harmed her Corellian. That was how she referred to Han in the presence of guests - 'This is my Corellian,' she'd say by way of introduction. His life was basically back to the way it had been the first time around, with a few changes. Although she still insisted he wear fancy, uncomfortable Hapan clothing, Han no longer had to wear a collar, or sit by her feet while she conducted business. When he'd asked her why, she had informed him it wasn't a good image to present to their children.
Now his main chore was caring for the children during the day. At night, his job was pleasing the Queen. To the casual observer, it was almost like they were married. Almost, but not quite. He was painfully aware of his status whenever he walked behind her, keeping his head bowed respectfully, and calling her 'My Queen' in view of the public.
*She must trust you,.* Chewie commented, trying to draw Han into a conversation. His friend's quiet depression concerned the Wookiee.
Han gave a bitter laugh. "Trust? Do you know what she told me before I left?"
"If I failed to return in one week, Star Destroyers would burn every square inch of Kashyyyk's forests. She'd destroy the planet." He hesitated, then asked, "Do you know what the really scary part is?"
"I still love her."