"Nice ship," Han commented to Jade as he sat down in the co-pilots seat of a slick new transport.
"The rebels will be impressed that we stole such an expensive piece. Gratitude is always a good thing to have on our side."
"It's a long trip to Kashyyyk," Han leered at the pretty assassin. "I could show you my gratitude for all that training on the way."
Jade felt her hackles rise. Solo's constant innuendos got on her nerves. Any other man would have been in a morgue by now for his annoying persistence and constant suggestions of "getting together". But the assassin had finally come upon a situation where death threats would not work. Solo was the Emperor's 'son', the artificially chosen one. And even more off-putting was the realization that she could not even verbalize her disdain toward the man. The only thing that gave her any peace was the knowledge that maybe someday she'd be able to kill the Corellian. It would just take the smallest hesitation, the tiniest slip on Solo's part, and she could tell Palpatine that the Corellian could not be trusted.
A part of her still worried that it wasn't going to be easy or even possible - Solo was simply too powerful for even a combined effort with Skywalker to succeed. It was quite possible the Emperor had out-smarted himself. Mara Jade could not shake the image of Han Solo sitting on the Emperor's Throne. "Your gratitude is not necessary," Jade snapped out. "Just your silence."
"Ah, Jade," Han laughed. "You'll succumb to my charms. It's a matter of time."
It's a matter of time, all right, she thought, annoyed.
Sullust, five days later
"Leia!" Wedge ran to the Princess as she climbed down from the X-Wing. "I'm so glad you're back. I've missed you." Wedge leaned forward as Leia turned around, planting a firm kiss on her lips.
Drawing back, Leia smiled tentatively at Antilles. He loves me, she realized with her new awareness through the Force. It occurred to her that she had done nothing to discourage Wedge's growing affection since Hoth. At the same moment, she also realized that Wedge had been a substitute for the Corellian she truly loved. I used him. I didn't mean to... I wasn't even aware I was doing it... but I was still using him. "Wedge. It's nice to see you." Leia glanced over to see Luke's X-Wing landing a short distance away. "I'm sure Luke would like to see you, too." I'm being a coward. I should tell him right now.
"Oh. Well, yes. I'll go say hello to Luke," Wedge said, disappointed in her lack of enthusiasm at his kiss. "I'll see you later, right?"
"Yes, I'm sure we'll see each other. Rieekan will have lots of briefings for us to catch up with."
"Briefings. Yeah. Okay." Wedge mumbled, as he turned and trudged off to Luke's ship.
Leia watched him walk away, feeling a wave of guilt. But the possibility that Han was alive was too exciting for her to ponder the problem of Wedge Antilles for any length of time.
The Imperial shuttle landed on a wide tree limb that served as a landing pad. Staring out at the huge trees, Han felt a sense of familiarity. This place held good feelings for him, somehow. I've been here before.....
Mara Jade cleared her throat, drawing his attention back inside the ship. "My alias is AricaPradeux. Your alias will be the same as it was last time, before rebels brainwashed you - Han Solo."
"Solo?" Now why did that name seem so right? It felt like it fit - unlike the name Palpatine.
"It's your alias. You can't very well use Palpatine, can you?" she snapped out. "You will need to shield your Force-abilities from Skywalker. We both need to shield. Pretend to be confused from your 'confinement' by the Imperials."
"I don't have to pretend to be confused, Jade. I can't remember anything before I woke up in the hospital."
"That's good, then. It will be easier to fool them. The Wookiee that we're 'accidentally' running into on this system is going to pretend to be your friend. His name is Chewbacca, but he goes by Chewie. His wife's name is Malla... Malla something or other. The Wookiee is our ticket to the rebel base, and hopefully he knows by now where the new rebel base is located. Remember that your job is to kill the rebel leaders, but you have to do so in a way they can't figure out. Once the leadership is decimated, we will move to take Skywalker. Between the two of us, it should be easy to take an untrained Force-user. But don't forget - the Emperor wants him alive, and undamaged."
"Are you quite through now, Jade?" Han said, staring up at the ceiling of the ship, feeling his angry rising by the moment. "I said I couldn't remember anything before I woke up in the hospital. I remember my instructions just fine."
"You'd better, Solo. You'd better."
Han gave her a stare of contempt. Don't threaten me Jade.... or you'll be the first one to go.
"You doubt my plan will succeed," Palpatine said as he looked out his vast window at the passing hovercrafts.
"I am only concerned about the unpredictability of Solo, Master. He is powerful, but in his past life he was erratic."
"Erratic." The Emperor mulled the word. "He does not remember his past. His loyalty will forever be to me, for I have created the perfect servant in Solo, even more so than Jade. Are you as loyal, Vader? Or do you wish to ascend to my throne, with your son by your side?"
"I live only to serve you, Master."
"That is very good to know, Vader. In a few months, my new Death Star will be in operation. With you and your son by my side, I will be unstoppable." Palpatine stopped for a moment, then asked, "Does Solo find Jade attractive? Do you think Solo and Jade can provide me with a new generation of Hands?"
The question took Vader by surprise. "I have heard him ... attempt to win her affections in the past," Vader said, diplomatically. "I do not think Jade cares for Solo."
"That is irrelevant. She will obey my orders. Or would you rather have your son be the sire of her offspring?"
"My son? He should be allowed to make his own choice."
Palpatine laughed. "He will find he has as many choices as I permit. Perhaps allowing Skywalker to procreate is not a good idea, after all."
"Whatever you wish, my Master."
"Remember that, and teach it to your son."
Mara Jade and Han Solo sat in a public restaurant near the spaceport. Solo was dressed in a plain black shirt and slacks, a long black coat covering his clothes and the lightsaber that hung at his side. The Emperor had returned Solo's gun rig, and it now hung down low on his right leg. For a moment, when Solo strapped on the rig, Jade had worried it would bring back his memories, but other than looking pleased with the weapon, Solo had given no indication that the blaster and belt reminded him of anything in his past. Jade wore her usual outfit - a form fitting one-piece suit. In the past, she had preferred black, but Mara had no intentions of looking like Solo's mistress. Instead, she picked an emerald green color to match her eyes.
Most of the patrons were Wookiees, but the menu provided a limited variety of food for species that preferred their food cooked. A large bird flew slowly past the open window, and the scent of wood and pine needles filled the cool air. Jade had been on Kashyyyk only once before - it still amazed her that the size of the trees could hold homes and businesses on the huge branches. This city in the trees was not built by mindless animals, as the Emperor always called Wookiees. When directly presented with evidence of Palpatine's errors, Jade frequently had a hard time with the notion that her master could be wrong. It was unfaithful to even consider to possibility. But he was most definitely wrong about Wookiees. How many other things is he wrong about, if he can be wrong about this?
"Credit for your thoughts, Mara," Han grinned at her over a mug of ale.
Startled back to the present, Jade looked over at Solo. Had he "heard" her musings? It sometimes scared her to think how powerful the Corellian was in the Force. Another mistake of Palpatine's, and Jade was very worried this mistake would come back and haunt all of them. "Tell me your thoughts, first," she shot back.
"I'm thinkin' - how long are we gonna have to hang around this boring place before we get some action? Of course, we could go back to the ship and get some different type of action, if ya get my drift."
"I get your drift, but that's the only thing I'll get from you," she returned evenly, barely holding her temper. "Do you ever think of anything else?"
"Ya, I do. I think I'm not related to Palpatine. I think you're afraid of me."
"That's banta dung."
"I don't think so, Jade," Solo whispered as he leaned forward. "I think you're terrified of me. And Vader is, too. I just don't think it, I know it. I can read it through your thoughts, your emotions."
"And I think you're an egotistical maniac."
Han leaned back in the seat, smirking. "Really? Well, maybe I am the son of ole Palpy, after all."
"Don't talk about your Master in that tone."
"Don't talk to me in that tone. You might end up regretting it, in a big way."
Glaring, Jade was about to respond when a filtered voice spoke from behind Solo. "What a coincidence, Solo. And here I thought I was just coming to collect the bounty on the Wookiee. I guess Jabba's going to have to pay me those extra credits, after all."
"I'm not sure this is a good time to go to Coruscant to try and rescue Solo," Rieekan said carefully as he looked at Luke and Leia. "He might not even be alive. You're just making assumptions, based on little if any evidence."
"We can't just leave him there if he is alive," Luke protested. "He's our friend."
"I understand, Luke, really I do. But we've been hearing rumors lately, and your help might be needed, very soon."
"What kind of rumors?" Leia asked, frowning. Putting off rescuing Han was the last thing she wanted. General Rieekan was wrong - Han was alive, she felt as much in her very soul. Already, the Corellian had been imprisoned by Vader for almost five months. The only question was: how much longer could he survive? Suddenly, the memory of her time in the tree-cave returned, and Leia felt a chill. No.... that just can't be true. Like I told Yoda, it's impossible.
"The Bothan spies have reported that Palpatine is building a second Death Star," Rieekan replied.
"What?" the Princess responded, stunned. Another Death Star? Images of Alderaan flooded her memories. It could never be allowed to happen again. Never again.
"Unfortunately, we still don't know where it is, or how far along they are. But you do understand the importance of finding and destroying this thing, before it's too late?" Rieekan paused before adding, "I feel badly about Han, too. If I knew for a fact he was alive, I'd try to move stars to help rescue him."
Leia dropped her head into her hands. "Sometimes I wish I could be in two places at the same time."
"But you do see the problem?" Rieekan asked gently.
"Yes. I'll stay on Sullust, and Luke will, too," she replied, looking over at her brother. He looked just as unhappy about the situation as she did, but he nodded his agreement. Rescuing Han from Coruscant would have to wait. The compromise left a bitter taste in Leia's mouth.
As Commander Skywalker and the Princess left the room, General Rieekan felt a rush of guilt. I should have told them Chewbacca contacted us a few days ago. If the Wookiee's still alive, then they're probably right about Solo... The General let the thought end. Destroying the Death Star was just too important, even more important than Solo's life. There were some days he just hated being in charge.
Slowly, Han turned around to face the speaker, staring in the helmeted face of a Mandalorian, with a blaster pointed at his face. "Do I know you?"
Fett laughed. "Good one, Solo."
Han raised his eyebrow and looked at Jade, who explained with a sigh. "He's a bounty hunter, Solo. His name is Boba Fett. You shouldn't have skipped out of paying Jabba the Hutt what you owed him."
"Ah. A Hutt. Now that's an image even I can't forget," Han grinned before looking back at the bounty hunter. "Fett, huh? I guess there are some people that are best forgotten. Go away, and bother someone else."
Fett was astounded. "You never cease to amaze me, Solo. Get your hands up where I can see them, before I blast you. You're worth more alive than dead, but I'll take you dead if I have to."
"All right, but don't say I didn't warn you, buddy." Solo stood up, still smiling as he put his hands behind his head. "This okay?"
"You are so annoying," Fett snapped, as he reached forward and snatched Han's blaster from his holster. "I just can't wait to watch Jabba have fun with you in his dungeons."
"Dungeons," Han shook his head as he walked out of the small restaurant in front of Fett. "I really hate dungeons."
"Too bad, because you're about to become personally acquainted with them. At least until you die a slow death."
Out on the walkway, Han stopped and carefully turned to face his captor. "Then you should consider yourself lucky."
"'Cuz you're gonna have a fast death, instead of a slow one," Han replied with a shrug as he briefly shut his eyes, drawing on the Force to fling the bounty hunter backwards at a high rate of speed, while at the same time, using the Force to retrieve his DL-44 blaster from the left hand of the bounty hunter. A blaster bolt from Fett's own weapon shot out and up to the higher branches as the hunter tumbled off the boardwalk, falling silently to the ground far below. Casually, Solo strolled over to the edge, looking down into the inky darkness as he stuck his blaster back into his holster. The explosion of a jetpack briefly flashed as it impacted with the ground.
"I guess with you causing all this trouble, we should get someone's attention," Mara commented as she walked up beside him.
"Hey! I didn't start it! But ya gotta admire the guy," Han said, still looking over the walkway. "He didn't make a sound all the way down. Maybe after we're done with the rebels, we can go find this Jabba. I think I'd really like to pay him a courtesy call."
"Would you like to have dinner with me?" Wedge asked Leia as she exited the briefing.
Her first inclination was to turn him down, but then she changed her mind. "Sure, Wedge. That's probably a good idea. We need to have a talk."
Wedge gave a nervous laugh. "That sounds bad."
"Not really," she said, watching his reaction carefully. "Luke and I have come to believe there is a possibility that Han is alive, and being held prisoner on Coruscant."
Han! Alive? Wedge felt torn. Part of him was pleased that his fellow Corellian could still be alive; the other, more selfish part knew if Solo were to return, Wedge Antilles would stand no chance winning the Princess's heart. "Wow. That is news. So are you and Luke going to try a rescue?" Even as he said it, Wedge knew the chances of succeeding in breaking into a Imperial prison on Coruscant and escaping with one's own life, was slim. "That sounds risky."
"We can't go - not right now, anyway," Leia said, frowning. "Have you heard the rumors?"
"About the second Death Star? Yeah, that's been big news now for a couple of days. Everyone hopes it turns out to be just that - a rumor."
"I doubt it's unfounded. But General Rieekan wants me and Luke to wait until we hear from the Bothans. I just can't stand the idea of Han rotting away in that prison. Who knows what's been happening to him for the past five months."
They walked in silence for a short while, until Wedge put his hand on her arm. "Leia...?"
"I.... I think I love you."
Flushing, the Princess looked quickly away. I knew he had feelings for me. Now what? I don't want to hurt him. "Love?" she mumbled, not knowing what to say. She knew she didn't love Wedge. I love Han.
I have to say this now.... before it's too late. Before Solo returns. "Will you marry me? I know I'm not the handsomest guy, or the wittiest, but I'll be a good husband. I'm nice and I'm clean. And I'll always be faithful." Great Wedge.... you're making yourself sound like the family dog.
"Wedge.... you're one of the sweetest men I know," Leia smiled at him, realizing how nervous he was. "I've never had anyone ask me to marry him."
"So.... is that a 'no'?" he asked unhappily.
"How about a 'wait and see'?" she replied, unable to hurt his feelings. After all, if there was a second Death Star, turning his proposal down might not be necessary. It was very possible neither one would survive.
A 'wait and see'! Maybe I do stand a chance! Grinning wildly, Wedge reached down and kissed Leia, not caring if anyone saw them or not.
"I'm not going to Tatooine with you," Mara snapped out. "If you want to dispose of Jabba, that's something you'll have to do on your own."
"That won't be a problem," Han replied lightly. "I just thought you'd like some fun, instead of mindlessly obeying Wrinkles for a change."
"Wrinkles?! How dare you refer to your Master in such a derogatory way!"
"Well, it's not as bad as Gruesome. I suppose that could apply to Vader or Pops. 'Sides, I can say anything I want to - I'm the honored son of the Emperor."
"You're not..." Mara stopped herself quickly, but Han caught her slip as he looked down at her with a glint in his eye.
"I'm not what, Jade?"
"You're not worthy of having such a great father."
"Good save, Mara. Good save."
Mara opened her mouth to reply, but a huge roar from behind them interrupted the argument.
*CUB!! You're here!!*
Solo started to turn and was swept off his feet by a giant wall of russet hair. Fear shot to the surface of his emotions; he nearly used his powers to free himself and crush the Wookiee's heart. Then he remembered..... they were here to find a Wookiee that pretended to be his 'friend'. Hopefully, this was that Wookiee. "Chew...bacca?" Han mumbled into the powerful chest.
Setting Han back on his feet, Chewie took a step back to look at Han. *Of course it's me, Cub! Who else would it be? How did you escape? Are you okay? Who is this?* Chewie pointed to the red-head with the hard green eyes. Why is Han not pleased to see me?
"Uh... this is Mara ...Pradeux. She was a dancing girl for the Emperor, and she helped me escape."
*Did they hurt you?* The Wookiee looked at Han with such concern in his blue eyes, such tenderness in his emotions, that Han felt taken off guard. Wasn't this Wookiee supposedly just pretending to be his friend? It sure didn't feel like he was faking to Han. The nagging suspicions that had plagued Han since waking in the hospital came back in a rush, but he carefully shielded this from Jade.
"I... yeah... they hurt me. I really can't remember too much, Chewbacca. I'm having a hard time remembering anything about the past." At least most of that sentence wasn't a lie, Han mused. Except for the part about hurting me.... the rebels were the ones that hurt me. I think.
*Do you remember me?* Chewie woofed worriedly. At least this explained Han's lack of excitement at seeing him again.
"A little. I have flashes of memory, and that's why I came here - it just felt right," Han replied easily.
*But you do understand me," Chewie frowned at Solo.
"I guess I do." How do I understand Shyriiwook?
*Come with me,* Chewie instructed both humans. *Malla will be thrilled you are here, and you will regain your memory as soon as you are feeling better. Your new friend will be welcomed, as well.*
"Thank you," Mara replied, trying to look grateful as Solo interpreted.
"Yeah, I hope you will welcome Mara," Han grinned at the Wookiee. "Me and Mara have gotten close in the past few days. Real close, if ya get my meaning."
*Yes, Han,* Chewie nodded. *I'm glad you have the strength for such activities. That is a good sign.*
Jade only glared at the Corellian, wishing she could kill him.
Back at Chewie's cozy home, Han was greeting with the same enthusiasm from Malla and the Wookiee's son, Lumpy. Again, Han could detect no deception in either Malla's or the young Wookiee's emotions - they were genuinely happy to see him. Mara, meanwhile, was becoming more and more uncomfortable in this strange environment. It was all very puzzling to Han, and he started to question his ability to read beings through the Force. Maybe I only thought I could sense emotions and intentions...was I wrong? Maybe Vader wasn't afraid of me, and I just thought he was.
*Han! You are looking well, considering everything you must have been through,* Malla told Solo as she ushered him to a chair. *Why are you limping?*
Han hesitated. Vader had told him his legs were broken by the rebels and healed incorrectly. Solo's instructions were to tell his rebel 'friends' that everything the rebels had done to him was the result of being tortured by the Empire. "The Imp's broke by legs, and didn't let them heal correctly," Han said slowly. An image flashed in his mind.... Vader standing over him as his lower legs were first inserted in spiral tubes, then crushed as the twisting durosteel pipes slowly, painfully tightened. He could imagine the pain, see the bright lights, and hear his bones snapping. He started as Chewie's paw came down on his shoulder, feeling nauseated.
*They will pay for what they did to you, cub.*
Had he been remembering the torture the rebels inflicted on him, using Imperial look-alikes? "Yeah, they'll pay all right," Han agreed.
"I just can't believe you agreed to have dinner with me," Wedge smiled at the Princess. "You look so beautiful."
Leia felt herself blushing, and looked down at her plate of half-eaten food. She had come to Wedge's small room, dressed in her best clothes, her hair loosely braided down her back. Now that she was here, Leia wondered if maybe this was a mistake. "Thank you for the compliment."
"No problem. Are you finished eating? We can go sit on the sofa. It'll be more comfortable."
Not quite knowing how to turn him down, Leia nodded and went to the small sofa. It was old and worn, like most of the rebel supplies. It barely fit in the small space, and undoubtedly Wedge had bribed someone to borrow it for the evening. Tentatively, Leia sat down. Wedge quickly sank down in the too-soft material next to her, putting his arm on the back edge.
"This is nice," Leia nodded and looked around.
Wedge laughed. "Nice? It's cramped and tiny. But nothing matters tonight, Leia, because you're here. That makes everything nice." His arm moved off the sofa and onto her shoulders, and he scooted closer, pressing his body against hers.
The Princess cleared her throat. She would have moved away from the contact, but the sofa was tiny - there was simply nowhere to go. Wedge moved his face closer, capturing her lips in a lingering kiss. It took all of Leia's willpower not to push him away. I agreed to come here, knowing full well how he feels. I can't be a tease. It's just a kiss.
The Corellian was pleased with Leia's compliance. He moved his hand up to her shirt, fumbling at the buttons, while drawing back from the kiss only to lower to lights. The second kiss was harder, and far more intimate. Leia could feel his heartbeat increasing, his breath coming faster as his hand started to move inside her unbuttoned top.
Leia's comlink buzzed, and she quickly pushed Wedge away and reached for it. "Yes?" she said breathlessly into the small speaker.
"Leia? It's Luke. Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," she quickly answered, buttoning her shirt back up. "What do you need?"
"Chewie just contacted me through the rebel spy network."
"Chewie?" The increasingly embarrassing problem with Wedge was immediately forgotten. "He's alive?" A rush of happiness swept through her.
"Chewie's been on Kashyyyk for a while now. And you won't believe this - Han is with him."
"Han!? Han is alive?" This was too good to be true - the Princess felt like weeping with joy.
"I don't know too many details yet, but they will be coming to the base from Kashyyyk."
"I can't believe it!" Leia cried in happiness. "Where are you? I want to hear everything Chewie told you."
"In the command center."
"I'll be right there." Leia rushed out the door without a backwards glance at Wedge, sitting forlornly on the sofa.
"Anyway, that's all Chewie told me," Luke supplied his eager sister. "Han escaped with the help of a palace dancer, and he can't remember much of his past. He barely even remembers Chewie."
"Do you think he's forgotten me... I mean us?"
"It kinda sounded like it." Luke hated seeing the deflated expression on Leia's face. "Maybe not, though. Chewie really didn't go into too many details."
"Well.... memory loss caused by trauma is seldom permanent. When he gets back, maybe we can use some of those Force techniques Yoda taught us to help him get his memory back."
"The Force and Han?" Luke laughed. "I don't think we'll ever be able to convince Han to have anything to do with the Force."
For some reason, Luke's joking words did not comfort the Princess.
Kashyyyk, next day
After some discussion, Chewie decided they should leave the stolen Imperial ship for the rebels to pick up at a later date. The Wookiee was not convinced the ship did not carry a tracking device, and he hoped that once Han was back in the familiar confines of his own ship, his memories would return.
As Han approached the Millennium Falcon, he felt a chill run up his spine. There was the saucer shaped freighter, the one he briefly remembered all those weeks ago, before Vader stopped him from leaving Coruscant.
Seeing Han's expression, Chewie questioned his friend, *Do you recognize this ship?*
"It does looks a little bit familiar," he conceded.
"Of course it does," Mara quickly put in. "This YT-1300 freighter is a common ship, even if they haven't been made for two decades."
*The Falcon is hardly common,* Chewie said, annoyed.
"I think you offended him, Mara honey," Han smirked at the red-head.
"Like I care," she huffed and stomped up the ramp of the ship, disappearing around the corner.
*You do like them feisty, don't you, Han?* Chewie said quietly, directing a strange look at his friend.
"What does that mean?"
*The Princess? I can hardly believe you don't remember her.*
"Princess? I know a Princess?"
*I am pretty sure you had feelings for her, even if you wouldn't admit them for all the credits in the galaxy... Princess Leia Organa?*
Organa.... Han felt slightly ill. That was one of the names he was under orders to murder. "Did she like me?"
Chewie gave a woofing laugh. *The two of you would fight like wild sk'all-cats.* When Han only looked puzzled, Chewie continued. *There was an ongoing bet when you two would stop wanting to kill each other, and start kissing, instead.* Frowning at his partner, Chewie wondered how Leia would react to Mara. The red-headed female did not seem taken with Han, despite Solo's claims to the contrary. And this female did not give Han furtive little glances and smiles like the Princess did, when she thought Han wasn't looking. In fact, Chewie felt the urge to protect Han whenever Mara looked his direction. It was a situation that worried Chewbacca.
"Did we ever start kissing?"
*Unfortunately, we left and got caught by the Imperials before that happened. But now that we are going back, it's only a matter of time before you two are at it again.*
You have no idea, Han thought wryly.
Sullust, five days later.
Leia and Luke waited impatiently for the ramp of the Falcon to lower, rushing forward into the ship when it finally did. "Han!" Leia called out, nervously. "Where are you?"
"Right here, Princess Leia," Solo replied coming around the corner to face the woman he was supposed to murder. Shortly before exiting the ship, Jade had again reminded him of the need to shield from Skywalker, and Solo had firmly erected a Force-barrier around his emotions, annoyed that the red-head always felt the need to act like she was his supervisor. Han was slightly surprised when the petite, dark-haired young woman threw her arms around him, hugging him tightly. Worried that she'd feel the lightsaber under his coat, he shifted his arm, easing his elbow against the hilt to prevent her hand from brushing up against the weapon.
"We thought you were dead," Leia mumbled into his shirt. He's dressed all in black - and he's limping, too, just like in my nightmare. "Luke saw the hanger explode when your ship was being pulled in." Still holding him, Leia looked up at his drawn face, reaching out with the Force to see if she could sense any of the evilness she had felt in that cave. Oddly, she could barely sense anything at all, just confusion and wariness emanating from Han. As long as there was no evil Force-sense, Leia relaxed and felt her own emotions become overwhelmed with happiness.
"Well, you should know I'm harder to kill than that," Han joked with a weak grin, tentatively returning her hug. When Han looked in the Princess's face, he could see tears in her eyes. Again, Han could sense only happiness in the young woman's emotions. Her joy was coming through very clearly, and something stranger - the Princess seemed to be Force-strong. Palpatine and Vader had not mentioned that fact. As hard as Solo tried, he could not ignore the internal conflict inside his mind - something was not right.
"Han! Chewie!" An exuberant male voice yelled as came around the curve. "I can't tell you how happy I am to see you!" This is Luke Skywalker, Han thought in wonder. He's happy to see me, too! Things were just becoming more confusing by the moment for the Corellian.
Luke grabbed Solo's hand and shook it vigorously, looking into the Corellian's eyes. Han quickly shifted his focus away from the young man, mumbling, "Hello, Luke." Like his sister, the young Jedi could only scratch the surface of Han's emotions, but before he could question this issue, Chewie pushed past Solo and the Princess, grabbing Luke up in a bear hug.
He then turned to the Princess. *Can I hug you, too?*
"He wants to know if he's allowed....." Han started to translate before Leia interrupted him.
"Of course." She flung herself against the Wookiee, "Thank you for coming back, you walking carpet."
The Wookiee laughed. *Our future is with you, Princess.*
Looking Han over, Luke smiled, trying not to worry at the somber expression on Han's face and his closed-off feelings. It seemed only natural to the young man that Solo would feel out of place, considering his amnesia. "You look pretty good, considering I thought you were dead. Are you starting to remember anything?"
"I guess. A few things." Han shrugged. "The ship seems familiar."
"What about me?" Leia teased, further pushing aside any concerns about Han being a Sith. The idea seemed ludicrous now that Han was standing here, obviously with no intentions of attacking her.
"Well, I..." he started to say, when another voice came from behind him.
"Are you going to introduce me to your friends, Han?"
"Ah..... Leia Organa and um, Luke Skywalker, I'd like you to meet Mara Pradeux. She rescued me from the prison on Coruscant."
"Really?" Leia tried keeping her voice warm as she appraised the pretty red-head. "You really have to tell us all about your life as a palace dancer."
Han watched with interest as Leia sized up the assassin. She's jealous, Han thought in wonder. Maybe Chewie was right about us, but why would a Princess like me?
"I'm sure your people will thoroughly interrogate me, Princess," Jade smiled sweetly back.
"You'll be debriefed, Miss Pradeux, not interrogated." Leia turned to Luke. "Will you show our guest to her room?"
Suddenly faced with becoming this beautiful woman's escort, Luke forced himself not to become flustered. "If you'll come with me, I'll give you a quick tour." Reaching out with the Force, Luke was startled to find the woman was just as closed-off as Han. The only feelings he could sense from her were curiosity and annoyance. Just why would she be annoyed? Because Leia had asked him to show her around? Her next comment was even more puzzling.
"Thank you, Luke Skywalker," Mara replied, keeping her voice light. "I'd love to take a tour of your base, especially since I'm being shown the sights by such a handsome gentleman." Jade threw her hair back, giving a smirk over her shoulder at Solo. Taking his arm, Mara noted Luke Skywalker was blushing. So this is Vader's son. He's not what I expected.
When Luke and Mara exited, Leia returned her attention to the Corellian. Something was different about Han - he seemed guarded and unhappy. The sparkle in his hazel eyes had disappeared, his face had an emptiness she had never associated with the carefree smuggler. The result of Imperial torture, she told herself. "Are you up for a debriefing by General Rieekan?" Leia asked cautiously. "If you're tired, it can wait."
"No, I'm not tired. I've had plenty of rest on the trip to Kashyyyk and back to the base."
"All right," she nodded, slipping her arm through his. She felt him tense for a moment, then force himself to relax. With Chewie trailing behind, Han allowed himself to be led down the ramp of the ship. "Is your leg badly injured? Do you need to go to see a medic?"
Han looked down at her, keeping his expression neutral. "My legs were broken, and they weren't allowed to heal properly."
Once again, tears threatened Leia's eyes. "Oh, Han. I'm so, so sorry. We would have come for you, if we thought you'd survived that explosion." She was afraid broken legs had been the least of Han's problems during his confinement. "After you talk to Rieekan, I'm taking you to the medics. And don't argue with me."
"I'll never argue with you, Princess Leia."
With that comment, Leia suddenly knew something was seriously wrong with Han.
Facing General Rieekan, Admiral Ackbar, Mon Mothma, General Dodonna and General Madine, Han Solo quietly answered each question that was asked. Most of his responses were, "I don't remember", and that wasn't exactly a lie. Han didn't remember. But some questions did require outright lies.
"Did you have any contact with the Emperor?" Rieekan asked gently.
"No, sir, none at all." Han had taken an immediate liking to the Alderaanian general, unlike the others in the room.
"What did you tell Vader about the rebellion while under duress, Solo?" Madine shot out. He wasn't pleased his fellow Corellian was back. As far as Madine was concerned, the smuggler had always been more trouble than he was worth.
Glaring at the hostile General, Solo spoke slowly. "I told you, I don't remember." These people don't trust me, and Madine hates me. Vader was right, all along.
"Don't remember? That seems like a convenient excuse, if you ask me. I think you remember just fine, and you don't want us to know what you told the Imperials."
You'd better watch your back, Madine. "If I remembered, I'd tell you," Han said tightly, barely keeping his rage under control, and shielded.
"I think Han's been asked enough questions for now," Rieekan remarked, turning off the recorder. "The Princess is waiting to take you to the medic ward to check you over for untreated injuries. Thank you for your time, Han."
"You're welcome, sir."
Two time-parts later, Han lay flat on his back while doctors and droids ran tests. This was another thing taking all his self-control. Something terrible had happened in a room just like this. Did his tortures happen here, with these same doctors that now seemed so concerned about his well-being? A door slid open and Leia entered with a tall woman doctor. She was holding several disks.
"Captain Solo? My name is Dr. Fittz." When Han said nothing, she continued. "Your lower legs have had many small and large breaks. The bone-knitters only repaired them very superficially. I'm afraid surgery is going to be necessary if you ever want to walk without pain, and I can't guarantee you'll be totally pain-free even after the surgery. But I know you'll hurt less, and the limp will be much less pronounced."
"Then what's the point, if I'll still be in pain, and still limp?" Han asked, frowning as he struggled into a seated position on the table.
"Like I just said," the doctor repeated patiently, "You'll have less pain, and I'll be able to realign the bones so you can walk much better. Unfortunately, I'll have to re-break your lower legs to allow the bones to be properly reset. It won't be painful, since you'll be under anesthesia while I'm resetting them, and then given pain meds until the bone knitters are done."
"How long will this take?" Han asked, suspiciously. Being put under and then heavily medicated sounded risky - it could affect his ability to shield and delay the job he was sent to do by the Emperor.
"About three weeks, at least."
"No." Three weeks was much too long. He needed to complete his assignment much sooner than that.
"No?" Leia spoke up for the first time. "You can't be serious! I know you don't like hospitals, but this is just foolishness. You have to let Dr. Fittz do the surgery!"
"I don't have to do anything, Princess," Han sneered as he pushed himself off the table, unable to entirely mask the growing rage he'd felt since his debriefing by the Rebel leadership. "Don't you order me around, and don't call me a fool."
The way he glared at Leia frightened her. The emptiness she'd seen in his eyes was gone, and pure hatred was now on display in his face. It was just like in her vision - a cold chill swept over her. "Han..... I didn't mean to order you around," she said carefully. In the past, she would have pushed the matter and continued to argue with him, but not now. That Han Solo was gone - Leia was not about to push him. "You're not a fool."
Seeing her concern, Han tried to calm his anger. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to get mad at you. I just don't want to have surgery, at least not right now."
Han Solo.... apologizing? "That's fine, Han. Really." Whatever's the matter with you, it goes far deeper than improperly healed bones.
Three days later.
Leia sat in the cafeteria, picking at her food while thinking about Han. Over the past three days, he'd avoided all contact with her. And not only with her, he avoided Luke as well. The only person he deemed to allow inside his ship was Mara Pradeux. Just thinking about the pretty red-head made Leia feel sick. Perhaps Han had fallen in love with his rescuer - it wasn't uncommon. It happened to me, she thought glumly. It made matters even worse when she realized how much time Luke tried to spend with Mara. Maybe the dancer was the type of woman every man fell in love with.
"Can I sit down?" a man spoke next to her.
Wedge. "Sure, have a seat."
The rebel pilot sat down, and smiled nervously at the Princess. "How's Han?"
"I don't really know. I think physically he'll be fine, but mentally....."
"The amnesia trauma?"
"It's more than that, Wedge. I can't explain it, but something is wrong with Han. It's almost like he's a totally different person."
"The way you two always fought, maybe that's a good thing?" Wedge questioned with a slight smile.
The Princess shook her head. "No. He's not different in a good way. Even Chewie has mentioned the change to me. I'm really worried about him."
"You love him." It wasn't a question.
This is it, Leia.... she thought as she met his eyes. "I think I've loved him since the day I met him. It took losing him for me to realize it."
"I figured," Wedge sighed. "As much for your sake as his, I hope he gets better. You two are right for each other. Everyone on the base can see it."
"Really?" she smiled. "Is this topic widely discussed?"
"You might say it's the most popular topic around." Wedge looked away for a moment, feeling a rush of loss and sadness. "Can I have a goodbye kiss? On the cheek?"
Leia leaned over and gave Wedge his kiss. She did not see Han Solo standing behind them in the entryway, his fists tightly clenched.
Mara allowed Luke to walk her back to her small room, as she had done for the past three nights. The young man was so incredibly different than anyone she had ever known. He was considerate, sweet, and pleasantly modest about his talents as a pilot and a Jedi. Arriving at her door, she turned and looked up into his blue eyes. "Well. Here we are. Again."
Luke smiled shyly. "Thanks for having dinner with me. I know rebel rations aren't too good...."
"The food is fine. And so is the company."
"Ah... well.... goodnight then, Mara," Luke said, staring at the floor and kicking a small stone with his boot.
He looked up. "Yes?"
Mara leaned forward and kissed the Jedi quickly and softly on the lips. "Goodnight." Not waiting for his response she turned away, entered her room and quickly shut the door, feeling a bit shocked at her own boldness. How can I let Palpatine destroy this man? she thought in despair. Luke Skywalker was the first truly decent man she'd ever known, and the past few days had shown her the rebels were good people, as well. They were not the dirty, ignorant scum that Palpatine had always described them. Jade felt a stab of fear and uncertainty. She wasn't sure the Emperor was even mentally stable anymore, not since his experiment with Solo.
The Emperor's Hand could not find sleep or peace that night.
One time-part later
It had been a long day of meetings when General Madine finally reached his quarters. The second Death Star was becoming more and more of a certainty.
As he reached inside his closet, the lights went out. Madine wasn't too concerned. Power outages were always a problem at these makeshift bases. He turned to reach for his handlight when the snap hiss of a lightsaber sounded behind him. Skywalker?
Madine started to turn, but he never completed the maneuver. The blade pushed through the back of torso and tore down to his hips before withdrawing. Staring down at the gaping hole in his chest, Madine felt his heart give a last flutter before stopping. He dropped to his knees and rolled onto his back. The last face he saw in the eerie glow of the lightsaber was that of his assassin, smirking down at the Corellian General.
Luke was eating breakfast with his sister and thinking pleasant thoughts about the kiss Mara had given him last night when General Rieekan approached them, followed by security guards. "We have a problem," he started without preamble.
Noting the guards, Leia frowned. I hope this isn't about Han. "What's the problem?"
Rieekan cleared his throat, looking uncomfortable. "I'm afraid I have to arrest Luke."
"What?" Leia stood up, yelling. The other rebels stopped eating and looked their direction. "Why?"
"General Madine was murdered last night."
"Murdered?" Leia felt stunned. "What makes you possibly think Luke had anything to do with it?"
"He was murdered with a lightsaber, Princess. Luke has a lightsaber."
The Princess frowned. "Then why not arrest me? I have one, too!"
"The time of death was immediately following the last meeting we held last night. You were still with me during the time of the murder," Rieekan sighed. "I'm sorry, Luke."
The guards moved to either side of the young Jedi, removing his weapons.
"This is a mistake," Leia said, her voice shaking. It was only after the guards escorted her brother away that Leia noticed Mara Pradeux standing across the room, arms folded and looking slightly irritated.
"Why would you use your lightsaber?" Mara snapped at Solo, once she was safely inside thelocked Falcon. Chewbacca was with Wedge, trying to help the pilot fix a persistent problem with his X-Wing that seemed to be eluding the technicians.
"What difference does it make?"
"Because I told you to kill them in a subtle way," she said, frustrated. "Unless you don't know the meaning of subtle." Which seems to be likely.
Han grinned at the angry red-head. "It's not that big of a deal. They think Luke did it."
"Unless you've forgotten, we're supposed to bring Luke back to Coruscant - alive. How can we do that if he's in a rebel lock-up?"
"Not a problem, we'll just break him out. Maybe this will work in our favor, anyway. He might be so grateful to escape, he'll jump at the chance to join the Emperor."
"I'll be more subtle next time. Will that make you want to kiss and make up with me?"
Mara Jade turned and stalked off the ship.
The Corellian made his way to the area that held the X-Wings, scanning the area until he located Chewie. The Wookiee was crawling down the ladder, and when he turned he saw Han, Chewie waved at him. Han waved back and saw Chewie speaking to Wedge, who was standing under the ship, before the Wookiee made his way over to Solo.
Han watched Wedge turn his attention back to the underside of the X-Wing. The image of Leia kissing the pilot burned in his mind and soul. Once again, the rage began building. Ignoring the approaching Wookiee, Solo stared at the struts that held the X-Wing up, and a small smile formed on his lips. The struts trembled slightly, and then snapped as easily as a small matchstick between his fingers. The X-Wing collapsed at an angle, onto Antilles.
Cries of surprise and shock rose from the other pilots and techs in the area. Chewie spun around to face the crashing sound, and ran back to the disaster. Forcing the grin off his face, Han hobbled slowly over to the tilted X-Wing that lay on its belly. No one would ask Solo why he didn't run to help ... they knew he couldn't move quickly. By the time the Corellian had arrived, a couple dozen men and Chewie had moved to one side of the fighter, straining and hoisting the heavy ship and rolling it away, since lifting it would be impossible without a crane.
Wedge Antilles moaned as the heavy weight lifted from his broken bones. "He's alive! Get the medics!" a fellow pilot cried over the noise and commotion.
Solo frowned. If the ship would have gone down evenly, Antilles would be dead. But it didn't matter. He had plenty of time to finish the job, and it was very possible the pilot would die of his injuries, anyway.
Mon Mothma approached Leia in the command center. "Princess, there's been an accident in the hanger," she started out gently.
Han? Leia felt the blood drain from her face. "What happened?"
"The struts holding an X-Wing gave way." Mon Mothma paused, not quite knowing how to continue. "I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but Wedge Antilles was badly injured. I know how close you two have been lately. The doctors fear he may have suffered spinal injuries."
"Wedge?" Wedge was injured? Madine murdered? Luke in prison for the murder? Everything seemed to be going wrong at once. "I need to sit down."
The older lady helped Leia to a chair. "Do you want me to go with you to the med center?"
"No." The Princess stood up. "I'm fine. I'll go alone." She left the command center, uncertain of why her Force-sense was tickling a warning.
Four time-parts later.
Leia stood in the hanger, staring at the X-Wing that almost killed Wedge. It was still on its side, looking out of place in the neat hanger. Sweet Wedge..... just yesterday, she'd broken his heart. Now he was struggling to hang onto life.
"Princess," a deep voice said from behind her.
She turned and threw her arms around the smuggler. "Han.... first Luke gets arrested, and now Wedge is hurt. Why is this happening?" Solo realized this was a rhetorical question, not one accusing him of any wrong-doing.
"Do you love Wedge?" Solo asked carefully, keeping his voice even.
Leia pulled back and looked up through her tears. "He's a friend. So yes, I love him as a friend, but nothing more. Nothing deeper."
"I see." Maybe he had been too hasty in assuming the worst. "And you love Luke as a friend? Or something deeper?"
"Luke?" she asked, puzzled at this strange questioning. "We need to go somewhere private, Han. I have something to tell you."
"We can go on the Falcon," Han suggested, tilting his head in the direction of the freighter. Leia walked with Solo and boarded the old ship, then entered the hold and sat down.
Sitting across from her, Han gave a slight smile. "Let me guess... you and Luke are secretly married."
"Luke is my brother," she replied, watching his reaction carefully.
Brother? Han felt stunned. "How.... when....?" That means Vader has two children.
"He told me after we thought you were dead. After he'd trained with Yoda."
"Yes, the Jedi Master on Dagobah. He told Luke that I was his twin sister, and I needed to be trained as a Jedi so I could help Luke."
"Help him?" There's a Jedi Master still alive? On Dagobah? Another thing Palpatine would be pleased to find out about.
"Yoda had a vision. The Emperor has created a Force-strong being to serve him, and I need to help Luke defeat this being. Then we can take care of Palpatine."
A "created" Force-strong being? Who is that? Jade? Han puzzled this mystery, and then asked carefully, "What about Vader?"
Leia looked down. This was going to be the hard part - confessing her parentage to the man she loved. "Vader..... Vader is our father." Slowly, Leia looked up. Han's face was flat and difficult to read.
"Vader is your.... father?" he forced himself to sound surprised, already knowing this since Luke was her twin brother.
"I know this is terrible, and I wouldn't blame you if you hated me. But I love you, Han. Nothing will ever change that."
"Love? You love me? Like ... a friend?" Like Wedge?
"No. I love you." Silently, Leia waited for his reaction.
Palpatine will be pleased to hear this. He can have two Skywalkers as servants, not just one. "I love you too, Princess," he smiled at her. "It's not your fault Vader is your father."
Leia should have been overjoyed at his declaration. But even as he said the right words, his eyes remained empty and devoid of love.
Two days later.
With a heavy heart, Admiral Ackbar made the arrangements for Luke's trial. It seemed impossible for him to believe the young Jedi had anything to do with Madine's murder. Gathering up his data disks, he exited his office and headed to his quarters. He had only taken a few steps when Solo came around the corner, stopping directly in his path.
"May I help you, Captain?" Ackbar asked the Corellian.
"I think so," Han replied with a tight smile. In his mind's eye, Solo imagined the blood vessels in the Admiral's large head. Then he saw them burst. The Mon Calamari's eye's bulged, and he dropped the disks, holding his webbed hands to his head. A moment later he dropped to the ground. Han turned and left the hallway, his step light as the Force rushed through his veins, making him feel strong and unbeatable.
Leia sat with her brother in his small cell. "I just can't believe what's happening, Luke. First Madine is murdered, then Wedge ends up almost killed, and now Ackbar is dead."
"How did the Admiral die?" Luke asked.
"The autopsy showed a stroke, caused by an aneurism in his brain."
Luke sighed. "Something is wrong. I can't pinpoint anything, but I keep sensing evil."
"Maybe it's Mara Pradeux," Leia suggested slowly. It would explain the Force-warnings she was getting as well.
"No...." Luke started to say, then stopped. What did he really know about the pretty woman? Maybe her rescuing Han wasn't everything it appeared to be. "Maybe. But like I said, I can't pinpoint it."
"With Ackbar's death, Dodonna is now acting as your prosecutor. I'm going to defend you."
"Do you think that's appropriate? You know, being...." Luke stopped, not knowing if they were being listened to.
"No one knows. Except Han." When Luke looked surprised, Leia continued. "I had to tell him, Luke. I love him, and it wasn't fair not to let him know."
"Did you tell him everything?"
Leia knew what he meant. "Yes."
"How did he take it?"
"Surprisingly well. He told me he loved me, and it didn't matter." Luke reached over and hugged his sister, and Leia could not bring herself to express her fears about Han, and how he looked so emotionless when he said the words, 'I love you'. What worried Leia more than that - Han never even kissed her.
Solo handed Jade a cup of caf. "Leia is Luke's sister."
Han grinned, pleased he could shock the unflappable Mara Jade. "Yup. Now Palpatine can have Luke and Leia serving him. I think he'll be pleased."
"You don't know that!" Mara yelled at the Corellian. "Your orders are to kill Organa, not bring her to Coruscant." Could the Emperor control and defeat three Skywalkers? It didn't seem like very good odds to Jade.
"Palpatine didn't know who she is," Han replied calmly. "I'm taking her to Coruscant."
"If you don't kill her, I will," Mara snapped.
Solo lowered his voice. "If you kill Organa, I will kill you. I should kill you anyway, Jade. You're nothing more than a speck of dirt in my eye."
I can't wait until .... Jade shut off her feelings of hatred, but it was too late.
"You hate me, and you want to kill me," Solo sneered, ignoring the steadily increasing pain forming behind his eyes. "I know, Jade, because I have the power to see right through you. I can read your feelings, even if you try shielding. I know everything the Emperor has planned. Palpatine wants you to kill me, because he's afraid of me - just like Vader fears me. Well, he should be afraid, because I'm not stopping with destroying the rebel leadership. When I'm done here, I'll be heading to Coruscant and taking over as Emperor. So you can either agree to serve me, or die. But you won't kill me - you don't have the power to kill me. Not you, not Vader and not the Emperor."
Mara dropped her caf and ran, listening as Solo's insane laughter followed her down the ramp.
One day later.
A soft rap sounded on General Dodonna's door. "Enter," he spoke without looking up from his desk.
"General." The older man looked up, seeing Solo standing in front of his desk. The smuggler looked drawn, like he had just recovered from a hangover. "Do you have lots of evidence on Skywalker?" Han asked casually. After his encounter with Jade, the pain of his headache had driven him the refresher to throw up until his insides hurt. Only now, with the knowledge he was about to obey Palpatine once again, did the pressure begin easing.
"I'm afraid I'm not at liberty to discuss...." A sharp pain radiated down the General's left arm, and a look of alarm crossed his face. "Get a medic.... I think... I'm..."
"You think what, General?" Han smiled, not moving. Dodonna slumped forward, face down on his desk.
Han turned and left the office. The General's secretary never noticed him come or leave. This was too easy, and his headache was completely gone.
When the cell door slid open, Luke was astounded to see Mara Pradeux standing there alone, looking pale. "Skywalker, we have to leave. Now."
"I can't...." he started, wondering how she'd gotten past security.
"No! You have to shield yourself with the Force and come with me. If you refuse, it's all over."
"What's over?" Luke questioned the woman.
"Life. My life. Your life. Your sister's life." When he still hesitated, she added, "Trust me, Luke. We have a problem. A really big problem."
Luke followed the red-head out of his cell. How did she know he had a sister?
It had been remarkably easy to simply walk past the rebel guards, and as they headed to Leia's room, Luke became convinced Mara was much more than just a palace dancer. "You're a Jedi, aren't you?" Luke questioned as they moved quickly through the corridors.
"A Jedi?" Mara laughed. "If I were a Jedi, I'd be dead." It was all she would say until they entered Leia's room.
The Princess was stunned when her brother entered her room with the red-head. "Luke? How, I mean, why did you leave the prison? Did they let you go?" she stuttered in surprise. When Luke shook his head 'no', Leia looked at Mara. "Who are you, really?"
"I have a long story to tell you. Have a seat," Jade pointed at the small cot. The twins sat and listened as Mara told them a long story - when she was finally finished, both twins were numb and silent. "We have to leave," Mara urged in conclusion. "Or he'll kill us all."
"I don't believe you," Leia finally said. "You could have killed Madine with a lightsaber just as easily as Han, since you just admitted you have one. You're the Imperial assassin, not Han."
"What about Ackbar and Antilles?" Mara shot back. "That wasn't the work of a lightsaber, but it was the work of a strong Force-user. Those are things I've never been trained to do."
"We don't know that," the Princess argued, refusing to believe her. "Maybe you did use the Force to kill the Admiral. Or maybe Ackbar's death really was natural causes, like the medic's reported, and what happened to Wedge was an accident."
"Why are you telling us this, if you're the Emperor's Hand?" Luke questioned the woman, not quite as unsure of her story as Leia. "Isn't Han just doing what he's been brainwashed to do?"
"He wants to become Emperor," Mara replied. "That wasn't part of his brainwashing, believe me."
"So that's why you're trying to stop Han all of a sudden?" Leia snapped at the red-head. "You want us to help save the life of your precious Palpatine? That's not going to happen."
"No." Mara shook her head. "Palpatine had Solo created as the most Force-strong being in the galaxy. He's just as mentally unstable now as Solo. Only he's not as dangerous." It took all of her effort to say those words - she tried to reassure herself they were only words meant to stop Solo from his plan. I will never betray you, Master.
"That's not possible," Leia replied heatedly.
"Leia... it's what Yoda told us," Luke said to his sister, but in his wildest nightmares, he never imagined this evil enemy as Han Solo. Could Luke kill the man he considered as a brother?
The Princess stood up and began pacing in her small room. "So we're supposed to kill Han? I can't do that, Luke. I love him."
"This isn't the same man you fell in love with, Princess," Mara said, trying to get Leia to see reason. "His mind has been destroyed."
"No.... I can't accept that," Leia argued. "He's..." The door buzzer sounded, interrupting her. "Hide," she ordered Luke and Mara. Quickly, they entered the refresher.
Leia opened the door. General Rieekan stood there, looking gray. "General Dodonna had a heart attack. He's dead."
Nooo... "This can't be happening," Leia whispered, just as the ground beneath her feet shook violently.
Standing outside of Mon Mothma's quarters, Han could sense she was the only life-form in the room. Shutting his eyes, he pictured the stone ceiling, carved from the underground mines of Sullust. He sought, and found, a small inconsequential crack in the roof. Using the Force, he pressed the crack, widening it until small pebbles began dropping to the floor. A loud crack sounded inside the room as the rock fissure opened, and large stones began dropping down. Then the ground rumbled beneath Solo's feet as the ceiling in the quarters gave way, sending tons of granite down.
The life-force inside the room continued to exist, and this angered Solo. He would have reached inside the quarters and used the Force to choke the woman, but the sound of people running in his direction made him quickly leave, frustrated at his second failure and the pain in his head threatening once again.
"What was that?" Leia asked, still in shock from hearing about Han and Dodonna. Could Han cause someone to have a heart attack? Or a stroke? Could he have caused Wedge's X-Wing's struts to collapse? If Han had caused everything, Mara was right - the galaxy was in grave danger.
"It sounded like an explosion," Rieekan replied. "I'll go check it out." He was about to leave when his comlink buzzed. "Yes?"
A tinny voice came over the speaker. "General Rieekan, sir! The ceiling in Mon Mothma's quarters has let loose. We're trying to get into the room right now."
"Was.... was she in there?"
"I don't know," the voice replied. "But she's not answering her comlink."
She's gone, too, Leia thought in horror. The entire rebel leadership had been decimated. Only Rieekan and Leia were left.
"I'm on my way," Rieekan said, looking at Leia. The possibility of Mon Mothma's death had not yet sunk in. The General gave Leia a quick hug, then turned and left.
Mara and Luke exited the refresher. "Do you believe me now?" she asked, her green eyes hard and intense.
Leia sat down on her cot, her legs no longer able to support her. "Yes. I believe you."
Chewie came charging down the hallway, nearly colliding with Solo. *Cub! What happened?*
"The ceiling gave way. I think I heard someone say it was Mon Mothma's room."
*This is terrible! It's like a curse has descended on the rebel base. Perhaps these caves are haunted.*
Han looked up at his tall friend. "Maybe that's true, pal." I'm the one doing the haunting. Palpatine's orders are the curse.
"What are we going to do? We just can't leave the base with Han still here!" Leia said, holding her head.
"We have to confront Han, sister. Maybe we can reach the old Han, somehow."
Mara gave a snort. "You two are unbelievable. The man is hopeless. He's insane. You can't think you can save him!"
"I can't give up on him, either," Luke argued.
"It won't matter if we're not here," Mara sighed. "He'll leave the base once he's finished his job and Rieekan is dead."
"What!? I can't let him kill Rieekan!" Leia protested.
"He will kill Rieekan, unless you kill him first. Those are his orders." Of course, Han had already altered those orders by choosing not to kill Leia, and deciding to destroy the Emperor, but Mara decided not to point that out. It might only encourage them to think he had some free will left.
"Then Rieekan will come with us when we leave," Leia insisted.
"Do you think he'd abandon the base with no leadership left?" Mara shot back.
There was no argument left Leia could think of. They would have to confront Han, before he had a chance to kill again.
Han let Chewie continue on to Mon Mothma's quarters. Solo did not try to prevent the Wookiee from assisting in the rescue effort - deep inside, he found himself wishing she was unhurt. The same pain shot through his head like a stabbing knife, reminding him of his duty. He was the Emperor's Hand. He had to obey. I'll get the woman later, he promised the invisible pressure. Just like I'll get Rieekan. Han did not intend to kill Leia, despite his orders. He wanted her too badly. I always wanted her, he thought grimly. I guess I must be remembering some things.
The Corellian limped across the empty hanger toward his ship, intending to rest. Drawing on the Darkside to kill Dodonna and to try and kill Mothma had drained him. Using the Force had never caused this type of tiredness before, in fact it had always left him energized. Why doesn't this damn headache go away? Halfway to his ship, Leia and Luke stepped out from behind the ramp, with Mara right behind. Han jumped in surprise. I should have sensed them! What's the matter with me? Aloud, he said, "What's goin' on?"
"Han, Mara told us everything," Leia spoke softly. "This isn't your fault. Palpatine's controlling your mind."
"We want to help you," Luke added. "Please don't fight us."
Slowly, Solo reached into his black overcoat, drawing out his lightsaber. "What, exactly, did you tell them, Jade?" he sneered in contempt.
"The truth," she told him, as she moved to stand next to Luke. "You were a smuggler, Solo, working for the rebellion. You're not Palpatine's son. Vader tortured you for months, and then the Emperor had his favorite scientist perform an experiment on you. Obviously, it was successful."
"Experiment?" Han laughed. "What are you talking about?"
"They mixed your blood and marrow with altered DNA - Palpatine's DNA. They gave you huge quantities of midichlorians, and convinced you that the rebels were the ones that tortured you."
"You're lying. I don't even know what the hell midichlorians are," Han spat out. "And now I'm going to kill you, Jade." Solo glared at Luke. "I guess I'll kill you, too, while I'm at it. You're the type that'd try to stand in my way."
"Your way?" Leia questioned. She was afraid, more for Han than herself.
"I'm going back to Coruscant - Vader and Palpatine are in for a big surprise when I get there. But since you love me, you can come with and be my queen, sweetheart. Together, we'll rule the galaxy."
"Han, let me help you remember," Luke pleaded. "Please?"
Solo flicked on his lightsaber. "No one is standing in my way." Then he lunged toward Luke, and attacked with a speed and fury that caught the twins' off-guard. Mara flicked on her own lightsaber, joining the fray. The Emperor's Hand could tell neither Luke nor Leia wanted to kill Solo, even now that they knew the truth. Their kindness and friendship toward Solo would be their downfall.
Her plan was to kill Solo while he was engaged in fighting both the young Jedi. They would be upset, certainly, but then she could quickly finished off the Princess. Despite everything that had happened, Mara Jade still intended to take Luke Skywalker back to Coruscant and present him to the Emperor. Once Solo was dead, everything would go back to normal. The Emperor would be pleased to learn she had killed the traitorous new Hand. She ignored the persistent little voice in her mind that told her she was making a mistake, that the rebels were good people, and that she might be falling for the young Jedi.
Luke noted that while Han was attacking him, he was only defending himself against Leia, and the Princess was using this to their advantage, stepping in front of Luke at every opportunity, which forced Han to retreat. "Stop this, Han!" Luke yelled over the clashing lightsabers. "We don't want to kill you!"
"I can tell," Han taunted the young man as he stepped back. "You're not even trying very hard."
"What's the matter, Solo?" Mara returned with equal contempt. "Finding out that killing three at the same time is harder than you thought?"
Solo laughed and raised his hand - Force-lightning shot from his fingertips toward the red-head. Mara used her blade to deflect the first bolts, but the lightning started coming faster and harder. Jade tried diving under the cover of the lowered ramp and almost made it. A Force lightning blast caught her in the back, sending her reeling to the ground. Her head struck the side of the ramp and she lost consciousness. Quickly, Luke stepped in front of Mara, using his blue blade to defend the woman.
"She still intends to take you to the Emperor, Luke," Han shouted. "She thinks she can hide her plans from me, but she can't. I can read her intentions .... I can sense everything!"
"It doesn't matter," Luke replied calmly, as he listened to Mara moaning as she struggled to bring herself back to awareness. "I can't let you kill her."
"If you can sense everything, why can't you tell we're not lying to you?" Leia pleaded, fighting to regain her breath. "I love you. Why can't you sense that? Don't you know what love is anymore?"
Han ignored Leia's plea, keeping his attention focused on Luke. "If you liked me so much, why didn't you try and rescue me? You're both liars, just like Vader and Palpatine. Everyone is lying to me, and you're all going to pay the price for those lies."
"I told you.... we thought you were dead."
"Well... now you're dead," Han grinned, and moved in Luke's direction with his saber raised. The two men clashed, with Solo driving Luke back with each blow. Soon Luke was fighting for his life as he stumbled and fell backwards, raising his blue saber over his head to prevent Solo from striking a fatal blow. Instead, the amber blade struck his wrist, severing Luke's hand from his wrist - the blue lightsaber went spinning away. Pain radiated from the young Jedi as his arm burned in agony, and the young Jedi could only stare in shock at his arm, with no hand.
I'm going to have to kill him, or he's going to kill Luke, Leia thought in horror as she moved up behind Solo to defend her brother.
The Princess never had a chance to strike the Corellian down. A flash from a blaster caught Han, hitting him in his side and sending him to the ground as his lightsaber skidded safely away.
Chewie stood there holding a blaster, a look of grief on his face.
Carefully, Luke and Mara helped each other stumble inside the Falcon, while Chewie carried the limp form of Han Solo. The Wookiee could not bring himself to kill his friend - he had only set the blaster on heavy stun. Putting Han on the cot in his room, Chewie brushed the pilot's hair from his forehead. *My cub... what have they done to you?* The Wookiee turned his blue eyes to the Princess. *What was happening? Why was Han using a lightsaber? Why was he trying to kill you?*
Leia shook her head in despair. She didn't understand Chewie's exact words, but it wasn't necessary - the shock on his face, the tone of his soft woofing said enough. "Somehow, Palpatine has made Han Force-sensitive, and brainwashed him into becoming an assassin." She looked down at the now peaceful Corellian and worried about what would happen when he awoke.
*I will never take Han's life,* Chewie shook his shaggy head as he looked at the Princess, indicated the blaster set on stun and not kill. *We must find a way to bring back the man we knew.*
"I won't kill him, either," Leia whispered, taking Solo's limp hand. "We will get through to him. I promise." Somehow.
Mara Jade was confused as Luke sat down heavily on the medic cot. "Why did you help me after Solo told you those things?" she asked, fumbling around for pain medicine to give the young man.
"He was telling the truth, wasn't he?" Luke asked quietly, trying to use the Force to lessen his pain. "About you taking me back to Coruscant?"
Mara looked away, unable to meet the intense gaze of the young man's blue eyes. "Yes. So why help me?"
"Because I can help you get away from Palpatine's influence. I know I can."
"Just like you know you can do that for Han?"
"No, I can't do it alone," Luke said, watching as Mara tenderly wrapped a make-shift bandage around his burned wrist. "Leia is the one that can get through to him. She will succeed, you know."
"Even if that's true, what about all the damage and death he's caused to the rebellion?"
"No one knows anything but us, Mara. Just like no one knows about you, either. If you deserve forgiveness, doesn't Han?"
"You can forgive the man, even after he cut off your hand?"
"Han's like my brother, and the way I see it neither one of you had any choice in the matter. Han doesn't know what he's doing." The image of Darth Vader came to Luke's mind. Did his father have a choice? Or was he as much a victim of Palpatine's evil influence as Mara and Han?
"I hope your right about this, Skywalker. But the only way you can get Solo back from the darkness he's trapped in will be to bring back his memories of the past. Once he remembers the past, he'll also remember all the torture he endured. That might be enough to leave him in the Darkside, too."
"I don't think so, Mara," Luke argued gently. "The power of Darkside, with all its evil, is no match for the power of love."
Mara felt a warmth spread over her body. It was a feeling she'd never experienced before. Maybe Luke was right, after all.
Han Solo opened his eyes and realized he wasn't dead. Leia sat in a chair next to his cot, washing his forehead with a warm, damp cloth. She smiled down at him. "You're awake, finally."
"Why am I alive?" Why are you being so kind to me, after I tried killing everyone?
*Did you think I would kill you, cub?* Chewie woofed from the open doorway, looking down at the Corellian. It had taken all of Chewie's willpower to even use the stun setting on his friend. *I came back because you looked so ill in the corridor, I became concerned for you. When I arrived in the hanger, I could not believe my eyes. It was fortunate I was carrying a small blaster, or I would have had to find some other way to render you unconscious.* Chewie looked over his shoulder as Luke came down the hallway, and stepped aside to allow the young man to enter Han's quarters.
Luke stumbled into the small room, holding his damaged arm tightly to his chest, his face pale from pain. "Now, will you let us help you remember the truth? We're not the enemy, Han. Please, trust us."
Han closed his eyes. He felt exhausted, his entire body ached from the stun blast, and the headache was more intense than it had ever been. He no longer knew what to believe, who was lying, and who was telling the truth. The fact remained these people could have killed him but they didn't, even after everything he'd done to them. "Sure," he mumbled, feeling strangely disconnected from reality. "Do what you want to me. It doesn't matter anymore." In a way, he felt relieved when he said those words. Maybe this will all end now, one way or the other.
Leia gently touched his face, forcing him to turn and look at her, pressing her feelings of love at the confused Corellian through the Force. "It matters. It matters more than you know," she whispered, her voice raw and her eyes burning with unshed tears.
She watched as Luke pulled up another chair, and put his left hand over Solo's wrist. They began talking, first Luke, then Chewie and Leia.
"Do you remember where you first met me?" Luke asked quietly. When Han shook his head 'no', Luke continued, "It was in a little dump of a cantina in Mos Eisley. I was with Ben Kenobi, or Obi-Wan. That was his Jedi name. A being in the bar tried roughing me up, and Ben cut off his arm with his lightsaber."
*I took Luke and Ben to the booth where you were waiting, Han,* Chewie verbally stepped in. *We owed Jabba the Hutt a great deal of credits for dumping a shipment of spice.* The Wookiee paused and then added thoughtfully, *Actually, we still do owe Jabba those credits. So you agreed to take Luke and Obi-Wan to Alderaan, for a fee.*
"A really high fee," Luke added, watching as Han gave a small smile. "But Alderaan was destroyed before we got there."
Destroyed... Han shuddered as an image of debris from a blown-apart planet came to his memory. Through the Force, he could feel Leia's grief and pain that came with her own memory. "I think I remember Alderaan being destroyed." What other memories were there, threatening to boil to the surface? All I have to do is accept the truth of what's being told to me... then I'll remember. Han felt himself tremble with fear, uncertain if he wanted to remember.
"That's good," Luke nodded. "The Death Star was still there, and we got caught in a tractor beam and pulled inside."
*But that turned out to be good,* Chewie continued, pointing at Leia, *Because we rescued a Princess.*
"Some rescue!" Leia laughed, understanding what Chewie said by his visual signal. "I had to take matters into my own hands. You didn't have any plan to get us out of the detention area!"
"Luke was the brains," Han argued, then stopped in shock at his words. "The garbage chute," Han whispered, his eyes growing wide. The wall he had erected in his mind to protect his own sanity during the intense pain of that final torture, the one that made him Force-sensitive, suddenly let go. With a rush, the past came back to him and he remembered.
Leia felt her heart flutter. "Yes," she leaned closer, and pressed her palm to his face. "Do you remember what was in that garbage masher, besides junk?"
"A dianoga. It tried to eat Luke... I remember," he murmured, shutting his eyes. "I remember everything. Yavin, Hoth... everything in between. The explosion in the hanger when we were trying to escape Hoth. Waking up with Vader standing over me. Shock torture. Being strung up by my wrists or ankles and while receiving terrible floggings....drugs to make me hallucinate or increase the pain sensations. Being put in a sensory depravation chamber for days on end....having my legs crushed. And the worst of all, having those needles pumping me full of...." he stopped, unable to describe the pain of that last torture. Full of what?
When he opened his eyes, they were filled with tears, the pain of remembrance, and the horror of what he'd done to the rebels and to Luke, who was sitting there ignoring his own pain so Han could remember - pain that Han had inflicted. Guilt and grief almost overwhelmed the smuggler.
Leia and Luke sent waves of compassion and forgiveness in Han's direction as they saw the life flow back into his eyes, and once again were able to sense him through the Force. Han was back, intensely powerful in the Force, and most importantly, he was no longer filled with anger and hate.
I'm no longer the Emperor's Hand, and the cursed headache is gone. And what shocked Han even further, was the knowledge that Princess Leia wasn't lying. She loves me! Even after everything... she still loves me.
Two-time parts later..
Pushing aside his own physical pain, Luke felt a sense of joy as he headed toward the medic cot on the Falcon. Mara wasn't there. Quickly, Luke reached out with the Force. Mara Jade was nowhere on Sullust. She was no longer bothering to shield herself, because her Force-sense was a great distance away and growing fainter by the second.
She had left the planet, undoubtedly to return to Coruscant and warn the Emperor that his plans had failed.
Mon Mothma had survived the collapse of her ceiling due to good timing on her part. She had entered the refresher only seconds before the main ceiling came thundering down. She'd been trapped for nearly half a day, waiting for the rebels to pull the rubble from her room and free her. Amazingly, she'd only suffered dust inhalation and some minor cuts.
Wedge Antilles was not quite so lucky. His back had been broken from the X-Wing, and the doctors had spent hours performing delicate surgery on the pilot. He now had feeling in his legs, but months of therapy lay in his future. Still, Wedge was grateful to be alive, even if he would have a long road of recovery time ahead.
Two days later
General Rieekan listened to the story of Solo's torture and brainwashing, quietly and without comment. Leia only admitted to him that Han was responsible for Madine's death. The other problems could be considered 'accidents', or natural causes as far as the Princess was concerned. She refused to blame Han for something beyond his control. Earlier, when Luke had pointed out this might also be true with their father, she'd been forced to admit Luke could be right. Why is it I can find it in my heart to easily forgive Han, but not Vader, if he truly is being controlled by Palpatine? It would be something to think about and consider.
"Are you certain he's no longer under the control of the Siths?" Rieekan finally asked both Luke and Leia.
"I'm positive," Leia said firmly, watching Luke as he nodded his agreement.
"Since Han was under Palpatine's influence at the time, there will be no charges and this information will remain between us. Punishing Solo for something he had no power to control would be pointless, distracting and vindictive - it won't help the rebellion or bring back Madine." Rieekan paused a moment before continuing, "Still, we have a major problem with the decimated rebel leadership, and to make matters worse, the Bothans have confirmed the whereabouts of the second Death Star." The general watched as their startled faces as they processed this information before adding, "We also need to evacuate this base as quickly as possible, since the Imperial woman has undoubtedly returned to Coruscant to inform the Emperor of our location."
Luke was sitting next to Leia, listening to Rieekan. Because of the delay in getting to the medical center, the doctor's could not reattached his real hand, so Luke had received an artificial replacement. It looked and reacted like his own hand, but it wasn't the same. It would always be a reminder of how close he had come to death, but it was a small price to pay for ending Han's reign as a Dark Jedi. All because of my father and the Emperor. Han is feeling grief and guilt over what he's done, only none of this would have happened, except for Vader. Our father. Finally Luke spoke. "Without experienced leadership, any attack on the Death Star would be foolish. We need to cut off the head of the snake, and then it will be easy to finish off that Battle Station."
"What are you suggesting, Luke?" Rieekan asked the Jedi.
"I think that a small taskforce head to Coruscant. We need to take out Palpatine there, before his next weapon is ready."
"I take it that taskforce would be you and Leia?"
"And Han and Chewie."
"Solo? Is he capable so soon after...?"
"Han's fine," Luke said with a confidence he didn't quite feel. In fact, Han looked physically exhausted, but the young Jedi knew the Darkside was gone from his spirit, and that was the important thing. "With his help, we can get inside the palace. I suspect Palpatine may even welcome him back, at least temporarily."
"This sounds risky."
"Do you have a better idea?" Leia asked the General.
"No. Unfortunately, no."
One week later.
"It doesn't matter, Leia," Han insisted, standing outside the Falcon. "I can handle the pain. There isn't time to fix my legs." He had returned to the medic center shortly after breaking free from the Darkside, and Dr. Fittz had run a battery of tests on him - some tests she had done several times.
"He's right," Luke agreed. "The Death Star is getting closer and closer to completion all the time. We have to stop Palpatine before it's too late."
"Do you think I'd let you go without me, and have all the fun?" Han joked. "'Sides, I owe the guy."
"Han!" Leia admonished. "You have to remember the revenge is of the Darkside. You have to stay away from the Darkside."
"I hate being Force-sensitive," Han complained. "Getting mad came in handy sometimes." Han looked past Leia and noted Dr. Fittz was approaching. "Oh great. Now I suppose she'll want me to have the surgery first, too."
"Captain Solo, Princess, Commander Skywalker," the doctor nodded in greeting. She looked at Solo. "Can you come to my office soon? I need to discuss something important with you."
"Can't you just tell me now?"
Dr. Fittz glanced at Luke and the Princess. "I prefer to tell my patients these things in private."
"What things? Whatever it is, you can say it in front of Luke and Leia. I don't have anything to hide from them."
"Then perhaps we should go inside your ship, Captain."
"All right," Han replied, suspiciously. He led the group inside and they sat down in the hold.
Taking a deep breath, Dr. Fittz started. "I've been going over your medical tests, Captain, and I see something that concerns me a great deal."
"What is it?" Leia asked, leaning forward. The doctor was worried, and the worry was radiating from her Force-signature.
"The blood tests," she stopped and looked down at her flimsy. "It appears your body's system is breaking down, Captain. Your blood cells are slowly dying."
Leia felt her face blanch, and looked to Han, who appeared to stunned to speak. "What?"
"Are you telling us..." Luke stopped, unable to say the words.
"Yes," the doctor addressed Han. "It means you're dying, Captain Solo. I'm sorry."
Han felt the room spinning, and he put his head in his hands to stop the sensation. "How long?" he whispered, feeling Leia put her arms around his shoulders. It explained his recent bouts of exhaustion, and his slips in "feeling" the Force, things he hadn't mentioned to anyone, even Leia. Han had assumed it was the result of his trauma of remembering the tortures. In time, I'll feel better, he'd told himself. Maybe, eventually, the horrible memories and the constant guilt that ate away at his soul would ease its iron grip.
"It's hard to say. The breakdown appears to be happening very slowly, but it could start speeding up. I simply don't know."
Everything comes with a price, and this is my payback for what I've done. Aloud, he said, "Give me a guess."
"At this rate, perhaps you have three or four months left. But if the rate speeds up, it could be only a month."
"Isn't there anything you can do?" Luke asked. How could they lose Han again? It wasn't fair.
"I wish I could, but whatever the Imperials did to his DNA...." she trailed off. "I simply don't have a clue how they did this, or why his body is starting to reject these altered cells now. The tests I gave him when he first arrived on Sullust showed that everything was fine, but honestly, I didn't know anything had been done to his blood at the time I took the first tests, and I'd certainly never heard of midichlorians until a few days ago. I don't understand the change, and I can't think of a way to stop or reverse the process."
"I think I might have an idea," Luke said slowly, looking at his sister. "The cells are cloned from Palpatine, right? At least that's what Mara told us. Once Han rejected serving the Darkside, his body started rejecting the cells from the Emperor, too."
The doctor nodded. "I suppose that makes as much sense as anything. Or it could be simply that his body is just rejecting the altered midichlorians as invaders, like a virus - or perhaps the enhanced cells were unstable to begin with. Unfortunately, Han's own cells are now altered and combined with these midichlorians, so his body just can't reject the midichlorians without rejecting his own blood cells."
"Then we have another reason for heading to Coruscant," Leia said, her voice choking with emotion. "Not only will we take care of the Emperor, we'll find the cure for Han inside the palace walls."
"I hope so, Princess," the doctor nodded kindly. "You'd better hurry, though."
Han reached over and took Leia's hand. "Whatever happens in the future, thank you. Thank you for believing in me, and freeing me from all that hatred and anger." He looked over at Luke. "Even if we can't find a cure, I owe both of you my mind and soul, and that's more important than my life."
The Princess took Luke's fingers in her other hand, and said with conviction, "If there is a way to cure Han, I know we'll find it."