Author's note: Ack! It's hard to believe the story's final over! Thank you all for sticking with it and for your wonderful comments, and for letting me revisit it by posting it. This was the first fanfic I wrote since I was a kid, and I am rather proud of it.
Chapter Thirty-one: Testimony
News of the pirates' capture threw Pamylasia into a frenzy. The growing sentiment that Luke was at most only one player in a larger scheme now grew into widespread indignation that nothing had been done previously to get to the bottom of the conspiracy. The entire planet waited with bated breath to hear what new evidence the pirates could provide.
Luke's defense team immediately requested that his trial be suspended until the authorities took a statement from the pirates, as their testimony had a direct bearing on Luke's case. The prosecution protested the request, but to no end. The judge was eager to hear what the pirates had to say. The police quickly reached an agreement with them. In exchange for their full cooperation in Luke's trial and in identifying who hired them, they would receive a more lenient sentence. Without a bargain, they faced the death penalty. But Karrde was proved right. No mercenaries will hold their tongues when they can assign blame to someone else. So within days after capture, the leader of the Eriadu Brigands, Naima Parvassi, took the stand in behalf of the defense, presenting the first hard evidence in a trial that to that point had presented little in the way of fact. Some people declared that businesses on Pamylasia might as well take a day off, as everyone on the planet crowded around vid screens to watch the trial.
After Apurta had established the basics, that Parvassi was indeed the head of the Eriadu Brigands, a pirate gang for hire, she proceeded to the specifics. "Was in fact your gang hired to abduct Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade with the aim of forcing Skywalker to assassinate Dimishaneer Akeeno?"
Parvassi shifted in her chair. Her short, spiked hair was dyed jet black, and her face was hard, lined with years of rough living and scarred with evidence of countless barroom fights. Even dressed in a prison uniform, she cut a lawless figure, and she was clearly accustomed to being in command. She knew how to cooperate, however, when it was to her advantage, as it was now. "Yes, we were," she announced, her voice strong and confident.
A collective gasp rippled out across the galaxy at the proclamation.
"Tell us, please, how you came to be involved in this plot," Apurta asked.
Parvassi sneered at the word "please." "We were contracted by an agent working in behalf of an unknown person or persons who wanted Akeeno dead. They're the ones that came up with the idea of having Skywalker do it. They supplied us with all kinds of helpful information on how to capture and keep a Jedi, including those damned yasi-salamanders or whatever they are. They supplied us with special drugs for controlling him and everything. They wanted to use drugs to get him to kill her, but I had my doubts that would work. I have experience was some of those mind control drugs, and the better they work, the more they impair the abilities of the person you're trying to control. Skywalker's a Jedi and has quite a reputation for mind control, so I knew if we used enough drugs to control him, we'd probably also kill him."
"So what did you do?"
Parvassi puffed up a bit, looking proud. "Well, I always do my homework, which is why we're the best. I did research and learned that the one foolproof way of getting to Skywalker is to threaten people he loves. This has been demonstrated time and time again. Of course, in most of those cases he managed to weasel his way out, but that's because most people don't know how to handle a Jedi. But the people who hired us had the knowledge and the money to get us what we needed, and I was determined not to make any mistakes and let him get the upper hand.
"Now, everybody knows Skywalker recently got married. The whole galaxy was bombarded with this sappy love story of 'friends for ten years who finally confessed their love' and all that crap. And newlyweds are always dewey-eyed for that first year or so, so I figured his wife would be his weakest spot. That's the plan I hatched: threaten her to get to him."
"Skywalker has stated that you only threatened his wife and planned not to kill him," Apurta stated. "Why not?"
Parvassi shrugged. "There are two kinds of people: those who will sell out anybody in order to save their own hides, and those who will take any risk themselves, but the minute you threaten an innocent, you've got them in the palm of your hand. Skywalker's the latter. What would be the point of killing him if he didn't cooperate? But if we only killed his wife he'd have to live with the guilt, and I was willing to bet he couldn't deal with that. After all, he's still mooning over Darth Vader. I turned out to be right."
The words were harsh but true, as Apurta herself knew well. She continued, "Why wasn't it Skywalker you tortured in order to get to Mara Jade?"
"We could have done that," Parvassi agreed. "We talked about it. But our client really wanted Skywalker. He seemed to think only Skywalker could pull it off. Maybe he was right, maybe he was wrong. After all, Jade used to be the Emperor's Hand and has done her time as a pirate herself. She certainly knows a thing or two about assassination. But I wasn't sure about her. Was she the kind to save her own skin, or would she cave in to a threat to Skywalker? She's not exactly sentimental. I never really understood why she married him in the first place. Maybe she just did it for kicks, and if we threatened him she'd just thank us for the favor."
Mara fumed at these words and would have loved nothing more than to leap across the courtroom and strangle the pirate with her bare hands. Her restraint had less to do with Jedi beliefs about the dark side than with the knowledge that murdering Parvassi really wouldn't help Luke's case.
"So I couldn't be sure about her," Parvassi concluded. "But Skywalker is an open book. No problem."
Apurta next had Parvassi describe how she and the Brigands had captured Luke and Mara. The pirate reported all the details Luke had described before, right down to the details of rotating shifts of guards and the ropes used to bind him. She also described their plan of torture, going beyond what Mara had actually experienced to describe exactly how they had planned to kill her. The testimony was so graphic, several people had to leave the courtroom, they became so unnerved.
After all the details of the capture and assassination had been reviewed, Apurta observed, "You seem to have had quite detailed information about security at the Presidential Palace. Did you research that yourself, or did your client provide you with the information?"
"He gave it to me, but of course I checked it out. He was thorough, though, and completely accurate."
"So your client must have had access to an inside source?"
"My guess is someone who once worked security there, maybe still did. All I know is, you only get that level of detail and accuracy from the inside. No way you can discover it all from the outside."
"Do you have any idea who hired you?"
Parvassi shook her head. "None at all. Of course anonymity was part of the bargain, but I tried to find out anyway for my own security, you understand. But we couldn't find out, not even the identity of the contact. He used a code name, Hamarinn. That's all we knew, so we called it 'the Hamarinn project.' But we never learned who it was."
At the name, several people in the audience gasped and began murmur. The pirate noticed and said, "Do you know who he is?"
Apurta nodded thoughtfully. "The name comes from a rather obscure old legend known to one of the peoples of Pamylasia. He is a mythical hero, a bat known for his wisdom and keen intelligence. He saves the day many times and proves that wisdom is stronger than might."
Parvassi laughed. "Well, I don't know about that, but the fellow I dealt with was no bat."
"Perhaps the name will lead somewhere, and perhaps not," Apurta conceeded. Then she looked to the judge. "I have no further questions, Your Honor."
The prosecution now approached the witness for cross-examination. "You say you never intended to harm Skywalker."
Parvassi nodded. "That's correct."
"Are you certain you had him controlled, or do you think there was a chance he could have escaped if he wanted?"
"Objection!" Apurta announced. "Speculation."
The judge considered. "I'll allow it," she decided. "Overruled."
Parvassi looked to the prosecuting attorney. "I suppose he might have gotten away. After all, he's not just any Jedi, and no plan can be fool proof. But we were very thorough in our security."
"And you never intended to kill him? Even though he might have identified you later?"
She shrugged again. "I was pretty careful, and I'd take the chance of him finding me. I'm not defenseless, after all, and I still had those Force salamanders."
"You sound very confident in your ability to…negotiate what you wanted with him."
"Like I said, Skywalker is an open book. You don't have to look hard to figure out what his weakness is. You just have to control the context. I mean, I never laid a finger on him, and we didn't do anything too bad to his wife. We didn't have to."
"You make it sound as if you were striking a bargain."
"Yeah," Parvassi agreed. "That's what it was, really. Maybe a bit of extortion, but not too bad. We just set it all up, and he agreed to it. As simple as that."
The prosecuting attorney evidently agreed. "No further questions, Your Honor."
The judge turned to Parvassi, "Then you may step down."
She was dismissed, but not free. A phalanx of guards shackled the pirate and let her back to prison. As part of her plea bargain she would receive no trial. As for the man she had captured, his fate was still to be decided.
Chapter Thirty-two: Truth
Aajulon switched off the vid screen, stunned. He felt ill, not only from what he had heard in the pirate's testimony but from what it meant. The image of Prem Nivas' crest came back to him: four bats, "…given to me as an expression of gratitude for all my years of service to the Barons." Hamarinn! The crest was hardly proof, but still he knew Prem Nivas was the pirates' contact. Prem Nivas, who was digging up evidence to link Antiradu Akeeno to his wife's murder. Digging up evidence, or more likely manufacturing it to point away from the true conspirators. And he had played right into their hands.
What should he do now? The Barons must have been watching as well, and now they knew he knew. What might they do to him if he reported his knowledge to the police? They would abandon his candidacy for certain, but that was the least of Aajulon's worries. No, far more was at stake here than the presidential election. They would not want their secret to be revealed. Aajulon shuddered. They would not let it be revealed. Perhaps Nivas was on his way to visit Aajulon even now….
But what if Aajulon held his tongue? After all, what did he really have to report? That he knew of a man who admired the Hamarinn legend? Many people did. The police might not even take him seriously. Most likely "Prem Nivas" didn't even exist. Aajulon probably would accomplish nothing by giving them the name, and they would be certain to ask how he had met the man. The press would hear of it, Aajulon's nonexistent suspect whom he met while sharing a brandy with the Barons. His career would be over for certain.
His career was over either way, but his life might be finished as well if he acted imprudently. After all, it was the police's job to track down the lead, not his. Perhaps other people had met "Hamarinn" as well. The man couldn't possibly be as cunning as his namesake, and someone else might come forward to reveal his identity. What did Aajulon owe Luke Skywalker to help him in his case? The fact still remained that Skywalker was the one who actually killed Akeeno. It wasn't as if Aajulon would be risking his neck to help an innocent man. As for the other guilty parties… well, surely they would be discovered without Aajulon's assistance. There was no need for him to risk their ire, to risk their vengeance. Perhaps they would remain hidden forever, and if Aajulon kept his mouth shut he would be safe. Or the police might discover enough clues to lead them to the Barons, and if he had kept quiet there would be no need for them to exact payment from him.
Or perhaps they would set him up in order to escape justice themselves. Perhaps if he revealed any knowledge of Hamarinn, they would claim Aajulon was the one who had hired him. After all, the Barons still had many friends among the police force, friends who were experienced in framing and imprisoning innocent people -- people like Dimi Akeeno and countless thousands of others no less innocent and no less brave who had disappeared forever, their fate as unknown as their names.
Aajulon remembered the day well when Akeeno had walked free from her twenty-year prison, thinner than she had been when she went in, certainly with more grey hair, but still proud and dignified. Her prison sentence might have broken many a strong spirit, but it had only temper hers, refining her into something pure and strong. He remembered the speech she gave upon her release. She did not forget or ignore the injustice done to her, but with a surprising lack of bitterness she looked beyond it to describe a day with all people of Pamylasia would be free. She vowed to do all she could to bring that day about, and when free elections were authorized and she announced her candidacy, it was to Aajulon she had turned to find a partner in this great endeavor. He who had never known prison, who had survived by walking a careful line between appeasing the Barons and seeking greater freedom.
Aajulon's class of people had fared better under the Barons then Dimi's worker class. The Barons needed merchants in order to handle and arrange their business. In exchange the merchants were given certain privileges. One might call them "freedoms," except they were not free at all. One false move, or even for nothing at all except the whim of a Baron, and the merchants could have their property and business confiscated, their privileges revoked.
Aajulon's mother had been ruined, driven into bankruptcy and an early grave all because she had protested a tax the Barons desired to levy on her workers. Aajulon had learned from his mother's experience, and he had vowed never to let himself be compromised to the Barons. He had always dealt with them on his own terms. He had never let himself become beholden to them, nor allowed himself to become involved in any plot of theirs that he knew to be wrong.
So why was he considering giving into them now? And in such an egregious way? His mother would not want him to be cowardly. She had lost everything trying to protect her workers, and she never regretted it, so how could he consider selling out now?
Chagrined, Aajulon realized he had allowed himself to be corrupted by the Barons. They had once again offered him not freedom but the illusion of it. If exposure of his complicity brought him to ruin, then he had brought it upon himself, but he would not turn his mistake into an injustice.
With a heavy heart but a clear conscience, he called the Chief of Security. When Bopolur answered, Aajulon said, "I might know who this Hamarinn is. I can't be certain, but it is worth investigating."
Chapter Thirty-three: The Wait
Shortly after Naima Parvassi's testimony, the defense rested its case. The prosecution, following Pamylasian custom, made their closing argument first, a rather long-winded rehashing of what amounted to a character assasination of Luke. The one benefit to their long-windedness was that Leia and the children arrived in time to hear the defense's closing argument, which once again made frequent reference to Akeeno's support of sapient rights and liberally referred to the Eriadu Brigand's abuse of those rights. At the conclusion, the jury was sequestered to debate their verdict, and there was nothing anyone else could do but wait.
Fortunately the presence of the children provided some check agasinst the anxiety that might have mounted in the adults otherwise. The time was filled with games and jokes. The children saw it as their responsibility to keep Luke cheered and entertained, and they succeeded well in their purpose. They brought enough enthusiasm and ideas to last at least a month without break.
But they did not have to wait that long. The jury deliberated less than a day before announcing they had reached a verdict. The judge notified everyone that the court would reconvene the following morning.
The speed with which the jury reached their verdict did not bode well for Luke. In the face of such sobering news even the children could not fully restore the good humor. They had planned a talent show for the evening's entertainment and everyone was prepared to make an offering, but before that each of then needed some time to prepare themselves for the next day.
The hour before dinner was deathly quiet in the house. No one was heard or even seen, as each found a place of retreat. Luke had early on claimed the roof as his refuge. There was a patio on the roof of one wing of the house, probably the site of picnics and sunbathing when the previous owner lived there. Luke liked it because it lifted him up above most of the trees where he could see almost all of the sky. On Tatooine, the sky had always been his source of comfort and strength. When he had felt hemmed in by his life, the sky beckoned to him as an infinite expanse of possibilities. When he grieved or felt lonely, the night's stars would look down upon him with millions of comforting eyes. It had disturbed him to discover how little of the sky could be seen on some planets, hemmed in as it often was by trees, mountains, and buildings. Luke had grown up under a full sky that stretched to the horizon in all directions, and other worlds often made him feel claustrophobic. Even on the rooftop he could not see all the sky, but enough of it expanded above him to give his soul room to stretch and breathe. To him prison meant an eternal roof over his head.
He emptied his mind of thoughts and concentrated on watching the sky's colors shift and melt as the sun inched its way toward the horizon. The trees on the compound muffled the sounds from the street and the surrounding houses, and he could almost imagine he was alone. Straddling the balustrade, he leaned his head back against a pillar and gave himself over to the sky. Even if he had not been given his name at birth, he would have well earned it.
He had lost all track of time when he heard footsteps approaching. He didn't have to look to know it was Leia. She stopped just inside his line of vision and asked, "Is it all right if I join you?"
He nodded and she moved closer, taking his hand in hers. They watched the sunset in silence, until the colors began to fade.
At last Luke spoke. "That could be my last sunset."
Leia compulsively squeezed his hand but remained silent.
"It's hard to know how to approach tonight," he continued. "It could be the last time I'm with everyone, or it could turn out to be just another evening in a lifetime of evenings."
Leia absorbed this, then ventured, "The Force hasn't shown you what will happen tomorrow?"
Luke shook his head. "It doesn't quite work like that. I have never been able to read the future when I wanted. The vision comes to me on its own, usually when there is something specific I have to do, and the meaning is never clear until after the event has happened. Anyway, you have to be calm and centered to see anything, and I'm definitely not in such a state."
Leia wished she knew what to say, but as had become common over the last few months, she could find no words to comfort or support. She had to fall back on the obvious. "We'll know soon enough."
With a grim smile Luke agreed, "Yes. Whether I live or die."
"That's a little melodramatic," rebuked Leia. "It's highly unlikely they'll give you the death penalty."
"For killing their President?" Luke contradicted sharply. "I don't think it's unlikely at all."
Leia shook her head. "Even if they did, there would be tremendous pressure for clemency. Intergalactic opinion has turned in your favor, and Pamylasia will ignore it at their own peril. If they insist on the death sentence, they will become a pariah. Most likely they would commute the sentence to life imprisonment, and pressure would continue until eventually the sentence would be further reduced or you would be pardoned."
Unconvinced, Luke said, "I doubt that."
"It's not as unlikely as you might think," Leia observed. "Where there is life there is always hope. Just be thankful this is no longer the Empire."
"If this were the Empire, I would be justified in escaping!" Luke retorted, his frustration exploding. "But this isn't the Empire. This is supposedly a free and fair society. So why am I facing execution for saving my wife? I have played the scene over and over in my mind, and as much as I hate the way it turns out, I don't see how I could have done anything differently. Even having caught the pirates, they are no closer to finding who really wanted Akeeno dead. I could have been looking for them, but instead I'm the one on trial. It's not right, and yet there's nothing I can do about it."
"No, it's not right, nor is it fair. And yet the process is free. It just goes to show that even in a free society we are never completely in control of our lives. Justice is in the end only an idea. A good idea, but not really something that is real."
"Is that supposed to make me feel better?" Luke fumed.
"No," Leia confessed. "No, it's not an excuse or a justification or even an explanation. It is merely a recognition that despite our best efforts tragedy is a part of life."
Luke fumed in silence, his tortured emotions, barely held in check over the past weeks, now threatening to boil over in helpless rage. "I never realized you were such a pessimist."
"How can I not be, after what happened to my home? I used to believe in justice when I was a mere child in the Senate. I thought I could change life itself, right all wrongs, end all oppression. But during the war I realized how much luck really dictates the course of our lives. Why did some die while others lived? Alderaan was destroyed because I happened to be the one captured. If it had been Mon Mothma, another world would have suffered. What does justice have to do with the fact that I wish she had been sent to Raltiir instead of me? That I wish any other world had been destroyed instead of Alderaan?"
Her outburst was so unexpected, for a moment Luke forgot his own troubles. "I had no idea you felt that way. That's not how you talk."
"Of course not. If I'm going to lead people I can't be talking about how grim things really are. They already know that. But what I say is not a lie. I do believe in justice. It's simply that life is something different. Much of what we suffer has little to do with justice at all."
"And yet you still fight," Luke remarked.
"Yes, and so do you. No matter how much I wish Alderaan still existed, I would not acted differently, nor would you, no matter how much you wish you hadn't killed Akeeno. In the end what truly defines us is whether we have let love rule our lives, or whether we have given in to hate."
"How very Jedi," Luke observed bitterly. "It sounds so shallow to me now, and yet I know it's the only truth in this whole story. I guess we'll just have to see whether the jury feels the same way."
She wrapped her arm around his waist, projecting a confidence she did not exactly feel. "And whatever they decide, we'll deal with it. For now we should live the way we used to during the war."
"Take each day as it comes," Luke supplied, "and worry about tomorrow when it gets here. Yes, that does seen fitting. Back then we all faced the death sentence."
"And we managed to elude it," Leia pointed out, smiling against his shoulder.
For several minutes Luke was content merely to hold Leia, drawing strength from her. They enjoyed a special intimacy now that Luke would never have presumed during the first years he had known her. Ironically, it had only been when Leia had declared her love for Han that Luke had finally felt comfortable expressing his love for her. The subsequent discovery that they were twins had only lent a publicly acceptable name to a unique relationship that had been cemented during Han's imprisonment. His love for her had never ended, it merely metamorphosized into something new. It even colored his relationship to Mara, something his saucy wife endlessly teased him about.
Mara still had not given him permission to tell anyone their big secret, but Luke felt he owed it to Leia to tell her. "I'm not supposed to say anything yet," he began, "so you must promise me you'll tell no one."
Leia raised her head and looked at him. "I promise."
A happy grin spread across Luke's face. "You're going to be an aunt."
She reflected his smiled back. "Oh, Luke! I've always dreamed of being an aunt."
"Sure," Luke agreed. "You get all the pleasures of a new baby without having to change all those diapers."
"I don't know. Being an uncle didn't keep you from changing diapers."
"Yes, but no one can be as doting an uncle as me."
"True enough. But neither is anyone as doting as your niece and nephews. Why don't we go in and let them dote on you some more?"
"That sounds like an excellent plan."
They headed back inside, resolved to enjoy the present and not worry about the future with all its potential joys and sorrows. They would know soon enough.
Chapter Thirty-four: The Verdict
The sun rose that morning the same way it always rose, its all-seeing eye indifferent to the fate of the tiny lives crawling within its sight. The sun rose and set as it had for billions of years, and yet to the people on that planet and on many others this day would be different.
Luke had hardly slept at all the previous night, nor had anyone else, though they pretended they had. Their glassy-eyed state over breakfast had as much to do with anxiety about the next few hours as with the lack of rest. Small talk seemed pointless, so no one said anything as they mechanically swallowed their breakfast.
Even the children were quiet, though not idle. The three of them huddled together in a corner of the room, whispering among themselves, occasionally running into the bedroom for something, and only approaching the table to refill their plates. Their appetites had certainly not suffered.
Finally the three of them approached Luke, standing in a line next to his chair, their hands folded behind their backs. Jaina, their official spokesperson, announced, "Uncle Luke, you shouldn't worry about anything. If they find you guilty, we have a plan. We'll start a petition and get a million signatures. Then they'll have to let you go."
Jacen produced several sheets of paper from behind his back. "See? We already started writing down all the people we could think of who we'll ask to sign the petition." He handed the pages to Luke, leaning against his uncle's shoulder to point out features of the list. "We have forty-three listed so far, but it's really a lot more people. For example, we said 'all the Jedi' and 'the Senate' and 'Dad's and Chewie's friends.' So it's a long list already."
"And I'll get everyone at school to sign it!" Anakin offered.
Luke put his arm around Jacen and smiled gratefully. "Thanks, kids. It really means a lot to me. I know I have nothing to worry about. Still I hope the petition won't be necessary."
"So do we," Jaina answered, "but we thought we should have a plan just in case."
Mara observed, "I've seen the three of you go up against your mother and get your way. If you can get Leia to change her mind against her will, then no one else stands a chance against you."
For several minutes the group's spirits lifted as they finally found a safe topic of conversation: the children's exploits. The children themselves didn't understand why they had suddenly become the center of attention, but with the vanity of youth, they didn't mind.
At last Anath had to break up the party. "It's about time we got going." His words punctured their levity, and final preparations were conducted in silence.
The kids squeezed into Luke's speeder, Anakin on his lap, and Jaina and Jacen on either side of him. There was no question about them going. There was no way they would have stayed home.
Luke's entourage had now grown to quite a large number, filling three rows of seats in the courtroom. Luke tried to act as if it were just another day, until it came time for him to take his place at the defendant's desk with his lawyers. The children clung to his knees, threatening to dissolve into tears, until Leia pulled them away and whispered to them to be brave for their uncle. Luke hung on to Mara as if he couldn't let go. His need gave her momentary strength. She kissed him on the cheek, then gently extricated herself from his embrace, favoring him with such a saucy wink he couldn't help but smile, however briefly.
When the lawyers for both prosecution and defense had settled in, the jury was called in, followed immediately by the judge. No one in Luke's party could bear to look at the jury except Han, who finally worked up the courage. Every single one of them had their eyes studiously fixed on the judge, and Han could read nothing in their expressions. He turned to look behind him at the faces in the courtroom. It was standing room only. No surprise. He glanced up into the balcony and saw that both presidential candidates were present. Radu Akeeno appeared surprisingly composed, but everyone else wore the anxiously expectant expression of people waiting to learn if their nearest relative had cancer.
The judge was asking the jury if they had reached a verdict. Han thought it was a stupid question. Of course they had, or none of them would be here right now. The jury confirmed that they had, and the judge turned to Luke. "Would the defendant please rise and face the jury?"
Luke took a deep breath and stood up with Counselor Apurta at his side. He looked at the members of the jury with an expression of calm resolve that he did not feel. None of them, he noticed, returned his gaze, their attention reserved entirely for the judge.
The head of the jury stood and read from a sheet of paper in her hands, as if she would forget her short speech. "In the case of the People of Pamylasia versus Luke Skywalker, we unanimously find the defendant not guilty."
The ensuing noise in the courtroom melted away from Luke's ears. His hopes and fears were so great that for a moment he could not understand what the jury had just said. He turned to Apurta and whispered, "What did they say?" unable even to understand the smile on her face.
"Not guilty," she whispered back, as the judge hammered away with her gavel, trying to restore order. "They found you not guilty. It's all over."
The chaos in the room barely penetrated Luke's consciousness as Apurta's words slowly seeped into his brain. He never heard the judge announce the case closed, nor did he see her brief, enigmatic smile in his direction. Still uncertain what to think or feel, half expecting to wake up from the dream, he was suddenly pounced upon and buried beneath all his friends and relatives. "Happy birthday, happy birthday," Mara sang out cryptically, her breath tickling his cheek. "You can name him Ben if you want to, you silly old farmer."
Somehow over the racket Han heard her. "Name who Ben?" he asked.
Leia kissed him happily. "The day's news isn't over yet, dearest!" she grinned.
Indeed the day had only just begun. They still had to face the crowd outside and Pamylasia's reaction. Luke would have to make a statement to the press, no doubt the first of many in response to the verdict and the trial. His future was by no means certain at this point. His life had changed irrevocably, and things could never go back to the way they were. In some ways he could hardly even say he was truly free now, for in the eyes of many he was still guilty. Many possibilities remained closed to him, perhaps forever. But through all the confusion and fog in his mind, one fact stood out: he was not in prison. He was free in the most important ways: to be with Mara, to see their baby born, to be a father, a husband, an uncle, and a brother once more. That was all that truly mattered.
Months of anguish and regret melted away as Luke's heart swelled with happiness until his body could no longer contain it. His heart escaped and flew high above the crowds gathered to hear the verdict, up past the roof of the courthouse, and out to the morning sun.
A number of months later, life was back to normal in the Organa Solo household. It was bath night, and Han had just finished getting the kids clean and packed off to bed. The children were certainly old enough to bathe themselves, but they still enjoyed having Han supervise and wash their hair for them. They insisted he was much more gentle at hair washing than their mother. Bathtime usually involved Han getting wetter than all three of the children put together, but he didn't mind. He enjoyed the tasks of fatherhood. While this side of him had surprised many of his friends, the truth was Corellians loved their children, and he knew they would grow up all too soon.
Exhausted -- he was getting old, too, Han reflected sourly -- his pruning fingers just beginning to dry out, Han lay on the bed supposedly watching a movie, but in fact dozing off as he waited for Leia to come home. Although Leia never neglected her family, Han would be glad when her term of office ended. He missed her.
The soft swish of the outside door opening roused Han from his drowsiness, but he pretended to lie sleeping. He heard Leia kicking off her shoes in the next room and padding barefoot across the carpet to lean over him and plant a gentle kiss on his cheek. With an enormous yawn, he stretched and then grabbed her, pulling her laughing onto the bed next to him.
"Long day at the office, Princess?" he asked.
She made a face. "You don't know the half of it."
"Nor do I want to hear about it."
"It was all the usual boring political stuff anyway."
"Maybe I ought to kidnap you and run off with you, the way Luke and Mara did," he suggested. "Then maybe I'd occasionally see you before dinner."
"Sometimes I wish you would," she answered, running her finger along the scar on his chin.
"Nah, you'd miss the politics," he contradicted. "In the meantime, why don't you let your hair down?"
"Sounds wonderful." She sat up and began pulling pins out of her hair as Han got the hairbrush. Seating himself behind her he brushed out her long hair, his favorite grooming task of all, and one which Leia fortunately would never out grow.
He ran the brush through her hair until it shone like silk, the long strokes relaxing her and brushing away all the day's troubles. Han was about to move on to Phase Two, in which Leia's hair invariably got messed up again, when the bedroom door chimed and C-3PO exclaimed from outside, "Mistress Leia! Mistress Leia!"
"Come in, Threepio," she called, as Han leaned back with a frustrated grunt.
The door slid open and Threepio apologized, "I am so sorry to disturb you so late, but another encrypted call for you has arrived from that Stardreamer person."
Instantly Han and Leia both perked up. "Thank you, Threepio," Leia said. "Patch the call on through to the bedroom, would you?"
Somewhat miffed, the droid complained fussily, "I do wish you'd let me know who this person is. His calls may not always warrant disturbing you, and I know you've had a long day --"
"No, Threepio, it's all right," Leia assured him, stationing herself at the comm. They had not told him "Stardreamer" was the code name for Luke and Mara because he would be unable to keep the secret. "You should always interrupt us for this call."
With this gentle reprimand, Threepio excused himself to patch the call through. When he left, Han moved closer to Leia. "About time they called," he grumbled. "It's been ages, and the baby's getting due."
"Maybe the baby's already here. Perhaps that's why they're calling," Leia speculated, even as the image of Luke and a still very pregnant Mara appeared on the screen. Leia wasn't sure which was the bigger shock each time they called: the sight of Mara in such an advanced maternal state, or the sight of Luke with black hair and a beard.
"Impeccable timing, as always," Han observed to the two familiar strangers beaming at them from the screen.
Before Luke could answer, Leia rebuked, "I'm disappointed I'm not an aunt yet."
"Sorry," Mara replied, "but there are some things I just don't have control over."
"Have you given in yet and found out whether it's a girl or a boy?"
Mara shook her head. "No way. There are few enough good surprises in life. We're waiting for this one."
Leia let it drop, although she failed to see what difference it made knowing before or after the birth. Either way it was a surprise. Of course, Leia had known her children's sex through her Force sense, but Mara did not seem to have that particular ability, and if Luke did, he was keeping quiet about it.
"We've just finished another project for Karrde," Luke was saying.
"I don't suppose you can give us a hint?" Han inquired.
Luke laughed, "Now, you know our employer would fire us if we gave information away for free. Nevertheless, Leia, you might want to contact Karrde about it. You might find it useful."
"Thanks for the tip," she returned. "If you've been working, you might not know that three of the Barons who planned Akeeno's assassination have been convicted. Seven more are currently being tried, and more and more of them are getting charged each day. It seems the conspiracy involved most of the Barons on one level or another."
"That doesn't surprise me," Luke replied. "And the new President?"
"Antiradu Akeeno is proving to be just as good a leader as his wife was. Pamylasia is recovering very well."
"That's good news. And how are Anath, Lanari, and Hamsa doing?"
"The three of some work very well together," Leia informed him. "You should be very proud of them. They are handling leadership well. Those who didn't like the Jedi before still don't, but among everyone else, their reputation has been almost fully restored. In fact, a number of people think you should return."
"If that's what is to be, it will happen in its own time," was Luke's calm reply. "Meanwhile, we have other things on our minds."
"Speaking of which, have you narrow down the list of names?" Han asked.
"Oh, yes," Mara assured him. "We're down to one hundred."
"I'm still disappointed you're not naming the kid after me," he protested.
"What if it's a girl?" Luke suggested.
"Hanna is a perfectly fine name."
"Speaking of kids, are yours awake?"
Han shook his head. "You just missed them. They're asleep now. Besides, Anakin always cries when he sees that fungus on your face."
Luke scratched his beard. "You don't think it makes me look dignified?"
"No!" Mara answered. "I hate the thing. Undercover or not, I'm going to make him shave it soon."
"Might as well," Luke agreed. "As of now, Talon's got us on parental leave. No more assignments until we ask for them."
"When is the baby due?" Leia asked.
Mara shrugged. "It could be tomorrow, it could be a month. He'll come when he's ready."
"Or she," Luke automatically amended. Despite her unwillingness to learn the baby's sex, Mara persisted in referring to it as a boy.
"Well, be sure to call us as soon as he-or-she gets here," Leia ordered. "And you'll come home soon after, won't you?"
"Of course," Luke agreed. "For a nice, long vacation."
They exchanged a few more jibes and pleasantries before finally saying goodbye. For several minutes after the call, Han and Leia sat silently reviewing the conversation. They each worried about Luke and Mara in their own way, but they seldom troubled each other with their worries.
At last Leia remarked, "I still wish they'd come back to Coruscant for the birth."
Han wrapped his arms around her. "I know. But they wanted to avoid the publicity, remember? By some miracle, only you and I even know they're expecting. Coruscant is big, but even they wouldn't be able to hide here."
Leia sighed. "You're right, and it does make sense. Still, it deprives me of being there when the baby's born."
"Hey, if you're that lonely for babies, we can have another one."
"Not that lonely," she corrected with a grin. "I'm ready to be an aunt now, not a mother."
"And the kids will finally have a cousin. We're just one big extended family now. How many kids do you think they'll have?"
"If Luke had his way, probably fourteen," Leia laughed. "But I don't know if Mara would agree to it. Let them start with one for now, and afterwards we'll see."
"Only one?" Han queried. "Not twins?"
"For heaven's sake, not twins! We've got more than enough of those in this family."
"Aw," Han protested, nuzzling against Leia's neck. "Just think what they'll be missing."
Over a week later, they received a coded message: "Congratulations! You have a new nephew! We are all doing well, and will see you soon. We're coming home at last."