Note from author - I would like to apologize for having to repost this story. I had a very very, nasty and vulgar review on this story, and from the lack of response from the 'mods' *cough* on this site, the only way I could delete the review was by deleting the story and reposting. So, again, I'm sorry!
[You don't have to watch this, cub,] Chewie woofed softly as he laid a gentle paw over Han's forearm.
Han Solo's eyes did not leave the holo-projector in the dark bar showing the image of Princess Leia Organa and Prince Isolder exchanging vows. The hard lump that had formed in his throat, and the tightness in his chest that had not gone away since Leia told him to "have a nice life", intensified. The memory of that day haunted Han. If Leia had physically struck him, it would not have shocked or hurt him any deeper than those cold words coming from her mouth. Have a nice life. I'll be sure to do that, sweetheart, had been Solo's quick response as he'd spun around and walked away without a backwards glance at the woman he'd loved with his heart and soul. Lowering his emotional barriers to her had been a huge mistake, just like giving up his life as a smuggler had been a mistake. Now he was a man without any prospects - unable to return to a life of smuggling and unable to continue his career with the New Republic that had betrayed him by pushing Leia and Isolder together. "I was never good enough, Chewie," Han whispered hoarsely. "Not for them, not for her."
The Wookiee opened his mouth to disagree, then thought better of his words. Han was right - ultimately everyone looked down at the ex-smuggler. Chewie felt a bitter anger build up inside. It had taken so long for Han to commit to the Alliance and the Princess, and when he did, this was his reward. And the truly sad part was that his cub was still so deeply in love, despite the hurt and pain the Princess had inflicted on the man she once claimed to love. Even Luke had made no attempt to contact his long-time friend, and that, too, had hurt Solo intensely.
When the newlywed couple kissed, the patrons in the bar cheered and Solo finally looked away, shutting his eyes tightly to keep the tears from showing. Abruptly, Han stood up and slammed some credit chips on the table to pay the tab and walked out of the small bar with a quiet and dejected Wookiee following behind.
Luke stood next to an overjoyed Mon Mothma, who was clapping while Leia and Isolder had their first "dance" as husband and wife. "Don't they look just wonderful together?" the President gushed to Luke. "This is a great day for the citizens of the galaxy." When the young Jedi didn't answer immediately, Mon Mothma looked over at him, frowning. "You are happy for your sister, aren't you?"
"Of course, Madam President. If Leia is happy, then I'm happy, also."
"What wouldn't she be happy about? Isolder is the perfect man for her. He's handsome, rich, powerful and very polite. He was raised to respect and defer to females, and I'm sure he'll never argue with her." Unlike that Corellian, was her unspoken comment. The President waved across the room to the Queen Mother and left Luke standing alone.
"Luke?" a man's voice said from behind the somber Jedi.
"Wedge," Skywalker nodded and smiled. With so many unfamiliar faces, it was nice to finally see someone he felt comfortable around. "Are you enjoying yourself?"
The Corellian shrugged. "I guess."
"You guess? What's the problem?"
"I can't stop thinking about Han," Wedge said quietly. "I feel so bad for him, Luke. Do you know what he told me right before we arrived back at Coruscant?"
"What?" Luke wasn't certain he wanted to hear this, and he'd been having a hard time not picturing Han instead of Isolder dancing with his sister.
"That he was waiting for Leia to realize he wasn't worthy of her, and he knew it was just a matter of time before she left him." When Luke did not reply, Wedge continued. "I argued with him, Luke. I told him that Leia loved him and wouldn't leave him. I can't believe how wrong I was."
Luke looked over at the new Hapan Queen and her husband as they sat down at the banquet table. For a brief moment, Leia met her brother's gaze from across the room and she gave him a wan smile before her attention was forced elsewhere. You're not that wrong, Wedge, Luke thought sadly. She still does love Han.
One month later
[We have to make a decision what to do, Han,] Chewie urged Solo. The Wookiee had been getting increasingly anxious over Han's lethargy. His human friend had not shaved for weeks and seldom bothered to wash his clothing. Mostly, Han just sat in the Falcon, staring blankly out of the cockpit window at the trees or slept the day away in his cabin. Even getting Solo to eat was a chore.
"You don't have to stay with me," Han replied, not taking his eyes off the leafy branches outside the viewport.
It was far from the first time since Leia had left him that Han had said those words. Chewie felt like roaring in frustration at Solo. [I have no intention of abandoning you, cub! But we cannot just stay here on Kashyyyk forever.]
"Why not?" Because I'm a burden to your family. And I'm an embarrassment to you, pal.
[We need to earn some credits,] Chewie argued.
"I can sell Dathomir. Even if it's in the Imperial regions, someone will buy it for future speculation. We'll never have to work again."
[Then what?] Chewie growled. [You'll just sit around in the Falcon, moping your life away?]
"I don't have a life." Han got up and pushed past his partner, storming off to the privacy of his cabin, and locking the door behind him. Just go away and leave me alone, Han thought as flung his tired body down on his cot. How can I be so tired when all I do is sleep? When Chewie did not follow him and knock on his door, Solo drifted off into another restless slumber.
One week later, mid morning.
[Han?] Chewie called into the dark interior of the Falcon. [Cub?] No answer. Concerned, the Wookiee checked each room, starting with Solo's cabin and working his way around the entire ship. When he finally entered the cockpit, a small box sat on the co-pilot's seat. Carefully the Wookiee opened the box and noted two electronic cubes sat inside, as well as a folded flimsy. Sitting down, Chewie opened the note.
Chewie. Thank you for being my only friend. You don't deserve the way I've been treating you. I've transferred ownership of the Falcon to you, and signed over Dathomir to you, too. With your long lifespan, it should someday be valuable to you or Lumpy. Take good care of the Falcon. Forgive me. Han.
As the rickety transport lumbered through hyperspace, Han wondered how many safety regulations the vessel violated. But the fee to ride along had been incredibly cheap, as long as comfort and odor was not a big issue with the passengers. With his forged identity disk and a full beard, Solo felt certain he was unrecognizable. His slacks with the bloodstripes had been left behind on the Falcon. Like everything else, those were now a part of his past - a past he fully intended to never again acknowledge. Guilt ate away at him for leaving Chewie, but he reasoned that the Wookiee deserved a decent life with his family, and Solo was only a hindrance. He's better off without me, just like everyone.
Solo had no clue what he intended to do once he arrived on Kuat, the destination of this supply ship. Perhaps he'd find work as a crewmember with another ship. He knew he'd be able to pull his own weight when it came to making repairs or doing grunt work loading and unloading cargo. Many of these borderline shipping businesses couldn't afford expensive droids to do manual labor, and at this point Solo no longer cared what others thought of him. He would mind his own business, do what he was told, and take his small pay. And Han Solo no longer intended to interact with anyone in a social setting. Even though his new alias was Kixx Reye, being solo would always be his destiny, he decided glumly.
Destiny had other ideas.
Tossing and turning in his bed, Luke found he couldn't sleep. His fragmented thoughts kept flipping from his sister, and then over to Han. Part of Luke was angry and hurt that Solo had just left Coruscant without even leaving a goodbye message. It's like he was blaming me for Leia's decision to leave with Isolder! I wasn't even here... how was it my fault? Another part was very worried about his long-time friend's mental state. At least he's with Chewie, the young Jedi reminded himself. For some reason, that thought did nothing to alleviate his growing concern. Finally, unable to rest, Luke flung the covers off and went to his comm board. Hopefully, Solo had not changed his signal code, and Luke would be able to contact him. Even if Solo was sarcastic and said something hurtful to Luke - which was a strong possibility - at least he'd know Han was all right. The outgoing signal light blinked for so long, Luke was about to give up and turn it off when Chewie's face appeared.
"Chewie! Thank the stars you answered," Luke said with a relieved grin. "How are things going? Where are you? Is Han okay?"
The Wookiee regarded Luke with a worried expression, silent for several long seconds. [Han has left,] he finally replied.
[We had been on Kashyyyk for a month, and when I tried to push Han into some action, he disappeared.]
"Disappeared? You mean he left you on Kashyyyk and took off on the Falcon?" Luke sounded incredulous. Never, in a million years, did Luke think Han would simply leave without Chewie.
[Not exactly. He left, but he transferred ownership of both the Falcon, and the planet he won, to me.]
Luke had heard the story from his sister about Han's desperate attempt to win her love by playing in a high-stakes sabacc game where, incredibly, he'd won the entire planet of Dathomir to give her as a gift. Solo had been crushed when Leia informed him that it was an interdicted system in Imperial control. The fact Han would give the planet to Chewie was not nearly as shocking as the news that he'd given up his ship. "You have no idea where he went?"
[None. I have been attempting to trace him, but so far I haven't been successful. Han is very good at blending in when he doesn't want to be noticed.]
"Maybe if he spends some time alone he'll come to his senses," Luke suggested. "But if you want, I'll come to Kashyyyk and help find him."
[Do not come yet. I will keep trying to track him down, and if I need your assistance I will contact you. Thank you for caring enough to ask about my cub.]
"I care," Luke protested, vaguely annoyed. "Leia getting married to Isolder wasn't my fault, you know."
[Did you try to reason with your sister?]
"It wasn't my place to interfere with her decision," Luke argued.
[But it was the High Council's place to pressure Leia into this marriage?] Chewie persisted.
Luke sighed. "Ultimately, right or wrong, it was her choice."
[Was it?] The view screen went black.
Hapan Sector, three months later
Queen Leia of Hapes sat on a throne in ornate clothing, broiling under a hot sun as she watched yet another parade procession in her honor. She felt her mind wander, wondering where Luke was, and what he was doing. Probably locating Force-sensitives somewhere in the vast galaxy. Already she missed her brother and wished he was there with her. Surrounded by people, yet I'm alone. Leia glanced over to her left side and took in the bored Force-sense of Isolder as he sat next to her. They had been married a little over four months now - in some ways it felt much longer - and she still didn't truly know her husband. Sure, he was polite and deferred immediately to her requests. Isolder said all the right words and never, not once since they'd wed, argued or disagreed with her decisions. Why would he need to? Leia thought wearily. Ta'a Chume never misses an opportunity to argue and disagree with me. But it wasn't even her sullen and stubborn mother-in-law that bothered Leia. What bothered her was what she sensed, or more accurately didn't sense, from her new husband. Sometime during the wedding night Leia knew through the Force that Isolder didn't love her. She would never confront him with this knowledge, and even if she did, how could she prove it? He told her, repeatedly, that he loved her. He showered her with gifts. He expressed his physical desire for her with great skill. But the deep, intense feelings of love she had grown so accustomed to emanating from Han were missing.
Han. Where are you? What are you doing? HOW are you doing? These were questions that filled her thoughts day and night. Leia wished she could contact Malla to ask these questions. But I have no right to ask. I only did what I had to do, for the good of the galaxy and for the survivors of Alderaan. Still, the new Hapan Queen knew she'd live the rest of her life missing Han Solo.
Ithor, six weeks later
The agricultural planet with its endless hills of waving, native grain, was a peaceful place. The Ithorians left the system as much as possible in its natural state, preferring to live in enormous floating cities whose beauty attracted tourists from around the galaxy. Han wandered aimlessly around the vast, attractive walkways with his hands stuck in his pockets and his shoulders hunched slightly. The Corellian had been at various spaceports in several different systems for almost five months now, traveling aimlessly from one place to the other, while barely supporting himself with odd jobs along the way. Solo knew he was being avoided by the beings surrounding him - they thought he was a wandering indigent, and of course, they were correct. Han sat down on a bench, watching as the young couple on the opposite end quickly got up and left. I'm back to where I started out as a child - alone, dirty, with two credits to my name. He gave a cynical laugh. Luke is always babbling on about how the future always seems to work out... I guess my parents saw my future when they abandoned me as a kid, and I'm living down to their expectations. Solo knew he should at least make an attempt to find some type of permanent work, but just thinking about the effort of looking for a steady job exhausted him. I don't understand why I have no energy left.
"Han?" a surprised male voice asked from behind his shoulder.
No! This can't be happening! "You have me mistaken for someone else," Solo quickly mumbled, lurching to his feet while turning his face away from the speaker. The Corellian had only taken two steps when a hand grabbed his arm, stopping his progress.
"Han!" the man said, much louder. "It is you! Small galaxy, isn't it?"
Too small, if ya ask me. Defeated, Solo turned to face this unexpected trouble. "L..Lando?" Han stuttered, feeling his heart drop to his boots.
The well-dressed gambler swept his arms wide, giving Solo his million credit smile. "None other! Why are you here? Where's the Wook?" Lando's smile faded slightly as he took in Han's bedraggled, unkempt appearance. He'd heard the Corellian hadn't taken Leia's departure well, but this disintegration surprised Calrissian.
"Chewie ain't here, and as far as that goes, neither am I," Solo replied gruffly.
"What are you talking about? Where's Chewie, if he isn't here?"
"He's permanently on Kashyyyk with his family. Where he belongs."
"You and Chewie split up?" Lando asked, his eyes wide.
"Listen, Calrissian, this ain't none of your concern. Go away an' leave me alone." Solo started walking away, not overly surprised when Lando fell into step next to him. "Don't understand Basic real well, do ya?"
"I heard you resigned as a General," Lando continued casually.
"So? You resigned, too."
"Hardly for the same reason. So you're living by yourself on the Falcon now?"
"I don't have the Falcon anymore."
"WHAT? You didn't lose her gambling, did you!" Lando yelled at his friend.
Solo stopped walking, glaring at Lando and trying to reign in his temper. "Not that it's any of your business, but I gave the Falcon to Chewie."
"Let me get this straight - you left Chewie on Kashyyyk and gave him your ship? Does he even know where you are?"
"What do you intend to do without a ship? How are you living? Where are you sleeping?"
"What do you care?" Han snapped. "Leave me alone, an' quit interrogating me." He tried leaving again, unsuccessfully, as Lando hurried to keep up.
"Wait up, Han! Since you don't seem to have any plans at the moment, I have an offer to make to you."
"I don't want any of your krethin' charity."
"This isn't charity. It's a legitimate business proposition."
Again, Han stopped walking. "Your last proposition got me tortured, frozen and delivered to Jabba, if I recall correctly."
Lando flushed slightly. "You're never going to let that go, are you? At least hear me out."
"I'm listening - not that you're letting me have a choice."
Grinning once again, Lando whipped out a small, flat disk and pressed a button. A loud and flashy advertisement started playing, showing a very large, very expensive, space cruiser. With prices starting at only five thousand credits per being, double occupancy, you too can have the vacation of a lifetime! See the Crystal Nebula! See the beauty of the Maw! Experience the thrill of riding close to the edge of stunning blackholes! Take a side trip to a warm sunny beach on Kysilla! This once in a lifetime experience includes five gourmet meals a day! Midnight snacks! All food is prepared by a top rated sentient chef. Play at Casinos! Take in the latest Holo-show hits! Operas, plays and concerts performed by live cast members! All without ever leaving the safety or comfort of the luxurious Space-liner, The Galaxy's Splendor! And this is only the beginning of your vacation experience! The advertisement continued on before finally ending with a contact code for further information.
Han looked up from the small disk that had finally turned itself off. "I don't have five thousand credits to take a vacation right now, Calrissian. But thanks for thinking of me," he commented dryly.
The gambler-turned businessman gave a hearty laugh. "This is my new business venture, Han. I'm here on Ithor raising revenue. What do you think?"
"You're starting a Space cruise-line?"
"Yes," Lando beamed proudly. "And this ship is just the first. I plan on buying at least four more ships."
"Congratulations. Good luck. Best wishes. May the Force be with you," Han said with a snort.
"You don't have to be sarcastic."
"Whatever. What does any of this have to do with me?"
"I need a Captain for my first ship. Who better than the famous hero, the former General Han Solo?"
"Not at all. It's a perfect fit, don't you see? You need a new, legit occupation, and I need someone rich people will trust to pilot them close to see all those 'dangerous' space attractions."
"I don't think so."
"Why not? Give me one good reason."
"Let's see..." Han looked up at the sky and pretended to think. "A bunch of rich people...gawking at the scorned former lover of the rich Princess. Sounds like a damn good reason to say 'no' to me."
"I'll give you a better reason to do it - two reasons, actually. One, all those rich people will see that the rich Princess didn't ruin your life by leaving you, and two... eighty thousand credits for the first standard year, one hundred thousand if you stay beyond the first year. Plus, first class living quarters and all the gourmet food you can eat. Oh, yes. And a real spiffy Captain's uniform."
The amount of money Lando was offering floored Solo, but he had no intention of letting the gambler see that. "You might've had me convinced for a second there. At least until you mentioned the Sith-spawned uniform."
"You can't be serious! I'll even let you help pick it out! I already have the image of a crisp white uniform with gold piping, and a tidy little cap! You look great in a uniform, Solo! The ladies will be swooning all over you. Eighty thousand credits... no expenses..." Calrissian trailed off and put on his best convincing expression.
"When is the first trip scheduled?"
Lando shot Han a triumphant grin. "In two months, departing from Coruscant. I already have the first cruise more than half booked, and the reservations are going fast. I'll put you up in a fancy hotel until your quarters are finished. Deal?" Calrissian stuck out his hand and waited. When Han pursed his mouth and didn't immediately answer, Lando prodded, raising his eyebrows. "Eighty-five thousand credits?"
Solo reached forward and grasped Lando's outstretched hand. So much for fading into anonymity. "Deal."
"Isolder?" Leia called into the empty suite. Her husband wasn't there - again. During the past two months Leia had hardly seen Isolder. He claimed he was busy with assignments from his mother, which annoyed Leia to no end. What right did Ta'a Chume have to order her married son around? If Queen Leia of Hapes had thought Ta'a Chume would bow out of ruling the Hapans gracefully, she was finding out how wrong she'd been. I thought Isolder had the backbone to stand up to his mother. I thought our marriage would make him even stronger against her. Instead, he seems to have become far more passive and eager to please his mother since our marriage. Prince Isolder was not the man, or husband, Leia had thought he would be. Sighing, she put on a simple dress and took a walk in the cool evening air of the palace gardens. Starting to round a hedge wall, she stopped short when she heard Isolder's voice.
"I have to go now, Sil'aeyn," Isolder was saying. "My wife will start to get suspicious."
"Just tell her you had meetings. Isn't that what you've been telling her anyway?"
"Yes, and I'm lucky she hasn't confronted my mother about how many 'meetings' she's been making me attend. I wish I could spend every night, and every waking moment with you, Sil'aeyn. You know I love you. I've always loved you."
"It's not fair! Nothing is fair!"
"No, life isn't fair. If I could have married you, I would have. You have to believe me, my love. But I won't give you up completely. Even if we're not legally married, as far as I'm concerned, you're my true wife - the wife of my heart."
"Oh, Isolder," the woman cooed.
The voices stopped as the sound of soft moaning followed. Leia let out the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. Quickly, she turned and headed back into the palace. I should be shocked.. I should be furious. Why is it I feel nothing at all?
Coruscant, two weeks later
True to his word, Lando Calrissian booked Solo into a luxury room in an expensive hotel under his alias, Kixx Reye. Han's only stipulation was that the hotel had to be on the opposite side of the planet from the New Republic government headquarters. At Calrissian's insistence, Han had trimmed his beard, and purchased some new clothes using an advance on his first payment as Captain. Sitting on the edge of a soft bed in a mauve and green colored room, Solo stared at the holo-comm and debated contacting Chewie. I shouldn't have left him, he told himself. He's probably worried sick by now. But he's better off with his wife and child. Whatever happens, it isn't too likely being the Captain of a stupid cruise ship will be dangerous. Leave him with his family. When he sees I'm okay without his protection, he won't be so mad anymore. Again, the same weariness that had settled over his body when Leia left him returned. Not bothering to get undressed, Solo lay down on top of the soft bedspread and slept.
"Hello, Luke." Lando smiled into the holo-comm.
"Lando. I haven't seen you for a while." Luke nodded politely in acknowledgement.
"You'll never guess who I ran into when I was on Ithor."
"Do I have to guess, or can I just use the Force and retrieve the information from your mind?"
"Funny, Skywalker. Stay out of my mind," Lando said with a grimace, then added, "Han."
Luke's eyes widened. "You're kidding! I contacted Chewie months ago and he told me Han just took off and left him on Kashyyyk. And signed over the Falcon to him, too! We've both been trying to use our contacts to locate him, but without any luck."
"So Han told me." Lando sighed. "He's pretty depressed, Luke. But I've convinced him into accepting a job from me, so maybe this will help bring him around."
"I hope so. What type of job is it?"
"I'm starting my own space cruise-line for rich vacationers. Solo's agreed to captain The Galaxy's Splendor for me," Lando replied proudly. "The first trip leaves in six weeks."
"Ah. I see. You do manage to come up with interesting schemes, Lando."
"Hey! This isn't a scheme. These people will get their money's worth, and then some. I'll have suites booked three years in advance."
Luke held up his hands and laughed. "I believe you. Have you talked to Chewie? He's pretty worried about Han. Well, we've all been very worried, actually."
"Not yet. I sort of promised him I wouldn't contact Chewie, but he forgot to mention I shouldn't talk to you about the situation," Lando gave a sly wink. "But the thing is, I can't have him back out of this job. So if you could let Chewie know Han's all right, I think Solo will contact the Wook after he starts feeling more like his old self. I'll keep giving Han a push in that direction, too."
"I'll do that, Lando," Luke agreed, feeling relief that his friend was okay. "Chewie's hurt that Han just up and left, but I'm sure he understands sometimes people don't behave normally when they're upset."
No sooner had Calrissian signed off, than Luke's comm light started blinking again. This time, the incoming communication was from Hapes.
Luke could tell immediately by her pale, unhappy expression that something was wrong. "Leia? What's the matter?"
"I found out a couple of weeks ago he's having an affair," she whispered, without even saying hello first. "I think this woman has been his lover for years. Apparently, our marriage is nothing more than an inconvenience to Isolder." She hesitated, then shook her head sadly. "Or maybe it was only a convenience - I don't know anymore, Luke. I don't know anything."
"Are you certain?" Luke asked. Maybe this was all just a simple misunderstanding.
"Of course I'm certain," Leia said indignantly. "I overheard them talking, and they weren't discussing the weather."
"Have you confronted him?"
"No. What's the point? It will just cause a scene, and nothing will change," she replied unhappily. The worst part since discovering his deception was continuing to have to share a bed with her husband. If Isolder noticed the change in his wife's demeanor during their increasingly rare moments of intimacy, he said nothing. Why should he care if I'm interested or not? He has his lover.
"You can't let things continue this way, Leia," Luke protested. "You don't have to be a martyr and suffer the rest of your life in silence."
"Yes, I do. When I agreed to marry a man I didn't love I became a martyr for the New Republic. I deserve this."
"What?" Luke yelled. "What are you saying? You don't deserve to be unhappy. Why are you even thinking that?"
"Just look at how I treated Han," she said quietly, looking at the floor. "I do deserve this. It's how the Force evens things out."
Luke looked at his stricken sister, seeing her grief and loneliness. Han.. she will never stop loving Han. Why did you do it, Leia? Why did you marry Isolder? The New Republic would have survived without the Hapes Consortium, and it's likely you could have convinced them to join the New Republic without agreeing to a loveless marriage. Unable to say those things aloud, he said, "Leia, listen to me. The Force does not work like that." Suddenly inspiration, or perhaps insanity, struck. "What you need is some time away from Hapes, sister. I have just the thing to help you get away from everything, including your husband, for a little while. And you can claim it's for public relations, too."
"What are you talking about?"
"You haven't heard? Lando is opening a new luxury space-cruise liner. If the new Queen of Hapes would take the maiden voyage it sure would help him with launching this new business. And you could take the cruise as a way of showing how supportive the new Hapan-New Republic governments are towards new independent ventures. Plus, it would get you away from Isolder for two weeks." Luke tried not to think about what would happen when Leia and Han met up again. It could be the biggest disaster in the history of the galaxy, but the Force seemed to be telling him otherwise.
"I don't know if I can just leave so soon - " she started to say before her brother interrupted.
"Leia! You're the Queen! You can do whatever you want to do. Besides, do you really think the galaxy will collapse if you take a few weeks to relax?"
"When is the maiden voyage?" she asked, giving a genuine smile for the first time in months. Maybe this would be just what she needed - some time away from the pompous and stuffy Ta'a Chume and the unfaithful Isolder.
"In six weeks."
"Is there still space available?"
"That won't be a problem. I have connections."
Leia laughed, and to Luke's ears the laughter sounded truly beautiful. "I'll go if you will. I'd love to spend some time with my brother."
"I wouldn't miss this cruise for all the credits in the universe."
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Lando frowned. "How am I going to keep the news from Han and take advantage of this fantastic publicity stunt at the same time?"
"For security reasons, you won't be able to let the public know beforehand, anyway," Luke pointed out. "But that won't change the fact you can sell future cruises by saying Queen Leia of Hapes took the maiden voyage and loved the experience. Just wait to announce that Han is the Captain until after Leia's ship is in hyperspace. That way she won't hear the big news and back out of the trip."
The Baron grinned. "I didn't know Jedi were allowed to be devious. Do you think maybe President Mon Mothma will take one of my future trips when she finds out how much Leia enjoyed it?"
"Don't get carried away, Lando. So you have space available?"
"Sure I do. The most expensive suites usually sell late anyway. The Queen will have only the very best. Do you want to have a suite with two bedrooms, so you can be in the same room with Leia?"
Luke's thoughts drifted to Han. Either this trip was going to be the biggest mistake of Luke's life, or Leia and Han would see the light during the course of the cruise. I should be feeling guilty about this. After all, Leia is married. Except...she's not married to the right man, and Isolder isn't being faithful to her, either. Chewie was right - I should have interfered before the wedding, then things wouldn't be so messed up. "No, I'd rather have a room next to hers or across the hall. Is that okay?"
Lando looked somewhat strained as he interpreted Skywalker's meaning. "She's married, Luke. Are you sure you know what you're doing?"
"I hope I do. It feels right, if a bit late."
"Late. Well, that's an understatement."
"He's fine, Chewie." Luke calmed the worried and angry Wookiee after he explained what was happening. "Lando thinks this is just the thing to get him back on track. But you can't let him know that you know where he is and what he's doing - not until this first cruise is over."
[I just do not understand why he has pushed me away,] Chewie growled. [I have done nothing to make him upset with me!]
"He's not upset with you, he's just depressed. If Han doesn't contact you after the cruise, come to Coruscant and pull his arms out of his sockets."
[Ha! Don't think I wouldn't like to do just that. I think I will have him clean the Falcon from one end to the other with his toothbrush as punishment when I get my paws on him.]
Luke laughed. "At least you know where he is now, and I'll be watching his back for the next several weeks. Who knows? Maybe I can even get Han and Leia back together again."
[May the Force be with you on that task, Skywalker.]
"Thanks, Chewie. I'll need the good grace of the Force to fix this mess."
"A cruise? By yourself?" Ta'a Chume frowned in disapproval. "If you wish to take a vacation, you should go with your husband. It could be a honeymoon. You haven't had one, you know."
Leia felt herself tense up. "I'm well aware of the fact Isolder and I did not take a honeymoon. I want to spend time with my brother. This isn't supposed to be a honeymoon."
"He could just come here and visit you, my dear. This is unnecessary, as well as dangerous."
"It won't be dangerous," Leia ground out through clenched teeth. "My brother is a Jedi, and the ship has security guards as well as defensive capabilities."
"Isolder? Talk some sense into your wife. She is far too stubborn for her own good."
The Prince had been standing silently beside Leia, listening to the exchange. "If Leia wishes to spend time with her brother, I see no reason to stand in her way."
What a surprise... my husband wants me to leave so he can spend some quality time with his lover. Leia forced herself to smile at Isolder. "Thank you, dear. I appreciate the support."
Ta'a Chume sniffed and wiped her hands across the front of her elaborate gown, smoothing imaginary wrinkles. "Fine, then. Do as you please. Who am I to argue with the Queen?" She turned and stalked off, fuming.
"Again," Leia said formally to her husband, "I thank you for backing me."
Isolder bowed at the waist, his face expressionless. "No problem, Queen Leia. No problem at all."
"Sil'aeyn? Are you there, darling?" Isolder whispered as he moved deep into the vast gardens of the palace estate.
"I'm over here," a soft voice replied. Isolder moved to the quiet sniffling sound and found Sil'aeyn sitting on a stone bench, crying. The Prince sat next to the tall blonde and took her hand into his, giving her a white lathel rose that he'd picked moments before. "So it's true?"
"Yes. The doctor confirmed what I suspected."
"This doesn't have to be bad news, my dearest." Those words, meant to comfort, only brought louder sobs from the beautiful Hapan woman. "Shhh, don't cry." Isolder took her into his arms and stroked her golden hair. "I've told you I'll never leave you. I mean that."
"This should be the happiest time of my life," Sil'aeyn cried. "I should be shouting from the rooftops - 'I'm having Isolder's baby!' But... I can't. I can't tell anyone." She turned her liquid blue eyes up to the Prince. "Should I get rid of it? It's only seven weeks."
"No! How can you even suggest such a thing? This baby is going to be loved by both her parents," Isolder said firmly. "Somehow, I'll make everything right, you have to believe me."
Sil'aeyn gave a watery smile. "Her?"
"Of course. The future leader of Hapes is always a girl," the Prince smiled back as he reached down and kissed her trembling lips. "Trust me. I'll figure something out."
Dathomir, one week later.
"Warlord Zsinj, we've received a communication from a high level source," General Melvar said as he handed a disk to the Warlord. "It appears the new Queen of Hapes has decided to take a little vacation on a commercial cruise line." The tall General, whose face was self-scarred by his implanted platinum fingernails, looked down at the short, obese Warlord and waited for a reaction.
"Princess Leia? Really?... How very interesting," Zsinj replied with a smile, taking the disk and looked at it thoughtfully. "I would suppose that the itinerary of this cruise ship is public information."
"Quite public. The disk contains the complete schedule. Our contact was very thorough in that regard."
The Warlord nodded, stroking his gray mustache, his eyes hard. "Won't the New Republic be surprised when they find out I'm still alive and well? Whatever little respect they still might have for the disgraced General Solo will evaporate. Too bad I won't be able to see Solo's face when he hears the news." He turned and looked out of his window, overlooking the vast forests and the distant village. "We must plan this carefully, and destroy this new alliance between the Hapans and the New Republic. A strike of this magnitude will reestablish our position as a serious threat to the fraudulent New Republic government. Someday soon, General Melvar, we will rule the galaxy."
"My thoughts, exactly."
Four weeks later
"Here's your uniform," Lando said as Han opened the door to allow Calrissian to enter his room. "I've had the rest of them delivered directly to your quarters on The Galaxy's Splendor. Your quarters are ready, by the way, so you can move in anytime."
"Tired of paying the hotel bill, Calrissian?" Han groused as he watched Lando take the white uniform with blue and gold trim out of the large box.
Ignoring Han's goading, Lando continued to discuss the uniform. "Isn't it fantastic?" he asked, holding it up. "Try it on, I want to see what it looks like on you."
"I really don't feel like modeling for you."
"This is my high-stakes venture here, Solo. You're going to be representing me. Besides, I paid a fortune for these expensive uniforms and the custom tailoring. I want to see if I got my credits' worth."
Sighing, Solo snatched the garment out of Lando's hand and stalked off to the refresher. He took his time putting on the neatly tailored outfit. First, he pulled on the white pants with a thin, dark blue stripe on the outside of the leg, then he adjusted the tunic with blue braids entwined with gold on the shoulders and blue, gold rimmed buttons running down the front of his chest. Finally, Solo reluctantly exited the 'fresher. Calrissian was standing with white boots in his hand, grinning like a drunken gundark. "Fantastic! You look great. You need to get your hair trimmed before we leave Coruscant, but there's a hair salon onboard. Are you keeping the beard? Get it trimmed shorter, if you do."
"Are you done ordering me around?" Han snapped as he reached for his gun rig, only to have Calrissian snatch it away before his fingers could close around the belt.
"Hey, I'm paying the big credits here. I'm allowed to order you around a bit, and you can't wear your rig with the uniform." Han gave Lando a deadly stare, and Calrissian cleared his throat before explaining. "It ruins the effect and the guests will feel intimidated if they see you wearing a weapon."
"What if I want to intimidate the guests?"
Deciding a fast change of subject was in order, he thrust the shiny boots into Solo's hand. "Put the boots on."
Glaring, Han sat on the edge of the bed and tugged the white boots over his feet, completing the uniform. Well, almost, anyway. Calrissian stepped forward and placed a short brimmed, white and gold cap on Solo's head. "All I can say is... watch out ladies! You're going to have women drooling over you, Solo. Just don't let them drool on the uniform."
"I'll be sure to keep your investment neat and tidy," Han remarked, rolling his eyes.
"Seriously, you need to get up to the Splendor and check things out. Once we leave Coruscant, you're in complete charge," Lando said. "I need to introduce you to all the crew members and various directors. If anyone has a serious complaint, they'll be looking for you."
"Swell. And what's with the 'we'?"
"You don't think I'm missing the maiden voyage of my first cruise ship, do you? Don't worry, you're still in charge of the crew. And if I'm there, you won't need to do as much smooching up to the passengers, since I'll be there to dazzle them."
"Smooching up?" Han asked, his voice getting dangerously low.
"You're going to personally greet all the guests as they board."
"What? How can I possibly greet every passenger? Didn't you tell me there were over ten thousand guests?"
"It's customary for the Captain to greet passengers, Han - and you only have to greet the people coming in on Docking Bay One. Those are the people that are paying the biggest money for this cruise, and they expect to meet the Captain. The various cruise directors will greet the other guests at docking bays two through six. Oh yes, and the meal director will handle which guests will be dining with you each evening." When Han opened his mouth to object, Calrissian quickly continued. "It's considered a great honor to be invited to dine at the Captain's table."
"You never said I had to play host during meals."
"It's just part of the job duty. Don't be so stubborn, Solo. All you have to do is sit and listen to rich people tell you about their lives."
"Sounds like hell, if you ask me."
"I'll tell the director to make sure you have a pretty female sitting next to you every night. How bad can that be? Eat a nice meal, look at a pretty woman, dance with the pretty woman..."
"You know how to dance. You graduated from the Naval Academy."
"I hate you, Calrissian."
"Eight-five thousand credits a year, Solo. Be at the shuttle, docking bay 515, in four hours." Lando gave a cautious smile and backed out of the hotel room.
Riding up in the fancy shuttle, Han took in the outward appearance of The Galaxy's Splendor. "Wow," was Han's comment as he stared, wide-eyed at the shining, enormous ship.
"Impressed, aren't you?" Lando bragged. "She was a half-completed Star Destroyer before I purchased her. I've had her completely reworked...even the outside is totally altered. Wait until you see the inside."
The shuttle landed in one of the six spacious docking bays, with both droids and sentient beings handling the shuttle docking and disembarkment of passengers. "Droids will handle all the mundane chores, like room cleaning and baggage handling," Lando told the new ship's Captain. "But humans and other sentients will handle all activities. Each section of the ship has its own director and assistant director, and everyone on that deck reports to him or her. Those directors will be reporting to you. All the food is prepared and served by sentients. Droids are so impersonal, and this vacation cruise is all about personal attention even though we'll have ten thousand eight hundred seventy six guests per trip, if we're fully booked."
Boarding a small hovercart, Lando drove through the vast, well lit hallways. Each section had its own "theme," mirroring the eco-system of planets like Kashyyyk, Corellia, and even Tatooine. "Crew quarters are in the middle front section of the ship, close to the command bridge. Your quarters are actually connected directly to the bridge for easy access."
Han stared in speechless amazement at the shops and restaurants they passed. Connecting hallways led to theaters, pools, spas, and whatever else a rich person could possibly want on a vacation. Lando continued with his speech. "Guest quarters are broken down into size and cost. The most expensive suites are closer to the front, the lesser priced suites are in the middle sections. The back part of the ship contains the engine rooms, supplies, and droid maintenance areas. All the Guest suites have outside viewing windows, so the entertainment areas are confined to the middle sections. But since large viewing screens are set up in places like restaurants and casinos, even the inside rooms give the illusion of having a view of the outside - and what you see on the screen shows what's outside at the moment. The uppermost level has actual public viewing areas for sightseeing when you get to places like the Maw."
"Wow," Han said again, shaking his head in awe.
"Here we are," Lando declared as he stopped the shuttle. "I've had the supervisors, directors, and flight crew assemble in this banquet room, so they can all meet you at once. I fully expect you to memorize all their names immediately."
When Han's jaw dropped open, Lando laughed. "I'm joking. It'll take you months before you remember half of them. Fortunately, name tags are required, so you'll be able to fake it." Lando hit the "open" button on the ornate double door and it slid open, revealing almost five hundred crew members of various species, sitting at large round tables and gaping at their new Captain. Solo took a deep breath, and followed Lando inside the room.
Six days later, Hapan Battle Cruiser over Coruscant.
"Luke!" the Queen of Hapes cried as she embraced her brother. "It feels like I haven't seen you for years, instead of months." Leia pulled him inside her private suite, and shut the door behind them.
"I've missed you too, sister," the Jedi said sincerely as he kissed her cheek. "I've talked to Lando, and he told me you're scheduled to board tomorrow evening. You'll be the last guest to arrive." Luke gave a short laugh. "Apparently, it takes twelve timeparts to get everyone onboard, and he doesn't want you sitting around waiting while all the other people board. This trip isn't going to be exactly private and secluded."
"I don't care if it isn't private. At least I don't have to drag any Hapan bodyguards with me," Leia told her brother. "You wouldn't believe how Ta'a Chume argued about that."
"It sounds like she's trying to look out for you," Luke pointed out.
"Oh, sure she is. The way she looks at me, sometimes I think she's ready to stab me in the back, and I don't mean figuratively, either."
"Well, at least you have two weeks to relax and forget about her."
"And him." Leia sighed. "I just can't believe he's cheating on me, Luke. This marriage is a nightmare."
"Can't you divorce him?"
"I suppose I could, but look at the scandal that would cause. It would make the Hapans hate me and hate the New Republic in general. The damage would be irreparable."
"Maybe not," Luke argued. "If you confronted him about his affair, maybe the Queen Mother would agree to allow a divorce and keep the treaty with the New Republic. Surely they don't want bad publicity, either."
Leia sat down on a sofa, and indicated that Luke should sit, also. "I've researched past Royal Hapan marriages," she replied. "Affairs are common and completely acceptable. Divorce is highly frowned upon."
"But not unheard of?"
"No, of course not. But basically, I'd have to plead my case before Ta'a Chume, and the final decision is hers and hers alone. Do you really think she'd side with me over her own son?"
"Probably not," Luke conceded. "There has to be some way out of this, Leia. We just have to wait until the Force shows us the way."
"I hope you're right," Leia said quietly. "It's been less than six months, and I'm miserable. I just can't imagine spending the rest of my life this unhappy."
"You're not going to spend your life unhappy," Luke said firmly, trying not to think about the upcoming confrontation with Han. At least not if I have anything to say about it.
Han carefully checked his fancy uniform for unsightly marks, and checked his appearance in the mirror. Yesterday, he had done as Lando requested and gotten his hair cut and his beard trimmed close to his face. Other than the weight he'd lost over the past half year, he decided he didn't look too bad. Using his private lift, he went to the bridge and checked up on his crew making final preparations to depart in less than a day. Everything was on schedule, and there had been no major problems - with the exception of a few hysterical supervisors crying about the mediocre quality of the guest bath towels that had been delivered to the Splendor. It took all of Solo's patience not to make a suggestion as where to put those towels, and after Han consulted Lando, new, high quality towels had been sent as replacements. Catastrophic disaster has been averted, Han had commented to Calrissian with a disbelieving shake of his head. Lando had only laughed.
Glancing at his wrist chrono, Solo knew it was time to head to the docking area to greet the last batch of guests. So far, the greeting of arriving guests had gone exactly like Han expected. It reminded him of the times he'd spent with a certain Princess at New Republic banquets and balls - a lot of fake smiling and nodding while trying to feign interest in total strangers' lives. Why can't I just captain the ship and be done with it? Why do I have to make all this polite, political bantha poo-doo? I just love how Lando waited until the last minute to tell me about all these little extras. Groaning to himself in complaint, he walked resolutely to the open top hovercart, with an upbeat Lando Calrissian waiting at the controls.
"Good stars, Luke," the Princess commented as she stared out of the shuttlecraft window. "I can't believe how beautiful The Galaxy's Splendor is."
"Lando spared no expense," Luke agreed, grinning as he looked past Leia's shoulder. The shuttle made a graceful loop, and turned to the open docking bay door. Inside that beautiful ship, waiting unsuspectingly, was Han Solo, the new Captain of The Galaxy's Splendor. Luke clenched his jaw and fought down his tension. The Jedi spared a nervous glance at his sister, who was smiling in anticipation of two stress-free weeks of vacation.
In ten minutes, Luke thought in dread, life is going to get interesting.
"Here comes the last shuttle." Lando grinned nervously. Of course, you'd better not try leaving when you see who is on that shuttle. I'll use a stun blaster on you before I let you back out on me now.
"Thank the gods it's the last one. My heart couldn't take much more of this fun," Han remarked sarcastically.
"You don't have to pretend to be having fun, just be polite and smile. You can do that, can't you? This is important to me, Han. Don't ruin this trip by being ..." He frowned, searching for a good description.
"An arrogant, low-class, sarcastic jerk?" Han supplied helpfully.
"Yes." Lando nodded in agreement. "Don't ruin it by being yourself."
Han actually laughed aloud, the first time he'd truly laughed since Leia had left him. He was still smiling when the door leading to the docking bay opened, revealing Luke Skywalker in his Jedi robes, standing next to his sister. Han's smile faded away in utter shock.
Lando looked over at the Jedi, and then his eyes took in Queen Leia of Hapes. Dressed in an elegant, teal colored silk pantsuit with a darker cloak, and her hair drawn back with soft tresses hanging down next to her cheeks, the Princess-turned-Queen looked beautiful and regal. And just as stunned as Captain Solo.
Several days ago, Lando had formally announced the news that Han Solo was the Captain of The Galaxy's Splendor. Just like Luke suggested, he timed his announcement after Leia's Hapan Battle Cruiser was already in hyperspace and en route to Coruscant. Once the ship had exited hyperspace, Luke had kept Leia from viewing any New Republic holo-news - further insurance against her finding out who was captaining the cruise ship. For security and privacy purposes, Queen Leia had also not notified any of her political colleagues on Coruscant of her intentions to take this little vacation.
Her training as a politician allowed Leia to recover first, but she was still barely able to believe her own eyes. "Han?" She turned to Luke. "Did you know about this?" Not waiting for a response, she looked back at the Corellian. Solo looked so incredibly handsome in his white uniform, it was all Leia could do to keep from throwing herself into his arms and weeping for his forgiveness. Her eyes drifted up to his bearded face, taking in his dumbfounded expression. He didn't know I was coming. And he's lost weight... that's my fault, too.
"Queen Leia, Luke." Calrissian quickly stepped forward during the awkward silence. "Welcome aboard The Galaxy's Splendor's maiden voyage. I can't tell you how thrilled I am you decided to take this trip. I hope you have the best time of your life."
She's so beautiful, was Solo's first coherent thought, followed rapidly by, Why is she here?
"Han, it's been a long time, my friend," Luke said sincerely, putting his hand on Solo's shoulder. He was tempted to use the Force to calm both his sister and Han, but previous experience had taught Luke that Leia could not be influenced by the Force, and Han was only briefly affected by his Force-nudges. And since Solo was aware when Luke attempted to use the Force on him, he'd only manage to make the Corellian more belligerent. Wisdom comes with experience, Luke decided. "It's good to see you again."
"Uh, yeah, it's nice seeing you too, kid," Han finally managed to mumble, not taking his eyes off the Princess.
Leia took a tentative step toward Han. "Han... I..."
Immediately, Solo's back got rigid and his expression hard as he stuck out his hand. Her eyes wide, Leia shook Han's outstretched hand. "Welcome aboard The Galaxy's Splendor, Your Highness. Your private porter will take you on a brief tour of the ship, and show you to your suite." It was the basic speech he had already said to each passenger as they entered. Heart hammering in his ears, Han turned to the male Bith porter. "Please see to the comfort of Jedi Skywalker and the Queen." Solo pasted a false smile on his face and looked at Luke. "I hope you enjoy your trip." Without waiting for a response, the Corellian turned and strode away, leaving everyone standing in silence.
"I'll see you two later," Lando whispered softly to Luke before taking off after Han.
Luke nodded, and gently pulled at his silent sister to follow the porter.
As soon as Lando was out of earshot, Leia looked at her brother. "How could you?" she hissed under her breath. "You knew Han was the Captain, didn't you?"
"Yes," he replied quietly, not wanting the porter to overhear them.
"Let's discuss this later," Luke said, indicating the porter with a nod of his head.
"Oh, we'll discuss this later, brother. Believe me, we'll discuss this."
"Where are you going?" Lando demanded as he caught up with the Corellian. He noted Han's face was a deep red - not a good sign.
Han stopped short and spun around, not caring if there were guests and employees passing by in the hallway. In a low, deadly voice, Han said to Calrissian. "How dare you."
"It wasn't my idea," the businessman argued, looking around for an empty room. The closest thing seemed to be a public refresher, and he pulled Solo by the arm until they were both inside. Lando quickly checked the stalls, and locked the outside door when he knew they were alone. "Now, let's discuss this like sensible adults."
Without warning, Solo hauled off and belted Calrissian across the jaw, sending the refined gambler crashing to the ground before skidding into a urinal. "I'm leaving this ship," Han snapped, trying to unsuccessfully open the locked door. "Open this damn door, Calrissian, or I'm gonna rip you in two."
Groaning, Lando pushed himself up, feeling his jaw and the back of his head. A large welt seemed to be swelling up in both places. "You can't leave. I need you to captain this ship."
"Captain it yourself."
The gambler stood up, making sure there was a safe distance between Han and himself. "You've signed a contract. You have to make this trip. I'll take you to court if you back out now."
Han gave a harsh laugh. "Just what do you think you'd get from me, Calrissian? I haven't got two credits to rub together."
"You gave me your word you'd do this trip," Lando said, trying a different tactic. "You always said a Corellian's word was good."
"That was before you stabbed me in the back, friend," Han spat out. "You just seem to burn me every chance you get. I don't know why I trusted you."
"I told you this wasn't my idea. It was Luke's."
"Why would Luke do this? She didn't know either, did she? I could tell, just by looking at her face, she didn't know."
"No. Leia didn't know you were the ship's Captain. And Luke did this because..." Lando stopped and looked down at the expensive inlaid tile on the refresher floor.
"Because Leia made a mistake, and she regrets what she did."
Han laughed bitterly, shaking his head. "A mistake. She regrets what she did. Well, that's just too bad, ain't it? She's married now." Han stopped, frowning at Calrissian. "She is still married, right?"
"Yes. I don't think she can get divorced without the Queen Mother's approval."
"Then what was Luke thinking? That we'd both be so overcome with happiness or hormones that we'd forget the husband and jump into the nearest bed?"
"Luke wants his sister to be happy. He loves her."
"Why didn't Luke think about that before she married the Prince of Perfection?" Han asked. "If anyone could have convinced her she was doing the wrong thing, it would've been Luke."
"Hindsight is always easy, isn't it?" Lando sighed. "You're asking me things I can't answer. Listen to me, Han. This is a huge ship, and if you don't want to see Leia you don't have to. Well, except for dinnertime. But other than..."
"Wait! Why do I have to eat dinner with her?"
"How would that look? She's the most important guest onboard, and she'll only be sitting at your table with you once. It's a big table, and I'll be there and so will Luke. I'll make all the conversation and you won't have to say a word."
"Everyone in the room will be staring at us."
Lando sighed again, knowing this was true. The breakup between Princess Leia Organa and General Han Solo had made holo-news gossip for weeks. "It's only two time-parts out of your entire life. People will gossip much more if you don't have one dinner with the Queen."
Solo stared at Lando, silent for a long moment. Finally he said, "Open the fresher door. People will start gossiping about this, too."
"Are you going to stay on board and captain the ship, like I hired you to do? Like you promised you'd do?"
"Yes. But it remains to be seen if I do a second trip."
Lando opened the door, rubbing his throbbing jaw as he watched Solo leave.
Leia and Luke sat in stony silence during the long ride through the corridors of the vast ship. If the Bith noticed a problem, he was professional enough not to comment. Filling the silence with constant chatter, the porter pointed out all the various activities and entertainments throughout the ship. Finally the hovercart turned down a wide hallway with small crystal chandeliers hanging from the high ceiling every few yards. One side of the corridor held ornate doorways with gold numbers, on the opposite wall was a clear floor-to-ceiling window that ran the entire length of the very long hallway. Luke was awed to see a complete lagoon setting on the other side of the window, with white sand, swaying kako trees, blue water lapping the "shore" and hundreds of lounge chairs and hammocks. Some newly arrived guests wandered the water's edge, their children running and tumbling in the soft sand.
The porter noticed Luke's amazement. "That is a complete beach, running three hundred and fifty feet in length and two hundred in width. The temperature is kept at a steady eight-five degrees to simulate a tropical environment. Life guards are always on duty, and of course, the 'sun' never sets. But don't worry about noise - the duraglass is completely soundproof, just like all the walls in the ship." He stopped the small vehicle near the end of the corridor, between two doors. "This room on the left is yours, Jedi Skywalker. The door on the right is Queen Leia's. Your luggage will arrive within the timepart." Luke and Leia exited the vehicle without comment. "Do you require any further assistance?"
"No, thank you," Leia replied politely. "The tour was very interesting. I'm sure we'll have a great time."
The porter nodded and handed them the room entry disks before quickly leaving. Leia turned to her brother. "It's later," she said shortly as she ran the disk across the scanner. The door slide silently open, revealing one of the most luxurious suites Leia had ever seen, and she'd seen many. It was decorated entirely in rose and soft blue, and the living area was a step down from the rose-colored tiled entryway. All the woodwork was burnished gold and seemed to literally glow. A huge rose-stone fireplace with an artificial fire crackled away. The window on the far side of the room ran the entire length, and was draped with a blue lace-edged curtain. Leia suspected the bedroom was just as elaborate.
"This is beautiful," Luke commented as he looked around. "Lando really knows how to lay it on."
"I don't want to discuss the room."
"Leia," the Jedi started out slowly. "You're unhappy. You should never have married Isolder. You love Han."
"I realize that," she returned evenly, her mouth set in a thin line. "But it's too late. I thought I told you that."
"You're alive. Han's alive. It's not too late."
"Are you suggesting I should get back at my husband by having an affair with Han?" she snapped. "How would that make anything better? I'd still have to return to Hapes without him. And Han looks like he's surviving just fine without me. As a matter of fact, he didn't look one bit happy to see me."
"He was shocked, that's all," Luke said quietly. "Did you know Han signed over the Falcon to Chewie and left him on Kashyyyk?" When Leia looked stunned, Luke continued. "Lando accidentally found him, wandering around Ithor about two months ago, filthy and broke. Didn't you see how much weight he's lost? He's been depressed since you left him."
"It looks like he's getting better," she replied softly.
"Only through Lando's intervention. Maybe he is finally pulling himself together and I hope he is, but that doesn't mean he no longer loves you. People survive heartache and loss, and move on with their lives. You should know that better than anyone."
Leia walked across the large suite to stare out at Coruscant, floating below. "This will never work."
"Never say never," Luke said as he came up behind her, putting his hands on her shoulders. "We have two weeks to try and put things right."
"Or make things worse."
"We've just received another communication from our source," General Melvar informed Zsinj. "Apparently, Solo is the new Captain of the cruise ship, The Galaxy's Splendor."
This news briefly surprised Zsinj, before a huge grin appeared on his round face. "Of course... Calrissian is the owner. This is the best news I've heard in months." The Warlord looked up at the night sky. "Destroying a cruise ship will be child's play, and even the infamous Solo will be helpless as he watches the Iron Fist tear apart his vessel."
"But before we destroy it, we'll need to take hostages. Not only will Queen Leia be a useful pawn, just think of all the wealthy patrons on this maiden tour," Melvar said.
"Yes, and those wealthy patrons have influential family members. Those family members will be breathing fire down the backs of New Republic officials." The Warlord laughed. "The New Republic will cave into our every demand before they allow us to send the bodies back to Coruscant."
Melvar nodded in agreement. "Most of the bodies will be sucked into the Maw along with the ship, anyway."
"But remember, the hostage I want the most is Solo. You can keep me entertained for days with your talents when he's brought onboard this Destroyer."
Melvar could see the anticipation in Zsinj's face as the warlord rubbed his hands together. "I look forward to showing those talents to you in great detail, Warlord Zsinj."
The two men shared a laugh as they headed to the shuttle.
Bridge of The Galaxy's Splendor, over Coruscant
Captain Han Solo stood in the middle of the bridge as his new command vessel turned slowly away from the planet and moved further out into space. "All systems are operational, sir!" a young female ensign snapped out.
Solo turned slightly to his Lieutenant, and gave the order, "Set coordinates to mark four-three-nine. Go to hyperspace when ready."
"Ready, sir," the Lieutenant replied as he pulled back the controls.
The stars blurred as the huge ship jumped into hyperspace and headed to the first destination, two days away - the famous Crystal Nebula.
This might not have been such a great idea, Luke thought morosely as he unpacked his small satchel. His room was as beautiful as Leia's, only the color scheme and the furnishings were altered to give each room its own 'personality'. Sitting down on his large bed with a very expensive forest green bedspread, the Jedi pondered the situation. Sooner or later - probably sooner - word would get back to the Prince of Hapes that his wife had taken a cruise with her former lover as the ship's captain.
Even with Luke along to act as a chaperone, it would do little to stop the gossip. Isolder would suddenly become the wronged spouse, and Leia the unfaithful one. I should have thought of this - no wonder she's so upset with me. His musings were interrupted by the soft chime of the doorbell. Reaching out with the Force, Luke knew immediately who was at the door.
Crossing the large suite, Luke pushed the button to admit his caller. "Hi, Han."
"Don't you 'hi' me," Solo responded gruffly, pushing Luke aside and entering the room without an invitation. "What the hell were you thinking?"
"I guess I wasn't thinking," the young Jedi admitted, shutting the door to prevent any passersby from overhearing. "I'm sorry."
"Sorry? That ain't gonna cut it, kid," Solo snapped, poking Luke in the chest with his finger. "I've got to spend two krethin' weeks on the same ship as your sister. People are gonna be thinking it was our idea. Who's gonna believe a Jedi and a con-artist arranged all this behind our backs?"
"No one. I'm sorry," Luke repeated contritely.
"Why did you do it? Lando says Leia's unhappy in her marriage, but for the life of me I can't figure out how you thought this was a good idea. Am I supposed to have a two week affair with her, just so she can forget her problems for a little while? Huh?"
That's the same basic thing Leia said, Luke reflected. "The Force told me Leia should take this cruise."
"Oh for the..." Han threw his hands up in the air and stalked over to the window. "You should be thanking the stars you're a Jedi, or I'd do the same thing to you as I did to Lando."
"Let me guess - you hit him."
"Yup. It felt pretty damn good, too."
"I'll go explain to Isolder that it was my idea, and that you and Leia didn't have any idea."
"What makes you think he'll believe you?"
"I don't know that he will. But he needs a serious wake-up call about marriage."
"What does that mean?"
"He's cheating on her, Han. Six months into the marriage, and he's already cheating."
The information startled Solo, but he refused to let any sympathy show. "So why don't you go threaten him with your lightsaber? You'd do that to me if I'd be the cheating husband."
"No, I wouldn't. I'd hold you upside down with the Force and shoot Force-lightning at you."
Han smiled slightly, "I'll bet." Then he grew serious. "I would never have cheated on her. Not in a million years. And not because I was afraid of any Jedi brother, either."
"I believe you, Han. Somehow, I've got to get Leia out of this terrible situation. I know, beyond any doubt, that she still loves you."
"Then why? Why did she...how could she..." Solo stopped and looked out at the streaking stars. "She hurt me, Luke. I can't begin to describe how much she hurt me."
"I know. Leia's aware of the pain she caused you. She doesn't think she deserves your forgiveness, much less your trust and love."
Han headed to the exit, and faced Luke before opening the door. "I'm not sure I can forgive or trust her again, either."
"You didn't mention love in that sentence," Luke pointed out.
"That's because the word 'again' doesn't apply, Luke." Solo walked out the room.
Bracing himself, Han walked into the huge and elegant banquet room, allowing the Bothan host to show him to his table. Solo tried to stare ahead and not meet the eyes of the many beings that were staring quite openly at him as he passed their tables. Some people spoke his name, forcing Solo to look down and acknowledge their greetings. It's only been five minutes, and already I'm gettin' a headache, he thought unhappily. How am I gonna do this for two weeks? Or months ..or years? Maybe it's something I'll get used to... eventually. Just like carbonite. Han forced himself not to give an audible snort at the thought.
Glancing to his left, he saw Luke sitting next to his sister, but the host continued on for several more tables before stopping and pulling out a chair. Apparently, this would not be the night that Captain Han Solo would share a dinner with Queen Leia of Hapes. Sitting down, he saw Lando at the opposite end, grinning broadly at him, then giving a barely perceptible nod to Han's right. Solo turned his head and noted that Lando had lived up to his promise. A beautiful blonde woman sat next to him, her hair piled up in an elaborate coiffure, jewels dripping off her ears and hanging around her neck and wrists. Her dress was a glittering baby blue, showing off a great deal of ample cleavage. Han's smile was no longer quite so forced as he held out his hand, taking her slender fingers in his own. "Captain Han Solo at your service, ma'am."
"Rasti Dewmoon," she replied, showing a dimpled smile along with perfect teeth.
Han decided this evening might not be so terrible, after all.
Stabbing her salad, Leia tried not to allow her face to become flushed. I'm a married woman! What do I have to be jealous about? She put the crisp leaves in her mouth, and realized her throat didn't want to swallow.
"He doesn't know that woman," Luke said in a low tone as he leaned close to his sister. "The dining director arranges who sits next to him."
"I know that." She chewed the leaves until they were finally able to slide down her tight throat.
"Lando told me we'll be sitting at the Captain's table in one week, during the Grand Formal Ball. That's considered the premier dining event during the cruise."
"I'm sure Han will be just thrilled to have me sitting next to him," she said evenly.
Sighing, Luke picked up an itinerary disk. "It looks like the Maw will be the big sightseeing finale, right before we head back to Coruscant."
"Don't try to make small talk with me, Luke. I really don't feel like it."
"He still loves you."
"Shut up," she snapped softly, her eyes focused on the Captain's table. "Just shut up."
Sipping a hot beverage, Leia sat in her bedroom with her legs folded up under her body as she stared out the window. She had tried to sleep, but even a long, hot water shower failed to eliminate the evening's images from her mind.
Han had ignored her during the long dinner, dancing with at least a dozen beautiful females of several different species throughout the night. But he'd reserved the most attention for the blonde at his table, laughing and sharing drinks with her. By the end of the evening, he'd pointedly escorted her out of the banquet room, disappearing through the open double doorway.
Leia shut her eyes, trying not to imagine what Han was doing at this moment with the blonde. Sweet goddess, she thought, her heart aching, He looked so handsome in that white uniform, he could have had any woman in that room. He could have had me... Her traitorous thought trailed off, and she stood up, straightening her thick bathrobe. Why did I allow them to pressure me? Why didn't someone, anyone, stop me from making the biggest mistake of my life? As she headed to the small kitchenette she knew, deep down, that Leia Organa had no one to blame but herself.
"Are you sure you won't come in?" Rasti asked Solo as he walked her to her suite.
"No." Han shook his head. "I'm pretty sure the contract I signed forbids consorting with the guests."
She laughed lightly. "I think you're just teasing me."
Solo gave her a lopsided grin. "Maybe. But we still have a lot of time to get to know each other, Rasti. I'll talk to you tomorrow."
"I'd like that," she replied. Before Han could react, she pulled him close and kissed him passionately. "Tomorrow, then." She entered her room and left Solo standing somewhat astonished and slightly aroused.
Slowly strolling back to his own quarters, the Corellian fought down his desire to return and spend the night with the blonde. Just walking with her around the vast ship had made him feel like he was somehow betraying the Princess. I treated Leia like a contagious disease tonight - even after I told Luke that I still loved her. Remembering Leia's expression and defeated demeanor only increased his guilt. Why did I do that? Solo knew the answer to his own question. I was trying to flaunt another woman in her face. I was trying to make her feel bad. Doesn't that put me in the same category as her faithless husband? He entered the lift and his finger hesitated over the buttons, hovering near the floor he knew held Leia's suite. I can't...she's married. Solo pressed the button to his own floor and returned to his quarters.
"Have a seat, Isolder." Ta'a Chume indicated a chair across from her vast desk. "We have something to discuss."
Nodding, Isolder sat, crossing his legs. "Why so formal, mother?"
The Queen Mother's eyes narrowed at her son's insolence. "You should not have allowed Leia to take that cruise by herself."
The Prince tossed his long locks back over his shoulders and held his hand up, pondering his manicured fingernails. "She seemed insistent."
"Of course she did. Han Solo is the Captain of that cruise ship. Did you know that?"
"Not until this moment," Isolder replied coolly, still refusing to look at his mother.
"This news doesn't appear to bother you. May I ask why?"
Slowly, the Prince shifted his focus to Ta'a Chume, his face stony. "Sil'aeyn."
"Surely you aren't serious. That little trollop is beneath your contempt. She is the daughter of a common Palace guard - nothing more."
Isolder felt his body tense with anger. "Sil'aeyn is not a trollop. I have loved her for longer than I can remember. I would have married her if not for your interference."
"How did I interfere?"
"Do not play coy with me, mother. You threatened her family."
"So that is why you married the outsider? To settle some imaginary debt with me?"
The Prince's voice was harsh and low. "Imaginary? Leia displeased you. I'm not going to say that wasn't a factor in my asking for her hand. I knew you wouldn't - no, couldn't - deny me marrying the last Royal Alderaanian."
"So you do not care if your wife carries on with another man?" Ta'a Chume questioned, her mouth curved in contempt. "As long as it allows you to justify keeping Sil'aeyn as a mistress?"
"You have had many lovers, so don't be a hypocrite and treat me like a fool," Isolder shot back.
"Do not behave like a fool, and I will not treat you like one. I said before, and I will say again - Sil'aeyn is unacceptable."
"You'd better reconsider that, mother. In six months, she is going to bear you a granddaughter."
Ta'a Chume was seldom rendered speechless, but this announcement managed to momentarily stun her. "You will bring Sil'aeyn to my suite tomorrow evening," she finally said. "Go, and leave me to think."
The Galaxy's Splendor, Day Two
"I think I'd rather have dinner in my room," Leia said casually to her brother as they sat on the artificial beach across the hallway from their rooms.
"Lando told me Han is dining in another banquet room tonight," Luke replied, wiping the sand from his fingers. "He's supposed to make appearances in different dining rooms for all the guests." When Leia did not comment, Luke added, "I just can't see Han enjoying this type of job. It involves so much public relations."
"It looked like he was enjoying the public relation part last night," she said dully.
"I'm sorry, Leia. I guess this was a mistake."
"Yes, it was." She stood up and gathered up the towel she'd been sitting on. "Maybe I will go to dinner, after all." As long as Leia didn't have to watch Han flirting with another beautiful woman for the entire evening, there was no point in refusing to eat dinner with Luke.
"Good," Luke said, pleased that his sister changed her mind. "After dinner, we can go to the observation deck and check out the Crystal Nebula. I've never seen it."
"Me, either," Leia acknowledged. "I'll see you later."
Luke nodded and watched her head to the exit. I don't understand why it felt so right in the beginning. Now everyone seems to be worse off than before.
Hapan Capital, Ta'a Chume's suites.
"I'm right here," Isolder soothed his lover as they rang the entry buzzer. "You don't have to be afraid."
"Easy for you to say," the tall woman said as she laughed nervously. "I keep picturing her taking a blaster out of her dress and shooting me." Sil'aeyn glanced down at her belly, putting her hand protectively over her unborn baby.
The Prince touched her cheek lovingly. "I'll throw myself in front of the blaster if she tries."
The door slid open and Ta'a Chume's male butler gave a bow to the Prince before leading them into a large, surprisingly cozy, library. The Queen Mother sat in a soft nerf-hide chair, and she waved at her son to leave. "Isolder, you will find something to keep you occupied while I have a private talk with Sil'aeyn." Isolder hesitated as he saw his lover's trepidation. "Go! I will not bite her."
"Yes, mother," he replied, bowing before her and backing out of the room.
"Have a seat, dear," the woman said authoritatively. Sil'aeyn quickly obeyed. "You are having my son's child."
"Yes," she mumbled, looking at the floor.
"Do not mumble. Look me in the eye. I will not suffer a fool for a daughter-in-law."
"Yes. That is what I said. Are you deaf as well?"
"But... what about Queen Leia?"
Ta'a Chume looked strained. "She is more unacceptable than even you, if that is possible. I cannot continue to rule with her as my daughter-in-law. The woman is far too strong-willed, and she defies me at every turn." The Queen Mother pulled a drawer open and withdrew a piece of flimsy. "This gives you a title as Duchess. Once you marry Isolder you will be the new Queen, but let me make myself completely clear. You will be Queen in name only, and I will still make all decisions. When your daughter is of age, you will abdicate your meaningless throne for her. Do you find any of this objectionable?"
"No, Your Highness."
"Good. You are dismissed."
Sil'aeyn stood up, and stared at Ta'a Chume for a moment before timidly asking, "May I ask a question?"
"Will Queen Leia agree to a divorce?"
"A divorce will not be necessary." When Sil'aeyn looked confused, the Queen Mother laughed. "My current daughter-in-law is about to meet an untimely end, and Isolder will be free to remarry."
"I see." Heart pounding, Sil'aeyn fled the room, leaving behind a pleased Queen Mother.
Evening aboard The Galaxy's Splendor, stopped near the Crystal Nebula.
"Can I get you some wine?" Luke asked his sister as they stared in awe at the phenomenon. The Crystal Nebula lived up to its reputation. It appeared like a diamond covered curtain waving slowly through the blackness of space, sparkling with a million lights in every color of the rainbow as it captured the light from a nearby sun.
Leia pulled her eyes away from the clear ceiling and looked at her brother. Luke had been attentive and contrite throughout the course of the day. Earlier, he had even attended an opera with her, something Leia knew her brother enjoyed every bit as much as Han, which was to say - not at all. "Yes, I'd like a glass of white wine, please."
Luke stood from the small table they were occupying and went to the bar, while Leia returned her gaze to the glittering stars. "Amazing, isn't it?" a deep voice asked from behind her.
Jumping slightly, Leia turned in her chair and looked up. "Han?"
"Can I sit down?"
"Certainly," she nodded, indicating the chair Luke had just vacated. I can't believe he's speaking to me... "Where is your girlfriend?" I can't BELIEVE I just said that!
Flushing, Leia looked down. "The blonde, from yesterday."
"Oh. Her." Han gave a short laugh. "I think Rasti tried coming to the bridge this afternoon, but security turned her away. Guests are only allowed on the bridge with a Captain's invitation, and personal escort. I didn't invite her."
"Hmm," Leia remarked noncommittally, playing with a small napkin on the table.
"Would you like a tour?"
"Is that an invitation?"
"From the Captain himself."
Leia smiled, feeling a little shy around the man she loved. "I'd love a personal tour of the bridge."
"Good." Solo stood up as Luke approached. "Tomorrow, then? I'll be by your suite, say around ten?"
"Yes, ten is fine."
Han looked over at Luke, who was now standing somewhat uncomfortably a few feet away. "Just leaving, kid. Have a nice evening, you two."
The Jedi watched Solo leave, and handed Leia her wine. "Dare I ask?"
Leia took the glass from her brother, then replied, "Maybe this vacation wasn't a mistake."
Morning, Day 3
It took Leia two timeparts to decide what to wear on the bridge tour, finally deciding on a soft peach sundress with matching flat shoes. She kept her hair down, but loosely braided, and then stared at her appearance in the refresher mirror for ten minutes before shaking her head in dismay. Since when does Han notice what dress I wear? But I know he likes me to wear colors, not white. Ironic, since he looks so good in white himself.
The door chime rang, and Leia forced herself to walk slowly to the door. It won't look good if I appear too eager. She hit the open button, revealing a smiling Han Solo.
"Hi, yourself," she said softly. Why don't we skip the tour and just go straight into my bedroom? "You look wonderful."
Han gave her his best lopsided grin. "You don't look too shabby yourself, for a Queen."
"Well, thank you for the lovely compliment."
Solo offered his arm. "No problem, Your Highness."
Taking his arm, she strolled next to the Corellian and entered the lift. Unfortunately, four other people were already in the lift, so the pair stared at the closed door watching the numbers change in silence. The tube stopped and the strangers departed, the older woman looking back over her shoulder before commenting to her husband as the door slid back shut - "Well, that little hussy Queen certainly didn't waste any time taking Solo back as her lover..."
Han cleared his throat. "Do you want to go back to your room...alone?"
"No, let them talk. It doesn't matter anymore. The moment I stepped on this ship, the gossip started." There was another awkward silence before Leia spoke again, her voice thick. "I'm sorry, Han. I'm so sorry for everything."
"I'm sorry too, Princess," Han said quietly. "I never wanted you to be unhappy. You deserved a great marriage and a good life. I wish I had it in my power to make everything better for you."
You do. "I appreciate that," she replied, her eyes downcast. "Especially after the way I treated you."
"You gave me four years of happiness, Leia. I always knew it was too good to last, and honestly, I'd rather have those four years of memories than nothing at all. Besides, the way I look at it, it was partly my fault, too."
Leia looked up sharply. "Your fault? How can you even think that?"
"I was a coward."
"Han, you're the bravest..."
"Let me finish," he interrupted. "I should have asked you to marry me, right after the Battle of Endor, but I was too afraid. I was afraid I wasn't good enough for you, and that you'd say no. And I was afraid you'd say yes."
Han put his hand on her face. "If you said yes, someday your true Prince would've come along, and you'd be already stuck with me. Then you'd have ended up resenting me."
"I would never have resented you. I wish we would have been married long before Isolder ever showed up, and then none of this would have happened."
Putting his hand down, he gave a sad smile. "It would be nice to be able to change the past, wouldn't it?" The lift stopped and the door opened. "Here's our level," Han forced cheer into his tone. "Try to look impressed during the bridge tour. You'll give the crew a real thrill," he winked at her as he escorted a teary-eyed Queen Leia down the corridor.
"Well," Han drawled as he and Leia headed to a cafe for lunch. "Was that exciting, or what?"
Leia laughed. "Yes. It was the most impressive bridge I've ever been on in my life."
"Good. I'd hate to disappoint." Han grinned. "I hope you like this cafe. It's actually in an arboretum, complete with a waterfall and all sorts of exotic flowers. And the best part is that Lando told me hardly anyone knows about it yet. So if we're lucky, maybe we'll have a little privacy."
We could have lots of privacy back in my room. "Sounds wonderful. I have to admit, this cruise ship is really fantastic. I think Lando finally had a good idea."
"Yeah, I hate to admit it, too."
Feeling like the gloom was finally lifting from her soul, Leia impulsively took Han's hand in her own. The Corellian looked surprised at Leia's gesture, but he didn't pull his fingers from her. She's right.. let them talk.
After lunch, Han slowly walked Leia back to her suite, reluctant to let the past few timeparts end. They stopped in front of the doorway, and Leia took a deep breath and smiled up at Solo. "Thank you for the tour and lunch. That was the best fruit compote I've ever had."
"You need to thank Lando for hiring all those gourmet chefs," Han grinned at her.
"You shouldn't have told that man to stop staring at us when we were eating. He looked offended."
"People are too nosy, and he was offending me."
Just ask him in... Leia opened her mouth, but never had the chance to speak. "Han Solo! There you are!" a feminine voice called out from down the corridor. "I know you're busy, but you promised you'd see me, and I waited all day." Leia and Han both jumped apart slightly, and turned to the speaker - Rasti Dewmoon, the blonde.
"So I did promise," Han said tightly as she approached, throwing her arms around his waist. Her blue eyes took in the Queen, and she gave Leia a smile that did not reach her eyes. "Han and I really hit it off the other night, didn't we?" she asked, looking up at Solo.
"We had a nice evening, Rasti," Solo replied tightly, trying to disengage the woman's grip.
"Maybe I'll see you later," Leia said to Han, before turning and entering her suite. Inside, she shut her eyes and leaned against the door, trying to calm her jealously. Why? WHY?
Outside her door, Han finally pushed Rasti away. "I have to get back to the bridge."
"Will you take me to the bridge and show me around?"
"Some other time," he replied abruptly, turned and left the blonde glaring at his retreating back.
Morning, Day 4 orbiting the planet Kysilla
"Han, we need to talk," Lando said as he sat down across the table with his breakfast he'd just gathered from the buffet tables.
Putting down his kaffe, Han looked at Calrissian. "All right."
"I've had complaints from some of the guests. They told me you were rude to them yesterday."
"Is that all these rich people have to do? Stare at me and then complain when I tell 'em to mind their own business?"
"You knew they would stare at you. We discussed this, remember? And if you're with Leia, they'll stare even more," Calrissian said in an even tone. "You have to be polite, Han, even if they annoy you. I can't have my customers unhappy, or I'll never get more customers. Do you understand?"
"I understand. I'm not an idiot, Calrissian," Han growled back, feeling more than a little peeved at being lectured. "I won't be rude to anyone else, okay?"
"You need to apologize to them, too."
"Like hell I'll do that."
"Solo!" Lando snapped. "It's only two people. Just go to their rooms later tonight and apologize."
Glaring, Solo asked, "Who complained?"
"Some Kuati shipping magnet. His name is Bil Vaxsun. Floor 32, room 922."
"And the other jerk?"
"Rasti Dewmoon. I think you know her suite."
"Miss Dewmoon wants more from me than just an apology, Lando," Han snorted. "And she ain't gettin' it."
"Just apologize to her, and show her around the bridge. That's all."
"I'll show her around the krethin' bridge, okay? Does that make you happy?"
"It'll make the customer happy, and that's what we're here to do, Han."
Kysilla was a vacation paradise, with sandy beaches, quaint towns dedicated to parting their visitors with vast quantities of credits, and snow-capped mountains for skiing. Since The Galaxy's Splendor was spending three full days orbiting over this system, Luke and Leia took advantage of the time to check out a ski resort. It was the first time Luke had actually tried old fashioned type downhill skiing, with wooden slats on his feet instead of a turbo-charged slider. He watched in awe as his athletic sister skied effortlessly down the powdery slopes - it was obvious this was something she'd done many times before.
They both stopped at the bottom of the hill, a little winded, their faces rosy from the cold. "You're a natural at this, Luke," Leia told her brother.
"I have a good instructor," he grinned. Luke was pleased to sense joy returning to his sister's spirit. He hesitated briefly before plunging ahead. "The Grand Ball is in two nights. You're actually looking forward to it, aren't you?"
"Yes," she admitted. "I really didn't think I would, but an evening dancing with Han sounds fantastic."
"Things are better between the two of you," Luke stated.
Focusing her eyes on the distant mountain peaks, Leia answered carefully, "I'm not going to use Han to show my husband I'm desirable. It wouldn't be fair to Han, and to tell you the truth, it wouldn't feel right to me. After this cruise, I'm going before Ta'a Chume and plead my case for divorce. If I'm lucky and she grants it, I'll ask Han to take me back, beg him to take me back if that's what it takes. Even if he says no, at least I'll have done the right thing, in the right order." She looked at her quiet brother. "Does any of this make sense?"
Luke nodded. "It makes perfect sense." After all these years, Leia could still surprise him.
Late at night, back on board The Galaxy's Splendor
"Goodnight, Leia," the young Jedi smiled as he kissed his sister's cheek. He watched as she entered her suite before opening his own door and then heading for the refresher.
Leia dropped her bags on the floor, happy and tired. It had been a fun day and for the past half-year, fun had been non-existent. She started to move toward her bedroom when the door chime rang. Luke must have forgotten to tell me something... She opened the door without looking out the viewer, startled to see the pretty blonde standing at her door. Leia struggled to remember the woman's name, but it became apparent that it didn't matter.
"Keep away from him," she snarled at the surprised Queen.
"Solo. You threw him away and made another choice. You can't have it all, Queen Leia, even if you think you're entitled." The blonde woman looked startled and annoyed when a group of overly intoxicated beings unexpectedly appeared in the corridor, exiting from their room and heading toward them.
Quickly, Leia pulled her thoughts together, refusing to give into petty jealousy. "What makes you think Han is interested in you?
"While you were skiing the day away with your brother, I spent the day with Captain Solo," she said, vindictively. "So there."
So there? Leia almost laughed aloud at the childish statement. "If Han doesn't want to spend time with me, then he's the one that will tell me - not you. Good evening." She hit the 'close' button, shutting out the woman's angry face. Flustered, Leia headed toward the bedroom. The declaration she'd made earlier in the day to Luke sounded less and less appealing. If I wait, maybe I'll lose him to her... or someone else. Are my principles more important than having Han? Sleep did not come easily that night.
Two nights later, Grand Ball
Shortly after the cruise ship left the orbit of Kysilla and jumped into hyperspace, activities began for the big dinner event. Everyone was expected to dress in their fanciest clothes and dance the night away.
Leia had only seen Han briefly during the past two days, and every time he was polite and pleasant to her, if a bit too formal. She had not seen him in the company of the blonde, which pleased her, and decided not to inquire if he was seeing the woman. It's really none of my business. The Queen pulled a deep red, formal dress out of her closet. Its neckline was scooped and the sleeves were slightly puffed at the shoulders before hugging her arms down to her wrists. Sequins along the neckline and waist glittered, and the dress trailed slightly behind her. She put it on, and headed for a mirror. Earlier in the day, she paid quite a few credits at a fancy hair salon to have her hair piled up softly on her head, with small tresses hanging against the back of the neck. Applying matching lipstick, she stepped back and appraised her looks. Not too bad, she decided. Han loves me in red. Let's see how you compete, blondie. She picked up a matching handbag, and headed out the door.
Wow... she looks...fantastic, Han thought as Leia was escorted to the Captain's table by the Bothan host. Luke trailed behind her, dressed in high collared gray shirt and dark gray slacks. Both brother and sister were receiving their share of appreciative looks from the opposite sex.
As they approached the table, Leia noted with some surprise that Han had shaved off his beard. She didn't comment on that fact as the host seated her next to Solo, with Luke on the other side. Lando sat across from the Queen, with a variety of guests seated at the large table.
"You look lovely," Han said softly, knowing he had to say it quickly, before Lando beat him to it.
"Thank you." The way Han was staring at her made her feel shy and thrilled.
"Everyone sure is dressed up," Luke commented to Lando. "I thought the other dinners were fancy."
Lando grinned, pleased that there was no tension at the table. "I have to admit that this trip is going smoother than my wildest dreams. After we make a brief swing near a blackhole cluster, we'll check out the Maw, then head back to Coruscant. Then the maiden voyage of The Galaxy's Splendor will be one for the history books."
For some unexplained reason, a chill went down Luke's spine, but he shrugged it off. Lando was right, everything was going perfectly.
The eight course meal went off without a hitch and as soon as the last plate was cleared away, the large band began to play. Couples headed to the dance floor as music filled the large room.
"Would you like to dance?" Han asked Leia.
"I'd love to."
They made their way to the floor and held each other at a polite distance as they slowly danced. "Did I tell you how wonderful you look tonight?" Solo whispered to her.
"Yes, you did mention that. You look pretty dashing yourself, nerfherder. Why did you shave off your beard?"
"Did you like me better with it?"
"No. I prefer your scruffy face clean shaven," she laughed softly.
"Ah. I thought so."
"So you shaved just for me?"
Looking up at the tall Corellian, Leia felt her face flush slightly. Not caring what others thought, she pulled him close and rested her head against his chest. "Thank you."
His arms tightened around her. "You're welcome, Your Highness."
Leia felt like she was floating on air throughout the evening. While Han danced with other women, he made certain every other dance was reserved for her. Even the dimpled blonde was given only one dance before Solo returned to Leia's side. Hours later, he walked her back to her room.
"I had a nice time tonight, Leia. Thank you for taking this cruise," Han said, standing outside her door.
"I think we were both blindsided by Luke and Lando with this," she said. "But I'm glad I came, too. I needed to apologize to you, and I appreciate the fact you've accepted my apology."
Han hesitated for a moment, then said quietly, "Goodnight, Princess." He started to leave.
Ask him in! "Han."
"Will you come in for a drink?"
"Are you sure? People will talk."
"I don't really give a damn. Do you?" There is no backing out.
"No. Not a bit," he chuckled.
She opened the door and stepped aside for Han to enter. His eyes swept around the enormous suite, and he whistled. "Wow, this is a heck of a room."
I never loved Isolder. I shouldn't have married him. Wasn't it more of an affront to my principles to marry a man I didn't love, to have relations with a man I didn't love, than to be with Han right now? "Han?"
"I don't want a drink." I want you!
"You don't?" He sounded deeply disappointed. "All right, then. I'll go."
"No. You don't understand." What if he leaves?
When he looked puzzled she continued on, her hands shaking. "I want you...to spend the night with me. Please?"
She didn't have to ask twice.
Leia's eyes fluttered open, and a feeling of complete contentment flooded her being. Turning her face to look at the sleeping Corellian, she smiled and drew her skin against his, reveling in the pleasure of his physical warmth and familiar Force-sense. I was such a fool to leave him, she thought, lightly rubbing her hand over his chest. A pang of fear and guilt swept across her as she thought how badly she'd hurt Han again if Ta'a Chume refused her a divorce. Returning to the Hapes Capital was becoming an intense dread, causing her stomach to knot. So much for my pious speech to Luke yesterday.
Her soft stroking must have disturbed his slumber - Han's breathing changed, and he shifted his legs. Pushing aside her thoughts of gloom, Leia kissed his chest, before moving up to his neck, nuzzling his earlobe and tickling his throat with her fingertips.
"Enjoying yourself, Your Worship?"
"Hmm. More than I can describe," she whispered in his ear. "I'll have to give a very high recommendation to Lando's cruise."
"Well, royalty get special treatment, ya know. But there might be a surcharge on your bill for extra personal services rendered."
Leia pulled herself on top of Solo. "If that's true, then I want my credits' worth."
Han laughed. "I have to be on the bridge in less than one time-part."
"So you're refusing to do your duty? I may have to complain to the ship's owner."
"Don't complain...I'm already in trouble with Calrissian for being rude to the guests. That's why I had to spend the other day making nice to Rasti."
"Rasti... that's her name. She told me to stay away from you."
"You're joking," Han said, astounded. "I had two beautiful women fighting over me, and I missed it? Damn!" He snapped his fingers in mock disappointment.
"Shut up and do your duty."
"Yes, your Highnessness."
Two timeparts later...
Sitting in the same arboretum cafe that Han had taken her to several days ago, Leia sipped her morning kaffe, replaying last night and this morning in her mind. The warm mist from the waterfall drifted over, making her hair slightly damp, and the sweet scent of the blossoms only added to her relaxed mood. She was slightly startled when Luke appeared next to her. "Good morning," he said cheerfully, pulling out a chair and plopping down next to her. "You look happy."
"I am happy. This cruise was the best idea you ever had," she replied. "Where did you disappear to last night?"
"The woman I was dancing with last night wanted to take a walk on the beach," Luke answered somewhat dreamily, thinking about a pretty girl with chestnut brown hair and odd-colored blue-gray eyes "She's great, and says this waitress job on board this ship is only temporary, and that she has big plans for her future. She wouldn't tell me what those plans are," Luke sighed.
"Speaking of disappearing, you and Han took off pretty early, too." Luke's face got a huge grin.
"Yes, we did." Leia looked down at the small marble table top. "I owe you an apology, brother."
"I ... I failed to live up to my lofty expectations about doing the right thing, in the right order."
Luke reached across and took her hand. "So? Sometimes things don't always go exactly like we plan. Han is right for you - don't doubt yourself."
"What if Ta'a Chume won't allow me to divorce Isolder?" she said softly. "I'll hurt Han all over again. I'm not being fair."
"Things will work out," Luke answered firmly. "I felt this before I tricked you into taking this cruise, and I still feel it." The same warning sense tingled his body, and again Luke shoved it aside.
"I hope that's true, more for Han's sake than even mine. By the way, what's this new girlfriend's name?"
"Ceursi," Luke replied, getting the dreamy smile on his face again. "Ceursi... the most beautiful woman on this cruise ship." He looked over at his amused sister. "Present company excluded, of course."
For the next five nights Leia was unbearably happy, even if her apprehension did not dissipate. During the day, she shopped, attended concerts or plays, spent a small amount of time in the casinos, and generally just attempted to make the day pass by while waiting for the night, when she could melt into Han's arms. It felt like torture to spend the day without him, but she knew he had a job to do. It didn't make the waiting easier, especially when dinnertime arrived and Captain Solo would sit with other women, dancing politely with them after the meal was over. It was even worse when he was in the same dining room as Leia, and she had to watch the ladies flirt with him while Leia forced herself to feign disinterest.
Luke tried to spend as much time during the day with Leia as possible, even though his sister could tell he was eager to spend his time with his new girlfriend. "You don't have to stay with me all the time, Luke," she told her brother. "I can't get lost, even if it is a big ship."
Luke gave an embarrassed cough. "I don't want to abandon you. How would that look?"
"What if Lando attends the next concert with me? Will that ease your guilty conscious?"
"If you wouldn't mind...?" he trailed off, hopefully.
"Go and find the most beautiful woman on the cruise ship, brother. If you don't, she might decide you're not interested and look for someone else."
The expression of panic on Luke's face was priceless - it was all Leia could do to keep from laughing. Lando obligingly filled in as her escort during the day. Everything was going so well.
"We're coming up to the Maw, Captain Solo," the navigator informed the Corellian.
Han nodded. This was the last stop before the two day hop back to Coruscant. Then Leia returns to Hapes. And her lousy marriage. The idea of spending only two more glorious nights with his Princess made Solo feel panicky, and thinking about Leia returning to Prince Isolder made him nauseous. Leia had warned him from the beginning Ta'a Chume would be difficult to convince when it came to granting a divorce. If she gives Leia a hard time, maybe I'll go convince the Queen Mother myself.
"Shields up and drop out of hyperspace," Solo ordered. The stars focused as they entered realspace. The Corellian felt a cold dread sweep through his soul as he stared out of the viewport at the Imperial Star Destroyer, the Iron Fist.
"Sound the alarms! Power up the weapons," Solo immediately snapped out. How is this possible? Zsinj is dead! I saw his ship destroyed...
Lando had been sitting next to Leia in a casino, teaching her the finer points of sabacc when The Galaxy's Splendor left hyperspace. Gasps from the guests and the sudden, unnatural quiet in the room turned his attention to the outside viewscreen. Calrissian felt the blood drain from his face. "An Imperial Star Destroyer," he whispered in fear.
Quickly, Leia stood up and moved closer to the screen. A sense of doom fell over her. "That's the Iron Fist, Lando."
"What? But Han destroyed that ship! This means..."
"It means Warlord Zsinj is alive."
Both the Queen and Calrissian left the casino, running toward the bridge.
"Target their defensive weapons," General Melvar snapped out. "Fire."
Red lasers lanced out from the Iron Fist, bouncing off the hull of the cruise liner. "They've already raised their shields, sir!" a trooper informed his commander.
"Of course he did. Solo wouldn't come out of hyper without his shields up," Melvar mused. "As much as we may hate the man, he does have an impressive sense of self-preservation."
"This Destroyer can still take out the cruise ship," Zsinj commented. "Solo can't afford to take risks with over ten thousand civilian lives in his hands."
"Continuing firing and maneuver in front of the ship to prevent them from returning to hyperspace," Melvar ordered. "Their shields can't hold out forever."
"Commence firing at the Destroyer. Turn this ship around," Captain Solo shouted out. "Evacuate all passengers off the top level and prepare the escape pods. Send a distress signal to the nearest New Republic System." Solo felt his frustration rising as the crew fumbled and struggled to obey his rapid-fire orders. These people were not trained for combat, and it was apparent fear was affecting their ability to perform their jobs quickly and efficiently.
"Our distress signal is being blocked," the Twi'lek communication chief shouted.
The Galaxy's Splendor shuddered as she took one hit after the other to her shields. "The front shields are failing," a young Lieutenant yelled in panic.
Solo rushed forward, pushed the helmsman out of his chair, taking the controls himself. Already he was too late, for the Iron Fist had moved into position to prevent an escape. Han swore under his breath. "Put all available power to the front shields." Even as he gave this order, he knew the cruise ship didn't stand a chance. Lando had designed his ship to hold off pirates, not Super Star Destroyers. Han could see the Splendor's lasers weren't causing any significant damage to the Iron Fist.
"Sir, the Star Destroyer is hailing us," the communication chief informed Solo.
Allowing the helmsman to retake his seat, Han stood up. "Put them on the viewer."
The visual shimmered and came into focus. Warlord Zsinj appeared on the holo-projector, a smug look on his pudgy face. General Melvar stood off to the side, looking no less pleased.
"Hello again, General Solo. Or should I just call you Captain?"
"Zsinj," Han said flatly. "You have more lives than a twelve-headed replicator toad."
The Warlord smirked. "Let me get right to the point, Solo. You will drop your shields and allow my troopers to board your ship. We only want a few hostages, and we'll allow the rest to live. If you refuse, you will all die, right here, and right now."
Han became aware of Lando and the Princess entering the bridge behind him, staying out of the viewing range. They had heard the last part of the exchange, which told them everything they needed to know.
"I don't think you'll keep your word, Zsinj. You're a criminal and a murderer."
"You don't have much of a choice, Solo. Let me know if you change your mind." The projector went dark, and the Destroyer began firing again.
"If we start launching escape pods, they'll just pick them off one by one," Han said quietly to Calrissian. "Maybe he'll accept just taking me as his prisoner since he has such a personal vendetta with me."
"No," Leia objected instantly, grabbing Han's arm. "He'll kill you."
"That's true, Han," Luke said as he stepped on the bridge from the lift. The guards had tried to prevent the Jedi from entering, but a simple Force-nudge had allowed him to pass. "And Melvar will torture you before you're executed."
"Don't you think I know that?" Solo hissed. "I just can't think of any other way to prevent all these people from dying."
"Zsinj wants wealthy hostages," Lando argued. "He won't just accept your offer, and leave everyone else alone."
"I'm open to suggestions," Solo said, nearly losing his balance as the ship took another hard hit.
"Sir, shields are down to thirty-five percent and failing fast."
"I suggest we stall," Lando said grimly. This was not going to help his new business venture - not one bit.
"Send a signal to Zsinj," Han told his communication chief.
"Reconsidered so quickly, have you?" the Warlord asked, grinning at Solo as his image reappeared.
"Will you accept me as your hostage, and leave the passengers alone?"
"As tempting as that offer is, I need more than just you, Captain. The Queen of Hapes as a hostage is non-negotiable, and perhaps a dozen more of my choosing."
Han felt his hair stand up on his neck. Somehow, with that statement, he was now certain that this attack was about Leia and not about him. Allowing Leia to fall into Zsinj's evil clutches was more than Han could bear to contemplate. He was about to tell Zsinj to stick it, when Leia stepped next to him and into the Warlord's vision.
"I accept your conditions, but I can't speak for anyone else. Also, you must allow us to shuttle over to your ship, and not board The Galaxy's Splendor. I will try my best to convince the people you want as hostages to go willingly."
"For the sake of ten thousand beings, you'd better be able to convince them, Queen." The Warlord addressed Solo again. "Send over your passenger list. I will review it and let you know who I wish as my guests. Please don't try any heroics, Solo, or you will find your death even more painful and drawn out than what I already have planned." Again, the viewer went dark.
Lando cleared his throat. "Well, at least we bought some time."
"That makes me feel so much better," Han said dryly.
Zsinj wasted no time in sending a list of fifteen names back to the cruise ship. As Lando expected, the list was made up of the wealthiest, most politically influential names. The various humans and humanoids that comprised the list were escorted to a private meeting room, where Leia attempted to convince them to accept the inevitable.
"Why us?" an agitated Sullustan questioned the Princess. His large ears quivered, showing his distress.
"He's after those of us who have the most influence with the New Republic," Leia gently tried explaining.
"Whats if wees refusa to goes?" a hyper-active Gungan asked in a high pitched accent. "Yousa can't maken us!"
"No, we can't," Leia said, using her best diplomatic tone. "But if you refuse, it's more than likely the Warlord will simply send over troops, and they will make you."
"And if we resist, the ship will be destroyed. Everyone onboard will die anyway," Lando added. "Is that what you want? At least this way there's a chance he'll allow everyone else to survive. And all of you have family on this ship."
"I'm suing!" a Bothan threatened Calrissian. "Not just for a full refund, but extreme mental distress! I'll pin your worthless hide to the wall, Baron! My first cousin is Borsk Fey'lya!"
Lando groaned and put his head in his hands. I'm ruined... no one will ever take another trip on The Galaxy's Splendor...if the ship even survives.
"Fighting amongst ourselves is pointless," Leia continued calmly. "I'm sure Fey'lya will do everything in his power to negotiate a settlement with Zsinj." Leia had to force herself not to choke at her declaration of faith in Fey'lya.
Leia entered the bridge and pulled Han to the side. "Thirteen agreed. Two refused to become hostages. The Bothan indicated he'd rather blow up the cruise ship in a suicide gesture, and the Gungan fainted and had to be taken to the Medic Ward."
"Too bad. If anyone deserves to deal with a Gungan and a Bothan, it'd be Zsinj. Let's hope he agrees to accept the thirteen."
"When you count you and me," Leia said quietly, "it will be fifteen, anyway."
Putting his arms around the Princess and holding her tight, Han said, "Zsinj won't let any of us live."
"I don't think so, either," she answered sadly. But at least I had the chance to spend my last days with you.
Solo turned to the Twi'lek. "Hail the Iron Fist."
Warlord Zsinj seemed satisfied with Leia's success. Looking pointedly at the Queen, he made sure she understood his conditions. "You will come over to the Iron Fist in an unarmed shuttle in one time-part. Your Jedi brother stays onboard the Splendor. Do you understand?"
"Yes, I understand."
"Good. I look forward to your companionship, my lovely Queen," he said as he leered. Then he fixed his gaze on Han. "And I especially look forward to being your host, Solo. Zsinj out."
When the viewer went dark, Han let out a deep breath. "I still don't think he's gonna let the Splendor just leave in peace."
Lando shook his head. "Me, either. But we've been using this time to fix the shields and boost power to the lasers. If we get just one lucky break when they lower their shields to let the shuttle land..."
Both Han and Leia understood the implications. Destroying the Iron Fist while they were inside the docking bay would mean their deaths. Still, it would be a small price to pay for saving all the others on the cruise ship.
The nervous group headed to the docking bay through empty hallways. It seemed strange to Leia after all the hustle and activity, to see the ship so somber and quiet. She knew all the guests and employees were stationed at the inside areas of the ship, away from the outer walls. The Princess walked resolutely between her brother and her lover, holding Solo's hand. It might be their very last moments together, and Leia no longer cared who overheard anything she said. As they approached the shuttle, she turned to Han. "I love you. Whatever happens, you have to understand how much I love you. I know how badly I hurt you, and I wish I could spend the next hundred years making it up to you, but I had less than a week." She stopped, her voice catching. Less than a week...
Han put his hand against Leia's face. "I know you love me," he said quietly. "You don't have to keep apologizing, sweetheart." Solo bent over and gently kissed her lips. "I forgave you the moment I saw you standing there, looking so surprised to see me. How could I have stayed angry? You've had my heart and soul since that first day on the Death Star."
Fighting back tears, Leia turned and hugged her brother. "Take care, Luke. And thank you for giving me this last chance at happiness." She pulled away and retook Han's hand. Together they walked up the ramp of the shuttle.
Knowing the next few minutes would tell Zsinj's intent, Lando put the comlink to his mouth and gave the order to lower the shields to allow the docking bay door to open. The Baron braced himself for a killing blow from the Iron Fist as he watched the shuttle leave the Splendor, but no shots were fired. Maybe he does just want a few hostages...
A red laser shot out from the Iron Fist, striking a blow directly under the bridge, opening a vacuum into the void of space and sucking all the bridge crew to their fast, if painful, deaths. Luke staggered under the Force-impact of the agony of the crew's deaths, trying to keep his feet while supporting Calrissian as the cruise ship bucked violently.
Quickly, Lando altered the comm frequency to the auxiliary control room at the rear of the ship. "Raise the shields! Hull breach on Section One-A . Close off Section One-A. Do you hear me? Close off Section One-A due to hull breach!"
A second blow from the Iron Fist only slightly rattled the Splendor, and Lando knew his orders had been heard and obeyed. "I need to get down to Engineering," Lando informed the Jedi. "Those kids aren't military people."
The Jedi nodded, reaching out his Force-sense for his sister. Had the Iron Fist destroyed the shuttle at the first opportunity? Luke's knees felt weak with relief when she answered his "call," letting him know they were still in one piece.
"Skywalker, can you be in charge of getting passengers to the escape pods and the shuttle decks? We have to make certain all the evacuation vessels are filled to capacity before they leave, or everyone won't get off."
"I'll head to the main ballroom right now. I hope the cruise directors remain calm, or we're in trouble."
Lando gave him a despairing look as he started to leave. "We're already in trouble."
"He tried taking out the Splendor," Han said tightly as he sat at the shuttle's controls. "I knew that Sith-snake would do that."
"It looks like the shields are back up," Leia pointed out as the second shot bounced off the cruise ship.
Solo nodded grimly, looking at the gaping hole where the bridge had been located. "All those crew members... they just wanted a nice job. They were good people."
The Princess rested her warm hand on Solo's forearm. She knew he took deaths of people under his command hard - he always did. That's what made him a good leader, and his crew members always respected him because he cared. Leia looked over her shoulder at the humans and humanoids seated behind them. Intense fear radiated from their senses, showed in their faces, but they remained quiet and calm. She wished she could say something to make them feel better, but what was the point? It would be nothing but empty words. Instead, she said quietly to Han, "At least Zsinj appears to want us alive. He would have destroyed this shuttle by now, otherwise."
Han gave an angry shake of his head. "Of course he wants us alive. Especially you an' me, sweetheart. If Lando can't get in a decent blow to the Iron Fist when we're docking, by tomorrow we'll probably be wishing Zsinj had destroyed this shuttle."
Shutting her eyes, Leia steadied her breathing. Han's right - a fast death would be too merciful.
"The Iron Fist is lowering its shields," the young engineer told Calrissian.
Lando clenched his jaw, knowing he was about to giving the order to kill his friends. "Fire at their bridge... NOW!"
The Splendor's laser lanced out, striking just above the bridge. They had caused damage, but failed to hit the bridge. Silently, Lando swore at the inexperienced crew of his ship.
"They're firing back, sir! Ion cannons!"
"Aim for their cannons," Lando snapped, as the cruise ship once again was battered. At least their shields were holding, for the time being.
Before the engineer could press his button, a much more powerful laser came from behind and above the Splendor, and a truly spectacular explosion briefly lit up space as the weapon found its mark.
Lando could only stare in shock at the viewing screen. A large hole gaped in the side of the Iron Fist, causing the Destroyer to start slowly spinning away from the cruise ship. "What the hell...?"
"Sir! A New Republic Battle Cruiser!" a female Ithorian called out from reading her sensors. "Behind us!"
A sudden hope sprang up in Lando's chest as he turned his eyes to a ship he instantly recognized, the Rebel Dream. Indeed, it felt like a dream that the ship was here. "Keep firing at the Iron Fist. Put the Captain of the Rebel Dream onscreen."
A fuzzy figure emerged from the viewer. "I see you could use a little help, Calrissian," the droll voice of Wedge Antilles spoke through the crackle.
"Just a little." Lando laughed in relief. "Be careful not to hit that shuttle... Leia and Han are on it."
"Sir," the Ithorian interrupted. "The shuttle is no longer on our sensors."
Calrissian's relief once again turned to fear.
Luke ran through the long corridors, trying to keep his balance every time the Splendor took another hit. Trying to organize an orderly evacuation was looking less and less possible. All the guests seemed on the verge of panic, and the cruise directors were desperately trying to quell the fear and keep beings from stampeding towards the docking bays and escape pods. Luke tried to reach his Force sense out to find Ceursi, but with all the swirling emotions the Jedi was unable to discern the young woman from the crowd.
His comlink buzzed and Luke quickly put it to his ear. "Luke? It's Lando... we've gotten some help by the name of General Wedge Antilles... it doesn't look like the Iron Fist is in any shape to keep targeting us..."
Wedge! How had he known to come to the Maw? It wasn't a question Luke could spend anytime pondering. "Where's Han and Leia's shuttle? Are they on the way back to the Splendor?"
"I don't know what happened to the shuttle... sensors lost it. Can you tell if Leia is still alive?"
Had he somehow missed the death of his twin through the Force? Fighting down his own panic, Luke reached out for the second time in less than half a time-part for his sister. Leia? Instantly, the Jedi knew she was alive, and much too busy to respond to his mind-link.
"The Iron Fist is forcing us toward the Maw!" Leia said to Solo, watching as Han desperately tried to maneuver the shuttle away from the crippled Star Destroyer.
The small craft was now behind the Iron Fist, unable to tell what was happening to The Galaxy's Splendor. When the first blow had struck the Warlord's ship, Solo had moved the shuttle away from the open docking bay, grateful there was no tractor beam holding them in its grip. Pulling the controls hard to the right, the Corellian managed to get the shuttle out of the line of fire between the Iron Fist and the Splendor, hoping beyond hope that the cruise ship would be able to sufficiently damage Zsinj's ship, at least enough to escape - even if it meant leaving them behind. The shuttle was slow and sluggish to the touch. Han's thoughts drifted to the Millennium Falcon, wishing he could see his ship one last time.
Small explosions continued to show on the Iron Fist. "I wonder how Lando managed to get in such a good hit."
"The Force?" Leia supplied.
"Don't tell me you think Lando is a Jedi now, too," Han snorted, not breaking his concentration from flying. "Hang on, everyone," Solo called back to the deathly quiet guests. "I'm taking us under the Iron Fist to try to get us out from between the Maw and the Destroyer. It's gonna be a real tight squeeze."
Leia gripped the armrest, her fingernails digging into the soft nerfhide leather. The space between the Destroyer and the Maw was getting smaller by the second. Tight squeeze, indeed.
The Rebel Dream hit the Iron Fist repeatedly, not allowing the Warlord's Star Destroyer a chance to regroup. The mood inside the Warlord's ship was grim. "We've lost all shields," a gray-clad officer informed General Melvar. "One more hit to our engines, and we're finished."
"This is your fault, Melvar," Zsinj sneered. "The message was undoubtedly meant as a trap. You failed me."
"It couldn't have been a trap!" Melvar argued. "I had the source confirmed."
"Who was the source, General?" the Warlord said, trying not to look at the quickly approaching Maw.
"Ta'a Chume, the Queen Mother of Hapes herself!"
"Then she was doing this with Queen Leia's authorization."
"No! She wanted us to kill Queen Leia. Ta'a Chume did not want to be aligned with the New Republic, or give up her power to Organa."
Zsinj took a blaster out of his waistband and pointed it at Melvar. "Since I've been deprived of seeing Solo die, you will have to do instead." He fired.
It was tempting to shut his eyes as the tiny, underpowered shuttle skimmed along the underside of the dying Destroyer but Solo kept his attention focused on the task, ignoring the sweat trickling down his face. Sparks flew from the enormous ship, crackling outward in arcs and temporarily blinding the passengers in the shuttle with intense brightness. The controls on the shuttle blinked off and on ominously as the electronics spiked due to the high current surges.
To Leia, the Iron Fist looked close enough to touch. She bit her lip, trying to keep from gasping as more electrical currents shot directly toward them - it wouldn't help matters to distract the pilot. Han and Leia's entire future had narrowed to a small sliver of stars, shining out from the thin gap along the underside of the Destroyer. Banking the shuttle sharply, Solo increased the speed to full throttle. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, they cleared the Destroyer and peeled away from the Warlord's ship. It still took a few more heartbeats before they were safely away. The thirteen passengers stopped holding their breath and cheered.
"You did it." Leia smiled in relief.
"Hey, it's me!" Han gave a cocky grin, glancing over at the Princess. Solo looked back out of the viewport. "The Galaxy's Splendor survived." The relief in his voice was apparent, and he wiped the sweat off his face with his sleeve.
Leia pointed to the left. "Look. The Rebel Dream!"
"Well, no wonder."
"I knew Calrissian wasn't better at captaining that cruise ship than me," Han said with a smirk.
The Princess just shook her head - some things never changed. They both watched in silence as the Iron Fist exploded in the distance.
"How did you know Zsinj was waiting for us?" Luke questioned Wedge once The Galaxy's Splendor had been stabilized and the guests calmed down. Other than the unfortunate bridge crew, no other beings had lost their lives, and Wedge had sent over quite a number of military personnel to help keep things running smoothly. The shields and hyperdrive were fast being repaired by expert New Republic technicians.
Wedge smiled over the communication screen. "We had an urgent message sent to us from an anonymous source located in the Hapes Consortium. Fey'lya was convinced it was a hoax, but Rieekan and Mon Mothma thought we should be on the safe side and check it out, rather than be sorry later."
"If you wouldn't have come, we'd all be sorry," Lando acknowledged. "Thanks, Wedge."
"You saved all our lives," Leia added, her arm around Solo's waist. "Will you be escorting us back to Coruscant?"
"Absolutely! I wouldn't leave a helpless cruiser to get back home by itself."
Han groaned. "My first trip as The Galaxy's Splendor'sCaptain, and look what happens! I'm never gonna live this down."
"I wouldn't be too concerned about that, Han," Wedge commented, pleased to see Han and Leia back in each other's arms. "Last I heard, Chewie was on his way to Coruscant. If I were you, I'd be much more worried about that fact."
Everyone laughed, except Han.
The next day, en route to Coruscant
"Leia? Have you seen Ceursi anywhere?" Luke asked as he joined his sister and Han sitting on the beach.
"No. Have you asked around? Another waitress may know something."
"I've asked about twenty people, even Lando. He checked the employee roster and couldn't find her name."
"Really, kid?" Han teased. "Your perfect woman turns out to be a figment of your imagination. Huh, imagine that."
"She wasn't a figment of my imagination," Luke said insistently. "I just can't think of what could have happened to her. She couldn't just vanish."
"Maybe she was a stowaway," Leia suggested.
"I still should be able to sense her through the Force, even if she's hiding. But there's nothing, not even a glimmer."
"Well, maybe she'll still turn up," Han said without much conviction.
Luke wasn't convinced, either.
Ta'a Chume was surprised when Sil'aeyn requested to see her, but admitted the young woman into her office. "What do you wish to see me about?"
"This." Isolder's lover slid a disk across the Queen Mother's desk.
The older woman picked it up, frowning. "And this would be...?"
"Your transmission to Warlord Zsinj, Queen Mother. But don't think about destroying it, or killing me, or threatening my family. I have lots of copies in safe places."
"What do you want, Sil'aeyn?" Ta'a Chume snapped, her face hard.
"Your plan didn't work because I contacted the New Republic and warned them - anonymously, of course."
"If this would have worked, Leia would be dead and you would be the next Queen," Ta'a Chume hissed. "You're a bigger fool than I even suspected."
"I will be the next Queen, regardless," she said, shrugging her shoulders. "And if you try and interfere with my marriage, or my reign as Queen, I will let the entire galaxy see what's on that disk. Do I make myself perfectly clear?"
"So this is blackmail?"
"Insurance, Queen Mother. You see, I'm neither weak nor a fool."
"I underestimated you, Sil'aeyn. You have earned my grudging respect."
"I don't care about your respect, only your son," Sil'aeyn retorted.
"May I ask how you got this information?"
The tall honey-blonde stood up, looking down at the Queen Mother. "You should learn to respect everyone around you, Ta'a Chume. The people you belittle will eventually find a way to rise up and rebel." With that, she spun around and left the room, giving a slight smile to the older Hapan male butler who stood at the doorway - an invisible, faceless servant to Queen Mother Ta'a Chume for decades. If he could have, he would've smiled back.
Coruscant, one day later
"I never thought I'd say this, but Coruscant is lookin' pretty good to me right now," Han commented from the makeshift bridge as The Galaxy's Splendor left hyperspace and entered into orbit over the city planet.
"My cruise line business is ruined," Lando moaned. "More than half of the guests have asked for a refund, and it'll cost a small fortune to fix this ship. Not to mention all the cancellations for the next trip."
"You'll land on your feet, Lando. You always do."
"Easy for you to say. At least you got the Princess back."
"Yeah. Thanks for helping arrange that, Calrissian." Han grinned, slapping Lando on the shoulder. "Can't tell you how much I appreciate it."
"Sure. No problem."
Leia packed up the last of her clothing, and snapped the travelcase shut. When the door chime rang, she happily went to answer it, assuming it was Luke or Han. Once again, Rasti Dewmoon stood outside her door.
"You don't know when to give up, do you?" Leia asked, annoyed.
"No, Queen Leia. I don't." With that, Rasti pulled a blaster out from behind her back and fired.
The green blur of a lightsaber blade sliced downward, intercepting the blaster bolt before it could strike the Princess. The deflected shot careened down to the floor, startling the other, already nervous guest walking in the corridor. Only moments earlier, Luke had been packing his clothes when his Force-sense screamed danger. This time, the Jedi had not ignored the warning. Grabbing his lightsaber, he'd rushed to the door, hitting the open button with the Force and igniting his blade simultaneously. With barely enough time to react, Luke brought the blade down between his sister and the blonde woman just as the blaster fired.
Leia threw herself to one side, out of the firing range of a second attempt, while Luke took up a defensive stance in front of the female. "Drop it," Luke ordered.
"Not a chance," the woman answered in a distinct accent that she had not used before. I have failed... Without warning she turned the blaster toward herself and pulled the trigger - then dropped to the ground, instantly dead.
The Jedi was momentarily stunned. Why would that beautiful woman kill herself? Over Han? He just had dinner with her one time, and then showed her around the bridge. There is no way she would do this because she was in love with him.
Leia stuck her head out of the doorway, holding a small blaster. "Good stars! Why did she do that?"
"I have no idea," Luke said, shaking his head as guards came running down the hall. "Did you hear her accent? I should know what it is, but I can't place it."
"I know it," Leia said. "It was Hapan."
A while later...
"Her name wasn't Rasti Dewmoon," Lando told the group gathered around the table. "Wedge said he'd have Intelligence try and trace down who she really was."
"I think she was a hired assassin," the Princess replied calmly. "Probably Ta'a Chume sent her."
Solo gripped Leia's fingers, thinking about how close he'd come to losing her yet again. "We'll probably never know."
"No, you're probably right. We'll never know," Luke agreed.
Han, Luke, Leia and the droids approached the Millennium Falcon nervously. The ramp was raised, and Han rang the buzzer. It was no longer his ship to enter as he pleased, and it was possible Chewie had changed the entry code. Solo stepped aside as the ramp lowered and settled on the surface of the landing platform. No one appeared at the entrance.
"Chewie?" Han slowly walked up the ramp, heart in throat as Luke and Leia trailed behind with C-3PO and Artoo. Please don't kill me.
A growl came from around the corner, and Han stopped before entering the ship. "I know you're mad at me, pal. You have every right to be. I swear I wasn't thinkin' straight when I took off and left you."
A hairy paw shot out from the darkened interior, pulling Han forward and off his feet. "Chewie!" Solo gasped as the giant Wookiee crushed him against his chest.
[I am so angry at you, I would like to crush your bones to a pulp,] the Wookiee yelped, tightening his grasp even harder.
[What?] Chewie set Solo on his feet. [I didn't understand a word you said.]
"I said," Han groaned, holding his ribs, "you're doing a pretty good job of it."
[If you were Lumpy, I'd turn you over my knees and spank you.]
Solo backed away, putting his hands on his backside, his eyes wide. "You wouldn't dare."
Laughter sounded from the ramp as Luke and Leia listened. "I'd pay to see that, Chewie," Luke said.
"Me, too," Leia giggled.
"Hey!" Han objected, turning to the Princess. "You're supposed to be on my side, here."
"I'm on your side, darling," Leia said, patting his arm. "But some things are just too good to pass up."
[I agree,] Chewie woofed. He snatched Solo off his feet before Han could react, and carried him inside the ship. Luke and Leia hurried to follow, a little worried about the Corellian's fate.
Inside the ship, Chewie turned on the lights then sat down on a chair in the hold before effortlessly turning Solo onto his stomach and over the Wookiee's knees. "No!" Han yelled, attempting to push himself off the Wookiee. He could hear Luke and the Princess roaring encouragement in the background. Traitors! "Don't you dare do this, Chewie!" Looking over his shoulder at Leia and Luke, he shouted, "Just don't stand there - Help me!"
No help was forthcoming, as Chewie's large paw came down on Solo's buttocks three times before he set Han back on his feet. Rubbing his rear, his face burning with embarrassment, Han glared over at the siblings who were sliding down the wall and holding their sides in hysteria, tears of laughter streaming down their faces.
"That wasn't funny," Han snapped. His backside stung, but just a little. Unfortunately, his ego felt extremely bruised.
"Speak for yourself," Luke gasped out from the floor. "I wish I could have holo-recorded that."
[I could repeat it for posterity,] Chewie offered helpfully.
"Han's posterior recorded for posterity," Leia gulped out, barely able to speak as the puzzled protocol droid supplied the Wookiee's words to her in Basic.
Scowling at the Wookiee, Solo felt his frown fade into a smile and despite his wounded pride, he started chuckling - it was just too good seeing Chewie again to stay mad. Besides, everyone's laughter was infectious, even if it was at his expense. "Are we even now?"
[Not by a long shot,] Chewie barked out happily. [But it was a good start.]
It was nearly a quarter of a time-part before Luke and Leia could finally talk without bursting back into laughter. Sitting around the game table, Han looked over at his long-time friend. "I need a favor," he started tentatively.
"Leia has sent the Hapan Cruiser back to the Consortium, and she needs a lift back to Hapes. She's gonna ask the Queen Mother for a divorce. I'd like to...um, ask you to take us there. If it's okay with you."
[Why do you need to ask me?]
"'Cuz the Falcon isn't my ship, she's yours."
Chewie gave his shaggy head a shake and pushed a small electronic cube over the table to Solo. [No, my friend. The Falcon is yours - she will always be yours. I put your name back on the ownership title the day you left.]
Stunned, Han felt his face flush again. Taking the cube, he looked up. "I've never deserved having you for my friend. I still don't deserve you."
Chewie gave a fang-toothed grin. [Perhaps not, but you are stuck with me anyway.]
Three days later.
"Your wife is on her way back with her lover to request a divorce," Ta'a Chume told her son as they walked through the gardens.
"So? Grant it."
"There hasn't been a divorce for generations in the Royal Family. There wouldn't have been a divorce if Sil'aeyn hadn't interfered with my plans."
"There was no reason to kill innocent people just to get rid of Leia, mother," Isolder said softly. "Your real desire was to disrupt the treaty between Hapes and the New Republic."
"That was only an extra benefit."
Isolder gave his head a weary shake. "Hapes will remain aligned with the New Republic. You will grant Leia a divorce from me."
"I do not like Sil'aeyn," Ta'a Chume said petulantly.
"Mother, you don't like any woman that pushes you from power."
The Queen Mother only gave an icy stare at her disloyal son before turning and leaving him standing alone. Isolder smiled at his mother's retreating back. He thought briefly of Rayleen, the recently deceased twin sister of Sil'aeyn. His future wife had been annoyed at her sister's failed mission; composed and cool when she learned about Rayleen's fate. Ta'a Chume would have been proud of her future daughter-in-law, if she only knew.
Five days later...
Ta'a Chume had not objected to Leia's request - indeed, she already had prepared the divorce contracts, contracts Isolder had signed and dated. Both Prince Isolder and his lover were nowhere to be found. Inwardly, Han had smirked - the Hapan Prince undoubtedly was too afraid of facing both Solo and Leia's Jedi brother. When he had voiced that thought to the Queen Mother, Ta'a Chume had looked at Leia, commenting icily as she thrust a copy of the divorce document at the Princess, "Congratulations, Princess. It appears that you are getting what you deserve."
Leia's response only angered her further. "Thank you, Ta'a Chume. And I certainly hope you and Isolder get what you deserve, as well."
Needless to say, they had not been invited to stay for dinner.
Han Solo pulled the lever back, leaving Hapes forever behind them.
"When are you two getting married?" Luke asked casually from the seat behind Chewie.
"Immediately," was Leia's fast response.
Han swiveled in his chair to face Leia, raising his eyebrow. "Immediately? I can't recall asking you to marry me."
"Chewie... Luke..." Leia started out. "Would you please show Han the necessity of asking?"
[Would you like another spanking?] Chewie woofed in response.
"Would you like me to hold you upside down using the Force, and shoot Force-lightning at you?" Luke inquired, his face an expression of farm-boy innocence.
[Then ask. Now!] Chewie ordered.
Solo slid out of his chair, dropping to one knee between the back seats, glancing over at Chewie and Luke. "This isn't very private."
"Ask," Leia commanded in her most regal, Princess-like voice.
"Leia, will you marry me?"
"Let me think about it."
Chewie and Luke burst out laughing. "Come on... how many times do I have to be humiliated?" Solo complained in protest.
"Chewie, can you change course for Kashyyyk?" Leia asked, struggling not to smile.
"Kashyyyk?" Han asked, confused and still on his knee. "Why do you want to go there?"
"Did you like that red dress I wore to the Grand Ball?" Leia questioned Solo.
"What? The dress?"
"Yes. I have it with me. I think I'd like to wear that when we get married. On Kashyyyk."
Understanding, Han gave his lopsided grin to the Princess. "The red dress was beautiful."
"Good," Leia nodded. "I'm glad you approve, since the dress reminds me of my next point."
"Can I get up now? My knee is starting to hurt."
"No," Leia smiled down at Solo. "First I have to tell you something. I think I left The Galaxy's Splendor with a souvenir."
"A souvenir?" Han asked, once again becoming confused. "I'm sure you bought a lot of stuff in those fancy shops."
Leia gave an exasperated sigh. "No, nerf-herder. It wasn't something I bought. It was something you gave me."
"Han, don't be so dense," Luke laughed when Han's expression only became more befuddled.
"You mean... you already know?" Leia turned to her brother, dumbfounded. "But how? I just took a test this morning."
"I could tell something was different about your Force-sense, sister - but I was a little distracted by Ceursi at the time. Sorry."
"What in the hells of Corellia are you two talking about?" Han yelled and started to rise. Chewie's large paw came down on his shoulder, forcing him back to his knee.
"I'm going to have a baby," she said softly, putting her hand on Solo's face.
"A...a...ba...baby?" A worried expression crossed Han's face, and Leia knew instantly what he was thinking.
"No, the baby's not Isolder's," she said gently. "As soon as I discovered he was being unfaithful, I made very certain I wouldn't get pregnant. I stopped taking those precautions on the cruise." Leia hesitated, then asked, "Are you upset?"
When was the last time I took my birth control shot? It was before Leia married that moron. "N..no," Han stuttered as he realized just how many months ago his own protection had expired. "Just surprised. Are you sure you're pregnant?"
"I'm pretty sure, darling."
Luke cleared his throat. "I'm not just pretty sure, I'm positive. I can tell through the Force. And it's not a baby, it's babies. Two babies."
"What?" both Leia and Han yelled out simultaneously as Luke's words sank in.
[Congratulations, cub!] Chewie roared loudly, slapping Han on the back so hard he nearly fell face forward into Leia's lap.
"Twins. Both seem to be very Force-strong," Luke grinned. "I knew the Force wanted me to get you two back together." Luke prodded a stunned Solo with the toe of his boot. "Kiss her, Han."
"Everybody bosses me around," the Corellian said, shaking his head in mock dismay before Princess Leia leaned over and kissed her fiancé.
Leia drew back from the kiss. "Get used to it, flyboy. In eight and a half months, you're going to have two more people bossing you around."