Life On the Edge
Part One

Rating: PG-13

"New Wookiee, Solo?"

He doesn't answer immediately. Instead, he takes a sip of his drink and lays the glass properly back down on the table.

Only then does he look up — raising his head slowly, fixing the speaker with a cold, long stare. A Twi'lek woman, thin as a whip, with cold amber eyes above vicious razor cheekbones. There's something about the way she carries herself that suggests she could have a shiv in you as quick as blink.

Two bodyguards stand sentinel behind her — big, ugly brutes. Han wouldn't lay money on either of them being human.

He looks back at the Twi'lek, and narrows his eyes, as though trying to place a forgotten face. In reality, he's marking the way the years have changed her. Her eyes used to be capable of softening just slightly, the edge of her mouth could sometimes quirk in dry amusement.

All in all though, she's looking good.

"Shiya'kaa," he says, with an exaggerated gesture of casual surprise. "Good to see you again. I heard you were still in business."

"I hear you got a new Wookiee," she replies, cutting back to what she wants to talk about — jerking her head to where Lowie is leaning against the bar.

"Yeah, what's it to you?" he answers — then jabs a finger at his own chest. "It's still me. And it's me you want, right?"

She grins like a knife, and lets out a chuckle that probably sounds even more fake than she means it to. "What makes me think I'd want an old man, Solo?"

"Because I'm the best," he answers. "Still the best. Because you don't do small-talk, and you're not stupid."

She pauses, and looks at him long and hard. Han juts his jaw, and looks back at her.

"Well, well," she says eventually, sitting down on the opposite side of the booth. She draws herself up a little — making herself look comfortable; making him look at her. Then she shakes her head, and her expression becomes a knowing look that you could almost think was sympathetic. "Han Solo, back in business after all these years."

"I never left," Han drawls. This part is easy. "You just didn't even hear about the cargoes I was running."

She doesn't look convinced. But she's curious. She hadn't thought of that. She leans forward, rests her chin on her folded knuckles, and smiles her best smile at him.

Han grins, and shrugs, and takes another quick sip of whiskey. Her plan for this conversation just got derailed, and she needs a while to come up with a new one.

He waits.

"Someone told you I was looking for runners?" she asks eventually, drawing back and deciding to open up and draw him in. Han grins appreciatively. "I guess they also told you what sort of merchandise I'm running, too."

"They said a few things," Han shrugs, with a glance across to Lowie, making it clear he's part of this. "I'm the captain of the Falcon, and he's just a kid who tags along because he thinks I'm better than I am. I can talk him round, or he can find his own way home."

Shiya's eyes widen at that. She looks as though she believes him.

"What does your wife have to say about that?" she asks. "I hear she's a Jedi now."

"Ex-wife," Han corrects, glossing the words with a shrug. "I think she was trying to hurt me."

Shiya sits up at the way he's looking at her now, looking back at him — scouring his face for any sign that he's lying. Wondering if he really means what she suspects.

Han just gives her his best grin.

"Well, that's good," she grins eventually, nodding her guards in closer. "Because it makes me feel less bad about what I'm about to do. I always hate it when there's collateral involved."

Over at the bar, Lowie shifts uneasily — but suddenly there are two more thugs on either side of him. Trandoshans. A blaster nuzzled into his back and a vibroblade against his belly.

Han's spine stiffens, like he's been shocked.

"Hey! Hey!" he says, holding up his hands in protest. He glances from Shiya to her guards, and back again — outrage and accusation in his eyes. "At least tell a guy why he's being vaped, if that's what you're doing here."

She grins, and shrugs.

"There's a rumour going around, General," she says. "People don't think you're interested in just running our cargo any more." Her eyes go bitter, dark and cold. "It's nothing personal. Just precautions."

"Business?" Han asks.

"Business," she agrees, and flicks a gesture to her guards.

The muscle moves — big and slow and grinning nastily. The sort that likes you to see it coming, confident that what you've got won't stop it.

Then, all at once, there's a snap-hiss, a scream, and the slash and flash of a gold-bladed lightsaber. The two thugs hit the floor in three pieces, and everyone in the cantina is staring at the tall, lean girl who's standing over the bodies.

She has blonde hair, bronze skin, tight clothes, and a fan of scars across her forehead. She catches Han's gaze for a moment, and her eyes are cold and hard in a way that Shiya'kaa could barely begin to understand.

Behind her, like an afterthought, the two Trandoshans slide down the bar, heads set oddly on their broken necks. Lowie shrugs, and picks his mug of ale back up.

The girl spares the dead reptiles the briefest glance.

"Clean this mess up," she says, glancing at the barman. It's not a request, not even anything as debatable as a suggestion or an order.

She waits a moment, until she's obeyed. Then she straightens up, snaps off her lightsaber, and clips it to her utility belt, next to the second hilt that sits there. She grins, and seems to relax — poised, deceptively casual.

I love you, Han thinks, and grins as she grins back.

Still grinning, he turns to look at Shiya again.

The Twi'lek is staring, her eyes going from him to her and back again.

"This is Tahiri," Han explains, with a nod of acknowledgement to the blonde. "She used to be a Jedi. Before that, she was a Yuuzhan Vong. Before that, she was a Tusken. Now, she's my first mate." He flashes her his grin again, then turns his glare on Shiya. "As you can see, she's still putting the moves she's picked up to good use."

She's is looking scared now. She opens her mouth, as though to offer some sort of apology, and Han lifts an eyebrow. Inside, part of him is hoping that she won't do anything too quick, too stupid — but there's cold calculation as well, an old hand's awareness of the alchemy of fear and anger and opportunity, of what the look in the other person's eyes might mean.

"Now hey," he says, holding up his left hand, shifting in his seat. "Don't do anything stupid, Shiy ..."

A single shot snaps out. For a moment, as the scorched tang of bitterness offends the smoky air, the bar falls silent.

"Too slow," Han says, as the hubbub starts up again around him. His gaze remains fixed, though, staring at Shiya as she dies. He ignores the neat hole in the centre of her chest, and looks into her eyes. At the end, they seem to melt out of focus, a sort of understanding replacing the harsh control.

It strikes him that his face will be the last thing that she ever sees, and he winces.

Then she drops face-down onto the table, and last, but not least, her hand slides off the grip of the blaster at her hip.

Han blinks.

There's a black patch in the back of Shiya's vest where the bolt punched out through her body; another pit in the padding of the seat where it spent itself.

Han breathes out. Just like the old days.

"Too slow," he whispers, shaking his head. Stupid. What a waste. He slides the DL-44 back into its holster, and downs the whiskey in a single gulp. Then he glances at Tahiri and Lowie, and pushes up from his seat.

"Come on," he says. "Let's get out of here."

Back in the old days, there would have been Imperial patrols to worry about, even here. Now, there's nothing, except uncertainty. The Alliance don't concern themselves with places they can't make a profit — or with people they can't coerce into following their agendas.

It strikes him that the two issues sound like they're almost the same, and he scowls darkly at that. But an old soldier's sense of movement makes him gesture Tahiri and the Wookiee out of the cantina first, leaving himself to take up the rear as they leave.

He stares down the curious faces, scatters a handful of credits on the counter for the drinks. The big ugly behind the bar — the guy looks like Wuher, but has to be his son — catches his eye, and winks knowingly; but the hand polishing the glass never stops.

Han jogs up the stairs after his crew and ducks out into the Mos Eisley day — dry heat and dazzling light, a crazy symphony of city noise, and the putrid honk of sweat and crap. Tahiri is at home here, in the bright, stark fire, with the desert wind and the sound and stink of the city around her. He likes it too, but for him, it's not home in the same way.

"You want me to let Tesar know we're coming?" Tahiri asks, as he catches her up.

"Yeah," he nods. "Do that."

She clicks her throat in answer, and for a moment, her eyes seem to stare a long way past the horizon.

Han doesn't know whether it's a Jedi trick or Joiner stuff, or if there's any difference any longer — and in truth, he no longer cares.

"You can stay," he says. "We'll be back in a week, maximum."

"What would you do without me?" she answers, with a sharp glance, and then a sudden laugh.

Lowie yawns agreement, and she flashes a grin at him, quick and easy as a cantina tip.

"Just remember who the Captain is," he growls, then relents. "Thanks. And thanks for saving me, back there. I didn't expect the Trandoshans."

"We're a team," she shrugs, and Lowie wraps a phrase of Shyriiwook around her words for emphasis. He lifts his eyebrows, and the three of them seem suddenly very close.

Then he thinks of the dead bodies, and wonders what happened to the hero everyone thought he was. He tries to work out what he's spent the past thirty years doing, and decides that the New Republic was the biggest con trick ever pulled.

Maybe he's lying to himself.

But some things he does know. He's walking through the dusty dockside streets of Mos Eisley, old jackboots on his feet and hands dug deep down in his pockets. A blaster at his side, flanked by his crew — heading back to the Falcon to run a cargo of contraband Ithorian cigars back home.

Behind them, in the cantina, Shiya'kaa and her four best enforcers are dead. But they have a job to do, a contract to honour. And if people are going to be so blasted stupid ...!

He breathes out. Tahiri has been trying to teach him some basic meditation techniques. Maybe it helps a little.

He looks around him, and realises where he is. Mos Eisley, light and filth and Falcon waiting for getaway in bay ninety-four. He smiles, and quickens his pace.

He feels like he's never been away. Thrty years of marriage were just an interlude, like a long stretch inside Kessel.

Shaking his head, he muses that, if that's the case, then in thirty years of marriage, Leia never truly knew him at all.

"That's harsh, Han," Tahiri says, skimming his thoughts like a sabacc shark, and sliding her arm round his.

"You going to disagree, sister?" he asks, and when she doesn't answer, he grins, and claps her on the back. "Thought not. Come on, let's get out of here."

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