Life On the Edge
"Han?" Leia's voice asks. "Han, is that you?"
"Who else?" he asks, narrowing his eyes and looking past the oncoming E-wings at the Star Destroyer. "Yeah, it's me."
In his mind's eye, he sees her standing on the big ship's bridge perhaps alone at the viewports, looking at the stars; perhaps at the communications desk with an entourage of uniformed officers.
In his mind's eye, she's wearing white.
He glances at Tahiri beside him, just as she looks sideways at him. She's wearing a sleep-creased grey tee-shirt.
She tries a tentative smile, but her expression is taut, tense and concerned.
"Hang on tight," he says, squinting at the incoming fighters, gauging distance. What he should do now is send a pack of missiles into the heart of their formation and full-throttle through them, let Tesar and Lowbacca take them apart with the guns.
With a reluctant sigh, he hauls the Falcon's head around away from the Alliance ships. Cutting back across the grav-field is going to delay their escape, and they'll probably have to turn and fight the E-wings in a few minutes, anyway. But it's the best alternative he can think of right now.
He wonders if he's shaken the StealthX trap he suspects is out there, or turned straight into the jaws of it. He wonders if he's made the right move.
He glances at Tahiri again, and sees concern in her eyes concern, and concession.
But she trusts me, he realises and he's surprised to realise that he doesn't want to push her away. First time for everything, I guess. He pulls a face, and makes a noise; somewhere between a laugh and a frown. I'm getting old ...
She looks innocent, and vulnerable sitting in Chewie's big old chair, wearing that ill-fitting tee-shirt, with that tense, quietly troubled expression on her face. And he realises that it's her vulnerability that gives her strength, her own experience of hope and loss that allows her to kill without blinking.
"Leia," he breathes. "Call these guys off. Someone could get killed ..."
"Leia," he snarls. "Call off your pack."
"Han," his ex-wife says again. "It's not you we're after. I have orders from the High Council to take Tahiri, Tesar and Lowbacca into Alliance custody. We can't have rogue Jedi running around the Galaxy defying the Alliance, breaking the law. But you're not covered by the order, Han. I saw to that."
"So, what?" he asks. "I hand them over, they go quietly, and I can just ... leave?"
"You and the Falcon, Han," she says. "Do the right thing. Help us. Help them."
"Hand them over?" he asks, glancing at Tahiri, shaking his head violently to show that he has no intention of giving them up. "Persuade them to go quietly?"
"Please. Please, Han. Let us help them, before Coruscant puts someone like Admiral Scaur in charge of this."
"And what then?"
"The Order will look after them. It's for the best."
"Just like before, huh? Forget it."
"Leia," he growls. "They spent two years on that stinking slimeball of a world. Two years, when the fancy equipment on their X-wings died in that swamp. Two years after Luke left them there to prove some twisted Jedi point. I don't know either of you any more. I don't want to."
"Han," she sighs, and from her lips, his name sounds frayed around the edges. It's a tone he's heard before from her. She sounds disappointed in him.
Did she always sound like that?
"Don't make this personal, Han," she says. "I'm sorry about us. But it's for their own good. They need help. And you can help them."
"She's using a mind-trick," Tahiri says, her hand reaching across to touch his wrist.
"I know," he says, looking into her eyes, allowing her to hold him with her gaze. Rather you than her, he thinks.
"Is that Tahiri?" Leia asks, her attention switching, tone changing subtly. There's something in that tone that he doesn't like.
"So what if it is?" he asks maybe a little defensively. He glances at her, lifts his eyebrows to ask if she wants to say anything.
"It's me," Tahiri confirms. She pauses, looks awkward for a moment, then grins, quietly savage. "I owe you some thanks, Leia."
"Han and me," she says. "We're more than just partners. If you hadn't left him... well, there wouldn't have been a space on the bunk beside him for me. Your loss, my gain."
He stares at her, slack-mouthed. Then laughs, and grins.
"Han?" Leia asks. She sounds lost. Any other time, he might have felt pity. "That's not funny."
"Sorry, sweetheart," he says. "I'm over you."
"Han," she snaps and it's the old Leia again. The one who held him off for all those years, denied her feelings for the sake of her precious cause. "Don't try to tick me off."
"We're not," he growls. He meets Tahiri's eyes across the cockpit, and they both grin.
"We're not," she confirms. "We're just... trying to work out where we stand."
"So I'm afraid I can't let you have my co-pilot yet. I don't like what your new order does to the people I care about. They've taken you, Jacy, Jaina ..."
He trails off. Leia is no longer listening.
"Hang tight back there. My wife's snub-dogs are firing."
"Ex-wife," Tahiri corrects, as the Falcon hauls up and round. He hardly hears her. Hardly notices the missile impacts that clip the deflector shield.
Snub-dogs?! When did he last call Rebel pilots that?
Probably around the last time he dropped into this sort of attack dance against snubfighters.
"Han?" Tahiri's eyebrows lift at him, her finger hesitating on the missile trigger.
"Don't ask," he says, moving his own hand to the switch. "They're warriors. If Leia is going to be so stupid ... Leia, this is your last chance."
"I'm sorry, Han. Come quietly. Hand them over. Or ... we'll do what we have to do."
"Kriff you," he says, but he still grimaces as he sends the missiles screaming towards the E-wings, screwing the Falcon into a dive away, shearing past the corner of the formation. The hull jerks, and he sees flashes of fire from the turret guns. On the commlink, Lowie is snarling, and Tesar seems to be laughing.
They level out with the stars ahead of them. Of the twenty-four E-wings in the pursuit pack, seven are out of the fight and three are simply scrap, without anything on the scopes that could be an ejection couch.
Tahiri glances at the console, and then across at him. She's a Jedi, and her eyes tell him all he needs to know.
"Leia," he growls. "Leia, do you hear me. You killed those pilots. You."
"Captain Ssolo," Tesar hisses over the intercom. "This one thinksz there iz a Stealth-X in grid oh-sixz ..."
He takes a breath, looks at the Star Destroyer, then at Tahiri. He knows what she's thinking that in their attempt to avoid a confrontation, they just sealed their fate inside the trap.
And then he smiles.
"It's okay," he says. "I still have a plan."
She smiles wearily for his benefit, more than her own. A soldier's smile.
"Is it anything like the last one?" she asks.
"More or less."
He chuckles dryly.
"You'll like it, though. Trust me."
He toggles the comm, grinning at her surprise.
"Okay, Leia," he says. "You win. I surrender."
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