Renewal: Chapter Twenty Rated PG
Ivy

Leia stared at the furrows of her palm in disbelief.

They were onboard the Falcon. Luke hadnít thought it safe to have this conversation anywhere else. They were crammed into the booth. On the holo-table were the two-dimensional flimsiplasts she had printed off on Baskarn, strewn edge to edge. Outside the winds were howling with the onset of yet another seedstorm. The forward viewports were already darkened over with the purple seeds. Theyíd have to make a mad dash for the portmasterís office again and call for ground transport from there. It was a good thing no one expected them for any banquets or celebrations.

Wet-headed, though finally in dry clothes, Han slumped against the portside wall that divided the common area from the rest of his ship, arbitrarily glaring down the tubule byway toward the cockpit. He was grumpy because he would need to vacuum out the vents. He was grumpy because his blaster was malfunctioning from water damage. He was grumpy because heíd lost his favorite coat in the river. Lastly, he was grumpy because heíd been right after all. Everyone in the universe and their long lost cousin apparently knew they were here on Yashuvhu.

Harmakhís story had taken some time for her brother to recount and they were all equally stunned.

Leia remembered the stories of the purges vividly from her growing up years. Even then, beneath the less than commensurate goals of guiding Alderaanís interests within the Imperial Senate and fighting the ideological failures of that very same body politic, Bail Organa had arbitrarily selected that which he thought was important from the forever mutating history. Leia had studied the Clone Wars, the dissolution of the Republic and of the Jedi with rapt fascination. She had heard old stories from her father about Obi-Wan Kenobi long before heíd sent her on a personal mission to bring him out of hiding and serve the Alliance. Bail had also given her several illegal holo-novels on the Jedi written by their admirers, though theyíd taught her little of value. The authors typically had limited insight into the veritable day to day lives of those that lived and learned at the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, and sought to deify the order posthumously.

Nevertheless, her father had also made sure she studied their downfall. There were many lists of jotted down facts, dates, times. Palpatineís version of the facts. His archivistís version of the facts. So-and-so died dishonorably by his own weapon before he could be arrested. And Bail had told her, looking sadly down at her teen-aged face, none of this is true, and donít believe what you hear without learning the truth for yourself first. Perhaps it was more evidence that heíd known whose daughter she truly was. Or perhaps heíd simply passed the information out of fondness to the memories of old friends and old ways.

The purges were not unknown in the Outer and Mid Rims, but they were not well documented. How Palpatine had managed to so effectively rid the galaxy of those individuals with whom the Force ran strong was unknown to even the highest levels of Imperial Intelligence. Whatever records must have existed had been wiped out long ago.

Thus, Harmakhís account was capaciously strange and simple.

The Jedi of Yashuvhu had vanished peacefully in a single night. There was no cry to battle, no day raid, no attack. There was never a body recovered. One day the circular halls of their scattered temples had been teaming with voices and laughter and the Force, and the next the very same halls were empty, ringing hollow with the vertigo of abandonment.

The cloister of those descended from the stranded ship all those years ago regarded themselves as separate from their brethren on Coruscant. They were not snobbish, but they did consider the Jedi of the Core worlds to be somewhat regressive. They felt that too much emphasis was placed on the Jedi as the paragon of the Ďwarrior,í that not enough effort was dedicated to reflection and meditation. They were pacifists who lived monastic lives in the outskirts of the cities, who were available to all who needed assistance and frequented the civilized parts daily to offer their services. On Yashuvhu, the terms Healer and Jedi were synonymous with one another.

However, they were not entirely detached from Coruscant. They had founded and contributed to the Medical Corps, which was a specialized branch of the Jedi Knights. The Medical Corps was an active interplanetary mission that took in padawan learners for a term, seeking to enhance their dedication to humanity and their compassion for all life forms. Offworld students were rarely lured back to Yashuvhu to study with their Healers, but it was not unheard of. More often local padawans opted to venture to the Core in search of excitement and in search of experience. They seldom returned. They all agreed that Sarin had likely been one of these.

Unlike the Temple, the Yashuvhi Healers actively reproduced offspring, though they seldom married. They took dardeins. They were the women Sarin had spoken of, the women who offered themselves to the temples. The majority were Force-sensitive, the daughters of previous unions between dardeins and healers who had been sent to their motherís families. That was how it worked. The Jedi took in the sons of all, and the daughters returned to their birth relatives. The dardeins were well paid. They were honored and permitted to retain their independence. It was a choice of which one could be proud.

(Leia mentioned that Sarin had told her about the women, and her brother had asked why she had not told him. She lied and said she forgot. She did not say, "Because I felt as though you were looking at me the same way." She did not say, "You turned around and look whatís happened since then.")

After the Battle of Geonosis, when it had become apparent that the pangalactic scene was in the midst of major upheaval and war with the Republic was certain, several dozen healers had ventured to the Core to offer support and assistance.

News eventually reached them that the Jedi were falling, fleeing, and dying. The locals had been concerned, but not overly. They had assumed that what occurred in the Core mattered not at all. The purges (as they would come to be known in later times) had gone on and Yashuvhu had remained isolated and oblivious. The Emperor had come to court them and they had politely received him and then sent him on his way. The Peace Keeping envoy had paid them a visit shortly after, offering sanctuary and warnings to the Jedi. It had departed with no passengers.

Within days, the native Jedi and their padawans had all vanished. No one knew what happened to them. There were rumors that they went into hiding. People commonly said they were in hiding, but Harmakh did not believe that to be the truth.

Soon afterwards, the plague had blackened the nights and days of the entire planet.

"Itís an inimitably human characteristic," Leia murmured, twisting a stray lock of hair around one finger. "If you study other cultures -- many donít gloss over the events the way we do. Humans are considered too sensitive, too reluctant to face their own pasts. Some cultures say we donít have the stomach for it."

"It was evil," Luke amended. "The Dark side at its worst. Or the worst of human nature."

She thought back to the things she had learned growing up. "The thing is, although we know how efficient and complete the purges were, we never talk about how they accomplished it. I donít think history had even accurately recorded what happened to the children, the elders. There are a few tales of heroic bravery, the Jedi fighting to the very death to protect others. The slaughter of innocents, of the defenselessÖ"

"Itís all the Empireís twisted propaganda," Han added.

"Exactly," Luke replied. "But this ... this extends so far beyond the Jedi. What happened here ... The entire population is human stock with Jedi ancestry. They werenít taking any chances that they survived, that a drop of blood was passed on. It was a quiet slaughter while they slept, in their beds, with their loved ones nearby, with husbands lying next to wives and children ... children that had yet to be born."

In the wake of that statement an uneasy postmeridian silence descended upon them like a starless sundown. Leia refused to shift her gaze to the left or right, tip her chin enough to catch her brotherís face in her peripheral vision. The men regarded her uncertainly, as though a sign flickered over her head highlighting her recent sorrow and connected supernatural experiences. Han was dreadfully obvious. Luke was trying to read her, which she could feel, and she could feel his eyes on her too. "Iím not going to fall apart," she maintained, addressing Han. "You can both stop looking at me like that."

"Leia no oneís --" Luke began saying, but Hanís voice was louder. "So how many people died altogether? Did Harmakh give you a final tally?" The stubborn curled-out edge of a chart caught his attention. He reached over and punched it flat. "You said most of them were women right?"

"In the neighborhood of nine-hundred, over a three month span. All of the adults were women. A quarter were children under two, girls and boys."

"Do they know it wasnít a plague?" Leia asked.

"Harmakh knows it was no plague," Luke replied. "We know it was no plague. He wasnít the only one who knew. Nevertheless, they had no proof, nothing other than their intellect and suspicion, and they had little option other than to keep their silence. The city populations were in panic, under quarantine, and yet the deaths continued -- entire neighborhoods were afflicted over the span of several nights. They had no way of knowing where it would spring up again. However ..." Luke stroked the ruddy beard heíd not yet trimmed. "Itís had a long reaching impact on the society here. I have a feeling -- if I take into account the settlers who came to Tatooine -- that they were moving toward a more progressive society when all of this happened."

Leia nodded to herself. As with so many other deeply spiritual cultures, unexplained tragedy combined with religion resulted in extremism, a strict resurgence of religious tradition. "A few must have known there was a connection between the women who died and the Jedi here."

"They did, from a laypersonís perspective. But they couldnít see auras, not as Sarin could, they couldnít see who might be next. Had they known Iím not even so sure they would have been able to prevent what was happening."

Again she gathered the ends of her hair in her hands and wove them between her fingers tightly. According to Sarin, the Force could not be reduced to mere matter and molecules, nor the spirit and the intangible consciousness that she, like all sentient beings, possessed. Whomever, whatever had come for her that night on Baskarn, (whether she had truly sleepwalked or been commanded to venture into the forests), it had been here and had taken many victims before her. There was no mistaking the intent that night, its hatred for her, her terror while lost in the diaphanous strands of the hanging trees, her feet bathed with liquid fire. There was no mistaking her vision the day before, no mistaking what Luke had uncovered. She wiggled her toes, almost expecting fresh stabs of pain to shoot up her calves. Han said he couldnít even see the scars anymore.

Tolíhiídenatakrdíssessaalírynryallenush. Again, she tried to pick the sounds apart so that she could repeat them for her brother verbatim, but the words remained in sections of grayed memory.

Niras.

And he had taken Luke, as soon as their protection had been lost. If so, then the Supreme Prophet Kadann had been correct about Niras awakening, but not about him coming home. Leia switched her focus to her brother, took a cleansing breath and finally responded to his subtle pressure through the Force, soaking in the familiar presence. Her twin was as heíd always been to her, familiar and comforting. Maybe she reached out to be sure once more that Niras was never coming home again. Luke reached over and patted her shoulder as though he knew.

"I still donít understand why on Baskarn?" Leia wondered aloud. For she must have done something. Noticing that the tips of her fingers were swollen pink blobs, she untwisted her hair and braved the holo-images again.

"Thereís no accounting for clear-mindedness," the Jedi considered thoughtfully. "Not after that many decades alone, body-less. Iím sure thereíd be a degree of disorientation."

Han snorted. "Being solid enough to actually have a mind notwithstanding, now youíre saying he was confused."

"Or angry," Luke concluded, his voice approaching raspy, scratchy levels like that of a Rodian lost in the desert. He sounded tired and had no doubt not had had time to process everything Harmakh had told him, probably was deciphering it as he explained it to them. "Corrupted beyond recognition to his own people, deceptive -- a lackey for Palpatine. In turn deceived and locked away in a living hell. Near as Iíd describe the Korriban station."

"Great. Then even Jabba is out there grumbling at me still for all eternity to listen to." Han chuckled wryly to himself, amused, raising a merry fist and started down the halls. "I donít care. Hear that you overweight slug! Hear that!"

Without comment, Luke resumed his perusal of the holo-images taken of Palpatineís visit, studying them curiously. Unbeknownst to Leia, Han had packed them up and shoved them in a bag before heíd Ďtrickedí her into escaping, though sheíd not found them after theyíd departed Tatooine. "He came back after he proclaimed himself the Emperor," he said.

"His interest in the planet was suspect, to say the least," Leia explained. "He had close ties to the Jedi Council, and the Council had extensive records on Yashuvhu, Iím sure, if they worked as part of the Medical Corps exchange. They averaged ten times the rate of Force sensitive individuals as the rest of the galaxy -- and that was without purposely procreating. He would have been fully aware of all data." She bit down on her lip. "Harmakh did know who Sarin and Niras were?"

"Niras, yes, because he was a public figure. Everyone knows who he is and that he disappeared. But Sarin ... no." Luke tapped the holo before him distractedly, setting his index finger on the straight nosed figure in Palpatineís shadow. The traitor. Each holo caught no more than his profile, incandescent and halloed with the sun behind him. "They were probably brothers," Luke answered, without waiting for her question. "Harmakh said the dardeins toyed with their childrenís names, using anagrams and such, so that if they met later in life, at the temples, they would know each other. They typically werenít sent to the same temples, but Niras and Sarin crossed paths they might have known. They might not have been full brothers but they would have recognized their kinship to one another."

"We must assume that they did," Leia said, recalling that Sarin claimed his purpose upon leaving Yashuvhu had been to avoid Coruscant. It might have been, but she had a feeling heíd gone there at some point, that the temptation to meet his kin too great. Considering who Niras had been close to, was in any wonder that heíd turned his brother over to his ...

master?

Had it been that way until her father? Had her father been part of it too? "He would have needed help," she insisted. "Thereís no way a lone Jedi, even a Dark Jedi, managed all this on his own."

"But these were his people. He had the home advantage, so to speak, to carry this out. He would have been able to walk freely amongst them during the day."

"And then he weeded out the rest of the potentials from amongst the general population." Han rejoined the conversation with an old blanket that he promptly dropped on the plated floors where heíd stepped soaking wet and dripping mud. "If they killed little kids I canít even begin to tell you what they should have done to the guy that did it. There probably isnít anything painful enough."

"Youíre speaking for all of us there," her brother said softly.

Han kicked and sloshed his way from the passage to the holo-table, pausing and looming over them both. "How did they do it?"

"The same way Vader did."

"Creepy," the Corellian announced, reaching over and handing Leia a small vial of ointment. "You think about it, you could wiggle your fingers and ... Dead."

"I donít," Luke insisted defensively, almost as if the older man accused him. "I havenít. I would never."

"But you could stand outside someoneís home while they were inside, think about it, and do it?"

"Hypothetically ... yes."

Han mumbled a filthy malediction and resumed mopping the deck. Leia watched, rubbed the bacta gel into her scratches and worried. There was always that chance that destroying the Korriban installation had been the wrong decision, that Harmakhís help would not be enough. Leia expected her brother to suggest leaving today, bowing out of any further engagements, and with a pang she realized too that no one who knew Sarin was likely alive here, and that no one would ever know his fate.

The recycling chute snapped shut and the muddied blanket slipped away. "What about our friends camped out by the river?" Han asked.

Luke said, much to her surprise, "Weíre not in any danger. Not really."

"Not really?"

"Not really."

The pilot jerked slightly, making a face to show his patience was running thin. He was blunt. "Either youíre joking or youíre too damn cocky for your own good."

"I want to know who it is," Luke returned plainly. "I want to know who believed these prophecies with such conviction that theyíd come here to find me."

"Capture you, not find you," came the rejoinder. "And us with you. Did you hear the part about how they donít give a damn what happens to us?"

"Han --"

"Ahhh." With a carnivorous swipe at the bulkhead, Han turned away from both of them. "Iím gonna go make sure this storm isnít wrecking my ship. I know I only get one vote here."

"Leia can you talk to him?" Luke asked.

By then, she wasnít listening to either of them, though distantly she knew that Han would calm down in his own time. Sheíd pressed her palm over the holo, spread her first two fingers into a vee, and was trying not to look down any longer at the faces from decades ago.

* * * * *

It started, as it always did, with a whimper and a thrashing limb. And one word ...

"No ..."

Knowing that any second the Ďnosí would become silent screams that made his blood run colder than any vocalized screams ever could, Han reached for her. "Leia, Sweetheart, youíre dreaming."

"Iíve got to get up. Iíve got to get out of here ..."

Boom!

A powerful wallop sounded to his right, as though sheíd fallen out of bed in the process of getting off it. He thought he heard her say, "Who makes beds round?" and then she was flicking on the fresher lights. The door clicked softly behind her, taking back the light, leaving nothing but a stretch of moonlight silhouetting the furniture, gleaming off the painted walls and peerie designs.

When he went in Leia was lying on the piled kuba carpet between the bath and sinks in a fetal position. Her forearms were clenched together lengthwise and a balled up towel was in her fists and pressed against her mouth. Every muscle and tendon of her body was seized and tensed. Even the cords along the tops of her feet were rigid, and her toes were splayed wide apart. And she was making muffled sounds, like screaming and choking. Beneath the folds of the towel, her jaw was clenched and paralyzing breaths came and went choppy and broken.

Flinching, Han dropped to his knees and lay his hands lightly atop her. She was like a live wire against him, pulsing with energy, adrenaline, and fear. The grogginess of just having woken left him, as though her energy was transferred by touch. It was the lights, too. They were on full power, painfully bright. All around her, sterile polished surfaces and mirrors shined. He blinked away his blindness. "Whatís wrong?"

The reply was both panicked and incoherent. "Itís not ... Itís not ... " Then finally she managed, "I donít know."

"Itís the usual," he stated quietly, surprised at how calm his voice sounded, for inside he was churning mass of murderous rage that would have rivaled the Force temper of any Jedi.

"No," she began protesting. "No." Leia squirmed into a sitting position. The balled up towel dropped between them and she hammered blows down at her own legs. "I donít want this to be the usual. I want it all to stop. I want it to stop!" The timber of her voice rose in increments, higher and higher. "I need it to stop!"

"I know," was all he could say. It didnít help.

"How can you know?" One fist swung out, grated along the under-sink cupboards. The skin on her knuckles whitened and curled back in strips. "You canít know. You canít know what itís like to dream about things youíve forgotten, or things that are so awful you canít say them when you're awake, or that he knows who I am ..." She moved to strike her fist again.

"Hey!" Han reached out and caught her. The torrent of emotions that he had at first perceived to be grief and fear twining themselves together were anger and frustration. Settling back against the cabinets, he held her limb so tightly the bones of her wrist were sharp against his palm. The cold floors seeped against the pads of his feet, against the back of his legs, but he barely felt them. The outburst itself was normal, the acute flash of anger directed at her tormenters, at Tarkin, at her father -- not at him. "Youíre right, I donít. I canít. Iím not you."

Her posture wilted. Her free hand made a vain attempt to stretch his old thermal shirt down over her thighs. "Iím sorry. Iím tired and this isnít your fault. Youíve had a long day too and donít need to be up."

"Weíve all had a long day. A crazy day."

"Why donít you go back to bed? Iíll come in a little while."

"Iíll go back to bed when you do."

Wrenching her arm from his grasp and grimacing, Leia closed her palms over her features again. "Please. I hate having you see me like this. I donít want you here."

Her demeanor was as it had been that afternoon in the forests, when sheíd pushed him away rather than allow him to comfort her. Distant. That had been for their both their sakes, for practicalityís sake. He saw that often in her eyes and abided it, but there was no reason to abide it now, save her request and heíd heeded her too often in the past. Han drew her reluctant body against his. After a momentís resistance Leia rested her damp cheek against his collarbone, going limp all over, her sobs continuing. Emotions had already reached their climax by then, her grief ebbing, suffused by the lull of utter lethargy and fatigue of the heart. He splayed one hand flat over her spine and massaged her hip with the other. He told her he loved her. He told her things that he hoped were true, that she was safe, that everything was going to be okay.

When her crying began to quiet finally, he searched for neutral topics, for a distraction.

"I put in a message to the center on Kashyyyk. Iím set to contact Chewie tomorrow morning if he gets it. And heís gonna yell like a crazed rancor." There was no need to feign his apprehension. There were numerous occasions where he and Chewie had not agreed, but he had never run out on his first mate and he doubted forgiveness awaited him at the village landing platform. "Iíll be hanging by my ankles trying to remember how far down it is to the planetís surface when we get there. Iíll be begging for mercy."

Leia coughed against his breastbone, laughing, weeping, or both, he couldnít tell any longer. "But wonít that completely contradict the purpose of having a life debt?"

Han shrugged. "Thereís a few clauses weíve never gotten straight between us. It might potentially fall under the, Ďteaching me a lesson,í or Ďinterfering with life debt responsibilities.í"

"Oh no." Sounding concerned, the princess rubbed at his tear stained shoulder reassuringly. "I wonít let him. Iíll throw myself in his path and explain to him that you saved my life and you were worried about me."

"Promise? Iím gonna hold you to that." Han stretched his arm out to the unit controllers and dimmed the lights to a tolerable level. "I mean it. Youíve never had a Wookiee angry at you."

"I promise." Leia shifted. "Are you still angry that weíre not leaving yet?"

"Nah ... I got over it already." Or he hadnít had much of a choice, lest he leave without Luke and heíd known Leia would talk him out of it and given in prematurely to save them all the protracted hassle. "Weíre not really in any danger ..." What the hell was that supposed to mean?

"Good." She sniffed his hair. "I think I can still smell the river."

All Han could smell was the faint hint of the exotic incense that seeped through the walls of their guesthouse, or the sweet soap that Leia had washed her hair with last night. Frigid waters were remarkably odor free, he had thought. "No, you canít."

"Yes, I can."

Han tapped her temple. "Before we turn this into a real argument, whatís going on in there?"

"I donít know. Nothing."

"Itís a hell of a lot more than nothing. Itís gotta be something."

"Iím never sure whatís going on in there half the time," she said quietly, sitting back on her heels, chin bowed. "Everything feels inverted when I least expect it -- or comes creeping in when I donít want it to." The undertow of grief and anger caught her in its wake again. She raised her gaze in what was nearly a challenge, unconsciously bringing a hand to her stomach. "Itís almost worse Han, having been pregnant. I would have died protecting her. Itís supposed to be the most basic instinct of all species. I would have died to protect my flesh and blood and he should have been protecting me." Freshly bitter, Leia spat out, "I hate him for that on top of everything else!"

Vader had broken every moral code and life principle in the galaxy and it ripped through him with the force of a lunar tempest. They werenít so different, he and Leia, with what they could call their own in the universe, and that was next to nothing. Although they had been different once upon a time. Moreover, Han knew that he would not have wanted the woman who might have been Alderaanís queen the way he did this one. It was fair and selfish of him both to love her that way, as it was fair that she faced and voiced her inner turmoil without judgement from anyone else. "You have every right to feel that way. Youíll never hear any different from me."

No sooner had he reassured her than she was shaking her head, almost repentant, falling onto her hip on edge of the carpet. "No? I canít. What am I saying? My brother says if I think this way that Iím starting down --"

"Forget what he says. Leia, for once."

"Thatís not how it works."

Taking her firmly by the shoulders, Han forced her to look up at him. "You havenít started growing horns and deflecting blaster bolts. You donít make a damn decision without considering the impact it will have on people, if it will benefit their lives or not. Not once in all the years Iíve known you." He reached up and cupped her cheeks, brushed back silky strands of hair. "Youíre good. Youíre so good, Sweetheart, you have no idea."

"Members of our family are capable of accomplishing a great deal of good," she told him, eye to eye, irises liquid brown yet unwavering. "But if we take the wrong path, we have the capacity for great evil. Our father didnít set out intending to become Darth Vader. Luke told me that ... when we were still on Endor, when it had all just happened -- when Iíd just learned --"

"You donít." He shook his head, shifted, and brushed away drying tears with the tips of his thumb. There wasnít a shred of doubt in his mind. In all likelihood, she would never become as powerful as her brother, even if the potential was there. She might never even become a full-fledged Jedi Knight. "Honey, you donít. Iím not wrong about you. Listen, I know I canít feel the Force the way you can, the way your brother uses it, but there are times when we throw our lot in on the right or wrong side. Weíve all been tested at some point. You have, I have. When in your life have you decided to break everything you knew to be just and decent because of power you held, huh?"

"I donít know that I have or I havenít," she replied. "I canít judge myself."

"Thatís not true. Ask Luke. Ask the Inner Council. Ask the Alliance. What makes you think youíre not the same person you were before you knew?" What he was saying began to make in impact, he could see it, so he pushed on. "What makes you believe you wonít be this person when the time comes for you to concentrate on developing your powers? Itís not going to be the same for you as it was for your brother. You know that."

Leia rubbed at her opposite elbows. "I hate when you make more sense than the inside of my head. And youíre right -- it wonít be. I canít be. Luke knew he loved him. In the end he had that and sometimes I think that even though he was the one destined to destroy him, to confront him, even though Ben and Yoda burdened him with a responsibility that was unfair -- at the same time he was empowered by all that he knew and learned. And sometimes Han ... I think, as selfish as it sounds, deep down I resent him for that, for having both the power to fight back and for finding his closure when he died."

Han wanted to say, "Thatís about the most honest thing Iíve heard come from you since Endor," but he didnít for fear it would sound condescending or startle her back her into denial. He said simply, "You two are at opposite ends of the spectrum."

Leia drew her arms inside his shirt as though she were chilled. The sleeves hung uselessly at her sides; the fabric became a stretched membrane, thin about her slight frame so that the blush of her nipples and underwear was visible beneath. "We havenít found any middle ground yet. We might never."

"What about Baskarn? You both --"

"I know. Tried." Her tone was apathetic, as though sheíd given up at some point when he wasnít paying attention. "He wants to understand, I know that. But lately Iíve been thinking -- so much about it. Iíve come to realize my motivations will never be the same as his. His concerns, his views as a teacher are clear: that I let go of my anger and hatred and fear. But I wonít."

Han struggled to make sense of the most logical conclusion. "Are you saying youíve decided to never train?"

"No. Thatís not it. I will follow my brother one day soon. And maybe Iíll pretend that Iíve come to terms with who I am -- or maybe he wonít ask. But there will never be any forgiveness from me where Anakin Skywalker is concerned." She inhaled long and deeply, slipped her arms back out, shoved her cold hand roughly into his. "Iíll follow my brother because Iím going to love my children more than I hate my father."

Han strained to keep his expression impassive and failed. He felt rapidly drunk, as though a Noonian Fixer had just been shot-gunned through his veins. "Thatís as genuine and honest a reason as any."

"Is it?"

Two weeks? Had it been only just over two weeks since the shootout in Elraden on Elrood, and only hours since sheíd revealed the events. Two weeks since sheíd wrapped her arms about him and heíd stood staring at her healing fingers waiting for the caf to brew and not knowing what to say. "Youíre upset", she had said. You should have known what she meant this morning. You should have understood then. Dazed, he squeezed her hand back to show he did now. "Yeah."

Then her eyes were shimmering brilliantly and painful to look into. He reached up and searched for a drinking vessel on the counter top, trying to remember if heíd left one on the nightstand in the bedchamber.

He asked her if she wanted to go to the kitchen for Vishay water, or tea, but she shook her head. "Lukeís up, I think. Iíd prefer I not go out there like this."

"Why?"

"Take a good look at me."

"Well you look ..." he started saying. Her eyes were bloodshot and red rimmed, her face was splotchy and the first word springing to his mouth was Ďbeautiful.í Taking in all the trembling features until they made up the whole, Han leaned over and kissed her hard on the mouth. "Like youíve been crying," he finished. "Thereís nothing wrong with that."

Her lips parted and sealed themselves. She tried to frown but the corners of her mouth wouldnít turn down. "Youíve always had such very interesting notions on how to make a girl feel better."

"We all have our talents." Han grinned because it was so apparent she was straining not to. That he could kiss her and have that affect on her made him feel like a tílanda Tíil, like or a god, with his pheromones pumping rapidly through her system. He kissed her again, let his hands drift beneath her shirt and this time she was beaming and silly when they parted. One of his hands remained on her belly, trying to envision their future. "You might want to trade me in for someone with a clean past and reputable acquaintances before itís too late."

"No. No. Not a chance. Not ever."

With that she laughed, pushed herself off his shoulders to her feet, turned on the spigot and drank from her hands. Han did the same. They returned to their luxurious mattresses and settled in between the comforters and sheets. The white of his old shirt flashed in the moonlit darkness and fluttered to the floor.

"No more bad dreams," he commanded, taking her into his arms. "Not tonight."

Leia crawled on top of him and poked her toes between his ankles. "You didnít have to get up."

"But I wanted to."

"Does this all scare you then?" she asked.

What? You? Us? Still feeling oddly punchy or spice-happy, and certain he would not sleep for hours, he said "No." And he meant it. And he needed to think. Then he added, smiling beneath the veil of scented hair raining across his face, thinking of the Falcon, Ben Kenobiís sand-worn floors, their bed, and lastly this bed. "And youíre right."

"About what?"

"We do always end up on the nearest horizontal surface, donít we?"


To Chapter Nineteen | To Chapter Twenty-One

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