While You Were Gone: Part Two
Everything was black.
And cold. Muted voices echoed in the distance.
The captain jerked violently. Suddenly his lungs burned hotly as he sucked in a desperate breath. Air! He gulped at it greedily. Real air! His mouth tasted like metal. And it felt dry.
Han Solo reached out blindly, his hands trembling too violently for him to grab onto anything. Why was it so dark?
His left hand came in contact with cool metal. Suddenly he could make out the steady hum of a hyperdrive engine. It was working again? Where was he? The Falcon? No. The engine's never sounded like that. But weren't they on the way to Bespin?
Han flicked his eyes around frantically, straining to see something; anything. "Leia?" he called hoarsely, "Chewie??" What the hell was going on?
"... Captain Solo ..." A muffled voice answered, "... Hear me?"
"What's -- " Han clenched his teeth as he suddenly felt his muscles cramp up in agony. He bit down hard to fight back the scream in his throat, his body jerking in protest.
Lando watched this in panic, his eyes widening, "What's wrong with him??"
Xavier shot him a quick look, his hands busily working to get the syringe ready. "This is to be expected," he said in a rush. "I'll, uh, just give him a shot of this and it should be fine."
Han's shaking was uncontrollable now. He could barely get out a coherent sentence. "Wha -- where ... am ..." Solo tilted his head, his eyes wide as they rested on the ex-general. Lando felt a quick chill course through him. For that one fleeting moment he felt like Han was looking through him. But then he realized that Han's eyes were not wide in recognition but in fear. And they were eerily blank, registering no acknowledgment of anything around him.
Xavier leaned over the trembling captain, "I'm just giving you a muscle relaxant. This should ease the cramping."
Han turned his head towards the voice. "What? Who are you?"
Xavier gave Lando a desperate look. The kid was obviously waiting for the ex-general to step in as the recognizable voice and calm down his friend. Lando averted his eyes from Xavier and swallowed. It was time to step forward, even if it meant Han Solo would kill him. "Han," he said smoothly, "it's me, Lando."
Han's expression was incredulous. "Lando?"
"The man with me is Xavier Ross," he continued, "he's going to give you a shot for the pain and tremors. But it's okay, you can trust him."
Han's mouth gaped open in shock, and he hardly flinched when Xavier plunged the needle into his arm. "Lando, but what are you doing here?" Solo tried to keep the nervous edge out of his voice, "Wha -- why can't I see?"
Lando gave Xavier a questioning glance. The young man spoke up, "You have hibernation sickness. Your blindness is only temporary."
Han relaxed for a moment, but then his face visibly tensed. "Where's Chewie and Leia?"
Lando opened his mouth to answer, but then abruptly shut it. Han didn't seem to remember what had happened. Not yet. And now Lando didn't know what to tell him. Where would he start? Back on Cloud City when he had turned his friend over to Vader? Lando licked his lips nervously. "Han," he began, "What do you remember?"
"I ... We were in the Falcon." Han reluctantly leaned back on the med bunk, his gaze fixed vacantly up at the ceiling. "The hyperdrive's busted," he grimaced self-consciously, "those damn imps ... you know how that is."
"Sure buddy," Lando said with encouragement, "I know how that goes."
"So we were taking the slow route," Han couldn't suppress a small smile. "But that's okay, it's been kinda nice," his voice was wistful. "Like a break from everything." The smuggler's expression grew tender as he thought of how he and the princess had been filling in the time. Han felt so close to her now. Like he finally found someone who really understood him. There was Chewie of course, but he was his best friend and first mate. That was expected. But with Leia ... there was just this connection there. It was overwhelming and frightening. And so amazingly wonderful at the same time. You got it bad for her, Solo. Yeah, he knew he did. But surprisingly, for once the idea didn't bother him. Leia was definitely worth it.
Suddenly Han remembered himself -- and who was standing over him -- and his face quickly hardened. No point in looking soft in front of Calrissian, he might never hear the end of it. And it wasn't the time to be thinking about this. Han cleared his throat. Besides, Leia -- Han's head jerked up suddenly. "Leia?" Han looked desperately in Lando's direction. "You never answered my question, where is she?"
"She's safe," he quickly assured Solo, "Both her and Chewie. They're all right."
Han blew out a relieved sigh. "Good," he laid his head back down on the bunk; his body relaxing noticeably. Han could feel that his muscles had stopped their furious cramping. Even the trembling seemed to be abating a bit. His eyelids suddenly felt heavy though. "Lando ..." Han said groggily as something that was said earlier finally penetrated his fog, "Tell me somethin' ..."
Lando leaned in to catch his friend's words, "Yeah?"
"How ...'d I ... get hibernation sick ...?"
Lando opened his mouth, but he couldn't figure out a way to phrase his answer. He looked guiltily up at Xavier, and it was obvious from the young man's expression that he seemed to be expecting a response as well. "Han, I -- " Lando turned back to his friend and noted his heavy breathing. "Han?"
The Corellian was out cold. "Wha -- ? Is he okay?" Lando looked up at the young man expectantly.
"Oh yeah," Xavier assured him, "That's just the meds kicking in. He'll wake up again and hopefully by then the worst of it will be over."
The ex-general's shoulders sagged in relief. Well, at least he had a small reprieve from what was sure to be an emotionally draining conversation. How does one even begin to fill someone in on seven lost years? There was so much that he had missed. And how would Lando confess his part in Han's being gone all that time?
Xavier coughed, breaking Lando from his nervous reverie. The young man rocked back on his heels in satisfaction. "Well?"
Lando looked up at the kid warily, "What?"
Xavier couldn't stifle his grin, "Did I tell you I would get your friend out okay or what?"
Lando tried to push aside his foreboding, and he forced a smile at the young man's smug expression. He stood up and slapped him good-naturedly on the back. The realization that Han was really okay was finally sinking in. He was being selfish, wallowing in self-pity. Lando should be celebrating Han's recovery, not dreading it for the sake of his own hide. Han was back!
"Yeah, nice job kid," he said as he led Xavier out of the room, "but don't go gettin' cocky."
Leia snapped her head up with a start. The fierceness of the morning light caused her to quickly cover her eyes. "Bailey," she gasped in surprise. "What are you doing up?"
The boy tugged at the bottom of his lip nervously. "It's breakfast time."
Leia squinted in confusion. The sunlight reflected brightly through the kitchen windows and cut sharply through her sleep-induced haze. Leia rubbed her eyes tiredly and the room slowly came into focus. A quick glance at the chrono on the wall showed that it was indeed early morning. Leia rubbed the cramp out of the back of her neck as she noted her mug still sitting in front of her, the tea long gone cold. "So it is," she conceded. She looked back at her son, standing there in his Space Racer pajamas, his hair still disheveled from sleep. "Are you hungry?"
The boy nodded slowly, his gaze still questioning. He was no doubt curious as to why his mother had been sleeping at the kitchen table. Leia gave him a comforting smile, "Why don't you go tell Threepio to fix you something," she stifled a small yawn, "Momma's got to get ready for work."
Bailey gave another small nod, but did not move. He stared at her imploringly, his eyes wide. His fingers still tugged thoughtfully at his bottom lip. Leia gave her son a questioning look. "Honey," she asked, "What's wrong?"
The boy didn't answer.
Leia's eyebrows raised in concerned. "Bailey?" She took the boy's hand, and gently pulled it from his face. "Is something the matter?"
Bailey shrugged, his gaze shifting to the tiles lining the floor. A moment of silence passed. Slowly he looked up at her again, his hazel eyes gazing thoughtfully at her. Leia's breath caught in her throat. She turned away abruptly. Gods, that is so Han. Leia barely made out her son's next words. "What?" She asked him, her mind distracted.
"Is Daddy coming home now?" He repeated anxiously.
Leia turned back to her son, her expression softening. She smiled in relief. So that's what had the boy all upset, he missed Simon. "No sweetie," she said lightly as she stood up from her chair. "Not until the end of the week." Leia ruffled her son's hair affectionately and started to head off towards her bedroom.
"No," Bailey said impatiently. "I don't mean Simon."
His tone stopped the princess in her tracks. Leia turned back to her son. Bailey gave her an eager look. "I mean my real Daddy. Is he coming home?"
Leia suddenly felt light. She leaned back against the kitchen counter to steady herself. "What?"
Bailey was oblivious to his mother's turmoil and pressed on. "You know, my real daddy. The one in Uncle Chewie's stories." Bailey's little hand once again reached for his lip. His voice became almost a whisper, "I think he's coming back now."
Leia swallowed. "Sweetie," she began softly as she made her way back to her son. She kneeled down in front of him, her voice almost cracking, "Your real daddy is with the angels. You know that."
Bailey shook his head adamantly. "No," he insisted. "He's coming back. I saw it."
Leia bit her lip as she tried to tune out the sudden ringing in her ears. She felt dizzy. "Bailey," she began gently, "what do you mean you 'saw it'?"
The boy shrugged his shoulders in frustration. "I don't know -- I just saw it. Like a pitcher in my head."
Leia felt her stomach tighten. Her eyes combed over the boy's face as if searching for something. Maybe she was. It had never occurred to Leia that Bailey would have talent in the Force. Well, it had occurred to her, but she had furiously dismissed the notion from the moment she had first laid eyes on him. There was no way, she had reasoned upon looking down at the sweet innocence that was her son, that he could have even a touch of Darth Vader in him. It just wasn't possible.
And that's what the Force represented to Leia. The evil of her biological father. She refused to believe that her beloved little boy could be cursed with the same affliction that eventually drove Vader to perform his unspeakable acts. Of course Luke had argued with her endlessly about Bailey and his 'potential'. While he admitted that he didn't feel that the boy was as attuned to the Force as say his mother, Luke did sense an underlying talent. One that young Bailey might be able to develop more fully as he got older. But Leia wouldn't hear of it. Her son was going to be 'normal'. On this point she was resolute. Leia was going to raise her son to be as carefree and happy as possible. She refused to burden him with the same heavy responsibilities that plagued her growing up. "It really doesn't matter what you say to me, Luke," she had argued once, her arms crossed. "You can accuse me of 'stifling his potential' all you'd like, but it's a moot point. Bailey doesn't even have the Force." She had shaken her head, and her voice raised in exasperation, "Why, I have never even seen him levitate anything in his entire life!" But Luke had just smiled patiently at her, the shine in his eyes implying that he understood something that she did not.
And that look had not escaped Leia's notice. It had annoyed her at the time, but now she reflected back on it fleetingly. She felt a small stab of worry as studied her little boy's cherubic face. Leia mentally shook off her concern. No, she was right. She had to be. After all, Bailey had never shown any propensity towards the Force. Nothing that Leia had noticed anyway.
Besides, what Bailey was proposing was impossible. And it broke Leia's heart to have to explain this to him. "Hon," she said, lightly brushing a lock of hair from his forehead, "What you had was a dream. That's all." Leia gave a sympathetic frown. "It wasn't real."
Bailey stuck out his bottom lip and stomped a small foot in frustration. "It was real. I know it was."
Leia swallowed a small groan of frustration. The little boy had an undeniable stubborn streak in him, and he could argue with her all day. However, this morning she had not the time nor energy. Leia tried to brush off his concern with a kiss on the forehead. "Dreams can feel real sometimes, but it doesn't mean they are." Leia stood up and offered her son another comforting smile. "Now you better hurry up if you want Threepio to fix you breakfast before school."
Bailey looked up at her in disappointment. His pouty frown clearly conveying his dissatisfaction with her response. "But Mom -- " he argued, his voice taking on a slight whine, "It's true! I know it is!"
"That's enough," Leia said forcibly, and she winced at her sharp tone. She took a steadying breath, "Bailey," she started again, her voice softer. "We can talk about this later. But right now I really need to get ready for work, and you need to get dressed."
Leia gently pushed the boy towards his bedroom. She watched as her son walked slowly away, his shoulders slumped in defeat, his head bent. Leia felt a pang of guilt and called after him, "Bailey?"
The boy stopped and turned his head to her. He gave her a silent look, his expression solemn.
Leia mentally cursed herself for the part she played in his sudden low spirits. She tried giving him an encouraging smile. "What do you say," she said, her voice filled with false cheer, "that we plan something special to do this week. Just the two of us."
Bailey was quiet for a moment, as if seriously considering her proposal. His gaze strayed vacantly to the floor before he finally looked back up at his mother. Leia's heart warmed with relief as he gave her a small crooked smile. "Sure, Momma," he said softly, "that sounds fun."
Leia watched the boy as he headed back to his room. Her heart clenched and she rubbed her forehead tiredly. Well, when it rains it pours. Leia blew out an exasperated sigh and headed off for the refresher. Maybe when Simon got back they could plan a vacation. Get away for awhile. Escape the pressures of the real world for some real family time. Perhaps a little time away would be exactly what she and Simon needed to bridge the recent rift between them.
As Leia got ready for work she could feel herself growing more excited over the idea. By the time she came back into the kitchen she was actually smiling. Bailey looked up from his bowl of Sugar Space 'stroids to give her a toothy grin. Leia was pleased to see that he was dressed, and apparently in better spirits. Although she was a little disturbed by his choice of breakfast. "Honey, why didn't you have Threepio fix you some eggs?"
"Didn't want any," he answered simply as he shoveled another spoonful in his mouth.
Leia wrinkled her nose in disgust. "I don't like you eating that stuff. It's not good for you."
"But Momma," Bailey said seriously, his eyes wide. "This is what Space Racer eats and he's the fastest pilot in the galaxy!"
"I'm sure he is," Leia said patiently as she made her way to fridge unit, "but I doubt he got that way from eating a bowl of sugar every morning." She pulled out a cool bowl of fruit and put it on the table. "At least have some of this, too."
Bailey shrugged his shoulders in easy agreement as Chewbacca made his way into the room. The Wookiee slid into a chair across from the boy. [Princess,] he said as he reached over the fruit for the 'Sugar 'stroids', [You got two messages while you were in the 'fresher.]
Leia raised an eyebrow in surprise, "Two? Who's calling me at this -- Oh no." She glanced up at the chrono. "No, it can't be Mon Mothma. I'm not late yet!"
Chewie shook his head as he poured himself a generous bowl of cereal. [No. She didn't call.]
"Well," Leia asked, reaching for a handful of Alderaanian berries. "Who called then?"
[Luke was one. He said to get back to him. It was important.]
Leia rolled her eyes. "Yeah, I'm sure it is." She popped a berry into her mouth. She would call him later. "Who was the other?"
Chewie gave her a small knowing smile. [Lando.]
"Oh, wonderful," she said flatly, "When is he coming in? Or did he have a sudden change of plans?" Leia couldn't keep the hopeful tone out of her voice.
[No, he's still coming.] Chewie smirked, [actually, he was calling to say he would be here sooner than he thought.]
"Really?" Leia was surprised.
[Yes, and he wanted to make sure that you were going to be on planet.] Chewie looked up thoughtfully, [actually, he was very adamant about that. He wasn't asking, he was insisting. You were not to leave for any reason. And he would contact you immediately when he touched ground.]
Leia gave Chewie a curious look. "Really? He said that? Did he say why?"
Chewbacca shrugged. [No. He seemed really excited about something though.]
Leia turned away, biting her thumb thoughtfully. "Hmm ... that's odd."
Bailey suddenly beamed up at his mother, a small line of milk dribbling down his chin. "Maybe he's got a surprise for you!"
Leia raised a cynical eyebrow. "Lando? Let's hope not."
The scream tore through his throat as his body fought off the imaginary binders that held his wrists. He jerked in panic; disturbing images raced through his mind.
Darth Vader. Standing over the whole procedure, his mask perfectly illustrating his cold indifference. The black outline of his body like a dark blot against the orange glow of his surroundings. Put him in!
He looked up at the princess and the Wookiee. Their faces mournful and sad as they gazed down at him.
I love you.
And then larger gusts of smoke. A blast of arctic cold. He screamed again, this time until his throat was raw.
Han Solo awoke with a start; his heart racing. He looked around frantically, a little surprised when the blur of the room suddenly sharpened into a clear picture in front of him. He was in a med room. On a ship. That much he could discern.
Han took a deep breath, as he tried to regain control over the panic that had engulfed him. His body was still shaking as he swung his legs over the side of the bunk. What the hell had happened to him?? Han leaned forward in an attempt to steady the sudden rush of nausea he felt.
He still felt so sick, and he was exhausted. Fleeting dark images from his dream still raced through his mind. Han couldn't shake the memory of the fear that had gripped his heart in those final moments before he had been frozen. He couldn't forget the languished expressions of his friends as they watched him being lowered to his fate. Han rubbed his face tiredly. One particular moment suddenly flashed in his mind, the words echoing faintly in his memory. I love you! The princess had proclaimed in that last desperate moment. Han grimaced as he recalled his response. I know. Well, he had known. But still. He should have responded differently.
Han's head snapped up in surprise. There was a young guy standing at the doorway, in his hands he held some towels and a syringe. The young man gave the captain a small smile. "I see you're finally awake."
Han glared at the kid accusingly. "Yeah, so? Who are you?"
The young man took a small step into the room, "I'm not surprised you don't remember. I'm Xavier. I've sort of been tending to you the past couple of days."
Han's eyes widened. "Days?"
Xavier's cheeks reddened. "Well, yeah. I mean you had a pretty severe case of hibernation sickness there." He swallowed nervously. "One of the worst cases I've ever seen."
"Yeah, well ..." Han's face hardened and his voice took on an edge, "I bet it's not everyday you see someone frozen in carbonite is it?" He stared at the kid, his eyes darkening in anger.
Xavier quickly averted his gaze. He fidgeted in discomfort, his weight swaying from side to side. "No," he answered softly. "I guess I don't."
Han pulled his angry glare away from the kid. He felt bad. After all, it wasn't this guy he had the gripe with. Han looked down at the floor in front of him. "Where's Lando?" he finally asked. His voice was lower now, but the underlying hardness was still there.
"He's out at the moment."
Han looked up in annoyance, "Out? He's out? Where?!"
Xavier had a sudden urge to flee the room. He cast a hopeful glance over his shoulder, as if he might be so lucky as to see that the General and Malcolm had returned. He sighed in disappointment and turned back to the captain. "We landed on Coruscant just forty minutes ago -- "
"Coruscant?!" Han leapt up from the bunk, ignoring the immediate bout of dizziness he had to contend with. He cursed as his body stumbled a bit and paused a moment to regain his balance. His mind was reeling. "He took us to Coruscant?? That filthy no -- good traitor!"
Xavier flinched away from the irate captain. "Sir?"
Han shook his head in disgust. "What's the point of getting me away from Fett if he's just going to turn me back to the Imps??" The smuggler smacked a furious fist against the wall.
Xavier shook his head in fearful confusion, "I don't understand ..."
Captain Solo angrily paced the small room, his eyes darting around furiously. He didn't seem to hear the young man. "Right to the heart of the Empire!! Is there no limit to what Lando will do for a credit?"
Xavier's mind raced. What was this guy going on about? "But sir -- "
Han ran a frustrated hand through his hair, his glare pointed accusingly up at the ceiling. "To think I trusted him!"
Xavier took an unsteady step towards the irate smuggler. "But Captain Solo," he said, his hands raised defensively. "It's okay. There are no more Imperials."
Han froze. The last words of the young man finally penetrating through his angry haze. He slowly turned towards the anxious young man. "What?"
"The Empire was defeated over six years ago."
The smuggler was very still. His chest heaved as he fought to get his erratic breathing under control. Xavier mistakenly took Solo's silence as a good sign. He even smiled, "See? So it's fine."
Han felt the blood drain from his face as Xavier's words sunk in. He grabbed a desperate hold of the bunk as he tried to steady himself. "Six years?" he gasped.
"Yeah." The young man beamed good -- naturedly, oblivious to the sting of his words. "Where have you been?"
Han Solo felt numb. His mind was swimming as he gazed vacantly at the floor. "I don't know," he whispered softly.
Six Years! And who knew how much longer than that he had actually been gone. A lot could happen in that time. A lot did happen in that time -- apparently. His mind flashed to the princess. Leia... Han swallowed. He could feel his stomach tighten in fear. But Leia was fine. She was safe. He remembered Lando saying that much. That was really the most important thing ... but where was she?
Han's heart clenched with dread.
And who was she with?
Han suddenly looked up at Xavier with alarm. "I gotta get out of here," he announced.
The young man opened his mouth to protest, "But you can't. I mean I -- you're not allowed."
Han glared at him in disbelief. "I'm not allowed?" The captain took a step towards Xavier, his stature suddenly seeming somewhat menacing to the young man. "And who, exactly, is going to stop me?" He shot Xavier an incredulous look, "You?"
"No, I -- " Xavier could feel his heart pounding in his ears. It was almost loud enough to drown out the sound of his own voice. The young man took tentative step back from the angry smuggler. "Please, just wait 'til General Calrissian comes back. And then you can go and do whatever."
Han's brows shot up at the word 'general'. He let out a derisive snort. "General Calrissian? Are you kiddin' me? General?? Lando?" Han shook his head incredulously, "I'm out of it for a little while and ..." He almost had to laugh. The idea of Lando Calrissian serving in any military was too ridiculous to even comprehend.
Xavier straightened. He found Captain Solo's flippant attitude towards the great general disrespectful. "General Calrissian was a key part of the Rebellion's eventual victory over the Empire." The young man crossed his arms, trying not to wince at the shakiness of his own voice. "He is to be admired for what he accomplished. Lando Calrissian is a real hero."
Han gave an angry snort. "Hero??" He said the word like it was a curse.
Xavier inwardly cringed as he watched the indignation slowly build up in the ex-smuggler. He usually knew better than to speak up to people like Han Solo. Suddenly Xavier wished he could physically grab back the words that he had uttered and shove them back down his throat. But of course, it was too late for that.
Han exhaled slowly, trying to keep some control over the rage seething within him. He gave the kid a cool stare. "A 'key part' of their victory," he spat Xavier's words back into this face. "Is that what you said?"
Xavier swallowed nervously. He didn't even bother to answer.
"Well, let me just tell you something -- kid," Solo thrust an angry finger into the young man's face, "Your best friend Calrissian also played a 'key part' in me spending Force only knows how much time in a slab of carbonite!"
Xavier's brows crinkled in confusion, his mouth hanging open as if about to protest. But no words came out. Han nodded excitedly. "That's right. Your little buddy turned me over to Darth Vader himself."
Xavier shook his head, his eyes wide with denial. That wasn't possible. The General had done so much for the rebellion. The mere idea that he could help out the Empire in any way was completely unfathomable to the young man. "No," he stammered, "He wouldn't do that."
"He -- He's a good man..." but the argument died in his throat. Was Captain Solo telling the truth?
Han curled his lip disdainfully at the young man. "Believe what you want, kid." He calmly nudged Xavier aside. "I don't really care." The captain hastily pushed his way out of the med room and headed for the exit ramp. "Thanks for all your help," he called behind him, as he palmed the ramp open.
Xavier stood there speechless. Malcolm was going to be furious at him for letting Solo get away. But even with the threat of his angry boss on his mind, he could not summon the strength to go after the brooding smuggler. He wouldn't even know how to stop him.
And it wasn't until Han Solo made it out into the open streets of Coruscant, that he realized he had absolutely no idea where to go.
Lando smacked a furious palm against the Princess' apartment door. "Dammit! Where is she??"
Malcolm raised a skeptical eyebrow, "I thought you said this Princess was a friend of yours."
Lando looked at the older man, "She is," he said defensively.
"Really?" Malcolm gestured towards the closed door. "Then where is she? I would suspect that if the two of you were really so close then she would at least have the courtesy to welcome you when you arrive on planet." Malcolm smirked, "Especially since you called her in advance and told her you were coming."
Lando turned to the door, a confused expression on his face. "Maybe she forgot," he offered lamely.
Malcolm chuckled. "Maybe." He shook his head in amusement, "Or maybe this princess had better plans."
The ex-general's shoulders slumped in defeat. "I don't know ... I told her it was important ..."
The older man sighed impatiently, his mirth fading. "Well, I do hope you have a back up plan Calrissian. We still have the little matter of the bill, which I don't intend on overlooking."
Lando gave a small resigned nod. "I know," he sighed, "I'll figure out something. We'll find her."
Leia sat on the smooth bench and closed her eyes as a warm breeze blew across her face. The air was sweet and comfortable and the sky was clear. It seemed like even the smog of Coruscant had decided to give its residents a break today. It was the perfect afternoon to spend in the park. Leia was glad now that the little boy had been so insistent about going this morning. At first she had been reluctant to take the day off of work, but Bailey had reminded her that she promised to do something special with him. Besides, school was letting out early for the end of the year. The princess couldn't say no. Leave it to a six year old to never forget a thing, she thought with a smile. Well, Leia wasn't going to let him down again. She called Mon Mothma and simply told her she wasn't coming in. She figured that after the week she just had, she deserved it anyway.
Leia smiled contently as the sound of Bailey's giggling drifted over to her.
"Hey, Momma!" He called gleefully, "Watch this!"
Leia peeked open an eye to see her son dangling happily from the play bars. She winced as he swung his weight and leapt down to the ground. His sneakers hit the ground with a soft thud as his body folded into a crouch. "Honey," she warned nervously, "Be careful!"
Bailey just smiled at her proudly from his position on the ground. "Didja see that? Wasn't that just like Uncle Luke?"
Leia grinned in spite of herself. "Yes, it sure was."
Bailey sprinted back up to his feet with enthusiasm. "Great! I'm gonna do it again!"
Leia opened her mouth to protest, but another voice called out instead "Hey, Leia!"
The princess turned her head to see her brother striding confidently towards her. Amazing timing, as usual, Leia thought as she offered him a guarded smile. She was a little nervous about Luke's sudden appearance. Surely he was going to question her about why she hadn't been returning his calls. And what could she tell him? That she felt awkward about that afternoon in her office?
Because she did.
Leia felt so transparent now. As if every action she did Luke would now be watching with new eyes. Especially where Simon was concerned. Luke knew. He knew that she was an unfaithful wife. That she may live with her husband, but her heart and mind was always with Han. Leia was ashamed. Luke may have said he understood, but she did not. It was wrong. She was wrong and now she didn't want to face her brother. The one person who truly knew how awful and weak she really was.
And Leia was also dreading the idea that he might make her talk about Han again. Or ask her about her dreams. No, she most definitely did not want to talk about those anymore.
"Leia," Luke repeated calmly as he now stood over her, "I have been trying to reach you."
Leia gave him her most innocent look. "Oh, really?"
"I've left several messages," he said patiently as he took a seat next to her, "Don't tell me you didn't get any of them."
The princess sighed in resignation. "Yes, I got them." She smiled in apology, "I'm sorry. It's just been so hectic with work and everything. I was going to call you tonight."
Luke raised a doubtful eyebrow but didn't press it. "Well, at least I've found you now. We need to talk." He took a steadying breath. "About Han."
Leia tensed, hey eyes straying to her six year old son. Bailey had found a playmate in a young Rodian, and they were busying themselves by climbing the wrong way up a slide. Relieved that he was fine -- and out of earshot -- she turned back to Luke. "I don't think there's really anything to say."
Luke gave a small smile, his eyes shining slightly brighter. "Oh, but there is."
This is exactly what Leia was hoping to avoid. A rehash of their last conversation. Or maybe her brother was going to press her into searching her emotions. Or do some weird Force trance to give her closure with Han. Whatever he had planned Leia was definitely not in the mood for it. She stood up suddenly, her head shaking. "If this is about the other day," she said with a rush, "Then I don't think you should worry about it."
"No, I -- "
"Because I was just being overly emotional," Leia continued, her voice ringing with a certain urgency. It was as if she couldn't end this conversation fast enough. "I was just overworked and I -- I said things I didn't mean." She turned back to Luke and gazed down at him. Her voice sounded firm and light, but her eyes betrayed a certain sadness. "I'm okay, really," she said softly.
Luke shook his head. He reached out to grab the hand at her side. "No, Leia. I'm not here to talk about that." He gave her a small squeeze and pulled her gently back down to the bench. "Although," he continued, "That doesn't mean I think what you just told me is entirely true."
"Luke -- "
He held up a hand to silence her. "But I'm really not here about that."
Leia shook her head in confusion. "But you said it was about Han."
"It is." Luke took a deep breath. "It's kind of complicated, but I need you to just listen to me."
Leia just nodded slowly, her expression curious.
"Leia," he said seriously, his blue eyes now gazing intently at her. "The other night I was in a Jedi trance. Meditating."
The princess tensed, her gaze straying to her lap. She attempted pull her hand away, but Luke held onto it firmly. He gave it another squeeze. "Just listen for a moment." Leia finally looked back up at him. "I was meditating," he continued, "When I felt something in the Force. A presence."
"Yes," Luke exhaled. "It was the Force energy of someone I had not felt in several years." The Jedi swallowed, his blue eyes widening slightly. "Leia, it was Han. I felt him."
Leia shook her head, uncomprehending. "I don't understand."
"In the Force. I felt his life energy."
"What?" The princess looked at her brother with confusion. "I don't get it. You mean like you feel Ben Kenobi?"
"No, no. Not like Ben." Luke could feel his sister's hand clenching nervously beneath his. "This wasn't the same as someone who had become one with the Force." He shook his head slightly, his eyes gazing inward as he relived the remarkable moment in his mind. "No," he finally continued softly, "This was the energy of one who was still very much alive."
Leia gasped, "What?" This time she did pull her hand away.
"Leia," Luke said with remarkable calmness, "I believe Han is alive."
The princess stood up abruptly. Her body was rigidly straight as she turned in the direction of her son. "Bailey!" she called towards the slide, "Time to go!"
"Leia," Luke said, his voice raising, "didn't you just hear what I said?"
She looked down at him coolly, her mouth a firm line. "Yes," she answered tightly, "You had some Force vision or something and I -- " Leia's voice began to break and she took a steadying breath, "I really have to get going. Lando's coming. I completely forgot."
Luke stood up and gently grabbed his sister's arm. "No, we have to talk about this. It's important."
But Leia had turned away again. "Bailey! I said come on!"
Bailey could hear his mother calling him, but he tried to block out her voice. He concentrated on peering around the park from his vantage point on top of the slide. The Rodian fidgeted nervously behind him. [Isn't that your mom calling you?]
Bailey dismissed him impatiently. "Shhh! Yeah, I know."
[But I think she wants you to go now.]
Bailey shielded his eyes with a small hand, his head turning slowly as he continued to scope out the area. "Yeah, but we can't leave yet. It would be too soon."
Bailey shook his head in annoyance. "If we leave now we'll miss him. And then this whole trip here would be for nothing."
The Rodian's antennae's twitched with confusion. [Huh? Miss who?]
The princess bit her lip in frustration. "Look at that," she said in exasperation, her arm motioning towards the slide, "I know he can hear me!"
"Leia," Luke couldn't suppress the urgency in his voice. "You can't just ignore this. It's serious. Listen to me." His hand was on her arm again.
Leia turned to him, her voice hushed. "No," she snapped, "You listen to me." She pulled her arm out of his light grip. "I am having a hard enough time right now with everything. I don't need this on top of it."
"What? But -- "
"No! You can't just come to me with your 'Force' and tell me things about Han ..." Leia blinked furiously as she felt the sting of tears coming on. "Play on my emotions just because you have a 'feeling'. Did you even think of how I might react to this?" She sniffed angrily, frustrated with her show of emotion. She continued, her voice softer but still shaky, "Just don't do this to me, Luke. Okay?" She gave him a pleading look, her eyes shiny with tears. "Please?"
"Leia, I -- "
But Leia was turning away again, her attention diverted back to the slide. "Bailey! I said now!" The princess marched off to retrieve her son. She didn't even look back.
Han Solo was walking aimlessly. His mind still felt numb with shock and his body continued to fight off the after effects of hibernation sickness. He looked around at his surroundings cautiously, casting furtive glances over his shoulder every few moments. Han had not been to Coruscant since the years when he was smuggling, and he couldn't squelch the automatic paranoia that this city provoked in him.
But what that kid had said was true. There was not a single stormtrooper to be seen anywhere. In a city which had once been off-limits to non-humans, there were now aliens of every race roaming the streets. It seemed that in the past six years the imperial presence had really been completely eradicated. Han had mixed feelings about this revelation. It was wonderful that the Empire was no longer, but the further implications of this news made him feel even more ill than the hibernation sickness.
Six years! Han took a deep breath, fighting hard against a depression he could feel beginning to envelop him. He was surprised at how nice the air felt in his lungs. Well, he had gone a long time without it. Han peeked at the people around him, careful not to make eye contact. Every face was unrecognizable. Every alien and human a stranger. Suddenly his mind flashed to Chewie. Where was he? He wondered if he was still with the Falcon. There had to be a way he could contact him.
Without thinking, Han turned a corner and followed a cement path into a lightly wooded area. He walked along it blindly, his mind elsewhere as he made his way. What should he do now? He supposed that maybe leaving Lando's ship had been a bit too impulsive. Han may be completely pissed off at the guy, but at least he knew him. And of course, Lando could probably tell him where to find Chewie and Leia. Han stopped abruptly. For once it was the thought of being alone that disturbed him more than anything else. He shook his head in disbelief at this revelation and leaned his elbows up on a metal railing. It overlooked a small fountain. Behind him, through a line of tall bushes, he could faintly make out the sounds of some children playing.
Han rubbed his face tiredly, his glazed eyes barely noticing the beautiful view in front of him. Like the rest of the city, the park was suspended several hundred feet above the ground level of the planet. Han Solo usually despised this city, but today the skies had cleared and the effect of the sun tilting through the clouds was actually quite nice. Not that he was paying too much attention to it. His thoughts were too troubled to be easily taken in by a pretty view.
He should find Chewie. Han swallowed. And Leia too. But Chewie first. The Wookiee would have his ship, he reasoned, and he could fill him in on all that he had missed. Maybe prepare him for the princess.
Han didn't know where that last thought had come from, but he knew it was the real reason he wanted to meet with his friend first. Chewie would be thrilled to see him. He knew that without a doubt. There were no complications there. But with Leia it was different. She had loved him once, that was true. But he loved her still. And while to him it felt like only yesterday they were together, for Leia it had literally been years.
It was certainly more than enough time for her to find love with someone else.
Han could feel his stomach tighten painfully, another bout of nausea rising in him. This time he knew it wasn't the hibernation sickness. You are getting so soft. He couldn't believe how he was allowing all these thoughts bother him so easily. Where was the Han Solo who didn't let anybody get to him? Where did he go, huh? The ex-smuggler blew out a resigned sigh. Han guessed that that guy had gone down with the Death Star, when he had gone back to bail out a farmboy, a princess, and their 'lost' cause.
Han slammed the railing in frustration before throwing his head in his hands. Yeah, well now what?
"Bailey! Time to go!"
The voice faintly rang out behind him, the familiar timbre of it causing the hairs on the back of his neck to stand. Han's head flew up with a start, the breath suddenly knocked out of him. That voice. The breeze had carried the sound to him and it had been slightly distorted, but even still. He knew that voice.
"Bailey, I said come on!"
There it was again. Han couldn't move. He could hear his pulse pounding out an erratic tempo in his ears. He turned around. It had come from the play area. There was that line of bushes blocking him from having a complete view, but he could make out the vague outline of a slide. Two children -- one alien, one human -- were standing at the top. Their small heads barely visible above the tall greenery. The human boy almost appeared to be staring at him.
But that voice. Leia.
He was being ridiculous. It couldn't be her. What were the chances? It was impossible. And since when have you ever played the odds, Solo? Han would just take a look. He just wanted to see for himself.
The smuggler stepped tentatively towards the slide, a full view still being impeded by the healthy foliage growing in front of it. His breath was coming out in shaky spurts. Why am I so nervous??
As Han approached the play area, he was able to make out more detail through the gaps between all the leaves. The park was also equipped with a sandbox, swings and play bars. There were a few other children running about; their parents casting them quick glances from above datapads or from the midst of conversations on comlinks.
Han's gaze stopped on one particular couple. They were standing by a bench, the man lightly holding the woman's arm. They seemed to be arguing. The woman's back was to him, and she was blocking him from having any decent view of her partner.
Han squinted. There was something about her. The curve of her back, the way wisps of her hair fell along the nape of her neck. Something about the way she was carrying herself.
Han held his breath. The woman was pulling away from the man. She turned towards him.
Han gasped and he took an unsteady step backwards. His mind was suddenly reeling.
Han marveled at the sight of her, and he let out a shaky breath. Even with the years that had since passed, she looked every bit as stunning as when he had last seen her. Her hair was longer. But her skin appeared as milky smooth as he remembered. Her eyes still that same deep brown. Oh, Force! How he used to be able to stare into them. Get lost in them. Gods, she was still so beautiful!
And she was walking with dogged determination in his direction. Her frantic pace causing her light summer robes to press against her, accentuating her petite form. But she didn't see him. Not yet. The density of the green bushes he stood behind prevented it.
Han felt rooted to the spot. He desperately wanted to run up to her. Embrace her. Touch her. Kiss her. But he couldn't move. What's wrong with you?? Go to her! That's your princess! Han swallowed. He was being a coward. It was Leia! Wasn't it just yesterday that the two of them had sat so closely onboard the Falcon together, talking comfortably about this, that and any other thing? Making each other laugh with their most embarrassing stories? Comparing childhood memories? Although, Han remembered with a twinge of regret, he had been more guarded in that area than her.
Han's mouth felt dry.
And what about all the times they would sojourn to his cabin. All those long afternoons in his bed, exploring every intimate part of each other. One of them always joking before-hand about making sure Threepio was switched off before they got caught doing something really embarrassing.
They had been so close. So easy with each other then. And it all seemed so startlingly fresh in his memory. How could it not have been just yesterday? Or the day before? The feel of her and their time together was emblazoned on his brain. And even though it had been a long time for her, she would have to remember some of it. It would have to still mean something to her. Although maybe not as much.
He would go to her. Han took a deep breath, desperate to summon up some of that courage for which he had once been so famous for. Yeah, hot shot. You don't seem so brave now, do ya? But he was. And he would prove it. Dammit! He loved her. A wave of fiery determination swelled up within him and suddenly Han didn't care if there was someone else in her life. It didn't matter anymore. That was his princess and he would fight anyone who got in his way. She had made him so happy. And he knew that he had made her happy. No one was going to take this away from him. Or her. Not after it had taken them so long to find it.
Han took a few unsteady steps around the thick bushes, his resolve strengthening with each passing moment. This was it. He was ready. Han opened his mouth to call out to her, but his voice immediately died in his throat.
"Leia, wait a second!" A dark figure had run to her side.
It was Luke Skywalker.
Han had been so taken with the princess that he had failed to notice who the other person was before now. And as he watched his friend gently pull Leia to a stop, he was surprised to see how much the kid had changed. Well, he didn't know if 'kid' was the proper term for him anymore. Luke had grown up. A lot. The boyish roundness of his face had thinned out, causing his features to become more pronounced and mature looking. And he was leaner, stronger looking. The kid was in shape.
And right now he was talking to Leia. His hand was back on her arm and she was looking up at him. Intensely. Han swallowed. They looked close. Real close. He could feel his stomach tighten as his once -- steely resolve melted away. Watching them, Han could see that there was definitely an intimacy between them that hadn't been there before. Their relationship had completely changed. It was obvious. Even in the few moments Han watched the two of them conversing he could see this. Back on Hoth, Luke had been a love-struck farmboy who would practically trip all over himself trying to talk to the princess. Now look at him! His hand resting casually on her arm like that. And he was looking straight into her. No more of those uneasy shy glances he used to throw at her. Now he looked at her unabashed. With a confidence Han always suspected the kid had, but had barely ever shown. Not in the way that Han had at any rate.
And he still loved Leia. Han could tell that too. But now it seemed like the two of them were on a more equal footing. There was a balance. And this unnerved the smuggler, because that could only mean one thing. Couldn't it?
Han could feel the muscles in his jaw tighten as he watched the two of them. Leia looked upset. Her round eyes seemed on the verge of tears, and her back had stiffened -- in that same way it would when he used to anger her. Now it was Luke who seemed to be making her mad. Lover's spat? Han couldn't deny that he felt a fleeting rush of satisfaction at the two of them fighting. Good. But he quickly dismissed the thought as disloyal. After all, this was Luke. He couldn't wish the worst on him, even if it meant getting Leia for himself. He respected and liked the kid too much for that. But still. He may have loved Luke like a brother, but could he really just step aside for him?
Han turned his eyes back to the princess. Just looking at her, standing there, her cheeks pinked with emotion -- it provoked another wave of warm memories to wash over him. And Han knew. No way. He couldn't just give her up.
Leia curled a loose strand of hair behind her ear as she turned her face in his direction. Her head tilted upwards, which allowed the light to catch the tears on her cheeks. "Bailey, " she called, her voice shaking. She was looking up at the slide. "Honey, we really have to go."
Han followed her gaze to the top of the slide. He felt his breath catch in his throat. Just over the top of the green bush he could make out the small face of the human boy.
And the boy was staring right down on him.
Han felt a chill run up his spine, but he didn't know why the boy's unwavering gaze unnerved him so much.
"Bailey, do you hear me??"
Bailey tightened his grip on the railing of the slide as he gazed down at the tall dark haired man. It had alarmed him when the man had looked directly up at him like that. He knew he had been caught staring, but even still, he just couldn't turn away. Look at his pants! They were just like the ones Space Racer wore. And the boots! Only pilots wore boots like those. And if there was one thing that Bailey had learned from Uncle Chewie above all else, it was that his father had been a pilot. And not just any pilot, but the best.
Bailey was staring down at his daddy. He just knew it.
Leia was losing her cool. She clenched her hands into tight fists as she stared up at her son. Even with all her diplomatic training, the princess was having a very difficult time fighting the urge to suddenly scream at the top of her lungs. Why wasn't the boy listening to her??
Leia felt a warm hand on her shoulder. Luke. She tensed.
"Leia, I'm sorry." He said softly. "I really didn't mean to upset you."
"I'm not upset!!" Leia winced. She sounded ridiculous even to her own ears. Like Bailey in the middle of one of his tantrums. She took a steadying breath, "I'm okay. I'm fine." Leia gestured up at the slide. "I just need to get him so I can go home. Lando's probably banging down my door by now."
Luke gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze and turned towards the slide. "Bailey, come on down now." He said this in such a soothing voice that Leia suddenly felt like she had been half-crazed in comparison. She reddened in embarrassment. Well, there goes that 'mother of the year' award.
Bailey threw a quick over his shoulder towards his uncle. He hadn't realized that Luke had met them at the park. "In a second!"
"No, you've had enough 'seconds'," he replied calmly. "Your mother wants to leave. Let's go."
Bailey tugged on his lip in frustration. The Rodian was giving him a questioning look. [Don't you listen to your parents?]
The boy shook his head. "That's not my dad," he said in annoyance, "that's my uncle."
The Rodian shrugged. [Whatever. He's still a grown up.]
Bailey sighed. He didn't want to make Momma and Uncle Luke mad, but this was important. Super important. They would soon understand. They would soon see. Bailey suddenly felt a thrill course through him at the thought of his real daddy. Uncle Chewie had told him all about him. His real daddy was a space pilot! And not only that, but he was once the fastest in the galaxy. Even faster than Space Racer! And soon he would actually get to meet him. Maybe even now.
Bailey shot the Rodian a cocky smile, and leaned back over the railing. "Guess what," he boasted with pride, "My real dad's a space pilot and -- " He faltered. The man he had been staring at was walking away. And fast. Bailey could feel his stomach clench in despair and he tightened his grip on the railing. No, don't go! He wanted to scream after him, yell at him to stop. But he couldn't find his voice. Where are you going? You can't leave yet!
"Bailey," his mother was right below him now. Her voice was stern. Bailey knew that this was her angry voice. The one she used right before he was in big trouble. He tried to fight back the tears as he gazed down at her mournfully. Why'd Daddy leave? Doesn't he like us?
Leia blinked. The boy suddenly looked so pale and withdrawn. Suddenly he was so quiet. He looked down on her with eyes that were wide and filled with sadness. He hadn't been that way a few minutes earlier. What happened? Leia softened her tone, "Honey, just get down," she requested. Her voice was almost a whisper.
Bailey nodded solemnly. He pushed out his bottom lip, and his little chin began quaking uncontrollably. The boy looked on the verge of tears.
Leia shot a quick glance at the Rodian, fleetingly wondering if the alien bad been teasing her son. But one look at the young one's expression immediately cleared him of any suspected wrong-doing. He looked just as confused as she felt.
Luke came up beside her. "Come on Bailey," he said gently, "Let's go home."
The boy slowly climbed his way down the ladder. He still didn't say a word. When he was standing on the ground again, Leia ran her hands gently through his hair. "What's wrong, sweetie?'
Bailey just looked up at her silently, his shoulders slumped in defeat.
This time he knew not to tell her.
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