While You Were Gone: Part Three
Lando ran a nervous hand through his hair as he walked through the hangar.
Malcolm followed closely at his heals. "I just don't know," he said confused, "We've been all over the place. And if she didn't even show up for work today..."
Malcolm tried to squelch the twinge of irritation he felt, but it came out in his voice anyway. "Listen Calrissian," he sneered, "Why don't we forget about the royalty for a moment and find another one of Solo's friends to pay off the debt." The man snorted, "If the smuggler even has any other friends."
Lando didn't miss the cutting edge in the trader's voice. He knew that Malcolm was skeptical about this whole Princess Leia thing. Heck, if he hadn't seen the two of them together on Cloud City himself he would've never believed it either. Han Solo was never known for the exceptional company he kept. But Han did have a lot of friends, and Lando resented the older man implying otherwise. "As a matter of fact," Lando said in annoyance, "Han has a lot of people who would help him out. And I know just who to go to next."
They were approaching Calrissian's ship. "Oh yeah?" Malcolm asked doubtfully, "Who?"
Lando palmed the ramp open with a smack of his hand. "Luke Skywalker."
Malcolm let out a loud chuckle. "Luke Skywalker? The Jedi Master?" The older man shook his head, unable to hide the grin on his face. "Calrissian, you're losing your credibility fast." He snorted, "Next time aim a little lower, tell me he knows the Chief-of-State or something."
Lando shot the man a sharp glare before climbing up the ramp. It had been a long day and he was in no mood for Malcolm's sarcastic jabs. They had spent the entire day combing the city of Coruscant looking for Leia and had very little luck. Even Chewbacca was proving to be elusive. Lando was tired and he didn't have the energy to trade childish insults with the sand trader. "I don't want you to worry about my credibility," he said as he entered the ship, "I'll prove that just fine when I pay you off. Okay?"
Malcolm answered with a derisive grumble. Lando didn't even try to make out what he had said. "Hey Xavier," he called into the back room. "We're back!"
There was no response.
Lando approached the threshold of the med room. "Xavier?"
The young man sat slumped on the empty cot, his head in his hands. Lando's brows shot up in concern. "Hey," he said, trying to keep the alarm out of his voice. He shot a quick glance around the room. "Where's Han?"
Xavier looked up at him, a pained expression on his face. "He left," he answered simply.
"He what?!" Malcolm was right over Calrissian's shoulder. "How could you let him go?!"
Xavier looked at his boss, his tone one of surprising indifference. "Don't get mad, sir."
The older man could feel his eyes bulging in disbelief he steadied himself against the frame of the doorway. "Don't get mad??" He pushed past the general and made his way over to the cot. "Tell me, Xavier, how would you like me to react??" He gestured angrily behind him, "You just let our credits walk out that door!! Now what are we going to do??"
Xavier gripped the metal frame of the bed tightly, his eyes widening in fear. He tried to swallow his nervousness as he replied, "He was upset. He wanted to leave. I - I asked him to stay - "
"Oh - oh!" Malcolm interrupted, his head tilted up at the ceiling in disbelief. "You asked him to stay." He threw his arms up in exasperation, "Well, at least you did all you possibly could."
Lando came up behind the irate trader and calmly pulled the older man away. "Let's just relax here for a second." Calrissian was amazed at how composed his own voice sounded. Inside he felt like a frantic mess. "Maybe we can figure out where he went." He turned his attention back to the young man on the cot and gave him a tight smile. "Now, Xavier," he said trying to keep his tone under control, "Why don't you tell us exactly what happened."
Xavier shot Malcolm another nervous glance before looking back up at the general. He let out a shaky breath. "He woke up."
"Yes," Malcolm snorted from the far wall, "We gathered as much."
Lando shot him a glare of warning and looked back at the young man. "Okay," he said smoothly, "Then what happened?"
Xavier's gaze strayed to his lap, his hands picked at the mattress nervously. "He woke up and he -- he -- " The young man risked another quick glance at the general before his eyes retreated back to the ground. "He remembered things."
Lando straightened. "What 'things'?"
"I don't know -- everything" Xavier's hands became more furious with the mattress. "Darth Vader, the carbon freezing -- " The young man turned his head back up at the general, his gaze suddenly steady. "Everything."
Lando's mouth felt dry and he took an unsteady step backwards. He knew this moment was inevitable, but he wished he could have had a chance to talk to Han Solo himself. To apologize. Of course, taking seven years of someone's life is not something you could gloss over with a simple 'I'm sorry.' Lando pressed his eyes shut in despair. Han must be floored right now. He let out a shaky sigh. It's all my fault.
"Sir?" Xavier's voice was barely audible in the tension filled room. "Is it true what he said?"
Lando opened his eyes and stared absently at the wall above the young man's head. His thoughts were racing at a blinding speed through his mind. "What?" He asked, his voice strained.
"Did you really turn him over to -- " Xavier faltered, his voice lowering, "To Darth Vader?"
Lando nodded numbly. "Yeah," he said softly, "It's true."
"What?" Malcolm's tone was incredulous, "Are you kiddin' me?" He was standing behind the general again. "How could you do that? I thought you were friends with this person."
Lando turned on him, his tone instantly defensive. "I was!" He shook his head. "I am," he amended. "It's complicated. I didn't want to do it."
Malcolm crossed his arms in disgust. "I can't believe you," he glared accusingly, "Darth Vader And I thought I had done some pretty low things in my life, but this..."
"It was the Empire! They were going to destroy everything -- my whole city," Lando's voice raised in desperation, "I had no choice!"
"No choice," the older man snorted in disdain, "So you sell out a friend."
Lando pushed him away and stormed out of the med room. "You weren't there!" He called behind him, "You don't know what the Empire's like!"
Calrissian kicked a wall in angry frustration, cursing angrily before letting himself fall into a large seat. He could pretend to be mad at Malcolm all he wanted, but he knew that the older man was right. Lando was an awful, horrible person. He deserved to hear all those things and a whole lot worse. The truth of it was, that Malcolm hadn't said anything that Lando hadn't all ready told himself a million times. He had sold out a friend. And in his circles you just didn't do that.
Lando sighed miserably and ran a hand over his face. He could sense Malcolm in the room before he even looked up.
The older man stood over him. "I think it's quite presumptuous of you to assume that I don't know what the Empire is like." His voice was lower, but there was an angry edge to it. "After all, you've been to Tatooine. You've seen first-hand what they did to my home planet."
Lando winced. That was right, he had forgotten. Tatooine was now a shadow of its former self due to Imperial influence. That was why these two men were so desperate to get off and get these credits in the first place. They were not really bad people. Just desperate.
Lando looked up at the man apologetically. He swallowed. "Listen, Malcolm, I didn't --
"Well, well, well," a familiar voice boomed from the entry ramp, cutting Lando off mid-sentence. The slurred words seemed to reverberate throughout the small ship. "Look's like the gang's all here."
A stunned Lando turned his head to see the familiar outline of his Corellian friend slumped against the doorway. A half-empty bottle of whiskey was clutched in his right hand. "Han," he managed to gasp, "You're back."
Han curled his lip in contempt. "Observant as always, Lando." He stumbled into the room, his unfocused gaze flicking over to Malcolm suspiciously. "Who's this guy?"
The older man straightened. "I'm Mandell Malcolm." He held out a hand, "I've seen you before in Mos Eisley, Captain Solo. But it's nice to finally be introduced."
Han smirked and pushed the offered hand away. "Yeah, well, nice to meet ya." The smuggler looked around the room, "Where's my little buddy?" He asked, his body swaying under its own weight. He looked around drunkenly before his gaze finally stopped on the doorway of the med room. Han grinned sardonically at the cowering young man. "There you are!" He stumbled over to Xavier and threw a clumsy arm around his shoulders. "This kid here," he announced with mock affection, "Is one of my last friends left." He tapped the neck of his bottle lightly against the young man's chest. "I just wanted to thank you." Han turned back to Lando and Malcolm. "He was nice enough to let me leave earlier this afternoon and I really appreciate it."
Xavier looked stricken. He glanced nervously at Malcolm and the general, his eyes pleading.
Han continued on, drunkenly oblivious to the young man's discomfort. "Yeah, thank you for that. I had a very nice walk. It was very ..." The smuggler's face twisted as he fought to find the right word. "Educational," he announced finally.
Xavier squirmed under the weight of the drunk man's arm. Lando's eyes flicked between the young man and Captain Solo. "Han," he said cautiously, "Is everything all right?"
Han's face hardened. He pushed away from Xavier and stumbled over to the sitting general. "Is everything all right?" He snorted in disbelief, "Is that what you just asked me?"
"Han, I - "
"No Lando," he spat, an angry finger now pointed in the gambler's face. "Everything is not 'all right.'" Han stepped back for a second, his body once again swaying off-balance. "I woke up this morning and found out years of my life are gone." He swung the whiskey bottle around as if to accentuate his point. "Poof! Gone."
Lando swallowed, his voice shaking, "Han, I am so sorry. I - "
"But it doesn't end there!" Han continued loudly, his tone ringing with feigned humor. "No, that's not all!" His voice was almost deafening in the small confines of the room. He took a small swig from the bottle, desperate to keep the pain at bay a little longer. Han wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve. "No. My day got even more interesting after that -- if you can believe it."
He glared down at Calrissian now, all pretense of joy gone. "I also discovered that not only have I lost my past," he said, his voice low and menacing, "But in the blink of an eye my entire future was destroyed, too."
Lando stood up slowly, his palms held up defensively in front of him. "Han," he said softly, "I'm sure it's not as bad as -- "
Han threw the bottle of whiskey forcibly against the wall, causing it to shatter with a loud smash. "Don't tell me it's not that bad!"
Xavier flinched in the background. His boss just looked on in stunned silence.
Han's angry gaze was unwavering, his mouth a snarl. His hands hung at his sides, and he clenched them into tight fists. "You took everything from me Lando! My whole life!"
"Han," Calrissian ventured nervously, his hands visibly shaking in front of him. "Don't do this. Come on, ol' buddy. I'm sure -- "
Lando didn't even see the blow coming. One second he was standing in front of his enraged friend, the next he was sprawled on the floor clutching his throbbing jaw. He rubbed it tenderly, his mind too stunned to grasp what had just happened.
"I'm not your buddy," Han spat disdainfully from above him, his chest heaving. "Remember that."
Lando nodded dumbly. He blinked in an attempt to steady his shaky vision. He managed a weak "Okay," as he pushed himself off the floor.
The general managed to climb back into his seat, making sure to keep a wary eye on Solo. He wasn't sure if the smuggler was finished with him yet. But Han seemed a little calmer. He just stood in the middle of the room, fighting to catch his breath. The expression on his face pained as he stared absently down at the ground.
It was eerily quiet for a moment. Xavier and Malcolm traded nervous glances. Lando continued to rub at his sore jaw as he eyed his brooding friend.
Han let out a shaky breath, the muscles in his cheeks clenching as he re-lived that scene in the park over again in his mind. Suddenly he felt more depressed than angry. He silently looked up at Lando. There was so much Han wanted to know. About Luke. About Leia. But he didn't even know where to start, and he was scared to know too much. Especially if it was going to be things he didn't want to hear. Finally Han found the courage to speak up. "How long have they been together?" He asked, his voice strangely soft in a room that still buzzed from the loud incident that just took place.
Lando gave him a questioning look. "Who?"
Han swallowed. "Leia ..."
Lando's face softened in sympathetic understanding. Han had somehow found out about Simon. "Four years, I think."
Han nodded absently. "So are they -- " he hesitated, " -- is she happy?"
Lando shrugged, "I don't really know." He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, "To be honest, I really haven't seen her much over the years. I'm not exactly her most favorite person."
"But from what you have seen ...?" Solo's voice had a hitch of quiet desperation in it. It was something Lando had never heard in the cocky smuggler before. It threw him.
"Han," he began quietly, "Leia has not been truly happy in several years." Lando noticed Solo throw him a questioning glance. "And I know I'm to blame for that," he conceded. "But if you are asking me about her marriage, then I don't know what to tell you." The gambler ran a nervous hand through his hair. "Heck, I have never even met the guy."
"You should," Han mumbled distractedly, "he's a really good guy, actually."
Calrissian's eyebrows shot up in surprise, "You've met Simon?"
Han looked up at the gambler with a start, his eyes etched with confusion. "Simon?"
"Leia's husband," Lando answered, "Isn't that who you meant?"
Han's mouth suddenly felt dry, the alcohol suddenly causing the room to spin. "What? But I thought -- " He reached out a hand to steady himself, "What about Luke?"
"Luke?" Lando's tone was incredulous, "Luke Skywalker?"
"I saw them today," Han said, his tone dejected. "In the park."
Lando shook his head, "Yeah, maybe. But they aren't together." He let out a small chuckle in spite of himself. "I can promise you there's nothing going on there."
Han felt a wave of relief rush through him. That changed everything then. If Leia wasn't with Luke then -- but his thoughts faltered. There was still the boy. Bailey. Luke may not be his father, but that just meant Simon was. They would still be a family. And Han didn't want to break up a family. He knew what it was like first hand not grow up with one, he would be damned before he would ever be responsible for pushing that pain onto someone else. That was what had stopped him today. Seeing the little boy. Leia's little boy.
Suddenly Han straightened as something Lando had said a few moments earlier drifted back to the front of his mind. "But wait a second --" Han said in a baffled tone. "If Luke and Leia aren't together ..." His voice trailed off. He looked up at Lando in utter confusion, "You said Leia has only been with Simon for four years?"
Calrissian nodded. "Yes, that sounds about right."
"What? But then how --" Han ran an exasperated hand through his hair, trying to keep his thoughts straight in his alcohol-soaked brain. "Who does Bailey belong to?"
Lando opened his mouth, not sure whether he should really answer. He licked his lips nervously, aware of Solo's unwavering gaze. He took a steadying breath.
"You," he finally replied.
* * * * *
Simon leaned back in his seat and smiled with satisfaction. They had just announced that the landing coordinates were set and the ship would set down on Coruscant within the half-hour. It had been a long trip, but well worth it. He was able to accomplish quite a bit. And although he felt guilty admitting this to himself, it had also been nice to get away from home for a little while. Things had just been too tense as of late.
Simon gazed reflectively at the stars in the viewport. Yes, it had indeed been wonderful to get away. Have a break. Indulge in a little diversion here and there. And he wouldn't feel guilty for feeling this way. Leia had pushed him to it. Why should he? How was he supposed to feel? Simon shook his head in disgust. What did it say about him as a husband that even after several years of marriage he couldn't compete with the memory of some low-class spice smuggler? A criminal at that. It was enough to make his stomach turn.
Captain Han Solo. The name had hung over his marriage like a dark cloud. The memory of the man was an almost stifling presence. Especially these days.
Simon had tried to be a good sport about the whole thing. He had really tried. Particularly in the beginning. After all, he had known what he was getting himself into. It was obvious, even back then, that Leia was still hung up on the smuggler. He been aware of this from their very first meeting. Oh, she had always been very efficient in her work, and at political functions where he would see her, she was graceful and flawlessly diplomatic. Charming even. But although she laughed merrily and acted light-hearted with the leaders of the galaxy, Simon had noted that her smiles never quite reached her eyes. But he had been immediately taken with her anyway. She was so beautiful, and he had great admiration for her strength and courage. Plus she was an Alderaanian princess. He had grown up with her on the holovids. She was a piece of home. And he loved her.
Not that it was easy to get her to love him in return. Simon had to really work at that. He had asked to escort her to dinner on several occasions, but she had kept turning him down. The princess insisted that she was too busy to have time to indulge in dining out. But Simon knew that wasn't necessarily true. For whenever she was not behind her desk or dazzling ambassadors, she was at home with her young toddler. He was her life.
It had taken some work, but eventually Simon had gotten the princess to accept his invitation for dinner. And to her surprise, Simon could tell, she actually had a good time. So he asked her out again, and again she had accepted. Simon was not completely oblivious, he knew that she still carried her grief for Solo like a heavy burden, but it didn't matter to him. He could make her laugh. He could make her smile. And eventually, he insisted, he would make her forget.
It hadn't been long before Simon proposed. He knew it was fast, but he had also known what he had wanted, so what was the point in waiting? True, Leia wasn't in love with him, not yet. But she would learn to love him, he had told her. And he already loved Bailey. He would make a good father, and Simon had insisted to her that every boy needed a father.
Leia had finally agreed and the two of them were married. It was a relatively small ceremony considering their social status, but the princess had insisted it be that way. She had just wanted a few friends and family. It wasn't to be a big deal. That was all fine with Simon. He just wanted her to be his wife, the rest of the details were not all that important to him.
And so their marriage began. Under more difficult circumstances than most, considering that his new wife did not love him. Well, the princess loved him, he was sure, but she was not in love with him. Simon knew the difference. But that was okay. He had been patient, and for awhile there it seemed that his patience had paid off.
Until a few months ago.
In a gesture that he had sincerely thought would overjoy his wife, Simon had asked if he could formerly adopt Bailey. Then he would officially be the boy's father. And isn't that what the princess had always wanted? A father for her son?
Needless to say, Simon had been taken aback by Leia's less than enthusiastic response. Her face had tightened and she had answered with a simple, "No, I don't think that's really necessary."
"But I want to do it," he had argued, "I love Bailey. Let me be his father."
"You are his father," she had replied. "What's a piece of paper got to do with it?" They had been cleaning up dinner at the time. Bailey was tucked away sleeping in his bed.
"It would mean a lot to me," Simon had answered softly, "And I thought it would mean a lot to you, too."
The princess' expression had softened at his response. "That's sweet Simon," she had said apologetically, "And I really do appreciate what you're trying to do, but --"
"Good, then let me do it." He had interrupted, his voice rising with excitement, "Let me adopt Bailey and then he could be my son in name too."
Leia had stiffened at this declaration and had shaken her head adamantly. "No," she had said with a steely resolve, "I really don't want you to do that."
Simon had felt like he had been slapped in the face. Of course, he had realized with an overwhelming bitterness. Solo. It had been all about him. To her, Bailey was always going to be his son and no one could ever take his place. Not even, Simon had thought with building resentment, the man who had helped raise him for the past four years. This sudden awareness had caused an uncontrollable anger to rise in him. Simon was usually a very reserved man and his sudden need to lash out had surprised even him. But after several years, he had been unable to restrain his suppressed resentment any longer. He had virtually exploded. Said things he shouldn't have.
Even now, the memory of his acidic words caused Simon to color with shame.
"I cannot believe you are still carrying a torch for this guy, even after all these years," he had spat angrily at his wife. "Wake up Leia, take off the rose-colored glasses. The man was a no-good criminal."
The princess had stared at him in open mouthed shock. "How dare you --!" She had gasped angrily.
"No," he replied harshly, "how dare you. I have been nothing but loving to you over the years. I have taken care of your son. I have allowed you to keep that -- that Wookiee around so he could follow us like a shadow --"
"Chewie's a member of this family, Simon!" She had retorted defensively.
"-- And I have done so without complaint!" He had continued on, unable to stop himself now that his anger had been released. "Overall I think I have been very patient. Hell, I even allow that Wookiee to elevate Solo to hero-like status, because I know how much the idea of it means to Bailey. But I refuse to come in second any longer."
Leia had shaken her head in denial, "You don't come in second!"
"I always have," Simon had replied evenly. "I'm not completely oblivious, Leia." His voice had lowered but had taken on an even nastier edge. "But what I don't get," he had said with venom in his voice, "is what is so damn special about the guy. What is it about him that all my years of loving you can't blot out? Tell me."
"Simon --" her voice had been pleading, "Don't do this."
"No, I really need to know." His voice had softened, "I love you, Leia. I made a commitment to you." He had given her a pointed look, "Can you honestly say that he would've done the same? That he even loved you?"
"Yes, I can," she had replied in almost a whisper.
Simon's eyebrows had risen in disbelief. "Really? Did he ever tell you that?"
Leia had abruptly turned away, but not before Simon had seen the shine of tears in her eyes. He had immediately begun to feel a quick rush of shame at the sight of her sadness, that he had pushed this too far. But he couldn't stop himself. This was necessary he had reasoned, she needed to get Han Solo out of her mind once and for all. It was so obvious to Simon that the smuggler wasn't worth it. She needed to see it too. He was only doing this for the sake of their marriage. Someday Leia would thank him for helping her see the light.
Simon had taken her silent response as confirmation of what he had always suspected. "That's what I thought," he had said, unable to keep the guilty satisfaction out of his voice.
"Go to hell," she had said with a stony coldness.
"What wonderful diplomacy, Princess." Simon had ignored her sharp glare and continued on, "You know what I find so fascinating about your undying devotion?"
Leia didn't respond.
"It's that every little rumor seems to confirm the fact that your man Solo was just about to take off from the rebellion anyway." He had been unable to help himself, "Without you."
Leia had swallowed and glared at her husband with wide hurt eyes. "Shut up, Simon."
"It's really quite ironic," he had just kept pushing, "Here you are, insistent on keeping Han Solo this boy's father. When, even had he lived, he probably wouldn't have been around anyway."
"You don't know that," she had insisted sharply.
"You're right," Simon responded with a cold knowing smile, "if he had actually found out you were pregnant he would have left a whole lot faster."
Simon winced now as he remembered how hard Leia had slapped him. Not that he could blame her. Looking back on the argument now, he realized that he had been completely out of line. He had even apologized profusely after that last comment; Leia's smack having knocked some sense into him. He was being so petty. So jealous. About a ghost. It was ridiculous.
But the damage had been done. Their relationship had been strained ever since. Oh, he had apologized, and so had she, but there was now this unspoken thing between them. A cold rift that was going to take some time to fix.
And Simon knew, with a twinge of guilt, that he had not been completely innocent in all this. Simon had never been a hundred percent faithful to his marriage, but Leia didn't have to know that. After all, he really did love her. He did. So what was the point of hurting her with stories of his occasional escapade? It really wasn't a big deal. He had always given more to the marriage than her anyway. So what if once in awhile another woman caught his eye. Could anyone really blame him? At least these women gave him their complete attention. He wasn't sharing them with anyone. Anyway, Simon was just being normal. He needed a little variety in his life. After all, he reasoned, didn't all men?
Besides, Leia would always be the main woman in his life. The others really didn't mean anything. And that was more than he could say for her and her undying 'Solo-infatuation'.
Simon pushed aside these troubling thoughts before another wave of resentment could build up in him. He was getting off track here. Simon was going home now and he was going to fix things. Make them right. He loved the princess and he adored Bailey. They were his family.
Yes, Simon thought, his resolve strengthening. He would be home shortly now and everything would be all right.
Simon was determined. Nothing would get in his way.
Not even the ghost of Han Solo.
"Honey, eat your vegetables. Don't just play with them."
Bailey looked up from his plate, his eyes sullen. "But I'm not hungry," he said flatly.
Leia gave her son a sympathetic smile. Her heart ached at the pain that was etched on his features. She just wanted to pull him into her lap and kiss away whatever was bothering him, but Bailey wouldn't respond to her. She couldn't even get the boy to admit that anything was wrong in the first place. But the princess knew there was, and she was concerned. "Just have a few bites then," she urged sweetly, "For me."
Bailey gave a despondent sigh and half-heartedly stabbed his fork into a green stalk. He didn't even bother with the usual gross-out faces he loved to torment her with. He just popped the vegetable into his mouth and chewed absently, his eyes cast sadly down on his plate. Bailey almost never passed up an opportunity to put on some theatrics, especially with Luke at the table as a captive audience. Something was definitely wrong.
Ever since they had gotten back from the park, the boy had been so withdrawn and somber. He had spent the couple of hours before dinner holed up in his room, with barely a sound, and that was so unlike him. When Leia had gone knocking on his door to see what was wrong, Bailey had told her dully that it was "nothing" and that he just wanted to be by himself for a little while.
Now he sat at the dinner table, shoulders slumped, absently picking at his food. Leia shot Luke a worried look. He returned her glance with a comforting smile. He had a feeling he knew what was bothering the boy, but he knew he couldn't talk to his sister about it. Leia would find out eventually, of that he was sure. Luke turned to her son. "Bailey," he began cheerfully, "I bet you're real excited to be out of school for the season."
The boy shrugged indifferently. "I guess," he mumbled softly.
"So," Luke continued, undeterred by the child's lack of enthusiasm, "What fun stuff do you and Chewie have planned this year?"
"I don't know," Bailey stabbed another vegetable.
Leia gave her brother a grateful glance. She appreciated the effort. The princess decided to try another tactic. "Oooh, well isn't Space Racer on the Holonet tonight?" She beamed at the boy in knowing anticipation, "I hear it's a new one too." Bailey flashed her a pained look. He gave another indifferent shrug, his expression darkening. Leia was taken aback by his response. What did I say?
"I don't feel like watching it tonight." He dropped his fork with an angry clink. "May I be excused now?"
Leia swallowed. "Sure," she answered with forced casualness in her voice. In reality she was getting beyond worried. Bailey was usually so easy-going, this dark mood was so out of character. The princess shot Luke another worried glance as her son slowly pushed himself away from the table. She didn't know what to do. Her son was in obvious pain and she couldn't even figure out why. Leia reached out and gently grabbed the boy by the arm as he tried to pass her. "Bailey, wait," she said with a mild firmness in her voice.
The child stopped and looked at her questioningly. "Honey," she pressed gently, "I want you to tell me what's wrong."
Bailey nervously reached for his lip. "Nothing," he insisted, "I'm just tired. I wanna go to bed."
Leia's brow furrowed in concern. "Are you feeling all right?" She had never seen the boy volunteer to go to bed in his entire life. Usually the whole deal was an hour-long process which involved a lot of whining, bribing, and years of practiced diplomatic training. She reached out a pressed a hand against the boy's forehead. "You don't feel warm."
"I know," Bailey's eyes strayed to the floor, "I'm just sleepy. That's all."
"Honey," Leia forced a calmness into her voice, "If there's anything wrong -- anything at all -- you know you can always talk to me about it." She gave a weak smile of encouragement, "That's what mommies are for after all."
Bailey was silent for a moment. He gave her an appraising look, as if briefly considering whether he should come clean. Finally he just sighed and said, "I know, Momma. But nothing's wrong." His eyes flew back to his feet, "Really."
Leia leaned back against her chair in resignation, her hand dropping from the boy's arm. "Well, okay then." She didn't know what else to say. The princess gave a defeated sigh. "Just remember to brush your teeth if you are really going to bed."
The boy nodded and headed towards his bedroom. As he made his way through the doorway of the kitchen he bumped into the furry bulk of Chewbacca. The Wookiee growled a friendly greeting to the child and affectionately ruffled his hair. Bailey just offered a weak smile and pushed his way out of the kitchen without a word.
Chewie gave the princess a confused look, [What's the matter with him?]
Leia stood up abruptly and began clearing the table. "I don't know," she said in a resigned tone. She gathered up a few plates, "Could you try talking to him, Chewie? You might be able to get him to open up."
Chewbacca nodded in easy agreIent. [Yes, certainly. Let me just wash off this engine grease.] He shook his head in affectionate annoyance. [The Falcon's hyperdrive was acting up again. Sometimes I don't know why I still bother with the thing.] Chewie turned his back as he went to the sink.
Leia smiled tightly. They all knew very well why the Wookiee still bothered but no one needed to voice it. The princess cleared her throat to refocus her thoughts. "You hungry, Chewie? We still have some leftovers here."
[Thank you, maybe later, Princess.] Chewbacca's shoulder's bobbed as he ran his hands under the running water. [Did you talk to Lando yet?]
"No, there was a message saying that he had dropped by, but I haven't heard from him." Leia gathered up a stack of plates and brought them up to the sink.
Chewie turned off the faucet and turned to the princess. [Don't get your hopes up,] he said, shaking out his hands. [I'm sure he'll still get back to you.]
Leia sighed. "Knowing my luck of late, I'd say you are probably right."
Chewie gave a whuff of amusement before heading towards Bailey's room. [Well don't worry Princess,] he called lightly behind him, [Your luck is bound to change one of these days.]
Leia rubbed her forehead. "Don't I wish," she muttered tiredly.
From across the room, she missed the knowing shine in her brother's eyes.
Han Solo stared down at the back of his hands in disbelief. Upon hearing Lando's bombshell, he had literally dropped into one of the ships many seats, where he had spent the next few minutes staring off in wide-eyed astonishment.
Han was still struggling to wrap his brain around it. A son! The smuggler was stunned. It was incomprehensible to him. Not that it was bad news. No, but he just couldn't believe it. Me -- a father? It felt so unreal.
Han swallowed. But it's also so incredible!
A small disbelieving smile crept over his face. He looked up at Lando, who still sat in his same seat. He had been too fascinated by Han's reaction to move. The smuggler licked his lips nervously. "Lando," he began, "Wha - what's he like? Bailey, I mean."
Calrissian gave a small shrug of his shoulders. "I've only seen him once, when he was a baby." Lando smiled broadly, "But to hear Chewbacca tell it, he's the spittin' image of you."
Han mouth quirked up in awed disbelief, "Really?" He couldn't keep the wonder out of his voice.
Lando nodded. "Yeah, in every sense. Chewie keeps boasting that your boy is going to make a fine pilot some day."
"Yeah?" Han gave a small proud smile as he gazed off distantly. "A pilot, huh?" He gave Lando a sudden look. "So I guess Chewie spends a lot of time with them?"
"Han," the gambler answered seriously, "Chewbacca spends almost all his time with them."
The smuggler's brows shot up in mild surprise, "He does?"
Lando gave a knowing smile, "It's what you wanted. Remember?"
Han shook his head in disbelief, "Yeah, but ... I - I can't believe that he would actually ..."
Calrissian grinned broadly and reached over to give the smuggler a light-hearted smack on the shoulder. "Oh, don't get too big a head, Solo. It wasn't all for you." The general chuckled good-naturedly, "I'm sure Chewbacca's own fondness for the princess had something to do with it too."
Han smiled as he absently rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah," he conceded wistfully, "He always did like her." He gave Lando a sheepish look, "Probably even before I did." As Han's thoughts once again flashed to the princess his grin faded. He looked up at Lando with a sober expression. "So," he said seriously, "Chewie's with Leia now?"
The general nodded, "Yes."
Han nodded in understanding. "He's been there from the beginning?"
"Yes," Lando answered, "Chewie's been a very good friend. He has helped the princess through a lot."
Han swallowed. "Good." He was touched by the Wookiee's intense loyalty. And Han was sincerely glad that if he couldn't have been around these past years then at least his best friend had been. Han knew with confidence that Chewbacca must have taken good care of them. But the smuggler felt a sudden pang of despair as he realized all that must've happened in those years. Birthday parties. Life Days. School plays.
And then his thoughts switched to Leia. Han let out a despondent sigh. I miss her. He felt horrible. He desperately wished that he could have been there for her. Through her pregnancy, the labor, Bailey's first illness. She shouldn't have had to parent their child alone.
Han's stomach tightened. But she hadn't alone. The smuggler felt bile rise up in his throat. Simon. He had been there too. This faceless man got to share all those memories with Leia. He got to take the boy to his first smashball game, or teach him how to ride a hover scooter. Han felt the muscles in his face clench. It was Simon who had gotten to do all those things. Things that Han should've done.
The smuggler suddenly felt sick.
Han swallowed. He looked up and met Lando's gaze. "There's so much I've missed ..."
Lando gave him a sympathetic look. "Han," he started, "There's still so much left. So much you haven't missed yet."
The smuggler nodded absently. "I know ..." Han looked down at his lap, and flexed his hands slowly. "Lando?"
Han looked up at the gambler, his eyes suddenly hardening with resolve. "Tell me where they are." He didn't even try to hide the pleading in his voice, "I need to know."
"Sure." Lando nodded in slow understanding, "Absolutely."
Han stood up. He stared down at the gambler with an expectant look. Lando instantly recognized the determined glint in his friend's eye. He wrinkled his brow in surprise. "You mean you want to go right now??"
The smuggler let out a shaky breath. "Yeah, I've lost enough time already."
"B - but what --" Lando stammered, "Are you just going to show up on her doorstep? What are you gonna say?"
"I don't know." Han gave a small nervous smile, "I guess I'll just improvise."
Bailey lay face up on his bed, the pitch-blackness of the room was a small comfort as it surrounded him. Suddenly a wedge of bright light cut through the darkness causing him to shield his eyes with the back of his hand. The bedroom door had slid open to reveal the outline of a tallWookiee. "Hey, Uncle Chewie," the boy said flatly, his gaze flicking back up to the ceiling.
Chewbacca entered the room and sat down on the edge of the bed. His massive weight caused the mattress to bulge up on the boy's side. [Hey pal. What's going on?]
Bailey shrugged indifferently. "Nothing."
[Nothing?] Chewie looked at the boy with a doubtful expression. [Doesn't seem like nothing. Why are you in bed so early?]
"I guess I feel sick."
[You 'guess'?] Chewie leaned over the boy, [Are you sick?]
Bailey looked at the Wookiee, his eyes wide and mournful. "No," he answered finally, "But I feel sick."
[Why?] Chewie pressed gently.
"I --" the boy hesitated, "I don't know."
[You don't?] Chewbacca gave a resigned sigh. [Well, maybe I could tell you a story. Would that help you feel better?]
Bailey abruptly turned his back so that he was facing the wall. "I don't want to hear any of your stories tonight, Uncle Chewie," he announced with a dullness in his voice.
[Oooh, but I've got a great one,] Chewbacca said enthusiastically, [It's about this one time that your dad and I --]
"-- No!" Bailey interrupted crossly, "I said I don't want to hear any of your dumb stories!"
The Wookiee's back stiffened in surprise. [Okay,] he said finally, trying to keep the hurt out of his voice. [We can do something else then.]
"I don't wanna do anything." Bailey gave Chewie a brief glance of annoyance and then turned back toward the wall. "I just wanna be by myself."
Chewbacca's shoulders slumped in defeat. The they both sat there for a moment, the silence weighing heavily on them. Suddenly Bailey sniffed softly. The Wookiee looked over and noticed a subtle quaking in the boy's shoulders. He reached out and placed a comforting hand on the child's arm. [Why do you cry, cub?]
"I'm not crying," the boy insisted, but the tremble in his voice suggested otherwise.
[It's okay,] Chewbacca said gently, [Even big boys cry sometimes.]
Bailey turned to him, his eyes wide and shiny with tears. He sniffed. "Have you ever cried, Uncle Chewie?]
The boy wiped his cheeks with the back of his hand. "When?" He asked.
Chewie sighed, and turned away. "When your dad died," he mumbled softly.
Bailey turned back to the wall. "Oh."
Another moment of silence hung over them. Finally the child spoke up, his voice muffled as he talked to the wall. "Do you think my daddy would of liked me?"
[Yes,] Chewie answered without hesitation, [He would've loved you.]
Bailey digested this for a second. He hesitated and then turned to face the Wookiee again. "But how do you know that?"
[I know that,] Chewbacca answered confidently, [because he was my best friend.] He smiled down at the boy, [And now you are too.]
Bailey smiled up at the Wookiee, his cheeks still wet with tears. "I am?"
The child sniffed again and his smile faltered as his expression grew serious. "Uncle Chewie?" His voice was now hushed, as he looked up at the Wookiee with a sober expression.
Bailey's gaze flickered to the doorway, and seeing it was empty, he turned back to the Wookiee. "If we're best friends, then I can tell you secrets right?"
Chewie's expression grew curious. [Sure,] but his tone rang with a twinge of uncertainty.
"And you can't tell anyone else, right? Because we're best friends?"
The Wookiee nodded hesitantly, [Yes, I guess that's how it works.]
The child stood up in his bed with a suddenness that startled Chewie. Bailey gazed at him intently. "Then I'm gonna tell you somethin','" he gave Chewbacca an imploring look. "But you gotta swear on the Force that you won't tell anyone. Especially, Momma."
Chewie shifted uncomfortably on the bed. He didn't know if he should promise to keep something from Leia. It didn't feel right, but at the same time he guessed it was important to allow the boy to get whatever was bothering him off his chest. Afterwards, Chewbacca reasoned, he could always urge the boy to go to his mother himself. [Okay, buddy,] he said finally, [I won't tell anyone.]
Bailey grabbed Chewie's shoulder and leaned in to whisper in the Wookiee's ear. His voice was an urgent hush as he confessed, "I saw Daddy today."
Chewbacca's back stiffened in shock as he digested the boy's words. [What?] He gasped in disbelief.
"In the park," Bailey's grip on the Wookiee's shoulder tightened. "He was watching Momma and Uncle Luke. I saw him."
Chewbacca leaned back to meet the boy's eyes. He studied Bailey's expression as if something found there might confirm or deny the boy's story. [What makes you think it was your daddy?]
Bailey licked his lips, "he was wearing pilot pants and boots." The boy hesitated, "And I - I just knowed it was him." The boy's face twisted in frustration as he struggled to explain himself. "I don't know why, I just knowed."
The Wookiee nodded numbly, unsure of what to say.
The child swallowed. "But Uncle Chewie," suddenly his voice sounded strained, "the bad thing is --" Bailey faltered and suddenly he turned away from his friend. He sniffed as he felt the push of tears in his eyes.
[What is it?] Chewie asked gently.
Bailey turned back to the Wookiee, his cheeks damp again. "The bad thing is that he doesn't like me." He sniffed sadly, "I'm not the kid he wanted."
Chewbacca shook his head in adamant denial. [No, Bailey. That's not true.]
"But it is!" The boy insisted behind his tears. "He went away after he saw me."
Chewie pulled the child into his lap and wrapped a comforting arm around him. [You know what I think?] He said cheerfully, [I don't think you saw your daddy at all. I think you just saw a man who looked a lot like him and you got confused.]
Bailey shook his head, "No. It was him."
[You said you didn't think that this man liked you, right?] Chewbacca asked lightly. [See? Right there I know you didn't see your dad. There's no way he wouldn't like you.] Chewie shook his head and proclaimed, [It's just not possible, why you're one of the neatest people I know!]
Bailey bristled in annoyance, the comforting words of his friend rolling right off him. "Stop saying I'm wrong." The boy abruptly pushed himself out of the Wookiee's lap. "Everyone says I don't know stuff -- but I do!" Bailey began stomping the floor angrily, "I'm sick of people telling me that I am just having dreams when I know I'm not! And I hate grown-ups telling me I didn't see my daddy when I knowed I did!" He glared at his friend accusingly, "I'm not dumb, Uncle Chewie."
Chewie held up his hands defensively, [Okay, Bailey. You're right, I'm sorry.] The Wookiee watched as the boy crossed his arms and gave one last stomp of his foot for good measure. Chewbacca sighed, he meant it when he said Bailey was one of the neatest people he knew, but, wow, did the boy have a temper. Chewie shook his head knowingly. With his genetics it was probably unavoidable. At least it seemed that the present storm was passing.
Bailey sniffed, "So do you believe me then?"
Chewbacca hesitated, [I -- uh, well....] he allowed his voice to trail off.
There was nothing that the Wookiee could say.
The boy was obviously mistaken about what he had seen. But to see him this upset still broke his heart.
Simon stumbled out of the cab, his arms virtually overflowing with bags and suitcases. He dropped them uncerIoniously onto the curb and leaned back into the speeder to give the 'droid the proper amount of credits. "Next time take the straight route," he muttered crossly.
The droid turned to him, his metallic face stuck in an expression of permanent indifference. "Thank you sir," it chirped cheerfully, "And remember to use Coruscant Cabbies for all your travelling needs!"
Simon shook his head in annoyance and pushed himself back out of the speeder. He straightened as the warmth of the muggy night overwhelmed him. His head buzzed a little from the alcohol he had consumed while in flight, but he would be all right. Simon made a face as he breathed in the distinguished smell of air that had been polluted with over a million ships in its lifetime.
Ah, yes. He thought with a derisive snort, it certainly is wonderful to be home again.
Simon tripped forward a step as the cab behind him took off with a start. The man stifled an irritated curse as leaned over to pick up his bags. He was missing New Alderaan already.
"Ooof!" He groaned as he tried to lift the heavy cases. They suddenly felt like they weighed a whole lot more. Simon abruptly stood up, embarrassed at the trouble he was having. He gave a quick look around to see if anyone was witnessing his ineptitude. How mortifying.
Suddenly his gaze caught on a man who was nervously pacing in front of the entrance to the apartment building. Simon peered at him as he took in his appearance. Dark hair. Tall. He looked pretty strong. Simon smirked. Those clothes look like they have probably been through more than a few seasons. Commoner. Yes, perhaps this man could help him out.
"Excuse me," he called pleasantly.
The man looked over at him, his expression startled. He had obviously been pretty entrenched in his own thoughts and was surprised to suddenly be disturbed.
"Yes, you friend." Simon said patiently, "Could you give me a hand with this?" He gave a small embarrassed chuckle. "I seI to be having a bit of trouble."
And here he was, right outside her apartment building, and all he had been able to do was pace back and forth for the past few minutes. The courage he had once used to chase several stormtroopers down the hall of a Death Star had seemed to abandon him upon arriving here. Now he couldn't even summon up enough to simply buzz Leia's apartment. It was pathetic. And Han had been in the middle of berating himself about his dilemma when the high browed gentleman had called over to him. Han looked at the man now. "What?" His voice was laced with distrust.
Simon could feel the muscles in his face ache as he forced another pleasant grin. "Could you help me carry these? Just to the front entrance," he assured him. "Then I can call down my 'droid to get them."
Han slowly approached the man, his hesitant step clearly conveyed his misgivings.
Simon gave him a grateful smile. "Thank you." He shook his head and let out another small chuckle, "It seIs I may have had a few too many drinks in hyperspace after all."
"Yeah well," Han leaned over and lifted two bags, "That's been known to happen."
"Just don't tell my wife," Simon gave him a conspiratorial wink, as he slung another bag over his shoulder, "Eh, friend?"
"Right." Han forced a small smile for the man's benefit. But in reality, the guy was all ready irritating the hell out of him. He couldn't believe Leia could stand to live in the same building with people like this.
The men started walking towards the entrance. Simon swallowed back a hiccup and threw a furtive glance at the yellow stripe running up the other man's leg. "Nice pants," he said, his tone rang with insincerity. "You a pilot?"
"Yes," Han answered tightly.
"Wow, would my son be impressed," Simon announced just a little too loudly. He really did have a few too many while in space. But he wasn't drunk; only commoners got drunk. He had just had a few to celebrate the success of his trip. And he had also needed to relax his nerves a bit before coming face to face with the princess. Simon turned his attention back to the man at his side. "He wants to be a pilot someday, you know."
"Really," the smuggler answered evenly. He was really not up for any polite conversation at the moment.
Simon chuckled as he threw his bag down in front of the entrance, "Yes." He shook his head, "Kids! What are you going to do?" Simon gave the other man a bemused expression, "Of course, I once wanted to be a bantha herder when I was his age." He didn't even try to hide the mirth in his voice, "Ah, well. Let's hope the boy also out grows his little fixation as well. Right?"
Han dropped the bags on the ground with a thump. "Yes, it would be a shame," he said coldly. He felt like he was two seconds away from popping this guy in the mouth. "When the galaxy could sure use some more mindless bureaucrats like you."
Simon blinked. He wasn't sure, but he thought that the man had just insulted him. But surely he wouldn't have dared. Simon gave the smuggler a startled smile, "Yes, well ..."
Han sneered crookedly and then turned to walk away. Suddenly the man was calling after him. "Excuse me, friend --", he said loudly, "Wait a moment."
Han turned back towards the man. Simon gave a smug smile and then tossed him a coin. "For your trouble."
Han shot the man an incredulous look as he caught the coin in his palm. He glanced down at it and was momentarily taken with the 'New Republic' insignia emblazoned on the front. Han gazed back up at the other man coldly. Simon returned the glare evenly, "For some new clothes," he clarified. The man then reached over and pressed the button for his apartment.
Han Solo had to swallow back the urge to shove the coin down the man's throat. And on any other evening he would have -- gladly. But this was not the time to get distracted. This smug bastard would be out of his life in about two minutes, so he was not worth getting arrested over. Not when he had finally gotten this close to seeing Leia again.
Han swallowed. What am I waiting for? He ran a nervous hand through his hair. The smuggler glanced over at the drunk gentleman who was now apparently on the line with his apartment.
"Yes, I know you asked me to call," the man was arguing, his voice still at an inappropriate level. He sighed in annoyance at whatever the person on the other end was saying. "Fine. I'm very sorry. We'll talk about this upstairs. Now please send down the 'droid. And please hurry." The man cast Han a nervous glance and continued on in a whisper that could probably be heard across the street, "There's a man down here and I think he's going to rough me up in a second if I don't get inside."
Han grimaced. Probably talking to his poor wife, the smuggler thought crossly. Well, fine. He would buzz the princess right after this jerk was done. He was hoping that maybe the gentleman would prove himself useful by letting Han in the front door himself, but that looked pretty slim now.
"No, I am not being paranoid!"
Han rolled his eyes and shook his head in disgust. He wandered over to the sidewalk and noticed a small hand held case laying on the ground. It had probably been overlooked by the smug man. Han smirked. Oh, well.
Simon rubbed a frustrated hand against his forehead as he listened to his wife through the speaker. "I'll just come down myself," she said, "It'll give me a chance to have a quick word with you about --" she hesitated, "About Bailey. I'm worried."
Simon instantly sobered a bit. "What's wrong?"
"I don't know," Leia sounded tired. "That's what I need to talk to you about."
Simon shook his head, forgetting for a moment that the princess could not see him. "But the bags are much too heavy."
Leia sighed, "Well, then I'll bring Luke with me. Just hold tight, okay?" And with a click she was gone.
Simon fell against the wall of the building and rubbed his temples. He looked over and noticed that pilot leaning up against one of the columns out front. Actually, all he could see of the man was an elbow that jutted out the side of the long strip of marble, but he knew it was him. In his newfound sobriety, Simon had enough decency to feel a rush of shame at the way he had treated the man. He crimsoned, he dearly hoped that the man hadn't heard what he said to Leia. How truly mortifying!
Han cast a casual look over his shoulder at the smug gentleman. Well, he was done with his conversation. But still, Han had better wait until the man actually went inside. His conversation with Leia was bound to be a remarkably personal moment for them both, and it would be better not to have an audience.
Han continued to lean against the column, impatiently waiting for the intoxicated man to go inside. Finally he was rewarded with the sound of the front door opening.
"Oh, darling," the man proclaimed loudly, "So wonderful to see you again!"
Han smirked at the man's exclamation. What a phony. He shook his head in disbelief. One day he hoped the gent's woman wised up -- for her sake.
"Hello Simon," his wife responded civilly, "I see you've had a nice flight."
Han straightened with a start. Simon? No -- He turned his head, being sure to take a step back so he was barely peeking around the marble column. The smuggler wouldn't be able to believe it if the man he had just had a confrontation with was actually Leia's husband. It would be too bizarre.
But then again, he thought wryly, this whole day had been pretty bizarre so far.
A lean man in black was bending over to pick up the heavier of the bags. Han recognized him instantly. Luke!
Simon smiled appreciatively at the Jedi. "Thanks so much, Luke." He chuckled, "I would take that one myself, but you know --" he gave his brother-in-law a wink, "I lack any formal Jedi training."
Luke smiled patiently at the man, "Don't worry about it." As he stood up again, his body straightened to reveal Leia standing behind him.
Han could feel the breath get caught in his throat. He steadied himself against the pillar, suddenly grateful that it was there to carry his weight. Leia had one of the smaller bags slung over her shoulder. She gave Simon a small smile as she looked up at him, but there was strain in her eyes. The princess was uncomfortable. Han could tell. "Well, are you ready to go inside?" Her voice was filled with forced cheer, "Or should we wait around so we could invite Simon's bloodthirsty thug in for some Kashyyykian tea?"
Simon gave an insincere chuckle. "Oh, Leia," he said lightly, as the trio pushed their way through the doorway, "I was only being paranoid. Surely you know me by now ..."
And then they were gone.
Han turned and slumped against the column in defeat. He had blown it. For the second time today. That had to be getting close to a new record for him.
Han ran a frustrated hand through his hair as he cursed his cowardice under his breath. Now what? The smuggler turned and kicked at the pillar in frustration.
Damn! Damn! Damn!!
Suddenly the front door was pushed open and the familiar ring of Leia's voice was once again carried over to him. "-- Oh I see it!" She called behind her as she made her way towards the sidewalk.
Han watched her rapid approach, his stomach tightening in astonishment. She was back! He remained rooted behind the pillar.
And suddenly the princess was right there. In front of him. She was bending over to retrieve the small case from the curb, her profile to the smuggler. Han swallowed. She's right there! Do it! Do it! The smuggler wiped his hands nervously against his pants. Leia straightened. She was rubbing some dirt off the case with her thumb. She turned, her gaze still concentrated on the small black case in her hands. She took a step towards the doorway.
This was it. This was his last chance.
Han cleared his throat. He took a tentative step away from the column.
His voice felt loud and awkward as he forced it from his throat, "Leia?"
The princess froze. Her back became rigid and her arms fell limply to her sides. Everything was suddenly eerily still.
Leia turned around slowly, her chest heaving with anxiety. She could hear a sudden tempo pounding in her ears. Leia looked towards the pillar and her face whitened. She could feel the breath physically leave her as her wide eyes locked with his. The princess could barely move. Her next word came out in a shuddering gasp, "Han?"
The Corellian took another step towards her, his intense gaze never leaving hers. Han let out a shaky breath and gave her a shy crooked smile. "Hey there, sweetheart."
Leia's husband threw Luke a sheepish smile as the two of them stood in the front lobby of the apartment building. Simon shifted uncomfortably under the weight of his two bags. "I can't believe I almost left that small one behind," he said with a trace of embarrassment in his voice. Simon shook his head in disbelief, "I don't where my brain is at today."
Luke smiled tightly. He was pretty sure he could pinpoint the reason for the man's absent-mindedness, but the Jedi was too polite to voice it. "You must be exhausted from flying," he finally replied. Luke motioned his head towards the turbo-lift. "Why don't we go on ahead upstairs. Leia will follow us up."
Simon shook his head, "That's silly." He insisted, "Leia will only be a second. Why she should be back in a --" Simon faltered as his gaze caught on something through the front window. The princess was standing with that scruffy space pilot. They seemed to be talking. Simon sighed impatiently, "Look at that." He said, nodding his head at the window. "Always one for the people, my princess."
Luke followed the man's gaze and smiled as he took in the sight of his friend. There he was. Han Solo. Luke was pleased to see that he had finally come forward. Of course, the Jedi had known for some time that he would. Luke had foreseen it. But the reality of his friend's appearance was still something else entirely. It gave him a thrill.
"But I guess you've got to admire that," Simon continued, his voice rising with an uncertain pride. "Not many in her position would stoop to talk to the commoners like that." He gave his brother-in-law a knowing look, "I know I sure wouldn't bother." Simon chuckled, "Unless of course, I'm running for office."
Luke could feel himself tense at the man's words, but he pressed a smile onto his face before turning back to him. "Yes, well --" the Jedi said with forced casualness in his voice, "It looks like she'll be talking for a few minutes. Let's not stand around here waiting."
Simon cast another glance out the window. "I don't know," he said reluctantly, "Should we really leave her alone with -- with that man?"
Luke couldn't suppress his small grin. "Yes," he said with confident amusIent, "I'm quite certain she'll be perfectly safe with him." And with a gentle nudge of one of his bags, the Jedi urged Leia's hesitant husband towards the turbo-lift.
Luke turned around only once, to cast one last look through the front window. He smiled as he took in the sight of his stunned sister standing before the smuggler. Leia had just had the shock of her life, but the Jedi knew she was going to be all right.
Outside in the muggy warm air, Leia couldn't breathe. She was removed from everything. From her own body. Even the constant drone of passing ships had silenced. There was nothing around her. There was only Han. She felt numb.
He looked exactly as she remembered. The same loving glint in his eyes, the familiar turn in his mouth. That same endearing scar marred his chin. And he hadn't aged a day. It was as if he had just walked straight out of her memories to be before her now. He was untouched by time.
And he was standing right in front of her.
The princess swallowed. She was unaware that her legs were even supporting her until suddenly they began to buckle. Han took a quick step towards her and reached out his arms to steady her.
Leia released a startled gasp as she suddenly felt the warm pressure of his hands. They were gently gripping her arms. It was as if the physical contact had finally made the reality of the situation come rushing down on her. Her eyes fleeted to his hands in amazement before returning to his face. "Han ..." she breathed in disbelief, her eyes flooding with tears.
"Princess," he smiled, but his heart was racing wildly in his chest.
Leia looked up at him, her eyes shiny and her expression stunned. "But where --" she shook her head in slow confusion. "How ...?"
Han brought a hand up to her face and lightly brushed away a tear with his thumb. Leia closed her eyes at the tender gesture, her chest rising and falling as she fought to catch her breath. They were silent for a moment. Suddenly Leia looked back up at him, eyes still wide with wonderment. "Are you real?" She finally asked, her voice barely above a whisper.
Han nodded slowly, his gaze locked in steadily with hers. "Leia," he said, his voice was trIbling, "I missed you."
"Oh, Han," she gasped and he pulled her to his chest. He wrapped his arms tightly around her as she buried her face against him. The smuggler could feel the warmth of tears soaking through his shirt. "I missed you, too," she exclaimed, her body shaking. "Oh gods, I've missed you ..."
Leia tightened her hold around him, her mind suddenly reeling. Don't be a dream. Don't be a dream. She couldn't believe this was real. It was too wonderful. Too perfect. But as she inhaled she could actually breathe in his familiar musky scent. And with her head up against his chest she could almost feel the beating of his heart. This is real. Oh gods, this is actually happening. And as she felt him press his lips against the top of her head she realized how perfectly the two of them still fit together.
This is bliss.
Leia gently pulled back from him, her face still a mask of amazed disbelief. There was so much she needed to know. She gazed up at the smuggler, her eyes filled with a million questions. Leia didn't even know how to sort through them all. Where does one even begin? "Han," she finally managed in a throaty whisper, "Where did you come from? Wha-- we thought you...."
Han gave her a small comforting smile, one hand still tenderly caressing her cheek. He gave a slight shrug, "I don't really know."
Leia's brow rose in confusion, "But I -- how did you --"
"Lando found me." His eyes combed every inch of her face, as he tried to desperately soak up every detail. "They let me out of carbonite a few days ago."
"What?" Leia's voice rose slightly at this revelation, "You mean you've been ... all this time?" She turned her head as she tried to digest this piece of information. Her stomach tightened as she thought of him trapped like that. And for so long....
Han gently tilted her chin back towards him. "Well of course," he said trying to keep his voice light. "You don't think I would've stayed away otherwise, do you?"
Leia shook her head slowly as she felt another rush of tears push from her eyes. "No, but I --"
She sniffed. "I just can't believe this." The princess gazed up at him. She wanted to prove this was real. It felt real. But so did all those other times. She reached out and lightly touched his jaw. Han was even more handsome than she remembered. She traced a light finger over his scar. He just gazed down at her intently. "Just don't be another dream, okay?" There was a desperate vulnerability in her voice. It was something the smuggler was not used to hearing from her. "I don't think I could take that."
Han gently reached up and trapped her hand into his own. He then turned his face and placed a soft kiss on her palm. "I'm not going anywhere," he finally replied.
Leia smiled. Her heart was so flooded with relief at his words, that her mind didn't even consider the full implications of what he said. And what it meant in the reality of things.
Leia leaned back into his comforting Ibrace. All the princess knew at that moment was that she was finally back in the arms of Han Solo.
And she never wanted to leave.
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