While You Were Gone: Part Four
Stoned Rose

Chewbacca leaned over the kitchen sink, his head bowed in deep thought.

He was supposed to be fetching a glass of water for Bailey, but his mind just kept running over the conversation they had just had. Chewie shook his head at it all. He didn't know why the boy's proclamation ate away at him so much, but it did. The child was obviously mistaken, that was plainly obvious. But still ... there was something in the boy's eyes that affected the Wookiee. He just couldn't brush off Bailey's claims that easily. And this bothered Chewie -- a lot.

He needed to talk to Leia. But Chewbacca also didn't want to break his promise to the child. He felt impossibly stuck. The Wookiee sighed mournfully. He wanted so much to believe the boy. Too much. But he knew better. It was all just wishful thinking.

Chewie was pulled out of his reverie by the sound of the front door sliding open. Suddenly Simon's familiar voice was ringing through the apartment. "-- I'm telling you Luke. Next time you go off planet you simply must take one of these transports!" There was the sound of heavy bags hitting the floor. "They treat you to all the perks, it's wonderful!"

"Actually, Simon," Luke replied lightly, "I usually take my X-Wing when I fly. So I don't think --"

The man interrupted his brother-in-law with a good-natured chuckle. "X-Wing. Yes, well," his voice grew louder as he walked towards the kitchen. "If you ever want to travel in style ..." Simon entered the kitchen and smiled upon seeing the Wookiee. "Oh, hello, Chewbacca."

Chewie growled a greeting back to him.

Simon smiled blankly up at the Wookiee, before casting a questioning glance at the Jedi who stood over his shoulder. Luke smiled patiently and patted his brother-in-law on the shoulder. "He's just welcoming you back, Simon."

The man nodded back up at the Wookiee pleasantly. "Yes, well." He forced a smile. "Thanks so much, it's certainly wonderful to be back."

Chewie gave a quick nod of acknowledgement and then threw a look over the heads of the two men. He turned to Luke questioningly, [Where's the princess?]

Luke looked up at the Wookiee with an unreadable expression on his face. The Jedi's eyes flicked briefly to Simon, who was heading for the fridge unit, and then back up to Chewie. "She's downstairs," he replied carefully.

Chewbacca gave the Jedi a curious look. It almost seemed like Luke was holding back something, but the Wookiee didn't press it. [Well, I hope she's back soon. I need to talk to her.]

Luke nodded in understanding. He wanted to tell Chewbacca. The Wookiee, after all, deserved to know. But Luke couldn't fill him in yet. The Jedi glanced guiltily at Simon, who was now rummaging through the fridge for something to eat. No, not with Simon here. Oh, he knew Leia's husband was going to have to find out eventually, but not yet. This was too delicate a time for everyone. And force knew, that if Simon caught wind of the fact that it was Han Solo downstairs talking to his wife, he would put an end to that conversation pretty quick. Luke looked back up at the Wookiee and gave him an assured smile. "Don't worry, Chewie, she'll be back up sooner or later."

Simon turned from the fridge and gave Luke a knowing look. "I'd say she better be up here 'sooner'. I still don't feel right about leaving her with that pilot person."

Chewie gave Luke a curious look. [Who?]

The Jedi opened his mouth to answer, but Simon just continued on, his head shaking in disgust. "Does she have her comlink on her? I say that if she's not up here in five minutes, we give her a call."

"Come on, Simon ..."

"No, I mean it Luke." The man gave his brother-in-law a pointed look, before returning to his search for food. "I don't really feel like finding my wife in pieces all over Coruscant due to some deranged spacer." His voice had taken on a tinny quality from inside the fridge unit.

Luke shook his head in amusement, "You're being ridiculous. Need I remind you that -- "

But Simon had already moved on. He popped his head out of the fridge and gave his brother-in-law an incredulous look. "I don't believe this," he announced in annoyance. "Someone ate all my nerf! I was going to make sandwiches with that!"

Chewbacca quickly averted his eyes guiltily, [I better get Bailey his water now.] He grabbed the glass off the counter and was about to head off to the bedroom when the appearance of the boy himself stopped him in his tracks. [Hey Bailey, you're up.] He said cheerfully.

Bailey nodded from the doorway. "I heard Simon. Is he home?"

Simon's brief annoyance dissipated at the sound of his name. His face lit up. "Is that my little man?"

Bailey smiled and ran over to greet his stepfather. "You're back," the boy exclaimed happily. He thrust out his arms and Simon swooped him up with a flourish.

"How's my little guy? Have you been a good boy while I've been gone?"

Bailey nodded enthusiastically. "I've been real good."

Simon raised an eyebrow. "Really, truly?"

"Uh, huh." The boy smiled shyly at him. "Did you miss me?"

"Yes," Simon feigned a serious expression, "but only a little."

Bailey giggled. "Good, 'cos I didn't miss you at all!"

Chewbacca smiled at this exchange. It was good to see the child suddenly back in better spirits, but it also puzzled him. The Wookiee had never seen Bailey greet his stepfather with such enthusiasm. The boy was always glad to see him, that was true, but this kind of unrestrained display of affection was usually reserved only for Leia. Or himself. He threw Luke a questioning glance, but the Jedi only returned his look with a tense smile.

His stepfather let out a little 'huff', as he gazed down at the boy adoringly. "Well," he said, "if you didn't miss me, then I guess I won't give you your present."

The boy's eyes widened in delight. "You got me a present??"

"Maybe ..."

Bailey suddenly squirmed with excitement, "Can I have it now?"

Simon smiled good-naturedly at the boy and set him back down on the floor. "I suppose." There was a mischievous twinkle in his eye. "Go check out my blue bag -- in the side pocket."

"Yay!" Bailey started off in a flash, but he came to a sudden screeching halt at the doorway. He turned back to his stepfather and suddenly gave him another shy smile. "I love you, Simon."

The man returned it with a startled grin, he was touched by the boy's words. "I love you too, Bailey. Very much."

The child's smile broadened and his eyes briefly fleeted up to the Wookiee. Chewbacca returned the look. Gazing down at the boy, it was as if he felt a sudden wave of sad understanding wash over him. But then Bailey looked away and grinned back at his stepfather. "I'm gonna open my present now." And he took off.

Simon gave the Wookiee and the Jedi a sheepish smile. "What a sweet kid," he said, shaking his head wistfully.

Luke nodded in easy agreement, but he felt a rush of shame color his cheeks. It was as if watching the scene between Bailey and his stepfather had reminded him of everything that was suddenly at stake. He had felt a sharp pang of guilt as he looked at Simon. The man wasn't all that bad. Sure, he tested even the endless patience of the Jedi at times, but seeing him with his stepson proved that there was a genuine goodness inside the man as well. This must be what Leia sees.

Luke had to admit that he suddenly felt a little sorry for his sister's husband. He was so oblivious to the fact that only within the last few minutes, his life had been completely altered forever.

Simon was about to have the rug pulled out from beneath him, and he didn't even have the faintest idea.

* * * * *

Leia raced to keep up with Han as he led her through the busy streets of Coruscant. Upon that final embrace outside her apartment building, the two of them had suddenly become aware of just how public they were. They wanted to be alone. Have some privacy. And since going up to Leia's apartment was decidedly out of the question, Han suggested that they take a walk. Preferably in an area of the city that was a little more secluded.

So now the two of them were weaving between masses of pedestrians, both of them desperate to get to a place where they could talk more easily. The princess' mind was still having a hard time coming to terms with the situation she suddenly found herself in. That's Han holding my hand! His assured grip felt so warm and secure. And familiar. She still couldn't believe that she was actually feeling his touch again. It was so unreal. It was so wonderful.

Han threw her a broad smile from over his shoulder, "Am I going too fast for you, Princess?"

Leia raised her chin a little, her eyes sparkling with amusement. "I have never had any trouble keeping up with you, Captain."

The smuggler gave her a knowing wink. "Yeah, I know," he admitted, a crooked grin on his face.

The princess felt a charge course through her at the sight of that familiar expression. Gods, she had missed so much about this man. And suddenly with every passing moment he was allowing more memories to come flooding back to her.

Only now, they didn't hurt her. No, now they thrilled her.

Suddenly Han turned a corner and Leia realized that he was leading her back to the park where she had just been this afternoon. But now it was blanketed in darkness, the moons overhead casting the only light across the grassy area. The trees loomed over them, their black silhouettes casting shadows over the couple. But it was almost comforting. As if they were being protected from the harsh realities that awaited in the city that surrounded them.

Han gave Leia's hand a gentle squeeze, as the two of them slowed their pace. "I thought we might find some quiet here."

The princess smiled up at him. "It's perfect," she said softly.

He gave her hand another squeeze, and then cleared his throat. Leia had begun filling him in on the victory of the Rebellion while on the walk over here. Han was glad to finally learn the details, but when he had asked what had gone on in the last few years, what he had really meant was what had been going on with her. But still, he was curious about the war so he had listened to her patiently while she filled him in. Han wasn't too anxious to talk about Simon yet anyway. Probably Leia wasn't either, and maybe she had deliberately misunderstood him. "So," he finally said, "you weren't involved in the battle of Endor then?"

The princess' cheeks pinkened slightly, and Han could feel her hand clench nervously in his grip. "Um, no." Her voice was hesitant, "I wasn't really in any condition to fight." She suddenly diverted her eyes down to the ground in front of them.

The smuggler shot her a curious look, and Leia swallowed. She didn't know why she was so nervous all of a sudden. "I -- uh, was sort of um," she let out a shaky breath, "very pregnant at the time."

Han's face softened and he came to a sudden stop. He looked down at her apologetically, "Oh yeah, of course. I wasn't thinking."

Leia had stopped too, and now she gazed up at him with surprised confusion.

Han could read her questioning look and gave her a small reassuring smile. "I know already," he said softly, "about Bailey, I mean."

Suddenly it felt like time was standing still. The princess opened her mouth in surprise as she gazed up at the smuggler. She didn't say a word. Her mind was reeling. You 'know'? But what do you think? It was as if her whole world was resting on what he said next. She desperately wanted to know how he felt about learning about Bailey, but she lost her nerve. Instead she asked, "How? Did Lando tell you?"

Han released a shaky breath, "Sorta." He turned away shyly for a moment and then looked back down on her with an embarrassed smirk on his face. "I kinda saw you today. When you were here."

"You did?" The princess' eyes widened with amazement. "You were here?"

"Yeah." Han looked down at the ground, and shifted his weight restlessly as he struggled with what to say next. Finally he looked up at her and gave her a tender smile. "He looks just like you, Leia," he said with hushed awe.

Leia blushed at his remark and averted her eyes shyly. "That's funny," she replied softly, "I always thought he looked like his father." She cast a quick glance up at the smuggler and nervously tried to gage his reaction.

Han just returned the look intently, his expression impossible to read. Finally, he turned away and gave a casual shrug. "Ah, well," he said in an attempt to lighten the mood, "Either way, I guess the kid's destined to be good-looking."

Leia put a hand over her mouth and stifled a small laugh. She was so nervous that it had just blurted out. Han grinned at her response, it warmed him to see her smile like that. He had a feeling she hadn't done much of it in awhile. She looked up at him, her mouth curved in amusement. "It's good to see that the years haven't made you too humble, Han."

The smuggler raised his eyebrows in amusement. "Yeah?" He brought her hand up to his mouth and kissed it softly. "Because did I say 'good-looking'? What I really meant was gorgeous." He pulled her gently towards him, his gaze clouding over with a familiar desire. "You're so gorgeous, Leia."

Han leaned into her. Leia closed her eyes as she felt his lips lightly brushing against the nape of her neck. She wrapped her arms around him to pull him closer. She felt faint as his mouth continued to work its way up to her earlobe. "Han ..." she gasped weakly.

"Mmhm?" He murmured against her skin.

The princess summoned up enough self control to gently push him away. "Wait a second," she said in an urgent whisper. Leia paused to catch her breath, "If you saw me at the park, why didn't you talk to me then?"

Han gave a slight shrug, his hands reaching to pull her close again. "I just misread the situation," he said casually, "That's all." He smiled at her knowingly, while his face inched closer.

Leia shook her head in confusion, "But how -- ?" She gasped at the sudden light pressure of his warm lips trailing along her jawline. The princess took a steadying breath as she fought to regain control over her thoughts. She pressed her eyes shut as she pushed herself out of his embrace. "Wait, Han. Really."

Han gave her a questioning look. "What's wrong?"

"What do you mean by that?" Her expression was puzzled, "That you 'misread the situation'?"

The smuggler gave her a light-hearted smile. "I thought that you and Luke were ..." he paused as if searching for the right word, "Together. You know ..."

Leia's brow shot up in mild surprise, "Me and Luke?"

Han shook his head sheepishly, "Yeah. But Lando told me you aren't so -- " he reached out a hand and rubbed her arm gently. "Now I know there's not a problem ... ."

Leia stiffened. Her mind suddenly flashed to Simon. She stepped back out of the smuggler's reach. "No, wait. There is a problem."

Han swallowed. "What do you mean?" He asked hesitantly, but the smuggler knew with a sudden dread what was coming.

"Han," Leia was gazing up at him intently now, her eyes wide and beseeching. She reached out for him, her ears pounding nervously. Her heart tightened as she took one of his hands into hers. The princess desperately did not want to hurt him, but she knew he had to know. "I -- I'm married," she blurted suddenly.

Han's shoulders sagged. He turned away from her, pulling his hand with him. "I know," he mumbled softly.

"You know?" Her voice rang with surprise, "But then why did you think -- "

"I don't know," Han interrupted, a frustrated edge in his voice. He suddenly gazed back up at her, his expression mournful. "I guess I wasn't thinking at all. I guess I didn't want to."

The smuggler ran a frustrated hand through his hair and tried to ignore the disbelieving stare of the princess. Han knew he had been deluding himself. For him to actually believe that he could just take back Leia without complication was ridiculous. He was no dummy. Han knew Leia better than that. She would never disregard something like marriage vows so casually. Even if it was for him. Han shook his head in annoyance, mad at himself for actually being so naive. In his desperation to believe he could just grab Leia back, he had also been really stupid.

"Han, I -- " But the princess didn't know what to say. She studied Han's downcast expression and her heart clenched painfully. Leia wished things could be as simple as Han had imagined. But it was impossible. "I'm sorry," she finally replied.

Han acknowledged her apology with a resigned nod. He let out a anguished sigh before dropping himself down on a nearby park bench. The smuggler leaned forward with his head in his hands, his gaze pointed straight at the ground. A long stretch of silence hung between them. Finally, Han tilted his head back up at her. Then he asked, in a voice barely above a whisper, "Do you love him?"

Leia visibly tensed at the question. She averted her gaze and her eyes darted around their surroundings nervously. It was as if she thought she could find an acceptable answer to his question written in one of the trees. Yes? No? I don't know? The princess swallowed. She finally summoned the courage to meet Han's steady gaze. His expression was so vulnerable, so open at that moment that Leia had to literally catch her breath. She opened her mouth to answer, but suddenly Han was shaking his head. "No, forget it," he said, his voice suddenly louder, "I don't want to know."

The princess' shoulders sagged in relief. Good, she really didn't want to answer the question. Leia wasn't even sure if she knew how to respond anyway. Her heart ached as she gazed down at the smuggler. He looked so uncomfortable. So depressed. And it was all her fault.

Leia took a seat next to Han on the bench, but he still didn't look at her. He let out a shaky breath, and leaned back on the bench. His gaze was now directed up at the sky. The air seemed suddenly warmer, stifling, as the two of them sat there in a long silence. Leia studied Han carefully. The muscles in his jaw were tense and he rubbed his hands nervously against his pants. It was as if he was struggling to voice something, but couldn't get the nerve. The princess turned her head upwards, trying to trace his gaze with her own. She knew Han had something on his mind, but she would be patient.

"Leia," he finally said a moment later, his voice trembling nervously. "I know it's been a long time for you," he let out a pained sigh, "A really long time." Han continued to look up as he spoke, as if afraid to actually meet her gaze. "You've been through a lot over the years. A lot. So much has changed." He glanced at her fleetingly before returning his gaze to the stars. "I do understand that. Don't think I don't. But -- " his voice faltered and he had to take a steadying breath. "But while it's been seven years for you, it's only been a few days for me." Han paused to rub the back of his neck nervously before continuing. "All that stuff, our time on the Falcon, Cloud City -- " he swallowed. "While that may be a distant memory to you, for me it was only last week."

"Han -- " Leia interrupted, her eyes filling with tears, "don't -- "

"No wait," he said firmly, "just let me finish." Han gave her a sad smile before continuing. "And no matter what you may think of me now, there's something I want to tell you." He tentatively reached out and wrapped his hand around hers. Han turned his face to her, his gaze suddenly meeting hers. "I love you," he swallowed. "And I'm not saying this to hurt you, or make this harder on you." He gave her hand a gentle squeeze. "I'm just telling you now, in case you ever had any doubt. Or if you ever thought otherwise." Han gave her another sad smile. "I love you," he repeated softly, "and I just wanted you to know that."

Leia straightened at his words, a small tingling chill raced up her spine. She looked around in awe. It was as if she had finally noticed her surroundings; the dark muggy night, the smooth park bench ... .The princess turned back to Han, her expression one of utter disbelief.

I love you ... .I just wanted you to know that.

Leia had heard the words before. Over and over again. In her sleep. Her gaze strayed down to their hands. She noticed the way their fingers were intertwined, and how perfect they seemed to fit. And how right it all felt.

And suddenly she knew. The princess turned her eyes back up to the despondent smuggler at her side. "Han," she said softly. He looked over at her reluctantly, as if petrified of what she might say. Leia gave him a comforting smile, "I love you, too."

Before he could even respond, the princess leaned up and kissed him firmly on the mouth. And as she felt his arms wrap around her, Leia only knew one thing.

This was where she belonged.

* * * * *

Bailey held up the small statuette with a sour expression on his face. "What is it?" He asked, unable to hide the disappointment in his voice.

Simon leaned over and took the gift from the child's hand. "Why it is an ancient Alderaanian goddess." He kneeled down before his stepson. "There have been many legends written about her, and they say she brought brilliance and wealth to our people."

Bailey gave his stepfather a skeptical look. "Oh," he said weakly, "Neat."

Simon chuckled good-naturedly at the boy's lack of enthusiasm. "Well, don't get too excited about it."

The child forced an innocent expression on his face. "No really, Simon. I like it." He smiled weakly at his stepfather, "Thank you."

Simon patted the boy lightly on the head. "I just want you to know where you come from." He handed the statuette back to the boy. "It's important to know your roots. And being Alderaanian is very, very special."

Bailey turned the statuette over in his hands, studying it with half-hearted interest. "I know," he said flatly. What the boy had really hoped to get was a Space Racer helmet. It wasn't that the child didn't like learning about Alderaan, but he had heard all this from his stepfather before. For some reason all this stuff was really important to Simon. Bailey tried to be a good boy about it and pay attention, but sometimes all the Alderaan talk got a little boring.

"Good, I'm glad you understand me." The boy fidgeted under Simon's suddenly intense stare, "Someday you will be a great leader for our people. Perhaps it will be you who will bring wealth and brilliance to New Alderaan." His stepfather smiled broadly and gave the boy's shoulder a friendly squeeze. "How does that sound?"

"It sounds okay, I guess." Bailey looked up at him hesitantly, "But can I still race in my space cruiser too?"

Simon bit back an impatient sigh, and forced a small grin on his face. "Why, certainly," he replied evenly.

"It would actually be a good plan," the child announced proudly, "because I can drive this fortune to these people in my ship." He beamed at Simon in delight. "And then I can bring it to them fast!"

"Well," Simon objected lightly, "That's not really what I meant ..."

Bailey's face lit up and his voice rose in excitement, "And can I bring some of those credits I bring to New Alderaan also to Corellia?

His stepfather's brows rose in slight disapproval, "Corellia?"

"Well, I'm Corellian too," the boy explained with enthusiasm, "and I wanna share the credits with them so they don't feel left out."

Simon stood up abruptly. "Well ..." he said carefully, "I think Corellia can take care of itself. After all, there are millions of them, but there are only a few Aldaraanians." He gave Bailey a tight smile. "Besides, being Alderaanian is a lot more special. Let's just concentrate on that, okay?" His stepfather cleared his throat, as if to formerly end the conversation, and then headed back towards the kitchen.

Bailey suddenly felt a small panic as he watched the man walk away. He's not mad at me is he? "Simon, wait!" The boy called in desperation.

Simon paused and looked back at the child. "Yes?"

Bailey ran up to him, his eyes pleading. "Don't go. I didn't mean to make you mad."

His stepfather looked down at him, his expression baffled. "What? I'm not mad -- "

"I'm sorry," Bailey looked up at him imploringly, "I was being dumb. I won't share the credits if you don't want me to."

"Bailey, it's all right," Simon explained patiently, "I'm not mad at you." He ruffled the child's hair lightly. "You have a big heart and that's a good thing. Just as long as you don't let it get in the way of your future achievements."

The boy stared up at his stepfather, his eyes wide and nervous. "So you're not mad? You still like me?"

Simon reached down and pulled the boy up in his arms. "Yes, of course I do." He gave the child a comforting smile. "Now let's get you tucked in before Mom gets home and sees you're still up."

And it was then, as he was taking the child back to his bedroom, that Simon realized how late it had gotten. He glanced at his wrist chrono with a mixture of irritation and worry.

Where was Leia anyway?

* * * * *

The princess leaned into the crook of Han's arm and sighed contently. The two of them were back on the streets of Coruscant, walking towards her apartment. They had spent the last hour or so talking and Leia tried to fill Han in on some of what had been going on with her, Chewie and Bailey. But she pretty much side-stepped any questions he asked regarding Simon and their marriage. This didn't escape Han's notice, but instead of dwelling on it he tried to lighten the mood. Once was by pointing out that while she had kept pretty busy, he had been doing nothing but literally "hangin' out" for the past seven years. The princess had batted him playfully for his flippant remark, but really it pained her to think of him frozen in carbonite all that time. She looked up at him now with a smile, "You made me forget what I was talking about."

Han grinned down at her, "'Tales of Bailey's mischief'. Chapter Twelve."

Leia laughed lightly, "Oh yeah. That's right." She shook her head in amusement. "Sometimes I think it's a miracle that my hair has not turned completely white by now. Bailey can be a handful." But even as she said this there was a delighted twinkle in her eye which betrayed her complete adoration for the boy. It was obvious to Han how crazy she was about her son. Our son. He reminded himself.

Leia suddenly shot Han a nervous look. "But really, he's a very good boy," she amended, "for the most part." The last thing she wanted to do was scare the smuggler off. Maybe it was a little silly for her to worry, he said he loved her after all. But it was at that moment that she realized just how desperately she wanted him to love Bailey, too. It meant everything to her.

As if reading her thoughts, Han leaned over and kissed her gently on her brow. "I'm sure he is," he whispered comfortingly, "and I can't wait to meet him."

Good. Leia relaxed noticeably in his arms. She smiled absently as her thoughts began to travel back to their time in the park. What an incredible night it had turned out to be. Han loves me! Of course she had always known that he had. It had been obvious by the way he looked at her. How he kissed her, touched her. But still, there was still something wonderful about finally hearing him say it. Leia still couldn't believe that this was all happening to her. Here she was, walking in the arms of the man she loved. It was amazing.

"So when can I?"

The princess straightened and turned her head to him. "What?"

Han looked down at her with a soft expectant expression on his face. "When can I meet Bailey?"

Leia opened her mouth to answer and then closed it. She bit her lip, trying to choose her words carefully. "Soon," she replied, "but not yet." The princess noted Han's questioning look and added, "It's complicated." She sighed and before he could interject said, "I just think that I should really talk to Simon first. Before anything else."

Han nodded in understanding, his face hardening slightly at the mention of her husband. There was an awkward silence between them for a moment as they walked along. The smuggler sighed and Leia could feel his chest move from beneath her weight. "What's wrong," she asked finally.

Han shrugged nonchalantly. "Nothin'," he answered.

Leia halted in her step and gently pulled him to a stop. "Han," she looked up at him, her expression curious. "Come on, tell me what you're thinking."

"I ..." he let out a shaky breath, and then quickly shook his head. "Nothing. Really." Han was looking over her head, refusing to meet her gaze.

Leia patted him on the chest, her voice insistent. "No, something's bothering you."

The smuggler finally looked down on her again and swallowed. "I was just wondering what -- ," he faltered, "What are you going to tell Simon? I mean, exactly?"

The princess looked up at him, her brow wrinkling in confusion. "Well, I'll tell him about you, of course."

Han looked down at her, his expression suddenly eager. "No, I understand that. But what are you going to tell him about me?"

Leia shook her head, not understanding what the smuggler was getting at. "I don't know. Just that you're back. You know, and that you want to be in Bailey's life." She shrugged, "I haven't really planned it out yet or anything. I mean you have to admit this is a pretty unusual situation."

Han gave a short nod and led the two of them to start walking again. What he meant to ask the princess, was whether she planned to tell her husband that she was leaving him or not. But suddenly the smuggler found he lost the nerve. "Yeah, you're right," Han finally said his voice tight, "I'm sorry. I'm not trying to make this tougher."

Leia wrapped an arm around his waist and gave him a reassuring squeeze. "You're not," she told him. She gave him a small smile. "And even if you were," she added, "you'd be worth it."

He gave her a grateful grin as the two of them approached her building. As they walked up to the front door, Han felt a feeling of dread mount up inside of him. He didn't want to say good-bye to her. Not yet. Not even for a few hours.

They stopped before the entrance and Leia looked up at the smuggler, and her eyes conveyed that she shared his misgivings about saying goodnight. The princess smiled shyly as she faced him. "I don't know why," she said, trying to keep her voice light, "but I'm scared to let you out of my sight."

Han leaned down and planted a tender kiss on her forehead. "Then don't," he replied softly. He then reached up and gently a brushed a loose strand of hair from her face. "Stay with me."

Leia's mouth curved in amusement, "Where, on Lando's ship?" She gave him a knowing smile, "That might get a little crowded, don't you think?"

Han shrugged his shoulders slightly. "We'll kick him out. Seal the ramp shut. He'll understand." The smuggler gave her a crooked smile, he was only partly kidding. And as Han looked down at the princess, a sudden eagerness appeared in his eyes. His expression became serious. In a low voice he told her, "I want to be with you, Leia."

The princess gazed up at him, her eyes brimming with understanding. "I know," she replied, "I want that, too." She hesitated, her eyes straying from his face, "But not yet, it just wouldn't be right." Leia looked back up at him. "You understand, don't you?"

Han blew out a frustrated sigh and nodded slowly. "Yeah," he admitted, "I know." The smuggler flashed her another quick grin. "But I had to give it a shot -- didn't I?" He brought his face down to hers, a mischievous glint in his eyes "After all, princess," Han murmured, as he leaned in even closer, "I am a scoundrel -- remember?" His breath was hot against her ear.

Leia felt her cheeks flush with excitement. She shook her head in mild protest, amusement lighting her eyes. "No, you're not -- " but she was cut off by the sudden warm pressure of his lips against hers. Suddenly she forgot what she was even going to say. All she could concentrate on was the sensations of his mouth on her. She let out a light moan as she felt the pressure of his lips stray from hers, creating a light trail along her jaw. "Good night, princess," he finally breathed into her ear.

And suddenly he stepped back, a suggestive grin on his face. "Just wanna make sure you think of me tonight."

Leia felt another rush of warmth flood her cheeks. "As if I could think of anything else." There was a teasing light in her eyes. "Scoundrel."

Han chuckled, his smile broadening. "But that's why you love me," his voice rose light heartedly as he took a few steps backwards, "so I wouldn't dare change my ways now."

The princess shook her head in amusement and then gave him a soft smile. Her expression sobered. "Good night, Han," she said reluctantly. Leia gave him one last longing look and then turned to go into the building.

Han grinned as he watched her go inside. He was going to miss her, even over these next few hours until he saw her again. But he was also so overwhelmed with happiness about what had transpired this evening that he was almost giddy. The smuggler was in such a good mood that he even felt like he could treat Lando to a drink. Han shook his head in amused disbelief. But at the moment he really couldn't force himself to be bothered by anything. He had his princess back, and he wanted to celebrate.

The smuggler turned suddenly, only to walk head-on into someone blocking his path. Han looked up at the man in surprise, "Malcolm?"

The sand trader glared at him with his arms crossed against his chest. "Captain Solo," he said evenly, "I have been looking all over for you."

* * * * *

Han Solo glared at the sandtrader who stood before him. The man's stocky frame successfully blocking him from walking any further. Han twisted his mouth into an impatient sneer, "well it looks like you found me, Malcolm. Now what do you want?"

The older man smiled in satisfaction and rocked back on his heels. "Let's just say that you're worth quite a bit of money to me."

Han raised his eyebrows in light amusement, his anger quickly fading. "I am?" He chuckled, "How?" The smuggler shook his head in disbelief. "I don't know if you noticed, but I'm broke. Any credits I did have wouldn't be worth -- " but his voice faltered. Han's face hardened as a frightening realization washed over him. "Wait, a second ..." He gave the sandtrader a cool glare and thrust an enraged finger in his face. "If you even try to turn me over ... ." Han took a steadying breath, "if I even see you go near a bounty hunter Malcolm, I'll take you down with me. I swear I will."

The older man was taken aback. "What?"

The smuggler jutted his chin out at him. "I mean it. Don't test me on this. I just got my life back, and I'll be damned if I let some desperate greedy little filth like yourself take if from me."

Malcolm raised his palms defensively, "You got it all wrong, Captain Solo." He shook his head in denial, but his voice was steady, "I have no intention of turning you over to anybody." He gave the smuggler a good-natured smirk, "I can see that you don't think too highly of me, but I assure you that I don't do business with that sort."

Han let his shoulders sag in relief, but he was still reluctant to trust the guy. "Really?"

"Would I have turned you over to Lando Calrissian, otherwise?"

The smuggler gave Malcolm a double-take. "What? Wait -- " he stammered in disbelief, "It was you who found me?"

The older man smiled, "Yes. Me and Xavier." His grin disappeared and he resumed his stony business only expression. "And let's just say that until we get compensated for our find, you belong to us."

Han's mouth curved up in mild amusement. "In other words, you want a reward for me."

Malcolm shrugged in agreement, "Well, if that's what you want to call it -- then yes."

The smuggler turned his head, the smile never leaving his face. "A reward ... ." He looked back up at the sandtrader, "Trust me, Malcolm," he said, his voice filled with mirth, "I understand you better than you think."

Malcolm raised a doubtful eyebrow but didn't say anything.

"So I'm curious," Han continued on in a light hearted voice, "do you know who are you going to hit up for these credits?"

Malcolm smiled evenly. "The Princess' husband."

The smuggler let out a bellowing laugh. "Simon?" He shook his head in amused disbelief. "Malcolm," he said with a smirk, "You've been smoking spice if you actually believe Leia's husband would give you anything for me." Han couldn't believe how startlingly oblivious this guy was. "You mention my name and I bet he'll actually beg you to stick me back into the carbon freeze."

"You're wrong."

"Oh, I doubt that." Han snorted, "Trust me. You won't see a single credit."

"You're wrong," Malcolm repeated patiently. "I have already met with the man. This evening."

"What?" Han was incredulous.

The sandtrader couldn't keep the satisfaction out of his voice. "He's already agreed to pay me." Malcolm smiled, "plus a little extra."

The smuggler was baffled. "What? Why?"

The older man shrugged. "How am I supposed to know? The only condition was that I find you."

Han shook his head in disbelief, his mind was reeling. "But why would he -- ?"

Malcolm continued on, his voice rising with satisfaction, "He promised he would give me what I wanted and more," the sandtrader met Han's questioning gaze with an unflinching coolness, "And all he wants in return is to meet with you first."

* * * * *

Leia entered her dark apartment with a dreamy grin on her face. The door slid shut behind her with a quiet hiss, and she let herself fall against it in a happy daze. There was no way to erase her smile, it was impossible. She licked her lips absently, still relishing the warmth of his kiss.

Then the princess shook her head in amusement as she remembered the last thing he had called to her. She was glad to see that he hadn't changed. Even underneath the present confusion they were now facing, Han was still the same endearing smuggler that she had fallen in love with.

And yes, she still loved him. With an amazing fierceness that almost surprised her.

Leia headed down the hallway towards the kitchen, noting vaguely how quiet the place was. Everyone must have been in bed. How long was I gone?

The princess walked into the kitchen and made her way over to the fridge unit. She wasn't even going to try to sleep yet. She knew it would be pointless. Her mind would just be spinning away with thoughts about Han, and when she would see him again. Besides, then she would have to face Simon. And Leia really didn't feel up to dealing with him yet. She couldn't even imagine slipping into their bed and sleeping next to him. And gods forbid if he were actually still awake ...

Leia pulled out a container of juice and was startled by a sudden sound coming from the corner of the room. The princess turned with a start and her eyes widened as she took in the presence of a familiar silhouette at the table. "Simon?"

There was a 'clink' as her husband set down a glass. He was drinking. His posture was relaxed as opposed to the rigidness he usually carried himself with. "Where have you been?" His voice was devoid of any emotion.

The princess swallowed and shut the fridge slowly. Suddenly she felt like her heart was racing at hyperspeed. Leia wasn't sure why she was so nervous. She feigned a casual look, "Oh, just out -- talking with someone." Well, she wasn't lying to him. That was true enough. "Why are you sitting in the dark like this?" She asked this lightly, hoping to divert his attention.

"With who?" His voice was hard, Simon had no intention of being distracted.

"Just a man," Leia answered shortly, as she walked over to flick on a switch.

Simon squinted as the kitchen was suddenly bathed with a warm light.

Leia turned to him, and added hurriedly, "I'm sorry I didn't call you, Simon. That was very inconsiderate." She winced at the rushed sound of her voice. She sounded guilty. Leia looked at her husband and forced a casual smile. "It won't happen again."

Simon nodded his head slowly, his expression impossible to read. "You were out with a man." He said, his tone flat. "Just a man," and then he chuckled, but it was devoid of any trace of amusement. "Did you have a good time, Princess?"

Leia shrugged innocently. "It was just business," she was amazed with the ease in which the lie flew out of her mouth. But of course, she had had a lot of practice during her time in the Imperial Senate. And Simon was hardly as imposing as Darth Vader.

Simon smirked in disbelief. "Business?" She must really think I'm stupid. His eyebrow rose in sardonic amusement, "And tell me, beloved wife, do high ranking government officials now double as impoverished space pilots in their off-time?"

Leia sighed in annoyance, a part of her itching to defend Han, while the other half just wanted to end the conversation all together. "He was a voter Simon," she said finally. The princess really did want to be honest, get this all out in the open as soon as possible. But not like this. Not when Simon had been drinking and it was obvious he was looking for a fight. "I owe it to Mon Mothma to hear any New Republic citizen out. It's part of my job."

"Your job?" Simon snorted, "Well, just make sure that when you are out 'collecting votes' for your boss, you don't forget your wedding vows."

Leia glared at her husband, her mouth gaped open in angry disbelief. "And what exactly does that mean?"

"It means what you think it means," he gave her a cool smile, "sweetie."

Leia could feel her cheeks warm with anger, "Simon," she spat, "I really don't think you should preach to me about fidelity."

Simon straightened in his seat. This was not the turn he had wanted this conversation to take. He had pushed her too far. Simon cleared his throat, and softened his tone. "Just what are you implying, Princess?" He allowed a trace of hurt to enter his voice.

Simon now realized that lashing out on the his wife was just making her angrier, and it was time to back off a little. After all, he wanted to save his marriage, not destroy it. But sitting here over the last hour or so, thinking about that pirate Solo had filled him with such a seething rage that he had been unable to stop himself. And the alcohol didn't help. It was affecting his judgment. Simon had to keep a cool head here. Play his proverbial cards right.

Leia gave him a hard look, her gaze searching his face. The truth is, she didn't know what she was suggesting with that last remark. That is, she didn't know if she was right. It was just a nagging suspicion at this point, nothing she could accuse him of with certainty. "I don't know," she finally replied softly, her shoulders sagging. "Nothing, I guess." Leia turned away from her husband. "I'm going to bed," she mumbled weakly, as she headed for the door. The princess paused before exiting, and turned back to her husband with a sober expression on her face. "Tomorrow morning, Simon -- we have to talk."

Simon suddenly felt a stab of panic at the seriousness of her statement. He had pushed her too far. Anxious, her husband jumped out of his seat with a start, "I'm sorry, Leia," he blurted. There was a pleading in his voice, "Really. I was just so worried about you ... I -- I didn't really mean what I said."

The princess' expression softened a little. She gave him a long look, an unspoken mixture of sadness and regret filling her eyes. "Good night, Simon," she said finally, her tone dull. Then without another word, she turned back towards the door and left.

"No wait ..!" Simon fell back into his seat in defeat. He pressed a frustrated hand against his forehead. Oh, he knew what Leia wanted to talk to him about. With a fiery dread in his stomach, he knew.

Simon lifted up his glass to take another drink, but then realized that it was already empty. He slammed it angrily against the table.

That Solo is not taking my family. He had invested too much into them. And Bailey! Simon loved that little boy. And the princess. She was after all his wife.

Her words echoed through his mind: Tomorrow morning ... we have to talk.

That's what Leia had said. Well, fine. They would talk then. Simon gave a satisfactory smile. He would just have to take care of the smuggler before that.

No problem.

* * * * *

Han sat slumped over the bar, his head rested firmly in his hands. It had been a long night. He had tossed and turned for hours, his mind reeling with what Malcolm had told him. Simon wanted to meet with him. Is going to meet with him. And that meeting was now only minutes away.

Han rubbed his forehead tiredly as he tried in vain to block out the incessant drone of the crowded cantina. Even at this early hour in the morning, the place was packed. The smuggler looked around the place with a wary eye, but he figured that most of this crowd had probably not left since they had begun their drinking the night before. He shook his head and shot the older man at his side a disdainful look, "For a man that claims to have a lot of class, Simon sure knows how to pick 'em."

Malcolm gave the smuggler a smirk, "Perhaps he just wants to make sure you feel at home."

Han was not amused. "Nice," he replied evenly. He was in no mood for any of the sandtrader's cute comments at the moment. His mind was too distracted by his pending meeting with Simon. He just couldn't figure it out, what did Simon want with him?

Obviously, he knew that it couldn't be good. He doubted very much that Leia's husband planned to graciously step aside with a bow and declare, "Take my family, Captain Solo. They're all yours." But at the same time, he couldn't picture the man coming in with his fists flying, either. That just didn't seem like Simon's style. Besides, Han knew he could easily take him down, and he was pretty sure that Leia's husband realized that too.

Han's jaw clenched with frustration. But still, it was going to be ugly. There was simply no way that it couldn't be. Simon wouldn't give up, and Han certainly wasn't going to step aside. After all, Leia loved him and Bailey was his son. They were his family. How could he be expected to hand over the love of his life and the child he hadn't even met yet?

The smuggler turned back towards Malcolm with an inquisitive look. "Come on, you have to have some idea of what this is all about."

Malcolm stifled a sigh of annoyance as his mouth hovered just above his ale glass. "I told you a million times, Solo. Simon didn't tell me. All I know is what I told you."

"Well, tell me again then," Han mumbled as he took another quick glance around the cantina.

Malcolm set his glass down with a resigned 'clink.' He wanted to be sure that the smuggler knew how irritated he was at the moment."He woke me up this morning with a call, and said 'Malcolm, make sure Solo is at the spacelane five cantina in 30 minutes. I want to get this meeting over and done with as soon as possible.'"

"And then what did he say?"

Malcolm shot the smuggler a pointed look. "Nothing. He signed off. That's it."

Han shook his head. "Doesn't make sense ... unless -- " The smuggler gave the older man a second look, "you're not setting me up for a blaster burn in the back, are you Malcolm?"

"Course not!" The sandtrader was offended at the very idea.

"Good." Han gave him a crooked smile, "Don't worry, I know you're not really that bad."

Malcolm shot him a dubious look. "Thanks so much for your vote of confidence." The older man suddenly nodded his chin down towards the end of the bar. "What do you think of her?" He asked, motioning to a young woman sitting at the end. She sat sipping at a tall drink, her large eyes gazing unabashedly in their direction.

Han shrugged, "She's okay, I guess."

Malcolm raised an eyebrow at the smuggler's flippant response. "Okay? Just okay?"

Han sighed and gave her another look. He turned back to the older man, "Fine, she's very pretty. So?"

Malcolm smiled knowingly, "She's been checking you out for the past ten minutes." He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively, "You wanna go over there?"

Han shook his head a small smile creeping at the corners of his mouth. "No, thanks. Not interested."

"Mind if I try then?"

The smuggler gave a snort of indifference, "You go right ahead."

Malcolm pushed himself away from the bar, but was stopped by a sudden friendly smack on the back. The two men turned to see Leia's husband beaming good-naturedly, his hands resting companionably on their shoulders as if they were all old friends. "Gentlemen," he announced loudly, "so glad to see you could make it."

Han eyed the man warily. He was immaculately dressed, his clothes finely pressed and not a strand of hair out of place. But there were dark bags under his eyes, and a light shade of growth on his chin. It didn't seem Simon had gotten much sleep the night before either. The smuggler gave the man a hard look. "Simon," he said evenly.

Leia's husband turned to the smuggler, his grin never fading. "So, you've heard of me." The man then looked over at Malcolm and said pleasantly, "Captain Solo and I are just going to have ourselves a little chat over at one of those tables." He motioned his head towards the back corner of the cantina, "Wait for me here, and we'll discuss your -- " he cleared his throat, "compensation."

Malcolm gave a nod of acknowledgment and Simon turned back to the smuggler. "Come on Captain, let's get us a couple of drinks and have a seat."

Han didn't really think he could stomach much at this time of the morning, but Simon was already leaning over the bar and demanding a couple of strong Alderaanian specials. He smiled pleasantly at the female barmaid as she handed over their drinks. And it didn't escape Han's notice when Simon shot her a flirtatious wink before he pushing away from the bar. He gave Han another quick glance and then led them to a table in the back.

Simon selected a corner booth and slid in casually, careful not to spill their drinks. He smiled up at the smuggler, his expression awash with insincerity. "Please, get comfortable and we can have ourselves a friendly little conversation." He held one of the drinks out for Han. "Please," he repeated.

Han reluctantly took the glass from the man's hand. "I'll stand," he managed in a cool voice.

Simon shook his head in feigned amusement. He made a little 'tsk tsk' sound with his mouth, it was barely audible over the drone of the cantina. "Come on, Captain Solo," he began, "Let's try to be civilized here. I have no intention of turning this into some low-grade spacer's brawl." His voice was light, but it had an underlying malice beneath it. "Surely, even you are not below discussing things like a gentleman?"

Han glared at the man, and had to bite back the urge to lunge at him in anger. "Of course not." He reluctantly took a seat across from the man.

Simon gave the captain a smug smile. "I imagine it must be wonderful to finally be free of the ..." he hesitated his eyes straying upward as he searched his memory. His grin never faded, "The carbonite was it?"

"Yes," the smuggler continued to glare at the man steadily.

"Excellent," Simon made a show of brushing some lint off his sleeve and then gave Han another pleasant look. "How marvelous for you. I bet you are eager to return to the stars, am I right?"

Han peered at the man suspiciously before answering, "I'm looking forward to flying again, yeah."

Simon nodded amicably, "Return to your life. Travel the galaxy ..." His brow rose slightly as if something had just occurred to him, "Ooh, and I bet you can't wait to hook up with Chewbacca. Your old 'partner in crime' as they say." Simon chuckled, "But of course, I guess that would be more literal in your case." The man was pleased with his own cleverness.

Han didn't respond right away, he decided to ignore the jab. He looked at Simon, his eyes searching the man's face questioningly. "Well, yeah. Of course I want to see Chewie." Han shifted uncomfortably in his seat before finally leaning forward. "Simon," he said in a low voice, "Why don't you just get to the point, okay?"

Simon widened his eyes in mock innocence. "Well, I'm just thinking out loud here ..." He turned his gaze up at the ceiling, absently rolling the glass between his hands. "With such a glamorous lifestyle as yours, flying from planet to planet, well -- " The man looked back at Han and his gaze hardened, and his hands paused in their work. "It just seems that there isn't much room in there for a child." He smiled evenly, "Or a princess."

Han fell back in his seat, his steely stare never leaving Simon. "So that's what this is about."

"Don't act so surprised, Captain," all pretense of friendliness was now absent from the man's tone, and his expression sobered. "You knew very well what this would be about."

Han gave a conceding nod, "Yeah, of course I did." The corner of his mouth turned up in a sardonic amusement. "But if you honestly think I'm just going to take off with Chewie and never look back then you're setting yourself up for a disappointment."

Simon raised a brow at this but didn't say anything.

"I plan on sticking around for awhile," Han shrugged, "Who knows. Maybe I'll find a job around here. Good pilots are always in demand."

Simon took in a sharp breath and when he spoke it was obvious that he was displeased with the smuggler's response. "Please, Captain Solo. Let's be realistic here for a moment."

Han raised an eyebrow, "I'm sorry. I thought I was being realistic."

The man stuck his chin out, his fingers suddenly tapping restlessly against the edge of the table. He was slowly losing his cool. "Just what do you think you are going to do? Hmm?" Simon smacked his fingers against he the table a little harder, as if to punctuate his sentence. He then leaned forward, his voice raised in anger, "You think you can just come along and disrupt everyone's lives at your convenience?"

Han shook his head, his face incredulous. "Convenience??" He could feel his control thinning rapidly as his anger mounted. "How dare you, Simon." He thrust an angry finger in the man's direction. "Don't sit here and pretend that I consciously abandoned my family. You know damn well this whole thing was out of my control."

Simon's nostrils flared, he was incensed at Solo's nerve. Talking to him as if he were one of the smuggler's common spacer companions. "That may be the case as of right now," he began in furious hiss, "but please don't try to delude yourself -- or me -- into seriously thinking that you are here for good." Simon's breaths were coming out in angry rasps. "I know you, Solo."

"Oh -- oh really?" Han stammered furiously, "You know me??"

"I know you," Simon continued evenly, ignoring the smuggler's enraged glare of denial. "And I know your kind. Oh, you'll stick around for awhile," he conceded, "maybe even a few years. You'll fill the princess with your empty promises. You'll take in that poor boy and make him trust you." Simon's mouth tightened with emotion, "He'll love you -- I know he will. And then just as everyone gets comfortable and content -- that's when you'll get bored."

Han was incredulous, "How dare you think -- "

" -- You'll get bored!!" Simon continued hotly, his voice rising. "And then when you take off to appease your restlessness, you won't give a second thought to the wrecked family you leave in your wake."

Han could hear the blood racing past his ears as he glared at the man. "That's not going to happen," he bit out carefully. "I love Leia."

Simon snorted and his body relaxed against the seat.. "Sure you do," he replied snidely, "this week."

Han abruptly jumped to his feet, knocking over his glass in the process. He was enraged. Simon flinched back nervously as the smuggler stood over him his fists clenched tightly at his sides. The man could feel Solo's spilled drink dribbling into his lap, but he didn't dare move. Han was looking for a fight and Simon was going to have to tread more carefully. His eyes darted around the cantina nervously, but it didn't seem that anyone had taken notice of them. Which of course was why Simon had asked to meet here in the first place. The anonymity. Now he was second-guessing that decision. Simon swallowed. He decided to change tactics. "If you really love her," he began carefully, "then you will hear me out."

"Go to hell."

Simon rose to his feet slowly, his hands held up defensively. "Listen, okay, you do love the princess. Fine. I believe you."

Han couldn't believe this guy's nerve. "I don't really care if you believe me or not," he replied evenly.

Simon straightened. He wanted to meet the smuggler eye-to-eye, but to his chagrin he noted that he stood a few inches shorter than the pilot. Simon cleared his throat, as if trying to rally up some hidden reserve of dignity. "Fair enough," he answered tightly. "But you better believe this: Leia and Bailey are better off without you. And if you were to really think about this you would realize I was right."

Han's jaw clenched in anger. "Well, I think we should leave that up to Leia to decide."

Simon gave a derisive snort. "The princess? Are you kidding?" He shook his head, "She's hardly in any state to look at this rationally."

Han swallowed, his voice was tight as he replied, "I don't know. She's always seemed quite rational to me."

Simon gave him a wane smile. "Sure," he replied smugly, "if becoming involved with the likes of you in the first place could ever be considered 'rational'."

Han had heard enough. His hand flew out and pulled Simon up by his collar. The smuggler's nose was just inches from the man's startled expression. "I should throw you through a wall."

"Do it," Simon said, his voice suddenly trembling. "And I'll have you arrested."

Han's mouth curved into a sneer. "You think jail scares me?" He taunted, "I'm a criminal remember? Isn't that you said?"

Simon swallowed, his eyes bulging in fear as he hung from the smuggler's grip. "Okay, okay!" He sputtered defensively, "I'm sorry! Just hear me out."

Han's grip tightened on the man's shirt. "No," he replied darkly, "I think I've heard enough."

"Listen to me," the man pleaded, his voice straining under a tightly controlled panic. "I want to make this easy for you. I really do."

"Sure you do," the smuggler spat, suddenly turning and pushing the frightened man up against a wall.

"I'll pay you!" Simon blurted in desperation, "Twenty thousand credits!"

Han loosened his grip on the man's collar, "What?"

Simon, sensing that he had gotten through to the enraged smuggler, relaxed slightly. "All you have to do is fly away on your ship and never come back."

Han slowly lowered the man back to the ground and released his hold. He shook his head, his voice filled with awed disbelief. "You're serious."

"Completely." Simon reached into his back pocket and pulled out a small data card. He held it up for the smuggler to see. "It's all right here: twenty-thousand credits. It's yours. And all you have to do is disappear."

Han looked at the man in utter amazement. "And you actually thought I would go for this?"

"I know you will." Simon answered confidently.

Han glared at him, his expression stunned. "You people are something else. You really think you can buy anything or anybody, don't you?"

"Everyone has a price, Captain Solo." Simon let a satisfied smile creep over his face, "And after all, you've accepted money in exchange for the princess before. What would make this time any different?"

The smuggler shook his head, his mind still trying to comprehend the very nerve of this man. "Unbelievable ..." he muttered, his eyes straying to the floor.

"Think of how much you could do with this money," Simon continued, his voice resuming that insincere friendly tone, "Why, you could pay off all your debts. With the rest you and Chewbacca would still be able to live quite comfortably until you resume your, " he hesitated, "employment."

Han shot Leia's husband a questioning look, "Me and Chewie?"

Simon smiled thinly, "Why, yes. Naturally, I would expect you to take the Wookiee with you. Actually," he amended, "I would insist that you take him."

Han looked at the man incredulously, his anger slowly starting to build up in him again. This guy was trying to get rid of both him and Chewie in one foul swoop. And for what? Twenty thousand credits? Did Simon really think so little of his own wife and stepson that he could put a credit value on them? Han could feel his stomach lurch violently at the very idea. As if the princess and their child were merely property of Simon's that could be bought and sold.

The smuggler could feel the muscles in his jaw clench with anger. He motioned to the card in Simon's hand. "Let me see that," he said coolly.

Simon smiled pleasantly, convinced that he had finally been able to get through to the greedy space pilot. He handed Han the card. "Of course, I would insist you that you leave by tomorrow morning." He cleared his throat, "And no seeing my wife or child before then."

Han nodded absently as he looked down at the card. He ran his thumb lightly over the bank code engraved across the front. He had never held so much money in his hand before. It felt strange. "You know what the first thing I'm going to do with all this money?"

Simon smiled indulgently, "What?" He crossed his arms patiently and waited for the smuggler's answer.

Han looked back up the man, his mouth suddenly contorting into a sneer. "This," he said, taking the card into his palm and cracking it in half as he made a fist.

Simon's eyes widened, "Wha -- what do you think you're doing??" He stammered in disbelief, "Tha -- that was a small fortune!"

Han raised his eyebrows, "Oh yeah?" He opened his fist and dropped the broken card onto the table. "Now it's worthless."

Simon eyed the two halves of the card in astonishment, as they were now soaking in a puddle of spilled alcohol. He looked back up at the smuggler, his gaze hard with anger. "You are a very stupid man, Captain Solo."

"Maybe," Han gave him a cool smile, "but I'm also still your problem, and I'm not going anywhere. Get used to it."

Simon didn't know what to say. This was not how it was supposed to go. The smuggler had to have a price. Everyone did. And certainly the Han Solo he had heard about did. So what had happened? Simon watched as the smuggler pushed his way through the crowd, making his way to the exit. And no doubt on his way to see his precious princess, Simon thought snidely. The man was pathetic.

Simon smirked in amusement as a young woman went up to the smuggler and brazenly threw her arms around his waste. Leia's husband wasn't positive, but he was pretty sure that he had seen her sitting at the end of the bar earlier. She's cute. Maybe Solo would hang himself right now. But Simon was disappointed as he watched Han promptly disentangle himself from the woman's embrace. The pilot just mumbled a few words to her and kept walking. Simon shook his head with a snort. That smuggler is unbelievable. You'd think the man was allergic to opportunity the way he kept blowing it off.

Simon blew out a frustrated sigh as Solo finally pushed his way out the front door. Dammit. He really did still have a problem on his hands. A big one. And he needed another plan. Simon shot a quick glance around the cantina, as if desperately searching for inspiration. His eyes caught on the slouched sandtrader still waiting for him at the bar. Malcolm. Simon gave a small smile of satisfaction. So maybe Han Solo really didn't have a price. But he knew someone who definitely did.

Simon could already feel his spirits returning as he made his way towards the older man. Like any great political strategist, it was always key to have a back up plan.

And this one was fool-proof. He knew with confidence that it would erase the problem.


To Part Three | To Part Five

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