While You Were Gone: Part Five
Stoned Rose

Simon shot the older man a cool smile as he signaled the barmaid for another round of drinks.

Malcolm returned the look with a skeptical scowl. "I don't know..." he muttered softly, shaking his head. "Solo seems like a pretty decent guy to me. I don't wanna -- "

" -- You wouldn't really be doing anything," Simon interrupted, his voice insistent, "That's the beauty of it."

Malcolm cocked an eyebrow, "Yes, I would be. Indirectly maybe," he turned away, "but I definitely would be."

Simon gave a nod of acknowledgement to the barmaid as she set down two more drinks. He turned back to the sandtrader and gave him an imploring stare. "Come on, Malcolm. All I ask is that you make the deal for me. It's not like you'll actually be -- " Simon hesitated and cast a wary glance around the cantina. He lowered his voice to an urgent hush, "it's not like I'm asking you to pull the trigger."

Malcolm to a sip from the new drink, his expression thoughtful. "Still ..." he tapped his knuckles absently against the bar. He was obviously struggling with this decision. "It would mean I would have to go back to Tatooine ..."

"Yes, but only temporarily," Simon insisted, "then you would never have to go back."

Malcolm gave him a sour look. "Why can't you just do this yourself?"

"You know damn well why I can't," the man bit back defensively, "I wouldn't know the first thing about contacting a -- a bounty hunter." Simon spat out the word like it tasted bad, "And second of all, I can't have this traced back to me. How would that look?"

Malcolm gave him a sneer, "But it can be traced back to me, right?" The older man shook his head in disgust, "Why not, I'm just another second -- class low life. Me and Solo are two of a kind that way." He threw Simon a hard look. "We're both completely expendable."

"Oh come off it," the man snorted, "Stop acting like I'm the second Palpatine and listen to me," Simon leaned closer, "I am offering you enough credits to make your life on Tatooine seem like some distant horrible nightmare." He placed a companionable hand on the older man's shoulder, "Remember all that poverty, the begging in the streets ..." Simon shook his head in feigned sympathy, as if he could barely even imagine the horror of it all. "With the money I am offering you Malcolm, you would never have to worry about that again. No more scavenging in the hot desert sands looking for scraps of metal. No more wondering where your next meal is going to come from. With these credits you could afford the finest living conditions, and you would never ever have to go hungry ..."

The older man gazed down into his drink. He appeared to be considering this. He gave Simon another dubious look, "But still, how would I live with myself?" He shook his head, "I heard the stories around Mos Eisley. I mean if a bounty hunter did catch him, it's unlikely that Solo would come out of it alive." Malcolm's expression became mournful, "And I would always know I was partly responsible." His gaze hardened. "It would still be murder Simon."

The man's eyes widened and he shot a panicked glance around the cantina. He motioned for Malcolm to lower his voice. "Trust me," he hissed, "Solo's got a price on his head so high that it would only be a matter of time before some bounty hunter knocked on his door." Simon leaned over even closer, and Malcolm could literally smell the alcohol that laced his breath. "Do you hear what I'm telling you? Solo's a dead man anyway. Once word gets out that he's actually alive, I give him a couple of months at best." He gave Malcolm a knowing smile, "At least this way, if you help me, you can make a shipload of credits out of it."

Malcolm was silent a moment. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. Simon did have a point. Han Solo would be a wanted man. Plus, once word got around about how the smuggler had managed to survive even the late Boba Fett, it would make him all the more alluring to bounty hunters. Solo's days probably were numbered, the sandtrader reasoned. And with the money Simon was offering, Malcolm could start a whole new life. Both him and Xavier. They wouldn't have a care in the galaxy.

The sandtrader blew out a resigned sigh. Although this decision pained him, Malcolm knew what he had to do. He looked over at the other man. "So tell me," he finally said, "When do I go?"

Simon smiled in satisfaction, and tilted his drink up at the older man. "I'll make the arrangements," he said jovially, "If all goes well, you'll be on your way to Tatooine by tonight."

* * * * *

Leia eyed the clutter of the kitchen table with disgust. Simon's abandoned liquor bottles stood out like dark blemishes even in the disarray. She bit her lip in tired frustration. What a mess.

And of course Simon had left it for her to clean up. She shook her head in irritated disbelief. How typical. Giving no thought except for himself. He just upped and disappeared. And after she had specifically told him that she needed to talk to him this morning.

Leia blew out a sigh of resignation. Well, the least she could do was make sure this was all cleaned up before Bailey woke up. The last thing she wanted was for the little boy to see what his stepfather had been up to the night before.

The princess had begun clearing the table when she heard the buzz of the front door. She looked down the hall in mild surprise. Who could that be at this time in the morning? With an irrational stab of panic, she suddenly imagined Mon Mothma waiting behind the door. As if coming to see first hand whether the princess' 'illness' really warranted a second day off. Leia began swiping things off the table more frantically. "Threepio," she called, her arms now brimming with empty bottles and trash, "Can you get that?"

The buzzer sounded again and Leia muttered in annoyance as she dumped an armful into the garbage. "Threepio!" She called impatiently. Still she heard no reply. That's right, she remembered suddenly, Chewie had taken the droid with him this morning to work on the Falcon. He had left a note on the fridge unit.

Leia blew out her cheeks in irritation as she made her way to the front door. Whoever it was they were certainly impatient. She absently patted at her hair as she reached to palm the door open. Didn't people realize that there were still some sleeping at this hour??

But the princess felt her annoyance instantly melt away as the door slid opened to reveal a familiar form. "Han," she gasped in pleasant surprise, "What are you doing here?"

The smuggler looked tense, but he managed a crooked smile, "I came to see you."

Leia threw a nervous glance over her shoulder. "But Bailey's here," she said in an urgent hush.

Han's face brightened, "He is?" He peered eagerly over the princess' head. "Can I see him?"

Leia smiled as she pushed the smuggler back into the outside hallway. "He's still sleeping," she explained in a whisper, "Besides I don't think we should just spring you on him."

"Why not?" He asked with a grin, "I kinda just sprang myself on you last night and you seemed to take it pretty well."

Leia's mouth curved up in amusement, "Yes, but if you remember correctly, that was only after I almost passed out in your arms."

"Remember?" Han reached out with an arm around her waist and pulled her closer, "That was probably my favorite part."

Leia could feel her cheeks warm with pleasure as she gazed up at him. She rolled her eyes in mock annoyance. "Somehow, you saying that doesn't surprise me."

Han gave her a mischievous grin, "Oh yeah?" He lowered his face to hers, "Gimme a second chance, I bet I could still surprise you," he whispered. And before the princess could reply, his lips were brushing against hers.

Leia gave into the pleasure of the kiss for a moment, but then with a start, she realized how public they were and pulled away. "Wait," she breathed, "Someone might see us." She was, after all, still a married woman. What would her neighbors think? And they might tell Simon.

Simon!

Leia looked up at Han with sudden alarm. "You have to leave."

Han's brow shot up in hurt confusion. "What?"

The princess shook her head, "I don't know when Simon is coming back, and I haven't had the chance to tell him about you, yet."

The smuggler's face sobered and he reached up with a hand and lightly stroked her cheek. "Leia," he said, his voice suddenly serious, "he already knows."

Her expression twisted in confusion, "What?"

"I just talked to him," Han's brow rose in disbelief. "You mean, he didn't tell you he knew?"

"No, I -- " Leia's mind was suddenly reeling. Simon knew?? "Wait a second," she looked up at him with an incredulous expression on her face. "You just talked to him??"

Han nodded. "Yeah, he wanted to meet with me."

Leia was floored. She shook her head numbly, her thoughts racing faster than she could think them. What was going on here? The princess cast a quick cautious glance around the hall and then pulled Han into her apartment. She palmed the door shut behind them and then looked up at the smuggler with a million questions on her face. "Wha -- what happened?"

Han shrugged and looked away. "Nothin' much," he mumbled.

The princess wasn't buying it. "Come on, something went on. Why did he want to meet?" Leia was having trouble even comprehending all this, "H-How did he even know about you in the first place?"

"I don't know," Han looked down at her and gave a small smile, "I guess good news travels fast."

His weak attempt at lightening the mood had no effect on the princess. She shook her head. "But what did he want?" And why didn't I know about this?

Han gave another casual shrug of the shoulders. "It was nothing," and reading her questioning expression he added, "It was just the usual, boring 'you stay away from my wife' routine." He forced a weak grin, "You know how that goes."

"No, I don't," Leia answered with all seriousness, "this sort of thing has never happened to me before." She gave Han an imploring look. "But what did he say to you? I mean exactly?"

"What does it really matter?"

The princess bit her lip. She didn't know why it mattered, it just did. It horrified her to think of what Simon might have said to him. She knew how much her husband resented Han. It was obvious from the beginning. Not that Leia could blame the man, she sort of made his feelings toward the smuggler inevitable. She knew that. And even though she knew that Han would be more than able to handle it, it still bothered her to think of him on the receiving end of all that built up hatred. Simon could sting, and she knew what that felt like. The princess looked up at Han, and her eyes wide and apologetic. "Well, for whatever he may of said to you," she uttered softly, "I'm sorry."

"Hey," Han replied, his head shaking slowly, "don't apologize for him."

Leia's gaze strayed to the ground, "I know, but I -- "

"No, really." He insisted, "it wasn't a big deal." The smuggler tilted her chin up with a finger and gave her an encouraging smile. "So what? Big newsflash: your husband doesn't think I'm good enough for you." Han shrugged, "He's probably right. After all, that's nothing I haven't told myself a million times." Leia opened her mouth to protest, but Han wasn't finished, "but you know what, Princess?" He was suddenly gazing right into her, and his voice hardened. "He's not good enough for you either."

Leia shook her head, "He's usually not this bad. It's my fault, I -- "

"No," Han's voice was firm, "it's not your fault. Don't say that." He could feel his jaw tighten at the thought of Simon. "He doesn't deserve your excuses. Or your sympathy." Han swallowed. "And he certainly doesn't deserve the several years he got to spend with you."

Leia opened her mouth to protest, but she didn't know what to say. She wanted to explain that Simon hadn't always been like this. That he had once been a kind, compassionate man. But she had never been able to love him. Not like she loved Han. That it really was her fault -- at least partly. But she couldn't get the words out. Leia just gazed up at the smuggler and suddenly she could remember only one thing."I love you." She said, her voice wistful, "I mean I really, really love you."

Han's expression softened, and a small smile crept onto his lips. "I love you, too," he replied. "Really."

Leia grinned up at him, and his face was closing in on hers again. She could feel her cheeks flush with knowing anticipation, and just as his lips were barely hovering above hers, she felt Han's head turn away with a start. And as Leia heard the approaching sound of padded feet, she suddenly understood why.

"Hey, Momma," a child's voice called sleepily, "Who are you talking to?"

The princess stiffened in Han's embrace. She shot him a panicked look before turning toward the boy with a rigid slowness. "Hey Bail," she said with forced casualness, "You're up early."

The boy looked up at her with curiosity, his eyes still puffy from sleep. "What are you doin-- " Bailey faltered as his gaze finally caught on the man standing behind her. His eyes widened and his mouth gaped open in amazement.

Leia bit her lip in concern and took a quick step toward her son. "Bailey -- ?"

But the boy just continued to look past her, his eyes never leaving the tall smuggler. He couldn't believe it. The space pilot was actually standing right here in his hallway. And he wasn't even just a picture in his head anymore.

"Daddy," he finally gasped. Bailey broke into a faint smile and he felt a sudden thrill coarse through him. "You came back."

* * * * *

Han stared down at the little boy in wondrous disbelief. He couldn't get passed the lump in his throat. The child was beautiful. His dark hair, still tousled from sleep, had the same deep brown color as Leia. And those hazel eyes, sparkling with delight as he gazed up at his father expectantly.

Han didn't know what to say. Suddenly, he felt so awkward. He shot Leia a nervous glance. She just smiled at him tightly, before her eyes returned to her son. The expression on her face betrayed a tinge of anxiety. Han fleetingly wondered what was bothering her. He knew that she didn't want traumatize the boy with his sudden appearance, but the child seemed okay. What was wrong? Was it him? He turned back to the boy and smiled self-consciously. Han never thought he would be intimidated by a six-year old before, but here he was, feeling completely tongue-tied.

Bailey took a step towards him, a huge grin still spread across his face. He tilted his head appraisingly as he gazed up at the tall smuggler. "You kinda look like Space Racer," he declared finally.

Han let out a nervous chuckle. He didn't really know what the boy was talking about, but that certainly wasn't what he expected him to say. "I do?"

Bailey nodded and he quirked his mouth to the side thoughtfully. "But you're bigger."

The smuggler threw Leia an amused look, "Well, that's good to know."

The princess smiled tautly at this remark and then kneeled down in front of her son. "Bailey," she began carefully, "Um, do you know who this is?"

The boy looked at her with puzzlement. "Of course," he answered confidently, "It's my real daddy."

Han felt his mouth curve in pride as he heard the word slip from the boy's mouth again. Daddy. His heart swelled. I'm his daddy.

Leia bit her lip with uncertainty. "Um, yes ..." Her mind reeled. Unfortunately, as she searched her brain, the princess could not recall this particular subject ever being covered in any parenting guide. Leia peered at the boy inquisitively, searching his face. "How ..." she faltered nervously, "How do you, um, feel about that?"

Han suddenly fidgeted nervously in the background. Bailey glanced up at the smuggler and then looked back at his mother in confusion. "What do you mean?"

"Well ..." Leia took a steadying breath, "I imagine this is very confusing for you ..."

The boy gazed at her questioningly. He didn't feel confused. His daddy was back. What was there to be confused about? Bailey tugged at his lip patiently as he waited for Leia to continue.

The princess shook her head, unsure of how to proceed with this conversation. "Wow," she finally gasped with forced brightness, "I bet you have a million questions."

The boy shrugged, "Not really." After all, he probably knew even more than his mother at this point. He had known for awhile. Bailey turned from her and looked back up at the smuggler, his eyes wide. "Do you want to see my room?"

Han was taken aback by the question. He shot Leia an uncertain look. She gazed back up at him blankly. Finally, she gave him a reassuring smile.

Han grinned nervously. "Sure, I'd love to."

Bailey beamed up at his father with pride. "I've got a star system on my ceiling. It's really neat." The boy took another step towards Han and reached for his hand. "I can show you, if you want."

The smuggler swallowed back the lump in his throat as Bailey wrapped his hand in Han's. "That sounds great," he managed cheerfully.

Han couldn't believe this. Here he was, staring down at his own son. It was a boy he barely knew. And yet, he was already filled with an unequivocal love for him. Han looked over at the princess, his expression awash with awed delight. Leia just smiled in return, the shine of happy tears appearing in her eyes.

Bailey tugged on his hand and began leading Han down the hall. The smuggler threw a questioning glance over his shoulder, he wanted to know if Leia was going to follow them. The princess shook her head slowly, "I think I'll just go into the kitchen and fix you boys something to eat."

Han's mouth curved up in understanding and he nodded. But his attention was diverted again by the sound of the child's voice.

"I also got a lot of space ships," Bailey boasted proudly, "but not as much as Eriq Noonan. He's a kid in my class. He's got a billion, but I still got a lot, too." The boy gave Han a knowing smirk. "Besides wait 'til I tell Eriq about you. His dad is just a stupid comlink operator."

Han smiled, a small fire of pride igniting within him. He was pleased to have the child's approval. It was almost surprised him how much it actually meant to him.

Bailey led him into his room, and the smuggler's mouth curved up in amusement as he took in the child's surroundings. The walls were decorated with various pictures of smashball stars and the infamous Space Racer. Small model space ships littered the floor, and Han carefully stepped around them as he entered the room.

Bailey looked up at his father expectantly. "This is where I sleep. Do you like it?"

Han grinned down at him. "This is a great room," he replied with enthusiasm, "definitely one of the greatest rooms I have ever seen."

Bailey beamed with pride. He jumped up onto the bed that was still rumpled from when he slept and pointed at the ceiling. "Did you see the stars?" The child motioned him over, "Come here, look."

The smuggler walked over to him and followed with his gaze to where the child's finger was pointing. All above the bed, the ceiling was dotted with tiny stars and planets. "See?" The boy asked in a hushed whisper. It was as if the sight of even paper star systems was still enough to fill the child with awe.

Han swallowed. He remembered that feeling. The smuggler nodded and Bailey pointed to another part of the ceiling. "And there's Corellia, too." He was excited to show his father that, and the child turned his face eagerly to gage the pilot's reaction.

Han rewarded him with an approving smile. "Very nice," he nodded. "Have you ever been there?"

The boy's face fell. "No," he replied sullenly, "Simon says it's not a very good place for kids." Bailey noticed the smuggler's face darken and hastily added, "but Uncle Chewie promises he's going to take me someday."

Han, who had felt his stomach tighten at the mention of the boy's stepfather, softened at the mention of his best friend. 'Uncle' Chewie! He mused with a smile. And suddenly Han realized how much he really wanted to see the big furry guy again. Where was he today?

The pilot suddenly felt Bailey's intent gaze on him and turned to the boy expectantly. Bailey smiled. "When I stand on the bed I'm almost as big as you," he observed with all seriousness.

Han grinned, "Wow, you are. Will you look at that?"

"Do you think I'll be as big as you when I'm all growed up?"

The smugglers' mouth cocked crookedly in amusement. "You'll be bigger."

Bailey beamed with pleasure and then made a face. "Simon's not very big," he gave him a curious look. "He lives here too. Do you know him?"

Han shrugged his shoulders lightly. He didn't know how he should answer, so finally he just shook his head.

"Oh," Bailey looked back up at the ceiling, "he's the one who put up the stars up for me." The boy gave Han an innocent smile, oblivious to how that last statement affected the smuggler. "It took us all afternoon."

Han swallowed. He turned away and pointed to a holocube that sat by the boy's bed. "Is that you and Chewie?" He asked, clearing his throat.

Bailey nodded enthusiastically and Han picked up the cube to take a closer look. The smuggler smiled. In the image, the towering Wookiee was holding the grinning child upside down by the waist. The two of them were surrounded by lush green forests and Han could just make out a small wood bridge in the background.

"That's from last year," Bailey announced, as he began bouncing lightly on the bed. "At the Endor Celebration."

Han gave the boy a questioning look. "Endor," he said searchingly, "where the rebels won the war?"

Bailey nodded. "You were in The Rebellion too," he stated matter-of-factly. It wasn't a question, but Han nodded anyway.

"Uncle Chewie says that's where you met Momma."

The smuggler smiled and placed the cube back on the bedside table. "Yeah," he finally replied.

The child's bouncing became more furious, "Did you really help Uncle Luke blow up a Death Star?"

Han shrugged modestly, "Yeah ... sorta."

Bailey continued to bob up and down on the mattress, "Wow! And the Kessel Run? Is that true too?"

The pilot shook his head in amusement and looked up at the boy, "What else have you heard?"

"Everything," he replied simply, "Uncle Chewie told me all about you."

Han smiled jokingly, "Just Uncle Chewie?"

"Yeah," Bailey answered seriously, "Sometimes Uncle Luke too. But mostly Uncle Chewie." Han's smile faltered and the boy's bouncing came to a slow stop. "Well, I mean I had to ask Uncle Chewie," Bailey explained, "because if I asked Momma about you, she would just get real sad."

Han turned away and swallowed. "Oh," he replied softly.

"Uncle Chewie would get sad too," the boy added, "but only sometimes." Bailey started to bounce again. "Other times he would laugh at you."

Han turned back and raised an eyebrow at the child. "Laugh at me?"

The boy shrugged. "Yeah," he said innocently, the bed squeaking with each jump. "He said you were funny."

The smuggler chuckled softly to himself and turned to gaze around the room, but the child's next statement instantly drew his attention back.

"Uncle Chewie doesn't know about you yet." Again, it wasn't a question.

Han shook his head, his expression grave. "No," he admitted.

Bailey allowed his body flop down to a sitting position on the bed. He looked up at the pilot with wide-eyed seriousness. "I tried to tell him that you were back. I thought it would make him happy," the child sighed, "but I don't think he believed me."

Han's brow furrowed in startled confusion, "What? You tried to tell him ... But how did you --" The smuggler shook his head uncomprehending.

But Bailey had a question of his own, "Why didn't you come to us yesterday?"

"Yesterday?"

"In the park," he replied, "I saw you."

"Oh," Han's shoulders sagged in relief. So that's what the boy was talking about. He smiled self -- consciously, "You saw me, huh?"

"Yeah, and I thought you were supposed to talk to us in the park." Bailey shook his head in confusion, "That's what I saw -- it's what the pitcher showed -- but then you left."

The smuggler suddenly felt lost again, and his grin faltered. Huh? He gave the child a puzzled look, "What? What do you mean?"

Bailey opened his mouth as if to answer and then shut it. He gave Han a long look before finally just shrugging and looking away. "Nothing," he muttered softly, his hands reaching to absently pick at his bedspread.

"No, really," Han pressed softly, "What do you mean by 'that's what you saw'? I don't understand."

Bailey looked up at him, his wide and serious. It seemed like he was about to say something, but then his attention was immediately drawn to the doorway. Han turned to see what the boy was looking at and saw Leia standing framed in the entrance to the room. The smuggler grinned, "Hey, Princess."

Han noticed a slight nervous tension in Leia's expression before she quickly covered it with a tight smile. "How are things going in here?"

The smuggler didn't miss the quick anxious glance she gave her son. He cleared his throat, "Good, great." He gave Bailey a smile, "Right?"

The boy nodded agreeably.

Leia was genuinely pleased. "Good," she said brightly, her anxiety seeming to dissipate for the moment. "You guys hungry? I put some breakfast together."

The smuggler raised an eyebrow in mock disbelief, "You learned to cook?"

Leia rolled her eyes, "'Course not." She gave him a cheeky smile, "I didn't say I cooked breakfast. I said I 'put it together'."

Han gave a conceding nod, "Oh, that's right." He said, still grinning.

"Momma doesn't cook," Bailey exclaimed good naturedly as he hopped off the bed. "That's what Threepio is for."

Han gave the princess a knowing smirk. "Good to know that droid's good for something," he quipped.

Leia, always feeling the need to defend the hapless droid, batted the smuggler lightly on the arm. But Bailey just nodded his head in utter agreement as he pushed himself in front of them. "That's for sure!" The little boy proclaimed loudly as he made his way down the hall.

The princess threw a hand over her mouth and laughed in spite of herself. And it was the three of them headed towards the kitchen, that Leia felt such a wave of utter contentment wash over her. It was in that brief moment, walking with both Bailey and Han, the princess finally got to see her life as she had always wanted it to be. And suddenly she was filled with such pure happiness that all other dark thoughts were momentarily pushed from her mind.

Leia didn't worry of her son's hidden ability, or what might come next. And she certainly lost all thought of Simon and where he might be. And of course, at that moment, the princess never gave a second thought as to what her husband might actually be up to. She was cheerfully oblivious.

If she only knew.

* * * * *

Simon sat with his elbows propped up against the bar, and sipped at his drink with smug satisfaction. It was all so perfect. He would get all the details settled sometime this afternoon, and then that sandtrader could be on his way to Tatooine by nightfall.

The bounty hunter idea was really foolproof. Simon was surprised that he hadn't thought of it sooner. Now it seemed so obvious. Hand the smuggler over to one of those greedy space scums and no one would ever be the wiser. No one would ever know that he was involved. After all, it was a pretty well known fact that Solo had a price on his head that would have every hunter in the far reaches of the galaxy drooling. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before he got picked up. It was too be expected, really.

This was going to work.

Of course Simon wasn't really looking forward to the next wave of grief that would inevitably hit his wife. It was hard enough trying to get her through it the first time. And she would probably blame him anyway, Simon thought bitterly. She would have no proof of course, but she would find a way to turn it around on him. The ungrateful little ... And after all he had done for her. All the love and attention he had showered on her over the years. Just so it could slide right off her. It was as if the princess were coated in some kind of protective cover that prevented him from getting through to her. From getting close. No, he thought with irritation, apparently you had to be a third class smuggler to be able to do that.

Simon could feel his back stiffen as he thought of Han Solo. It turned his stomach the way the princess had stuck him up on a pedestal over the years. Like he was some squeaky clean saint instead of a dirty ex-pirate. His wife really needed to develop more discriminating tastes. It was almost embarrassing. Simon shook his head in disgust and took another angry sip of his drink. She was probably crawling all over the smuggler as this very moment. Disgusting.

Simon set down his glass with a resounding 'clink' and wiped his mouth angrily with the back of his hand. Let her have her fun, he thought snidely. Get her final kicks. Simon could rest easy knowing that the space pilot's days were numbered.

The man broke out of his bitter revere and turned his head to scope out the cantina. He suddenly felt very bored. He had all afternoon to get a ship for Malcolm, that would be no problem. What he really needed was some excitement. Simon blew out a resigned sigh. He couldn't very well go home. Solo was probably there. What nerve. Going to see his wife in his home. The man had no class. Simon didn't consider his own numerous flings to be nearly as bad. After all, at least he always had the courtesy to have them somewhere else. He never flaunted them. Simon clenched his jaw in anger. And he would certainly never parade those women around in front of Bailey.

Bailey.

And for the first time that morning, Leia's husband felt a flash of guilt pinch his heart. Poor Bailey. Simon was going to be destroying this boy's biological father, and for that he almost did feel terrible. But really, he reasoned, it was for the child's own good. Simon was sincere in his belief that Solo would inevitably leave the boy in the long run. He was only playing the concerned stepfather by saving the child from more grief down the road. It was better this way. Someday Bailey would understand. Someday, if the boy ever found out what he had done, he might even thank him.

Simon smiled and he felt his guilt lift for the moment. The man looked around the room and suddenly his eyes caught on Solo's admirer from earlier. She was back at the end of the bar, sipping at another drink and tapping her fingers impatiently. The young woman looked bored. Restless. Simon stood up from his stool and signaled the barmaid for a couple more drinks. Well, well, well, he thought smugly. Simon was pretty sure he could give her some excitement.

And with that in mind, the man picked up the two new drinks and confidently made his way to the end of the bar.

* * * * *

Bailey sat at the table, his legs swinging back and forth in excitement. He still couldn't believe it. The boy eyed the man in awe. Here he was sitting across from his real life daddy. And the pilot was actually eating breakfast with them.

Wow.

Bailey couldn't help but gape openly at him. He found every move the smuggler made to be positively fascinating. And Bailey tried to notice everything. Like the way his daddy ripped the breakfast rolls in half before buttering them. And that the pilot liked to drink juice in the morning, but not the red kind. He preferred the purple. Bailey decided to drink some of that this morning too. The boy was also intrigued with how his daddy liked to sprinkle extra spices on almost everything he ate. The space pilot peppered his plate so thoroughly that his food almost changed color. Now that was pretty impressive. Bailey wanted his food to be like that too. But when he asked the pilot to pass some of the hot spices down to him, his mother raised an eyebrow and gave him a questioning look. "Are you sure you want to eat it like that?" she asked.

Bailey just shrugged casually, he didn't want his daddy to think that this was any big deal to him. The boy wanted to be a tough guy too. "Yeah," he said lightly, "I always like my food hot."

Leia stifled a knowing smile as she watched her son sprinkle a generous portion of spices onto his plate. But her amusement turned to mild concern when she saw how thoroughly the boy was covering his food. "Bailey," she warned cautiously, "I think that might be a bit much."

"No, it's not," the child stubbornly insisted, "I know what I'm doing." He set down the spice container with a 'clink'. Perfect he had thought with pleased satisfaction. Now his food looked just like the pilot's. He dug his fork into the pile on his plate and took his first bite, oblivious to the anticipatory stares of his parents. Upon his first taste, Bailey instantly regretted not listening to his mother. Yuck!

The boy's face momentarily twisted into such a comical expression of disgust that Han had to turn away to stifle a chuckle of amusement. "How'd they taste?" The smuggler couldn't resist asking from behind his hand.

Bailey recovered quickly, and immediately forced an enthusiastic smile onto his face. "Mmmmmm," he said lightly, even as the fiery food caused tears to well up in his eyes, "that was really ... um ... good." The boy practically choked over the words. Bailey reached for his glass of juice and greedily gulped it down.

Han's brow rose in amusement. With a straight face like that, he mused, he bet that his boy would also make a fine Sabacc player one day. He turned toward the princess with a knowing smile, but suddenly thought twice about sharing that bit of info with her. She might not exactly get the same kick out of the prospect as he did. Han instead turned back to the boy, who was now poking at his food suspiciously and studying it with a wary eye. "What's the matter," he asked the child jokingly, "don't like it?"

Bailey looked up at him with wide-eyed innocence. "No, I love it." The boy patted his stomach dramatically, "I'm just really full. Wow."

The smuggler threw Leia a knowing look of amusement. He then turned back to Bailey and gave him a crooked smile, "You know," he said in his most impressed voice, "I was never able to eat food like that until I was at least ten."

Bailey looked up at him with dubious awe, "Really?"

Han nodded, "Yeah. At least that. Maybe I was twelve." The smuggler leaned forward and in a conspiratorial whisper added, "You know, I always liked a little cereal and milk myself."

The boy's eyes widened, "Me too!" His voice was filled with surprised relief.

"Yeah?" Han could feel Leia's gaze on him and hastily added, "With a little something healthy too, of course. Like fruit or something."

Bailey nodded eagerly, "Uh huh! That's what I always have."

The smuggler leaned back in his seat and raised a doubtful eyebrow. "Really?"

The boy leapt out of his seat enthusiastically. "Yeah, I always!" Bailey made his way excitedly over to the cupboards. "Look, I'll make a bowl right now and show you."

"Good idea," Han said agreeably and he was pleased when he noticed Leia smiling over at him. She reached under the table for his hand. She gave it a quick squeeze and whispered, "Look at that. He already adores you." Han gave her a small embarrassed grin and Leia had to raise an eyebrow at his apparent shyness. "Captain Solo, I don't actually detect some modesty in you, do I?"

Han shrugged casually, "In me? Not a chance, sweetheart." He gave her a quick wink, and Leia rolled her eyes in amusement. Her hand was still resting comfortingly over his and she was hesitant to pull it away. But she knew she had to before Bailey came back and saw it. This whole situation had to be confusing enough for the boy, the last thing Leia wanted to do was complicate it further.

The princess gave Han an apologetic smile and then reluctantly returned her hand to her lap. The smuggler nodded his head in understanding, and then turned to greet the boy has he walked back towards the table. "Did you fix yourself something that fast?"

But Bailey was actually approaching the princess with an empty whiskey bottle in his hand. "You put Simon's bottles in the wrong trash container, Momma." He exclaimed innocently. He held it up to her, "See? This was in the wrong place."

Leia bit her lip and shot Han a quick look of mortification. The smuggler averted his eyes, conscious of her discomfort. Leia jumped out of her seat and grabbed the bottle out of Bailey's hand. "Oops, my mistake," she said hurriedly. The princess made her way over to the trash units, her back stiff with embarrassment. In her rush when Han was at the door earlier, she must of dumped all of Simon's trash in the wrong place.

Great, she thought with resignation. Han already thought low enough of Simon, now he was going to think that she had also married herself off to some fall down drunk. And the thought of him having that impression mortified the princess. She didn't want Han to think that she would just let their son be raised by just anybody. True, Simon was in a bit of a rut at the moment, but he had always been a good father. She had done her best by their son, she really had. Leia didn't want Han believing that she was some horribly irresponsible mother.

The princess cringed as she heard the boy explain to the smuggler, "There's a whole bunch of bottles in there. Simon must have had a party."

Leia could feel her cheeks redden as she bent over the trash and pulled out the last of her husband's ale glasses. "There was no party," she said defensively, "this is all from several nights, Bail."

Bailey gave her a curious look, "There wasn't a party?"

"No." The princess straightened. She forced a casual smile, "There was no party."

"Oh," the boy tugged on his lip thoughtfully and Leia made her way back to the table. Bailey still didn't look convinced. Finally he asked, his voice loud and innocent, "Then why did Simon sleep in his clothes last night?"

The princess winced inwardly at the question, and out of the corner of her eye she was aware of Han fidgeting uncomfortably in his seat. Leia bit her lip before considering her answer. The boy must've gotten up in the night and seen his stepfather sleeping on the couch. Now she felt even further humiliated, although she couldn't pin point exactly why. After all, Han of all people, was probably thrilled at this bit of information. But still, it bothered her that he now would know what a complete failure her marriage was. Leia cleared her throat and tried to brush these negative thoughts away. "He just fell asleep watching the HoloNet, honey."

"He sure does that a lot."

The princess nodded absently and she sat back down at the table. "Yes, he does," she said evenly, shooting Han another quick glance.

The smuggler was scratching his neck thoughtfully, his head turned away. Apparently he felt as awkward about this as she did. "Leia," he began carefully, "maybe I should -- "

The sudden buzzing of the front door cut him off. Simon. Han stiffened and his gaze darted to the hallway and nervously back to the princess. He expected to see her panicked stare looking back at him. But Leia was sitting there perfectly calm, her forehead resting against her hand. "Bailey, go let Uncle Luke in, please." There was a resignation in her tone.

"He's here?" Bailey asked in surprise, voicing Han's same question.

"Yes," Leia said still looking forlornly down at the table. "Get the door for me, sweetie, would you?"

The boy nodded and then turned to scamper towards the door. Leia rubbed her forehead tiredly, she still felt embarrassed about the whole Simon situation and suddenly didn't know what to say to Han. She felt like she needed to explain something, but she couldn't find the words. The princess bit her lip with uncertainty, and turned her gaze back up to the smuggler. "Han, I--" She was stopped by the tense expression on the Corellian's face. Leia wrinkled her brow in confusion, "What's wrong?"

Han looked at her, his eyes questioning. "What if it's not Luke? Should I leave?"

The princess smiled and reached over and put her hand on his arm. "Don't worry. Really, I know it's him."

The smuggler looked at her, his expression baffled. "But how can you --"

"-- Han!" A friendly voice suddenly greeted him from the doorway, interrupting Solo mid-thought.

The Corellian jumped up from his seat in pleasant surprise and as he turned to see Luke Skywalker enter into the kitchen his face lit up in excitement. "Kid!" Han walked over to the young man and slapped him affectionately on the shoulder. "Wow, look at you," Solo grinned broadly, "I almost wouldn't recognize you!"

Luke returned the smuggler's smile, "It's so good to finally see you again." He shot his sister a quick meaningful glance and then looked back up at Han. "We all missed you," he said, "very much."

The pilot nodded in understanding, and suddenly noticed that the knot in his throat was returning. "Yeah," he finally replied. "Well, I'm glad to be back." Han cocked the corner of his mouth in good humor, and peaked over the young man's shoulder. "Say," he said lightly, "you wouldn't happen to have dragged along that tall furball with you, did ya?"

Luke shook his head, his eyes sparkling with amusement. It was amazing to be talking to his friend like this again, after so many years. But looking at the tall Corellian, it suddenly felt to the Jedi that no time had passed at all. It could have almost been only yesterday that the two men had said good-bye in that snowy hangar on Hoth. And then Luke realized with a start, that for Han it actually did feel like that. What an incredible adjustment this must be for him. Luke's gaze flickered briefly over to his sister and then to Bailey who stood right below him. What an incredible adjustment for all of them.

And it was then that the Jedi felt a sudden rush of cold wash over him. A freezing tidal wave of fear and hate. It was fleeting -- not more than a flash -- and then it was gone. But it was enough. And Luke had felt it, as clearly as if it had occurred over a period of hours as opposed to a few mere seconds. Something's wrong. Luke looked up to see Han staring down at him, his brow wrinkled in concern. "You okay, kid?"

The Jedi nodded numbly and risked a quick glance over at his sister. Her expression mirrored Han's, but she didn't say anything. There was a little more knowledge in her eyes, but it was just enough to tell him that she didn't want to know anymore.

"I'm fine," Luke replied softly. Then, noticing the smuggler's grim expression, he added a little more cheerfully, "Really. Sorry about that, I just sort of dazed off for a second there."

Han forced a casual grin on his face, "Hey, that's okay. I do that all the time too." He turned to the princess and gave her a knowing smirk, "Especially when the princess used to give me those long and boring 'the Rebellion really needs you' lectures."

Leia snapped her head towards Han, her mouth agape in mock indignation. Her discomfort over Luke momentarily forgotten. "Hey," she exclaimed, batting the smuggler on the arm, "so that's why I never seemed to get through to you. You weren't even paying attention!"

Han's smirk widened, "Oh don't worry, I always had Chewie nudge me awake for the really important parts." Leia shook her head in exasperation and Han's expression suddenly sobered and he raised a curious eyebrow. "But where is the big guy, anyway?"

Leia opened her mouth to answer, but Han was suddenly distracted by an insistent tugging on his arm. He looked down to see Bailey gazing eagerly up at him. "He's working on the Falcon," the boy explained, "The hyperdrive's busted."

The smuggler cocked an eyebrow, "The hyperdrive?" He shook his head in amused disbelief. "Well it's good to see that some things haven't changed."

Leia smiled knowingly at his remark. "We should really go down and see Chewie," she added, "He would really want to know about you."

Han nodded. "Yeah," he said gravely. The smuggler turned to Luke, "You're gonna come down with us, right?"

Luke looked toward the pilot in confusion. He had been lost in his thoughts again, the dark ripple in the Force once again playing over in his mind. The Jedi quickly regained his bearings and gave Han a weak smile. "Sure," he said with forced cheer, pushing the cold memory from his mind. "Wouldn't miss it."

But even as Luke smiled broadly, and attempted to immerse himself in the happiness of the occasion, he found it almost impossible to fully enjoy himself. The Jedi just couldn't dismiss the dread he felt building at the base of his thoughts. Something was definitely going to happen.

And all Luke could pinpoint with any certainty was that it was bad.

Real bad.

* * * * *

Lando sat back in his seat and suppressed a smile of satisfaction. He was holding an ideal Sabacc hand at the moment, and as long as the card value wasn't changed on him, he was all set. About time my luck turned around. Lando looked up at the young man across from him and tried to keep his voice as nonchalant as possible, "Call it."

Xavier's eyes darted over to the general and then back to his own cards. "Um," he cleared his throat, "okay." He tentatively splayed his cards out on the table. Lando drew in a sharp breath. Idiot's array!

Xavier shot him an uncertain look. "Is this any good?"

Lando forced a smile across his face, trying to stifle the disappointment he felt in his gut. "Wow," he said in feigned cheerfulness, "Nice." He threw his cards down. "You beat me again."

Xavier's brow shot up in surprise, "I did?"

Calrissian leaned over the table and began gathering up the cards for another round. "Yeah, you had an 'Idiot's Array'. You don't get any better than that."

"So these credits are mine then?"

Lando nodded, and tried to keep his voice light. "Yes, they're all yours." The general really hated to lose. Especially when there was money involved. And to a beginner, too! But the kid's winning-streak had to be fluke, so he was trying not to let it get to him too much. "Wanna play again?"

Xavier grinned. "Sure," he said excitedly. "I like this game."

Lando eyed the young man's growing pile of credits with disdain. "Yes," he replied evenly, "I'm sure you do." But the general needed a chance to win his money back, so he was willing to go another round.

Lando shuffled the cards quickly and promptly began to deal them out. Xavier rubbed his hands together in anticipation and the general gave him a cool glare. "Xavier," he warned, "it's best when you are playing an opponent to learn the art of subtlety. That means no wearing your heart on your sleeve, and win or lose you should act as if it's all the same to you. Understand?"

The young man nodded.

"Good, you'll avoid more confrontations that way." Lando finished dealing the cards and leaned back in his seat. "Okay," he said a little more cheerfully, "let's play."

The two men picked up their cards and began to study their hands intently. Xavier's brow wrinkled in concentration as he painstakingly tried to add up the values in his head. Lando, an old pro at this, was already tossing a couple of his cards into the interference field. As he waited for Xavier to make his next move, Lando became aware of the sound of footfalls climbing up the boarding ramp.

Malcolm.

The older man appeared at the entrance of the ship and promptly slumped against the doorframe in mild despair. He felt awful. On his walk back to the hangar he had been unable to even look at his own reflection in the passing windows. He was scum now. Malcolm's stomach tightened painfully with guilt. What was he doing? The very concept of what he was about to pull off went against his nature.

But he had heard out Simon's proposal and he had agreed. He had, in effect, signed the smuggler's death certificate.

Malcolm let out a despondent sigh and was surprised when he looked over and saw Xavier and Lando sitting at the gaming table with cards in their hands. They were both staring at him with curious expressions. The older man just looked away. He hated that they were here right now. Especially Xavier. The kid looked up to him so much and would be disheartened to hear what the sandtrader had done.

Lando gave the older man a tentative smile. "Hey, Malcolm," he said with forced lightness, "I was just teaching the kid here some Sabacc. Want me to deal you in?"

The older man shook his head. "No, thanks."

Xavier's brow rose in concern, "What's wrong?" He cast a curious glance over Malcolm's shoulder. "Where's Captain Solo?"

The older man shrugged brusquely, "How am I supposed to know?" He mentally winced at the defensiveness in his tone.

Xavier shot Lando a perplexed look and then returned his gaze to the other sand trader. "Well, um, he left with you this morning -- didn't he?"

Lando's brow rose in mild surprise, and he turned in his seat with a questioning expression on his face. "He did? Where did you guys go?"

The older man averted his gaze and didn't answer.

"Where's Han, Malcolm?" Lando asked a little more forcibly.

"I said I don't know," he replied with a steely coldness. "What am I -- his babysitter?"

Lando was silent a moment. He didn't like the sandtrader talking to him that way, especially aboard his own ship, but he decided to let it pass. It was easier to put up with a little attitude than a full blown brawl. "Well," he finally pronounced carefully, "you did leave with him this morning, right? Any idea where he might have gone?"

Malcolm shrugged, "To see his lady, I guess. I'm not sure."

Lando gave a slight smile, "The princess?" That must of meant things had gone pretty well last night. Lando didn't really know. Han had been pretty tight-lipped about the whole thing when he had gotten back. Of course, Calrissian understood that the smuggler still didn't exactly trust him, so he hadn't really expected Solo to give him the details. But still, that didn't mean that Lando wasn't more than a little curious about the whole thing. "So Malcolm," he asked cautiously, "did Han tell you anything about how it went with Leia?"

The older man gave him a confused look. "How it went with who?"

"The princess," Lando explained patiently.

"Oh," Malcolm hesitated. Was that her name? He had forgotten. But now he felt another wave of shame wash over him. Malcolm didn't want to know anymore about Solo's life. He didn't want to get too personal. "No," he replied turning towards the cockpit. "He didn't say a word to me about it."

Lando was surprised. "Not even about Bailey? He said nothing?"

Malcolm flinched and he paused right before the entrance to the cockpit. That's right, the smuggler also had a child. Malcolm suddenly felt sick. He turned on Lando abruptly. "No dammit," he blurted angrily, "He didn't say anything! And why would he? I barely even know the man. He's nothing to me."

Lando leaned back in his seat in surprise. What's his problem? He threw a quick glance to Xavier, who also looked unnerved by his boss' outburst. "Sorry," Lando finally replied, "I was just curious."

Malcolm's shoulders slumped in defeat. "Yeah, well ..." but he didn't say anything else. The older man just shook his head mournfully and turned back to the cockpit. He wanted to be alone for awhile. But Malcolm paused again as something occurred to him. He turned back to Calrissian. "Listen General," he said, his voice softer, "I need to tie up some loose ends over the next couple of days."

Lando nodded reluctantly, "Okay."

"I mean, I have to disappear for awhile. Get some things done."

Xavier stood up with a start. "What?"

Malcolm raised a hand and calmly motioned for the young man to be seated. "Relax, it won't take long. But it's important."

Xavier continued to stand. He shook his head in exasperation, "B-But what about me?"

Malcolm turned and gave Lando an imploring look. "Can the kid just crash here until I get back? Like I said, it won't be more than a few days."

Lando nodded slowly. Xavier protested meekly in the background. "Sure," the general said. He ignored the objections of Xavier in the background and added, "But what do you need to get done? Is it anything I could give you a hand with?"

The older man grimaced, "Not likely."

Lando was more than a little curious about what was going on, but he didn't press it. He gave the man another encouraging nod. "Sure, Macolm. It's no problem."

Malcolm let out another sigh and then gave the general a weak smile. "Thanks," he turned back towards the cockpit.

Xavier's eyes widened in disbelief. "But sir," he sputtered, "Why can't I go with you?"

Malcolm didn't even look back. "You'll be fine here," he muttered dully. And before the young man could say another word, the trader palmed the door shut.

Lando turned to Xavier and forced a pleasant grin on his face. "Hey," he said lightly, "how 'bout another hand?"

The young man turned to him, his expression stunned. He looked at the general blankly for a moment, before finally giving him a reluctant nod.

"Great, take a seat."

The two men gathered up their almost-forgotten cards, and resumed play. But Xavier was distracted, and Lando found himself quickly winning back the credits he had lost. After the third hand, the general finally gave the young man a sympathetic look. "Listen, kid, it's only for a few days."

Xavier looked up from the table with a startled expression on his face. "Huh?"

"Your boss, he'll be back. Don't worry about it."

The young man nodded his eyes downcast, "Yeah, I know."

"Then what's wrong?" Lando didn't get it.

Xavier blew out a resigned sigh, "Malcolm's up to something." He shook his head sadly, "I just hope he knows what he's doing ..."

Lando didn't know how to respond at first. He had gotten the same impression, but he didn't want to worry the younger man. Finally he said, "Come on, I'm sure it's not like that." But he didn't even sound convincing to his own ears.

Xavier looked up at the general, a new fire in his eyes. "Oh yeah?" His voice was almost challenging, which was surprising coming from the young man. "Trust me, I know Malcolm. He's been like a father to me for years. I know when something's not right."

Lando sat back and digested his words for a moment. As he sat there silently, he suddenly could make the sound of another set of feet making their way up the ramp. Now, who is it? He thought with more than a little irritation.

Xavier looked towards the entrance and Lando watched as the young man's face suddenly whitened dramatically. Calrissian turned in the direction of Xavier's gaze and immediately his face lit up as he took in the form framed in the doorway. "Chewbacca," the general exclaimed good-naturedly. He sprinted out of his seat in enthusiasm, "How ya doin'?"

The tall Wookiee took a couple of steps into the ship and growled a greeting. A golden protocol droid peaked around Chewbacca's massive bulk. "Chewbacca greets you 'hello'."

Lando motioned impatiently at the droid, "I understand him, Threepio."

The droid cocked back it's head slightly, as if miffed by the general's abrupt tone. "Very well," he said finally. One could almost detect a trace of hurt in his mechanical voice. "I was only trying to be helpful, it is part of my program--"

Chewbacca cut off the droid with an impatient growl before he could launch into another self-pitying diatribe. Xavier flinched at the Wookiee's outburst and took a sudden step backwards. Lando noticed the young man's discomfort and quickly set about to try and abate his fears. "This here is Chewbacca," he explained gently, "He's a good friend of mine, and has been a friend of Captain Solo's for years."

Xavier's expression relaxed slightly and he looked up at the Wookiee with renewed interest, "You know Captain Solo?"

Chewie shifted his weight, [I knew him, yes.]

Xavier stared blankly at the Wookiee for a second. He clearly did not understand what Chewbacca had said. Threepio stood their mutely for a second before realizing that was his cue. "Oh," he said in alarm, coming to his senses. "Chewbacca says that yes, he indeed knew the captain very well."

The Wookiee's choice of words suddenly registered in Lando's mind and he looked up at Chewie questioningly.

"You mean he knows," Xavier corrected the droid, giving voice to Lando's same thought. "He knows Captain Solo very well."

Threepio turned on the young man, as if annoyed that someone would dare try to correct his translation. "Why no, that is not --"

But Lando interrupted the droid, his curious gaze still set on the Wookiee. "Chewie," he said carefully, "have you spoken to Leia this morning?"

The Wookiee shook his head. [No, I was out of the apartment before she woke up. Why, did you meet with her yet?]

"No," Lando hesitated, "How about last night? Did you talk to her last night?"

Chewie shrugged, [Just at dinner.] He still didn't understand what the general was getting at. [Why?]

Lando nodded in sudden understanding. Chewie doesn't know about Han. He turned his gaze away and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. He should say something. But he wasn't sure how you broke something like this to someone.

Finally he looked up at the Wookiee, his stare intense. "Chewbacca," he said gently, "let's go for a walk. There's something I need to talk to you about."

* * * * *

Simon slid himself over on the rumpled bed, and flung his legs over edge of the mattress. He leaned down and picked his pants off the floor. He had arrangements to make now, and the time for fun was over. The girl had been a nice distraction, but not really as effective as he had hoped. He had still found himself preoccupied with thoughts of Leia. Simon stood up and tightened the belt on his pants. It made his skin crawl to think of her with that smuggler, and he knew the only way he could really make himself feel better would be to get his plans in motion. He was a man of action, after all.

"You're leaving already?" Simon's back stiffened at the sound of the drowsy voice calling from behind him.

The man bit back a silent curse and pressed an insincere smile on his face. He turned to the girl in the bed. She looked up at him with uncertainty, a white sheet pressed protectively against her chest. Simon bent over and kissed her on the forehead. "I have things I need to take care of," he said gently.

The girl bit her lip looked up at him wide-eyed. Her hair was still messed from their activities, and her lip stick had smeared onto her chin. "Am I going to see you again?"

Not a chance. Simon gave her his sweetest grin. "You're a very special girl," he purred in his most charming voice. "This has meant more to me than you could imagine."

The girl smiled, her face alit, "Really?"

Simon nodded. "Absolutely, it was wonderful --" and suddenly he realized he couldn't remember her name. Airika? Arin? He wasn't sure. He finally settled on, "darling."

The girl blushed, and averted her eyes shyly. She was obviously pleased with his term of endearment. But she looked up with a start when Simon pushed away from the bed again. "Can't you stay just a little longer?" There was a pleading in her voice.

"No, I can not," Simon winced. He didn't mean for his tone to sound so harsh, but he found his patience with the little waif rapidly thinning. He took a steadying breath and said a little more lightly, "I have some business to take care of."

The girl nodded in meek understanding, as if she really had any idea what business he was talking about. "Will you call me later?"

Simon clenched his jaw in annoyance. That was the problem with some of these girls, you slept with them once and suddenly they thought you were engaged. He almost had to snort at the very image it conjured up in his mind. As if this girl could ever be more than an afternoon special to a man like him. Ridiculous! Simon forced another pleasant grin on his face and finally replied, "We'll see."

The girl blew out her cheeks in an irritated pout. "We'll see? What does that mean?"

It means 'no', you ignorant huss. "It means," he bit out evenly, "I'll try. I'm a very busy man." Seeing that the girl was still not satisfied with his answer, Simon reached into his pocket and pulled out a few credits. He leaned over and pressed them firmly into the girl's delicate hand. He stood back from her and smiled. "Happy now?"

The girl looked up at him with an incredulous expression on her face. "What's this for?" She asked bitterly, "Payment? I never said I was that kind of girl." She gaped at him as if she were offended, but then made no pretense about giving the money back. Instead her hand tightened protectively around the credits and she drew them closer to her chest.

Simon smiled innocently, "I figured you could buy yourself a few drinks. You know," he added, "to blot me out of your mind."

"Huh?"

"To forget about me," Simon said, his voice suddenly cool. "That way you won't expect me to call you later."

The girl's face fell as the realization of what he was saying sunk in. "But I thought ..."

Simon smiled tightly and he swiped his shirt up from a nearby chair. "Yes, well ..." His next words were muffled as he pulled his shirt over his head, but the meaning was clear. "I'm sure this is not the first time in your life you have been wrong."

Simon looked back at the girl as he straightened his shirt and noticed that her face had hardened. She gave him a glare, a light tremble in her chin betraying her sadness. "Get out," she said softly, her voice barely audible. "Just leave."

Simon smirked as he slung his jacket over his shoulder. "No need to show me the door." And with that, he strolled our of the bedroom, barely even flinching as the girl flung the credits angrily at his back.

It was of no matter, though. As Simon headed with steely resolve to his destination, thoughts of the girl were already forgotten. He had other things on his mind now. The sooner he sent Malcolm on his way, the better.

Simon headed off into the direction of the docking bay. He had to see a guy about a ship.

To Part Four | To Part Six

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