While You Were Gone: Part Six
Stoned Rose

Han Solo rocked back on his heels and stared up at the ship in awe.

The Millennium Falcon loomed before him in the hangar, and save for a few additional scorch marks here and there, it looked exactly as he had left it.

Down to the malfunctioning hyperdrive, he thought wryly.

Han felt a light pressure on his arm. Leia. He turned down and gave her a surprised smile. "It looks like Chewie really kept her in good shape." He couldn't believe it. "I'm impressed."

Leia nodded thoughtfully as she took in the hulking ship. "Yeah," she said, "It got a little roughed up at the Battle of Endor, but Chewie was pretty thorough in making sure it was completely restored." Her brow furrowed slightly. "Although, it doesn't look like he's here now. The ramp's sealed shut."

Han nodded absently as he continued to stare up at his ship with a wistful expression on his face. Leia squeezed his arm knowingly. "Don't be too impressed, Captain." She said jokingly, "It's still just the same old bucket of bolts."

Han opened his mouth to protest, but then he saw the amused light in her eyes and knew she was teasing. His mouth turned up in a grin, "She still managed to get you out of a few tight spots, Your Worship."

Leia jabbed him lightly in the ribs for the nickname, but Han just smiled as he looked up at his ship. All kidding aside, it really was nice to see the Falcon again. To even believe it was still running after seven years was in itself pretty amazing. Although Han would never admit to anyone how amazed he actually was.

Suddenly Bailey pushed himself impatiently between his two parents and headed off full-tilt towards the space ship. "Uncle Chewie," he called excitedly, the sounds of his feet hitting the pavement echoing throughout the hangar. "Uncle Chewie, guess who's here!"

Luke stepped up beside the couple and shook his head, "I think that boy has an endless reserve of energy."

Leia rolled her eyes in mock exasperation, "You don't know the half of it, Luke." But it was obvious from her tone that she was amused by her son.

Bailey was standing by the ship now, his body stretched on his tippy toes as he tried to palm the ramp open. His fingers hovered just out of reach, and the boy stuck out his tongue in concentration as he tried in vain to palm the latch.

"Uh-uh, Bailey-boy," Leia said, her stride suddenly becoming more urgent, "It will still be a few years yet before the security codes will let you open the ship."

Bailey turned to his mother, not even trying to mask the disappointment on his face. His bottom lip protruded in a slight pout. Leia smirked. Nice try. She knew that look too. She had seen Han Solo perfect a similar version to it years ago. "When you're older."

"I am older," the child insisted.

"Well, then when you're much older," Leia amended.

Bailey's eyes flicked to the pilot and then back to his mother. Finally he just nodded his head. It was obvious that the boy did not want to make a scene in front of his father. Leia wondered how long Han would be able to inspire such awe in the boy. Of course, if it results in such good behavior, the princess thought wryly, then I'll be willing to let it go on a little longer.

The three adults closed in on the ship and Han blew out a sigh. "Well," he said thoughtfully, "can we at least open her up?"

Leia's mouth quirked in knowing amusement, "Actually, if I'm not mistaken, I'm pretty sure your palm print will still work."

Han raised his eyebrows in surprise, "Really?"

The princess nodded. "Yeah," she replied softly, "I don't think Chewie ever changed the security codes." Leia remembered the Wookiee telling her as much. He thought it would be disrespectful. "Chewie didn't want anyone forgetting who this ship really belonged to."

The smuggler smiled. Chewbacca's intense loyalty never failed to touch him. It was a constant reminder of how lucky he was to have found such a good friend. The smuggler gave Luke and Leia and uncertain look and then reached over to palm open the door. Sure enough, the ramp began to lower.

Han grinned in delight. My ship. The Falcon had once been the single pride and joy in his life. The pilot's eyes flickered to the young boy standing below him. Over the past few days he felt those priorities shift a bit, but he would still always have a deep affection for the space freighter. It had certainly been through a lot of action with him. Gotten him out of more than his fair share of tight fixes. Han found his gaze shifting to Leia. And of course, before that disaster of Cloud City, it had also been the site of some great memories for him and the princess as well.

Bailey shifted his weight restlessly as he waited for the boarding ramp to settle down on the ground. The boy loved being in the Falcon. It as one of his favorite playgrounds. The best times, he thought, were when Uncle Chewie would invite him on the short day trips. Or when then the Wookiee allowed him to tag along and 'help' with repairs. It made Bailey feel like a real pilot. And sometimes, when he thought Uncle Chewie wasn't watching, he would sneak into the cockpit and ease himself into the pilot's chair. Bailey would then puff out his small cheeks and make blaster noises with his mouth, and imagine that he was racing through the stars like his daddy once had.

Bailey glanced up at the pilot now. He was murmuring something soft to his mother and she was smiling. Bailey wondered what was so funny, but something else also struck the boy. He suddenly realized how little he had actually seen his mother laugh in the past few months. It was like he hadn't even missed it until now. But the sudden softness of her expression reminded him of how she had once been. And even compared to then, she still seemed even happier now.

Bailey smiled. His real daddy coming home was the best thing that could've happened. And wait 'til Chewie finds out! The boy felt a thrill course through him. And Simon! Wow, would his stepfather be impressed. How could he not be? His real daddy was a space pilot. He had once been in the Rebellion. And look how happy he makes Momma! Simon was always saying he wished his mother would be happier. Now she was. Of course, Bailey noted, his stepfather was always a little cross when he said that. But it didn't matter, Simon would be glad to meet the pilot. Bailey couldn't imagine the man not being in awe of the great Han Solo!

The ramp touched ground with a resounding 'clank' that seemed to echo throughout the hangar. Bailey didn't wait for the others, he just sprinted up into the belly of the ship. The three adults followed behind at a slower pace, Han looking around in awe as he soaked in every detail. Inside the Falcon everything was set up almost exactly as he had left it. Down to the same upholstery on the seats that surrounded the holochess table. The smuggler could feel a rush of memories, still strikingly vivid in his mind, flood over him. He reached out and stroked a sidepanel absently. A lot of times were spent here. It felt like almost half his life had been spent right in this ship. Cruising the stars.

"So what do you think, Han?" Luke asked cheerfully. "Looks like we could be trusted with your ship, after all."

Han grimaced, "Yeah, well ... I still want to know what Chewie did to my hyperdrive." But then the corners of his mouth turned up in a smile. "But of course, I guess that kind of trouble can happen to anyone."

Luke chuckled and glanced over at his nephew. The boy was standing by the holochess table, studying some tools that Chewie had left laying out. Han followed Luke's gaze and smiled as he looked at his son. "Hey pal, you gonna help us get this bucket running again?"

Bailey looked over at the pilot and smiled shyly. "I'm a good helper," he said softly, "Uncle Chewie taught me what all the tools are. Sometimes he lets me hand them to him and then shows me what they do."

Han was impressed. "Really?"

The boy nodded and held up the tool in his hand. "This is a hydrospanner," he proclaimed proudly, as if trying to prove his knowledge. "See?"

"Wow, very good," Han said brightly. "I can see you're halfway to becoming a great spacer all ready."

Bailey beamed happily at his father, "Really?"

Han nodded encouragingly, "Oh, yeah. Definitely." He crouched down in front of the boy and smiled. "Chewie's one of the best. If you're learning from him, you'll be zipping through the stars in no time."

From behind them, Leia let out a nervous laugh. "Uh-oh, I don't think I'm ready to hear that yet."

Bailey smiled at the pilot, his eyes wide with awe. "But you're the bestest pilot of them all, right?"

"Well ..." Han shrugged his shoulders modestly. He could almost feel a light blush warm his cheeks. He wasn't used to being looked up to like this. The boy seemed to worship him, and it made the pilot almost uncomfortable. After all, he hadn't really done anything to deserve it. It felt almost dishonest. What if when Bailey finally got to know him, he was disappointed? What if the boy looked up at him one day and saw him for what he really was, not a glorified space pilot, but just an ex-smuggler with a checkered past? Han didn't know if he could handle that. What if Bailey looks at me one day like ... Han swallowed. What if he looks at me like Simon does?

"Will you teach me to fly one day?"

Han gazed uncertainly at the boy, and gave a him a shaky smile. "Sure," he said, trying to force the negative thoughts out of his mind. "If you want me to."

Bailey nodded at him with enthusiasm.

I can do this, Han thought with renewed optimism. I can be a good dad. He grimaced inwardly. He shouldn't let Simon's words get to him like this. To fuel his doubts. That arrogant little bureaucrat didn't know Han. Simon could make all the claims he wanted, but Han was better than that. He was. Han would never deliberately hurt Bailey. No way. Or Leia. The mere thought was unfathomable to him.

The boy smiled at him now, his eyes shining. "Good," he said happily, "then I know I'll be a good pilot."

"No," Han amended with confidence. "You'll be the best."

Bailey broke into a broad grin, pleased with his daddy's words. He turned his head up towards his mother. "Didja hear that?"

Leia gave her son a warm smile, "Yes, and it doesn't surprise me one bit."

Bailey's gaze returned to the pilot, his expression eager. "When can you teach me? Can you teach me now?"

"Well ..."

The boy's voice rose with excitement, "'Cos I'll be a real good listener. I promise. I'll do whatever you say." Bailey gave him an imploring look, "I'm always a real good learner in school."

"I'm sure you are, but - "

"Bailey," Luke suddenly chimed in, "Most pilots don't start training until they're just a bit older than you."

Han turned to shoot his friend a grateful look, "Thanks, kid - " but something in Luke's expression caused the smuggler to falter. The kid suddenly look guarded. Distracted. The way he looked back in Leia's kitchen. "Luke?"

The tone of Han's voice caused Leia to turn to her brother in sudden concern, "Is something wrong?"

Luke gave them a tight smile. "Yes," he said in a steady voice, "but I ..." The Jedi paused for a moment and his eyes closed.

Han shot Leia a puzzled look, but she didn't notice. Her gaze was focused intently on Luke, her brow raised in concern. Han glanced back at the kid, and he could feel the hairs on the back of his begin to rise. Something in Luke's expression spooked him. It was weird. Like the kid wasn't even there. "Luke?" Han couldn't keep the nervous edge out of his voice, "Are you okay?"

The Jedi took in a sudden breath and his eyes opened. For a split second, his gaze seemed vacant. As if it wasn't the interior of the Falcon that swam before his eyes, but someplace much farther. Luke turned to the princess and placed a gentle hand on her arm. "Leia," he said softly, "I have to go. Something ... ." His eyes flicked to Han and then back to her face. "I need to be alone for a little while."

Luke gazed at her intently, as if willing her to understand. Leia swallowed. She knew what her brother was implying. He was having one of those Force feelings again, and he wanted to be alone to search it further. Leia felt a sudden stab of apprehension. And as her eyes studied the earnestness in the Jedi's expression, a wave of uneasiness washed over her. Something's wrong. Leia's gaze strayed to Bailey, who had been watching the whole scene in silence. The boy looked up at her curiously, his eyes filled with questions. She gave him a small smile, trying to abate whatever growing worries the child might have, and then turned back to the Jedi. Her expression told him that she understood.

Luke nodded and turned as the smuggler rose to his feet. The Jedi could feel Han's growing concern radiating off of him. Luke forced a taut smile, "Sorry to cut this short, Han." He placed a companionable hand on the smuggler's arm. "But something's come up and I need to deal with it as soon as possible."

Han nodded, but confusion was clearly etched on his features. "Sure kid," he said weakly. He shot the princess another curious look.

"Actually, Han - " Luke said, drawing the smuggler's attention back again. "Why don't you walk me out?" His gaze darted uneasily to the boy before he continued, "If you wouldn't mind."

Han got the message. "Sure, okay." He shot Leia an uneasy smile and then reluctantly followed Luke down the loading ramp. Han suddenly felt very nervous. What did the kid want with him? Why had Luke looked at Bailey like that? And suddenly Han felt an irrational flash of anger. Was Luke going to tell him that he wasn't good enough for the princess too?

"Han - "

The seriousness of his friend's voice immediately pulled the smuggler out of his reverie. He turned to Luke, his tone already defensive, "Yeah?"

The two men were now standing at the bottom of the ramp, a few paces away from the ship. Just enough distance so as to insure they would not be overheard by either Bailey or the princess. This did not escape Han's notice. It only fueled his suspicions further. The smuggler found he couldn't restrain his frustration any longer. "Just what is it you want to say, Junior?" There was a biting tone in his voice, "You wanna tell me to back off too? Pick up and leave?"

Luke was taken aback by the smuggler's words. He shook his head in denial. "What? Han, no I - "

But the smuggler wasn't hearing any of it. He was sick of people telling him he wasn't good enough for something. Or someone. All his life he had heard this. Han glared at Luke, his eyes blazing. "Because I'm not gonna do it. I don't care what other people say. To hell with 'em. I'm not turning my back on Leia. And I'm not turning my back on my son."

Luke's mouth turned in wane amusement, but it didn't erase the troubled look in his eyes. "You done?"

Han blew out a steadying breath and nodded mutely.

"Well, good and I'm really glad to hear that," Luke replied lightly, "and I'm sure Leia will be thrilled to hear it too." His expression sobered, "But that's not what I wanted to talk to you about."

Han gave him a curious look. "No?"

"No, of course not. We're all glad you're back - " He hesitated. "Naturally we are, but - " Luke faltered, suddenly unsure with how to continue. He needed to warn Han about something he felt in the Force, but he didn't know how he would explain this to the skeptical smuggler. At least not in any way that Han would take seriously.

"But what?" Han asked impatiently.

Luke looked up at his friend, an imploring expression on his face. "Just be sure to watch your back, Han."

The smuggler shrugged indifferently, the building fear he had felt from his friend's tone rapidly fading. Was that all? Han had been 'watching his back' for as long as he could remember. That was nothing new to him. And it almost amused the smuggler that the young farmboy from Tatooine felt the need to remind him. "Sure, kid. I know."

"No, Han. I mean it. Be careful."

Han snorted. He wanted to tell the kid to 'take it easy'. Remind him that he had been around the galaxy countless times, and that he already knew the score. But something in Luke's expression stopped him. Han felt his stomach tighten. "What is it? Have you heard something?"

Luke hesitated, "You could say that."

Han's eyes widened. "Well, what is it? What did you hear? Tell me."

Luke shook his head and his gaze strayed to the floor in front of him. "No, I can't - " he said, his voice distant. "I don't know anything specific. It's just ... a feeling."

"Huh?"

Luke turned back up towards the smuggler, his eyes regaining their focus. When he spoke again his voice was grave. "Just promise me you'll look out for yourself," a brief flicker of something crossed the Jedi's features and he paused for a moment. Finally he added, his voice softer, "And look out for Leia too."

Han felt a sudden pang of fear, "Leia?"

Luke didn't reply. His expression had taken on that distant expression again. Han found himself growing increasingly impatient. The kid was being frustratingly vague. "What's this about Leia? Is she in trouble too?"

"I ..." Luke shook his head, "I don't know."

"But how - "

Luke rested a placating hand on the smuggler's shoulder. "I'll find out more, but until then just keep your eyes open." He waited until Han nodded his agreement. "Good. I'll be in touch."

And with that the Jedi headed off across the hangar, a newfound urgency in his stride. The latest ripples he had felt had left him feeling even more trepidation than before. Suddenly he felt his sister's essence and that disturbed the Jedi greatly. Master Yoda had taught him that the future was always in motion. It occurred to the Jedi that that had been the case certainly today. The feelings he had felt wash over him in and outside the Falcon were decidedly different than those experienced back at the apartment.

But they were in no way an improvement. If anything, it was worse. And that was why Luke had felt the sudden compulsion to leave. He just couldn't ignore these negative tremors in the Force any longer.

Luke made his way out onto the sidewalks of Coruscant. He was so preoccupied by thoughts of what he had experienced, that even the trained Jedi was unaware of the presence of Leia's husband, a mere several meters away.

Simon was approaching the hangar at a clip, his strides quick and purposeful. He was there to do business. And when Simon had set out to do something, there was nothing that could slow him down. It was the being in control that invigorated him. He thrived on it. Whether it be in the political forum or his personal life, there was nothing like control.

And that's all Simon was doing right now. That's all this little sparring with Solo was really about. That's why Simon was getting this ship. That's why he was sending Malcolm halfway across the galaxy in search of some Bounty Hunter.

It was about control.

And Simon was determined to take it back.

* * * * *

Lando quickened his stride as he fought to keep up with the Wookiee racing ahead of him. The general stifled a silent curse as he pushed his way through the crowded streets. It was getting to be later in the morning, and the city was beginning to fill up with it's usual bustle of working citizens. "Hey Chewie," he called breathlessly, the overhead drone of space traffic almost completely drowning him out, "Wait up."

Chewbacca had heard Lando though, and he graced the general with an impatient glance. Chewie was eager to get back to the apartments. That's where Lando had said he thought Han might have gone, and he didn't want to waste anytime in getting there. He certainly didn't need any short-legged human slowing him down. [You can keep up,] he barked from over his shoulder.

Lando bit back a retort, and instead just shook his head knowingly. The Wookiee was understandably excited to see his friend again, so the general could excuse Chewie if he was in a bit of a rush.

And Chewbacca definitely was. It had been a long seven years, even for the Wookiee who had seen over two hundred pass in his lifetime. But time seemed to go a lot more slowly when one was grieving. Not that every moment had been completely unhappy for Chewie. He had enjoyed his time with the princess and with Bailey. They were his family now. And he loved them. But in the past seven years there had also been those moments when he had felt a sudden rush of overwhelming sadness. Usually it was when travelling in the Falcon, when he was flying through the quiet void of hyperspace. It was then that Chewie would look over at the empty co-pilot seat and remember the friend he had lost.

He had missed Han. But it was more than that, too. The smuggler had been his best friend, that was true, but he had also been his life debt. His responsibility. The Wookiee had sworn to protect Han's life and he had failed. At least, he had thought he had. But now Lando said that Han was alive and on Coruscant. The Wookiee didn't even have the words in his language to express how he had felt upon hearing this. Lando had been refreshingly blunt with him. Chewie had told the general to just blurt out whatever was on his mind, and surprisingly, Lando had complied. "I found Han," he had announced with a rush of relief, "He's alive. And he's here." Chewie inwardly winced as he remembered his initial reaction. He had screamed at the general, threatening him with immense torture if this was his idea of a sick joke. But Lando was sincere, and when Chewie realized this he had swooped up the man in an almost bonecrushing hug.

It was all too good to be true. The idea of seeing his best friend again filled Chewie with such overwhelming happiness that the Wookiee felt he couldn't afford to get his hopes up until he saw Han Solo with his own eyes. There's so much to catch up on, Chewbacca thought as he quickened his already hasty pace. So much to say. The Wookiee pressed on despite the haggard breathing of Lando trotting behind him. He wanted to tell Han how he had watched out for his family like he promised. He wanted to make sure that his friend knew that they had looked for him. That he wasn't forgotten. But most of all, Chewie wanted to apologize. He should've fought harder at Cloud City, searched longer after Han was lost, and that he shouldn't have ever given up on him.

Chewbacca wanted to tell his partner that he was sorry. And the Wookiee vowed that he would sacrifice his own life before ever allowing harm to come to Han Solo again.

That was a promise.

* * * * *

Han continued to stare after the young man, long after Luke's back had disappeared from view. He just couldn't get Luke's strange words of warning out of his head. He has a 'feeling'? What exactly does that mean? Han shook his head wistfully, trying to smother the uneasiness that was building up in his gut. Something in his friend's tone told the smuggler that he shouldn't take the warning lightly. Luke was very serious, and Han knew that the kid wouldn't have said anything unless he was genuinely concerned.

Han let out a shaky breath, and briefly his thoughts traveled back to that time on the Millennium Falcon. What would that be -- ten years ago now? They had been on the way to Alderaan, before they had run straight into the tractor beam of the Death Star. The old man, Kenobi, had been spouting all that nonsense about the 'Force', and 'stretching your feelings'. Feelings. And Luke, who had been just freshly plucked from the farm, had eagerly lapped it all up. Han shook his head at the memory. He remembered how he had been much more skeptical of the whole thing. The smuggler still was, but now he wondered if this 'Force' was what Luke was referring to now.

Han started slightly, as suddenly two arms wrapped themselves tightly around his waist. He looked down and gave the princess a small shaky smile. Leia's brow furrowed with concern, "What's the matter?'

Han shrugged, "I don't know ... just something Luke said, I guess."

"What did he say?"

Han looked down at the princess, but didn't say anything. He studied her face curiously for a moment, as if deciding whether he should say something or not. Finally his mouth curved up in feigned amusement and he said, "Nothing specific ... But is it me, or has the kid gotten kinda strange?"

"Strange?"

"Yeah," Han gave a casual shrug, "I mean he's kinda spacey all of a sudden. I don't remember him being like that on Hoth."

Leia hesitated, and Han could feel her body tense beside him. "Well ..." Her eyes shifted nervously as she chose her words carefully. "Luke's been through a lot in the past few years."

Han raised his brow as if asking her to continue, and Leia slowly disentangled herself from the smuggler. She took and breath and reluctantly met Han's gaze. "You remember how Luke used to study up on the Force, don't you?"

Han almost smirked, but noting the seriousness of the Leia's tone, he stopped himself. "Sure, I do. Sometimes we could barely get him to talk about anything else."

Leia turned her head and stared out at the open hangar, but she wasn't really looking at the other ships in front of her. She was lost in her thoughts as she struggled with what to say next. "Yeah, well he continued on with it after you ..." she hesitated, "after you were gone." She turned back up to Han and gave him a weak smile. "He's fully trained now. Luke's a Jedi."

The smuggler couldn't hide the surprise in his voice, "A Jedi Knight? Luke?"

Leia bit her lip, "A Jedi Master, actually."

Han blew out a sigh, his head reeling with a mixture of wonder and disbelief. It was hard for him to put the two images together in his head. Han still saw Luke as the young farmboy, and it was difficult to imagine him as on a level with Ben Kenobi. Han didn't know what to say. Finally he just managed a breathless, "Wow ..."

"I know you don't believe in the Force, but -- "

"No," Han interrupted, trying to keep his voice light. "No, I think that's great." He gave her an encouraging smile. "After all, it's what the kid always wanted, right?" He shrugged, "Good for him."

Leia studied Han's face questioningly, "You mean that? You believe it? You don't think it's weird or -- ?"

"I don't know if I believe it, it's just -- " Han faltered as he tried to figure what to say next. "That whole Jedi thing, well, it's always seemed a little strange to me. Like a bunch of tricks or somethin'. I mean -- " Han stopped abruptly as he saw Leia turn away, her face tightening. "Hey listen," he added quickly, his voice apologetic, "but if Luke is happy and found his calling, then more power to him, right?"

The princess brightened a little at this and gave him a small nod. After all, that was probably the best she was going to get from the cynical smuggler. She was actually impressed, Han was taking this better than she thought he would.

Han fidgeted slightly. He didn't like talking about this kind of stuff. Personally, he didn't trust anything he couldn't see with his own eyes, and talk about that 'all powerful Force' always made him uncomfortable. "So," he said lightly, trying to change the subject, "What should we do to fill in the time until Chewie shows up?" He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively, and Leia let out a small laugh in spite of herself.

"Watch it," she admonished, "there's a little boy inside."

Han snapped his fingers in mock disappointment, "Aww, that's right." He gave her a flirtatious wink, "Next time, then." He cast a quick look back up at the Falcon and turned back to Leia. "What's he doing, anyway?"

"I told him you would show him a few things in the cockpit," Leia raised an eyebrow uncertainly. "You wouldn't mind, would you?"

"Course not," Han didn't fight the grin pushing up the corners of his mouth, "Wow, the kid really does want to fly, doesn't he?"

Leia gave him a knowing smile, "You're his hero, didn't you know that?"

Han's grin faltered slightly and he turned to look across the hangar thoughtfully. "Yeah," he muttered softly, his expression suddenly uncertain. "But I'd settle for being just his regular ol' dad."

Leia reached out and gave his hand an encouraging squeeze. "I'm afraid that's impossible," she replied breezily, "There's never been anything 'regular' about you." She flashed him a reassuring smile as if to try and lighten his mood, but it never quite reached her eyes. The princess was all too aware of what Han had really meant.

The corner of Han's mouth twitched as if acknowledging her attempt at levity, but his voice was still serious. "That's not what I meant."

"I know," she admitted. Leia studied his expression, quietly taking in the hard outline of the jaw and the slight furrow in his brow. "You're wondering about the Simon situation." Her words came out almost like a resigned sigh.

Han didn't look at her, his gaze stubbornly fixed across the hangar. "Yeah, well it did cross my mind a couple of times." There was a certain forced casualness in his voice, and Leia could sense the underlying tension.

"You want to know what I'm going to do about it."

Han stood there quietly for a moment, as if waiting for her to continue. When he realized she wasn't going to say anything, he turned to her and finally blurted the question that had been plaguing him since the night before. "What are you gonna do?"

Leia let out a heavy sigh and shook her head. She knew she would have to confront this issue sooner or later. It was inevitable. But truthfully, she couldn't. Not yet. Not until Leia had a certain reassurance of her own; a concern that had been nagging at her since his miraculous return. Leia had pushed it aside, too intent on just relishing his reality, but now she realized that her doubts needed to be brought out into the open. "I don't know," she finally confessed. "It's so complicated."

Han pulled his hand away and turned on her, his expression incredulous. "You don't know?"

The suddenness of his movements had momentarily startled the princess and she looked up at the smuggler in confusion. "Han?"

But he wasn't listening. The smuggler abruptly turned away from her, his head shaking in disbelief. "If you don't know, then what's going on here? What are we doing?" He gave her a quick glance, but it was long enough for Leia to see the turmoil behind his eyes. Han let out a sigh and directed the next question to the far end of the hangar. "What is all this? A 'test run' to help you make up your mind?"

Leia shook her head in steadfast denial. "No, Han. It's not like that at all." She reached out and placed a hand on his arm. "I thought you knew me better than that."

Han swallowed and averted his eyes briefly and he felt a sudden rush of shame. She was right. That had been a unfair thing to say. He was overreacting and he knew it. Maybe Luke's warning had affected him more than he had realized. Now he was all on edge and he was taking it out on the wrong person. "You're right. I didn't mean that." He gave her an apologetic look and was relieved to see her expression soften.

Leia gave his arm a slight squeeze and her lips turned up into a sad smile. "You know I love you, but there's other things to consider."

Han's face immediately clouded over and Leia could see his jaw tighten in frustration. "Other things to consider?" His voice rose, "Like what? Simon?" There was no mistaking the disgust in his voice.

Leia's eyes flicked over to the entry ramp of the Falcon as if making sure Bailey was still out of earshot. She motioned for him to keep his voice down and said in an urgent hushed voice, "Yes. He is my husband. I have to think of his feelings in all this."

Han's eyes widened as he felt a surge of anger resurface, "His feelings?" He turned away again and began pacing frantically. He threw his arms around in helpless frustration, obviously at a loss as to how to expunge his anger.

Leia could feel her patience thinning again. "Yes, Han! I have to consider his feelings," she said hotly. "This is not some teenage romance. I can't just call him up and 'break it off'. We're married. I owe him more than that."

Han stopped mid-pacing and his shoulders slumped as if in defeat. He scuffed his boot against the ground in frustration before replying. "Well, fine," he said tightly, "I'm not going to tell you what to do."

Leia felt her stomach clench, his tone suddenly making her nervous. He was misunderstanding her. She didn't want him to stalk off. She needed to talk this out with him. "Han -- "

But he surprised her by suddenly spinning around and facing her. There was an earnestness in his eyes. He was in front of her in three quick steps. "Let me just ask you one thing," he said, his face so close that she could feel his breath hot on her face. His voice was low, "What do you want?"

The Princess gazed up at him, her eyes wide. "You know what I want," she said in a urgent whisper. "But it's not -- "

Han shook his head and placed a finger on her lips, abruptly cutting her off. "Then just do it. Put yourself first for once, Princess, and to hell with everyone else." He leaned in even closer so that the next words were practically breathed into her ear. "We can make it work."

Leia smiled briefly at this, it all sounded so romantic when he put it like that. Just her and Han, up against the galaxy! But it wasn't just the two of them, and she needed to be practical about this. She had to erase that one uncertainty that had been magnified that morning when the smuggler had shown up at her door. The princess felt her expression falter. Just get it over with, her mind screamed. "It's not just Simon, though ..."

Han cocked an eyebrow and his mouth twisted in confusion. "What? What else could -- " but his voice died mid-sentence and his face sobered in understanding. "It's the New Republic, isn't it?" It wasn't a question. "You're worried about your career and what being with a guy like me might do to it."

Leia found herself once again shaking her head in adamant denial. "Gods, no," she blurted, "I don't care about that!"

Han shrugged, but his expression softened in relief. "Then I don't get it. What's the problem?"

The princess swallowed. This was it. Get it over with, you need to know. She knew he was going to take this the wrong way. "It's Bailey," she finally admitted.

Han was silent a moment, his eyes widening slightly as her statement sunk in. "Bailey? What about him?"

"Well, he's just a little boy. And it's complicated -- "

"Complicated," he spat in disgust, "There's that word again." Han shook his head again in genuine confusion. "What's so complicated? I'm his father! He likes me, you said so yourself."

"He adores you," she amended, her voice was beginning to rise again in mild desperation. She just had to get this all out right now. "That's part of the problem, don't you see?"

"No, I don't see it at all."

Leia took a steadying breath in an attempt to calm her suddenly jangled nerves. "You just found out about him last night. You haven't had time to see the whole picture." The princess took a step towards Han and once again reached for his hand. "Being a parent is a full-time job," Leia clasped his sturdy hand in hers and gave it another squeeze. "And I just want you to be sure that you're up to it, before I -- " she let out a shaky breath, "before Bailey gets too attached."

Han looked down at her hand in his, absently noting how small and delicate her fingers looked against his. It softened something inside of him and he rubbed his thumb across her knuckles thoughtfully. "What are you saying?" His voice was surprisingly low, "You don't think I can do it?"

Leia's stomach tightened, the question had hurt him. She knew it would, but she had to be certain. She had to ask. "I know you can," she replied carefully, her eyes begging him to understand. "I just need to make sure that you want to. It would mean giving up a lot for you and -- "

Han surprised her by suddenly dropping her hand. He shook his head and broke out into a small chuckle, but it there was no real amusement behind it. "Careful, Princess," he said, meeting her gaze again, "you are starting to sound like that husband of yours."

His remark stung and it took Leia a moment to put together a coherent response. "I don't mean it to hurt you, Han. Please don't take it that way. It's just that -- " Leia shook her head in exasperation, "It was never something we ever had a chance to talk about. During the war, everything just went so fast and I know how much you cherish your freedom -- "

"Okay, I get it," he said gruffly, and to punctuate his frustration he scuffed his boot angrily against the floor. "I never exactly painted myself as great family man material. I know that."

"You're wrong," she insisted. "You'll be a great father. That's not what I meant."

"I know what you meant," he said with quick annoyance, but then his expression softened. There was a moment of heavy silence between the two of them. Finally Han gave her an imploring look and the tenderness was back in his eyes. "What do I have to do to prove to you that this is what I want? That I'm for real?"

"Just your word." The corners of her mouth turned up slightly, as if in reassurance. "That's all I need."

Han actually smiled and he took her hand and raised it up against his lips. "Then I'm telling you right now, I love you and I'm already crazy about Bailey." Suddenly there was a playful spark in his eye and his smile widened to a wolfish grin. "And being the greedy mercenary that I am," he added, "I don't want to share you two with anyone."

And like something out of the Force, Leia felt the heavy weight of doubt magically lifted from her shoulders. In a rush, she let out a breath that she didn't even know she was holding.

That was all she needed to hear.

* * * * *

Simon pushed his way through a small clump of aliens, his patience rapidly thinning. His eyes scanned the hangar, looking for the small ship that would provide Malcolm his passage to Tatooine. Simon knew it had to be here somewhere. The pilot, a squat and stocky Bothan named Blisk, told him he would have the ship waiting and ready. Normally Simon didn't trust Bothans as far as he could throw them, but he always knew he could count on Bliskk to come through for him. The Bothan had been reliable on many of the past dealings Simon had with him.

Leia's husband could feel his jaw tighten in annoyance. Although not today, he thought bitterly. Where's that damn ship?

It was then that Simon's eyes caught on a familiar sight over in the far corner of the hangar. He felt a small stab of panic crawl up his spine as his gaze rested on the battle worn Millennium Falcon, sitting with its usual seeming confident air. Simon silently cursed his stupidity. Of course the ship would've been docked here. Chewie had been working on the fledging hyperdrive for several days, he would naturally keep the ship where the best mechanical droids and supplies were available. Typical of my luck these days, he thought crossly.

Simon rubbed a frustrated hand across his face as he considered his next move. A nagging instinct deep in his gut told him to flee in the other direction. Slip out quietly before he was seen. Before he was caught. But his feet were stubbornly rooted to the ground, and his eyes were inexplicably drawn to the Corellian freighter.

And that's when he saw them.

They were right there; standing at the foot of the Falcon's entry ramp. His petite Alderaanian princess and that repulsively common smuggler. Talking. Together. His wife unabashedly clasping that spacer's hand in her own. Right out in the open for any sentinent to see. As if it were the most acceptable thing in the world. Simon almost smirked in perverse amusement. Oooh, but if the senate could see you now, Princess ...

Solo slowly raised the princess' hand to his mouth and Simon instantly felt his mirth go cold. Oh, this is just too much. There was something about that simple gesture that infuriated Simon more than any other. He couldn't pinpoint what it was exactly, but it gnawed at him like nothing else. It stabbed him with a pain that was ten times worse than any of the sexual scenarios he had tortured himself with over the past several hours.

Simon could feel a familiar fist of jealousy tighten painfully in his stomach. He blew out a shaky breath as his mind raced with conflicting thoughts. He wanted to confront them. Avoid them. Kill them. A steady stream of broken scenarios raced before his eyes. The princess and that pilot in bed ... Leia and Solo laughing at him. Mocking him. Delighting in their adultery. Thinking him a fool ... . Simon drew in an angry hiss. Well, he would just show them who was the real fool in this scenario. He would get the last laugh in all this.

Simon quickly turned on his heels. He had a plan, after all. And he needed to stay on track and keep his mission in focus. That Bothan had to be somewhere. He would find him. He let out a disdainful snort. Let Leia get her last kicks, what did it really matter? It would all work out for him in the end.

But as Simon was making his way to the exit of the hangar, a familiar voice stopped him in his tracks. "Hey, Daddy," the boy's cheerful soprano carried easily across the hangar.

Simon froze. For one heart-stopping moment, he was sure that he had been spotted. But as he slowly turned back towards the ship, he was greeted with the sight of Bailey bounding down the ramp towards the smuggler. "Look what I found," the boy exclaimed excitedly, eagerly thrusting something in the pilot's face.

Simon let out a sigh, he hadn't been seen by the boy after all. But his initial relief was quickly squelched with anger when he realized the full implications of what he was seeing.

Simon could barely make out Leia's exasperated response as she bent to take a closer look at her son. "Oh, Bailey. No!" The smuggler turned away in clear amusement and the princess awarded him with a hot look. She turned back to the boy, "What a mess! Where did you find all this?"

Simon's head was pounding and his mind was reeling. What's going on?! He could barely contain the rage he felt slowly beginning to boil up within him. What? Did they think they could just edge him out of the picture without a second thought?? Damn her. Damn them both. Bailey's my son. Mine.

Simon absently noted that Leia was now ushering the boy back up the ramp. The muffled tone of her voice making it clear that she was softly reprimanding the child. His jaw clenched angrily as he watched Solo slowly follow in their wake.

This is just too much, Simon thought bitterly. It was one thing if Leia wanted to have a quick fling with the spacer or go slumming just for the hell of it. Simon didn't necessarily like it, but he could cope with it. But it was quite another for her to drag their son into the whole twisted scenario. That just made him sick.

Simon wouldn't stand for it. Couldn't stand for it. He could almost taste the bitterness of bile in his mouth as the anger coursed through him. His tolerance had reached it's limit. And suddenly, without further thought, the scorned husband stormed towards the loading ramp of the Millennium Falcon. Thoughts of his 'carefully laid plans' and 'playing it cool' were rapidly forgotten. Gone. Anger had suddenly one the battle over reason.

Simon was going to have this out with them. Right now.

* * * * *

"But Uncle Chewie lets me have them all the time!"

Leia bit her lip, fighting to keep her expression stern. This was proving to be difficult against the ridiculous appearance of her six year old son. Bailey gazed up at her in wide eyed innocence, smears of dark surrounding his mouth like a chocolate goatee. Another dark stain marred the front of his shirt, as if the treat had literally melted right on top of it. Leia pursed her lips together, "Look at you," she said shaking her head lightly, "What a mess ..."

Han let a small chuckle from behind her. "Maybe it would be easier to just throw him straight into valet unit."

Bailey's eyes widened considerably at this. He gave his father an incredulous look as if trying gauge whether the man was serious. The boy glanced back at his mother. "But you're not really gonna, right?" Bailey reached up and scratched his nose nervously as he waited for her reply.

"Of course not," she answered smoothly, her mouth quirking up slightly at the brown smudge that Bailey had unknowingly left at the tip of his nose. "He's just teasing."

Bailey's shoulders sagged in relief. "Oh," he said with feigned confidence, "Yeah, I thought so."

"Still," she said, crouching down in front of the boy. "You do need to get cleaned up." She cocked an appraising eyebrow, as studied his face more closely. Suddenly, as if by magic, she had a small handkerchief in her hand which she proceeded to use to wipe at the child's face.

"Aw, Mom." He protested, flinching away from her hand. Bailey shot a quick glance at the smuggler and then back to his mother. "I can do it myself."

Leia rocked back on her heals. "Oh, right." She gave one last swipe at his chin before adding, "but I think you really need to jump into the refresher."

Bailey abruptly jumped back and out of his mother's reach. His expression was one of horror, as if Leia had actually suggested something along the lines of gruesome torture. "No, I don't!" He stubbornly grabbed the tissue from her hand. "I can get it off. I don't need a stupid bath."

"Okay, fine," Leia conceded and Bailey's expression brightened with relief. "But," she amended, "you better get a wet towel and wipe everything off. Everything," she gave him a knowing smile, "especially those sticky little hands of yours."

Bailey nodded with easy agreement and then tore off towards the refresher, as if trying to get away before his mother had time to reconsider her decision. Leia watched him trot away and could almost feel Han wincing as Bailey absently brushed his grubby hands along random panels of the Falcon as he went. But when she turned to the smuggler, she was surprised to see, not the grimace she expected, but a knowing grin.

"Hey," he said, the smile on his face broadening. He took a step towards her, "Alone at last, huh?"

Leia felt a familiar heat rise in her cheeks and her lips turned up shyly. "Not for long, I'm afraid."

Han shrugged good naturedly. "That's okay," he said, reaching for her hand, "I'll take what I can get." He gently pulled her towards him until their faces were merely inches apart. "After all, stealing kisses is what I do best."

Leia grinned mischievously. "That among other things."

Han stopped, a look of pleased surprise dawning across his features. Wow, he had really missed this. "Hey Princess," he said softly, rubbing callused thumb across her cheek. "Looks like you got some on you." Suddenly Han's lips were pressed lightly against her skin, where his thumb had just been. They worked softly against her flesh and slowly trailed down to her mouth.

Leia tightened her arms around him and drew him even closer. If she stopped to think about this too much, it still all seemed so unreal. Impossible. So she preferred not to think too much about it at all. She would just focus on the warm sensations of his mouth against hers. Fall into it. Gods, I love him ...

It took another moment before the shadow at the door made his presence known. "Well, look here," came a sneering voice, "Isn't this a cozy scene?"

Han felt the princess' body jerk away from him with a start. "Simon!" She gasped, her face suddenly white with surprise. "What are you doing here?"

Simon glared at her coolly, the corners of his mouth twisting into a leer. "I could ask you the same question, Princess, but I think the answer to that is already quite obvious." He gave her a small sardonic smile, "Although, I have to admit I'd be a bit surprised if you even remember how to do it."

Han made a move towards him, but Leia stopped him with a hand on the arm. She gave it a quick squeeze as if to say don't, but her gaze never left her husband. "I'm so sorry, Simon. Really, I -- " She hesitated, her mind racing to find the right words. "This is not how I imagined having this conversation," she finally said.

Simon's nostrils flared angrily, his eyes turning to slits as he took in the presence of her hand on Solo's arm. "Save your apologies," the man spat, his gaze still boring into the smuggler's arm. "You're not sorry for me. You're sorry for getting caught," Simon jerked a chin in Han's direction, "and what this will mean for your royal reputation."

Leia could practically feel the anger radiating from Han's body. It was like a tangible heat coming off of him. His temper was thinning fast, and the Princess prayed silently to the goddesses that Simon would hold his tongue. She stole a quick glance in Han's direction. His face was hard and he was glaring unflinchingly in the other man's direction. "Simon," she said calmly, turning her attention back to her husband. Leia's mind was now settling down long enough for her to recall a few shreds of diplomatic training. "Maybe we should just sit down for a moment -- "

Simon snorted in disgust, "No, I don't think so, dear. I don't feel like turning this into some sick Senate meeting between you, me, and your lover."

"Simon ..." There was a sympathetic pleading in her voice. She really did feel terrible about this.

"Just let him go, Leia." Han finally said, his voice surprisingly quiet.

Simon raised an eyebrow in amusement, his attention shifting to the smuggler beside her. "I'm sorry, Captain Solo, were you under the impression I was leaving?"

"Yeah, I think you better."

"Now? Just as things are getting interesting?" Simon shook his head in mock disbelief, as if he couldn't possibly even fathom the idea. "But I wanted to stay for the whole show! After all," his eyes sparkled in perverse amusement, "I've never seen royalty spread her legs for cantina trash before."

Leia's cheeks reddened with mortification. "Simon -- !"

"Why, you -- " Han was across the room in two quick strides, his arms lashing out in a blur to shove the other man roughly into the nearest wall. Simon heard a crunch as his back fell hard against one of the Falcon's control panels. He tried to ignore the shooting pains racing up his spine as he looked up to meet Solo's gaze. The smuggler's face was now merely inches from his. Well, this certainly seems familiar ...

"You don't talk about her that way," Han's grip tightened and his voice was thick with unspoken threats. "Now apologize."

Simon smirked and he was vaguely aware of Leia protesting in the background. He was also surprised to realize that he didn't feel even a trace of the fear that had plagued him in the bar that morning. This time was different. He knew now that Solo wouldn't hurt him -- he wouldn't dare.

"Han!" Leia called hotly from behind him, "You're not helping things!"

"That's right, Leia," Simon said, his voice snide, "call your pet rancor off."

"Han!"

But Han ignored her, his glare stubbornly fixed on the man in front of him. "Apologize," he repeated, his voice rising slightly. Suddenly, one of the smuggler's hands was pressed against the man's throat.

Simon just continued to smirk up at him, his eyes almost daring Han to do something. "Look at this, Leia," he called nonchalantly, his infuriating gaze never leaving the pilot's face. "See what he's doing to me? This is some role model, huh?"

"Shut up, Simon." Leia returned sharply, her tone almost defensive. But her husband's words had the desired effect. Feeling a sudden rush of shame, Solo loosened his grip and slowly stepped away from the man.

"Why thank you, Captain Solo." Simon said, his voice ringing with insincere gratitude. He made a show of straightening his clothing. "It certainly is wonderful to be able to breathe again. I appreciate it."

"You're welcome," Han replied evenly, his voice just as hollow. "Now, why don't you get out of here."

"Certainly," Simon replied easily. "Just let me collect the boy and I'll be out of your hair."

"What?" Leia was incredulous. She couldn't believe she had heard him correctly.

Simon turned to her, his tone still deceptively casual. "Well, naturally you don't expect me to leave the child in an environment such as this." He motioned to the smuggler. "Between Captain Solo and his hair trigger temper, and you with your -- " Simon smirked in amusement, "Well, I mean who knows what the two of you are going to be up to in here." He cleared his throat meaningfully, "I would just feel better knowing that Bailey was with me. Where it's safer."

"Safer?!" Han's eyebrows shot up in surprise. He looked ready to lunge at the man again.

Leia was a little more level-headed. "I appreciate your concern, Simon," she responded with surprising civility, "but I assure you, Bailey is fine where he is."

"I seriously doubt that one."

"Why don't you mind your own damn business," Han blurted angrily, "and let us decide what's best for our son -- "

Leia shot him a warning look, "Han -- "

Simon laughed abruptly, cutting off the rest of the princess' remarks. "Your son??" He shook his head in amazed disbelief, "You're back for barely two days and suddenly he's your son?!"

Leia swung her attention back to her husband, suddenly feeling like she were a referee in some professional fighting match. "Simon -- "

"That's right," Han growled angrily, seemingly oblivious to the princess' growing distress. "I am his father and now that I am back, your services are no longer needed."

"We'll just see about that."

"Oh, we will," Han replied darkly, "don't you worry."

Simon responded with a cool glare, and suddenly the air fell eerily quiet. The two men took a moment, as if re-sizing each other up. Simon's expression was impossible to read, his face nothing more than an impassive mask. But just for one fleeting moment, Han could've swore he saw the man's mouth turn up in a faint smile and a knowing shine flash through his eyes. It was as if Simon was silently warning the smuggler that this thing was far from being over. Then it was gone. And for some inexplicable reason, Han felt his stomach tighten nervously, followed by a quick rush of shame. He couldn't believe he was letting Simon unnerve him so much. This little weasel was intimidating him. Pathetic, Solo.

Suddenly, the air in the room changed again.

"Bailey," Han heard the princess gasp from behind him. Surprised, he turned guiltily towards the entrance way.

The boy stood there in stunned silence. His wide eyes flicking nervously between the two men. "I heard yelling," he explained in a soft whisper.

Han swallowed tensely and tried to force a pleasant grin on his face. "It's okay, Bailey. It was just a small disagreement, but it's over now. So, there's nothing for you to be scared about."

The boy didn't look convinced and he remained rooted in the doorway. He tugged at his lip anxiously and his gaze moved to his step-father. "Hi, Simon," he greeted shyly.

"Hi there, buddy," Simon replied, his voice filled with a bit too much forced cheer. "How are you?"

Bailey gave him a small smile. "Good. My daddy came home."

"I know," Simon responded tightly, and the warmth on his face dissipated.

"We played together all morning and he's going to teach me to fly as good as him."

Han smiled softly at the child's words, but then he saw the look of controlled fury building on Simon's face and his expression sobered. The man looked like a thermal detonator about to go off. "Hey Bailey," Han said lightly, reaching out his hand. "Why don't you come over here." Simon was making him uneasy.

The child nodded and made a motion as if to approach the smuggler.

"Don't you move, Bailey!" The fierceness of the command caused the boy's body to jerk to a startled halt. He had never heard his step-father yell like that before. Now he felt frozen with indecision. He looked between the men with wide eyed uncertainty, completely at a loss with what to do.

"It's okay," Han offered again, his arm still outstretched. "You're not in trouble, just come here."

Simon was glaring at the smuggler again. "Don't move," he repeated, his gaze still fixed on Solo. "Stay right there."

Bailey looked stricken and he continued to glance back and forth between the two men. Finally his unsteady gaze came to rest on his mother. "Momma?"

Leia, who had been watching this whole scene with a growing sense of outrage, managed to soften her expression long enough to offer her son a small comforting smile.

That was all the boy needed. With his arms outstretched, the child raced towards his mother. "Momma," he sniffed, wrapping his arms around the princess' waist. Leia put a comforting arm around the boy as he buried his face into her shirt. Then she looked back up at Simon and Han and her expression hardened. "You two should be ashamed of yourselves, carrying on this way. He's a little boy, not some weapon to be used against each other."

Han had the decency to look embarrassed and his eyes fell guiltily to the floor.

Simon only snorted. "Oh, that's rich," he said, with that familiar smugness back in his voice. "You're a fine one to talk about being 'ashamed'."

Han's head jerked back up, his body once more tensing up with anger. "You better watch that mouth, Simon."

"Han," Leia said, once again throwing him a look of warning. "Please, just ignore him."

"Yes, 'ignore me'." There was almost a perverse gleefulness in Simon's voice now. "You would know all about that, right, Princess? After all, you've been doing that to me for years."

Leia turned to her husband, her expression remarkably impassive. "I know you're angry with me Simon," she said calmly, her voice perfectly even. "And I know you have your reasons. We have a lot to discuss and I will be more than willing to sit down with you and work out all the details." She motioned her head towards the child clinging to her waist, "But we will do it at a later time."

Leia straightened. "Now if you two want to kill each other, go right ahead. But Bailey and I don't need to stick around and watch." The princess pushed past Simon to head for the boarding ramp, when suddenly his hand shot out and gripped her arm tightly.

"You think it's over? It's not over." Simon's expression was now wide open and desperate, "It's not that easy. You can't just leave me.That's not how it works."

Leia swallowed and yanked her arm out of his vice-like grip. "Don't touch me," she warned with an icy coolness. She moved to push past him again and this time when he tried to make a grab for her, Han was there to block him. Before Simon even had time to respond, Han swung a fist into his jaw. Leia let out a startled yelp as Simon hit the deck with a resounding thud.

There was a heavy moment of silence, and Leia slowly turned her head to give the smuggler a stunned look. Bailey sniffled nervously, and tightened his grip around the reeling princess.

"Sorry," Han mumbled, shaking his fist out. "I thought he was going to hurt you."

Leia nodded numbly and she stared back down at her husband. She would be angry at Han later -- she knew she would -- but right now all she wanted was this whole horrid scene to be over.

Simon sat sprawled on the deck, rubbing at his jaw in dazed disbelief. Suddenly, he felt something warm against his mouth, and when he pulled his fingers away from his face he was startled to see them stained with blood. His blood. Solo had actually split his mouth open. He stifled a groan as he felt a sharp pain race through his face. It felt like Solo might've also cracked his jaw in the process. Bastard.

Above him, Leia finally found her voice again, "I think you should go, Simon."

This time he could hardly find the energy to disagree with her. Tentatively pushing himself up from the deck, Simon spared Solo a quick glare. "Don't worry, Captain Solo," he remarked with bitter irony, "I can show myself out."

Han didn't respond, but just gazed back at him coolly, a look of almost regret passing briefly over his features.

Simon shook his head in disgust and turned to leave. Stepping towards the ramp, he paused at the doorway and with his back still facing them, he let out one last parting shot. "It's fine, Solo. You can have her. She's hardly worth the trouble." And with that he stumbled down the ramp, his head still spinning from the hit he had taken. But he didn't stop to look back even once. After all, Simon was sincere when he said that Han could have the princess. Leia was no longer his concern.

It was the boy he was after now.

To Part Five | To Part Seven

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