While You Were Gone: Part Seven
Stoned Rose

Xavier sat slouched in one of the reclining couches, his mind continuously reviewing his boss' earlier odd behavior.

His eyes cautiously wandered over to the closed cockpit door. Malcolm had still not come out, even after Calrissian had gone off with Solo's Wookiee friend. And when the young man had made an attempt to talk to his boss, Malcolm had demanded through the sealed door to be left alone. The older man had 'some thinking to do' and he was in no mood for distractions.

So Xavier continued to sit in silence, his fingers absently toying with the abandoned Sabacc cards still splayed out before him. The golden protocol droid sat across from him, it's head tilted in what could only be described as a kind of mechanical curiosity.

"Sir," the droid began carefully and Xavier had to stifle an impatient sigh. The last thing the young man wanted was to listen to that thing start up it's incessant babbling again. It was hard enough to get it to be quiet the first time.

"What?" Xavier asked warily.

"Chewbacca and General Calrissian have been gone a long period of time and I was wondering --"

"I don't know," Xavier interrupted crossly. "I don't know where they went and I don't know when they'll be back, okay?"

Threepio paused for a moment, as if considering this statement. "Very well," he finally replied. There was almost a trace of resignation in his voice.

Xavier looked away from the droid and slowly began to collect the Sabacc cards from the table. He felt a quick pang of shame for his churlish attitude, but tried to dismiss it. After all, this was just a machine he was talking to, he didn't really have to feel sorry. It wasn't as if the droid, under all that wiring and plating, actually had any feelings to hurt. Although, he admitted silently, See-Threepio seemed more human than any droid he had ever met before.

Xavier had to stop that line of thought. If Malcolm knew what he was thinking he'd probably joke at the young man for being overly sensitive again. But Xavier couldn't help it, he guessed some things were just too ingrained.The young man finished collecting the cards and slowly looked up at the droid sitting across from him again. "Hey," he said, unable to resist making amends, even if it was just a machine. "You know how to play Sabacc?"

Threepio looked at him with a start, as if his processors were whirring to comprehend how the young man could actually be addressing him out of his own free will. "Why, certainly," he finally replied, "I am programmed in the rules and regulations of over one hundred forms of the game."

Xavier felt his mouth dry. A hundred?

"What set of rules were you interested in using for this round?" The droid inquired enthusiastically,

Xavier licked his lips. "Well, uh," he said with uncertainty, "Um, the 'standard ones'? General Calrissian didn't really --" But his thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the welcome sound of footfalls coming up the boarding ramp. Xavier jumped out of his seat with a start. "Great," he breathed in relief, "that must be him now."

The young man made his way towards the entrance way in three quick strides, eager for the additional company to dispel his poor mood. "General --" Xavier halted to an abrupt stop, his smile quickly fading as he took in the form that was suddenly framed in the doorway. "What --?"

The man at the top of the ramp gazed at him dully, his stare almost accusing as he took in the younger one standing in his way. He had a stained handkerchief pressed against his jaw, and his once expensive shirt was spotted with dark red blotches. "Where's Malcolm," he asked evenly, a threatening edge to his voice.

Xavier hesitated. The man adjusted the rag he held against his face, and Xavier caught a quick glimpse of discolored skin. The man's jaw was rapidly swelling and it lent an uneven, almost comical, appearance to his sharp featured face. "I -- uh," the young man sputtered, "What is this about?"

"Business," Simon replied impatiently. "Now where is he?"

Xavier swallowed, "In the cockpit."

Simon nodded shortly and brusquely shoved the younger man aside as he made his way towards the sealed door.

"Wait," Xavier protested weakly, "I don't think --"

But Simon was already slamming his fist impatiently against the metal door. "Malcolm," he commanded hotly, "It's me. Open up."

"Sir, you can't just --" But Xavier's words died in his throat as the man suddenly took a step back and the cockpit slid open. Malcolm stood on the other side, and expression of wary apprehension on his face. He sighed and motioned the disheveled man through the door.

Xavier's mind reeled in confusion. What was going on here? He shot his boss a questioning look, "Sir?"

Malcolm met his gaze briefly before abruptly turning away. "This is private, Xavier," he replied gruffly, his hand already reaching to seal the door again.

"But --!"

Xavier's pleading tone was lost on Malcolm, who's attention was already focused to the other man now hidden from view. As the door slid shut, Xavier heard the hard edge in the other man's voice as he pronounced coolly, "There's been a change of plans ..." Then the cockpit sealed up with a resounding hiss, and the rest of the words were abruptly cut off.

Xavier stood there in quiet shock for a moment. His brain frantically trying to put the pieces together. He couldn't figure this out. What was Malcolm getting involved in? It was not like his boss to get pulled into something shady like this. Well, he had had his share of 'crooked' deals in the past, but nothing as darkly suspicious as what this was shaping up to be.

Xavier licked his lips nervously, his numb mind finally registering the annoyed and endless monologue coming from the droid behind him. "What was that?" He asked Threepio absently.

"Well!" The droid huffed in irritation, "It's not like Master Simon to so rudely dismiss my presence like that. It was as if I wasn't even in the room! And after all these years of faithful service. I only work to please him and --"

The young man turned to the droid with sudden interest. "You know him?"

"Why, of course," Threepio replied matter-of-factly. "That was Master Simon. Although, by his strange appearance I almost didn't recognize him. He must of run into trouble of some sort. I do hope he --"

Xavier shook his head impatiently, his brain struggling to pinpoint the significance of what he heard. "Simon?" Why did that name sound so familiar?

The droid paused, it's inanimate expression somehow managing to convey mild surprise. "Why, the princess' husband, of course."

Xavier turned back to sealed cockpit, a vague understanding beginning to dawn over him. He still wasn't sure what was going on, but the sudden heaviness in his gut told him it wasn't good. And Malcolm was getting pulled into the thick of it. If he could only figure out what was going on exactly, then maybe -- "Threepio," he said suddenly, an idea suddenly forming. "You're a protocol droid, right?"

"Why, yes," he replied cheerfully. "I'm fluent in over six million forms of communication --"

"That includes ships, too. Right?"

"Well," the droid hesitated, "it is not a specialty of my programming, but yes, I am quite competent at --"

"Could you tell the computer to open the comm-units that are stationed all over this ship? Say like, the one in the cockpit?"

"I'm not sure if that's quite within my capabilities."

"Well, try." Xavier said urgently.

"May I inquire as to why you wish for me to --"

"The cockpit," he interrupted, his voice rising with growing excitement, "I need to hear what's going on in the cockpit."

"But, sir! I couldn't possibly be so invasive as to broadcast --"

"Just do it!"

"Oh, dear," The golden droid shook his head fretfully, "Master Simon will not be pleased ..."

"Master Simon doesn't need to know."

"But, sir!"

"Please Threepio," Xavier pleaded, his voice taking on a softer tone. "I wouldn't ask if it weren't important. It --" the young man hesitated, and then decided to play his hunch. "It involves the princess."

"Mistress Leia?"

The droid's voice rang with an alarm that surprised the young man. "Yeah," he replied with forced patience. "So can you help me or not?

"Oh, dear," Threepio sighed, his voice clearly conveying his misgivings. "I'll do my best ..."

* * * * *

Xavier suppressed a groan of frustration as he stood impatiently behind the working protocol droid. Threepio had been tampering with the ship's main computer for no more than a minute or two, but every passing moment felt excruciating to the young man. Xavier wiped his palms anxiously against the legs of his pants. The tense silence making his shaky breathes to seem overwhelmingly loud in his ears. The only other sound in the room was an intermittent static that hissed through a small speaker.

Threepio threw up his arms in mechanical exasperation as if suddenly fed up with the stubborn ship. "Why, really ...!"

Xavier bit his lip, desperate to tune out the inane ramblings of the flustered droid. The young man was too intent on focusing in on what might be going on in the cockpit. As if maybe by concentrating hard enough, he would magically pick up what they were saying through the metal door. What was going on in there? What important information was being passed as they stood dallying in front of the console?

"Oh, dear ..." Threepio muttered mostly to himself, snapping the young man from his reverie.

"What is it?" Xavier asked, unable to keep the impatience from straining his voice. "Can't you get it to work?"

"Well, normally I would just bypass the main circuitry leading into the communications module, but I'm afraid General Calrissian has made some very strange modifications to the wiring ..."

"So ...?"

"Well, it's altered the ship's language slightly and - oh!" Threepio tilted back his head in sudden surprise. A light blinked and the crackling static thinned out. "Wait, I do believe I've found it....!"

Xavier leaned in eagerly, careful not to bump into the working joints of the golden droid. See-Threepio made a few more adjustments and the static broke abruptly and the urgent sound of Malcolm's voice was suddenly bursting from the speaker. "-- you're crazy. You obviously haven't thought this through."

"This is all I have been thinking about," Simon replied sharply. "For seven years all I've done is think about this." His voice was defensive, and the steely edge was unmistakable -- even through the small com-unit.

Malcolm's immediate response was lost in a sudden burst of static. Xavier tightened his grip on the droid's shoulder. "Threepio --!"

But the interference fizzled out and the voice returned through the speaker with a newfound clarity. "-- political suicide! Even if I did help, you would never get away with it."

"You were going to help me," Simon retorted hotly. "This isn't so different. And let me worry about my back, you worry about yours."

"But he's a kid! You can't just take him!"

Xavier could feel the breath catch in his throat and unconsciously his hand reached to steady himself against the droid's metal shoulder. This was sounding worse than he had thought. Oh gods, sir, don't listen to him ...

"He's my kid, Malcolm. And I will not stand by as that woman and her pirate boyfriend poison him against me."

There was a sudden clattering noise on the other end and the voices fell quiet. Xavier swallowed nervously, he could feel the tension permeating from the comm unit as clearly as if he were right in the cockpit with them.

There was another beat of silence before Malcolm finally spoke up again, his voice quiet. "The boy is Solo's son, Simon. Not yours."

The young man shook his head fearfully. That was the wrong thing to say. Xavier took an unconscious step back from the speaker as if anticipating another violent outburst from Simon, but one never came. There was just a heavy moment of silence, before Simon's voice came forth again. It was made of steel and in such even control, that it gave Xavier a chill. "He is mine. I raised that boy. I've shaped and molded him for the future. I've prepared him." Simon scoffed, "Solo's nothing more than biology. He can do nothing for Bailey, except blow his chances. I, on the other hand, will be saving him."

* * * * *

Malcolm was silent for a moment. He studied Simon's expression carefully. The lights from the control panels were casting a strange glow across the other's man's face. His bottom lip looked bloated and red. His jaw was taking on a deep purple color. Simon's appearance was disconcerting to Malcolm, and he found himself quickly averting his eyes. He turned towards the pilot controls, as if the blinking lights were of a newfound interest to him.

There was a beat as Malcolm deliberately chose his words. Finally, he said, "What about the princess? She's the boy's mother - in every sense. And she's got power, too." He shook his head thoughtfully. "If you take the kid, there's no way she's just going to sit on her hands. You'll have the entire New Republic on your back within hours."

"Don't worry about it," Simon said confidently, "I've already thought of that."

"But Simon --"

"Just do your part and I'll take care of the rest."

Malcolm swallowed. What Simon was asking of him was just too much. He couldn't dream of carrying it out, but he couldn't dare refuse either. The man had already made it clear from the beginning what would happen to him if he refused. "You mean Solo ..."

Simon nodded. "Remember what's in it for you -- if you pull this off."

"I know."

Simon smiled. But it was an icy grin, one with no real humor. "But more importantly, remember what's in it for you if you don't."

Malcolm nodded numbly, his head spinning with the implications. He was definitely in too deep now.

Simon reached up and patted his lip with the stained cloth in his hand. "Good," he said evenly. His lips twisted into a grimace as he touched upon the tender part of his jaw. "I'm glad we have an understanding then." Simon smiled again, and this time Malcolm caught a glimpse of the well-bred politician. The one who had managed to charm millions of voters and inspire trust from setinents of all species. But in another instant it was gone, and Simon was his true self again. He turned and reached to palm the door's release. "I'll be in touch," he said shortly. Then the door slid open and the man stalked out, leaving a brooding Malcolm in his wake.

The older man felt sick, his gut now clenching in apprehension. He almost needed to reach out a hand to steady himself. Malcolm took a deep breath and frantically tried to organize his thoughts, but they seemed to be racing by him too fast. When he glanced up again, he was startled to see a gaping Xavier framed in the doorway. The kid's face was drained of all it's color.

"Malcolm ..." the young man gasped in a horrified whisper.

Malcolm felt a dull stab of panic. He wondered how much the kid knew. The older man turned away, his tone immediately on the defensive, "What?"

Xavier fought back a bout of nausea, his brain still reeling from the stray bits of information he had overheard through the speaker. "Tell me you're not going to do this." There was a pleading in his voice.

Malcolm looked up with a start. He was caught off guard by the young man's request. So, Xavier had heard it all. "Do what?" He asked gruffly, still not willing to concede to the young man that anything was up at all.

"You know ..." Xavier's gazed shot to his feet, his confidence slowly dwindling. "... with the kid ...." He swallowed, "and Captain Solo ..."

Malcolm felt his hackles rise, hoping that through indignance he might be able to conceal the shame that was threatening to overwhelm him. "Ah, you don't understand nothing, kid." He snarled, abruptly pushing the young man out of his way as he went through the door. "Just mind your own business."

But Xavier wasn't going to let this go. He couldn't. What his friend was planning to do was wrong. He was thinking about destroying entire lives. "I can't believe you, Malcolm." He called to the older man's back, "You should've listened to me on Tatooine, now everything's more screwed up than ever."

Malcolm's spine grew rigid at the kid's words, but he didn't turn around. "Oh, yeah?" He said defensively, "And what's that supposed to mean?"

"You know what I'm talking about." Xavier replied, his voice dropping to a whisper, "Captain Solo. We should've just left him in the carbonite. Everyone would've been better off." The young man let out a despondent sigh. "Especially his family."

Malcolm turned with an angry retort on his lips, but quickly swallowed it. The heavy weight of shame snuffing out any smart remark he might've made. After all, the kid was right. In the very beginning, Xavier had wanted to leave the smuggler where they had found him in that abandoned cave. Just leave him half buried in sand and never look back. But Malcolm had refused.

And now the older man was beginning to wish they had done just that.

* * * * *

Han breathed in the air of his ship, letting the familiar scent of motor oil and engine lube to burn through his nostrils. The Falcon was strangely quiet in the wake of Simon's dramatic departure. The lights of the ship's computers continued to blink and whir in silent communication, while outside in the hangar, Han could vaguely make out the sounds of other pilots and droids attending to their own space vehicles. It was deceptively calm, but Han could sense a post-scene tension that caused an almost audible buzz to permeate the air. It's only the calm before sand storm .... The smuggler straightened at the thought. He didn't know where that had come from. Maybe he was only dreading the impending scene with Leia. He knew she was angry; most of it probably justified, but his smuggler's intuition told him it was something more than that. Something bigger. Maybe relating to that ominous warning that Luke had given him earlier. Or maybe not. Han tried to reassure himself with a private grin. Maybe you really are just a guy dreading having his girlfriend yell at him.

But he wasn't convinced.

Han ran a hand along a control panel, but even the familiar comfort usually offered by his ship was not able to distract his thoughts from returning to the confrontation with Simon. His mind flashed to the sneer that had distorted the politician's face. The man's caustic words to Leia suddenly reverberating through his mind. And that cold expression. That fleeting look that had passed over Simon's face. The one that had caused Han's stomach to momentarily lurch. Even now, it gave him the creeps. But he was being ridiculous. The carbon freeze had softened his brain. With a simple flick of the switch and he had turned from a hardened and street-smart space pirate into a jittery and delusional mess. Or maybe you're smarter now, Solo. Maybe you've suddenly learned that it's harder to gamble when you have so much to lose ...

Han shook his head in annoyance, as if trying to physically dislodge the unpleasant thoughts from his brain. There was no point in dwelling on this. Besides, if they could get past an obstacle like Darth Vader, then a sniveling little Kowakian mokey-lizard like Simon wouldn't be any problem at all. They could deal with him.

The smuggler turned his thoughts back towards the ship. The hyperdrive's busted again. Chewie's going to need some help with that. Maybe if we adjusted the ... But his thought faded out mid-sentence, only to be replaced with the words of Leia's husband. You think this is over? It's not over ... Han felt his jaw clench. Even now, the words had enough resonance to ignite a flame of anger within him. That man had tried to hurt Leia, and now Han wished that Simon was back here once more. He wanted to hit him all over again. And again. And again. He wanted to knock him down for every scathing word he had ever thrown at the princess. Han wanted pummel him for any moment of sadness he might have caused her.

As if landing Simon in the hospital could make up for seven years of absence. Han smirked to himself. Well, it might be a good start ...

Immediately his thoughts sobered as his eyes caught on the hall that led to his cabin. Leia was there with Bailey now. Comforting him. Trying to assure the little boy that everything was all right. Han swallowed. Probably trying to reassure him about me. That last thought caused a cold stab of panic to lace through him. Suddenly all the smug fantasies of smearing Simon all over the control panels flew from his mind. His seething anger was quickly swept aside and replaced with a tightening remorse.

Han blew out a haggard sigh. Maybe he shouldn't have punched Simon like that. Maybe he had acted without thinking, but what was he supposed to have done? He had thought Simon was going to hurt the princess, hadn't he? But even now, Han wasn't so sure. Maybe he had just seen his opportunity to finally strike the man and so he had taken it. And if he were to be perfectly honest, it had felt good hitting him. Real good. Han almost smiled at the memory of Simon hitting the deck, but then another image of Bailey flashed through his mind and he stopped himself. He had promised Leia he was ready to be a father. That he was prepared for the responsibility of it and now here had gone and probably blown it within the first hour. She was probably reconsidering the situation at that very moment.

Han smacked his fist against the bulkhead in frustration and then to bit back a startled curse as a stinging pain shot up his arm. His hand was sore and discolored from connecting with Simon's jaw and now he had just further aggravated it. Han stifled a string of obscenities and shook out his fist in pained annoyance.

"You know, you're never going let that hand heal if you keep punching everything in sight."

Han turned with a start. He hadn't heard Leia come back in and it surprised him to be caught off guard like that. The smuggler tried to mask his surprise with a casual grin, but it felt strained. "Ah, I know, but it's nothing. Doesn't even hurt, really." He took a tentative step towards her and his tone softened. "How's Bailey?"

Leia sighed, her body still framed in the entrance from the hall. "He'll be all right. He's just a little shook up right now."

"Where is he?"

"In your cabin, sleeping." Her expression was impossible to read, "I think all the excitement this morning wore him out."

Han nodded in silent understanding, his brain already skipping ahead in search for the right thing to say. "Listen, I --" but the words died in his throat. He wanted to apologize, but he didn't even know where to start. Heck, he didn't even know if he was really sorry. Simon had it coming. He had deserved it. But she's probably looking for an apology, so just give her what she wants ... Han ran an anxious hand through his air, trying not to betray a hint of the nervousness he felt. "Leia," he said softly, trying for a new approach, "about before ..."

Leia crossed her arms and stared pointedly at the floor. "I really wish you hadn't done that, Han."

"I know."

"Especially in front of our impressionable six year old son."

Han nodded and blew out resigned sigh. "I know."

Leia finally met his gaze. "He looks up to you."

Han looked away. He had expected the princess to come storming in here, ready to loudly harangue him for what had happened earlier. He had been prepared for that, but he found this quiet reproach to be infinitely worse. Having Leia angry at him was one thing. Having her disappointed was quite another. "I know. I --" he hesitated, "I wasn't thinking. Everything just happened so fast, I didn't have time to think."

Leia nodded thoughtfully, as if considering this argument. "Well, I hope that in the future," she said, her voice even, "you will find the time to think before acting. Especially, when acting out while a small child looks on."

Han winced. Ouch. On one level, he knew that she was right. He shouldn't have done what he had done. But on quite another, he found himself completely justified and he felt the need to defend his actions. "Listen," he said, taking a step towards her, a palm raised defensively. "You're right. Maybe I overreacted a bit, but let me explain --"

"Maybe you overreacted? Maybe?" Leia's brow rose incredulously, "You charged at an unarmed man with your fists flying." Suddenly, it was as if her argument had been injected with a much needed shot of adrenaline. Her voice began to rise. "You broke my husband's jaw while Bailey was standing right there!. What kind of example is that?"

Han felt his hackles rise at her use of the word 'husband' and was instantly put on the defensive. "Now hold on, princess," he replied, taking another stop in her direction. He felt his own voice get louder, but couldn't control it. "First off, I didn't break his jaw --"

Leia gave him a pointed glare. "Close enough."

"Second," he continued, stubbornly, "I was only doing what I thought I had to do. I didn't think because there was no time to think. I saw him grabbing you like that and I had to make my move."

Leia shook her head indignantly. "That's ridiculous, Simon would never hurt me."

Han's brow raised, his expression incredulous. "How can you say that? Was I the only one standing here??"

The princess pursed her lips together slightly and reconsidered her words. "I meant Simon would never hit me," she amended.

"Oh, well ..." Han let his eyes stray to the scuffed toes of his spacer boots, and shrugged his shoulders in irritation. "I couldn't know that. And I couldn't take the chance that he would."

"Well, you should've," Leia replied abruptly, not even sure if she meant it.

Han shot her a disbelieving look, "I could never stand by and let anyone hurt you, Leia." He was almost annoyed that she could even suggest such a thing. "Ever."

Her expression softened at his words and she found herself looking away, suddenly apologetic for having yelled at him. "I know," she replied softly.

"And I'd do it again, if it meant keeping you safe."

Leia gave him a hard look, clearly disapproving of his last remark. Then she just let out a deep sigh, as if attempting to blow her exhaustion out between her two lips. The truth was, she didn't want to be mad at Han. She couldn't be. Not when she was still so grateful to have him here with her at all. And not when he had done nothing more than what Leia had actually wanted to do herself. A part of her couldn't deny the perverse pleasure she had felt at seeing her smug husband hitting the deckplates. The image almost brought a smile to her lips, even now.

Han noticed the dark cloud seemingly passing from her features and felt a dull hope flare up in him again. "What?" He asked, his voice guardedly optimistic. "What's so funny?"

Leia shook her head, stifling a sudden smile. She was almost too ashamed to share this thought with him. She really should still be mad, yet, found it strangely impossible. "To be honest with you, Han, I'm really not sure what I'm more angry about, the fact that you hit Simon, or --" Leia hesitated.

Han cocked a curious eyebrow, "or what?"

"Or the fact that you didn't hit him harder." Leia covered her mouth at the admission, and once again shook her head in disbelief of her own honesty. "Isn't that awful?"

Han shrugged, unable to suppress a pleased quirk from taking over his mouth. "Nah, it sounds understandable to me."

"I shouldn't admit that, though."

"Why not?" Han went right up to the princess now, his confidence renewed with every step he took. He placed his warm hands on her shoulders, "It's the truth, isn't it?"

Leia smiled faintly, her gaze focused at his chest. The smuggler felt her shoulders lightly convulse as she let out a small chuckle. "He's so vain, Han." She blurted, her head shaking in amusement, "If he seemed mad when he left here, I can only imagine how upset he'll be tomorrow when he looks in a mirror."

Han's grin broadened, "Well, I could always go find him and hit him with my left hook. That might even out his appearance."

Leia was leaning into him now, her laughter coming more freely. "He might actually appreciate that. I'm not kidding, he makes Lando Calrissian look modest."

"Nooo, I don't believe it," Han said, finding her laughter contagious. Although, it was more out of relief for seeing her smile than from actually getting the joke.

"He spends more time getting ready to go out than I do. And poor Threepio," she snorted, "he makes that poor droid give him pedicures at least once a month ..." She wiped a tear of amusement from her eye. "He props his feet up on the pillows and Threepio ... It's ridiculous ...!"

Han chuckled, his hand reaching up to curl a strand of hair behind her ear. "Wow," he said, his head shaking in disbelief, "How'd you end up with this guy again?"

"I --" Leia paused to catch her breath, and her expression slowly sobered. She seemed to seriously consider the question for a moment. Han was partly kidding, but there was no denying the sincere curiosity that hung behind his words. Her gaze strayed back to his chest and she shrugged her shoulders meekly. "I don't know," she finally replied. "He was charming. Nice. I needed that." Leia paused, and then her words came out in a rush, "You have to understand, that after you -- after what ..." Her voice faltered, as if she were suddenly caught on the right words to use.

Han was silent, his hand still resting at the side of her face. He didn't know how much of an answer he really wanted to hear, but he was hesitant to interrupt her for some reason.

"After Bespin," she continued, her eyes still reluctant to meet his intense gaze. "That was a very difficult time for me. One of the worst. And there was Bailey to take care of and -- I -- I thought Simon might help. I thought he would be good for us. All of us." She let out a shaky sigh. "I don't know," she admitted, her voice suddenly filled with regret. "I guess I was just really lonely."

Han nodded in understanding and pulled her to him, his arms wrapping around her tightly, his chin resting on top of her head. "I'm sorry," he breathed, almost without thinking. He didn't know why, but he felt guilty. Like he should have broken his way out of the carbonite sooner or changed the course of history. "About everything," he continued, his voice suddenly gaining momentum. "I'm sorry I missed out on being there, I'm sorry you had to turn to someone else. I'm sorry for even trusting Lando in the first place." He stepped back a second, finally catching her gaze in his own. His voice softened, "And I'm really sorry for lashing out in front of Bailey. It won't happen again."

Leia nodded, a grateful turn in her mouth. "I know."

Han smiled and tenderly traced his finger along her jawline. "Everything is going to be all right, now. You know that, right? Whatever happens next, we'll work it out."

Leia matched his smile, the shine returning to her eyes. "I know."

Han leaned towards her, his mouth turning up in a familiar confident grin. "Does this mean you forgive me?" His lips were hovering just above hers, his breath warm against her skin.

There was a teasing note in her voice. "Maybe."

"Maybe?" His brow rose in disbelief, "Maybe? Princess, I know I can do better than 'maybe' ..."

His mouth closed over hers, the warm pressure of his lips on hers enough to cause a delicious rush of contentment to course through her. It was both startling new and wonderfully familiar at the same time. It was as if every kiss brought her back seven years, but it also sparked a whole new anticipation for the future. Suddenly, Leia wanted tomorrow to come. She looked forward to what was in store with an enthusiasm she couldn't remember ever feeling before. Not even the first time they were together, all those years ago. Back then, there was still the war hanging over them. Now, all their battles had been fought and their victories won. Even Simon suddenly seemed insignificant. They would deal with him.

Han gently pulled away and gave her a small smile. "How am I doing, now?"

She smiled impishly. "You're forgiven." Her hand reached up to pull him towards her again, when her eye caught his and she paused, her expression suddenly concerned. "Han, are you sure you're okay?"

"Are you kidding? I'm feeling pretty incredible right now." He gave her a sheepish smile. "Maybe a little too incredible." He moved to lean in again, but Leia held him firm to his spot.

"I'm serious, I --" She faltered a moment, her eyes now openly combing his expression. "The carbonite. We never talked about it."

Han fidgeted, his head turning away in discomfort. "What? Where is this coming from all of a sudden?"

"I don't know, I just thought ..." She rested a hand tenderly against his cheek, forcing him to once again meet her gaze. "Do you remember it? What was it like?"

Han shrugged. "I already told you -- I don't remember." There was a forced casualness to his tone.

"Not anything?"

"No. Not a thing." He was looking past her now, his gaze set some where above her head. "It was like one second I was on Bespin, looking up at you and Chewie ... and the next, I was waking up blind on Lando's ship."

Leia's voice rung with alarm. "You were blind?"

He tried a small reassuring smile. "Ah, not for long. It wasn't a big deal."

"You're just saying that," she replied softly.

"Maybe," there was a brief knowing gleam in his eye, but then it passed. "Really, it was nothing." His voice turned serious. "The whole carbonite thing? I don't remember it. In and out, like an instant." He snapped his fingers as if to illustrate his point, and continued, "Even the hibernation sickness wasn't that bad. It was --" Han swallowed, his expression suddenly betraying a trace of vulnerability. "It's the time I missed that still kinda hurts, but that's all." He forced a grin, but it fell short of convincing.

Leia wanted to hug him fiercely. 'That's all'? Why did he have to pretend to take everything in stride? She didn't know what to say, so she gave him a brave smile and replied, "At least you're here now."

Han nodded absently, his gaze once again growing distant. His mind was still lost back on Bespin. "I still remember our last moments together," he said suddenly, after a moment of silence. "You and me. And Chewie. He was all upset and tried to put up that last fight. Remember that?" He didn't wait for her to respond, "I had to calm him down." He looked at her again. "And you --" he shook his head, his voice suddenly filled with an appreciative awe, "You were so brave, Leia."

"No, I wasn't," she said, shaking her head in denial. "Are you kidding? It took every ounce of my strength not to break down right there."

"Well, it looked good to me." Han's eyes were on her again. "It made me stronger just looking at you."

Leia was almost caught off guard by his admission, it was unlike Han Solo to admit to any sort of weakness. Her hand was resting on his upper arm, and she gave him a reassuring squeeze, "You are strong," she argued.

"I know," his mouth turned up into that familiar cocky grin, "but I was just facing carbonite, what's that? That's nothing." The smuggler shook his head, his expression sobering. "But meanwhile I was leaving you and Chewie to Vader, and that was worse."

Leia stiffened slightly. There was no denying the loathing in Han's voice as he mentioned the Dark Lord. Feeling a sudden irrational rush of guilt, the princess averted her gaze. He doesn't know. She had almost forgotten.

"I'm just glad you got away at Cloud City, if Vader had gotten his hands on you again ..."

Leia said nothing.

"I still hate him," Han continued, his voice growing harder. "I almost wish that Sith spawn was still alive, so I could kill him myself." Han stopped abruptly as he saw Leia turn away, her face tightening. "Hey listen," he added quickly, misinterpreting her ashen expression. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to bring back all those horrible memories ..."

Leia nodded numbly, her gaze distant. "I know," she replied in a strangled whisper.

Han ran a reassuring hand up and down her arm, his voice apologetic, "I shouldn't have brought up, Vader. That was stupid." He offered her a confident smile. "But you have nothing to worry about, you told me yourself, the man's dead. He can't hurt us anymore."

Leia's stomach lurched at the smuggler's words. Oh, he can't? If you only knew ... She looked up at the smuggler, her eyes widening nervously. She should tell him. Tell him now. Get it out in the open. He had a right to know, didn't he? "Han, I --" but her voice faltered. It was as if her throat had tightened around the words and stubbornly refused to let them out.

Han looked down at her, concern clouding his eyes. "Hey, Princess," he prodded softly, "What's wrong?"

But Leia didn't answer him. Her mouth just opened and closed silently as she struggled to push the sentence out. Vader's my father. It was just three words, how hard could it be to say? Vader's my father. Vader's my father. "I should tell you something," she finally managed in a weak voice.

Han's eyebrows rose at this, alarms suddenly going off in the back of his mind. Leia suddenly looked so nervous. So pale. He was almost afraid to ask. "Tell me what?"

Leia swallowed, her blood now seeming to race past her ears. He might hate her. No, Han would never hate her. But he might be disgusted. 'Sith spawn' indeed. After all, that's exactly what she was. And what would this mean for Bailey? It won't mean anything, she silently argued, Han will understand. Just tell him.

The smuggler could feel his stomach tighten nervously, and he tried to lighten the mood. "Come on, Leia. What's wrong?" He tried a small smile, "I've never known you to be speechless before."

The expression on her face relaxed slightly, but her eyes still seemed almost haunted. "It's going to be hard for you to hear," she warned, her voice almost quivering. Leia let out a small sigh. "But it's probably even harder for me to tell you."

Han swallowed. No, this was definitely not good at all. "Come on, sweetheart," he said softly. "You can tell me anything. You know that." A look of panic suddenly crossed his features. "You didn't forget to tell me something about Bespin, did you? You told me you escaped almost right away, they didn't --"

"No, it's nothing like that," she assured him.

"Oh," he said, visibly relieved. "Then what is it?"

Leia's gaze flicked up to his face, and catching his tender expression, she felt her resolve strengthen. "It's ..." she hesitated, the tension almost causing her ears to ring.

"It's about my father," she finally breathed.

Leia's words seemed to hang in the air, and it took Han a moment to even register what she had said. "Your father?" He was confused, "What about him?"

The princess sucked in a breath. There was something about her stricken expression that made his blood run cold. "Well, it's complicated," she managed, "and it may be hard for you to ... to take."

Han forced another smile, but this time he found it even harder to make it convincing. "Ah, come on, Princess." He made an effort to keep his tone light, but it was betrayed by the slight tremor in his voice. "After the last couple of days, I think I can handle anything."

Leia gave him a steady look, and every breath seemed deliberate. "Maybe we should sit down."

Han shook his head, all pretense dissolving. "Just tell me." He felt his guard rising. What could be so bad about her father that she would need him to sit down? Bail Organa was a fine leader, and by all accounts, a good man. Why does she suddenly look so scared?

"Really," she insisted, "I think we should sit. This is going to come as a bit of a shock for you and ..." Leia's gaze flickered for a moment before she continued, "and it involves Luke, too."

Luke? Now, Han was real nervous. Just what had he missed when he was away? He managed to keep his voice calm, "Luke?" He swallowed. "What about him?"

Leia reached out and to grasp his hand, a small encouraging smile almost straining her lips. "There's something you should know about us."

Us.

The smuggler almost stopped breathing. And he had to consciously halt the barrage of horrific fantasies that threatened to take over his mind. He and Leia had been over this. She had told him that nothing had gone on with Luke. And he believed her. Then why are you so nervous?

Han gazed meaningfully at the princess, as if through his eyes, he could share his strength. Prove that he was not afraid of what she might tell him. While in reality, he was torn between wanting Leia to hurry up and answer his questions, and begging her not to go any further. Finally he asked softly, "What do I need to know?" His brow furrowed slightly as a thought suddenly occurred to him. "And what could Luke possibly have to do with Bail Organa?"

Leia winced lightly. "No," she replied carefully, "not with Bail."

Han opened his mouth to respond, but then let it snap shut. "Oh," he mumbled softly. He knew the princess was adopted, she had told him as much during the flight to Cloud City. But Han still didn't understand what could possibly be so horrible that she would be afraid to tell him. Leia shouldn't be afraid to tell him anything. He cleared his throat. "Well," he finally asked, "what about him?"

Leia opened her mouth to answer, her eyes straying to the floor in a vain attempt to search for answers. "I suppose I should start back on Bespin ..." But at the sound of steps shuffling up the boarding ramp, her mouth snapped shut. The princess' shoulders sagged in visible relief. She was being awarded a reprieve.

Han, however, was frustrated by their interruption, and he tensed. He was not in the mood for another bitter confrontation with Simon. His jaw tightened. He was just about to grumble something to the princess about how they should've sealed the ramp, but his complaints were silenced when the form took shape in the entranceway. Leia watched as Han's expression lightened noticeably as he took in the familiar figure. The tension seemed to burst from his body in the form of an excited gasp, "Chewie!"

* * * * *
Chewbacca froze at the top of the ramp, and Lando had to dig in his heels to keep from plowing straight into the Wookiee's back. The gambler placed a hand lightly on his friend's shoulder, as if to prod him forward, but Chewie stood where he was. It was as if the air had momentarily escaped the large Wookiee's lungs.

Lando could hear the enthusiastic greeting from Solo that rang from inside the ship, and there was only one more moment of silence before Chewbacca snapped out of his marveling stupor and into action. [Han!!] The Wookiee strode towards his long lost friend at lightning speed, his speech so rapid and bubbling with excitement, that even Lando had trouble understanding him.

Han didn't even try to fight the goofy grin that was taking over his face. "I've been looking all over for you, pal. Where have ya been hiding?"

[Me? Where have I been hiding??] Chewie let out an incredulous roar as he swooped up the smuggler in a rib cracking hug. [Han, you're not an easy man to find!]

Han felt his boots leave the floor, and let out a startled 'oof!' as the Wookiee's ferocious embrace tightened in enthusiasm. "Ow, okay, Chewie. I'm thrilled to see you, too, but if you don't ease up I'll be spending the rest of the afternoon in the med center."

The Wookiee released the smuggler and stepped away, a sheepish expression on his face. [How are you feeling? Are you stiff or anything? Lando told me you were sick for a little while. Are you all right, now?]

Han shook him off with a wave of his hand. "Aww, don't get all motherly on me, Chewie. I'm fine, I didn't mean it like that."

Lando beamed from his position at Chewbacca's shoulder. "You'll have to forgive Chewie, Han. Ever since I told him what happened, he's been jumping out of his skin trying to track you down."

The princess, who had been watching the Wookiee with amusement, seemed to turn with a start at the sound of his voice. Calrissian offered her a guarded smile, pretending not to notice when her expression faltered slightly. He turned towards the smuggler, his grin broadening as he took in the sudden rumpled appearance of his friend. "Well, buddy, you've certainly seen better days."

Han smiled ruefully. "You don't know the half of it."

Leia placed a knowing hand on the smuggler's shoulder, momentarily forgetting her slight discomfort at Lando's appearance. She opened her mouth to say something, but was suddenly thrown off guard when an excited Wookiee decided to lavish some of his pent up enthusiasm on her. She let out a startled laugh as Chewbacca wrapped a massive arm around her, and gave her a hearty swing. [Isn't this unbelievable, Princess?]

Chewie set a glowing princess back on her feet. "It's a miracle," Leia agreed, , "I don't think anyone can really believe it." She surprised the gambler by suddenly turning on him an offering him a smile. This one heartfelt. "And thank you, Lando." She reached out to give his hand a friendly squeeze. "Han told me the part you played in all this. We are eternally grateful."

Calrissian felt an enormous weight lift off him at her words. It was like suddenly being released from a vice that had been pressing down on him for seven years. The relief was immeasurable. He returned the princess' smile in kind. "It was my pleasure," he answered sincerely, before allowing Leia to drop his hand.

"All right, all right," Han announced loudly, clearly trying to break the mood. "Let's not get all mushy here."

Leia leaned into the smuggler's shoulder and gave him a wry smile. "Yes, gods forbid we do that, huh, Han?"

"Well?" Han said almost defensively, "This should be more like a party than a funeral service." He wrapped an arm around Leia's shoulder and turned to the others for support. "Am I right?"

The Wookiee whuffed in agreement and Lando nodded eagerly. "Absolutely."

Leia rolled her eyes good naturedly. "Men."

"Well, since we're all in agreement," Han continued, giving Chewbacca a knowing grin. "Tell me you still keep whiskey stowed in the usual place and you'll make my afternoon."

"Han," Leia admonished, "It's barely lunch time."

The smuggler raised his brow in his best impression of feigned innocence. "What? I'm not saying we should get drunk," he looked to Lando and Chewie, as if they would at least see his reasoning. "I'm just suggesting we have a few drinks with our friends, and I could be filled in on their version of the past seven years."

Lando cocked an eyebrow at this. "You're sure you want to count me in that group, Han?"

Solo shot him a baffled look, clearly forgetting what he had just said. "What group?"

"Your friends."

"Aww, will you get over that," Han said dismissively, eager to not allow anything put a damper on the rapidly improving morning. "You got me out of there, didn't you? I'd say that's at least worth a drink." The smuggler slid into a seat at the holochess table and motioned for Calrissian to join him. Lando grinned in understanding and took a seat across from him. "Besides," he added ruefully, "I promised I'd start playing nice with others."

Leia gave the smuggler an appreciative look, and Lando had to suppress a chuckle. "Don't tell me," he replied with a knowing smirk, "you're trying to act respectable."

Han's mouth curled up in a small grin. "Yeah, something like that." He turned to the princess, and noted that she was still standing. "Aren't you joining us?"

"I should check on Bailey."

"Oh," He seemed to consider this a moment. "Should I go with you?" Han began to stand up, but Leia placed a hand on his shoulder to stop him.

"No, it's all right." She gave it a light squeeze, "You stay and begin to catch up. I'll be right back."

She offered the Han a brief tender smile and turned towards the back cabin, leaving the enamored smuggler in her wake. Their earlier unfinished conversation suddenly seeming a million miles removed from his mind.

Han turned back to Lando, unable to mask the expression of adoration that still colored his features. "Wow ..."

Chewie shuffled to the table, the bottle in his right hand proving that the hunt had been successful. The pilot continued to shake his head thoughtfully, as the Wookiee placed the bottle on the table. Han didn't even seem to see it. "I don't know, life's funny," he said wistfully. "One second you're a third class smuggler, dodging Imps on the outer rim, and the next ..." he made a vague motion with his hand, "and the next thing you know, you got all this."

Chewbacca nodded. [We have all been fortunate,] he agreed. [Especially now.]

Lando scratched his beard uncomfortably, suddenly feeling slightly out of place. Maybe he was jealous. He was beyond thrilled to have Han back, that was true, but he had pretty much made a mess of everything else the past few years. He wasn't feeling very fortunate. Lando cleared his throat awkwardly and forced a grin onto his features. "How 'bout one of those drinks now," he said in his best jovial voice.

Han looked over at him with a start, as if suddenly remembering himself. "Oh, right," he said, clearing his throat as he lined up some glasses.

Calrissian studied Han's expression for a moment, still almost unable to comprehend the look of complete tenderness that had taken over it a few moments earlier. He had always imagined Han capable of it, but it was another thing to actually see it happen. Yup, life is funny ... "Who would've thought it," he couldn't resist observing out loud, "Han Solo, turned softie."

The smuggler seemed almost offended at the suggestion, "No, I haven't." He answered stubbornly.

Chewbacca whuffed in amusement as he began filling the glasses, and Han motioned him with his hand. "Better only make mine a half though, Chewie."

Lando chuckled and shook his head knowingly. Han was instantly defensive. "Hey, it is early, you know ..."

"Uh-huh." The gambler's grin was almost blinding now.

"Ah, forget you." He waved his hand dismissively and leaned back in his seat. "So, who wants to go first?" He asked, grabbing the glass that was set in front of him. "I already heard Leia's story, so now I want to hear one of yours." Han gave them a knowing smirk, "And one of you better start talking," he said good naturedly, "because I guarantee, when it comes to the last seven years, your stories are going to be a lot more interesting than mine."

* * * * *

The ship was stifling hot. And the air was almost too thick to breathe. For some unfathomable reason, Malcolm had shut down everything in the cruiser, except for the life supports. And that included keeping the heat turned up to the temperature of two blazing Tatooine suns. It was almost unmanageable.

Xavier wiped a line of sweat from his forehead, and glanced over at the sealed cockpit. On the other side of that thick metal door, sat his brooding partner. No doubt still disturbed over the amazing burden Simon had tossed into his lap. It had been almost a week since Xavier had confronted Malcolm about his plans for Solo and the boy. And since then: silence. The older man had resigned himself to spending his days locked in the cockpit, staring out the viewport into a dreary hangar, as if he were forcing his conscience to come to grips with what he would eventually have to do. And knowing Malcolm, it would probably be a pointless effort. Yet in there he sat, waiting patiently for Simon to give him the word.

Xavier blew out a weary sigh. The ship was too dark. The only illumination came from the several control panels that lined the room. These lights blinked and beeped and caused distorted shadows to be cast across the ship. It was a bleak atmosphere, and only added to the pit of isolation that was welling within the young man's gut. His only reprieve were the infrequent visits from General Calrissian. The gambler seemed remarkably patient with Malcolm, considering the older man had practically commandeered his own ship, but he also seemed a bit wary of him, too. At least he always offered to take the young man out for a little while. That was nice. Xavier supposed the gambler felt sorry for him. He could understand that, though. And perhaps Calrissian was more than a little scared of his boss. These days, that was certainly understandable, too.

Xavier leaned back in his seat, and tried to ignore the way the leather cushion clung to his back. The young man was troubled. He was unsure about what to do. Should he warn Solo and the princess? But that might get Malcolm in trouble, or that might get him in trouble. What if they thought he was crazy? But what about the safety of Solo and the kid? Wouldn't that be more important? At the very least, his warning would put them on the alert. It might help, even if they did think he was deranged. And he couldn't sit around and do nothing ...

Xavier was jarred out of his reverie by the loud buzz of the ship's comlink. It pierced through the air, and the young man could hear the startled fumbling of Malcolm coming from the cockpit. Apparently, he had been caught off guard, too. There was a muffled curse of frustration as the transmitter continued it's incessant drone. Suddenly, the cockpit wooshed open, and Malcolm came stumbling out, his expression wild eyed and urgent. "Damn comlink," he grumbled, "it's all acting funny in the cockpit, now."

Xavier fleetingly wondered whether Threepio had inadvertently cooked the wiring, but the loud slap of Malcolm's palm activating the comlink snapped him back to attention. Apparently, since last week's confrontation, the older man was no longer concerned with maintaining his secrecy. He gave Xavier a brief glare of warning, and then addressed the transmitter. "Yeah, what is it?"

Simon's voice came through the speakers scratchy and his words were garbled. He was frantic. Earlier that week, his wife had stopped by the apartment to pick up a few things. Clothes. Toys for Bailey. And Simon was convinced it clearly represented another ploy to insinuate Solo between him and the boy. He was outraged.

"At least it looks like she's leaving you the apartment," Malcolm offered weakly. "Good ones are so hard to find."

Simon was not amused. "So is a decent wife," he spat back. "Whatever happened to trust and common decency?!" Then he went on another tirade about how ungrateful the princess was, how he had always suspected she was a 'stuck up bitch', and now all this confirmed it for him. The man didn't seem to make much sense to Xavier, but as his ramblings continued, his message became clear: Simon was ready. Everything was in place.

Today. It will all happen today.

* * * * *

Bailey sat on the boarding ramp of the Falcon, his feet swinging lazily over the side. Around him the hangar buzzed with bustling activity, and the sounds of warming engines permeated the air. Pilots and mechanics filed back and forth with a purpose. They barked orders at droids, or demanded the whereabouts of a missing part. Others had their faces buried in engine panels, or were kicking their ships in frustration, spewing colorful language as they did so -- that same kind of language his daddy had warned he might hear a lot around the hangar, but that he should never -- ever -- repeat it. The atmosphere was almost electric, and it excited the little boy.

Bailey liked to sit from his place at the boarding ramp and watch everything unfold in front of him. Everything was so busy. Everyone had a job to do. People moved like they were in charge of something. It was really neat. And now he felt like he was one of them. After spending the last several days living out of the Falcon, Bailey had become a familiar sight at the hangar. Familiar enough, that many of the pilots would actually stop and acknowledge him now. They'd pause in their rush, just long enough to wave or give him a friendly nod. One of the pilots, Bailey was pretty sure his name was Parker, would even occasionally flip him a chocolate as he passed. And that was really neat.

Then there were the others, who would come over to talk with his father. They would pump his hand enthusiastically, and give him slaps on the back as if they were old friends. Some had actually known his dad once. In the Rebellion. Or some time before that. Most only heard of him though. It was funny. They would walk up to the pilot all wide-eyed and awe-struck. Fumbling around nervously, like his dad was a famous smashball star or Space Racer himself. They asked him questions about the Kessel run or the death star. Others just wanted piloting advice, or some help working on their ships. Everyone seemed to like his dad.

Bailey picked up the chocolate that Parker The Pilot had tossed into his lap earlier. He peeled at the foil clumsily, and listened as his father talked to the latest of his adoring visitors. He was explaining patiently why one piloting maneuver would work well in one situation, and not well in another. His daddy knew all kinds of stuff like that. He was really smart.

Bailey finally had the treat unwrapped, and popped it into his mouth. He watched as his father made excited motions with his hands and described a near-miss with the Falcon. The boy had heard his dad grumble to Chewie once that with all the pilots trying to talk to him or get him to help with their ships, that he would never get the hyperdrive fixed. But Bailey could tell that he actually enjoyed talking to the visitors. His dad liked showing them what he knew, he enjoyed pointing out all the special modifications on the Falcon.

The visitor nodded in understanding as Han finished up his story. "Of course, that's really only one way to do it, but it's always worked for me." He grinned as the visitor agreed that it indeed sounded like a good approach, and then the smuggler's eyes caught on the little boy. "Hey kiddo," he called suddenly. "Are you okay over there?"

Bailey nodded amicably. "Uh-huh."

Han nodded and nudged the man beside him, "That's my son."

The visitor turned to the boy, his face lighting up. "That right? You got a kid?" He threw Bailey a half smile. "So whattya say, kid? You gonna be a pilot like your old man?"

Bailey tucked the chocolate to the inside of his cheek and made a face. "My dad's not old."

The visitor seemed to find this very funny, and Han gave the boy a wink. "See?" He boasted proudly, "He's a sharp one, too!"

Bailey beamed at his approval, and kicked his feet back and forth happily. The visitor gave the boy one last grin and then turned back to his father. He thanked him again for his help. Han told him it was 'no problem', and slapped the man on the shoulder as he bid him good-bye. Then he nodded his chin in the boy's direction, and strode towards him. "So what are you thinking, pal? You hungry?"

Bailey shrugged, and finally let the chocolate slide down his throat. "I dunno."

Han suddenly looked regretful. "You must be bored though, huh?"

He shook his head. "I'm not bored," he answered sincerely.

His dad smiled, seemingly relieved at his answer. "Well, that's good." He replied, "But maybe we'll do something fun when your mom gets back from work. Would you like that?"

Bailey nodded eagerly.

Han cocked an eyebrow. "You like animals? You wanna go to the zoo or something?"

Bailey's eyes lit up at this, and his nod became more enthused. "Can we visit the dewbacks?"

"Yeah, sure."

"Can we get one of those really long popsicles with fifteen flavors?"

Han's smile broadened, finding the boy's enthusiasm contagious. "I don't see why not."

"How 'bout the jungle ride? Can we go on the jungle ride?" Bailey was practically bouncing in his seat now.

"Sure, if we have time ..." His dad turned to let the boy climb onto his back. "But first, whattya say we fetch Chewie from the engine pit, and grab some lunch? And after we eat, you can help us finally fix that hyperdrive. Sound good?"

Bailey nodded in agreement, and he tightened his hold around Han's neck. "Can I fly the Falcon after lunch, too?"

"Well ..."

"Then can I at least have a purple soda with lunch?"

Han grinned. "Now that I can arrange."

* * * * *

Malcolm's finger itched along the trigger of the blaster. He liked the way the heavy, cold steel felt in the grip of his hand. Strong. Definite. It reassured him with it's solidness. It told him that he could do this. He pressed his back against the wall of the supply warehouse. 'Warehouse' being an interesting term, considering it was barely a small room, an offshoot of the very hangar where the Millennium Falcon was being held. Piles of dusty crates lined the walls, the staleness in the air suggesting that several of those crates had been left unopened longer than Malcolm had been drawing breath. But this was where he was supposed to wait, and it was where he would stay until he got word.

Malcolm fiddled idly with the gages on the blaster, noting absently that one of the switches seemed a little loose. He pressed at it with his thumb, as if with repeated pressure, he could make the piece stay firmly in place. The older man sighed. He had seen Xavier messing with his blaster earlier that morning. The kid had claimed he just wanted to 'check it out.' He had never seen this particular model up-close before, and it intrigued him. Malcolm gave the switch one last press, swearing under his breath that if Xavier had broken something, he would throw him out on the street -- gods help him, he would really do it.

There was a soft shuffling coming from outside the door, and Malcolm straightened; his blaster at the ready. The door slid opened, and a tousled haired young pilot peeked at him from around the wall. He smirked widely when his eyes fell upon the older man. "Blast it, man! You need to relax!"

Malcolm blew out a breath of relief and lowered the gun. "You scared me, Parker."

The teasing light in the pilot's eye remained. "Apparently." His grin widened. "What's with the paranoia? Going a little overboard, aren't ya?"

The older man sniffed impatiently. "Just being safe," he replied, quietly holstering his weapon. "So, what's the status?"

Parker's expression sobered and he made a vague motion with his head towards the hangar. "Solo and the Wookiee took the boy out. To lunch, I think. You'll have to wait."

Malcolm nodded and allowed his body to fall limply against the wall. "Then I'll wait," he replied evenly.

And he could wait all day.

To Part Six | To Part Eight

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