By Barbara Anderson
see You Could Use Another Good Kiss home page
(Originally appear in Flip of a Coin #15, 1992)
The levity had ceased on the Falcon and there was quiet for a moment; the only sound a barely audible hum from the few circuits still on power. Then the captain of the crippled ship rose from his seat at the holo-game table and began pacing, his boots loud in the echoing silence. Still seated at the game table, Chewbacca and Luke exchanged concerned looks as they watched Han Solo pace and prowl like a caged Corellian cat trapped within the confines of the unflyable starship. Artoo stood off to the side, his photoreceptor unblinking and bright, and very interested in the conversation.
"You don't have to do this," the Jedi said, referring to a plan the three of them had just plotted.
"Don't I?" Han replied, stopping to glare at Luke, the hazel eyes more intense than usual. His hair was rumpled from running his fingers through it in frustration, the sleeves of a favorite shirt were pushed up to his elbows, and there were black smudges on the material that looked like the greasy hand prints that they were. "We need bait for the Imperial plant on board. Who else would fit the role better? Hell, half the fleet will believe it in a micropulse and isn't that what we want?"
Luke felt a sharp pang at the bitterness in the Corellian's voice, the unspoken, unadmitted hurt. Solo was being uncharacteristically serious, considerably less than his usual flippant self, revealing inner worries in a moment of rare unshielded trust. "You don't really think that," lectured Luke, putting some anger in the reply but knowing there was a truth of sorts in what Han said.
Some resentment did exist in the rebel fleet, stemming from Solo's somewhat less than gracious resignation from the fleet ranks. The formidable, if short Corellian temper had flared like a radiation burst during a strategy session when he discovered an Imperial colonel present and being accorded all the honor and respect due the rank. It didn't help that the same Imperial officer was also an old enemy, responsible, in part, for Han's academy disgrace.
When his warnings about the man's 'integrity' went unheeded, Han had flung the title of general back to the rebel officers and Alliance leaders who had originally given it to him. It didn't matter that he had been right, that Imperial Colonel Delavan Royce had tried to lure the rebel fleet into a trap, that the Millennium Falcon was almost destroyed springing that trap; there were still quite a few high-ranking ruffled feathers that remained ruffled afterwards.
Luke sighed inside. They just didn't understand. Solo was still a rebel and all it implied. A rogue...at his best when he could act on impulse with on-the-spot decisions and improvisations. He softened his approach. "C'mon, this is me and Chewie you're talking to."
Chewbacca snorted a sarcastic comment, not about to soften his opinion of Solo's pity party.
"Oh, yeah?" Han shot back. "Bantha shit to you, too! So maybe I wasn't too subtle..."
The Wookiee rumbled under his breath again and Han really glared, then transferred the withering look to Skywalker, who couldn't resist a snicker. "Perhaps," he continued, "I could have resigned with a bit more..." he spread his arms, "...class?"
Russet-colored fur flew as Chewie howled.
Corellian eyes flashed. "Lighten up, furball! I've seen you shoot first and think afterwards more than a few times! Maybe I didn't plan it, but you have to admit, it's going to work to our advantage, make it easier to convince people I've gone back to old habits. I just hope it convinces the right people."
Again Luke heard the unspoken concern. "Are you going to be able to handle this?" he asked. "It could get ugly."
Han made a short harsh noise. "Could get!? Kid, I have no illusions about what I'm letting myself in for. We are talking uglier than the ass end of a dinko. It's not me I'm worried about," finally revealing the reason for his uneasy mood. "You're absolutely sure I can't tell her?"
Luke rose from the table, stretching as he did, revealing a body parsecs different from the one that had belonged to a Tatooine farmboy. Han decided the kid was looking better than he had in a while, the shadow of Vader no longer behind the blue eyes; the haunting, hunted, almost-lost look was gone. Luke had come full circle, back to a ligher person. A lot less serious, letting his hair grow a bit, and joining Solo in some of the Corellian's ideas about entertainment.
Han was still very welcome in the ship's rec areas. Perhaps the upper echlons of the fleet were miffed at Solo, but the non-coms would follow him out an airlock if he asked them.
"'Fraid so," the Jedi answered, meeting Han's intense query with a steadiness of his own. "With the Force just beginning to affect her, Leia's got very little control over her thoughts and emotions. She'll give away the whole plan to anyone even marginally Force-sensitive and I know the Empire still has some strong ones. I've been feeling them." He was feeling something else, too. Somewhere in the frigate, he had a very unhappy sister.
Ex-general Solo shook his head in something like disgust. "Hokey religions..." He reached up to grab an air duct, hanging from it with his elbows bent. "Why did you start training her, anyway?" He was unreasonably angry without even knowing why. Or maybe he did, admitting to himself that he resented the time Luke got to spend with the princess. Han hadn't seen more than five minutes of Leia at any one time since they had barely made it back with half a ship...and did he get any thanks?
"She asked for it, Han," was the Jedi's surprised and annoyed answer. "Enlighten me. Why the worry? Sure, she's going to be mad. She'll probably kill both of us and," he looked at Chewie, "turn you into a throw rug, but she'll understand afterwards." Looking a little unsure, he added, "Eventually...someday."
"Yeah, maybe someday." Han's expressive mouth twisted in indecision. "Ah-h-h, it's...the timing's all wrong."
"Timing?" For all Luke was following Han's thinking, the Corellian might as well have been speaking Bocci.
The usually glib Corellian, always there with a quick, sharp retort, was suddenly at a loss for words. He opened his mouth to speak, then closed it, looked towards his copilot for help, but Chewie was suddenly busy checking that all the fur on his hands grew in one direction. Han looked back at Luke, and took a deep breath. "Leia and I..we just sort of got to know each other better. A lot better, if you catch my drift."
Leia's brother raised his eyebrow in mock fraternal outrage, but only for a second. He knew Leia had gone to bed with Han. There had been a pleasant ripple in the Force and he had recognized Leia's signature aura on it, reminding him of soft crystal. "Took you long enough," he replied.
Solo sighed in relief, then grinned, adding light to the dim interior. "It wasn't for lack of trying on my part! You don't mind?"
"I'm her brother, not her keeper. But what does it have to do with timing?" At times like these, perplexed and out of his sphere of experience, Luke looked all of seventeen again.
"It's like this. We've only...uh," he gestured in continued ineloquence, "...just once and your sister might get the idea that was all I was after, especially if we keep her in the vacuum on this." The eyes lost some of their brightness, a hard glint replacing the color. "I don't like it. She's been through enough."
"So have we all." Through the Force, Luke could feel the depth of love Han had for Leia and he felt a little envious. Not at the relationship, but the type of relationship. The Jedi wistfully thought it would be nice to have someone to hold in the dark, so it was with interesting thoughts that he rubbed the lump on his forehead. "She's strong, Han. She'll be all right. Have a little faith in her...and yourself."
An uncontrollable yawn from Han, repeated by Chewie, and transmitted to Luke as all three succumbed to the late hour, signaled more or less the end of the night. "Jedi wisdom, huh, kid? You better be right about this. In my experience, faith can be had for a credit in any port bar." Now it was Luke's turn to glare and the Corellian was instantly contrite, knowing Luke didn't deserve the bitter cynicism. "Sorry." He ran a hand over his face, looking beat. "Maybe I am going back to old habits. Might as well start somewhere and now is as good a time as any to begin ruining myself. Chewie," he stopped at the table where his copilot was nodding off, "make a list of everything we need to get this baby back in space. Top of the line stuff. We're going to start spending Alliance credits like a couple of tranked Espos."
"Han," said Luke, gripping his friend's arm, "Anytime you want out, just think it. I'll be there."
"Thanks. Just be there for Leia."
It didn't take long for Han Solo to make himself persona non-grata with most everyone he encountered; he could be magnificently obnoxious if it suited his mood and purpose. The process was also being hastened by an unforeseen emotional feedback loop. Han was not enjoying the role he had decided to play and it only served to make him that much more disagreeable. Added fuel was the fact that it seemed to be way too easy. People he had counted as friends were awfully quick to write him off and it hurt.
Thinking back to Spacer's statement about belonging to Leia, Han decided he liked the idea of belonging, and now that he didn't, there existed an empty space inside himself. He knew it would happen, told Luke he knew what he was letting himself in for, but, Sith, he hadn't expected it to affect him so strongly. Solo, he thought, you're going all mushy on yourself.
Truth was, in his self-isolation, Han couldn't see that the whole fleet was edgy, tense, and disagreeable. The last Alliance mission had also nearly ended in failure with an almost unrecoverable loss of equipment and manpower.
The fleet now orbited in the Minrad system, with planets rich in heavy metal and mineral deposits, which the Empire had been systematically mining, stripping, and leaving to waste. They had also established an extensive ship manufacturing complex on the fourth planet out. Minrados IV was only second to the shipyards of Fondor in quality of starship production and most of the materials for the construction of the second death star had come from the planet's factories.
Hard won and desperately needed, Minrad was now in Alliance hands; but it had been a costly victory and was still exacting payment in the form of Imperial terrorist attacks on the planet's surface. The Empire had apparently foreseen the possibility of losing the system to the rebellion and formed well-planned and well-supplied pockets of resistance in the event of a defeat in space; resistance that now played havoc with the same installations once manned by the striking Imperial troops who knew all the in-and-out covert ways.
But instead of sending rebel troops down to help, the Alliance leaders were first negotiating with the planet's fledgling government to exchange new ships and equipment for protection from the Imperial stormtroopers. The rebel fleet did place a communication blackout and travel blockade around Minrados IV in an effort to contain the remaining hidden enemy. Consequently, only essential personnel were allowed down to the surface and all ship-to-surface transmissions were monitored.
Still, it was a victory, and after the last two defeats, should have been a morale booster; but it was won at too high a price. There was no joy in the rebel fleet. If Han had been on friendly, speaking terms with the rebellion crews, he would have been aware of the frustration, fears, and uncertainties that had returned so soon after the jubilant, optimistic highs on Endor. Apart, he was aware only of the rejection, not realizing they didn't have the emotional strength, or capacity in some instances, to deal with his sudden animosity; half of them thinking his behavior was his way of coping. Whatever their reasons, most people were giving Solo plenty of space.
There was a bright side to it all, if there could be one. The Millennium Falcon. Han had made good on his statement to spend Alliance credits—with style. Except for some interior work and a new sensor suite package, the Falcon was finished and almost totally rebuilt from mandibles to stern. With new hull plates minus the hundreds of meteor pits and pockmarks, minus the corrosion stains and laser scars, the freighter shone; more than one crewman had remarked that the starship was beautiful. To Han, she was always beautiful, and he took emotional consolation in the fact that she was finally getting the first class treatment she deserved.
They hadn't gone over the galactic edge with regard to cosmetic improvements; no razzle-dazzle paint or light effects, nor did they fiddle with the basic design. As before, it was into the repair and replacement of the various systems, the Falcon's innards, that Han and Chewbacca had poured the money. Top of the line, Han had told Chewie, and the Wookiee had a grand time buying the best for their beloved means of transportation and livelihood.
Using the frigate's resources, manpower, and droid pool, they had tuned response times on the cockpit controls until activation and response were almost instantaneous. The shields were boosted to twice their original rating, able to shunt the energy from even a star destroyer blast. They were not aobut to let themselves get fried again.
In offensive weapons, fire power had also been increased with a direct feed from the power converters rather than the circuits routed through the sensor cutoffs, safety alerts and overrides as was normal and prudent. 'Prudent' wasn't in Han's or Chewie's vocabulary. They weren't planning on ignoring the dangers of burning out or overloading the quad cannons or belly guns, but Han and Chewie wanted the option of when to cut the power.
Ship security was another area they didn't skimp on. With automatic intruder shutdowns, motion and light sensors, and molecular bonded armor for all the hatches, bacteria couldn't get on the Falcon without her crew knowing about it.
There were a few indulgences beyond tucking the new circuitry and ducting behind gleaming bulkhead walls, giving the corridors a streamlined look. Han figured he had to appear somewhat wastefully extravagant. Separate freshers were added for two of the cabins, which had been enlarged. Some of the cargo area was sacrificed, but Solo argued that he was tired of banging his head or his elbow in the confined sleeping area. Chewbacca had curled his lip, not believing for one minute that that was Han's real motive, and pointed out that it was the double bunk in Solo's quarters that took all the room.
Han had smiled then, remembering Leia saying much the same shortly after boarding the freighter for the first time. She had been maneuvering around his cabin, smacking her shin on a corner and was rubbing the injury when the cabin's usual occupant appeared at the door.
Immediately, she took out her discomfort and mild outrage on him. "There is no room in this room," she exclaimed as she gestured wildly and almost lost her balance. "I don't see why you have a double..." At his intensely obvious, smoldering look, she caught what she had been about to say, realizing in a blush of embarrassment just why the bed was a large one. It was the first of many times she would find herself nonplussed in his presence.
Han had continued to smile, thinking of his reply. "I like to stretch out," he had deadpanned.
Elbow and head room aside, Chewbacca knew his captain was hoping for the princess to share that enlarged, expanded cabin, as well as the bed. Never mind that Solo hadn't directly said so; Chewie knew Han's heart.
In addition to the major restructuring, Han had also added some expensive toys and indulgences with the purchase of a holopad, screen, audio, and tactile system. Items like those, plus a galley stocked with exotic, gourmet good and liquor, were sure to add extra fuel to the reactor burn he knew had to be approaching critical in the Alliance accounting department. When this was all over, Han told himself, he was going to throw one hell of a party.
Since completion, he and his copilot had taken the Falcon out for numerous test flights and nano-jumps, discovering what it was like to fly a starship that didn't groan, grind, squeak, or clunk. The pilot, though, couldn't wait to try a long lightspeed run, practically aroused with the anticipation of discovering just how fast his lady freighter could now go.
All they needed was that sensor package, which as a little ironic; it was the loss of the first suite dish that had led to the Falcon's near destruction in the first place. The model he and Chewie selected was a Vreeble Master II, hellaciously expensive and way over-powered for a regular ship of the Falcon's size and rating. The ad campaign for the Master II boasted the sensitivity to detect shock waves from the formation of the universe. Not willing to settle at this stage, Han put in a requisition, knowing he wouldn't possibly get away without hearing about it. But, 'Hey, you don't ask, you don't get,' was how the Corellian figured.
Han indeed was going to 'hear about it.' He was under the Falcon, inside a landing pad well with only his lower half visible, when the summons came, delivered by one golden-colored protocol droid. See-Threepio shuffled under the freighter's hull, wondering what he had done wrong to rate this assignment, and did not announce his presence until standing at Solo's side. "Excuse me!" he vocalized in his fussy tone, "Captain Solo, is that you?"
Solo jumped and Threepio heard a loud clunk. "Ow!" cried the pilot, his voice hollow inside the well.
Identifying the voice pattern as belonging to Solo, Threepio chattered on as the rest of Han emerged like an insect from a chrysalis. "Ah, Captain Solo, Admiral Ackbar would like...eeeep!" Though theoretically impossible to strangle a droid, Solo was certainly giving it the old academy try.
"Threepio," he said, "if you ever sneak up on me like that again," Han's voice was a deadly promise, "I'll have you recycled into little round containers holding nashta food."
"But, sir," protested the mechanical fusspot, finding his vocorder still functioning, "I said, 'excuse me.' It was beyond my protocol capabilities to know you would react in such an inappropriate fashion to a perfectly acceptable mode of address." His jointed arms waved in distress. "Though I will admit you have given me numerous precedents."
At first, Han was stunned by this dressing down. Then he saw stars...big exploding ones. Granted, the small but throbbing bump on Solo's scalp hardly seemed worth wasting a perfectly good blaster charge, but the droid had unknowingly added insult to injury. "Why, you...!" Still holding Threepio around the neck, Han reached for his blaster.
"Han!" It was Leia. "What are you doing?"
"Oh, Mistress Leia! Thank goodness you're here," nattered Threepio. "I'm only trying to deliver a message and Captain Solo is being most unreasonable. He..."
Neither Han nor Leia was listening. For just a cosmic moment, their world had shrunk to encompass just the two of them. Not a word was said as utter stillness settled between their respective stares; like time in stasis, urgency in abeyance. Han had been assiduously avoiding her, dreading just such a moment, but now Leia was here and he released the droid, all anger gone at the sight of her.
For some ridiculous reason, he found it difficult to draw a full breath and held himself with an inner will, pulling the resolve from somewhere. How could he stand there, he thought, and not pull this woman into his arms? How could he be so obstinate, stupid, frightened, to admit how much he needed her? Independant Solo; needing someone to the point that if he held her now, he felt they would meld into one person.
A desperate thought occured to him. What was there to prevent him from taking her and just leaving, letting the Alliance sort out their own mess? What was there to make him have to hurt her this way? But he knew, even as his heart raged at the unfairness, that he had made a commitment to the rebellion, just as she had. He had found a cause to believe in, but Sith, life was a lot easier and far less complicated when all one had to worry about was getting caught with a cargo hold full of Kessel spice.
Leia, too, found herself not breathing, afraid to break the empathic link that had suddenly formed. She could feel Han...a maelstrom of inner racing fire and urgent desire...for her! The intensity almost made her cry out as she started toward him.
"...Threatened to have me melted down into pet tins!" finished the loudly indignant Threepio.
With the moment shattered, Solo swallowed hard and forced himself to look away, directly into the gold-louvered eyes. "I still will," he threatened the droid, "if you don't tell me what the Sithin' message is."
See-Threepio did a positronic double-take. "But you..."
Leia smiled at the familiar caustic repartee. "Threepio," she chided gently though her brow creased at the abrupt, confusing external change in Han.
"I've been trying to tell Captain Solo that Admiral Ackbar would like to see him right away. There!" The droid audibly sighed, his task finally completed.
Han wanted to tell the nattering droid... Well, it was irrelevant what he wanted, but Threepio had inadvertently provided him with an escape from a situation over which he was going to lose control any minute. "Sorry, sweetheart," he said, shrugging broad shoulders, "don't know what you wanted, but I gotta go."
"Han, we need..." she blurted out, but stopped herself as he began moving away, walking backwards at first.
"Lots of things." He held out his arms and gave her a wicked grin. "But no time." One hand went to cover his heart in an overdone gallant gesture of sacrifice. "The rebellion needs me." With that, he turned his back and headed for the bay lifts. It was one of the hardest things he ever had to do. The grin disappeared and in its place was an angry, frustrated, tight-lipped expression. Damn Luke, damn the Force, and damn this rebellion!
Uncerimoniously dismissed, Leia didn't know whether to unreally stomp her foot, wield what royal clout she had and have him shot, or bite her lip in an effort not to cry. This had to be the umpteenth time he had found an excuse not to see or talk to her.
Flaming fury would have been her usual reaction and she would have been hopping mad and not a little paranoid if it weren't for the strange contradictory feelings from Han. What he did and what he said did not match what he felt. He was pretending, thought the princess, but why? She then wondered if it was just the Force messing with her mind again.
And that reminded her. "Luke!" she almost wailed, smacking her palm against her forehead as she remembered her scheduled session with him in the frigate's fitness area. He had come back from his trip that morning and wanted to resume her lessons as soon as possible.
Making a quick intuitive decision, which she attributed to her basic inventiveness and not some 'all powerful Force controlling everything,' she enlisted Threepio's help. "Threepio, don't let Han out of your sight."
Watching Han Solo's stride, at least three lengths to his one, Threepio's obedience module nearly shorted out at the seemingly impossible royal order, not to mention the idea of refiring Solo's ire if he were discovered. "But, Mistress Leia," his vocorder squeaked, "How...?"
White fabric twirling, Leia spun around and walked away, intent on meeting Luke. "Think of something," she said over her shoulder.
Think of something? Threepio's logic circuits were overloading. Nothing in his memory banks covered this! He was programmed for etiquette and protocol, not tracing and retrieval. But then a positronic light sensor flashed and he did think of something. Or someone.
On the surface of Minrados IV, or rather under the surface of Minrados IV, in the Imperial-built tunnel complex under the city, a conversation was taking place that was not in Han Solo's best interests. Imperial Colonel Delavan Royce, blond, handsome, and ambitious, was having an Imperial fit upon decoding the latest message from Jerash. When it became obvious that the Empire was going to lose control over Minrados, Royce's small starship had managed, during the heat of the battle, to slip though the rebellion blockade in space and he had taken over the command of the Empire's cover, terrorist operations on the planet. "Solo?!" he practically screamed. "Is M'lan out of what little mind he has?! That idiot wants to recruit Solo!"
"Solo?" rasped a female voice to his left. "That wouldn't be Han Solo, would it?" A clawed hand covered with fine white hair turned off the comm screen. "I was not aware you knew him personally." Royce flashed angry, suspicious blue eyes at his perspicacious companion. "Your emotions betray you," she complacently explained.
The colonel seethed for a moment, furious at being so emotionally transparent. He would have to watch his thoughts in the future. "Solo and I were at the academy at the same time." The lady's strikingly pick eyes blinked in mild surprise at the revelation. Royce paced a bit, tugging at the sleeves of his immaculate uniform. "There was an...incident involving a lady of very high station. A scandal, a breach of duty, and Solo was blamed."
"But he wasn't guilty, I assume." That clawed hand now held a lightsaber, stroking it in an almost obscene manner.
Delavan looked smug, remembering the shattered young cadet he had framed. "There was a trial...a court martial. No one came to his defense but that hideous partner of his. You'll never hear it from me that he wasn't guilty. And I think his behavior and reputation since then will bear out the correctness of the verdict at the time."
"A victim of circumstance will often lash out against authority," she countered. "He now fights for the rebellion...what some would call an honorable cause, if a doomed one."
The colonel sneered. "There's no honor connected to his involvement with the rebels. That Corellian's been up to something all along. He's only out for what he can get and I'll bet, with the rebellion funds low, he's looking to get out. Hmmm, you know, maybe Jerash isn't as mindless as I thought. Solo just might be considering a change." He flipped the comm screen back on. "Let's see if I can play Solo's game. I used to beat him at holochess." (It was actually delusions of grandeur on the colonel's part, for after two initial first games, Han had consistently won.) "We'll tell Jerash to send Solo down here with something innocuous and see how far that smuggler intends to go."
"I would like to meet him."
"Oh, he's all yours, QueeQuee." He smiled without warmth. "Solo also has a reputation in that department as well." The smile widened as an idea occurred. "If we plan this right, we can make sure Solo's here when we destroy the shuttle. Yes...that will be appropriate."
About an hour later, in the fitness area, Leia Organa, Novice Jedi, stood poised with a lightsaber in her hand, apprehensively eyeing an activated training remote that hovered above her. The malicious little globe had succeeded in zapping her more than once; she was beginning to take an increasingly personal dislike to the floating orb. Creases formed across her forehead as she gripped the handle tighter and tried to 'read' the mind of the mechanism.
"You're concentrating too hard," lectured her teacher...and brother...and friend. "It's something that flows through you," he stated, gesturing in a move reminiscent of Ben Kenobi, "not something you have to create or make happen. You have to allow it to happen."
Leia concentrated even harder, trying to let the Force 'flow' through her. This wasn't easy, she had learned. With her hair wound into a knotted braid and dressed in red abbreviated exercise clothes, her skin glistened with a faint sheen of perspiration, for Luke had put her through a half-hour of increased Gee calisthenics and a half-hour with the remote, all the while lecturing on Jedi philosophy.
She looked at the remote with a malevolent, distinctly un-Jedi gleam in her dark eyes, thinking how a certain Corellian could blast it right between its beady little refractory lenses. Despite Solo's recent behavior, thinking of him still caused a rush of warm pleasure and she relaxed. Suddenly the remote acted, making a blurring dive, and without even thinking, Leia easily parried the diluted laser fire with the saber, deflecting the stinging energy away from her.
"Beautiful!" Luke praised, beaming at his sister's success. He called the remote down while Leia switched off the weapon, the glowing Force blade instantly winking out. She had the most incredulous look on her face. "See?" Luke hugged her shoulder. "It just takes practice."