Trust Fund

By Barbara Anderson
amanor@worldnet.att.net

Art by Wanda Lybarger
ladymousew@bellsouth.net

 

see You Could Use Another Good Kiss home page
for applicable legal statements and disclaimers

Part 3

Home | Back to Author List | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8| Part 9

(Originally appear in Flip of a Coin #15, 1992)


 

In Admiral Ackbar's office, things were not going as well for the Admiral, who had the unenviable task of informing Han Solo that the Alliance couldn't afford to equip the Falcon with the requested sensor package.

"Is that so?" Han had icily replied.

To his credit, Ackbar didn't flinch. "Yes, the sensor you're asking for is far beyond the Millennium Falcon's requirements." He pushed forward a scanner read-out for Han's inspection. "Your ship's specifications clearly..."

"Sith specifications!" Han countered, his hand slapping down on the paper; then he leaned over the desk. "I know what my ship needs. The only specifications," he coated the word with sarcastic disdain, "that matters are my own, not a factory manual's!"

"Captain, you're being unreasonable."

"Unreasonable?" Han echoed. "You want unreasonable? I nearly get killed with half my ship blasted into scrap for the rebellion and your precious fleet. I ask for a little compensation...what do I get? I get told that Her Royal Highness can't get her hands dirty!" Han paused. "You think I don't know the real reason?"

The Calamarian stood, feeling at a disadvantage with Solo looming over him like a bird of prey. "I'm sorry you still feel that way, but the princess is not the issue here. The Alliance can't possibly allocate that many credits for something that isn't necessary. Your ship will function adequately with a lesser-powered model."

There was a comm-buzz at the door. "Come," said the admiral, activating the panel, which hissed open to reveal Mon Mothma who entered just in time to hear a choice Corellian expletive...which Han meant. Applying the adjective 'adequate' to the Falcon in any capacity was a guaranteed way to earn the pilot's displeasure. Caught off guard by the unexpected profanity, though not unexpected from Han Solo, her eyes went wide then narrowed, clearly displaying her own displeasure. Han glared back, eyes hooded, as if daring a comment.

"Admiral," she found her composure, "we have the Minradian ambassador arriving within the hour. I thought..." She made the mistake of glancing at the Corellian; his anger was gone but there was something in its place that made her even more nervous, and rightly so, for Han had just thought of a truly inspired touch to his deliberate self-disgrace.

"It's all right," replied Ackbar. "Captain Solo and I have just concluded our business." He headed for the adjoining room. "I'll be with you in a few minutes."

With the admiral's disappearance, Han wasted no time in making his move. "Just you and me here now," he drawled, taking slow but deliberate steps toward the woman. His smile was pure devastating sensual obviousness.

At the moment, the obvious was beyond Mon Mothma's comprehension. She backed up. "What is this, Captain?" Then backed up some more, only to bump into the wall behind her Still Han advanced. Now frightened, she opened her mouth to call for help, but Han closed in the last few feet and laid a vertical finger across his lips, causing her to focus on his mouth. "Sh-h-h," he said softly. "Like the admiral said, it's all right." One hand was straight-armed on the wall above her shoulder. "I'm just taking advantage of the opportunity to let you know I think we should be honest with ourselves."

She transferred her focus from that full mouth to his eyes, recalling with held breath that even in anger, they were never that green. "I don't...know what you're talking about."

"Our aquatic commander doesn't understand. I need that Master II. I'm sure if you put in a good word for me, he'd change his mind."

"I...?" Mon Mothma hadn't quite understood yet, either.

Han dropped his head lower, nearer. This close, he gave off a mixed scent of engine oil and an indefinable subtle muskiness. "I can be very grateful, Mim." His voice also dropped, becoming furred and smooth like a verbal caress. "I'm sure a woman of your intelligence and position has certain needs and wants that the Alliance can't supply."

Realization dawning, her head whirled with the implied arrangement and a look of stunned stupefaction froze on her face. How dare he! was her first rational thought. Behind it, though, was an even more shocking realization that he had fired a primal spark deep inside her. The man was an intense presence, radiating sharp sexual heat, but surely the warmth was her imagination.

"Leia doesn't have to know," he continued. "She's only a stepping stone, anyway." The fingers of his other hand traced the curve of her cheek. "I know who's got the real power and grace in this outfit."

Almost mesmerized, but not quite, Mon Mothma twisted her face away, angry beyond words at the cold, calculated planning, and angry at herself for what he had made her feel. The admiral chose that moment to return; instantly, totally outraged at what he saw. Han didn't jump as if caught, but merely turned his face, looking at the rebel commander as if to say, 'So what?,' then slowly backed away, allowing his captive to make as dignified an escape as she could.

"Are you all right?" Ackbar asked with concern when she arrived at his side.

"We were just concluding our business," Han said, moving circumspectly, assured and self-possessed, "concerning my sensor package."

The admiral's skin deepened in color. "There will be no funds for that sensor, Captain Solo. That is final!" His gill slits spread open to accommodate his faster breathing as he jabbed the door release. "I would like you to leave."

"Final, huh?" The ex-general looked ready to kill as he moved to the doorway. "Just remember this. The next time you need me and my ship to save your collective ass, we might not be there." Out in the corridor, with his temper hitting apogee, he pointed back into the room as the panel was closing. "If the Alliance can't come through with what I want," his voice rose, "maybe it's time I found someone who can!"

The panel closed, but it did not leave Solo alone. Far from it, for behind him in the corridor had been crew and staff passing in both directions. Han's outburst had literally stopped everyone where they stood, including one short cylindrical droid who had been drafted into tracing service. Artoo-Detoo let out an involuntary electronic, "Uh-oh," as Han turned on his more than slightly shocked audience.

"What're you looking at?" he demanded, though it was a purely rhetorical statement. "Rebel clowns." The latter was muttered just loud enough for a few to hear, knowing it would be repeated all over the frigate and half the fleet in a matter of hours; he hoped the bait would entice the Imperial agent into making contact. As Corellian luck would have it, Han's performance had been witnessed by the very person he was looking for. With a last sneer of disgust, Solo began retracing his steps toward the Falcon, wanting to finish the rest of the repairs, unknowingly followed not only by Artoo-Detoo, but also by an agent of the Empire.

In Han's estimation, matters were progressing to the point where he and Chewie might have to leave on very short notice--if they weren't thrown off first. Stars of light, he hated what he was doing, hated himself for being so good at it, regardless that it was a means to an end. Mercenary instincts still intact, he made the mental threat that the rebellion better appreciate this; the end better justify the means. Right now, though, the end meant finishing the Falcon and for that he really did need that sensor suite. With a resigned sigh, he knew there was only one way, but his conscience hesitated. Han Solo with a conscience...he was ruined.

Using the augmented computers on the Falcon, with the jamming overrides, he and Chewie could access the Alliance accounts and transfer the credits to the planet below. Minrados IV was familiar ground to Han, having visited the planet on several previous occasions with Falcon problems, and like most freighter pilots, he knew the navi-computer coordinates by heart. They had friends—of a sort—on the surface, dealers they had done business with, people who would smile gleefully and not ask questions when he and his copilot handed over the amount needed to buy a Vreeble Master II.

There was going to be hell and novas on the frigate when the drain was noticed, which wouldn't take long, but by that time, the Millennium Falcon would have the Vreeble in her cargo hold. Afterwards, he told himself, he would do all he could to pay them back. He knew Alliance resources were low. If the rebellion could survive on idealism, there's be no problem, but war cost not only men and equipment, but all the support systems needed to keep everything going.

With his mind preoccupied, Han's proven, if somewhat erratic, precognitive talent did not kick in as it usually did when he was being followed. His long stride covered the distance to the ship bays quickly, forcing Artoo to scoot along just as quickly to keep 'Han in sight.' Consequently, there were cries of "Hey, watch it!" and "What's the hurry?" as Artoo maneuvered through an obstacle course of legs.

At first, Han looked behind because of the comments, easily spotting the droid trying to make itself inconspicuous—without success, having smacked into a wall at least once in its effort to hide. Solo grinned in spite of his black mood and tried to imagine who would've put Tripod on his tail. An unlikely a tracer as ever he had, and just about as inept, but probably more tenacious than a nashta; he'd have to lose him.

Abruptly altering course, Han made a quick unexpected right turn down a maintenance hallway that curved out of the corridor view. Not a moment later, the astromech droid wheeled around the same corner, almost on two legs, and found...an empty dead-end. His domed head swiveled in disbelief and consternation while the photoreceptor eye circled in vain, all accompanied by a vocal whimper of defeat. Then behind him, a door panel slid open and before he could react, two arms reached out and dragged him inside. The vocal whimper rose to a high-pitched garbled squeal of surprise and panic.

With a grin that curled up at one corner of his mouth, Solo backed out of the maintenance locker, back into the hallway, and into the business end of a blaster. A small one, by the feel of it; the hard round contour pressing into his right kidney region was not an unfamiliar sensation.

"Hug the wall, don't turn around and don't try anything," instructed an unfamiliar voice even as Han's hand moved to his right hip. "Now, hands on the top of your head."

Han stiffened, berating himself for feeling cocky and not watching his back; but on the other hand, this could be what he was waiting for. He stared at the blank wall only scant inches from his face as he raised his arms. "I didn't know the Empire was franchising in the area." This time the man stiffened, unnerved that he had been so readily identified. "Or does the Alliance pay better?" Han added. "You couldn't prove it by me, though." With this additional remark of dissatisfaction, Han could almost hear his captor's sharp intake of breath, hear the nervous hesitancy, almost feel the man's mental vacillations.

"Did you mean it?" demanded the voice, a voice Han recognized as filtered through a speech changer.

"Mean what?" The blaster tip was a sharply focused distraction.

"Mean what you said about dealing outside the Alliance."

Gotcha! thought Han, but continued to play it light. He went to shrug his shoulders in a habitual gesture, but was physically reminded not to move as a hand and the blaster pushed him flat against the wall. "Hey, lighten lift," placated the pilot. "I didn't exactly say that, but I will admit I'm in no position to turn down a decent offer if one became available."

Again the almost palpable hesitation, the indecision. Han knew both he and the agent were treading fine lines, dancing around each other, but the agent was on the level while Han was playing a part. Solo couldn't be too eager. Don't press, don't spook him, don't play it too close, was the Corellian's mental recitation.

"Why the change?" asked the agent.

Solo scowled, the impatience evident even on the nape of his neck. "Are we going to play twenty questions?"

The blaster prodded. "Why?!"

"Okay! Maybe I'm getting tired of being played for a sucker. What about you?"

"Pitiful try, Solo." The tone was now more relaxed, as if he had heard the right answers. "I need you to play errand boy if you're interested. Know a place called the Crater's Edge?"

The Corellian nodded, remembering a combination bar and pleasure house on the fringe of the spaceport business district. It catered to some of the more eclectic tastes of the Imperial stormtroopers. "Depends. What's the going rate for errand boy?"

The man grinned. "Two thousand credits."

Han laughed, nearly forgetting to keep his hands on top of his head. "You want me to risk everything for two thousand credits? Scratch gravel."

"All right! Three thousand, but only half now—half when you return and you have to get there within the next two hours."

"Now I'm interested. Time's no problem...provided you speed this up. Craters Edge—then what?" A hand wiggled around his waist, probing for a pocket. "Hey, watch it!" Han threatened.

Behind him, the agent colored, despite the situation, and became angry as he slipped a data plaque into Han's front pants pocket, along with fifteen hundred credits. "You wish, Corellian," he countered. "You think you're something special, don't you? And for a while you had everyone believing it. I knew, though—I told them it was only a matter of time before the old Solo came out again. Anything for a credit, I hear. I told them, just wait, he'll come around."

Nostrils dilating, Han wanted more than anything to turn around, grab his tormentor by a shirt front, and slam his Imperial skull against the hard unyielding bulkhead wall—at least half a dozen times. Teeth clenched, he merely endured the verbal slurs, vowing to even the score at a later time. "A spacer's got to fly," he explained as rationalization for his past actions. "Sometimes, any way he can."

The man snorted. "Ask for an hour with QueeQuee. The rest you'll find out." He removed the gun from the small of Solo's back, but the Corellian didn't relax. "Don't move for at least ten minutes, or..."

"Hey, how will I find you to get the rest of my money?"

"Don't worry. I'll get it to you. You'll just have to trust me...just like I'm trusting you." His voice sounded farther away and Solo guessed the was getting a head start.

"But not too far, huh?"

"Yeah, not too far. I'm not stupid." Then he bolted for the busy corridor to lose himself in the flow of people.

Slowly, Han lowered his arms, working stiff shoulders as he turned around. A sneer and a smile quirked up on one side of his face. "Yes, you are," he said out loud.

 


In the fitness center, Leia was explaining how she had handled the remote. "I thought of Han," she stated pensively. "I thought of Han and..." she paused as if organizing her thoughts, "I could feel the Force. It was like...magic."

Luke smiled knowingly at his twin. "It's not magic," he answered wistfully, again feeling a twinge of envy. "Well, sort of, I guess."

Leia tilted her head, looking at him shyly. "Have you ever had any...magic?" She worried about her brother; he really didn't belong anywhere in the layers of fleet personnel. Yes, he was a fighter pilot and a squadron commander, but also a Jedi and that set him apart, even to himself. Would he, she had wondered more than once, have chosen to be Jedi if the Fates hadn't taken the right of choice from him?

The question took him by surprise and it showed in his face as he shook his head. "No, not really." His eyes looked away, seeing past the bulkhead walls, almost as if he was seeing into the blackness of space, yet in actuality seeing into himself. He looked back to his sister. "Not like you and Han have, anyway."

Leia's heart ached for him as she could almost feel the emptiness. "Any prospects?" Her voice was gentle, concerned, and she hoped he would perceive that it was genuine interest and not prying on her part.

She was rewarded with a decidedly adolescent grin. "Could be," he confessed.

"Aha! I knew it." Her face lit up.

Luke reattached the lightsaber to his belt, as familiar a weight to him as Han's blaster was to Han. "You might know her," he elaborated, now more comfortable. "She's a fighter mechanic. Blonde, pretty, about your size."

Later, Leia would congratulate herself for not displaying any outward emotional sign of recognition, but now, she merely nodded, inwardly relieved to know her suspicions had been unfounded. Han loved her; she knew that as surely as planets whirled around suns and there was no doubt in her mind, but it was still nice to have it confirmed now and then.

"I literally bumped into her on the Falcon." Luke fondly rubbed the spot on his forehead where he had impacted with the ship's hatch rim "She's been helping Han with the repairs, since you..." He didn't have to finish the sentence as they both knew the particulars of that situation. "Anyway, Han tells me she's interested and I kind of like the idea." He shrugged. "We'll see." Feeling oddly shy suddenly, he abruptly changed subjects. "Are you thirsty? I'll get us something. Be right back."

The fitness deck of the frigate was divided into spaces, chambers and playing fields of various sizes with separate gravity controls for some of the rooms as well as separate freshers and snack areas. The one Luke and Leia were in was lined with a quilted, cushioned blue material, designed to absorb shock and impact.

"Here you go," he said when he returned, handing her a glass of tart fruit juice. It gleamed translucent green in her hand as she sat on the floor, leaning against the wall with her legs straight out and crossed at the ankles. Luke followed suit, facing her in a cross-legged position. "Still having the visions?" he asked matter-of-factly, not wanting to alarm her, even though they worried him.

She took a long sip. "Not as often."

"Still the same one?"

"Uh-huh," she nodded, wiping her mouth with the towel. "I'm standing in front of millions of people. Don't know why, but I seem to have their undivided attention. Why? What does it mean," she grinned mischievously, "oh, wise Jedi master?"

"All right." He grinned back, reaching out to grab her foot and giving it an affectionate shake and squeeze. She had a knack for putting him in his place whenever he became too mystical. "It probably doesn't mean anything. I just want to make sure you're going to be okay without me for a little while longer. Force visions can be frighteningly real sometimes."

"Without you? You just got back! Now where?" It was petty and petulant selfishness on her part, but Luke was the only one left that she could feel comfortable with and just be herself.

"Nothing major. Just down to Minrados with Lando and a flight squadron to pick up new fighters."

Leia eyed him over the rim of the glass. "Why don't I believe you?" Her tone was affectionately suspicious. "You're getting as bad as Mim the Merciless and not telling me anything. And don't say my paranoia is the Force. I know when I'm being protected for my own good, and I don't like it. I don't like being coddled or revered, or...thought of as a symbol!"

Luke laughed at her epithet for Mon Mothma, defusing Leia's anger in the process, and she smiled ruefully. "Wish I could go," sighed the small princess, rubbing her toes together. "Have had meetings and functions up to here!" Her hand pantomimed an imaginary line across her forehead as the frustrations returned. "I'm tired of being told where to go and when and with whom and for how long!"

Her brother let her rant, grinning in something like sarcastic delight because Leia sounded very much like someone they both knew very well. "And furthermore...!" In mid-tirade, she stopped, realizing the unconscious imitation, and looked a little nerfish. "So...maybe I am beginning to see his point," she admitted. "Only..." Seeing a chance, an opening to voice her fears, she confessed her feelings to the only other person she truly trusted, whom she felt would understand. "He's not the same lately, Luke." Her dark brown eyes came up to level with her brother's blue ones...different, yet the same. "He's avoiding me deliberately, keeping something from me."

Loud alarms went off in the Jedi's head as he hastily shielded his thoughts from his twin. She was not as adept yet at picking up his emotions as he was with her, but his reaction would've been readable to even a Force-blind droid. "Keeping something?" he innocently repeated, doing some rapid mental side-shuffling. "I know he's been preoccupied. The Falcon's been a top priority. You know how he is about that ship."

She put down the glass to hold up her hand with a finger pointed up for emphasis. "No, that's not it." She was emphatic, sure. "Luke, I've got...a...a sense of him, an empathic connection." Her hand gestured, trying to explain it in a physical sense, which, of course, was impossible. "He is hiding something." Her face twisted in disgusted frustration. "Probably," she flashed an accusing look at her brother, "for my own good." The finger turned to point at him. "If you know something..."

"I...?" Luke tried to look guilelessly innocent, not as good at it as the captain of a certain freighter, but then his expression abruptly changed and he casually rubbed a vest pocket. "Let me get you a refill," he said, retrieving her glass and scrambling to his feet.

"Coward!" Leia shouted after him, thinking he was trying to avoid the subject. In truth, his comlink to Han had buzzed softly. It was in the Jedi's vest pocket, set low enough that only he could sense it. Unseen and unheard by Leia, he pulled out the link and whispered into the fine meshwork speaker grill. "Han, you okay?"

"Never better, kid" came the Corellian's filtered answer. "We're in business. I've been tapped by our man." He sounded very satisfied.

"Who is it?" There was an edge of un-Jedi-like anger in the query.

"No such luck," Han replied. "Didn't get to see him. I'm going dirtside. Place called Crater's Edge, near the capitol spaceport where I'm supposed to make a drop."

"Han, be careful," was all Skywalker could add. He clinked some glasses together, making a show of preparing the promised liquid refreshment, to forestall Leia's suspicions.

"Aren't I always? Where are you that you're whispering?"

"Fitness room six with Leia."

"Oh, great. Uh—how is she?" Even through the filtered link, Luke could hear the concern replacing the sarcasm.

"Seems fine...but, suspicious as an Imperial ILM agent."

"Tell me about it. You better hope I can wrap this up real quick. Don't know how much longer I can keep up the pretense."

Behind him, Luke could sense Leia's impatience, and had the same thought. "I gotta go," he broke in.

"Okay. Oh, do me a favor if you get the chance. Let Artoo out of maintenance locker 22 on E deck. Caught him tracing me."

As Han broke contact, Luke could swear he heard a soft chuckle from the Corellian and smiled himself, effectively masking his concern when he turned around, only to find Leia right behind him.

"Problem?" she asked.

Luke was saved by the bell, or the buzz, as the door to the private exercise room signaled a visitor. "I'll get that," he quickly volunteered, letting in a very junior non-comm.

"Excuse me, Commander, I'm looking for Her Highness. I was told..."

"Yes?" Leia appeared at Luke's side, her exercise garb not covering very much.

The rebel soldier blushed and stammered. "Your Royal Highness...I...uh..."

'Her Royal Highness' gave a weighty sigh, looking at Luke as if to say, 'See?' and let her forehead fall with a resigned thud on his shoulder. The messenger continued. "Mon Mothma wishes to see you in her quarters at your earliest convenience—before the ambassador arrives, if possible."

Luke heard a tired, "Sith!" mumble from the small head that rested wearily, yet trustingly, against him. Folding her in a fraternal hug, he wished he could use the Force for something so basic as personal happiness.

Both of them, he knew, were small parts of a bigger plan, playing pieces with their fates predestined, but Leia had diverged from the path. Han Solo had been the unanticipated wild card, changing her focus. Hers was not to lead as he had incorrectly interpreted from her vision of the future. She, like Han, was still a rebel. Perhaps trained and schooled in the finer points of diplomacy, her natural proclivities leaned more toward a less sedate life.

Familiar words came back to Luke. Words he had repeated to himself, over and over again, without persuasive success. 'Adventure! Excitement! A Jedi craves not these things!' His mind formed a mental image of the green gnome-like Jedi master. Sorry, Yoda, he thought. Yes, they do.

 


Not a sixty-time-part later, Leia duly reported as 'requested' to Mon Mothma's dual-purpose office and personal quarters. Her hair was still damp from washing and the intricate braided knot at the nape of her neck hung heavy, adding to the tightness and strain she felt across her shoulders when the reasons for her being there was circumvently revealed.

"Leia, my dear," Mon Mothma patiently explained, "You're letting your personal feelings get in the way of good judgment." Both she and the princess were robed in official white, awaiting the arrival of the Minradian ambassador on board the frigate. "Han Solo was..." there was a deep apologetic pause at Leia's flared response to the use of the past tense. "Is a tremendous asset, but his 'particular' talents are not what the New Republic needs right now." She got up from her work area, gliding over with a concerned, almost maternal expression.

Leia set her mouth in a rigid line, not about to let herself be motherly guided or influenced in any way. "I've learned to trust my feelings," she asserted, remembering her recent lessons with Luke in the ways of the Force. "Personal and otherwise."

"Be that as it may, your trust is still influenced by your heart. A leader has to stand aside and be objective. The man has changed. Surely you've noticed." Now her mouth set in a hard expression and there was a corresponding darkening behind the gray eyes. "Without an antagonist to occupy his 'energies,' he's become impossible to deal with. Short-tempered, sullen, undisciplined... Well, he's always been that," she added as an afterthought.

The princess smiled, in spite of the horrid sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. Han could be all those things, but there was always a good reason. Always had been a good reason. One may have had to dig deep to find it, but always a good reason. Secretly, she wished she knew what it was this time. Sighing, she conceded only slightly. "Perhaps he has been a bit surly of late, but..."

"Surly!?" the woman exclaimed. "Leia, if that was all, there'd be no need for this conversation. Surly is the least of it." She held out a scanner read-out. "Aside from his unattached status and outright rudeness, there's the matter of these requisitions and expenditures for repairs to his starship...at the Alliance's expense!"

Wincing at first at the increasing anger in Mothma's voice, Leia began to experience her own annoyance at the entire situation. What was expected of her? Emotionally distance herself from Han for the sake of the New Republic, but at the same time use those emotions to control him? Did they imagine she was a droid that could be turned on or off at the flick of a switch? She couldn't even control herself lately, especially with Han. Her new Force sensitivity had laid open her mind and soul to an influx of conflicting emotional responses and where her heart was concerned, her relationship with Han Solo was much the same.

Thinking back, she realized there was never a time when loving him gave her any serenity or illusion of permanence. Loving Han Solo, she reflected, was rather like riding a comet. Exhilarating while it lasted, but not very safe. Again, she thought of her brother's assurance that she would learn control. Over Han? She doubted that, nor did she wish it. Like his ship, and its avian namesake, he would die if tethered.

She gave the read-out a cursory glance, her mind registering an unexpected shock at the amount of rebellion credits the Corellian had spent on his beloved freighter. Gods of Alderaan, she could almost buy two ships for that! Her reply, though, did not echo her thoughts. "Might I remind the Alliance that the damages to the Falcon occurred while Captain Solo was saving the fleet's ass—" her voice had risen and she was about to use one of Han's more colorful metaphors, but caught herself in time, "—sets," was her amended, calmer reply. "Almost at the expense of his life!"

Mon Mothma didn't miss the slip. She rubbed her forehead in frustration and seemed distracted, almost in introspective thought for a moment. "Oh, this is going to be difficult." Graying eyebrows drew together in awkward indecision.

It began to dawn on Leia that there was more to this meeting than just Han's black mood and overdrawn account. "Perhaps if you just told me..." she offered.

Taking it, the elder woman straightened, becoming matter of fact. "I was just wondering how far your involvement with the captain has gone?"

It seemed to Leia that the lights flickered, or should have with the surge of Force energy she suddenly felt; she wondered if this was what Luke called the Jedi's answer to adrenaline. For one of the few times in her life that she found herself speechless, Han Solo wasn't the cause, at least not directly. She wasn't even sure she had heard right. "How far...?" was all she could manage in the way of an answer.

"Well, yes." The rebel leader breathed a little easier when the expected volatile response hadn't materialized. "The Council has expressed some concern over the seriousness of your relationship."

"The Council..." Leia tentatively said as her eyes hooded over and her head nodded.

"You must realize you've become a symbol to the New Republic. 'Remember Alderaan' has become a rallying cry."

Yes, thought Leia, thanks to the overly zealous propaganda department.

"You're the last surviving member of the royal family and people are looking to you. You have an image to maintain, however cumbersome it may be."

Leia felt like telling her what she could do with her 'image' and had no trouble visualizing the person before her sliding down the sides of a sarlacc pit. "I still don't understand," she said with suppressed annoyance, though a cold inkling had crept into her mind and was chilling her whole body.

She knew Han's resignation had upset a lot of the Alliance's officers. The offer of generalship had been argued back and forth with those in favor pointing out the Corellian's skills and proven leadership abilities, while those in opposition had brought up his past activities. Both sides agreed, however, that it was a high honor they conferred. Some had taken it as a person slap in the face when Solo gave it back. And now he was spending the rebellion's badly needed monetary resources without, it seemed, giving anything back. Benefits without responsibility or accountability. Leia could understand that argument, that concern, but her personal relationship was a private thing...or was it?

"Must I be blunt?!" Mon Mothma's gray eyes were angry, but also concerned. "Han Solo is hardly the choice for a marriage bonding." Thinking back to his effect on her, she added, "I realize he's unlike most men you've encountered. He's..."

"A scoundrel?" Leia dryly finished for her.

The woman faltered in her speech, thrown off by the unexpected and cryptic interruption. "Among other things, but it's probably the best that can be said about him. He's become a problem. One that the Alliance can't afford anymore." She paused, her face softening as she switched tactics. "Leia...," it was a guilt-inducing plea, "You're young, impressionable. What you feel for Captain Solo has a lot to do with the situations in which you find yourself in his company—the adventure and thrill of combat missions can fool anyone. If he was there in the field when you needed him, well and good, but the fighting is over for people like you and me. There are new responsibilities, new directions, and goals for you to move towards and strive for. I hoped...Admiral Ackbar and I hoped you would consider filling the royal role left empty when Palpatine was killed." She took a deep breath. "I frankly can't see Han Solo in that setting."

Listening to Mon Mothma natter on about responsibilities, goals, and directions, Leia felt like she was listening to a recruitment speech or a New Senate filibuster. But the woman's words produced an unexpected calm in the princess, despite the implication that her active participation in past military actions was considered an adventure and a thrill. Vivid memories of Imperial torture and an ever-replaying image of Alderaan exploding had disavowed her of any such notions at a much younger age than she was at present.

Unwittingly, Mon Mothma had made muddled things very clear to Her Royal Highness. The New Republic would do quite well without her as a royal leader, but the rebellion, the continuing fighting, was not over yet. There were a thousand small battles yet to be won and she would be damned if she was going to miss any of them because of bureaucratic delusions of grandeur.

As for being impressionable...hardly. Besides, one wasn't impressed with Han Solo; one was first infuriated, then seduced and held spellbound. There was a difference. It was with a head held high that Leia answered, "I really don't think it's any of the Council's business, or yours." She was rewarded by a startled expression. "But if you must know, the relationship is as serious as it can get. I'm deeply in love with him...and proud of it."

Mon Mothma inwardly cringed, stopping herself from any outward physical demonstration of the panic she felt now that her worst fears had been confirmed. She wondered what a shudder if the princess had been intimate with him.

On a quite roll, Leia continued, "I resent the implication, the intrusion—"

The rebel leader took another deep breath and opted for shock, knowing she would have to break through Leia's stubborn loyalty and commitment to a man that didn't deserve it. Voice steady, she spoke over the Alderaani's words. "Not thirty time-parts ago, he offered me his sexual services in exchange for a ship part."

"—Of the Council into my personal...What?!" Leia was one hundred percent positive she hadn't heard right.

Mon Mothma rested a light, trembling hand on the desk top, tracing the long edge. "I had hoped to spare you from this—you who have lost so much—but you leave me no choice. Admiral Ackbar turned down his latest request for funds to buy a sensor suite. Captain Solo made it quite clear what he would give me if I changed Ackbar's mind." Her cheeks flushed at the remembered shiver of heat, her body betraying her thoughts, but giving credence to her words. "Is this—"

"I don't believe you!" Leia broke in. "Han would never..."

The woman's voice rose. "—A man you want at your side with the Alliance systems looking to you for leadership?!"

Leia's small form shook. In an intense whisper, she answered, "To hell with the Alliance."

"Leia!!"

The princess inhaled deeply, using the time and absorbed oxygen to think clearly, fighting the initial urge to act impulsively. Instead, her mind ran through a series of options, extrapolating each plan of action to its probable conclusion. Virtually ignoring Mon Mothma, she reached across the desk for the communication board. "Central," she keyed in, "This is Princess Leia. Locate Captain Solo." She swung her head around to glare at the other woman, warning her from trying to interfere.

"Sorry, Your Highness," came the filtered reply. "He turned in his transponder."

Venting her anger and frustration in a muffled curse, Leia didn't need to turn around again to know Mim wore a vindicated, smug expression. "Fine him anyway!" she said with unnecessary imperiousness. "That's a royal order, not a request!" She looked again at the rebel leader. "Is that what you expect of me?" Despite her diminutive size, the princess could project a tall haughtiness when she deemed it necessary and she now towered in the room.

There was no immediate answer from Mon Mothma as Leia's question had clearly been rhetorical, but then she asked, "What are you going to do?"

"Get some answers." Leia picked up the expense read-out, then knowingly met Mim's eyes. "To a lot of things."

Leia left, leaving the Alliance leader not only at a loss for words, but also with a loss of control. Madine's words came back to haunt her. 'Perhaps we're wrong in this.' Mon Mothma slammed a mental door on the thought, repeating familiar litanies in its place. 'The greater good was more important.' The future would prove that. 'In any revolution, personal sacrifices were necessary.' Perhaps... But the New Republic leaders had forgotten that those sacrifices had to be freely given. Anything less was no better than the forces they were fighting.

In unconscious self-defense, convinced she was right, Mon Mothma shuffled the problem aside as the imminent arrival of the ambassador assumed priority. With the docking bays as her destination, she hurried out, already rehearsing her welcoming speech.

 

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