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 9

Home | Back to Author List | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8

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


 

While Han and Chewie were contemplating the hereafter, Luke, Lando and Leia were nearing the lift tube exit; but the closer they got, the more nervous and edgy they became. Lando kept looking back expecting to see stormtroopers; Leia kept looking back hoping to see Han; but Luke kept looking forward, expecting trouble. He slowed, closed his eyes, and tried to 'see' ahead.

"What is it?" Leia asked.

Lando eyed the Jedi with wary apprehension and undisguised impatience. "We don't have time for this, Luke."

"Something's wrong," he said, then looked at Leia. "Can't you feel it?" There was a coldness...danger...death, and with a shock, he realized it reminded him of the tree cave on Dagobah. Evil so strong it was almost a palpable, sentient thing. He unhooked the lightsaber.

Leia concentrated. "No...there's nothing..." Then her expression turned to one of horror and revulsion. "Oh, gods, Luke. It's her!"

As if summoned, QueeQuee appeared from a side corridor, almost like a wraith from hell. She moved with a frightening speed towards Luke, the swiftness of the attack forcing the Jedi back and down on one knee. The lightsaber she held pulsated with a red glow as it swung down towards him. He tried to scramble back, supporting himself with one hand on the floor while the other held his now activated sword. It was to his credit and Yoda's training that even in that awkward position, he managed to parry her swing. Sparks flew as the two laser fields reacted.

Also reacting, Lando drew his blaster, intending to make some sparks of his own, but QueeQuee merely glanced his way. The blaster was wrenched from his hands and he was sent flying against the opposite wall where he collapsed on the floor, knocked senseless but not unconscious. Almost as an afterthought, she raised her hand and purple lightning flashed from the clawed fingers.

Leia screamed, "You can't!" Without even knowing how she did it, Leia drew on the Force, blocking the evil energy and deflecting it from the baron's body. The crackling bolts dissipated in the air, leaving behind an odor like burnt circuitry.

QueeQuee hissed at Leia's abilities, while still keeping one eye on Luke. It didn't seem to bother her that he had gotten to his feet. "So, the Force is with you," she said to the princess. "It doesn't matter. The Dark Side is still there as well. You will be mine." The last was a lurid promise and Leia shrank back from the grotesque alien, but stayed with Lando. She knew he had no defense.

"You'll have to deal with me first." Luke calmly promised in return. He stood ready to defend himself, his family and his friend. Both hands were wrapped around the hilt of his ancient, but still powerful weapon, as effective as a blaster. In Jedi hands, it had no equal; in Luke's hands, the blue-white blade was one of the rebellion's last hopes. As he faced this 'servant of evil,' Luke realized this was what it meant to be Jedi.

In response to Luke's challenge, QueeQuee slowly turned to face her adversary. The Dark Jedi was a ghastly sight; dried blood covered one side of her head and spread downward in splotches over the white hair and clothing.

"Luke Skywalker," she rasped, her eyes narrowing to vicious slits. "I had only dreamed of defeating you." Her slowness was deceptive as she suddenly swung the laser sword in a deadly arc. Luke ducked, then lunged with his own and they thrust and parried half a dozen times, the two blades flashing and sparking in a shower of bright particles.

As they backed off, Luke was breathing hard but steady. "You can keep on dreaming," he countered.

"Vader spoke of you." She and Luke circled, testing defenses and weaknesses. "He held you in high critical esteem. But I find it difficult to believe he sired something so puny." Her tail lashed back and forth as she attacked again, relentlessly wielding the saber as if it were an extension of herself.

Luke was as good, if not better, meeting her blow for blow and even driving her back. The corridor echoed with the humming energy. "A friend...once...told me," he answered between breaths and swings, "size isn't...everythingl" He pressed forward, drawing on the Force for needed strength.

As the realization dawned on QueeQuee that she might be outmatched, a new sound was added to the fight. With a slight wave of her hand, the ceiling grids and lighting strips tore loose. Luke couldn't help but look up at the sound of screeching, rending metal, crackling circuitry and rumbling rock.

"No!" yelled Leia. She was watching the combatants with her heart in her throat, wanting to help every time QueeQuee got too close, but she knew she couldn't distract her brother. Her command of the Force was still shaky and she might actually be more a hindrance than a help. Yet it was like the last time. The Force seemed to guide her actions and the falling debris hung in mid-air instead of crashing on Luke.

This time the alien Jedi snarled in frustration, baring fangs that dripped saliva, and glared at Leia. The Princess didn't flinch. With increasing confidence, Leia used the Force to hurl the hovering wreckage against QueeQuee, but behind her, Lando moaned and tried to stand. Her concentration shattered, the levitated pieces instantly dropped in a clanging hail of rubble around both Luke and his antagonist. The corridor became obscured with the resulting billowing cloud of dust and dirt.

"Luke!" Leia's shrill cry was stricken with guilt.

From within the settling particles, QueeQuee laughed. "Strong, but unskilled."

Coughing, Luke stepped back, waving his hand to clear the air. "I'm all right," was all he managed to say before QueeQuee once more took the offenstve, her lightsaber slicing through the air towards Skywalker, The sword's red glow lit the suspended dust particles in a hellish pattern and she appeared like a demon from fire.

Still stretched out on the floor, Lando was starting to regain full consciousness and Leia was torn between supporting him and watching Luke. With another groan, the Baron rolled over and when he did, Leia suddenly heard Han's voice, "Kid, you read me?" coming from the comm unit hooked at Lando's waist.

She grabbed at it. "Han, hurry!" she began pleading. "We need—"

"—A Sithin' miracle!" He cut her off, his filtered voice as urgent as she had ever heard. "Just listen, Leia. Get out, now! This place goes up in five minutes! You hear me?!"

Leia stared at the unit, not blinking as her mind processed all that Han's statement implied. Without answering, her head snapped up and she shouted over her shoulder. "Luke! We've only got five minutes!"

He couldn't acknowledge her, couldn't even high-sign that she was heard, for he and QueeQuee were locked in a crossed sword test of strength, will and determination. The two lightsabers sparked and pulsated between them as the laser fields crackled. Luke had braced himself, his muscles tensed, but QueeQuee's superior height gave her a physical advantage and his hands started to shake around the saber's hilt.

In desperation, for he had heard Leia's frantic warning, he drew in more of the Force, even pulling it from the planet itself. He let it flow through him, then took more, actually drawing it away from QueeQuee. With an astonished gasp, she faltered and the lightsabers slid off to either side in a brilliant incandescent pyrotechnic display.

Skywalker was the first to recover balance and he drove home the decisive blow. The blue-white blade sliced into QueeQuee's side, then Luke slid the sword upward. She screamed, instinctively curling around the injury. With a flourish worthy of a warrior cult even older than the Jedi Knights, Luke withdrew the lightsaber.

QueeQuee collapsed on the ground, writhing and convulsing, still alive and still conscious. There was surprisingly little blood, considering the extent of the devastating wound, but the saber cauterized in its destructive wake. Breathing hard, Luke took a step back and switched off his weapon. Leia came running over and wrapped both arms around Luke's waist, hugging him tight; then they both looked down at the dying Dark Jedi.

The princess felt an intense hatred for this being. Even with the creature's mortal injury and obvious severe pain, Leia couldn't find a single shred of compassion within herself. The more she thought about what QueeQuee had tried to do, the angrier she became and the hatred grew, becoming an almost all-consuming emotion, filling her mind. And inside her mind, the Dark Side sensed its ultimate release and subsequent control.

Luke felt it, too, staring at his twin sister with horror. "No...Leia," he begged. "Please...no."

She deliberately pushed him away, her hand flat on his chest, keeping him at arm's length while she glared as QueeQuee's gasping form.

Feeling Leia's mental power and the intense anger, QueeQuee opened her eyes. There was triumph behind the fading pink brightness. "The Dark Side wins after all," she managed to whisper.

The Princess of Alderaan and Jedi Knight slowly shook her head. "No, it doesn't. You're not worth it." In that instant, the Dark Side, that which would have turned Leia into an agent of evil, vaporized like a cloud of black powder that blew away in the lightest of mental winds.

With an expression of indescribable relief and pride, Luke folded her back into his embrace. "I knew you could do it," he said softly, then drew back and raised skeptical eyebrows. "Now, let's hope Han and Chewie can. We've run out of time."

 


With no answer from Leia or Luke or anybody, Han could only make the hopeful assumption that everyone was on the planet surface. He put the comm unit away. "Chewie, maybe if we destroy everything, we can shut everything down."

"Including ourselves," Chewie argued.

"Okay, what's your brilliant idea then?! We've got less than five minutes before we become free floating molecules!"

It was Artoo who came up with the brilliant idea. He was pulling more information and a schematic appeared on the screen, a three-dimensional rendition of the console that became more detailed and magnified until it finally stopped, flashing on a specific circuit board.

"Inside here?" Han asked. Artoo bleeped a yes and backed away, withdrawing the link-up.

Han bent down, reaching for the maintenance panel, but found it locked and sealed. The blaster came out and he fired at the lock, blowing circuits as the seal was interrupted. Acrid tendrils of smoke wafted out from around the edges. Not needing instructions, Chewie grabbed the jagged corner and with an exertional grunt, ripped the paneling off, then smacked his hands together as if to say, 'So much for locks and seals.' He grinned snugly at his partner.

"Pat yourself on the back later," Han griped, wiggling into the opening. Sticking his head back out he continued, "If we have a later!" He couldn't, wouldn't think about the dwindling minutes as he lay on his back, looking for the indicated circuit. He tried turning his body on its side to obtain better light and easier access, but only succeeded in seeing paisley stars as the two halves of his collarbone went in two different directions. "Millions," he muttered to himself between grimacing breaths.

He couldn't see what he was doing and since he had nothing to lose at this point, he applied some Corellian philosophy and began ripping out wires and connections at random, hoping by luck to hit the right one. The control board above suddenly popped, half the lights and screens across the room shut down with a dying whine, then the board sparked, fizzed and flames erupted out of the controls.

"Chewie!" yelled the surprised and slightly panicked Corellian, but the fast-thinking Wookiee was already dragging Han out by the boot heels. Once free, Han coughed and scrambled out of the way, afraid the whole console might blow. But what difference does it make? he told himself, The console or the whole complex? Though the console was a smoking mess, the countdown was still flashing on the screen. They were down to seconds and he looked at his friend and partner in something like regret and apology.

Artoo had other ideas, though. He charged over, his computer access arm held out like a lance and re-linked with the console. The plug tines spun back and forth and spun again as the little droid delved deeper into the Imperial system. Energy flashed from the sparking circuit, surrounding him with crackling bolts of lightning. The Imperial computer was fighting back. Artoo swung up another arm from his myriad appendages, one with a pincer clamp, and attached it to a lip on the console board to hold himself in place. As he worked to shut down the destruct sequence, smoke spewed from the board, sparks flew, sputtered and, all over the room, panels began popping off with small explosions blowing out pieces of jagged metal. Chewbacca yowled, holding up hairy arms as debris flew over his head.

Artoo was clearly vibrating now, but hanging on and circumventing or destroying everything the Imperial computer had, byte by byte.

"C'mon," Han urged, one eye on the droid, the other on the countdown. It read: eight-seven-six... He got down on one knee as close to the astromech unit as he dared. "C'mon, you can do it." Five-four-three... Artoo suddenly let out a high electronic screech that could only have been a droid equivalent of'pain. The console blew, followed by most of the rest of the room, and then everything went black.

Coughing, hacking and unable to see a thing, Han was flat on his back, feeling a whole new set of aches and pains to add to the old ones. But the fact that he was feeling anything at all, even pain, was a very good sign. Slowly, he moved various body parts, testing functional capabilities. Everything seemed to work—under protest, but worked. He lifted some debris off himself before trying to stand. "Chewie?" he anxiously called.

The total blackness was unnerving, then a single light blinked in the darkness, then another, two more; a few beeps and pings accompanied the functional return of a few screens though they were nothing but lines of static. Whole panels came back to life, while others were permanently burned out.

Han made it to his feet, dusting himself down with one hand while holding the fractured shoulder with the other. It was throbbing nicely. "Chewie!" he called again, now worried. A muffled answer let him sigh with relief and he traced its location to the holo-tank. Chewbacca was curled up in the concave surface, dust and dirt still settling on the furry back.

"Big, brave Wookiee," Han teased, then smiled. "You look good there...like dinner on a plate. You all right?"

Chewbacca peeked out from under one arm, felt himself all over and grinned in discovering he was all in one piece. As the Wookiee climbed out, shaking himself and clucking anxiously over Han's injury, the Corellian scanned the room. "Hey, Artoo," he called.

Chewbacca began lifting the larger pieces of wreckage. *Here,* he gestured, finding the astromech unit lying on its side under a large mass of tangled wire.

Stepping over the rubble, Han scrambled to the spot. "Artoo," he said with glee, "you beautiful hunk of circuit. You did it!"

But there was no answering bleep, no sign of life at all. Most of him was seared to the point of melting and when Han placed a hand on the metal body, it was still hot. "Aw...Tripod," he said sadly, realizing that the little droid was gone. Chewie sighed with a murmur of shared grief. After a moment, Han got up and stood back, not believing that he could be so remorseful about a droid. "You know, I'm really going to miss the little guy."

"Yes, too bad it wasn't the other one," deadpanned Chewie.

Chewbacca's sarcastic delivery was so unexpected and perfect that for the next minute Han was laughing helplessly. But he was also holding a white-knuckled hand over the shoulder trying to support the broken bone.

"Can you wait for medical attention?" asked Chewie.

Han took a deep breath, bringing himself under control. "Depends," he answered, wiping one tearing eye. "If you're thinking what I'm thinking." He looked at his partner with a distinct mercenary grin. "But you're going to have to carry it."

Chewie rubbed his massive hands together in a time-immemorial gesture. "The princess said 'millions.'" He opened his shoulder pouch and turned it upside down, emptying all the contents, then laid it back on his hip and patted it affectionately. "I can carry quite a bit."

Han smiled like no one but a Corellian about to become independently wealthy could. "Partner, did I ever tell you I love you more than a full cargo?" He unhooked the comm unit. "I'll let everyone know we're okay. You go see if we can pull up some floor plans."

 


Back in the corridor, Luke and Leia viewed the flickering lights with a grim fatalism while Lando was sitting up under his own power, wondering if someone got the number of the star destroyer that hit him. Though knowing oblivion was possibly only seconds away, Leia suddenly brightened. "Luke, I almost forgot! I saw him."

"Saw who?" he asked.

"Va—" She caught herself. "Anakin. I saw Anakin and he talked to me."

Luke's eyes shone. "And...?" His voice was gentle.

"He said he was sorry, and gave me the courage to defeat the Dark Side." She was quiet and awed, then looked at her brother with a new peace. "I can forgive him. I don't know if I'll ever love him, but I can forgive him."

He nodded, wrapping an arm around her shoulder to tug her against him. Overhead, the lights flickered again. "I don't know if that's a good sign or not," Luke commented. Then they went completely out, coming back on a few seconds later. Neither Luke nor Lela was consciously aware that they were holding their breaths.

"Hey..." said a petulant Lando. "What's going on?" He was holding the comm unit from which could be heard a loud Corellian Rebel yell!

Leia wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. Han had done it! She and Luke hugged and then went to help Lando stand. "We'll tell you on the way," she said.

 


It was hours before Han and Chewbacca returned to the Falcon and Luke was afraid Leia was going to wear a hole in the decking from pacing before they did. Han had said over the comm unit not to worry as he and Chewie had some 'unfinished business' to attend to, but as the hours went by, she couldn't help but become concerned.

There were still battles going on in the tunnels, though most were nothing more than minor skirmishes. With the withdrawal of the officers, the stormtroopers were without direction and just followed their last instructions, which was to give minimal resistance.

The rebellion victory had been quick and easy. Fleet gossip would later report that Mon Mothma was as giddy as a schoolgirl over the amount of supplies and weapons discovered. QueeQuee was dead, Royce would get life imprisonment, and Artoo-Detoo's 'body' had been recovered from the wreckage of the complex control center.

There had also been some aerial action as the Imperial officers tried to escape in private spacecraft, tie-fighters, and shuttles that were located in areas of the planet far from urban centers. But the rebel X-wings had been alerted for just such a ploy; it had been like shooting dinkos in a gravity pen.

Luke had been in touch with the headquarters frigate, giving their status and condition. They had all declined medical treatment as their collective injuries really only amounted to bumps and bruises and the Falcon's medical supplies contained adequate analgesics to take the edge off any ache or pain.

Laying on the bed in Han's quarters, Lando was the worst with just about every part of his body complaining in varying degrees of discomfort, but he wasn't going to miss the confrontation between Han and Leia for anything!

Luke appeared at the cabin door. "They're back," he announced and went to help Lando up. "How's the head?"

"It only...hurts when I blink," the baron groaned. "How's Leia?"

Luke shook his head. "I don't know if she's going to hug him or kill him."

In the center recreation area of the ship, Leia continued to pace and mutter to herself. "I don't know if I should hug him or kill him." She had gone over the whole plan, as told to her by Luke, at least twenty times and twenty times she had understood why she hadn't been told or included. And twenty times she felt justified in wanting to rip out their hearts in righteous indignation. It was Han's bad luck to arrive during an indignant interval.

But Han and Chewbacca didn't come in right away. They were outside the Falcon, directing a transport van, inching it back until it coupled perfectly with the freighter's starboard cargo hatch. Inside the ship, her three occupants jumped at the clang, then the hiss of the hatch opening, which was immediately followed by half-a-dozen Minradites carrying containers marked with the Vreeble company logo into the Falcon's main hold. Chewie brought up the rear of the procession, carrying the heaviest of the sensor suite components, but he was still able to give an enthusiastic wave and huge grin to Leia, Luke and Lando as they stood in the corridor, watching the parade.

"That's a happy Wookiee," remarked Lando.

"Hey!" said a familiar voice behind them. They all turned and there was Han, holding out one arm and hand at his side with the other in a makeshift sling. He had the most insufferably pleased-with-himself expression on his face they had ever seen and where Han was concern, they had seen quite a few. No one could do it better. "We made it!" he grinned, looking tired, distinctly scruffy, but to Leia, he was a beautiful sight and she ran forward.

Han held his ground, fully expecting her to be madder than a wet Wookiee and fully prepared to accept the consequences. But the look on her face was anything but angry. He held out his good arm to hold her tightly when she lovingly wrapped herself around him. He could feel her shudder in his embrace, feel her hands possessively clutch behind his back and he bent his head to whisper to her. "I promise...I will never hurt you like that again." His words were intense. With tears in her eyes, she lifted her face to look at him, to reaffirm it was really him in her arms, and then his lips were on hers in a kiss that seemed to encompass all eternity, blotting out all the pain, unhappiness and uncertainty.

"Oh, well," Lando shrugged. He was hoping for some Alderaani fireworks. Luke just sighed with relief. Leia had called him an unfeeling, heartless louse in at least six million forms of communications.

Leia drew back. "You better not," she started off sweetly and breathless, but then became louder and increasingly furious. "Because if you ever pull another high-handed, thoughtless stunt like this..." Eyes wide, Han backed up under the verbal onslaught. "Of all the unmitigated, presumptuous..."

Luke and Lando looked at each other, then up as Chewbacca joined them. "Everything's back to normal," said Luke.

"...Things you have done, Han Solo," she irately continued, "this has got to be the worst. You're just lucky I didn't believe a word of any of it!"

Though part of him was actually enjoying her tirade, Han feigned a hurt look. "C'mon, sweetheart. I wanted to let you in on it, but the Junior Jedi over there said I couldn't."

"Don't try and switch the blame on someone else!" she threatened.

"Yeah," added Luke. "Leave me out. I've already been shredded. It's your turn."

Chewbacca made the mistake of laughing. "And you!" Leia pounced on the poor Wookiee. She could maybe punch him in the knees if she wanted to. "You're supposed to be the sensible one. Oooooh, I've got half a mind to have you stuffed!"

At this point, Lando decided to try and mediate. "Easy, Leia. What they did, they did because they thought it would be the best for you in the long run. It's not their fault that the plan backfired so badly."

"No..." Han waved a hand. "Let her go, Lando. She's got every right to be angry. Leia," he looked at her with real regret, "I'll say it again. I am sorry for what I put you through."

"Me, too," Luke said.

"And I, also," added Chewbacca.

For just a moment more Leia glared at the three contrite co-conspirators, and then she relaxed. "I suppose I can't stay mad at you forever. Not that you don't deserve it!" she amended hastily.

Han held up a hand. "You'll get no argument from me," and welcomed her back into the curve of his arm. "Chewie, how about we raise ship and go home?"

As the Wookiee headed for the cockpit to happily comply with his Captain's orders and Lando limped away with Luke's assistance, Leia looked up at her Corellian. There was an odd expression on her face as she coyly walked slim fingers up his chest. "Chewbacca can take the Falcon up without you, can't he?" she asked.

Han gulped and almost wished he was back in the rebel cell. Her intentions were very clear. "Well," he hedged, "she really handles better with two at the controls."

Leia blatantly played with the waistband of his pants. "I'll handle better with one. How about you and I go...uhmmm, make up for lost time?"

At that moment, if mortification had a name, it would've been Han Solo. "Give me a break, honey. The shoulder's broken."

She took a step back, now a little suspicious. "You're not going to let a little broken bone stop you, are you?"

Han sighed and resigned himself to the fact that he would have to tell her, if not now, then sometime soon. "Leia, if I could, two broken shoulders couldn't stop me."

"Why can't you?" she pushed.

"Because I can't."

"You don't want to?!"

"No, I said, because I can't!"

He wrapped an arm around her shoulder and tried to explain the side effects of a double-whammy stun charge, but he hadn't gotten further than three sentences when she wailed, "You're kidding!"

Han mournfully shook his head. "'Fraid not."

"For how long?!" was a high bleat of distress.

He shrugged helplessly. "Three, maybe four days at the most."

"Four...? Oooooh!" Leia stifled a blistering invective and stormed away, her hands balled into fists at her side.

Han stood there in the corridor, his hand over his chest. "But it's not my fault!

 


By the time the Falcon set down on the flight deck of the headquarters frigate, all had been forgiven and explained. Han and Leia had spent the return trip just talking. The conversation hadn't been without argument or conflict or opinion differences, but it had been honest, sincere and serious. They had both faced the possibility of losing each other too many times and knew the odds wouldn't be on their side forever; the time for games was finished.

"When this charade was over," Han had said as they sat across from each other at the chess table, "I was going to leave. I would've asked you to come with me but if you said no, I was still going to go."

"And now?" Leia's hand was in his and she could feel the muscles in his wrist tighten.

He had looked a little lost, a little trapped, scared, but accepting, and, most of all, sure. "I couldn't leave if you decide to stay. I need you." The admission was a difficult one and Leia thought she knew how much it had taken for Han to actually say it. But it was his next words that had really sent her senses reeling. "I'm even willing to make it official. Think you could stand having me around for the rest of your life?"

She had said yes to the proposal, but couldn't give him an answer concerning the rebellion. There were so many factors to consider. Not the least of which was Luke. She had confided that she would miss him terribly and felt she owed him at least her company. As the only Jedi Knight, he would be alone even among people.

Even as the freighter's ramp lowered, Leia was still struggling with her decision. She, Han and Chewbacca were still in the cockpit. Luke had gone out first with Lando, to the accompaniment of loud Rebel cheering in the bay and while Han was shutting down the last of the systems, the Wookiee was looking out the window. He let out a surprised exclamation and tapped Han on the shoulder, pointing towards the deck.

Seemingly oblivious to an audience of hundreds, Luke and Sara were locked in a passionate embrace that made even Han raise his eyebrows. "Hey, Leia..." He gestured her over, "I don't think you'll have to worry about Luke. The kid seems to be doing just fine in the company department." From Han's vantage point, he could see Sara's leg rubbing on Luke's hip. "Hm-m-m, maybe it's time I stopped called him 'kid'." He nodded approvingly. "She looks good in a dress."

Leia was smiling, happy for her brother, but then she saw Mon Mothma, Madine and Ackbar waiting. "Oh, gods, Han." She begged for advice. "What do I say to her?"

His face took on a hardened expression as he saw fear return to his lady's eyes. "Anything you want. You don't owe her a thing, sweetheart. Remember that."

When Han and Leia, followed by Chewbacca, exited the Millennium Falcon, a rousing Rebel hurrah greeted their appearance. Han reached out and took Leia's hand. He looked a little embarrassed and she smiled, wanting to burst from the love she felt for this man. Hand in hand, they approached the triumvirate rebel leaders, but it was Mon Mothma who made the first move by coming forward. "Welcome back, Your Highness," she said and dropped to one knee in a gesture of respect and fealty.

Leia was momentarily stunned, but quickly recovered and took Mon Mothma's hand to raise her to a standing position. Their eyes met and in another second, they were hugging; the Rebel leader was apologizing profusely to the princess and vice versa. Then Mim looked to Han. "Please accept our deepest apologies, from myself and the rebellion, for ever doubting you, Captain Solo. We did you a grave injustice."

Han started to comment but grimaced instead as the increasing crush of bodies pushed on the fractured collarbone.

"Oh, my," Mim said, as if just noticing the sling. "We better get you to medical." She delegated someone to arrange the shuttle. "Leia, I'll need to talk to you," was added almost as an afterthought.

That did it! Leia counted to ten before she slowly turned around. She had made up her mind to stay with the Alliance for a while longer. There was so much she could do and seeing all the crew and troops still committed to fighting the Empire had made her feel guilty. But she wasn't back three minutes and already she was being forced to choose between Han, who was hurt and needed her, and the responsibilities of her office.

"I think," she said to Mim, "you should know something. I'm leaving the rebellion."

Behind the rebel leader, Ackbar became even more pop-eyed; Madine wasn't surprised, he had seen it coming; and Mim looked positively apoplectic. A few feet away, temporarily forgotten, Han closed his eyes in wordless relief and contentment.

"Oh, Leia, you don't mean that," stated Mon Mothma as if that was an end to it.

The princess drew herself up. "Watch me. Your vision of the New Republic is wrong. It shouldn't be a single person. It should be an idea, a new way of life. Fire the people's future with hope, not with a figurehead. The New Republic's promise is one of peace, prosperity and the freedom of choice. This is mine."

"You're serious," said Mim, incredulously.

"Very!" Leia answered as passionately as any speech she ever gave. "I gave my youth to the rebellion, my home..." An image of an exploding Alderaan flared painfully in her mind. "And almost my soul. But I held onto my heart. When Han leaves, I'm going with him."

Mon Mothma stood there, resolute, determined, the rebellion's guiding light from the start. "Well, I guess there's only one thing left for me to do." She smiled. "And that's to wish you both a lifetime of happiness."

Another cheer went up through the rebel ranks, but through the din, Leia heard her name and felt a comforting presence. She turned and moved into Luke's held-out arms. 'My only regret," she said, "is I'm going to miss you so much."

Luke drew away from her. "I will always be with you. The Force will always be with you." He opened his thoughts, letting her see his hopes and dreams for her, his own ambitions and his acceptance of her decision. Leia felt her twin's energy, as close to a mirror match as could be. "If you need me...I'll know."

Watching the maudlin mess, Han leaned on his partner's solid frame. "Well, Furface, looks like we're going to have a crew of three. How do you feel about that?"

Chewbacca grinned and moved Han to a balanced position. "I'm going to re-stock the galley," said the Wookiee as he headed back to the Falcon. "The princess cooks better than you do."

 


There was one more member of the rebellion to check on before preparations could be started for the victory party and Han and Leia's bonding ceremony. Several hours alter the Falcon's return, the lounge area on the medical frigate was filled with concerned, waiting, hopefully expectant people...and one protocol droid.

Leia sat on the couch looking worried. "He was always there when I needed him."

Wedge was realistic. "He was hurt pretty bad when we found him."

Sitting next to the princess, Han experimentally flexed his arm, feeling the internal molecular cast that had been injected around the fractured clavicle. It felt pretty good. "I hate to agree, but that was an awful blast he got hit with."

Mon Mothma was pacing. "He has to be all right. The rebellion needs his courage."

The door hissed open and they all looked up, but then their faces fell, it was only General Rieekan in a repulsor chair. He was well on his way to full recovery. "Any word?" he asked and was answered by negative despondent murmurs.

"Oh dear, oh dear," whined See-Threepio. "I do wish we would hear something."

"He'll be okay." Luke patted the golden shoulder.

The door opened again, this time admitting a droid repair specialist, itself a droid designated as Tee Four-Two. His mechanical hand held a box with only a single monocular photoreceptor lens and vocoder on the surface. "The Artoo unit was unsalvageable," stated the droid.

"Oh no," wailed Threepio, "my poor counterpart."

But Tee Four-Two wasn't finished. "Fortunately, the memory core was intact and will be installed into another casing."

The lens suddenly lit up and a familiar fweet, bleep, whistle and toot came from the vocoder. It was Artoo-Detoo.

"Artoo!" exclaimed a happy Threepio. "Is it really you?"

Everyone was up and crowded around the box. Han patted the top. "Good to hear your voice, Tripod." Artoo bleeped happily and then tootled what was obviously a request.

"Well, I never..." complained an indignant protocol droid. "You're going to need a much bigger body than you had before with that attitude!"

"What did he say?" Luke asked.

"The little twerp wants a medal!"

 


It was three days later that Han and Leia were bonded in a Corellian life-mate ceremony. The bride wore white; the groom wore dark blue. The bride was serene; the groom was nervous. The bride was beautiful; the groom was awesome! The reception and victory party afterwards went down in rebellion history and made Endor look like a Priests of Ninn formalistic tea social.

When the main festivities had broken up, a small, select group returned to the Falcon for a few more hours of intimate friendship. Finally, after all the good-byes had been said, Leia went to the captain's quarters, leaving Han and Chewbacca to see everyone off the freighter and clean all the ribbons and streamers off the ship's hull.

In the new spacious quarters—as spacious as a freighter could be-Leia lifted her hands up, letting the shimmersilk nightgown slip down over her arms. The gossamer garment floated in the air for just a second before settling over her body. With childlike delight, her fingers skimmed over the fabric as the iridescence inherent in the threads rippled in a wave of changing colors. With adult observation, she realized it revealed everything.

The gown was a life-mate present from Luke and Sara and, at first, Leia had been horrified knowing what it must have cost. But it hadn't been too difficult, really, to accept it in the spirit and love in which it had been given.

There had also been Han's reaction to consider. As she unfolded foot after foot of the glistening material, Han looked at her with a fiery intense desire that had almost been frightening...almost. If she had tried to return the gift, it probably would have caused a major Corellian riot of one! Later on, during a quiet moment, he had whispered, "Can't wait to see you in that!" The implications and promise of things to come...so to speak...made her pelvic muscles go thump!

They thumped again when she sensed his approach, feeling his personal aura before actually hearing the footsteps on the deck. With inexplicable panic, she wanted to flee. Nervously, she pulled her loose hair over one shoulder to run it repeatedly through her hands.

She had always known when he was near, but now with her heightened Force ability, he was even more of an acutely felt presence. Despite the volatility of their relationship, knowing he was near had always made her feel safe. Why now-she heard him outside the door-did she tremble?

Perhaps it was because she wasn't feeling very safe. Han's aura was like that of a runaway rogue star with energies as equally out of control and she was right in its path. Like a sleeper bomb, she had been absorbing small amounts of those energies all evening until now her body felt like a ticking thermodetonator. One touch from Han Solo and she too would be out of control.

That terrified her, she realized. The memory of what she had done to Mon Mothma still haunted her and it was a deep fear despite Luke's assurance that she had beaten the Dark Side. If she was capable of such power with anger as the catalyst, Gods of Alderaan knew what she would do in the dizzying heights of passion, especially that which Han Solo was capable of producing.

The possibility of hurting him hadn't occurred to her when she tried seducing him after he had returned from the tunnels, but there had been time in the last few days to think...and she was now afraid of her response.

"Leia?" The softness, the deep resonance with which he said her name was a spoken intimacy and it told her that the time for words would soon be over. When she didn't turn around, Han asked, "Are you all right?"

She turned just her head to see him silhouetted in the cabin doorway, her knees barely holding her up. There was a look of such utter vulnerability on his face, his heart and his soul completely exposed for her to see. Never before had he dropped his personal shields so completely. Her throat ached. Was she worthy of such surrender from this man who had found it so difficult to give that heart and soul? Could she love him enough in return? Could that love hurt him?

He entered the cabin, the door hissing shut in response to his hand on the palm lock. That hand also waved out the lights and opened the outer hull port window shield. It irised open, flooding the room with starlight. Leia hadn't even noticed when the ship left.

In the resulting shadows, she drank in the sight of him, wanting to permanently fix the image in her own heart and soul-as if she could ever forget. The gun rig was conspicuously absent as was the favorite vest he had changed into at the earliest opportunity. The shirt was half-sealed and a small patch of chest hair could be seen. A sharp memory of that hair tickling her nose on one previous occasion triggered a singular jolt of remembered pleasure. He still wore his boots and pants, though the latter couldn't have been too comfortable; his physical reaction to seeing her in the shimmersilk was very obvious. The effects of the stun charge had most definitely worn off.

Her knees grew weaker and her memory showed no mercy. Now she recalled the indescribable sensation of the first time he had entered her...the pain and the pleasure...and she felt herself grow wet with the anticipation of experiencing it again. With unexplainable embarrassment, she abruptly turned away as if she could deny her body's natural responses.

From behind her, his hands cupped over either shoulder and she immediately tensed. "Hey, what is it?" His worried voice came from a spot scant inches near her ear, his breath warm upon her neck. Any moment her knees were going to collapse.

"I don't know," she heard herself answer. How could she make him understand her fear of something he didn't quite believe in.

"C'mon," he urged. "Tell me." Whatever her answer at that point would have been was caught between heartbeats when his hand slowly slid along her collarbone, one finger tracing the jawline until his entire palm rested across her throat, her carotid artery beating frantically against the tips of his fingers. With ever so light pressure, he tilted her head back, all the while stroking the taut skin, until her head rested on his shoulder. Holding her thus, Han slipped his other arm around her waist, gently pulling her back, as helplessly captured as she could imagine. The Princess trembled even more, feeling the prominent contours of his body pressed against her, feeling the almost palpable sexual desire. "Don't tell me you're afraid of me?" he half-teased.

She listened for some trace of mockery in the question, some familiar sarcasm, some semblance to the flippant Corellian smuggler, but there was only concern, a twinge of fear that perhaps he was right, but also a smoldering undercurrent that maybe she should be. "No..." she finally whispered, unable to do more than that; just standing up was taking most of her concentration.

At this point, Han didn't know what to think except the worst. They were alone...finally Leia was in his arms...finally. Yet she was about as relaxed and pliant as a main hull structural beam, giving every indication that his touch was not only unpleasant, but also unwanted. "What then?!" came his gentle, but intense demand for an explanation.

There weren't too many conclusions to choose from and his mind, controlled by his heart, came to an obvious one. The hand dropped from her throat even as he released her waist, "Having second thoughts? Is that it?!"

Han couldn't have been more devastated if someone had told him that Chewbacca and the Falcon had been destroyed; the same sense of loss squeezed his insides in a strangulating, constricting knot. Foolishly, he berated himself, foolishly he had thought Leia would have no regrets giving up everything...the power, the status, the galaxy at her feet...for him. And what did he offer in exchange?

In retrospect, what did he have to make a princess give up her throne? Mentally checking off answers, he came up woefully short. Ben Kenobi's words came back to him: 'Who's the more foolish, the fool, or the fool who follows?' Well, Han had played the fool before...not very often, but there had been occasions...and he had survived. He had also offered to back out before, when he thought the affection between Luke and Leia was more than a sibling love. He could do it again...but could he survive again?

"If you've changed your mind," his voice shook despite a conscious effort to sound controlled, "tell me now, Leia...so I can get on with my life." He swallowed hard. "I won't beg you to stay."

Gods, Leia silently cried, He thinks I don't want him! Whirling around, the hurt she saw in his eyes tore at her heart as painfully as an actual physical wound. She couldn't let him think that! In the next second, she flung herself against him, wrapping her arms around his chest and reaching up his back with her hands to hold him tight, her cheek pressed hard over his beating heart. Her fingers tightened, gripping the fabric of his shirt in desperate, unreasonable panic. His body radiated a sexual heat, gave off a sensual energy that made her senses spin. Her very soul wanted him, wanted to take him and hold him inside her forever. How could she trust herself and.… Oh damn, she thought, lowering her face to rest her forehead against him where she sniffled. She was going to cry in another minute.

Though now totally and completely confused, Han let out a relieved sigh, curling his own arms around this beautiful and complex woman who had so completely taken over his life from the moment he first laid eyes on her. At his embrace, Leia tried to pull away but Han only tightened his hold. "Oh, no," he said, "you're going to stay right here until you tell me what this is all about. Just tell me this first...do you love me?"

Unable any longer to fight not only him, but herself, Leia went limp, melting against him and allowed herself to be held, her back stroked, and rocked in his slow, soothing rhythm. "Yes," she said, daring to look into his eyes. "Oh, gods, yes...but—"

"But nothing!" Han answered sternly, broaching no argument. "Whatever it is, we can handle it. As long as I've got you," his. voice softened, his head lowered, "I can handle anything." But Leia drew her head back and Han stared at her as if he'd been slapped. Maybe his previous light jest had more truth in it than he knew. "Stars, Leia...are you afraid of me? I'd never..."

Leia slipped her hand between them to lay the tips of her fingers across his lips. "I know..." she said softly, not wanting him to think that either.

With that all-encompassing gaze of his burning at full intensity, demanding she look at him, he captured her hand in his, held it against his mouth and kissed those fingers that had held him to silence. "You better talk to me, Sweetheart. I'm getting worried," With no immediate reply, he switched tactics. "Trust me, I'll understand."

For the first time since Han entered the room, the princess smiled. "Even if the Force is involved?"

Not on my wedding night! was Han's first thought—and his second, even his third. Admittedly uneasy with the concept of something other than himself having control and final say of his destiny, he had come to terms with the idea. But he'd be damned if he'd let the Force interfere with his sex life! Though that eloquent mouth twisted in annoyance, he had said he would understand. A deep breath and a reluctant nod preceded his capitulation. "Yes, even if the Force is involved...but I don't have to like it."

At that moment, Leia couldn't have loved him more and knew she owed him more than this nervous evasion. With her hand almost totally enveloped within his firm grasp, she drew strength from that inner core of Corellian fire that was always there for her when she needed it. "I'm not afraid of you, but for you." Now it was her turn to take a deep breath. "I'm afraid of myself. You heard what I did to Mim."

"Yeah," Han grinned inappropriately. "Wish I had been there to cheer you on." At Leia's horrified expression, he instantly regretted the flippancy. "Sorry...was a reflex thought."

"What if something like that happens again? Not necessarily in anger, but...what if...?" For someone renowned for her eloquence, the Princess of Alderaan was having a perfectly awful time expressing herself. Her face flushed, apparent even in the gray starlight of the cabin. "What if we're making love," she blurted, "and I lose control?!"

She was totally sincere, but Han laughed in delight. "Honey," he squeezed her hand, "I'm counting on it!"

"I mean it!"

"So do I! If you don't lose control, I better change my technique."

"What if I hurt you?!" It was a threat, an accusation and her deepest fear. Yet, he wasn't as concerned or sympathetic as she thought he should be.

"Leia, c'mon," Han continued the lighter mood. "Sara didn't looked singed around the edges and I think she and Luke are past the hand-holding stage."

"Han," she pleaded in heart-felt exasperation, "Please...I 'm serious."

For just a second, time waited, then he brought up his other hand to lay it across her cheek. Immediately, Leia leaned into it, closing her eyes in pure tactile bliss. Never, not even on Hoth, had she known his hands to be cold.

"Okay, you want serious, Your Worship...I'll give you serious." With his greater height, he looked down at her, as impressive and compelling as ever. "We've got two choices here. Either we make love...or we don't. I really don't think not making love is an option—am I right?"

Leia gulped as he lightly ran gentle fingers through her hair. Her resolve was crumbling very quickly. She nodded, "Right."

"I don't know what you think is going to happen, but I'm willing to risk it. Stars, am I willing!"

She had to smile at that but Han could still see the shadow of fear behind her dark eyes. "I know I give you and Luke a hard time about the Force, but I don't deny its existence. I'm not blind to what you and Luke can do. Hell, your brother insists I've been using it for years, says I tap into a side branch of energy in a way that's 'different,'—is how he puts it—from a normal Jedi...which is a contradiction in terms if you ask me."

Again, the princess couldn't help but laugh and felt better at Han's acknowledgment. He pulled her closer, his expression very serious. "Leia, no matter what power is out there, you couldn't hurt me, not even unconsciously. Don't ask me how I'm so positive...I just know." He grinned at her, his eyes those of a mischievous imp. "Maybe I'm using the Force."

Wistfully, she stroked the scar on his chin, then lightly touched his lips. "I wish I could be as positive."

Green/gold fire replaced the impishness. "You know there's only one way to find out." Once again, his voice dropped to a smoky, semantic caress. His hand, which had been playing with her hair, slid to the nape of her neck, preventing her from moving. His face came closer. "I told you once before...in this room, there's only you and me. No royalty, no droids, and now, no Jedis. Besides," his breath mingled with hers, "there's no Force in the universe more powerful than this."

His lips touched hers and stayed...and stayed, promising everything. His mouth was strong, yet soft, insistent yet gentle, giving then taking, moving hot and sweet against her own, convincing her that the Force didn't have a snowball's chance on Tatooine of getting within parsecs of the Falcon, never mind in the cabin. Her knees gave up and gave out just as his arms wrapped around her, lifting her off her feet as he tightly held her against him. Still he kissed her, with an intense passion that made her breathless, that made her senses soar with sheer pleasure.

Outside, the stars suddenly blurred in streaks of light as Chewbacca kicked in the Falcon's lightspeed engines and the freighter disappeared into hyperspace.

[Author's note: "Okay, okay...I'll do it!"]

And they lived happily ever after.…

The End

 

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