Grounded

By Judy Ebberley

Art by Liz

 

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Part 1

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"Grounded? Grounded!" Han Solo's anguished howl caused several heads to turn.

Leia Organa hid her smile behind a raised hand. This was exactly the reaction she had predicted when the base commander had made the decision to ground all flights. It was also the reason she'd volunteered to break the news to Captain Solo. A princess had to have some pleasure, even a rebel princess, and annoying Han Solo was one of the few she had left to her.

"What the hell do you mean I'm grounded?"

"Exactly what it sounds like, flyboy," she repeated, enunciating the words slowly and clearly. "You are grounded."

Rendered temporarily speechless, Han struggled to regain sufficient control over his vocal cords to splutter, "You can't ground me."

Leia returned his venomous look. "I can, and I have." She watched his face darken in anger.

"Yeah, well, we'll see about that, sister." Han turned on his heel, preparing to return to his ship, but Leia's hand on his arm stopped him.

"It isn't just you," she offered in a more conciliatory manner. "All flights are grounded. Too much Imperial activity--you told us that yourself when you brought the Falconin yesterday. We had to act on that report. This base is important to us. The unique property of this rock prevents our position from being spotted by probes; it's going to be ideal for work on the new weaponry. But not if we advertise our presence to the Empire by allowing ships in and out while they remain in this sector. It will only be for a few days."

Mentally berating himself for being idiot enough to pass on his warning, Han took his frustrations out on the princess. "I don't care how many days, Your Highnessness--I ain't staying here any longer than it takes for me to complete my warm-up."

"The storm doors have been closed. Even the Falconcan't blast through them."

"You wanna bet?"

"Solo!" She found herself talking to his back as he started toward the hangar bay. "If your brain were only half the size of your mouth, you'd be dangerous. You and I both know that there is nothing you can do but accept the situation with as much grace as possible. Shouting won't change things. You are grounded until we have confirmation that the Imperial search teams have moved on. Get used to it."

The Corellian stopped dead and swung impatiently his heel. "Nobody grounds Han Solo, Princess. Nobody."

Leia gave up arguing with him and silently trailed him back through the half-completed base toward the hangar bay. She would have to explain to Chewie what was happening. The Corellian was obstinate enough to try and find some way to circumvent the orders, just to show he could. The Wookiee would know how to deal with him.

She allowed herself a small smile. Chewbacca would never allow his captain to put himself or the rebellion at risk for no better reason than to prove to her she was wrong. Han Solo might claim that no one had any influence over his life, but she knew better. She had seen the Wookiee stop Solo in his tracks with no more than a low-throated growl and a stern glance from his blue eyes.

"What are you following me for?" Solo demanded, stopping so suddenly that Leia barely managed to stop herself from crashing into him.

"I'm going to the hangar bay."

His eyes narrowed suspiciously. "What for?"

"I have business there, Captain, if you will get out of my way." She stepped around him, and Han found himself unexpectedly following in her wake. Even in his present mood, he couldn't help but admire the view. A smile broke through as he saw rebel technicians and pilots move out of her way. A very determined woman was Leia Organa. Almost as determined as he was. He lengthened his stride, intending to overtake her before she reached the hangar.

The pair was almost running by the time they reached the Falcon'sramp.

"Chewie."

"CHEWIE!"

The Kashyyykian ducked out from behind one of the lifters as Leia and Han clamoured for his attention.

"What?"he growled, taking in the flushed face of the princess and his captain's heavy breathing.

"I have to tell you about--"

"Chewie, we--"

Both stopped short, waiting to see what the other was going to say.

Chewbacca shook his head at their antics. "If you are coming to tell me that all ships are grounded, you are too late. Young Walker has already done so."He indicated a grinning Luke Skywalker, who had joined him at the base of the entrance ramp.

The Tatooinian's appearance prompted two very different reactions from the recently arrived pair. Leia gave him one of her most approving smiles, while Solo glowered at him as if he was a Sith Lord, or a tax official at the very least.

"What did I do now?" Luke wanted to know, puzzled by the Corellian's response to his presence.

"Nothing," Leia assured him.

"But Han...?"

"Oh, ignore him." The princess waved a dismissive hand in Solo's direction. "He's sulking because he doesn't like the idea of being forcibly grounded. He even threatened to blast his way out of here."

Luke struggled to hide his grin. It sounded like just the sort of thing Solo would say if he were angry. "Han, you didn't! Why?"

"The decision was made for our safety as well as the rebellion's," Chewbacca pointed out, in the sort of reasonable way that set Solo's teeth on edge.

"Well, I don't have to like it!"

"You don't have to like it, Han, but you do have to put up with it." This piece of advice earned the young Jedi apprentice a glance that should have reduced him to space dust.

"Listen, junior, I don't have to put up with anything I don't want to. This is the last time the damned rebellion puts me in this position. They don't own me, and they don't tell what I can and can't do. If I choose to leave, I'll leave, and no bureaucratic little autocrat or anybody else in this ragtag band of misfits is going to ground me again." A glare in Leia's direction made it plain whom he meant.

The princess threw up her hands at this example of continued obstinacy. She turned to the watching Wookiee. "Chewie, can't you talk some sense into him?"

As irritated as the Alderaanian by this display of deliberate wilfulness--sometimes Solo's temper overtook his inherent good sense--Chewbacca turned a determined face toward his captain and suggested they talk. Han's objection to this proposal was ignored.

"On the contrary, there is a great deal to discuss. Like your stubborn thickheadedness to start with."The Wookiee loomed over his much smaller human partner. "Would you prefer to hold that 'conversation' out here, in public?"

Solo sighed, all too familiar with the look on Chewie's furry face. That particular expression usually heralded the onset of a full-blown lecture. He weighed up the chances of being able to deflect his friend from his intentions and regretfully decided they were lousy. Since there was no way he was going to provide any more amusement for the princess and Skywalker today, he muttered sourly. "No!"

A flip of a furry head encouraged him to start up the ramp.

"You want to be careful or you could find yourself grounded for the second time today, Han." Luke obviously found his own remark very funny, for he went off into paroxysms of laughter. Which did nothing to improve Han's already bruised self-esteem.





"Hey, watch it, kid."

Han ducked as the remote trainer Luke had been practicing with whizzed over his head.

"It was nowhere near you," the Tatooinian informed him, catching the remote in his hand and throwing it back onto the shelf in the Falcon'smain hold.

"It nearly took my head off," Solo complained as he struggled into his second boot. "Are you finished fooling around now? Can we get down to the commissary before they start that meeting without us?"

"Yeah, we better. Where's Chewie?"

"He's already down there." Han stamped his foot into his boot and picked up his flight jacket. "Come on, I don't want to be late."

Luke laughed. "You mean you don't want to give Leia an excuse to start on you again."

Solo made a face at his friend. "Yeah, right. Let's just say that I'm tired of her sharpening her claws on me all the time. Let her take her frustrations out on some other poor sap for a while."





The two men entered the meeting venue just as Leia was taking her place at the impromptu podium. You had to give it to the Alliance, Solo admitted to himself as he made himself comfortable along the back wall. They did their best to ensure all their staff knew what was going on. Each morning a meeting was called so that the latest news could be disseminated. They also listened to complaints and did their best to sort them out. Today, most of the concerns seemed to be about rations--which were fully justified, as the closing of the base had meant that there were no fresh supplies available to the crews. At present they were living off whatever they could scrounge from the transport rations and emergency packs.

Han leaned back into the wall and folded his arms across his chest as he listened to the princess. She certainly knew how to play an audience, he told himself as the grumbles died away.

"Pity we can't take advantage of the game and fruit outside," someone said.

"We can't take the risk of opening the blast doors, Milson, and the other exits aren't functional yet. I'm sorry. If there were some way of getting outside without having to open the large doors, I would be the first to agree to it."

A smile lit Solo's face at her words. "Maybe there is!"

All eyes turned toward the Corellian. Most showed interest or hopeful anticipation. Leia's brown pair showed only distrust and wariness. "What's that supposed to mean?"

A mischievous grin filled Solo's face. "It means I know a way of getting out of here without using the blast doors."

Leia waited for further enlightenment. When none was forthcoming, she prompted, "Well, flyboy?"

He favored her with his most innocent expression. "Yes, thanks."

"Han!" Luke hissed in his friend's ear, watching Leia's face darken angrily. "Remember what you said earlier."

"Okay, okay. I think I have a way of solving your little problem. If you'll follow me, Your Royalness, I'll show you." Han pushed away from the wall and made off across the main bay, forcing Leia and Luke to trot in his wake before he disappeared into the gloomy interior of the tunnel system.

"Han, wait!" Luke called. "Where are you taking us?"

"You wanted a way out of this tomb, didn't you?"

"Yes, but how? Where?"

Solo gave them a look of long suffering. "What have I been doing the last three days? Ah-ah, Your Highness," he cautioned the princess, who seemed about to inject one of her stinging rejoinders to this question. "Be nice!"

Swallowing her first sharp words, Leia replied, "You have been carrying out a survey of the passages. For which we have already said we are very grateful. Oh!" Realization dawned. "You've found a way out."

"Got it in one, Your Royalness." It had been sheer boredom that had prompted him to volunteer to map out the passages. Yesterday afternoon he'd followed one such tunnel and found, to his great delight, a narrow fissure in the rock where light had filtered through. It showed a break just wide enough to enable him to push through onto an outside ledge. Why did you think she'd be pleased?he asked himself a second later as Leia demanded to know why he hadn't informed the base council about his find.

"I sent in my report last night, Your Glory. You mean you haven't read it yet? You must be slipping."

Leia bristled at his criticism. "Well, don't just stand there, flyboy, lead on. I just hope you know where you're going."

"Listen." The temporary goodwill of a few moments ago was forgotten as a forceful finger pointed itself at Leia's nose. "Corellians can't get lost."

"More's the pity," the princess muttered under her breath. She wondered if all Corellians were as full of themselves as Han Solo. Somehow she doubted it.

"Will you both give it a rest?" Luke pleaded. "If we can find a way to supplement the rations and still keep the security, then that should be our priority. Not bickering with each other."

Solo rolled his eyes at this advice. "You sound more like Chewie every day," he lamented. "Come on, Your Holiness, this way."





Taking a deep, reviving breath of fresh air, Han allowed the natural light to bathe his face. Below him, the forest spread out like a green carpet. Solo sat down on the ledge and just enjoyed the view for a while. He hadn't realized how tense he'd become over the last few days. He felt trapped in a way he never did when he was in space. In his ship, he was in control; on the ground, he became part of a much bigger whole, and he wasn't certain he liked that idea at all.

A smile made its way over his face as a flight of birds took off from the canopy and spiraled around him. Vivid colors shimmered; their beautiful plumage stood in sharp contrast to the dark green forest that was their home. Beside him, the princess was also taking in the full glory of the land beneath her. She was reveling in the experience, just as he was. The Tatooinian was just plain staring. "Wow!"

"I'd forgotten how lovely this planet was." Leia turned to the silent pilot. "Thank you, Han, this natural entrance is perfect. Since it didn't show up on our scans, it certainly won't be visible from space. All the twists and turns in the passages must mask the interior. We can start sending foraging parties out tomorrow to gather meat and fruits. It will make such a difference to everyone."

"My pleasure, Your Highness." Han's answer was for once devoid of all mockery. Making Leia Organa happy made him happy, he realized with a jolt. Solo,he warned himself, you better watch out!

"Don't eat that, Luke." Out of the corner of her eye, Leia saw Luke about to help himself to a berry. "Never eat anything that hasn't been tested. There are so many different substances. Even the most innocuous fruit could be poisonous to humanoids." "Not that one," Han told her. "I ate some yesterday, and I'm okay."

Disapproval warred with concern. "You shouldn't have done that. It could have been deadly."

"Well, it wasn't." Defiantly, Solo popped another fruit into his mouth.

"Solo, you are impossible." The princess shook her head at his smug expression. "Come on, Luke, we should get back and give the good news to the others. Are you coming, hotshot?"

"Yeah." Han waited until the other two had gone back into the caves before picking a handful of fruits to eat on their way back to the hangar.





Such good news traveled through the small base community very quickly, and that evening many people congregated in the commissary to talk and share their rations. Han Solo was a popular figure on many Alliance bases, and Amalaz was no exception. The fact that he had solved their food problem made him all the more welcome as he strolled into the small hall with his giant partner in his shadow.

"Hey, Solo, come and join us." One of the pilots from Gold Flight waved Han toward their table. As a survivor of the Death Star battle, Lieutenant Petri had a reputation for being able to organize a party at a moment's notice. Han naturally gravitated in his direction.

"Have a drink," Petri offered.

"Thanks." Han lowered himself into the seating and helped himself to a glass. Everyone else at the table held their breath as he downed the first mouthful. "Where in all the seven hells did you get this stuff?" he wheezed, as the fiery liquid burned its way down his throat.

"Helpin's set up a still." Petri nodded towards a green-skinned Rodian.

"What's he usin'?" Solo wiped his streaming eyes and took another, more cautious swallow. "Jet juice?"

"No, it's not that good." There was general rowdy discussion on the quality--or lack of it--of Technician Helpin's home brew, but everyone continued to drink it.

Someone then suggested a round of cards to help fill the evening, and Han's eyes lit up. His giant partner rumbled a comment at his captain before retreating to the more sober side of the room.

"What did he say?" Petri wanted to know.

"Nothing important." Han spared his co-pilot a dirty look as the Wookiee sauntered away. Damn smart-mouthed fuzzball,Han muttered to himself. Solo's card-playing capabilities were a constant cause of disagreement between the pair. Chewbacca had yet to be convinced that Solo was capable of playing cards and winning!





Meanwhile, Chewie had settled himself next to Luke and was intent on teaching the youth a few more Wookiee phrases. The Tatooinian had shown himself very quick at picking up Kashyyykian and could now understand much of what the Wookiee said without the need of a translator. He was also interested in the ancient rituals and lore of Wookiee society, and whenever the pair had time to fill, and their Corellian friend was otherwise occupied, they happily conversed on this and many other subjects.

The Wookiee also kept a discreet eye on his captain as the evening wore on. The noise level at the card table had risen steadily as the alcohol in the bottles had decreased. Someone was singing a decidedly off-color ditty. Thankfully, Chewie noted, it wasn't Solo; Leia Organa had just arrived in the hall.

Her eyes swept over the gathering. Then she spotted Luke and Chewbacca. She collected a hot drink and made her way over to their table. "Do you two mind if I join you?"

Luke moved further along the bench. "I wondered where you'd gotten to. Your shift finished a whole timepart ago."

"I know." Leia smiled apologetically. "I got caught up in something. They seem to be enjoying themselves." She nodded at Han's table. "I hope they don't overdo it. We have a full day ahead tomorrow."

Han got to his feet and had to grab the edge of the table to steady himself. Shaking his head in an attempt to clear it, he only succeeded in making himself dizzier. That home brew must have been stronger than you thought,he told himself, as Helpin's face swam briefly into view. I'm sure he didn't have two heads at the start of the evening.

Collecting his winnings, he wished his card-playing compatriots good night and made his way, somewhat unsteadily, toward where he'd last seen Chewbacca.
His forward movement was checked by the edge of the table; unable to stop in time he tumbled forward, ending up sprawled across the surface. Only quick reactions saved the three drinks that had been resting there before he landed. Solo blinked owlishly as he tried focusing on his partner but the fuzzball appeared to be even fuzzier than usual. Han peered at him more closely and then wished he hadn't--the Wookiee was wearing his most disapproving expression.

Han transferred his gaze to the human seated beside him. "Luke, kid, good to see ya." He smiled at the Tatooinian, greeting him as if it had been at least a full planetary turn since they'd last seen each other. "You having a good time?" He put a hand on a support pillar to pull himself upright.

"Not as good as you, obviously."

"Corellians always know how to have a good time," Han agreed, then proceeded to prove this by studying the roof support with great interest.

"Good evening, Captain Solo." Leia's greeting succeeded in drawing Solo's attention away from his study of the ceiling.

"Your Highnessness...ness...ness."

The smile he bestowed on her was wonderfully lopsided and gloriously foolish. Leia's lips twitched. She had never seen Han Solo drunk before. Well, maybe not drunk,she amended mentally, but certainly tipsy.With his defenses temporarily down, he'd lost the hard-edged look he normally cultivated and was instead showing signs of being quite charming.

"I won," he informed her. He threw a challenging look at his partner. "Chewie said I couldn't do it, so I did."

"Of course you did. Maybe you should sit down." She didn't add "before you fall down," but both Luke and Chewbacca took her meaning as the Corellian swayed gently.

Han considered the invitation for so long, Leia began to wonder if he'd forgotten what she'd said. Finally he decided to join the group at the table, and with Chewie's help was maneuvered into a seat.

The Wookiee was rewarded for his help with another sunny smile and the comment, "I won."

"You already told us that."

Solo's face crumpled at this mild criticism, and Leia found she very much wanted to pat him on the head and say, "There, there, never mind!"

"Is that so unusual? His winning, I mean," Luke asked the Wookiee.

"Very."Chewbacca's reply was concise. He glanced over to where his captain was sitting, chin in hand, elbows propped up on the table, eyes unfocused.

"Hey!" Han roused himself long enough to make a protest. "I won the Falcon."

"And would have lost her again on the turn of the next card if I hadn't intervened."

Solo scowled at this unwelcome reminder, then brightened as he heard the princess's laughter. A whimsical smile filled his face as he turned green-gold eyes on the young woman opposite. "You have a lovely laugh, Princess."

Leia blushed at the compliment. "Do I?"

"Yeah. You ought to laugh more often. I like it when you laugh. Your whole face lights up."

"Why, thank you, Han. I'll remember that the next time you're insulting me." Her smile robbed her words of any sting, but acted as a reminder to Chewie that maybe he should get his captain to bed before he said something he might later come to regret.

"We have a busy day ahead of us, cub. It's time to say good night."He accompanied this advice with a firm paw under Solo's elbow, bringing the pilot to his feet and steadying him.

The Corellian didn't seem eager to leave; he wrapped one hand firmly round the chair back and plopped down again. "We were just getting to know each other better." He waved a hand in Leia's direction. "I really want to get to know her better," he added, with an attempted leer.

"I'll walk you back to the Falcon."

Han spared Luke an exaggerated take at this offer. "No offense, kid, but I'd sooner have the princess' company."

"Maybe she would rather--" Luke started.

"We'll both come." Leia broke up the glaring contest between the two men. "Come on, Han, let me help you."

Solo's grin split his features as the princess helped him to his feet. Luke was certain the Corellian didn't need to lean that close into her, and was relieved when the Wookiee took over.

Chewie kept a firm grip on Solo until they had left the commissary. As the door closed behind them, Han brushed his friend's hand aside. "I can walk on my own, ya know."

His assertion was met with good-natured snorts of disbelief from his three companions, but they stood back and watched as Han wobbled off across the hangar bay in the general direction of his ship.

"Can Corellians still use their direction-finding abilities even while intoxicated?" Luke asked.

"Usually, yes. Although Han very rarely drinks enough to make him drunk. Piloting is his life, and he doesn't put it at risk through drinking. This way, cub."He readjusted Solo's path so that he was once more going in the direction of the Falcon.

Overhearing his concern, Leia was prompted to ask, "You think something is wrong with him, Chewie?"

The Wookiee looked down at her. "I'm not certain, little princess. He acts as if he is drunk, he sounds as if he is drunk, but the amount I saw him swallow this evening shouldn't have affected him like this. Cub!"Chewie darted forward, just managing to stop his captain from falling flat on his face. Since Solo's arms and legs seemed to want to go in opposite directions, he decided it would be wiser to guide the pilot the rest of the way to the ship.

Leia and Luke exchanged grins as the Corellian was half-carried, half-dragged toward the Falcon.The Wookiee used this time to good effect by keeping up a barrage of maledictions on his unfortunate partner's head.

"He's going to have difficulty living this down," Luke chuckled as the Wookiee propped his now totally unstrung captain against the side of the ship, wished them both a good night, and hauled Solo inside. "What I wouldn't give to be a Fessil fly on the wall tomorrow morning when Han wakes up."

Picturing a hungover Han Solo, Leia agreed smilingly. "So would I, Luke. So would I."

 

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