"Go and strap yourselves in. This is goin' to be rough."
It was an indication of their belief in that statement that neither of the Falcon'stwo passengers argued with Solo's terse command.
Making their way back to the couch in the forward hold, Leia and Luke found themselves struggling to keep upright. One particularly sharp buffet sent the princess to the deck. Luke Skywalker steadied himself with one of the handgrips and helped her gain her feet. "I don't think he's exaggerating this time. I've never known such turbulence."
Leia didn't answer, preferring to save her breath until the ship was safe on planet before she gave vent to her feelings.
Back in the cockpit, Chewbacca was proving himself to be far less reticent than either of Han's passengers.
Solo allowed himself a quick glare at his furry copilot's latest accusation. "You think I'm enjoying this? We don't really have much choice, do we? Hold on." The force of the swirling winds around the craft almost bucked him out of his seat. A huge arm kept him pinned into place. An exasperated howl almost deafened the pilot.
"I'm doin' it," Solo grumbled as he finally got around to fastening the safety webbing that was there to protect him from such accidents. "There's no need to yell! Take the yoke for me while I program the coordinates." He punched the figures in and swiftly scanned the data that was displayed. "What do you know about this rock?" he asked of his copilot. "There's precious little in the comp, other than it has the necessary atmosphere to sustain human life forms."
Chewie, concentrating on his own tasks, felt that at this moment they couldn't afford to be too fussy. Having dropped out of hyper because of mechanical problems, they had found themselves enveloped in a huge and still deepening storm. Unable to make the next jump, they had few choices open to them. *The ship isn't up to taking much more of this damage,* Chewie rumbled. *We either have to set her down or try to outpace the storm.*
"Yeah, you're right," Solo agreed. "Well, I'll be damned if I put the old girl through any more punishment just for Her High and Mightiness' sake. I'm going to try and land her." He tapped in the necessary coordinates as he spoke.
Slewing round in his chair as he completed this task, Han yelled, "Are you two strapped down? We're goin' in. I don't know what damage we're going to sustain takin' her down at this angle."
Luke checked his safety webbing. From the corner of his eye he could see the princess close her eyes as she concentrated on not panicking. Since she obviously didn't need him, he channeled his thoughts towards the recalcitrant human flying the Falcon.Han was going to need all the help he could get. Stretching out with his senses, he tuned into Solo's familiar, warm aura. The Corellian was apparently relishing his battle with the elements.
At first tentatively, then with growing confidence, Luke allowed his Force strength to bolster the spacer's own natural abilities. Taking advantage of the fact that Han was fully occupied, Luke probed a little bit deeper. Because of the Corellian's level of concentration he was able to reach past the pilot's considerable defenses. A delighted smile filled the Tatooinian face as his own Force spirit touched a strong, vibrant highly individualized Force essence. Knowingly or not, it seemed Han Solo was using the Force!
Solo's hands tightened their grip of the yoke. The turbulence was already severe, and as they approached the planet's pull it was going to get worse. This was going to be difficult. No, make that very difficult, he told himself.
The planet was hurtling towards him with frightening speed. Somewhere in one corner of his consciousness he could hear his copilot counting off the altitude figures. Concentrating on the task at hand he tuned out all the peripheral noises. Reaching out with all of his senses, he felt the familiar tingle in his finger ends extend to his other extremities. He was overcome with the feeling that always came to him in times of crisis--that unshakable certainty that he could pull off the impossible. His skill and ability would allow him to succeed. Han no longer questioned this emotion; he accepted it and reveled in the confidence it gave him. Over the years he had even found himself capable of channeling it, making it work for his advantage.
Eyes slitted as he focused on his task, an unfamiliar but welcome frisson ran through him, as if another strength had been added to his own. Delighting in the extra power he felt about him, a feral grin came to his face. "This is where the fun begins!" he muttered softly.
With a final shudder, the Falcon'sstruts connected with solid ground. Han's hands relaxed on the yoke. It took a few moments of deep breathing for him to slow his heart rate back to normal levels. Looking down at his hands, he saw they were shaking from his exertions. Not wanting Chewie to notice such a sign of weakness, he placed them firmly on the armrest, counting back from a hundred and making sure he could control the shakes before he joined his copilot in shutting down as many systems as possible.
Beside him, Chewbacca let out a breath of relief as the color returned to his captain's cheeks. Although he had seen similar performances before, it never ceased to concern him. The Corellian pushed himself to the limit at times like this. He became almost a 'part' of his ship, oblivious to what was going on around him. Such symbiosis was remarkable and unique, but such concentration came at a price. He watched as Solo leveled out his breathing and stemmed the shakes in his hands. *Han?*
"Yeah." The voice still quavered slightly despite the Corellian's best efforts. "I'm okay." Solo flopped back into his seat and ran a relieved hand through his sweat-dampened hair. The last warning light blinked off. "Too close, pal." He gave his best friend a crooked grin. "Just too damned close. There was a while there when I thought we weren't goin' to make it."
*A while?* Chewie's growl dripped with only partly assumed sarcasm. *It's a wonder my pelt didn't turn grey.*
"No faith, Chewie, that's your problem," Solo opined. "Come on, let's go see what new difficulty we've given ourselves." Clambering from the cockpit, Han made off down the corridor.
Chewbacca watched him go, shaking his head at what the young human had just achieved; he'd flown his ship through the teeth of a space storm, and landed her without serious mishap. Solo's skills as a pilot were finely honed--who knew that better than he?--and the Wookiee knew Han had an exceptional talent. But that wasn't sufficient to account for his abilities. Chewbacca was convinced that Han's flying skills were enhanced by a natural Force ability, which the Corellian tapped into without even knowing it. Or rather, the leathery lips twitched, without acknowledging it.
Watching the swaggering figure drape itself against a bulkhead, Chewie hastened to follow him. From his demeanor it seemed likely that Han was about to boast of his prowess to the princess and young Skywalker, and he wanted to witness the reaction he was likely to receive from the Alderaanian when he did so.
If the pilot had been hoping for words of praise for bringing his passengers safely in to land, he was sorely disappointed.
"Han Solo, you have to be the galaxy's biggest imbecile."
Taken off guard, Solo's smug smirk slipped a little. "Huh?"
Leia's eyes darkened as she remembered the fear she had experienced as the Falconhad bucked and yawed. Fear was not an emotion she readily admitted to, however. So instead she fed her anger, concentrating on the infuriating grin Solo had been wearing when he had arrived. "You could have gotten us all killed pulling a stupid stunt like that."
Han finally got his voice back. "Stunt?" he spluttered. "Stunt! If it wasn't for me sweetheart, you'd be so much space dust by now." His forefinger jabbed itself very close to the princess' nose.
Unimpressed, Leia slapped the hand away. "If it weren't for you," she mimicked, "we wouldn't have been anywhere near that space storm, Captain I-know-what-I'm-doin' Solo."
"It ain't my fault the hyperdrive played up," Han grumbled.
Luke attempted to mediate. "We're safe; that's all that matters now. Why don't you both sit down and I'll get us something to drink."
The two protagonists ignored him completely.
Folding his arms over his chest, Solo frowned down on the princess, his anger at her accusations mingling with a sense of relief at their near-miraculous escape and a certain amount of guilt. While wild banthas wouldn't have been able to drag it from him, he was aware that he had kept the Falconplanetside too long, so that he could complete his own business, making it more difficult for Leia to reach her conference in time. Still, they would have made it if the temporary repair he'd made to the Falcon'shyperdrive hadn't decided to unravel itself. "Listen, Your Wonderfulness, I'm sick of you, your accusations and your friggin' rebellion. This is my ship." He pointed at himself. "And I say what happens on it. And if you ain't happy with that, you know where the main hatch is. Now get outta my way; I got checks to make." Pushing Leia aside none too gently, he sat down at the auxiliary engineering console and busied himself with his work.
Behind him, Leia Organa found herself uncharacteristically lost for words. The sheer arrogance of the man was amazing. As she stared at his determinedly unresponsive back, her eye was caught by a tiny spark which flared briefly on the panel beside Solo. "Han, there's a..."
"Damn it, Princess. Don't you ever give it a rest?" Solo was quite happy to continue their fight. "You have to be the...ahhh!" The fingers of his right hand came into contact with the exposed wiring of which Leia had been trying to warn him.
Han found himself flat on his back on the deck, his three concerned companions kneeling over him.
Cursing, he struggled to sit up, one hand going to the back of his head where he'd cracked it on the bulkhead. "What the hell hit me?"
"An electric short, you idiot." Leia knocked his questing fingers away. "Lucky for you," she continued after giving the Corellian a swift medical examination, "your skull is like durasteel. Thank you, Chewie." She took the med kit from the Wookiee. "Help hotshot here into that seat, will you? I'll see if that bang on the head has managed to knock some sense into him. Then I'll clean up this cut."
The Wookiee grabbed Solo under the armpits and lifted him to his feet. Guiding the still groggy pilot to the seat, he pushed him down into it.
Han shook his head to clear it, then sucked on his singed finger-ends. "Never mind the first aid." He ducked out from under Leia's ministrations. "I'll live. Chewie, go check the cockpit systems for me, will ya? I'll do the main holds." Solo got to his feet, staggered slightly then righted himself.
"Han," Leia implored, "This bucket of bolts can wait. You need..."
"What I need, Princess," Solo interrupted without ceremony, "is to check on my ship. You may not think much of her, but she's saved my skin more than once--and yours too, don't forget. Now, I got work to do."
Solo left the forward hold on those words. Chewie followed him, leaving Leia and Luke to exchange looks.
"Not a good idea to insult his ship," Luke chided.
The princess sniffed imperiously, although she knew Luke was right. If Han was touchy on any subject, it was his loyalty to his ship...and Han was right; the Falconhad gotten them out of more than one hole. "What can we do to help?"
"Stay out of his way and make ourselves useful. We'll ask Chewbacca what he wants us to do when he comes back." Leia acknowledged his sensible suggestion with a faint smile and a nod.
Han Solo talked softly to his ship as he ran a thorough check on his boards. He had completed work in the main holds and was now intent on checking out the auxiliary console. "It's okay, Lady. I appreciate you even if others don't. So perform your usual miracles for me, will ya? Don't let me down."
Either the Falconwasn't listening or she was intent on punishing him for his earlier ill treatment of her. As his scanner completed the tests, it became plain that he was going to have a lot of work ahead of him. He was coming close to exhausting his supply of swear words when Leia caught up with him.
"Cursing won't change things."
"It makes me feel better." Falling back into his seat, exhaustion etching his lean face, he rubbed wearily at his eyes. Another flashing light that had until now managed to escape his notice caught on the edge of his vision. "Aw, not the dampeners as well," he mourned.
Leia leant over the console, her eyes widening in surprise as a printout of the damage scrolled down the screen. "Was all this done coming in to land?"
"Most of it," Solo replied tersely. "Space storms do that, you know. I didn't bring her down just to prove I could, Princess. I brought her down because it was the only chance we had of getting out of there in one piece. Well," he glanced at the read out again, "more or less in one piece."
The pilot sounded so tired, so defeated, that Leia felt an inexplicable urge to offer him comfort. His ship, after all, was his life. His reason for existence. When she was hurting, so was he. Leia put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed it gently. "How bad is it?"
Solo looked up from his work. "Bad enough. It's going to keep us grounded for a couple of days at least."
"But that means--"
Too tired to want to enter into another altercation, Han quickly stemmed Leia's further protests. "I know, Princess. It means you're going to be late for your meeting. But there ain't a hellava lot I can do about it. We're stuck here, whether you like it or not."
Having fully expected to be on the receiving end of one of Leia's more vitriolic diatribes, Solo blinked as the princess merely commented: "That cut on your head needs attention. It's still bleeding."
He put a hand up and winced as his fingers came away sticky with blood. "Yeah, so it is. I'll get round to it as soon as I've finished in here."
"See that you do. We can't afford to have you falling over from blood loss."
"Yes ma'am." Han couldn't resist a grin at the way Leia tried to cover up her earlier show of concern. "Now will you get outta here and let me get on with things? At this rate you're never goin' to make it to that meeting."
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