By Kate Birkel
see You Could Use Another Good Kiss home page
(Originally appeared in
The Chivalry Of Corell is the name of the entire story arc. The Chivalry is what I call a parallel universe rather than an alternate universe since it runs parallel to the three original movies, filling the little cracks and chinks Lucas left wide open. This series was thought up back in the late 70's, long before TPM was more than a glimmer in Lucas' mind, so there is absolutely no connection to TPM.
This is the first in the series.
Inside, in the once abandoned and ruined stone buildings of Yavin, the party raged on as the rebels celebrated their hair's breadth escape from total annihilation. Outside, though, it was dark and quiet. Feeling his way through the exuberant vegetation and fallen piles of worked rock, a half-tipsy Han Solo worked himself to a spot where he had a clear view of the star field above. He settled himself comfortably atop a cairn, and let his head fall back. Without even thinking about it, his eyes zeroed in on Corell Prime. Cold, distant, it was just one star among the hundreds of thousands of others twinkling in the vast canopy over head.
He'd brought a bottle of something that someone had pressed on him in the sincere belief that it was an excellent vintage. To Han, raised on Sacher Red and Sacher Green, it tasted like the dregs of a fourth pressing. Trying not to taste the alleged wine, he gulped down a quick mouthful. A toast to Corell. A second quick swig. And a toast to the Chivalry of Corell, the witless wonders of the galaxy.
Alderaan, or what used to be Alderaan, was in another sector of the night sky. It too was cold and distant. The brief flare of Alderaan's destruction would take thousands of years to reach Yavin.
Han had another drink, this time a toast to his own stupidity and the vagaries of fate. Imagine him of all people rescuing Bail Organa's daughter from certain death. And, as if that hadn't been bad enough, he'd gone and rescued the Alliance itself. Even the gods themselves must be laughing at the jest. Too bad the pompous, self-righteous old prig wasn't alive to have it rubbed into his face. Han snorted, imagining Bail's look of horrified disgust at the mere thought of a Corelli—any Corelli, much less this Corelli—saving his daughter and the Alliance.
"Stiff-necked SOB," he half-thought, half-spoke.
He heard the soft scrape of shoes against rock, and his hand went to his blaster.
"Han?" It was Bail Organa's little girl.
Han sat up a little straighter, hand falling away from his pistol. "Shouldn't sneak up on a man like that, Your Gloriousness. Too many of us dregs of society shoot first, ask questions second."
Leia, the symbol of martyred Alderaan, was trapped at the head table, hemmed in by Jan Dodonna on one side and Brel Thlatka on her other side. Both meant well, but they were hovering, protecting her against too close of contact with the lower ranks, as though somehow it would steal from her mystique if the hoi-poloi realized she was less than a goddess or at least a living saint. That attitude would soon have to change, but here and now was not the place for that particular battle.
With a bright, well-trained smile on her face, and pure envy in her heart, Leia watched her two companions in adventure. Luke, it was plain to see, was having a ball. He was the last living Jedi, but no one was taking pains to put him up on a pedestal. His blond hair was tousled over his drink flushed face, his jacket hung open and there was a glass in each of his hands. Every time he set one glass down or drained one, another was pushed at him. The rebel pilots had accepted him as one of their own, and were initiating him into their company in style. Han, too, could have been one of that wild drinking, tale-telling group, but he was content to sit at the fringe, smiling when talked to, adding a few words here or there, but not really participating. Interestingly, he wasn't drinking that much, although the other pilots were as solicitous at pressing fresh drinks on him as they were on Luke. Several times, Leia saw him exchanging his full glass for Chewbacca's nearly empty one.
Han. It wasn't until after they had reached Yavin that someone had identified him as Corelli. Had she known earlier, she would have kept her mouth tightly shut, and prayed he didn't toss her out the closest air lock. The name Organa must have set off all kinds of warning klaxons in his mind. Why had General Kenobi hired a Corelli? Leia wondered yet again. Even he, hiding as he had been on Tatooine, must have heard about the rift between Corell and the Alliance. But then Luke, too, seemed ignorant of the Corelli-Alliance feud. Maybe Luke was right about Tatooine being the back of beyond.
Leia caught herself just before yawning, and hid it by taking a long sip of iced tea. Musn't let the rank and file see their glorious new rallying point display any weakness. It seemed so long since she had slept more than a few minutes here and there. Was it only two weeks ago that her ship had been intercepted? So many, many deaths between then and now. The hundreds of millions of Alderaani who never knew what hit them, General Kenobi, Grand Moff Tarkin, Darth Vader, all the brave pilots who had gone out to meet the Death Star, all the men and women stationed aboard the Death Star, many of whom had had secret sympathies for the Rebel Alliance. And she was still alive—thanks to Han Solo.
"Such a rowdy group, don't you think, Your Highness?" Brel Thlatka followed the Princess's line of vision and gave a disapproving sniff. "One would think that in the light of Alderaan's fate and your presence among us, they would act with more decorum."
Leia grit her teeth. "Sai Thlatka, they have earned the right to a celebration. If it wasn't for those pilots, none of us would be sitting here right now, and every other world in the Empire would be facing Alderaan's fate."
Han Solo stood up and stretched, rolling his shoulders under his vest and shirt. He bent to murmur a few words to his Wookiee companion, then began strolling toward the door to outside. He smiled and nodded to people as he passed by them, paused a moment, accepted a fresh bottle of wine from a giddy pilot, then vanished out the door.
Leia sat undecided for a few moments. In all the pandemonium of the last few days, she had not had a chance for a private word with Han, to personally thank him for what he had done. But would he accept the gratitude of Bail Organa's daughter? Or would he, like the rest of the Corelli, spit rage and scorn at Corell's betrayer? So far, he hadn't said anything one way or the other, and, as Leia already well knew, Han Solo was not a man who kept his opinions to himself. Maybe he was that rare Corelli who hadn't succumbed to Chanhome and the Chivalry's braggadocio and blame casting.
Before she could talk herself out of it, Leia stood up, excused herself to her companions and followed Han out the door. Once outside, she stood still for a few moments, adjusting to the sudden darkness, wondering where Han would have gone. She caught the sound of boot leather striking rock, and hurried after. A few moments later, she stopped, listening again. She heard the soft rumble of a baritone voice and followed it, her soft slippers sliding on the rocks. Finally, not hearing anything more from him, she called out his name.
"Shouldn't sneak up on a man like that, Your Gloriousness. Too many of us dregs of society tend to shoot first, ask questions second." Han's voice was dry, laconic.
Leia started to scramble up the pile of rocks. A warm, large hand grabbed hers and dragged her upwards until she was unceremoniously plunked down on a large flat rock. "Have a seat, Princess. 'Fraid it's not too well cushioned."
Leia arranged her long skirts around her knees and tucked her feet under. "I've sat on rocks before, Captain Solo."
Han gave a soft chuckle. "What brings you out here, Your Wonderfulness? You looked perfectly happy up there on the dais, looking down your nose at us commoners."
Leia was aghast. "I wasn't looking down my nose at anyone! What gave you that idea?"
"That look of utter disdain hiding under that wonderfully false smile."
"That's—that's not true!" Leia sputtered. "I wasn't—"
Han chuckled again. "Cool your jets, Princess. I don't think any one but me really noticed. Here, have a drink."
A smooth, cool bottle was pressed into Leia's hand. "What is it?" she asked, sniffing suspiciously at the contents.
"Something truly awful."
Leia took an experimental taste. "This isn't bad at all; I've had worse."
Han made a sound of derision. "Then your taste buds must be dead. Someday, I'll find you something worth drinking."
"And what makes you such a connoisseur?"
"Lots of practice and bad habits." Han winked, his mouth curving into a wicked smile.
"I wouldn't doubt it," Leia retorted primly, at the same time jealous of Han's freedom from responsibility that gave him all that time to acquire both bad habits and practice. Her whole life had been circumscribed by duty, obligation, and protocol. People envied royalty their status and privilege without realizing the toll exacted.
"You might try cultivating a few bad habits yourself, Your Worship; might do you some good."
Leia could just imagine how the Rebel Council would react to their new symbol developing a drinking problem or any other flaw. "I don't think so, Captain Solo." She took a deep breath. "Han, I really want to thank you personally for rescuing me from Tarkin and Vader. And for coming back and giving Luke the cover he needed to destroy the Death Star."
"Don't bother, Princess; all the thanks I need is packed away in the Falcon's hold." There was something off putting about Han's voice, even though it sounded mild enough.
Leia pressed on. "You didn't get a single credit more for coming back."
"Thank Chewie, not me. Far's I'm concerned, we were outta there for good."
"You could be a bit more gracious about it."
"Nope. Bad for my image."
Leia shook her head. "You're just not going to admit to a single feeling of altruism, are you?"
"Altruism is bad for business."
"Well, thank you any way," Leia said firmly.
"Just drop it, okay, Princess?"
Leia dropped it. She had done her part by tendering her thanks. It wasn't her fault Han Solo was a graceless boor. "I should go back." She got to her feet, and brushed the dust off her gown.
"Here, let me give you a hand." For a moment, Leia was afraid Han intended to help sweep dirt from her gown. She didn't know whether to be relieved or disappointed when it turned out he meant giving her a hand down the cairn.
"I can find my own way back, thank you."
"I'm sure you can." Han tucked her hand firmly into the crook of his arm. "But I'm not taking any chances on wasting two perfectly good rescues."
Just inside the door, they met up with Luke Skywalker, supported by Chewbacca. Luke had clearly had way too much to drink. He could barely focus his eyes on Han and Leia, and he had that greenish pallor suggesting he would soon be up chucking his last few drinks.
"Uh-oh." Han dropped Leia's hand and grabbed for Luke. "Outside with you, junior."
"I'm -- I'm fine," Luke slurred. "Jus' the floor won't shtop movin'."
Han shook his head. Well, it wasn't the first time he'd had to deal with a young man's first real bust. At least, this time, it was only Luke instead of both Talor and Jorde at the same time. But was Luke ever going to have the mother and father of all hangovers in the morning. Han glanced quickly up at the Wookiee towering over all of them. Chewie, too, he realized with a grimace. There went his plans for leaving Yavin in the morning.
"Do you need some help with Luke, Han?" Leia asked.
"Nah," Han said confidently. He could just imagine what Luke's reaction would be to discover that the Princess of his dreams had watched him puke his guts out, then assisted with putting him to bed. "You better get back inside before the big wheels discover you've been socializing with the riff-raff."
"I can talk with whomever I choose!" Leia said sharply. "I am not a little doll for them to put on show at their convenience."
"You're preaching to the converted, Princess; save that for them inside."
The dream began innocuously enough; it always did. He was at some party or another, any one of the hundreds they'd had over the years of their service in the Brigades. They were all there -- him, Ethnil, Tava, Traveyne, Gaweine, even Patris, singing, drinking, laughing, dancing with their fellow officers. Ribbons and insignia glittered against the black uniforms of His Majesty's Own Corellian Brigades. Each man and woman wore the plain silver ring of Knighthood on his or her right hand, and their spurs jingled merrily. They were the Chivalry of Corell, the elite of the elite, and they were invincible. Slowly, the music and singing began to be replaced by the sounds of screams and moans. The air thickened with the smell of smoke and cordite from antique weaponry. The uniforms were no longer clean, but dirty, bloodied and ripped. Sooty blood appeared on the once smiling faces. Flames began crackling, and the slow, steady thud of cannonry. The screams rose to a cacophony of pain and anguish. Before his horrified eyes Ethnil, Tava, Traveyne, Gaweine, Talor, Jorde, Patris, all those glorious Lords and Ladies of Corell were slowly engulfed in the rising flames. They began shrieking his name, begging him to save them, but all he did was stand there and watch the walls of Arvisam cave in.
Sweating, trembling, gasping for breath, Han Solo sat up straight in his bunk aboard the Millennium Falcon, the screams of the dying and the stench of roasting bodies echoing in his memory. After a few minutes, his breathing began to slow back to normal and his brain to function once more.
That one had been bad, like the ones during first few years after the Siege and Arvisam. Gradually, though, as time and space between him and Corell widened, the dreams had begun to ease off, coming with less frequency and violence. What had triggered this one? Han wondered, throwing aside the sheet and getting to his feet. "Lights." Must have been Luke being drunk that reminded him of the twins, and thinking about the twins and seeing Corell in the night sky had brought it all back. It made him all the more resolved to escape Yavin, Luke and the Alliance.
The timepiece built into the bulkhead above the built in drawers told him it was 0600 hours local time, 1500 shipboard time. Well, he might as well get up with the locals since it was a good bet he wouldn't be doing any more sleeping today. Now, if Chewie wasn't as hungover as he suspected, they just might get off this jungle at a decent time.
A quick peek into Chewbacca's cabin convinced Han the Falcon wasn't going anywhere for several hours yet, maybe not even until tomorrow. Stomping forward to the miniscule galley, Han grumbled to himself, but not with too much conviction. Chewbacca was a good co-pilot, dependable and a hell of a being to have at your back in a tight spot. So every once in a while he liked to party a little too much. Big deal. It wasn't as if they really had any place to go other than pay off Jabba, who could wait another day or so.
Most of the Council was already seated when Leia made her entrance into the room. Since both Alderaan and the Senate were no more, she had left off her senatorial robe, wearing serviceable slacks and tunic top instead. She had also gotten rid of her childish hairstyle. She didn't want these beings to think of her as a child, but as a full grown, responsible adult.
"Your Highness." Jan Dodonna rose from his seat at the head of the table and bowed his head. "How may we be of service?"
"General Dodonna." Leia acknowledged his bow with one of her own. "Ladies and gentlemen of the Council." She took a deep breath. "I claim the right to assume Bail Organa's position on the Council and the High Command." The fingers of her left hand, thrust in her pocket, were crossed for luck. Since Alderaan no longer existed, she actually had no right to make her claim. But Leia Organa was not going to play the part of a mannequin to be trotted out for ceremonial purposes then put back in her little padded cell. And this was what she had been trained for from birth.
Much to her surprise, Jan Dodonna acquiesced. "Of course, Your Highness," he said smoothly, as though trying to forestall any argument.
"Just a moment, please." Brel Thlatka rose to her feet. Her thin mouth was pinched tighter than usual, and her pointed nose quivered with umbrage. "There must first be a discussion of the matter. For myself, while I will be the first to acknowledge the Princess' courage and strength of purpose, I must question her fitness to participate in the Council's deliberations on the grounds of her extreme youth and inexperience. The exuberance of youth is all very well in its place, but we need wisdom and steadiness of purpose. In another twenty years, perhaps Her Highness will be fit to take a place among us. But not now."
"I agree with Sai Thlatka," Horvick Twurr piped up in his nasal whine. "Her Highness is most certainly too young, too untried."
"May I remind the members of the Council that I have served as Alderaan's" it hurt so badly to say the word, "representative in the Imperial Senate for the past two years."
"But that was under Bail's direction," Brel Thlatka retorted. "We all know he kept you on a very short leash."
Fury spurted through Leia, making her tremble. "What? My father did no such thing! I made the day-to-day decisions, not Bail Organa. I reported to him as any representative would report to the ruler of his or her world -- no more, no less."
"Gentle beings, gentle beings," Dodonna broke in chidingly. "We must discuss this in a much more rational form. However, time is short. The Empire must realize that we are here on Yavin, and we must begin our preparations to remove ourselves to a new location. I propose, therefore, that the Princess Leia Organa be allowed to assume the rights and responsibilities as Alderaan's representative to the Council and the High Command until we have the luxury of time for a formal debate."
"I protest," Brel Thlatka said loudly.
"Your protest is noted, Sai Thlatka," Dodonna said.
After twenty minutes of sharp bickering, Dodonna's proposal to admit Leia to the Council and High Command on a temporary basis was accepted by a slim majority. Leia took her seat, and the debate quickly turned to the Rebellion's next step now that it had accomplished the impossible and destroyed the Death Star.
As the Council was breaking up for lunch, Leia's attention was caught by a motion from Jan Dodonna. She waited as the room cleared out, leaving only herself and the general.
"Thank you for your support, General Dodonna," Leia said once they were alone.
Dodonna made a dismissive wave. "But you must earn the right to remain, you know."
"I know," Leia said firmly.
"But that's not what I wanted to speak to you about. We've come up with a slight problem, Your Highness. Your friend, Captain Solo? Security has been working on him for days, ever since his ship reached Yavin, and they've hit a brick wall. As close as anyone can tell, Captain Han Solo appeared fully grown about ten years ago, a few months after the end of the Siege. You know what that means, don't you?"
"He's on the run from the Imperials."
"It also means there's a chance he is a Knight."
Leia couldn't help but laugh. She could imagine Han Solo as a lot of things, but not a Knight of Corell. "I'm sorry, General, but I can't accept that. I can believe Captain Solo might have had enough to do with the Corellian uprising to want to hide who he is, but not a Knight. He is pure working class, not nobility. He has none of the mannerisms, speech habits or thoughts of an aristocratic upbringing."
"Then, perhaps, you prefer the second theory security has put forward? That Captain Solo is an Imperial spy?"
Leia didn't even have to think about that one. "No. If he hadn't come back to help Luke Skywalker, perhaps. But I can't believe the Empire would sacrifice the Death Star, Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader just to establish a spy's credentials."
Dodonna cracked a dry smile. "That was my argument, too." The smile vanished. "I must tell you, though, Your Highness, that there is something familiar about Solo. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I'd almost swear I've seen him before." He shook his head.
"What do you mean your head hurts too much to fly today?" Han glared daggers at the Wookiee laid out over the gaming table, two furry hands pressed to his head.
*Not so loud,* the Wookiee whimpered.
"Well I didn't tell you to drink everything in sight!"
Chewbacca groaned. *I want to die!*
"Don't be giving me ideas, pal." Han ran a quick hand through his hair. Great! Just really great! Here he wanted to get away from Yavin as soon as possible, and his co-pilot wasn't fit to steer a kid's toy much less the Falcon. Well, it was what he'd been expecting. It also made him wonder what kind of shape Luke Skywalker was in. If Chewie, who weighed at least three times as much as the kid and had decades of experience on him, was this bad off, the kid had to be thinking he was at death's door and praying for a good push.
The comm-unit at the auxiliary helm squawked, and Chewbacca moaned. Han slapped his hand down on the button. "Solo, here."
"This is Jan Dodonna. Could you please come to the Command Center? I have a matter to discuss with you."
Han looked at Chewbacca. The Falcon certainly wasn't going anywhere today, and anything had to more interesting than listen to Chewie whine. "Sure, general; I'll be there in just a little bit." He cut off the transmission. "I'm outta here for a while, Chewie. An' I don't care how much your head hurts, we're leaving in the morning, first thing. Hear me?"
*Go away, and let me die in peace.*
Jan Dodonna met Han at the door of his office with a smile and an outstretched hand. "Thanks for responding so promptly, Captain Solo."
Han grinned. "You saved me from having to put up with Chewie's hangover for a while."
Dodonna cracked an answering smile. "Your co-pilot isn't the only one feeling the ill effects of too much drink last night. You would think modern medicine would solve that particular problem." "That and the Telarkian flu." Dodonna sat behind his desk, Han in the chair beside it. "What can I do for you, General? I don't imagine you called me just to hear me complain about Chewie."
Dodonna's expression sobered. "Yavin must be evacuated immediately, Captain Solo. Even though we destroyed the Death Star, the Empire undoubtedly has an exact fix on our location."
Han nodded. "That's a given. They probably broadcast their location at least every hour to some home base. I'm surprised somebody hasn't already been out here picking through the pieces."
"My thoughts exactly. What would you charge to help with the evacuation?"
"Nothing, because I can't do it," Han said firmly. "I've got commitments elsewhere, commitments I can't duck. Most of that money you people gave me for rescuing the Princess is going to pay back a bad, bad debt."
Dodonna looked at him hard for a long moment. "Can't or won't, Captain Solo?"
Han stiffened. "And what's that supposed to mean?"
"Yeah, and I was just as Corelli when I saved your butts two days ago." Han wondered just how long it had taken for that little tidbit to circulate Yavin. Not that he was trying to keep it any great secret. His name alone was a walking advertisement for Corelli ancestry.
"And we appreciate it, as we showed by giving you that medal. But the big question is: do you regret it enough now to shop us to the Imperials?"
Han's eyes narrowed, and his mouth thinned. "Are you saying you think I'm a spy and a traitor?"
"No, we've already discarded the spy theory," Dodonna said easily. "And betraying the Alliance to the Empire wouldn't be the act of a traitor given the current climate between the Corelli government-in-exile and the Alliance."
"That's your problem and theirs, and has nothing to do with me."
Dodonna nodded. "Don't take it personally, Solo; we have to be very careful about who we trust."
Han forced himself to relax. Dodonna was correct; it would be sheer stupidity on the Alliance's part not to question his allegiance to the Corelli government-in-exile. It would also be sheer stupidity for them not to tear into his background until they knew every thing from the moment he'd been conceived. Green-gold mockery glinted in his eyes a brief moment as he wished them joy of their task. "I understand, but my answer's still 'no'."
Dodonna looked disappointed. "Very well, Captain Solo; it's not as if you owe us anything. To the contrary, we owe you just about everything we are right now, and it would be churlish of us to expect more of you."
The words were respectfully said, and Han could just hear the "but". "Cut to the chase; what else did you want?"
Dodonna smiled. "You don't miss much, do you?"
"Not if I want to stay alive."
Dodonna nodded, folding his hands together on his desk top. "It would be a large help to us if we knew what your brethren over on Petrorasil are thinking these days."
Han didn't even attempt to stifle his laughter. "I'm the last person to know what they're up to. I've never stepped foot on Petrorasil, and I have no intention of ever doing so."
"But as a Corelli, you must be curious about them, aren't you?"
Han shook his head firmly. "Not in the least damn little bit."
"Are you familiar with General Westrier?"
"Is she liable to change her mind about joining forces with us?"
"Absolutely not," Han said confidently.
"How about any of the others on the Council of Regency?"
"As long as General Westrier is head of the Council, no one will change their mind. And, no, the General's not about to step down, not as long as she can draw breath."
"Will any of the younger Knights break ranks with the Council?"
"Since I don't know any of them, I don't know."
Dodonna's fist came down on the desktop with a thump. "Dammit to hell! We need you Corelli if we're going to win this war! We need the Chivalry. The finest officer corps in the Empire, the greatest strategists, and all you're doing is sitting over there on Petrorasil sulking! I need officers, men and women who can lead."
"You should have thought about that eleven years ago when Corell came begging to the Alliance for assistance," Han snarled back. "You should have thought about that when you stood back and watched the Chivalry get chopped to bits at Arvisam without a word of protest from anyone."
"Nobody thought it would go that far!" Dodonna exclaimed in despair. "Not Bail, not me, not anyone. And by the time we understood just what Palpatine was capable of, it was entirely too late."
"His Majesty, Chanhome, told you it was going to happen. His Highness, Crown Prince Ethnil, told you it was going to happen. General Dame Riodan Lady Westrier told you it was going to happen. The whole planet of Corell told you it was going to happen."
"We didn't believe them," Dodonna admitted sadly.
Han shot to his feet, disgust written all over his face. "If that's all you can say, I'm leaving."
"There's nothing that could persuade you to help with the evacuation?"
Han shook his head.
"Very well then, Captain Solo." Dodonna rose to his feet too, and extended his hand across the desk. "Thank you again for saving Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker and all of us. If you ever change your mind, there'll be a place for you in the Alliance."
Han snorted to himself. Hell would thaw long before that.
Jan Dodonna stared at the closed door, mouth tightened in frustration. Fiends seize it all, he knew Captain Han Solo from somewhere. His voice, the way he carried himself, the attitude, everything about the man. The problem was, though, that he had talked with so many, many Corelli -- before the Siege, during the Siege and after the Siege. And the men, almost without exception, had all been bearded. But Security had tried that, too, imposing facial hair on Solo's computerized image to no avail. No one, including Dodonna himself, had recognized the portrait. Even voice recognition had failed -- not that that had been any great surprise. Whoever had created Solo's persona had been an expert, and would have purged that vital piece of identification from the central computer systems along with retina scans, fingerprints and DNA coding. It must have cost the man a fortune.
Han arrived back at the Falcon to discover that Chewie's was no longer the only hangover he had to endure. A green-faced, wobbly Luke Skywalker shared the banquette with the still suffering Wookiee.
"I'm never touching anything stronger than fizzy sugar water as long as I live!" the Jedi wannabe croaked.
"Sure you will, kid," Han predicted as he surveyed the wreckage with a jaundiced eye. "The next party, you'll have forgotten all about this."
Luke started to shake his head, then thought better of it. "Never!"
And where have I heard that before, Han thought wryly. "I swear to our sweet Lady of the Light, big brother, I'm never touching another drop, ever, ever again! Just don't tell Mam, okay?" "So what brings you all the way out here, any way? I thought you'd be busy helping take the base down." Han sat down at the auxiliary helm.
"I'm taking a break." The younger man's smile was not quite as cheerful as usual. "I wanted to catch you before you left, and thank you for taking care of me last night." Red stained his normally pale cheeks. "I woke up this morning, and couldn't remember how I got to bed. One of the other pilots said you'd literally carried me. I am so embarrassed!"
Han had to chuckle at Luke's chagrin. "Don't worry about it, junior. Happens to the best of us one time or another. And you don't weigh nearly as much as Chewie."
*You did not carry me to bed,* the Wookiee growled. *Not last night, leastways.*
"Yeah, but I've had to other times," Han retorted. "And it wasn't any fun."
"Where were you?" Luke asked, obviously changing the subject. "I still can't understand a word Chewie says."
"HQ. General Dodonna was trying to recruit me." Han gave a quick shake of his head. "I told him no."
"But why not, Han?"
There was that little, almost hidden edge of whininess to Luke's voice that once more brought thoughts of Talor and Jorde when he'd said "no" to one of their impossible demands. It was all Han could do not to snap back, "Because I said so, dammit!" as he had so many times in the past.
"Because I've got to go back to Tatooine, or I'm in really serious trouble."
Chewbacca honked mournfully, echoing Han's statement.
"Because I owe someone a lot of money, someone who can do me a lot of damage."
"Oh." Luke chewed that over for a moment. "Who?"
Han's eyebrows pulled into a frown as he regarded Luke with growing irritation. Just who did this kid think he was, questioning him as if he had a right to know anything about him at all?
*Relax, Han,* Chewbacca said softly. *He's young, he's curious and he doesn't know the rules of life out on the Rim.*
"He's from Tatooine!" Han snapped. "He should know better."
"Should know better what?" Luke asked.
"Not to ask so many stupid questions! You're lucky it's just me. Someone else might have killed you by now."
Luke suddenly looked ill at ease. "That bar -- the one where Ben and I met you -- someone threatened to kill me just because he said he didn't like my looks. Ben cut his arm off to save me."
Han nodded. "That's what you get for asking questions, kid. Remember that."
"But I didn't ask any questions!" Luke protested. "I didn't even look at him until he grabbed me."
"Well, still don't ask questions."
"But I just wanted to know, is all. Maybe I know the person you owe money to, and I can help."
Han gave a harsh bark of mirthless laughter. "I really hope you don't know Jabba, kid."
Alarm settled on the younger man's face. "Jabba the Hutt? You're involved with Jabba the Hutt?"
"Don't say it like that. Old Kenobi knew Chewie and I weren't quite ligit when he hired us. You had to have known it, too."
"Yeah, but Jabba?"
Han's mouth tightened. Somewhere, inside himself, he was unexpectedly feeling a little defensive, as though Luke's shocked discovery that what he had said he was all along was what he was hurt. "Yeah, Jabba. And a lot more like Jabba, too. It's what I am, kid. Get used to it!"
"But…" Luke's voice trailed off, his blue eyes darkening with sad betrayal.
Han felt as though he'd just kicked an orphaned jehjeh, and that made him even angrier -- although at who, he didn't ask. "Grow up, dammit! You're not down on the farm any more. This is the real universe, not some romantic fairy tale."
*Quit growling, Han,* Chewbacca said. *Just because you're feeling guilty is no reason to take it out on the boy.*
Han was outraged. "Guilty? What do I have to feel guilty about?"
*I don't know; you tell me.*
Rising to his feet, Han shot his partner a venomous look. "If you're feeling okay enough to mouth off like this, you're well enough to fly. Let's get this bird back in the air where she belongs."
*No.* Chewbacca smiled seraphaicly. *I think I want to stay here with the Rebels for a while.*
"What?" Han couldn't believe his ears. He also had the sneaking suspicion that he'd been had: the Wookiee's ferocious hangover had miraculously disappeared.
*You can leave if you want,* Chewie offered.
"How? I can't fly this crate single-handedly."
Luke's head swiveled back forth as Corelli and Wookiee argued, almost as if he was keeping score.
"You know I can't stall Jabba off forever!" Han continued.
*I'm tired of Jabba. I'm tired of all the Jabbas. I want to be clean for a while.*
The stark simplicity of the Wookiee's statement sent Han sagging back down into his chair. Never once, in all the long years of their partnership, had Chewie indicated that he was anything less than satisfied with their lives. Where was this coming from all of a sudden?
"What's Chewie saying?" Luke demanded.
"Nothing that makes a bit of sense to me," Han snarled at the Wookiee.
*I find Luke Skywalker's attitude a pleasant change from yours. He isn't constantly looking for the worst in everyone.*
"This isn't funny any more, Chewie."
*I'm not trying to be funny.* The Wookiee grinned, revealing a double row of strong teeth. *Go back to Dodonna. Tell him we're staying for a while longer.*
Han's jaw dropped. "You're telling me what to do?"
*Someone has to keep you from making a horrible mistake.* Chewie's look grew somber. *Maybe it's time to stop running, Han.*
Han fought down a feeling of panic. It was too much to expect that Chewie had never suspected that there was a lot more to his past than he admitted. But to bring it up now -- in front of Luke who was fairly bursting with curiosity… "Chewie…"
The Wookiee lumbered to his feet. *I'm going back to bed. My head still feels like it's going to break in two. Go talk to Dodonna.*
Before Han's disbelieving eyes, Chewbacca ambled nonchalantly out of the crew's quarters, headed for his cabin.
"What was all that about, Han?"
Numbly, Han shook his head. "He must have had more to drink than I thought. He's gotten some wild idea in his head he wants to stay here with you rebels."
Luke instantly cheered up. "That's great, Han! Wait until I tell Leia."
Han recovered enough to glare at the other man. "I said Chewie's got some wild idea -- not me. You don't have to be telling Her Worshipfulness anything."
"But he talked you into it, didn't he?"
"No, he didn't. But until he sobers up, I'm stuck here." Han grinned wickedly at Luke. "Unless you want to be my co-pilot?"
Luke's jaw dropped, and most of the color drained from his face -- leaving it an interesting shade of pale green. "I'm going to be sick!"
"Not on my ship, kid!"