By Susan Zahn
Art by Liz
see You Could Use Another Good Kiss home page
At the innermost core of all loneliness is a deep and powerful yearning for union with one’s lost self.
We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when,
But I'm sure we'll meet again some sunny day…
—We’ll Meet Again, written by Ross Parker and Hughie Charles
A metallic clang and subsequent whoosh of pressurized air echoed throughout the Millennium Falcon as she docked against the side ofthe medical frigate Mercy. The haunting sound seemed to complement Leia Organa’s mood. She sat in the pilot’s chair, watching in silence as Chewbacca shut down the engines of the aging freighter.
Their entire trip back from Bespin could be summed up in one word: silence. Mournful, unaccepting, unforgiving silence. Her gaze shifted toward the canopy to study the pitiful collage of starships that had likewise struggled to the rendezvous point. She was still waiting for the old familiar urgency of duty, the rebellious fervor, to return but it failed to stir within her. The usual enthusiasm she’d always worn like a protective cloak was stripped away, leaving her bare to the reality of what her life was becoming. She felt numb and empty now. Maybe there was some pity, too, but whether it was for her fellow rebels, the rest of the galaxy or just herself she didn’t bother to figure out.
Hadn’t she always known Han Solo would have leave at some point, possibly forever? As they’d come to know one another, she’d tried to prepare herself, and even anticipated missing him terribly. What wounded her so deeply, beyond anything she could have expected, was how he’d been ripped from her life and the massive void he’d left in his wake. Despite their differences, he’d always been there for her whenever she’d needed him, usually to protect but sometimes to comfort. Too late she realized how his teasing and laughter had served in one way or another to keep her occupied—keep her human!—in a war that was reducing everyone to mere statistics.
Step by step she was losing everything that meant anything to her: her world, her family, her career and now Han. She wasn’t even sure anymore that she still had Luke. The young man was recovering in the rudimentary medical bay in the crew’s quarters, sometimes coherent and other times mumbling insane-sounding things she didn’t understand. It was obvious he suffered mental as well as physical damage in his confrontation with Darth Vader. She was sure the hand could be replaced, but the rest…
Chewbacca brushed past her, continuing to shut down the Falcon’s systems. She glanced over her shoulder, studying his huge frame as he flipped switches with practiced agility. Perhaps the Wookiee’s silence was the most noticeable, at least when compared to his usual boisterous self. She could not fathom what Chewie felt now, having to watch his best friend, to whom he’d sworn a life debt, be condemned to a living purgatory in carbonite. She wanted to cry for them both now so he could see he wasn’t alone, but the tears only seemed to come at night when dreams, both good and bad, haunted her.
Leia’s slender fingers dug deep into the black cushioned armrests of her chair. “Why?!” she breathed in an intense whisper. Surprised and embarrassed by the sound of her own voice, she saw Chewbacca pause in his work to focus his blue eyes on hers. The princess swung her gaze forward, staring in determination at the forward control panel. Was this what it felt like to go mad?
Get a grip, she admonished herself, careful this time not to speak aloud. After all, the situation wasn’t totally helpless: daunting, yes, but not insurmountable. Now that they were back within friendly territory they could recoup, regroup and form a search party to recover Han. Luke would receive proper medical treatment and she would…do whatever it was she would have to do in order to cope. Now was not the time to fall apart. Where was that renowned Organa coolness when she needed it most?
To Leia’s credit, she didn’t leap out of her seat upon feeling a huge hand come to rest on her shoulder. He offered a soft bark. Although still less-than-fluent in Wookieese, she understood his question. “I’ll be okay,” she answered in a soft tone. “Let’s go.”
Rising to her feet, she followed Chewie as he headed for the cockpit exit.
The top hatch lift aboard the Falcon was only big enough to fit two at a time, so Leia and Luke went first. They stood with an arm around each other’s shoulders so she could offer support as they rose through the airlock and into a wide corridor aboard the Mercy. Leia had radioed ahead so that a medic droid with a gurney would be waiting as part of their welcoming committee. She helped him to the gurney now as the lift sank back down to retrieve Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian and the droids.
Affording only a quick glance, she noticed there were two other people to greet their return. A very relieved-looking General Rieekan stood off to the side accompanied by Mon Mothma, a former Senator from Chandrila whom Leia recognized from her brief stint with the Imperial Senate. She knew the former senator was involved on a high level in the Alliance command but they moved in different circles, and Leia found herself wondering why she was here now. They had not met since their initial introduction what seemed like a lifetime ago.
The general stepped forward with a grateful smile on his aged face. “Welcome aboard, everyone. We’re very relieved to have you back.”
“Thank you, General,” Leia responded for all of them, but her attention kept going back to Luke. “Chewie, can you help Luke up onto the stretcher?
“It’s okay,” Luke said in a weary voice, waiving off the assistance. “I can walk on my own.”
She tried to read Luke’s expression, but once again failed; it had been like that for their entire trip home. “Okay, but you’ll do everything they tell you to do, understand?”
Luke nodded without a fight. “I will.”
“Good. You’re going to be all right now…we all will. I need to talk with General Rieekan for a moment, but I’ll be along to check up on you as soon as I can. Okay?”
Giving him a quick kiss on the cheek, she watched as the medical staff hurried him away. Threepio and Artoo followed along, conversing now on the excellent medical technology that would return their master to perfect health.
Leia turned back to Rieekan and Mothma. Worry for Rieekan’s well-being had plagued her since their escape from the Imperial attack of the rebel base on Hoth. He had gone out onto the field of battle to lead and Han had pulled her away before she heard any final word of the evacuation. Rieekan was a fellow Alderaani and family friend from when he’d first served on Bail Organa’s advisory staff. He’s also become somewhat of a surrogate father following the destruction of Alderaan. He was one of the few remaining ties to her past, and she was very happy to see his familiar craggy face again.
Leia walked up and offered out her hand in greeting but Rieekan, never one for protocol, used her outstretched hand to pull her into a hug. Gripping her upper arms, he held her out in front of him. “We’ve all been very worried about you and the crew of the Falcon. No one’s heard a word. All we knew was that most of the Imperial ships broke ranks to chase after you, including Vader’s flag ship.”
“It’s a long story.” She shook her head in confusion. She and Han had spent a bit of time speculating on reasons but never reached a conclusion. “We don’t really understand why they did that.”
“Well, you’ll have to debrief me later. All I know is that Captain Solo’s distraction allowed most of our ships and troops to escape. He saved a lot of lives that day.”
Leia felt her face grow warm, struggling with the emotions brought on by talking of Han in such glowing terms. He had risked everything once again to save her, and as a result his past had finally caught up with him. The guilt from this knowledge haunted her nights along with everything else. Rieekan seemed to know her too well for he didn’t miss the change in her expression; his eyes were narrowing as he studied her. Only then did he seem to realize that one of their party was missing but a new member had joined. He glanced around to double-check, then turned back to her. “Where is Captain Solo?”
She swallowed and straightened her shoulders in an attempt to steel herself. “He’s not with us. We were tracked down by a bounty hunter, and he was taken away for the price on his head.”
Rieekan took a long moment to absorb this news. She saw him brimming with questions but he seemed to know now was not the time and place. He glanced up to meet Chewbacca’s silent gaze to confirm the story. Chewie let out a series of soft barks and deep chirps, but Rieekan could only shake his head, unable to translate.
“He wishes to rescue Han as soon as he knows Luke will be okay.”
“Naturally,” Rieekan nodded. Then he turned his attention to the new member of her entourage, showing some hesitancy at the unknown face and no doubt having security concerns in mind. “And you are?”
“Baron Lando Calrissian,” Lando supplied, his persona of a smooth operator returning as he reached out to shake hands. “Recent administrator of Cloud City on Bespin and an old friend of Captain Solo’s.”
“Oh, the tibanna gas mining colony.” Rieekan nodded his head in recognition. “Your presence here might explain why our underground supply was cut off. I take it the Empire discovered some inconsistency in your books from selling it to the Alliance on the side?”
“Well, I was getting tired of it, anyway,” Lando responded with a rueful grin.
Rieekan nodded, clearly intrigued by whatever events had led to this addition to the group. “Welcome aboard.”
At that moment the soft clearing of a female throat came from behind Rieekan, drawing their attention to the forgotten presence of the other individual in his little welcoming party. The general turned around and stepped aside in order to address her. “I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten myself. Chewbacca, Calrissian. This is Madame Mon Mothma, part of Alliance military intelligence. She’s also now a member of the Alliance’s top command. Madame Mothma, this is Chewbacca, first mate of the illustrious ship, the Millennium Falcon. I assume you’ve met Princess Leia Organa in the past?”
The older woman stepped forward to shake the hands of everyone, although she showed a flicker of hesitancy as her hand disappeared in the massive grip of Chewie’s. “It’s a pleasure to meet you all. Yes indeed, I’ve met the princess before. It’s good to see you again, Your Highness. I’ve heard a great deal of your hard work for the Alliance.”
“Thank you, Madame Mothma.” With introductions finished, Leia motioned to the general, beckoning him to the side for a private word. He followed her and ducked down since he stood a head taller. “I promise I’ll fill you in on everything as soon as I can,” she offered, “but right now I want to be with Luke, if that’s okay. He’s been through…well, it was a nightmare and I’m worried about his health.”
Concern was the dominant expression on the general’s face as he nodded with a comforting smile. “I completely understand. The medical ward is on the central deck. We’ve also arranged quarters for you on the deck above, and your private effects have already been moved from the transport. I can arrange quarters for the others as well, if you’d like.”
“Thank you, but I think Chewie and Lando would prefer to stay on the Falcon.”
“Leia…about this Lando fellow…”
“Don’t worry. I think he’s okay…but feel free to run a security check anyway.” While she understood too well the impossible choice Vader had forced Lando to make days ago, Leia nonetheless knew little of his background. Han, normally tight-lipped about his past, gave only a tantalizing glimpse of their history before events went sour.
“We’ll do that.” Rieekan paused, looking down at her with what she knew was his paternal smile. “It’s good to see you again. You’ve been gone a while and we’ve a lot to catch up on. Come find me on the ship’s bridge when you’re ready.”
“I will,” she promised.
The medical bay was a wide, white, antiseptic room with an expansive window at one end. It offered a view of outer space beyond, a peaceful setting with an impressive view of a blue nebula and the occasional rebel ship that glided by. The medical droid was finishing up running an initial diagnostics on Luke just as Leia, Chewie and Lando arrived. The young man reclined now on an examination platform, hooked up to various monitors and other equipment. He already looked better for all the attention he was receiving. He leveraged himself up on his good elbow, his expression brightening as they entered the room.
Before anybody could speak, the medical droid admonished him. “Commander Skywalker, please relax and remain prone so that I may continue monitoring your progress.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he sighed and obeyed. Looking put out, he rolled his head on the pillow to face his visitors. “Did I miss anything?”
Leia shook her head as she stepped up to him and rested a hand on his good arm. “Just introductions. You can do them later. You’re already looking much better. How are you feeling?”
“A lot better after these pain blockers. Two-one-bee here says they’re working on a replacement hand already. It should be ready in the next day or two.” A little of his enthusiasm leaked away despite his valiant smile.
“That’s great news, Luke. You’ll be back to normal in no time.”
He snorted a little at this, a hint of bitterness entering his voice, sounding incongruous with the Luke she knew. “Normal? I wouldn’t go that far…”
Mortified by her gaff, she reached out to press her hand to his cheek. It was so difficult to know how to deal with this new, moodier Luke. “I’m sorry, you know what I mean.”
He nodded. He glanced over to Chewie and Lando, both hovering in the background awaiting their chance to greet him now. “How’s the Falcon?”
Chewie gave a happy bark and growl in response, and Lando finished for him. “I wasn’t kidding when I said I’d put my best men on fixing her up. She’s purring like a Trixian kitten.”
“That’s great. We’ll need her in peak condition when we go after Han.”
Lando nodded, and then took a deep breath as if preparing for battle. He turned to face Leia. “Princess, Chewie and I have been talking and we’ve both agreed that just the two of us should start out right now. The longer we delay in following Boba Fett’s trail, the colder it’ll get. We’re leaving as soon as we’ve resupplied.”
“But…” Surprise gave way to a wave of anger as she turned her full attention on him. “I thought we had agreed to do this together!” She shot a look at Chewie, who appeared torn by the decision but had the good sense to keep quiet and out of the line of fire.
It was Luke who spoke up next, drawing her back in an attempt to placate her. “Leia, they’re absolutely right. I’m in no condition to go right now and you’ve got a duty here…”
“My duty here?!” The words came out like a bitter curse. “What about my duty to Han? I owe him as much of a life debt as Chewie. And I love him.” That last bit came out in a choked but adamant voice, the words still foreign and the emotions raw. It was the first time she’d admitted it to Luke and had no idea how he would react. His eyebrows arched up in surprise, but otherwise he remained silent against the storm. “You’re asking me to just sit back in the wings and do nothing?!”
“Not at all, Your Highness,” Lando drew her back as he tried to reason with her. “We’re going to have to split up for the time being until we can figure out where Fett’s taken him. With any luck we’ll intercept them before they reach Jabba, but time isn’t on our side.”
While a part of Leia knew this to be true, that fact made it no easier to accept. She felt furious at this apparent ganging up against her. Their planning the next move without her input rankled. “I warn you, Calrissian,” she forced out sotto voce, her glare focused on Lando, “if you attempt to do this without me, I will do it on my own.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.” Lando looked to Chewbacca and Luke in a desperate plea for assistance. Clearly he was still underestimating with whom he was dealing. She was no weak-willed woman content to fuss at home while the men went off to do battle.
“Leia,” Luke finally stepped in, perhaps taking pity on the con man. “As soon as they have a lead they’ll contact you immediately. Right, Chewie?”
Chewie tipped his head with a furry expression that was difficult to read, but his actions weren’t as he walked over and gathered her up into his arms in a quick hug. He rumbled a few words to her.
“I know, Chewie, but that didn’t mean lock me up in a closet, either. He’d expect me to help…” She gave a begrudged nod of acceptance. “As soon as you hear something,” she confirmed with him, making it clear once more that this was not an option.