1. Near Kessel
Han had powered down everything that they could think of, including hand-held tools and his blaster, and now the Falcon hung dead in space. If this Imperial patrol caught the least sign of them, they would probably spend the rest of their lives mining the spice that illegally filled the hold. That or the rest of their lives would be very short.
He hoped he showed up on their scanners as just another bit of space junk in the belt, but sometimes the Imperial pilots surprised him. They might get bored and decide to try for a little target practice. The squad leader could be one of those stick-up-the-ass types that wanted to inspect everything.
"Come on, come on," he muttered, keeping his voice low even though he knew it was ridiculous. He couldn't jump to lightspeed with all this junk around him, and the TIE fighters were between him and the only way out. Instead, he sat next to Chewie, waiting in the darkness, wishing he could track them on his screens, but not daring to turn them on.
The Wookie moaned softly beside him, and he looked up. The patrol had entered visual range, appearing as a neat formation of silver specks against the star field. As they grew closer, he could begin to make out their forms, and then the lines and details. By the time he could pick out individual support struts on their stabilisers, he was starting to consider the relative merits of different religions he'd encountered over the years. He thought Chewie might be preying beside him, or quietly berating Han for being an idiot and getting them into this.
Then, just as Han imagined they had come close enough to see the pilots, though surely that was his imagination, they passed over and out of view. The Falcon shuddered under the ion wake, and started to spin laterally.
The smugglers looked at each other, to relived to speak. Chewie ran a paw over his face and said something extremely profane, and Han slumped back into his seat and considered taking up Nerf herding.
Fifteen minutes later, he started powering up to get out of there.
2. Ord Mantell
Han ducked into the alleyway on his right, pressing himself against the wall behind one of the ubiquitous market stalls. Putting a finger to his lips, he slipped a coin to the owner, and showed him another before pocketing it. The man smiled and pretended he wasn't there.
If he ducked down just right, he could see out between the drab tunics and shawls.
The bounty hunter slowly came into view. Sunlight gleamed off her dark goggles and cropped black hair, making her look almost alien. He'd gotten a close enough look at her earlier to know she probably wasn't, but something about her just felt wrong. Especially how she picked her way through the market-day throngs, not seeming in the least worried that he might be escaping.
He wished he could be sure she hadn't somehow slapped a tracker on him when she'd jumped him a few blocks back. He really, really wished he hadn't lost his blaster in the same struggle.
And damn if she wasn't striding right for him now, the normally tenacious crowds parting for her. He ducked right under the stall, right hand sliding to the knife in his boot, patting down his arm and back with his free hand. He couldn't find anything obvious, and the bounty hunter was about twenty paces away now. Swearing softly, he stripped off his shirt and vest and tossed them up into into the undercarriage of a passing tuk-tuk.
He didn't risk trying to see if his misdirection worked, but flipped the other coin to the merchant, and got out of there. He kept low as far as he could, scuttling on his hands and knees into the alley, then got up and ran when he made the corner.
Everything hurt: his bones, his muscles, his skin... damn, even his hair hurt. Han couldn't tell what had happened to Leia, and knowing Jabba it wasn't at all good. Chewie wouldn't give him any straight answers about what was going on, or not ones that made sense anyway. He couldn't see, everything hurt, and the galaxies had all gone mad.
Another racking tremor tore through him, and he slumped against his friend's warm fur. He'd let the Wookie deal with it for a while, because he'd had enough.
Then he passed out.
4. Somewhere in Deep Space
Han hadn't slept the night through since the eternal void of carbon freezing. It seemed like every time he closed his eyes he would panic, suddenly and absolutely believing that when he opened them there'd be nothing there. Waking up blind that first few times really hadn't helped.
Chewie knew, of course; they'd been shipmates for too long for him not too. He thought he'd done okay at keeping it from the others, but it was difficult to tell. Everyone had been so on edge since their escape from Tatooine that he couldn't read them. Not that he'd proven remarkably good a picking up on Lando or Leia's thoughts recently.
He had the Falcon in a holding pattern near the edge of the rebel fleet, and now sat in the darkened cockpit staring out at the galaxy above them. He really wanted to sleep, but knew he had to wait for his nerves to settle a little before he tried again. He couldn't seem to get his thoughts to stop spinning and, at the same time couldn't think straight.
He didn't hear Leia come up behind him, and very nearly shot her when she put her hand on his shoulder. "Sorry," he muttered, holstering his blaster.
"I didn't mean to startle you." She dropped into the seat next to him and stared at the fleet for a while. It surprised him that she was on the ship at all, since she seemed to spend seemingly endless hours travelling through the fleet, organising, negotiating and trying to raise spirits. Whenever one of her aids talked her into resting, she insisted on coming back to her quarters on the Falcon. He wondered if she was trying to keep an eye on him or just found it easier to sleep somewhere familiar. He liked to think she felt safer here, though he couldn't imagine why, given the ship's history. "Do you want to talk about it?" she asked after a while.
Han folded his arms across his chest. "Nope," he said.
"Okay," she said, but didn't move.
Hours later, he woke up slumped in the pilot's seat with a crick in his neck and a blanket draped over him.
5. Dorntella IV
"I'm not doing it," Han said, not quite sure when they'd started shouting, though he certainly knew how.
"Now is not a good time to back out," Leia snapped. He almost hated her when she sounded like that, like she thought not jumping to her least command was childish and unreasonable.
"I'm not backing out. I never said I'd do it in the first place." Which was true, at least, 'from a certain point of view', as Luke had inexplicably taken to saying.
Leia stepped back out of his face and gathered herself, suddenly as icy and unapproachable as she'd been when he'd first met her. "What exactly," she asked slowly, "Did you did possibly imagine that I meant by 'Diplomatic Representative of the New Republic?' Drinking with your old smuggling buddies? Starting a resistance movement and overthrowing the government?" Han shifted uneasily. "You did, didn't you? I don't know why I even try."
Han didn't know that a lot of the time either. "I am not," he said again, unconsciously mimicking her tone, "Sitting down with people I've hated my whole life and cutting deals with them. Leia, they're criminals." The princess glared at him. "Okay, maybe that's not much coming from me, but, trust me, they've done a lot worse than sliding around guild law and dodging the odd patrol."
That, at least, started her fighting again. "I know what they are, Han, but we need them right now. I'd make this deal with Jabba himself if I had to."
Han felt his gut twist at the memory, and cut right back at her with, "Well, I wouldn't."
They both knew it was final.
"Fine," she said, "I'll be the one to get my hands dirty, as usual. You stay in your room and try not start any revolutions." Then she somehow stormed out without either stomping or slamming anything.
He stood there for a full five minutes, thinking of things he should have said. Then he walked over to the door, opened it, and slammed it closed again, just for the sound.
Leia said they'd needed a party, and Han couldn't argue there. It didn't seem like they'd had a single break in the last few years – by "few years," he meant close to a decade – and they were more than due. The problem was, when he said "party" he meant card games, jazz, and massive amounts of bootleg. When Leia said "party" she meant, well... this.
"Will you stop laughing at me," he snapped at Luke, which only set Chewie off, and being chortled at by a Wookie dressed in a bronze bikini really wasn't helping anything. He tugged at his collar, again, and concentrated on breathing. And not running away.
"I'm not laughing," Luke said far too seriously – how was it fair that wearing the robes that your own order wore fifty years ago counted as a costume? "I think you look very... dignified."
"More like ridiculous," Han muttered, but Luke either didn't hear him or pretended not to. Instead, he and Chewie each grabbed one of his arms and walked him into the ball room. Han then pretty much spoiled the pomp and dignity of the simultaneous entrance of three Heroes of the Rebellion by tripping over the edge of his robe. Well, Chewie's bikini spoiled any dignity anyone could ever have, but he definitely didn't help.
Trying to find the bar with his friends didn't work, and neither did trying to get away from them. He would have thought losing himself in this insane swirl of colour and motion would be the easiest escape he'd every make. He guessed that Chewie and Luke figured the same thing and made a point of sticking with him.
It took him half an hour to get Luke to attach himself to Mon Mothma instead of him. When the Wookie delegation snagged Chewbacca ten minutes later, Han decided that he'd kept his word as much as anyone reasonable could expect, and now he was getting out of here.
He briefly considered exiting by way of the bar, then decided he didn't want to risk interception and was better off just escaping. This early in the night, the crowd generally flowed further into the room, and he had to fight his way towards the massive double doors they'd come in through. Ducking around and under a pair of Mon Calamari in costumes he didn't recognise, he almost walked into Lando. Fortunately his friend had most of his attention fixed on flirting with a being of indeterminate gender wearing the fluttering veils of an Iperian spice trader, and Han was able to get by unnoticed.
"Han!" a familiar voice called as he reached the entrance. He turned, and saw Leia standing at the top of the stairway, somehow in a space all of her own. He had to stop for a minute while his brain caught with what she was wearing – the white shirt and leather pants, boots, vest and gun belt of a Corellian spacer of his grandfather's time – and form a response more coherent than 'gah!', and by that time she was on her way over. The crowd parted for her without hesitation. She looked him up and down, and said. "Nice robes."
"Thanks," he said, self-consciously tugging at them again. The blue and white of a senator of Alderaan had seemed like a good idea at the time, but now it occurred to him that it might not by very appropriate. "I was just..." he started
"Leaving, I know." She smiled and put her hand on his arm. "Sorry, Han. I know that this isn't your kind of party, but I'm glad you came."
He wanted to ask her to come with him. He had a case of Corellian whisky on the Falcon, and they could sit in the cockpit and get smashed. He hadn't had as much as a conversation with her in at least a week. He knew what she'd say though, well, not exactly, but it would heavily involve the word "responsibilities." Suddenly, he didn't want to leave as much as he had before.
"Do you want to dance?" he asked.
His voice overlapped with hers as she said, "Let's get out of here."
They laughed and did both.