The twelfth time Obi-wan’s new padawan brings back a completely different ship from the one he and his master left in, Mace says, “You sure know how to pick them.”
Obi-wan rolls his shoulder with a wince. Damn, but he’s going to have to take it a little easy for a day or two--that last mission had been a shitshow from start to finish, topped off only by Han’s stubbornness that somehow matched Anakin’s. Not an easy feat, considering Anakin. “Who else would’ve taken them on?” he says, dryly.
“Point taken,” says Mace. “And, by the way?”
“Tell your apprentice,” says Mace, turning on his heel and already on his way out of Obi-wan’s rooms, “that the hangar does not need any more Separatist ships nearly crashing into it, and that he should perhaps lay off picking up said ships.”
“I’ll be sure to tell him that,” says Obi-wan. The question is, he thinks, if he’ll take the suggestion.
Han says, while working on the underside of the newest ship to his fast-growing collection in the hangar, “I’ll stop stealing ships if you and Skywalker stop crashing them, old man.”
The old man--looking much younger now, hair and beard like copper in the sunlight, by the stars but this is so weird--sighs, long-suffering. “I don’t crash ships nearly as often as Anakin does,” he says, “but this is the twelfth ship.”
“Can’t have too many,” says Han, squinting, before he slides out from under the ship and waves to the starship supplies he’d bought for this ship. “Hey, can you hand me that actuator? The one this ship’s got is broken, no wonder it nearly kriffing killed us on the landing.”
Kenobi presses the actuator into his hand, and says, “Yes, you can have too many. So much, in fact, that I’m told your collection of ships has taken over half the hangar.”
Han opens his mouth, glances to the side, where five of the ships he brought back are sitting pretty in a line, waiting on someone to pilot them. Damn shame Han’s not going to be able to pilot them all, but they’re not really the same as the Falcon.
He closes his mouth. “I wouldn’t say half,” he hedges. “Maybe more like a quarter?”
“Han,” says Kenobi.
“I swept them clean before I brought them here!” Han huffs. He’s learned his lesson from the last time somebody tagged the Falcon with a tracking beacon, after all. “‘Sides, you gotta admit, they don’t handle too badly.”
“When a careful pilot is at the helm, yes,” says Kenobi. “But you have a rather alarming predilection for risky maneuvers.”
“They ain’t that risky,” says Han. He’s good at flying, he’s great at it, but these other ships aren’t his ship, he’s not half as comfortable in them as he is in the Millennium Falcon’s cockpit, with Chewie by his side.
Stang, he misses Chewie.
“Oh, all right,” says Kenobi, snapping Han back to reality, “what do you call dropping out of hyperspace while in atmosphere, then?”
“Already done,” says Han. Twice, he thinks.
“You’re eight,” says Kenobi. “I fail to see where you could’ve learned how to perform such a maneuver.”
“What can I say,” says Han, dryly, “I’m just full of surprises, me.”
One of the things Han’s gotten very good at finding over his time as a smuggler are back doors--every place has one, whether it’s literally a door or not, and the Jedi Temple is no exception. Within his first few weeks alone, Han’s found about five ways in and out, and the number has only grown since.
Sure, there are temple guards hanging around, but long years of sneaking around mean Han’s able to avoid most of them with ease. Hell, even if they spy him, he’s got an alibi.
“I’ve got laundry,” he says to one, holding up the laundry basket. Getting stuck on laundry duty has been the best thing that’s ever happened to him.
The guard--well, Han’s not actually sure what face the guy’s making behind that mask of his. He’s a bit sick of masks by now. Anyway: the guard lets him by, and Han whistles a merry tune as he walks along.
He dumps the laundry in the chute. Then he looks left, then right, and climbs in as well.
The ride is--wild, to say the least, but Han’s just glad this time it ends with him landing in a soft, if smelly, pile of Jedi robes. He jumps off and nearly nails the landing on the way down, then he’s off on his way.
Cities are mostly the same, Han’s found in his years as a smuggler. Coruscant’s an entire city-planet, so it’s easy enough for someone unfamiliar with it to get lost, but Han’s got enough experience with the upper levels that he’s not completely lost.
The lower levels of Coruscant are--a bit more of a challenge. Han’s never been able to just slip down to the lower levels before, fame will fuck with your ability to go around unrecognized, but now that no one here knows the name Han Solo, it is laughably easy to sneak down to the lower levels.
Now, Lando said something about having once upon a time been a part of some smuggling operation down here on Coruscant before stowing away. Where did he say it was--
“And what exactly brings you down here, squirt?”
“None of your business,” says Han, whipping around to find baby-Vader’s apprentice Tano, perched on a crate, out of the way of the crowd that might come rushing through the cantina’s double doors. “And don’t call me squirt.”
“You’re shorter than I am,” Tano shoots back, “I get to call you anything I like.” She hops off, a hand drifting near her lightsaber as if reassuring herself of its presence.
I’m a hell of a lot older than you, kiddo, so show some respect, Han doesn’t say. “The hell are you doing down here, anyway?” he asks instead.
“Serving as back-up,” says Tano, nodding to the cantina’s double doors. “My master’s in there flushing out Nevings. You?”
“What, the arms dealer?” says Han, before he can stop himself.
“Yeah,” says Tano, scrunching her nose up. “How’d you know him? You’re like, eight.”
“I hear stuff,” says Han, and technically, it’s not a lie. Han has heard of Nevings before, just--not in this time. He wonders, wildly, if Nevings has a full head of hair now. Then. Now, agh, time travel is confusing. “Hey, look, have you seen anyone named Lando Calrissian around here?”
“Why are you asking me?” says Tano. “Maybe Master Sinube can help. He helped me once before.”
“Sinube?” It takes Han a moment to remember the face belonging to the name, but when he does: “Last time I saw him he was taking a nap in the archives. No thanks, Tano, I can find Lando by myself.”
“Why do you want to find this Lando Calrissian so badly?” says Tano.
“Who says I wanna find him badly?” says Han, defensively.
Tano flaps a hand at him, and says, “You snuck out of the Temple and I can smell the dirty laundry on you.”
“Maybe I just wanted out of the Temple for a bit,” says Han, with a huff. “Not like there’s much to do there.”
“This is going to come as a shock to you,” says Tano, “but there actually is! You’re just trying to avoid literally all of them.”
“No, I’m not,” says Han.
“Lying,” says Tano, singsong, and dammit, how did she know. It’s a Jedi thing, he thinks, the kind of thing Leia sometimes did when she had a bad feeling about something or someone. But Leia had to deliberately focus--
--he misses Leia.
“Yeah, yeah, you know I’m lying,” he mutters, “don’t have to rub my face in it.” He turns around to walk out of the alley and leave Tano to her duty, when--
Han whips around. Blaster fire, that was blaster fire--
“Get back!” Someone’s hand wraps around his and yanks him away, and just in time, because the crowd that bursts forth from the cantina’s double door clearly does not care for whoever it might trample underneath. “Man, squirt,” says Tano, “you have the worst timing.”
“Oh, shut up,” says Han. “I ain’t a squirt.”
“Sure you are, squirt,” Tano mutters, eyes scanning the crowd. “Come on, master, where are you?”
It’s stupid and irrational, but a knife of fear suddenly twists in Han’s gut. What if that shot had been aimed at baby-Vader? What if--oh, kriff, what’ll happen to Luke and Leia--
“Hey, Snips,” says baby-Vader, emerging from the double doors just as the last of the crowd disperses, holding Nevings by the back of his collar. “What’s Obi-wan’s padawan doing down here?”
“He wouldn’t say,” says Tano, with a shrug, “just said something about a--”
“Never mind,” says Han, quickly, thinking of Lando’s drawn face, the deal he’d struck with Vader to keep his new home safe. “I can go looking for him tomorrow.”
“I’ll come with you if you want,” says Tano.
“Nah, I think I can find him on my own,” says Han.
“I’m guessing Obi-wan doesn’t know you took the laundry chute out,” says baby-Vader, hauling Nevings out of the alley, and huh, Han’s pretty sure Nevings’ hairline is just about starting to recede, “you smell like dirty laundry.”
“Told you so,” whispers Tano.
“It was that or the garbage chute,” says Han, flatly.
As it turns out, looking for Lando is not an option he can take the next day.
“Why does this senator even need Jedi protection?” says Han, as he and Kenobi walk down the corridor and away from their rooms, three hours after the briefing in the Council’s chamber. “Seems to me he could just hire some bodyguards and be done with it.”
“Ordinarily, most would,” says Kenobi, striding forward with a quiet, confident self-assurance that Han has never seen from his older version. That’s probably because he’d only known Ben Kenobi for a day or two at most, he supposes. “But apparently our senator’s own bodyguards tried to kill him once before, even before the death threats over his impending visit started coming. He’s understandably not very enthusiastic about the idea of hiring more again.”
“Still don’t see why we’re the ones to keep him from not dying,” says Han.
“He’s a major proponent for a bill to divert military spending into public funds and, apparently, proposed a debt plan to shoulder the Republic’s growing debts because of all that spending,” says Kenobi. “And he’s been loud about them. I believe he’s already been targeted twice.”
“Well, now I get it,” says Han, wryly, glancing out one of the windows as they pass by. Coruscant gleams in the sunlight, like a shiny new jewel. “But why us?”
“I imagine the Council thinks you’d get along quite well with him,” says Kenobi, dryly, and Han privately squashes down the urge to break into a bout of hysterical laughter. “You’re both prone to cursing out authority figures.”
‘Cause I’m older than most of them, Han thinks, before they turn into the hangar, and the landing bay beyond. There’s an unfamiliar ship already there, its ramp down, and a human male in a neon-green coat, dark hair pulled back into a short tail, pacing around just outside. The senator they’re going to be protecting, Han’s sure. “So how long’s this gonna last?”
“No more than a few weeks,” says Kenobi, “which is more than enough for me. I can’t say I like the prospect of dealing with politicians for very long.”
“Master Kenobi!” says the senator, whipping around as Kenobi walks up to him. Han hangs back a little, looking up to take in the details of the man’s ship--a Class 440 light freighter, he figures, large enough for four people, maybe six if no one minds getting crammed in, with a gun turret sticking up on the top. Should be roomy enough, for just him, Kenobi and the senator. “And--who’s the little guy?”
“My padawan, Han Solo,” says Kenobi, just as Han says, “Oh, like you’re any taller than Kenobi, huh?”
“I have to admit,” says the senator, brows knitting together, “I was kind of hoping for something else when I asked the Jedi for help.”
Kenobi raises a brow. “I’m assuming you were hoping for Anakin? He seems popular,” he says. “I assure you, my padawan can handle the assignment well enough.”
Baby-Vader’s popular. Just when he thinks he’s finally got the hang of things, there’s a curveball coming his way.
“He’s eight,” says the senator, doubtfully.
“Got a lot of surprises up my sleeve,” says Han, then adds after Kenobi shoots him a look, “sir.”
“Midran,” says the senator. “If we’re going to be stuck together for a few weeks, my name’s Midran.”
That’s--not a familiar name, definitely. Han briefly wonders where the hell this guy was, during the Rebellion’s time, then decides, probably dead.
“A pleasure,” says Kenobi. “I’ve heard quite a lot about you. Senator Amidala seems fond of you.”
“Yeah, Senator Amidala’s got more sense in her head than three-quarters of the entire kriffing Senate,” says Midran with a distinct un-senatorly bitterness, leading them up the ramp and into his ship. It’s a cozy ship fit for a senator, the walls painted beige and brown, the lights embedded in the ceiling and in the dangling chandeliers giving off a soft glow. Definitely not factory standard for a Class 440--it’s the closest to a luxury yacht, in fact, that a Class 440 can get.
Han wonders, briefly, how much all these additions have cost, how much trouble they’d land them in while in deep space--he can’t see any practical use for the dangling chandeliers, save for maybe trapping pirates trying to board the ship. Probably.
Midran’s clearly mindful of appearances, judging from all the ostentatious touches to his personal ship. A self-made man, if Han were to guess, and one trying very hard to forget where he came from.
He’s also a surprisingly gracious host, showing them around his ship and talking about the various parts of it, the modifications he’s made to improve its performance. Han’s got to admit, for someone dressing up a freighter as a luxury yacht, Midran’s got a keen eye for ship parts--the hyperdrive’s a durable model from Corellia, the shield generator from a Chandrilan manufacturer known for making some incredibly resilient shields.
(And he should know.)
“Anyway,” Midran’s saying, leading them up to the cockpit, “since that’s done with, I’m going to need a copilot--”
Han’s hand shoots up before Kenobi can say anything. “I’ll do it,” he says.
Midran raises a brow. “You’re a pilot?”
“Much better than I am,” says Kenobi, looking relieved at the prospect of not having to pilot a ship. Han can’t stop himself from smirking up at him--yeah, damn straight.
“You’re tinier than my eldest son,” says Midran, to Han, “and he’s, what, already up to my waist?”
“I’m not that short,” says Han, with a huff, crossing his arms and looking up at Midran, “and you asked for a copilot, didn’t you? You got one.”
(An interlude, three years on and a month after Mortis:
“Oh,” says Ahsoka, sitting up, “stars.”
“Can’t see any of ‘em here,” gripes Han, pointing an empty carton of blue milk up at the night sky. He and Ahsoka are lying on the rooftop of the Jedi Temple, watching the shifting Coruscant cityscape beyond them. “Unless you’re cursing. In which case, watch it, kid, or I’m washing your mouth out with your soap.”
“You’re ten,” Ahsoka shoots back. “And you swear worse than I do regularly. Remember Kadavo?”
“Seventy-five, give or take,” says Han. “I never really counted. And it’s the principle of the thing. You’re sixteen.”
“You know,” says Ahsoka, contemplatively, “knowing that you’re actually an old guy from the future means a lot of things suddenly make sense now. Like, you know, you being a dad all the time.”
“Well, I was, it’s not like I can just turn it off,” Han says.
“And all that bunk about being a great pilot--”
“You take that back, Tano,” says Han, sitting up now to poke Ahsoka’s shoulder with a finger. “It ain’t bunk if you can back it up.”
“Yeah, but that’s ‘cause you’ve got experience,” says Ahsoka, giving him a playful punch in return. “For a squirt, anyway.”
“I’m older than you,” Han huffs.
“And much shorter,” says Ahsoka. “You can just about reach my lekku now, though, so I’ll give that you grew up a bit.”
“Slander and lies,” says Han, with a snort of laughter.
Ahsoka grins at him, then lies back onto her elbows and says, “So--what was he like?”
“Your kid,” Ahsoka clarifies.
Han’s quiet for a long moment, before he gets to his feet and throws the empty carton as hard as he can. “Maybe that’ll hit the Chancellor on the way down,” he says, bitterly. “How hard do you think it’ll hit from this height?”
“Sore subject?” Ahsoka asks. “And you’d need something heavier than that.”
Han lets out a breath, runs a hand through over-long hair. “His name was Ben,” he starts. “Is. Was. Will be. Kriff, I hate time travel. Anyway--he was a good kid, before somebody got their claws in his head.”
Ahsoka frowns, and says, “Somebody?”
“He probably doesn’t exist right now,” says Han, sounding less than certain. “But he got his claws in Ben’s head and--and turned him.”
“The same way the Chancellor did with Anakin, in your timeline?” asks Ahsoka, quietly.
“I got no clue how ba--how Skywalker fell, but yeah, that’d be my guess.”
“Well,” says Ahsoka, after a moment’s pause, confident as she stands, “we just need to keep Anakin from falling.”
“Easier said than done,” says Han.)