“You bombing out, Threepio?” Han Solo raised an eyebrow over the Sabacc table.
The golden droid jerked with despair. “This game is impossible! No matter what I do, the sum value of my cards is always higher than twenty-three! This deck can’t be regulation!”
Han gave him a sneer. “Quit your whining, Goldenrod, and pay up.”
“Is the deck rigged, Dad?” Nine-year-old Ben Solo sat up straighter, watching the game with great interest. Normally, Han played Sabacc with Chewie or Leia, but Senator Organa was bound for Kashyyyk with Chewie as her aide, translator, and pilot. That left Han to stay home with Ben, and Threepio to see that both Solos didn’t get into any trouble.
“Of course it isn’t,” Han sniffed. “Take a look at the deck yourself.” He gathered up the pile of cards in front of him and handed them to Ben. “Threepio’s just a sore loser.” The droid cocked its head as Han plucked the cards from its hand and gave them to his son.
“Sabacc is a game of chance,” Threepio noted with apprehension, “but I find the odds here are…disturbing.”
Ben watched his father swagger to the wet bar and help himself to another glass of the deep amber liquid. “I’d rather play than look,” he called after him.
“I don’t know, kid,” Han drawled, returning the bottle of Corellian brandy to the chiller, “the rules are pretty complicated.”
Ben shrugged. “I know. I’ve been watching. Threepio can deal after he checks out the deck.” He handed the cards to the droid, but held one up. “What’s this one? She looks mean.” He wrinkled his nose at the lady pictured on the face.
Han smirked, settling in his seat again. “That’s your mother, kid,” he said with a chuckle and took a swig.”
“She doesn’t look like mom,” the boy pointed out, frowning at the picture.
“The Queen of Air and Darkness.” Han raised his glass in a salute to his absent wife. “She’s the queen of hot air and she rules my nights.” He grew suddenly serious. “But I couldn’t live without her.” After a moment, he nodded for Ben to put the card on the stack. “Set us up, Goldenrod. Let’s see what the kid’s got.”
He was about to go into an explanation of a Sabacc Shift when Ben suddenly launched himself out of his chair and stood staring at the door.
Han nearly knocked over his glass as he too jumped to his feet. “She wasn’t supposed to be back for three days!” He shoved a hand through his hair, gazing at the apartment’s current state of unkemptness. Threepio found it impossible to tidy up whenever Han was around. Decorative pillows were tossed into a corner. Gaming pieces, random Falcon parts, and dirty glasses littered every available surface, and the shells of warra nuts inevitably got crushed into the plush carpet.
Han ignored the disheveled bachelor terrain and zeroed in on his glass of brandy. If Leia was going to give him a hard time about anything, it would be that — drinking while babysitting. Not that Han ever got drunk. She was afraid Ben would sneak a taste. She also wanted to teach Ben that such drinks were meant for special occasions.
Han made a lunge for the glass and hid it in the chiller. Force! She’ll smell it on my breath! he thought, reached for the bowl of warra nuts, and stuffed some in his mouth. That’s when he noticed Ben hadn’t run to the door. Han nearly choked when a loud knock shook the door. The bowl tumbled to the floor, scattering empty shells over the carpet as he instinctively drew his blaster and put his back to one side of the door.
“Who is it?” he hissed at Ben in a low whisper. He knew the kid could see things through the Force.
“The police,” Ben said in a small voice, his lower lip starting to tremble.
Han stared down at his son. The officers at the door pounded again. Han holstered his blaster and held up an admonishing finger. “If you put Mrs. Jasper’s dog in the tree again….” He shuddered as he recalled the sight of the little terrier yelping and scrabbling in the branches. Ben didn’t like the yippy thing — the feeling was mutual — and decided to levitate it to the crown of the seven-meter paan tree the previous summer.
Taking a deep breath and steeling himself, Han opened the door to a white-uniformed officer — a young Mon Calamari. The social services branch of law enforcement.
“Yeah,” Han said hesitantly, looking up and down the corridor, expecting to see a squad of reinforcements on the officer’s heels. “Who’s asking?”
“My name’s Lt. Cedril Bethakos. I’ve come to take you to your wife straight away.”
Ben poked his head around the doorframe as Han’s heart began to pound. “Leia? Where is she?”
“She’s back in New Republic custody now and is….”
“What?” Han’s mouth fell open. “What do mean back in custody? Where’s she been?” He was chest to chest with the officer when he felt a tug on his sleeve.
Ben looked up at him, eyes wide. “Dad, she’s in the hospital. She’s not breathing.”
Han started to say something, but his tongue got tied in knots. Finally, he managed to blurt, “Why wasn’t I told of this?”
“We needed to see to her needs first,” Lt. Bethakos was saying. “If you’ll just come with me, sir.”
“Chewie….” Han started to call back inside the apartment, then stopped himself. Chewie had been with Leia. Was Chewie all right? If he wasn’t at the hospital, Han would have to face this alone. He glanced down as he pulled the door closed.
No. There was Ben.
He clapped his son on the back. “Lead the way, kid. Let’s go find Mom.”
In a private room of the hospital complex, Leia lay in a bid of pristine white, the shades closed against the constant bright stream of air traffic outside. She was unconscious and on life support. A medical droid finished checking her vitals and rolled forward to meet them.
“There’s been no change, I’m afraid,” it reported in a tinny voice.
Han was nearly beside himself. “What the hell happened? Where’s Chewie?” he snapped.
“They’re knitting the bones in the Wookiee’s legs,” Lt. Bethakos assured him, “but he’s expected to walk again.”
Han’s mouth fell open. “Well, that’s a relief!” he said with a sneer.
Bethakos had refused to debrief him on the way to the ICU, because whatever had befallen Leia and Chewie was classified. Solo was fed up with the tight-lipped Mon Calamari and wanted answers. Han was at Leia’s side now, cradling her hand in his and unsure of how he’d got there. She was in a deep sleep, her features relaxed but not exactly serene, yet there was no sign of trauma. A bedside machine whirred and beeped as it monitored her vitals with a constant readout he couldn’t understand. He squeezed her fingers, but there was no response.
Han decided he didn’t care if he knew what had happened. All he wanted to know was if Leia would be all right. But before he could get the words out, he caught a glimpse of movement at the windows. Little Ben stood there. He was too short to reach the switch that opened the blinds. The boy waved a hand at the windows. When nothing happened, he waved again. This time the mechanism engaged and the blinds began to rise, letting in the late afternoon gold of a winter’s day.
“Ben!” Han scolded. “What did we tell you about….”
“She needs the Light,” Ben said simply.
Han was going to remind his son about not using his Force abilities in public. It tended to make people nervous and drew the wrong sort of attention. But he let it go, watching with tenderness as Ben reached out a hand to touch his mother’s cheek.
“Mom,” he called softly, the tears spilling down his cheeks.
He remembered when he was small — much smaller — a day when he had been
awfully sick. Leia had constantly hovered over him, bringing him good things to eat, telling him stories, and tucking him in. “Hey,” she soothed, “how can the light that burns so brightly suddenly burn so pale?*” She touched him on the nose, and that made him smile. Ever since then, she touched him that way whenever he needed encouragement, and he made a game of touching his finger to her nose.
“Bright eyes,” Ben whispered to Leia now and touched her on the nose.
Behind them in the private room, Lt. Bethakos had shooed the medical droid away and sealed the door. “I was not authorized to mention her condition outside of a contained area. Their ship was brought down by a bounty hunter, apparently looking for you, General Solo. We have him in custody. At first we thought your wife’s injuries were caused by blaster fire or even nerve toxin from a dart. But they were in fact cause by….”
“Sith lightning!” Ben yelped, backing away from the bed and staring wide-eyed and angry up at his father.
“Y-y-yes,” the Mon Calamari officer stammered, “but how did you know?”
Ben came around the bed and pointed a finger at Han. “This is all your fault!” he screamed.
“What?” Han began, dumbfounded. “I….”
Solo’s voice trailed off as he felt a gentle hand squeeze his. Leia was trying to reach them, trying as always, to pull her family together.
@MyKyloRen 29 December 2016
In loving memory of Carrie Fisher (1956-2016) and Richard Adams (1920-2016).
*Bright Eyes by Mike Batt, lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC.