Luke glanced nervously at his companion. "You don't have to go through with this, Han."
"I know." He didn't look at Luke, but straight ahead, down the aisle of the elaborate hall. Luke could feel the turmoil emanating from his friend, and wished he could help him, but he was just as shocked as Han.
They reached the front of the hall and moved to sit in the first row. "Reserved for family," Han read ruefully. "I'm not exactly family."
"I am," Luke said, more firmly than he felt. "And you're with me."
Han voiced his unspoken thought. "I was almost family, huh?"
Luke didn't reply. He settled himself more firmly in his seat, trying to relax and be comfortable. He noticed Han wasn't even trying. The man sat perfectly straight, not letting his guard down for a moment.
After an uncomfortable minute of silence, grand music filled the hall. Excitement rustled through the immense crowd behind them. The beautiful Hapan music swirled patriotically, and Luke rose to his feet with the rest of the room.
He could feel those at the back of the hall craning their necks, then heard them sigh with delight as the bride passed them. When she reached the front, Luke resisted the urge to stare. Leia was stunning. She glowed, and he felt her satisfaction as she passed him. Han didn't even look at her.
Leia turned her head and smiled at Luke. He forced himself to smile back, trying to mask his feelings from her. Then she was past him, and he watched her float up the steps on Prince Isolder's arm to where Ta'a Chume, the Queen Mother, waited for them. Ta'a Chume smiled triumphantly through her veil at Luke, and though she intoned beautiful words of joining, he knew she was chanting inside, "I told you so, I told you so."
It was the longest hour of Luke's life.
Luke was one of the last guests in the reception line. Leia smiled and embraced him.
"Congratulations," he said, trying to sound happy.
"Oh, Luke, I didn't think you'd come!" Her relief was evident.
"I came," he said heavily. "And I brought Han."
"Yes, I saw." Her smiled faded. "Luke," she burst out defensively. "You know I couldn't marry him!"
Luke couldn't hide the bitterness in his voice. "He was good enough for you before Isolder came."
She fidgeted. "I had to seal the alliance between the New Republic and the Hapes Consortium. You know that. I thought you had accepted it." She swallowed hard, and blinked rapidly, her Force presence filled with pain.
Impulsively, Luke stepped forward and hugged her. "Whatever you do, Leia, I'll still love you."
He sensed her anguish turn into irritation. "What, you anticipate more 'bad' decisions in the future?"
"That's not what I meant."
Leia gave him a long look he couldn't decipher and turned smilingly to the next guest.
Why couldn't you just follow you heart for once? he asked silently. You're allowed to be selfish, Leia. Especially when it doesn't hurt anyone. Luke realized for the first time how hard it could be to love someone so much, yet have a duty to others. As a Jedi, he felt that conflict frequently. Now he knew Leia felt it, too.
Han approached him. "You talked to her?"
"Yes." Luke sighed. "Han, I'm worried about her. She hasn't known him long enough. Sure, he's dazzling and she is forging a valuable alliance with the Hapans . . ."
"Luke," Han said. "We've been through this. You have to let her make her own decisions."
Luke had to laugh, though it was a dry sound. "You're the one who kidnapped her."
"I had to," Han said softly.
Luke nodded. They had repeated this conversation in several different forms at least twenty times over the last four months. Neither of them had addressed the issue outright; they had talked around it. Luke was relieved at how much control Han seemed to have over himself, and how well he was reacting, but he was too calm. Luke knew he would explode at any moment, and he just hoped to get his friend away from the wedding celebrations before it happened. Han couldn't keep his cool for much longer.
"Come on," Han said, with forced gaiety. "Let's sample some of this free food."
Luke started to follow him, but was stopped by Ta'a Chume. "So, Luke Skywalker. I was right."
"Yes," Luke said simply, seething beneath his calm expression. He tried to quell his anger using a Jedi technique, unsuccessfully.
"Your sister will make a fine queen," Ta'a Chume said. Luke felt sure she was smirking beneath her veil.
"Excuse me," he said, and went off in search of Han. This was no time to be diplomatic.
He found him at the long, center table, where the food was artistically arranged in the most tasteful ways possible. It took Luke a second to register who Han was talking to.
Isolder! Luke hurried to them. "Greetings, Luke," Isolder said. "We were just talking about you."
"Ah," Luke said, not sure how to reply.
"Everything complimentary, of course," Isolder added smoothly.
"Of course." Luke helped himself to the nearest delicacy without even noticing what it was.
"I was wondering where his Wookiee companion was."
Han looked uncomfortable at the reminder that his friend was not there to support him. "He had a family emergency." Luke suddenly wished Chewie was there to keep an eye on Han. The awkward silence stretched out for a minute.
"Han! Isolder!" Leia came up to them nervously. "I see you found each other."
"Yeah, we were just having a friendly chat," Han said. His eyes fixed on Leia intensely.
"How are you, Han?" Leia asked. "I haven't seen you since . . ."
"Since I lost the bet. I'm fine."
Luke didn't need the Force to sense the strain between the four of them. "Why don't we go somewhere more private?" he suggested.
"Good idea," Isolder agreed immediately. Han and Leia didn't answer. Luke stepped between them and gestured after Isolder, who had already turned to leave. He kept carefully between his sister and friend until they reached a beautiful lounge, where he left them to sit in one of the deep, self-conforming chairs.
The room was well-lit, and filled with plants growing up through openings in the floor.
Isolder settled himself on a small couch, and Leia nestled next to him. Han sat on the arm of another chair.
"Well, this is nice," he said blandly. "You married well, Leia."
"I didn't marry for money!" she exclaimed, hurt by his comment. Isolder put his arm around her shoulder.
"No hard feelings, Han Solo," he said. "If you love her, you should want her to be happy. And that means me."
Han stood up suddenly and left the room.
"That was short," Leia remarked dryly, though Luke knew she was upset.
Luke nodded his agreement, wondering if Han and Leia would ever be able to speak civilly again.
He found Han later in his quarters. The lights were off, and the room was flooded with darkness. Luke couldn't see a thing, but he could feel Han lying on his bed.
"He's right, you know," Han said.
"No!" Han sat up, his form a mere shadow in the dark as Luke's eyes adjusted. "I have to face this, Luke. We have to face this."
"I feel the same betrayal you do," Luke said. "It's because I love Leia that I was opposed to her marriage. She feels so noble, sacrificing everything for the New Republic, but is she really following her heart?" His voice was pleading.
"Yes." Han's voice was hollow and empty. "It's you who doesn't understand, Luke. You're trying to make excuses, make her seem faithful and loyal and true. That's the problem with all this Jedi stuff. You think everyone is black and white, cut and dried. Well guess what? The real world isn't like that. You can't trust anyone except yourself."
The words stabbed Luke's heart with pain. "No, Han," he protested desperately, trying to convince himself as much as his friend. "Maybe Leia betrayed you, but she stills loves you! She has to." He knew he was denying the apparent truth, but couldn't help it. He had lost his mother and father without knowing them, and his guardians, Owen and Beru Lars. They had all loved him, and he had never given anything back. Now Leia was leaving him as well. Even during the short months since she had agreed to marry Isolder, she had slowly distanced herself from him, a fact that filled him with distress.
"Isolder isn't worthy of her," Han said, as if he hadn't heard Luke. "Nobody is. Least of all me."
"Han, you have to listen to me," Luke said. He could feel Han's anger and despair filling the room with an oppressive dark cloud. Han had been comforting him up to now, but Luke sensed he was about to snap, and groped for the right words to help his friend. "Isolder had a lot to offer her, as did you. So she put what she thought was her duty ahead of her personal feelings . . ."
"I love her," Han said harshly. "That's all I know for sure now. And Isolder was right. All I want is for her to be happy. If she is, that's great. But I wish she could have been happy with me." He paused, sounding bewildered. "Maybe I wish she weren't happy with Isolder." His voice turned inward; he was talking to himself. "Maybe that's what upset me. That she is too happy. But that doesn't make sense, because I want her to be happy!"
"Han, don't torture yourself."
"I'm not torturing myself!" Han shouted angrily. He took a deep, shaky breath. "She wouldn't have been happy with me," he repeated, reminding Luke of a little child, thinking if he repeated something often enough, it would lose its sting.
"She would have been," Luke said helplessly. The pain in Han's voice tore at his heart.
"Just go away."
Luke sat up, startled out of his sleep. His heart was racing, and adrenaline pumped through his body. He drew the Force around him like a blanket, trying to discover what had woken him.
Then it hit him again. From down the hall, he felt a surge of anger and despair. It pummeled him steadily and then fell away again. A wave of hostility and betrayal replaced it. Luke jumped to his feet, knowing instantly who it was. "Han! No!" he whispered, knowing no one could hear him.
He called his lightsaber to his hand even as he ran to the door. It opened slowly and smoothly, but he had no time to waste appreciating the delicacy of Hapan technology.
He reached Han's door in seconds. It was unlocked, and he rushed in. Han wasn't there. Luke felt a surge of panic rise in his throat, threatening to choke him. He forcibly pushed it back down, drawing on the Force to calm him. He reached out for his friend, trying to locate him. Eyes closed, Luke left the room and went off in search of Han.
When he turned down a hall, the feeling suddenly got stronger. Luke opened his eyes to find himself close to Leia and Isolder's suite. A creeping horror tickled the back of his neck, and he sprinted down to the door. As he reached it, a shot rang out, and he heard a scream.
The door was locked, but his lightsaber sliced through it like jelly. He stepped through his hastily ripped hole and jolted to a stop.
Han stood in the center of the room, a blaster in his hand. Leia sat on a wide, ornate bed against the far wall, the covers clutched against her, not as much to cover her but as something to hold on to. A body sprawled next to her. Luke didn't have to look to know it was Isolder. And that he was dead.
Han and Leia stared at each other, both shocked. Han broke the connection to look down at his blaster. He dropped it, as if it had become too hot to hold on to, then his shoulders slumped in defeat. He looked like a hunted animal.
Luke felt his life crumble to pieces around him. Pounding footsteps echoed through the hallway, and shouting voices dimly reached Luke's ears. He ignored them, and continued to stare at the two people he loved most in the world. Leia's eyes wavered to Isolder's body, then back to lock with Han's gaze.
As soldiers rushed into the room, the two spoke simultaneously, their voices like thunder in the stunned silence. "What have I done?"
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