Breaking The Rules

by: Susan Sjodin

Category: Short Story

The Wookiee roared in pain, clutching his side to stop the flow of blood. The horrible sound reverberated through the halls of the Solos’ apartments, possibly spilling out through the open windows onto the streets of Hanna City. Any passers-by who happened upon this gut-wrenching growl would surely have looked up alarmed, concerned. But the perpetrator of the wound was neither of those things. He held fast, striking again with the lightsaber, parrying left, then right.

This time, Chewbacca sidestepped the swipe of the blade, and the dark haired boy missed his target. But it was too late. In his attempt to move aside, the Wookiee had taken a fall. Panting wildly with a dark determination in his eyes, Ben Solo raised the weapon over his head and brought it down hard, delivering the final blow with purpose.

Silence.

Ben wiped his brow and let out a sigh of exhaustion as he stood over the still form of the mighty Wookiee, Chewbacca. He tentatively stepped closer to his vanquished enemy, scanning the tufts of fur for signs of life. “Chewie,” he said softly, almost a whisper. Nothing. He stepped closer still, now stooping down to examine the body.

Stillness. Ben rose to his full height, which was considerable for his age. He craned his neck to peek into the next room, hoping no one had seen. He grew tenser with every passing second. Surely Chewbacca wasn’t really...he couldn’t possibly. Ben held out his hand, still clutching the sparring sword. “No way,” he said, looking from the weapon to the still form of Chewbacca and back again. Suddenly the wind was knocked out of him as the Wookiee sprung to life and action, pulling Ben down to the ground and pinning him, the wooden play sword tumbling from Ben’s hand with a clatter. Laughter escaped him, even as he hit the floor, and relief.

Chewie extended a furry hand and Ben grabbed it, pulling himself up. “I had you!” Ben exclaimed. Chewie laughed and crossed his arms over his chest. “Alright, fine,” said Ben. “I almost had you.” Ben pointed a finger at his foe. He knelt to retrieve his saber, the blade painted green to resemble his uncle Luke’s famous weapon. “We go again,” he said. Ben took his stance and Chewbacca countered, leaning in with raised fists.

“Um, excuse me young master Solo, but your mother has informed me that dinner is to be served in the south corridor... “In a minute, Threepio,” Ben barked. “Oh my,” said C-3PO, backing away. “Don’t kill the messenger.” Chewbacca motioned to the droid to move further still, but Ben was already plunging towards the Wookiee with no sign of slowing.

“Aaaagh,” hollered the droid, frozen in his horror. “Ben Solo!” said Leia sternly as she stepped into the chamber. “What have I said about fighting in the house?” “Sorry, mom,” said Ben, quickly pulling his weapon behind his back, as though he hadn’t already been caught. Chewbacca let out a grieved growl.

“And you Chewie...enabling him like that. You know better. At least, I thought you did.” “I tried to stop them, I assure you,” said C-3PO. “It’s quite against protocol to have such sparring in these apartments. I’ve told them both many times...” Leia put her hand up and the droid stopped his flow of speech at once.

“Dinner’s waiting, you two,” she said kindly. Chewie made a small bow towards Ben, which he knew meant, “To be continued...” before making his way to the dining hall. They’d of course carry on fighting here in the house the very next time Leia was out. Han never minded. In fact, despite all his protests about Ben’s proclivity towards Jedi training, he watched quite frequently and even encouraged them. There were two rules only.

“Don’t tell your mother I let you do this, and clean up after yourself.”

“I’m not hungry,” said Ben, stretching his arms, sore from battle.

“Even Jedi have to eat, you know,” she said. Ben scowled, but the look of amusement on his mother’s face forced him to crack a smile. Come to think of it, he was feeling a bit hungry. He allowed Leia to pull him to her. “Where’ve you been?” He asked. She looked weary and not unhappy exactly, but stressed. Something wasn’t right. “Oh, I know my business would bore you,” said Leia. “I want to hear about you.” She’s wrong, Ben thought. Her work held genuine curiosity for him. He wanted to know about it. She either underestimated him or didn’t trust him. He let it go and obliged her.

“Just breaking the rules, as you can see,” he said, gesturing back towards the chamber where he and Chewbacca had sparred. “So like your father,” she said, smiling. Ben smiled back, but inside he bristled. She meant it as a compliment and it was, but it was all he ever heard, and to him it didn’t feel true.

Ben adored his father, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to be him. He found the constant comparison tiresome. He got it from every angle. His teachers, his schoolmates, strangers even. Sometimes he wished he could just fade into obscurity. There were days when he longed to be Ben, just Ben. People were forever telling him how special he was but never because of anything he did. His importance in this galaxy was based solely on that which he had no control. And he couldn’t complain to his friends, certainly, or he’d appear like an ingrate. It seemed ridiculous to complain about the burdens of having a famous family when most people around him seemed to think it was the key to happiness. He had everything, was born with everything. Still, that didn’t stop his feelings of loneliness, of other-ness.

He knew he had talent. He was powerful in The Force, that much was certain and it certainly got him attention. Sometimes he enjoyed that part, but mostly it embarrassed him. He usually tried to downplay it to draw off the chorus of, “Oh, it’s that Skywalker blood,” “You must get it from Luke,” “Your mother has it too, you know.”

Then there was the dark feeling. Every so often he sensed a presence in his mind, like someone was watching him, but from the inside. Whenever it came, he attempted to close himself off, but try as he may, he couldn’t shake it. It had happened for as long as he could remember, but he’d told no one. He didn’t want anyone to know, for surely it was his fault. It always seemed to happen after a surge of anger or a moment of disappointment. Perhaps it was merely how he experienced guilt. Whatever it was, it followed him, and he didn’t like it.

“Smells good,” Ben said, leaning in towards the table, inspecting the roasted phimfish. Not cooked by Leia, he knew. Domesticity was not his mother’s great passion in life, nor his father’s. This was the work of DP9, server droid extraordinaire. “Is dad coming?” he asked as he looked over at Han’s empty dining chair. He hoped it was a casual look. He didn’t want Leia thinking she wasn’t enough for him. But the truth was, there were just certain things he preferred to talk to Han about.

Such as his growing desire to learn how to fly. He’d been at his father about it for months and always the reply was something along the lines of, “We’ll see, kid,” or “soon,” or “how about after this mission...or that?”

“I hope so, but I’m not sure. He’s very busy, you know,” Leia said.

“Yes, I know,” said Ben. Very busy. Very important. He’d heard as much every day of his life.

“Oh good, you’re alive!” Han’s voice. As if Ben’s hopes could make things manifest, his father strolled in, looking ragged. Was that dirt or grease on his face? Probably both. “I heard you and Chewie all the way down by Sy’s Bar. I warned you not to let your mother find out about that. Looks like she let you off easy.”

“This time,” said Leia. Han kissed her cheek and she accepted, though wasn’t shy about wiping the residue from her face. “You’re not going to wash before dinner? What kind of example are you setting?”

“Example? Ben’s not going to follow anything I do. That’s a terrible idea! If we’re lucky he’ll learn everything from you.” Leia rolled her eyes. Chewbacca and Ben shared a look and both burst out laughing.

“What’s so funny?” asked Han. Ben shrugged and promptly dug into his buttered caro beans. The rest of the meal passed pleasantly enough, but Ben was itching to ask the dreaded question again. He just wasn't ready to be shot down and definitely not in front of Chewie. He did notice that his parents were sharing significant looks across the table between bites of food. His sense of his mother’s mind prickled slightly, but he couldn’t see what was there. Was she hiding something on purpose? He looked from one to the other with curiosity, but could discern nothing from either face.

“I’ll clear up,” he said, shoving away from the table harder than he meant to. “No, I got it, Dee-Nine.” Ben gathered up the plates and bowls, making a show of it. I would be using my Force powers for this if someone would let me, he thought.

“You know I don’t like that, Ben,” Leia said aloud.

“Gah! Why are you in my head?” he asked.

“Your head? It’s written all over your face,” she replied.

“Is something bothering you, kid?” Han asked, leaning in, elbows on the table. Ben thought he looked suspiciously like he did during a card game: sneaky. Before he could protest, the server droid removed the dishes from Ben’s arms and fluttered away to the kitchen. Ben wiped his hands together and suddenly found the floor very interesting.

“No,” he said. “What could be bothering me?”

“Well, we don’t know if you don’t tell us, do we, kid?” asked Han. Chewie grumbled. Ben sighed.

“It’s just that I’d hoped...I thought...”

“Hey!” Ben looked up fast enough to catch what his father had thrown to him. The golden dice from inside Han’s ship, the Millennium Falcon. “Tomorrow morning, after breakfast, we’ll get out of the city, find some nice quiet field of balmgrass...” Ben gazed at his father in amazement.

“What, you thought I didn’t know you were dying to fly?”

“Can we leave Chandrila?! Can I try hyperspeed?” asked Ben. Han held up his hand.

“Now don’t get carried away. We gotta see how you do, first. She takes time to get used to...” Ben jumped at his father, hugging him tightly. “Thanks, dad. I promise I’m ready!”

“Oh, I’m not worried about you being ready. I’m worried about me. It’s no small thing, ya know.” Chewbacca stood and grabbed Ben into a hug, already growling instructions as to how to properly operate the Falcon.

“Okay, okay...” said Ben. “You knew about this?” he asked, looking at Leia. “That’s why you were acting so strange?”

“I wasn’t acting strange. ”

“You were acting kinda strange,” said Han. She play punched him in the shoulder. He and Ben both laughed.

****

The next morning, Ben and Han did not leave Chandrila flying the Millennium Falcon. They did not leave Hanna City for the grasslands. There would be no flying. Only storms.

“You’ve flown in storms!” said Ben.

“It’s your first lesson!”

“Exactly. If I can handle this weather, I can handle anything.”

“It’s not so easy as all that.”

“You make it look easy.”

“Yeah, well it’s not. I’m an experienced pilot, Ben. It’s not safe out there.” Han gestured to the window and lightning cracked as if on cue. Ben tried to get ahold of his anger. If he didn’t he might have an accidental burst of Force power, or the dark presence would come. He wasn’t angry at Han, not really, but at the situation. At the stupid Chandrila weather. It hardly ever produced storms like this. Chandrila was a mild planet, usually all soft winds, gentle rains, and glorious sunshine. How could the stars align to bring about such an anomaly on the day of his first flying lesson?

“Look, I know it’s disappointing, I do,” Han continued.

“We’ll go out next week. I know how much this means to you, because it means something to me too.” Han stepped closer to Ben, but slowly. He knew what his son was capable of and what sometimes happened when he was experiencing excess emotion. Ben hated it, that people tiptoed around him, like he was an egg about to crack, but he understood. He didn’t yet have control over his abilities. He was no Jedi, just an untamed force of energy. He wondered if his Uncle Luke had ever been like that, but then he’d always had a teacher to show him the way.

“We could do a dry run,” said Han, placing a hand on Ben’s shoulder. “In the hangar, like a...simulation. I’ll show you the controls, get you used to the feel of it. We’ll have lunch at the tavern. You can try an ale-just a small one-and you can’t tell your mom.”

“I wouldn’t,” Ben said, a smile spreading across his face.

“Not...accidentally, either,” said Han. Ben shook his head, fervently. Maybe he didn’t know how to keep the darkness out, but he was usually able to block out Leia if he needed to. “So, I guess we’ve got a deal.”

“Deal,” said Ben.

****

They tore through the pounding rain, woefully underdressed for it. Ben had been too excited to grab a proper cloak or coat and Han had followed quickly behind. The hangar stood close to the Silver Sea, close enough to see the waves tumbling thunderously. As they approached, Ben admired the waves as they crashed against the cliffs, more harrowing than he’d ever seen.

He’d always liked the soothing sound of them that he could just make out from his bedroom. His windows too provided an excellent view of the typically calm waters. Tonight the foamy crests mirrored exactly how Ben felt inside. He paused, taking in the sea salt smell, letting his father take the charge in opening the hangar. The ribbed metal door groaned as Han pulled the rusty chain.

“Come on, kid!” Han shouted as the opening grew high enough for them to enter. Both Han and Ben, who was nearly as tall as his father had to crouch to get through. Ben nearly gasped at the inside. He’d been here before, but only when it was bustling with pilots, crew members, and technicians. Now it was empty, silent, impressive.

“Helloo...oh...oh..oh!” He couldn’t help himself. “It’s me, Ben Solo...oh...oh..oh.” Ben gazed around hungrily at all the different ships. Some small, smooth, sleek. Others clunky and bulky, but every one beautiful in its own right. He glanced at Han who looked on him with such affection that it hurt. Ben returned the look, but found it nearly too much to bare. He ran off in the direction of the Falcon, dripping water on the floor, carelessly. Han, hastened to chase after his son. Ben froze as he approached the ship. This one was somewhere between sleek and clunky. Just like his family. Just like him. Ben loved this ship. He turned back to Han who’d stopped several feet behind.

He nodded, giving a “go on, gesture.” Ben ascended the ramp with reverence, knots forming in his stomach. But he was being ridiculous. He’d ridden in the Millennium Falcon many times, had walked this ramp, entered the door codes. Now he was all pomp and circumstance, as if everything was new. Still, he didn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed. He felt alive. He approached the door with care and fought the urge to turn back to his father for approval as her entered the codes.

The door of the Falcon hissed, steaming at the bottom corners and Ben entered with reverence, moving slowly through the corridors. He felt his father’s presence at his back and knew it took a lot for Han not to say anything. For that, Ben was grateful. He clearly understood what this meant and let Ben have his moment. He entered the cockpit, stopping for a moment to pull the dice out of his pocket. Ben threw them back in their usual spot and slid seamlessly into the pilot’s seat. Han slipped in next to him in Chewie’s usual place.

“Let’s see what you already know just from observation,” said Han. But Ben was already flipping switches, clicking the buttons, firing up the engines. He basked in the gentle hum as the ship came to life. He stood and reached across his father’s head to activate the shields, just as he’d seen Chewbacca do.

“That’s it...careful now, pull that lever and we’ll be through the roof.” Ben placed his hands on the steering mechanism, leaning left, then right, imagining what the maneuvers would feel like, as the chair moved with his weight. He adjusted the seat and leaned back in satisfaction. He looked at his father and smiled.

“Not bad. Now, you just need to...” Ben took a deep breath, a new feeling of resolve washed over him and before he knew what he was doing, he pulled up on the lever. The Falcon rose off the ground.

“Hey, what do you think you’re doing! Ben!” Han moved to override his son’s control, but he was thrust back in the chair with a thunk. Ben was holding him in place, but seemed barely aware of it. All else was in his periphery. He concentrated solely on the hangar door, the one that overlooked the Silver Sea. The ship groaned as it pulled above the other parked vessels. Han shouted in Ben’s ear, but he dismissed it. As the door lifted, Ben pulled the ship faster towards the growing opening, still careful not to clip some of the larger spacecrafts.

He pushed through, exiting the hangar directly into a torrent of sea spray. He grunted, but kept control, moving the ship up and out of reach of the waves. Rain pounded against the ship and it was so dark Ben couldn’t tell where the lines of sky and sea met. Clearly he hadn’t thought this through, but it was too late to turn back. A crack of lighting jolted through the air, lighting his way for a brief moment, but it caused him to break focus. The ship jolted to the left and Ben’s stomach dropped as he moved with it, all too quickly. Han nearly fell on him.

“Throttle, the throttle!” Han yelled as they skidded against the sea. They jumped like a skipping rock, hitting the water at multiple points, so hard it felt as though they were landing against a solid rock. Ben collected himself. His heart was in his throat, his stomach somewhere back in the hangar, but The Force was with him. He grabbed the lever and pushed hard.

They jerked forward, but also, up. Ben gained control of steering in the knick of time. A wave threatened to take them under just as he righted the angle and the ship accelerated upward.

“Woohooo!” shouted Ben. It escaped him without warning. He chanced a look at his father, the guilt sweeping in just as they swept through the sky. But Han was...smiling? Ben let out a small laugh. The thunder rumbled above, the sea swelled below. Han flipped a switch and suddenly the rain seemed to fall away from the windows like curtains being pulled. Ben’s visibility increased ten fold. He was struck with gratitude for his father’s discretion.

“Now plot your course,” said Han, pointing to the knobs and buttons that controlled the navigation system.“That’s it...not that one! Okay, good. Now what?” “Scanners!” Ben answered, enacting the radar. Han nodded. Though he no longer looked it, Ben knew his father was likely still angry with him. But Ben thought he detected something like pride mixed in too. He could take the heat when they got home.

Right now, it was all worth it. He slowed their speed and they cruised up over the top of the city. The humble skyline appeared more impressive now that they were above it. Old buildings he thought of as rusty or crumbled actually looked quite beautiful up close, not despite their level of disrepair but because of it.

Now that he’d gotten a handle on himself, it was easier to handle the ship. It felt natural, like he’d been doing it for years. He’d certainly taken a gamble, but he surprised even himself, truth be told. It could have been a whole hell of a lot worse, yet it was better than he could have imagined. Sunlight broke through the clouds reminding him that it was still daytime. In the distance small rainbows started to appear. The storm dissembled into a gentle rainfall now, the thunderclouds rolling away towards the sea behind them.

Landing wouldn’t be so easy, he knew. He also knew he had a limited amount of time left without his father yelling at him, and with each passing moment, the length of his punishment would likely increase. They flew in silence, Ben not knowing what to say. He wouldn't say, “Sorry,” he wasn’t. He knew Han wouldn’t accept, “I don’t know what came over me,” as a viable excuse, true as it may be.

As awkward as it was for them not to speak, it was probably best to be ginger and deferential. He’d only plotted a short course. A loop around the city proper and back again. It was about all he could see himself getting away with. He brought the speed up gradually, soaring up above the breaking clouds. The view was stunning. The solar flare panned out over the sky, the light nearly blinding Ben.

A sharp contrast to the dark storm of before. Some clouds were thin and wispy, others fluffy and solid-looking, like the mountain peaks Leia described when she talked of her beloved, now nonexistent, homeworld, Alderaan. The gray clouds stood further off, little sparks of lightning still rolling through.

Ben got so distracted admiring the shapes of the clouds and enjoying the sunlight that he had to maneuver a sharp turn to pull back around at the edge of the city. He cringed in embarrassment, but Han said nothing. Why he expected himself to be a perfect pilot on his first run was beyond him, but it was there, nagging him. Now that he’d gotten the knack of it, he wouldn’t settle for less. He passed over the museum, the Academy, and over the city square, moving towards the sea, the hangar, and home.

The door to the hangar still stood open, the place now buzzing with people, likely eager to get out now that the weather had cleared. Ben felt Han’s eyes on him. He slowed the ship steadily.

“Good, good,” Han said. Ben was keenly aware that other people now were watching and surely some noticed that the Millennium Falcon glided in a little less smoothly than usual.

Ben lowered the shields and activated the breaks as they moved towards the landing strip. It descended with a few bumps and jerks, more than Ben wanted, but less than he expected. As for setting her down, he did so gently, with more preciseness than even his father did on a good day.

His little excursion had ended and as he powered down the ship he braced himself for the inevitable. Han rose from his seat, eyes narrow, assessing his son. All the excitement and adrenaline left Ben’s body in a rush and he felt depleted, unable to move. He felt his father’s hand on his shoulder. He closed his eyes, as though that would make what was about to come more bearable.

“That was fantastic!” Han shouted, grabbing Ben up out of the chair and embracing him fully. He pulled back, hands still square on Ben’s shoulders. He shook his head from side to side in disbelief. “Of course, you could have gotten us killed, almost did, and I’m mad as hell, but that can wait. This calls for a celebration.” They exited down the gangway, arms around each other. The steam rose around them off the ship, hissing.

“Ben? Were you...you’re piloting now, eh?” Faylen Caitz, owner of the sleek sky hopper, Marshal, clopped over to them, his large webbed feet leaving tracks of slime on the hangar floor. He was slovenly, but jovial. He clapped Ben on the back with a hard hand. “I’d recognize the signs of a first flight, anywhere. Your smile’s bright enough to make a bracken fall in love with you.” Ben grimaced in disgust. “Hahaha, not that you’d want that, young Solo, no. How’d he do?”

“Not bad,” said Han. “The kid’s pretty good. “

“Well, we know where he gets it.”

“Yeah, well, what can I say.”

“You? I was talking about Skywalker,” Faylen said. Ben laughed. “Joking of course...must be from both sides. That’s good luck.” He beamed at Ben, who for the first time didn’t mind being compared to his uncle or his father. Faylen Caitz was right. When it came to family, maybe Ben did have good luck.

****

As promised, they had lunch in the tavern. Ben wasn’t even sure if the place had a name; there was no sign above the door. It was a hole in the wall establishment that was literally a hole in the wall. To even use the word “door,” was generous. The anteroom was hopping with various species, possibly even some creatures (pets, perhaps) and of course droids. The smell was somewhere between sour and sweet, and various smokes from various pipes filled the room, a hazy canopy of different colors floating above their heads. People greeted his father with differing degrees of reaction, ranging from disdain to admiration to...lust? Ugh. Ben winced.

Han brushed it all off until reaching the main hall. This seemed to be the place where Han’s people were. Ben recognized a few of the faces. A fellow smuggler here, a gambling buddy there. These were the faces of people who kept his father occupied, who sometimes exasperated his mother. He felt a pang of jealousy and distaste in the pit of his stomach. That Han should choose this life instead of a keeping a nobler profession was often a point of contention between him and Leia. She never seemed to mind until she did.

Ben heard the talk, as well. People who wondered why the royal, accomplished, intelligent daughter of Bail and Breha Organa would involve herself with such a man, so beneath her station. This talk hurt Ben because the people who asked that question knew nothing of his father or his heart, and also because sometimes Ben wondered the same thing. And she had a son with the smuggler, so what was she to do?

Poor Princess Leia, poor child, that man couldn’t possibly be faithful, not with his looks or his swagger, and surely he was gone so much, he couldn’t care for a child. Ben knew what they said when they thought he couldn’t hear, or when they didn’t recognize him. And on the other side were those who didn’t see how the dashing Han Solo could tie himself to the serious, icy, Senator Organa.

Those people didn’t see her warmth or understand the reasons for her seriousness. And he had a son with the ice queen, what was he to do? Poor Han, poor child, she couldn’t possibly hold his interest or love the boy as a mother should. And again it hurt because Ben knew how much she loved him, yet still sometimes wondered if his existence got in the way of her grand plans for the galaxy.

“Han!” A boisterous voice broke Ben’s reverie and the smile on his father’s face reminded him that he had just completed his first go at flying and that it had been a triumph. Coming here was meant for celebration, not rumination. A large man in colorful robes walked towards them, grinning from ear to ear.

“Who’s this handsome strapper? Why it can’t be young Ben?

No. Ben Solo is what, twelve years old...?”

“Fifteen,” said Ben.

“Fifteen...Hahaha! Han, my boy, they keep getting older and so do we.”

“Isn’t that right.”

“Well, Ben, you’re nearly a man, ain’t ya? When I was fifteen I owned not one, but two drinking establishments in the Outer Rim, neither as glamorous as this one here, mind you, but it put me on the map.”

“This is Kenner J’unger,” said Han. “When he’s not too busy running this joint, I let him join my crew.”

“Pleasure to meet you Mr. J’unger,” said Ben, extending a hand.

“A Pleasure to....hahaha, well, I’ll be? A Solo with manners. This one’s polite. He doesn’t get that from you.”

“No,” Han agreed. Embarrassment threatened to eat Ben alive. He hoped his face wasn’t turning too red.

“We don’t stand on ceremony here, Ben Solo. Look around you.” Ben did. He supposed he was acting a bit formal for the place, but it irked him to have it received so. How else were you meant to behave when you met someone new?

“Perhaps an ale would you lighten you up,” said Kenner.

“Now we’re talking,” answered Ben, flashing a smile in his best impression of his father.

“I like you, young Solo. I bet some of the girls do too, and the boys for that matter...you should come in here more often, you’d turn a few heads...”

“Alright, alright,” said Han, sensing his son’s growing discomfort. “How about that ale? The good stuff-that Corellian red. Two big ones.” He winked at Ben. “You deserve it.” They pushed through the crowd to an empty corner table, Han nodding and waving to those he knew. Ben did notice a few people staring at him and he tried not to mind. One of them was a pretty girl who looked about his age. Not one he recognized.

Sometimes he wished he was relaxed enough to enjoy that sort of thing. In that way he supposed he was nothing like his father. Ben plopped down at the table, hoping Kenner didn’t send some attractive bar maid over with their drinks just to mortify him further.

As luck would have it, the bearer of the two frothy mugs of ale was an alien with a toad like head who moved along on squishy tentacles. Ben knew that somewhere, someone in the galaxy would be into that sort of thing, but it wasn’t him. Maybe his father’s friend was done taunting him, for now.

“Cheers,” said Han raising his cold mug. Ben followed suit.

“To Ben Solo! Really, the gall of him thinking he could trick his father into letting him take his first flying lesson out in the nastiest storm Chandrila’s seen this side of a decade...and being right.” Ben nearly soured, but still the look on Han’s face was nothing but admiration. He merely rolled his eyes as they clinked glasses, then took a deep sip of the creamy red ale.

“I’ll drink to being right,” said Ben, slamming the mug down with satisfaction.

“Don’t get used to it, kid,” Han said.

Ben wiped the foam from his face, letting the taste of the drink wash over him. His first ale. It tasted toasty and burnt, but also sweet. At the end it turned bitter, but in a pleasant way. Leia wouldn’t like it, him drinking, even though she’d had her fair share of wine as a teenage diplomat. It would be his secret with Han and he liked that. It had been so long since they’d had a secret to share.

Kenner and the toady tentacled fellow soon brought out bowls of steaming grains with seared meats and gravies. There were spicy root beets and harleeks in butter with brown, crusty bread. It all looked decadent and tasted delicious, but the plates and bowls showed their signs of age and use. Ben knew a dive when he saw one. It was best not to think too long about where this food came from or how it was prepared.

As the ale in his cup diminished, Ben in fact did begin to relax. Today was a good day. He allowed himself to take that in. He’d flown for the first time. The Millennium Falcon. With his father. Now they were drinking in a tavern together and carrying on like old friends, Han sharing some annoyances about Threepio and Senate duties he wished he hadn’t signed up for.

Whereas most people would want Han Solo to regale them with tales of his smuggling glory days or his battles against the Empire alongside Luke Skywalker, it was the insight into his father’s daily experiences that Ben wanted to hear most of all. Wasn’t this exactly what he longed for? What he felt he was missing out on every time Han left on a run in some far reaching system for months at a time?

“Another round for my son and me,” said Han as the toad man slipped by.

“Dad...are you sure?” asked Ben.

“No. But when have I ever let that stop me?”

****

They walked home in no rush, enjoying the salty air by the sea and admiring the colors of the sun reflected in the water. Ben felt as though someone had sanded his edges. It was pleasant. He couldn’t wait to tell Chewie all about his derring-do in the Falcon. The Wookiee was unlikely to be impressed but very likely to pretend to be. He’d tell his friends soon enough and their reactions would probably be the inverse of that.

As they approached home, Han stopped Ben in his tracks.

“Now. As fun as that was for both of us, you know what has to happen.” Ben nodded. “We have to talk punishment. And it’s not a negotiation, so don’t even try.” Han pointed his finger in Ben’s face, but still maintained his wry smile. Ben shrugged as if to say, ‘who me?’

“I accept your terms,” said Ben, folding his arms across his chest. Han stood back, looking off in the distance, as though trying to think of something truly painful.

“No flying for a month,” he said. Despite their agreement, Ben opened his mouth to protest, but Han cut him off. “Unless you think you can give her a proper clean and run a full maintenance check in less time. No help from me, or Chewie. You’ll have to figure out what she needs on your own and take care of it. If you screw up. You fix it. And don’t even think about pulling a stunt like today without me because if you take her out on your own...I’ll know. Understood?”

Ben just nodded smiled.