From the Ashes

Part Two

Irene Heron

Han hadn't even had enough time to reach his assigned cabin before the Blaze of Glory broke orbit and reached for hyperspace. Looked like Captain Marron was just as anxious as he was to put Drualla behind them. He wondered just what kind of orders she'd been given, but didn't care quite enough to make any effort to find out. Just as well she was in a hurry, the whole mess would be over faster that way.

The cabin door slid open at his touch on the control; already programmed to his DNA. Because of his surreptitious departure he had no belongings with him, no excuse not to step over to the large clearsteel porthole and watch Drualla shrink as they pulled away from the planet.

Luke, I'm sorry. I'm gonna miss you. But it's for your own good. You're just stubborn enough to jump right into the sarlaac's mouth after me if you have half a chance, so I won't give you that chance.

So many memories crowded in on him then that he nearly staggered under the weight of them. Luke's blue eyes blazing through the smoky dimness of that fifth-rate cantina where they'd met, challenging Han's notions that men couldn't be beautiful. Luke floating motionless and naked in the Echo Base bacta tank, closer to dead than alive, and the hours he'd spent pacing in the waiting area, unable to think past the fear seizing up in his gut. The way his heart tried to climb up his throat at his first glimpse of Luke after the battle of Endor, at his singed clothes, frizzled hair and the depthless pain in those eyes that spoke of some catastrophic experience on the Death Star. The way his whole body tingled when Luke—bloody, bruised and limping—flung himself into Han's arms with a shout of joy when they caught up with each other three long days after the skirmish that'd brought both ships down.

The rasp of the door buzzer cut into his thoughts, diverting him from the sensation of something essential tearing from his soul.

Probably the captain paying her respects to the sacrificial offering.

He didn't stir from the viewpane, but called his instructions to the computer. "Open." Unlike the aging interior doors on the Falcon, this mechanism was silent. Only the stir of displaced air and sliver of artificial light falling across his arm warned him the door had in fact opened.

"Han?"

Well, hell, he'd been so lost in those memories of Luke that everybody was starting to sound like the kid now. He shook his head to clear his senses, pivoted to greet his visitor... and stopped halfway into the turn.

He wasn't imagining things at all. The figure framed in the doorway was backlit by a subdued glow from the corridor, but he couldn't mistake that lithe, black-clad outline.

"I think you forgot something."

Instinctively Han caught the small bag tossed toward him. "Thanks," he replied, his brain momentarily on auto-pilot, furious with himself for the way his heart battered against his ribs at Luke's unexpected appearance.

He watched as Luke dropped the second bag he'd been holding and stepped away from the door, allowing it to slide noiselessly closed behind him.

"You almost managed it," Luke said softly, accusingly.

"Wasn't for lack of trying," Han countered dismissively, hoping the cracks in his façade of disinterest weren't revealing too much.

"That's for sure." Luke settled his hip against the small desk near the door and smiled thinly, if humorlessly. "Why?"

"Didn't we just have this conversation?" he grumbled, turning his attention to unpacking his bag.

"We started to have this conversation but got interrupted, as I recall," Luke contradicted, gentle affection in his voice despite clear frustration.

He supposed he'd known all along Luke would never let it rest. "Sure do go to extremes just to get the last word, don't ya?"

"I wouldn't have to if you'd stop running away."

Leia'd accused him of the same thing, but he refused to acknowledge the twin indictments. "How'd you get on board anyway?"

"I was in the co-pilot's chair on the shuttle. Figured you'd manage to slip past Tekan, so I had Artoo check on the orders you were issuing. He found all those data trails you were laying for me, and—" Luke shrugged and folded his arms across his chest, daring Han to disagree.

Han felt his lips twitch. So Luke's manipulations hadn't been as clumsy as he'd initially thought. "Very underhanded," he approved. "Shoulda been born Corellian, kid."

"Am I supposed to feel flattered?"

He looked up from stowing his spare changes of clothes in a drawer, embarrassment abruptly surfacing as irritation. Trust Luke to point out the underlying implication. Like deceiving people he cared about was something to be proud of?

For a moment he was back in the noisy, frantic hangar on Yavin IV, bearing up under Luke's accusing scrutiny. They could use a good pilot like you and you're turning your back on them. What the hell was it about Luke anyway? The kid could get to him like nobody else, not even Chewie.

"What is it with you? I went to a lot of trouble to make sure you stayed put."

Luke grinned, a flash of his youthful smart-ass attitude breaking through that Jedi containment. "I know you did. Seemed a shame to put all that hard work aside, too, especially since you so rarely put that much effort into something."

At the gibe Han fought down his answering grin and lobbed whatever he had in his hand directly at Luke's head, and only belatedly realized it was a pair of underwear. "You might've respected my obvious wishes, junior." After all, it wouldn't do to let Luke know he was good medicine for Han's self-pitying mood, would it?

Luke fielded the clothing out of mid-air and tossed it right back at Han. His expression turned sober. "I might've... but it occurred to me that the effort you put into pushing me away might be a measure of just how badly you need me to stay close. Whether you want to admit it or not."

The comment sank like a stone into Han's conscience, weighted as it was with his conflicted expectations, rousing volatile defensive instincts at light speed. Two long strides brought him face to face with Luke. "Don't you go trying to tell me what I really need, kid!"

Luke batted his accusing finger away. "I call them like I see them, Han. If you'd been serious about leaving me behind you wouldn't've taken so long to catch the shuttle. I missed saying goodbye to Chewie because I figured I had to hustle to get to the spaceport before you, and then I ended up waiting nearly an hour."

The mildly voiced observation rang like truth in Han's ears and the rush of adrenaline that'd prompted his anger receded as quickly as it'd flushed through his system, leaving him almost breathless in reaction.

"Nothing to do with you at all," he temporized, casting around quickly for something that didn't sound like a manufactured justification. "You had to know I'd never leave without saying goodbye to Chewie."

Disbelieving speculation stared at him from Luke's eyes, routing every chance of catching his breath anytime soon. But then Luke shifted direction again, and if the kid was deliberately trying to keep him off-balance, he was doing a damned fine job of it, Han decided.

"How is Chewie, by the way?" There was a pause, just long enough to nudge his guilty conscience into hyperdrive. "I heard he went AWOL from the med tent."

"He's doing all right." Yeah, 'n he'd be doing a whole hell of a lot better if I hadn't dragged him here with me and damn near killed him.

"Good. Although I would've liked to hear it from Chewie himself."

This time he welcomed Luke's cool response. It was exactly what he needed to coax the embers of harsh self-judgment into full-blown aggression. C'mon, junior, lock 'n load. Get mad enough to walk away before you end up like Chewie. At the mercy of some crazy madman, bound by some fool notion of loyalty that'll get you killed one of these days.

"So why didn't you?" he flared grumpily, inviting Luke to punish him. "You didn't have to come chasing after me. 'S only your blasted interfering conviction you know what's best for me that made you miss a reunion with Chewie."

He didn't think he'd ever had more trouble summoning self-righteous outrage, but that was all right, because now it was Luke's turn to cross the cabin to come face to face with him, fingers digging into his biceps for emphasis.

And despite Luke's clear anger the touch meant reassurance to Han, a connection that refused to be severed.

"Damn you, Han! If you think that's all this is—"

That wasn't what he thought at all, of course, but damned if he'd undo what came with such effort and offer conciliation. Luke's hands tightened with impossible strength on his arms, enough strength to shatter bones... or his choice to put some distance between them.

Luke's stare was a touch on his skin all by itself, a challenge he felt compelled to answer. He felt it again, that frustrating sensation of being close to the answer to a question he'd not yet thought to ask. He needed to chase that gleam of enlightenment before it had a chance to disappear on him again.

"You tell me, kid. Just what is this?" Holding his breath, waiting for the answer his intuition promised Luke could provide.

"Can't you—?" But something stalled in Luke's eyes, a cautionary impulse edging them back from some unknown precipice, and Luke released him. "You tell me."

Han wasn't sure if he wanted to curse or cry. So close. So godsdamned close. Tension hovered between them like an impermeable storm cloud, frustration brewing on both sides.

He jerked away from Luke's loosened grip, disappointment unraveling the last shreds of his control, and purposely turned around to stare out the porthole. "Spare me the morale boosting speeches, junior. I've had my fill."

Luke's reflection drew back, arms folded across his chest in a gesture that was less denial than... like he was trying to hold something inside. Han's heart cramped in his chest at the sight, but he couldn't allow himself to become distracted. Distracted from what, Solo? From caring about Luke?

"Maybe I wasn't gonna give you one."

"Ri-i-i-ght." He drew out the single syllable just to ensure even idealistic Luke recognized sarcasm when he heard it. "And Hutts fly."

"I could arrange that, if you like."

He supposed he had only himself to blame if Luke tossed sarcasm right back in his face.

"Hey, I'm not the one who invited myself where I wasn't wanted." Wasn't that he wanted to cause any more pain, because gods knew he'd caused enough lately, but he couldn't see a path to getting Luke out of the not-so-friendly-fire zone that didn't involve some damage. Hell, Luke, don't be so damned loyal! You don't hafta appoint yourself sole savior of the galaxy.

"I don't believe that."

So typical of the kid, stubbornly refusing to heed any warning signals. Hellbent on ferreting out even the smallest discrepancies between feeling and deed. Although Han supposed it shouldn't come as any surprise that Luke seemed able to inventory the turmoil in his soul when he couldn't.

"Believe what?" he found himself asking thoughtlessly, and instantly cursed himself silently for taking the bait offered.

"That you don't want me." Luke's voice was entirely calm. Inflectionless, even. Almost like he was afraid to put too much meaning into the words.

Don't want me. Some ill-defined tension took hold in Han's muscles, tightened and coiled like a sand viper ready to strike, all hissing tongue and piercing fangs.

Had Luke really said that? He cut a quick sidelong glance to read Luke's expression, but the Jedi mask was firmly, imperturbably in place. Nothing like the open, eager farmboy of earlier days. When had Luke learned to use words as his weapon of choice?

A phantom heat warmed the hollow behind his breastbone. "What—"'His breath clotted in his throat, making words impossible. "What's that supposed to mean?" he finally managed to whisper past the absurd sense of anticipation grabbing up and down his spine.

Luke's voice was just as hoarse and strangled. "Sometimes—sometimes people turn away, not because they want to be alone, but because they want to see if you'll follow."

Had his hands been shaking like this the day he'd faced Lando across a sabacc table and gambled everything for the ship he wanted the way a man dying of dehydration wants water?

Must've been something wrong with the cabin's environmental controls, because there just wasn't enough oxygen in the room to make a decent lungful.

Evasion, an old friend, reliably rescued his silent distress. "Look, Luke, you're making this into something it's not. I'm just trying to save you'n Chewie some grief, that's all."

In the clearsteel window, a mirror image of Luke hugged himself tighter and spoke to his back, because Han couldn't quite summon the strength to turn and look directly at Luke. Those damned eyes saw too much, stuff that wasn't really there.

"Maybe we don't want to be spared. And since I doubt Captain Marron is gonna turn this ship around even if you ask real politely, there's no point arguing the issue. You have to deal with me, Han. I'm not letting you go."

He didn't have to look at Luke to know exactly the expression the kid was wearing, his chin firm, eyes blazing loyalty and stubborn faith in his ability to shape reality through conviction alone.

Not this time, junior. I won't take you down with me.

Honesty challenged stubborn purpose and lost the toss, and with a mournful sense of triumph, Han surrendered to the instincts that had served him so well in the past.

"You don't wanna be spared, that's fine with me. You want it straight, you'll get it straight. I'm sick of this whole damned mess." He took a deep breath and stumbled over an awkward confession. "I haven't owned my life since the day I met you."

He had to strain to hear Luke's quiet response, laced with regret. "I know."

Still holding tight to programmed purpose he braced himself against Luke's touch on his arm, an unwelcome gesture of clemency.

"You didn't have to stay."

He leveled an accusing finger at Luke's reflection. "Didn't I? 'S all your fault, y'know. I've always had a soft spot for kids who don't seem able to take care of themselves. What was I supposed to do when you kept on getting yourself into impossible jams? Somebody had to get you out. You sure weren't able to do it yourself."

Luke's small laugh sounded more like it had little to do with humor and everything to do with rendering self-judgment. "I'm glad you did. Stay around, that is. And help me out of those jams."

A moment's silence followed, so finely balanced that Han feared a single breath might upset the equilibrium.

"I said lots of things back then, Han, but I'm not sure I ever just said 'thank you'. I wouldn't be here today if not for you. A big part of who and what I am now is because of you. So... thank you."

Wasn't true, not a word of it. Everything Luke had done, he'd done all on his own... but it was just like the kid to assign the credit to others.

Misery damming in his throat faster than he could swallow it away, he shrugged, trying to dismiss Luke's gratitude and knew the attempt was doomed from the start. "Yeah, well, you're taking care of yourself 'n everybody else just fine now. No need for me to hang around anymore."

Resolve wavered again, disarmed by Luke's dogged loyalty, and he had to fight every instinct he owned to draw his purpose back into focus.

"Look, it all boils down to this. I've done my time and now I want my life back. I just don't wanna be responsible for you any more." He gestured vaguely toward the window. "All of you. Not just you, kid, but Leia 'n the New Republic too. I'm tired of trying to live my life according to everybody else's rules 'n not mine. It's time for me to move on."

"Is it?" A shuffling sound made Han turn his head. Luke stepped forward to stand shoulder to shoulder with him. A statement of solidarity he couldn't ignore, even now.

"I don't suppose I can blame you for wanting to do that. We—I—put a lot of pressure on you to stay even though it wasn't in your own best interests. It wasn't right to interfere with your life that way, but—" With that supple economy of movement Han had come to admire, Luke turned his head toward Han and smiled in a way he could only describe as apologetic. "I didn't want you to leave then. And I sure don't want you to go now."

He didn't want to, either. At least not this way. Hadn't wanted things to come down the way they had. Never dreamed it would hurt so damned much to reclaim freedom.

"I'm not sure what I'd do without you," Luke said softly, his gaze as luminous and focused as ever, and for all Han could tell, the kid meant what he said. His pulse thundering in his ears like angry waves breaking against a cliff at high tide, Han balled his hands into fists with the effort not to fall into the bottomless well of Luke's compassion. Don't do this to me.

He wasn't sure if the sounds that managed to crawl past the lump in his throat really resembled words. "You'll be just fine. You don't need me anymore." Now if only he could convince himself that he'd be fine leaving Luke behind.

He remembered blue eyes glimmering in the frosty haze of an ice-bound hangar, a tremulous smile too full of sentiment to summon words. Neither one of them had been able to say goodbye then, either.

Luke shook his head and turned to fix his stare somewhere beyond the clearsteel window. "Maybe it's true I'll be fine if you leave. Eventually. I don't know about that. But I do know you're wrong about me not needing you anymore."

His denial rose instinctively, thoughtlessly. "'S not true, Luke, 'n you know it."

"So now it's your turn to tell me what I really need?" Luke protested softly.

Han couldn't help but let loose a startled chuckle. "Yeah, I guess that's turned into some kind of habit for both of us."

The farmboy who still lived inside that Jedi's body smiled at him, genuine humor transforming the reserved expression. Luke's radiant smile had always been irresistible and Han didn't even bother to fight responding in kind.

"Far as habits go, I don't think it's such a bad one, Han."

Pretty damn good habit, you ask me. He shrugged and adopted as casual a tone as was possible with his throat closed tight against the possibility of carelessly truthful words. "Could be worse, I suppose."

Definitely the right thing to say, because anger flashed across Luke's face and surfaced in his clipped comments. "Could've fooled me. I don't think it gets much worse than this. There's a rift as big and empty as the Dune Sea between us, and it feels just as impossible to cross."

Following up on his resentful advantage, Han fought to maintain his careless attitude. "You're making way too big a deal out of this, kid."

"Am I? I don't know what to make of anything right now. I get the feeling you think this is an all or nothing situation. That you have to make a break and disappear from our lives forever because—"

"Because what?" he finally prompted when Luke refused to finish his sentence. The need to know what Luke thought was a drug-resistant virus running wild in his bloodstream. Unfair, to be sure, when he was so determined to keep his own truths a closely guarded secret, but then again, who'd ever said life was fair?

Luke just shook his head and offered an oblique comment. "I thought you wanted to... belong. Maybe you didn't say it in so many words, but you showed it in every choice you made since—"

"Carbon freeze," he finished flatly, guessing at Luke's reluctance to re-awaken memories of that frozen desolation.

Too late by a couple of years anyway. Something else he lived with day and night.

"I'm sorry. I wish—" Luke's hand on his arm spoke silently of sorrow, of unintentional errors, of Luke's never-ending willingness to accept responsibility where none existed.

Something open and vulnerable and trusting still lived inside Luke. The same thing that'd set him apart from everybody else, right from the start.

A willingness to let himself be hurt, if it helped someone else. Ah, Luke, I'm not worth it. Never deserved your faith in me. Never was worthy of your pain.

"'S all right," he muttered roughly. An awkward pat on Luke's hand would have to signify that he held Luke blameless, because no other words were going to get past the lump in his throat.

"Was I wrong?" Luke's hand tightened on his arm, a grip that refused to be placated. "Belonging doesn't mean you have to stop being you."

"Well, I think it makes me into some kind of exotic pet more than anything."

Luke's hand slipped from his arm and clenched into a fist. "Damn you, Han! All I see is you running away from people who love you. You made a commitment to us—to me—and now you're turning your back again. It's not like you to avoid things."

Call Han Solo a coward, would he? "Maybe you don't know me as well as you think you do." Misdirection had always come instinctively for him, even though the words were toxic in his mouth.

Luke's voice, low and firm and determined. "You're just plain wrong. Do you realize you've called me 'kid' or 'junior' more times in the last couple of days than in the past three years combined?" Luke shoved ragged bangs away from his eyes in a quick, careless gesture. "If you're so sure I don't need you any more, how come you're trying to turn me back into that 'kid' again?"

You can do something like that and still wonder why? "Just habit, jun -- Luke."

Under cover of watching the transition from real-to-hyper space, he studied Luke's reflection. That slender frame had matured at some point in the past few years; no longer a youth's body, but a man's: sculpted, toned and deceptively powerful. The boyish features had matured, too; marked by time and experience, and Han'd been sure he'd come to terms with that long ago...

"I don't think so. Not after two years of not saying it."

"You don't think so? Enlighten me, then. Since you've got all the answers."

"I won—" Luke shook his head and shrugged a shoulder helplessly. With his arms wrapped around himself like he'd never be warm again. "You're the man with the answers, Han."

He couldn't come up with anything more original or convincing than a simple, last ditch refusal. "I already gave you my answer."

Luke's frustrated laugh came out more like a sob. "But that wasn't the answer I wanted to hear."

"Sorry, but it's the only one I've got."

"I can't accept that."

So what had he expected anyway? Wasn't in Luke's nature to roll belly up when confronted with opposition. Hell, Vader 'n Palpatine hadn't had a chance against Luke's unshakable focus, what hope did a smuggler turned luckless general have?

"You'll just have to," he managed to grit out, fighting a wave of empathy for Luke's disappointment.

"I won't. I can't." Luke's unhappy expression probably mirrored his own, but Han couldn't afford the compassion.

"Do I have to keep on asking until I get an answer I like?" Luke asked, in what might've been an attempt to lighten the tension but definitely fell short of that goal.

Han made a rude noise down in his throat and trampled whatever Luke planned on saying next with his own words. "Get used to it, junior. You're wasting all this effort on something you can't change."

"I don't know how to get through to you!" Luke slapped one hand against the clearsteel in obvious frustration. Been one hell of a long time since he'd seen Luke so close to the edge of helplessness. Didn't exactly make him proud to be the one to finally test those limits.

Luke leaned his forehead against the window and drew a deep breath. "I think you're trying to deny that your feelings toward a lot of things—" He stopped, straightened up, chewed on his lower lip in a way Han decoded as hesitation, and started again. "I think your feelings toward a lot of people have changed."

"Already said that. Tell me something I don't know." He couldn't deny the defensive reserve lurking beneath his provocative challenge, and by Luke's appraising, intensive stare it hadn't gone unnoticed, either. He had the feeling the last piece of some puzzle had clicked into place for Luke.

Luke threw out what was clearly intended as a challenge. "How about— you're trying to put things back into a familiar, safer context?"

Safe? A rimworld farmboy with sand between his toes was accusing him of wanting to be safe?

Incandescent anger flared low in his belly, furious warmth working its way upward until it loosened his tongue into customary mutiny. "Well, hell, I guess it's true what they say about Jedi insight then. At least you got the familiar part right. 'N it only took you…" he made a show of consulting his chrono, "five hours by my reckoning, to hear what I've been saying."

And Luke watched him carefully, assessing his reaction like he'd won some kind of private argument with himself. He was gonna wipe that expression off the kid's face if he had to kiss it off—

Kiss It Off

Kiss

Luke

—heart pounding so damn loud Luke could surely hear it. Loud enough to drown out his lame, confused excuse. Playing for time, trying to think through the rising shock squeezing his chest. "You always did have the dumbest delusions about me."

He'd given away too much, because Luke laid one hand on his chest. Over his heart, and wearing a jubilant, victorious expression like a prospector who'd just struck a vein of pure, raw platanium and claimed the find all for himself. "Then explain what all this is about. Tell me why you're running away."

Damn, but the fractional note of exasperation in Luke's voice stung like a vapor wasp's bite, unexpectedly reminding him of the prideful grief in his mother's eyes when she'd finally acknowledged the impossibility of shielding her strong-willed son from a painful future. Falling in love should be easy, Han, but you'll make it so hard. When it's the right person, you'll find yourself wanting to surrender independence, and that's something you'll fight every step of the way.

"Must be your imagination," was all he could come up with, a wild thrill riding piggybacked on every cell in his body, purpose emerging from touch.

Luke ignored his inflammatory remark, kept on speaking quietly, but with plenty of vehemence registering just under the surface of calm assurance. "Is that 'kid' safe? Safer than me?"

Gods, yes! But he didn't dare say it out loud, because he'd already revealed too much. Luke was reading his soul just by the rhythm of his pulse.

Nanoseconds away from answering 'no', he met Luke's direct gaze. Open, vulnerable, an aching hope in the blue eyes that sent a message straight to his heart, ignoring his brain.

"Yes."

Luke.

He wasn't at all surprised when Luke's mouth closed over his, demanding proof of that single word, and his surrender to the kiss surprised him even less. Like it was the most natural thing in the universe.

Because it was.

Giving himself over to the razor's edge of bliss, the unexpected surge of need passing between them, opening himself to the gentle demands of Luke's lips and tongue. He shifted, leaned to accommodate Luke's deeper, searching angle, gave in to the impulse he'd been fighting all morning and tangled his hands into Luke's hair. Yanked them even closer. Eager to lose himself in Luke.

And then he wrenched free because his knees just flat gave out under him and he sat down, hard, on the edge of the bed, head threatening to spin with all kinds of fantasies he would've laughed at and dismissed as juvenile an hour ago.

In that short span of time his entire perspective had cartwheeled, because this was Luke. And suddenly he knew the answer to his questions. The answer Luke had been trying to provoke from him all day.

Luke sat down beside him and slid his free hand over his own stiff fingers digging into a thigh. Nothing unusual about the gesture, except for the unsettling tension grabbing in Han's groin.

"Tell me what you're feeling right now."

Impossible to resist that command, but what he blurted out thoughtlessly wasn't anything close to what he'd expected to say.

"It's over between me 'n Leia." The instant the unanticipated confession left his mouth, Han's sense of liberation damned near made him weightless.

Luke was so still he might've been carved from sandstone. Wasn't even breathing, far as Han could tell when he looked to gauge the impact of his declaration. Still as a statue, except for those amazing eyes and a suddenly trembling hand pressed against Han's thigh.

"I thought maybe—" Luke's voice caught on a fragment of emotion and came to a grinding halt. "This is what you've kept bottled up all these months? Why didn't you tell me before?"

He stumbled over his response, still caught up in the tug-of-war between impulses: flight toward freedom or familiar longings he could only now put name to.

"Same reason Leia didn't, maybe?" he fired back, reverting to reliable banter to establish irreproachable distance again.

This didn't change what he had to do. Only made it harder.

"You didn't want to... disappoint me? Is that it? Did you think you were letting me down? Is that why you kept pushing me away?"

Hell yes he'd let Luke down, let Leia down, Chewie, this insane farce of a new republic they were trying to create out of sheer determination and idealistic faith, every soul under his command, and Drualla. And while he was cataloging all his mistakes he figured he could tack a few more betrayals to the end of an endless list. Like falling in love. With Luke. And not with Leia like he was supposed to.

"You don't love Leia?"

There was a tremor in Luke's voice he'd never heard before, but he couldn't think about that right now. He tacked his attention to the question before him, and surprised himself again by what came out of his mouth.

"Yeah, I guess I do."

Luke's hand tightened on his own, hard enough to hurt, and in one corner of Han's mind he made a mental note that Luke mustn't have liked that admission.

Now it was his turn to gather Luke's fingers up in his own tight fist and search for quiet, convincing words to cushion his awful honesty. "But not the way we—I—thought it would be. Don't think I knew until now that Leia 'n me are better as friends than lovers. I dunno..."

"What?" Luke barely breathed the question.

"You got a way of making me see things more clearly just by being here."

"I'm glad. Is there..." Luke's voice thickened, turned hoarse. "Is there anything else you're seeing differently now?"

Han dropped his eyes before the challenging stare, looked at Luke's hand still resting against his chest, accurate assessor of his heart's desire. Hasty withdrawal from this revelation suddenly seemed a very desirable course, but his body broke faith with his brain's commands. Luke's gaze followed his downward, and there was no way he could misread the hard bulge in Han's pants.

Breaths were coming hard now because he'd never felt quite so unraveled this way before. Not with Leia, not with anyone. Gods, he needed Luke's mouth against his again, claiming and taking something he hadn't known he wanted to give.

And Luke knew without words what he needed, leaned forward and recaptured Han's mouth, demanding, not asking. Well, he'd never had any trouble following Luke's lead anyway. Yielding to the strength and pressure of Luke's embrace sent scalding arousal through his belly, leaving only scorching confirmation in its wake. Confirmation that this kiss, this man, was what he'd wanted for far too long.

Rational thought told him his solution couldn't be this simple, this easy, but his body had other ideas. What Luke was offering felt like coming home. He wrapped one hand around Luke's neck and the other around his waist, a reckless exhilaration that more than rivaled the way he'd felt on his first flight as captain of his own ship filling the hollow spaces inside him. So charged with the limitless possibilities waiting in his future that nothing seemed impossible.

At least for the moment. And wasn't that what he'd always been good at anyway? Living in the moment? Taking what was offered with both hands?

He felt Luke's smile against his mouth and drew back far enough to gauge the kid's expression. "You laughing at me, junior?"

And had to strangle the impulse to hold up his hand to shield out the radiance of that smile, because the light that was Luke would've trickled through flesh and bone anyway, just like it always did. Taking up lodging somewhere inside his soul, until he didn't know if any part of him belonged wholly to himself any longer.

"Nah." If anything, Luke's smile grew wider, practically glowing with an unconditional joy that set Han's heart battering against his ribs. "I'm just... happy." The smile transmuted into an wicked grin Han could've sworn he'd patented years ago.

Still friends, was what that grin promised him. They could still be friends, even if they became—

Pragmatic concerns coalesced around him like an interdiction field that jolted him out of fevered fantasies and back into reality.

—Lovers.

A reality he didn't remember, if it included that possibility.

"Happy." How to describe what he saw in Luke's face? It couldn't be measured by words, could only be felt. In his heart, his gut.

There was only one way he knew to express that feeling inside him, the energy of a dozen suns about to explode.

Deliberately, he allowed his gaze to drop by slow, lingering degrees, claiming Luke's body with his eyes just as Luke had claimed his soul with a kiss, then he flashed an insolent grin. "Wanna prove how happy you are?"

He pulled his hand away from Luke's neck, to slide leisurely down the same trail his eyes had blazed, a journey of discovery that burned flesh through layers of fabric. Until his hand rested lightly in Luke's lap, covering the engorged heat there. Listened to the erratic breathing that filled the cabin.

He could feel the finely tuned tension in Luke's body, and recognized himself as the source of that tension. Because he was touching him. Unimaginable power in his hands, to move someone so profoundly just by simple touch.

Get a grip, Solo. Only power you got is to ruin his life if you let this go any further.

Crazy to think that admitting he'd fallen in love did anything but complicate matters beyond redemption.

Luke caressed his cheek and Han turned into the gentle touch that prompted warm tingles through his body; closed his eyes to better concentrate on the sensation.

"Stop worrying," Luke admonished softly, in eerie reflection of his thoughts. Anybody but Luke and he would've called it coincidence...

"Don't do that," he muttered distractedly without opening his eyes.

"Don't do what?" The caressing hand stilled, tightened around his jaw and held him firmly in place. "Don't touch you?" Ragged breaths warmed his cheek. "Don't kiss you?"

Brat, he thought, and blindly sought Luke's mouth, his lips grazing across rough stubble before fastening onto his target. Sank his hands back into the silky strands of hair and let Luke's tongue coax his own to come out and play. Hung on tight and refused to break for air until he was lightheaded. Because Luke tasted so right in his mouth, like the rich, smoky smoothness of aged Corellian brandale.

"Luke," he said, just to savor the sound of his name, because suddenly the single syllable, such an ordinary name, had taken on a greater significance. This kind of idiotic obsession had to at least be the stepchild of self-delusion, but if it was, he figured he didn't want to hear the truth.

"I want you," he confessed, and thrilled to Luke's uneven gasps of breath.

"Prove it." Luke's mouth with its teasing, almost mocking words swept in to claim his in another long, thorough kiss that moved beyond forceful into bruising. Strength meeting strength in a way only another male could offer, pressing him back until the mattress came up to meet him and everything went horizontal beyond Luke's face.

"Nicely done."

"Glad you approve." Luke grinned back at him, a shock of tumbled fair hair hanging down over his eyes. Unable to resist the lure of that untidy fringe, Han brushed shaggy bangs away with a gesture meant to be exasperated but ended up feeling strangely tender. Like all the restless impatience had bled out of him and into Luke with their kisses.

"Closer," he cajoled, when Luke knelt over him to slip fingers through the seam in his shirtfront and tug the fasteners apart, focused on his task in a way Han had never seen before. An intensity so acute it sent an apprehensive scrim of frost crackling through his chest.

He'd never been wanted like this before. Hell, he'd never wanted anybody this badly, either. Nice kind of symmetry about it, he supposed. They could crash 'n burn together.

The burn part was definitely true, that was for sure, the heat pooling in unexpected places like wrists and elbows while Luke slowly, teasingly, stripped the shirt from him, like a predator playing with its victim. The crash—well, that would be inevitable. Always was. But they were both strapped in for what promised to be an incredible ride until then.

Luke's hot mouth sliding down his neck distracted him from pointless philosophy, and when teeth grazed a nipple, sharp jabs of high-voltage electricity sizzled down an invisible path directly to his cock. He couldn't silence the escaping moan any more than he could prevent his nipples from tightening or his cock from stiffening.

"Touch me," Luke demanded and Han obeyed, swiftly yanking the black tunic over Luke's head and tossing it aside. He'd seen Luke's naked body dozens of times over the years, sharing close quarters and community showers, but now, in the cabin's dim glow, the difference between that remembered boy and the man kneeling astride him hit home in his gut.

Damn but Luke was gorgeous, all power 'n passion and throttled energy like the Falcon's engines pushed to her tolerance limits. Barely leashed to his command.

He traced the line of breastbone, following the ravine sculpted by nature, lips dropping kisses in the wake of his caressing hand. Searching for the rhythm of desire beating out its own syncopated pattern under the fragile skin. Casually he flicked a peaked nipple with his finger for the sheer pleasure of watching Luke gasp, his head falling back in boneless abandon.

I could get used to this.

He thought he'd lived by the rule 'never give anybody power over you' for too long to abandon it entirely, but—

"I need you, Luke." The admission came pretty easily, considering that only a few hours ago Chewie'd accused him of having an advanced degree in running away.

Their gazes collided, locked on course like programmed torpedoes. "I know."

He supposed Luke couldn't have known how that would conjure up memories of the carbon freeze chamber, of Leia and Vader—Luke's sister, his father... an endless circle that always seemed to bring him back to his starting point. Luke.

"I've always known."

Luke didn't have to say the rest. I love you. And I know you love me. They both knew it now, and it hurt like a sear of ice around his heart that Luke had known for so much longer and kept his silence while Han dallied with his sister.

Apologies would only belittle both of them, though.

Luke smiled at him, and a confident hand cupped the curve of his cheek, pulled them together, forehead to forehead; a callused thumb gently traced the outline of his lips. The position was awkward as hell and he was probably gonna have a crick in his neck later, but the unguarded affection in Luke's eyes and touch was worth any amount of minor aches and pains. "It's all right, Han. We've got all the time we want now, to figure things out."

"Don't need no time," he grumbled, clapping his hand on the back of Luke's neck and moving in to lick his way into Luke's mouth and tangle their tongues together for a fraction of the eternity he wished for. Until Luke disconnected and levered himself away. Han found he couldn't tear his gaze away from the sight of sculpted muscles highlighted into clear definition; elegance and efficiency in a single compact package.

Luke's grin bespoke mischief. "That's good, 'cause I don't think I can wait any longer." He ducked his head and Han jerked when he felt nibbles to the skin around his navel.

"Hey!" But it was only a distraction, because Luke was opening his pants and tugging them down. He braced his weight against his shoulders and lifted his hips to help, but his muscles didn't want to obey his commands. He'd seen it before, the way previous bedmates had submitted to his own lead, a surging desire to be owned, even if just for the moment, making them go limp and passive, but he'd never dreamed the same thing might happen to him.

The strange thing about it was that the urge wasn't frightening at all. And that was something he'd have to think about later. But some moments called for action instead of thought and this was definitely one of those instances.

When his last boot hit the floor he was ready, enough energy gathered under his skin to clasp Luke tightly and haul him into close embrace. The heavy belt dug into his stomach but the discomfort was minimal compared to the sensation of erect nipples against his chest and soft hair tickling his cheek.

He stroked down Luke's back in a long, exploratory caress and Luke stretched and arched under his touch, accompanied by a soft murmur of undiluted contentment. Han slid both hands under his belt, searching for uncharted skin. "What're you doing, still wearing this?"

Luke lifted his head and searched his face with unfocused, hazy eyes that said better than any words he felt it too, this confused fracturing of identity, the same need to merge that was streaming through Han's veins.

Whaddaya see in me, huh?

Luke swallowed hard and the voice that emerged from his throat was thick as smoke in a cantina. "Let go of me 'n I'll do something about that."

Instead, Han tightened his arms, because he discovered he couldn't bear the idea of separation. "Yeah. In a minute."

Luke draped one leg over both of his and locked their hips together with unrelenting pressure, in strange contrast to the feathery touch gliding across the ridges and valleys of his ribs and teasing his nipples into almost painful rigidity.

"Luke!" he implored, rational thought skittering through urgent desire like so many leaves caught up in a whirlwind. So this was how it felt to be in love, a sweet, ecstatic communion of body and soul.

And there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it even if he wanted, because none of this had anything to do with conscious choice. Nobody'd ever made him feel the way Luke did.

Luke uncoupled their legs and in one swift, unexpected movement that made Han's cock jerk, settled his hand over his groin. "This what you want?" Luke's roughened voice whispered in his ear.

A fist closed hard around his erection and Han arched off the bed in response.

"Yeah, I thought so."

Luke handled him with an aggressive confidence that signaled long familiarity with the exact variety of rhythm and intensity needed. So easy to fall into the synchronized unity of strength and experience that rose and fell with each perfectly timed stroke and brought him to the very brink of orgasm.

Above the aching, twisting tension in his balls, beyond the sound of his own pulse in his ears and breath wheezing in his lungs, he couldn't forget this was Luke, breathing with him, guiding him, loving him, somehow knowing instinctively how and when and where to touch him.

Luke removed his hand abruptly, and Han hissed in frustration, opened eyes he hadn't known he'd closed and blinked to bring Luke's face into focus.

"What?" If his expression was as dazed and luminous as Luke's...

"I—" Luke just shook his head, breathing hard. "If you could see yourself now."

Whatever Luke saw in him, it couldn't be half as amazing as what Han saw from his side. Unconditional acceptance of all his faults and weaknesses.

"Luke, you..." But language was inadequate and all he could do was cradle Luke's head between his hands and hope the kid could read in his face what he felt. "So beautiful," he said, lamely.

"Yes," Luke agreed, his voice unsteady, his smile loose and soft and vulnerable. "You are."

And before he could argue that judgment, Luke ducked his head to jot a flurry of kisses down neck and chest and stomach, each kiss leaving a lingering charge on his flesh. Luke's uneven breath gusted against his cock, made it leap with expectation.

"You don't have—" he tried to say, but Luke anticipated his protest and silenced him with yet another kiss, this one to the very crown of his erection. Sweet goddess, it wasn't gonna take anything more than a few seconds of Luke hungrily licking drops of moisture like that, and he would come.

"I want to." Then moist warmth enclosed him, swallowing him inch by inch, and he cried out wordlessly, oblivious to everything but this sensation and the knowledge that it was Luke giving him pleasure. Teeth scraped roughly but he was already past the point of no return, unable to hold on to this gift for more than a moment.

Galaxies pinwheeled behind his eyelids, a dizzying array of color, light and movement as the pressure in his balls increased toward the release point. Luke grabbed hard around his hips when they lifted, held him steady against the eruption, took Han's cock deeper into his mouth, and together they rode out his climax and all the aftershocks.

Luke caught his fall, just as he'd known he would, but it was over too fast, too soon. Wasn't enough. He still ached with wanting.

But before he could define what else he wanted, there was something else, something nagging at his mind.

"C'mere." He tugged Luke upward, grinned at the sight of his flushed, glowing face. So damned beautiful. "Proud of yourself?" he teased, trying to hold the sentiment back before he made a fool of himself.

"Don't I have reason?" Luke's smug grin more than matched his own.

All he could do was nod in agreement, but his eyes must've shown some inappropriate reserve, because the smile faded quickly.

"What is it?"

Han laid two fingers over the pulse beating hard and fast in Luke's throat, a gauge of sudden alarm. He cleared his throat, wondered how to make this sound unlike accusation. Or irrational jealousy.

"You ever—" Shit, there was no way to make this anything less than what it was. "What we just..." Ridiculous of him to expect something he couldn't offer in return. But he did. And he couldn't ask anyway. "Forget it. Nothing important."

Luke made a gesture of incomprehension. "Just say it, Han. You can say anything to me."

But he couldn't say it and when the silence stretched on for too long, Luke understood.

"Does it matter?"

It shouldn't. But somehow, it did. Madness, Han knew, to wish desperately that no other man had ever received the kinds of kisses and caresses Luke had given him.

"No," he lied, and the way Luke's expression shifted told him he'd lied badly.

"It's all right." A gentle hand traced the little scar on his chin with unwavering tenderness. "I understand. I.... sometimes I was so jealous of Leia I'd have to pack up and leave for a while. Couldn't stand to see you together, the way she took her... possession of your heart for granted."

Whenever Han thought of his time with her, even the warm memories would carry a tinge of regret with them, because Luke had suffered. But he still couldn't apologize for something he'd not known about at the time.

"I didn't know," was all he could offer in his own defense. Had never even occurred to him. How long had Luke carried that pain?

An odd sort of rueful acceptance settled over Luke's features. "I wanted you to be happy, and it seemed like being with Leia was what made you happy. I knew I could live with that, even if sometimes it hurt. Until the last few months, I thought..." He shrugged and smiled. "None of that matters anymore, Han, because you're here now. We know how we feel and that's what counts. Anything else, we'll just take as it comes."

A chill settled hard and immovable in his gut when he thought of what Luke had endured on his behalf. His selflessness, the way he constantly reshuffled his own needs to the bottom of the deck. He didn't deserve Luke.

But had his misguided blindness sent Luke into other arms for temporary comfort? Was that why Luke hadn't answered his question? Not because it was an invasion of privacy, but because he was protecting Han against a harsh truth, that it was all his fault? That would be like Luke.

Nothing made sense anymore, least of all the storm of confused feelings chewing its way through his gut. Perhaps he should add possessive to his increasingly unbalanced ledger of faults.

Luke's gaze clouded over. "Stop that."

"Stop what?"

"Blaming yourself."

Hells, he was doing it again. Reading Han's thoughts like they were scrolling out in script across his forehead and maybe he was cheating just a little, because Han knew damn good 'n well he wouldn't've survived a week in some of the rough company he'd kept if he hadn't learned to guard against broadcasting his thoughts and feelings through unconscious body language.

He smiled lazily, just to show Luke how wrong he was. "I thought that was your job description, not mine."

"It really bothers you, doesn't it?"

"What?"

"The thought that I might've had lovers before you."

Yes. "Nah. Got me confused with somebody else." But his voice faltered, as good as a confession, and he knew it.

This love stuff wasn't as easy as it looked from the outside, and he braced himself for Luke's disappointed reaction.

Instead, Luke laughed softly and carded his fingers through sweat-damp hair. "Oh, Han. You are jealous."

Nobody'd ever had reason to accuse him of that before. "I'm not—"

Luke silenced him with a kiss. "I guess that makes two of us, then."

Suddenly it didn't matter if Luke never answered the question. Wasn't like he could lay claim to Luke's past anyway. Just his future. "It doesn't matter. Like I said, forget it."

"No, I want to tell you. Because not answering isn't fair to us. I don't wanna play head games."

He didn't think this conversation would've happened with Leia; her clear-eyed, level-headed rationality allowed little room for unfounded fears, and even less for reassurances. The differences between Luke and Leia had never been so clear to him before, especially the way he and Leia had never been able to really communicate. On those occasions calling for complete honesty, he'd chosen Luke as his confidant, assured he had no need for the power struggles that'd always marked Han's relationship with Leia.

"There's been no one else. You're my first."

He had the feeling he was gaping like some kind of blathering fool, because until Luke spoke the words, Han hadn't known he'd primed himself for a different response.

Incredulity coiled in his stomach and sang in his ears. Impossible. Entirely unbelievable that Luke—Luke of all people!

He stuttered. Hells! If Chewie could see him now, he'd never hear the end of it. Stuttering! "I don't believe it," he managed to get out before losing his struggle with astonishment.

Luke assumed a sober expression, but a suspicious gleam in his eyes warned Han what was coming. "If you're disappointed, I suppose I could do something about it, kind of after the fact."

Gods but he needed that moment of levity, to allow for recovery. To catch his breath from the succession of shocks today. "Sure. You could always join one of those matchmaking services."

Luke didn't miss a beat. "Or I could advertise in the Galactic Enquirer."

"I could be a reference." He assumed a leer.

Luke looked thoughtful. "Simple is probably better. Maybe I should just pick somebody up in a bar?"

It was gonna take a while before all this sank in, became part of his reality. Here he'd been thinking he'd used up his share of luck and then some godsdamned miracle like this happened.

"Sorry, but I don't think you'll be visiting any watering holes by yourself in the foreseeable future."

Luke's smile increased the illumination in the cabin by several megawatts, Han decided. "See? No reason for blame. You haven't ruined my life or anything silly like that."

"Give me time," he said, only half-teasing. "I'm still probably gonna get courtmartialed, y'know. That should look good on your resume. Occupation: Jedi and Heroic Defender of Truth and Justice. Note: Lover courtmartialed twice, by two different galactic governments."

"You forgot to mention I'm also kind to small furry animals and droids." Luke grinned and kissed him lightly. "And that worn-out tactic's still not gonna work, pirate. We're in this together. You can't shut me out now."

Not like he'd been able to do it the first time around anyway, and maybe he didn't want to after all. "S'pose not. You're one stubborn farmboy, gotta admit." He levied an accusatory finger under Luke's nose. "But don't you forget, it's my fight. You're just there for moral support."

He'd gone from adamant resistance to tacit approval in less than an hour, which was probably a speed record even for him.

"Sure." Luke agreed way too fast for Han's comfort, but he couldn't argue with his concurrence. But there was something he could do about the hardness still pressing against his thigh.

Han pulled Luke in close for a deep, searching kiss and sent his hand downward to mold his palm around the rigid flesh straining against fabric. "We gotta get you out of these pants, huh?" he murmured against Luke's mouth. Fever started to lick at the edges of his belly again, at the thought of unleashing Luke's passion. Of returning the pleasure.

"Thought you'd never ask."

Their hands met and fumbled together at his belt clasp, getting in each other's way and accomplishing nothing until Luke laughed. "Just let me do it, Han."

Been a long time since he'd been clumsy in bed, like an eager schoolboy with his first love.

But when Luke disentangled himself and sat up to tug off his boots and pants, Han recognized that truth like a concussion grenade detonating in his stomach: it was a first time. Loving Luke made everything new and unfamiliar again.

No need to disguise that awareness, but old habits died hard. He leaned back into the pillows and pretended disinterest from behind lowered lashes. "Don't hurry on my account."

Luke tossed a glance over his shoulder, a small grin curling the edges of his mouth. "I won't." His gaze dropped deliberately to Han's reawakening cock. "I plan on taking my time."

Well, that deliberate challenge certainly raised his blood pressure and helped matters along nicely. Han palmed his lifting erection and smiled back. "Wouldn't have it any other way."

Luke reached back and gently slapped his wrist. "Don't you start without me."

When Luke stood up, Han found himself staring at his cock, the hard angularity of it profiled against the mottled light streaming in from the window. He could almost feel its solid weight and heat against his tongue.

He pushed off the bed to meet Luke's approach halfway, mouths meeting hard. Luke's hand curled around the back of his neck in an attempt to steady them, but they overbalanced and tumbled back onto the bed, Luke on top of him.

"Now you can start," Luke told him. As if he needed permission to begin replacing all those aching, lonely memories with happier ones.

He sent a hand gliding down Luke's arm and flank, testing how the swell of hip fit into his hand, marveled at the tautness of muscle beneath smooth skin, eased his hand around the curving backside and molded their bodies together. The move brought their erections together and Luke stiffened in reaction, sending a shockpulse of excitement straight through Han.

Breathtaking. The substance of dream made real.

"So good," Luke groaned as he buried his face at Han's shoulder, hips rocking with innate, animal rhythm.

"Only gonna get better, I promise." He squeezed Luke's buttocks hard and his fingers, searching for sensitive skin, slipped into the crease. Luke's response was electrifying: the explosive gasp of expelled breath, the way his back arched and knees skidded across the mattress in an attempt to spread his legs wider. His cock couldn't be any harder if it'd been encased in plasticrete.

No time to think, no time to plan—just react, open himself wide to his knowledge of Luke and let it fly, trusting his instincts the way he always did.

He rolled them over and moved down Luke's body, sampling the nuances of touch, taste and scent as he went, how the nipples swelled in his mouth as he sucked them, the way the salty tang of sweat he licked out of the navel exploded on his tongue, how the musky odor of Luke's desire made his own cock quiver with anticipation, and finally, the way springy curls beneath the navel tickled his nose as he cruised lower.

Luke writhed under him, didn't seem to know what to do with his hands because by turns they tangled in Han's hair or clutched at the sheets, and incoherent moans greeted everything he tried.

If he'd ever thought about it, he would've known Luke would be like this.

He rubbed his cheek gently against the silk of Luke's erection, let it slide across his closed lips, wanting just a hint of the taste.

Sweet, like the best vintage Dinaran bluewine. And just as intoxicating.

Without a doubt addictive too, like glitterstim spice.

"More," Luke demanded, the first real word he'd said in a long time, and Han was willing to oblige, an insensible desire to taste all of Luke driving him onward. His revived erection rubbed painfully against sheets warmed by body heat as he bent to obey Luke's command, tucking himself between Luke's sprawled legs.

The skin of Luke's inner thighs was startlingly soft, velvet over steel muscles, inspiring deliberately gentle kisses that dragged low, shuddering sighs from Luke and initiated a trembling reaction in Han's body that had nothing to do with fatigue. Clearly wired to the same escalating tension, Luke's balls were drawn tight against the base of his cock, flesh stretched taut over delicate spheres. Supple, elastic skin flexed and quivered erratically in response to tender strokes from Han's thumb.

Luke growled, a raw, primitive sound of urgent need he'd heard before, just not from a human throat. Reminded Han of the time years ago when, lost in the hills above his granddad's hardscrabble farm, he'd stumbled upon two wolvens circling and scenting each other. Back then he hadn't understood the mating imperative and been more interested in getting away with his skin intact than watching them. But as he'd waited for the right moment to slip away unnoticed, the energy between the two animals drew his attention, until all thoughts of his own safety were abandoned and he could only watch, spellbound. Something in the smaller wolven's fearless attitude as it growled, stared down and subdued the larger creature had resonated low in Han's gut, quickening his breath and stirring unfamiliar longings—and of course he'd promptly forgotten the wolvens once he figured out how to satisfy those longings.

Forgotten them until now, that was. Luke's growl brought that mesmerizing moment in a tumbled forest glade back to life, so real the slightly sour odor of moldy leaves, wet fur and proud submission came alive in his nose and mouth again, to mingle and blend with his perceptions of Luke.

Anything you want, little wolf, Han promised, and slid his thumb down further, to stroke and tease the smooth skin just below and circle the puckered opening he found, instinct and memory and desire guiding him. Rational thought had no place here.

He angled his neck and dove in closer, to carefully mouth and lick the curving surface, and then, because he wanted to, non-negotiable, dipped further down with his tongue, into the cleft. To return a fraction of what had been given to him.

Luke's shout was nothing like his previous growl, and it took all Han's strength to hold his hips down, because he was about to levitate right off the bed.

"Easy," he gentled, arms and neck and back strung tight with the effort to keep his touch light.

"Han—I... Han!"

Then, because it felt right, he closed his mouth over Luke's cock.

More like Sudepan sherry than bluewine after all, he decided, after he'd drawn Luke deep into his mouth, because there was a hint of tartness, too.

Silk and iron, salt and sweet. So many different textures and patterns woven into the complex tapestry that was Luke, and the more Han looked, the more he saw. The kind of complexities it would take a lifetime to unravel, if he was lucky enough to have that much time.

But for right now, Luke was fraying, hips straining, lifting like a seafalcon on the verge of flight, and Han looked up because he had to witness this for himself. Luke in undiluted rapture was incandescent like a full moon hanging low over the ocean's horizon and reflecting into infinity. He never closed his eyes, but locked his luminous gaze on to Han's face, invited him in and shared all with him. A riptide of mutual joy that breached every barrier between them and sucked him under, to drown in the ocean of Luke's unmoored pleasure.

Intent on the vision before him, he barely noticed when something inside him crested too, spilling wetness on the sheet beneath him.

Luke gasped and sagged back into the pillows, drained and limp, but not before twining their fingers together and pulling Han close. His sleepy, satisfied smile prompted Han to wrap his larger body protectively around Luke's slender frame.

I've got you, kid. Safe to rest now. I promise I'll still be here when you wake up. There wasn't much he could promise right now, but he could give Luke that, at least.

He could tell Luke understood his silent pledge by the way his body relaxed, on the brink of a nap that by all rights should be far more restful than what'd passed for sleep on Drualla.

But sleep was about as out of reach for Han now as it had been on that creaky cot hours before, for an entirely different reason. Their lovemaking had imprinted itself on his body, fading sensations of pleasure and completion that lingered in his flesh, a sparking energy that made him feel weightless like gravity had just reversed itself.

That energy must've been contagious because Luke stirred, pressed closer, clearly awake now. "Han? What're you thinking?"

"How perfect this is," he replied honestly, not giving himself permission to think, only feel. "What're you thinking?"

"That this was definitely worth waiting for." Luke captured his face between both hands and brushed his mouth across Han's lips.

The crazy thing was, he knew Luke wasn't lying or exaggerating, wasn't saying that just to make him feel good. Absolute sincerity and complete belief shone from his face, the beacon of effortless certainty he'd unconsciously followed ever since they'd first met.

Han cleared his throat, trying to swallow away the sense that he'd well and truly strained every concept of good fortune this time, used up far more than his portion. "Didn't mean to make you wait so long."

Humor glinted in Luke's eyes. "'S all right. Always knew you'd be hard to convince, thick-headed as Corellians can be."

"That's 'practical' to you, junior." He deliberately invoked the affectionate nickname, just to evaluate Luke's reaction.

Damned kid grinned openly. "Yeah, that's what Owen tried to tell me, too. Ever hear the saying, you can't make an old bantha drink at a new water hole?"

So he was getting compared to a cranky old farmer now? "Sure. 'Cept on Corellia it goes a little differently. Only the young swim at high tide."

Luke's grin faded. "You think I'm foolish to believe this could work out between us?"

He could call it whatever he wanted, but what it really boiled down to was a grasp of reality and sense of proportion that Luke lacked, because he invested too much of himself in everything he took on. Sheer faith and unwavering determination couldn't solve every problem in the universe. Not even with the Force.

"Oh, hell no!" He locked his hands around the back of Luke's neck and claimed his mouth until Luke opened under his enthusiastic assault and reached back with even more intensity that didn't have a wampa's chance on Tatooine of satisfying the hunger stirring in his belly anytime soon.

Looking dazed and breathless, Luke managed a shaky smile when they broke for breath. "Guess I was mistaken."

Han sent a curious hand in search of the sticky warmth coating Luke's stomach, dipped those same fingers in his own wetness and then licked their mingled essences from his fingers.

Us. This is us. You 'n me, together. You did this to me. Turned me into... half of us.

"Share?" He hardly recognized Luke's voice, harsh with wanting.

Everything. He wanted to share everything with Luke, an impulse that scared the shit out of him, because it was something so completely alien to his creed of independence. And this time his fingers were shaking when he offered them to Luke.

Luke's right hand closed over his, steadied them both while he carefully sucked the last traces of moisture from each individual finger, and from his vantage Han could see the pulse beating hard and fast in his neck. And realized his heart had picked up the same rhythm. Two halves of a whole.

He leaned their foreheads together, like he could absorb the information he wanted directly, skin to skin. "Just answer one question."

The answer came in a winded rush. "Yes."

He didn't bother to disguise his exasperated eye-rolling and pushed Luke back down to the mattress. "Ain't that kind of question."

"Pity."

Gods, it'd been too long since he'd seen Luke in such a playful, happy mood, and it staggered Han to think he was the cause, the source. With a galaxy at Luke's disposal—?

"Why me?"

Luke's face stilled for a moment, before disbelieving astonishment chased across his face. "You can ask that?" He rubbed the back of his hand across Han's chin. "Because I love you."

He grinned, not even attempting to hide the wave of pure, unadulterated joy that struck like the sun coming up over the horizon.

Didn't get any simpler than that, and if Luke turned around and asked the same question of him, he'd be at even more of a loss to translate the abstraction of feeling into something tangibly recognizable. But at least him falling in love with Luke made sense, because Luke was... Luke.

"Yeah, well, I was hoping for something a little more... detailed than that."

Luke's loosening expression said better than words that was about as reasonable as he was going to get. "Don't tell me you have doubts that a Jedi and a guy like you..."

Another godsdamn perfect moment he remembered with exact clarity. Luke had looked so natural there in the pilot's chair it never did trigger any possessive alarm in him, not the way Leia's usurping of his seat had raised up those instincts, something Chewie'd remarked on later, in private. He'd only tossed out that off-the-cuff remark for the sheer pleasure of seeing Luke's youthful jealous bristle anyway.

"No, but I figure others will."

"Do we care what anybody else thinks?"

Did he? Not really, because living life according to others' expectations was at the heart of his current set of problems. Nor would he call them doubts, exactly. It was just that the qualities that'd made him desirable to others couldn't be what Luke found worthy in him, because Luke saw things differently.

He shook his head and answered indirectly, awkwardness another new sensation he had to grapple with today. "Guess I just don't see myself as such a prize 'n I don't think too many others will, either."

Luke's hand tightened around his jaw and pulled him down for a long, slow kiss that banished all thoughts of his limitations, their mouths finding the right angles with the ease of familiarity by now.

He was gonna lose himself in those blue eyes, wide-open and cloudless like the desert sky, making promises he could hardly believe.

Luke's roughened voice hinted at volatile anger. "Then they're wrong-headed fools."

"Wrong-headed fools Leia has to work with every day, though," Han pointed out, suddenly seeing consequences of an unresolved situation tumbling like so much water over a cataract. "'S pretty well expected that Leia 'n I are gonna get married eventually."

Luke frowned. "You're right. We'll have to talk with Leia as soon as possible. I wouldn't want her to hear it through gossip. I think... I hope it won't be too difficult for her, since you broke up some months ago. She's had a little time to heal by now."

Before Han had time to consider how to contradict that suggestion of consolation, an old hurt surfaced in Luke's eyes, no matter how calm his voice sounded. "I suppose I should be grateful she's never acknowledged our blood relationship. At least it won't be embarrassing for her that way."

You have no idea, Luke.

He'd known a clean, final break was the best solution before he set out for Drualla, but somehow it just hadn't seemed worth the effort to hurt Leia so thoroughly. And maybe he'd wanted to take that small comfort into battle with him, that they'd still be able to salvage something out of the wreckage.

"Luke." He drew a deep breath and held it for a long moment, sifting through possible ways to break the news.

"It'll be all right, Han." Luke's faith in his sister was touching, but it sent a coil of apprehension tightening in his gut. No way Luke could see this as anything other than a betrayal.

"I'm sure she'll handle this just fine, once she gets used to the idea. She'll want us to be happy."

We were, for about an hour, until good ol' Han Frikkin' Sirussi Solo ripped both our hearts out. You falling in love with me's no godsbedamned miracle after all. Just another instance of the universe evening up the score on me. And you're the one who's gonna take the fall.

Failure had never tasted so bitter. "Might be a little harder for her than you think, Luke. She doesn't know we broke up. Nobody does, 'cept you 'n me."

The hand that'd been idly exploring the curve of his shoulder gripped hard, so damned hard pain registered above and beyond Luke's shocked stare. And then Luke pulled back, denial in every line of his body.

Suddenly bloodless lips mouthed What? but no sound emerged.

Explanations wouldn't cure the wounds of betrayal on Luke's soul—or Leia's for that matter, or make his mouth taste any better, so he didn't say anything. Just steeled any trace of insulting apology from his expression before he met Luke's eyes and accepted his obligation of guilt.

Should've been easy to do, following the example of Luke's public façade, but it was arguably the hardest thing he'd ever done in his life.

In a gesture Han recognized, Luke twisted the bed sheet in his hands and pulled it up to cover his nakedness. It was something Leia'd taken to doing too, those last few weeks they were together. Rejection of intimacy. Her subconscious had known the truth, at least.

Easy to track the flow of Luke's thoughts just from his expression and realization came belatedly: Luke was still wide open emotionally. Not trying to close himself off yet, although that surprised Han.

When Luke finally managed to get words out, he could only stare at him in utter disbelief.

"You're doing it again. Trying to push me away." He caught a glimpse of a desert sandstorm of frustration whirling behind Luke's eyes before they dropped to observe hands that were knotting and twisting nervously. "Is the idea of loving me that frightening?"

Jolted out of precarious control, Han flared back with a hostility that seemed to come from nowhere. "Didn't you hear what I said?"

Luke answered in calm, rational tones that made no sense whatsoever. "I heard it. I heard what was behind it too. If you've changed your mind about us, why don't you just say so, instead of dragging Leia between us."

The cabin felt like it had depressurized, his lungs starving for oxygen and his eardrums feeling like they were about to burst. Like reality was disintegrating around him at lightspeed.

"Haven't changed my mind, though I expect you have, 'n I'm not dragging Leia between us. Just trying to do as much damage control as I can, this late in the game."

Luke's bitter little laugh stabbed through the anger building in Han's chest. "Damage control? Is that what you call this?"

He couldn't quite let go of the annoyance yet. "Don't you want to hear about me 'n Leia?"

Luke's head snapped up. "Not particularly. You're just using her as an excuse and that's not fair to her or me."

"Fine. You don't wanna hear the truth, I can live with that."

"Han..." Luke reached out toward him blindly. "Listen to yourself. We were so close, damn it. Don't back away now. I love you."

All that angry heat cooled and condensed down to a lump of ice in his gut, because Luke sounded like he was fighting for his life here, and maybe he was. But what a futile hope, that they could hold onto something as intangible as love. Up until now, the only thing he'd ever truly owned was the internal alarm that jangled fiercely whenever he veered too close to the edge of commitment. He'd never been able to silence it completely during his tenure with Leia, and look where that'd taken them...

"I know you're scared. So am I."

A raw confession that took his breath away with the abruptness of a gravity imbalance. Luke's house of cards had an unstable foundation, and here he came like a wind out of nowhere, threatening to topple the entire structure.

He grabbed hold of Luke's outstretched hand and pulled him close, to bury his face in starshine hair. So what if he'd made a career out of not needing anybody... right now that felt like a lie.

"Sorry." That gruff apology would have to do for now. "Guess I'm still trying to protect you. I'm bringing a lot of baggage along with me that could mean trouble for you."

Only after Luke laughed out loud did he realize how ridiculous that must've sounded to Vader's son. "You don't need to protect me, Han. Just... love me. That's all I ask of you."

He'd do his damndest to oblige.

Sensitive fingertips played over Luke's tremulous smile. Memorizing the texture of his skin. "You've had time to get used to this, to know your feelings and your reasons. I'm still doin' backflips here."

"I understand. It took me a while, too."

Why he'd let any doubts enter into the equation when Luke could zero in on his soul like that was beyond him. He'd never felt so... known before. Known, and accepted for who and what he was, nothing more, nothing less.

No pressure. No demands. Just... Luke.

* * * * *

continue to part three

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