From the Ashes

Part Three

Irene Heron

Han didn't like Coruscant. Well, actually, he hadn't seen enough of the entire world to dislike it yet, but he definitely didn't like the Palace. Vast, echoing and cold like a tomb, a cathedral for politicians and bootlickers dedicated to worshipping their abuses of power. A godsdamned monument to a dead ruler and his lust for domination.

Creepy, Luke had called it when they first arrived and were escorted through an interminable maze of corridors, lifts and ante-rooms toward the military tribunal chamber. The description sounded deceptively juvenile and their escorts had exchanged amused glances, but Han had known better after one quick glimpse of Luke's strained, guarded face. It was nothing but the truth. Some resonance of evil lived in these stone walls, and Luke knew it.

The place made Han's scalp tingle with premonition. Maybe he didn't have the Force, but physical matter had its own reserve of instincts, and he trusted them as much as Luke trusted his Force.

It hadn't been the time to hold hands like love-struck teenagers, so he'd had to offer reassurance in the form of a curt, "You all right?" and hope Luke understood. A corresponding faint smile said he had.

Their day had started off badly, with them roused from bed in the middle of ship's night and hustled planetside, and gone downhill from there.

Coruscant. Crown Jewel of the Core Worlds. So-called Bright Center of the Universe. Shining Goal of the New Republic. And now that they had their pretty bauble, what would they do with it?

Was it worth the price they'd all have to pay?

He supposed it wasn't fair to judge an entire world on the basis of a spooky old building, a gaggle of greedy generals and some puffed-up politicos, and in fact he'd found some parts of Coruscant pretty interesting on his first visit. Nor was it reasonable to resent the healthy energy of this bustling world, or begrudge the millions of bureaucrats their petty concerns.

But he did. Because Drualla was now a dead world.

Coruscant and Drualla. One sacrificed for the other. Strategic value, hah! A rallying point. A symbol.

Drualla was a godsdamn symbol, too. A fucking monument to greed and corruption.

He thought he'd worked through his initial fury over the frikkin' inquiry during the hours spent walking this warren of confusing passageways with Luke, but it felt like his temper had gotten its second wind by now. Ready for round two in what he suspected would be a long, drawn-out match with an invisible opponent.

C'mon, Solo, he ordered himself in his best general's voice—which had never been too effective to start with and sure as hell wouldn't work now that he was an ex-general—but he was strung too tight right now to be rational once Leia showed up.

You sure you want to meet with her alone? Luke had asked, looking a little startled. He'd assumed they would talk to her together, of course.

Han was sure. It wasn't gonna be pretty and he figured Leia might prefer a little privacy when he gave her the news. Wasn't like it was Luke's obligation anyway. He'd already taken far too much on himself during the inquiry. Besides, Wedge and a couple of the other Rogues had been all too happy to snare a few hours of Luke's time.

He checked his wrist-chrono for probably the fifth time in as many minutes, remembering all the times he'd waited for Leia to finish a meeting or one last piece of paperwork, only to find their minimal private time trickling away into an ocean of "just a few more minutes".

Not a bench in sight, either, and he was pretty tired from too many hours on unforgiving stone floors. Hell of a meeting place she'd picked, this balcony overlooking an immense reception hall of some sort. Looters apparently hadn't managed to find their way this far into the palace precincts though, because unlike the other areas he'd been through this area was graffiti free. He scrambled up on a stonework balustrade to get a better look at a vaguely familiar tapestry adorning the far wall. Considering the size and age, maybe he'd delivered an "authenticated replica" to some wealthy rimworld chump. He'd helped Lando out a time or two with that antiquities scam. Back before a Jedi tumbled into his life and woke his conscience.

Han closed his eyes, but he hadn't walked far enough or long enough, because he could still see the tribunal chamber on his eyelids. The formal, adversarial arrangement of furniture, the glittering medals decorating spotless dress uniforms. And him and Luke, unshaven and grubby in their wrinkled clothes, looking like gate-crashing vagrants among all that gaudy perfection.

The one moment of levity in the whole proceeding had come right at the start, when he'd muttered to Luke that with all those medals on his chest, Bel Iblis better hope nobody tossed him in one of the palace fountains, 'cause surely he'd sink and drown before he could be rescued.

Considering what was going on at high levels, he figured it would've been a public service had he followed up on that impulse.

"Losses within acceptable parameters," he said aloud, disbelief still curling in his gut over the initial shock of the day. The inquiry board had congratulated him on his victory. A godsdamn ruined world and nearly five million civilians dead, and that passed for a victory in this new republic he'd helped create.

And here he'd thought he was heading for a well-deserved court martial! Hell no, they wanted to play pin the medal on the general and send him out on goodwill tours to cover the stink with cheap perfume. Military wisdom at its finest.

A court martial would be preferable, he'd told Madine.

Maybe by now they'd taken him up on that suggestion, because in all the shouting he didn't remember anybody accepting his resignation.

Trying to have it both ways was what Luke had said to Bel Iblis. Wanting to use Han's charisma and reputation to validate flawed goals while making sure he had no real authority or presence. He'd been rather vocal moral support, but Han hadn't minded, because Luke was gorgeous when angry.

Later, in a slice of deep shadow between two columns and many more kisses, Luke amended his opinion of Han's non-future with the military to 'decorative'. Sure they'd taken the risk of accidental discovery but their passions had been high and it hadn't taken much to turn anger into desire.

"Han," Leia said from behind him. "You really should stop scaring the tourists."

He'd been born reckless and restless, his Ma had always said, with never a fear of falling. Spacers couldn't afford vertigo. He opened his eyes and looked down to check out the unanimously horrified expressions staring back at him from some twenty meters below. Unknowing accomplices to a self-serving administration, just waiting to be betrayed. The frustration coiling along his nervepaths brightened into unsettling energy that demanded release. In response he stretched out his arms and leaned forward like he was about to take flight. The flock of tourists shrieked and scattered and Leia snorted in a most unsenatorial manner.

"Sorry, I'm revoking your permit for indoor gliding, effective immediately. Get down from there."

He deliberately overbalanced and came off the balustrade backwards, landing neatly. Luke wasn't the only one in the family who could do acrobatics. But he had a feeling he might need a hot shower and a massage later to ease potential muscle strain.

"Showoff." She studied him carefully, charting out the subtle changes in his appearance, same as he was doing to her.

"You look—"

"Mad as hell?" He winked, wanting to keep it light and easy. This was gonna be hard enough, without either one of them admitting any kind of affection.

"No." She frowned, puzzlement showing through her eyes. "I expected to find you tired. Stressed. Older looking, perhaps. But you're not. You almost look... younger."

He wished he could say the same of her but he couldn't. The strain of recent months had worn on her, tiny lines and creases noticeable even in the filtered late afternoon glow, and it tugged at his heart just a little to see her like this.

She was wearing white. Funny, but when he used to dream of her she was always in white.

He'd mentioned that to Luke just last night as they lay talking in bed, and full of crazy ideas like Luke always was, he'd insisted that was Han's subconscious making Leia pure and untouchable and out of reach. And then, mischief in his eyes, he'd asked if Han ever dreamt of him and what he wore in those dreams. All the time, he'd answered. And skin, a smile and me. He'd just leaned in to start turning the dream into reality when, like a bad joke, the door buzzer had interrupted them.

He hoped she wasn't going to say something like she'd missed him. She didn't.

Compassion filled her eyes. "You have a right to be mad as hell. I went through your reports. After that I couldn't bring myself to watch the inquiry recordings."

Her hands smoothed imaginary wrinkles from her gown, a conciliatory gesture he recognized of old.

"I'm truly sorry, Han. It must've been terrible."

Bad enough for him, but so much worse for others.

"I had no idea it'd been like that." She hesitated and looked around. "Do you want to talk about it?"

It wasn't easy to think of those things, much less speak of them.

"Don't know that I can, Leia." He swallowed hard against the accumulation of despair rising up to choke him again. "I thought I was making a start on forgetting— no, not forgetting. I don't want to forget. I just wanna learn how to..."

His voice thickened and closed off his throat. I just need to learn to live with the memories, the same way Luke has had to do with his.

"I know there've been worse disasters in this war." He didn't want to name Alderaan but it was the closest comparison he could think of. "But the worst part is that it wasn't clean and it wasn't fast. It was slow, lingering death by inches. Not just the planet, but it was like they wanted to wipe out every single living thing on it as well. Imperial efficiency at its worst.

"They called me sirussi, Leia, and looked to me to save them 'n I couldn't do it. I couldn't do it."

She murmured something probably meant to be reassuring, but now that he'd started, the words came out in a rush.

"There was this family in Bei Kope. Benaru and Asari, their kids Mim and Jey. We attended Mim's lifebonding ceremony the night before all hell broke loose. Looked like clear skies for them, but within a week Mim was dead because his cruiser was shot to pieces by a Super Star Destroyer."

He clenched his fists tight, nails digging into his palms.

"They had SSDs and all we had were the leftovers Bel Iblis 'n Madine could spare from the Coruscant offensive. You have any idea how many TIEs just one SSD holds? And how many fighters we had?"

He no longer cared if his mind cracked and bled around those memories.

Silent tears rolling down her cheeks, she grieved in a way he couldn't. Crying for his pain, for Chewie's and Luke's. And Drualla's.

And in some strange way that made him feel better, to know that someone here wept for Drualla.

He dug around in his pockets looking for some kind of cloth to offer her, but all he could come up with was a fairly grimy rag he used to clean his blaster.

She smiled faintly as she accepted it. "You know, one good thing came out of that inquiry."

He stared at her in confusion. Maybe she hadn't seen the inquiry, but she had to know about the admissions of conflicting orders, deliberate delays and callous disregard for life that'd come out in testimony. Because she'd cried for a doomed world, he was able to hang on to his temper by the slimmest of margins. "Can't imagine what."

She indicated the blaster strapped to his thigh. "Nobody got shot. At least not as far as I know."

It took him a second to realize what she was trying to do. Easier than he'd anticipated to fall into the old bantering, teasing pattern, just without the hard edge of competition.

He grinned back, and wondered if she would call it Ironic Grin Number 5 or Goofy Grin Number 26. "Well, if that's your definition of a good inquiry, I guess I'd have to agree." He patted the blaster's grip, comfortable and familiar as an old pair of pants. "'Course, they took it from me before they let me in the room."

"Wise precaution."

"Luke's lightsaber too."

She frowned at that, probably just as offended as he'd been when their escort turned to Luke and demanded his lightsaber.

Awkward silence descended between them briefly, as much a measure of that indefinite parting too many months ago as anything else.

"Well, I suppose if we're going to have discussions like this, perhaps we should find someplace a little more private." She finished dabbing her face gingerly.

"I could use a drink," he conceded. Or two or three.

"There's a nice place just over there," she waved vaguely off to her right. "Good food and the liquor isn't watered."

The suggestion startled him until he remembered the Palace wasn't just one building, but a series of buildings connected over the centuries by small arcades housing shops and restaurants.

Maybe the ache in his belly was hunger instead of anger, considering how long it'd been since he'd last had a meal.

The cafe was as pleasant as promised, dim, noisy and busy with the bureaucratic dinner crowd, but once they claimed an outside booth and punched up the privacy field they were completely alone.

The booth cantilevered over the balustrade, offering a good view of that intriguing tapestry that'd drawn his attention earlier. He studied the wall hanging and tried to pick out the design woven from faded yarns while they made their meal selections and he brought her up to date on Chewie and the Falcon.

A blue-eyed wolven it looked like, reminding him of that fleeting image he'd had of Luke, and a predatory bird with a wide wingspan and fierce beak.

Leia noticed his interest. "Does that look familiar to you at all?"

He shrugged, more absorbed by the bottle and dinner plates that'd just materialized on the table. "Sort of. What're those animals? Looks like a wolven 'n some kinda bird."

"Yes, that's right. A ruffed wolven and a... treskel falcon, I think."

A falcon? He took another hard look at the tapestry. Good thing he brought a healthy dose of skepticism to convenient coincidences like this, otherwise he'd have shivers running up and down his spine right now.

"One of the reasons I wanted to meet here was so you could see this tapestry. It's priceless and considered a world treasure on Drualla. Turned up here in the Palace about fifteen years ago, after Drualla came under Imperial control."

Same thing had happened to some of Corellia's treasures, and none of them had turned up yet, to his knowledge. There'd been a lot of buzz over the newsgrids about seizing the Empire's coffers as reparation once Coruscant was in Alliance hands.

Come to think of it, that must be why the tapestry looked so familiar to him. It'd been painted on the side of many a community center all over Drualla, but it was the kind of landscape he'd taken for granted.

"I was thinking maybe the Druallans would like it back."

A conspiratorial bent to her statement suggested that official approval was optional.

"You want me to steal it and take it back to Drualla?" A little thrill of contraband excitement tingled in his chest. Now this was a real victory. One to savor at length. Leia Organa indirectly admitting she'd made a mistake.

"Unofficial reparations?"

"I'll make certain it's official, after the fact. But I want it in their possession first. It's little enough we can do for them. Rebuilding their agricultural economy to a self-sustaining level is projected at ten local years. The cost will be staggering and it's been suggested in the council chambers to sell this tapestry to a private consortium in order to raise some of the funds needed. Without giving the Druallan government any say in the matter. Since the world is temporarily under republic martial law."

"I've raised objections and been ignored," she continued. "But this tapestry is more than just a work of art or a valuable item. I've heard it described as the 'Druallan Soul'."

"Then I guess they'd like to get it back, wouldn't they?" It was a desire he could understand. Not because of himself so much, but because of Luke, and the way he still groped for some sense of his birthright, both as a Jedi and a man.

Freely choosing an uninvolved lifestyle as he'd done was one thing, but Han couldn't imagine how it must feel for Luke, to know his heritage had been deliberately withheld from him. That was the kind of pain he held inside and let out only through oblique comments and nightmares. The kind of pain it was gonna take Han years to unravel and heal, one small hurt at a time.

He supposed it was inevitable that the thought of depriving people of an essential part of their heritage would also resonate more for Leia than it would a lot of others.

In any case, an adventure like this would probably appeal to Luke's sense of justice, if he could get past the 'stealing' part.

"I'll talk to Luke about it," he finally said, and only belatedly recognized attentive curiosity in Leia's face. A tactical error, that. He'd never made a practice of consulting anyone in his decision-making process. But she didn't ask and he didn't volunteer anything further. He still hadn't come up with a good way to open up the topic.

His natural approach, the one he'd always applied to practically everything in his life, whether it was work and money, his ship, his friendship with Chewie, or sex, was to just say it out flat and let everybody else deal with their own reactions. Saved him a lot of time and trauma. But 'Oh, by the way, I've fallen in love with your twin brother and plan to spend the rest of my life with him' wasn't gonna cut it this time.

He took his first bite of tender, juicy tafrit steak and remembered why he'd enjoyed that first visit to Coruscant. It would taste a lot better if he could figure out what to say to Leia.

But as long as she was talking about some religious artifact he could enjoy his meal and consider ways of breaking the big news. "There some kind of legend that goes with it?" he asked abruptly, interrupting whatever Leia'd been saying.

She slanted a curiously appraising glance toward him and smoothed down her hair where little tendrils were coming loose from her braid. "There is. The digest version, I presume?"

He nodded silent agreement, his mouth too full to mumble.

"It's a resurrection myth. The basic idea is that when the mortal world is oppressed and suffering, the Sun God Lupin will send his most beloved companion, Sirussi, to perform the ritual cleansing of the world. Great destruction results but out of the devastation a new, better world will be born. Sirussi gives up his life to save the world, but is reborn."

Sirussi? He inhaled sharply and went into a coughing fit when his whiskey went down the wrong way. Hells, no wonder they called me sirussi. Ritual cleansing pretty well describes what I managed to do for Drualla.

Leia slapped him on the back. "That's what you get for drinking 200 proof Corellian whiskey. You all right now?"

She was poised to deliver another slap, but he hadn't recovered from the first one yet, so he nodded and tried to look like he could breathe.

"The hopelessly romantic version is a little different, but still deals with the resurrection and immortality themes."

"Oh, great, poor old sirussi gets to die in this one too?"

"The story goes on and on, and they face many trials and problems, but Lupin and Sirussi are together for eternity. The embroidered version says that every few hundred years they choose to be reborn as mortals and live an ordinary lifespan, always in times of great conflict, and when they do, a wolf and a falcon are always present, either symbolically or physically."

Energy of a different sort came alive under Han's ribs, trapping breath and pulse in a strange paralysis, time slowing down around him.

Luke.

"Han? Are you all right?"

The paralysis receded and his heart started beating again. "Sorry."

"You went pale and blank. Like you had a shock of some kind."

He mustered a grin and hoped like hell it covered his internal bewilderment. "Yeah, I accidentally took a bite of vegetable."

She looked about as far from reassured as someone could get. "You sure?" Suspicion glowered behind her eyes.

"Yeah, I'm sure. See, it's right there. A timbal root, if I'm not mistaken. Makes me sick as a nerf."

She looked about to argue that with him, then apparently thought better of it. It seemed like a nice break from their old pattern, where they'd challenged practically every single word out of each other's mouths. "If you're joking you must be feeling better after all."

"I'm fine. Uh, Leia—"

"Han?"

They spoke simultaneously, exchanged raised eyebrows and Han gestured 'you first'.

She took her time, first pushing her plate away, then folded her hands in a precise fashion on the table.

"It's not easy to say this, but I suppose it's best to do things straightforwardly. You'd do the same for me, I know."

He laid his fork back down on the table and turned all his attention on Leia. Sounded like he wasn't the only one who'd wrestled with an uncomfortable confession.

"Yeah." He cleared his throat and smiled in what he hoped was a sympathetic and encouraging expression. "You've got some bad news for me, I take it?"

She took a deep breath. "I don't want to hurt you, especially not if you've come back looking for... comfort. But I don't see how you and I could ever patch things up again. You've made a clean break with the military today, and I can't imagine you'd be very comfortable staying on in some different capacity for my sake."

"Got that right," he agreed, and then figured maybe he'd better sound a little less certain and cheerful, but he'd made another mistake and she'd always been quick about spotting the chinks in her opponent's defenses. Entirely pointless to try and outwit her this time.

He grinned in what he hoped was a quietly discomfited way.

"You came here to break it off with me, didn't you?"

"Yeah." As a confession it left much to be desired.

She laughed, not because there was anything humorous in the situation, but the kind of laugh that follows a release of tension. "Well, that was easy, then. You were right, most of the things you said about us. We weren't aligned to the same purpose at all. Wishful thinking."

He shrugged, trying to distance himself before she revealed something which might embarrass both of them later.

"We should've done it before you went to Drualla. You were ready then, but I was holding on to you like some sort of security shield. I was feeling vulnerable and lonely, I suppose. Luke was gone, and you were chafing to be free—"

That admission of vulnerability had cost her dearly, he knew.

"And now you are. Freer than you could've anticipated before Drualla. Do you have any idea what you'll do now?"

"Well, looks like once Chewie and I get the Falcon up and running we've got ourselves a freight job."

"You know that I wish the best for you, don't you?" she said softly. "That perhaps somewhere in your travels you'll meet the right person."

He wasn't going to apologize or pretend he was sorry he'd fallen in love with Luke instead of Leia. "I did meet the right person."

"What!" She leaned forward in her seat and covered his hands with hers. Two observations hit him simultaneously: how small and fragile her hands were compared to Luke's, and that her touch stirred no reaction in his body.

"Who? When? How?" Her grip tightened, but it was a feeble shadow of Luke's strength. "I don't understand. You've been on Drualla since—"

Her eyes darkened and she pulled away from him, her posture stiffening into an attitude of betrayal. "That was why you wanted to break it off before..."

This was no defense, not a confession or an explanation. It was a declaration of something more fundamental and permanent than he'd ever dreamed could exist and there was no way he was going to let himself or Leia belittle his passion for and commitment to Luke.

"It's not that way. I didn't realize until just a few days ago. Luke made me see how I'd been shutting myself off, trying to run away—"

He stopped, because he didn't want to do this badly. "Leia, I'm in love with Luke."

Let her make what she wanted of that.

"Luke? My brother?"

He couldn't help the flippant response, and recognized in it a return to normalcy after a difficult day. "Yeah, Luke. Your brother. Your twin brother."

She tilted her head to one side and studied him intently. "Do you have any idea what you look like when you talk about him?"

The way she chewed on her lower lip reminded him of Luke. Hells, everything reminded him of Luke.

"I hope the day comes when someone looks at me like that."

He shifted in his chair, the comment striking him almost as an intrusion into his and Luke's privacy. Irrational, he knew. "How's that?"

"Like he's... more important to you than the Falcon is."

That set him back in his seat, because she'd just offered the best acknowledgement possible. She understood.

"He is." The answer tasted right in his mouth, sounded right in his ears. "He is."

"I really am glad." She smiled at him. "Even if it takes some getting used to."

Another little silence stretched between them, but this time there was nothing awkward about it.

He'd always said the direct approach was the best.

* * *

When Han started fuming with impatience while Leia fumbled with her apartment code key, he realized Luke was deeper in his bloodstream than he'd imagined. Nervous anticipation clenched in his gut like he'd come to the absolute limits of his endurance and any further delay might provoke disaster. As if Luke might stop loving him if he were gone ten seconds too long.

Their first separation. Four hours. Four frikkin' hours and he was already in a dither not just to see Luke, but to touch him, taste him, smell him—

Oh yeah, he had it bad.

There'd been a long crawl of years when he'd seen friends and colleagues fall in love one by one, and had never understood the way they'd all come up against individual boundaries of separation none of them dared exceed. He'd dubbed that impulse irrational and sworn Han Solo would never let himself fall prey to anything so binding.

He still recognized it as irrational, but at least now he understood the urge while he waited out the interminable seconds it took for the door to swing open.

What the hell was he gonna do when they came up against a real separation?

Luke sat on Leia's hideously plush sofa, apparently checking out the flickering images of a late news update, but in his swift, abrupt turn toward the door Han read a similar thread of suppressed impatience. The quick smile Luke flashed was aimed toward Leia too, but the hungry expression in Luke's eyes clearly was meant for Han alone.

"You're back early, Luke." Leia tossed her shawl over a convenient chair and kissed her brother's cheek. "I expected those Rogues to do their best to corrupt you."

Luke stood up and Han sucked in his breath when he saw the narrow strip of golden skin exposed by the unbuttoned shirt.

Wanna touch you, Luke. A need as vital as breathing.

"They tried their best, but I had better things to do." He might've been addressing the words to Leia, but Han knew they were meant for him. He grinned at Luke, ached to wrap his arms around that slim body and kiss him breathless.

"So I hear." Her smile was a little uneven, like she was still coming terms with the news. Han was glad all over again Leia had been the one to bring up the subject after all, that it hadn't been any kind of a blow for her. A surprise, sure, but not a fatally painful one.

She looked from one to the other and drew the obvious conclusion. "Let me see if I can find the key to Winter's apartment. It's just next door. I'm sure she wouldn't mind you staying there for the night, as long as she's out of town."

The deliberate wink she sent in Han's direction as she mustered her strategic retreat made him grin. "It might take me a few moments," she warned.

Before Leia turned the corner toward her bedroom, Luke was in his arms. Han slid his hands under the open shirt and across warm skin, and bent to claim the mouth that tasted of cheap ale and a strange spicy flavor. Kept one ear tuned to the small sounds from the bedroom and kissed Luke until their reciprocal diffuse tension mutated into something more specific.

"Tell Wedge he needs to start buying a better brand of beer, will ya?"

The slow, surprised smile was the most perfect thing he'd ever seen... until the next smile came along. "Leia doesn't seem to mind very mind."

"Looks that way, does it?" He placed his fingers against the pulse moving the skin at his throat. Counting the rising cadence that confirmed mutual interest. "Would you believe she brought it up? She'd come to the same conclusion I had. Didn't want to hurt me, though, if I'd come back looking for comfort."

Luke dug his fingers into Han's jacket and kissed him with unapologetic possessiveness that damned near curled his toes. "You'll be getting all your comfort right here from now on, thank you very much."

One more kiss like that and he was going to forget they weren't alone.

Luke slid a hand across his chest, teasing the nipples through thin fabric. "What's this?"

"Oh, I forgot." Han pulled the colorful, rectangular flimsy from his shirt pocket and handed it to Luke. "My first shipment as a free trader."

"Yeah?" Luke grinned at him, a playful grin that utterly demolished his sober Jedi reputation . "You're sure going for the big jobs, aren't you?" He glanced down at the flimsy and stared at it for only a moment before making an identification. "I know what this is. A depiction of the Druallan sirussi myth." He glanced up at Han. "I don't understand. What are you supposed to be transporting?"

"The original tapestry," Leia said, coming up behind Han. He nearly jumped, because he'd not heard her approach. Like being with Luke flooded his senses so completely that everything else drowned in that intensity. And surely that was just because everything was still so new and he hadn't had time to get used to all these strange new feelings of intimacy. He couldn't walk around in a daze all the time.

Luke's expression shuttered back into familiar caution, so maybe he'd been taken unawares also. And even though Han knew it wasn't a good thing to be so wrapped up in each other, knowing that Luke was just as overwhelmed left a happy commotion in his chest he didn't expect to go away any time soon.

"It's here in the Palace and should be returned to its proper home." She took the 2D out of Luke's hand and tapped it against Han's chest. "And I think it's appropriate that Han do it."

"What Leia means is, she wants me to steal the tapestry—"

"Steal it?" That'd jolted Luke. Not because he couldn't wrap his brain around the idea of him stealing something, Han knew, but because the suggestion came from Leia.

"It's a long story. I won't go into that right now, though." She glanced aside at the chrono. "As you said, there are better things to do tonight. We can talk tomorrow."

Han could hardly credit the blush rising up her cheeks as she pressed the keycard into Luke's hand. "Leia..."

He swept her into a hug, apology for their checkered past, gratitude for her present understanding, and joy for his unlimited future combined into a single wordless gesture, because anything else would embarrass her.

She stepped back and smiled at both of them, awkward affectopm shining out of her eyes. She still clutched Luke's hand tightly and in a deliberate indication of approval she placed Luke's hand in Han's and squeezed them together.

"Go."

***

The door to Winter's apartment shut behind them with a conclusively loud snap, and Han didn't bother to double check the lock. Wasn't like Leia would be bothering them anytime soon.

He took advantage of the nearly impenetrable darkness to haul Luke in close and kiss whatever part of him he could reach. Turned out to be the back of his neck, soft hair tickling his nose and cheek as he pressed his lips over the pronounced ridge where spine met neck, and dragged his tongue upward, into the little hollow hidden underneath the hair. The need to know every part of Luke was a fever inside him, nothing he'd ever consciously decided.

Under his hand, Luke's chest rose and fell with inconstant breath, and Han was open to the slightest vibration of pulse beneath the skin.

Felt like a goddamned eternity since he'd been alone with Luke. "Missed you," he whispered, fitting himself snugly against the long curve of back and bottom. Pressed together, he felt the double echo of twin heartbeats and shudder of breath slowly synchronizing. Coming together. Merging.

Earlier impatience had stilled, held in abeyance by some intersection of time and purpose.

He'd long ago decided time was an illusion, something abstract and incomprehensible. The truth of a life was in the moment to moment living of it anyway.

"Missed you too." Luke turned in his embrace, just far enough to align their mouths for a sweetly slow kiss that chased shivers up his spine. Sharing this interlude outside of time, an unhurried calm before the storm of passion overtook them.

Luke touched his cheek with gentle fingers, drifted soothingly across brow and swept back the heavy fall of hair from his forehead. "I didn't understand before."

Han swallowed hard against the devastating tenderness in Luke's voice and touch. "What?"

"All that we are, all that we can be... together."

Shaken, he could only hold on hard. "If you didn't know—"

How could I?

Luke's voice was shaky. "I don't know how to tell you—"

Trust, even more than love, was the catalyst for change, and he'd always trusted Luke. Blind faith, the very liability he'd accused Luke of enough times. "Then show me."

He detached one hand to fumble along the wall for the enviro controls, and dim light sprang up around them with the unsubtle swiftness of machinery.

With the light came a steep increase in arousal, the mere sight of Luke triggering a release of adrenaline into his bloodstream. Starting him on that long, slow burn that would soon take them both to a different level.

Fight or flight. Or make love. And they'd already done two out of three.

Luke led the way into the bedroom and Han noted that either Winter was going for a minimalist style in her decorating, or she'd only just moved in and hadn't accumulated any furniture yet. A mattress spread on the floor was the room's sole furnishing. He was glad to see it, though, since the floors were some kind of uncarpeted hardwood.

Luke gave him no time to consider priorities or strategies, but caught him up in an immediate embrace and held on tight, hands slipping under his vest to clutch into shirt fabric.

"I want you," he murmured into the hollow of Han's throat, as if claiming that small patch of flesh exposed by the collar-vee, his breath stirring the fine hairs that grew there. Han could feel the want, like a living thing, the way it seemed to seep right through Luke's skin and into him, in some strange osmosis of desire.

Quickly, never taking his lips away from his throat, so that all sensation centered on warm lips and beating pulse, Luke stripped first the vest and then the shirt from his body. And then Han was naked from the waist up and Luke's hands were gliding over his flesh, pausing nowhere but raising heat everywhere. Another precious journey of discovery designed to learn the language of their bodies.

When Luke released him, there was only one thing to do, and so Han did it. Finished the job he'd started in Leia's apartment and peeled the shirt from Luke's shoulders, slid it down past the crook of elbow and over hands that curled with a new kind of tension.

Han couldn't take his eyes off Luke, color heightened and breath coming faster, holding in check the same stirrings of desire burning in him.

He took his time, trailed his fingers up the tender flesh of inner arm from wrist to shoulder and charted the reaction at chest and groin. An elbow beckoned irresistibly. He lifted Luke's arm, rested it on his shoulder and laid his lips against the hollow between the hard bones and nipped at the creased inner fold where a blue vein pulsed out the rhythm of mutual desire. Discovering the flavor of passion.

There was something so perfect about touching Luke like this, in unusual ways and unexpected places. Trying to find something as precious and unique as Luke himself. It was all part and parcel of Han's desire to know every part of him. His desire to make Luke tremble and growl with need, to draw the wolf to the surface.

A low moan vibrated in Luke's throat. "Han..."

His own cock filled with blood, began to lift and lengthen until trapped by restrictive cloth.

He cradled Luke's face between his hands and like that was some kind of starting signal, Luke surged into his embrace, pressing up against him with all the strength he could muster. Struggling to get as close as he could, trying to burrow under Han's skin.

No sound except their hitching, faltering breaths and the kisses that they shared, everywhere they could reach.

It was a long way to the mattress, and when Luke shifted his weight, he took them both down into free fall. I'd follow you anywhere, Luke.

Han rolled them over and covered Luke's body with his own, dipping his head to lick and bite at hard nipples, first one then the other. Luke arched up and nearly bucked him off but Han refused to be thrown. Skated his hands across the curve of ribs and shoulder, and jotted an unbroken trail of kisses along the sharp ridges of collarbone. Volatile energy chased through his groin with every touch, both of them wired to the same power source.

He brushed one hand across the front of Luke's pants, to test the degree of wanting.

Live in the moment and you'll always know what to do.

"Lemme take care of this," he whispered against Luke's belly and opened his pants. They were a snug fit and freeing the sweaty hardness wasn't as easy as he'd expected. He gripped hard and smiled when Luke lifted into the touch, a soaring joy thudding high in his throat at the unleashed passion on Luke's face.

He wanted to coax maximum sensation for Luke. Make Luke feel in his body what Han felt in his soul.

He licked the crown of Luke's erection and circled the rimmed edge beneath, and breathed in the dark, musky scent of Luke's desire.

When he stopped, Luke made wordless demands that tempted Han to complete the pleasure, but he wanted Luke on the edge, no further. "Not yet, not yet," he placated, holding a steadying hand on Luke's thigh, offering an anchor to the present, and taking a moment to watch the ragged heave of ribs and stomach.

He worked Luke's pants down to his knees and had to hold there until he could wrestle the high boots off—always a struggle—and finally remove Luke's trousers completely, jotting kisses on newly exposed skin. More sweet treasures to discover, soft skin at the bend of knee, coarse leg hair that stretched toward his hand in a static electric dance, and on impulse he bent to kiss Luke's toes, a new discovery that made Luke writhe.

And when Han was done he sat back to admire the work of art sprawled on the bare mattress, the elegant lines of Luke's arms and legs, the strong jut of his erection, all of him so breathtaking that Han's chest hurt. His hair had brightened to gold in Drualla's sun, and his skin darkened, except for those areas not exposed to the sun.

"You're striped," Han said, tracing the demarcation line between tanned and pale.

Luke grinned up at him. "So are you."

"Not as much. I'm not nearly as modest. I took off all my clothes when we bathed or swam." At first he'd taken no notice of Luke's reluctance to bare all in the last month or so on Drualla, when they'd been living out of caves and bathing in glacier melt mountain streams. And then he'd gotten curious, because he remembered a boy who'd been about as self-conscious about his body as any droid except Threepio. Which was to say, not at all.

He'd guessed at all sorts of things. An injury Luke didn't want to reveal, some bizarre Jedi rule, or the water was simply too cold, but he'd never guessed the truth: Luke had feared displaying his unmistakable response to Han's body.

When Han dropped on top of Luke, trying to hold him down with his greater weight and height, Luke reversed the hold with such ease that Han knew he'd been playing games up until now.

The wolf had arrived.

Still couldn't figure out how his pants and boots seemed to melt off at Luke's touch, when he'd had so much difficulty.

Not that he was complaining, since that meant Luke was touching him that much sooner...

Luke wasn't nearly as restrained as he'd been. Didn't hesitate to kiss his way down chest and belly and seize Han's cock in his mouth, work his tongue around it and draw much of its length in deeply, until Han was ready to jump out of his skin at the way Luke seemed able to hold him right on the edge.

Or in the way Luke looked up at him while holding Han's cock on his tongue, a combination of sight and touch that nearly made him come on the instant.

It had to be instinct guiding Luke, he supposed, and that was a thrill in itself, to think that Luke might understand him so thoroughly.

By the time Luke moved over him again and locked their mouths together, tongue diving deep, Han was panting hard with the need for release, so hard his ribs felt bruised.

"Come on," he urged, during one of the brief moments Luke gave him to breathe.

Luke nipped at ear and throat. He was all over Han, cocks aligned and rubbing, a hot friction that wasn't going to last much longer.

But that wasn't enough for Han, an instinct that had been growing in him from their first kiss, because it was exhilarating to recognize a kindred soul, a worthy equal.

He wanted Luke inside him, and that was something that could only be freely offered and never taken. He'd been on the other side of this negotiation and knew the value in this act was in the willing surrender of an evenly matched player.

Han's entire life for some years had been all about being in control, of his body, his mind and his environment. A week ago, the thought of choosing to give up control, even to Luke, would've sent him running for the hills. He guessed that was an understatement. He'd been running long before it was a conscious thought.

"Make love to me, Luke."

Even if they never got around to it, the look on Luke's face was reward enough, a joy and acceptance of the gift he offered. Luke leaned over him with fierce tenderness, sent a long, lingering caress to Han's chest and claimed his mouth again.

"We need something," Luke whispered, his voice roughened with anticipation.

Han locked his hands around the back of Luke's neck and grinned at him before pulling him back down for a long searching kiss. "We have something. In my pants pocket."

"You—" And laughed softly.

This was easier than he'd ever dreamed it could be, because he wasn't giving up anything at all, certainly not control.

He shivered and closed his eyes when Luke knelt between his splayed legs.

Strong fingers stroked a slick coating down his thighs and probed within the furrow of his buttocks. "Han. Look at me." Luke bent over to take his mouth again and whispered, "I love you."

Han tucked his knees into his chest, spread his legs, and watched Luke guide his cock into position. Their eyes met, an acknowledgment of the trust between them, and then there was no time for anything else, because Luke thrust forward. Han's hands gripped hard around muscular arms and he released breath in a harsh gasp. Nothing in his life had prepared him for such an amazing jolt of intimacy, a visceral splintering of singularity.

Luke stopped and passed a gentle hand over his forehead. "It'll be all right. Tell me when you're ready."

Only a moment, and the tearing heat eased and his muscles relaxed enough to obey his will.

"Now," he whispered, eyes locked on Luke's, and then Luke slid in fully in one smooth thrust, and held up to give him time to adjust. In the perfect stillness of Luke's form, Han sensed the harnessed energies barely throttled by the Jedi's will. He pulled Luke's head to his and brushed their mouths together in the merest hint of a kiss. Tender concern in Luke's eyes unraveled the last knot of tension in his chest. He signaled his readiness and Luke quickly found his rhythm, gathering Han up into his drive for completion.

All his carefully constructed isolation fractured with Luke's first push, scattering fragments of his former self to the solar winds, loosening all his controls and sending him soaring. A flying heat he'd never dreamed of. As Luke strained against him, shifting his hips to different angles to please Han, pain transmuted into a scalding pleasure.

"More." And he wrapped his legs around Luke's torso, pulling him deeper within himself, heaved to meet every push of those lean hips and hunted for additional friction.

Luke reared back, shortening his thrusts, moving faster and Han moved with him, watching every flicker of inclining pleasure chase across his face. So beautiful, so perfect, they were going to shatter together, Luke was, he was, they were—:

Spending in long, shuddering waves, sticky heat blossoming inside him and on Han's belly between them. A perfect reciprocity.

A new flight path. Ceiling unlimited.

It was impossible to sleep after that. After Luke drifted off, obviously exhausted, Han had gotten up. Restless, not from impatience or dissatisfaction, but from the euphoria of love making.

Making love. What a godsdamn miracle this was, that a two-credit drifter like him could end up with someone like Luke.

He'd never felt like this, not even when flying, not even the first time he'd taken the controls of his own ship, never such a vast kinetic energy so barely contained by his skin he figured it must be leaking out around the edges.

Winter's apartment had a minute balcony with a pretty lousy view, but the Coruscant aurora was on full display in the night sky and the temperature had cooled down enough that it wasn't so sticky. He'd pulled on a pair of pants and come out here to sit on the railing and think about how lucky he was.

His heart still stumbled when he thought of what had happened tonight, the closeness, the sensation of being everything to one other person. All he could figure was he'd done something very right along the way, if the universe wanted to reward him like this.

He'd managed to coax a half-decent brandale out of the drink synth but that feeling of being high wasn't from liquor. He was drunk on intimacy and wanting and love.

"Han?"

Luke stood in the doorway, still tousled, sleepy and beautiful. And very naked.

"What is it?" Two steps brought Luke to his side, to wrap arms around him in a loose embrace and dip down to kiss his shoulder.

You. It's you. Because Luke's touch made him forget everything but joy, smothered the regrets and fears and liberated a bliss unlike anything else.

"It's the aurora."

Maybe it'd taken him a long time to get to this point but now he knew. Belonging—to the right person—could never be a mistake, was never restrictive.

He cupped one hand around Luke's jaw and kissed him with bruising strength. Luke opened under his fervent onslaught, reached back until Han could feel him in his bloodstream, so much a part of him there was no telling the boundaries anymore.

"I love you," he whispered, with the same kind of inexplicable conviction Luke had displayed, and now he understood how bone-deep it was.

Rebirth.

END

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