"So, what’ll you have, General?"
Recognized again, damnit. Seemed like he couldn’t go anywhere without being instantly identified, categorized and indexed. Han Solo resented his celebrity, hated losing the luxury of anonymity and its attendant liberties. Didn’t have to wear the uniform or medals; even dressed plainly as he was tonight, he might as well have been wearing a sign that read Alliance Hero.
Instant recognition was one of the reasons he and Luke kept to themselves most of the time. Their social outings had been reduced to professional and political necessities, for their minimal time together was too precious to be marred by fawning interruptions. Although adjusting to the limited horizons had been tough for both of them, Han thought perhaps it was harder on Luke. Sometimes he saw guilt in those crystal blue eyes, a self-blame that said, if not for me, you wouldn’t have to suffer this lack of privacy. Not a shred of truth to it, of course, and that was exactly why Luke needed him so badly. Part of Han’s mission in life was to remind the kid that not everything that happened in the galaxy was his own personal responsibility
Still, he supposed fame had its advantages, too. Somewhere. Sometime. He just hadn’t come across the advantages yet, unless he counted bypassing the line of hopefuls waiting to get into this club.
"Must’ve mistaken me for somebody else," he growled in response, just for the satisfaction of seeing if he could still lie convincingly. Apparently not, because the squash-faced Durosian bartender snorted and shook his head in clear incredulity.
Han glanced around the main room, eyes battling the dimness, smoke and strobing lights. Whatever was going to happen, he needed to be ready for it, needed to see it coming.
The unsigned message delivered to his office that afternoon had tempted him with its paradoxical lure of danger and reward, and revived a rebellious spirit. Come to the Club Convivo, Third Sector, before midnight. Come alone. You won’t regret it.
Regret didn’t enter into the equation. He missed the freedom of being alone in a crowd, the veil of privacy he used to enjoy, the independence to act as his own agent. Luke was off-planet and Han didn’t have anything better to do—except answer an intriguing challenge. His sole concession to the dangerous possibilities of visiting the club was to double-check the operation of his blaster and comlink.
Han had never been this far into the lower levels in the five years he and Luke had lived on Coruscant, and as he threaded his way through the narrow passages, he wondered why. He could practically taste and smell the lively energy bouncing relentlessly through the mostly youthful crowds thronging the walkways, deep in the neon-vaulted canyons of the city. Not a single head turned to stare, for this place belonged to a different generation and his was a face woven into the tapestry of the past, already consigned to the trash heap of history. He was jostled and buffeted in the crowd, and absurdly delighted that no one felt a need to give him courteous, respectful space.
Third Sector wasn’t the roughest area of Coruscant by any means, but it had a reputation as the gathering place for artists, intellectuals, hedonists and anarchists, and boasted a lively, cutting-edge social scene. Exactly the kind of place a respectable and very busy general didn’t ordinarily visit—and exactly the kind of place where a former smuggler could feel right at home.
Couples and larger groupings were everywhere: every combination of species and gender he could imagine, and some he couldn’t have imagined on his best day. Suddenly he missed Luke fiercely. He wanted to walk through a crowd like this with his lover, hands joined, and not get a second glance. Or be able to yield to impulse and kiss the kid without worrying if it would be featured on every public news screen in the city.
He’d parked his flier one level up, deliberately choosing to approach the club on foot. He’d figured there was safety in numbers, at least in this situation. Worst thing that would happen to him in this crowd would be panhandlers and pickpockets. Old instincts surfaced autonomously, and when an attractive female Morlonian rubbed up against him in brazen suggestion he reflexively captured her roving tentacle before she could lift his credit and ID chips from an inner jacket pocket.
She flashed him a shameless smile, shrugged and vanished into the crowd, on the prowl for less alert victims. Although pleased his instincts had functioned properly, it bothered him that she’d singled him out as a target. That alone told him his edge had been blunted after a few years of respectability. Ten years ago no one would’ve mistaken him for an easy mark.
Even so, the encounter exhilarated him, and he approached the club with expectation. Whatever awaited him inside, he was glad he’d accepted the mysterious invitation. Gambling on his famous luck and charm, he casually strolled past the queue of anxious supplicants, some of whom whistled and shouted cheerfully offensive comments as he passed, and faced the Devaronian guarding the entrance. Her appreciative gaze checked him out thoroughly, from head to toe. Entirely unselfconscious, he winked at her.
"Do I get to see the rear view, too?" she snarled politely. He knew she was being polite because she wasn’t showing her teeth. Obediently he turned around for a few seconds so she could get the full effect of Corellian quality.
"You get my vote, gorgeous. Nice prop, too." She nodded her head toward his blaster as she released the door control. "Very authentic."
Puzzled, but not enough to risk being shut out of the club if he missed this particular window of opportunity, he blew her a kiss and strode into the dimly lit interior.
Club Convivo was a bit more upscale than he’d expected, but it was definitely better than the Palace reception halls where he spent far too much time. Smoke from a dozen different intoxicants burned his eyes and lungs; it was dark enough to trip over outstretched legs and other appendages and thereby set off a satisfying brawl; the noise was appalling. To one side a long bar stretched the length of the room and beyond the bar he could see another room with a small stage, live musicians and a very crowded dance floor. The clientele looked primarily human. He tracked movement from the corner of his eye: someone climbing the stairs to the upper gallery. Strobing lights added a nice touch of disconnected surrealism.
No recognition. The sheer, sweet feeling of freedom, too long forbidden, leaped against his ribs. He missed Luke desperately, wanted to share this intimate, blissful moment of privacy with his partner.
He managed to work his way through the closely packed tables without receiving any serious death threats and bellied up to the bar. Best place to wait to be approached, he figured. Every nerve tingled with the prospect of potential opportunity. Something was gonna happen tonight, he could feel it.
A cloth flicked quickly across the already immaculate bar top. The movement interrupted Han’s musings and he returned his attention to the bartender.
"Look, Mr. I Ain’t A General, I got other customers. If you’re not drinkin’, make way for a paying customer will ya?"
Han found the Durosian’s rudeness very reassuring. What a relief from all the pompous correctness he had to endure these days. He decided to take full advantage of this gift of new-found freedom, and live dangerously. "House ale."
That drew a chuckle from the man on the stool next to him. "You always did like to live on the edge, Han." The voice was almost, but not quite...
I couldn’t be this lucky, could I?
He turned his head to see another human, disturbingly familiar in appearance. "Luke?"
The man straightened, and Han saw the resemblance was only superficial. How could he have mistaken this man, even in the dim light, even with the noise, for Luke—was that a lightsaber hanging from the guy’s belt? He squinted and leaned forward for a closer look.
The fellow apparently took that as an invitation and slanted a seductive smile at him.
"Sure, Han. You forget me already?" The man dropped his voice to a low purr. "After everything that’s passed between us?"
Hells, the guy was coming on to him. Sure, he knew he still had what it took, but it’d been a few years since anybody’d... well, after all, who wanted to compete with a Jedi?
He’d wondered about the reverse on occasion. Luke was irresistible—gorgeous, smart, powerful and important; somehow Han suspected most guys wouldn’t have a problem competing with an ex-smuggler. How often did Luke have to deal with offers of company? Han swallowed hard against the image of a constant stream of attractive, desirable men and women flirting with his partner. Not that Luke would ever give anybody a second glance, of course, but just the thought that he suffered unwanted attentions—
"Maybe me ‘n my personal lightsaber can remind you how much we mean to each other."
The line was so incredibly juvenile that Han laughed despite himself and then jerked his leg away from the other’s groping hand. In the process he managed to spill the tankard of ale all over himself.
"Let me help you, love." The guy’s hands were all over him and Han had had enough. He shoved the other man back with a one-armed thrust.
"Easy, pal. Hands off the merchandise. You see me wearin’ a sign says ‘available’?"
The man shrugged. "You came in alone. How was I supposed to know?"
Han figured his distaste toward this encounter was a good measure of how much his life had changed since the day a boy with a twin-suns smile burst into his life. That bright smile had drawn him like a Wook to his personal LifeTree; the kid’s energy and idealism had stripped away all Han’s assumptions about love, trust, faith and commitment and re-ordered his universe.
"I’m not interested, but I’m willin’ to forget if you move on."
"What a loser!" The ersatz Luke pronounced his judgment and wandered away, no doubt seeking more coordinated and cooperative prey. Han dabbed at his soaked shirt and pants with an inadequate cocktail napkin and dusted off some infrequently used curses dredged from his memory. He didn’t really have much call for curses these days, not when he was spending his life with Luke. For good measure he glared at the grinning bartender and slapped a few coins on the bar to pay for the drink he hadn’t tasted.
Gods! He hated the crazies. Even the harmless ones made the back of his neck itch.
He was uncomfortable in his damp clothes and disillusioned by the encounter with the loony; the lure of the mysterious message was losing its appeal by the second. Now where is that blasted ‘fresher?
Han didn’t think he’d asked the question aloud, but when the Durosian jerked his thumb toward the passage between bar and dance floor, he saw the blinking lights indicating the ‘fresher lounges.
Now that his eyes had adjusted fully to the strafing darkness, he spotted two more Luke wannabes and—Force fry his brains ‘n serve ‘em up with sauce—half a dozen Han Solos. He fell into the sanctuary of the ‘fresher with relief, his mind not quite caught up processing what his senses told him, and fetched up against a nearly solid wall of people using the mirrors. The ‘fresher was clogged with more Lukes and Hans of varying degrees of accuracy, most human, some not. Most of them were, well... primping. To put it politely. Adjusting clothing, fixing hair, offering advice and criticisms to one another—Han felt just a trifle disoriented from the surfeit of heroic personalities.
Celebrity impersonators? Didn’t these guys have anything better to do with their time?
From the looks of the crowd already in the club, and the length of the line waiting to enter, he guessed not.
No wonder the bartender had recognized him. The Devaronian bouncer’s comments made sense in hindsight. The homogenous familiarity of the crowd awaiting admittance... the pretend Luke hitting on him... Somehow, it had never occurred to him that he and Luke might be targeted this way. He’d initially dealt with unpleasant and intrusive publicity the way he dealt with everything—head on; and quickly learned it made no difference to the galactic newsnets. Others, like Leia, also suffered from the juggernaut of devouring curiosity, but thanks to their combined exploits and the ridiculous romantic haze surrounding them, he and Luke earned top honors with the public. The ubiquitous frenzy to learn every last detail of their lives had seemed only to gain momentum over the years, until he really had to fight the urge to go for his blaster when some addle-brained reporter asked the identical inane question he’d already answered 687 times. So he’d developed techniques to avoid or distract the ever-present news droids. He'd chosen to ignore the overheard whispers of awe and curiosity and learned to use humor to deflect the worst invasions of privacy. He'd expected the occasional lunatic—hell, there’d even been a religious zealot who set himself on fire to demonstrate his objection to Jedi—but he hadn’t expected this sort of wholesale imitation. Han’s live-and-let-live tolerance didn’t extend as far as permitting fanatics into their lives. His and Luke’s lives were already complicated enough—wasn’t like they needed to go shopping for more problems.
The message had obviously been somebody’s idea of a joke. Lando’s, more than likely.
A human Luke, quite young and wearing what looked like very authentic Tatooine garb, patted Han’s arm and ran fingers through his slightly graying hair. "You’re brave, handsome."
Or maybe this was an invitation from some unknown admirer. He lifted an inquiring eyebrow, inviting further explanation.
"Going for realism isn’t exactly popular, you know. The judges usually go for a younger look."
"Hey, it’s their loss." Han spread his hands in a gesture of helplessness and grinned. "I gotta work with the raw material."
The boy made a very attractive Luke, now that he got a good look at him. Right height and build, good job with the hair cut and color; too bad about the eyes, though. Not that he expected any of these clowns to come even close when it came to Luke’s eyes. Han smiled as he thought about Luke’s eyes, and the way a sultry low-lidded glance from those eyes sent tingles of pure electricity up his spine.
"My name’s Ardo, by the way." The boy turned a critical eye on him. "Nice costume. Who made it? Dwilli? He did mine—pretty good job, don’t you agree?" He turned in a circle so Han could admire him from all angles—but all Han could see were possibilities unfolding themselves in tantalizing disarray. Was it possible these guys truly took him for one of their own?
And Luke wasn’t due back until tomorrow. Han dusted off another long-unused curse.
"Dwilli? You’ve got to be joking!" Another Han Solo finished his turn before the mirror and joined their conversation. "Dwilli uses raw vinesilk for the shirts and tunics, and everybody knows you can’t get the right draping effect unless you use Zaharian cottoweave." The fellow fingered Han’s shirtsleeve. "This is just cheap polyweave. What’d you do, make it yourself?"
This Ardo might not’ve been his Luke, but Han had to crush the protective instinct that rose in him at what seemed to be an unwarranted attack.
"Lay off him, Sully. He’s obviously new to the circuit." Ardo pushed the other Han back without looking at him. "You’re new to the Show, aren’t you?"
I don’t believe this. Han felt his lips twitching. He didn’t think he’d be able to hold control for much longer, and turned his attention to wiping down his soaked clothes.
"What a mess!" Ardo snatched a towel and started helping. "You wanna borrow my drier? You can’t compete like this!"
"He’s not tall enough anyway," sneered the other Han as he exited the ‘fresher.
Ardo pulled a portable hair styler from a large bag and used it with as much grace and confidence as Luke displayed with his lightsaber. "Don’t pay any attention to Sully. He’s mad at me ‘cause I got our costumes from Dwilli this year, and he’s taking it out on you. Just get yourself into character. Be Han Solo. It’s more mindset and attitude than exact looks anyway."
"You been doing this for very long?" Han finally ventured when he thought he could trust his voice again, determined to figure out what drove this peculiar kind of obsessive behavior. His instincts said young Ardo was neither crazy nor dangerous.
"Oh, sure. Three years now. But just here on Coruscant. I can’t afford to do the whole Core Worlds Circuit. It’s a lot of fun. You’ll have a great time, meet all kinds of people—Foshun over there," Ardo nodded toward a Mon Cal Han Solo, "is a Professor at CU. And that’s Racca Guinn." This time he waggled the drier in the direction of a human Luke, dressed in Jedi blacks. "He’s Director of the Alderaan Resettlement Project, some big charitable organization. Me, I’m just a hyperdrive mechanic over at West Port Engineering."
Well, well, well. He never would’ve dreamed that the quiet, self-effacing Guinn would lead such a bizarre secret life. And after encountering each other at a dozen or more formal receptions and dinners, it seemed impossible that Guinn wouldn’t recognize Han—but he didn’t. Just nodded in a friendly fashion and brushed past. Creeped him out, though, to think that Guinn had probably been covertly studying Luke’s appearance and mannerisms every time they met. The headcases were everywhere.
Han took the drier from Ardo and directed the heat toward the most uncomfortable—and embarrassing—damp patches. "So how did a mechanic, a professor and a bureaucrat end up doing impersonations?"
Ardo had been searching through his shoulder bag for something and looked up sharply at the question. "You feeling kind of weird? Happened to me, too, my first time. I thought, Ardo, have you gone crazy, pretending to be somebody else? I started thinking, what if the real Luke Skywalker found out? What would he think? But I stopped worrying about that, ‘cause I’m not trying to hurt him or anything. I just really admire Skywalker and Solo. They’re the kind of guys that make things happen—real heroes. I mean, real heroes. And I like the way they don’t hide the way they feel about each other. Sully and I had to leave Britalos after we fell in love, ‘cause same-sex relations are against the law there. Coruscant’s much better for us. Nobody gives us a second look, except when we’re mistaken for Skywalker and Solo."
The boy shrugged. "I guess it’s just a real bad case of hero worship. Pretty much the same story for everybody here. Our way of saying thanks for everything. What’s your story?"
By the time Han stumbled back out into the main room, his head whirling from Too Much Information, he’d been seriously educated in the art and wonder of celebrity impersonations.
Han didn’t have to like the idea that he and Luke had become public property to see the possibilities in this situation. He stood perfectly still for a moment, pondering his new-found perspective. Nobody paid any attention to him at all. He was invisible in the crowd of Han and Luke impersonators.
And that made him think about something else. Madine had been waving a very tempting undercover InTell job under his nose for months, a free-lance troubleshooting position far more suited to his renegade style—as Luke had once described him—than the stuffy bureaucracy he ran these days. He’d figured he was far too recognizable to try anything like that again, but perhaps not... Misdirection sure seemed to work well enough for these people. Ardo had very helpfully mentioned all the techniques and products available to alter his appearance. So he would look more like Han Solo, of course, but they’d work equally well in the other direction, too.
Han grinned. All kinds of new opportunities were opening up tonight. He felt like he was breathing free for the first time in far too many years.
Now the only thing missing was his Luke.
"Your friend at the bar abandon you, pirate?"
This voice was so perfect it sent a thrill through Han from head to toe. He turned to check out the source. A sweeping spotlight focused on the slender blond leaning casually against the wall just long enough for Han to see the man was as perfect as his voice, and then moved on, surrendering them to the dimness. Han grinned again. "Nah. I abandoned him."
Luke nodded. "Good."
The abrupt smile absolutely dazzled Han and he smiled back.
"So you’re alone then?"
Han stretched that smile even wider and locked on to those blue eyes like a programmed torpedo seeking its target. "Not any more." He made a point of looking around. "Kind of surprised to see you’re not fightin’ ‘em off with that fancy glow stick of yours." He frowned. "You ain’t doin’ one of your tricks, are you?"
Luke shook his head and his smile transformed into a wicked grin. "Think you’re pretty special, don’t you, all these guys flirting with you."
Han braced himself against the wall with one hand and leaned in toward Luke, putting his back to the room to create an organic shield of privacy.
"All these guys? I remember only one." He inclined forward to catch the familiar heady scents that identified his lover. Even blind and deaf, he’d be able to recognize Luke by scent and touch alone. "That almost sounds like jealousy." He slid one hand through the silk of Luke’s hair, and his entire nervous system went into joyful, frantic overload at the physical contact.
Luke lifted his head to meet Han’s eyes. "And that sounds like wishful thinking to me."
Han’s heart stumbled at the hungry, possessive expression in those eyes, a look that directly contradicted Luke’s words. His hand caressed the back of Luke’s head and tightened around his neck.
"Besides, what about that boy in the ‘fresher? Looked like you and he were getting pretty friendly."
He saw it again in the blue eyes, a flash of humor mixed with something indefinable, and chuckled low in his throat. "Oh, so you were spying on me."
"Hardly." Luke looked at him guilelessly. "Next thing, you’ll be saying this isn’t a coincidence, either."
"Mmmm." He brought Luke’s face close to his own. "In fact, if I were the suspicious type, I might even say somebody had planned this."
"But you’re not the suspicious type?" Luke’s arms slid loosely around his waist.
"Only if I have reason to be."
"Do you have reason now?" Luke’s hands rubbed down his spine and settled in at the small of his back. The touch of his lover’s hands set Han’s nerve endings on fire, and quickened his breath into little gasps of pleasure.
"And what if somebody did?" Those hands splayed flat and yanked hard. His body remembered a shared history and fit against Luke’s in a familiar, seamless pattern.
"I guess I’d have to thank him properly." They were so close he could feel Luke’s breath on his skin. "You sent me that message," he accused, rubbing his cheek against Luke’s, for the sheer pleasure of rough stubble rasping against tender skin. "Coulda warned me, you know."
Luke pulled back only far enough to look Han in the eye. "And miss the expression on your face when you figured out what was going on?" Then he leaned closer again, this time to trace the outline of Han’s lips with his tongue until Han felt warm heaviness take hold in his groin. He shifted to accommodate his increasing stiffness.
"You’re definitely the best Han I’ve seen so far," Luke whispered just before he claimed Han’s mouth in a long, demanding kiss. Exactly the kind of kiss Han had been missing for too long; the kind that drew heat into his groin and kicked his pulse into high gear. The kiss lasted forever and was over too soon, and Han realized he’d wrapped his arms around Luke at some point and was holding on tight, the way a drowning man hangs onto a life preserver.
Luke’s kiss breathed life into his hibernating spirit, as though his body had lain sleeping since the last time Luke had touched him.
"Ah, kid, I missed you," he muttered when they finally broke for air. After Endor he’d stopped calling Luke ‘kid’, feeling foolish because Luke patently wasn’t a kid anymore. But when Luke confessed he missed the affectionate endearment, Han had resurrected the word so it had become part of their private lovers’ language.
Luke buried his face at Han’s shoulder. "Missed you, too." He felt wet, cool kisses pressed to the heated skin of his neck and smoothed one hand down Luke’s back in a long, stroking motion.
"How did you—" Luke’s mouth covered his again, swallowing the question before either of them could make sense of it. It didn’t matter anyway, the how and why of this miracle encounter. All that mattered was that Luke was here, in his arms, whole and healthy and wanting him. He laid his hand over Luke’s heart, feeling for the pulse and rhythm of his good fortune, and opened up to the searching tongue.
Vague concerns about public demonstrations vanished. They were in a very exposed setting, surrounded by people, and yet Han had rarely felt so alone with Luke.
He ended the kiss reluctantly and happily took credit for Luke’s disheveled and breathless condition—and for the hardness he felt against his thigh. "Need to be thanked again?" he teased when he finally had enough breath stored up to speak, still holding Luke as tightly as possible.
Luke slid one hand inside the collar of Han’s shirt, to lay a warm palm against the pulse beating there at the hollow of his neck. "I think so."
"Mmmmhmmm. I like the idea, too." Then he curled one hand around Luke’s neck and dove in for another kiss, slipping his tongue into the warmth of Luke’s mouth, taking the time to reacquaint himself with every nuance of that sweet sanctuary. In response, Luke moaned low in his throat and clutched tighter into the fabric of Han’s shirt.
Holding Luke like this, loving him with heart and mind and body, it was easy to heal the intangible rifts of their frequent separations.
When they finally drew apart, the words tumbled out thoughtlessly. "I love you." Although Han had long ago given up denying the obvious, his sense of timing often surprised him. He seemed to have no conscious control over when he said things like this, as if some circuit in his heart opened and bypassed his brain entirely, so that he blurted the phrase out like a giddy teenager.
And whenever he did, the expression of joy on Luke’s face was more than enough reward. Like now. Luke’s hand detached from its place at Han’s neck and took a leisurely journey down his chest, like a promise.
"Love you, too." The affection in Luke’s eyes was a truth that had set Han’s spirit free long ago. Love wasn’t something he could explain, and it never came on demand. He simply counted himself among the lucky ones.
Luke slid that infuriating hand lower still, a light, teasing touch that triggered fireworks in its wake and confusion in his thoughts.
"I can’t think when you do that, kid," he grumbled, losing a silent battle with his self-control.
"This is news?"
"You’re certainly in a good mood." More than anything, Han wanted to hold on to this light-hearted moment; they came all too infrequently for his liking. Whatever secret formula had kindled Luke’s playful mood, he wanted to commit it to memory as a breathing space within the crushing landslide of obligation that threatened to bury Luke, bury them both; a magic potion of love and respite he could summon when needed.
"I’m with you." Luke kissed him again, lightly this time, barely touching their lips together. "And we’re invisible."
"Can’t think of a better reason myself. ‘Cept I wanna know how you knew we’d be invisible." Right then, Han wouldn’t have cared if they’d been standing on a podium in Monument Square. Everything else he’d planned to say fled before the upsurge of desire Luke had awakened in his body, so he resorted to instinct. He captured Luke’s mouth in a real kiss and tightened their embrace, trapping Luke’s hand against his belly. "C’mon, spill it."
Between kisses and moans, Luke told him. "Somebody came up to me on Cosre, asked if anybody’d ever mentioned I look a lot like Luke Skywalker."
Luke’s hand was getting pretty damned inquisitive by now.
"Suggested I might want to enter this contest. I broke every speed record between Cosre and here, I’ll have you know."
"Glad you did." He buried his hands in Luke’s hair. "Now let’s see if we can break every speed record between here and our apartment." His tongue found and traced the delicate spiral of a vulnerable ear. And then groaned in sheer delight when Luke squeezed hard between his legs in response. "Damn, keep that up ‘n we won’t make it that far."
Luke turned his head to brush his lips against Han’s. "We don’t have to, ch’uska. Upstairs gallery’s nice ‘n private."
He groaned at the crude Lysorian term for sexual partner. Brought back memories of the single other time Luke had used it... an overgrown garden heavy with the scent of night-blooming chidors and ozone, the rain pounding down on their naked bodies and splattering them with mud. Luke had taken him that night with a single-minded intensity that still made Han’s knees buckle at the memory.
The same greedy, demanding look that had been in Luke’s eyes that night was back, sparking more pyrotechnics in Han’s belly.
"Unless you’d rather find a dark corner down here."
"What you got in mind?" He could barely breathe past the tightness in his throat. His entire body was on fire; his cock had become a molten core of need.
"Come upstairs and find out."
"This part of my home-coming present?"
Luke grabbed his backside with both hands and shoved their groins together. Han moaned at the grinding strength of the embrace and thrust hard in response.
"Uh-uh. It’s mine."
They linked fingers together and Luke towed him toward the gallery staircase Han vaguely recalled seeing near the entrance. People were coming down the stairs, and they were the only ones trying to go up. It was like fighting a tidal wave of clones, eerie enough to freak anybody out. He certainly didn’t enjoy the experience.
"Where you goin’, boysss?" A very large female Osarian reptiloid threw her two upper arms around each of their shoulders. "You’re going the wrong way, my darlingsss. Ssstage is back that way. Nearly time for the ssshow." Her scent tongue flickered across both of them in turn, tasting and identifying.
"We’re not part of the show," Luke explained, impatiently trying to wriggle past her bulk and failing.
Maybe not part of the show, but definitely part of the entertainment, Han knew. He flashed a smile at the Osarian, as full of the Solo charm as he could manage with his entire body committed to one purpose.
"Don’t you worry, sweetheart." He patted her cheek. "This won’t take long."
She hissed her appreciation of the situation and let them pass. "Enjoy yourssselvesss, little onesss."
Others had apparently had the same idea about the gallery. Although there weren’t clumps of people talking and drinking, nearly all of the booths were occupied. The privacy shields allowed only for an impression of movement within each alcove, but Han could definitely hear multiple sounds of passion. They reached the end of the gallery before they found a vacant booth.
"Our home away from home," he said, jerking his arm back across his body so Luke would either have to follow or release his hand. Luke laughed and came willingly into his embrace for another kiss that wound every muscle in Han’s body past the point of no return.
"I was beginning to think we’d have to go for that dark corner after all." Luke reversed their positions so Han would have to enter first. "In you go."
He grinned. "Bossy, ain’t ya?"
A quick, breathless answer. "Yes. You gonna get in, or do I have to throw you in?"
He couldn’t mistake the urgency in Luke’s voice, a sweet change from their usual roles. He pretended to consider the question seriously, and earned a painful pinch in his ribs for his teasing.
"I dunno. Last guy who hit on me wanted to show me his personal lightsaber. You got something better to offer?"
Luke laughed. "If you think you can handle it."
"Try me, kid."
Luke’s grin grew even broader, acknowledging the challenge. "There is no try, Han, you know that. I guess I’ll just have to do instead." And before Han could say anything further, Luke grabbed his shirtfront and shoved him back into the alcove.
He bounced against the low round table, sprawled headlong on the bench, and reached back to rub what would probably be a badly bruised hip. The kid had used a little more force than he’d expected, and he glanced up to growl a comment about playing rough, but the words died in his throat.
A stray ribbon of light fell across Luke, converting the familiar form into organic architecture: an exotic, kinetic sculpture. His face was a taut mask of need.
A godsdamned work of art. Bruised hip forgotten, Han stared, thoroughly captivated by the beauty before him. Sometimes Luke just plain took his breath away.
"Kid, you get in here. Now."
He rolled face up and slid back on the bench as far as he could. "C’mere." When Luke settled on top of him on the generously-sized bench between table and wall space, he felt the blood sing in his ears. Impossible, he thought. It’s all in my cock, the way it feels. Heavy, full, ready to burst.
"I’m here." With the privacy shield engaged, it was dark enough in the booth that they missed the angle of the first kiss and their teeth clashed violently. Han tasted the sharp coppery tang of blood, but he didn’t know if it was his or Luke’s, and he didn’t care. He recalculated positions and vectors and plunged in for a deep, bruising kiss, Luke meeting his effort with equally fierce strength and passion.
Oh gods, he loved the sounds Luke made, those little uncontrollable sobs and gasps that were guideposts to pleasure. He loved the way Luke’s hands tangled in his hair to hold his head still while that clever mouth devoured his lips. Proof positive of satisfaction.
When Luke finally tore his mouth away, they were both panting.
But Luke didn’t answer, only raised himself up on his elbows, forced Han’s legs apart with one knee and drove his hips forward with short, sharp jabs.
"You tryin’ to tell me somethin’?" He busied himself opening Luke’s shirt while he had the chance, eager to lose himself in the chiseled landscape of bone and muscle and silken skin. Familiar territory, all of it, and new every time. He slid both hands upward, from the tight belly and ridged arches of the ribcage and found twin points of hard, puckered flesh. Something he could claim for his own, and so he did, straining upward to graze one nipple with his teeth. The connection made him gasp, as if a circuit had opened and desire surged along its pathways, from Luke to him and back again in a never-ending cycle, increasingly volatile and unstable. And infinitely precious.
A fanfare of music skimmed along the edges of his hearing, but his ears were more attuned to the subtle hum of passion scrubbing through his veins.
Han didn’t know if Luke answered his question, or encouraged his actions, but that no longer mattered. He braced himself and used his greater weight and leverage to reverse their positions. The bench wasn’t quite wide enough for the maneuver and Han had to grab onto the edge of the table so they wouldn’t land on the floor.
"Got you where I want you now," he gloated. That damned lightsaber—the metal one—was gouging his sore hip. With his free hand he unclipped it from Luke’s belt and laid it on the table, followed an instant later by his own blaster and gunbelt.
"You just think so."
He could just make out the expression on Luke’s face, a feral, dangerous smile.
"Mmmm, I know so." He pressed his lips to that vulnerable hollow at the base of the throat where Luke’s pulse beat, noticeably quickened, aligning himself with the rhythm of passion and alive to the subtle tremor that shook the slender body. And the little laugh that bubbled up.
"Sometimes, Han, I think you don’t know what you want." Luke’s hands stroked down his back.
He shifted position and lifted his mouth to kiss along the jaw line, and paused at another pulse point just below Luke’s ear.
"Not me. I always know what I want." He licked the sensitive area and was rewarded with another restless twitch from Luke. "And right now I want you. All of you."
Now it was his turn to snake his hand down chest and belly, to fondle the tempting bulge between Luke’s legs, and thrill to the shuddering breath against his ear. "This is what I want, kid."
"Unnhh," Luke moaned, reduced to non-verbal status by Han’s firm grip.
He couldn’t help but grin. "Is that a ‘yes’?" He rubbed a little harder, and wriggled a little lower, licking his way across a smooth, bare chest, holding firm on Luke’s cock to keep him from trying to flip them again. "Or did you have something different in mind?" He nuzzled against a hard nipple, alternately teasing with tongue and teeth until Luke arched up beneath him in silent demand. "What d’you want, huh?"
"Same... mmmmm... yesss... same thing... ahhh! do that again... same thing you want."
Han grinned and moved lower still, branding his lover with wet kisses. "Then I guess we better lose some of these clothes." He unfastened Luke’s pants and tugged them as far down as he could, wishing for more light so he could see that urgent erection as well as feel it. He wrapped one fist around the length of cock and rubbed his thumb over the weeping crown, waiting until Luke pushed into his fist. Then he used his other hand to cup and gently squeeze his balls until Luke cried out and struggled upright.
"You too," he gasped, fumbling for Han’s shirt fasteners and careless in the dark. Something ripped, but Han didn’t care. It was, after all, only a cheap polyweave garment. His undershirt quickly followed, impatiently flung aside like the unwanted impediment it was. Then Luke’s hands were on his skin, Luke’s lips were on his skin, skimming, touching everywhere—forehead, cheek, lips, neck, chest, arms, hands, stomach—filling all the empty places in him with the unambiguous, cherished simplicity of mutual desire born from love. Renewal was in every touch, renewal of the promises they’d made to each other, keeping the faith between them. Fire didn’t begin to describe how he felt, melting from the inside out under Luke’s fevered caresses and the whispered endearments that followed every touch of his lover’s mouth.
When Luke loosened his trousers, Han leaned his weight back on his elbows and lifted his hips to assist. And then shivered when his underwear was pushed aside and Luke’s tongue swirled around his cock, when the rush of years together condensed down to this single moment of utterly perfect reality.
When Luke turned his attention to pulling Han’s pants and shoes completely off, the shock of cold air on damp skin felt like betrayal. "Don’t stop--!"
"Sshhh. Sshhh." Luke hushed his outburst tenderly, sliding back up his length to kiss his complaints into silence. "I’m just giving you what you wanted. All of me."
He caught his breath when slick fingers probed between his thighs, coaxing them apart, seeking and sliding inside the opening to coat him with lubricant.
"You little... unnghh!" A wave of bright, hot pleasure washed through him. Luke had wasted no time finding the exact spot guaranteed to overwhelm all argument. And where in all the hells had that lube come from? The kid had definitely planned ahead.
Luke laughed. "You were right, Han. You always know what you want."
Hell yes, he did. He always had. But sometimes they needed to play a few games beforehand. He grabbed Luke around the neck, torn between surrendering now or continuing the game with another power reversal. "Think you’re smart, don’t you?" When their mouths met in another hard, all-consuming kiss, he tasted the edge of dangerous insistence in Luke’s approach and knew it was time to yield.
He let his legs fall open in silent offering and drew his knees up to his chest. Luke levered into position between open thighs and nudged forward, slowly easing himself fully inside. Han held himself still, nearly stopped breathing, hanging on to the last shreds of control as his lover took possession of his body. There had never been any pain, only the joy of giving and receiving pleasure. The joy of sharing and merging all that they were.
When Luke began thrusting, hunting for rhythm, Han kept his right hand on Luke’s neck and blindly stretched out his left. He’d always made a point of this during lovemaking, starting back in those post-Endor days when Luke struggled to integrate all his losses into something they both could live with. Rightly or wrongly, that artificial right hand had become a symbol of betrayal and dishonor for Luke, a burden of sins he hadn’t committed. Han hadn’t known how to erase the unearned guilt and shame, but he had recognized the importance of loving all of Luke, including his pain and potential. The only way he’d seen to do this was through the symbolism of the hand.
Luke’s right hand clenched around his extended hand, and Han brought their joined hands to his lips. He hadn’t missed a single time, pressing a kiss to the palm of that hand every time they made love, silent and tender acceptance of Luke’s faults and frailties.
Only then could he give himself up to the flashes of delight travelling in the wake of each push and pull of Luke’s hips. He heaved, trying to meet those thrusts as best he could, and locked his legs around Luke’s waist. When Luke slipped a hand between them to seize Han’s cock, he pushed the hand away and shook his head. Their cheeks scraped together, a brief, raw sensation, heard Luke whispering his name over and over again, and knew he did the same, chanting his lover’s name like a mantra to ward off evil.
When Luke arched up and forced a faster, erratic pace, Han opened his eyes wide. In the dim light that filtered through the privacy screen he watched his lover come, saw the expression of ecstasy that resembled agony spread across that beautiful face; watched until the last traces of tension faded from face and body and he held Luke in the aftermath of climax.
His cock still throbbed with need, his body ached for release, and yet all he wanted to do at this moment was lay heart to heart with his love, stroking sweat-damp hair, waiting until Luke recovered. Never took very long anyway—the kid had amazing recuperative powers.
"Uhhhh..." Well, that was encouraging. At least he was conscious.
Han lifted one of Luke’s arms and watched it flop back down bonelessly. He grinned. Maybe this recovery wouldn’t be quite as quick as usual.
"Yeah." Luke sounded a little too drowsy for any immediate activity.
Han vaguely registered some loud applause and cheering from the club’s lower level. When his cock twitched to remind him he needed some serious relief, he seized on the sound as a distraction from his physical need.
"Aside from the obvious advantages of what’s going on here... does it bother you?"
Luke was still for so long Han thought perhaps he’d dozed off, but then he stirred and shifted position to pillow his head against Han’s shoulder. He traced an aimless design on Han’s chest with his right forefinger as he spoke.
"It’s pretty strange to walk into a club and see fifty different versions of me. And even stranger to see fifty versions of you. I’m not too thrilled people feel they can lay claim to my identity and my life partner, or use us for their own purposes, but I ‘spose that’s part of the price we pay for being who we are."
" ‘S funny." He smiled at the sound of Luke’s sleepy yawn. "It doesn’t bother me as bad as I thought it would."
"Oh yeah?" Luke sounded a little more alert after the yawn. "That’s a switch. You’re always grumbling about the headcases. Tell me what changed your mind."
Luke continued tracing circles on his skin, but with more purpose now, moving closer to Han’s stiff, aching cock.
"Didn’t change my mind completely. There’s a lot about this scene that spooks me. Kinda like clones." Not that he wanted to bring up bad memories, but he figured Luke had to be thinking along the same lines anyway.
Luke shivered involuntarily and his curious hand paused and clamped into a fist against Han’s navel. "Yeah, that’s it exactly."
He covered that fist with his own hand, gently caressing until the tension eased and he could lace their fingers together.
"Y’know, I’ve spent a few years feeling like we’re bugs in a jar. Exposed and trapped at the same time. But when I was talkin’ to that kid in the ‘fresher, some of what he said started to make sense. Made me take a step back and think ‘bout how others see us. Told me why he does this. ‘Cause he admires us. He said he felt pretty strange at first, and wondered what you would make of it if you ever found—"
Luke’s fingers tightened against Han’s, the barest hint of resentment edging his words. "Nice of him to consider my feelings, no matter how briefly."
"The thing is, Luke, he’s from Britalos. He dropped it real casual like, that he and his partner had to leave Britalos when they fell in love."
Luke shivered. "Gods. Britalos. They were lucky they got out with their lives."
"Yeah. I know. Hell, you barely got out with your life. Still don’t know what Leia was thinkin’, asking you to go and negotiate with those cults." He remembered the hollow pain in his gut when he’d seen Luke in the medcenter after a commando rescue effort.
Luke pulled his hand free and raised it to stroke through Han’s hair. "It’s all right." Funny that Luke should be comforting him against that memory, rather than the other way around. "She didn’t know about the persecution against same-sex relationships. She thought it was only a matter of religious versus political agendas, something that could be resolved. Nobody knew how bad it was on Britalos, except the locals."
"And they weren’t in a position to tell anybody with that jamming blackout in place. Yeah, I remember. Anyway, what this boy said got me thinkin’ that not everybody who does this kind of thing is a headcase. Some of ‘em might have valid reasons."
Luke was silent for a moment, still stroking his fingers through Han’s hair, and similar experiences told Han that Luke was considering what he’d said. He just wished Luke would stroke another part of his body while thinking.
"Right again, Han." Luke smiled and wriggled a bit so they were face to face. "Guess it’s flattering to think we’re role models for some people, like this boy and his partner. Or that connecting to us this way means something to them. I’d sure rather think that than think they’re using us." He dropped a kiss on Han’s nose.
"Yeah, know what you mean. But after talkin’ to some of those guys in the ‘fresher, especially that Ardo kid, I think that’s more what it is, Luke. ‘N in that case, there’s not much point in kicking up a fuss over it."
Luke nodded. "Seems to be a matter of turning a blind eye, for the most part. I don’t like it, but I can live with it, especially if you think most of ‘em are sincere."
Han leered cheerfully and grabbed Luke’s straying right hand. "All right, now we got that settled, you suppose you could make a sincere effort to help me out here?" He directed Luke’s hand toward his erection, already beginning to wilt from lack of attention.
Luke smiled widely and shifted position again, to brace himself up on one elbow. "Depends what you’ve got in mind." His breath caressed Han’s cheek. "This, maybe?" His lips touched Han’s mouth and then followed an invisible trail straight to his cock. Took only a couple of licks before he was fully hard again and impatient to feel that hot mouth wrapped around him in the lush, intimate caress he wanted so desperately.
"That’ll do just fine," he agreed, resisting the urge to tangle his hands in Luke’s hair and shove his head down.
What Luke was doing to him now, artful application of lips, teeth and tongue, was a far cry from the awkward technique he’d used their first night together: enthusiastic, but clumsy. Gods, but the kid was a fast learner. Han felt a certain amount of pride in this, because he’d taught Luke everything he--oh damn, Maker, don’t stop, Luke, don’t stop... swallowing him down whole—definitely not an easy task, Han reflected smugly—and then releasing him to tongue his balls and suck them carefully into his mouth, first one then the other, so that he shook from the unexpected sensations... back to his cock, to swirl his tongue over the sensitive head and lap under the foreskin.
Luke always knew before Han when he was about to come, even though the kid swore he wasn’t using the Force. Even as he felt the trailing fragments of desire wind up tighter and tighter, Luke was already there, sucking him deep into his throat, humming so that the vibrations added another layer of urgency-- and he arched up, pushing deeper into that willing mouth and grabbing for his hand at the same time.
Sunlight. That’s what it felt like when he came, when Luke made him come. A pure, clear warmth and lightness sweeping into his soul, brushing away small doubts and frustrations—redefining reality, until the only truth he knew was Luke.
Luke’s head settled against his hip. "Was that sincere enough?"
Han didn’t have to see his face to know he was smiling. "Oh yeah." He played his fingers through fine blond hair, entirely sated and content to simply lie peacefully for a while. Lazy and spent, he explored a sore spot on his lip with his tongue. Well, I guess I know whose blood that was.
After a brief moment Luke slid—or rather he tried to slide up the bench, but his sweat sticky body didn’t glide too well—so they were face to face again. Han could almost hear the relays clicking over when Luke propped himself up on one elbow to look down on his face. He met that familiar, troubled gaze squarely.
Here it comes. Every once in a while, unusual circumstances caused Luke’s tendency to assume blame for the galaxy’s problems to surface. It was the one serious recurring problem in their relationship.
"What?" He answered the unspoken prod.
"You really feel like a bug in a jar?"
Oh sweet suns, was this familiar territory! "Yeah. ‘N so do you, so don’t pretend otherwise."
"No! Can’t you get it through that thick sand-blasted skull of yours that it’s not just you? I’d make the same choice a hundred times, a thousand times, even knowing what was in store for us."
He grinned when Luke laughed outright. "I know that, Han." The kid leaned forward to initiate a deep kiss. "I feel the same. No, I was wondering if we should consider other ways to serve the Republic. I think we’ve both outgrown the jobs we came here to do."
He realized Luke’s comment didn’t surprise him all that much. He’d sensed growing restlessness in Luke over the past months, a restiveness that mirrored his own. They were both weary of the restrictive demands of political and bureaucratic expediency. Frustrated with the claustrophobic expectations of highly visible careers. Once again he thought of that intriguing Intell undercover assignment.
"Got somethin’ specific in mind, kid?"
"I think it’s time for me to start training some students."
"You always said you weren’t ready to do that."
Luke shrugged, looking a little abashed. "It was something I had to grow into. I know now my experience and knowledge base wasn’t broad enough. I wasn’t ready after Endor, or even five years ago."
Luke paused and Han recognized Leia’s technique of refocusing her audience’s attention on her next words. He couldn’t help but grin at how the similarities between brother and sister popped up at the damndest moments.
"But I am now. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately. And I’m not sure I want to do it here on Coruscant."
Leave Coruscant and its confining, trite predictability behind them? Now there was a happy thought, but sometimes the jumps Luke made in his reasoning took him by surprise.
"Why not? Far as I’ve heard, this was where the Order headquartered. Big school, the Temple—"
Luke kissed him again, probably to shut him up, but Han didn’t care. He was perfectly content to let Luke prove his case.
"Yeah, the Jedi had a very strong history and tradition here. But those traditions died with Ben, Yoda and Father. This next generation of Jedi will have to find their own path, and make new traditions. I’m only the link between the old and new, Han. There was a clean break, and I believe it happened for a reason. We were meant to discard the old ways, and build something entirely new."
Pretty much what he’d always felt, too. Everything he’d heard about the old Jedi Order had convinced him that it wouldn’t do Luke any good to try to revive the same traditions. All that crap about no passion was crazy. Luke’s passion—for his family, friends and beliefs—that’s what saved him and defeated Palpatine in the end. He’d spent a long time convincing Luke of that fact. Maybe he didn’t understand the Force the way Luke did, but Luke always listened to his opinions. Valued them. Acted on them, even.
As though reading his mind, Luke continued. "What do you think about that idea?"
Sometimes it really was spooky, the way Luke followed his thoughts. He slid one hand down the sculpted length of a muscular arm and considered his answer. "Which one? The teaching idea? Or the leaving Coruscant idea?"
Luke quivered under his caress and smiled. "Either. Both. They both affect you. Us. It’s different now than it was five years ago."
Not just different. Better. Although things had been pretty terrific back then, what he and Luke now shared had soared far beyond his wildest expectations. Unlimited horizons, as vast as the universe itself.
"I know the move to High Command was rough on you. I know the reason you took the job was because my place was here on Coruscant and you wanted us to be together. Not ‘cause you had a burning desire to run a bureaucracy or live like a bug in a jar." Luke’s smile was more than a little self-mocking.
Although every word was true, Han opened his mouth to protest, and Luke laid his fingers across his mouth.
"I know it’s the truth, and I treasure that truth more than you’ll ever know. But I couldn’t ask it of you, couldn’t take away your freedom to choose. I could only make the decision that was right for me at the time, and wait for you to make the decision that was right for you. I hoped you would make the choice that you did, but I didn’t know if you would."
Han’s throat tightened at Luke’s honest admission. He opened his mouth to respond again, and again Luke silenced him, with another kiss. He decided he could get used to this discussion format.
"Let me finish. I knew you wanted us to be together. So did I, but I didn’t want to bind you to me in any way. If you’d chosen to stay on Corellia, I wouldn’t have questioned your decision, or doubted you. I would’ve just accepted that we had different paths to travel, no matter how hard or how lonely they were."
Finally, Luke let him speak. He lifted his hand from its place on Luke’s arm and traced the curve of cheekbone, the contours of that beloved face even more familiar than his own. Luck didn’t begin to cover what had happened to him.
"Well, if it’s confession time… I thought about it. Thought about staying on Corellia and waving goodbye to you. For about two seconds. It wasn’t a question for me, Luke, never was. Yeah, I was free to make my own choice—believe me, I knew what you did, and what it cost you."
He smiled at some of the memories of the day he’d made that decision. Pacing up and down the terrace of their small sea-side villa, pretending to seriously consider options when he was really watching gullins and seafalcons wheel and mate in the cloud-tossed sky above a mirror smooth green ocean, the calm before the storm. He’d seen the carefully veiled conflict in those blue eyes as Luke outlined his plans and left the future wide open; maybe someone else would’ve been offended or hurt that his partner’s plans didn’t include both of them, but Han had immediately recognized the great gift Luke offered. Not even Chewie understood Han’s most fundamental need the way Luke had. His mind had been made up even before Luke finished talking, although he never would’ve insulted the gift by indicating too hasty a decision. When the storm finally broke, Luke had come outside. There in the garden, drenched to their skins, he’d told Luke his decision. And seen that fierce, wild joy transmute into desperate sexual hunger and the need to possess...
"That’s really what clinched the deal for me. Anybody else would’ve been in there pitching, tryin’ to convince me that what was right for you was right for me, too." Sometimes words failed Han, like now, when he couldn’t find the right ones to express just how profoundly Luke’s respect for his needs had affected him. He shrugged helplessly. "All I can say is, you weren’t goin’ anywhere in this galaxy without me. Even if that meant I had to get kicked upstairs ‘n live on Coruscant."
But Luke was right that things were different this time. They were in too deep to pretend that either one could make a decision like this without considering how it affected them as a couple. Hard to say exactly when they’d evolved from ‘you and me’ into ‘us’—but that was how things were now.
"Guess it doesn’t surprise me we’ve been movin’ toward the same idea for a while now, ‘cause I’ve been getting pretty fed up with High Command, too."
Luke nodded, a little wrinkle creasing his forehead. "Yeah, I know you’ve felt it. I could see it when you told me about Madine’s offer."
" ‘N you blamed yourself for makin’ me too famous to accept it, I know." He wrapped his hand around the back of Luke’s neck and pulled him close for another kiss. "Gotta watch this tendency to think the whole galaxy revolves around you, y’know."
"Kind of hard not to, under the present circumstances," Luke retorted with a vague wave toward the club beyond their booth.
"Yeah, ain’t it? Started me thinking how maybe I could do the same thing, only in reverse." Han settled back with a smirk to enjoy Luke’s confusion.
"What d’you mean?"
"Hey, if they can look more like me than I can myself, what’s to stop me from looking like somebody else? There’s all kinds of techniques and products to help misdirect attention. Believe me, I learned from a pro tonight."
He rather liked the pleased tone in Luke’s voice when his lover spoke again.
"And that could free you up to take that InTell job..." Luke’s words trailed off and his voice shifted into concern. "This wouldn’t be a permanent transformation would it? ‘Cause I’ve kind of gotten used to your face the way it is."Han chuckled. "Well, you never know. Maybe we’ll both like me better if I’m somebody else."Luke’s fierce response to the careless quip took him by surprise. "Never!" He thought maybe Luke surprised himself, too, with the strength of that reaction. In any case, Han definitely liked the instinctive denial, and the shaky little laugh that followed—and the way both made his heart take flight.
"Don’t even think about-- wait a minute! What techniques are we talkin’ about here? And what pro?"
Han happily ignored the questions. He was too busy imagining the inevitable large and small difficulties that would result from their decisions. Leia, High Command, the Senate, Mon Mothma—yeah, they were gonna be mighty unhappy to lose their pet Jedi and tame general. He was already looking forward to the panicked, angry political furor.
And if Luke were truly ready to start teaching, he would need Han’s down-to-earth advice more than ever. Two Jedi together would probably be dangerously impractical and abstractly idealistic. The thought of an entire school of them was daunting indeed.
"Teaching, huh? Sounds interesting. Any idea where you’d wanna put this school of ours?"
Luke bent his head to claim a quick kiss. "I thought you might have some ideas on that."
"Kid, ideas are one thing I never run out of."
"I guess we’ve got a lot to talk about, then."
Han wrapped his arms around Luke and squeezed hard. "I guess we do."
The future was going to be wonderful.
But right now he didn’t want to think about the future, not with Luke in his arms and a care-free stolen night in their immediate grasp. He stretched out as much as he could in the cramped space and felt a couple of ligaments pop in his back.
"You know, now that I’m thinking about it, maybe all this publicity and impersonation stuff has turned out to be a blessing in disguise. In more ways than one."
Luke probably sensed the shift in his mood, because he bent to kiss Han’s shoulder and trail his lips along his collarbone. When he spoke, his voice was muffled against Han’s skin.
"Well, we cleared the air about some things and got some new ways of looking at the future." He jerked, distracted, when Luke nipped at the skin of his neck. "Hey!"
"Keep going. I only heard one reason so far."
"Got a free evening for ourselves, all fun ‘n games."
"Uh-huh. That gets my vote for the best reason." Damn but Luke knew all his sensitive places! He shivered when the kid licked his nipple.
"And three, we got some real insight into some of the reasons people wanna rummage around in our lives."
"Mmmffff." Luke attached himself to Han’s other nipple.
"Just one thing’s botherin’ me, though."
Luke lifted his head—a little reluctantly, Han thought.
He grinned. "Kinda seems unfair to use all that honest sincerity for our own selfish purposes, doesn’t it?"
"Yeah. I guess it does." There was enough light that Han could see the sly grin spread over Luke’s face. "Not that it’ll stop me from doing it again, next time I hear about one of these events."
"You know somethin’?" He kissed Luke’s forehead, and tasted the salt of drying sweat. "I remember now why I love you."
Luke’s voice was as low as he’d ever heard it. "That’s twice in one night, Han."
He stroked the back of his knuckles against Luke’s cheek. "Don’t let it go to your head, junior." He smiled again. "And I hear there’s a Core Worlds Circuit, with about a dozen of these programs in a standard annum."
Luke snuggled back down against his shoulder. "Really? I don’t suppose you got a schedule while you were at it, did you?"
"No. But I guess we could ask Racca Guinn next time we see him."
Luke stiffened slightly, and then relaxed. "I didn’t hear that."
"I’m told he swings a mean lightsaber in the talent show."
"Really?" Han didn’t like the way Luke loaded that single word with so much meaning. "Talent show, hmmmm?"
"No, Luke. No."
"I wonder... when’s the next contest?"
"No." He definitely did not like the tone of calculated disinterest. "Don’t even think it."
"Because…... Well, because the judges go for the younger look. Realism is definitely a risky choice."
Luke raised up again. "Since when have you been afraid of taking risks? And anyway, I’m only 32!"
Han shook his head regretfully. "Sorry, kid, but those 20 year olds have it all over you. What can I say? Besides, I’m not tall enough."
"Yeah, I’ve heard that old people have a tendency to shrink an inch or so."
Han jabbed a thumb into Luke’s ribs to repay him for the height remark. "Stop smirking. I bet you didn’t even know you can’t get the right drape on tunics if they’re made with raw vinesilk instead of Zaharian cottoweave."
Sounding slightly sulky, Luke said, "I’m a fast learner."
Han rolled over on top of him, and claimed his mouth in a long, slow kiss. "Yes, you are." Luke’s mouth softened and moved under his, opening to his tongue. "But right now… the place is getting busy again," he nodded at the gallery beyond their booth, filling up with patrons once again. "The program must be over."
"We missed the whole thing?"
Luke didn’t sound all that disappointed after all. Han yawned wide enough to make his jaw pop, and then grinned.
"I guess it’s checkout time for us."
"You ready to go home?"
"Not a chance. I hear this place is open ‘til dawn. What d’you say to letting some other lucky couple have the use of this booth for a while? I think I’d like to dance with my guy for a change."
Luke smiled. "Dawn, hmmm? We might even have enough time to visit this booth again before then."