Irene Heron

"Chewie! Listen, I'm gonna check in with the port staff 'n see if I can scrounge the motivator component we need. You keep on working. Be back soon as I can." The tall Corellian shouted over his shoulder as he thumbed the hatch control. From somewhere in the depths of the starship his co-pilot howled a frustrated reply. Grinning at his companion's rude response, the pilot slapped a hand to his thigh to reassure himself that his blaster was still securely tied down, and descended the ramp.

The place sure as hell hadn't improved since the last time he'd been here. He quickly and efficiently appraised his surroundings. The aged docking facility was barely serviceable, but that was hardly surprising on such an isolated rim world. Tatooine. Another poor frontier world, blistered by twin suns and handicapped by distance from the main trade lanes. Pretty close to his definition of hell. With little expectation he would find the item he needed, he crossed the scorched steelstone surface of the landing pit and headed for what passed as the portmaster's complex on this dry, dusty world.

He had almost reached the portdome when a dustdevil sprang up, his clothes inadequate protection against the painful spicules of grit blasting into his skin. Closing his eyes to protect them, he reached blindly for the entrance he knew had to be in front of him and stumbled gratefully into the shelter of the building. Like every other rimworld station he'd been in, it smelled of sweat, lubricant, despair and boredom. He was still shaking sand from his hair and clothing when a young man entered the main office. Through the open door behind the youth, the dark-haired Corellian glimpsed a large, cluttered repair shop.

At least he'd made it to the right place. Then he took a second look at the boy. Sith's seven hells, but he was gorgeous! Much nicer than that old sandspitter who used to run the place.

"Mister, you got sand 'tween your ears? What'cha need?" From the irritated tone of voice and matching expression, he'd probably already asked the question at least twice.

"Need some parts, kid. Got a patch component for a Nonex 6 motivator?" The youth gave him a quick, offended look before shaking his head.

Burning skies, but that boy was something to look at, with sandy blond hair and big blue eyes. He longed to kiss the sulky pout off that mouth. The body was hidden under stained coveralls, but it had to be just as perfect as the rest of him. Either his momma was crazy, letting him work in a place like this, or...

The blond crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Nonex 6 motivator? I thought those were obsolete back in the Clone Wars."

"Nice, real nice. You get paid to insult customers?"

A dazzling smile broke out on the boy's face and the man nearly reeled from the outpouring of reckless good humor and youthful daring. The Corellian's pants suddenly felt tighter than they had a moment before.

"Nah, I do it for free." The boy hesitated, then relented. "Listen, I might be able to find something for you, but I'll have to check. Where you docked?"

"Bay sixty-eight. Name's Solo. My ship's the Millennium Falcon."

The kid nodded. "I'll get back with you in a couple of hours."

"You do that, boy." A couple of hours would put it just about sunsdown. Maybe he could talk the kid into spending the evening with him. He'd sure as sandstorms show him a good time.

"I'm Luke," the blond god said, grimacing slightly at the 'boy'.

* * * *

Luke watched Solo leave the office and tried to still his trembling hands. Lucky thing he'd been standing behind the service counter. At least it hid his swelling erection. Gods, he'd never seen anybody like Solo in his entire life.

He liked girls well enough as people, but the thought of physical intimacy with women held little appeal for him. They smelled and felt and tasted entirely too foreign. He'd seen Fixer and Camie in their frequent embraces, of course, and wondered at Fixer's pleasure. He'd heard sounds of passion coming from his aunt and uncle's bedroom. It just didn't seem natural to him. With a guy, you'd know what to do and what to expect in return. Sex would be familiar and comfortable with another man. Luke knew what he wanted. He supposed that was fortunate, considering the small number of women on this tenth-rate planet, but Maker, he didn't know *how* to get it! He knew there were whores and sluts of both sexes who prowled the dives. He knew there were pleasure palaces. He knew there were lonely farmers eager for company. But in none of those faces or places would he find what he wanted, someone like this Solo.

The man was unbelievable, with a lean, powerful body and an aura of sensuality. He moved with the instinctive grace of a wild creature, confident and assured. Those dark eyes had gauged and judged him in an instant. Here was a man who lived on the knife's edge of danger and adventure. Luke couldn't suppress the thrill of longing that shot through his body as he imagined being with a man like that.

He wondered who Solo was. One of the pirates he'd heard about? A smuggler? Bounty hunter? Mercenary? Or just an honest trader eking out a marginal existence along the rim worlds' shipping routes? One thing was certain--Luke would definitely pay a visit to Docking Bay Sixty-eight when his shift ended.

* * * *

"I'm telling you, Chewie, this kid was, I dunno, like one of those gods in the Talarian legends. All gold 'n bronze and perfect. Remember those statues in Brible's pleasure house?"

A sly gurgle from the giant Wookiee brought Solo's head out from under the cockpit panel. "Yeah, like you never tried it for yourself, huh? Don't hand me that line, you overgrown cub." Solo tried to glare at his companion but failed, another grin spreading across his face. "I s'pose you're right. I wouldn't kick him outta my bunk. Tell the truth, I don't know how this kid got missed by the slavers. Right here in Mos Eisley, in the frakkin' spaceport, no less! He must have the protection of the Sacred Ones themselves to still be walking free. If Samarda or Brible ever saw him..."

The Wookiee snarled his opinion of the pleasure house masters.

"Sure, sure. Forget it. You just lose yourself tonight if I can talk this kid into coming aboard, got that?"

A soft rumble from Chewbacca brought Solo to his feet to peer out the transparisteel of the cockpit canopy. "Yeah, that's him, all right. Like I told you, real pretty." He wiped his hands on a rag before combing his fingers through his dark hair, enduring his friend's amused chuckle.

"Want me to remind you how nervous you were when you met up with that Delara character, fuzzball? Hell, you were practically molting. I was picking Wook hairs outta the food processors for weeks."

He found the boy standing utterly motionless in the pit, staring at Solo's beloved, battered freighter with an incredulous expression on his face.

"Hiya, Luke. Got any leads on that patch component?" He stayed a prudent two meters away, far enough not to crowd the kid.

"This thing flies?" Luke demanded in a disbelieving voice.

Smartmouthed little twitch.

"She flies, all right. Makes point five past light speed. Don't judge too fast, kid."

Luke tore his eyes from the misshapen and scarred ship and looked at her master.

"Come on board. I'll give you the five credit tour." Solo made a sweeping gesture of welcome, indicating that Luke should precede him up the ramp so he could admire the nice action behind. The blond youth had discarded his bulky coveralls and now wore a fairly snug-fitting pair of trousers and casual lightweight top, revealing the slim, youthful body Han had anticipated.

Solo's passion for both his ship and flying quickly showed itself as he proudly presented the Falcon's modified features, while Luke proved himself knowledgeable about technical matters. Initial awkwardness dissolved in their mutual enthusiasm. The only touchy moment came when they reached the cockpit and Luke found himself face to chest with two-and-a-half meters of fur-covered simian.

"What's that?" he gasped, taking a quick step backwards and bumping up against Solo. "Did your cargo get loose or somethin'?" The Corellian savored the snug fit of the youth's butt against his groin.

Tolerant of the young human, Chewbacca whuffed his amusement and barked a short comment to his captain.

/I agree, Han. The cub is very attractive, for a human. He should keep you entertained for at least several hours./

Solo cuffed him sharply on the arm and then answered Luke. "My co-pilot, Chewbacca."

"A Wookiee!" the boy enthused, smiling broadly. Solo was entranced by the sparkle in those eyes. "I never thought I'd ever meet a Wookiee."

Looking down at the two humans, Chewie bared his fangs in a smile. /I have completed as much as possible without the motivator component. I am going to Chalmun's Cantina now. I understand he has a barrel of vrisha wine from the homeworld./

Before leaving, the Wookiee could not resist ruffling his partner's hair in a gesture of affection, knowing how it would embarrass the human.

Left alone, silence reigned for a moment as each man considered how to direct events to the desired outcome.

"Wanna drink? Got some good Corellian whiskey in my cabin." A thought struck him. "You legal, kid?"

Those clear blue eyes met his evenly, a little smile playing about the generous mouth. "Yeah, I'm legal. And my name's Luke, not 'kid' or 'boy'."

Han grinned. He liked them with spirit. "Sure, Luke. Mine's Han." Leading the way back to the lounge, he indicated Luke should take a seat. "Be right back." It was the effort of only a moment to locate his prized stash of the good stuff and return with a nearly full bottle.

"You Corellian?"

"Yeah, originally. Ain't been back in a while, though. Spacer through and through." Solo poured out two hefty splashes of whiskey and handed one glass to Luke. "Clear skies," he toasted, touching his own glass to Luke's and then downing a large swallow. The blond matched his gesture and then gasped as the liquor seared his throat and burned into cinders in his belly.

Solo could not stifle his satisfied smirk. This was gonna be like scoopin' up stockpond minas with a net. He would bet his blaster and gunbelt Luke was a virgin, a beautiful, blushing virgin.

"So, what about that drive component?" Pleasure was pleasure, but the Falcon wouldn't earn him any income if he didn't get those repairs done. Damn fine timing for the Nonex to crap out on him--parts were notoriously difficult to find. If he could complete this run on time, he'd have enough credits to pay off Jabba and upgrade to a Finley 12.

Luke's face was still flushed from the liquor but he managed a coherent answer. "I've got a friend runs a repair station. He's got a reconditioned Nonex 6 motivator component for five hundred."

Solo was pleased, but suspicious. He'd expected to pay at least six or seven hundred for the part. "Factory recondition?"

There was that quick, brilliant smile from Luke again. Han repressed a sigh at the glorious anticipation sweeping through his body. "Nope. I helped him with it last season, then the customer upgraded his equipment and never picked it up. Fixer got stuck with the part. I wasn't sure if he still had it or not."

Han considered thoughtfully. Luke had demonstrated his knowledge about technical matters, so the part was probably all right to use, and five hundred was definitely a good price.

"I'll have to check it out before I buy, you know. Where is this place?" He'd convince the kid to go with him to pick it up, suggest dinner and work into a nice little seduction from there. Ferocious desire leaped in Solo, for it had been a long time since he'd bedded a man as young and beautiful as this one. His body hungered for the possession.

"Tosche Station. That's near Anchorhead."

Anchorhead? Hell, that was a good six hour round-trip by speeder. He didn't want to wait until tomorrow to get the part, too much delay. It'd take him and Chewie at least four or five hours to install the blasted thing. Damn, this would shoot his evening plans all to hell.

"But you're in luck. Fixer's comin' to town tonight, so I told him to bring it with him. Even if you can't use it, I guess I could find somebody who needs it. He'll be here in about an hour."

Han Solo smiled his most charming smile. "Looks like you need a refill there, Luke." He tilted the bottle invitingly.

* * * *

Three drinks and an hour later, Luke was recalling his uncle's lectures on debauchery in general and Corellians in particular. Entirely too devoted to pleasures of every kind, the conservative farmer had declared, warning and threat implicit in the words. Corellians were famous (or infamous, depending on one's point of view) for their sensuality, adventurous spirit and courage. The youth looked at Solo slouched down in his chair, and shivered at the look in those watchful eyes.

"Lived here all your life, Luke?"

"Yeah. Grew up on a farm outside Anchorhead with my aunt and uncle. My uncle died a few months back, crushed when an unbalanced vaporator fell on him. My aunt leased the farm to one of the neighbors and moved to Bestine to be with some old friends. I came on to Mos Eisley."

"Looking for a way off-planet?"

Luke smiled grimly. He doubted there was much that escaped this fellow. "Sure. Who wouldn't be? A couple of my friends went to the Imperial Academy, but I never got the chance. My test scores were good, though. I could've gotten in if we'd had the money."

"You'd look good in an officer's uniform, kid, uh, Luke."

A pleasant sensation crawled up Luke's spine at the compliment. He was just drunk enough to consider the direct approach, simply blurting out what he wanted, but the bold words snagged in his throat like thistles. As if this guy would even be interested in a skinny nobody like him anyway. He was just passing time til the motivator got here. Then he'd be off to a pleasure house or one of those private clubs down in East Town. Maybe he didn't even like guys. He looked like he'd be pretty popular with women.

That low, husky voice continued. "The Academy's one way of getting into space, but then you're locked into five years of imperial service. Me, I started out the hard way. So wild to get to the stars I stowed away on a scavenger ship. They sure worked me hard when they found me, so I jumped ship first chance I had."

"You stowed away?" Luke was amazed. He'd never considered such an audacious move. Perhaps he wasn't as desperate to get off Tatooine as he'd thought.

"Damn dumb move, let me tell you, but then, what does a sixteen-year-old know? Anyway, I learned a lot with those junkers, enough to get me a real apprentice position on a legal trade ship." The Corellian struggled to an upright position at a shout. "That must be your buddy."

It was, and Luke was astonished to discover how much his perception of his friends had changed since meeting Solo. Now, Fixer was only a surly young tough with an ugly sneer, the portrait of disgruntled youth. Deak and Windy were now merely two young men wearing rough clothes and tired expressions. Luke watched Solo measure and dismiss his friends.

It didn't take long to inspect the component and deem it adequate. Han did a bit of haggling for form's sake and credits exchanged hands.

"Come with us 'n have a brew, why don't you?" invited Fixer, a little less sullen now that he'd been paid. Despite their pretence of nonchalance, all three young men were obviously impressed with Solo.

Han smiled and shook his head. "Not much of a drinker." Luke almost laughed at the blatant lie. The Corellian's breath could corrode the finish off a droid at ten paces. Unseen by the visitors, Han reached back with one hand and patted Luke's butt. Luke drew in a sharp breath at the familiarity of the touch, tension coiling like a spring in his belly. Oh, gods, does this mean what I think it does?

Fixer's eyes narrowed as they darted between Han and Luke, then he snorted. "You comin', Luke?"

After a brief hesitation Luke replied, "No, I got other plans for tonight." Deak and Windy exchanged looks and reassessed Solo. Windy leaned over and whispered an apparently crude comment in Fixer's ear, for they laughed loudly.

"Too good for us dirt-siders now you got yourself a spacer, huh? Well, we'll just leave you to your, uh, fun, Wormie. So long!"

A day ago Luke would have been angered by the dismissal and careless amusement at his expense. Now, though, he was merely relieved to see the last of his childhood friends.

And then they were alone in the pit, under the nearly starless night sky.

"C'mon, Luke, help me get this up into the ship. Can't leave it out here all night."

They were both puffing, arms trembling with fatigue by the time they got the heavy component up the ramp.

Luke wiped sweat from his forehead. "Sure could've used your Wookiee friend to do that!"

Han agreed. "I need another drink. How 'bout you?"

"I thought you didn't drink."

"I lied." Han grinned an amiable dare at Luke. "How about your plans for tonight?"

Luke felt warmth creep up his neck and face, but he grinned back. "I lied." He accepted the offered glass and drank thirstily. It went down a lot smoother this time.

"I think that's the last one for you tonight, kid." Somehow, the word didn't seem quite as offensive to Luke now. More... affectionate, almost. Like an endearment or something.

His jaw jutted out stubbornly. "I was just gettin' used to it, Han."

With an eyebrow lifted in amusement, Solo said, "That's what I'm afraid of. You're not gonna be much good to me if you pass out." He stepped closer, waiting for Luke to make some gesture of refusal or withdrawal. It didn't come.

"So, tell me what you want, Luke."

This close to Han, Luke forgot how to breathe. Liquid courage urged him on. "I want you," he whispered. He swallowed hard to put his heart back in his chest.

"Yeah?" the Corellian encouraged. "What d'you want me to do?"

"I want..." He wrapped his hands around Han's neck and pulled his head down, and then his mouth claimed Han’s fiercely.

* * * *

This was at least part of what he wanted: that hard, angular body pressed against his, the sharp tang of male sweat in his nostrils, the incredible strength in those arms crushing him close and a mouth responding to his with a confidence and assurance wholly masculine. That mouth conquered him, the invading hot tongue forcing his lips open in order to trail wetly along teeth and cheek. He eagerly met and returned the passionate caresses. Dazed, he felt the hardness of Han's erection stabbing him in the belly and wondered if the Corellian felt Luke's own stiffness against his thigh.

He pulled away only to catch his breath, flushed, winded and trembling. Stunned blue eyes met amused hazel eyes.

"Yeah, you want, all right," murmured Han, pressing his lips to Luke's forehead. "Let's go to bed, Luke."

Speechless with heart-pounding relief and need, he nodded, following Han to the captain's cabin. It was as he expected, small and tidy except for the unmade bunk. Something indeterminate spiked in Luke's gut as he looked at that bunk, short-circuiting his entire nervous system--queasy dread, wild expectation and unanticipated regret in equal measure.

Suddenly unsure of himself, he perched on the bunk, rather like a windsailer on a rock outcrop in the desert: skittish and alive to the slightest threat, prepared to flee at the smallest inconsistency. Han locked the door and leaned back against it, surveying Luke with a proprietary air.

"You still want? Say now if you've changed your mind. I don't stop once the drive's been engaged."

"I still want," Luke whispered through his dry mouth.

"You sure you wanted me to hear that?" Han's grin was arrogant, charming.

Luke nodded. "Then let's get started." Holding Luke's gaze, he stripped off his vest and shirt, completely unselfconscious.

Avidly watching as tawny flesh was revealed, Luke realized Solo was giving him time to get used to the situation. Solo's body was exactly as he'd fantasized, wide-shouldered and narrow-hipped, athletic and powerful. Luke compared his own youthful, unfinished form to the man before him and cringed, fearing imminent disappointment and rejection. But it would be worth enduring censure if he could just lay down with the Corellian, touch him and kiss him and do all the things he'd only ever imagined doing.

Han swiveled the chair around and sat down to pull off his boots. He looked up from his task. "Wanna give me a hand here, Luke?"

Easing me into it? Get me on my knees, right where you want me? "Sure, I'll give you a hand..." The accompanying smile tossed the challenge right back at Solo. The boots took a little effort, the socks none at all. From his position at Han's feet, Luke loosened the tie-down thong of the blaster holster Solo still wore. A man like this, accustomed to hazardous living, probably put it on before his boots. The scent of danger and power beyond his ken washed against Luke's senses, making him weak with desire. Solo's aura of tightly controlled menace behind the affable exterior was overwhelming.

It was with traitorously shaking hands that Luke finally opened Han's pants and freed the sturdy erection from its prison. Beautiful. Perfect. His nervousness evaporated as he briefly fondled the object of his desire. The Corellian stood to step out of his trousers.

"My turn." Solo used his hands to urge Luke to his feet. Those same hands slid from shoulder to chest and across a flat belly to grab the shirt hem and pull it up. Luke obediently raised his arms to allow the shirt to slip over his head. The pleased expression in Han's eyes was a revelation to the youth. He hadn't disappointed yet. Desire and hope surged within, building into white heat in his groin, demanding satisfaction.

As if reading his mind, the big Corellian slowly rubbed the flat of his hand across Luke's chest, scouting the terrain and pausing on each hardened nipple in turn before abruptly pushing him back onto the bunk.

Solo was quick, he had to give him that. Luke's boots and pants were swiftly removed, and he waited for Han's inevitable reaction.

"Damn, kid!"

Luke resisted the urge to cover his genitals with his hands and instead raised up on his elbows. He'd endured enough humiliation from his friends because of his... mutilation.

"Gods, you're gorgeous." Solo's hands were caressing him, touching him tenderly. "Never saw a cut one before, but this is..."

Hideous. Barbaric. Pathetic. Inadequate. Ugly.

" ...so pure, so clean 'n smooth. Didn't know anybody cut boys anymore, but it suits you." And before Luke realized Solo's intent, a warm tongue was licking his aroused length.

He'd never dreamed that anyone would want to take him into his mouth the way Solo was doing, sucking and teasing. He'd never dreamed anyone would find his deformity desirable.

Burning suns, he was coming already, the bowfront of orgasm shearing his mind loose from its physical moorings in its intensity. Deprived of direction in the maelstrom of passion, Luke collapsed back onto the bunk. Dimly he felt the last warm caresses of Han's mouth and the soothing kisses pressed to thigh and belly.

"Liked that, huh?" They were face to face now, Han's breath warming his cheek. Luke smiled, expressive of his deep gratitude and satisfaction. He pulled Han's mouth to his and sealed them together, tongue searching for traces of himself in the Corellian's mouth. His hands eagerly charted the older man's utterly splendid body, using his own preferences as a guide. The sensation of sharp bone and hard muscle beneath his gliding fingers rekindled desire. There was too much aching, unreleased need in him to be slaked by one brief encounter. He found Han's erection still up full, and wrapped his hand around the shaft, squeezing hard.

He released Han's mouth to slide his lips down chin and neck.

"You go, Luke," sighed the Corellian, yielding to the youth's kisses. Luke's journey of discovery was exquisitely, painfully slow. He licked and sucked Han's nipples, buried his nose under his arm where the male scent was most intoxicating, bestowed playful bites in unusual locations and generally tested the limits of their endurance.

When at last Luke finally touched his lips to Han's velvet rigidity a tremor of delight gripped them both. He suctioned the length into his mouth, surprised at how completely it filled him.

"Do it, Luke. Oh, yeah, just like that." Encouraged, Luke applied hands as well until Han was writhing in agonized pleasure. It felt so different from touching himself, with more movement of skin as he stroked up and down. Gods, yes, this was what he'd wanted for entirely too long, to have all that energy, confidence and strength freely surrendered, his to command. It didn't take as long as Luke expected, not as long as he'd hoped. Within minutes Han was moaning his release and spilling into Luke's mouth.

"Come here, kid," Han coaxed, sliding back to stretch comfortably on the bed. Luke snuggled up against his companion and felt the secure embrace of strong arms holding him close, the reassurance of skin against skin.

* * * *

Han awoke to the smell of fresh, hot kaf. He eased away from the blond youth still plastered against him, the dried sweat which glued them together giving way audibly. Nice kid, and willing as all get out. He patted the tempting backside. He couldn't remember the last time he'd fallen asleep like that, after only the appetizer.

He cracked the cabin door and dressed in the dim light from the corridor. Moving into the lounge, he found his giant co-pilot consuming a substantial meal.

"How's Chalmun? And the vrisha wine?" He pulled on his boots as the Wookiee pushed the kaf pot and an empty cup across the table toward him.

/Chalmun is fine. He and Meleka have added to their clan, a fine young male cub./ Chewbacca paused for a moment to regard his friend. /And your evening? It went well?/

Solo smiled, remembering. "Fine, far as it went."

/The young one is still here?/

"Still here. Is it morning yet?" Han craned his neck around, trying to see if daylight was coming down the corridor from the cockpit.

/No. Very late, rather than very early. I will start on the component installation. We do have a schedule to maintain./

"Yeah, I know." Solo raked fingers through his already disheveled hair and yawned widely. "I was thinkin', this kid here's just about the right size to fit into the compartment. He's pretty good with his hands..." He ignored Chewie's burst of laughter. "...I thought I'd see if we could get him to help us. You're always complaining how hard it is to work in cramped spaces."

/You just want an excuse to keep the cub around a little longer. I can scent this, Han. He appeals to you./

The Corellian scowled, sipping on his kaf. "So? You got a problem with that?"

Chewbacca's thoughtful regard made Solo uncomfortable. /It has been a long time since you wanted to keep a bedmate for more than one night./

"Don't mean nothin'." Han's defiance melted. "There's just something about this kid, Chewie."

/He would have to be useful in other ways as well. What skills does he have?/

"Good mechanic. He's smart. Bet he'd make a damn fine navigator and pilot in time."

/You are the captain, Han. It is your decision. But any percentages come out of your share, not mine./

Chewbacca's abrupt gesture warned Han and he twisted around in his seat. "Want some kaf, Luke?" Kraat, but the kid was gorgeous with tousled hair and sleepy eyes. "Didn't mean to wake you up. We gotta start the repairs, but you can catch some more sleep."

The Wookiee rose to his full impressive height. /I will begin the repairs./ As he passed Luke he patted the boy on his shoulder affectionately. /Welcome to the crew, young one./ With a knowing glance at the Corellian shipmaster and another bark of laughter, he left the lounge.

Solo grimaced. Sometimes he thought Chewie was telepathic, the way he knew what Han wanted before Han did.

"I can help with your repairs, if you'd like," Luke volunteered from behind his own cup. "I'm pretty good in tight spaces." A wicked grin tugged at the generous mouth.

I just bet you are, Luke. You wanna finish this as much as I do. Well, with an extra pair of hands we just might have time for the main course later on.

"Sounds good to me. Chewie's got a real feel for mechanical things, but he's too damned big to fit through some of the access hatches."

"Let's get to work, then. Didn't you say you had a delivery deadline?" Luke stood up, all business now.

* * * *

Two hours into the repairs they ran into a problem.

"Blast!" Luke's voice was muffled, wedged as he was between the new motivator component and the largest of the compensator modules. He'd been stuffed back there for nearly the entire time, his nimble fingers accomplishing more than even Han could manage.

"What's the problem?" Solo was struggling with an obstinate varidriver and beginning to curse under his breath.

"Dual drive element's bad. Got a spare?" Chewbacca peered down through the access hatch and snarled a negative. Luke didn't need to know WookieeSpeak to understand the response.

"Well, that's all right." The youth wriggled free of his uncomfortable work space, gratefully seizing upon the excuse to stretch his cramped muscles. "We've got lots of 'em up at the port techdome. C'mon with me and we'll see what we can find."

The chill desert night air felt good to Han as they walked to the techdome where they had met less than twelve hours earlier. Like any interstellar port, this one was bustling with activity even in the middle of planetary night.

They entered the deserted front office and Luke led the way behind the counter. "Boot? You here? It's Luke. Just lookin' for some drive elements." The large, shadowy workshop appeared abandoned, not even a droid in sight. "He must be out back, takin' a smoke or unloadin' something. The elements are stored over here."

Han felt the first stirrings of suspicion in his belly. "Boot? Boot Sunseeker?"

Luke looked back at him, curious and surprised. "Uh-huh. He's the night tech on duty. You know him?"

Solo heard a surreptitious rustle from the furthest, darkest corner of the warehouse.

"Yeah. Let's find the part and get out of here."

Luke grinned. "You nervous or somethin'?"

"Or something, Luke. All right, we need an 80-114." Both men sorted through the stacks of small packages, hunting for the appropriate size. "Got it!" Han held the item aloft triumphantly. "Let's go."

"Just a minute." Luke grabbed the box and slit the seal. "Let's just make sure it's what it's supposed to be. It'd be a real pain to have to come back for another one."

This time the sound was so unmistakable even Luke heard it. He whirled around. "What was that?"

Solo's hand hovered by his blaster, every sense alert to danger.

"Boot? That you? Listen, it looks like it's the right part." Luke handed the package to Han. "I'd better make sure there aren't any womprats in here. They can make a real mess. Wonder where Boot got to?"

Han grabbed his arm. "Let's just leave, Luke." He started for the door by which they had entered, pulling the youth behind him.

"Hey!"

The Corellian stopped abruptly, quickly shoving Luke down and to the side, out of the line of fire. A man stood in the entrance to the office, blaster already drawn and aimed. Two more men advanced toward them from the far end of the warehouse, one holding a nasty looking slug thrower. It was a primitive weapon, but quite effective if the thug knew how to use it. The third man was Boot Sunseeker.

"Well, well, look who's pokin' his nose where it don't belong, Solo. Heard you was in port."

"Just passing through, Sunseeker. Repair stopover."

Sunseeker's leering expression traveled from Solo to the boy just pulling himself up from the greasy permacrete floor. Luke wisely remained silent.

"Bad timing, Solo."

"Just getting a repair part, see?" Solo displayed the package in his left hand.

"Mmmm. What you doin' here in the middle of the night, Luke?"

He shrugged. "Bumped into the guy outside. Said he needed a part, so I helped him."

"You're a real space cadet, you know that, Skywalker?" Han filed the name away for future reference. "Bantha crap, boy. What're you doin' hanging around downport in th' middle of the night? Tryin' to pick up some lonely spacer?" The three rough men laughed loudly, and the one holding the slug thrower eyed Luke with more than a little interest.

Solo itched to pull his blaster and challenge the three of them, but the one in the doorway was too damned alert and Luke too close to the slug thrower for comfort. If he could just shift position...

"Hey, Boot." 'Slugger' was licking his lips and staring at Luke. "Anybody gonna miss Blondy here?"

"Nah. All alone in this big galaxy. Just some old granny or somethin' over to Bestine. You want him? I'll throw him in for an extra five thousand."

Five thousand? He’d be a bargain at ten thousand. Sunseeker, you never did have much business sense. Solo couldn't help his cynical thoughts.

"Hey, I ain't no slave!"

Sunseeker moved quickly and backhanded Luke across the face. "You are now, you little twitch. You think I don't know what you are?"

It happened in a blur and afterwards Solo was never sure if Luke had planned it, or if serendipity intervened. Luke grappled with Sunseeker, diverting 'Slugger's' attention to the struggle. With reflexes honed by years of practice and experience, Solo drew against the man in the doorway. Already throwing himself to one side, he dodged the return fire and brought the man down with his second shot, then quickly swiveled to target the 'Slugger'. His jaw dropped in amazement as he watched the small, slim youth bring both port-scum down by using his entire weight to shove the much larger Sunseeker into the second man. He quickly retrieved the dropped slug-thrower and stepped back to cover them.

Han coughed to cover his surprise. "Nice work, Luke. Keep 'em covered while I check that one." The third man was dead, victim of Solo's unerring accuracy. "Got some cord to tie these guys up with?" He didn't like leaving trouble to come looking for him later, but he was none too comfortable with cold-blooded murder either.

"How'd you know, Han?" Luke located a coil of strong cording and set to work.

"Boot 'n me had run-ins before. He's a slaver, works the rim planets. Takes a cover job and looks for potential victims. Probably had his eye on you since the first day. He sure lives up to his name, all right. He's been booted off half a hundred worlds. Port Authority'll be glad to get their hands on him."

"I'm gonna track you down, Solo, if it takes a thousand life cycles. I'm gonna cut off your balls and bring 'em back to your boyfriend here as a trophy. And then you know what I'm gonna do to you, Skywalker? I'm gonna..." Luke firmly applied engine tape across Sunseeker's mouth. The two criminals were trussed up like a pair of binko birds waiting to be stuffed. Han checked the prisoners' bonds. Turned out the kid really had been a loyal and trustworthy youth space cadet, earning achievement badges in various areas, including knot tying.

"They ain't going nowhere. Now let's check in the back, see what they were up to."

What they found were children, restrained and drugged, bundled into the back of a freight hauler. Four children, ranging in age from perhaps five to about ten standard years. Luke stood in horrified silence while Solo cursed loudly and colorfully.

They notified Port Authority anonymously and got out of there as fast as they could.

As they rushed through the warehouse, Luke scooped something up off a work bench. "Hey, don't forget this!" Luke tossed the dual drive element to Han.

* * * *

"Chewie's running the diagnostics now, Luke." Han dropped wearily into the engineering subsystem chair. "Should work just fine."

Luke didn't look at him. He sipped from his can of ale.

"Been a big help to us, kid. To me."

"Yeah. Glad I could help."

Han smiled, hearing the barely disguised disappointment in the voice. Hell, kid, what d’you think I’m gonna do? Toss you out in the pit and wave goodbye? Even if I hadn’t already been thinking about taking you along, I’d have to now. Sunseeker’ll be back on the street pretty quick and your life’d be worth nothing. Not a chance I’m leaving you to face that alone, Luke. ‘Sides, I like you. You ‘n me got unfinished business.

"I've been thinking. You're pretty good in a fight, pretty good with equipment..." Han grinned widely.

Luke looked up then, one of those dazzling smiles lifting the corners of his mouth. "Which equipment is that?"

Just then Chewie lumbered into the lounge, grunting satisfaction with the diagnostics.

"Well, what're you waiting for, ya big furball? Let's lift off. We should make the delivery in plenty of time. C'mon, Luke. You're navigator from now on."

* * * *

Luke sat curled up in Chewbacca's oversized co-pilot's chair, legs hugged up under his chin, staring out into the opalescent skies of hyperspace. There was very little vibration within the ship, no sense of motion at all except here under the transparent cockpit canopy. Tatooine was behind him now, just a place to be from, rather than be.

"You all right, Luke?" Solo's hand, warm and comforting, dropped to his shoulder.

Luke didn't turn to look at the older man. "I was just thinking I need to let Aunt Beru know what happened. She worries about me."

"Sure. No problem. You can send her a message when we get to Binal. I wouldn't worry about it, you know. That's why you were there, workin' at the port. She knew you'd go, sooner or later, didn't she?"

"Yeah, she did. I was always crazy to get into space. I only stayed 'cause Uncle Owen needed me to help with the farm. We were lucky to break even most seasons. He couldn't afford to hire help or buy better droids. Bad as it sounds, it was almost a release for both of us when he died."

"You weren't meant for that place, Luke. I could see it the instant I met you. There's a big galaxy out there, and you'll see plenty of it with Chewie 'n me, til the time comes for you to go your own way."

Now Luke did turn to look at him.

"Don't look at me that way. Nothing lasts forever. Not even planets or stars, an' especially not people. You found that out in a big hurry."

"Guess I did. Three months ago I had a home and family, now all I have are the clothes on my back." He turned back to stare into the nothingness of hyperspace. "Why'd you invite me along, Han? Feelin' sorry for me, or just horny?"

"Hell's teeth, Luke. It ain't like that." Sure, Solo, say it like you mean it. But the damnable thing was, he did mean it. He liked Luke, more than he'd allowed himself to like anyone in a long time. Somehow the kid had slipped past that façade of bravado and independence he wore like a second skin, and had touched something Han thought dead long ago. Wormie, that’s what those buddies of his called him. That’s just what he did, too. Wormed his way past all my defenses.

"It ain't like that," he repeated stubbornly. "You're part of my crew now. You're a tough kid. All you need's a little training and some experience. You'll earn your keep, believe me."

Finally, a little smile crept onto Luke's face, and Han was glad to see it. He wasn't entirely positive he could maintain this level of sincerity for much longer.

"You never did tell me just what you do. Smuggle?"

"Sometimes. Honest trade if we can get it, like this run. Smuggling runs when we can't. Foodstuffs and medicines for interdicted worlds, illegal luxuries to wealthy rimworlds. Spice running. No slaving. Sometimes we run into trouble. You gotta know when to talk, when to keep your mouth shut and when to fight. If you have to fight, shoot first. Can you handle all that?"

"Yeah." He'd wondered a little what he'd gotten himself into. Instinct had said Solo had his own brand of honor and Luke was glad to see his guess confirmed. He could handle a little law-stretching. He could handle some action and adventure. And he could definitely handle Solo.

"You'll get five percent of profit off the top. If it works out and you catch on, maybe we'll renegotiate."

Han leaned back, a gleam in his eyes. "'Course, like any new crew member, you'll start at the bottom."

"We still talkin' navigation duties here?" Luke swiveled around and stood up. They hadn't discussed the status of unfulfilled desire.

Han rubbed the little scar on his chin, a nervous habit held over from younger days. "Maybe. Maybe not." The little twitch was smart, and the Corellian liked that. Smart, sassy, good looking, able to hold his own in the engine room or a fight. He was definitely growing on Solo.

"'Cause if you're talkin' bunk duties, I got my own thoughts on that. I'm not so sure I wanna start at the bottom."

"Hey, captain's privilege, boy."

"And I'm not your boy, either."

"Let's find out, shall we?" Solo grabbed Luke roughly by the shoulders and kissed him, long, hard and thoroughly, until he felt all resistance dissipate into the ether.

"Well, maybe I'll be on the bottom this once," Luke agreed. "Just to see what it's like."

END