Expiration Date

Irene Heron

The Millennium Falcon hunkered in the darkest shadows of the cavernous repair hangar, anthropomorphic, a wounded beast withdrawing to lick her wounds, perhaps... even to die. Luke Skywalker tilted his head to consider the misshapen, familiar outline of the freighter and felt his gut churn with an acid bath of regret. No beauty, that was for sure, but as Han was fond of saying, she had it where—and when—it counted. All heart and courage and determination, just like the man who commanded her. And Han had torn their collective hearts out.

A proud lady, the Falcon, although not as proud as her owner, who mourned alone by choice.

A familiar ache tightened his throat beyond breathing, not the first time since the bitter pronouncement barely an hour earlier—Han’s beloved ship would fly no more. He’d stood by Han’s side, silently supportive, when the techs had rendered their judgment, that the damage incurred during the plasma storm and resulting crash landing was simply too extensive to restore the Falcon to spaceworthiness. They had readouts, reports, and test results on their side, and the cruel derision of youth in their eyes.

Who'd want to waste the effort on a worn-out piece of junk like that? Space lanes'll be safer with that tail-heavy scow out of the way. Ship that slow's gotta be a hazard to navigation anyway... she only makes point five past light speed! Especially with an old space-head like that piloting.

He'd boiled instinctively at the not-meant-to-be-overheard slight to both pilot and ship, and had to reach hard for a bare minimum of civility before he dared respond. "This old space-head was willing to risk his life and ship flying through a plasma storm—twice—to get fifty-two badly injured people the medical treatment they needed. Out of six ships that lifted, that tail-heavy scow," he gestured angrily toward the Falcon, "was the only ship that managed to make the trip in and out from Socorra Base after the munitions explosion. And the only ship where every passenger aboard lived to tell the tale."

That knife-edge of memory was still too close and sharp for comfort. He’d been too far away, left behind in the hasty rescue attempt, left to wait and worry alone, gut tightening until it hurt when word reached him of the plasma storms raging in-system. And right now Luke didn’t care a bit if others counted him selfish; he could only be glad the sole surviving pilot and ship were the ones that mattered most to him.

Not that these techs would understand the Falcon wasn't just a ship, but part of Han's soul and intertwined with their lives. Their past and present breathed in every molecule of the wasted freighter, too many memories to count. Luke had to curb the impulse to start scavenging parts from every ship in the hangar and commence repairs with his bare hands in the hope it might restore some sign of animation to Han's spirit, for the Corellian hadn't even flinched at the insults. Instead, Luke had gripped his lover's hand tightly, offering reassurance and sympathy, and felt the answering, distracted squeeze, acknowledgement of their shared suffering.

But the techs, with their gadgets and tools and ruthless in their conviction that newer meant better, were right this time. They would have no future that included the Falcon. Han's luck and ingenuity had finally expired: fallen victim to the inevitable intersection of time and entropy.

There'd been no protest of the conclusion. Not even from Chewbacca, who'd only whimpered, touched Han's shoulder with surprising tenderness, and shuffled away to grieve in his own way. Relinquishing responsibility for Han's anguish to Luke, and bearing his own with dignity.

Verdict accepted with a stiff, grim-faced nod, Han Solo had stood facing his ship for a long, silent stretch of time. His lack of reaction strained credulity, locked down under control worthy of a Jedi, proof of the devastating nature of this blow. Luke's abruptly morbid imagination had clothed Han in remembered agony, triggered by his partner's rigid, unmoving attitude of helpless misery and fueled by the scent of molten carbonite used for hull repairs.

The techs had departed, cheerfully disdainful of the heartache left in their wake, and Han's sidelong glance had asked for understanding. "Give me a few minutes?"

There was nothing he wouldn't give Han, although this gift of time was all he could offer right now. Throat tight with words of comfort that Han wasn’t ready to hear just yet, Luke simply nodded. He understood the need for such a solitary funeral service.

Unmoving, he watched Han approach his injured bird with the long, easy stride of bravado and his heart contracted to a kernel of remorse at the sight, for this was something he’d taught Han—genius for creating discrepancies between reality and projected image.

There had been a time when Luke requested the same gift from Han, that of precious time. Han had granted the request, but neglected to mention the limited terms of that offer. Instead, judging the length of time to be more than adequate, he’d come after Luke, nudging closer and closer, refusing to be kept away from Luke’s pain. Demanding that what they shared would be all... or nothing. Pushing determinedly, denying all attempts to spare him, chipping away at the false front of serenity and acceptance, until the devastating truth trickled out through the holes Han had punched in his control. The trickle had become a flood and Han absorbed it all, rendering the pain harmless by his presence, by his choice to help carry the burden, by his unconditional, limitless love.

Now Luke saw the faint suggestion of movement through the cockpit's shredded transparisteel canopy, the white shirt only a slightly lighter blur of gray in the blackness, and knew Han had returned from viewing the remains of his ship.

*Luke*

Had he heard his name, whispered like a prayer, or was it only wishful thinking? It didn’t matter, for he realized his offer of time had come with its own expiration date. He began walking, then running, toward the Falcon.

"Han, I’m here."

End

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