With a slight, pained screech, the door swung inward. Luke swept a hand through his damp hair and brushed wetness off his tunic’s sleeves. Warm, mellow and heavy, a late summer rain streaked down outside and cupped the silence of an unlit hallway. Luke’s eyes adjusted slowly. When the door slid shut behind him, he could hear the distant buzz of Corellia’s air traffic echo down through the stairwell and catch within empty rooms, closer than the rain.
Home. Although it wasn’t. But the stillness here was still laced through with a sense of confident attachment and balance that he’d missed. Each time he entered the house, it felt like taking shelter within a single, deep breath while the constant stream of pressures and necessities ran past somewhere miles away. And he could almost see Han stalk across the hallway, wide grin flashing, always in the middle of something that didn’t absolutely need doing and could be dropped at a moment’s notice.
Sprinkles of gaudy, electric purple stole in through a window and poked at the dimness. Out on the front porch, a rydhonite-powered sign pulsed out For Sale at erratic intervals. Inside, the air carried the stale mark of disuse. Luke breathed out through his nose and recalled a flurry of scents brought in by the wind, wet and green spiked with the salt of Corellia’s oceans. When he touched the control panel by the door, ambient lighting flushed the shadows aside and gleamed on bare floorboards, and he almost wished he’d left the soothing half-dark untroubled.
An old-fashioned electrobroom with a broken handle leaned in one of the corners, and that was all — except for a dark smear of engine oil on the floor where Han used to drop his tools alongside an odd assortment of cans, wire-endings, and components. A habit that made the household droid cluck nervously. Luke smiled as he recalled Han’s dogged attempts to program his definition of cleanliness into the droid’s circuits. The domestic war had come to an abrupt end with an unexplained short-circuit.
Never take in preprogrammed lodgers, had been Han’s emphatic piece of advice.
The memory was slow to recede, and Luke shook his head at himself. Too vivid, and too close, the entire, hopeless tangle surged into his mind. He’d returned to take it apart, put it to rest, all those glittering, sharp-edged moments that teased him with a promise of something whole. But they took to the air and filled it instead of settling down. He crossed the hall and opened the tinted doors on the far side.
Diffuse, gray light flooded the parlor and picked out random ornaments in a faded carpet. Unfurnished, the room seemed bloated, stretched out of proportion. Silent rain snaked down the large windows, but when Luke stepped up closer, he could hear a distant rush like an echo of the sea...
...something half-buried in the wet sand winked with daylight and caught his eye. A large, hollow shell, delicate like Alderaani porcelain, its ribbed surface dappled brown and violet. Luke picked it up and wiped it off with his sleeve.
“Hold it to your ear,” Han said. “There... y’hear that? An echo of the sea. That’s what they told me as a kid, and I kept one of ‘em with me for years. Spacer sentimentality.” He swept a glance out across the tideland and the gray ribbon of the ocean beyond.
Watching him, Luke thought for a moment that he could see the sailor of a remote past come alive in Han’s eyes, looking out to receding horizons like generations before him, until every island and continent had been mapped and distances shrank, and only the sky called with the challenge of deep space and faraway suns. As it had to a younger Han Solo who grew up within sight of the ocean. As it still did.
The war’s end couldn’t change that, of course; if anything, it pulled an ingrained unrest nearer to the surface. Han’s bursts of activity showed it as clearly as that long, speculative look towards the horizon.
“Where would you go first?” Luke asked him.
A grin curled Han’s mouth. “Nothing to do with would. I will, kid.”
“Well?” Luke prompted.
“Down the Corellian Run and off the map,” Han said. “With plenty of stopovers on Kashyyyk and... some other places.”
“Like Shiseiris?” Luke suggested. “The crystal waterfalls must be spectacular.”
“Wanna join up?” Han shot him an appraising glance from the side. “I could use an associate mechanic, you know. Or even an unskilled freight handler.”
“Unskilled? What a generous offer.” Luke chuckled. “I’ll consider it.”
“Good.” Han’s eyes traced the hazy line where sea and sky met and blurred, lost in thoughts for a few moments, until the rasp of a hoverboat’s jets broke the windy quiet. He turned back with a shrug and brushed Luke’s arm in passing. “Guess for now we’d better head home.”
A foothold in the rush of shaping the Rebel Alliance into something much larger, the string of conflicts and urgent interventions too long and tangled to handle them in anything like sensible order. Months could reel past that way, and Luke had grown used to waking up in places he didn’t recognize, couldn’t even put a name to. But here, he’d blink his eyes open to a window with a tracery of fine cracks in one pane, to soft crackles of old wood and the whiff of a salty breeze, thinking, home.
It was all due to Han’s presence, and nothing else. Han reminded him that living meant to break away from the set patterns whenever you could, no matter if they had ‘inevitable’ stamped all over them.
I envy you, Luke had told him more than once.
‘Cause I’m stuck here? Han never tired of playing indignant. Or because I get regular meals?
After several rounds of dodging Fleet Command’s proposals, he’d accepted a position on the homeworld he’d left as a boy, to help reorganize Corellia’s defense forces. And during one of Luke’s visits, he’d pushed a key to the house into his hand saying, I want you to come here anytime you feel like it, okay?
A sanctuary. Even if the house retained that unfinished, wistful look of something half-forgotten.
The house was too big for Han — or even Han and Chewie and some hand-picked guests combined — but still fit him somehow. An old timber-built model like a stranded ocean steamer in need of an overhaul and some adjustments — like the domed annex Han had turned into a workshop. Walls plastered with schematics of the Falcon’s systems that traced his constantly metamorphing plans in scribbles and impatient strokes. Crates of usable parts and puzzling multifunctional tools everywhere. While the rooms upstairs waited patiently for attention.
Enough room for a big family, the notion had flitted through Luke’s head during his first visit, but the changes that’d prompted Han to buy this house switched direction again within months.
When Luke turned back from the rain-streamed window, recollection filled the empty parlor with divans and side tables, polished amberwood furniture and slender vases of berylen crystal. All of it selected to appeal to visiting diplomats, government representtatives, and other high-ranking guests. A space where public and private overlapped, where petitioners from remote fringe worlds got a chance to eye General Han Solo and — occasionally — Luke Skywalker, last of the Jedi. A space for politics and compromise: Leia’s domain. But Leia had never really lived here, and after her final split with Han, the parlor had become the household droid’s shrine where the precious crystalware never caught a speck of dust.
Wind drove a spatter of rain against the glass, with hurried, ticking noises like scrambled time. Luke turned away from that lonely sound to cross the room in quick strides. Maybe different questions could be asked of each room within the empty house. And in every single room, memories were bound to shimmer up and regroup and cast their capricious spell over him.
It’s past, over, Luke told himself and turned into a short corridor that ran up to a modestly sized sitting-room. What would it take to finally make him accept that?
Daylight slanted through stained glass in liquid blues and creamy whites, shaping confused patterns on cinnamon floor-boards. Of the chairs and settees once scattered around the room, the large oval table and the console shoved against the back wall, only a single armchair remained, facing the terrace doors. Awash with silvery light and the spill of hazy blue patches, the room reminded Luke of a ship’s deck — and perhaps that explained Han’s preference for this particular spot in the house. There’d been a battered chest of drawers in one corner, Luke recalled, where Han kept several decks of sabacc cards. A game that called for inventive maneuvers, dirty tricks and lightspeed thinking: no wonder that Han loved it. Luke paused by the terrace doors, memory sliding up his spine. He’d never been a match for Han’s sabacc skills, though sometimes he’d managed to surprise his friend...
“You’re cheatin’!” Han glowered at him. “I s’pose old Kenobi never mentioned that reading people’s minds ain’t fair in a decent game.”
“I’m only reading your face, Han,” Luke returned blandly.
Across the table, Lando dropped his cards and chuckled. “Han just hates losing,” he said confidentially, pushing a stack of crystalplex chips in Luke’s direction. “New game, or new drinks?”
“Both,” Han grumbled. “And I’ll teach the youngster a lesson.” He leaned into the circle of light and held his hand out for Luke’s cards while Lando picked up the decanter to refill their glasses.
Han won the next round.
“See?” He tossed Lando a smug grin.
His friend, once a professional gambler, shrugged smoothly. “Luke let you win to spare your ego.”
“He’s not that generous,” Han retorted, unruffled. “Don’t believe all those tales about the humble Jedi, do you? The kid here’s got a will like a razor, so don’t be fooled.”
Luke gave a soft laugh and spread his cards on the table top. “With a hand like this, I’d have to be a wizard!”
The three of sabers, the commander of coins, and the Hanged Man.
“I agree,” Lando said dryly.
Warm, scented night-air drifted in through the open terrace doors. Han collected his chips, stretched his long legs and carded messy dark tangles back from his forehead. The game had come to an adequate conclusion, his body language spelled, and neither of his friends proposed another round. From the adjacent room, Chewbacca’s deep-bellied snores filtered through the silence. Luke pictured the Wookiee’s gently swinging hammock beside an open window and smiled to himself.
“I wouldn’t mind a snack now,” Lando said at length. “How about you two?”
“Nah, thanks,” Han answered lazily. “Go look if there’s anything left in the kitchen.”
“Charming host, ain’t he?” Lando winked at Luke and left, whistling to himself.
Luke collected the cards and shuffled them, the traditional figures and symbols flashing past in bright, blurring colors. “Tired, Han?”
“Yeah... but it’s too damn hot to sleep anyway.”
Han buttoned his loose shirt down with a sigh. A spill of light from the glowsphere caught on the pale fabric, framing his tanned chest. Eyes closing, he sprawled loose-limbed in his chair. Over the table, tiny insects flitted in the soft shine. A deep quiet invaded the room with the smell of dry grass, the spread of velvet darkness outside, and a gentler warmth lingering after the day’s fierce heat.
Luke circled the table to head outdoors when Han cracked one eye open and said, “You know, I’ve been thinkin’ about selling the place.”
It was totally unexpected. Luke stopped behind his chair. “Serious?”
“A villa, this size... that’s preposterous for a guy like me.” Han shook his head, stretched his arms. “I kinda thought I might like it, as compensation for the things I never had, but now...” He craned his neck and looked up, perhaps trying to gauge Luke’s apprehensive silence. “What, kid?” Han made a playful grab for his hand. “You like it here?”
“Uh-huh,” Luke managed, jolted by a sudden sense of loss. The notion that Han might be planning to resume a here-today-gone-tomorrow lifestyle, combined with the pressure of lean fingers wrapped round his own, sparked a strange tension through his gut.
“Gets a bit lonely though,” Han said frankly. “Why don’t you move in? There’s several rooms upstairs that I never really use.”
“Well, that’s...” Luke started, fumbling through hopelessly mixed responses. “But — you know, it wouldn’t make so much of a difference.” And sober reasoning took over. “Those council meetings pretty much tie me to Coruscant, in between missions. I’d still be a regular visitor, nothing more.”
“True, I guess.” Han released his hand, dark head sagging against the chair’s backrest — and Luke almost opened his mouth again to accept his offer anyway.
I could be part of this. For good. We could be —
A pointless fantasy stirring to play itself out in his head: hadn’t he learned to guard against that by now? The need to belong, for something solid and unquestionable, had only grown sharper since the war’s end, but he couldn’t expect Han — Han, of all people — to provide him with a safe haven. Stay here, keep a place for me. Impossible.
“Well, think about it,” Han muttered, eyelids drooping again. “I will. Nothing’s decided yet.”
Luke stepped towards the terrace door, opened it wider to the first flick of a cooling breeze, and turned back to say something after all. But then his gaze slid across the length of Han’s body, caught to the lazy elegance in his slouch, and a wild tingle shot through him.
He wanted to laugh at himself. It wasn’t that he’d never noticed before. Han’s bursts of temper set the air alight sometimes, and he could charm the last rags off a Jawa if he set his mind to it, but like this, totally at ease, sensual promise surrounded him like a charged field. Trapped inside it, Luke swallowed hard. Sure, he’d been aware of it before, but after all these years of knowing Han, he’d vaguely considered himself immune...
A moth fluttered up under the glowsphere, tumbled to settle on the rim of an empty glass, then batted back up in confused flight. Luke swiped at his damp forehead and tore his gaze away. A passing affliction, he labeled it, caused by the heady blend of liquor, midsummer heat, the room’s intimate quiet, and his own restless needs. For a place to just be, for someone —
The rain was fizzling out into spider-trails that crept down the glass doors. Luke rested his forehead against the cool surface, caught himself and straightened. Silence pressed in on him, empty spaces filling with more than recollection.
Through a pane of luminous blue glass, distorted by the wash of rain, the garden looked like the bottom of a tranquil ocean, a thousand miles deep, indigo shot through with pale light from above. Remote like the past, like the companionable quiet he’d shared with Han before buried needs escaped control and got in the way.
The blanket of fuzzy clouds had thinned. Amid countless shades of grey showed the silver slants of a sun riding towards afternoon. When Luke yanked the door open, warm, moist air poured into the room. He stepped out onto the patio. A steady drizzle cooled his face, and the wetness unfurled a thousand teeming odors. Lemon-leaf, tarranut, and cascades of lavender fern jeweled with the fierce, gold-rimmed orchids transplanted from Endor. Luke sucked in a deep breath. Achingly familiar scents invaded his senses as he walked through the garden.
Why couldn’t I just let it pass, let it be? He scrunched his shoulders, wanting to retreat to a core of stillness deep inside.
Whatever had seized him that midsummer night, it refused to settle and disperse. It wound through his dreams, clogged into a thick, heated tangle that woke him breathless and spilled electric flashbacks through the following day. He could keep it locked down for weeks at a stretch, until some random detail triggered thoughts of Han that tightened his gut and kicked off random energy spikes that went nowhere. And his regular stopovers on Corellia had only made things worse. Instead of comfortable closeness, vague tensions had coiled between them, and Luke had to monitor his own responses all the while. Small gestures or a thoughtless touch could make his breath catch, and each time Han turned that slow grin on him — a teasing, affectionate challenge — the stop-and-lurch in his pulse told Luke exactly what was wrong with him. It was just a matter of time until he’d let something slip and unhinge a friendship of years.
A flash of light off the water stopped Luke in his tracks. Without noticing, he’d passed the orchard and crossed the stretch of bleached, uncut grass sloping down towards the lake. The lessening rain made soft plops on the water’s surface, like a slow pulse beating out time, circular ripples expanding and intersecting. A wooden landing stage jutted out over the wide, green lake.
Crouching, Luke ran his fingers over the furrowed wood where an earlier owner had towed his boat. Before his eyes, dull silver reflections changed to copper, a touch of early morning scooting across the water...
...the lake was gauzed with thready white mists, and cool air formed a lucid dome above that uncertain surface. Far in the distance sounded a deep hydraulic hum from the harbor, and the glow of holo-signs guiding inner-city traffic pulsed against the edge of dawn. He stood on the lake shore, watching daylight wash in —
When he turned, Han strode up from the orchard. "Did I get something wrong? Thought you’re off tomorrow, not today."
He shook his head. "Just woke up early, that’s all."
"Nothing new there, huh?” Han eyed him skeptically. "Wanna go for a walk?"
They walked along the water’s edge for some silent minutes, until Han said, "I’ll talk to the agent today. Find a place in the city. A simple apartment will do."
Luke bit down hard on a start of rebellious regrets. “What about Chewie?”
“It’s not as if he’s around all the time, and he’s not gonna move in with his whole family either.” Han shrugged. “I’m looking at places with roof-gardens, that kinda thing. That’ll keep him happy enough when he comes to visit.”
"So you’ve made up your mind to let the house go."
"No point in keeping it." Han’s voice turned dry and sober.
There probably wasn’t. But the loss hit harder this time, a blow to his gut. Luke kept his eyes on the narrow path that circled the lake, left muddy by the last night’s rain. To bring Han’s offhand proposal back up would seem absurd now. Accepting it was impossible anyway.
"My folks used to live on the other side of town," Han said, pointing out the general direction. "Only a couple miles off, but we’d never’ve dreamed of coming here. ’Course the flush upper crust knew better than to mix with the likes of us. Different worlds, you know what I mean?" He let his hand drop. "I don’t really belong here. All the people and places I grew up with are gone."
"I know," Luke said. "I know what it’s like." He’d returned to Tatooine once, where his careless parting words came back at him like a dry blast out of the desert. There’s nothing left for me here...
A screech went up from a thicket of rushes on his right, wings flapped, then a white heron burst from its hidden nest. Luke stepped back in reflex and thrust his arms out when he slipped on the soggy ground.
"Hey, watch it!"
Han caught him, steadied him, and for a moment held Luke like that — close against the tall body, close enough to feel Han’s warmth seep into him. And when he met the hazel eyes, they revealed a loneliness that went through him with a quicksilver shot of desire. He was almost ready to speak, or to reach out —
“You sure have a way of flushing out the wildlife.” Han brushed tousled hair back from Luke’s face and released him slowly.
“Must be the lingering Wampa smell,” Luke remembered to say. A narrow escape.
With a crooked grin, Han turned aside and started walking again. “So — yeah,” he said, "I thought maybe the time’s come to settle down, get a life. Talk about delusions! Been planet-hopping too long, I guess." His hand flew up, dismissive. "What if someone asked you to start a moisture farm on Tatooine, huh?"
Luke chuckled, a forced, hollow sound. "Moisture farming doesn’t quite compare to the job you’re doing here."
"Yeah, but I’m looking forward to the day when that job’s done. It’s all about politics, all high-flung talk and no action." Han shuddered theatrically. "Nah, I gotta get back on the move, and I’ll be all right."
Luke shot him a sidelong glance. Han’s flippancy covered disillusionment, the collapse of a fantasy he’d carried around for years, though he’d never admit it. After years spent riding the hell-curves of military action, coming home hadn’t brought him any closer to contentment.
"I haven’t even tried," Luke said softly. "Things have changed in so many ways."
"Or is it us, is it that we’ve changed too much?" Han returned unexpectedly. But before Luke could answer, he cracked a grin and waved it all aside. "Well, let’s not start the day gloomy. How about breakfast now?"
“Sure.” Luke sank both hands into his pockets as they walked back towards the house. Solitude curled into the gap between Han and himself like a chill breeze. Ironic, Luke thought, when neither of them had found a place to belong. If only I could —
What? Ask Han to create an illusion for him, for them both? Tell his closest friend that he’d fallen in love with him — a man who’d chosen liberty, and loneliness, half a lifetime ago? There wasn’t any way to break the silence.
The white heron sailed across the lake on warming air currents, so low that its trailing pinions almost grazed the water...
Luke shrugged, a half-hearted attempt to shake the memory, the slow, hypnotic ripples on the water like a mirror of his mind. Thoughts reaching outward, losing themselves, adrift, to start anew in a different place. The sun, a blurred patch of bright silver, slid through wispy clouds. Luke eased down on the landing stage.
Another summer had come and — almost — gone, since that late-night sabacc game. He’d clamped down on his feelings, afraid of rejection first, then afraid to ask too much — and, perhaps, offer too little in return. He’d run. Because for all his introspection and self-denial, he’d been unable to resist.
A single touch had stripped down his defenses, interlocked reasons melting aside between one breath and the next. And the notion that having only a part was worse than nothing at all had evaporated like the last, sluggish rain-drops dissolving in the lake, the moment Han reached out for him.
Don’t say anything, Luke. Just let it happen.
Incredulous, entranced, and trapped inside his own silence, he’d done exactly that. And backed off afterwards, with no questions asked, and no answers given.
A small shiver snaked down Luke’s back. Phantom sensations — more alive than memory and the blunt, desolate present — fired all over his skin. Han’s breath on his mouth, Han’s fingers buried in his hair, and the scalding pressure of Han’s body against him, almost too much to bear. A humid day enclosed him, but before his inner sight unfolded a breathless night punctured by bright, hard stars.
* * *
Jumpy like a Rodian, he mocked his own reaction. It didn’t have to be Luke. Maybe the agent had invited a client for a tour of the estate. And maybe you’re goddamn nervous about what’s gonna happen if it’s him after all...
Han ducked past the runnel that dripped off the front porch gable. His spaceport contact had logged a message less than two hours ago. Precisely five minutes after Luke’s battered old X-wing had settled on a landing pad. But Luke could be anywhere in the city, maybe some official business had taken him to Corellia on short notice. He hadn’t been in touch to let Han know he was coming, at any rate.
When Han opened the door, the hall looked dim and dusty, more desolate than he remembered. "Anybody in?" he called, his voice ringing too loud and hollow in the quiet. There was no reply, not the faintest noise stirring the stale air, but his shout wouldn’t’ve carried to the upper floor anyway.
Han turned to climb a flight of wooden stairs, hand sliding up the rail with its carved vines and fantastic creatures, all darkened to a warm shade of ebony over decades. Details like that, all the craftsmanship that’d gone into the villa’s fittings and fixtures, had caught his attention during his first visit. So maybe the house had seen better days — it still owned a grouchy, lopsided kind of charm just waiting for someone to appreciate it.
At the top of the stairs, silence thickened obstinately. Han glanced up and down the corridor. Vague gleams edged in through narrow windows at either end, outlining several doorways. Too many unused rooms there, as if he’d expected to play host to a whole fighter squad.
Yeah, well. It was just that he’d liked the idea of being able to invite friends, along with their own friends, associates, or families anytime. Corellian hospitality, the like of which his own family could never afford, had mothered this vague fantasy of an open house. Abuzz with talk and music, a bright, chaotic jumble of living...
A few steps took Han to the door of Luke’s room. As if that door carried a name tag: absurd notion. Though Luke visited whenever he could, he rarely stayed longer than a few short days filled with a high-paced exchange of news, late-night chats, and long walks by the coast.
Pull of the sea, Han thought with the twitch of a smile. Love at first sight. He’d been there to witness Luke’s first encounter with the Corellian ocean, a slapping, rising expanse aglitter with sunlight that got mirrored in Luke’s eyes. All those years of growing up in the desert just slid off him when his eyes went out to the horizon, and a wild, baffled smile spread all over his face. Han, that’s — I don’t know what to say! Incredible. And the look of him reeled back the years, returned the kid who’d challenged Han’s patience in a grungy dive on Tatooine.
The kid. Han still called him that. Just a scrap of the past that he clung to when the rest of it had long drifted from sight. The truth was, Luke had always had a way of getting under his skin. Liking him had come easy, during that first, brief ride to nowhere — even though Han had seriously tried not to. Next, almost before he knew, Luke had roped him into a suicidal rescue effort with nothing but a promise and those sparks of boundless confidence snapping in his eyes. You’ll only get yourself killed, and for what? Han remembered thinking almost every step of the way. But an insane protective impulse took over and zapped him in the gut. Swerving the Falcon about to cover for Luke’s crazy attack run in the Death Star trench had come too damn easy, after that. And too many other things...
Tripping down memory lane? Han scoffed at himself. How’s that gonna solve anything? Back then, Luke had been a half-grown boy with a head full of glowing, impractical ideas — easily flustered, generous with his affections, dangerously unafraid sometimes — but he’d changed almost before Han’s eyes, he’d been forced to grow past all limitations at a desperate pace. The public tended to forget that Luke Skywalker, Jedi knight and icon of the Rebel Alliance, had just turned twenty-three when the Empire fell apart in one last giant explosion, sending shockwaves to the ends of the galaxy.
Han gripped the old-fashioned brass handle, pushed it down, and caught his unreasoning impulse inside the same breath. What the hell would Luke do in his room, with all the furniture gone, and no personal effects left anyway? Not that Luke owned much. Most likely, it’d all fit into his X-wing’s cargo compartment.
The door’s handle slipped a cool shadow into his palm. Han let his hand drop, recalling how often he’d come here to wake Luke in the morning, only to find the room empty and neat, the bed suspiciously unruffled. Luke was a light sleeper and rose before dawn sometimes...
...Han turned away from the door and gave his arms a long, drowsy stretch. Something about Luke’s habit of peeling away from sleep after just a few hours was faintly disturbing — as if he’d moved past basic human needs somehow. Still yawning, Han shuffled down the stairs to find his friend and kick the troublesome droid into preparing breakfast. He could guess where Luke had gone.
That spot just beyond the patio, where a large white slab had been forgotten — or deposited as ornament — among spindly shrubs. Maybe it was the view over the lake that drew him, or something to do with the Force. If it compared to electromagnetic fields, Han speculated, maybe the flux lines pooled in certain areas. He opened the terrace doors with a soft snort. Right. Like I’d know the first thing about it.
But, sure enough, Luke had returned to his favorite meditation spot and sat cross-legged on the slab, facing away from the house. A prickling chill stopped Han in the doorway. Daybreak trickled through the bushes and spun its cool copper threads around Luke. Bits of dazzle glinting off his hair whenever the breeze ruffled the twigs, but Luke himself seemed worlds away, like he wasn’t even breathing. Turned in on himself, silence pulled in close like molded body-armor. But maybe this was where he got it, all the control and quiet strength he could summon with no effort, to face the worst kind of trouble. All Jedi, alone with the Force that kept him apart from the rest of humanity.
Han shifted his shoulders uneasily and told himself to stop hovering. Hadn’t quite crossed the patio yet when he saw Luke stir. Alert as always, even in the middle of his esoteric exercises.
Han stopped behind him, resting both hands on the slim shoulders. "Up early again, huh? Get any rest at all? Maybe we oughta find a different room for you."
Half-turning, Luke smiled up at him. "The room’s perfect. It’s just... me, I guess. Don’t seem to need much sleep anymore."
"That it?" Han probed. "The way you’re driving yourself, you should be sleeping for days at a stretch. How about... nightmares?"
For months after Endor, Luke’s nights had been overrun by a far too vivid past. And more than once, Han had kept him company through those black hours ‘til daybreak brought the reassurance of a firm, secure present.
"Nothing I can’t cope with." Though Luke’s tone was calm and steady, Han caught a shadow at the back of his glance.
"I hope so." He squeezed Luke’s shoulders briefly. "Well... you know where I am, if you need me."
"Uh-huh." Luke leaned back against him, totally relaxed in the strengthening sunlight that’d soon become a fierce glare.
The tacit expression of trust warmed Han from inside. Under Luke’s composure lived something wild and shy, a reluctance to ever lower his guard. Moments like this, when discipline and tension just melted off him, had grown preciously rare. Han ruffled the blond hair and pulled Luke to his feet. "Let’s go for a swim in the lake. Breakfast will take some time yet."
"Don’t tell me you’ve taken another day off! You’re gettin’ soft, General." With a mischievous grin, Luke pulled his tunic over his head, blue eyes flashing, and for a moment looked every bit the tousle-headed farmboy from Tatooine.
"Don’t you get cocky with me, junior," Han grumbled, swatting at him...
Distant voices, like a residue of the past trapped within the house. The slow drip-drop of rain on the roof cut through Han’s recollection with a troublesome sense of loss. Corellia’s hot season was only just fading, but a single rainy day could blot it out like a fantasy. Han turned from the door and started down the corridor.
Times with Luke. The time we could still pretend nothing’s changed...
Maybe he’d clung to comfortable illusions too long. Wanting to believe that Luke had come through all the battles and dangers unscathed, if not unchanged. Toughened by experience, set apart by his Jedi abilities, yet essentially the same.
You wish. Han twitched his shoulders, impatient with himself. Far too often, he’d sensed a haunted inner stillness growing on Luke. And he’d done what he could to dispel it, relieved each time when all the accumulated pressures slipped aside and Luke finally let himself relax.
Used to do you good. Han paused by the window at the corridor’s end. It’d taken him a while to realize, but Luke needed him — to be there, to loosen him up. To bring back a shared past when questions had been easier to answer and doubts about the future burned up in the moment’s crossfire.
Wet trails blurred Han’s view of the garden, the rich, dark greens under a sullen sky. Maybe Luke hadn’t returned after all, maybe the rented glider outside was just a coincidence. It was over anyway. His plans for the house, and everything to do with it. Han tried to shrug off a sweep of the blue funk. He wasn’t selling a life, only a place too big and palatial for a drifter like him. And each time Luke had left again, he’d been too aware of all those empty rooms. He’d miss Luke’s company when he returned from headquarters, and the notion of having Luke move in had grown from those moments of late-night bleakness ‘til it seemed just natural.
Not the smartest idea you ever had. Han placed his palm flat against the cool window pane as if that could help clearing his mind.
Fact was, they’d reached a turning point in their lives. The Rebel Alliance was growing into a huge organization, a State. The challenge and independence of their early guerilla days — despite all the constant hazards, the black moments of hopelessness — were gone for good. A tight band of freedom fighters transformed into responsible politicians and went their separate ways, or dropped out of the picture like jettisoned ballast.
Have we been foolin’ ourselves, Luke ‘n me, thinking we could carry on like it made no difference? With a grimace, Han corrected himself. Just me.
His mouth curled as memory took him back to the night he’d made his careless suggestion. Suddenly aware how much he really wanted Luke to stay around, share the house with him. And Luke’s hesitation, his polite but noncommittal tone had stung more than Han cared to admit. But really, what had he expected? Luke was about to leave his old life behind, including Han Solo. The New Alliance leaders were happy to heap responsibilities on his shoulders, and maybe in time Luke would start training a new generation of Jedi. Countless futures lay within his reach, but not a single version promised a big role for an ex-smuggler and part-time general who wasn’t even sure he wanted to settle down for good.
I’m his past, Han had summed it up for himself that night, not his future.
And if he hadn’t realized right away that he’d overstepped, it became gratingly obvious soon enough. Ever after, Luke’s habitual reserve had included him, too. The straightforward closeness between them faded, thinned out to friendly detachment. And — damnit all to hell — Han missed it, missed the feeling of Luke needing him, like no one had ever needed Han Solo before. Sometimes he wanted to grab Luke and shake him and... whatever.
Kiss him breathless — though he’d never allowed his thoughts to stray quite so far at the time, and probably should’ve kept it that way.
Han hauled in a deep breath. On his right, a narrow staircase ascended towards the rooftop terrace, the worn steps outlined in amber gleams. His jaw tightened as he recalled climbing the stairs one early evening, when the house was still throbbing with amassed heat. And the next morning, when he’d come down again, everything had changed...
...burning blue ran over into shades of turquoise, purple and lavender. Out over the city, comm-spires pierced the setting sun. When Han stepped onto the sky-glazed terrace, the tiles were still hot against his bare feet. Luke had dozed off on a blanket over by the low stone rail. Stretched out on his stomach and dressed only in a pair of shorts, ruffled blond hair falling over his face. A rare, peaceful sight.
Human needs catching up after all, Han thought, quirking a smile. No need to wake Luke just yet. He turned back towards the stairs, setting himself on a course for the kitchen and some refreshments.
Supplies were low because he’d already moved most of his furniture and several crates of accumulated clutter to the new inner-city apartment, but Han found one solitary bottle of white Antarian wine at the back of a kitchen cabinet. Grabbing two glasses, he climbed back up and settled down beside Luke.
A breeze played in Luke’s hair, and the bronzed light picked out the graceful line of his bowed neck, shoulders and back. Loosened up in sleep, the slim frame revealed all the sensual allure that never really showed through the Jedi’s seamless restraint. Han let his gaze drift down Luke’s legs, across the lean, solid muscles that evidenced years of training and action. Only time when Luke ever let go completely was when he danced and spun with his lightsaber, unaware of anything beyond the radiant blade. Focused passion and natural grace flashing in every move, coming alive with a power that’d stunned Han each time he’d been there to watch. So maybe a Jedi knight was supposed to make do with spiritual pleasures alone — it still seemed like a shocking waste.
The sputter of a hoverboat’s engine echoed back from the lake, frazzling the quiet, and Han realized that he’d studied Luke for a pretty long while. Ogled him, more like it. Something to do with the smoldering lights of sundown, maybe, the way those colors played across Luke’s bare skin and turned him into a beautiful stranger. A mystery just waiting to be solved.
Oh yeah? Han sat up briskly and opened the bottle. Constant heat must’ve fried your brain, Solo. He poured himself a glass to wash down all those bizarre notions.
Luke stirred at the soft noise and rolled over sleepily. "Lords, it’s... gettin’ late, huh?" The blond head lifted slowly, and drowsy blue eyes found Han. "How long’ve you been back?"
"Not long," Han answered evasively. "Took some of my stuff over to the apartment. I’ll move the rest tomorrow, after you’ve left." He held out a glass. "Some wine? Last bottle on store."
Luke rolled the first sip on his tongue. "Means this is my last visit here, doesn’t it?"
"Don’t be ridiculous!" Han snorted. "You can always come over ‘n stay at the new place. It’s big enough for a visitor or two, no problem." Though of course it wouldn’t be the same — and Han thought he could see a touch of regret in Luke’s eyes, before his glance slipped towards the silhouette of inner-city blocks and towers embroidered with hazy lights.
"Won’t be quite as peaceful as it is here," Luke said with a vague gesture, indicating the garden, the lake.
"No more than a hop away from spaceport though. And I won’t need any household droids messing about," Han pointed out. "The kitchen’s fully automated."
Luke turned his head and grinned. "I’m relieved to hear that. For a moment I was afraid I’d have to put up with your cooking."
"You’re the one to talk," Han said disdainfully. "Remember what you did to my kitchen last time you gave it a try? A gang of Gamorreans couldn’t’ve done any worse. You’d be starving yourself if you had to survive on your own cooking."
"You’re probably right there." Luke chuckled, drained his glass, and held it out for a refill.
Han let his scowl dissolve into a grin as he complied, then helped himself to more wine. For some unfathomable reason, Luke’s restraint and dispassion had simply fallen off again, he seemed totally at ease for the first time in way too long. Han took off his shirt, bundled it up and shoved it under his head as he stretched out on the blanket. One by one, stars blossomed in the skies overhead, tiny lights blurred by the planet’s atmosphere and sweeps of illumination that went up from the city.
They talked while that blended twilight took over, and almost before Han knew, the bottle was empty. He shook the few last drops into his glass.
"Gotta get new supplies of this stuff."
"Yeah... nice taste." Luke stretched lazily and rolled over to lie on his belly again, chin resting on folded arms. "I think I’m going to spend the night out here. Nice ‘n cool now."
Han propped himself on an elbow to set his empty glass aside. The thought of retreating to a dim, closed-off room downstairs held no particular appeal. "Mind if I stay?"
"Lots of room here," Luke answered with a drowsy sigh, his eyes already slipping shut.
Han smiled down at him. Yeah, you need a rest, kid. And someone to watch over you, make sure you don’t drive yourself too hard. The watching in particular wasn’t going to be a hardship.
Sure that Luke was about to fall asleep, Han let his eyes roam across the sprawled form — down from the nape of Luke’s neck, across the ridge of his spine and narrow hips to the curve of his butt under the tight shorts. Further down his splayed thighs Han guessed more than saw the dusting of body hair, a pale mist against tanned skin. He could almost feel the lingering warmth there, too, a smooth trace of hours spent out in the sun. When he set his memory of the lanky farmboy next to this picture of elegant masculinity, the transformation seemed almost uncanny. All those supple, flowing lines guarding a resilient strength...
Han pursed his lips. Hold it right there. But whatever’d put these notions into his head — an overdose of languid summer, the sense of something slipping towards a definite end — refused to back off. Luke was the closest friend he’d ever had; close in a way that didn’t compare to any other friendship, not even his bond with Chewie. Maybe because Luke had walked into his life and changed it in totally unpredictable ways, just by being who he was. A constant challenge, too, because Luke could switch from playful hotshot to serene Jedi in a blink. Though right now, all Han could see was the sensual perfection of him, too goddamn alluring. And a quick thrill fired all the way through his gut.
Han’s mouth went dry. Hell, you had it coming, he thought, and you never knew. Sure, he’d caught himself watching Luke before, enjoying casual physical contact more than he should, perhaps, but never quite... this much. Anticipation tightened his stomach, and the shock of discovery chased a fine heat into his veins. But something else worked through him, laced through the sudden jolt of desire, a jostle of banked feelings crowding his chest. All of it merging when his hand lifted and his fingertips brushed the nape of Luke’s neck.
He hadn’t been thinking. And now that he did, it was too late to stop. Between the graze of soft hair and the vibrant pulse under sun-warmed skin, Han found it totally impossible to back off.
There was no immediate reaction, not a flinch, although Luke couldn’t be fully asleep yet. Han breathed out through his teeth and let his fingers drift down Luke’s backbone, feather-light, just sketching that sweeping line like a thing to be remembered. No clear purpose behind it, only the tingle at his fingertips as if he was mapping the edge of a magnetic field. He curled his hand into the skin-dip just above Luke’s waistband and watched him draw a tight, halting breath. Awake, definitely. Surprised, maybe, considering. But not pulling back.
Slow as before, Han slid his hand sideways and back up, a long, easy caress like a wind-driven barge trailing at leisure across the lake’s surface. His thumb tracing the arch of Luke’s ribcage where that startled breath had caught. And if he could jog it loose, maybe he’d find out where all this was leading.
Skywards, Han thought, ‘least I hope so. His own pulse leapt into an odd, off-beat patter that filled his throat. And what the hell’m I gonna say if Luke—?
A long breath escaped, almost inaudible, but Luke was shifting, closer into his touch. Muscles tensing all the way down his back. Anticipating.
Han swallowed. After that first stab of wanting, he’d gone with instinct and curiosity, the way he used to when his life still revolved around the prospect of sweet deals that’d keep him going, when every day was filled with a restless hunger for greater speeds, for strange worlds and starscapes — and this wasn’t so different, it moved through him with the same jangling readiness.
Under his fingertips, Luke’s ribs fanned with soft, shallow breaths. The trajectory Han traced to his shoulder blade teased out a quickening heartbeat. Han shifted closer, let his hand mold Luke’s waist and felt a brief start towards him. Joining him in this unknown element. Curiosity, and instinct.
Han breathed in hard. The beauty and the strangeness of it gathered up into his palm, the solitary landscape of Luke’s skin — and he couldn’t let himself think that maybe no one had ever touched Luke like this before, because the whole galaxy should damn well want to.
Twilight, the curve of Luke’s shoulder and some sun-bleached strands hid most of his face, but Han sensed a stillness there like the shimmer of something under water that drifted up gradually, something secret and intense. He leaned over to slide his lips across Luke’s shoulder. The blond head lifted, a brush of silky hair against Han’s forehead, and a prickle that ran the entire way down into his groin. Luke’s responses came slowly, but they crept all over him, muscles stretching, bunching in the rhythm of deeper breaths. And for some reason it felt perfectly right like this, a soundless drift towards full skin contact — just a shade away by now, he’d moved in so close that Luke’s heartbeats crossed that gap and flashed electric against Han’s chest. All he had to do was lean up higher, and Luke met his move smoothly, levered up on folded arms and turned his head —
Perfect magnetism. An unsteady breath hovered between them in the split second before their mouths met. Briefly, just brushing, at this oblique angle. A quick flutter of lashes traced a shadow against Luke’s cheek, but he didn’t open his eyes, and Han leaned in again, braced on one elbow while his other hand found a hold on Luke’s hip. Warm lips under his own, curved in a faint smile, then moving towards greater pressure. No hesitation, just a rush of breath as their mouths opened to each other. And a hot surge went up through Han’s stomach.
Incredible. It was just a kiss — a first, slow taste as he slid his tongue across the full lower lip — but it left him electrified all over. He trailed his mouth across Luke’s cheekbone and down his jaw, where a thick pulse leapt to meet him. Static tension wrapped around them both, charged with the dazzle of white wine and the densely packed stars that’d brightened enough to pierce the city vapors. Cheek resting against the side of Luke’s throat, Han trailed his hand inward, across the curve of Luke’s butt and down to the seam of his shorts. His own skin prickling with goosebumps before he felt a responding shiver along Luke’s thigh. He let his fingers slide deeper, exploring, dipping briefly under the body-warmed fabric. When he sailed his palm back down, every muscle was strung tight, and Luke pressed his hips up, encouraging more.
A hard breath clogged in Han’s throat. Felt like slipping into a dream with its own pull and certainty, drawing things impossible and unlikely into a steady orbit. Every particle of his awareness circled Luke’s reactions, sure enough, rational thought draining from his head while sizzling energy rode in. And when his thumb outlined the seam of Luke’s shorts with slight pressure, the thump of pulse at Luke’s neck took a mysterious shortcut to Han’s groin and notified him that he’d gone hard in a matter of moments. He trapped a gasp behind his teeth, but Luke’s hips moved with his touch, gave a quick writhe of pleasure that snapped through Han’s gut. Like a starting shot. Nuzzling the soft skin of Luke’s throat, he crept his fingers under the waistband and pushed Luke’s shorts down a bit. Adrift on the feel of firm, warm flesh, the scent of Luke, the sound of his uneven breaths.
The pressure in Han’s groin rose another notch as he pulled Luke closer and rocked his hips against him. A soft moan slipped out, jangling the charged quiet. Oh yeah, same here. Sweet and enticing, desire coiled in Han’s belly. His pants chafed against his stiff cock, and he couldn’t think past the need to feel Luke’s skin against his own, not anymore. He tugged the shorts further down, and when Luke tried to wriggle out of them, sat up to get rid of his pants and free his trapped erection.
Their eyes met. A flicker in Luke’s glance showed clear through the dimness.
Han leaned in to cradle his cheek. He’d caught Luke in the middle of an unguarded moment, or else things would never’ve gone this far. Once Luke started to think it over, all the consequences and potential troubles would come tumbling down like pieces of shipwreck.
"Han—" Luke said hoarsely.
"It’s all right," Han murmured. "Luke, you — you don’t have to say anything. Just let it happen."
Thick lashes dipped as Luke turned his face to brush his lips across the ball of Han’s thumb. A gesture that said yes — still startled, maybe, but determined all the same — and it was all Han needed to know.
He reached across to slide the shorts down Luke’s legs and flick them aside. Charting tracks of mounting tension as his hands cruised back up, scaled the length of Luke’s thighs to cup the smooth buttocks. Luke arched his back in response. Somewhere below Han’s midriff, an unstable circuit overflowed with excess heat. And if the same kind of fireworks were going off in Luke’s stomach, it was high time to do something about that.
Time to take charge, too. Han slid back down and cradled Luke’s hips to bring hard flesh in contact with hot skin: one move that flared back through his groin and rocked him forward. The buzz of it went straight to his head. A warning sign — this was bound to escape control pretty soon, if he didn’t watch it — but Luke pushed up on his elbows and turned his head, and Han was right there to meet him. For a real kiss this time, hungry and searching, glitters of pure energy starting up in every nerve even as they ran out of oxygen. Breaths tangled and joined to the same irresistible pull.
Fingers dragging through the blond hair, Han shifted his weight until his body almost covered Luke’s — and barely stopped himself when Luke’s head dropped back against his shoulder. Tense and flushed, a sight to make Han’s breath catch. And just when he thought that Luke would say something, Luke opened his legs and his fingers clamped hard around Han’s wrist. Closer. It didn’t need saying.
A wild thrill spun free, quick and fierce over Han’s spine, and Luke’s moan skimmed his chest as he settled on top of him. Though he probably lacked experience, Luke was no skittish youngster in need of coaxing, Han could feel that in the tensing of every muscle, in his firm, demanding grip. A strong-willed desire matching his own.
He rubbed his cheek against the side of Luke’s face and braced his arms on either side of him to align them, center them both in these veering, off-scale currents — and groaned out loud as his cock slid between sweat-damp buttocks. Skipping one whole level, his arousal soared straight into the danger zone and sparked an urgent pulse down his middle.
Slow down, skittered through his head, but Luke strained up against him, no less impatient, and slow down became a dim fantasy. His mouth trailed down Luke’s jaw, fastened on the side of his neck as he set a pace — or tried to, anyway — that wouldn’t trigger instant overload. Wouldn’t last long either, but they found a rhythm and moved with each other, and something else built from there, through eddies of heartbeat and flushing heat, like a bright charge in Han’s chest. Something he wanted to pin down and claim for himself. But each time he slid his cock up and down, each time he felt Luke tremble and press into the blanket in turn, his control slipped a little more.
“Luke...” His voice was down to a rasp, and he struggled to say more, only the words no longer took shape in his head.
A suggestive quiet had started it all, and now it took over, filled up with the rapid pulse against his lips, with swift, electric flares riding up over slippery skin each time Luke pushed back, almost sheathing Han’s cock in sweet, scalding pressure. They were touching all over, and it got to Han in a potent rush, ‘til he could feel Luke in his blood together with the wine, the tingling breeze, and white trickles of starlight. He thrust his hips forward, pulse surging into the rhythm, sweet broken gasps from Luke every bit as compelling as the hot friction running loose on his skin. Too much to get it back under control.
Fighting for breath, Han forced himself to stop. Luke’s fingers clutched his own, hard, and his heartbeat hammered out a demand that traced shivers against Han’s chest. Ready. For a moment still and clear as glass, he could taste it, the perfection of something totally unexpected, but that moment shattered and tore all the way through him, lightning-intense. Clenching, round a core of dark thundering heat that snapped his hips forward in a choppy rhythm. Through his climax, Han heard the harsh gasps, felt the leap of tension in every muscle as Luke gave a strangled cry and buried his face in the blanket’s folds. The shudders raking him trailed frissons all over Han’s skin even as he slumped, spent and lightheaded.
His fingers still were knotted into Luke’s hair, was the first clear thing he noticed afterwards, and disentangling them took a conscious effort. A start of unease prickled in his gut. Maybe he’d taken things too far, maybe he’d rushed towards release from the spell that’d somehow taken hold of them both. His mouth shaped a blurry caress against Luke’s shoulder.
Shifting off him took a little longer, because pleasant aftershocks were still rolling through his body and his muscles were slow to cooperate. When he did, they ended up in another embrace, sticky and clumsy but reassuring all the same.
“Luke.” Barely a murmur. But he tipped Luke’s face up and caught a look there that was made of nothing but wild, glittering energy. "Kid, that was — you’re...” He swallowed. “Incredible." Like the sea.
Luke said nothing and brushed his open lips across Han’s instead. Tension unwinding as they sagged against each other. Cooled air currents slipped over them, from the deep blue dome of night, and somewhere far off sounded an intermittent electronic blare, a garbled message from another reality.
Sleep was starting to cloud Han’s mind when Luke slipped away and returned a little while later, easing back down to drape an extra blanket across them both. The last thing Han remembered was Luke’s breath against his shoulder, a pleasant tangle of limbs and settled pulse adrift in darkness...
Han stared at the wet tiles out on the empty terrace. Receding clouds billowed over the horizon. It was probably still raining in the inner city, but out here the downpour had stopped, and stray sunlight slanted through the humid air.
He’d woken up alone — only a few steps away from where he now stood — while dawn brightened into a cloudless morning that warmed the tiles. Luke was in the kitchen and idly watched the droid cook their breakfast. Recollection flushed Han from head to toe when he entered and turned out a grin — most likely a dazed, stupid-looking grin.
In retrospect, he wished he’d acted on his first, powerful impulse to pull Luke back into his arms. It wasn’t the droid’s presence that’d kept him from it — scandalizing those walking tin cans generally added spice to life — yet something had stopped him dead in his tracks the moment their eyes met. Han could never say what, exactly. But the look on Luke’s face had given him a warning, a flicker of something wary and intense contradicting the composure he projected.
Even now, nine weeks later, Han still remembered the cold, dry disbelief rising into his throat. So maybe he’d acted without thinking it through, but that night hadn’t been about snatching opportunities, or a challenge he couldn’t resist. Damnit, he still wanted Luke. And there was more to it — maybe there’d always been more, something he’d shut from mind too long — but it sure wasn’t going anywhere, the morning after.
He’d watched Luke from the corner of his eye while pretending to sip on his kaffin, and could feel desire settle into his bones and tighten every muscle down his back. A desire that wasn’t returned anymore: Luke’s body language spelled that out clear as emergency coding, even as he kept up a casual conversation. Yet behind that facade, Luke had pulled back into himself, into the steely kind of detachment he’d learned to wear like another skin.
Leave it at that, Han read his unspoken message. Don’t spoil the memory, just leave it be. Leave me be.
Protest clenched inside him like a fist just waiting to fly out and shatter any resistance that got in his way. But in all honesty, what could he say — what could he offer or promise or do, to draw Luke out of hiding? For the time being, Han played along and did his strenuous best to retrieve a mood of relaxed companionship. Once Luke had withdrawn into that kind of inaccessible calm, nothing much could jar him from it anyway.
True to form, he’d kept it up throughout breakfast ‘til he had to leave, a scant hour later. He’d even pulled Han into a quick hug on the doorstep. A friendly gesture, delivered without special enthusiasm. As if nothing at all had happened.
And that was it. Never a word since. Silence sealed the memory — that night, and waking up to dawn threading its path across the rooftop, like an afterglow of the strangest dream. Silence now, wherever Han turned, filled with nothing but fractured reminiscence.
He turned away brusquely. Something had hung in suspension that morning, and instinct had warned him against upsetting a fragile balance. Yet maybe, for all his frustration, he’d backed off because the weakest part of him gave in with secret relief. Too much had changed too fast.
Face it, Han told himself, it makes you uneasy. That was why he’d complied with Luke’s unspoken desire to go on pretending that things were still the same. Only they weren’t. No matter how Luke felt about that unexpected interlude, Han couldn’t trick himself into filing it away, nothing but a lovely memory, another enticing facet added to their friendship. Pretense turned hollow and stale in record time, and left him facing an empty life.
Days had lengthened into weeks of waning summer. While daytime kept him busy enough, the nights in his city apartment crawled away bleakly, and Han found himself killing time, restless and grouchy, until it got so bad he had to admit he was waiting — every hour, every day. Waiting for Luke to return to Corellia, for a chance to say... something.
What was it, kid? he kept wondering. Too much, or too little, or just not what you needed from me?
Need, right. It wasn’t easy for Luke to admit that he needed anything, or anyone, not anymore. Life had taught him some rough lessons, had shown him exactly how commitments, passions, dependence left him vulnerable in ways he couldn’t afford. Perhaps he’d just cut himself off from human entanglements in general.
Something I used to be good at, Han reminded himself. But that was before he’d met a bright-eyed kid with too much courage for his own good, and a smile as dazzling as the noon sky over Tatooine. Han breathed out slowly. Over the past nine weeks, he’d discovered that he couldn’t do detachment anymore. Didn’t want to, either, not when he’d already gone so far out on a limb. Perhaps he’d come here just to relive the memory and feel, with each forceful beat in his blood, that it mattered too much to let it go.
He shut the trap-door and descended the narrow stairs. No point in wasting more time. He’d have to find Luke and tell him the blunt truth, for better or worse. Just give it a chance, Luke, that’s all I’m askin’. Again, the notion sped up his pulse. Gettin’ the jitters, huh? And that’s just the beginning...
The sitting-room’s door had been left wide open, and raindrops glittered on the floorboards. Shoulders squared, Han walked out into the garden. Too easy to picture Luke out there, a silhouette turning back from the lake, his presence conjured out of a sparkling haze. Loving him had come easy, too.
* * *
He wondered how much time had passed. Maybe no more than minutes, maybe hours. Losing himself to memory, he’d also lost track of time. Between the trees and the tangling vines, he could see the outlines of the villa, empty windows showing as dark patches, and a triangle of clear blue above the roof. Walking back towards the house suddenly felt like walking inside a dream, time slipping backwards as the afternoon sun split the clouds. As if he’d stepped into the past, drawn to the only place where he belonged.
Nobody stops time, he told himself. Coward, a different voice answered from a locked compartment in his mind. You never even tried. And then he froze in his tracks, on the orchard’s fringe. Reason suggested that he’d slipped into a daydream, while his deep, inner sense told him this was real.
Han came striding across the bleached grass like he’d never left at all, wearing his blood-striped pants, white shirt and no jacket, dark strands plastered to his forehead as if he’d been walking in the rain.
"Thought I saw someone out in the garden," he announced. "Lookin’ for property?"
"Yes," Luke said slowly. "I think I like this house."
"Glad to hear that." Han stepped closer with a crooked grin, but his eyes betrayed relief. "I’ll make you a fair deal. One condition though... you’d have to accept a permanent lodger."
"Wouldn’t want the house without him," Luke said softly. Whatever he’d been planning to add was lost in a fierce hug when Han wrapped both arms around him.
They held on hard, and the reality of Han’s nearness assailed Luke’s senses in a hot rush. A shaky breath warmed his face, and he looked up straight into Han’s eyes, dark and liquid with something unnamed.
"They told me you weren’t coming back from Selonia before tomorrow," Luke managed. "How did you know—?"
"I didn’t, I just—" Han cleared his throat. "Just happened to drop by."
Luke almost missed the right moment to pull away, before every guarded feeling could tumble out — but when he tried to ease back, strong hands gripped his upper arms.
"No, don’t." Han’s jaw tightened unaccountably. "Don’t do that again."
"Do what?" Luke’s mouth went dry, just from the way Han looked at him, his gaze probing for a hidden truth.
"You know," Han claimed, but the strangest uncertainty flickered in his eyes.
An odd silence built between them, laced with memories that refused to fade, and Luke cast about for something to lighten the mood. "I’d thought you would’ve sold the house by now," he said. "Or is it that you’re asking an outrageous price?"
"That, too." A twisted grin appeared on Han’s mouth. "Besides, Chewie’s been giving me no end of grief." He shrugged. "About this whole idea of letting the house go, and..."
"You." A muscle twitched in Han’s cheek. "Not that I ever told him anything, but Wookiees have a way of smelling these things."
Luke shook his head, a pointless effort to drive out the nervous anticipation that seized him. Hopes, conjectures, moorless fantasies — surely he was misreading Han’s responses. Through Han’s tight grip, he could sense a subliminal tension that spilled over into his own nerves.
"What things?" he asked softly.
Han’s grin returned gradually and eased some of the pressure aside, made way for a new shading of emotion. Relief, regret — expectation maybe. "Things like sleepless nights and way too vivid dreams," he said in a low, deep voice that traced a shiver across Luke’s skin. "Things like pointless regrets. Like fallin’ in love."
"No," Luke breathed.
"Why, thanks!" Han glared at him, but impossible amusement danced at the back of his eyes.
"I—I’m sorry," Luke stammered, "Han, I didn’t mean to—"
"Yeah, I know that," Han grumbled at him. "’Least I hope I do. Now are you gonna listen, or do I have to tie you up first?"
Luke snatched a breath, but his chest felt too tight for air. "Why would you—"
"To stop you from running." Han slid both hands up to his shoulders, but his firm clasp couldn’t disguise a slight tremor. "Like I should’ve, the last time round."
"I didn’t." Heat rushed into Luke’s face as the dark glance searched him, questioned his half-hearted protest, and drew every secret feeling to the surface. "I won’t."
"Good. ‘Cause I’d hate to have to repeat this." Lifting one hand, Han traced the side of his face with a feather-light touch, the tenderness in that gesture so at odds with his usual, abrupt temper that for a moment Luke couldn’t breathe at all.
“You know me, never been much of a talker, but I should’ve told you — should’ve said something that morning.” Han’s shoulders set. "Anyway. First things first. I love you."
But he already knew.
Through Han’s flippant tone, through the sparkle in his glance that swept clear past the brooding shadows, through the touch that unsettled every pretense, Luke could feel the full force of emotion like a surge of sunlight burning through clouds. Dazzled and breathless, he found nothing to say.
"I’ve missed you," Han went on steadily. "Like hell, Luke. From the moment you were gone. And every day since, I’ve been waitin’ for you to come home. Took me a little longer to admit it, but there you have it. Your turn."
Come home. A long, lonely echo traveled through the hollow under Luke’s ribcage. The difference between dream and reality collapsed, and his arms locked around Han’s waist before he knew.
"I’m sorry." Heartbeat thundered in his throat while his mouth worked faster than his mind and turned out all the wrong things. "No, let me explain," Luke added in a rush. The slight tensing of muscles against his palms set a limit to this moment. "Han. Let me—"
And before his confounded thinking could throw up barriers where none should exist, he wrapped a hand around Han’s neck, pulled his head down and crushed their mouths together. It was awkward, a collision of breath, startlement, and moist warmth, but it still rushed a shockpulse through him — desperation, desire, disbelief all wrapped into one — and he couldn’t stop anymore.
They shifted, caught up close against that surge of feeling, and the pressure of lips and tongue, the gasp that expanded Han’s chest spread warmth all the way down to Luke’s toes. His mouth opened to Han’s, answered every request and demand in ways he hadn’t dared that night on the roof. When a big hand stole into his hair and another strummed electric frissons down his back, a melting pleasure loosened countless unnoticed knots in Luke’s stomach.
"I’m sorry that I kept you waiting," he murmured against Han’s mouth, "I just didn’t know..."
"Me neither." Han pulled up one shoulder. "It’s been growing on me a long time. This whole thing... you ‘n me."
Their eyes met again, and the change in Han’s expression took Luke’s breath. All the restless tension fused and gained sharp focus. Stunned, a taut heartbeat kicking at his ribs, Luke shook his head. He’d seen that possessive look in Han’s eyes before, but never turned towards him.
"You’ve been so close to me for so long," Luke tried to explain, "always there when I needed you..." He felt a smile set in when Han’s hold on him tightened, as if to reinforce that. "When I found myself falling in love with you, I guess it seemed like I was... tempting fate. Asking too much."
"So you do, huh?"
"Love me," Han said huskily, his attempt to sound offhanded faltering midway.
"Enough to want to write it across the sky."
"Wasn’t that obvious."
Luke raked his fingers into the dark hair and pulled Han back close. "Then let me make it obvious now..."
The next kiss felt as if skylights had been thrown open, and day poured into a dark room, pure and unfaltering. Every nerve lit up to sensation, the taste of Han’s mouth, the shape and pressure and the deepening angle of that long, impatient kiss, the bristling rasp of Han’s chin in sharp, delicious contrast with the velvet softness of his lips. Taking it all in, Luke let his hands course down the long back, his measure of joy in the way Han’s breathing quickened, in the thudding heartbeat that matched his own. Nine weeks ago, desire had claimed him in long, entranced waves that drifted out of a dream — now it stormed him like fire and air, fusing every impulse to a single need. Crushed against Han in a tight embrace, he absorbed every detail — muscle and bone, breath and rhythm, imprinted on his senses with the force of a lifetime.
Han was breathing raggedly when they broke apart. "Kid, we got a problem."
"And that’s... what?" he murmured, distracted and electrified by the hoarse edge in Han’s voice.
"No proper bed within reach. All the furniture’s gone." Amusement crinkled at the corners of Han’s eyes. "Save for Chewie’s old hammock..."
"No way." Luke found just enough breath to chuckle. "Not the hammock, we’d only—"
"No?" Before he could argue further, Han nudged him backwards. "Guess that leaves just one option…" With a quick grip, he pulled Luke along, and they dropped into the damp grass with all the grace of young banthas.
Winded, Luke blinked at the brilliant sky. Sunlight glittered on the grass, riddling the air with fractured flashes, and they’d likely get their clothes soaked and stained all over, but there was no way he could wait any longer.
"Good enough for me." He pushed up on one elbow, his heart pounding, and leaned over Han, close enough to feel the warm breath on his face.
"Good enough?" A smile curved Han’s mouth. "Ain’t no better place than here ‘n now."
"None," Luke murmured. And the moment when Han’s arms folded around him again was the moment that tipped a fundamental balance, very lightly, as if it took only a small nudge to rearrange the fabric of his life. Luke brushed their mouths together, an incredulous smile joining a slow, gentle kiss.
Not that it stayed that way very long. Not that it could, when the roving course of Han’s hands down his back aligned all the errant energy to a single purpose. Bending closer, Luke teased his tongue across Han’s lips, let it dip and dart inside, and felt a sharp intake of breath. That night out on the roof, bewilderment had almost paralyzed him, together with an absurd, anxious superstition that a single wrong move would break the spell. Now his hands couldn’t seem to match the speed of pulse and breath, the need to feel Han and learn everything about the man in his arms. His lover.
Luke’s heartbeat stumbled while his fingers undid one button after the other and wandered in a restless journey across Han’s torso, the hard curve of his ribs, the taut plane of his stomach. Han gasped into his mouth when a drifting touch outlined his erection through the cloth of his pants. Breathless and amazed to feel Han respond with so much instant heat, Luke trailed his lips down Han’s throat and chest, searched him out relentlessly with mouth and hands until Han squirmed and caught his shoulders.
"Wait just a sec’... let’s get these goddamned clothes off."
Wetness steamed up from the grass as the sun filled the sky with a blaze of silver, and enclosed them in lush, shimmering humidity. Luke gave a mute nod. The sight of Han like this, disheveled and flushed with arousal, his open shirt framing sun-browned skin, was like an image drawn from his most private fantasies.
"What?" With a rakish grin, Han tugged Luke’s tunic out of his pants. "Can’t decide where to start? Come on..."
Undressing each other without losing skin contact turned into a tangle full of clumsy, impatient kisses, and in between Han rasped out curses at the layers of clothes Luke was wearing and all their impossible fasteners. When they rolled sideways, the tingle of cool grass against burning skin drew electric trails up Luke’s spine.
He’d been more efficient in baring Han’s body to his touch, and let his eyes travel the length of him. The lean, firmly muscled limbs, the fuzz of auburn hair against the tanned chest, the fluttering stomach and the hard cock surging from dark curls. He swallowed thickly.
"You’re still overdressed," Han muttered as he tugged Luke’s pants down his thighs.
"Stop complaining." It took only one well-calculated move, and Luke slid across him, his pants caught somewhere around his knees, but he couldn’t have cared less.
"I ain’t — ahh..." Han arched his back and grabbed him around the neck. "Now that’s—"
"Better?" Luke gave him no time to answer. When their mouths met in another hungry kiss, lean thighs caged his hips, and a hard length pushed up against his own inner thigh.
Luke heard himself moan, a tight sound from deep in his throat, and a flash of pure heat overtook the faintest regret. His control was already slipping, he wouldn’t last longer than minutes this way — but Han’s arms locked him down to a sizzling, impatient pressure that flushed every nerve. One hand knotted into the dark hair, Luke trailed the other down Han’s side, mapping the tension that spread rapidly through Han’s frame, the goosebumps that crawled under his touch, every inch of Han’s skin coming alive for him. His mouth fused to Han’s, he thrust back against Han’s tongue, drank his breath and the rough, hazy sounds drifting up on it. With every move, heat flared in his groin, a sweet ache that tightened and knotted his insides. They were both pushing roughly, rocking together in an unsteady rhythm.
"Been waitin’... too long," Han ground out between kisses, half an apology or merely a statement of fact, Luke couldn’t tell — fact being that neither of them could pace himself and draw this out much longer. His body was hot all over, and his skin caught alight with every caress Han gave him, long fingers stroking down his back, hips and thighs, alternating between playful and demanding.
"For what?" Perhaps he’d directed that question at himself, but when Han cupped and squeezed his buttocks, Luke couldn’t think clearly anymore.
"You." Han strained up against him, increasing the friction. "Luke..."
And there would be more than this, so much more, every touch told him, when Han’s fingers searched him and played him as if he’d spent all those weeks sifting through memories of stolen pleasure. Luke’s breath caught on a wild thrill that burst through his chest.
"And I can’t — Han, I can’t tell you..." But there was no need to try, not when he could shape clearer meaning with his mouth on Han’s, their tongues weaving in mutual conquest, and he took his cues from the way Han moved under him and against him to let a new rhythm build. Fluid and powerful, it dissolved barriers and boundaries, drew chills across his skin and sparked off a piercing heat within, the scents of grass, earth, and sweat-dampened skin all flowing together in a single wild current. Hard flesh trapped between their bodies, they rubbed and pushed to the pace of racing pulsebeats, rocking and sliding deeper into a cocoon woven from the glittering mists all around them.
"Oh — lords," Han groaned.
"I love you," Luke whispered against his lips before he took them again.
With a throaty sound, Han clutched at his buttocks and urged him closer, arching, the heels of his bare feet furrowing the grass. And then Luke felt him freeze, eyes squeezed shut, long tremors rippling the taut muscles. Warm spurts slickened his skin, and he held on hard, to hear, feel, see Han come, each shudder that seized Han like a wave sweeping through him, until they merged in a cloud of burning gold.
And then, for one endless moment, he was caught up in a breathless space where nothing else existed, only Han and himself, only flight and incandescent pleasure and the secure grounding of Han’s hands on his hips, a single breath released with a shout that flung his head back. Release pulsed through him like power flows made visible.
He found himself trembling as if he’d taken a bone-jarring fall, clasped tight against Han’s body. It had taken them no more than a few minutes to reach the sky.
"How’s that for a speed record?" Han rasped, chest still heaving. "Don’t know what it is about you..."
Luke rubbed his cheek against the angular shoulder and swallowed hard. "Me? You know what they say about Corellians—"
"Ah, no," Han growled. "I don’t usually go off like a plasma gun with a short-circuit... All your fault, kid."
"Or all that time doing without."
"Luke, stop it!" Han coaxed his head up and held his eyes. "Remember what happened last time round? Or did you figure I was just... desperate for a grope?"
Luke glanced away. "It was like — like it happened outside time. A gift. A miracle. Something you just don’t question."
"Oh." Han cleared his throat and chuckled. "Carry on like that ‘n you’re gonna make me blush."
He held Luke fast against his chest, and Luke, still floating to the ground from that incredible, crystal-clear high, smiled as he listened to the jumble of their mixed heartbeats. They calmed in each other’s arms, a gentle afternoon warming bare skin.
Finally, Han gave a lazy, contented sigh. "All right, so... now that we know we love each other, what do we do about it?"
"I thought we just had."
"Be serious." Han snorted.
Luke rested his chin on arms that he’d folded over Han’s chest. "I’m the worrier, remember?"
But he could sense something unsteady beneath Han’s unruffled front, a restless simmering doubt — or a question Han didn’t know how to ask.
"Yeah, you are." Han eyed him skeptically. "Comes with being a Jedi, I guess."
"It does. All the second-guessing, the way I need to explain and justify my choices all the time..." Luke paused. "Are you wondering how people will respond to this choice? Han, my choice of partner is—"
"No," Han stopped him, one hand tightening on Luke’s waist. "So long as you’re sure."
"If I haven’t convinced you yet, I’ll have to try harder next time." Luke leaned over to brush his lips against Han’s, a promise as much as it was confirmation.
"Sounds good to me." Speculation glittered in Han’s eyes. "And just how exactly are you going to convince me?"
Without warning, a burst like laughter constricted Luke’s chest, tightened his throat and caught in his gut with grappling hooks. Quietly amused, Han watched him swing through a loop of incompatible moods. Loss and loneliness fused to lighthearted expectation and a dizzying sense of freedom. An old ache drawn out of him and transformed, consumed into light. He cupped Han’s face in both hands and leaned down to taste his mouth again. A flash in the nerve, a pang to the heart, and from it spread a joy that flooded all the empty spaces within.
"I don’t know." Luke breathed in deeply. "Anything you want."
"Oh yeah, I want..." Han’s fingertips drew a slow, tender line down from his temple to the corner of his mouth. "You. With me. For good."
Hidden emotion roughened his voice, the legacy of a time when he’d bluntly refused commitments in the name of freedom.
"Same here." Luke smiled and sent a glance towards the house through tall blades of grass. A dragonfly hovered in the misty air, translucent wings beating too fast to see.
"This is where I want to live," he said. "Even if I’m not around that often. There’s so much in the future that I just can’t see."
"I know." Han’s fingers played through his ruffled hair. "And I’m not gonna spend the rest of my days tied to some desk. Need to keep moving, to feel alive. But we could make this our home base. Come back here whenever you can, wherever you go. ‘Cause I will."
"Deal," Luke agreed.
"And maybe in between we could sneak off sometimes, hike around the galaxy," Han continued. "Lots of interesting spots I’d like to show you."
With a smug grin, he cradled Luke closer. "But now, let’s talk about money. Didn’t you say you were gonna buy this place...?"
* * * * *