It happened so fast, he didn't have time to think.
If the planet they'd not quite crash-landed on had any actual flat spots anywhere, Han hadn't seen them, but then he'd been a little busy at the time. Chewie had found what had to be the only area without too many trees and a survivable slope and together they'd wrestled the Falcon down pretty much in one piece.
Han sat on his haunches now and put his head back, letting the breeze dry the sweat that'd trickled down his neck and under his shirt. Chewbacca was wrestling with the inside damage while Han and Luke tackled the outside. Even from his perch atop the Falcon's hull, about all he could see here were the frikkin' trees that blanketed the hills around their little valley, and the not-quite-mountains sure damn steep enough to mess things up. The air smelled sharp, some kind of resin, probably, or so Chewie had said, and he was the hands-down tree expert in their partnership.
A grunt from below him pulled Han's gaze back to the hull section they were working on. Luke had volunteered for ladder duty and he was pressed close to the metal, wrestling to get the last repair piece stuck in place. Sunlight gleamed on dark blond hair, flaming the highlights burned in by those months on Tatooine. Months spent preparing for Han's rescue. Han's brain skittered around that idea like it usually did, and he shook his head as if that would dislodge it. Because that had worked so well in the past. “How's it coming?”
Another grunt from his friend. “Think I've about got it in place, but there's another ripple here I'm working around,” Luke said, his right arm half-vanished under the Falcon's plating. “Another minute. Got the tig-welder?”
“Right here.” Han lay back down on his stomach and jiggled the small tool he held, antsy. Not that he didn't trust Luke, but this was his baby. He'd be on the ladder himself but Luke's skinnier build was the Jedi's advantage here, his strength wiry where Han had more bulk, and the gash was very narrow. “What, you can't use the Force to 'feel' it into place?”
One blue eye and half a smile flashed up at him for a moment. “I am using the Force, Han, otherwise this'd be a lot harder.” Another grunt, this time of satisfaction. “Got it,” he said, pulling his arm free. “Welder.” Han handed it down and Luke took it, and worked himself back into the breech, careful past the jagged edges. “What tore this, anyway, do you think? Space junk?”
Han shrugged. “Maybe. Looks fresh, but I don't remember us gettin' hit coming down ...”
“You were a little … busy … ” Luke trailed off, closing his eyes and Han recognized the abstraction, the way Luke's face smoothed out when he concentrated, and whether it was the Force or whatever it was, it worked, no way anymore to deny that after years of watching Luke. The faint hum of the tig-welder purred through the air, mixing with the shush of the breeze through the skinny, fine-needled tree branches and the shorter, bushier things with dark green leaves the length of Han's hand. It was almost peaceful, in a dirt-bound kind of way.
“That's it,” Luke said again, a few minutes later, as the welder's hum died.
“Great. Good work, kid,” Han said, smiling, and was rewarded with one of Luke's as he started to pull himself free of the Facon's hull. Luke's smiles, his real ones, had been rare since Endor, and Han missed them more than he wanted to admit. Missed the eager, idealistic kid who'd somehow been replaced with this weathered warrior all in black, right down to the glove he'd taken to wearing –
A Hutteese expletive jerked Han's attention back down. “Luke?”
“It's fine, I just – ”
“It's not fine, you idiot, you've cut – ” Han swore viciously and grabbed for him, and stopped dead, his fingers wrapped tightly around Luke's right wrist, staring at the bloodless gash across the back of Luke's hand, and the glints of metal beneath.
He couldn't breathe. “What the – ?” he managed finally. “Luke?”
The faint catch of breath broke Han's paralysis and he met Luke's eyes; wide startled blue. “She didn't tell you,” Luke said softly.
Tell him what? She? “Leia? Didn't – she – what the nine hells, Luke?!”
Luke closed his eyes and Han saw him pull calm around himself like a physical thing. “Can we do this someplace other than on this ladder?” he asked, and when he looked up at Han again, the Jedi dispassion Han was coming to hate was settled in place around him like armor.
Shock transmuted into anger. “Oh, we sure the hells can!” Han spit out, and grabbed Luke's other arm and pulled hard.
They fell up onto the top of the Falcon, a metal ridge digging into Han's back and Luke's weight sprawled across him, heavy and warm, and if Han didn't either kiss him or kill him it'd be a miracle –
The next moment Luke had rolled off and sat up, and by the look on his face Han had cracked that Jedi calm, at least. “Han?” Luke said on a hard breath, staring at him.
Han rolled onto his side and stared back, his own heartbeat a ragged tattoo against his ribs. Kill him or kiss – him.
Sweet 'effing hells.
Han lay back down on the plating and let his head thump the metal, the small shock of pain easily lost in the couple of huge ones careening around under his ribcage. Hot-damn, but he was good, he could hide anything from anybody. Including – evidently – himself.
A rustle of sound on his right side. “Han.”
Han heaved an unsteady sigh and opened his eyes to find Luke sitting right next to him now, cross-legged, as comfortable on the Falcon's bumpy plating as if it were a meditation mat. The last five years refolded crazily in Han's mind's eye: Luke across a dingy table in Mos Eisley, half-drowned in stormtrooper armor, shouting on Yavin IV, walking away on Hoth. Walking out of the darkness on Endor, and how Han hadn't truly relaxed until that moment. Sitting next to Han in the Falcon's cockpit, as comfortable as Chewie, like he'd always been there. Not the clash and flash Leia had been, but an easy fit that'd slipped in under his sensors and clicked into place so smoothly that Han had never stood a chance.
It was Luke. It had always been Luke.
The calm expression had been pinned back into place but a wariness lurked deep in pale blue eyes, and that drained off the last of Han's formless anger. “Yeah. Uhm, sorry.”
Luke acknowledged that with a small nod of his head, but otherwise didn't move. Han blew out another breath and sat up, and reached to take hold of Luke's hand again, and paused.
But it seemed he'd be allowed this, so Han eased Luke's hand away from where the Jedi had held it cradled against his stomach. A protective gesture, Han realized now, and one he'd seen before – he'd just hadn't had the brains to realize what it meant. A bunch of other stuff was making sense now too, a hundred little motions, hesitations, all falling into place, things he'd been seeing since Endor that shouted out as clear as “tells” in a sabaac game, now that he knew.
Emotions roiled in his head as he cradled Luke's hand between his own two, his thumbs on either side of the gash in what had to be synth skin. He'd never held Luke's hand before, not like this.
He'd never understood until now just how much he needed to.
Luke didn't resist as Han angled his hand to catch the light. Metal “bones” glimmered dully, with tiny winks here and there of circuitry, and clear supra-fiber “muscle” shadowed faintly over and around, bending the sunlight that touched it. Bionic prosthesis, and it looked top-of-the-line.
Love and anger and the violent, impotent need to protect all welled up hard, and Han's chest ached with them. “When?” he ground out, his throat dry and tight. But somehow he already knew – it had to have been –
“Bespin,” Luke said quietly, confirming it, and Han's throat closed up completely. They'd never really talked about Cloud City – none of them had, other than Lando, who'd found Han at the first quiet opportunity, explained his end of it and offered his jaw for another punch, if that was what Han wanted.
“Leia saw me in the corridor, she and Chewie, when they were being led off, and she shouted a warning. And I'd known going in that it had to be a trap, but ...” The fabric of Luke's shirt, an ancient one of Han's that Luke had borrowed for the outside work, shifted as he breathed. “Vader confronted me in the carbon freeze chamber.”
A tremor skittered under Han's skin.
“We fought,” Luke said, his voice calm and even. “And he beat me back, because my teachers were right, I wasn't ready. He finally trapped me out on a gantry in what had to be the city's main ventilation shaft, nothing below me but atmosphere, and … ”
His prosthetic fingers flexed a little in Han's loose grip. “I suppose he wanted to disarm me. The hand … was just a bonus.”
Gods. Something like a laugh tried to crawl up Han's throat; he forced it back.
“And then he offered me an alliance,” Luke said, and his voice wasn't completely steady anymore. “Turn and join him, defeat the Emperor, rule the galaxy together.”
Gods. “And you ...”
...jumped. Of course you did. Just like that.
“Ended up on the big antenna under the city, somehow. Leia and Chewie, and Lando, rescued me. And the rest you know, I think?”
Han made himself nod, although it felt like something cracking in his chest.
Luke pulled in another deep, deep breath and let it back out, slow and deliberate. “Yoda and Ben both told me not to go, but that – wasn't an option.”
“You shoulda listened to 'em.” Han forced the words out. He watched his own thumb move in tiny sweeps, his skin darker than Luke's, could Luke feel – ?
Luke's fingers curled to grip Han's where they supported Luke's palm. “Han.” Han swallowed and finally looked up at him. “Not an option,” Luke repeated, soft and intense, his eyes very blue and saying something Han wasn't at all sure wasn't just his own desperate wish, born of sudden revelation. “I will always come for you, and Leia.”
“Luke – ”
“Always.” Luke's fingers tightened on his and eased again. “Some way, somehow.”
And that was, was – wait. Wait a minute. “How – how'd you even know? Where we were, what was happening?”
Luke stilled, completely. Carved in stone, except for his eyes. “A – Force vision. I felt you.”
You – Suddenly there was no air and too much feeling, racing in icy-hot chills over Han's skin. “You what?!”
The calm mask shattered as Luke squeezed his eyes shut. “I felt it, Han. All of it. Everything he did to you.”
Much too much. Han bolted upright in one motion and turned, half-blind and suffocating. He had to move – had to, or he'd jump out of his own skin.
Luke caught him before he'd taken three steps.
They went down together on the Falcon's hull a second time, the pain of impact a bare afterthought to the maelstrom in Han's chest. It slammed through him again, what he'd thought he'd put behind him – the agony of the neural disrupter, over and over and over, barely a breath between, no questions asked of him – nothing but pain and that obscene mechanical rasp and the echoes of his own voice, screaming … the torment of knowing himself the tethered nerf there to lure Luke to his death … ending only in the heart-stopping freeze of the carbonite.
But it was different this time, he was held not in icy nightmare but in the strength of trusted arms, slowly becoming aware of that warm security around him, a solid refuge that helped fade the pain, break it up and push it away, into the past where it belonged. Han got in a deep breath finally and another, drawing clean air and the scents of Luke's body and sweat into his own lungs, and the spike-wire that had coiled tight around his backbone began to relax.
Breeze cooling on his skin, new bruises making themselves known. An inquiring bark from Chewie and Luke's reply. Worn fabric, lean muscle under his hands, soothing touches along the length of his back. Luke's voice close and low, murmuring nonsense, “ – easy, breathe, that's it. It's over, I've got you, won't let you go, not ever letting go, 'm sorry.” A shaky breath, warm against Han's neck. “Gods, Han, I'm so sorry ...”
Sorry? “F'r what?” Han managed finally. Every inch of Luke pressed against him felt like the home he'd barely known to want.
“They – he – put you through that because of me and I – couldn't reach you in time – “
He'd have to move, dammit. Han peeled himself away enough to see, his chest twinging with aches remembered and new, and got pricked with another one at the expression on Luke's face. “Stop. You got me out.”
“Six months later.”
Han's eyes narrowed at the acerbic tone. “Now you listen to me, kid,” he growled, wrapping his hands around deceptively slender shoulders. “You really think that matters? You got me out, you 'n Leia 'n them. Ain't never been anybody 'cept maybe Chewie who gave a sarlaac's left tentacle if I lived or died, and then you go and do that? Come after me, get yourself hurt bad and half-killed in the process and then you did it again. You got no idea what – ”
“Because I failed, spectacularly, the first time. Maybe if I'd listened, waited – “
“ – I'd be dead,” Han said bluntly. “Or maybe still decoratin' Jabba's palace, but Leia'd be dead for sure, that's what, if you'd waited. Vader wouldn't have kept her around if we couldn't lure you in, you gotta see that.”
Luke squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head, like he wanted to argue that but couldn't quite do it.
Han took a breath. He'd always been a gambler, and those instincts said that now, now was the moment when he might win it all. “Luke,” he said, and waited until the other man looked at him again. “Why me? Leia'd been the obvious choice, I'da thought, to get your attention like that. So why me?”
And Luke's face told him everything he needed to know. It was all there, the Jedi veneer almost gone and there was the kid – the man – he'd met in Mos Eisley, beaten and battered and still believing, after all that'd been done to him. Not as reckless but still that bright, generous, loving spirit, looking at Han the same way he always –
The same way he always had. Han's heart skipped. “Because you love me.”
Luke smiled, a little shakily. “Of course I do.”
“No, I mean – ” Amazed, and yet not, somehow, Han touched an unsteady finger to Luke's jaw, felt the prickle of stubble. Something indescribable was blooming under his heart, like the day he'd won the Falcon. “You love me. Like – ”
Luke's breath hitched. He made a tiny motion, as if he'd been going to turn his face into Han's touch and stopped himself. “Don't worry.” A rueful smile. “I – have for a long … I won't let it change anything.”
“Whaddaya mean, won't change anything?” Han said, helpless to stop either the tremor in his own voice or the smile breaking over his face. He slid his fingers closer, along the curve of Luke's cheekbone, and watched the blue eyes fall closed. “It'd damn well better change something.”
Luke opened his eyes again, longing, haunted. “Leia. You – ”
Han shook his head. Leia was … “It's not the same thing. I love her but I'm not ...” Leia was fire and grit and incomprehensible devotion to cause. Challenge; stubbornness to match Han's own. A temptation he couldn't resist, but ... “Leia and me, we're ...” How to explain it? They were too similar in too many ways. “We'd tear each other up if we stayed too close, 'n we both know it. She's gorgeous and amazing, and I'll probably always want her.”
“You?” Han brushed the faint scars on that beautiful face. Not a fire – a pulsar beacon, steady and infinitely powerful, calling him home. “You I frikkin' need.”
Somebody moved, he didn't know who, and they locked back into a tight embrace. Luke felt perfect in his arms, feeding the lonely ache beneath Han's skin. Driven by an impulse he didn't question, Han reached until he found Luke's hand, the right one, and dragged it down. Wound his own fingers tightly into Luke's and sheltered the living knot between their bodies, safe against his belly. What Luke had done –
Han felt the edges of the wound and feathered them with his fingertips, wishing. A useless need to comfort, but … Luke burrowed closer, if that was possible, and his hand flexed beneath the caress. Han swallowed, his heart full. “Alright? I mean, does it – hurt, or anything?”
“No, not like that,” Luke whispered. “It just feels … Gods.”
A uneven breath by Han's ear. “It reminds me. Every time I see it, it tells me how I failed.”
Joy, sorrow, laughter, love, gods only knew what else, they all collided in a messy tangle somewhere in Han's throat. He blinked hard and squeezed his eyes shut, turned his face against Luke's hair and felt it catch on his own rough chin. “Huh-uh,” he murmured. “Every time I see it?” He squeezed those fingers. “It'll tell me just how goddamned much you care.”
Luke made a sound somewhere between a hiccup and a sob, and his back heaved beneath Han's arm. His grip tightened around Han's back and Han winced.
“'s nothing, couple bruises from meetin' the hull.” Damned if he'd let a twinge or two break this party up now. Luke shifted his arm lower and Han winced again, despite himself; the kid had always had good aim.
Luke started to pull back and Han grabbed at him. “Don't you go anywhere, I'm fine.” And promptly ruined that assertion as Luke ran his left hand up Han's arm and bulls-eyed a third sore spot.
“Ha-an ...” Eyes red-rimmed and bright, Luke still fixed him with that look he had, fond exasperation and annoyed affection all in one. “I'm hurting you.”
“Only if you don't get back here.”
Luke tilted his head, a smile threatening. “Where can I touch you that it doesn't hurt?”
Helplessly, Han's gaze zeroed in on Luke's mouth as if magnetized and stuck there. The air around them shifted like a switch had been flipped. Luke's breathing hitched.
It was the sweetest one Han had ever known, that first hesitant kiss. The sweetest ever.