Sources of Power

Angel, NC-17, usual disclaimers, from the zine Sanctuary Moon

Brightness rushed upon him, dazzling his slow-to-open eyes. Something wet dripped in them and he swiped away blood. A cut made him wince when his fingertips found it. A low moan from the floor behind him brought him fully alert.

“Han?” he rasped.

The moan was a little louder, and Luke fumbled for the release on his safety harness. Aside from the cut and some bruises, he seemed intact. His legs bore his weight, but he still held on to the little ship’s seat as he worked his way back.

Han was not so fortunate. They had been forced down so swiftly and so hard he had not gotten his harness fastened. He’d been thrown from his seat on impact. Some of the stowed crates had come loose as well and two now lay atop his legs. Luke didn’t like the way they sat, too level and too close to the floor.

"Han?”  Luke was already looking for the medipac.    

One eye opened and fixed on him blearily. “Hurts.”    

“I can guess. Here.”  He used the minidoser to administer an analgesic. “This will keep you more comfortable.”    

“Good thing... the cargo medsupplies.”    

“Shh. How bad is it?”  Luke stared at the readings on the pac’s scanner. Han was losing blood, not rapidly, but it had to be stopped. He looked pale in the emergency lights.    

“Wish I couldn’t feel my legs. They’re broken.”    

“Crushed, more like.”  Luke left his side to check the controls of the anti-grav lifter they’d used to load the crates. “The lifter is low on power but fine. You’re going into shock.”  Luke pawed through a crate and came up with a blanket. He wrapped it around Han, and took a second reading. No need for an IV, according to the pac, which was good. He hadn’t a clue how to start one.  “You lay still, and I’ll have these off you in a minute.”    

“Not goin’ anywhere, kid. Just hurry.”    

Working as fast as he dared, Luke moved the first heavy crate off his friend. Even with the lifter, it took a good part of an hour. One leg was free, but the other crate still pinned Han’s left shin to the floor.     

“Kid, did you trip the distress beacon?”    

Luke swore softly. He double-checked the console. They weren’t going anywhere, but the distress call still worked.

“It’s set.”   Luke sat down heavily beside Han, who was almost as pale as his shirt. “The good news is we have plenty of survival kits and medipacs. The bad news is we’re stuck here until we get rescued, and the lifter is out of juice. You need another shot?”    

"‘M okay.”  The gritted teeth belied this sentiment. “You better clean that cut. Last thing I need is for you to get infected and die with me trapped under a box of medipacs.”

Luke irrigated the cut with an anti-bacterial, and put a synthflesh square over it. That done, he looked at the last crate. Han’s pants were already too tight for comfort on the swollen thighs and Luke didn’t like the damp spots he saw where the blood was darkening the material.     

“Han, I’m going to have to cut you out of your pants.”

 No answer. Han was out. The medipac beeped, sounding almost as impatient as Artoo. Now he had to start an IV. The medipac gave very explicit directions, but even so, Luke spent precious minutes hunting for a vein. He taped the entry tube over it, and the programmed needle inserted itself. The solution trickled into Han’s system at the proper rate. The pac produced a series of minidosers, prefilled, and Luke applied them. He was relieved that the field pac was programmed and designed with non-medical people like him in mind.    

He breathed easier as the readings stabilized into normal levels, and Han started to come around.     

Luke cut the pants off with medical shears and blanched at the sight. Han’s thighs were a colorful melange of damage, and a long gash bled slowly. "We've got a fair sized medipac, but I don’t think I can set a fracture."  He dropped to sit on the ground and put his head between his knees as Aunt Beru had taught him when he felt nauseous or faint.     

"You OK, kid?"

Luke waved a hand at him, "In a minute." He breathed deeply and counted backward from a hundred to calm his flip-flopping stomach. By sixty he felt suitably braced, and picked up the deluxe medipac to examine Han's leg. He looked the injury over, consulting the diagnosis and treatment readout.    

It took half an hour, and a second, larger dose of pain-killer for Han, for Luke to get the gash under control. His hands trembled as he stitched, and he suspected Han would carry an ugly scar.     

Han, groggy from the pain-killer, stared at him for a second and asked "Water?"     

"Right." A thought hit Luke as he got Han's drink. He pulled out a couple of foodpacs, grabbed a couple more water bottles and went to sit by his friend. Han took the water bottle and drank while Luke popped the "heat" tabs on the foodpacs. Solid for him, and some soup for Han. He didn’t want Han vomiting while trapped on his back.  

 They ate, watching the sky darken through the cockpit canopy.     

"Tomorrow, I'll see what's outside," Luke said. "The emergency beacon will lead the Alliance right to us. They'll know something is wrong by tomorrow when we don't show up with the supplies."

"Need to warn them," Han mumbled around the food, "bout the mines. Least we didn't depressurize." He took another drink. "Luke, we got another problem. I don't think I can fit the crate into the 'fresher."    

Luke looked puzzled for a moment. Han wouldn’t be walking to the ‘fresher on his own, let alone taking the crate with him, for some time. The ‘fresher!  Luke bounced to his feet and rummaged in one of the crates that held the contents of the portable field hospital they were delivering. He held up his find and Han groaned. Luke dropped off the plas container, and said "I'll go for a walk. Back soon."

"Be careful, huh, kid? Don't get eaten by anything."

Luke patted the blaster he wore, and made sure his father's lightsaber was at his belt. He slipped out of the small freighter's hatch and automatically looked for landmarks. He heard Han’s soft swearing as he got a good look at himself. Luke, fighting his embarrassment, had cut away Han’s underwear as well, and knew there were some spectacular bruises around his groin.    

He knew the Alliance would find them. If nothing else, Chewbacca would come looking for them as soon as he returned from the Kashyyk supply trip.

The drifting mine had latched onto their hull and blown out the engine when they came out of hyperspace. Creeping burnout had left them piloting a not-very-aerodynamic rock.  Luke walked around the ship, checking the rest of the damage. The crash had destroyed the landing gear, and the thrusters. The freighter, Mercy Mission, wouldn't fly again. He knew Han would be thankful it hadn't been his beloved Falcon.

He leaned his head against the crumpled hull, the metal cool on his cheek, and breathed deeply. Worry for Han forced its way back into his thoughts until it nearly choked him. There was no time for panic. He breathed slowly until he was calm again. He’d done all he could. Han would be fine. He had to be fine.  

For something to do to take his mind from his worry, Luke took stock of his surroundings. The night was cool, yet comfortable, and they were in a temperate forest. Still amazed by trees, Luke walked to one not far from the ship and touched it. Seeing nuts in its branches, he took a leaf for analysis, and went back in.

Han was dozing, still under the pain-killers. Luke cleared away the remains of their meal, emptied the container, and set it back in easy reach. He made sure a full water bottle was also in Han's reach before he settled down to figure out exactly where they were.

The computer was still running off its sealed power source, and he spent some time tracking where they had landed and adding that information to the rescue signal.

The databanks informed him the leaf he had picked was from a krin tree, and that the nuts from it would ripen within another tenday. It then produced a copious list of recipes. He also read the rundown on the edibility of the other local flora and some of the fauna as well. Luke decided if they were still here when the krin nuts ripened, they'd eat the local food and save their supplies. Assuming foraging didn’t take him too far away or from Han for too long.

The ship did not retain heat well. It was distinctly chilly by the time he got up to get some blankets from the supply crates. A thought hit him, and he nearly smacked himself for his thoughtlessness. He opened the crate that still pinned Han's leg. Carefully, he removed and stowed as much equipment as he could. It had been one thing after another earlier, and he had been too busy running from crisis to crisis to think logically. He checked the lifter again: still dead. The powerpack was not a rechargeable sort. He checked for a spare, knowing it was unlikely with the Alliance’s limited resources. The shielded crate was too heavy for him to move, even empty, but maybe when Han woke up, they could think of a way to budge it.

He got the blankets and covered his friend with another one. Luke sat quietly, reaching out with his feelings as Ben had taught him. He could feel the Force, but not control it. Han, sleeping beside him, was a very tangible presence, but felt somehow different from the other times when Luke had sensed him, diminished, almost. The medipac listed him as stable.

After meditating for a while, Luke opened his eyes and concentrated on an empty mini-doser. He felt how the plas bubble connected to its origins, how they had come from living things, how those things had been part of the Force in their lives. Slowly the doser rose a few centimeters from the deck plate. It felt so very heavy.

Luke held it up for a minute, and then lowered it carefully. He lifted it twice more, each repetition becoming easier than the last. The success made him feel as if some small part of the day had been reclaimed from disaster.

The deckplates were hard, and he resolved to make up something more comfortable for Han in the morning. He moved in a little closer to share body heat in the rapidly cooling ship, and was asleep between one breath and the next.

Han woke in darkness to deep, itching pain and the fires of Sullust eating up his legs. He was cold and the floor was hard and Luke's hair was tickling his nose.  

Luke woke when Han sneezed and disentangled himself, muttering hasty, half-asleep apologies. "Do you need something?"

"Whatever you're giving me for pain. And your hair out of my face. If you're gonna sleep close cause it's cold, let's get comfortable."

After administering a second dose of painkiller, Luke scrounged around and managed to get Han mostly onto a cot mattress, and got a second one for himself. “I should have done this earlier. I wasn’t thinking. Didn’t want to wake you.”

“Kid,” Han started, but paused a moment and reached out to pull Luke down to lie next to him. His face was more serious than Luke had seen it. “Luke, you did fine. Sleep now.”  Han had him shift until they were both close and comfortable.

The days of their rescue stretched to a week. The last crate moved with judicious application of a lever early on the next day. Luke applied the circulation stimulator and splinted both legs to hold them steady.  A full-fledged medicenter was Han’s only hope of completely regaining use, and the nearest one of those was on the other side of this sparsely populated planet. But for now, he was free of the crates and wouldn’t lose any limbs.

Luke ran snare lines and hunted, bringing back meat that he barely seared. He liked it cooked a little more, but the med readout insisted that Han needed the mineral replacement. He gathered, trying to stretch the emergency rations and survival kits they carried for as long as they would be needed. The single layer of field rations in each crate, camouflaging the med supplies, would last about a month if they subsisted on those exclusively. A spring nearby yielded pure water. Luke was careful not to be gone for long at a time.

The krin nuts ripened and Luke prepared them. They ate these until they were sick of them, and filled a crate with roasted ones against the first cold. In the evening, they did their best to stave off Han’s increasing cabin fever. After the first week, most of which Han spent half conscious from pain killers, he was more alert. Luke knew he still slept most of the day and the night as well.

Luke enjoyed the evenings most of all. Han had fascinated him since they met, and the spacer seemed to have no end of tales to tell. It was enough to sit close by, the light from a little luma creating strange shadows, playing cards with the deck from one of Han’s many vest pockets or listening to the old stories of Corellia, the half-true adventures of half a hundred worlds, and tales of all kinds.   Han’s company was the best he’d ever had.


Luke tossed his cards into the pile and shoved the krin nuts he’d bet toward Han. “So how’d you manage it *that* time?”

Han grinned and showed him how he’d managed to cheat again. “No one can say I ain’t furthering your education, kid.”  But the dark eyes, still slightly drugged, lingered too long before Han managed to wrench his attention back to the cards. “My deal.”

“Nah, I’m tired of cards. Ninety-seven ways to cheat at sabbac is wearing me out. Tell me about Corellia.”  Luke never tired of hearing about oceans and trees, about the moons and tides.

“Already told you about the Flamepetals, how about the Tale of the Moons?”

Luke put the cards away and settled in a little closer. The impossibly romantic tale of the brothers who had married a princess and died defending her from a dragon, only to have their grave grow into the legendary flowering tree of lovers and friends when their son was set beneath it had really gotten to Luke. He hoped the story of the moons would be as sweet.

Han, who hadn’t thought of the stories since he left home, found Luke an eager audience. The old myths seemed to leap back into his mind without hesitation.

“Once, before the beginning of time, there was only one moon over the Sea of Corellia. She sailed the Stars, waxing and waning as moons do, her only light the reflected glory of Corel. People were few in those days, and very powerful. In the village, lived a brother and sister, both beautiful, and both strong wizards. Sister fell for one of the men of the village, Hunter, and married him, and he moved into her house, as was the custom. Brother found a wife too, and began preparations to leave Sister’s house. On the night of the wedding feast, Brother went into Sister’s darkened house to gather the last of his things, and was greeted by a woman who kissed him and led him to bed before he could kindle a light. Believing her his wife, he followed. After they had made love, he left, not noticing the reddish stains her painted hands had left on his face.

 “He gathered his things, in the darkness, and returned to the party. Hunter saw the marks on his face, and recognized the color of his wife’s paint. They quarreled. Brother’s Bride came from a different house, and Sister emerged from hers. The story was immediately clear to the entire village.

“Sister flung herself into the Sea in grief over her error. She had believed the man entering her house to be her husband. Brother fled, the vengeful Hunter on his heels, his Bride sobbing in the street.

“The Bride was also powerful and cursed the men, not distinguishing fault in her anger. As they ran, the Sky bent down to catch them, and they found themselves among the Stars as smaller moons. The smaller Brother, his fair face marked with the reddish stains and turned away in shame, forever flees the Hunter, his face dark red with rage. They duck the Moon, and her silvery light. Below them, the Sea, suffused with the Sister, reaches toward her lovers, and retreats from them. This is why when all three moons are close, the tides are the highest, and why the smaller half-moon causes the lowest tides as his sister flees the memory of their embraces.”

Luke, dazzled by the story, stared into the luma for a while longer then looked at Han. “That’s so sad. They couldn’t just talk, explain it was a mistake and work it out?”

“It’s a myth, kid. Not supposed to be realistic. And Corellian passions do run pretty high, act first, talk later.”

Luke yawned hugely and checked the chrono. “Time for your meds, and then some sleep. Maybe we’ll have something in the snare lines for dinner tomorrow.”  He consulted the medpac and got the minidosers.

“Sure hope so,” Han said as Luke applied the dosers. “I’m getting tired of krin nuts again.”

They slept curled close to each other, sharing the blankets, and he loved waking up with Han’s arm around him. It seemed to be happening more often as the nights got colder and Han got stronger.  He was beginning to find Han’s constant half-naked state arousing, and apparently Han was as well. More than once, Luke had awakened with an erection poking against his leg or back. Part of him hoped it was a response to him, and part of him wished Han favored the slightly bulkier trouser style of the Core Worlds, which might have fit over the splints. Most of the time, he tried not to think much about the mornings.

 “Can’t figure why Chewie hasn’t made it yet. Is that signal still going?”

“It is. It’s been going since last night, when you had me check too.”  Luke’s temper was starting to fray on this issue. He took the readings from Han’s legs with the medipac. “I wish we could get you some more caltric. It would help you heal. You could use some acicit too. The vitamin pills aren’t enough.”

 “Luke, will ya quit fussing over me?  I’ve broken things before.”

“This badly?  And with no real med-center?”  

That shut Han up. Luke looked at the readout again and scowled in a way Han was very familiar with, and found almost irresistible. Yeah, he hurt, but he wasn’t dead yet. He’d figured out sometime around Yavin that he wanted the kid, but Luke had never given off any sexual signals at all.

“Sorry, kid. Being all cooped up flat on my back is getting to me. Thanks. For everything.”  Han reached up and touched the side of Luke’s face, remembering how it had felt when Luke had hurled himself into his arms in the hangar. He felt Luke press into his palm, and left his hand there.

“Someone will come for us soon.”  Luke said the words by rote, a promise that maybe he could believe if he repeated it often enough. He covered Han’s hand with his own and raised his eyes to look straight into Han’s. “Do you want something?” he asked, seeing the strange look on his friend’s face.

“Yeah. I want. Want you.”  The words came hard, but the blue eyes that held Han mesmerized would burn any lie in his mouth.

“You’re not strong enough.”  Luke leaned down and kissed him, a soft brush of lips, barely a promise, finished almost before they had begun. One hand went down to cup the back of Han’s head.  

“I’m fine.”  Han pressed up for another, this time letting his tongue tease Luke’s lips, only to be surprised when Luke opened for him and returned the kiss more vigorously. When they parted, he looked at Luke, catching his face between callused hands. “Where’d you learn to kiss like that, kid?”  Luke was signaling him as clear as a well-lit landing platform now. The shy kid had melted away, and Han needed to know where this sensual man had come from.

 “Biggs.”  The name was whispered with fraught memory.

“Your friend, the hometown hero,” Han said softly, remembering the dark haired man who had subtly challenged him before the battle. Had he lived, Han would have let Luke go with no more than a wisp of regret for unrealized fantasies. He didn’t poach.

“My friend. My lover.”  The words “like you” hung between them but neither was willing to say them.

“Wanna show me what else he taught you?” Han invited.

“We shouldn’t. You’re not strong enough,” Luke insisted. Han would have found the protest more convincing had it not been breathed across his cheek by cloud-soft lips that found his own the second the words were out.

“I feel fine.”  It was a lie. He hadn’t hurt this much in years. But the kiss had taken his mind off his pain for a moment.

“You lead. I don’t want to push too fast. If anything hurts, we’ll stop.”  Luke’s face was very grave as he laid a gentle hand on Han’s bare thigh.

“Rim-runner’s oath.”  Han mock-saluted, tapping his index and last finger to the tip of his eyebrow.

Having his promise, Luke kissed him again, a slow, sensual exploration. Han opened to it and found himself getting hard from this small bit of body contact, and the promise of things to come. He ran a hand down Luke’s face, and then down his chest to tug the waistband of his pants, and lower. Luke was hard too, and pressed into his hand.

“Took care of me for three weeks, kid. Let me take care of you.”

Han was stiff from the enforced bedrest, but he stretched enough to unfasten Luke’s pants.   Luke released his breath with a shudder when the strong fingers closed around him. They worked him from base to tip, caressing and coaxing.

“Ah, Han...”  He struggled to keep his balance, bent over Han as he was. The delicious friction and subtle squeezes were bringing him off faster than even his own experienced touch. He planted his hands one either side of Han’s head and lowered himself for another kiss against the imminent orgasm. His mind reeled and he saw sparks as Han’s tongue invaded his mouth again, teasing and promising, while the rest of him exploded into delicious fire.

“Musta done somethin’ right. You went off like a geyser.”  Han brought the sticky fingers to his mouth and licked one. He pulled Luke down to lie beside him. “Tastes good. I can’t wait to kiss you, all over, and taste it from the source.”  He coaxed Luke into cleaning one. They lay together in silence, Luke listening to Han’s heartbeat, strong and steady.

“What can I do for you, Han?  What’s not going to hurt?”

The cockeyed smile crossed Han’s face. “Kid, everything hurts. Let’s wait till I get out of bacta. Then, you can pay me back.”  He kissed the snub tip of Luke’s nose. “With Huttese level interest.”  He shifted with a groan, the fractures and the deep bruising around his groin making him ache in ways that were decidedly nonerotic. “That’s one debt I’m looking forward to.”

They slept closer than ever after that, and Luke relished every kiss: the ones Han woke him with, the one he stole before going out to hunt, the ones that rewarded him on his return, and the ones that followed him into sleep. He dreamed of the day when Han was well enough to share other pleasures.

Luke returned from a trip to the spring, a pair of the small herbivores called cirtha dressed out for their dinner. Han liked the little beasts better than any of the others Luke had caught with the snares. He sensed something was wrong even before he entered the clearing and saw the stormtroopers, supervised by a man in Imperial gray carrying the supplies out with lifters.

He slipped behind a tree, trying to cook up a rescue plan in a few seconds. It had worked for the princess, he hoped he could do it for Han. The cold touch of metal just below his ear told him he was already too late.

"Skywalker," said the metallic voice of a stormtrooper. "Your presence is requested by the Lady Tagge."

Luke very carefully raised his hands, knowing he had no chance of escape. The trooper knocked the waterjug and the cirtha out of them, before putting binders on him, then took his blaster, the scalpel he was using for a dressing knife and the lightsaber.

Three more troopers fell in with them as they approached the ship bearing the House of Tagge crest. His stomach plunged into his boots at the sight of the markings. Orman Tagge had been third in command of the Death Star, a powerful Moff, with many systems in thrall to him. He’d left behind three adult children who not only squabbled for his wealth, but blamed the rebels and Luke in particular for their father’s death.

Luke heard the trooper inform his officer "That's the last of the cargo, sir," as he was marched up the ramp.

Domina Tagge sat straight in the commander's chair of the shuttle. "Skywalker," she spat. "Once more, you complicate my life."  

"Where's Han?"  Luke was determined to give the youngest of the Tagges no information. He had tangled with Domina before. While he had barely escaped with his life, he had made her look foolish, which was an unforgivable crime against the aristocratic pride and ancient name of her house.

"Your companion is safe aboard my liner. The meddroids are examining him. He is in very bad shape from your atrocious landing. If you’re going to be successful outlaws, you should really not encrypt so much information into your messages."

"What do you want with us?" Luke had a sinking feeling he already knew.

"I want what you stole from me!" She was on her feet and in his face before he could blink. "I want the power I should have, the family's wealth that my brothers robbed me of and the favor of the Emperor. All the things you took from me when you murdered my father!" The rage rolling off of her knocked Luke back a step, like a physical push through the Force.

She brought herself under control. "I want these things back, and you are going to get them for me. It's only fitting. You took them from me, after all. In return, I will get your friend proper medical attention, the best in the Empire."  

"Leave our cargo."  

"What?"  She looked puzzled at the demand.

"Leave the cargo. An alliance rescue ship will come for us, and that is vital materiel. Leave it, or we don't cooperate."  Captured or not, Luke would fulfill his mission. Lives depended on it. Leia depended on him.

Lady Tagge smiled mirthlessly. "You don't have an option."  

Luke tried for all the authority he could muster. "We can die, my Lady. I am a Jedi. I can make the crossing painless for my friend and myself. You lose your chance at your revenge, and risk the wrath of Lord Vader. You know he’s put a tremendous bounty out for me." He hoped he sounded calmer than he felt. He knew he couldn't kill either of them.

Domina Tagge stared at him for a moment. If he killed himself and his friend, she would be empty handed. She needed him to live. She wanted to present him alive to the Emperor, and say that she, and not Lord Vader, had captured him.

“Do as he says, dear sister. Jedi can do such things,” Silas leaned closer to counsel her. Months earlier she had coaxed her clever brother over to her side, leaving their eldest brother on his own. Silas seldom spoke, but when he did, his advice was worth heeding.

“The cargo stays,” Domina decided. “Major!”  The officer came to attention. “Reload the Rebels’ cargo. And take Skywalker to his friend.”

Luke was delivered to where Han lay manacled to a stretcher in the cargo hold of the shuttle.  The stormtroopers chained him to a conduit and began moving the supply crates as per their lady’s orders, leaving them alone.

“You got brought along too, kid?”

“Hey, Chewie will rip my arms out of their sockets if I let you go into danger alone.”  Luke’s attempt at flippancy didn’t quite come off. “She said you were aboard the liner being examined.”

“And you believed a Tagge?  Especially the one who hates you for blowing up her father on his precious Death Star?  Kid, you are so gullible sometimes.”

The little shuttle lifted and they felt it land a little later. Two troopers with a repulsorstretch came into the hold for Han, and chained Luke to the side of it. They were taken to a holding cell on the liner, and a meddroid came to them. It went over Han, the only sounds beeps and whirrs, with none of the reassurances of the Alliance droids’ pseudopersonalities and bedside manner.

It left without treating Han. Luke moved in close, and took one of Han’s hands. “We’ll get out of here, Han. Trust me.”  They felt the ship make the jump to hyperspace, and a few minutes later, Domina Tagge appeared at the cell door. She held a printout and wore a cold smile.

“All right Skywalker. Here is the deal. When we come out of hyper, we will be in the Wylstr system. I will have your friend put into bacta. You will go to the fourth planet of the system and retrieve the Scroll of Kesturyl. I’ll give you the coordinates, but you have to get it. This won’t be easy, and just to add some security for me,” she passed through the forcefield and slapped a collar around his neck, “this blocks you from using the Force. There are still a few around. Very handy for containing Jedi, or even Jedi aspirants. It will keep you from doing anything foolish. It has a microcharge added, courtesy of my techs. If you take more than two days, it will blow your head off.”

“Why’s this scroll so important?” Han demanded. “Why should Luke go and risk his life?”

“Why?  Because he owes me, Corellian. He murdered my father. Men loyal to me are too valuable to risk. Ordinary prisoners have no reason to help. But with you, he has incentive to follow orders.”

“Your father was a casualty of war,” Han snarled.

She ignored Han. “You killed him as he slept, Skywalker. Does it make you proud to know you eradicated two million people with a single shot?  Do you know that at least a third of them were sleeping?  I hope the Rebellion rewarded you well.”  She spat on the floor in front of him. “The scroll contains the deeds to my family’s lands. If I have those, the Emperor is much more likely to grant me the family fortune as well. My brother has tied up the money for a year in the courts. I want it.”

“Han, it is a reasonable request. Lady Tagge, know I would not have killed anyone had it been possible to destroy the station bloodlessly. I will restore what I can to you. I want to see him in the bacta tank before I leave.”

“Charming, well-spoken, lying Jedi dog.”  She tossed a pointed glance at their joined hands, forgotten earlier. “And a chulash as well. But that’s a given with Jedi.” 

She left, and Han’s grip tightened. “Luke, I have a really bad feeling about this.”

“I’ll get her deeds, Han. You concentrate on healing.”

The next morning found Han floating, sedated, in a tank of reddish goo, monitored by a med-droid. Luke accepted nondescript clothing and a directional comlink/chrono.

“The Scrolls of Kesturyl, Lady Tagge. I will have them for you at the rendezvous point before the charge goes off.”  He rubbed the collar that cut him off from the Force. The shuttle and pilot awaited him, and they plunged, without a word, into the cloudy atmosphere of Wylstr 4.

 The pilot wore House of Tagge livery and ignored Luke as much as possible. Luke watched the readings, and checked them against his chrono. They approached the rendezvous point, about an hour’s walk from where the Scroll was supposed to be.

He set off for the coordinates he’d been given. Han had called him six types of fool for believing Domina Tagge would keep her word. Of course, his lover suspected she was trying to kill them both. Luke had silenced him with kisses, pointing out that they were more valuable alive than dead. The bounties on his head specified alive. Neither wanted to do more than lie together, the occasional kisses punctuating the darkness of the cell. There would be time for full lovemaking after they were free again.

He crept silently through the windswept red rocks, not much different from his homeworld. Wylstr 4 was a desert planet, colder than Tatooine, but sand was sand.   He paused in a crevasse to survey his destination. The cliff-face rose, sheer and imposing until Luke craned his neck back to see the top. High up on the jagged rocks, he saw the cave.

It seemed an odd repository for something as precious as the titles to the land of one of the greatest families in the Empire, but as he observed, he came to understand the cunning. The winds were treacherous, and he watched several large flying reptiles blown off course and smashed into the cliff-face. No one in a small ship could approach this place.   The rocks were sharp, too, he realized, when he watched a smashed flier tumble down the cliff, and arrive at the bottom in pieces. Climbing gear, and careless climbers, would be cut to ribbons.

Leia had once told him that many of the older houses, especially the powerful ones, vested great authority in possession of the original deeds to the family lands. Many of them kept copies for the lawyers but hid the originals in remote locations, known only to a few people. More than one house had suffered great disaster when all the members who knew the location of the deeds had been assassinated or when another house had managed to seize their deeds, and with them all their worlds.

Luke stared for a few more minutes, then got up and went. He would have to climb the rocks bare handed. He wanted very much to live, to be out of the Force collar, to be free and alone with Han. But falling from the cliff seemed a better death than having his head blown off by a microcharge.

The climb began  easily enough. There was a path, steep, but smooth, and he followed it. It narrowed and became more treacherous as it went until it ended a hundred meters up. The next phase offered handholds and footholds, carved into the rock, obviously by the Tagges. These would likely peter out, leaving him grasping for a fingerhold on the rock. He touched the collar once more, imagined Han in the bacta tank, and started off.

This part took little more exertion than climbing a ladder. Luke had scaled the walls of his home on Tatooine, much to his aunt’s dismay, from the time he was a toddler. He and Biggs had climbed most of the local rock formations, and even tried a stretch up the walls of Beggar’s Canyon. The skills returned quickly and without thought.

The handholds and footholds did become shallower about two hundred meters up. Luke rested on the last solid ones and caught his breath. He was halfway to the cave. The winds were stronger up here. He pressed to the rockface, leaving no place for an errant gust to get under him and pluck him from the cliff.

He plotted his next climb. There were still shallow holds in the rock, as high as he could see, but he would have to stretch for them. Taking another breath, and holding the image of Han in his mind, he began.

This part of the cliff took a good deal more concentration. Luke’s fingers began to ache as he sought each placement, clinging to crevices that were barely a knuckle deep. Once, his toes lost their hold and scrabbled sickeningly against the rock, knocking loose a pebble that rattled clear to the base of the cliff, taking a minor landslide with it.

He stopped then, heart thudding, adrenaline coursing through him, and clung to the rock until the panic subsided. His next move was slower and more cautious, but he continued upward.

Slowly, painfully, every bit of his weight dragging him downward, Luke pulled himself up the cliff, handhold by toehold. Three hundred meters he climbed, exhausted, shaking, sweating.

He levered himself into the cave, too sore to be pleased at having made it. He lay panting on the floor, trying to recover himself. The air burned in his lungs, and the thought of climbing down frightened him.

He sat up and looked around. The cave was cool and dry, with no life-forms. A single passage led into the rock. He checked the equipment in his waist pouch. The Lady Tagge had made a few small concessions to his task: a chrono with communicator and location devices, a luma and a thin, lightweight rope of near-indestructible tensasteel, two kloms long.

Switching on the luma, he tied the end of the rope to a stalagmite near where the external light faded and began paying it out as he walked. The cavern was unnaturally smooth and easy. The way led steadily down, with none of the usual side passages of a naturally formed cave.

Luke ventured deep into the darkness, only the pale blue light from the luma guiding him, feeling more alone than he had ever been. This was worse than the time he and Windy had gotten lost in the Dune Sea, almost as bad as that first dreadful night after the crash, when he had been so afraid Han would die.

The path broadened and leveled, expanding into a room. The luma left the ceiling and the far corners in shadow. In the center stood a clay jar, nearly as tall as a man. Luke knew he’d never manage to get it out. He circled it, looking for an opening. There was no lid and no apparent way to move it.

He sat for a minute and thought. He tried to meditate, but only managed to clear his mind of everything except Ben’s assertion: “Your eyes can deceive you.”  The Force was lost to him, but he’d lived twenty years without it and only a year with it.

He ran his hands over the jar. It was immobile. An idea hit him and he twisted it low, at the base. It didn’t budge. He turned it the other way, to his right, as if to tighten it down. This time it shifted.

Luke unscrewed the jar from its base, and found a small sealed box. He could see the scrolls through the transparasteel lid. He stuffed it inside his shirt before tightening down the jar and beginning the climb back to the cave mouth.

The rope led him back up, letting him pull himself when the steep path became too much. The return trip took much longer, and he didn’t realize he was in the main cave until he found the knotted end of the rope. The sky outside was black, sprinkled with unfamiliar stars.

Luke, drained to the last erg of energy from his day, collapsed in a heap and sat watching the stars. He was thirsty. Lady Tagge had not provided him with food or water. He did not wish to brave the cliff in the dark, even with the rope. Knowing the sun would wake him, he lay down near the mouth of the cave and slept.

He dreamt of Han.

He awoke stiff and sore, the sun in his eyes.  Moving each muscle took an effort of will. Slowly, he stood, stretched and limbered up. He ran through a couple of training moves Ben had shown him, taking them at half speed. He was desperately thirsty, and there was no way he could take the cliff as he was.

That left the rope. He had learned to rappel as a child in the survival course that was mandatory when he got his speeder certifications. He and Biggs and Windy had slid down most of the cliffs in the vicinity of their farms. It had never been more than an amusement until today.

Now, he looked down the six hundred meter drop to the valley floor. He removed his jacket and made sure the case was secure inside his shirt. Anchoring one end very firmly to the stalagmite that had served him last night, he tossed the other end down the cliff. Using his jacket as padding to protect from the worst rope burns, Luke straddled the rope, and brought it up over his right hip, across his chest and over his left shoulder. This was primitive, but he didn’t have a harness or slideloops as would be in a general emergency kit. They had practiced the emergency style rappel for one week, and he hoped he remembered it right. If not, it was a long way down.

He backed to the edge of the cliff, gripped the rope with his right hand just below his butt, pulling it tight against his back for a brake, and leaned out, sitting on his fist six hundred meters up. When the rope held, he began letting it slide through his hand and wished vainly for gloves.

He took the first few meters slowly, walking himself down the cliff side. Then gaining more confidence, he swung free to avoid a jagged outcropping. The rope spun through his hand and around his body, becoming harsher and more painful with every meter.

He slid, thinking of Han, knowing that the same bacta that was aiding his friend could patch him up too. He could almost hear the spacer say something about “rope burns and hickeys, can’t leave you alone for a minute.”   He’d be pleased enough just to hear Han’s voice again. Let him tease as he would.

His hands and shoulder bleeding, Luke reached the bottom. He radioed the shuttle pilot that he was on his way with the Scrolls. The pilot mumbled something, half-asleep, and Luke made the journey back to the shuttle as fast as his stiff legs would take him.

He applied bacta gel to his hands and shoulder as the shuttle took him back to the Tagge liner. It cooled the burn and he could almost feel the little symbionts growing, encouraging his body to heal.

Luke presented the case to Domina Tagge. She tossed her head and looked down her long nose at him, ignoring his mangled hands.

“Excellent. You are very resourceful, even without your Force talent.”  She removed the collar. Luke almost staggered under the renewed sense of connection to the universe. “However, your friend needs another few days of bacta treatments. Six hours a session, five sessions minimum the droids inform me. Corellians can tolerate up to twelve hours in the tank, but no more. After that, he will be in therapy with the med droid for a few weeks. I don’t think I need expend such effort on a doomed rebel.”

“We had a bargain,” Luke protested. “You said the best medical care in the Empire.”

“So, we shall make another. This time you traded your body for his. Now, will you try your mind to keep his in him?”  She waved the screen on. Silas held up what looked like a metal helmet before setting it down to tinker with some wires on it. “That is a mind-wiper. My dear Silas is very partial to his favorite toy. He’s always improving it. Fail this next test, and I let him mind-wipe your lover, Jedi chulash.”  The contempt was only slightly sharper on the ‘Jedi’ half of the insult.  “He’s very handsome. I may take him as my own, once he’s forgotten you.”

Luke had nothing to say. He could only stare the at helmet and think of Han, whose entire life was about to be ripped from him. “What do I do?”

“Very simple. You will use the hours he is in the bacta to devise a plan. Your plan will deliver Darth Vader into my hands and render him powerless enough for me to kill him. When I accomplish what my brothers cannot, I will have the respect I deserve, and enough power to gain the position I want.”

She lowered her voice, almost seductively. “And if the rumors I hear have any truth, Vader killed your father when he wiped out the Jedi. So our goals are complementary, even without your lover’s memory as a sweetener.”

“The plan is very simple, Lady Tagge. I am your bait. Make sure he knows you have me. The prospect of getting me without a fight should lure him into whatever trap you think will kill him.”

Her smile was colder than the stars outside the viewport. “Well, yes, I already had that idea. The Dark Lord is rather obsessed with you. The difference in our plans is that *you* will devise the spectacle of your own execution. *You* will lay the trap for Lord Vader. And *you* will make sure he dies. And you will accomplish this within three days, or I will let Silas have your lover, and leave you to your death.”

“Execution?”  Luke kept his voice steady with difficulty. He would give this Imperial no sign of his fear.

“A spectacle only, Skywalker. On my world, it is custom to avenge the deaths of murdered parents with public execution by torture. You will devise a method of torture that leaves you in pain but not hurt, displayed yet concealed and weaponless yet armed. Since it will be used on you, and you will be fighting Lord Vader, I suggest you get it right. You have until your lover’s treatment is complete. It should end about the time we reach my world.”  She turned to the guard, “Take him back to his cell.”

“But I have no control over Vader’s movements,” Luke protested as the guard nudged him out the door. “It’s just likely he’ll come.”

“Then I suggest you think very hard and very fast, Skywalker.”  Domina turned away to look out the viewport.

Luke paced the cell, his rope-burnt hands behind his back, but not clasped. He was unfamiliar with torture for the most part, and had no idea what he could devise that would fit the contradictory requirements. “In pain but not hurt,” he supposed that meant apparent pain with no real damage. He would have to fight, after all. “Displayed, yet concealed” was confusing him to no end, and he had discarded that to ponder “weaponless yet armed.”  He would have his lightsaber somewhere nearby if she wanted him to fight Vader. He was still mumbling to himself when the meddroid returned Han to the cell, dropping him on the cot and leaving.

“Han!”  Luke knelt beside the bed.

“You’re back, kid. Didja get the stuff?”  Han ruffled his hair before pulling him in closer for a kiss. Luke strained to keep his balance without using his hands.

“Got it. How do you feel?”

“Like I’ve been stuck in a tank of goo for two days.”  He ran a hand down Luke’s neck, only to have Luke pull away with a hiss. “What’d you do to yourself, Luke?”  He peeled the shirt away before Luke could protest. “Ah, kid, tell me that ain’t a ligature.”  Seeing Luke’s confusion he added “A rope weal, like from being hung. That Tagge bitch ain’t stringing you up like a common thief, is she?”  The fury had begun to rise in Han’s voice at the thought. He’d seen enough such “entertainments” during his time with the Empire. A prisoner was hanged into unconsciousness, his struggles and gasps providing amusement for the crew who watched and made bets on how long he’d last. Usually, the prisoner survived. The thought that Luke was providing such a spectacle for the Tagges made him flash hot and cold before Luke reassured him.

“She isn’t. I slid down 600 meters of tensasteel with an Imperial prison-issue jacket for padding.”  Luke held up his hands to show his damaged palms.  “I was too stiff to climb down the rocks. I’ve had bacta already. I’ll be fine in a couple days.”

“So, she gonna let us go?”

“Not exactly.”

Han rolled his eyes. “Toldja so.”

Luke explained the predicament Domina Tagge had put him in. He was about halfway through when Han held up a hand.

“Whoa, kid. She’s going to make a spectacle of torturing you to death in the public square, you’re gonna come up with the method, and you’re counting on Darth Vader to rescue you?  Have you gone crazy or am I dreamin’ this in the tank?  It sure ain’t making sense.”

“That’s the plan. I figured on escaping during the confusion while Domina is trying to kill Vader.”

“Luke, that’s--”

“Crazy, I know. So was putting a proton torpedo down the Death Star’s exhaust port. Han, you’ve made the Kessel Run. You’ve been in and out of worse scrapes. Help me get us out of this one.”

 “And if we don’t?”

“Then love me for the time we have left. Let’s make the most of it.”  Luke leaned in for another kiss. “I can’t return the favor you did me, but I can make a payment on that interest.”  He kissed down Han’s bare chest, and used his teeth to tug down the hospital garment.

“Movin a little fast, aren’t ya?”

“Han, we have at best a week. I’ve wanted you for months. Please?”  The hopeful look on Luke’s face was almost painful, but it melted into a look of desire that took Han’s breath away.

“Anything you want, kid. I’m not going anywhere. But let me get those.”  He pulled the briefs down on his thighs, unable to get them over the metal frames that held his lower legs in proper configuration for healing.

“I wanted to do this from the minute I cut your pants off.  It’s beautiful.”  Luke stroked his tongue over the hard length.

Han groaned, the rough wet warmth making him even harder. When Luke engulfed him, oh too long since this pleasure, he buried his hands in the thick blond hair and encouraged him.

Luke sucked and licked, the motions awkward without the assisting hands. He pillowed his head on Han’s belly, taking in everything. Han tasted clean, and slightly of bacta. But under it all was the faint musky scent Luke knew from the improvised washings in the freighter. It grew stronger as he pressed in, swallowing all of the considerable length.

Han groaned again at the first touch of lips at the base of his cock, the light flicker of Luke’s tongue along the side of his balls before it dragged along the underside of him, pressing the head against the roof of Luke’s mouth. Luke knew what he was doing, no doubt about that. Han just hoped he could hold out a little longer and learn what other talents lay hidden in that mouth he loved to kiss.

Luke felt Han start to tense and backed off, dragging another moan from his lover. He kissed his way up Han’s chest and back to his mouth. This time he dragged out the kiss, exploring, playing, breathing for them both.

“Stars, kid,” Han breathed when Luke let him up for breath. “You gonna finish me or not?  Your hand’ll do--”

“You talk too much.”  Luke kissed him quiet. “I’ll finish,” he promised wickedly. “In my time.”  He sat back and opened his own pants using only his fingertips, letting Han get a good look at him under the merciless lights, so very different from the romantic gloom of the freighter. This time, he stroked himself with the backs of his fingers, careful of his palms, seeming to relish every touch.

Han, unable to lie quietly with such pleasure within his reach, stretched out to catch Luke and pull him back, but Luke scooted out of his reach.

“Ah, just watch.”  Luke continued teasing himself with the backs of his fingers, the balls of his thumbs, until he saw the tip of Han’s tongue flick at the corner of his mouth, and the big hands go down to rub himself. “That’s my job.”  He moved over, nudged Han’s hand away and took Han back into his mouth, sucking this time in a no-nonsense way that had Han teetering at the brink of  orgasm within seconds.

A low moan from Luke spurred him, and he came explosively, slowly coming down from the peak, his vision blurry, aware only of blue eyes and the smile that had haunted his bacta-laced dreams hovering over him. He pulled Luke down for a kiss, plunging deep, seeking out his own taste, wanting to know if Luke had enjoyed him.
“Damn, kid. You’re good,” he breathed, pausing to nip at Luke’s earlobe. “Can I help you out?”
“Please.”  Luke kissed him, and thrust into the hand that encircled him. Han’s fingers were strong and sure as they mimicked his own earlier actions. Then, three sharp, sure tugs had him coming before he knew the orgasm was imminent.

“You’re gorgeous when you come, Luke. When we get out of this, I want to see a lot more of that look. C’mere, let’s sleep.”  

Luke tugged Han’s pants back into place and then curled into his side, as he had in the freighter. The cell was chilly, and they had been issued a single blanket.

“Sleep and we’ll work on the torture problem tomorrow,” Luke said. “You can dream me up an answer during tomorrow’s bacta session.”

Two weeks later, the great square outside the Tagge Mansion was filled with Imperial dignitaries, and every citizen who could wangle tickets to the grand spectacle. Enterprising food vendors wove among the crowd, and bright bunting lent an incongruously festive air to the proceedings.

 “Citizens of Skitinir and of all the Empire, I, Lady Domina Tagge, greet you!”  A cheer went up from the people assembled in the great square, and across the galaxy beings of all sorts turned up their holo-receivers. Barrooms fell silent and beings gathered in public  places to watch. Thousands, if not millions of credits had been spent announcing the capture of the rebel traitor Luke Skywalker, and his impending death on Skitinir.

The two weeks had been spent building hardware to Luke’s specifications, and making sure word was spread liberally. Han had many reservations about their plan, its timing and the details.

The Lady Tagge began a litany of Luke’s crimes as he was led out to the platform. A gasp went up at the sight of the vulnerably naked young man, covered only by his bound hands, in the traditional fashion of Skitinir. That had been one of Han’s reservations, but Luke had assured him it was necessary to make Vader think he was truly helpless. A hundred men in the back chanted the names of all those aboard the Science Station “Discovery” which he had destroyed.

 “For your crimes against the galaxy at large, the Empire, and the House of Tagge, I sentence you to death. You will be locked into this cage, and hung in the great square until you are dead. No food, water every third day to prolong your death. The names of those you murdered will be chanted endlessly during your dying. May it drive you mad before the sun burns the eyes out of your head!”  She spat twice and struck him backhand in the traditional manner.

The guards shoved him into the specially built cage that hugged his body. Two inches taller than he was, a perfect barred cylinder with a domed top, it gave him no more than two inches movement in any direction. The floor was a sturdy mesh, leaving him exposed from all angles. A thick collar, a inch longer than his neck, was fastened on, forcing him to hold his head up at an uncomfortable level. His wrists were unlocked and shackled to the bars. He wrapped his hands around them.

A hook was attached to the top of the cage and Luke was hoisted high into the air above the square, and left, dangling three meters above the crowd.

“Is that man a birdy now, Mama?” piped a child’s voice in the hush.

That unleashed a torrent of taunts. Most common were the name of pet birds, and offers of pet treats. Some of the more daring leapt in the air, trying to swing his cage.

One daring young man caught the mesh, and hung there. “Pretty birdy. Gonna sing for us?”  He poked at Luke’s bare foot through the cage. The collar blocked any withering glare Luke might have sent down. He settled for standing on his tormenter’s fingers, his full weight pressing them into the mesh until the man begged him to let up. He did and the weight disappeared from beneath his cage.    

The endless list of names from the chorus continued. Luke found the Force, and meditated, waiting, ignoring the crowd, his nakedness and the worry that whispered in the back of his mind.

In the middle of the night, the cage was lowered back to the platform. The spectators had all gone home, and after the end of the first chant, the chorus had been dismissed as well. Now an endless voice loop gave the names of the dead. Luke was allowed to relieve himself into a receptacle, so as not to repulse the spectators, given a drink and a nutribar by the unsmiling Tagge retainers, and returned to his perch. Domina was going to honor her part of the deal, at least until Vader’s arrival.

The sun bore down on him the second day. The chanted names lost their meaning, becoming a steady drone, like the flies that settled on him. He couldn’t see the people, the collar held his head at such an angle that he saw nothing but the deep blue of Skitiner’s sky, but their jibes and the occasional motion of the cage assured him the passerby still found him a source of interest. His neck ached abominably. He could feel his lightsaber, built into the bar his right hand grasped, in a lock that would open only in the presence of two Force users. All the locks in the cage were keyed to that.

The same routine was repeated the second night. This time, it was not Tagge retainers, but Han, walking under his own power, who brought the food and water. Real food, not just a nutribar. He insisted Luke eat and finish the water bottle before he would talk.

“You’re on your feet,” Luke marveled, swallowing the last bite of fruit. He pressed his face into the bars to meet Han’s kiss.

“Yeah.”  Han slid his hand between the bars to catch Luke’s head, holding him for a second kiss. “You ready to get out of here?”  He shifted his weight and then winced, rubbing his mended leg. “I don’t think there’s much difference between therapy-bots and torture-droids. I cased the place last night for our escape route.”

“I’m ready. I’d rather be out of this cage before Vader gets here.”  A wave of fear passed over Luke’s face, but his voice never wavered.    

Han’s face softened, and he stroked a thumb down Luke’s cheek. “How you holdin’ up, kid?”    

“I’m fine.”  Luke leaned into the caress. “Better now that you’re here. Get me out?”  

Han held up a piece of wire. “We leave tonight. Got a ship all picked out. I ain’t sticking around to watch you get killed by Vader or left to hang in a cage because he never showed.”  Han stared at the door. “No keyhole. How the hell are you supposed to get out of this?”

“He isn’t, Corellian.”  Silas’ dry whisper cut through the darkness. “The locks only open in the presence of two Force users. There is no way for a mere mortal to rescue him. That was my modification to the design.”  The house guards seized Han and pulled him away from the cage. “Since you have fed and watered him already, please aid him in relieving himself, and we will go.”  One of them pressed a narrow-necked container into Han’s hands and the other shoved him forward.

Han used his body to shield the process from the eyes of the outsiders, but Luke was still embarrassed and it took some time. Luke flexed his fingers around the bars in frustration and gripped until his knuckles turned white.

“It’s OK, kid.”  Han used his free hand to rub Luke’s shackled hand until he relaxed a little. “We’ll go with the original plan. We’ll be all right.”  He stole a quick kiss, shielded from prying eyes by his shoulders, and stepped back.

Two of the retainers held Han away from the cage as a third activated the winch that sent Luke back to his perch. As he dangled, Luke watched Silas run an insinuating hand over Han’s jaw. Han jerked out of his grasp.

“After sunset tomorrow, he’s mine to play with. Domina need not know I’m sending him to her in a used state. And he’ll never remember.”  The voice was low, but it carried, and Luke clenched his fists around the bars again.

“Only if I fail,” he responded.

The guards shoved Han off the platform ahead of them, leaving Luke alone in the darkness with his thoughts.

The third day passed. The sun rose hot and only grew more uncomfortable as it climbed. The bars of the cage gave no shade, and Luke felt the skin on his face cooking in the heat.  His hands clutched convulsively at his lightsaber hilt whish was built into the bar of the cage, ready for Vader's appearance. The slow descent continued, and still no Vader. The afternoon was long, and even hotter. Luke thought of Leia, wondering if she’d gotten the supplies the Alliance needed. He thought of Han. He’d saved Han’s life and for what? So a noblewoman could mind-wipe him into her pampered plaything.

At sunset Luke sensed him: Vader. Blackness like the great cloak he wore swept through Luke’s mind, and he felt the locks on the cage let go at the same time the prototype TIE fighter swept in for a landing.

The square came alive in a bustle of sharpshooters and guards. Luke somersaulted out of the cage, centered in the Force, trusting it that he would land on his feet. He did and ignited his saber, his eyes never leaving the Sith Lord who ducked out of his ship, saber ignited, seeming to sense the danger around him.

The air was split by dozens of blaster bolts as Luke hit the stones of the courtyard. He saw Vader’s lightsaber flash, deflecting the bolts. Taking advantage of Vader’s distraction, Luke fled for the Tagge Mansion. He had to get Han and steal a ship.     

Vader’s presence made the Force sing in his head, and he could draw on it almost as easily as he had in the presence of Ben Kenobi. He cast about and hid behind a pillar as two servants walked by. A lone servant came the other way, and he grabbed the man, pulling him behind the stone column.     

He knocked the man out, and took his livery. Now for Han. He could tell his lover was somewhere nearby, and he let the Force lead him. Han was in the third room he opened, strapped to a chair, fighting as Silas lowered a mind-wiper over his head.

“Sit still Corellian. This will only take a moment. Then you’ll have forgotten why you’re fighting me.”  

A sweep of Luke’s saber split the mind-wiper without touching Han or Silas.

“Untie him.”  Luke’s voice was cold and flat. Silas took a look at the lightsaber and obeyed at once. Han seized a comlink from the laboratory, and they fled toward the shipyards.

The firefight in the courtyard seemed to be moving into the building, and both men ran, but slowly. Han’s repaired legs weren’t up to the task of carrying him far, and Luke’s three day ordeal had left him weak and stiff.

”Can’t stop,” Luke panted. “Vader can sense me. Coming for me!”

“Landing field north side!”

“The ship you picked?”

“You bet. C’mon!”  Han was leading him through unfamiliar corridors and out a side door to the huge landing field. There was a sleek little star-yacht at the end of one row. “That one!”

A whine of familiar engines made them look up. The Millennium Falcon had never looked so beautiful as when she set down on the Tagge landing field. Chewbacca gestured from his familiar co-pilot’s chair.

After gawking for a moment, they sprinted for her, heedless of pain and fatigue. Han vaulted up her ramp and practically fell into the pilot’s chair.  Luke strapped himself into the navigator’s seat.

“Get us outta here!”  Han took the controls of his beloved ship and they started lift-off. As they rose, Luke saw Vader stride through the door, saber in hand, looking for him. On the balcony above, Domina Tagge shouted at the ship. Luke thought he saw her fair skin go white as sand when she looked down to yell at her guards and found Darth Vader looking up sat her. It was the last he saw of Skitiner before they streaked into open space.

Han leaned back in his chair, after the jump had been made, cocky grin in place. “So, kid, how about a reward for the slickest rescue I ever pulled off?”  Luke brushed a kiss over his cheek before turning to Chewbacca and scratching the Wookiee in the proper gesture of thanks.

“Thanks, Chewie. How’d you know where we were?”

Chewbacca whuffed an answer and Han laughed at Luke’s confusion.“When Chewie found the shuttle empty, he took the old lady looking for us, with her worship’s blessing. He said he heard all the boastful announcements of your execution, and figured I had to be somewhere nearby since I’m the only one who could get a good cub like you into so much trouble.”    

“I’m glad he did. I want to lay down for two days.”  Luke stood up and made slow progress to the back of the ship, his muscles protesting at every step. Han caught up with him easily.

“Chewie knows everything. He scented it on the freighter,” Han said softly. “And on us. Are you OK?”

"I hurt, Han. I just want to sleep lying down.”

“C’mere.”  Han pulled him in and kissed him. “You are the bravest man I ever heard of. Facing Darth Vader naked after three days in a cage.”  Han kissed him again. “You’re the kindest person I know.”  He kissed Luke a third time. “And if I ever crash land like that again, I want you along, my ar’un.”  

Luke did not speak Corellian, but the Force that even now seemed to be retreating from him brought him the sense of the possessive love-name. He knew the Force would return. Han had taken a dreadful chance in revealing so many of his feelings, and if he didn’t seize the moment it might not come again.

“I love you too. I did it all for you. All the bravery came from thinking of you.”  Luke kissed him solidly. “Bed, please?”

“Bed,” Han agreed. He wrapped his arm around Luke’s shoulders, and led him to the captain’s cabin for their first night together in peace.

In the cockpit, Chewbacca took a long deep sniff of the air and sighed contentedly. Han was back. The little one was safe from the Dark. The cubs had finally figured it out. They would indeed be good for each other. He busied himself with the small tasks of flight, pausing only to sniff and listen, a look of furry peace and bliss on his face.
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