Hunter in the shadows
by Angel
NC-17, usual disclaimers

Hunger was his constant companion. It cradled him at night, sending him dreams of endless
sustenance, awakening him to gnaw at his bones by day, disorienting him. No food satisfied
it. No drink helped. He thirsted agonizingly, the water a memory before it was swallowed.

He spent his days in meditation seeking the origins of his disease, unable to find them and heal
himself, and his nights in broken sleep. The presence of others was unbearable.

The comm pinged. Deep in meditation, he let the computer answer for him.

"Kid, I know you're there. Turn on the screen." Amazing how Han could sound both worried
and irritated at the same time. "Her worship is really worried about you, and is making me
miserable. So I'm on my way over. Get the pleasurers out of the door, put away the Jedi hoodoo,
ditch the Spice in the fresher, whatever you're doing. I'll be there in about fifteen."

The voice drew Luke from meditation, and he quieted his stomach as best he could. Han. It
would be Han coming to look after him. It always had been. Even during the nightmare three weeks earlier.

He senses more than hears the creature behind him, and spins, lightsaber drawn. The denizen of the
lowest levels is roughly man-sized, and pale from the darkness. It blinks at the brightness of the saber,
but charges anyway.

Luke deflects its first blow, doing his best not to kill it, only to fall prey to the rest of its pack. Fighting
with teeth and claws, filthy and sharp, the creatures take their toll. They have no presence in the Force,
not the sense of life, nor even the sense of life-gone which most inanimate objects have.

He deals death, ignoring the pain of his body and the evil laughter of Palpatine that surrounds him from
nowhere, but is relieved when red bolts flash through the darkness, each finding its mark. Han has come
for him, yet again, bailing him out. He repays the rescue by losing consciousness from blood-loss on the
long ride to the upper levels.

Luke opened the door for Han, deliberately not sensing him, not reaching out and feeling the
life-energies in the Force that were so vibrantly Han. He knew the instant he did, he'd want to seize them for himself.

"You look really bad, kid. Did the drougers get you a little worse than we thought?" Han sat
down on the couch and pulled Luke to sit with him so he could look him over.

Luke, still half lost in the Force, said nothing. The tendril of brightness that was Han touched him, ever so gently,
tipping his head from side to side. He resisted the temptation to catch Han's hand, to ruthlessly grasp the brightness
and use it to color his world again from the grays it was fading into.

"Trust you to find a rare and nasty subspecies of corridor ghoul. They don't carry venom,
though, so you were pretty lucky." He turned Luke's face again and pushed the robe aside to look at his shoulder.
"Damn, you're pale, and this bite's not healing up either." He checked Luke's flesh-hand and his arms. "The scratches a
re all gone. How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine."

"Kid," Han's tone was serious and hard in ears that hadn't heard another voice in days. "Luke, you're not even in the same
sector as fine. Your sister sent me here to drag you back to the medcenter so the docbots could check
you over for any delayed reaction to the attack."

"I'm fine," Luke insisted, more solidly. He was fully back to himself.

"When did you eat last?"

Luke just shook his head. The hunger nearly nauseated him, but how to tell his friend that food would not help? That it
passed through unchanged when it stayed down at all?

"That settles it." Han commed for a robohack, wincing as the taxi dispatcher said there would
be a ten minute delay, while Luke tried to stop him. "You're going in and letting them look you over. You can do it the easy
way, or I can carry you in." He gave a wry little grin. "You know I hate pulling rank, so don't make me."

"I'll go." Luke followed when Han withdrew his hands, wanting to keep the contact, feel the
touch. The gesture didn't go unnoticed, but Han kept his mouth shut. For the first time, Luke seemed to notice he was
wearing his bathrobe. "I'll go change."

No wonder Luke is sick, Han thought, staring at the darkened room while he waited. Room's
all cold and stale, the air-recycler turned off. No food, no company, no air, just him and the Force.

They rode to the med center in silence. Luke knew he should draw away, quit pressing
against the warm brightness of his friend, using Han's energy to fan his own flagging vitality. He couldn't. The constant brightness
of the trillions of life-forms on Coruscant left him confused and ravenous. Han was stable, and close. He encouraged Han to
wrap an arm around his waist when they got out, half-supporting him into the med-center like any good older brother would.

The humanoid receptionist took his information and sent them through a pair of doors to a
triage room. Luke sagged into a chair, drawing Han down with him.

"Hurry up and wait," Han grumbled, settling in beside Luke, one arm around his
shoulders. The kid was so weak, he didn't know how Luke was staying on his feet. He felt cold
to Han's touch, and seemed to be soaking up body-heat to replace his own.

"Skywalker," called a diagnostic stretcher from the door. Luke flinched at the sound of
his name, as if it were foreign to him, and stood up slowly. He crossed the floor alone and lay
down on the stretcher. It began taking vitals, whirring to itself as it floated off. Han followed. He wasn't going to leave
Luke here, not in the shape the kid was in.

While Luke was being poked and prodded by various equipment, Han excused himself to a
public terminal just across the hall. Still keeping an eye on Luke through the open door, he
commed Leia's office.

She beamed at him, then quickly turned serious. "How is he?"

"Bad, sweetheart, really bad. He's not eating or sleeping as far as I can tell. He's listless, like he could collapse at any time.
The droids are looking him over right now. Are you going to come by?"

She sighed. "I'm sorry, darling, but that delegation from the Rim is being stubborn. It
doesn't look like I'll be able to come home for a few days."

"I've got my comlink. I'll call if anything changes."

"Keep me posted. I promise, things will let up, and we'll have some time together soon ."
She blew him a kiss and switched off.

Han flicked the terminal off desolately. More and more, his so-called romance was
devolving into com conversations that ended in less than a minute. He hadn't actually seen Leia in person for two
weeks, and then it had been a brief kiss, a hasty lunch (interrupted by three
comcalls) a second kiss that never even connected with his skin, and him sitting alone with a beer
and a half-eaten meatpie.

"Han?" The half-whisper drew his attention to where Luke leaned against the doorway.

"Kid, you should be lying down ." He readied himself to catch his friend.

"Droids say they're done and need some time to analyze. I can go home."

"I'll take you there."

Luke looked up, grateful that Han would give so much. He winced at the contact when
Han wrapped an arm around his waist and encouraged him to drape an arm across his shoulders.
The nearness was impossible. He could feel Han's life-force warming him, and he wanted nothing
more than to wrap himself up in it, keep Han there forever.

They made their slow way out of the medcenter.

Luke sat on the edge of the bed, so cold now that Han was leaving. The hunger still ached
within him, despite his having eaten under his friend's watchful eye. Han caught the wanting look
on Luke's face as he turned at the door. "Do you want me to stay, Luke?"

"Leia will want you home," Luke said, staring at the high polished boots Han wore. He
couldn't look up at Han's face. If he did, he'd beg.

"Nah, she's in conference for about a week. She'll never know the difference ." Luke
could almost hear him thinking the words "or even care ." Han came over and sat beside him, and
Luke immediately moved in closer, wanting the body contact that had silenced the hunger for a
while. "She sleeps in that big conforma-lounge in her office more nights than not."

"What's wrong between you?" Luke asked softly.

"I don't know, kid. She's married to her work, and I'm the guy who looks good on her
arm at state functions. Not sure what there ever was between us really, 'cept a lot of adrenaline
catching fire from hot tempers."

"You can sleep on the couch, if you want," Luke offered, never moving out of the
protective circle of Han's arm, never losing a millimeter of body contact.

"Or I could make things really easy on us and sleep here, so you don't scream me awake
with a nightmare ." Han remembered all too clearly Yavin and Endor. Luke had never slept well
after battles, vivid and violent nightmares pursuing him from sleep into wakefulness and hanging
on him even by day. Seeing the same haunted depth in the blue eyes now, he wordlessly reached
down to tug off his boots.

A wan smile touched Luke's mouth, moving nothing but his lips. It felt like an agonizing
rictus smeared over his face, and he quickly buried it. "Thank you. I just--" he looked away, at
anything but the man who held him against the pain and thirst, "I didn't want to be alone."

"Kinda figured. When was the last time you slept, Luke? Or have you just been
meditating instead?"

"Meditating mostly. It reduces my need for sleep."

"Tonight, you sleep ." Han lay back and patted the mattress beside him. "Right here since
you seem to want to cuddle a lot."

"You don't mind?"

"I'd have pushed you away in the aircab if I minded." Han wrapped him in close, letting
Luke take the warmth he needed.

Luke slept fitfully, nightmares engulfing him, hunger assailing him like the beasts he
fought. The drougers came, wave after wave, all teeth and claws. Han stood at the edge of his
vision, watching him as if bored by the sight of his best friend fighting for his life. He went down a
mong arms covered in coarse grey hair, his flesh parting under sharp talons.

Luke jerked awake in Han's arms. Han held him very close, and made soothing sounds as
he buried his face in the warm chest under his cheek

"Stars, kid, that was a bad one. Thought you'd never wake up."

"Drougers." The word was muffled by Han's chest.

"You got real cold before you woke up. I've touched warmer corpses. I hope the med
droids come up with something soon."

Before local dawn, the comm pinged. "Message for Jedi Skywalker from the med center.
Report at once for more blood work."

"Leave it to you to baffle the droids, kid." Han tried to keep his voice light as he tugged
on his boots and shoved a cup of kaf into Luke's cold hands. He tried not to notice the hasty way
Luke gulped it, heedless of the heat. Or the way he went straight to the water dispenser and
quaffed a liter without pausing for breath. Or the way he ignored his favorite pastries on the table
and drank more water.

They arrived in the medcenter, and the droids poked and prodded Luke some more, taking
samples of his skin, hair and saliva. Han watched uncomfortably as the tests proceeded, and
excused himself to call Leia when the droids started drawing blood.

"Sweetheart, I'm going to stay with Luke for a while until he's back on his feet. The droids
don't know anything."

"Han, you're so good to do this. Stay as long as he needs you. I'll come as soon as I can,
darling. Take good care of him for me."

Lunch from the medcenter dispensary made the Falcon's emergency concentrates look like
a gourmet meal. Han pushed the flavorless blue and orange stew around in the bowl, watching
Luke drink the fortified broth and liter after liter of water.

The wall-chrono clicked over numbers with monotonous regularity as they waited. The
holo babbled to itself in the corner, not loud enough for any of the waiting beings to
understand it, but loud enough to annoy. Luke meditated, sensing Han as a tense presence
at his side, acutely aware of his energy signature.

The meddroids summoned Luke back to the conference room and displayed their results.
A virus of some sort was devouring the mitochondria in Luke's cells, leaving him exhausted, and
altering the normal functioning of the red and white blood cells. They had traced it to the drouger
saliva in the wound on his neck. The wound would have to be excised, removing the infected flesh
which was rapidly metastasizing through Luke's system, spreading the mutant cells with no mitochondria.
The labs were in the process of making an anti-viral, and Jedi
Skywalker was to report back at local dawn for surgery.

"Why can't you take him now?" Han demanded. "He's not getting any better."

"General Solo, we must have the anti-viral so that he will heal after the surgery ."
Somehow the meddroid managed to sound pompous and reassuring at once. "A proper supply
should be synthesized by tomorrow. Also, we need to make sure we have enough of Jedi
Skywalker's rather uncommon blood synthesized in case of full replacement. No food or water
after midnight, Jedi Skywalker, and we will see you in the morning. Please fill out all the
permissions and waivers before you leave."

"Oh joy, paperwork," Han grumbled as he and Luke walked to Admissions. Luke said
nothing, his eyes unfocused, like a clouded summer sky. He knew where he was walking and had
to focus on taking one step at a time. The broth hadn't helped much, and his stomach raved at
him, demanding his attention.

They found the desk and Luke began filling in the datapad. He listed Leia as his next of
kin and Han as his emergency contact. Although the way Han was hovering, Luke suspected he
wouldn't leave before the doors of the surgery swung shut in his face. Finished, he sank back in
the seat, and let Han take the pad to the desk's download. Tomorrow, he would be well. He
would be able to sleep, free of the nightmares. Free, too, of the ravenous hunger and thirst.

He took Han's hand, using his friend's strength to rise, and leaned on the taller man as they
made their way back to his apartment. He assailed the foodsynth, having found that the fortified
broth stayed down and helped marginally with the thirst as well.

Han watched, growing more and more worried. Luke had taken in at least a decaliter
today, and Han had yet to see him sweat or visit the 'fresher. Something was very wrong, and he
only hoped the droids could cure it.

They commed Leia's office, leaving her the message that Luke was having surgery at dawn
and Han would stay with him at least two more nights. They watched the holo news in silence,
Luke never straying from Han's side. It was the only way he had found to stay away from the food

He meditated, blocking out the noise of the holo, and concentrating on the Force. It felt
different, odd. He just rested in it, not seeking the future nor trying to make sense of the past. All was grey.
The Dark Side did not hover, whispering, tempting as it so often did, but the Light was not to be found either.
Only the sense of interconnectedness remained.

Luke came up from the Force when Han nudged him. "Luke, time for bed. We have to be
up early. You need a drink before we sleep?"

Luke shook his head and changed into sleep pants before lying down. Han programmed
the robovalet for a second set of pants to fit his larger frame, and waited while it processed the

"You all right with this? I can get a sleep shirt too. I just needed to clean my clothes after sleeping in them yesterday."

"It's ok." The response was a whisper. Luke didn't care if Han was dressed in six layers or
naked, as long as he was there.

Han lay down beside him, never moving when Luke curled in close. "I'll be glad when you
feel better, Luke." This was not what Luke expected to hear. Han had to be very worried if he
was actually expressing concern in words instead of actions. The actions had been constant and
effective. Even now Luke absorbed Han's warmth as he had absorbed the water earlier: a
necessity. He drifted, his mind wandering in the Force, his body sinking into sleep state.

He prowls the darkened corridors, the empty undercity. Nothing moves here, except him,
the hunter. He doesn't know what he hunts, but something is there...

Han awoke to an empty bed shortly before dawn.

Leia watched Han pace her office floor. He had gone beyond worried a week ago and into
furious, when the last of the patrols had checked in. Three weeks of searches and sensor sweeps
for Luke had been fruitless. She was worried too, but Han seemed to be taking it as a personal
affront. At times like this, she knew it was best to stand back and let him rail against the Universe
until inspiration struck.

Abruptly, he stopped, staring out the window at the traffic. "That's it. That's it! The Force is
energy, right? All energy has a specific signature and all living beings process energy in a unique
way. That's why scanners work. Oh, sweetheart!" He caught her up in a hug and spun
them around. "We're gonna find him now."

"Han," Leia was almost shocked at the idea, "Are you suggesting the Force can be

"Why not? It's just energy. We'll calibrate up some scanners, run you, me and Lando
through them, find what's unique to your energy signature, which should be the Force, and then
start hunting for that same thing ." He paused halfway out the door. "Get Winter,
Mothma, Chewie and anyone else you can think of who would be willing to give a couple minutes
to find Luke. The more people with different signatures, the better. It will make it easier to
pinpoint the Force in yours. I'll be right back."

Leia started making comm calls. After explaining Han's idea for the fifth time, she shook
her head at its insanity. But then, dashing out into a Hoth blizzard hadn't exactly been the act
of a sane man. Nor had marching into an Imperial detention block. Han seemed to go a little crazy
whenever Luke needed him. She sighed. He was never like that for her.

An insidious thought crossed her mind, one that had crept up on her more and more in the
last week. Corellians were notoriously flexible. Was it possible that Han was interested in Luke
as well as her? He did act like it sometimes. Putting the thought out of her mind as ridiculous, she
continued making comm calls.

Han returned to Leia's office with a portable scanner and found half a dozen beings
waiting for him. "Winter, honey, I need your help with the final tweaks," he said beckoning the
white-haired woman in the corner to come to the desk. The two of them bent over the scanner for
a moment until Winter pronounced the adjustments complete.

"Scan me first, Han," Winter suggested. "Then we can recalibrate it if we need to."

Han ran the scanner over Winter, taking her energy signature before turning to Lando.
"Relax, buddy. It doesn't hurt."

Lando shut his eyes and breathed deeply. "How's this gonna help Luke again?"

"I'm finding the energy signature of the Force, and we're going to do a planet-wide sensor
sweep for Force users."

"Who authorized this?" demanded Madine. Only Leia's urgency when she asked him to
help find her brother had persuaded him to help. Anything that put him in good with Leia Organa
was worth doing, in his mind.

"I did." Leia's gaze was pure steel. "As Chancellor of the New Republic, I have the

"General. You're next. No Jedi in your lineage, right?" Han swept the sensor over
Madine, inwardly smirking at the way his jaw clenched.

Madine ignored the question. He'd never much cared for Han, thinking him well beneath
the Chancellor's dignity, even if the Alliance had promoted him to General.

"Councillor Mothma, if you would?" The leader of the Senate graciously relaxed and let
him scan her.

"Sweetheart. I need you to reach out and touch the Force, maybe try to lift a datapad on
your desk or something." Leia concentrated, and the one nearest her wobbled as Han scanned her.

"I'm sorry, that wasn't very effective. I was never much for levitation, and I'm out of practice."

"It's ok. Now just relax." He saved the second scan as well.

"Thanks, everyone, I'll let you know when we have something solid." Han dismissed their

"Good luck finding him, Han," Lando said as he left.

Slowly, Han turned to Chewbacca, knowing his request was way out of line. He'd never
make it if it wasn't a matter of life and death. "Chewie, I know Wookiees have a deal where they
talk to the trees clear across the galaxy. I want you to do that while I take the reading."

*Han, that ritual is very private.*

"I've seen you do it, pal. But we can go to the antechamber if you're uncomfortable with
the Princess watching."

*I will do it. For the young one's sake.*

Chewbacca sat down on the floor of the office and traced a circle around himself. A basso
rumble from his chest signaled the start of the ritual. He crooned softly, and lost himself further in the meditation.

Leia watched, amazed and awed by the simplicity. She meditated regularly, sometimes
even substituting it for sleep as Luke did. She lowered herself into meditation, and found
Chewbacca in the Force. He sang, and the trees of the whole galaxy sang back to him. He sensed
her, drew her close by his side and encouraged her to join.

Han scanned Chewie, noticing the energy readings were different for a Wookiee than a
human, and then turned to Leia. Seeing that she was deep in meditation, he took a couple more
quick scans to get a good baseline.

Leia and Chewbacca came up together, and looked at each other for a long moment
before Leia impulsively hugged the Wookiee, long and hard.

"Thank you. That was absolutely incredible."

Han wished her eyes would have that same look for him. While he could picture it,
somehow the eyes were blue, looking at him with such amazement and love that he had to catch
his breath before banishing the image.

"It's going to take some computer time, Leia. I'll camp out in the lab until I have results."
Han ran the scanner over himself.

Leia left Chewie and stretched up to kiss Han. "Thank you. I know you'll find him. You
always do."

He held her for a moment, her body feeling wrong in his arms. She was too small, too
fragile. Too soft in places. He shook his head to clear it. She felt the same as she always had:
velvet with a core of pure durasteel.

"I gotta go."

Leia stopped him with a solemn look. "Han, I'm leaving Coruscant for about a month. It
may be longer. If you want to get your own place, I'll understand."

"What are you saying?" It was a stupid question, and he realized it the second it was out
of his mouth.

Leia was typically blunt. "We're not working, are we?" At the beginning of the
relationship, they had decided to not bandy words but to come to the point at once. "I'm too busy.
I thought things would slow down in a month or a year. But even after four years, there's no end
in sight. Maybe there isn't an end. I can't be the woman you want and the Chancellor the Republic

Han nodded. It figured. He'd seen it coming. "And Leia the woman always loses to
Chancellor Organa. I know that." He held her just a little closer, taking in everything, her feel, her
scent. "What two people want isn't worth a Tatooine sandpile to the rest of the galaxy."

"I did love you, you know." She smiled up at him.

"That's past tense, sweetheart." He bent and kissed her forehead. She tasted of memory.
"That's all right. I know when to cut the drive." He let her go reluctantly. "Be the best damn
Chancellor the galaxy ever had. Now, I have a missing Jedi to find." The thought of Luke, still
missing, probably still ill, drove any regrets to a place where he could worry about them later.

He walked out the door, Chewie tailing him.

*Little one, you took that very well.* The great Wookiee had seen many women come and
go over the years. He had hoped this might be the last one, even as he had scented she was not.

"Hells, Chewie, how can I be mad at her for picking the whole galaxy over a guy with the
clothes on his back and a beat-up ship? We haven't had an hour together since Endor, and you
know it."

*On the contrary, Han, there have been many stolen hours. But no more than two days
together at a stretch. That is always a bad sign. You smell worried but not angry.*

"Of course I'm worried! You didn't see the kid. He was barely able to walk. It was like he
was mostly asleep even when he was awake.

*You see? The Young Magician has drive all thoughts of your princess from you

"Leia will be fine on her own. Luke needs me right now. I don't know how in the Sith he
slipped out on me. Let's see what the computer tells us."

*Little one, there is something you should know. When the computer center was liberated,
Winter-of-the-Computers found--* The rest was lost as the door of the computer center hissed

"Hi Cap'n! Long time no see!" piped a childish vocorder from the console.

*I was about to warn you ahead of time.* Chewie chuckled at the dazed look on Han's
face. *Not all your old friends have heard of your promotion.*

A small, deep blue probe sat on the console, its red photoreceptor blinking with pleasure.
A satiny black general labor droid with a slightly simian appearance stood nearby, almost
protectively. Years before, Blue Max, and his mobile counterpart, Bollux, had been involved in
some of Han and Chewbacca's more dubious adventures, including the destruction of a top-secret
prison facility and the recovery of the legendary treasure ship, The Queen of Ranroon.

"Blue Max. Of all the computer labs in the galaxy, how'd you end up in mine? And you
too, old-timer. Not obsolete yet?"

"A long story Captain Solo," came the slow drawl from Bollux. "We were working with
Mistress Winter, when she said you might require our help again."

"I don't want to know. After ten years, I don't even care how you got here. I just want you
to help me find Luke." Han plugged the datapad into the main computer and began transferring
data. "Max, these are energy scans taken of various people. I want you to find the signature that
appears only in Leia's scans, and only in the ones marked. Use any computer capacity you need."

Han sank into a chair, and propped his feet on a nearby desk. As Max and the mainframe
conferred, he thought about Luke. The kid could be dead, probably was. And it was his fault for
sitting on his hands. The official search parties and sensor sweeps had found nothing, and he'd
waited far too long for that no-update.

He thought of the last time he'd seen Luke. Asleep on Han's chest, years stripped away.
His hair soft, his breath a light tickle. Solid, but too cold in his arms. The lips, barely parted in sleep,
tempted him in memory. He jerked back to reality. What sort of sick bastard was he? Fantasizing
about the brother not an hour after the sister had called them quits?

He got some kaf from the food synth, and settled in to watch the analysis. Chewbacca was
watching him with endless patience.

The computer beeped, and Max let out an excited squeal. "We have it, Captain! Right
there." The probe brought up a diagram. An odd double bump appeared on Leia line that didn't
appear on any of the others.

"Good job, Maxie. Now, program that frequency into the main sensor bank, and have it
scan the planet."

The probe sent a burst to Bollux. "Captain, that will take considerably longer. You should
go home and sleep in preparation for the search."

*Go,* Chewie urged. *I will stay.*

"All right. But call me the minute you have anything."

Han was halfway down the corridor when he realized he had no idea where he was going.
He had never established a residence on Coruscant, always living on shipboard or in Leia's
apartment. He wasn't sure exactly where Chewie had docked the Falcon. He couldn't go back to
Leia's place. He turned to go back and ask Chewie where the ship was, then remembered the
passkey in his pocket. He could go to Luke's.

The apartment was even staler than it had been the first day. He turned on the air
circulating unit, made quick trip to the synth for a bite to eat, and swiped a beer out of Luke's
cooling unit. If, no, *when* he found the kid, he'd buy a case to make up for it. He cleaned up
after himself, and stared at the barren apartment. Apparently Jedi didn't need much in the way of

Maybe it would be best to take Bollux's advice and sleep. The computers could work
endlessly, but Han Solo could not. He stretched out on the bed, thinking of the nights he'd slept
 in it. Luke had needed him then, and he'd been all too eager to oblige. Too many lonely nights of
his own had left him with a desire to be close to another, if only to sleep and nothing more.

He settled into Luke's pillow, wondering if he wanted it to be more. The answer came
back, clear as starlight. He'd wanted them both, Luke and Leia, but he'd wanted Luke longer.
That stillness, the unnatural calm even before he'd become a Jedi. The way Luke had looked right
through him, seeing not only the surface he was showing the galaxy, but the person he really was.
Seeing, too, the man he could be, then somehow making him want to become that man. That
mouth. Full of insults and retorts at first, then smart and wheedling. He'd dreamed about that
mouth half way to Alderaan. The eyes, like unruffled forest pools. Wanting to see approval in
those eyes had sucked him into near-fatal heroics on the Death Star. Fear of the galaxy losing
that particular shade of blue had drawn him back to Yavin for a last-minute save.

Then everything had changed. Leia had been beautiful and feisty, burning hot enough to
distract him from the cool quietness of Luke. They'd been pretty good in bed, but unable to do
much of anything except argue outside of it. The increasing distance of the past year hadn't hurt
nearly as much as Han would have thought.

But that morning he woke up to find Luke gone, it had been like Chewie punching him in
the gut. His head had reeled, his chest had hurt and he'd had to fight to catch his breath.
Somewhere, on this planet of thirty billion sentients, a very ill man was alone.

He fell asleep, thinking of Luke's warm weight in his arms and dreaming of sweet kisses in
the dark, knowing the search was in the galaxy's most capable processors.

The computer pinged him awake. Han looked at the chrono and cursed. He'd slept for ten
hours. He'd been more exhausted than he'd thought. Waiting was the most tiring thing he ever

"Captain," came Bollux's slow drawl, "We've found him. First Mate Chewbacca and the
astrodroid R2-D2 are en route to your location now."

"Thanks, old timer. Good work, Maxie."

"A pleasure working with you again, Captain," piped the probe over the link.

Han barely had time to use the fresher and grab some kaf from the wall unit before the
door chimed. "Hey Chewie. OK, Artoo, show me where he is." The astromech rolled in and
plugged into the house computer, and began broadcasting locations on a portable readout. Han
watched as the information rolled across it, unable to do more than stare. "The surface? What in
the name of the Star-eater of Sullust is he doing on the surface?'

*The coordinates are perpetually moving, Han. The signal is fading as well. Go now. The
Blue Probe will continue broadcasting to this one. It is very near where you saved him from the
drouger pack.* Chewie's furry face was grave.

They left the apartment and took an elevator as low as it would go. Getting to the surface
was no easy matter, involving three changes of lift tubes, from the upper levels of Luke's three
klom tall apartment building. In the lower reaches of Coruscant, natural light never penetrated,
but garish signs offering a variety of services, legal and non, made up for it.

A man alone would be easy prey during these changes, but casual observers took in Han's
swagger and quick-draw rig, and the towering Wookiee behind him, and looked for easier targets.
They reached the surface without incident. Artoo listened for a moment and headed off down a

Trusting that the machines knew what they were doing, Han and Chewbacca followed
Artoo into the gloom. The searing lights of the upper levels were gone. Eterna-lumas glowed
dimly at measured intervals, their design millennia old. Han paused to examine one to see if he
could take it with him, should the light fail further down. Artoo beeped warningly.

The comm pinged. "Captain," Bollux's voice was staticky, "Don't handle the lights. They
run on old-fashioned radiation, lethal to humans in large doses."

"Thanks for the safety tip, officer," Han grumbled, and went after Artoo. He was farther
down than he thought. Up top, all the lights were run by solar batteries. The droid threaded a
cautious way through the rubble strewn corridor, pausing at intersections, but never stopping.

Without warning, the air exploded in howls of fury. Pale things, all teeth and claws, leaped
on them. Han drew and was firing before he could think, and Chewie's bowcaster sang its deadly
one-note song. Artoo used his electro device on any that ventured near him.

As suddenly as they had attacked, the drouger pack retreated. A lone shape walked
through them, not in the leaping animalistic way they moved, but too feral to be quite human.

It was pale, but not the near-albino of the rest of the pack, and the eyes had not taken on
the lamp-like luminosity. Still they burned pale and hot, ready to slide out of the upper blue
spectrum and into pure white fire at any second. They looked like a HO class star Han had once
flown too near, and he had no doubt they could devour him just as easily.

"Luke?" Han said, barely recognizing the barefoot man who stood in the ruins of his

A drouger twitched out of line and Luke spun on it with a slashing gesture and a violent
hiss. He seized Han around the waist. The nails on the flesh hand had grown far too long in the
weeks he had been missing. He ran one of these talons down Han's chest, drawing blood.
Chewbacca snarled behind him.

"Mine!" he informed the rest of the pack, tracing the bloodtrack with his tongue. "Mine!"
They backed away, seeming to grumble in their language. Luke fired off a series of guttural
phrases punctuated with hisses. "Mine!" he barked one last time at the pack, although Han
suspected this repetition was more for his benefit than the drougers'.

"Luke, what happen--" The rest was lost in a ferocious kiss. Luke's mouth was cold on
his, his tongue insistent and slick. When Han opened to it, the taste of blood on Luke's mouth
sickened him. This was not how he had wanted it, not this possessive, repulsive claiming.

Chewie rumbled a warning behind Han and Luke broke away to see one drouger sidling
up and preparing to pounce. Before Han could move, Luke sprang.

He tumbled over and over with the pale creature, talons flashing, before gaining the upper
hand and ripping its throat out with his claws. The rest of the pack made no effort to help or
hinder. Han wanted to turn away, but what he saw next in the dim light held him spell-bound.
Luke knelt over the drouger, and cradled its face in his hands as it died. He breathed deep of its
last breath, a look of orgasmic satiation on his face. Then he raised the fallen creature's arm to his
face and licked it, leaving a trail of black blood gleaming in the wake of his tongue. He licked it away,
before rising and kicking the corpse into the shadows.

"Chewbacca," Luke's voice had changed, flat and harsh on certain sounds, as if he was no
longer accustomed to standard, "take Artoo and return to the upper levels. Han must stay with
me. The pack knows he is my mate."

Chewbacca snarled a negation. Han pulled him aside. "Do as he says, Chewie. Luck willing
we'll be seeing you in a few days."

*Little One, I know you want him. I have scented it on you. But this is not the man you
knew. This creature is more drouger than human. We can take him together.*

"It's the virus working in him. If we try to take him, we could hurt him and that would
only make things worse. And we can't take him without killing the whole pack. If I can get him
back to the med-center, we can reverse this. But he won't pay attention as long as you're
nursemaiding me. Go on. I'll be fine. It's Luke."

*I hope you are right, Little One.* The Wookiee didn't move.

"Chewie." Han tapped the scratches Luke had put on him. "It's passed through saliva. I
have it now too. If I don't get him back in time, it's better we're both here than up top killing and infecting."

The big hairy head nodded gravely. *I smell it working in you. Make haste. The Trees
keep you until I see you safe.* A furry Wookiee hug swallowed him in affection. *I still could
carry you both out.*

"Those things would rip you apart if you tried. Will you go?" Han gestured impatiently,
feeling Luke's eyes burning into his back.

Chewbacca turned and the little droid whistled encouragement for the men to follow.

"No Artoo, you go on. We'll follow later." Luke tried to maintain some of his old self for
the droid, to Han's surprise. But the burning gaze that turned on him held nothing of farmboy or
Jedi in it. "Come with me."

The pack began drifting off, melting into the shadows. Luke never took his arm from
around Han's waist as they went deeper into the corridors.

Luke waited until the entire pack had left them before stopping and pushing Han back into
an alcove. Cold hands ran over Han's chest and cool lips claimed his own. As Luke pressed
against him, he could feel the hard ridge against his thighs and pulled back from it.

"Luke, no. Not here. Not like this."

"You want me." Luke smiled, his lips paler shadows in his pale face. "I can smell it on
you." He rubbed up even closer. "They can smell the wanting too."

Han caught his hands at the wrists and held them away. "I want you. I won't lie. But I
want you like a lover, not like a ten-credit whore in a back alley. A real bed, and time to explore, you know?"

"No time. When we return to the pack, you must smell of me. I claimed you as my mate in
front of them. If you make a liar of me, you become prey." Luke was not aware that a feral look
of pleasure had spread across his face at the last word. He twisted out of Han's grasp with no

"Like that thing?" Han gestured back toward the drouger Luke had killed.

"No. I become like him: outcast. He earned death for attacking me. I would earn it for
lying. The People do not lie to each other." He stole another kiss. "Less talk." The solid ridge of his
erection pressed even harder against Han's leg.

It wouldn't be the leisurely lovemaking Han had dreamed of that night in Luke's empty
bed. But this would keep them alive until they could enjoy that moment. Han pressed his back to
the wall and got himself as comfortable as he could. He parted his legs and Luke stepped between

Luke opened both of their pants, and teased out Han's coiled cock. Treacherous brute that
it was, it responded to the touch and stiffened to meet Luke's own. Han drew in his breath sharply
as the hand closed around him, pressing the sensitive underside against the cool underside of
Luke's. The right hand was the only part that remained even close to human temperature. Han had
no time to think on the irony of it.

He reached down and wrapped his own warmer hand around the matched shafts. Together
they set up a stroke that left Han dizzy. He stared down into the fiery blue eyes, seeing nothing
but the heat of stars and the depth of space. He wrapped his free arm around Luke before bending
in for a kiss of his own will.

Han tasted the cool lips that opened for him, and slid gently into the bitterly metallic
softness of Luke's mouth. He stroked and explored, drawing this one moment out, a single thing
to savor about their first time.

"Wanted you for a long time, Luke," he whispered as they parted. "Don't hold back." He
saw the flutter of eyelids and watched as Luke's eyes rolled a little. "Come on, kid. Come for me."

Sticky wetness erupted under their hands. Han used it to continue stroking himself. He felt
Luke's wet fingers trace a slow line to his groin and up over his belly before sliding down to work a
 languid, intricate tracery on his thighs. Hi lover's eyes were still closed.

"Marked as mine," Luke's voice was a satisfied purr. He opened his eyes and looked at Han, a
half-smile on his face "Let me finish you." Luke dropped to his knees and had his mouth around
Han's erection before Han could process the statement. Ever so delicately, the cool tongue danced
over the sensitive spot under the head, teased the corona, and stroked the length of him. He could
resist no longer and buried his hands in Luke's hair as he came.

Luke did not swallow, but stood up and licked two fingers, coating them with spit and
ejaculate. Han tensed a moment, wondering if the claiming would have to go quite that far here in
the corridor, then relaxed as Luke traced an intricate pattern over his own bare chest, with
occasional swipes at Han's own belly.

"The People await us." Luke offered a hand and Han took it, letting Luke lead him deeper
into the catacombs of the surface level.

They came to a large room, the elaborate decorative carvings blunted by millennia of use,
the once-bright frescoed floor obscured by filth and dim with age. In the center, the pack sat in
a silent circle. Han saw adults and children, their luminous eyes following him.

Luke spoke in the drouger language, and they rose silently. One by one, they came to the
men. Each one licked Luke on the cheek, and he returned it. Then each drouger sniffed Han long
and hard, before touching a tongue-tip to his cheek. He stood quietly, trying not flinch under the
chill and foul breath.

One adolescent male sniffed Han and sneered. He tucked his tongue behind his top teeth
and a sharp, needle-like organ came out of a sheath on the bottom. He aimed it for Han's
cheek. Wondering if it was a test of his courage, Han held still. Luke saw the confrontation,
snarled and cuffed the male. The drouger snarled at Luke and licked his face, a gesture both
submissive and possessive, then gestured at Han and spoke in their language. Luke held firm and
cuffed him upside the head again. Blood from Luke's claws running down his face, the male
touched his tonguetip to Han's cheek, but slouched away with a sulky look.

Once the pack had experienced Han and returned to their circle, Luke said a few things in
their language, and wrapped his arms around Han. In full view of them, he licked Han's whole
face before kissing him long and deep. The drougers set up an eerie howl.

"They approve," Luke said. "You are to become one of us."

He pulled Han toward one of the dark side passages off the main chamber. One of the
drougers, a female, stood up and began a keening that sounded bizarrely like a Corellian wedding
song Han half-remembered.

"The language will come to you," Luke assured him. "Shilrak sings of love and the hunt,
unending desire and sharing forever. It is the oldest song of the People, sung when a mate is

The others joined the song, and the harmonies made the small hairs on Han's neck were stand
up as they entered a large room dominated by a bed. Luke shut the heavy door, muffling the
sound from the main chamber.

"My den. Now ours. Come to bed with me, Han."

Han had a million questions, but the first in his mind came out. "What if they hadn't

"We would be digesting you." The simple inclusion of this brutal statement chilled Han to the
bone. Luke's eyes were flat and steel-grey, nothing human behind them. The hands that gripped him were too tight.
Getting Luke back was going to be more difficult than he had thought.

The feral virus sang within Luke, telling him of warm blood his for the taking, and warm body, his
for the claiming. He felt the tension in his mate, and it excited him. The faint smell of fear teased him,
making his hesitation painful. With an effort, he shook off the influence, and saw the well-hidden terror
in Han's eyes as he tried to pull away.

Luke felt Han shudder and drew him in closer, the grip no longer so tight, and his eyes shading back to blue.
"I am glad they approved. I couldn't defend you against all of them. That's why you need to stay here, unless
I'm with you, until the change is complete. You'll be safe once you're one of the People. For now, you're still
prey. Sinian doesn't like you. He wanted to be my mate."

Luke's tongue on his neck was not reassuring as Han remembered the needle-organ. He let
Luke push him onto the bed anyway. The more compliant Luke thought he was, the easier it would be to learn
the pack's habits and routines. The more he knew, the easier it would be to circumvent them.

Han opened to the kiss, and took control. He rolled Luke onto his back, never breaking
the kiss, feeling the corded power beneath him, Luke's erection hard against his belly, arousing

He slid a hand down to grip the cool shaft, feeling its weight. Silky and solid, just as he'd
always known it would be.

"Wanted you a long time, Luke. Took me long enough to figure it out."

"Han," was all Luke said before drinking in the warmth of his mate's body, the velvet heat
of his mouth. Han pulled away, his heat sliding lower, his pulse a roar in Luke's ears. The hot
mouth that wrapped around his cock threatened to drive him into hunt-frenzy from its intensity.
Luke held his control precariously under the onslaught of tongue and teeth, only to relinquish it
with a splitting howl as he came, clutching Han's shoulders.

Three days later, Han sat shivering in the middle of the ornate bed that dominated Luke's
lair. He bundled the cover, real antique velvet instead of velvlon, around him and made his fifth
sluggish trip to the sink in twenty minutes. The water in the ancient plumbing tasted of old metal
and chemicals, but he didn't care. He was so thirsty, and hunger nauseated him. Han checked his
vest pocket. He usually carried a small stash of concentrates, a habit from his smuggling days. But
they were long gone and he was ravenous. That was the answer to his dilemma. Han had no desire
to go out after yesterday's debacle.

A motion from the other room caught his eye as he stood at the sink. Sinian. The youth's presence
reminded him he needed to refine his escape plan more.

Yesterday, he had slipped out alone, scouting exits. He'd noticed some tunnels during his daily Hunts
with Luke, paying as much attention as he could to the layout while the pack stalked rodents that grew
to half man-size, and any sentient who was luckless enough to wander down. It had been hard work,
the smell of the blood tantalizing in his nose, making him hungrier than ever.
Lagging behind was easy. His increasing lethargy made it harder to keep up with the pack, and he
used the excuse. He couldn't tell his lover that he was looking for a way to escape.

But on this reconnaissance mission, three of the adolescents, two males and a female had
caught him, and pinned him against the wall. Sinian, their leader, had informed him, in halting
standard interspersed with half-understood drouger, that he was going to be eaten, slowly, and all
Luke would find was a pile of gnawed, clean-licked bones. Han struggled, but the other two
drouger held him firmly. His strength sapped by the change, he couldn't break free.

He'd lanced at Han's cheek with the tongue-probe, drawing a line of blood. The female
licked it away. A scratch on the other cheek and the male licked it away. Sinian licked along the
marks Luke had put on his chest earlier, opening them to bleed freely, and he drank with evident
pleasure. He pressed himself against Han, soaking up the warmth of the human's body, sniffing
him deeply.

Han tried to bring his knee up and catch the thing in the crotch. Dirty fighting was all he
had. Sinian dodged, and flipped him to the ground, tearing his shirt off. He lowered his mouth to
Han's shoulder and bit.

When he went flying, he took a piece of Han's skin the size of a credit with him. Luke
snarled at the two others, and stood over Han protectively. Sinian shook his head and spoke
urgently and rapidly. Luke assessed he damage done to Han and gave orders to Sinian's trembling
friends. Han watched as they bound him and shoved him into Luke's chambers, willing to
sacrifice him to save themselves.

"Your first meal as one of the People, my love," Luke had said, helping Han to his feet and
leading him back to the bedroom. "I don't want you to leave again until you've eaten him."

Now Han staggered to the door of the bedchamber and looked in at the miserable youth in the
corner, tied, and obviously hungry. They were both captives of the disease. The hunger grew, and
the thirst rasped in his mouth. He knew Sinian's blood would slake it, but also that he wasn't far
enough through the change to tolerate the blood. He'd tried with a rodent last night, and it hadn't
helped. But the smell of blood drew him two steps toward the bound boy.

Han shook himself and turned away. He returned to the bedroom, shutting the door firmly
between them. Fear and repulsion shook him, and he sank to the bed, nauseated and weak. He
could feel a lump on the bottom of his tongue, where the needle-probe was growing, and it made
him want to gag. He had to get out before he lost all desire to be cured.

He lay down, the chill, hunger and exhaustion sapping him of all desire save warmth and
food. The only place he found those anymore was in dreams. The bed held nothing except
memory, no warmth and no sleep. He let the memory ravish him, distract him from the present.

The time with Leia had left Han with a yearning for permanence directly at odds with his
fierce independence. He'd fought it every step of the way with her, knowing that grounding was
death. He had to fly. His initial idea that Luke would not require his freedom was now being
challenged by the very real possibility that, if he couldn't get them to a cure, he might not only be
grounded, but live his life like a burrow-rachi and never see the stars again. Worse, once the virus
had finished with him, he wouldn't even care. He'd be what Luke was becoming.

There was so little of Luke left in the creature that shared his bed. Only a predator, hungry
and desirous. One that lived for nothing but the Hunt, sex and the Force. Luke was the only one
of the People who was Force sensitive. His Jedi abilities had given him the status of their leader,
and from what little Han saw when Luke took him hunting, they were almost in awe of him.

The first night and day they had spent in the enormous bed, the silk sheets soft and cool. It
was everything Han had wanted, more than he would ever have asked of Luke. He'd thought his
friend an innocent, or at least very naive, but somewhere Luke had picked up an amazing
repertoire of technique and position. Freed of the necessity of his aloof Jedi demeanor, he
indulged it.

Excited by the new discoveries, and aroused beyond rational thought at the constant
contact after so long a dry spell, Han had fought off the lethargy he could feel beginning then
and taught Luke a few techniques of his own.

Sleep came at last, stealing into his memory-haunted thoughts so subtly he barely noticed
the difference.

Luke lies atop him, like a statue carved out of Denekian mavra, pale as pale with faint blue
running through it, and just as cold to touch. His skin, which Han remembers as unevenly
tanned, and slightly marked, is flawless. He lifts his hands, the nails of the left grown long
and sharp, and right still human in appearance, because it is not flesh like the rest, and
runs them the length of Han's body. His mouth follows, cold and slick.

He kisses Han's eyes shut, then lingers on his mouth, as if seeking to draw the last of the
warmth from Han's body. Han kisses back, still wanting Luke, still craving these kisses, the ones
that hold the tiredness at bay, the ones that send every hair on his body crawling with desire.

The kisses reach his throat, and Han squirms under them, thrusting up against the solid
immobility of Luke. Then that cool tongue, which never absorbs his body heat, is sliding across
his nipples, licking them to hardness, sending sparks along the nerve-ends to make him shudder.
And down even lower, to flick into his navel and stroke across the head of his cock, which is
more than ready for this kiss.

Here again, Luke is too skilled for his apparent innocence, seeming to know what will make
Han hottest before Han does. "I can read your skin," he has said, when asked. He licks and
strokes the shaft, letting his teeth glide over the skin as a solid presence, but not a sharp one.
Han basks under the attention. He did much the same earlier, and now, he enjoys the payback.

The slow languid strokes of Luke's tongue match his own lethargy, and he drifts, afloat on
sensation, his mind empty of everything except the building explosion in his loins. It hits like a
leap to hyperspace, like plunging into a cold spot in the ocean, taking his breath away, sending
him out of himself for a brief moment. A second explosion wells from somewhere deeper inside
him, and ravages him like a stunbolt.

He returns to pain. A sharp sting on the bottom of his cock, as if he's been poked with a
needle. Luke looking up at him, a smile on his face, unaware of the lone droplet of blood tracing
its way down the corner of his mouth.

Han jerked awake to find Luke leaning against a bedpost, absently tracing his fingers over
the carved wood. He looked Han over and stretched out on the bed, pulling Han to him.

"Luke, I can't."

"Shh, you're shaking. I know it's not easy. Things will be better soon, once the virus runs
its course." He held his mate even closer, steadying him. He'd spent as much time as he could
holding Han against the hunger, just as Han had done for him.

"I'm starving. I've got to have food. You can live on Force and blood, but I can't."

"Yet," Luke corrected with a light kiss on Han's forehead. "Real food will only prolong
the illness."

"I gotta eat. I'm dying."

In the way that Han found both disturbing and erotic, Luke sniffed him, a slow taking in of his scent.
Distress clouded his face. "I'm so sorry. You are. Come on. Let's go up some levels and get you
some food. You'll be sick a little longer, but you'll survive."

Han dressed carefully, putting on the old fashioned realeather trousers Luke had found for
him, a soft shirt made of grey silk, and his vest, boots and gunbelt. He checked the setting and
power of his blaster and left the safety off. It wasn't much of a plan and, if he blew it, Luke
would probably rip his throat out. If it succeeded, though, he wouldn't have to drag Luke out
of the lair past the entire pack.

"So handsome." Luke had glided over, so silently Han never even heard his breathing. His
hands were cool, and Han leaned into them, finding they quieted the hunger like nothing else.
Luke had shed the tattered plaid koth remnants of his sleep pants for a soft grey shirt to match
Han's own, and matching grey pants. He was living smoke, and moved like a half-seen shadow.

The drougers ignored the men as they left. Han took one last look at these beings, some of
whom were born to the People, some of whom, like Luke, had been infected. He stared at the
paleness, the large eyes, seeing his own future.

He memorized the tunnels as Luke led him out. He'd have someone send a squad or three
down here to quarantine these things. The last thing the New Republic needed was a vampiric
colony running loose under its capitol's feet. Maybe the antiviral could bring some of them back.

The wait for the lift was long, and Han indulged himself. The raging hunger quieted only
at Luke's touch. Luke was more than willing to hold and kiss him, and he took full advantage of
it. Stars knew when they'd get another chance. He'd come to love the feel of the cool lips under
his own, and today the faint lingering metallic taste from Luke's hunt thrilled him. Soon, so very
soon now, they could hunt together for real instead of the practice runs Luke had been taking him

Han shook the thought from himself. It was definitely time to get out, before sleeping and
sex became a way of life, or almost-life. These thoughts were pushed aside by Luke's tongue, cold
and invasive, arousing him immediately and silencing the ravening pain.

They sidled into the lift, not wanting to break apart, but Han withdrew long enough to say
"Ninety-eighth level." The doors shut and the lift began a slow ascent.

They kissed for the first ninety levels, slow and deep. Han's hunger faded, and Luke's kiss
stilled the desperate thirst. The lift pinged. They separated reluctantly, but stood in each others
arms until the doors slid open. A faint noise drew Luke's attention, and he left Han's side for an instant.

An instant was all Han needed. Reflexes let him draw and fire, taking Luke in the back
with the blue stun rings before he could think rationally about what he was doing. Luke crumpled
in the doorway of the lift, and Han dragged him back inside. Without Luke, the lethargy and
hunger were consuming him again. "Three-hundred-seventy-two. Speed: fast," he gasped at the
lift and sat down hard beside Luke.

His comlink had been left behind, but there was an emergency link in the lift. He activated it. It
immediately broadcast the voice of the Planetary Emergency Dispatch Coordinator, demanding
to know what the problem was with that lift. "Solo to medcenter. Two in lift. Need medical
attention. Send help."

The last thing he remembered was the lift opening to robostretchers and the sight of Luke
being lifted onto one. The hiss of the doser against his neck sent him straight into blackness
where no dreams haunted him.

Han awoke in the medcenter, flat on his back, tubes in every orifice. He was warm and he
was wasn't hungry. His throat was dry, but it felt like a single glass of water would cure that.
His shoulder ached, but it wasn't the bitter pain of the fresh wound. The bed alerted the
meddroid, and it came over to scan him. After determining his proper state, it began unhooking
tubes and wires.

"How are you feeling, General?"

Han swallowed against his dry throat. "Better. Where's Luke?"

"To your right."

Luke lay in the bed next to him, still unconscious and wired. Han looked at the readings.
Stable, but not good.

"He had considerably longer exposure to the virus than you did. His recovery will take
approximately six point two standard weeks longer."

"How long was I out?"

"One standard week, two standard days, six hours--"

"All right, I get the picture."

"The virus is completely cleared from your cells. You may require more rest than is
normal for a few weeks. Allow yourself to take that, and to eat well. These will do much to speed
your progress."

"When can I get up?"

"Tomorrow morning, General, after breakfast. Now, it is your sleepcycle." Without
consulting him, the droid added a sedative to his remaining intravenous line. Han hated
the feeling of instant well-being and sleepiness. He turned to look at Luke, one more time.

The morning sun of Coruscant didn't stream like Corellia's primary. It tiptoed through the
atmosphere, barely making its presence known amid the lights of the city-planet. It slid into the
medcenter and lay across the face of the unconscious Jedi, soft as a sleepy kitkin. It caught one
metal fixture and winked off it straight into Han's eyes.

He twitched awake, and the meddroid hummed to life as well.

"Excellent progress, General. Breakfast will be served soon, then we can see about getting
you on your feet." Breakfast was no more palatable than his lunch with Luke had been...when?
Was it only six weeks ago? Han ate anyway. For all that it tasted like wiring insulation, it was
probably full of nutrients the docbot thought he needed.

Before the droid could move, he swung his legs around and sat on the edge of his bed,
grasped the rail and stood up. The movement left his head swimming. His bare feet felt strange on
the floor, and he wasn't sure his legs would hold him.

"General, please. Allow me to remove your line before you move any farther." The
mechanical pulled the tube and capped the shunt that held his vein open.

Han made three faltering steps between the beds and leaned on the rail of Luke's. "Well,
kid, we're safe. For now. Don't go pulling a stunt like that one again. You had me plenty scared
down there, I can tell you." He looked for a little longer, drinking in the color that had returned
to Luke's face, and then made his way back to bed. A nap seemed in order. The docbot assisted
him by dosing him with a sedative.

Chewbacca was there when he awoke next. *I am glad you came back to me, Little One,
and the youngster too. Do not face the drougers again.*

"Hadn't planned to, Chewie. I was going to have Madine or somebody send down troops
with plenty of anti-virus and clean the colony out." He wasn't sure how well it would work, but it
was worth a try if the medcenter could synthesize enough antiviral in a gas form.

They talked for a while, until Chewie could see his life-oath-friend was in need of more
sleep. *You heal, Little One. The Trees say the youngster will awaken soon and he will need you

"When's soon?" Han asked, sleep already fogging the edges of his voice.

*All times are soon to a Tree.*

Han spent a couple of days just resting and eating. He talked to Luke a lot, even knowing his
friend couldn't hear him. He'd heard of people in coma who'd been brought back by people
talking to them. When he tired of hashing over the recent adventure, he turned to tales of his
past. When those ran out, he told stories his grandfather had told him as a child.

Leia came for a single visit, and was able to steal half an hour from her schedule and the
demands of the Republic. She made sure all was in order with their treatments and listened to
Han's tale of what had happened. He didn't spare her feelings or his own, but did tell the story
without graphic detail. She left, after touching Luke's hand and saying "Take care of him. I
wouldn't let you, but he will."

Han was released before Luke regained consciousness. He spent his time at the medcenter,
arriving as soon as the droids would let him, leaving only when Chewie hauled him back to the
Falcon, or the droids threw him out. He occupied some of the idle hours in Luke's apartment,
airing it out and preparing it for Luke's return. Chewie tried to interest him in repairs on the
Falcon, but he was as half-hearted about these as he was everything outside the medcenter.

He came in one morning and Luke was awake, sitting up and sipping a cup of kaf.

"Damn droids. I told them to call me when you woke up." Han got a cup of kaf for
himself and sat down near the bed.

"They did. You'd already left. I've only been awake half an hour." Luke's voice was calm
as if they had both survived just another scrape instead of nearly losing themselves. "Catch me
up." The studied casualness of his tone bothered Han. This was not his passionate lover, but
rather a distant friend, seldom seen or heard from.

"Madine took a detachment down and hit the drouger colony with an anti-viral gas. Most
of them made it. Some of the older pure-bloods couldn't take it and they died. The survivors are
being treated and will be rehabilitated and re-educated to fit in when they awaken."

"Do I need re-education too?" The question was soft and bitter.

Han wanted nothing more than to wrap Luke in his arms and reassure him. But truth won
out. "That's for the psy-droids to decide. You went deep, but not for very long. Some of those
people have been drougers for decades."

"Are you all right?" Luke couldn't look at him as he asked. He stared at the dregs of his

"More than all right." Han leaned in close. "Now that you're awake." He brushed a kiss
over Luke's cheek, and looked hurt when Luke pushed him away.

"No. That belongs to the illness. Let that part go with the others." Luke shut down. It was
as if someone had flipped a switch and all his expressions and motions turned off like a droid's.


"Please go. You have a life to live outside the medcenter. Chewie told me you'd practically
moved in. Go."

Not wanting to argue on Luke's first morning up, Han left. He'd come back in a couple
days, make sure the kid was doing all right. The kid. He snorted at the thought. Luke had been a
lot of things in the past weeks, but he hadn't thought of him that way since the nightmare had

Luke lay in the medcenter, staring at the walls, unwilling to touch the Force. It had
accepted and encouraged him when he was devouring innocents and stealing Han's very life-force,
how could he trust it any longer?

He slept much in the first days, eating and drinking, savoring the taste of food and water,
the feelings of satiation after so much emptiness. He watched the holo constantly, trying not to
think, trying to hide from the memories that plagued him. It was no good. He remembered
anyway: the taste of Han's blood in his mouth, hot and sweet; the fear he'd felt as the pack had
investigated Han, fear that had mingled with hunger and desire; the constant terror that Han had
smelled of when he in the lair. It was all his fault, and he couldn't escape the shame-filled memory
or the responsibility. His room remained empty except for the med-droids.

One grey afternoon, when the weather grid had been programmed for rain, Luke decided
to brave the Force once more. He slid into it, feeling the flow of life around him. Life, death,
predator, prey, they were all a part of it. One thing he had learned beyond the Jedi training was
that the Force was neutral, without a dark side or a light side.

"Do you think so, young Skywalker?" hissed the nasty voice in his ear. "Only now, tainted
as you are with the Dark, could I come to you."

"Your highness," Luke acknowledged gravely. Palpatine shimmered, pleased at the honor.
"The darkness is your own."

"I told you before your faith in your friends was your weakness. They cannot help you
here. Indeed, why would they?"

"They cannot come here, true. But they will always help when they can."

"Will they? After you stole your sister's lover, and used him so selfishly before tossing him aside?
Boy, you are alone now." Palpatine's clutch on his arm was hard and icy.

"You are the voice of my own fears." Luke's voice was calm and steady. "Palpatine is dead
these five years. My friends live. I live. Go away!"

The meddroid was fussing over the readings when Luke came up from meditation. "Jedi
Skywalker, please be more prudent in your meditations. Your vital signs fluctuated most

"I will, SD-76." Luke settled back and thought. The rain pattered on the windowpane, and
he watched the droplets roll down the transparisteel. He owed many apologies, and suspected the
person who needed the most probably wouldn't listen to him right now.

He breathed deeply for a moment and then opened a comm channel. The worst Han could
do was tell him to go away, which was exactly what Luke had done to him. The familiar shape of
the Falcon's lounge appeared, and Luke found himself standing among a variety of shoulder-
height transparent monsters. It took him a second to remember the Falcon's secondary receiver
was located on the holoboard

"Could you come?" he asked Han who was tinkering at the tech station. "I need to talk to

"Sure," Han's voice was steady, and he acted as if holograms of Luke on his gameboard were
everyday occurrences. "Want me to bring Chewie?" The Wookiee was grumbling about the
interruptions and Han's inability to sit still for ten minutes and play.

"No, just you. I owe you several apologies. But a comm is too impersonal."

"Be there in about half an hour, kid," Han said, and switched off. He tugged on his boots,
washed the grease off his hands and checked the rest of his appearance. A quick sniff of his shirt
told him he'd better change. The only thing clean was the grey silk he'd worn the day they'd
come out of the lair. No help for it, so he slipped into the shirt, the whispery slickness far too
sensual against his skin, calling up memories of Luke's mouth. He left the Falcon for the

There's a look to waiting, Luke knew, a sort of tension that goes out of a person when the
awaited arrives. His tension didn't dissipate, but seemed to turn into both fear and shame. When
Han sat down in the chair, but didn't draw it in close by the bed, part of him sank.

"Han, I am sorry." There was no prelude, no chance for misunderstandings. "I dragged
you into this mess. I'm sorry I tore you and Leia apart. I'm sorry I used you so selfishly, for my
own pleasure without a thought for your wishes. For infecting you, for all the harm I've done, I'm
sorry. How can I make amends?"

"Amends?" The word was out of Han's mouth before he could bite it down. "Luke, you
don't have anything to be amending. I went in to rescue you knowing we could both die. And
getting you in my bed for days was a nice bonus instead. No hard feelings on my part, and here
you're eating yourself up with guilt."

Han stood up and bent over the bed. He brushed Luke's mouth with his own. "Stop it," he
whispered. "Stop it right now." He claimed a full kiss, long and warm and sweet, the way they
should all have been. Luke's mouth was soft under his and opened with almost no coaxing.

Han felt a warm, strong arm go around his neck and pull him in closer, then there was no
time to think at all, just the kiss, and Luke kissing him back, breathing for each other, the
sensual dance of tongues between teeth and the need for touch.

Han pulled back reluctantly, a series of small kisses telling Luke he didn't really want to

"I thought you'd hate me," Luke said.

"Never. And when you get out, I'll show you exactly how much I don't hate you," Han
grinned, then paused. "If you want me to, that is."

For the first time in weeks, Luke smiled for real. "I'd like that, a lot."

"Blood is thicker than water
But love,
Love is thicker than blood." --Jenny Yates & Garth Brooks
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