You go back once and it becomes a problem. You go back once and then you've got to stay. Han knows this all too well. For someone who's made it a point Not To Get Attached, he's sure done a real bad job of it so far.
It could have been so simple. He had the damn money. He had the damn money loaded on his damn ship. It isn't as if he had to look at the kid, or worry about the kid's cause, or care about the disappointment, the betrayal, in the kid's expression. But it isn't as if the kid is so much of a kid, either. Not anymore. Now he's Luke Skywalker. Good, in a pinch. Something of a real friend, even, if you have to get technical.
Never let it be said Han Solo's the sort of guy who'll leave a friend behind to die.
But that leaves him here, in the middle of the big stuff, which is somewhere he's never wanted to be. Now, he's not just fighting for his friends, but for a cause. And that's real tricky territory. Next thing you know you're getting yourself blown up because maybe, just maybe, it might do some good. And once good doesn't have a particular face -- open, honest, hopeful, sandy hair and a kid's grin -- then you've gone and screwed yourself over. And for what? A rebellion? An alliance? People in power who send you off to put your ass on the line while they're sitting, real pretty, a ways back from all the action, waiting for the smoke to clear to see which side is winning?
But never let it be said Han Solo's the sort of guy who'll leave a friend behind to die.
There's only one place a guy can go when he feels like the whole world's crashing in on him. In between victory and celebration is that limbo of uncertainty. Whenever Han's in a pinch -- and he'd consider himself in a pinch, now: pinched real good right between Luke's thumb and the Alliance's forefinger -- there's no question in his mind about where he's got to go.
Inside the Falcon, it's cool, calm, quiet. Han's always liked to be in the captain's chair, even more so when the ship's his. He props one boot up and stretches his arms above his head. There's a crick in his back which hurts unless he reclines. Not normally a thinking man, he allows himself to think a little. He should have known better than to follow that crazy old man and get involved with that crazy kid. He doesn't even want to think about the princess. Princesses, he tells himself, and rolls his eyes. At least the kid has reason to be cocky.
The money's still loaded on the ship, enough money to buy his freedom and safety, if he plays his cards right. Jabba's no fool. He'll know a bargain when he sees one, and if enough money is flashed around then he won't risk casualties on revenge. At least, Han doesn't think he'll risk casualties on revenge. It's been a long time since Han's spoken to Jabba, and for good reason. He must be real damn angry, Han thinks, and allows a grin to become a laugh. It'll really be something, to walk right up to Jabba, flanked by bounty hunters, and deliver double the money himself. Take a real weight off his shoulders, not to mention.
Now all he has to do is get out of this mess. He went back once. It's already become a problem. He's pretty sure that if he tries to leave again, he's going to fail, and then he'll spend a real long time kicking himself over what he should or shouldn't have done. For someone who's made it a point Not To Get Attached, he's sure Gotten Attached, all right. It's nothing he can't worm his way out of, if he wants to. Main problem is, he doesn't want to.
Not that being a scoundrel doesn't have its perks. But let's face it, Solo, Han tells himself. You're not getting any younger and neither is Chewie. It's been a good time and you've done well for yourself, but let's be realistic. There's some kind of a war going on, and what'll you see in the mirror if you hide under a rock for most of it?
Shit. Now he's just getting sentimental. What's happened to him? He can wager a few guesses, but one of them has braids and brains and a particularly pleasing mouth, when she keeps it shut, that is, and the other one is open, honest, hopeful, with sandy hair and a kid's grin. Shit. Now he's really getting sentimental. If only there were someone to shoot, something to kick. If only he were being chased -- adrenaline would snap him out of this in no time flat. But there's nothing besides the empty ship and the hum of her dimmed lights, and the prospect of tomorrow, when he'll be hailed as a hero. All eyes on Han Solo, who was in the right place at the right time. All eyes on Han Solo, who was maybe the wrong place at the wrong time, depending on how everything turns out. All eyes on Han Solo, who was just stupid enough to go back.
Han feels like maybe he needs to tell Chewie to knock him a good one, right on the chin. If it doesn't clear his head it'll at least keep him out for long enough to let his brain sort through things without having to actually listen to it work. Kicking his boots off and his legs up, Han folds his hands behind his head and leans back. A minute or two of alone-time won't hurt. A minute or two of not-thinking never does any harm -- at least, not in a situation like this, when no one's life is on the line. Han yawns. A lot has happened lately. He deserves more than just a reward, but if an hour or two of rest is what he needs, then he'll take what he can get.
Leave it to Han Solo to make himself as scarce as possible just when practically the entire Rebel Alliance wants to speak with him. Though, Luke tells himself, knowing Han, he probably doesn't want to speak or be spoken to. It's hard to remind himself that Han doesn't exactly believe in the Force and Han doesn't like to associate himself with causes and Han wants to get out of here as soon as possible. Even if they're friends, they weren't to begin with. Han was in this for the money at the start, and that's not to be discounted. No matter how much they've been through, Han Solo is still Han Solo.
"Your friend is quite a mercenary. I wonder if he really cares about anything -- or anybody." Leia's eyes are dark, angry. Whatever has passed between her and Han is enough to make her leave before Luke can read its importance. Still, Luke knows she's wrong about Han. She has to be. He doesn't know how to tell her she's wrong; she won't want to hear it, she's already leaving.
"I care," Luke says. It sounds foolish, and Leia doesn't hear him.
In the past few days Luke has discovered he's never quite sure if he'll find the Millennium Falcon docked, or if he'll walk up to it, assuming it will always be there, only to find it gone. Though Han is far from a man of mystery, a simple scoundrel with a simple agenda and a not-so-simple heart, he's not all that easy to predict. Impulsive, Luke thinks. Young, even if he does call Luke Kid all the time. Irrational, occasionally volatile and certainly wild. He's the sort of man who shoots more than he aims. But just because he came back to save Luke's skin once doesn't mean he's going to do it again. It doesn't even mean he's going to stick around for long enough to be thanked properly.
Knowing Han, Luke thinks for the second time, he doesn't want some fancy ceremony as much as he wants triple the reward he got. Knowing Han, Luke thinks again, he also wants the fancy ceremony an awful lot more than he lets on to wanting it.
"All right. Well, take care of yourself, Han. I guess that's what you're best at, isn't it?" Maybe he's being stupid. He's so angry -- with Han, with himself, with everything -- that he can't see straight. He's come so far. He's done so much. And now he can't even convince his friend not to leave. It's beginning to occur to him that Han doesn't give a damn about everything Luke would fight for and die for. Han wants motivation. Han wants an explanation. Han wants, word for word, why this means so much to Luke. And Luke can't for the life of him explain it; if not to himself, than certainly not out loud to Han, looking at him for a reason.
"Hey, Luke," Han says. "May the Force be with you."
He means it well, but Luke's face hardens. If anything, these words have made things worse. Luke leaves, and leaves no respect between them. There's nothing left to say.
Luke shakes his head. He was stubborn, then, unthinking and callous. He thought he could change a man's nature; he was proud, also, and over-confident. He sees that now. Perhaps he's younger and impulsive than he gives himself credit for. Perhaps he and Han have more in common than he'd like to think. He knows better now, at least, than to try and change Han's mind when it's set, one way or the other. If Han's mind is made up then Han is going to have to change it himself.
Inside Han's ship it's dark, weak light overpowered by metal-cast shadows. A lot has happened to Luke, both in this ship and around it. It's a lucky hunk of junk. Affectionately, Luke scuffs his heel against the compartments which once hid them so well from discovery, on a battle station now completely destroyed. That was the last time he'd spoken to Obi-Wan -- really spoken to him. And this is the first place he'd grieved afterwards. He remembers Leia's kind words, her comforting touches, a woman's gentle affection, and how it was unfamiliar, and wonderful. He remembers also Han's hand, sudden and unexpected, on his shoulder, which meant more for Han's normally un-tender nature. Luke may not love this ship with the same devotion Han loves it -- her -- but he has reason enough to be fond of the Millennium Falcon. She's brought him this far. Who knows how far she'll bring them, if her reckless captain ever realizes what he really wants is to stay put.
Luke shakes his head. It's hard to get a mercenary to settle down. But he's seen the way Han looks at Leia. Han looks at Leia the same way he looks at the Millennium Falcon, Luke realizes. Excited. Admiring. With an unruly flash in his eye. It's enough to make Luke jealous, without quite knowing why.
"So, what do you think of her, Han?" It's really a stupid question. Luke doesn't know why he's asked it, but he's already asked it, so it's too late for any amendments. He watches as Han thinks this over, as Han wants to grin and wants to frown.
"I'm tryin' not to, kid," Han says at last. This means Han likes her, Luke realizes. This means Han likes her a lot. Han, with the pinched, raised line of a curious scar between his lower lip and his chin; Han, with his dark eyes so sure of himself; Han, with his cocky grin and his cockier words; Han, with his hair a little scruffy and his shirt a little open; Han, with the way he sits like he owns the world, when Luke wonders if he even owns this stupid ship. Han likes the princess.
"Good." Luke can think of nothing else to say. The silence between them is uncomfortable and strange where it used to be friendly, companionable, if not occasionally distant. Suddenly, they're too close, if anything. This is a question which will only cause trouble for them. Luke doesn't know how he's sure of it, but he's sure of it.
"Still," Han says without warning, "she's got a lot of spirit." Han's baiting him. Luke can't believe it, can't explain it, but there it is. Han's baiting him, but for no fathomable reason whatsoever. "I don't know. Whaddya think? You think a princess and a guy like me--"
"No," Luke interrupts. No he doesn't. Leia hates Han, really hates him, and Han's just a little too eager. If you look at it that way, Luke rationalizes, then he's doing Han a favor. He's going to keep Han from getting hurt. He knows what's best, and it's certainly not a princess and a guy like Han.
What a stupid idea.
But what a stupid, stupid question.
"Han? Han, you in here?"
Han shifts. He knows that voice. It comes to him through a dream -- of cards, of a card game, and a charming laugh, and Lando -- but he doesn't want to wake up yet. There's a reason he's gone to sleep in the first place, even if he can't quite remember what the reason is. Whatever that voice wants him for, Han thinks, he doesn't want it to want anything. Han waves his hand over his face and tries to tell the dream he's not paying attention, and Luke can go sit on his hands for a while because there's fun to be had. But Lando drifts away, still winning the card game, still laughing like a fiend and a rascal, and Han sits up with a sudden fear the Falcon will be gone. If he hasn't won her from Lando, Han thinks, then he doesn't have her now. But then Han's leg begins to cramp, because he's moved too quickly and it's caught on a lever. He's got the Falcon, all right. And what a wonderful way she's chosen to make herself known.
"Some days," he mutters, to no one in particular, "I really wish I hadn't met you." He means the ship, he means Obi-Wan, he means Luke and he means her exalted high-highness. He's never wanted anyone relying on him. Wookies can take care of themselves; for all Chewie's a damn old softie at heart he knows how to knock some heads together and save his own hide from time to time. Han just doesn't want to watch anyone else's back. It's too much of a burden. It's too much of a failure to fail, when it really counts.
Han's pulling his right boot on and rubbing the aching tightness out of his thigh when Luke ducks into view, and seats himself in Chewie's chair. Han doesn't quite look at him. What does Luke want to convince him of this time? Another mission -- another We Have To -- another Think Of The Children -- Another Fool's Errand To Who-Knows-Where And Who-Knows-If-We're-Coming-Back? Han isn't going to have any of that. Not this time.
"When are you leaving?" Luke asks. Han, almost taken by surprise, grits his teeth. You spend enough time around a guy, Han thinks, and he harbors the delusion of being able to know every thought that goes through your head. Han shrugs, pulling his left boot on. Not as if he knows when himself, yet. He rubs the back of his neck, feeling awkward. All Han knows is that if Luke asks him to stay again -- outright or with some damned expression -- then he's in trouble.
Luke sighs. He's getting to be a perceptive kid, which means yet more trouble. Han looks up and offers him a grin. Sort of like a deflector shield, Han realizes. Something to keep himself safe until the fastest possible getaway. "Who says I'm leaving?"
"You do," Luke replies. "All the time. Even this morning, over breakfast--" Han holds up a hand.
"There's talking about leaving, and then there's leaving," he points out. "I've only done one of the two, and since I'm sittin' here right now it's pretty easy to figure out which."
"You're not all talk, Han," Luke reminds him. "You know it. I know it."
"If I tell you when, kid," Han says, the almost-affectionate term sticking in his throat, "you'll be ready for it, now won't you. And don't say 'No one's keeping you here' because that's not true -- you know it; I know it." Han emphasizes his point with a jab of his forefinger in Luke's direction, then folds his arms over his chest. It didn't have to come to this, but it has. If Luke's calling him on doing what he has to do, then Han's going to tell it the way it is without any sugarcoating.
"Han," Luke says. He doesn't say anything else.
"What?" Han asks.
"You still want to leave." Luke shakes his head. Han doesn't know what Luke finds so damn impossible about that fact -- fact! -- but then again, there are no two guys more different in the entire galaxy than Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. Han agrees with the princess a lot more than he agrees with Luke, and that's saying a lot. Just as Han can't make Luke put his faith in a blaster, Luke can't make Han put his faith in the Force. They've worked together on a steady ground just in-between because at least they both put their faith in something, however strange or intangible, and they can respect one another for that. But if Luke's going to keep trying and trying to change him, then there's no place for Han here. He's just a smuggler. A damn good one, if he does say so himself, but that's not worth a whole lot when everyone else is a selfless hero and Han's just a reckless captain who gets lucky one or two times more often than not. "I just don't get it," Luke adds. As if that were truly necessary. There's something about their differences they can't manage to resolve. It doesn't help that Han doesn't stick around any one place long enough to work hard at resolutions.
"That's why you're you and I'm me," Han says. As if that were truly necessary. In this moment, sitting across from one another, Han is reminded why he didn't like Luke in the first place. They're just too different, and the only thing Han works on fixing is his ship. Can Luke Skywalker travel at lightspeed? No. Is Luke Skywalker worth the time and the effort? No, Han tells himself. No. "Nothing's going to change my mind," Han continues, breathing in deep, "but don't worry; I'll stay for your little party tomorrow, so long as I don't have to talk to anybody."
"Why are you doing this?" Luke asks. "You want to stay, just as much as I do." He leans across the distance between them. The last time they were this close there were no uncertainties between them, just a whole lot of triumph and gladness to be alive. Luke steadies himself, one hand on Han's forearm.
"I'm a wanted man," Han explains. "I've a price on my head getting bigger by the minute. Believe it or not, kid, but I'm a practical man. I'm gonna give Jabba the money he wants. Trust me," he continues, almost as an afterthought, "it'll come back in a bad way if I don't."
"It's your life," Luke says. "I just thought I was a part of it. That's all."
Han opens his mouth. Han closes his mouth. He wants to explain no one's a part of my life. When you're not the only part of your life, your life tends to get messy. You find yourself in sticky situations -- not that Han doesn't find himself in sticky situations all the time -- that are just too hard to get back out of. He wants to explain the last time someone was a part of my life I took his ship and we split ways with a whole lot of bad blood between us. He wants to explain I don't do that, kid, even if you do. He wants to explain you're not two full heads taller than I am with hands that can choke the life out of any man who looks at you cross-eyed. Han opens his mouth. Han closes his mouth. He knows Luke can take care of himself. He doesn't explain anything.
"I have a debt to pay," Han says instead. It's not about honor, it's not about the good family name. It's about saving his ass, first and foremost, so none of these idiot new parts of his life don't get hurt because of one of Han's countless indiscretions. Han shakes his head, chuckling. "There's a whole lotta money on this ship right now," he continues. "It means I won't have bounty hunters breathin' down my neck every two seconds, for one thing." He reaches up to tousle Luke's hair. "You know how I got this ship?" he asks. His hands still. It isn't quite nostalgia, nor is it an explanation. It's just a story, an old one, which he often leaves too many details out of. "I let someone be a part of my life. Now; I have the Falcon, but it's pretty obvious what I don't have is that part of my life." Han shrugs and drops his hand. "You see what I'm saying?"
For a while, Luke says nothing. Han's given him something to think about, which is a start. He watches Luke mull it over, wondering what Luke will make of it. Han doesn't go into people's lives and take things from them on purpose. It just happens.
"Do you miss him?" Luke asks. Leave it to Luke, Han thinks. He laughs the question off.
"Sure, in a tight spot I miss him."
"Not like that." Luke's getting all serious on him now. Not as Han planned. You give some people an inch and they try to take a mile. "Not when you need a co-pilot. Do you miss him."
"I can tell you one thing," Han answers truthfully. "He doesn't miss me. Bet you he misses his ship, though. Are we done now? Or do you have another hundred deep and meaningful questions stored up in that delusional head of yours?"
"No," Luke replies. "No more questions. You're free to leave, Captain Solo. Do whatever you please. The only person stopping you is you."
"That's not fair." Han clenches his fists. "I don't need any of that motivational stuff spoon-fed to me. I wasn't born yesterday. The only person stopping me is me, and you, and her royal highness, and the entire Rebel Alliance expecting me to--"
"No one expects you to do anything, Han."
"And every time I think I can finally pick up and pack out there you are again, telling me no one's tryin' to make me stay -- but I notice you're always checking, to make sure I'm not leaving--"
"Because you're not about to say goodbye, and I'm not about to let you leave that way."
"But oh, no, no one's -- what?" Han pauses. "What did you say?"
"We've been through too much, Han," Luke says. "Even if I'm not a part of you're life, you're a part of mine." Han licks his lips nervously. Luke has this way of looking at you, like he sees right through you to the wall at your back, and knows a lot of things about you that even you yourself don't have the first inkling of. Luke's looking at Han like that now, and Han doesn't so much like it.
"What're you tryin' to pull," Han demands.
Luke reaches up and ruffles Han's hair. Han thinks he gets what Luke's trying to do, but it's not going to work. Luke cuffs him, deftly, on the chin.
"No one's trying to pull anything," Luke says.
"Hell," Han says. Luke's face is open but unreadable as ever; Luke's knuckles are on his jaw. Things are starting to make sense, pieces of one big, hard puzzle falling into place at last. Han almost wants to scatter the pieces around again, because half the fun's in searching them out, putting them together, working towards a picture -- even the times he doesn't know what that picture is yet. Han looks directly across the short distance between them, at the shadows making Luke appear older, at the mischief in his eyes. Luke isn't like the princess. He's steadier, wiser, almost, and isn't as good with a blaster. Han wishes the princess were his friend and his friend were the princess. Things would make a whole lot more sense that way. Leia's like his ship, Leia's like Lando, loud-mouthed and impetuous and a little wicked. Luke, when he settles into true manhood, and figures everything out, is going to be real mellow. He's going to know a little something about everything, human nature especially. He's going to be the sort of guy people come to for advice. Right now, he's not even a kid anymore. He's standing with one foot in the future and one foot in the past, with one hand dipped into something too big and too bright for Han to understand. Han's own words echo in his ears. "Hell," Han says.
Now he's going to have to kiss him.
Lando Calrissian has this laugh which makes everybody feel like a part of the party, even if they aren't. If he weren't such a fiend and a scoundrel, he'd be going some place. You don't get to laugh like that and go nowhere, because sooner or later that laugh will charm the pants off someone who counts. Right now, it's charming the pants off Han Solo, who doesn't count in the long run, but certainly does in the moment.
Han has a theory about men and about women. Deep down he knows he has no right to be making any theories about women, because the most he knows about them is exactly how to offend them every time. But Han has a theory about the differences between men and women, based on past experience. First of all, they're very different. Han likes them both, but for different reasons. Women are soft, they curve, they have these lips. Men, on the other hand, or rather one man you can damn well trust to save your skin while he's saving his own, are good to have in a pinch. They're not distracting, they're not beautiful, but it doesn't hurt if they can charm the pants off someone with this laugh. Han's theory is based mostly on Lando. Han's real good at improvising theories which suit the moment. Not only is Lando's laugh charming, but it's just charming enough to inspire theories in Han Solo.
They know each other like good friends. Maybe they are good friends. They make each other laugh and they've stuck together for a while, now, but should anything come between them it's going to be a quick, even break. Han doesn't worry about it. Han's young and doesn't worry about much. He's gotten himself this far, hasn't he? Sometimes, he feels like he's invincible; the galaxy's thrown all it has at him, and he's fought back and come out on top. Listening to Lando laugh at one of his jokes, he feels like he might just be right about that.
Not like he wants to move in with Lando or anything. Not like he wants to work under any captain on a ship, and Lando's got the better ship between the two of them. But they work well together. They're cut from the same mold. They grin the same way, laugh at the same jokes, and they're both damn tricky bastards. And they can charm the pants off each other, when it comes down to it. They kiss like friends. And that's a pleasant business to be about, mostly because it isn't anything like 'business' at all.
Still, it isn't as if they spend a whole lot of time on kissing. A couple of hungry times their mouths meet, but for the most part it's about a touch here, fingers there, and hips, hips, hips. This is convenience in its most impressive form. Easier to sleep with a friend because you know a friend won't be holding a blaster to your head when you wake up in the morning, asking you for all your money. Or maybe you just hope he won't be. Either way, sleeping with a woman you hardly know is a tricky affair, and you can't let your guard down for a minute. Han's never seen the fun in that.
"One day," Lando tells him, "you're going to find yourself a woman." It's a weird thing to say while Han has his lips on Lando's neck.
"What're you talkin' about?" Han asks. His words, his breath, are hot on Lando's shoulder. Lando laughs his charming laugh.
"You'll see," he says. "Don't think about it too hard just now. You'll see." His fingers knot in Han's hair and his fingertips press against the back of Han's neck. To him, Han is this excitable kid with a certain amount of fool's luck, and they work well together. To him, Han is real good looking and real handy to have around in a fight. To him, Han is here through the machinations of a force Lando doesn't have to and probably can't understand. To him, that force can take Han away any day or even any minute. Lando teaches Han one thing and one thing only: take what you can when you can, and don't ever look back.
After a while, they both forget this advice, which is what nearly gets them both killed too many times to count.
For now, there's no more talking, no more advice, just Lando's laugh and Han's lips, and a marriage of convenience, a meeting of moments rather than minds, which bind them together in the moment, for the moment. They curse like men used to cursing, kiss like men used to kissing. It's a dark night at a space port high above the clouds, but they're not the sort of guys who blame the altitude.
Han pulls away. He doesn't know why he did that, but from the look of things Luke was expecting it. Maybe it's a trick. You don't kiss a guy and then leave without so much as a word; that's what a woman does, and a particularly aggravating woman, at that. The sort you don't give up easily. Well, congratulations, Luke, Han thinks. Luke's boxed Han into a pretty tricky position. For a long minute neither of them says anything, Han's hand on the back of Luke's neck holding him close, their foreheads just-together, their expressions giving nothing away. What Han wouldn't give for C-3P0 to interrupt right about now -- for him to barge on in without bothering to knock, saying Leia's looking for Luke, or Chewie's looking for Han, or they're all under attack and about to die, or he's fluent in over who-the-hell-knows how many languages and will gladly translate this situation into words Han can understand if Han would like him to. Han can't exactly say I don't kiss guys, kid, so let's forget about this, huh? because he'll be lying, and whether Luke will know or not isn't the point. Han may take a friend's ship but only when he's won the game; Han may part ways with a friend but only when the parting is a mutual understanding; Han may screw a friend over but only when that friend sees it coming and can parry the attack.
There's a big difference between a bastard and an asshole.
Fortunately for Han, Luke gives him an easy out almost immediately. The problem is, Luke knows him. Luke knows him well. Too well, Han would say, which means Luke can shove him into a mess just as soon as he can pull him out of it. Han would be grateful for the save if Luke hadn't caused the situation in the first place.
"Just say goodbye," Luke says.
You go back once and it becomes a problem. You go back once and then you've got to stay. The same thing holds for saying goodbye. You seek someone out to tell them you're leaving, and then you see his face -- open, honest, hopeful, sandy hair and a kid's grin -- and suddenly 'Goodbye' becomes 'I'm coming back, so don't you worry.' Goodbye isn't so much of a farewell as it is a placeholder between time spent together and time spent apart. It signifies a departure followed by a return. Han never said goodbye to Lando; Han took what he could when he could, and never looked back. Han's a different man now. Han's saved this kid's life twice without having to. He's gone back for this over-confident, cocky, but damn talented Luke Skywalker.
You go back once it becomes a real problem.
"Hell," Han says. When he kisses Luke again, he wonders what the hell he's going to do with him, now that he's stuck with him.