Han had been in the cell in Jabba’s palace dungeon for a while—they’d given him food and water once or twice—when the door opened and someone was shoved in. He could tell it was a person because he heard the thump of a body hitting the floor, followed by the rustling of someone standing up. “Who’s there?” he said, trying to keep his voice even. He was sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall, but sat more upright. His balance and coordination were screwed up almost as much as his vision, but he’d be damned before he’d let them see him cower.
“It’s me, Han.” Luke’s voice was … quieter, more somber than Han remembered.
“Luke?” Han swallowed.
“I’m here, Han.”
Han jumped as a hand touched his arm. For a second, he could almost see the stormtroopers, hauling him towards the rack. Not the first time he’d half hallucinated something in this darkness. He grabbed for the wall, rough stone reassuring him that he wasn’t back on Cloud City.
Luke’s hand dropped away. Han laughed silently, no mirth in it. If you’d asked him ten seconds earlier if he’d mind being touched, he’d have said hell no; he’d spent his time in the cell compulsively touching everything, trying to convince himself that the world really was out there, that he wasn’t trapped in a nightmare inside Carbonite. Touch was his only real lifeline to the world outside his head, alone in the dark. If it was going to abandon him, too …
“I’m here, Han,” Luke said again, voice gentle. His voice came from close to Han’s head, but he didn’t try to touch him again.
“You already said that, kid,” Han said.
“I know,” Luke said. “It seemed like you needed to hear it again.”
“Maybe I did, at that.” Han leaned back against the wall, closing his eyes; it wasn’t like they were doing him much good, anyway. “So, Jabba’s got me, you, Leia … what about Chewie?”
“Him, too,” Luke said.
“So, we’re doing about the same as always, huh, kid?”
“Pretty much, yeah.”
Han listened to Luke move to sit beside him; his skin prickled at having him so close. “Sounds like we’re kinda screwed.” This was Luke beside him. The farm kid-turned-hotshot pilot he’d taught to drink and play sabaac. The one who’d taught him to have faith in something greater than him and Chewie and the Falcon again.
“Relax,” Luke said confidently. “I’ve taken care of everything.”
Han tilted his head towards the kid; that was a tone Luke had—after a lot of coaching and just general experience—learned to give the pilots under his command, but not one he’d ever taken with Han before. “No offense, kid, but the last time you said that …”
Luke laid a hand on his shoulder. “I’d like to think I’ve learned a little since then,” he said. “It’s my turn to rescue you, again. Trust me.”
Han swallowed. He was in Jabba’s palace. There were no stormtroopers. The flashes of white were his vision playing tricks on him, not stormtrooper armor. The man by his side was his best human friend, Luke. Darth Vader was not here. Jabba might kill him—probably would—but there were no electric shock racks waiting for him. “Of course I trust you,” he said. “But a little warning about what’s gonna go down would be nice.”
“Planning things out in advance?” Luke said, amused. “You, Han?”
“Yeah, me,” Han growled, shrugging off his hand.
“Jabba always parades his captives before executing them. And he always executes groups of people together, not individually. It’s a better show that way.”
Han nodded. He’d never seen Jabba kill anyone, but that sounded just like the kind of thing he’d like, all right.
“Lando Calrissian is working as a guard,” Luke continued. “Artoo and Threepio are also here working, and Artoo has my lightsaber in a concealed compartment, ready for my call. His guards aren’t that good; once we’re all together, I call for my lightsaber, Lando and I release you and Leia and Chewie, and we escape.”
Han nodded, thinking it over. Could work; Luke was right about the quality of Jabba’s palace guards. After regular tangles with stormtroopers and bounty hunters, Han wasn’t worried about them. “Kenobi said that lightsaber used to belong to your father, right?” He’d gotten Luke drunk once, and Luke had turned a bit maudlin, sniffling about it being the only thing he had of his father, the Jedi Knight tragically murdered by Vader along with the rest of the Jedi.
“No,” Luke said, and Han realized Luke had paused to think before answering. Not usual, for him; usually, the kid just charged on in putting his feet in his mouth. “That one is lost. I made a new one for myself. It was a traditional rite of passage for Jedi.”
“You a Jedi now, kid?” Han asked, an edge to his voice. How long had he been in Carbonite, anyway?
Another pause. “Yes,” Luke said.
“Like your father before you,” Han said, the words twisting in his mouth. He swallowed back bile.
“What did he tell you?” Luke asked, voice dark.
Hells. Han had been praying he’d be clueless. Vader had to have been lying. Had to. He pushed away the memory of Vader standing beside him as he writhed on pain, making it all infinitely worse with a few carefully chosen words. “Vader said you were his son.” Luke would laugh, say it was a trick on Vader’s part, joke that Han was getting soft in his old age, if he fell for a lie that transparent. Any minute now, he’d say that.
Any minute now. Han struggled to keep his breathing slow and easy. Freaking out wouldn’t help.
“I wish I could tell you it wasn’t true.” Luke’s voice was so soft that Han had to struggle to make out the words.
Han’s stomach felt as if he were in free-fall, as if the ground had opened up beneath him. He pressed his hands flat on the stone floor, taking comfort in its solid presence.
“Ben lied to me. I don’t know why.”
Han could make a pretty good guess. Luke was obsessed with his father—Han wouldn’t have told the green kid he first met the truth, either. He’d have been too likely to go do something stupid, like get himself killed trying to make his father good, or fall in with his father’s way of thinking.
“I only found out at Bespin, Han.” Luke was almost pleading. Like there was anything Han could do about it. “Vader told me, too. And I didn’t want to believe it, but it’s true. Force, I wish … I tried …” He trailed off. “I’m still Luke Skywalker,” he said, voice more confident. Like it had been when he first entered the cell. “I’m not a Sith, and I’m not going to be one. I’m not going to turn to the Dark Side. We’re going to get out of here, and I’m going back to finish my training. Nothing else has to change.”
“Who are you trying to convince, Luke, me or you?” Han asked harshly.
“Shut up, kid,” Han interrupted. “Just shut up. I can’t deal with this now. I don’t know how long it’s been for you, but for me, Vader tortured me yesterday. I can’t deal with this now.”
“Okay,” Luke said.
Han would have felt bad about the misery in his friend’s voice, if he could have spared the energy to think about it.
But it took all his concentration, sitting there in the dark, to convince himself that Luke’s breathing sounded nothing like Vader’s respirator.