The Grey Space
The voice startled him, coming from what Han had assumed was empty shadow behind him. Han turned, his hand lifting to brush the blaster worn by default at his hip. There was a whisper of movement from the shadows, a sliver of reflected light falling over familiar features. "Luke," Han said, lowering his hand. "How long have you been there?"
A movement; perhaps a shrug. "A while," Luke said. "Couldn't sleep."
"Yeah." Han shoved his hands into the pockets of his jacket. "I know what you mean."
There was another slight movement from the shadows, but no reply from Luke. It could have been agreement, or it could have been mild disbelief; there was no way to tell. The shadows were too deep.
Han turned back to the view he'd been surveying before Luke spoke. The New Republic was in frantic recovery mode, scrambling to pull itself into some modicum of order after the thrashing clone Palpatine and his resurrected Imperial fleet had given it. The current base – operation centre, call it what you would – was on a severe, barely-inhabitable planetoid, too insignificant to warrant a true name other than the designation Imperial stellar-cartographers had left it: Tal479. Central administration operated from a refitted Imperial monitoring station on the planetoid's equator abandoned at the very end of the first Rebel-Imperial war. The only real benefit of the planetoid was its proximity to a primary refuelling station on the hyperspace access route Coreward to Coruscant.
"Not exactly the most picturesque view," Han commented, staring at the grey, meteor-scarred landscape sprawling away before the viewscreen.
"Not exactly," Luke agreed, his voice low.
Han said, "Huh." He stepped back out of the white moonlight spilling through the rectangular viewscreen, into Luke's patch of shadow. He leaned against the bulkhead beside Luke, hands in his jacket pockets still, staring out at the barren landscape.
Luke shifted, then sank down, from standing position to sitting, or maybe crouching. Han frowned down at him in the darkness.
"How do you do it, Han?" Luke said. His voice was low, soft, utterly weary. "How do you pick up, go on, when everything's changed?"
Han sank down beside him. "What do you mean?"
A movement; a shift of light. Han's eyes were adjusting. Luke was shaking his head. "It's just… I don't know. I screwed up, Han. I think I screwed up more than I know. I was just – so certain, at the time, that what I was doing was right. That I had to do it. That it was the best way, the only way. I still think that, most of the time. Only… sometimes, I don't."
Han's frown deepened. He leaned back a little, uncertain. His own feelings were not clear-cut here; he wasn't sure he trusted where they led. He had been certain of Luke's treachery, of his betrayal, back on Byss. It wasn't until Luke arranged their escape with Artoo carrying codes to deactivate the Emperor's World Devastators, codes that Luke himself had programmed, while Luke stayed behind to fight Palpatine, that Han had seen clearly. He was still uncomfortable with how quickly he'd arrived at his negative judgement of the other man back there, and how easily he'd believed it. They'd been friends for a long time, after all, and Leia had believed the best of Luke against all obvious evidence. Why hadn't he?
"It's rough," he said aloud. "Coming back from something where nothing's the same as it was before. But you've just got to keep going. Move forward, you know." From where he sat, Luke had been doing a pretty good job of that; they'd all been watching, Han and Leia and perhaps Mon Mothma and more, but Luke had shown little ill effect from whatever it was that had happened after they'd left Byss.
"But what if I can't?" Luke said now, his voice even softer than before.
Han paused. He frowned. He tilted his head and he shifted, turning to look at the other man. Watching him carefully. "What does that mean?"
Luke shook his head. He wasn't looking at Han, Han could see now; he probably hadn't been the entire time. He was staring at something ahead, something in the grey, bleak landscape that spread before them beyond the viewscreen. "What if I can't," Luke repeated lowly. "What if I can't do this. What if I'm not meant to. If I can't trust myself – trust my judgement, trust what's right and what's wrong – how can I do this? How can I be a Jedi?"
Han watched his shadowed features, concerned. "I didn't think it was something you could just quit doing," he said. "Is it?"
Luke looked at him and shook his head again, helplessly. "Yoda said I was too old," he said. "Too reckless. He didn't want to teach me. What if he was right? What if I'm not good enough? What if this… this mess, this thing that I tried to do and was so sure of, that nearly ruined me and the galaxy along with it… what if it's proof I shouldn't be here? I'm just… just a man from Tatooine, Han, that's all I am, no street smarts, no academy honours, no diplomatic training. I can read and write, just, fly a ship, shoot straight, fix things, and people expect me to be a Jedi Master. What is that?" Luke came to his feet, paced a few steps, spun around. "What is that? I've spent the last five years trying, trying and trying and trying, learning all that I could from what little the Emperor didn't destroy, pushing myself until I bled, until I believed it, believed it myself, that I was this great Jedi Master who knew what he was doing, who could handle it – and it's all a lie, Han, because I don't know, and I came so close to ruining everything, and what will it be next time? Maybe Leia won't be there, maybe she won't save the day. Who knows what I could destroy, who I could hurt?"
Han had raised his eyebrows somewhere along the line. He opened his mouth, then closed it. Luke paced a few more steps, turned, paced back, then dropped down next to Han.
"You know," Han said after a while, "when we were on Byss, and I thought that you'd turned on us," Luke cringed a little here, and Han had to control a wince himself, because it really wasn't the best memory for either of them – "I said some things I kinda wish I hadn't. But they were said, I can't take them back. What I said about Tatooine, though – when I said you'd come a long way from who you were there – that was true. But you know, it was that green, mouthy, reckless kid from the back of beyond who had the guts to rescue a princess from being executed, to shoot down the worst weapon in the Empire's arsenal – to malign the appearance of one hell of a ship. Don't sell that kid short, Luke. I liked him. I still do."
Han watched as Luke lowered his chin, staring down at his lap where his hands opened and closed restlessly. "And you know what else?" Han went on, after a pause. "Honestly, kid, there's some part of me, right at the back of my brain, that's just waiting for all this to blow up on me. I keep expecting everyone to realise how much of a fraud I am, how this great guy Han Solo, hero of the Rebellion, is just a smuggler with a shady past and a bit of luck, that's all, thank you very much and be on your way."
The words Luke threw at him on Byss would almost fit here, Han thought. The epithet ignorant space pirate had a sharp and surprisingly painful sting even in memory, but Han didn't dwell on it, not in that moment at least. He did wonder about it, though, wonder if Luke recalled the exchange between them with the same discomfort Han did, whether he felt shame or guilt or whether the whole period was wreathed for him in a kind of haze of disgrace, individual moments and words indistinguishable.
Han pushed the thought aside as Luke turned his head, looking at Han searchingly for a moment, tilting his head. He almost smiled and seemed about to speak, then reconsidered, finally saying, "That's not going to happen, Han."
"Yeah, I know." Han shrugged. Luke would have made a joke of it before, he knew. It would have been all right for Luke to mock him gently, to defuse the emotion in the moment, but now Luke wasn't sure how it would be received, and re-thought his response. That was… strange. "But knowing and feeling aren't always the same thing. And it doesn't mean I'm not going to stop thinking that, somewhere at the back of my head. I'm not going to leave because of it, though."
Looking pensive, Luke said, "Hm."
Han stood, and Luke followed suit. The younger man looked a little calmer, now, at least, though honestly Han wasn't sure that was entirely for the best. Luke showing vulnerability was… reassuring. Han wondered if thinking something like that about a friend made him disloyal. But then Luke had been eerily, eerily calm there on Byss…
… and they said that in Vader, calm had always been a thing to fear.
Now that really was disloyal. Han banished the thought uncomfortably and hoped Luke had caught no trace of it.
"So what are you going to do?" Han asked as they stepped from the shadows into the harsh silver glow spilling in through the viewscreen.
Luke glanced at him and smiled, an odd, bleak smile. "There's not really much choice for me, is there? I'll keep going as I am, hoping I find my way and manage not to destroy the galaxy getting there. I'll be a Jedi."
"It'll work out, Luke."
"Maybe." Luke closed his eyes. "I hope so. I really hope so."
Han frowned, then deliberately cleared his face. "Hey," he said, clasping Luke's shoulder and leading him off, away from the harsh, bright fall of light and dark, "enough of this mopey stuff. Did you hear Lando's turned up? He's on the fifth level, and I hear he's set up one hell of a sabacc game in the mess hall…"
The lights were warmer out in the hall, and Han started to relax.