this is a disclaimer.
AN: on the basis of the swallows and amazons verse.
not to sing out of key
Han was checking the wiring when Luke arrived: head, shoulders and torso in the narrow vent, cursing to himself about beaten-up buckets of junk and cabin lights that died just when you needed them the most, and did they have a rat on this thing, for cryin' out loud?
If they did, Jacen had brought it aboard: there was no doubt about that.
Luke's booted heel connected with Han's right ankle.
"Need to ask you something."
"Oh, yeah?" Han said nastily, wriggling backwards until he was out of the vent – pausing to curse when his jacket got caught on something – and flopping to the floor of the corridor. "Come to ask for lessons in knocking?"
Luke waved a hand in majestic dismissal of such trivial matters; Han grinned. Had taken a while to rub those rustic manners off the Kid. He could still haul 'em out when he wanted to, but people being polite to him always got to Han: somehow it tended to happen a lot when they were getting ready to shoot at him, and therefore he was appropriately nervous whenever it happened.
Luckily excessive politeness was not a problem he'd ever had around his wife.
Luke had brought them each a beer. He sank to the floor next to Han and tried to sit crosslegged for the first couple minutes, but he evidently wasn't in Jedi-mode right now, because he twisted and shifted till one leg was stretched out comfortably in front of him and the other was cocked up for his wrist to rest on his knee, beer can knocking against his upper calf gently.
Took Han a moment to realise the Kid wasn't about to start talking himself, and he found that made him briefly angry. At nineteen – hell, at twenty-two – Luke had never hesitated with him. Somehow it had become so much of a reflex for him to concentrate on the wants of the other people around him rather than his own needs that he even did it with one of the only people in the galaxy who'd never demanded a thing of him other than his continued survival of each and every mission he went on for the NR and the occasional few hours of baby-sitting.
(And it wasn't as if the baby-sitting thing was even a chore, because Luke enjoyed it more than the kids did.)
"About the kids," Luke explained.
Han nodded. Class maybe? A trip he was thinking of taking?
"You know that Jedi doctrine about fear leading to the Dark Side and so on."
"Heard you mutterin' about it once or twice."
"How d'you explain that to a class full of ten year olds?"
Han opened his mouth, found he couldn't answer, and closed it again.
"Right," Luke agreed. "It's about dealing with fear, you know? Not – I think Yoda used to think that it meant you weren't allowed to feel fear, but people never work like that, and fear is good, you know? Fear makes you cautious, it makes you pay attention. It reminds you that you're alive, and that you like being alive, and if you wanna stay that way you better keep an eye on your six and your thumb on the trigger. Fear can't lead you anyplace unless you let it control you."
"Like any other emotion," Han said.
"So tell 'em that."
"That's it?" Luke said. "To the twins? To Anakin? Don't let it control you?"
Han shifted against the wall; his ass was getting numb, and no wonder; the floor was cold. He took a swig of beer to delay the inevitable moment he'd have to say something, and drummed his fingers on the bottle as he swallowed.
"Look, I'm not good with this," he said at last. "This kind of. Thinking about it, I mean. I've been living like this..."
"Your whole life," Luke said. "Me too. Leia too. So've all the other Jedi, you know, and that's the problem: we're grown-ups. We have other identities and other coping mechanisms – Wes loves being afraid, it's his favourite drug, and Mara doesn't even notice it, or so she pretends anyway, and Corran says he gets through it by –"
"What you're after," Han interrupted, "is a way to teach a bunch of kids the kind of coping mechanisms it took several years and lots and lots of firefights for the rest of us to learn before they reach the age of fifteen."
Luke gulped down about half his bottle in one sitting and then sighed. "Yes," he said. "Essentially, yes."
Han shrugged. "Won't work," he said.
Luke raised an eyebrow. "Presents us with a problem," he said.
"You could stop taking students under the age of fifteen," Han said.
"No. Some of them – too many of them – need to learn control. They're coming into a war-torn galaxy filled with terrorists and border skirmishes and splinter groups and Palpatine's Force Adepts coming out of hiding far too often. They're victims and refugees and survivors and they need to know what I can teach them before the pressure gets too much."
"Or they go Dark Side?"
"I don't know," Luke admitted. "I don't know how to judge that; you can't be a Sith Lord without training, but can you be a Dark Jedi with only rudimentary control over your abilities? Imagine a Force-sensitive serial killer. Imagine he or she got that way because they weren't taught, weren't guided. Weren't helped. There's too much I don't know for me to take chances."
"Sounds to me like you know what you're doing."
"Well, I don't," Luke snapped and finished his beer.
Han stood up and went to get two more, footsteps loud on the floors. They drank in silence for another few minutes, feeling oddly depressed.
Finally, Luke put his bottle down and turned to face his brother-in-law, struggling to start again from a different point; to find the trajectory that would bring him to his goal. "When I went to Yoda," he said, "I already knew how to deal with being afraid; well, sort of. The basics. My point is that you don't get into a dog fight above a Death Star and end up with the fate of planets riding on your aim without learning a little something about the way you react when under pressure."
"No, that makes sense," Han said dryly.
"How else do you learn that?" Luke asked. "Short of putting a lightsabre into these kids' hands and sending them out into the galaxy to face down a couple battalions of stormtroopers – which, even if I thought it was a good idea, you and Leia would never let me do..."
"Absolutely not," Han said, and found his imagination, not usually given to flights of fancy, more than prolific when it came to scenarios involving the vicious deaths of his babies at the hands of a bunch of faceless Imps.
He shuddered and forced his mind away from those pictures.
"Tell 'em it's normal," he said at last. "Tell 'em it's a part of what makes 'em people. Tell 'em how wrong it is to shut down whole parts of your personality. Tell 'em there's nothing wrong or shameful about being afraid. Or being angry. Tell 'em everyone makes mistakes. Tell 'em there's no such thing as an absolute. Tell 'em personal ain't always the same as important. Tell 'em..."
He trailed off, helpless in the face of the same trap as Luke: tell 'em that, really? Tell 'em that and believe the words alone would make a difference?
Adrenaline, fear, hands shaking on the stick, the joy of a hit: you've just killed someone, and you're happy about it! Tell 'em about the perversity of keeping count of your kills and boasting of your scars, tell 'em about the readjustment in your thinking that makes a person an enemy and an enemy a thing, tell 'em how hate can keep you alive and anger can hone your edge with an old-fashioned flickknife when you're fighting on the streets, and tell 'em that maybe it's not what you do in the heat of the moment that matters but the way you feel about it afterwards. Tell 'em what it's like when the blood pounds in your temples and your hands in your flight gloves are slick with sweat and all you can think is: die you bastards. All of you.
Tell 'em what it's like to earn Corellian bloodstripes. Tell 'em what it's like to have to bury your family with your own two hands.
Tell 'em what it's like to be looked at by a nineteen year old bantha-brained idealist of a kid, and have him be disappointed that there's not more to you.
"Why did you come back for me?" Luke asked abruptly.
Han had no clue how the Kid knew to ask that. "For your sparkling personality and witty conversation," he said.
"Tell 'em," Han said slowly, "tell 'em that the trick is not to mind that you're afraid."
"I like that," Luke said softly. "Not to mind that you're afraid."
"I came back for you for the same reason you went to Endor for your old man," Han said. "Because there was –"
"Something more important than fear."
"Maybe you should be tellin' all of 'em that Story."
"Should I?" Luke asked gravely.
"Yeah," Han said. "Yeah, I think you should. Look, when Leia and I talked about – about telling our three... well, everything... I didn't want to. I didn't think they needed to know. I didn't want them to be afraid, the way the two of you were afraid sometimes, of what he was, of what he passed on to you. But Leia, she, well, she insisted; she said that if they found out from someone else, if the truth comes to them piecemeal from strangers, they'd never forgive us. Not really."
"This – what we're talking about – it's different."
"Is it? You can't send those kids out into the galaxy to get their experiences the hard way. They're children. It wouldn't be right, ever. And you gotta face the fact that experience might be the only thing that keeps 'em with us. You think I thought it was easy to stick with the Rebellion with half the criminal element of the galaxy on my ass and the only way I knew how to deal with anything was either shoot it, or run away from it? You tellin' me you found it easy to stick with bein' a Jedi after Bespin? After Kenobi'd lied to you about your old man? We make our choices every day, over and over, and every time we do it's like it's the first time. And those kids you're try'n'a teach'll do the same thing. You ask me – and you are asking me, Kid – there's a thin red line between protecting someone and distrusting them."
Luke groaned, rubbing at his face with both hands. "You want me to stand in there and tell them stories, and that'll keep 'em from making the kind of choices my father made."
"We don't know what kind of choices your father made," Han pointed out gently. "We might never. But we know what kinda choices you made. And what kinda choices Leia made. And Corran. And Mara. And everyone else who comes by here."
Luke tapped his now-empty second beer bottle on the floor in a silly little rhythm; a ridiculously little-kid thing for a Jedi Master to do. "You really think stories are gonna cut it?" he asked, hesitant but hopeful.
All at once, Han got suspicious.
"So do you!"
Luke shrugged, looking embarrassed. "It just sounded so." He gestured helplessly; what, simple? Stupid? Arrogant maybe, thinking that their lives could be some kind of great inspiration or whatever.
Damn it to all nine Corellian Hells, weren't they the kriffin' Heroes of Yavin?
"Yeah, I think it's gonna cut it, Kid," he said, putting as much arrogant certainty into his voice as he could.
(That was a lot, if he said so himself.)
Luke smiled at last. "Well, it wasn't like Yoda's mantras really worked. I mean, they did, obviously, but... well, as Leia is so fond of reminding me: he was wrong. Not about fear and anger leading to the Dark Side, but... wrong enough that sometimes I don't know which parts to pass on and which not to."
"Everybody makes mistakes," Han said neutrally. He let his head fall back against the wall behind him and stared up at the ceiling, thinking of Luke-Before-Bespin and the Luke he'd met after coming out of carbonite, and all the differences in the latter that had left him nigh-unrecognisable in far too many ways.
Luke was looking at him, one eyebrow arched in that way he and Leia both had.
"Look, I don't like 'em, OK?" Han said bluntly. "They're dead, and I never really met 'em, and I don't like 'em. At least your old man took the trouble to come back for you in the end. Far as I can tell the last thing Kenobi ever did for you was tell you you had to become a patricide in order to be a Real Jedi."
Luke snorted. "It was a little more complicated than that."
Han shrugged. "I'm judgemental. Shoot me."
"I would, but I think my sister might object."
They laughed together then, easing the tensions of the conversation, putting the memories away from them again.
"So," Luke said, standing up and collecting the beer bottles with a wave of his hand. "Stories, huh."
Quite suddenly, Han said, "My Mom used to say that stories never let you down."
They looked at each other, silent with the knowledge that Han had never spoken to Luke of his parents before.
"My Aunt Beru used to say that stories are always true, even when they're not real," Luke offered in answer. "I used to spend ages trying to figure out the difference between 'true' and 'real'."
"I used to spend hours being mad at my Da for being one of the things that let her down," Han said. "Not even sure anymore if he really deserved it."
Silence again, for another few moments.
Then Luke said, "More beer?"
Han shook his head. "I'm in the mood to get roaring drunk, actually," meaning break out the whiskey, and smiled when the statement made Luke grin too.