“Has anyone seen Luke?”
The princess slides into the seat across from Han, her forehead creased. Half a dozen cracks fly through Han’s head by force of habit — should you be frowning sweetheart won’t that give you wrinkles, what’s the princess doing slumming it down here with the grunts in the commissary, what am I his big brother? — but he lets them slip past just as quickly. Leia wore the same outfit through her captivity, a firefight, a long sludge through knee-high watery garbage, and the entire trip back to Yavin without complaining, and she’d even gone straight to the briefing to bring her intel to the generals before allowing herself any personal time. (“No time for our sorrows,” she’d said, and no time for showers either, apparently, until C-3P0 found a diplomatic way to suggest that the princess might want to avail herself of the refresher now that she had the liberty.)
The other thing is that while Leia doesn’t swear or make dirty wisecracks or try to muscle in on inside jokes like the higher-ups who want to be thought of as one of the soldiers, she’s never made herself too good to be with them. If she doesn’t eat with the crews it’s only because she doesn’t eat very much at all, letting food get cold as she ignores the plate by her elbow, poring over maps and intelligence reports and who knows what else. Threepio has found a new calling fussing over her, since apparently protocol droids might be all but useless but they are impervious to the princess’ death glare.
As for the third, well, Han would protest that everyone seems to think he knows where Luke is or what’s going through the kid’s damn fool head at any given time, but he really can’t get too huffy about it. Not when he turned his ship around and went back to shoot a bunch of TIE fighters off Luke’s back against his better judgement, anyway.
Beside him Chewie huffs a quiet laugh under his breath, likely guessing at his thoughts, not that Han is going to react and give him the satisfaction. Instead he stretches casually, making sure his elbow finds Chewie’s ribs, and his friend snorts before dumping another splatter of cheap spices onto his stew in attempt to make it edible by Wookiee standards.
For a moment Han considers messing with her, telling her he has no idea where Luke is, but Leia has sharp, dark eyes that cut through bullshit like no one he’s ever seen. Already her mouth has thinned; if Han tries playing around today he’s not sure he won’t end up with the cheap Rebel swill splashed all down his shirt, and he doesn’t have a whole wardrobe to pick through if that happens. “He’s outside,” Han says, biting back a sigh. “Communing with nature.”
Leia frowns. “He’s what?”
“I dunno, maybe it’s a Jedi thing.” Han waves a hand. “I caught him sitting out by that waterfall a couple times, just staring at the river. I didn’t ask.”
Leia drums her fingers against the tabletop, fingernails clicking lightly. Han pulls back the urge to cover her hand with his to make the rhythmic noise stop, since Her Worship would get the wrong idea and stomp around muttering about smugglers and their lack of respect for boundaries. “I’m worried about him,” she says quietly, and there, she’s dropped the princess and the rebel commander act both, speaking for once like she doesn’t have a ring of subordinates clustered around her awaiting orders. “The Death Star gave him something to focus on. Now that it’s gone — I don’t know.”
“It ain’t like the fight’s over,” Han says dryly. “Plenty of Imperial troops still wreaking havoc on the galaxy. I bet there are half a dozen massacres happening right now, if he needs something else.”
He doesn’t mean it, it’s just that everyone sitting around talking about feelings and duty and responsibility makes Han itchy. He fulfilled his job, got his payment, and he should have left; why he’s still here is anyone’s guess, but he really doesn’t want to think too much on it. Even so Chewie gives him a baleful stare, and Han grimaces. Kashyyyk is still an Imperial protectorate, and will be until the Rebellion has the resources to supplement a full uprising. Han reaches up and claps Chewie on the shoulder, giving him a rough shake in apology, and Chewie mutters something uncomplimentary about Han’s heritage that suffices as acceptance.
Leia says nothing, watching Han with that quiet, steely grace that underlies everything she does when not exploding. Han ignores it for all of ten seconds before he gives up and pushes his tray away with a gusty sigh. “Fine, I’ll go talk to him, see what’s up,” he says. Leia actually smiles at him, not her calculated politician face or the tight one she gives people when she thinks they’re idiots but is too polite to eviscerate them publicly but an actual smile, bright and relieved, and for a second Han loses the thread of his thoughts. “I, uh. Anyway, whatever, if he starts crying I’m tagging you in, so watch your comm.”
“Of course,” Leia says with mock solicitousness. As always no one else is around to see her being snarky, because the galaxy has a sense of humour and likes Han to be the only one who knows how much she makes fun of him. She leans across the table to close her hand over Han’s wrist, slim fingers deceptively strong. “Thank you.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Han says, and pushes himself up from his seat so fast he bangs his knee on the underside of the table. He makes sure to bump into Chewie on the way past in retaliation for the snuffling laugh.
Sure enough he finds Luke on the rocks at the base of the waterfall, sitting with his legs folded to his chest and his chin resting on his knees. The riverbank is slick and wet, and Han manoeuvres his way through the muck and the slippery leaves to crouch next to him. “Hey, kid,” he says. He gathers and discards a few sarcastic openers, and can’t help wondering when he started caring about sensitive farm kids and their feelings. “Leia’s looking for you.”
Luke doesn’t look over. Sweat and the spray from the waterfall have dampened his hair and turned his shirt from cream to a dull, greyish beige. “I know.”
“Maybe you should go in and see her, so she doesn’t keep following me around the base asking me for updates,” Han suggests. Luke cracks a small smile but doesn’t unwind. Han sighs. “C’mon, kid, you’re worrying everybody. Stop staring at the waterfall and come inside, let your friends know you’re not going to turn into a hermit in the jungle.”
Luke lets out a sound somewhere between a snort and a laugh, but he doesn’t move. “You know, the first time I went outside here, I thought I was dying?”
Well, that’s dramatic, though Han has the good sense not to point it out. Luke has a wounded face like you wouldn’t believe. “Yeah?” he says instead. “I mean, I know the food’s bad and all, but I figured after living on that dustbowl planet of yours anything would be a step up.”
“That’s what I mean.” Luke runs a hand through his hair, tugging at the ends of the dark blond strands. “It’s the air. How often did you go to Tattooine?”
“Often enough but not for very long. Lotta business, not so much with the pleasure on that rock. No offence.”
“None taken, believe me.” Luke turns back to stare at the waterfall again, his faraway expression pinching around the nose. “My uncle was a farmer. We had over sixty moisture vaporators that pulled water out of the air, plus a bunch of condensers. Uncle Owen had them calibrated to be able to sustain us and the farm with only 1.3% moisture in the air, and sometimes we didn’t even get that much. When I was a kid there was a drought so bad everyone had to buy water from Jabba the Hutt, until finally someone ran the gangs off.”
“I may have heard something about that,” Han says neutrally. He’d been a teenager then, not yet in on the smuggling game and nowhere near Tatooine, but Jabba liked his schemes and tended to recycle his favourites. Even after the Great Drought Jabba hired goons to run a water racket now and then, and Han had been tempted by the pay once or twice but never actually went through with it. He carried stolen goods and ferried weapons during any number of interplanetary conflicts, but taking water from people literally dying of thirst had been a bit much, even for him. Plus Chewie would’ve snarled at him, life debt or no life debt, and nobody nags like a Wookiee.
This feels like the sort of conversation that means more than what the words are saying, and Han has never been fantastic at those. He’s never been pro at nostalgia, either; why keep looking at the past, full of mistakes and missed opportunities and a minefield of should’ve would’ve could’ve when the moment is what mattered? Then again, he’d never lost his family to a stormtrooper attack, and if he prefers leaving that sort of mushy talk to Leia or Chewie, Han at least knows better than to say so. It won’t kill Han to sit here for a little while and let the kid babble about moisture farming and his dead uncle, even if it never comes back around to Yavin IV making him think he died. Maybe that’s another Jedi thing, who knows.
After awhile Luke continues. “The first time I went outside I couldn’t breathe. The air was so thick and heavy, and it kept pressing down on my chest. My face felt like someone slapped me with a wet towel. I actually thought I was drowning. I asked someone, and they said the humidity level here never drops below 98%. I thought they were making fun of me but then I noticed how everything keeps dripping, you know, all the railings inside are always beading up. And here I thought the temple had leaky pipes, but it’s just the air making all that water. The air!” Luke laughs, half breathless and disbelieving. “If I tried to set up one of our vaporators here, it would overload and corrode in less than hour.”
“You’re gonna wet the bed if we stay here long enough for monsoon season,” Han says, nudging him in the shoulder.
Luke shoots him a small grin, ducking his head and letting his hair fall over his eyes. “It’s just funny, you know? All my life I dreamed about getting off Tatooine. You know, joining the Academy and having adventures, even fighting against the Empire and becoming a hero. But I never imagined air so full of water that you practically need gills to live in it. Or —“ He gestures at the waterfall, eyes wide and reverent. “I had books, okay, it’s not like I’d never heard of waterfalls, but I thought they had to be exaggerating. This is — it’s incredible.”
One of these days Han will have to tell Luke that he should probably ditch the wide-eyed earnestness if he ever wants to shed the Outer Rim farm boy reputation. For now he shakes his head and drapes his arms over his knees, looking out at the water cascading over the edge of the embankment and splashing into the river below. It is pretty, if you’re into that sort of thing. “You know most people would find a girl to show this sort of view,” Han says instead, and laughs when Luke’s eyes bug out even further. “Just sayin’. Pretty view, emotional openness, I’ve heard the ladies love that.”
“Hey, I only blew up the Death Star last week,” Luke shoots back. “Maybe let’s take things one step at a time.”
Han tousles Luke’s hair on purpose just to watch him grimace. “Sure thing, kid,” he says, and stands up. “Don’t stay out too long, Threepio was complaining about Her Worshipfulness’ clothes getting mouldy when he laid them out to dry the other day. Wouldn’t want you sporting mushrooms in your hair, now.”
Luke rolls his eyes, but then he heaves himself to his feet and shoves his hands in his pockets. “I should probably get some food, anyway, unless you’ve eaten it all.”
“I take the last sweetmelon one time,” Han complains, and together they head back toward the main complex.