In the hatch access chute of the Millennium Falcon, Lando waited the signal from Leia. Sweat prickled uncomfortably at the back of his neck as he toyed with the securing hook attached to his belt. He hadn’t wanted to come back, with the Imperials breathing down their necks and capture almost certain, but Lando accepted that his life was in Leia and Chewie’s hands now. He’d betrayed them to the Empire, and saving them hadn’t been enough to rectify that mistake. Han had still paid the price, and Skywalker’s life now hung in the balance as well.
But what other choice had there been? Vader and his stormtroopers had infiltrated Cloud City quickly and effectively, undetected by the security systems. It had been disturbing, particularly given Vader’s reputation for brute force over finesse. The city had been fortified against direct bombardment and aerial assault, but somehow Vader’s shuttle had snuck in undetected.
Vader had been smarter than Lando had given him credit for. He’d fallen for the Dark Lord’s reasonable facade and claims that they were only interested in the rebel called Skywalker. Apparently the man was a known agitator, although Lando had never heard of him. But since taking over the mining operation he’d tried to keep his head down and out of the civil war lest he get caught in the crossfire. Perhaps if he’d been paying more attention he would have known Skywalker’s reputation (as Leia had since informed him) and that Han himself was wanted by the Empire for his part in destroying the Death Star.
In his haste to protect the people he’d assumed responsibility for, Lando hadn’t questioned exactly who would be the bait in Skywalker’s trap. That was until it had been too late, and his security forces had informed him that it was the Millennium Falcon requesting clearance to dock for repairs.
Lando didn’t like to be outplayed. After losing a sabacc game he scrutinised every detail to see where he’d gone wrong, and what he should have done differently to change the outcome. All alone in the access chute with nothing to do but think, Lando wondered what moves he should have made. If he’d known it was Han from the beginning, would he have made a different choice, risking Vader’s wrath? Perhaps the stakes would have been too high even then, for Lando to weigh up his old friend’s life against the million who lived and worked in Cloud City.
But that didn’t assuage Lando’s guilt - didn’t erase the sound of Han’s screams as he’d been tortured or the way he’d looked at him with such hate. Perhaps if it had just been Han he’d betrayed, his old friend could have let it go - there was little honour among thieves when one’s own life was on the line. But in giving up Han, Lando had also betrayed his friends - the faithful and faultless Chewbacca, and Leia, the woman Han clearly loved. Not to mention the key to the whole plot - Skywalker.
The way Han said his name - Luke - he’d sat up straighter with no further concern for his own pain, all of his energy diverted to worry for his friend. Lando had never seen Han with such concern for anyone, and he wondered what had changed in him that his own suffering meant nothing compared to the fear of his friend being captured. It had only been when Lando had mentioned Skywalker that Han’s cool facade had slipped, and he’d lashed out despite his weak condition.
That was when Lando had made up his mind - he couldn’t protect Han from the carbonite, but he could protect this boy who obviously meant so much to him.
The platform rose as the interior hatch was released, and Lando attached his securing hook to the ridge of the chute as the exterior door opened. The wind outside was strong, Lando clutching the side of the hatch for support as he saw Skywalker hanging off the belly of the city. How he’d been able to keep his grip in such weather was something to be pondered later.
As the Falcon was positioned under him Skywalker let go, hitting the ship with such force it made Lando wince. He scrambled over, and his first thought was how young the boy looked - barely into his twenties. His second thought was horror at Skywalker’s condition, but he supposed you didn’t go toe to toe with Darth Vader and come out unscathed.
“It’s alright, Skywalker,” Lando tried to reassure him, dragging his body towards the open hatch. “I’ve got you.” A pained moan was all he got in response.
“Lando?” Leia’s voice came through the comm as Lando pulled Skywalker, limp and barely conscious, into the ship.
“Okay, let’s go,” Lando said as he heard the scream of TIE fighters in the distance and the hatch closed behind him. Skywalker curled up into a ball as they descended, and Lando unhooked himself from the chute before turning as best he could in the enclosed space. It was then he noticed Skywalker cradling his right arm to his chest, and that it was severed at the wrist. Lando swore and put his hands on Luke’s shoulders in comfort and reassurance.
“Gotta get you to the medbay,” he said as the chute opened to the ship’s interior and he helped Skywalker to his feet.
“No,” Skywalker rasped. “Leia. Please.”
“Alright,” Lando conceded, grabbing the blanket he’d put by the chute and wrapping it around Luke’s shoulders. He lead him to the cockpit, wincing with every limping step the boy took. Relinquishing him to Leia’s secure embrace, Lando rushed to take her place in the pilot’s seat, checking the scopes and seeing three TIE fighters on their tail.
He chanced a look back to see Leia leading Luke away, hopefully to the medbay, and focused his attention on getting to hyperspace.
Unfortunately, Luke didn’t stay there long, and joined Lando and Leia in the cockpit in their frantic efforts to escape the Super Star Destroyer looming behind them. He wanted to yell at the boy to get back in the medbay where he belonged, otherwise he was going to lose any chance of getting a new hand. Instead Lando simply paused, grasping Luke’s uninjured arm to make sure he was alright. But Luke nodded, and Lando patted his side and shifted his attention to the hyperdrive.
“It’s Vader,” he heard Luke say, and his voice was full of such dread that Lando hated to think what had happened back on Bespin.
“We’ll get away,” Lando said with more confidence than he felt.
“No, I’ll never get away,” Luke muttered, his eyes on the starscape in front of them.
He saw Leia cast a worried glance back at him, and for a moment they seemed to share the thought that perhaps Luke had lost more than his hand back on Bespin. But she turned back to piloting the ship, and Lando flicked the hyperdrive specs on and off to see if it would do any good.
It was with quite sudden force that the Falcon launched into hyperspace, knocking Lando to the floor. He laughed with sheer relief, pulling himself up into the free seat and throwing his companions a grin.
“You see,” he said. “Told you we’d get away.”
Leia gave him a death glare, and Luke didn’t even seem to hear him, although his body had sagged with relief and fatigue.
“I’ll get him back to the medbay,” Leia spoke softly, stroking Luke’s cheek to get his attention. He sighed, and allowed himself to be led away without complaint.
Meanwhile, Lando busied himself with the controls to make sure they hadn’t been followed. It was impossible to track Boba Fett’s ship now, although he had a fair idea of where he was headed with Han. Grimacing, Lando had to face facts that Han was lost to them - Jabba the Hutt’s stronghold was impenetrable and even if they were somehow able to get inside they’d more than likely end up as rancor fodder. Sorrow and regret weighed heavily on his heart - there was no way to make this right. But at least he could make his apologies, and it was with this thought that Lando made the long walk down to the medbay. But hearing snatches of conversation as he approached, he paused outside the door.
“Why won’t you tell me what’s wrong?” Leia pleaded, her voice stripped of all previous bravado.
“Nothing’s wrong, Leia,” Luke replied, so softly Lando almost didn’t hear him. “Other than the obvious.”
“I don’t accept that, Luke,” Leia said. “I know there’s something else. Where have you been the past few months? I know you didn’t rendezvous with the fleet.”
Briefly, Lando wondered how she knew that, since he’d understood from Han they’d been drifting through normal space with limited communications for some time. On the other hand, Leia had somehow sensed where Luke was under Cloud City against all odds, so Lando wasn’t about to underestimate her. He wondered, not for the first time, exactly what the relationship was between her and Skywalker.
“Leia…” Luke sounded extremely tired.
“Fine,” she said, voice trembling. “Keep your secrets.”
Before Lando could react, Leia stalked out of the medbay and cast him a venomous look. Lando looked away guiltily, but Leia said nothing of his trespass and simply continued down the corridor. Letting out a sigh of relief, Lando stepped into the medbay where Skywalker was sitting on the edge of the bunk.
His severed arm was attached to tubes and wires to keep the nerves alive until he could get a prosthetic fitted, and the boy was staring at it forlornly. Now that Lando had a chance to look at him properly, he could fully see the mess of his face covered in angry red welts and bruises already beginning to form. His shoulders underneath torn grey fatigues were slumped and he gave the appearance of someone utterly defeated.
After a few moments, Luke lifted his head, and Lando winced as the light hit his face, accentuating the wounds around his eyes even further.
“We haven’t officially met,” Lando said, but his usual easy smile came out forced. “Lando Calrissian.”
“Luke Skywalker.” He reached out as if to shake Lando’s hand, forgetting that his severed limb was attached to the med equipment. Luke laughed humorlessly, and let his arm drop back.
“So she’s mad, huh?” Lando leaned against the doorframe and tried to look casual.
Luke’s gaze slid askew. “She has a right to be.”
Lando wasn’t quite sure how. “You need rest, Luke.” The name slid out of his mouth easily. “She can get her answers later.”
Luke sighed heavily. “No, she knows she won’t.” His gaze rose to meet Lando’s for a moment, and if he thought Luke looked young earlier, now he was sure he’d never seen anyone with eyes so old. “Her only hope was now, when she was upset - when I was perhaps too exhausted to stay silent. Later, she’ll be too composed to press me, and I’ll be even less inclined to tell her anything.”
“You’re...both in shock,” Lando stumbled over the words. He wasn’t a man who was easily confounded, but Luke had done it. Leia too - he’d never met anyone like them. If the rest of the Rebellion was half as confident, maybe they weren’t such a lost cause after all.
“Perhaps she’s right,” Lando added after a moment’s thought. “Sometimes it helps to talk.”
The corner of Luke’s lip tugged into an almost-smile. “Is that what you tell your sabacc opponents so you can fleece them?”
Lando smoothed down his mustache and gave a weak laugh. “How did you know I was a sabacc player?”
“You’re an old friend of Han’s,” Luke shrugged. “It was likely.”
“Do you play sabacc, Skywalker?”
Luke gave him a knowing look. “Sometimes. But I never bluff.”
“I guess you never have to if your pockets are deep enough,” Lando observed, not quite believing the young man’s claim.
Luke nodded, sobering. “Unless you think they’re deeper than they actually are - then you lose everything with one bet.” He cast a forlorn look to where his arm was severed, and Lando realised that it must have been a very narrow escape, especially when by reputation Vader always went for the kill shot first. And yet he’d literally disarmed Luke, he hadn’t killed him.
“Why does Vader want you so much?” he asked, unable to help himself. “He went to an awful lot of trouble to capture one rebel, even if you did blow up the Death Star.”
“I thought I knew,” Luke whispered, his eyes drifting to the floor. “I had no idea.” His face crumpled in pain, and Lando suddenly felt guilty for prying. Well...amongst other things.
“I’m sorry,” Lando told him, the first time he’d ever said those words and meant them. When he’d apologised to Han earlier it had been perfunctory and a little defiant; for their past rivalry, for the Falcon, for putting Lando in the position in the first place and jeopardising the safety of the colony.
Luke looked up at him and blinked, as if he didn’t understand.
“For what happened to Han,” Lando clarified. “And…” he gestured to the stump of Luke’s wrist which was hanging by his side. “Or didn’t Leia tell you it was all my fault?”
Luke gave a half-chuckle. “No, she had a few choice words to say about you.”
Allowing himself an answering laugh, Lando felt more at ease. “I wouldn’t expect anything less.”
“It wasn’t your fault, it was the Empire’s.” Luke’s expression turned stony as all humour drained from his face. “And Jabba the Hutt’s.”
The room suddenly felt very cold, and Lando suppressed a shiver. He knew how ruthless Jabba was, and from the way Luke had spoken it seemed he’d had history with the crimelord as well. Who was this man, Lando wondered, this boy who had faced down Darth Vader and lived, who spoke with the experience of someone twice his age?
“Leia will come round,” Luke said, and in an instant his expression had softened again. The temperature seemed to return to normal, and Lando wondered if Chewie had turned up the heat to compensate for the chill of hyperspace.
“Will she?” Lando was sceptical - he’d only known Leia a short while, but she seemed to be the type of woman to hold a grudge.
“Yes,” Luke nodded with conviction, then ran a hand over his face and sighed. “Let me sleep for a few hours,” he added, swinging his legs up onto the bunk and laying down, careful to keep his severed arm attached to the life-sustaining machinery. “When I wake up, I’ll have a plan.”
Furrowing his brow, Lando looked at the young man, so small and damaged in the bunk. It was hard to imagine him recovering much at all on the trip, let alone making plans.
“To do what?” he asked.
Luke gave him an incredulous look, as if the answer was obvious. “To rescue Han, of course.”