The victory party on Endor starts winding down a little before dawn, when the fires are burning low. The faint sound of music still drifts between the trees.
"Hey," Han says, putting a hand on Lando's shoulder. Han has his other arm wrapped around Leia's waist, and she's leaning into the embrace wearily. "We're heading back to the Falcon."
"All my stuff is still there," Lando points out.
"We're not going anywhere. You're welcome to sleep on board, when you decide you want to sleep."
"You know I have to close down the party," Lando says, even though that's not really where his head is right now. "But I wanted to ask you something."
Leia shrugs out from Han's arm. "You two talk. I'm going to bed," she says.
"I'll be right there," Han says, and his eyes follow her as she slips away through the trees.
"Get a room," Lando says.
"What?" Han says, as if he hasn't been all over her all evening. Lando's happy for them, and if anyone else isn't, Han wouldn't notice right now if you hit him with it right between the eyes.
"I need a favor," Lando says. "A ride, and some backup."
"I would, but I think we're occupied," Han says. "Although I'm not sure with what."
"I think nobody's sure what the next moves are yet," Lando says, which is why he hoped he could peel Han off for a quick trip, but it's becoming clear that Han's plans are to remain attached to Leia in case anyone tries to suggest she move out on any ship other than the Falcon.
"Well, come back to the ship when you've finished romancing the Ewoks," Han says. "I'm going to go find Luke and make sure the kid's okay."
Lando isn't sure that Han is the person Luke most wants to see, right now, but maybe he is. He's never figured out the geometry of that triangle. The sky is starting to shift from black to blue, and he feels a little old, because closing down the party doesn't have much appeal. It's late, and there's a lot to do tomorrow, and while he's still satisfied with a day that includes blowing up the Death Star, he would really like to put his head down for a while.
His plans for tomorrow involve commandeering an Imperial shuttle, and there's one parked near the Falcon that doesn't have a visible owner, but the idea of sleeping on one doesn't appeal. He boards the Falcon instead and makes his way back to the crew cabin. The lower bunk is comfortable enough. He'd rather be in his own cabin, but it's occupied by the Falcon's current captain. There's just no justice.
He's not sure what time it is when he wakes up, only that someone else is there. He sits up at once. "What's wrong?" There's plenty of potentially alarming news.
"Oh," Luke says, not in the tones of someone with alarming news, and Lando does a quick attitude readjustment. "Nothing's wrong. I didn't know anyone was in here. Han said I was welcome to stay on the Falcon …"
"There's room in here," Lando said. "Feel free." Luke climbs into the top bunk, and then proceeds to toss and turn, which isn't actually possible to sleep through from a meter away. "If you're not asleep, come down here and talk to me," he says after a while, and Luke comes down to sit at the end of the bunk. His feet are bare, but he's still dressed in the same unrelieved black, and the smell of smoke clings heavy to his clothes.
"It's turned cold out there," Luke says. He's shivering, which Lando decides after looking him over has more to do with exhaustion than with the mild evening air.
"Did you eat something, at some point, today?" he can't help asking.
"Earlier, probably." Luke sounds uninterested in the question.
"I'd offer you a drink, but someone took out my wet bar."
"I'm not sure I need a drink."
"Sit tight." He makes his way out to the galley, finds tea that smells like the evergreens outside, and brings back a steaming mug laced with honey. If Luke's asleep when he gets back, it'll be his own nightcap. Luke's still awake, though, his back to the wall, his arms wrapped around his knees. Lando hands him the tea, and he drinks it.
"Warmer?" Lando asks after a while.
"I am," Luke says. He looks a little rueful. "I was struck by lightning several times – not real lightning, Force lightning, but I'm not sure that's better – and it's possible my electrolytes are off, or something."
"I think you're a little shocky," Lando says, because that's what he does think.
"I'm glad to get a chance to see you, anyway. I'm heading out soon."
"Where are you going?"
"I've got to make a try for Cloud City," he says. He's been leaving it alone for months, and abruptly he can't anymore. "There's never going to be a better time. Whatever garrison the Imperials left there, either they pulled it off for this operation, or they'll be pulling it off now as they consolidate their fleet. Bespin isn't strategically important enough to leave more than a token force."
"Which you're going to take on all by yourself?"
It sounds less probable when Luke says it than it did when he formulated the idea. "Unless I get any volunteers to help."
"I'll go," Luke says, immediately enough that Lando suspects he is correct that however happy for Han and Leia the man may want to be, he isn't actually happy enough for them to want to share their company on a small ship for the foreseeable future.
"That would significantly improve my odds."
"So consider it done."
"I was thinking we might take that shuttle over there, if no one claims it by morning."
"I don't think anyone will," Luke says. "It's the one I escaped the Death Star in."
"Then we have a plan," Lando says. At least, they will have a plan, when he is in the appropriate state of mind to construct a plan. "We should get some sleep first, though. We've had a busy day."
"Very busy." Luke leans his head back against the wall. "You know, I didn't kill the Emperor," he says after a while. "Vader did." Lando's heard that, and also heard that Luke did, and also heard that the Emperor made a last-minute escape, although he's certain that's not true. There are a dozen versions of the story spreading already. "I wasn't trying to win. I knew that Han and Leia would get the shield down, and that you'd make the shot when they did. I just needed to keep them busy long enough for you to blow us up."
"It worked," Lando says. He knows it could have gone down like that. He would have taken the shot even if he'd known for certain that he'd be killing a friend. He's grateful that he didn't have to.
"It did. And then the Emperor was dead, and Vader – my father – he was dead, too, and it occurred to me that I didn't actually want to get killed, so I found the nearest shuttle and got out of there about thirty seconds ahead of the explosion."
"I think we're all glad you did," Lando says.
He's speculated about making a pass at Luke on previous occasions, but it's never been a good time, and this is also probably not a good time. It occurs to him that if they manage to take Cloud City, that would be an excellent time, and that's nice to think about. Even washed out with exhaustion, Luke is handsome, not just his golden good looks but his efficient, dangerous grace. And it's not as if he's likely to have another opportunity to go to bed with a Jedi Knight.
He prefers thinking about all of those things to wondering what he's going to find in Cloud City, how many of his people are missing and how much of his city has been vandalized and looted.
He becomes aware that Luke's eyes are closed, his breathing slow and even. "You take the bottom bunk, you're already asleep," he says.
"I'm not," Luke says, but he sprawls across the bunk, wrapping up in the blanket. Lando swings up to the upper bunk and closes his eyes. He'll work on all kinds of strategic plans in the morning.
The plan is, by necessity, a matter of improvisation. It's a relief to see when they come out of hyperspace at Bespin that there are no Imperial ships on station. That means it's worth trying their luck. Lando transmits their Imperial landing codes to Cloud City, and gets a bored "Shuttle Actium, you are cleared for landing, are you requesting refueling?"
"We're requesting reinforcements," Lando says. "The Alliance is making a major push in this sector. I have orders to requisition all available troops from this installation for reassignment to the Star Destroyer Adjudicator." He glances at Luke, and Luke motions for him to carry on, apparently unconcerned by the possibility that they're about to have to leave in a hurry.
There's a pause, and a different voice comes on the com, sounding considerably more annoyed. "Shuttle Actium, you've been misinformed. We have a garrison of twenty here. We can refuel and resupply you, but that's the extent of the assistance we can render."
"I'm going to need to get that in writing," Lando says, and he can almost hear the man roll his eyes.
"Of course you are."
"And we'll take that refueling and resupplying while you're working on that dispatch."
"I will be pleased to communicate exactly what our tactical position is to anyone who would care to hear it," the man says. Lando cuts the com with satisfaction. A token garrison, just like he hoped, and one that's apparently been requesting reinforcements for a while and not getting them.
"That should take him a while," he says. "Ready to greet the welcoming party?" He draws his blaster, and Luke has his lightsaber in his hand, but doesn't ignite the blade. "R2, how about keeping us ready to launch in case we have to make a quick exit?" The little droid whistles assent, probably just as happy to stay out of the line of fire.
"Let me take the lead," Luke says. "I'd like to handle this without killing any more people if we can."
"Better them than us," Lando points out, but he doesn't particularly want a mess on his landing pad either.
Luke shakes his head as if that's amusing. "It isn't going to be us."
The repair crew is four patrol troopers, and Lando waits until they're right outside the hatch before he slaps the controls to open it.
Luke ignites the lightsaber blade, which startles the troopers so much that only one of them gets his blaster drawn before Lando gets his arm around the nearest trooper's throat, his blaster pressed to the seam of the man's helmet. At this range, the armor won't help much, and they both know it.
"Drop your weapons," Luke says, and when that doesn't happen, he gestures left-handed, and the troopers' blasters go flying across the landing pad, skidding and striking sparks. It's a neat trick, and one that is every bit as impressive as Luke probably intends for it to be.
"We need all possible assistance on the landing pad!" one of the troopers snaps into his radio, which is useful of him, but means they're about to have a bigger party.
"Put your hands up and cut the chatter," Lando says. He releases the trooper he's holding and steps back to cover the doors out to the landing pad. Luke turns as well, holding his lightsaber in both hands. "You know this is the hard part, right?"
"Just stay behind me," Luke says, and as more troopers come running out onto the landing pad, Luke strides forward to meet them. He's not running, just moving at an easy pace that Lando thinks any sane opponent would consider unnerving. "I've got this," Luke says, a little distantly, and holds the lightsaber up in a defensive position. "Just shoot to discourage them."
Blaster bolts start spitting toward them, and for a moment, Lando is certain they are both about to be cut down without ever putting up a fight, and then Luke shifts his lightsaber to deflect blaster bolt after blaster bolt, sending them smashing back toward the troopers, whose armor isn't really sufficient for dealing with an entire volley of reflected fire.
Lando lays down peppering fire at the troopers' feet, which slows their advance, and then shoots at the doors behind them, which he hopes will discourage their retreat. Luke is still blocking every shot that might have touched either of them, easily, as if this isn't even really a challenge. The troopers are beginning to take in the situation, and the hail of fire eventually sputters to a halt.
"You should lay down your weapons and call your commander," Luke says in a distant, implacable voice.
There's a clatter as blasters start hitting the landing pad. "We should lay down our weapons and call our commander," someone says, as if that's the best idea they've ever heard of, and apparently that is how Jedi Knights handle their business.
It takes a little longer to get the Imperial commander out on the landing pad and disarmed, along with the rest of the garrison. "I'm Baron-Administrator Lando Calrissian," Lando says when they're finally face to face, although he doesn't offer to shake hands. "This is my city. This is my friend Luke Skywalker. He's a Jedi Knight. I wish I could say that we're pleased to meet you, but we're actually very unhappy that you're here."
"You can take the shuttle and leave unharmed," Luke says. "We won't stop you."
It's possible that's a bad choice, but Lando really isn't sure what they would do with prisoners. He doesn't have a prison, only a few holding cells where anyone picked up for being drunk and disorderly can sleep it off. "That is one hundred percent the best offer you are going to get all day."
The Imperial commander seems to recognize the truth of that, and nods to his men to begin boarding the shuttle. R2 rolls well clear of the troopers, and whistles something Lando is pretty sure isn’t complimentary in their direction. "We're going to report this," the Imperial commander says once he's the only one standing in the hatchway, apparently his best idea of a parting shot.
Lando gives him the look that deserves. "In triplicate, I'm sure."
"The Emperor is dead, and you're losing the war," Luke says. "You'd be better off going anywhere but back to your fleet."
"Says the rebel agitator," the Imperial commander says scornfully, but there are lines of doubt on his forehead that weren't there a minute ago. He slaps the hatch controls to seal the hatch, and Lando steps out of the way as the shuttle lifts into the air.
Luke doesn't move, the wake of the shuttle's launch making his golden hair and unrelieved black clothes snap in the hot wind. He looks very tired, and very far away.
"You do make an entrance," Lando says.
Luke turns to look at Lando as if he's come back abruptly to a different place. He shrugs one shoulder, and smiles a little wryly, and if Lando had any doubt before, he is certain in that moment that he wants to get this man into his bed. But constructing that particular plan of attack is going to have to wait.
"Let's find out what they've done to my city," he says instead.
Lando has a number of pressing questions once they get into the Administrator's offices, which are personally ranked something like: What's happened to my people? What's happened to my stuff? What's happened to the business? The part of him that is trying to be responsible is aware that the third question is actually more important than the second one, as irritating as that is.
The only one of his own actual administrative staff who's visibly on the job is Harra Lin, a nervous junior clerk who bursts into tears and stammers and seems to think he is going to blame her for all the mess. His attempts at charming reassurance don't seem to fall on receptive ears, and eventually he looks entreatingly at Luke, who asks politely if Harra could find him something hot to drink, and extracts her from the room to go do that.
That leaves him with R2-D2, who is considerably less likely to burst into tears under any circumstances.
"How about you help me sort this out?" he asks, and the little astromech droid whistles affirmatively. "I need access to whatever the Imperials have been doing in my system."
R2, he concludes, is a fine hacker, and would definitely be an asset if Luke ever decided to turn to a life of crime. Within minutes, Lando is in and reading the last several months of increasingly unhappy reports by one Lieutenant Aiden Kors, who seems to have felt he'd been sentenced to garrison Cloud City for his sins.
Lando skims through the reports, learning a number of things: the mining operation is still operating, but not profitably or particularly functionally after a large part of its work force fled. Kors requested slave labor to fill the shortfall, a request denied by his superiors. Before that, Kors attempted to hire Mining Guild members, a request denied by the Mining Guild, which doesn't seem inclined to play ball with the Empire. That's useful to know.
Lando's personal funds in Cloud City have been confiscated, which cramps his style, since his offworld accounts are still frozen and likely to stay that way until the dust settles between the Alliance and the Empire. The mining operation's accounts have not in fact been looted, which at least makes it possible to immediately pay himself his back salary, plus a bonus, which he feels he deserves. Everything besides their immediate operating funds is still securely locked down tight.
That's unexpected. He flips backwards through the dispatches so that he can read them from the early days of the Imperial occupation. They tried cracking the Cloud City computers, didn't find that a profitable undertaking, and noted that they were requesting cooperation from Lobot. That makes Lando wince. He'd really hoped that Lobot got out. When they couldn't get Lobot to talk -- there is a certain irony to that one -- they decided that they needed to crack Lobot's cybernetics. When their amateur efforts to do so failed, they then requested a programming specialist, and --
"Thank you, Imperial inefficiency," Lando says as Luke returns with Harra, both of them holding cups of something steaming.
"What have you found?"
"They didn't get their specialist. They didn't get anything they requested. As far as I can tell, the Empire dropped them here, pulled off the patrol ship and most of the initial trooper garrison a few weeks later, and has been letting them complain into the void ever since. Which may mean --hey, R2, can you pull up prisoner transfers out of Cloud City?"
There's a request for a patrol ship to pick up Kors' prisoners, with the exception of a handful who are listed as potentially useful. The request was denied by their superiors.
"Harra," Lando says to the woman, who seems strangely steadied by having a cup of kaf with a Jedi Knight. He isn't going to argue with results. "Do I still have a security staff?"
"Not really," she says. "The Imperials arrested most of your security team, the ones who didn't leave."
"But they're being detained here, am I getting that right?"
"The Imperials converted one of the warehouses into a detention facility," she says, which she might have told him half an hour ago.
"Right, so why don't you go down there right now and …" He runs down, because he should really do this himself, and anyway letting people out of cells is something that should be satisfying. Only he can't shake the feeling that this whole disaster was his fault, and the idea of going to see the prison that the Empire has constructed in his city makes all his nerves feel raw. It occurs to him for the first time that Luke may not be the only one who's overtired.
"Let's go do something about that," Luke says, and, all right, he'll follow the Jedi Knight.
It's not nearly as bad as it could be. There are twenty-six people in detention who've been cooling their heels waiting to be transferred to an Imperial prison. Most of them are old cons with lengthy records who are used to this kind of thing, plus some of his security team who didn't manage to get out. He's pretty sure that while they've all been living with the anticipation of terrible things happening, most of those terrible things haven't actually materialized.
"Go home," Lando says. "Go home, take a hot bath, order dinner, have a drink, everything is on the company tonight. Do not even think about reporting for duty. All the excitement is over for now."
That actually seems to work for people. When he springs Lobot, the man seems to be in one piece, although he shakes his head when Lando tells him to go home, too. "No," Lobot says aloud for emphasis, which Lando is aware requires concentrated effort. The implants fried most of the speech centers of his friend's brain years ago. Like a lot of Imperial tech, they weren't built with much care for their end users.
"How about you go interface with the city's computers and help me get a handle on what's going on?" Lando says, which clearly goes over better. He thinks that's the equivalent of 'going home' for Lobot, anyway. "Good man."
"These people are really glad to see you," Luke says. "Everyone here seems glad to see you."
"They should be glad to see me," Lando says, but it's good to know it. He takes a deep breath. "I have now been just about as responsible as I can stand to be, and I would really like to know what has happened to my things. We are going to start by seeing if anyone's damaged my yacht."
His yacht isn't damaged. His yacht is gone. Lando swears creatively while Luke looks sympathetic but unsurprised.
"The thing about spaceships …" Luke begins.
"Is that they're easily portable, I know," Lando says. "Some Imperial officer clearly has a taste for the finer things." Or possibly someone evacuated in it, which is more forgivable, but doesn’t actually make him any happier. "I'm afraid you may wind up staying here longer than you expected." He needs to get some of his associates who have ships back on station, but that's going to take a while, and his personal finances aren't currently up to yacht-shopping.
"I'm not in a hurry," Luke says. He looks like the idea of leaving sounds like a lot of trouble. Lando tries to add up how much sleep either of them can have had in the last three days and doesn't come up with a number that makes him happy. It's possible that the next thing he should look for is his bed.
"Whoever's got her had better appreciate her," he says. His comlink sounds, and he answers it "Administrator Calrissian," and that's sweet to hear.
"Administrator, you have thirty-six urgent messages," Harra says. She sounds panicked again.
Lando wants a drink, and he wants a hot meal, and he wants to see the current state of his apartment, but what he is going to do is take calls from half the city, apparently. "Come on, at least we can sit and eat," he says, and steers Luke toward the nearest place where they can do that.
Eventually he has talked to half the city, or at least it feels that way. "I am done for the night," he says firmly at last. "I am going to bed. Try and get some sleep yourselves, because we'll have all the same problems in the morning." He cuts the com and looks up to focus on Luke. "And now I should apologize for being the world's worst company."
"It's interesting to watch you work," Luke says.
There was a time when that would have meant watching him at the card table, credit chips flashing through his hands. The idea of being that person right now seems exhausting, but being this person right now also seems exhausting. It's possible that all he's trying to tell himself is that he's exhausted.
"Enough work," he says. "Let's go find out if I have a bed."
"Surely they didn't take the bed."
"You never know."
To his profound relief, the garrison seems to have been garrisoned in the Administrator's Palace, a monumental edifice that's a tribute to pseudo-Imperial poor taste. Lando has never lived there, although he's found it a useful place to park difficult guests. Instead, he crosses the skyway to his familiar tower building, passing breakfast shops that are now closed for the night and quick food stands that will be open for hours yet. Outside, the sky is turning rose, darkening to a deep bruised color as the daylight fades.
"It's pretty," Luke says. His smile twists. "I didn't really get to see it from a good vantage point last time."
"I'll give you a tour in the morning," Lando says. Up the lift, and he's at his door. The whole top floor is his, giving him a circular apartment with dramatic views from every room except the central kitchen and the well-appointed bath. He enters the door code, and doesn't hold his breath as the door opens, because that isn't the kind of thing he lets himself do.
It's clear as soon as the door opens that he hasn't been cleaned out. There are bottles still standing on the wet bar on the interior wall, although he thinks a few are missing. The fur rug is soft underfoot, and doesn't seem to have been trampled by too many boots. He runs his palm over the hidden catch in one of the end tables and inventories the contents; most of the cash is gone, and so are some small packets of this and that, but there's enough left behind that he suspects unauthorized pilfering in the course of a search, not authorized seizure of all his effects.
His holovid projector hasn't been moved, and his vid collection appears to have been rifled through but not seized, suggesting troopers without the imagination to suspect that the labels might not perfectly accurately describe their contents. The kitchen is empty of food, but Lando never kept much in there anyway. It's a place to put delivered meals onto plates.
Out the floor-to-ceiling windows in the dining room, he can watch the clouds purpling, the sun now well below the horizon. His breath catches at the surge of emotion, genuinely unexpected: he's home.
He turns to see Luke looking around him in some bemusement. "Nice place," Luke says.
"It's good for entertaining," Lando says. He makes an effort to stop touching things just to prove to himself they're here. "And on that note, let's visit the bedroom."
The bed is still made, white fur over white shimmersilk sheets, looking out at a view of the darkening clouds. Lando palms the control to opaque the window, having no desire to be woken by the dawn.
"You have an enormous bed," Luke says, looking as if he'd like to plant himself in it face-first and is only restraining himself for the sake of politeness.
"Make yourself at home," Lando says. "I want a shower. I want my shower."
When he's finished soaking and misting and scrubbing, he feels more like himself, and also smells more like himself, all of which improves his mood. He emerges expecting to find Luke fast asleep, but Luke hauls himself out of bed to go shower, and comes back some time later looking bemused again. "The Alliance needs showers like that."
"The Alliance wishes," Lando says. He's communing with his bed, soaking up the feel of his own sheets against his skin. He is probably not seducing anyone in this bed tonight, because that would require moving. He resolves to do it tomorrow, and closes his eyes.
In the morning, he wakes up sprawled with his arm thrown over a sleeping Jedi Knight. It's a pleasant way to wake up, and he lets his hand slide down Luke's shoulder, making him think about all sorts of things he would like to do after that. The hard plane of Luke's thigh is warm against his knee.
"Is it morning?" Luke asks, tilting his head back.
It is morning, and people will be looking for Lando, and "in a hurry" is not actually how he wants to do this thing, if they are going to do it at all. He's aware that he is not actually irresistible to all sentient beings, and if a pass turns out to be unwelcome, he doesn't have time right now to handle that the right way.
"For me it is," he says. "You know, I used to think mornings were unpleasant things that happened to other people. Now look at me." He sits up on the edge of the bed before he can change his mind about his good intentions. "You don't have to get up, though."
"Maybe I'll just," Luke says, and rolls up in the blanket, head buried against his arms.
"Sleep tight," Lando says, and goes off to be responsible for a while.
By late the next day, things aren't back to "business as usual," but it's beginning to be possible to believe they might be in the near future. Lando has managed to contact a few of his most trusted people and encourage them to come back, and he thinks most of them will. R2 is assisting Lobot's efforts to rid their computer system of anything left there by their Imperial visitors. There are several heavily-armed freighters on their way to Bespin to discourage pirates or Imperial cruisers from stopping by.
The question hanging over it all is what "normal" is going to look like now that the Emperor is dead. Lando is putting his money on the Alliance cleaning up the remaining Imperial resistance, and he's heard a number of people in the Alliance express the intention of restoring the Republic. What exactly that means for Bespin is a good question. He listens to a number of opinions, takes a call from representatives of the Mining Guild and issues a noncommittal invitation to come talk, and makes his way back to his apartment much later than he intended.
It's raining by then, a steady downpour that turns the world outside the windows gray. Luke is watching from the living room windows, hands behind him, in a pose that should seem serene. He doesn't turn when Lando comes in, although Lando is certain he knows he's there.
"I never get used to rain," Luke says.
"We get some pretty dramatic storms," Lando says. "I wouldn't recommend going out in them."
"I think I've had enough of being struck by lightning," Luke says, finally turning from the window. "And I'd just as soon not visit the underside of the city again."
"It's not our best view," Lando says.
Luke looks amused. "I know. I walked around some, today. It was nice. I'm afraid I had to charge a meal to your account; I don't have any money with me at all."
"Anything you want," Lando says. "You're my guest." Even in his reduced circumstances, he doesn't think Luke's tastes are likely to bankrupt him.
"It was good to be someplace where people are just … having their ordinary lives," Luke says. "I've spent so much time on bases where everyone's tense all the time, and then on the medical frigate, which was not exactly a place where people are happy." He curls the fingers of his right hand and uncurls them in what Lando thinks is an unconscious gesture.
"I expect not." He can't resist curiosity. "How much do you know about people, using the Force?"
"I can pick up strong emotions," Luke says. "I can't read your mind, at least not without trying, and I wouldn't do that." Which of course makes Lando wonder what that would be like, both a little alarming and undeniably interesting. "But you're good at knowing what people feel yourself, I think."
"I'm good at reading people," he says. "Including what their bodies say that they may not mean to say."
Luke meets his eyes, and Lando thinks he's curious, too. "So what do you read from me?"
It's an interesting question. He can see the tense set of Luke's shoulders, not relaxed even after a day spent theoretically resting. His face is calm, but he seems somehow faded, sketched in pastels rather than vividly bright. The fingers of his right hand curl again, and then still, which makes his shoulders tighten. He shifts his weight, with a faint smile that makes it clear he's not entirely easy with the scrutiny, and then straightens his back stiffly, suggesting discomfort that isn't showing on his face.
That's not deception. Luke is a terrible sabaac player. That's pain that isn't registering because he's pushed it somewhere far away, and is ignoring his body as uninteresting and unimportant. It's not a bad defense mechanism, but it's also not exactly serenity. Nor is it necessarily a frame of mind conducive to sex, unless that's something the man finds grounding.
He considers what to say that isn't overly honest. "You're terrible at relaxing," he says.
Luke breathes a laugh. "I know. It's hard not to be doing anything."
Lando thinks the Alliance would happily find Luke something to do if he were back at the fleet. He's their only Jedi Knight, an ace pilot, and there's still plenty of butcher's work to be done before this war is won. But this man has faced the Emperor and survived a fight with lightsabers and lightning bolts and burned his father's body, all in the last week, and he's clearly spent everything he had on that. Lando thinks that if Luke reports back to the fleet before he's had some rest, he will go willingly into the next battle, and it will only take one mistake for him to die there.
There are a lot of problems in the world that Lando can't fix, but "arrange vacation for Jedi Knight" should be well within his abilities. "I'm sorry for stranding you here," he says, although he's not. "I have some things I have to sort out for a while before I can go anywhere."
"That's fine," Luke says. "Are you going somewhere?"
He's formed intentions without fully articulating them before now. "To Coruscant, probably, once we've taken Coruscant. Or wherever they're planning to put together a provisional government, but taking Coruscant is symbolic, so we're probably going to do that."
"If they're restoring the Republic, there's going to be an interesting fight over which planets get representation. I want a seat at the table for that." Bespin has never had a Senate seat, to the annoyance of a number of its residents and mining interests. There's never going to be a better time for that to change.
"That makes sense," Luke says, as if it does, obviously, make sense. Lando appreciates that, since he's trying to sound more certain about this idea than he actually is.
"I mean, I never used to believe in politics," he says.
"I don't know much about it," Luke says, and Lando nods, but that isn't his point.
He goes on before he can stop himself. "I used to tell myself that there were bad things about the world, but I couldn't change them, so all I could do was try to stay out of the way. I couldn't make anything better. But here, these last couple of years – I've made things a little bit better. For these people."
"Do you know, this started as a get-rich-quick scheme?" He pours himself a drink to have something to do with his hands. "I won this place off the previous Baron-Administrator, who had a nasty gambling habit. It was losing money hand over fist, and I figured I'd do a little creative accounting and flip it to some unsuspecting investor, then get out. What I discovered when I took a closer look at the books was that the previous Administrator had been bleeding the company dry. Well-managed, this place turns a profit."
"And you fell in love with it."
He's not prepared to either confirm or deny that. "We don't have slavery, here. We pay a living wage. We use droids for some of the work, and I make sure they aren't mistreated. It's been possible to change things, here, and if that's true, it means it's possible to change things."
He looks at Luke, expecting skepticism, and sees only sincere agreement. "Yes, it is."
He lightens his voice, wanting to be back on easier ground. "Maybe we could use more safety railings, though."
"Maybe you could."
"Days since last near-fatal light-saber duel …"
"Not so many, actually," Luke says dryly. He thinks they both prefer irony to avoiding the subject, a way in which they're compatible.
"Do you want me to find you a spare bedroom?" he asks, because he has to ask. "You're very welcome to stay, but if you do, just say the word."
"It seems like a lot of trouble," Luke says, which doesn't necessarily answer the question of his intentions, but does answer the question of whether they're sharing the bed.
It feels like considerably less innocent bed-sharing this time, now that he's not dead tired. Luke stretches out, his head pillowed on his arms, his borrowed sleep shirt wrinkling where it doesn't fit him well. "If you meant it about charging things to my account, I should get some clothes," Luke says, as if following his thought, and maybe he does.
"Feel free," Lando says. "What do Jedi Knights wear?"
"I have no idea, really," Luke says, rolling over to consider both Lando and the question. "I know what Ben wore, but I'm not sure it's really me."
"The black is good on you," Lando says. "It stands out just the right amount."
"I think I want something that says 'I'm a Jedi Knight, but not your father's Jedi Knight,'" Luke says. "If that makes sense to you."
"It does," Lando says, because that much makes perfect sense. "Clothes send a message. You should think about exactly what message you want to send."
"I might start with a clean shirt, though."
"Shopping tomorrow, then." He will enjoy dressing Luke, although right now he would prefer undressing him. He lets his hand rest on Luke's shoulder, which could conceivably be taken for comradely affection, although Lando thinks that anyone who has known him for very long should not err on the side of assuming his motives are pure.
Still, it's probably about time to put some cards on the table. He kneads Luke's shoulder, winning a pleased intake of breath, and then lets his hand travel downwards towards Luke's hip.
After a moment Luke asks, "Is that a pass?" He sounds more surprised that Lando expected, but not necessarily displeased.
By way of an answer, Lando leans in to kiss him, deliberate and slow, his hand on the small of Luke's back. "It is," he says finally, in case that hasn't answered the question.
Luke leans back to consider him, as if trying to work out some puzzle. "Why?"
He tries to answer that question entirely honestly. "I like the way you look, and I like you," he says. "You're interesting."
"I think you're interesting, too," Luke says, as if this isn't exactly the conversation he expected to be having. "You know I'm not in love with you."
"I do know that," Lando says, keeping his voice carefully casual, because he has realized with abrupt certainty in this moment that Luke is a virgin. He waited for his princess the way he might have waited to marry a girl back home, and then, when that happy ending failed to materialize, he was already too busy to give the matter any further thought. It's probably important not to seem thrown by that. "But I think you might have a good time."
Luke smiles a little. "I'm not good at having a good time."
"You are very tense," Lando says.
"I am." He looks at Lando, head to one side. "Why isn't there a Mrs. Calrissian? Or whatever, although I always thought you liked women ..."
"I do," Lando says. "I like a lot of things, and I like a lot of people. I'm not really suited to settling down. And if I did end up in anything long-term, I still don't think monogamy would ever be my style." He is trying to be very clear, here, because whatever romantic script is in Luke's head for how traditional courtship goes, that's not what he's offering. "But I would enjoy showing you a good time."
"That's not something I've really considered," Luke says. "Also, I haven't really considered men as an option. At least, not …" He looks as if he is considering whether he might, in fact, have considered that at some point in his messy triangular orbit around Han and Leia, apparently not a question he's asked himself before. "Also, I'm so tired," he says, as if he's both amused and frustrated with himself.
That is, Lando feels, a lot to process for anyone at this point in the week. "There's no hurry," he says.
"That's good," Luke says, and puts his head down on his arms again. Lando rests his hand between Luke's shoulder blades, affection, not seduction, and Luke relaxes into the touch. It doesn't take much more than rubbing soothing circles between Luke's shoulder blades for him to fall asleep.
It takes considerably longer for Lando to fall asleep. He is beginning to feel that bringing Luke to Cloud City may not have been an entirely wise decision for his own peace of mind. Seducing a Jedi Knight may not be the easiest undertaking, but it still ought to be well within his powers. Tomorrow, he tells himself, schooling himself to be still and try to sleep, tomorrow, it will be time to put a well-considered plan decisively into action.
If you want to do something right, you have to make time for it. The Mining Guild wants things, and the local union wants things, and various people want to know where their own missing property is, or want to be compensated for it. All of that takes Lando most of the day, but he clears the dinner hour, lets Luke know that he'll have dinner sent up for them, and issues firm instructions to his staff that he will be entertaining in his apartment that evening, and does not want to be disturbed for anything short of an invasion.
There are a number of fine restaurants on Cloud City, but he thinks this isn't the moment to go out. Dinner in the apartment is better, private and intimate. He takes the time to work out the menu, foods he thinks will be familiar tastes from the Rim, fresh bread with a sweet preserve and an aggressively salty browned butter, chops under a blanket of heavily-sauced fungus and sharp greens, and a densely bittersweet Trammistan chocolate cake.
"Starting with comfort foods, but elevated, and enough contrast in the tastes to really pop, so that you actually have to notice what you're eating," he explains over the com when he calls Marduk's. The reason Lando likes Marduk is that Marduk doesn't tell him that he's backseat driving. Marduk is an artist, and he's willing to be commissioned to produce a very specific piece of art.
"Who is your latest friend?" Marduk asks him, sounding amused.
"Right now, he's the galaxy's only Jedi Knight," Lando says, because he thinks that will be inspirational.
"I can pull out more stops than this," Marduk says immediately.
"Do not pull out any more stops. This is the right number of stops." Not a hailstorm of courses, awkward to plate without a service droid and distracting from the flow of conversation. Nothing challenging to dissect or assemble. He wants this to be easy, luxurious and easy. He warms up his voice, putting all his appreciation for Marduk's artistry into it. "There's no one I would trust with this like I trust you."
"Jedi Knights. Aren't they supposed to be celibate?" Marduk asks.
"Ask me tomorrow," Lando says, and considers the rest of his approach.
As far as he's concerned, seduction gets a bad name. It can be weaponized, like anything else, but in its purest form the point isn't to persuade the other party to do anything they don't want to do. The point is to encourage them to want to, by creating a mood, and by making it clear that they would be placing themselves in good hands.
He gets back to his apartment in time to change clothes. Luke has acquired at least one new shirt, also black, so Lando goes for color by way of contrast, something he knows he'll look good in. He chooses low light and a clean herbal scent in the bedroom, the window opaqued halfway up to leave a strip of darkening clouds at the top. A wave of his hand produces soft music on the apartment's sound system. That'll do.
He comes out to find Luke answering the door, and helps carry the delivery boxes to the table, each heat-controlled so that there's no question of anything getting cold. He's chosen a heavy red wine that's not from the Rim, but that he thinks can't come as a shock to the system to anyone used to the hard liquor of dubious origin that circulates on military bases. He pours half-glasses, feeling that a drink to take the edge off is called for, but not enough to call anyone's judgment into question.
"I feel bad about doing nothing all day," Luke says, although he looks better for it. He breaks the bread and takes a bite with obvious appreciation. "This is good."
"Isn't it? And they call that a vacation, I think."
"Do they?" That's humor, but not entirely. "I'm not sure I ever took a vacation. We went on a school trip, once, to the Eastern Oasis. But when you live on a farm, there's always work to do."
"I don't suppose the Alliance really offers vacations, either."
"I was off duty for a while because of my hand, but that's not really the same thing."
"It is not, no."
"I expect I'll need to find something to do in a practical sense, eventually," Luke says. "I'm supposed to be a Jedi Knight, but that's not an actual means of support."
"The Alliance owes everyone some back pay, I think," Lando says, extracting their main course from its packaging. "If they seize the Imperial treasury, they should be able to actually pay it. That would be something to be going on with."
"Ben seemed to get along fine without money, but when I think about it, he had no problem spending other people's money. And he said once that a few times when he really needed cash for some reason, he found it profitable to go into Mos Eisley and sit in on a game of cards."
"A Jedi after my own heart," Lando says. "I wouldn't have thought he would approve of cheating at cards, though."
"He didn't have much problem with lying," Luke says. There's a bitterness under the words that Lando would like to steer away from.
"Can you tell what card I'm thinking of?" Lando asks. It's a trick he knows ways to arrange, forcing a card into a mark's attention, but he couldn't do it like that, cold.
"The three of flasks," Luke says immediately.
"That is a neat trick." He considers, spearing fungus and dredging it through the really well-made sauce. "But could you tell me what card I was actually holding, if it wasn't the card I was thinking about?"
"I don't know," Luke says, as if that's a more interesting question. "Most people think about what they're seeing."
"Yes, but the trick of bluffing, the real trick, isn't to pretend," Lando says. "It's to persuade yourself so that you can persuade someone else."
"That's probably more subtle than the Jedi way of persuading people."
"Which has a certain elegant simplicity."
"You wouldn't like it if I did it to you," Luke says.
"I would not," he says. He would not enjoy being made to do things, although there is a certain fascination to the danger.
"I wouldn't do that," Luke says, with a different, younger expression.
"I know that," Lando says. He holds the eye contact just a moment longer, letting the measure of the trust he's placing in Luke sink in. "Speaking of elegant simplicity," he says, and retrieves their dessert.
It has one note, which is "stop what you are doing, and think about chocolate now." The bitterness cuts the sweetness enough to prevent it from getting old. A few bites and it's gone, leaving a general feeling that the world should provide more rich and sensual experiences behind it.
They move the conversation to the living room, unhurried and comfortable. There's a moment, finally, when it seems natural to stand. Luke follows his lead after a moment, watching him like he's trying to figure out what cards he's holding.
"What now?" Luke asks. He's not quite smiling, but there's a light in his eyes that suggests that he is entering into the spirit of the evening.
Lando traces the line of Luke's shoulders with one finger. "You are still very tense," he says.
"Don't be. But let me do something about that." He rests his finger just between Luke's shoulder blades, and lets it linger there.
Luke lets out a slow breath. "What did you have in mind?"
What he had in mind is easier in the bedroom, where the bed is warmed to body temperature and there is scented oil, a citrus that should cut nicely across the background of herbal green.
"Should I take my shirt off?" Luke asks.
"You should absolutely take your shirt off," he says appreciatively, and that wins a surprised smile. He is not certain how Luke has reached this point without noticing that he looks good, although he suspects a teenage awkward stage followed by a certain unhappy self-absorption. Or maybe it's just that he's not used to frank admiration, as opposed to awkward small talk or the kind of inelegant proposals that begin "so, do you want to have a beer and …"
That is not what Lando wants. He is in the presence of something unique and fine, and he is going to handle that with the care it deserves. He allows himself a moment of pure appreciation as Luke strips, and then works on his shoulders.
"You are so tense," he says, because the muscles under his hands are approximately the consistency of rocks.
"Don't apologize." He can see the thought cross Luke's mind in the quirk of his lips. "You're about to apologize for apologizing, aren't you?"
Luke lets out a breath in frustrated amusement. "I'm not good at relaxing."
"I don't think trying to relax works. At least not the way you're doing it."
"Yoda always told me to clear my mind, and I wasn't very good at it. He used to have me do exercises, stress positions, things to keep enough of my attention on my body that I could stop thinking so much."
"I expect that works."
"This feels a little like that, but a lot less painful." Lando works his thumbs below Luke's shoulder blades and thinks that Luke has had all the pain that he needs right now. He can feel Luke starting to relax under his hands, sense his pleasure in every line of his body, and that's as satisfying as it always is. He traces down the plane of Luke's back and up again, exploring and soothing. "You like this," Luke says, as if that's a little surprising.
"Very much so."
"I've never done anything like this."
"I know that," he says lightly.
"I've never done it with anyone."
"I know that, too," Lando says just easily. "But there's a first time for everything." He runs one hand down Luke's right arm and finds it as tight as he expected. He takes a while to work that out, tracing circles with his thumbs, and then works his way down to the right wrist, and past it. Luke's right hand is warm and yields to the touch, but he can feel the metal under the synthetic surface. It's interesting in a new way, and he works to keep his breathing steady.
"You know that hand's not real," Luke says.
"It's not what you started out with, anyway." He hunts for the clusters of sensory receptors that should be there and finds them in the fingertips, down the back of the hand, in the seams of the palm.
"It can't be tense."
"It still sends nerve signals to the rest of your arm," Lando says, and makes himself stop investigating for the moment. He works his hand up Luke's wrist and tries to massage out the persistent knots in his forearm. "Let me guess," he says. "The medtechs gave you stretches to do for it, but you got a little busy."
"I was supposed to take it easy, but we couldn't exactly wait to rescue Han," Luke says.
"No, we couldn't."
"So." He's relaxing under Lando's hands. Lando works his way down the other arm and back up again, and then down the line of Luke's back. Down his legs, and that's more personal, but he keeps the touch soothing, his hands slick with oil. The bed is warm enough to keep the chill away. Luke rests his head on his hands and lets him work.
It's relaxing work, the steady strokes making it easy to breathe deeply, to settle down into the same warm and sensual headspace he's been settling Luke into. There's something brighter about Luke now, a sense of presence that wasn't there before, as if some barrier between them is gone. He's warm under Lando's hands.
Lando digs his thumbs into Luke's hamstrings and then works his hands up Luke's calves to his thighs, and over the curves of his buttocks, warm and slick. That wins a slow movement of the man's hips, a change in his breathing.
He slicks his hands with oil again and works his thumbs down the inside of Luke's thighs, then up again, letting the touch become very personal. Luke's breath catches, and Lando settles him with his hand on the small of his back, then runs his thumbs back down the cleft and down his thighs. Luke spreads his knees the way he wants him to, and he strokes his way up the insides of his thighs. He reaches for Luke's erection almost as an afterthought and slicks that with oil as well.
Luke's breath is coming faster, but he's still relaxed under Lando's hands, moving with dreamlike slowness. Lando trades the oil bottle for something more suited to the purpose, and Luke shifts in amusement.
"You have different products just for …"
"Something that'll stay slick longer," he says, and works it down his own fingers. He can't fuck Luke as slowly as he wants to, not as turned on as he is. This is better, feeling Luke grind his hard-on against the sheets again, giving him a moment to get used to the sensation of his fingers wet with lube. "Let me show you something," he says, and works his fingers in.
Luke gasps, an entirely satisfying sound, and throws his head back. Lando makes it slow, stroking down the line of his thigh with his other hand, bending to kiss the place between his shoulder blades that cries out to be kissed. "Do you want to touch yourself while I do that?" he asks, and wraps Luke's hand where he must need it.
He wonders for a moment if Luke will be too self-conscious, but he thinks he is just the right amount of self-conscious, because Luke says "Yes" like he can't believe himself, and starts working himself, his hands already slick with oil.
"It's different, isn't it?" Lando says, because he can't resist that. "No matter how much you've done it to yourself, it's different with someone's fingers inside you." Luke's breath catches, almost a sob. Lando works his fingers in and out, steady and relentless. "That pressure--"
'Yes," Luke manages, like he's finally nowhere but right here feeling this, getting fucked by Lando's fingers, thrusting into his own fist, Lando's knee hooked over his to spread his legs farther, warm skin on warm skin. He's gasping for breath, and Lando runs his other hand down Luke's back again to steady him. There's no hurry, no matter how much Luke must be starting to ache to come. Lando wants him like this, entirely caught up in sensation.
He is achingly hard himself, but he has absolutely no desire to interrupt this to do something about it. He works his fingers harder, setting a more demanding rhythm, and he can feel Luke thrust more desperately into his own hand. "That's right," he says, getting a little breathless himself. "Do it just like that." He can feel Luke's body tightening, but that's all right now, the release he's straining for is right there. "Come on and do it just like that for me."
Luke cries out, and he watches Luke come for him, fucks him through it and then eases him down into the sheets.
"Breathe," he says. "Come back down."
It's a while before it occurs to Luke to ask "Don't you want …"
"I do, yes," he says, because he's so wound up that every touch of the sheets as he moves is frustratingly erotic. Luke reaches for him, and he arches up into the touch. It's simple and satisfying, all that tension finally breaking in one last hard thrust into Luke's palm. It doesn't have to be the main event. He's had what he most wanted from this.
He sprawls, afterwards, enjoying the afterglow, and strokes idly down the line of Luke's back. Luke is asleep by the time he slips out to shower, and doesn't wake when he comes back to slide in between the warm sheets.
When he wakes up, the sky is no longer black, but still a pre-dawn midnight blue. He rests his hand on Luke's hip, and Luke leans back against his shoulder.
"That was interesting," Luke says.
"Interesting is good, right?" he asks, amused.
"Very good." Luke sounds satisfied, and maybe a bit surprised.
"You didn't know you'd like that."
"I think there's no way to know about some things until you try."
"Well, now you know something." He expected to enjoy this, himself, and was not in the least bit disappointed. Waking up with a handsome Jedi Knight who he finds fascinating and has just satisfactorily unwound in bed is the kind of moment he wants to savor.
"I just hope I don't fall for you," Luke says. "Because I know that would be a terrible idea."
Lando refrains from pointing out that he's not the one with the power to predict the future. He strokes Luke's hip. "Well, you weren't particularly happy to start with, so you may as well take a chance that this will work out the way you want."
"That's why I'm here," Luke says. He rolls over to consider Lando with a wry expression. "I don't know how you manage to always take things so lightly."
He considers the question, because its fundamental assumption isn't entirely right, and he feels under the circumstances the man deserves a more honest answer than he might ordinarily give. "I've had sex with an awful lot of people for fun, it's true. I like showing people a good time."
"You like to make people happy," Luke says, and that feels like ascribing more selflessness to his motives than they deserve, although he always prefers to leave his lovers happy, and happy with him.
"But I've been with people who ended up being good friends, people who mattered to me." There have been lovers he stayed with for longer than a few heated evenings, people he hasn't forgotten and would be happy to see again.
"Then why aren't you with any of them now?"
"I tend to like people who are being themselves just as hard as they can," Lando says. "And those people usually have other things they need to do, eventually. They're not about to stay in my orbit forever."
"I probably have things I need to do, eventually," Luke says. "Starting with going to Coruscant, to the old Jedi Temple. If there are any records that survived, or any information that could provide some clues about what the Jedi are supposed to be, or what I ought to do next, it'll be there." He doesn't sound at all enthusiastic about the idea.
"I think you need to get your head together, first," Lando says.
"I think you may be right."
Lando is no authority on haunted Jedi ruins, but he suspects they are bad things to walk into with the emotional equivalent of open wounds. He thinks Luke could use more rest, and to have more things happen that don't hurt at all. Probably he could also use some backup, which Lando privately plans to offer to provide.
"You could enjoy this for a while first," he suggests, his hand sliding down Luke's hip.
"I am enjoying this, believe me," Luke says. He shakes his head. "Although it's all probably forbidden, as far the Jedi are concerned."
"I think since you are the Jedi, you make the rules."
"I know that. Which means it's important that I make the right ones, even if that's just for myself," Luke says. "But I'm not sure I actually agree with Obi-Wan and Yoda about everything. Attachment is supposed to lead to the Dark Side, but this doesn't feel like the Dark Side."
"You know, having lovers doesn't have to be about holding onto them as hard as you can," Lando says.
"I don't know if that's true for me," Luke says. "I don't know how to begin figuring that out. All I know is that the idea of being alone for the rest of my life doesn't make me happy, and I think people make better choices when they're happy."
Lando would like to leave Luke happy. He actually suspects that Luke will leave him first, ready to move on to somewhere else as part of a life devoted to an all-consuming vocation. But he's in no hurry for that to happen. He's coming to the conclusion that this isn't going to be an evening's thing, for them. It deserves plenty of time to run its course, and he intends to see that they have it.
Here in the blue light before dawn, he is briefly troubled by the uncomfortable feeling that this might in fact be something with the potential to change him. He's felt himself changing lately, caring more than he ever meant to about what happens to Cloud City, entangled in responsibility he never intended or planned. And he has, in fact, made the mistake of falling in love before on at least one occasion, an experience he has no desire to repeat.
But there's no reason to think that will happen. He is intimately familiar with this game, and there's too much that he wants on the table for him to fold his cards and walk away.
"I can't argue with that," he says, and pulls Luke in to kiss him, working his way from his mouth down the line of his throat, and descending. There's time for more before the morning light spills in.
In the morning, over breakfast in a terrace café, Lando says, "I'm planning to argue that Bespin needs a Senate seat."
"That seems reasonable," Luke says.
"It does, yes, and yet there's going to be a tremendous amount of screaming if Rim worlds demand the same kind of representation that Core worlds get. As far as I'm concerned, any planet that can elect a planetary representative ought to see them seated."
"Bespin doesn't have a planetary representative," Luke says, but he looks amused, like he can already see where Lando is going with this. He's drinking kaf laced heavily with cream, and if his expression isn't precisely serene, he looks like he is entirely satisfied to be where he is at the moment.
"Which is why I need to persuade people to elect me," Lando says. This will require careful maneuvering to obtain the support of the labor unions and the local inhabitants and various old reprobates who think politics is a complicated confidence game. It's possible that politics is a complicated confidence game, but that puts it squarely in his area of expertise.
"Do you really want to be a politician?"
"I want a seat at the table right now," he says. "That doesn't mean forever. The next couple of years are what matters to what the new Republic turns out to be." There was a time where deciding what he wanted to do for the next couple of years would have felt like prison walls closing in on him, but maybe he has grown up, just a little bit.
"This ought to be interesting," Luke says.
"Interesting is good, right?"
"I really don't know what happens next," Luke says, leaning back with his cup in his hand. He looks like he's come to some kind of momentary peace with the idea.
That Lando can answer. "I make some calls, you put your feet up for a while, and later we'll go see a tailor I know about a wardrobe fit for a modern Jedi Knight."
"It can't be that simple," Luke says, but he's smiling.
"It can today," Lando says, and refills his cup.