Chapter 18: Caught In the Middle
“Hey kid, what’s up?”
Han Solo’s innocuous question fell flat as a disheartened Luke flopped onto the bench seat near the dejarik board on The Millennium Falcon. The despondent aura that had clung to Luke ever since Endor was the exact opposite of Han’s cheerful demeanor.
At Luke’s continued agonized silence, Han glanced up from his struggle to install two new relays on the Falcon’s control board. “Kid?”
In spite of Han’s echoing question, Luke sat unmoving, at last burying his head in his arms. He was clearly in the throes of a deep depression, looking like a lost bundle of melted space sludge.
Han instinctively knew that a quick offense was the best defense against a bout of the blues such as Luke’s. “Might as well tell me right now what’s eating you. If you don’t, Chewie will just rip your arms out of their sockets to get you to tell him what it is, then he’ll tell me, and he’s sure to get the details all wrong. So, what’s got you all riled up… or down?”
Unfazed by Han’s comment, Luke lifted his head a micron to balefully eye his friend. “Han, you’ve been threatening to turn Chewie loose on me ever since I met you.”
Han scowled. “I’m gonna turn Threepio loose on you if you don’t ‘fess up.”
“I’m not afraid of Threepio.”
Han’s scowl deepened, “You know, kid, one thing that being married to your sister has taught me, it’s how to know when a Skywalker is changing the subject on purpose.”
“I’m not changing the subject,” Luke protested.
“Well, whatever you’re doing, it’s annoying.”
Luke’s lips curled briefly in a semblance of a smile. “It’s what I’m here for, to be the annoying little brother.”
Han’s bark of laughter rang through the Falcon’s empty corridors. “How do you know you’re not the annoying older brother?”
But Luke didn’t join in Han’s laughter. “The fact that I don’t know who’s older is what’s bothering me.”
Han frowned. “Leia doesn’t know, and it doesn’t bother her. I didn’t think it bothered you, either. What difference does it make who’s older?”
A sound dripping with sadness issued from Luke. “It doesn’t matter which one of us is older, I guess. It’s just that…” Luke’s voice trailed into silence.
Han uncomfortably watched as Luke wrestled with some unknown internal issue. Dealing with emotional subjects usually made Han so uncomfortable that he immediately created a reason to be anywhere else. He could probably expect married life to become fairly emotional, but he’d only been married to Luke’s sister for a month; his marriage hadn’t had time to get too emotional yet.
But Han steadfastly refused to give in to the fight or flight instinct that was assaulting him now. Instead, he waited with uncharacteristic patience for Luke to explain.
Several unpleasant expressions crossed the younger man’s face, and he eventually clenched his hands into fists. The unflappable Jedi was showing more feeling in this one restrained motion than Han had seen him display since he’d come back from Jabba’s Palace.
Hands still clenched into tense fists, Luke haltingly tried to speak his mind. “It’s just that… After I rescued you, I went to…” Again his voice trailed off in another aborted attempt at speech.
Slowly, Solo expounded, “Yeah, I know you didn’t return with us to the rendezvous. I didn’t think anything of it at the time. Leia said that you had business to take care of, and I didn’t question that. Did something happen?”
“No,” Luke instantly said, then quickly amended, “Yes.” A heavy sigh of frustration burst from him. “Ben… said something... that I can’t quite wrap my mind around.”
“Ben… Kenobi?” Han growled. “He died years ago. How can he say anything?”
Han scowled again when Luke’s voice trailed away once more. Ben Kenobi was dead. Han had seen him fall at the Death Star, and in spite of the way that Luke had insisted for years that he’d heard the old man speak to him on several occasions, he couldn’t make himself believe that ‘dead’ meant anything other than ‘gone forever.’ But the trusting, open expression on Luke’s face showed that the young man believed that he’d recently heard Ben Kenobi, if not seen him as well. “Don’t tell me that being a Jedi suddenly gives you powers to commune with the dead.”
“No.” Luke’s tense laughter held a hint of hysteria, and he fidgeted on The Falcon’s bench seat, his discomfort obvious. “I can... occasionally... talk to Ben’s ghost... ask him questions, get some…” Again, his voice trailed away. Another silent moment went by before he forced himself to go on, “I was going to say ‘get some answers,’ but… Ben…” He turned suddenly anguished eyes on Han. “I’m not sure I can trust Ben anymore.”
This was confusing. “Trust him with what?”
Luke stared off into the distance, as if recalling some memory that pained him. When he spoke once more, his voice was barely more than a whisper. “Years ago, Ben told me that Darth Vader murdered my father. I believed every word he said. I didn’t find out until Bespin that Darth Vader was my father.”
“But this is old news, “ Han protested. “Bespin was…” How long ago had the events at Bespin’s Cloud City occurred? It had all happened just the other day according to him, but he knew that months had passed for everybody else. Han had been briefed on the events that had transpired during his absence, but he still wasn’t completely sure how long it had been. “It was a long time ago,” he finally said. “I thought you had accepted the whole Vader/father thing.”
“‘The Vader/father thing?’” Luke mockingly echoed.
Han gave an exasperated huff. “You know what I mean. Leia told me about… about Vader… and having the Force--”
“You make being Force sensitive sound like we have a genetic disease.”
“Well, that’s what it is, considering... “ Han let his own voice trail to silence this time out of deference for Luke’s feelings about his father. Yet, Luke needed help, not deference. “Considering who yours and Leia’s father was.”
“Anakin Skywalker was our father, not Darth Vader.”
“That’s a matter of opinion that most people don’t share,” Han warned.
“You mean that it’s only true from a certain point of view.”
According to the tone of Luke’s voice, this was the crux of his problem. “Do I detect a note of bitterness there?”
“Bitterness.” Luke’s bark of laughter was so quiet this time as to be almost inaudible. “I do feel bitter… though a Jedi shouldn’t feel any strong emotion, ever.”
“That’s insane,” Han instantly scoffed. “How can you never feel anything?”
“I need to have complete control of my emotions, “ Luke insisted. “Yoda said--”
“He was your Jedi master, right? I thought you said he was dead, too.” Han rubbed at his neck, still uncomfortable with the high level of emotion in this topic, but could see that Luke was hurting. He owed Luke, more than he could ever repay, and was therefore determined to help in spite of his discomfort. “You’re talking in circles, Luke. Why don’t you tell me exactly what happened?”
Luke’s second frustrated sigh exploded into the common area. “You know what Ben told me before. But now I know that what he told me isn’t exactly true. When I confronted Ben with this, his answer was that what he’d told me was true from a certain point of view.”
Han spoke slowly. “So, what you’re saying is--”
“I’m saying that Ben told me exactly what I needed to hear when I needed to hear it in order to make me want to kill my own father. Only I didn’t know he was my father then… and when I found out, he basically told me that if I didn’t kill Vader, it meant that the Emperor had already won. I knew that if we lost the war all because I couldn’t kill the Emperor’s apprentice, it would be all my fault, and--”
“So, if you didn’t kill your own father, the Rebels would lose the war… is that right?”
“Yes… but that’s not what I’m angry about,” Luke protested.
“It’s not?” Han was utterly confused again. “But you just said--”
“I’m angry because… because of Ben and the Emperor… they’re like...” Luke again clenched his teeth. “The Skywalkers were only ever just pawns in this big galactic game between Obi-Wan and the Emperor.”
Han hadn’t expected to hear this. “Do you really believe that?”
Indecision showed in Luke’s rapidly changing expressions. He leaned against the seat back now in a semblance of relaxation, but an unhealthy film of exhaustion covered him. Han wondered when he’d last slept, but didn’t want to interrupt Luke’s concentration to ask.
“I don’t know what to believe,” the Jedi eventually admitted with a disheartened shrug. “Sometimes I think it’s right to think that way, and at other times that I‘ve finally lost my mind.”
“What did…” Han couldn’t recall his name “... your teacher say?”
A brief smile lifted the corners of Luke’s lips. “Yoda? That I had to fight Vader again if I wanted to become a Jedi.”
How did fighting Vader turn Luke into a Jedi, especially if Vader happened to kill Luke in the process? That didn’t make any sense. This Yoda sounded just as enigmatic as Ben. Han remembered Ben as an old man who talked in circles, giving no details. However, Luke now looked so lost that Han felt the need to forget about Ben and say something that might be of some comfort to the young Jedi. “Look, Luke, I don’t know what your Jedi teacher would tell you to do--”
“He’d tell me to meditate.”
That sounded like a fairly useless activity to Han, but he was game for anything at this point. “Have you tried it?”
“I’ve tried for days.”
“Did it work?”
Luke trained his red rimmed eyes on his friend. “Would I be here talking to you if it did?”
“Ah. Point taken.”
Luke made a frustrated tap on the tabletop with his fist, a motion that would have seemed much more severe coming from anybody else. “No matter how much I meditate on this, I can’t see a way to make it so that I wasn’t so… used.”
Han’s bark of laughter caught Luke by surprise. “Luke, we’re all of us used,” Han told his friend, dropping heavily onto the bench next to him. “You used me a few years ago to rescue some princess I’d never heard of before. There was a good chance I’d get a blaster shoved up my nose and end up dead, but that didn’t stop you from using me. Or using Chewie as a means to get into that detention block.”
“I didn’t use you,” Luke argued. “You were just available to--
“Precisely. We were available.”
Luke blinked at this revelation. “Oh. Right. Of course you were available. It was your ship that had been captured.”
“And as fate would have it, my future wife led me to discover the most incredible smell in the galaxy. So things worked out in the end, just like they always do.”
There was an amount of truth in that. “I guess you’re right.”
“And even if Ben said that you had to kill your father, and the Emperor said that instead he and Vader had to kill you, or turn you to the Dark Side, or--”
“I almost turned, you know.”
Han paused, his breath catching in his throat. If Luke had turned to the Dark Side to join Vader in evil, he would be sorely missing his friend right now. Even the imaginary loss made his breath hitch in his throat. “What stopped you?”
“I… I… Vader… He…” Luke glanced surreptitiously at his right hand. The black glove covering it seemed bulky today, too large to be resting on the table’s small game squares. Like a man caught in a dream, Luke slowly peeled off the glove, exposing the hole that had been blasted into his prosthetic hand during the battle at Jabba’s sail barge. The hand’s circuits and gears visually clicked together, whirring gently as Luke shifted his fingers. “I realized I was becoming… him.”
The pirate had never seen Luke’s prosthetic hand before, having been encased in carbonite when he had acquired it, then blind when someone had blasted it and Luke had hidden the damage by donning his customary black glove. Han tried not to stare now, but found the damaged hand too gruesomely fascinating to successfully look away. Instead, he surprised even himself when he grasped Luke’s right fingers gently with his own for a closer look.
Then Han blinked, and the vision he’d had of his friend slowly morphing into his father faded. As fascinating as it was to see a hint of what Vader… and now Luke… was really like, it wasn’t part of the ultimate point that Han wanted to make. “What I mean is: everyone uses everyone else to some extent. You use me. I use Chewie… or rather, his arms. The pilots use your skill in an X-wing. Lando uses--”
“... any card he can get his hands on.”
They both chuckled at Luke’s apt description of the gambler. “Chewie uses me,” Han went on, “and Ben used you… to an extent,” he emphasised with a raised finger. “Do you know of any reason why Ben would want you to kill Vader?”
Luke slowly guessed, “Because he knew it needed to be done… but he couldn’t do it?”
“Or because he’d tried at one time and failed, and wanted you to do what he couldn’t,” Han added on a burst of insight.
“Maybe,” Luke added thoughtfully. “I guess I’ll ask Ben… if I ever see him again.”
“You think you won’t see him again?”
“Well, the Emperor’s dead, Vader’s dead, Yoda’s dead, the war’s over… is there a reason for him to show himself any longer?”
Han suddenly grinned. “It won’t be to chat with your sparkling personality, that’s for sure.”
Luke looked at him in sudden irritation. “I think I liked you better encased in carbonite.”
“Ah, that’s the Luke I know,” Han immediately stated. “Just slightly irritated, and sarcastic because of it. You’ve been hanging around me too long. But it’s better to be irritated and used than unused and completely without friends to do the using in the first place.”
A hot retort was on the tip of Luke’s tongue when he suddenly paused as Han’s last suggestion finally sank in. The resulting epiphone made his breath hitch in his throat. “Huh. It really is all about your point of view, just like Ben said.” The corners of Luke’s lips lifted into a slight smile. “I do feel better. Maybe a touch irritated, but better.” His smile grew. “Who would have thought. Thanks, Han.”
Han grinned back. “That’s what friends are for… to irritate you to death.”
Luke gave an unusually light-hearted glare. “Just wait till I get my lightsaber out. Then we’ll see who’s irritated.”
“Careful, or I’ll sick Chewie on you.”
“Haven’t we been over this already?”
“I’ll sick Leia on you.”
“You play dirty, Han Solo.”
“It’s good to have you back.”