Returning to Home One, Lando felt, for the very first time in a very long time, regret. It stung at the very heart of him, pushed and shoved its way through every bit of him. It got all the way down to his marrow and continued to burrow. He wondered if regret could dissolve down to the level of subatomic particles, rip him to shreds from there. It felt like it. For a moment, the most selfish parts of him wished it would. He could depart from this galaxy with no fuss, no mess. It wouldn’t do Han any good now—too late, they were too late, and Lando had been at fault, there was no talking his way around that one—but it would be penance, of a sort.
It was all he had left to give.
His mind glided through the debrief, Admiral Ackbar’s grim face and somber eyes the only thing he remembered from the proceedings. Leia did the talking, her voice a monotone that barely registered between the repetitions of his thoughts. My fault, my fault, my fault. When Lando could finally bring himself to look at Luke, he winced. His grief punctured the careful blankness that tried to settle there. It was all in the eyes. Even while the rest of him was kept perfectly, pristinely neutral, the eyes gave him away.
Chewie refused to even come to the debrief, instead staying with the Falcon while medical took Han’s body away. Who knew what they would do with him; Lando had a few ideas of how Han might have wanted to be remembered. Late nights spend drinking and growing more maudlin by the hour, Han at his side, matching him shot for shot, had given him a great deal of insight into his wishes regarding the disposal of his body. Throw me out the Falcon’s emergency hatch, he’d said once, particularly embittered about something that Lando just couldn’t remember now. Not like I’ll be around to know or care.
Another time, he’d suggested that Lando throw him a deathday party and invite all his enemies to it—and then fleece them for every credit to their name in the greatest heist the galaxy had ever known. That appealed a great deal more to Lando than disposing of Han’s body out of the back end of the Falcon admittedly. That, he’d only fantasized about doing while Han was still alive.
All of the shine had come off of it now that Han was dead.
“Do you have anything to add, General Calrissian?” Ackbar asked. His voice rumbled through the question, the fringes around his mouth swaying with each word.
For the longest moment of Lando’s life, there were no words to say. His mind was a blank, a whirl, an inconstant thing incapable of settling. By the time he’d come up with any words at all, and merely a paltry apology at that, Luke was stepping forward.
“What happened on Tatooine was a tragedy,” he said and Lando might have applauded him for the strength, the certainty of his voice. He could’ve been a swindler if he had half the mind to be. “But I see no reason to place blame anywhere except on the shoulders of the beings responsible.” Only here did his voice waver and that, more than anything, sharpened Lando’s focus. “Darth Vader, Boba Fett, and Jabba the Hutt. Leia has already seen fit to punish the last of these and Boba Fett was killed in the ensuing fight. We’ll all do our best to bring Darth Vader to justice regardless, but there is even more reason to do so now.” He glanced Lando’s way and bit his lip.
If he was going to say more, he never managed to get it out. “We do have larger concerns at the moment,” Leia said, cold, and Lando would have bet his last credit that this was a posture at best. “I’m aware of the meeting that Mon Mothma intends to call regarding the Bothan intelligence we have received. As regretful as this situation is, that takes priority over everything else.” He had to give her this much: nothing about her determination here suggested she was grieving for one of her best friends. Lando wasn’t sure if he should applaud her for that or be terrified of her for the deception.
Would that he had that kind of nerve. It would have certainly come in handy over the years.
She could’ve been a swindler, too.
“Yes,” Ackbar answered, tipping his head in concession. There had been whispers for months about the Bothans’ supposed intel. Even Lando, who’d spent so much of his time trying to infiltrate Jabba’s palace, heard about it on the dusty, dry plains of Tatooine. Whatever it was they had to say, it was big, but Lando still couldn’t guess what that meant in the grand scheme of things. “You are correct as always, Princess. We will mourn Captain Solo’s death once we have completed our cause here.”
Completed, Lando thought. Just how much was this intel going to change the course of the war?
“You are all dismissed.” He gave special consideration to Lando, his large, almost translucent eyes boring into him. “Take the evening to recover. We shall reconvene in the morning.”
Luke offered Ackbar a slight bow while Leia nodded, crisp. Lando, unsure what to do, mirrored her, backing out last. His steps lingered, as slow and reluctant as Leia and Luke’s were quick and purposeful. They moved as one and Lando, more lost than he’d ever felt before, envied them their united front. Stuffing his hands into his pockets, he stilled in the hallway outside Ackbar’s office, Ackbar’s door whooshing shut with a pneumatic hiss. They got halfway down the way before Luke thought to turn. “Are you coming?” he asked, more feelingly than he’d been mere moments ago. “Lando?”
Lando frowned and shook his head. “No,” he answered. As much as he wanted to, he could not be in the pair’s presence now. Not like this, not with them both grieving so. He’d been Han’s friend the longest, but they knew the man he’d become far better than he did. That was a shame he would carry with him always, and the thing that would always divide the three of them going forward. A chasm had opened up and they—they were on the far side of it. Together. “No, I think I need…”
He wasn’t sure what he needed. Another chance, a way to change what had happened. Impossible things. But the only thing he could do was avoid their gaze entirely, avoid the comfort they would bring to one another, a thing he deserved no part of. “I think I need to be alone,” he said, strong, certain—or feigning it, enough that Luke’s gaze sharpened with pain. But he was a good man and he nodded and he would let Lando take what Lando said he needed.
“Of course, Lando.” He offered to Lando a sad, longing smile. “Take all the time you want.”
Lando swallowed the lump that formed in his throat. Though Luke had likely intended it to be comforting, Lando could take nothing from it, nothing except the knowledge that he didn’t deserve what Luke offered. Leia, he noted, did not turn at all, merely stood with rigid fragility further down the hall, her arms crossed and her eyes diverted.
That was what he deserved.
Perhaps Leia would tell Luke that and he’d see reason, too.
Even if Luke offered Lando all the time he wanted, the Rebellion took it right back. As they sat around Mon Mothma’s holoprojector the next day, Lando was forced to stare at the realization of a hell he’d thought obliterated three years ago. The Death Star. Another Death Star. A bigger, deadlier Death Star. He hadn’t been there for the first one, not like Han had been, and Leia and Luke, but he was certain the terror he felt resided in their hearts, too. It pounded, wild and furious and implacable, against the walls of his chest, rattling and demanding a way out. It was too big for him, too big for them all, and someone would have to take it out.
How would they ever succeed at doing the same thing twice?
It should have been Luke. By all accounts, he was the most likely person to see the job through.
“I can’t,” Luke said, vague, regretful, and yet so full of determination. “My destiny lies along a different path now.”
“Then I will,” Leia said, fierce in all the ways her brother was not.
“You’re not a pilot,” Mon Mothma said, reasonable and rational and so very hated if the flashing, resenting anger in Leia’s gaze was anything to go by.
Chewie shouted, his voice loud and booming in the comparatively small confines of the ship’s meeting room. It held a mournful, melancholy note that Lando had put there, and Lando wondered if it would ever go away. Probably not. Wookiees carried long memories and large hearts. He would never recover from the loss they all felt.
Lando knew that feeling. If Chewie would accept condolences from him, he’d have offered them. As it was, Lando still had need of his limbs. Already he knew Chewie would kill him if given a reason to. Out of rage or despair, it hardly mattered. Lando had but to give him that reason.
He would not, though a part of him, the part that liked neat, easy endings, wanted to; he still owed much to the Rebellion, more than he could repay, and he would see that obligation wiped away first.
It had always been Han who ran from his debts.
If only he could do so now.
“We need you for the ground assault,” Mon Mothma replied to Chewie’s anguished ravings. He was a pilot. He could do it. But he was needed elsewhere, too. “This will not work if those shield generators are not disabled.”
Lando brushed his hands down his thighs and across his stomach. Climbing to his feet, he grimaced and gave Mon Mothma a respectful nod. “I’ve been known to pilot a ship from time to time.” It wasn’t his right to suggest this. And yet, what other option was there? “Even the Falcon.”
They had no reason to trust what he told them, no reason to allow him to do even that much for the Rebellion. Perhaps that was why he continued speaking. “If I know anything at all about this Death Star’s construction compared to the last—” And he did now. He’d studied up. In the scant days he spent away from Tatooine, he researched just what it was he’d tried to make a deal with. That included the old Death Star’s plans. “—it lacks Galen Erso’s subtle touches.”
“Indeed,” Mon Mothma replied. “Well caught. In the abstract, it will be easier to destroy than the last, though that says nothing about the difficulty that we all face in defeating them. They will throw everything they have at us, every ship and every gun, every person they have. The challenge will be different, but it will be no less dangerous.”
From another corner of the room, Captain Antilles cleared his throat. “All due respect, but that’s what we’re here for. If General Calrissian wants to fly—” He smiled here, grim and sharp-edged. “—I’m happy to fly with him.”
Lando’s brow arched, but Mon Mothma considered his proposition. He didn’t dare look to Luke or Leia; he did not want to see whatever thoughts it was they might harbor about this plan. Instead, he focused entirely on Mon Mothma and hoped that she would say yes. He could do this for the Rebellion. It was a fool’s mission, but he was nothing more than a fool. It suited him.
If he allowed himself the darkness of a far truer mood, he might have said he welcomed the risk.
“Very well,” Mon Mothma said finally, her eyes heavy with the weight of the responsibility that fell upon her shoulders. “It appears we have a plan. Prepare however you must. And may the Force be with us all.”
Already standing, it was quick enough for Lando to stride toward the exit; he knew how to take advantage of things. Ahead of Luke and Leia, he expected he could make a clean break. And yet, a hand grabbed for his wrist and pulled him around and he was presented with Luke’s face searching his. There was nothing but compassion in his gaze, abominable and damning in its own way, harder to grapple with than the fury of Leia’s anger. That made sense to Lando; it was no less than he felt toward himself. In that way, they were the same, he and her.
“Lando,” Luke said, serious and though Lando could not see it, he sensed Luke’s grief, knew it for the all-consuming thing it was. It was an unfathomable, never-ending, forever hungry creature that would gnaw and gnaw and gnaw and find no satiation. In that way, they were the same, he and him.
Luke sighed then and brushed his hand across his face. Lando hoped it was because he realized a lost cause when he saw it. Be like your other half, a part of him urged. She’s much smarter than you. She knows the way of things. He could never share what they had, what they’d built over the course of years, in the very heart of the Rebellion, but he could encourage it and show what little selflessness he could that way.
They didn’t need him right there in the center of it, warping the dance they shared around the weight of his presence.
“Do you really want to leave it this way?” Luke asked, almost pleading, his voice pitched higher than Lando was used to hearing. There was strain in it and Lando regretted that this was one more thing he had caused. “Now?”
“What is there to say, really?” he answered, knowing it to be unfair even as he said it. There were so many things he wanted to say and so many things he couldn’t. By the flash of hurt in Luke’s eyes, Luke knew it, too. Giving in a bit, just enough, Lando added, “I’ll see you when we all get back. We can talk then.” I’ll tell you everything; I’ll give you everything. Both of you. If you want it. His gaze turned to Leia, who remained impatiently planted at the end of the hall. Her eyes quickly darted away, an angry frown forming on her mouth. People were known to fear that look of wrath. Lando merely appreciated it for the truth it told.
“When we get back,” Luke replied, weak, not a little suspicious. It was a challenge and suggested a pessimism that Lando was surprised to find Luke was capable of. He’d always been the shining beacon of optimism in the group. This war and Han’s death had wearied more than Luke’s body. Even a great Jedi Knight was apparently not immune to its affects. It made Lando want to do nothing more than shield Luke from this, the final stretch of it.
He couldn’t, of course. Lando wasn’t made for protecting others from the harshness of reality.
Lando shrugged. His cape sat heavy on his shoulders and threatened to choke him. “I’m sorry.”
It was inadequate, but it would have to do, because Luke was a much better person than the rest of them and chose to let it go, let Lando off the hook when he could have pushed for more.
“May the Force be with you,” Lando said. Those words weren’t enough; they never would be. But they were all he had to give at this moment.
Lando didn’t expect to survive the Death Star run. Sure, he’d heard the fantastic tale of Rogue Group—back before they even went by that name—and those few who survived the first Death Star run, but he never expected to be one of them. Or, well. Adjacent to them. He didn’t lead Rogue Squadron or Red Squadron or any of the teams he’d heard about in his time with the Rebellion. He’d been handed Gold Squadron, Wedge Antilles and Nien Nunb at his side, following his lead. And they’d followed through magnificently for him. He owed them.
He owed all of them.
With a laugh, Wedge had called him an honorary Rogue the minute they stepped out of their ships and onto green, solid ground. “Not that you weren’t already a rogue,” he’d added, clapping Lando on the shoulder. “Glad to fight by your side anytime, General.”
Now, they all enjoyed the fruits of that dangerous labor. On the Forest Moon of Endor of all places, Lando found himself smiling, true and genuine, for the first time in a very long while. He could not help it. The sheer, joyful energy infected him, slithered into the spaces between his grief and clawed at him for all it could. The effect was minimal, but stark all the same. Too much death clung to him to wholly forget the costs, but unlike before, he now had the payoff to show for it.
That counted for something.
Whether it was worth it, he couldn’t say entirely. There was a whole hell of a lot he would have traded back to undo the things he’d done. But even he wasn’t so selfish as to think it didn’t make any difference at all. This, this right here, was why they’d fought. It was what Han had ultimately been sacrificed for. This moment, this celebration, this evocation of life and love and happiness.
Maybe a better man could have ignored that, kept the sober appreciation of what they’d all lost in the forefront of his mind.
But Lando wasn’t a better man; he was merely Lando, and he could not help the feeling of pleasure that rippled through him to see all the people he cared about so very jubilant, high on their own success. Here was Chewbacca, baring his teeth and laughing with Wedge, his hand clamped over Wedge’s shoulder. There, Admiral Ackbar and Nien. That way, Shara and Kes clearly intending to sneak away.
And right in front of him, as sudden as a summer storm on Bespin, Luke. And Leia. Even Leia couldn’t suppress her joy, brown eyes sparkling with so much relief that he very nearly swept her into his arms right then and there. If not for the gulf that still swelled between them, he would have. It was easier, in a way, to look toward Luke, who was more sedate, but no less happy. Luke hadn’t expressed his pain after all, not the way Leia had. He didn’t know what Luke looked like when he blamed Lando for something.
Whatever words Lando might have spoken dried in his throat.
How was he supposed to speak now? There were so many things to say and he’d promised Luke. But each one crowded his thoughts, sat heavy on his tongue and held tight to him for dear life. He normally had no problem giving voice to his concerns, his needs, his wants, his feelings.
But they were all so very big now, unfathomably so. In the midst of this much jubilance, he could not…
“You’re thinking too hard again,” Luke said finally, a smile pulling at his mouth. His eyes, bursting with happiness, caught and reflected the light of the fireworks still exploding overhead. He turned a little toward Leia, who nodded, also unable to contain her happiness. “Come with us.”
Who could say no to that? Lando certainly couldn’t.
Leia reached for him, the first time in months, her hand warm and smooth and loved in his own as he took hold. It was all he’d wanted for so long and maybe he’d finally earned the right to it. She grabbed hold of Luke, too, and pulled them from the throng of revelers around them. A few offered their congratulations as the three of them passed, making a short journey to the residential huts far longer than Lando entirely had patience for, but Lando couldn’t begrudge anyone their gratitude.
He was feeling pretty grateful himself.
Eventually, though, they finally found themselves very nearly alone. At the outskirts of the camp, you could almost pretend you were alone. The occasional giggle could be heard from nearby some places, but in the dark, no one could really see anything. It wasn’t the least private space Lando had spent time in was all he was willing to concede on the point, and if it was enough for Leia and Luke, it was enough for him.
“I’m sorry,” Leia said, barely visible under the thick canopy above their heads. Unlike the main staging area for the party, there was little light by which to see anything here and no clearings overhead to allow the natural moon and starlight through. Leia apologized for nothing ever. In fact, this might be the only place where she’d be able to do anything of the sort.
He was no less floored for that fact, no less humbled. He hadn’t expected it, didn’t think he’d needed it. But something unclenched in his chest and broke free. For a moment, it lanced at him, so harsh that Lando might have gasped in surprise. But it was only a moment and then he felt nothing but relief, pure, simple relief.
When she wrapped her arms around his neck, he did the only thing he could do: he held her tight, his arms slipping around her waist, nearly lifting her off the ground in his haste to pull her as close to him as she would allow. Her skin and long, wavy hair smelled of wood smoke from the massive bonfires that had been lit earlier in the night, so unlike her usual fragrance, yet equally compelling. He pressed his cheek, his mouth, his nose against the juncture where shoulder met neck. “I missed you.”
“I know,” she said, her voice as insubstantial as mist as she apologized again. It did not come easily to her, he knew, and the mere fact that she would do so for him was enough.
Luke’s hand, warm, settled against each of their backs, comforting and soothing. Leia relaxed even more and Lando knew there was a new closeness between them that he was not yet privy to. Where before, that might have worried him. Here, now, he was merely glad they had found it. They belonged to one another as much as he belonged to them and they to him in turn. However that manifested for them, Lando was pleased of it. They deserved whatever peace they could find and it was so very clear they’d found it.
“There’s a lot to discuss,” Luke said, quiet, too, like he didn’t want to shatter such a fragile moment. After a pause, he added, “Later.”
The fact that there would be a later at all felt like an unexpected, unfathomable gift. They’d won. They’d won. Against the Empire. Against everyone who tried to subjugate, oppress, and kill them. The Empire’s might was so much greater than the Rebellion’s and yet they had failed. They’d failed and the Rebellion succeeded and Lando had been a part of that, Luke and Leia at his side the entire time.
As a younger man, he never would have imagined this becoming his life, but he couldn’t say he regretted it, not entirely, not the parts that led him to being here with them. All of the hardship he had faced and more would have been worth it for this much of what had transpired.
He pulled himself free of Leia’s embrace and laid his hand against Luke’s cheek, marveling in the way he closed his eyes and leaned into the touch.
This—all of this, every last bit of it—was nothing short of miraculous. And if he pushed the heel of his palm against his cheek to brush away what might have been a hint of moisture, that was his business. And if neither Leia nor Luke mentioned it, he could pretend they didn’t see it and so salvage this small scrap of his dignity. Besides, they probably understood better than anyone what Lando was feeling. Like his chest had been cracked open, bursting with love and fear and hope, his heart ached and throbbed, so full of feeling that Lando didn’t entirely know what to do with it.
If not for Luke’s touch, he might have imploded—or floated away, unmoored and cast upon choppy waves, each emotion crashing against him as he struggled, and probably failed, to find safe harbor.
Luke pressed a kiss to Leia’s cheek and to Lando’s mouth and urged them forward with a gentle push. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s go celebrate.” He searched the skies for a moment, a vague smile on his mouth. “We’ve got a lot of time to make up for.”
This was Lando’s safe harbor now.
For as long as he could have it, it would be.
He suspected—and, would eventually find out, rightly—that it would remain so for a very, very long time.