Remain in Light – Chapter 1: Han
by Erin Darroch
Ratings/Warnings (this chapter only): T; angst; suggestion of violence
Note: This is the only chapter of the story that is written in first-person, present-tense. I'm not a fan of this style; it just came out of me like this, in response to my first viewing of TFA. I was gutted. I had to save Han Solo from his terrible fate.
Chapter 1: Han
As the darkness recedes, the pain in Han's chest glows white hot. Every wretched breath is a rasping horror as he drags air through his clenched teeth, and there is a roaring in his ears, a cacophony of harsh sounds. He hears the screech of metal against metal; the boom of distant explosions; the groan of heavy struts under assault and, above it all, the faint echo of a Wookiee's roar.
And then, from somewhere nearby, there is a startled laugh. A woman's bitter, ironic, incredulous laugh.
"Well, well. How nice of you to drop in..." Her vaguely metallic voice is flat against the whoosh of his own blood and the thumping of his heart.
He cracks open one eye and for an instant he is blinded by light flooding down from above, before his eyes clamp shut of their own accord. The pain in his chest is more blinding than the light, and the back of his head feels like it has caved in. Cold sludge engulfs his limbs. He drags one more heavy breath into his seared lungs, and it takes all of his strength to open his eyes again, to brave the dazzling light and the dull roaring in his ears. These will be his final sensations. He knows he is dying, that his life is ebbing from his body in shocked pulses, each coming just a little slower than the last, each throb a little weaker. Awareness of his imminent death doesn't frighten him, though; instead it brings a weak wash of relief, edged with guilt and tinged with shame, all flowing over a disappointment so bitter and a grief so profound he cannot bear it in mind for more than a fleeting instant. His eyes drift closed once more. The relative darkness is a balm, soothing and cool. The viscous pool into which he has fallen sucks at his back and limbs, floods his scalp, pulls him down. As his consciousness fades, he hears Leia's voice in his head, murmuring the mournful plea that he's seen in her eyes for years, at every goodbye:
If you see our son, bring him home.
Sorrow engulfs him as he realises that this is how their story ends, that their sad farewell on D'Qar was their final parting. His time is up. His mission has failed. All that's left to do now is to let go.
"You're not such a hotshot now, old man." The armoured woman's voice is nearer now, clearer, drawing his consciousness briefly back to the surface. "How did you get a wound like that, I wonder?" She sounds amused, mocking, as if she already knows the answer to that question.
The stinking pool sloshes as she moves towards Han, rocking him deeper into the mire. His eyes open again as some primitive instinct senses a threat and tries to react. He is on his back, afloat on a sea of refuse, sinking into a churning waste—food waste, human waste and worse—but momentarily held up by its density. The stench of it floods his senses as he drags another breath through his pinched nostrils.
His instincts tell him to move, but he cannot stir even a finger to help himself. The stunning blow, the spinning fall, the abrupt impact and subsequent tumble down the garbage chute are all nothing in comparison to the paralyzing effect of having seen Ben's face again after so many years, of looking into his beloved son's eyes at long last, and seeing only an abyss. All he can do now is watch through slitted eyes as Phasma wades towards him through the fetid soup.
The pain in his chest swells again. He can taste blood and something else—charred meat. The detached part of his brain identifies it as his own flesh. In a flash, he remembers everything that happened in those shocked moments after Ben removed his mask. The sound of his boy's voice, strained and trembling. The desperate hope in his own heart, that he might just manage to pull off a miracle this time and bring their son home.
I know what I need to do, but I don't know if I have the strength to do it.
"You're just in time," Phasma tells him, her harsh voice breaking into his consciousness once more. "I was on my way out." He feels a heavy, gloved hand clamp down on his leg. Another grabs the front of his jacket, pulling him up out of the muck. The pain is too intense—the combination of the physical pain of the smoking, cauterised hole in his body, and the unbearable agony of remembering who put it there—and it overwhelms him.
Will you help me?
The darkness beckons. It promises relief. He makes a decision.
"Oh, no you don't," Phasma mutters over him. Through half-shut eyes he sees her turn her helmeted head, barking orders. There is an open hatch in the wall which winks in and out of view as she moves. A gust of fresh air wafts in as other figures enter the chamber. He senses their movements as they clamber in, wade across and lay hands on him.
"Get him out." The order is terse, and is swiftly obeyed.
He regains consciousness with a jolt and reflexively glances down. The pain is so intense, he half expects to see the sputtering red blade still impaling him, but it's gone. Instead, he sees bare, blackened flesh, raw in the glow of red running lights. A medic is rummaging hastily through a case near his head. The deck plates beneath them rumble and hum. The rear ramp is retracting as the hydraulic door begins to close. Han begins coughing, choking. Hot blood flecks his chin and dribbles down his neck.
He is on a transport of some kind. Around him, grim stormtroopers stand swaying against the walls, hanging on to the metal struts and dangling straps for support as the shuttle leaves the ground. Phasma is there, too, her head inclined in a shouted exchange with a young officer of the First Order.
"...his father," she is yelling over the roar of the transport. "...he has failed."
She gestures towards Han. The officer turns his pale face towards the fallen man, and quirks one eyebrow. He shrugs. His answer is lost in the din. Snatches of Phasma's voice can be heard over the sounds of the transport door clanging shut.
"If he lives... Ren's weakness... our chance...".
The crimson light that suffuses the scene provokes another unwanted flash of memory—the last sight of Ben's face, growing darker in the dying light, finally tinted a deep, blood red. The cold, dark eyes regarding him dispassionately. The immobile face enduring one last caress.
Han cannot bear it, any of it. A black fog crowds his vision and he squeezes his eyes shut, silently begging for an end. But darkness does not overtake him. Not yet.
We can still save him. You. Me.
The medic begins addressing the catastrophic wound in his chest.
"No!" His voice is guttural, savage, as it rips from his throat. With his free hand, he tries to shove the man away. He wants to die now. He wants it all to be over. He understands, finally, how exhausting the battle has been for Ben, forever caught in the war between his true nature and his warped ambitions, between the love of his family and the corrupting lure of power. The deed is done, and there's an end to it. He has given his son one gift, at least, that he can cherish. Ben's last words to him are bittersweet.
He shoves at the medic again, but his body is weak and he is easily restrained. The medic continues his work. He has been ordered to save Han's life, and he is working feverishly to ensure that it happens, as if his own life depends upon it.
Han feels something sharp puncture his neck, followed by a spreading sensation of warmth and lethargy. A mask descends over his face, and cooling, healing vapours flood his lungs. The black fog that so completely obscured his vision a moment ago seems to lift, and everything around him brightens. He blinks rapidly, clearing sweat and tears from his eyes, suddenly more alert.
The tilt of the deck tells Han that they are changing direction. The stormtroopers lean into the turn, bracing their legs. Despite himself, Han cranes for a look beyond the shoulder of the medic hunched over him. Through the narrow, horizontal viewport he gets a glimpse of a planet crumbling into oblivion.
He thinks of Chewbacca and the two kids whose fates have so suddenly and completely been entwined with theirs. A spark of something like hope flares in his aching chest. Chewie will have gotten out, surely. He won't have squandered his life in a futile attempt to avenge his fallen friend, will he? He will have taken the kids to the Falcon, and escaped this hell.
He thinks of Leia and considers the profound weight of grief and sorrow that will descend upon her already overburdened shoulders when she learns of what has happened. Anguish at the thought of what it will do to her threatens to overwhelm him. She deserves better than this. They both do.
He remembers the girl from Jakku, and the faintest hope stirs within him again. He needs to see Leia again, one more time. There are things he needs to tell her.
"Can you save him?" Phasma is leaning down, shouting at the medic who is tending to Han's wound.
The medic looks up briefly and gives a thumbs up. Phasma straightens and turns her helmeted head in Han's direction. Behind her, the viewport fills with fire and the cabin is flooded with golden light.