AN: This is going to be a two-part short story. Don't worry, all of you who are anticipating updates to "My Mother" - I'm definitely not abandoning that one, this is just a little something to do on the side.
Oh, and as you know, I don't own SW or any of its characters (not even Han, BWAAAAAAH!).
Luke's tormented cries woke Han out of an uncomfortable sleep. He opened his eyes to complete darkness, absolutely no difference from when his eyes were closed, which made his ears more aware of Luke crying out to the dead man and the rest of him more aware of the biting cold. Despite his snowsuit, the heavy sleeping bag in which he and Luke were nestled together, and the supposedly insulated tent, he was shivering from the icy air.
Han rolled over to face the source of the voice. He carefully reached out his gloved hand until it touched the figure next to him. "Kid?" he whispered. "Hey kid, you awake?"
"Beeeeennnnnn..." was all the figure said in response.
Han let his hand slip off of him. The poor kid - he hadn't regained consciousness since Han rescued him. If this could be called rescue. It was more like providing a place for the two of them to stay while they waited for someone else to rescue them. Someone else, like who? The rebellion? Maybe. Han's comlink was turned on, but no sound was emitting from it. Of course not - everyone knew that the nighttime temperatures on Hoth dropped to a deadly level that could freeze people instantly; they wouldn't go out to certain death for the slight chance that they might find two of their members. Only a fool would go outside at night on this planet. A fool...like Han.
Han felt his stomach growl from hunger and realized with more than a little dismay that in his rush to go looking for Luke he had forgotten to pack food. Great, he thought. Just great. Maybe the search party would find their two comrades starved to death...if the search party was coming at all.
"Hope you're not hungry, kid," Han said between grunts to the unconscious Luke. "Cause dinner's not comin' for a long time."
Han rolled onto his back and stared up at the seemingly-infinite blackness. What had he gotten himself into? Wasn't it only this afternoon when he was planning to leave this rebellion, pay off his debt, and get his life back? He sniffed loudly, realizing his nose was clogged up from the cold, which forced him to breathe through his dry mouth. Fine, he thought, let's add a fever to starvation and freezing. Well, maybe there were some good things about a stuffed nose. For one thing, it meant he couldn't smell Luke, who probably reeked from lying in the taun-taun's innards.
The taun-taun! Maybe they could carve it apart for food...no, they couldn't. It was probably frozen solid and buried under the snow by now, and besides, carving it up would require leaving the tent into the deadly nighttime temperatures of Hoth. Han sighed as his stomach growled again. If they were to attempt to eat the taun-taun, they would have to wait until later, and deal with hunger for the entire night, possibly longer.
"Han, old buddy, do you read me?"
For some reason Luke's words of earlier that day came into his head - three of which were speaking in an especially loud voice: "Han old buddy." Old buddy. It hadn't been the first time someone had called him "old buddy" - in fact, it was a rather common way to refer to each other around the sabacc table after downing a few drinks. But there was something different about the way Luke had said it - not drunk, not gambling, and added on after the standard procedure of addressing him by his code name: "Echo Three to Echo Seven." Those words alone would have been sufficient, but Luke had proceeded with not only Han's real name, but also the words "old buddy" - said in such a way that sounded like he actually meant it.
Well of course he meant it. After all, they had been working together in this crazy Rebel Alliance for three years. But no...it wasn't only that. Han had been working with many people for three years now, some of whom still had names unknown to him, but...there was something different about Luke. Maybe it was the kid's optimism. He always insisted that things would turn out all right, no matter what was happening. His childish ways of believing in the future had a way of rubbing off on everyone else, making his insistence into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Foolish optimism...but strangely, it usually seemed to work.
"Han old buddy, do you read me?"
Why did a kid who bubbled with optimism think of Han as an old buddy? It wasn't like he shared Luke's attitude. In fact, by any logic, Luke should hate such a cynic as Han.
But then, maybe the kid did hate him when they first met. Oh yeah, he remembered their argument on the Death Star when Luke insisted that they try to rescue the princess, even though that was going against their plan and setting them up to be captured. And then there was that memorable conversation before the Battle of Yavin, when Han insisted that attacking the Death Star was crazy and determined to get himself as far away as possible to avoid being blown to pieces. Oh yeah, Luke sure had a reason to hate him after that.
But he didn't end up leaving. Something...guilt feelings, maybe?...had possessed him during his flight away from Yavin 4. Probably the same thing that had possessed him earlier today...
"The temperature's dropping too rapidly."
"That's right - and my friend's out in it!"
No...that wasn't mere guilt. Mere guilt wouldn't have motivated him to do something like this. Hell, he used to think that nothing would make him so crazy as to spend a night in Hoth's deathly environment, not even a million credits. But...obviously something had done so...without so much as a single credit attached to it.
A loud sneeze erupted out of his mouth, followed immediately by a struggle for air as his breaths alternated between sniffs through his nose and gasps from his mouth. His head rocked up and down, as if trying to find which position would allow it to breathe properly. Air...where was the air...
After what must have been the longest five seconds in history, he finally caught his breath. His mouth took in long, slow inhales as the rest of him shivered. His toes and earlobes felt like bits of ice attached to his skin. Ugh...why was it always the toes and the earlobes that froze the worst? Not that the rest of him felt much better. He tightly wrapped his arms around his body, which did nothing to alleviate the fact that he felt like a living ice cube. He rubbed his chin with his bundled hand and felt bumps under his glove - the bumps of frozen saliva, gripping his skin with tiny bites, as if insects had attached themselves to him to suck his blood.
"H-h-h...H-h-h...H-h-h-haaannn?" a faint voice said.
Han whipped his body around to face the invisible source of the voice. "Luke!" he exclaimed.
"H-Han?" Luke whispered between labored breaths. "I-i-i-is...is th-that you?"
"Yeah kid," Han said with more than a little relief. "You okay? I was afraid you weren't gonna wake up."
Luke coughed softly. "Wh-wh-where are we...?"
Han breathed. "We're frozen together, kid. We're out in the middle of nowhere with only this tiny tent to shield us from the deadly temperatures outside. The rest of the party might come to rescue us, but that probably won't be till morning."
Luke coughed again. "I-I...th-thought you were g-g-going back to the b-b-base..."
Han reached over to touch Luke's face. "I came back for ya, kid."
Luke's rough breath blew on Han's glove. "H-h-han..." he said in a dazed voice, "I'm...I'm cold..."
Well that's obvious, Han found himself thinking, then he immediately scolded himself for thinking like that. After all, Luke had been out in the cold for much longer than he had. Poor guy, he must be absolutely miserable - no wonder he didn't seem to be completely there.
"Fraid I can't offer you much in terms of warmth, kid," said Han, to which Luke responded with a series of more intense coughs, occasionally interrupted by shaking breaths.
Han wanted to close off his ears to the sound. Every cough and breath from Luke shouted out that Han couldn't do anything to help him, causing his stomach to lurch. Close it off...ignore it...but try as he might, he found that he couldn't. Three years ago, he might have been able to brush away someone else's suffering, but now he had lost the ability.
Almost unconsciously, the fingers on his left hand began digging at the edge of his right glove. What...what was he doing? Was he insane? Did he want his hands to turn into lumps of ice that would shatter into pieces? His brain vaguely tried to stop his hands from removing his gloves to no avail.
"Here Luke," he said gently after his hands were bare. "I can give you a bit of body heat. It won't last long, but it's all I got." He gripped Luke's face in his hands and pressed against his cheeks, transferring the little heat he had to someone who needed it more.
Luke's coughs slowly depleted in intensity and his breath gradually became more regular as Han's hands tingled more and more from the cold. His stomach was still tight from hunger...his nose was still clogged...his body was still frozen...and now his hands were becoming unbearably numb, but his focus was on Luke, and doing whatever he could to make him more comfortable. It was an interesting feeling, for his physical discomfort to be a background to his concern for someone else's discomfort. Almost like he could feel what Luke was experiencing, which was undoubtably worse than how he felt.
By now his hands had almost completely lost their sensation, but his thumbs could still feel the slight upward curve in Luke's lips.
"I-I...I feel better now..." Luke whispered.
Han found himself smiling back, though it hurt his cheeks to stretch his stiff muscles. "Feel well enough to tell me what happened?"
Luke breathed deeply. "Wampa...a Wampa attacked me...took me to its cave...I escaped...got lost...saw...saw Ben..."
Saw Ben? Han trembled slightly. No...Ben Kenobi was dead - the cold and injuries must have caused Luke to hallucinate or have some strange dreams. Yes...that was it.
"Where did you dig up that old fossil?"
His insult of three years back decided to creep around in his brain, as if he didn't have enough to contemplate already. If only he had known that the man was going to die that very day...
"Well kid," he found himself saying, "so long as we're on the subject, I guess this is as good a time as any to apologize for those times I insulted him. I mean...I barely knew the guy, but I know he meant a lot to you..."
"I-I...I know y-you didn't mean those things you said..." Luke said, the smile under Han's thumbs not wavering. "Th-that was a long time ago...let it be. H-he...he would be happy to see...wh-what you've done now."
Han lay there for several moments, his only movement being his fingers gently pinching Luke's stiff cheeks to give them warmth, silently contemplating what he had said. He had never given Ben Kenobi much thought...but now that Luke had brought it up, the thought of him approving of Han suddenly gave him a slight flutter of happiness. He had never understood the old man, and probably never would, but there was something about him...something that couldn't exactly be placed. What had driven Ben to choose Han...out of all the pilots in the cantina? Looking back at that day, he couldn't assign it to anything except pure chance...but pure chance for which he was grateful.
Grateful? He was grateful for being stranded in the middle of this icy wasteland? Yes...Luke's steady breaths and the texture of his smile told Han that yes...he was grateful for that day that had altered his life.
The sound of a long yawn emitting from Luke's mouth interrupted Han's musings and caused him to realize that his eyes had closed while he was warming Luke's face. Not that it made much difference, since he couldn't see either way, but he still opened them again, as if Luke could see his eyes in the dark.
"We should both go to sleep, kid," said Han. "We need to preserve our energy for the rescue party that's comin' tomorrow."
Luke yawned again. "G-good...good night...Han," he said, his voice fading away. His body inched closer to Han until his head was pressed against Han's chest.
Han momentarily jumped in surprise at Luke's sudden action of brotherly affection, as if he trusted Han to take care of him until the rescue came. "Uh...Luke?" he said.
Luke gave no answer, only labored but peaceful breaths in rhythmic time.
Half out of reflex and half out of conscious decision, Han wrapped his arms around Luke's sleeping body, willing himself to give as much warmth to the younger man as he could. Yes...it was almost like they were brothers...the strangest pair of brothers in the galaxy.
Han closed his eyes, letting sleep engulf him. As he drifted out of consciousness, his heart gave silent prayers to whoever or whatever might be listening that they would both survive the night...that the rescue party would find them soon.
AN: One more chapter will be coming, hopefully soon.