AN: Thanks for reviwing! And in case anyone's wondering, Chapter 23 of "My Mother" is on the way.
A scratchy, obscure voice dug into Han's ear, disturbing his sleep. His first half-conscious thought was to ignore it - at this hour in the morning it was probably nothing important, and if it was, Chewie could answer it.
But...was Chewie here? The next thing to come into Han's partly-asleep mind was cold...extreme cold...followed by the sensation that he was holding something in his arms...then a stomach growl...a clogged nose...followed by a vague attempt to make out what the voice was saying.
"Captain Solo, do you copy? This is Rogue Two."
With that, Han completely woke up. He sprung up to a sitting position and fumbled around in the dim light for his comlink.
"They're here, kid! Told ya they'd come!" he said to Luke, still asleep beside him. Finally his frozen hands gripped the equally-cold metal of the comlink.
"Commander Skywalker, do you copy?" said the voice in the comlink. "This is Rogue Two."
"Good morning!" Han shouted into the comlink, a grin developing on his face. "Nice of you to drop by!"
In haste, his stiff, unfeeling hands grabbed his gloves and struggled to get them back on, averting his eyes, not wanting see how his hands looked after being exposed to Hoth for the entire night, but still getting a few tiny glimpses of yellowish skin. "I'll be right back, kid," he said to Luke, trying not to think about his hands. He leaned forward and forced his sore limbs to crawl out of the tent.
Upon exiting, his eyes met the overpowering glare of light reflected from snow, making him squint. For a few moments he could only see whiteness behind the blurry curtain of his eyelashes, which increased the dizziness in his head. Then there was also the matter of his muscles feeling like he hadn't moved at all in weeks, which had caused them to waste away. He breathed several times in large huffs before attempting to push himself to his feet, which in turn caused his arms to ache like they had parasites biting him from the inside. His hands felt so fragile that he actually wondered if they were going to snap off.
Once he was on his feet, Hoth immediately wanted to pull him back down, sending his brain in circles and making his legs feel unstable. Oh no you don't, Han thought grimly. It would take more than this to bring him down. Still...it might be nice if those ships would land. He gritted his teeth as he pulled his heavy arm up to wave at the ships.
Though he felt terrible physically, he couldn't help but smile as the gray shapes in the sky grew larger, bringing salvation to him and his friend in the tent.
Han could hardly bear to watch as Luke's body hovered past him on the stretcher. His face had a yellow tint to it, interrupted by a few blotches of purple. Streaks of blood decorated his forehead and the area around his mouth. The only sign of life in his body was the slow rising and falling of his chest.
A vague feeling of pressure on his numb shoulder caused him to look up and discover Wedge standing next to him, his hand on his shoulder.
"Well Solo, that took a lot of guts," he said. "How're you feeling?"
"Apart from being starving, exhausted, and freezing, I'm perfectly fine," said Han.
Wedge slapped his shoulder. "Fortunately, I've got some food and blankets on the ship."
"That sounds fabulous," said Han, his eyes once more gazing at Luke as the stretcher floated further and further away from them.
Han was barely aware of the ship's liftoff vibrations as he sat next to Luke. Wedge had tried to get him to sit somewhere more comfortable than the ship's tiny sick bay, but he hadn't wanted to leave Luke's side, stating that clearly with a, "Hey buddy, ya really think I'm gonna leave him after practically freezin' to death with him?"
Luke was now wrapped up in several layers of blankets, with only his head visible, which seemed to highlight the damage done to it. The scratches were a sickening shade of reddish-brown that made his face look like it had been ripped apart and badly stitched together, and the blue-black splotches seemed to be larger than they had been when he was on the stretcher.
It made Han's stomach lurch to look at Luke's face, but he supposed he should be grateful that he wasn't returning to the base with his face covered. Even underneath the layers of blankets, the steady movement of his chest was detectable.
Han himself was also wrapped in blankets, but the tingling and numbness of his body took away the pleasure of the more tolerable temperature. A tray of food rested in his lap, which he figured he should be wolfing into, considering his length of time spent without eating, but he found he could only manage a few nibbles, as if his empty stomach had built a barrier to protect itself. Besides, his numb hands were having difficulty picking up food, like they were detaching themselves from his arms. Of course, the fact that he still had his gloves on probably wasn't helping, but he still couldn't bring himself to look at his hands.
With great difficulty, he placed the tray on the floor, then went back to looking at Luke. He wondered if the kid would remember last night. He'd better, he thought. Sacrificing the circulation in his hands would be at least a bit worth it if Luke remembered it.
If you had left, his face would be covered.
The statement his head just made twisted his stomach even more. If he had gone through with his plan to leave the rebellion, Luke wouldn't have made it. In fact, though Han loathed to admit it, if that irritating 3PO hadn't notified him of Luke's failure to return to the base...well, maybe someone else would have told him, but maybe the droid should get a bit of credit. Or maybe not...he'd decide on that later. Either way, it boggled his mind to think of what would have happened if he had left. If that Force thing existed, it might have done this on purpose to keep Han from abandoning the rebellion.
Though his nose still forced him to breathe through his mouth, he managed to smile a bit as he remembered the argument he'd had with Leia yesterday. Well Your Worship, are you happy now? he thought. She'd have to at least consider speaking to him again after he performed this little act.
After a few minutes, he realized that his blinks were becoming more gradual and lasting longer. Luke's image was beginning to fade into blurs, but he did not try to resist. Now that the rescue party had arrived, they could both get a bit of decent rest. He gathered the blankets up around him, let his head drop over his shoulder, and fell fast asleep.
When Han woke up, he felt himself in a bed, but he instantly realized that it wasn't his own bed - the sheets smelled far too clean.
Smelled? He could smell again? To his delight, he found that air could now pass through his nostrils with only a small bit of resistance. He spent a moment or two simply enjoying the sensation of breathing through his nose.
Upon opening his eyes, he found himself staring up at the metal face of a medical droid, whose gray face seemed better designed as an assassin than a doctor.
"Captain Solo, how are you feeling?" the droid said in a low voice that seemed to have been selected by someone who wanted the most unemotional voice possible.
"I'd feel better if you weren't starin' at me," Han muttered.
"I'm sorry sir, but I have been given orders to monitor your recovery," the droid responded, putting absolutely equal stress on all of his syllables.
"Well," said Han, "what if I told you that your staring was delaying my recovery?"
"That notion doesn't make any sense, sir," said the droid. "And besides, your word would not be valid, since you have no medical training of any sorts."
Han gritted his teeth before speaking again. "Do ya happen to know where Commander Skywalker is?"
"Yes sir," said the droid, "He is currently in one of the bacta tanks."
Han pushed himself to sit up, finding that his bones were still sore, but they felt much more mobile than they had been during his last waking moment. He also found that he was wearing only his pants. "Where're my clothes?" he asked the droid.
"They have been cleaned and folded," said the droid.
Han rolled his eyes. "But where are they?"
"Right on that chair, sir," said the droid.
"Thank you," Han said in an insincere voice as he started to climb out of bed.
"Sir, I'm afraid that you are not supposed to leave your bed until you have been given a through examination when conscious," said the droid.
"Like I give a damn," Han replied, thinking that he had finally discovered a droid who was more annoying than 3PO. He walked over to the chair as fast as he could manage, though he figured that this droid probably wasn't designed for swift movement.
"Sir, your bodily functions could still be unstable," said the droid. "You may collapse if you attempt to walk."
"Well if I faint on the way to see Luke, you're welcome to carry me back to bed," Han said with a large sneer as he pulled his clothes on.
"I am not designed to carry a human, sir," said the droid.
"Then you can just leave me on the floor," Han snapped as he hurried out the door while still fumbling to get his jacket on.
Han did not faint on the way to the bacta tanks, but he did have to stop a few times to catch his breath. Despite the mild lightheadedness he was currently experiencing, he reached the conclusion that he was feeling considerably better than last night or this morning. The dizziness would wear off soon...hopefully.
The bacta room stirred up his head a bit more as it gave Han the sight of Luke's body bobbing limply in the tank like a dead fish, wearing nothing but a diaper-like white covering of his middle. And...in addition to Luke still not looking normal, the bacta room also gave Han the sight of a head of neatly braided hair topping a white suit.
Either Leia hadn't noticed Han entering or she was choosing to ignore him - Han strongly suspected the latter. He swallowed nervously. Even seeing her only from behind gripped his senses, as her presence had been doing to him for three years.
Even though he couldn't see her face, the fact that she was looking intensely at Luke gave him an automatic reaction of slight jealously. Of course, he couldn't really say that he'd blame her if she chose Luke after yesterday. Luke's heart and soul had been with this rebellion since the day he joined - he didn't join for the money and end up remaining with their cause almost accidentally like Han had. Probably the best hope Han had was to get on speaking terms with the princess again, and even that was doubtful.
He cleared his throat, which he immediately regretted, since it made his throat hurt and it didn't do anything to get the princess to acknowledge his presence. It seemed that only words would break this barrier.
"Hey, Your Highness," he said in as friendly a tone as he could.
"Hi," Leia said dryly, not looking back at him.
Han swallow again before talking. "How's Luke doin'?"
"He's expected to make a full recovery within a few days," said Leia in a warmer tone. With her back still turned to him, she added, "How are you doing?"
Han breathed a sigh of relief before answering. "Pretty good, considerin' what all I just had to endure." Then it occurred to him that he didn't know whether or not he had just endured it. "Er...how long did I sleep?"
Leia seemed to give a slight laugh. "At least twelve hours, three of which were spent in one of those tanks."
Leia swayed side to side as she talked, as if she enjoyed telling Han of what had happened without giving him the pleasure of seeing her face. "You had quite a bit of frostbite, especially in your hands."
Han felt his heart flutter at the thought that Leia probably saw him nearly naked as Luke was. Did she perhaps find that a more pleasurable sight? He was tempted to tease her about it, but figured that it could wait until after Luke was well again. He glanced down at his hands, which still looked pale, but that awful yellow tint was gone. Even better, he found that he was able to curl and extend his fingers without pain.
Leia finally turned back to face him, her brown eyes giving him that authoritative look. "You know Han," she said, "that was a really crazy thing to do."
"Yeah?" said Han. "It didn't seem so crazy when I considered the alternative."
The princess actually smiled at him, making his stomach flip again. "I know." Her hand slipped down to grip his hand. "And I think I speak for the entire Alliance when I say thank you." She lifted his hand up between them. "By the way, do you happen to have any idea why your hands were affected the worst?"
Han grinned at her with a relaxed laugh. "I took off my gloves durin' the night so I could better warm up Luke's face."
"You did that?" Leia exclaimed. "What happened to the Han Solo who kept whining when we chose this planet for the rebel base?"
"Hey Princess, I would've thought you'd learn by now that Han Solo is full of surprises," Han chuckled.
Leia dropped his hand, as if she just now realized that she had been doing something that might have been interpreted as romantic. Han wanted to call it to her attention, but it wasn't easy to do so with Luke floating lifelessly in front of them. Therefore he followed what Leia was now doing and turned his attention to the young man in the tank, the man who was like his brother.
Han smiled as widely as his cheeks would allow when Luke's stretcher hovered past him for the second time, this time carrying an awake Luke whose bruises had nearly faded away and whose skin was regaining its color.
"Hey kid," he said between relieved breaths as he walked alongside the stretcher.
Luke smiled up at him. "Hi Han." His voice was hoarse but happy. "Are your hands all right?"
He remembers! Han showed his teeth between his lips as he raised his hand up to touch Luke's hand. "Yup. Now don't you run into anymore Wampas so they can stay that way."
Luke wrapped his fingers around Han's hand. "Han, thanks. Thanks for coming after me."
"What're friends for?" replied Han, thinking that the cliche phrase might help to quench their memories of last night. He hoped he would never ever be that cold again.
"For going into snowstorms after?" Luke said jokingly.
"Yup," said Han. "But let's not make a habit of it."
"Agreed," said Luke as he let Han's hand slip out of his.
"Now get some rest, kid," Han said as the stretcher floated away from him. "The Alliance is gonna need you as soon as they can get you."
After Luke's stretcher turned a corner and vanished out of sight, Han stared for several moments. Three years ago, that kid was just a means to an end, somebody to pilot to Alderann for money. Now he was almost a brother. How odd things worked out sometimes. The price on his head still existed, his debt was still unpaid, but strangely enough, he wasn't worried about that right now. In contrast, he was happy...perhaps happier than he had been in a long time.
"Thanks kid," he said.