Chapter Three

They had received the news that Han and Luke had been found and Leia paced impatiently in the hanger awaiting the arrival of the two speeders and their precious cargo. The speeder carrying Luke arrived first and she struggled to stand back as the medical personnel lowered him down from the rear cockpit. Once he was safely lying on the stretcher that would bear him to the med-centre, she rushed forward. Her fingers caressed his cold cheek, but his eyes remained closed. A harsh-looking wound slashed across his cheek and beneath his eye and she brushed her fingertips along it carefully, wishing that the simple caress would be enough to heal it.

The commotion increased in the hanger once again and a second speeder landed. Two-one-bee began pushing Luke's stretcher out of the hanger and Leia pressed a kiss against his forehead. The droid left and she turned her attention to the man being helped down from the second speeder. She fought against the emotion that swelled within her as she realized that Han had made it safely home. She wanted to immediately run over and throw her arms around him, but suddenly felt the many eyes that were focused on her - and on him. From a strength borne of years of experience, she reined in the maelstrom and approached the group of men that surrounded the smuggler.

"Captain Solo, it's good to see you back safely." She cringed inwardly at the coldness of her voice. He had spent the night in the cold and didn't need any more from her. She softened her voice intentionally when she continued: "Thank you for finding him."

She clasped her hands behind her back and shifted awkwardly before the group of men that surrounded Han. She was surprised, given the rumours that had surrounded their relationship, that the men remained instead of leaving and giving them a few moments of privacy. There was a shuffle of feet and then one of the men cleared his throat.

"Uh, Princess," Wedge spoke up, "if there isn't anything else, we'll be bringing Captain Solo to the medical centre."

Leia's eyes focused then on Han's tired face, noticing finally the ravages of weather on the tip of his nose and his cheeks. She took in the droop of his eyelids and the determined set of his jaw. Finally, she realized that the men that surrounded him were supporting him and it was their strength combined with his strength of will that was keeping him on his feet.

She was about to mutter an apology when Chewie's excited growl echoed through the hanger. She turned as he dismounted from his tauntaun and rushed over to Han, wrapping him in a fierce hug. The members of the Rogue Squadron had barely moved out of the way in time to prevent themselves from being caught up in the Wookie's strong arms. Leia watched as Chewie bore his friend - his family really - off to the medical bay.

A few hours passed and Leia found herself at Han's bedside. The room was quiet save for the slight hum of the machines that monitored the condition of the man sleeping before her. She had spent the time since she had last seen him hovering as the medical droids had worked on Luke, leaving only after they had assured her that he was expected to make a full recovery after a few days in the bacta tank. She had stayed with Luke because she cared and was worried about him, but also because it had allowed her to avoid Han and the awkwardness that had built up between them. Finally, unable to stare at Luke's floating figure any longer - and unable to deny her need to see him - she had finally come to check on Han. Chewie had been seated at his side when she had arrived, but he had left almost immediately, leaving her alone with the source of so much conflict inside her.

She drank in his peaceful expression as he slept. He already looked so much better than he had when he had arrived and she felt optimistic about his ability to make a full recovery. His charts had indicated that he had suffered from slight hypothermia and that most of his limbs held evidence of frostbite in some degree or another. She knew that, beneath the warming blanket, his legs were wrapped in bacta bandages and in another day or so, there would be little evidence of his battle with the elements on Hoth. That knowledge couldn't prevent the tears that slipped down her cheeks though and it did little to soothe her; not nearly as much as the feeling of his hand in hers did.

Wiping the tears from her face with the edge of her sleeve, she slid her chair closer to his bed. She brushed an errant hair from his forehead and then gave in to the urge to kiss him and pressed her lips gently against his temple.

"Han, I know that everything has changed for us." Her words were barely more than a whisper and she knew that she was a coward for speaking when he couldn't hear her, but felt better for speaking all the same. "I know that we can never go back to the way things were, but I don't want it to end like this for us either. I know that you have to leave and I understand why you have to leave. I know that there is nothing I can say or do to make you stay, but I want you to know that, in spite of everything, I care about you and you have to know that that will never change."

She rose from the chair then. Smoothing the hair from his brow, she bent and kissed his forehead, his cheek and his lips. Finally, she kissed the back of his hand before laying it gently against the mattress.

"Clear skies, Han and may the force be with you."

The door closed with a hiss and a thud. Han finally won his battle against the drugs flowing through his veins and opened his eyes. Inwardly, he cursed the very things that were helping to heal him. He had been trying to open his eyes or speak or do something to let Leia know that he was awake the moment that she had taken his hand. Instead, he had remained in his drug-induced, semi-conscious state and had missed yet another opportunity to apologize to Leia. He fought against the pull of his eyelids for a few valiant moments before finally giving in, accepting that she wasn't coming back.

Thank you for reading so far. Reviews are more than welcome and greeted fondly. Scarlet.