AN: I still don't own Star Wars (not that anyone ever thought I DID own it...). Anyway, it's been a while since I've done a one-shot, so I thought I'd get back into that.
The snow swirled around him, sticking on his bare cheeks, flying into his mouth, but still he searched. His taun-taun screeched, clearly telling him that they should return, that it was a pointless search, but he wouldn't listen until they had either found his friend or frozen to death.
"Han!" he called into the whistling winds. "Han, where are you?? Come on Han, answer me! Where are you??"
It felt like the wind was determined to throw him off his taun-taun, like this storm had deliberately hidden Han away so it could claim two victims tonight instead of just one. His ears strained to hear anything beyond the wind howling and his own teeth chattering, waiting, praying, hoping for some sign that Han hadn't been claimed just yet.
"HAN!" Luke cried, violently slapping his taun-taun's back. The taun-taun picked up speed, running against the wind. Then it seemed as if Han appeared next to him, crumpled up in the snow, motionless.
"Han...Han..." Luke repeated, jumping off the taun-taun, stumbling towards the body, yet he found himself unable to reach him.
Han slowly opened his eyes, the only movement of which he was capable. "L-L-L-Luke..." His voice was nothing more than a raspy whisper. "Luke...help...me..."
"I am Han, I am!" Luke kicked the snow in front of him, running unevenly, yet still Han was unreachable. Why couldn't he get any closer?
Han coughed violently, shaking his frail body. His face was deathly pale, his bloodshot eyes staring directly at his rescuer. "Luke...Luke...help..."
"I am," Luke repeated, desperately trying to sound reassuring. "Hold on, Han, hold on."
Han looked like he was fighting to keep his eyes open. "I-I...I...can't..."
"Yes Han, you can!" Luke continued wading through the snow, still getting no closer that he was before. "Don't give up Han, DON'T GIVE UP!!"
Han's head dropped, his body vanishing in the thick cloud of snow.
Luke's eyes shot open, blinking rapidly, taking a few seconds to register the Millennium Falcon's gray ceiling in his vision, then taking a few more seconds to realize that he wasn't still on Hoth. With that thought came a flood of memories, making him wish he were still asleep.
He was afraid to look down from the ceiling, afraid to see confirmation that those awful memories actually happened. Perhaps they were a dream as well. Maybe everything was a dream, including Darth Vader's declaration...
Luke suddenly realized he was dizzy. The stark gray ceiling seemed to be moving, with bright spots randomly flashing in front of it, like a void trying to claim him. He felt that he would lose consciousness if he stared at that ceiling for too long, but still he couldn't will his head to move.
Han's cries from his dream pulsed in his head. Han...what happened to him? He wasn't here...that was all he knew, which likely meant that he was in danger. In danger...in pain...like his visions on Dagobah kept telling him.
Another memory flew into his head, one that made him sick to his stomach. On Bespin...before that awful fight with Vader...he'd seen Imperial troopers carrying...a body.
Luke wanted to vomit. No...no...that couldn't have been Han. Maybe it wasn't even a body...he'd only seen it from a distance after all.
But if that wasn't Han, then where was he?
The sound of footsteps only barely caught his attention. He quickly closed his eyes, feebly wishing the steps belonged to Han, that he would reveal himself to be alive and well.
"Luke? Did you sleep all right?"
The voice was female, definitely not Han. Luke's eyes hesitantly opened to see Leia hovering over him. Her eyes showed a hint of redness. Had she been crying? Luke couldn't remember ever having seen her cry before...he tried not to think of the reason why she might have been crying.
"Leia..." he croaked out.
Leia's eyes lowered...looking at what? No...Luke couldn't pretend he didn't know what she was looking at. He ground his teeth, forcing himself to lift his head, praying that he would see his hand back in place.
The end of his right arm was now wrapped in bandages, marking the spot where his hand once was, marking the spot where Vader's lightsaber had crippled him. The spot where his father had crippled him. Nothing left. Only a stump.
"Luke..." Leia said hesitantly, placing a finger on the bandages, "...how did that happen?"
Could Luke answer that? Tears were coming to his eyes at the mere thought of it. His father...his father. The father he'd looked up to for so long, the father who was pretty much the entire reason he had joined the Rebellion, the entire reason why he wanted to be a Jedi, the entire reason for everything. Vader might has well have torn out Luke's heart and left him for dead. In fact, that might have been less painful than this.
Ben, he thought for what seemed like the hundredth time, why didn't you tell me?
He knew Obi-Wan could hear him, but once again, his ghost was silent. Why was Ben's voice always so present before, but now when Luke needed it most, it was absent?
But did he really want an answer? Did he want a confirmation that his longtime mentor was in fact a liar? Did he want another precious image shattered? Maybe Obi-Wan was in league with Vader the entire time...no, no, he couldn't think of that...he couldn't handle that.
"Luke?" Leia repeated.
Luke flinched, realizing his stump was still throbbing in pain. "Vader...Vader did it."
Leia's face was solemn as she nodded gently, needing no more explanation than that, which made Luke far more relieved than he could have imagined. He couldn't explain it out loud...not yet...
"Wh-where...where's Han?" Luke choked out without thinking, suddenly realizing that was the most pressing question on his mind, even more pressing than any questions he might have about his father...though he wasn't sure if he could handle a revelation that Han was dead.
Leia breathed deeply several times, tensing Luke's nerves up even more, making him want to force the answer out of her while at the same time terrified of actually hearing the answer.
"Vader...turned him over to a bounty hunter," she finally said.
A slight relief crept into Luke's spirit. If a bounty hunter had Han, then he could find a way to escape. He was good at escaping - very good. He might even be heading back to the Rebellion right now.
"There's more," Leia said, interrupting Luke's thoughts.
Leia swallowed. "Vader...did something terrible to him." She breathed again, looking Luke straight in the eye, causing his stomach to churn and bringing his dizziness back. "Luke...have you ever heard of carbon freezing?"
He felt as though his lungs had just been drained of all air. "I-I-I...I don't know..." No, he hadn't heard of it, but he had seen the facility, he suddenly realized. That chamber Vader pushed him into...the one that suddenly emitted choking smoke and horrible cold...
"I don't completely understand it either..." Leia was saying, "...but I know it's not often done with living things." Her eyes suddenly darted away from Luke's. "Vader...he wanted to freeze you to deliver you to the Emperor, but he wanted to make sure the freezing wouldn't kill you." She swallowed again, her face scrunching before she regained her composure. "So he tested it...on Han."
Luke's eyes filled with tears, blurring Leia's image. The body he'd seen...it was Han...it was...
Leia placed her hand on his shoulder. "They said he survived the freezing...but...well...I don't know what's going to happen to him."
Luke's eyes closed, letting the tears flow, desperately wishing the Force would tell him Han was all right, feeling like a lost child calling out to his parents. Why hadn't he left Dagobah sooner? Why had he blindly obeyed Yoda when the two people who meant the most to him were in danger? Yoda...Obi-Wan...both of them had lied to him. Was it even worth continuing his Jedi training now, when part of his own soul was frozen with Han?
His eyes hesitantly opened when he felt Leia's hand brushing his cheek, wiping away his tears. She was once again looking not at him, but at his hideous stump, the permanent reminder of his true origin.
"You can have a new one made, you know," she said.
A new one. A new hand that wasn't truly a part of him, but a robotic hand. He would be a cyborg, just like his father...the first step towards becoming like Darth Vader...becoming like his father...
Suddenly he noticed that Leia was smiling, slightly, sadly, as if reflecting on something bittersweet.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"Yes...I'm all right," Leia replied, the awkward smile not fading. "I...was just thinking about what I said to Han before he was frozen."
Leia breathed a couple of times, as if wondering how he would react to her news. "I told him...I loved him."
Luke's eyes widened. She actually admitted her feelings for Han? There was a slight break in his depression when he realized that a few Rebels owed him money now, since he had won his bet with them. They had insisted that Leia would never admit her feelings.
"And...did you mean it?" he found himself asking.
Leia gave a few more awkward breaths, her smile widening, becoming more natural. "Yes...yes...I did." Then her smile suddenly faded. "I'm...I'm sorry if I ever made you think...well...you know...if I made you believe that I..."
She trailed off, but Luke didn't need the Force to know what she was thinking of. The kiss she'd given him on Hoth - the one she'd given only to make Han angry. Luke almost felt like laughing as he suddenly realized that kiss had meant no more to him than it had to her. There might have been a time when he thought he was in love with Leia...but no, he never was, not really. He cared so much about her, he would die for her - but he would also die for Han. He didn't know what romantic love felt like, but now he was certain that whatever he felt for Leia wasn't romantic love. She had just told him she loved another, and all he could feel was happiness that they were finally an official couple. No heartbreak, no jealousy.
He finally gained the strength to smile up at her. "Leia, I love you - but not like that. I love you as a friend." A slight giggle escaped his mouth in spite of all that was happening. "The guys and I have actually been joking about you and Han behind your backs for a long time."
She gave a long sigh of relief. "Thank you."
The door to the cabin slid open, causing them both to look up and see Chewie entering the room, followed by that dark-skinned man who had brought Luke down into the Falcon. Luke suddenly realized he still didn't know who that man was.
Upon seeing that Luke was awake, Chewie immediately rushed up to him and ruffled his hair while giving a series of anxious roars. Although Luke couldn't understand Chewie's language, it was pretty easy to guess what he was asking.
"I'm doing better, Chewie," he said.
After Chewie stroked his head one last time, he stepped aside to let the stranger approach the bed. "Hey," he said a bit awkwardly. "We haven't really been properly introduced, have we?"
He stuck out his hand. "I'm Lando Calrissian. I'm a...friend of Han's." There was a strange touch of sadness when he said friend.
Luke instinctively began sticking his right arm up to shake Lando's hand before remembering that he no longer had a hand to shake there. He quickly stuck up his left hand, hoping Lando hadn't noticed that. "Nice to meet you."
"Leia told me a lot about you while you were sleeping," Lando said while he shook Luke's hand. "Said you're one of the best fighters in that Rebellion."
Luke's breath slowed, not knowing how to respond to that, unwilling to state the reason why he was a good fighter...or where he'd inherited his fighting skills from. He sensed a large amount of guilt and sadness coming off of Lando...and it didn't all seem to be merely because Han had been captured.
Lando gulped. "I...I dunno how much Leia's been telling you about me."
"She hasn't told me anything, actually."
Lando gulped again. "Well...maybe it's best if we keep it that way..." However, a light swat on his arm from Leia quickly changed his mind. He flinched in pain and gripped his arm as he spoke. "Ow...all right, all right, I'll tell him." He took a deep breath. "I'm the whole reason we got in this mess."
Luke gave no reaction, as if he had been expecting something like this. "Go on."
Lando took another deep breath. Luke sensed the guilt coming off of him getting stronger and stronger. "I gave 'em a place to stay - then I turned 'em over to Darth Vader. I didn't know what he was gonna do with them - if I had, I wouldn't have done it in a million years. It was to keep the Empire from taking control of my city - but that happened anyway. It was a really sucky deal."
"After Han was frozen, he helped the rest of us escape," Leia said quickly. "He tried really hard to save Han as well."
Luke nodded, strangely feeling no anger at the man, possibly because of the waves of remorse coming off of his Force signature.
Leia inhaled deeply. "Luke...there's something else I have to tell you."
Leia fiddled with a loose strand of her hair. "I'm leaving the Rebellion."
Luke suddenly jolted to a sitting position. "What?? But...they need you..."
"I know," Leia said sharply. "And I need Han. I couldn't live with myself if I just left him to his fate." Her hands were scrunching into fists. "I'm getting him back. Lando and Chewie have already agreed to help me."
Luke swallowed as he gazed into her fiery eyes. Was she expecting him to return to the Rebellion in her place? If he were only obeying his sense of duty, he would do just that, but the thought made him ill. Compassionate as they were, the Rebellion would expect him to accept Han as another casualty of war. No...no...he wasn't just another casualty - he was like Luke's brother, and brothers didn't leave brothers to die. He half-expected Ben's ghost to warn him not to act on his impulses yet again, but strangely enough, he was remaining silent.
"I'm coming with you," he declared.
Leia didn't scold him, didn't order him to go back to the Rebellion, didn't insist that she and Lando and Chewie could rescue Han themselves. Instead, she threw her arms around Luke, squeezing him as tightly as if they were family. Family...yes, that's what they were...and a member of their family was missing.
"Thank you," she whispered, patting his back.
Luke returned her embrace, able to momentarily forget about his lost hand, his father, his mentors' betrayals.
"We'll get Han back," he said, reassuring himself as much as he was reassuring Leia. "Together."