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Vigil on Hoth

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The smell of the Bacta filled Han Solo's senses as he entered the medical center; it was a smell that brought back unpleasant memories but Han knew that without the Bacta Luke would die. He walked slowly over to the large transparent chamber that held the body of his friend, his hands moving of their own volition to touch the glass that separated him from Luke. It was quiet in the empty room with only the slight hum from the monitor to break the silence. The lighting had been turned down low to simulate night but Han had no complaints; he preferred this quiet time of the day. He took several steps back so he could look closely at his friend.

The signs of frostbite had virtually disappeared from the semi-naked body. It was difficult to see Luke's face beneath the respirator but the claw mark on his temple seemed to have closed up leaving jagged scar tissue that would gradually fade as the Bacta completed its work. Han glanced up at the chronometer embedded in the monitor console; it was late but there were still many more hours until daybreak. He glanced up at Luke once more.

"Well, I might as well make myself comfortable", he mumbled to himself.

His words echoed slightly around the empty room contrasting sharply with the low, musical hum of the monitor but Han never noticed. Looking around the darkened room, he spotted a small basic lounger and moved it deeper into the shadows where he could see yet not be seen. Before sitting he walked slowly to the food dispenser and ordered up a hot drink. It would be a long night but it was the Corellian way to stand vigil over an injured comrade. As the night drew on, memories of the past crowded in on him. His first sight of Luke, a boy full of anger and sadness. At the time he had not known of the death of Luke's family and had pegged the boy as just another hot-head but, somehow, Luke had intrigued Solo from the very beginning. His valiant nature and his boyish innocence had sparked Solo‘s curiosity. Luke had not witnessed the harsher side of life in the Empire until that last day on Tatooine but he had met the challenge head-on. Instead it was Solo who had felt like the ignorant farm boy as Luke forced him to open his eyes and see what was going on around him. Until then Solo could not have cared less; he had his own problems.

Yes, Luke had been special from the first, And so had Leia.

"Leia." Han spoke her name softly.

He could never think of Luke without also thinking of Leia. Her strength of character was formidable and it was this strength that had often pulled them through when all seemed lost. Despite her youth she had gained a measure of respect from all of her contacts whether friend or foe. She was the only person who had ever been able to get under his skin and he considered some of their verbal sparring matches to be the best moments of his life. She was more than an equal to him and part of the reason why he stayed was because she wanted him to stay. Yet still he had hung back from direct involvement with the Alliance. Han and Chewie had completed scores of missions, they had fought in countless skirmishes but neither had ever declared their intention to become one with the Alliance. There was always a respectful distance placed between them and the other commanders.

The agitated movement within the Bacta chamber brought Han's attention back to the present. Luke seemed to be restless as if trying to shake off a bad dream. Han found himself standing before the chamber with hardly any memory of leaving his seat, his open palms pressed against the thick wall of the transparent tube as he whispered soft words of reassurance to the suspended form. Slowly the struggling form quietened as if his words had penetrated the strong plasti-steel, Once he felt certain Luke was alright, Han returned to his seat, He took another sip of his drink and was surprised to find it was stone-cold, checked the chronometer on the monitor panel and noted that over an hour had passed.

Han yawned and pulled his jacket tighter around his body as the coolness of the room closed around him once more. The thoughts crowded in again.

He had never had a friend like Luke before. At least, not a human friend. There were several humans he could have called 'friend' but, if he had to be brutally honest, he could never trust them the way he trusted Luke. Until Luke and Leia entered his life, his only true friend had been a two-hundred year old Wookie. Han smiled as he thought of the towering anthropoid. They had shared many adventures and had stared death in the face willingly on numerous occasions to save the other but sometimes the race and culture barrier between them was too strong. Every now and then Han needed someone to talk to who could understand his basic human needs. He realized Chewie felt this same need and it was for this reason they would sometimes seek the company of others of their own kind when in port, but strangers had not made great company to a man who trusted no-one.

It was Luke and Leia who had given him the human companionship that he craved so deeply. He could sit for hours in their company discussing ideas and missions, arguing with Leia or sometimes just sitting quietly, basking in the glow of friendship.

The decision to leave Hoth and pay off Jabba the Hutt had not come lightly. Han was more a part of the Rebel Alliance than he was willing to admit but he knew his past had already endangered Leia on Ord Mantell. Having the Empire as an enemy was bad enough but to know that every space tramp and bounty hunter this side of the Corporate Sector was also after his skin made it impossible for him to stay. He cared too deeply for Luke and Leia to wish to see them harmed by his former recklessness. Leia... Han felt his chest tighten and could not stop himself from whispering her name again but then he quickly clamped down hard on himself. He would not allow his thoughts to deepen where Leia was concerned or he would never have the strength to leave her.

The psychological effects of both the late hour and the dimly-lit room had made the center feel even colder and Han debated on whether or not to order another drink. He yawned widely and sunk deeper into the chair and shadows. He was exhausted having spent the previous night in an environment shelter desperately trying to keep Luke alive until help arrived. In spite of the nauseating smell of the dead Tauntaun that had clung to Luke's clothing, Han had held his friend close using his own body to warm that of his injured friend. Both of these long nights had taken their toll but he couldn't rest until Luke was free of the Bacta.

"Han?"

The soft voice startled him, his eyes widening as he discovered familiar, beautiful dark brown eyes gazing directly into his. He straightened up in the chair and looked towards the chamber. Luke was still there, floating restlessly in the life-saving fluid. Han started to stand up but Leia placed a hand on his shoulder.

"It's alright. Luke's fine. Two-one-bee will be removing him from the Bacta shortly." Leia held out a thermo-glass which Han took gratefully. "I know of someone around here that could use a good night's sleep."

Han sipped the hot liquid. His body felt stiff and his hand moved up, subconsciously, to rub the small scar on his chin.

"Are you always this quiet in the mornings?"

Normally, Han would have had some witty reply that was guaranteed to rile Leia but the moment passed as Han looked up into the concerned face. He felt a sudden urge to tell her she was beautiful and that he loved her, but he squashed it quickly. He wasn't sure where that thought had come from and what it meant to him. Inside, his emotions and thoughts were churning around, No, he wasn't ready to commit himself to another, not just yet.

The air felt charged with electricity and Solo knew that he had to dampen the field before everything Went up in flames. He looked into her eyes once more and the flippant remark that would have cooled the situation died on his lips.

The door to the medical center opened suddenly, breaking the spell and Han closed his eyes in relief as Leia pulled her gaze away to acknowledge the new entrants.

Han looked away as Chewbacca and the two droids joined Leia, barely noticing the medical droid taking it's place at the monitor. He stood up and looked into the Bacta chamber as he recognized a flicker of awareness. Luke had opened his eyes. Han felt increased warmth as Leia move closer to his side. He could feel her trying to regain her composure and he knew she could feel the battle raging within him but they both knew this was neither the time nor the place.

As Luke's body was lifted from the Bacta, Han turned to Leia.

"He'll sleep peacefully now... and so should I."

****

Leia watched as the Corellian walked out of the Medical Center and possibly out of her life. Her eyes filled with tears. There were so many things she wanted to say to him. She dragged her hand across her eyes and a look of strong determination crossed her face. There was no time for regrets. Luke would sleep for several hours and, in the meantime, there was work to be done. With a firm step she strode from the Medical center back to her chosen life.

END