He decides early on that blindness is decidedly the most unpleasant thing he’s ever experienced.
Which is saying something, because he’s experienced everything from being shot at by a hoard of angry triple-breasted Gnarmoodians to torture at the hands of Darth Vader himself.
He can feel his lips cracking as he speaks, feel the ache that lingers in his bones and limbs and back and chest and head as he leans gently against the entrance to the cockpit and tries to take a deep breath without feeling like his lungs are being shredded.
(If he is honest with himself – and he is rarely honest with himself – the word “lingering” is hardly an apt descriptor. “Throbbing” might probably better. “Pounding, maddening pain”. But he’s not going to tell her that.)
He blinks again, tries to swallow down the panic that is starting to bubble up again in his throat as the adrenaline high he’s been functioning on for the past day starts ebbing away.
The world is still a blur of shapes and shadows, and he can feel the tips of his fingers go numb with the growing stabs of fear that this won’t go away, that he’ll be stuck in this half-world of sounds and muddled lights forever.
But then her voice sounds out in front of him (maybe three or four steps away, if he thinks hard enough about it), and he lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding because she said – promised – that this was only temporary and that he would be fine.
“Have you got the course plotted?”
“Plotted and ready to go. Chewie, angle the navi-sensors a bit to the right, will you? This storm isn’t helping our lift-off much.”
He opens his mouth to suggest they use the starboard radar system as backup to the sensors, but Chewie beats him to it. Suddenly there is a warm hand gripping under his elbow and stopping the collapsing of already-weak legs that he hadn’t even realized was happening.
“Hey,” she says softly. “Come on. Let’s get you to a bed, okay?”
In another life, he would have argued. Instead, he says,“Where’s Luke?” and tries not to wince at how half-dead his voice is sounding again.
“He had to stop somewhere before rendezvousing with the fleet,” she says, and something in her voice confuses him, but he can’t afford to spare the brain power to figure it out, because if he stops concentrating on moving his legs he’ll stop moving altogether. Her other hand drifts down to press ever so lightly into the small of his back and guide him out through the doorway. “He’ll be back.”
“He – ” he blinks again, reflexively and out of habit. He doesn’t know if it’s the Falcon’s shadowy hallways or if his eyes are getting worst, but he feels less coordinated than he did back on the barge. “He was pulling some crazy moves out there.”
“You saw?” she asks, the surprise (hope) evident in her voice, and he feels her hand tighten involuntarily around his elbow. He snorts.
“No. Well – shapes and colours, sure. That flashy green thing couldn’t have been anything else, could it?”
He feels her hesitate slightly before answering, a trace of something he can’t identify making its way into her voice.
“No, I suppose not.”
“But anyway,” he continues, trying to ignore the fact that his legs are starting to feel detached from his brain and his chest constricts painfully with ever shallow breath he takes. “I meant with the bluffing. And – planning. Or plotting. Whatever the hell that was.”
This time she laughs, softly and –
(just like he remembers, her face inches from his as he reaches out to trace the path of a stray lock of her long hair on the pillow)
– tainted with a pain that he can’t begin to pretend he understands.
Not yet, anyway.
“I helped,” she tells him, her voice dancing with unvoiced amusement. “I am some of the brains of this operation, if you remember.”
“Oh, I remember,” he starts, and almost trips as she stops suddenly and the pressure on his elbow lightens. “I’m guessing the whole nearly-getting-eaten-by-a-hole-in-the-ground thing wasn’t part of the plan, huh?”
“Do our plans ever really work?” she says instead of properly answering, and suddenly her hand is pressing into his back again. “Come on. Sit down, you look like you’re going to collapse.”
“I probably am,” he agrees, and reaches his hand towards a blur of white that he guesses might be the bedsheets.
Son of a bitch, he thinks, as he misjudges the distance (of course he does) from where he’s standing to the bed and stumbles forward, only for her to brace her free hand under his other elbow and catch him. He feels her warm presence in front of her, sees the shape of her face, colours blurred and confusing, inches from his nose, smells the scent of honeyfloraldustandgrime that is lingering around her.
“Han,” she says. “It’s okay. Let me help you.”
The panic is back.
He tries to take a deep breath to calm down, but his ribs hurt too much.
“I think my ribs are broken,” he manages, curling his own fingers around the bare skin (and he doesn’t stop to think why the skin would be bare) of her bicep for – what? Support? Comfort?
(An anchor to reality, whispers a last semi-functioning corner of his brain.)
She makes a noise that might be distress and might be I knew it and he sees the blur of colour that is her face shift slightly in front of him.
“That,” she says, and he can tell she is struggling not to show her distaste, “is from Bespin.”
“I figured,” he says, because he can’t think of anything else to say, and tries to take another breath.
I need to see your face, hold it in my hands and press my forehead to yours, need to know that you're real -
She takes a step back, and he is acutely aware of the way the already-faint smell of jasmine that he has come to associate with her long hair fades away.
“I’ll get you some re-gen shots from the medicabinet,” she says, and feels her hands on his back again, easing him down onto the bed. “And –”
But she doesn’t get any farther than that, because in pulling away from him his hand brushed lower down against her abdomen and the cold sting of metal –
“What –” he begins to say, and his voice comes out hoarser than it has been since the moment he woke up, the panic pressing against his throat and making it even harder to breathe than it was a moment before. “Leia.” His voice is shaking.
(Because he has been in this business too long to not realize –)
“It’s okay,” she starts. “Han, I’m –”
“He didn’t. Please tell me he didn’t.”
Her words come out softly, the bitter attempt at humour lashing out and making his breath stop altogether.
“Didn’t I just say our plans don’t ever work out?”
“Oh, gods,” he manages, and he’s not sure if he’s angry or if his heart is breaking in two for her or if it’s just the damn broken ribs. “Gods, Leia, I –”
The blur in front of him that is her shifts forward and suddenly she is on his lap, knees braced against the side of the bed so as not to put too much pressure on his already-weak limbs, hands – beautiful, soft hands, that he remembers so well, their palms feeling rougher-than-usual against his skin, marred with what he guesses are blisters or blaster burns or any manner of other totally explainable abrasions – cupping the sides of his face.
“Please,” she whispers, and he can hear the strain in her voice. “Please don’t blame yourself.”
“I’m not –”
“Yes you were,” she interrupts, still whispering. “You were, but don’t you dare.”
He runs his hands against her bared sides, grimy fingers against skin rough with dried sweat, up to where the thing is clasped in the back and higher –
He struggles not to gag on the acid that bubbles up in his throat.
“We need to get this off of you,” he says, because he doesn’t trust himself to say anything else, and he feels the pressure of her hand against his cheek increase, feels her breath whisper against his nose and mouth.
“We need to get you medical attention. This can wait.”
“No,” he starts, and reaches up to catch her hand against his face when she starts to protest. “No, no it can’t.”
“Please,” he says, and struggles not to let the brokenbitterhurtangerragedisgust seep through his voice, the boiling acid still scorching threateningly at the back of his throat. “Did he –”
“No,” she whispers, and he is acutely aware of how close her face is to his, how he can feel the flutter of her breath on his lips and almost taste the warmth of her skin, how the outline of her face is slightly less blurry five centimeters away from his nose. “He didn’t.”
He lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. And winces.
“That’s it,” she tells him, voice no longer a whisper. “I’m getting you re-gen right now.”
“Dammit Leia, sit down –”
“I’m fine.” She stands up, but doesn’t make to pull her hand out of his. “Han, listen to me. I’m bruised and scratched and utterly humiliated, I have sand in places I didn’t even know sand could go, and I smell like I climbed out of a trash compactor. But aside from that, I am completely unharmed, unlike you.” He voice – which is suddenly infused with an authority that reminds him strikingly of her in a white snowsuit, shouting orders of evacuation in the collapsing command center – wavers infinitesimally, and if he wasn’t listening for it he wouldn’t have noticed. “Lie down and let me get you the bone re-gen before you puncture a lung.”
“It’s not that bad,” he mutters half-heartedly. “They’re probably only cracked.”
“Bantha shit,” she says, and he tries valiantly to not look surprised, the muscles on his face twitching slightly.
He can feel the tension ease, just barely, in her muscles where he is still loosely gripping her hand (because he needs to touch her, to know that she is there and he is there and this is not all a dream, a crazy figment of his own nearly-broken imagination) and she sighs, once.
He tries to ignore how badly the words “I’m scared” want to jump out of his mouth, how sharply and painfully he feels as though the whole world has shifted on its axis.
He tries, also, to ignore how badly he wants to tell her that her face, every contour and detail and tiny blemish is the last thing he remembers and he needs more than anything to see it again.
He opens his mouth, ready to betray himself, when the colours in front of him move and suddenly she is on his lap again, mouth hot against his.
His skin burns where she drags her teeth against his bottom lip, once, and the cool air of the cabin stings when she pulls away, her breath shaky.
“Sorry,” she whispers.
“Who’s complaining?” he says, and wishes he didn’t feel like he’d just been run over by a herd of angry banthas so he could hold her against him for a little while longer.
“I just,” she starts, and he feels his fingers go numb with that thrill of fear again, because for the first time, she sounds dangerously close to breaking down in tears. “I needed to know you were real.”
Her hand is still lingering at his collarbone and he hears her take a deep, shuddering breath.
“Six months,” she whispers finally, and his stomach drops. “You were gone six months, Han.”
He swallows the panic down again, feels his heart beat just a little faster, and says, “What?” His voice is even hoarser than it was before.
“You don’t remember anything?”
“You –” He tries not to make it sound like a question. “You were looking for me for six months.”
She releases her grip on his shirt abruptly, like she’s jerking away from all the implications of admitting that (what about the Alliance?) and stumbles off of his lap.
“You need re-gen,” she says. “And sleep. And I need to – to go comm. Luke, make sure he’s okay, and then I should take a shower – you should take a shower too, but I don’t know if you can – ” He can feel here hesitate, the blur of colour in front of him stopping its nervous movement around the cabin. “Can you stand?” she asks.
“Okay, fine, so I’ll go get your re-gen, and then I’ll come and help you take a shower, and then I’ll take a shower myself and – no, sith, I need to comm. Luke first –”
“Luke can wait,” he says, and doesn't really mean it, but the sinking feeling in his gut is increasing. “What’s wrong, sweetheart?”
“Nothing,” she says, and he can hear her take a deep breath. “Nothing’s wrong. I’m fine. You, on the other hand, are not, so I’m going to go get the re-gen. And food. You probably need food –”
“Kest, Leia, calm down. I’m okay. I’m alive. I’m here, aren’t I?”
“– hell, I need food, and I need to double check on how long it’ll take to get back to base and I need to get this damn thing off –” Her voice breaks, the air coming out of her chest in a half sob, and he can hear her thump her back against the wall and slide down to the floor in defeat.
“You’re having a panic attack,” he says quietly (as though he himself is not seconds away from having one himself, because kriffing Corellian hells, six months?), picturing her face in his mind’s eye, remembering the only other time he has seen her succumb to a panic attack like this. “Leia, come here.”
“Three recorded cases of human carbon freeze in galactic history,” she says instead, breath coming out in harsh gasps as she tries to calm herself down. “One of them died, the other went crazy.” An attempt at a deep breath, and he pretends that his fingers didn’t just go completely numb again. She’s still rambling, voice coming from the spot on the floor where the shadow that is her is residing.
“I have no idea if you’re even supposed to be walking – what if there are residual effects, or what if you just – just dropped dead suddenly tomorrow and it was because – gods, this is – how do you even deal with something like this? I haven’t seen you in six months, Han!”
He’s not sure exactly what she means by that, but the hollowness in his stomach, the anxious gnaw that’s been there from the second he woke up, making him constantly feel seconds away from spitting up bile – it increases, and he grips the bedsheets (which, he is belatedly noticing, are very obviously crumpled and smells faintly of jasmine, but his brain doesn’t quite process what that means straight away) tightly.
“They took – they took you away from me,” she says, voice rising slightly in pitch, “and I didn’t know if you were alive or –”
“– I still can’t believe it and I’m going to turn around and you’re not going to be there!”
He digs his fingers into the familiar soft sheets of his (their? Did they ever reach the “their” point?) bed and tries to clear his head – tries to understand the massive void that’s just opened between him and reality – how he’s woken up in the same place he was when they put him under and she’s obviously somewhere else, how everything about her voice sounds exhausted and broken, how he can barely see five centimeters in front of his nose, let alone anything else, and isn’t a pilot’s best friend his eyesight? And gods be damned, he can still feel the cold aching in his bones, still feel the air constrict in his throat, the sharp pangs in his ribs where they’d rammed the butt of the blaster once, twice, three times. He can still feel the burning under his skin and the lingering numbness in his toes and hands and back and mouth where the nerves screamed under the influence of the torture device, and he fights the urge to give in and hyperventilate right there along with Leia.
“I’m here,” he says, like he’s trying to convince himself. “I’m not going anywhere.”
He hears her take a final, shuddering breath.
“I’ll go get the re-gen,” she says softly. “And check on Lando and Chewie and – things. And then I’ll come back.”
“Okay,” he says, because he doesn’t know what else to say but every fiber of his being is screaming for her to please not leave the room.
“Your eyes’ll be better soon,” she says abruptly into the silence, the blurry blob that is her pausing at what he assumes is the doorway. “When we get to base you can get drops. It’s just the – the after-effects. They’re lingering.”
There is a pause of maybe five seconds where she doesn’t move, and then he says, “thank you,” at the same time she admits, “I missed you.”
A heartbeat in which they both process what the other has said – and then, quite suddenly, she is back on his lap, her arms throwing themselves around his shoulders with such force and desperation that he has trouble registering what has just happened until a second later.
He wraps his shaky arms roughly around her bare back and presses his nose into the crook of her shoulder, the cold metal of the collar that is still there digging into his cheek, and he feels her breath against his ear as her fingers clench the stained, dirty material of the back of his shirt and her shoulders shake with silent tears. He breathes in the smell of her hair like it’s his source of life, eyes shut against the confusion of the world around him, tastes the sweat on her shoulder against his half-open mouth.
And he knows for a fact that they are probably not going to be okay, alright, fine, or any variation of the word, but he also knows for a fact that if ever in his damn fool life he thought that he would willingly let this go, he sure as hell wasn’t going to ever again.
He feels her tears subside, hears her take one final calming breath, and listens as she mumbles something against his neck and shifts in his lap, knees still digging into the sides of the bed.
“What was that?”
“You smell bad.”
He is silent for maybe two standard seconds before totally and completely losing it.
He blames the exhaustion and possible insanity-inducing aftereffects of the carbonite for the uncontrollable gasps of laughter that fall out of his mouth and into her shoulder, ignores the pain in his ribs and focuses on the sound of her own giggles, bordering-on-hysteric against his neck.
“I’m serious,” she repeats between giggles, “you smell awful.”
“You probably smell worst,” he tells her, and ignores the hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach when he has to imagine the indignant look on her face, rather than see it in person.
“Point,” she concedes finally, her grip on his shirt easing just barely. “Right after I get you the re-gen, we’re taking a shower.”
“Don’t push your luck, hotshot.”
He is tired and aching and his ribs feel as though they’ve been injected with poison, and Luke is a Jedi Knight and Lando is flying his ship and Chewie’s been shot in the leg and he’s been half-dead for six months straight, but something inside him eases up with the thought that at least this – this thing, whatever it is – that they do.
That, at least, has not changed.
He tries for a smile.