“Ey-ah!” an irritated sound shot out at her from Han's closed mouth in what she assumed was a disapproving 'Leah!'
She worked a gentle hand over the sweat on his brow, brushing back his hair to give her lips room to kiss his hot forehead. “Shhh, hush my Dear. Just a little longer.”
He shot her an angry look but gave into her tender caresses, distracted at last from the relentless tickle in his nose.
Finally the light at the end of the stick lit and Leah eased it out of his mouth. Frowning at the result, she announced, “One hundred and one.”
Han glared at her; women always thought they knew everything. “Whad's thad bead? Whad's regular? sniffle.”
She did her best to contain a smile at his ignorance; the great adventurer, fighter and pilot had never paid attention to temperatures. “Ninety-eight point nine is normal. This means you have a fever, and you won't be getting out of this bed until your temperature goes down.”
Han stiffened, body rigid against the mattress. “I have do go dowd to the surface, too! Luke—“
She kissed him gently on the cheek in an attempt to appease him. “Luke's a big boy—“
Adamantly he shook his head. “Luke's a fool if he thigs you add he cad… c-cad… c-cahhh…” he propped himself up in the little metal cot so that he leaned on one elbow for support. With his other arm, he brought a fist up to his nose as his breath went short. “heh-kkshh!” it came, fast and wet. He fell forward, eyes snapping shut then opening, only to immediately flutter closed again. His breath caught and his mouth hung open a moment, tongue darting out to moisten his lips to help ease it out.
“Bless-you!” she interjected so quickly before the second that it frightened away whatever was about to happen.
Han relaxed with a sigh of frustration and relief, running his thumb and index finger on the sides of his nose to relieve the slight residual tickle. “Stop doing that, Leah!” he sounded gruff but his half smile shown through, accompanying her giggles. He reached out and touched her side, then went for her waist with tickles. She doubled over on top of him with laughter, tickling his sides at the same time. He squirmed, sniffling between laughs, then wrapped his arms around her in a truce. She gave in and went to kiss him when the power flickered. A large roar echoed in their ears as the ship was tossed to its side. They clung to each other, terror filling their eyes at the realization of the attack. It had already begun.
* * *
Luke sat, hunched over a terminal in thought. Chewy was on the main controls, and Han on the second set with Leah leaning over him from behind, her arms draped over him with long, gossamer sleeves. He moved his head to the side to rest it upon one, closing his eyes and giving a deep sigh to tell her of his contentedness. This was supposed to be a short mission for the two Jedi. Instead, his wife and brother in law had them carousing the darkest sectors of the galaxy on the run and in pursuit. All he longed for was a little time alone with her, for a change. No missions, no problems, no practices, no distractions, no companions. Just the beautiful princess in his arms…
“Looks like we're ready to start heading down,” Luke announced as he rose with a stretch.
… and her lips against his…
“Everybody bundle up!”
…sailing through the waves of space together forever.
Leah broke out of position and with her went his daydream. But he knew, the sooner they dealt with this, the sooner it could become a reality. He suited up and helped her do the same, feeling rather gentlemanly that day for some reason. They prepared for a surface landing, Leah and Han holding hands to steady each other, while Luke simply gripped a metal bar on the side of the hull's interior.
When the doors opened, the cold was the first thing to hit them. It was nowhere near the frigid cold temperatures of a planet like icy Hoth, but certainly far from the dry heat of Tatooine deserts. Han shivered despite himself and attempted to cover it up with a hearty laugh as they plowed forth. Luke led the party, and Han took the rear. They moved slowly in the cold, the winds whipping around them, making Han's nose run for some reason he had yet to determine.
“I can sense something up ahead!” Luke called out, “Keep close, and stay quiet.”
Eyes turned towards Han.
“What?” he whispered. “Hey, sorry I had to… to… hehKushhh! Sniff! …to sneeze.”
Luke rolled his eyes. “Quiet. I think I hear something up ahead.”
Leah nodded. //I hear it, too. Sounds like a generator of some sort.//
//I agree. We must approach with great caution.// Luke tore out his light saber as Leah did the same.
Han grumbled to himself as he realized the two had been talking to each other privately, and pulled out his blaster. Suddenly he felt another sneeze in his nose and sniffed to ward it off. Leah's gloved hand rested on his upper arm and a look of concern crossed her face. Just loud enough for his ears to catch it above the cold, roaring winds she inquired, “You all right?”
He nodded, putting on a tough face and flashing her a sideways smile. “Just have the sneezes this morning, I guess. I'll be fine. Hey, I always am, right?”
She kissed him gently. “Right. Stick closer to me if you start feeling worse. I'll watch your back.”
He nodded again.
The forest was becoming less and less dense with each step, and their footsteps became softer and softer as dried leaves and underbrush was taken over by soft, thick green grass. At the far edge of the clearing, they spotted it. What this 'something' turned out to be was exactly what they'd predicted, a dominion outpost. It blended into the surrounding forest and meadow, a dull green metal. Though the old ways were being restored, it was a slow process, and small rebel bands were always sprouting up based on some idea or another. This one was seemingly not as bad as others, revolving more around commerce rather than domination or power. It proved to be one of the more simple missions; perhaps they'd even be home by lunchtime.
Luke took the initiative. “Leah, you and Han go around to the side and flush the guards you can't handle over towards me. When we get inside, we'll see what we can do to disable the facility.”
So it was decided upon, and so they all took off, jumping into the midst of the guards. Fire was briefly exchanged until both Luke and Leah brandished their full light sabers. While several of the guards continued the offensive, most took flight past them towards the woods, and were met with Han's cleanup in the form of accurate blaster fire. Leave no messengers, they knew that all too well. Leah's skills with the Jedi's weapon were improving, and she managed to cut down a few on her own, while Luke took a handful. It was almost too easy… but just almost.
//All right, Leah?//
She was busy dispatching the last of them. //Fine, you?// The last guard went, down on his knees, then his face. She looked over at Han to see him rubbing at his nose with his wrist. “Are you certain you're all right?”
He straightened, sniffed, then fired a blast at the door controls. Instantly it easily slid up and open.
Luke came over to give Leah a congratulatory half-hug. “You're doing much better with the weapon. You'll make a wonderful Jedi Knight one day.”
She smiled back at him, beaming from the compliment.
“Hey people!” Han called, stepping into the facility. “Let's not get mushy here. We sniff have a job to do.”
The trio raced down the corridor with Luke in the front to dispatch of any who appeared in their way with his quick reflexes. They reached the door to the power source quickly, but suddenly Luke recoiled. “It's a trap. Everybody out. Run! Now!”
The place began to rock back and forth and they stumbled forward as quickly as possible, finding their footing when they could and pushing each other forward when they needed to. The door in front of them was slowly coming down, and they were still a ways off. Luke was the first there, bending over to duck under. He used his powers to try to hold it up for the others. But there was some sort of magic behind it; he could feel that much. Just what it was or why it had lured them there, he did not know. It fought against him and finally won out, the door closing faster to compensate for the Jedi Knight's meddling. “Hurry!”
Leah realized what had happened and grabbed onto her husband to steady him as hey got to the door. The door was getting low. Han helped Leah bend down and crawl under. The door was getting very low…. dangerously low. He gave it a head-start sprint and slid, just barely getting underneath with a pull from his friends. Han looked back just in time to grab Leah's light saber which had stayed behind. The falling door scraped the top of his hand as he pulled it back in too close a call. “Hope sniff I won't have to do that again any time soon.” Though something told him that he might have to again in another life…
The three took off towards the forest, looking back to see the building flicker once, then once more, and suddenly a large alien spacecraft stood in its place. It was dark, with large spikes sticking out in multiple places, making for inefficient travel through space. Luke couldn't quite place its origins, but it seemed vaguely familiar. He wished one of the droids were there to ID it. Quickly, they made their way through the forest, boarding the plane and telling Chewy to return to orbit.
Han slumped down in his seat, pulling a tissue out of the glove compartment (yes, every self-respecting ship had a well-supplied glove compartment and the Millennium Falcon was no different) and lifted it to his nose. “heh-kishhh! huhkshhh! hehkishuhh! Sniff!” His nose was running nonstop, now, and he blew to help clear it.
Luke had called C3PO over for consulting, and now turned to his friend. “Han, you don't sound so good.”
Rolling his eyes, he blew his nose once more. “I'll be fine. No thanks to that. Sniff! What was that about?”
Luke shook his head. “I have no idea. But whatever it was, it knew who we were and what we were doing. I'll need more time to figure things out. And I'll need your help, Leah.”
She nodded to her brother, her teacher. Then she turned to Han with a poke to his stomach. “And you need to get some rest.”
He sighed, sniffing definitively. “Look Leah, I'm not sick.” He pulled her to his lap and wrapped his arms around her in a loving hug, squeezing her through her loose white Jedi-style robes. She reached up and cupped her hands over his ears rubbing them gently to warm them after the cold of the wind; he'd been wearing a hat but apparently not wearing it well enough. Her hands stroked his cheeks and then two fingers brushed his lips sensuously. Her warm breath announced the kiss as she leaned in, eyes closing to embrace him so completely.
Suddenly he whipped his head to the side, tightening his hold on her, and shook with two more sneezes. “ehhKishh! hekushh!” He brought one hand up to run his wrist under his nose in cleanup. Then realized another was there, stuck. He panted, closing his eyes, urging it out.
“Bless you!” Leah called out, kissing his cheek.
Taking him by surprise, the sneeze backed away, and he opened his eyes in irritation. “What'd you sniff do sniff that for?”
She strained to reach the glove compartment and get another tissue. Then she rubbed his nose through it and held it firmly for him. “You're getting stuffy in the nose. Gimmie a blow.” She stoked one cheek gently, comfortingly. He easily submitted and blew his nose several times until the pressure was down.
She could make him do anything just by looking at him. Her eyes aglow, her smile so kind and gentle and just for him. But her touch was something else entirely, a connection between their souls on more levels than either ever thought existed. “Leah,” he began, but was cut off by her.
“Shhhh, hush. It'll be all right.”
He shook his head and rested it on her shoulder. Ever since he'd been frozen in the carbonite, he'd been prone to head colds, and they could both tell this one was going to be a doozy. “hehKishh! huhKetshh! hihschhh!” Boyishly he nuzzled his face into her neck with a soft whine. He needed her. One of her arms wrapped around him, while the other hand rubbed circles on his back. He gave a contented sigh, sniffle, then softly, “Leah…”
“Shhhhh,” she hugged him against her, rocking back and forth, his warm, strong body weak in her arms. “I know, my Darling. Why do you not retire to your cot for a rest? I'll join you when Luke and I are through here and wait upon your every word.” Not only did she care as much as any nurse would, but she fussed and coddled as much as any wife could. As tough a fighter as Han was, so much as a simple head cold could reduce him to endless complaints and whines.
He nodded, sniffling as he rubbed the back of his wrist against the underside of his nose. “Chewy, sniff, look after her for me, sniff, all right?” Han stroked the main console of his ship.
Chewy nodded, giving a sympathetic half roar, half purr and patting Han on the back in support. Han trudged to the back, sniffling.
“Master Luke?” This time, eyes all turned towards C3PO. “I have identified the ship you've described. It belongs to a race called the Moch'Dars. No picture available. My database calls them a very powerful species with training in the black arts of science and magic. But they are also very protective of their possessions and because of this very few ships ever leave their planet, which is right on the border of the galaxy; and even then they return after a couple of days. I cannot imagine what one would be doing all the way over here.”
A deep sigh, and a nod. “Thank you, C3PO. Leah?”
“I need your help here.” She went over, taking his hands and sitting with him on the floor. “Close your eyes and follow my meditations. The force will lead us to the answers.” Following Luke's lead, they both slipped into a deep meditation. Heads emptying, souls connecting and joining into a power so pure and intense that the force growing from it was almost impossible to resist. The visions were cloudy and uncertain at first, but then their memories of the ship cast a vision of it. The main docking bay doors slowly opened, and together the two Jedi found themselves walking in amongst the smaller ships. Down one long, winding corridor after another in search of life, perhaps on the main bridge.
Out came a pitiful moan, “Leah!”
They both snapped out of it, and Leah gave a sigh. “I'm so sorry Luke. May I tend to him a moment?”
Knowing how Han could get when he was sick, he nodded. “Give a few moments to your husband, Padawan Sister. Then we will begin again. In the meantime, I will attempt to decipher how much of that was imagination and how much was a force-guided vision.”
Leah nodded. “Thank you. I will return shortly.” She found Han lying on his side, rubbing still at his nose. “What's wrong. Darling?”
He started to answer, but a sneezey feeling interfered. His jaw dropped and nostrils flared as lines of worry passed his handsome young face. He raised a fist halfway in hesitation, then brought it all the way up. Eyelids fluttered shut, and his whole body rocked with short, halting breaths. “huhh…… huKishh! h'kshhh! shishah!” His wrist made quick work of the clean-up, and he gazed up at her as if she were his Goddess. “Leah, sniff, cad you ged be sub tissews?”
Relieved to know that's all it was, she bent to give him a kiss. “Of course.” There was a supply of toiletries in the ship's closet-sized 'fresher, and amongst them she managed to locate two small boxes of tissues. A fair amount, but certainly enough to hold him a few days. She pulled a few out for him as she returned, kneeling down beside the low cot to rub at his nose for him.
He pulled away at the harsh paper, so she placed a hand on the back of his head and eased him into it. “Hurts a little,” he complained between blows.
“I know, but I'm not about to go washing handkerchiefs for you when we're stuck in the middle of nowhere. It's only for a few days, anyway.”
With a roll of the eye, he rolled over to his back. “Can you get me another pillow?”
“Of course.” she reached over, plucking her own from the cot beside his and easing it behind his head. He rolled over, pressing his face into it instinctually, breathing in the familiar, sweet scent of his wife, just barely detectible through his two stuffed nostrils.
“Can you get me sniff, sniff, another blanket?”
She reached over to get her own. “Of course.” Leah tucked it about him tenderly, running one hand down his side to comfort him before she left. “Han, I need to—“
But he'd anticipated her want to go back and quickly fired out another request, “And can you sniff, get me some juice, too? Sniff!”
Sighing, she fetched a glass for him, equipped with a straw so that he may drink more easily. If she hadn't remembered, she was certain it would be his next request and as much fun it was to play Han's handmaiden, she really did need to return to Luke. “Of course,” she whispered, handing it to him, then backing up towards the door. “Anything else?” she inquired, not too sure she wanted an honest answer from him.
“Just sniff one more… hehh… hehkshhh! huhKushoo! Sniff! Just one more thing.”
He could be such a handful when he was sick. “Can you get me a small kiss from sniff, sniff, the most beautiful creature in the galaxy?”
She smiled at his charm, bending on one knee, hovering just above him so close that their breath mingled and their noses brushed. “I shall try, but really, Han. After all these years you'd think you'd be over Java the Hutt by now.”
Laughter was impossible to restrain, even sick, and Leah was obliged to guide the juice to his lips to stop an onslaught of coughs. When he was better, he replied with, “Hey, I thought I was supposed to get all the good lines. Sniff! You're supposed to be the sweet little damsel in distress.”
She burst out laughing. “You're sick, let your wife take over the comic relief, all right?” When the laughter finally died down, she leaned in and let her lips caress his with loving tenderness. In a hushed voice, she reassured him, “I'll return as soon as I can. You'll be all right while I'm gone?”
He nodded, sniffling. “I'll miss you.”
She kissed him softly goodbye, with a final whisper, “Take care, Love.”
To which he flashed his sideways smile. “I will.”
Leah returned to the cockpit to find Luke just as she'd left him, sitting silently in the corner, eyes closed. She sent him a gentle greeting through their bond and he smiled, motioning for her to join him without opening his eyes.
//I have seen nothing further, but have been meditating upon the visions we achieved to hold them strong.//
She took his hands and closed her eyes, letting herself sink into a deep state of meditation. The inside of the ship appeared once more, and they walked their way through it, down a different path than before at Luke's lead, until they hit the main deck. It took both their efforts, but they slid open the door to reveal… nothing. The room was as black as nothingness. Luke guided them out of it.
Leah was disappointed. Perhaps if she were a full Jedi rather than just a Padawan learner she would be able to help more. //I am sorry, Brother. I…//
//It is all right. Our visions reflect reality as much as memory, and reality had nothing to fall back on when we could not reach to it. Could it be possible that we are going in the wrong direction?//
//The force is telling me… //
//Yes Leah? Ah, I see… there is something that feels overlooked. The door…please help to remember the symbol on it.//
They meditated upon the door for a while, piecing together the brief memories until a reliable picture was sensed. It was a dull gray ring, with three paths of green, blue and yellow twisting, turning, intertwining till they met in a red circle in the center. As they sought to find the significance, they saw the green path begin to shorten into a direct path from the outer ring to the inner circle. Then it grew a bright white, filling the vision completely. Luke brought them out before the whiteness took them over.
//It looked like a sort of game.//
//I agree… Though what kind seems as impossible to determine as what it might mean for us. Perhaps our next move will become clearer when they make their next. Now let us relax out minds for next time.// They fell back into a soft meditation, of a bond of Master and Padawan, Brother and Sister. He comforted her once more, and she understood better through feelings than his words could have conveyed. When they eased out, Leah was startled to see how much later it had gotten, though a few hours short of dinnertime. She hoped Han had been able to get some rest, though she had a sense that he had not. “Go take care of him, Leah.”
She smiled; Luke always knew what she was feeling. “I will.” Leah peaked in hesitantly, finding him sitting up in bed, squinting at a datapad. “You look exhausted, Darling.”
He sniffed, looking up at her with a smile. “I uh, tried but I hehh… keep snee… sneehhh… hehKishh! Chishh! Sniff! …sneezing too much.” He rubbed at the back of his neck. “Are you finished with Luke?”
“Good! Sniff! That means you can give me a back rub.” He flashed her a charming, irresistible smile and sniffed again, rubbing his thumb and index finger on the sides of his nostrils.
A smile broke out on her face and she shook her head. “Whatever will I do with you, Han?”
He sniffed again, reaching around with a dramatic flourish to pull his shirt off his back and over his head. “You could sniff kiss me.”
She went to him, sitting behind him and pressing her lips gently to the warm skin of the back of his neck. Her hands soothed his skin from neck to shoulders. Kneading, rubbing, massaging gently. “What are you reading?”
“Just some schematics and hehh… hehKishshoo! hekIhshh! … and… ehhh… Keshh!”
“Bless you. You don't have to talk, it's all right.”
His head rolled around to loosen the muscles. “I just heh… can't heh stop keh… hishoo! HehKishh! hehKishh! Sniff! stop sneezing. Leah—“ his hand motioned towards the tissue box but she had already reached for a few and brought them to his mouth and nose for him.
“hehKishh! ehKishh! Ehshishh! heh… ehh…”
She reached around and poked him in the stomach. “C'mon sneeze!”
“eh- huh! Leah!” His muscles relaxed and he fell back against her with a congested laugh.
“Sorry, here, blow your nose, then I'll see about getting you to sleep.” Her hands enveloped his lower back in circles, up his spine. As her hands dug into his back, she finished up by kissing the back of his neck again. “Now lie down, here.” She eased him down on his side, then cuddled up behind him tightly. She pulled the blankets up to their chins and wrapped one arm around him securely. Helping him relax a little, she sent a soft wave of the force to him. She knew he felt it much differently than a Jedi did, as a wave of pure, gentle energy touching his soul. Softly, she began to hum a love ballad that she had heard in childhood but could not remember the words to.
She felt him tense in her arms and she held him to her more tightly. “hehKshhh! heKshhhhh!” Leah reached over to bring the tissues closer, then brought one to his nose for him. “hehIhshph! hekshmmph! hekchmm!”
This time, she waited for him to finish. “Bless you, Darling. Is there anything else I can do—“
For this first time, he was as content as possible. “Just hold me.” She resumed with the humming, and holding tissues to his nose when it ran so that he didn't have to move. “Thank you, Leah,” he muttered as he finally fell to sleep.
Softly, she whispered into his ear. “My pleasure.”
Leah really hadn't meant to fall asleep with him; as soon as he had fallen asleep she had planned on returning to work. But she was so comfortable lying with him in her arms, that she soon grew sleepy just to listen to his breathing. And with heavy eyes, laid her head on his shoulder and joined him on the dreamscape.
A gentle hand roused them both. “The next move has been made.”
Leah rubbed her eyes. “What happened?”
Luke helped her up. “A ship has appeared in orbit behind us.” He squatted down. “Han, how are you feeling?”
Han blinked a few times, and cleared his throat. He felt terrible, but even without heightened perceptions he could see a look of desperation in his friend's eyes. “I cad do adythig sniff you deed.”
Patting him on the shoulder. “Good, we'll need you on your controls if it comes to battle.”
“Luke, sniff, she doesd't have that kind of—”
“I know. We'll use our brains before our weapons.”
Leah helped Han up, putting a hand to his head. “Are you sure you'll be all right?”
He nodded wearily. “I hehh… hehKIHshh! hehSHHH! hehKESHH!” Sneezing freely, then made an attempt at raising a fist to his nose. “heh… hehCHISHH! hehKESHH! hehKIHSHH! hehShishhh! Sniff!”
Leah bent down and retrieved a few tissues for him, holding them to his nose for him. “Bless you. Darling, you should be in bed. You're warm, and look how groggy you are.”
He pulled the tissues away and blew his own nose. “I'b fide. There's do way sniff I'b lettig sobe alieds blow ub by shib.”
She sighed, picking up the whole box and handing it to him. “Keep blowing. And promise me you won't be the one handling communications.”
He chuckled, following her to the front. “I brobise.”
Leah stood behind Han, staring out. “Luke, I can sense it, but I can't see it.”
“Can't you? Look there…” He pointed at the center star in a small cluster.
She squinted. “That's the ship?! That yellow spikey—they're sending a message, Luke.”
Luke nodded. “Let's hear it.”
Han pressed a few overhead buttons and it came up on the screen. “Channel's open. Sniff!”
It was a creature unlike any of them had ever seen: a large, black rodent-like creature with bright red eyes and long, tentacles for arms. It wore a gray uniform of some sort with the symbol they remembered from the ship. Most interesting of all, it was not standing or sitting but floating. At first, it appeared that their ship had no artificial gravity, but then it was realized to be floating in a very transparent liquid. “Jedi Knights,” it hissed, flicking a tongue out at them, its sides heaving in and out as it spoke. “We meet at last.”
Luke spoke for them all in his question, “What is this all about?”
It hissed, ending in a high-pitched squeal. “Ah, confusion, a nice feeling, yes… indeed. We have been watching your kind since the first Jedi appeared. There is something you two have that we need.”
Leah tightened, not in anger but in the beginnings of fear. It was a danger she had learned of when Luke had begun her training. It was fear from love that had turned their father, and there was danger of the same as she became one with Han as much the Jedi bonding with Luke. Luke's weakness had once been identified as his faith in his friends; Leah's, she and Luke had discussed, was her love. //Luke--//
//Hush.// He felt her fear but was sure that this creature could easily read any of their thoughts. As if to corroborate his theory, a smile appeared on the Moch'Dar's face.
“This game will be easier than we thought. You may have won the first battle but the force will be mine. You have exactly one ********** to fear us until we destroy you.” The transmission ended as abruptly as it had begun and upon that note, a white beam of light shot from the star-like ship, tossing them to one side. Han grabbed for the controls but it was Chewbacca who returned fire with a warning shot to match, then pulled the ship back just out of range.
Leah watched Han struggle a minute to right himself, then sluggishly rubbed at his nose as he thanked Chewy. He was in no condition for this, and she and Luke were putting them in harm's way. And it was obvious that her feelings were only making the situation that much worse. With eyes closed, she sighed to calm herself. “Luke, I'm sorry…”
He shook his head. “It's not your fault.” He took her in a hug. //You must learn to control your fear for our safety. We are strong, you and I, we can protect them against any form of magic. But after all we have been through…we all have helped to save an entire galaxy, Sister, we are strongest with our friends. Not with our fear.//
“Hey,” Han spoke up, turning halfway around in his seat. “Care to edlighted the rest of us here?”
Luke shook his head. “You know as much as I do. I cannot tell if it wants something from us, or if it simply wishes to destroy us, or for what reason.” He sighed, trying to piece things together. “I need to listen to the force.” He retreated to a corner to think. His hope was that Obi-Wan, or Yoda, or even his father might appear to him with some sort of information about this. It was not unlike anything he'd been pre-warned of; there would always be ones gifted in the dark arts, there would always be evil in the galaxy for them to fight. There had to be some information floating around somewhere… some solution floating among the minds that were now one with the force. All he had to do was listen to it.
In the meantime, Chewy spoke up, worried. And Han nodded in agreement. “We cad't just hehh…heKishh! Hishhh! Sniff, sniff, wait aroud.”
Leah rubbed his shoulders. “Sounding tough doesn't work too well when you're sniffley, does it?” He glared at her but she bent over and kissed his cheek, pulling back immediately. “Force, Han, you're burning up!”
He pulled away, running a hand through his hair. He wavered upon words a moment, not sure he could speak but feeling the need to protest. He raised his hand to his nose, two fingers rubbing at his nostrils to quench the violent tickling long enough. “I'b fide. I… I… ehhh… hehh…HEHKISHH! hehEHHSHAH! HEKSHAH! HEHKSSHHH!”
Leah pulled a few tissues out of the box and handed them to him. Then she sat down on his lap, cradling his head. He tried pulling out but her eyes told him to hear her out. She leaned in, whispering softly. “You, my Love, have been up and down all day. First you're tough, then you're helpless, then you're nuzzling, then you're Captain I'm-Fine again. I want you in bed and for you to stay there.” She gave him a kiss and a small wave of warm energy.
He started to speak but felt the urge to sneeze again, finding her shoulder to be the most convenient thing. Han looked up at her, eyes squinting, mouth half open, asking permission. She nodded, stroking the back of his head as she led it to her shoulder. Her other hand rubbed his back gently as the muscles therein tightened, and his body shook. “hehh…hephtmm! hechum! HEHchmm! hichphm!” He raised his head and snuffled, “I'b sorry…”
“Shhhh…” She wiped his nose for him, then wiped her shoulder. “It's all right, you know I don't get sick.”
He shook his head with as much energy as he had. “Do sniff, no, I'm sorry sniff, sniff about this sniff, today sniff, when—“
“I know, Dear. Come, I'll see you to bed.”
“The water!” Luke shouted out all of a sudden with such an air of excited desperation. “Leah, you and I must face him on the planet.”
She bit her lip as she guided Han's head to her other shoulder and stroked his cheek gently. //Luke, your skills far outweigh mine. Shouldn't I stay here to protect them?//
Luke sighed. //You must face your fears, Sister Padawan. I will explain later; better not to worry anyone, but I understand what this is all about and I do need your help.// He took a look at the couple and sighed again, giving a sweeping motion with his hand. “All right, put him back to bed, Leah. Then we'll head down. But it must be as soon as possible.”
Leah reached over and squeezed his arm. “Thank you, Luke. You're so sweet.”
Just a little, he blushed, but gave her the whisper, “please hurry.”
She nodded pulling Han back to his cot again and immediately popping a thermometer into his mouth.
* * *
“I must go now. I'm sorry, Han. Please look after yourself.” She paused a moment, soaking him in for all he was worth. Behind the sallow face, the tired eyes, the runny nose, was the most handsome man in the galaxy. So tough, so noble, so loving. And though she was fearful for losing him, she felt deep down that he would be all right. Leah leaned in, kissing his cheek lightly, and then going for his lips in a passionate exchange of emotions. “I love you.”
He nodded, sniffing once. “I love you, too.”
She headed back to the small shuttlecraft to meet Luke. “Do you have your light saber?” She nodded. “Good.” He took her hands, giving her a soft, comforting smile. “Just relax, Leah. We'll all be all right, I can see it. I'll explain everything on the way down.” He gave her a hand to hold as she climbed in, and then climbed in himself. With a few buttons, the doors to the rest of the ship had shut and the bay doors began to open to let them out. They felt the ship get tossed again, and closed her eyes, sending her husband all the strength she could to help him fight.
“Let me explain,” Luke said, once they were well on their way to the planet's surface. He was sure they'd been seen, but no fire had been given to them, just as he thought. “Every battle is, rudimentarily, a game. There are strategies, moves, winners, and losers. The first green path on the board we saw symbolizes the trap on the planet's surface. Though seemingly simple, we are considered to have won it. The second, yellow, the fight in space against the star ship which has already begun. The third, blue, is the fight underwater on the surface here. We are to draw the captain down to begin it early, leaving the ship to any crew he had. Then we will engage the creature in battle.”
“Luke, this is absurd! Playing a game with our lives… why are we doing this?”
“Leah, it is not playing their game, it would have happened in this way no matter what we had done. Surely you can sense that. This Moch'Dar is after you and me for the force. I do not see why yet, but the more we resist, the more we play right into his hand, er, tentacle. It seems to feed off of our confusion and fear; perhaps he has heightened senses for these as they combine with our Jedi powers. Perhaps it is this which will allow him to use the force for ways of evil. I know not.”
Leah sighed. “This sounds crazy, Luke… but I trust you.”
“Look,” he pointed at a small dot on the radar screen separating from the Moch'Dar's main ship. “Here he comes.”
Han stumbled back to the cockpit.
Chewy barked over to Han, still attempting to maneuver around the blasts.
“Yeah she told be sniff, to stay id bed. But d'you wanna see us die, here?”
Chewy shook his head, patting Han on the back.
Han fell forward at the hits, weakened from the cold. “I'll be ok. Dod't worry.”
They were hit again, and Han grabbed the controls, pulling them back, then returning fire as they zipped starboard. “They're hit, fire agaid!” They swooped forward between two of the giant spikes of the ship, firing, but taking a hit on the bottom of the hull. They rocked to the side, crashing into one of the spikes. The power flickered, then shut off. The Millennium Falcon scraped against the spike, sparks flying as the metal screeched. R2D2 saw to the ensuing fire as C3P0 huddled back in the corner, worried.
Han jumped up to flip override the power circuits, leaning against the wall to gather himself. His nose was tickling again and he wished Leah were there. He panted a minute, letting his thoughts race as the sneezes came slowly. “hehh…” he raised his fist to his nose and mouth, closing his eyes and trying to ease it out. “ehh… Kishhh! hekshh! hehihshh! hehKishh!” Han rubbed his nose on his shoulder and they cleared the ship and turned 'round. “Hey sniff, Chewy, rebeber sniff, sniff, Salerod Eight?”
Chewy purred, nodding, then swung them below. The star ship adjusted to match, firing just above them and starting to pull down. Just before going underneath, Chewy pulled them straight up as Han leaned over the controls and fired right through their main bridge, letting his ship grace the fire and pull out. It did a summersault, coming around to fire straight forward at the ship and lose acceleration as they flew over the ship that was now slowly exploding.
The two cheered, standing and hugging, then Han collapsed back in his chair, coughing into his fist.
Chewy purred, slapping a large, furry hand on Han's forehead, then rubbing the top of his head.
Han rubbed his thumb and index finger against his nostrils and sniffed again. He felt awful. “Chewy, cad you helb be back to bed, Buddy?” Chewy purred again, nodding and swooping the man up. Laughing, Han struggled to get down, patting Chewy's arm. “Thags, Buddy. Just let be lead od you a little, ok?” Han lay back down in bed, not realizing how nice it felt until his head sank into the thick pile of pillows. Chewy covered him with blankets and patted him goodnight. “Thanks, Chewy.” He was exhausted, but lonely in bed. He wanted Leah, he needed Leah; he decided not to fall asleep until she was with him once more, safe in his arms.
“Han?” Leah sat beside him, her legs bent to the side, leaning on his cot with one hand shaking him gently. “I'm back, Darling.”
He woke, licking his lips, sniffling, blinking hard until he focused on her. “I wasd't… yawn… I wasd't asleeb, really.”
“Mmm, hmm.” She bent to kiss his cheek softly. “Do you know how proud of you I am?”
Looking up at her, he squinted, brow wrinkling in confusion. “Ah, Leah… sniff, dod't get bushy od be, dow.”
She laughed, wiping at teary eyes. “Sorry.”
He sat up, taking her in a hug, kissing her cheek. “I was scared you bight dot be cobig back.” He rubbed at his nose, and she looked around for tissues for him, finding nothing aside from a small pile of used ones by the cot. “Yeah, I'b out. Cad you get sniff, sniff, be sub water, too?”
Nodding, “Of course.”
When she returned, he was just dozing in and out of sleep, still half sitting up as she'd left him, head nodding down slowly until his chin touched his bare chest… then quickly shooting up to normal height, just to fall down again… His mouth was closed and soft snores and snorts came from him at each breath out as his nostrils flared widely with each breath in. She sat beside him on the floor, two light fingers on his chin to steady his head as her lips parted his to wake him with a strong kiss. He pulled back with a snort and a cough, covering his nose and mouth with the back of his hand. “hehKISHH! heKSHH! Kehshoo! ehKkeshhh! Sniff!”
She guided a tissue to his nose and he pulled back, wincing. “Hurts.” Nodding, she moved slowly, touching his nose ever so gently with the tissue and rubbing it for him. When done, he looked her up and down: ripped, muddy, bloody white robes, messed hair, tired eyes. “You've dever looked so berfect.” He scooted over in bed, lying down and pulling the blanket back in invitation.
“Just one minute.” Leah put down the water and off came her robes. She brushed down her hair and slipped into a light white silk shirt. Then she climbed into bed with him so that they were facing each other. He rested his hand on her hip and she put hers on his upper arm, rubbing up and down gently.
She then launched into explanation for him. “We faced it in battle underwater. It was difficult at first to manage in the new environment, weighted down by our clothing. And light… light is so distorted underwater. I'm afraid I was little help in the end, but Luke was amazing. One of the most difficult things is to face an enemy on their playing field but Luke had a plan all along. He used all he could spare to project the appearance of an extra three feet of water above us. I did not know so as not to give anything away, but I could feel Luke urging me there as we battled it, so I did my best. It was a wild fighter, with skill in the arts but with a style I'd never seen. When I thought we were beaten, we reached the top, and held the Moch'Dar there with our beams crossed below him. Its screech I will never forget, and it burst into a pool of blood before us just as a great explosion rocked the sky.”
He pulled her closer, nuzzling his face into her hair, closing his eyes. “You're safe dow, Bridcess.”
She giggled, kissing his nose gently.
Han closed his eyes, wrinkling his nose under her lips. Suddenly he pulled back and gasped for a deep breath. “ehh…hehSHHH! hehKISHH! ehh… hehh…”
He relaxed as the feeling backed off. Shaking his head, “You've got to stob doig that!”
She giggled, “You and your shy sneezes. Here, Darling.”
A tissue was already at his nose for him, and he blew carefully, a bit sheepishly. “I sniff, sniff…I did't bead to sniff sdee… sdeeze sniff, sniffle, od you.”
She hugged him close. “I know. After what we've been through today, Han, that was heavenly in comparison.”
He laughed, savoring the moment a little longer before he gave into his fatigue. He felt so safe in her arms, and he wanted nothing to ever change that. “Will you stay here sniffle all dight?”
“Of course.” She ruffled his hair.
“I bight sdore,” he warned, giving her a chance to rethink her answer.
Instead, she giggled and kissed him goodnight. “I might just take that chance. I could sleep through anything as long as you're safely in my arms.”
He closed his eyes, sniffling softly. “Good dight, by Bridcess.”
Leah smiled, letting her eyes close as well. “Goodnight, Love.”