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Chewbacca adjusted the collar around his neck, the movement rustling the strong chain that attached it to the binders on his hands and feet, and glanced at the small princess sitting beside him. They were sitting in the bow of the relatively crowded sand skiff as it sailed across the endless sand dunes, while Luke, who had boarded separately, was sitting at the other end. The young man was cloaked and looked completely unremarkable next to the other denizens travelling beside him. Leia too was cloaked, but had boarded the skiff as a bounty hunter taking the very recognisable ‘Chewbacca the Wookiee’ to Jabba for the advertised reward.
They had appropriated her clothes from a drunken, Ubese patron at the back of Chalmun’s Cantina. The state and smell of the outfit, which included a helmet and breastplate, disguised the princess completely. Leia had been far from enthusiastic at the idea, but Luke had insisted for her own safety, and Chewbacca had agreed with him. Nevertheless, the minute it was dark enough, the princess had removed the helmet, and the deep breath she took suggested to Chewbacca that she was having difficulty breathing inside the helmet. Or perhaps it was just the smell inside the helmet. Fortunately the Wookiee commanded enough fear, and the other occupants of the skiff had enough sense of self-preservation that they had all kept a respectable distance from him, so there was a chance none of them would notice the pale, round face of the princess inside her hood.
Looking at her now, Chewbacca came to the conclusion that Leia Organa had changed quite dramatically since their capture over Tatooine. To some extent, he put it down to whatever trauma she must have been through as a captive on Vader’s ship, but he felt sure there was more to it than just that. Her relationship with Skywalker was definitely different, despite the fact that she seemed to have come to terms with the young man’s parentage. Chewbacca wasn’t sure if he had come to grips with it himself, but he knew he certainly wasn’t about to blame Luke for an accident of birth.
He was also aware that, bounty hunter disguise aside, Leia smelled different. Not so different that he wouldn’t have recognised her, but different enough to make him wonder what physical changes might have occurred. What sort of chemicals had been pumped into her during interrogation?
He felt her shiver and surreptitiously pulled her closer to share his own body heat; the desert was a place of extremes and, at night, could be surprisingly cold. Nevertheless, he couldn’t help feeling a little surprised when she leaned against him, resting her head against him in a manner that gave away just how exhausted she was. It would do nothing for their ‘bounty hunter and captive’ charade, but Chewbacca did not have the heart to push her away, and hoped the darkness would conceal them well enough.
Leia was feeling nauseous again, probably due to the smell of the suit Luke had forced her to wear. If he had been sitting next to her, she might have asked for his help in using the Force to make it go away. But, as he’d already all but threatened to throw her off the rescue team because of her pregnancy, Leia decided it was probably safer not to let him know how horrible she was feeling. Trapped for at least another two hours on the sand skiff heading south towards Jabba the Hutt’s lair, Leia had decided to take refuge in the only course of action open to her: sleep.
Of late, sleep was something her body just couldn’t seem to get enough of. Tiredness had been the princess’ constant companion since Alderaan’s destruction, but sleep or, more particularly, restful sleep had always eluded her. As a result, she had become very adept at functioning surprisingly well on varying levels of exhaustion. Although she knew it was part of his spacer’s survival skill, she had always envied Solo his ability to be able to sleep wherever and whenever the opportunity arose. To suddenly find herself likewise blessed made her wonder if the Corellian wasn’t rubbing off on her more than she’d thought.
Then she irritably gave herself a mental kick. Rubbing off on her? Solo was the cause! If he hadn’t got her pregnant she wouldn’t be feeling so tired and nauseous!
Sighing, Leia rested her head against the Wookiee, taking comfort in his familiar smell and the feeling of safety his mere presence provided. Chewbacca had pledged to protect her and she trusted him but, more importantly, he had become the only stable factor in a life that had become so complex and confusing that she needed his constancy to keep her sane. Luke had changed, Han was gone, and she couldn’t recognise herself at all. But Chewbacca was still there. And she needed him.
Closing her eyes, Leia used the Force to lightly touch the presence that was her daughter, got a faint but reassuring response, then gave in to her body’s desire and was asleep in a minute.
Luke had felt cross and alarmed when Leia surreptitiously removed her helmet, but watching her lean against the Wookiee left him feeling impotently furious. Only the fact that it was so dark, and most of their fellow passengers were dozing, stopped him from using the Force to telepathically chastise her. Seeing her leaning against her supposed quarry like that would do nothing for their charade of bounty hunter and captive, and Luke couldn’t help feeling like she was deliberately trying to foil his plan. She had been so against wearing the bounty hunter outfit to start with.
He felt her use the Force to sense the child in her womb, reassuring and calming herself, then a moment later she was asleep. Luke had to employ a calming technique Yoda had taught him to stop himself from waking her. Leia needed the sleep, he told himself sternly and, to distract himself, looked up at the brilliant display of stars overhead.
The constellations were a little different because they were in a different hemisphere to the one he was used to, but nevertheless the sky was familiar. Almost comforting. How many times had he looked up at this sky, at these stars, and ached to be flying through them? How many times had he and Biggs Darklighter laid out on the roof of one or others’ houses and gazed longingly up at a galaxy spread out across their night sky like a banquet?
Now Biggs was just molecules. Vaporised over the Death Star by his best friend’s father.
Luke felt a sudden and acute resurgence of grief over the loss of his childhood friend. Blinked away the sudden tears that accompanied it and reminded himself crossly that, on Tatooine, tears were a dangerous waste of water.
He looked across at the Wookiee and wondered what Chewbacca was thinking about. Wondered if he had put them all at risk by taking them into Jabba’s this way. It could all end so badly if his plan didn’t work. Luke looked at his cybernetic hand and flexed it. So many variables to consider; so many things that could go wrong.
He wondered what sort of repercussions Vader had suffered for their escape from the Executor. Luke imagined the Emperor would not have been impressed at the loss of Leia or, more importantly, the child she carried, and had probably dispatched someone to Tatooine to recover them. Would he have sent Vader though? Luke suspected the Emperor might not consider his favourite Dark Lord quite as reliable as he had in the past. Specially where his offspring, Luke and Leia, were concerned.
Luke found his eyes drifting back to the dark shape that was his sister and forced himself to look out at the darkness. It would not do for any of their fellow passengers to notice his interest in the Ubese bounty hunter and his Wookiee captive. He had spent the first hour of their journey surreptitiously studying their fellow passengers. Gauging each of them for how threatening or disruptive they might be to his plans, or how he might be able to use them to further his own. And while he did not feel a sense of direct threat from any of them, he didn’t doubt that each and every one of them could turn on him at a moment’s notice.
One of the passengers, the only other human on the skiff beside himself and the princess, was a male spacer. Smuggler probably. He had a look and body language that reminded Luke of Han Solo, and Luke found himself considering that, under different circumstances, it could well have been Han. The Han who had flatly refused to help him rescue a princess until a large sum of money was mentioned. And had bitched about the same princess ever since.
Luke couldn’t help smiling at the memory. As well as the irony that the princess was now rescuing the smuggler, and pregnant with his child. For a moment Luke felt a whisper of concern at how Solo would react to the news of his impending fatherhood, then dismissed it. Despite his devil-may-care facade, Han Solo was a man of honour. The Wookiee was proof of that. He also loved Leia more than himself, which Luke found comforting.
No, more worrying was the prospect that Solo might come out of the carbon-freezing process with more than the hibernation sickness the medics had anticipated. That he might have suffered irreparable brain damage. Leia had stubbornly refused to consider the possibility; at least out loud. But Luke suspected she was as worried by the prospect as himself and the Wookiee.
The memory of the blast of awareness he had felt from Solo on Dagobah exacerbated his concern. Luke didn’t know how anyone could suffer that sort of torment and remain sane.
*************on to the next part...