Story to date - Luke, Leia, Chewie and Lando have succeeded in freeing Solo from Jabba and the carbonite. Despite the need to get Solo medical attention as soon as possible, survival from Tatooine's day time has made them take refuge in Kenobi's old hut. But now a sandstorm approaches...
He's worried about me, Leia told herself as Chewbacca followed her through the hut and down the narrow stairwell to the small storage room where they were keeping Han. The underground cool was a welcome relief from the heat outside, and she took a long drink of water to rehydrate her throat then, flask in hand, turned and watched the Wookiee as he started cleaning up Solo. The room had a low ceiling, even by human standards, and the two metre tall Wookiee had to bend at the waist to avoid hitting his head on the ceiling.
[Are you alright?] he asked, glancing at her as he matter-of-factly wiped the Corellian down.
Leia nodded, taking another swig from the flask. He knows I’m unwell. Knows this is more than just- "Stress," she muttered evasively, eagerly anticipating the alleviation of the dreadful smell in the small room.
The Wookiee paused to study the unconscious form of his friend and partner, and his scrutiny exacerbated Leia’s sense of failure to the point where she found herself selfishly wishing the hairy behemoth would leave. Then he sat on the edge of the bed and started gently tracing the contours on Solo’s face with one finger, and Leia was mesmerised. The love inherent in his touch brought tears to her eyes. This is all my fault, she told herself for the hundredth time, and wondered how the Wookiee could even stand to look at her.
As though sensing her thoughts, Chewbacca’s clear blue eyes turned to study her once more and Leia turned away. Busied herself recapping the flask and putting it back on the shelf where they were storing the medications for Han. The supply of medication was almost exhausted and the urgent need to get Solo to a medcentre gripped her once more.
[How is he?] the Wookiee asked, returning to his task.
His voice was a low growl that made him harder to understand, but Leia felt confident guessing the content of his question and replied, "Improving." Thanks to Luke. "Han'll be fine once we get him to a medcentre," she added, more to reassure herself than him. She had been using the same litany to keep herself sane since Bespin. Even the medbunk on the Falcon would be an improvement on this, she thought.
The Wookiee finished cleaning up then left the room to dispose of the cloth he had been using. While he was gone, Leia arranged a clean blanket along the edge of the bed and, when he returned, Chewbacca helped her get it under Solo.
Staring at Chewbacca’s hands as he worked, Leia’s eye was caught by the small scar on the inside of his left wrist. She had seen the scar before and had always assumed it to be a legacy of his enslavement; the result of binders or a scar of some sort. But, looking at it now, she realised it was actually a tattoo. She couldn’t make out the design because his skin was so dark, but felt sure it was a code the Imperials had put there. A brand that would have made it easy for them to identify him.
Leia was so engrossed in her thoughts of sad outrage at what the Wookiee must have endured during his captivity that it was a moment before she realised Chewbacca’s hands had stopped moving. That he was watching her and knew full well what she had been studying. Leia felt her cheeks burn with shame for invading his privacy.
“I’m sorry,” she stammered.
[It’s not what you think,] he said gently.
Leia met his eyes but said nothing.
[It’s my bondage tattoo,] he said, offering his wrist for closer inspection.
“Bondage,” Leia repeated, eyeing the tattoo with distaste. “Something the Imperials-”
She was cut off by Chewbacca chuckling and frowned as he shook his head, wondering how he could find it amusing.
[Bondage,] he repeated. [Bondage. Not bondage.]
Leia regarded him uncertainly. This was a language problem, she realised. She was not hearing a subtle difference in his intonation.
The Wookiee shook his head, his eyes dancing with suppressed humour. [No,] he agreed. [Although a lot of Wookiees might disagree.]
He must have sensed that she still hadn’t translated the word correctly, because he pointed to the tattoo and said, [Malla.]
Leia frowned, wondering what Chewbacca’s wife had to do with it. “Malla?”
Chewbacca nodded enthusiastically and repeated, [Malla, Chewbacca, bondage.]
Abruptly it made sense. “Bonding!” Leia said, and smiled with relief and a little embarrassment. No wonder Chewbacca had been amused. “This is your bonding tattoo?”
Chewbacca nodded happily, pulling the hair away with his other hand so she could see the design better.
Her revulsion replaced by intense curiosity, Leia leaned in for a closer look and realised that what she had feared to be numerals or code was in fact an intricately patterned, winged serpent. The head of the serpent lay just off-centre on the Wookiee’s wrist, the pulse flickering there giving it life. The body of the serpent was made up of many scales, which wound around the wrist itself several times. Much of the design was lost in his fur, but Leia could see enough to realise there was no end. The design was unfinished.
“Malla has one too?” she asked, tracing it with her finger.
[Yes,] he said, nodding. He pointed to a single scale and said, [One scale for each year.]
Leia met his eyes briefly then looked back at the design. “That’s a lot of years,” she said.
She turned his arm over, following the design as it wound around his wrist. The scales at the end of the snake stood out because of their depth of colour and she followed them back to the sudden change. Then realised with horror that it marked his enslavement. That the new scales had been added all at once after Solo had freed him. Leia estimated there were at least twenty new scales. The single wing was part of the new additions and Leia wondered what it might signify.
“Is it a usual part of Wookiee bonding?” she asked, trying to visualise a Wookiee wedding ceremony as she arranged a fresh cover over Solo.
Chewbacca nodded, then commented, [You look tired. Why don't you get some sleep while you can?]
Because I want to be ready to leave as soon as the first sun sets, Leia thought to herself, then sighed heavily and pulled up a box so she could sit beside the bed.
Chewbacca pulled up a box beside her then nudged her gently with his elbow and encouraged, [Get in beside Han; I'm sure he won't mind.] Then added, [And the body heat might help keep his temperature stable.]
Leia considered his suggestion seriously. It was very tempting. An hour's sleep, maybe two...
But I should be trying to do the Jedi thing, she scolded herself. Should be trying to use the Force to help Han heal. Leia hugged herself, hunching over the arms crossing over her belly, and closed her eyes while her thoughts turned briefly to the child within. Then she opened her eyes and gazed at Solo’s face, once again wondering how she would tell him.
The sound of footsteps coming down the narrow stairwell made them both look up as Luke stepped down into the room.
Chewbacca knew from the expression on Luke's face that he was not bringing good news, smelled the spike of fear from the princess as she swiftly came to the same conclusion and felt her body tense in immediate response.
"What is it?" she asked sharply.
"Sandstorm," Luke answered simply, then added, "A big one."
Understanding full well what this implied, Chewbacca moaned his irritation at the helplessness of their situation, but Leia demanded stubbornly, "Which means?"
"Which means we won't be going anywhere any time soon," Luke told her matter-of-factly. "Two or three days at least."
Leia went very still and Chewbacca almost leaned away from her in anticipation of the inevitable explosion. Distress was radiating off her in waves, mingling with the other scents of fear, anger and a mix that was particularly Leia. All of them blending into a heady concoction that Chewbacca had come to recognise as the scent that heralded the princess going into battle. Familiar because she had so often exuded it around Solo.
"What about Han?" Leia demanded.
"Sandstorm doesn't care about Han," Luke answered facetiously, and Chewbacca found himself regarding the young man darkly. The comment was callous and, Chewbacca suspected, deliberately inflammatory. What was Luke trying to achieve by upsetting the princess?
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?!" Leia snapped.
"You can heal him, Leia, you've done it before-"
Chewbacca regarded the young man through narrowed eyes. Was Luke suggesting what Chewie thought he was suggesting? That the princess was Force sensitive?
Leia, on the other hand, was really angry. "If it's so damn easy why don't you do it?!"
Chewbacca looked sharply at the princess. Leia had a smell that was distinctly her; all humans did, despite their inability to consciously read the information. He had been aware of a change in the princess' signature scent since finding her on Tatooine, but had been content to dismiss it as indicative of her time as Vader's captive, or as some leftover pheromone on the disguise she had used to get into Jabba's.
After Jabba's she had smelled like a Hutt, but now she was clean; wearing an old wrap that had belonged to Kenobi, and she smelled like...
Chewbacca took a deep breath through his nose, unable to believe what it was telling him.
"I am doing it, Leia," he dimly heard Luke say. "But that's not where my strengths lie."
The Wookiee leaned down, putting his nose close to her neck, and once again breathed deeply. Leia pulled away from him a little, distantly irritated, while Luke added, "You, on the other hand, succeeded spectacularly on Hoth-"
[You smell like milk!] Chewbacca accused loudly, sniffed her again then boomed, [You’re breeding!]
He wanted to get to his feet, wanted to intimidate her with his height, but the low ceiling forced him to remain seated. Nevertheless, Leia looked up at him with clear shock and confusion, and for a moment Chewbacca thought she didn't know.
"What?" she said automatically.
Then a defensive expression took up residence on her face as she translated what he'd said and Chewbacca knew she was aware. Had been aware the whole time. Had willingly put not just herself, but the child within her in mortal danger. Han's child. It had to be...
[Are you insane?] he bellowed.
Leia shook her head and this time Chewbacca knew she hadn't understood the word.
[Broken,] he rephrased, indicating his head at the same time, the inflection in his voice suggesting he was speaking to an infant. The princess got the message of the inflection and her body language suggested to Chewie that she thought she deserved it.
[You knew before you even came to Tatooine, didn’t you?] he surmised angrily, then barked, [How could you put your child at such risk?] Then added for emphasis, [Han’s child.]
Leia was not giving him the satisfaction of a reply so Chewbacca turned to Luke and demanded, [How could you let her?]
Luke looked to Leia, who sighed then translated flatly, “He wants to know how you could be irresponsible enough to allow a pregnant woman on this rescue team.”
Luke’s expression shifted to one of irritated affront. “You really think I could have stopped her?”
Leia interjected flatly, “I knew exactly what I was doing.”
Chewbacca got the distinct impression that the princess was talking about more than the risk rescuing Han had posed to herself and her unborn child. Felt sure she had encompassed the child’s conception in her remark. But surely she hadn’t planned the pregnancy? Han would have a fit!
It suddenly occurred to the Wookiee that Leia had doubtless been interrogated after they were captured over Tatooine. Probably by Vader himself. And while the thought of her undergoing Imperial interrogation was bad enough, the idea that she had been pregnant throughout the ordeal did not bear contemplating. The fact that the pregnancy had survived something of that magnitude was perhaps indicative of why Leia had felt secure coming to Tatooine. On a relative scale, Vader was a much greater risk to a person’s health than Jabba.
Chewbacca’s almost instinctive concern for Leia’s well-being spiked to a new level and prompted him to ask sharply, [Did Vader hurt you?]
The sudden surge in fear and distress pheromones from the princess suggested a very big ‘yes’, and triggered a truly repulsive thought in the Wookiee. A scenario that forced him to consider the possibility that Vader might have fathered the child Leia was carrying rather than Han. Chewbacca had no idea whether or not Vader was physically capable of accomplishing such a thing, but it filled him with horror nonetheless. Could he have failed Han’s entreaty to keep her safe her so badly?
Then the tell-tale scents vanished abruptly, smothered by her automatic defence system, and an unusually cold calm settled over her. Which prompted a surprising reaction from Luke.
“I felt that!” he told her sharply.
“Felt what?” Leia asked.
“You’re using anger as a defence mechanism,” Luke said, and Chewbacca watched the young man’s face carefully as his gaze briefly became unfocussed and introspective. A moment later Luke muttered his realisation aloud, “You always have.”
For as long as Chewbacca had known the little princess, anger had always been her way of coping, and he couldn’t help feeling surprised that Luke had only just recognised this fact. It was the one emotion she deemed acceptable and permitted herself to express. Fear and vulnerability were signs of weakness to her, and weakness was something Leia never let herself show. Not unlike a certain Corellian. But, instead of anger, Solo’s defence mechanism had always been arrogant cynicism.
Leia opened her mouth to protest but Luke cut her off by meeting her gaze and adding meaningfully, “Just like our father.”
Our father? Chewbacca frowned unhappily at Luke and growled deep in his throat. Just before they’d been captured Luke had told them that Vader was his father. He smelled Leia’s anger and battle preparedness flare in response to the comment, which animated Luke even more.
“You have to stop,” Luke told her in a tone that brooked no argument. “Now.” He moved a step closer to her, almost threatening, and said firmly, “Let the anger go.”
If anything the defiance in the princess’ body language deepened and Chewbacca sensed Luke was desperate for her to understand how close to the edge she was.
“Stop it!” the young man insisted, then played a card Chewbacca suspected he had been holding in reserve. “I know you can feel it, Leia. I can feel it; she can feel it. What do you think that’ll do to her?” Uncertainty and fear replaced the defiance in Leia’s eyes and Luke encouraged, “You have to let it go, Leia. Please. You won’t be able to help Han until you do.”
Chewbacca looked at the princess, trying to assimilate what felt like a barrage of information. Had he heard the Luke correctly? Was he implying that Vader was Leia’s father too? That could explain the Force abilities Luke had been alluding to; would in fact make the young man and the Alderaanian princess siblings.
[She?] the Wookiee queried gently, hoping to defuse the tension by focusing on the fact that Leia was apparently carrying a female child.
Leia hunched over her knees, hugging herself, and hiding behind the curtain of her hair. Chewbacca sensed she was weeping despite her efforts not to.
Luke pulled up a box to sit beside her; tried to put a comforting arm around her, but the princess leapt to her feet, refusing to let him touch her, and yelled at him, “You come down here with news that will practically kill Han, tell me I am his only hope, and expect me not to get angry?!”
“How dare you?” she sobbed, then shrieked, “How dare you?” Luke reached for her, back on his feet and making placating sounds, but Leia backed away, refusing to be consoled. “You tell me to use the Force, then tell me I’ll turn into Vader and corrupt my daughter! What am I supposed to do?”
“I’m sorry,” Chewbacca heard Luke murmur, and sensed the young Jedi was feeling emotional too. “You have to be calm-” he tried to reason with her, and Chewbacca wasn’t the slightest bit surprised when Leia launched herself at Luke in an attempt to hit him. The action seemed to galvanise Luke and he caught her wrists, telling her firmly, “You have to let the anger go.”
They faced off for a moment, then Luke let her arms go, turned and headed up the stairs and out of the room. Chewbacca watched as Leia, cut off from venting her anger at Luke, glanced back at him, and then at Solo. The sight of Solo was the final straw it seemed, because she abruptly crumbled emotionally, covered her face with her hands and sobbed helplessly.
[Little Princess,] Chewbacca rumbled soothingly as he pulled her into his arms. Cradled her like a child while she wept. Then, as he had suggested earlier, he encouraged her to get into bed beside Solo, assuring her that she needed the rest, and that sleep could only help what self-healing the tears had begun.
Leia did not comment on his diagnosis, nor did she protest when he tucked her in beside her lover. She continued to cry quietly for a while, and Chewbacca remained sitting beside her, gently stoking her head until she finally fell asleep.
He studied the two of them for a long moment, a veritable cyclone of questions whirling around in his head. Chewbacca wanted answers and decided he was going to sit on Luke until he got them. He understood, with some irritation, that he would need Lando to act as translator but, although unfortunate it was probably wiser to have him understanding what was going on anyway.
With one final look at the sleeping pair, Chewbacca got to his feet and went to find Luke.