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THE LANGUAGE OF SOLACE
by Gina Leeds

In the strong, flat light of the illumination
panels that lined the corridor outside the
medical suite, it was not easy to conceal anything.
When fatigue, apprehension, and grief were the
things you wished to conceal, even being a
princess could not buy you any cover. And so Leia
Organa leaned against the featureless surface of
the Rebel Cruiser's passageway and turned her
cheek to the cool metal, as if to leach the
anxiety from her expression, even if she could
not drive it from her mind. She was in this
posture when Lando Calrissian found her. As the
tall black man strode through the hatchway, Leia
stared up into his broad, dark face, a
countenance creased with lines of worry.

"Leia? Are you all right?" Lando's big brown
hands gently took her shoulders, turning her.

Leia's face was set, nearly without expression.
"I'm all right. Is Luke--?"

"Luke will be fine. They've got his arm in the
bacta now. Too-One-Bee gave him some kind of a
sedative or something, so he's not in any pain."

'Oh yes he is, Lando' Leia thought grimly.
'Yes he is! But not the kind of pain you know.'
But the vehemence of the thought never reached
her eyes. "Are you sure you're all right, Leia?"
Lando persisted. You've really been through the
grinder. I think you should get some rest now."

"I m all right," Leia repeated automatically.
She knew what was coming next, and she longed to
avoid it.

Lando shifted his weight, quarter-turned away
from her, ran his hand self-consciously
over his chin, and then turned back to her.
His eyes were far too bright, a gleam that
was so finely-drawn it was almost brittle.
"Leia, you know how sorry I am about what
happened," he began awkwardly. "I had no idea
when Vader wanted me to...."

Leia touched Lando's sleeve, interrupting
him. "Lando. I understand. You don't have
to say more."

But Lando found it imperative to continue.
His wide-set dark eyes earnestly sought
Leia's. "If I had known that Vader intended
to put Han into that...."

Leia squeezed Lando's arm; squeezed her
eyes shut: tried to squeeze the image out of
her mind. "No! You don't need to apologize,
Lando." He was desperately seeking something
she could not provide; absolution. For there
was nothing to forgive. Leia did not doubt
that Lando had done anything Han would not
have been capable of, had the circumstances
been reversed. Lando had just made the
near-fatal mistake, either through sheer
temerity or outright naivete of attempting
to out deal Lord Vader. And you did not
forgive--or condemn--a man for the lack
of good judgment.

The hatchway doors of the medical suite
sprang open again, revealing the tall,
polished form of C-3PO. The droid's round
yellow optical sensors instantaneously
took in the little tableau in the
corridor: Leia hunched against the wall,
Lando bending over her.

"Mistress Leia?" 3PO inquired
anxiously, shuttling rapidly forward. "Are
you quite all right, Mistress Leia?"

"3PO!" Leia exclaimed gratefully, pulling
away from Lando. "How is Luke?"

"Too-One-Bee reports his progress is
excellent, Your Highness," the droid
responded enthusiastically.

Lando glanced from Leia's weary face to
the golden planes of 3PO's. "Please get
some rest, Leia," he said softly. "I'm
going to go help Chewie finish up on the
Falcon."

As the long-legged black man swept down
the passageway, Leia turned again to 3PO.

"I want to stay with Luke," she told
him.

"Please, Mistress Leia," the droid
cajoled, his mouth an oval of perpetual
dismay. "You must rest! I will stay here
with Master Luke in your place. As soon
as he is able to speak with you, I will
send R2 to your quarters. So please--try
to get some rest!"

Leia smiled wanly at 3PO's devotion,
but his idea was a sound one. "AII right,"
she conceded, turning to start up the
corridor. She paused abruptly "But stay
with Luke, so he'll know I was waiting."
She started forward, then paused again,
half-turning. "And send R2 right away!"

The illumination in Leia's cabin was
sort, diffuse, indirect. Palming the
lighting controls, she dimmed the panels
to their lowest setting. Then, still
dressed in her soiled and rumpled white
flight suit, she sunk down onto the
bunk. Weariness pressed inside her
skull, throbbing behind her eyes. A
ball of despair lodged in her throat,
too large to be swallowed, too deep to
be disengorged. She hugged the pillow,
shaking silently, waiting for the tears
that refused to come.

It was the worst time she had known.
Even as she had been forced to watch
Tarkin's Death Star destroy Alderaan
and all that she had loved, Leia had
not felt this kind of numbing sense of
loss. It was as though her feelings
had been stretched so thin that they
had ceased to exist. Han was imprisoned
in an icy prelude to death; Luke lie
injured, his spirit grievously wounded;
and Vader was still free, as powerful
as ever. For the first time since Leia
had taken up the Rebel cause, grief
impeded her sense of purpose.

Thus weighted, Leia's mind did not
drift; it sank. Dulled beyond feeling,
her consciousness seeped from her. she
slept. And from the oppressive depths
of her state of mind, she had a dream
she was rolling helplessly, falling--and
then suddenly caught. She jerked awake.
disoriented in the dimness of the room.
A huge form loomed over her, dark
and indistinct, fuzzily backlit by the
faint glow of the reduced illumination.
It was this figure seating itself on
the edge of the bed that had caused
Leia to roll toward it: thus her dream
of falling. It was the creature's long
arms that had caught her, now holding
her lightly against its hairy hip.
Groggily, Leia raised her head and
reached out, touching a sinewy,
tursovered forearm.

A low grumbling sound came from the
seated figure; a massive paw gently
touched the side of Leia's face.
Recognition came into Leia's eyes.
she gripped the Wookiee's arm.

"Oh, Chewie!" she exclaimed, relieved.

Chewbacca uttered a series of soft
grunts, and helped Leia pull herself up
into a sitting position.

"Chewie!" Leia repeated, taking his
big hand in hers. "Did something--is
something wrong?" She gazed up anxiously
at that broad, benign face hanging over
her in the dusky room. The blue of his
eyes and the gleam of his chromed
bandoliers was all she could clearly
see; the rest of his body was hazy,
unreal.

Chewie gave a quick yarp of reassurance;
he had not come as the bearer of bad news.
His placid blue eyes regarded her solemnly.
Leia didn't understand much of the Wookiee
language, but she had no problem
deciphering what followed. She recognized
the references to her own name, and to
Han's; and as for the rest, there was no
difficulty interpreting the plain and
enormous empathy in those deep-set eyes.
And as Leia clung to the Wookiee's
arm, her hands shaking, her throat
constricted, she felt the powerful
result of his intervention into her
grief.

Tears, hot and burning, burst from
Leia's eyes. A cry--inchoate,
moaning--forced itself from her lips.
she stared up at Chewie. the Wookiee
swimming crazily behind a veil of tears.
Then she launched herself at him, seizing
his furry torso in a furious hug.

Leia's body shook with sobs. The
sounds she made were unintelligible,
raw with anguish. Her lace burrowed
into the Wookiee's long reddish pelt,
soaking it with her tears. Chewie
wrapped his powerful arms gently around
her, cradling her, rocking her. He
crooned to her, his voice a gravelly
growl; repetitive wordless, a lullaby.

And the flood wave of grief that had
risen up so precipitously, so overwhelmingly
in Leia now poured out from her, propelled
by the force of her weeping, swept aside
by the comforting hold of the Wookiee's
arms. It was as though she could reveal
to him, a species apart, those things
she had been unable to show another human
being: her pain, her frustration, her fear
of failure. Chewbacca was big enough to
absorb it all. Beneath the deceptively
bucolic simplicity of his shaggy coat,
he was hard and powerful. Leia did not
have to be strong for him.

Leia did not know how long she clung
there, wrapped in Chewie's succoring
embrace. It seemed like only minutes; it
may have been an hour or more. When her
sobbing had subsided, she still pressed
against him, safe in the musky sanctuary
of his thick coarse fur. His big hands
wrapped gently around her body, supporting
her; the motions of his breathing slowly
rocked them both. When at last Leia lifted
her head from his chest and gazed up into
his calm, familiar face, she was stunned.

"Chewie!" Leia reached up and touched
her fingertips to his silky cheek: huge
tears rimmed his liquid blue eyes and
rolled across his russet fur. He emitted
a soft groan.

"Oh, Chewie--you miss him, too, don't
you?" The realization moved Leia in a
way so profound that she felt her body
tremble. "Oh, Chewie!" She pulled his
massive head down, planting a kiss on
his wet black nose, and then hugged him
tightly again. In the midst of his own
anguish, his own loss, the Wookiee had
come to offer her his solace; and with
unstinting loyalty and unexpected
tenderness he had broken through the
barrier of her grief. The language he
employed did not rely on words; it was
a language of touches of feelings, of
shared experience. And Leia felt the
swell of a great tide of emotion wash
through her.

"Oh, Chewie--Chewie! How could you
have known what I needed to have?"

Chewbacca's strong fingers lightly
cupped Leia's back. she pressed herself
against him, stroking the muscular
curve of his immense shoulders. His
faint musk hung around them like
a warm wreath. Suddenly-- absurdly--Leia
found that she sought to exchange another
kind of comfort with the Wookiee; a kind
of comfort he had neither offered nor
requested. Hesitantly, tentatively, she
ran her hands across the smooth surface
of his pelt. Whatever the wealth of
Chewbacca's coat kept concealed from
the casual eye, the inquiry of Leia's
fingers now sought to reveal.

Chewie grunted softly. His huge paw
encircled Leia's wrist and gently pulled
her hand away. He caught her eye and
yammered a few guttural words. Leia's
tear-washed eyes steadily met the Wookiee's
gaze. Agilely, she slipped her hand from
his grasp and deliberately reached down
again to touch him. Chewie did not try
to stop her this time, but his eyes stayed
on hers, grave and perplexed. Leia's
fingers softly parted his dense fur,
skimming lightly, tracing the firm,
paired ovoid masses that swelled beneath
the skin of his groin. Chewie's skin
shivered. A faint, involuntary groan
rose from deep in his throat. Then Leia's
fingers found the slippery surface of
his extruded organ, a surprisingly slender
protrusion capped by a delicate, fimbriated
head. A cloud of sweet, fruity scent rose
up around them. Chewbacca's body shuddered.

And Leia was filled with desire.

Then Chewie's hand gripped Leia's again;
this time the grasp was firmer, his grunted
entreaty more insistent. With his other
hand he slowly reached up and brushed Leia's
cheek. His eyes, that brilliant blue of deep
water, wore a gentle expression, calm and
compassionate. Carefully, he separated
himself from Leia and got to his feet. Leia
sunk back onto the bunk. her ardor tempered
by the intrusion of reason. The explosive
release of her grief, and the emotional
surge that had followed it, had obscured
her judgment. Now she felt drained, pressed
heavily by the relentless weight of fatigue.

For a time Chewie stood silently beside
her, his big paw touching her shoulder. His
image began to waver and blur in the fading
field of Leia's vision. She tried to speak,
but only a yawn came from between her lips.
Whatever final endearment the Wookiee
murmured, it was lost to Leia in the
backwash of sleep.


* * * * * *

Startled, Leia bolted upright on the bed.
A symphony of beeps and tweets was pouring
from the wall speaker of her cabin's door.
Confused, Leia punched the door release and
the stout cylindrical form of R2D2 whirled
through the hatchway. The droid whooped
excitedly his dome panel lights flashing
in an erratic display.

"Luke!" Leia exclaimed, leaping hastily
from the bunk. "R2--he's all right?!"

R2 tooted emphatically, whirling in
circles of delighted agitation.

A rush of relief purged the sleepiness
from Leia's mind. Only fragments of the last
hours remained, fuzzy-edged and elusive.
Lando...3PO had sent her here...she had
slept, she had dreamed. . She had dreamed
of Chewie; Chewie had...he had....

A flush rose on Leia's cheeks as she
trotted down the corridor to the Cruiser's
medical suite. What a dream! But it had
helped her; it had made her feel better; it
had been a reprieve from the death sentence
of despair. Whatever had happened in the
realm of her dream had made it possible
for her to cope, to reconcile herself to
the pain of reality. The dream of the
Wookiee had given her the priceless
gift of solace. The rest was forgivable.

There was so much to be done. After she
left Luke, she would have to get down to the
docking bay where the Falcon was moored,
before thr ship left on her urgent mission.
There was something she wanted to tell
Lando; something she was now able to give
him. And she wanted to be sure to offer
a special farewell and encouragement to
Chewbacca. In all the chaos of what had
happened, she had failed to realize how
much the Wookiee had suffered. Surely
there was hope and comfort they could
share.

As she reached out to punch the door
panel to the medical suite, Leia paused,
staring in wonder at her wrist. Slowly
she raised her arm, rotating it before
her astonished face. Caught in the narrow
metal band of her chronometer was a silky
tuft of russet-colored Wookiee hair: a
footnote to the language of solace.

THE END

    

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