AN: Happy New Year! You already know I don't own Star Wars, so I don't need to remind you. I've been wanting to write this fic for quite some time but I haven't gotten around to it until now. Some of you may know that young Han was originally going to show up in ROTS on Kashyyyk and was cut out. Well, I was freakin' mad when I heard that he was cut out and I've never completely gotten over it. As far as I'm concerned, the EU isn't canon, so I'm not gonna stick an AU label on this fic. Since the Kashyyyk backstory was the one planned for the movies, that's what I'll consider true until proven otherwise. This is also my first attempt at using Chewie's POV, so I'm really not sure how good it will be.
"I'm all right, pal . . . I'm all right . . ."
Han was sliding off balance, leaning against Chewie's arm. Chewie rubbed his cub's face again, feeling that his skin was stiff and icy, almost corpse-like. He body still shivered, his teeth chattered despite the heat of the cell. "I'm all right . . ." he repeated, even though it was obvious that he wasn't. So typical of the cub.
[Let me warm you up, cub,] he said gently, stroking Han's head again. The human's head lolled, pressing itself into Chewie's chest. His breath was horace and uneven, like a sick man. For a moment Chewie thought he would vomit, but instead he just kept on breathing in that loud, rough manner.
"Wh-where's Leia?" he choked out. "Leia . . . what happened to her?"
[Leia?] said Chewie. [She set you free like we planned, right?]
"Yeah . . . but then they took her and me . . . least I think they took her . . . maybe she got away . . ."
Han sounded like he was trying in vain to muster up hope that Leia had escaped, but Chewie knew what was most likely. They both knew. They had both seen what Jabba liked to do with attractive biped women.
[Relax, cub,] Chewie said in the most gentle voice he could muster, hoping to soothe Han's mind for at least a little while. [You need sleep.]
"I've already been sleepin' for . . . how long?" Han choked out.
Chewie was silent, unsure how to tell him.
"How long?" Han repeated.
Chewie wrapped his arms around Han's stiff body and gently lifted him up. [I'll tell you later. Right now you need rest.]
"Rest, schmest," said Han, his body shaking more violently. "Jabba's probably doin' hell-knows-what to Leia and you want me to rest?"
[Leia's strong,] Chewie said simply. [She can survive whatever he does to her.] He stroked his cub's head. [And you need to recover your strength for when Luke comes. You need to sleep.]
Han squirmed like a toddler who didn't want to go to bed, but he was clearly too exhausted to do anything more. His raspy breath was slowing down, his head starting to lean against the Wookiee's shoulder. "Chewie . . ." he mumbled, but he was unable to finish whatever he was about to say.
Chewie carefully tiptoed around the watery floor, trying to find someplace they could sit without getting too wet. He gently stroked Han's back, murmuring words of comfort that were unique to the Wookiee language. When he realized there wasn't a dry spot to be found, he pressed his back against the wall, steadying Han in his arms, and inched down into a sitting position, concentrating on not flinching from the cold water.
Han was still squirming, but not as roughly as before. It was hard to tell in the dark, but Chewie thought his cub's eyes were closed. Maybe he was finally going to sleep.
"Chewie . . ." the human mumbled in a slurred voice, but once again he didn't continue. His head nodded into the Wookiee's chest, digging into his fur as Chewie stroked him, hoping to warm him up. Han's breath gradually slowed down until it became long, even heaves, though his body still shivered.
The cub was finally asleep. Chewie leaned back against the hard wall, continuing to stroke Han, feebly hoping he had given him some small bit of comfort, that at least his dreams would be happy even if their futures looked grim. At least Luke was still out there, which meant there was still hope.
It had been a long time since Han last slept in his lap like this. Now his body was larger, heavier, a greater pressure on his legs, but it still felt much like it once did on those long ago nights, back when the winds of Kashyyyk would carress his fur, when the trees would shelter them from the cold.
Back in a different time . . .
. . .
"Chewie, come look!"
There Han went, scampering up another tree. Despite the fact that his little human hands weren't equipped with claws for tree-climbing, he was skilled in grabbing branches one after the other. His years surrounded by Wookiees had made him adept.
"Come on, Chewie!"
Chewie began following the human cub up the tree - slowly, so as to let Han have his illusion that he was the faster climber. [I'm coming, Han,] he called.
Han was sitting on a branch near the top of the tree, his bare feet dangling just above Chewie's head. "Chewie, look, look, look!" The cub was pointing upward, through the gaps between the branches, up toward the stars.
Chewie looked, but he felt less enthusiasm than his cub did. At first there appeared to be just stars and more stars, but a longer look revealed some of the stars to be blinking and moving. Another moment of looking revealed that some of them were different colors as well.
A space battle.
A space battle close to Kashyyyk's atmosphere. Maybe even in Kashyyyk's atmosphere. Chewie gulped. There were clone batallions protecting Kashyyyk and the Wookiees were always preparing for battle, but training and blockades had never proven necessary. Why would the Separatists invade here? It wasn't like they were harboring Jedi or fighting in the war. Were they to be invaded simply for the crime of belonging to the Republic?
Of course Han couldn't sense the impending danger. His legs were swinging back and forth in excitement. "Look Chewie, isn't that cool?"
It was indeed "cool" from the point of view of a child. Bright flashing lights that represented starships and laser fire. Probably Han was imagining himself piloting one of those ships right now, up in the midst of the action, blasting a few Separatist ships and saving the day. A child's dream didn't include death or terror.
Chewie hoisted himself up to Han's branch, prepared to catch the boy if he were to lose his balance, though he rarely fell from trees anymore. When he was younger he was always trying to follow the Wookiees up the trees and usually ended up tumbling down them, but now he seemed to have adjusted to the environment. Even so, Chewie often found himself reaching out his arms, prepared for the child to fall.
"Chewie, do you think they're gonna land here?"
Han's voice sounded slightly uncertain - not afraid, but not excited like a moment ago either.
Chewie scooted up behind Han and ran a paw through his scruffy hair. [I don't know, cub.]
"Is the war gonna come here?"
How could Chewie answer that question when it was coming from a child? A child who dreamed of being a pilot but had never actually seen real battle. A child whose world was protected by giant trees and nuturing Wookiees. A child, just a child.
"Chewie?" Han pressed, turning to look at the Wookiee. "What do ya think, is the war gonna come here?"
Chewie gave a rough, heavy sigh, looking back up at the flashing lights before shifting his gaze back to the human cub. [I don't know.] It was a pathetic answer, but it was the best one he had.
Han's eyes reflected the light of Kashyyyk's moons as he blinked up at Chewie. "Well, we can kick their butts, right?"
Chewie wanted to give him a definite yes, asssure him that Wookiees were mighty warriors who would protect their planet. Wookiees were mighty warriors and they would defend themselves, but that didn't guarantee victory against the Separatists. It certainly didn't guarantee that all the Wookiees would survive.
Nor did it guarantee that the children would surivive . . .
Suddenly Chewie wanted to squeeze his little cub and take him far away from here, somewhere the Separatists would never be able to find. He swallowed as he looked back up at the lights in the sky, knowing that running away wouldn't be an option even if it were possible - Captain Tarful would need him in the coming battle.
"Chewie?" Han persisted yet again. "Aren't we gonna kick their butts?"
How was Chewie supposed to answer? He couldn't possibly answer yes with complete confidence. Again he wanted to grab the cub and run as far away as he could, yet he knew that if the Separatists did take their planet, nowhere on Kashyyyk would be safe.
[Cub, listen to me,] he finally growled in his gentlest voice. [If the Sepratists do invade, I want you to hide away from them and stay hidden until I come for you.]
"What?" Han exclaimed, as if he had never heard of hiding. "But I wanna fight!"
[I'm serious,] Chewie growled in a sterner tone. [If they come, it won't be a game.]
"I'm not scared," Han protested.
[Being brave won't stop them from killing you,] said Chewie. He put his paw on Han's slightly-cold cheek. [Please Han, do it for me. So I won't have to worry about you.]
Han growled - not a Wookiee growl, but a frustrated human growl - and scooted away from Chewie, further down the branch, going back to staring up at the sky, undoubtedly imagining himself up there once again, indulging his child's fantasy where danger was thrilling but never actually life-threatening.
With a long sigh, Chewie slowly scooted up behind him. [Han,] he whispered as a gentle breeze blew through his fur, [the battle droids won't show mercy on you just because you're a child, you know that.]
"I don't want them to show mercy," said Han, not looking at Chewie. "I wanna fight them!"
Chewie inched up the branch until he could see the top of the boy's head. [I know you do, cub.] The simple acknowledgement of the cub's feelings felt like it wouldn't be effective at all, but to Chewie's surprise, Han turned his head to partially look back at the Wookiee.
"I can fight," he said in a small voice, but there was a hint of doubt in it, as if he were just now considering the possibility of death.
Han had never fought anything larger than a Wookiee child, and the time he had done that he had come running up to Chewie with a bleeding nose and a broken tooth that had fortunately already been loose. But of course, in Han's mind he had won the fight, just like he thought he would win against the Separatists if given the chance.
[You have guts,] said Chewie, reaching over and ruffling the cub's hair. [But guts don't win battles by themselves.] With one swift move, he scooped the cub into his arms and sat him on his lap. [Han, did you know a blasterbolt goes right through your body?]
Han's eyes suddenly bulged, reflecting the light of Kashyyyk's moons.
[Yes,] said Chewie. [Right through. It could pierce your lungs in less than a second and you'll be on the ground with every breath feeling like a knife through your chest. You'll be counting the seconds until you finally die.]
Finally Han looked frightened. He shoved himself out of the Wookiee's arms and scooted backward a little before gripping the branch for support. Chewie reached out his arms, offering the cub a sanctuary, and it was only a moment before little Han scooted back into them.
"You'll kick their butts, right?" Han asked, his voice muffled in Chewie's arms, sounding uncertain now. "You're not gonna get yourself shot, right?"
How Chewie wished he could just say no, of course he wouldn't get shot. It was bad enough that the human's real parents had died - he didn't need to lose Chewie as well. It wasn't right for Han to have to face this at such a young age. Humans aged faster than Wookiees, of course, but even by human standards Han was too young for this.
Finally Chewie just patted the cub's back. [It's getting late, Han. You should get to bed.]
"I wanna watch the battle," said Han.
Of course he did. Even after hearing about the horror of blasterbolts, he still wanted to indulge in his fantasy. [It's bedtime, Han,] Chewie repeated.
"I'm not sleepy," Han insisted, yet, as always seemed to happen when children claimed they weren't sleepy, a little yawn escaped his lips.
Chewie gave a small laugh as he slung Han over his shoulder and slowly made his way down the tree. By the time they got to the bottom and Chewie put Han down, the cub was rubbing his eyes, though he still gave periodic glances to the sky, where those lights still flashed.
"Chewie, can we sleep out here tonight?" he asked.
Chewie didn't answer right away. They often had campouts together, but would it be safe tonight? Could they sleep under those lights? Chewie knew he couldn't, but maybe Han could for a little while, indulge in the illusion of security before whatever horrors would come tomorrow.
[Come on,] he said, leading his drowsy cub toward a tree with a large bed of moss underneath it. Once they both settled themselves on the cool, damp moss, Han immediately snuggled up on Chewie's chest, sinking into the Wookiee's warmth.
"Well . . . g'night, Chewie," the boy murmured.
Chewie wrapped his arms around the cub. [Han, remember, if the Separatists attack, you must find a safe place to hide and stay there unti I come for you.]
"I will . . ."
[You must promise me this,] Chewie pressed. [You'll get your chance to fight someday, but only if you live through this battle.]
"I promise, Chewie."
Chewie patted his cub on the back. [All right. Good night, Han.]
As Han drifted off to sleep, Chewie kept staring up at those lights, always wondering what would come tomorrow, always hoping the Jedi would come to their aid, and most of all always praying that his cub would be safe.
. . .
Again Chewie was guarding his sleeping cub. Again a danger would come for them soon. Again he desperately prayed that his cub would be safe. He ran his paw over Han's damp forehead, which was hot with fever. His body was twitching slightly, whether from hibernation sickness or just from dreams Chewie couldn't tell.
Luke was coming. Chewie repeated that notion to himself. Luke was coming. Just as they survived the invasion of Kashyyyk, they would survive this.
They had to.
But even if Luke didn't come, Chewie would do whatever it took to protect Han, even if it cost him his own life.
He would always keep his cub safe.