Forever in the Branches

Irene Heron


From the meager shelter of a landing strut Chewbacca observed the lovers in tight embrace, clinging to each other at the bottom of the boarding ramp with the express intent of delaying the moment of separation as long as possible. He sniffed cautiously, trying to scent what had prompted such a dramatic transformation in the relationship, but all he identified were the caustic intermingled fumes of coolant, fuel and recycled consumables. So this was what happened when he left Solo on his own for a few months... the wayward sapling turned his leaves to the wind to expose a different coloration entirely.

It was easy to see that they had laid claim to each other entirely, the way their mouths pressed together in the kiss which was so similar to and yet unlike the sensible Wookiee gesture of fang-to-bared throat traditional between familiars. Still, the kissing posture did invite a twining of limbs visually and poetically consistent with the plant analogies his people favored to describe mating rituals.

That Han and his friend had become familiars was obvious, and not at all unexpected to one who had been there from the beginning. Nor was he surprised that they would be so forthright about it from the start. From others he might have expected an adjustment period, perhaps some social awkwardness—humans preferred discretion in their mating habits—but these two were unlike other humans.

Apparently they weren't going to move of their own free will. He moved away from the strut and rumbled a soft greeting. Their reaction time was admirably quick, not that he expected anything else from either.

"Chewie!" Han flashed a surprised, if not embarrassed, look at him. He knew what his partner was thinking, of course: how had they missed seeing something as big as a Wookiee when they approached the ship? He exposed his teeth in an expression of good-natured disdain.

Perhaps it was true, that love was blind. And deaf. And even scent-unaware, although humans couldn't really boast much in that area anyway.

"Hello, Chewie," said Luke soberly, but his eyes gleamed with mischief and the corners of his mouth twitched. Few ever saw the irrepressible humor lurking deep in the Jedi's soul and Chewbacca considered himself privileged to be among that small number. "Been here long?"

"Long enough," he growled, a reminder that even safe here on Corellia they shouldn't relax their vigilance. Now that he was close to them he smelled the heady fragrance of blossoming commitment.

Han raised an eyebrow at him. "So?"

He considered how to interpret that.

In a deliberately bland tone of voice designed to aggravate and tease his partner, he replied. "All is well on Kashyyyk. I enjoyed my visit immensely, the Falcon is undamaged, and I am ready to accompany you to Nelmarga, as previously agreed."

Now it was Solo's turn to hide a smile. "Anything else?"

"I think not, unless you care to hear the birthing details of Subura and Malek's youngling."

Luke reached across the small gulf separating himself from Han and linked their fingers together.

"We want to know what you think of this, Chewie."

Ah, but the young shoot could be more direct than that.

"What do I think of what, Luke?"

"I want to know if you approve of Han and myself as lovers." Although the words were bold, the blue eyes held a mottling of apprehension, and he could put a reason to that concern. He had not favored Han's affair with Luke's sister, and had not hesitated to voice his opinion. It would not last, he had said, and it hadn't.

He let the moment stretch into silence, again teasing, until Han shifted uncomfortably.

"It's not like we're asking for his blessing or anything, Luke," he muttered, looking distinctly ill at ease.

But Luke had locked eyes with Chewbacca, silently probing, and suddenly he was glad the Jedi valued his opinion so much. This one had always treated him with respect and trust, and appreciated the bond between Wookiee and Life Debt partner.

Luke was worthy.

He told them that, with one hand affectionately mussing that sparse pelt on the cub's head, and hugging Solo with the other arm.

Although he then took himself into the Falcon's cockpit to ready the ship for travel, it was many minutes before Solo completed his farewells and joined him.

"It won't change anything between you 'n me, you know," reassured Han. "You sure you're all right with this, Chewie?"

* * * * *

Ah, you are still but new growth, Solo, yet sturdy and with potent sap running through your veins. The Gift of Life is strong in you. Of course this makes a difference. Your lover is strong and the bond you share will be stronger still... my burden has been eased and one goal achieved. Your Tree will shelter you both the rest of your lives. It will withstand the rains and lightning strikes. You will survive the winds and fires. Droughts will touch you not.

Did you think to surprise me, young one, with this revelation? I saw it before you, before anyone except the Old Magician. He saw it, too, and we exchanged the glance of Knowledge as the seed was planted. In that glance he begged my assistance—and I accepted the challenge. The Old Magician was not long for this life and the tender sprout he guarded too vulnerable to the treachery of nature's forces. I could see that you and he were meant to be together. What else could I do?

Luke wasn't yet fully aware of his untapped power and still required guidance. The Old Magician had served his charge well, nurturing him out in the open with warmth and sunlight and just enough moisture; he knew nothing of the dark and damp which breeds mildew and rot all too quickly.

My task was not simple, for you both flung yourselves recklessly into all kinds of severe storms without thought for personal safety. I did my best to provide proper conditions, but you humans have such a remarkable capacity for misdirected growth. At first I anticipated more difficulty with you, my friend, for before we met you had already sampled bitter pollutants and inappropriate pollinations. Yet despite such unfortunate soil, your trunk grew straight and true and your root system expanded vigorously. There were erratic spurts, of course, as with all living things, and your humanity often nudged you away from the best light sources, but I worried without reason. I learned you could thrive anywhere, under the most adverse of conditions.

It pleased me to chart your progress, first on that battlestation and then again on that small moon. You wondered why I uncharacteristically held my tongue as we loaded the rebels' payment, and now I can tell you. Your decision would determine if the seed planted days before in Mos Eisley would germinate, and I dared not interfere. Your choice that day verified what I already knew. I heard it in your voice when you wished Luke well, a blessing you could not believe yourself but offered as comfort to one who did. I saw it on your face as well, that moment of confusion and disappointment when he refused your gesture and turned away from you.

Your comprehension was instinctive and accurate. You heeded the call on Hoth, leaving me behind in your blind rush, driven by the whirlwind of unrecognized need within yourself. Although it pained me not to be by your side, I knew my place was not with you this time. When the doors were closed that night, I sang the Chant of Lost Warriors to guide you both safely to your destination

Later, on Bespin, you shared your pain with him, summoned him to your side, where he belonged. I was gratified that the bonding was so resilient, even though both of you were still oblivious to the true nature of your Joining. The root structure had already formed, scoring deeply into fertile ground.

No, I need not have worried for you, Han. It was the sprout who was afflicted by all manner of disease. Truly, I feared for him—and for you as well, should his growth be stunted beyond all reasonable recovery. I noticed the first subtle distortions after Bespin. He came in answer to your call, but found another in your place. The Dark One, the promoter of decay and rot, skilled in the shriveling ways. I scented his evil intentions; the darkness which could wither young and tender roots and introduce the deadly parasites of doubt and mistrust. Even when we retrieved Luke after he met and rejected darkness, the odor of putrefaction clung to him. The Dark One had planned all too well and thickly sown infection, too substantial a planting to be easily thinned and culled.

My failure weighed heavily upon me during those unpleasant days, for in failing you I failed Luke too. He needed you at that time, needed the heat of your affection and the strength of your will, but you were trapped outside of time and place, while he cursed the vines of darkness rising up to trip his steps. While you waited and I searched, did his spirit reveal itself to you in the silence between the moments, defacing the ice of your prison with the rich bounty of his Magic? I have often wondered.

I will not speak of his second battle with Darkness, only of his return. I smelled upon him the clean smoke of honorable battle and the odor of loving sacrifice, and knew that he was free of the unsightly disease which had tainted his scent and interfered with his growth for too long. He was finally ripe, ready and eager for propagation.

You were not, and how this could be plagued my soul.

It was the Little One, of course, with her beguiling ways. Beautiful and spirited as the firethorn lily, deposited by ill-behaved winds in the bountiful soil that nourished your affection for Luke. I saw that she had chosen you, but not that you had chosen her. And I feared for her, this fragile flower taking root, flourishing temporarily within the shadow of your Truth. I would not see her injured, for I am fond of her, but firethorn lilies require considerable maintenance and specific conditions in order to thrive. Her needs and yours were too disparate. I attempted to warn her of the inevitable failure, but she chose to close her eyes to my advice. I was relieved to see she survived the uprooting and transplanting; occasionally the hothouse variety puts forth the strongest stems. When next she chooses, she will understand her own nature better, I think.

For a time after that, like a spore drifting aimlessly on the spring breeze, you wandered directionless, and I began to lose patience with you, Han Solo. Luke waited for you, in the full bloom of his love. If I could see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice, how could you not? He did not touch you in friendship, he caressed you in longing—and still you did not know? You desired him with all your heart and soul, every pore drinking in the sunlight he offered, so essential to your existence... and still you did not see.

I don't know what happened finally, to bring us to today, but I am pleased. Perhaps he too grew tired of waiting and made his needs known clearly enough even for you to recognize. However it happened, the seed planted six years ago has finally matured and borne the fruit of destiny. I am relieved that you and Luke will finally sleep in the secure nesting of your own Tree. May you live and love forever in its branches.

* * * * *

"Hey, Chewie, did you hear me? You all right with Luke 'n me? For real?"

"Yes, Han, I'm all right with you and Luke. For real."

END

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