Arms Race

By Susan Zahn


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Love strikes the stubborn far more savagely
Than those who will confess their slavery.
Look, Cupid, I confess—your latest prize—
I hold out abject hands, my heart complies.
No need for war. Favor and peace are all;
No praise for you—unarmed to arms I’ll fall.
—Ovid, The Love Poems

"Just admit it, Han. We’re lost.”

“How many times do I have to tell you? I don’t get lost. Show a little faith, will you?” Han Solo ducked his head and stepped under a low hanging branch—one that Leia Organa walked beneath without a second thought. He tightened his left arm around her shoulders and waved the torch he held in his other hand, indicating the dark forest surrounding them. “This kind of woodlands isn’t much different from the type I grew up near. ‘Sides, it’s some kind of extra sense—not getting lost, that is. I’m are blessed with it.”

“You’re blessed, all right,” Leia replied dryly before casting an obvious glance over their shoulders. The glow created by the numerous bonfires of the Ewok village high above had long since disappeared, leaving the forest around them to be lit only by Han’s torch and the reflected light from the system’s single planet.

She didn’t question her trust in her companion’s judgement; she’d placed her life in his capable hands more times than she could recall. What surprised her was the wonderful surge of adrenaline that she’d felt upon hearing his quiet request to join him in a midnight stroll. She wasn’t deluding herself now as he led her deeper into the trees. She was inexperienced, but she wasn’t naive; she knew what he had in mind. To be honest, she was entertaining thoughts of the same nature. Thus she found herself enjoying Han Solo’s company and the quiet night—a potent combination.

“Well, I don’t see how anyone could find the Falcon this way. Why did Lando set her down so far from the rest?”

“Oh, one reason or another, I’m sure,” he answered, wearing his best sabacc face. He waited a long, silent moment before allowing his eyes to fall to check her reaction.

Leia let out a regal snort. He’d have to try harder than that—she’d known him too long. But she continued their casual banter. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you two were up to something.”

“Who? Me?

She eased their leisurely trek to a halt and stepped around to face the tall spacer. She had to tilt her head to better see his eyes in the flickering torchlight. “You have to admit, it does sound like the type of stunt a scoundrel would try to pull.”

He sputtered in feigned outrage, an act that almost made her laugh out loud. All night she’d been feeling giddy. It was a bubbling happiness like nothing she’d ever felt before and it frightened her with its potency. All the wonders of the past two days—a victory, a brother, a lover, a future—had coalesced in the last few hours to form an energy within her that threatened to detonate at the slightest spark. At the moment she felt likely to give in to a giggle fit until she collapsed.

He gave up his bluffed attitude and shrugged, a wide grin now aimed at her. “I’m not responsible for Lando’s actions.”

She humphed with an accompanying smile before capitulating with a sigh. “Wrong scoundrel, hotshot. Just lead on. I’m lost.”

“Well,” he drawled, taking hold of her hand and drawing her closer. “It’s a good thing I’m here to protect you.”

“Uh-huh, and what is it you expect to protect me from, my good general?” She felt his hand slip around her waist and hug her body tighter against his own. Forget the giggling like an idiot, she thought with a sudden clarity that surprised her. I want to kiss this man until his eyes cross.

“Monsters,” Han went on with an over-the-top effort at sincerity. “Imperials. Other scoundrels—they’re the worst.” He had enough time to finish the last word before she reached up to slide her fingers to the back of his head and pull him down to her level. She initiated a solid kiss, lips parted and eager. Still clearly mindful of the torch in his right hand, Han bent closer as he seemed to welcome her hunger, understanding it, encouraging it. This time was theirs—this night, tomorrow, their lives if they wished.

He broke away and locked on her eyes. “What would you say if I asked you to stay with me?”

Leia couldn’t help the blank expression that settled over her face. “’Stay’?

He appeared to fumble for better words. “I mean marry me,” he clarified, his rumbling voice blending in with the night sounds around them. He paused, then nodded in emphasis, as though he’d needed a moment longer to convince himself. “Be my wife.”

She could feel her eyes grow wide as she was stunned by the leap in logic—or what was passing for logic these days. That urge to be raving lunatic threatened again and she felt short of breath. “Well, if you asked…I’d say yes.”

His eyebrows shot up. “You would?”

Her smile grew. “Don’t act so surprised. Of course I would.”

He drew in a quick breath and pulled her closer again. “I don’t know what to say.”

“How about Will you marry me?

He made an obvious effort at considering her words, then nodded. “Okay.”

Leia blinked, not exactly sure about what just happened. Han snorted, then burst out laughing. She belatedly realized he was playing a joke on her and she had to hang onto the pilot’s shoulders to keep her knees from buckling as she gave into that inevitable surge of laughter. Maybe they were both certifiably crazy after all.

When the merriment died down and Leia found herself still clinging to her Corellian, she pressed her cheek against his chest. She slipped her arms around him and hugged him, reveling in the warmth of his embrace.

“Leia,” he breathed, seeming to relish the way her name rolled off his tongue. There was a moment of peaceful silence, then he drew back, his fingers lingering at her hip before catching her hand. “It’s getting a little chilly out here, don’t you think?”

She nodded in agreement, watching his expression. This is it, she told herself, feeling her heart pump harder. No more games, no more teasing, no more shying away. Gathering her courage, she moved her free hand to cover his. “So, I take it you do know where the Falcon is?”

That slow, lazy smile that had haunted Leia both night and day made an appearance on the ex-smuggler’s face. Without a word he glanced at their dark surroundings, then began leading her on a very straight course that dispelled any lingering doubts concerning the initial purpose of their meandering walk. And did she mind? Not a bit.

It was only minutes before the Millennium Falcon loomed into view. Always sensitive to Solo’s emotional swings, she felt his shock before they slowed to a stop. It took her a moment to notice the difference in the silhouette of the freighter. Sympathetic, she tightened her grip on his hand. “Oh, no…”

The torch hung almost vertical from Han’s hand and his square shoulders sagged as he stared at his wounded ship. “I didn’t think—I mean, Lando said she’d been damaged, but—hell, the entire dish!”

She was reluctant to break the following silence. Over the years she’d known Han, she’d tacitly come to respect his love for his ship. “Do you think she can still fly?” There was another long pause and she began to wonder if he’d heard her, but then his strong hand squeezed her own.

“No idea. I think so—after all, Lando got her back and landed her. But it’ll depend on what else is damaged.”

Leia was jolted out of her private thoughts when the spacer wrapped his free arm around her shoulders, jostling her, his tone now lighter. “I shouldn’t complain. Yesterday I didn’t think I’d ever see her again. She brought Lando and his crew back and she got the job done. I’m damned proud.”

If nothing else in the past several days had convinced her that Han had changed, that statement just sealed her opinion. She returned the squeeze, feeling her love for him grow even more. “I’m proud of you,” she proclaimed.

The uncharacteristic compliment made him glance down at her. He shook his head in wonder. “To think of all that time I’ve wasted arguing with you…” His grin was back, bright in the torchlight. “Come on.” As they walked the rest of the distance to the Falcon’s entrance ramp and he led her aboard, he added, “I’ll talk with Requisitions tomorrow and see what they can buy me in way of a replacement dish. If that isn’t a business expense, I don’t know what is.”

She watched as he paused to raise the ramp behind them and secure the ship. The hiss of hydraulics and airlocks sealing made Leia acutely aware of their total seclusion: no droids; no interruptions; just the two of them. For an instant she felt the old fight-or-flight reflex kick in, but she squashed it. She had witnessed more hells and horrors than most women twice her age. What could she possibly fear from a man who loved her?

Han turned and nodded in the direction of the Falcon’s cabin section. “Go ahead and get cleaned up. I’ll get the medikit and then we’ll put a new bacta dressing on your arm. And after that—who knows,” he added with a sly smile that crinkled up the corners of his eyes in a way that never failed to warm Leia inside.

“A rousing game of holochess, perhaps?” she volunteered, all feigned innocence.

He raised a hand to brush her cheek, then cupped it. “Arousing holochess—now that sounds like fun. Stranger things have happened.” He dipped down to share a quick kiss, then backed away with a waggle of his eyebrows.

Leia was left grinning as he disappeared down the corridor. What was I so afraid of?

When Han finally entered his cabin, medikit in hand, he found the cramped room empty and the muffled sound of a running shower coming from the adjoining fresher. He glanced around and cringed; it wasn’t often that he was aware of the apparent disorganization of his sleeping quarters, but now was one of those times. It wasn’t a horrible mess, but just enough to be embarrassing. He decided to take advantage of the princess’ momentary absence to tidy up a little. Using an elbow to clear off a spot on his desk, he set down the kit, then picked up the discarded clothing that littered the unmade bunk and a corner of the deck. He stuffed the armload into the cleanser chute, then attempted to arrange the clutter on his desk, most of it untouched since their extended trip to Bespin ages ago. He settled for a couple of untidy piles, then gave up. Leia wasn’t here to study his housekeeping habits. Besides, she’d seen it all already.

He unsnapped and removed the low-slung holster and belt, then picked up the medikit and moved over to the bunk recessed within the deep alcove that made up half of the cabin. He made a half-hearted effort to straighten the coverlet, then sat on the edge and bent to tug at his boots. He threw them off to the side in relief, then glanced down at his shirt, only then noticing the stains of earth, sweat, and blood—both Leia’s and that of others in his commando team. He felt the filth and exhaustion of the day settle over him. He sighed and leaned back, bracing himself with straightened arms as he closed his eyes.

Much as he hated to admit it, he ached. The bone-deep weariness had caught up with him while he’d gone forward to retrieve the medical supplies and switch on the Falcon’s self-diagnostic systems. He’d made the mistake of sitting briefly in the pilot’s chair and the fatigue had set in with a vengeance. Until then he hadn’t really thought about the last time he’d gotten a full night’s sleep, or even a restful nap. To top matters off, a residual muscle stiffness from the carbon freezing still haunted him like a bad hangover. His muscles ached, his spine ached, even his eyes ached. What irony to finally have Leia here in his cabin of her own free will, only to find his need for some shuteye nearly overpowering his desire to spend the night making love to her.

He groaned and rolled his head around, hearing the pops and cracks as his overtaxed body protested. Any time soon he could use a little of that fabled Corellian luck.

“Han, are you all right?”

Han’s eyes snapped open and he was surprised to see the rebel leader poised before him. From what he could see, all she wore was one of his oversized white shirts, and a look of concern that clouded her expression. Entranced by the sight of so much skin—he’d missed a view of the slave girl outfit and she’d refused a command performance—he took a moment to regain enough presence of mind to ease his scrutiny. “I’m fine. As a matter of fact, I think I’m getting better by the moment.” He watched as her quiet features relaxed a little and she shifted her stance, greeting his unabashed stare with a hesitant smile.

“I borrowed one of your shirts,” she ventured. “I hope you don’t mind.”

“Hell, no. You look better in it than I ever did.”

Leia flushed and ducked her head, then glanced askance at him. “I could argue with that.”

He grinned, loving her tentative sally. Maybe he wasn’t so tired after all. “I’m sure you could, but right now I want you to sit down and let me check your arm.” He patted the bunk at his side. As she followed directions and settled beside him, he began rummaging through the medikit. He found what he was searching for, then turned to her and began to shove the large sleeve up on her arm to reveal the hasty field dressing he’d applied following the battle. “I still think you should go up to the medical frigate and have a medic take care of this,” he supplied matter-of-factly, half-anticipating her answer before she’d even drawn a breath. He wasn’t disappointed.

“For a man who usually ignores medical advice, you sure are good at handing it out.”

That made him pause and glance up. “Who’s in charge here, sweetheart?”

“Are you pulling rank on me, General?”

“What do you think?”

Leia flashed a wicked smirk that she’d probably learned from him, then leaned closer and confided, “It’s really not that bad. I wish you’d stop worrying so much. You’ll ruin your reputation.”

Working up his best pathetic tone, he said, “Too late, I might as well sell insurance now.”

“Hardly. Besides, the medical frigate isn’t nearly as romantic as the Falcon’s—”

Any further wit from the princess was cut short by a sharp gasp of pain as he peeled away the old dressing to reveal the dark red splash of raw skin across her upper arm. Although far from pretty, the blaster burn was already healing, looking better than it had hours earlier. She watched in silence as he cleansed the wound and applied a new bacta-treated bandage.

“It’s healing well,” Han supplied as he closed the kit. He bent over to set it on the deck, then pushed it out of the way with his foot. He settled back, his eyes going to hers, not saying a word. She returned the look for a long time before dropping her gaze, and he could see the color rise in her cheeks again. He found her blush endearing and just a little frustrating. While he found this vulnerable side of her endearing in some ways, he didn’t want her nervous or afraid of him any longer. He stretched to place a kiss on her forehead, then reluctantly drew away and stood. “I’ll be right back. Don’t go anywhere.”

“I won’t.”

Already shrugging out of his vest, he glanced back and paused to watch her shift around on his bunk, rearranging the unmatched collection of pillows into a more comfortable arrangement. He couldn’t help feeling awed by the idea and sight of her settling into his bed to await him.

She swung her legs up and reclined with a sigh, then her eyes went back to him again. “Better hurry up or I’m going to fall asleep.”

He let out a little exclamation of surprise and hustled toward the fresher. “Yes, Ma’am!”

Leia lost track of time. She felt a curious mental fuzziness and wondered if that was a normal part of sexual excitement, or if she had finally passed the state of exhaustion and moved straight into delusion. Tonight seemed so unreal that she’d nearly convinced herself that she was dreaming—that Han was still in carbonite, and her mind was torturing her yet again with desires that were out of her reach…

Well, if this is only a dream, there’s no reason why I can’t enjoy it, she resolved with forced assurance.

She stirred and struggled to open her eyes when the bunk sank a little at her side. She found Han, now freshly groomed and bare-chested, seated beside her. Dressed only in a pair of charcoal-gray fatigue bottoms, he looked clean and sexy, stubborn cowlicks and all. She felt an intense heat surge throughout her body that settled in all the strategic places; embarrassment had nothing to do with it. She wondered if he could see her flush in the dimmed light; he gave her an easy smile, seeming quite pleased by whatever he saw.

“Were you sleeping?”

“Almost,” she mumbled, trying to hide her blurred reaction. Unable to contain her need to stretch and yawn, she tried to mask it by sitting up and shifting back against the bulkhead, making room for him on the bunk. He accepted her invitation and climbed in beside her. He cuddled up and the novel sensation of his bare skin and body heat was intoxicating. Leia allowed the feeling to wash over and envelop her.

“You feel so good,” he whispered into her hair as he nuzzled around her closest ear. His hand moved along the contour of her hip, still hidden by his shirt, then touched the bare skin of her thigh and she could see that they both felt the electricity of the contact.

“Han…I don’t know what I’m doing,” she almost pleaded. Despite all of the wondrous sensations already cascading through her body, she felt a lapse in her self-assurance. How was she ever going to please this man? She wanted this so badly, yet worried that she might disappoint. Intimate relations were not her forte—not even close.

Han brought a hand up to brush back the lock of long auburn hair that had fallen into her face, then slipped his fingers across the back of her neck to apply a gentle massage. “Do you trust me?”

Relief and happiness flooded her. “Absolutely.”

“Do you love me?”

As his hand continued to knead her skin, she closed her eyes and sighed, her confidence and arousal growing from his touch. “Absolutely.”

He leaned in toward her to graze her cheek with his lips. “Then just relax, Leia. Be yourself.”

His words echoed through her mind as she made a conscious effort to calm her thoughts. Be yourself, she reflected as she allowed herself to shift gears and freely contemplate all the sexual desires and feelings she’d fought for so long to keep buried. She rolled closer to him, her cheek brushing against his, her lips meeting the smooth skin beneath his ear. She drew a deep breath and could smell the pleasing mixture of his masculine scent and the faint, fresh odor of soap from his still-damp hair. She inhaled again as she slipped one hand beneath his chest and the other up and over to move across the broad smooth plain of his back. His hands were conducting explorations of their own and she already felt breathless. She pulled him closer into an impulsive embrace—

—and abruptly stopped when she felt Han flinch from her strong tug. She opened her eyes and looked at him, confused. “What—?”

He shook his head and leaned toward her again. “It’s nothing. I’m fine. Don’t worry about it, sweetheart.” He smiled and angled his head to approach her neck from a new vantage point. Leia’s breath caught in her throat and her hair tried to stand on end as his tongue ran along the base of her neck. She moaned, a feral sound that surprised and excited her. She twisted to allow him better access, then on instinct wrapped a leg up and over his own, reveling in the sensation as she tightened the intimate embrace—

—and this time his hiss of pain was unmistakable. She pulled away in alarm. “Han, what’s wrong! Did I hurt you?”

His face was a mixture of frustration, pain, and sheer lust. “I’m a little bruised, but I’ll be fine. Let’s face it, it’s been a hell of a day.”

Leia didn’t move for a long moment, trying to read his shadowed face. Then she made a reluctant decision and sat up. “Maybe we should wait.” She avoided his deflecting hand and punched the lighting controls set in the bulkhead above the bunk. The overhead lights flared up, eliciting a yelp from Han before he let his hand drop to shield his eyes from the sudden brightness.

He let out a groan that had nothing to do with pleasure as he rolled onto his back, his hand still clamped firmly over his face. “We’ve wanted this for three years! Do you really want to wait?”

She might have laughed at his sudden display of boyish petulance were the topic not so important to them both. “No, of course I don’t want to wait. Why do you think I’m here?…But frankly, you sound terrible.”

He uncovered his eyes and frowned at her. “Give me another minute and you won’t be able to tell the difference.”

“Shut up and let me look at you.”

“You say the most romantic things, Your Highness.”

Not bothering with a retort, she began checking the pilot over in a clinical fashion. She felt a mixture of worry and anger at the obvious damage done to his fine body since their capture on Bespin. Nothing had healed during his internment in carbonite; dark multi-colored bruises peppered his large frame, and she could only imagine what internal pain still lingered from the thawing process and the battles since. “You don’t need sex—you need a hospital.”

“Oh, come on, Leia!…And you can stop looking at me like that. I am not going to the medical frigate. If staying here is good enough for you, it’s good enough for me. Now get back down here.”

She shook her head, unable to hide her smile or resist his command. She reached over to turn the lights back down, then returned to his embrace. On impulse, she began to weave her fingers through his coarse chest hair. She might’ve been new at the game, but she already knew what she liked. “Is this what you really want?” She paused, searching for the right words. “I mean, maybe we’d be better off getting a good nights’ sleep first.”

Han remained silent, clearly brooding.

“I’ve waited too long for this, too, hotshot. I expect the best from you.” That got a more favorable reaction out of him and she could see his eyes sparkle in the dim light. Pleased with her success in shifting his mood, she let her fingers roam across his chest, circling around a nipple. “Besides, it isn’t as though I’ll be gone when you wake up.”

He puckered his face up into something resembling a pout. “You know, this is definitely not the way I pictured this happening.”

“When has anything for us ever gone according to plan?” She rested her head on his shoulder, then wrapped her arms—carefully this time—around her Corellian. He did the same and she felt his strong hand stroke her hair that draped down her back and sides. “I want you, Han,” she whispered, “but right now I’m about ready to fall asleep in your arms.”

Han sighed and she saw his features relax. He tipped forward to place a kiss on her forehead, then let his head fall back onto the pillow.

“Sweetheart, there’s only one thing that could possibly make me happier than letting you do that—and tomorrow I guess I’ll be the happiest man on this whole damned planet.”


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