Into the Fire

By Susan Zahn


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Chapter 1

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Disclaimer: Much as I’d love to be able to retire and live off the proceeds from these stories, I sadly do not own the rights to these brilliant characters. Maybe if you put in a good word for me…?

Author’s Note: This story is part of a broader story arc, my “Kismet” series, that I’ve been developing over the past two decades—long before any of the prequels, EU books, or other materials came out.
While I occasionally borrow proper names from these newer sources (for convenience’ sake) I feel no compunction to make my stories conform to any “canon” other than the original saga films.
I hope you can enjoy them in the same spirit of freedom that I have felt writing them.

This story is rated NC-17. Please stop now if you're under 17 or sensitive to adult-themed material.


The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom...
--Bell Hooks

There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.
--Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 - 1900), On Reading and Writing


Chapter 1 — The rescue

The command center on Hoth was in shambles. Heavy, sporadic explosions from the savage conflict raging outside rocked the cramped room, causing equipment and occupants to sway. The latest unnatural quake was violent enough to tip the massive plotting console in the center of the room past the balance point; the tall screen cracked and fell to the icy floor, the loud shatter adding to the chaotic din.

Princess Leia Organa struggled to keep her feet on the trembling floor as she rushed from one station to the next to monitor the battle, even as system after system began to fail. The acrid odor of fried electronics burned her nostrils, yet couldn’t mask the coppery tang of blood infusing the air. Despite a throat already hoarse from fumes and anxiety, she shouted out orders.

General Rieekan had made one last attempt to convince her to join the rest of the non-combat personnel on the next transport out. Carlist was an old friend and advisor, one of the few remaining ties to her former life—to a world that no longer existed—but she’d stood firm until he’d relented with a sad smile and a murmured goodbye, leaving her to her chosen fate as he headed outside to lead his troops in the rearguard defense.

Still, she wasn’t alone in staying behind to delay the overwhelming Imperial assault; there was a handful of stoic Rebels with her who likewise ignored the orders to evacuate. Tired deep in her soul, the last princess of Alderaan had finally lost her desire to run anymore. The report had come back that Commander Luke Skywalker was shot down, his snowspeeder crushed while leading a brave assault against the approaching Imperial walkers, while Captain Han Solo, having received his requested clearance, was making good on his long-standing threat to leave them—leave her—and face his destiny with Jabba the Hutt. Once again, in a single horrible day, she would be reduced to nothing, and it felt one blow too many.

Many brave fighters were dying for a greater good out on the frozen planet’s surface, a cause worthy of their blood. Maybe it was time to make a final stand with them, now that she had lost everything else. It seemed fitting, this one last selfless sacrifice…

At least this will be quick.

“Are you all right?” a loud voice called out from across the abyss of the crumbling room.

Leia recognized the deep voice and turned in shock from where she and a fellow Rebel had been hunched over a monitor. Solo stood in the doorway to the command center, his eyes seeking hers in spite of the turmoil between them. A rush of conflicting emotions flooded through her, but anger boiled to the surface. What was he waiting for, the hangar bay to collapse?

“Why are you still here?!”

“I’d heard the command center was hit.” Ignoring her chilly reception, he started clearing a path through the rocking, shaking obstacle course of debris.

Still trying to follow the struggle against the invading army outside, she refused to spare him another glance as he climbed over the smashed plotting console. “You’ve got your clearance to leave.”

The bitterness she felt toward him of late, spurred on by his public announcement the day before, that he really intended to leave this time, made her voice as hard and cold as the icy walls surrounding them. She could only guess why he wasn’t gone already, but it was obvious now that he intended to rescue her, to interfere with her plans to fight to the end.

“Don’t worry, I’ll leave. But first I’m gonna get you to your ship.” He’d almost reached her now, ignoring the bedlam as he continued on course, locked like a laser targeting system on to her.

See-Threepio, his golden visage glowing in the diminished light and fine ice crystals sifting down from the cracking ceiling, struggled at her side as the ground trembled again. “Your Highness, we must take this last transport. It’s our only hope.”

The protocol droid’s plea stopped Leia for a moment.

Hope? What hope is there?

Not only would she die here, but it now appeared that this insane, stubborn Corellian fighting his way toward her would die as well; a pointless gesture considering how hard he worked at denying that this was his fight. But it was her fight, and she planned to take out as many Imperials as she could before it was over. She looked back to the tall smuggler, just as he stepped around a last piece of smashed equipment to reach her side. Not about to let him impede her duty, she dodged and slipped around behind him, out of reach, leaving Han to spin around in disbelief as she stumbled to the other end of the shaking command center.

“Send all troops to Sector Twelve to the south cove to protect the fighters,” Leia croaked out to another soldier still seated at his post. No doubt it was the blistering fumes that caused her voice to crack on the last word. There were still ways of escape for those troops outside, where the X-Wings and a few remaining transports were parked for a quick evacuation.

With a loud boom, a more powerful explosion rocked the room, almost knocking them all off their feet. A new wave of fear swept through her with the sudden realization that she was unarmed. The possibility of being captured by the Empire once again roiled her stomach; resolving not to let that happen, she cast a panicked glance around for a blaster. What bitter irony it would be, caught in the middle of a battle without a weapon, in a war she’d helped start.

There’s a fitting epitaph. ‘She wasn’t prepared.’

The base PA system crackled to life, echoing around them. “Imperial troops have entered the base. Imperial troops have—” The urgent announcement died in a burst of static.

A strong, irresistible hand clamped onto her upper arm, tight enough to leave a bruise. Solo had caught up, and unable to help herself, she looked up into his face to find a grim expression there that said no more wisecracks, no more games, no more running from him. “Come on, that’s it.”

In his eyes was unrefined emotion, so raw and open to her for once that the rest of the world fell away from her awareness. Through all the layers of hurt and resentment she’d constructed since his rejection after Ord Mantell weeks ago, for one timeless second it seeped in that Han did still care. Perhaps he knew of her intention today? His hold on her arm tightened until she winced, breaking their silent communication, and she turned her head to the soldier seated in front of her. “Give the evacuation code signal.”

With her last duty dispensed, she looked back to Han, suspecting her countenance wasn’t nearly as brave as she wanted it to be when the new wave of adrenaline hit her.

Maybe you aren’t ready to die just yet...

Han pulled her around ahead of him, grabbing her other arm from behind, and steered her toward the exit. Almost too late, she struggled against his unyielding grasp long enough to turn back and give one last order. “And get to your transports!”

Without ceremony, he shoved her through the open hatchway and out into the crumbling corridor.

“Oh! Wait for me!” Threepio called out from behind as they ran for their lives.


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