Into the Fire

By Susan Zahn


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Chapter 11

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


Chapter 11 — The move  

It was late, more than halfway into her eight-hour sleeping block, and yet Leia found herself wandering the circular corridor of the Falcon once more, like a specter rattling around in search of resolution, looking for someone to ease her loneliness. She’d slept some, more than the last time she’d been in her cot, but the nightmares had returned to leave her chilled and aching for companionship. Luck was not with her tonight as she discovered there was no convenient and charming Corellian holding vigil in the lounge to distract her. Instead, the acceleration couch was abandoned, the top of the holochess table bare. Rather than a rumbling voice to cancel out the ones from her dreams, there was just the soft hum of the environmental systems and the sub-light engines. The ship was so still that her own soft footsteps on the metal deck plates echoed around her, the only sensation of movement in the main hold coming from the occasional blink of colored indicator lights at the unmanned engineering station off to one side.

With each circuit around the ship, the princess found herself pausing outside the crew cabin door, fighting an inner voice that whispered it would be okay to seek Han’s company, like she had the night before.

Don’t be so naïve—approaching him in his bunk is inviting a lot more than just conversation.

There was no doubt that he would welcome her. He would hold her and soothe her fears; he would protect her like he had so many times before. But he’d also propositioned her countless instances, almost from the day they’d met, often quite seriously, and she couldn’t reasonably expect him to stop with a hug anymore, not when she wasn’t even sure she wanted him to stop.

For so long she had rejected the idea of sleeping with Han as an unneeded distraction, an indulgent and impractical fantasy that would be foolish in the end…but of late her entire world had spun around and those reasons no longer outweighed her deeper instincts.

Walking on, all the conflicting obligations awaiting them at the end of their journey swirled through her head. At the passageway to the cockpit, she paused with the temptation of joining Chewbacca and using him as a sounding board since he knew Solo better than anyone—but then she kept walking. He didn’t deserve enduring the angst-ridden ramblings of a confused and love-sick woman, and certainly not if it put him in the position of compromising his close friendship with Han.

Luke came to mind as well. Concern of his wellbeing never left her, but she missed him in particular tonight. Yet even though he was her closest friend, this was a topic she never felt comfortable bringing up with him. While she knew Luke’s crush on her had faded into mutual fondness (and if rumors Han spread about Luke’s escapades with a certain buxom med-tech were anything to go by, he was well over his infatuation), there was still a lingering sense of something deeper between them—something she avoided examining on purpose. It didn’t necessarily conflict with how she felt about Han, but it muddied the waters just the same.

No, the company Leia missed most right now was Lieutenant Aldritch, the only close female friend left in her adult life. Worry about Kristin’s safety following the battle on Hoth compounded the sense of longing for her companionship. The older woman was sure to have an opinion on this matter. In fact, Leia’s rocky relationship with Han had become a pet topic, although it wasn’t until now that Leia felt ready to open up and pour out all her emotions and fears for the two of them to sort through.

Then again, she could guess what Kristin would say—in fact what she’d been saying for the past year: quit fighting the obvious; life comes with no guarantees, so don’t expect one now; life’s too short to squander rare opportunities for happiness, even temporary ones; and everyone takes a risk in love. That kind of wisdom came from years of experience, and Leia appreciated it as such, but her situation just seemed so much more complicated than most.

What she needed was someone to either talk her out of what she was contemplating, or to tell her to go for it—but just do something. In matters both public and private she strove to be thorough, calculating, a perfectionist…but it was a learned behavior that often rankled against her nature, that of trusting her instincts and making quick decisions. Her tutors had called it reckless, that urge toward action, but it had served her well more often than not. And if she listened to her heart now…

I wouldn’t stop him. If Han asked me now, I wouldn’t say no.

The revelation caused her to halt in her path down the step into the lounge.

The most significant questions between them were still left unanswered, foremost being the reluctant understanding that their time might be finite. Was she willing to settle for a romance with a built-in deadline? Still, the remaining shard of a once-optimistic young woman held out a whisper of hope: what if Han paid off Jabba and came back? All her life she’d been a gambler of sorts, willing to accept the risks if the rewards were worth it—and if there was anyone she was willing to bet on surviving the odds, it was Han Solo. How he made her feel with each smile, each soul-stirring kiss, was a reward on which she would be wagering everything.

Whether or not she acted on them, her feelings for Han were present and real. What advantage could be gained by denying them any longer? Which would be harder to deal with, loving and losing him, or always yearning and wondering what might have been? A day ago she had feared the loss more, but now she wasn’t so sure. At least one option had the potential for leaving happier memories.

Trust your feelings,’ was one of Luke’s favorite sayings. Leia sighed at the irony; he would no doubt be appalled to know she was using that as a rationalization for sleeping with his best friend.

Leia’s circuitous route brought her back once again to the bunk room hatch, and she stared at it for a long moment, and then glanced at the slim chrono strapped to her wrist to find there were still three hours until her next shift. Tired though she was, the prospect of going back to her stark cabin alone held no appeal, while the restful sleep of the night before, in Han’s company, tantalized her. Maybe a compromise seemed in order tonight. Maybe she could find a middle ground, a half-way mark where she could stop to test the waters and find some decent sleep in the meantime.

Making her decision, she double-checked the recurring alarm on her chrono, set to go off every eight hours; it would wake her in time to relieve Chewie in the cockpit. With a steadying breath, she opened the hatch and stopped just inside as it closed, waiting while her eyes adjusted to the dim red light. Then again, her heart was pounding so hard that it might wake Han up anyway.

Taking another symbolic step, Leia chose one of the spare bunks, reached to draw back the covers, and then turned to sit on the edge. After kicking off her boots to the side, she straightened up and paused, allowing her gaze to settle on the occupied bunk adjacent to hers. Han was sleeping on his stomach, head turned away, with one arm stretched out beneath his pillow. She couldn’t make out much else in the dark.

Close enough now that she could hear his deep breathing, it was so easy to imagine how it would be to lie beside him; to fit up against and allow his strong body to shield her from the rest of the universe. Even while his protective streak chafed against her independent nature at times, it was a comforting fact, something she felt ashamed to admit she took for granted. His mercenary attitude had been her convenient excuse to keep him at arms’ length, but she knew the pittance the Alliance paid him didn’t warrant the risks he took. Despite their occasional squabbles, how many times had he fought beside her, defended her, sacrificed more than anyone could reasonably expect for a woman who at best still treated him as just a friend, and at worst…? It was clear that his motivation wasn’t just greed or lust or even friendship —it was something much deeper and far more forgiving.

Is that what love is like?

Hands at her sides, she gripped the edge of the bunk and squeezed her eyes closed.

You had to go there, didn’t you? Love?

There was no sense dodging around the fact anymore. If any hint of doubt had remained of her feelings for him, it was silenced by the keen longing that overwhelmed her now, being so close and yet apart.

He’d demonstrated often enough through actions if not words how he felt, and for too long she’d struggled from one justification to another to deny the truth, but it was time to be honest.

Reaching to untie the drawstring of her loose pants, she slipped them off and laid them at the foot of her bunk. Still in his large shirt, she stretched out on her side under the covers and propped up the pillow. From that position she watched the still figure in the adjoining alcove until at some point her eyes must have closed.



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