Into the Fire
By Susan Zahn
see You Could Use Another Good Kiss home page
This story is rated NC-17. Please stop now if you're under 17 or sensitive to adult-themed material.
Chapter 15 — The wait
Despite her earlier statement, Leia stayed for more than one story. At some point, during a fit of laughter, she slid down sideways against the back of the banquette to butt up against Han. Forever the opportunist, he moved fast enough to wrap a welcoming arm around her shoulders before she could straighten back up, and she seemed content to remain there as the conversation roamed, even scooting over a little closer to be more comfortable as the hour grew late.
But it was inevitable that Leia would extract herself from his side, and as she wished them a good night and headed for the corridor, Han watched her leave, missing her warmth and staring long after she’d disappeared around the bend.
You’ve made some damned foolish blunders with this woman in the past, but tonight I think you just made up for a few of them.
When they’d been back in the galley, as he’d traced the graceful lines of her neck, he’d seen her letting go for him—just as she had for a few brief moments back in that hotel room—and it was all he could do to keep from pushing his advantage before her brain reengaged. But he’d learned from his mistake on Ord Mantell, and he was determined not to blow what might be his last chance by pushing her past her comfort level. She was opening up to him, at her own pace, and he would have to be happy with that. Rather than push, he would encourage; rather than demand, he would tempt, just as he’d done back in the galley. So he’d been a bit slow on the uptake, but he realized now that leaving her wanting more was the key, and his invitation had been subtle but clear. Whether or not their relationship continued to evolve would be her decision; in this game he’d just played his hand, and now it was a matter of waiting to see if she called, upped the ante, or folded.
Leia Organa was possibly the most unique woman he’d ever met, but she was still a woman and he was pretty sure he recognized that universal look of desire in her eyes. Maybe she was teetering on that edge of making a choice, after all.
“[She looked happy tonight,]” Chewbacca interrupted, drawing Han back to the present.
“Yeah, she really did.” The fact that such a thing was so noteworthy bothered Han more than he expected. He looked across the checkered tabletop at his friend, a bit surprised by the observation; Chewie really did seem to have a soft spot for their passenger. The few women in the past that Han had bothered to introduce to Chewie had at best regarded him as nothing more than a talented pet, and at worst cowered in fear of his going berserk and mauling them. But Leia had never treated the Wookiee as anything other than an equal; that was a solid positive in her favor as far as they were concerned. Of course, calling his partner a walking carpet hadn’t exactly been a compliment, but the situation had been a bit extreme, and it had demonstrated the sort of guts that clearly won her their respect.
So much for that fearsome Wookiee façade, Pal.
Over the years Leia had also displayed a quirky sense humor during the rare times she relaxed with them, and he was relieved to find she had no trouble fitting in now. It promised an enjoyable journey, whatever her decision regarding their relationship, and he could even imagine, for a brief crazy moment, what it would be like having her around on a permanent basis.
As what? Respected leader by day and roving navigator by night? Deckhand with portfolio? You’re space-happy. She’s got bigger dreams than bumming around on a dinged-up merchant freighter with you.
“[She knows that we still plan to leave, doesn’t she?]”
Han continued to sober up with the reminder. “We talked. She’s not happy about that.”
Chewie gave a mirthless hoot. “[Then it’s unanimous.]”
“She wants to come along.”
The tall Wookiee straightened in outrage, his howl echoing through the hold and down the corridors. “[Absolutely not! You must tell her no.]”
“Hey, keep it down! I did, but do you think that made any difference? We’ve agreed to disagree for now, but you know her. Stubborn.”
“[I think you two cancel each other out.]”
That observation made Han scowl. “Whatever that’s supposed to mean…Which reminds me. You should know that she moved into the bunkroom last night.”
Chewie’s massive head tipped to the side in curiosity. “[I see. I assume you know what you’re doing.]”
Han wasn’t sure whether to be insulted or just annoyed. “She moved into the spare bunk while I was asleep. I think she’s just lonely. Anyway, I’m not pushing her into anything. If it turns into more, that’s up to her.”
“[But you’ve got a death mark.]”
“What, you think I forgot that? For what it’s worth, the Empire’s got a sweet little bounty out on her head, too, remember?”
“[I remember.]” Seeming to deliberate for a moment, Chewbacca gave up with a big shrug. “[You’re right, it is her decision. As long as she understands the situation…She is very brave for one so small. I’m reminded of my wife.]”
His expression softening at his friend’s show of sentiment, Han had to agree with the assessment: bold, spirited, intelligent, determined, and beautiful.
Why the hell couldn’t we have met back when things were less complicated?
Then again, it was unlikely she would have paid him any attention back then—a tramp freighter pilot with a questionable background and little else, while she had the universe at her feet. Even now he sometimes wondered if he was nothing more than a curiosity to her—that he’d struck closer to the mark than he realized when he’d teased that there weren’t enough scoundrels to liven up her life. Would she grow tired of him once the novelty wore off? Once her peers learned she was consorting with a Corellian smuggler? It was a doubt that plagued him. With his only possession and dubious claim to fame a temperamental ship, he had no land, little money, and no reputation worth mentioning in politer circles of society. While he didn’t think the princess was the type to go slumming like some socialites he’d known while back in the Academy, he couldn’t rule out the possibility, and he hated that suspicion. He wanted to believe her interest was genuine, but what might that cost her reputation and career in the end?
No, there would’ve always been complications. There would’ve always been sacrifices, for both of us.
Until the day they’d met and she’d accused him of not caring about anything or anybody, he’d never given a damn about what others thought of him, either. For some reason that indictment had stung coming from her, and somehow she had known that it would. Had she read him that easily, even amidst the chaos on the Death Star?
Damn it, she’s good. Why does that keep surprising you?
Long overdue, Han was gaining a new appreciation of what it must be like for Chewie to be separated from his wife and family for such long stretches of time. They were in this trouble together because of his mistakes and indecision and arrogance; the least he could do was make sure Chewie got to see the ones he loved one more time before they faced Jabba. “Hey, once we get the hyperdrive fixed, how about we swing by Kashyyyk before heading to Tatooine?”
Fangs bared in the equivalent of a broad smile, Chewie nodded. “[I’d like that, it’s been too long…Do you think the princess will want to come along? She’s never met my family.]”
And he accuses me of being a big sap?
“Yeah. She’ll probably insist on it if I can’t talk her out of her plan by then.”
“[Malla can make her see reason. She is good at that…although she never had much luck with me.]”
Han laughed. “It’s worth a shot, Pal. Hey, I’m thinking of overhauling the forward freight elevator motor tomorrow—I’m tired of playing nursemaid every time we use it.”
“[I agree. That’s a good project.]”
Scrubbing his face, feeling the full-day’s stubble coming in like a cash crop, he yawned and began pulling himself around the table to the edge, then stood. “Thought so. I think I’ll turn in. ‘night, Chewie.”
Walking up into the corridor, he paid a call to the cockpit for one last check, but everything was in order. Since what he wished for and what he got when it came to Leia were often at opposite ends of the galaxy, he wasn’t sure what to expect as he headed for his cabin.
The small room was still fully lit but empty when Han arrived. The fresher was still occupied, and he realized with a grin that she was probably showering yet again. Ever since their stint in the fetid jungles of the Serricci base over a year ago, she’d begun using every strained excuse possible to take advantage of his real water shower, something he’d been more than happy to encourage. More than one of his fantasies had revolved around just those scenarios.
An instant later the door opened and Leia emerged, but she stopped in surprise upon finding him standing there. Her cheeks redden like a sunset on Corellia, and one of her hands instinctively dropped to tug down the bottom hem of the long white shirt she’d borrowed; it hung to just above her knees, revealing slender naked legs that demanded his attention. Feeling the stirrings of arousal upon remembering how the backs of those thighs had felt beneath his fingertips weeks ago, he dragged his gaze back up. He’s seen her decked out in royal finery during the media circus of the award ceremony on Yavin IV, and he’d seen her dressed to kill that landmark night on Ord Mantell, and yet he’d never seen her sexier than she looked right now, with her brunette hair down and damp, her skin still glowing from the hot shower, wearing what he imagined to be nothing but his shirt. He had to swallow to find his voice. “Done in there?”
Still trying to curb his usual instincts, Han resisted the urge to tell her on how tempting she was at that moment; the last thing he wanted to do was scare her away. From the way she’d froze in the entrance to the fresher, radiating nervousness, he wondered if maybe she’d hoped to be in bed and already asleep by the time he showed up.
“Right,” he said.
When she still didn’t move, his smile grew. Whatever was going through her head at that moment, it was enough to disengage her awareness of the situation, and that wasn’t like her. Deciding to help out, he gestured past her shoulder. “Can I go in?”
Leia’s expression turned to one of confusion for a second before she realized she was blocking his way. “Oh! Sorry.” Flustered, she moved to stand in the center of the small cabin so he could pass.
“Find everything you need?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“Good.” The temptation to kiss her right then was strong, if for no other reason than to defuse her awkwardness, but giving her a random kiss while in the cockpit or lounge was very different from doing it here, with her half-dressed and ready for bed. His vow had been to let her choose the moment, and it took every shred of will-power to stick to that promise, even if it meant nothing more happened between them. Instead, he settled for a smile before stepping into the fresher and closing the door.