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 18 — The suite
Standing in the middle of the crew’s quarters, holding a folded blanket still warm from the autovalet, Leia watched Han make the bunk, her smile no doubt a bit dopey and her mood mellow.
Satiated is probably the more appropriate term. You’re besotted. Smitten. A goner.
They were just starting the second week now, only a quarter of the way into their long slog through the Anoat System, and life was falling into a routine, if anything about the novelty of living in close quarters with Solo could be called routine.
Having entered into this situation with very little idea of how things would change aboard ship after climbing into Han’s bunk, it had been a huge risk for a variety of reasons, the most glaring being that they were two strong personalities trapped in a small space for a long time, and if things didn’t work out, it could get very ugly very fast. But other than the divergence from their old pattern of arguing, little else seemed different. Their days were spent continuing with various repairs, doing basic chores, taking long breaks for meals, and sometimes just lounging around reading, playing games, and talking.
Lots of talking. That may be my favorite part. Well, almost.
Still prone to silence about his past unless Chewbacca brought up something specific, Han was quite happy to talk about anything else, and many hours were spent cuddled up on the acceleration couch in the lounge, or on his lap in the cockpit, or reclined in his bunk as they teased and learned about one another. Staving off boredom might have been their biggest challenge before the change, but there wasn’t enough time in the day now.
The only other big change, of course, was what they did when they stopped talking. The introduction of frequent groping sessions, which seemed to occur whenever and wherever the mood struck, definitely kept the dullness factor down to a minimum. It came as a bit of a relief to discover that he couldn’t get enough of her, either.
Today Leia spent the morning helping the two smugglers replace aging gaskets around the hatches of the hidden smuggling compartments beneath the flooring of the circular corridor, meant to keep them from creaking and echoing. After lunch, she trailed behind Han as he conducted more mundane shipboard duties, doing her part by lending a hand.
From infancy Leia had been surrounded by attendants and service droids to take care of the more humdrum chores in life, and even after her immersion in the nomadic existence of a fugitive Rebel, she’d had little need to devote her time to such things. Following her arrival on the Yavin base, General Dodonna had assigned her an orderly, but no sooner had she rejected this as a waste of valuable resources than Luke had foisted Threepio upon her, his reason being that she had more use for a protocol droid who could double as a personal assistant. She wasn’t convinced his motives were altruistic, though, because every time she sent Threepio off on an errand to assist Luke (or Han if she just felt like irritating him), in no time she would find the obnoxious droid back in her quarters tidying up her cot or handling her laundry or organizing her desk. Here on the Falcon, with everyone aboard more than happy to leave the silent droid occupying the abandoned communications station, she found herself chipping in on a variety of new tasks for the first time, and in a way she found it refreshing. In fact, she’d even managed putting together a couple of meals, despite her concern over squandering precious food in cooking experiments; with Han’s guidance, the results had been passable, even though he was arguably as much a distraction as a help in the cramped kitchenette.
Just look at all the new skills you’re learning on this trip.
That thought almost made her laugh out loud.
She found endless fascination in watching Han, a man whom she’d always known to be restless, action-oriented, and anything but domestic, doing uninteresting but necessary duties like swabbing the deck plates or changing the linens on their bunk.
Leia smirked at the possessive thought. She liked the sound of that.
Here was an unanticipated facet to the man she loved, seeing him fiddle with the top sheet until it was perfectly smooth and taunt. No question but this was a legacy of his drilling in the Naval Academy.
Don’t even bother. He’ll deny any implication that he should become a military leader within the Alliance. Just be happy in knowing he could.
Right now she couldn’t help but be amused by the effort Han expended on this particular task, and she fought a contrary urge to push him back onto the bunk and muss it up.
Straightening up and turning, as if about to ask for the blanket, he paused when he saw her impish expression. “What are you thinking?”
She might as well have set off the hull-breach alarm if she’d wanted to get Han’s full attention. He waited, hazel eyes narrowing at her.
Leia caved. “Why do you bother?”
She pointed at the bed. “We’re only going to mess it up in a few hours. It seems like a lot of work for nothing.”
For a moment the captain gave her a look as though she’d just spoken in tongues, and then his look turned almost feral. “Fine. Starting right now, Your Worship, you’re in charge of making the bunks.”
“Fine. And don’t call me that.” That last directive was tacked on out of pure habit, as he’d demonstrated no inclination to stop using that particular title—in fact it seemed his standard go-to whenever he wanted to tweak her.
Reaching out to grip her arm, Han pulled her up against his chest, her crossed arms and the blanket sandwiched between them. As he started a languorous kiss on her mouth that migrated to the area below her ear, her resolve began to melt.
Leave it to Han to not fight fair.
The moment she moaned, he pulled her around and tipped her off-balance, causing her to fall back onto the just-made sheets with a shriek of laughter. “No sense in waiting,” he growled as he crawled onto the bunk after her.
Leia let out a disgusted sound that contradicted with her actions as she tossed the blanket to the side and reached up to grab his belt buckle. “You’ll pay for this, Solo.”
“Put it on my tab…”
Leia once again stood in the center of the cabin, arms loaded with laundered clothing fresh from the autovalet as she stared at their bunk. Han was off assisting Chewbacca with something in the forward hold, trying to fix whatever was rattling in the air circulation assembly. While she loved every minute spent wallowing in his attention, she was glad for the occasional break alone so she could clear her mind. That, and the clattering noise really was driving her a bit mad.
Despite vague images of lingering nightmares, she felt like she was sleeping better. Whether she could chalk that up to simple physical fatigue after enthusiastic lovemaking, or the reassuring feeling of Han holding her through the night, was still up for debate, but content with either conclusion, the sensation of waking up next to him was something that made her feel richer than any of the wealth in her previous life. She’d gleaned through gossip and snippets of overheard conversations that most men weren’t cuddlers, so who would’ve thought she’d score the jackpot on her first attempt, and with Solo of all men. Her snuggling smuggler…or was that smuggling snuggler?
You are doomed to wear this foolish smile every time you think about him, aren’t you?
Never having allowed a close inspection and analysis of her feelings for Han until this trip, she wanted to explore them all now, to examine what it meant in her life and marvel at what he managed to generate within her, even after years of intentional emptiness. Maybe it was just her imagination, but that change seemed to show in her reflection in the mirror, and she couldn’t help but wonder if this would be obvious to others once they reached civilization.
There had been a time in her youth, even during her grooming to fight the Empire, when she’d maintained a typical romantic fantasy life. She’d indulged in the dreamy holo-vids and stories of finding a man to love and build that future with, like any other teenager, only repressing it out of necessity when duty called, but still dreaming just the same. Back then she’d believed in the power of love, but more importantly, she’d believed it would happen to her some day.
Although she’d survived the destruction of Alderaan, her dreams had died with it. Even as she’d resumed the fight for the Rebellion with renewed vigor, for the greater good, the struggle was not for her own sake because she no longer believed she would live to see the end of the war. There seemed little point in dreaming about some happy future when there appeared to be nothing personal left in the balance, nothing waiting for her at the other end.
The introduction of Han, Luke, and Chewbacca into her life, and their growing importance within it, had helped to assuage that loss. They were like a lifeline around her waist, pulling her along, often against her will, but it was Han who remained single-minded in his resolve to rescue he; he confronted her unspoken despair, as if determined to fill the vacuum where her heart had been, daring her to feel again. Whether it was making her fume or blush or just smile, he never failed to elicit a reaction. For the longest time she was perplexed by why such a self-proclaimed loner cared or bothered, and yet he had. Maybe he’d sensed and sympathized with her lost dreams, or maybe he’d just been drawn to fix what was clearly broken within her. For whatever reasons, he hadn’t quit her and now, in some corner of her mind, a new kernel of hope had sprouted as a vision of a possible future that made her own life worth living again. To imagine that some day they could both stop running and be together like this, far beyond just a few weeks, gave her a new goal and enthusiasm. Hadn’t she once believed in the power of hope?
Leia knew on some level that their situation right now aboard the Falcon wasn’t realistic; that they were for all practical purposes sealed away from the truths of their lives, the war, and the rest of the universe during this long trek to Bespin. Too soon it would end and then they would have to face all those challenges once more, and from a new and unfamiliar footing. She hoped they were prepared and strengthened by the evolving relationship, rather than weakened by the emotional exposure. Perhaps their shared hardships over the years would temper their bond, making it that much stronger.
Standing there, arms full of the clean clothing they shared, she knew her life was altered, and while it had not come full circle—it never could—it had undergone another tectonic shift. Despite the extraordinary connection she felt with Han, she knew he’d had plenty of sexual partners—it was obvious in his skill and confidence—and she didn’t dare ask him if what they shared now was typical; if coupling was always like this. A part of her was afraid he might say yes. Maybe it was because they’d waited so long while hashing out their personal hang-ups, or maybe it was because of all the shared hardships of their past and the emotional bonding that was bound to happen as a result. Perhaps it was just destiny, if one was prone to believing in things like the Force…
Was Han the man she dreamt would swoop in to the rescue? He could be a gentleman when it suited his mood. Had theirs been a romance anyone would want to watch in a holodrama? Hardly, unless living in adverse conditions, barely avoiding any number of sudden violent deaths, and arguing about and worrying over whether he would disappear one day for good could be considered romantic—she certainly didn’t think so and wouldn’t wish the experience on anyone. But he had saved her life a few times, and he was also rakishly handsome, brave to a fault, and proven prone to ravishing her with little warning.
What’s not to love?
Leia grinned at that.
You’ve got it bad. Face it, you were doomed the moment he suggested going back into your cell if you didn’t like his method of rescue. What other man would have said that to a princess?
Snapping out of her little reverie, Leia moved over to the side and popped open the hatch of the upper storage locker where Han stored his clothing. Conscious of his tendencies, she stowed away the various pieces in neat order, but then paused, never having had the opportunity to really look at his things before, either out of denial of any interest in him or fear of getting caught. None of those reasons held sway anymore, and curiosity caused her to look closer now. There was the unsurprising collection of brown, black, and blue trousers, most of them with that eye-catching Corellian Blood Stripe, the obsolete sign of a Spacer’s Guild member, running down the outside seams. Someday she would have to ask why he still insisted on wearing it. Was it out of a sense of tradition, or just a way to thumb his nose at the Empire for disbanding the Guild a decade ago?
There was also an assortment of work and dress shirts, nondescript boxer-briefs, and mostly normal socks. None of it was out of the ordinary or that she hadn’t seen him wear at some point, but that was just this locker and there were five others within the crew’s quarters, plus the single drawers under each bunk. Biting her lower lip and wondering if peeking into the other cabinets amounted to prying, she decided she’d earned the right to look a little. He had invited her to anything on the ship, even before they slept together.
Besides, we’ve learned every naked centim of each other’s bodies in the past week—you can’t get much more intimate than that.
Closing the hatch on the upper locker, she crouched down and opened the lower one. Foul weather gear, thermal clothing, jackets, another pair of polished spacer boots, snow boots and various other shoes, all neatly stowed away for fast and easy access. No surprise, considering the nature of his training and career. Despite the chaos that tended to surround him, or maybe because of it, his life was neat and orderly in here.
Closing the door, Leia shifted over to the neighboring cabinet and checked it out, only to find bed linens, towels, extra toiletries and grooming items. Again, nothing very interesting.
With a sigh, beginning to wonder if this was yet another dead-end in her attempts to learn more about Han, Leia straightened up and toed the door closed. She reached to pull open the second upper door and was instantly glad she’d stuck with the search. The hero’s medal she’d draped around his neck back on Yavin IV, only a day after they’d met, hung from the inside of the door and banged against the metal as she swung it open. Surprised to see it at all, let alone displayed among his personal items, she thought of all the times over the years when he’d taunted her with various demises for the rather tacky award; everything from pawning it off to buy a substandard bottle of Novarian brandy, to macro-fusing it to the sub-light engine housing to plug up a coolant leak. Yet all this time it must have hung here, a reminder whenever he opened the locker.
With a wry smile, Leia shook her head.
Between this and the Blood Stripe, he’s more sentimental than I thought.
Peering around, taking in the mysterious odds and ends stashed away in compartmented trays and shelves, she found an elegant man’s ring she’d never seen him wear. And there was the golden Spacers Guild token she’d lost back on Hoth, the one she’d possessed for all of maybe five minutes before dropping it. She hadn’t even known what it was when Kristin had given it to her, but he’d pocketed it in the belief it had meant something to her, and she hadn’t bothered to correct his assumption. There were various other little trinkets that must have held some memory or value to him but seemed ordinary to her, although they did generate curiosity. There was a second datapad that was no doubt of a more personal nature than the public one out in the lounge; she wasn’t about to touch that without his permission, and besides, the Goddess only knew what might be on it. Lining the back of the cabinet was a stack of holo-disks with cryptic labels, and although those caught her attention, they were something she’d have to investigate another time. But then one of the disks in particular caught her eye, the label nothing more than a handwritten date—her Majority Day from over a year ago. Curiosity wining out over caution, she reached in and pulled it out from the stack, then hesitated a moment to glance at the closed cabin door as she experienced a twinge of guilt before triggering the holo-disk.
There was a bluish-white glow, and then they appeared—she and Han, the night they’d celebrated the coincidence of both her and Luke reaching Majority at the same time, when what had started as a small party for Luke among the pilots had swelled into a Base-wide spontaneous excuse to blow off steam. There was loud music, lots of voices and laughter, and much alcohol—much more than she would have suspected was authorized or available on base. In the holo they were both holding mess hall tumblers and sipping a potent beverage she’d never been able to identify; they must have already imbibed quite a bit by the time the recording was taken, because they both had that tell-tale glazed expression. With his arm wrapped around her waist, his large hand gripping her hip and his fingers visibly digging into her at times, while her own arm was buried somewhere beneath his blue flight jacket, they looked thoroughly blitzed. What was most surprising, though, was that she couldn’t recall that happening. The big smile plastered across her face matched Han’s as they laughed at something off to her side, then suddenly Han bent down to say something to that younger Leia, but his words were lost to the background noise. There was no missing her reaction, however—she let out a raucous laugh that would have made her court tutors blanch, swatted playfully at his shoulder, then tugged at his arm and snuggled against his side as he landed a kiss on her temple. They both paused to shamelessly mug for the recorder.
The holo flickered and ended, snapping Leia out of her trance. Unable to tell which was more shocking—the fact that they looked so relaxed and happy together, even back then, or that she couldn’t remember the incident—she snapped her mouth closed and triggered the holo again.
Her smile. His laugh. She strained to hear whatever it was he said to that far-away woman to make her laugh like that, despite a night she remembered more as a sad milestone of the passing year and what seemed a hopeless life ahead. But here was Han, breaking through that despair yet again, and someone had captured it in a holo; it was priceless evidence of everything he had become to her.
Leia played it again.
She’d never seen them together like this, as a couple, and how others must have perceived them that night: happy; comfortable; natural. She fit beneath his arm like she belonged there, and they looked good together. No wonder the tongues on base had started wagging. No wonder she had found herself fighting a growing wave of gossip and suggestive hints. Even if there’d been nothing to it, the personnel on base were in such desperate need of hope and entertainment that they’d latched onto the idea of a heated affair blossoming between their two most visible residents, and refused to let it die. Every public argument, every moment they were spotted together, no matter how benign, had fed the rumor mill. Thus all her fears of becoming attached to the smuggler, all her efforts to deny theirs was anything more than a business relationship or mere friendship—all of it had been undone by a tumbler of jet juice.
No wonder they didn’t believe you anymore. It’s so obvious.
Leia could do little more than shake her head. How appropriate. How typical. She was the last to see it, and the fact seemed to encapsulate their entire relationship in an ironic metaphor.
You’ve been such a fool.
She could guess all sorts of reasons for why Han kept the recording. Had he watched it over and over in fascination just as she’d done, perhaps wishing things could be different? It was no surprised that he kept it a secret; until now she wouldn’t have believed him, or at best she might have passed it off as some drunken mistake.
No more denials. No more betraying your instincts and feelings. All that accomplishes is unnecessary pain, and it fools no one.
Lesson learned, she returned the holo to the stack and closed the locker door, done with exploring. Maybe the boys could use her help with that rattling AC system, after all.