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 21 — The shift
Leia watched as her home rose up in the view screen, more vivid and beautiful than ever—the breathtaking sapphire blues, the emerald greens, the golden deserts and ice-white swirls of glacial ranges, all wrapped in gossamer clouds—but her heart felt like it was clamped in a vice.
Lurching toward the image, desperate, she wanted nothing more than to go home. She’d known this game was deadly serious, known the stakes were high, known the risks. Gambling with her life had seemed a fair price…but never this. She didn’t want to play this game anymore. She no longer felt brave or noble or mature. She felt very small.
Wanting nothing more than to go home, she’d tried to outmaneuver them, tried to lie, tried everything. Now she just wanted it all to stop.
Large hands gripped her shoulders—strong, irresistible.
The hands pulled her back, holding her in place, but they weren’t the cold, inhuman hands she’d come to fear so much; they weren’t the black leather-encased gloves of a living demon, but rather flesh and familiar, and the chest she butted up against wore inflexible body armor, but gone was the overwhelming presence of threat. Missing was the steady, terrible, never-ending death rattle of a mechanical respirator.
Confused by the change, as if losing her place in a script she knew by heart, she twisted around to face her captor, but it wasn’t the nightmare mask she expected, or the skull-like features of the Imperial governor who had brought them within agonizing sight of her planet. It was Han, as he would look when he emerged out of a smoke- and laser-filled corridor, wearing stormtrooper armor, part of the rescue team come to save her…but he was early.
I’m right here, Sweetheart. You’re safe.
A surge of relief ran through her to see him here now, so striking and brave, and her heart soared. Of course he would help.
Please, Han…You can make them stop! Oh Han, look!
Turning back, she wanted to show him her home, how beautiful it was, a gem suspended on a backdrop of richest black shimmersilk. She wanted to share it with him, but it was all gone, all of it: the empty command center of the Death Star; the view screen; her home.
Instead she was looking out at a sky bathed in reds and blues, a mighty sunset with bright silvery disks of twin moons slowly rising through the fantastic palate of colors. Still behind her, Han’s arms folded around her middle, they were standing on a wide stone balcony as the cool autumn night air carried the rich earthy scent from a grove of trees that lined the grounds; it blended with his warmth and musk, filling her senses, soothing her.
Where are we?
But she knew before he answered. Having visited several times both as daughter of the Viceroy of Alderaan and as a senator, she recognized the moons and the distinctive constellations of the sister planets of Corellia.
Turning in his arms, needing to see his face, Leia found the younger Han gone, replaced by an older version, somehow older than she knew him, but still just as handsome.
Is this our home?
The words sounded strange to her, even as she said them, the idea that this was theirs together and that she could have another.
He didn’t reply. Instead, he kissed her forehead.
I have to go away for awhile.
No. Don’t leave me.
You’ll be okay, Leia. You’re the strongest person I know.
She shook her head. How could that be possible, when it was his presence that made this peaceful scene so complete?
I’m not strong. I just don’t know what else to do.
When will you return?
Again he left her question hanging, offering only a wistful smile. Why wouldn’t he answer her? As his arms loosened and he stepped away, the scarlet hues of sunset bathed his features, seeming to bleed down from the sky to engulf him. The night air made her shiver as his warmth faded with him.
The acute ache from his sudden disappearance was so powerful that Leia awoke with his name still on her lips. Heart racing, she opened her eyes but found herself facing the familiar red-tinted, dimly lit, featureless wall of their bunk bulkhead. Lying on her stomach, one arm clutching an extra pillow at her side, she could feel Han beneath the covers to her other side, his outstretched arm across her lower back and a long leg intertwined with hers. The sensation was calming, as if he’d anchored her to the mattress to keep her from straying too far, even in her dreams. As if she would ever want to.
The cabin was dark and still, the only sounds the dull thrum of the sub-light engines and Han’s regular breathing near her ear; both sounds were reassuring and had become a welcome soundtrack to her life, a comforting background unnoticed now unless she made a conscious effort. But the idea of the silence returning increased her lingering fears of what would happen in a few days once the hyperdrive was repaired. Trying to dispel the disturbing feeling, she moved around on the bunk and rolled onto her back, slipping her legs free from his and overlapping the arm across her belly with her own.
If I’m so strong, then why am I so scared?
As her hand covered his, she allowed her fingertips to trace the roadmap of veins and tendons there, picturing them in her mind with ease—truth be told, she’d memorized his hands a long time ago. During the times when she’d feared looking into his eyes, feared losing herself in them, it had been easier to study those instead, watching while he worked and relaxed, all the time wondering how they might feel on her, how they would touch her. Now that she knew those answers, the thought of losing what she’d so recently discovered made her alternately bordering on tears and filled with a fierce determination to prevent what seemed inevitable.
The old Jedi Order had believed in fate, in submitting to a destiny that appeared unavoidable, and years ago in her studies Leia had concluded that this rationale was one of their greatest weaknesses and a major contributor to their downfall. When she’d joined her father’s cause and taken up arms to fight what so many others considered a lost cause, that same spirit had buoyed her through times when naysayers argued it couldn’t be done, when things had seemed written in durasteel; those negative words just made her fight all the harder.
I’m no Jedi and it’s not over yet. I’m not about to let him go without a fight.
Her fingertips slid to the underside of his wrist, gliding along until they found and rested upon the strong pulse point in the recess of tendons there, and she imagined her heart beating in sync with it. Even lost in deep sleep, Han exuded life and strength, often serving as a beacon in her darkest hours, in his own unique way lighting a path whether she had wanted help or not. Through everything that had happened since Alderaan, through all their bickering and denials and now their renaissance, he had restored and revived her.
If I get any more maudlin, I could just quit this job and become a holo-romance writer. The hours would certainly be better.
Rolling her eyes, she let out a sigh as the absurd thought chased away some of the bad vibes still lingering from the disorienting dream. The images were already fading away like most dreams did, but there had been parts of it she liked very much and she tried to recall those now. Maybe if she relaxed enough, she could go back to that place…
Turning toward Han and switching positions to slide an arm over his broad back and a leg over his longer one, she allowed herself to feel a little possessive, too. He stirred, his face burrowing into the pillow as he gave a muffled grunt, but then slumbered on. Closing her eyes, she let the hum of the ship around them lull her back to sleep.