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 7 — The recovery
Han began returning to the cockpit on a regular basis as Leia’s shift continued, making a show of checking sensors and flipping toggle switches, but Leia supposed his real goal was to check in on her. It was a tendency he’d demonstrated in the past whenever he felt reason to worry that she might fall to pieces while outside his protective sight.
I just blasted a hole in that theory, didn’t I?
Even so, to learn that he cared enough to bother, when he already had enough on his plate, was reassuring. And despite the humiliation of weeping in front of the jaded spacer, she realized that she felt a lot better now. Worn out and drained, yes, but also unfettered, as though free at last from the weight of keeping it all bottled up inside. Most of the negative emotions that had overtaken her like an avalanche in the past few weeks had been rendered more manageable, and she would find a way to cope with each one on her own terms the same way she tackled every other challenge in her life.
Back on Ord Mantell she’d taken to heart his offer to stay on indefinitely. The implication had been clear that he was doing it for her benefit, and he made no effort to correct her assumption; indeed, he’d taken advantage of it. Swept up in the joy of his announcement and the romantic atmosphere of the evening, she’d almost slept with him that night; were it not for panicking at the last moment, she probably would have. The next day she’d been more prepared and willing to take that next step, but the mood had been ruined by a couple of amateur bounty hunters, followed by Han’s abrupt reversal. That sort of wound was bound to leave an emotional scar, and because reason and logic were weak balms when it came to healing her pride and an injured heart, her intuition told her only time would cure things. The problem was that time was not in great supply, not for either of them, and even though their sub-light trip to Bespin would take weeks, it was finite, and then their paths would diverge, possibly forever. It was a deadline she didn’t think she could meet.
On the other hand, some things were different from where they’d stood a few hours before. Han had admitted he cared about her—while no real secret, it was the first time he’d said it to her face. He’d stayed all this time because of her, risking his life just to come back for her; it was clear evidence that made her heart quiver as memories of the brief happiness they’d discovered weeks ago tantalized her once again. What would it be like to have that joy for longer than the span of a day or two? What would it be like without the lingering fear that he would just leave one day? She found herself longing for it, despite the inner voice that still cautioned restraint. He’d said a lot of things over the years when he thought it would get what he wanted, and had threatened to leave countless times besides.
What’s the word of a scoundrel worth?
Well, maybe that’s a bit harsh. He is still here.
Not only had he changed his mind during the battle above Yavin IV and again on Hoth—both times in direct conflict with his own best interests—but he’d passed up multiple perfect opportunities to leave, instead remaining to take one dangerous assignment after another. He’d even volunteering his services without pay on that mission to Ord Mantell—granted, it was a purely personal motive, but it had been his own idea.
Leia had trouble imagining he would do all of that just for her—not because she couldn’t picture Han taking risks, but because he took them for her sake. Yet the fact that General Rieekan had resorted to using Han to get her off of Hoth before it was too late supported the premise, didn’t it? Rieekan had a soft spot for her and fancied himself a guardian in lieu of her father, but he was no fool; he had anticipated Solo would go back for her, whatever the cost, and he was right. If Rieekan could interpret Han’s motivation so easily, why hadn’t she?
For someone who took pride in her ability to communicate and understand others, the history of miscommunication between the two of them humbled her. Why had it taken them so long to be honest with one another?
A pinging noise began to emit from the communications console, signaling the end of her time on duty. As she rose to switch it off, Han appeared at the hatch, ready to relieve her. “Hey, Sweetheart,” he said as he sidestepped around the motionless Threepio to reset the alarm.
“Hey.” Body protesting from sitting too long, Leia twisted around in an effort to relieve the kinked up muscles in her back, but then had to use the seat for balance as every other major muscle group began clamoring for attention. Stretching up toward the overhead canopy in a long, lavish movement, it wasn’t until she was mid-yawn that she noticed Han was ogling her. Too late, she tried to stifle it by covering her mouth, thinking she must look ridiculous buried in his oversized clothing; it reminded her of when she’d clomped around in her father’s shoes as a child, already pretending to be older than her real age.
When he continued to stare, lost in his own thoughts, Leia felt another childish impulse and stuck her fists on her hips. “Why don’t you take a holo? It’ll last longer.”
It only took Solo an instant to recover. “Your Highness, I had no idea you were into that sort of thing! I’ll get my recorder.” He made as though to exit.
“Oh, shut up,” Leia snapped, even as a genuine smile softened her tone. Tired as she was, it seemed some of her humor had returned at last. It had been a long time since she’d found anything to laugh about, and while his inappropriate timing could be annoying, something still kept drawing her back to him, like a Jawa to shiny things.
Maybe he’s right. Maybe I do like it when he’s being a scoundrel. It’s never boring.
“You look rugged out,” he said, his expression turning more serious. “You’re off for the next eight hours. Go back and get some sleep.”
Sleep. I think I’ve forgotten what that’s like.
When was the last time she’d had a full night’s sleep? Too tired to recall, she figured passing out would be the more accurate term if she lay down at this point, but it seemed such an extravagance when there was so much work to be done. “What about repairs? The hyperdrive—”
“Isn’t going anywhere. We’ve isolated the problem and there’s not much we can do. Chewie’s already bunked out.” He moved closer, and she assumed he was heading for the seat she’d vacated, but instead he stopped in front of her, standing so close that she imagined she felt his body heat. “There’ll be plenty to do when you wake up, don’t worry.”
Maybe some part of her had been waiting for just such a dismissal, because at last she capitulated, her shoulders dropping. “Whatever you say, Captain.” Glancing down, expecting him to step aside so she could pass, it took another second before she looked up again, realizing he wasn’t moving.
Instead, his gaze roamed over her face, as if drinking in every detail. The sudden awareness of his proximity made her flush, and she really wished she could get some control over that reaction because it was a dead giveaway. But she recognized the intense look on his features, too; the fact that he wanted to kiss her again was stamped all over it, as clear to her now as the scar on his chin. Perhaps she wasn’t the only one easy to read—maybe she’d only needed the deciphering key and the willingness to translate.
Nothing was said, no clear signal given as they seemed to migrate toward a midway point, drawn together like magnets, and Leia found something different this time when their lips met. It wasn’t the incandescent arc of pent-up passion, self-denial, and danger like earlier while hidden on the asteroid, or the heady rush of astonished pleasure like back on Ord Mantell. This was gradual, the softest of caresses, an unhurried exploration; it was rediscovering territory with a new appreciation. There was unquestionable heat in what became a series of shallow kisses, but it was more like a slow burn that reminded her of eating a spicy Crathulan dish, the steady excitement building up in her system until too late she realized her entire body temperature had ramped up a few degrees. He tasted of kaffe, musky and rich, energizing and necessary.
Her hands found their way up his chest and then her arms slipped around his neck as she lost track of time. His own work-roughened hands framed her face, his lips continuing to brush against hers, tantalizing, as if she needed any more coaxing, and her eyes opened briefly to meet his gaze in what felt an intimate sharing, a mutual breakthrough as half-hearted attempts to stop gave way to the need for just one more taste, one more affirmation.
“Leia,” he moaned, his breath mingling with hers.
Something in Han’s subterranean voice, in how he used her name like that, triggered a new surge of electricity through her, grounding her to the spot. The intensity made her gasp against his lips, and in that moment the truth penetrated her nebulous thoughts; right there, in the middle of the cockpit, still fully clothed and with nothing more than her name spoken, they’d soared right past flirting and straight into love-making. And what was more, she wanted it, wanted him, without a doubt.
This is crazy! I’m not ready for this yet, not by a long shot.
They needed to stop—now—before things got out of hand, before something happened they’d both regret. Tapping into some last remnant of self-discipline, she disengaged and pushed away. He let her go, but not before ducking down to steal one last kiss she didn’t attempt to avoid.
Han practically glowed in the dim lighting, his smile brighter than a spaceport beacon. That or an entire carafe of kaffe had just kicked in; considering how long it had been since any of them had slept, maybe one had. Trying to regain her bearings, she rolled her shoulders to resume some level of decorum, but his broad smile was infectious and in spite of her better judgment she mirrored it as she officially handed back the helm. “It’s your watch.”
Slipping out of arms’ reach and through the hatchway before Solo could sidetrack her again, she made her way down the short cockpit passageway. Only then did she press a hand against her check, feeling the heat still burning there.
I’m not running away this time. I ended that encounter in a respectable way, at the appropriate time, with dignity intact. Right?
Dazed, she wandered all the way into the main hold before coming to a stop, eyes wide and staring at the decking.
What just happened back there?
Every time she set a goal or limit, Han waltzed in to change it on her. Hadn’t she just decided it would require time to work things out—possibly more than this trip would afford them? Yet, in less time than it had taken her to reach that conclusion, he’d skipped right over half those issues with another knee-wobbling kiss. She knew better than to believe their problems were resolved; she knew that shoving the troubles aside to enjoy the moment didn’t change what awaited them on the other end. Those kinds of difficulties tended to catch up with a person, much like Han’s history with Jabba threatened to do now, when running was no longer an option and the interest earned was steep.
Standing in the center of the hold, she glanced from the holochess in the dining nook, to the abandoned engineering station, to the tiny galley, and finally the circuitry bay. The Falcon felt cavernous and empty all of a sudden, and Leia sighed, recognizing that this sensation of loneliness would become a common occurrence during their journey as they worked and slept in alternating shifts. She supposed that could be a good thing if she needed an excuse to avoid becoming any more entangled with the troublesome spacer.
But that’s not what you want anymore, is it? Not if that kiss is anything to go by.
Indeed, entangling with Han held an all new appeal, while the prospect of long periods alone sounded unbearable.
Four weeks of this…
Despite being almost punch-drunk with exhaustion, Leia still felt as though she’d received her own shot of kaffe straight into a vein. If she looked anything like Han had back there, it was no wonder she felt wired. With a resigned shake of her head, she crossed the rest of the main hold, and then entered the circular passageway that wound back around the ship. Maybe a few laps would settle her spinning thoughts enough so she could sleep.