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Into the Fire

By suezahn

Romance / Drama

Chapter 1

The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom. —Bell Hooks

There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness. —Friedrich Nietzsche, On Reading and Writing

The Rebel Command Center of Echo Base, on the ice planet of Hoth, was in shambles. Heavy, sporadic explosions from the savage conflict raging outside rocked the cramped room, causing equipment and occupants to sway. The latest unnatural quake was violent enough to tip the massive plotting console in the center of the room past the balance point; the tall screen cracked and fell to the icy floor, the loud shatter adding to the chaotic din.

Princess Leia Organa struggled to keep her feet on the trembling floor as she rushed from one station to the next to monitor the battle, even as system after system began to fail. The acrid odor of fried electronics burned her nostrils but couldn’t mask the coppery tang of blood now infusing the air. Despite a throat already hoarse from fumes and anxiety, she shouted out orders.

General Carlist Rieekan had made one last attempt to convince her to join the rest of the noncombat personnel on the next transport out. He was an old friend and advisor, one of the few remaining ties to her former life—to a world that no longer existed, but she’d stood firm until he’d relented with a sad smile and murmured goodbye, leaving her to her chosen fate as he headed outside to lead his troops in the rearguard defense.

Still, she wasn’t alone in staying behind to delay the overwhelming Imperial assault; there were a handful of stoic Rebels with her who likewise, for personal reasons or simply duty, had ignored the orders to evacuate. As for the last princess of Alderaan, she had finally lost her desire to run anymore. She still hadn’t assimilated the reality that Han Solo was finally making good on his long-standing threat to leave. When the report had come back that Commander Luke Skywalker was shot down, his snowspeeder crushed while leading a brave assault against the approaching Imperial AT-AT walkers, it had felt as though the massive ceiling of ice overhead had already caved in on her. Once again, in less than the span of a single horrible day, the fragile support structure she’d rebuilt her life upon had been reduced to nothing. It was one blow too many.

Many brave fighters were dying for a greater good out on the frozen planet’s surface, a cause worthy of their blood. It was time to make a final stand with them, now that she had lost everything else. It seemed fitting, this one last selfless sacrifice.…

At least this should be quick.

“Are you all right?” a loud voice called out from across the crumbling room.

Leia recognized the deep voice and turned in shock from where she and a fellow Rebel had been hunched over a monitor. Captain Han Solo stood in the doorway to the Command Center, his eyes finding hers despite of the turmoil between them. A rush of conflicting emotions flooded through her but it was incredulity that boiled to the surface. What’s he waiting for—the hangar bay to collapse?

“Why are you still here?!”

“I’d heard the Command Center was hit.” Ignoring her chilly reception, he started clearing a path through the shaking obstacle course of debris and then began climbing over the smashed plotting console.

Still trying to follow the struggle against the invading army outside, she refused to spare him another glance but yelled over her shoulder, “You’ve got your clearance to leave.”

The bitterness she felt toward him of late, spurred on by his public announcement the day before that he really intended to leave this time, made her voice as hard and cold as the icy walls surrounding them. She could only guess why he wasn’t gone already, but it was obvious now that he intended to interfere with her plans to fight to the end.

“Don’t worry—I’ll leave. But first I’m gonna get you to your ship.” He’d almost reached her now, ignoring the bedlam as he continued on course, locked on to her like a laser targeting system.

See-Threepio, his golden visage glowing in the diminished light and fine ice crystals sifting down from the cracking ceiling, struggled at her side as the ground trembled again. “Your Highness, we must take this last transport. It’s our only hope!”

The protocol droid’s plea stopped Leia for a moment. Hope? What hope is there?

Not only would she die here, but it now appeared that this insane, stubborn Corellian fighting his way toward her would die as well, a pointless gesture considering how hard he’d worked at denying that this was his fight. But it was her fight and she planned to take out as many Imperials as she could before it was over. She looked back to the tall smuggler just as he stepped around a last piece of smashed equipment to reach her side. Not about to let him impede, she dodged out of reach and slipped around behind him, leaving Han to spin around in disbelief as she stumbled to the other end of the shaking Command Center.

“Send all troops to Sector Twelve to the South Cove to protect the fighters,” Leia croaked out to another soldier still seated at his post. No doubt it was the blistering fumes that caused her voice to crack on the last word. There were still ways of escape for those troops outside where the X-wings and a few remaining transports were parked for a quick evacuation.

With a loud boom, a more powerful explosion rocked the room and almost knocked them all off their feet. Along with the new wave of fear that swept through her came the sudden realization that she was unarmed. The possibility of being captured by the Empire again roiled her stomach; resolving not to let that happen, she cast a panicked glance around for a blaster. What bitter irony that would be, caught in the middle of a battle without a weapon in a war she’d helped start.

There’s a fitting epitaph: “She wasn’t prepared.”

The base PA system crackled to life, echoing around them. “Imperial troops have entered the base. Imperial troops have—” The urgent announcement died in a burst of static.

A strong, irresistible hand clamped onto her upper arm, tight enough to leave a bruise. Solo had caught up. Unable to help herself, she looked up into his face and found a grim expression there that said no more wisecracks, no more games, no more running away from him. “Come on—that’s it.”

In his eyes was unrefined emotion, so raw and open to her for once that the rest of the world fell away from her awareness. Through all the layers of hurt and resentment she’d constructed since his rejection after Ord Mantell weeks ago, for one timeless second, it appeared that Han did still care and had guessed at her intention today. His hold on her arm tightened until she winced, breaking their silent communication, and she turned her head to the soldier seated in front of her. “Give the evacuation code signal.”

With her last duty dispensed, she looked back to Han, suspecting her countenance wasn’t nearly as brave as she wanted it to be as the new wave of adrenaline hit her system. Maybe you aren’t ready to die just yet.

Grabbing her other arm from behind, Han pulled her around ahead of him and steered her toward the exit. Almost too late, she struggled against his unyielding grasp long enough to turn back and give one last order. “And get to your transports!”

Without ceremony, he shoved her through the open hatchway and out into the crumbling corridor.

“Oh! Wait for me!” Threepio called out from behind as they ran for their lives.

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