Into the Fire

Chapter 10

“Here, hold this for me.”

Standing beside Han, Leia accepted the rephaser he handed over and watched with mild curiosity as he worked on the rear shield capacitors—or at least that’s what he said they were. Only knowing how to turn them on and off from the cockpit controls, she didn’t have the slightest clue what they looked like.

A day’s worth of assisting with repairs brought home the reality of the extent of damage the Falcon had suffered. It was a miracle none of the life-support systems had failed. Although helping out as best she could with Chewie, and now with Han, she knew that the duo got more done while she was sitting up front. Even so, Leia found the experience both an education in the mind-boggling complexities of a spaceship and a crash course on the two spacers themselves. Both spacers were knowledgeable, innovative, and held a deep affection for their temperamental ship—things she’d already known but, to her regret, had never appreciated.

For instance, their work habits varied a great deal. Chewbacca became quite loquacious, whether it was about the specific repairs they were making (her translating skills faltered on the technical terms, so he would carefully phrase them to accommodate), his family and home, or previous Alliance missions and other adventures. She wasn’t entirely sure the Wookiee was supposed to be telling her some of those stories—not while Han remained so tight-lipped about his past—but she wasn’t about to stop him, either.

Han, on the other hand, tended more toward little conversation while actually working. Sometimes, he would become so focused that they remained silent for long minutes at a time. During those lulls, she would catch herself wondering how it would feel to be the center of his undivided attention like that, and then she would question her own sanity for feeling jealous of a ship. But when he did talk, he would stop to look right at her, giving her a taste of what it could be like. Their topics leaned toward current events, culture, and business within the Rebellion, but there were other things she wished the man would talk about—things that still needed to be addressed between them. Unsure of how to bring them up, she was even less sure that she wanted to know the answers.

Another discovery was how much she enjoyed helping Han in his work. Among other things, it gave her an excuse to study him up close: how his strong hands were careful but confident at their task, how his concentration caused little lines around the corners of his eyes, how a smile transformed his face whenever the ship responded positively to whatever he’d done. If he noticed when her gaze would drift from matters at hand to him, he didn’t mention it, and that just seemed to encourage her daydreaming. Sometimes, they stood so close that she could smell the faint trace of soap and cologne mixed with his more distinctive masculine scent, teasing her senses. There was also an almost-constant urge to touch him now—something she struggled against because there was still so much work to be done. Whenever he bent low to work on some circuitry or mechanism, it was all she could do to keep from digging her fingers into his thick hair or running her hand across his solid shoulders. Until now, she’d never felt an impulse to massage anyone, but that was what kept filling her mind as she watched him once again reach back with a grimace to rub his neck; she suspected he would approve, no matter how inexpert she was at it.

“Okay, give me the number-three hydrospanners.”

Leia squatted down next to the tray at her feet to dig through the loose tools until she found the one he needed then passed it up. Using the excuse that he might call for another tool right away, she decided to remain in that position and took advantage of the angle to let her eyes rove up his tall frame. This morning, he’d switched to an old work shirt, its sleeves shoved up past his elbows. Also gone was his low-slung holster and blaster, which now hung, for quick access, from a peg near the entrance ramp.

How strange he looks without that thing.

Star-tanned and lean, he attracted her in ways she wasn’t sure she understood. His exposed throat fascinated her, as did the musculature of his bare forearms, and the way his upper arms bulged in the shirt sleeves, and when his eyes crinkled like they were right now as he looked down at her with that knowing grin….

“Anything I can help you with?” he interrupted in a smooth purr.

Snapping out of her reverie, Leia felt herself flush hot. She straightened up, brushing her hands while trying to find something to say that wasn’t incriminating. “I was just thinking….”

“I noticed. Must’ve been pretty good to make you blush like that.”

None of the old retorts, the usual denials and mean sarcasm, felt appropriate anymore; all she had left was either truth or deflection and she wasn’t ready for the truth yet. “Why did Chewie say that you knew the weaknesses of Corellian KDY ships better than most within the Imperial Navy?”

Clearly not anticipating such a random question, Han’s head reared back. “He said what?”

“I asked him how you two knew about that blind spot on the Star Destroyer. He said you knew the Kuat Drive Yards’ ships better than anyone.”

Han’s features clouded over as if a summer storm were passing through.

Realizing too late that she might have stumbled across a taboo subject from his past, Leia backpedaled. “We were just talking. I only asked because it’s a good weakness to know about…. Was that the first time you’ve exploited it?”

Solo continued staring at her.

He’s doing damage control again, isn’t he? As if you’d know one way or the other if he was lying.

“No, that was the first time. But it’s not something I want to advertise or else they’ll fix it.”

Nodding, she said, “Right. My lips are sealed.”

His gaze dropped to the lips in question and stayed there, as if mulling over ways to open them.

This is ridiculous!

She was blushing again, and it didn’t help when he leaned against a bulkhead brace, his narrow hips slanting at a distracting angle as he gave off that laid-back, cheeky vibe that got to her every time.

Not missing this, Han began an idle tapping of the hydrospanners against the palm of his opposite hand. “What else did he tell you?”

In an effort to appear nonchalant, Leia shrugged and answered. “That you’d won the Falcon in a sabacc game.”

“That was no secret.”

“He said you cheated.”

That maddening smile was back, although she couldn’t tell if it was due to fond memories of his own escapades or amusement at her lame attempt to redirect his attention. “I just cheated better. Lando thought he had the game rigged but I figured out his system.”

Blinking at him, her pleasant buzz fizzled out. “Lando? The same Lando?”

Han had the decency to look abashed, some of his cockiness fading. “Yeah.”

With a heavy sigh, Leia closed her eyes. She was starting to wonder if Solo’s past was nothing more than an endless supply of unhappy people, and if, someday, she’d be just another old acquaintance with a complaint. In any case, now was not the time to be dependent on one of those people—not when they had so few options.

“Hey, it was a long time ago. Like I said, he was perfectly happy cheating me. I just beat him at his own game.”

“Well, in that case, I’m sure all’s forgiven.” The sarcastic comment slipped out before she could check it and Han looked on the verge of snapping out a remark to match, but then seemed to stop himself. Not wishing to start an argument, she was grateful for his self-control. “I hope he doesn’t hold a grudge,” she added in a softer one.

“Yeah, me too.” Han’s thoughts were masked once more.

Not for the first time, Leia wondered what he wasn’t saying. Moments like these served as reminders of just how little she really knew him. The rare missions they’d carried out together, along with the calmer pauses between, had left her with the impression he was a more honorable, reliable, and optimistic man than he would admit—that under all the bravado and cynicism was, in essence, a good man. Of course, he could also be overconfident and irritable, but something in that blend still appealed to her. He’d also proved loyal to those few he considered friends, and had little tolerance for fools or incompetence—all qualities she appreciated because she shared them.

And yet his life before their meeting was a mystery—not so much a closed book but rather one missing entire chapters. This had forced her to piece together the little bits she overheard of him roaming from one corner of the galaxy to another, enjoying a freedom her younger self envied. But the adult in her recognized a starker truth; his had to be a lonely life at times. There must have been hardships, betrayals, and bitter disappointments along the way to shape the cynic he’d become. Could a man be an optimist and a skeptic at the same time? She hadn’t thought so until meeting Han, but, as usual, he defied the rules. A mystery and a contradiction, he was a challenge that she got the feeling she could spend the rest of her life trying to figure out….

“You’re thinking again,” Han broke in on her thoughts.

Leia shook her head and lowered her gaze to study the tops of her boots. “It’s nothing.”

You just saw his reaction when you touched too close to his past. You know next to nothing about this man. Why are you so ready to hand over your heart?

Despite being unable to think of a single good answer to that ultimate question, here she stood, wishing he would open up just a little bit so she could invest everything.

Han straightened up and dropped the hydrospanners into the tray on the floor, then closed the distance between them with one step. “I know you, Sweetheart. It’s not ‘nothing.’”

Leia wavered with each breath, his body so close she could feel his heat. It would take no more than to lean forward to touch him, and she desperately wanted to do that, but instead she closed her eyes. “But I don’t know you.

A moment later, there was a finger under her chin, tipping her face up toward his, and then a thumb stroked along her cheekbone. The gesture was simple but his gaze drew her in like a tractor beam.

“You know what’s important.”

Something within her wanted to settle for that, wanted to let go of all her doubts and just accept his comment at face value, but her instinct for self-preservation wouldn’t allow it. “But…that’s not fair, Han. My life…my entire life is in the public domain.” She pointed in the direction of the cockpit. “You can pull my name up on that damned datapad and know everything about me. My grade average in the university. What I did on my eleventh birthday. My favorite color. Everything! But all I know about you is what little you and Chewie tell me, or what came from the arrest and inspection records Intelligence dug up while hacking the Imperial Internal Security files. And even that hits a wall ten years back—anything before then is a complete blank.”

“You read my records?”

She swore Han’s eyes twinkled, and old habits made her stiffen in defense. “Of course I read them. That’s my job.”

“Of course,” he agreed with an exaggerated nod. “Convenient.”

Her thoughts turned murderous.

I’m trying to be serious about whatever the hell this is between us and he still wants to tease!

The texture of his thumb as it rubbed against her cheek again, his fingers still along the back of her neck, caused a warm effervescence to spread up her spine, making the fine hairs stand up. It wasn’t helping. “You really are obnoxious sometimes,” she pointed out in a softer tone.

“What about the rest of the time?”

“Don’t change the subject.”

“Who’s changing the subject? It’s still about me, right?”

She narrowed her eyes, now beginning to feel genuine anger. Was he incapable of being serious just once?

“Hey, I told you I’d give you access to the ship’s computer. It’s all there, both the official and the real logs. Weren’t you paying attention?”

That statement made Leia pause, stealing some of her momentum. Lost in the emotional upheaval of the days before, she had forgotten.

Han shrugged. “They’re just the ship’s logs, not journals, but it’s something. As for the rest…if you really need to know something, you could just try asking. But it’s not that interesting.”

“Yes, well…I’ll be the judge of that.” Embarrassed, she offset the admission by lifting her head to a regal tilt.

If there’s going to be any sort of future in this, I need to start owning up to the fact that I’m interested in him that way.

Solo’s expression was suddenly an odd mix of mirth and mischief. “My favorite color is green, same as yours.”

In spite of herself, Leia felt a smile tease up a corner of her mouth, reminded of how much she’d liked that dark green shirt he’d worn that first day back on Ord Mantell and, in particular, how it had complemented his eyes. What a shame the shirt had been lost, abandoned along with the slinky black dress he’d given her as a Majority gift.

Only then did it dawn on her that at some point, he must have actually researched her extensively to know her favorite color like that. Her stomach flip-flopped.

No doubt enjoying the parade of emotions across her face, Solo’s grin widened. “I have no clue what I did for my eleventh birthday but it probably got me in trouble.”

Leave it to Han to miss the point.

“That wasn’t what I—”

“I attended the Naval Academy for two years before I was kicked out.”

Having always suspected a formal advanced military-style education of some sort, this revelation didn’t surprise Leia. Before she could inquire further, though, Han went on with the affected air of someone doing a formal interview.

“I enjoy the occasional smashball game, long walks on a beach, a good bottle of wine, and watching you blush…. Yeah, just like that.”

Leia rolled her eyes. “All right, I think that’s about—”

“And I love it when you do that.”

Mystified, she froze. “Do what?”

“Roll your eyes like that. It drives me crazy.”

It was obvious she was losing control of this conversation. “I give up, this is—”

“Want to know what my grade average was?”

Rolling her eyes again, she shook her head. “You’re insane. I don’t know why I—”

As if she’d pushed him too far, Han’s reaction was swift and decisive. He swooped in and kissed her. It was solid, affectionate, and over before she had a chance to do more than close her eyes. The distance was now gone between them, even as he leaned back enough to gauge her reaction.

“I still think you’re insane.”

His look grew determined, as if he were reassessing the challenge, then he bowed down to kiss her again, this time much more slowly.

Maybe I’m insane, too, was the barely coherent thought that went through Leia’s mind before her misgivings dissolved for a little while.

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