Into the Fire

Chapter 11

It was late, more than halfway into her eight-hour sleeping block, and yet Leia found herself wandering the circular corridor of the Falcon once more, like a specter rattling around in search of resolution, looking for someone or something to ease her loneliness. She’d slept more this round than the last time she’d been in her cot, but the nightmares had returned to leave her chilled and aching for companionship. Luck was not with her tonight when she discovered there was no convenient and charming Corellian holding vigil in the lounge to distract her this time. Instead, the acceleration couch was abandoned, the top of the holochess table bare. Rather than a rumbling voice to cancel out the ones from her dreams, there was just the soft hum of the environmental systems and the sub-light engines. The ship was so still that her own soft footsteps on the metal deck plates echoed around her, the only sensation of movement in the main hold coming from the occasional blink of colored indicator lights at the unmanned engineering station off to the side.

With each circuit around the ship, the princess found herself pausing outside the bunkroom door, resisting an inner voice that whispered it would be okay to seek Han’s company like she had the night before.

Don’t be so naive—approaching him in his bunk is inviting more than just conversation.

There was no doubt that he would welcome her. He would hold her and soothe her fears; he would protect her like he had so many times before. But he’d also propositioned her countless instances, almost from the day they’d met, often quite seriously, and she couldn’t reasonably expect him to stop with a hug anymore, not when she wasn’t even sure she wanted him to stop.

All this time, she had rejected the idea of sleeping with Han as an unneeded distraction, an indulgent and impractical fantasy that would be foolish in the end…but of late, her entire world had spun around and those reasons only barely outweighed her deeper desires.

She continued walking as all the conflicting obligations awaiting them at the end of their journey swirled through her head. At the passageway to the cockpit, she paused with the temptation of joining Chewbacca and using him as a sounding board since he knew Solo better than anyone—but then she resumed on her path. Chewie didn’t deserve enduring the angst-ridden ramblings of a confused and lovesick woman, nor being put in the position of compromising his close friendship with Han.

Luke came to mind next. Concern over his wellbeing never left her, but she missed him in particular tonight. Yet even though she considered him a close friend, this was a topic she’d never felt comfortable bringing up with him. She knew Luke’s crush on her had quickly morphed into mutual fondness—if there was any truth to the rumors Han spread about Luke’s escapades with a certain buxom med-tech, he was well over his infatuation. Yet there was still a lingering sense of something profound between them, something she avoided examining on purpose. Those intense feelings didn’t necessarily conflict with how she felt about Han, but they muddied the waters just the same.

No, the person Leia missed most tonight was Lieutenant Aldritch, the only close female friend in her adult life. Worry about Kristin’s safety following the battle on Hoth compounded the loneliness. Leia’s rocky relationship with Han had become a pet topic of Kristin’s, and the older woman was sure to have an opinion on this matter. Then again, it was easy to guess what Kristin would say—in fact, what she’d been saying for the past year: Quit fighting the obvious; Life’s too short to squander rare opportunities for happiness, even temporary ones; Everyone takes a risk in love. That kind of wisdom came from years of experience and Leia appreciated it as such, but her own situation just seemed so much more complicated than most.

What she really needed was someone to either talk her out of what she was contemplating or to tell her to go for it—but just do something. In matters both public and private, she always strove to be thorough, calculating, a perfectionist…but it was a learned behavior that often rankled against her nature, that of trusting her instincts and making quick decisions. Her tutors had called it reckless, that urge towards action, but it had served her well more often than not. And what did her heart say now…?

I wouldn’t stop him. If Han asked me now, I wouldn’t say no.

The revelation caused her to halt in her worn path down the steps into the lounge.

The most significant obstacles were still between them, foremost being the reluctant understanding that their time might be finite. Was she willing to settle for a romance with a built-in deadline? Still, the remaining shard of a once-optimistic young woman held out a whisper of hope: What if Han successfully paid off Jabba and came back? All her life she’d been a gambler of sorts, willing to accept the risks if the rewards were worth it—and if there was anyone she was willing to bet on surviving the odds, it was Han Solo. How he made her feel with each smile and soul-stirring kiss was a reward on which she would be wagering everything.

Whether or not she acted on them, her feelings for Han were present and real. What advantage could be gained by denying them any longer? Which would be harder to deal with—loving and losing him, or always yearning and wondering what might have been? A day ago, she had feared the loss more, but now she wasn’t so sure. At least one option had the potential for leaving happier memories.

“'Trust your feelings” was one of Luke’s favorite sayings. Leia sighed at the absurdity; he would no doubt be appalled to know she was using that as a rationalization for sleeping with his best friend.

Leia’s circuitous route brought her back once again to the bunkroom hatch where she stared at it for a long moment, then glanced at the slim chrono strapped to her wrist. There were still three hours until her next shift. Tired though she felt, the prospect of going back to her bleak cabin alone held no appeal, while the restful sleep of the night before, spent in Han’s company, tantalized her. Maybe a compromise seemed in order tonight. Maybe she could find a middle ground where she could stop to test the waters and find some decent sleep in the bargain.

Making her decision, she double-checked the recurring alarm on her chrono, set to go off in time to relieve Chewie in the cockpit, and switched it to vibrate-only. With a steadying breath, she opened the hatch and stopped just inside the room as it closed, waiting while her eyes adjusted to the dim red light escaping from the fresher compartment.

Taking another symbolic step, Leia chose one of the spare bunks. She reached to draw back the covers, sat on the edge and kicked her boots off to the side, then paused, allowing her gaze to settle on the occupied bunk adjacent to hers. Han was sleeping on his stomach, head turned away, with one arm stretched out beneath his pillow.

Close enough now that she could hear his deep breathing, it was so easy to imagine how it would be to lie beside him, to fit up against and allow his strong body to shield her from the rest of the universe. Even while his protective streak chafed against her independent nature at times, it was a comforting fact. His mercenary attitude had been her convenient excuse to keep him at arm’s length, but she felt ashamed to admit she took his steady interest for granted. She knew the pittance the Alliance paid him didn’t warrant the risks he took. Despite their occasional squabbles, how many times had he fought beside her, defended her, and sacrificed more than anyone could reasonably expect for a woman who at best treated him as just a friend and at worst…? It was clear that his motivation wasn’t greed or lust—it seemed something much deeper and far more forgiving.

Is that what love is like?

Hands at her sides, she gripped the edge of the bunk and squeezed her eyes closed.

You had to go there, didn’t you? Love?

There was no sense dodging around the fact anymore. If any hint of doubt had remained of her feelings for him, it was silenced by the keen longing that overwhelmed her now, being so close and yet apart.

He’d demonstrated often enough through actions if not words how he felt, and for too long she’d struggled from one justification to another to deny the truth, but it was time to be honest.

Reaching to untie the drawstring of her loose pants, she slipped them off and laid them at the foot of her bunk. Still in his large shirt, she stretched out on her side under the covers and propped up the pillow. From that position, she watched the still figure in the adjoining bunk until at some point her eyes closed.

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