Into the Fire

Chapter 12

Mug of steaming kaffe in hand and feeling exceptionally upbeat, Han strode down the short corridor leading to the cockpit.

If that unmade bunk next to yours is any indication, things are finally going your way. Whatever you’re doing, just keep doing it!

“Morning, Sweetheart,” he called out as the cockpit hatch slid open. If that sounded more chipper than was decent for this early in the day, who could blame him?

Leia had been concentrating on the comp screen in front of his usual seat. From the way she jumped and quickly reached to clear the screen, he guessed she was doing a little digging.

“Good morning.” Relaxing back in the pilot’s chair, she glanced at her chrono. “You’re early.”

“We’ve got some business to talk about.” Dropping into the copilot’s seat, he triggered the ship’s intercom. “Chewie, get up here.” Flipping the link back off, he pivoted and gazed at Leia with a pleased grin. Despite her long hair being bound yet again, the lack of makeup, and the unflattering clothing and snow boots, she looked awfully good this morning.

She remained silent, but there was obvious curiosity in her expression and maybe a little trepidation, as if she expected him to broach the subject of her whereabouts last night. Then she added an arched eyebrow and tilt of her head in what he swore was a silent challenge.

I don’t know what’s gotten into her since yesterday but I like it!

They’d had staring matches in the past—mostly angry battles of will—but maybe this was the start of a new and better game. As if reading his thoughts, her other eyebrow rose, communicating feigned innocence of whatever he was implying by his grin.

Careful there, Solo. She’ll be fierce competition without that embarrassment handicap.

Their peaceful little standoff was interrupted as Chewbacca arrived. «What’s the matter?»

“I’m calling a meeting because I’ve got a decision to make and I figured I should put it up to a vote.”

“How democratic of you,” Leia mused, easily fielding the lightweight scowl he tossed her way.

“I’m doing this for your benefit, Your Worship, so listen up. We’ve got a choice—we can either keep doing these damned shifts the rest of the way to Bespin, or we can stop the ship and try to repair whatever’s wrong with the sensor array.”

Leia finally broke eye contact to glance up at Chewie before returning to him. “How long do you think that will take?”

Han shrugged. “No idea. Won’t know until we’re out there. Could be a simple fix or it could take days. Worst case, we tack on a few extra days for nothing if it still doesn’t work…. Then again, if we can get the sensors up and running, we can switch to autopilot and quit the four-hour rotations.”

Leia nodded, appearing to appreciate why he sought their input rather than just make a decision as captain—this was comfort versus tighter rationing. “Do we have enough supplies?”

“For a few extra days? I think so.”

“Then I vote we at least stop to look. I don’t like flying blind for so long in this region.”

They both looked up to Chewbacca, who gave a big nod. «I agree.»

Han slapped his hands on his knees and then stood. “That’s settled. Let’s get to work.”

“Han…?”

The audible and uncharacteristic unease in her voice made him stop short and turn back to her in concern.

“Do you need my help out there?”

Meeting her look, he was abruptly reminded of her dislike for spacewalks. Hell, dislike was too mild a term for the panic attack he’d witnessed weeks ago on Ord Mantell. That she’d worked up the courage to offer assistance now despite her dread gave him a rush of affection.

She’s a real trouper, this one.

“Nope, I need you to stay right here and test the systems when we tell you to. Just keep an eye on things. You know where the quad cannon controls are—don’t be afraid to use them if anyone drops by.”

With clear relief, she accepted the assignment with a nod.

“Go take a break if you need one, Sweetheart. Then me and Chewie’ll get suited up.”

“Okay.”

She rose to her feet beside him, intending to pass by and follow the Wookiee out. Acting on an impulse, though, Han caught her arm and gently pulled her back until she butted up against him. As her face turned up to his in surprised curiosity, he took advantage of that to plant a kiss on those irresistible lips.

His intention was to end it quickly before Chewie could notice her absence, but Leia seemed to have other plans. Just as fast, she gripped his shoulders and her mouth pressed against his with a passion that caught him off guard. More than happy to leave her at the controls, he savored the feeling of her initiating their embrace. She held him close a little while longer, her lips just brushing his, before finally stopping. When her eyes opened, she searched his face for something, as if she’d just administered a test and was analyzing the results. Maybe she had.

What exactly happened last night and how the hell did you sleep through it?!

His tactic for the past year had been to keep her off-balance with escalating innuendos and compliments and attention, an enjoyable game he hoped would someday tip her in the direction of his bunk, but he got the distinct impression she’d just flipped it on him.

“You’d better—” he started, loath to break the mood but dreading the inevitable criticism from Chewbacca if they were caught fooling around with kissing techniques while the Wookiee waited to get on with repairs.

“I’d better…” she agreed, releasing him. With obvious reluctance, she stepped away and palmed open the hatch.

Watching her petite figure recede until the cockpit door closed, Han drew a deep breath and then let it out in a sharp huff.

Why do I suddenly get the feeling that four weeks won’t be nearly enough?


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