Into the Fire

Chapter 16

Left standing alone in the center of the bunkroom, Leia debated what to do. The part of her responsible for logic and common sense insisted she get into her bunk and try to sleep, but all the other parts demanded something wildly different.

It had been a good day—the best in a long, long time. Even her disagreement with Han about the near-future, though it had ended on an unresolved note, had answered some old questions and not devolved into a shouting match; that alone was a major breakthrough. Dinner was nearly perfect, the only thing arguably missing being Luke’s presence…although had he been there, she suspected she and Han would not have been so open about their own rediscovered détente.

And we were rather obvious tonight, weren’t we?

The shared smiles, the casual embraces, and that disorienting interlude in the galley; those were things they might have gone out of their way to hide from Luke, not wanting to flaunt their late-blossoming romance in his face. Then again, since it seemed that Luke had accepted the fact she preferred to keep his friendship platonic, maybe he would be okay about this, too.

He’ll have to be. I’m afraid we’re past the stage of pretending this isn’t happening.

Although the air was cool, as were the deck plates beneath her bare feet, the hot shower had warmed her enough to compensate. Her hair was still slightly damp and hung heavy down her back. She reached up to lift it away and drape it over one shoulder, then glanced down at herself. His shirt was less revealing than that slinky black number she’d worn back on Ord Mantell, but it still seemed to have the same effect on Han and she’d half expected him to kiss her moments ago, or at the very least say something suggestive, but he’d done neither.

He’s waiting for a signal, waiting for you to make the move.

Wasn’t that what her friend Kristin had said on the eve of her mission to Ord Mantell? That everything probably hinged on her decision?

All this time she’d criticized Han for being unable to commit…and yet here she struggled to do just that.

Is that irony or does that just make me a hypocrite? It’s time to make a choice.

Leia mustered her resolve and stepped forward to stand in front of Han’s double-wide bunk. She reached down to draw back the blanket and top sheet then turned around to sit on the edge. Heartbeat fluttering, she took in a deep breath and worked at calming her nerves.

What’s there to be afraid of? You’re already in love so it isn’t as if you can avoid that particular heartache. Would it be so bad to let this man love you back?

She knew that there might be little chance of a future for them together, but after the string of horrors that seemed to comprise most of her adult life, wasn’t she overdue for a positive experience, no matter how short-lived? Something completely of her own choice? Something she’d been denying herself for too long? Rather than reject this opportunity, she would embrace it as her own; she would embrace him and accept him on those terms. The situation wasn’t perfect, but between their outstanding bounties and the war, it was unrealistic to think there might ever be a perfect time. She had everything to lose and nothing to gain by waiting any longer.

Her continued virginity had been a matter of choice, due more to a lack of suitable opportunities than any prudishness. In the rarefied world she’d come from, sex involved ramifications far beyond emotional entanglements and pregnancy—things like dirty politics, embarrassing media scandals, family alliances, and power plays were the norm. Although raised to be on her guard and rethink any impulse, this had not meant she’d remained uninformed. She understood the mechanics of sex, had a rough idea of what to expect, and had even seen a pornographic holo-vid while at the university—it hadn’t been the least bit romantic but it had eliminated some of the mystery. Aside from occasional personal gratification to release stress and find sleep, however, she’d never done more than flirt and kiss with the occasional suitor. How could she hope to please a man who’d traveled from one end of the universe to another and no doubt dabbled extensively along the way? Just how many women had shared this bunk with him and was it foolish to think she was special or would be the last? It was a rare event when she doubted her own capabilities, but tonight seemed full of exceptions.

The fresher door opened and Han stepped out. His shirt must have gone into the autovalet unit because he was bare-chested now, and for the first time, Leia felt no compulsion to look away in embarrassment but instead let her eyes roam over his exposed form, appreciating the lines of his lean body. Defined but not overly developed, his muscles were earned through honest—well, not-so-honest—work, displaying just the right combination of muscle and hair and broadness of chest before tapering down to narrow hips. Was she biased in thinking he appeared the perfect specimen of masculinity?

In the process of undoing his belt, Han faltered mid-stride when he looked up and spotted her sitting on his bunk. Belt forgotten, he stared.

Leia would have wagered that her blush was bright enough to glow in the dark, and although she did not look away, she had no clue what to say either. This was yet another topic never covered in deportment lessons. Instead, she tried a shy smile.

That seemed to snap Solo out of his shock. “That’s my bunk,” he stated for the record, as if double-checking to make sure she hadn’t made a mistake.

“I know.” Leia silently went on to thank whatever deities were assisting tonight for the fact that her voice didn’t abandon her.

Han nodded then and rewarded her bold initiative with the heart-stopping lopsided grin that never failed to make her wobble a little. Moving forward, he sat down beside her, close enough that their arms and legs brushed, and bent over to begin pulling at one of his boots.

She wasn’t sure what she’d expected—him pouncing on her or dancing a little jig, perhaps?—but just sitting and watching while he struggled with his footwear had never been part of the fantasy. Passivity was not her strong suit. Getting to her feet, she moved in front of him, dropped down to one knee, and reached for his foot.

He met her gaze as he leaned back to prop himself up on his elbows, allowing her to lift up his boot. She grasped hold of the heel and tugged it off. It was without a doubt the most deliberately sensual thing she’d ever done and, thus, she was unprepared for what she found. An unregal snort of laughter escaped her lips.

Han’s smoldering expression morphed into puzzlement. “What’s so funny?”

“Nice sock,” she quipped. It was bright red, like the warning beacon on an airlock.

“They’re lucky,” he said as he lifted his other boot. She obliged, catching the heel and pulling.

“You have lucky socks?”

“They’re working, aren’t they?”

Leia had to concede that point; she wouldn’t have played the odds on this night happening. Nevertheless, the socks would have to go before her mood was completely destroyed. Yanking them both off and flinging them behind her without a second glance, she got back to her feet. Then she hesitated again, unsure of what to do next.

Still reclined on his elbows, Han seemed happy to let her look as long as she wanted, not the least bit self-conscious. His tanned skin was a wonderful contrast with the white of the turned-back sheet, and there was a thin strip of paler skin along the waistline of his trousers where the tan ended. There was also a fascinating definition of muscle right at the front of his hips, an angled line that disappeared below the beltline but led her gaze toward the obvious evidence of his anticipation. He still hadn’t moved.

This is ridiculous. I gave the signal! We might not get anywhere if he leaves this all up to me.

“You’re sure about this?”

Although he’d practically read her mind, his question was a surprise. But it demonstrated his understanding of the risks and ramifications of her timing as well as the basic reason why she still hesitated now, and she was grateful for that. His expression was an open mixture of concern, boyish anticipation, and poorly hidden lust. But the fact that he asked, as though worried she might change her mind at the last second, was enough to bolster her courage. If he cared so much that he was still willing to let her walk away at this critical juncture, then she was making the right decision.

She had to lick suddenly dry lips. “Yes. Ninety-seven percent sure.”

The Corellian’s smile broadened in relief. “I like those numbers. Come here.”

Sitting upright, Han held out a hand and she took it, allowing him to draw her close until she stood between his knees. That curious feeling was returning, as if the universe had shifted into a lower gear and slowed down as her senses heightened and focused on what he was doing, how he made her feel. He kissed the back of her hand and then turned it over, opening it to kiss her palm.

“Anything I can do to make it ninety-eight?”

“I think you just did.” She let her fingers curl over his cheek, feeling the dark stubble along his jaw. Spellbound by the texture, she ran a thumb along the ridge of the scar on his chin, something she’d always wanted to do. “Tell me how you got this.”

His hands reached to touch her, resting on her hips. “The scar? Cantina brawl with some off-duty stormtroopers when I was at the Academy. But you should’ve seen the other guy.”

“Hmmm.” She smiled and moved her hand toward the back of his head, watching her fingers disappear into his thick hair, adoring where the longer locks in back curled behind his ear. Then her eyes locked on his hazel ones, so infused with molten gold, and she opened her mouth to say something, but the words disintegrated into a sigh as his hands began gliding up her sides, down her back, then up again. There was a solid thump in her pelvic region as a new rush of warmth spread through her body. Even through the fabric of his borrowed shirt, she could feel the heat from those talented hands making her dizzy as his thumbs rode over her stomach, then up to graze against already hardened nipples. For a moment, she lost the ability to breathe and swayed toward him as his hands lingered there, thumbs continuing to trace the outlines, before sliding down once more. This time they dropped past her hips, down until they reached bare skin beneath the hem of the long shirt and curved around the contours of her thighs. She gasped as goose bumps arose everywhere and her hands dropped to his shoulders to keep from losing her balance.

“Was that ninety-nine?” There was some of the old teasing in his deep voice, the familiar Han who so often drove her to distraction, but there was something else in his tone that told her it was okay to open up and trust him in this, their latest adventure.

Her lingering nervousness eroded under the growing flood of pleasure. The last time he’d touched her like this, she’d blamed half a bottle of precious Alderaani wine for her loss of control; this time, she was sober as a Jedi knight, intoxicated only by his touch, and she wanted all of it—the joy, the intimacy, the chance to do something for herself on her own terms.

I want him and everything that entails. I want to be his.

Han’s eyes didn’t leave her face, intent on her reactions as his hands slid upward again, this time inside the loose shirt to explore underneath. His fingers were calloused from a career of working with tools and freight and caused a wonderful friction as they roamed over hidden curves and valleys, igniting fires along the way. She knew the strength of those hands, had watched them countless times over the years, and yet was amazed by how gentle they were now. Just like when he flew the Falcon, always seeming to coax a little more out of his ship, his hands now moved with a confidence that left her with the same keenness to respond.

“You feel so good, Leia. Let me see you.”

His voice, his request, the way he said her name, made her pulse throb. With strangely heavy limbs, she pulled the shirt up over her head and felt his hands claim the revealed territory even before she could toss the garment onto the spare bunk. Naked now, she’d never felt so vulnerable, and yet seeing the look of rapture that overtook his handsome face, she’d never felt quite so empowered.

“You’re beautiful,” he breathed in a reverent tone as his hands followed his gaze, fanning those flames already lit, and he bent forward to press a kiss to the flat, trembling plane above her stomach. “Leia.” Using her name like a caress, he tasted her newly exposed flesh, reassuring and exciting at the same time, making her shiver.

Cradling his head in her hands, fingers buried in his hair again, she wanted to watch him, but her eyes closed of their own accord as a quake rumbled through her body when his mouth moved upward. Powerful hands steadied her, keeping her from swaying off-balance as her head fell back. She moaned as those sensuous lips reached a breast, taking in a nipple for the first time. Teasing her, his tongue swirled around, flicking over the tip; pleasure raced from there to coalesce in all the strategic spots, leaving her light-headed.

He’d always driven her a bit crazy in the past, but what Han was doing now gave “crazy” a whole new definition.

When he suddenly stopped and held her far enough away so that he could stand, she took advantage of the new vantage point to touch him, her hands moving across his bare chest, for the first time able to do so without awkwardness or fear of what he might say. The combination of skin and muscle, wonderfully masculine, left her wanting to press all of her skin against his and slide her entire body along his solid frame, and she found herself wishing he would hurry up so she could indulge in that urge.

But Han took his time as one of his hands fell to the small of her back while the other rose up, bunching her hair as he held her head still and bent to kiss her. Any last doubts melted away as he conveyed the passion he’d held back for so long. All the other kisses they’d shared seemed only a prelude to this as his mouth pressed hard against hers, hungry, his tongue invading to stroke along hers in erotic exploration, a demonstration of things to come. His stubble was rough against her chin as he gathered her up against his body, almost lifting her off her feet as he ground against her. He’d never handled her like this before, never demonstrated his strength and desire to possess her, to lay claim to his territory by branding her as his own with a searing kiss.

Without easing off, his wandering hand slipped between them, down her belly and lower to explore the now-wet folds below; it was a gentle touch, careful, yet she gasped against his mouth and her fingers dug into his back as a new surge of electricity coursed through her, lighting up every nerve ending.

The reality of Han—a man with whom she’d sparred for so long—touching her this way and knowing her in the most intimate way imaginable, causing her to lose control like this, made Leia tremble with a riot of emotions.

“It’s okay, Leia.” His rumbling voice sounded breathless as his lips grazed across her jaw toward her ear. “I’ve got you.”

Something had to be short-circuiting in her thought processes because far from blank, her mind was inundated with a rush of jumbled thoughts: He had her; He was going to have her; He wanted her. She didn’t know for sure what she wanted anymore other than more of what he was doing. “Please, don’t stop.”

His knowing chuckle teased her, his breath hot against her neck now. “Don’t worry, we’re just starting.”

His hand came up to catch one of hers and brought it down between them to press her palm against the front of his trousers, a not-so-subtle hint that it was okay for her to explore lower as well. Enthralled and emboldened, she ran her fingers along the hidden length of hardness trapped there, tracing the outline. She was elated and reassured to find him respond in much the same way she had a moment ago. She rubbed harder and was rewarded with a shuddering groan, then leaned in to kiss his chest, tasting the salty tang of his skin and breathing in his scent that mingled now with her own arousal. She liked the tickle of coarse chest hair against her nose. Acting on an impulse, she kissed one of his nipples, running her tongue around the tiny pebble like she’d felt him do before flicking across the tip.

Han jerked as if he’d stuck a finger in a live circuit fuse and let out a surprised grunt. “That’s it,” he announced, clearly reaching some abrupt decision. Grabbing her hips, he turned them both around and guided her backward until she bumped against the edge of his bed. “Into my bunk. Now.”

More than happy to let him take the lead, Leia sank down onto the recessed bed and scooted back to make room for him, then gathered her hair up to toss it over one shoulder out of the way as she reclined against the bank of pillows lining the wall.

“Gods, I’ve waited so long to say that,” Han muttered as he hurried with undoing his belt then the closure of his now-tight trousers, then pushed them down to reveal a pair of black boxer-briefs that tented out with the hard evidence of his arousal.

Admiring the ripple and flex of exposed muscles as he stripped, Leia couldn’t help herself. “If only I’d known you had those socks….”

Kicking his pants off to the side, he spared a moment afterward to gaze at her in mild disbelief, hands on his narrow hips. “You’re going to forget about those damned socks. You’re going to forget about everything for a while.”

Leia’s breath caught short at his words as she tried to imagine how blissful that could be; to lose all her worries and dark memories, to leave behind who she was for even one moment, sounded just this side of paradise.

If he could do that for me…?

As if he’d sensed that desperate wish, Han’s expression grew more serious as he removed his shorts in one last hasty motion, then straightened up and moved to kneel on the bunk beside her. She’d never seen him fully naked and certainly not in a state of arousal; he was a bit intimidating and quite fascinating and she didn’t know where to look, yet was too spellbound to look away.

“Relax, Leia. It’s just you and me here.” Although his look was intense and hungry, there was a tenderness about him that gave her another rush of affection. His hand touched one of her ankles before running up to her thigh, reviving the banked heat. Then he gave a gentle tug downward, indicating she should slide lower on the bunk. She complied, willing to trust his directions. As she came to rest with just her head on a pillow, his hands went to the mattress at either side so he could lean crossways over her. “Trust me and I’ll show you how to fly.”

His words were like magic, the promise of yet another rescue the perfect salve to her soul. Gazing up at him from this new position, she couldn’t remember ever seeing anyone more handsome, more potent. His sheer presence hovering over her made her heart trip then race to catch up. She tipped her head back a little, chin rising, and it was all the invitation he needed as he bent at the elbows to descend on her mouth, stealing her breath once more. She held his head and rolled toward him to keep from separating as he moved to lie alongside her, then she finally surrendered to that urgent need to press against him. His long body felt magnificent and hot, and it was pure instinct that made her drag a leg up along the top of his thigh.

Leia couldn’t tell which part of what he was doing now was threatening to send her into overdrive, but when his hand once again moved down between her legs to resume a tender investigation, she no longer cared. Still propped up on one elbow, it had only taken a few moments for him to find just the right combination of pressure and speed, anticipating her need. She grew wanton, shifting to grant him better access, throwing her leg over his hip, absolutely needing to pull him closer. As his erection pressed hard against her sensitive skin, she was filled with a sudden desperation to blend with him—to not only blur the lines but erase them completely.

Han’s mouth moved below the line of her jaw, laying down a string of kisses along her throat as she arched back to expose more. “Relax. Just let me touch you,” he whispered, his provocative appeal sending another shiver throughout her body.

Although feeling wild now, she obeyed by easing her grip and lying back, closing her eyes as he brought her body to life. Then she let out a little gasp, tensing as he introduced a finger into her. She shivered as he ran his tongue along the outer shell of her ear before sucking the lobe into his mouth, teasing it with his teeth. Her body was responding of its own accord now, moving in sync with his stroke as her mind finally began to disconnect. It felt as if the atmospheric controls of the room had spiked into the tropical range and a fine sheen of sweat broke out all over.

“Have you ever touched yourself like this?” His hot breath on her ear was making all the hairs on that side of her body stand at attention.

“Sometimes…” she whispered, surprised not only by the question but by her own honesty.

It must have been the right answer because he moaned into her hair. “Tell me what you think about…”

The fact that he wanted to know her innermost desires felt far more personal than anything else he’d done yet and she opened her eyes, needing to see his face, to see his reaction as she responded, “You…Kissing me. Touching me like this.”

Leia hadn’t thought his expression could smolder with more intensity, but he proved her wrong as he paused to meet her eyes, as if her words had struck a chord within him. “I’ve never wanted anybody this much, Leia. Never. I can’t stop thinking about you.”

His confession, and how it matched her own, was a pleasure she hadn’t anticipated. As he kissed her again, she moaned along, unable to contain it any longer as her body surged up against him, needing more. Her own hand raced down his arm to encourage and guide his caress, knowing where he wanted this to go now, feeling her body beginning to tense up and tremble with building energy. That he was fulfilling one of her fantasies brought her closer to the edge far faster than she expected; ready to let go for him, her free hand flew up to cup a breast, toying with the nipple in an effort to find that release. So close….

“That’s it, Sweetheart. Fly for me.”

Han’s mouth moved down her neck to her chest. Her hand gave way to his sensuous lips and she felt his tongue swirl before sucking hard. And then, as if he’d flipped some hyperdrive switch, suddenly, she was soaring, her body lit up with an explosive flash, sweeping away everything for a blissful eternity as her body rocked against him.

Too soon she returned to the present to find Han casually kissing a trail between her breasts, not quite allowing her to come all the way back down. “That’s my girl.”

Flushed and dazed, she opened her eyes to find his once more.

My girl?

His words sounded wonderful. She felt wonderful. “That was—” Aftershocks made her gasp and clutch at him, her body still charged with potential, the neurons firing at random from his roaming touch. Giving up on words, she let out a laugh of pure joy.

He matched that with his best languid smile. “Better than you imagined?”

So much better.”

His gift was another series of kisses. “I could watch you do that all night…but I don’t think I can wait much longer.”

Realizing too late that she’d neglected his own pleasure, she pulled him closer for a deep kiss while running her free hand down his lean body, rediscovering the boldness that was her nature. Captivated by what she found, she broke away to watch her fingers explore the remarkable combination of velvet skin and rigid flesh, and she could see and hear his immediate response.

If I can make him feel the way he just made me feel….

As her fingers wrapped around him to give a gentle stroke, his groan deepened and his pulse throbbed in tune with hers, but before she could repeat the motion, Han surprised her by grabbing her hand to stop it. He brought it up to kiss her palm and then ran his lips down her forearm.

“Not this time, not unless you want to end this trip right now. It’s been too long for me.” As if to emphasize his own urgency, he shifted his grip on her wrist and guided it down to the bunk at her far side, pinning it there as he rolled her flat onto her back and positioned himself between her legs.

A whole new wave of excitement and apprehension sped through her as his eyes found hers. He changed his grasp to lace their fingers together, and although she’d never told him and he’d never asked, he obviously recognized her hesitancy for what it was. Allowing some of his weight to rest on her, he started another slow kiss, at first tender and then with building hunger while his free hand slid down between them, finding her center again to restore the flames before guiding himself inside with one slow but steady movement. The sudden mixture of pleasure and pain and fullness as her body gave way made her tense up and she let out a little cry in spite of herself.

“Leia…. Did I hurt you?” he choked out as he trembled above her. His head dropped next to hers, the rough stubble of his faint beard rasping against her shoulder. He didn’t move for a long moment, allowing her time to adjust before his hips lifted and then lowered again.

“No, it’s okay. It’s…. Oh….” It was almost sensory overload, so many things at once as the initial shock and pain faded, leaving behind the most amazing and unanticipated pleasure. There weren’t adequate words.

As he rose up onto his straightened arms and began a slow rhythm of his hips, the exquisite sensation of him moving within her, filling her, stole away her ability to speak. Eyes closed, all her awareness focused where they were joined. His heat and hardness and the intense sensation of fluid friction from his slow series of strokes in and out was unlike anything she’d felt before, the intense sharing more than she’d ever imagined. He overwhelmed and completed her, fulfilling that desperate and inexplicable need that had haunted her since the first day they’d met; here was the answer to that powerful yearning whenever she’d thought of him, all so obvious now. On instinct, her legs locked around his lean hips, forcing him deeper.

Han stopped abruptly, trembling above her.

Confused and alarmed, she looked up at him, wondering if she’d done something wrong.

“I won’t last long. Not this time.” There was sincere regret in his shaky voice, a rare glimpse of vulnerability in the midst of his most powerful moment.

She pulled him down for another kiss. “Don’t stop.”

“Leia….” He began again, nearly sliding all the way out before thrusting back, forcing a moan from both of them. Then his movements fell into a driving rhythm and she tried her best to match him, to learn the steps in this new dance he was leading. Coated now with his own sweat, radiating heat, he pressed her into the mattress as his pace increased. Her own arousal began building again, deep within like a static charge, the potential making her skin tingle and its fine hairs stand on end. But before that energy could explode again, Han’s rhythm broke, becoming erratic as he surrendered to his own need. He let out a little strangled cry as he climaxed and shuddered to a stop, then collapsed on top of her, out of breath. He was heavy but he’d made sure not to crush her and she was surprised to find that she didn’t mind the weight—it was almost reassuring.

Still breathing hard, Han lifted his head to meet her eyes and give her an extremely satisfied grin—not teasing, not smug, just happy.

Oh, he could patent that smile and I’d buy every one of them!

Han’s mouth dropped open and he looked on the verge of saying something, but then seemed to hesitate and instead pressed his forehead against hers. It was such a simple gesture, as if trying to sync their minds as their bodies had been moments before. She closed her eyes in harmony, feeling as though she’d just been given an unexpected reprieve from a prison sentence of emotional denial. Had she really almost convinced herself that she didn’t want or need this sort of thing in her life?

I must have been delusional.

“It’ll be so much better next time,” Han murmured as he lazily kissed her shoulder. “I promise.”

As she ran her hands across his shoulders and down his flanks, memorizing every inch, she breathed, “Who’s complaining?”

Maybe this is what a Spice habit is like. I can’t stop touching him and I don’t even want to.

His diminishing presence within her was yet another novel feeling and she was left with a sense of emptiness and longing when he shifted his weight off her and slipped out. Watching as Han reached behind them to grab a pillow and sprawled out on his back beside her, she felt a kaleidoscope of emotions mixed in with a glow of pleasure and contentment—she was tired and yet stirred all at the same time, a very curious combination.

She started rolling toward him but was stalled when there was a tug at her scalp and she realized he’d trapped her hair. “Hey, Flyboy.”

Following a nudge to his arm, Han obliged by sitting up until she cleared the mattress and tossed her hair back over her pillow. Now free to move about, Leia shifted around and pressed against his long body once more as his arm drew her in so she could use his shoulder as a pillow. He felt a little clammy now that he was cooling down. Still trying to reconcile all these new discoveries with what she’d always imagined lovemaking to be, Leia nearly laughed again. “Next time? You sound awfully sure there’ll be a next time.”

Han made a little choked sound, craned his neck around to look at her, and cocked an eyebrow as if he were still in possession of some universal secret. “Care to make a little wager, Your Worship?”

“No, and if you keep calling me that, there definitely won’t be a next time.”

His old teasing smile was back and at full wattage. “You say that now….” He followed up the unfinished challenge by taking advantage of the arm around her shoulders to lazily trace a finger along the outer circle of her closest areola. That was all it took to make her twitch and perk right back up. “Never tell me the odds.”

Leia didn’t know whether to be pleasantly surprised or alarmed that he already knew how to play her like a Zeltron lute. “That’s what I get for falling for a cheater at sabacc,” she moaned. Unable to help herself, she drew her leg up along the top of his, obeying that still-lingering urge to touch as much skin as she could.

He really is gorgeous. If only you hadn’t been so stubborn.

“Fall, huh?” Han pondered aloud.

“Maybe. A little. The verdict’s not in yet.”

At first, she’d supposed he was teasing and she’d responded in kind, but now something made her stop and reconsider. While she was sure of her feelings and knew he did care about her—he’d said as much and demonstrated it on an almost-daily basis, she also knew that sex did not necessarily equate love. There was still a possibility he was playing her, opportunist that he was, but she supposed that if this were to turn into a colossal mistake, at least he would be gone soon and no one would need to know…. The thought was unwelcome yet the calculating politician in her still logged it away.

Han let out a big sigh. “I can live with that.”

Something in his response left her dissatisfied with having settled for the status quo. Just how close had she come to chasing him off? She certainly hadn’t given him much incentive to stick around. How many other men would have written her off long ago as frigid? His persistence despite everything left her humble. “Thank you for not giving up on me.”

Han sat up, his expression a sudden mix of confusion and concern as he looked down at her, clearly baffled by her incongruous confession. Reaching out, he fingered a lock of her hair, tugged it a little, and then tucked it back behind her ear as the lopsided smile returned. “Never gonna happen, Sweetheart. Not on my watch.”

Even though she suspected he’d misunderstood her meaning, her breath caught and for an instant she felt the threat of tears.

You are not going to cry in front of him again! Certainly not now!

Sitting up as well, she groped for the covers to interrupt the emotional pattern before it snowballed into something embarrassing. Assisting in pulling the sheet up to their waists, he then joined her in lying back.

“Ah, Kest!” Han broke the comfortable silence they’d settled into.

Up on an elbow again in an instant, Leia eyed him in cautious expectation.

He looked downright uncomfortable. “Uh, are you by chance on any sort of birth control?”

Leia shook her head in wonder. “Now you think of that?”

“Well, you sort of took me by surprise.”

To be fair, he had a point. She decided to cut him some slack. “Don’t worry. I started contraceptive shots right after we set up the base on Serricci.”

One of his thick eyebrows rose again. “Expecting to see a lot of action, Your Hotness?”

That’s what I get for going easy on him.

“No, Laserbrain. I had enough to deal with and didn’t need the inconvenience of my cycle on top of everything else.”

Han made a little “Oh” face before nodding and closing his eyes. “That’s a relief. My shot’s overdue. Wasn’t planning on this little detour.”

“No…” Leia breathed in agreement, although his statement stirred up a whole new set of questions to ponder: Was his expectation of surviving his encounter with Jabba so low that he hadn’t bothered with what had evidently been a regular thing? What if she hadn’t been so prepared? And even so, prevention methods were not infallible and nature often found a way—what if she became pregnant?

Years ago, despite her political goals, she’d entertained dreams of someday finding a husband, starting a family of their own, and being normal—or as normal as being a member of royalty would allow. But war and Alderaan’s destruction and her new pessimism had shoved those ideas so far back in her mind that she’d forgotten they existed. Yet here was a man who had not only awakened her womanhood but was tempting those thoughts back out into the light. Still, she couldn’t decide which was harder to imagine right now—Han as a father or herself as a mother.

Don’t even go there, Leia. The last thing you need is to introduce that sort of complication into this mess. Just enjoy this for what it is…whatever it is.

Changing tracks, she wondered what might have happened had their escape from Hoth gone more smoothly. The likelihood they would have reconciled before he left would have been remote. Instead, they probably would have parted with barely a civil word spoken and her life would have become that much emptier. It was a depressing thought that caused her to hug him a little tighter.

“Is it wrong that I’m glad the hyperdrive failed?” Leia mused aloud, surprised by her own words—her duty and dedication still seemed very much intact, and yet she was finding this four-week diversion nowhere near as odious as expected. In fact, things had taken a dramatic turn toward the positive.

“Wrong? Nah…but if all you’d wanted to do was to bunk me, you could’ve just asked.”

You walked right into that one, didn’t you?

Still in the middle of formulating a suitable retort, Leia jumped when the cabin hatch hissed open to reveal a very surprised looking Chewbacca. The Wookiee ducked his head and disappeared into the fresher with a subdued bark of apology. Too late, she let out a knee-jerk curse as an equally ingrained sense of propriety made her dive under the covers.

Laughing, Han picked up the end of the sheet and peered in at her. “Don’t worry about Chewie. There aren’t many secrets left on this ship.”

“But….” She didn’t really have a follow-up and stopped.

What did you expect? There’s only one fresher and you didn’t exactly announce your intentions tonight, did you?

“Hey, if he didn’t like the idea of you being in here with me, you’d know about it. Trust me.”

Sighing, she closed her eyes and tried to center herself. In the span of a few days, she’d gone from openly despising Han to sharing his bed, and their first night together was already common knowledge before it was over. What would the Wookiee, and—by extension—everyone else, think of her? Some people like Kristin might approve or even applaud—if their suspicious tinkering and comments were anything to go by, but there would doubtless be others not at all impressed by her choice of partner.

Leia shrugged it off. What business was it of theirs? The world she’d represented and would have come to rule no longer existed. She was now officially persona non grata and she chafed at playing the cherished yet pathetic icon of Imperial oppression for High Command. By her own insistence and persistence, she’d carved out a new niche for herself within the Rebellion by becoming what amounted to a glorified quartermaster and procurer, something that kept her busy, kept her involved, and provided her the opportunity to go out on missions whenever she could convince them to let her off the leash. In truth, she no longer had to answer to anyone unless she chose to do so.

Grinning into the side of Han’s chest, Leia found she liked that idea. She hadn’t picked this man out of any obligation or political expedience; she’d picked him because of who he was to her, how he made her feel when she was with him, and because the feelings seemed mutual. Becoming his lover had been a deliberate and very personal choice and she wouldn’t regret that. While they didn’t always agree and Han didn’t always understand her, at least he tried and that was a stroke of luck she wouldn’t take for granted.

The fact he’s handsome enough to make you stammer is a nice perk, though, isn’t it?

Getting back up onto an elbow, but making sure this time that the blanket preserved what was left of her modesty, Leia gazed down at her fine-looking spacer. She took in his expectant expression and wanted to say something about how she felt, but was unsure if he would welcome it. Intuition told her he might, but old fears remained that he would shy away from commitment-laden words like “love.” If she guessed wrong, it could be the surest way to chase him off—it dimmed her elation to think that saying something so heartfelt might have the opposite effect of her intention. Longing to understand him better, she ran a finger along his lips.

Han kissed her fingertip. “You okay?”

Leia nodded and her eyelids drooped a little, feeling a shade embarrassed. “You’re used to being interrupted in here?”

“No, but after you’ve spaced for a while, it’s just not a big deal anymore. We’ve both seen a lot worse.”

Not wanting to know, Leia grimaced and desperately hoped she hadn’t just earned a ranking on the spectacle list. This new compromised privacy was a concession she would have to make for being involved with a man who lived on such a small starship. Although her life had become just as nomadic as his was on this tramp freighter, she was usually still afforded some semblance of privacy due to her former status and this was a culture shock. Strange how those sorts of mundane details never played a part in any of her fantasies involving Han. What else had she left out?

“Don’t worry. Now that he knows, he’ll be more careful about his timing. Maybe we’ll have to set up a warning system.”

“What, like hanging one of those socks outside the door?”

Han burst out laughing. “Yeah, like that.” A big yawn followed as his back arched up, then he scratched his head.

Too late to look away, she was unable to stop her own sympathetic yawn.

“Tired?”

Feeling a tad embarrassed, Leia nodded.

“Bored already?”

She dropped her head down on his chest. “I could fill a datapad with words to describe you, but ‘boring’ would never be one of them.”

The fresher door cracked open again and Leia lifted her head in time to see the Wookiee opening the cabin hatch.

“Hey, Chewie,” Han called out, stopping him. “Douse those lights, would ya?”

Chewbacca surveyed them both for a moment before nodding and giving a big toothy grin. «Looks like I win the pool.» With that, he switched the lights off and disappeared into the corridor.

“Smart ass!” Han shouted after him before the hatch slid shut, plunging the room into near total darkness except for the sliver of dim red light coming from the fresher entrance.

Straining to adjust her eyes, Leia squinted down at him. “What? A betting pool?”

“Troublemaker,” Han grumbled as he rearranged his pillow. “Long story, Sweetheart. I’ll tell you in the morning.”

“Forget it, I don’t want to know.” Stuck somewhere between horrified and amused, she gave it up as a lost cause and dropped back down to the mattress. Dealing with Han Solo was like having the gravity generators switched on and off without warning; half the time, she couldn’t tell which end was up.

You might as well get used to it. Scoundrel, remember?


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