Into the Fire

Chapter 17

Something outside the normal sounds of the Millennium Falcon in flight brought Han out of a deep sleep and in an instant he was on guard, his keen senses focused on his familiar surroundings, listening for the slightest hint of danger while his mind rehearsed the moves it would take to retrieve the spare blaster from the drawer beneath his bunk. The strange sound happened again—a whimper only centims away from his ear—and as awareness returned, he relaxed, realizing the source of the odd noise. Curled up and spooned with him, her smooth bare back pressed up against his chest, Princess Leia occupied a corner of his pillow. With his free arm still draped over her slim waist, knees drawn up behind hers, he was surprised to discover he was cuddling. In his previous sexual encounters, sleeping wasn’t something he’d ever had the luxury or inclination to do. A satisfied smile now emerged as specific memories of how she’d ended up resting beside him filled his mind.

If this is a dream, it sure qualifies as one of your better ones.

There was another soft moan and his pleasant blur vanished—that was a sound of distress. Was she crying? Had he hurt her after all? Sudden worry clenched at his heart. “Leia?”

Getting no response, he leveraging up onto an elbow to peer down at her shadowed profile in the dim light, he confirmed she was still asleep.

Even now, despite the long-overdue consummation of their relationship and her being safe in his arms, she was out of his reach and suffering.

That’s some ego you’ve got there. Did you really think just bedding her would fix all her problems?

Dropping back down, he buried his face into his pillow.

Bastards!

He fought back the wave of pure rage he felt toward those responsible for tormenting her like this—for torturing her years ago and leaving this legacy to haunt her nights. Her dreams were the one place he couldn’t protect her and it left him feeling frustrated, powerless. It made him want to throttle every Imperial from here to Coruscant, and if it meant she might someday sleep without fear, he’d gladly tear down the Empire single-handedly. He still didn’t give a damn about the rest of the universe but he’d fight for her; he’d fight without hesitation because there wasn’t anything he could imagine more worthwhile.

Where do I sign up for that, huh?

Yet another distraught whimper called Han into action. Having no recourse, he pressed his lips near her ear and repeated what had seemed to help a few nights ago; he simply talked. “Sshhh, Leia. It’s okay. I’m right here…. I’m right here, Sweetheart. Tell them to fuck off.”

Imagining what her reaction would be if she were awake made him grin, but he was a firm believer in the direct approach and there was no sense in being civil with monsters.

Still spooning her, he cupped the curve of her shoulder and held her closer as he repeated the comforting words, waiting for her to settle down and for the sound of deep breathing to resume, for her to grow peaceful.

Leia never spoke about what had happened on the Death Star before they’d broken her out of her holding cell—not to him, not to Luke, not to anyone from what he knew. Standard procedure was for High Command to assign her a psychologist, but he’d heard that she avoided those sessions like she did the topic in general. What he did know was that she’d been through hell and that fact made him furious. Although he couldn’t blame her for never wanting to think about it again, her silence left him in the dark and sometimes his own imagination made that darkness worse. Sometimes, if he dwelt too long on the thought, he felt angry enough to do something stupid like smash a fist against an unyielding bulkhead, attempt to rip apart Wookiee-style the first Imperial he came across, or accept one of those long-standing military commissions Rieekan kept offering him. Logic told him reactions like that, fueled by blind rage, would do no good, but that primal urge to avenge her had nothing to do with logic and everything to do with pure male instinct to protect a mate.

That possessive thought, and the newness of Leia’s body pressed against his, started to have an effect and his body responded despite his reluctance to disturb her. Vivid recollections from last night flooded his thoughts: the look of unveiled desire in her eyes, the moment she dropped her last barrier and removed his borrowed shirt to expose all of her soft curved flesh to him, her intoxicating scent, her eyes rolling back in ecstasy beneath his touch while moaning his name. It was a losing battle—he would succumb to temptation if he stayed any longer. He rolled away, determined to let her sleep, and glanced at the chrono mounted into a panel of the bunk wall. It was later than he’d thought. If he got up now, showered and shaved, then did a quick inspection tour of the ship, it’d be about the time to wake up anyway.

It took sheer willpower to climb out of the bunk, but he managed and paused to make sure she was still tucked in under the covers before heading for the fresher.

When Han emerged some time later, Leia still appeared sound asleep, although at some point she’d rolled onto her stomach, one arm stretched out toward him. Grabbing the clothing he’d abandoned in the middle of the floor the night before, he returned to the fresher to stuff them into the autovalet, then opened a storage locker for a clean pair of undershorts. He slipped them on and was nearly to the door when he heard a sigh and turned to watch her shifting around on his bunk, pale arms almost glowing in the dim red-tinged light. The sight was such a complete novelty—so much skin beneath the dark cloud of hair spilling around her shoulders—that it took a second for him to realize she’d awakened as her head lifted up and turned toward him.

“Han? What’s wrong?” Leia asked in a cautious whisper, hints of confusion and worry clouding her voice.

“Nothing, Sweetheart. Something woke me up. I’m going to check on the ship quick. Go back to sleep.”

She made a wordless sound, then shook her head and sat up, drawing the white sheet up with her. “No, I’m awake now. What time is it?”

“Oh-six-thirty.”

Despite her previous statement, she groaned at his answer and rubbed an eye with the heel of a hand.

“How did you sleep?”

“Better…. Everything seems better with you….”

Han barely contained a snort. “I can’t believe you just said that.”

Ducking her head, she pulled the sheet a bit closer. “Neither can I. Ignore me.”

“Not possible.” Here was a side to Leia he’d always suspected but rarely seen, now fully realized just for him. He wanted to smooth his hand over her exposed shoulder, kiss her lips, and pull her back into his arms, but he restrained himself. Once he started, he wouldn’t be able to stop. Instead, he gestured toward the door. “I’ll be right back. Don’t go anywhere.”

“Where would I go?”

It was probably meant to be teasing, but her yawn made the comment sound innocent. With a last lazy smile, he hit the hatch stud and stepped out.

Buddy, has your luck changed!

After all this time, he’d begun to think it would never happen—that he was deluding himself for years with the idea that she would have him. It was the utter truth when he told her he’d never wanted anyone so much. He couldn’t explain his growing fascination with this smart-mouthed, pint-sized, headstrong woman who attracted trouble like a supercharged magnet and carried more baggage than an intergalactic luxury cruise liner. The cynical part of him had become convinced that bunking her would quench that craving—that once he’d seduced her, he could leave her and move on, his insane itch satisfied. At some point over the past two years, however, he’d begun wondering if that still wouldn’t be enough, that the craving might never be satisfied. Seeing her naked body in his bunk this morning had confirmed the suspicion. Hearing her dulcet voice confess how he made her feel left him wanting nothing more than to crawl back into her arms and immerse himself again. In his single-minded determination to have her, he’d fallen into his own trap, and what was more, he’d liked it there!

Walking down the corridor toward the cockpit, he couldn’t help feeling elated. Every argument between them and every frustrated night he’d spent dealing with unresolved lust—all of it had been a small price compared to the payoff. Last night she had sought him out, offering herself up of her own accord, and he wouldn’t take that decision lightly; he knew the obstacles she’d overcome to reach this point, the emotional risks she faced. It caused a glow in his chest in the vicinity of his heart when he considered how she wanted him despite his shady career, his evident lack of pedigree, his idiosyncratic nature, and his pending departure. This fact, more than anything, left him feeling higher than a kid with his first crush.

And then there was the physical part—how she looked, how she responded to each caress, how she awakened every nerve ending as she rubbed her supple body against his, nearly making him explode that first time she touched him. It had taken every trick he knew and every ounce of his self-control to last as long as he had. She’d felt like liquid fire engulfing him. The very thought gave him a delicious shiver.

Han reached the cockpit and ran a quick systems check, but he didn’t linger. He was really only there to assuage any possible guilt later since he had no intention of returning to the cockpit any time soon. Next, he headed to the galley to draw a tumbler of water to bring back to the bunk. Finishing the circuit around the ship, he returned to the cabin and cycled open the hatch to find the main lights up to full and Leia standing near the spare bunk, wearing his white dress shirt once again. Already freshened up, she was in the middle of running a brush through her long hair.

“Everything okay?” she asked.

“More than okay.” Moving past her to set the glass of water on the little recessed shelf above the head of his bunk, he turned back to once again take in the sight of her in his shirt. She looked even sexier now with all those implications of borrowing his clothing realized.

Without another word, he drew her into his arms, bending down to kiss her waiting lips. Leia was instantly malleable, just as he’d always imagined she would be, and that was all it took to make his arousal flare hot. He wanted—needed!—to feel her again, to lose himself inside her. The hairbrush clattered to the deck and there was no hesitation this time as her hands ran over his exposed torso, raking through his hair. There was a new desperation in her kiss, matching his impatience as he started pulling her shirt up, interrupting her explorations. Leaving her to find her own way out of the shirt now entangled over her head, his hands reclaimed her breasts. Then her mouth was back on his, alive and returning his hunger as her eager fingers wormed inside the waistband of his shorts before shoving them off his hips; they fell down around his ankles, already forgotten as her hands reached back to grip his ass, welding him hard against her, drawing a moan out of him. She was a quick study, all right, a discovery that came as no surprise, but he reveled in the confirmation. One of those slim hands wrapped around his ready erection, making him grunt as he arched into her. Not about to stop her this time, he probed her mouth with his tongue, matching her stroke. Rock-hard and throbbing within her grasp, he gave in to the power of his need by running a hand along the shapely leg already hooked around his, then hoisting her up in his arms. As her legs wrapped tight around his hips, slender arms around his neck, he navigated blind toward the closest bunk and nearly tripped when his feet tangled in the forgotten shorts; she didn’t seem to register the hitch, her mouth locked on his again. Kicking the shorts out of his way, he climbed into the bunk and deposited her on top of the blanket. He could already smell her arousal, the headiest perfume, even before his hand sought confirmation that she was ready for him, and his urgency to take her overrode everything else. With no fanfare other than another deep kiss, he was guiding himself back inside, thrusting all the way in, and she sang out in wordless pleasure, clutching at him, pulling him down to wrap her body around his. He drove into her again and was rewarded with a moan very different from the distressed one that had awoken him earlier—he needed to hear this new one, needed desperately to replace the old one in his mind with her renewed sounds of ecstasy as they undulated together. He gripped her shoulder for better leverage as his other hand slipped between them to stroke in time with his thrusts. Her beautiful face was a study in rapture, brown eyes opening now and again to meet his, reflecting his craving, and he could feel her beginning to clench up beneath him, her body trembling, and could see she was already as close as he was to a climax. Needing to do this, needing to push her past that last barrier before he could let go, he dropped his head to press his mouth to hers again before thrusting faster, knowing it was a race against time now. Then she broke away, gasping his name, and he barely had time to register her body rippling under him, around him, before he tumbled over the edge after her.

A tremor was still rolling through his body when he finally opened his eyes, lifting his head up from where it had fallen on her shoulder. “Leia,” he murmured, short of breath but needing to say her name, needing to confirm her reality. Sweat stung his eyes, making him squint as he rose up far enough to catch her expression of blissful wonder; she looked as dazed as he felt, and he could honestly say he’d never felt anything quite like that before. The lust? Sure. But the overwhelming need to possess someone both body and soul? Feeling like he was possessed? Never!

That’s love. That’s the one thing in this whole equation you never figured on.

She brought up a hand to press it against his cheek, her dark eyes wide. “What was that?”

Han couldn’t help it; he started to laugh, and it was only a second before she joined him in the emotional release. “I’d call that a hell of a great way to start the day.”

Leia’s hands were all over him again, clearly not finished, and then he felt her give a deliberate squeeze around him, causing him to let out a surprised grunt of pleasure. Watching his expression, she gave another experimental clench. “How does that feel?”

“Wonderful.” The sensation wasn’t new, but the fact this was the princess took the act into a whole other realm of eroticism and he felt his fading erection stir, his passion reviving.

As if you needed confirmation?

Rolling his hips, he grinned at the renewed look of astonishment on her radiant face. “Is that a request for a royal command performance?”

“I wish you…ahh….” Whatever she was about to say melted away as she gave up the effort.

Hearing this woman grow so ineloquent was the best compliment of all. He made a few more strokes before slipping his arms around her and rolling onto his side, encouraging her to move with him. Were they in his wider bunk, the maneuver would have been much easier, but as it was it took them a few moments of shifting around before he was on his back with her resting on top.

Meeting his eyes, she looked somewhat hesitant as she lifted herself up off his chest onto her knees and hands, sitting astride him. Her long hair fell like a curtain over them, but then she reached up to gather it all so that it cascaded down over one shoulder. When he lifted his hips, needing the friction, she rose with him and then paused there as his hips dropped back to the bunk, letting him slide most of his length before she sank down, taking him all the way back in. The sight and sensation nearly sent him over the edge again. With her poised above him like that, her body flushed with excitement, lips swollen from his crushing kisses, eyes hooded and locked on his, he recognized he was lost. His life was altered, and for the first time in his rather empty life, he began to believe in the possibility of a Force soul mate. She was right—they did make a good team, in ways neither had anticipated.

“You’re so beautiful,” he said, his tone reverent and unmasked.

“I love you.”

She had blurted it out by mistake; the conflict of surprise, terror, and vulnerability that suddenly warred across her face was obvious. They ground to a halt, staring at one another for a timeless second while it felt as if an airlock had cycled open, letting the atmosphere out with a whoosh.

“I love you, too,” he said, and discovered it wasn’t so difficult after all, saying it to her face. Without question it was more rewarding when she was awake, to see her eyes light up with pure relief and joy.

Leia dropped down onto his chest, burying her face into the hollow between his neck and shoulder. “Goddess help me, but I love you.” Then she was up on her hands once more, her mouth finding his.

It felt as if waves of emotion were radiating off of her like a force field, engulfing him. He gave up trying to understand any of this anymore; it was all so outside his experience, beyond anything he’d imagined or wanted before. The physical pleasure was there, familiar and powerful, but this…? He’d never anticipated being swept up with her. It was like winning the Galactic Grand Lottery. Twice.

You knew she was incapable of half-measures. You knew she’d dive into this with the same intensity she pours into every other cause she takes on. It’s no wonder she was afraid of this—she was right to fear it with you.

He knew of no better way to demonstrate his own feelings than to drive his hips upward again, lifting her up, showing her just how much she affected him. As she responded and they fell into an instinctual rhythm, he let her take control, overjoyed as she writhed above him, learning what gave them both pleasure and losing herself in the effort.

“That’s it,” he encouraged, his hands roaming her heated body, massaging her breasts as she rode him harder in search of yet another release, wanting nothing more than to give it to her. He recognized the signs and knew she was close, could see the look of absorption and pleasure in her expression, and as her pace increased, he could feel his own climax fast approaching—but this was another race he was determined to let her win. She didn’t make him wait long, and the supernova that had been building up within him flared white, overloading his system as he grabbed her hips and pumped into her.

Shaking, Leia lowered herself onto his chest, and while he loved the weight of her on top of him, she suddenly felt hotter than a core reactor going critical. Taking hold of her shoulders, he kissed her forehead then guided her off to the blind side of the bunk, their union finally broken. Despite feeling spent, he couldn’t help laughing again.

Sprawling out onto her stomach as much as the narrow bunk would allow, Leia seemed to regain her wits faster than her breath, although she still looked a bit overwhelmed, as if not very sure what to make of it all. “What’s so funny?”

“Guess I should’ve planned this a little better. I could really use that glass of water right now….”

“Oh.” After lifting her head just high enough to see over him, she groaned and dropped it back down. “It is awfully far away, isn’t it?”

“Parsecs.” Eyes closed, he exhaled loudly, his heart still racing even as the postponed postcoital lethargy caught up to him with a vengeance, leaving him drowsy. He barely noticed her move beside him, then his eyes shot wide open when she began climbing back on top. “Leia, I’m gonna need a few more minutes!”

“Hush. I’m going to get the water, Hotshot.”

“Oh.” Chuckling in relief, his head lolled to the side as he watched her lithe form dismount and pad over to the other bunk to retrieve the glass from the shelf. Her body was fantastic, breasts proportioned and limbs toned just right for her petite size. He knew that was more due to dedicated combat training than out of any sense of vanity. Sometimes, from the way she acted when he complimented her, he suspected she never considered just how naturally beautiful she was.

She’s going to give you a run for your money. You’d better be ready to keep pace.

Taking a long drink of water before passing him the glass, Leia then dipped down to retrieve the abandoned hairbrush. “I’ll be right back,” she said before disappearing into the fresher.

After getting up onto an elbow and taking a big swig, he took another mouthful and reclined once more, closing his eyes and holding the cool water in his mouth for a long moment to rehydrate before swallowing.

I don’t know what you did to deserve her, but you’d better not blow this.

She had picked him, giving what was probably the last of her innocence to him, and he was pretty sure that made him the luckiest man in the known universe. He only hoped he could live up to the honor.

The fresher door opened again and Leia reappeared. Pausing to grab the loose blanket from his usual bunk, she brought it with her as she climbed back over him and then stretched out, pulling the cover over them both. There followed a long, peaceful moment of shared silence as she snuggled up against his side, like some long-lost puzzle piece falling into place.

If humans could purr like a Trixian kitten, I’m pretty sure we’d both be doing it right now.

Han had begun to doze off when her soft voice drew him back to the present.

“I love you.” It sounded cautious, as if testing to see if his reaction might change, but there was no question of her intent this time.

“I know.” Tipping his head to find her gaze, Han’s smile was genuine. “You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me. You know that?”

What he got in return was a new expression from her, something between bemused disbelief and astonishment, as though she couldn’t imagine ever being that important to him. “Me? Even when I’m driving you crazy?”

“Especially then.”

Leia grinned then closed her eyes while sliding a hand along his chest until it rested over his heart, where it rose with each breath. “That’s funny. I was thinking the same thing.”


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