Into the Fire

Chapter 23

An intrusive, annoying, and unfamiliar buzz woke Leia with a start. The subsonic rattling thrum of the Falcon and the warmth of Han behind her filled her senses as an ephemeral dream of soaring over endless dunes of golden sand on her own wings eluded her conscious mind.

With a grunt, Han shifted beside her as he reached up to the little control panel mounted in the bulkhead to kill the alarm, then continued the motion in a long stretch. Following suit, she added a little squeak of protest while contorting against him. When his hand dropped back down to rest on her hip and she felt him nuzzle into the nape of her neck, breathing in the scent of her hair, she closed her eyes again, more than happy to ignore the time. Then he muttered something in Corellian that she couldn’t translate, but she was pretty sure it wasn’t positive in nature.

They’d stayed up late, way too late, extracting every last selfish moment together before sleep won out, and they would no doubt pay for it today. This was the first time in weeks that she’d needed a wake-up call, and she realized with a groan that it was true in more ways than one: Their long idyll was about to end with the same abruptness as her dream.

Han moved behind her again, and for a second she hoped he might initiate more—anything to postpone the day, but she knew he wouldn’t, not this morning. They’d run out of time.

The man radiated reluctance as he let go of her and swung his long legs out from under the covers to sit up on the edge of the bunk. Rolling toward him, she touched his back, sliding her hand up his spine, wondering how many more times she could do this before he left. Completing the final repairs then making the hyperjump to the fleet rendezvous point, assuming that hadn’t changed by now, would take maybe two or three days at the most, and then he would have to leave. The physical ache in her chest that accompanied this thought shocked her with its strength.

Oh dear Goddess, I was wrong. Maybe this is worse than never knowing….

He glanced over his shoulder at her, his expression masked by the darkness of the cabin, but she imagined seeing the same thought reflected in his shadowed features.

“Back to reality, Princess.”

“Reality is overrated.” It was a bold statement that she would have balked at making four weeks ago, no matter how true. Wasn’t she supposed to be more mature now?

“You got that right.” Watching as he raked fingers through his tousled hair, she usually smiled at this habit of his, but now the gesture seemed to generate more melancholy than anything. As if sensing her frame of mind, he reached back and caught her hand to give it a squeeze. “Go back to sleep. It’ll be a few hours yet, but somebody needs to be up front when we hit their long-range sensors. We don’t want any surprises.”

It wasn’t until he shuffled toward the fresher and disappeared behind the door that she relaxed onto her back and debated whether to try for a little more sleep, but she gave up the idea. Thoughts of their recent lovemaking came back to haunt her; the way he’d kept switching from generous to demanding, tender to possessive, as if he couldn’t decide how to deal with her all of a sudden. His turmoil of moods had seemed to resonate within her last night, amplifying her own feelings as she grew attuned with him in a way that left her deeply stirred, and now it all kept looping in her mind like a damaged holo-disk.

He’s scared. He won’t admit it, but I can feel it.

It was a childish impulse, but she didn’t want to move—didn’t want to disturb anything, as if by doing so she could keep things from changing. At the same time, though, she felt the strongest temptation to jump up and join him in the shower in a blatant attempt to delay the inevitable. Both were juvenile responses and she rejected them with annoyance.

Where’s that single-minded resolve and dedication you’re famous for, Leia?

Don’t you mean infamous?

Staring up at the dark, smooth bulkhead arching above her, she brooded. She’d always feared that giving in to her feelings for Han might jeopardize her commitment to the Rebellion, and in a way, this trip had allowed her a neat excuse to sidestep that conflict, if only for a few weeks. With the journey now ending, the time had come to strap on the armor once more and resume her duties, yet she found the very thought of pulling on that tight white thermal bodysuit from Hoth—sealing it up to her neck, closing her body inside—was enough to make her shudder.

That genuine, spontaneous physical reaction confirmed her suspicion that their situation wasn’t the only thing dramatically changed.

If others can find a balance between life and work, why can’t I? There’s got to be a way. Who says it has to be all or nothing?

Defiance against the Empire was an obvious, necessary, and very personal objective, but she was also defiant by nature and couldn’t help feeling contrary now, wanting to resist and abandon this path they seemed trapped upon and blaze her own.

If there’s one thing we’re both known for, it’s breaking the rules, right?

Cocooning herself in the blanket, she buried her face into Han’s pillow and breathed in.

There’s got to be a way….

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