Billy Travis had never met a Jedi.

He knew what they were though. His grandpa read stories to him about brave Jedis who went off to face all kinds of dangerous adventures, fighting for justice and freedom throughout the galaxy. In the mind of a six-year-old, the Jedi was as close to a fairy tale creation as one could ever get. He had fallen asleep listening to tales that filled him with awe and wonder that took him to equally amazing places in his dreams. The Jedi had strange powers and they knew things most other people did not and when the Jedi used the Force, it was like magic. His father, whose memory was vague now in his mind, seemed to come alive most when Billy remembered the bedtime stories he used to tell about the Jedi. It was only after Billy went to live with his grandfather Orin on Bakura, did he understand that his father had been read the same stories as a child. Billy knew that the Jedi had gone away, that something bad had happened that they had suddenly disappeared like the last drop of water in a well. It saddened him but then Billy still had the stories and when one was six, the stories were quite enough.

When Uncle Josiah had brought him to see his mother, Billy had been met at the hangar by a tall, blond man, dressed in black whom everyone seemed a little in awe of if not a little afraid as well. Billy did not deny that he felt a similar feeling of fear as he stared at Chris Larabee for the first time, with his imposing manner and his hard eyes. However, Billy saw the lightsabre hanging off his belt and realised that his escort to see his mother was none other than a Jedi. A real life Jedi! Still, Chris was not what he expected a Jedi to be but Billy soon came to the conclusion that he was better. Unlike the Jedis who had to run off and fight enemies all the time, this Jedi spent time with him. He showed Billy his lightsabre and told him real things about Jedi, not just stories but things Billy knew had happened.

Billy also liked how this Jedi could make his mother smile.

The lesson he had learnt first and foremost in his life was that his mother was an important person. She was not like regular moms; there was something about his ma that made her extra special. Granted Billy did not get to see her much and grandpa Orin explained why that was but Billy wished she were not always so sad. Ever since his father had gone away, the young boy noticed that most of all about the mother he adored. The sadness in her eyes she did not speak of, even when she was with him. Sometimes, Billy wondered if whether looking at him made his ma sad though he could not imagine why.

However, when he came to visit her at the rebel base, a thing he had never been allowed to do, he realised that the Jedi made his ma smile and for that alone, Billy loved Chris Larabee. For the month that followed his arrival, if he was not with his ma, he was with Chris although Chris gave him the same look of sadness too, although not very often. Billy wondered whether it was just a grown up thing. Thanks to the surrounding forests around Siraj 2, Chris took him fishing and sometimes, they would just sit on the grass and Chris would use his magic to bring some of the animals to them. The more benign creatures that roamed the forests seemed to know that they were in no danger and Billy remembered with delight how a wood sprite deer had come right up to him and let him touch her furry pelt before skittering away.

"Ma, you think Chris will win?" Billy asked as he sat on Mary's lap.

Mother and son were seated on the floor with a good many other members of the Rebel Alliance base on Siraj 2. Everyone was gathered inside the confines of the empty berth, the venue Chris Larabee and Vin Tanner had chosen for their sparring sessions, eager to watch the proceedings. There was very little to do in the way of entertainment and it surprised Mary how many people had come to watch the Jedi and his apprentice practicing. Neither Chris nor Vin seemed to mind the intrusion since the atmosphere was generally one of good-natured fun even though the training between the two combatants seemed very serious indeed.

"I don't think it's a matter of winning Billy," Mary responded. "This is a training session so Vin can get the feel of what it's like to be fighting an opponent."

"Come on Chris, kick that bounty hunter's butt!" Alexandra Styles hollered as she sat next to Mary and Billy.

Mary turned around and gave her best friend a look. "Lex, was that entirely necessary?"

Alex smiled broadly and faced front again. "Absolutely necessary."

Vin Tanner paused long enough to meet her gaze from the center of the berth, his eyes narrowing enough to let her know that he would get her for that remark later on before he faced Chris again.

"You okay with this?" Chris Larabee asked Vin as he took note of the people around them. When he had asked Mary the use of one of the empty berths, he had certainly not expected to get an audience as well.

"I'm fine," Vin replied sincerely. "I don't mind embarrassing myself in front of a whole bunch of people," the former bounty hunter drawled. "Besides, I get the feeling that things are a little too tense around here lately, the distraction even at my expense can't be bad."

Chris knew exactly what Vin meant. The Empire had been persistently combing the Territory the past few weeks in an attempt to find the rebel base in Wild Space. Ships were forced to remain grounded to prevent any Imperial probes from detecting their departure. Also reports were filtering in from across the galaxy regarding the effects of the segregation policy that Palpatine had managed to push through the Senate. Whole races were being sold into slavery and the Rebel Alliance was feeling the sting of helplessness because it was still too fledgling a movement to be able to stop any of it. Morale was low, not only in this base but everywhere else in the Alliance,

"Okay," Chris replied. "Let me know if I'm a little too hard on you." The Jedi could not resist adding a little smile at the end of his question.

"Yeah right," Vin retorted as he removed his lightsabre from his belt.

Chris shifted his gaze to Billy and Mary who were watching him from where they were seated. Upon making eye contact with the Billy, the boy immediately waved at Chris and brought an unseen flush of warmth into the Jedi's heart that almost equaled what he felt for Billy's mother. Winking at Billy, Chris activated the lightsabre in his hand. Behind him, he could hear the hum at the coming to life of Vin's weapon. Chris held his breath and listened, an eternity of time moving by in a flicker of a second. He swung around just in time to meet Vin's blade.

The sounds of clanging lightsabers echoed through the berth as Jedi and apprentice faced each other in friendly combat. Vin was young and he was raw but he was also, Chris decided, very good. A fear years of experience under his belt and he would be hard to beat. If there was a still Jedi Order left to make the comparison, Vin would have undoubtedly become a great Jedi but of course, now they would never know. Chris shook such distractions out of his mind as he saw Vin recover from his latest attack to leap above his head and land behind him. Chris kicked out a leg and instant before the apprentice landed, planting it in Vin's sternum the minute the Jedi apprentice touched solid ground and swung again as the young man reeled back.

Vin struggled under Chris' offensive for a few minutes until he managed to regain his momentum, then they met each other blow for blow. Their movements were graceful, like two dancers moving in tandem with beams of light. Vin returned his kick with one Chris was able to side step easily. Although Vin was learning fast, he still had the earmarks of a novice when it came to fighting with a lightsabre. Eventually, when his confidence grew, these little flaws would disappear but for the moment it was the purpose of these sessions to weed those weaknesses out. Vin swung wide and Chris sent him reeling once again, this time not even requiring actually striking. All it took was a little focus on Chris' part and Vin's feet were swept from under him. He tumbled to the floor, his saber flying and it took him a split second to retrieve it before could defend himself against Chris who was coming at him again.

"You were doing okay for an apprentice," Chris chuckled as he approached.

"Oh really?" Vin retorted. "I wouldn't be too quick to count me out, I'm not done yet." The apprentice smiled as Chris came for him and for a moment Chris was uncertain of why Vin seemed so satisfied until he felt his senses tingling with caution. The Jedi turned around just in time see an empty crate, one of many that occupied the corner of berth, levitating towards him. He had a split second to admire the tactic before the object slammed into him and send him flying to the ground, landing roughly beside Vin. Both men remained seated in the same position for a few minutes as the cheering and clapping at their friendly match dissipated.

"Not bad." Chris gave Vin a look as he shifted from his unceremonious landing site on the floor and flinched at the sliver of pain that ran up his spine. "Sneaky," he added.

"Thanks," Vin muttered pushing himself to his feet, with aches of equal intensity running through his body as he offered Chris a helping hand up. "Besides, I had to do something to look good in front of Alex."

Chris glanced at the exotic beauty seated next to Mary. The rebel operative had been injured during the ill-fated attempt to rescue Stephen Travis from the Black Sun and had spent her convalescence at the rebel base. Although she claimed she was still tender from her severe wounds, Chris believed her reason for remaining had largely to do with her deep friendship with Mary Travis. With the death of Stephen still so fresh in Mary's psyche, Alex was not about to abandon her best friend in the world when she was needed the most. Mary needed someone around her who remembered that she was more than just Commander Travis that she was a person who grieved and wept like everyone else. Mary and Alex had known each other since childhood and if there was one person, around which Mary could feel comfortable about being herself, it was Alex and Chris was sure Alex knew this too.

"You really go for the difficult ones don't you?" Chris asked as Vin and Alex made eye contact across the floor and the look she gave him was anything but friendly, more like a derisive smirk.

"She's crazy about me. She's just in denial." He turned to Chris with a grin. Of course, his absolute certainty of this fact had been the memory of the kiss they had exchanged when she had come to his quarters, trying to disable him in order to help Mary slip out of the rebel base without anyone becoming wise to the fact. There was nothing in that passionate moment that could tell Vin she felt as hostile as she behaved. He had tasted her enough to know that if he could just get her to admit how she felt about him, it would be wonderful for both of them. Unfortunately, Alex was stubborn and that which he loved about her could also be damned infuriating at times.

Still, Chris was right, he did love the difficult ones.

"If you say so pard," Chris laughed, not about to argue with Vin when it came to Alex. For some reason, his normally level headed and unflappable friend lost all good sense when it came to any discussion about the lovely operative. Of course, one only needed to sense the emotions emanating from the young Jedi to know just how deeply he felt about her.

"Chris!" Billy bounded into his arms, full of cheerful enthusiasm, ahead of Mary.

Chris immediately picked up the small child into his arms and continued walking as he carried him. It was astonishing, this spark of life that Billy was capable of engendering inside him. Sometimes, it was so powerful that Chris could hardly breathe because it was like he had found Adam all over again and at other times, when he was forced to remember that Mary's son was not his, it also felt like he had lost Adam all over again.

"You just let Vin win didn't you?" Billy asked as he stared at Chris with nothing less than worship.

"Thanks." Vin gave the boy a look, not at all offended because the child obviously adored Chris.

"That's what Aunt Lex says," Billy replied innocently.

"Lex!" Mary who was walking towards them exclaimed. "Would you please stop teaching my son such bad habits?"

"Damn," Alex chuckled, "I guess I'll have to wait until he's just a little older to explain what else you can do with chocolate sauce." The comment escaped her with a thoroughly devious glint in her eye following it.

"You can show me." Vin caught the tail end of that remark and could not resist adding.

"Sure I will," Alex glared at him sweetly. "When you drop dead."

"Ouch!" He smiled.

"That looked painful," Mary replied as they all started out of the berth once joining Chris and Vin. "Are both of you alright?" She asked concerned.

"It's just a little bit of sparring," Chris explained. "Scratches and bruises are apart of the learning process."

"Well it didn't look like sparring," Mary remarked, not wanting to tell him that after how she had found him after his battle with Darth Vader, Mary could never consider his duels with a lightsabre as anything but lethal. Until she saw him with Vin a moment ago, Mary had not realised how finding Chris had affected her. She knew what was at the heart of it of course, after losing Stephen only a month ago, Mary knew she was deathly afraid of having Chris disappear out of her life too. If it were not for him and Alex, she honestly did not know how she would have made it through the last month and it pleased her so much to know just how much her son adored the Jedi Knight. When she saw both of them together, it made her feel as if some semblance of her world was not completely shattered.

"I'll get him next time," Vin said with a wry smile. "Once I get past being a greenhorn, that is."

"We wait with abated breath for the day," Alex returned sarcastically.

"You two are like mating rancors." Mary shook her head.

"You see," Vin put his arm around Alex' shoulder. "They know you're crazy about me."

"There's a difference between driven crazy and being crazy." She glared at him and shoved his hand off her.

"I'm out of here," Chris groaned and hastened his pace to put some distance between himself and the two inevitable lovers.

"I don't blame you," Mary laughed as she hurried up to catch up with Chris and her son. Unsurprisingly, neither Vin or Alex made any move to join them and Mary suspected that their displays were often just facades they wore for the benefit of others, mostly to protect their own growing feelings for each other from coming under too much scrutiny.

"They're incorrigible," Mary sighed as she and Chris walked out of the berth, leaving Vin and Alex behind.

"They're in love," Chris said plainly.

"You think?" Mary glanced over her shoulder and saw the duo still engaged in a heated argument, which she had absolutely no doubt they were both enjoying immensely.

"I know." A little smile crossed his face as he made that statement.

"Does that mean Aunt Lex and Vin are gonna be married?" Billy asked.

"If they don't kill other first," Mary said dryly.

"Have you heard from Buck?" Chris asked, changing the subject before Billy start asking question they would not be able to answer.

"Not as yet," she answered, her voice changing from Mary to Commander Travis. The change was so subtle and yet unmistakable when it happened. Chris marveled at the duality of the roles she played, mother, woman, friend to iron willed warrior. She was an enigma that astonished him at times. "He's still on Kashyyyk with JD and Josiah."

With the segregation policy now in full effect, Kashyyyk, the Wookie home world was finding itself especially vulnerable since the Empire considered the race perfect for hard labour. The Rogue had been charged to take Josiah Sanchez to the leaders of Kashyyyk in order to discuss how the Rebel Alliance might be of aid to the natives who had very real fears about being taken into slavery. In truth, the Alliance could do little to prevent the implementation of the policy but they might be able to offer aid in intelligence reports and target slavers who might take advantage of it.

"I hope he doesn't get into any trouble," Chris muttered, knowing how volatile Buck could be when it came to the issue of slavery, not that he was any fond of it either but Buck seemed to take it personally, especially after how he had happened upon JD Dunne.

"He won't," Mary assured him. "He's dropping of Josiah and coming straight back here. How much trouble could he get into in hyperspace?"

"You don't know Buck," Chris replied, feeling something at the edge of his consciousness that was ominous and foreboding. It made him uneasy and anything that made him uneasy usually had good reason to do so.

Something was coming at them and Chris feared whatever it was, at the heart of it would be Buck Wilmington.

Comments to: gsuter@ans.com.au