Chris knew that JD Dunne was not there when he arrived at Jabba’s palace.

He had a sense that the boy was close but JD’s exact location remained unknown to the Jedi for the moment. It did not matter really because a tremor in the Force told him that this was only a temporary state of affairs and eventually JD would be brought back to the palace. It was just a matter of time and waiting him out. As Chris approached the gang lord’s bastion, the twin suns of Tatooine was already descending beyond the uneven horizon. The temperature was starting to drop rapidly and he had no doubt that while the days on this world were hellishly hot, the nights were bitterly cold. Desert worlds seemed to all share that common trait and Chris had no intention of remaining out here to experience a first hand view.

His ability to penetrate Jabba’s fortress was not in question. The advantage of being a Jedi was the ability to pass through places without being remembered. Thanks to a little mental suggestion and a few little feats of illusion, he could go unseen for quite some time. So far the situation warranted his remaining anonymous. Vin’s ruse to infiltrate Jabba’s court had transpired smoothly and for the present, their plan to rescue JD was in a holding pattern as they waited for the young man to arrive. Although their communication nothing that could be really considered speech, Chris knew Vin's situation nonetheless. They had been attuned to each other from the very onset of their meeting. Chris had told himself that it was because the Force was strong in Vin but he was no longer so sure of that. Perhaps it was the fact that Vin reminded Chris so much of himself at a more innocent time of his life that had forged their friendship.

Whatever the mechanism that allowed Chris and Vin to know each other's thoughts, at the moment the Jedi sensed that neither Vin, Alex or Mary was in any immediate danger. Still Chris wanted to be close by, unable to feel any ease with Mary in the equation and was unwilling to take any risks when it came to her safety. Jabba had no idea the valuable commodity he had in his presence in the form of Mary Travis. Whatever the gang lord was being paid in order to force Buck through the Maw would be a pittance in comparison to the king’s ransom he would get if he delivered Mary to the Empire. Chris intended to see that he never got the chance to do that.

Chris finally found himself standing at the entrance to Jabba’s fortress.

For a few seconds he paused and took stock of the enormous doors that sealed the palace from the outside world. He had not been there for more than a second when the same drone that had emerged for Vin Tanner made its appearance. It sputtered forth the same chattering noises at Chris until the Jedi turned his steely gaze at the drone’s spherical eye and silence it with a wave of his fingers. The drone froze for an instant, its sensors being bombarded with visual information that did not seem right and but was powerless to accept thanks the parameters of its programming. Chris focused another second on the device before it retracted into its slot and disappeared into the steel doors. The Jedi waited for another second before the sound of gears and machinery creaked into motion. He could not sense the presence of anyone immediately behind the doors so when the huge slab of metal raised enough for him to enter, Chris crouched down and stole inside.

Confident that his entry had remained unseen, he turned around and glanced at the door briefly, pausing its attempt to open completely with a little exertion from the Force. A brief pause followed as it stopped short in its upward ascent and then resumed movement again, only this time it descended towards the floor again. The area immediately after the doors was a large passageway that led to the other parts of the building. Chris had a feeling that Jabba had not occupied this place for long because it appeared as if the gang lord was not quite settled in his new home by the way objects were strewn about as if left were they there merely for the sake of expediency. The structure itself made Chris somewhat uncomfortable because the traces of past violence were strong in these walls.

The terror left behind by those who had been ‘purified’ by the Bomarr Monks who had built this temple was very strong indeed. Chris wondered what it was about belief that could turn a sane man into a monster because certainly the Bomarr’s had crossed that line long ago. Their involuntary initiates were probably still alive in their mechanical receptacles, if not having been driven utterly insane by their circumstances. Chris shuddered at the thought of being encased forever into metallic hell where there was no sense of awareness that was vital to being corporeal.

He crossed the darkened entrance and paused when he heard footsteps approaching. Receding into the darkness of the many shadows in the passageway, Chris allowed the two Gammorreans who were on their way to Jabba’s throne room to pass without incident. They emerged from one door way and disappeared up a turn of stairs that lead upwards. Waiting a short time after they had gone to see if any more would follow, Chris emerged from his hiding place and ascended the same stairway they had taken. The corridor and the stairs it contained appear to have been carved out of the rock. Chris wondered if the palace had not been once a mountain that had been shaped to suit the needs of the Bomarr of perhaps that of the resident that might have predated the Order.

It did not matter he supposed, such thoughts served to occupy his mind instead of worrying about Mary even though he sensed that she was in no immediate state of peril. He just did not like the idea of her being in a place like this. It was just so, so sleazy, he thought feeling a little prudish when the thought ran across his mind. It was true through. Mary was too good to be in the company of the likes of Jabba and his cohorts. Chris knew he was being silly. This was a woman who had infiltrated the Black Sun impersonating a hired gun. She had fought battles and stood in command of a rebel base. If anything she proved she was quite capable of adapting to any situation but Chris knew he was not being guided by logic when it came to Mary. One of these days, he might get around to telling her what exactly dictated his thoughts when it came to her.

The stair twisted through the building emptying out at corridors along the way but Chris kept going, interrupted occasionally by the need to slip a suggestion to those who came across him that they had seen nothing. It was relatively easy for him to do so in this company because Jabba’s surrounded himself with thugs. He realized that he was almost to the throne room when he started to hear music and a decidedly female voice singing the rhythm. The voice was melodic and strangely familiar. Chris tried to place it and gave up, brushing it aside as unimportant and choosing instead to focus on reaching the throne room. He pulled the hood of his robes over himself, concealing his face in the shadows that had become more prominent with the onset of twilight upon Tatooine. As he approached the throne room, he could hear voices chattering behind the backdrop of music and tried to make his entrance into the room as unnoticed as he could manage. Smoke and liquor drifted to him as he reached the last leg of his journey and the mood indicated that a party of some intensity was taking place.

When he emerged into throne room, he was hardly noticed because it was filled with people from an assortment of races. Jabba’s court was clearly in a mood for entertainment with lithe and graceful dancing girls prancing in the middle of the floor for the Hutt’s viewing pleasure. Droids serving drinks moved through the room carrying exotic concoctions. Chris found it relatively easy to lose himself in the crowd and helped himself to one of the cocktails so as to not look suspicious. He spotted Vin almost immediately. His Padwan learner was seated next to dais where Jabba was perched and on the floor next to him. No doubt cursing a dozen ways she could disembowel the young man was Alex because of the choker she wore around her neck had a chain attached to it which was presently in Vin's hand.

Vin knew the instant he was in the room but did not show overt signs of recognition. However, he still managed to briefly shift his attention away from the chanteuse who had captured most of the room’s attention and glance at Chris in acknowledgement. Both he and Vin had agreed that nothing would be done until JD was here and they could both knew that he was not. However, his thoughts about the youth were driven away when Chris turned his attention to who was singing. His jaw fairly dropped when he saw Mary at the head of the jizz band and was stunned at the realization that it was her voice that he had been hearing.

She was standing in front of the band, singing quite confidently to a group of people. She had dispensed with the slave girl's outfit he had last seen her in and was wearing a skintight gown of cryosilk that shimmered when she moved. Chris swallowed thick, never having seen her look so female. He had become accustomed to seeing her in a uniform or in fatigues. The dress kept her shoulders bare and her blond hair shimmered just as breathtakingly against the alabaster of her skin as the shiny material she wore. She moved on high heels, the part in the front of her dress revealing a set of incredible legs that almost made him forget what he was here for.

Get a grip, Larabee. He told himself as he watched her commanding the audience with the same ease that she commanded him, all the while thinking that he never even knew she could sing.

JD was starting to have a real bad feeling about this whole notion of racing tomorrow. Hearing the stories about the track on Tatooine, particularly the last winner who had earn the distinction simply because he was the last person to be killed before reaching the finish line had a tendency to put a damper on JD's racing spirit. Still, his entire plan of escaped hinged on being inside the pod tomorrow. Unknown to Dengar and the other guards who had been keeping close eye on him during his practice runs, JD had managed to steal a hydro spanner hoping that he could use it to remove the tracer that kept him trapped in Jabba's power. As much as he would like to race, he was more concerned with escaping so that he could help Buck.

Realistically, JD knew that it was probably too late for that.

By now Buck would already be crossing the Maw and though JD could not begin to imagine what that might entail, he did remember the fear in his friend's face when he was forced into it and that was that stayed with JD the most. Buck was never afraid of anything but he had been afraid of the Maw and that told JD a great deal. JD also knew that if anything happened to Buck out there, he would personally lead the rebellion to Tatooine and to this place, to string up Jabba's worm ridden hide. That was the one thing in all this that JD was absolute on. Buck was his best friend, not to mention the one person who had given a damn about him when he needed it most. If Jabba's schemes got Buck killed, there would be nowhere in this life or the next that Jabba could hide from JD's vengeance.

Returning to Jabba's palace, JD tried to hide his impatience as his guards led him into the structure. JD hoped they were taking him back to his room. He wanted to get started on disabling this tracer so that he could remove the explosive component that kept him trapped with no room to manouvre. However, instead of being led to his comfortable cell, they went instead to Jabba's throne room. JD had to confess that for a ruthless ganglord, the Hutt sure knew how to throw a party. JD had spent his first night in the place being hit on by the beautiful women who seemed to be a staple of the court and was a source of great amusement to Dengar and Jabba when he was too shy to do anything about it. Strangely enough, he wondered what Casey would think about it if she knew that beautiful women found him attractive.

She'd still call him a peasant.

Peasant, he snorted to himself as they approached the room and the sound of singing filtered down the passageway. What does she know? JD sighed and knew that perhaps he was just wanting to her to know more than he was willing to admit.

"His Excellency has a new singer," Kah pointed out and returned JD's attention to the here and now.

"How do you know?" JD asked the Twileki mechanic.

"He had our last one killed," Kah retorted with a frown. "Didn't like the song she was singing."

JD shook his head, not bothering to hide his disgust and hoped that the next chanteuse fared better because he liked her voice and the song she was singing. It reminded him of some of the songs his mother used to sing to him when he was a child. JD suddenly felt a deep sense of longing for her even though the time and the place were completely inappropriate for it. He wondered what she would have thought of his life now and decided that on some level he did not really want to know. JD doubted that the life of a rebel fugitive would have been her first choice but was confident that she would have at least approved of his friends who would do anything for him.

When JD stepped into the throne room and saw Mary Travis singing, he realised that he was completely right about that.

JD tried to hide his shock, aware that she was here for a reason and that reason was probably to rescue him. He had to remain silent and not give her away. Mary's eyes met his and though she was in no position to stay anything, he knew by the hard stare she sent in his direction that she was giving him an order and it took no fear of genius to guess what that was. Stay calm and remain silent. After that, he barely noticed being pushed into the room by the Gammorrean who was impatient at his sudden pause and wanted him to get moving again. JD' eyes quickly darted across the throne room and found other familiar faces in the fold. He saw Vin sitting and talking to Jabba with Commander Styles at his feet. The former bounty hunter shifted his gaze long enough to make eye contact with him and JD felt his inside swell with pride.

JD.

JD almost stumbled but managed to compose himself in time following the whisper he just heard in his mind. Without doubt, JD knew then that Chris was here as well. He wanted to search for the Jedi but was terrified of giving Chris away as well and so remained indifferent, wondering if Chris would talk to him again. He thought about initiating contact with the Jedi himself and then knew that it was a simple matter of reaching out and letting Chris hear him since it was obvious that he had a conduit into JD's brain already.

Chris. JD called out.

We're here to help you, he heard Chris say.

JD believed it and knew that Chris would communicate with him no more because it was dangerous to do so when they were in such hostile surroundings and secrecy was an imperative. Thus, JD turned his attention to Kah in front of him and followed meekly as the mechanic led him to Jabba. Both Vin and Alex looked at him with indifference as he approached even though he knew inwardly that he was their sole reason for being here. Dengar next to him, seemed affected by Vin's presence and JD wondered if he was not slightly intimidated at there being another bounty hunter in the Hutt's presence beside himself. For his part Vin toasted his glass at Dengar's direction only to have Dengar snort gruffly at the gesture, his jealousy showing on his craggy face at being upstaged by a bounty hunter he could not possibly best on any level. Vin Tanner's reputation was formidable despite the Empire's bounty on him.

"And how is my newest pod racer?" Jabba asked in that language that JD could not understand but whose words were dutifully translated by the protocol droid next to him.

"He is sure to win your Excellency," Kah retorted with much aplomb and pride. "The boy does not underestimate his skill. He is one of the best I have ever seen."

JD turned sharply to Kah, somewhat surprised by that glowing recommendation when the mechanic had grunted something about him being adequate for a human earlier on. However, JD had come to understand that if Kah did not produce a glowing report for Jabba then the mechanic would suffer a fate decidedly worse than simply losing his job. For that matter, JD could not see Jabba being very forgiving if he lost the race, which only confirmed his need to get this tracer off himself before tomorrow. Still with Chris and Vin here, JD felt decidedly more at ease and hoped that the Jedi and his apprentice had some kind of plan.

"That is good because if you do not win," Jabba's rumbled with amusement in his voice. "I will feed you both to the Sarlaac."

JD saw Kah shudder visibly and whispered to Dengar, "let me guess, I don't want to know right?"

Dengar only snorted in response.

Vin excused himself after JD had been returned to his cell aware that it would be impossible to reach the young man with Dengar and all those guards around him. Dengar did not like Vin as it is and any approach Vin made to JD would give Dengar reason for suspicion. JD was no fool anyway, he would know that Vin's presence here was for his benefit and would have come to the inevitable conclusion that they had ad plan that required patience to carry out. However, JD's participation in the pod race added an extra wrinkle unanticipated and Vin saw an opportunity to take advantage of the situation that was too good to resist. Telling Jabba that he would like some time to enjoy his 'gift', an excuse he was certain Alex would make him pay for later, the duo returned to the suite that Jabba had provided them with so that Vin could contact Chris telepathically.

"If I live to be a hundred, I'll never forgive you for this," Alex grumbled as she entered the room and glowered at Vin who finally relinquished hold of the chain.

'Oh come on," he grinned, "it isn't that bad."

"You try being led around like a pet on someone's leash and see how much you like it." She glared at him.

Vin turned to her and let out a sigh, all his cockiness and teasing discarded for the moment as he approached her. His gaze dropped to the plush carpeted floor as he gathered the nerve to say what he felt. They had been battling each other since they met even though it was obvious to everyone else how much they cared for her. Vin did not just care about Alex, he cared about her a lot. Ever since she had entered his life he had not felt so strongly for any woman since her, the one whom he could never talk and about whose memory had became a shadow in his heart since he was driven away from her.

Alex had the power to be all that to him and more. Vin knew it with a sense of awareness that was frightening. He looked at her and not only did he see himself falling hopelessly in love with her, he saw that they were bound somehow across space and time, linked through the dimensions. He was aware that it sounded like romantic claptrap, inspired by the force of his passion but it was true. No matter where they found themselves in this life or next, he would always love her and without doubt and in this he was absolute, she would always love him. It was a sobering thing; meeting someone your instincts told you was your mate in any existence and the idea that she would soon be leaving made him sick to his stomach.

"Alex, I didn't want him giving you to anyone else," Vin found himself saying after a great effort that required all his courage.

She was surprised by the admission and saw that it had taken much for him to expose his feelings like this. "Vin," she said gently, "I can take care of myself you know?"

"I know," Vin raised his eyes to meet hers. "I didn't want anyone touching you."

"Really?" She smiled, feeling a wave of emotion as she saw the depth of feeling in his eyes.

He nodded and for an instant of time, they stared at each other and the heat of that first kiss returned to haunt them taking advantage of the moment. Vin reached for her and Alex plunged into his arms as their lips met in hot furious passion. His hands slid over her almost bare back as her warm mouth opened up to him and the surge of need that came over his instincts as her tongue duel hotly with his was beyond belief. Lifting her gently off the ground, Vin took her to the bed with every intention of taking her even though their present circumstances was wholly unacceptable for such a tryst. He did not care, he had not felt this way about anyone in so long. He had little experience with women in general but since meeting her, he knew that together they were right.

Alex had never known a need for any man as she had whenever she kissed Vin Tanner. His lips sent wave upon wave of aching need through her. She wished he would make love to her right there and then as his mouth took from her all it wanted and she relinquished it willingly. She felt his tongue dueling with her own and felt the softness of the bed as he lowered her onto it. Alex lay willing on the soft material as she felt his mouth slid down her chin and tasting her neck like a meal to be savored. Her fingers clawed at his back as she felt him pressed against her, taut muscle against her flesh that was threatening to splint her reason.

"Alex," he whispered in her ear. "I want you so much."

"Hell yes," she moaned languidly as her fingers ran through his satisfying dark hair....

If Chris could have blushed he would have.

The Jedi has seen Vin's retreat and though it was tactically unwise to continue their discussion face to face, Chris knew they could communicate in other ways. With another Jedi, even a Padwan learner, Chris could establish a mental link with someone who was Force adept and speak to them on a limited basis. He had disappeared to the back of the throne room, away from the revelers who were very taken with Mary's performance and attempted to establish the mental bond he knew Vin had left in order for him to make. Like Vin, Chris had deduced that the best time to effect JD's rescue would be during the pod race tomorrow. Away from Jabba's fortress and the bulk of his guards, Mos Eisley was the perfect place for their escape.

He retreated into the shadows, Mary still lilting the crowd with her melodic voice and giving him clear indication that she was for the moment safe. Easing into the darkness, Chris closed his eyes and tried to make mental contact with Vin to inform him that the bid to rescue JD would be best served during the race tomorrow. He lapsed into a meditative state despite the distractions and knew that for Vin it would have been impossible to do because one had to have a high mastery of the Force to be able to filter out the sounds and drop spontaneously into meditation like this. Chris stretched out his thoughts in this limbo state and began a search of the apprentice.

When he found Vin, Chris realised that Vin's mind was somewhere else completely.

Emotions bombarded him. Hot erotic waves of desire surged involuntarily into the Jedi's mind, making him feel the passion that the apprentice was experiencing at that exact moment. It came with such a violent rush of feeling that Chris had no choice but to be swept away by it. He felt desire, burning hungry need and an almost blinding sense of love that its intensity was staggering. It was in this vortex of emotion that Chris realised what he was sensing was Vin's love for Alexandra Styles. He guessed early on that his friend harbored some intense feelings for the operative but even Chris was somewhat staggered by the power of it. It was rather disorientating if not a little embarrassing. Chris had no wish to intrude on Vin's private emotions but he had to.....

Vin lips were still feasting on Alex's own, his hands were gliding down her curves, exploring her body like a man lost while her knee hocked around his hip, pulling them closer to each other. Her body arched languidly into his and he could feel her molding perfectly against him as if they were interconnecting parts made for each other that had only now found their perfect niche. His mouth fell upon her hungrily, wanting to take all it could from her because everything was not nearly enough when it came to her. The smell of her, the way she moaned as he nibbled on her neck, he never wanted to stop experiencing her this way. His senses were alive with everything that was Alex and for the first time in his life, he felt truly completed.

Vin.

Vin's eyes shot wide open as he heard a voice in his head that was definitely not his. He disengaged his lips from Alex and gulped. "Chris?" He spoke out loud even though he was thinking it.

"What?" Alex stopped short, looking at him in question at why he had suddenly stopped his delightful ministrations.

Vin, this really isn't the time for this.

Vin swallowed hard and almost scrambled off the bed realizing that Chris had been in his head trying to communicate and had a very good idea what he and Alex was doing. Alex was staring at him in confusion after seeing him pull right away from her and Vin knew he would have to explain himself later although he doubted she was going to be any more happier about it than he.

"Sorry," Vin replied, thoroughly embarrassed and was gratified when he sensed Chris feeling just as awkward and was eager to get to the point. He glanced at Alex and let out a deep sigh. "We'll have to continue this later. I feel Chris in my head."

Alex's eyes widened in shock and then embarrassment. She was infinitely grateful that her color hid her the furious blush of her cheeks at present. "I think that would be a good idea," Alex muttered straightening her clothes and trying not to feel as mortified as she should that Chris Larabee had been an unwitting observer to their passions. "Much later."

Vin looked at her and said firmly with a little. "You can count on that."

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