It was strange how easily Chris Larabee had become apart of Vin Tanners life.
When Vin had first stepped off the ramp intending to bring in the bounty on the Jedis head, he had no idea that he had reached a turning point in his life. So many things had changed for him since that fateful day that Vin no longer recognised the life he once had in comparison to what he had now. He was a Jedi apprentice at a time when it was exceedingly dangerous to be one. The Jedi were fading into the mists as Chris often said so sadly, usually when they had shared one too many drinks and his master was particularly somber. Even though Chris was a Jedi, he still had such moments of sorrow where not even the Force was able to ease the pain of a grieving heart. Though such instances were becoming rarer as the days tumbled by; Vin nevertheless shared Chris' anguish at seeing not only the end of a great institution but the passing of an entire way of life.
Chris called them the last of the old Jedi order. There would be a new order, Chris had said; but it was unclear whether he or Vin would be apart of it. Their destiny was written together and yet differently, Chris had stated enigmatically during one of his more inebriated and reflective moods and Vin was not entirely sure he was comfortable with that. He knew that he was one of a handful of Jedis still left in the galaxy that had not been hunted down and murdered by Vader. Vin did not even consider himself that; at this time his true appellation was more appropriately an apprentice. Though Chris did not speak of it, there was usually some defining moment, some baptism by fire or blood that all Padwan learners had to experience before they become a real Jedi.
Vin wondered if this was the moment for him.
He stared at Chris lying on the bed in the medical centre, still locked in his Jedi healing trance, giving aid to the medical droids who tended to him while tubes flooded his body with life giving nutrients. The wound was severe indeed and while he still lived, his recovery would take time, even if he had kept himself alive using the Force. A normal person would have been killed instantly or damn near close to it. Somehow Chris had managed to put himself into the healing trance before the point of no return. After Nathan had saved his life on the planet following the Battle of Okanah, as its natives had so grandiosely called the skirmish with the Imperial task force, Chris had been transported to the Purgatorys sophisticated medical centre to receive more expert help.
Vin had known subconsciously that the bond he shared with Chris was strong. From the moment they had met, there was something between them beyond the ability of words to explain. A kinship perhaps in the recognition that each man had exactly what the other needed to heal. Knowing Vin had allowed Chris to open his heart once more, to learn how to care about people again after the devastating loss of his wife and son. By the same token, Chris had taught Vin that it was not a sin to want to belong and that he was entitled to find a place for himself as anyone did. Their friendship had open up new possibilities for both of them, had brought Chris face to face with a future with Mary Travis and given Vin a sense of understanding about himself that he had never had in his life.
Now that Chris was lying in the limbo of the trance, Vin felt like part of him was there too.
He stared at Chris in that bed, like a lost child not knowing what to do. He tried to remind himself that he was someone before he met Chris Larabee but the truth was, Vin didnt like that person too much and found himself lingering in this room during most of the journey back to the rebel base on Siraj. The droids and Nathan had said that Chris would be fine. Even Mary had made mention of it once or twice herself when she just how deeply his fears for the Jedi ran; but Vin could not shake the feeling of apprehension because he could not imagine what he would do if Chris Larabee were gone from his life. It would be like losing a part of himself and he knew that without the Jedi, he would always feel something was missing if he were not there at the mans side, watching his back in times of trouble.
"Vin," he suddenly heard a voice next to him and jumped.
"Josiah," Vin muttered in surprise, realising his thoughts must be trouble indeed if he allowed the former Republic Senator to enter the room without noticing it.
"How is he?" The big man asked as he lowered himself into one of the seats provided for visitors.
"Still out of it," Vin sighed. "I can feel his healing but it's all on some subconscious level I cant describe. He probably could though."
"You are allowed," Josiah smiled faintly. "Youre still pretty new at this."
"I know," Vin gave him a sidelong glance. "Sometimes I wonder if Im not over my head, that maybe things were simpler if Id just stayed the way I was."
"The Force abhors stagnancy," Josiah pointed out. "Living creatures must evolve, that is the nature of things."
Vin cracked half a smile. "You're better at this then I am. Maybe you should be the Jedi," he pointed out.
Josiah let out a small chuckle and then added in a more serious tone. "When I was a boy, that was all I ever wanted to be."
"Really?" Vin stared at him. Josiah was such an able diplomat it was hard to imagine him as anything else.
"Yes," Josiah nodded; remembering back to those bitter sweet childhood memories of the dreams left behind or worse yet, never realised. "I used to dream about it and waited for the day when it would be my turn to take the Jedi testing."
Vin could not even begin to imagine what that must have been like. He could not picture the selection of future Jedi being so clinical. He thought of young children put to the test, their whole life decided in that one defining moment. Chris had once remarked that had he been born in the Republic, he would have been tested and singled out for training early because the Force was strong in him. But he wasn't born in the Republic, Vin thought bitterly. He was born on Tatooine, a wretched hive of scum and villainy as a slave, never knowing his father, barely knowing his mother before she was taken. What right did someone like him have to be called a Jedi?
"So what happened?" Vin asked.
"The Force was not strong in me," Josiah replied with an expression on his face that indicated clearly that he had become accustomed to this disappointment in his life. "So that was it. I just didn't have it in me to become a Jedi."
"I'm sorry," Vin found himself saying.
"Don't be," Josiah responded automatically. "I was disappointed for a while but then I continued with my life, I saw the galaxy, married a good woman and lost her and I was a representative of the Republic."
"You were married Josiah?" Vin exclaimed, not knowing that about Josiah.
"A long time ago," Josiah nodded, trying to think about his wife. She had entered his life in his youth and disappeared from it just as quickly. Although he still missed her, it was not so difficult to talk about her now that she was years lost in his past. His memories of her were sweet and there were other loves that had been since her, Maude Standish being one although Ezra seemed to always get pale whenever the subject of their past affiliation came up.
"I didn't mean to pry," Vin remarked, feeling a little embarrassed for surfacing such a painful memory.
"You didn't," Josiah reassured him and then glanced at Chris who was still lying motionlessly on the bed. "So are you alright?" He asked the young apprentice.
"I'm just a little on edge," Vin confessed. "I just realised how big a part of my life Chris' become. I can almost always feel him in my mind on some level. The last time he was in this healing trance, I hadn't even started my training so I couldn't sense him being gone but now, I have this empty place inside me where he used to be. I know it sounds strange."
"Not really," Josiah answered. "Anyone who has seen you and Chris together understands that there's some kind of bond there. We all recognise that."
Vin was not certain how to feel about Josiah's statement but took it in the spirit it was given, as an effort to let him know that he was not alone and that his anxiety was not unfounded. "I guess I'll be glad when he finally comes out of it."
Suddenly he felt something in the back of his consciousness, a feeling that seemed to tug at the edge of awareness, not really probing but making itself felt even though its ability to do so was weak. It was a familiar sensation and Vin immediately rose to his feet without saying another word and made it in two easy strides to the side of Chris bed. Josiah looked at him in puzzlement at first before realizing what it was that had inspired the young apprentice to react so strongly.
"Chris," Vin said clearly. "Can you hear me?"
"What is it?" Josiah asked.
"I felt him," Vin returned, needing to make no more explanation than that. "I felt his mind. Hes out of the trance."
"Are you sure?" The senator looked at him skeptically because Chris for all purposes was just as immobile as he had been. To onlookers, he appeared merely to be in a deep sleep but those who aware the situation, knew better. His mind had shut down in order to let his body repair itself and no energy could be spent on anything else. The brain required far too much of the bodys reserve to function and while the Jedi were able to shut down parts of their bodies to allow vital systems to be repaired, an injury such as Chris was stretching the boundaries of even that extraordinary ability.
"Yeah," Vin nodded slowly, resisting the urge to touch Chris because he was not sure whether or not he ought to let the Jedi emerge from his limbo state at his own pace or give him the aid needed to return to the land of the living. Fortunately, the dilemma was more or less a moot point when monitors around Chris bed began registering the increase his vital signs just before his eyes opened and focussed on them unsteadily.
"Welcome back," Vin responded, trying to hide just how relieved he was to see Chris awake even though he was certain the powerful Jedi could read his overflowing emotions easily.
"Its good to have you back brother," Josiah said wrapping his hand around Chris fist and squeezing tightly in a show of friendship.
Chris was still terribly weak. Although he had managed to breach the walls of his Jedi trance to return to them, his body was still suffering the effects of the injury that he had yet to recover from. It was a struggle to remain conscious and the inviting pull of sleep was difficult to resist. However, he could feel the emotions emanating from his friends, forcing him to keep his eyes open, to show them that he was all right. Vin seemed particularly fearful but that was hardly surprising when Chris remembered how closely linked they were. Master and Apprentice, the bond was always strong but Vin was more than just a student, he was a friend and Chris sometimes forgot that to the young man, he was the only link Vin would ever have with the Jedi.
"I wish I could say it was good to be back," Chris muttered weakly, licking his lips because his throat felt dry. The action immediately prompted Josiah to remedy the problem when he held a glass of water to Chris' lips so the Jedi could take small sips.
"Give it a few days," Vin retorted with a smile. "You just got the business end of a blaster."
"Oh is that what happened?" Chris mused and eased back onto his pillow again. "I'm guessing we did okay with the Okanah?"
"If by okay you mean we won, I guess we did," Josiah remarked, not entirely happy to revel too much in their victory. While he understood the need to bear arms for an ideal, he would never be one who could celebrate over the death of another.
"Mary?" Chris asked quietly, trying not to sound as emotionally involved as he did.
"She's fine," Vin responded quickly, aware that subject made the Jedi exceedingly uncomfortable and decided to spare Chris the ordeal of being forced to ask after Mary's welfare. "She's on the bridge now. Actually, we better tell her you're awake. She's been pretty worried."
"She has?" Chris croaked, trying to sound not too interested in the answer. Vin kept the observation to himself that even a Jedi can behave like a teenager when it came to a special woman. Vin was glad he was not the only one.
"Of course she has," Josiah said as a matter of factly. "She's been to see you a few times but you've been in your healing trance."
Chris absorbed that information and felt a sliver of pleasure knowing that Mary had been with him even when he was not locked in his limbo like state. However, he said nothing more about it because his feelings about Mary were private and existed in too fragile a state for him to wish discussing it. "So we're on our way back to the base?"
"Yeah," Vin nodded. "We should be arriving there in a couple of hours."
"Boy I must have been out of it," Chris sighed, realizing how much time had actually been lost during his immediately recovery. He was still far from recovered and could tell by his present weakened state just how badly he was injured. If not for the Jedi healing trance he had placed himself immediately after being shot, he would have most likely died on the desert floor. Suddenly a memory surfaced in his mind with such force that he saw Vin stare at him sharply, because the shock wave had reached the apprentice with just as much force.
"Josiah," Chris said weakly. "I need a moment with Vin. I need to tell him something."
"Sure," Josiah responded automatically, taking no offense at the request because the two men were Jedi and there were some things that they could not share with the others no matter how much they wanted to. Josiah had come to the firm conclusion that it was not a matter of trust but rather one of safety. Josiah had a feeling if they knew half of the secrets Chris and Vin had inside their heads, Vader and the Imperial fleet would be hunting them down just as ruthlessly. Although Buck, Nathan, Josiah, Ezra and JD had not spoken out loud about the secret that Vader had almost wrenched free from Vin's mind during the kidnapping of Princess Leia Organa, they came to the conclusion that it was better if they did not know. Something told them that it was information that could not be bandied about too many people if it was to remain safe.
"I'll tell Mary you're up and about," Josiah said to Chris.
"Thank you Josiah." Chris smiled gratefully at him for taking the request so well and with so much understanding.
Vin was puzzled at emotions he had suddenly sensed from Chris but did not speak about it until Josiah had left the room. For a moment, the apprentice had been bombarded by this overwhelming sense of fear and what surprised him was the nature of Chris' anxiety. It was fear for him. For some reason Chris Larabee was frightened for him. Vin could not even begin to imagine why. He was standing in the room with the Jedi as far from trouble as one could possibly get. There was no need for it unless Chris knew something he did not and that sent a sliver of apprehension through him.
"What is it?" He asked Chris once Josiah had gone.
Chris took a deep breath to steady himself. He was tired and he needed to rest but he had to tell Vin what he had sensed. He had to do it before that terrible vision that had allowed him to be careless enough to get shot became a reality. Something was coming at them and he sensed that the wheels of it were already in motion but had yet to reach his best friend. Even though he was in a weakened state, the Force was still with him and it was warning Chris that the vision that he had seen with Vin fighting Darth Vader was already more of a reality than he knew.
"Vin," Chris swallowed, having no idea how to say this. It was one thing warning a man against something that was going to happen but warning him against something that he had yet to do? "I had a vision out there in the desert."
That did not surprise Vin in the least. He recalled the expression on Chris' face a few seconds before he had been shot. The look in his eyes that told Vin he was no longer fighting a battle with them but was rather somewhere else all together. Only a vision could distract Chris enough to allow him to be harmed by a stray bolt during the battle. Chris was more than capable of defending himself against such attacks than anyone else and Vin began to fear what the Jedi had seen to cause a lapse of such magnitude.
"I guessed as much," Vin said tautly. "Couldn't see any reason how you couldn't have gotten hurt otherwise."
Chris nodded weakly, trying to choose his words carefully. He did not want to reveal too much because a man knowing his future may attempt to avoid it by any means necessary. Time had a strange knack of manipulating its currents to reach the end it desired especially when one was trying its hardest to go the opposite direction. Vin's attempt to evade Vader might be what inadvertently put him in danger in the first place. There were a thousand variables to consider and Chris wished he knew how to say the right thing to avoid all of them.
"It was about you," Chris stated.
"Tell me," Vin urged after a pause. Had Chris seen his death or something as equally terrible? Is that why the Jedi looked at him with such fear?
"I saw you fighting Vader."
Vin felt his heart freeze inside his chest. He knew the name and remembered the sensation of Vader inside his mind when he was on Zhar. That dark, insidious cold that had invaded his consciousness and prepared to rip apart all he was to get to the truth the dark lord needed so desperately. Vin still had nightmares about the occasion. Although he had never seen Vader himself, it was more than once that he had woken up in the night, sheets plastered to his skin, certain that he could still that rasp of a voice speaking through a mask, breathing just as heavily. Vin knew that these were impression of Vader that he had picked up from Chris but that did not make the experience any less daunting.
"Fighting Vader?" Vin hissed. "Why?"
"I don't know," Chris shook his head, wishing that the images were a little clearer but he was weak and injured and he could not interpret all that he had seen, only the more intense imagery that had been seared into his mind. "You were fighting him Vin. You were fighting him with everything you had."
"Did he kill me?" Vin dared to ask.
"No," Chris said immediately without hesitation. "I didn't see that but you were led to him."
"Led?" Vin's eyes widened, becoming more and more confused. "What do you mean?"
"Something brought you to him." Chris closed his eyes, his energy reserve draining until he was imparting what he knew to Vin by sheer will power. "A woman brought you to him."
"Alex!" Vin exclaimed. "Something is going to happen to Alex?" He thought of Alex being in Vader's hands and knew that if anything could make him take off and face the dark lord, to ignore the fear the man engender within him, it was Alex.
"No," Chris shook his head. "Its not Alex. I don't know who exactly but you can't go Vin."
"If Alex is in trouble...," Vin started to say. As frightened as he was of Darth Vader, he was not about to sacrifice Alex for anything.
"It's not Alex." Chris felt the last of his strength start to give out. He could feel the soothing black of sleep calling him with its siren song and for once he wanted to be swept away by it. "Vin, you got to promise me not to do anything rash. Things aren't always what they seem. Sometimes our emotions get in the way, they alter our perception of things, make us go one way instead of another. It's powerful and its dangerous, you have to resist the urge to give into them. It's not quite the dark side but it can lead you there."
"I don't understand Chris," Vin replied, trying to reach him as he felt Chris' mind slip away into fatigue. "If it's not Alex, who're are you taking about?"
However, Chris was unconscious once more and Vin had no wish to rouse him out of his sleep when he so obviously needed the rest. Still, the words he had spoken lingered in the room with them for a long time after Chris had slipped back into slumber and Vin felt uneasy in the wake of that revelation.
"What aren't you telling me Chris?" Vin whispered even though the Jedi was unable to answer. "What can't you tell me?"
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