Ezra Standish entered his office at the Cordoba outpost and found little had altered during his brief absence. It was odd to admit but after the turbulence of the last few days, what with his journey to Star's End, Stephen Travis death and the consequences on Mary, not to mention his mother, the quiet benign surroundings of his little space in the outpost was actually quite welcoming. There were reports and duty logs piled up in his in tray, no doubt requiring his assessment and his beverage mug was steaming with heat which indicated that Claire was up to her usual efficient self. Outside his window, he could see the ships flying arriving and departing at the main space station and supposed there was an arrival and departure log for him to review on his desk as well.
For once, Ezra did not mind that mundane undertaking with all the chaos that had been his life the last few days. They had returned from Star's end with the Rogue dropping him off in Pzob so that could take a commercial carrier back to Wild Space without arousing too much suspicion. Vin had remained on the Tracker with Alexandra Styles still in his medical bay and flew directly back to their hideout, since she needed proper medical care immediately. The others had opted to make the return journey on the Rogue since the Tracker was not as a big a vessel as the Incom Corsair Corellian freighter. Despite the fact that his entire trip away had been fraught with danger, Ezra knew he did not mind that much at all.
He had enjoyed seeing Nathan again and accompanying him on the mission to retrieve Mary Travis had been a reminder of the times they used to share together, when they were younger and looking for trouble as hot headed cadets. He also enjoyed the camaraderie with the five men whom Nathan called friends. He knew that his friendship would one day be the reason he would not be returning to this office and taking up his role as Commander of the Cordoba base. It was almost an inevitability that he would join them but it was for the oddest of reason, not at all for the cause but for their friendship. For one who had spent most of his life alone, it was an unusual feeling.
Ezra picked up his beverage mug to take a sip when suddenly, his door chimed.
"Enter," he said without thinking, assuming it to be Claire who was no doubt here to appraise him on the progress of his new second in command. He sniggered inwardly as he wondered how the Lieutenant would have reacted to finding him gone upon her arrival, certainly it would put a severe crimp in her spying agenda.
However, it was Claire that entered his room. He found himself at the receiving end of a stare from powerful emerald color eyes. Although she was wearing an Imperial uniform, her skin looked like fine white silk against her uniform. Her lips red and full, were pressed firmly in an expression of indifference hiding annoyance The Imperial cap hid her the style of her hair but Ezra spied red copper strands beneath the material. Ezra found himself thinking that Vader played dirty by inducing him to work closely with such a beautiful female and wondered if it was the dark lord's plan for her to seduce him into giving away his secrets.
"Lieutenant Pemberton I assume?" Ezra asked smoothly.
"Yes Sir," she said coolly, no traces of the annoyance that had gripped her when she arrived here to find that he had gone. Even more so after she had spent the last few days reviewing every bit of data in the outpost logs and found nothing to substantiate Vader's belief that Ezra Standish was not acting in the interests of the Empire. "I am reporting for duty."
"Doing what exactly?" Ezra had no intention of being polite nor did he like those who were sent to spy on him. Using a woman and a beautiful one at that was insulting as far as the captain was concerned. Ezra felt incensed that Vader would think him sloppy enough to let his guard down simply because she was female. Obviously, Vader had never met Maude Standish or else he would know better.
"I am your second in command," she said stiffly.
"I had an able adjutant," Ezra responded. "Lieutenant Moseley has been acting in that capacity since I assumed command. However, since your appointment was done so without my say so and I have no choice but to tolerate you being here, I am certain that we will be able to find something for you to do," he said smugly and took great delight in the surge of anger he saw igniting in her eyes.
"I am aware that you don't want me here," Julia returned, feeling the restraints on her temper starting to slip. "However, I am here and I'm sure I can be of assistance to you if you just give me the opportunity."
"I suppose I could." He eased back into his chair and let his eyes drift over her as if she were a new specimen whose worthiness to retain he was attempting to discern. "What have you done since I was gone on my sabbatical?"
Julia stammered suddenly realizing that he knew perfectly well what her purpose here was and that he guessed that she had most likely been checking up on everything he was doing since taking command. Nothing else had been undertaken in regards to the smooth operation of the outpost itself. The role she was supposed to fill in his absence had been ignored because she had been too busy snooping. "I was familiarizing myself with the outpost and everything that has transpired until now."
"That kind of familiarization can wait until after you have taken care of the day to day operation of this outpost," Ezra moved in for the kill like as if he was about to lay a killer sabaac hand on the table for all to see. "My in tray indicates that none of this has been tended to." Just for effect, he reached into logs and reports that required evaluation and picked up one. "This should have been your priority the moment you arrive on my base, not playing 'catch up' as it were. I expect such familiarization to take place in your spare time not during your duty hours."
"I was...," Julia tried to defend herself but Ezra was not about to let her get a word in.
"I expect a better level of performance while you are on my station Lieutenant," Ezra rose to his feet in full authoritative pose. "This is not the most glamorous posting in the Imperial sphere of influence but that does not excuse lackluster efforts. I will have no member of my station behaving below the levels of excellence I demand. If you are incapable of that, I will have you out of here so fast you would not feel the door hitting you on the way out. Do I make myself clear Lieutenant?"
Julia swallowed visibly. If she could not maintain her cover as his first officer than he had every right to transfer her out of here. There would be nothing Vader could do to prevent it unless he wanted to explain to the chain of command why an officer with a less than average efficiency rating should be allowed to remain in her post. As powerful as Vader was, there would be deep seeded resentment if the higher echelons of the Imperial fleet knew that there spies planted in their midst, especially when there was no evidence linking them to any inappropriate behavior.
"Yes Sir," Julia nodded. "Crystal clear."
"Good," Ezra sat down once again. "You are dismissed."
She wanted to say something further but the indignation she felt should not be allowed expression at this time. This was his arena and she would have to play by his rules. "Thank you Sir," she answered, hating herself for going so quietly.
Ezra watched her leave and let a little smile cross lips when her back was to him. She was not going to last a week.
The first thing Alex became conscious of the moment her mind finally achieved consciousness; was the smell.
It was sharp and acrid, bringing to mind definitive images of all things clinical and sterile. Even in the darkness of her slumber, that one smell was more telling than anything that could be represented by a visual image. Alex immediately associated it with bright white lights and medtechs running up and down aisles in pristine white clothes, sticking temp meters down throats and hypos elsewhere. Disinfectant made her think of words like hygiene, medical droids and unwanted furloughs.
It made her think of hospitals.
Which was precisely where Alexandra Styles found herself when she finally woke up. She opened her eyes and found herself staring at a white ceiling above a bed whose sheets she was tucked comfortably within. For a moment, it all swirled in on her, consciousness that is. Once the room stopped spinning, he was able to focus a little more clearly on where she was. Alex tried to remember her last memory before waking up to find herself here. Glorith. Glorith and Vin. Vin had appeared out of nowhere. He had suddenly shown up and like some damn teenager, she had let the memory of a kiss allow an injury of this magnitude to be inflicted on herself!
Alex was beyond disgusted at herself.
Instinctively, she looked beneath the covers of the clean sheets covering her body and examined her torso. Where she recalled seeing discoloured and broken flesh, there was now white gauze wrapped over the wound. The pain was still there but she was familiar enough with the sensation going through her body to know that she had been given medication to cope with it. The monitor next to her bed pumped nutrients into her veins. As she scanned the room ahead, she knew without question that she was at the rebel base and let out a sigh of relief knowing they had made it back safely. Did they have Stephen? A thousand questions flooded through her mind and she sat up quickly.
"Hey, take it easy," Vin Tanner's voice suddenly spoke up and Alex turned to see him rising from the chair next to her bed where he had obviously been for some time, judging by the creases in his clothes.
"Where's Stephen?" she demanded quickly, not paying much attention to his warning until her attempt to sit up engendered pain and she was forced back into her bed.
"Now that's what happens when you don't listen," he said smugly.
"Ah bite me," she grumbled.
"You kiss me with that mouth?" He looked at her with a smile.
"Not again," Alex retorted and then turned her attention to more serious matters. "Is Mary and Stephen okay?"
His expression changed and Alex knew immediately by the dimming light of those cobalt colored eyes that he did not have good news to impart. "I'm sorry Alex, Stephen didn't make it."
"Damn," Alex swore softly as she turned away, not wanting Vin to see the tears that were forming in her eyes at that news. However, the truth was, she was not as hurt as she thought she would be even though hearing that he was really dead saddened her. Alex was always more sceptical about his being alive than Mary. She had mourned for her brother a year ago and had accepted his death. It made little difference if he had died a few days or a year ago, Alex had moved on. "I hoped for Mary's sake that it might have turned out differently."
"It didn't," Vin answered, preferring to wait a little longer until giving her the whole story about Stephen's death. She was weak and had barely survived the trip back to the base despite Vin pushing the Tracker almost to breaking point to get there. Alex had been unconscious for almost two days with Mary and Vin had alternated between keeping a vigil by her bedside. Vin had taken over for Mary a few hours ago, wishing the commander to get some rest not only physically but the brutal beating her heart had taken over her husband's death.
"Is she alright?" Alex asked, wiping her tears as she turned to face Vin again.
"She looks okay but that's not saying much," Vin confessed. "Mary's a private person."
"She is," Alex agreed and also knew that Mary would show nothing to those around her but suffer all her sorrows and grief alone in her quarters. "Everyone else get out okay? Casey?"
"Casey's fine," Vin answered quickly, finding himself more and more lost to her each time she spoke. "Josiah's grounded her for the next thousand years and I think she's going to kill JD before he can get shot down by an Imperial stormtrooper but she's okay," he reassured her.
"Is that the kid who's the peasant?" Alex asked weakly, finding her strength draining from her exertions since waking.
"That's him," Vin chuckled.
"So what are you doing here bounty hunter?" she asked with a little smile.
"I have a thing for leather." He gave her a look.
"Oh it must be like that thing I have for guys who can't even put their own light sabre together," she said sweetly.
"I'll get it done!" he said with exasperation. "By the way," he looked at her with an evil glint in his eyes "Why does Glorith think that we're lovers?"
Alex felt her cheeks become flushed with embarrassment and cursed a thousand deaths on the reptilian wherever she was for letting that slip to Vin. It did not help that he was grinning at her with a completely satisfied expression on his face either. Taking a deep breath, Alex responded with complete dignity even though it was hard to do when he was enjoying himself so much. "I had to explain how I had your ship. It was a convenient excuse so get that stupid smirk off your face!"
"Convenient huh?" he laughed, taking great pleasure in the embarrassed emotions he sensed from her. "I personally think it was just wishful thinking."
Alex rolled onto her side and retorted. "Don't flatter yourself. It was just a kiss."
"Sure it was," Vin replied, not about to believe her if the tone of her voice was any indication. "That's why you were muttering about it in your sleep."
"What?" Alex turned over again and stared at him. "I did not!" she cried indignantly.
The expression of glee in his eyes told her otherwise and Alex wondered why could not the bed open up at this point and swallow her whole. "Okay what if I did? I was delirious."
"Come on, you are crazy about me," he teased, enjoying her discomfiture. In truth, she had made no such revelation in her slumber but she did not know that..
"I do not have the least bit of interest in you Vin Tanner," Alex growled. "Now get out of here!" She pointed to the door. "I'm sick and I need my rest."
"Sure," he pushed himself to his feet and headed towards the door but could not resist pausing to add, "I'm sure you want to go back to sleep so that you can dream about me again."
"OUT!" she barked with the sound of his laughter still in her ears.
This time he was really gone.
She told herself that repeatedly throughout the entire day she had spent in her office, staring at the window, leaving the room long enough to make her checks on Alex's condition. As of yet, her best friend in the world had not come out of her surgery-induced sleep but Mary was assured knowing that Vin would keep an eye on her during Mary's absence. Josiah and Nathan had advised her against going back to work immediately, citing she needed time to recuperate over what had happened. The Alliance had not been very happy about her actions and she had borne the brunt of stern dressing down by Mon Mothma but in light of her loss, the leader of the Alliance had opted not to take the matter further. While she would have been perfectly justified in taking some time to herself, Mary could not abide hours of nothing to do where she would only be thinking of Stephen.
However, now that she was in her office, she was not working much either. Her thoughts inevitably drifted to Stephen and the work before her seemed to be far away and an unimportant. Instead, she had spent a good deal of her day staring out her window, at the lust forests that made up the landscape even though none it registered in her mind because it was Stephen she was mostly seeing. She thought of how he had looked at those last moments of life, the happiness in his eyes at being allowed to see her just once more before he died and felt herself weeping all over again. She went through this process numerous times throughout the day and it did not seem like stopping any time soon.
"Mary," she heard Chris' voice at the door and was not certain she wanted to speak to anyone for a moment but then she remembered that Chris had been there for her these last few days and she could not deny him entry even if she tried. He meant too much for her to do that to him.
"Come in," she said quietly and turned her chair to face the door.
When the door slid open Mary could only stare for a second as she saw the Jedi standing there next to her son Billy.
"Billy!" Mary exclaimed, unable to believe that he was there. Tears ran down her cheeks again but this time there were tears of happiness instead of regret and loss. After what had happened at Star's End, seeing him was like an infusion of sunshine into her darkened soul still bleeding from its wounds.
"Mommy!" Billy ran forward across the floor into her waiting arms and Mary picked him up, hardly noticing that he was heavier than she last remembered.
Chris watched Mary's reunion with her son and found a small smile creeping into his face at her happiness. She had been so sad since their return from Star's End that it broke his heart every time he saw her. Thus he and Josiah concocted the idea of having Billy brought here for a little visit. Buck had volunteered to take the ship to Bakura in order to bring the boy to the rebel base because he was just the tonic Mary needed at this moment. Seeing her with him, seemed to indicate that he and Josiah was right.
Mary turned to Chris, still holding Billy in her arms as he approached her.
"How?" she asked, a bittersweet smile on her face.
"Josiah thought you could use a visit," Chris said softly.
Mary nodded as she came forward and planted a kiss on his cheek, certain that he had a bit to do with this as well. "Thank you."
Chris stared at her a moment, feeling a little unbalanced at the sensation produced by the soft silk of her lips against his skin. For a moment, he thought his head was swimming. "My pleasure," he said after a moment. "I only wanted to see you smile."
Mary did not speak but rewarded him with a radiant smile just for him.
Vin Tanner sat down in front of the half-assembled light sabre and took a deep sigh. This time, he was not going to stop until he had completed its construction. He had also left explicit instructions that unless the entire Imperial fleet led by Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader had come calling, he did not want to be interrupted. Closing his eyes, he took a moment to reach a state of calm and focus before reaching over for the tool needed to begin work.
His gaze shifted briefly to the window near his workbench and he admired the beauty of the stars beyond the walls of the Tracker, not to mention the iridescent jewel of Siraj 3 in the distance. His ship was presently in orbit around the planet that was home to the rebel base and would remain that way until he had finished building his light sabre. Vin turned away from the panoramic view of space and focussed his attention on the task once more with only one thought in his mind;
The things a man had to do to get some peace and quiet.
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