When Josiah was notified by Chano that Mary had just sent him orders to prepare the Purgatory for immediate departure from its orbit around Siraj 2, his worse fears were confirmed. In truth, Mary was the absolute commander of the rebel cell in the Territory but Josiah took his orders directly from the Alliance council and while he adhered to Mary's command in all other matters, this was one situation where he had to countermand her wishes. He had guessed that this was coming which was why he wanted to be present when Mary was told about Stephen, wishing to offer her a calm voice in the face of such shattering news. Unfortunately, he had been too late and now she knew. She knew that her husband was held prisoner for an entire year. A whole year where she had never even suspected that he could be alive and allowed him to suffer his captivity without hope because he must have known that everyone who loved him believed that he was dead.
Josiah could not even begin to imagine how Mary felt.
However, he knew what she would do. As surely as he had seen the future, he could just imagine her reaction. He had watched her grow from a child to a woman. Her father had been one of his best friends and no matter how much presence she commanded at times, there was a part of Josiah who would always remember her as that golden haired child so adored by her father, the Admiral. He had suspected her actions and given Chano instructions to contact him the minute she confirmed his worse fears. Mary's first officer on the Purgatory had not liked being forced into such a position but when Josiah explained why, Chano's arguments evaporated. Instead of going to seek her out, Josiah had chosen to stay at the hangar, knowing eventually Mary would arrive here if she intended to journey to the warship.
Everyone was anxious because they knew there was a confrontation coming. Nathan had ordered all personnel out of the hangar for there was no reason for the rank and file to see their commander in such a position. Chris, Vin, Buck and JD remained because they were her friends and because she might need their support to see her way to making the right decision. Chris could sense her coming even before she arrived at the hangar entrance. He sensed her in the way one sensed a storm coming and even he felt somewhat taken back by the fury he sensed from her and knew before Josiah could even say a word that this had gone beyond discussion.
The Force help him, Chris did not think Mary could be reasoned with.
Mary strode into the hangar and immediately paused when she saw how quiet it was. Her fists were still clenched and her jaw set as her eyes swept over the area that was devoid of pilots, technicians, maintenance crews moving about the wide floor, going about their day to day activities. Even the droids were still. Alex beside her noticed the same silence.
"What's going on?" Alex asked puzzled by the radical change in atmosphere. Less than an hour ago, this place had been almost as busy as a spaceport in Coruscant and now it felt quiet like a tomb. It was almost eerie.
Josiah, Chris and the others stepped forward from behind the corner beyond Mary and Alex's peripheral view to make their presence known.
"Mary," Josiah spoke first, hoping baser instincts were still in place so he could reach her. "What are you doing?"
"I am going to the Purgatory," Mary answered coldly. "I'm taking her to the Corporate Sector. I'm going to find Stephen." Her eyes shifted to Chris and narrowed slightly as a hint of accusation seeped from them at him and the fact that the narrow gap of space between them was suddenly the drawn line of a battlefield.
"Mary I can't let you do that," Josiah said evenly, watching her reaction. Beside her, Alex's face was one of concern but not enough to make her stop Mary from her present course. Josiah did not expect any help because Stephen was Alex's brother and he knew perfectly well that Alex would die for Mary if it were asked of her. Their friendship was beyond loyalty and common sense. "I know about Stephen so does the Alliance council. They want you to stand down. We will make an offer for Stephen ourselves and if that does not work then we will think about a rescue plan."
"I see." Mary considered his words for a moment before raising her gaze to meet his. "No," she shook her head. "That is not acceptable. I am taking the Purgatory now. I'm going to take my ship to the Corporate Sector and start shooting at things until I see Stephen."
"Mary," Chris spoke up. "Please."
She barely looked at him. "Chris, this is none of your affair. I am commander of this base and I say we go."
The coldness in her voice shocked him and he tried to hide his hurt on his face but somehow it slipped past even the Jedi ability to mask his emotions.
"Mary, come on," Nathan tried this time. "Think about this....."
"No you think about this," Mary turned on them. "Do you I am completely stupid?" she asked, her voice harsh with accusation. "If Black Sun has already made their offer to the Empire, do you honestly think they are stupid enough to renege handing Stephen over to them? Especially in preference to us? Black Sun may be above the law but we both know that Palpatine will destroy them if they chose sides. We can offer them twenty million, even a billion and Black Sun will still turn us down because they want to survive Nathan. Now get out of my way," she ordered.
"No," Josiah said firmly. "You're not taking the Purgatory and if you try, I'll have you relieved of your command."
"Really?" Mary retorted, unprepared to believe it and confident that his threat was meaningless. "Try it. That's not a soldier in this place who would take that order."
She was right. Mary's status among the rank and file, not to mention the officers was near legendary. If Josiah were forced to relieve her of command, the blow to morale would be considerable. Not to mention, he was not entirely certain that the rest of the rebels would obey the order. "Mary, don't do this. You're endangering yourself and the cause," he tried once more, hoping that reason would prevail.
"Hey you're her friend," Vin regarded Alex. "Can't you see how dangerous this is? I know Black Sun and I know Chase, she'll kill him first before she gives him up to you. Warship or not."
Alex flinched because the bounty hunter was right. She knew Laurel Chase' organization very well and Chase' reputation had her placed as not only crafty but vindictive. This was a woman who was once credited to having sent Jabba's envoy to her sent back minus his head. "Mary, I want Stephen back too but they may be right."
"And so am I," Mary turned to her sharply. "They'll never give us Stephen and if we wait, the Empire will move into take possession. You know as well as I do, once they suspect we know, they'll have the Black Sun staked out with so many agents that no rescue attempt will be possible. We have do this and right now."
Alex was split on her feelings to help Mary but there was never any question that she would not. "I'm sorry," she turned to the others. "He's my brother and she is right. If we don't move now, we'll never reach him."
"No I'm sorry," Josiah whispered under his breath. "Commander Travis, I am temporarily relieving you of duty. Nathan, escort the commander back to her quarters."
Without even batting an eye, Mary drew her sidearm and aimed it at the group barring her way. "I'm going. Don't even try to stop me."
"Mary." Chris stepped forward. "You're frightened for Stephen and you're not thinking straight. We'll find a way to get him back, just put the gun down," he implored, knowing that he had the power to disarm this situation but could not bring himself to make such a decisive move yet.
"Chris," Mary softened briefly. "He is my husband. If it were Sarah, I wouldn't be able to stop you either. Don't expect me too. Stand aside. I don't want hurt you but I will get through you."
From the corner of her eye, Alex saw Vin starting to inch forward and she went for her gun, aiming the weapon straight at his head. "Move one more inch bounty hunter and you'll regret it."
Vin froze in his step and swore, certain that no one had seen him move. Damn she was good. When it came to the stealthy approach, he had no peer except maybe Chris but she had spotted him easily. "I reckon I will," he muttered unhappily and took a step back with the others while the play shifted back to Mary and Chris once more.
"Mary, put the gun down," Chris asked again, finding himself inching towards the place he had no wish to be.
"I will when you step out of the way," she said coldly, seeing right through him. "Don't make me shoot you Chris. It would hurt me but I will do it."
"I know you would," he nodded sadly and realised that he had no choice. He had to act.
The gun was snatched out of her grip into his own with less than an exertion of the Force on his part. He caught Alex's blaster with his other hand and stepped back from both women. Mary's face displayed a moment of dismay and surprise as her only bargaining tool was taken from her. Her emotions showed on her lovely face for a second before the tough mask fell again. Chris found himself facing a black wall of rage that had contracted around her heart as she glared back him. Alex, he sensed was a little relieved that the confrontation had been diffused before they were forced to hurt anyone.
"Mary," Nathan came forward, trying to speak through the stare between Chris and Mary. "You're upset and you have every right to be. Why don't you go back to your quarters for a bit and get some rest. When you've calmed down, you'll think of a better way out of this situation. I understand what you're going through. So does Chris. We both lost someone and we can't say that in your situation we wouldn't act exactly the same way but there is more than to this then rushing in blindly. If you gave yourself a moment to think, you'll see that."
Mary did not even acknowledge his empathic plea. Her eyes were too fixed on Chris. He could probably sense what she was feeling and that made his actions even more unacceptable. She could see nothing but betrayal and she knew that at this moment, she loathed him more than all the others because Chris of all people should understand and knowing how he would react in the same circumstances made him a hypocrite.
It was Chris who attempted to speak but Mary never let him get the chance. Her hand lashed out, striking him across the face and cutting short any word that might have left his lips. The slap seemed to fill the entire hangar and everyone stopped breathing, even Alex next to her, before she finally responded to Chris.
"If Stephen dies, I will never forgive you."
With that, she turned on her heels and stormed the way she came, with Alex following close behind.
Chris watched her go with what was left of his heart after that devastating rebuke lying in scattered fragments around his feet. He knew exactly why she felt betrayed and had to admit that she was right. In her position, heaven and earth would not have been able to stop him from going to find Sarah. His part in stopping her here was even more of an injury than hearing Josiah attempt to relieve her of command. She understood their motivations but his? His was just pure betrayal.
"Chris...," Buck's voice broke through his thoughts, trying to make some conciliatory statement.
"DON'T," Chris retorted sharply, without even looking at the pilot. "Just don't."
"I'm sorry Mary," Alex fell into stride with the commander of the rebel base after the ugly confrontation in the hangar.
"I should have expected it," she said icily. "If we do this, we'll have to do it alone."
Somehow it did not surprise Alex that Mary was already hurtling down that path and though the whole idea of retrieving Stephen Travis was always going to be dangerous, a plan that did not involve a warship gave her some comfort. Besides, she felt just as strongly for liberating her brother from Laurel Chase's clutches as Mary but she had not been comfortable shooting their own people, "Alright," Alex stated firmly. "I'm with you on anything you want to do, you know that."
Mary paused and glanced in her direction with a slight nod. "I do and thank you for backing me up in there."
"For all the good it did," Alex drawled. "You realise that if you want to leave this place you're going to have to get past him."
"I know," she said shortly and hoped that her tone was enough for Alex to realise that she did not want to discuss or even mention him by name at this point. "But we will get past him. In one hour I'm going to ask him to my quarters. You have to figure out a way to disable him there."
Alex stared at Mary. "You want me to take out a Jedi?"
"Can you do it?" Mary turned a questioning eye at her. "I would do it myself but he'll know an attack is coming from me. It has to take him completely by surprise and you can't be anywhere nearby when you do it either. He'll sense you as easily as he senses me."
"That's a tall order," the raven-haired beauty mused as she considered how she could attach the problem. As a deep cover operative, she was not above assassination when it was necessary. Although her main function was intelligence gathering, Alex was a highly trained combat expert and killing was just the nature of the job. However, she had never gone up against a Jedi and naturally, some trepidation ran through her at Mary's suggestion but she also knew that any attempt of rescuing Stephen would never get past the Jedi if he felt inclined to stop them. Still, it was not entirely impossible. She could not be near him which was just as well because Mary was right, he would be able to sense an attack coming which limited her options considerably.
"I've got it," Alex declared.
"Don't tell me," Mary said quickly. "If I know so will he. I'm going to my office. Whatever you have to do, do it before I get to my quarters in one hour."
"I got you," she nodded. "We'll have also have to deal with the bounty hunter. I'll take care of that too. At the moment, they're mostly worried about you."
Mary stiffened, refusing to think about that or Chris. "Are you sure you can handle Vin?"
"There is no one else to deal with him is there?" she retorted. "It's me or you and they'll be expecting it from you. I'm too new for anyone to get a bead on and next to you, I'm presently the highest ranking officer on this base. I can move around and get us what we need to leave."
As much as Mary hated to admit this, she would have to rely on Alex for their preparations to leave. "I'm going to give you a requisition order when I get to my office. Potter is in charge of requisition, speak to no one else but him. Tell him you're on special orders from the Commander. Confirmation of orders directly from me, no other channels."
Unaware of the catastrophe presently being engaged by his friends at the rebel base, Ezra Standish entered the Four Corners tavern a short time after he had been given the news that he would soon be having a new second in command. Entering the establishment that was barely filled, as one would expect it to be at this time of the morning, his gaze searched for Inez. There were one or two regulars who were always present, an Ithorian who spent every day as far as Ezra was concerned, hiding in his favorite booth downing Singularities by the mug and a Twileki that had a penchant for Inez's delightful lunches. Inez was wiping down her counter when she saw him enter and immediately stopped what she was doing to flash him that incredibly sultry smile as she strolled towards him.
"Commander Standish." She smiled alluringly as she leaned over the bar and joined his mouth in a lingering kiss.
Ezra savored the taste of her silky lips on his and returned the kiss with just enough passion to know that he would look forward to making love to this woman when she was ready to take that step in their relationship. "Miss Recillos." He offered her a little smile.
"What can I get you," she asked as she parted from him.
"I think what I just received is ample," he remarked and garnered another one of those incredible smiles.
"Not that I'm disappointed that you are here," Inez remarked watching him pull up a stool against the counter. "But isn't this early for you?"
"Yes it is," he had to confess. "I am afraid I may in something of a situation."
Inez immediately tensed, completely aware that he was extremely vulnerable despite his position as commander of the Cordoba base. Ezra's secret loyalties with the rebel alliance could have him executed for high treason if anyone were to discover his secret and since she had become personally involved with him, Inez could not deny that she worried a great deal about him. She also knew that he was a master of understatement and rarely liked to speak of his troubles. He was a deeply private man and Inez found herself caring for him more than she would like, even though their relationship existed on precarious footing.
"What sort of situation?" she asked, hoping it was nothing too serious.
"It appears I am acquiring a new second in command," Ezra explained with a little sigh. "The lady arrives tomorrow and I am almost certain that she is a gift from Lord Vader."
Inez shuddered, remembering what he had told her about his encounter with Darth Vader and was glad that he had made it through that incident in one piece. "But you saved his life," she pointed out.
"A fact I'm sure he hates himself for more than I do," Ezra sighed as she poured him his usual drink of Alderanian cognac. "Therefore I have decided I am going to take a little vacation."
"A vacation?" She stared at him.
"Yes, I thought I might visit my friends at the rebel base. It is the one place I am certain the Empire won't find me," he said in a low voice.
"That's for sure," Inez agreed. "But won't the Empire get a little suspicious if you just suddenly disappear?"
"That is why I am here," Ezra replied, getting down to the heart of the matter. "I believe you have a scrambler that allows you to transmit without your signals being detected?" Even though there was barely anyone in the place, Ezra kept his voice down. "I need to send a message to my mother in the Corporate Sector."
"Your mother lives in the Corporate Sector?" Inez looked at him with surprise. The Corporate Sector was on the other side of the galaxy and usually populated by those who did not want to be noticed by the Empire. It was the preferred address for gangsters and criminals although from what little Inez knew about Maude Standish, that description might not be completely inaccurate.
"Yes, she owns a casino out that way," Ezra remarked offhandedly, not wishing to discuss Maude in detail. "I need to send her a message for her to invent some family crisis that requires my presence with her immediately."
Inez nodded in understanding. "I see and when she does, her darling boy will naturally need to leave his post immediately to take care of things, thus giving you a convenient excuse not to be there when your new first officer arrives."
"Exactly." He winked in affirmation.
"She's going to be plenty mad you know," Inez pointed out.
"Let her," Ezra responded. "Spy or not, there is one thing she must adhere to while under cover at my station"
"And that is?" Inez asked.
"I am her commanding officer and she has to follow my orders," Ezra retorted. "If she does not, I have every right to transfer her off my station and unless Vader wants it known that he had a spy planted in my midst, there will not be a thing he can do about it."
Ezra had thought hard on his choices upon learning that he was going to have Lieutenant Julia Pemberton foisted on him. The captain had decided that if Vader wanted to play games, Ezra would take up the challenge and with all due respect to the Sith Lord, Ezra was better at it.
Although Vin found Chris meditating in his quarters, he knew for a fact that the Jedi was far from at peace. He could sense the anguish inside his friend and wished that there was some way to soothe his hurt but there was not. From the moment, they had seen each other; Chris Larabee and Mary Travis had recognized something in one another that was comforting in their darkest hours. Vin, who had more insight into Chris' psyche knew it was more than just comfort but the pains of his past loss had yet to bring that realization to fruit. Chris and Mary were so alike and yet unlike at the same time that it was inevitable that someday, theirs would be souls melded into one but that was before today.
Before they knew that Stephen Travis was alive.
He felt pity for his friend and knew he had to cast the thought from his mind because Chris would sense it and he did not think Chris could stomach pity from anyone right now. Vin had felt the sorrow in his heart when Mary had struck him and ached for his friend in empathy. If he had someone whom he cared about that much say such harsh words to him, Vin was not entirely certain he would have held up as well as Chris had in the same circumstances.
"Chris?" Vin called out as he entered the room and saw Chris seated on his bed, cross-legged and attempting to calm his trouble spirit.
Chris opened his eyes. "What do you want?" he demanded, clearly indicating he wanted to be left alone.
"I just wanted to see if you were okay," Vin answered tentatively. There was no point lying. Chris would know.
"I'm fine," Chris retorted not kindly. "Leave me alone and I'll be better."
"I'm sure she didn't mean it pard," Vin found himself saying, unable to leave it at just that. "She was hurting and you were trying to....."
"I know what I was trying to do," the Jedi barked. "I should have let her go. If it were Sarah, nothing would have stopped me. I had no right to stand in her way. I just...." he could not say it. The words had almost slipped past him into the open but Chris could not complete the sentence.
"It's not your fault Chris," Vin found himself saying. "You can't help how you feel."
"I don't have a right to feel this way about her," Chris shot back. "She doesn't belong to me. She never did. I have no right to expect anything."
"Chris," Vin took a deep breath. "Take it from someone who once felt something for someone who belonged to another man. Knowing its wrong doesn't make it hurt any less. You still want and you still yearn, even if everything inside you knows it's impossible."
Chris did not respond but everything inside of him refused to accept that even though he knew it was the truth.
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