Mary Travis looked at herself in her bedroom mirror and asked herself once again if she knew what she was doing because truthfully, she was so far away from herself, she could no longer tell. Events were transpiring at such a pace that she no longer felt in control of her faculties. All she could do was sit by and watch this other person take charge of her body and do the things she did not have strength to. She tried hard not to think about the situation that would put her back in control because that other personality was handling things fine without her. She knew if she started to pause or think, or do any of the things normally associated with the responsible leader of the Territory's rebel enclave, she would lose her nerve and Stephen all over again.
Her thoughts drifted in limbo as she lingered like someone awaiting execution, in expectation of events to slip into place for that final reckoning. Mary entered her quarters at the appointed time and slipped into her travelling clothes. She packed a bag and ensured the items taken were nondescript and not at all personal. There could be nothing in its contents that could allow someone who discovered it to ascertain her identity. She had no idea what lay ahead but if she was going to embark on this personal crusade, she was not going endanger the cause to which she devoted her life at the expense of almost everything else. Mary knew the time was approaching but she had one more task to do. Rising to her feet from the corner of her bed, she went to the com screen on the nearby wall and activated it.
"Commander Travis here," she spoke to whoever was presently manning the communications center. "Is my call ready?"
"Yes Sir," the young man respond. "Patching through Bakura through scrambled frequency."
"Thank you Lieutenant," Mary said graciously and waited with a held breath.
The image of the young man disappeared abruptly to be replaced by a burst of static before a new face appeared that was welcomed and familiar. The man, who would have been terribly handsome in his day, immediately smiled upon seeing Mary's features mirroring his own, on a screen in the far distant world of Bakura. Although it was technically considered Imperial space, Bakura was still far from the nearest Imperial presence and was still under the influence of its own local government. In better times, the man before her had been a diplomat of note and the Bakurans held him in enough regard to protect him from those who would harm him and his young grandson.
"Orin," Mary greeted with a smile, feeling a soul quenching warmth filling into her at the sight of him.
"Mary, what a surprise," Orin declared with just as much pleasure before turning briefly away from the screen. "Billy!" he called out. "Come quickly, it's your mother!"
"How are you Orin?" Mary asked her spirits lifting for the moment. It had been almost a year since Mary had been on Bakura. She had helped Orin get settled on the world after she had entrusted her son to his care.
"Oh we're doing just fine," Orin replied and he did look happy. She could see the tinge of brown on his face, which indicated he had been working hard on his garden. Strange how she never saw Orin as a farmer but then she supposed so many things were different these days and so many roles were changing. "I've got my first crop of legumes which I took to the local market. I traded it for a dozen nerfs."
"Really?" Mary laughed, trying not to let the emotion overwhelm her. "I never pictured you as a nerf herder Orin."
"Well," the older man sighed. "Much too old to be saving the galaxy these days, that's your job. How are you doing?" he asked and Mary knew he could see the inherent sadness in her eyes.
"I'm fine," she said as neutrally as possible. She did not want to tell Orin that there was the possibility that Stephen was alive. Orin had already suffered enough agony in his life, having buried two wives and a son. Until Mary was certain that she could bring Stephen home, she was not going to raise his hopes just to dash them against the rocks if she failed.
"Here he is," Orin announced just as Mary saw a small, bounding shape running through the front door of the small cottage that he and his grandfather had been occupying since they had arrived on Bakura. "Billy, its your mother."
"Mommy!" Billy cried out as he jumped onto Orin's knee so that he could see his mother on the screen. Mary almost burst into tears as she saw her son because it was Stephen's face all over the screen and felt her heart melt at the smile that greeted her with his small voice. He had grown so much!
"Hello Billy." Mary tried to stay cheerfully but she never imagined it could be so hard. At that moment, she could have died from how much she missed her precious boy. She still saw him as that tiny pink creature that relied upon her so desperately when she had first brought him into the world.
"Mommy are you coming to visit soon?" he opened their conversation with the same question as always.
"Soon baby," Mary replied not sure if that was a lie or not. "I'll be coming to visit. Have you been a good boy for your grandfather?"
"Yes," he nodded wiping blood hair out of his face the color of flax. "Grandpa taught me how to fish and I can count all the way to 20," he said proudly.
"Twenty!" Mary exclaimed with pride. "You're ready for the Academy." She glanced at the chronometer and knew that they would have to terminate their conversation soon. Even through scrambled frequencies, Mary could not afford having someone detect the signal she was sending to Bakura.
"Baby I gotta go," Mary addressed her son once more and saw the downcast expression on his face at that news. By the Force, she missed him so much. "I love you. You take care okay?"
"I love you too mommy." He smiled at her and Mary decided if she were to die in what she was attempting to do, at least she would do so knowing that she had that image of her son to take with her.
"Orin, take care of my son," she asked Stephen's father who was now starting to suspect that there might be an ulterior motive regarding this sudden communication between them. "He's all I have."
"Mary, is something wrong?" Orin inquired with a look of concern on his face.
"No of course not," she lied. "I'm just feeling a little sentimental today. I have to go now. I love you both. I'll try and come see you soon. Goodbye Orin, goodbye Billy."
"Bye mommy." Billy placed his small hand on the screen and Mary found herself doing the same as if it meant that they were actually touching through the distance of space.
"Goodbye baby," she whispered, keeping her hand on the screen even after it had gone blank again and there were tears running down her cheeks.
When Chris was told Mary wanted to see him in her quarters, Chris hoped that perhaps she might have calmed down enough to see what he had done earlier was for her best interests. He knew he could have found out for himself exactly what she was feeling if he were to stretch his mind through the Force and link with hers. However, he had done enough to Mary today without invading her privacy as well. Chris made his way to her quarters, telling himself that if she were still angry he would have to accept it. After all, she was right. If it were Sarah who was alive, nothing she could have said or done would have kept him from going. He was being a hypocrite and worst of all he was being a hypocrite for completely selfish reasons.
He was a Jedi! He could not afford to be selfish! To want and desire something that was unattainable was to court the temptations of the dark side. The dark side provided easy answers to satisfy the desires that were normally out of reach. A little compromise here, a sacrifice there and the next thing you knew, you were so deep into the mire of black that there was no emerging from it. Whatever had been the reason for the descent would be just as destroyed as the one who followed the path to acquire it. If it had been anyone else, he would have balked at the idea but this was not anyone else, this was Mary. From the moment he saw her, he had known. He felt her touch his soul the way nothing had. In the deep recesses of him, which he dare not admit to anyone, even himself, Chris knew not even Sarah had made that connection. It was rare that two beings could know with such complete confidence that they were meant for each other.
And Chris decided then and there as he stood in front of her door, even if it meant losing her forever, he would help Mary find Stephen Travis.
He activated the door panel and a soft chime let her know that he was there waiting.
"Come in," he heard her say and entered the room, prepared for anything.
The first thing that Chris realised when he stepped into the room was that she was blocking him. He felt her mind close off and although she was standing in front of him, words needed not be spoken because he could feel her conscious effort to keep him from reading her mind. She filled her mind with all sorts of random thoughts. In seconds he caught flashes of her as a child, of the places she loved to play, a favourite toy. There so many images and Chris marveled at the single-minded will that was creating this kaleidoscope of disarray in front of him.
"Mary..," Chris opened his mouth to speak. She was hiding something! He could pierce through the barriers before him. In fact he could do it with relative ease but it would hurt her, especially when she was trying so hard to confuse him. "What are you doing?"
She stood there, her eyes clamped shut. Her mind was focussed and Chris saw images that were real, some there were imaginary. In a second, he saw her thinking of him in her arms and was immediately drawn to that picture, especially when there was so much emotion behind it. For a moment, he could almost smell her hair, the touch of her skin as he became lost in the smooth feel of alabaster skin. She was calling out his name, dragging him sensuously into a fantasy of erotic desire. Had he been a novice, he might have been completely caught into her thrall but as strong as her will might be, she simply did not have the training of to keep him bound by the imagery. Chris started to break free, realizing that this display had purpose.
"What are you hiding?" he asked as he snapped his mind free of her.
She let out a gasp as a small rivulet of blood ran down her nose at the effort exerted. She wiped it away quickly and while she no longer filled her mind with random images to confuse him, she was still blocking him. However, that had been superseded by something else entirely. He could feel the Force screaming out danger and knew immediately that whatever form it took, it would come from her. He stared at her hard, trying to ascertain how and decided reluctantly he would have to make that invasion after all.
"I'm sorry Chris." Her gaze shifted behind him.
Chris swung around just in time to see the remote practice unit he often used to hone his lightsabre skills hovering before him. As fast as he was, he was not fast enough to keep it from discharging. A bolt of energy struck him square in the chest and the last thing Chris thought before the world went black around him was that once again, he had failed Mary.
Mary saw Chris tumble to the floor and let out a deep breath. She had not realised what Alex's plan had been until she saw the device appear from behind a chair and glide gently towards Chris. Ezra had told her how he had managed to block Vader when the dark lord had come to Cordoba. Mary knew that Chris was not as strong as Vader and assumed that she would have some measure of success against him. She looked at the smear of blood on her hand and was glad she had not had to do it any longer than that for it had really been starting to affect her. Normally the charge from the practice remote would not be enough to render anyone unconscious, just a sting to incite better performance from its user. Obviously, Alex had doctored the device to deliver a substantial charge.
Mary knelt over Chris' unconscious form and checked his pulse. He was alive but would not be waking up any time soon. Still, she was taking no chances. The Jedi's ability to heal was notorious for being extremely rapid and if a normal man would be unconscious for some hours, Mary estimated she would be lucky if she could get out of the base before he woke up.
"I have to do this Chris," she whispered softly to him even though he was beyond hearing him, her hand gently caressing his cheek. "I'm sorry for what I said earlier. I didn't mean it but I have to go now," she sighed. "I have to try just like you would if it were Sarah."
With that, she stood up and stepped over him, pausing long enough to retrieve the packed bag waiting for her, before disappearing out of the room.
Vin Tanner sat down in the privacy of his quarters and turned his attention once again to the parts that were scattered on a small drop sheet on the table before him. After all the excitement earlier and Chris' present difficulties with Mary, Vin had decided that the best place for him to be at the moment was out of their hair so they could work things out among themselves. Secretly, he hoped that there was a way to resolve the situation but as always in the case of there being one spouse too many, Vin knew from experience that it was inevitable that someone would be hurt. Unfortunately, it appeared that in this instance it was most likely to be Chris Larabee.
Empty your mind of all distractions, he told himself, echoing Master Yoda's words in his head as he regarded the task before him, particularly of dark hair women in skin tight, leather-hugging clothes. Vin shook the image out of his mind even though he knew that his preoccupation had as much to do with Mary's extraordinarily beautiful friend as well as Chris' pain at the sudden re-emergence of Stephen Travis. He let out a small sigh just picturing her in his head. Vin had little to do with women he had not paid for. Other than that one instance where he had almost got himself killed, his encounters with the fairer sex was limited. There were very few women who wanted permanent relationships with bounty hunters and even less that were worth cultivating something deeper than a night's diversion.
Enough, Vin said firmly to himself. He had a task to complete and this time, there were no more distractions to use an excuse for not getting it done. Vin steeled himself inwardly to begin and reached over for the first tool he would need to construct his own lightsaber. He was just about to make contact with its smooth surface when suddenly his door chimed.
"HELL!" he swore. "What do you have to do get some privacy in this place?" Another chime from the door punctuated that statement and swearing under his breath, Vin rose to his feet and went to answer it, thinking to himself that whomever it was better have a damn good reason for interrupting him. At the rate he was going, he was going to be an old man before he even finished building his lightsaber, let alone becoming a Jedi.
To his surprise, when the doors slid open, he found himself standing before a most unexpected visitor. Vin found himself gulping visibly at the sight of his raven haired temptress before him. Once again, he was overcome with feelings he had not experienced since he was a teenager and stopped himself from gawking at her like one.
"Do something for you?" he asked, trying to inject as much cool nonchalance into his voice as he could muster.
"Can I come in?" She looked over his shoulder into his quarters to see if he was alone.
"Depends," Vin responded fighting baser instincts. The tempo of his heart was increasing just looking her before him and Vin told himself inwardly to get a hold of himself. Still, there was something in the way she regarded him that told Vin that he was not the only one affected by her presence. Whether it was the Force or something beyond that, Vin knew that he affected her too. However for all the pleasant feelings she stirred up in him, Vin also acknowledged that there was danger. He was not as adept as Chris at picking up thoughts but most of the time he sensed emotions and then there was that sixth sense that warned him of troubled which until recently, he had thought to be insight until Chris informed him it was the Force.
She was dangerous.
"On what?" she asked coyly.
"On what you want," he returned coolly. They were both playing roles here. He was trying to show that she did not affect him on a personal level but she was exuding so much raw appeal that he could barely think straight. Only later, would he realise how dangerous that could be.
"I wanted to talk to you about Mary and your friend," Alex responded as she waited to be invited in. By their few seconds of conversation, Alex had discerned much about the apprentice. Mary had filled in some of the gaps but until now, most of what Alex knew was conjecture. Obviously, he could not read her thoughts like a full Jedi or else he would have known what she was planning by now. Perhaps he did know but could not define it, whatever the case, she had to act quickly. He may have been an apprentice but before he had gone the way of the Jedi, Vin Tanner was the best bounty hunter in the business and not someone she wanted to take on in an extended confrontation.
"Not much to talk about," Vin retorted.
"Not judging by the way he looks at her," Alex returned.
"What would you know about that?" he accused.
"Enough to know that he might have personal reasons for not letting Mary go after Stephen." She stared at him hard and knew immediately that he had suspected the same of his friend. She felt sorry for him because she could genuinely see he cared for both Mary and the Jedi. Once again, Alex was surprised by how unlike his reputation he actually was. She forced such thoughts out of her head because empathising with him would only make it harder for her to do what was needed. Mary was counting on her to be there and Alex would not fail her best friend at this most crucial time.
"Alright," Vin conceded and stepped aside to let her into his private sanctum. This was not a conversation that Vin wanted to discuss with her in the middle of a corridor. In truth, he would be telling her nothing because Chris' feelings for Mary was his own business, Vin had no intention of giving anyone else his opinion on the subject, because he was equally fierce about keeping his own counsel to himself.
Not that he had to worry. The minute he had his back turned on her as he tried to close the door, Alex moved into attack. His senses told him there was danger even as she prepared to strike. He spun around and caught the fist that would have impacted on the back of his head in his own. Alex stared at him in surprise for less than a split second before she swung again. Vin blocked her with just as much ease before she kicked out her leg and connected with his chest, causing him to stagger backward from the force of the well placed blow. He crashed into his desk and swore loudly when his lights sabre assembly scattered all around his desk.
"What the hell are you doing?" Vin demanded.
"Sorry Tanner," she responded, throwing another kick at him as he attempted to regain his footing. "Can't explain but you need to be out of the picture."
Vin caught the leg and pulled back hard. Alex dropped to the floor but she was by no means done. Upon Vin nearing her, she shot out her foot and slammed into his ankle, driving him to the floor as she flipped up right in one easy movement. Vin recovered just as easily and was there to meet her face to face. They faced each other, trading blow for blow almost evenly matched. Vin was amazed at how fast she was and knew that she was hard to beat but not impossible. As much as he loathed to do it, he had to stop pulling his punches. Grabbing her by the waist, he downed her in a full body tackle and knew he had hurt her when she let out a little cry upon whacking her head against the floor.
"Stop it!" he shouted. "I don't want to hurt you!"
"Hurt me?" she cried indignantly even though he was on top of her. "Like hell you will."
She locked her legs around his neck in a scissor movement and flipped him off her, changing positions so that she was now on top of him. Vin's fist lashed out and caught her on the jaw, throwing her off him easily. She felt flat on her back again and Vin knew that he could not afford to let her recover. However before he could reach her, she had flipped upright again although this time, she was not as steady as before. Vin knew it would take a bit more to make her give up and grabbed her by the shoulders.
"Let me go!" she shouted, preparing to break free when Vin suddenly found himself thinking on impulse with a part of his body that was not his brain. Before he could even question the sanity of it, he pressed his mouth against hers in a hot, passionate kiss. There was naturally resistance and she pulled away from him in outrage. "How dare you!" she hissed.
Vin had no idea himself but that stolen kiss had made him light headed. He looked into her eyes and saw her anger melt and suddenly, it was she pulling him closer. Her hands wrapped around his neck and Vin found his arms sliding around her waist, driving her into a nearby wall as they engaged in a bout of passionate kissing. It was hard pressed to say whose lips were more demanding for they were equally matched in that too and countless seconds passed as Vin felt himself being lost more and more to the heat of her body. Her lips tasted like honey and send shivers of anticipation through him with every pleasured sigh that escaped her. He could not ever remember being aroused to such an extent and wondered if his world could be any more absurd. After a second, he decided he cared less whether anything made sense or not, just as long as he did not have to pull away from that heavenly mouth.
Alex was similarly griped with such thoughts. His kisses were robbing her of all sense and it had been a long time, a very long time since any man had been able to affect her on such a level. She felt her senses burning with desire and knew that if she did not stop soon, she would not be able to. Remembering that she had come here for a reason other than a soul-searching kiss, Alex had to put a stop to this. Mary needed her focussed, not behaving like some lovesick teenager. As much as she might loathe it, she had to push him away but damn, she would be thinking about him for the next year.
Without warning, she brought her knee up between his legs and ended any further osculation between them. Vin let out a groan of pain, partially from shock as he dropped to his knees.
"Sorry about this," she apologised while he was suffering on the floor from the below the belt injury she had inflicted upon him. Alex looked around and quickly picked up the heaviest object she could find before bringing it down on his head. He collapsed unconscious without a sound and Alex hoped that he would not be too upset with her when he woke up. Dropping the ornament on the floor next to him, Alex made her way to the door once more. Hopefully at their next meeting, she would be able to offer suitable recompense for his injuries.
Besides, she would hate to have those wonderful lips be mad at her.
Mary was already making her way to the hanger when Alex caught up with her. Both women went about unnoticed as they walked briskly through the corridor. Despite the confrontation with Josiah and the others earlier, most of the rebels were unaware of the situation regarding Stephen Travis. It was just as well; Mary had enough conflicting emotions about how she had dealt with Chris to stomach inflicting the same treatment on someone else. She had no wish to harm any of her friends or those under her command, however, she was going to be damned if she allowed anyone to tell her whether or not she could act to save her husband. Not even the leaders of the Rebel Alliance had the right to do that.
"Here," Mary handed Alex her sidearm once again.
The rebel operative had asked Mary to keep the blaster when she had gone to confront Vin Tanner and was more than glad to have it back again. She slid the weapon back into her holster and could not help thinking how simple things would have been if she had just been allowed to use her gun when she had entered Tanner's quarters. Shooting him would have been a lot less complicated, she thought to herself.
"Thanks," she responded. "Everything go alright with the Jedi?"
"It worked," Mary said abruptly, having no wish to elaborate. "How about you? Any troubles with Vin?"
"No," Alex responded with a little smile. "Not at all."
Mary glanced at her friend for a second, wondering about that enigmatic expression on her face and decided she did not want to know the details as long as the deed was done. Right now, she had only one thing on her mind. Leaving before either Chris or Vin could be in a position to stop her.
"Is everything ready?" she asked instead.
"Yes, I loaded everything you wanted from your requisition officer, Potter," Alex nodded. "You had a couple of private ships in your hangar. The Corsair would have been nice but just a little too big I think, so I loaded all our equipment onto the Sluis Van Slip streamer next to it. She's smaller and if I'm not mistaken, faster as well. Besides, those things give Imperial TIE's a run for their money."
"That's the Tracker," Mary informed her. "Vin's ship."
Alex rolled her eyes and muttered to herself. "Figures."
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