Alex shouted as Glorith lunged at her. The young girl barely had time to move away from the computer terminal she had used to slice into the Domicile's security system when the reptilian attacked. The Selonian pounced like a coiled snake with both Alex and Casey having little time to get out of her path as she soared through the air with her razor sharp claws extended and her serrated teeth bared.
"Get to the ship!" Alex barked at Casey who was clutching her portable terminal to her chest, at a loss over what to do. "NOW!"
Casey jumped at the sound of Alex's voice and started moving although she was somewhat reluctant to leave the operative behind. However, as she saw Alex and Glorith about to go head to head, she realised that remaining behind would only be a hindrance to Alex not a benefit. Fighting the knots in her stomach, the girl started running down the corridor, casting an anxious glance over her shoulder at regular intervals before Alex finally disappeared out of her line of sight.
Alex did notice any of this because she was too busy trying to keep Glorith from tearing out her throat. The resentment that the Selonian had felt at being usurped of her position and the damage to her prestige in Laurel's eyes was evident on the snarl emitted by the reptilian as she landed on the floor, a few inches away from Alex with her scaled limbs flaying wildly. Alex stepped back, giving herself enough room to maneuver and did not react until Glorith gave her an opening to attack. Aware of the narrow margin of time in which she had to act, Alex waited until her moment and then struck, slamming her foot into the side of Glorith's knee, forcing the Selonian to her knees. A split instant later, Alex threw a high kick that connected with Glorith's jaw. The reptillians staggered backwards but she was stronger than Alex and her tough hide ensured that she could endure several lethal strikes if necessary.
"I knew you were not the Knife!" Glorith hissed as she swung at Alex with such speed that her limbs were like turquoise streaks in front of her.
"Gee, it only took sabotaging the Domicile for you to realise that," Alex retorted. "Are all Selonians this dumb?"
Glorith let out roar of indignation and swung. Alex leapt back to avoid the path of those half-inch talons but not far enough. Glorith's claws ripped through the material of her body suit and met soft skin. Alex let out a soft cry as she felt her skin being lacerated and realised chillingly that had she not stepped back when she did, her intestines would most likely be spilling out onto her feet by now. Alex saw another arm swinging at her and caught it this time. Glorith swung her other arm in fury and was met with the same resistance. She pushed hard towards Alex, trying to free her captured arms when Alex brought up one of her knee and planted it firmly against the Selonian's sternum so Glorith could not lean forward to take a bite out of her neck. Using the enemy's body to brace herself, Alex kicked hard again and let go of Glorith's hands, disrupting her balance as she fell backwards.
She ran forward as Glorith stumbled and threw another powerful kick in to the Selonian's side. She was preparing to throw another sidekick when Glorith grabbed her leg and twisted it around so forcefully that Alex fairly spun in mid air. When the Selonian released her, she came down hard on the floor only to feel sharp claws digging into her scalp. Alex let out a yell of pain as she felt rivulets of warmth running through her hair at the sharp point in her skull. Throwing her leg up in a high kick, the toes of her boots slammed into the top of Glorith's skull and resulted in her release.
Her head was stinging in pain but Alex brushed the sensation aside as she defended herself against Glorith's latest attack. The operative met the bounty hunter's punches, blow for blow for they were evenly matched despite the differences in their species. Glorith was fast but Alex was better trained and both of them managed to do significant damage to one another as they traded strikes. However, Alex felt the time pressing against her and told herself that she had to finish this quickly because Mary was waiting for her, not to mention what Casey was up to alone.
"You're good," Glorith managed to say when they paused a moment to recoup their energy. "You are not the Knife but you fight well. I will consider it an honor to kill you."
"As will I," Alex said sweetly as she ran forward and struck with a running kick that almost threw Glorith across the room. The reptilian slammed into the wall, her head taking the brunt of the impact and was momentarily disorientated. Not giving her chance to recover, Alex kicked her again, pushing her back against the obstruction once more as her ability to come back from the blow began to slow, giving Alex more opportunity to attack. Alex lashed out with her fists this time, one after the other, determined not to walk away until she was certain she would not have to look over her shoulder when she and Mary were escaping from this place.
Casey ran through the hangar, hoping no one paid much attention to her but there was very little danger of that happening with people more concerned about their own escape to worry about her presence among them. Overhead, she could hear the emergency warning system telling them about the impending arrival of Imperial troops in the Domicile and Casey felt stabs of fear as she closed in on the Tracker. She was hoping that she would not still be waiting inside the vessel for Alex and Mary when those soldiers breached the Domicile. Having almost once fallen into their custody, Casey did not relish the idea of being in their power again, not to mention what awful things they might to do to her in order to get to Uncle Josiah.
Uncle Josiah, she thought with a wave of fear almost equaling the anxiety she felt at being an Imperial prisoner. He would be so furious with her if he knew she was here. In truth, he probably already knew she was gone but Casey hoped that when they returned to the Alliance, Mary might be willing to intercede on her behalf and take the edge of his anger. Anything had to be better than facing him alone face to face.
"CASEY WELLS! WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?"
Casey froze at the impossibility of that voice being here but she knew it too well to be mistaken. Turning around, she almost went white with stunned shock when she saw Uncle Josiah standing before, his face twisted in an expression of disbelief and horror, with Vin Tanner and God, she groaned inwardly, JD Dunne, standing next to him in equal astonishment.
"Uncle Josiah," Casey stammered.
"What are you doing here?" Josiah demanded again, unable to believe that she was standing before him. When he had first caught sight of her running across the hangar floor, he though he had been mistaken but the others had seen her and was just as certain that it was Casey and not someone who resembled her. Josiah was almost choking in outrage at her presence in Black Sun's Domicile, especially after hearing how dangerous the place was as well as the fact that it was presently the venue for an Imperial invasion.
"I have really good explanation but I think Alex should tell it," she stuttered, knowing that it was not going to get her out of trouble.
"Alex?" Vin asked suddenly, "where is she?"
"I can show you!" Casey spoke up, trying to do anything she could think to keep from telling Josiah how she had come to be on the Tracker. Somehow, she had a feeling he was not going to be very impressed by hwe tale of being a stowaway.
"Just point," Vin stopped her before she could get past them. "By the way, where is my ship?" he asked further.
"Its in Docking Bay 2," Casey answered, trying to avoid Josiah's critical gaze or the smirk on JD's face. "I can show you where it is!" she offered again.
"You'll show me where it is," Josiah said firmly. "Then you can explain yourself young lady."
"You're in trouble," JD smirked in a sing song voice.
"You're such a jerk!" Casey spat at him.
"At least I'm a jerk who's not in trouble," he repeated in that annoying tone.
"HEY!" Vin cut in, sharing the same irritated expression at the duo's behaviour. "Let's get a grip here. Where is Alex?" he asked again.
"She's down that corridor," Casey said meekly, pointing towards the far end of the hangar. "Vin you gotta hurry, she's fighting this big reptilian woman."
"Glorith." Vin recognised her description immediately before turning to Josiah. "You three get to my ship and fire her up. I'm going to get Alex."
Vin did not wait for an answer and hurried across the hangar floor, fighting the bodies that were hurrying to their own transports in order to flee the installation before more Imperial troops entered the fortress. When he was gone, Casey found herself at the receiving end of a hard stare from her uncle.
"I've got a really good reason why I'm here Uncle Josiah, honest," she said trying to sound her most sincere even though that was not easy to do with JD grinning at her with smug satisfaction at the amount of trouble she was in.
"I'll bet," JD snorted.
"Why don't you shut up!" she glared at him.
"Yeah I am," he said with a smile, "but at least I'm not the one in trouble."
Josiah rolled his eyes and wondered if it would really be a bad thing if he broke his promise to his dear sister to keep Casey safe by leaving them both here.
Certainly, the storm troopers would not stand a chance.
Vin Tanner hurried down the corridor Casey had directed him and heard the familiar sounds of flesh slapping against flesh in what sounded like bare-knuckled brawl of great savagery. He turned the corner and stopped short at sight of Alex and a Selonian he guessed was Glorith Dal battling like two vengeful hellions. Their dance was almost beautiful in its way; the slick coordination wrapped up in brutal strength. Alex was holding her own against her opponent and Vin could not help but sigh at the sight of her sleek movements even in this ferocious undertaking. She was incredible, Vin thought to himself before he realised that perhaps he ought to be helping her instead of gawking at her like a teenager.
"Alex!" Vin called out.
Both women froze for an instant and turned sharply at his direction. While Alex was dumbfounded at his presence Glorith merely narrowed her slitted yellow eyes and stared at Vin with her teeth bared.
"So Tanner, you have come for your lover?" Glorith glared at Alex with accusation.
Vin's brow knotted with confusion. "What's she talking about?" he asked Alex as the two combatants paused for the moment.
Alex did not respond because her attention was unwisely fixed on his surprise appearance. It was an unfortunate distraction.
Vin saw Glorith pull back her arm and realised in an instant of horror what was about to happen. "Alex, watch out!"
Events seemed to slow to a crawl as Alex shifted her eyes back to Glorith, just in time to see the Selonian swing her claws in a clean swipe at her mid section. The claws sunk deep into her skin in a perfect arch, slicing through flesh and organs beneath Alex's ribs. She let out a soft cry as she felt the pain cut through her, felt the warmth spill out of the torn skin until it became wet and heavy in her clothes. She looked ahead and saw a bolt of energy strike Glorith in the shoulder, sending the Selonian flying across the room. Alex watched in a dazed stupor as the reptilian hit the ground and did not stand up again. For herself, she did not even realise that she had fallen until she felt her knees against the hard stone floor. However, the pain seemed inconsequential in the face of fire burning her insides.
Vin was there to catch her before she collapsed completely to the floor. He caught her in his arms as she slumped forward and felt a cold chill in his insides as her blood seeped through his clothes when he held her. Forcing away his horror, he quickly turned her over so that he could examine her injuries. There was no need for a detailed examination because her injuries were clear enough to be detected immediately. She was bleeding profusely for the Selonian's razor like claws had shredded her insides like paper. She was still conscious but clearly in agony even though she tried valiantly not to show it.. Vin had seen wounds like this before and he knew that unless he got her help soon, she would die.
"I'm getting you out of here," he said brushing her hair out of her lovely face as he picked her up in his arms. "Just hold on okay? I'm going to take care of you," he said tenderly.
She was losing coherence in her thoughts but her glassy eyes were still fixed on him. "You can't even put a light saber together."
Vin tried to crack a smile as he secured his grip on her and hurried back down the corridor towards the main hangar. "But you're still crazy about me." He offered her his most charming smile even though she was in no condition to appreciate it.
Alex opened her eyes and looked directly at him, completely focused before she answered. "Don't flatter yourself, it wasn't that good a kiss."
Then she passed out.
"Watch your back!" Nathan shouted.
Ezra swung around and fired at the Imperial stormtrooper raising his blast rifle to fire. He sent the man sprawling as the bolt of energy cut down the trooper before Ezra turned his back on him and continued forward again. Fortunately, that was the only trooper behind them and Ezra made a mental note to keep his face obscured to any other approaching troopers. While it was difficult to for anyone to identify him clearly with all the confusion that was taking place at the moment, Ezra knew that it was not wise to take any risks. He was more valuable to the Rebellion occupying his present position on Cordoba and he was not ready to join the organization entirely just yet.
"The ship's in Docking Bay 2!" Buck called out to them as they moved through the doors that led to the main hangar. The pilot had received his information via his com link while he took flanking position next to Chris who was in no condition to be able to defend himself as he had his hands full with Mary. The leader of the Rebel Alliance in the territory was still sobbing tearfully, incoherent to anything but her loss. Considering what she had just endured, no one could blame her for that.
The hangar was in an even more frantic state of activity then before and their presence was hardly noticed as they ran across the floor. The main center of activity seemed to be the transports that were being commandeered by Wookies. Black Sun's personnel were being hurled out of their ships by the formidable race who seemed extremely violent and were not padding any of their punches. Ezra's sense of chivalry almost induced him to go to the aid of the Black Sun members, because they were women before he realised that he was not eager to incur the wrath of any Wookies, not to mention that there might be reason for their rough handling.
"What's going on?" Buck asked mystified. "There's wall to wall fur in here!"
"Don't complain," Ezra retorted, "just be grateful that they will provide interference when the Empire arrives."
"Will the Empire hurt them?" Nathan asked concerned.
"I do not know," Ezra shrugged, "it depends on their circumstances here. However, I do not think there will be many for the Empire to find." He gestured towards one of the larger transport carriers where Wookies were embarking in force, much to the chagrin of the Black Sun members who originally occupied it.
"I hope they make it," Nathan mused softly. If everything he heard about Laurel Chase was true, then he doubted the Wookies were here by choice. No doubt, the woman probably had some heinous use for them that warranted their fury at the Black Sun members in their path as they attempted to leave the fortress.
"They will." Ezra patted his friend on the shoulder. "Fortune favors the foolish. We must keep moving," he reminded.
They had turned down the small corridor that led to Docking Bay 2 when suddenly; the group was confronted by a large Wookie with russet fur who was not letting them pass. She almost a foot higher than Buck who was the tallest among them and was heavily armed. She growled angrily at them and aimed the weapon in their direction, daring them to move. Her gaze was fixed on Mary in particular and did not seem happy that Chris was carrying her.
"You want to use some of that animal magnetism of yours Buck?" Nathan retorted sarcastically. "I think she's female."
"Very funny." Buck gave him a look.
Chris stepped forward, still holding Mary in his arms and noted the way the Wookie was looking at her.
The emotions he sensed were not anger or hatred but rather protective and he came to the understanding that her hostility towards them was engendered out of concern for Mary. Chris opened his Jedi senss further despite the fact that they were still somewhat raw from the emotional turmoil of dragging Mary from Stephen, and discovered Mary's part in the alien's liberation.
"We're her friends," Chris explained, certain that the Wookie understood him. "She has lost her mate." He glanced at Mary who was sobbing in the crook of her shoulder.
The Wookie named Tula let out a soft growl, indefinable as a language unless one had a universal translator but Chris could understand the sentiment behind it all too well. It reeked of sympathy for Mary's sorrow.
"Come with us," he said.
Tula growled again, the tone of her response having something that could be considered an affirmative that she reinforced when she lowered her weapon. She looked at the men with him and wrestled for a moment with whether or not she could trust them, however, she would not refuse them because Mary was with them.
"Chris, are you certain about this?" Ezra asked warily after he pushed himself to the front and found himself swallowing at the sight of the Wookie's bulk.
"Yes I am," he nodded. "She's not going to let us go anywhere with Mary." Chris looked down at Mary and felt his heart lurched at her soft whimpers.
"If you say so," the Imperial officer agreed, becoming conscious of the shooting he could hear outside and was certain that the Imperial troops were filtering into the hangar. "However, I do not recommend that we remain here for much longer."
"Ezra's right," Buck agreed. "They're coming in fast."
"Well Madam," Ezra glanced up anxiously at Wookie female, "if you are coming with us, I suggest that you let us pass."
Tula let out a grunt of approval, not certain of what exactly was said but appreciated the sentiments behind it and stepped aside, allowing them to continue ahead, falling behind them a second later.
The first thing Mary truly become conscious of after she had been torn away from Stephen was being inside the Tracker once more. Everything else until this point had been a blur she did not want to define a symphony of pain she did not want to recognise. However, when she saw the familiar metallic hull enclose her world, the anguish of returning here without Stephen penetrated the veneer of grief she had surrounding herself. With sensation seeping into her consciousness, Mary became aware of Chris' arms holding her and yet she could not be grateful that he had brought her here. All she felt was this cold numb feeling inside of her that threatened to snap her in half from its sheer intensity.
"Let me go!" she snapped as they entered the Tracker, suddenly returning from the limbo where she had been since she had been forced away from Stephen kicking and screaming.
The others had scattered to take their seats in the preparation for launch. The deck was humming beneath them and the engines were more than ready for blast off. She could hear the reveberation of systems coming alive across the vessel and internal lights flooding the decks. More and more systems were being initiated as the preflight checks were made. To get past the inevitable Imperial blockade would tax even Buck Wilmington's skill and the pilot was already shouting at everyone to strap themselves in as they waited for Vin to arrive.
Chris loosened his grip around her and allowed her to stand on her own accord when Mary broke free of him herself and turned on him. "Why did you make me leave him!" she demanded. Her eyes wide with accusation.
"I had no choice," Chris returned softly, his expression unreadable as he answered. "We had to go."
"You didn't have to take me away from him!" she shouted furiously. "I should have been with him! You should have left me!" she cried beating her fists against his chest in anger. "You had no right!"
"Mary....." Buck who was present started to speak in Chris' defense, recognising the sorrow in his old friend's face as he took Mary's verbal barrage stoically. Buck had seen the anguish in Chris' eyes as he made the decision to get Mary out of there after Stephen had died. It was a position Buck never wanted to find himself.
"You should have left me there!" she shouted again, tears running down her face, continuing to hit him with her hands even though he made no move to stop her. "I should be there with him!" Mary insisted almost hysterically.
Chris swallowed thickly, feeling a visible lump in his throat that did not dissipate after that action and his heart seemed to shrink at her angry words but he knew that she was in pain and that she needed to take it out on somebody. He cared enough about her to be that somebody. However, Chris also had to make her understand that he had not merely taken her out of there for her sake as well as his own but also for the sake of Stephen Travis who did not want the woman he loved to sacrifice herself for him needlessly
"I had to get you out of there Mary," Chris said quietly. "I had to because Stephen asked me."
Mary stopped short and for a few seconds she held his gaze as the last vestiges of her restraint crumbled completely and all he could do was to draw her close to him as she began to weep. Chris glanced over his shoulder to ask Buck for a moment alone but the pilot was already gone. Turning back to her, he slid his arms over her body and drew her to him. Mary did not protest as she buried her face in the crook of his shoulder and began to cry harder. Chris wanted her to shed her tears, knowing that it was not easy for her to do. She tried to be strong and brave for the benefit of everyone and it was not often that she was permitted to show that she could be hurt like anyone else. Mary let herself be drawn into his embrace, allowing him to cradle her in his comforting arms as she cried for Stephen and the realisation that this time she had lost him for good.
"Oh Chris!" she wept tearfully. "It's not fair!"
"I know," he spoke softly into her hair, holding her gently because she needed to be held by someone whom she was unafraid to show her vulnerabilities. "I'm sorry Mary. If there were any way I could have saved him, I would have done it. For you."
It was the truth. No matter how much it would hurt him to lose Mary, he could not imagine her hurting her by allowing Stephen to die, even if it was for his own selfish reasons. He loved her too much to have denied her a life with the man she had married and to whom she had borne a son.
"I know you would have," she nodded and answered in a small voice, still weeping through her words. "I just never thought I'd find him to lose him all over again," she broke down once more and sobbed more deeply, clinging to him tight because he was the only one in the universe who could possibly understand what she was feeling.
"You haven't lost him Mary," Chris whispered, stroking her hair gently while he continued to hold her. "You carry him in your heart every day and he lives in your son. He may not be here but you still have him, never doubt that."
Mary looked up and met his eyes. Emotion welled up in those pool of blue grey perfection as she gazed back him and started to speak when suddenly, they heard foot steps hurrying up the ramp.
"Hey can I get some help here!" Vin Tanner demanded as he came on board his ship.
The former bounty hunter was more than grateful to see his ship again but any elation at the return of his beloved vessel felt sour in the face of Alex's injury. She was still breathing but fortunately she had lapsed into consciousness. Vin never felt more thankful of the fact that he had equipped his ship with the best in medical equipment during his time as a bounty hunter. This was mostly because he could ill afford to stop at a medical centre whenever he was injured because he was usually on the trail of a bounty and could not afford to the detour.
"Oh no!" Mary exclaimed horrified at the possibility of losing another person in her life so soon after Stephen. She could not bear it. Pulling herself away from Chris, she hurried to the apprentice and to her best friend. Alex's injury was returning her back to her senses far more efficiently than anything else. "Lex!"
"She's still alive," Vin assured her, seeing the tears in her eyes and guessing that something terrible had already happened if the emotions he was sensing from both Chris and Mary were any indication. "We need to get her to my medical bay," he responded as he carried her past them.
"What happened?" Chris asked as he followed them out of the passageway attached to the main hatch.
"She had a run in with a Selonian," Vin replied quickly.
"I've had enough of Stars End," Mary said with an edge to her voice as she saw Alex being carried away. The injury to her best friend reminded Mary that there were still other people in her life she could not afford to lose and while the pain of losing Stephen was a knife in her heart, she could grieve privately because now was not the time for it. So much had been lost already and she still had no idea whether or not Laurel Chase was counted among the dead however. For the moment all that could wait. Right now, the only thing that mattered was putting Star's End behind them.
With a sad sigh, she took Chris' hand in hers and surprised him by the warmth and affection in her touch considering her harrowing experience. There was no longer any anger in her face, just that overwhelming sadness that touched his soul whenever he looked at her. He could tell that she had accepted her husband's death even though she was far from over it.
"What do you want to do?" he asked quietly even though he knew the answer already.
Mary met his gaze directly and said firmly. "Let's get the hell out of here. I want to go home."
Chris was happy to oblige her.
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