THRAWN by Linda T.

Ezra Standish stared outside the plexiglassed window of the observation deck and admired the iridescent glow of Jofa beneath him. For centuries, poets and artists respectively had attempted to immortalize the planet’s beauty without ever realising that it was a pointless exercise. No words spoken, no picture drawn could ever compare with the reality that he was viewing at present. In the days of the Old Republic, Jofa had been spoken about as the pinnacle of co-existence in the fact that two different species, one indigenous and one colonial had managed to build a new society of mutual cooperation. Together they built one of the most peace loving civilizations in the Republic, a race of artists who spread the beauty of their world throughout the galaxy. Even the violence of the Empire could not take that away from Jofa, even if that race was now extinct.

Ezra Standish stared out the window because if he turned around, he would be confronted with the observation deck that had been converted into a hospital ward because the Angel of Mercy was so overloaded with wounded that there was no place left for them to be. The sight of Jofa might offer them comfort but it would be a poor consolation to what they had lost on this day. Ezra let out a deep breath and turned around, finding himself confronted with rows upon rows of rebel personnel, lying prone on cots as medical droids and technicians moved busily through the aisle of bodies, attempting to deal with everyone. With the withdrawal of the Empire from the Siraj system, Ezra was able to send back a rescue team to retrieve the people at the devastated base.

The command structure of the fleet was in tatters. A large number of the dead was ranking officers and with the absence of Mary Travis, the rebel cell of the Territory was in something of a vacuum. Confusion and shock was prevalent among those who remained and in the wake of their losses, someone had to make the decisions and surprisingly enough Ezra found that he was able to do that. By the time, they had arrived at Jofa; Josiah who was the representative of the Alliance War Council, had given him a battlefield appointment of commander, making him the highest-ranking officer within the fleet. Ezra would only accept the role in order to be of service during Mary’s absence. Unfortunately, in light of present news, it appeared that it could be more permanent that he would have like.

The capture of Mary Travis had the desired effect the Empire had hoped to achieve when sending Grand Admiral Thrawn after her; to deliver a devastating as well as demoralizing blow to the Rebel Alliance from which it would never recover. As Ezra studied the desolate faces before him, it seems that goal might have well been achieved. A part of him did not know how he had come to this. It felt like almost a lifetime had passed since he had saved Nathan from that Imperial outpost on Doldur. Until then, he had only been interested in surviving his military service, stationed comfortably on Coruscant where he could roam the sabaac houses, looking to make a fortune using his skills as a gambler.

He had no idea just how big the game was about to get. Not until this moment.

"How are you doing Commander?" Nathan Jackson asked playfully as he approached his old friend and noted from his expression that Ezra was still a little shaken by all the changes that had taken place in his life within the last few hours.

"I hold you entirely responsible for this," Ezra scowled as Nathan joined him.

"I’ll try to live with the shame," Nathan deadpanned but softened enough to add, "you did good Ezra."

"My mother is going to kill me," Ezra grumbled some more, feeling the need to take his chagrin out on somebody and Nathan would do just nicely right now. "She would rather me be a criminal than a freedom fighter."

"Maude will take it in stride," Nathan chuckled, aware that Ezra’s belligerence was only a mask for his anxiety at failing those who were now trusting him to lead them as Mary had done. Of course that was impossible because they were two different people with two different ways of command, no less effective than one another. In the days to come, they would need Ezra to survive. "Have you told her?"

"I have informed her to make herself scarce," Ezra responded, recalling the contents of the coded transmission he sent to the Corporate Sector an hour ago. "I have not said why but she knows I would not make such a request lightly."

"Good," Nathan nodded, keeping to himself that Josiah would be pleased of this fact too. Ezra was still in some denial about his mother’s involvement with Josiah Sanchez, particularly when the relationship was formed prior to his birth. Nathan let his gaze sweep across the observation deck at the makeshift ward the place had become and felt whatever humor he was sharing with Ezra dissipate at the sight of so many wounded. He understood now why Ezra had been wearing such a grim expression on his face when he had first stepped onto the deck.

From where he was standing, Nathan could see Buck Wilmington holding a bedside vigil next to Louisa Perkins who was still unconscious after sustaining serious wounds when the operations centre had caved in. Buck was already grieving for Audrey King who had been killed shortly after saving his life. The big man did not take death well and the loss of the brave colonel had affected him deeply. Nathan gestured at Ezra to follow him and the two friends joined the third member of their set to offer moral support as well as affirmation that Buck had friends who would endure this crisis with him.

"How is she Buck?" Nathan announced himself and Ezra by inquiring.

Buck looked up at them, his eyes hollow with worry. Louisa’s skin was pale with an unhealthy translucence. She seemed a far cry from the fiery captain who was capable of standing up to Mary and giving the rebel commander as good as she gave. Louisa was a force of nature in her own right. She had thrown herself over Casey when the ceiling had come down in the operations center, attempting to protect the young woman from the debris. While she had managed to accomplish that, it had been borne at considerable cost to herself.

"The medtech says she’s got a lot of internal damage. They think they got it all but they can’t be sure for a couple of hours." Buck's voice betrayed his anxiety and Nathan wished that there was more he could do for Buck then offer moral support.

"She’s strong Buck," Nathan insisted. "She’ll pull through this."

"I know," Buck said with eternal optimism even if at the moment it had taken something of a beating. He was just glad to hear someone else think the same. "It's hard seeing her like this. She's usually up and about trying to make everyone feel better about being here. I wonder who does things like that for the morale officer when she needs it."

"You do," Ezra said with a smile. "Did you not know?"

It was obvious to Ezra how much Louisa meant to Buck even though he knew almost nothing about their relationship other than the fact that it existed. Ezra could not deny that he was happy to see Buck was involved with somewhere else as for a time their relationship had been a little strained because of his affair with Inez. Buck still had some proprietary feelings for the lady which though he tried hard to ignore was difficult to conceal around someone who read people as easily as Ezra. However, no such concerns filled Ezra's mind as he stood by Buck in this hour of need prepared to offer the friendship and support needed to make the man's burden a little easier to bear.

"I guess I did," Buck replied, feeling a little better.

"Hey flyboy," a weak voice suddenly spoke and captured their attention. Roused by all the voice overhead, Louisa was prompted into consciousness once more. Her emerald eyes fluttered open weakly and her voice sounded alien after speaking.

"Darling!" Buck turned to her immediately, dropping to his knees next to her cot. He reached for her hand and clasped it tight, wanting her to know that he was here and he would not leave her. With his touch he ensured that she was safe and that everything would be all right. "You're awake! Goddamn it girl, what you doing scaring me like that?"

"Well I'm sorry," she muttered sarcastically, her eyes fixed on him with a faint smile. "You know how I like to be dramatic about things."

"Hey Louisa," Nathan stepped into her view. "Nice to see you're still with us."

"I almost wasn't," Louisa sighed painfully, still unable to focus on them clearly. "Is Casey alright?"

"She's fine," Buck said kissing her hand. "You saved her."

"I'm glad," she closed her eyes slowly, indicating that she needed more rest and while nothing short of another Imperial fleet was going to tear Buck Wilmington from her side, Ezra and Nathan chose to make a discreet departure, allowing them some privacy.

"Before we got side tracked, I came to give you a status report," Nathan explained as they put some distance between themselves and Buck

Ezra flinched once more, needing to gain a little equilibrium at the heady pace of things. He was well and truly apart of the Alliance now, Ezra thought silently. "Go ahead," he said after composing himself.

"Are you okay?" Nathan asked with concern, aware of how great a step this was Ezra. He felt guilty about how the Alliance had trust this responsibility upon his old friend but Nathan had absolute faith that it was a burden he could bear. In fact, Nathan had always known Ezra was capable of it, even when Ezra did not.

"Yes," Ezra nodded. "This moments of disorientation will pass. Please continue."

"Josiah and JD are ready to leave for Jofa as per your instructions," Nathan informed him.

"Minimal complement?" Ezra asked, making sure his orders were followed to the letter. They had no idea whether or not Jofa was still occupied. The Empire made grandiose declarations about wiping out the entire Jofan race both air breathing and aquatic, however Ezra did not entirely believe it was true. If there were still sentient life on Jofa, they would be a great deal more receptive to overtures of an alliance without the intimidation of a large force attempting to make first contact.

"JD's taking Josiah in one of our fighters that had been equipped with aquatic lungs," Nathan explained. "As you requested, they'll make a preliminary sweep of the undersea pavilions to detect any sentient life and then proceed to make contact."

"Good," Ezra nodded, pleased of that. "As much as it would lessen the complication if they are all wiped out, I would like to see them apart of this. Their race has suffered greatly, we should give them an avenue to strike back."

As they made their way out of the observation deck, Ezra caught sight of Claire Moseley. The young woman was sitting at her husband side, holding his hand in much the same way as Buck had been doing to Louisa a short time ago. Seeing her there made Ezra yearn for Inez but he knew that she was most likely doing what she could to help the wounded on board the ship. Claire's face corresponded with so many others he had seen since coming on board and the mood was a dank smell wafting throughout the fleet which had so much power to destroy. The news of Mary's capture had torn the heart out of them, Ezra included and it was a wound he could only heal by helping them to survive this and making them strong for it.

"How is Chris?" Ezra finally asked.

Nathan's gaze dropped to the ground and his shoulders seemed to sag a little. "Bad, Ezra. Really bad and it's not the wound."

"It is the wound," Ezra countered with a knowing sigh. "Just not the one we are able to see."

"I wish I could come with you Uncle Josiah," Casey Wells said unhappily as she accompanied her uncle to the flight deck where he would soon be embarking on another mission. This time he would be playing diplomat on Jofa and though the trip was meant to be merely reconnaissance at this time, she could not help feeling a little anxious at whether or not he would be in danger once more. After everything that had happened in the last day, she feared for the safety of the people in her life. So many faces she had become accustomed to over the past months were now gone, some were never coming back and others were wounded. Until now, she had never realized how truly dangerous being apart of the Rebellion Alliance could be and what had happened in the last few hours was a rude awakening. She tried not to think about Audrey whom she had liked a great deal, who was always nice to her and did not treat her like a child. It hurt knowing that Audrey was dead and the pain she saw in Buck's eyes was reflected in her own. JD had told her that Finn was also killed in the fighting and though he tried to be brave, Casey knew that he felt responsible.

And then there was Mary and Casey could not even begin to broach that pain because it would strangle her whole and leave her weeping like a little girl.

"I won't be gone long Casey," Josiah answered warmly. "This is important if we are to establish a base in Jofa."

"I know," she smiled, having grown up a little in the past hours to be able to accept that some things must be. She had vowed after seeing that he had come out of the battle unhurt that she would never give him reason to worry about her. "I just wished you didn't have to go that's all."

"Well I have to," he answered with a little smile as his big arms hugged her closer to him as they walked. "If not, you're not going to be able to rewire the communications system like you wanted to and make it so much better. Let's face it, after what you managed to decipher when the shield generator went down, there isn't a person on this base who's ever going to underestimate you again."

"I wish I had done it before all those people got hurt," Casey pouted, feeling no satisfaction when so many were dead or wounded.

"You did what you could and that is always enough," Josiah responded.

They entered the flight deck and immediately caught sight of JD who was preparing the fighter in the middle of the launch bay for departure. He was already garbed in his flight suit.

"Are you ready Josiah?" JD asked, glancing briefly in Casey's direction as they arrived at the ship.

"I am," Josiah nodded. "You have a spare flight suit?"

"Yeah, in one of the rear compartments," JD answered before Josiah rounded the ship, leaving JD alone with Casey.

Silence followed as they stared at each other, feeling awkward because they had both been given an unhealthy dose of growing up today and were still reeling from its effects. Casey knew she was glad that he was alive and though she did not say it, she worried for him as much as Uncle Josiah, though why she should care about a peasant was beyond her sometimes.

"I'm sorry about Finn," JD volunteered after a moment. "I know you liked him."

Casey met his gaze, wondering what he meant by that. "Sure I liked him, he was a friend."

"I mean as more than a friend," JD said gingerly and received an odd stare from her.

"As more than a friend?" She asked puzzled. "JD, what are you talking about?"

"I know you liked him Casey!" JD exclaimed with exasperation. Why did she have to make things so difficult?

"Are you sure you're alright?" Casey stared at him in sarcasm. "There was nothing between me and Finn. Why would you think that?"

"It isn't important," JD sighed and realized it wasn't really. What mattered that they were okay and they would survive this black day. "I'm just real glad you're okay Casey."

Casey softened, seeing the extent of his feelings in his eyes. "Me too JD." She smiled and thought he looked so handsome in his flight suit. For a peasant, she could not resist thinking mischievously.

JD swallowed hard, summing up the courage to lean over and kiss her lightly on the cheek when suddenly, Josiah's voice sang out in his ear.

"Are you ready to go, lieutenant?"

JD looked over his shoulder and saw Josiah staring at him. The expression on the senator's face appeared stormy to say the least and JD winced. Somehow, he got the feeling that it was going to be a long flight to Jofa.

It was strange how liberating it was to know that one was going to die because it took away all the mundane concerns that plagued one's life and put it in its proper perspective. As Mary languished in her cell alone, fully aware that with each second the sands of her life were running out, she looked back upon her existence with a sense of quiet satisfaction. She had done a great deal of what she had set out to do and though it appeared that there were some points upon which she would always grieve, her existence had largely been full to the brim with all the important things. She had loved two men in her life and she had borne a son who would carry her in his heart and ensure her immortality in some distant way. She had stood up for what she had believed and had been unafraid of fighting for those principles no matter what the personal cost. She had friends who would miss her passing but they would go on without her, nevertheless and that gave Mary some peace.

She had avoided thinking too much about Chris Larabee for that would only bring pain and there was quite enough of that going around at the moment, thank you very much. She felt him in her heart already, felt his pain and anguish over what she had done but she knew that feeling would pass as time went on and he would survive. Chris was a survivor, no matter how much he may brood at times. Mary knew that she was making this positive account of her life because it was coming to a close. Since her capture, she had been deposited inside this cell and had seen no one. She knew that despite her relatively good treatment on board the Chimaera, this state of affairs would not last indefinitely. Thrawn had shown her that he was a man of his word as well as an officer of true character for she was treated as a prisoner or war, not someone charged with sedition, which would usually engender harsh treatment by a lesser person.

Her ruminations cut short when the doors to her cell slid open and Mary found herself no longer alone for the first time in days (?), she could not be certain since the hours seemed to bleed endlessly into one another after awhile. Thrawn entered her cell and in the flesh he was almost as imposing as he had been through the view screen of the Purgatory. He was a handsome man with deeply intelligent eyes and though he appeared in every respect human, his eyes were a crimson color and his skin was a shade of indigo. For the life of her, she could not place what race he might have originated from because Mary had never seen anything like him.

"Commander Travis," Thrawn said lowering himself onto the bunk bed across from where she was. "I wish we had met under different circumstances."

"Thank you," Mary answered graciously. As a prisoner, she had been acquitted with respect and dignity that he was not required to provide. She saw no reason to be rude under such circumstances. Besides, she was still a soldier and so she would accept that he had taken the field this day. "I appreciate that you kept your word in regards to my wounded."

"They can be someone else’s problem," Thrawn answered. "You were mine and all that I was primarily concerned with."

Mary did not know how to take that and so she did not respond, allowing him to continue with what he had come here to say.

"We will shortly be arriving at Coruscant," Thrawn announced, watching her reaction.

Mary was unsuprised by the news. She had expected it. "I take it that much has been made by my capture?"

"Consider yourselves a subject of public relations," Thrawn said with a little smile. "It was a challenge playing the game with you, my dear."

Mary let a sad smile cross her face. "I have a feeling that I was outmatched." She had to give him that much because it was the truth. Thrawn had come after her and succeeded spectacularly in her capture. She respected a commander on the field worth his salt and she only regretted he was not on the side of the Alliance. "Although if opportunity ever put us on opposite ends of the field again, I think I might surprise you."

Thrawn was highly doubtful that she would ever leave Coruscant alive but there was no reason to be venomous. He could afford to be gracious in this instance. "I have no doubt of that," Thrawn responded with a slight bow. "You were a worthy adversary."

"As were you," Mary responded and knew it was the truth.

However, she could not help fearing how the Alliance would fare against Thrawn when she was gone. If Palpatine chose to set him loose again, Thrawn could devastate the rest of the Rebel Alliance as he had devastated the Siraj cell. It was too late for her now but she prayed that it would not be too late for her friends.

Buck Wilmington remained at Louisa’s side, long enough for the morale officer to drift back to sleep before he left her in the capable hands of the medical staff on the observation deck. Although she was weak, Buck knew that she would recover. Louisa was strong and determined. He had no doubt that she would be on her feet in no time, trying to perform her duty of making everyone feel better. He supposed that’s why he cared for her so much because in some ways, they were one and the same in that respect. Buck was sorry he did not get the chance to say goodbye to either Josiah or JD before they left the ship but there was something of more urgency that required his attention at present. Like the rest of the fleet, Buck was still in muted shock over the capture of Mary Travis and more specifically the circumstances of that incarceration. Once again, Mary had risen to the occasion, sacrificing herself so that the wounded rebels still trapped in the wreckage of the destroyed rebel base could be rescued.

Her loss had hit them all hard and as he moved through the Angel of Mercy, he could see it on the faces of everyone he encountered. There was not a person on board who was not affected on a personal level by what they had endured today, but Mary’s capture seemed to make things even worse. It felt as if something had been torn from them and the gaping wound of her absence was still fresh and raw. Buck tried not to think about where Mary could be at this time, aware that she was most likely on her way to Coruscant, no doubt to act as the center piece for some bit of Imperial propaganda celebrating this victory over their enemies.

What the rest of the Alliance did not know, was how Mary had given herself up to the Empire that was a secret known only by the seven.

Ezra had made that decision himself, deciding that there was enough shock going through the fleet without them having to know that their leader had almost killed the Jedi in her company to make her sacrifice. The rest of the seven seemed to agree but that agreement did not make it any tolerable, even if they understood her reasoning. The consequences of what she had done did not seem so important in the light of her capture but Buck knew that for Chris Larabee, it was a hell that no man should ever have to bear, let alone one who had already lost a wife and a child. Thus Buck found himself walking to the room where Chris was presently occupying, determined to pick up the pieces of his friend’s psyche, the way he had done when Sarah and Adam had been killed.

Chris had been placed in a private room, unlike the rest of the wounded at Vin’s request. This would be a good idea because only he had some idea of what Chris would be like when the man finally emerged from his Jedi trance. Buck arrived at the ward where the room was situated and found that he had been correct in assuming the worst. Even as he made his way down the corridor, a handful of orderlies were hurrying towards a commotion, which found its center in Chris Larabee's room. Buck swore under his breath and hastened his pace, arriving just in time to see one orderly flying out of the room. The man landed heavily on the floor, uttering a groan as he impacted before sliding some ways across the smooth surface.

"Get everyone out of there!" Buck shouted at the medical personnel in the vicinity trying to regain control of the situation. Those who knew his relationship with Chris were wise enough to comply and very soon, Buck was wading through bodies moving away from the area. Medical droids were helping one or two medtechs to their feet. Their injuries were not severe but indicative of a misguided attempt to get in the way of a very enraged Jedi Knight. Unfortunately, this was also nothing that Buck had not seen before.

Buck took a deep breath as he entered into Chris’ room. The Jedi was in the process of getting dressed and Buck could tell immediately why the medical staff was so determined to keep him on bed. The wound that Mary had inflicted on Chris was severe and there was blood seeping through the gauze around his body. His color indicated that he was liable to collapse at any minute but there was enough adrenaline running through his body to ensure he was capable of being quite dangerous, even in his weakened state. He barely looked up at Buck when the pilot entered the room, continuing to dress even though his movements were strained and labored.

"Chris, what the hell are you doing?" Buck demanded, unable to believe that Chris could be taking out his anger on innocent people trying to do their jobs.

"I’m going after her," Chris retorted, his hands shaking as he tried to secure the utility belt where he kept his light saber around his waist.

"So that’s why you’re taking it out on these people?" Buck accused; wondering where the hell Vin Tanner was in all this. He had thought he apprentice would not leave the Jedi’s side especially in light of what had happened.

"They tried to stop me from leaving," Chris answered as if that were explanation enough. "I have to go after her before its too late."

"Chris," Buck said gently. "Its already too late. She’s gone."

"Don't you say that!" Chris roared and glared sharply at Buck. The force of his rage sent Buck flying like a rag doll. The pilot slammed hard into the wall, his senses blurring with pain and for a moment, Buck thought he might lose consciousness but he knew he was very much aware because he could hear Chris shouting at him in rage. "She’s not gone! It’s not too late to save her! I won’t let her go! Not like Sarah and Adam! I couldn’t save them but I can save her!"

Buck opened his eyes and saw Chris breathing hard, sweat was glistening of his bare torso and Buck was certain that if Chris had really intended it, he would be dead. No, his old friend was angry and hurt, reacting in the only way he knew how but Buck could not let him continue this way. He would hurt himself and those around him. "You’ll get yourself killed," he muttered.

"Everybody dies," Chris growled. "Difference is choosing how you are going to go. I choose to do it saving Mary’s life. If I have to go through everyone, including the people here I will because I won’t let them have her!"

"They already do Chris!" Buck shouted, feeling his own temper bubble inside of him. "They have her and nothing less than an armed assault is going to get her back! Even if you didn’t die on the way there, what makes you think you could reach her! Its suicide!"

"I’m not asking you to come with me!" Chris shouted angrily as he struggled over to where the rest of his clothes were situated. "You’re not a Jedi! You don’t even know what it is to love someone for more than a day! For you it’s one woman after another! It’s not so easy for me Buck! I love her and there’s no one else for me but her! Don’t expect me to sink to your level!"

"My level?" Buck glared at him; unable to believe Chris had actually said that. The words stung beyond belief especially because Chris had said it. "It’s got to be a hell of a lot better than where you are Chris, taking it out on everybody. You think you’re the only one who’s lost? How dare you!"

"Get out of my way Buck," Chris stared at him menacingly. "I’m going after her and no one is going to stop me. I didn’t ask for your help and I don’t want it! All you’ll do is get under my feet and I don’t have time to watch your back!"

"For your own good," Buck declared stepping forward, "I’m not going to let you do this, no matter how angry you get."

"You think you can stop me?" Chris looked at him derisively. "Come on Buck, make your play, I’ll indulge you because I’m leaving this ship one way or another."

"Don’t make me hurt you Chris," Buck pleaded, not wishing this to go where it was headed. As hurt as he was by Chris’ words, it was no different from how he had behaved when Sarah and Adam had died. Buck just had to ride out the storm.

"Hurt me?" Chris’ eyes met Buck’s sharply and there was a moment of concentration when suddenly Buck started to choke. His hand immediately clutched at his neck as he tried to loosen the invisible talons around his throat. Buck’s face turned red as his air passages were blocked and he began rasping for breath. He dropped to his knees as the panic set in and his body started reacting to the loss of air.

"That’s enough Chris," Vin Tanner’s voice cut quietly through the air.

Chris looked up in surprise and released his hold on Buck, realizing that perhaps he had gone too far and was staggered by what he had almost done. He met Vin’s eyes with shame and horror but also with so much anguish that Vin felt the same pain inside his own heart but none of it would absolve Chris.

"Buck," Vin went over to the pilot who was on his knees, "are you okay?"

It took a few second of harsh breathing before Buck was able to answer him. "Yeah," he met Chris’ eyes and saw that the Jedi was staring at him and it did not take much clairvoyance for Buck to know that the expression there was one of remorse. "I’m okay."

Vin helped Buck to his feet and then turned to Chris, "Buck can you please give me and Chris a moment alone?"

"Sure," Buck nodded, deciding that there was nothing more he could do for Chris without provoking the Jedi’s anger even further. Although he was hurt by what had happened, he understood that Chris was in a great deal of anguish and this episode was merely a splinter in comparison to what he had dealt with when Chris had lost his family. Their friendship had remained intact after that and it still would, even after this. "Good luck," Buck muttered softly before leaving Vin and him alone.

Vin did not speak until after Buck had left the room and he noted that Chris’ gaze was aimed away from his own, perhaps because he was too ashamed to look Vin in the eye after his behavior with Buck. Vin shut the door, sealing them both inside the room so no one else would get hurt in the crossfire. He saw Chris continuing to dress himself, with every intention of leaving to seek out Mary. As much as Vin believed in what he wanted to do, he was not allowing Chris to do this, not today.

"I don’t want to hear it," Chris said sharply as soon as they were alone.

"Hear what exactly?" The apprentice leaned against the wall, making no move to approach him. "That you just tried to hurt your oldest friend, that you’re harming people who only care about your welfare or the fact that you are so wounded you can barely stand up. What exactly do you not wish to hear?"

"You are the last one to lecture me," Chris snorted.

"I am not going to lecture you but I’m not going to let you do this either," Vin retorted firmly. "She is my friend and she gave her life up so that you would live. Now that means something to me even if you could not care less."

Chris stared at Vin in anger. "I never asked her to do that!"

"No, you didn’t," Vin returned. "But you lessen what she did by what you intend to do!"

"Are you telling me to do nothing?" Chris demanded, unable to believe anyone could even suggest such a thing.

"No," Vin shook his head. "I wouldn't do that for anything. She is my friend and I want her back just as badly but you're cheapening her sacrifice by what you are doing right now. You need to rest and heal. When that’s done, we’ll think of a way to get her back."

"I can’t do that!" Chris said sharply. "I’ve got to go now."

"You can’t go now! You’re in no good to her the way you are! Even you’re not stupid enough to think you can get her back in your condition!" Vin snapped, allowing nothing without good reason and even then it could not be because Chris could barely stand let alone take on the defenses at Coruscant, which was almost certainly where Mary was taken.

"I DON’T CARE! DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND! I CAN STILL FEEL HER!" Chris screamed. "I feel her inside of me. She’s scared Vin. She’s never been scared in her life and I want to protect her! I want to make it stop! I promised myself that I would never let anyone harm her and now she’s in their hands where they’ll parade her like an rogue animal just before the slaughter! I won’t let her suffer that humiliation and I can’t go let her go through that with her inside my head. I don’t want to know what it was like to feel her die! If I don’t help her now that is exactly what will happen! I don’t want to know what it feels like to have the life of someone I love die inside my head, not again!"

Vin swallowed hard as the last vestiges of Chris’ composure started to crumble and the Jedi slumped to the floor as if that admission had taken all the strength out of his body. "Why did she do it Vin?" Chris cried out as his voice broke into a sob. "Why did she do it! I would have protected her! I would rather have died than let her do what she did!"

"I don’t know Chris," Vin answered softly, his own voice cracking a little when he went to his friend and joined Chris on the floor. He had asked these same questions when Charlotte had taken his place fighting Vader. She had died for him. Vin still did not know how to deal with that because the pain was still great even though he had since learnt to live with it. Of course it was a thousand times worse for Chris because he loved Mary where Vin’s affection for Charlotte had since faded away. "I guess because she probably loves you as much you love her and she also thought that living without you is just as unimaginable as what you’re feeling now."

"God Vin," Chris sobbed visibly, having neither the energy nor the inclination to keep his sobs from escaping him. His body shuddered as he wept and Vin remained where he was, saying nothing and letting Chris to deal with his anger as well as his sorrow. "How could she think that this was a good decision for either of us?"

"She’s only human Chris," Vin answered. "And in loving someone, you make mistakes trying to do what’s best but Mary saved not only you but everyone else by what she did and we’ve got to make her sacrifice mean something. You have to heal Chris, if not for yourself then for Mary because we’ll need you when we try to get her back."

Chris wiped the tears from his eyes and met Vin’s sympathetic gaze. "I’m sorry Vin. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. It just hurts so badly I can’t stand it."

"I know," Vin nodded in understanding as he embraced his friend. "I know and I swear I’ll take on Coruscant and the entire galaxy alongside you if it means getting her back. While you’re recovering I’ll see to it that no one gives up on Mary, I won’t let them. I promise you that Chris."

Chris knew that when Vin made a promise, he kept it. He had seen first hand what lengths the apprentice would go to ensure that. "Thank you Vin," Chris whispered softly. "Thank you."

Vin did not know if getting Mary back was at all possible but at this moment, he was willing to say anything because Chris needed to believe it.

And hopefully, wherever she was; Mary would hear him and she would believe it too.


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