There was a strange sense of quiet following their crash landing that seemed far removed from the battle they had just emerged. Stranded in what could be considered a tropical landscape, it was obscene that beauty could exist in tandem with the carnage that had taken place in the skies above the planet. The peaceful setting seemed awkward and poised on a knife's edge, with change likely to happen with the next breath of sweeping breeze. Chris could sense Mary's emotions even though it was hard to read her thoughts. In times of extreme stress such at this, she had a tendency to box up all her thoughts into one place, hiding them in a place so fortified that very little could penetrate. Chris of course could break down those barriers easily but he refused to because she had a right to her privacy. Emotions radiated from her were easily read but thoughts required more specific burrowing and he knew for a fact that she did not appreciate it.
Within the protective casing on the life pod, Chris examined Chano's wound and knew that he would have to do something or else Mary's executive officer would not last the next day, let alone the next few hours if he continued to remain untreated. Unfortunately, the chances of rescue were dwindling, not unless they called for help and they could not do that when their scrambler coils were damaged, without giving away their position to the enemy who was surely waiting for such an action. When Chris had been piloting the X-wing, trying to bring the life pod to safety, TIE fighters had singled him out for attack. Chris was certain that Thrawn had sent those ships to drive him into Siraj because he knew it was Mary who was on board it. Thrawn would have been able to track the X-wings unceremonious entry into the atmosphere and while he might not know exactly where they were, he would have enough of an idea to begin searching. Unfortunately, Chano's injuries were bad enough to ensure that mobility for them would not be possible.
"How am I doing?" Chano asked weakly, having roused in the middle of Chris' examination of his injuries.
Chris considered his answer before responding. He did not wish to make Chano believe the worse but his condition was critical and there was no hiding that. "You're doing fine," Chris finally answered. "But your injuries are another thing entirely."
Chano did not seemed surprise and Chris did not expect he would be. The executive officer of the Purgatory was an able man. He could assess his own injuries without Chris needing to lie to him. Chano processed the information regarding his state of health and accepted it. Chris supposed he would; the man was a soldier who understood the risks of warfare and more specifically the dangers of being attached to a rebellion against the Empire. "What about the Purgatory?"
Chris shook his head. "I'm sorry," he replied softly, aware that the ship meant as much to Chano as Mary. "She was destroyed."
Chano swallowed hard and turned away for a moment, feeling vulnerable enough as it was without showing Chris his pain at the destruction of the warship. "What about the fleet?"
"Chano, you need to rest," Chris started to speak, not wishing him to be inundated with news of the devastation.
"Please," he insisted. "Don't treat me with kid gloves, not if I'm going to die. I want to know my life paid for."
"You're not going to die," Chris declared. "Things are difficult at the moment but not impossible."
Chano did not appear to believe him. "Tell me," he asked again.
Chris nodded, deciding that nothing was going to convince Chano otherwise so he might as well just tell him and be done with it. "The fleet was retreating. I am not sure what happened but apparently they manage to disable the shield generator. I don't think half of our ships made it out of the launch bay. When I came after you and Mary, the general retreat had been sounded."
Chano absorbed the news well and muttered a slight 'damn' under his breath before he regarded Chris again. "What's our situation?"
Once again, Chris saw little reason in lying because on some level Chano must have suspected what was happening by the fact that there were still inside the life pod. "Our situation is that we have crashed on the surface of Siraj, on the other side of the planet away from the base. My X-wing is scrap and our scrambler coils are damaged. I also think that it is entirely possible that the Imperials got a fix on us when we crash so we should be expecting visitors in a few hours."
"I didn't expect that much truth," Chano retorted bringing a little smile to Chris' face as well as his own.
"A Jedi is bound by it," Chris answered with a straight face.
"Sure, that's why you speak in cryptic sentences," Chano responded, wincing slightly as the pain overtook him. "So what do we do now?"
"I'm not sure," Chris said honestly. "Mary is trying to fix the scrambler coil. If we can get it activated, then we should be able to call for help. There might be enough ships left in the system for one of them to come get us, that is if they're not all gone yet."
"You have to get her away from here," Chano declared firmly. "If I can't be saved, don't waste your time and resources trying, you can't let them have her." He stared at Chris with a hard and determined gaze. "The cause needs her too much. I don't want you risking her life because of me. If you have to leave here to protect her, do it."
"Chano..." Chris believed the man was earnest in his wish to save Mary and for that Chris admired him a great deal but he did not know if he could do as Chano wanted. Mary would never stand for it and for that matter, neither could Chris.
"Please!" He begged.
"Alright," Chris conceded if only to calm him.
"Thank you," Chano said gratefully, believe the Jedi as he eased back onto the seat he had been strapped.
Nothing further was said as Chris administered all the treatment the medical supplies was capable of providing for the exec's severe injuries. It was barely a treatment but Chris felt he had to do something. There were Jedi who were capable of doing extraordinary things with the healing arts but Chris' talents did not lie in that direction and so he could do nothing but render Chano unconscious so that the man would not suffer too greatly. However, the reality of the situation could not be denied that unless they found help soon, Chano would die.
Chris emerged a short time later from the life pod and went in search of Mary who was assessing the damage to the craft and its ability to sustain them for a time. Chano was resting as comfortably as Chris could make it for him and he could sense by the frustration in her emotions that Mary was in need of something similar. As he made his way to her, he was invariably attracted to the sound of lapping waves from the nearby beach. With everything that had happened today, being in a place as lovely as this seemed almost surreal. Chris enjoyed the salty breeze against his skin and stared up into the sky, wondering how long it would be before the Empire came after them. They were most likely having trouble pinpointing them because the X wing and life pod had become detached from each other prior to the crash.
"Damn it!" He heard Mary swear and arrived just in time to see her flinging a hydrospanner down at the ground in exasperation.
"Problem?" He asked neutrally, sensing she was in an extremely agitated state and the next thing thrown might be at him.
"This whole communications panel is fused!" She shouted. "They sent a low level energy pulse at us to short out these systems! This was not some random accident Chris! This was intentional!"
It did not surprise Chris. If they wanted her as badly as he suspected, then it would almost certainly have been done to discern which pod she was on when the Purgatory had to be evacuated. Chris was stating to admire Grand Admiral Thrawn in a begrudging way. The man was certainly deserving of his rank but his genius only seemed to worse their own situation tremendously. Chris knew that Mary was feeling the net close in around her and he did not blame her for her anxiety. Even a Jedi was as prone to such feelings as she.
"Mary, the rebellion will come looking for you," he assured her. She was on top of the life pod, kneeling down before the damaged communication panel, appearing most disconsolate. The realization that things were grim had forced her to sit down and she wiped sweat off her brow as she tried to think.
"I don't want them to come looking for me!" Mary barked. "If they do, then they'll be caught by that son of a bitch up there!" She glared hatefully at the sky as if she could almost see Thrawn. "He's got us Chris! He knows it! Why do you think he's taking his time up there? He knows we can't go anywhere!"
"Mary," Chris walked up to the wall of the life pod and extended his hand outward to her. "Come on."
She stared at him. "Where?"
"Just come on," he growled, meaning he did not wish to ask her again.
Mary let out a groan of annoyance and climbed down from the life pod before reaching him. "What?"
Chris took her by the hand and pulled her away from the life pod. For a few seconds, he did not answer her annoyed questions about where they were going, despite the growing level of their protestations. They moved through the woods surrounding the life pod and soon emerged from the tree line to be confronted with a length of pristine white beach. Foaming waves teased the shoreline as waves swept in from the lovely vision of ocean before them. In truth, Chris' purpose for taking her away from the life pod had been to keep Chano from becoming privy to their worsening condition. Already the exec was asking Chris to abandon him to the Empire and Chris did not wish the man to do anything foolish if he learnt that their capture was almost a certainty. The man was unconscious but he did not want to risk Mary's anger waking him up.
"Look," Chris said gesturing to the ocean before them.
"Its very beautiful," Mary said taking in a deep breath of sea air. "But does not answer my question of what we are doing here?"
"What we are doing here," Chris stared at her. "Is giving you a chance to vent without Chano hearing you."
Mary's expression melted into dismay as she realized what he meant and she turned away, ashamed. "Oh Chris," she exclaimed softly. "I didn't think."
"It's alright," he placed his hands on her shoulder and forced her to look at him. "I know you have a lot on your mind."
"Chris, I don't know what to do," she confessed, turning around and when she did, he saw tears running down her cheeks. "We can't stay here because they will come looking for us and we can't move Chano. We can't even call for help and if they had any sense, the fleet would be on their way out of the system. We can't expect a rescue."
"I know," Chris agreed, having considered all these points again.
"Chris," Mary took a deep breath and Chris could sense something deep and foreboding emanating from her thoughts, something that made the Force inside him tremble with uncertainty. "I think perhaps we ought to consider me surrendering to them."
"Absolutely not!" Chris responded so quickly the word escaped him like a reflex action.
"Chris! We have to consider it!" She insisted. "Thrawn's entire expedition is not to destroy the rebel base, it is to capture me alive. We can use that to our advantage."
"How?" He demanded, staring at her in astonishment, unable to believe that she could even suggest such a thing. "How could you think giving yourself up to them to be an advantage?"
"He wants me alive. He needs me alive. A Grand Admiral does not get sent to do this sort of work. Any Imperial commander in the fleet is capable of engaging us. If Thrawn was sent to lead this assault it was for good reason and I think it was because to capture me alive! I know what I mean in terms of morale and politics and I understand what my capture would mean but I am one person and the cause will survive if I'm gone. They won't kill me Chris. I will be made an example of, probably brought to Coruscant so the Emperor can crow about my capture."
"Mary," Chris shook his head, not about to entertain such a thought, even for a second with all the points she had brought up. "We're not talking about this."
"Chris," she refused to give up because he did not wish to see that they really had no choice. "If I surrender myself, perhaps I can convince Thrawn to leave the system once I am in custody. Those who are here, including yourself and Chano will have a chance to escape. There are people in the base that are trapped because of the attack, who are injured and unable to escape. If those Imperial ships leave, our people can retrieve them."
"Mary, I will not let you go," Chris said firmly. "We both know that once you are in Imperial custody, they will kill you."
"You are a Jedi," Mary countered. "Tell me what you see about my fate? Am I to die now?"
Chris shook his head. "It does not work that way. The future is hard to predict, emotions are always clouding the outcome."
"Tell me!" She insisted.
"I DON'T KNOW!" He shouted back at her losing control. "ALL I KNOW IS THAT I CAN'T LET YOU DO THIS!"
"Oh Chris," Mary took his face in her hands and pulled him to her. Their lips met in a soft lingering kiss. She could feel Chris trying to draw away, probably because he thought this expression of intimacy was some attempt by her to sway his decision. In truth, it probably was but Mary had seen the emotion in his eyes and guessed the words he could not say. Admitting it was beyond him right now because the change in their relationship had come rather suddenly but she knew how she felt and it was the truth, no matter how difficult the revelation would mean in light of what she wished to do.
"I can't let you go," he whispered as her mouth opened beneath his, like a sensuous blossom reacting to sunlight.
Mary ignored his words, her hands sliding around his neck as she pulled him closer. Her passion for him taking hold as the power of his lips against hers started to impress itself upon every inch of her consciousness.. She felt him responding to her kisses, felt the resistance melt away for pure hungry need and with a growl of desire,. For months, they had been close emotionally but even he was unprepared for the totality of their physical connection. Chris had wanted her so badly for so long but he could not imagine how incredible she could feel until now. All he could feel was his insides knotting were from the sheer anticipation of knowing this was their time.
She had never dreamed it could be like this.. The lapping of waves and the sunshine overhead made the whole moment transcendent of their present crisis but she did not care. She would have this one thing. She loved him, she had from the day they had met and if she were going to do what she intended, then her last act of freedom would be loving him. Chris paused a second as they landed on the soft sand beneath them, a look of understanding past through each others eyes as they silently surrendered to what laying with each other would mean to their relationship.
The rebellion, the war and everything else that kept them apart was now some distant memory as they stole this brief moment for themselves. Chris did not believe he could have ever wanted any woman as badly as Sarah but he knew Mary could never be considered as just any woman.
I can't ever be without her. That was all that Chris could think. He wanted her to possess her, to love her, to be all the things for her, in body as well as in spirit. He wanted her to regret nothing even if this was the last day of their lives, even if the end of this day would see them in Imperial hands. He only wanted to please her because he loved her. From the first time he had seen her inside that tavern in Cordoba Chris had known it and during the months that followed, he had tried to deny it even though his love was being fortified with each second in her company. Chris had thought that he would never feel this way after Sarah had died but Mary had been such a surprise and in a universe full of wonders, she was quite simply the best one.
"I love you know," he whispered and saw her eyes glisten with moisture not simply from the pleasure of hearing the words he had spoken. Words, she knew had been so hard for him to say.
"I love you," she responded and a tear rolled down her cheek.
It was a sight Chris could not stand as he kissed her again and they continued to love. It was almost as if cosmic design had made her for him. Their pleasure had branded each other for life and no matter what happened after this, it would follow them forever, through this world and into the next.. When it was over, though nothing between them could ever be rightly so, Chris lay against her and felt as if he had come home when she held him in her arms, their skin scented with their passion, feeling as if pain was something that could be lived with as long as he did it with her. They did not speak, there was no need to as they heard the world continue around them, knowing that whatever happened later would happen, now was their time.
For however long it lasted.
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