THE HANDMAIDEN'S STORY by Linda T


"There she is," Chano told Mary as the Purgatory came out of hyperspace in the Zharian system. Mary turned her gaze towards the view screen where she was faced with the image of the Rogue trying desperately to evade the super star destroyer and the phalanx of TIE fighters that were converging upon it like a pack of scavengers on a rotting carcass. Mary took a moment to admire the enormous ship whole silhouette almost blocked out the sun in the distance. She found herself reflective for an instant, thinking that she might well be commanding such a magnificent craft if her life had turned out differently than it had.

"She's in trouble," Mary remarked, noting the way the ship was flying and finding something very irregular about it. "Buck's not piloting.

"I thought Captain Wilmington would rather die than let someone else at the controls of his ship," Chano responded automatically, since it was hardly a secret how passionately Buck felt about his ship.

"My goodness," Mary commented as she saw the TIE fighters that were destroyed around the freighter. "Look at the gunnery response time," she leaned forward in her command chair and squinted the image into clearer focus. "That's phenomenally fast."

"Perhaps Buck's taking over the main guns," Chano suggested.

"No," Mary shook her head, knowing the Captain too well. "He'd never give the controls to someone else. He's a better pilot than he is a gunner. I don't know who that is but he's a prime candidate for a little project I have in mind," she mused for a second before sitting up in her chair, ready to intervene in the Rogue's trouble. "Alright," she looked around at her bridge crew. "Full power ahead. Put us between the super star destroyer and the Rogue, outside tractor beam range. Let's give those TIE's something else to shoot at."

The Purgatory immediately accelerated as evidenced by the pace of the stars sweeping forward as the Nubian vessel sailed towards the space battle taking place above skies of Zhar. Mary knew that they were no match for the Avenger but then Mary had never planned on a direct confrontation with the ship in the first place. They would remain in this space long enough to retrieve the Rogue because Mary had no intention of crossing swords with the flagship of the Imperial Star Fleet. As it was, getting away was not going to be easy, she could see the Rogue being battered mercilessly by the TIE's despite its gunners best efforts to keep them at bay. In the final analysis, no matter how good he was, the Imperials were winning by sheer numbers.

"Try and contact the Rogue," Mary ordered. "We need to tell them what's happening."

The Purgatory finally entered the fray of the battle and the vessels formidable main guns started firing at the TIE fighter's destroying quite a few as it forced its way into the fighting. The small fighters began to scatter, their attack on the lone freighter in disarray by the timely intervention of the formidable Nubian warship. Of course the confusion was only momentary because it was not long after that Mary could feel the precussive detonations of laser blasts against the hull of her own ship as the TIE's turned their attention to their new enemy.

"The Avenger is moving to intercept." One of the bridge officers announced.

She had expected in and promptly responded. "Have we made com link with the Rogue yet?" she asked.

"Online now, go ahead," Chano answered, not about to give her a negative response when so much hinged upon it.

"Rogue, this Purgatory," Mary spoke out loud, confident that the Corsair would be able to hear her once her crew gave her the reassurance. "What's your status?"

"Our status is that we're in a lot of trouble!" Nathan's voice exploded on the trail of static. The background noise indicated just how badly the bombardment was affecting the ship. "Commander, we have the princess on board but Buck and Vin are on their way to Dagobah and Chris is still on Zhar."

Mary looked sharply towards the distant glow of the planet, "what do you mean Chris is on Zhar?" she demanded, forgetting all about the super star destroyer, what reason Buck and Vin would have to go to Dagobah and even the princess from Alderaan. Suddenly, her thoughts were fixed on the Jedi who had come to mean more to her than he should since his arrival into her life. "Why is he still on Zhar?"

"It's some Jedi thing," Nathan quickly explained. "He said Vader could sense him and Chris thought it was better if we split up. I think he was trying to lead Vader away so that we could get off the planet. We've been monitoring the transmissions since we left the surface. Commander he and Vader are fighting it out on one of the landing platforms in the city."

Mary considered what she was told and then took a deep breath. "Nathan listen closely. I want you to shut down engines and let our tractor beam grab you. We'll take you on board the Purgatory and deal with these Imperials from there. You understand?"

"Yes Sir," Nathan answered with more than a hint of relief in his voice. "Can't say I'm too upset about that. The ship can't take much of this pounding."

"Understood," she nodded. "Standby for lock on."

Once she had completed her instructions, she rose from her seat and went to Chano. "Once they're on board, head for the Zharian sun."

"Excuse me Commander?" Chano looked at her with astonishment. "Why? I thought we would be leaving as soon as we had them."

"I'm not leaving without Chris," Mary said abruptly. "Get as close to the sun as you can, the radiation will confuse the destroyer's sensors for at least thirty minutes to an hour. I'll be back by then."

"Back?" he exclaimed. "Where are you going?" Mary was already half way across the bridge.

She did not turn to look at him when she answered. "I'm going to get Chris."

It had not begun to rain yet but Chris suspected it would soon enough.

For a minute neither Jedi spoke as they stood before each other, weapons drawn, the glow of lightsabers clashing in colors of red and blue. The air was charged in the silence between them and though the reverberation of Vader's breathing apparatus could be heard form inside his helmet, everything felt deathly silent. Chris could feel Vader pressing into his mind, just as his own was wading through Vader's thoughts. The emotions were the easiest things to detect and sometimes their intensity could give an outsider passage through the walls erected to guard their innermost thoughts. Chris clung to one of these stray threads of feeling and was led inward into the heart of Vader's need right this moment. The dark lord sensed the intrusion and did nothing to reinforce the wall or to shut Chris out.

"The Force is with you Larabee, Obi-Wan spoke of you well," Vader greeted for that was the way it was done between the Jedi, even ones who were now enemies although the custom was often disregarded to fit the occasion.

"He used to speak of you well Anakin," Chris answered automatically.

Vader stiffened as if hearing the name was a physical assault in itself. "That name has no meaning for me."

"I suppose not," Chris replied. "So why the interest in what was Anakin's?" Chris did not expect an answer; not did he receive one when Vader responded.

"Where is he?" the dark lord's voice boomed through the air. "Where is my son?"

"Where you will never find him," Chris returned smoothly, his body poised for attack. He could feel the hatred burning inside Vader. The emotions inspired by the memory that he was once Anakin Skywalker was exuding from him in waves of rage. Chris wondered what had twisted him inside so much that he became such a terrifying parody of the man he was.

"He is my son," Vader returned. "I will find him."

"Over my dead body," Chris challenged and wondered how much of it was not inspired by his own wish to meet his end.

"If that is your destiny," Vader retorted and swung his blade with all the power of the dark side behind it.

Chris met the blade halfway, the sound filling the world when the two sabers met. Energy escaped the clashing weapon and disappeared into the air as Vader pulled back and struck again. The dark lord's abilities as well as his strength was no exaggeration and Chris defended himself as best he could, telling himself that there was no shame in dying. He was Jedi. He would die like one. However, he would not go easily and retaliated with just as much force, using skill and cunning as his ally rather than the rage that Vader used to fuel the darkness inside of him.

Energy against energy cackled loudly, preceded by the haunting hum of lightsabers as they swooshed through the air. Chris blocked the blows coming at him and delivered some of his own, driving Vader backwards and sometimes being driven back himself. Crisscrossing blades flew at each other as Chris somersaulted into the air and landed behind Vader and prepared to swing once more. The dark Jedi with equal speed spun around and was prepared for it but Chris jumped upwards and delivered a sidekick to the helmet and knocked Vader of his feet. The sabre fell out of Vader's hand for a brief instance before the Sith Lord rolled onto his knees and recalled his weapon to him in time to meet Chris' next strike. Vader concentrated and swept Chris off his feet, the Jedi landed hard on his back and looked up in time to see Vader about to bring his blade down upon him. Chris shifted his attention to the edge of the platform where a loose piece of paneling had broken the smooth finish of the rail and concentrated slightly. The length of metal ripped itself free and slammed into Vader's side, almost knocking him off his feet.

Chris flipped to an upright position as Vader regained his footing and swung once more. This time Chris was more than ready to meet it and put a good deal of power before the block. He stopped it a suitable distance from his face and mustered up all his strength and shove hard, propelling Vader back with unsteady steps. Not about to lose the advantage, Chris slamming his foot into the side of the Sith Lord's knee. Vader uttered a soft cry through as he dropped the ground on one knee, barely managing to keep himself from falling over completely when Chris swung again.

The thunderclap masked the sound of Chris' light sabre striking Vader's own and when Vader exerted his own strength and forced Chris back to buy himself a second to stand upright, Chris noticed that the pink clouds had finally turned grey. The thick veil of cumulous was preparing to spill forth the wet seed it had been clutching to its bosom for so long as Chris had anticipated it would. Another clap of thunder shattered the heaving of wind and distracted Chris momentarily. Vader saw his opportunity and took it, swinging around in mid air, his black cloak following him in the wind as he landed inches from Chris to renew his attack. The fury behind his blows were beyond imagination and Chris could well believe then he was the Vergence. He kept striking and striking, forcing Chris across the platform, until the Jedi was using every bit of strength inside of him to prevail.

It began to rain.

Rain battered down on them as the Jedi fought each other. Vader was using all the strength he could draw from the dark side, allowing it to feed his rage, to nourish his power as he continued swinging his sabre at his opponent with deadly strikes. This was why he had taken the path to the dark side, to feel the exultant surge of strength that flowed through his veins just because he had acknowledged its power. Chris could feel it emanating from Vader and refused to let it affect him because to do so would be to surrender to the belief that the dark side was stronger. It was not. It never would be. Chris took a deep breath and returned a succession of similarly charged blows, meeting Vader's attack blade for blade. They moved like dancers in the fire as the rain battered down on them, until Vader's cloak had stopped billowing, weighted down by the heavy droplets of water. Chris could feel his hair plastered to his face as he glared at Vader, refusing to die easily if it was his destiny to do so today.

There was momentary pause after their last series of blows where the two Jedis stared at each other recouping their spent energies. "You cannot win against me Larabee. I feel the pain of their deaths inside you. You're more than ready to join them."

"If that's the way it has to be," Chris returned, using the pause to catch his breath. "Whom am I to fight destiny?"

"I lost my wife and son too," Vader responded but the words did not sound like empathy but a rather derision. "Of course that could not compare to your loss. To learn your wife and son being murdered, not to mention the unborn seed that slumbered in her womb."

Chris blinked. "What?" his voice escaped him in a gasp.

"I checked the records of those who carried out elimination of Sarah Larabee prior to coming here," Vader said smiling although it could not be seen beneath the mask. "Before they died, your wife begged to be spared for the sake of her unborn child. Did you not know?" Vader asked triumphantly well that Chris did not.

"You're lying," Chris said through gritted teeth.

"Search your feelings Chris," Vader answered. "You know it to be true."

It was. Chris could sense the was cruelty in Vader at this moment, the black sadistic callousness of watching his pain but the dark lord was not lying. In a flurry of seconds he remembered the last time he saw Sarah, a memory emerged from nowhere about her mentioning she did not feel well, he did not remember the specifics exactly but knew that physically, there had been something wrong with her. Is that what it had been? The first stirrings of their second child? A child that never had a chance to be born? Who had died without ever seeing the universe of either of its parents?

"NOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Chris screamed and it was not just as scream. It was a howl of rage, of anguish, of bitter fury burning so white and hot that even Vader was taken back by its intensity. It rose to the surface with shocking speed and before Chris could question what he was doing, he was lunging at Vader, swinging so hard, drawing power from something beyond the Force, behind what he normally sought to give him courage with only one thought in his mind.

He was going to kill Vader.

Ezra Standish could see what was going on inside the viewing gallery of the tower's security center. He was watching with a contingent of stormtroopers as Darth Vader and Chris Larabee battled each other to stalemate. At the moment it appeared as if Vader might need help because even though he could not hear what had been said between the two Jedis, the unmistakable expression of rage on Chris Larabee's face could not be denied. The Jedi was swinging his blade as if he was demon possessed and was driving Vader towards the edge of the platform.

"Sir," one of the troopers asked. "Perhaps we should help Lord Vader."

A rumble of agreement followed and Ezra turned to the trooper who had made the request. "What exactly would you suggest we do trooper?" Ezra asked sarcastically. "I do not think Lord Vader will impressed by our interference. Jedis like to keep these battles of theirs confines to themselves. Whatever happens, we will stand by."

"Captain," one of the troopers entered the room suddenly. "We've had an unconfirmed report that an X-wing is on its way to the city."

"An X-wing?" Ezra mused, wondering if this was some rescue attempt for Chris. Ezra wished he knew what he could do to aid Chris in his present situation. At the moment, he could nothing to help without giving himself away. Not that there was very much he could do while the Jedi was battling Vader for everyone to see. Like everyone else, Ezra was just going to have to wait to see who made it out alive before he could act. However at the moment the arrival of the X wing threw an unexpected slant on the whole situation.

"They may be attempting the rescue the Jedi," Ezra responded, doing what was expected of him. "I want you to proceed to Zhar Air command and determine where it is landing. Arrest them the minute they disembark. One of you will remain here with me in case Lord Vader needs any assistance."

"Yes Sir," the head trooper nodded and filed out of the room, taking all but one in the process. The others seemed reluctant to go, mostly because they wanted to see how the battle between Lord Vader and the Jedi ended, while Ezra just wanted them gone. If the opportunity arose for him to help Chris, he could not act with them in his presence.

Although judging by the way Chris was hammering away at Vader's defenses, it appeared Vader might be in more need of aid than Chris Larabee.

"DIE! YOU GRIM SON OF A BITCH! DIE!"

Chris Larabee was not even aware that the words were coming from him. He only knew that he had hit a wall of rage so black and overwhelming, he could feel it infecting his brain with its venom until he could think of nothing beyond striking down this traitor who had destroyed everything he cared about because of his alliance with Palpatine. Chris lashed out, feeling the power coursing through him in waves and waves of self-righteous outrage sharpening each blow he sent in Vader's direction. He was not even aware that he was forcing Vader across the platform or that the dark lord was having real difficulty staving off Chris' frenzied strikes.

He was going to kill Vader, Chris thought repeatedly in his head as he watched Vader in retreat, staggering to block his blows. Something inside of him had snapped, reason perhaps, Chris did not know, nor did he care. Why should he? He was a Jedi! His duty was to protect the weak and the innocent and this creature was responsible for suffering of so many as well as the death of Sarah and Adam. Where was reason when his wife and son were being slaughtered? What good had it done him or them? He had more power now that he had felt in his life and he could only get stronger if he remained angry. He could kill Vader and then take on the Emperor. He could bring order to a galaxy that sorely needed it, perhaps even run it right so no one could ever be hurt again.

You could be like Vader, a small voice whispered in the back of his mind.

If anything snapped him out of the berserker rage he was presently experiencing; it was that single realization. He could be like Vader. In his dreams Vader had goaded him about how easy it was for him to take the path that led to the dark side. Until this moment, Chris had never realised it himself. From the periphery of where his fury was about to lead him, Chris pulled back and allowed the shock of cold water against his skin to penetrate beyond the flesh and into his mind. He closed his eyes and felt the tears escaping down his cheeks, becoming lost with the wet of the rain on his face when he understood how close he had come to losing everything, not just Sarah and Adam but himself. He wept for the child that might have been and the soul he had almost lost. The wife and child that were gone forever, no matter how much he might wish for them to come back. Perhaps until this moment, he had not realised how dangerous it was wishing otherwise.

He did deserve to die.

Vader did not know what had happened but when he saw Chris stop fighting to hold up his saber not to fight but to withdraw, the dark Jedi took the chance afforded for a final solution to this battle. His enemy did not cry out as the blade sunk into the Jedi's skin, sliding through flesh and muscle, through organs and bone before finally escaping on the other side. Chris was stared at him, tears on his face and Vader surprised himself by being able to tell the difference when he withdrew the glowing red blade. He stepped back with confusion, unable to understand why Chris had surrendered when he saw the wounded man tumble to the floor, his blood spilling out of him and staining the puddles of water around him with crimson.

Vader stood there staring at Larabee as blood pooled around his boots and saw that the Jedi was not dead. He raised his saber high up in the air, more than ready to kill Chris when suddenly a blast of immense energy exploded near him. Vader raised his head to see an X wing bearing down on him. It all happened so fast and as the ground ruptured near him, Vader noted that the shots were aimed carefully away from the prone Jedi. Whomever was flying the X wing had only target; him and the dark lord could do nothing but leap out of the way. The explosions awakened Chris briefly and as he saw the X-wing flying towards the platform, bend on reducing Vader into cinders; he forced himself to move out of the way to give it a clear shot. The agony was beyond description as he crawled on his belly, feeling the warm liquid against his skin he knew to be blood because the rain was much cooler. He led an ugly trail of red, quickly dissolving in the rain as he used his last ounce of strength to pull himself to the edge of the platform.

He raised his head long enough to see Vader falling over the edge on the other side of the platform following the explosion near him from another blast from the X wing, before Chris succumbed to the black that was calling for him to die.

Mary jumped out of the X-wing once she saw Vader thrown off the platform and secretly hoped that the bastard would scream like a stuck pig all the way down the tower. However, she did not have much time to savor that possibility because she did not have much of it period. Already planetary security was being alerted and soon fighters would be scrambling to intercept the X-wing. If she did not get in the air very soon, neither she nor Chris would survive to regret it. She yanked the helmet off her head as her eyes scoured the ruined platform that had been Chris' battleground with Vader. It was not hard to find him. One only had to be airborne to locate the two Jedis who had been fighting each other like gods battling over heaven and earth.

Her eyes widened when she saw him, lying in his own pool of blood. The rain barely registered against her skin as she broke into a run, sliding to his side on one knee when she finally reached him. Her heart was pounding inside her chest from cold fear almost as loudly as the rain coming down around her. He was lying on his belly but Mary did not need to see the wound to know that he was badly wounded. His blood was everywhere and she shuddered with more than just cold when she saw it seeping into her clothes as the rain pelted down on her skin. He was not conscious when Mary rolled him over and saw the injury that was bleeding life out of him in an ever-widening pool of crimson.

"Chris," she cried out as her hands feverishly brushed the hair from his face and examined him for a pulse. There were faint stirrings in his veins, indicating that he was alive but not for long. He was not conscious of her at first, not until she spoke his name again.

"Chris, wake up," she tried to make it sound like an order, like the voice of the commander who was assured of everything on the bridge of her ship but it did not come out that way. It escaped her like the plaintive plea of a frightened woman. "Chris, you need to wake up right this minute!"

"Go." He opened his eyes but was too weak to focus on her. His gaze seemed fixed on the sky above and Mary could see the light fading out of it. "Leave me," he gasped, sputtering blood with each word.

"No," she said firmly. "I am doing nothing of the kind. You are coming with me!"

He tried to shake his head but succeeded only in lolling it to one side. "I can't let them go," he sobbed pitifully. "I can't. I don't know how to go on without them."

Mary felt tears in her own eyes because she understood all too well how hard it was for him to make the choice for life in the face of his overwhelming grief. Her command was all that kept her from going the way he had, kept her from wallowing in the sorrow of losing not only Stephen but in some ways losing Billy as well. She had stopped being mother to her son when her husband had died and what were left behind were barely a woman, just a rank and a cause. Until she met Chris Larabee that is. He had given her something that she had never expected to feel again and on some level, she knew he felt the same way too, even though they were both too raw to admit it.

"You have to Chris," she whispered softly in his ear. "I won't let you go! We need you too much and your family would not want it to end this way for you! You have to let them go because I won't you go!"

He was no longer looking at her. Mary had seen enough comrades on the battlefield to know that he was starting to die, not because of his wounds but because he wanted to.

"Don't you do it!" she shouted at him, shaking him hard so that his mind would not slip away from her. "Don' you leave us Chris! Don't you understand? We need you! All of us! Not just the Alliance but your friends! Don't slip away from us!"

He started to stir but not enough. Mary blinked and felt more tears run down her cheeks along with the cold raindrops. She placed her hand on his cheek and shivered inwardly because his skin was growing cold. "Chris," she looked into his face and thought how at much at peace he appeared to be but Mary was too selfish to let him drift away from her. "Chris, I need you. I never needed anyone in my life but I need you. I can't do it alone. We were supposed to go through it together remember? We were suppose to be the shoulder to cry on for each other whenever the hurt got too much for us. You have to wake up Chris! You have to let me be there for you and you have to be there for me! Don't you understand it won't work if one of us is gone!"

She started to cry out of sheer helplessness until suddenly, she felt her hand on his cheek. She looked down and saw him staring at her, momentarily lucid.

"You always this pushy?" he asked hoarsely.

Mary almost burst into tears again but managed to utter a small smile instead. "When I need to get things done."

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