The seconds that ticked by after Stephen Travis was brought before Laurel Chase seemed like an eternity to Mary. Time seemed to slow as if they reaching the singularity at the center of a black hole. They faced each other, the short space between them the last leg of the great gulf that had kept them a part for a whole year. She had moved on and he had remained frozen, lost and alone. His eyes met hers and even though there was some confusion because she did not look entirely like herself, he knew her instantly. There were tears glistening in his eyes as he dared to hope that she was not an apparition, like the one that had kept him company in his dark cell for a year.
"Mary....?" he croaked. His voice was barely a voice, just a hoarse whisper trying to make it past his throat.
"Let me go or I'll have him killed!" Laurel broke into their tearful reunion with her savage voice. Stephen's arrival here had shifted the balance of power and given her an edge. "Guard, kill him unless she releases me!" Laurel ordered.
Mary held on tight, not about to relinquish her hold on anything, not when she was privy to information that Laurel was not. She glanced at her chronometer again and knew that the seconds were inching closer for her to act. "The minute you kill my husband, your mistress will die. Make no mistake on that. If I am to lose him, it would be no trouble for me to reduce this beautiful face into ash." Mary glared at Stephen's captors mercurially and in the face of her cold determination, saw them flinch with indecision. Without batting an eye, Mary said in the same icy voice. "Stephen, sit tight. I've got things in hand.
He nodded mutely, mostly because he was too weak too do anything else and because in the memories he had been using to keep himself alive this past year, he knew that when she made such statements, it was seldom false.
"Oh really?" Laurel sneered. "Exactly how do you have things in hand Mary?" her voice was full of smug triumph. "My people are all around you, my guards have your husband. Even if I do not have you skinned alive, the Empire will take possession of you. You have no way out."
"Don't you ever get tired of being wrong?" Mary asked, her gun no longer digging into the woman's ribs. Instead her eyes were fixed on the two guards even though they thought she was looking at her husband. "You know Laurel," Mary continued to speak, mainly to distract the woman as her chokehold tightened. "I'm kind of surprised to see a woman like you, one who seduces like a female insect before devouring her mate. I thought your kind had died out in the dark ages. I suppose that with your ambitions, wanting to be a queen but without a throne, it's the only way to get by. Still, you have to remember that sex is too fragile a foundation to support the weight of your ego."
"As opposed to you?" Laurel barked. "A righteous crusader fighting a hopeless cause?"
"I have people who would be more than happy to die for me. All you have is paid servants who would run at the first sign of freedom," Mary retorted.
Suddenly, the air exploded with the sound of klaxons blaring with almost deafening levels. An electronic voice spoke over the chaos in loud clear tones.
"WARNING - SECURITY BREACH ON PRISON LEVEL. WARNING SECURITY BREACH ON PRISON LEVEL."
The emergency lights bathed the room in crimson but Mary ignored all the pandemonium, shutting out the noise and the change in light hues and fired her weapon twice. The first blast caught the guard holding Steven in the throat. She did not even have time to scream. The other prepared to fire but Mary had already targeted her a split second after she pulled the trigger on the first. The bolt of energy caught her on the shoulder first, severing the nerve that connected to the hand holding her gun. She dropped it immediately and staggered backwards. Mary did not waste time, taking swift aim again and firing. The third blast felled her to the floor just as dead as her companion. Stephen fell to his knees, unable to stand without support. He had been imprisoned under hellish conditions for a year and was in no shape to be of any help to himself or her.
When the immediate threat dissolved Mary brought her weapon down on her captors' skull. Laurel grunted in pain as Mary dropped her to the stone floor and hurried towards her husband. She had maintained her senses for this long but now, concern for his condition and getting him out of here alive had finally overcome her.
"Stephen!" Mary exclaimed, pulling him to her in a warm embrace. "Oh my god Stephen!"
"Mary, is it really you?" he asked again, his hands travelling over her face, feeling the familiar curves and lines that would make that fact irrefutable.
"Yes," she nodded wildly, tears of joy running down her face. "Its me. Oh Stephen, I've missed you so much! I didn't know you were here. I had no idea! We thought you were dead! When I went back home, there was nothing left!"
"Billy?" Stephen asked fearfully. For the last year, he had been living with the hell of not knowing whether or not his son had escaped and reached safety. "Is Billy okay?"
"He's fine," she started to weep. "Stephen he's so beautiful and he's growing so fast. He's going to be so happy to see you Stephen. Stephen I love you!" She embraced him again and felt his body shudder as he started to sob, finally crossing the threshold of belief that he was not dreaming and that she was really here.
She held him in her arms, even though she knew they could not stay and suddenly, Mary remembered something else. Her eyes flew past Stephen in an instant and felt her heart turn cold as she saw Laurel no longer where she had been. Mary searched the room in an even swifter flurry of time to see the leader of Black Sun retrieving a weapon from a secret compartment beneath her throne. The woman glared at her with a widening smile, seconds ahead of any reaction Mary could make as she aimed and pulled the trigger. Mary tried to recoup, tried to push him out of the way but the moment the gun discharged, she knew that it was not her that Laurel intended to kill.
"STEPHEN!" she screamed when she felt him spasm in her arms, following the blast of energy. His entire body convulsed and he was too weak to even cry out. There was merely a look of surprise as he collapsed forward, all strength draining from his body. Mary rolled him off her frantically, laying him down so she could examine the wound, all the while giving Laurel great satisfaction at the horror in her face. His back was a charred black mess. There was very little blood but that was only because the laser beam had cauterized the wound with its heat. However, Mary had been a soldier long enough to know that he would not live long enough for her to get him to help.
He was going to die.
Mary started to sob harder, trying frantically to do something to keep him from reaching that end but her keen mind told her that it was too late. "Stephen, hold on! You'll be okay, just hold on! I'll get you out of here!"
"Mary," he whispered, shaking his head. "I got to see you." He touched her face and felt a thousand delights beyond the pain of dying at the feel of her against his palm and the scent of her in his lungs. "I got to say goodbye."
"NO!" she wailed in denial. "I won't let you go."
"How sentimental," Laurel said with glee. "Shall you still be in that pathetic condition when the Empire comes for you and I get my ten million credits?"
Mary let go of Stephen and stood up at that, her blue grey eyes becoming black with fury as she turned her gaze upon Laurel.
"You'll never know," Mary answered in a voice that was not her own, "because I'm going to kill you."
Thanks to the chaos taking place in the Domicile, it was relatively easy for the seven men to go unnoticed as they searched for Mary. Ships were being evacuated out of the main hangar and people were doing the level best to escape the premises before the Empire arrived in force. Chances were good that they probably knew about the shock troopers about to storm the fortress and were ignoring the seven's presence in favor of escaping prior to that arrival. Chris had been using his Jedi senses to hone in on Mary's present location. It was no easy thing to do. If it were not for the strong emotional bond between them, he would never have been able to sift through the sea of frantic emotions that currently flooded the place to pinpoint her exact location.
However, as he was in the process of telling Vin, JD and Josiah to break off in order to go find the Tracker, something sliced through his mind with such intensity that all the other emotions surrounding him seemed to drift away into nothingness. That light in the fog suddenly became a strobe, cutting through everything else until Chris could only focus on it alone. He knew instantly that it was Mary, he knew it because he could feel her rage burning through his mind. It was white-hot fury the likes of which he had never sensed from her and for a brief instant he was rather staggered by it.
"Chris," Vin called out. "What is it?" The apprentice saw the strained expression on his friend's face, in fact they had all seen it.
"Its Mary," Chris managed to say after a moment.
They were standing in a large corridor, one that led straight to the hangar deck and the other that led deeper into the fortress.
"Is she alright?" Nathan asked quickly.
"She angry," Chris responded, somewhat dazed. The anger was awesome in its power and Chris had to crush it into submission or else it would infect him too. He raised his eyes to them. "Something has happened. She's furious. I can feel her rage."
"Stephen," Buck said without having to think twice.
"Can you find her?" Ezra cut in. The metaphysics of this could wait until later, they needed to retrieve the woman and get out of here before those troops arrived.
"Yes," Chris nodded, "I can find her."
"Good," Ezra retorted. "Then I think we should follow your plan and have Vin find his ship. If worse comes to pass, we may need it for a speedy exit from this place."
"He's right," Nathan agreed. "We're pressed for time."
"Alright," Vin nodded and glanced at JD and Josiah. "We'll go this way. I'm guessing you can find me." He looked at Chris.
"I think I'll manage," Chris remarked and then added on a more serious note. "Good luck."
He would need it, Chris thought inwardly. If what he was sensing from Mary was even as half as bad he suspected he would need more than luck.
The bolt of energy flew over her shoulder and impacted the ground behind her but Mary hardly noticed it or bothered with any mundane thoughts of self-preservation. Laurel winced at her miss and cocked the weapon to fire again but this time Mary was not giving her the chance, she lunge at the woman in a full body tackle that brought them both down, knocking the weapon from Laurel's hand as she fell. The blaster skittered across the smooth polished floor, disappearing out of reach. Laurel cried out indignantly but Mary hardly heard her words, she could only remember what the woman had done.
"BITCH!" Mary screamed as she straddled Laurel who was flaying wildly in an effort to throw Mary off her. However, Laurel who had traded in her looks all her life knew nothing about protecting herself because she always had someone to do it for her. This time was no exception. Mary caught Laurel's hand with nail bared trying to scratch and if it were not for Stephen lying behind her dying, she would have almost found it amusing. She slammed the woman's hand against the floor and pinned it with one bent knee before throwing a full fist into her face.
She heard Laurel screaming in her ear, heard a litany of profane words escaping the woman, as she demanded to be released even though it seemed distant somehow. Mary could only think of Stephen, could think of how she had failed him by underestimating this sadistic creature and how she would never rest until she was content with the knowledge that she had killed the bitch with her bare hands. She hardly noticed that her fists were becoming bruised as she struck flesh repeatedly It did not even register that Laurel's demands had lost their pompous and arrogant edge and were fast descending into desperate pleas for mercy.
The words sounded obscene coming from Laurel after what Mary had seen. Those poor Wookies in the prison level who were now free and hopefully screaming bloody murder for all the wrong that Black Sun had done to them. Young, old, weak, strong, they had all been butchered by this woman for profit and as if Laurel could not commit any worse crime, she had taken Stephen from her at the very moment they had found each other again. There was no punishment that could fit that crime except to rip away all that made her beautiful. The looks that had allowed her to seduce her evil empire into being would have to be destroyed or Laurel would win and that was something Mary could not stand. She unsheathed her gun and aimed it at Laurel's face.
The woman was badly beaten, her jaw was misshapen and her face was covered with dark bruises. Her blood stained Mary's fists. Her green eyes stared at Mary, unable to speak, unable to say any more words of poison like she had when she had shot Stephen.
"Please...," Laurel strained through shattered teeth.
"Please?" Mary almost laughed maniacally. "How many people have you heard those words from? How many have begged you to let them live? How many who will never have the chance again? I think you've lost your right to ask. You've taken away the father of my son," Mary's voice started to crack. "You stole him away a year ago and now you've made sure he'll never see his child again. For that you have to pay but take comfort in the fact that I won't kill you. You just won't be needing a mirror any time soon."
"Mary, that's enough."
Mary turned around and found Chris standing a few feet away. Behind him Nathan and Ezra was hurrying towards Stephen while Buck stood guard at the door they had entered.
"What are you doing here?" Mary demanded angrily as she continued lowering the intensity on her blaster, preparing to do her worse on Laurel Chase.
"We came to take you home."
"He is my home!" She stared at Stephen, "and this animal shot him in the back!"
"I know that but you're not a murderer." Chris took another step, aware that in her present state that it would not be that impossible for her to turn the weapon on him. She was certainly angry enough. He let his gaze touch Nathan's for a moment as the captain tended to Mary's husband. Nathan had already reached Stephen and was examining the wound that was killing him. He raised his eyes to Chris and shook his head slowly.
Mary stared at Chris, imploring him to understand, that she had to do this. "I won't let her get away with this."
"We won't," he said firmly. "I promise you."
"She just shot him Chris!" Mary shouted, feeling her resolve waver. Why did Chris have to be here? This was hard enough to do without having him watch her do this thing! She had to avenge Stephen! She had to do something! She had failed him so miserably.
"I know," Chris responded. "As much as I want to find who killed Sarah and Adam, I know that won't bring them back just as what you're planning to do to that woman won't change what's happening to Stephen."
Stephen Travis, what was left of him, watched silently as the rebel captain and his companion tried to pull him back from the abyss into which he was descending. He saw his wife, the sorrow and anguish on her face and the stranger that was trying so hard to keep her from doing something unforgivable. Even as his life drained from him, he could tell that his Mary was listening to the man even though it might now seem like it. She was always a force of nature, his beautiful golden Mare, the only woman he had ever loved. She always took so much upon herself and it had always been his greatest privilege to be the only part of her life that could always be counted on to make that burden seem a little more bearable. Now he was dying and though there were many regrets, it did not seem as bad as knowing that she would have to shoulder all that responsibility alone once he was gone.
Or maybe not if the way the stranger was staring at his wife was any indication.
Mary was still sitting on top of Laurel, the barrel of her gun still pressed against Laurel's bloodied cheek. She had not pulled the trigger of the weapon but neither had she withdrawn it. She merely sat there, eyes black, tears running down her face. Chris knew perfectly well what it was too hate with so much fury, he knew it because he had once felt that kind of rage. Mare had been the impetus that made him let go of all that anger. It was Mary who had taught him to stop mourning Sarah and Adam to instead relish their lives and what they had meant to his existence, to honor them by taking up a cause that would spare other husbands from enduring the same loss.
"Mary," Chris said again, certain that his words were reaching her. "Don't let the last thing Stephen sees in this life is you turning into a killer. Don't make his death meaningless."
The words penetrated and with an audible gasp of horror, splashing over her like cold water. She looked at the weapon in her hand, realised that she was about to become no better than what she had tried to stop and flung it aside with just as much disgust as she had felt fury a short time ago. She climbed off Laurel, not even looking at Chris as she crossed the floor and ran to her husband's side.
"Stephen." Mary knelt down next to him as Nathan withdrew, unable to do any more for the man. "Stephen, you have to hang on. We're going to take you home."
"Mary," he whispered and placed his hand on his cheek. "I got to say goodbye."
"No, Stephen," she shook her head wildly, crying harder now. "This is not goodbye."
A loud roar muffled her response as a loud explosion roared in their ears. Overhead, the structure heaved in protest. Klaxons began screaming even more furiously.
"That was not a fighter blast," Ezra informed them. "That was a charge explosion."
Ezra need not have guessed the cause for an instant later, the message that indicate that there was a security breach, changed its content dramatically.
"WARNING. IMPERIAL TROOPS HAVE ENTERED THE BASE. IMPERIAL TROOPS HAVE ENTERED THE BASE."
"We have to go and we have to go right now!" Buck Wilmington shouted from his position.
"Mary," Stephen said weakly, he was starting to fade and he knew it. "You...have...to...go."
"NO!" she shouted vehemently, "Stephen I am not leaving you! You're coming with us!"
"Mary," he shook his head. "You have to go for Billy."
"I won't leave you Stephen!" she said refusing to let go of him.
"Mare," he tried prying her fingers from his ragged clothes. "I love you. I will always love you but for me, you have to go now."
"Don't ask me Stephen," she sobbed, "don't ask me to do that!"
Stephen looked over her shoulder at the stranger whose eyes were filled with anguish as seeing his Mare in so much grief and recognised something at that moment that made his slipping out of this world a great deal easier to bear. The darkness was all around him now, it was starting to creep at the edges of his vision and was slowly shrinking his consciousness. He could no longer feel his body and knew the coldness he felt was the beginings of his end. Raising his uncertain eyes, he met the intense gaze of the man staring at Mary with an emotion he knew all to well and realised that the man was a Jedi. The Jedi believed that in the afterlife, all things became apart of the Force, Stephen rather liked that idea.
Chris Larabee saw Stephen Travis staring at him and for a moment, was jarred by the understanding that Stephen knew exactly how he felt about Mary. However, the man did not look back at him with betrayal or anger but rather hope and that startled the Jedi.
"Take her," he ordered and Chris knew that Stephen was speaking only to him.
For a moment, Chris did not want to do because he could feel Stephen's life draining away. He was almost dead. He had lasted this long on sheer will alone and suddenly Chris could understand why Mary loved him so much.
"TAKE HER!" Stephen cried again, more insistently with enough force to snap Chris out of his shock.
That last order took all the energy Stephen Travis had left and as he saw the Jedi stunned into moving, he returned his fading vision back to his wife. Back to his Mare.
"I love you Mare," he whispered and then he died.
"NO! STEPHEN!" Mary wailed. "NO!"
Chris felt his heart break at the sound of that tortured cry as the life slipped out of Stephen Travis and he faded away into nothingness. "Come on Mary," he said trying to tear her away from her husband. He could feel every ounce of her pain and wished that there were some way he could take it away. However, there were some things even beyond a Jedi's ability to heal.
"NO!" she insisted. "STEPHEN!"
"Chris," Buck shouted, peering back at them from the door again. "We really have to go!"
Chris nodded firmly and did the only thing he could do; he swept her into his arms and picked her up bodily.
"LET ME GO!" she shouted. "I won't leave him!"
"Mary he's gone," Chris said softly, wishing that he did not have to do this but he had no choice. What Buck did not say but was certainly the case, was that Imperial troops were swarming the building and unless they departed now, they would not be leaving at all.
"No he's not!" she insisted, refusing to believe it, her senses raw and still in shock. There was a part of her that refused to believe she had come all this way to find him only to lose him all over again.
They did not have time to debate the issue, carrying her in his arms, Chris pulled her away from Stephen's dead form.
"NO!" she shouted, her hands clawing wildly for Stephen as the others hurried to the door ahead of him. "Let me go!" she demanded sobbing.
Chris hardened his heart, thinking that he would never again be called upon to do anything as agonising when he had to bury Sarah and Adam, until this moment. Mary's cries tore stabbed at him each time it echoed in his ears and yet he knew he could not give in to her. They had to leave now, while they still could and he had promised Stephen that he would take her away from here. No matter how painful that was going to be for Mary, Chris had no intention on reneging on that promise. It was the last thing the man had asked of anyone and it was for the safety of the woman he was leaving behind.
Ignoring her desperate pleas to stop, Chris kept his grip on her even though she was alternating between her screams to be let go and her cries for her dead husband. He looked up at Nathan and Ezra, seeing their faces full of empathy even though neither of them wished to be in his place.
"Let's get out of here," Chris said quietly with Mary's voice screaming for Stephen in his ears.
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