CHAPTER SEVEN

She woke up in a cold sweat.

She woke up knowing instantly that something was wrong. At first she had no idea what it was that had brought such ill feeling when she slept, knowing only that it had crept into the sheets with her and wrapped its cold tendrils about her slumbering psyche. Mary felt the disorientation leave her while she panted hard, trying to catch her breath, wondering why it felt as if she had run a mile. Sweat glistened off her limbs and her blue eyes searched wildly through the room she had been occupying for the night trying to ferret out what exactly her mind had found so disconcerting, even in sleep. Then it hit her with the force of charging rancor.

They had not come back yet.

She jumped out of her bed, her silk nightdress clinging to her skin. It was one of the luxuries she allowed herself as a woman even though most people naturally assumed for one as military minded as she was beyond the lure of most things feminine. How much of a woman Mary was would surprise them if they knew but she kept such secrets to herself and allowed those around her to see what they needed to see the persona they could believe in no matter what.

With her hair flowing behind her in a long wave of white gold, Mary stepped out of the bedroom offered to her by Inez, the proprietress of this establishment and the person whom Buck Wilmington assured her, he could trust above all else while she was in Cordoba. As she walked down the hall, she heard the drunken mutterings of the other resident in the tavern and supposed that he was in quite a stupor for those he was loud enough to hear, his words were slurred with incoherence. Mary walked to the room at the end of the hall, feeling the warm air assault her as she moved through the darkened passage. Growing up on Alderaan, she was accustomed to cool breezes and temperate climates when she planet bound, not this dry desert heat that seem to scrape against her lungs each time she took a breath.

She only had to knock once or twice before she heard the muffled sounds of footsteps approaching from the other side. The speed of which her knock was answered indicated to Mary that Inez who occupied the room, was not much in the mood for sleep either. She wondered if Inez was similarly worried about the friends who had yet to return. The Four Corners Tavern was the quiet center of Alliance activity in Cordoba. Here, its members were provided with shelter, intelligence and anything other use that the Alliance could think of. Its hostess, Inez was an Alliance collaborator that risked unspeakable harm should the Empire ever know her involvement.

When the door swung open and Mary saw the redness in the woman's eyes, she knew immediately that Inez had not slept a wink and was just as concerned at the lack of appearance by Buck and the others as she.

"Is there something wrong?" She asked softly, trying not to appear foolishly emotional, Mary guessed.

"You know as well as I do that something is wrong," Mary replied gently, not wishing Inez to feel like she was the only fool. "They're not back yet."

Inez raised her eyes and seemed to let out a sigh of relief. "They should have been back hours ago," the tavern owner responded, her voice a soft hush. Stepping back, she opened the door wider and offered Mary entry. Mary did not refuse the offer and slipped quietly into the room.

The room that Inez Recillos called home was much larger than the one Mary had occupied during her stay here. Judging by the layout, Mary suspected that these had been two rooms and that Inez had removed the wall to give herself more space. The room which had been an ensuite, still kept the bedroom furniture within it but the other was occupied by a divan, some chairs, various pieces of antique furniture, including a rather impressive writing desk that Mary was certain had its origins in Coruscant.

"I've been waiting up and monitoring all docking reports available on the Info-Net," Inez explained as she returned to the table before the divan and wing chair that held a hot pot of cider. "There's no sign of the Rogue."

Mary glanced at the chronometer and noted the time. They were seriously overdue, too much for it to be assumed that the mission went according to plan. Josiah knew how dangerous it was for her to remain on Cordoba. If he had not returned yet then it was most likely that he could not. "They should have been back by now or at least confirmed that they have Nathan. If they had done neither, then it was most likely that they've been captured."

"I see." Inez swallowed heavily, trying to come to grips with that information even though the possibility had been with her all through the night. "Then they are lost?"

Mary took a deep breath and hated how it felt thinking that the Empire had won yet again. Two important members of the Alliance were now in their hands and worse yet, Buck and JD who held no importance as far as information was concerned and would most likely be killed outright. It left a sour taste in her mouth and she despised it, despised sacrificing yet another life just as her husband's had to be sacrificed for the greater good. "No," she said firmly, unaware of from what reservoir this determination not to yield was coming. "I'm not going to let them die."

"What do you mean?" Inez asked fearfully, thinking that perhaps Mary was intending on doing something foolish. Inez was just as aware of Mary's role in the Alliance and as much as he ached for those lost tonight, she would sit by and allow Mary to put her life before the cause they were fighting for.

"I'm sick of letting people die," Mary retorted. "We have to get them back. Somehow, we have to get them back. I need to contact the Alliance, have them send some people over here and we'll think this out," she said quickly as she sat down heavily on the divan. Inez did not follow her immediately choosing to retrieve another cup from a nearby cupboard first.

When Inez returned to join Mary at the table, she poured the rebel leader a cup of warm cider. Mary thanked her politely before noting that it appeared as if Inez was trying to tell her something important.

"What is it?" Mary asked.

"There may be someone here who could help you get the others back," Inez suggested although her tone seemed reluctant.

"Who?" Mary's eyes widened in hope. At this point, she was just desperate enough to accept any suggestion, no matter how outlandish it might be.

"When you were first brought into the tavern, remember Buck's friend?" Inez asked.

Mary recalled the dark figure sitting in the corner of the booth who seemed surly and uninterested in their business. Even though Buck assured her that he could be trusted, Mary had wondered who or what he was. Of course, the plan to rescue Nathan had superseded such thoughts, now that Inez had brought it up again, her curiosity was piqued once more. "I remember him," she nodded. "His name was Chris... something?"

"Chris Larabee," Inez answered with even more hesitation wondering if she had not made a terrible mistake. "I think he could be of use to you in rescuing the others."

"Why?" Mary asked suspiciously, observing the reluctance in Inez's manner to bring up this man's name. She was aware that he was the other occupant of the tavern and remembered his drunken stupor when she had first awoken. "Why could he be of more help to us than member of the Rebel Alliance?"

"Because," Inez volunteered slowly, hoping Chris would understand the reasons for her betrayal. "He used to be a Jedi Knight."

Mary blinked. "That...that drunk was a Jedi Knight?" She exclaimed almost astonished.

"Yes," Inez nodded somberly, not blaming her for her disbelief. "He was one of the strongest Jedi there were. He was going to be elevated to master when Palpatine began slaughtering all the Jedi with his servant Darth Vader."

Mary felt a cold shudder remembering the man known as Darth Vader. She had seen him once, a monstrosity kept alive by machinery and evil. His soul, she was certain was not unlike the black armor in which he encased his body as he did the Emperor's bidding. "I remember," Mary nodded slowly. "It was just before Palpatine declared himself Emperor. The Jedi purges were the beginning of all this."

"Chris lost his wife and son in the purges. Palpatine was not satisfied with just killing the Jedi, the entire race had to be wiped out as far as he was concerned. Even the children of Jedi were killed. He heard about the purges and rushed home to find them already dead, they were burned alive in their house."

"Oh god," Mary gasped softly, more emotion in her soul emerging than she would have liked for those needless deaths. It was not that she was usually unsympathetic to such news but stories like this were so many now that their power to move her was slight and yet something inside her felt a deep sense of empathy for the man. "And he's been this way ever since?" She asked, referring to the drinking without having to use the word.

"He lost his faith," Inez answered, her voice as she shared the same sorrow for Chris. "It was bad enough that his entire way of life was being destroyed but the loss of his family. It destroyed him."

"How old was his son?" Mary asked softly for no particular reason.

"He was five I think."

"Five," the number escaped Mary as a gasp. She thought of her own son, hidden away with what family remained after Palpatine's purges and wondered how she would go on if she were to learn that he too were gone, murdered like Chris Larabee's son.

"Nothing has reached him Mary," Inez explained. "Buck is his oldest friend and nothing Buck has said made any difference to Chris."

"You expect me to try?" Mary looked at her astonished. "If his best friend can't talk to him, what good will I do? He doesn't even know me."

She was right but Inez was also out of options and she was desperate to try anything, even something as unlikely as convincing Chris Larabee that it was time to help his friend or he'd lose another person in his life.

"Mary," Inez summed up the words from inside of her and hope that they would be enough to convince the rebel leader to tray. "I saw you talk to a boy today about freedom and justice. I saw you reach him Mary, even though he had never had a reason in his life to question any of those beliefs. All he had was your words telling him how good it was in the days of the Republic, you made him care enough to risk everything when he had no reason to. You did that Mary, you made him feel something inside that no one else could. After you spoke to him, he was ready to go off with Buck even though he knew he could die. You have the power to make freedom felt Mary, just by speaking about it. We know you believe and so we believe too."

Mary buried her face in her hands unable to deny anything that Inez had said even though she was not very proud of thinking that it was her words that made JD Dunne go with Buck Wilmington. However, if she wanted to save that young boy's life then she was going to have to believe Inez's word that she was capable of reaching the Jedi.

"Alright," Mary let out a held breath, unable until she felt herself conceding that she had held it at all. "I will talk to him but you make a very big pot of cider and if he kills me, I'm considering this entirely your fault."

Someone was pounding at his door.

The noise exploded into Chris Larabee's sensitive head with such force that it had the effect of physical pain and the former Jedi groaned out loud and uttered some vulgar obscenity at whomever was making that din to go away. The action resulted in a slight pause before the noise resumed again and for the first time in too long, Chris felt the need to grab his lightsaber just so that he could put an end to the ruckus permanently. He considered ignoring and thought perhaps he could place himself a Jedi meditative state where such annoyances would disappear.

Of course one could not reach a meditative state when one was suffering the worse hangover in creation.

Burrowing under his pillows did nothing to drive away that incessant noise, not even when he chose to further verbalize his displeasure, although he was uncertain whether or not the words had come out in any coherent order. Finally, the only thing that Chris could do to make it stop was to push himself off the bed and face the intruder who had better have a damned good explanation for this intrusion on a perfectly good hangover.

"What is it?" He demanded as he pulled open the door, unconcern that he was clad in nothing but his pants.

"Really Mr Larabee," Mary Travis declared as she let herself into the room, bringing the alien scent of hot cider into a room where the smell of alcohol had seeped into the paint. "I thought Jedis were supposed to be erudite and in possession of inner calm. Please get dressed, I don't wish to conduct our business while you're half-naked."

Chris stood there stupefied for a second as his hung over mind attempt to process what had just happened as the lovely blond strode into the room, still wearing her nightgown.

"Excuse me?" He blinked and stuttered. "Business?"

"Yes," she responded as she set down the cup of hot cider on a near by table. "We have business to conduct and I would prefer to speak to you while you're somewhat sober."

Chris recovered a little but only enough to be even more annoyed by her intrusion. His state of mind was such that at this moment, he was relatively unconcerned by the fact that she was the woman had made his heart skip a beat some hours earlier. All he cared about right now was that she had invaded his space and he had no intention of tolerating it, no matter how beautiful or silky her skin might appear against the sheer satin elegance of her night gown. Where did that come from? He asked himself as the thought streaked past and he stared at her.

"We don't have any business to conduct lady," he retorted, his voice a hoarse whisper from too much drink and lack of sleep.

"Yes we do I'm afraid," Mary steeled herself for a frosty reception and remembered Inez's words. "Buck Wilmington has been captured by the Empire. Unless we rescue him, they'll execute him for high treason."

Chris swore inwardly. Damn that stupid flyboy! Why did he go and get involved in that mess? "He knew what the was getting into," Chris muttered and turned back towards his bed.

"That's all you have to say?" Mary demanded, not about to let him slink back into the covers so easily. She suddenly felt this previously unfamiliar need to salvage this wreck of a man. For what purpose, she had no idea but something about seeing this Jedi who wore the face of a god (a somewhat hung over one at the moment) give up on himself. "I was under the impression he was your best friend."

"Get out," Chris retorted sharply. "If he's in the hands of the Empire, its over. He's as good as dead."

"It's not over," she said fiercely. "Not while there's a chance to save him. Now I know where he's been taken and with your help we could get him out but only with your help."

"Where has he been taken?" Chris asked as he dropped onto his bed and stared at her with indifference.

"To the Imperial installation on Doldur. Once there, they'll discover he's just a courier and they will execute him and the boy," Mary explained holding out the cup of cider for him to take.

"Doldur," Chris nodded, knowing the place well. The Doldur star system, rich in a multitude of ore deposits were well guarded by the fully manned and armored station on one the small moons of its planets. The arsenal there was formidable, just as formidable as the surface troops. "Let it go," he said coldly. "They're dead. You'll never get to them."

Mary braced herself and suppress the well of anger that emerged inside of her as he casually dismissed the life of his friend and those with him. "I'll never get to them but I believed a Jedi might fare better."

Chris ignored the cider she was obviously offering him and retorted. "A Jedi would, if there were one available but as you can see, no such person of that description happens to be in this room so I say you got a bit of a problem."

"You're pathetic," she whispered, her disgust clearly showing.

"Get out." Chris stood up and said firmly.

"Or what?" She challenged him, her blue-grey eyes blazing. "You'll throw me out?"

"I might," he said finding her word and manner annoying enough to consider it.

"That would require the existence of a man and from where I'm sitting, you're barely that," Mary declared, unhappy that her temper had been stoked so prolifically but she did not care.

"That's it," Chris took a step towards. "You get out or I'll throw you out."

"Do it!" She swore. "I should have not have expected anything more. I wouldn't even have wasted my time with a drunk like you if it wasn't for some strange notion Inez had that you might still be a human being underneath all that liquor!"

"You don't know anything about me!" He shouted and strode towards her, striking the cup out of her hand when he reached Mary. The cup and its contents went flying through the air, spilling across the floor and shattering into large fragments when it hit the floor. She jumped at the sound it made when it shattered but when it was all said and done, she turned on him with those eyes and showed him without doubt, that he was going to have to do better if he thought he was going to frighten her into retreat.

"I know that you lost your wife and son," Mary replied and saw his eyes flared in fury at their name being brought up.

"Don't you say anything about my family!" Chris shouted and his hand was around her throat, slamming her against the wall as he held her in place by the neck.

"I don't have to!" She shouted back, not afraid and not fighting him. "You think you're the only one in the galaxy that has lost everything? How can you be a Jedi Knight and be so goddamn arrogant as to believe that!"

" Shut up!" He hissed in warning and menace.

"No I won't shut up!" Mary returned loudly. "Because I need you. I don't have any choice but to need you. If this is what it takes to make you wake up to yourself then so be it! You think you are the only one who has a monopoly on pain? Life is pain! Anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool! You think that your hurt gives you the right to make a mockery of everything that your wife and son died for? They died because of injustice and what do you do? Do you avenge them? Do you try to honor their memory by living? No, you pathetic bastard! You climbed in a bottle and let yourself rot!"

" SHUT UP!" He screamed and Mary found herself flying.

The power of his rage sent her in the air and she slammed hard into the nearby wall. Mary felt her head flare in pain as it connected with the stone surface and she uttered a small cry of pain before the abrupt stop dropped her to the ground.

Chris watched her fall and suddenly felt something not unlike a bucket of cold water flung into his face, washed all over him. He was trembling when he realised what he had done and there were no adequate words to describe the horror of his actions. He heard Inez's footsteps running up the corridor, feeling her fear and shock as she approached and realised that she had been listening closely, trying not to interfere until she heard the sound of Mary being flung against the wall like some child's toy. Her fear forced him into movement and Chris hurried forward towards Mary, who was pushing herself onto her knees from her prone position.

"Mary." He dropped next to her as Inez reached the door. The sound of his voice made her pause and she lingered at the door allowing them both the freedom to speak.

Mary turned to him while still on her hands and knees and wiped the smear of blood running across her face. A slight bruise was forming under her cheek where she had hit the wall and as Chris saw her in that state, he closed his eyes unable to look. For the first time in too long, he felt an emotion coursing through him other than grief and sorrow. He felt shame. He extended his hand towards her and half expected her to reject it. Instead, she ran her fingers through her hair, brushing those golden strands, some stained with blood from her face before raising those dove like eyes to him.

"Are you feeling better?" She asked, her voice perfectly calm with no trace of the venom that had provoked into his shameful behavior.

"Not much," Chris answered and paused a moment as he composed his next words. "Are you always this pushy?"

She sat upright on the floor and met his gaze. "When I need to get things done."

Chris nodded slowly as he thought about what she had said. "I've been away for a long time," he whispered, "I don't know whether I can be of any use to you."

"I don't know whether you can either," she said honestly, watching the man and seeing the sadness in his eyes. They mirrored her own and despite his assault of her, she found she could not be angry because once, she had felt his sorrow and that empathy allowed forgiveness to come easily. "But I don't have a choice. I'm done allowing people to die."

Chris could understand that and in truth, he did not want Buck to die. The people in his life were fast dwindling into the mists, there was no need to hurry their departure along. Buck had been there through the worst of his grief when he had been faced with Sarah and Adam's death. Buck had made sure that he continued living even though in those first few days he wanted to die desperately. Until tonight, he had been still wanting to die, to join his family in the after life. It was not until tonight he understood how much he had made their sacrifice worthless by allowing the Emperor to defeat him. Buck was right, Sarah would never have tolerated his and Mary was right, he should have been honoring them by living, not hiding here like some coward. His behavior was shameful.

"What do you need me to do?" He asked, raising his eyes to hers.

"I don't know," Mary said honestly. "I have something of a plan but I need you to carry it out. I won't lie to you, it's risky but a Jedi Knight is the only person I know who can make it past the Imperial defenses."

"Jedi or not," Chris answered realistically. "I think you're over estimating my abilities."

"I don't think so," she shook her head. "When you're mad, you're pretty dangerous."

"Anger is not the path I can to take," Chris declared. "The temptation to take the way to the dark side is too much."

"Really?" Her lips started to curl with a smile. "That's sound like a Jedi talking. Are you telling me there's one in the room after all?" Her eyes sparkled with mischief as she asked the question.

Chris reached for the bruise on her face and caressed the tender flesh. She was surprised by his touch and for the first time, the confidence mask of self-assurance wavered and Chris saw something of the woman beneath the persona.

"Maybe just one," he replied, feeling a slight tug at the corner of his lips as well and withdrew his hand.

"You'll need help," she pointed out.

"Yes I will," Chris nodded in agreement and knew just the person who could provide it.

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