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Alice Bee and Christopher Levy.
One year after the Battle of Yavin (36:1:14) in the Alderaan system: Delaya (Marcus Rodney's chalet).
Lord Marcus Rodney and Lady Zara Rodney.

Marcus and Zara had returned to the Chalet to personally supervise repairs to the structure, thanks to the damage that was caused by Imperial Intelligence. Fortunately, the nursery was unharmed, and most of the damage had been to their master suite and the guest room. The contractors were gouging them because of the climate and the harsh conditions, but fortunately his bank accounts had been restored and he could easily afford not just to fix their home, but also enhance it by including a skylight so they could see the stars. It would not take long for them to finish the work, as they did not want to linger about in the inhospitable frozen north. Marcus was enjoying his hot chocolate as he went over the facts, figures, and architect's blueprints for the repairs.

Unfortunately for them the chalet was no longer a surprise, and the two Alderaan Guardsmen that had been assigned by Yekaterina Hanson to protect them had followed them. They were walking the perimeter of the chalet, giving thoughts to putting down sensor beacons to monitor any person, creature, or ship that crossed the electronic barrier. Unfortunately for them, they were unfamiliar with the grounds or the history, so that when they walked out onto the frozen lake they were unaware of where they were ... and more importantly ... what lay beneath. Suddenly the ice began to crack and tentacles came up from below the surface, grabbing at each of the guards and pulling them down into the frozen waters. They were beneath the ice flow before they knew what happened, and were pulled into the creatures mouth for a savory, warm meal. The creature had struck again, but this time was successful.

Upon returning to the Chalet, the very first place Zara headed towards was their prized nursery. She had nightmares about all the furniture being shred into tiny pieces from the chaos that had went down inside of their bedroom. If the room had been destroyed, they would have suffered through building another crib. The mere thought makes me cringe! Seeing the nursery untouched made it easier to take in the destruction in their master bedroom as well as the guest room. She made herself breath and not lose her mind over it. They'd simply stay in a different room while the repairs were made. The Chalet would be pieced back together again. Phew.

Zara actually was excited to see the new additions to their room. She looked forward to lying in bed, watching the stars dart across the sky while she snuggled up with her love. It could only get better with the addition of hot chocolate...oh wait! She had hot chocolate! The one thing she'd miss about the icy tundra was the fact that it was always the perfect weather for hot chocolate. She'd recently made a mug, topped with a ridiculous amount of whipped cream, and was making her way over to her husband to look over the blueprints. Since revealing Darrus to Julius, they hadn't said much about the idea of taking power in Delaya. It was a difficult decision to make. Zara had drawn pros and cons lists in her head roughly a million times. Regardless, it wasn't going to help her. She hovered beside Marcus, taking her first sip of whip creamed filled hot chocolate. "Mmmmm. It's so nice to be home." She commented, nudging him with her elbow playfully. "Those guards will be gone before we know it. Did you see them? They weren't dressed for this weather."

Somewhere outside their chalet, Sir Tentacles was providing them with some unexpected protection. Thanks, Sir Tentacles!

"Oh I'm sure they'll be alright," Marcus mused to Zara, before taking another ship of the hot chocolate, which left a blob of whipped cream upon his nose. They had not yet spoke about what had happened at the medcenter, or what was being broadcast on the HoloNet. One of the benefits of being away from it all was that they were away from it all. He knew how it had affected her, which is why he was quick to get her away from Leiliani and back to the relative seclusion of the partially constructed chalet. "We can stay in the nursery until they finish," he said, as he turned, unaware that the whipped cream was still at the tip of his nose. He reached for her, taking her mug-less hand inot his own and giving it a squeeze. "How are you feeling?" he asked her, as her feelings on the overcomplicated issue were at the forefront of his mind.

That was a massive benefit. Over exposure to the media was no fun. The meeting with Julius had been massively stressful all by itself. However, it did make Zara feel better in a sense. Marcus and his father could continue to have a relationship until the last of his days. Neither of them needed to hide Darrus' gender. "Okay, sounds good. I'm so relieved the nursery was untouched. Out of all the things Min did, that would have been the one that made me pour boiling hot chocolate on her." Spoken in a pleasant voice. She squeezed his hand back, slowly placing her mug down on the table in front of them. The sight of whipped cream on his nose made her smile. Seriously, what would he do without her? Moving to her tippytoes, she affectionately licked up the mess at the tip of his nose. Her, now free hand, came to rest on his shoulder where her finger tips rubbed into him. "Oddly better." She told him. "I felt immensely guilty about Julius before. Talking to him took like three adult Hutt's amount of weight off of me. However..." She smiled, "I also feel like Cinderella if she had never gone to the ball, yet perfectly fit the glass slipper. Are we really even being considered to take the throne? You have more experience with royalty that I do. What's your take?"

Marcus giggled softly as he felt her envelope his nose. He was unsure of what she was doing until he realized the mess he had made. "You have nothing to feel guilty about," he said, as he placed his cup of hot chocolate aside. With both of his hands free, he placed one hand on each of her sides, and looked down at her with true affection. "This is my burden. Not yours. Please do not let it trouble you. I do not want you to be under any stress during the pregnancy," he implored, hurriedly, before lowering his face to plant a kiss upon her forehead. When he had finished his attempts to calm her down, he decided it was best to answer her question. "Yes. I'm afraid we are. Unfortunately, Claudius' Imperial connections have made him a reviled figure in Delayan society," he explained, as he shifted away from her to have more hot chocolate. "That's what happens when you work for the government that destroys planets," he said, bitterly, and truthfully, before allowing more of the hot deliciousness to flow into his mouth.

Her head tilted upwards to look into his eyes. He had never done anything to make her feel bad about Julius. He loved her so, so much, that it amazed the little thief. Love like this was rarer than the rarest of treasures. Her heart skipped a beat inside of her chest. Zara took a deep breath, forcing herself to release her stress. They were just talking. It didn't seem like there were any wrong decisions either. She listened to him talk about Claudius. She didn't debate with Delayan society. It was understandable why they didn't want him. They'd had a front row seat to what happened to Alderaan. "Stupid Claud," she groaned. She had never asked what swayed him over to the Imperial side. Now didn't seem like the time to ask either, while they debated what their future would look like. Thank goodness for that hot chocolate. Zara hit it like an alcoholic might drink their wine. After a long drink, and a mountain of consideration, she began to speak again. "What will our future be like if we accept? Can we be happy like that?" The planet was one big, injured animal. Parts of Zara wanted to take care of it. Other parts of her wanted to bite its head off.

Marcus agreed that Claudius was indeed stupid for his continued support of the Emperor, but his brother was one never to listen ... he would not broach the subject with him. "If we accept I will succeed my father to the title of Duke, to the admiration of the people, but to the outrage of the traditionalists," he explained, as he turned from her to move towards the large window. He scared out the whiteness, unable to spot the two guards, but did not think anything of it. "Our travel will be limited. Our security will grow exponentially greater. We'll be faced with the environmental crisis, the refugee crisis, and deteriorating conditions with the Empire," he said, as he placed his hand on the cold glass that was in front of him. "Claudius will not care. He never wanted it. And he never wanted it for his children either, as far as I know," he continued, before turning to sit on the window seat, facing her, and beckoning her to sit next to him. "The Empire will care, particularly if it is known that Claudius was excluded because of his position with them," he said, as he leaned back against the cushion, and set to the more pressing task of finishing his hot chocolate. "My cousin Gaius will have a say as well. He's been plotting to exclude both me and Claudius from the throne. Claudius on the basis of his Imperial ties ... me for my drunken carousing. I was not going to contest it," he explained, as he waited to hear her thoughts on the subject.

Duke Marcus Rodney. Did it sound weird, or was it his right at this point? Their son's future would be decided too. His explanation was helpful and enlightening. It also made her want to do unspeakable things to him, because she was oddly, irrationally horny when she was pregnant. That was a story for another time, however. At his beckoning, she followed towards the window seat. There, she sat, legs crossed in front of her. She continued to drink her hot chocolate, wondering how frequently they'd be able to visit the Chalet if everything changed. Sir Tentacles would grow awfully lonely without Marcus to occasionally play with (lol not). Their freedom would instantly become a fraction of what it once was. It would force them to give up their alternative personas, if Min hadn't already done that. She thought over what kind of shit storm it would throw them into. The Empire and Gaius would both become problems if they accepted. As much as she wanted to help the planet, she wasn't sure if they needed such power to do it. She reached a single hand up, running her fingers through her hair anxiously. A decision would have to be made eventually. The media...and more importantly, Julius, was waiting to know.

Upon finishing her drink, she rested her mug in the window. She scooted a little closer to Marcus, both of her hands holding his. "This so crazy. Do you think Gaius will be better for Delaya then us? This situation is all new grounds for me. I don't like the idea of our freedom disappearing overnight, not to mention, we'll have to relocate to the castle, where the press will anxiously await our appearance every day." That part was especially horrifying. She stared outside, imagining flashes awaiting them everywhere they went. The day Darrus was born would be soiled by irritating paparazzi. All those private beachy moments that she really didn't want on the Holonet, would be there. Her face turned three shades lighter than normal. Was she going to puke? Suddenly, Zara was shaking her head. "No, no, no. We can benefit Delaya much more without a ball and chain around our ankles. I saw what the pressures of being a Duke did to your father...I don't want that for you. I want our family to be happy. If we have another son later on, I don't want him to feel horrible just because he isn't the chosen one. I want to live without the paparazzi, right here in our chalet."

Marcus did not want to disappoint his father ... what son did? He had never prepared for this eventuality, as Claudius had impeccable health and excellent leadership skills. His brother had spent decades in public service, first for Alderaan, then for the Republic, and now for the Empire. Claudius was born to become Duke, whereas Marcus spent his life drinking, carousing, and chasing bounties as a reckless exercise. "I don't know that Gaius would be better than us, but you're right that it might be better *for* us if it falls to him," he explained, as he drew her in against him, holding her tight against him. "You're right, of course, Zara. I'll send a courier to inform him of the decision," he said, as he moved her head down against his chest, allowing his hands to run through her silver hair. "I love you so much," he said, as he squeezed her tightly enough for their three hearts to beat as one.

It was the hardest decision that Zara had ever made. She really didn't want to disappoint Julius. Finally, the old man had seen value in his second son. She felt like she should be aiding in that continuing instead of crushing an ancient man. It was Claudius who should be on the chopping block, not Marcus. His decisions in life had led him away from that path. No one wanted him to take power now. She worried that Gaius might hurt the planet, but she had to do it...she had to let this one go. Her body fell into his arms where she cuddled up. "No, let's go tell him ourselves. I know it'll be harder, it just seems more respectful. I may not love the man, but if it wasn't for him, there'd be no you." With her ear to his chest, she could hear his beating heart. It seemed like they were both sure with this decision. "I love you so much. You're the greatest man that's ever existed. That's exactly why you'd be the best Duke in the history of Delaya. Too bad your wife is needy and refuses to give you up to politics."

When Zara told him they would have to go and tell his father themselves his heart skipped a beat, but he knew it was the right decision. He would not be the coward that Min accused him of being, he would go with her and tell his father to his face that he would not accept the throne. Min was wrong ... Zara did not make him worse ... she made him *better*. "And you will always be the people's Duchess, my love," he said to her, before placing a sweet kiss upon her lips. While love filled the inside of the chalet, a pair of boots bubbled to the surface of the icy lake, before it froze over once more, leaving the fate of the two guards to be a tragic mystery.

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