Era of Rebellion - Navigation

Christopher Levy and J. Kate Stasiak.
Zero years after the Battle of Yavin (35:7:1) in the Essesia system: Tenacity and Warspite.
Grand Moff Claudius Rodney and Rear Admiral Rhiannon T'Jarell.

Pending the conversation she last had with her first officer, Rhiannon decided to take the time to look after herself. It was not that she was already tiring of her assignment or that the responsibilities piled upon her shoulders proved to be too much to bear ... but it was more than six years since she had any respite from the duties in the Imperial Navy. Perhaps now, since she had proven herself a little as an officer, it would be a good time to find out whether she could obtain that well deserved break. She was not about to bite off more than she could chew either; no, Rhiannon knew not to push the boundaries marked by a higher power and so her request would be simple and small in scope.

Pacing the length of her office now as she attempted to piece together the words that would be relayed through the intercom, the young Hapan female wondered just why she felt so innately nervous about placing her inquiry. Finally, deciding that repeated, frantic movement would do little to calm her frayed nerves, she stopped at her desk and impulsively keyed in the activation button at her communications console. It would take a few moments before additional input would direct her inquiry to the Warspite ... an inquiry merely designed to be patched through to the governor's private channel.

Claudius Rodney was seated at his desk, reviewing a stack of datapads that contained personnel reports on the newly arrived naval officers. There were things the squadron commander should be doing, but the recent close proximity of Rebel attacks had caused him to take a more direct approach. Unfortunately, this was causing the middle-aged Moff to become further behind. When the comm panel flashed he ignored it at first, he felt compelled to finish the work that was in front of him. But when he noticed the transmission was from the Tenacity, he thought of Commodore T'Jarell and the incident of the other night. His hand hesitated for a moment, lingering over the comm panel, before finally activating the channel. "Commodore T'Jarell?" he inquired, attempting to maintain a professional air about him. "How may I be of assistance?" he quickly followed him, his left hand subconsciously rising to his jaw, rubbing at it in remembrance of their last encounter.

Freezing again at the sound of the voice on the other end that followed a rather prolonged wait, Rhiannon stood at attention as if about to salute the comm, then remembering that it was only a call and no one would be watching. Her face scrunched up into a thoughtful grimace, mind attempting to recall the exact phrasing she had chosen during her frantic pace about the room, with which to address the governor ... but came up empty. It was time to improvise, and quickly ... or the man would think something was wrong or worse yet, he would grow innately suspicious and send his blue-skinned alien on board to get a 'feel' for the situation on the Tenacity.

"Sir? Your Excellency!" came a hurried reply, just before she began rambling on, "I do apologize for this intrusion. It is rather late and I imagine you must be swamped with work. Perhaps I ought to call another time? I have a rather simple request, of little consequence ... and nothing that cannot wait. It is, however, one of those requisitions that would likely require my presence on the Warspite ... and so, do let me know if you would be able to spare me a few minutes of your time?"

This was sounding utterly ridiculous. It reminded Rhia of the times she would ask her mother to go out and play with her friends ... a simple request that was often denied. Such unfortunate precedence bred natural apprehension, and so the Hapan Commodore did not expect a positive response ... but nonetheless ... she had to try.

Claudius listened to the woman carry on for what seemed like an eternity. He wondered why if it were merely a simple request, as she implied, why she did not simply make it then and there. He paused for a moment, and leaned back in his chair, allowing his fingers to intertwine with one another as he thought about the situation. Part of him wanted to see her again very much so, but another part thought she was dangerous and next time it might be more than his jaw and back that were injured. Finally, he returned to the comm and unmuted the feed once again. "Very well, Commodore," he began, as his eyes darted towards his list of appointments for the remainder of the day. "I will instruct my aide to have you added to my schedule for later today," he informed her, realizing that if he had made her visit a priority it would be like to draw unwanted attention. Discretion was called for in the situation.

Not expecting Claudius to acquiesce to her request, Rhia's brows rose sharply in unison as he agreed to meet with her later on in the day. It would be quite late, she realized ... glancing a the wrist-mounted chronometer that peeked from the confines of a grey cuff of her uniform ... but better late, than never. "As you wish, sir. Thank you ... sir. I appreciate your time," she cut off the transmission there and then, sitting in her chair and exhaling deeply, as if a huge weight had been lifted off her shoulders.

At least they were still on speaking terms. Rhiannon was secretly afraid that after she assaulted the poor man and acted like his nursemaid the night of the 'memorable' dinner that heralded her latest promotion, he would never care to lay eyes on her again. This was definitely a positive sign, she decided ... and not wanting to let her excitement get to her, began to look through a stack of datapads containing various crew evaluations. This would easily kill an hour or two, after which ... if Rodney's aide had not contacted her by then ... the Hapan would take some time to look over the new ship assignments which were to be added to her entourage as a part of the future Omega Task Force.

Hours had passed, and the Grand Moff had only accomplished a handful of the tasks he had hoped to when the day began. His aide was gone for the day, and the area around his quarters was quiet and devoid of activity. The only agenda left on his schedule was Commodore T'Jarell who he was expecting at any moment. He was in the refresher, off his office, looking at himself in a mirror. He looked older than when he took this job, and he became worried that his best years were behind him. He was careful to make sure his uniform was in perfect condition, and he did his best to make the rest of his appearance as ideal as he could. He took a step out of the refresher, before stopping dead in his tracks, and rushing back in. Grabbing hold of a fragrance he quickly spritzed himself, as he had now showered since the morning. Perhaps it would help, he thought to himself, as he positioned himself near the jor through which he was sure she would soon arrive.

It was unusual, Rhiannon thought as she emerged from her cramped starfighter and removed her helmet, tossing it onto the seat; that the Deck Officer on board the Warspite did not recognize her once she came close enough to be at arm's length with the man. Maybe it was the helmet hair, the Hapan thought inwardly, cringing at the thought of how frightful she must have appeared to the officer. No matter. The Grand Moff would surely recognize his newest Commodore and that was all that mattered. Hopefully.

Swallowing as she was brought to the nearest turbolift and then escorted to .... the Grand Moff's personal quarters, Rhiannon cringed at the odd choice of a meeting place. She expected to be escorted into an office, not the governor's executive suite. But maybe he had one inside the other, she reasoned silently with herself as her escort validated her security clearance and activated the door chime located in the adjacent door panel. None of them spoke for the entire duration of Rhiannon's trip from the hangar bay to the governor's door ... but the Hapan secretly relished the silence, knowing that if she was spoken to, she would likely not know what to say given how strange this evening was already turning out.

He had been alerted her imminent presence, and thus Claudius stepped forward to activate the door controls. Like a gentleman, he stood there, holding the door open, but what he saw was quite unexpected ... gone was the Imperial uniform and returned was the more unorthodox attire she had first greeted him with. Oh dear, he thought silently to himself, but did not think to chastise her this time. After all, it was so late in the rotation that both of them long should have been off duty. And, as she correctly stated, it was more pleasing. "Good evening, Commodore," he said, for the sake of her escort. "I trust you've found your new escort ships to be satisfactory?" he asked, before stepping inside to allow the door to close. "I've taken the liberty of having some tea prepared..." he said, motioning to a small table on which a tea service had been placed, in the waiting area outside his informal office. His aide was conspicuously absent, as was his security. It seemed he had not wanted anyone to observe them, or disturb them.

"Sir." Dispensing a customary salute, she stepped in as soon as he motioned for her to join him. "I found the list satisfactory; the ships have yet to arrive. Which is the reason I must apologize for this utility attire and the absence of uniform; I had to make the brief journey in my personal fighter, which as you well know is without oxygen ... hence I had to wear this," she pointed at the front of her flightsuit with slight exasperation, "to accommodate the flight cabin requirements."

Rambling again, the Hapan rolled her eyes inwardly before nodding in acceptance of the proffered tea. "I would appreciate something to drink, thank you." Taking a moment to gawk at her new surroundings, Rhiannon noticed the two of them were alone, with no other aides or even droids present. She had come too late; the man was probably soon heading to bed and there she was, with her stupid 'simple' request. This idea was getting worse ... all the time.

"Say no more. I understand completely, Rhia," Claudius said, sympathetically, and having changed to address her by name rather than her rank once they were sufficiently isolated. He led her towards the small sofa that was in front of the table, and once she had become seated, he soon joined her. Pouring her a cup before serving himself, he crossed his right leg over the left and focused all of his attention on her. "Now what can I do for you?" he asked, before taking a lingering sip of the tea. "More ships perhaps?" he said, offering a soft smirk, as he placed the cup back down upon the saucer to wait for her serious request.

Taking up the cup with a slight but grateful smile, the young woman took a long sip of what surprised her to be, a rather delectable refreshment - before setting it down in her lap and glancing slowly to the man beside her. "I wouldn't say no to a shuttlecraft, if you feel so inclined," her brows narrowing down in exasperation as she recalled the horrific static that ensued once she removed her helmet in the Warspite's hangar bay. "Other than that, I am afraid my request is far simpler than that. I wanted to ask for a few days of leave, for myself and some key personnel on my crew." She decided to leave it at that for now, waiting patiently to see what his reaction would be.

"I can have a shuttle requisitioned for you," Claudius informed her, pleasantly ... he liked requests that were easy to grant. It enabled him to be hospitable, rather than a cruel commander who constantly had to say 'no'. But when the matter turned to leave it struck him as one of the more unusual requests he had so far received that day. "My dear, you came all this way merely to ask for leave?" he said, somewhat confused, as his attention again shifted to the hot tea. He found it somewhat surprisingly that she would go through such an ordeal for such a simple request. Perhaps she was inventing excuses to see him in person, and the thought of this he found understandably flattering.

At the sound of his question, Rhia's face became noticeably flushed ... she was unaware that the Imperial protocol allowed her to simply transmit a request for a leave at such a short notice. In fact, she was rather convinced that appeals of this nature were best handled in person. This faux pas had caused the Hapan to become quite flustered, so much so that she immediately lifted the cup of tea to her lips once more and began to drink until the bottom of the vessel made an appearance. "Excuse me, sir. I realized just now how ridiculous and wrong I was about coming here and waste your time like this. Believe me when I say ... it won't happen again." His offer of a shuttle nearly passed by her ears unnoticed, so upset she was with herself for this obvious lapse in judgement.

"Ridiculous? Oh, don't let it bother you, Rhia," he said, as he instinctively moved his right arm around her, in an attempt to draw her in reassuringly. "Of course I will grant your leave. You have earned it with your exploits in the Ralltiir system," he said, a warm and genuine smile upon his carefully groomed facade. "Is there anything else?" he asked, as his hand squeezed at her shoulder for the tenderest of moments. He perhaps did not even realize where his hand was, nor what it was doing.

Before she could realize what was happening, drawn in by the elation caused by the consent Claudius had given her, Rhiannon felt herself scooped up by a strong arm and drawn toward the governor. She dared not resist, remembering in a flash what happened last time. First assault might have been forgiven; the second, could have cost her dearly. Thus, she allowed the gesture, figuring that the old man was tired and maybe even attempting to get rid of her. It was not an uncommon tactic, she came to think of it. Now that her request was granted, it was probably a good idea for her to leave?

Recalling that he asked her a question, Rhia shook her head slowly. "N-no. No further requests." The teacup in her lap seemed to tremble, perhaps the result of its owner's unsteady posture. It was difficult to explain why she was shuddering; but the most obvious reason would have been her lack of understanding what to do in such a situation. The Grand Moff was her father's age, she reminded herself - but he was not an unsightly man. His wit was sharp, and his countenance was handsome in spite of his years. Most of all, he had proven himself to be kind to her, kinder than most men she had met on her career path.

And then she remembered inquiring whether he was unhappy, back during the time they shared their dinner. He never did respond to that, she realized. Was this then, his way of letting her know that he was? Was the half-embrace an expression of the man's growing loneliness? Biting her lower lip with a frown, Rhia lifted her gaze to his profile, silently wishing for an explanation.

His hand raised slowly until it found itself entangled in her hair, and it soon became trapped. "It is a terrible what a helmet can do to such lovely hair..." Claudius said, though it was as if he was speaking through her rather than to her. "In fact, your leave may start now," he decided, nodding his head firmly, to relieve what little pressure of regulations existed between them. What was he doing? he thought silently to himself, but did not have the foggiest notion. The woman that sat before him was beautiful, but so were the others ... and they had failed to produce a male heir. Would she be any different? he wondered again, tilting his head as his hand only made more of a mess of her hair. It would be a difficult thing to cast off one wife for another ... especially for a younger woman who was in his chain of command. Would those under him lose what remaining respect they had for him? What would his children think? And then there was Htaere ... would she be hurt, or would she view a return to Hapes a blessing after all she had been put through. His mind was a jumbled a mess, and all he could manage was the politest of smiles as he continued to fondle her helmet hair.

"Now," came a soft echo of his words as Rhiannon found herself firmly glued to the spot. Why was his hand in her hair?? What was being said? Oh, yes. Helmets. "Right you are," she managed to nod slightly, pulling his fingers up with the tilt of her head. The motion produced a little discomfort and she decided not to do that again. "How long do I have?" Scattered speech, ideas, everything. Suddenly, she wished her parents had educated her about such things ... like what to say to a man, how to act when a similar situation would present itself ... as the one she was in right now. Had she not spent her childhood on being the perfect tomboy and then the perfect little scholar when shipped off to school, perhaps Rhia would have known precisely how to react to this dangerous situation. Dangerous, yes. She had little idea in just how much peril she was in. Physically, perhaps emotionally, too. There was a strange feeling developing at the pit of her stomach, something akin to butterflies fluttering about. That couldn't be right, could it? Why on Hapes .. no, again, she was utterly confused. It was time to tackle her insecurities right there and then. Swallowing thickly, she exhaled then locked her dark gaze with his.

"I don't ... I feel perplexed. You are ... no, you seem to have grown very fond of me in the brief time we have known one another. Do I remind you of someone, sir? I daresay, I noticed no resemblance between myself and any of your daughters..."

At the mere mention of his daughters he seemed to snap back into reality almost instantly. He blinked several times, saying nothing, as he gradually regained his composure and realized where he was. "Take as much time as you feel you need, Rhia," he said to her softly, before withdrawing his hand from the intricate web her hair had become. A moment later there was an awkward shift, and he slid further down to the couch until he was now sitting directly against her. "It is just that you seem so untouched, in a galaxy that has been so horribly touched by war..." he said, as he held his head dangerously close to hers. "Would you strike me again if I were to kiss you?" he asked, being perhaps a bit too bold, as he lifted his head to position it directly in front of hers. He took no further action, having already crossed a line he had tried valiantly not to cross for sometime.

Feeling strangely compelled by some unknown force, Rhiannon made the motion to dug down at the non-existent hem of her tunic, only to realize that she was still in the damn flightsuit. Emperor's black teeth! Folding her arms in her lap quickly, she admonished herself inwardly for the reflex that held no purpose. Her gaze was now pointed away from him, as she shook her head and scowled. "I did not realize that being a harlot was a requirement for females in the Imperial navy," she murmured, referring indirectly to her inexperience with men and the fact that she had managed to keep her virtue intact throughout all the years of her military career.

So embarrassing, Rhia thought with barely veiled sorrow. So damn humiliating, to have your innermost private details exposed in this way.

When his question came, she could sense his proximity without employing her peripheral glance. Her heart was already beating so fast, it felt like it would erupt from her chest. She could feel his breath on the side of her cheek, cascading down the faint sliver of her neck, unobscured by the flightsuit. Curious if he had actually meant the words, and not actually playing some kind of game, Rhia lifted her chin slowly so that her face came less than an inch away from his.

"You have kissed me once before, and I did not expect it. But now you are telling me ahead of time, so I may not be so ... violently inclined," she breathed, realizing that he would probably burst out laughing at the comment and thus end her torment. Or so she hoped.

Believing he had her permission to proceed, Claudius brought his hand up to her chin to raise her face ever so slightly. A moment later his head turned slightly to the right, and he descended towards her face. Before his lips would connect with hers, he closed his eyes, and in that instant pressed his moistened lips against hers. He allowed himself to remain there in that moment for as long as he thought proper ... and perhaps a bit longer. It was only then that he withdrew, his brown eyes opening to gaze upon her beauty once again. "You are far from a harlot, my dear," he said softly, as his hands reached down to take her gloved hands into his. There was something provocative and alluring about her manner of dress ... it as tight enough to show him what was there, but also obscured it in a way that permitted his imagination to run wild like in his youth. "And as for the rest. Well, the kiss came *after* the promotion," he was quick to point out, offering up a genuine smile to reaffirm that he had not promoted her for any personal assets she possessed.

Rhiannon sat paralyzed as Claudius' mouth slanted over hers. She had never been kissed before, as there was no one in her past or present who had ever been considered as an appropriate suitor and her parents would have never allowed her to dally with anyone they did not personally approve of. But even in her innocence she could feel the hint of passion in the way his lips pressed against hers. A flame burst to life in the pit of her stomach and her blood quickened, making Rhiannon feel flushed and strange. Not fully in command of herself, the young woman felt her lips part slightly, leaning into his frame and pressing one palm flat against his chest, in a clumsy attempt to cling to him as she returned the kiss. As Claudius' hand closed around hers and clasped it, visible pleasure washed through her. She wanted to press herself against him, a soft little cry escaping her throat ... but he had already pulled away, leaving her breathless.

Soon after, a flash of skepticism registered in her dark brown eyes. "What do I mean to you, Claudius? What do you see? A moment of triumph? A brief scandal?" she breathed in disbelief, convinced he was motivated solely by lust and nothing else. And such a frivolous liaison Rhia could never allow.

Claudius thought over her question carefully, all the while rubbing his thumbs in a circular motion against the gloves that shielded her hands from the void of space. "A new beginning?" he asked, in the form of a question, still not sure himself. He swallowed so deliberately that the bulge in his throat could be seen awkwardly expanding. At that moment he broke eye contact, realizing what he said, and the implications those words had behind them. Had he already made up his decision and not admitted it to himself? he wondered, in the increasingly crowded cauldron that was his brain. Much was being cooked inside that head of his, and he was unsure of himself. He had always been a confident man, but now he trembled, as if he were a mere petty officer ... and not a member of the nobility and a Grand Moff. All he could do was force his lips upward towards her in a weak smile, as he waited to see if the opportunity was there.

"A beginning of what, exactly? The downfall of my career? The end of my future as we know it? You realize, there are whispers about the Imperial Navy here and there, of females that serve that end up servicing their superior officers. I am noble-born, just as you are," she looked to him pointedly, a hurt overtone in her voice. "So answer my questions precisely, sir - or I will move heaven and earth to get myself transferred out of here as soon as possible." Setting the empty cup aside, she leaned forward and hugged her arms, withdrawing her hand from his, as she made every effort to stop herself from shaking ... whether from rage or anguish, one could not tell.

"My situation is not an easy one, Rhia," Claudius said, speaking deliberately, and so slow that she would be able to tell that he was running every word carefully through his head before speaking. "I have been blessed with two wonderful daughters. In Hapan society, this would be regarded as a bounty..." he paused, desperately searching for the phrasing that might least insult her ... it would be difficult. "But on my homeworld of Delaya my family has ruled for eight centuries. All men. And I have yet to produce a son ... despite two horribly painful efforts," he said, the tears starting to form in the corner of each eye as he relived the painful memories of the death of his first wife in childbirth, and the miscarriage suffered by his current wife at the hands of ISB torture. "I have a duty to my family and my home that goes beyond what might be easy to understand. I need a son. And not a son born out of wedlock. A son whose mother is equally noble, so that he might one day succeed me and govern back home," he explained, laying out all of the details, but sparing much of the personal elements that pained him so visibly.

The young woman listened carefully, her head bent down and forward slightly as the grip upon her shoulders became more and more relaxed and eventually subsided completely. So this was the horrible secret, the pain that the Grand Moff was harboring away from everyone, including the people closest to him? A question of succession? An absence of a male heir? The possibility that the Rodney line would die with him? All heavy burdens, granted ... but why would he turn to her, of all people? Did he ... did he possibly consider her, as someone who could change the terrible luck that had befallen him? Unlikely. He was still a much married man, and the emphasis which he placed on the 'son not born out of wedlock' was clear. He would either have to produce a son with his current wife, or find another woman ... another wife ... to bear fruit from his seed. Her head lifted then, eyes widening slightly.

"So ... duty, before love?"

"I loved once. During the last war," Claudius confessed, before swiftly bringing up a hand to stop the tears from flowing. He was a better man than this, and there was no need for him to start blubbering in front of some young woman ... especially one in his hand. "I would like to love again," he added, perhaps becoming too forward with the young woman. "But with my duty to the Empire it has not been possible. I was close to my wife, but it was an arranged marriage ... and hastily at that ... and..." he stopped himself, unable to go any further. The image of her miscarriage played in his head on a continuous loop, causing him no end of pain. "But, my problems are not your problems. Now, enjoy your leave. That's an *order*," he added, with some emphasis, as he finally withdrew his hands from hers and rose from the couch. He was on the verge of breaking down and he could not let her ... or anyone for that matter ... see it.

Rhiannon could sense that something within the man was stirring, like an avalanche threatening to explode down a steep mountain, destroying everything in its wake. His words cut her to the core, humbling the young woman and making her realize she had misjudged him. But it seemed that every time fate dared to throw them together, something terrible would intervene and wreck any potential peace that she hoped to achieve. Never before had Rhiannon experienced such a nerve-wracking, intensity-packed relationship with her superior. All the ones in her past seemed so 'cut and dry' compared to this middle-aged man who managed to stir her senses in a more profound manner than she was prepared to admit. And now he was sending her away, convincing Rhiannon and if she could not make this right, now ... she never would.

Drawing to her feet, she came about, facing Claudius about an arm's length away and shook her head. "No. No orders. No ranks ... no orders. You said that earlier this evening ... Claudius." She wanted so much to reach out to him, to touch him in his loneliness. Something within her was breaking, and it felt like the lightning that often accompanies a tornado in its wake.

"Stop pushing people away. You are not alone. Do you hear me? You are *not* alone."

What she really meant to say was, stop pushing me away, but the words were too bold and thus would not come. She did not want to add to his already burdened mind, the fragile psyche that was on the verge of seeming collapse. So instead, she took another step forward and, seeing no retreat from him, reached up and around him, pulling the man into her warm yet quivering embrace. Their foreheads would touch, and she closed her eyes, breathing out slowly, attempting to still both their troubled minds.

The combination of her words and actions proved too much for him, and he could no longer hold back. The tears were flowing, but he could not stop them, and he did not care. She was beautiful ... even through tear-filled eyes. He welcomed her advance, and it was met with one of his own, and both of his hands would find themselves wrapped around her. Gentleman behavior be damned ... he had fallen too far and he had to have her. One of his hands moved dangerously far down, until it came upon that perfectly crafted rear and lifted her up by it until her face was at his level. His lips rushed to hers again, but this time there was nothing dainty about it ... it was fueled by fire. His eyes closed, but he could still her in his mind's eyes more clearly than anyone he had prior. And then his tongue slid forward, first pressing against her own lips, and then surging forward like the advance of her fleet. He was lost in the moment ... a feeling he had not felt since long ago.

The moisture that Rhiannon felt upon her face was not her own, and without looking up, she realized it must have been tears. One of them rolled down between her lips and she tasted its salty texture, so silky smooth on her tongue. Next, she felt a pair of arms wrap around her, one of Claudius' hands moving down to scoop her bottom and suddenly squeeze to grip it before lifting her up. His grip was punishing, but she dared not complain. She did not want to provoke his passion even more than she already had. Their faces met, but his eyes ... she noticed ... closed the moment their lips touched. Even without her mouth parting, his tongue managed to find a way inside, plunging, hungrily exploring the sweet taste of her. Rhiannon pressed herself into his muscular frame and locked both arms around his neck, clinging to Claudius as she returned his kiss with equal zeal. At one point, she thought she even heard him growl, his arms tightening and drawing her even closer, kissing her even harder, until there was nothing but the solid wall of him wrapped around her and the incredible flame that raged between them. Power seemed to emanate from this man as his hands roamed down her back, cupping her hips and pulling her firmly onto the hardness of his arousal. Pleasure washed through Rhiannon as she pressed against him, and a soft little cry escaped her throat.

They continued to taste each other as her hands now began to explore the broad path of his back, running her fingertips through his dark hair. And then she brought one of her palms around, grasping his and bringing it to lay against the lush swell of her breast, moaning quietly as his touch aroused something primal within her, as well. She could almost tell that it had been years since he felt the least flicker of desire, for it seemed that the lust surging through him in that moment was beyond measure. If she did not stop this right here, he would surely take her now, here in his own quarters, laying her down on the floor and bury himself deep inside her, losing himself to her softness and heat, without even taking the time to remove his clothing. The idea of such desire was staggering, it stripped Rhiannon of her ability to think until she was aware of nothing but the blaze of his eyes devouring her, and the certainty that only this woman ... a woman he barely knew ... could slake his need.

When her hand drew his to her bosom, he could feel its magnificence despite the presence of the clunky flightsuit. The helpless, middle-aged man shuddered against the much younger woman at that moment. It had been so long since he had been intimate with a woman that he threatened to burst at that very instant. As he withdrew from the kiss his face had become as red as a Devaronian, from a combination of lust and embarrassment. What had he done? What would he continue to do? His hand continued to squeeze at her breast, with all the passion of a teenager touching one for the first time. He had only come up for air, however, in that next moment his face his descended again, but rather than to her lips it pushed lower and he began to kiss at her neck. The kisses soon gave way to bites, followed by intense sucking, as he left his mark upon her.

His other hand remained on her butt and drew her directly into her, while thrusting his manhood against her, despite the presence of his uniform trousers and her flightsuit. Already he was near, and he continued to shudder as he threatened to devour her. This was the most passionate moment he could recall having in a long time, and he did not want it to stop ... but deep in the back of his mind there was a little voice telling im that it was wrong and that it *had* to stop. But it was the voice of a dwarf in the back of a crowd filled with giants. What control he had, was lost to impulse ... he was a typical man afterall.

Some unseen, unnamed power finally seemed to interfere in the midst of this emotional explosion as Rhiannon saw an image of her mother and father in her mind, their stern faces staring her down, accusing and condemning the illicit behavior their daughter so wantonly displayed. Shame sliced through her, dousing Rhiannon's ardor. She released her hold on Claudius' neck and pressed both palms up against his chest, turning her face away from his ... appalled by her behavior.

"Please, you must stop," she whispered breathlessly, her own eyes now welling up in tears.

It took only a word for both of his hands to cease fondling her, and pull back to the safe boundary of his sides. When he pulled his lips from her neck and opened his eyes what he saw horrified him. He had violated her ... he made her cry. All due to a foolish man's lust. His head fell suddenly, his eyes only able to make contact with the durasteel deckplating. "I am so very sorry," he said to her, though fully realizing that words would mean little at a time like this. He elected not to make excuses, as mentioning her irresistible beauty would only inflame the situation.

"No, don't be. The fault wasn't yours alone, my share was equal. Forgive me," she murmured roughly, not certain whether she was asking for his forgiveness or her parents'.

Batting away the moisture that threatened to invade her eyes, Rhiannon continued to regard Claudius blankly, uncertain as to how she should feel about all of what had just transpired. A moment ago, they had both been powerfully aroused ... and he was a powerful man thoroughly in control, using that control to spin the same veil of desire over her. Yet now he seemed distant, almost sorrowful. The grim set of his mouth told her he was profoundly disappointed in himself, perhaps even angry. But she could also sense that whatever fury he felt, it was (thankfully) not directed at her.

"I-I," he stammered, not really prepared to say anything ... he was merely speaking for the sake of breaking the silence. "I am better than this," he finally said, as he struggled to regain his composure and some sense of who he was. "You are truly beautiful, and should not be treated in such a way, my dear," he said, as he lifted his head and studied her facial features carefully as he attempted to perk her up. "Please allow me some time while you are on leave to resolve my personal matters, and then pursue you without these obstacles in our path," he said to her, committing himself to a path of action that he was uncertain if he was fully prepared to take.

Not taking her eyes off Claudius, Rhiannon stared at him in confusion. Ripples of light and shadow were playing over her, glossing the tangled mass of her chestnut hair. Dark brown eyes were wide and pensive, her cheeks and lips flushed from the heat of his kisses. In that moment, standing amid the spartan austerity of the chamber, she seemed more mythical creature than flesh-and-blood woman.

"You wish to pursue ... courtship?" she asked, overtones of disbelief coloring her voice.

"Rhia, my life is very complicated right now ... personally and professionally," Claudius explained to her, speaking the truth and from the heart. "I do not know if life will permit me to court you. But I do know that I cannot allow myself to bed you here, like this," he said honestly, and perhaps a bit too bluntly. "I am better than that, and you are a Lady who deserves better than that. I will not allow myself to violate you due to an old man's passion," he said to her, making a promise that was both thoughtful and clear. "Put your leave to good use, and allow me to see if I cannot make some headway in both my personal and professional crises that are preventing a proper courtship," he concluded, waiting to see how she might respond to such blunt reality.

"But a life is only as complicated as we decide to make it, isn't it ... and as a stream of choices it is simply a matter of which ones we make. Well, it looks like we might both have made some ... poor ones here tonight," she muttered, attempting to hide something within the softness of her voice. Disappointment, perhaps? Frustration? No matter. Nodding as she mulled over everything he said one more time, the Hapan took a couple of steps toward the door, taking this as a subtle cue to leave. "Thank you for granting my simple request, Cla- ... Your Excellency. I shall put it to good use. And your gift of the shuttle is most appreciated. I will care for it so she won't get a scratch." Pivoting on her heel, Rhiannon tapped the release switch located in the door security panel, watching the door part ways with a dull thud. Once more, she turned around to offer the Grand Moff a brief salute, and then ... before he could say another word ... she was gone.

What had transpired here tonight would linger in his mind for sometime. After she left, he moved to a small table in the corner that was adorned with flowers, and a picture of his family. His eyes lingered on his wife ... she was still very beautiful, but now cold and withdrawn and incapable of producing an heir. His eyes next turned to his father and rage came to his eyes, as he recalled how he had forced the marriage upon him. He was at fault for what became of her, his unborn child that was lost, and the pain that had been inflicted upon him. But, the need for a male heir was still there and in the forefront of his mind. "Damn!" he cursed himself, as he placed it back down and proceeded to his chambers to attempt to get some sleep. Somehow, he did not think he would be getting any that night.

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