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Alice Bee and Christopher Levy.
One year after the Battle of Yavin (36:5:12) in the Ottega system: Jubilee.
Duke Marcus Rodney and Duchess Zara Rodney.

Marcus Rodney lay in a hospital bed aboard the Ithorian herdship Jubilee. When his eyes began to slowly open after being sedated for more than a day at first he saw nothing. Then he saw less than something. And finally, he saw a smudge shrouded in light. His eyes blinked and slowly that smudge transformed into the angelic image of his wife, Zara. Somehow she looked more beautiful than ever, which he attributed to the glow of her pregnancy. He tried to speak, but his mouth was so painfully bone dry that he could not form a word. His hand moved towards the table to feel for a cup of water, but he was too weak, and he simply knocked it over. He began swallowing rapidly, attempting to create saliva and moisten his mouth. "Za-Zara..." he said weakly, as he looked up towards her. He was glad to be reunited with her regardless of what happened, but as he began to regain full consciousness he had not yet remembered what happened. He tried to sit up, but could not find the strength. He tried to move his legs, but he felt nothing. He tried to wiggle a toe, but he felt nothing. "Am I ... am I restrained?" he asked her, narrowing his eyes, and furrowing his brow as he stared up at her with growing concern. He wondered if the Empire had captured him and he was now once again in their custody.

Upon returning from kicking Sierra out of her life, Zara Rodney perched herself in the hospital until Pilaq finally allowed her to be in Marcus' room once more. It was more of the same from there, only she eventually broke down and managed to eat a little fruit. Her twins were just as unhappy as their mother, kicking about in Zara until they were united with their father. After all that had happened, she swore she was going to go into labor. She certainly wasn't feeling well...not after what Doctor Tohan had told her.

The girl was seated in a chair which she pushed right up to his bedside. It looked like she was beginning to nod off for the first time in over twenty-four hours when Marcus knocked down the cup of water on a table beside her. In a snap, she was awake. "Marcus!" She gasped, tears appearing in her eyes so rapidly that she couldn't stop them. "Ohno." She grabbed the cup, quickly refilling it halfway with a pitcher of water left behind to inspire them both to drink. She stood up and leaned over him, doing what she could to help him get a drink. Her free hand ran through his hair. "My Marcus, you're finally awake..." When he had gotten a drink, Zara set the cup aside. His question brought on a dead silence from his wife. Her eyes sank. Where was Pilaq?! She couldn't be the one to tell him...

Yet she *had* to be. She slowly shook her head. "N-no..." Lowering herself back into her seat, Zara rested her chin on her husband's bed. "How much do you remember?" She asked him.

Marcus lay there trying to move his legs, but they would not budge. He could not even shift them a millimeter. "Remember?" he asked, as he tilted his head to examine her more closely. "I remember plating your device. I remember running. I remember Sierra..." he began, as everything after that became a blur. "Is Sierra okay?" he asked, growing concerned for his sister-in-law who was not nearly experienced enough to handle herself in a situation like the one they were in. "What's ... what's wrong with me?" he quickly asked, as he once again struggled to move. "Am I ... am I sedated?" he asked, as it never even occurred to him that he might have the kind of injury that he had. He had always been so fortunate in avoiding such a catastrophe.

She walked through it with him. She brushed off the question of Sierra, for she mattered not. She had gotten away with *nothing*. If Zara found the woman on Delaya ever again, she would kill her no questions asked. Zara's heart ached so badly. She didn't know how to do this. There was no way to lightly tell someone that they were paralyzed from the waist down. Zara started crying, "You were shot by a heavy repeating blaster... In the back. You were down by the time I had eyes on the base. It all happened really fast. I got you back here as soon as I could." She looked away from him, staring down at her rounded tummy since she couldn't see her feet. Her hand danced down his arm and took his hand. He was going to need her strength. Raising her head, she spoke. "Doctor Tohan said you damaged your spine when you were shot... He said... He said..." She choked. Zara wasn't *that* strong. "He said that ... that ... there's *damage*."

Marcus loved his wife dearly ... more than anything really ... but the way she was dancing around the issue, combined with his immobility, was beginning to frustrate him and bring out a side of him she had never before seen. His face began to twitch as he listened to her tell him vague answers to his question. "What kind of damage?!" he asked, raising his voice to the point where he was almost shouting at her. Realizing what he had done to her, he moved his head back on the pillow, before staring up at the ceiling. He was helpless. He was afraid. He let out a desperate scream, but despite all of his efforts his legs would not move. What had happened to the Nerf Herder? What had happened to Marcus Rodney? He *had* to know.

She hadn't been trying to infuriate him. In the life of Zara, she had just undergone the worst hours of her life. Watching Marcus fight for his life, waiting and waiting and waiting because she was *helpless*. The volume of his voice earned him a teary-eyed stare from his tired wife. She fell silent while he began to wrap his head around the beginnings of what had happened. She felt his helplessness. Life had just changed so drastically. He'd awoken to a new day...and not in a good way. Zara tried to reach for him again to offer her support. "Paralyzed from the waist down." She said in a quiet, weak voice. Pilaq had not come to save her from the burden of revealing her husband's condition to him. "Doctor Tohan did everything he could... You nearly died.."

When Zara finally told him what was wrong his eyes sealed shut and he exhaled a breath that seemed to make his entire deflate. He had been athletic all of his life. Before he was a bounty hunter he had been a star athlete. The news that he no longer had the use of his legs was in many ways worse than death. His hands gripped at the sheets next to him, opening and closing as they clawed at the fabric. "Okay..." he said, as he nodded his head at her, his eyes still closed, as tears began to flow from them. "Okay..." he said again, before inhaling sharply, as he failed in his efforts to hold together. The Empire had broken his body, but now, it seemed, they had also broken his spirit.

There was a silence in the room. Zara didn't know what to say anymore. She couldn't wave her magical wand and fix this. He was falling apart before her eyes...yet Zara was there to catch him while it happened. Her hands collected the tears that fell from his eyes. "Marcus... It's okay to cry..." She whimpered. Her arms closed around him and she drew him into her chest as closely was possible considering the bed and her stomach. She formed security for him...a place to hide away from the rest of the world. Before she knew it, Zara was crying too. "I *love* you. I'll be with you through all of this." She pledged to him.

Marcus wrapped his arms around Zara, as thankfully he still had the use of his upper half. His hands moved up and down her back, slowly, until he remembered that she had yet to answer his question. Was it possible she was holding back even worse news. Accepting his fate his concern was now for that of others. "What of Sierra? Is she alright?" he asked Zara, as his last memory was of telling her to run away. She was his brother's wife and pregnant at that ... she did not belong there, but she would not listen to him. Had his failure resulted in her death? And the death of his brother's unborn son? He closed his eyes, clinging towards Zara, the bright center of his universe.

She couldn't let go of him. Living with the fear of losing him over the course of his operation had been too much for her. She would never survive without him. Marcus was the greatest person that she had ever met. Even the bad news wasn't as bad as him dying. They really could get through this. Death was a different story. "She's fine." Zara finally answered. "She went back to be with your brother already." She wasn't ready to tell him that she had banished her sister-in-law and shot her. Her anger had moved to a simmer. Sierra had been dealt with. Her head tilted downward. She buried her face in his hair. "I almost lost you," she said weakly. It was questionable who was clinging to who for dear life. "I'm so glad you came back to me."

"That is a relief," Marcus said quietly to Zara, as he did his best to hold onto her. "My brother has tried all his life for a son, and I did not want to be the cause of him losing his best chance at that," he said, before allowing himself to lay back in the bed. "You'll never lose me, Zara. Even in death I'll come back and haunt you," he vowed to her, as his hand clutched hers and squeezed it tightly. "Do you think ... do you think they'll let me return to our room yet?" he asked her, as he tried to lean his head up to look at what all of the monitors read. Even if he could see them he doubted he could understand them. "Or maybe even the chalet..." he said, becoming overly optimistic. They had not been there in so long he worried it might have frozen over again.

Marcus Rodney had the biggest heart of all. With his words, he deflated his wife. Oh no. What had she done?! She had only opened up the woman's previous injury. Surely she was okay...surely! The blood drained from her face. She couldn't understand why he wasn't angry with Sierra, but now she felt *bad*. "Oh no..." Feeling suddenly incapable of remaining upright, Zara plopped down in her chair. Her hands remained in his to continue physical contact. He made her cry and laugh with his sweet, sweet comment. "That better be a promise." She didn't ever want to lose him. Zara's life revolved around him. "I... I'll have to talk to Pilaq. Going back to the chalet would be nice. I miss it." They'd need to have a turbolift installed asap because Zara wasn't capable of getting Marcus up the stairs. "I don't understand. Why aren't you mad at Sierra? She brought you into her plans. We saw the do you know that she didn't put you in danger on purpose?"

"Even as Duke I am still subservient to Doctor Tohan," Marcus lamented, as he slapped his hands down on the mattress next to him. "Oh very well. Give him your best sad pregnant woman face when you ask, though," he said, keeping his sense of humor despite his grievous injury. "Why would I be mad at Sierra? She didn't force me. I'm a grown man and I make my own decisions," he informed her, as he turned his head onto its side so that he could look at her. "I understand you have a complicated relationship with your family, but all I have beyond you is my family. The only people I love. The only people I trust. The only people I care anything about," he explained to her, swallowing slightly as he felt a lump in his chest. "I would do anything for you, and although you don't realize it yet, they would do anything for you," he said, as he began to get emotionally, blissfully ignorant to the fallout between Zara and Sierra when he was sedated.

"Like this?" She pouted, making herself look absolutely pathetic. He was lucky that she still had the pregnancy edge. Over the past twenty-four hours, Zara had been one-hundred percent sure that the twins were going to arrive. She listened to Marcus. Her bitter feelings were fading fast. While the man holding her sense of logic had been unconscious, she had done something very stupid. Her eyes fell as he spoke about the Ta'em family. Her mother, father, and brother had all been publicly hung in a memory that she would *never* forget. The love she thought she shared with her sister had been turned upside down when Luna kidnapped her and caged her like an animal. House of Rodney wasn't really like that, Marcus showed her. She could recall hating Claudius the first time she had met him on the Retributor. His deep association with the Empire had made her so angry. Yet, as she got to know him, she didn't feel that way. Sierra had become her friend too. When she learned of Sierra's pregnancy, she hoped all their children could play together someday.

Not anymore.

He was right. She didn't realize it. Her family was so damaged that she, unknowingly, began to shove House of Rodney into the same box. Her head fell. Tears began to fall from her cheeks onto Marcus' bed sheets. "Oh, Marcus..." She brought her hands up to her face slowly. Grief and a great sense of guilt filled her. "I didn't realize. I didn't know. After what Luna did..." She sniffed. Her sister hadn't even been moved to safe her when she was trapped in a dangerous situation. Luna had *really* stopped loving her. "I was so mad after you came back. I was so mad at *Sierra*."

At this moment all Marcus wanted to do was climb out of bed and embrace his wife, but he could not. And that failing as a man pained him more horrifically as anything he had ever felt in his entire life. "Put Luna from your mind, my beloved," he said, reaching out to her, desperately, but he was unable to reach. "You have a new family. Considering Claudius your brother and Sierra your sister," he said to her, as he tried to give her a smile. "In time even Mug and Iyah will be there for you," he said to her, and then it dawned on him. Poor Iyah was still in that dungeon. "Why were you mad?" he asked her, as he struggled with all of his might to roll over onto his side so that he could more easily face her.

This was only becoming more painful. She needed to apologize to her sister and brother as quickly as she could. She reached out, taking his hands to help him roll over. Zara scooted close to his bed. She wanted to crawl inside with him, but she worried with how large she was and how injured he was that she would hurt him. She leaned down to kiss him on the lips. He was the one who had just lost so how could he still comfort *her*. She loved him so much. "I... I blamed her. As soon as I saw you were down, I snapped. After she had been treated for her wounds, I forced her to go back to Delaya with me." Her eyes were tear-filled. "Doctor Tohan didn't know how bad the damage was then. I was scared. I was furious. I took her back there and I shot her in the arm." Zara felt terrible as she recounted the story to him. "I banished her from Delaya... Oh Marcus, why did I do that?" The pregnant woman had been backed into a corner. Sierra simply became her whipping boy during her fit. "I'm so sorry. I have to go to Esseles and see Claudius and Sierra. I have to beg their forgiveness."

Marcus believed that anything that happened between Zara and Sierra could be fixed, until Zara revealed that she shot Sierra. "Oh Zara..." he said, with empathy rather than anger. "It is all my fault. I never should have gone so close to the birth of our children..." he said, taking the blame, as the tears began to flow from his eyes. "It will be okay, Zara. I will be okay," he promised her, as he looked up at her with loving, hopeful eyes. She could do no wrong. She could never fail him or let him down. His love for her was now unconditional and he would stick by her no matter who she shot. "I love you, Zara," he told her, as he had a feeling she needed to hear it now more than ever. "No. Don't go. The children will be here in just over two weeks. It's not worth the risk," he said to her, as he grasped onto her, vowing to hold her there forever if need be. "And no wife of mine should ever beg," he added, as he used his hold on her to pull himself up and give her the briefest of kisses.

Her eyes avoided his briefly. She was ready for him to be angry with her. Going off the rails like she had was stupid. It was his voice that drew her attention back to him. "No, no, no.." He was crying. She was crying. Together, they were clinging to each other and trying to muddle their way through the change in circumstances. "It's *my* fault. I wouldn't let you go look at the castle by yourself. I should have made you stay." Zara's overprotective nature was in full swing now. She wasn't going to leave his side. Every bit of reassurance he gave her was so helpful. He promised her that he'd be okay, thus finally melting away the last bits of anger and hate from her heart. "I love you, Marcus," she sniffed.

She couldn't go. He was right. Not just for the twins, but for their wonderful father. She clung right back to him. Leaning into him, she shared a loving kiss with him. Everything was falling back into place internally. He had given her what she needed to let go of the tension and stress that the possibility of losing him had caused. "What do I do?" She kissed his cheek. "Should I contact them? Should I do nothing? What if Sierra isn't okay?" Though the guilt would remain, she'd need to shelf it. Time was quickly dwindling down. The children would arrive so soon. Now, more than ever, she wanted to go back to the chalet. Holding onto his hand, she brought it to her stomach so he could feel how active his children were. The twins never seemed to settle without their father's calming touch. "Sia and Darrus were worried about you too. They said they wanted to come meet you. I told them they had to wait."

"*No*, Zara. It's not your fault," Marcus said to her, as he did everything within his power to reassure her. "Do nothing. I'm sure Sierra is fine. If she wasn't, well ... we would be dealing with the ramifications by now," he told her, vaguely, as he momentarily broke eye contact to consider the implications of what *could* have happened. "They won't have to wait much longer. Before you know it we'll be having ice cream socials at Auntie Mae's as a family. Your very own family that will always love you and always be with you," he vowed to her, as he again forced himself up to move his face near hers. "I will never leave you. And neither will our children," he said, before straining to lift that last inch to connect his lips to hers in a loving kiss. During the kiss while their eyes were closed and they were lost in the moment that final strain on his part caused the slightest of tremors in his big toe. Perhaps the Nerf Herder had not been vanquished after all.

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