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.
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
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
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
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.
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 ...
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.
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.."
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.
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
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.
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 videos...how
do you know that she didn't put you in danger on
"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.
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.
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 much...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
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.
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.
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."
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.