Kerrie Kiley had spent the past
several days reassessing her life and she did not like what she
found. She decided that she had reached her lowest point since the
time immediately after her parents were killed. No good would come
from her going about in pity for herself and she set herself to
working hard to ensure she would no longer break down. "I'm a
warrior," she told herself repeatedly. Finally, she had come to the
conclusion that her current assignment was getting to her. She was
not used to worry about other people. For years she only had to
worry about herself and she liked it that way.
Kerrie took a deep breath as she
entered the Rodney Estate on Esseles. She had a plan going in and
vowed not to allow Htaere's charms to derail her as it had so many
times before. As much as she found the idea of a friend appealing,
she could not help but remember how all of her friends on Zolan
abandoned her when she dreamt of leaving home to explore the galaxy.
"Too ambitious," they labeled her. She had let her guard down to
Htaere and she barely escaped with her life. She vowed to do her
best to prevent that from occurring again.
Htaere stood at one of the large
windows in the main hall, staring beyond at the landscape locked
within the walls, and occasionally the patrol that passed. Her hair
was tucked up entirely under a jeweled turban of sorts, her top a
bronze color patterned with green swirls, the sleeves grossly
elongated to hang beyond the tips of her fingers. The matching
straight fit skirt draped all the way to the floor around a pair of
dainty sandaled feet, with a wide bodice of black fabric pulled
taught around her waistline, spanning from her bust to her hip line.
Since her return from the Warspite, she spent most time
sitting out in the gardens or staring out of the windows, her
thoughts turned inward into the darker contemplative recesses of her
Kerrie cleared her throat upon
entering the room to alert Htaere to her presence. At the moment she
really did not know how to address her.
Htaere's silvery-grey eyes
flickered, her head following their lead as she turned. Her face
bore no range of expression, merely stoic and reserve. Whatever
emotions she felt at seeing Kerrie Kiley were in tact, still haunted
by the confrontation that addressed her betrayal.
"Milady, Htaere," Kerrie greeted
her. She then took a couple of steps towards her before coming to a
stop in the center of the room. "Do you have a moment?" she asked
Htaere's chin dipped in a slight
nod, turning from the window entirely to face the major.
"I have noticed that the Admiral
values your counsel in a way like no other," Kerrie explained
slowly. She swallowed a bit awkwardly before continuing with her
statement, "I was hoping perhaps you might speak with him on my
behalf." When she finished she folded her hands and nervously waited
for a response.
"I can try," she answered quietly.
She remained motionless, regarding Major Kiley in passive defeat.
"I wish to be reassigned," Kerrie
explained in a calm demeanor. "I just," she paused with a sigh
before refocusing herself, "I just don't think this is the right
assignment for me." Her eyes closed for a moment as she steadied
herself, "I want frontline combat duty."
Htaere studied her a long while
before turning back to the window. "Please do not ask me to
recommend such. Request it from the Admiral himself" she replied in
a low voice. Her eyes trailed a Stormtrooper patrol working its way
around the perimeter. "I wish not to meddle in your affairs any
further" she added.
"He...," Kerrie paused, trying to
find the right words, "values me in a way I cannot possibly
understand." She looked down for a moment reflecting on her time
with him, "He would not reassign me ... ever." She raised her head
back up and looked Htaere directly in the eyes, "But he loves you
... truly. He responds to you in a way that is totally out of
character for him. If you perhaps told him that you did not want me
protecting you ... he would have to reassign me."
Htaere's lips purses briefly before
she gazed back to the major. Finally, she moved from the window and
approached the woman, stopping in front of her. "I cannot. I do not
belong in your Imperial business. I do not belong here at all. I am
sorry" she responded. With that, she took Kerrie's face in her hands
tenderly and placed a small soft kiss on the woman's forehead. When
she withdrew, she still carried the same blank facade, devoid of any
emotion. "If you will excuse me" she said, and with that, she turned
and ascended the stairs, lifting the front of her skirt carefully so
as not to trip.
Kerrie was dumbstruck. After all
Htaere put her through over the past week and now she would not help
her. Her gloved fists tightened and she gritted down on her teeth,
flashing back to Clawdite form for an instant. "Wait," she said as
she turned towards Htaere before she could get all the way up the
Htaere drew to a halt, several steps
from the top. She turned to gaze over her shoulder. "Yes?"
"Would you consider speaking with
him on another matter?" Kerrie asked. She took a few steps towards
the bottom of the stairs, looking up at her with desperation.
Htaere shook her head slowly "If
this is regarding your Empire, then no."
"He will not let me go home," Kerrie
explained quietly, "I would like to go home ... just for a short
while. While you are on Alderaan the security forces there will be
more than enough to protect you."
"I do not see why he would object.
But you will have to ask him. I cannot get involved. I will not" she
Kerrie sunk down dejectedly. This
was not the same person she knew from previous encounters. She would
not make an issue of this, because of her influence with the
Admiral. She swallowed and exhaled slowly, centering herself. "Have
a pleasant evening, Milady." She then bowed politely and headed
towards the exit of the estate.
Htaere watched her leave before
continuing up the stairs. She retreated to her chambers, closing the
door behind her.
Claudius Rodney returned home from
another long night plotting the Empire's response to increasing
Rebel threat in the Ringali Shell. However, that strategy had
changed in the last several days since he was confronted with
allegations that the Imperial Security Bureau included torture in
its methods. The one bright spot in each of his day was returning
home to see Htaere. He loved her and without her his life would be a
far sadder and more emptier he one. He huffed and puffed his way up
the stairs, each of his feet dropping down on the carpeted rungs
with more force than the one before. As he reached the top he looked
towards Htaere's room and smiled when he saw the light still on. He
slowly walked down the hallway towards the room and came to a stop
at the doorway. He smiled widely when he saw her and announced
happily, "I'm home."
Htaere stood at the glass door that
opened onto her private balcony that overlooked the gardens and
rolling acreage. It was futile really, since Hapans are notoriously
blind even in the most dim of lighting. She turned from the window
and a smile touched her lips, a streak of warmth amid oceans of
emptiness and cold. "Welcome home" she said, moving from the window
across the room at a leisurely stroll. "Your day was good?"
"My day was as expected," Claudius
said as he walked deeper into her room. He looked around, admiring
how she had decorated what was previously only a sparse guest room.
"Htaere," he began a bit nervously, "We need to talk."
She frowned inwardly. Yet another
conversation beginning this way. "Alright" she said, eyes settling
on him, expecting more negativity.
"A man in my position does not often
say this," Claudius said jokingly as he sat down at the foot of her
bed, "So please ... listen carefully for I would hate to repeat it."
He looked at her, the smile fading slightly, "I was wrong."
Try as she did to maintain a stone
face, her brow knit slightly. "Regarding what?"
"I dehumanize Major ... Kerrie,"
Claudius said quietly, "I have a great deal of guilt regarding how
my actions decades ago indirectly affected her life. I avoid
thinking about that by treating her as an asset and not a person."
Claudius looked down sadly, "If you had not stopped me the other day
she would have been," he sighed deeply coming to terms with the
realization before looking back up at her, "She would have been
tortured ... perhaps worse. And that guilt I would not be able to
shrug off so callously. I thank you for that."
To Htaere, it was already believable
since there was never a doubt in her mind that the major's story was
fact. "She never lied to me" Htaere stated. Her own eyes dropped to
the floor, though her focus turned inward to recount that episode in
full detail, much to her chagrin.
"Kerrie and I have much to resolve
between us," Claudius explained, "And I hope that in time we will
come to develop a better understanding of one another." He stood
from the bed and walked towards her, placing a steady hand on each
of her shoulders, "I am sorry if I caused you any problems. I
understand she felt very highly of you. If I damaged that
relationship ... I am saddened."
The grey pools beneath long lashes
lifted to his face, momentarily studying it before she allowed a
partial smile, more for his benefit. "Please speak with her as soon
as you can. It is not an emergency, but she has questions that only
you can address" she said.
"I will," Claudius reassured her, "I
have avoided talking to her far too long." He sighed and looked at
her reassuringly, "Sometimes when someone new enters a situation it
causes people to take a look at things different than they have in
the past. That is not a bad thing." He leaned forward into her and
wrapped his arms around her tightly. "I have come to depend on your
compassion," he whispered directly into her ear, "Do not lose it
because of the mistakes of an old man too set in his ways."
She settled into his embrace
comfortably, holding him equally as firmly. Nuzzling his torso her
eyes closed. "I do so love you, Claudius" she mumbled serenely, eyes
half opening a few moments later to stare lazily at the blaze in her
"Soon we will leave for Alderaan,"
Claudius said happily, "We will be away from politics and war. I can
sense that you have been melancholy and I feel that I have played a
role in it. Can you forgive me?"
"It is I who should be apologizing.
I have overstepped my bounds and it is unacceptable" Htaere replied.
"Htaere," Claudius said
begrudgingly, "There are times when a man in my position becomes too
distant from what is actually going on beneath him. You overstepped
nothing. All you did was convince me to look at things from a
different point of view." He held her closer to him before
continuing, "I will never hear the end of this, but Kerrie was right
too. It is very dangerous here. I tried convincing myself it was not
and part of that involved convincing you. I thought if I heard
myself explain it to someone else I would have an easier time
accepting it. Perhaps if I treated her with any sense of trust she
would have came to me with this information, but instead she
expressed it to you, who she does trust and I responded with
contempt for her. I have made a mess of things ... not you."
Htaere was quiet, contemplating the
abounding truths. "And does this position prevent you from
acknowledging your mistakes to her?" She drew a lengthy breath,
ragged by fatigue and anxiety. "I hope that you can speak to her.
She believes that at the first test of honor, I betrayed her...to
you. Which I have."
"It takes more than one person for a
betrayal, Htaere," Claudius said quietly, "I am the guilty one and I
will seek to rectify it. Have you spoken to her at all since the
"She came by today to ask a favor. I
will not create issues between you any further, which is why you
should speak to her. She has requests and asked me to push for them"
Htaere answered. She couldn't help but ponder the request for
transfer at great length because it was so strange that it warranted
"I have never known her to ask for
anything," Claudius said in a state of confusion, "It must have been
important. What did she ask for?"
Htaere was reluctant to answer. "I
should not be involved, though I believe I am the reason she is
making such a request" she responded. She battled inwardly with it,
breaking in hopes that it would work in her favor. "She asked to be
transferred to combat."
"Transferred to combat?" Claudius
repeated sadly, "I cannot do that. She is too vital to the security
of me and my family, which now includes you." He sighed wishing
there was something he could do for her. He treated her far too
"I told her I would not confer with
you on it. Which it seems I have done anyway, though I will in no
way aid her case. She could die and I will not convince you to send
her to her death" she remarked firmly. She thought for a moment and
her expression and tone softened. "She did however, have another
request, and while I told her I would not speak to you about it
either, I will not argue against this one."
"What was the other request?"
Claudius pressed. "I feel that I owe her...," he said in a voice
wracked with guilt.
"Perhaps you do" Htaere agreed
rather matter-of-factly. "She would like to go home while we are on
"Home?" Claudius repeated, "That
will take some doing. Her planet is under blockade..." He sighed
before asking the inevitable, "If I let her go ... do you think she
will come back?"
Htaere thought on it. With no
ill-intent that she could draw from the major's mannerisms earlier,
she shrugged slightly. "I dare say that if she wanted to flee, she
could have done so already."
"I owe her that much," Claudius said
quietly as he backed away. He leaned forward and pressed his lips
against hers gently. He broke the kiss and smiled down at her,
"Somehow I will make the arrangements and if she does not come back
... well then she has that right. I probably would not come back if
I was treated the way she was." He sighed tiredly, "It is late ... I
have kept you up far too long with my outpouring of emotions. We
should both get some sleep."
She nodded once. "I am here for you
Claudius. You know this" she offered. "You must get your rest.
Tomorrow is a fresh start" she said with a weary smile.
Claudius leaned forward and pressed
a final 'goodnight' kiss upon her lips. He looked at her a moment
longer and smiled before exiting her room, proceeding back down the
corridor towards his own room with a renewed sense of vigor.