Era of Rebellion - Navigation

Alice Bee and Christopher Levy.
Zero years after the Battle of Yavin (35:10:15) in the Alderaan system: Delaya (Leiliani: Rodney Castle) and in the Hosnian system: Hosnian Prime (Darropolis: Riaca Degor's clinic and Spaceport) and Nerf Herder.
El-Nay Darr, Doctor Riaca Degor, Yekaterina Hanson, Duke Julius Rodney, Lord Marcus Rodney, and Lady Zara Rodney.

Duke Julius Rodney sat upon his throne in the great hall of his castle high above the city of Leiliani on Delaya. His head was hung low, supported only by his left palm, whose arm rested with his elbow upon his knee. He was old, he was tired, and he was drunk ... and his head hurt in a way he never thought possible. For near a millennia the House of Rodney had laid claim to the Duchy of Delaya, and now all of that was at risk. His eldest son, Claudius, had become an Imperial Grand Moff, and his marriage produced only two children ... one of which was now a known Rebel. Now his second son, Marcus, had disappeared after impregnating a teenager of ordinary birth ... and what was worse ... the child was to be *another girl*. "Are you sure this person can be counted upon?" the old Duke asked, without raising his head to look at the woman, as his unsteady hand moved towards the always present glass of wine that served to both numb the pain and weaken his strength.

Yekaterina Hanson, one of the few remaining members of the Alderaan Guard, quickly turned her attention to the old Duke, looking upon him with sympathetic eyes from beneath the blast shield on her oversized helmet. "Yes, milord. She comes highly recommended," she said, in a reassuring and compassionate tone, before signalling for the doors to the great hall being opened. The young woman had been tasked with the unenviable job of selecting a bounty hunter to track down a member of the house she was sworn protect. Privately, she wanted the job, and she even found it insulting that she had been passed over for the assignment. This was not something for an outsider she thought to herself, but hers was not to reason why...

The sound of heavy bootsteps filled the great hall of the castle, but to the amusement of some they preceded the arrival of one of the shorter Mandalorians was likely to meet. For millennia the Mandalorians were known as a fearsome race of warriors who had clashed with the ancient Jedi, but had now fallen under the oppressive control of the Empire. El-Nay Darr was one of the few *lucky* Mandalorians who had been off world as the Empire imposed its restrictions, who now found her only way to survive taking whatever mercenary work she could find. In the past such work would have brought shame to her clan, but in this turbulent era credits often trumped honor. Her armor was painted a bright shade of orange, which hardly made her indiscreet during combat, but represented her lust for life. Although she was young and inexperienced, she did her best to hide beneath the dome of her T-shaped visor helmet and puff herself up to those she spoke with. When she came to a stop in front of the drunken nobleman she thought that the galaxy was incredibly unfair that those with the most wealth and power should deserve it the least. "You have work for me, milord?" she asked, following a brief, polite nod that protocol demanded, yet sickened her.

Yekaterina stepped between the Duke and the Mandalorian, realizing he was in no position to dictate terms. From a pouch on her tunic she produced a small holoreceptor, which she held up in front of the Mandalorian. It broadcast a familiar image from the holonet of Lord Marcus Rodney and his wife, Zara, for the young hunter. "His grace commands you to locate Lord Marcus Rodney and his ... *wife*," she sneered, gritting her teeth and having to speak such an offense aloud. "Just locate. They are not to be harmed. Do you understand?" she asked, glaring directly at the bounty hunter through her helmet. Normally a mere guardswoman wouldn't be so arrogant when dealing with a bounty hunter, but she knew more heavily armed guards were lurking above ready to gun her down should she cause any problems.

El-Nay studied the image of Marcus and his wife ... she knew the man, having worked with him on a couple of occasions. Generally it was in bad taste to a contract against another bounty hunter, but she was never known to have good taste. "Just locate?" she asked, a sense of disappoint in her voice as she stared across at the guardswoman. Well that did not sound like any fun at all, she thought to herself, and she almost considered not taking the job ... but she needed the credits. "Very well. But you will pay my capture fee regardless," she demanded, looking towards the Duke rather than his lackey. She found it quite amusing that this family was in disarray, much like her own, and she took great satisfaction in the fact that domestic problems affected people of all classes and walks of life. Rather than back out of the Duke's presence as customary, she made a point to simply turn on her heels and walk toward the exit of the hall to pursue her targets.

"Bounty hunter scum," Yekaterina complained to the Duke once she was confident the Mandalorian was out of earshot. "Are you sure this is wise, milord?" she asked, turning to look at him more carefully, in a vain attempt to change his mind. Her hands moved to the side of her helmet, pulling it off to reveal her short brown hair to the man. "I am more than capable of locating them. It is really a matter of internal security," she reason, as she tucked the large white helmet between her arm and her side. The entire 'Zarcus' situation had gotten out of hand and brought to the surface a number of negative emotions in the young guardswoman.

The old Duke was silent for a while, unmoving, as he simply stared down at the swirling glass of wine in his free hand. "I do not want the guard involved. Zara is young ... healthy. One day a son may come. I will not give up hope," he said to the defiant young woman, whose emotions he could easily read from decades of dealing with people. He felt terrible that such a course of action was needed in regard to his son and his daughter-in-law, but several hundred generations of the House of Rodney now depended on them and them alone to produce a suitable heir to carry on all that they had done. "Now leave me," he demanded, as he slumped back in his chair, allowing the glass of wine to fall to the ground below, shattering, and spilling the last of its contents on the floor.

The affairs of the Duke of Delaya were entirely unknown to the fugitive couple. In fact, Zara had placed the affairs of her in-laws to the back of her mind as soon as they made it back home. She proactively worked on expanding their savings through taking pregnancy-friendly jobs, meaning she wasn't making any physical appearances. She was stealing information, destroying information, and everything in between. Working as a hacker was something she could do a million lightyears away from her target. The best part? She actually *liked* hacking. She felt like a sneaky bad ass each time she completed a job. Regardless, she was having fun playing the part of wifey too. A portion of that involved making sure Marcus didn't get killed for her. Most of their sexual activity had happened in soft places lately after the hotel incident.

But, they couldn't stay cooped up in the house forever. As each week passed, Zara seemed to become noticeably more pregnant. It took time, but she had found a reliable doctor who knew how to keep their mouth shut. For the sake of her and the baby's health, they needed to depart from the one place Zara believed the Duke and Duchess would never find them. This time around Zara refused to step onto another planet without being armed. She dressed more like she was going on a mission than if she was going to a doctor's appointment. Her tight attire made her growing up that much more noticeable. She was ready for war.

Zara had been anxious throughout the flight to Hosnian Prime. It was natural to worry about how the baby was doing. It was her first pregnancy. She had no idea if she was doing it right or not (she sure hoped she was doing good!). Once they had landed on the planet, Zara unbuckled herself and jumped out of her seat. She raced over to embrace Marcus from behind his seat. "We're going to get to see our baby today!" She declared to him. Zara liked research. She had spent a large amount of time learning about what was going to happen in each of her appointments as well as all sorts of pregnancy facts. When she found out that they'd actually get to see their little boy, she had told her husband immediately. That was approximately a million reminders ago. She squeezed him playfully. "We're going to have to lock this boy up when he reaches his teen years. Think about it. Your looks plus my works? That's trouble."

Marcus had piloted the Nerf Herder extremely carefully, and never neared the vessel's top speed. He had become an overprotective pilot, not wanting to jostle his pregnant wife in the slightest. It had taken some research to find a civilized world with a doctor where they would hopefully go unnoticed ... some holonet reports boasted that they would pay thousands of credits for vids of the infamous Delayan couple. As she embraced him a warm, contented smile took up residency upon his face, savoring the quiet time they had together away from the peering eyes of the galaxy. "What color hair do you think he'll have?" he asked, in a sweet joke, while moving his hand up to run through her signature silver locks. He swung his chair around to face her, leaning up as he placed both hands upon the back of her head to bring it down towards his. He placed a firm kiss upon her sweet lips, forcing his tongue between her teeth in a passionate kiss. He was now a husband and soon to be a father. He would determined to prove all of the people who said he would never amount to anything wrong.

Contrary to popular belief, morning sickness wasn't a sickness that had a time frame on it. When noon appeared on the clock, morning sickness didn't magically go away. The occasional queasiness Zara felt was no fun, thus why she appreciated her husband's extra efforts not to take the wild ride. They arrived at their destination with Zara feeling good. Maybe a little too good... Yes, she knew about the price for videos of them. Despite that, nothing had surfaced yet. She didn't know if they'd be caught on tape or not while they made their first routine visit to the doctor. She hoped that they wouldn't be on the planet long enough for it to matter.

Fuzzy feelings filled her stomach when he smiled like he did. Marcus was always constantly reminding her how much he loved her. Zara liked feeling wanted. She liked having a place where she belonged. "Hmmm..." She chimed thoughtfully. Her face pressed towards his hand as it moved through her hair. His hands guided her to lean down until their lips met. Both of her hands rested on either side of his chair while they shared a passionate, loving kiss. Her tongue wasn't shy to his. It came to meet his tongue as soon as it passed into her mouth. Her tongue wrestled with his in its own dance of affection. The silver haired woman began to make her way into his lap one leg at a time. She embraced him tightly. In her eyes, he made her world go 'round. He was a good person. He was the man she happily called her husband and the father of her child. Her soft lips danced away from his. "He'll have light hair when he's born." She whispered close to his lips. Her hands dove through his dark hair, "Then I think he'll take after his father. Dark and handsome." Her fingernails massaged into his head. "We're never going to make it to this appointment on time." Especially not if she stayed in his lap.

"I used to be an important person. I'm sure they'll take us late," Marcus said, reassuring her, as he begrudgingly rose from his chair and led her off the Nerf Herder. Hosnian Prime was one of the most important Core Worlds, and boasted a landscape that was dominated almost entirely by large urban centers, reminiscent of Coruscant. Fortunately for Zara and Marcus, it did not draw nearly as much attention as Coruscant, which would allow them to pass in relative obscurity. They were dressed rather casually, and wore concealing clothing that would prevent any of the countless security camera from making a positive facial recognition. They soon found themselves inside a bustling speeder taxi that would ultimately deliver them to the OB/GYN without much fuss. "Well, this is it," he said, as he felt himself growing increasingly nervous ... his heart was threatening to beat right out of his chest.

She snickered. Every day put them further and further away from that life. Hormones and the typical irrational line of pregnant thinking made her worry that Marcus might feel resentment towards her for that. She had to combat those thoughts with logic; he'd told her otherwise. "How late?" She questioned. You didn't need to read minds to know what she was thinking about. Thankfully, Marcus took on the role of responsible adult and got Zara moving again. Though her bottoms were tight, her top was loose and long enough to cover her belly. She flipped a small hood over her hair before they left the Nerf Herder. She really ought to dye her hair. Was it selfish not to?! Her arm hooked with her husband's just before they descended into the city.

What she had realized since settling onto their comfortable icy planet was that urban planets like these were a little overwhelming. They were filled to the brim with people. Granted, that kind of business led to Marcus and Zara blending in with the crowd. It gave Zara the chance to let her excitement build and build and build. She could hardly wait for the appointment. The feelings of anticipation made the taxi ride take three times longer...and then they reached their destination. The front of the doctor's office was neat. There was a plaque beneath the name of the office sporting the doctor's names. Riaca Degor was an older Rattataki woman. In all of Zara's deep research of the woman, she'd found nothing to send up any red flags. She decided this woman was perfect. "Let's go!" She proclaimed. She rushed the automatic door with him. The interior of the office was clean and neat. There were some other patients waiting in one area of the office. Another part of the office was dominated by a children's playing area. A friendly woman welcomed them at the front desk. Zara introduced herself as Iella Dorvin and checked in. She had paid extra in advance so that they were immediately called back by a droid who rapidly shot a list of questions at her all the way to the checkup room. The droid took her vitals, her weight, height, and even drew her blood to run tests on it. Zara looked uncomfortable until the droid whizzed out of the room, beeping and booping as it went along. Okay. She was a little nervous.

If Marcus were any more nervous he would be the one in need of a physician. The firm, nervous look upon his face would easily let everyone in the office know exactly why he was here, without him having to utter a word. Then they were led to the examining room each footstep felt as if it were a kilometer, and when the droid left them alone in the room the wait became almost unbearable. He looked at the examining table, complete with stirrups, and felt his collar tighten around his throat. "Are you ... are you sure I should be in here for this?" he questioned, feeling somewhat awkward and out of place, despite the fact that he had already seen *everything* time and time again. The room was small enough to begin with, but it felt like it was slowly shrinking and closing in on him. "Maybe they've forgotten about us?" he asked, impatiently, despite the fact that the droid had only been gone a few moments.

Discomfort had settled into the office. Suddenly those pictures of uteruses hanging on the wall looked horrifying. Damn drawn ovaries were mocking her! Zara wasn't sure if she should sit on the examining table or if she should plop in a chair. She did an awkward twirl before setting next to her husband. His question was answered with silence at first. "I... I *think* so. I can't really do this without you, so you have to stay." She informed him nervously, rising back to her booted feet so that she could pace. "Maybe. Or maybe something's wrong." Zara made a mistake in giving her worries a voice. What if something was wrong with her? What if the baby was hurt? When she felt like she might burst out crying, there was a knock at the door just before it opened.

"Hello Mrs. Dorvin," The Rattataki woman who appeared had a calming voice. She was tall, at least a foot taller than the petite thief. She was entirely hairless. A variety of black markings decorated her chalk white skin. The vast majority of her body was covered in a white lab coat. She carried a clipboard in one hand. The other hand was dragging along a strange droid with a large screen attached to it. She looked at the uncomfortable mister, smiling at him to. "I'll take it this is Mr. Dorvin?" She said, crowding into the small room until the door was able to close. She gestured for Zara to lay on the examination table while she began to talk, "The testing my droid ran look great. It seems you're as healthy as a horse, Mrs. Dorvin." Zara began to visibly deflate. She still had a hard time getting herself to lay down. Her eyes were locked on Marcus. The doctor instructed Zara to pull her shirt over her stomach and tuck her leggings low on her hips. Now she felt cold, exposed, and weird. She peered down at her small stomach. "I'm so glad to hear we're doing a good job.." Beside her, the doctor was setting up her droid. In a matter of minutes, they were going to see the baby.

Marcus was used to being in control. Throughout the course of his life he had used his wealth, his title, and his skills as a bounty hunter to maintain control. Now all he could do was sit there and watch, as helpless as an infant. It was an unsettling feeling that caused him to become a bundle of nerves, and he very nearly threw up right then and there, as Zara had did so many times before. "Are you sure it's ok?" he asked, not wanting to believe her original statement. He stood next to Zara as she was examined, clinging to her arm, with the feeling that if he let go he would be cast off into oblivion. His mouth was as dry as a barren moon, and all he could do was sit there and wait, impatiently and nervously, for the image of their unborn son to appear on the screen.

It was an unsettling feeling, wasn't it? Zara didn't like giving up control either. As she traveled through the vast land into the unknown, she was left not knowing what was going to happen next. She educated herself on pregnancy because she had fears. She hoped to combat those fears with knowledge. Zara wasn't sure who was clinging to who at the moment. All she knew was that she could feel Marcus, working like a human paperweight to keep her from blowing away while Doctor Degor set up for the checkup. Her eyes trailed over to the doctor as if backing up his question. The doctor smiled, nodding her head. It wasn't her first time at the rodeo. She understood the couple's nerves. "I'm sure." She said, eyeing the paperwork in her hand. "Mrs. Dorvin's vitals are good. We often see an iron deficiency in pregnant women, which your wife does not have. High blood pressure is another problem we need to be concerned with." Zara was suddenly grateful that she hadn't taken a visit to the Rodney castle before her appointment. "The blood test results also showed that your wife does not have gestational diabetes. We're going to look at the baby in just a moment . I'll make some measurements and check for any fetal problems." She was suddenly a lot more nervous. Zara's anxiety peaked just as the droid turned on. Holding a Doppler-like tool to her stomach, the screen on the droid began to show a fuzzy picture. In addition to the picture, Zara could hear the strange thump-thumping of their unborn son's heart. A burst of emotions erupted inside of her, all good, and all overwhelming. She was crying before she could control it. Knowing about the baby's existence and hearing his beating heart were two very different things. Zara didn't know she was about to be overwhelmed with emotion again.

The image on the screen became clearer (I'd imagine a futuristic ultrasound to be more like a better version of the 3D/4D ultrasounds of today) until there was an actual teeny, tiny developing baby. Her blue eyes we glued to the screen. She was only ten weeks along now, as the doctor would confirm later, yet the person inside of her already looked so human.

A wave of relief overcame Marcus as the doctor reassured him that their unborn son was alright. The moment soon came for him to get his first look at the child, and he lowered his chin until it touched her shoulder so that he could watch the screen with his face directly next to hers. When the image came upon the screen it almost immediately overwhelmed him. He knew she was pregnant, but now with this visual reference it suddenly seemed real ... they had created life. As the emotions began to overcome him, he began to bite down on his lower lip in a vain attempt to maintain his computer ... he failed. The tears began to well in the corners of his eyes, slowly trickling down his cheeks, while his face began to tremble. "Zara..." he said, unable to find any other words, as his hand searched for hers in a firm squeeze, as they gazed together at their future. "He's perfect," he said, before tilting his chin down to place a soft, gentle kiss upon her shoulder.

Reality settled into Zara. Except for the sound of the doctor taking notes, she was silent. She gave the couple their moment to take in the moment. It didn't matter that Zara was only sixteen. When she saw that baby, she knew she would do right by him. She would love him endlessly and provide a good, happy life for her family. Her head turned towards Marcus when he said her name. His tears surprised her, not that she thought he was a mechanical man. In his eyes, she saw the same array of emotions that she was feeling. Her hand squeezed his back, "He really is..." She was in awe over the little human they had created. She pressed a kiss to his cheek when he bent down to kiss her shoulder. "I love you... I'm so happy we're on our way to starting our family." And in Zara's mind, nothing could ruin it. Her head turned back to the screen. The little guy was moving this way and that inside of her womb. The doctor's voice chimed in soon, "This little guy is doing great! His development is right on track. Whatever you two are doing, keep on doing it!" She praised them, "Would you like a hologram of the baby to take home?" Ooh! Zara would take the whole god damn ultrasound machine home if she could.

It was only then Marcus realized he was crying, and he quickly brought his hands to his face to wipe the tears away and rub his eyes. He left his wife for a moment to get a small cup of water, barely enough to fill a thimble, which he hoped would calm his nerves. Once Zara had received her holo of the baby, he carefully helped her up from the table. "Thank you, doctor," he said politely, before taking his wife by the arm and leading her from the doctor's office. Now that he knew what the child looked like his overprotectiveness would only increase ... he could not allow anything to happen to either of them. He would also keep them far away from his meddlesome family if he could, and he gave her a reassuring squeeze as he led her back into the vast urban cityscape.

Until the screen went dark again, Zara watched their son move around carelessly. She was glad that they had made the trip to see the doctor. They would be back in a month as was required. For now, the first appointment had reached its end. She took the holo, happily thanking the doctor over and over again. She appreciated Marcus' help in getting off the table. As she got bigger, she'd be more and more stranded without his assistance. Zara adjusted her clothing and flipping her hood up once more. After that, she waved goodbye to the doctor's office and headed back into the busy world. He wasn't the only one feeling an increase in their overprotective nature. Zara's parents had died when she was still very young. She knew what it was like to grow up without parents. It was a curse that she wouldn't pass on to their son. She led Marcus to the curb so that they could catch a taxi speeder. She happily snuggled herself into his side. "That was awesome! I feel silly for have stressing so much. Can we take a detour and do some baby shopping? Pleeasseee?" She looked at him with sad puppy dog eyes. "You know you want to..."

Before the happy couple could go any further the sound of a jetpack roaring in the distance grew increasingly loud. Before either could react the petite Mandalorian in her distinct orange armor awkwardly touched down on the ground in front of them. She looked at Marcus, and then to Zara, the woman that he had unexpectedly chosen. Beneath her helmet she could not help but smirk that the feared Nerf Herder had been tamed by a teen. In a flourish she tossed a pink teddy bear at the Zara, her idea of a joke. "For the baby," she said, her smugness coming across despite the fact that her facial expression was concealed beneath the helmet. "Your dad's looking for you. Looks like you violated curfew," she said, as she reached towards him with her gloved hand, poking him hard in the chest firmly. "Someone's in *trouble*. I thought you a little old to be grounded, but you nobles are always a little strange," she snickered with a laugh, as her attention then turned to the pregnant teen he had unexpectedly married. "You know what you got yourself into here?" she asked, before shifting her weight to one side, and placing her hands on her hips in saucy fashion, as she awaited her reply.

The sound of the jetpack almost was disguised with all the other noises of the city. Almost. The hair on the back of Zara's neck stood up just before the Mandalorian made her entrance. The female's face was completely hidden by her helmet. Despite the bright, noticeable orange armor, Zara had no idea who this woman was. Her work was much more about the sneakiness than bounty hunting. The purpose of stealing was to get in and get out without anyone noticing you. That didn't mean she didn't have enemies. The armor made Zara decide that this woman was here to start trouble. Zara caught the pink teddy bear in her hands. She cautiously held it away from her body. "*What*?" The woman's next words infuriated Zara...and scared her. She remembered what Marcus had told her about the Duke and Claudius' first wife. The man was desperate for an heir. The man thought that there was a baby girl growing inside of her.

Zara threw the pink teddy bear back towards the woman. "No thank you. The baby shower isn't for a few more months. No gift giving until then, 'kay? And yes, yes I do know what I got myself into. What about you? If you're taking jobs from the Duke, I question your sanity." She swatted the woman away. "Why don't you tell me what you're here for so we can get this little affair over with? Thanks."

Marcus immediately recognized the Mandalorian as El-Nay Darr, whom he had worked with in the past. She was one of the last people he wanted to bump into at a time like this. Knowing that she was quite temperamental and irrational, he was quick to step in between El-Nay and Zara. Even though he was in civilian attire his Model 434 "DeathHammer" was holstered at his right side, and his fingers were held over the grip ... just in case. "This is a family matter, El-Nay," he said, aggressively, as he glared at her with his strong brown eyes. Despite his past with the bounty hunter his overprotective attitude towards Zara made it very likely he would be quick to pull the trigger to defend her. "Now back off ... to the Outer Rim," he suggested, the fingers of his gun hand twitching in anticipation.

El-Nay was caught off guard when her *gift* was unceremoniously returned to her, and had it been from te heart she would have been hurt. "Listen, toots, the Duke's credits spend as good as any other," she said, matter-of-factly, as she glared in the direction of the teenager from beneath the anonymity of her distinctive Mandalorian helmet. "Now, now. Don't be hurt. You should be glad your father cares so much to look after you. My father certainly never did..." she said, bitterly, involuntarily scuffing her boot against the street as she spoke. Her visor detected Marcus' hand going for the weapon, but she did not think he had it in him to shoot her down ... she had not spoken to him since he became a father-to-be and was unaware of just what lengths he would go to in order to protect his family. "Just go home. Wouldn't a nice royal palace be preferable to a casino?" she asked, mocking their choice of living arrangements as she traced their recent history.

Everything was beginning to click. Marcus knew her, meaning she was a bounty hunter. Her knowledge of their family meant that a certain crazy bastard had contracted her. The question was, was she here to kill Zara or kill their child? Marcus wasn't the only one considering how they were going to defend their family. She had come armed and prepared. After seeing their child, she didn't know what the best course of action was. Should she shoot the Mandalorian and risk starting a fight in the street? She'd also risk one of them getting hurt. No sooner had the thought of trying to take out the Mandalorian had crossed her mind did her husband cut in front of her, thus making himself into her human shield. By the position of his hand, she felt it was safe to assume that Marcus was ready to rumble. She would be ready to rumble when she demanded they go to Delaya so she could strangle the Duke! The teddy bear fell to the ground. Zara stood there, staring at El-Nay while she spoke. The woman clearly had daddy issues, though that was none of her business. One positive thing did come out of this little run in; Zara realized that both El-Nay and the Duke didn't know about their real living arrangement. "Well, the casino doesn't house the wicked witch of the" She smiled, "We're not going back. We don't need the Duke's fucked up sense of responsibility. Go back to Delaya and report that we want nothing to do with him, *toots*." Zara wasn't about to let a perfectly good day get ruined by the bounty hunter. Beneath the surface, Zara realized that the battle with the Duke was only beginning.

El-Nay bent at the knees to retrieve the poor, unwanted teddy bear. As she rose back up she gently dusted it off, before tilting her head to look at the teenage bride. "That's no way to speak about your mother-in-law," she mused, before holding out her hand slowly, offering the bear up to Zara again. "It's not nice to decline a gift," she said, feigning hurt, as she waited for her to accept it, or reject it, again. "I'll tell him. If he's sober enough to understand," she joked, laughing beneath her helmet, as she turned her head to look up at Marcus. "I guess I was too old for you," she said, half-joking, half-bitter, as she glared at the man. She had her own weapon at the ready, a DT-57, which was nearly as old as her, and a bit unwieldy for someone of her size. She could not use it, however, as she had been ordered to just observe and report. She had done her job and earned her fee, but she could not help the banter.

"You've delivered your little message. As I have been cut off I welcome you to take as much as my father's money as you can," Marcus said to her, dismissively, before taking Zara in hand and attempting to move past the bounty hunter. As he walked, he made sure to keep himself between El-Nay and Zara at all times. "Don't let her get under your skin, dear," he said quietly to Zara, as he rolled his eyes condescendingly at El-Nay's little comment. He had far too much of a wonderful day to let anyone, particularly this creature, spoil things for him. He did not think his father capable of such a low action ... things must have been worse off than he was led to believe. He felt bad for his parents, but he had Zara and his own family now, and he had chosen to put his future ahead of his past.

The second time El-Nay offered her the teddy bear, Zara still refused it. It was the perfect device for a tracker or something of that likeness. The bounty hunter didn't know the situation between Zara and her in-laws. She wasn't about to explain it all either. That history had grown a yard since El-Nay appeared and started opening her mouth. "I'm aware. I'm also aware that you shouldn't take gifts from strangers. Besides, it looks like you could use someone to cuddle." Zara didn't care how drunk the Duke was. His efforts would have him mashed up against a stone wall. Her mind wouldn't change. The sassy little bounty hunter did say something that got under her skin way more than it should have. Her feelings could either be a result of youthful insecurity or her haywire hormones. Regardless, even she questioned why Marcus chose her. She knew his history, yet he'd always shown her complete loyalty and married her. If she were to list the reasons why she chose him, the list would run as far as the eye could see. What did she have that all the others didn't? If anything, she had started a shit storm for him.

Zara's feet were moving again only because her husband led her away. She had withdrawn into her head for the moment. Something in her face must have said that the bounty hunter bothered her, because Marcus read her mind like a book. She waited until El-Nay was out of earshot then she spoke. "Why did you pick *me*? I'm nothing special. Without me, you wouldn't have to deal with your parents sending bounty hunters to find us. You also wouldn't be on this nine month long emotional rollercoaster. You could be out there, you know, doing your thing." Bounty hunting of his own. When she crashed into his life, he never had to follow her. Why didn't he let her go?

When they stopped far enough from the bounty hunter that they would not be overhead, he stopped and listened to her carefully. "I chose you because I *love* you," Marcus told her, emphatically, as he took her hands into his own and gave them a reassuring squeeze. "You are special. You have an energy around you that I never before encountered on all of my journeys. There's a magic about you that just draws me in, in a way that I've never felt before..." he continued, his voice beginning to tremble, as the emotions of the day began to breach the surface once more. "I can't imagine life without you now. I can't imagine life without our son. And I'll gladly deal with my parents and ride the rollercoaster, as long as you're with me," he reassured her, as a single tear rolled down his left cheek. "You're my *thing* now, Zara," he said, before moving his face down towards hers to plant a loving kiss upon her lips.

Zara stopped in front of him. As much as she wanted to fixate on the Duke's latest endeavor to make their lives more difficult, she just couldn't. The image of their child was still fresh on her mind as well as the emotions that had come with it. El-Nay caught her at a raw moment, thus resulting in her second-guessing herself. His royalty status may have been the most appealing part of him to some people, but to Zara, she ignored it completely and felt she had the greatest man in the galaxy. She forced herself to look him in the eyes and face whatever he had to say. In her own skin, it was hard to see what made her *that* good. Her hands squeezed his back. His answer to her question couldn't have been more perfect. Zara felt teary while he explained himself to her. Her cheeks were a healthy shade of red. She could feel his emotion radiating off of her words. He made her feel like one of a kind. It was enough to chase away her insecurities and bring tears to her eyes. "Marcus.." He was teary too! Her hands squeezed his extra hard while she shared that kiss with him. Her world revolved around him and their son now. "I'll always be with you." She said softly into their kiss. *Always*. All the negativity in her head had been cleansed. She was over the moon about their adorable little boy. She looked so happy when the kiss came to a natural end. "You're so perfectly perfect, my love. I'd marry you again if I could!" She leaned up to her tippy toes, kissing his cheek.

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