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Alice Bee and Christopher Levy.
One year after the Battle of Yavin (36:1:24) in the Alderaan system: Delaya (Leiliani: Rodney Castle) and Nerf Herder.
Duchess Livia Rodney, Lord Marcus Rodney, and Lady Zara Rodney.

Despite the fact that the Duke was dying, Castle Rodney was decorated in celebratory fashion to welcome home the very popular Marcus and Zara Rodney. The Duchess herself was waiting at the landing platform with guards dressed in their formal uniform. The news that Zara was pregnant with twins was *everywhere*, and the news seemed to make her even more popular. The only thing better than one noble pregnancy? Two at the same time! The elderly woman was standing, but holding on to a member of the Alderaan Guard to support herself like a living cane. As the Nerf Herder slowly touched down, the gust of wind kicked up by the repulsor engines caused her flowing, lavendar gown to flutter dramatically. Her son always knew how to make an entrance.

Marcus Rodney was sitting in the pilot's seat of the G1-A starfighter Nerfer, slowly guiding the ship down towards the Castle where he spent most of his life. He thought it would *always* be home but now, for him, home was the small, forgotten chalet he shared with his wife in the planet's frozen north. "I'm sure she'll be nice, Zara. People are watching. She *has* to," he said, as he rose up from his seat, before attending to his wife. The starfighter was overflowing with baby presents, maternity wear, and the large, plush bantha that took up almost the entire cargo hold by itself. As he descended the lift towards the surface of the castle, where everyone was waiting, but his attention was entirely focused on his pregnant wife, and her dainty descent down the lift.

"That's actually comforting." She replied, peering down at her stomach. There were things to look forward to. Once the meeting with Livia had concluded, they could go home and bask in the glory of the items they'd purchased for their children... And Zara could ride the Bantha plush. *Ahem*. Only once the ship had settled on the landing platform, did she make movements like she actually intended on leaving the ship. She held herself confidently. In the presence of Livia, she didn't want the woman to see her as weak. It seemed like the kind of thing that would inspire an attack. They met Livia on the landing pad with Zara grasping Marcus' hand. She was reluctant to play nice with her, but then opted to release her husband so she could greet her mother-in-law. "It's nice seeing you again, Livia." There was a gentle, careful hug and a kiss placed to each kiss. Like it or not, Zara was getting used to her noble role. The only part that was uncomfortable still was the paparazzi. "I take it you've heard the news..."

"It is wonderful to see you again, *daughter*," Livia said, as she returned the hug, though with less strength, and exchanged diplomatic kisses with one another on each cheek. "I wanted to be the first on Delaya to congratulate you on your joyous news," she informed her, as she stared at her intently with her violet eyes. So far she had paid no attention to her son, who had become an afterthought. "You must be tired after your journey. I've had the staff prepare your old room in the castle spire. I insist that you dine with me this evening and spend the night," she said, as she began to lead them towards the castle. She was exhausted, and meeting them at the landing platform had taken almost everything out of her. But protocol dicated she meet with them ... they were the future and she was the past. That was the way of things.

*Daughter*. The word of familiarity hit Zara like a ton of bricks. At times, it was hard to even recall when her parents had referred to her as such. It seemed like those days were a million millenniums away. She pulled free from Livia. Zara graciously accepted her congratulations, "Thank you, Livia. We only recently found out ourselves. It seems our doctor wasn't as tight-lipped as we thought." Yeah, she wasn't going to get over that ordeal any time soon. She would ruin the good doctor's practice for life before she started to think of moving on. There was nothing worse than violating her privacy in such a massive way. Zara wasn't a fan of the idea of both spending the night *and* a dinner with Livia. It seemed like she was going to object. Her mouth opened. Sound ceased to come out of it. She glanced towards Marcus, then back at his elderly mother. "Thank you for your consideration. We'll stay just for tonight." The chalet beckoned to her. She wanted to be home, sipping on a hot chocolate while she watched ridiculous reality TV shows with her hubby. That sounded like an ideal evening. Instead, she was escorted into the Rodney castle. Livia looked so tired and frail. It was the best defense mechanism in the book. Even the thief couldn't deny the woman when she was like that. Zara sighed, dropping to Marcus' side. "Our present gasm is going to have to wait until tomorrow. We'll return home in the morning." She laid out her plans. Livia was right, Zara *was* tired. She was sure her exhaustion had mostly come from such an intense romp in the dressing room.

Marcus was surprised by his mother's reaction, but he was even more surprised by Zara's accepting of his mother's request to spend the night. "Really?" he mouthed to her, as he took her hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. Slowly they walked behind his mother, who seemed to be moving even slower than normal this evening. It seemed to take an eternity to get from the landing platform to the great hall of the castle, but eventually they made it inside where decorations had been carefully laid out to welcome them home. There was a table set up with all sorts of Alderaanian delicacies, including her beloved purple potato ice cream. Whether it was genuine or not, the castle staff was at least making an effort to make Marcus and Zara feel welcome. "How is father?" he asked her, once they were inside, and away from prying eyes. He squeezed his wife's hand again, still not sure why his mother had gone to the trouble of sending the guard out to bring them back to Delaya.

Maybe she really wanted to make nice with Livia, and this wasn't strictly based on her degrading health. Growing up without a family had led her to want certain things in her life, like a family of her own and a mother figure who loved her. Though Zara believed Livia's actions were strictly motivated by the family's future, it was nice to pretend. She did her best to be patient with the old woman, but her patience began to grow thin as soon as she was close enough to the doorway that she could nearly touch it. Thankfully, the great hall had the only food that matter: purple potato ice cream. Zara's heart skipped a beat. It was love at first sight! The only thing that leveled her emotions was Marcus' question of his father. Julius was on his last leg. Everyone knew that. She worried that he'd been taken to Delaya because he had died. Zara stoned herself, holding his hand like the sweet, affectionate love that she was. That was a storm which she would weather with him. Till death do us part, right? Only, death wouldn't stop Zarcus. "Is that why you summoned us here?" What if it was succession related? The idea of Duke Marcus and Duchess Zara still sat uncomfortably with her. She was still hoping, *praying* that anything would happen to avoid them taking power. Her stomach began to twist. All attention had shifted to the old woman.

The staff quickly brought an ornate chair with a high back for Livia to sit upon. Standing was difficult at any time, but even more so when coupled with the excitement of the event. A small plate of food was prepared for her, which she picked at, like a sickly bird. Mostly she just watched others eat at this point as her appetite had faded, and she focused mostly on her glass of wine. "Your father is unchanged," she said, without lingering on the sore subject, before passing off the plate of barely touched food over towards one of the servants. "No. I requested your presence because the government will soon meet regarding the article of succession..." she explained, as she held out her glass of wine to be refilled. "Your presence is necessary to bolster public opinion, and to keep your cousin from meddling," she said, as she brought the glass back to her mouth and drank it down far too quickly. "There is more ... I wish for you to speak to your brother and convince him it is in your family's best interest for him to renounce his claim and his children's claim as well, for the obvious political ramifications with His Majesty, The Emperor," she said, laying it out very clearly, with a large glass of wine to help it pass over her tongue.

In the spirit of not killing her appetite completely, Zara didn't watch Livia. She was hungry, no surprise there, so she actually ate. This wasn't the worst meal she'd attend in this month alone. There was not a bloody nerf steak or anything else sinister on the table. Julius was still on his death bed. Zara made a point of hacking into the med center every other day to check on him. If anything happened, she didn't want Marcus to learn through the obnoxious HoloNet reporters. It was her weird way of protecting him. Regardless, Livia still had news to deliver. While it didn't involve his father dying, it was a doozy. The future was beginning to align. Zara had put them on this path. Now they would have to, reluctantly, follow down it. She had stopped eating. The public was already eating them up. She was afraid that actually showing up would seal the deal. Even worse, she wanted them to speak with Claudius about renouncing his family's claim. It seemed like an ugly tornado that Zara didn't want to step into. While Claudius couldn't possibly take the throne, she didn't know if asking him to renounce was something that either of them had the right to do. She looked at Marcus, then to Livia. "We're going to have to discuss both matters. I'm sure you can understand that there's a lot going on right now. The idea of Marcus becoming Duke is still new to us, and slightly *overwhelming*. We're just trying to take on parenthood together." If she was placed in front of Claudius, she'd likely slap the man for being a fool. This was his fault!! His fault!

Marcus was overwhelmed and unprepared for what his mother had asked him, and he looked to Zara for support. Claudius was his older brother, and while they rarely saw eye-to-eye, he was not sure he could ask his brother to do that. Now he found himself in need of a drink, but he did not want to go down the same path of his parents, especially not in front of Zara. "Mother, it is too soon to discuss all that," he said to her, echoing his wife's claims, as he moved to sit down, slightly taken aback by all of these developments. "Have you discussed this with him?" he asked, trying to shift the burden back onto his mother and worm his way out of having to the dead himself. When Zara *volunteered* him to succeed his father as Duke he never expected it to be this involved, and he never realize it would mean confronting his brother about the title.

Zara could understand his urge to drink at the moment. In these moments of great stress with his parents, she'd like nothing better than to check out. However, they couldn't let each other fall down the slippery slope. Quietly, she took his hand. Her fingers wiggled in between his. She squeezed. She supported him. "I agree with Marcus. It's just too soon. There's a lot on our plate right now. The burden of having to approach Claudius about succession doesn't seem like it should fall on our shoulders." She thrust that away as quickly as she could. In her mind, she was guesstimating how long it would take for them to run away into the Nerf Herder, return to the chalet, and hide from these new responsibilities. Zara wanted a simple life for the *four* of them. She wanted Marcus to have time to enjoy fatherhood instead of focusing himself on ruling. She feigned fatigue, her free hand brushing over her forehead dramatically. "I'm sorry, Livia. I'm feeling exhausted. Can you excuse us?" She looked at Marcus, mouthing the words *run away*.

"Carrying two children is quite an ordeal, mother. I'll help her rest," Marcus explained, as he took Zara by the hand and gave her a knowing, reassuring squeeze. He nodded apologetically to his mother, and began to lead Zara to safety. When they were out of earshot he smiled down at her, doing her best to raise her mood after the immense pressure his mother had unexpectedly placed upon them. "I *am* sorry, my love," he said to her, as he tilted his head down, and followed up his words with a gentle kiss. "To the ship or my old room in the castle spire?" he asked her, taking each of her hands into one of her own, and squeezing reassuringly. "I know it is a terrible thing to burden you with such decisions, but please know that I love you, and our unborn children, and will support whatever you wish to do here," he said, as he looked into her eyes, as if trying to understand her thought process.

Pregnancy made for a convenient getaway for the young couple. They both escaped from the dining hall before Livia could stop them. Zara didn't like the corner that her mother-in-law was trying to back them into. Claudius had taken his own path. Naturally, no one would want a man who danced with the Empire to become Duke. She didn't think it was necessary to ask him renounce his claim to the throne. In fact, it was outright over kill. When she was sure no one would hear them, Zara stopped, turned, and faced Marcus. She smiled at him reassuringly. "There's nothing for you to be sorry about. You should be blaming me, my ovaries, and my big, fat mouth." The woman chuckled softly. She returned his kiss. Tough times or not, she never ceased to feel lucky to have him. "Let's go *home*, the home where we belong. I love you, I love our children. We don't *belong* here. Livia has overstepped by asking us to meet with Claudius. We won't do anything to throw us into the spotlight any more than normal. Our day has been so good. I refuse to let it be spoiled ... especially when I haven't gotten to ride that Bantha plush." Zara's smile grew.

Marcus had come to reluctantly agree that Zara was correct ... again. Of the two his wife had better judgment, and without saying a word, he began to lead her out onto the landing platform. "I think you're going to like what happens next, my love," he said, as helped her up the lift back into the Nerf Herder, before anyone could stop them. He hurried aboard the ship as if he was fleeing a planetary catastrophe ... and in many ways he was. Before he even got the shipped warmed he as activating the repulsors to lift the Nerf Herder into the atmosphere and send them on their way. But, instead of heading immediately towards the chalet, they first flew over the area of Leiliani that had become known as 'Tarkintown' where the Alderaanian refugees lived in modest conditions. As they hovered, he turned to his wife and smiled, and then took her hand and led it to the emergency cargo release button. The button existed for smugglers who needed to dump their illegal cargo when faced with Imperial entanglements, but he never imagined it would be used for this. An instant later he pressed both of their hands down on the button, opening the cargo bay, and raining down hundreds of presents for the children and expectant mothers in the camp. Another act of kindness and charity from the planet's favorite couple.

She didn't know what he was talking about. What came next? Hot chocolate and snuggles in the chalet? If so, she *did* like what was coming next! They escaped like convicted criminals from the Rodney Castle. There was no looking back, no regrets, no *anything*. Zara could almost taste the hot chocolate on her tongue when, instead of heading home immediately, they lingered over Tarkintown. It took her seconds to put two and two together. Her hand, now directed to the emergency cargo release button. Her heart skipped a beat. Her bright blue eyes met with Marcus'. This was the high point they needed to end the day on. The smile was just beginning to form on her face, her dimples barely shining through, when they pressed the button together. Below, gifts rained down upon the refugees. Zara stared below them. Her heart felt so good. Below them, children were receiving toys. Below them, mothers received necessities. The moment was gratifying and highly emotional. She sniffled, happy tears creeping down her cheeks in slow motion. "I love you," she said in a shaky voice. Marcus fit the bill to be Duke. He was an incredibly good man. Zara wouldn't let his mother step on him, nor would she allow Livia to order Marcus around. She would protect him.

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