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Silhouettes [ Lord Protector Ayden Cater]

Cira

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Fondor
Ayden's Private Quarters

Dusk fell across the horizon upon Fondor's majestic shipyards, plumes of smoke rising from factories, cooling towers, steam tunnels, and towering offices. Even despite the smog haze that lingered in the air, there was a beauty to it, a familiarity -- and Ayden's balcony view was no different.

His private quarters were no different than his office. There was a mass of paperwork from the S.A.A.T and Shipyards, along with scattered articles of filmsi pertaining to his office appointment. The real life of a Lord Protector: paperwork and more paperwork, negotiation with other governments, officials, and ambassadors. The kind of life she hadn't wanted, when she first chose to create Omega Pyre, the life she had fallen into after being awoken in hibernation for years. Boring. Mundane.

Not that her experiences as the Lady Protector had been boring and mundane -- they had to be done. It just was a stark contrast to her most recent experiences with her other alias -- terrifying was more like it-- and no one wanted another trip like that.

Except, that a part of her still did. She remembered very clearly the rush of excitement, the soaring glee of the excavation, the guilty delight when she'd discovered the oubliette. Her random flights of exploring had never resulted in her departure for more than a week at that. Only this time... it did.

The Shi'ido female took a deep breath, the long length of her auburn hair cascading down her shoulders and back. She couldn't go back to her own quarters, and to be frank, her first priority had been to get in contact with Ayden and Tegaea. Unfortunately, the moment she set foot upon Fondor the Atrisian Empire decided to bring in en mass their navy, demanding the surrender of the Protectorate states.

A faint smile came lingering across her lips, cutting her face in half in wryness. To learn that Ayden was the Lord Protector gave her the exact mental picture and idea of what his response would be.

To be frank, it was strikingly along the same lines as she would have responded.

Now that the rush of a fight and impending war had stalled for the moment, it was time to move on to her original plan. One that found her using her skills as a Disciple of Twilight to phase into the highly secured personal quarters of Ayden Cater. Considering it's security, she felt safe that no one would come across her. It was here that she used his accommodations to wash the grime from her body, relax a bit. Well as much as one could before meeting the Nexu who made this his den.

Of course, she did't miss the telltale signs of a feminine touch. That was a surprise and a cause for concern-- but if anything, she was certain that she could easily handle any individual other than Ayden that appeared. If anything, she could simply disappear, and her force signature was already null.

To her amusement, Cater didn't have a regular sonic shower, and instead indulged in a hydro based refresher that used of all things water.

Who would have thought?
 

Ayden Cater

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The front door slid open with a subdued hiss and let the bone-weary Corellian through. It was obvious that he was exhausted, and a look at his schedule would have easily revealed why with more than a dozen trips to and from Republic space in the last week alone. Combined with the tense situation dealing with the Fringe, open hostilities with the Atrisians, relaunching ceremonies for dedicated ships, system security meets and the usual dozen brush fires a day to put out meant that Ayden hadn't had a proper day off for months.

Most nights, he'd catch an hour or two of sleep then pop some stims and get back to it. Cira's abrupt departure had left a very hazy line of succession, less-than-helpful notes on events, both current and future. As a result, a number of systems went into states of near-revolt, as they felt that their place in the Protectorate was secure only through her work. It was a miracle that he, and Tegaea before him, had cleared so much of the madness and uncertainty away. For the first time since Cira's disappearance though, Ayden felt like the Protectorate really would be okay.


Tossing his jacket over the back of one chair, he smiled at hearing the sound of the shower going. Once it became apparent that he would infrequently get to return home, he had taken a few steps to ensure things unfolded for him exactly as he wanted. When the front door open, a simple script turned on his shower and warmed it to his preferred temperature. His hat was placed on the granite counter top before he began his slow shuffle to the refresher. As he walked, he peeled another piece of clothing and left it on the floor.

As he opened the door to the refresher, he sighed softly at the wall of steamy hot air that washed over him. It was almost as good as being under the shower head itself. A twinge in his lower neck reinforced that belief. Almost as good. Stepping into the shower, he noticed a figure in there with him. In his near-comatose exhaustion, Ayden smiled as he allowed himself to believe that it was his wife in there with him. Often times when was as bone-weary as he was then, Ayden had such visions of his late-wife. Most of the time he would wait for them to vanish, though this time he stepped up behind her to wrap his arms around her with a sigh. "Elara..."

It was then that three facts shot through his mind. Elara had been considerably shorter than him, more than a head shorter in fact. This woman was barely fifteen centimeters shorter than he was. Second was the fact that this woman did not give off a signature through the Force. While that might have been a fact that played into the delusion of his wife being with him in the shower, his hands found the third fact that separated the two women. His entire body tensed so suddenly, Ayden would have feared ripping a muscle had his mind not been racing a thousand meters a second trying to figure out who had invaded his quarters.

A moment of clarity rang loudly in his head and the color drained from his face as Ayden put together all the facts that he knew. There was only one woman in the galaxy with hair as red as this, with the ability to hide herself in the Force, whose physical details matched, and who would have had the audacity to let herself into his private quarters and use his shower. And yet, despite the growing dread that filled his gut, knowing who it was that he was holding, Ayden found it difficult to speak her name. "... Cira?"
 

Cira

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Having strong arms wrapping around her along with the heavy weight of a man at her back was not an unfamiliar sensation for Cira, either in a refresher or in any other manner whatsoever. No one could be surprised that she wasn't a virgin. She just kept her business to herself.

However, she wasn't quite expecting to feel Ayden's arms snake in between her arms and around her waist, to feel the slight wet stubble of his jaw upon her shoulder, and the heavy weary sigh falling by the crook of her neck.

Nope, that was not on her agenda. And this... just made things a little bit awkward. Especially when she heard the name. Elara.

Now, there were a couple of choices she could make--- one would be to apply a good measure force choke for Ayden to back off. But.... seeing as she had clearly caught him off guard enough for him to call her by another woman's name, perhaps his current fling, that was likely not the best option to go for.

So, she did what she could do; stood perfectly still, her profile to Ayden, as she gave a small courtesy glance over her shoulder once he'd finally uttered her name in shocked disbelief.

Water fell around them as hot steam rose in a thick cloud. From what she could catch of Ayden's expression, this was an entirely different mask of the like she'd not seen before. Oh they both had their masks, the kind that they used like durasteel walls to prevent any manner of invasion. Droplets of water fell from thick lashes as she stared at him for what appeared long moments, before she realized that no.. this was no mask.

This was a part of his soul.

Cira slowly blinked once, staring across the faint curls of steam to the Corellian, as she finally spoke after being presumed dead for far too long.

"Ayden..." a pause, only to follow with two words that she wouldn't know would strike a cord at the man in front of her.

"Who's Elara?" she asked in query, the familiar hint of her accent present as the former Lady Protector, in all her glory, stood alive and well in front of Ayden Cater.
 

Ayden Cater

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Ayden's arms drifted away as he stared at her in utter shock. A wet crack broke the silence between them as Ayden's hand crashed against his face, hiding his eyes from her. "Of course you aren't... She's..." His voice failed him as a small part of him felt like dying. Of course she wasn't Elara. Elara was dead, dust by now. She was dead... and nothing was going to bring her back... Tears rolled down his face, obscured by the steam and water of the shower, though there was no hiding the subtle shudder of his shoulders as he fought against the tears. A moment later and his body seemed to relax, his hand falling away to reveal that mask that he always wore.

"After what I felt, I have to conclude that you're real and not some ghost." His voice was light and bemused, utterly at odds with his voice only heartbeats ago. "It figures you show back up with all this trouble." He chuckled and continued to make light of their meeting in his shower, completely avoiding her question like it had never been uttered. For a moment, he seemed to consider what to do next before deciding that the damage was done and grabbed a washcloth and began to work at the sweat and grime on his face. "You know it's rude to steal away someone's shower like this? You could have at least called." That was both a crack at her sudden appearance and the lack of any communication for the last several months.

Despite his calm exterior, a thousand questions flew through Ayden's mind at the same time as he fought to regain his center. Allowing himself to think that he was back with Elara had deeply shaken him and he knew he was barely in control of himself at that moment. He had to keep the situation under his control, else he feared what might happen otherwise. He had never let anyone close after Elara, and there was something in Cira's eyes in that brief second they locked gazes that unnerved him. She had seen... something of him, something that he had not let been seen in centuries. And that unnerved him.
 

Cira

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@[member="Ayden Cater"]

At first, it was difficult to determine just what was going on. However, despite the thick clouds of steam, there was no denying the telltale shudder that swept over Ayden's body. Cira spent lifetimes reading the body movements of others as a proficient mimic.

Yeah. This was awkward.

High officials of various governments at some point ask themselves what would it take to disarm the former Lady Protector; what would it take to crack her stoic demeanor. Evidently, this was one method to do so. It only grew in awkwardness considering that they were a half a meter apart and clothed in their proverbial birthday suits. Not the method she had imagined having her first conversation with Ayden.

Much the less starting with the name of a female that he clearly had some strong affections for. This was new.

There had been times in the past where her employees had become... a bit emotional. HK for one, when he broke down about never having been on a date. The time when Sarge had his own odd silent sit downs, or when Siobhan and her discussed things pertaining to her past. This was where the Shi'ido had a difficulty in maintaining that steadfast persona. It's how she ended up with Hk as her escort for a ball. How Jorus and Alna were backed by her completely in the auction for the Pathfinder's schematics. Why she gradually grew used to Sarge's void in the Force always next to her.

Oh for stars sakes!

So that is when Cira slowly turned around, when her hands went reaching out under the shower of water towards Ayden. Her right came to wrap around the hand that held the washcloth, an action made to have him look at her, while the other came to rest upon his bristly angular cheek.

No words were said.

She didn't need to.
 

Ayden Cater

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As soon as her hand stopped him, Ayden tensed. Slowly he started to shake his head, as if to deny her her attempts at making him confront the situation openly. He swallowed, nerves rattling, before he felt her other hand stop all movement and forced him to look at her. Instantly his lower lip began to tremble. "Don't..." Mentally, he could feel his walls crack and shudder as memories began to flood his mind; hearing the first report that Cira was missing. Staying up for days at a time, just stand in her office, waiting for her to walk back through those doors. Then there was the searching. Days on days, week into week. Even when others stopped searching, he had kept searching. It was only when Tegaea messaged him, saying that they were going to declare her dead and that he was needed at the funeral. Only then was he forced to stop looking for her.

His last memory of her before her disappearance was of her in a bacta tank. The damned fool of a woman had jumped in front of a gun and nearly been killed. That was the first time she had ever seen him enraged. He had screamed at her then. Told her she was all that was holding the Protectorate together. And she just stared at him and said he could do it too. The first tear fell across her hand as more followed. The funeral... He remembered being there and hearing people recant details of her heroism, her generosity, her kindness. And all he could think about... was that he had last left her fuming and screaming. And then she was gone.

At some point, Ayden wasn't sure when, he had thrown his arms around her and pulled her against him and began to cry openly. Memories of sitting in the dark with broken glassware scattered across the floor and furniture hurled against walls stabbed at his conscience while his mind flashed images of his wife and Cira. He had nearly fallen to pieces in her absence. It was only after the assassination attempt on her life forced Tegaea to step down that Ayden forced himself to step up. He could no longer let himself waste away in the dark, consumed by the past. For her sake, he had to keep the Protectorate together. For her sake, he had to move forward. And so he met with foreign dignitaries. He rallied the people and struck out against the darkness. He fought the Sith. He fought the Fringe. He fought the Atrisians. And every step of the way, he thought of her. What would she do? What would she say?

"You left us..." He whispered after some time had passed, how much he was unsure. He felt intensely awkward, vulnerable beside her now and sought to deflect the attention away from himself. "You disappeared without a trace... without a message..." Taking a step back, Ayden stood back up to his full height and looked at her. "Why?"
 

Cira

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"It was not done on purpose." Cira admitted, allowing Ayden to regain a measure of control over himself. She had done her part to offer whatever kind of comfort she could, realizing that her abrupt disappearance would have affected Ayden more than she'd believed.

The last she spoke to former Exarch, she'd been floating in a bacta tank, bracing herself against the Corellian's fury at her apparent disregard of her life. It had been then that she'd told him without question that were she to die, the Protectorate would survive. She was not the Protectorate, but every man woman and child who swore to protect her and her ideals.

She withdrew her hand, letting it fall to her side while she took a step back, allowing him space, and so that his hold on her would wane. It was one thing to be held in a man's arms in the brink of passion; quite another when seemingly emotional attachments became involved.

"Nor did I ever intend it to happen this way." she admitted, a dark expression bathing her damp face. A thought came to her. A rather ironic turn of events, as she said with a low murmur.

"In summary, we'll just say Sarge wasn't the only one to touch an artifact that would have been best to leave well enough alone."
 
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