" Accidents happen. Was it really that disturbing to you? You had already killed countless people," Mordau said, blasé, after he recounted the incident to him.

That was how Mordau was.

He saw things in a rational, strategic light. Nova had not really expected outright sympathy from him. Even the memory of Kaama's sympathy from that time felt sickeningly fake and saccharine.

In hindsight, he could feel that Kaama had still been disgusted with him because of how he'd acted after the duels before that one.

Every time, they argued, like a storm over water.

And even that one moment of terrible, earnest weakness hadn't changed anything in the long run.

They'd been estranged for years, and the little in and out runs Nova made to the palace when he absolutely had to couldn't fix that. Distant memories of the on-and-off misery they'd inflicted on each other in their twenties wouldn't magically rekindle some sort of roaring flame in their thirties. It was more that he could see that door closing off, that since they made each other miserable they'd have to accept that they couldn't be around each other anymore.

Mordau, as strange and cold as he got sometimes, was at least not very sentimental, and he didn't take Nova's coldness to heart. He didn't ask questions or pry into private affairs unless invited. And he kept secrets almost as well.

" It's different from that," Nova protested.

" Go ask Aldan-Hannan, it's not that different," Mordau said. " A life is a life. One child doesn't weigh more than two thousand death row inmates."

Sensing that he was getting nowhere with this, and wanting to avoid arguing with him, Nova changed the topic.

" Have you heard back from Radn-Bellam about the emergency supply shipments," he asked stiffly.

" His aldan said they'd be halfway to Thera by noon tomorrow," Mordau answered.

" Then we'd better arrive ahead of them," Nova stated. " We'll need to have the ground stations fully fortified by the time the DASS fleet breaks through Yuresh's skeleton defense."

" I'll tell the navigation crew to increase the warp threshold," Mordau said. " Anything else?"

" Stay with me in space during the assault," Nova said.

" ... In my treatment, didn't I specify it'd be best for me to be on ground and Hannan in air?" Mordau asked. " The sun and flower strategy from volume thirteen of Arjun's apocryphal Red Record."

" I don't want to be up there alone with Hannan," Nova said.

" You've been weirdly emotional today," Mordau said. " It's better for me to coordinate from the ground, Lyena-Nova."

" Something's just off. The air doesn't feel right," Nova answered, his reasoning abstract. " Stay with me."

" Not like I can argue with you when you're like this," Mordau complained. " Next thing I know you'll be asking me to stay with you forever or something maidenly like that."