“ Lyena-Nova…”

Nova was uncomfortable, sitting on the couch alone as Redlin rummaged in the fridge.

“ I have some pretty good leftovers from earlier, if you’re feeling hungry or anything,” Redlin continued. “ You didn’t really eat that much.”

“ I don’t make a habit of overeating,” Nova responded.

“ You might be more comfortable if you have something to take your mind off of all the heavy talk,” Redlin said, taking out a plastic bin with some sort of something in it.

“ I am comfortable,” Nova responded.

“ You’re a nervous wreck, man,” Redlin said.

It cut him deeply, somehow, to have that stated so plainly.

“ I am not. Let’s get this over with,” Nova repeated. “ Say what you want to say.”

Redlin sighed, and sat down across from him.

“ That little DASS guy… do you actually trust him?” he asked.

“... What do you mean.”

Redlin fished in his pockets for a lighter and cigarette.

“ Everybody’s been saying he’s making some kinda power bid,” he said, lighting up. “ Out of all the DASS’s military officials, he’s the one with the most rising force right now. He’s in with Sector 05. He’s in with the Empire. He has the largest active fleet in the border wheel. He’s very young, even by their own standards, and so the fact that he’s risen from nothing to ending the war nearly entirely by himself has frightened even those outside the military,” Redlin said. “ I can’t tell whether he’s lying or not when we speak, and he’s been far too interested in the affair with Ulgir’s niece for reasons I don’t understand. The Commodore General seems like… he’s a dangerous person. And I can’t tell if you’re with this fleet out of your own will, or if you’re being used for political leverage.”

Smoke rising.

“ William is too stupid to be ambitious,” Nova stated bluntly. “ And I’ve stayed for as long as I have because I’m in love with him.”

Redlin tapped his cigarette into the ash tray before taking another drag.

“ And what of the matter of rae?” He asked. Pointed and direct in a way that hurt.

“ I intend to convince him to accompany me back to Sturm,” Nova answered, attempting to dodge the question. “ Since it’s peacetime. Once his affairs here are properly settled.”

There was a long silence.

“ Well, are you going to mock me?” Nova asked. “ Is it so terrible of me to still be this way that I must be ill, or broken?”

“ …Why would I do that? Just because I don’t understand why doesn’t mean I’m going to look down on you,” Redlin said.

“ …But you always have,” Nova said.

“ What? Since when? Yeah, I was mad as hell about getting my ass beat back then, but you won fair and square, and we’ve been pretty well off here on Noahl,” Redlin said. “ If anything, I’m just kind of concerned that you’re getting yanked around by somebody. I know nobody back home treats you right, but that’s like, on them for being kind of a terrible, fucked up family.”

…That wasn’t right.

“ But you were looking down on me,” Nova repeated.

“ What for? Killing that creepy bastard in your coming of age duel? Most everyone was glad you did that, from what I remember,” Redlin said, gesturing with his cigarette.

The words caught in Nova’s throat. He pushed them back down, like bile, and composed himself.

“ Weren’t you there?” he asked. “ Didn’t you hear about it?”

“ Nah, I was away on Lethe, I was in charge of the draft office there,” Redlin said. “ I heard about it on the news like everyone else. You know succession duels aren’t televised.”

Nova’s nails bit through the cloth of his pants to draw blood from his knees.

“ …So you didn’t know?” he asked.

“ Know about what?” Redlin asked in turn.

“ Hannan said everyone knew,” Nova said. “ And that my ability to perform as Lyena was in question by both you and Diurn because of… my relationship with him.”