Part 1 - Chapter 4

Dominia held him after he fell asleep as closely as she could. That had been the most fantastic moment she had ever had in all her life, but she wasn't sure of what to do next. Would her sisters be angry with her? Would she be able to look at him in the same way again? Would she become dependent upon this kind of physical affection? Was he even the same man she fell in love with seven years ago? Would she be comfortable being seen with others with him? How much of this was rebounding off Miang? Was she somehow not as strong as she was before, now having her wish somewhat granted?

All of this thinking made her angry, and she righted herself abruptly. The Commander had been propped up on her torso the entire time, and flopped over unceremoniously when she moved. Dominia grimaced, but luckily he didn't wake up, so she moved him back into a position she thought looked comfortable and brushed his hair out of his eyes. The whole thing still seemed so surreal to her. She almost didn't want to leave, but she couldn't sleep and he needed the rest. She searched the room for where her clothes had ended up and she picked up his speedo, having mistaken it for her own underwear. She felt the blood rush to the tips of her ears and decided that, if this never happened again, she'd like to have kept at least something from it. It wasn't in any decent condition to be worn, so she stuffed it into her boot and collected the rest of her clothes.

She unlocked the door and walked out into the hallway, and she gasped audibly when she turned her head and saw Sigurd Harcourt leaning against the wall.

"There's no need to panic, Ms. Yizkor. I'm not angry or anything," he said. "And I wasn't up against the wall while it was happening, but...people heard some...kerfuffle, and the other girls are up on deck, so I put two and two together."

"I'm sorry for...causing a disturbance. We're still your guests, I--"

Sigurd stood up from the wall. "Please relax, there's no harm done. Kahr has a certain...effect...on people face to face." He smiled sadly. "I have to admit to a little bit of jealousy, but there's a land war between Kahr and I these days, and my obligations are to my family. I am glad to see that he's surrounded by people who want to make him happy."

Dominia felt the tips of her ears turn red. "N-not a whole lot's set in stone right now." What the fuck are you trying to say? Not a whole lot's set in stone, so if you wanna, like, walk in and bang him behind me, go ahead?

Sigurd crossed his arms and tilted his head. Dominia had never seen a more apparent, "Oh honey, please," look in her life.

"I know about the...thing."

Sigurd narrowed his eyes in amusement. "The thing?"

"Yeah, the thing, you and the Commander..."

An eyebrow raised.

"He still really likes you, you know."

"Enough to try to bury us in the desert?"

"I guess Solaris' intervention in the Kislev-Aveh conflict really has made a lot of things a lot more complicated than they were before," Dominia admitted.

Sigurd nodded. "Exactly, which, while I don't think I can start over with Kahr all that easily, I would like to try to be friends with you, if that's all right?" Sigurd extended his hand and when Dominia shook it, he smiled.

She smiled back, though it felt a little hammy. After the moment had passed, she looked up and said, "This is a little awkward to ask, but is there a place I can get a shower?"

"Of course. I can see to it that your uniform is cleaned, too. Follow me."

Sigurd led her down the hall, into what looked like a laundry room. "Pick anything you like. When you've changed, we can get your uniform washed."

Dominia picked out something practical-looking that fit and he ushered her into the showers. "The water starts out cold at first, so be mindful of that." He handed her a primitive-looking, but large, fluffy towel.

Sigurd exited the room and she stripped out of her uniform, glad to get out of the stink of it. Her boots and pauldrons didn't need to be washed, but she fished the Commander's thong out of the bottom of her boot. She decided that while she had the chance to get her little prize washed, she should take advantage of it, so she rolled it up in the center of the pile so it'd be inconspicuous. She topped the pile with her headband and walked over to one of the stalls.

She hung the towel Sigurd had given her within what looked like arm's reach from the outside of one of the adjacent stalls and took a look at the shower knobs. She cautiously turned them, keeping her distance from it until the water was warm enough to shower under and grabbed for soap. There were two bars of things that looked like soap in a metal enclosure, clearly labeled SOAP and SHAMPOO in surface common. The soap was greyish and the shampoo was greenish. She picked up the shampoo bar and studied it for a bit. She'd never seen a solid shampoo bar before, but from a utilitarian military supply standpoint, it was a lot more portable, and she was really excited at the concept. Examining the soap more closely, she found that it had bits of sand on its bottom side, which made it better to scrub with. She couldn't figure out what tactical advantage scrubby soap had, but seeing no wash rags around, she guessed that its value was in that.

When she was done, she felt cleaner than she had in years, even in Solaris. This good, rough, manual cleaning felt better to her than the softer feel of the high tech showers in Etrenank. She grabbed for the towel, which ended up just slightly out of her reach than she anticipated, but she got it. It was bigger and warmer than any towel she'd ever used before, and she kept herself rolled up in it longer than a soldier probably should have. She closed her eyes and exhaled. She wasn't a soldier anymore, so there was no more need for that kind of rigorous expectancy in her life. For a moment, she wondered if barking or following orders would have been something she would have done if she'd gotten to grow up in Elru, but letting her thoughts slant that way always ended up making her sad, so she snapped herself out of it. She walked out of the stall and sat in the towel a little while longer.

Everything she agreed to do from now on would be her choice, which was an encouraging thought. She'd still be fighting, but she'd be fighting the right things from now on: the things she wanted to fight all along. She hadn't felt this sure or right about anything in a long time, and she found herself looking forward to the future for once, despite how dangerous it was.

When she got comfortable enough to unroll herself, she got dressed. She'd chosen a uniform with a plain white shirt and green pants and a green jacket that was probably a Gear tech's. It looked a little looser than she was used to, but the underwear she'd picked out was tight enough that she didn't feel insecure, though the straps on the sports brassiere were resting in a blank spot her uniform left uncovered, and it felt a little alien. The shoes she'd picked out were a little big for her, but she could walk in them fine, so it didn't matter. She put her headband back on and walked out to the laundry room with the towel and her uniform, where Sigurd was waiting.

"Do you feel better?"

Dominia nodded. "A lot better, thank you. Where should I put this?"

Sigurd motioned to one of the machines. "There's fine."

"Parts of it can't be washed. Is there any place I should put them?" she asked, after depositing her clothes.

Sigurd motioned her to follow him again. "I've arranged a slightly more permanent place for you, Kahr and the other girls to stay. You can keep your things there."

He walked her down to the Yggdrasil's gear hangar, where she recognized several of the crafts she'd faced off against in battle before. They had a long way to walk to the opposite side of the hangar, but she immediately recognized Bladegash lined up in front of the largely disassembled remains of Vendetta. "Has anyone said anything about if Vendetta will fly again?" The last battle in Nisan had left Vendetta completely inoperable, and the Commander had to retreat on the cruiser with the rest of the troops, much to his humiliation.

"Not yet. Between whatever Elly did to it at Nisan and the loss of its Anima Relic, its locomotion has been arrested, its weapon systems are locked up and its engine isn't responding. There was also...some...structural damage caused by the residents of Nisan." Sigurd smirked, but quickly turned his head so Dominia wouldn't see.

"I see..."

"It was riling the survivors of the last attack to look up and see it standing there, so Margie requested we remove it. Originally, Bart had it dumped off the coast between Aveh and Nisan, but when we picked all of you up, Hyuga thought it prudent to retrieve it. We haven't had a chance to tell Kahr yet."

She followed Sigurd down to the lower level, and he led her to a door close to where their gears were docked. Dominia looked up at Vendetta as Sigurd started tapping on the door's lock panel, noting the new anti-Solarian graffiti that had showed up at its ankles. Large strings of seaweed still hung off some of the spines at its hip and knee joints, and the area smelled fairly like saltwater. Most of its puter paneling had been removed to the corner of the hangar, but what was left still shone proudly.

The door panel gave a friendly chirp as it opened, and she followed him in. "This isn't the most luxurious arrangement, but it's more private than the barracks, and it'll keep you closer to your gears," he said. It was a fairly cramped room that had four very modest beds shoved into each corner hastily, and what looked like an older, larger mattress in the center. A few plants and end-tables were wedged where they could fit, but there were dents and an extremely heavy-looking replacement gear part gave away that this area had previously been storage for spare parts. It smelled slightly of fuel under the smell of detergent, but it was nicer than any other arrangement she'd had on the surface, the exception, of course, being her childhood home in Elru.

"Thank you, Mr. Harcourt."

"Please, you can call me Sigurd."

Dominia placed her boots by one of the beds and set her pauldrons at the foot of it. "Have the other girls been in to see this yet?"

Sigurd shook his head. "Not yet. They're outside, with their gears. Would you like to join them?"

Dominia exhaled. "I know I need to, but I haven't worked out exactly what I'm going to say to them. There's no way they won't know, and I'm not going to lie to them. I know I'm not the only one of the Elements in love with...him." Why couldn't she just say Kahr?

"You're pretty hardcore with your truths. I assume you don't want to alienate them, though."

"Absolutely not. They're my sisters, my equals. I don't know where I'd be without them, and I don't want to be without them. I'm...actually pretty scared to face them, come to think of it. I didn't think this through all the way." She found herself staring at the floor.

"How about you try to break it to them gently?"


Sigurd shifted his weight and put a hand on his hip. "If I were any or all of the other girls right now, what would you say to me?"

"Uh...I told him how I felt and kinda threw myself on him and we did it?"

Sigurd smiled in polite exasperation. "You really aren't ready for this, are you?"

Dominia shook her head.

"This is only a suggestion, but I think they will take it better this way: Tell them that you poured your heart out to him. This is the truth. It's also the truth that he didn't turn you away. Unless they ask for details you want to give, I think you have free reign to omit them. Also tell them the other truth in this. Tell them that you still cherish their friendship, and maybe you weren't thinking at the time, but that you hope that this doesn't mess your friendship up. And, you could leave off with, as you've said before, the fact that nothing is set in stone."

Dominia blinked, massively impressed. "H-how did you come up with that so quickly?"

Sigurd shrugged. "Prince Bartholomew Fatima is prone to far worse perceived rudeness on a regular basis. I have become his apology translator, I think."

Dominia smiled, and her hope for the future bubbled to the surface again. "Well then, looks like I might need a ladder to get back up on Bladegash."