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Lighting Out for the Territories

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March 796 U.C., Heinessen

Julian had been living with Annerose as his guardian for a bit more than a year, and so he had grown very used to having her around. Ms. Ingrid having moved herself into the house didn’t change the dynamic all that much, except that Julian cooked meals for three instead of two, and he was forced to begin picking up the Imperial language. He was approximately conversational, at this point, if conversation was limited to household vocabulary and sentences no longer than a few words. Still, he was getting better. His listening was better than his speaking, and that was the important thing, anyway, since Ms. Ingrid herself was trying to practice her Alliance language.

In any event, they had made a pleasant little household for a while, one that Julian was quite happy to call home, even if the strange status that Annerose occupied in his life was nowhere near a replacement for his own father, and Ms. Ingrid occupied an even less definable position. It didn’t matter, so long as no one asked him to explain. The few times at school he had been asked about his family, he had certainly avoided mentioning the fact that Ms. Ingrid and Annerose were something more than friends, whatever they were. 

The first night after Annerose had left for her deployment, Ms. Ingrid had been distraught, even if she didn’t say that aloud, and she sat up on the couch all night long, the TV muted, showing some ancient movie, one Julian had never heard of before. He had tried to stay up with her to make sure she was okay, but she had shooed him away. In the morning, he had found her slumped over with her head on the arm of the couch, and he had covered her up with a blanket before he got dressed to go to school.

Although communication between the two of them was difficult, Julian took his responsibility to take care of and watch out for Ms. Ingrid very seriously, and it was clear that Ms. Ingrid felt similarly seriously about being Julian’s surrogate guardian while Annerose was out of the house. It was a funny situation, and Julian could find the humor in it, even though he wished that Ms. Ingrid would let him take on the majority of the responsibilities. He didn’t mind cooking, after all, and she wasn’t very good at it.

They made an odd pair, heading out to the grocery store together: obviously unrelated, and Julian already a few inches taller than the petite redhead. Julian did all the talking, and Ms. Ingrid looked around in that nervous, dreamy way of hers, sometimes getting caught up examining the differences between two brands of potato flakes for so long that Julian had to assertively point at one of them, even though there was no real difference. 

Julian kept careful track of the household expenses, and though he would never admit it to Annerose, as she would certainly tell him to stop being ridiculous, it was a point of pride for him to make sure that all the money that he and Ms. Ingrid spent came solely out of the stipend Annerose was granted for Julian’s care. Although he had access to it, he would have never dreamed of touching the bank account into which Annerose’s salary was deposited.

Mrs. von Müsel came by at least once a week, making the train ride in from Wrightsville to check on Julian for Annerose, and Ms. Ingrid for the Earth Church. Julian liked Mrs. von Müsel well enough, but he couldn’t help but regard her with the same type of suspicion that Annerose had, and probably even more. Ms. Ingrid liked having her company, probably not least because Mrs. von Müsel would have long conversations with her in her native language, ones that Julian could only pick up every tenth word from. 

He asked Ingrid, once, what they had been talking about. He had been in the kitchen mixing cookie dough during their conversation, letting the snappy Imperial wash over him, his ears always perking up when he heard his own name mentioned. Ms. Ingrid had sounded choked up at points, though since Mrs. von Müsel had a consoling tone, Julian didn’t think it was anything that he needed to be too worried about. Still, after Mrs. von Müsel had left, and they were sitting at the kitchen table eating the chocolate chip cookies, he asked, “Are you alright, Ms. Ingrid?”

“Yes,” she said, and put that wan smile on her face.

“Were you talking about me?”

“No,” she said, shaking her head and sounding earnest. “Caribelle, she said, about my son— Erwin.”

“Oh,” Julian said. “What were you saying?”

Ms. Ingrid looked down at her hands. “Caribelle took Annerose, Reinhard away,” she said. “I can’t bring Erwin.”

“I’m sorry,” he said. He understood some of the intricacies of her political situation, and it was true that if she had brought her baby with her, there would have been no way that  she would have ended up here safely, in Annerose’s kitchen with Julian. She probably would have died, if she had fought too hard. Julian leaned on her shoulder. “I’m sure he’s being taken care of.”

“Yes,” Ms. Ingrid said. “I know. I said I want him to be like you.”

Julian flushed a little. “He’s your son, so I’m sure he’s great.”

“Yes, but Ludwig’s, too.” And that was the end of that conversation.

 


 

Julian’s birthday, near the end of March, was celebrated without too much of a fuss. Ms. Ingrid had insisted on making the cake, even though the only thing she could really cook well was rice, so it was lumpy and ill-frosted, but Julian appreciated it all the same, along with the letter that had come from Annerose (accompanied with a gift she had hidden in her bedroom before she left for her deployment: a very nice winter jacket), the journal and pens that Ms. Ingrid had gotten him, a knitted hat from Mrs. von Müsel, and the book on merchant ship design he had gotten from Rear Admiral Cazerne. The Cazernes had invited Julian and Ms. Ingrid over for dinner on his birthday, and Julian had had a very pleasant time playing with the new baby and reading to Charlotte, though as usual, this sort of thing made Ms. Ingrid melancholy in a way Julian was sorry that he couldn’t fix. He liked the Cazernes quite a lot, though, and he was always happy to hear what the rear admiral had to say about life in the fleet.

After dinner, Julian and Ms. Ingrid were walking home through the chill autumn night, the stars barely visible through the thin cloud cover. It wasn’t a long walk between the Cazernes’ house and theirs, but they weren’t going particularly fast. Ms. Ingrid liked taking walks, Julian had learned.

“When’s your birthday, Ms. Ingrid?” he asked.

“July,” she replied. “Summer, where I lived on Odin.”

“That’s winter, here,” Julian said. “What was it like when you lived on Earth?”

“We didn’t have birthdays,” she said. “I didn’t keep track of the days.”

“At all?”

“No.”

“Oh, wow,” Julian said. “That’s sad. We should do something to celebrate this year.”

She ruffled his hair. “It’s alright. I don’t need anything.”

“No, really,” Julian said. “We will. I want to.”

Ms. Ingrid smiled and was about to say something else, when they heard an odd sound coming from a nearby bush, a strained cry of some kind of animal. Ms. Ingrid stopped, nervous, even though they were in the middle of a suburban neighborhood and there was no chance of anything dangerous in the dark. Julian was reminded that she had spent several years living in the wilderness, and who even knew what kind of creatures lived in the untamed wilds of Earth. 

“It sounds like there’s something hurt there,” Julian said, stepping forward and turning on his phone flashlight to investigate. The light from nearby streetlamps and houses’ front doors didn’t penetrate the relative gloom of the trees and bushes they were standing near, the foliage that made up the beginnings of the greenbelt next to the town’s reservoir. 

Ms. Ingrid watched Julian as he took a few steps forward onto the grass off the side of the road, her hands curled into fists around her sleeves. Julian came closer to the sound, not sure what he was looking for, but peeling back the bushes with one hand. The animal cry turned into hissing, and the light from Julian’s phone landed on the figure of a supremely bedraggled cat, curled up on the ground underneath some bushes. One of its hind legs was twisted in a way that didn’t look normal, and it had dried blood and puss matting in its long fur. 

“It’s a cat,” Julian called back to Ms. Ingrid as he crouched down. The cat continued to hiss at him, but he reached out his hand towards its head, and it made no move to bite him, though it bared its teeth. Gingerly, he pet the top of its head, trying to calm it down. The cat cringed back, but the hissing subsided after a second. 

“What happened to you?” Julian murmured. He pulled off his jacket, laying it on the ground. With as delicate of a touch as he could, Julian tried to maneuver the injured cat onto his jacket, causing a new round of howling and hissing to break out.

“Julian!” Ms. Ingrid cried, still very nervous.

“It’s alright,” Julian said. He picked up the cat and jacket, carrying both in his arms back out to the street. “Poor thing,” he said as he showed the cat to Ms. Ingrid.

She looked at it with a combination of fear-- it was still hissing, though it made no move to bite-- and pity. “What’s wrong with it?” she asked.

“I think it was hit by a car,” Julian said. “Can we find it a vet?”

Ms. Ingrid was nervous, but she looked at Julian’s wide-eyed expression and probably decided that if she didn’t say yes, Julian would find a way to take matters into his own hands. She nodded, and so the cat ended up in a cardboard box on the kitchen table, while Julian made phone calls to vets, and then eventually got a taxi to take them to somewhere that would be able to help on short notice, at night.

It turned out that the cat’s leg was beyond saving, but the rest of the cat would be alright with care and antibiotics. Julian was told he was a male cat, probably only a little over a year old. The cat had to stay at the vet’s office for several days following its surgery, and, in that time, Julian wondered which of the two people living in Annerose’s house had the actual authority to decide if they could adopt a cat while Annerose was out.

On one hand, Julian was actually supposed to be living there, and Annerose usually let him do as he pleased. On the other hand, Ms. Ingrid was the adult, who was nominally taking care of him. These two ideas conflicted, and he was further worried by the idea that when Annerose got back, she might not want to be surprised that Julian had adopted a three legged cat. Granted, this did not stop Julian from wanting to do it, and so he prepared as meticulous of an argument for it to Ms. Ingrid as he could, in an attempt to get her on board.

“I want to adopt the cat,” Julian said.

“Okay,” Ms. Ingrid said back, which was unexpected, to say the least. Julian almost began arguing, just in case Ms. Ingrid wasn’t thinking everything through, but then decided that he did not want to accidentally un-convince her. So, after the cat was well enough to be moved, he moved into the house.

“What should we call him?” Julian asked. The cat had been shaved, to get rid of all the mats in his fur, so he was scrawny looking and defensive on three legs. Julian looked in at him through the bars of the cat carrier on the kitchen table.

“I don’t know,” Ms. Ingrid said. She was still a little nervous about the animal, and wasn’t putting her fingers up to the front of the carrier to let the cat sniff her as Julian was.

“Maybe we should name him after Lieutenant Commander Annerose’s brother,” Julian said. “Then she’d have to like him, when she gets home.”

Ms. Ingrid looked at the cat, then went into the living room to look at the von Müsel family photo. “I don’t think they look the same.”

Julian laughed. “Have you seen the photos of Lieutenant Commander Reinhard when he was on that Imperial ship? He looked just as dirty as this one did.”

“No,” Ms. Ingrid said. “He looked like a god, when I met him.”

“You don’t look much like a god, do you, little fellow,” Julian said to the cat. He called across the house, “Maybe-- well, Lieutenant Commander Reinhard wants to be an admiral, maybe that’s what we can call him.”

“Okay,” Ms. Ingrid said. “Admiral.”

Julian grinned, then let Admiral out of his carrier. “Welcome home, Admiral,” he said.

 


 

July 796 U.C., Heinessen

Julian missed Annerose very much after several months had passed, and there was no sign yet that she would be returning at any point. He kept checking the news, and would occasionally dare to ask Rear Admiral Cazerne if he knew anything, but Cazerne shook his head and told Julian that, knowing anything or not knowing anything, he couldn’t say it. Annerose’s absence was therefore mysterious and interminable, which made it worse.

He could tell that it grated on Ms. Ingrid, too, because she started attending her worship at the Earth Church more and more often. Julian always accompanied her, even though he found it mind-numbingly boring. It was worth it to follow Annerose’s commands, to make sure that nothing bad was happening to Ms. Ingrid there. There never was anything, and on the rare occasions that she did speak to the bishop or any of the church officials, the conversations were polite and about nothing in particular, mostly inquiring after her health and happiness.

Still, Julian wondered if it wasn’t his presence there in the cathedral at her side that made it so nothing else happened. So he continued to follow after her.

They made one of these visits to the Earth Church cathedral in the middle of Heinessenpolis one cold night in late August. Ingrid and Julian were kneeling in the doors, listening to the droning chanting from the robed figures in the front. Ingrid was absorbed, humming along under her breath, but Julian was looking around at all the other people in the pews, examining the various rapt expressions on their faces. Julian looked at their clothes, trying to figure out what the demographics of the church were. Mostly middle or lower class, he thought, though that might just be because those people made up the majority of society itself. There were a few more affluent looking families or individuals, usually sitting up near the front.

After the end of the service, Ms. Ingrid usually liked to stay and pray for a little while longer, and this was even more tediously boring to Julian than the service had been. He watched everyone head out, and then because he had nothing else to occupy his mind, he listened carefully to the muffled conversations happening amongst the parishioners in the narthex, beyond the large, open doors into the church itself. He heard the bishop’s voice, then another voice that he had to think hard about where he recognized it from-- it sounded very familiar for some reason, and not in the way that Julian had grown used to hearing the other members of the church. He turned his head slightly, then almost jumped in surprise. Job Trunicht, the secretary of defense, was greeting Bishop Martine. Martine made a little gesture, then Trunicht began to follow him towards one of the hallways that went towards the church offices.

Julian leaned towards Ms. Ingrid. “I have to go to the bathroom,” he said. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

She nodded, her eyes closed, and Julian got up. He felt like his footsteps were echoing too loudly on the marble floor, but none of the remaining parishioners in the church paid him the least attention as he pulled open the hallway doors and slipped inside. The bathrooms were indeed in this direction, after all. He didn’t see the bishop and the defense secretary, but he knew where the bishop’s offices were, so he headed in that direction, looking all around to make sure no one was following him. The hallways were empty.

The bishop’s office door was closed, but Julian could hear muffled voices coming through it, and he listened.

“...Don’t think it will be much longer,” Trunicht said.

“He seems to be ill,” the bishop agreed.

“And is that your work?”

“Mr. Secretary, if we had the capability to kill the kaiser, do you not think we would have done it long ago?”

“It’s a fair question, by my estimation,” Trunicht said. “You seem to have dealt with his son easily enough.”

“If that was our work, I haven’t heard of it. It would be dangerous for the person who did it to admit to such things.”

“You couldn’t ask his wife?”

“She knows nothing, I’m sure. Brandy?”

“Thank you.”

There was a clinking of glasses.

“Was that her I saw out there?” Trunicht asked.

“Oh, yes. She comes often. Sweet woman,” Martine said. “Quiet,”

“Hunh,” Trunicht said. “So, what was it you wanted to talk to me about?”

“Phezzan, mostly.”

“And what about our friendly neighbor?”

“You are aware that we have a fair share of influence on Phezzan, are you not?”

“Vaguely,” Trunicht said. “Are you about to sell me something?” There was a wry tone in his voice. “I’ve put my foot down on buying more Phezzani tech for defense, you know.”

“No, not precisely,” Martine said. “Though, as you know, everything on Phezzan has a price.”

“I’m well aware.”

There was a momentary silence, Martine seeming to consider his words. “Some things have prices in things other than money.”

“I wasn’t aware that Phezzanis thought of things that way. Fiat seems to be one of the few things they care about.”

“Perhaps. But Rubinsky could be convinced to care about more.”

“Such as?”

“Phezzan is in a delicate position, and is going to have to make some choices for its own future. I’ve been told that Duke Braunschweig is not particularly partial to Phezzan and its excesses, and that he is both more militaristic and more frugal than Kaiser Friedrich is. And I think with this whole Castrop affair, he’s begun to see just how Phezzan’s existence as an independent entity has the ability to give a few people too many ideas.”

“That is not new information,” Trunicht said. “Don’t waste my time, Martine.”

“Of course not, Mr. Secretary. I’m simply saying that if Phezzan does not wish to be overrun by the new kaiserine’s father-- and he would have the ability to do so, once he consolidates his base-- Phezzan may have a vested interest in--”

Julian missed the rest of the sentence when he felt a soft touch on his shoulder. He jumped, horrified and startled, but saw that it was Ms. Ingrid. She put her finger to her lips, then tugged on his sleeve. He followed her away down the hall and back out of the church.

As they stood at the bus stop with their hands in their pockets, waiting for the bus to take them back home, Julian said, “Are you mad at me?”

“I know that Annerose told you to listen,” she said, staring up at the streetlights against the cloudy night sky. “You were doing what she asked.”

“They were talking about you,” he said.

“I know.”

Julian hesitated. “Do you know who killed Prince Ludwig?”

“Yes.”

“Who?”

“I did,” Ms. Ingrid said.

Julian looked at her with new, wide eyes. “Does Bishop Martine know that?

“Yes.”

“He told Secretary Trunicht that he didn’t know.”

Ingrid shook her head. “How can I explain to you…” The words didn’t seem to come easily to her. “I am not useful if they think I am difficult.” 

Julian nodded, slowly, thinking this over. “Do you know what they’re planning with Phezzan?”

“No,” she said. “I don’t want to know. I hope…”

“What?”

She stared out into the darkness. “They will kill Erwin,” she said.

“Bishop Martine and Secretary Trunicht?”

She shook her head. “No, no-- my sister in law. Princess Amarie.”

“Why?”

“If she hears that someone will support Erwin for the throne… Phezzan, the church, anyone…” She shook her head. “I hope the secretary understands.” But she didn’t sound confident.

“Trunicht didn’t sound like he trusted the bishop.”

“Maybe, maybe not. He doesn’t need to trust.” She bit her lip. “Julian, listen to me.”

“I’m listening, Ms. Ingrid.”

“There is no way to be happy and to be kaiser,” she said. “But for Erwin to live… I will do as they say.”

Julian leaned on her arm. “Should we tell Lieutenant Commander Reinhard about this? He won’t let anything bad happen on Phezzan.”

“No. No, we can’t tell. He may know, anyway.”

The bus pulled up at the stop with a hiss and screech of brakes, and they both climbed aboard, squeezing into seats in the back. Ms. Ingrid leaned her head on the window as the bus began to move, her breath fogging up the glass. 

“Are you alright, Ms. Ingrid?” Julian asked.

“Just thinking,” she said.

“About what?”

“I always pray,” she said. “I pray that someday I’ll see everyone again-- Erwin, and Maggie, and Janie, and my mother and father, all those people…” She shook her head. “I can’t, if there’s a war. But if the war ends-- and I can help make it end-- then I might. And I want it to end without anyone else getting hurt: you, or Annerose, or her brother. That’s all I want.”

“And you think the bishop knows how to do that?”

“I don’t know. Maybe it isn’t possible.”

“It might be,” Julian said. “Lieutenant Commander Reinhard thinks that the war will end.”

She nodded. “I hope so.”

 


 

September 796 U.C., Heinessen

Julian was asleep in his bed, one night during the first week in September, the blankets pulled up around his chin, when he was woken by the sound of the front door opening. It was the kind of thing that would wake him up. He was used to Ms. Ingrid sometimes getting up at night, unable to sleep, and going on walks. Julian would hear her and usually go with her, against her protests, because he worried about her. But this was different. He hadn’t heard the creaking of the floor right outside the room Ms. Ingrid shared with Annerose; and as the front door opened more, he thought it sounded like more than one person was coming in. He got out of bed silently, then crept out of his room. He was not going to let Annerose’s house get robbed, or if people were after Ms. Ingrid, he was not going to let them get her. 

From his position at the top of the stairwell, Julian could see one tall man in the hallway, lit only vaguely by the streetlights coming in through the windows, his face completely indistinct. There were other footsteps in the living room; maybe this man was the lookout.

Julian decided that there would be no way he would make it down the stairs without alerting the lookout standing at the bottom, so he made the decision that it would be best to come off as intimidating as possible to make them go away. He didn’t really have a backup plan, but he felt that this was probably what Lieutenant Commander Reinhard would have done.

He took a deep breath, then lithely leapt down the top few steps and jumped, landing on the intruder’s back and wrapping his arms around his neck. 

The man stumbled forwards, with Julian hitting him like a train. There was a momentary, intense tussle, which involved the man trying to pry Julian’s arms away from his neck and face to breathe, while Julian clung on with all his strength, until the man finally stumbled sideways into the hallway table, causing a great scraping and clattering as Ms. Ingrid’s keys fell off and to the floor.

“Walter, I told you to be quiet so you didn’t wake the whole-- Gods above.”

Annerose had emerged from the kitchen, holding a wine bottle in one hand and the corkscrew in the other, and Julian hastily let go of Captain Schenkopp, falling to the floor and landing badly enough that he sat down, very, very embarrassed.

Behind Annerose, several of the other Rosenritter officers appeared-- Julian recognized them as Commander Linz and Commander Blumhart, along with a woman that he knew was familiar, but couldn’t place. Linz and Blumhart were both laughing.

“Annerose, I’m going to have to stop coming to your house if your resident gremlin attempts to murder me every time,” Schenkopp said. “You alright, Julian?”

Julian hastily stood. “I’m very sorry, sir,” he said. “I thought you were breaking in.”

“Clearly.”

“What’s going on?” Ms. Ingrid had emerged from the bedroom upstairs. “Julian?”

“Lieutenant Commander Annerose is home, Ms. Ingrid!” Julian said.

“I see I completely failed to not wake the whole house up,” Annerose said sounding rueful. “We were trying to be quiet.”

By this point, Ms. Ingrid was on the way down the stairs, and had scooped up Admiral in her arms, who had emerged from the bedroom to stare dolefully at the intruders. She smiled at Annerose, who smiled back. Schenkopp looked between the two of them with an inscrutable expression on his face. “Welcome home,” Ms. Ingrid said. “Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?”

“Complicated travel situation,” Annerose said. “Sorry to startle you.” It was at this point that Annerose processed the cat. “You know what? Let me finish pouring the wine for everyone.”

“I’ll help,” the other woman said.

“The rest of you, go sit in the living room or something.” Annerose shooed the Rosenritters out of the kitchen. “Julian, please put a shirt on.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Julian said, and scrambled to obey.

When he got back downstairs, now fully dressed, the whole party had migrated to the living room. Annerose was sitting squished between Schenkopp and Ingrid on the couch, all three of them looking a combination of pleased and confused. The woman that Julian didn’t recognize was holding Admiral on the armchair, and Blummhart and Linz had dragged in dining chairs to sit on. Linz was complimenting Annerose on the tapestry embroidery hung up above the couch. Blumhart handed Julian a half-full glass of wine, which he looked at Annerose for permission to take. She nodded at him.

Julian took a sip, then immediately made a face. Ms. Ingrid covered her smile with her hand.

“Julian, you’ve met Lieutenant Commander Greenhill, right?” Annerose asked, distracting everyone from Julian’s reaction to the wine and gesturing to the woman petting Admiral.

“I believe we met at graduation,” Greenhill said. “Nice to see you again, Julian.”

“Oh, yes!” Julian said. The meeting with Greenhill had been brief, but he had been impressed with her since she had been with Reinhard during his adventure on Condor Base. “You’re in the Rosenritter?” he asked. 

She laughed so hard that Admiral was affronted, and jumped out of her lap to go investigate the other party guests. Ms. Ingrid scooped her up. “No,” she said. “I’m with the Sixth Fleet. Well, I’m supposed to be. But I was separated from the group,” she said. “It’s a long story.”

“Can you tell me where you were, now that you’re back?” Julian asked. “I missed you.”

Annerose smiled. “I missed you, too. I see you have been getting on alright.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She glanced at Schenkopp. “Are we allowed to talk about it?”

“It’s not like we’re going back there,” Schenkopp said. “I don’t see why not.”

So, with many interruptions from Schenkopp, Linz, and Blumhart, Annerose told the story of going to Cahokia-3, how she had warned Reinhard to keep an eye out in secret code, how Greenhill had interpreted it, the battle on the surface of Cahokia-- a brief interlude for Greenhill to describe the fleet battle-- and how all the Rosenritter and mine workers had been evacuated with Greenhill’s clever plan, and the way that they had snuck back out through the Iserlohn Corridor, and had returned to Heinessen to drop off all the civilians. Which meant that the Rosenritter were back at their normal posting for the foreseeable future, Greenhill was waiting to figure out what her official status was, since the Sixth Fleet was still technically out on patrol near the mouth of Iserlohn.

It was a thrilling story, which took long enough to tell that Julian ran back into the kitchen at one point to see if there was more wine for everyone (there was.) Julian just knew he wanted to hear Annerose talk about how she had taken over a ship in more detail, but by the end of it, Annerose was yawning through asking, “So, tell me what you’ve been up to, Julian.”

“Nothing, really,” he said. “You should get some sleep.”

“I agree,” Schenkopp said, extracting himself from the couch. “Linz, Blumhart, we’re not going to monopolize Müsel’s breakfast cereal as well as her midnight wine.”

“It’s alright,” Annerose said, standing. “You don’t have to go.” Ingrid looked like she might have stood as well, but Admiral was asleep on her lap.

“I simply do not think that there are beds enough for all the officers of the regiment,” Schenkopp said. “I’ll see you sometime tomorrow, I’m sure. There will probably be some sort of stupid debrief with higher ups.”

Annerose sighed. “I’m sure there will be.” The gears were already turning in her mind, Julian could see it. “If they hold the mine against us…”

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Schenkopp said. “And if it does get blamed on us, well--” he grinned-- “that’s the kind of thanks Rosenritter get in general.”

“Suppose I’ll have to get used to it.” 

He laughed. Annerose reached up and tugged on his collar, stuffing his scarf back into position. He leaned down to allow it, and she kissed him. Linz wolf whistled at that. Julian glanced at Ingrid, who was looking down at Admiral in her lap.

“Tomorrow then, Annerose. Goodnight, Julian, Fraulein Roscher. Greenhill, do you need a ride somewhere?”

“Annerose, would you mind if I stayed the night?” Greenhill asked. “I don’t really…”

“Of course,” Annerose said. “Reinhard’s bedroom is empty, right?”

“Yes, ma’am. I can go put some sheets on the bed.”

“Perfect,” Annerose said. “Thank you, Julian.”

“Then I’m sure I’ll see you around, Greenhill,” Schenkopp said.

“Yes, sir,” Greenhill said. “Have a nice night.”

 Schenkopp saluted jauntily, then shoved Linz and Blumhart towards the door. The house was immediately much quieter after they left, and Julian ran upstairs to put sheets on the bed for Greenhill. She came upstairs after a second and helped him get the fitted sheet on. 

“I’m sure Reinhard won’t mind me sleeping on his bed,” Greenhill said. She looked around at some of the boxes of random accumulated objects in the corner of the sparse bedroom. “He doesn’t stay here much, I assume.”

“No, ma’am,” Julian said. “I think he would if he wasn’t on Phezzan.”

She nodded. “Makes sense. Wish he was here. It would be a fun little party if he was.”

“He thinks he might come back for New Years,” Julian said. “That’s what he said in one of his letters, anyway.”

She smiled. “Oh, I hope so. And I hope I’m on Heinessen, as well.”

“Thank you for rescuing Lieutenant Commander Annerose,” he said as they unfolded the comforter and shook it out.

“Hah,” she said. “I’m sure she would have been fine without me. But I’m glad I could do what I could.”

Julian just smiled at her, and then when the bed was made, headed back downstairs. He stopped in the kitchen doorway, then ducked back out of sight, when he saw Annerose and Ms. Ingrid embracing in the kitchen. After a second, they began speaking in low tones in the Imperial language, fast enough that Julian couldn’t follow, and he heard his own name mentioned a couple times. He shook his head, deciding to give them privacy, and went to gather up all the dirty wine glasses from the living room. When he returned, with his hands full, Ms. Ingrid was headed upstairs, and she ruffled his hair. “Goodnight, Julian,” she said.

“Goodnight, Ms. Ingrid.”

Annerose was rinsing out the empty wine bottles in the sink and recycling them. She glanced at Julian when he came in with all the glasses in his hands. “Oh, you didn’t have to get those; I would have.”

“It’s fine, ma’am. I’m glad you’re home.”

“I’m glad to be home,” she said. The last bottle tossed into the recycle bin, she leaned against the counter and looked at him. “You look taller,” she said. “Did you grow while I was gone?”

“I don’t know,” Julian said. “I haven’t measured.”

“The coat I got you fit, right?”

“Yes, I liked it very much.”

Annerose watched him put the wine glasses away. “You have been alright with Ingrid?”

“Yes, she’s great,” Julian said.

“I feel really bad about leaving you for so long,” Annerose said. “I hope…”

“It’s alright,” Julian said. “I don’t mind.”

“It’s not fair to you.” She shook her head. “You would be more than right to be angry with me for it.”

“I’m not mad,” Julian said earnestly. “I’m very happy you’re back, but I’m not mad at you for going. I understand, you know, you have your position.”

She smiled. “You’re very mature.” Still, she seemed sad, her tone wistful and her smile not reaching her eyes. “I wish I didn’t have to make you be such a grown-up about it.” She turned and looked under the sink for the dish detergent to start the washer. “I think that Rear Admiral Cazerne probably should have found someone else to take you,” she said, not looking at Julian.

He froze, his heart sinking.

“I couldn’t help but think, when I was out there on Cahokia, what if I had died, or been taken prisoner, or if this whole thing had dragged on for months longer-- it was already so long. It’s just not fair to you,” she said. “No child should have to have their guardian…” She put the soap in the dishwasher, then turned around.

Annerose caught sight of Julian’s crestfallen face. “See,” she said. “I knew I shouldn’t have… Oh, Julian, I really am sorry.”

“You’re going to send me away?” he asked, standing very stiffly.

“What?” she asked. “Oh, gods, no, Julian--” And she quickly wrapped him in her arms, getting the remnants of dish soap on his back. He didn’t mind at all. She was strong and warm, and he had missed her, and it was strange to have her back all of a sudden, but there was nowhere else he would have rather been than here. He hugged her back with all his strength.

“I missed you so much, and I was worried about you while I was out,” Annerose said. “And I am so sorry for leaving, because it’s not fair--”

“It’s okay, Lieutenant Commander,” he said. “I promise.”

“I wish I didn’t have to make you promise that,” she said, then stroked his hair.