The celebration on Starfengt’s shuttle ride back to Numoris was not quite unrestrained, but it was close. Normally, Hana tried to keep a pretty tight lid on her squad, but it had been so long since they’d had anything to celebrate that she figured it was okay if, just this once, she relaxed the rules a little bit. Besides, everybody still had their clothes on, so it wasn’t as if things had gotten too out of hand. Yet.
“I would like to propose a toast!” bellowed Shalaminas Retico suddenly. Unsurprisingly, he was the drunkest of them all, and the drunker he got, the louder he got.
“This is the twentieth toast you’ve proposed!” Velencias Moratino yelled back. Somewhat surprisingly, he was probably the second drunkest person on the shuttle. “I know! I’ve been counting!”
“Well, this toast is different!” Retico said, standing up and swaying slightly as he did so. “This toast is for our beloved Captain!”
“All of your toasts have been for our beloved Captain!” shouted Moratino, as Hana and the others laughed uproariously.
“But this is different!” Retico yelled. “This is different! Before, I was toasting her captaining, which is the best captaining in the whole damn galaxy. But now, I wanna toast her body!”
“Careful, Master Chief!” Hana warned, but she was still laughing as hard as everybody else.
“No, I mean it!” Retico said earnestly, leaning forward and dumping a substantial quantity of Cortaran ale out of his mug onto the table. “You are one hot, sexy lady captain!”
“And you are the drunkest drunk I’ve ever seen!” Hana yelled back over the howls of laughter. “And you’d better shut your face before you say something you’ll really regret!”
“But I’ve got so much to say!” Retico exclaimed. “So many feelings to share!”
“Shut up, Retico!” Moratino yelled warningly, grabbing at his friend, but Retico brushed him off.
“I’m in love with you, Captain!” Retico blurted, causing even more laughter to erupt, especially from Hana.
“Tempting offer, I’m sure, but I think I’ll pass,” Hana said, rolling her eyes.
“But you need a man!” Retico shouted. “Ever since Commander Sidel died, you’ve been so lonely!” Suddenly the laughter faded, and a deep silence fell over the room. “What?” Retico asked, blinking in confusion.
“Whether I need a man or not is none of your concern, Master Chief,” Hana said coldly. “And if I decide I do need a man, I can assure you that there is no way in Nerzaga that it will be you.” She glared at him for a long time, her eyes like icicles, boring their way into his soul. He stared back, wide-eyed with horror, and then finally swallowed slowly and lowered his eyes.
“Yes, sir,” he whispered. “Please forgive me, sir.” She watched him stonily for a few moments, the silence in the room deepening further, and then her expression softened slightly.
“I think we’ve had enough celebrating,” she said quietly. “But I don’t see why we can’t all get a little extra sleep. The shuttle is due to land on Numoris at 1200 hours tomorrow. I don’t want to see any of you until 1100 hours.” She smiled slightly as she said this, but it was very slight, and there was still a cold stoniness to the look in her eyes. Everyone around the table nodded and departed without a word. Everyone except Xeliana.
For a long time Hana and Xeliana just looked at each other. As they sat in silence, Hana found herself thinking about how odd it was that she was the one who young men in Starfengt always seemed to fall in love with. She had never thought of herself as overly pretty, and before she’d founded Starfengt, she’d never really attracted attention from the opposite sex at all. Xeliana, on the other hand, was effortlessly stunning. From her long and shiny black hair, to her luminous blue eyes, to her supermodel-esque figure, and to her open and cheerful personality, one would expect that Xeliana would be the object of male lust in the squad. And yet, she was always treated as one of the boys, while Hana, with her plain, brown hair, practically non-existent curves, and no-nonsense attitude, was the one who was always getting drunken pledges of undying love.
“You know,” Xeliana finally said quietly, “Retico is an idiot, but he’s got a point.” Hana rolled her eyes.
“Don’t even start with me, Commander,” Hana snorted. “My bed is quite warm enough without a man to share it.”
“I don’t mean that,” Xeliana said, shaking her head. “I mean that Commander Sidel was somebody you trusted, somebody you could rely on, both to back you up when you were right and question you when you were wrong. You need somebody like that.” Hana frowned silently for a moment.
“Yeah, I guess,” she finally said. “But it’s not like confidants just grow on trees, Xel. I can’t find somebody to lean on just because I want that.”
“Are you sure?” Xeliana replied, raising an eyebrow.
“What do you mean?” Hana asked, her forehead creasing in confusion. Xeliana sighed heavily, stood up, and began pacing back and forth.
“Look, maybe I’m being presumptuous, but I think I could be someone you could lean on. I care about you, Hana! You’re my best friend, my mentor, the person who taught me everything I know! But I feel like you try to shut me out, push me away, and I can’t figure out why!” She continued pacing back and forth for a few moments, while Hana sat and stared silently at her, a shocked expression on her face. Finally, Xeliana stopped and faced her. “Well?” she demanded.
“Is…is it really that hard to figure out?” Hana asked quietly.
“What?” Xeliana asked, her hands on her hips. “It’s not because of my looks, is it?” Hana lowered her eyes to the table, an abashed expression on her face. “It is! You’ve got to be kidding me! You’ve held me at arm’s length for years because I’m pretty!?”
“I know! It’s stupid!” Hana exclaimed, throwing her hands in the air. “I’m sorry! It’s just…well…you’re gorgeous, and I was jealous!”
“You? Jealous? Of me?” Xeliana blurted, her eyes wide. “That’s…I…wow,” she sputtered, and then fell silent for a moment. Finally she sighed and sat down across from Hana. “You wanna know something crazy? I’ve spent the last seven years being jealous of you.”
“We are quite a pair, aren’t we?” Hana said with a small, embarrassed smile.
To be continued…