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"You're being an ass again, Krelian." Roni said, scowling as he stood in front of the man seated on a bench beside Nisan Lake. "Look, I know you're under stress, and I know you're busy, and I by God know that we're in danger of losing this war, but that doesn't give you any right to be stomping around here and growling like a bear in heat at anyone who gets in your way."

Krelian looked up at the commander of his scouts, suppressing the same faint scowl he always felt coming on whenever he was confronted with Roni's own peculiar lack of what he considered basic army discipline. "I am quite sure," he said icily, "that I've not the faintest idea what you're talking about."

Roni crossed his arms across his chest. "Don't bullshit me; you know it won't work. For the past four weeks you've been holed up in your office, scowling at those books you borrowed from Zephyr's sages, barking at anyone who's dared to invade your inner sanctum, and the army is going to hell in a handbasket, and it wasn't until I dragged you out here that you'd even seen the sunlight. Put yourself in the shoes of those men and women out here. How do you think /they/ feel, Krel? They haven't seen you in weeks. I've made excuses for as long as I possibly could, and I'm sick of it. Get your ass in gear, or I'm going to do it for you." His eyes softened as he stood there. "It's Sophia, isn't it."

Krelian looked up, shocked. "What?" he growled, even as he could feel the headache beginning, the old rage boiling up from where he had locked it deeply within. "For someone who claims to be a simple goatherder's son, you're certainly daring a great deal, Roni."

"Since when has class or rank mattered between friends, Krelian." Roni shook his head. "Look, I know how you feel for her. It's written on your face -- to anyone who knows how to look right." He leaned forward, regarding Krelian with a sober, piercing stare. "And I know that you haven't said a word to her about it, and I don't think you're ever likely to. I know you too well for that -- both of you. And you're worried because she's been spending an awful lot of time with Lacan lately --"

Krelian rose from the bench in an explosive motion, standing to confront Roni on equal footing. "Be /quiet/, Roni," he growled. "I don't have time to sit here and listen to your ridiculous half-baked theories -- "

"But you do have time to sit up in your office learning to play God while the men and woman of Nisan -- men and women who are /dying/, Krelian, dying for you and for her and for our freedom -- need you down here, all because you can't accept that she doesn't love you as anything more than a brother?" Roni roared, his near-legendary patience suddenly worn thin. "Dear God, you disgust me. You know damn well how /she/ feels, at least have the fucking balls to --"

It was Krelian who threw the first punch, his temper fraying to its very limit. Roni dodged the punch with lightning-speed, catching Krelian's wrist as it flew by, wrestling him briefly with the advantage of superior weight and strength until he had Krelian's elbow locked up behind his back, twisting it painfully. Another few moments, and Roni force-marched Krelian to the end of the pier, a single rough shove in the middle of his back from one of those massive hands sending him sprawling into the chest-deep, freezing lake.

"And you can damn well fucking /stay/ there, /Commander/," Roni called down to the shivering, spluttering Krelian, "until you cool the hell off and grow the /fuck/ up." He turned on his heel, then, and stalked back off to the gates of the city, muttering the whole way.

He could not know that some of the water droplets on Krelian's face were tears.

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