After his meeting with Lohengramm, Yang had gone directly to bed. Schenkopp had seen him on his way there, and Yang had only managed a perfunctory mumble of “Hello-- goodnight,” as he shuffled his way down the ship’s cold corridor. Schenkopp had not really expected anything different; it wasn’t as though any of them had been getting much sleep over the past few days, and he would have said that Yang deserved to pass the next five years of his life in peaceful slumber, if he desired it.
But it was after he was sure that Yang had woken back up, some ten or eleven hours later, that Schenkopp began to suspect that he was being avoided. Yang had his usual haunts outside of his rooms, places where, even if he wasn’t technically on-duty, he could be found for a chat over a thermos of tea. It was rather like a professor holding office hours, only instead of students, it was anyone who needed advice.
Yang himself didn’t seem to be aware that he did this, or at least he pretended not to be, and always sighed about people bothering him while he was trying to read. But everyone had known that if you needed to find Yang on Iserlohn, he would usually be sitting on a certain bench in the park, or at a certain table in the library, or in the officers’ lounge that was closest to his quarters-- there were only so many places he usually went. It was no different aboard the Hyperion , except that there were even fewer places for him to go.
So, when Schenkopp didn’t find him in any of the normal spots, after checking through them in rotation like a child lifting up rotting wood in the forest to find salamanders underneath, he concluded that he was being avoided. Yang would hold his office hours, but if he suspected that someone had problems that he didn’t want to deal with, he was quite good at making himself scarce.
Schenkopp cornered Julian about it, on his way out of the officers’ mess. “Hey, Julian.”
“Sir,” Julian said.
“Seen your guardian around?”
Julian gave an uncharacteristically halfhearted shrug. “He and Lieutenant Commander Greenhill went on a walk.”
“This isn’t Iserlohn-- not exactly any scenic views-- where could they be walking to?”
“I don’t know, sir,” Julian said.
“They didn’t look like they wanted to be interrupted.”
“Do you have any idea when they will be done walking?” Julian would have flushed if he had been using a euphemism, so Schenkopp didn’t bother injecting any sarcasm into his voice.
“What do you need him for?”
“If it was urgent, you’d tell me where he is?”
“Is it urgent?”
“No.” Schenkopp leaned against the wall. Julian checked the time.
“I last saw them about half an hour ago,” he said. “If that clears anything up for you.”
“I suppose it does.” He didn’t say anything for a moment, looking at Julian’s tight lipped expression. “Care to have a drink with me, Julian? While we wait for your guardian to show his face?”
“I’m supposed to be on duty in thirty minutes, sir,” Julian said.
“I’ll let you go in fifteen.”
“Alright,” Julian said.
Schenkopp jerked his head, and Julian followed him down the narrow hallway towards Schenkopp’s quarters. He held the door open for Julian, who ducked inside then sat primly on the desk chair.
His room aboard the Hyperion was small and undecorated; it hadn’t taken on the trappings of a permanent residence like all their rooms in Iserlohn had. But it was neat, if cramped, and it had plenty of alcohol stashed away in the footlocker. Schenkopp retrieved a bottle and two glasses, poured rum and sodas for both of them, and then leaned against the wall again, watching Julian, who seemed tense.
“I thought that you’d be happy that Lohengramm didn’t have Admiral Yang arrested when he went over to talk to him,” Schenkopp said after a second, sipping his drink.
“I didn’t think that he would,” Julian replied. “I didn’t get that impression from the invitation.”
“Well, you wouldn’t, even if that had been the intention.”
Julian’s eyes slid around the room, not meeting Schenkopp’s. He fiddled with his glass. “Admiral Yang would have gone even if the intent had clearly been to arrest him.”
“Oh? And you think that I would have let him walk into that?”
“He would have made you,” Julian said. “If he thought that the alternative was Lohengramm destroying the rest of the fleet.”
“You’re overestimating what Admiral Yang can make me stand,” Schenkopp said. “And, I suspect, yourself.”
“So, what is the problem?” Schenkopp asked. “I thought you weren’t opposed to Admiral Yang’s choices here.”
“I don’t know,” Julian said. “I’m just not that excited to be going back to Heinessen, I guess.”
“Well, who is?”
“Admiral Yang and Lieutenant Commander Greenhill.”
“Yes, for whom marital bliss awaits,” Schenkopp said, raising his glass. “To the happiest couple.”
“You don’t sound happy about it yourself.”
“And what do I have to look forward to on Heinessen?” Schenkopp asked. “I don’t think retirement will suit me. Or peace, for that matter.”
“You’re going to Earth, though, so you don’t have to worry about obsolescence.” Schenkopp grinned, then refilled his glass. “I’ve been tempted to ask to follow you there.”
“Would you?” Julian’s voice had a childish trill of hope in it.
“No,” Schenkopp said. “I think that would raise too many Imperial eyebrows if I left the planet. We’re all going to be watched, I’m sure. And some of us more closely than others.”
“And, besides, close quarters with Poplan for months-- I could do without that.”
He did get a laugh out of Julian for that one. “Yeah. He keeps asking if there’s going to be women on Earth.”
“Statistically speaking, I’m sure that there are.”
“I’ll let him know.”
“I’ll keep an eye on the admiral for you while you’re gone,” Schenkopp said.
“Thanks,” Julian said. “You don’t think there’s going to be any trouble, do you?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve never lived in peacetime. I have no idea how people behave. Are you worried that something will happen?”
“Lohengramm I think will keep his word. About peace, I mean.” Julian still looked uncomfortable, and sounded like he was evading something.
“I think that Admiral Yang is going to enjoy his peacetime for as long as is physically possible,” Schenkopp said. “If anyone deserves to enjoy it, it’s him, I suppose.”
“Yeah.” Julian finished his drink. “Can I ask your advice about something, sir?”
“Of course,” Schenkopp said.
“When I get back from Earth, do you think… I guess I should go back to school. Admiral Yang would like that.”
“Do you want to go to school? What would you study?”
“I don’t know,” Julian said. “History, maybe.”
“You don’t sound so enthusiastic about it. I wouldn’t waste that much of my time on something I didn’t enjoy.”
“I’ll just need something to do,” Julian said. “It doesn’t really matter what it is.”
“It’s not like I can stay around with Admiral Yang doing nothing, can I?”
Schenkopp shrugged. “I’m sure he’d be happy to have you with him.”
Julian looked at the ground. “I don’t know if that’s true.”
“Why don’t you know?”
“Isn’t he going to, you know-- I expect he and Lieutenant Commander Greenhill will have a baby, won’t they?”
Schenkopp was silent for a second. “No, I don’t think so,” he said.
Julian looked up at him, startled. “Why not?”
“He knows better than any of us that this peace isn’t going to last more than a few years,” Schenkopp said, considering his words very carefully. “Even if he wants it to. He knows that Sherwood is waiting. And considering how reluctant he was to even get married in wartime, I don’t think he’d be interested in having a child.”
Julian was silent, considering this.
“And if you asked him, I’m sure he’d say something about how it would be an even harder adjustment for a child born in peace to be thrust into war, than for an adult who’s only ever known war to suddenly live in peace.” Schenkopp tilted his glass around in his hands for a second. “That will be some kind of adjustment. And he’d be worried about the child becoming an orphan, I’m sure.”
“I wouldn’t ever let--”
Schenkopp raised his hand. “And you think that I would?”
Julian slumped a little. “He hates seeing war orphans.”
“You’re a war orphan.”
“Yeah,” Julian said. There was a bitterness in his voice. “A few years ago, we were in Thernussen, and we were stopped in the airport by some politician-- I don’t even remember what his name was; he lost his election, anyway-- and he had this little girl-- a war orphan-- give this bouquet of flowers to the admiral…” Julian shook his head. “That really got to him, I think.”
“Even if he wanted a baby, he would wait until there was real peace.” Schenkopp put his glass down on his desk with some finality. “And I don’t think he wants one, anyway.”
“He doesn’t believe he has fatherly instincts,” Schenkopp said. “And I’ve seen the way he keeps house when you’re not around, so I’m inclined to believe him.”
“He’d be a good father,” Julian said. “And Lieutenant Commander Greenhill would be a good mother. They’d figure it out.” His voice was strained.
“I’m sure,” Schenkopp said. “He figured it out with you, anyway.”
“He doesn’t need a baby,” Schenkopp said. “You’re more than enough.”
Julian looked away, a flush creeping into his ears. “If you say, sir.”
“We’re all going to have to figure out peacetime, Julian,” Schenkopp said. “But I do not think you have to worry about Admiral Yang getting tired of you. So don’t let him catch you moping about him getting married, because you will just make him feel guilty, and he doesn’t deserve that.”
“Yes, sir,” Julian said.
“I believe you said you had duty.”
“Well, get going.” It was an abrupt dismissal, and Julian seemed to understand that he had inadvertently touched some kind of nerve with Schenkopp, so he nodded and left. Alone, Schenkopp poured himself the last of the soda and more rum than he really needed, and then sat on his bed, his legs stretched out so he could kick his feet up on his desk, with his back against the wall. His room was small enough for that.
It was easy enough to reassure Julian about his primacy in Yang’s life, because it was true. If Schenkopp had to rank people’s importance to Yang, Julian would probably be directly at the top of the list, perhaps edged out only narrowly by Greenhill, since he was marrying her. After that-- well, Attenborough, probably, and then the list grew long and the ranking hazy. Should Schenkopp put himself before or after Space Fleet Commander Bucock? It shouldn’t have mattered, and it was a stupid thing to rank anyway, but he couldn’t help but do the mental calculus.
After all, since Schenkopp had Yang foremost in his own life, it was only natural that he should wonder exactly how large that mismatch was.
He drank, and then tried not to think about what he was going to spend the long peacetime doing. Then he got up, rinsed his mouth out in the tiny bathroom sink so that Yang wouldn’t be able to tell he had been drinking, and headed out.
It actually didn’t take that much effort to find Yang, once he started looking again. He ran into Greenhill in the hallway, who had a smile on her face that made her seem like she belonged in a dopey romance rather than a cold spaceship surrounded by the enemy, and she pointed Schenkopp to where Yang was-- the empty observation deck near the “top” of the ship. Schenkopp made his way there.
Yang was alone, fiddling with his beret and looking out the window. The room was dark, so he was lit mainly by the lights bouncing in from outside: stars, dimly; the running lights of the too-close-for-comfort Imperial destroyers; and the reflected shine of Lohengramm’s white flagship, just off in the distance.
He turned towards Schenkopp as he came in, hearing the door open, and smiled.
“Enjoying the view, Admiral?”
“I’ve had better ones,” Yang said.
“Worse ones, too.”
“That’s true. It’s almost deja vu, though. I’ve been in spitting distance of that ship before.”
“During the Fourth Battle of Tiamat,” Yang said. He pointed out the window at Lohengramm’s white ship, so stark in contrast to the black space around it that it seemed to glow. “I came up right underneath his belly. Mutually assured destruction bought enough time for the rest of the fleet to retreat.”
Schenkopp laughed. “Do you regret not killing him then? History would have been very different.”
Yang didn’t respond for a second. When he answered, his voice was quiet. “I’m grateful to have lived these past four years since that day. I wasn’t making choices about history, back then.”
“That didn’t answer my question.”
“No,” Yang said. “I don’t regret it.”
“Why not? He’s single handedly wiped out everyone who lifts a finger against him.”
“I can’t say that I know how a different history might have gone,” Yang said, “but four years ago, I didn’t see a road to peace in the galaxy. Today, I do.”
“A decade of peace,” Yang said. “If that’s all I can ask for.”
“I don’t like the idea of twiddling my thumbs for a decade,” Schenkopp said.
“Maybe you’ll find that you enjoy it.”
“Maybe.” Schenkopp was silent for a second, then nodded to the gleaming white ship. “What did you talk to him about?”
“He offered me a job,” Yang said. “He’d have me as an Imperial fleet admiral.”
“That doesn’t sound like the offer of a man who’s looking forward to a peaceful coexistence with our side of the galaxy.”
“I don’t know,” Yang said. “He likes collecting talent. You know Fahrenheit, one of his admirals, he was on Merkatz’s side during their civil war. Lohengramm gave him a job.”
“So he likes seeing his enemies bow to him.”
“That’s the ungenerous interpretation.”
“Why are you inclined to be generous towards him?”
“I don’t know,” Yang said. “If you were in my place…”
“What do you think that I would have done?” Schenkopp asked, amused.
“Even if you had been forced to surrender,” Yang said, “I think you might have walked into that meeting with the intent to kill him.”
“Did they search you for knives before you went in?”
“That would have been undignified,” Yang said. “It’s beneath him. And beneath you.”
“It’s sometimes worth doing something beneath you, in order to change history for the better.”
Yang was still looking out the window. “And what are you thinking about history, Walter?”
Schenkopp turned and leaned against the window so that he could look at Yang’s face. “I’m thinking that I would rather have a history where you’re victorious, rather than him.”
“And you would want a victory for me, even at the cost of democracy, and the rest of the Alliance.”
“A small price, considering what’s left of either of them.”
“Still too much for me to pay,” Yang said. He paused. “The only reason to want victory is in service of peace and freedom. Killing Lohengramm after we surrendered to him would earn us neither.” He shook his head. “Even if I had fired on his ship-- Heinessen was already gone, and that would just mean that whatever civil war that followed would involve control over our side of the galaxy, as well. And so it would have accomplished nothing.”
“You weren’t thinking about that, then, though.”
“No,” Yang admitted after a second.
“Just about doing the thing that would make you look right in history,” Schenkopp said, a bitter twist in his voice. Yang’s face twitched in a barely visible frown.
“Did Julian ever tell you-- when he was on Phezzan-- he was half a second away from assassinating Lohengramm in his motorcade?”
It was a complete non-sequitur, and it brought Schenkopp up short. “No. He didn’t.”
“Probably he didn’t tell you because the story would have involved admitting that he wasn’t carrying his sidearm.”
“I’ll yell at him for that.”
“Don’t,” Yang said. “It’s for the best.”
“Would he have shot him, if he’d had his gun?”
“He told me he wouldn’t have,” Yang said, sounding very melancholy. “But he wants me to be proud of him. So he’ll tell me that he remembers when I say that terrorists and assassins never change the course of history, and that he wouldn’t have done it.”
Schenkopp snorted. “If he had killed Lohengramm before he made it off Phezzan, the universe would be a better place.”
“Yeah,” Yang said. “You’re right.”
“Don’t tell me I’m right,” Schenkopp said. “It’s unnatural for you to agree with me about history.”
“But I’m glad Julian didn’t do it.”
Schenkopp shook his head and turned away.
“Even if he had done it and had managed to get away… I’m glad that he wouldn’t have to watch that ripple out into the rest of the galaxy.”
“He still does,” Schenkopp said. “He didn’t kill Lohengramm. So these events are his fault.”
“Don’t say that to him.”
“I’m not stupid, Admiral.”
“I know.” And Yang smiled at him, a genuine smile, the kind that could make Schenkopp forget, if just for a second, that there was this gulf between them, between what he wanted from Yang and what Yang needed from him. Only one of them was going to get their way.
“Do you want to know what I keep thinking about?” Schenkopp asked after a second.
“When I fled the Empire with my grandparents, we stopped on Phezzan, of course, and my grandfather took me to this museum there-- some kind of ancient art museum full of things that survived from Earth--”
“I’m sure I’ve been to it,” Yang said. “My father dragged me to any place where art had even the hope of being exhibited on that planet.”
“Pity we didn’t run into each other.”
Yang laughed. “You wouldn’t have liked me back then,” he said. That may have been true, but Schenkopp didn’t like to think about it. “What’s making you think about art?”
“There was this painting there-- I’ll never forget it-- some man kneeling on the ground, pleading, while the guards declare him Emperor. He looks like he’s begging for his life, rather than asking for the crown. It always stuck with me.”
“Claudius,” Yang said, voice quiet. “I know the painting.”
“You could rule,” Schenkopp said. “I could put you there.”
“I don’t want it.”
“I know.” He closed his eyes. If Yang had been anyone else-- if someone else had been standing in Yang’s place-- Schenkopp thought that he wouldn’t have hesitated to force that alternate commander to issue the order to kill Lohengramm. But, then again, most other commanders would have refused to listen to Heinessen’s surrender, and Schenkopp wouldn’t have had to do anything. But it was Yang who did listen, and Schenkopp who listened to Yang, after all.
“Are you really that unhappy with me, Walter?”
Schenkopp waved his hand. “I forgive you.”
“Good.” Yang sounded relieved enough that Schenkopp cracked his eyes back open to look at him.
“I wasn’t aware my opinion mattered that much to you.”
“It does,” Yang said. “I thought you knew how much I value your friendship.”
“Is that what you value?”
“I’m not going to be your commander anymore, once we get back to Heinessen. So that’s all we’ll have left.” He seemed uncomfortable.
“You’ll always be my commander,” Schenkopp said.
Yang was silent. Maybe Schenkopp had misstepped.
“Are you enjoying your last few days as an unmarried man?” Schenkopp asked, trying to break the tension.
“It’s not as though we’re getting married the second we step back onto the planet,” Yang said. “There’s a lot that needs to be worked out.”
“Sure,” Schenkopp said. He paused, then said. “Greenhill looks happy.”
“I’m glad,” Yang said.
“You don’t sound enthusiastic about it.”
Yang ran his hand through his hair. “I don’t know what I’m doing right, to make her happy. I’m glad that I am doing it, whatever it is, but…” He shrugged.
“I’m not going to give you relationship advice.”
“Probably for the best,” Yang agreed. “I’m not sure I’d be capable of taking it, even if I wanted to.”
“I’ll have to throw a bachelor party for you.”
“Don’t,” Yang said.
“Ah, but you just said that you’re no longer going to be my commander, so you can’t order me not to.”
Yang just shook his head.
“And the stakes of disobeying you on this are so much less than the entire course of history.”
“I hate when I can’t think of a good counterargument,” Yang said.
“That’s the curse of thinking large-scale,” Schenkopp said with a grin. “You have to leave the small-scale details to the rest of us.”
“That’s Cazerne’s job.”
“I’m not going to let Mr. ‘Married with children’ ruin the rest of our good times.”
Yang chuckled at that. “Alright.”
“What are you going to do with all your free time, once you retire?”
“I’m sure I’ll figure something out,” Yang said. He leaned on one arm on the window, a casual posture. “My pension will be enough that I shouldn’t have to do anything.”
“I’m sure Lohengramm is very happy that you have no desire to become a politician.”
“I’d be terrible at it,” Yang said.
“You’re too honest. People would like you too much. They’d want to make you the leader forever.”
Yang sighed. “On this again, I see.”
“I’m kidding,” Schenkopp said, though he hadn’t exactly been.
“Aside from the fact that I think it would be a mistake, I don’t see what it is about me that makes you want…” He trailed off, shaking his head.
Schenkopp shifted forward towards him, and Yang shifted to press his shoulder against the window. His face was in shadow, now that he was facing away from the glare of the stars and ships outside. “You don’t see it?” Schenkopp knew this was true, but there was still disbelief in his tone. “Should I tell you?”
Yang hesitated. “If you must.”
He wanted to touch Yang, to hold his face and look into his eyes, when he delivered his litany, but he didn’t. That would have been too far, stepping out of his place in the ranking of Yang’s concern. He just looked at Yang’s shadowed eyes for a second.
“People see that you value them,” Schenkopp said finally. “That earns trust and loyalty. And you don’t throw their lives away, and you don’t make careless mistakes.”
“Lohengramm does all that, too.”
“And they’ll be calling him kaiser when he returns to Odin,” Schenkopp said. “But there’s a difference between you and him.”
“I don’t want to be kaiser.”
“No,” Schenkopp said.
“What’s the difference, then?”
“You’re a good man. And you’re better than he is.”
Yang half opened his mouth to object, but then closed it and shook his head slightly, his hair falling in his eyes.
They looked at each other silently for a moment.
“I told Lohengramm,” Yang said, “if I had been born in the Empire, I would have followed him, without question.” It sounded like an admission of guilt.
“I was born in the Empire,” Schenkopp said. “But I choose to follow you.”
Yang’s breath hitched a little. “I never was that worried about the lucky thirteenth Rosenritter commander re-defecting.”
“Perhaps you should have been.”
Yang just smiled, and put a hand on Schenkopp’s arm. “No, I don’t think so. Worrying wouldn’t have done me any good.”
“I might have re-defected,” Schenkopp said.
“If you had managed to turn in your resignation after Iserlohn,” Schenkopp said. “I think at that point you were the only man I half trusted not to run the place into the ground. I might have said fuck it and left, if you had retired.”
Yang just shook his head. “You shouldn’t say things like that.”
“This shouldn’t be about me, Walter.” His hand was still on Schenkopp’s arm.
“You can believe in democracy, or whatever the hell you want to believe in,” Schenkopp said finally. “But you have to understand that the rest of us only believe in you.”
Yang turned away. “I know,” he said. “And that scares me.”
“I scare you, Admiral?”
“No,” Yang said. “No.”