In truth, it had started long before Kilika: Elma, junior officer, fiercely infatuated; Lucil, consummate captain, holding the reins of propriety with fond reserve. Lucil had seldom found such crushes endearing, but the starry-eyed girl who obeyed orders with flushed enthusiasm added welcome joy to the rigors of campaign.
Yet even stars may dim.
First had come Operation Mi'ihen, unofficially sanctioned by Lord Seymour. Elma's plunge into the sea after her captain had saved them both: Sin's shock-wave passed overhead to scatter their comrades as black ash on Djose's bloody sands.
In the days after, Elma's unflagging spirit had helped Lucil maintain her own professionalism. They never chafed at the menial tasks assigned them as penitence for surviving a proscribed operation.
The Guado took over defense of Lord Mi'ihen's Highroad. They would protect citizens now, not fallen Crusaders. If the no-longer Mounted Forces wished to be useful, they might serve as docents to Lady Yuna on the way to her wedding. She had her own guardians and knew the way, but the future wife of Lord Seymour deserved every courtesy, even meaningless ones.
Lucil had begun to notice strings being pulled, and by whom, when word came that Yuna had refused Seymour's proposal, was officially a traitor, and should be slain on sight.
Lucil deserted on the spot. Elma, loyal shadow, insisted on following.
Elma remained unfazed by everything until they reached Kilika, where she learned Sin had killed her brothers. The bird-boned woman who had been her mother smiled vacantly and called her by dead boys' names.
She entered the jungle alone-- so she thought-- cutting through fiends with a ruthless efficiency that reminded Lucil of how the girl had first arrived at boot camp, better prepared than most cadets. Halfway up the temple steps, Elma suddenly halted. Prayers were useless, and tears had finally caught up with her. She sank to the flagstones and hid her face in her hands.
She leapt in a flustered salute when Lucil stepped out from the trees. "Ma'am! I'm sorry, I—"
Necessity had dictated a gap between them when they rode side by side; the habit still persisted. Lucil belatedly spanned that distance with an arm around Elma's shoulders. "—could not have saved them."
It was the wrong move. Elma stiffened with shame. "I might have saved someone!"
Gambling once more, the captain planted a kiss on her cheek that lingered too long to be mistaken for a condescending there, there.
The light in Elma's eyes rekindled. "Ma'am?" she said, the hushed tremor in her voice a plea for clarity.
Lucil obliged by cupping a surprisingly delicate chin and turning it gently towards herself. "Your best revenge is to live, Elma. It's something you do very well."
She did not kiss very well, Lucil noted fondly. But like everything else, it took little nudging for Elma to tackle a new assignment with gusto.
It was a petty thought, but Lucil had always enjoyed teaching her a new skill.