Yang sat in the study in his brand new house, staring at the papers strewn all around the desktop, with a pen still in his grasp, hovering uncertainly over the half-filled page. Despite finally realizing his dream of peaceful retirement, the admiral kept himself busy, working on his personal projects. He'd always had a passion for history and coupled with his war experiences, he hoped that his essays would one day be published by a professional academic journal. That is, if the Lohengramm Dynasty doesn't revoke the freedom of speech before then, Yang thought.
A sigh escaped him as he put down the pen, then stretched back in his chair. In accord with military regulations he didn't make his political and philosophical stances known in public, which also had to do with his dislike of making speeches. However, such restraints didn't apply to the written word.
“A pen is mightier than sword, indeed.” Yang quoted an old saying. “Under the condition that it strikes the intended target first,” he added cynically, as he contemplated the current climate on the occupied Heinessen.
He straightened again to re-read the last few sentences, then got up. His inspiration fled for a moment and in order to get it back, he had to find a book on the Galactic Federation's history. He was pretty sure he'd left it on the couch in the living room.
He went downstairs, but on his way he was distracted by a gentle sound drifting out from the kitchen. Overwhelmed with curiosity, Yang peeked inside. Frederica was standing at the stove, humming to herself as she stirred in the pot slowly. With her back to the door, she couldn't see him.
Thanks to him wearing slippers his steps made no sound as he crept closer. “Smells good,” he said softly right next to her ear. Frederica jerked and half-turned to look at him.
“You scared me! Don't come in so quietly!” she scolded.
“Sorry,” Yang replied with a sheepish smile, which she returned, forgiving him in an instant. “What are you making? It smells really good.”
Frederica smiled and began stirring anew. “Oh, I found my mother's old cookbook and I'm trying out a recipe for stew. I remember I really liked it when I was younger, so I had to try and make it.”
“I'd ask if you needed any help, but I actually have no idea about cooking, so...” he said helplessly, eliciting a small laugh from his wife.
“Don't worry, I've got this. But thanks for the thought,” she replied and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
Yang was taken aback, still a bit unused to this new level of intimacy they now shared, but definitely liking it. In public, he wouldn't dare to initiate anything of the sort, however in the privacy of their house it was a different story. Before he could overthink his actions, he reached for Frederica and kissed her on the lips. She gasped against him, then slowly put her hands on his shoulder and nape as she kissed him back.
For a while, their world shrank only to each other, the plump softness of lips meshing and gliding as the heat quickly built up. Short of breath, they finally parted. With a pleased sigh, Frederica leaned into his neck. Yang gently ran his hand up and down her back as they enjoyed the closeness.
“What was that for?” she asked finally.
“Nothing... I just wanted to,” he explained. “Did you like it?” he asked, suddenly uncertain of what happened.
“Mhmm... Very much,” she mumbled, her lips grazing his skin sensually. He shivered.
She would have stayed like that with him longer, but she noticed a strange, bubbling sound emerging from behind her.
Frederica darted for the dials to turn off the heat. The boiling contents of the pot settled down and returned to their place, though some still leaked out on the sides.
“Damn!” she cursed under her breath.
“Is it still good? It's not ruined right?” Yang asked anxiously.
“No, it's okay. I'm just angry at myself. I could've set the timer, then this wouldn't have happened.”
“But it's partially my fault, I distracted you.”
“Yes, as always your diversionary tactics worked perfectly, Admiral,” Frederica cracked a joke. “But really, it's alright. It was just a small accident. It should still taste good.”
Yang nodded. If she could joke about this, then there was no real damage. He scratched his head.
“Maybe I could help with something?” he offered.
“You can set the table while I finish up here.”
Happy to get an easy task, Yang set out to do just that.
When Frederica put a plate of the hot stew in front of him, he eagerly dug in. She looked at him expectantly.
“How is it?”
Yang swallowed the first bite almost without chewing.
“Ah... It's good.”
Under her stare, he took another bite, chewing as quickly as before.
Filled with suspicion, Frederica tasted her own portion and winced at the saltiness that scourged her mouth.
“You shouldn't lie,” she said tonelessly. “I have taste buds too.”
“It's really not that bad. I had much worse on the front lines.” His poor attempt at cheering her up spectacularly failed. Frederica's expression fell.
“Don't force yourself to eat this. I'll just... call for a pizza.” She got up and took away the dishes with her failed creation.
Yang looked after her helplessly. He wanted to make her feel better about this, but he was at a loss of words. The same issue of Frederica's cooking came up frequently and he tried to encourage her, because it mattered so much to her. However, this approach wasn't working at all. He had to change something about it.
An opportune time came later in the day. He came down to watch the afternoon news, when he found Frederica sitting on the couch and looking through some women's magazines. She was perusing the recipes and cooking tips pages with a determined scowl on her face, which made her look quite cute. Yang took a seat on the couch next to his wife. His eyes were glued to the TV, but if someone asked him what the speaker was saying, he wouldn't have known. After the news programme ended, Yang gathered his wits and proceeded with his plan.
“Frederica,” he called her name, but she didn't raise her gaze from the magazine. “Frederica,” he repeated more strongly.
“Yes, darling?” She finally paid him attention.
“I just, that is, I want you to know, that...” He scratched his head. “I mean, I didn't marry you because I wanted you to cook for me.”
“So you don't want me to cook?” she asked. Her lower lip was trembling.
“That's not that!” he denied. “I'm saying that nowhere in our marriage vows was said that you have to cook. I didn't hear you saying anything like 'and I will cook for my husband until death do us apart',” he explained.
“It's more likely my cooking would be the cause of death,” she said with a self-deprecating sigh.
Yang scooted closer and took her hands in his.
“Frederica, listen to me... You're already giving me so much. When you stay beside me—that's all I need. So, don't beat yourself over the dinner. Please.”
“Darling...” Frederica said, wide-eyed, as she took in his words. Then she nodded. “Alright. I understand.”
Yang smiled in relief.
“But I won't stop learning how to cook,” Frederica said, cutting him off. “I may not have to do it, but I want to. And you can't stop me. Okay?”
“It's a deal,” he agreed.
And, as it was only proper, they sealed the deal with a kiss that thoroughly took their minds off the issue for a long time.
That evening Yang returned to the study and resumed his work. After settling the matters with Frederica, he finally had the peace of mind necessary to concentrate on his own project. However, that didn't mean he was free of struggles.
Yang rubbed his temple tiredly when he made yet another annotation, then decided against it and crossed out the whole paragraph. He was stuck again, even though he had found the history book. He picked up his teacup, but it turned out woefully empty.
“I should go down and refill,” Yang muttered to himself.
“No need, I brought the fresh brew just for you,” Frederica said brightly as she entered the room, carrying the tray with a teapot, two clean cups, and a platter of biscuits.
In moments like this, she appeared to Yang as an angel sent from the heavens.
“How do you know that?” he asked, eying her with appreciation as she busied herself with setting the tray and pouring the tea for them both.
“You came at the exact right moment when I needed you. Is it a sixth sense?”
Frederica handed him the cup. The steam was rising from it in a pleasant white little cloud. The black tea's rich aroma was intoxicating.
“Maybe,” she answered playfully. She took a seat in the chair across the desk. Yang didn't miss how gracefully she crossed her legs. Frederica picked up her own cup and inhaled the tea's fragrance before she took a little sip. Then she looked straight at him. “After all, I'm the magician's wife, it's expected that I've got some magic tricks of my own.” Frederica winked.
Yang chuckled. “Right. But your magic might be more real than mine. Should I get prepared for reporters camping on our lawn because of you?” he asked teasingly.
“Hmm, actually...” Frederica pretended to think, “... you could buy some coffee for our guests-”
“And a dose of cyanide to go with that?” Yang suggested with a twinkle in his eyes.
“Oh, that's magic! You just read my mind!” she exclaimed with a fake exaggeration and they both burst out laughing.
“Jokes aside, my magic is similar to yours, actually. It's all in the preparation and right timing,” Frederica explained when she stopped giggling.
Yang nodded. He drank some of the tea. He still had a little more than a half of a cup, but he was in a mood for something stronger.
“Can I have some brandy with that?” he asked hopefully. Frederica and Julian at some point had formed an alliance to limit his drinking habit, so he wasn't allowed the alcohol as often as he would've liked. Not that he still didn't manage to get it when they weren't looking, of course.
Frederica considered shortly, then agreed. “Alright, but not too much.”
Yang pulled out the bottle from the nearby cupboard and filled his cup to the brim. When he offered the brandy to Frederica, she declined with a wave of a hand, so he put it back in place.
“Did I interrupt you?” she asked with a frown, indicating the papers he had spread around.
“Not really. I'm a bit, uh, stuck.”
She looked at him curiously.
“I know there's something wrong in there, but I can't find it. And if I don't fix it, I can't continue. Words just don't come out like they should,” Yang explained.
“What are you writing about?” she inquired, leaning forward in curiosity.
“Basically, it's just some thoughts about the freedom of speech and how it was treated by various forms of government in history.”
“Seems like an up-to-date topic,” Frederica remarked as she reached for a biscuit.
“Yes, the current situation on Heinessen is a real inspiration,” Yang said sarcastically, then took a huge drink from his cup. “Usually, I'd have Julian go through this and give me a second opinion, but he's not here.”
Frederica smiled. “Naturally.”
At first, Yang didn't understand what she was smiling about, then did a double take as it clicked. He could blame his slowness only on the late hour and the brandy. Definitely the brandy.
“Maybe... you'd like to read this over? Since you're already here? It's just a few pages, this and this... oh, and this!” He gathered the papers and handed them over.
Her smile widened. “Of course.”
She put the manuscript on her side of the desk and started reading. Suddenly, her brow furrowed.
“Give me a pen, please,” she asked and Yang hastily passed it to her. “The date here is wrong. And you should make this a citation—paraphrasing from memory is just lazy.”
“I don't want to research Trünicht's speeches! They are vile!” he pouted.
“I'll write it down here for you. I remember watching that one speech on TV.”
Yang was reminded of Frederica's amazing, photographic memory. She never flaunted it, but it sure came in handy many times during their time together, most notably in planning the operation to capture the Iserlohn Fortress.
He nibbled on the biscuits and poured himself the leftovers from the teapot while she worked through the text. She raised her gaze to him when she finished.
“So, how is it? That last part?” he asked.
Frederica tapped her chin with the end of the pen. “It's good, I just wonder why you didn't include the Lohengramm Dynasty in this comparison.”
“It's still too early. I should leave that to future historians.”
“Darling, this is not a paper on history you're writing,” Frederica said. “What I've read is a prognosis of the future, based on historical precedents. If you don't mention the newest events, it just won't be complete.”
Yang rubbed the back of his head. He realized that she was right. The analysis of Lohengramm's policy should round out his essay. However, if he did as she advised, this paper would have no chance of getting published. If it contained pure history, it should be able to make it through the censorship. But then, what was the point of publishing an incomplete piece that didn't contain the full message? If it reached the public, maybe some deadly mistakes could be avoided. He was reminded of all the times he'd predicted the enemy's strategy correctly and prepared a counter strategy which had been only rejected by his superiors and led to the countless loss of life.
On the other hand, wouldn't any action taken by the people cause only a brutal retaliation of the government? It could even provoke the Imperial commissioner to start a military intervention. Yang wasn't able to forget how Jessica's peaceful demonstration against the coup turned into a massacre. Good intentions at the start didn't prevent a tragedy from occurring.
From the practical point of view, there was also the matter of smuggling the essay out of the house with the army none the wiser. His watchdogs weren't bothering to hide and no doubt they had his videophone tapped and mail screened. Even after circumventing them, he'd have to find a publisher brave enough to print and distribute the essay.
The more he mulled over it, the more he was convinced that it would be better to follow Frederica's suggestion. This essay would have to wait for a change in the political climate before it would see the light of day.
Yang released a sigh of defeat. “You're right.” He stood up and stretched. “I'll finish it tomorrow.”
Frederica also got up and stacked the empty cups on the tray while he organized and put the pages of his manuscript in a folder.
He reached for the last biscuit, but she had the same idea and their hands bumped. Their gazes locked in surprise. Yang withdrew first. He'd eaten most of the biscuits earlier, so it was only fair he let her have the last one.
Frederica swiped the biscuit in one palm and leaned over the desk, outstretching the other hand to his face. She wiped at the corner of his mouth. “You had some crumbs,” she said quietly.
“Thanks,” he said, lowering his tone too.
Frederica smiled and bit into her biscuit.
“You were a huge help today. I'll have some more things for you to read over, if you could...” he trailed off, getting distracted. He returned her earlier gesture, wiping around her mouth. Then he brought his fingers to his mouth and licked off the sweet tidbits. “You had crumbs, too,” he whispered, leaning closer, gauging her reaction.
“Did you get them all?” she asked softly.
“I think I see one I missed,” he replied, staring intently at her lips.
“You should do something about it, then.”
Yang listened to his wife and took care of the non-existing crumb by kissing it off her lips. He was very thorough and diligent in performing this cleaning duty. Frederica wholeheartedly approved.