Kel's head was still spinning as she headed back to her quarters. The king and Raoul between them had nearly convinced her to say "Yes", but she was unwilling to do so until she had time to think things over. The two men had both expected that - they'd expected all her answers, from "I'm too young" to "The conservatives..."
She let out a chesty sigh as she opened the door to her bedchamber, and swallowed a small gasp of surprise when she saw it was already occupied. Instead, she crossed her arms and tilted her head with an air of resignation. "Hello, Dom."
"I had to be the first to offer my congratulations," Domitan of Masbolle told her cheerfully from a relaxed position on her bed. Even now, her heart skipped a beat whenever he smiled at her like that.
"Thank you, but they're premature," she told him. "And I'm not even going to ask how you knew."
He waggled his eyebrows at her. "I happened to overhear... Kel, are you telling me you haven't accepted?"
"I haven't accepted yet." Kel sighed again, and entered the room properly, sitting in the only chair not already occupied with heavy books. She'd been meaning to get her shelving fixed for some time, but always seemed to be called away before she could speak to one of the staff about getting it seen to. "I know Raoul's been thinking of stepping down, but I never thought that I'd be asked to replace him. I need time to think about it."
"You must be the only one in the whole kingdom who doesn't think you're the obvious choice to be Knight Commander." Dom sounded amused - he always was, when Kel mentioned surprise at being recognised, or frustration over her now widely known nicname.
"There are others," Kel argued. "Alan of Pirate's Swoop. He was my lord's squire too, you know. Or Merric - he's worked with the Own almost as long as I have."
"And what did the king say when you suggested them to him?" Dom asked with an air of interest.
"That he'd considered them," Kel admitted. "But Merric's only happy with field command, and Alan has less experience than I do." Much less, if she was being honest with herself.
"He is a sensible fellow, for royalty." Dom suddenly sat up straighter, and dropped his amused expression. "Kel, it'll mean more than a few changes, but don't the positives outweight the negatives? You like to be useful, and you'll never stop being useful in charge of the Own. You'll have to be in Corus regularly for orders, so you'll see plenty of Tobe, and your friends. You won't lack for anything-"
"Except you," Kel broke in suddenly, surprising herself with her own frankness. They seldom talked about their relationship. She knew that it was unusual - that neither of them wanted marriage, that they both would sometimes take other lovers in the long stretches of time that they were stationed in different places and couldn't see one another - but it had always worked for them. "Dom, you know we can't have - what we have - if I'm to be your commander."
She hadn't said so in her meeting, of course. She'd be surprised if Raoul, at least, didn't know, despite the two of them always doing their best to keep their relationship a secret, but it was too selfish a reason - too private a reason - not to accept the post. She knew, at core, that she was the right person for the job - that it was what Raoul had wanted for her ever since he'd taken her as her squire. That over time, it was what she'd come to want for herself. But she wanted Dom, too, and she didn't know how she was supposed to pick between them.
"My lord's been talking to Evin Larse a lot, lately," Dom said. Kel blinked at him, confused by the sudden turn in conversation.
"He has?" she asked doubtfully, and Dom nodded. He looked in earnest but, she noticed, but there was a glint of mischief in his eyes. What was he getting at?
"I happened to overhear that they're looking find ways to combine the talents of the Own," he paused, gesturing at himself like a comic Player, "-with those of the Riders. Forming a new group, that's not one or t'other. The best of the best, you might say."
She saw what he was getting at, then. "But Dom, you love the Own! You can't leave on my account."
"Of course I can," and he was serious again. "Kel, if it's a choice between me and the Own, you'd choose the Own, in the end. It's nothing to do with the two of us, it's because you have to do what's best for everyone. That's one of the many reasons I love you."
Kel swallowed, feeling like her heart was trying to climb out of her chest. "You'd give up the Own so I won't have to give up you."
Dom grinned, and tucked his hands behind his head. "I like the sound of this new venture. It's not much of a sacrifice in that respect. Of course, we may end up seeing even less of each other-" He stopped as Kel stood; she was beside him on the bed in two strides, pulling him into a fierce hug.
"I'm not sure that I deserve you," she murmured.
"You deserve the best," Dom assured her, "and you've got it."
Laughing, Kel lifted her face to his for a kiss.