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The next morning, Rey woke to another disturbance at Ben’s door. This time, she didn’t recognize the voice and the tone wasn’t urgent enough to make her get out of bed.

When Ben returned and saw her awake, he dropped a kiss on her mouth. “I have a meeting this morning. Would you like to join me?”

Rey looked down at herself.

He stroked her hair back from her face. “I need to shower and change as well. You have time.” A firmer kiss, his lips lingering. “I’ll wait for you.“

When Rey entered her rooms through the shared door, she found Nalti waiting for her. Nalti wore another new dress, this one sand-brown and knee-length with brass buttons and a short matching cape.

“I’m joining Ben’s morning meeting,” Rey told her as she passed through to the bedroom.

Nalti followed, a frown on her face. “Can we talk about what happened last night?”

Rey stumbled and blushed, turning wide eyes on Nalti. “Wh-what?”

“Ruby,” Nalti said. “Why did you send her away?”

“Oh,” said Rey, relieved until she thought about how to explain the whole mess. “It was the way she looked at him,” she finally admitted. That had been the catalyst for scanning Ruby’s mind, and maybe someone with more experience could have parsed its meaning without any powers.

Nalti’s frown deepened, and Rey let out a breath.

“I probably overreacted.” The words scraped her insides with shame, irritating her. She hadn’t had anything to fear from Ben, but the raw, covetous greed she’d seen in Ruby’s thoughts had woken territorial instincts Rey hadn’t been prepared for.

Reassigning the woman to the farthest reaches of the galaxy over private thoughts had probably crossed a line. Rey sighed, reluctantly admitting that truth to herself. “If she’d come to me, I would have changed my mind, maybe assigned her somewhere… nice. But she didn’t.” Rey’s voice grew hard. “She went to him.”

Nalti raised her brows.

“She arrived in the middle of the night in nothing but the skintight black bodysuit the troops wear under their armor and practically offered to strip right there if he overruled me.”

Nalti gasped and covered her mouth with her hands. “She didn’t.”

“I saw the whole thing.”

“What did the Supreme Leader do?”

“Told her to get out. Sent her running, actually.” Rey hugged that memory close to her heart, a guilty pleasure. Ruby had presented a sensual figure on her knees, begging Ben for his help, and he’d sent her scurrying like a rat.

“Wow,” said Nalti, sitting heavily on the edge of Rey’s bed. “Wow. He is so in love with you.”

Rey’s knee-jerk reaction was to deny it, but memories of the previous night stopped her. A smile rose unbidden, and Rey pressed her lips together to try and stifle it.

“Oh,” said Nalti, eyes widening. “Oh, something happened. Tell me, tell me!” She rotated to face Rey fully, hands pressing against her thighs as if she had to keep herself still by force.

Rey laughed, briefly covering her mouth with her hands. “He loves me.”

“Well, duh,” Nalti said, rolling her eyes with a huge grin. “What have I been saying all this time?”

Rey shook her head. “I didn’t know. I wasn’t sure. I didn’t… I didn’t want to get my hopes up.”

“You two are hopelessly adorable.”

Rey shook her head with fond exasperation and went to shower.

When she returned, Nalti had laid out an outfit of cream leggings with a white undershirt and a diaphanous pale blue tunic, short in front and long in back, that drifted and rippled around her legs with the slightest movement. It combined the practicality of easy movement with the excess of Desomma’s evening gowns, a pleasant blend of pragmatism and fashion.

“You’ll want to impress the officers,” Nalti explained as she helped dry Rey’s hair.

Rey raised an amused brow. “I don’t really care what the officers think of me.”

“You ought to,” Nalti said softly. She worked quietly until Rey’s hair was dry and began to style it with a set of glittering pins in to keep it in place.

“What do you mean?”

Nalti sighed and patted Rey’s hair, moving around front to fix a few stray locks, and it was the most serious Rey had ever seen her. “I like you, my lady, which is why I’m telling you that you need to be more careful. You have already made enemies, and your enemies will become his.” She adjusted a hair pin, not meeting Rey’s eyes. “Don’t feed any rumors. Don’t offend anyone.” Nalti took a deep breath and finally looked Rey dead in the eye. “Don’t let anyone know that the Supreme Leader loves you.”

Rey frowned but listened, unsettled by the gravity of Nalti’s demeanor.

“Right now, you’re a curiosity. Rumors are one of the few entertainments on a ship like this, and you’re new and mysterious and interesting. But if people knew the truth, you’d be a target, a pressure point to use against the Supreme Leader.”

Rey absorbed the words quietly. When Nalti pronounced her finished, Rey looked at her. “Thank you.”

Nalti nodded.

Rey started to leave the room but turned back. “And Nalti?”

“Yes?”

“Adjust my order for Ruby’s reassignment to something less… extreme. Please.”

Nalti smiled, and Rey thought she saw relief there. “I’ll do that.”