Fortress-class dropship " Sword of Coromodir ". Formerly " Argo "

Weaponry: 10 Gauss cannons, 9 AC20s, 12 Particle cannons , 15 large lasers, 12 Arrow IV anti-ship missile batteries, 10 LRM20s, 10 SRM6s, 11 MGs, and 11 S-lasers. Undisclosed number of nuclear warheads stored for all missile weapons.

Vessel allegiance: Aurigan Coalition Navy.

Official MechWarrior unit name: " Arano's Knights. " Former mercenary name.

It was called the Battlemaster for a reason. Standing at its feet, staring up at it, Rosen S'jett allowed himself a few moments to admire that.

Towering high like some kind of Star League-era monument, the massive machine looked like death incarnate, even while completely still and inert. Its armor plates- sharply angled, and colored in the blood red tint of his company, with a vibrant, cotton white slashes down its tree trunk sized arms and legs- glinted brightly like freshly harvested diamonds under the glare of the mechbay lights.

The bay itself was relativity calm. The Argo had more than enough space for multiple bays, which left room for some mechs to rest in more or less solitude, while the others were surrounded by the army of busily employed MechTechs, all of them supervised by the ever pragmatic and succinct ( sometimes too succinct ) Chief Yang. As it was, Rosen's Battlemaster was virtually undamaged ( save for some minor structure damage that really didn't affect it, but nonetheless had to be dealt with for the long term good of the mech ), so he'd prioritized the other mechs in the unit for servicing first.

Besides, he liked having his mech with some room around it.

Wouldn't be so bad if it was the only one of its kind. Then I'd love it even more.

Well, needless to say, it wasn't. There were other Assault-class mechs here as well, of course; on his way in, Rosen had noticed Behemoth clad in her red MechWarrior utility fatigues, working a firehose over her Highlander's legs. During one of t their latest deployments, she had stomped a topped enemy Catapult mech into mangled scrap metal, which had resulted in oil, blast marks and other unwanted markings decorating the pillar-like limbs of her mech. While nowhere near as pressing as repairing damage ( and indeed, the Highlander was so beefy, that it had gone all this time- even that grueling Iberia op- without losing any of its armor.

That's not too shocking; that Highlander is a Star League construction. They built mechs better than anymore before or after them.

He'd waved a greeting toward the redheaded woman on his way to inspect his own Battlemaster. Looking up in time to spot him, Behemoth grinned, waved back, then shut off the hose's flow. Tossing it away, she proceeded to the manual access ladder that led to the upper works of the Highlander, before beginning to pull her 5'11, 176 lb frame up it.

Yep. The name ' Behemoth ' fits. She's nearly as tall as I am- all 6ft 2 of me. Fitting that she pilots a Highlander.

Ah, the sound of that Gauss Rifle going off like a genuine thunderclap- it hit that Catapult dead center, sending great spouts of molten metal flying off everywhere. What a glorious sight.

Leaving the titanic mech and its Amazonian pilot behind, Rosen had kept going. Soon enough, he'd found himself standing before his own mech.

The tried and true, well named Battlemaster. Rosen had take it into combat often enough, yet every time he got out of it following a mission, and every time he was about to climb into it at the beginning of one, he was always unable to not stop and stare at it. Even if he only did so for less than 10 seconds, it was worth it. The Battlemaster had earned that much from him.

After all, it'd kept him alive. With its MagmaGuns, laser batteries, missiles, and last but not least at all, its armor. On a Heavy/ Assault Mech, armor getting hit was about the same as firing bullets into the side of a mountain- you had to throw a lot of boom at it, and concentrate it in as small an area as you could, to have any real chance at bringing it down.

Every square inch of it was covered in that armor, evenly distributed so every section of it got good, solid protection against anything that hostile forces would throw against it. They could, and had, absorbed or outright shrugged off hits from even MagmaGuns, let alone all the lesser- but deadly nonetheless- weapons found on mechs and tanks. Rosen distinctly remembered how his Battlemaster had weathered what seemed like an unending barrage of SRMs fired by a Taurian Awesome-class Assault Mech during that op to take down the Iiberia.

Thank God I smothered my mech with so much armor. Worked out well in the end, though- we brought the Iiberia down in flames. And took that mad dog Ostergaard down with her. Glad I had a hand in his demise.

He got what was coming to him. Him and his kid. I saw what the Taurians did. That wasn't war. That was terrorism. The former can be for good reasons; the latter can't ever be.

Despite his admiration of his mech, Rosen felt a twinge of anger seep into him at the memory of that crazed Taurian. His left hand clenched into a fist, tightly for several seconds. Ostergaard had been even more of a monster than Victoria was, and the atrocities he'd committed in the name of the Auregian Directorate, along with his near-mindless pursuit of the Argo hadn't done anything to improve Rosen's opinion of him. They were all equally loathsome, as far as he cared.

The Reach was finally on the upwards road toward real prosperity and security. None of that would've been achievable under the Directorate. None of it had been achieved, because Santiago had been a despot and a misanthrope with delusions of power and grandeur.

But now he'd dead. And Victoria. Her pops is either going to get his head lopped off on live broadcast by the Taurians, or thrown in some fetid penal colony to languish for eternity.

Considering what he let happen to Mastiff- what he and his cronies did to us all-, I can't say I pity him. Or his bitch of a daughter. Or any of them

" Commander ? "

A soft and lilting, yet unmistakably regal and resonant voice got his attention.

Kamea ?

Blinking, Rosen pivoted to find the Matriarch of the Auregian Reach standing in front of him.

She was dressed once again in her field uniform- cross between the fatigues of a Auregian solider, and the crimson red blouse of the House of Arano. Her long, dark hair spilled down around her shoulders, as it always did. It neatly framed her oval face, which was beautiful in an angular, classical way.

Why do I keep noticing that ?

Stop it. You know why. You've always known.

Heck- all of her was beautiful, even dressed as a solider, fresh off the battlefield. Even her eyes, ones that Rosen had seen filled with so much hurt after they'd witnessed the repulsive conditions of the Directorate prison camp on Weldry, or so much torment when they'd laid Sir Raju " Mastiff " Montgomery to rest, were now empty of any of those.

" Yes, my lady ? ". Rosen automatically stood at attention. He had been a member of the Auregian Royal Guard once, and even after 3+ years of being a mercenary, fighting for C- bills and taking contracts to earn as many of them as he could, he'd be lying to himself if he's said he didn't have strong and real loyalty to the House of Arano.

Once a Guardsman, always a Guardsman

His reflexive reaction put a slight smile on Kamea's pretty face. " Kamea, Commander. And please, consider that a standing order- along with being as you were. We know each other well enough by now, I think. "

Maybe it was how she'd said it, or maybe it was indeed because they were so well acquainted, but either way, it had the same effect. Rosen relaxed his stance as automatically as he'd taken it. He stood straight anyway, though.

" Force of habit ", he admitted. A smile also began to cross his own face, and he self consciously rubbed at his chin, feeling the scruffiness of the short beard he'd been cultivating for a while. " Not one I can get rid of- or want to, for that matter. "

" Understandable. I remember how committed you were to staying alert the day the usurpation happened. "

She shook her brunette head at the bad memory. " On what should have been a coronation day. "

" That happened regardless ", Rosen reminded her. " You are at the head of the Reach now. Sir Raju saw your potential to sit there. So did I. "

Speaking the name of the man who'd trained and mentored them both brought up strong feelings- they had both seen what the Directorate had done to him. That would likely stick with them for too many years. On the other hand, though, forgetting would be an insult to him, and they couldn't do that.

" You flatter me. "

Kamea took the complement gracefully, but then her upbeat expression darkened. For a change, she looked like the troubled young woman Rosen- and very few others- knew she'd been struggling with being during the long road to taking back Coromodir.

It cost many innocents their lives, living under the Directorate. She has to know she did the right thing. There's much to celebrate now: we won a tremendous victory for the sake of the Reach.

Rosen was about to speak up on that, when Kamea did first.

" How do you feel when you're in my presence ? " she suddenly asked, looking up at him. " You're not a mercenary anymore, but even when you were, what was driving you, aside from wealth ?

" We all wanted to burn the Directorate to the ground. We all wanted them to feel the pain we had at their hand. But, what else was there, for you ? "

Kamea looked him in the eye to say so. She had to tip her head back slightly to do it- Rosen, being as tall as he was, stood a few inches above her. Despite the height gap, he had to admit that she was right.

Nothing has the same kind of presence as royalty. Or, to be specific, someone who is royalty and actually acts like it- ie, with elegance, poise, but aware of when to be pragmatic and relaxed. Not some arrogant pretender.

Not like Santiago. I hope the Taurians make you suffer.

" Frankly, m- Kamea, I was fighting for you as much for any of your c-bills. After all, I did name my unit after you, and that was before I even knew you'd survived Santiago's power play. " Rosen gestured around them, to the expansive bay.

" That's what I fought for; The C-Bills were a way to keep us in the fight. There was no way I could let Santiago sit at the head of the Reach. It belonged to you. After we recovered the Argo, and turned out to have survived, I was ready to fight as your right hand, not in your memory. "

That was the gist of it. After Raju had brought him into the Arano royal guard, he'd trained him alongside Kamea. She was the heir apparent, and he was charged with safeguarding her- so they both had much to learn. Over that time, Rosen had seen that Kamea wasn't some symbol being put at the head of the Reach because her bloodline demanded it. She was suited for being a Royal heir, with the right qualities.

Even everything they'd gone through over the past 3 years, from losing Coromodir to taking it back, hadn't changed either his assessment of her, or Kamea's ability. She was a fit for this life, and Rosen wanted to keep fighting for her, and the Reach.

Because he respected her. Because he admired her.

" I see. No sycophant, then. ", Kamea nodded.

Her tone was mostly light, but Rosen swore there was something else to it.

What's she here to really tell me ?

" Kamea ? " Rosen stepped closer to her, frowning slightly.

" Is something bothering you ? ".

He expected it to be something about Sir Raju's death, or the fallen Directorate's many, many atrocities. But, it was not.

" Rosen, what do you think of me ? No- not your assessment of my station. What do you think, of me ? "

And there it was.

Rosen didn't actually know what to say, which was a rarity for him. That was mainly due to him finally coming face to face with a specific locked box of emotions that he hadn't put the key into for years now. It was one in particular that'd slowly begun to fill from pretty much the day he'd first met her.

He couldn't act on them for about as long: they had vastly different places in life. She was the scion of House Arano itself, and Rosen from the prestigious Guard unit charged with defending that house. There were very clear lines and divisions there, ones that had to be respected. No amount of being a mercenary, for him at least, could fully erase that.

He had feelings for her.

It wasn't becoming, he knew. He was in the Royal Army, and an elite unit of it, no less. How could he have let this happen ?

Easy. You covered that already: She's beautiful, she can fight a Mech like a pro, she's fought against bad odds for the good of all of the Reach-

Allright- we've been here before. Answer her !

" You're special. ", Rosen told her. " To me, I mean. I look at everyone on this ship as family, but you- you're something else. Something more than that. Not to put everyone in a category, per se. "

He was actually getting nervous now. Facing the treacherous slut Victoria in her King Crab mech ? He'd been ice calm. But, expressing and discussing his quasi-romantic feelings to the Lady of the Aurigian Reach ? Now this was terrifying.

But Rosen hadn't ever back away from anything that scared him, if it was worth facing. And this counted, for certain.

" That is- I cannot say how I know, but I am not surprised. To hear you say this ", Kamea admitted. " When I mentioned C-bills, or compensation for your company after a mission done, you always seemed to care more about what you could do for the Restoration. For the Reach. "

" And, for me. "

She was spot on.

Rosen had gotten into the mercenary business to begin as a way to support himself with the skills he had as a MechWarrior. To find a way to draw blood against the Directorate, and make them suffer for what they'd done. But, after Kamea had come back into the picture, that'd changed the whole nature of how Rosen looked at his veritable crusade.

He had something- someone- to fight for. Everything mattered now.

Some of my crew cared a lot more for C-bills than I did. Sure, even I know they mattered. But, none of them were as vested in the Reach as me.

" Everyone had their stake in the fight. The Reach's future was mine. And, you. You were. You are now."

Rosen's simple statement seemed to raise Kamea's spirits again. That tense expression she'd had relaxed, and she smiled again.

" I always appreciate honestly. Yours, clearly, has not failed you. "

" Consider that another force of habit, Kamea. "

All this time, they'd been alone. Rosen thought he heard the telltale rumble of Behemoth's Highlander's reactor spinning up- a quick power conduit test was usually a good measure to take between missions- but otherwise, they were by themselves.

Which was good; this was their moment.

Definitely feeling it, Kamea took a few steps closer, ending the distance between them. Without missing a beat, she put both arms around Rosen, wrapping her right around his back, and hooking her left up and behind his shoulder.

She rested her chin by his ear.

Woah. My god- Really ? I can't be hallucinating this all of a sudden. Am I ?

No. No I am not I- wow.

At once, he responded, by embracing her firmly right back.

He didn't know what to say. He didn't think there was anything he could say- not right now. Those moments you secretly hope for and for a long time have a way of leaving you speechless.

Fortunately, Kamea wasn't so tongue tied.

" You're a good man, Rosen S'Jett. More than a good MechWarrior- a good man. "

She pulled back a bit, and looked him in the eyes again. As she could've made this moment any better, Kamea then kissed him

It was brief, but that didn't matter. It was real.

" That's why I love you. "

If she'd offered him a whole regiment of Star League Atlases, she could not have put him any more over the moon. It was like a moon being taken off Rosen's shoulders.

She does feel the same way. She does. This was worth surviving for

Rosen practically laughed. Things were looking pretty rosy from where he was standing- for him, the Reach, and-

Well, for him and the Lady of Auriga.

" I love you too, Kamea. Come to think of it, I have for a while. Finally got brave enough to say it. "

Now Kamea did actually laugh- which was a wonderful sound. One of the few Rosen loved besides lasers firing.

" You are quite the hero, Mr. S'Jett. "., she affectionately told him.

" Don't ever let that change. "

Rosen fully intended not to let her down.