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Chapter 465 Beautiful
Khan's sense of style had never improved. He was still clueless about clothes and their value, but he didn't fear Madam Solodrey's judgment. After all, her daughter was the true owner of Khan's wardrobe.
Monica had arranged Khan's clothes into sets, so he couldn't make mistakes. He quickly retrieved a black shirt, grey pants, and black shoes from his wardrobe before wearing them. In a minute, he left the bedroom to rejoin the two women.
"Is this acceptable?" Khan used Monica's words as soon as two pairs of eyes fell on him.
"Far from it," Madam Solodrey commented. "Teaching must not be my daughter's forte."
Monica showed a sweet smile to Khan before lowering her gaze. Some sadness seeped into her expression since her mother was taking it out on Khan. She didn't mind when the insults targeted her, but involving Khan in her problems always soured her feelings.
"On the contrary, ma'am," Khan responded. "Monica is the only reason I could score so high on the tests."
Madam Solodrey was about to turn, but hearing Khan calling her daughter by her first name made her shoot a glare at him. He responded with an innocent smile, which said a lot about his stance.
"You will address my daughter with the proper respect," Madam Solodrey ordered.
"I'm sorry, ma'am," Khan performed a military salute. "Force of habit."
The second reply told Monica that something had happened while she was away. The discovery didn't surprise her since she knew her mother's character, but Khan's challenging stance was problematic.
Madam Solodrey snorted and approached the elevator. Meanwhile, Khan ignored Monica's questioning gaze to reach her side and pinch her waist. The gesture granted him a glare, but Madam Solodrey didn't give the couple the time to clear things out.
"I hope to see a car by the time I get down," Madam Solodrey announced, forcing the couple to hurry.
Khan's status made a ship arrive in a matter of minutes. The dinner would happen outside the Harbor, and he had already booked a suitable vehicle, so calling it early wasn't a problem. Yet, Madam Solodrey began to reveal her intentions at its sight, and they were far from friendly.
"Is this the best a Captain can get?" Madam Solodrey questioned at the sight of the ship. The vehicle wasn't bad. It actually met some of the Harbor's loftiest standards, but Madam Solodrey appeared displeased anyway.
"Ma'am, I would have prepared something better if I knew about your arrival," Khan justified.
"Are you implying my daughter alone isn't worthy of your best efforts?" Madam Solodrey asked.
"I didn't-," Khan tried to speak.
"You said enough," Madam Solodrey interrupted while heading for the ship.
Monica gave Khan another sad look, but he shook his head to rea.s.sure her before following Madam Solodrey. He was starting to understand the kind of test Madam Solodrey wanted to have, and things were bound to get worse during the dinner.
The ship only had a central room connected to the pilot's cabin, but that was enough for three people. The seats could also move freely to create more s.p.a.ce, but Madam Solodrey didn't hold back her disgusted look when she looked at them.
Luckily for Khan, Madam Solodrey didn't voice any comment. She limited herself to a long inspection before choosing a seat at the center of the ship's left side. Monica joined her while Khan decided to remain on his feet right outside the pilot's cabin.
"Should I set off, sir?" The pilot asked once everything was set.
"Yes," Khan confirmed. "You received the directions, right?"
"They are on the screen," The pilot revealed, and Khan peeked into the cabin to inspect the holograms coming out of the control desk.
"Perfect," Khan exclaimed. "Let's go."
The ship left the sidewalk through a perfect set-off. Nothing reached its insides, and Khan clung to a handhold while moving his attention to the two women. Monica was still trying to understand what had happened while her mother found something else to criticize.
"Dear, sit properly," Madam Solodrey scolded, forcing Monica to give up on her inspection and straighten her back.
"Don't press your hair on the seat," Madam Solodrey continued. "Do you want to see your work go to waste?"
"Adjust your skirt," Madam Solodrey added another reprimand. "It will get full of creases otherwise."
More reprimands arrived, and Monica obeyed all of them. The pilot could hear her mother, making her unable to refuse or object to anything she said.
"Ma'am," Khan tried to come up with something to divert the attention from Monica, but Madam Solodrey didn't give him any opening.
"I'd focus on the dinner if I were you," Madam Solodrey warned. "As for me, I have to make sure my daughter doesn't bring any shame on our family."
Monica kept her gaze lowered, and some detachment joined her expression. That probably was her usual behavior among her family, and Khan couldn't help but feel irritated since he knew her story.
"Remember that we share many years of friendship with the Hencus family," Madam Solodrey added. "I expect you to treat Lucian accordingly. He is also one of your most valuable suitors."
"Mother, we have already talked about this," Monica finally spoke.
"And we'll talk about it again until you make up your mind," Madam Solodrey stated, gently moving away some of Monica's curls to caress her shoulder. "Dear, innocent flirting never hurt anyone, and you had so much practice."
Monica couldn't help but feel ashamed. The Solodrey family's upbringing had taught her the manners proper of a female descendant, which involved political flirting. That behavior was almost an instinctive part of her character now.
Khan had seen that side of Monica's education on Milia 222, and the two had even talked about it. Lucian had also mentioned something similar after the battle against George, so Khan wasn't surprised.
The peculiar situation fused with those words to create a perfect environment for Khan's jealousy, but he didn't experience anything similar. Monica's shame filled his senses and made his feelings unstable. He could remain cold during the conversation, but something escaped his control now.
A buzzing noise ran through the ship as some lights and screens flickered. Nothing major happened, and the vehicle even continued to fly properly, but everyone noticed that event.
"We must have touched an external interference, sir," The pilot rea.s.sured before anyone could ask questions. "Everything seems in order."
"Such a cheap choice," Madam Solodrey commented in an attempt to belittle the ship and Khan, but he couldn't pay attention to her. His eyes were on his handhold and the black mark that had appeared because of his mana.
'Not a good sign,' Khan suppressed a sigh. Talking back to Madam Solodrey had been easier in the privacy of the flat, but having an audience forced Khan to hold back, which he couldn't do very well.
Nevertheless, a worried gaze forced the coldness to take control of the wild emotions. Monica knew what had happened, and Khan could feel her eyes on him. He would surely fail to behave appropriately if he only thought about himself, but Monica gave him the power to succeed.
The interference strangely brought positive changes. Madam Solodrey fell silent, creating a tense and awkward atmosphere no one could affect. That mood was far from good, but Khan preferred it over the relentless scolding toward Monica.
The uneventful flight led the group outside the Harbor, where a circular vehicle was waiting for them. Lucian had chosen to imitate the Virrai family, using a big ship that could provide the utmost privacy and show his finances, but no one was in the mood to remain surprised at its sight.
A docking station opened at the center of the circular ship, and Khan's vehicle landed inside it. Breathable air arrived once the area severed its connection with the universe, and soldiers crossed multiple doors to prepare a welcome worthy of the guests.
Madam Solodrey was the first to cross the metal staircase and descend into the ship. Monica followed closely behind, and Khan left after her. Meanwhile, the soldiers waited at the room's edges while two figures approached the group.
"Anastasia!" A middle-aged man with short blonde hair and emerald eyes exclaimed while walking toward the group. Madam Solodrey showed a rare smile at his figure and stretched her hand to prepare herself for a polite greeting.
"You are as beautiful as ever," The middle-aged man continued before leaving a kiss on Madam Solodrey's hand. "I hope this invitation wasn't too sudden."
"Lionel, you know a married woman can't receive these compliments," Madam Solodrey giggled.
"My words carry nothing but the truth," Lionel stated, letting go of Madam Solodrey's hand. "Your husband and my wife know that."
"Mister Hencus," Monica announced, reaching her mother's side to make Lionel notice her, "Meeting you again is an honor, especially during such pleasant circ.u.mstances."
"Miss Solodrey!" Lionel gasped loudly. "You have grown to be a match to your mother. The Solodrey family must be blessed with exceptional looks."
"You are too kind," Monica smiled, performing an elegant bow.
Lucian had let his father take the lead, but that didn't stop him from shooting a meaningful glance at Khan. The latter didn't miss anything in that situation, but his mood was too jumpy to care about that gesture, especially when a far more interesting figure was on the scene.
Lionel shared some features with Lucian. They had the same hair and eyes, but he was taller and burlier. His figure also was a blank spot in the symphony, but the mana that touched him revealed part of his strength.
Khan had already seen similar reactions. They were weaker compared to what Colonel Norrett caused, but they belonged to the same realm. The smiling and polite Lionel had to be a fifth-level warrior.
"Mister Hencus," Khan decided to claim Lionel's attention once his inspection ended, "Your presence here is a pleasant surprise. I didn't think I'd have the honor to meet you so soon."
"Captain Khan," Lionel gasped again, spreading his arms to highlight his happiness, "I longed for this meeting. I'm sorry I didn't invite you directly. I worried I would ruin your schedule."
"You wouldn't have ruined it, sir," Khan rea.s.sured. "Finding the time to meet you would have been a happy task."
"I'm glad to hear that," Lionel laughed. "Now, I'll let my son complete his political duties."
"Thank you, father," Lucian nodded before stepping forward to reach Madam Solodrey's stretched hand.
"Madam," Lucian called after kissing Madam Solodrey's hand, "You look younger with each pa.s.sing year."
"Lucian, dear boy," Madam Solodrey chuckled, "I told you to call me Anastasia many times. When will you drop these formalities?"
"Maybe next year," Lucian guessed.
"That's what you said last year," Madam Solodrey nodded in approval while retrieving her hand.
"Miss Solodrey, you are as charming as ever," Lucian moved to Monica. He got close enough to try to take her hand, but she performed a bow before his polite greeting could start.
"Lucian, we are cla.s.smates who have known each other for years," Monica declared. "I'll feel offended if you don't drop these formalities."
"Very well, Monica," Lucian agreed, "But let me say how beautiful you are again. This skirt is especially exceptional."
"I had Captain Khan's help when I bought it," Monica revealed. "You know he is my secret weapon regarding clothes."
"Captain, does your talent even have limits?" Lucian wondered while approaching Khan to shake his hand. "I'm glad you decided to schedule this dinner. We have a lot to talk about."
"I can't wait," Khan responded.
"Perfect!" Lionel exclaimed as soon as Lucian finished greeting Khan. "The waiters should have arranged the dining table by now. Allow me to lead the way."
The group exchanged a series of smiles before following Lionel. On the surface, the greetings had gone well, but the tension had already intensified. Khan couldn't read Madam Solodrey's mana now, but it was clear that she didn't like Monica's last comment.
In theory, the presence of Lucian's father could bring some stability. There had to be a limit to how much Madam Solodrey could say in front of an equally important figure. Even scolding Monica publicly was off-limits due to the repercussions those actions would have on her family.
However, Khan didn't dare to underestimate Madam Solodrey. She had to be a political monster, and he was walking into her hunting area. She was probably preparing her next move, and Khan felt cornered.
Lionel led the group across a few corridors that opened into a big rectangular room. A group of servants was waiting next to the walls with drinks and plates, and a long table occupied the area's center. Food and booze were already near each seat, and Lionel had even planned other arrangements.
"Anastasia, one end of the table is yours," Lionel announced while reaching the other side of the room. "I'll take this end and claim Captain Khan for me. Is this disposition acceptable?"
"Of course," Madam Solodrey agreed, and some displeasure seeped into her face when Lionel searched for Khan's approval.
"How could I refuse, sir?" Khan smiled, approaching a seat on the table's long side to be close to Lionel.
"Miss Solodrey, Lucian, please," Lionel continued, pointing at the seats on the other long side.
Everyone quickly took their places. Khan found himself alone on his side, with Lucian in front of him. Monica and Lucian were close to their respective parents, and the waiters began serving Madam Solodrey to start the dinner.
"My informants told me that the Virrai family's representative invited you to one of these," Lionel used his cheerful tone to address Khan. "I hope my welcome can come close to theirs."
"The ship and this a.s.sortment are amazing," Khan honestly praised. After all, he had received nothing but questions and booze when the representative came.
"They better be," Lionel laughed. "You can't imagine how expensive they are."
The waiters continued to approach the guests in order of importance, leaving Lionel and Lucian for last since they were the hosts. Monica saw booze poured into her gla.s.s, and Khan came next.
"Lucian tells me your tests' results surprised everyone," Lionel continued. "Many expected you to struggle in the advanced cla.s.ses, but you aced them."
"I have to thank the Harbor's teachers," Khan deflected the praise. "They are very good at their job. Also, I would have never caught up so quickly without Miss Solodrey's priceless help."
"Ah! Miss Solodrey!" Lionel gasped. "I almost forgot. Congratulations on being the first in your cla.s.s. You bring honor to your family."
"Thank you, Mister Hencus," Monica lowered her head in respect. "Though Lucian deserves similar praises. He scored second while helping multiple members of the advanced cla.s.ses with their studies."
"Monica is too kind," Lucian promptly opted for a humble approach. "She scored higher than me while dealing with the aftermath of the infusion. I'm not sure I could have done the same."
"They are such a good pair," Madam Solodrey praised. "Lionel, are you sure we can't arrange something once the semester is over? It would be nice to see our kids grow closer in a different environment."
"Anastasia, you only have to suggest," Lionel laughed. "I'll give the offer my undivided attention."
"We'll see where they are at after the semester," Madam Solodrey kept it vague. "I'll come up with something at that point."
Monica smiled, but her mana told a far different story. Her mother was cornering her, and she had no moves at her disposal.
Khan was in a similar situation. He couldn't even pretend in front of those obvious implications, so he hid his mouth behind his drink. His emotions and coldness could live in harmony, but they started a fight now, and even he didn't know who would win.
"If I may," Lucian suddenly announced, "I'd like to include Captain Khan in any future project. His potential is unmatched, and it would be a pity to let him leave so easily."
Khan gazed at Lucian from behind his gla.s.s, and the two seemed to converse during that silent exchange. Lucian had decided to help him on purpose, and his reasons were unclear.
"Mister Hencus exaggerates," Khan deflected the compliment again. "I am a reliable a.s.set on the battlefield, but I'm just getting used to the political field."
"Captain, you protected me on Nippe 2," Lucian lied. "Don't offend me with these formalities."
"I'm sorry, Lucian," Khan played along. "I might be a bit tense."
"Nothing is scarier than politicians," Lionel snickered. "Still, Lucian is right. You are the most sought soldier in the entirety of the Global Army. It would be nice to monopolize you."
"The Solodrey family was lucky enough to find him first," Monica intervened. "I might have to owe a favor to Luke Cobsend for giving me that opportunity."
"I'm sure Luke feels the very opposite," Khan rea.s.sured. "Your help on Milia 222 didn't go unnoticed."
"Such a sweet tongue," Monica teased. "Everyone knows you handled everything on your own. You wouldn't have become the youngest Captain in history otherwise."
The back and forth between Khan and Monica was natural for the two. They had enough practice on Milia 222 and the Harbor to be experts at that teamwork, but they weren't alone now.
"Our kids are correct," Madam Solodrey spoke. "Captain Khan is indeed an extraordinary talent. I'm lucky my dear Monica recognized and secured his value before any contender. Still, I wonder if the Captain is willing to take things one step further."
"Ma'am?" Khan asked.
"Why don't you formally join us?" Madam Solodrey questioned. "A simple contract would be enough to give you a taste of my family's benefits. I can also add a time limit to provide an easy way out."
Monica and Lionel's poker faces remained perfect, but the former's mana revealed clues Khan didn't miss. Instead, Lucian dared to arc his eyebrows while focusing on his plate. That was another intentional gesture that only Khan noticed due to the attention on him.
'Why is he risking so much to help me?' Khan wondered. Monica's mana and Lucian's reaction told him the offer was no small matter. It was important enough to surprise the people at the table, and that said a lot.
"A contract would be pointless, ma'am," Khan chose to show what he had learnt in the last period. "The Harbor and Miss Solodrey's help are favors I plan to repay. There is no need to sign anything to have me on your side."
Khan had promised allegiance with the Solodrey family, but his words had the opposite effect. He had expressed his loyalty while preventing Madam Solodrey from making things official.
"I think Captain Khan is too young and promising to make such decisions right now," Lionel stepped in to change the topic. "Why don't you consider something small instead? My son actually came here with an offer."
"Thank you for introducing the matter, father," Lucian exclaimed before addressing the curious gazes. "It's true. I had an offer in mind far before this dinner. Captain, you once told me you'd consider it if I came to you with a mission. Well, here I am."
'Is he doing all of this to make me accept?' Khan wondered. 'It can't be. It's too little.'
Jobs were no big deal. Khan would have considered a good offer even if it came from a stranger, so Lucian's behavior had to have deeper meanings. Still, for now, Khan limited himself to a polite reply. "I'm all ears."
"I don't want to discuss the boring specifics at dinner," Lucian exclaimed. "Yet, to add some context, I want to send a team on Lauter to establish an outpost. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about."
Khan's studies obviously involved the quadrant's peculiar location and resources. Lauter was one of the planets in the system, and the Harbor retrieved a special gas important for the ships' engines there. Its atmosphere wasn't as harsh as Nippe 2', but extracting that resource was dangerous for multiple reasons.
"I thought the Harbor had priority over the resources of this system," Khan expressed his doubts.
"There are heavy taxes," Lucian explained, "In certain locations. Building an outpost outside them would provide a stable source of income and help the future descendants of the Hencus family in the Harbor."
Khan didn't know nearly enough about Lauter to feel confident in a mission there, but that knowledge was easy to get. The payment wouldn't be an issue either since the Hencus family was involved. Time and Lucian were the only problems, but Khan didn't have the power to refuse right away.
"Send the details over," Khan nodded. "I'll study them, but I can't promise I'll be part of your team. It took me weeks to make the time for this dinner."
"No, Captain," Lucian corrected. "It would be your team. I want you to build it since your qualifications exceed mine when it comes to the field."
That detail was the most surprising part of the dinner. Lucian was asking for more than a hired gun. He wanted Khan's authority.
'The location must be hazardous,' Khan realized. 'Still, the reward should match that.'
"I'll give it a look," Khan nodded again, but his words carried more conviction now. The matter was exciting and matched Colonel Norrett's last directives.
"Excellent!" Lionel laughed. "Captain, I also heard your flights are going well. Who knows? You might be in charge of the ship by the time the mission starts."
"Is the Captain already getting the license?" Madam Solodrey questioned. "I thought he just started attending the flights."
"Captain Khan cut a deal with Headmistress Holwen to fly more often," Monica explained. "Besides, he already knew his way around ships on Milia 222. The regulations are probably slowing him down."
"I understand and accept the necessity for regulations," Khan declared. "Yet, yes, I can already complete the flight required by the license."
"Incredible," Lionel praised. "I thought my son praised you too much, but I changed my mind. Captain, you deserve all your fame."
"Thank you, sir," Khan replied. "Yet, I still have a long way to go."
"It doesn't seem that long," Lionel snickered. "Don't you agree, Anastasia? Captain Khan might truly reach the peak of the Global Army at this pace."
"And that would be a waste of his talents," Madam Solodrey sighed. "The Global Army is so narrow-minded. You should consider marrying into a good family and obtain true leverage on the universe's politics."
"I must agree with Anastasia," Lionel uttered. "Joining a family would broaden your perspective. I'm sure mine would be willing to suggest a few candidates, but they might not be worthy of your fame."
"As Lionel said," Madam Solodrey continued, "The Solodrey family is blessed with good looks. We would gladly offer the most beautiful figure in our reach to give you our name."
'Old hag,' Khan snorted in his mind. Madam Solodrey had said the very opposite in his flat. Still, she couldn't have used worse words in that situation.
"Ma'am, with all due respect," Khan announced, "I'm sure Miss Solodrey is the most beautiful figure in your reach. I actually wouldn't limit her to that."
Tension spread in the room. Madam Solodrey's poker face remained perfect but also still. She froze in front of Khan's guts, but the blame was on her. She didn't expect him to include Monica in that group or speak openly about it.
"Captain Khan is right," Lionel exploded into a laugh. "Many recent rumors put Miss Solodrey and Princess Edna on the same level. You must be truly proud of your daughter."
The tension intensified as Madam Solodrey remained still. Monica showed fake smiles left and right to deflect those praises, but panic had already taken control of her mind. Even she didn't know how to defuse that situation.
"Captain, don't tell me that Miss Solodrey stole your heart?" Lionel's unrestrained laugh prevented the arrival of the silence.
"I wouldn't dare to even hint at such a thing, sir," Khan promptly shook his head. "However, would anyone be surprised? The entire emba.s.sy turns when she appears."
"Captain, you'll make me blush," Monica giggled while covering her mouth, "And we both know they turn because of you."
"Miss, I might be the most promising figure in the Global Army," Khan voiced a shameless self-praise, "But I know they don't turn to look at me. I'll keep a secret how I know that."
Khan made his words self-explanatory on purpose. He wanted the table to know he was interested in Monica without actually saying it, and Madam Solodrey couldn't even contradict him. After all, he was using her words to praise her daughter.
"So, Anastasia?" Lionel teased. "I think Captain Khan would take your family name for your daughter."
"Of course he would," Madam Solodrey snapped out of her stillness. "It's my dear daughter we are talking about. However, Monica currently has no intention to marry, and her parents agree. We believe she must reach her full potential before considering partners."
"Completely understandable," Lionel agreed. "Lucian and I reached a similar agreement. Marriage is off the table for now."
"Who knows?" Madam Solodrey wondered. "Our kids might change their minds at the same time."
"They might have compet.i.tion by then," Lionel laughed. He didn't look at Khan, but it was clear that his comment involved him.
The dinner continued, but the conversations grew lighter. Madam Solodrey didn't expose herself anymore since Lionel seemed to like Khan, and random topics flowed as plates and drinks arrived.
Khan couldn't help but get a good impression of Lionel, but his guard remained high. Being unable to sense his mana made him suspicious, and the connection with Lucian complicated everything. Something was probably up, but Khan couldn't discover much, especially during the dinner.
Lionel's exuberance never allowed the table to fall silent. He seemed born to generate new topics, and Khan felt grateful for that. The constant talk dispersed part of the tension and awkwardness, allowing him to survive the entire dinner without losing control or causing political damage.
The situation changed once Khan, Monica, and Madam Solodrey returned to their ship and flew toward the Harbor. A chilling tension enveloped the group and destabilized the air. Everything felt ready to explode, but only silence reigned during the flight.
The ship dropped the trio in front of Khan's building, and Madam Solodrey led the way inside. The silence continued even in the elevator, and the detonation happened once the privacy of Khan's flat arrived.
"That was disrespect at its finest," Madam Solodrey coldly reprimanded once she turned to face the couple. "Captain Khan, I hope you had your fill of fun tonight because you won't experience anything remotely similar ever again."
"Mother," Monica tried to appease the situation, but her mother didn't give her a chance.
"Don't mother me," Madam Solodrey scolded. "You must have been happy to put me in such a shameful position. Were your laughs honest when this mutt insulted me?"
"Mutt?" Monica asked.
"All the years invested educating you," Madam Solodrey cursed, "And you throw everything away for a soldier. I'm at a loss for words."
"Mom, Khan isn't-," Monica raised her voice, but that couldn't work against her mother.
"I know exactly who Captain Khan is," Madam Solodrey snorted. "Did you enjoy using that loud snake against me? I don't know about your talent, but you are cold-blooded enough to survive politics."
Monica opened her mouth to speak, but Madam Solodrey glared at her. Her gaze then returned to Khan, but he continued to remain silent.
"What is it?" Madam Solodrey wondered. "Are you finally afraid of me? Where are the guts you showed me earlier?"
Khan continued his silent stare. He had a lot to say, but his mind wasn't in the right place, and Madam Solodrey looked even worse than him. Still, that could be another test, so he waited to see where the situation went.
"Silence," Madam Solodrey scoffed. "I guess you only talk to spread lies about my family."
"They weren't lies," Khan couldn't keep his mouth shut.
"What?" Madam Solodrey asked.
"They weren't lies," Khan repeated. "Monica is the most beautiful figure in your reach. Honestly, I don't see why people prefer Princess Edna to her."
Monica lowered her gaze in embarra.s.sment. Receiving those compliments in front of her mother was too much, but her reaction was sincere.
Madam Solodrey didn't miss Monica's reaction, and some surprise replaced her fury. She had spent her life teaching Monica how to hide her true emotions, but there they were.
"What else?" Madam Solodrey scorned. "Were you serious about the marriage too?"
"I told the truth," Khan revealed. "I wouldn't dare to even think about that. Monica is outside my reach."
"Ooh?" Madam Solodrey pressed on. "You are the most promising figure in the Global Army. You said that yourself. How are you not at my daughter's level?"
"Being promising doesn't translate into a.s.sets," Khan explained. "Maybe in the future."
"And why shouldn't I secure you now?" Madam Solodrey wondered. "My dear daughter has already shown herself unwilling to meet the family's standards. I should just give her away."
"Your daughter scored first in the Harbor's tests while shivers made her unable to stand," Khan revealed. "She also helped me secure my spot while she was burning with fever."
"We taught Monica the Harbor's subjects as part of her education," Madam Solodrey pointed out.
"Just like every other family did," Khan stated. "She still surpa.s.sed their descendants."
Madam Solodrey finally fell silent, but Khan wasn't done. "She has also secured a good friendship with a n.o.ble and skillfully manipulated Pandora's auction to her benefit. Her last infusion will put her above her peers in terms of stars, effectively making her the Harbor's best student."
Monica tried to hide the loving smile on her face, but her mother noticed it. She couldn't help herself when hearing Khan acknowledging her efforts. He was the opposite of what her parents had gotten her used to.
"And she brought no shame on you," Khan concluded. "She earned you countless praises without giving anything away. Isn't that the definition of a perfect politician?"
Madam Solodrey couldn't even pretend to be angry when the speech ended. Khan had hit the mark, adding details about Monica that her mother didn't know. Those revelations were praiseworthy, but Madam Solodrey didn't dare to voice any compliment.
"What a troublesome mutt," Madam Solodrey eventually sighed while eyeing Monica. "I guess I did raise my dear daughter to be worthy of the Solodrey name."
Monica's gaze darted at her mother, but the latter spoke before any question could arrive. "As such, her judgment can't be too off. She knows her value, so you must be at least decent."
"Ma'am?" Khan called.
"I stand by my words," Madam Solodrey declared. "You aren't worthy of my daughter. No Captain is."
Khan felt able to read between the lines, and his shamelessness came out. "So, is Major enough? Lieutenant Colonel?"
"If you don't know," Madam Solodrey smirked, "You are still far away."
Madam Solodrey walked between the couple and entered the open elevator. Her aloof stance intensified, and she even pressed a key to return to the first floor.
"Captain Khan," Madam Solodrey called when the elevator began to close. "If I hear anything similar to a pregnancy, I will personally remove your t.e.s.t.i.c.l.es."
The elevator's doors closed, reflecting Khan and Monica's stunned faces. Madam Solodrey had finally left, but neither found the strength to move. Too much was happening inside their minds, and they were already exhausted.
"I can't understand your mother," Khan admitted.
"I never could either," Monica sighed, taking Khan's hand. "I still think she only sees me as a political currency."
"Yeah," Khan joined the sigh, finally letting go of all the mental pressure and tension acc.u.mulated during the dinner. "I probably love you more than her."
Khan took less than a second to realize his mistake. He had used a dangerous word, a word he shouldn't have spoken. Still, his mental exhaustion and the sudden relaxation had made his tongue slip.
The faint possibility that Monica missed that word existed since she was in the same situation. However, her grip on Khan's hand tightened, and her timid voice resounded in the room. "What did you say?"
Khan slowly turned to face Monica, and her expression said everything. She was stunned but due to a different type of shock. Fear, hesitation, and disbelief had filled her eyes, but she still mustered the strength to repeat her question. "What did you say?"
Monica's tone told Khan that nothing could get him out of that conversation. The topic was in the open now, and his feelings took over.
Truth be told, Khan had spent many nights and meditative sessions thinking about the matter. Love wasn't an easy topic for him since it involved his time on Nitis. Still, he had long since realized how he felt.
Partially, Khan believed he had become ready to love again. Enough time had pa.s.sed since Liiza, and many meaningful events had happened in those years. Yet, that would make people like Cora and Martha able to replace Monica, which wasn't the case.
Monica wasn't patient but had still shown that quality in unrealistic situations. She had survived Jenna, who could probably scare away any other human. That was no small thing, and her feats didn't stop there.
The ability to go against the Solodrey family's indoctrination was incredible and gained more value after seeing Madam Solodrey. It had probably taken Monica immense courage to start her relationship, and Khan wouldn't disregard that.
Everything else was a matter of time and effort. Small things that transformed into huge deals after days, weeks, and months. That process had already failed Khan, but Monica managed to make it bloom.
"You heard me," Khan firmly stated. "I love you."
Khan had come from a world of pain the first time he uttered those words. Instead, everything was different now. His love was the result of many happy moments acc.u.mulated over time.
Khan's current love was different from what he had experienced on Nitis. Yet, he couldn't rate them. He couldn't decide which one was better. He could only acknowledge what existed in his mind now, and Monica was at its center.
"You said it," Monica muttered.
"Yes, I said it," Khan sighed. "It slipped."
Monica seemed unable to get past her disbelief, but an even stronger emotion took over her body when Khan began to divert his gaze. She pushed him onto the wall and delivered an almost violent kiss that sealed his lips and made him unable to breathe.
That explosion was so messy that the couple fell to the floor, but that wasn't enough to stop Monica. She kept her lips on Khan while he struggled to adjust her position.
"Finally," Monica sniffed before storming Khan with more kisses. "I. Was. So. Scared."
The kisses happened so often that Monica could only fit a single word into each separation. Her mana resembled a storm due to her emotional state, and the fear of negative consequences caused by the infusion forced Khan to end that fury.
? "Monica," Khan called before resorting to physical strength to push Monica away. "Monica!"
Monica gasped for air while Khan kept her on his lap. She appeared far from stable, and worry piled up inside Khan. However, all of that vanished with Monica's following words.
"I thought I was going to ruin everything," Monica revealed as tears ran from her eyes. "I love you so much I was going crazy."
Khan finally figured everything out. Monica's frenzied state wasn't the result of the infusion. It was an explosion of bottled-up feelings in front of someone that shared them. That understanding put Khan in the same situation, and a simple pull made that mad affection resume.