There couldn’t have been a more perfect day for a wedding.
Well, maybe there could have been. Back on Vescent, one of Leta’s long-term patients had relapsed in her absence. There had apparently been a violent riot on Ellegy, the first in nine months. And someone had been shot to death outside of Paradiex’s city hall.
But those were all things that Leta easily pushed from her mind as she watched Cyrus and Addy Atelier walk down an aisle of their friends and family, hand in hand, smiling so bright they shone. And in that moment, things were perfect.
It was Leta’s first Ridellian ceremony and while some things were a little unusual still (the requirement that guests wear dark clothes and hoods chief among them. Something about the new couple standing out to the dov’ha apparently. She had looked at herself in the mirror of her hotel room this morning and thought she was attending a funeral rather than a wedding), there were some elements that she’d preferred as well.
Another requirement dictated that the wedding take place in unison with the sunset, another dov’ha visibility issue she surmised, but one that led the backdrop to be a gorgeous orange and made Addy’s hair light up like fire. A section of the ceremony centered around describing Cyrus and Addy’s reasons to join together had been particularly touching and Leta had cried like a baby when they painted nervous, imperfect circles on each other’s palms in permanent ink.
Her favorite part though, she realized, came at the end, when the newlyweds lead the way to the party and the crowd was encouraged to throw brightly colored powder at them, to stain their white dress clothing in patterns of vibrant multicolors.
“It’s so the dov’ha pay attention to them and bless their marriage,” Corra explained, mid-toss as they tread carefully down the hill towards the lanterns, cluster of tables and the shiny dance floor below. “That seems to be the entire purpose of this event. ‘Hey, look over here!’”
“I wonder what happens though,” Leta posed curiously, “If there’s more than one wedding in one day. Surely there must be.”
“Oh yeah, they’ll get distracted, huh? I guess that’s why you’d want to throw a bigger, more attention-grabby party than everyone else?”
Leta nodded seriously. “What a fantastic marketing scheme for the Ridellian wedding industry.”
“It’s genius,” Corra agreed and then cast Leta a skeptical look. “Dunno about your gods, but my God, doesn’t need reminding to look out for me…” When Leta snickered quietly, she caught the eye of an older woman, clearly Satieran in her garb, perhaps Addy’s great aunt or something of the like, glaring daggers at the two of them. Corra saw her too and smiled awkwardly. “To each their own.”
The sun was well-hidden over the horizon and definitively blocked out by the hill when they reached the bottom, leaving the entire area lit only by the warm glow of lanterns and the strings of lights that, attached only to dark beams, seemed to float in mid-air over the dance floor and dinner tables. Leta looked around, admiring the ethereal atmosphere and wondering how, so close to such a huge city, this place could feel so distant, as she followed Corra to a table.
Briefly, she caught sight of the happy couple, still swarmed by a crowd of people offering their well-wishes. Through it all, even with his aversion to large groups of people, Cyrus was beaming. Kalli, who Leta thought did a wonderful job containing her energy during the serious portion of the event, was now running circles around the dance floor, her arms spread wide like a bird and a flurry of sound effects filling the air around her. Her uncle, Leta realized, was trailing after her.
She swallowed her discomfort and looked away to sit down beside Corra who, as always, knew exactly what she was thinking.
“Talked to him yet?”
“Haven’t had the chance.” She glanced back over her shoulder just as Fiearius caught Kalli in his arms and lifted her off the ground where she squealed in delight. “And I think he’s avoiding me.”
Corra snorted in agreement. “Probably.”
Surely, she meant the solidarity to be comforting, but Leta had to force a smile in response. Swiftly, she changed the subject. “Speaking of which. Finn seems to be avoiding me as well.” She cocked a brow at Corra who gave her a clearly fake look of surprise.
“He walked away as soon as I came up to you two after the ceremony.”
Corra found a glass of water on the table and sipped it. “Hm.”
Leta leaned a little closer and fixed her with the accusatory glare she knew she deserved. “Don’t suppose you had anything to do with that?”
“W-what?” Corra took another gulp of water and smiled shakily. “I don’t--no way, I--” Fabulous secret Conduit agent, Corra may have been, but when it came to Leta, even she knew she had no chance.
“Okay, fine, I told him to get out of the way until I talked to you,” she admitted, dropping her head in her hands in defeat.
“Talk to me about maybe why he had his hand around your waist the whole evening?” Leta surmised.
Corra peeked up at her through her fingers and grimaced. “Yeah? Among other things?”
“Corra.” Leta took her hand and pulled it away from her face. “Are you and Finn-- y’know?” Corra didn’t answer, but by the way her cheeks turned bright pink, she didn’t need to. Leta’s jaw dropped. “How long?”
“Eh--” She saw quick calculations running behind Corra’s eyes. “About-- a year?”
Her jaw dropped even more. “A year?! Why didn’t you tell me?!”
Corra buried her face again. “Because I thought you’d be mad.”
Now, Leta laughed. “Why would I be mad?”
“Because you don’t like him,” Corra pointed out, frowning at her dully.
“What? That’s not--” Okay, it was sort of true. Finn was not exactly her favorite person in the Span. But -- “I don’t dislike him!”
The answer did not appease Corra. She continued to frown.
“No, you don’t understand, I don’t like him for me,” Leta tried to clarify. “But for you! I have no problems with him for you!”
The frown lessened and swayed back towards embarrassment. “I don’t know, I know you think he’s immature and irresponsible, but -- he’s changed a lot since the war,” she tried to defend. “And if you talked to him now, you’d be really surprised I think, he’s gotten a lot better and really got his shit together and --”
“Corra,” Leta cut her off. “It doesn’t matter what I think. What do you think?”
She blushed again and looked out into the darkness beyond the lanterns. “I think he’s cute. And nice. And he makes me laugh. And I like being around him…”
“Then for all intents and purposes, consider my position on Finnegan Riley officially changed,” Leta declared, finding her own glass of water and lifting it in a toast. Corra turned back to her and smiled, lifting her glass and taking a sip.
Leta drank the water and replaced it on the table. Unable to help herself, she glanced back over her shoulder. Nothing seemed to have changed around Cy and Addy as they were still churning through well-wishers one by one. Kalli was now safely restrained in her father’s arms and Fiearius, she couldn’t help but notice, was deep in conversation with a pretty brunette in a dark green gown. She also couldn’t help but notice that the bar was practically abandoned.
Leta nudged Corra with her elbow and tilted her head in its direction. “Think we have time for a drink?”
The cheers were still echoing through the night when Addy hit Fiearius in the chest with her palm. He caught her wrist and smiled down at her frowning, tearful eyes.
“You’re not supposed to make me cry,” she groaned, sniffling and hastily wiping her cheeks with a napkin. A dirty napkin. Cyrus noticed first, carefully replacing the one in his wife’s hand with a clean one. “Thank you--” she muttered to him before turning her fury back on Fiearius. “How dare you. I’m not supposed to be crying at my wedding.”
“I think you are, actually,” Fiearius pointed out, earning him another half-hearted slap on the chest. He shared a grimace with Cyrus and smiled down at her hopefully. “Good crying though? Right? Good crying?”
Finally, her anger broke. She sucked in a breath and sniffed herself back to composure. “It was a beautiful speech,” she admitted, still sounding a little offended about it though. It wasn’t until she smiled warmly and threw her arms around him that he knew he was in the clear. “Thank you.”
“No problem.” He patted her affectionately on the back and then added, knowing exactly what would happen, “Least I can do for my sister.”
He braced for the hit this time and tried not to laugh when she snapped, “Stop that. Stop it, I’m serious.” Addy spun back to Cyrus for help, but apparently just looking at him made fresh tears spring to the corners of her eyes. “Gods, I can’t --” She covered her face with her hands and shook her head. “I need a minute, okay?”
“I thought we were gonna dance now,” Cyrus suggested with far too much of a mischievous smirk on his face to be innocent.
“A minute,” Addy said again, controlling her breathing. “I’m gonna go talk to Finn or -- Daelen or -- someone who doesn’t make me cry and I’ll be back.” Without uncovering her face, she spun around and stalked off onto the dance floor, barging straight through dancing couples who had to jump out of her way in surprise.
Cyrus and Fiearius watched her go for a moment before Cyrus let out a happy sigh and muttered, “My wife’s the best. Gods, that feels weird to finally say.”
Fiearius laughed and slapped his brother cheerfully on the back. “You’ll get used to it.”
“Suppose so.” Cyrus sighed again. “That was a good toast, by the way. Really good. Thanks.”
Fiearius shrugged. “If I can’t give a proper toast to my lil brother finally marrying the woman of his dreams, what good am I?”
They fell into silence as Cyrus nodded slowly and watched the crowd of people milling around, seemingly having a good time. And then he said, “I’m glad you’re here,” which Fiearius thought was an odd thing to say.
“Why wouldn’t I be here?” He regarded his brother curiously. “I know I hit a bit of a rough patch a while back, but--”
“No, no, I don’t mean that,” Cyrus cut him off. “I mean, obviously you’d be here now. Of course, I knew you’d come, I just mean -- from before.”
Fiearius continued to stare at him blankly. “I’m not following.”
Cyrus groaned and ran his hand down his face. “I mean. Before -- everything. Before, all of this happened. Before the war, before the Dionysian. Back then. Back then, I would never have thought my brother would be at my wedding. Though...back then I didn’t think I would ever have a wedding, but that’s a different --” He shook the thought from his head. “Anyway. I’m just -- I’m glad. I’m glad that you’re here. And not just here.” He pointed to the ground. “Here.” He waved vaguely in the vicinity of everything. “It’s just good to have a brother again,” he decided at last. “That’s what I’m trying to say I think. It’s good to have you back.”
Fiearius eyed his brother for a moment. It was a sentiment even he had a hard time making light of, as much as his instincts wanted him to. Feelings were challenging enough. Feelings from Cyrus felt flat out impossible. But finally, he reached out and dropped his hand on Cyrus’ shoulder. “It’s good to have you back too, lil brother.”
Cyrus smiled and the two of them shared what an outsider might have referred to as a ‘bonding moment’, which was not a strong subject for Soliverés. Fortunately, Cyrus had recently become an Atelier and was already learning the ropes.
“Anyway, I should go find my wife, gods, my wife, can you believe that?” He shook his head and then fixed Fiearius with an expectant stare he had definitely picked up directly from Addy. “And I think you have your own thing to take care of still, don’t you?”
Fiearius clamped his mouth shut and smiled humorlessly. “Eh--yes. I...suppose I do.” Cyrus raised his brows and crossed his arms over his chest, apparently waiting for him to do just that. “Okay, okay. I’m going.”
Satisfied, Cyrus turned away to scour the area for the only woman not dressed in black, but Fiearius spotted the silver pot still sitting on the table beside them and couldn’t resist.
Cyrus glanced back at him just as Fiearius tossed the bright blue powder from the pot directly in his face. “Dov’ha seré’a!” Fiearius cheered as his sibling attempted to glare at him through color coated glasses.
“What?” Fiearius laughed as he walked backwards away from him. “You said you were glad to have your brother back!”
“I retract my statement,” Cyrus growled as he tried to clean his glasses and Fiearius turned away to walk across the dance floor.
Being back on Satieri hadn’t been exactly what Fiearius had always hoped for, that much was certain. The last year and a half had hardly been the triumphant return of his dreams. But as he walked through the crowds of friends and family dancing underneath the clear Satieran skies, surrounded by warm lights and brightly colored Ridellian banners, for just that moment, it felt okay. For tonight at least, home was what he remembered it as. For the first time since the Nautilus cracked open a hole in the sky, Satieri felt like Satieri again.
And gods, it was good to be home.
As good as his spirits were, a little extra spirit wouldn’t hurt for what came next. Dodging a group of preteens (his cousins? he wondered. Second cousins? It was almost impressive how many relatives Fiearius had forgotten about and Cyrus had not.), he made his way towards the bar. But just as he reached it, the music changed, everyone in the vicinity turned towards the dance floor and Fiearius watched the bartender saunter away on a break.
Sure, he probably could have reached over the bar and poured his own drink, but out of respect, he turned back around and watched as Addy pulled her nervous husband out onto the floor in front of everyone. The powder Fiearius had splashed him with may have been blue, but looking at him now, Cyrus was definitely green.
As eye-catching as Cyrus on the verge of vomiting was, someone else grabbed Fiearius’ attention just as the dance started. Only a few people in front of him, there she was, the woman he’d been looking for.
Well, shit. Apparently he was doing this sober.
Gently easing past a few grumbling relatives, Fiearius sidled up behind Leta. She was seemingly enthralled by the dance so for a moment, he said nothing, simply hovering just behind her left shoulder and enjoying the spectacle himself. Of course, Cyrus was only barely stumbling through the steps, but Addy had enough grace and a beaming smile to make up for it. Fiearius had seen this dance before at weddings in his youth, but he had to admit, this was the best performance of it he’d seen. Messy and inexperienced as it was. If anything, that made it better.
Finally, to Cyrus’ clear relief, the dance ended. Everybody clapped, Leta turned a quarter circle, met Fiearius’ eyes and nearly dropped her drink in surprise. Despite his own nerves, he wanted to laugh and as she recovered, he flashed her his best casual grin. “Hey there.”
“What the--why are you--don’t do that,” she scolded, holding her hand over her chest. “How long were you standing there?”
“Long enough,” Fiearius replied flippantly as he regarded the woman more fully now that he had her attention. Gods, it had been far too long since he’d seen that face. Nearly every day since then, he’d been haunted by the memory of that last night they’d spent together exploring Paradiex’s ruins, the last embrace they’d shared at the base of her father’s ship and the last words she’d spoken to him.
And just as badly, he remembered the final message he’d received six months ago when everything they had had at last fallen apart...
But of course, she’d flown to Satieri for the wedding. He’d known she would be here for ages now and yet he still didn’t feel prepared for this confrontation. Here she was, looking gorgeous as ever in a long slinky dark blue dress that tapered out at the bottom around her feet. Her silky brown hair was tucked into a traditional headscarf and the Satieran sun had already made its mark on her face which looked more freckly than ever. And he knew, he fucking knew he owed her ten thousand apologies.
But all he managed was, “Enjoying the wedding?”
She regarded him with something that might have been suspicion, but in true Vescentian fashion, she showed nothing but civility. “Well the ceremony was lovely. That thing they did with the candles in the beginning?”
“That’s it. That was beautiful. And the reception--” She gestured to the gathering around her. “Very nice. Open bar’s always appreciated.” She glanced over at Cyrus and Addy who were now huddled together over a plate of appetizers. “Happy couple. Perfect.” And then she looked up at Fiearius with a genuine smile that made his heart skip a beat. “And your toast. How long did it take you to come up with that?”
“Oh that?” He forced a laugh. “Please, that was all improvised.”
Leta rolled her eyes. “Sure it was.” She took a careful sip from her champagne flute and then, as easily as she might have mentioned the weather, accused, “I thought you were avoiding me.”
Fiearius hid the wince. “I was,” he admitted which earned him a look of surprise. But before she could comment on it, he changed the subject. “So why no handsome doctor on your arm, hm? Couldn’t convince anyone to fly all the way to Satieri?”
“One, I don’t date other doctors, you know that,” she told him, a little haughtily. “Two, only Cyrus and Addy could convince me to come back here, it was so hot today. Three. There was no one worth convincing.” She shrugged indifferently. “Besides, who says I need a man at my side to have a good time?”
“Not a soul,” Fiearius agreed obediently.
“Well where’s your date then?” she asked, crossing her arms over her chest.
“Ah right, let’s see, where’d she go?” he mused, turning from her to peer through the crowd, but only after taking note of the small flash of surprise and (he hoped) alarm at his response.
It didn’t take long to find the girl in question. “There she is.” He pointed across the way and Leta, with what looked like genuine interest, followed the line of sight. “See her? Blonde hair, purple bow, about 3 and a half feet tall?” It took Leta a moment, but finally she put her hand over her eyes in exasperation and laughed. Kalli was currently dancing wildly around Alyx’s feet. “She’s a heartbreaker though, totally unfaithful, I don’t know how long I can take it.”
“Babysitting duty, huh?”
Fiearius shrugged. “My life’s purpose it seems.”
Leta bit her lip thoughtfully and looked around her. After a moment, her expression turned toward a frown. “Who’s that woman?” She nodded towards a group of people near the buffet table. “Brown hair, dark green dress? Pretty young thing.” As Fiearius narrowed his eyes at the cluster, Leta muttered under her breath, “I think you were talking to her earlier.”
Ah, so that’s why. Fiearius tried not to internally gloat to himself and instead found the woman in question. “Oh, her. That. Is Teah.” He couldn’t stop himself from pausing for dramatic effect, taking in every moment of Leta’s anticipation. “She’s my cousin,” he explained at last. “Last time I saw her, I poured gravy in her hair. Twenty years ago. So…y’know. We had to figure that out a bit.”
Leta snorted a laugh. “This must be a fun day for you.”
He grimaced. “It’s interesting, that’s for sure.” As if to punctuate the point, at that very moment, he noticed one of his uncles staring at him as he explained something to Addy’s grandmother. He couldn’t hear what the man was saying, but he saw his father’s name mentioned twice. Turning back to Leta, he gestured towards the darkness beyond the party. “You wanna -- go talk somewhere else?”
Leta blatantly hesitated. Of course, she wouldn’t want to go walking off into the dark with him. What a stupid question. Why would she--
“Sure,” she said at last and even started to lead the way. Fiearius, reeling in relief, stepped into place behind her and they were quiet as they shuffled through the crowd and out onto the path that lead to the shuttle station.
They hadn’t gone far, the noise and light from the party still following after them, when Leta asked, “So. How’ve you been?” She asked it like she already knew the answer.
“Alright,” Fiearius replied instinctively and then only a moment later caught himself. “I don’t know why I’m lying to you. I’m -- I’m better. Actually.”
She glanced back at him, in the ever dimming light, her face becoming unreadable. “Yeah?”
“Yeah.” He put his hands in his pockets and took an extra step to catch up, falling into stride beside her. “Cyrus finally convinced me to talk to this therapist person and -- I don’t know, it’s been helping. I think. At the very least, she helped me figure out something I could stand doing. So I have a job now.”
“Oh, yeah? What are you doing?”
It felt embarrassing to even say it. “Well, I’m the night cook for a little diner by the PIT station…”
Leta, however, seemed thrilled. She smiled up at him and, possibly in support or possibly because the further they walked from the party, the more the desert cold set in, she took his arm in hers. “That’s great!”
“Yeah,” he answered at first, looking down at where their elbows were looped together. And again, he caught himself in a lie. “Actually no.” He let out a barking laugh. “It’s pretty shit. It’s a lot of work and I get paid pretty much nothing and I always smell like old oil now.”
Leta chuckled under her breath. “I wasn’t gonna say anything…”
“Thanks…” he grumbled. “Anyway. It is what it is. And I am better. I’m just a little…” Lost was the word that came to his mind, though he didn’t want to say it. Freeing Satieri, defeating the Society, returning home, that had been his goal for so long. And he’d done it. And now that it was done, he was left feeling like there wasn’t a heck of a lot left to do. Everything wasn’t what he imagined. Nothing felt meaningful or purposeful anymore. And everything he’d wanted was--gone.
“I’m just figuring things out still, that’s all,” he finished at last with his best impression of a careless shrug. “It’s fine.”
But Leta, of course, didn’t look convinced. She eyed him for a moment, the distant light from the hanging lanterns reflecting skepticism on her face. And then her expression changed. She looked away and crossed her free arm over her chest. “I know what you mean. It’s weird, isn’t it? ‘Winning’ I guess.”
Now it was his turn to eye her. Of everyone who’d come out of this, he had thought Leta had been taking it the best. She certainly made it seem that way. But she went on, “Every day, Vescent is starting to feel closer to what I remember, but -- I don’t know, it still doesn’t feel any closer to home.” She glanced up at him, a hint uncertain. “This is what I wanted, but...it’s still weird.”
Fiearius couldn’t help but agree. “You’re still working at the clinic right?”
“Yeah,” she answered at once, running a hand through her hair. “Yeah I’m working at the clinic and that’s good. It’s good to be back, but it’s not--”
“Satisfying,” Fiearius finished for her and she nodded.
“Exactly. I used to love the thrill and dangr of the ER, but it just doesn’t have that appeal anymore.” She laughed grimly. “I guess a broken arm pales in comparison to raiding Society bases.” They fell silent for a moment as they came to a stop on the path, both simply watching the lights dance around their shadows. Finally, it was Leta who cracked first and groaned dramatically, “Why is this so hard?”
At that, Fiearius let out a genuine laugh. “What, adapting to normal life? Probably ‘cause we’re not normal.”
“No, you’re not normal,” Leta barked back. “I’m supposed to be the image of normality. Classy doctor, remember?”
“Oh I’d never forget,” Fiearius chuckled. “Maybe we just need to find some new massive power structure to derail.”
Leta pointed at him excitedly. “Ooh that could work. Let’s conquer something else.”
“Where do ya have in mind? Carthis? Paraven?”
“How about Tarin? I always loved Tarin.”
Fiearius looked up at the sky thoughtfully. “Tarin’s just a rotating democracy. Wouldn’t be that hard. Could probably take it with a few well-timed assassinations and some underground support I’d think.”
“Perfect, let’s do it,” Leta declared, turning towards him, seizing his forearms and lifting them up in her passion. “Let’s conquer Tarin and claim it as our own.”
“I can see it now,” Fiearius mused dramatically, dropping his arms over her shoulders as she put her hands on his waist. “Fiearius Soliveré, Supreme King of Tarin. And at his side, Ultimate Queen Leta Adler, the most fearsome and benevolent and classy Queen to ever rule.”
She laughed in agreement and despite the bravado, Fiearius looked down at her curiously. Somehow they were standing in a strange sort of loose hug. How that had exactly happened, he wasn’t sure. But now, he was a mere foot from her and privy to examining all those new little spots that had formed on her face. She looked different. Older, more mature, more weathered by everything she’d gone through. But at the same time, nothing about her had changed. Not since that very first night he’d held her a little too tight and admired her a little too closely. Her face that had never strayed too far from his thoughts was still just as he remembered it.
It seemed her line of thinking had gone a similar way and finally it was time to address to elephant in the room. Her expression had softened by the time she muttered, “Why didn’t you talk to me?”
Fiearius’ voice caught in his throat and she went on. “Why didn’t you answer? Anything? I--how many messages did I send you? How many times did I call? And--and nothing...” Leta looked away from him.
Slowly, he shook his head. “Gods, Leta, I’m so sorry, I --”
“I just want to know what happened.”
“Nothing, I just -- I couldn’t…”
Her arms dropped away from him and her face was wrought with hurt. “Why?”
He opened his mouth and nothing came out. “Why?” she pressed again and suddenly the dam broke.
“Because I couldn’t. I can’t explain it. I just couldn’t. I was embarrassed and ashamed and -- I wasn’t me anymore,” he said, the words flowing from him like a waterfall. “It felt like someone had taken over my body and I could remember what it was like to be me, but I couldn’t remember how to, and then I got all these messages from you and I knew. You wanted to talk to me, but I wasn’t there so you’d call and call and I just couldn’t answer because this -- this -- wasn’t who you wanted to talk to.”
“No,” he cut her off, taking a step back. “I fucked up, I know, okay? I joked about it, yeah, and then I actually did it because--” He let out a grim laugh. “I always do. I’m really good at fucking things up. And I’m sorry. Gods, I am so sorry. I don’t know what happened to me, I don’t really understand why I did what I did, I know, I should have just talked to you. Hell, you were probably going through the same fucking thing, but I just couldn’t. I couldn’t do it. And I’m sorry and I don’t expect you to forgive me, but --”
“I do,” Leta interrupted suddenly and he frowned at her. “I do forgive you.”
For a moment, the words stopped again. “Well -- you shouldn’t.”
“But I do,” she said quietly, stepping towards him. “I understand.”
“What? No.” He stepped back again. “No you don’t.”
“I do,” she insisted again, once more closing the gap. “I mean, I won’t lie to you, I was heartbroken. It really fucking hurt when you shut me out like that. But -- I get it. You needed to deal with something really hard and you needed to do it your way which -- is a way I don’t necessarily agree with. It’s kind of a stupid way.” She frowned accusingly. “But recovery takes what it takes and -- I’m glad you found your way out of it. I just wish I could have helped.”
Fiearius stared at her, lost for words. Of course, he could think of few better outcomes than this one, but it still left him feeling troubled. Why did he deserve such an easy clean slate? It didn’t make sense until --
“And what happened to us wasn’t entirely your fault,” Leta admitted, looking down at her feet. “I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t do anything about it. I just called you and sent messages, two forms of communication I know full well you’re not comfortable with.” She glanced up at him furtively. “I should have come back. I could have come at anytime, but I didn’t. I just buried myself in work and pretended I was doing all I could. But if I cared as much as I should have, I would have come back.”
Fiearius stared at her and then asked hesitantly, “Is this your way of telling me you’re over me?”
After a moment of incredibly tense silence, he smiled and she laughed and shook her head. “No, gods, no. Not at all. The opposite, even.” Her eyes fell back to the ground and she knotted her fingers together. “I was afraid. Of -- I don’t know, that it wouldn’t work. Even if we called each other every day and talked all the time, that it still wouldn’t work. Me on Vescent, you on Satieri, even if we did everything right, it couldn’t have gone on that way forever.”
Fiearius released a long breath. “The thought had definitely crossed my mind…”
“I didn’t want to think about it,” she admitted, “I didn’t want to accept it. And with the clinic taking off and Vescent seeming to get better, I didn’t want to change it either. So...I don’t know. It was just...easy. To let it fall apart. To say there was nothing I could do, it was just Fiearius being Fiearius. And that was that.” Her shoulders lifted in a tiny shrug and finally, she looked back up at him. “So it wasn’t all you. We both built walls in our own ways...And I’m sorry too.”
“You don’t have to be…” Fiearius mumbled.
“Then you don’t have to be either.” She closed the gap between them and put her arms back around his waist. “We screwed up. Both of us. Let’s call it even.”
“It’s not,” Fiearius began to argue but Leta put a finger to his lips.
“It’s even,” she said again, more sternly. “And anyway, it’s in the past.”
Fiearius sighed and shook his head. “We never could get the timing right, could we?”
“We certainly couldn’t.”
“Something I’ll always regret,” he mumbled, suddenly finding her lips incredibly distracting.
Those lips curved towards a sad smile. “Me too.”
Her hands slid up the plane of his back, his moved down to rest on her hips and ever so slowly, the space between them closed until Fiearius felt the warm familiar wonder of her kiss. It was a slow kiss, a soft kiss, a kiss culminating in all the years of their strange tumultuous relationship. But here on this dark path, kissing Leta, it was the first time since the war ended that Fiearius felt...right. Right like he hadn’t been in so long.
But all good things had to come to an end didn’t they?
“O’rian! O’rian!” came a sudden shrill voice, barreling towards them down the path. Fiearius let out a good-natured groan as he separated himself from the beautiful woman in front of him and turned his attention to the tiny little woman running straight at his legs.
Kalli, as she was wont to do, stretched out her arms and, on cue, Fiearius swooped her up into his where she giggled incessantly. “O’rian, why were you kissing A’iya Leta?” she demanded cheerfully and it took a moment’s effort to not be embarrassed by the accusation of a six year old.
“I’ve no idea what you’re talking about,” Fiearius assured her as Leta blushed red and stifled a laugh.
“I’m telling ti’hma” Kalli said and Fiearius passed Leta a fake worried grimace.
“What’s your ti’hma up to right now, huh?” he asked the little girl.
“Oh, she told me to tell you it’s my bedtime and you have to take me home now,” Kalli relayed importantly.
“Is that so?” cooed Leta curiously. “And you want to go to bed?” Kalli shook her head vigorously.
Fiearius chuckled. “She just knows that if she’s good today and does everything ti’hma says, she’ll buy her the big purple dragon from the toy store, isn’t that right?” Now, Kalli nodded. Well who was he to deny his niece a big purple dragon? He looked to Leta, “I guess I better be taking her home then.”
“I wouldn’t want you to piss off a bride on her wedding day,” Leta chuckled.
And now he was supposed to say goodbye. It was good seeing you. Maybe I’ll see you again someday. But the notion just seemed so--well he didn’t want to say goodbye, frankly. So instead, he said, “Hey, I’m just babysitting this little monster at my brother’s place all week while they’re on their honeymoon. If you’re still around, I mean...you could stop by sometime. Have dinner with us or...watch a movie or something? If you don’t have to head back to Vescent right away.”
Leta’s face at once was struck by a certain disappointed sadness. “I’m afraid I’ve got to catch the first ship back tomorrow morning. One of my patients relapsed and--.”
That disappointed sadness was contagious. “Ah yeah, I figured,” he muttered. She was right after all. It would never work. One here, one there. What was the point of dragging it out? All that would accomplish is more pain for the both of them. Best just to let it fade…
“Well.” He shifted Kalli in his arms as she looked between the two of them curiously. “Have a good trip then.”
He started to turn away from her before he stopped and took one last look. “It was really good seeing you.”
She smiled back at him, the lanterns above the party catching the lights of her eyes. “Yeah, you too,” she said. “And Fiear?”
“We’ll see each other again soon,” she promised. Wasn’t that the same thing she’d said a year and a half ago? Fiearius smiled back and nodded like he was supposed to, but as he turned and walked away, he had the feeling it would be the last time for a long while.
Cyrus swung open the door to his apartment and stepped into the hallway. Where did she say it was again? Damn, he should have been paying better attention.
He marched down the hall and past the living room where he saw the shape of his sleeping brother on the couch. Cyrus paused for a moment to consider him, one leg propped up against the wall, the other flayed off the edge and his spine making a bit of an ‘L’ shape. The pose seemed far too mangled to be comfortable enough to sleep in and yet there he was, still in the same clothes he wore to the wedding the night before, eyes shut, snoring lightly.
Maybe they should get a bigger couch…
But that was a problem for a later date. For now -- “Hey, wake up,” Cyrus barked, smacking the wall above Fiearius with his palm. The jolt was enough to send Fiearius flailing to not fall off the edge of the cushions and tumble to the floor. He managed, but only barely. Cyrus stifled a laugh.
“W-what?” asked the weary man, blinking himself furiously into consciousness and desperately grasping at an understanding of his surroundings.
“Get up,” Cyrus ordered, smacking the wall again and turning on his heel to head towards the bedrooms. Surely, if it was anywhere, it would be there. Behind him, Fiearius stumbled to his feet and stood in the center of the living room, looking completely lost. But finally, he woke up enough to follow.
“What are you doing here?” he pressed as Cyrus ripped the sheets off of their bed then crouched down to look under it. “Aren’t you supposed to be on your honeymoon?”
“Yeah, on our way there,” Cyrus answered, finding nothing. Seriously, where the hell did it go? He checked the drawers next. “Just need to grab something first.”
Fiearius hovered in the doorway, running his hand through his messy hair. “What is it?”
“Diagnostics tablet.” Not in the drawers either. He spun around and made a rectangle with his fingers. “Just a regular looking tablet, about this big, should be around here somewhere.”
“Okay…” Fiearius glanced around the room as if his apathy might actually help locate it. Then he frowned and asked, “Why the hell do you need a diagnostics tablet on your honeymoon?”
Cyrus slid the closet door shut. “When do you not need a diagnostics tablet?”
Fiearius opened his mouth to argue, but as Cyrus brushed past him and headed towards Kalli’s room, he decided against it. It seemed unlikely that their six year old had need of the tablet last, but then again, it seemed incredibly likely that Kalli had taken the tablet anyway. He stood in the doorway and did a visual sweep of the room. The unoccupied room, as Fiearius noticed when he arrived moments later.
“Wait, where the hell is Kalli?!” he demanded with the kind of panic only possible from a man who had just lost his niece.
But Cyrus waved him off. “She’s with Addy. She came by earlier when you were still asleep.”
Fiearius gaped at him as Cyrus got on his hands and knees and put his head to the ground, squinting into the darkness beneath the bed. “I thought I was babysitting her while you’re gone.”
“Yeah, you were,” Cyrus answered, seeing a suspicious black shape near the wall under the bed. He grimaced as he reached for it. “What kind of babysitter lets someone just walk in and abduct their charge while they’re sleeping?”
“The door was locked,” Fiearius pointed out, sounding more than a little confused and still a tad too asleep to process what was happening. But when Cyrus sat up, unsuccessful, he too got on the ground and reached under the bed, his longer arm making contact and pulling the shape out from underneath it.
“Ah, there it is!” Cyrus took the tablet from his hand and rose to his feet. “Alright, that’s all we need, let’s go.” He stalked from the room and headed for the front door. Fiearius, albeit slowly, followed. Until he stopped. Cyrus had already opened the door and stepped out onto the landing when he looked back and saw his brother lingering in the living room, looking down at the couch as though contemplating whether it’d be worth trying to sleep on it again.
“Hey,” Cyrus called.
CONTINUES! SEE DESCRIPTION