Outside the broad glass window of Gates' office, snow was falling swiftly on the dark grounds of the military base. Inside, a fire was roaring in the fireplace, warming Fiearius' legs as he slumped back in the leather chair.
Pulling his eyes away from the window, he watched in bemusement as Gates paced the rug, his face dark and troubled. The man had been on edge since the moment he'd had walked into his office, but as usual, Fiearius seemed to be exacerbating the issue. And as usual, he didn't much care.
"I'm sorry if it bothers you," Fiearius lied matter-of-factly, "But I just think it'll be better on everyone if I take care of this myself."
"Well, I agree," Gates grunted, frowning as he surveyed his bookcase. "The Council operation is yours to handle. However." Adjusting his reading glasses, he glanced at Fiearius seriously. "That does not mean that the intel you garner from Mr. Calimore's research cannot be shared."
"Yeah," Fiearius muttered. "No."
Gates let out a grumbling laugh, turning back to Fiearius with his arms crossed, but Fiearius cut him off.
"Look, you know as well as I do, if the stuff I've learned from that journal gets out, this whole thing is fucked. Why risk it? Why write it down and send it to-who? Some fucking Carthian politicians? Who'll just look at it and go-" He put on his best exaggeration of poshness. "'-Ho ho, there it is, how nice, back to our champagne.'" He dropped the act and leaned forward on his knees. "The fuck's the point? I've got good leads, I'm gonna head out tomorrow and I'll take care of it. They can know about it after. Why the hell do they need to hear about it now?"
"Because they need to hear something to prove that you're worth investing in, that's why," Gates growled, exasperated.
Fiearius narrowed his eyes. "That I'm worth-Okay, so the last five years are nothing then?"
"They're not nothing," Gates agreed. "But if you disappear for a few months for the sake of an unspecified operation, the last five years are going to seem very unimportant very quickly." When Fiearius only continued to glare at him, he went on, "Let's be honest here, Soliveré, I know your dedication to this cause. I've seen it firsthand. The people back on Carthis? The people funding this war? All they see is an unpredictable pirate that commands a fleet of criminals and curses at reporters."
"Well," Fiearius said, sucking in a deep breath as though heavily considering this. "Fuck 'em."
Gates laughed. "Not that simple and you know it. I need that intel, Fiearius."
Fiearius fixed him with a stare. Gates seemed genuine about it and part of him did feel bad for the man. Fiearius certainly wouldn't enjoy being under as much pressure as he consistently was. But while Gates had to worry about Carthis and public opinion and investors, Fiearius had to focus on victory and whatever it took to get there. And in this particular case, the answer was clear.
"Sorry." He shrugged. "No."
"You know," Gates sighed, settling back down into his chair, "Every day I regret contacting you for help."
Fiearius grinned. "And every day I regret answering."
"If it's not you, it's Arsen pummeling me with reasons we should break away from you. Or captains demanding reassignment. We've only just established a foothold in Ascendia and already we've got whispers of local rebellion. Ellegy's still impenetrable. And all the while, I've got the president breathing down my neck for updates, for progress, for anything she can relay to the senate." Gates drummed his fingers on his desk. "And that's not even to mention the riots here on Vescent."
Fiearius was nodding along with him the whole time, but the last one gave him pause. "Well. At least one of those is avoidable…" he muttered.
Gates' eyes flicked up at him, a flash of irritation. "Let's not."
He frowned. "Let's not what? Can't I point out that you lot should have gotten the fuck outta here a while ago?"
"We're in the middle of strategizing, Fiearius, gods forbid we don't share every piece of it with you."
Fiearius let out a bitter laugh. "You can lie to Leta, mate, but you can't lie to me."
"Ah." Gates sat back, suddenly smiling. "That's what this is about? You're speaking on behalf of Dr. Adler."
The accusation didn't deserve a response, but Fiearius could not help but grunt, "I'm speaking on behalf of myself, thanks."
"On a topic you wouldn't have interest in were it not for her," Gates assumed and Fiearius scoffed.
"Actually that's not true, but hey. Appreciate the bid of faith."
"Dr. Adler has no bearing on your view then?" he mused conversationally. "Her opinion doesn't affect yours whatsoever?" It was a trap. An obvious one. And one Fiearius had unfortunately fallen into before. This time, he clenched his jaw shut and said nothing, but Gates still snorted a laugh.
"Fiearius, please. I was married. Twice, possibly three times ... I try not to notice these things but unfortunately, I do anyway." He drew his brows together. "We've discussed this before. You and Dr. Adler, however you choose to define it, is-"
"I know," Fiearius said sharply. "And as I said before, it's not a fucking issue, okay?" As if he needed policing by this man, of all people. He let out a grunt of irritation, but fortunately Gates pulled them back to familiar territory.
He straightened up against the desk. "Regardless, it's not a lie, Fiearius. It's just a complicated matter. Pulling out now would leave a power vacuum that-"
"Could easily be filled," Fiearius cut in. "That woman, the one leading the rebellion? Wasn't she a senior senator before the Society takeover? She's perfectly qualified to-"
"She's a barbarian, Fiearius," Gates interrupted. "She thinks bombing in the streets and murdering innocents is the path to change."
"You haven't really given her much of a choice not to," Fiearius retorted.
"So what would you have us do?" Gates snapped. "Just hand all power over to her and her violent band and just, what, hope, that they can pull together a government?" He laughed sharply as though this was ludicrous.
"Yes, actually," Fiearius growled, coming to his feet. "Carthis has been here long enough. The people want their planet back? Give. It. Back."
"And you're full of shit." Fiearius cocked a brow and crossed his arms over his chest. "I'm not a moron, Kaiser, I know full well that 'we're concerned about the government failing' isn't the reason this base still stands defended."
His eyes narrowed upon him. "It is. Do you really think Correllia's fledgling regime would last? The minute we leave, the Society will be back here, Vescent will fall once more and everything we've worked for will be lost."
"Then work with her," Fiearius argued. "Give her what she wants, give her a government for her planet, for her people and offer protection, keep the base, help each other out. If you just fucking act like you're on the same side for a minute, maybe you can work together for the gods' sakes. Everyone wins."
"It's not that simple, Fiearius," Gates said, a saying that was quickly becoming his catchphrase.
"It could be," Fiearius snapped. "You haven't even tried. Maybe she'll want you gone entirely, maybe she won't be interested, but you could fucking meet with these people instead of just bombing the shit out of them."
"They've bombed the shit out of us."
"Well you're both fuckers, but be the bigger party here and talk to them."
"We do not negotiate with terrorists."
"Oh right. Because anyone who disagrees with Carthis is a terrorist."
"If you're referring to your old friend, then that is an entirely different conversation and-"
"I'm referring to Vescent-"
"Which is a political climate that you do not understand-"
"And I know that the real reason that you won't leave-"
"-and is frankly-"
"-is Carthis wants Vescent for its empire," Fiearius finished firmly, fixing Gates with a glare.
"None. Of your. Business," Gates concluded, returning the glare.
Fiearius found himself nodding slowly. "Right. Of course not," he agreed quietly. "I just do all the work. Not my business what happens afterwards."
Gates frowned and put his hand to his temple again. "Admiral-" he began, but Fiearius cut him off, shaking his head.
"No no," he said, grabbing the bag he'd come in with and heading for the door. "I understand entirely. Politics? The fuck do I know about that?" He nodded. "Well if you'll excuse me, I'll be off to do what I'm good for." He made the shape of a gun with his index finger and thumb and fired it into the air before rolling his eyes and stalking out the door.
With a sigh, Cyrus shut the bedroom door behind him, quietly and carefully as he could. "Well, she's asleep," he said to Addy, crossing towards where she sat on the couch in their temporary apartment on Vescent's base. "Three rounds of tears. And only two of 'em were hers."
Addy laughed, pushing a book away from her lap. "Guess that means you won't let me go check on her, right? Even though I miss her already?"
"Don't even think about it. You wake her up? I'm not helping you put her back down."
Addy raised her palms in surrender and shifted over to make room for him beside her.
With an exhausted sigh, he dropped into the couch. "Who knew vacations were so draining," he mumbled as she picked up her book again and cracked it back open to her page.
"Anyone who's gone on one with a four year old."
He pulled a smirk across his face and folded his palms behind his neck. They lapsed into silence. It was an exhausted familiar silence he'd grown accustomed to. The one that he'd realized came pretty much every night after Kalli was in bed and it was just the two of them. Usually that silence ended up being filled with talk of work. Plans for New Genisi. An article one had read about the latest tech conference. But lately, on Vescent, it had just been...silence.
Of course, they were tired. Their daughter was a whirlwind that left them dead on their feet day after day. Surely, Cyrus knew, that was what lead to these long quiet nothings once the sun went down. It had never bothered him before. There was no reason for it to bother him now.
Still, he suddenly found himself a little edgy, desperate to fill it.
"Maybe you and I should go some place," he suggested, reaching out to gently stroke her arm with the back of his hand. "Just the two of us. Get away for a bit."
Addy closed her book a few inches and looked over at him, intrigued. "Where would you want to go?"
Cyrus shrugged. "Not sure. Somewhere warmer… I wonder if I'm still wanted on Paraven…"
"Tarin's nice this time of year," she put in, closing the book entirely now.
"Yeah, but we always go there," Cyrus sighed. He pushed himself up and spun towards her, crossing his legs on the couch in between them. "C'mon, I want to go on an adventure."
A smile flashed across Addy's face and she too swung her legs up, mimicking his pose. "Someone missing their days as a fearless space pirate?"
Cyrus laughed. "Never. But…maybe a little." He took her hands in his and squeezed. "Let's go steal something valuable and sell it."
Now, Addy laughed out loud. "What?"
"You heard me," he declared. "We'll seek out our fame and fortune, make the Span our own. People will shudder when they hear our names."
She was still laughing when she pressed her hand to his forehead. "You feelin' okay, sweetie?"
"Better than ever." He grinned.
"And what will become of our offspring while we're off pillaging, may I ask?"
"Oh we have plenty of willing babysitters," he told her, waving off the concern. "Petro, Leta, Fiear-"
Addy barked a shocked laugh. "You want to leave our daughter on the flagship of the Soliveré fleet?!"
"Better off there than with us," Cyrus mused with a wry grin, snaking an arm around her waist and pulling her closer. When she just regarded him with a confused tilt of her head, he clarified, "Because we're dangerous."
"Right, of course," she chuckled, then kissed him on the forehead. "Sorry, dear, but you have got to be the least dangerous person I know."
Cyrus frowned at her dully. "That's not true."
"When Kalli learned to walk, you dressed her in so much protective padding in case she fell that she could barely even waddle."
He shrugged. "I didn't want her to get hurt."
"You still won't let us keep a gun in the house, despite practically everyone offering, insisting even, that they give us one."
"We shouldn't need one!" he defended.
Addy scoffed good-humoredly, but her next comment, to Cyrus' surprise, reeked of bitterness. "Not to mention how eager you were to put us both in retirement as soon as the war started."
Cyrus felt a bit like she'd slapped him in the chest. He blinked at her as his hands slipped away from her waist. "We're not 'in retirement'..." he muttered under his breath.
It didn't take long for Addy to realize what she'd said and try to backpedal. "No, I know, I don't mean 'retirement' exactly," she said hurriedly, looking away from him. "I just-" She sighed. "It's nothing."
"It's not nothing," Cyrus said, sounding unintentionally cold. This wasn't the first time this had come up. Or at least this wasn't the first time they'd skirted the edges of it. There was something bothering Addy and though she always seemed reluctant to come out and say it, he could sense it nonetheless. Something that was slowly gnawing at her and affecting the way she looked at him when they woke up in the morning and the way she lay in his arms at night. Cyrus had gotten used to trying to ignore it, just as she had. It had long been a mutual understanding that it was best to avoid conflict if they could. For Kalli's sake, of course.
But Kalli wasn't here. And Cyrus was feeling particularly bold this evening.
"Just tell me."
As stunned as he'd felt a minute ago, Addy seemed even more so. She stared back at him, her lips pursed in thought, her eyes flicking over his face as though trying to read something in it. How much he could handle, Cyrus guessed, feeling a touch offended by it.
"It's nothing, really," she insisted, though she didn't meet his eyes when she said it and within an instant she was on her feet and pacing away from the couch.
"Addy…" he scolded and she glanced back at him.
She let out a sigh and lifted her shoulders in a shrug. "It's just-I don't know. We used to be fixing ships, Cy. Sailing across the Span, having those adventures you talked about. And those ships are still out there, changing lives and doing important things and…"
She spread her hands helplessly. "We've just spend the last 5 years on Archeti. Drawing blueprints and arguing with committees…"
Cyrus stared at her and got to his feet too. "We're not just-we have a family, Adds. We have to give Kalli a home, a childhood, safety-"
"Of course, but a home and a childhood and safety aren't mutually exclusive with running away from everything else," she argued, speaking less guardedly now. Before he could even begin to retort, she went on, "Gods, Cyrus, we could be doing so much good for this effort."
"We are doing good." He couldn't help the bite in his tone, but he tried to rein it in. "How is rebuilding Archeti not a good thing?"
Addy let out another heavy sigh and dropped her hands to her sides dramatically. "It is good. Of course it's good."
"Then excuse me, I don't really see what the problem is," he barked, far more sharp than he'd intended. Her eyes flickered up to him, hesitant, reserved and he could see her beginning to shove her anger and frustration back behind the wall she usually kept it behind. Part of him hated when she did that. He loved Adrasteia full of fire and passion unmatched. But part of him, the part he was ashamed of, didn't mind when she set it aside to prevent an inevitable conflict between them.
It was just easier that way…
"I don't really-" she began, sounding tired now as she looked straight past his shoulder at the wall. But Cyrus never found out what she wanted to say, because suddenly -
An alarm blared overhead, like a foghorn, filling the room with one long, warning wail. The lights in the room switched from dull fluorescent to a startling red. And then the foghorn ended, replaced by a metallic beep-beep-beep as the base's alarms started kicking in one by one.
Cyrus locked eyes with Addy, knowing with absolute certainty that both their minds went immediately to the same place, all thoughts of their argument wiped from existence.
"I'll get her," said Addy, already halfway across the room. Seconds later, Kalli's cry wailed right on cue, her small voice calling, "Ti'hma? Pa'ti?" from her bedroom. It was terrible to hear; it made Cyrus' heart clench.
He went to the console screen, picking up the COMM. "Fiear?" he asked into it, praying his brother was paying attention. "What's h-"
Fortunately, Fiearius' voice cut through the static immediately. "Get your things together and stay there, I'm on my way."
It took only seconds for Cyrus to throw their clothes, shoes and a few of Kalli's stray toys into their traveling luggage. Addy reemerged from the bedroom, holding Kalli in her arms in her pajamas. Kalli's hair was an explosion of curls (she had rather infamous bedhead) and she had wide, startled eyes, but she wasn't crying anymore.
"It's all gonna be okay, iss'chen," Addy was saying, pressing her lips against their daughter's ear. "All fine, you're safe with us."
Addy caught Cyrus' eye meaningfully, gesturing to the luggage and he grimaced knowingly in response - They didn't need to have conversations out loud anymore to communicate around their daughter.
Addy smiled at Kalli again. "We're gonna head back to Archeti, that's all. How's that sound? You ready to go home?" Kalli nodded, her light curls bouncing around her head, just as the door to their apartment slid open.
"Ready?" said Fiearius, already reaching to grab one of their bags. "We're getting out of here."
They all swept out of the apartment, a flurry of movement. In the hallway, the alarm blared even louder, and Kalli slammed her tiny hands over her ears and stuck out her lip. With her safely distracted in Addy's arms, Cyrus asked, "Fiear, what's going on?" as they hurried down the corridor.
Fiearius kept his voice lowered. "Rebels attacked the eastern entrance."
"Bad." But his tone grew chipper when he added, "Which is why we're leaving."
Suddenly Addy's words replayed in his head and Cyrus felt compelled to ask, "Wait, shouldn't we help - what about everyone else in the base - ?
Fiearius barely reacted. He trotted down a set of stairs and said plainly, "Nope."
"Will they be okay?"
"Probably," Fiearius guessed. "Not my concern."
Cyrus didn't understand. Not that he particularly wanted to. Fiearius' motives weren't something he often found much pleasure in knowing, but he was still trying to work out what was going on when another voice rang out to them.
"Capta-Admiral?" It was Ren, paused in a doorway, looking concerned.
"Calimore," Fiearius greeted, sounding far too cheerful given the circumstances, Cyrus thought. "Good. Hey, you want a ride outta here, we can drop you off on-"
But Ren spoke over him. "Have you seen Leta?"
Instantly, Fiearius froze.
"She's not in her quarters," Ren went on, surveying Fiearius through narrowed eyes from behind his glasses, "I haven't seen her since lunch. I thought she'd be with you."
Cyrus glanced to Fiearius' face and he could see the alarm growing in his eyes. Then Addy spoke up, "Wait, she was meeting some reporter for an interview. At that bar, the one by the river, I think. She left an hour or two ago."
Fiearius dropped the bag from his hand, where it thudded to the ground. "Shit!" he hissed.
"If she's out there, where the riot's happening-" Ren began, but he was cut off.
"I'll go find her," Fiearius said simply, already turning on his heel. "Rest of you, get to the Dionysian," he barked over his shoulder.
Addy looked stricken with worry, but she nodded, tightening her hold on Kalli. Meanwhile, against all reason and logic, Cyrus felt a sudden wave of boldness -
"I'll come with you." The words burst out of him, and he marched after Fiearius.
"Cy-" Addy breathed, while Fiearius stumbled to a halt and growled, "What? No. Just get to the ship, Cy."
"No, I'm coming with you." He fell into step beside his brother. "I can help look for her."
"Cyrus," Addy said from down the hallway, stronger this time, making everyone halt. He glanced back at her only for a moment before fixing a determined stare on his brother who had the look of a man that knew he was treading in dangerous waters.
He hesitated, looking between the couple, until finally he relented, "There isn't time for this. Whatever, just get moving."
Without another word, Fiearius turned and headed for the exit. Cyrus spared one more look at his daughter and her mother before following after him into the hallway, where the shudders of the battle outside were echoing through the walls. He swallowed, internally cursing himself.