"You know what my advice will be,” Finn was saying, eyebrows arched knowingly on his forehead.
"Yeah." Fiearius sighed. "I know."
A crooked grin came to Finn’s face. "If there was ever a time to be gutsy … ”
Now, Fiearius laughed. "Kind of bad taste though."
Finn waved his hand dismissively. "No such thing as bad taste at the end of the worlds.”
"Dov'ha ti'arte," Fiearius hissed through his teeth. "Can we not throw those kinds of words around please?”
Now, Corra decided, was her moment. She hadn't even intended to overhear any of this seemingly very personal conversation between the two friends, but when she'd approached the Beacon's bridge to seek out its captain (co-captain? She still wasn't sure where things stood at this point on that front) and found Fiearius leaned against the navigator's chair with Finn in his pilot's seat, it felt equally wrong to interrupt them as it did to hover awkwardly just outside the door and wait for a pause in discussion.
Out of politeness to the both of them, she forced herself to not even wonder what they were talking about as she entered the bridge finally, taking great care to let her footsteps fall heavy on the metal grating to alert them they were not alone.
"Sorry to butt in," she greeted, hoping she sounded innocent and oblivious.
Fortunately, when the men looked over at her, neither of them seemed caught or uncomfortable to find her there suddenly. Perhaps the conversation hadn't been as personal as she'd thought. Or perhaps they just no longer cared. Secrets and gossip seemed petulant and worthless these days.
"There's a Carthian officer in our airlock that wants to talk to you about the way we're docked with their dreadnought, Riley," Corra explained. "Something about siphoning energy out of their something or other? She seemed pretty pissed."
Maddeningly, Finn shrugged it off. "That was the dream team's doing, not mine. She'll have to take it up with them."
Corra was about to argue, but Fiearius beat her to it. "I'm heading to see Cy right now, I can mention it to him."
"Great, but that doesn't really solve the problem of the angry security officer in the airlock," Corra pointed out, eyeing Finn with a look she hoped said 'go take care of it'. He just blinked back at her, a portrait of innocence.
"Leave her," was Fiearius' flippant advice as he pushed himself from the chair he leaned against and made for the door. "Let her stew for a bit."
Technically, Corra wasn't sure Fiearius had any authority to dish out command decisions to her, but given the command was one she was more than happy to comply with, she couldn't say she cared either.
"Whatever you say, Admiral." She gave him a half-hearted salute and turned to Finn, but before she could even open her mouth, Fiearius called her name.
She glanced back at him, waiting in the doorway. "Walk with me?"
It was such an odd request from Fiearius that she didn't even consider rejecting it. With a tiny smile of farewell to Finn, she caught up to the man and fell into step beside him as he strolled down the hall. For the first few steps, they walked in silence and Corra spent that time wondering if she should fill it. Something light, maybe. She wracked her brain for some kind of good news she could provide. Anything. God knew he needed to hear it.
She was about to tell him about something cute Kalli had done recently when he finally spoke.
"How are you doing?"
Okay, so he didn't want something light after all. "I should be asking you that," she pointed out, her voice growing quiet.
But Fiearius snorted in disapproval. "Enough people have already asked for you, believe me. I'm tired of answering."
She nodded in somber understanding. It had barely been twenty four hours since the report had come in. When she read the words that first time, alone in her quarters unable to get to sleep, all the air in her lungs had disappeared, leaving her gasping for breath. She'd read it again and her eyes had filled with water. By the time Finn arrived in her doorway moments or minutes later, she was already spent, unable to do anything but stare at the wall across from her as he crouched at her side and wrapped her in his arms.
"I'm alright," she said, though even as the words fell from her lips she didn't know what they meant. She didn't feel alright. She felt empty. But once the initial shock had passed, once she had finally been able to pry herself out of Finn's grasp, she knew she had to pull herself together. The Dionysian had been her home at some point. The people on it, her friends. Javier, Richelle, Rhys, even Maya. The loss hit hard.
But there were others hit harder.
"I'm more worried about Alyx," she muttered, only realizing what she'd said a moment too late. Nobody but Corra knew what had sent the Beacon's navigator into seclusion after yesterday's battle. Why she had spoken to no one, eaten nothing and why if you got close enough to her quarters you could hear quiet sobs coming from within. Nobody knew that she wasn't mourning the Dionysian. She was mourning her mother.
But to her surprise, Fiearius did not seem confused by her revelation. "Shit, yeah." He grimaced. "How is she?"
Corra regarded him curiously. "Not good, but I've been checking in on her," she mumbled, distracted. "How did you--I thought--"
"Quin told me a few weeks ago," was Fiearius' explanation. "Wanted to make sure I knew in case--" He didn't finish the sentence.
"Right." Leta had told her that Fiearius and Quin had become close over the past few years. She wondered if Alyx knew. Or if it mattered. Probably not anymore.
The two of them dropped back into silence as they passed through the deserted mess hall. This time, Fiearius didn't make any effort to amend it. Corra could only imagine what kind of turmoil was going through his head right now. She didn't want to. They were nearly to Cy and Addy's quarters. Maybe now was the time to part ways. She should probably go check on her navigator again, bring her some dinner she wouldn't eat.
Before she could, though, a sudden urge struck her. There was no such thing as bad taste at the end of the worlds, that's what Finn had said. And suddenly, she had to ask.
"Fiearius." Corra hadn't realized she'd frozen in the middle of the hall until she watched him, twenty feet in front of her, turn back and frown. "Why did you buy me from Goddora?"
There was a time, years ago, when she had asked that exact question at least once a day. At every meal, every chance meeting in the hallway, she had asked, again and again and again. And each time, his answer had been flippant or sarcastic or both if he'd even given her one at all. Eventually, she had given up asking.
But if there was ever a time to try again, it was now.
Even now, though, she saw hesitance flash over Fiearius' face once the surprise had worn off. He looked away and ran his hand through his hair. "Does it matter?"
"Yes," she answered at once, in a voice more confident than she'd expected. "It does matter." She took a step towards him. "In every Conduit operation I've run, the allies I help, they always ask. How did I get out? Why am I free while they aren't?"
His eyes flicked back to her. "Corra--"
"And you know what I tell them?" She ignored him. "I tell them a lie. That I snuck out of the complex and stowed away on a ship til I found safe harbor. Do you know why I tell them that?"
He frowned. "Corra."
"Because if I told them the truth, that Fiearius Solivere, famed admiral and notorious pirate bought me and freed me because he felt like it? They wouldn't believe me." She crossed her arms over her chest. "I don't believe it either."
He looked pained, more uncomfortable than she'd ever seen him, and his voice was snappy when he asked, "Why are you asking me this now?"
"Because honestly, I may not get another chance." She shrugged. "And if, God forbid, something happens to you, I can't live with this giant question mark hanging over my head."
"You're asking me because you think I'm gonna get killed," Fiearius clarified, sounding unamused by the notion.
She took another step towards him and her voice became notably more pleading. "I'm asking because I need to know. I don't understand, Fiear. Why can't you just tell me?"
Finally, Fiearius locked his eyes on hers and for a flash of a moment, she saw, horribly, guilt. "Maybe because I'm not proud of my answer."
Corra felt a rush of shock run through her. "W-what?" She had imagined a decade of reasons he might have had, some better than others, but what he was implying? She couldn't believe it, if he was truly implying-- "You wanted to--" She couldn't even speak the words, but fortunately she didn't need to.
Realization flashed across Fiearius' face. "No! No," he blurt out in a hurry. "No, gods, not--My intentions weren't noble, but they were never that un-noble." He shook his head in disgust. "I never, not for a second wanted a slave, you need to know that. Never."
Well that was a relief, at least. Any other answer, Corra was sure, she was prepared for. "So then--why?"
He sighed and his hand covered his forehead. "You were a peace offering," he managed, though the discomfort was apparent all over his features. "Goddora wasn't giving me good work. He didn't trust me. Thought I was stuck-up, I wasn't one of them, like I felt superior." Fiearius gave it a moment of consideration and admitted, "Which wasn't incorrect. But I needed him to think it was. So I decided to buy one of his allies, to prove to him that I was of his kind, that he could trust me and that he should give me better jobs." He wasn't looking at her when he said, "I bought you as a negotiating strategy."
Though the man in front of her was an image of shame and guilt, Corra could see little reason for it. But one question still remained. "Why me though?"
"You fit the narrative." He shrugged one shoulder. "You were one of the only allies who'd talked to me while I was there. You were cute and spunky and if I was the kind of creep I wanted Goddora to think of me as, wanting you badly enough to go into debt over it made sense. I needed to show him a weakness.
"Besides," he added, "I knew whichever poor soul ended up on my ship wasn't going to have the easiest time of it. You seemed tough, like you could take it. I never thought I was doing you any favors."
Corra watched as the man shifted nervously beneath her gaze and she couldn't help it. She chuckled. The nervousness switched immediately to a glare. "Fiear," she cooed, shaking her head. "You're ridiculous, you know that?" The glare just deepened. "You really thought I'd be upset about this?"
"You should be."
"Because you didn't buy me to make a statement about allies and slavery out of the goodness of your heart?" she countered, raising a skeptical brow. "I never thought that. I would never expect that. Is it a little unsettling that you supported the ally trade in order to get work to make more money for a major ally trader? Sure. But I'm no idiot, Fiear. I know how desperate you were. You did what you had to do to survive. And you gave me my freedom." She shook her head. "That's all that matters in the end."
"If that's all that matters then why did you need to know so badly?" he pointed out, sounding terribly bitter.
"Because now, when I'm dismantling the ally trade from the inside out and people ask me how I'm free, I can tell them the truth." She closed the distance between them and smiled up at his tired eyes. "I can tell them that once upon a time, a selfish space pirate needed to keep himself alive and in the process, he changed the Span."
"That's a terrible lesson."
Corra shook her head. "That's not the lesson. The lesson's that you can't wait around for meaning or purpose to show up in a burst of light from the clouds. You've gotta take what you've got and make your own meaning out of it before it's too late." She tilted her head at him. "After this war, you'd think you would know that by now."
Fiearius snorted a quiet laugh. "You'd think."
Corra smiled and stepped forward to wrap his arms around his middle. "Thank you for telling me," she said into his chest as he patted her on the back of her head. "I hope you don't die."
"Me too, princess, me too," he whispered, squeezing her once before breaking the hug and stepping away. He turned to walk away, but stopped a few seconds later and looked back at her. "Hey. Why did you think I bought you?"
Corra tilted her head and him and shrugged. “My favorite theory was that you thought Cyrus needed a friend.”
Fiearius barked a single laugh, shook his head and sauntered off down the hall.
"I never did get to fix that busted RtL unit."
Cyrus felt Fiearius watching him incredulously. "That's what you're worried about right now?" he asked. "Seriously?"
"No." Cyrus shrugged. "I had it all planned out though. I bought the parts, I had the schematics, it was all prepped. And I never got around to it. Now I never will."
Fiearius did not seem impressed and Cyrus was hit by a spike of embarrassment.
"I'm not saying this is important or anything," he tried to explain. "It's just--weird. That she's gone."
That, at least, seemed to resonate with his brother. He let out a sigh and leaned back in his chair, propping his feet on the short table between them in Cyrus and Addy's Beacon quarters. "Yeah. It is."
"Some of my best work was in that ship," Cyrus went on, remembering the messy engine room fondly. He'd engineered all sorts of workarounds and upgrades and assists for the Dionysian that probably would have blown peoples' minds back at Sonnete. Technology that had never been seen before, that would have bumped a standard cargo ship into the luxury state-of-the-art class at a dealership. Systems that would turn even the most basic freighter into a fast, maneuverable beast, all wasted on keeping an old bucket of bolts afloat.
"Honestly, I'm surprised she still flew at all," he muttered at last.
"Like a feather til the very end," Fiearius cooed fondly and Cyrus snorted.
"We must have different definitions of feathers."
"Alright, hurricane's down!" It was Addy, her voice hushed as she carefully shut the door to Kalli's room behind her. "Sorry, she was just not having it tonight."
"It's okay, we waited for you," said Fiearius, waving his hand at the table where the three short glasses filled with dark liquor still stood untouched.
Addy nodded her appreciation and settled onto the couch beside Cyrus without her usual ease and grace. She shifted a couple times, then finally seemed to choose a position that hardly looked comfortable to Cyrus' eyes and propped her hands in her lap. "So," she said briskly, looking between the two of them. "How does this work exactly?"
Cyrus blinked back at her. "I don't know. I've never been to one of these."
"I did once, when my grandmother died, but I was young, I wasn't really part of it," Addy admitted sheepishly.
They both turned to Fiearius whose expression was difficult to read. He was either annoyed or amused. Maybe both. "Alright, I guess I'll start then," he relented, lifting one of the glasses. When neither Cyrus nor Addy moved, he frowned and nodded towards the other two. In a hurry, they grabbed their own glasses.
"I'kala ne seri e ga," Fiearius recited in better Ridellian than Cyrus had ever heard him use. Of course he knew these lines well. Cyrus could count the number of people around him that had died on one hand. He had never needed to hold a Ridellian vigil to ask the gods to accept their souls to the stars. Fiearius, however. How many people had he lost over his lifetime? How many times had he made this request? "Hi'at di parani rie ney ri'a dov'ha rej'ia."
That was one part Cyrus knew. When Fiearius lifted his glass, both he and Addy chimed in response, "Dov'ha rej'ia," and drank.
The liquor burned down his throat in a way Cyrus had never quite felt before. It was almost painful and he caught Addy grimacing through his own scrunched eyes as he tried to get it down. Across from them, Fiearius snorted a laugh. "So'ara wine," he explained. "Rough, isn't it?"
"Only a little," Addy murmured, delicately placing her glass back on the table and trying not to look horrified when Fiearius tilted the bottle to refill it.
"The story behind it," he went on, filling his own glass and plucking Cyrus' from his hand," is that to be proper so'ara wine, it has to make a journey to each of the eight Ridellian temples across the Span where they add their own ingredient to the fermentation. Something about covering the whole Span drawing the attention of the dov'ha to hear your request." He shrugged. "Taste isn't really a factor."
"How did you get your hands on this?" Addy wanted to know.
Fiearius nearly smiled. "When I demanded it yesterday none of the Carthians were brave enough to argue. Found it on my doorstep this morning with a condolences card."
"I guess that's one nice thing they've done," Cyrus muttered, unconsciously lifting the glass to his lips to take a sip until the smell reminded him and he drew it away.
"We're not here to talk about Carthis," Fiearius reminded him, his tone uncharacteristically stern.
"Right," Addy put in, sounding much softer. "We're here to mourn our friends." The room fell quiet for a moment, none of them quite knowing what to say. Finally, Addy tried. "I wish I'd known them better, honestly."
"You were really only on the Dionysian during the pregnancy though, you have an excuse," Cyrus said. "I lived there for years and I still barely knew any of them."
"Really?" Fiearius tilted his head curiously. "Rhys always liked you."
"He liked me?" Cyrus balked. "I don't think I ever had one conversation with the man. He didn't even know my name."
"He didn't know anyone's name," Fiearius countered. "And what about Maya? She was really into you for a while.
That was news to Cyrus. "She was? When? How?"
"How?" Addy repeated, laughing.
Cyrus nudged her playfully and amended, "I mean -- how do you know?"
"She told me."
Cyrus' eyes narrowed on his brother. "She told you. Are you sure she didn't tell you just to make you jealous? Because I distinctly remember her wanting to get with you."
"Pretty sure she only wanted that to piss off Corra though," Fiearius muttered. "Well. Doesn't matter. That nonsense was a long time ago. She became really reliable the past few years. Got us out of more than a few scrapes just by being sharp and paying attention. She really grew into the ship." He looked up, reminiscing internally for a moment before snapping his fingers and pointing at Cyrus. "And on that note, c'mon, you didn't know anybody? What about Richelle?"
At once, Cyrus broke into a grin. "Aw, Richelle, of course. That girl was a damn gifted mechanic."
"Better 'n you," he heard Fiearius mumble, but by the time he managed to glare at him, his brother was innocently drinking from his glass and looking elsewhere.
"Regardless, I'm glad she stuck around so long." Cyrus eyed Fiearius again. "Glad you didn't kick her off after all that Paraven stuff."
Fiearius shot him a frown and opened his mouth, but Addy cut him off. "What Paraven stuff?" Immediately, his eyes went wide and he set a pleading stare on Cyrus who laughed.
"You never heard the story of how Richelle came to be on the Dionysian?" She shook her head and Cyrus provided his brother a grin full of malice. "Oh it's a great story."
"Please don't," Fiearius begged.
Which only made Addy more excited. "I wanna hear it!"
"That was not my proudest moment..."
"I need to hear it," Addy insisted.
"Cy, come on."
"Tell me Cy-Cy."
"Who would you rather make angry, me or him?"
"That's unfair, you can't play wife card."
Cyrus held back his laughter as the two of them bickered, but in the end, a vigil probably was not the time or place. Besides, Fiearius just looked so desperate. "Alright alright, I won't," he relented and Addy immediately crossed her arms over her chest and glared at him.
"Thank you," Fiearius sighed as Cyrus leaned over to the woman at his side and whispered, "I'll tell you later." It seemed to appease her.
"So," she spoke up, and Fiearius watched her suspiciously, perhaps expecting her to keep going, but she changed the subject. "Now that the Dionysian's gone--what happens after all this?"
The lightness in the room seemed to evaporate entirely. Cyrus nervously sipped his wine, braving the awfulness to mask the discomfort. But to his surprise, Fiearius didn't seem as sensitive to the subject as he was.
"Depends how things play out I guess," he admitted, spreading his hands helplessly. "Hard to say at this point."
"Right." She nodded in understanding and shifted again, her fingers lacing together in her lap. So Cyrus wasn't the only one who found this uncomfortable after all. "Well. I just want you to know that we're with you all the way. And whatever happens, we'll have your back."
Fiearius leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees and fixed her with an amused smirk. "You don't say."
Addy turned pink. And then she frowned at him dully. "Okay, you wanna be like that? Fine. I was just trying to be supportive because you never ask for help, but you've been through a lot and you're family so you can and you should, but fine. Be dismissive. I don't care," she said in a waspy tone that clealy meant that she cared quite a bit.
Fiearius' smirk morphed into a grin and he glanced at Cyrus. "This one? You keep her, ya hear me?"
"Oh I intend to." Cyrus smiled as he took one of Addy's hands in his. She shot him a glare and mumbled something about not being property to be kept, but she didn't pull her hand away.
The knock on the door made Leta jump. The knock was authoritative and business-like, which was surprising: the hallways had been ghostly silent for days, quieted by grief.
"Hang on a sec, Nikki," she said into the COMM speaker. "Someone's at the door."
"It's okay,” said Nikkiolai quickly. He was in his apartment on Vescent, and though the COMM connection was clear, he sounded very far away. “I'll let you go.”
"No, I can tell them to wait. I called you, I'm talking to you."
"Ley, it's fine, really." His voice was thick with the tears he’d been shedding just minutes ago. "I need some rest anyway. Go."
"Are you sure? I can stay if you’d like to talk more."
"I've talked enough for now.”
Her heart twisted in her chest. "Well -- I’ll call again soon, alright?”
"Absolutely. I'll tell the rest of the clinic you said hi."
Leta very nearly returned her usual response, that she'd say hi to the Dionysian for him. The words stuck in her throat as she blurted out instead, "Right. Thanks. Take care of yourself, Nikki."
"You too, Ley."
The connection went dead, and guilt rippled through her like an acid wave. No one was taking the recent loss well, but Nikkolai had lost the most dear person he had without getting to say goodbye, all because he was on Vescent running Leta's clinic in her absence. Logically, she knew she was not responsible for Javier's death or Nikkolai's sorrows, but logic didn't stop her from feeling guilty.
The COMM disconnected and Leta stood to answer the door. When she slid it open, there was no one on the other side, but Fiearius was down the hallway, looking back over his shoulder at her.
"Oh. I thought you were asleep.” When she blinked in confusion, he added, “It’s pretty late…”
"Is it?" Leta glanced toward a digital clock on the wall, surprised. She hadn't even noticed. "I haven't really been in the mood to sleep."
Fiearius turned around to face her, a tired smirk on his face. He looked as exhausted as she felt and, she guessed, just as sleepless. Which was only part of the explanation for why he was at her door in the middle of the night.
"Did you need something?"
The question somehow caught him off guard. He opened his mouth, then shut it again, tucked his fingers into his hair, and frowned at the wall next to him as though asking it what it thought. Leta wasn't sure if the wall helped at all, but eventually he decided on an answer. "Yeah." He eased a few steps closer. "Can we talk for a minute?"
"Only a minute," Leta teased, then she moved out of the doorway. “Of course, come in."
Fiearius lifted his brows as he walked past her into her quarters. "Bad jokes, huh? You really haven't been sleeping."
She closed the door, watching as Fiearius surveyed her room: he made a small circle, looking around at the silver walls like he'd never seen anything so interesting. It didn't seem to matter that she'd only lived there for two nights and had lost most of her possessions on the Dionysian anyway. A narrow bed, neatly made. A stack of clothes she'd borrowed from Corra sat on a chair. A tablet provided by Carthis was on the table. Nothing else gave any indication that anybody lived there at all.
When he still didn't speak up after his circle was complete, Leta decided to step in. "About earlier--"
"I don't want to talk about that," he interrupted immediately, finally turning to face her.
Leta paused, surprised. "Alright. Then what do you want to talk about?"
Fiearius looked her up and down for a moment as if sussing her out for something. Then he frowned at the wall again. And, most importantly, didn't answer.
"Hang on, I'm thinking."
“You do that.” She sighed, half-weary, half-entertained. “I'm getting a drink."
Okay, so there were three things in the room. Corra had been nice enough to store a small collection of Leta's favorite liquor in one of the cabinets. As she reached for a bottle of whiskey, she called back, "No ice, right?”
"No drink. I'm fine.”
No you're not, she almost said. The Fiearius she knew didn't turn down drinks. Or have silent conversations with walls. She finished pouring her glass and returned to the center of the room, taking a sip. He still wasn't looking at her and he didn't seem any closer to a solution to whatever problem was floating in his head.
"Can I know what you're thinking about at least?"
"Words," he answered without skipping a beat. "I'm not good at them."
"You can be." It was meant to be encouraging,it sounded more like a slight. "But you are more of an actions kind of guy,” she added, quieter.
"Exactly," Fiearius agreed with a small groan. "But I need words for this." He ran a hand through his hair.
"Is this about--"
"No," he said before she could even finish.
"You don't even know what I was going to say."
"I do, and it's not that," Fiearius insisted, shaking his head. He made another circle, but this time, once it was finished, he seemed to have arrived at something. "Okay. Alright. I'm just gonna make this quick and painless."
Leta wasn’t sure if she should have been amused or alarmed. "That sounds ideal.”
"This is terrible timing, I want you to know that I know that," were the first words he managed to choose as he turned back to face her. "Finn said there's no such thing as bad taste right now, but I think he's wrong and this is incredibly bad taste. I know that. Know that I know that."
Leta studied his face curiously. "Noted."
"It's just. With everything happening, y'know. In case." He frowned, perhaps realizing he wasn't making sense, took a dramatic step towards her and declared, "This is stupid. I don't need anything from you, and, gods--" He barked a laugh-- "You already know. I know you know. But I--" He fixed his eyes on hers and the sort of nervous manicness melted away. It was replaced by something far more earnest and Leta swore she saw a hint of -- of all things -- pleading.
"I just need you to hear it from me." He took a deep breath and kicked the bomb straight out the side of the ship. "I love you."
Silence fell over over the room. Slowly, achingly slowly, Leta lowered the glass from her lips. Shock descended through her and she was suddenly very conscious of her hands, of her feet, her skin, and though a thousand thoughts barrelled through her head like a speeding freight train, her mouth felt like it wasn't interested in ever moving again.
Fiearius, staring at her face, started rambling. "You don't have to say anything or do anything, really. I didn't -- don't -- expect anything. This is honestly just me being selfish because I can't stop thinking about what's gonna happen if--" He seemed to rethink the statement and shook it off. "So I had to tell you. I'm sorry. But--I just never got over you. I tried. I fucking tried, but it was you. All along, it was always you and I fucked it up really badly and I know that, but it's you and I can't pretend anymore that it's not."
He was talking so fast he almost ran out of breath. He took a moment to recuperate before lifting his hands in defeat. "So there it is. That's it. I love you." He stayed like that for a moment, paralyzed by what he’d admitted. Then he squinted at her. "Why do you look so surprised?"
On some level, Leta did not feel surprised. She’d -- sort of known. Part of her knew. Fiearius had never gone through great lengths to hide his attraction to her. He'd admitted his jealousy of Liam, he fought for her attention in any room they were in, he seemed to trust her and go to her for counsel more than anyone else. She knew that he liked her. There was an attraction, a spark -- she’d felt it, too. But she didn't know that he loved her. And she sure as hell didn't expect him to say it.
“Why didn’t you tell me this earlier?”
Fiearius didn’t seem to have anticipated the question. “Why didn’t I--what?” he stammered.
“Tell me earlier,” she said again. “Of all the times to choose to speak up, you choose now?”
He gaped at her for a moment, then clamped his eyes shut and massaged his fingers into his temple. “Bad taste. See? I knew he was wrong.”
“It’s not just bad taste, it’s--” Leta shook her head. “What do you expect me to do with this information? Now?” She gestured her hands to the room at large.
“Nothing,” he assured her. “Absolutely nothing. Like I said, this is purely selfish.”
“Because you think you’re gonna die soon,” Leta accused, her tone a touch more harsh than she’d intended. “You’re telling me you love me because you think you’re going to die.” She stared at him blankly and he visibly squirmed beneath her gaze.
“Well, yeah, when you say it like that--”
Leta let out a groan and put her hand over her eyes. “Fiearius.”
“Okay, okay, fine, I get it,” he growled under his breath. “Yes, I should have said something earlier. I should have realized earlier. I should have been less of a coward and made less excuses and said something even though there was never a good time, gods Leta, I’ve not told you up to now because frankly, I always think I’m gonna die soon, this isn’t new.
“But you’re right, I should have said something anyway, I should have fixed things and for that matter, I should never have fucked things up between us to begin with. I should have stayed on Vescent with you, I shouldn’t have gotten involved in a war, I should have listened to Aela, I shouldn’t have gone to Satieri, I should and shouldn’t have done a lot of things, and that’s why I’m telling you now, because I can’t add one more thing to that list.”
Finally, the sharpness dropped from his voice as his arms fell back to his side in defeat. "Well. I'm sorry I dumped this on you. I'll let you be.” He turned from her and headed towards the door. “You should try and get some sleep. I imagine you'll need it tomorrow."
Leta couldn’t tell if she was fuming with anger or something else. Now? Really? Selfish was an understatement. And now he was just walking away? He was walking away. She was watching him walk away as she stood there, frozen by indecision. What the hell was she doing?
The door slid open and Fiearius stepped into the hallway, bracing his hand against the frame. Like she was emerging from water, Leta suddenly pulled away from her shock.
By the time he'd half-turned back to her, Leta had abandoned her drink, stepped forward authoritatively, captured the sides of his jaw in both her hands, and pulled his lips down against hers. The kiss was hard, clumsy, full.
For seconds, Fiearius stood still -- uncomfortably still -- bent at an awkward angle and stunned into place. But finally, he responded to her feverish kiss, orienting himself toward her as though he had all the time in the world to do just this: his hand curved against her face, another at her neck, drawing her closer as she sunk against his arms.
It didn't matter how long it had been, it didn't matter how far apart they'd ended up, embracing Fiearius always felt natural. The way they fit together as their mouths attacked one another's and her hands roamed over his shoulders and down his back was nothing less than synchronized. In a way so unlike anything else she had ever experienced, Leta and Fiearius' bodies spoke the same language.
When their lips gently parted an inch, Leta found she was short of breath. He drew back, though his hands held her steadfast. Still, there was worry in his eyes until she met his stare and grasped him tighter.
"I love you too," she admitted, her voice barely above a whisper.
Fiearius' brows lifted on his forehead in surprise. She felt his hands go still against her shirt. And then he cracked a horribly familiar shit-eating grin and said, "Yeah. I know you do."
“You -- what?!" she snapped, but before she could argue any further, he reclaimed her lips once more, drowning her protests.
In the silence of the hallway, Fiearius expertly eased Leta backward a step so her shoulders were pressed against the doorframe to her room. Meanwhile, his mouth traveled from her lips, down her jawline, to her neck, gently nipping at delicate skin, sending shivers down her spine as her fingers dug into his hair. She felt his hand on her rear, pulling her hips against his and a low moan rose involuntarily from her throat.
As one of his hands moved down, the other moved up, under her shirt, his calloused palms gliding over her side and ribs. She leaned towards his ear and murmured, "Can you stay?"
His voice was muffled against her neck, his breath hot. "Do you want me to?"
It was hard to be annoyed when he was bombarding her with every pleasant sensation he had in his arsenal. Still, she glowered as she said, "I wouldn't have asked if I didn't."
"Ask me again," he muttered and proceeded to use his hands to make it more and more difficult to think let alone speak.
But just barely, she managed to whisper between harsh breath and moans, "Stay with me."
Fiearius didn't answer with words. Instead, he withdrew his hands from where they were (Leta made a small groan of irritation), put one behind her legs, the other behind her shoulders and in one fell swoop, lifted her into his arms. Leta hurriedly threw her arms around his neck to hang on and laughed raucously as he carried her back into her room.
Hours later, Leta awoke dimly to the strange feeling of someone manipulating her fingers. At first, she recoiled, drawing her hand to her chest and trying to roll over to fall asleep again. She didn’t want to be awake. She hadn’t slept this well in months. She fully intended to enjoy it while it lasted.
But someone took her hand again and unwound her fingers. She didn’t fight this time and allowed them to place something in her palm then close her hand around it, tight. Exhausted as she was, Leta blinked open one eye and tried to focus on the blurry red shape sitting on the edge of her bed.
“What’re you…” she asked Fiearius, her voice fading away with her lack of consciousness.
“Shh,” he muttered, smoothing hair back on her forehead. “Go back to sleep.” Another blink and she realized he was no longer the Fiearius she had fallen asleep with. He wasn’t the careless, passionate, affectionate man who had kept her awake, writhing breathlessly and twisting against him for half the night. Now, he was dressed, armed with a gun at his leg, and there was a solemnity in his eyes as they stared down at her.
“I gotta go,” he whispered, leaning over the bed and kissing her on the temple.
“Why?” she asked,
“I’ve just gotta go,” was his only answer.
“Are you coming back?”
Fiearius smiled. “I hope so.”
Lest she argue further, he leaned in and kissed her lips, hard, but slow and sweet. She shifted towards him, ran her hand down his chest and arched her back against the mattress. But instead of deepening the kiss, he ended it, breaking away and regarding her with a sad smile.
“I love you,” he said. Leta cracked a tired grin.
“So you’ve said.”
“Just makin’ sure you don’t forget.”
“I won’t.” but he had already drawn away and was moving across the room to leave.
There was one brief moment of panic that caused her to call out, “I’ll see you again soon,” before Fiearius disappeared out of the door and Leta’s mind, weak and spent, drifted back into sleep.
The next time she awoke, it was to someone knocking -- no, pounding -- on her door. First confused, then startled, Leta sat up in her bed, instinctively pulling the sheets around her bare chest. The three thuds sounded again and she looked around to regain her bearings. Fiearius was gone, her clothes were on the floor and -- gods, who the hell was making such a racket at this time of morning?
Finally managing to pull on a shirt and pants, Leta stumbled towards the controls and the door slid open. Instantly, she was treated to a barrage of voices arguing in the hallway beyond, Corra’s chief among them.
“You can’t just barge onto my ship and assault my passengers,” she barked at Chief Strategist Arsen who turned his nose up at her.
“As long as you are docked to our dreadnought and, lest you’ve forgotten, siphoning our power supply, the Beacon is subject to any search and seizure deemed necessary to--”
Corra erupted a disgusted exclamation and continued to argue as Leta turned her attention to Admiral Gates, flanked by three other officers. He appeared oblivious to the bickering behind him.
“Good morning, Dr. Adler. May we come in?”
Leta had no doubt Corra would fight all five Carthians on her behalf to ensure she had a choice, but barring fistfights, there was only one possible answer. “Fine.” She stepped aside to allow them entrance. “What’s this about?”
Gates didn’t immediately answer, instead filing into the room and looking around. His silent escorts stuck close behind him. Arsen, apparently finished discussing these matters with the Beacon’s captain, joined him at his side.
Corra herself joined Leta’s. “I’m so sorry, I tried to stop them, but--”
“It’s okay,” Leta assured her and asked again, “What’s this about?”
This time, Gates cleared his throat. “Dr. Adler, do you know the current whereabouts of Admiral Soliveré?”
She hadn’t noticed the pit of discomfort in her stomach until it suddenly grew heavier. “No, I don’t. Why?”
One of the officers tapped something on his tablet. Gates didn’t answer her question and instead stated, “But he was here with you last night.”
Corra bristled. “That’s none of your damn business,” she growled, but Leta held out her hand to her. She wasn’t embarrassed. Though she was curious as to how they knew. Fiearius had often mentioned that Carthis had bugged him with a tracking device when he was recovering from an injury. She had assumed he’d been kidding.
“He was. But he’s not here now.” She gestured around the tiny room, empty aside from the intruders. “He left during the night.”
Gates nodded and the officer tapped another note onto the tablet. “And he made no mention of his destination?”
“None,” Leta answered calmly, staring him down with the same quiet threat he’d been giving her since he walked in the room. “But it’s not unlike Fiearius to disappear for a while. I’m not sure what about it warrants you barging in here and waking me up.”
Gates lifted a brow at her then nodded at Arsen. The strategist seemed a little more pleased than he should have to report, “We have reason to believe that Admiral Soliveré has committed or will very soon commit an act of high treason.”
Leta’s eyes grew wide as her body went very still. “What?”
“This footage was recorded in the C Deck fighter bay early this morning.” Arsen turned the tablet towards her and Leta peered at the screen to watch a tiny image of Fiearius walk across a docking bay, deliver the butt of a gun into a patrolling cadet’s head and board one of the ships. “He wounded three soldiers,” Arsen elaborated. “One is in critical condition.”
“Okay, so he stole a ship,” Leta clarified, regarding them skeptically. “He is a thief, and you did destroy his vessel. I don’t really see why this points to an act of high treason.”
“It’s not,” said Gates calmly. “But the ship is not the only issue and Soliveré is not the only one who has disappeared. Tell me, doctor, have you looked out the window lately?” Her room had no windows. She shook her head. “If you do, I think you’ll find the skies a lot less busy than they were last night.”
“His entire fleet is gone,” Arsen confirmed. Corra’s mouth fell open, a frown on her face that looked to be part shock and part offense. “We’ve lost tracking of Soliveré himself, but our monitoring was able to pick up the trajectory of a number of his flagships. We know where they’re headed.”
Leta’s eyes were glazed over and she was frowning lightly at the floor. She didn’t need Arsen to tell her. She already knew. “Satieri.”
Dorrion E’etan didn’t need to look up from his console to know that he was no longer alone in the quiet comfort of his home atop one of Paradiex’s sweeping residential towers. When he did glance from the screen to the window overlooking the twinkling city beneath a dark night sky, he could see the reflection of the figure standing in the doorway behind him.
“You finally made it,” E’etan said, still not turning around.
“Your security was pleasantly apathetic,” replied Fiearius Soliveré, stepping into the room.
E’etan shrugged. “I’ve never believed much in others dying to protect me. A person should be responsible for their own survival, don’t you think?”
“Can’t say I disagree.”
“So.” E’etan spun around in his chair finally and came to his feet to address his visitor. “It’s my turn then?” Soliveré cocked his head curiously. “You’ve killed all my colleagues. So it’s me now, yes?”
The man seemed to consider the notion for a moment. Then he ignored it. Fiearius strode forward and joined E’etan next to his console. He gazed out the window at the city and said, “Nice place you got here.”
“Thank you,” E’etan responded, masking his uncertainty by crossing his arms behind his back.
“Must not have been easy to get.”
“I was on a waitlist for three years.”
Fiearius made a noise of surprise and regarded him curiously. “Three years? Even you?”
E’etan snorted. “My job comes with less perks than you might imagine.”
Fiearius nodded slowly. “Good to know.”
E’etan narrowed his eyes on the man beside him. “And why is that?”
“Because,” Fiearius answered, casting him a sideways glance. “I’m not here to kill you. I’m here to help you.”