Worry settled in Leta's stomach like a rock as she crested the stairs toward the Dionysian's bridge. She knew she'd find Fiearius inside. When she heard his voice, she hung back in the doorway to listen.
"No. No way," Fiearius was saying, his voice ice cold. "I'm turning the ship around and coming back."
"You sure as hell aren't," Cyrus' voice answered, breaking through the crackling COMM speaker. Even through the COMM device, Leta thought he sounded, somehow, very far away — unreachable. Her stomach turned over again. "What's gonna happen if you land the Dionysian here?" he went on. "There are Society agents all over the place."
"All the more reason to come back and get you!" Fiearius growled, and Leta heard a thud — his fist meeting the wall. This was exactly what Leta didn't want to happen: not only was Cyrus and his family in danger, but it was compromising Fiearius. Any minute now, the Dionysian would set down on a remote Ascendian moon to begin hunting down their first Society Councillor. If Fiearius was going to survive this, he needed to be at his best.
She stepped through the doorway, watching Fiearius pace the floor with one hand knotted tightly into his hair. He was anything but focused.
"Fiearius, you can't and you know it." It was Addy's voice now. "Look, we're okay here, really. We're staying hidden and we'll continue to stay hidden until they're gone. You don't need to worry."
"If you didn't want me to worry, you wouldn't have told me," Fiearius snapped. He glanced sideways and met Leta's gaze — distress filled his eyes — then jerked his head sideways, gesturing for her to come in.
"It was Addy's idea," Cyrus muttered through the speaker. Leta leaned against the back of the co-pilot's chair, crossing her arms over her chest.
"We told you because we wanted you to know we're safe," Addy intervened, a note of scolding in her voice. "And I promise that if that appears to be changing, we'll let you know, but for now, we're just going to hide upstairs, out of sight and you go on with your mission. They're not interested in us. They're focused on their own expedition. We'll be fine."
Fiearius growled in his throat but dropped his back against the dashboard, pressing the heel of his hand against his eye. "I'm not okay with this."
"Well you're gonna have to be," said Cyrus. "Take care of yourself, alright? You have your own job to do. We can handle this."
"We'll be in touch," Addy finished. The speaker cackled and went silent.
Clenching his jaw, Fiearius stared down at the COMM receiver in his hand, his fingers wrapped tight around it as though he was considering crushing the thing in his frustration. His breath was quavering and his stance was tense, but finally, he heaved in a deep breath, got a hold of himself and looked up to Leta to explain, "They're–"
"I know," she interrupted, and his brow knit together in sudden surprise. "They called me first. Wanted me to be here to make sure you took it okay."
Fiearius regarded her closely, his chest still rising and falling in great effort. She could see the tendons in his hand. He said nothing.
Carefully, she eased a step towards him and reached out to pry his fingers away from the COMM device he still seemed determined to throttle. She half-expected him to rip his hand away, but he didn't fight it when she circled her fingers around his wrist. "Are you alright?" she asked quietly.
"No," was his immediate response.
Leta carefully replaced the COMM on the dashboard. With her other hand, she tightened her grip at his wrist.
"How the hell do they expect me to–" he began, his voice quiet but laboriously so. "How am I supposed to–" He locked eyes with her and she was crushed to see real genuine fear there. "I can't leave them there. If something happens — "
"I know," said Leta quietly. "I know, but Fiear, they're right. It's more dangerous for you and for them if you go back. You have to just trust them. Trust their judgment. If they believe they're in the clear, then you have to believe that too."
"And you believe that?"
Leta's mouth went dry. In truth, she was combating the burning impulse to turn the Dionysian around herself and single-handedly retrieve them. But it wouldn't help — Cyrus and Addy were too close to danger; the Dionysian couldn't interfere.
"They can handle this," said Leta at last. "Think who they are. Cyrus and Addy, they're smart. Logical. Unlike us." She forced a smirk. "They won't do anything stupid. Especially with — "
"– Kalli," Fiearius finished, but he wasn't relieved. Mentioning his niece's name was the wrong move: Fiearius' face darkened, and his hand slipped away from Leta's as he turned around, pacing a few steps away.
"I don't make choices like this," he growled, stalking to the wall and then spinning around and stalking back. "I don't–missions do not come before — Cyrus and Addy and Kalli and you and this ship? Those are my priorities." He headed back towards the wall. "This?This." He waved his hand vaguely at the window. "This isn't it. Thisisn't me. I can't–"
Suddenly, he froze in place and stared with empty eyes at the dashboard. "They'll be tortured," he said shortly after a moment, his voice detached. "If they're found."
Leta knew he was right. She didn't need to say so. Instead, she said the first two words she could think of, which were, "Come here."
Fiearius pulled his hand down his face, then regarded her uneasily.
"Come here," she said again, and Fiearius glanced over his shoulder as though expecting someone else to come in and counter the order, but then he half-walked, half-wandered closer to where she stood. It was sort of unbelievable, Leta thought, how they still oriented toward one another after all these years: she raised her hands to hold the back of his elbows, and his hands lifted to her hips, and they were drawn closer together in a loose embrace.
"They're going to be alright, Fiear."
A heavy sigh exhaled from his lungs, and then he leaned his forehead against hers. "Yeah," was all he said, under his breath.
"And so are you."
He almost smirked, clamping his eyes shut. "Right."
She squeezed the small of his back once before taking a step back and letting go. "Are you ready?"
"Ready enough," he said, and he reached for his gun from the dashboard, shoving it into its holster. "Not sure how ready to murder someone I want to be, after I swore I wouldn't do this kinda thing anymore…"
Leta's stomach squirmed. Not murdering people was a creed Leta could easily get behind. Fiearius' past employment whether it be under the Society or his freelance hits after the fact had never sat well with her. From what she'd observed — the way he detached from the world after a job, the way he grew quiet at the mention of it, the way he couldn't talk about death or loss without retreating within himself — they didn't sit well with him either.
But this — this wasn't an assassination like those he was used to. This was a strategic move, or so Leta had convinced herself. Killing a Society Councillor wasn't the same as killing a person. It was killing an idea. One by one. And she would keep telling herself and Fiearius that if she had to.
"I feel the same way," she said evenly. "But this is important. And at least you know she's not innocent."
Fiearius let out a grim laugh. "Nobody's innocent," he said. Before she could respond, he added,"I should go find Dez and get ready if we want to stay on schedule."
Leta nodded, but hesitation came to her face.
"And you're truly, really sure about Dez," she said. "You're sure you want to take him. The person who has betrayed you over and over again. Instead of someone you could trust. Eve, or — "
Predictably, Fiearius was already shaking his head. "Eve's great, but not the best strategist on her feet. Dez and I–this is what we're good at. I need him."
Of course, Leta hadn't expected a different answer. It hadn't changed before, why would it change now? They still argued about this for hours, sometimes late into the night. But that didn't stop her from pointing out, "We can't trust him. His motives are unclear, or they don't seem genuine. He's hiding something, Fiear, I know it. He could play you any second and it could end with you dead."
But Fiearius held up a hand to her. "I know. I know…And I'm not asking you to trust him." He took a few steps back towards her and grasped her upper arm. "But trust me, okay?" Leta met his stare, not feeling any more comforted than she had a moment ago. But she sighed and nodded agreement anyway. What other choice did she have? She'd been fighting this battle for years, it was clearly one she wouldn't win.
"And I will trust you to take care of my ship while I'm gone," Fiearius went on, his tone lighter as he let his arm fall back to his side. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do, alright?"
Leta couldn't quell the worry that was rising in her chest, but she forced her best knowing smile. "That's not narrowing it down very much," she muttered as he headed for the door, laughing down the hall.
The Harrowden family's Second Division War bunker looked like it hadn't been opened in decades. Centuries, maybe, Fiearius thought as he watched Dez skillfully work on the great metal door buried into the ground of the desolate plain of a forgotten Ascendian moon. But that was exactly what someone hiding down there would want someone to think, from the outside, wasn't it?
"Want me to take another turn?" Fiearius asked, reaching for the tool in Dez's hands, but Dez didn't move.
"I can handle the rest."
Fiearius eyed him skeptically and glanced back at the seemingly endless expanse of darkness around them. They'd been out here for nearly an hour now, patiently etching away the lining of the sealed hatch. Not that it mattered. Fiearius had never set foot in a place more lonely than where he stood then. The Society couldn't post agents here, that might draw attention, give something away. This place had to seem deserted in its entirety. There was no one around for hundreds of miles.
His attention was drawn back to Dez when he heard a clunk and a satisfied, "Ahh." Fiearius stepped forward to help him wrench the thing open, but Dez brushed him off and heaved the heavy metal door out of the way himself.
"Show-off," Fiearius muttered.
"Jealous," Dez countered as climbed backwards into the hole he'd opened in the ground.
Fiearius just rolled his eyes and followed down after him, taking the rusty rungs of the ladder one at a time and trying to be as silent about it as possible. Now that they were inside, they were running blind. He knew about the bunker, but he certainly didn't know the layout. He didn't know where their target might be hiding. And he certainly didn't have as much of a plan here as he would have liked.
He felt the ladder's tension change as Dez presumably dismounted below him. It was only another few moments of climbing before Fiearius felt solid concrete himself and turned around to get a look at what they'd descended into.
It wasn't exactly what he was expecting.
"You're sure she's down here?" Dez whispered, his tone dry as the two of them peered into the dark, musty space. It, much like the door, didn't seem to have been touched in generations. Dim generator lights kept the narrow room from being plunged into complete blackness. Shelves lined the walls, empty save for a few cans of food Fiearius likely wouldn't open with a ten foot pole. A few mattresses had been leaned up in the corner. Everything was covered in a thick layer of dust.
"I was," Fiearius answered, but he was beginning to doubt himself too. Ren's research had all pointed to one Rebeka Palano as the Councillor of Ascendia. An upstart politician herself, Palano was heir to the massive Palano estate before she had "died" of illness thirty years ago. But the Palano estate hadn't always been called Palano. Two generations ago, it had been the Lorna estate. And before that, the Ori estate. And before that, during the Second Division War, the Harrowden estate.
"This is her family's long lost bunker," Fiearius mumbled under his breath. "We're at war, she's in danger, where else would she go?"
Dez narrowed his eyes through the darkness. "Yes. Where else would she go?"
"You were the one who told me this was definitely right, that this had to be the place, you were sure of it," Fiearius snapped quietly.
"Because you told me it was definitely right, it had to be the place, you were sure of it," Desophyles growled back, but Fiearius just shook him off and stalked further into the room. There was a hallway through a door on the other end that, upon peering down it, he realized lead to more hallways and more rooms and more hallways. Gods, this place was a maze.
"Let's at least look around," Fiearius suggested. "There's still a chance I'm right."
Dez didn't look pleased, but he didn't argue as he followed after Fiearius into the hall.
How long ago had it been — six years? It seemed like a whole lifetime had passed since the very first day Leta had first stepped aboard the Dionysian. The day Cyrus kidnapped her and Fiearius yelled at her and she realized, in horror, that she was on a ship filled with criminals. What would she have thought, back then, if she'd known one day she'd be sitting in that very ship's bridge as the acting captain?
She was about to settle in and get some work of her own done to pass the time when she heard footsteps behind her. Swinging her head around, she found Eve wandering into the bridge to join her, a couple of beer bottles hanging in her hand.
"Enjoying the view, doc?" she asked, nodding toward the pitch-black horizon filling the bay window. She settled down in the co-pilot's chair and held out a beer for Leta to take.
Leta almost smiled. "Not sure I should drink on the job."
"Cap'n does all the time. Looks like you could use it too."
Leta hesitated, then accepted the bottle, cracked it open on the edge of the dashboard, and took a long swig: it was true, she was tense. She was trying to not think much about what was happening down in that bunker. Apparently, her unease was written all over her face.
"You're worried about him," said Eve, frowning at her in a thoughtful sort of way, and Leta thought: of course I am. She spent half her life worrying and wondering after Fiearius, although she wasn't willing to admit that aloud. But she couldn't help but voice the question burning a hole in her heart.
"Do you really think they can pull this off?"
To her surprise, Eve barked a laugh. "You kiddin', doc? This is the cap'n we're talkin' about. Course he can pull it off." Leta arched her eyebrows, both comforted and confused by her positivity. Either she really believed in Fiearius, or Fiearius had done a fantastic job of convincing her to believe in him. Or both. Eve's expression did sour slightly when she added, "Wish I coulda gone with him though."
"Yeah," Leta muttered, returning her attention back to her bottle of beer. "Me too." Though even as she said it, she wasn't sure if she meant Eve or herself.
They lapsed into silence. Leta sipped her beer quietly, propping her feet against the dashboard as she tried to avoid imagining all of the horrible outcomes of this mission. She tried to focus on the good ones. Fiearius returning triumphant, the whole crew celebrating, the war beginning its end …
"It'll probably be awhile," Eve said, glancing at her knowingly. "You should get your mind off him."
Perhaps the beer was already going to her head, because Leta smirked and muttered, "I've never been able to do that."
"Yeah, funny, ain't it?" Eve sighed. "How some people, you just can't shake. I know he means a lot to you. But we're not gonna worry about him, now, doc," she told her simply. "Cap'n will be back. These things can take a while. But he'll be back."
Leta wanted to believe it as much as Eve did. She would try to.
Just then, another set of footsteps pounded up the stairs, and then Javier rushed into room, headed straight for the console screen. "Scuse me, Leta — sorry — I need to check something," he apologized in a rush. "I got an alert."
"Eh?" Eve grunted, looking annoyed by the interruption. "What kind of alert?"
"Not sure, that's what I need to–" Javier's fingers flew over the console keyboard, and then he brought up the radar screen. His eyes went round. "Ships. Coming in from orbit."
Leta sat up sharply. "What?"
"Five of them. Looks like–" He tapped the console. "Small fighters."
"Why would there be fighters here?" asked Eve.
"There wouldn't be," muttered Leta, setting down her beer carefully, though her mind was already roaring with alarm. "There's nothing on this moon."
"Except us," pointed out Javier.
"They followed us here," Eve growled. "It's Society, isn't it?"
Javier was shaking his head. "Not Society, I don't think — and if they were ours, they'd have hailed us. These ships–"
"Are coming straight at us!" Eve yellled, gesturing to the radar screen on the secondary console.
"I scanned them, they're–they're reported stolen," Javier breathed, looking over to Leta, as if silently begging her to figure this out.
Leta shut her eyes in realization. Of course. Irony of ironies. "Pirates."
The rest of the Harrowden bunker looked much like the first part. Fiearius was beginning to truly believe he'd been completely wrong about this. He glanced back at Dez. Well, they were both completely wrong about this. He wouldn't take all the blame.
"Where else would she be?" Fiearius asked, closing a door to an empty storage area and not bothering to keep his voice down anymore. Perhaps somewhere less traceable, he realized after a moment, feeling internally ashamed. The Councillors were known for secrecy. And he was able to figure all of this out.
But it hadn't been easy, he argued. He'd had to stay up for three days straight, make seven separate deals with Ascendian criminals and bang his head against at least ten walls before he'd gotten to this point. It was a guess, but it was a very educated guess.
Shockingly, despite their bad start, Dez didn't seem as disheartened yet as he felt. "She should be here."
"Well unless you know something I don't know, she's not," Fiearius pointed out, shutting yet another door so they'd know it had already been checked.
It didn't help that this bunker seemed to go on for miles. He'd known the Harrowdens had been rich, but he had assumed that their secret hideaway would be smaller than the rest of their estate. He'd assumed incorrectly.
"Maybe we're going the wrong way," was Dez's idea.
"What difference does it make? The whole place is like this." Fiearius ran his finger along a shelf they passed, dragging a clump of dust along with it.
"But maybe it's not," Dez said which, Fiearius thought, was about the most useless statement he could have made. His second statement, however, was not. "Something smells weird."
Fiearius looked back to see that he had stopped and was sniffing the air curiously. A frown passed over his face. "I don't smell anythi–" Fiearius began, but suddenly, to his alarm, he did. He did smell something. Something he'd been smelling far too often lately.
Fiearius spun back around just as it became visible in the hallway in front of him. The beginning sparks of flame. "Oh you gotta be fucking kidding me," he breathed as the spark met a wooden shelving unit and roared upwards.
Suddenly, he felt a sharp tug on his arm and he was being wrenched backwards by Dez. "Why does this keep happening to me?!" Fiearius demanded as he spun around and fell into pace beside him. He could feel the heat starting to rise at his back, which he shouldn't have. There wasn't enough fuel in here to make it spread this quickly. This was planned.
"I'll give you one guess," Dez called to him over the growing noise, echoing his own suspicions. Ophelia Varisian.
Fiearius shook his head. "What the hell did you do to that psycho?"
Dez cast him a strange look. Somewhere between worry and apology. But Fiearius didn't have time to analyze it as they turned a corner and were met with another wall of fire.
"Shit, she's boxed us in," Fiearius growled.
"This way." Dez took them down the adjacent hall which was clear, for now. Flames blocked off hallways they passed, forcing them down what was apparently the only safe path. It felt determinate. Intentional. She was leading them somewhere?
And then she lead them into a room that wasn't as empty as the rest. Fiearius stumbled to a halt and locked eyes with the woman standing before him, eyes he hadn't seen in years. They were different now. Older, tired, something more harsh about them. Her blonde hair was cut short. She'd lost some of her bulk. But it was still Varisian and her stare still threatened to slice his head off at the first wrong move.
But Varisian didn't attack, not at first. In fact, she looked like she hadn't expected them. At least not yet. She stood in the center of the room like they'd caught her in the middle of some intimate embarrassing act and no one could move. But suddenly, her eyes snapped to Dez. Her brow furrowed. She threw something across the room which crashed and started a blaze in the doorway and then, finally, she drew a blade from her hip and attacked.
Fiearius staggered backwards anyway, drawing his gun and trying to get a good aim as the woman lashed out, a flurry of rage and grace. Dez held her off, dodging out of the way, parrying her lunges and eventually drawing a blade of his own. Between the two of them, Fiearius had a hard time getting a clear shot, but in the end, he didn't have to.
"Go!" Dez ordered through gritted teeth as he blocked Varisian's attack.
"Go!" he shouted again and nodded towards the other door that she hadn't blockaded. "I'll hold her off. The Councillor is here. Go! Finish the job!"
Fiearius couldn't fathom most of what was happening. Why Ophelia was so set on stabbing Dez to death, how she'd even gotten here, what she was doing with the path of fire, but there was one thing that did make sense. Dez was right. She wouldn't be here if there wasn't something worth protecting.
He hesitated only a moment more, taking one last look at his old friend as he countered the onslaught, before he turned down the hall and made a run for it.
She'd already gotten to this hall. There were flames blocking every passage, every door, Fiearius was certain he'd run down a dead end right up until he saw it. The alcove, just a small dome branching out of the hallway that seemed insignificant. But the fire hadn't touched it. It was clear. And set into the floor was a hatch that, unlike everything else in this damn place, wasn't shielded by dust.
Without thinking, Fiearius grabbed the handle and yanked it open to reveal the hole and the ladder below. This ladder he wasn't careful with, bracing his feet on the sides and sliding down to the bottom with a thump.
He stumbled backwards, looking back up into the flickering lights above him, but before he could turn around, a voice froze him in place.
"Fiearius Soliveré. I've been expecting you."