The Crystal Lounge was sleek, clean, and crowded. Music poured from the speakers, and the room was dark, with black walls and violet lights. Leta wasn’t particularly enthralled with the decor, however. She was much more captivated with her third whiskey sour and the flowing conversation. The more she drew from the former, the more she drove the latter.
“So that’s why I went into emergency medicine,” she explained to Cyrus, the words spilling from her lips with an unsteady lilt. He listened closely, his glassy eyes reflecting the neon lights overhead as he took another long drink, the ice clinking merrily in his glass. Inwardly, she couldn’t recall how they’d gotten on this personal topic. Actually, it was becoming blurry how they ended up here at all.
As it turned out, Tarin offered more than a bustling marketplace. By night, the city boasted a row of bars, clubs, and restaurants, an array of colorful nightlife that Corra insisted they explore. After the encounter with Dez, Fiearius had gone off to complete his mysterious job and informed the crew that no one was to leave the ship for the remainder of their stay — an order everyone but Corra and Leta took seriously.
“I don’t think this is such a good idea — ” Cyrus had said worriedly when Corra, quite literally, dragged him up the stairs from the engine room. “He’s dangerous. And if he’s still out there…If Fiear says we should stay here, we should stay here.”
Fortunately, under Corra’s pleading influence, it didn’t take much convincing for Cyrus to join them that night. Leta was glad for it: if they did run into Dez again, the more company, the better. Unnerved as she was about the encounter that afternoon, it was hard to feel nervous when Corra took her by the hand and pulled her to the colorful, crowded strip of nightlife. It certainly wasn’t her usual scene, but lately, nothing was. She didn’t really have a ‘usual’ scene anymore.
Besides, after their conversation in the bridge, she had no issue with disregarding Fiearius’ order entirely: he gave her the unmistakable urge to drink.
She wasn’t the only one a few drinks deep. After insisting they all take a round of whiskey shots, Corra hugged them both and then disappeared to the dance floor. Cyrus sat with Leta at the bar, two emptied glasses in front of him. They’d talked more tonight than she had in her entire time aboard.
“Because of my mom,” Leta went on, trailing her finger around the rim of her glass. “She did medical research, before she died. Except, not exactly like her, because I nearly failed out of med school. I was always on review. I wasn’t focused enough. No professor wanted me around. Except when they needed help on the surgical table. That, I can do, I topped the class in fieldwork. It makes sense to me. It’s also where the blood and the action is,” she mused, then glancing at him pointedly. “As you well know by now.”
Cyrus laughed, but rather sadly. The grin on his face shrank into thought. “I was never like that in school,” he mused. “I studied my ass off. All the time. Went to every class. And all the office hours. And then I went home and I studied. And built things. And sometimes I ate. Food.” He pursed his lips together as though this was a very pressing matter. “But one time, I set the building on fire. And I got in trouble. Which was the only time I got in trouble. Ever. Except the time in high school when I reprogrammed the doors to have AI and they stopped letting in people who weren’t wearing the right shoes.” He frowned again. “I don’t know how that happened. I never gave them any protocol about footwear.”
Leta, midway through her drink, snorted into her glass. “If that’s all you got in trouble for in high school, your parents must have been proud,” she said, tilting more alcohol into her mouth. Lowering her glass, she noticed Cyrus’ eyes had wandered past her shoulder. Following his gaze, she realized he was watching Corra move on the dance floor.
“Hey, you should go dance with her,” said Leta easily. “I’m fine right here.”
Cyrus looked at her as if she’d suggested he run naked through the club. “What? I don’t want to–I mean, I can’t–I don’t–”
“Okay, okay, you don’t dance,” Leta said, laughing. “I don’t usually either until I’ve had about four more of these, or Ren’s talked me into it… “ She polished off the last of her drink and then added suddenly, “So can I ask you something? What’s going on between you and Corra anyway?”
The question had barely left Leta’s lips when Cyrus said, “Nothing,” and stared at the rim of his glass like he’d never seen something so captivating in his life. “There’s nothing going on. Why would you think something’s going on?”
Leta fixed him with a stare of disbelief. “Because,” she guessed good-naturedly, “I’m not blind? Come on, you can tell me.”
To his credit, Cyrus made a valiant attempt to look innocent and confused, but finally, his expression dissolved. “Nothing,” he said again, more defeatedly this time. “Really.” A sigh of exasperation came over him, and he dropped his forehead in his hand. “Nothing. She doesn’t–I’m not the kind of–She’s not interested.”
Leta, who had expected the conversation to take a happier turn than this, was taken aback.”Really? So you’ve — ?” She frowned, recognizing the signs of a defeated man. “I’m sorry. You two seem so close, that’s all.”
“We are,” he insisted, lifting his head again. “Close, I mean. We’re close, but, you know. Friend close. Not…” His voice trailed off as his hands made some unintelligible motion towards and away from one another. “Not other close.”
It’d been months since she’d felt a flicker of pity for another person’s relationship status. Watching Cyrus now, she willed away the sadness in his face. “If it’s any consolation,” she said, squeezing his shoulder, “my ‘future husband’ is in jail indefinitely. So. Cheers.” She clinked her glass against his with a sarcastic smirk.
Cyrus smirked back, though his was dimmed in uncertainty. “I guess things could be worse,” he muttered unsurely. But then, after taking another drink, he seemed struck by a newfound sense of purpose. “So what’s this future husband of yours like anyway? Besides the…you know…stuck in jail thing.”
Leta couldn’t remember the last time she had to indirectly introduce Ren to anybody. After a moment, she selected the first adjective that came to mind, which just happened to be, “Handsome. Really handsome. And intelligent — too intelligent for his own good. Affectionate. Really funny when he gets on a roll. Ambitious. He was in law school for a year before dropping out because he wanted to help people in a different way. So he became an activist — a professional bleeding-heart essentially. As you can imagine, I was the one who supported us financially. But, hey,” she added, forcing a smile, “maybe you’ll get to meet him someday.”
Cyrus’ smiled as his mouth opened to answer, but it was Corra’s voice that reached Leta’s ears.
“Meet who?” she asked breathlessly as she hurled herself at the bar from the dance floor. Cyrus went rather quiet suddenly, his eyes wide.
“Another round of shots please!” Corra called to the bartender, waving her hand at him excitedly, before rounding back on Leta. “Ren?” she guessed cheerfully. “Oh I better meet this guy. Can’t just tell me how great he is and never introduce me. Might start to think you’re making him up.” She elbowed her playfully as the bartender returned with three glasses.
Corra didn’t hesitate to dole them out between the three. “Cheer up you two,” she demanded, raising her glass and shooting it back. Patting them both on the shoulder, she pointed out, “Who knows when we’ll next get the chance to do this?”
Apparently distracted by a change in music, Corra’s attention snapped back to the dance floor and her feet followed after. As she hurried back off into the crowd though, she paused momentarily to call back, “Oh right, I know when. Leta’s fancy wedding! Which I will be invited to!” She pointed at Leta in accusation before melting back into the dancing crowd.
“If she thinks I’m still having a fancy wedding after all this, she really is crazy,” said Leta, laughing affectionately, but it was a second later that she realized Cyrus was not paying her an ounce of attention. His unfocused eyes were set over her head again.
“She’s so beautiful,” he muttered, his voice barely audible over the roar of the music.
Surprised, but immediately recovering, Leta agreed fervently, “Yeah, she is.”
“And so…happy,” he went on, ignoring her. “Like she just loves living. Even after all she’s been through and where she ended up and all that’s happened. I mean…Goddora just died.” He looked over at Leta with the utmost drunken seriousness. “Like…just now. And she wasn’t there to do it. And all those allies…those people we left there. It’s killing her inside, it has to be. But you can’t tell. She’s still smiling and dancing and trying to cheer us up. She’s incredible. I can’t even–she’s just incredible.”
“She is,” Leta agreed, feeling amused, but agreeable all the same. “She’s the one who made me go out this afternoon to cheer me up. And tonight too. I think we could all do with a little more of — whatever she’s got,” she sighed. But then, she couldn’t resist adding, glancing over at him knowingly, “You’ve got it seriously bad for her, Cyrus. What’re you going to do about it?”
If Cyrus had been in despair before, it was nothing compared to now. His whole expression sank. “What can I do?” he said pleadingly. “It’s not like I can change anything. She doesn’t want…well I don’t know what she wants, but I know it’s not me.” He placed his empty glass back on the bar and, without a shred of hesitation, downed his fresh shot in one quick swallow.
Leta watched, amazed, as Cyrus barely winced at the intake of alcohol. “You’ve talked to her about it then?”
“Yeah,” Cyrus sighed and clarified, “Sort of. There was…I mean…We had a thing. Once. A long time ago.”
“A thing? So you — what, slept together?” said Leta bluntly, and the beat of silence on Cyrus’ end told her that was an affirmative. She could not decide if she felt surprised by this, and after a moment she decided she did not. It did mean, however, she had a whole plethora of questions for Corra.
For now, she wondered, “Was that awkward? Back at the trauma ward, I think I was the only one on staff who didn’t sleep around. Long hours and close quarters did a lot for people.”
Cyrus hesitated, wincing. “Awkward? Yeah. It was awkward, but–I don’t know…It was nothing. I guess. I mean, I thought maybe it was something. I thought maybe we could make it something anyway. I even took her out to dinner afterwards.” He rolled his eyes at his own stupidity before they sunk to the floor. “But she didn’t want something. It was pretty final,” he concluded at last. “She’s not interested.”
For a moment, Leta could think of nothing to say, except, “We’ll have another round,” to the bartender with urgency in her tone. To Cyrus, she said, “And you’re sure?”
“Well I don’t see exactly what would have changed,” he muttered sadly. “She wasn’t interested then, I don’t know why she would be now.” The bartender brought the next round of drinks and without even looking up, Cyrus suddenly had the glass in his hand and half the liquid down his throat. “No different than anyone else I guess,” he mumbled. “No girl in their right mind would be interested in me, would they?” Without waiting for an answer, he grunted his disapproval and grumbled, “Oh no, they much prefer cocky jerks with a propensity for nearly getting everyone killed. That makes so much sense.”
Realizing what he said on a slight, alcohol-induced delay, Leta’s drink halted midway between the bar and her mouth. “You mean your brother?” she demanded, not bothering to hide the disgust in her voice. “You think Corra has a thing for your brother? That’s — well, that’s really — ” she struggled for a moment, before relenting with a small smirk. “Complicated. Cy, seriously? No way, she’s too smart for that. And if so, she has very, uh interesting taste in men …”
“I don’t know,” he muttered. “I don’t know what Corra wants. My brother, maybe, maybe not. I don’t know. But if she did? Weird and crazy and stupid as that is, she wouldn’t be the first.”
Leta wasn’t sure she wanted to imagine Fiearius and plethora of women at his disposal. “Is Fiearius even capable of feelings?”
“Fiearius? Feelings.” He snorted. “Not likely. Since we left Satieri, I’ve never seen him with the same girl twice. I don’t think ‘feelings’ are even a factor.” He shook his head disapprovingly before adding, frowning thoughtfully, “Though I guess he was with Aela for six years or something ridiculous. So I guess it’s possible. But unlikely.”
“Hang on, you lost me,” said Leta, blinking her eyes. Now that her own drink was finished, Leta reached over for Cyrus’, only to find his disappointingly empty as well. “Who’s Aela?”
“But then again,” Cyrus rambled on thoughtfully, as though he hadn’t even heard her, “it didn’t take very long after we left for him to get back on the horse. Doesn’t that seem kind of wrong to you? Your wife and kid die — “ Abruptly, Leta stopped fishing in the glass. “ — and you’re already chasing girls in bars a month or whatever later? Okay maybe it was a few months, but still. Isn’t that kinda heartless? It is. I rest my case. He has no feelings.”
For a moment, it was as if everything in the club went still. Whatever she’d been expecting — more troubled love-life rambling from Cyrus, probably — it wasn’t this. “Wife and kid?” she repeated at last. “Fiearius was married? With a kid? What — happened?”
“Doesn’t make any sense, that’s all, it–” Cyrus was mumbling to himself, staring distantly across the bar, until he finally realized Leta was still sitting across from him. Finally, he stuttered, “I didn’t–what are you–I didn’t say that.”
“Yes you did, you just did,” said Leta. She lowered her drink to the bar, no longer feeling amused at all. “You said Fiearius had a wife and child. They died?”
“No,” Cyrus replied instantly, feigning innocence, which wasn’t an act he could pull off well even when he was sober. When Leta’s eyes narrowed, he sunk on his stool and put his head in his hands. “You can’t tell him I said that,” he pleaded.
“I–fine,” said Leta dismissively. “But I can’t believe this. He had a family? I can’t imagine…“ Picturing Fiearius as a husband — a father — made her feel uneasy in a way she couldn’t express. It certainly tainted the image she had of him: a cocky, selfish asshole who dragged her into his messes and gave her nothing in return. But a father? Fiearius, the same person who slaughtered Goddorra and nearly gotten his brother killed on Archeti — once had a family?