He didn’t want to kill Rowland. That wasn’t his place. He’d never killed anyone and he didn’t plan to start now. All he wanted was for him to stop this. He just wanted it all to end. This whole nightmare to be over. He never intended to kill him.
But Fiearius was afforded an opportunity. One of his punches landed squarely in Rowland’s jaw, knocking him back for just a moment. Fiearius took the chance and rolled on top of him, seizing his wrists and pinning them to the ground. He may have been crazy, but he certainly wasn’t stronger than his opponent. Rowland was trapped. But what now?
“I’ll kill you, you little fuck!” Rowland was shouting as he struggled beneath Fiearius’ grip. “I’ll kill you and I’ll paint this ground with your blood. I’ll kill you. I’ll kill you. I’ll do it.”
Fiearius could do nothing but stare down at him, his heart racing and his head pounding. What was he supposed to do? What could he do? He felt a certain hysteria rising in him as he realized that Rowland’s writhing and flailing was starting to wear him down. Fiearius was weak, wounded, he could only hold him so long. He was going to get out. He was going to get out and–
“I’ll kill you! I’ll slaughter you and burn your sorry fucking corpse to ashes.”
His hand was starting to slip. He could feel his grip loosening.
“I’ll kill you and then I’ll kill your fucking boyfriend.”
It was only a matter of time. He was going to lose it–“I’ll fucking kill you, you fucking fuck shit fu–”
Suddenly the screaming stopped. Fiearius looked down into the slackened face between his legs, its wide eyes cold and dead. So…very…dead.
He didn’t even know how it had happened. Rowland’s wrists had started to slip out of Fiearius’ grasp and some primal instinct had taken control of him. He’d locked a knee on each side of Rowland’s neck and just..twisted. There had been a crack and then…silence. Absolute silence. The roar of the fire faded away and his vision started to go dark, save for that face which continued to blaze through.
Fiearius had seen a dead body before, but never like this. Never lying beneath him. Never his own victim. He felt he might throw up, but he couldn’t stop staring at it. The man he’d been struggling for his life against now looked so…calm. Peaceful. Like he was just resting there. Not…dead. His eyes traveled down the gaunty curve of his face to the throat which was distorted unnaturally and there he saw a set of thick black lines in a familiar shape. The Society librera, the same mark on his own flesh, inked into the side of Rowland’s neck.
Bile rose in his throat.
Dez’s voice drifted to his ears. “You killed him…” he breathed from his spot on the ground. “You killed him,” he said again, more seriously this time.
A very different stroke of panic ran through Fiearius. He looked back over his shoulder, eyes wide. “I-I didn’t,” he began nervously. “H-he was gonna kill you. He was gonna kill us. I-I didn’t–”
“No,” Dez interrupted, shaking his head and for a moment Fiearius thought the worst. When Liardson heard about this…When he found out that two standard operatives had failed so badly on their mission that they’d burned down a building and killed their target? He was going to be furious. And Dez was going to throw him under the bus. He could feel it.
“No, no,” Dez said again, shaking his head and finished, to Fiearius’ surprise, “You did the right thing.” He paused. “We did the right thing,” he amended. “We did. We killed him. We did the right thing.”
Relieved, Fiearius let out a long and heavy sigh, falling back onto the dirt and relinquishing the death hold he’d still had on Rowland’s spine. “We did the right thing,” he repeated, as though trying to convince himself as he shuffled over towards Dez, trying to put as much space between him and the body as he could.
“We did the right thing,” Dez agreed, meeting him halfway across the garden where they both lay on their backs looking up at the sky and fell into silence. The fire in the building was starting to die down, but the lights danced over the grassy lawn.
Finally, Fiearius mumbled, “Are you okay?”
“I think I’ll live,” said Dez quietly. “You?”
He sighed. “Yeah. Probably.”
Another silence passed between them. “We need to call this in,” Dez remarked.
“Yeah,” Fiearius said, his voice heavy with reluctance. “I know.”
They both tilted their heads to look at one another, a knowing stare passing between their eyes. Eventually Dez just nodded and looked away again. “You’re right,” he said simply. “They can wait.”
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
“We were in the hospital for a couple days after. A week, maybe, I don’t remember,” Fiearius muttered tiredly, his voice low and gruff from speaking so long. Somehow, Leta knew he’d never told this story to anyone before. She hung on every word — fascinated, horrified by the imagery. The murder.
“Took some time off after that. Spent a few days on a couch watching a screen. Another few days in a tattoo parlor getting these stupid things.” He lifted his arm and turned it over to examine the inked flames running up to his elbow. “Seemed like a fitting tribute at the time.” His face scrunched in dislike. “The ignorance of youth, I guess.”
He released a sigh and dropped his arm back in his lap.“When we finally did go back to work, two things had changed,” he went on. His eyes were slanted toward the floor. “The first was that Liardson, our boss? Had been fired for purposefully sending standard operatives into a field meant for a senior. Apparently he’d believed that pulling it off would get him a boost up the food chain. Unfortunately for him, it did the opposite.” He laughed once, sharp and humorless.
“For us though?” he continued. “We were the menial little agents no one had heard of who’d somehow pulled off a job far beyond our abilities and eliminated one of the Society’s greater annoyances. No one seemed to care that we’d almost gotten ourselves killed in the process.” He subtly rolled his eyes and readjusted himself against the wall. “They promoted us on the spot. As soon as our wounds healed, they handed us our guns, wished us good luck and sent us off on our first real assassination job.”
He paused to take a deep breath. He still hadn’t looked at her. In fact, he hadn’t looked at her in minutes. “And just like that, Pieter Rowland stopped being ‘that guy I killed’ and started being ‘the first guy I killed’.” At last, he brought his eyes to hers with a shame and apology she’d never seen in him before and muttered, “First of many.”
For a moment longer Leta could think of nothing to say. She wouldn’t reassure him of what he did, but she couldn’t forsake him for being another Society puppet …
Or was he? The image she had of Fiearius was that he controlled his own life without shame. Curiously, she murmured, “But you act like it — all this bloodshed — doesn’t get to you,” with both questioning and accusation in her voice. She thought he might be offended, but he raised his eyebrows only in thought.
“After all those years in Internal, it’s hard to think of death the same way anymore,” he explained quietly. “Lives are just fleeting things that can be bought, sold, traded. Your own life is just one more asset to hang onto. Death is a transaction. They drill that into you until you believe it. It’s all just business.”
“And I do believe it,” he went on. “So if I act like it doesn’t bother me, it’s because it doesn’t. Usually. And then…” A veil fell over his face, his eyes growing distant. He stared across the cell but Leta knew he wasn’t seeing anything there.
“And then sometimes I forget to believe. And I remember Pieter Rowland. And that feeling I got after–”
Abruptly, his words cut off and he shook his head, dismissing himself. When he finally found his voice, it contained a rough shakiness she never would have expected. “It’s times like tonight. When it stops being business. And everything just…catches up…”
His voice faded slowly away, word by word, leaving a ringing silence in the cell.
Leta watched as he swallowed hard in his throat and averted his eyes toward a corner of the cell. Before this moment, she’d never felt aligned with Fiearius, but it was clear now the same people who took Ren from her also stole Fiearius’ life from him. At age seventeen.
The right words didn’t exist for this, she thought, falling quiet instead. A burdened, defeated and somehow understanding silence descended upon them and she hardly even noticed, moments later, when she leaned against his side and her head found his shoulder.