“So. He killed someone?” said Leta, abandoning all pretense now.
Fiearius breathed a short, wry laugh. “Not quite. Woulda been kinder to us all though if he did.”
Leta felt her heart clench.
“That’s terrible,” she said quietly, gripping her hand around her otherwise untouched glass. “And I suppose it’s too late for me to … ” To help the victim, she thought, trailing off uselessly. “Why do you keep him around if he doesn’t listen to you?” she asked, looking up at him. “Good gunhand or not. He seems very … ” Unsettled. Disturbed. Creepy.
“Fucked up?” Fiearius suggested through another laugh. “Yeah. I know. But who among us isn’t, really?” He smirked, and then muttered, “I dunno. There are times like these when I honestly think we’d be better off without him. And then there are times when his rifle’s the only thing between me and a hole in my head.” He spread his free hand helplessly and took another sip of his drink. “It’s hard to say. I haven’t yet had a good enough reason to sway either direction so…stay he does.”
“Even when he hurts innocent people?” said Leta at once. She did not find this answer particularly satisfying. “If I’m remembering the combat ring correctly, you’ve recently taken a stance against that.”
Fiearius grimaced and shook his head. “Innocent isn’t the word I’d use,” he amended. “Useful people. People I didn’t want hurt. But innocent? No. Not innocent.” He fell silent for a moment, swirling the remaining liquid in his glass absently. Finally, he went on, “But as un-useful as that is, he makes up for it in how many times he’s saved all our asses. Been more than a few firefights that would have gone the other way if it weren’t for him. He’s not disloyal exactly. He defends the ship, through and through, and defends it well. And with the amount of trouble we get into? Kinda need people like him around…”
Leta couldn’t say she agreed, though she was understanding now why Fiearius craved that strong drink. She hadn’t actually had any of her drink yet; in silence she tapped her fingers against the glass, until Fiearius broke the silence and asked, “So where’s your posse at tonight, huh?”
“Cyrus and Corra?” Leta asked, wondering if it was wise to inform Fiearius of what they were actually up to. Then again, he’d overhear something about it soon. Gossip spread on the ship like wildfire. Besides, she felt proud of Cyrus, so she said, “Actually. They’re out on a date right now.”
At once, Fiearius snorted a laugh into his drink. “On a date?” he repeated, lowering his glass to better survey her. “Suppose that’s your doing?”
“No, Cyrus asked her,” said Leta at once. And then she admitted, glancing to the side, “I may have encouraged things, yes … “
He was still shaking his head slowly, a knowing smirk on his face. “You have no idea what you’ve done, do you?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” said Leta, unsure if she wanted to laugh or not.
“It means that in…” He glanced up at the clock across the room. “In an hour, maybe two, you’re gonna have two very upset individuals knocking on your door begging you to erase the last twelve hours of their lives.”
This time, Leta did laugh. “What?! Not a chance. They’re probably having a ball right now. The time of their lives.” Leta hoped very much this was true. “What — you think it’s a mistake?”
“I know it’s a mistake,” he laughed. “I’ll bet you my ship this ends badly.”
Leta squinted, pretending to consider the offer as she looked around the room.
“Well I would make an outstanding captain … Yeah, I’ll take that bet,” she said.
Smirking, she reached for drink for the first time, tilting it against his with an agreeable clink of glass.
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Of all the ways Cyrus had pictured the evening, this was not among them. His hopes of a classy romantic dinner had been squashed, but even then, he’d believed there would be some acceptable middle ground. A quiet cafe maybe or a nice relaxed diner somewhere by the docks. A place they could get a decent meal and have some decent conversation. A simple request really. Anything would have been better than the dark, crowded, noisy bar they’d wound up inside.
As he fidgeted on an uncomfortable stool, picking aimlessly at the greasy appetizers crammed onto the tiny table in front of him, he realized Corra was speaking, but he had no idea what she was saying. The persistent thumping of the bass from the dance floor downstairs drowned her out completely.
Nor could he see much more than the dark shape of the woman in front of him occasionally silhouetted by a bright pink or green spinning light. A shape that was now waving at him, haloed in orange.
“What?” Cyrus shouted, leaning in to try and hear what she was saying.
Corra took a deep breath and shouted back, “I asked what you thought.”
Cyrus thought he saw disappointment in her eyes. She shook her head. “Nevermind.”
Admittedly, Cyrus had not been on a record number of dates in his life. He could count them all on his fingers if he tried. But of those minimal few, so far, judging by some mathematical ratio of how much he liked his date versus how poorly their date was going, this one was the worst. If decent food and decent conversation was what he had been going for, the final quality of both was a pretty hefty indicator.
As he sat up straight again, he heard a muffled ‘nnnngh mm hm hhhd’ across the table. Leaning in again, he shouted, “What?”
“I didn’t know this place would be so loud!” Corra said again, three notches higher. Cyrus provided her a light understanding smirk and nodded slowly. Sure, she didn’t know. Despite the fact that they’d heard the music a block away and that’s what had drawn her in.
Even now, even in the dim light, he could see her casting glances at the dance floor below them through the railings. Cyrus was no idiot. He’d known Corra long enough to know her ideal night out was down there in the crowd under the bright lights, swaying her hips to the music. But he also knew himself well enough to know that his ideal night was … well, the exact opposite.
But who was he to keep her from what she wanted? Better one of them not be miserable than both.
“You should go dance if you want to,” he called to her loudly, leaning in again. Her eyes widened in surprise and she quickly shook her head.
“No no! I’m okay here,” she assured him, picking up her drink and taking a long sip through the straw.
“Go on,” he insisted. “I’m serious. You should go. Have fun.”
This time, with her lips still pursed on her straw, she actually seemed to consider it. She glanced down to the dance floor and then back up at him. “No, I can’t,” she decided at last.
“You can,” Cyrus told her again, “Please. I want you to have a good time.”
Again, her eyes flitted between him and the stairs. A few times. Until at last, drink in hand, she slid from her stool and seized his wrist. “Come with me,” she ordered, but of course, Cyrus shook his head. “Come with me, please,” she begged, tugging at his arm. “I won’t go if you don’t.”
Despite himself, Cyrus chuckled. Well at least she cared. And although he wanted to simply turn her down again, as he looked into those big brown doe eyes, staring up at him with all the need and want of a starving puppy, he couldn’t say anything but, “Agh, okay. In a minute. Let me finish some of this food first at least.”
Corra bounced with excitement, still with a death grip on his arm. “Promise?”
“Yeah I promise,” he reluctantly agreed. “I’ll come find you in a bit.” Apparently satisfied with what would probably be half lie, Corra grinned, relinquished her hold and ran off towards the stairs, disappearing into the shadows and blending into the crowd below.
Which left Cyrus alone. On an uncomfortable stool. At a cramped table. In a loud, horrible bar. On the worst date he’d ever had. The next time the waitress passed him, he intended to order a very very strong drink…
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
“I’ll take another drink, thanks,” Leta ordered, nodding at the whiskey bottle on Fiearius’ side of the table. She skidded her emptied glass across the table toward him, like he was her personal bartender. Truthfully, she hadn’t intended staying for another round, but it turned out the whiskey wasn’t as cheap and foul as she suspected.
Besides, she was waiting to win a bet here. She leaned back in her seat and put her feet up on a chair, mocking the way she saw Fiearius sit in his captain’s chair, dramatically overconfident.
“By the way, have you noticed the time?” She nodded toward the clock on the wall innocently. “Notice Cy and Corra aren’t back yet? Because they’re having such a good time on their date?” She smirked. “You’re about to hand over your ship, looks like.”
As she spoke, Fiearius was obediently pouring her another drink, helping himself to another while he was at it. All the while, he was shaking his head. “In your dreams, kiddo, in your dreams,” he muttered, passing her a refreshed glass.
Leta grinned around the rim of her glass. “What’s so wrong with them giving it a shot, anyway?” she asked. “Someone on this boat oughta have a happy love life.”
“Who says someone doesn’t already?” Fiearius argued in false indignation. “Hell, for all you know, maybe I do. What makes you think I don’t have a fantastic love life, huh?”
“Because you sleep around every time we make a stop,” said Leta without missing a beat, laughing in spite of herself. Fiearius shrugged one shoulder in agreement. “But I guess — you could also … be in a relationship … that’s true … ” Her voice trailed off dubiously, until she joked, “Well, congratulations, then. I didn’t think a relationship would fit into your pirating lifestyle. Who is she? Or he.”
A mischievous smirk lit up his face. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” he answered, tilting his glass at her before downing a healthy measure.
“Probably not,” said Leta, lifting her own drink to her lips. The whiskey went down easier now, warm and smoky, as she sipped. “I can’t picture you being very domestic.”
Putting his glass back down on the table with a thud of glass meeting metal, Fiearius shrugged and remarked, “Eh, people can surprise ya I think.”
Leta opened her mouth to refute, but suddenly hesitated. It may have been hard to picture now, but Fiearius had been domestic once, hadn’t he? The night from a few weeks ago came to mind — when Cyrus confessed that once upon a time, Fiearius, actually, had once been married … with a child …
Her expression must have softened, because suddenly, Fiearius’ own expression shifted toward confusion as he eyed her. And then, after a moment, realization spread over his face, and not happily so. He heaved a sigh and cocked a knowing brow at her. “You know, don’t you?”
He rolled his eyes. “About Aela. Cyrus told you, didn’t he?”
Leta froze, and then, after a moment, relaxed. It felt wrong to lie about something as significant as his deceased wife. She sighed. “Yeah. When he was drunk a few weeks ago.” She paused, and asked softly, “Aela, is it? I didn’t know her name.”
“Mmmhm,” he muttered absently, taking another drink. A significantly longer one this time, she noticed, but Leta couldn’t help but voice her curiosity.
“So … when did you get married?” she asked gently. “You must’ve been young.”
“Twenty-two.” He snorted a laugh. “Young and naive.”
“That is young,” Leta murmured. “But … when you know, you just know. Ren and I were engaged after six months. How long did you know each other before you got married?”
Fiearius quietly considered the question. “I met her when I was eighteen,” he decided at last. “Though it was another year before she’d give me the time of day.”
At that, Leta couldn’t bite back her smirk. “Well I can’t imagine why.”
“Oh, you think I’m bad now?” he replied with a grin. “Twelve years ago I was a right nightmare. Gotta give her some credit for ever giving me a chance at all.”
Leta winced, but it wasn’t from the whiskey burning down her throat. “I can’t imagine you at eighteen …” Gingerly taking another sip, Leta lowered her glass and wondered quietly, feeling bolder, “Fiearius, how did she die?”
He was looking at her when she asked the question, but immediately after, his eyes shifted past her shoulder to something she couldn’t see. He was so still, she wasn’t sure he’d even answer at all. Finally, a humorless smirk pulled across his face and he said calmly, “Let’s not.”
Leta lifted her eyebrows in apology, searching him over. Then she sighed, “Okay. Well, for what it’s worth, I’m sorry your time with her got cut short,” and then fell into an agreeable silence. She tapped her fingers against her glass, and, abruptly, pulled a face of disgust.
“Sorry. I just — I’m still trying to picture you as a husband,” she admitted shortly. “Domesticated. Tamed. It’s difficult to imagine …”
He laughed lightly. “I dunno about tamed exactly. Aela would probably disagree,” he admitted. “Whassa matter? Surprised you ain’t the only one on this boat to buy into the ideals of marital bliss?”
“A little. Yeah. Although I wouldn’t say I’m ‘buying’ into those ideals of happy marriage. At least, not anymore.”
To her surprise, he looked thoughtfully interested. “That so?”
Before Leta could think to stop herself, she started talking, more unguarded than she ever had around Fiearius, “Well, it’s difficult to feel optimistic when we were supposed to be married two months ago, and now I don’t even know if … if we’ll … ”
Ever be together again. She felt her shoulders sink, but she pressed on bluntly, “I don’t care about our wedding anymore. And I doubt getting married will be our first concern when I get Ren back. So I don’t care about that. Any of that. Right now I just want him to be alright. That’s all.”
A silence followed her words, and tentatively she flicked her eyes up to Fiearius. He was watching her with a frown on his face, his brow slightly creased. He said nothing. Then his eyes dropped to the glass in his hand, his frown deepened and, without a word of explanation, he stood up from his chair and walked away from the table.
Leta blinked. Apparently sharing a personal story with Fiearius was even more ill-advised than she thought.
“Where’re you going?” she called after him, feeling somewhat defensive, but Fiearius answered right away.
“To get the shot glasses,” he called back as he disappeared into the kitchen. “We’re gonna need ‘em.”
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It actually took two strong drinks before Cyrus even considered joining Corra on the dance floor. It was one more to make him actually do it. And when he did, it was less out of intent to join her as it was intent to convince her to let them leave.
There was some part of him, as he sat upstairs alone, that hoped she would eventually come back on her own. Maybe she’d realize she missed him or that dancing wasn’t that great after all or that she’d much rather fetch Cyrus and go somewhere else where they could talk. But predictably, Corra never did come back. She never had that realization. She didn’t want to go anywhere else. So reluctantly, Cyrus had seized the bouquet of flowers that was now falling apart and headed for the stairs, noticing vaguely that the floor was swaying.
Corra was not the easiest person to locate in a crowd. It took Cyrus all of eight uncomfortable minutes forcing himself through the sweaty mass of moving people before he finally laid eyes on a familiar flip of black hair. Delicately slipping between two skinny blondes even taller than him, he reached out to lay on her shoulder.
Instantly, Corra spun around to face him and after a moment of recognition, squealed, “Cy-cy! Finally! What took you so long?” She outstretched her arms to pull him into an awkward dancing hug. As she wrapped her arms around his neck, a bit of her drink spilled onto his back. A drink that he certainly hadn’t bought her.
And that was when he noticed the man standing beside her, giving him a death stare. He wasn’t particularly burly or tough, just an average local by the looks of it, but even the most average local could likely be successful in breaking Cyrus’ skull open for the right reason.
This guy seemed to think he had the right reason.