Drawing back from the hug, Corra noticed the two of them staring at each other and laughed cheerfully. “Cy-cy, this is Rodrik,” she introduced, oblivious to whatever malicious thoughts were going through this Rodrik’s head. “Rodrik, this is Cyrus, the friend I was waiting for.” She grinned at each of them in turn and then seized Cyrus’ arm gleefully. “Come on!” she cheered, “Come dance with me!”
Corra started to pull him off into the crowd and Cyrus, eager to get away from whatever beating was coming his way if he stayed where he was, willingly followed. But before he could even move a foot, a second hand grabbed his shoulder, Corra’s grip slipped away and Cyrus was forcefully turned to face the grim leer of her former dance partner.
“Didn’t anyone ever tell you it’s rude to cut in?” Rodrik asked, shouting over the music.
Cyrus’ first instinct whenever someone larger than him started threatening him was to run. But he had consumed just enough liquor and was having an evening just bad enough to overcome that instinct.
“Didn’t anyone ever tell you it’s rude to steal someone’s date?” he snapped back, surprised at his own daring.
“I didn’t steal anything,” the man argued abruptly. “I just saw a cute girl and asked her to dance. Ain’t my fault her ‘date’ abandoned her.” Cyrus jerked his shoulder out of the man’s grip and opened his mouth to respond, but Rodrik beat him to it. “How bout you just get the hell outta here? That girl deserves someone who’ll treat her proper.”
At once, Cyrus was overcome with a blend of rage and despair. In equal measures he wanted to defend himself (“You don’t even know what you’re talking about, it’s not like that at all, shut up!” he’d shout), and run away. He hadn’t abandoned her. She wanted to dance, he let her dance. If anything, she had abandoned him, as soon as she’d decided not to give the nice restaurant a chance.
But she hadn’t given it a chance because she didn’t feel comfortable there. Just as he didn’t feel comfortable here. The realization spread over him uneasily. Maybe Rodrik was right after all. Cyrus knew that Corra wasn’t the type for fancy restaurants and polite dinner conversation, but he’d tried to fit her into that familiar mold anyway. A mold she didn’t fit in. And in return, she’d done the same to him. Maybe he really was a terrible date.
“Cyrus?” Corra pushed back through the crowd towards them and laid a hand on his shoulder. “C’mon,” she insisted again, but before Cyrus could even answer, Rodrik stepped in.
“He was just thinking of leaving,” the man said darkly, putting his hand on Cyrus’ other shoulder and gently pushing him out of the way. Cyrus looked up at him hopelessly and for a moment believed that he probably should just leave. Until Corra spoke up.
“Oh?” she asked, casting him a worried stare. “Okay, let me just finish my drink and we can go?”
A warmth suddenly arose in Cyrus’ chest. A warmth that was quickly put out when Rodrik relented his grip on Cyrus and moved towards Corra instead, insisting, “Oh, you don’t have to go too. Stay, dance some more, I’ll make sure you get home safe.”
“No thanks,” was Corra’s immediate response and she smiled at Cyrus. “I don’t mind going now, really.”
Cyrus felt a large temptation to step forward and pull her into another hug, but this guy apparently was not giving up so easily. He looked shocked, and then simply appalled that she’d turned down the offer. “Aw c’mon, stay a little longer. We were having fun til this guy showed up.” He jerked his thumb towards Cyrus.
This time, when Corra looked up at him, it was with irritation. “I’m still having fun actually,” she corrected, her tone terse. “Cyrus, let’s go.”
“Seriously?” Rodrik asked, defeated and now grasping at straws. “You really wanna go with this loser?”
Privately, Cyrus agreed with the sentiment, but apparently it was the wrong thing to say to Corra. Corra suddenly spun back around, fury in her eyes. “Excuse me?” she said viciously. Her hand, Cyrus noticed, was still wrapped around his wrist.
“C’mon, look at him,” Rodrik explained, though his tone suggested he already knew this was a losing battle. “Dressed up like some fancy prick? What the hell’s that about? And what’s this?” Before Cyrus could stop him, he reached over and seized the roses from his hand, holding them up in demonstration. “Flowers? Really? What is it, 1810?”
With a hearty scoff, he lifted his shoulders and tossed the bouquet to the floor where it was immediately stomped on by nearby dancers.
Cyrus had seen Corra angry plenty of times, but never had he seen her with quite the amount of fury that filled her as she watched her flowers pulverized by heavy shoes and four inch heels. Her eyes went from the destruction on the floor, up to Rodrik’s face and finally down to the still half full glass in her hand.
With a low growl, the last two combined as Corra splashed what was left of it straight in his eyes. “Those were mine, you son of a bitch!” she shouted angrily. But apparently, the drink wasn’t enough to satisfy her. Distractedly, she tossed the empty glass aside (Cyrus thought he heard someone shriek as it smashed on the floor), and while Rodrik was still reeling from the alcohol burning his eyeballs, she sucker-punched him right in the jaw.
Corra paid no heed to the gasps of shock and awe as she confidently strode out of the bar, Cyrus immediately on her heels, more happy than ever to leave this place.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
” …. right in the face. It hurt like hell, honestly,” Leta was saying, her voice uneven as she fought off another bout of laughter, “but it hurt her more. I actually broke her nose.”
Fiearius laughed, loud and uneven, as he handed her another shot glass, brimming and spilling over with whiskey. It was their — fourth shot? Or maybe their sixth, judging by the unsteadiness to Fiearius’ stance and the glassiness in his eyes when he grinned sloppily at her. She’d never actually seen the captain drunk before, and it struck her as particularly hilarious; even he couldn’t hold this much liquor.
In one swift motion she downed the shot, grimacing as it burned down her throat. Then she laughed and coughed as she tried to remember what it was they were even discussing …
Oh right. The one and only time she’d ever punched anyone, back in high school. “There was so much blood,” she recalled, sighing wistfully. “Enough that they had to repaint a wall.”
She laughed again, and then clasped a hand over her mouth as she hiccuped. It was admittedly difficult to keep track of the conversation now that they had moved into the kitchen to finish off this bottle — and it was nearly empty now, she realized, picking up the bottle by the neck and tilting it back and forth with interest.
“Anyway,” said Leta, noticing a certain wobbliness in her voice. She lowered the bottle beside her before looking over at Fiearius. He was leaning sideways against the cabinets, facing her, currently finishing off his own shot. She sat sideways atop the counter, one leg swinging toward the floor. “What were we talking about again?”
“How you like to beat up high school girls,” Fiearius said at once, sliding his empty glass across the counter, his eyes following it with a drunken level of interest.
“Wh — no, that was only once. And I think actually we were speculating about how the date is going.”
Fiearius, who was busy flicking the emptying bottle as though it was the most important thing he ever had to do, picked up his head in alarm.
“What date?” he demanded. “I never said anything about this being a date.”
“Well good,” said Leta blankly, and then recovered, “because this isn’t. Cyrus and Corra, however … “
After a moment of profound confusion, Fiearius blinked. “Oh yeah,” he remembered, laughing slowly. “My brother.” He fell silent, and then said abruptly, “Hey, I used to beat up high school people too. Not girls usually. But they always picked on my lil brother for being a goddamn nerd.” He made a fist and frowned at it determinedly. “So I punched ‘em in the face. Only took a couple times though.” He grinned proudly. “Then no one ever bothered him again.”
Leta looked between Fiearius and the fist he was making, wondering where this story had came from, but snorting out a laugh all the same. “Wow, you punching someone. Shocking.” But actually, there was something she wondered, and she tilted her heavy head to the side. “Were you two close growing up then?”
“Oh yeah,” he said, dropping his fist. “Real close. Our house was pretty small so we had to share a room and sometimes we’d just stay up for hours talking about everything. School, home, our family, girls. We used to help each other write love letters,” he remembered with a laugh. “I had the ideas, he had the grammar and literary reference. They were damn poetry. Worked for me a couple times. I think Cy was always too chicken to send his though.” He smiled at the memory, but it faded as he added, “But I left home at sixteen and didn’t talk to him for ten years so…” He grimaced and shrugged. “Oops.”
Before Leta could response, Fiearius continued his rambling, seemingly choosing the words out of thin air.
“Look, it’s not that I don’t want them to be happy,” he said suddenly, focusing his hazy eyes on her with difficulty. “Cy and Corra I mean. Since I bet my ship against them and all. I want them to be. Really. And I love Corra, I do. And so does Cy, obviously. But as much as he thinks otherwise, she’s just not the right girl for him. I know it. She knows it. If he’d just open his eyes for a few minutes and stop being blinded by those big brown eyes of hers, he’d know it too.”
“Sometimes,” Leta put in quietly, “people can’t help who they like.”
Fiearius frowned. “Cyrus has this underlying belief that all it takes for a good relationship is being nice to each other,” he went on, almost as though Leta wasn’t in the room at all. “You like someone, they like you, you laugh a bit, have some conversations, good to go. He and Corra are friends, they get along well, she has female parts, clearly they are meant to be. But that’s not true.” He pointed his finger at Leta accusingly. “It’s not true.”
“It could be true,” Leta argued.
“I was married for four years,” he continued, laughing oddly as though he, himself, couldn’t believe it either. “Trust me, that’s not true. And you probably know that too, don’t you? You know. Real love, the kind that makes a…thing, a long thing, and isn’t just…you know, whatever it is, it’s way more than friendship. It’s trust. And honesty. And respect and anger and forgiveness and all the little pieces of you that you wish no one knew, it’s that. It’s understanding and willingness to understand.” As he spoke, he moved his hands in the air dramatically, as though trying to act out the concepts.
“It’s taking out your soul and laying it on a table and smashing it with a hammer and letting the other person try and put it back together again.” His hand gestures were particularly dramatic at this point. “Real love isn’t fluffy, happy friendship, it’s a connection. A connection that you want but don’t want at the same time. Something you can’t live with. But you can’t live without either.”
Seemingly at the height of his rant, he turned suddenly to Leta and his expression fell into concern as he asked, “You know what I mean, right?”
Leta hadn’t expected to him to address her, so when he did, she felt caught. She didn’t particularly want him to notice how curiously she was watching him now, intent on his every word.
“Yeah,” she said at last quietly. “Yeah, I do.”
It was in the next moment that Leta, all at once, noticed their proximity: he slanted sideways against the counter, oriented fully to her now, his gaze level with hers. Her foot was swung over the counter’s edge, touching his knee. They were inches apart; she could have counted the scars marring the edges of his face.
When had this happened? She didn’t remember this happening.
She searched his face in surprise, then quickly averted her eyes and reached for the bottle again so she could subtly shift away.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
“Yeah, I’ve been in a barfight before.”
Corra laughed incredulously and squeezed his arm. “No you haven’t.”
“I have too,” Cyrus defended adamantly as he walked along the street back towards the dock. It was quiet in this part of the city, almost peaceful. “A few times actually.”
Corra laughed, looping her arm through his as she strolled alongside him. “Oh really? Do tell,” she demanded skeptically.
“There was one time on Tarin,” he recounted, “And there was another one on that little planet a few days out from Kadolyne? The one with that big monument of the person with wings and–”
“Lodain,” Corra put in helpfully.
“Right, Lodain. And then the one on Archeti,” he finished proudly.
“The one on Archeti?” Corra asked, indignant, though she was grinning. “What, the one where you got poisoned? Cy-cy, you were on the floor dying through the entire thing.”
“Well…yeah, but I was there,” he argued simply.
“And the other two?” He cast her a guilty smirk. “I wonder how those got started?”
“Okay, maybe my brother had something to do with it,” he admitted, looking ahead as the Dionysian came into view at last. The ship was a welcome sight, although he wasn’t sure he was ready for the night to end.
With a sigh, he started to open the ramp to the cargo bay, throwing a look toward Corra at his side. “But I was conscious for those two fights,” he reminded her, picking up the thread of their conversation. “I even punched someone in one of them.”
Corra shook her head, slowing to a stop. “You know, I’m okay with you not punching people, actually,” she declared. “I need at least one friend who has a less than fifty percent chance of ending up imprisoned for grievous bodily harm.”
“Dunno if I can keep that up,” he muttered regrettably and raised his arm to flex his bicep. Or, what little of one existed. “It’s not easy keeping this much raw power contained.”
She laughed even harder now, a little too hard, actually. Maybe he should have been offended. In any case, he said, “Seriously though. Thanks for punching that guy. Sorry you’re not allowed in that club anymore.”
Corra just smiled back at him kindly. “That’s okay, it was a stupid club anyway,” she remarked flippantly as her eyes trailed down to the hood hanging around his neck. Fussily, she readjusted where it sat on his shoulders. “You don’t even really look like a fancy prick, by the way,” she told him bluntly. “I’m mostly just bummed he wrecked my flowers.”
“Even if it’s old-fashioned?” he wondered quietly, suddenly finding their proximity and the foggy moonlight shining on her face particularly distracting.
“Especially if it’s old-fashioned,” she assured him with a smile. The sight of it actually made his heart — he swore it, biology be damned — halt in his chest.
Go for it, he told himself, as a brief, expectant silence fell between them. Go for it. Fear of rejection shouldn’t have held him back. Not when she was standing so close, smiling up at him like that and she was just within his reach. This was his chance, possibly the only one he’d ever get. He’d be a fool not to take advantage of it.
“I uh…I had a really good time tonight,” he muttered, since it sounded right, but of course Corra scoffed.
“No you didn’t.” She cocked a brow. “You had a terrible time.”
He considered arguing, but finally relented,“Yeah actually. I did. But…not now.” He cast her a hopeful smile. “I’m having a good time now.”
She chuckled, squeezing his arm warmly. “Well good,” she said simply. “Me too.”
This was it, right? Cyrus had seen enough movies to know that this was it. This was when he was supposed to lean in and …
His gaze lowered to her mouth, noting the particular curve of lips like it was his job to memorize the shape. His hand tentatively found the small of her back, and he leaned his lips gently down to meet hers, closing the small distance between them.
It was more of a light brush than a real kiss, but it still sent warmth running madly to his limbs. Before he had a chance to deepen it, Corra’s voice suddenly filled his ears, worried and alarmed.
“Cyrus, I — “
His eyes opened at once, just in time to see Corra step backward, breaking their embrace. Immediately, Cyrus felt all his insides churn at the look on her face: she looked stunned. Lost, even.
“I don’t –” she tried again, another step backwards. Her eyes widened in apology. “I have to go,” she said, and before he could find his voice, she had turned away from him and fled into the ship, leaving him standing at the bottom of the ramp, dumbfounded and alone.