Chapter 28: Love and Friendship

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There was no chance she wouldn’t come to meet him here. No chance. Cyrus repeated this in his head as he tried to keep from fidgeting. No chance. Corra would never knowingly stand him up without some major catastrophe at fault. Even so, as he sat alone on the bench outside the most elegant restaurant in town, clutching a bouquet of freshly cut flowers in his shaking hands, he couldn’t feel calm or confident. After all, catastrophes were common on the Dionysian, weren’t they?

In truth, he wasn’t sure if he was more worried about her not showing up or what would happen if she did. Cyrus had been so sure this time when he’d sought her out in the armory this morning. Sure that, for once, the timing was right. With all the time they’d been spending together, Leta’s insistence that he try again (surely she knew something he didn’t?) And then, above all else, there was that kiss…

It had to be right.

So why had they both acted so awkward when he’d gone downstairs to ask her to dinner? She’d said yes, but only after a round of her usual deflections and when she finally did agree, he was sure he could hear a hint of reluctance in her voice.

But Cyrus would remain resilient. She had probably just been distracted anyway. She would show up, she would be glad she had and they would have a nice time. Though as much as his head repeated it, his gut refused to believe it.

Finally, only fifteen minutes late, Cyrus lifted his eyes and caught sight of a dark-haired girl hurrying towards him through the evening’s light layer of fog. He watched the shape as it slowly became visible, his reaction delayed. What was he supposed to do again? He’d rather forgotten. Right up until the point where he heard that familiar voice call, “Cy-cy!” cheerfully and he rose suddenly to his feet.

“Agh, sorry I’m a little late,” she said, slowing to a breathless stop as she approached him, putting her hands on her hips and sucking in air. “I was reorganizing the armory all day and totally lost track of time.” Her breath finally coming back to her, she looked up at him and flashed a typical Corra grin. A grin so familiar that Cyrus nearly sighed in relief.

But the longer she stood there and the more she looked at him, the more that grin started to fade. Finally, she noted, in a tone that was not polite, but rather confused, “You look nice.”

“Uh, thanks.”

He had, actually, put effort into his appearance for this. After digging through his closet to find the Satieran dress clothes he hadn’t worn in years, he’d spent another forty-five minutes fighting to keep hair from flopping in front of his face. He found the result rather dismal.

Corra, on the other hand, appeared to have done nothing new to her appearance. She was dressed just as she always was in trousers and low-cut top, her hair tied in a messy ponytail and he was fairly certain, even in the dim streetlamps, he could see a smudge of gun grease on her arm. But that was Corra, and Cyrus had always liked her just as she was — fresh off the Dionysian.

In fact, he felt a bit stupid that he had gone through so much trouble. She was so above superficial nonsense like dressing up as someone you weren’t just for dinner. Corra knew better than that. And yet he was still caught up in it all, even after years on a pirate ship.

Unfortunately, Corra seemed to have also noticed the disparity in their dress. With worried eyes, she looked at him, then looked at the archway to the restaurant. She seemed to notice the candles glowing in the window and found them concerning.

He’d been told, by extensive research and local reviews, that Allerta Rona was the uncontested best place for a romantic dinner with its classy, yet cozy atmosphere and menu full of interesting spins on classic comfort food. It seemed like the perfect place right until he saw Corra in distress at the very sight of it.

“Is this…where we’re going?” she asked slowly.

Doubt flooded in like a hurricane. “Well…I thought…maybe,” Cyrus answered, before adding hurriedly, “We don’t have to if you wanna go somewhere else.” Of course, he didn’t know anywhere else. He mumbled, “But it’s supposed to be really good … “

A nervous, apologetic smirk twisted over her face. “Oh I’m sure it is,” she insisted, sounding particularly worried. “But it’s so…nice.” She grimaced and looked down at herself in despair. “I didn’t know…that we were going somewhere so…fancy.” A shaky laugh rolled out of her throat as she looked up at him. “I’m not dressed for it at all.”

Far too quickly and too dramatically, Cyrus gave her a stark ‘pfft’ and shook his head, gesturing senselessly in the air between them. “No, you look amazing,” he insisted, but already embarrassed by his initial response, it likely sounded more like a lie than the actual encouragement he meant.

And predictably, she didn’t buy it. Corra’s shoulders dropped, her hands spread in demonstration of her grease stained clothing, her expression reading: ‘really?’

Obviously, Cyrus was going to lose this battle. So reluctantly, he gave in. “It’s fine, we can just go somewhere else,” he told her, forcing confidence into his voice. “We’ll just walk a bit and see what we can find.” So much for the candlelit romantic dinner …

But the measure of relief he could see in Corra’s eyes made the blow hurt a little less. As she smiled gratefully and turned back toward the street, he hesitantly fell into step beside her and it was only then that he remembered the flowers in his hand.

“Oh, these are for you,” he said suddenly, swinging them towards her in such a quick motion that a few of the leaves flew into the air.

“Aw, they’re lovely,” she replied with a short, awkward chuckle, pausing her walk as she took them from him. And then…just…held them. Uncertainty. Like she didn’t know what to do with them. Her eyes came up to Cyrus’ pointedly.

Cyrus sighed and gently plucked the bouquet back from her hands. “Alright, I’ll carry them,” he muttered. Corra grinned sheepishly and took off down the street.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

The dinner dishes were whisked away, the cook Amora had gone off to bed early, and most of the crew ventured to find decent nightlife off-ship. The mess hall was left peacefully quiet — the perfect setting to do some reading.

It wasn’t the most exciting way to spend a free evening, Leta had to admit, but after the past month, she welcomed a boring night with no company whatsoever. It wasn’t often the ship’s hallways were cleared out, and she certainly felt no regret choosing not to take Nikkolai’s invitation to go to a rave somewhere in the city. To be fair, she pretended to consider the offer, and to her amazement, the deckhands around her actually groaned in disappointment when she politely declined.

In the meantime, she was trying to fulfill a promise. Gulliver’s Travels was Ren’s favorite book, and she’d never read it, after promising she would. When she saw the book stacked in Aiden’s room (he had an enormously impressive collection, bordering on a library), she asked to borrow it for a few days.

Now, sitting with her legs propped up on another chair, slumped in her seat, she paged through the text with her forehead wrinkled in confusion. Supposedly this book was among the oldest of classics, though Leta could not see why. So far, the story was agonizingly dry. Perhaps that would be the first thing she’d say to Ren if — no, when — she saw him again. I love you, I missed you … but your taste in literature is questionable.

Her attention wandered. She thought of Cyrus and Corra, hoping powerfully that they were having a more interesting evening than she was, full of laughter and rich conversation, the kind of evening she’d be jealous of when she heard about it. Hell, with any luck, she wouldn’t see them at all tonight …

Just when she was flipping back a few pages to re-read what she’d missed, an angry voice filled the hallway. The metal floor rattled underfoot and suddenly, the peaceful silence shattered like glass.

“–was fucking unnecessary!” yelled Fiearius as he appeared at the top of the stairs and marched into the mess hall. The gunman Ludo was on his heels, stomping in after him.

Fiearius stormed into the center of the room, his hand clawing his hair before he spun around suddenly to face Ludo. “And not just unnecessary,” he went on furiously. “Unacceptable. You don’t pull shit like that. You don’t make those kind of decisions without me. You don’t. And you should fucking know better.”

“I did exactly what needed to be done,” Ludo growled back, stopping in the entryway. He appeared to be showing great restraint as he eyed Fiearius, a vein bulging in his temple, his whole face reddened with anger. He didn’t seem to notice Leta at all, even as she lowered her book and stared between them, wondering what this could possibly be about.

“The deal was fucking dead before you even got there,” Ludo went on with a snarl, jabbing a finger at Fiearius. “Had to do it. It’s called insurance. Now he’ll never undercut us again.”

“And in what fucking universe is that your call to make?” Fiearius snapped, stalking back across the room towards him. “That was my deal with my contact. I don’t give a fuck what you thought needed to be done and I didn’t ask for your damn opinion. I asked you to stand there and watch him til I showed up. That’s all. That was it. Simple fucking task.” The corners of his mouth twitched grimly. “I don’t see where in there you got the godsdamned idea to shoot the guy.”

Ludo could not have look less phased by the act of shooting someone. “What, so I should’ve let him stab us in the back?” he demanded in disbelief. “Is that it?”

“No, you should have done what I fucking told you to do and not stabbed me in the back, how about that? Do you even comprehend the shit you’ve just dug us into? I’m low on people willing to work with me as it is. Now there’s one more to fucking blacklist me because you can’t keep your godsdamned gun holstered — ”

After working a year in an emergency room, Leta saw arguments, fights, vicious name-calling every single night. But Ludo was still something of a shock. Behind his wiry beard his face was bright red, his teeth grinding as he spat, finally, “It was us or him! Us or him! What could’ve I — he deserved it! Only did only what — really any smart — “

He broke off and his eyes went frenzied around the room, his fists clenching at his sides, and for a moment Leta thought he might seize the nearest chair to hurl across the mess hall.

Instead, he locked eyes with Leta and his pupils widened.

“What the fuck do you want?!” he burst out. “Listening in, are you? None of your fucking business, that’s what th — ”

Fiearius, noticing Leta for the first time, narrowed his eyes at her, and then at Ludo. Then he reached warningly for Ludo’s arm as though to draw back a vicious animal.

Leta watched, transfixed, as Ludo shook off Fiearius’ arm roughly, throwing him a dirty glare that told Leta he was seriously considering decking the captain in the face. Then, with a noise like an angry bear, he wheeled around and stormed toward the hallway, growling obscenities his whole way out. Leta heard him mutter, ” — goddamn sorry excuse for a leader — I’ll never — lucky if I even — “

Ringing silence filled the room once more. Leta looked up at Fiearius expectantly, alarmed and intrigued.

“What the hell was that about?” she breathed at last.

Fiearius didn’t answer right away. His eyes followed Ludo, as though making sure he was truly gone from the room. It was then that Leta noticed just how tired Fiearius looked under the mess hall lights. He may have still been healing from the combat ring, but still his shoulders sank and an exhausted, angry sigh heaved out of his lungs.

Without responding, he turned on his heel toward the kitchen, leaving Leta even more perplexed than before. Just when she thought he’d left completely, he called from the other room, “You want a drink?”

His voice was muffled from inside the kitchen; Leta thought she must have heard him incorrectly.

“What?”

“Drink,” said his voice again, like it was the most obvious offer imaginable. His hand shot out from behind the kitchen door, clasped around the neck of a long, murky green bottle.

A moment later, the rest of him followed. Bearing two glasses in his other hand, he sauntered over, took a seat across from her and began to fill a glass with what only could have been cheap whiskey.

“Do you want one?”

Leta merely stared, wondering quickly if his fever was back. Fiearius had never once extended her any sort of invitation, except an invitation to get out of his sight. He’d never once joined her company of his own free will.

“I … alright,” said Leta finally, her voice doubtful, almost suspicious as she put her book on the table. “Sure. But I thought we normally avoided one another’s company?”

Fiearius glanced up at her, a brow cocked. “Cy’s getting on my nerves, Finn’s on another planet, and Aiden’s out with his girl for the night, so it’s either drink with you or drink alone in the bridge. What I’m trying to avoid is becoming an alcoholic recluse. Humor me.”

He slid the glass into her hand. She paused, and did not yet reach for it. “I guess I can do that. But what was that about with Ludo?” She knew Fiearius had put together a few trade jobs over the past week — apparently, at least one had gone badly. “What happened?”

Fiearius finished pouring his own drink before looking up at her tiredly. Picking up the glass and leaning back in his chair, he downed nearly half of it in one swig and through a grimace replied, “Just a bit of bad business…” A thoughtful silence fell, and he seemed to be considering the liquor in his glass. He took another small sip of it and leaned forward again, resting his elbows on the table.

“He’s a damn good gunhand, that guy,” he confessed, watching the table as he spoke. “Damn good. Only guy I can really trust to always do what needs to be done.” He sighed and shook his head. “Problem is, our definitions of ‘what needs to be done’ differs occasionally…”

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