“Yeah,” Corra said, though her tone was truly anything but excited. “Yeah it’s been awhile.”
So clearly something was wrong. And Fiearius thought, based on the previous night, he could guess what it was. He’d told Leta she’d made a mistake encouraging his brother to take Corra out on a date. And apparently he’d been right.
Aiden caught his eye for a moment, then asked gently, “What’s bothering you, Corra?”
As soon as Aiden had asked the question, Fiearius could feel Corra’s eyes on the back of his head. This really wasn’t the time for this conversation and she must have known it. But Fiearius purposefully didn’t meet her gaze and it seemed that was all the encouragement she needed.
“I think…I think I screwed something up,” she muttered to Aiden, her voice brimming with hesitance.
Aiden must have sensed Corra’s reluctance to talk in front of Fiearius, because he slowed to a halt to let her fall into step beside him, looking concerned. Fiearius kept his eyes forward, but heard Corra say, “With Cyrus, I mean…I think I really screwed up this time.”
She fell silent for a moment before heaving a sigh and explaining, “Last week, when we were all rescuing the captain, I went back to free the other prisoners. Cyrus came too and–well it was a good thing he did. He saved me. And I was grateful and appreciative so–I wasn’t even really thinking–I kissed him.” She winced painfully and shook her head. “And you know what he’s like. Of course he took it totally the wrong way and, okay, it was my fault to begin with. I should have known better, but–”
Fiearius was almost tempted to say something himself. By the way this was unraveling, probably something she wouldn’t take so well. He could imagine the disapproving look in Aiden’s eyes already though, so he kept his mouth shut.
“Anyway, I guess it gave him the grand idea to take me out to dinner, which is sweet and he’s my friend so I couldn’t really say no and he was totally insistent this time that it was absolutely definitely a date and it absolutely definitely had to be just us. So I agreed and–” Now, she actually groaned. “It was just terrible. Not on purpose. It was just naturally terrible. And he knew it too and I felt bad because it was partially my fault so I was trying to cheer him up on the way home and–”
“And he took it the wrong way again,” Fiearius suggested under his breath, rolling his eyes. Corra being friendly, Cyrus being hopeless. How many times had they been through this? The story was so predictable he could have told it himself.
“Exactly,” Corra moaned, apparently not picking up on his irritation. “And I just couldn’t take it so I…left. And now I don’t know what to do. I love Cy-cy, of course I do, but I don’t love him. Not like he wants me to. But I don’t know how to do this anymore. I don’t know how to be his friend without breaking his poor little heart…”
A pause fell. Whatever Aiden had been expecting, Fiearius doubted it was this.
“Well … I’m miles from the authority on this sort of thing … ” said Aiden slowly. “But have you tried talking to him about it?”
“And tell him what exactly?” she sighed. “Sorry, Cy, you’re great and we get along swell and I want to keep spending time with you, but that whole romantic thing you have going on is getting tiresome, please stop.” She sighed heavily again. “He’ll hate me. Last time I was honest, he stopped talking to me almost entirely for a year. And when he did again? I thought he’d gotten over it, but nope. Apparently not.”
Suddenly, Fiearius couldn’t help himself, and he muttered bitterly, “Maybe he would get over it if you stopped kissing him and hugging him and touching him and barging into his room at all hours of the night and basically treating him like your little boyfriend all the time.”
The words hung in the air with a nasty sort of sting. Behind him, Corra stammered, her voice weak and sad, “What–I didn’t–I don’t–”
Fiearius went to reply, but found himself suddenly silenced with a look that he’d seen at least a hundred times before. Aiden was glaring at him, a shadow over his face, his eyes dark, for a stretch of long, cold silence that Fiearius wanted to shake off like a hovering fly.
Finally, after really letting him feel the regret, Aiden turned and said, “Corra, you should never feel guilty or ashamed of only wanting to be his friend. And it’s no one’s fault,” he added curtly, glancing pointedly to Fiearius again.
Fiearius was almost tempted to argue, but Aiden always had that mystical ability to inspire him into silence with a warning look. It was unsettling. And yet also surprisingly calming. With a mildly disgruntled grumble, Fiearius looked ahead again, deciding he was not in the mood to be part of this meaningless conversation about his brother’s love life anyway. Or lack thereof.
Corra was still quiet, her eyes down, when Aiden spoke again soothingly. “I know it wouldn’t be easy, but honesty would clear things up between you two. And some distance.”
Corra was too busy watching her feet to answer. Almost a minute passed before she murmured, “I don’t wanna hurt him…I wish he could just see. See that he’s being silly. That it wouldn’t work…”
“Unfortunately, that might have to be something that’s spelled out,” said Aiden, smiling, a note of regret in his voice. “You know how Cyrus is. He’s a genius, but … not always that smart.”
Fiearius could feel Corra just about to launch into yet another bout of despair when he spotted the number he’d been looking for and paused in front of a tall pair of gates.
“Can we finish this later?” he interrupted. “Need I remind you both we have a job to do, thanks.” He swung his hands towards the gates before them. “And what do ya know, here it is.”
Beyond the wrought iron gates, a tremendous rustic mansion, lined with sparkling icicles, sprawled over acres of snowy lawn and trimmed hedges. The estate looked like something of a painting, or the front image of a Concordia holiday card.
Fiearius couldn’t help but wonder who could possibly need a house this big. What were all those rooms even for? One thing was certain: Fiearius felt no guilt whatsoever about stealing from the owner of this castle.
And, wonderfully, neither did Aiden.
“He’s going to be very surprised to see me,” Aiden mused quietly as he straightened his jacket. “I haven’t spoken to him since he terminated me years ago.” Fiearius knew this embittered Aiden somewhat, but in this moment, there was amusement in his eyes. “But I think he’ll like enjoy my company when I so desperately plead for my job back …”
Fiearius couldn’t help but grin. “You crafty genius, you,” he commented, eyeing the front door. “Knew there was a thief in there somewhere.” Signaling Corra to follow him, he pushed open the gates to slip inside. Before slinking off into the shadows to wait, he looked to Aiden and said, “Remember. Make sure the front stays unlocked. Get him into the drawing room ASAP. Knock on the door’s the signal to leave. Got it?”
Fiearius stepped behind one of the hedges, pulling Corra with him. Safely hidden, he watched as Aiden approached the double doors calmly. A booming knock reached his ears, followed by a murmur of voices.
“Sanilac. It’s been far too long,” said Aiden’s voice, and Fiearius couldn’t help but feel proud at how well the man had perfected the careful uncertainty in his tone of voice. “Can I — I’m sorry to bother you, but may I come in?”