“There you are,” said Leta, exhaling sharply as she found Fiearius in the hallway. He was just exiting Aiden’s quarters, walking toward her with his typical long stride and scowl on his face. Leta ignored his expression, as usual, and said briskly, “I need to talk to you.”
Rolling his eyes, Fiearius tried to edge past her. “Now is really not the best time to talk about saving your boyfriend.”
“Fiance, and this isn’t about him,” said Leta. “It’s about the crew.”
Leta abruptly seized Fiearius’ upper arm and steered him toward a more private alcove. Fiearius staggered after her, glancing down at her hand, then up at her, looking more confused than interested.
“Fiear, this is stupid,” began Leta, surveying his face in the shadows of the quieter area of the hallway. “But — you didn’t take those breathing masks that are stored in the infirmary, did you?” she asked sincerely. “Or tell anyone else to? All of them are missing.”
Fiearius’ eyes narrowed on her thoughtfully and then moved away toward the wall in contemplation. Clearly, he was uninvolved. “That doesn’t make sense,” he said simply. “Life support’s running fine. Cy says it’ll be months before the generator would even start losing power. Why would someone steal oxygen masks of all things?”
“Because,” she said simply, “people are getting scared.”
The corner of Fiearius’ eyebrow twitched in irritation.
“Well they shouldn’t be. Everything’s fine,” he said bluntly, and turned to walk away. He only got a half step away before Leta grasped his arm again to tug him back.
“You don’t have to lie to me, you know,” she said testily. “The crew knows you’re hiding something from them, Fiear. People can sense these things. And now they’re starting to act on their fear.”
Fiearius stopped abruptly and dropped his hands to his side. His expression shifted, or perhaps softened.
“I know,” he muttered tiredly. “I know. I already got all that from Aiden.” He gestured to the door down the hall. “I don’t need it from you too. I know they’re scared, I get it.” Annoyance colored his expression, but he spoke unusually calmly, particularly for him. “But my engine’s still broken and my options are still absent. The hell am I supposed to do?”
“They need to hear from you,” said Leta wearily. “Even if it’s not good news you have to give them, they need it from you. Otherwise, there’s hearsay. And blame. And … weird rumors,” she mumbled, glancing sideways, unwilling to admit that she was quite sure those weird rumors were mostly about, well, the two of them.
“Rumors or not, I’ve got no news to give them,” he grunted, clearly dismayed as he clasped a hand to his temple. “The ship. Is broken. That’s all. That’s it. There’s nothing more.”
Leta crossed her arms over her chest. “But there is more.”
Fiearius groaned, dragging his hand down his face. Through his fingers, he opened one eye to peer at her and muttered, “Well you know that and I know that, but they certainly don’t.” Dropping his hand to his side, he added, “And they don’t need to. If I tell them we actually could land, what do you think they’re gonna do? And then when I tell them we can’t because it’s Satieri? When I tell them that planet is even more of a deathtrap than this ship?” He shook his head. “It’s easier this way. What they don’t know won’t hurt ‘em.”
Leta exhaled tightly out of her nose. “Do you even have a plan here, Fiear?”
“Of course I do,” he snapped. “I’m not a moron. I got in touch with Finn yesterday. He’s on his way with a ship to ferry people off if it comes to it.”
“Then tell the crew that,” said Leta, her impatience flaring as she tossed her hands in the air. “Because they can sense you’re holding back. People are mistrustful and starting to take sides.” To her frustration, Fiearius was not looking at her, but gazing boredly over her shoulder. Leta raised her voice, “Fiearius, listen to me. They think you’re really hiding something! And that you’re not doing anything to help them, which is why they’re acting out and stealing oxygen masks, and that you’re — “
But Fiearius didn’t seem to listen. Of course. Suddenly, Leta growled in her throat and clasped her palm to her aching forehead, squeezing her eyes shut in frustration. The first painful tinges of a fever prickled beneath her flesh and, all at once, Leta felt more tired than she had in months. Exhaustion sank and sank through her, and just when she was considering turning to leave, Fiearius’ voice freed her from her thoughts.
“You okay, kiddo?” he muttered. He looked oddly worried, his brow knit, and his hand was curved around her upper arm. “You don’t look so hot.”
Gingerly, Leta pulled her hand away from her forehead and stared at Fiearius in surprise, practically awaiting his insult or punchline. “What?” she demanded quietly before hastening on, “Yes. I’m fine. Except … I am sort of tired of defending you.”
Fiearius wrinkled his forehead. “I didn’t ask you to defend me,” he replied, though his tone wasn’t angry, but confused.
“You didn’t have to,” she admitted quietly before she could stop herself.
Abruptly, Fiearius let silence fall between them — heavy, curious silence that he made no effort to fill. It held a degree of expectation Leta wasn’t sure she liked, and as it stretched on, Fiearius was regarding her, his eyes searching her face curiously in the shadowy darkness. She’d never noticed before, but he had a very intense, burning stare; it made Leta suddenly very aware of herself.
Swaying uncertainly on her feet, she broke the spell of silence. “Just — talk to your crew, alright? Captain?”
At last, a familiar grin unraveled across his scruffy face. “Or you could talk to them.”
“Yeah, or not,” Leta snorted. Then she shook her head. “I don’t know. I just have a bad feeling this is all going to get worse before it gets better.”
“Yeah,” Fiearius muttered in agreement, dragging his hand through his messy hair. “Just gotta hope Cyrus gets the engine running again before it comes to that … “