This wasn’t much of a cemetery, Leta thought tiredly to herself. Aiden deserved something more beautiful than this — a lush, sunny garden, maybe — but this was just a small yard, littered with marble gravestones beneath a gray sky.
With a heavy weight in her chest, Leta pushed open the wrought iron gate, listening to it creak noisily. Then she led the silent caravan of the crew toward the already-dug plot of fresh earth, flowers hanging limply in her hand.
It’d been two days since it happened. The hours blurred together, one long nightmare. At one point, a hot plate of food had been pressed into her hands. Later, she overheard someone say the engine was fixed, fixed at last. Then, sure enough, that familiar warm rumbling beneath her feet started up again.
Some hours later, the rumbling grew louder, and ship finally descended onto a cold, grey planet called Sera. Leta had little idea what the crew was doing at this time: she’d stuck near Corra and Cyrus, and hadn’t seen Fiearius at all; he was as absent as ever. Funeral arrangements needed to be made, but she couldn’t even imagine asking him such a thing. So she’d left the ship to make the arrangements herself.
Now, Leta planted her feet in the dirt and looked up. A semi-circle of faces surrounded her — Cyrus, looking white and shell-shocked. Corra was at his side, her arm tucked into his, her eyes red-rimmed. Behind them stood Maya, Nikkolai, Amora, a few others. And finally, to her side, she felt Fiearius step forward.
Looking around at them all, Leta was struck anew by just how small the crew was. The gunshot seemed to silence the dissenting voices at once: Alistair, Palia, Arlo and Javier had left the ship immediately when they docked, all their bags packed, their heads down. Whether they left out of respect for Aiden or not, Leta felt too tired to care: she was simply glad they were gone.
Nikkolai and Cyrus were moving the casket closer to the gravesight and suddenly, Leta blinked her eyes, struck with a memory.
She’d done this before. In stark contrast, Ren’s mourning service had been extravagant, elegant, crowded, in the middle of the town square beneath the white marble architecture of the Vescentian city. It was a sea of black and gray as family mourned the loss of what was, supposedly, a tragic accident.
Leta hadn’t wanted to attend. Ren was alive and she knew it, the only person who did. In fact, in an act of defiance, Leta hadn’t even worn black to the event, but a short, deep green dress, Ren’s favorite. She had simply stood numbly in the front row and listened to bagpipes bleat slowly for her supposedly dead fiance.
Today, Leta wore all black. The dress billowed around her knees in the wind. She turned one of the cold flower stems over in her hands and waited as silence fell over the cemetery.
This was the unrehearsed part. Inwardly, she felt very conscious of Fiearius standing near her shoulder, but she couldn’t look at him.
“If … anyone wants to say anything,” she prompted quietly.
Dirt and sand brushed over the top of the casket. Leta watched as Amora hastened to wipe it off, hurriedly, motherly as always; like that actually mattered. Leta couldn’t watch anymore, so she started talking.
“I didn’t know Aiden long,” she began, and her voice seemed to croak out of her throat. She took in a heavy breath and tried again. “Not very long at all. But you didn’t have to know him long to know what kind of person he was.” There was a sound of choking nearby; it was Maya, with tears pouring down her face. Leta plowed on heavily, “He was so full of patience. And kindness. And he saw the good in everyone.”
Even people who didn’t deserve it, thought Leta. Even Arlo, Alistair, Palia, Ludo …
Her words seemed to unclench something in Corra. With a shaking breath, she spoke next, her voice hoarse from crying.
“You made me a better person, Aid,” Corra whispered, as though talking to the man himself. Leta felt her lungs tighten. “When I was down and out, you lifted me back up and taught me what it meant to live. What it means to be valued. I can never thank you enough.”
WIth a trembling hand, Corra placed her flower atop the casket. Then she eased backward and slid her arm around Cyrus’, who was gazing at the casket hollowly, his eyes wide and lost.
Amora was choking into her hands now, and it didn’t seem anyone else could speak. Perhaps the funeral was over. But then, Fiearius’ voice broke over them.
“Aiden was a good friend,” he stated suddenly. His tone was low and even a little harsh. “A good man. He deserved better than this. He deserved better than us. This ship. This…mess.”
Leta’s throat burned.
“But he took it all anyway. He’ll be missed, ” Fiearius finished quietly. At last, Leta glanced at him. Darkness clouded his face, his expression hardened. He was wearing white, which she’d never seen on him before — the Satierian mourning color. Finally he touched two fingers to each shoulder, bowing his head as he finished, “Dov’ha rej’ia, friend.”
For seconds or minutes — really, it could have been hours — Leta remained rooted there in the dirt, hardly noticing the windblown hair brushing over her face as she watched Fiearius. He turned and walked slowly toward the gate.
Then, she filled her eyes with the sight of Aiden’s lowering, departing casket. Just as she did not want to come to this gravesite at all, now she wasn’t sure if she could truly leave him here. Walking away would make this final, a real goodbye. Suddenly, her heart plunged with overwhelming loss.
Her vision blurring hotly, Leta remained there a few moments more as she considered, more deeply, the man being lowered into the ground before her eyes. She hadn’t known him long, but she knew him enough. His quiet strength. His warmth and good humor and acceptance. His uncanny ability to calm a room. His steadfast loyalty. How was the ship supposed to go on without him? How would Fiearius? Already she missed him.
Then, she felt an arm slip warmly around hers — Corra. Behind her, Cyrus was waiting near the gate. Fiearius was nowhere in sight. Leta blinked and tightened her arm around Corra’s, letting the flower in her hand drift to the ground, catching in the wind.
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