“Aiden would have hated this place,” Leta noted aloud wryly, lifting her glass to her lips as she surveyed the bar with interest. A thick layer of grime covered the floor, broken neon lights flickered in the windows, and it smelled damp and smoky — a dive if there ever was one.
Still, she hadn’t protested when Nikkolai had told her to join the rest of the crew for one reason: to celebrate Aiden. It was an odd affair — some, like Rhys, were laughing and telling stories; others, like Amora, were sniffling and wiping away tears. Leta didn’t have the energy for either, so she simply sat quietly beside Corra and drank.
“I don’t think ‘hate’ is a strong enough word,” Corra mused thoughtfully. “Loathed, rather. Absolutely loathed.” She sighed, and Leta thought she sounded as exhausted as Leta felt. Grief was draining, and it came in waves: sometimes a tidal wave, powerful enough to drown in. Other times, like now, the waves lapped slowly, a constant tug in her chest.
She took another long drink. Whisky sat in her mouth, then burned down her throat.
“Didya see Javier is here?” Corra pointed out suddenly, nodding over her shoulder. “I’m still shocked the cap’n didn’t rip his throat out. I mean, good shocked. I guess.” She took a slow sip from her glass. “Good thing Niki’s lookin’ out for him though, else he seems he might rip his own throat out.”
Leta, too, glanced over her shoulder. Javier sat in the furthest corner, speaking to no one. Both his hands were clasped around an untouched glass as he gazed with distant eyes through the room. He looked pale and clammy, but mercifully he was finally wearing different clothes; Nikkolai must have been helping him, as his friend? His boyfriend? She could never tell with those two.
Regardless, she was glad for Niki. Javier was going to need serious therapy to wade through his regret and mourning. As the ship’s physician, Leta knew she’d have to step in soon. Soon.
But not yet. It made her chest clench to even look at him.
“Aiden would be glad,” said Leta quietly, pulling her eyes away. “Aiden would be glad Fiear showed him mercy.” She was sure of it.
Just then, the bartender approached and slid forward two fresh cocktails that Leta had not ordered.
“These are for you,” she said, smiling slyly. She nodded toward the end of the bar. “From those two handsome gents over there.”
“Really?” Corra grumbled while Leta simply sighed. She couldn’t think of a worse time to be hit on. But when she glanced dryly to the end of the bar, she found two familiar faces.
Fiearius leaned against the bar casually. Beside him was another man, about Fiearius’ age, that Leta vaguely recognized. Both of them gave a classic, how-ya-doing single nod of hello, holding back smirks, that made Leta groan.
“A simple hello would do,” Corra snapped across the bar. To Fiearius’ companion, she added, “And where the hell did you come from?”
Suddenly, Leta remembered who he was — Finn, Fiearius’ swaggering pilot friend. He was the one that was supposed to ferry the crew members off the ship; that must’ve been why he was here. She’d met him briefly, experienced all of his flirtation and bravado, and left with the impression that he needed a good kick in the balls
Naturally, both men swaggered over.
“You both look like you could use another,” greeted Finn, clinking his glass against Leta’s untouched one. He had tousled brown hair, smooth tan skin and devilish smirk on his face and seemed to know exactly how handsome he was. In a friendly voice, he said, “Nice to see ya again, Corra. How’s the armory these days?”
“Fine,” Corra replied curtly. “You didn’t answer my question. What are you doing here?”
“Paying my respects,” he said simply, and clasped Fiearius’ shoulder in a brotherly fashion. Fiearius, Leta noticed, was busy downing a whole beer at an impossibly fast rate. She felt Finn watching her intently and returned his stare dully.
“Leta, isn’t it?” His smile was so bright Leta nearly had to squint. “We’ve met before. About a month back.”
“We have,” Leta confirmed, almost warningly.
Finn’s grin broadened. “Aha. Knew you’d remember.”
Before he could say more, Corra intervened, “You know she’s engaged, right?”
Finn did not look offended; he looked interested. “That so? Where’s he at?” he asked cheerfully, looking around the bar as if he wanted to meet the man.
“Prison,” Leta provided flatly.
“Oh yeah?” Finn laughed, but not exactly unkindly. “What’d he do?”
“Nothing,” said Leta, and then paused and admitted, “Well — he dug up information on the Society. He’s, uh, kind of a terrorist now … “
At this, Finn burst into appreciative, warm laughter. “Ah. ‘Kind of’ a terrorist. Well, good for him, sounds like a badass. I’ll drink to th — ”
“Hey,” Fiearius interrupted suddenly, tuning into the conversation now that the bottle in his hand was empty. When all eyes swung to him, he seemed to forget what he was going to say, and after a blank, confused pause, he said drunkenly, “There’s a stand down the road that only sells pancakes. How ‘bout that.”
Corra seemed to be thinking along the same lines Leta. “How many of those have you had, cap’n?” she asked skeptically, eyeing the emptied bottle, which he was now rolling around on the bar like a toy.
“Not enough,” he barked shortly, slamming it down on the bar and demanding, “Another!”
Corra stared, then snapped at Finn, “I suppose this was your doing?”
“I think he deserves it after this week, Corra,” said Finn, frowning. “The man’s allowed to put away a few beers.”
“Yeah, a few,” Corra muttered, but when Fiearius lifted his fresh full bottle in a toast, she didn’t argue further.
“To Aiden,” he declared, and everyone followed suit. And then, with a devious snicker, Fiearius added, “who would have hated this place.”
Leta glanced up in surprise. It was always odd when she and Fiearius agreed on something. Instead of speaking, she lifted her glass an inch from the bar and drank deeply.
Silence fell between them abruptly; in the wake of the funeral, Leta noticed, no one seemed to know how much to talk. Conversation stopped and started abruptly.
Finally Corra carefully took a sip of her wine and asked, “Did you know him?” Her voice was barely audible in the noisy bar as she glanced at Finn, whose face softened.
“Ah,” he sighed. “Yeah. Not all that well, unfortunately. Great guy, though. But we all drank together a few times, remember?” he added to Fiearius, grinning sadly.
Fiearius wasn’t listening; he was staring emptily through the room, his eyes glassy and blank.
“Yeah,” he muttered after a moment and turned the stare back to his drink. A lapse of awkward silence passed over the group until finally, Fiearius spoke up again, abruptly more cheerful, “Remember when we took him out for his birthday?”
Corra’s face lit up as well. “And we had to trick him into thinking it was just a casual thing with the two of you?” she filled in with a chuckle.
“And that glare he gave me when he realized the entire crew was there,” Fiearius laughed, shaking his head.
“Wasn’t glaring by the end of the night though, huh?” Corra agreed.
Leta hadn’t heard this story before, and something lighter stirred in her chest that she hadn’t felt in days. “So he got drunk? I’ve never seen him have more than a beer.”
“Oh he had way more than a beer that night,” Fiearius told her, grinning proudly. “Never seen the man so talkative before…”
“Aid was even drunker than him,” Corra remarked, jabbing her thumb in Fiearius’ direction. “And as we can clearly see…” she added, eyeing Fiearius suspiciously as he swayed in place, “that’s often a difficult mark to hit.”
At that, Fiearius shot Corra an irritated glare, but in counter to his argument, took another drink.