After Ludo left Leta alone in the kitchen, she didn’t hesitate. She stared after him for only a moment, shocked and shaky, before she dropped her mug in the sink, crossed through the kitchen and marched down the silent hallways to the command deck.
In one motion she pulled herself up the ladder and banged her fist on the hatch to Fiearius’ quarters. It was after midnight, but that did not stop her from growling, “Fiearius! Wake up! Get down here!”
After a full minute of pounding loudly on the metal door, the hatch cracked open an inch. She glimpsed Fiearius’ springy auburn hair, even messier than usual, as his dark eyes glared down at her.
“Has the concept of sleep not occurred to you?” he grumbled, his voice hoarse.
“I need to talk to you.” She gritted her teeth. “It’s important.”
“Yeah, I’m sure,” he muttered, rolling his eyes, but he eased open the hatch another few inches.
Looking up at him, Leta stepped backwards on her heel. With little idea of how to begin, she breathed, “I just talked to Ludo. Well, he cornered me, more like. And he said — you’ve been planning to turn me in. For the bounty.” Leta balled her fists, reeling with anticipation. “Is it true?”
Looking suddenly awake, Fiearius drew his brow together in question. In one swift movement, he dropped down the ladder into the hallway on his bare feet and righted himself. “Kiddo, if I was planning on collecting your bounty, I woulda collected it a long time ago,” he said seriously. “Of course it’s not true. Why the fuck would I do that?”
“Money?” she guessed feebly. “It is a huge bounty, and you are a thief.”
“Thief, yes. Asshole … ” He paused, then admitted, “Okay, maybe. But I don’t betray my crew. Dov’ha ti’arte, kiddo. How shit do you think I am?” Sincerity blazed in his eyes and for some reason Leta had to look away.
“Then why would Ludo tell me that?” she demanded quietly. “To scare me?”
Something dark shifted in Fiearius’ face. “I don’t know,” he replied at last. “But I don’t fuckin’ like it.”
“Yeah, imagine how I feel,” Leta went on softly. She crossed her arms, shifting on her feet. This wasn’t all she wanted to talk to Fiearius about, but she hesitated, unsure of where to begin …
He must have sensed it, because he caught her eye and jerked his head toward the bridge. Somewhat taken aback (she had interrupted his slumber, after all), Leta followed him inside, lowering to sit in the captain’s chair.
Fiearius leaned against the dashboard and folded his arms, watching her curiously until she said, “Ludo makes me really uneasy. Especially just now, alone with him in the kitchen.”
Fiearius scratched the back of his hair, a gesture of thought. “Yeah, he’s kind of an unsettling guy…” His expression grew more serious. “Anything specific I need to know?”
“Sort of, yes,” said Leta. “On his way out, he brushed just a bit too close. You know when someone just — invades your personal space? Like that. It’s the way he talks and acts. He leers.” Fiearius’ expression darkened. “Has anyone else aboard ever said anything about him acting like that? Have any women, specifically?”
“Not to me, no. And if anyone ever said anything to Aid — ” She couldn’t help but notice his voice change at the very mention of the name. “ — He would have told me.” He dropped his eyes to the floor muttered, “Dov’ha, I hope he would have told me.”
Fiearius frowned at his feet. Then he admitted, “Well, I guess Corra complains about him a lot actually. She thinks he’s a creep. And Cyrus, of course, always agrees. Amora says he’s rude. Most of the deckhands avoid him. Okay, so I have had some complaints, but nothing–” He eyed her warily. “Nothing serious. Nothing like you’re implying.”
“But what do you think of him?” she ventured quietly.
He paused and looked up at her earnestly. “Honestly? Not much of a fan. Especially recently…”
“Then why is he even here?”
“Because he’s useful?” he suggested and shook his head. “If he’s even that anymore.” He came back to stare at her as he went on, “I’m in a dangerous line of work, in case you didn’t know. I need people who can and will use a gun if I ask them to. Corra’s got the ‘can’ down, not always so agreeable on the ‘will’ though. Rhys has the will, not the can. Most of the crew has neither. And then there’s Ludo. Who has both.”
“But does he even listen to you?”
Fiearius barked his characteristic laugh. “His problem lately seems to be with the ‘if I ask’ part,” he muttered bitterly, rolling his eyes. “But up until now, he’s been nothing but reliable and sometimes reliable is exactly what I need. Personal traits?” He shrugged again. “Not so important unfortunately.”
A thoughtful silence fell, until Leta wondered quietly, “Where’d he even come from?”
“Archeti,” Fiearius replied at once and cracked her a grim smirk. “Couldn’t you tell? The gang tattoos, the weathered scowl, the habitual criminal behavior? He was part of the Seraphs, I think. ‘Til he fucked ‘em over somehow and they put out a hit on him. I never got the details. He came running to my ship for amnesty right when I was running from a particularly dedicated and vengeful job gone bad. He had some pretty nasty history I suppose, but we came to an agreement. He stayed.”
“You let him stay,” Leta corrected.
Fiearius lifted his eyebrows fairly. “Yeah. I did,” he admitted. “Who am I of all people to deny someone a second chance? Dunno if you’ve noticed, but we get all sorts on this ship. Fancy Vescentian doctors all the way down to orphaned street rats. But there’s one thing we’ve all got in common.” He raised a brow at her knowingly. “Gotta be a certain brand of desperate to board this boat. We all got baggage to carry. History to bear. And I may not be the best captain in the span and definitely not the strictest, but I’ve got one rule I’ll always adhere to: on this ship, none of that matters.”
“It matters if someone’s hurting someone else, Fiear,” said Leta quietly. The worry in his eyes told her he agreed. “So no one in the crew has ever said anything to you?” she pressed. “About a real problem with him?”
“No. And if there was a real problem, if someone was actually getting hurt, I would be told,” he told her confidently. “And I’ve been told nothing.”
The swaggering confidence in his voice — she couldn’t help it, perhaps she was overtired — made her snort a laugh of disbelief. “Oh really? Because you’re not exactly the most approachable person, Fiearius. You don’t even know the names of your own deckhands.”
“Wh — I do too know their names,” he defended at once, flaring up good-naturedly. “There’s…annoying blonde kid, girl with the glasses, guy with–Whatever, I know who they are, that’s all that matters. Names are irrelevant.” He watched her, and a slow, broad smirk dawned knowingly over his face. “Besides, not approachable? You seem to have no problem approaching me.”
Leta arched her eyebrows in playful challenge. “I’m not afraid of you, that’s why.”
“Oh really?” he asked skeptically, shifting his arms with importance. “Maybe you should be. I’ve got a particularly ‘dark’ past of my own, y’know?”
She cocked her head to the side. “Is that — are you trying to impress me?”
“Well, I dunno. Most fancy Vescentian doctors aren’t all that interested in the seedy underbelly of the span I’d bet. But I’m getting the impression that you — “ He eyed her closely, “you’re not most fancy Vescentian doctors. Are you?”
“Hey, I’m holding my own here,” she laughed. “Look at me, I’m not bad at this pirate stuff.”
“Exactly my point,” he said proudly, lifting his shoulders. “Who woulda thought you’d be so corruptible?”
In a boastful sort of way, he kicked her chair with his foot and grinned.
“Wh — I’ll not be corrupted by you, Fiear — ” she laughed, and he did too, warm and loud, and it was then Leta noticed his bright grin, how intently he was regarding her, and how he relaxed against the dashboard, like he was ready to talk with her all night.
All at once, she tensed — this conversation should have ended ten minutes prior.
“I should go to bed,” she said abruptly, flashing a quick, apologetic smile and coming awkwardly to her feet. “So just, about this Ludo thing — “
Fiearius’ smirk fell from his face as he watched her edge to the door. For a moment, he seemed almost taken aback, but he recovered quickly.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said simply. “He’s a creepy bastard, but he’s essentially harmless. He’d never cross me. Never.”
“Well, I hope that’s true,” Leta sighed, winding herself toward the hallway. She glanced at him over her shoulder. “Goodnight, Fiear.”
He watched her quietly for a beat as she headed out before finally muttering, “Night, kiddo.”
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