“What is it?” he asked slowly, trying to keep his voice gentle, although he wasn’t sure he wanted to know, honestly. “Is this — is this about the fight earlier?” he asked, scratching his hair nervously. He asked himself quickly — what would Elsa, one of his ex-girlfriends, have done? She was always good at this shit. Unfortunately, she was unreachable, far away at the military base. And Leta was still in front of him, hastily brushing away tears with her wrist.
“Do you want me to go get someone?” Finn went on. “Cy … Corra … Fiear? Or — ”
At that, Leta made a noise of disbelief — it was either a hiccup or a laugh, he couldn’t tell. “Why the hell would you go get Fiearius?”
“Er, no idea,” Finn admitted, smirking uncertainly. “He’s even worse at this stuff than I am.”
The words hung in the air as Leta watched Finn for a moment, looking terribly worried, then moved her eyes away, hugging her arms tighter across her chest. Probably this was his cue to leave, but Finn found himself immobile as he tapped his fingers on the counter and went on, as if playing a game.
“Is this … about your fiance?” he guessed. “Or is iiit … uh … well y’know, I can’t help if you don’t tell me.”
At that, Leta did laugh, heavy and breathless. “You can’t help even if I do tell you,” she muttered, and it was then he noticed Leta lean back on the counter and, subtly as she could, pick up the discarded piece of paper and turn it back over, shielding it from view.
Finn glanced at the paper a moment — well, whatever it was she couldn’t tell him, clearly that piece of paper knew. He was just considering reaching for it when Leta spoke, seemingly out of nowhere.
“Have you known Fiearius for a long time then?” she wondered, steadying her shaky voice and rubbing her nose with the back of her hand.
Finn blinked, then recovered his surprise — maybe she just wanted to talk.
“Yeah, awhile,” he said at last, leaning his hip against the counter and frowning in thought. “We met at a bar at a couple years ago, on some shitty backwater planet, right after I got kicked outta the military.”
“So you were in the military,” she muttered, passingly curious. “You’re from Carthis then?”
“Naw, I’m actually from Archeti,” he said, and he saw the mild surprise in her face. Most people who grew up on that gang-ridden planet never managed to leave. “Grew up there, went to the military academy to become a fighter pilot.”
“But you got kicked out?”
“Er, it’s a long story,” said Finn, grinning. “Anyway, so I met Fiearius at this dive. We were drunk and started yelling insults at one another ‘cause he — well you’ve seen him, he’s got all those tattoos. All of ‘em are symbols of the Society. And Carthians are no fans of the Society … what with all those territorial disputes and all. And I happened to be wearing a Carthian military jacket,” he recalled, starting to laugh. “Old habits, I guess. So tradition tells us we were supposed to beat the shit out of each other. But we bought one another a round instead. And the rest, as they say, is history.”
Leta’s lips twitched toward a half-smile. After a moment, Finn went on, choosing his words carefully, “And y’know, I know the guy pretty well. And clearly … he cares. About you. I mean, he was a jackass earlier. But if something was really — wrong with you right now, he’d want to help — “
Was this the wrong thing to say? Leta’s eyes widened and her smile faded, her mouth forming a thin, hard line. After a moment she glanced to the floor and muttered, “I know,” in a voice that was neither happy nor distressed.
Finn wasn’t sure what else to do or say — but then, Leta’s forehead wrinkled again, and her eyes filled with fresh tears that began to pour silently down her face. And although he barely knew this woman, he found he couldn’t really handle the sight of her crying. And she was clearly important to Fiearius, one of his best friends; he had to do something …
Which was why Finn glanced to the side and sharply slid the piece of paper off the counter, bringing it quickly to his eyes as Leta looked up in alarm. Before she could snatch it away, he read through it hastily and felt his heart turn over in his chest.