Chapter 42: Seeing Stars

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With a start, Fiearius switched on the light beside his bed and sat up, dread bolting through him as he forced himself awake. Simply put, he had no idea when or how he’d gotten back on the Dionysian. All he could remember of the night before was drinking fruity cocktails in a gaudy bar with Finn. A lot of fruity cocktails. All that came after was a big blank spot that had ended with him waking in his own quarters on his own ship.

But that wasn’t his concern. His concern was the fact that he hadn’t made it back alone.

An hour ago, he hadn’t thought much of the warm figure pressed up against his bare chest when he’d first been conscious enough to notice her. He had just assumed it was someone he’d met at a dock bar who came back with him for a harmless evening of fun. It happened all the time, nothing to worry about. He had simply wrapped an arm around her waist and drifted back to sleep.

But, later, he cracked opened one eye and noticed there was something…awfully familiar about her. The smooth paleness of her skin, the shade of brown of her hair and that long braid…The realization was certainly enough to wake him up with a bolt of alarm.

He’d slept with Leta?

Panicked, Fiearius ran his hand through his messy hair. From what he remembered, their last interaction was at that awful bar, and she was pissed off at him for a change — and then, the night started to go mysteriously fuzzy. Was it possible they actually connected last night, like that one instance in the infirmary that was definitely not, in no way, of course not, privately torturing him?

This wasn’t supposed to happen. He pinched the bridge of his nose, thinking quickly, his mind racing. Convincing her it was all a dream probably wouldn’t work. He was considering just taking his chances with leaving when he realized just how cowardly he was being.

It was a mistake. Just one really stupid mistake. One that they had both made. They were in it together. They could face it together. Gently, he lowered his hand to her bare shoulder.

“Hey,” was all he could think to say as she stirred into waking, stretching her arm out above her head. “Hey, uh …. wake up.”

As she recoiled back, Leta let out a long sigh and said, “I can’t believe it’s morning already.”

Except not in Leta’s voice. And with a nasally, lilting Paravian accent.

Fiearius blinked. What? He clasped her shoulder and rolled her over towards him. In the darkness, she definitely had Leta’s hair. And Leta’s body. But she seemed to be lacking Leta’s face. In place of the bright green eyes and freckled nose he was expecting, he was met with dark black pupils and perfect, olive-colored unblemished cheeks. And gods, she looked even younger than the doctor…

For one fleeting moment, Fiearius wasn’t sure if he was relieved or disappointed that it wasn’t her. He quickly stifled the moment of confusion and exclaimed, “Who the hell are you?”

The mysterious not-Leta woman chuckled and put a hand to his cheek. “You don’t remember, silly? Figures,” she remarked softly. “I told you drinking is bad for you. See, this is why.” She tapped him on the nose with her index finger. “Can’t even remember me.”

He was no longer panicky, but he was still in no mood to be toyed with. “You haven’t answered my question.”

She smirked. “Richelle. You told me I was beautiful and promised to show me the stars?”

He’d actually said that? As relieved as he was that he hadn’t woken up next to the only engaged woman he knew, he still was hardly in any mood to suffer starry-eyed ship-chasers. After that rather awful moment of panic, he’d really prefer just to be alone.

“Okay, well I lied,” he admitted bluntly. “Now I hate to be rude but…I’d like it if you could…you know…go now please, thanks.”

Richelle looked up at him, not hurt as he would have expected, but simply confused. “Go where?”

“I don’t know,” was his immediate response. “Home? The library? The zoo. Anywhere that’s not here?”

The girl chuckled and put her hand on his face again, making him flinch — he really wished she would stop that. “I can’t,” she laughed. She pointed a finger up the skylight and it all started to make sense.

The skylight in the roof of his quarters was black and filled with stars. But not, he realized a little too late, because it was still nighttime. Rather, because the ship was in orbit. In space. He’d actually taken this girl on the Dionysian and — ugh — shown her the stars?

Closing his eyes, Fiearius groaned, for about ten seconds.

“You really don’t remember anything?” she went on, propping herself up on one elbow. “We left.” She beamed up at him. “Off to great adventures out in the big black, far away from Paraven, never to return. We’ll be free of that awful place forever!”

Fiearius grimaced, but she seemed to be too busy reveling in her own romantic notion to notice. Well, he could just be merciful and drop her off at the next stop if she was so eager to escape. But suddenly, he was struck by a thought.

“Is my crew aboard?”

Richelle looked dumbstruck. “What crew?”

A moment of silence passed between them as Fiearius stared at her, expressionless. Finally, the smile dropped clear off her face as he said, “We’re going back.”

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