Corra was rushing down the stairs, her eyes ringed with red.
“Oh god,” she gasped, clasping her hands over her mouth. “How did you–is he–?”
But before anyone could answer her, Corra suddenly spotted Desophyles as he stepped onto the Beacon’s deck behind them. At once, her expression hardened. Cyrus knew that look. He’d seen it dozens of times before, and it always ended the same: with someone in a heap on the floor.
“What the hell is he doing here?” she snarled, and in one motion, she unholstered the pistol at her side and held it up, fury and fear storming in her face.
“Corra, no — he helped us,” Cyrus muttered distractedly as he struggled with Finn to get Fiearius further into the ship. Dez followed, apparently unafraid of Corra’s wrath.
“The ship’s prepped to go,” said Finn, leading Fiearius toward the elevator.
“No way!” said Corra, her gun still trained on Dez. “No way is he coming with us. Off.”
“That’s unfortunate,” noted Dez lightly, pausing to wait as Leta signaled for the elevator. “Since I was willing to help with Fiearius’ recovery from the ARC.”
Abruptly, Leta spun around, her eyes round. “What? What do you know about ARC?”
“More than you do, I’d wager,” Dez replied.
“What the hell does that mean?” Leta demanded, flaring up at once. “What do you know about the recov — “
“Not to rush anyone,” interrupted Finn, his voice straining under the weight of holding Fiearius, “but that docks officer is probably a little unhappy with us. If I had to guess — “
Corra looked around at them all, appalled. “Cyrus! You can’t seriously be thinking of letting him stay?! He’ll kill us, Cy, he’ll–”
“Shut up!” Cyrus roared suddenly, so loudly that even Fiearius, delusional as he was, looked over at him. “Just–” he panted, “Shut up. All of you. Just shut up.” The room went silent and Cyrus, breathing heavily and trying desperately to quell his panic, looked to Dez. “ARC. What can you tell us about it?”
“Accelerated Rehabilitation Course,” Dez replied crisply. “Subjects are administered a round of drugs that heightens their susceptibility to suggestion. Researchers then use vocal and visual cues to shape what that suggestion is. Mostly, they’ve been using it in Internal Affairs as an alternative to traditional Solutions.”
“You mean killing,” Cyrus said bluntly, in no mood for pretense.
Dez paused thoughtfully. “Yes. Fiearius was administered a very large dosage over a short period of time as the only intention was to keep him under control. It will take some work to reverse the effects.”
Cyrus glanced at Leta, who was listening intently. “And you know how to do that?”
If he was lying, Cyrus couldn’t tell. There was a short, sharp pause, and then, whether it was a mistake or not —
“Corra, take him down to the brig,” he ordered. “Lock him up.” Corra opened her mouth to protest but he silenced her with a quick glare. To Dez, he added bitterly, “Drop the rifle or I’ll change my mind. I’m sure you understand.”
Fortunately, Dez nodded and calmly placed his gun on the ground as Corra, more rough than necessary, jabbed him in the side with the end of her pistol.
“Finn, get the ship in the air in the next five minutes, whatever it takes,” Cyrus went on. Finally, he turned to Leta and nodded towards the elevator. “Med bay,” he sighed, suddenly more exhausted than he could ever remember. “Let’s go.”
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As the Beacon lifted from the ground, Cyrus didn’t get a chance to see the last of Paradiex as it swept out of view. He didn’t have a second to consider when — if — he’d ever see the city again. Some homecoming this had been. Instead, he hurried downstairs into the dark, quiet medical bay, the lights flicking on automatically as they entered.
The Beacon’s medical bay outstripped the Dionysian’s infirmary so tremendously, it was almost embarrassing. The med bay took up nearly an entire deck and boasted a chemistry lab, a waiting room, as well as gleaming clean exam benches, shining white counters, new equipment; it resembled a small hospital. Maybe this ship, Cyrus thought to himself, would make the difference in fixing this mess.
Fiearius was slouched on the edge of an exam bench, his glassy eyes set on a far wall. Meanwhile, Leta dodged from cabinet to cabinet, shelf to shelf, gathering supplies. Cyrus simply backed himself up to a wall and watched, unsure of what else to do. He knew he had no reason to be here — he didn’t know how to help.
But he couldn’t bring himself to leave, either.
“Need me to do anything?” he asked, wringing his hands. Leta looked up quickly from the counter.
“Help me straighten out his legs, will you?”
Cyrus didn’t see how this would be possible, but mercifully, Fiearius didn’t protest as they grasped him by the shoulders. When they straightened out his bloodied legs, he exhaled a hiss of pain and started muttering under his breath.
Finally, Cyrus couldn’t take it anymore. He had to know.
“Leta,” he muttered, “is he going to be alright?”
Leta paused in the middle of cleaning the cuts. She looked up, her face white with shock. But her voice was reassuringly even.
“Whatever drugs they put him on, they’re still in his system. Once they’re flushed out, he’ll be more like himself.”
“What about his injuries?”
“More than likely,” said Leta, more quietly now, “it’ll be awhile before he can walk properly.”
And until then — then what? thought Cyrus blankly. What was he supposed to do with Fiearius out of commission again? At least when he’d been injured before, he still had his senses. He could still bark orders, he could still fly the ship. But this — this Cyrus wasn’t sure he could handle.
Suddenly, Cyrus was quite sure he couldn’t be in the room any longer. So when Leta said, “He needs stitches,” and rolled up her sleeves, Cyrus nodded weakly and turned for the door, mumbling something about needing to check on the bridge. Leta cast him a look of pity but did not refute.
But before he could escape for the hallway, Fiearius’ voice stopped him in his tracks.
“You’re one of them,” he said, in a scratchy, rough voice quite unlike his own. Cyrus turned around and realized he was talking to Leta — and holding her wrist tightly, gazing at her librera mark. Leta went very still.
“You’re one of them,” he said again, his eyes glassy, “so you can do it. You can get it out of me.”
Now, Leta looked startled. “What? Fiearius — “
“You can take it, you can have it.” Fiearius’ grip tightened and slowly, to Cyrus’ horror, he brought Leta’s hand towards him and placed it calmly around his throat. “Just do it.”
Leta’s eyes went wide and she jerked her hand away, but he caught it and pulled her back. Instinctively, Cyrus started forward.
“Don’t you get it?” Fiearius asked, his tone growing more tense. “I need it gone. I can’t be the Verdant anymore. I’m in the way. I’m screwing it up.”
“Fiearius, let her go!” Cyrus snapped warningly as Leta tried to tug her hand out of his grasp to no avail.
“No!” Fiearius shouted, sounding more alive than he had since they’d left the Society headquarters. He sat up straighter and in one motion, seized Leta’s other wrist. She struggled to release herself, but Fiearius held her in place. “You’re the only one!” he begged, his voice cracking and his face more pleading than Cyrus had ever heard it. “You have to do it.”
Torn between horror and anger, Cyrus moved to fight him off, but when he looked at Leta’s face, he stopped himself. If she was afraid, she didn’t show it.
Slowly, she stopped struggling and stared at him solemnly. “I wont,” she said coldly. “I won’t do it.”
“You have to,” Fiearius growled, forcing her hands to his neck again.
“I said, I won’t,” she said sharply.
They stood there like that for what seemed to Cyrus like hours, Fiearius glaring furiously at Leta and Leta glaring calmly right back. Finally, like a breath of fresh air, the tension weakened, as did Fiearius’ grip and he let out a low groan before despairing under his breath. “Gi’ar ni arr’ouat…” Have mercy.
Cyrus was paralyzed by what he’d just witnessed. And then, all at once, he couldn’t bear to look at either of them any longer. If there was such a thing as hitting bottom, this was it and he couldn’t bear to see any more of it. The last thing he saw before he turned away was Leta gently moving her hands away from his throat to rest on his shoulders.
“You’re going to get better, Fiear,” she said behind him as Cyrus fled out the door. “I promise you that. And never tell me to do that again.”
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