Chapter 52: Homecoming Pt. 3

The digital clock in the Beacon’s med bay read 4:07 AM when Leta, both wide-awake and terribly exhausted, finally closed the double-doors and locked them behind her — lest Fiearius get any ideas for escape. After monitoring his vitals for hours, coaxing him out of panic, witnessing his violent thrashing, she managed to take her first real breath of the night.

Mercifully, thanks to a heavy dosage of melatonin, Fiearius was now asleep. Leaving him alone in the med bay caused a protective, worried tug in her chest, but she wouldn’t be gone for long, she told herself:  she just needed a few minutes, that was all. She just had to see Ren. Even if he was asleep too, she had to know he was really here.

But when she eased open the hatch to her room, she found Ren very much awake, sitting cross-legged on the floor. A half-circle of notebooks and papers were spread around him and his head was bent over a book. Her heart tinged: in their old life together, she frequently found him like this.

“Hey,” she said gently, closing the door behind her. She tried to gauge what frame of mind he was in. “What’re you still doing up?”

When he lifted his eyes, Ren almost smiled at her. The corner of his mouth curved. “Just reading. You’ve got a whole library in here, where’d you get all these?”

“Most of them are — well, were — Aiden’s. He — he was a passenger not too long ago. He’s not aboard anymore,” was all she said, feeling that a true explanation of what happened to Aiden would take hours. And her heart couldn’t take it.

She lowered herself to join him on the floor. Automatically, just like old times, he oriented himself toward her, shifting closer so their legs brushed.

Leta almost softened. Almost. But then she saw what particular notebook Ren was holding in his lap, and she gave a start.

“That’s your research, Ren,” she informed him, throwing him a quick, searching look. It was the work he’d planned to publish about the Society — the work that would expose them. The work that landed him in prison.

“I kept it with me after you were taken,” she explained. “So no one could steal it. See?” She leaned over, flipping the notebook to its cover, which bore his name in small, neat handwriting.

“I know. I know it says that,” said Ren quietly, knitting his brow, as if frustrated. “But that can’t be right. Why would I write — all of this?”

Leta felt her heart sink toward her stomach. Somehow, the Society had taken two years of work from him and so much more. “Because it’s the godsdamn truth, that’s why,” she said forcefully. “You were doing research on the Society and found out the truth about them. All the propaganda, all their lies … how they dispose of people … “

“So you had this,” said Ren, scrunching his forehead in puzzlement. “It was with you the whole time? And you believe it.”

“And Fiearius — he’s the captain — he was able to confirm it,” said Leta quickly. “All of it’s true.”

Ren paused, shifting his lips thoughtfully. “The captain. Right. Fiearius. He’s your friend.”

It was not a question. Momentarily stunned, Leta only nodded her head. ‘Friends’ was not how she’d describe her relationship with Fiearius. It was another beast entirely, indescribable and confusing, infuriating and heartening all at once.

Ren was quiet as he went back to flipping through the pages with his thumb, glancing over his own words. Swallowing in her throat, Leta prompted quietly, “If you read it, you’ll see. You’ll see that you didn’t belong in that cell, Ren. You belong with me.”

Ren paused, then slowly eased the notebook closed. “I don’t know,” he mused thoughtfully, looking up at her in earnest. “It seems like you belong more on this ship.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

It was nearly dawn, planetside, when the Beacon and the Dionysian touched ground a few hours later on what would hopefully become their temporary hiding place. With Finn’s help, Cyrus managed to pick a location for them to land: a cold, isolated planet in Carthian territory with only a few small quiet towns. They would stay here a few days, protected by the Society-hostile military patrols, Cyrus decided — they would stay here until he planned their next move.

Whatever that could possibly be. He was pretending the Dionysian had a direction; it had no direction at all.

Because he needed something to do now that the ships were landed, because he couldn’t sleep, because he had to keep busy, Cyrus decided abruptly that he would go for a walk. Dropping the map in his hands, he peeled himself from his chair, drifted down the silent hallways of the Dionysian and made it as far as the cargo bay before he changed his mind; where did he think he could go, anyway?

Instead, he lowered to the cold metal floor and sat, bracing against the icy breeze that tossed his hair over his forehead. Below him lay empty, rolling fields that stretched for miles. Everything was quiet.

Were it not for the aching knot in his chest, he might’ve found it peaceful.

Of course, he shouldn’t have been here, just sitting. He should have been checking on his brother. He knew that. Cyrus had tried a handful of times throughout the night to see how he was faring, but he made it as far as the lower deck before he was overwhelmed with the urge to bolt back upstairs. He found he couldn’t do it — he couldn’t go inside, he physically couldn’t see Fiearius this way. Not after what had happened with Leta.

Just then, soft, hesitant footsteps approached over his shoulder and broke Cyrus from his thoughts. A half-glance toward his side told him he was not the only one awake at this hour: Quiet as a mouse, Leta lowered to the floor beside him and hugged her knees.

Cyrus couldn’t decide if he wanted her company or not.

“Any improvements to report?” he muttered at last, knowing full well she had no good news to offer.

Leta exhaled slowly, her breath turning white in the icy air. “Fiear’s about the same. He’s resting again. I gave him something to help him sleep.”

Cyrus nodded slowly.

“And Ren?” he asked.

This time, Leta’s voice faltered. “He’s a little — a little better. Mostly, he’s confused, and he doesn’t understand why I brought him here. He doesn’t trust what we’re — what I’m doing. And he definitely doesn’t like the Dionysian very much … “

Cyrus grunted, “Wonder why.”

“But I guess I didn’t like it much in the beginning either, did I,” Leta added in a mumble.

Sounding more bitter than he intended, Cyrus grumbled, “Guess not.”

Then, tense silence spread between them. Cyrus made no effort to fill it. At long last, Leta said, unexpectedly, in a small voice, “Cyrus. I’m so sorry.”

Cyrus looked at her and saw, to his shock, tears were flooding her eyes.

“Leta — “ he began, but she went on.

“I never meant for this to happen,” she murmured, gazing at him steadily. “I just wanted Ren back, I wanted that so much. And now it’s like I didn’t get him back at all.” Now tears streamed down her face, a slow, steady rainfall. He’d never seen Leta like this, not ever, not even close. She was all steel, always.

But not in this moment. “You have to understand,” she said weakly. “I never meant for Fiearius to get hurt.”

It seemed, then, Cyrus was not the only one who was quietly suffering. He looked away and swallowed the lump in his throat.

“I know,” he said quietly. “I–I know. And it’s not your fault. What happened, it was–it was just– It wasn’t your fault.”

“I wish I could fix it. All of it,” she breathed, the words stumbling out of her mouth. The rainfall was a storm now, tears splashing down her face. “I wouldn’t have asked Fiearius. I wouldn’t have asked him to help. I swear, Cyrus, I wouldn’t have. I–“

She wore a look of such begging, it was unbearable: Cyrus couldn’t take it anymore.

“Stop. Just stop,” he breathed. “This was Fiearius’ decision. He knew what he was doing. It was his risk to take. You don’t need to apologize to me.”

Drawing in a shaky breath, Leta wiped her eyes on her sleeve, and to his enormous relief, she went quiet — she relaxed, taking in slow, deep breaths. Then, with an air of defeat, she lowered her head onto his shoulder. At once, he wound his arm around her shoulder and drew her in close to his side.

Both of them were quiet for minutes, watching as the horizon lightened from twilight-green to the faintest grey.

“Cy,” said Leta finally, sounding deeply exasperated. “What now? What’s next? I mean — what’re we going to do?”

“Honestly?” His voice was plain and blunt. “I’ve no idea.”

He could sense her smiling at his side. Then she released a heavy sigh. “Okay. Then what’m I going to do?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I can’t stay, and Fiearius wouldn’t want that anyway. And I can’t go back to Vescent, it’s not safe there.” She paused, and after a moment admitted, “A few hours ago, Ren said — something weird. He said he thought I belonged on the Dionysian.”

Cyrus pretended to consider the matter. “Well let’s see,” he posed thoughtfully and started counting off on his fingers. “Exiled from home, on the run, nowhere else to go and basically in deep shit always and forever?” He smirked down at her and hugged her shoulder tighter. “Sorry for being the bearer of bad news, but I think he’s right.” Cyrus sighed as he dropped his hands defeatedly and glanced over at her. “Hate to say it, but you’re one of us now.”

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END OF PART I.

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