Chapter 2: Progress

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For several stunned seconds, Leta simply stood rooted beside Fiearius’ bed without moving or speaking. One wrong move on her part, and she feared Fiearius would spiral back toward screaming hysteria or even worse, return to his utter stony silence.

But there was no denying that he looked more healthy and alive, showing his usual youthful fervor. His bare shoulders were slouched in bed, but his auburn hair sprung over his forehead and his tired eyes even contained a hint of mischief.

“About time you spoke up,” said Leta at last, releasing a careful breath of relief. “And you even sound like your old self.”

Fiearius lifted his eyebrows in admission. “Yeah … getting there. Trying to, anyway.”

Was he trying? All attempts to get Fiearius to speak had been met with bitter, tired silence. Sometimes he even refused meals. Really, he seemed to have no interest in recovery at all.

Leta tentatively stepped closer and lowered to the edge of the bed, smoothing the covers with her hand.

“Well, I’ve never known you to be so quiet,” she said, almost smirking. Her eyes were transfixed on his face, as if worried he would disappear any moment. “You know, you gave your brother quite a scare.”

Confusion tinged his face, like she spoke foreign words.

“My brother?” he muttered. “What is–” But then his eyes clamped shut, he winced in frustration and added hurriedly, “Right. Of course. How is Cy?”

Leta did her best to hide her alarm. Confusion and identity loss — that must have been another side-effect.

“Stressed,” she said after a moment’s pause, choosing to speak normally. “Cyrus is very stressed. He’s trying to keep the crew together and make some money, so the crew can eat and we can get away from here as soon as possible.”

Fiearius furrowed his brow, as if sorting out her words. “And where is ‘here’ exactly?”

The infirmary was windowless, so Leta settled for a description instead. “One of the absolute worst places we’ve ever been,” she explained, cracking a wry grin. “A little moon on the outskirts of Carthian territory. It’s a good hiding place, but that’s about all it has to offer.”

To her surprise, Fiearius snorted a laugh. “If you think that’s the worst place, you’ve obviously never been to Zial.”

Gently, she wondered, “What’s so bad about Zial?”

“Did you know it’s legal to not have a bar on some planets?” he asked, raising a brow at her. “The inhumanity.”

Leta shook her head, hardly daring to believe it was Fiearius who was talking this way — the rhythms of the conversation with him were so easy sometimes.

Which was why she took the opportunity while it was afforded to her. “How’re you feeling?”

“Just peachy,” he said hoarsely.

“Feel light-headed at all? Nauseous?”

“Not really.”

“And your legs?” she added, looking to the heavy bandages wrapped around his calves and knees.

He looked down and frowned skeptically. “Like someone slashed them with a fucking sword. A sword. Can you believe that?”

For a moment Leta considered telling him Dez was aboard, but surely this wasn’t the time to spring news on him. Besides, she had questions that needed answering while he was still talking.

“Fiearius,” she pressed quietly, “What happened? What happened on Satieri?”

Fiearius didn’t answer immediately. He simply shook his head, scratching his messy hair.

“Honestly? Not sure,” he muttered. “It’s kind of fuzzy. I remember going into a cell. Dez was there. And a few researchers, I guess that’s what they were. They were tapping away on consoles the whole time. They gave me a shot of something.” He caught a hand around his neck at the memory.

“And there was a recording.” He hesitated. “A voice recovering overhead. It was reciting something. Like it was reading. But now, I can’t even say what it was. I just remember it starting.  And then — nothing. I remember going into the cell, and I remember coming out. I don’t know what’s in the middle. Or how long that was …” He lifted his eyes at her in question.

“You were there three days,” prompted Leta quietly.

Fiearius looked stricken, shaken. “Shit … “ he breathed, frowning down at his hands until finally he muttered, “I remember being on Dez’s ship though. And I remember the Baltimore…”

“I wish you didn’t,” said Leta, drawing in a long breath. So: they’d arrived at this topic at last, and it was time she did her part.

“Fiear, listen. I’m so sorry I took us there. I never wanted it to go this way. Boarding the Baltimore was — “

“Hey,” Fiearius grumbled, interrupting her, “it’s okay.”

“No, let me apologize. Please.” She shifted closer to him on the bed. “I’m also sorry,” she went on, “that I never told you about this.”

She drew the sleeve of her blouse up her wrist, exposing the librera mark that she’d so carefully hid from him for months.

Fiearius’ eyes drifted down towards the tattoo. Silently, he moved his hand and wrapped it around her forearm, his thumb moving back and forth over the mark, as if deep in thought.

“Why didn’t you?” he asked after a moment.

Leta considered sliding her wrist away, but she didn’t pull away as he held her. It’d been a long time since Fiearius had done more than even looked at her.

“Well, Cyrus said you’d kill me,” she explained softly. “And if I told you, you might’ve refused to help Ren.”

Fiearius continued to run his thumb over the lines of the librera, a crease in his forehead as though translating what she’d said. Finally, his hand slowed and he looked up at her. “Did it work?” he asked abruptly. “Did you get him back?”

“Parts of him,” said Leta carefully. “Parts of him I got back.” She swallowed the ache in her throat, pulling her hands back into her lap. “But he’s alive. He’s alive and he’s in my room right now. I don’t think I can ask for much more than that.”

“That must be nice for you,” he muttered, his eyes growing distant. “So, when’s the wedding?”

“When’s — what?” said Leta, startled. Heat rose around her neck: discussing any potential wedding plans with Fiearius, of all people, made her skin prickle with unease.

The truth was, in all of his disarray, Ren had not remembered they were engaged. Not in the strictest sense. He knew they were in a relationship, and he’d said he loved her, and he was distantly, carefully affectionate — but any of their shared memories of Vescent made his confusion grow until it nearly swallowed him whole. To him, the last two years were blackened out. Gone.

“I’ve no idea,” Leta muttered at last, her voice flattened. “A wedding is not exactly on the agenda. He’s still very unwell.”

“Is he?” Fiearius started to smirk his lopsided smirk. “What, like me?”

“Well, he’s become a Society loyalist,” Leta sighed, “and he — “

“What’s wrong with that?”

It was a moment before Leta found her voice.

“What?” she demanded. In her head, she groaned: Not you too, Fiear.

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