Each step forward was excruciating. It stole the breath out of his lungs. It wasn’t just his legs — his back tinged with soreness, his hips ached. Leta was right: he really needed to move more.
“Halfway there,” she said at his side.
Painfully out of breath, Fiearius couldn’t help but mutter, “Oh for fuck’s sake — “
“We can take a break.”
Fiearius snapped, “No. No. Let’s just — get this over with.”
Hours later, or so it felt like, Fiearius’ hands gripped the edge of the counter. Pain lifted from his feet as he leaned all of his weight on it. Then, he let out a crazed, breathless laugh.
“And to think, I used to dominate track races in high school. Just look at me now. A whole day to walk twenty feet.”
“You’ll get back there,” Leta assured him, her voice relieved. “It just takes time. And hey — you’ve earned this.”
Using the sharp edge of the counter, Leta propped up the bottle of beer and handed it over with a flourish. Fiearius snatched it out of her hand and glared, but then he took a long, achingly cold swig and his eyes closed in utter satisfaction. Motivation, indeed.
He lowered the bottle and released a long sigh. “So. You’re an expert in teaching basic locomotion, huh?”
“Actually, no,” said Leta, crossing her arms and leaning her hip against the counter. “But a good friend of mine is. Daelen Orsada — we were lab partners through med school. He’s got a lot of experience in physical therapy. He’s agreed to fly out here and lend a hand as well as coaching me in the meantime. Between the two of us, you’re bound to get back on your feet eventually.”
“Another doctor? One is enough, thanks,” he sighed, as Leta smirked. “And since when are you so optimistic?”
“Well, the way I figure, things can’t possibly get much worse around here,” she noted, and then reached for the other beer and took it for herself.
He laughed in agreement. “That bad out there huh?”
“Things are better, I suppose,” she mused, tilting the bottle against her mouth for a drink. “Cyrus is doing really well. He’s really coming into his own as the Dionysian’s new captain.”
“Hey, I’m not dead yet,” Fiearius grumbled. “Still my ship. And you got loverboy all checked in with Carthians, yeah?”
“Corra and Finn took him there two nights ago, yes.”
Fiearius couldn’t help but notice Leta took a much longer, indulgent drink at the mention of Ren. And she didn’t elaborate.
“Well, great,” he said after a moment’s pause. “Maybe we’ll both get back on our feet.”
“That’s the idea,” Leta agreed quietly. “So — how’s it feel to be out of that bed?”
Taking curious note of the sudden change of subject, Fiearius took a deep breath and looked down at his legs, still sending throbbing pain up every nerve.
“Kinda like I’d prefer you to amputate right about now.” He cracked a smirk. “But less so than before. So I guess that’s progress.”
“That is progress,” said Leta, genuine relief touching her voice, and Fiearius thought perhaps she was deciding to spare him her clinical questioning for once. But then she said, to his shock, “And how about the nightmares? Still having them?”
He lowered his beer and balked. “Nightmares? How’d you — ?”
“I saw you,” Leta admitted quietly, looking apologetic. “I saw you thrashing in your sleep.”
He considered the visions, memories, hallucinations, whatever they were, and he realized he could still see the dark alleyway in the corners of his vision, closing in on him. Hastily, he clamped his eyes shut and answered, “Yeah. Yeah, they’re still there.”
“What’re they about, exactly?”
Fiearius slowly opened his eyes to find the infirmary still the infirmary and let out a sigh of relief. Before it could come back, he forced himself to focus on Leta, repeating her words in his head thrice before he was able to answer.
“Satieri, mostly,” he muttered at last. “Internal Affairs jobs. Some mine. Some…not mine.” He fell quiet, recalling the images of blood-splattered walls and fresh corpses.
“But they feel real,” he added suddenly. “All of them. The ones I remember. And the ones — planted there, I guess? I forget where I am. And when I am. Who I am…” He furrowed his brow and looked down at his hands. “One moment you’re here and the next, it’s another life. For a while there, I couldn’t get back to the right one…I got so caught up in the others, I just…couldn’t see the way out. But. It’s getting easier now. To differentiate. I think, anyway…”
Leta went quiet, regarding him closely — too closely — with a frown on her face.
Fiearius recognized that look. It was the look she gave right before she prodded him with a needle or pushed medicine on him.
“Lemme guess,” he muttered, “you gonna go write that in your doctor diary now?”
“What? No.” Leta bristled. But then she admitted, “Not when you’re here, anyway,” and grinned.
He shook his head, taking a longer drink. A comfortable silence fell between them until Leta lowered her bottle and said abruptly, “Can I ask you something?”
“Since when do you need my permission?”
“Why did you agree to help me?” she asked, her lips tugging toward a frown. “All those months ago. Why’d you agree to go to the Baltimore?”
Well, he hadn’t been expecting that. And he wasn’t sure he had an answer — at least not one he felt entirely comfortable giving. Perhaps stalling for time, he took another long swig from the cold bottle in his hand before he finally spoke. “Because I know what it feels like losing everything to the Society. And maybe I just wanted to win for once.”
She faltered for a moment. Then she pressed, “So — did we? Do you think we won?”
Suddenly, she didn’t look quite like the Leta he knew: sadness struck her face, her eyes reflecting the artificial lights overhead, as she leveled him a long, piercing stare.
Guilt stirred in his chest. It certainly didn’t look like they’d won. A month after the Baltimore and the Dionysian was still in as dire a situation as it had been before.
Somehow, he mustered a smirk. “We’re all still alive, ain’t we? That’s somethin’. And you got your boyfriend back.”
“Fiance,” she muttered dully. Then she averted her eyes to the side. “Well, not anymore. We — ended things the other night.”
The bottle of beer in his hand paused mid-way to his mouth. Shock passed through him — not unpleasantly so, but not happily, either, when he saw the emptiness in her face.
“Well — shit,” was all he could say at first. “You okay?”
She shrugged, and a sigh passed through her lips, heavy enough to stir the hair on her forehead. “What I wanted was to get him out of there alive, and we did that. But I never thought — I mean, this is just not what I expected for us.”
The air shifted between them. He felt suddenly odd. What was the right answer to a statement like that? Especially all things considered.
Half to fill the silence and half because his curiosity got the better of his tongue, he provided her an uneasy, lopsided smirk and asked, “Hope that’s not my fault…?”
To his relief, she shook her head, looking surprised. “No. It’s not. I never even told him about — ” Her eyes flashed up to his, then looked away. “Any of it. With everything else going on, it seemed less important.”
This was the closest either of them had come to acknowledging what had happened, or didn’t happen, That One Night. They’d both been quietly ignoring the fact that Leta had been in his bed, though the memory had crept into Fiearius’ consciousness on more than one occasion — like when she brushed alongside him unexpectedly, or when her eyes blazed with fire, or when her face flushed pink as she yelled at him. It was not easy to forget how close they’d been.
To hide the rather incriminating thoughts in his head, Fiearius spoke over them, feigning concern. “So just to clarify, I don’t need to worry about him dropping by to beat the shit out of me?”
Leta rolled her eyes, snorting. “Very funny. No, he ended it because of me. Something about not liking who I’ve become or something,” she muttered, and then grabbed for her beer again, rather urgently.
“Well it’s his loss,” said Fiearius fervently. Another silence unfolded as Leta drank slowly, her eyes averted. Determined to stomp it out, he asked jokingly, “So you’re single now, huh? No wonder you weren’t around yesterday. Too many dates lined up?”
He was glad to hear her laughter ring around the room. “What? No. Seriously? It’s been like a day. Although Finn has been asking me out for awhile,” she noted, sounding both amused and irritated, “so I suppose that option is on the table. For me to ignore.”
Despite himself, Fiearius laughed. “Ignore? Why? Thought you liked him.”
“I tolerate him,” Leta corrected. She looked puzzled. “What makes you think I like him?”
“You told him about the whole, y’know — “ he waved his hand vaguely at her, “dying thing. When you were sick. He knew before anyone else. I don’t mind or anything,” he added quickly. “Just figured you guys had a special bond or somethin’.”
Leta looked quite wonderfully thunderstruck. “Bond? No, no — no. No. No.” She paused, and then added, for good measure, “No. He found out I was sick only accidentally. He read a note I had lying in the infirmary that had my diagnosis on it. I didn’t tell him.” After a moment, in a much different voice, she pressed quietly, “You really thought I told Finn and not you?”
Fiearius was feeling suddenly very foolish, and particularly exposed. “Well … yeah … “
“Really?” Leta looked like she was biting back a knowing smile with difficulty.
He wanted her to stop. “Whatever, it’s not unreasonable,” he muttered, quickly draining the rest of his beer. He let out a sigh and thudded the bottle back to the counter, where it looked particularly wrong beside all the medical tools.
“You know,” he muttered, almost accusingly, “most doctors don’t give their patients alcohol.”
Leta shrugged one shoulder in a tired sort of way. “I guess I’m not most doctors.”
“Nah,” he agreed, casting her a smirk. “You’re really not.”
She smiled slightly, shaking her head. “C’mon. Let’s walk you back.”