“ … Everyone in the department knew that Varisian would succeed us eventually. Though most were polite enough not to mention it,” said Fiearius, breathing a tired sigh. He slumped on the edge of the exam bench in the infirmary while Leta tended to the gash in his shoulder, courtesy of Varisian herself.
Now that the Dionysian and the Beacon were safely in the air and Quin had been left to handle the situation on Archeti, they had a moment to debrief on their last moments of the job. The problem was Fiearius was having a hard time explaining. It still felt somewhat surreal, otherworldly. He should have been celebrating a victory. And yet …
“Did you know her well?” Leta asked, giving a painful tug on the stitching wire, making Fiearius grimace.
“Not really. But I knew she was good. Everyone knew she was good.”
“Ophelia was promoted to Internal Affairs Prime after your exile and my reassignment,” said Dez from his spot against the wall. Usually, Leta ignored Dez’s presence entirely, but this time she glanced at him with interest.
“One of the most successful Primes in recent history,” he went on steadily. “She toppled our record in under three years. It’s no surprise the Council picked her to go after you now.”
Leta tied the wire into a swift knot. “So how did she find us then?”
Fiearius shook his head. “Wish I knew.”
“You’re not difficult to locate,” Dez pointed out. “The Council has eyes and informants everywhere. And you never fail to draw attention.”
Suddenly, Dez’ presence felt rather unnecessary. “Is that meant to be helpful?” Fiearius grunted.
“No. Informative. And perhaps something to consider in planning your next move.”
“Our next move is to hide,” said Leta at once. “This Varisian woman must’ve reported this by now. We’ll have to lay low for awhile.”
“Yes. We will.” Dez set his eyes on the doorway, pushed himself from the wall and crossed through the room. “I’ll see about landing us at a port off the grid. We need to refuel and regroup.”
Fiearius was not sorry at all to see him leave. After the door fell closed, he dropped his chin to his chest, exhaustion sinking through him as Leta worked quietly: applying salve to his cuts, finishing stitches in his arm. She was just cleaning blood from the beds of his nails with a damp cloth when her voice wound toward his ears.
“Are you alright?” she asked gently.
He lifted his head. Her bright green eyes were searching over his face, so he forced his mouth toward a heavy smile.
“I’m okay. Just a little shaken maybe.” He drew in a deep breath and had to admit, “But we did it. We actually did it. We won,” which made her expression lighten.
“Feels good, doesn’t it? And no one even got hurt.” Her gaze slid toward the stitches in his shoulder. “Well, not too badly anyway.”
Suddenly, his stomach twisted. He knew exactly what was bothering him.
“That’s…not entirely true,” he muttered, and Leta looked up again. Her hand was still holding his wrist, but she went still.
“There was a woman in the bridge,” he said quietly. “The captain of the frigate I was on. She was a Society agent, but…there was something different about her. She–she didn’t make it. Varisian–”
Well, he didn’t need to repeat what had happened.
“ — got to her. But before she died, she said things to me that–I don’t know, they were strange.” He shook his head, bewildered. “She didn’t think I was a traitor. She said she admired me. That people were talking. That I’m not alone.”
Leta was surveying him intensely. Her expression was unreadable until she demanded in amazement, “People on Satieri are talking? Admiring you … ? Fiear, that’s — that’s really good. That means not everyone believes the propaganda the Society is spinning.”
“But whether they believe it or not doesn’t matter if they’re too afraid to do anything about it,” he couldn’t help but mutter. But Leta was not deterred.
“Who says they aren’t willing to do anything about it? Maybe not now. Not yet. But you’d be amazed how people will fight back when they’re given a shot.”
This was feeling rather familiar.
“Like you did,” he pointed out, and she smiled sadly.
“I don’t know if fleeing Vescent counts as defiance.”
“But teaming up with a crew of traitors?” he suggested. “Breaking someone out of a high-security prison? Raiding Society headquarters to halt an execution?” He grinned. “Not to mention befriending half of their Most Wanted list.”
“When you put it like that,” Leta laughed. “I’ve accomplished a lot lately.”
The smile faded from her face as she tilted her head, eyeing him knowingly. Too knowingly.
“Fiear, I’m sorry about the captain. Sounds like really she believed in something.”
He sighed. “I think she might’ve.”
Leta rested her forearm on his unwounded shoulder, her fingertips sliding up into the back of his hair affectionately. “Well, for what it’s worth — and I can’t believe I’m even saying this — “ She heaved a trouble sigh. “But, I’m proud of you.”
Suddenly, Fiearius felt more like himself. He could not resist: a smirk filled his face.
“A little,” Leta said quickly. “A little proud. Don’t let this get to your head — “
“You’re proud of me?” he demanded, sliding his palm to the small of her back. “You?”
Leta shook her head, but smirked at him as Fiearius wound both arms around her waist, pulling her close enough so their foreheads touched. “Well then. If it makes you so proud, maybe we should do jobs like this more often.”
“You want to make a habit of raiding Society ships?”
“Why not? We pulled in a decent haul to keep us going for a while, strengthened our relationship with a valued associate. And personally, I gained a large sense of satisfaction from the experience. Besides,” he scoffed. “I’m a legend now apparently. Gotta keep up my image.”
“The Society will get smarter about this,” Leta warned. “They won’t let it happen again. But,” she muttered, arching her eyebrows, “it is tempting … “
“Exactly. So we’ll hide for a bit … let this pass …. spend some quality time in the privacy of the command deck,” he added slyly, his grinning mouth just barely grazing hers. “And maybe you can elaborate more on how proud you are of me.”
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