Chapter 20: Hunted

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“So what you’re saying is, you’re giving up,” Fiearius snapped as he followed Leta into the sea of people filling the bustling space port. The Dionysian was stopped for the day to refuel, restock and regroup. When they’d landed, the crew had immediately scattered off to explore the array of shops.

Crowded and noisy as the port was, nothing could have prevented their ensuing argument.

“I’m not giving up on anything,” said Leta, throwing him a fierce sideways glare. “There’s simply no way we can safely go after them now.”

Fiearius felt like tearing his hair out. For reasons he could not fathom, Leta thought they shouldn’t try to raid any more Society ships after all. It was, in her words, needlessly risky. Stupid. They’d gotten lucky once and it wouldn’t happen again.

It was so unlike her to back down on something that Fiearius felt like kicking the nearest bench in frustration. Instead, he scowled and followed after her as she headed toward a grocery store (she was doing an errand for Amora, helping her re-stock the kitchen pantry).

“So we give up,” FIearius continued, a nasty sting in his voice, “and go back to low-life, low-pay shit jobs for people who can’t string two words together.”

“And escape with our lives, yes. The Society has taken enough from me, Fiear. And enough from you too.”

“Y’know, last time I checked, that was the very reason we were going to do this,” he pointed out. “And the reason you agreed with me. You did say you agreed. Pretty strongly, if I recall.”

“I gave it a lot of thought,” she said simply, a lift of dignity in her tone, “and I changed my mind.”

“Oh no no, you do not just change your mind,” he growled. “I know you better than that. Convincing you of anything is like pushing a ship into the atmosphere with your bare hands.”

Clearly, there was something more to this. One day Leta was on his side, the next…

Realization hit him.

“It was Dez, wasn’t it?” he said suddenly, stalking forward to catch up with her. “The hell did he say to you?”

Leta came to a halt, turning around to face him. She took a deep breath, as if reeling in her patience.

“Well we had an awful long time to talk on the Mariah, if you remember,” she bit out. “And I realized what Ren said about Arleth Morgan is true. I asked Dez and the information lines up. He is most certainly one of the Councilors. And he’s after me, which means he’s after you and Cyrus and all of us, and I’m not going to be the reason why you get hurt,” she snarled. “Dez might be right about this one.”

“That’s funny, since I’m pretty sure you were the one who told me not to trust Dez,” Fiearius grumbled.

Leta rolled her eyes and turned around to walk away, but Fiearius hurried to catch up to her.

“Why does that matter anyway? Let’s say he’s right, big deal. There’ve always been people after us. Hasn’t been a problem so far. Why are you so freaked about it now?”

“There are so many more people after us now, Fiear!” said Leta in exasperation. “The Council. The bounty hunters. Ophelia, who already found us once and nearly gutted you — “

“Hey, she didn’t get me that bad — “

“ — and we just can’t do it, alright? We can’t pretend like we’re hurting the Society at all. It’s us who will pay for it, not them.”

“But we’ve got help. Backup. Quin’s people. Maybe others.”

“That’s not enough to protect us from them. And what’s the point in going after them now? Really. What’s the point, in the end?”

She glared sideways at him, her eyes blazing on his face. Fiearius was dumbstruck.  Somehow, Dez had managed to take the Leta he knew and replace her with someone entirely different.

“What’s the point?” Fiearius repeated. “What’s the point? The point is, I’m tired of running. I’m tired of looking over my shoulder. I’m tired of my only goal in life being to make it to the next day. I can’t believe I’m having to explain this to you.” He groaned and dug his hand in his hair. “Where do you see yourself in five years, huh? Six feet under in an unmarked grave or actually living your life before its gone? That’s the point.”

Leta slowed to a halt again. This time, her expression softened with exasperation.

“Fiearius, that’s exactly it. You fight them, you’ll end up in that grave anyway.”

“Rather die trying than to have given up,” he muttered.

Leta’s lips cracked toward a wry, affectionate smile. “I’d rather you didn’t die at all.”

It was hard to feel anger towards Leta. She wasn’t wrong, of course, and he too shared the fears that were driving her. It wasn’t anger, no. It was disappointment.

But it was with a half-hearted smile that he muttered, “Well. Now you’re just wishful thinking.”

Her smile thinned. “It’s not a victory if you get killed, Fiearius,” she sighed, her eyes lingering on his face before she turned back to the path and headed into the crowd.

Fiearius watched her retreating back and let out a sigh. The Mariah, Dez, the Council, now this? Gods, he needed a drink.

Luckily, just two doors down was a bar, which he walked into casually. It was half-crowded with people, but what Fiearius noticed first was how swanky it was. Dim lighting, glass chandeliers, a shining onyx countertop.  Not at all his usual fare, but as long as there was liquor behind the counter, he could care less what shiny red fabric was used to upholster the seats.

He sidled to the bar, sat down and ordered himself a whiskey shot and a can of cheap beer. He took the shot as soon as it was delivered, let the whiskey scald his throat, and thudded it back to the counter. It was then he heard a man’s voice at his side.

“Relationship trouble?”

Fiearius glanced over at him absently. The man was older, his hair silver and his face tanned and lined, but he was clearly fit and lean. He wore a sharp jet-black suit and sat up straight, his eyes gazing ahead, a rocks glass of what looked like expensive scotch in his hand.

Fiearius snorted in vague agreement and looked away. “When is a relationship not?”

The man nodded back over his shoulder. “Well, that looked serious.”

“Hm?” Apparently their little argument wasn’t without its audience. “Oh that? Nah, it’s nothin’,” he brushed off easily. “We do that all the time.”

“That so?” He sounded bemused, directing his gaze into his glass before he took another drink. “I never fought much with my wife.”

A brush of annoyance passed over him. Fiearius paused mid-sip to eye the man sideways. There was something oddly familiar about him, like the way he carried himself upright with a certain smugness. Like he knew more than anyone in the room. Had they met before?

“Well,” Fiearius remarked at last, deciding he was just being paranoid. “Aren’t you fuckin’ lucky.”

The man took another long drink, then sighed. “Have you been together long then?”

It took a moment for Fiearius to decide the answer to that. Time became rather fuzzy up in space. “Eh, a couple months or somethin’. Not long.”

“Seems early to be fighting, then.”

Rather than feel offended, Fiearius laughed. “Mate, we’ve been fightin’ since the day we met and never stopped. It’s just the way we work. All day, every day. Hell, we even fight in bed.”

Fiearius noticed that the man had tightened his hand around his glass, his jaw clenching. Still, his voice was conversational when he added, “Doesn’t seem like the best match.”

“Nah, doesn’t seem that way, does it.”

“But you care about her,” he prompted.

A smirk spread over his face. “More than I care to admit.”

“If you truly do — “ The man lifted his head and gazed over at Fiearius, his eyes cold. “Then why wouldn’t you listen to what she was saying?”

But at that, Fiearius felt his smirk become fixed. Perhaps they’d been arguing louder than he thought, perhaps people had noticed — but for a complete stranger to pay that much attention?

A red flag lifted in the back of his head.

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