Up in the bridge, Fiearius pulled back the ship’s main clutch, watching as the scenery out the window opened up into the deep black of space. They’d managed to depart the port safely, but this hadn’t been the quiet, easy pitstop Fiearius had in mind. Tritius Adler’s voice filled his head.
Leta doesn’t know, he had said coldly. She doesn’t need to.
But he had to tell her. Lying to Leta wasn’t quite like lying to anyone else. His stomach twisted with guilt when his mind flashed, uneasily, to the bottle of Flush tucked under the dashboard. He hadn’t touched the pills in three days, but still, that lie was enough on its own.
But one problem at a time, he thought uneasily. For now, he had to tell her what her father had said. He had to tell her about her mother. He had to. There was no way he —
“So, I was right?”
Fiearius turned back to find he suddenly wasn’t alone in the cabin. Cyrus walked in, rubbing his hands on a grease-stained cloth as he climbed through the doorway.
“About that woman?” he asked. “She was a bounty hunter?”
Swallowing his nerves, Fiearius turned back to the dashboard and tried to push Adler out of his mind. “Damn well hope so. Waste of a perfectly good bottle of vodka if she wasn’t.”
Cyrus threw the cloth aside and dropped into the co-pilot’s seat. “So. Bounty hunters. New thing to worry about, huh?”
Fiearius shrugged one shoulder. “Just one more to add to the list.”
“That list’s getting pretty long.” As disheartened as he sounded, there was the tiniest of curves in Cyrus’ mouth. “So we headed after that Society freighter then?” he asked, a touch of mischief in his tone and Fiearius almost wanted to laugh.
“Do I sense a bit of excitement, li’l brother?”
Cyrus shrugged and leaned back in his chair. “You aren’t the only one who’s not a fan,” he pointed out and though Fiearius usually would have heartily agreed, the pit of discomfort grew in his stomach. Now Leta’s words joined her father’s. It was too dangerous. Too stupid. They couldn’t fight back.
It must have shown in his face, because when Cyrus’ voice cut through again, it was worried. “Hey, you okay?”
“Hm?” Fiearius glanced over at him and shook his head. “Yeah, I’m fine. It’s just — “
Footsteps pounded into the room. This time when Fiearius turned for the door, it was Leta who stood on the threshold. She looked positively shell-shocked.
“I just saw my dad,” she said. “Out on the docks.”
Fiearius clenched his jaw shut. He said nothing, though he registered a look of convincing surprise. Well at least half of the news had already been broken.
“Your dad?” said Cyrus in disbelief, turning around. “At the port? I thought Daelen said he’d gone into hiding after helping us out on Satieri.”
Leta shook her head just an inch to the side, as if she were frozen with shock. “It was him. I know it. He looked right at me.”
Fiearius bit down on the inside of his cheek, mind racing. This was the opportunity. This was his chance to come clean. Yet for some reason, his voice was still catching in his throat.
Cyrus went on, however, nosey as ever. “Why would he be here of all places?”
“I’ve no idea what he could be doing on this side of the span,” said Leta, clasping her hand across her forehead. Her eyes slid out of focus. “But I feel like I’m going crazy. Maybe he’s keeping track of me, or … “
“But if he can track us,” said Cyrus, “that means — “
“Anyone could. I know. I can’t understand what he’s doing here. And if he’s slipping out of hiding, why hasn’t he contacted me?”
Her voice cracked with worry, and it was then that Fiearius finally found his courage and dragged it into the light. Rising to his feet, he wound around Cyrus without a word and put a hand to the small of Leta’s back, gently guiding her out of the room. Leta walked with him, but not without eyeing him curiously.
“Fiear, what — “
“Let’s go upstairs.” This would be easier without a curious sibling hovering nearby.
She obliged, but she looked suspicious of him. Up in his quarters, she lowered to the edge of his bed, put her hands on her knees and gazed him at expectantly as he stood before her. Usually, Fiearius considered himself the kind of captain who could deliver bad news without hesitation.
But not to Leta. Not this news.
“You’re not crazy,” he said at last, meeting her eyes. “He was there. Your father. I spoke to him.”
As predicted, Leta looked horrified.
“You what?” she demanded, anger rising in her voice. “You spoke to him? When? And why didn’t you come get me?”
Groaning, Fiearius dove his fingers into his hair and started to pace over the messy floor. “He would have fled. He didn’t want me to get you. He didn’t want you to know. Said it’d put you in danger. And I wasn’t exactly in a place to question him.”
“So he can talk to you but not his own daughter. Where did he find you?”
“He didn’t. He just happened to be in the bar I wandered into.”
Leta shut her eyes. “Of course he was,” she muttered bitterly. “What did he say?”
“Nothing significant. Mostly just that I’m an idiot and completely incapable of keeping you safe.”
“That’s ridiculous.” Leta opened her mouth, hesitated, and then asked, “Wait, he knows about us?”
Fiearius ceased his pacing.
“Why?” he asked slowly, lowering his hand from his hair and glancing over at her, a teasing smirk starting to form. “You embarrassed?”
“No.” Her voice was sharp, but heartened. “I’m not embarrassed to be with you at all.”
Despite himself, Fiearius smiled at her surprisingly forthright admission. “In any case,” he added with a note of interest, “he doesn’t approve. If you were wondering.”
“Of course he doesn’t, you’re practically his worst nightmare,” Leta pointed out, but there was a note of affection in her tone. He grinned with the corner of his mouth, but it dropped off his face quickly. He had barely skimmed the surface of what he needed to tell her.
“I don’t care what he thinks anyway,” Leta went on. “I just want to know what he’s up to. We’ve barely talked since he helped us on Satieri. I know he’s hiding from the Society, but — “ She pushed herself to her feet. This time, she was the one who started to pace around him. “I can’t trust him. I don’t know what he’s doing — I mean, maybe he’s still answering to the Society, and — “
Fiearius cut in. “I don’t think so. I don’t think he’d be lining up to publicly stand against them, but I think–honestly — “ He paused. “I think he just wants to protect you. And that’s his bottom line.”
“You really believe that?” Leta cocked her head. “Based just on your conversation?”
“I do, but it’s more than that. He’s your father.” Fiearius paused, choosing his words carefully. “Obviously he doesn’t exactly agree with your life choices…But you’re still his daughter. And when you have a kid, protecting that kid is always the bottom line.”
Coming to a halt, Leta gazed at him curiously. Her expression softened with emotion. “My dad and I aren’t close, if you couldn’t tell. I know he loves me – but it’s hard for me to trust his judgement. But I do trust yours.”
Inwardly, Fiearius felt his heart kick his chest. All at once, he felt moved — and trapped. Cornered. He had to tell her now.