He lowered his hand from his hair and sighed, a long exhale of breath. Then he said, to her shock, “You know about Denarian, don’t you? My son?”
Leta blinked her eyes slowly, as if in a dream. Yes, she knew about Fiearius’ lost son — because Cyrus had let it drunkenly slip months ago. But she’d never once spoken about this with Fiearius. He’d never approached the topic and she had no desire to bring him to face it.
She felt too startled to speak, so Fiearius went on, “Remember a couple weeks ago, when Corra made that joke about the two of us having a litter of children one day? But then said she couldn’t imagine me ever raising a kid?” Leta felt herself nod. “The way you looked at me then…I just assumed you knew. So. Cyrus told you?”
Well, she couldn’t outright lie to him.
“He did tell me. I’m really sorry, Fiear, I should have told you I knew but it didn’t feel right. He told me months ago. When I first came aboard … when I barely knew you.”
Fiearius shook his head. “It’s fine. It’s probably easier this way anyhow. The thought of having to bring it up cold after all this time is…considerably worse.”
He slowly lowered to the edge of the bed, resting his forearms on his thighs. He scrunched his forehead and went on, “But for the record, sorry on my part too. For not telling you myself. It’s–it’s not always that easy to talk about.”
Leta stepped forward and tentatively joined him on the edge of the bed, facing him as he stared at the floor. “I figured you had your reasons,” she said, watching as Fiearius dropped his forehead into his hand.
“I put a lot of effort into not focusing on the day — the day he died. The day that everything went to hell. It comes and goes each year and I don’t let it bog me down. I can’t or…” He swallowed with difficulty. “But this day. Today. Today I just can’t seem to let go.”
Leta felt almost too scared to ask. “Why?”
“He would have been nine today.”
Leta felt her lungs tighten. Then, all at once, a tidal wave of sorrow plunged through her. Grief — that’s what this was. Fiearius was grieving. Over his son. On his birthday. That’s why he’d been so off tonight, quietly unsettled, agitated and distant. He simply missed his child.
Leta opened her mouth, then closed it again, as she slid her hand up his back and held onto his shoulder. He must have read the questioning in her eyes, because he said —
“He was shot,” he said suddenly, looking up at her with a deadened gaze. “That’s what you were wondering right? How he died? I once told you the reason I became the Verdant. Because they gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse?” He looked away. “He was the offer. Him and Aela.” A heavy, shaky sigh passed his lips. “Though in the end it didn’t work out anyway…”
Leta focused on pushing air out of her lungs — it was suddenly very difficult.
“I’m sorry,” she muttered, her breath catching hotly in her throat as her eyes dropped to the floor, almost unwilling to look at him for a moment. “I’m so sorry.”
She leaned into him, dropping her lips against his shoulder. Fiearius seemed grateful to bury his face in her hair and when he spoke again, it was quiet, muffled and starting to crack with real, raw pain.
“I don’t deserve ‘sorry.’ It’s my fault.”
“That’s not true,” said Leta in his ear. “You can’t blame yourself for what happened.”
“Can’t I? I brought a child into a dangerous situation, he was my responsibility that I took and I failed to protect him. Because I was overconfident and stubborn. Because I refused to listen. Because I didn’t do what needed to be done until it was too late.”
Leta drew back, her hands on his shoulders. She locked her gaze with him and saw that his eyes were bloodshot and blurring.
“Fiearius, no. How could you have known what would happen? If anyone’s to blame it’s the Society. They used him against you.”
“The Society may have pulled the trigger,” he breathed, “but I loaded the gun.”
Then he dropped his chin to his chest, his voice choking. “He was a good kid. A great kid.” She could hear the tears thickening his voice. “I mean, he was a nightmare. Of course. How could my son not be? But still great.”
Finally he looked up, straight at the ceiling. “I just wanted him to have a normal life, y’know? As normal as he could anyway. He liked swings and spaceships and cake, just regular kid stuff. He may have had my destructive energy, but he had Aela’s charm. And brains. She taught him to read before he even started school. He was smart. Gifted, she said. He could’ve gone on to so many better things.” He was shaking his head and barely holding it together now. “But I fucked it up. She kept telling me we needed to leave, move away from Paradiex, but I didn’t want to. I was too selfish. Too power-hungry. And Denarian paid for my sins.”
Leta took his hands and held them in her lap. He drew in a shaky breath and lifted his eyes back to hers. “You would’ve liked him, I think. Never met anyone who didn’t. And he would’ve been fascinated by you. Anyone from another planet and he was just full of questions.”
“I’m sure I would’ve liked him,” said Leta, her voice hovering somewhere between fondness and incredible sorrow. “And I know you were a good father.” Even saying the words was enough to make her throat swell for a moment, a knife through her chest.
Fiearius inhaled another trembling breath. “Sorry to dump all this on you.”
“You don’t need to apologize.”
“I just — miss him. He was everything to me. That life with him that’s so distant and so unfamiliar it hardly even feels like mine anymore…it was everything.”
“Then I think it’s good to talk about him. To remember him. As often as you need to. And when we bite back against the Society … we can do it for him. So what happened to him will never happen again to anyone else.”
“Yeah,” Fiearius agreed, taking in deep breaths and finally managing to get them even. “Yeah. You’re right. You’re absolutely right.” He pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingers, then released. “I’m okay. It’s okay.” He looked down at their hands laced together and gripped hers tighter. “We’ll do it for Denarian.”
Leta bit down on her bottom lip. “And listen, I know nothing can replace him, ever — ever… But — I still think you should remember, that you’re surrounded by people — Suddenly, she locked on her gaze on his, her eyes shining with vulnerability and honesty, “people who love you.”
The words tumbled out before she could stop them, but she did not take them back. She went still, paralyzed with the realization of what she’d just confessed.
Fiearius blinked his eyes slowly and then — she couldn’t believe it — the smallest of teasing grins flickered past his mouth. “People?” he repeated suspiciously. “Who love me? You mean … Cyrus?”
“Right. Cyrus,” said Leta quietly. “That’s who I meant.”
Fiearius laughed, heavy and feeble, as he wrapped his arms around her waist. “Ooh, Leta. You poor thing.” He patted her back affectionately, then pulled her in so she leaned into the plane of his chest.
“It’s rather unfortunate,” she sighed. Then she glanced up at him. “Wait, hang on. You just — you’ve never used my name before.”
“What?” He tilted his head. “Sure I have.”
“No, you haven’t. You never call me by my name.”
“No. It’s only ‘kiddo’ which I hate, or ‘doctor,’ which is weird now, but never my name.”
Fiearius considered this. “Well I guess I should amend that, huh, Leta?” he said, and then he leaned his head against hers. “Don’t you think, Leta?” he said softly in her ear. “I should use your name more often. Leta?”
“I don’t know,” she laughed, shrugging him off. “It’s a little odd to hear it now.”
Fiearius returned the laugh. “Is it, Leta?” Then, his expression shifted from amusement to something else — something closer to mischief.
“You sure about that, Leta?” he said more quietly, as he turned his head to the side, brushing his lips near her ear. “I can stop if you’d like, Leta,” he went on, lowering his lips to the slope of her neck, his voice muffled against her skin. “Leta?” he added once more, before his mouth slid to the hollow of her collarbone. The sensation brought a shiver to her flesh.
“I changed my mind,” said Leta decisively. “I’m fine with it. Call me whatever you want.”
She felt him grin against her collarbone before he slid his hands up her back, holding her against him as he kissed back up to her lips. Leta circled her arm around his shoulders and drew him to her lips for a long, slow kiss. His hand pressed to the small of her back and inch by inch, with each utterance of her name and each following kiss, he lowered her horizontal onto the bed.
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