At first, Leta didn’t know what awoke her in the darkness of the room. An incoming call? Noisy deckhands, drinking downstairs? But then she turned on her side and realized it was Fiearius — or rather, an absence of Fiearius. His side of the bed lay empty and cold, merely a mess of blankets, even though it was past three and they’d gone to bed together an hour before. Blinking her eyes rapidly, and feeling suddenly curious, she sat up and put her feet to the floor.
He wasn’t in the bridge. The hallways were silent as she wandered downstairs; she only heard Rhys mumbling drunkenly in his sleep from the crew deck. Finally, it was the distinct clatter of pots and pans that made her veer toward the doorway of the kitchen.
Sure enough, he stood at the counter, his back to her as he busied himself with a mixing bowl. He seemed oddly urgent and purposeful, like he was hurriedly preparing a meal for a guest. When she said, “Fiear?” he threw her a look over his shoulder.
“Oh, hey. Sorry, did I wake you?”
“Not really.” She folded her arms. “But it’s three in the morning, what’re you doing down here?”
“Makin’ an omelette.” He held out the bowl of eggs, and something about him seemed off — the odd brightness in his eyes, how twitchy he was.
When he turned back to the counter, Leta said, “What’s the matter?”
“You’re stress cooking. You’re the only person I know who cooks when they’re stressed.”
He made a noise of amusement. Leta sidled up to his side, her hand slipping over his shoulder. “Well, do you need some help?”
Fiearius paused as his knife sliced through an onion and he eyed her sideways. “From you? Probably more help if you don’t.”
Leta rolled her eyes. He chuckled and went back to chopping. “Can keep me company if ya like though,” he added, nodding towards a nearby chair.
Leta lowered into the seat, watching as Fiearius poured eggs into a sizzling pan. She thought she had a rather good idea of what was bothering him.
“I haven’t been sleeping well either,” she admitted plainly. “Not since …. well, not since we pissed off one of the most powerful organizations in the Span, started flying on the edge of space to stay off their radar and as of yet, still have no plans for what to do next. It’s been on my mind, too.”
“Oh yeah?” Fiearius asked. “And?”
“And I don’t know. I did hear from Ren — turns out, the Carthians are starting to win the border skirmishes,” said Leta, unsure if she should have been proud or terrified of this news. “With the Society’s base gone, they’re gaining territory for the first time in decades. Because of us. Because of what we did.”
Fiearius gave a short, dry laugh. “I’m sure the great Carthian military really appreciates the help of a bunch of space trash criminals, hm?”
Leta felt herself smile. “Speak for yourself. I’m still a respected physician.”
“Like hell you are.”
Her smile fell away as she shook her head, suddenly feeling wide-awake and completely overwhelmed. “After Blackwater,” she breathed, “it feels like we just poked a sleeping giant.”
Fiearius snorted. “I’d say more lightly snoozing than sleeping, but the point remains: we’re in a pretty high danger zone of being crushed…”
“So what now, then? We back out? Hide?”
Fiearius laid his knife down upon the cutting board and braced his hands upon the counter. “I’m not even sure that’s an option.”
“What do you mean?”
He glanced over at her. “The damage is done. And there’s nowhere we can hide they won’t eventually find us.. Our movement is limited. Quin — my best contact — won’t work with me unless I’m helping her steal more Society property. My other contacts are getting twitchy too. And on top of it all, the entire Span knows or soon will know just how much the Society’s willing to pay for our heads. So we can’t trust anyone.” He shook his head and tossed the ingredients into the pan. “There’s no way back from this.”
“So we can’t go back. Then what?”
For several seconds, Fiearius said nothing. Then he muttered, “Don’t get me wrong. Dez is nuts. Completely. But…something about what he said. I can’t get it out of my head…”
“About fighting back?”
“It’s insane,” he said firmly. “And impossible. But…I don’t know. Something about it. It resonated.”
Leta waited, and Fiearius went on, “This whole rallying people thing he keeps saying. It’s ridiculous and not going to happen. But just about going after them?” He sighed and spun a spatula around in his hand thoughtfully. “I don’t know. Maybe Quin’s right. We’ve done it before, if we’re careful, if we’re smart, we could probably do it again. And I can’t deny there’s something satisfying about pissing them off.”
“Well, I won’t argue with that.”
“There’s definitely an appeal to it,” he said, turning to face her and leaning against the counter as the pan behind him sizzled. “And part of me thinks well…really, there’s not much we can do now as it is. We’ve already crossed the threshold. Maybe…maybe we really should just keep going forward?” His eyes trailed downward and he fell quiet until at last he looked up at her and asked earnestly, “Is that incredibly stupid?”
“It’s a little stupid,” Leta said, making a wry grin break over Fiearius’ scruffy face. “But I’m with you. I don’t want to back away, either.”
“Dov’ha piamé, thank the gods, I thought I might be going nuts too,” Fiearius said with a relieved laugh as he turned back to the stove.
“You are nuts. It’s dangerous. It could be very dangerous. But so is running.”
“Exactly,” Fiearius agreed. “They’re going to kill us no matter what. Might as well make a dent in their egos before they manage. What else are we going to do?”
“I don’t plan on letting them kill me, Fiear,” said Leta sharply. “But I know how you feel.”
“I’m just getting so tired of running,” Fiearius sighed. He flipped the cooked omelette onto a plate, plucked two forks from the sink and turned to her. “Running for what? Survival. That’s it. But what’s the point of survival if I’m not even going to do something with it. Something besides petty crime, that is.”
He dropped into the chair across from her and handed her a fork. When he sat back, he did not reach for his food, but simply gazed over at her. His eyes were blazing with — worry? Alarm? Leta wasn’t sure she’d seen him look at her so gravely, like he was staring right through her.
“So you’re with me on this?” he asked. “You think we should give it a shot? We should take the offense against the Society?”
“It’s more than revenge now,” said Leta quietly. “Now we might actually make a difference.”
“And even if we don’t, at least we tried. At least we did something. It won’t likely be justice. I don’t think we’ll ever find justice but…at least a piece of it. Tiny as it may be.”
He still looked troubled. Leta leaned her hand across the table and squeezed his wrist.
Finally, twenty minutes later, Leta stood up and took their plates to the sink, and together they walked back upstairs. She thought by the time they returned to his bedroom, Fiearius would have relaxed. She thought he would’ve yawned and thrown himself onto the bed like he always did, a tangle of limbs, and pulled her in to snore into her hair until morning came.
But instead, he wandered a few useless steps over the floor, his hand caught in his hair. He looked lost even in his own room.
“Something’s still bothering you,” said Leta, closing the hatch behind her. She watched Fiearius closely as he turned around to face her, his expression dark and empty. “Tell me.”