For a moment, he simply squinted at her through the steam. Then he said, “You alright?”
“Yes. I think so.”
“You didn’t get hurt or something on the raid, did you?”
“No, I’m okay.”
His face was still darkened with concern, however, so Leta stepped closer, raised herself to tip-toe and brushed her lips against his softly. It was only then she felt him relax, and then Leta nodded her head toward the shower playfully. “You look awful. Don’t suppose you want to get in there with me?”
Fiearius cracked a lopsided smirk. “Well, if you insist.”
When they emerged a half-hour later, Leta felt better — decidedly better. Lighter. She even snorted a laugh when Fiearius shook his hand in his hair and sent water spraying all over the bathroom like a wet dog.
But still, when she was wrapping a towel around her middle, she couldn’t help but ask suddenly, “We can trust Quin, right? With helping us?”
“Quin?” Fiearius repeated. “Yeah, of course.” He vigorously rubbed a towel over his head, making his hair stick up at all angles.
“She just seems so … bloodthirsty. I want revenge, Fiearius, but I won’t hurt innocent people.”
“I know that.” He threw the towel to the floor and shrugged. “She’s a little excitable, but not bloodthirsty. More…power-hungry. But she’ll listen. Those agents will get home safely.”
“They better.” Leta frowned. “You two have known each other for a long time, haven’t you?”
“Few years, yeah. I was stuck working with a bunch of Archetian shitheads at the time, which was getting me nowhere, so I forced a job out of her instead.”
“Well, she refused to see me the first nine times I dropped by looking for work.” He grinned proudly. “So the tenth time, I busted into her most secure warehouse, neutralized half her staff, stole the most valuable crate in the whole place and then brought it back to her the next day.”
“And that worked?”
“Not exactly. Her second, Aeneas, tied me to a chair and very nearly killed me, but it did get her attention. And her respect. We came up with a pretty good deal and she’s been my most reliable associate ever since. Best work, consistent pay, good trust. We like working together.”
“And sleeping together,” Leta prompted. Fiearius stared at her, stunned, and Leta went on quickly, “Right? The first time I visited Archeti on the Dionysian, you told Cyrus you were sleeping with her.”
Fiearius’ expression shifted with alarm. “Leta, I haven’t — ” He took a step closer. “Yeah, okay, we used to, but not since–” He gestured between the two of them. “Us. Is that what this is about? Because I haven’t. You seriously think I’d–”
“No. No, I don’t think that. Not really. I’m not accusing you of still sleeping with her.” She took a deep breath, shaking her head. “But something’s going on with you, Fiear. The last few months or so. You’re acting differently.”
Fiearius tilted his head at her. “Differently how? I mean, yeah, I haven’t been feeling that great lately, ‘cause of the cold and all, but–”
“It’s not just that. You’ve barely been sleeping. You’re completely distracted. Something’s been going on with you.”
He regarded her with interest, as if he wasn’t sure whether or not to feel amused. “So you thought I was being unfaithful?”
“No, not exactly.” She paused, and in a worried rush, she said, “But I can read you and you’re hiding something from me so please just tell me what it is.”
Fiearius opened his mouth. She thought he would deny it, but then, to her surprise, he closed his mouth tightly again. The mirth faded from his hazel eyes as he searched her over, and for one moment Leta thought he was about to make a confession.
But then he couldn’t. On the other side of the bathroom door, the console began to beep loudly, and it kept on beeping without pause.
Leta cast Fiearius a look of distress. “That’s Corra, she always calls after we finish raids. Just one second,” she said, hurrying to tighten the towel around her chest. “It’s a video-call, so put some clothes on, would you?” she added over her shoulder.
Fiearius grunted, but reluctantly wrapped a towel around his waist as Leta sat down at the console and without glancing at the screen, accepted the call.
“Corra, hi, sorry, can I — “
But it wasn’t Corra staring back at her on the screen. It was Ren. There was no denying those crooked glasses, soft kind eyes, angular jaw, and now, the look of absolute horror on his face.
“Is this — er– a bad time?” he muttered uneasily, and Leta realized how this looked: half-dressed, with sopping wet hair and a shirtless Fiearius standing behind her. With his bed and shower in full view. Leta actually closed her eyes in disbelief.
“I’m sorry, Ren.” She gritted her teeth, feeling her face burn red. “Sorry. I thought you were someone else calling. Is everything alright?”
“I’ll make it quick,” he promised. Then he spared Fiearius a quick, searching look, and Leta realized this moment — this horrible moment — was the first time he and Fiearius had ever truly met.
For a moment, stiff silence enveloped the room. Then Ren said, “Well, hey there, captain. You, er, look a little different than in the posters.”
“Posters?” said Leta and Fiearius together.
“Oh, you haven’t seen them?” Ren looked bitterly amused. “Ah. Well, they’re the Society’s new preferred form of propaganda. All over the span — photo of your likeness, with the words ‘Beware the Rogue Verdant.”
Fiearius lifted his brow mildly. “Huh. Posters. That’s new.”
“Anyway — I wanted to ask.” He looked back to Leta. “Have you heard anything from Vescent recently? Are you in contact with anyone there?”
Leta shook her head. “Only Daelen, but he fled months ago. So no. I’m not. I’d be putting people there in danger.”
Ren pursed her lips thoughtfully. “Well, at this point, they may be in more danger than you.”
Leta slid a glance toward Fiearius. “What do you mean?”
“Something strange is happening on Vescent,” said Ren. “I can’t exactly say what, but–it’s odd. After you destroyed Blackwater, the Society’s been sending out agents from all over to fight the Carthians, Vescent included. And the fleet coming out of Vescent is–different. Their strategic behavior doesn’t match anything the rest of the fleets are doing and the prisoners Carthis has taken? They’re just off.
“The agents off Vescent … their behavior is erratic. And it’s difficult to explain and we’ve no idea why. That’s the worse part. All of the people Carthis has planted in the city have dropped out of contact all of a sudden. You remember my friends from university? They’ve been keeping me updated on the state of things since I got out, but now? Nothing.” Ren furrowed his brow. “No response from any of them.”
Leta pressed her mouth to her hands. “I hope they’re okay.”
“Me too. Anyway, I’m sorry to have bothered you. I was just hoping maybe someone had some information. I’m getting worried. We all knew the Society was growing there, but I think something bigger than even we imagined has happened.”