Finn lowered his beer glass to the counter. “Of course.”
Fiearius was staring over the bar, gazing at the row of bottles though Finn was sure he wasn’t seeing them at all. “I–after Satieri, y’know, when I came back, I was pretty…well, fucked up.”
“You mean when you were talking to yourself and wouldn’t get out of bed?” said FInn brightly. “Yeah, I recall.”
“It was bad. Real bad,” Fiearius admitted. “It was like…I could feel my consciousness drifting away anytime I wasn’t clinging onto it. Which was bad enough, but then Daelen showed up and said I wasn’t going to walk again and–” He put his forehead in his hand and shook his head. “I was just losing it, y’know?”
“You got low,” Finn agreed.
“Worse than low,” Fiearius groaned. “Do you–you’ve heard of Flush right?”
Finn absorbed the sudden, odd question quickly and invisibly. “That shit Society agents used to run on? Yeah, it was in all the best back rooms on Archeti.” He grinned. “Too expensive for me, though.”
“Well. I have a source.” He turned his gaze on him, and it was then Finn noticed how bloodshot his eyes were. “I didn’t know what else to do. I thought–I was in a pit and I didn’t think I could ever get out of it. But Flush was–I don’t know, it looked like a rope so I grabbed it.”
Finn couldn’t mask his shock. He had no idea, and he considered himself an excellent judge of people. “You’re using now?” he demanded in disbelief.
Fiearius closed his eyes, a portrait of guilt. “It’s not like I want to,” he breathed. “But it helped! It really did. I don’t think I could have gotten better without the stuff. It was the only option I had. Now though?” He sunk again. “I don’t need it anymore. I’m better. But–I can’t kick it.”
“You’ve been trying to quit?”
“For over a month,” Fiearius admitted. “I can make it about four days before it starts to feel like my insides are trying to wring themselves out. I made it five last week and I was coughing up blood for a straight hour before I gave in.” Digging his hands into his hair, Fiearius shook his head. “It’s what they always say with Flush. Either the drug itself slowly kills you…”
“Or the withdrawals will,” Finn finished. “Yeah, I’ve heard that.”
“I managed it before. But that was–well, it was hell as it was then and I’m not nearly that young anymore. This time, I–I just honestly don’t know if I even can do this.”
Finn paused, and then said slowly, “I take it Leta doesn’t know.”
Fiearius cast him a hopeless glance. “Would I be here if she did?”
“And you don’t plan to tell her.”
“I almost did. A few times. But–I couldn’t. Gods, she would never forgive me. She’ll just see it as a betrayal. Not only am I taking a potentially fatal drug she certainly wouldn’t approve of, I took it because her treatment wasn’t working. After everything she did. I can’t tell her. I can’t.”
Finn lapsed into a stunned silence. Of course Fiearius couldn’t tell Leta, but of course he should have; she was a doctor. But Finn wasn’t going to be the one to tell Fiearius to confess to his girlfriend that he’d been lying for six months.
“But you need off of it,” Finn finished. “And here’s the thing: she’s going to find out eventually.”
“I know. Trust me, I know. Either I tell her now or when she finds me expelling my internal organs into a rubbish bin, I know. The results will be the same regardless. I guess I’m just trying to delay the inevitable…”
“And you need off it,” Finn reminded sharply. “And you can’t ask your doctor-lady for help. So what about Daelen? Talk to him.”
“Daelen? Sure, can’t talk to Leta, talk to her longtime friend instead.”
“He’d keep it quiet, mate. He wouldn’t tell Leta. He takes confidentiality seriously.”
“Maybe he would, but then she’ll think he’s betrayed her too,” Fiearius argued. “I won’t put the guy in that position. It’s not his problem.”
“Well you need off this drug. And apparently quitting cold turkey isn’t going to work.” Finn looked him up and down in concern. “So what’re ya gonna do?”
“Honestly?” Fiearius looked over at him, hopelessness in every facet of his expression. “I have no idea.”
Hours after they’d left the Dionysian, when Cyrus and Addy were slowly wandering back to the ship docks, it was hard to believe Cyrus had ever been nervous at all. He was no expert on what constituted a ‘good’ date, but the way she had shared in his excitement as they perused the science museum, the way she had humored his stupid jokes over dinner, and particularly the way she strolled beside him now, so close that their arms brushed against each other every other step — well, those couldn’t be bad signs, could they?
Currently, he was listening with interest as she relayed to him a tale from years past.
“So I was only an assistant at the time, but even as an assistant, I was supposed to have some say in the repairs. But the whole team just thought ‘oh she’s the boss’ daughter, she’s only here to appease him, she must not know anything.’” She rolled her eyes. “And go figure, they ignored my suggestion and used the TXC sealant and what happened?”
“The water line exploded,” Cyrus guessed.
“The water line exploded!” Addy said, shaking her head. “If only they’d listened to little old me.”
Cyrus laughed. “You’ve basically just described my entire university experience.”
For some reason, Addy’s smile faded slightly. “Oh yeah?”
“I guess it was since I was younger than most everyone there, but any group project? Same story. Though I guess that’s kind of inevitable when you get five undergrad egos in a room together, huh?”
“Oh, I bet,” she said agreeably, but there was no denying it — she definitely lost her smile this time, she had definitely shifted her gaze away. Had he said something wrong? But how could he have upset her? The evening air was warm, with a pleasant breeze; the sea of stars overhead were bright white; they were entirely alone, walking down the docks along a row of darkened ships.
But before he could venture a guess, Addy suddenly said, in a rush of a confession, “I actually never went to university.”
“What?” said Cyrus at once, confused. Together, they came to a stop beneath the Beacon. Addy hovered next to one of the ship pillars, massaging her neck in embarrassment.
“I didn’t want to tell you because, well, it’s humiliating. That you finished grad school when you were freakin’ 21 and here’s me — no actual education, working in my dad’s workshop — ” She caught her hand around her neck and stared at him with wide, startled grey eyes.
Cyrus was stunned — not that she hadn’t gone to school, but that he had the power to make anyone, let alone Addy, feel self-conscious. She was searching over his face as if scared he was about to insult her, and he quickly began shaking his head.
“You really–I can’t–but you’re so amazing!” he sputtered in disbelief. Addy looked skeptical. “I can’t believe you’ve never had formal training. I mean, the things you’ve done with the Beacon, they’re incredible. You may have never studied engineering, but you’re amazing at it.”
“Without a degree,” Addy argued dully, “I’m really just a mechanic.”
Cyrus scoffed. “No. No no no, you are not a mechanic. Trust me, I’ve worked with some of the more renowned engineers in the field and you.” He smiled at her and took one of her hands in his. “You are one of the best engineers I’ve ever met.”
Addy let out a laugh, a genuine, ringing laugh. “You’re just saying that because we’re on a date and you have to flatter me.” She took his hand and swung it playfully to the side.
“No way,” Cyrus laughed. “If I was trying to flatter you, I’d say you’re the most beautiful engineer I’ve ever met. But that’s not the truth.” She raised her brows at him in interest. “The truth is, you’re the most beautiful person I’ve ever met.”
She shook her head, adopting an air of disbelief. “Now I know you’re trying to flatter me.”
“Believe what you want, I know what’s real,” he said with a shrug, and it was then that Addy tightened her hold on his hand and stepped closer, gently closing the distance between them.
Cyrus felt his insides clench with nerves. But when Addy’s expression softened with affection, her fingers hooked around his shirt collar and her lips brushed against his in a soft, warm kiss, he realized this wasn’t difficult or awkward at all. His eyes fell closed and he thought that this, somehow, felt impossibly natural.
Quietly, Addy said, “I had a really good time tonight,” and he could feel her smiling against his lips. He also feel himself turning red, so all he said was, “Me, too,” before leaning into their kiss. She responded in turn, gently leading him backwards until her back met the ship’s wall. Her hand tightened around his arm, his hands slid down to her hips and just as passion surged through their embrace, Cyrus felt an instinct that made him draw back an inch.
“We should–shouldn’t we take this–y’know, slow?” he breathed, forcing himself to drag his gaze away from those incredibly tempting lips.
“Oh, right, yes.” Addy nodded once in agreement, her breath short and her face flushed. “Slow. Slow is good.”
Cyrus paused for a moment longer before he couldn’t help but blurt out, “But a little more couldn’t hurt, right?”
A shy grin spread across her face. “I doubt it,” she said quickly, wrapping her forearm around his neck as he leaned in to deepen their kiss.