Hours later, long after they’d checked into their hotel room and gone to sleep, Fiearius cracked open his eyes and half-scowled in confusion. The room was shadowy and dim, but he felt immediately that the space beside him in bed was empty. In fact, he realized as he scanned the room, the whole room was empty. Leta was missing.
With a jolt of panic, Fiearius sat up. In one motion, he threw his hand to the bedside table, grabbed his pistol, and launched to his feet. She was gone. How was it possible? How had he lost her again?
He’d stalked halfway to the door when he heard movement from the bathroom. Heart hammering, he pivoted to the door and pushed it open. The scene that met his eyes made him halt in place and exhale in relief.
Leta blinked at him curiously from where she was comfortably sunk into a steaming hot bath. Murky soapy water went up her collarbone, and she was leaning back against the porcelain, her long legs angled over the lip of the tub.
“Are you alright?” she asked blankly, sitting up and making the water splash around her. “Fiear, why do you have — ?” She flashed a look at the gun in his hand.
“No reason,” Fiearius grunted, feeling stupid as he quickly placed the pistol to the side on the bathroom counter. He had no intention of telling Leta about his moment of panic, especially when she was perfectly fine and looking more like herself than she had in hours with her cheeks flushed a healthy pink from the steam, her long damp hair loosening from its messy bun. For a moment, he just stood there in the doorway, admiring the beautiful woman bathing in the ridiculously large bathtub. Fiearius wasn’t exactly a fan of baths, but…
“That looks nice,” he remarked thoughtfully. “Mind if I join you?” Without waiting for an answer, he crossed over the floor and started peeling off his clothes.
“No, don’t, you’ll turn the water brown,” Leta protested playfully, but when he lowered himself into the warm water and joined her on the submerged bench, she immediately moved to sit between his legs and sat back against his chest, heaving a long, relaxed sigh. It was the first time she seemed to truly relax since she’d returned from Vescent, Fiearius realized, wrapping his arms around her waist.
“This is better,” she said softly, closing her eyes for a moment as she sank further against him. “Gods, when I was stuck on Vescent, this is all I could think about. Being with you again. And how I thought I might not be able to.”
“But here we are,” said Fiearius. He leaned his mouth against the nape of her neck.
“Here we are,” Leta agreed, and took a deep breath. “Tell me something good, please.”
“Good? Right, okay. Well. Nobody you know has died recently,” he said, and Leta snorted a laugh. “That’s good. From what I hear, the better candidate won the election for Governor in Tarin Proper. I reached level eighty in Spaceship Wars. There’s a meteor shower on Paraven this week, supposedly very rare, once in a century kind of thing. Oh and my brother got a girl to like him, also very rare, once in a century kind of thing.”
Leta’s ringing laugh echoed around the bathroom. “That’s not nice of you.”
“Hey, I have actively encouraged the little bastard to get himself a girlfriend for the past four years.”
“That ‘little bastard’ is your flesh and blood, you know,” Leta said composedly, elbowing him in the ribcage. “And you don’t exactly give him a lot of time and space to take women out whenever he wants … Which isn’t fair,” she added, throwing him a good-naturedly stern look. “You find the time for it.”
“Cyrus has plenty of time to take out women,” Fiearius scoffed. “You think I make him stay down in that engine room all the time? He does that to himself. He prefers doing that. I ask him to come out and experience the real world with me and he says no. Which is why I’ve got good feelings about this cute engineer girl. She lets him stay in his comfort zone and interact with women. It’s perfect.”
“Well it’s not exactly easy to meet people when you’re traveling in the middle of nowhere space.”
“Right. Which is why I prefer to kidnap my prospective lovers.”
Leta laughed. “You had no idea that you and I would end up together.”
“What are you talking about?” he asked with a teasing grin. “You were into me from the first day we met. Don’t bother denying it, there were so many clues. The yelling, the angry glares, that time you said you’d rather shoot yourself then sleep with me? We were inevitable.”
“Inevitable? Fiear, I was engaged. To be married.”
“Eh.” Fiearius shrugged a shoulder, then dropped it back into the water with a splash. “I knew it’d work out somehow.”
“And while we’re on the subject,” said Leta, a playful lilt in her voice, “it was you who was into me, not vice versa.”
Fiearius grinned. “Well can you blame me?” He leaned over to kiss her neck. “It’s not everyday someone who both pisses me off and fires me up ends up on my ship.”
“You know, I don’t know why you let me aboard at all.” Her voice grew distant with the memory — the vivid memory Fiearius shared. They first met with Fiearius atop the ramp, his arm infected, in the middle of a yelling match with his brother. He’d spared her the shortest glance before muttering fine, she could come.
“No idea,” said Leta. “I still wonder sometimes.”
Fiearius barked a laugh, but then he found himself knitting his brow with thought. He wasn’t actually sure he knew what the real answer was. He’d never liked doctors. He never wanted someone else from a Society planet on his ship. He was wary of strangers. And Leta had been all three when he let her come aboard that fateful night.
“Fever-induced madness?” he offered, but he knew that wasn’t quite it. “But — who cares, yeah? As long as you’re here now, I don’t regret a thing,” he said, leaning in to kiss the spot where her shoulder met her neck.
“Funny, isn’t it,” said Leta softly, “how the Dionysian of all places in the Span turned out to be the place I feel most at home.”
“Well she’s happy to have ya,” Fiearius assured her. “For as long as you need.”