Chapter 36: Inevitable

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“So just to make this clear,” Daelen was saying, his gaze fixed on the tablet in his hands where he’d been taking notes, “You remember being told to enter the room. And you remember waking up in it. But nothing in between at all? You’re sure?”

“I really don’t remember anything,” said Leta, lifting one shoulder and dropping it in defeat as she slumped on the exam bench. At her side, Fiearius pressed his hand to her back and hovered close by, as if he were weary of losing sight of her again.

The hours following the return from Vescent were a blur of chaos. Leta remembered screaming her lungs out at Fiearius, coming to her senses, and then collapsing into his embrace. She’d shakily exchanged hugs with Corra, Finn, Amora, Daelen, even Maya … and then Fiearius had taken her gently by the arm and steered her away from the chattering crew and toward the infirmary. At first, everyone had followed them downstairs — until Fiearius barked at them to get the hell out and slammed the door.

Now, they’d been in the infirmary for an hour as Leta filled them in on what happened (or did not happen) to her on Vescent.

“It’s ARC,” said Fiearius, a growl in his throat. His hand tightened at her back. “It’s a small dosage of it, but it is. It has to be. I don’t remember when they gave it to me either. It would explain–” He glanced at her warily, unsure if he wanted to bring up the incident again, “ — her behavior. And Cyrus said they found a whole building full of the stuff. It makes sense.”

“It does,” Daelen agreed. “But I want to be sure.”

“But they didn’t just inject me with ARC when I wasn’t looking,” Leta went on. “It wasn’t just me. They’re giving it to everyone who passes through that checkpoint.” She pursed her dry cracked lips, troubled. “All the Society agents.”

“So what are they telling these people, huh? How much further does it go?” asked Fiearius. Then he folded his arms and searched over Leta’s face for the thousandth time. He seemed unable to stop staring at her, either from relief or fear, she wasn’t sure. “You got any other unusual urges? Anything about the Beacon? Carthis?”

“Not really. Well, nothing other than the, er, powerful reaction I had when I saw you,” she admitted, and Fiearius grinned.

“Nah, I’ve always had that effect on you.”

“Well keep close attention on it,” Daelen advised, lowering the tablet. “If anything else arises, we should know about it. In the meantime, this is a good chance to actually study the effects first hand. I’ve got a number of exams I’d like to run. We’ll do a blood test of course, but I’d also like to examine the psychological effects. If we do some tests we may be able to figure out a treatment and–”

Fiearius’ glare suddenly turned cold.

“Of course, you’ve had a trying week,” Daelen amended with a polite smile. “Rest is more important for now. Perhaps we can work on some things tomorrow?”

Leta was grateful to slide down from the bench and cross toward the door. Perhaps she’d be able to get some sleep — she felt both exhausted and wired with adrenaline.

She expected Fiearius to follow her into the hallway, but when she turned around, he was still in the infirmary with Daelen.

“Just one minute, please, Leta,” said Daelen kindly, and Fiearius nodded at her to go ahead. Leta pulled the door shut, but then left it open an inch to listen to their conversation. She felt wryly amused at herself: she’d given up her medical ethics a long time ago, hadn’t she?

In a low voice, she heard Daelen said, “And how are you doing?”

Predictably, Fiearius scoffed. “I’m fine.”

“The prescription is helping then?”

After a short, sharp pause, Fiearius grunted, “Helpful enough.”

Leta watched as Daelen patted Fiearius on the shoulder. “Come by sometime before the ships part. I have some more suggestions if you’re willing to hear them.”

“Yeah, sure,” Fiearius muttered, already walking toward the door and joining her in the hallway.

She did not hesitate in asking, “What was that about?”

“Nothin’, he was just helping me out with something,” said Fiearius, sliding his hand toward her lower back again. “C’mon, bet you can’t wait to have a change of clothes.”

Leta frowned. What kind of prescription was Fiearius taking? And since when did he accept medical treatment willingly? But all she said was, “You have no idea,” with a sigh and walked with him upstairs at last.

————–

Cyrus could not remember the last time he’d found himself in such a promising scenario. In the privacy of Addy’s quarters on the Beacon, lounged on top of her bed, her legs tangled in his, her hand wound around his neck, her fingers drifting up into his hair as they kissed and talked, kissed and talked, for hours. Since the moment the Dionysian and Beacon crews had been distracted enough by Leta to give Cyrus a chance to slink out of their attention, they’d been in this very spot, mere inches apart, their noses brushing. Addy had said making out like this reminded her of being a teenager again, to which Cyrus had just laughed nervously. He’d done nothing of the sort when he was a teenager.

He knew he was practically the luckiest man alive. The strap of Addy’s tank top was temptingly slid down her arm, and while they hadn’t done much more than kiss, he knew he should have been losing his mind with happiness to be here with her. And yet …

“You seem distracted,” said Addy suddenly, her mouth brushing close to his. “You okay?”

Cyrus could not help himself. Suddenly, he blurted out, “Am I rude?” and pulled himself a few inches away. Addy arched her eyebrows and tugged him closer by the collar.

“Well I think you’re being a little rude right now,” she teased.

“Sorry,” he stammered, embarrassed as he lifted his hand to her cheek and leaned in to kiss her again, but inches from her, he looked away. “I just…it’s stupid. But ever since we left Vescent I can’t stop thinking about it.”

Just then, Addy did draw away. She sat up on her side and lifted herself to one elbow. “Thinking about what, exactly?”

“You know that woman we were staying with, Delia?” he explained. “I used to know her when I was at Sonnete. Sort of. We were having dinner one night and she told me that I was rude and that she hated me and I know she’s just one person, but–” He knew just how pathetic he sounded. “I don’t know, I think she might be right.”

Addy’s expression softened with affection. She reached over and pushed his glasses up his nose. “That was a long time ago, Cy. Maybe you made a bad impression on her. It happens, so what? You’re a good, kind person.”

“Am I?” he muttered. “I try to be, sure, but I’m not an idiot. I know what people on the Dionysian think of me. That I’m stuck up and judgmental and believe I’m smarter than everyone.”

“Which you do,” said Addy, smiling.

“Only because it’s true.” He managed a feeble grin. “But honestly, they’re right. I’m not kind or good, I’m rude and arrogant and–” His voice caught in his throat and he found himself compelled to look away from her. Suddenly he knew exactly what was bothering him. “Selfish.”

The word struck him in the chest. Even Addy seemed concerned now.

“What’re you talking about?”

Cyrus fought hard to swallow the lump in his throat. He had been forcing the issue from his mind ever since it happened. The guilt still weighed on him, the wounds were still fresh. But he managed to speak, slowly and quietly, “When we left Vescent. The–the riot. I can’t stop…hearing it. Those people, they–they were getting shot at. Probably killed. If not then and there, they’d probably get dragged off to execution later.” He drew in a shaky breath. “I caused it. I made that happen. I’m responsible for their deaths, Addy. I sacrificed–all those people, just for my own survival.”

“For our survival,” Addy corrected quietly. Her eyes were shining. “Cy, we were desperate! You did what anyone would’ve done.”

Cyrus scoffed. “No they wouldn’t. No one else did. And for good reason! It was a terrible thing to do, but I didn’t care. Because I’m selfish and a coward. No one else is like this. Not Leta. Not my brother. Not Finn, not Corra, not you. Gods, you risked everything to save us even. With no hesitation.”

“Who said there wasn’t hesitation?” Addy laughed, just once. “I did hesitate. I was terrified.”

“But you did it. The most selfless act. Just to save us.” Cyrus felt his frustration and despair subside gradually into wonder. “Why? Why did you do it?”

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