Chapter 42: Garden Party

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“Never thought I’d be able to convince ya to go on a date with me,” said Finn as he held out his arm for Leta to take. But Leta completely ignored the gesture, and instead brushed past him and strode into the elegant garden party as if she’d gone alone.

“This couldn’t be less of a date,” she muttered, snorting. She adjusted the straps of her short dark dress and took a deep breath as she melted into the sea of people crowding the cobblestone garden. “I’m only doing this for Corra.”

“Hey, so am I,” said Finn, though without much conviction, as Leta had already started beelining past the fountains and toward the bar without him. But Finn spoke the truth: he’d agreed to take this job only for Corra’s sake. Something about her sad puppy-dog eyes made him feel weak and guilty. So he’d carefully sidestepped any correspondence with Callahan (who was furious, demanding to know why his cargo had not yet been delivered) and took up Corra’s good cause: attending this fancy-ass garden party only to sneak the enslaved allies out of it.

While he and Leta acted as wealthy guests, Corra and Cai would pretend to be their personal allies helping with the party. During the party’s main event, the meteor shower, Corra and Cai would sneak out the rest of the allies with them.

All their disguises would’ve worked perfectly — except that his ‘date’ would barely make eye-contact with him.

Perhaps that explained why she was already drinking. Reluctantly, Finn joined her at the bar, where she stood sipping a glass of wine. Subtly as he could, he pressed the COMM device in his ear, quickly connecting him to Corra.

“S’all good, we got in the party fine. How’re things on your end?”

Corra’s voice was barely a whisper in his ear. “Shh. Still getting shown around. Talk later.”

Finn shrugged and let his silence serve as confirmation, but he couldn’t help but feel a tinge of worry. The thought of Corra as anyone’s slave had never sat well with him and though she had readily volunteered to take on the role for the evening, Finn still couldn’t say he very much liked it.

“Corra and Cai will need some time to find the allies, so we’ll wait here,” said Leta, taking another sip from her glass and glancing over him, somewhat judgmentally. “Look like you belong here, would you? We need to blend in.”

Finn wasn’t sure if that was possible, so he only half-heartedly patted down his messy hair and said, “Hey, I noticed you’ve started speaking to me again. That was two full sentences. Does that mean you’re on your way to forgiving me?”

He expected Leta to ignore him. He wished she had. Instead, she lowered her glass sharply and supplied him a cold, deadly stare.

“Fiear could’ve died, do you realize that?” she whispered fiercely. “Flush was designed to manipulate agents and then kill them. You should have told me as soon as you knew.”

Guilt twisted Finn’s stomach. She was right. And god, this woman knew how to hold a grudge. He was sure they’d never get through Corra’s job successfully until Leta could at least speak to him without spitting venom.

“For what it’s worth — argh — I’m sorry. Alright?” Leta fell quiet and averted her eyes.  “And I know he’s sorry too,” he added quickly. “I called the Dionysian yesterday, and Fiear’s … really sufferin’ right now.”

“Of course he is.” But she didn’t sound angry anymore. Leta’s lips thinned, her eyes cast down to the bar. “He’s going through physical hell right now. But Daelen’s been monitoring him closely, so I don’t have to.”

“Not just withdrawals. Cyrus told me he’s never seen Fiearius so torn up.” A slow, bitter smile came to his face. “You must’ve really done a number on that guy.”

“He really did a number on me,” Leta corrected, but her voice lost its venom. Wry amusement almost glinted in her eyes.

“I know the feeling,” Finn muttered gruffly. Then he lifted his chin and met her gaze.  “Listen. You don’t have to forgive me now, or ever. But at least know that I’m sorry.”

Although Leta said nothing, she seemed to relax slightly: her shoulders lowered and she heaved a long exhale. Then, with an air of defeat, she lifted her hand to get the bartender’s attention, and she ordered him a drink, too. A peace offering.

When they dully clinked their glasses together, a gesture of defeat and good-will, Leta muttered, “This is the worst date I’ve ever been on.”

“Really? ‘Cause I’ve been on plenty worse. But yeah, this is pretty bad.” When he tilted his glass towards his lips and muttered, “I should’ve taken Corra instead,” he was surprised to see Leta’s eyes light up with interest.

“Oh?” she said, and Finn felt like backing away from her. There was something a little intimidating about the sudden stormy and curious look in Leta’s face. He might’ve found it attractive except it was just a little too frightening.

She went on, “So you don’t …. you and Corra … ” She squinted at him. “Do you like her?”

“Of course I like her,” Finn scoffed. “She’s the only person on the Beacon better at shooting than me. But no, not like that, so you can relax. At ease, soldier.”

“Uh huh.” Leta continued to scrutinize his face, even when she lifted her glass to her lips. Finally, she pushed away from the bar. “Come on, the meteor shower’s starting soon. We better go mingle.”

————–

“You’ll find the kitchens through this door and the garden down the hall. Under no circumstances are any of you to enter another part of the house without my prior approval, is that understood?”

Corra had a hard time resisting rolling her eyes as the stout, cranky old woman continued listing rules and orders for the visiting allies. There were about ten of them in total, including herself and Cai who stood at her side, taking in the demands a little easier than she was. Once upon a time, Corra had been used to being spoken to like this. Now, it just ruffled her feathers and made her liable to start shouting obscenities at a moment’s notice.

“Remember, your first priority is of course to your own guest, but this is our home and you will be serving all the guests if they do not need your immediate attention,” the woman went on seriously. “If I hear one complaint about your behavior, I will not hesitate to react appropriately.”

Appropriately? Corra wondered, a strike of bitterness running through her. She could guess any number of things that that meant and most of them made her stomach turn over.

Apparently her discomfort was noticeable as Cai leaned down carefully to her ear. “With a face like that, is she even capable of a reaction besides ‘unpleasant scowl’?” he whispered and Corra couldn’t stop herself from snickering. Hurriedly, she put her hand over her mouth to cover it, but that exact unpleasant scowl had already fixed itself upon her.

The woman’s voice was sharp. “I don’t know what kind of leniency your households afford you, but here, you will abide by our rules and we do not tolerate foolery.” Her eyes narrowed on Corra even further and she tucked her hands behind her back and sobered her face into obedience. “Consider this your warning.”

The woman continued to glare for another moment until finally, she clapped her hands together, turned to the full crowd and said, “Alright! The party’s already in full swing, let’s get to work!”

As the woman marched off to do whatever it was the rest of her job entailed (did she do anything besides patronize innocent people? Corra wondered), the handful of allies left in the hallway filtered into the kitchen to do as they were told. Only Corra remained behind, watching her walk away. “What a terrible person,” she couldn’t help but remark once she was out of earshot. A few of the stragglers looked back at her in alarm and Cai, who was hovering in the kitchen door let out a sharp laugh.

“Just think, she’ll be out of a job come morning,” he assured her and the thought put a grin on Corra’s face. He was right. That woman and her attitude were all the more motivation to make this mission a success.

Just then, one of the allies — a chef, it seemed — dutifully held out a tray of fancy hors d’oeuvres for Corra to take. Accepting the tray, she started the trek down the hall towards the garden with Cai following behind, holding a tray of napkins and silverware.

“So,” he posed, an image of innocence and his voice barely above a casual mutter, “What’s the plan here, captain?”

Throwing a glance over her shoulder to ensure their privacy, Corra whispered, “Raisa said our best bet is out the kitchen door. It leads directly into the house’s loading bay which is a straight shot to the service gate. Security should be nowhere in sight if we time it right.”

“So during the meteor shower?”

“Right. We just need to spread the word amongst the allies here to be in the kitchen, right when it starts. Slip right out before the pretty lights stop flashing.”

They both paused as they reached the door out into the garden. Cai smiled down at her and, with his free hand, gripped her shoulder affectionately. “Thank you,” he said quietly. “For helping with this.”

Corra hoped she wasn’t visibly flushed as she looked away. “There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.”

He laughed a light chuckle and released his hold on her before pushing open the door and, with all the expertise of someone who’d been doing it for far too long, transforming quite suddenly from joke-y, goofy Cai to the image of perfect service. Corra watched in wonder as he moved off into the crowd of men and women in fancy dresses and snarky faces, offering the tray to them politely.

She couldn’t fathom how he did it. Even in her ally days she had never been so subservient. Goddora would have liked him — he adhered strictly to directions, and then he made himself invisible. Corra, on the other hand, was far less likely to calmly present a plate of food and far more likely to slam it into someone’s face.

But for now, she would play the part.

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