Gates sighed. “Captain, regardless of what you think of us, I need you to consider the ramifications here. You call yourself a traitor, a coward, you say it was all an accident, perhaps it’s true. Perhaps you don’t deserve to be the inspiration of the revolution. But if you join with us, if you stand up and fight now, it would not be an accident. It would not be an act of cowardice or fear. It would be an act of bravery and solidarity, that would change the lives of millions of people for the better. Fine, you’re not a grand revolutionary, I accept that. But with the chance I’m giving you, you can become one.”
Fiearius stopped pacing. His eyes were fixed on his feet. It was like a hurricane had been set off in his head and he couldn’t contain it. He couldn’t see through it. He almost felt like he couldn’t breathe.
When Gates spoke again, his voice was calm, quiet, soothing. “I understand this is overwhelming. Perhaps we should recess for now. I’ve had accommodations prepared for you in the C deck. Take the night. Think it over. We can talk again tomorrow.”
Fiearius frowned. “I have a ship, I don’t need your accommodat –” he began, but Gates cut over him.
“Give me one moment, I need to make a quick call and then I’ll have someone take you to your room,” he said as he turned his attention to his desk.
Suddenly too exhausted to protest, Fiearius numbly drifted back towards the door. It slid open and he re-entered the dim lobby, barely aware of where he was or what he was doing here at all. Everything in his head had just shut off. Stopping the Society, liberating Vescent, symbols of the revolution? It was way too early for this. It would always be way too early for this.
He was so lost in his own head, he didn’t even notice that the man in the center of the room at the desk apparently had company. And that the company was now staring at him. And then he did notice. And if he’d felt breathless before, he felt practically pummeled now. His eyes widened and his jaw dropped.
“Leta?” said his voice without his consent.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Around them, the lobby continued to bustle with activity: cadets beelined through the room, console screens flashed, an officer barked an order over the intercom. But Leta heard and saw none of it. She felt gutted, her eyes going round as she absorbed the sight of Fiearius. He did not, Leta noticed, look like himself: the usual glimmer of mischief was gone from his eyes. His cheekbones stood out more sharply than usual. His shoulders slumped, and his clothes hung off of him; he’d clearly lost weight that he did not need to spare.
As her shock began to fade (of course he was here, it was only a matter of time before Carthis called on him too), a certain rigidity came to Leta’s stance, as if she were ready to defend herself: her spine straightened and her mouth tightened with distaste.
Slowly he took a few steps towards her, dragging his hand through his unruly hair. Through a deep breath, he said, “You look…well…”
You don’t, she almost said, biting the words back in her mouth. He’d made it through the withdrawals, clearly, but not unscathed.
“So,” he said sharply. “What are you doing here?”
She lifted her gaze to study his face, and it was then she decided to take a stab at being civil. No reason to open hostilities just yet. Actually, she was afraid if she did start to tell him, to really tell him and show him what she was feeling, she would not be able to restrain herself. It would all flood from her, unstoppable and unrelenting, and he would know just how much he’d hurt her.
And she could not allow for that.
“Helping research the lock-down on Vescent,” she said bluntly, shifting on her feet. She adjusted the satchel over her shoulder. “The Beacon dropped me off about a week ago. And Ren invited me. When he found out what the Carthians are planning, he vouched for me. He’s here on the station too.”
“Ah,” said Fiearius, a sudden note of bitterness in his voice. “Ren. Of course.”
Leta paused. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing. Just…figures doesn’t it?”
Leta narrowed her eyes. “What are you doing here? Never imagined you’d align with the military. You hate Carthis.”
“I do,” he admitted easily. “And I’m not aligned with them.”
“They sure seem to think highly of you.”
“Think highly of me?” he repeated incredulously as though she were a fool for saying it. “Please. They’re just want my resources so they’re playing nice for now. Any other situation, they’d have me hanged, guaranteed.”
“They’re not bad people, Fiearius. They’re trying to help.”
“Sure. ‘Help.’ Carthis just wants to help and everything is sunshine and rainbows. I guess you would believe that wouldn’t you?”
“Excuse me?” Leta hissed. “What the hell does that — “ She halted, and laughed bitterly. “Of course you’re insulting me. You should be apologizing to me like an adult and of course, this is all you can manage. “
“Wait, hang on, be an adult?” he repeated, taking an impassioned step towards her. “You want me to be an adult? I did apologize. I did nothing but apologize, for weeks.”
Leta scoffed, crossing her arms over her chest. But he wasn’t done. “All those messages you never replied to? How about the daily calls you ignored? I tried to apologize to you, but I consistently got the message that you didn’t wanna hear it, so if you’re seriously expecting me to get on my knees and beg for forgiveness now?”
“Yes, actually,” she snapped. “An apology now, now that you’re not high or sick or just desperately trying your hand at damage control would be the mature thing to do, yes.”
“Of course, I’m the immature one, sure. Not like you ran off a month ago or anything. Because that was the mature thing to do.” He groaned and rolled his eyes. “But of course, silly me, you’re perfect and flawless and never do anything wrong,” he muttered bitterly. “I’m the screw up. Everything is my fault.”
“This is your fault!” she cried, clasping her fingers into her long hair in exasperation. All the bitter, acidic thoughts she’d toiled with the past four weeks began to spill forth, like poison being drawn from a wound. Genuine hurt cracked over her face, but she fought it off and instead gritted her teeth.
“You made your choice and now you have to live with it. Of course I left and ignored you. What else was I supposed to? I didn’t want to teach a thirty year old man how to say no to drugs,” she heard herself growl. “I don’t want to clean up after you. Not anymore.”
“No, you’d much rather just leave me right when I needed you most.”
“You lied to me, Fiearius,” she breathed, her voice low. “After everything we’ve been through, you lied to me and listened to Dez. You chose him over me.”
“I didn’t choose Dez,” he snapped, throwing his hand in the air in frustration. “I chose sanity. And it had nothing to do with you at the time. I only lied because look what the fuck happened when I didn’t!”
“What?” Leta gasped. “You really think you — ”
But it was then that a cadet nearby cleared his throat pointedly. Looking sideways, Leta realized they had acquired something of an audience: the room had gone silent, and twenty pairs of eyes were gazing at them in alarm.
“Um…sir?” said the cadet, throwing Fiearius a nervous glance. “I’m supposed to escort you to your quarters?”
Fiearius slammed his palm over his forehead. “Right. ‘My quarters’.” He turned back to Leta and grunted, “Look. I’m sorry. That was–not exactly how I wanted this to go. Can we…talk later? Properly?”
Leta hesitated. Finally she said, “Alright,” and watched as Fiearius walked away with the cadet, disappearing down the hall.
Was she making a terrible mistake?
Steeped in unease, Leta asked herself the question a dozen times as she quietly navigated the metallic maze of hallways later that night. Was she making a terrible mistake, in meeting Fiearius like this? Their first meeting hadn’t just gone poorly. It had gone horribly. His words were ringing in her ears even now, and she burned with anger, shame, worry …
Finally (after making a couple wrong turns, as she was lost in her own head and distracted), Leta found herself glancing down at the numbers she’d inked on the inside of her wrist and slowing to a halt outside a set of double-doors. A keypad embedded in the wall, and to her surprise, an armed guard stood nearby.
“Evening, ma’am,” said the man in uniform, nodding once. “Are you here to meet with Captain Solivere?”
“I — yes,” Leta said, unsure if she should have been amused or alarmed by the decorum now required to talk with Fiearius Solivere. Of all people. These professional soldiers in the military, did they know Fiearius at all? Did they know that he conducted his business from dirty bars and slums in Archeti? That he wore the same torn, dirt-streaked clothes nearly everyday, or at least until Leta made him change? That he spent half his life barefoot? It seemed so unlikely to find him here. For a moment, Leta had the fleeting thought that she was involved some kind of practical joke.
But then the doors opened. Fiearius stood there and gave her a single nod of greeting, his expression tired.
Lingering in place, Leta lifted her eyebrows at him, a mixture of apology and alarm stirring in her green eyes, as she offered a plain, “Hey,” that sat heavily in the air between them. She could feel the guard straightening up and watching her as he muttered sternly, “Sir — sorry to interrupt — is she on your approved visitor list?”
To the guard, he said, “It’s fine. She’s fine. Come on in.”
Feeling rather awkward, she followed Fiearius into the room and considered all the things she wanted to ask him. How could you? was among them. How did this happen to us? was another. But as she followed him inside, the question that sprang forth was, “Holy — is this is where they’ve put you up to stay?”
The lounge was luxurious, like a hotel suite. Leta turned in a circle on the shining wooden floors and gazed over the arched ceilings, the mahogany half-moon bar, the vast console system, the grand piano. What in the world did Fiearius Solivere need with a grand piano? Was this the military’s way of casually bribing him, of getting him on their side? If so — Leta could have snorted to herself — they should’ve known that wealth and a comfortable bed wouldn’t work on him.
“It’s ridiculous, isn’t it?” he groaned, weaving his way toward the kitchen. “There’s a master bedroom, a guest bedroom, two bathrooms, one with a bath bigger than a shuttle, dining area, living room, lounging room because apparently that’s different, and the kitchen.” He gestured toward the counters around him. “Which is the one part I actually really appreciate. I haven’t had access to a legitimate grill in years. This Gates guy’s really tryin’ to sell me on this place.”
“Certainly pays to be a criminal outlaw these days,” she muttered to herself, turning around at last to face Fiearius. “Clearly I’m in the wrong line of work, all I got was a mid-range box with a bunk. What’re you — “
Abruptly, she was faced with the sight of Fiearius who was, of all things, holding out a plate full of food for her.
“I made peace empanadas,” he said. “They taste like peace. Or spinach and cheese, I can never tell the difference.”
Slowly she reached out and took one of the pastries, amusement lighting her eyes. “Is this your version of an olive branch?” she asked wondrously.
“Something like that.”
Together they sat down at the long dining room table, quietly eating, stealing stiff and amused glances at one another. Unspoken words sat awkwardly between them for minutes, until at last —
“So about earlier,” said Fiearius suddenly. He sighed and leaned back in his chair, centering his gaze on her. “That was really bad. I think I’ve spent the last month imagining how that would go and how it actually went couldn’t have been further from what I was planning. I’m — really sorry.”
“I’m sorry too,” she agreed, now openly staring at him. There was something achingly familiar about sitting across from him, sharing a meal he’d made. For a moment, her heart tinged with real longing.
But then she remembered herself. Lips thinning out, she lowered her hands from the table. “So. Are you still using?”