Chapter 45: Slow on the Uptake Pt. 2

“You’ve played chess, think about it. Carthis has a powerful military, sure, but it’s restricted. It’s got a bureaucracy, it’s got multiple points of authority, it can’t just act on a whim. You, though, you’re free to move about wherever you like, whenever you like. You have no need to follow rules. You’re the most powerful piece in play, you can act as they can’t. That’s why they need you.”

“They can still sacrifice their queen, Cy,” Fiearius pointed out bluntly before letting out a long groan. “I don’t know. Leta obviously thinks I should do it. You seem to think I should do it. Even I know that I should do it.” He glanced down at his wrist. “I’ve been given an opportunity, maybe it’s a sign, maybe I should take it.”

“Well you wanna know what I think?”

“No.”

Ignoring him, Cyrus went on, “I think you’re asking yourself the wrong question. Forget what you should do. What do you want to do?”

“I want–” Fiearius began, but what finished the sentence didn’t come to mind. “I don’t know what I want.” But then the words just started barreling out. “I want to be free of the Society I guess. I want to be able to live without being constantly hunted. I want what happened to Aela and Denarian to never happen again…” He looked up to see Cyrus staring at him pointedly. It made his insides churn a little. So he quickly said, “But it’s not just me, Cy. If I pull the Dionysian into this, we all get pulled into this. You too. What do you want?”

Seconds passed. Then he said quietly, “I want to go home.”

Fiearius wasn’t sure he’d ever heard Cyrus speak so sincerely. After a moment, Fiearius admitted, “Yeah. Me too.”

They regarded each other uncertainly. Then, eager to change the subject, Fiearius remembered the message he’d received this morning from Finn. “Oh but, hey, on the note of things you want, I do have some good news for you.” Cyrus looked up at him, perplexed and Fiearius couldn’t stop himself from grinning. “There’s a ship docking near ours in about an hour. One I think you’ve heard of. It’s…what is it called? Is it the Lighthouse? No, Bonfire? Lamp–”

“The Beacon?” Cyrus finished for him, his eyes going wide. “Wait, the Beacon’s coming here? In an hour? Addy’s gonna be here in an hour?

“Yeah, so I’m told, thought you’d–” Fiearius began, but suddenly Cyrus was already pushing himself to his feet. “Hey, what the hell’s the matter?”

“I look like a mess, Fiear!” Cyrus dismayed as he seized his tablet, nearly knocking his plate off the table. “She can’t see me like this!”

“What? You look fine — “

“No I don’t!” Cyrus insisted half-heartedly as he started to flee the mess hall. But he retreated a few steps and added, “Where’s your hair stuff?”

Fiearius let loose a raucous laugh before answering, “Under the sink,” and watching Cyrus scramble away down the hall.

———

It was going to be a short stop on the CORS, but Corra had been looking forward to it nonetheless. Ever since the Beacon had dropped Leta off here a week ago, she’d been missing the companionship of her best friend, despite how busy things were. They’d already made two more runs for Callahan and were en route back to Archeti to pick up another. It was only luck, masterful scheduling and a little careful rerouting by Alyx that had lead them here and Corra couldn’t have been more glad of it. She was in somewhat desperate need of a friendly distraction.

Corra had tried exceedingly hard to get over her mistake in Finn’s room a week ago. Her brain seemed determined to keep reminding her of how stupid it had been though. In the quiet moments of the day, she’d suddenly turn pink with embarrassment and feel an unbearable urge to bury her face in her hands. And traveling back and forth from Archeti on ship drops left a lot of those quiet moments.

It would have been fine, honestly, if things had just returned to normal. And oh, how she’d tried to return them to normal. Earlier in the week, she’d found her way to Finn’s door, just like she always did, but instead of the fun evening of physical entanglement she was used to, what she got was a whole pile of awkward. He’d just kept offering her drinks (“Whiskey? How about vodka? You must at least want water. It’s important to stay hydrated.”) despite how many time she said no and asking her mundane questions about her day. It was clearly an effort to be nice, but in the end it just made her wish him a goodnight and retreat back to her own quarters alone. So much for normal.

Last night, she’d tried again with substantially more success, but the awkwardness was still there and the fact remained that Finn changed when she walked into a room now and it was her fault and it was driving her nuts. She needed something to take her mind off of it. Some time with Leta seemed just the thing as Alyx too often had the smirk of someone who knew more than Corra would have liked, Addy, the poor thing, was a little too lovesick to ease Corra’s particular ache, and Cai? Well…Cai was a whole other can of worms.

“D’ya think if I ask nicely, the Carthians will give me one of those neat jackets?” he was saying as they strolled through the cargo bay side by side. Corra giggled stupidly and internally scolded herself for it. Somehow it had become her reaction to nearly everything he said, especially over the past few days. She’d giggle and she’d blush and she’d feel an annoying flutter in her stomach and then she’d get mad at herself. The last thing she needed right now was a stupid crush. Well. Another stupid crush. Any crushes. But especially crushes on people who she had no chance of romance with.

“Doubt it, but if you’re careful you could probably steal Finn’s when he’s drunk,” Corra suggested, though he didn’t seem too pleased about the idea.

“Maybe I’ll just ask him nicely,” he muttered thoughtfully. “I’d rather not upset him, he seems pretty attached to it…”

“Where is Finn anyway?” Corra asked, though she wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer. Avoiding Corra by hiding in the bridge maybe? Drinking alone in the kitchen? Moping in his room about Elsa again?

“He said he had somewhere to be and left as soon as we docked,” Cai answered with a confused shrug. “Didn’t say when he’d be back. Did you need him for something?”

“Oh no, just curious,” she assured him as she stepped up to the ramp and stopped in her tracks. At the bottom stood perhaps the last person she expected to see here. Well. Second to last maybe.

“Cyrus?!” she exclaimed, flabbergasted.

Cyrus, who looked a bit like he’d fallen out of the shower backwards, landed on his head and then rolled the rest of the way here, stared up at her wide-eyed. “Corra, hey! Uh–” he began, but before he could continue, she had hurried down the ramp and thrown herself at him in a hug.

“What are you doing here?!” she demanded, holding him back at arm’s length.

“Oh, Carthis invited us or something. It’s a long story,” he muttered, glancing over her shoulder, clearly distracted.

Corra too turned around and realized Cai was standing behind her, smiling that stupid adorable idiotic smile of his. Remembering her manners, she seized his arm and pulled him over towards them. “Cy-Cy, there’s someone I want you to meet,” she said. “This is–”

“Addy!” Cyrus exclaimed suddenly and it became very apparent that he was no longer listening. If he had been to begin with. At the top of the ramp stood the Beacon’s engineer who seemed just as shocked to see her long distance lover as Corra had been.

“Cy?” she asked in disbelief. Cyrus just stood there smiling up at her with all of his usual nerves and unsureness. But then the shock started to fade from Addy’s expression and was replaced instead by the happiness of someone who hadn’t seen their loved one in a month. Annoying as it was to be ignored, Corra couldn’t help but smile as she looked between the two of them. Especially when Addy suddenly decided to barrel down the ramp, throw herself into his arms and kiss him on the mouth. And kiss him. And continue kissing him…Still kissing him.

“Aww,” Cai commented. “Is this Addy’s boyfriend then?”

“I should hope so, the way they’re going at it,” Corra remarked, taking a cautious step away from the pair. She glanced up at Cai. “You can meet him later I guess. Let’s go find poke around this fancy station til Leta’s free, shall we? I bet they’ve got a killer armory.”

– – –

The slick modern bar in the lowest deck of the military station was lonely and empty, and Finn wasn’t surprised: most Carthian cadets were too busy and stressed to sit down for a drink. When he’d been a cadet, he certainly had never had the time to enjoy the entertainment corridor, which held gourmet eating areas, a dance floor, a private theater. Mostly the bar was for distinguished guests, like Fiearius, which was an odd thought.

But the whole deck was empty and quiet tonight. Finn sat at the corner of the bar alone for nearly an hour, nursing a glass of beer, and he only saw one other person approach the bartender: Admiral Gates. The older man appeared from the shadows, rapped his knuckles on the counter, downed a double-shot of whiskey, and then limped away back toward the elevators again. Finn snorted to himself, amazed; he’d always sort of liked that guy, though the feeling had never been mutual.

It was only when Elsa arrived, about twenty minutes late, that Finn stood up.

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