Chapter 2: Purpose

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The cold wind tossed her hair across her face, and Leta pushed it away with her wrist, but mostly, shock paralyzed her for several seconds. Simply put, she couldn’t understand what she was looking at, even though the sight was incredibly familiar: The bronze metal mass of the Dionysian, its rusted open ramp, and coming down from it, its captain. Leta absorbed this last detail in particular, everything from the snow already mixing into his thick red hair, to the smirk on his face, to his casual loping stride, and …

“I’m hallucinating,” Leta mumbled, to herself but also to her new company that was approaching. “I’m hallucinating and you’re a mirage.”

“Afraid not,” said Fiearius, barely biting back a broad grin. Although they spoke via COMM every few weeks, she hadn’t seen his face in ten months, and it unnerved her that he’d simply shown up without warning. That wasn’t how it was supposed to go. When the Dionysian was scheduled to head to Vescent, Leta would hear about it — either from Gates, Javier, Cyrus, or Fiearius himself — and anticipate the arrival with some trepidation. If the Dionysian was at the base, it usually meant something bad on the war-front.

It also meant for something confusing in her personal life. Even with all the years between them, she and Fiearius had never quite figured out how to properly act around one another. Polite and professional felt fake. Intimate and personal felt confusing. Distant and cold felt simply horrible. Sometimes they went through each emotion in the span of an hour. They were probably friends — good friends — although she’d never once called Fiearius her friend before. Uncertainty hovered between them like a fog, and they’d always lingered in an odd grey area that made Leta’s stomach clench up at the sight of him.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?” she asked, failing to conceal her alarm. “What’s wrong?”

Before Fiearius could answer, the tiny figure of Kalli squirmed to be let down from Addy’s arms. Her mother relented and put her down on the snowy ground where, blonde curls bouncing, she ran in a circle around Leta’s feet and squealed, “A’iya Leta!”

Clearly, if Fiearius was on Vescent for horrible, macabre reasons, he wouldn’t have brought his young niece with him. And knowing that, Leta finally felt her first real swoop of happiness: her family was here. There was no one on the base she’d gotten close to like she had Cyrus, Addy and of course, their daughter, whom everyone was madly in love with (especially Fiearius).

“Look how big you’ve gotten!” said Leta, crouching down to her legs, scooping up her niece and burying her face in her hair. Kalli shrieked with mirth and yelled, “It’s snowing here!”

Smiling at Leta, but looking puzzled, Cyrus said, “Wait, did he really not tell you we were coming?” He looked to Fiearius. “I thought you were kidding about that.”

“And I thought she liked surprises,” said Fiearius innocently. “Listen, can we move this reunion party inside before I freeze my a — er, before I freeze,” he amended quickly, as Addy threw him a warning look and Kalli looked up at Fiearius interestedly.

Together they swept back inside the crowded but warmer hallways of the base, shutting the wind outside. Leta put Kalli down and held onto her hand as they walked down the concrete hallway. As Kalli started chattering (“A’iya Leta, my dad said I can play in the snow!”), Addy asked, “So you’re living here now, aren’t you, Leta? Because of the riots?”

Leta forced a smile that came out more as a grimace. “Yeah, someone didn’t defend me when I said it wasn’t necessary,” she muttered, casting a bitter glance back at Fiearius.

“What, you’re still complaining about that?” Fiearius replied, looking perplexed. “You forget I saw that apartment you had before. All that furniture. Curtains. Things you like.” He gestured around at the grey slate surrounding them on every side. “This is clearly much better.”

Cyrus rolled his eyes at his brother, then added to Leta, “The thick walls must be nice at least.”

“And the view,” Addy put in, as a few soldiers fresh from the gym walked by. Her eyes trailed after them and she nudged Leta suggestively, earning her an amused glare from Cyrus.

As Addy laughed and seized Cyrus’s hand, Leta herself shrugged. “I’d rather be out with the people. At my clinic. Helping.” Mentioning her clinic made her heart clench a little. The events of this morning may have been briefly swept aside by the Dionysian’s arrival, but the bad news was still looming off to the side of her mind.

But she pushed it away again as she realized, “You still haven’t answered my question. Why are you all here?”

It was Kalli who responded. “Holiday!” she cried, her bright eyes shining. “With snow!”

Addy laughed and explained, “We haven’t left Archeti in — gods, how long has it been?” She looked to Cyrus.

“Nearly a year,” he filled in, his tone heavy.

“A year!” Addy exclaimed, shaking her head. “But things are finally starting to come together and we’re seventy percent certain New Genisi will go on without us for a couple weeks so when Fiear mentioned he was headed to Vescent, we thought it’d be a good time to tag along.”

“The community in New Genisi is pretty great, but I think it’s good to get out every once in a while, especially for Kalli’s sake,” added Cyrus thoughtfully, dropping his hand on Kalli’s head, who had taken to cheerfully swinging Leta’s hand back and forth. “There aren’t many other kids around still. Plus, she really likes the snow. We didn’t get much this past winter.”

But there was still one mystery left. Leta glanced back over her shoulder at Fiearius who was conveniently not paying attention to the conversation. Or at least pretending not to. “So the real question,” she asked, catching his eye, “is why are you here?”

“I like snow too?” Fiearius guessed.

“You hate snow,” Cyrus pointed out dryly.

“In fact, you’ve done everything in your power to avoid it,” Leta added. “Last time you were supposed to attend a strategy meeting here in winter, you faked a Dionysian mechanical error and forced eight Carthian bigwigs to come to you on some backwater moon.”

He shrugged. “It was summer there.”

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