“So you have been in contact with him. I knew it.”
“Leta –” he warned.
“Dez, his whole group — they’re terrorists, Fiearius!” she protested under her breath.
“According to Carthis.”
“According to everyone. They bombed that temple on Ascendia.”
But he was shaking his head. “They didn’t. They were just the easiest group to pin it on.”
“There was proof, their ships were there when–”
“ — when the bomb went off, yeah,” Fiearius finished for her. “But that doesn’t mean we were the ones that did it.”
Leta opened her mouth, then hesitated, suddenly stricken.
“We?” she repeated, and clearly Fiearius hadn’t even realized he’d said it. He regarded her with his jaw clenched, and Leta said, with dawning realization, “You’re working with them, aren’t you?”
His eyes darted around the room at once, desperate to make sure no one had heard. Fortunately, the bar was nearly deserted.
Still, Leta lowered her voice to barely a whisper as she said, “Fiear, what the hell are you doing working with Dez? Does Gates know?”
“Gods, no. Of course not. He’d fucking murder me.”
“For good reason! Can you imagine what would happen to the war effort if it got out that its main admiral is working with branded terrorists?”
Fiearius sighed, exasperated. “It’s not what you think. It’s not like that. I’ve lent them a hand a few times. I’ve given some advice a few more. And they’re not terrorists. They’re on our side.”
“But not on Carthis’ side.”
“So what, you gonna go tell ‘em now?” Fiearius demanded, full of challenge. “That I’m a traitor? That I support terrorists?”
Leta shot him a warning look.
“You know I wouldn’t do that,” she said darkly, and then sighed. “Besides — I’m not exactly on good terms with Carthis these days, either.” She inhaled sharply. “They’re seizing my clinic. I found out this morning.”
Fiearius looked surprised, and then unsurprised.
“Shit,” he hissed.
“It’s not that I’m not appreciative for everything they’ve done. Removing the Society strongholds, stabilizing Vescent, they’ve supported me and my efforts too, but…”
“But they’re beginning to wear down their welcome,” he muttered. “Even without rioting in the streets, that’s pretty obvious.”
“But Gates said they’ve started meeting on an exit strategy,” Leta insisted. “He said they’re finally looking into pulling out.”
Fiearius’ eyes were locked on hers. His mouth twisted toward a smirk. “You believe it?”
“I have to.”
Uncomfortable silence fell. Fiearius went to respond, but suddenly the door to the bar swung open and a group of men and women in uniform strolled in, laughing amongst themselves as they moved to a booth nearby. Fiearius downed the rest of his beer, put the glass down on the bar and waved for a refill. For now, at least, the conversation was dropped. It had to be dropped, with Carthian ears so close by.
So Leta changed the subject.
“I almost forgot,” she said, straightening up. “I have something to show you.”
From inside the fold of her jacket, she withdrew a handheld console, switched on the screen and slid it over to him. A headline blazed on the screen.
Rogue Verdant Returns to Fall’s End! You won’t believe what (and who) he’s brought with him!
“Don’t suppose you saw this masterpiece of journalism?” she posed innocently. “I stumbled across it working today. There’s something in there about you bringing your newest conquest with you. A new girlfriend.”
Fiearius squinted at the screen, but didn’t bother reading the article before he pushed it away from him in disgust. “This exact kind of garbage is why I keep getting in trouble.”
“I doubt articles can take all the blame for that.”
He ignored her. “Did I tell you about this? Gates called me in for a meeting about a month ago. I thought it was just a debrief from the mission, but oh no. No it was not. It was about–” He leaned toward her and quoted, with absolute disgust in every syllable. “Professional and personal conduct.”
Leta snorted. “Because of that woman who wrote about her date with you and got picked up by the mainstream feeds? That was a fascinating read. Very well written. Descriptive.”
“For the record, most of that wasn’t even true. But fine, okay, I date around a bit, and sure, I don’t have the best judgment about which of those dates are secret wannabe journalists, but c’mon. Do I really deserve to be lectured by this guy about how my ‘behavior’ was ‘inappropriate for my station’? That, as a ‘key player in the war’, I had a responsibility to keep my ‘personal desires’ in check? Key player or no, I’m only human.”
Leta glanced down at her drink, which was nearly finished. Perhaps that was why she felt bold enough to ask, “Speaking of, how’s Quin?”
Fiearius arched an eyebrow at her, and Leta knew she’d startled him. “Quin? She’s fine. Ran into a bit of trouble on one of the border planets a while back, but she’s back in business and running a scouting trip as we sp– ”
“That’s not what I meant. I meant, you and her? How are you two?”
Fiearius looked distinctly uncomfortable. Brow furrowed, he grunted, “How’d you find out?” to which Leta felt some grim satisfaction. She’d had a feeling in her gut that Fiearius and Quin were sleeping together, although she couldn’t pinpoint how, exactly, she knew.
So all she said was, “Did you forget that both of our assistants are terrible gossips?”
His mouth flinched in disapproval and he took another drink. “Look, it’s not really like that. There’s no ‘two’ of us. We’re partners. That’s the main thing. And sometimes, when things are rough especially, we find some alternative forms of comfort in one another because we kind of always have.” He hadn’t been looking at her, rather staring at the empty glass in front of her, but now he met her eyes and smirked. “It’s not like Quinida Utada would be my girlfriend.”
Leta returned his smirk, as if she was more amused than she felt. “But would you want her to be?”
“Gods, no, she scares the shit out of me,” Fiearius laughed. “I like her and I respect her more than anyone else in those damn war room meetings. We’ve been through a lot together, especially over the past few years. But whatever you’re implying? Two of us? Together? Like that?” He blanched, and threw a nasty glance toward the glowing screen. “You can tell Vescent’s star journalists that they should rethink their sources.”
“I’ll pass the word along.”
“What about you then? Since we’re on the topic. It’s only fair. Anyone special in your life?”
Carefully sipping her whiskey, Leta shook her head. “I’ve got needy patients. I’ve got Nikkolai pointing out every attractive Carthian soldier we see. I’ve got a journalist following me around. That’s about all the attention I’m getting from men these days.”
Fiearius barked a laugh. “I seriously doubt that.”
He squinted at her face and went on, “Well, I can’t see you with a soldier, so I guess that’s out. And we both know how strict you are about doctor patient relationships,” he said with a smirk. “So the journalist then. Tell me about him.”
“He just wants an interview,” said Leta composedly. “We barely know one another.”