“Give me one fucking reason why I shouldn’t,” Fiearius growled, “Who are you? How long have you been — “
But he had no chance to find out. The next person to yell was Leta.
“Fiearius, no!” she cried. “Let him go — I know him!”
Shocked but compliant, Fiearius released his hold on the intruder, but none too gently. The man dropped to his knees with a thud, freed but groaning in pain and annoyance.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Leta demanded of him. “Why are you following us?”
“Put your guns away and I’ll tell you,” said the man darkly, massaging his bruised neck and throwing a dirty look toward Fiearius as he rose up to his feet. “Look, sorry I startled you. I didn’t want to follow you. I’ve been ordered to.”
“By who?” said Ren, while Fiearius growled, “Enough excuses, who the fuck are — ”
“All of you, calm down,” Leta snapped, brandishing a hand in the air. She stepped in front of Fiearius, effectively blocking him from —
“His name is Liam Andrews,” Leta sighed. “He’s a war journalist here on Vescent.”
Fiearius narrowed his eyes, scrutinizing him. He looked to be in his young thirties, with overgrown brown hair and a beard. His clothes had once been upscale but were faded and weathered, like he’d been traveling a long way or hiding out. And even though Fiearius was the one with the loaded weapon in his hand, Liam was watching Leta most attentively, and suddenly the pieces clicked together in his head.
Fiearius snapped his head towards Leta. “This is your journalist?”
“What? He’s not my anything,” she scoffed. “What are you doing here, Liam?”
“I said, I didn’t want to follow you, it’s my job to watch over this part of Vescent. I camp out here, away from the base, to see what the rebels are up to. My editor makes me follow anyone suspicious. Trust me,” He grinned wryly. “It’s not exactly my ideal scenario either, but no one worries about the safety of a war reporter. Leta, I saw you out here, and honestly thought you were being forced here, that you were in trouble.”
“That’s usually a fair assumption,” said Leta dryly. “But no, I’m fine. Liam, this is Fiearius — “
“I know who he is,” Liam snorted.
“And this is Ren. And now you need to leave. We can walk you out, but then you’re on your own, and we’re going to pretend this never — ”
But Fiearius held up his hand to interrupt, his mind suddenly racing. He’d been here the whole time? Had he heard about the journal? The code? Had he heard Ren mention the plan to assassinate the Councillors? A feeling of dread started sinking through him. Those plans–so much of the war rested on those plans remaining secret. If word got out that Carthis, that Fiearius, had found the trail of the Society Council, it would be for naught.
“How long have you been following us?” Fiearius demanded.
Liam lifted his eyebrows. “Not long.”
Fiearius dropped his voice to a dangerous growl. “How. Long?”
He hesitated, and then said, “I caught up to you right after you left the Carthian-secured area. I heard you were heading to the library.”
Which meant he’d heard it all, Fiearius realized with horror. Everything they’d said since they walked in those doors. The book, the cipher, the plan, all of it. A journalist had overheard them. He could think of no worse scenario.
“Listen, Admiral,” Liam continued, his voice steady, “if it’s a matter of what I’ve heard, we can discuss it.”
But it couldn’t be discussed. This man wasn’t just an intrepid reporter chasing a lead, he was a liability. A huge liability that could cripple all of Fiearius’ efforts. It could put the Councillors out of his reach entirely. Victory, out of the rebellion’s reach.
This was Fiearius’ job, wasn’t it? Why Gates had brought him into this war at all. It was his job to make the hard choices, act quicker and more decisively than Carthis could manage. Deal with things others would not. This man, or this man’s boss, had made an unintended mistake, that was true. But it was Fiearius’ duty to ensure that mistake never left this room.
He swallowed the lump in his throat, tightened his jaw and lifted his hand, but before his fingers even brushed the grip of his gun, Leta’s voice broke through his daze.
“Fiear!” she snapped sharply and when he met her stare, blazing on him intensely, he knew that she knew exactly what he was thinking. They watched each other for a long, tense moment, neither of them speaking a word, but understanding one another clearly. And suddenly he knew he couldn’t do it. Not with her standing there. His hand dropped back to his side.
“Liam,” she said quickly, turning towards him. “What you heard tonight…You have to understand, it can never get out, alright? It’s–it’s vital to the war effort. If anyone ever finds out, it could be…more disastrous than you’d imagine.”
“I won’t say anything, Leta. And I swear I won’t write about it. I have some integrity, and besides … I value my life — I’m not stupid enough to go up against you two.” He jerked his head toward Fiearius, his eyes still resting interestedly on Leta. More playfully, he muttered, “But, uh, does this mean you’ll agree to an interview?”
Leta sighed, half defeated, half amused. “Yes. Pretend none of this ever happened, and you’ll get your interview. Deal?”
Apparently satisfied, Leta turned back to Fiearius, her mouth twitching toward an exasperated smirk. As if everything was okay now. All fixed. But as she said, “Let’s head back,” Fiearius couldn’t shake the feeling that nothing was okay, nothing was fixed. As he brought up the rear behind them, he could only hope that his weakness here and now wouldn’t give way to a landslide later.