Once she’d made it safely inside the Dionysian, Leta barely noticed where her feet were leading her. One second, she’d been watching her clinic crumble and burn to the ground, all flames and smoke. The next, she was downstairs in her old infirmary, clumsily splashing cold water across her face in the sink. A dull ache was spreading across her nose and mouth, and blood came away on her fingertips.
When she turned around, she realized she was not alone — Fiearius kept his eyes on her as he hung in the doorway, then veered toward the counter, snagging a rag and an icepack from the freezer.
“What’re you doing?” Leta asked blankly; she’d never seen Fiearius navigate this room before. He arched an eyebrow at her.
“I know how to treat a punch to the face. It’s happened to me enough.” And he stepped closer, bringing his hand to carefully swipe a towel across her wet mouth, his touch surprisingly tender. The towel came away stained red.
Leta blinked slowly with surprise — she was still operating on something of a shocked delay, and standing in the infirmary under bright lights made Fiearius seem vivid, dream-like. He stood out sharply, very tall and broad. Ash and smoke stained his clothes — he’d run into her clinic without a moment’s hesitation; he’d risked his life for nothing. Moments passed before she realized he’d spoken.
“ — alright? You look woozy.”
Leta swallowed hard in her throat. Abruptly she felt close to tears again, and Fiearius must have noticed: he frowned, wrinkling his forehead sadly. To hide her face more than anything, she accepted the icepack and lowered to sit on a bench.
“We were supposed to help Vescent,” she said quietly. “Liberate it. Now it’s worse off than it was before.”
Fiearius leaned against the bench across from her. “Sometimes the cost of freedom is higher than what most want to pay,” he said evenly.
Leta furrowed her brow at him. “You sound like Gates.”
A smirk twisted the corner of his lips. “Because that was the exact line he used on me.”
Leta spared him a quiet chuckle before her eyes dragged back downward to her feet. “This wasn’t–I never pictured things like this.” Fiearius nodded slowly in agreement. “I knew there’d be growing pains, I knew the transition away from the Society would hurt, but this?” A shudder ran down her spine as her mind involuntarily showed her images of the dappled grey city she’d left behind.
Across from her, Fiearius heaved a sigh. “It’s not just Vescent. Ascendia reacted just as badly. Worse, even. What I saw when I was there–” He grimaced and shook the thought from his head. “And Carthis’ counter is always exactly the same…”
“Tighten their grip.” Leta clenched her jaw. “Which only makes things worse.”
“I’m not saying I have the answer,” Fiearius admitted. “I certainly don’t. But this isn’t it. And they know it too, but someone up the line just keeps pushing to keep all that power centralized and it’s the feet on the ground that have to suffer for it. Vescent and Ascendia are bad enough, what’s gonna happen if they take on Ellegy?”
Leta looked up at him, a little surprised. “Is that what’s next?”
“Second biggest Society holding,” Fiearius said with a shrug. “It’s on the slate. But Ellegy is twice the size of the other two put together. If we can even take it, and that’s a big if, I’m worried about what happens after. And then Satieri…”
“Fiearius,” Leta began quietly. “Carthis…they’re not going to let go are they?”
He met her eyes and what she saw there was all the answer she needed. Even so, he muttered, “Guess we should all get used to the Carthian Empire…”
The thought made Leta’s stomach twist. “What’re we gonna do?”
Fiearius just spread his hands. “Hope a solution comes to light before it’s too late?” he guessed.
It was about as comforting a response as Leta could hope for, she supposed. Vescent was saved, the logical part of her knew. But she couldn’t shake the feeling that before the end of this it would need to be saved again.
Fiearius watched her intently as she lapsed into thoughtful silence, but it wasn’t long until he broke it. “Hey, so listen, I sent a message to Gates about your clinic,” he said suddenly. Leta glanced up at him, curious. “He doesn’t like when I tell him what to do, but he has a tendency to do it anyway so know that Carthis will be funding the rebuild and then backing the fuck off.”
Leta fixed him with a stare of disbelief which made him shift uncomfortably. “So I’m sure you’ll want to spearhead that yourself. I can take you back in a day or two. Things should have calmed down by then so–”
But Leta was already shaking her head and his voice trailed off. “I can’t go back. Not now.” When he just blinked back silently, she continued, “Fiear, they don’t trust me. My own people think I’m a traitor. How can I help them if they don’t even believe I’m on their side?” Fiearius still said nothing and she continued, “No, my clinic will be better off without me for now. With a new leader, someone they can rely on.”
“Leta–” Fiearius began, holding out a hand, but she cut him off.
“It’s okay,” she lied, choking back the break in her voice. “It’s what needs to be done.”
Fiearius took a step towards her, almost as if he was going to reach out and put his arms around her, but he stumbled awkwardly instead, pausing a foot away from her. “What about you?”
Leta heaved a deep breath and looked around the dusty, cluttered infirmary that clearly hadn’t been touched in a while. “Well. You hiring a doctor?”
“I don’t know why Fiear makes such a big deal about flying this ship,” Addy said as she slid their plate of leftovers into the fridge. With Kalli finally asleep in their quarters upstairs, Addy and Cyrus — too wired and jumpy to sleep themselves — retired to the Dionysian’s kitchen instead for a late dinner.
“For an old bird, she flies like a dream, really,” she went on, closing the fridge door and leaning against the counter. “From all that talk, I expected way worse.”
“Don’t tell him that, you’ll hurt his ego,” Cyrus muttered, rinsing off the plate in his sink.
Addy wrinkled her nose. “Hm…He’s got plenty to spare. Would that be such a bad thing?”
Cyrus laughed and kept washing as Addy wandered out of the kitchen into the mess hall. But she was only gone for a moment before she peeked her head back in and waved at him, beckoning him urgently.
“What?” Cyrus asked, but she held her finger to her lips to silence him, still waving hurriedly with her free hand.
Perplexed, Cyrus put down the plate quietly as he could and joined her in the doorway, peering around the corner.
It didn’t take long to realize what she was so interested in.
In the hallway, Fiearius stood closely with Leta. They were talking softly, oriented close together, and Cyrus rarely saw Fiearius’ expression as soft as it was in this moment. Really, he didn’t need to see more of this, so he started to move back into the kitchen to finish the dishes, but Addy seized his wrist and whispered, “No, no, look.”
He rolled his eyes, but did as he was told regardless just as Fiearius lifted his hand to stroke Leta’s cheek with his thumb. Which seemed a bit of a bold move, in Cyrus’ opinion, but who was he to judge? Not that the thought stopped him from judging at all when his brother’s hand slipped down onto her shoulder and slid slowly down her arm, lingering at her wrist until he finally dragged it away and shoved it in his pocket in what looked far too much like a demonstration of willpower.