Javier, as always, was busy reading off messages. “Admiral Gates would like you to put in a word to the Ellegian News Network about the Vescentian riots.”
“He wouldn’t like the word I’d use. Ignore,” said Fiearius abruptly as he crossed the room. His loyal crew gave him a chorus of grunts as greeting and Maya said, “Extras in the kitchen, cap’n.”
Leta had found that Fiearius was hardly present on the Dionysian’s lower decks anymore. Instead, he was constantly occupied in the bridge, sending out orders to his fleet scattered across the Span. But he did make a point of sharing meals with them whenever he could. She’d been here all of a week and hardly seen him save for breakfasts, dinners and an occasional late night drink before he got back to work.
Still, few as those moments had been, Leta couldn’t deny she’d appreciated them.
Unintentionally, she met his eyes as he passed towards the kitchen and he smirked. She returned it with a tilt of her head before going back to her food.
Meanwhile, Javier went on. “Parés is asking for more ships again.”
“Arsen requests you pull your people out of the eastern front on Ascendia.”
“Commander Lirien wants to know if he can see you again.”
“Quin’s got a status update on the west Ascendia operation.”
Leta heard Fiearius heave a deep sigh. “Alright, hit me.”
“Area acquired, ten lost, thirty wounded.”
Beside Leta, Richelle sucked in a breath through her teeth and shared a solemn glance with Maya over the table.
“She’s awaiting further instructions,” Javier finished as Fiearius exited the kitchen and took his place at the end of the table. Leta observed him quietly as he brandished his fork without touching the food. He looked tired, but he always looked tired these days. Now, it was almost as if he was so tired, it didn’t phase him anymore.
And in fact, he sounded appropriately numb when he said, “Send a message to the Carthian lead in Ascendia proper, get shuttles out there for the injured. Tell Quin to take a break and head back to the CORS. I’ll meet her there when I can.”
Javier nodded and made a note on his tablet dutifully before finally sitting down himself and placing the thing aside, face down. An important part of the daily ritual, Leta had noticed. No messages, no contact, no disasters. Just for an hour.
“So,” Fiearius began suddenly, his tone a lot lighter, though perhaps forcedly so. “How’s my dear crew doing? Being nice to our guest?” He gestured towards Leta.
“Leta’s not a guest,” Javier flared up at once. “She’s family.”
Fiearius glanced over at her and upon catching his eye, she raised her brows expectantly. Yeah, she thought, what do you have to say about that?
But Fiearius just grinned and amended, “Of course, sorry. Being nice to our estranged cousin? Distant aunt? Prodigal daughter?”
Leta noticed Maya rolled her eyes, but Richelle was the one who answered, “Just fine, cap’n.”
“You forget your crew doesn’t have the detriments of your sparkling personality,” put in Leta to which he grunted a laugh.
On the other side of the table, Eve was all business. “So we’re headed for Ascendia, cap’n?” she asked.
“Not quite,” Fiearius answered. “Ascendian cluster, but not Ascendia itself. Got a very important target to take care of.” He caught Leta’s eye briefly, as though to ensure she didn’t elaborate on that any further. Apparently he didn’t even trust his mission to assassinate the Society Councillors to his crew.
Though Eve might have not taken that hint. “What’s the target?” she asked. “When can you brief me?”
Leta saw Fiearius’ awkward grimace before he brushed it aside and told her patiently, “Actually, you won’t be coming with me. Sorry, Harper. This one’s a little different.”
But if he wasn’t taking Eve, Leta realized —
“You’re going in alone on this?” she demanded.
To her surprise, he made the same expression as before, as though caught in a compromising position. “Not…exactly,” he admitted.
Before Leta could question him, a voice rang out behind her that made her jump. “Is this the kind of right moment you told me to wait for?”
She knew who it was before she even turned around to find the bulky shape of Desophyles Cordova leaning in the doorway. Leta wasn’t even the only one surprised.
“Where the hell did he come from?” Maya demanded, her eyes wide.
“Boarded when you dropped off the cute little family yesterday,” Dez answered. “Your captain didn’t think anyone else needed to know, though.” He looked back to Fiearius. “So was this it? The right moment?”
Fiearius had his head in his hand looking rather uncomfortable. “Maybe?” He ventured a glance at Leta, perhaps expecting her to explode at him, but Leta didn’t explode. She didn’t yell. She didn’t even feel a particularly strong urge to get up and leave the room.
Instead, all she could manage was a groan. “Are you kidding me?”