The Dionysian had only just touched ground when Fiearius and Dez called in, saying they were headed back. Leta released her hands from the ship controls, breathing hard, but she was fairly certain she had managed to park the ship — Fiearius’ ship — in roughly the same spot she’d taken off from. But she had still muttered, “Think he’ll notice if we’re a few feet off?” to Javier as she headed for the cargo bay.
Before she could make it downstairs, a chorus of cheers and applause had erupted, making her nearly jump out of her skin.
“Mighty fine flyin’ back there, cap’n,” Eve called, grinning as she passed.
“Count me impressed, Lily!” Rhys added. Even Maya, of all people, gave a close-lipped smile and nodded her approval.
Leta managed a half-laugh, but it was in exasperation: she wasn’t sure how she’d gotten them out of that alive. Maybe some of Fiearius’ luck had rubbed off on her after all.
The adrenaline was starting to wear off as she made it downstairs to wait at the base of the ramp, looking into the darkness to spot two figures materializing near the horizon. Her arms were crossed over her chest and her fingers tapped the strap of her medical bag, twitchy with impatience. Fiearius’ quick COMM correspondence hadn’t mentioned any injuries or mishaps to be worried about, but Leta was prepared for the worst regardless. His judgment on which wounds were worth concern wasn’t always the best.
When she finally caught glimpse of movement coming towards her, she breathed a sigh of relief. The two of them strode side by side, slowly, but properly. No one seemed to be missing any limbs. Neither were limping. It wasn’t until the light from the ship hit Fiearius, illuminating the shocking half of his body drenched in sticky red, that Leta started forward, full of worry. But then she caught sight of his face, dazed and downcast, his jaw clenched and his stare stony. Her heart clenched with both guilt and relief: the blood wasn’t his.
“Hey,” was all she managed when the two of them reached the ramp. Dez looked up at her with a quiet affirmation to the question she hadn’t asked.
Yes. It was done. They’d succeeded.
Forehead wrinkled, Fiearius did not tear his eyes from the ground as he continued up the ramp into his ship. It was as though no one else was even there and any relief she might have felt slipped right back into worry. They may have succeeded, but something had obviously gone wrong.
Of their own accord, her eyes drifted over to Dez who was watching her with a sort of expectation. She stared back for a moment, silently, until he tilted his head towards the direction Fiearius had gone and raised his brows pointedly. She didn’t appreciate the implication, whatever it was, especially from him, but she complied nonetheless.
Fiearius was already in the bridge by the time she caught up to him. He was in the middle of stripping off his blood-soaked shirt when she paused in the doorway. He was silent, and the air was heavy — clearly, he was in no mood to explain what had happened, though Leta was desperate for answers. The Councilor was dead, but how? What had happened?
Instead of asking, she said, “You didn’t notice.” It was a vague attempt to lighten the mood.
Fiearius tossed his red-stained shirt over the back of the pilot’s chair (Leta was relieved to see no wounds marring his bare flesh), and turned to look at her. “What?”
“You didn’t notice,” she said again, stepping into the bridge and approaching him at the dashboard. “I changed your landing configuration a little.” She tapped the console which still showed the ship’s descent interface.
Fiearius stared at her, then down at the dashboard, then back at her.
“It didn’t make much sense as you had it set up,” Leta explained. “Too many steps to get the same result. This should be a lot cleaner, I think. Surprised you never had it this way before.”
“I liked it my way,” he muttered, still looking a little lost before his eyes narrowed on her. “Hang on. Did you fly my ship?”
Leta mustered a smirk. “We may have had our own little adventure while you were out.” Affectionately, she patted the ship controls. “I think she’s starting to like me.”
To her relief, his lips pulled back in a small smirk, too. “She’s always liked you. Just got pissed that you were gone.”
So maybe he was alright after all. Leta took this as a sign that she could get to work. Swinging her bag off her shoulder, she withdrew a cloth and disinfectant.
“Sit down,” she said quietly, and to her relief, he lowered to the edge of the dashboard, though it may have been from utter exhaustion more than her insistence. She took his hands in hers and started cleaning the blood from his wrists. Then, quietly: “Can you tell me what happened?”
He wasn’t looking at her, but gazing distantly past her shoulder. “We found her. She’s gone. The rest — still trying to process it, honestly…”
“What happened when you got to the bunker?”
“It was empty,” he said, his voice sounding far off. “Or it looked empty. Abandoned. And then–gods, Ophelia was down there.” He shook his head. “She started burning shit again and then she attacked Dez. And that was enough of a distraction that I could get away and find the lower part of the bunker. Which is where the Councillor was.”
“And it was only her down there?”
He opened his mouth as though to respond, but the words seemed to die on his lips. His distant stare grew even more distant and there was a long moment of silence before he finally came back to her and nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, just her.”
Leta realized she had stopped cleaning his hands. She’d stopped doing anything at all. Now she was just staring at him, searching his face for answers. His gaze was on the wall, but then it shifted toward hers, and words spilled earnestly from Leta’s lungs, a rare rush of emotion. A sudden need to pull him back to ground from wherever he’d floated off to. She needed him to come back.
So she said, “I’m really glad you’re alright.”
A beat of silence passed, and then, before Leta could think to do differently, her hand went to his bare shoulder, near his neck, delicately slipping her fingers into the back of his hair. When she leaned her lips down into his, he did not move: she kissed him softly, and then after a moment, he responded. It was a slow, tired kiss, born out of relief. His hands went to her hips, but lightly. It was not needy or urgent, like they had all the time in the world to do this safely.
Finally, they broke apart, their lips easing away. Leta drew back, her hand still on his shoulder. Fiearius furrowed his brow, as if troubled by what she’d done — she was troubled, too. But neither of them voiced it.
“He’s still alive,” Fiearius confessed suddenly.
Leta blinked, pulling her hand back. “Who is?”
“The last Verdant. The man who killed Denarian. She told me. He’s not dead. I killed him, but he’s not dead.”
Leta didn’t know what to say. Her hands tightened around the rag in her hands. “Fiear–”
“She said I would have been a Councillor,” he went on. “If I had become Verdant, they would have eventually made me Councillor.”