Chapter 28: Substitute Pt. 2

Slowly Leta put down her mug, eyeing Liam warningly. “This better not be why you invited me to lunch.”

“It’s not,” said Liam quickly. Sincerity filled his eyes. “Leta, this has no bearing whatsoever on our relationship. I’m simply asking for a favor. I’d ask him myself, I really would. But my guess is — “

“Don’t waste your time with that,” Leta advised. She exhaled a sigh. “I’ll see what I can do.”

————————–

Fiearius sighed as he rolled over onto his back, his messy hair splaying out against the pillow and the sheet that had become tangled around his leg falling off the side of the bed.  For a moment, he just lay there, staring up at the high metal ceiling of his CORS admiral’s lounge and enjoying the feeling of the cool, expensive sheets against his sweat-sheened skin. Then he heard the click of a lighter next to him.

He glanced over as Quin put the cigarette to her lips and he frowned. “You shouldn’t smoke,” he pointed out apathetically. With the same lack of gusto, she shrugged her bare shoulders.

“I spent my whole life on Archeti. If my lungs don’t have a bit o’ tar in ‘em, they feel empty,” she countered, blowing out a trail of smoke that lingered just above the bed.

Fiearius twisted his face in distaste and waved his hand through it. “I meant in here. Gonna set off some alarm and get a flood of Carthians in here thinking their precious station is on fire.”

Quin made a small thoughtful ‘hmph’ and took another hit of the cigarette. The two of them fell into momentary silence before finally she glanced over at him and grinned. “Would be kinda funny though.”

Fiearius chuckled his agreement and stretched out his arms above his head. One fell carelessly back onto the bed, the other he slipped around Quin’s shoulders and used to pull her side against his. This was starting to feel familiar, this part. The part just previous was already commonplace and had been for ages now, but this part, the lying around after, just content to have each other’s company, was newer. Quin and Fiearius were often on opposite sides of the Span, but when they weren’t, he had come to genuinely enjoy spending his quieter hours beside her. He found their intimate moments comforting and, by the way she didn’t immediately gather her things to leave as she might have in the past, he assumed she agreed.

“Do you remember when we met?” he asked suddenly and he felt her shift away to squint at him curiously.

“Pardon?”

“You know,” Fiearius went on. “How you refused to meet with me so I stole some shit from your warehouse and you had Aeneas tie me to a chair and beat me for three hours?”

She scrunched up her face. “I do not remember that.”

“To be fair, you were only around for the beginning. And the end when I said he could keep going all he wanted, I still wouldn’t give your stuff back. And you said you liked my dedication and gave me a gig?” Now he looked over at her and could see no recollection sparking where it should have. “Seriously? You don’t remember that?”

“It’s a common enough story, kinda all blends together,” Quin admitted. “I do remember the first time I took you back to my bed though. After the Lorrinian job.”

Fiearius frowned. “That was the second time. The first time was immediately following the incident with Puvnacus.”

“Ah, bloody mess, that.”

“I was terrified,” Fiearius confessed through a contented sigh. “Incredibly turned on. But terrified.”

“Just the way I like ‘em.” Quin grinned maliciously and elbowed him in the ribs. “What brought this on, huh? Not like you to get all sentimental.”

“I dunno, just thinkin’ out loud.” Fiearius curled his hand around her arm. “We’ve known each other a long time. What is it, 8? 9 years? Just…a long time, is all.”

She was watching him curiously, almost cautiously, he couldn’t help but notice. He felt curious and cautious about it himself, not really sure where he was going with this. The words just kept coming out, surprising him as much as they might have her. “And most of that, we’ve been–” he gestured to the two of them, lying naked side by side in bed. “Just a long time to be together, I guess.”

Now, her curiosity turned into something a lot like suspicion. “Sure, but–we ain’t ‘together’, sweetheart.”

“Yeah I know,” he agreed, ignoring the beginnings of embarrassment that were trying to take over. “But — well –” He apparently couldn’t stop himself though. “Kind of?”

Quin sat up in bed at once and when she looked down at him, he could not have felt smaller. “No, honey. Not kind of.” She put his hand on his shoulder which somehow made it worse. “This thing you and me have? You’re a good friend. And a great lover. And a partner I’d lay my life on the line for any day o’ the week. But let’s not get mixed up with any extra feelin’s a’right?”

There was a primal instinct in Fiearius that he had had since he was very very young. He’d never been sure if it stemmed from the early days of being a child on the playground or if it had only first needed to manifest itself there, but regardless, it had never left. He didn’t like feeling pathetic. He didn’t like people making him feel pathetic. So when he felt pathetic? In return, he got angry.

He pushed himself up to meet her face on, hoping their actual size difference would help. It didn’t. “Little late for that,” he snapped.

She raised her brows at him, still calm as ever. “Late?”

“Yeah, late,” he said again, more forcefully. “Telling me not to ‘have feelings’ isn’t gonna stop me from having them.”

“Well,” she tilted her head and smiled. “Good thing you don’t then.”

Fiearius blanched. Whatever argument he’d been expecting her to use, it wasn’t that. “What? What do you mean — I do, though!”

“You sure as hell don’t,” Quin said with so much authority, he almost believed it himself.

“I do,” he snapped back.

“You don’t.”

“I do!”

“You really don’t.”

Fiearius growled in frustration and before he even considered what he was saying, the words tumbled out, “I do, I’m in love with you!”

The room got very quiet. The two of them stared at one another in complete utter silence, like a standoff in which neither party could yet figure out what action to take or whether they even wanted to act at all. And then finally, to his horror, Quin laughed.

Not just a regular laugh, either. A long, raucous laugh that made her double over and tears well up in her eyes. A laugh that followed something so hilariously ridiculous that she had trouble breathing. A laugh that made Fiearius wonder, if he had meant what he’d said, whether or not it would stay true when she finally got over it. He glared at her for a good solid minute until she was able to suck in a breath and speak.

“Oh honey,” she choked out. “You are many, many things.” She grasped one of his shoulders and cupped his cheek as she smiled sadly at him. “But one thing you are not is in love with me.”

“Not anymore,” Fiearius deadpanned, the anger he’d felt before subsiding into irritation. Still, he wasn’t done with this argument. “But come on, you have to admit. There’s something more to us. Isn’t there?”

Quin let her hands fall into her lap as she shook her head. “No. There ain’t.” She heaved in a deep breath, still recovering from her laughing fit before she told him, at least trying to be serious, “‘Us’? ‘Us’ is two consenting adults with a huge shared burden usin’ each other in their downtime. And that’s it.”

“Using each other?” he repeated incredulously. “How the hell do you figure that?”

“Simple. I’m usin’ you for that thing you do so well.” She winked and poked him in the chest with her index finger. “And you. You’re usin’ me to keep up a charade of emotional stability.” She lifted her brows, daring him to challenge the statement.

He opened his mouth to do so, but “I–” was all that came out. His eyes fell to his feet and he tried to wrap his head around this. Before he made it anywhere, she continued.

“Sweetie, I’m no halfwit, I know why you called me up for this lil afternoon exercise. And hey, I ain’t judgin’ ya. If you’re feelin’ low and lonely and need some company to forget it all, I am more than happy to oblige, no questions asked, but I care about ya, as dumb of me as that is. And I don’t want you gettin’ so caught up in your own lie that ya can’t even see it anymore.”

“It’s not a lie,” Fiearius objected, though his heart wasn’t in it even as he said it.

Quin frowned at him. “Darlin’ everyone with eyes can see you’re still hung up on that doctor o’ yours.”

“I am not,” he replied automatically. It certainly wasn’t the first time he’d been accused of it and it probably wouldn’t be the last. And just like everyone else who’d said it (Cyrus, Addy, Gates, himself…), Quin gave him that look. That ‘you are so full of shit’ look he was so familiar with. So he sighed. “It was years ago, she’s with someone else now, it doesn’t matter.”

“Oh she is, is she?” Quin rolled her eyes and lay back down on the bed, crossing her hands underneath her head. “Well that explains how weird you been actin’.”

“I’m not acting weird.”

“Three minutes ago, you confessed to being in love with me,” she pointed out.

Fiearius grimaced. “Fine. A little weird.”

Quin was shaking her head. “So this guy. Awful?”

“He’s alright actually.” Fiearius shrugged. “Helped me out with something I wasn’t expecting. She seems happy with him so he’s fine in my book.” When he caught her skeptical glare, he snapped, “What? I can be a mature adult sometimes. If I want.”

As he lay back down next to her she snorted a laugh. “That’s big of you. Still jealous though.”

“I’m only human,” he grumbled.

“Well you’re goin’ about this all the wrong way, y’know.” He glanced over at her and she smiled. “I know it hurts when someone you love moves on, but this? I don’t know if it’s for you or for her or for her new beau, don’t matter, shouldn’t be jumpin’ through hoops tryin’ to prove you’ve moved on too.”

“I know.” Fiearius let out a groan and pulled his hands down his face. “But fake it ‘til ya make it has worked out for me pretty well up to now.”

“It did let you go from space trash to respected admiral,” Quin agreed. “Well, maybe not ‘respected’.” He shot her another glare which she ignored. “Glad we had this lil discussion. You’re fine as all else, Soliveré, but thinkin’ I’d ever be engagin’ in romance with you? Dumb and pathetic as hell.”

Fiearius snorted. “Yeah, you were right.” He slipped his arm around her again. “I so do not love you.”

“I know.”

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