Just then, a panel on the wall started to flash. The front door alert, Fiearius realized at once. He couldn’t recall having any afternoon meetings planned nor visits scheduled, though it wasn’t all that unlikely to have Gates drop by unannounced to pester him about the ongoing Ellegy strategy. But he had no desire at the moment to be pestered.
“Who is it?” he asked the wall anyway and the panel stopped flashing to show him the video stream from the camera by the door. When he glanced over at it, he expected to see Gates’ grey hair and gnarled face, but he was greeted instead by someone else.
“Well speak o’ the devil,” Quin cooed as the Leta on the screen stared straight up into the camera lens and mouthed ‘let me in!’
He couldn’t fathom what she could possibly need. He’d only just seen her hours ago. But his brain ran over a thousand possibilities. There was an update from the Ellegian rebels she needed to give him. She overheard something the Carthians were planning behind their backs. She’d gotten into a fight with her shark boyfriend and needed comfort.
No, that was stupid.
“I better go see what she wants,” he groaned, hoping Quin couldn’t detect the genuine curiosity and (gods, he really was pathetic) misplaced hope behind his mask of irritation.
As he climbed out of bed and started to pull on the clothes he’d left scattered across the floor, Quin rolled over onto her stomach and propped her chin in her hands to watch him. “Want me to put on an apron and pretend to be your housewife for her?”
“Shut it,” Fiearius grumbled, slipping his shirt over his head.
“Oh, honey, you’re such a kidder,” she cooed in over-the-top sweetness. “Shall I get started on your dinner?”
Fiearius rolled his eyes and headed for the door. “Just stay here.” He shut it behind him, blocking out her laughter as he crossed through his expansive quarters to the entryway. Leta didn’t even wait for the doorway to even open entirely before she slipped through.
“Hey, you’re not busy, are you?” she asked, brushing straight by him to the bowl of pure Carthian chocolates on a pedestal that the man who cleaned his quarters refilled every morning. “I can come back later if you are.”
Fiearius watched with interest as she unwrapped the thing and popped it into her mouth without hesitation. “Now’s as good a time as any. What’s up?”
“I have a favor to ask,” she said in a way that made him sure of one thing.
“I’m not gonna like it, am I?” he sighed, leaving the entryway and wandering over to fall onto one of the couches in the living room.
“Well, you may not be thrilled, no,” she admitted, following him and sitting down in the opposite chair. “It’s about Liam.”
Fiearius snorted. “I can’t teach him to satisfy a woman like I can, Leta. It’s a gift.”
Leta flashed him a dark look but ignored the remark. “He’s been getting a lot of slack from his editor for not producing anything recently. If he doesn’t put out something good soon, he’s going to have to leave the CORS. And, as you might expect, I would rather he didn’t.”
A frown creased Fiearius’ brow and a sense of worry hit him. Leta’s newest friend certainly had a lot of material for a ‘good’ story. He knew about the Councillor Initiative, he likely knew far more about the upcoming attack on Ellegy than he should, gods only knew what else he had been privy to hanging around with Leta. Any one of those stories, if they got out, could be disastrous. He was shaking his head before he even conjured words to answer.
“No no no. He cannot publish–Leta, you know how bad it would be if people knew what we were doing. Not to mention if the Society found out, there’s no way that wouldn’t come back to bite us in the ass, you can’t let him–“
But she too was shaking her head and holding up a hand to quiet him. “Gods, Fiear, that’s not what I meant. Of course he can’t publish military secrets, I wouldn’t let him, nor would he ask. It’s not that at all.”
Now he was just confused. “Then what’s he want?”
“We were thinking something a little more…personal.”
“Personal…” Fiearius repeated slowly.
“You know, an exclusive interview, one-on-one with the greatest admiral of the war, for the first time answering everything the Span’s wondered about.” She sold the thing just like the advertisement for it would, dramatic to a fault.
“Personal,” Fiearius said again, narrowing his eyes at her.
“Yeah, your story, how you got here, what you’re fighting for, that kind of thing. Everything the people know of you has just been snippy press conferences and a few backwater rag exposés. It’d be good for you to get your actual perspective out there. It’ll sway some people who are still on the fence about your involvement. Win over some questioning members of the Society itself, maybe. They’re far more likely to relate to you than anyone from Carthis.”
Fiearius’ glare deepened. “Personal.”
She rolled her eyes. “You don’t have to tell him anything you don’t want to. Just the basics. You can talk it over beforehand so he knows what you’re comfortable with.”
“I’m not comfortable with any of it,” Fiearius snapped, rising to his feet and pacing around the couch.
Leta sat up straighter and braced her hands on her knees. “Fiear, I know you’ve had bad experiences with press in the past, but you can’t let that color your opinion entirely. Those other reporters, they were just sensationalists trying to get a scoop and lying to you and publishing the bullshit they did, that was awful, but they’re not all like that. Liam’s not like that.”
Fiearius shook his head, gripping the back of the couch. “That’s not even it, though, it wasn’t bullshit!”
Leta tilted her head at him and frowned. “What do you mean–you really are taking drugs again?”
“Wh–no, okay, the ‘psycho druggie’ one was bullshit, fine, some of them are,” Fiearius admitted. “But most of it? I did murder those people, I did steal that medicine, I’ve done most of the terrible things they accused me of. My ‘story’? Is full of exactly the kind of crap people already hate me for.”
“Which is exactly why it’s important that you take control of your own narrative.” She too stood up now and walked around the couch to join him. “If you just keep letting your name get smeared all over the place, the people won’t know what’s true and what’s a lie. But if you tell the story yourself, you can explain it all, you can rise above it and you can show how much you’ve changed.”
Fiearius let her words hover in the air for a moment before he growled, “And if I haven’t?”
“You have,” she countered at once. “I’m serious, Fiear, this’ll be good for you. Good for the cause.”
“And good for your lil’ boyfriend.”
Her brow creased and she folded her arms over her chest. “Yes. And you owe him, you said so yourself. You never would have caught that Councillor without him. You owe him.”
Fiearius groaned and leaned against the back of the couch. “Yeah, that’s why I’ve been so nice to him.”
“I wouldn’t say so nice,” Leta argued, “but regardless, give him his interview and you’ll be even.”
He eyed her curiously. “So if I do it, I can stop being nice to him?”
He threw his hands up in the air dramatically. “Then what’s even the point?!”
Sighing, Leta dropped her hands on his shoulders. “Can I tell him you’ll do it?”
Fiearius met her stare squarely. There was nothing about this he liked, but even his mastery of denial couldn’t manage to formulate an excuse good enough to counter her. Nor would it matter. He knew Leta well enough by now to know that she wouldn’t be stopping until he agreed, no matter what he said. So he groaned and muttered, “Fine.”
“Great.” She clapped him on the arm and turned towards the door. “I’ll schedule something through Javier.” She waved cheerfully as she slipped out into the hallway, calling, “Thanks, Fiear, you won’t regret this!” as she left.
Fiearius continued to stare at the closed door after she was gone, internally wondering how tightly wound around her finger he was and whether or not she’d known that when she walked in.
“I have a feeling I will,” he muttered to the empty room, just as a glass was shoved into his hand.
He looked over in surprise to find Quin smirking at him, then looked down at the glass, full of coppery liquid that he couldn’t readily identify. Moments later, he realized he didn’t care and shot the whole thing back without a second thought.