“For a man who recently died twice and underwent three surgeries, you still have enough energy to be an ornery old ass, don’t you?” she couldn’t help but point out.
Fiearius snorted his indignance. “I’m not old.” Apparently he didn’t feel the need to contest the other two accusations.
By all accounts, it was miraculous that Fiearius was even alive, let alone awake and feeling well enough to argue just a week after the Battle of Ellegy. Sure, he looked and sounded like he’d been hit by a freight train, but even exhausted and confined to a bed, after everything that had happened back in that tower, if he was already a fraction of the Fiearius she knew, Leta would take it.
Certainly the medical facilities and staff on Carthis proper had been a major contributing factor. From the moment Fiearius had arrived on the planet, there had been a constant barrage of people working their hardest to get him stabilized. Admiral Gates himself had apparently issued an order to the chief of staff that Fiearius’ treatment was the hospital’s highest priority. Their top physicians checked on him regularly, the nurses were constantly bringing him anything he asked for and Leta was certain he had the best view of the city in the building. Carthis clearly wanted him to survive this war more than he gave them credit for.
But as well as Fiearius had been doing and as grateful as Leta was that her calculated risk had paid off with the revival device she’d installed in him, his recovery was not without its side effects.
“Unless you can fix this.” Fiearius lifted his hand and waved it in front of his face. As he did, a surge of some sort overtook him, starting in his hand and a shudder that rolled up his arm, through his shoulders and made him grit his teeth uncomfortably. It lasted just a moment before he took in a deep breath and shook it off. “Or that. I’d rather not with the poking and the prodding.”
She sighed as she leaned against the table, crossing her arms in front of her chest. “Are the twitches getting any better?”
“Not as painful anymore,” he admitted. “Just as irritating.”
“What about frequency?”
“Still once every hour or so.”
She tugged nervously on the stethoscope around her neck and crossed the room to pick up the tablet that displayed his chart. “I’d like to prescribe something for them, but I think it’s too soon to risk it,” she mumbled, mostly to herself as she scanned down the screen. “With the way your body reacted to the drugs I had to give you, I’d be hesitant to add more into your system…”
Fiearius, as he usually did when she tried to talk to him about serious medical issues, stopped paying attention. “All I wanna know is if this shit is permanent,” he groaned, dramatically dropping back against the pillows.
Leta looked up at him, feeling an ounce of remorse. It was her device that had caused the troubles that plagued him now that the bullet was removed and his wounds sewn shut. She’d hoped and prayed that it would keep him alive which it had, just barely, but she hadn’t known it would also cause blindness and regular muscle spasms…
“I can’t say for certain.” She could hear the apology seeping through her tone. Her fingers fiddled with the switch on the tablet. “We never tested that amount on a live subject. I’m not sure what the longterm effects are. If the twitches don’t stop on their own with time, there might be something we can do pharmaceutically. In regards to your left eye, I can get you in touch with an opthalmologist, they’d have a better idea of what we’re dealing with and what your options are, but–“
“Hey.” She looked up at him across the room and he was watching her with a frown creasing his brow. “This isn’t your fault, y’know? Well–” He cut himself off and shrugged. “It is, but I’m only lettin’ you take credit for the fact that I’m still breathing at all. The rest of this crap?” He rolled his eyes and lifted his hands helplessly. “My own damn fault for gettin’ killed to begin with.”
Leta felt a smile come to her face. “I did tell you to be careful.”
“And I never listen,” he replied with a grin himself.
“So I’ve been keeping tabs with Javier,” Leta changed the subject swiftly, laying the tablet back on the counter and leaning against the counter. “You have about a thousand messages waiting for you once you’re ready.”
Fiearius’ grin slackened into disappointment. “You have to remind me?”
“Hey, I’m the one who’s fielding everything from Gates for you.”
“I told him to go through Quin, she’s handling the fleet ‘til I’m back in action.”
“Yes, well he doesn’t like Quin’s answers so he goes to me. And I tell him to go to Quin and he just asks for you. And since you’re stuck here–”
“–and not even keeping up with what’s going on out there–”
“It’s a good thing you’re not actually dead, this whole effort would fall apart without you,” she mused. “Anyway, point being.” She crossed the room and patted the edge of his bed cheerfully. “Enjoy your break while it lasts.”
And a true break it was, Leta knew. The Carthian doctors had, in fact, ordered that Fiearius be told next to nothing about the aftermath of the Ellegian battle to keep his stress levels down. For once, he had actually agreed with medical advice. Of course, when it benefitted him, he was the perfect patient. Still, Leta was having a hard time not discussing the situation with him. Especially the piece of information she couldn’t share with anyone else.
Desophyles, to Leta’s surprise and true to his word, had contacted her shortly after she’d landed on Carthis to check on Fiearius’ condition and arrange to return the Verdant CID to her. Not sure how long his good spell was going to last, she snuck away from the hospital the very next night and convinced Eve, Richelle and the rest of the Dionysian crew to take her to the nearby moon to retrieve it from him. It was there on that desolate battle-torn wasteland Carthis had won from Exymeron years past and then promptly abandoned that Dez uncharacteristically provided her an explanation. Or half of one at least. She presumed only Fiearius would get the full story out of him.
But as Leta absently thumbed the tiny chip in her pocket, thankfully removed from its previous owner’s wrist, she forced herself to keep her mouth shut. Fiearius didn’t need the stress. Especially that stress. Not while he still had recovering to do.
“Yeah because sitting in a hospital is my definition of enjoyment,” he grumbled, waving his hand towards the window. “Really enjoying this break from the monotony of–” He cut himself off dramatically and put his fingers to his chin. “Wait…”
“Don’t worry, you’ll be back to it soon enough and there’s plenty to do.” Leta grimaced and Fiearius tilted his head, curious, for just a moment, before he seemed to remind himself that he didn’t care, wouldn’t care, shouldn’t care, and shrugged. “Anyway. I’ll let you get some rest, but maybe I’ll swing by–”
Suddenly, down the hall, but loud enough to be heard by likely the entire floor, came a mighty yell. At least, as mighty as a five year old girl could manage.
“O’rian!” echoed through the hospital, followed by the hurried patter of tiny feet running at full speed.
“Kalli, wait!” came a second shout, then the crash of a body meeting a medical cart, a curse and a woman’s laugh.
Leta met Fiearius’ glance and he grinned. The footsteps were coming towards them so Leta stepped out into the hallway and put her hands on her hips as the bushy haired girl plowed towards her. In her wake, papers had scattered, equipment had been dropped and a few nurses looked shell-shocked. Still back by the elevators, Addy was helping Cyrus back to his feet. She glanced up and waved at Leta. Leta waved back just as Kalli slammed on the brakes and jumped in front of her. “A’iya!” she shouted in greeting.
“Right this way,” Leta cooed and swept her arms towards the door. Kalli looked up, met her uncle’s smiling face and burst straight into the room, leaping onto Fiearius’ bed and throwing her tiny arms around his shoulders.
“O’rian!” she shouted again as Fiearius laughed loud and more cheerful than he’d been all week.
“There’s my little monster.” Carefully, he pried her arms from him and held her back to get a good look at her. “L’asi de foriniso p’ahti na?” he asked. She nodded enthusiastically. “Ti’arim!” Then he held up both hands and she slapped them excitedly.
Watching Fiearius with his niece had always been something that Leta found both adorable and, for reasons she couldn’t quite explain, or perhaps just didn’t want to, uncomfortable. Uncomfortable somewhere very deep inside of her and in a way that made her cringe at herself. Why was it that humanity had come so far in evolution and technology and yet she still couldn’t fight off such a simple thing as primal maternal instinct?
Regardless, she felt her cheeks flush as if she’d done something wrong when suddenly Cyrus was beside her asking, “How is he?” Addy joined him moments later.
She didn’t look at them, determined to hide her embarrassment as she answered, “See for yourself.”
Kalli had seized Fiearius’ hand and was jumping up and down with it like it was a prized toy while Fiearius laughed heartedly.
“Issyen,” Cyrus scolded and she looked over at her parents in alarm. And then glee.
“O’rian, p’ahti told me you died!”
Cyrus put his hand on his forehead as Addy asked him, “You told her what?”
But Fiearius just laughed it off and told Kalli as though imparting a mysterious secret, “Oh, I did. I am the living dead.” He raised his hands threateningly and made a monstrous face, but the little girl seemed unimpressed.
“You don’t look like a zombie.”
“Yeah well, just wait til my flesh starts to rot off.”
“Wh–don’t tell her that,” Cyrus finally stepped in, marching into the room and swooping Kalli off the bed into his arms. The siblings continued to bicker as Kalli squealed in delight and wriggled her way out of her father’s arms. Perhaps it was the sudden excess of noise or simply her own exhaustion catching up to her, but Leta tuned them out and turned to Addy.
“I’m gonna take a bit of a break, leave you all to catch up. I’ll be back at the base if you need to get in touch with me.”
Addy just smiled at her. “Take as much time as you need.” She took a deep breath and looked into the room with a determined grimace. “I can handle this lot.”
Leta let out a chuckle, pat her on the shoulder and wished her, “Good luck,” as she retreated down the hall.
Icy rain pounded the windows of Leta’s temporary room on the base where she’d chosen to retreat for a few hours. So much for summer on Carthis, she thought absently as she sat on the sofa, scrolling through headlines on the glowing tablet in her hand. The weather made her wonder how long she would be on the base — if she would see another famously brutal Carthian winter. If Fiearius would.
A knock made her blink and sit up. The door slid open, and Liam appeared, offering a watered-down smile through the scruff on his face. “Well, Gates is just as strange as you said he would be,” he said by way of greeting, shrugging off his rain-soaked coat. “He was drinking whiskey, too. You were right on all fronts.”
“As usual,” Leta agreed, just as Liam bent to give her a kiss hello. “I’m surprised he even agreed to the interview, Gates is particularly tight-lipped these days.”
“Let’s not talk about Gates while I’m kissing you, hm?” Liam mumbled against her mouth, then drew away. He dropped onto the edge of the sofa, and Leta thought she saw a shadow pass over his face: he was not entirely at ease. In fact, his voice was a little too casual, too light-hearted, when he asked, “How’re you? How’s the other admiral doing?”
“His vision hasn’t fully restored, and he’s still having muscle spasms … “ Briefly, the horrible image of Fiearius twitching came to her mind, but she pushed it away. “He’s recovering more and more though and his family just landed today so I left him in good spirits.”
“That’s great,” Liam said, though his tone hardly matched his words. “That’s really great.”
This wasn’t like him. Liam was always talkative and enthused and interested in any and all news Leta had for him. At the very least he paid attention instead of absently flicking the top of his shoe. “Are you alright?” she had to ask.
Liam opened his mouth, then closed it again. “A lot on my mind. Like everyone else around here.”
Leta grimaced. “Did Gates give you any updates on the Ellegy situation?”
“Nothing you didn’t already know.” Finally, he leaned back against the couch and threw an arm loosely around her shoulders. “Carthis defeated the Society’s air forces, but the rebels on the ground switched sides to rejoin the Society and amassed in too large a number, forcing them to retreat,” he recited. “They’re still calling it a victory though, y’know? I think they might need to look up the definition of the word.”
“It’s the media calling it that, not the military. Not behind closed doors anyway,” Leta corrected, leaning against him as she sighed. “If the war council meeting we had yesterday was about a victory, I’m worried what it would look like if we lost.”
“So what’s their plan?”