There was a murmur of agreement and a few of the assembled personnel practically ran for the door, eager to get away from Fiearius or Arsen or both before they decided to rip each other’s heads off. Fortunately, Arsen didn’t seem interested in disobeying his commanding officer and without another word or even glance in their direction, exited the chambers. Slowly they all filed out until it was only Fiearius, Leta and Gates remaining. Fiearius was looking down at his hand, prickled by a hundred cuts from the table’s glass. Gates was watching Leta patiently.
She said what he knew she was going to say. “We’re not satisfied with your answers. Good people died. Your excuses aren’t enough.”
“I know,” was his somber response. “Regrettable was the word my colleague chose, but unforgivable is how I would describe what happened to the Dionysian. I can’t make it up to either of you, the time for that has already passed. But I would like to discuss what can be done. Tomorrow morning, before the council meets, please come to my office. We should talk through our next steps, just the three of us.”
Leta looked to Fiearius, still nursing his hand and glaring over at Gates in silence. He didn’t seem eager to respond so she did so in his stead. She nodded. “Alright. We’ll be there.”
“Good.” Gates crossed his arms behind his back and headed for the door. “Get some rest,” he called before disappearing out into the Carthian dreadnought’s hallway. “You’ll need it.”
Leta waited a moment after he left before she turned back to Fiearius and took his injured hand in hers. He flinched as she turned it over and examined the wounds. There were still specks of shimmering glass winking out at her beneath the light. “I need to clean these. And you’ll need stitches on a few of them,” she told him quietly.
He let out a heavy sigh. “Let it rot, I don’t care.”
Leta gave him a short glare of annoyance, but it was hard to be annoyed at a man so clearly suffering. It was hard to be annoyed when she herself was suffering along with him. “Hey–” she began to say but he spoke over her.
“Thank you, by the way.” He met her eyes and she felt herself soften at once. “For holding me back.”
“Yeah of course.” She searched over his face. “Threatening them isn’t going to do anyone any good.”
“I know.” He took his hand from her and ran it through his hair, an act that made her wince. Surely that had to hurt, but he didn’t seem to notice. He just stared at the broken table and growled, “I just hate them. I hate them so much.”
Leta couldn’t exactly argue. Still, she murmured, “Fiear…”
“I’m so sick of this,” he growled, grasping the edge of the table with both hands and leaning over it. “I’m sick of being used. By the Society, Dez, Aela, gods, and Carthis? They might just well be the worst of ‘em all. I’m just their little pawn to do their dirty work and draw the media’s attention and prove to the Span that they’re not the assholes they really are. They talk a lot about how important I am, how significant my opinion is, but fuck them, Leta. Fuck them.” He slammed his palm down on the table and Leta couldn’t help but glance up at the cameras she knew were in every corner of this room, recording this entire conversation. “What good is an ally if at the first sign of dissent, they try to off you?”
“You don’t seriously believe that,” she stated rather than asked. “You can’t believe that they were really trying to kill you on Satieri.”
“Is it that hard to believe?” Fiearius growled. “Think about what a story that would be, spun the right way. Beloved war admiral killed on his own home planet. Satieri clearly a cesspool. Better off destroyed.”
“But they need you alive. They need your fleet if they’re gonna win any of the battles still to come.”
Fiearius made a pfft sound and shook his head. “Right, they need my fleet, they don’t need me. I’m just a thorn in their side.”
“But your fleet wouldn’t follow them without you,” Leta argued. Having met most of Fiearius’ captains throughout the years, that much at least seemed true.
“Under Quin, you’re right, it wouldn’t. She would take over and abandon them,” he looked up at her and frowned. “But Quin’s not second in command anymore is she?”
“So you think this whole thing was a giant conspiracy against you?” she clarified, crossing her arms over her chest. “Fiear–”
“No, I don’t–” He groaned and dropped his head again. “I just don’t buy their shit, okay? I don’t trust Carthis. I don’t trust their motivations. And I don’t trust them to not stab me in the back.”
“Well if this war is going to end, they need you and you need them,” Leta pointed out. “What’s your alternative?”
He cast her a serious look. “You know what my alternative is.”
Dez’s alternative, she realized. The dead man’s insane plan for Fiearius to take over the Society. “That’s not an alternative. That’s just more manipulation and lies that’ll end with you dead on some altar in the middle of Paradiex.”
Fiearius rolled his eyes, turned around and leaned against the table. “Probably.” He glanced towards the door and muttered cynically, “I dunno, sounds better than this.”
Leta preferred to assume he was being sarcastic. She put a hand on his back and rubbed her palm in a slow circle. “Come on, we’ll talk to Gates in the morning, we’ll make a real plan. A good plan that works for everyone. You’ve survived this long working with Carthis, you can survive a little longer.” Fiearius snorted at the statement but didn’t disagree. “Let’s just get back to the Beacon, clean you up a bit and get some rest.”
“Right, the Beacon,” he muttered and Leta felt her heart clench. The Beacon. Not the Dionysian. Because the Dionysian was no more.
“I miss her,” Fiearius said under his breath, the weight of the last twenty four hours heavy in his words.
Leta let her arm rest on his back and leaned her head against his shoulder. “Me too.”